Marcy Kennedy

Are Writing Rules a Myth?

Image Credit: Brad Harrison (

Image Credit: Brad Harrison (

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Because of how many times I find myself having to address the concept of “writing rules” with my editing clients and in the writing classes I teach, I thought it might be time to talk about it in an open forum. Let’s call the elephant out and decide whether to keep him as a pet or set him free.

Are writing rules a myth?

The answer is yes.

And no.

Let me give you an example of a true writing rule.

Internal dialogue shouldn’t be placed in quotation marks because quotation marks signal audibly spoken dialogue.

That’s a rule. Every writer needs to follow it. A rule is authoritative. Unless the rules change, we should follow them.

True writing rules are rare.

Most of the time, what we call writing rules are actually writing guidelines.

That might seem like semantics, but it isn’t.

Writing guidelines tell us the best practices to follow to achieve success. These things should be done 99% of the time. There are exceptions, but guidelines are how you should normally act for the best results.

Rule: Don’t put a metal fork in your microwave because you’ll burn up your microwave.

Guideline: If you don’t want food to splatter all over your microwave, bake onto the sides, and start to stink a few days later, put a cover over your food before you heat it up and use the correct setting on the microwave.

See the difference? It’s stupid to break a rule. If you break a rule, it never comes with good results (unless your desired result is a negative one).

If you violate a guideline, you might be okay. You might not. It’s a calculated risk.

When it comes to the craft of writing, the distinction between rules and guidelines is an essential one to make because I’ve noticed an interesting phenomenon among writers. If you call something a rule, when it’s actually a guideline, then without fail a conversation will begin about how we need to “know the rules to break them.” For whatever reason, many writers feel like they need to be rule-breakers.

The problem with that is a big one. We get so bent out of shape by the word rules that the focus shifts from what it should be on—making our writing the best it can be.

And the mantra about “knowing the rules so we can break them” quickly becomes an excuse to ignore good advice for how to make our book better. (Want to tweet that?)

By the very definition of best practice guidelines, we lose that excuse.

If we’re going to stray from these guidelines, we need to make sure we’re getting a bigger improvement from it than we’ll be losing in what it costs because violating these guidelines always costs something. If we’re going to violate them, it should be a conscious, well-reasoned decision. A cost-benefit analysis.

Asking ourselves why we’re violating the guideline and what bigger benefit it’s giving us also helps us avoid another trap called “My book is the exception.”

Since guidelines are normative, but not infallible, the “my book is the exception” thought train turns into a bug zapper for many writers.

“Those guidelines are only right 99% of the time. I’m the 1%.”

You might be. But the truth is that more writers think they’re the 1% than can possibly be the 1%. We are probably not the exception. Our books are probably not the exception. That’s usually an excuse we make because we don’t want to honestly face the problems with our story or our writing. We don’t want to have to revise again. We don’t want to have to put in the grueling work of learning to make it better.

Try that in the rest of your life and see how well it serves you. Quick fixes and ignoring the truth almost always lead to disaster later on.

Don’t try to be innovative in the craft of writing. That’s not where brilliance is hiding, waiting to be found. Be innovative in your plot and in your characters and fresh in the emotions. Those are the things readers talk about long after they’ve set the book down.

I’d love to hear from you even if you disagree with me. What’s your opinion on the existence of writing rules?

Interested in more ways to improve your writing? Deep Point of View is now available! (You might also want to check out Internal Dialogue or Showing and Telling in Fiction.)

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Unbelievable Real Life: A Waterfall of Blood

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Welcome back to the first Unbelievable Real Life feature of 2015!

Because we’re stuck in the doldrums of winter, I thought it might be a good time to explore some very cool wintery spots (no pun intended…well, maybe a little). If we’re going to be buried under mounds of snow, we might as well make the best of it.

Today I’m taking you to Antarctica where Taylor Glacier seems to spew a waterfall of blood.

