I was talking to a friend on Facebook about some of my recent writerly successes. She suggested that I take time to celebrate my quasi-achievements, like getting someone important to read my work, even if they don’t fall in love with it or give me a million dollars.
That is an milestone, of sorts, but I told her that I didn’t want to jinx anything while I was still waiting for responses. I typically lean heavily towards the “cautious” side of “cautiously optimistic,” in part because of a phrase from the masterful Tad Williams work, Otherland, that has stuck with me since I first read it in high school. “Confident, cocky, lazy, dead,” says Johnny Dread, not a particularly pleasant character (a serial killing psychopath, in fact), but a wise one in that respect.
My friend wanted to check that I had, in fact, taken the motto out of context, but it got me thinking that authors and axe murderers have a surprising amount of things in common. I decided to put together a list. Feel free to add to it if you think I’ve missed something.
Top 10 reasons authors are like serial killers
It’s always the quiet ones
Antisocial, absorbed in our own thoughts, scribbling quietly in a notebook, plotting world domination while the rest of the world has fun? Check, check, and check. Writers may be detached from reality due to an overabundance of empathy and imagination rather than the cold and calculating cruelty associated with true psychopathy, but sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference in a high school classroom. I know most of my peers got it wrong, and I’m sure a few of yours did, too.
Our Google search histories raise red flags with the FBI
Personally, I wouldn’t want an agent looking at my hard drive. I’ve searched for everything from how long it would take for someone to die from massive blood loss to the best way to strangle someone from behind. Figuring out how to dispose of bodies, get away with vicious crimes, and brutally maim the innocent is all part of a day’s work for a genre writer, but you better hope Agent Jones can appreciate your dedication to detail.
Storyboard or stalker shrine?
We’ve all done it. Clipped pictures from magazines or websites, searched for the names of models whose faces match our characters’ personalities, finding out where they live and what they like to eat for breakfast. Pasted newspaper articles to our walls, using red ink to circle key phrases that have no meaning to the outside world. Kept a literary agent’s business card under our pillows and sniffed it every night to catch the faintest whiff of hope from the card stock, trying to block out the stench of desperation that buzzes through our dreams every night. Don’t deny it. I’ve seen that room in your basement. It’s kind of impressive, actually.
We will ask you for a search warrant before letting you in our apartments
Okay, so we’re just embarrassed about the enormous pile of empty Cup Noodle containers and candy wrappers blocking the door (hey, it’s NaNoWriMo), but there ain’t no way you’re getting into my writing space without a subpoena. You might move something. You might touch something. Don’t touch anything I told you not to touch it damn it look what you’ve done you’ve messed up my feng shui you jerk.
We’ve been known to scream incoherently in public when the voices in our head get too loud
Uh…yeah. Maybe this one is just me, actually.
We are the gods of our own little universes, and we make sure everyone knows it
We do it for the control. For the thrill of wielding the power of life and death. To see the fear in our enemies’ eyes, and crush them when the whim strikes us. We do it because the real world makes us powerless, but we can always live out our fantasies in fiction: fiction that sometimes becomes disturbingly real if we’re not careful. We do it for the love of the hunt, the thrill of the chase, the satisfaction of a conclusion well-fought. We do it because it makes us feel alive.
Sometimes we join cults; sometimes we start them
Fan boys and girls? You betcha. We all have our idols, our favorite series, our favorite actors and writers. We follow them on Twitter, giggle like schoolgirls when they tweet us back, go to conventions just to catch a glimpse of their rumpled clothes or epic beards over the spiky head of that Klingon cosplayer in front of us. And we aspire to be them. To have our own following that inspires such loyalty, devotion, emulation, and tribute. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery…and we love flattery.
We long for the quiet of a bunker in the forests of Montana where no one can find us
Especially not those guys with the search warrants. Peace, quiet, and solitude are the ingredients for a well-executed plan and a clean getaway. We need time to think and plot without the distractions of someone asking us to do our day jobs, god forbid, or wash our hair. Give me a wood burning stove, a flannel jacket, and a shotgun, and I’ll give you one hell of a novel.
We scare people away just by looking at them
Those wild eyes, that duffle coat littered with the crumbs of coffee shop muffins and stained with hot chocolate and the salt of our own tears, the unnerving grin of someone whose mind is clearly elsewhere: we’ve got it all. People sidestep us in the street, inch away on the bus, and don’t dare make eye contact on the subway. We reach into our pockets for a pen and they take cover. Who knows what’s going on in our itchy little heads (you really should have washed your hair) at any given moment? I certainly don’t.
Even if we kill with remorse, we will always kill again
There’s no stopping us. No matter how many times we kill our darlings, no matter how bad it makes us feel or how many times we fail to get anyone to understand us, we’re always going to do it again. We’ll always be back, even if we lie dormant for a few years, because we can’t help ourselves. You can lock us up, take away our computers, make us eat fresh fruits and vegetables instead of microwavable whatever’s-in-the-freezer, but we won’t quit. As soon as you’re not looking, we’re off again on a new mission, a new cycle of pulse-racing joy and soul-wracking heartbreak, because we must. That’s all there is to it. We must.