Wednesday, August 26, 2015


Because of a recent turn-down in both the stock market and sales of Allen Appel’s books, Thriller Guy has decided to turn the blog over to Appel for perhaps the most shameless appeal for sales ever attempted by an author. Yes, here we go, it’s

Writers With Cats!

Here’s a photo of the writer Edward Gorey with a cat. I came across the photo while searching for a picture of Rasputin with a cat. Why? The first book in my series, Time After Time, was set in Russia before, during and after the Russian revolution and there’s a long Rasputin death scene in the book. What is truly amazing is I was unable to find a picture of Rasputin with a cat anywhere on the Interweb. So this one will have to do because Gorey bears an uncanny resemblance in both appearance and spirit of the Mad Monk. I'm pretty sure Gorey is stoned in this picture.

And here's the book. Copies can be found on the Internet or you can go to Amazon and fire it up on your Kindle by clicking on the book cover. It's priced at an incredibly low $.99 because we're sure that once you read the first one you're going to want to read the entire series. You know, the way folks did with the Game of Thrones, only this series is a lot shorter.

Click on the book cover to go to Amazon's Kindle page and order the book.
Time After Time. Volume One in the Pastmaster series. Revolutionary Russia is the setting. After dealing with Rasputin, Lenin and other villains and fighting his way across Russia, Alex Balfour finds himself outside the house where the Romanovs are about to be executed. And why does present DNA research show that not all of the family was killed that night?

"Best novel of the Year." American Library Association
"A keep-you-up-all-night book. It doesn't end, it pauses to let you catch your breath." The Washington Post
"A ferociously paced adventure whose chief object is to keep us reading." New York Times Book Review

Yes, it's Mark Twain, who has appeared in not one but TWO books in the series. He makes his first appearance here in the second book in the series...

Twice Upon a Time. Volume Two in the Pastmaster Series. Ten years after the Civil War the great American Centennial Exhibition opened to the astonishment of the entire world. This tale takes Alex Balfour from his mysterious awakening at the Exhibition through his friendship with Mark Twain and ends on the killing fields of the Little Big Horn with General George Armstrong Custer.

"Best books of the year." American Library Association
"Riveting... Highly recommended." Library Journal
"A compelling adventure." The Coast Book Review


Ernest Hemingway, of course. Why? Because the third book, Until the End of Time is set during WWII and Hemingway was working then. I believe that there are more pictures of Papa with cats than any other writer, living or dead. And this is a good one though kind of sad. I wonder if there was a cat around the day Hem picked up the shotgun and did himself in? If there had been, maybe he would have stopped to give the kitty a good head scratch instead of pulling the trigger.

Till the End of Time. Volume Three in the Pastmaster series. From Pearl Harbor to Hiroshima, Alex Balfour is trapped in some of the bloodiest battle of the Second World War. Back in the present, girlfriend Molly deals with a terrorist threat. This time, Alex is not sure if he'll ever make it back. And he doesn't.

"Best books of the year." American Library Association
"As rousing as ever." Kirkus
"Keeps readers glued to the page." The Washington Post


These are the first three books in the six volume series. I'll be featuring MORE PICTURES OF WRITERS WITH CATS in the near future, so stay tuned. Meanwhile, do yourself a favor and buy a book and get started on the series that many have declared, "Better than Game of Thrones but with far fewer naked women."

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Patterson Master Class - Ideas

I recently watched the third entry in the James Patterson how-to-write-a-novel, Master Class series, (see entry below) and I continue to be impressed with it. But I’m only three chapters in, so we won’t draw any conclusions yet. He’s got plenty of time to piss me off.