Image Credit: Mike Martoccia (CC License)

Image Credit: Mike Martoccia (CC License)

Glaciologists and microbiologists finally figured out that the likeliest cause of this phenomenon is an underground lake where the water has a high iron content. As the water interacts with the air around it, the iron starts to rust, making the water look like blood.

Image Credit: Zina Deretsky / US National Science foundation (NSF)

Image Credit: Zina Deretsky / US National Science foundation (NSF)

Have you seen something strange or unusual this winter?

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Creating An Author Business Plan: Choosing Your Stories

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Last month we started writing our Author Business Plan Summary by setting our author goals. Now that we’ve laid the foundation through deciding on our goals, it’s time to take the next step and decide on what type of books we plan to publish.

This can be one of the most difficult things for an author to do. I hope you’ll come by and share your experiences with this part of the process, how you chose what type of books to write, or the struggles you’re facing in doing so.

Click here to read my post on “Creating an Author Business Plan: Choosing Your Stories” at Janice Hardy’s Fiction University.

Interested in more ways to improve your writing? Grammar for Fiction Writers is now available from Amazon, Kobo, or Smashwords. (You might also be interested in checking out Showing and Telling in Fiction or Dialogue: A Busy Writer’s Guide.)

All three books are available in print and ebook forms.

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The Hobbit and the Love of Money

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

A commonly misquoted Biblical passage is that “money is the root of all evil.” The actual passage is “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils” (1 Timothy 6:10).

When we’re talking about money, that’s an important distinction to make. Many wealthy people give generously and live frugal, moral lives. Having money doesn’t necessarily make us evil.

And money isn’t the root of all evil either. It isn’t always at the root cause of murder, for example.

But loving money can lead to all different kinds of evil. Everything we love competes with everything else we love for the position of priority in our lives. If we love money, we can end up loving it and valuing it more than our family, more than our friends, more than our honor and morality.

That’s what happens in The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies.

Once Smaug, the dragon under the mountain, is killed, Thorin Oakenshield (the new dwarven king), Bilbo, and the rest of the dwarves take possession of the mountain and the treasure within it.

The treasure goes to Thorin’s head. He refuses to honor the agreement he made with the nearby city of men. They helped him, and thanks to his meddling with the dragon, their city was destroyed. The survivors are facing winter with no home. Thorin refuses to take them into the mountain or to give them the money he promised so that they can get a fresh start.

He won’t return the jewels that rightfully belong to the eleven king either, and he stands by and watches as hundreds of dwarves, elves, and humans are slaughtered by orcs. All he cares about is making sure his treasure is secure.

While I was watching the movie, the friend I was with leaned over and said “what people won’t do for money, eh?”

Her words burrowed inside, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking of them because I know someone who seems to love his money almost more than he loves anything else. To him, having wealth is a sign that someone is a “good man.” He spends hours worrying that someone is going to steal his money from him. He trusts no one. And when he gives his money away, he does it to try to earn God’s favor or to buy respect, loyalty, love, and obedience from the people around him.

It makes my heart hurt for him. You can’t buy those things. At least, when it comes to me, they’re not for sale. And money, or the lack thereof, doesn’t prove that someone is a good person or a bad person.

He reminds me so much of Thorin. Or perhaps I should say that Thorin reminded me so much of him.

At the end of The Hobbit, Thorin was redeemed, but I don’t think it’s as easy in real life. Once the love of money has hold of us, it’s much harder to see it and change.

It served as a good reminder for me of where I want my values to lie.

Has a movie ever reminded you of something important?

