Thursday, September 11, 2014

Women Showing

Thriller Guy was reading the stats concerning this blog the other day and noticed a curious thing. There was a short list of keywords that some viewers used to find the site and among them were, “Author of Sexy Page Turner” and “Library Sexy Womenshowing.” Now, TG will be the first to admit that he is pretty uninterested in the labyrinthine ways of the Interweb, but what’s up with that? Even though he knows the vagaries of sexual behavior encompass a vast land of unusual scenery, who the hell sits down at the computer and enters those two phrases looking for some fun? So TG, of course, sat down at the computer to see if he could have some fun with the two search terms.

The combination of the first words, “Author of Sexy Page Turner” resulted in the usual 3 and a half million results, but they were pretty disappointing. The top hit was for a book of erotic poems titled “Libido” by the author J.M. George on a website, the, hosted by PepperBrooks, who seems like an intelligent young lady who says she is a business coach. The entry about Libido is a short interview Pepper conducted with the author of the book. TG rooted around on the site but didn’t turn up much that was steamy other than the cover of the book, which TG reproduces here.
If any of TG’s readers would like to take a gander at the book, it is linked to Amazon. TG will give anyone who would like to review these poems space on this site. Good luck with the book, Ms George, and Pepper, keep up the good work! The rest of the search results were pretty damn tame, so not much fun there.

Library Sex Womenshowing heated up the search, but not nearly as much as you would imagine. The first few hits were of the scholarly/feminist variety before setting into a number of sites about women who shave their fishwhistles, bless their hearts, and like to post pictures of the results. TG decided to sharpen up his search term by separating the word “women” and “showing” and was surprised to learn that rather than making things hotter, this was a real buzz kill. The top article being a news report about a woman who was arrested for soliciting sex in the library in Tewksbury, Mass. Because of the common injunction against talking in libraries, all negotiations between the undercover detective and the prostitute (I think we can safely say that description probably fits) were carried out by passing a piece of notebook paper and a pen back and forth between the two individuals. Cost for the unspecified act was $60, which could be a real bargain or a rip-off, depending on the act. It turns out that this particular library is kind of a sex hot spot, with the emphasis on the word hot, as a homeless man was arrested there several months earlier on the same charge. Hey, Tewksbury, what the hell’s going on up there? Is it something in the water!

The rest of the results over the next three search results pages were really boring. I would counsel anyone looking for sex fun on the Internet to not include the word “Library” in his or her searches. Just a little tip from TG to his readers.

The actual topic TG had planned for this entry was sparked by a silly little article on the excellent site that reports on science stuff. The article, titled An Architect’s Guide to Famous Villain’s Lairs made TG realize that he hadn’t read any thrillers for the last year or so where the villain had a secret lair, usually an island in some remote corner of the ocean, or underwater in the tropics. This has been a fixed thriller trope forever, one that TG has grown heartily sick of and was glad to see fade out of the thriller landscape. Really, it has become almost impossible to invent one of these mad scientist laboratory hideaways without immediately thinking of Dr. Evil’s lair in Austin Powers series.

But then TG started leafing through his towering stack of old reviews and realized that the secret lair plot hasn’t really disappeared at all, though it has morphed somewhat into variations of that theme. Recent examples include Robert Tanenbaum’s Butch Karp series where one of the good/bad guys has set up shop in abandoned subway tunnels under Manhattan (a classic favorite lair setting); Apocalypse by Dean Crawford has a vast undersea lair in the vicinity of, you guessed it, the Bermuda Triangle; a recent thriller TG can’t remember the name of  houses its secret headquarters under the Mall in Washington DC; then there’s Chimera, by David Wellington about a group of genetically designed savages who have escaped from a secret laboratory prison camp in rural New York. And with his memory thus jogged, TG now faintly remembers plenty more of these various takes on the secret lair plot or subplot. So, once again, TG has proved himself wrong after actually looking beyond the surface of one of his fleeting thoughts concerning a possible blog topic.

The truth is, the Secret Lair, or Secret World, is a powerful image, one that springs from 19th century fiction where boys, young men and older adults stayed glued to the page in rapt fascination as evil scientists and maniacal, power-mad, fiends plotted their wars on mankind from the bowels of their underground, undersea, remote mountain, jungle, lairs.

