Saturday, August 25, 2012

Blurbs, Again

After Thriller Guy put up his rant about blurbs and how writers shouldn’t exaggerate the worth of books they’re blurbing, TG received a comment (which he intended to put up, but it got lost) from a reasonable gentleman who simply suggested that people should only give blurbs to books they think are really good. It’s refreshing to see that there are people like this still around, people who believe actual morality and truth telling should be our guides in life. Oh, if it were only so simple.
            To tell the truth, TG was telling the truth in that first blurb blog. He is annoyed when he reads rave reviews on books that are less than praiseworthy. But TG knows that it has been ever thus, and will ever be, for a variety of perfectly good reasons. The first and foremost is friendship. TG has written many times on what an insular, lonely road writing can be. So when writers go to conferences and award ceremonies or anywhere other writers are gathered, they tend to make friends easily. It is truly an us-against-the-world vibe at these get-togethers. So what is a writer to do when he goes home after a conference and finds a request from his newest best friend asking for a blurb for the newest best friend’s book? Why, he goes ahead and gives a great blurb, of course.
            So TG already knew the answer to the question he asked in the earlier blog, why do they do it. Mostly, TG was trying to stir up a little trouble, just to see what would happen. Turns out, not much.
            So here’s TGs suggestion: just don’t read the blurbs. They’re nonsense, for the most part, and it will make you annoyed with the blurber if you don’t agree. Got it? Don’t read blurbs, they’re worthless as far as being an indication of a book’s worth. They are only indications of who a writer’s friends are.


Sunday, August 12, 2012

What Thriller Guy is Reading: Pure Gold

Thriller Guy has commented on several occasions about how he likes reading pieces by writers on how they go about their craft. Of course, much of what a lot of writers say is crap, but you’ve got TG here to help you separate the chaff from the wheat. In a recent issue of Publishers Weekly, at least on their web page, they asked mystery writer Chelsea Cain for some of her writing tips. Cain is the author of a series featuring Det. Archie Sheridan and serial killer Gretchen Lowell. TG has never been assigned any of her books to review, so he can't say that they meet his high standards, but he does like what she has to say about writing. Here are her tips, in shortened form. You can read what she has to say by clicking on the above hyperlink. The first three of these are pretty much obvious, but the last one was new to TG. You can show your appreciation to Chelsea Cain by buying one of her books.

1. Cain: You won’t make a living writing until you learn to write when you don’t want to. A lot of writers wait for the muse to seize them. These writers don’t get much done. Here’s a secret: writing is not always fun. If it is, you’re doing it wrong. 

TG has harped on this over and over. If you are a writer you write every day, if humanly possible. And it's not fun, it's work. You may enjoy it on some levels, but if you tell TG it's fun, he knows that your work is crap.

2. Cain: You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Don’t be afraid of clichés. Write the book you want to write. If you want to write about an alcoholic cop with an ex-wife and an insubordination problem, do it.

TG will go along with this one up to a point. He finds that the trick here is putting your own spin on a cliched genre format. And here's a footnote, you'd better read deeply in whatever genre you want to work in, otherwise you won't know what's a cliché and what isn't.

3. Cain: Always remember that you are the boss. Don’t let your characters tell you what to do.  They can be pushy. Some writers say that they create characters and then just sort of follow them around through the narrative. I think that these writers are out of their minds. 

TG thinks writers who say that are full of the aforementioned crap. Make up the damn character and make it do what you want it to do. Just because you use some physical reference to a guy you know doesn't mean that the character has to act and talk like the guy that you know or do what he would do.

