Sunday, January 24, 2010

Speaking Ill of the Dead

So, Robert Parker dropped dead at his desk this week. Lots of writers are saying that's great, that's how they want to go, sitting at their desks working. Are they crazy? Jeez, TG can think of plenty of other ways to die that sound like a hell of a lot more fun than working at one's desk.

TG has been reading the obits about what a terrific guy he was and how great the novels, in particular the Spenser books were. Not being one to keep his yap shut, TG would like to pause for a moment to remember how terrible the Spenser books were in his middle period, when Parker's marriage foundered and he began writing the Susan Silverman character as a love letter to his wife. Or at least that's what everyone said had happened. In the obits there was mention of a memoir he had written about his marriage, a book that TG has not read nor does he intend to read, but the obits said was a pean to their 50 year marriage, which seems at odds with everything TG has heard over the years. Supposedly the guy lived downstairs and his wife lived upstairs in the same house, which doesn't sound like a happy situation to TG. But all this being pure speculation, let us leave the land of gossip and turn to the Spenser books themselves...

TG, along with plenty of other readers, loved the Spenser books. The PI was tough, smart, and at at the same time could turn out a pretty good gourmet meal (not unlike TG himself) and the sidekick, Hawk, was terrific. But then things went wrong with Susan, the girlfriend, and Spenser started kissing her ass in ways that were shamefully embarrassing and then they brought in that stupid dog Pearl, and it got even worse. All of TG's writer pals were mortified for the man, and the books became virtually unreadable. No one is mentioning this in the obit's are they? TG does not mind going where angels fear to tread.

Eventually, Spenser and Susan got back together and the series got better but, at least in TG's estimation, they never reached the heights that the earlier books inhabited before the breakup. The several new series, the Jesse Stone books, were good, but they weren't Spenser.

TG also heard stories that made it sound like Parker was kind of a jerk. So TG would like to extend a hand to the Parker community and ask that anyone with stories and reminiscences about what a great guy he was, send 'em in, TG will gladly put them all up. TG doesn't like to speak ill of anyone, alive or dead, but it does kind of get to him when just because a person dies everyone says good stuff about that person, even if it was undeserved.

So, Robert Parker stories, let's hear them. TG will put them up anonymously, so don't be afraid. Hey, the guy is dead, he won't care.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

J. Sydney Jones and His Excellent Books.

Because Thriller Guy owes his soul to no particular devil, he feels free to use his awsome position of power to give a push whenever possible to the novels of his personal friends. As a novelist himself, TG has found a community with other writers who always seem willing to help one another. Writing can be, as TG has said many times, painful. It's nice to have backup in times of trouble. God, this is getting a bit thick, so let's move it along.

J. Sydney Jones is a terrific writer who has just published the second in a mystery series set in Vienna, circa 1898. It stars lawyer Karl Werthen who works in a semi Holmes/Watson manner with real life pioneering criminologist Hanns Gross.

In the first of the series, The Empty Mirror, Werthen's friend Gustav Klimt is accused of committing a series of bizarre murders. The resulting investigation by Werthen and Gross takes the sleuths and readers through a fascinating tour of Vienna and its citizenry, from the depths of the lower classes to the Emperor and Empress themselves. Patrick Anderson in the Washington Post wrote a long and glowing review that gives details. Jones throws in tons of interesting factoids, such as this piece of art history: Klimt painted his portraits of society women first in the nude, so he could “see into their soul” (yeah, right) and then he would paint the clothes onto the portraits. Who knew? Other famous historical figures are either part of the plot – sexologist Krafft-Ebing – or make cameos -- Mark Twain – but none of this ever seems forced or irrelevant, something TG always keeps a sharp eye out for in a historical mystery, because TG, also a historical novelist, hates it when authors do this.

In Jones' latest, number two in the series, Requiem In Vienna, someone is out to kill Gustav Mahler. Alma Schindler, who later became Mahler's wife, hires Werthen to find the killer and stop him before Mahler joins a growing list of musicians who have been murdered. Again, the amount of fabulous information on the period, the place, and the long list of fascinating characters makes this a series that is the equal of anyone working the historical thriller venue today.

And as readers of these pages know, TG does not toss around praise like this lightly. And Syd, to show his appreciation for this plug, has sent TG a copy of the first and the second of the books to give away to the first folks who send TG an email to his alter ego, Allen Appel.

And here's another tip. Bhob Stewart, in his blog, Potzrebie, has a long and interesting piece on William Heirens, who in 1946 was arrested as The Lipstick Killer, the guy who killed good-looking dames and wrote in lipstick on the mirror, “Stop me before I kill more.” This case has been the subject of a number of books, movies and comics, but TG thinks a new angle on this case would be Thriller Gold. Heirens is actually still alive in Illinois, the longest serving inmate in the United States. And he still says he's innocent.
Check it out.  

Update: The two free Jones novels were snapped up right away. They are still available at a quality bookstore near you.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

A Report From the Front Lines

Thriller Guy's quote for the day is stolen from the literary quote gadget on his Google homepage. From John Steinbeck, “Unless a reviewer has the courage to give you unqualified praise, I say ignore the bastard.” Probably good advice.