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A Chance to Win One of 15 Great Writing Resources

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Even though this isn’t my regular day to post, I wanted to let you all know about an opportunity. From February 14th to February 28th, you can enter to win one of 15 excellent ebooks about writing and marketing your fiction, including two of my Busy Writer’s Guides. Take a look at what’s on offer!


group promo2

In case you want to know more about any of these books, here are the links:

Captivate Your Readers by Jodie Renner

~ Fiction Attack! by James Scott Bell

~ Outlining Your Novel, by K.M. Weiland

~ How to Market Your Book, by Joanna Penn

~The Emotion Thesaurus, by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi

~ Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, by Janice Hardy

~ Grammar for Fiction Writers, by Marcy Kennedy and Chris Saylor

~ Fire up Your Fiction, by Jodie Renner

~ Public Speaking for Authors, Creatives, and Other Introverts, by Joanna Penn

~ The 12 Key Pillars of Novel Construction, by C.S. Lakin

~ Writing a Killer Thriller, by Jodie Renner

~ The Positive Trait Thesaurus, by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi

~ Dialogue: A Busy Writer’s Guide, by Marcy Kennedy

~ 1,000 Creative Writing Prompts, by Bryan Cohen

~ The Negative Trait Thesaurus, by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi.

To find out how to enter, you’ll need to visit the site of the talented Jodie Renner. She put this fun event together to celebrate the release of her newest book Captivate Your Readers. Winners will be drawn on March 1st.

Interested in more ways to improve your writing? You might also want to check out Showing and Telling in Fiction.

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What Cupid Teaches Us About Love

Image Credit: Vinicius Fujii (

Image Credit: Vinicius Fujii (

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

I’ve never been a fan of Valentine’s Day. My husband and I don’t exchange Valentine’s gifts or plan an evening out, and I think I might be a bit miffed if he bought me a box of overpriced chocolates or a marked-up bouquet of flowers that he could get for half the cost a week later. I realize I’m the exception in this. I’ve always been practical.

But it’s not just my practicality that makes me shy away from the Valentine’s Day hype.

One of the iconic symbols of Valentine’s Day is the cubby, arrow-wielding Cupid. For me, Cupid represents everything I dislike about Valentine’s Day.

Cupid has wings because lovers are flighty or fickle. Cupid is depicted as chubby and boyish because love is irrational. He’s often shown as blindfolded to represent that love is blind to the flaws of the beloved. His arrows wound the heart instantly, and nothing else is taken into consideration.

In other words, Cupid isn’t the representative of love, at least not of the kind of love that makes a marriage last. He’s the representative of infatuation, a “love” that’s swayed by the emotions and by circumstances.

Like Cupid, Valentine’s Day isn’t about love. It’s about infatuation and endorphin rushes. Anyone can woo for a day, but it takes something deeper to endure for a lifetime. Our culture likes to emphasize this day to the point where succeeding on Valentine’s Day is sometimes valued above the day-to-day sacrifices and acts that exemplify true love.

But there’s one thing I think Cupid can teach us about love. As a character in mythology, Cupid plays a minor role. His main purpose is to set the plot in motion.

Likewise, infatuation is what sets most of us on the path that will eventually lead to marriage, but it’s only the start. It’s the inciting incident. The ignition for love, but not the definition of it.

Somewhere along the way, Cupid needs to grow up. He’ll need to take off his blindfold so that he can see the flaws of his beloved and either accept them or help to overcome them. His body will need to be hardened and his wings lost by walking the path of life with someone else, enduring the challenges that come.

That’s more romantic than Valentine’s Day, not less. And it happens every single day.

How would you sum up love? What does it mean to you to love someone?

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Creating An Author Business Plan: Setting Your Goals

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

In my last post, I announced that I was going to start a series helping busy authors write their author business plans. I’m excited to be back now, facing 2015, and diving in.

The first section of your author business plan is your Author Business Plan Summary. Because it actually contains a lot of different information, I’m not going to cover it all today. That would be overwhelming and make this post much too long. Remember that this is about breaking it down into manageable, unintimidating pieces. One small bit that you can do each day.

Eventually, your summary will include your goals, the types of books you plan to publish, your target number of releases per year, your audience, what outside help you plan to hire, the form and method of distribution for your books, and how you’ll deal with income. You’ll likely end up giving a paragraph to each.