5. Cain: Details are not created equally. Writing teachers go on and on about the importance of using details to flesh out a scene. But not all details are created equally. When you write thrillers like I do, and suddenly your main character is running for his life from a serial killer who is chasing him through the woods, slowing down the action with a bunch of descriptions seems counterintuitive. Why would the main character be noticing the pine needles on the ground when he has a killer on his heels? But I’ll tell you a secret, the more detail that I unpack about that woods, the night air, the sky, the sounds of his footsteps, the more tense that scene becomes. I read a study recently. Some professor wanted to look into the experience that time slows in life or death situations and he tied some graduate students to Bungee cords and pushed them off a ledge, and studied the results. His conclusion? In normal circumstances our brain culls details. In tense situations our mind stops culling – it notices everything – because you don’t know what detail is going to save your life. This is what creates the experience of time slowing—lots of details. The next time you’re writing a tension filled scene – maybe there’s a serial killer in it, maybe your character is asking someone out to prom  – remember to stop culling. Notice everything. The acne on her forehead. The buttons on her shirt. It all becomes important. It’s the ordinary moments that fly by. With those, the brain does cull details, so the details that your character does notice become all the more important and revealing. An object accrues more significance every time it’s mentioned. Notice the vase on the table once in a scene, and it’s a detail in the room. Notice the vase on the table three times and it means something to your character. It becomes a prop you can use. It starts to tell a story.  

This one is pure gold. TG likes to think he does this intuitively, but now that he has seen this tip and the explanation he will be paying very close attention the next time he's writing an action scene.TG is going to order a Chelsea Cain novel in payment. I would suggest that every one of you writers and would-be writers buy one of her books in thanks for the tip.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Gore Vidal and an Unrelated Sex Story

Most of the quotes you’re going to read from Gore Vidal are snarky comments about politics. Thriller Guy had to search to find one that was about writing.

"How marvelous books are, crossing worlds and centuries, defeating ignorance and, finally, cruel time itself."

Thriller Guy now adds Vidal to the list of recently dead writers. Unfortunately, TG has little good to say about the man. He was an OK fiction writer, though TG didn’t read all that much of his work, mostly the American history fiction, 1876, Burr and Lincoln. As all the world knows, TG’s alter ego Allen Appel has his own Lincoln books, first, the time travel adventure, Book Five of the esteemed Pastmaster series, In Time of War, soon to be available in eBook format, (place your advance orders now) and the already-in-place eBook, Abraham Lincoln: Detective. The point here being that Appel and TG know a hell of a lot about Lincoln and Vidal’s book had some outright mistakes and included a lot of material that is now considered not historically accurate. And TG must add, the style and writing of the book was “popular” to the point of sounding both unoriginal and pedestrian. So, rather than go on about the matter, TG will just say that perhaps the man’s essays were his strongest point. TG will also refrain from pointing out (you know how TG hates to speak ill of the dead) that over the years Vidal had turned into something of a conspiracy crank and his pronouncements on American politics became more and more ridiculous.

TG will just sum up this way: Gore Vidal was no Harry Crews.

But you are saying, “How about the sex story, TG? You promised us a sex story about a famous publishing professional.” OK, Here you go. I originally told this story in a blog entry several months ago, but I decided, probably wisely, that the time was not right to tell it so I never put it up. Is it true? I have no reason to think it’s not.

Several months ago TG noted the passing of the famous Grove Press publisher, Barney Rosset. If you don't know who Rosset is, check him out here. He was a giant in the industry for many reasons, a giant and hero in our popular and literary culture. An editor of mine once worked with Rosset at Grove Press. Every year the staff had a tough time coming up with a birthday present for Barney, he had been everywhere, done everything, and had everything he seemed to want. So one year, here’s what they came up with.

After work on his birthday the staff, or some of the staff, told Barney they were going to take him to his birthday present. This was in New York City. They left the building where they worked and went to a street in the West Village, stopped in front of a brownstone and handed the birthday boy a key. They told him to go into the house and upstairs to the master bedroom. He had the place for 24 hours and he could do anything, anything at all to what he found in the bedroom. They left him there, standing outside on the sidewalk.

Inside, in the bedroom, was an incredibly beautiful African American woman, naked, chained to a huge wheel that was affixed to the wall.

Happy Birthday, Barney.