Friday, September 25, 2009

The Mystery of Terry Goodkind

For those of you Thrillerfolk who don't recognize the name, Terry Goodkind is a megaselling fantasy author best known for his Sword of Truth series. I was assigned Nines by my All Seeing, All Knowing editor, who added the footnote that this was Goodkind's first foray into the Thriller genre and that the book was going to be a Big Deal with his legions of faithful fans.

I read the book and liked it well enough. It sounded to me like someone - Goodkind's editor, agent, wife – made a bet with him that he couldn't write a Thriller where fantasy elements, magic in particular, were not allowed. The result, Nines, at least as far as TG is concerned, adheres to the sprit of this challenge, if not the letter. Here's a short precis:

Artist, Nebraskan, Alex Rahl rescues a fair damsel, Jax, on the street one day when a truck driven by two piratical types attempts to run her down. Turns out she's a traveler from an alternate world where magic takes the place of technology. She's in our world trying to get help in defeating a fiendish dictator who is attempting to enslave the citizenry and take over her home world. Because of various connections to this other world, Alex signs on for the task. Mayhem ensues.

Here's how Goodkind meets and yet skirts the challenge: Jax, who is something of a wizardess in her home world, has no magic when she's in ours. She's forced to use conventional weapons, such as her trusty dirk, to dispatch the evildoers who are out to kill her, and Alex. At the same time, these evildoers whiz in and out of our reality at will, and are super strong and have other powers. So, yeah, the heroes can't do any magic, but the other guys can. As I said, the spirit, if not the letter of the challenge.

So is the book any good? I liked it and gave it a laudatory review. I think that Thrillerfolk, a reasonably mellow and accepting crowd, will go along with the sort-of-fantasy elements. I found the pace a little too leisurely, but once Goodkind gets everything explained and up to speed, the book takes off pretty nicely. It's been advertised as a standalone, but I'll bet we see it turned into a series.

When reading and reviewing the book months ago, I went to the Goodkind site and read, with some amusement, the guesses of his many fans as to what the book would be about (pretty much universally wrong) and how worried they were that their favorite author was somehow abandoning them for another genre. A recent trip back to the site shows that most of them are relieved that the book is good and does not depart so radically from their expectations that they must disown it. In fact, they document many connections to Goodkind's Sword of Truth series, connections that readers who have not read that series (of which TG is one) would ever understand. Connections that, at least it seems to TG, in no way either hurt or enhanced the book for the unaware reader.

All in all, no matter what Goodkind's publisher says, the book is something of a hybrid. It's as if they were attemting to move some of the author's millions of readers over into another genre that they publish. Sort of like hiding medecine in a tasty snack. Did it work? Goodkind fans, will you now venture into Thriller territory when there's no new Goodkind Fantasy to read? Why do you think he decided to branch out into new territory? Could it have anything to do with the fact that Disney owns the rights to his other work? Is it a case of an author who is tired of writing in one vein and just wants a break? Could it be as TG suggests it might, that someone just bet him he couldn't do it? And make a guess: what's next for Terry Goodkind? Do you want Nines to become a series? Or do you want him to stop fooling around and get back to fantasy?

(See the following comments for a response from a Goodkind fan. Perhaps TG was not reading closely enough?)

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Thriller Guy, Hoaxed Again, and... A New Library Story.

In the entry before this one, directly below, a commenter posted with the message:

“Susan said...

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often. Margaret”

Perspicacious Poster Larry e-mailed TG and pointed out that this Susan (or Margaret) had been sending the same message to many, many bloggers, leaving her URL to click on. No, she doesn't really think that TG's blog is enjoyable reading, and yes, she's a scammer just trying to get people to click on her website. After learning this, TG did some investigative work and found that it's not just one person, but many people who are sending this message around to bloggers. Shame, shame, though really, there is no, or very little, shame on the Interweb. I know, duh....

Let's cleanse our palette with a new library story. This in from Audie:

“When I was a young boy, the library was part of a municipal building which also housed the police station. You couldn't enter the library from the front door. Instead, you had to walk to the side of the building and go in through the basement garage where all the cop cars were parked. This also served as the entrance to the "real" police station. If you needed to pay a parking ticket or wanted to talk to an officer, you went through the front door. You used the side door if you had to book a belligerent drunk or strung-out hippie. Or, you know, just wanted a check out some Maurice Sendak. Where the Wild Things Are, indeed.