So, ok, go ahead and give us the modern equivalent, thriller writers. But be careful. The slightest misstep and the image that will come to the readers minds will be this one
 rather than a classic H. Rider Haggard novel.

TG may have spoken of Haggard before, the name and especially the novel She reminds TG of a powerful memory. At about age eleven in West Virginia TG caught scarlet fever, a rather Victorian disease, and was put to bed for several weeks. In the days before the discovery of antibiotics this was a disease that killed many. Thomas Edison’s partial deafness was thought to have been caused by scarlet fever. Or scarteltina as it was known in those days. At any rate, the young TG was in bed and bored, having read every one of the Tarzan books in the preceding weeks, when he heard his mother and aunt talking in the hall outside his room. “Do you think he’s old enough?” TG heard his mother ask. “Well, probably. At any rate, he’s read everything else in the house,” my aunt replied. So pretty soon they came in bearing a book bound in the same red binding that all the Tarzan books sported, and gave me She, which I devoured because not only was it a fabulous, exciting tale, but because I thought there must be some mystery in why one had to be a certain age, and I suspected, maturity, before being allowed to read it. Actually, it was kind of sexy, as the following dust jackets will suggest. In its day it was wildly popular and as of 1965 had sold 83 million copies making it one of the biggest selling books of all time. TG wonders, a bit sadly, if anyone ever reads it these days. Probably not, and we are a poorer world for it. OK, check out the covers, they are hot!

Friday, September 5, 2014

Mistakes Have Been Made. Or Have They?

Last week Thriller Guy put up a blog about an error that one of his readers found in Mark Greaney’s, Tom Clancy Support and Defend. It turns out that Thriller Guy was wrong, or sort of wrong, or a little wrong, or something. Several comments came in, as well as some email, which TG will lay out for you so you can decide for yourselves.

First of all, in the course of TG’s long career he has learned if he makes a mistake in a novel, to please, God, not have it be a mistake that has anything to do with guns. Many thriller readers are gun enthusiasts, and those folks don’t take it lightly when an author makes a gun mistake. To recap, the “mistake” pointed out in Support and Defend was when two Iranian Quds force operatives shoot two blameless SSG surveillance officers then calmly clean up their mess including rolling out a roofer’s device called a NailHag magnetic nail sweeper that picks up the spent brass. Then one of TG’s readers pointed out that brass is not magnetic, so it wouldn’t work. The mail started rolling in, including a note from the author of the book, Mark Greaney. TG would like to reiterate, before he goes any further, that this whole discussion is a side issue, mostly a chance for TG to rave, cranky old reviewer that he is, about the shoddy state of publishing today, and YOU KIDS GET OFF MY LAWN!

Ahem. Greaney’s book is actually quite good, and in fact TG gave it an excellent review and is looking forward to reading more from him, writing as both a Clancy author and his own novels, known as the Grey Man series.

Back to the NailHawg issue. After putting the last entry up, TG received a note from a Constant Reader and TG pal who pointed out “I caught this one, too, but believe it or not, the magnet will work even on brass. Really? The word brass is used these days as an encompassing word to mean any shell. A bit of nomenclature: the bullet is what comes out of the shell. The shell and bullet make up a cartridge. Anyway, in the old days all shells were made of real brass. Now, mostly, they are steel alloy with a yellow color and look like brass or contain brass and steel which means that they can be picked up by magnets. For many of your high-powered weapons, the shell is all steel. For many of your lower powered shells, like for a .22 or 9mm it's all brass and the magnet will not work. For proof, come to my house and I will put my magnet to an AK-47 shell and you can watch it click to the magnet like a hooker walking on a tile floor.” Another email from the same reader offered this Wikipedia page that goes into the matter in more detail

The author of Support and Defend, Mark Greaney, came in next: “Hi Thriller Guy - This is Mark. I have a gross of Russian Wolfe Barnual steel case 9mm ammo in my garage. Russia supplies Iran with ammo via Rosoboronexport, so I expect an Iranian government employee might have easy access to it.

 Any steel case ammo will be picked up by a magnet - I can send you a few spent rounds to test. 

I do have copy editors and they did ask me about this - but I told them to stet it. I probably could have specified in the book that they were using steel case ammo - and honestly should have done so - but I don't see it as an error that the nail-hawg picked up brass made out of an unspecified metal. (brass is a catch all term for spent casings)

 Thanks for letting me air this.”

