Friday, February 20, 2015

Fifty Shades of Shut Up

Because TG’s rant is going on too long, he will be splitting this one up over the next week or so. Stay tuned.

Here’s the lesson for the day, brethren: Honey Badger Don’t Give a Shit. For those of you who don’t understand this reference, TG will explain it later.

The Fifty Shades movie is out and every film reviewer is in total agreement: the book sucked. Wait a minute, what about the movie? No, it’s the first thing they gleefully point out, and usually the last. The movie review seems almost secondary because all the critics, pundits, and essayists who are teeing off over the Shades phenomena have to first establish their own bona fides, both professional and personal, by pointing out that the book is abysmally written porn trash and not the sort of thing they would ever read unless forced to. These protestations are so snide, so superior, so smug and so afraid. They scream, I’m smart! I’m sophisticated, sex writing doesn’t turn me on, I’m way too cool for that! Then they go on to trash the movie, though most of the ones I have read say one of its biggest faults is that it isn’t sexy enough. (!)

This blog is not meant to be an apologia for Fifty Shades of Grey. Any one who read TG’s thoughts on the book knows that TG felt the book was perfectly fine, the writing got the job done, the sex was pretty mild, and there was no real reason for anyone to vilify the book beyond the reviewer’s own discomfort with erotica.

Of all the reviews TG read, only one admitted any favorable reaction to the book (it made her feel “tingly”) and that reaction was against her will as she, too, thought the writing was terrible. The pejoratives are uniform in their invective – horrible, primitive, ridiculous, stupid, pornography, trash and on and on. Sophisticated intellectual readers greet these pronouncements with a smug nod of the head. But TG, who is a professional (don’t try this at home, kids) reads all kind of books, most of them thrillers that would be considered military adventure pornography by these very same people, and he knows from vast experience in the book business, that the real emotion that comes through loud and clear, to those who know the writing biz, is…


Oh, how writers envy the success of other writers. They are a lonely, bitter lot. Economic success, critical success, any success that is not their own brings the bitter taste of jealousy to their lips. They smile a thin smile of false friendship and imagine driving a dagger deep into the bowels of the beaming successful writer. You’ll never hear anyone but TG say these things, because writers pretend to be one big happy family of kindred souls, but remember, TG is the only one who will never lie to you about writing and the writer’s life. When someone like E. L. James comes along and cranks out three volumes of Fifty Shades and sells a hundred million copies most writers die inside and wail to themselves, “The writing is terrible! I could have done this! I am so much better than she is! Why didn’t I do this! Why wasn’t it me! Why? Why?" They did the same thing to Stephen King and Dan Brown and every other author who has had great success. It’s a wonder they haven’t taken their knives to poor Harper Lee.

So then someone assigns them the book to review or they take the book up on their precious blogs and sniff about how terrible it is, shocking in its writerly badness, beneath them and every other intelligent reader.

What irks TG (some of you will point out that everything irks TG) is the lack of fairness and the misconceptions that high culture critics (and almost all critics think of themselves as arbiters of high culture) make when it comes to the reading habits of their inferiors, and nearly all of us are their inferiors. Bad writing, bad novels, genre writing, independent publishing are all present day rocks that their tidy, self-centered ships founder upon. So tell us TG, just exactly what is a bad book?

There have been lots of book bloggers who have wrestled with this conundrum: what is a good book and what is a bad book. The success of James and other independent writers who publish their work themselves on Amazon and elsewhere beg this very question. So reviewers and bloggers ask it, then make an attempt at an answer. But no matter how close they come to explaining what makes good and bad writing (and there are some very good answers to this question) they are missing a valuable point. The mistake they are making in answering is the question itself: They see it simply from their own viewpoint -- what is good or bad writing to them and to other professionals, and to sophisticated, intelligent, educated readers like themselves. It’s a perfectly good question to ask, but in the context of a vastly successful popular novel it's the wrong one. Here’s the real question.

What is a good book, and what is a bad book to people who actually buy books to read for enjoyment. Not for review. Not to criticize. But to enjoy. Here’s the answer: Listen up all you smarty-pants book professionals out there.