This entry was on Ideas and Where to Come Up With Them. Patterson’s delivery remains accessible and amusing and while there were no great surprises, I didn’t expect him to come up with anything really out-of-the-box. He says that sometimes his ideas spring from a title that occurs to him, or just a scene he sees on the street. Thriller Guy has covered this topic a number of times. I was mildly surprised to hear Patterson say that there weren’t really that many absolutely original ideas anyway, so what you might do is look for several disparate ideas and then find new ways to link them together rather than beating your brains out searching for an absolutely original conception.  That’s excellent advice. Thriller Guy’s friend, Dan, a noted biography author, told me once that because it’s so difficult to come up with a bio subject that no one has written about, the smarter thing is to come up with two people who are already known and then find a new way to link them together. Good advice that could be applied to many areas of non-fiction, as well as fiction.

Patterson says to read, read, read. Learn things; that’s where ideas come from. TG would add that the Internet is a great place to follow these kinds of threads from one interesting idea to another, so don’t feel guilty if you’re wasting your time surfing around, hoovering up stray factoids and perusing random articles that catch your interest. What you’re doing is called Basic Research. But remember, at some point you need to put down the mouse and sit in a chair, preferably outside, away from the computer and simply think. You need to make your brain consider all those interesting ideas you’ve come upon while surfing, and think of ways to turn them into plots. As TG has noted many times, it’s a painful process, but it has to be done. Not only when you’re thinking an idea up for a novel, but while you’re working on it, at any stage -- outline, first draft, later drafts, final draft. Patterson uses his novel Honeymoon as an example. I’ve never read it, but the basic idea is simple: a woman is a bigamist. Good idea. Almost everything you read about bigamists comes from the angle that it’s the man who’s always the perp. Patterson goes on to describe Honeymoon. The plot is what you might come up with once you accept the female premise: the woman is a “black widow” who is killing her husbands, an FBI guy sees something funny about the murder cases, the FBI guy falls for the woman even though he knows it’s a terrible idea, etc. Nothing really revolutionary there, but the basic idea is sound enough to build a good story on.

Patterson then adds more useful advice: if you can’t come up with a new concept, come up with a new character, someone really original to whatever genre you’re working in, or want to work in.

When you do come up with something, he continues, run it by a friend or two and see if it elicits a “tell me more” response. If it does, you may be onto something.

He then says to write down these ideas and keep them in an idea folder. Later on when you’re casting about for a new idea for a new project, you can go through the folder and see if anything leaps out at you. He adds that he used to keep a notebook by his bed, and if he came up with an idea in the night he made himself get up and write it down. This is standard Thriller Guy advice. Patterson no longer does that. He says that if you have an idea in the night and you don’t write it down and you forget it the next day that it must not have been a very good idea anyway. Not in my brain, James. If I forget an idea, it’s usually because I forget lots of things, especially stuff having to do with nebulous, or not so nebulous, fiction projects.  But he’s a big supporter of keeping a notebook to jot down ideas and other raw material for whatever you’re working on.

OK, all good, solid information. Now it’s time to get down to business. I’m going to work along with my master, James, on a new book. Hey, I paid $90 for this program, I might as well use it. Here’s my plot idea, which was sparked by my writer pal Larry while we were at lunch. Actually, early in this lesson Patterson says that asking friends for a novel concept is a very good idea. I’ve got some very good writer friends who are always up for this sort of activity, and over the years I’ve picked up many good plot concepts and had ongoing help from these folks while working on my many novels.

Larry’s idea: A guy who is a book critic writes a review of a book (mystery or thriller) and sends it to his editor. After awhile, he notices that the review he wrote never appears in the magazine. He emails his editor to ask why, and the editor says what review? What book? He doesn’t understand what the writer is asking about.

One of the reasons that this is an intriguing idea is that I’m a book reviewer, I write for a magazine and I have an excellent editor. I’ve often wondered after reading a particularly chilling or tech-heavy book, if terrorists and spies read thriller fiction. Is there a danger that they might pick up useful information from these books? So I began thinking about this setup and came up with these initial questions: what’s the book the reviewer is reviewing? Why did the editor say he’s never heard of the book or ever assigned him the review? And why does the editor turn up dead a week after the writer asks him these questions?

