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Max Barry wrote the novels Syrup, Jennifer Government, Company, Machine Man, and Lexicon. He also created the game NationStates and once found a sock full of pennies.

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Sat 13
Oct
2007

Rookie Mistakes #4: Horror Novelist Dismembers Girlfriend

Writing Maybe you heard about the arrest of Jose Luis Calva, who is described as an “aspiring horror novelist.” Police found a draft of his manuscript Cannibalistic Instincts, along with pieces of his girlfriend stashed in various places around his apartment, including in the frypan. I know, I know, I had the same reaction: it’s pretty unfair to call him “aspiring.” It sounds like that draft was finished. And not just finished, but comprehensively researched. Sure, some people say you’re not a novelist until you’re published, but in this day of print-on-demand and internet vanity presses, is that really a meaningful distinction? I say, if the guy went to all the trouble of crafting a story arc, putting words on the page day after day, and boiling his girlfriend’s flesh, he’s a novelist. Give him that.

I’m sometimes asked how much research you should do when working on a novel, so let me say: this is probably too much. It wasn’t just the girlfriend, you see; there’s also a missing ex-girlfriend and a chopped-up prostitute. That seems excessive to me. One, I could understand. I mean, I wouldn’t support it. You let horror novelists start cutting up hookers, and the next thing you know Tom Clancy is commandeering nuclear submarines off the coast of Florida. Or, I guess, appointing ghost writers to do that for him. But the point is I can imagine a frustrated Jose at his keyboard, a half-finished sentence dangling from the screen, thinking: “How do you sever a femur with a railway spike?”

Three corpses, though, that’s getting carried away. I haven’t read Cannibalistic Instincts, but I bet it contains long, tedious passages where Jose was unable to resist info-dumping his hard-won knowledge onto the reader. That’s the problem when you get to body number three: your research overshadows the writing. At that point, Jose really needed to be cutting fewer limbs and more adverbs. Fleshing out his story, not his apartment. Also, having a supportive spouse or girlfriend can be really important, especially to a first-time writer, so I can’t help but think it was counter-productive to eat her.

But there’s something in this tale to make writers everywhere feel a little better about themselves, because no matter how bad your own work is, at least you wrote it without butchering anybody. That’s a plus in anybody’s language. The corner Jose has backed himself into is that even if his book is published, when people read it they’ll be thinking, “Yeah, it’s good… but is it three murdered innocents good?” It’s extra pressure he doesn’t need. I mention this because I’m sure there are unpublished horror writers out there thinking, “No wonder I can’t get an agent; all the other horror writers are out there sawing limbs.” Sure, that probably provides a certain amount of realism that could elevate your fiction to a more visceral plane. I mean, I’m just guessing. And it’s hard to ignore the fact that Hollywood bible Variety reported this story with the line, “How soon before someone gobbles up the film rights to this?” But still. Call me a purist, but I prefer to do things the old-fashioned way: dismember people in my head.

Comments

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Linnea1928 (#2654)

Location: Rosemount, MN
Posted: 2601 days ago

Oh Max, You slay me. (haha)
I read this blog entry aloud to my parents and while I giggled (ok, probably a little excessively), they just stared at me in abject horror. Brills.

Dustin (#2291)

Location: California
Quote: "There's no sense crying over every mistake, you just keep on trying till you run out of cake" - GLaDOS"
Posted: 2601 days ago

I couldn't stop laughing at "Also, having a supportive spouse or girlfriend can be really important, especially to a first-time writer, so I can’t help but think it was counter-productive to eat her."

Of course I decide to share this with a friend, and now she thinks I'm slightly disturbed... but it was worth it.

Jamie (#111)

Location: Auckland
Quote: "Anyone still spelling "internet" with a capital "I" is probably struggling with the complexities of their new-fangled electric typewriter."
Posted: 2601 days ago

Hilarious. Especially:
"You let horror novelists start cutting up hookers, and the next thing you know Tom Clancy is commandeering nuclear submarines off the coast of Florida. Or, I guess, appointing ghost writers to do that for him."

Poor Tom. Having Max poke fun at his bevy of ghost writers must keep him up all night worrying about the morality of selling his name and generic book cover design to unknown authors to boost sales of generic novels called "The Upsilon Conspiracy". Bad Max.

Richard Giles (#2114)

Location: Perth
Posted: 2601 days ago

I always know when I see a post from you, that I'm gonna get a great laugh.

This one is pure genius!

Adam (#580)

Location: Hotel Lobbies (with Winona Ryder)
Quote: "I want to be famous. Really famous."
Posted: 2601 days ago

If this manuscript ever leaks out of evidence, it will be a guaranteed underground sensation. Which will, in turn, cause Norman Mailer and his Mexican literary counterparts to petition for Calva's release. Only to have Calva murder (and dismember) again.

And therein, ladies and gentlemen, lies your movie: A BUCKET OF BLOOD IN THE BELLY OF THE BEAST.

Kalle (#1278)

Quote: "Sex is herital. If your parents never had it, chanses are you'll never have it either."
Posted: 2601 days ago

Hey, some of the greatest books come from excessive research! A boy called it, that crazy woman who won the Nobel Prize, Black Like me, etc etc. Don't tell me your novels would be so biting and realistic if you imagined office hell in your mind, Max.

Alex (#535)

Posted: 2601 days ago

That's not a novel, it's a documentary.

Jennifer M. Dambeck (#3061)

Location: NJ, USA
Quote: "Rock on"
Posted: 2601 days ago

Don't eat your support circle! Hee-hee-hee you're a GENIUS!

