Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Thriller Guy Taken to Task

It seems TG has been stepping on a few toes. Well, it's what TG does best. This in from one of the blog's readers. The writer, Marc S. is well known to TG, being one of the writers in his writers group, The Squatting Toad, which TG wrote about in an earlier entry. Because TG prides himself on his ability to take it, as well as dish it out, he is running the letter in its entirety. And offering the same space to anyone else who would like to take TG to task. The offer is always on the table: Bring it on. (Note: Mark S. is far too modest in his letter: his novel was excellent and should be included on the list of "ones that got away.")

Dear TG,

It’s a hot Saturday afternoon and I’m sitting in my leather recliner catching up on your superb blog. I’m reading your recent entry about book signings with a frozen chocolate vodka in my hand. I note this particular flavored brand of alcohol is the subject of an earlier TG composition about the manly virtues of gin. TG implies that chocolate vodka is the preferred choice of men who prefer skirts to pants. “Less than a manly drink,” is what you called it.

The implication is somewhat odd since TG and I, as well as other members of the Squatting Toads, have drained one bottle after another of chocolate vodka over the past year, beginning when TG himself discovered the maiden bottle of chocolate vodka in my freezer and promptly opened it, beginning a trend. I’ve been hooked ever since. To this day, a bottle of the less than manly drink is an essential part of my terrorist survival kit, along with duct tape and 365 cans of tuna fish.

So does the preference for a candy-flavored drink rather than gin or scotch whiskey render me unqualified to write thrillers? Should I be writing southern love stories or tales of the Caribbean trade winds instead? If you believe my good friend TG, I should be banished to the Harlequin aisle and forced to wear a dress due to my preference for alcohol flavored by the cocoa bean. Pish tosh! I am quite secure with my manliness (how else would I be comfortable saying pish tosh?) I have a tattoo of a skull with a sword through it, embroidered with the words, Born to Raise Hell. I’m six feet two inches tall and weigh about 240 pounds. I was in a street gang in my youth. I played football in college and later rugby, whose players are known for eating their dead. Later in life I worked as an investigative reporter, pursuing mobsters who killed as a matter of business, and then as a government gumshoe. I doubt that chocolate vodka neutralizes my past. Chocolate, like any flavor, is but a veneer. The test of a man is beneath the surface, at his heart and his soul.

Is it the same test for thriller writers? Must they have the heart of a lion to write about the lion hearted? Are there personality traits common to the great ones? What do they drink? What type of woman – or man – do they prefer? Should female thriller writers be judged differently than men? Lots of question to mull over while sipping chocolate vodka.

I switch to memories of book signings. I’ve had one novel published, an obscure thriller called Dirty Laundry. A New York Times review briefly lifted it from obscurity, but it dropped to its natural level of mediocrity soon after. Maybe this is why I turn so often to chocolate vodka. Anyway, during the moment I hovered above obscurity, book signings were arranged for me. One of them was scheduled at Murder, Inc., a Manhattan book store owned by legendary mystery editor, author and publisher Otto Penzler. My wife at the time was from New York and had many relatives and friends, all of whom were invited to my coming out party at Penzler’s book establishment. But upon arrival at the bookstore there were no signs in the window announcing the book signing. Inside the store, there were no indications that an author, obscure or not, would be signing books that day.

I spoke to one of Penzler’s employees and inquired about my book signing. He said there must be some mistake. We have no book signing scheduled for today. I informed him I had invited more than 100 people. They would be arriving within the next 30 minutes. Didn’t you hear from my publisher? Oh yes, he recalled, someone did call. But the arrangement was for you to sign books, not have a book signing. I told him I failed to see the difference. He explained the publisher delivered a hundred copies of my book, which I would sign, and they would be sold as signed copies. But a public signing, where people stood in line waiting for my autograph was not anticipated. Had I known about chocolate vodka at that time, I might have poured one or smashed the bottle over his head, but instead I demanded that a book signing, not a signing of book, be arranged, and in short order.

Otto Penzler arrived in the middle of the contretemps. He graciously offered his upstairs office, a loft above the store, as the signing area, and personally cleared the clutter from his desk so I could use it as the signing platform. Relatives and friends soon arrived and no one was the wiser. The signing was a success and I slipped back into obscurity, where the chocolate vodka is cold and anonymous, and TG and the Squatting Toads offer comfort, even to a girly man.

One more related anecdote. During my two seconds of literary recognition, I was invited to interview Robert Parker before an audience at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. I brought a signed copy of my novel with me. During the introduction backstage I gave my book to Parker, figuring he would read it that night and call Hollywood the next day, demanding my book be turned into a movie. We went on stage, where I interviewed Parker and fielded questions for him from the audience. I remember Parker wore loafers without socks and I couldn’t decide if he was being chic or crude. I probably stared at his bare ankles too much. Maybe that’s the reason I found my book under his chair when he left the stage. As the audience emptied the auditorium, my dreams of Hollywood went out the door with them, as did Parker and his damn naked ankles.

By the way, vodka comes in all sorts of sissy flavors, including lemon, orange, kiwi, pomegranate and strawberry. Also potato and bacon. You can even mix them all together if you’re a true girly man.


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