Sunday, January 30, 2011

No More Whining; Look Out for that Suitcase Nuke

Thriller Guy knew this was going to happen. He turns over the blog for one week and that guy Appel comes in and starts whining about the writing business. How many times has TG warned everyone that it's a terrible business and they should stay far away from it. Yes, it looks good, all cats lounging on typewriters, tweed, leather elbow patches and pipe smoking, but those days are long gone. Appel says he now knows he should have been a prick to his agent. At least to the point of insisting that the guy should actually try and sell his work. There was a time when Max Perkins and F. Scott would sit around in front of a crackling fire drinking scotch while Scott or some other writer would tell Max or some other agent his newest cockamamie idea for something he wanted to write, and Max or some other agent would gently try to steer the writer in a more profitable direction. When that didn't work and the writer wrote what he wanted to write, the agent would heave a sigh and then get down to work and try and sell whatever the guy wrote, because he was the writer's agent and that's what his job was. These days if you're lucky to get an agent many of them feel like they can pick and choose among what the writer has written or is writing and then if they can't sell it after a couple of tries, they give up and move on to another writer. They don't work for their writers, they work only for themselves.

So a writer has to be tough, has to be willing to fire an agent if he or she isn't trying hard enough or is simply cherry picking through the work looking for something to make a quick sale. TG doesn't think that everything a writer produces is going to sell, or that everything is of equal merit, that's being foolish, but if the work is professional it deserves to be put on the market and pushed if that's the business you're in.

So TG will offer his usual piece of advice to those who are dumb enough to try and make a buck cranking out words: shut up and get back to work. And if you've got to get tough with your agent, get tough.

On to the normally scheduled business...

Here are some things that are presently pissing TG off.

A recently reviewed thriller had four, count 'em, four, references to the “If I told you, I'd have to kill you,” gag. And this was in a WWII historical thriller, where it seemed even more inappropriate. TG has asked writers to stop doing this, it's so dated and stupid it only makes them look foolish. Four times in one book? (Picture TG shaking his head in dismay.)

TG is sick of women romance novelists trying to break into the thriller market by disguising romance for thriller by building plots around Arab terrorists or Nazis or Russian gangsters. Somewhere into these books the descriptions of hunky heroes start piling up and scenes of lovemaking ensue and pretty soon any thrills of the action kind are taken over by romance tropes. These books are more and more commonly being written under male pseudonyms. Be warned, romance writers! Thriller Guy is not tricked by these silly ruses! If you want to write romance, great, if you want to write thrillers, even better, but stop mixing them up and thinking TG is not going to notice. You will be reviewed fairly, and you will pay the price.

TG is now declaring a moratorium on writers employing suitcase nukes for their plot devices. Yes, the Russians might have made a bunch of them years ago and, yes, some of them may have gone astray, but none of them are going to blow up now the way they worked back then. There have been a number of recent articles about this, but writers are still using these devices as their too-cool-for-school weapon of choice. Sorry, guys, Tritium has a half-life of 13 years and Polonium's is even shorter. You could use a conventional bomb and pack it with the nuclear material to make it “dirty,” but that just isn't as exciting as leveling the U.S. Capitol and a mile of the surrounding cityscape, is it? So it's time to put the suitcase nukes back on the shelf. Do your research; come up with a new terror weapon.

Anyone else out there have a plot device that they're sick of? Something that you think has been done to death? Send 'em in, TG will be happy to publish your pet thriller peeve.


  1. Suitcase Nuke? How about something original like good old Clive Cussler's villains plot to dump a tanker full of iron slivers into the artic and creating an earth changing red-tide or something to that effect.

    Not to be too contrary, but instead of tired plots, I'd like to propose a few original ones.

    But realistically, I'm a little afraid to post my ideas for mayhem, in that it might give real life bad guys ideas...but I'll admit that could be a conceit on my part. If TG thinks my concerns are unfounded, he can publish them here, if not, do an editorial snip. :)

    Dangerous Idea #1 - Blinded By Science:

    50mW (milliwatt) to 200mW lasers (typically laser light show products) have been mis-used to 'blind' pilots flying commercial aircraft.

    Lasers Pointed at Aircraft on the Rise

    Laser lights beamed at aircraft also have FDA concerned. Incidents associated with laser lights beamed at aircraft have tripled in a 4-year period since December 2004, when the Federal Aviation Administration began tracking reports. In 2008, pilots reported a total of 950 cases of laser light striking an aircraft or illuminating a cockpit.

    Eye injuries and flash blindness from laser beams hitting aircraft are also on the rise, with more pilots self-reporting injuries in 2008 than in the previous 3 years combined. The distraction from flash blindness could cause a serious accident.

    The Plot: 1 MegaWatt pulsed nitrogen lasers can now be built from plans and even kits found on the internet. A FTO decides to coordinate a simultaneous attack on three major airports in the NYC area (Newark, LGA, and JFK.


  2. Joel, I already wrote this book, so don't bother. It's called "Blinders" and ends with the Fourth of July fireworks display on the Mall. No one ever published it. It's one of the many of my unpublished manuscripts mentioned in the post before this one.

  3. I wish I'd read something similar about agents years ago, TG. When I landed a big agent all of three weeks after sending out enquiries I was ecstatic and thought I'd already made it. However, he'd tell me things like 'the book needs more plot' and I'd spend a few months trying to insert more of this fabled plot into my novel. Then I'd receive more useful advice like 'the book needs more character' and off I'd go again. Oh, and I'd have to wait weeks, if not months, to get such responses from him.

    We played this merry dance for 2 years, at the end of which I'd transformed my original work to a book brimming over the edges with intricate plotting and more rounded characters, and my agent said 'Nah, I don't really think it's got the wow factor publishers want. But I'd love to see anything else you write.' Finally, I'd had enough, and got myself another agent who managed to sell my wow-less book within a few months.

    Regarding the 'I could tell you, but then I'd have to kill you line' I thought it originated in Top Gun? And if so, I'm not sure why anyone re-quotes it in a serious work. And romantic thrillers sound like a horrific concoction to me. I'm not found of the awkward sex scenes that pop up in thrillers occasionally as it is. They always seem out of place... as a violent shootout would be out of place in a love story.

    As for well-worn plot devices, I think anything involving Arab terrorists has been done to death by now. If they haven't got hold of a nuclear bomb, it's a dirty bomb, or chemical or biological agent. Whatever their weapon and whatever their target, it's still just terrorists wanting to blow up the West.

  4. Is it Dec 21, 2012 yet? I'll be glad when that date comes and goes. (Although I must confess I just grabbed a few used copies of Graham Brown's Black Rain/Black Sun series because the Amazon reviews looked really good and that IS the plot point of the book!)

    My take? The guy who was the writer of the Mayan tribe was chiseling the tablet and had a heart attack. As there were no other talented writer/chiselers in the tribe...the last date ON the tablet turned into folklore for future generations to make a buck off of.
    But that's just a wild guess on my part! (grin)

  5. Just because I'm that kind of person, I feel compelled to point out that Perkins was Fitzgerald's editor, not his agent. Of course, nobody really has editors anymore... If you'd like me to sign on as your factchecker, just say. xxxooo

  6. Hey Allen:

    Jon Land here, author of STRONG JUSTICE which you did a dazzling review of last year. Not sure if you've been assigned the new one STRONG AT THE BREAK which comes out in June but I wanted to make sure you get an ARC just in case. Could you hit me back at when you have a moment? And thanks again for enjoying the last Caitlin so much. Jon