Thriller Guy is pleased by the response for several reasons, one: Greaney could have been pissed off at TG for dragging him up on charges of Making a Gun Mistake and gotten upset, whereas instead he chimed right in with a reasonable and temperate explanation, and two, that he points out that there actually are still good copy editors who had flagged the material in the manuscript editing stages. Perhaps traditional publishing is not as far gone as TG thought.

Other readers sent in messages about the problem of flying brass, including this one by Joel Lovett: “Of course, even better, is what my bad guy uses in Mississippi Running - a brass catcher. No need to hang around and hope you grab all the brass...”
Mississippi Running is the name of a thriller Joel is working on, and the picture shows a simple little black mesh bag that fits on the side of a weapon and catches the brass as it is ejected. TG has to wonder, though, would this accessory take away from the general bad-assedness look of a sniper’s rifle or a silenced handgun? One needs to remember that the reason to collect the spent casings is to prevent crime scene investigators from identifying the type of weapon used, not that the evildoers or even good guys are picking up their brass because it’s just good housekeeping, bad for the environment or that a passing duck may ingest a couple and get sick.

OK, has TG beat this particular horse if not to death at least into submission? The answer is obviously yes. Unless someone else out there wants to be heard. Comment away.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

To Err is Human?

Thriller Guy is surprised at his usually perspicacious readers. Last week’s entry had a serious mistake, and only Thriller Guy reader Bill Parke caught it, or at least he was the only one kind enough to send TG a note. Here’s his email, beginning with a quote from TG’s blog entry:

"And one last low-tech tool solving a high-tech problem. When you shoot someone, it’s always smart to clean up your brass before making your getaway: (from the book)  "Behind them, Isfahan climbed out of the sedan with a long device in his hands that looked something like a metal Broom. It was a NailHawg magnetic nail sweeper, used by roofers for collecting loose roofing nails in grass. Quickly and calmly he rolled the device back and forth in the alley where his two colleagues had been standing, and he picked up eleven spent shell casings from their weapons.”"

Bill Parke: This is a good way to see if your readers are paying attention, but you probably it planned that way. If not: Maybe the Nail-Hawg is magico-nuclear (or is it nucleo-magic?), but my spent brass is brass, non-ferrous. When shooting, I always go out in the yard with a 5 gallon bucket because I gotta pick 'em all up by hand. The ones I miss become launch vehicles when I mow the grass.”

When TG read the bit in Mark Greaney’s novel, Tom Clancy: Support and Defend, he realized it would fit nicely into his series of ongoing entries offering up cool techno stuff and ideas for his fellow thriller writers to admire and take advantage of. At the time, TG heard the sound of a faint bell ringing in his subconscious, an alarm that he sometimes gets when something he reads doesn’t “ring true,” but feeling lazy at the time, he decided to just let it go through without checking on it. (Small voice in back of brain: brass is made up of zinc and copper, are either of those magnetic? I don’t think so, but maybe they put some iron in there somewhere in the shell casings.) In any case, the electromagnetic NailHawg is bullshit, but here’s a nifty little device that actually does the job, though it's not nearly cool enough to put into a cutting edge thriller.

All of this begs the question: How did this slip through editing and make it onto the finished pages of the book? Thriller Guy, well, his alter ego Allen Appel, has published many books. (Go to this site to purchase all of his novels on Kindle. You’ll be glad you did.) This was back in the day when the copy editing was done by a band of doughty (when’s the last time you saw that word?) women -- please spare TG the sexist accusations, they were all women as far as TG knows -- who questioned everything. Nothing escaped their intelligent, eagle eyes. TG would sit and cringe as he read their polite but scathing edits, as they eviscerated every page and coolly pointed out his ridiculous mistakes. Every writer TG knows felt the same way; experienced the same shame. And then legacy publishing decided one of the smart moves they could make to raise their profit margins was to fire all the copy editors. This dumbass idea came right after they cut all their author advances by two-thirds. So now books hit the stands with howlers studded into the text like raisins in an oatmeal cookie. Sigh. TG understands he’s geezing here, but does anyone actually give a shit anymore? Evidently not.

