The US military has cloned infamous serial killers in an attempt to harness the genetics of violence, and when some of the bad clones (all in their teens) escape and start doing what serial killer clones do, a retired and dented special ops hero has to track them down with the help of a sixteen-year-old Jeffrey Dahmer clone.
Where does an idea like this come from?
The expected answer involves wrestling with universal expressions of human Identity and Morality and exploring Nature/Nurture, Self. Blah blah. An ethos of American and Male Violence… Blah. And the honest answer has more to do with loving books more than anything else in the world and wanting my name on the cover of one and fancying that ex-girlfriends or my parents will see CAIN’S BLOOD in the bookstore and concede aloud how awesome I am.
In either case, these answers prove too reductive. It would be like condensing the origins of YOU to that one night where mom and dad had some alone time. A whole lot more, even in the most seemingly-random circumstances of conception, and the process of WHERE/HOW/WHEN/WHY a writer first got the idea for a book or story is often long and muddled. [Note: There are some authors who claim to wake up and start writing as if inspired only by their last dream. That ain’t me]. And so, I’ve tried to capture some of my various muses/inspirations here as I worked on CAIN’S BLOOD for five-plus years. For those readers and future-writers drawn to such things, I hope it proves helpful or interesting:
1] Creative Theft. (or ‘Inspiration’ if you want to be kind) I was at a writer convention in Nashville doing a panel on horror writing with an author named Jason Brannon. At some point, Jason mentioned the idea of his next book: A sideshow circus featuring legendary monsters: Bigfoot, the Chupacabra, Jersey Devil, etc. GREAT IDEA! Loved it. I’d actually written a book about The Jersey Devil and so this was right up my alley. Kinda wanted to taser Jason and steal the concept from him right then and there. But writers don’t really do that to each other. So I started thinking instead. How could I commandeer the idea and appropriate something new with/from it? [Somewhere online there are pics of me sitting next to Jason… I look completely out of it because I’m thinking with every brain cell on how to make his idea MY new idea]. I got as far as a sideshow of famous serial killers. No, a museum. No… a private collection. No… Hmmmm. Why the heck would someone collect serial killers? I had no answer yet, but it lingered quietly in my mind for almost a year until I needed that answer. Oh… and is there a little Jurassic Park here? Sure. Or The Road or Sixth Sense or Huckleberry Finn. Maybe just a smidge. Thousands of people have been telling me stories for decades and there’re a whole lot of toys collected in my brain to play with in new ways. [Jason’s eventual book is called THE CAGE. Buy it here]
2] Market (Part 1). I’d become friends with the publisher of Apex Science Fiction and Horror Digest, a popular speculative magazine which specialized in, well, stories that combined science fiction and horror. Friends notwithstanding, dude hadn’t bought any of my stories yet. Fair enough. My science fiction stuff lacked horror, my horror stuff lacked sci-fi. So…. Driving to an Apex book event one night, a two–hour trip, all I thought about the whole drive was a story that somehow offered the perfect blend for Apex. I’d read every issue of the magazine up to that point. Knew what their editors liked and added some goodies accordingly. Cloned serial killers. Science and horror. Toss in some evil scientists, a couple lab-produced monsters. Done. I pitched the story that same night as a 40k-word novella. Apex said yes and then serialized the tale in four installments throughout 2007. The “Cain Universe” had finally started taking shape…
3] Write What You Know. I teach high school English and one day (many years after the Apex story was published) the students got on the subject of serial killers (it comes up more than you’d think in a room of boys…) One student started quizzing the rest of us. In what city…? What is the name of…? How many… Etc. I got every question right. While my knowledge of the Shakespearean sonnet or Hemingway’s influence on postmodernism was tolerated at best, I’d now proven I also knew a lot about something the guys found extremely interesting. Freaky dark stuff. Horrible stuff. But stuff I’d been following like a fan for decades. And since most of the clones would be teens, and as I taught at an all boys’ high school and had two teenaged sons, and… yeah, this was something I could write about with some genuine authority I pulled out the Cain novella that same night, and started thinking what I could do with it if given another 60k words to play with.
3] Research. The first rule of writing is “Write What You Know.” The second is “Know More.” (The third has something to do with “not talking about Fight Club.”) Research has always been my favorite aspect of writing, and I will research for six months to a year before writing a single word. Before I began CAIN’S BLOOD, I read and watched and listened. Fifty books, hundreds of web articles. I asked my sons and students what they would do “If….” Watched hours of taped interviews with actual serial killers and psychologists. Scientists. Teen counselors and social workers. Visited serial killers’ personal websites (which some produce while in prison). At one point, my oldest son finally asked me to “please stop talking about Jeffrey Dahmer all the time.” It was hard not to. My head swimming with facts and arguments regarding serial killers, government conspiracy, military testing, development in teens, the ‘anger’ gene, cloning, etc. Like a stew or soup, I guess. Tossing in everything I could find, stirring the pot again and again until I thought I had something worth serving.
4] World View. Everyone has one. What makes a “good” person? What is the cause of Evil? Sin? Is there a cure? Should there be? What is the role of government? Do we have a good one? What is the role of our military? Of science? Of a father? What function does The Past play in our lives? When is a boy a man? How responsible are we for your own actions? And so on… Literature allows writers (and, by proxy, readers!) to explore, test and maybe pronounce these worldviews. Try out some new answers. Challenge our own previous notions. Maybe tackle different sides of the same question using two characters. CAIN’S BLOOD (and it’s little brother, PROJECT CAIN, a spinoff novel for teens told form the POV of Jeff Jacobson, the Dahmer clone) provided a stage with plenty of opportunity and space for these kind of considerations. This is THEME land: A place where English teachers aren’t full of shit. Where writers and readers gather for a short time and get to, even if in fictional encryption, share honestly about being human.
Add all that up. Maybe you’ll have an idea to start a book. I did.