Today we’re going to focus on your author goals. If you look back at my opening post “Three Questions to Ask Yourself Before Writing an Author Business Plan,” you’ll remember that we’re focusing on what I called the “career writer” and we’re looking at this from the perspective of someone who wants to independently publish (or hybrid publish). A career writer is someone who views their writing as either a full-time or part-time job or wants it to be one. They want (and need) their writing to make a profit.

If you’d like to read the rest of this post, head over to Fiction University for my monthly guest post–Creating an Author Business Plan: Setting Your Goals.

Interested in more ways to improve your writing? Grammar for Fiction Writers, is now available from Amazon, Kobo, or Smashwords. (You might also be interested in checking out Mastering Showing and Telling in Your Fiction.)

Both books are available in print and ebook forms.

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Behind the Scenes: Sara Litchfield and How Genetically-Engineered Triplets Became Night Butterflies

Welcome to 2015! I’m excited to be able to start the new year with a guest post from dystopian author Sara Litchfield. Sara and I share the belief in the power and importance of hope, one of the main themes in her debut novel, and when I read her book, I was impressed by how different the voices of her first person narrators sound from each other. I’m glad she agreed to come share some of the inspiration for her book.

So before I hand this blog over to Sara, let me tell you a little bit about her.

This is Sara :)

This is Sara 🙂

Born in the English midlands, Sara earned a Masters in Theology at the University of Cambridge before becoming a reluctant big-four accountant in London. She is now recovering in the southern hemisphere where she devotes herself to all things words and wonderful from her base in Middle Earth (sometimes known as New Zealand). She blogs on happiness and hope at, which is also home to her editing business and publishing division, RIW Press – all aim to make the right mark on the wall of the world.

Take it away, Sara!


Since the release of my debut novel, The Night Butterflies, I’ve been asked several times how this work of dystopian fiction came by its title.

I tell the story of how the moths came to the window while I was writing, tapping to come in and touch the light but reaching into my story instead. I mention how the phrase stayed with me, brooding and beautiful, after I heard it voiced as the succinct explanation of a ‘moth’ given to a French-Canadian asking for a definition. How it loitered in my subconscious until the themes of change and evolution emerged in my novel and it presented itself as the title.

In my novel, the moths referred to as the night butterflies are the shadow of their colorful cousins but, remarkably, they’re the only creatures to have survived the nuclear war that has ended the world without becoming poisonous themselves. The scientists left in the ruins of an English university town have worked for years to understand how this is possible, in the hope they can come to survive without the Anti-Poison they’ve created to keep their people alive. Part of Project Eden, dedicated to the survival of the community, involves breeding the next generation and attempting to make them hardier to life’s dark, lethal conditions. The nightmare result is a batch of triplets, violent and cruel, who keep their mothers living between constant fear and drug-induced escape.

It seems to be a matter for debate, but I read that the reason some insects are attracted to light is that they have an internal navigation system and use the moon to guide themselves by keeping it at a constant angle. It’s a behavior called transverse orientation, but artificial light sources affect it adversely – keeping a bulb at a constant angle can send them into an obsessive spiral, sometimes to their death.

The desperation of the night butterflies to reach the light embodies both the struggle of the children to change and that of the remaining people to find hope, however futile the quest might be, given the world they are left with. But they fight to emerge from the chrysalis imposed upon them by the regime in control; they fight for a chance at a life of love and light and hope, despite their circumstances.

Wells called hope ‘the essential solvent without which there’s no digesting life’. The inspiration behind The Night Butterflies is the absolute necessity to seek out color amidst shadow, light amidst darkness, and hope amidst horror. It’s a message that seems more important than ever as the news reports atrocity after atrocity, and the fearful idea of society sliding into oblivion, despite the lessons of history and literature, becomes ever more a future possible.

You can connect with Sara on her website, on Facebook, on Twitter, on Goodreads, and on Pinterest!

