Thursday, May 27, 2010

What Are You Wearing Right Now?

Recently while perusing a back issue of the New York Times Book Review, TG came across a review of some old famous writer, TG can't remember who, exactly, but this sharp scrivener was pictured sitting at his typewriter beavering away, wearing a three piece suit. You know the sort of picture, Somerset Maugham maybe, Dashiell Hammet, Hammet always wore a suit, J.P. Marquand, somebody. So of course as soon as TG started looking for a picture to use in this entry he couldn't find any pictures like he thought he saw. The Conan Doyle on the left was the closest he could find. Of course there's always Rudyard Kipling, (see below) he probably slept in a wooly tweed suit. But here's the point, one of the few perks of being a writer is you don't have to get “dressed up” to go to work. You can stroll downstairs, or upstairs, as the case might be, wearing pretty much anything you want. Who's going to see you? Yeah, maybe your family, but they don't have any respect for you anyway, so they don't count.

TG's everyday writing garb? Summer: Black T-shirt, black jeans, sneakers. Winter: Black mock turtleneck, black jeans, sneakers. Keep it simple. No muss, no fuss when rooting through the shirt drawer. But how about these guys who put on a suit to sit down at their desk? Maybe they've got something there. Maybe if you dress up, YOUR PROSE DRESSES UP! Maybe you write better if you dress better! So TG decided to get up this week, take a shower first thing and put on his suit, fresh and ready for a hard day's work. Suit? you may ask?

Here's the reason TG actually owns a suit...

Several years ago TG put together a book with his pal Mike Rothmiller, My Hero, which is a cool little book. The book caught the attention of then president George Bush, or rather it caught the attention of his wife. She decided that it would be good to have a ceremony in the White House where George would come in and receive a copy and give it a plug. Great, right? Sell a million copies. Well, TG was anything other than a Bush fan, so this rankled. TG's wife, World's Biggest Liberal, said what the hell, how many chances do you get like this? So TG said OK, even though it meant buying an actual suit. Which he did. It cost $400.00. More with a decent belt and a pair of shoes that weren't sneakers. So everything was running along smoothly, when one of the Bush girls, don't ask TG which one, decided to get married on the same day the book thing was suppsed to happen. So they canceled, those ingrates. TG didn't even try to reschedule since it wasn't something he hadn't wanted to do in the first place. The little book is still cool, check it out here.

That's why TG actually owns a suit.

So this week, TG was going to get up, put on his suit and tie and sit down at the computer and write some excellent prose. You know what? It's too much trouble. Besides, no one is here to take a picture. And if there's no picture it didn't really happen anyway.

So what do you wear when you write? Does it matter?

Here's a few others...

Mickey Spillane:

Rudyard Kipling:

Friday, May 14, 2010


Thrillerguy has recently read several thrillers written by women. This is fairly rare, maybe three or four out of a hundred are written by women. Usually these books are indistinguishable from those written by men. A good example of the latter is the work of Stella Rimington who was the first female director of Britain's MI5. After retirement, she's written three thrillers, perfectly good books one supposes, though TG has only read and reviewed the second, Secret Asset. The point is, this book, and most of the other thrillers written by women, could just as easily been written by men. Even though the protagonist is usually a woman.

Not so Intelligence, a debut effort by Susan Hasler. Hasler went to work for the CIA in 1983 and stayed for 21 years. This makes her an insider, and as any reader of this blog knows, TG hates (usually) insider writers. Except in Hasler's case. Somehow, against all odds, she's that complete rarity: a female writer working a traditionally male field who not only dominates the traditional tropes but is able to put a female slant on the writing and story that makes it different from that of the usual male vantage point. And different in a good way. Hasler uses her insider knowledge in a way TG has never read in any other CIA thriller. She uses terms and categories that sound absolutely authentic, even though TG (whose knowledge of the genre is encyclopedic) was taken by surprise. This is surely the way the CIA is organized, the way they speak, the way they think. If it isn't, TG doesn't want to hear about it. TG is a believer in Susan Hasler's world.

Why aren't there more thrillers written with this special slant? Not the insider terminology, but the insider knowledge of being a woman. Books, thrillers that are written from a female POV. Because TG feels that these days that anyone who still thinks that men and women are essentially alike is a moron. Grow up. The sixties, (though oh how TG loved the Sixties) are over. TG says read Susan Hasler's Intelligence because it's good and it's different. In a world of fiction where one book seeks to copy another, any other successful book in the hope that that book will then become successful, is a world that TG is heartily sick of. (of which TG is heartily sick.) Please, no more Dan Brown copies. No more CIA thrillers just like all the other CIA thrillers. Let's have more women being smart, being tough, being women for Christ's sake. And all that implies.