To general readers, the people who are the economic backbone of the publishing industry, a good book is one they like, and a bad book is one they don’t like.

It’s that simple.

TG has said this before many times: 90% of the time it doesn’t make a goddamn bit of difference how good the writing is. If you’re a reader who wants stories about dinosaurs having sex with teenage girls, you’d read those stories if they were carved out of bars of soap. And enjoy them.

100 million readers, most of them women, wanted to read a book about a woman having sex with a fabulous-looking man who was rich, suave, and wealthy, who brought along a little something extra to the bedroom, a little bondage and discipline, which made the sex even better. Forbidden. Hot. And TG would bet that the number, 100 million, is actually much larger, maybe two hundred million, because this is the kind of book that gets passed around from hand to hand, woman to woman. Not everyone has the guts to go to a bookstore and buy a book that has been proclaimed, trashy, pornographic, and that sin of all sins, badly written. Thank God these buyers could go to Amazon and have their copy shipped to them in a plain brown wrapper or delivered to their ereader.

Once again…

100. Million. Readers.

That’s the Honey Badger folks. 100 million readers. Check back in a few days and see why he just doesn’t give a shit.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Sick of Listening to Blowhards

Some of you have been asking Thriller Guy where he’s been for the last few weeks. Sick, is where he’s been. Camped out in the land of influenza. TG might appear to have been hewn from a block of granite, but age has introduced cracks in that noble visage. TG recommends at the first sign you might be coming down with something, go to your doctor. He or she is going to give you the flu test and the result is going to come up negative because the test is worthless, (your doctor will admit this if questioned) and the doctor will try to send you home with nothing, or worse, an antibiotic. It seems the CDC has told docs this year to deny prescribing Tamiflu unless the test is positive, a very rare result. Why deny an extremely helpful drug? Because “they” didn’t make enough to go around. A simple Google search will show that three years ago the CDC recommended that docs treat for the symptoms and ignore the test, and this year they are recommending that docs treat to the test and ignore the symptoms. Doctors are famous for sending their patients on their way with the admonition to stay off the Internet and not Google their various diseases. They say that the results will “confuse” us and everyone knows the Internet is unreliable. While TG stands on the side of science (and against those morons who don’t get their children vaccinated, thus negating the lessons of a thousand years of history) TG does not stand on the side of blind obedience and trust. Demand the Tamiflu. You can look it up.

What’s up with all the brouhaha about the movie, American Sniper? As noted above, TG
has been too sick to go to a theatre, but he has reviewed several books written by the coauthor, Scot McEwen, of the book, American Sniper, the bio of sniper Chris Kyle from which the movie was adapted. As far as TG can tell, the powerful movie incites reactions from both ends of the political spectrum. If you love the movie, you’re some sort of murderous right-wing killer, and if you hate it you’re a left-wing socialist, bleeding heart liberal. TG has to ask, what if you enjoy watching war movies where, shockingly (insert emoticon indicating sarcasm) people shoot (very accurately, in this case) people who are designated “the enemy.” TG would like to note that the best-selling bio didn’t seem to provoke the sort of rabid reaction that the movie has, which TG supposes is because of the basic differences between reading a book and watching a movie.

You know what? maybe it’s the lingering effects of the flu, but TG is already as bored with writing about this as you probably are with reading about it.

It’s a movie, people. And first it was a book. Yes it was non-fiction, but it wasn’t the real thing. TG always harkens back, in these circumstances, to a comment made by his buddy Henry Allen years ago. Henry was a Marine and did a stint in Vietnam. He and TG both worked at the Washington Post when the movie Platoon came out. This was a powerful war movie about Vietnam, and it was hailed for its realism. Henry said people would come up to him and ask if the movies was “just like being in Vietnam?” He would shake his head and say, well, no, because it’s a movie. No one liked that answer very much, but it always made complete sense to me. It’s a movie, people.