The Night ButterfliesAbout The Night Butterflies

It is always dark. Warmer than it should be. The sun is a dull glower of reproach, only sometimes visible through the fallout. A once-majestic university town is crumbled, ashen and divided. The Men have made their home the Facility, where they develop the medication to combat the radiation that would otherwise kill those left alive. Another day at school for Teacher. Another morning of bullying and torment from a batch of doll-like triplets more violent and unbalanced by the day. They are the nightmare product of Project Eden, the operation devised by Leader for the survival of the community, seeded in the Mothers without their consent. Teacher has hope. She has a secret. When it is uncovered by Jimmy-1, a triplet who might be different, what will it mean for his future and hers? Not just another dystopian novel. New author Sara Litchfield explores what it means to be a child, a mother and a monster in a chilling world devoid of comfort.

Get a copy of The Night Butterflies on Amazon!

What cataclysmic event do you think would be most likely to happen to the world, and what would be humanity’s biggest challenge in terms of survival once it did?

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Why and How to Copyright Your Self-Published Book

Please welcome back special guest poster Kathryn Goldman. If you haven’t already grabbed a copy of her free Digital Artists Rip-Off Protection Report, make sure you don’t miss out on the chance to get this extremely helpful resource!


Why and How to Copyright Your Self-Published Book

By Kathryn Goldman

The mantra chanted by people like me (copyright lawyers) in favor of registering the copyright in your work with the United States Copyright Office is that if you have registered your work in a timely manner and somebody infringes it, you can sue them and possibly recover your attorneys’ fees and statutory damages (up to $150,000 per infringement).

Attorneys fees and statutory damages can be a powerful big stick to use against evil deed doers, or infringers. The threat of a substantial monetary award can be useful to quickly resolve disputes.

It may be that the notion of initiating and financing a federal lawsuit for copyright infringement is alien to you. The question becomes—if you’re not going to litigate—just how useful is a copyright registration on your work?

The answer is that it’s hard to know right now what action you might want to take in the future if your work is infringed. But for $35, it makes sense to create basic protections for your work after you’ve spent countless hours writing and editing and real money on editors, cover art and book design. Throw down the extra $35 and file for that registration. One day, you just might need it.

Electronic Copyright Application Process

Today we’re going to go step-by-step through the online application process for registration of a Literary Work by a single US author. (My apologies to Marcy’s non-US readers for lack of relevance.) To illustrate the process, I’m going to show you actual screenshots of the application for registration of my “Literary Work” Digital Artists Rip-Off Protection Report which I wrote in October 2014 and revised in November 2014.

Log in to eCO

In order to file an application online with the Copyright Office, you need to create an account which means a username and password. I know, it’s just another ID/password combination to forget . . . I mean remember.

It is possible to register your work old-school style by mailing in a paper application. That costs $85. The savings for electronic filing is significant.

How to Register Using a Single Form (Single Author and Single Work)

After you’ve created your account and signed in, select “Register a New Claim” using the menu on the left under the section Copyright Registration.


Preliminary Questions

The first screen has three preliminary questions that focus on the author or creator. For our example, we’re completing an application for just the text of a work (my report) for which I am the author and owner with material created only by me.

These questions should all be answered “Yes.” Then “Continue.”


Type of Work

The next screen determines the type of work that is being registered. Literary Works include fiction, nonfiction, poetry, textbooks, reference works, directories, catalogs, advertising copy and other written works.

Sometimes a work has two or more types of authorship, like a book that is mostly text but has some photographs. In that case, choose “Literary Work” because the work is made up of mostly literary material.

Remember, this is not an example of filing an application for a work that is created by two different authors. This is a single author application.

For our example, select literary work in the drop-down box and click “Continue.”


Title of the Work

Enter the title of the work and whether it has appeared in a collection, like a volume of short stories, for example. Then click “Continue.”



A published work is one that is offered for sale or distribution to the public. Online content is considered to be published if the copyright owner authorizes the end user to retain copies of the content or further distribute the content.

Once you’ve uploaded your ebook to Amazon, or anywhere for that matter, for sale or free download, it is considered published by the Copyright Office.

An application for registration is considered timely if it is completed within three months of publication or before infringement.

If you have an ISBN, this is where that information belongs:



This is the section in which you identify yourself as the author of the work.