I don't really have memories of being there with my mother, though that seems understandable to me now. I don't expect a hippie felt very comfortable walking through the police station. The library was small and dark, but the kid's section was in its own room. They even had records for children; I had a fondness for Dylan Thomas' A Child's Christmas in Wales. I read of John John Twillinger, Rudyard Kipling's Just So Stories, Little Tim, Babar…

And I was always careful to return my books on time. After all, wasn't that the real reason why the library was in the same building as the police station?”

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Last Few Days...

First thing Monday morning, the day before The Lost Symbol was to go on the market, TG woke to find that Janet Maslin of the New York Times had broken the embargo and reviewed the book. A rave review, as a matter of fact. TG is so annoyed by this (the fact that she broke the embargo, not the fact that she gave it a rave review) he's not even going to link to her column. The LA Times broke the embargo as well. Usually when this happens, the publisher leaps in with denunciations, demanding an investigation as to how the offenders came by their copies. Since there has been nary a peep from the publisher on this score, I can only think they gave them the book themselves. If true, shame, shame, Doubleday. I would be glad to publish comments from them, or anyone else, on where these reviewers got their copies. And the reasons why they chose to break the rules. (Yes, yes, TG is not really so naïve to not know why they did what they did, but he'd like to hear their mewling, self serving justifications.)

TG stood patiently on line at Borders at midnight, along with six other hardy souls, bought his own copy and headed home to stay up all night to read. The fact that the reading session lasted till two AM is testament to the fact that the book is good, lively enough to keep an aging reviewer in his seat with open eyes. At least for awhile. Then it was up at six AM the next morning and back to the book, which was finished by 3:00 PM, the reviews written and sent in by 4:30. A long day, but the book held up well.

Because TG was contracted to supply the reviews to several outlets, the review of the book won't appear on these pages for at least several days. They pay, and, alas, TG readers do not, so let's give them some time to get their money's worth. I will at least say, the book is damned good. It was sort of like examining the original of something that one usually sees as a copy on a street-vendor's cart. The two items look pretty much alike, but after awhile one realizes that the workmanship on the original is far better than the knock-off. TG has reviewed scores of Da Vinci Code-like thrillers, and many of them have been very good, but there's no question that Dan Brown owns the franchise and perhaps others who follow in his path should start looking around for their own ideas in the future, no matter how tempting and lucrative it might be to ride along on the bandwagon.

And so, after a good night's sleep, TG rises again to resume his old life, where there are no mega-blockbusters in sight, no embargoes and no cheating newspapers, just a long line of thrillers, waiting for someone to sing their praises or point out, gently, sadly, their flaws and infelicities.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Gearing Up for the Big One

Since Thriller Guy wrote the entry three down from this one expressing his annoyance at Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol being embargoed, many interested readers have written in asking questions on the order of, “Just how does a nationally recognized book reviewer go about readying him or herself to tackle one of the Big Reads?”

Many, many people.



So lets just dive in and tackle a few of these questions.

First of all, on Saturday TG put on a nice shirt and drove to his closest bookstore. It may astonish readers of this blog to learn that TG does not live in Manhattan or in L.A., or any of the storied halls of publishing, but in a small subdivision outside of Washington, DC. So the nearest bookstore, a Borders, is 25 minutes away.

TG: (To manager) Doing anything special for the Dan Brown release on Tuesday?

Manager: Special?

TG: Like staying open till midnight so people can buy it at 12:01 AM Tuesday morning.

Manager: (Giving assistant a puzzled look.) Did anyone call about this? (Assistant shrugs and shakes his head.)

Manager: No, we're not going to stay open.

TG: Which means I'll have to stand in line with everyone else Tuesday morning when you open up?

(Manager and assistant exchange amused looks.)

Assistant: Hey man, what do you think this is, Harry Potter? (They both laugh.)

TG: (Chastened, turning to leave, then deciding to at least give it a shot. After all, it's not Harry Freakin' Potter.) I don't suppose you could sell me a copy right now?

(Both of them look at TG like he's just done something really disgusting on the bookstore floor.)

Assistant: No, man, those boxes are sealed. (Shakes head, begins to walk away.)