Constant readers of this blog may remember that TG is shepherding first time thriller writer, code named AJ, through the long and difficult process of actually producing a novel. AJ has a large family and is the CEO of a company that does something really complicated having to do with security. That is to say, he's a regular person with responsibilities, leaving him with little free time to write, and yet he's decided to tackle writing a novel. TG applauds his courage and contends that the process is possible if you break the project into doable segments. TG's first advice was to read Albert Zuckerman's valuable book on how to go about writing a novel. TG asked AJ for a report on how he is doing. AJ sent in the following:

"I bought the book you recommended, 'Writing the Blockbuster Novel' which as Amazon calls it - is part fiction-biology textbook, part cookbook. Its author, Albert Zuckerman, dissects the commercial bestseller, then provides recipes for each discrete element. Settings, according to Zuckerman, should be "topical, trendy, 'sexy'"--either newsworthy hotspots or uncharted territory--and main characters, à la Don Corleone and Scarlett O'Hara, should loom larger than life. Like Hollywood blockbusters, "mega-books" should be high concept, with high stakes. Zuckerman discusses point of view (there should be multiple), character relationships, plotting, revision, and especially outlining. "Every mega-book with which I've been involved was planned and replanned and planned again," he confides. Indeed, a 63-page chapter here features four versions of Ken Follett's outline for The Man from St. Petersburg and an analysis of each. Still, no matter how good your outline, remember that there's a learning curve. A beginning novelist writing a successful blockbuster novel, says Zuckerman, is about as likely as "a high school athlete trying to play with the Dallas Cowboys."

I tried not to be disheartened by that last statement, but the information does seem valuable and very helpful, so I figured I would go through the exercise that he recommended - which involved me reading The Man From St. Petersburg before covering chapter 3, which I did (and enjoyed, who knew homework could be fun?) and am now going through the analysis of the outlines, as presented by Mr. Z. It appears, even from his own advice, that I shouldn't worry too much about the first draft of the outline, but should get it done, so as soon as I finish reading through this particular chapter, I am going to finish the outline according to the advice I found there. I found that I didn't really have any idea how to go about creating an outline for a novel, so I am looking at the examples to get a feel for what I need to do.

I have learned a lot in the past two weeks, and have a lot of ideas developed during that time that will have an influence on what I am putting together. I've also picked up some interesting bits from reading or watching interviews of current best selling authors where they discuss a what they do, and have been squeezing in story related research every stretch that I can. For example, since I have an iphone, during idle moments while out and about I have web pages open, you tube videos to watch, and thriller reading to read. (I have kindle on my iphone, which is how I got through Follet's novel in just a few days).

So, I'd better leave off here, I can hear my work email chiming new messages several times during the typing of this, and I'm sure there are other demands that won't be ignored. Lunch? That cup of coffee that I ran upstairs to get."

TG's advice at this point? Soldier on, AJ. Don't worry about the length of the outline at this point. If you can manage one page, that will do. It's a place to start, not a finished product. You'll find yourself going back to it time and again to write in new ideas. The outline will grow as you begin to work on the actual book.

Courage. Onward, always onward.

Monday, January 4, 2010

The Holidays and Books To Come

Quite a few readers have written to ask Thriller Guy to expand on the teaser in the last entry about the glittering holiday parties in the hallowed halls of publishing. TG would love to, but no can do. Here's why. TG exists in a peculiar and precarious position. He must remain anonymous in his reviews; this is paramount. Otherwise, all manner of enticements would crop up in his email box, to say nothing of late-night knocks at his hotel door. Eager publishers, agents and even authors themselves are sometimes willing to go to inappropriate lengths to secure a career changing review from TG. Because of his strict impartiality and professional ethics, TG must remain strong, his reputation unblemished. If the holiday parties were described in any detail, connections would be made and TG's mask of anonymity would be ripped away, his true identity revealed. No, TG learned his lessons years ago in the mountains of Afghanistan: blend in, become just one more member of the crowd, a threat to none, just an ordinary man doing his job, whether that job is blowing up Russian tanks or reviewing tomorrow's best sellers. Sorry. And thanks to those of you who sent gifts, they have been returned via regular mail. The cash was a nice gesture, but, really, TG cannot except anything for the reasons explained above.

Other blog readers have asked for a few tips on special books coming up soon in the new year. TG is happy to oblige these requests. Here are just a few to look forward to.

In January look for Daniel Suarez's Freedom, the excellent sequel to his debut cyber-novel Daemon, which came out last year. Daemon was one of those magical internet stories you read about: he sent the book to agents who all rejected it, so he self published it and set up a web site. Slate wrote an article about the book and Stewart Brand of Whole Earth Catalogue fame read it and recommended the book to friends The next thing you know, Suarez has a much-deserved two book contract. The novels concern a cyber scientist who, from the grave, wages war on those elements of society he deplores, with fascinating results. Readers are advised to hunt up a copy of Daemon and then pick up Freedom at the bookstore. Interestingly, Suarez originally published the book under the name Leinad Zeraus, which is his name spelled backwards, because, in his words, “That was the pen name I used for the self-published edition, chosen primarily for its Google search potential. There are hundreds of Daniel Suarez’s on the Web, but by reversing the letters I was able to own the first ten pages of my novel’s Google search results. It made a big difference.” So take note, all you self publishers out there.

In March, William Peter Blatty has Dimiter, a really nicely written non-horror tale that's a complicated thriller and at the same time, a love story. Blatty has turned out a lot of good books over the years, all of them, unfortunately, have been overshadowed by the immense success of his 1971 megahit, The Exorcist. Dimiter is very hard to characterize in a short, or even long, space, so TG is just going to say it an unusual book and worth a read. Several of Blatty's earlier books are also being reissued in new editions.

So, 2010 is already looking quite promising for thriller readers. Stay tuned for a review of Randy Wayne White's terrific new Doc Ford novel, Deep Shadow. TG had a long conversation with Randy about this book and writing in general. He'll blog on the book and the conversation when the publication date arives.

As always, thanks to all the commenters. Keep 'em coming.