As anyone who reads this blog knows, TG is sick of listening to folks who have iron-plated opinions, be they from the far left or right. And rather than counsel a moderate path, advising tolerance and the spirit of compromise, TG would just like to tell you all who keep going on about this to just shut the fuck up. You’re all just both sides of the same self-absorbed, pompous coin. Maybe that’s the flu talking, but that’s the way TG thinks even when he’s in the peak of good health.

And by the way, the fiction series about sniper Gil Shannon written by McEwen and co-author Thomas Koloniar – One Way Trip, and Target America are the first two entries – is terrific. In it Shannon leaves a sea of enemy bodies behind him as he fights international terrorists across the world. If you like military fiction, this is as good as it gets. And there’s not one ambiguous moment in it to slow the action. But if you don’t like the sight of blood, don’t read it. It’s simple.

And if you get sick, demand the Tamiflu. Trust TG on this one.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Writers Fellowships and Pipe Hitters

Thriller Guy has a goddamn cold. First one in ten years and it’s really kicking his butt. So rather than ranting on and on, he’s going to pass along a valuable document, shut down the computer and go back to his armchair. But first…

A fun fact to know and use for thriller writers. A Pipe Hitter is a term used by special forces to describe someone, either friend or foe, who is willing to do anything to achieve his mission. Anything.

Regular readers of this blog know that writer Allen Appel is a big fan of the artist fellowship writing program at the Virginia Center for Creative Arts. In the last 2+ years Appel has completed two novels, doing most of the original draft work while in residence at VCCA. Many of the other artists there spend much of their year travelling from one of these residencies to another. A web search will turn up lots of possibilities, but Thriller Guy offers this list for writers in particular. Note that many of them pay travel expenses and some also offer stipends as well. Read the list, dream and maybe even apply.

You’re welcome.