TG: Can I give you my number if you change your minds? (They stop, not happy about it, but take the proffered slip of paper, careful to not touch TG's repellent skin.)

A trip to the nearby Barnes and Noble nets pretty much the same results. So it's home again to change out of the nice shirt, for all the good it did. Then the phone rings. Guess what? Borders is going to stay open till midnight on Monday.

Sometimes the feeling of power is so awesome TG can almost see rays of light beaming out from his fingertips.

(You're welcome, Dan Brown.)

Tomorrow: Girding his Loins: Snax, Naps and Settling In.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Howard Hughes' Private Library and Me

Another library story...

TG fans have done a great job of sharing their library stories, but I want to add another story from an unplumbed category type: the private library.

Some years ago, I took a weekend at the Xanadu Beach Resort and Marina in the Bahamas. We arrived around 10 pm, and while surveying the lobby I saw a room behind a gate –the kind used to lock stores in a shopping mall. It was loaded with book stacks. It turns out that this was Howard Hughes’ private library from when he was ensconced at the hotel (which was quite different at the time.)

The front desk person explained that it was open to the public from 10 am until 5 pm.


Billionaire and recluse Howard Hughes’ personal library, and I could visit it.

What could be there? The original Beowulf? The Magna Carta? Mark Twain’s first editions? Who knows?

Later that evening, after leaving the bar I peered through the gate and could make out gold-leafed book spines. Hundreds of them. I shook the gate to make sure it was really locked because if it wasn’t, I would certainly enter and see the literary treasures bought by this loony, but rich and impetuous man. Did he bring back ancient texts from Japan? Old volumes of the Kama Sutra, its lurid pictures faded from age.

The next day, I arose on time to be the first patron. I headed straight for the gold leafed books I had seen the night before.

Pardon the cliché, but I could not believe my eyes.

Reader’s Digest condensed books. Are you kidding me? The richest and one of the most worldly men of his time bought hundreds of these tomes? Couldn’t be. Maybe these were for the hotel guests to borrow and read on the beach. “Where is the real HH library?,” I asked the concierge. I guess I should have been tipped off by the fact that it was wide open with no security guard, keeping watch over the medieval bibles I thought would be there.

Yes, that was it.

I walked to the tiki bar, head down, and I caught myself smirking at the absurdity of the morning. Either I actually muttered the following or I thought it; I don’t recall. “Money can’t buy taste.”

Once for several months Hughes hid in a darkened screening room living on chocolate bars and drinking milk. There is no record of what, if anything he read.

I’m guessing they weren’t first editions.

Larry Kahaner

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Thriller Guy Hoaxed! Anonymous Poster Confesses! “I made it all up!”

Duped Book Blogger Forced to Use Four Exclamation Points!

“In a stunning development, the seemingly contrite anonymous R confessed in an e-mail that he not only made up the supposed secret concerning the publication of Dan Brown's new book, The Lost Symbol, but that he couldn't even remember what he said the secret was. The receiver of this misinformation - nationally known book blogger Thriller Guy - suspects that alcohol was somehow involved in R's, now discredited, original post.”

OK, OK, enough of this. Yes, it's true, late last night an e-mail arrived from R saying he was just having a bit of fun with TG. Fortunately, I didn't reveal the supposed secret, though I'm going to now because I still think it was an inspired guess. The main part of R's comment is in the entry following this one, a rather rambling missive that ended with the words, redacted in yesterday's entry, - concerning the eminent publication of The Lost Symbol - that... “the new book is only part one of two.”

It explains so many things, among them...

1. Why it took Dan Brown so long to write the book. Most authors in this genre (TG included) take about a year to research and write a novel. Brown took, what? Five years? Of course you have to factor in his time used spending some of the money he made with DaVinci Code, that's got to eat into your writing day, but even then that's a long time to be sitting in front of a computer working on the same project. (Spare me the snooty comments about how long it takes to write a non-genre, “literary” novel.) So, if you believe R's secret, Brown took that long because he was writing not one, but two books.

2. It solves the problem facing Brown of what he was going to write for his next book after The Lost Symbol. The answer was The Last Symbol: Part II. And now it would already be written and he wouldn't have to go back to work for many more years, if ever. (This is a subject of an upcoming blog: If you made a ton of money with a book would you ever bother to write again?)