Yenzo (#829)

Location: Secret underwater pyramid base in the Pacific
Quote: "In order to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe (Carl Sagan)"
Posted: 2601 days ago

I rofl'd all the way through your post!

But seriously, I'm under the impression that nowadays, you can research anything, ANYTHING simply on the internet, be it murder, self-mutilation or unusual sex... things. There's probably a wiki being created about it right now as we speak. So I'm not really shocked anymore by some author describing excesses of drugs and murder. What *does* shock me is that people wrote books about those things a few hundred years ago, without the net as a research opportunity.

For example: If you get your hands on it, read Maldoror by Comte de Lautreamont. Apart from learning how far out metaphors can be without becoming stupid, you'll also experience the creepiness of reading instructions on how to torture teenagers while knowing that the author was about 20 years old when he wrote it. Although it's probably still made up: Otherwise, his research must have included having sex with a shark.

Jeffrey (#2286)

Location: Right here
Quote: "Mathematics is a powerful language. Just look at how mathematicians destroyed the housing market."
Posted: 2601 days ago

That's too funny. I kept thinking about Palahniuk's book Haunted. I wonder if Chuck has ever eaten anyone? Hmm.

Tommy Mandel (#2554)

Location: nYc
Quote: ""You want me to sign this now?""
Posted: 2601 days ago

Hopefully, Richard K. Morgan didn't 'do the research' for the prologue to his latest novel ("Thirteen" in the US, "Black Man" in the UK, "Put Another One On the Barby" in Oz?)...

shabooty (#637)

Location: D.C./V.A/M.D.
Quote: "I will shake your foundation. I will shake the f**cking rafters. Nobody'll be the same -Danny Bonaduce ....& go visit my blog @: http://www.shabooty.com"
Posted: 2601 days ago

laf agreed...besides imagine him at a book tour doing a reading at your local bookstore...imagine the breath on him when you go to get your copy signed...
n if the pen doesn't write, he'll probably stab you in your eye.
scratch and sniff cover anyone?
$

Matt (#2101)

Location: Ohio, USA
Posted: 2601 days ago

Dugg! http://digg.com/offbeat_news/Writer_Max_Barry_s_take_on_Canabalistic_Aspiring_Horror_Novelist

Jennifer Gniadecki (#3308)

Location: Chicago-ish
Quote: "Happier than you and dragging you along for the ride"
Posted: 2601 days ago

I have to agree. The only time this much research is necessary is for romance novels. I mean, they *do* all that stuff in those books before they write about it, don't they? I'd hate to think there isn't a repository of ripped bodices somewhere just begging for a museum to be placed in...lovingly...deeply...ashamed but aroused to be exposed in beautiful cases while people pay to watch them hang helplessly.

austin (#2462)

Location: rhode island
Quote: "hmmm...bleh..."
Posted: 2601 days ago

I hear tibias add great flavor to soups...

Simon (#3192)

Location: Melbourne
Quote: "I'd rather be arrogant than wrong"
Posted: 2601 days ago

My English teacher always said to 'write what you know'..this guy's just taking it to the next level! But seriously, I would not be surprised if his novel actually gets published now.

Rod McBride (#688)

Location: Gardner, KS
Quote: "www.MidwestRockLobster.blogspot.com"
Posted: 2600 days ago

Hah, I've been stuck on my suburban bank robbery gang novel for years. I should knock off a few branch banks to get the juices flowing again.

Or maybe not.

C Lynch (#2047)

Location: San Diego, California, USA
Posted: 2600 days ago

You know... there's already a movie out there about this subject matter. It's a Judd Nelson film called "Cabin By the Lake"... it even has a sequel. Some novelist named Stanley murders women to research how they die and whatnot for his upcoming book.

If you ask me... that Jose guy watched it a few many times. ;)

Leave it to Hollywood to never actually know about things like this being done before; they just want it to be made into another second-rate film.

Michael Ricksand (#2212)

Location: Terra
Quote: "You do not have a right to be stupid."
Posted: 2599 days ago

Funniest weblog entry ever.

jessica (#3063)

Location: austin, tx
Quote: "You can't start a fire worrying about your little world falling apart."
Posted: 2598 days ago

"That’s the problem when you get to body number three: your research overshadows the writing. At that point, Jose really needed to be cutting fewer limbs and more adverbs."

Is it wrong to laugh at this? Oh well. We can laugh all the way to hell with milk squirting out our noses! This blog is just killer! hee hee ;)

Michael Ricksand (#2212)

Location: Terra
Quote: "You do not have a right to be stupid."
Posted: 2597 days ago

"The corner Jose has backed himself into is that even if his book is published, when people read it they’ll be thinking, “Yeah, it’s good… but is it three murdered innocents good?”"

You mean you don't usually ask yourself that when reading books? I thought everyone did. Like this morning, when I was laughing out loud on the bus when reading "Very good, Jeeves!" by P.G. Wodehouse, and thought "Oh, this is definitely three murdered innocents good!"

Yenzo (#829)

Location: Secret underwater pyramid base in the Pacific
Quote: "In order to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe (Carl Sagan)"
Posted: 2596 days ago

This could very easily become a new rating system for books, movies and CDs:

"Whereas the first movie in the Matrix series was generally consented as being worth four murdered innocents, a mutilated bystander and a few tortured kittens, Matrix Revolutions isn't even slap-your-neighbor-in-the-face good or, for that matter, shout-at-some-random-kid good."

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