Progress Checklist

As you move through the form, there is a checklist that updates as you go showing you how much of the application you’ve completed and how much there is left to go.


Excluded Material

This is the section of the application referred to as “Limitation of Claim” in the progress checklist in which the material not created by the author is excluded.

In this case, I have excluded the photograph and the cover art because I did not take the picture or create the cover. My portrait was taken by Chris Stadler.

If you select excluded material, you must also select the included material. In this case, I am only seeking copyright on the text that I wrote.


Rights & Permissions Contact Information

If I complete this form for one of my clients, this is where I identify myself as the contact person. You can identify yourself in this section.


NOTE: This information is publicly available and you want to be careful about what you include. I use my office address, email and phone number.


The correspondent is the person whom the Copyright Office will contact if there is a question about the application. This is a service I handle on behalf of my clients but you can identify yourself in this section.


Special Handling

Because a registration is needed in order to bring a lawsuit for infringement in the United States, you may have to request special handling to expedite the filing. Special handling is significantly more expensive than a regular filing by hundreds of dollars.

If you did not file within three months of publication or before infringement, you will not be entitled to statutory damages and attorneys fees but you will be entitled to injunctive relief. Injunctive relief means that you can ask a court to issue an order that the infringer stop the infringing action.

In an ideal world no special handling is needed because you have added copyright registration to your work flow and when you need it, it has been done.

I recommend that you make applying for copyright registration a regular habit when you finish each book. That way, if you decide you must file a lawsuit, you’ll be ready and you won’t be scrambling.


Is the section of the application in which you swear that it is your work or that you are the authorized agent of the creator.


Review the Application

If the application is correct, add it to your cart and check-out for $35. If there are any mistakes, now is the chance to fix them.

Deposit Copy

After the U.S Treasury processes payment, the Copyright Office will ask for the deposit copy of the work which you should have ready on your hard drive. A deposit copy is a copy of the work for which your are seeking registration to be kept by the Library of Congress.

Before clicking upload deposit, make sure your pop-up blocker has been disabled.

Browse for and select your file. In this case mine is a PDF, type in a short title and submit.


Application Confirmation eMail

When your deposit copy is received, you’ll receive an email from the Copyright Office confirming a completed application. From that point, it will take about eight months to receive the Registration. But the effective date of the Registration is retroactive to the date of the application. The timeliness of the application is what is important.

The application can become more complex if there is cover art, an introduction or other supplementary materials in the work that you did not create and you want protection for those elements of the work.

The Copyright Office has tried to design the online application so it can be completed by individuals without the help of an attorney.

But if you have questions, let me know in the comments.

Kathryn Goldman lawyerKathryn Goldman is a lawyer who protects writers, artists, and businesses from having their work and art ripped off. Since she’s a lawyer, she has to mention that she’s not *your* lawyer (so this article isn’t technically legal advice), but you’re still invited to download her Digital Artists Rip-Off Protection Report.

Follow Kathryn on Twitter @KathrynGoldman

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Sometimes Truth Is Stranger than Fantasy

You’ve likely heard the saying before that truth is stranger than fiction. Today my special guest poster, mystery author Kassandra Lamb, is putting her own spin on that saying to tell you why she thinks truth can be stranger than fantasy. She’s going to let us into the minds and motivations of serial killers. First allow me to introduce you to Kassandra:

Kassandra Lamb

Kassandra Lamb

Psychology and writing, or writing and psychology, have always vied for number one on Kassandra Lamb’s list of greatest passions. Now retired from a career as a psychotherapist and college professor, she can focus on creating an alternate universe in which her protagonist, Kate Huntington, is always the kind, generous and insightful person that Kass wishes she were herself. When she is not at her computer, transported in mind and spirit into the world of her characters, Kass lives in Florida and Maryland with her husband and her Alaskan Husky, Amelia.