James Merrill House, located in Stonington, Connecticut, offers one four and a half residency between mid-January and the end of May, and three or four shorter residencies of 2 to 6 weeks during the months between Labor Day and mid-January. The fellowship provides living and working space to a writer in search of a quiet setting to complete a project of literary or academic merit. The Writer-in-Residence program includes a US$5000 stipend for the extended term with smaller stipends offered for the brief residencies. Applications close 15 January.
Philip Roth Residence in Creative Writing
This residency is hosted by Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. Named for the University’s renowned literary alumnus and initiated in the fall of 1993, the Philip Roth Residence in Creative Writing offers up to four months of unfettered writing time for a writer working on a first or second book. The program provides lodging in Poets’ Cottage and a stipend of US$4000. Applications close on 1 February.
This program is offered by The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. It offers residencies to mid-career professionals in the arts and humanities, including writers. The residencies last between one and three months and take place at The Dora Maar House in Ménerbes, France. For fellowships between 1 July and 15 December 2015, applications must be submitted by 15 February.
Each year Can Serrat Centre near Barcelona, Spain, offers two writers a full stipend which entitles them to a 30-day residency including free accommodation, breakfasts and dinners. The residency is open to writers in all fields regardless of nationality or age. All chosen candidates have the opportunity to do a reading / exhibition at the centre. There are two selection rounds: the first closes on 1 March and the second on 1 August.
This month-long residency offers eight established writers of non-fiction an opportunity to develop a major essay, memoir, or feature piece for a CA$2000 commission. Held at The Banff Centre’s Leighton Artists’ Colony studios, it enables writers to work on their manuscripts during individual consultations with faculty and during round-table discussions. Participants are required to arrive with a fully reported and typed first draft of their project, and must complete a final, publishable draft of between 5000 and 7500 words by the time they leave.  Past participants of the program have represented thought-provoking writers across Canada, however international applications are equally welcomed. The application deadline is 18 March.
Jack Kerouac Writer in Residence ProjectThe Kerouac Project provides four residencies a year to writers living anywhere in the world. Each residency consists of approximately a three-month stay in Orlando, Florida, in the cottage where Jack Kerouac wrote his novel Dharma Bums. Utilities and a food stipend of US$800 are included. The Project also offers opportunities for residents to participate in readings, workshops and to interact with the central Florida writing community. Applications for the 2015-2016 residencies close on 31 March and results will be announced in May.
Danish Centre for Writers and Translators
Since 1999 the Danish Centre for Writers and Translators has offered writers, translators and illustrators free working residencies at the old manor Hald Hovedgaard, situated 10 kilometres from the town of Viborg, in the middle of Denmark.The Centre offers four-week residencies to published international authors who have had at least two books of fiction or poetry published. Applications are expected to open in March and close in April.
Norman Mailer Center and Writers Colony
The Norman Mailer Center and Writers Colony offers Summer Fellowships for fiction, nonfiction and poetry writers during the second half of 2015 at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. Five applicants (including one from the State of Utah) will be chosen for this in-residence program. Each successful fellow receives full tuition and housing for the entire three-week period of their stay. Applications close in April.
Centre d’Art Marnay Art Centre
The Centre d’Art Marnay Art Cenre offers residencies year-round to writers and other artists in the Champagne-Ardenne region of northern France. The program aims to support residents in their ‘creative explorations, investigations, and professional growth, within an environment of communication and exchange.’ Residents are housed in seven recently renovated studios. The centre offers two scholarships for two-month retreats, one is co-sponsored by UNESCO and the other sponsored by the Ténot Foundation. General applications are considered on a rolling basis.
Built in 1902, Gladstone’s Library is the UK’s only residential library. The Library’s Writers in Residence program began in 2011. Four residencies are offered each year with each writer staying at the Library for a month. The Writers in Residence are asked to keep a blog about their stay, as well as running a creative writing workshop. Residents receive full room and board, reimbursement for travel expenses and a small stipend of £100 per week. Applications close 30 May.
This residency for women writers is located on Whidbey Island, about thirty-five miles northwest of Seattle. The program is open to all women writers, whether their work has been published yet or not. Applications open in June.
The Scotland Writing Residency is located in Brora, a coastal village in the east of Sutherland in the Highland area of Scotland. The writer resides, for one week during summer or fall, in a furnished and recently renovated, traditional croft cottage, containing three-bedrooms. The residency does not come with a cash prize. Applications close 12 August.
Jentel is located on a 1000 acre working cattle ranch 20 miles southeast of Sheridan, Wyoming. It offers individuals a supportive environment in which to further their creative development. Applications for Summer/Fall Residencies close in January and applications for Winter/Spring Residencies closes on 15 September.
Founded by artists in 1984, the Vermont Studio Center is the largest international artists’ and writers’ residency program in the United States. Each month the Center hosts 16 writers from across the country and around the world, as well as 24 painters/mixed-media artists, 12 sculptors/mixed-media artists, 2 printmakers and 2 photographers. The residencies take place on a historic 30-building campus along the Gihon River in Johnson, Vermont, and run for between 2 and 12 weeks. The next three applications rounds in 2015; the deadlines are 15 February, 15 June and 1 October.
Berton House is located in Dawson City, Yukon. Professional Canadian writers who have published at least one book and are established in any creative literary discipline (fiction, non-fiction, poetry, play/screenwriting, journalism) may apply for a three-month residency. Applications close in October.
Since it was founded in 1992 it has hosted hundreds of authors and translators, representing more than fifty countries, including Gary Shteyngart, Kiran Desai and Colum McCann. Ledig House located in Ghent, New York, two and a half hours from New York City and guests may select a residency of one week to two months. Applications close in October.
This program offers professional writers, as well as composers and visual and performing artists, the opportunity to ‘pursue their artistic discipline while being surrounded by the park’s inspiring landscape’. Selected artists stay in a historic cabin for two-week periods from June through September. Applications are expected to close in November.
The Amsterdam Writers’ Residency was established by the Dutch Foundation for Literature (Nederlands Letterenfonds). Since it began over eight years ago it has provided a space for international writers to live and work in the city. Residents are provided with an apartment located above the Athenaeum Bookshop. Residents are required to cover their own travel costs, though the program will actively work with writers to help locate other funding schemes to assist with such costs. 
Cove Park Literature Residencies
Cove Park is a Scottish artists’ retreat located on the Rosneath peninsula, an hour’s drive west of Glasgow. Literature residencies take place between March and September and last for between one and three months. Applications are invited from established writers of short and long fiction; poetry; creative non-fiction and memoir; work that crosses these genres and also writers who have made their reputation in one field and wish to develop in another. To be eligible for consideration, writers must have published at least one full-length book in their field. Applications close in December.
This is a unique residency for writers in the crucial early stages of their careers. Located in Provincetown, Massachusetts, the Work Center provides seven-month fellowships to twenty fellows each year in the form of living/work space and a modest monthly stipend. Residencies run from 1 October 30 April. Applications close on 1 December.
Sarabande Writing Residency
The Sarabande Writing Residency offers an annual residency of two to six weeks to a poet, fiction writer, or creative nonfiction writer at Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest, a 14,000-acre nature preserve near Louisville, Kentucky. Residents receive a US$500 travel stipend and a two to six-week stay in a private, fully equipped cottage on the Bernheim grounds. Residents offer one public reading or discussion during their tenure and may devote the rest of their time to writing in Bernheim’s extensive forest, gardens and arboretum.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Neil Gaiman Speaks