One also wonders if Tom Clancy had been overseeing this novel if he would have spotted this mistake. As noted in the earlier blog, TG liked this book. Greaney is undoubtedly a better writer than old Tom ever was. TG has written before (or has he?) that one of the greatest assets that Clancy possessed was that the military loved him and would go to great lengths to accommodate his requests for info. They loved to fill him in on cool stuff that was semi-secret, and allowed him to play with many of their toys: Hey, Tom, wanna drive a tank? Fire a missile? No problemo. Maybe Greaney enjoys this same advantage, along with all the other guys who are now penning the individual volumes in the Clancy empire as Putnam and the other fat cat publishers lay back and roll around in all the dough the guy still brings in.

TG has a suggestion for these fat cats. How about spending a few bucks on some real, old-fashioned editing. Before the Clancy reputation for accuracy migrates down in the dirt with all those pesky shell casings.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Cool Info For Hot Writers

OK, here’s the thing. Thriller Guy is not going to dump ice water over his own head. TG sends out plenty of checks to various Good Causes and he doesn’t need a video gimmick to encourage him. But the rest of you, feel free to dump away, just stop cluttering up TG’s Facebook page with the videos.

TG’s vacation was good, a few days at the beach, a few days having fun with Mrs. Thriller Guy. Then TG came back to a house with a flooded basement and other problems, but because TG has a cheerful heart he just shrugs off these challenges and climbs back into harness. Today’s blog focuses on some more cutting edge technological advances that savvy thriller writers can use to arm their heroes and advance their plots. Gone are the bad old days when a conscientious writer had to painfully work his way through fifty separate steps to locate a bad guy just to get the action moving. So is the new technology a boon or boondoggle for mystery/spy/thriller writers? Here, in the Guardian, Charles Cumming (an excellent spy novelist, TG says read his books) gives us his opinion, which is, essentially, that LeCarre could have never written The Spy Who Came in From the Cold with today’s available gadgetry. Hmmm, probably, but he would have written something else just as good, which he continues to do to this day. Read the piece and send TG your comments. 
Richard Burton in The Spy Who Came in From the Cold.

The age of fingerprinting was seminal in the history of criminality and in the plotting of mystery novels. The advances in this technology, in particular biometric devices that electronically read fingerprints, has seemingly made some locks pick-proof. But have they? Here are a couple of sites that teach you and your spy/agent/detective/hero how to overcome these sophisticated locks. The following website article will teach you how to defeat these devices with the use of the decidedly low tech Gummy Bear. And if you’re unable to find a bag of these tasty Swedish candies, here’s a site that will show you how to do it with Play-do, Silly Putty,  Elmer's Reusable Adhesive Tac 'N Stik, Rose Art Modeling Clay, or Crayola Model Magic Soft, Spongy Modeling Material.
Every writer knows by now the dangers inherent in allowing one’s hero to run around carrying a powered-up cell phone, or any cell phone, even if it’s turned off. And, conversely, how that same cell phone is an incredibly valuable tool in the hands of even the lowest tech investigator. In the same Guardian article, Cumming points out that if you want to know where someone has been recently, simply snatch his or her iPhone and try the following: press "Settings", "Privacy", "Location services", "System services" then "Frequent locations." Try it on your own iPhone and see how it works.

In an article TG was reading about the hacker, Edward Snowden, Snowden suggests that to keep from allowing your or anyone else’s cell phone from broadcasting one’s location, you can simply put it in a refrigerator or even in a metal cocktail shaker. Make sure to remove the phone before making your next martini.

If you’re including a team of Navy SEALS in your next plot (and who isn’t?) you can have
them ride beneath the waves in style with some new, really cool underwater submersibles. 

And if you want your hero to find out what is being said inside a room where you haven’t implanted a listening device, scientists have figured out a way to film an object in the room -- in this case an empty potato chip bag -- and reconstruct sounds that have occurred in the room, even audible speech. Check out this amazing article and video about these experiments.

Then there’s this article whereby scientists where able to figure out something, TG is not exactly sure what, which could be key to a novel-twisting plot point. Maybe you can figure it out and explain it to Thriller Guy. 
TG is reading and enjoying the latest Tom Clancy novel, Support and Defend, written by
Mark Greaney, Clancy having been dead for some years now. This is a continuation of The Campus series. TG was always a Clancy fan, although sometimes very reluctantly. He wasn’t the greatest writer, but then who is? and who needs to be a great writer to pen a perfectly good thriller anyway. What Clancy had, was access. Every branch of the military loved the guy and would sit patiently with him for days and weeks divulging tech info on all their cool weapons systems, even the secret ones, which he would then slot into his novels. So readers were always pretty much guarenteed tidbits and factoids that would astound and amaze. Greaney continues this procedure, and here are a few items that TG is passing along from Support and Defend. TG gives high marks to this book and the series.