Anyone out there want to help? Joel, you with me on this?  Anyone else? Chime in with your ideas and we’ll start to build a book the Patterson way. Who knows, maybe we’ll make a million bucks.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Questions You Need to Stop Asking and Answers About Harper Lee.

As is known by faithful readers of this blog, Thriller Guy is in the business of helping others write books. “Business” is probably too strong a word for this activity, since the pay is meager and the only real remuneration is the pleasure TG feels when yelling at people over the Interweb. The group of people he’d like to yell at today are those well-meaning individuals, usually friends and family, who persist in asking someone working on a novel the following questions or variations of:

“When’s it going to be done?”  “How many words do you have written?” “When can I read it?” “So how much longer is it going to take?” “You’re what? Two-thirds done? Three-quarters finished?”

And sundry other questions asking for a timetable on finishing your book. TG’s answer in these situations is on the order of, “Sod off, you stupid twit, how the hell do I know when it’s going to be done?” But that’s probably not the best answer, especially if your husband or wife is asking. Why is this question so annoying and even destructive?

Because you don’t really know when it’s going to be finished. Oh, sure, guys like James Patterson have deadlines they meet, but in general a regular writer, especially one who’s got a day job, or a family, just thinks in terms like, “I dunno, Spring? Maybe?” What does finish even mean? First draft? Final draft? Copy-edited? Physical book? Other writers understand these permutations, these differing grades of finishness, but civilians (those who do not write novels) don’t, and if you try to explain, their eyes tend to wander, they lose interest in a matter of minutes, and mostly they think you’re dodging the question and whining. Which you are. The question, usually repeated over time, begins to eat away at many writers. Thriller guy doesn’t give a shit, but we all can’t be like TG. The acid of this question begins to dissolve a writer’s self confidence, and he finds himself ducking into spare rooms and crossing the street when he sees the questioner coming.

Civilians have a number of strong, general opinions about writing: First, most of them admire writers; second, they all think they can write. God knows why they admire writers, but most do. There’s an aura of lonely, sacrificial romance that hovers over the writing profession. TG isn’t going to start a rant about this because a quick glance back over the vast archives of this site will turn up plenty of rabid raves by TG on the subject. As for the second observation, civilians think they can write because they can write. All literate persons know how to write. What they can’t do is string together enough sentences in some kind of structure and order so they end up with a novel, or even a story that others might want to read. It’s difficult, brutal work – I know most of you don’t believe me – and it takes a long, long time to do.

TG’s alter ego, Allen Appel, figures that a novel -- usually one of his time travel series novels -- takes a solid year to write. His last one (The recently published TheTest of Time, available in Hardcover and Kindle HERE) took almost three years because he stopped in the middle to write a different novel. That’s two novels in three years, which isn’t bad, timewise, but certainly different from what he thought was going to happen. If you had asked him in the middle of those years how many words he had finished or when he was finally going to be done, he wouldn’t have had a clue. And the explanation of why that was so would have been as rambling and boring as this blog entry has become. So…

If you know a writer, don’t ask him or her any of the questions noted above. Just pat them on the shoulder, say, “Isn’t that interesting” or “Good for you” and drop the subject. Unless the writer wants to go on about it, many do, but don’t ask when it’s going to be finished. Because they don’t know.

Oh, yeah, there’s one other thing you can do; have a little pity for the writer. But keep it to yourself.

Allen Appel hasn’t forgotten the James Patterson, How-to-Write-a-Novel program he kicked off in the last blog. We’ll get back to that soon. Meanwhile, you can check out Appel’s memoir blog here, where he's finally getting into the sex, or you can always spend a little time HERE on Amazon buying one of his books. That’s a lot better than silent pity.

And the reference to Harper Lee in the title? TG’s pal Larry Kahaner over at The Non-Fiction Novelist has a good piece on how Go Set A Watchman probably came about. Check it out.  