I hope when you finish reading the post that you’ll take a look at Kassandra’s latest release Fatal Forty-Eight. It’s part of her Kate Huntington series, but it stands alone as well. You don’t have to read the first books before reading this one. If you enjoy mysteries or thrillers, I recommend you grab a copy (and I’m not just saying that because I’m Kassandra’s editor–this book is really good). Take it away, Kassandra!


Sometimes Truth Is Stranger than Fantasy

By Kassandra Lamb

When Marcy graciously invited me to guest post on her blog (thanks so much, Marcy!), I wondered what the heck I would write about since I write traditional mysteries and thrillers, not fantasy or sci-fi like she does.

Then I asked myself, why is it that I don’t write fantasy? (BTW, I talk to myself a lot.) The answer came back that it’s because I’ve seen so much weird, surreal stuff on this planet during my years as a psychotherapist. In my newly released thriller, I explore one of the most surreal phenomena on the Earth plane–the serial killer.

A few weeks ago I posted about psychopaths. They are totally self-centered thrill seekers who feel little or no empathy, remorse or fear. Pretty scary folks! (Read more HERE.)

Unfortunately psychopaths (i.e. those who have antisocial personality disorder–the official diagnosis) make up 3% of males and 1% of females in the U.S. and at least 1.7% of the Canadian population. Fortunately, only a very small percentage of psychopaths become serial killers.

An FBI Symposium in 2008* attempted to come up with a simple definition of serial murder:

The unlawful killing of two or more victims by the same offender(s), in separate events at different times.

According to this definition, the guy who kills his wife, and then kills his neighbor when he finds out said neighbor witnessed the first murder, is a serial killer. Now you might be tempted to say that this guy isn’t really a serial killer, because he doesn’t match the picture of one painted by TV shows and movies.

But he fits the definition, and furthermore he is probably a psychopath. One can think of circumstances where a husband might kill his wife, either premeditated or in a fit of rage. But to go on and kill one’s neighbor in cold blood–that requires a self-centeredness and a lack of empathy and remorse that lands the killer on the psychopath continuum.

The motivation of serial killers is varied and complicated. The FBI* has identified several themes:

  • Financial/Criminal Gain: The person kills for money (hit men, black widows/widowers) or to gain status in a criminal group (gang members).
  • Anger: The person vents their rage toward someone (perhaps symbolically) and/or toward society in general.
  • Sexual: Violence has become eroticized somewhere in the person’s background so that they get sexual satisfaction through killing (may or may not be signs of sexual activity at the crime scene).
  • Ideology: The person kills as a way–in their mind–of advancing a strongly held ideological belief (for example, by killing prostitutes to rid society of their immoral behavior).
  • Power/Thrill: Having the ultimate power of life and death over someone provides a rush.
  • Psychosis: Truly being out of touch with reality and being driven by hallucinations and/or delusions.

Often two or more of these motivations apply in any given case. Most often the serial killer starts out killing for financial or practical gain–robbing people and then killing them to eliminate witnesses, for example. Then they discover that killing gives them a thrill, and they start to kill more for that reason. These are the hardest killers to identify and capture because their victims often have little or nothing in common, which is the case with the killer in Fatal Forty-Eight.

But my killer also falls into the ideology category of motivation, or at least he convinces himself that he is killing for a good cause, and there is also a bit of the sexual motive as well. (I won’t say more for fear of spoiling the story.)

Let me dispel several myths about serial murder and serial killers.

(1) Not all are sexually motivated by any stretch, and only a small number of serial killers are psychotic.

(2) There is a huge difference between a psychopath and a psychotic even though the two words sound so similar. A psychotic is someone who has completely lost touch with reality. Often their brains have just stopped functioning in any kind of rational way, or they may be living in a world created by their own hallucinations and delusions. Sometimes those delusions or hallucinations may drive them to commit crimes, but this is rare. Mostly they are a danger only to themselves.

Psychopaths, however, are legally sane. They know what is real and unreal in at least a concrete sense. In other words, they aren’t seeing things that aren’t there or hearing voices in their heads. But their ability to distort reality to suit their own self-centered perspectives is incredible sometimes. And they know right from wrong; they just don’t care.