Thriller Guy met Neil Gaiman a few years ago and found him to be as likeable and smart as
everyone says he is. Gaiman is massively talented, the author of comics (Sandman) novels (Anansi Boys, American Gods) movies (Mirrormask) short stories and a TV series, just to mention a few of his many and varied accomplishments. He blogs at and recently wrote a short blog on that perennial topic: how to write a novel. TG is going to re-blog his piece. Gaiman is such a nice guy TG is sure he won’t mind.

"Write your ideas down. If they are going to be stories, try and tell the stories you would like to read. Finish the things you start to write. Do it a lot and you will be a writer. The only way to do it is to do it.

I’m just kidding. There are much easier ways of doing it. For example: On the top of a distant mountain there grows a tree with silver leaves. Once every year, at dawn on April 30th, this tree blossoms, with five flowers, and over the next hour each blossom becomes a berry, first a green berry, then black, then golden.

At the moment the five berries become golden, five white crows, who have been waiting on the mountain, and which you will have mistaken for snow, will swoop down on the tree, greedily stripping it of all its berries, and will fly off, laughing.

You must catch, with your bare hands, the smallest of the crows, and you must force it to give up the berry (the crows do not swallow the berries. They carry them far across the ocean, to an enchanter’s garden, to drop, one by one, into the mouth of his daughter, who will wake from her enchanted sleep only when a thousand such berries have been fed to her). When you have obtained the golden berry, you must place it under your tongue, and return directly to your home.

For the next week, you must speak to no-one, not even your loved ones or a highway patrol officer stopping you for speeding. Say nothing. Do not sleep. Let the berry sit beneath your tongue.

At midnight on the seventh day you must go to the highest place in your town (it is common to climb on roofs for this step) and, with the berry safely beneath your tongue, recite the whole of Fox in Socks. Do not let the berry slip from your tongue. Do not miss out any of the poem, or skip any of the bits of the Muddle Puddle Tweetle Poodle Beetle Noodle Bottle Paddle Battle.

Then, and only then, can you swallow the berry. You must return home as quickly as you can, for you have only half an hour at most before you fall into a deep sleep.

When you wake in the morning, you will be able to get your thoughts and ideas down onto the paper, and you will be a writer."

TG here. Like I said, he’s a funny guy. This shows how maddening it is to keep answering the how-to question with the same advice, TG’s all-purpose, Sit Down, Shut Up, Get to Work. People don’t want to hear it, they think there’s a secret that’s being kept from them. And TG can guarantee that somewhere, sometime, someone will try and follow the above advice. And when it doesn’t work, he’s going to be pissed off. TG only asks one thing…

Don’t write to me, this is all Gaiman’s idea. You can reach him at his website: TG is sure he would love to hear from you.