Thursday, July 9, 2015

I Bought James Patterson’s How To Write Class For $90 So You Don’t Have To

First an announcement. I am in the process of writing a memoir. Don't ask me why, I'm not dying or anything, it just seemed like something interesting to do. I have decided to put it up in installments as a blog, which can be seen here. Be warned, there's bad language, X-rated situations and a few deaths, but it's mostly a paean to a small town in West Virginia, circa 1959. Let me know what you think and what you remember of your own distant past.


If you haven’t read last week’s entry, (see below) shame on you. To recap, James Patterson has been badgering me on Facebook to buy his master class where he teaches the tricks and techniques of writing a bestselling novel. In the spirit of generosity to my fellow writers, both published and unpublished, young and old, and my ongoing desire to make fun of whatever I feel deserves criticism and ridicule and the off chance that I, and then you, will actually learn something, I ponied up the $90 and downloaded the class. Writer pal Joel has agreed to go along with me on this journey and help write the novel that Mr. Patterson is going to tell us how to produce. No matter that I’ve already published ten novels, none of them were bestsellers and as Thriller Guy always says, you’re never too smart to learn something new and useful. Will we actually write a book? Who knows, but we’re going to push this thing until we fail, succeed, or just get sick of it. And we will report back to you, Thriller Guy’s faithful readers. If it looks like a good deal, we’ll tell you and you can spend your own $90. If it’s bogus, we’ll tell you and maybe we’ll all get a few laughs along the way.

I downloaded the class, which was easy enough to do. It comes in 22 installments, which they figure you can cover in six weeks, but you can view them in whatever speed you like. I also printed out the workbook, though the idea of actually filling it out is a little daunting, but, in for a penny, in for a pound as John LeCarre might say. I then watched the first two classes, which ran about 15 minutes together. These consist of Patterson sitting in several indoor locations and talking to the camera. One of the rooms he’s being recorded in looks like a very nice office/den. The others don’t have much character. Patterson speaks in an amiable, conversational tone, familiar but not overly so. He gives a general overview and then in the second entry he talks about how he got started in the business, and how you have to have passion if you are going to undertake writing a novel.

Here are my first impressions.

In the opening section, he missed a spot back by his right ear while shaving the morning of the taping. This didn’t really bother me all that much, but I noticed it and was happy in later shots when that was corrected. I liked his shirts, and in one sequence he was dressed in a navy blue mock turtleneck and a suede sport coat, which is a classic writer’s outfit. The suede sport coat seemed a little dressy for the informal setting, but it was saved from being rich-guy and pretentious by being sort of beat up. What impressed me most is that he and I share exactly the same taste in shirts!  In three separate shots his shirt looks exactly like three of my own shirts. And I often wear a sport coat with a mock turtleneck, though I ditched my brown suede jacket after the swinging sixties. But the similarities were astonishing. Obviously, I am well on my way to being a bestselling novelist.

In the writer’s den setting, where Patterson seemed the most comfortable, I noticed several important details. In the back, on the right on a shelf are a number of wine bottles in a row. And on his desk, from behind which he is giving his lecture, you can see the top third of a bottle that is obviously some sort of spirit. A quick shot a few minutes later shows a bit more of the bottle, and to me it looked like a dark rum, possibly Gossling’s. This was exciting because it spoke directly to me, as I also like wine and have a great fondness for Gossling’s dark rum!!! If I needed any more proof that the class was going to be a perfect fit for me, this was it.
James Patterson, not me. Note shirts just like mine, bottle of rum on desk and bottles of wine in back on right.

My overall takeaway? So far, I like it. He tells some jokes, curses but not to excess, makes a few mistakes (at one point he says his first book was rejected 31 times and ten seconds later he says it was rejected 34 times) and generally presents himself well and makes the writing a novel process at least sound doable. It’s clear the guy sees novel writing as a business that one can succeed at if one is willing to put in the work. No blabbering about writing as art and that nonsense. Even Thriller Guy would hold off making fun of him.

OK, it’s a good start. Don’t send him your $90 yet, we’ve got a long way to go, but so far I’m on his side.