Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Two Spaces After a Period

Thriller Guy thought he'd step in here because he knows A. Appel doesn't have the stones to properly address this important topic: Those dinosaurs who are still putting two spaces after a period.

Berkeley Breathed has done a number of strips on his web page devoted to this topic. Over the years, TG has asked on these pages that those of you who are still doing this, please stop. As always, you're not listening. TG notes that for each of the strips Breathed has done on the topic, especially the Sunday strips, there have been 40 to 50,000 likes, comments, and shares. Yes, that is the correct number. And most of the comments are of the variety, "You can have my two spaces when you pry them from my cold, dead hands." That's a lot of people who are delusional.

People, writers, who do this should just tack a message at the beginning of their manuscripts that speaks directly to the YOUNG editors, agents and readers who are reviewing their query letters, partial and complete manuscripts or any other communications that has come across their desk, via email, snailmail or in any other written form. That message says, "I am old. I am clinging to outdated rules. My work will be old fashioned. My ideas are unoriginal. I am a loser."

Go ahead, howl with indignation. Gnash your self-righteous teeth. If you'd like a kinder, longer explanation why you have to stop doing this, read this web article.

Not long ago, one of the agent sites TG likes to look at on occasion ran a piece written by an agent about how he judges manuscripts. The sentence read something like this, "When I open a manuscript, and I see that the writer is using two spaces after a period, I throw it in the trash." You think that's kind of harsh? If you've got a slush pile of fifty manuscripts to work your way through, you'll use any shortcut you can find to winnow out the "bad" ones. Agents and editors don't have the time to read all the submissions that flood in on them every day. It's your job to write the best book you can write, and present it in the best possible manner. 

Years ago, TG used to do the two spaces thing. His son, TG Junior, laughed and gave him the scoop on the practice. TG quit. It took about a day to replace the habit with a single space. TG wishes he could say from that moment on his manuscripts found instant homes and the money poured in. They didn't, and it didn't. But you know what?

His writing no longer made him look like an old fool.

So keep it up if you think you must, there are thousands like you. You know who they are, they're called the unpublished.

Saturday, September 19, 2015


While guiding my skiff through the backwaters of cable tv the other night, I stumbled across an old movie I had never see before. Across the Pacific, starring Humphrey Bogart, Sydney Greenstreet, and Mary Astor. I’m not recommending the movie as being fabulous, or even very good, but it did offer me a moment’s revelation.

It’s set in 1941 and Bogey plays a disgraced Coast Guard officer who is on a boat headed to China where he hopes to enlist to fight the Japanese. Also on the boat are Aster, who doesn’t seem to have any function in the story other than looking good, and Greenstreet, who isn’t very fat in this one, but who is an enemy spy. The ship is held up in Panama, and all go ashore. Some stuff involving perfidious Japanese spies occurs, and Bogey ends up shooting it out with Japanese soldiers who are launching an airplane whose mission is to bomb the canal. He is successful in stopping them.

At some point in the movie – I was beginning to drift off in my chair -- Bogey is being questioned about some action he has taken and he says these words to justify what he’s done: “A dame gave me a bum steer.” That snapped me awake. What a great noir line. I started listening to the dialogue, which was way above normal snappy:

Astor (to Bogey): “I can do without money.”
Bogart: “Stick with me and you’ll get plenty of practice.”

Bogart and Greenstreet both pull guns on each other at the same time: Bogart: “Mine’s bigger than yours.”

At that point I looked the movie up to see who had written it. Richard Macaulay, who was later a “friendly witness” in the McCarthy hearings, which I guess is neither here nor there, but interesting. Macaulay wrote some other noir movies, among them Born to Kill, which pretty much everyone agrees is both terrible and reprehensible. Sample dialogue: "You can't just go around killing people when the notion strikes you. It's just not feasible." You can read about Across the Pacific here on Wikipedia.

The point of my rambling isn’t the movie, it’s that line: “A dame gave me a bum steer.” I’ve been talking in this blog lately about where writers come up with ideas. It’s question that always gets asked because it’s so damn important. Some writers can crank out a story by coming up with a particular character, and some might fall in love with a place and craft a story that fits into it, but most of us need an idea, and the more original the better. This is especially true if you’re a thriller writer. But it strikes me that sometimes it might be better to start with a broader concept and hone it from general to specific. In this case the concept is, yes, you guessed it… “A dame gave me a bum steer.” How many noir books and movies have been grounded in that simple statement? And how many more can take flight from that one sentence?
So the next time you’re wrestling with an idea for a new project, start with a bigger theme and work smaller. (A man hates his father: Why? That might be a good take-off point for a time travel series.)

Let’s see… A naked, muscular man is being interviewed. In the background is a naked woman with an aggrieved look on her face. A snake hangs from a branch of a nearby tree.

Interviewer: “Adam, just how is it that you’ve come to be cast out from the Garden of Eden?”

Adam: “A dame gave me a bum steer.”

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.