3. The publisher is pretty much guaranteed to make even more money than would be the case if it was just one book. People would buy the first book because they're ravenous for another Dan Brown product, and if he didn't blow it completely he'd have them on the hook for the second part. So instead of selling 5 million copies (first printing) they would sell ten million just by having Brown write long, which he is wont to do anyway. Most writers will tell you that the hard part of writing is coming up with a new idea for a book. Once you're into one and rolling right along, you can write it forever. The trick of the thing is figuring out how to end a book.

See what I mean? It's a brilliant publishing idea, and if R was in the business (he's not, turns out he's a lawyer) he'd be sitting in a shiny new office for having come up with it. So there you have it, the whole, tawdry story.

OK, TG is tired of writing about Dan Brown. For those of you who can't get enough of the subject, the Washington Post has two giant articles today on Brown and the book, and Perceptive Poster Joel sends in this link to a website where the real secrets of the book are revealed:

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Dan Brown's New Book; The Big Reveal

After Thriller Guy published the entry below this one, moaning about the fact that Dan Brown's publisher has embargoed his new book, TG received a comment on the post from the anonymous R. This comment was a bombshell. In it, R revealed a big secret behind the book.

TG was stunned. Not because it disclosed the location of the Holy Grail or other long lost object, or uncovered the identity of Jesus' unknown lover, or any critical plot elements, but because it is a brilliant publishing move. And explained the reason for the embargo and several other questions. Which put TG in a dilemma? What to do?

Publish the comment and blow the secret before the book comes out? There's got to be a certain amount of glory in that. Look at Thriller Guy, he's in the know. Would Matt Drudge hesitate even a nanosecond to put it out there? No. But wait a minute, what if R is hoaxing TG? If it goes on the blog and it's bogus, TG may look like a fool.

Except if it's not true, that R just made it up, then it still would have been a brilliant idea for Brown and his publisher to implement. And R, though he presents himself as a simple soul, should be hired as a consultant by any of the big name publishers.

In the end, TG has decided not to reveal the secret. Even though it's primarily of interest to those in or around publishing, it goes against his personal and professional code of honor, the book reviewer's primary tenet: never give away the ending of the book. So here is R's comment, minus the last few words. He's referring to another commenter who asked the question, “Who needs reviews anyway?:

Why, TG, we all need reviews, that's who (whom?) As I obviously do, some folks also need editors. I read for fun, frequently, and confess I am a sucker for "the latest big thing" in fiction. I count on reviews to help me rein in my (natural or marketing created?) urge to buy that latest big thing. So, I'll wait for a few reviews (including yours) before buying Mr. Brown's latest. I just hope nobody gives away the big surprise ending...(Which Thriller Guy has redacted.)

R, if you're out there, e-mail TG at his alter ego's address, and let him know how you came across this information, or if you're just slinging the bull. If you thought it up on your own, TG would be glad to point you to some publishing professionals who could use your advice.

To be continued...

Sunday, September 6, 2009

An Advanced Reading Copy of Dan Brown's Long Awaited New Thriller, The Lost Symbol...

...will probably not be arriving on Thriller Guy's desk anytime before the official publishing date. That's because there's an embargo on the book, which means it won't be released anywhere before it goes on sale in bookstores. The embargo process is usually reserved for books by ex-politicos who have penned controversial accounts of events that when once become known will threaten the existence of life as we know it on planet Earth. Or at least that's what the publishers want us to think. That their author's amazing revelations will cause the structural underpinnings of democracy to fracture, the nation will fall into a swoon, the stock market will crash, North Korea will sense an advantage and launch a nuclear attack and the next thing you know we're all reduced to hiking up Cormac McCarthy's Road with our meager possessions lashed to our backs. Tumbleweeds will be seen on the streets of our major cities. And yet, someone always finds an early copy of these books and publishes the juicy details and we've survived all these revelations. Of course Dick Cheney's book hasn't been published yet.

Seriously, what's going to happen if someone reviews Dan Brown's book a few days, or even a few months before the publication date?

You can probably sense that TG is annoyed. And as I've said before on these pages, an annoyed reviewer is not in the best interest of a new book. Instead of having, say, a week to linger over the pages of this sure-to-be blockbuster, TG is going to have to stand in line (sleep all night in a rickety lawn chair in front of the bookstore?) snap up a copy, rush home and read it in one great gulp so he can get the word out to a breathlessly awaiting public before they all head to the bookstore for their very own copy, which they are going to do no matter what TG, or any other reviewer has to say. Again, you have to ask yourself, what is the publisher so afraid of anyway?