In one scene he has his hero, Dominic Caruso, inside a house that is protected by a motion detector: “Dom walked slowly now, his entire body moved less than three inches a second, meaning each step through the house took ten times longer than normal. Off the shelf, motion detectors were typically set to notice movement that tracked faster than three inches a second, so Dom and his teammates at The Campus had spent many silly yet laborious hours of training to defeat motion sensors by walking through the hallways like wind-up toys whose springs had sprung, giving them little energy for movement.”

And more cellphone stuff: “He then carefully opened the back of the phone with a small screwdriver and photographed the number on the SIM card. Dom knew, with the right equipment, the subscriber identity module number could be used to track the phone or trace its usage.” Thriller Guy isn’t actually sure how to go about this tracking, but he is sure there’s a site somewhere on the Internet that gives instructions on how to do so.

And one last low-tech tool solving a high-tech problem. When you shoot someone, it’s always smart to clean up your brass before making your getaway: "Behind them, Isfahan climbed out of the sedan with a long device in his hands that looked something like a metal Broom. It was a NailHawg magnetic nail sweeper, used by roofers for collecting loose roofing nails in grass. Quickly and calmly he rolled the device back and forth in the alley where his two colleagues had been standing, and he picked up eleven spent shell casings from their weapons.”

So there you go, thriller writers, say thank you.

You’re welcome.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Boring Books, Terrific Books

Several weeks ago, Thriller Guy was having a rather dispiriting week. He’d just had to read yet one more thriller that was perfectly ordinary, stuffed with every thriller trope in the genre, as if the author had gone through a checklist (kill the girlfriend, terrorist’s mother and father killed/raped by Americans, hero drinks too much, snappy comments between hero and sidekick, constant mention of women’s breasts, etc.) smashed it all together and published the result. It wasn’t that it was so bad, it was just so, well, ordinary. You’d be surprised how many books suffer from the same ordinariness. And publishers seem perfectly willing to publish them because, I’m only guessing here, many readers continue to buy them. So Thriller Guy said, enough is enough, TG needs to read something to get the bad taste of all the bad thrillers out of his head. So he picked up Donna Tartt’s, The Goldfinch, which had been highly praised by many people, critics, normal people, and TG’s wife and daughter. The first fifteen or so pages did not go well, probably because reading a “real” writer was an almost forgotten experience; it took a little work. There were so many words! But once into it, TG remembered why reading good writing is so much fun. So TG has a suggestion: put down the thriller, and pick up something with a little more heft. The Goldfinch is a good place to start, as is Tartt’s first novel, The Secret History if you haven’t read it.
            TG was shocked when 80% of the way through her novel, Tartt made a terrible miscalculation with the structure of her book. The fact that no one seems to have had the balls or whatever to stop her and tell her that she shouldn’t be doing what she did just reinforces TG’s contention that once a writer reaches certain rarefied heights he or she is no longer subject to the rules of good editing or, in Tartt’s case, good sense. Publishers and editors are afraid to upset their geniuses, and maybe at that level the same geniuses don’t have their friends or spouses read their books before they go off to the publisher. Too bad, because these folks end up looking, and more often sounding, stupid in many cases. TG will blog about this later. But first…
            …he’s going to take a couple of weeks off. Too many thrillers and too many blog entries are taking a toll on TG, so he’s going to give it a bit of a rest. He suggests that those of you who need a dose of sarcasm and ranting go to the archives and read some of the entries you may have missed. The archives can be accessed on the right.
            Also on the right, you will find The Appel Store, where you can download any number of novels and novelettes. These are by TG’s alter ego, Allen Appel. TG would be so pleased if he found that all of you, or even some of you who come here clicked over to Appel’s store and bought something to read. TG thanks those of you who have already done so, and welcomes those who will do so in the future. It goes for a good cause: buying the gin that fuels these pages.
            See you in a couple of weeks.