Ted Bundy, 1979, leaving Leon County, Fla. Courthouse (Photo from The Florida Memory Project–CC-BY-SA 3.0 Wikimedia Commons)

Ted Bundy, 1979, leaving Leon County, Fla. Courthouse (Photo from The Florida Memory Project–CC-BY-SA 3.0 Wikimedia Commons)

(3) Most psychopaths are not obvious. They are experts at fitting in. Ted Bundy, one of the most notorious and sadistic serial killers in the U.S., was handsome and charismatic. He seduced his victims into trusting him.

The Green River Killer, Gary Ridgeway, confessed to killing 48 women over a twenty-year time period in the Seattle, Washington area. He was married at the time of his arrest and had been employed as a truck painter for thirty-two years. He attended church regularly, read the Bible at home and at work, and talked about religion with co-workers.

A letter to the police from Jack the Ripper (U.S. National Archives–public domain)

A letter to the police from Jack the Ripper (U.S. National Archives–public domain)

(4) Serial killers are not hoping someone will stop them; they are not trying to get caught. But since they feel little or no fear, they aren’t all that worried about getting caught either. They will sometimes contact the police or newspapers with taunts or even hints as to where they might strike next, or they may intentionally leave clues behind at crime scenes.

They do this to enhance the thrill! Killing is starting to lose its buzz so they have to up the ante.

(5) Serial killers are not all white males. Racially, they run the gamut of the population, and some are female.

Aileen Wuornos killed seven men in Florida between 1989 and 1990 (public domain, Wikimedia Commons)

Aileen Wuornos killed seven men in Florida between 1989 and 1990 (public domain, Wikimedia Commons)

And here’s another interesting tidbit I read about recently. The one group of serial murderers that perhaps we would be tempted to say are not psychopaths are the medical personnel who commit so-called mercy killings of terminally-ill and suffering patients.

Guess again. A recent, small study** in England found that the majority of these killers crave attention and are inordinately obsessed with death. The researchers only looked at 16 cases so this is not a definitive study, but nonetheless…

Okay, now that I’ve given you enough material to populate your nightmares for weeks to come, let me remind you again that serial killers are rare. It is likely that each of us has known a psychopath or two in our lifetimes, but very few of us will ever cross paths in real life with a serial killer.

My fictional heroine, however, has a real penchant for getting herself mixed up with murders. Please check out my new release below, and also I have a CONTEST going to celebrate its release. So pop over to my publisher’s site ( to enter.

I promised Marcy I’d hang around for a while if you have any questions. Also I will be talking more about the origins of psychopaths in a post on the misterio press site next week.

Oh, and this book is dedicated to Marcy, who is my editor and from whom I have learned so much!!


Carey, Elea and George Krucik, MD. Psychosis, Healthline.

*FBI Behavioral Analysis Unit. Serial Murder: Multi-Disciplinary Perspectives for Investigators, July, 2008.

**Townsend, Mark. Study identifies key traits and methods of serial killer nurses, The Guardian, November 22, 2014.

Fatal48 Ebook FINALFATAL FORTY-EIGHT, A Kate Huntington Mystery

Celebration turns to nightmare when psychotherapist Kate Huntington’s guest of honor disappears en route to her own retirement party. Kate’s former boss, Sally Ford, has been kidnapped by a serial killer who holds his victims exactly forty-eight hours before killing them.

With time ticking away, the police allow Kate and her P.I. husband to help with the investigation. The FBI agents involved in the case have mixed reactions to the “civilian consultants.” The senior agent welcomes Kate’s assistance as he fine-tunes his psychological profile. His voluptuous, young partner is more by the book. She locks horns out in the field with Kate’s husband, while back at headquarters, misunderstandings abound.

But they can ill afford these distractions. Sally’s time is about to expire.

(This book is part of a series but is designed to be read and enjoyed as a stand-alone novel.)

Buy Links:

Amazon US

Amazon UK

Amazon CA





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