Friday, November 27, 2009

I, Writer

Anonymous' writer's screed (see previous blog) stirred up a swarm of comments, some of which are posted below the entry. Obviously there are a lot of hurtin' scriveners out there; TG once again invites them to use this space to unload any excess baggage they're carrying, vis-a-vis the writing trade.

Commenter Morgan asks the question: In your experience, was writing an avocation before it became a vocation, and if so, does it now mean that 'the thrill is gone'? For a young buck such as myself who enjoys writing but would not enjoy the stresses associated with typing my dollars, is the take away message to court writer's block and other fictitious problems, rather than face the misery of real problems like deadlines and unemployment?

Writing was certainly never an avocation for TG. It was a career move occasioned by the stark fact that his work as a free-lance illustrator/photographer (FLI/P) was never going to bring in much in the way of real money. So, one day whilst sitting in the Washington Post newsroom after turning in a job, he looked around and realized that he was just as smart as most of the rest of the people in the room, so why not take up the writing trade? Flash forward six or eight months and the first draft of Cross, a thriller about a human/chimpanzee baby was born, so to speak. The book never saw publication, but it garnered a ton of terrific rejection letters and led directly to TG's first published novel, Time After Time. If anyone is interested, TG will be glad to relate the tale of the writing of Cross at greater length, as it's somewhat instructive, but the point is, TG approached it as a job, the skills for which were learnable, realizing that as long as one worked hard enough and stuck to it, writing might eventually bear fruit. In short, a vocation, Morgan, to answer your question. TG finds it hard to imagine writing to be fun enough to be an avocation. Luckily, TG turned out to be pretty good at it, or at least as good as most writers, so that's what he does for a living. As far as the last part of your question, there's no need to invent excuses to not write -- just don't do it. If you're the sort of person who enjoys the process and has no need of gratification in terms of money, keep at it. Someday, like love, when you least expect it, success, fame and fortune may descend upon you.

But probably not.

TG's wife (MTG) recently pointed out that these pages were becoming too “inside baseball” and there needed to be more about actual thrillers. So, here are some books that came out this month or are due to come out in December.

And for an interesting assessment of TG's opinion of the Vachss book, read the comment section at the end of the blog.

What Thriller Guy Is Reading.

Andrew Vachss has a new book out and TG wishes he could recommend it, but, alas, he cannot. Haiku. Pantheon, $24.95 (224p) Anyone else out there remember how great the Burke series was when Vachss had a few of them under his belt? Then they slowly started to get weird and just not very good. This one seemed like it was going to work (it's a stand-alone, not a Burke) until Vachss does a very strange thing. He starts off with an intriguing plot about a white Rolls that plunges into the sea off the end of a pier. A group of homeless guys are the heroes, in particular Ho, an elderly martial arts teacher who has rejected worldly goods and taken to the streets. He and the other homeless guys decide to solve the mystery of the white Rolls, then about two-thirds of the way through the book Vachss switches plots to one far less interesting. Why did he do that? I think he couldn't figure out the plot himself and just gave up. This leads to interesting blog topics about such matters as knowing the ending of your book before you begin writing, outlining, etc. Maybe we'll get to them one of these days. There are a few lame excuses as to why the hero suddenly abandons the mystery, but it just doesn't work. Vachss has a deep track record of many published books, so someone, his agent? his publisher? his editor? doesn't seem to have had the balls to tell him the whole plot thing was bogus. If it had been you or TG who tried this stunt, they would have taken back the advance and never published the book.

Mariposa. Greg Bear, Vanguard, $25.95 (352p). Most readers know Bear from his lifelong science fiction work, but he seems to be attempting to break into thrillers with this, the second in a series after Quantico. Set in the near future, the Texas based Talos Corporation helmed by CEO Axel Price is attempting to take control of the US. A few hardy FBI agents are trying to stop him. Chief among Price's weapons is the mind-altering drug, Mariposa. It's all pretty cool and Bear's excellent science fiction chops add plenty of realism to the gadgets and future science.

The Wrecker. Clive Cussler and Justin Scott, Pantheon, $27.95 (480p). TG likes a lot of the recent Cussler, but this series that features trains in the Olde West, not so much. Isaac Bell is an investigator for the legendary Van Dorn Detective Agency and this time out he's chasing a fiend known as The Wrecker, who has been destroying trains and railroad facilities, particularly in the West. The writing takes its style after early Dime Novels, which is a bit off-putting. If you've got a thing for trains, you'll probably love these books.

Here's a particularly good one, coming out at the end of December: I, Sniper. Stephen Hunter, Simon and Schuster, $26.00 (432p) TG likes Hunter's writing in general, even his movie reviews in the Washington Post, now, sadly gone since he took an early retirement deal. This latest is part of the excellent Bob Lee Swagger series. Swagger is a simple, home-spun sort of guy who chases evildoers and kills them dead without any blubbering introspection. Here, an unknown sniper is gunning down folks who were big in the 1960's peace movement. In a puzzling structure move, Hunter bases these characters on real-life people, only changing their names slightly. Think Jane Fonda, Vietnam War sniper Carlos Hathcock (here known as Carl Hitchcock) and others. It's kind of a bold move, and TG isn't sure it really works, but the rest of the book is terrific. In other venues about other books, TG has stated that Hunter writes the best gunfight scenes in the business, an opinion that he stands by in spades after this new novel.

If anyone out there wants any of these books, send a comment to TG and he'll send it to you. Please, just one book per customer. TG makes this offer because he values his readers and because he's drowning in books and will actually pay postage just to get them out of the house. That is if TG can actually find the requested book in the giant pile. TG promises nothing, but he'll make the attempt.


  1. To Commenter Morgan: One thing that TG under estimates in my humble opinion, is that to write a good book, you've got to be a good story teller. TG was (and is) one in spades, hence his ability to plot and write interesting prose. You can be a great writer, but if you can't tell a story, it's not worth much.

  2. I think you misunderstood -- rather badly -- the plot of Haiku. The white Rolls Royce was a metaphor, and not especially important to the story. I liked the book very much. I know something about mental illness and homelessness, and Andrew Vachss captured the reality of the streets with his customary clarity. It is rare to read an accurate portrait of these sad realities offered without judgment, and Vachss seems to understand better than most that each of these men was paddling his flawed canoe the best way he could. (By the way, that is also a metaphor; most homeless people with mental illness don't have canoes.)

  3. This is certainly an interesting comment, and TG lives in fear of missing something like a giant metaphor, but he's still not buying it. Metaphor for what? A white whale? Towards the end, Ho tries to wiggle out of it with a few semi-mystical references to the Rolls Royce, but they don't make any sense. Vachss has written far too many thrillers to be allowed a free pass on this. Of course TG can't really know what is in a writer's mind when he goes about writing a book, but TG thinks Vachss had to know he'd screwed up. TG thinks he just didn't want to spend the time or the mental energy fixing the problem. And this shows a sort of disdain for the reader. TG was initially quite excited about the book; really wanted it to be great so he could announce that Vachss was back and in top form. He thought Ho was a terrific character, as well as the rest of the homeless guys. But all books have a specific structure and a structure specific to their genre; a sort of pact between writer and reader.You don't plainly introduce a plot, a mystery, devote a large section of time exploring it, then suddenly cast it aside for a less compelling plot without ever resolving the first plot. And in the end, try to explain away the abandonment with a few cryptic references. TG cannot believe this is what Vachss started out to do when he envisioned this book and began writing it.

    Thanks for explaining to me the flawed canoe metaphor, but TG got your drift right away. He understands that the mentally ill need them to navigate the river of insanity.