They're still going to make a gazillion dollars, so that can't be it. The book will still be extensively reviewed, so they're not cutting into the actually number of reviews. Are they really so worried that the reviews are going to be negative? My guess is that's probably the reason. No one likes a bad review. Even a lukewarm review can sting. As the recipient of a few of both of these, TG can attest that no matter how many glowing notices one receives, a bad one will ruin your day, if not the entire week. Actually, it can rankle for months. Years even. So are they anticipating bad reviews? And if so, why?

Human nature is my guess. It's going to be a lot easier to hate this book, critically, than it's going to be to love it. Code was, what? the best selling book of all time except the bible? If not that, it's certainly right up there. That's a pretty hard act to follow, even by Dan Brown. Code was surely not the best book that's ever been written, or the best story that's ever been told, it just sold more copies than pretty much any other book that's ever been written. But what has that got to do with the new book? So, to be fair, The Lost Symbol should be judged as just what it is probably going to be: a modern thriller in the style of Dan Brown's DaVinci Code. I'll bet it's going to be at least pretty good; his other books were all pretty good. And I liked Code a lot. But people, and by people I mean readers in general, are going to expect it to be great. I hope it is great. Every book I pick up to review I hope is going to be great. Few are. But many of them are good, and many more are very good. Really, what more should we expect from a book?

Fellow reviewers: take a deep breath, empty your minds of preconceived notions, purge your soul of any jealousy, (especially those of you who are also novel writers) and give Dan Brown the same consideration you normally give to any other writer who toils in the literary vineyard. Sure, he's a lucky bastard who's made a lot f money, and who's about to make a lot more money, who probably lives like a God while you work in obscurity down in some dank basement, unloved, unappreciated, struggling to make ends meet, and you know you're at least as good as he is! Why? Why him? Why not me...!

Easy Thriller Guy, just read the book.

After you stand in line to buy it.

OK, but I'm still going to be annoyed.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Magic of Libraries

From Dan Stashower...

I was eleven years old and spending a rainy afternoon at the Coventry Village Library, in Cleveland Heights. The book was Dunninger’s Complete Encyclopedia of Magic. Each page had an illustration of a cool, confident, debonair conjurer performing a miracle of some type. He was often surrounded by a crowd of attractive men and women in evening dress, their faces glowing with admiration.

The tricks were frankly ridiculous. In one, the reader was instructed on the proper method of lighting a cigarette with a chunk of ice – it involved a concealed pellet of potassium. Another, in which candles were to be lit and extinguished with a wave of the hand, required a hidden array of air compressors, electric motors and a “copper tube solenoid.” My favorite was the production of a “nickel-plated bowl, from which streamers of fire pour forth to lick the ceiling.” This one involved a ring of asbestos, a flammable liquid, and an “ordinary blank cartridge mounted on a steel plunger.” What could possibly go wrong?

Suffice it to say, no cigarettes were ever lit by chunks of ice in my house, and no streamers of fire licked the ceiling. I don’t know that I ever managed to bring off a single one of the tricks in that book. Even so, I spent hours poring over its levitating pocket watches and exploding billiard balls. For me, it wasn’t so much a book of tricks as a manual of style. “While seated with friends at the dinner table,” ran one description, “there is nothing of greater value at the threshold of popularity than a good, impressive, mystifying pocket trick.” Truth be told, my own experiences in later years did not bear this out, and I found myself stumbling at the threshold of popularity. Maybe if I’d been able to get my hands on some potassium.

I suppose this is the point where I should get to the Big Theme – but isn’t this the point of libraries, I should say, that they unlock the secrets of knowledge and make them available to one and all? But I can’t bring myself to say any such thing. For me, finding Dunninger’s Encyclopedia was a source of anxiety and apprehension. I didn’t want the secrets unlocked for one and all. I wanted them for me. Me, alone. What’s the point of a secret if it’s just sitting out there in the open, waiting for the next eleven-year-old kid who happens to wander in out of the rain? Stay home, kid. That book is mine.

But if you can spare a copper tube solenoid, drop me a line.