As always, TG will try and contact Susan Hasler for a signed copy of Intelligence, one that will go this time to the first woman commenter. And if there are no women commenters, then a lucky guy will get the book. Trust me, this is good stuff.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Killer

Back when Thriller Guy was writing movie scripts he read an interesting piece of advice on how to craft a good action/adventure film. Scripts are short (each page equals one minute of screen time, hence around 100 to 120 pages) and they are traditionally divided up into three acts. To understand this soon-to-be-revealed piece of advice, you should know the screenwriting definition of the word “whammie.” A whammie is anything exciting, usually an explosion, car chase, gunfight, anything that gets the viewer's blood pumping. Here's the advice on how to structure your script:

Act One: Whammies.

Act Two: More Whammies.

Act Three: All Whammies.

With his recently published The Killers, Tom Hinshelwood has written a thriller that is all whammies.

The primary elements are not all that unusual – a CIA traitor, hired killer, beautiful agency operative, Russian spies, and an espionage coup of invaluable proportion, betrayals and double crosses – but what he does with them is a steely, joy to read: a thriller that kicks ass from beginning to end without any sag in the middle, no fussy romantic entanglements, no cliched backstory that attempts to explain the psychological origins behind the ongoing mayhem. This book slams into gear from the first pages and roars along till it smashes into the end. Terrific.

Victor is a hired killer who is coldly efficient. He's doing a hit on a Latvian national, killing the man and retrieving a small flash drive. When Victor heads back to his hotel he has to fight his way through a gang that suddenly attacks him. From then on legions of other hit men try to take his life, eventually culminating in an assassins duel between Victor and another hired killer, Reed, who may or may not be his equal.

There's a scene soon after Reed is introduced where he is attacked, randomly, by a gang of street punks. Thriller Guy loves these scenes which are often found in thrillers. The street gang shows up, hones in on the professional, and you just know what is going to happen. Here, the leader of the punks demands that Reed hand over his wallet, phone and watch:

     Reed's expression remained blank. “Why?”
     “Say what?”
     In that moment when confusion combined with anxiety, Reed grabbed the outstretched arm before him, wrapping his left hand around the wrist and pulling the kid forward sharply, directing the gun away to the side. He took hold of the kid's triceps with his free hand and twisted the wrist in his grip, locking the arm. He wrenched it downward, hard – against the joint – snapping the arm at the elbow and into an inverted V.
     The gun clattered on the asphalt and the awful wail momentarily stunned the others. Reed released the wrist and the kid collapsed. Among the screams he managed to find his voice.
     Reed sprang forward toward the other drawn gun, knocked the weapon aside as it was raised to fire, using his forward impetus to multiply the force of the elbow he sent into the kid's face. His head snapped backward, blood splashing from his mouth and the kid went down heavy, out cold, jaw broken.
     The other youth armed with a gun backed off, palms showing, eyes wide, head shaking. Reed ignored him, heard the click of a switchblade opening, turned, sidestepped as his attacker lunged and overextended himself into empty air, stumbling, completely off balance, arms flailing.
     The next one came from behind, his feet scraping on the ground. Reed whipped round, threw the edge of his hand into the guy's throat. He fell down convulsing.
     Two more attacked at the same time, one wielding a hunting knife with a four-inch blade, the other a crowbar. The crowbar came at him first, from the left, swinging for his head. Reed caught it and the attacker's hand together, redirected it downward, using the kid's momentum against him to twist the bar from his fingers and into Reed's own.
     He smashed an elbow into the youth's side, knocking him backward, as the youth gasped, ribs cracked. Reed followed through with the crowbar, backhanding it into the side of his attacker's skull. Blood splashed on faces in the crowd.
     The hunting knife passed within inches of Reed's face, a wild swing, clumsy. Reed dodged backward, waiting for the next attack, used his forearm as a shield to turn the blade aside and the crowbar to sweep his attacker's feet out from under him and drove it down into the kid's face, exploding his nose across his cheeks.
     The small youth with the switchblade recovered and yelled as he attacked again, a frenzied stab. Reed dodged, invited another attack, and brought the crowbar down hard on the youth's exposed arm, shattering bones. He screamed and dropped the knife, wrist and hand hanging limply from mid-forearm. Reed reversed his grip on the crowbar, swung it upward, cracking the youth under the jaw, the force lifting him off his feet and dropping him back to the ground in a silent heap.
     It was all over in less than seven seconds.

This is pretty much just a throwaway scene, tossed in for the sheer, exuberant love of havoc. Hinshelwood cranks this stuff out by the ream, making it look easy when TG can assure all you writers, published and unpublished, out there, it isn't. It's damn hard to do a few times, much less over and over the course of the entire book. And without repeating himself, without, dare I say it, becoming gratuitous. Whenever an ass kicking comes, it is always well deserved and functions to move the plot forward. The point of the above scene: don't screw around with Reed. If you do he will kill you.

TG will contact Hinshelwood and see if he'll donate a signed book to the first one of TG's readers who requests a copy. Maybe TG will do a small interview and find out where the man learned to write and to kick butt. So let TG know if you want a copy. And remember, all you Thriller Writers:


In the end, it's all about the whammies.