Thursday, June 23, 2011

Ah, Vacation

Yes, Thriller Guy has been on vacation. And for once “vacation” didn't mean humping an 80 pound pack, lacing up the desert boots and carrying heavy weaponry. The thing is, Thriller Guy's wife (T.G.W.) doesn't allow weaponry when on holiday. And that's a good rule, generally.

You may remember (if not, shame!) TG's rules about creativity, primarily the four places that are particularly conducive to creative thought.

Bed, bath, beach and bus. Among these four, Beach is the most powerful. Back when TG was a younger man, on vacation with his wife and two fine children, the family would head to the beach, usually North Carolina but sometimes Maryland, where he would rent a fine house and spend a week. TG never headed off for one of these beach trips without a firm writing goal in mind: coming up with a new idea for a novel, beginning a new novel, banging away at a current novel, or finishing a novel. After a fine day spent in the ocean, walking the beach, eating at places that featured the word “shack” in their name, everyone would go to bed. Then, in the hours before dawn, TG would arise and move to the highest point in the house where he would set up his laptop and begin to work in the blessed silence. And as he would write the sky would lighten, the sun would rise, the ocean would supply the steady heartbeat of the surf, and the words, the ideas, would flow and the world was a glorious place. Then the rest of the family would climb out of bed and it would end, but for that day, several hours of hard, meaningful, useful, creative work would have been done. Yes, the same amount of work could have been accomplished at home, deep in TG's subterranean writing lair, but at the beach, in the sun, as the sky turned from pearl grey to brilliant blue, the world, the words, would be golden.

Many years ago TG remembers reading the Author's Guild magazine and finding a little offhand squib in the back about the mystery writer Parnell Hall who had been seen standing in the ocean up to his chest with a small tape recorder (does everyone remember what tape was?) yacking away. TG thought, at the time, what a good idea, what a great way to stretch that predawn morning creativity into the very bowels of a trip to the beach, away from the family, subject only to the forces of the tides as one talked out another few pages in the never-ending struggle to put together a manuscript. So when TG began to write this blog entry on beach creativity, he remembered that squib and thought, what the hell, let's see if Parnell Hall remembers those days. Let us all now thank God, or whomever, for the Internet. TG found Parnell and asked him, did he remember that item?

I never saw the squib in the Author's Guild magazine, but it's quite true. It would have been Jones Beach, and I wasn't writing a memo, I was writing a book. And it wasn't just some fleeting idea, it was the whole damn thing. I wrote my first book longhand in spiral notebooks, then typed it up on an electric typewriter. This was a while back, shortly after man had discovered fire. My agent got me a two book deal, which shocked the hell out of me, I was happy just to have sold one, but it wasn't enough to quit my day job. I was working as a private investigator at the time, driving around New York City signing up clients for a negligence lawyer, and my wife gave me a micro-cassette recorder, so if I had any ideas while I was driving I could click it on and make notes so I wouldn't lose them. It took me about a week to go from making notes to dictating the whole damn book. I've dictated all my books ever since. I can do it anywhere. At home, in the park, in the car, or standing chest deep in the ocean. In the summer I would drive out to Jones Beach a lot. It's at least an hour drive, depending on traffic. I'd dictate all the way out there, swim, stand in the waves and write some more, then dictate on the way home. In the afternoon I'd put on a headset and transcribe what I had written.

TG here. Parnell Hall has been writing excellent mystery fiction for years. When TG first read him, it was the beginning of the Stanley Hasting series, Detective, a book that was funny, true, compelling and an honest mystery, all at the same time. Now there are 17 more in the series, plus his clever Puzzle Lady series that is ongoing. TG can recommend any of these books for a good read and suggests that savvy readers who own Kindles can pick up some great Parnell Hall values on the Amazon Kindle store.

So while TG had Parnell on the line, he asked him a few more questions:

What are you doing these days?

The KenKen Killings is out in hardcover now. The next Puzzle Lady, $10,000 Dollars In Small, Unmarked Puzzles, will be out in Feb 2012. Review copies should be ready soon. In the former, Cora Felton, a whiz at solving crime but a charlatan as a crossword puzzle constructor (she couldn't solve one with a gun to her head--she's the sweet, grandmotherly face on her niece's nationally syndicated Puzzle Lady column), is actually quite good at number puzzles, and is delighted to find a crime involving KenKen puzzles. In the latter, she deals with a blackmailer, a stalker, and a killer, not to mention her least favorite ex-husband, Melvin.

Right now I'm writing Stakeout, my next Stanley Hasting private eye novel. It will be out next year from Pegasus books. Last year's Caper will join Hitman in trade paperback this fall, also from Pegasus.

And I'm making music videos! King of Kindle, on YouTube, is a hoot. It features several well-known writers, including Mary Higgins Clark and Lawrence Block. Check it out.

Funny video! All you smart-ass mystery readers out there, how many of the faces in the video can you name?

Ahem. Back to business. Any advice for the aspiring writers who tune in to TG's blog?

My advice to aspiring writers is that my advice is worthless and won't help them. You have to find something that rings a bell with you. Shortly before I wrote my first novel, I saw Robert B. Parker interviewed on TV. He was asked, "Why do you think people like your books?" I figured, poor Bob, he'll have to say something about Spenser being not just a macho guy but also a gourmet cook, and intellectual, sensitive to women or something like that. He said, "I think they like the way the words sound." The interviewer was baffled, but Bob said, "Yeah, if the words sound good, people like reading them." I thought, come on, no one reads this stuff out loud, but I went back and reread Looking For Rachael Wallace, and he was absolutely right. The words sounded good. There was a rhythm, a style, and it was great to read. When I started my first book, Detective, a few months later, I had no plot or outline, and I didn't know what I was writing, but I wanted it to sound good. My point is, that helped me, but it probably won't help you. Find something that will.

And how about vacations?

They're a wonderful way of doing research without expending any effort. And if you write about them, you can write it off on your tax return.

Whoa, TG never had the balls to write off his vacations, but if Parnell says it's cool, then TG's tax return next year is going to feature a beach house. Thank God, (or whomever) the IRS is too slow-witted to follow the Thriller Guy blog. Right? Right?

1 comment:

  1. I'll let you know after my cruise to Bermuda this August...research. Yes.