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The Sirens of Suspense







Foremost serial killer expert in the United States, star of the hit Investigation Discovery series DARK MINDS, and acclaimed investigative journalist M. William Phelps is the national bestselling, award-winning author of 23 books. Winner of 2008 New England Book Festival Award for “I’ll Be Watching You,” Phelps has made well over 100 television appearances, including CBS’s “Early Show,” “The Today Show,” “The View,” “Fox & Friends,” truTV, Discovery Channel, Fox News Channel, ABC’s “Good Morning America,” Learning Channel, Biography Channel, History Channel, Oxygen, OWN, and many others. He’s been on USA Radio Network, Catholic Radio, Mancow, Wall Street Journal Radio, Zac Daniel, Ava Maria Radio, Catholic Channel, EWTN Radio, ABC News Radio, and Radio America, who calls him “the nation’s leading authority on the mind of the female murderer.” He’s written for numerous publications—including the Providence Journal, Connecticut Magazine, and the Hartford Courant—and consulted on the first season of the hit Showtime cable television series “Dexter.”.

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M. William Phelps: Exploring the item1

You are the author of over twenty non-fiction books.  What prompted you to turn to fiction? Was it easier or harder for you? How did you see your writing style change?

I was asked to write a thriller by an editor. I love challenges. I never intended it to consume me. Writing fiction for me is torture. I immerse myself in anything I do. With non-fiction, I can work all day (and even half the night) and, when I’m done, shut it off until the next morning. With fiction, once I get the story moving in my head, I cannot shut it off. I find myself getting up in the middle of the night to write ideas down. I need to outline and figure plot points out ahead. I’m not one of these pompous fiction writers that would say something self-indulgent like, ‘I allow the characters to dictate where the story is going …’ Please. That’s nonsense. If you’re writing genre-based, make-believe thrillers, you need to know how the story begins, develops and ends. We’re not recreating the wheel here—we’re writing throwaway thrillers.


Having investigated, and met, so many real serial killers, did you find it difficult to come up with a unique crime for THE DEAD SOUL?

No. With fiction, especially genre serial killer thrillers, I like to take several real stories, combine them, and push them over the top. The stuff in the serial killer genre today is so contrived and over-the-top, it’s not hard to keep on par with it. And when you are writing for a genre, you need to mimic what’s happening in the market. Any writer that says he or she is not doing that is a liar.


How do you choose your subjects - both real and fictional?

I have a process I go through. Non-fiction, I weigh several cases before choosing one to write a book about. It depends on how many people will talk to me, the psychological makeup of the perp, the setting, class, a lot of things (which is what editors today demand—I don’t make the rules, I follow them!). More than anything, though, the subject has to thrill me and get that passion I have for storytelling going. If not, I won’t do it.

Fiction…? Mmm … I have several stories I am working on now. A question generally inspires me to get going on a piece of fiction. I just don’t have the time right now to complete them. TV and nonfiction takes up all of my time.


You consulted on the first season of Dexter, a groundbreaking show that paved the way for many others which are on the air now: Bates Motel, The Following, Hannibal, to name only three. What was your experience on Dexter? Do you watch any of the fictional shows on the air now? Which, if any, do you find the most realistic?

I consulted before the first season started, not during the first season. I came up with some crimes scenes for them. I loved working for the Dexter people. I actually designed a contest for the website and also an actual crime scene they staged in the back of several flatbed trucks and stationed in the center of all the big cities throughout the USA. They came to me because they wanted real crime scenes.

I don’t watch fictional serial killer shows. It’s too much for me. It’s so far-fetched, I can’t stand to watch. I understand why. I realize TV needs to be fantasy-based, same as fiction, but when you deal with this stuff—especially the victims’ families—in the real world on a daily basis, it becomes almost impossible to watch the fictionalized version of it. 


You created Dark Minds on the Investigation Discovery (ID) channel five years ago (the third season is in the works now), how has this shaped, changed or informed your experience as a writer? Are there cases and issues you can deal with through television that you can't through your writing, or vice versa?

Not sure if it’s informed my experience as a writer much. It keeps me grounded in the belief that less is always more when telling a story. On TV, you don’t have much space, so you have to make your points short and sweet and sharp. My writing has definitely impacted my TV career. It’s the basis for it, actually. I am a writer. A crime and serial killer expert. That career allowed me the platform to create and produce DARK MINDS.


What's coming next for you? 

More DARK MINDS, a second crime TV series I created and have sold to a production company, along with more books. In fact, in September, for the first time in 23 books of writing about convicted, guilty murderers, I am publishing a book that I argue for one of the defendant’s innocence. I went into the book expecting to write about two female murderers and, well into the investigation process I realized one of them was innocent. I, like the jury and everyone else, believed she was guilty when I started the project. It was an incredible learning experience for me as a journalist. Tells me I always need to keep my mind open.



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Writing ambience? An office. Desk. Computer. Lots of documents around me.

To outline or not to outline: Yes for fiction; no for nonfiction (the research and interview process is the outline).

Reading now: FARTHER AND WILDER by Blake Bailey.

Book or eReader? Both. Prefer e-reader because I travel so much.

Cats or dogs? Pure breed Black Lab.

Book he wishes he could read again for the first time: THE WORLD IS WHAT IT IS by Patrick French.

Where he'd time travel: 1970s...Nostalgic pull, I guess. Pre-computer/text/tablet/Internet world. I just have good memories of that time (I was in grammar/middle school for the most part). Life (when I look back now) seemed simpler to me then.

Greatest fear: Not being a good father and husband

Favorite online resource: Google Books, by far—there is no better resource for a writer..

Favorite independent bookstore: RJ Julia, Madison, Ct. World-renowned. I don't think I need to explain. Also, Murder By The Book, Texas. I loved it when I did a talk there last year. Great place for a crime guy.

If he could have one superpower: To fly.