Thursday, December 10, 2009

AJ Signs on; Narco Gangs, Our First Line of Defense; Cormac McCarthy's Damn Typewriter.

Last week an anonymous commenter, (now known on these pages as AJ) wrote in saying he wanted to write a novel. TG offered to help him if he had a decent idea. AJ sent a description of the idea and it is, indeed, good. He's got an action hero working for a well known but little used, by thriller writers, federal agency, a geographic venue that is interesting, and he, AJ, writes a clear, cogent sentence. That's pretty much all you need, besides guts, to turn out a presentable thriller. But of course it's the guts, the ability to do the very hard work that separates the wannabes from those who have published. So TG gave AJ his first assignment: one page about the hero character; one page about the plot. Keep it general, don't agonize over it, don't worry about style and polish, just get it done. Send it in. Keep a notebook by the bed, in the car and at work to write down ideas as they occur. Always write them down immediately! Otherwise you will always, always forget them. When TG is working on a novel he may get up two or three times a night to go to the computer and write notes. This goes on for years. It must drive MTG crazy. It certainly drives TG crazy, but he does it.

TG's alter ego, Allen Appel, writes book reviews for an interesting website called Homeland Security Outlook. They put out a lively newsletter and run interesting articles on the site. This week they put up a piece that answers a question that has always bothered TG. You never hear of arrests of terrorists who have entered the country by scooting across the Mexican border along with the thousands of illegals who are coming in. (TG knows that there are more than a few paranoid morons with blogs and sites that say terrorists are pouring in across the border, laden with bombs and guns, but they never have any proof of this.) This HSOutlook article says that the reason there are no terrorists coming over the Mexican border is because the narco gangs keep this from happening, and will sometimes turn these people in to our own border patrol. They, the gangs, know that if this ever starts really happening our government will crack down so hard they'll never gat another drug shipment across. If this isn't a cool premise for a thriller, TG doesn't know what is. There you go, someone. An excellent, free idea that no one has done.

Is anyone else beside TG sick of reading articles about Cormac McCarthy's old Olivetti typewriter being sold for $245,500? It's not the price that the machine fetched, but the fact that McCarthy still uses such a clunker. A friend bought him a new/used Olivetti for $20. TG understands that he (TG, not McCarthy) will now receive scores, nay, hundreds of comments (well, maybe three or four) from writers extolling the joys of pencils, pens, legal pads, composition books, index cards, quill pens and rolls of parchment. Yeah, yeah, yeah. TG remembers having to cut and paste pages of novels together like Babylonian scrolls; having to completely retype drafts of books over and over to arrive at a finished, clean copy. Completely retyping books seven or eight times. Going back and reading pages and deciding not to make changes because you'd have to retype everything again. Whiteout. Oh, God, whiteout. Maybe Mr. McCarthy doesn't make mistakes. Maybe he doesn't need to rewrite. Maybe he pays someone else to do this sort of chore for him. Good for him. But for the rest of the world of working writers, trying to scratch out some sort of a living by putting words on the page, the personal computer is a godsend.

Here's one more gripe about Cormac McCarthy, which TG will preface by saying he loves Cormac McCarthy and remembers with fondness his younger days when reading a book like Blood Meridion was akin to doing a two week hitch in Vietnam under fire or sitting through the entirety of Wagner's Ring Cycle in one long go-around. Back in the days when McCarthy was really tough. The Road? A kid's book compared to the early stuff. But here's what annoys TG. McCarthy claims that his greatest joy is writing and to him heaven is sitting down facing a blank page. TG guesses he'll have to make an exception for the esteemed Mr. M., but normally when TG hears a writer say this TG is absolutely sure the person is full of crap and his writing, if there really is any writing, sucks. Here's a long interview where Cormac espouses these views and talks about The Road movie.


  1. AJ writes:
    That is indeed a good premise, the idea of FTO's trying to smuggle WMD across the border. There are so few viable 'smuggling' routes into the US left that the cartels are literally warring over them. So a FTO would have to be pretty creative if they wanted to go that route without taking enormous risks of getting caught in the middle of variou feds and the drug cartels.

  2. Typewriters! I would never be able to write if I couldn't backup and rewrite my sentence. Go up a paragraph, a page, rewrite it. Just this little note had a few rewrites, typo corrections and changes on a whim. I discovered a really slick program called Storymill though, which blows away even your favorite word processing program.
    If you are a mac user, check it out:

    I followed your link on the border patrol and homeland security articles. Fascinating sites, very grim reporting. And of course, a wealth of information for thriller writers.

    Anyway - back to the task at hand, the character bio and synopsis. The heads up you gave me about being prepared to note any little idea that came along - at any tiem - was handy, because at the crack of dawn when our annoying little maltese on his little corner bed in our room woke me up by incessantly licking his fur (yes I'm a very light sleeper) I thought of a thing or two and was able to note it down in my iphones little note taker.