Saturday, December 22, 2012


OK, here we go. Thriller Guy thinks that regular citizens who own assault rifles are idiots. Morons. Dangerous cretins. What? Wait! What’s that noise?! That’s the sound of half of TG’s steady readers cancelling their blog subscription. TG is glad to see them go: don’t let the door hit you on your stupid ass on the way out! TG’s wife (TGW) asked a question this morning at breakfast, “Why do these people want assault rifles anyway?” TG is not going to go into it in any depth here, but the basic reasons are fairly simple and revolve around several or all of the following: lack of self image, lack of power in a modern world that whizzes by them as if they don’t exist, a nostalgia for a time they think is better than the present but really isn’t, a need for something exciting in their colorless, anti-intellectual lives, and a deep disappointment in their penis size. TG could extrapolate on these and other reasons, but maybe he’ll just tell a little story instead.

TG used to hang around with a wonderful old guy named Sam who could do almost anything. After a long career working in the field for the gas company, he could fix anything, build anything and grow anything. He would cheerfully come help you out anytime of the day or night. TG and Sam shared a day or two every week: Sam would repair TG’s furnace, TG would take Sam to places he’d never been and show him things he’d never seen. Sam was one of those guys, and they are in the norm in TGs neighborhood, who live twenty miles from the capital of the United States and yet had never been to a museum on the mall and never visited any of the other fabulous buildings and institutions in the District of Columbia. It was a joy over the years to take Sam into town and see him experience new things and watch him change from a man of narrow political and social views to someone whose eyes were opened to a world other than the one his peers listened to on the radio and saw on television. TG loved this man and it was a hard time when Sam died.

Anyway, for many many years, Sam, who owned guns and had a mild interest in hunting, would go to a cabin far up in the hills of West Virginia with a group of his buddies every year around Thanksgiving to go hunting. Mostly these fellows would sit around the cabin and get horribly drunk and bitch about the government and their wives in the time honored way of many hunting cabins. Most of them would get around to the deer hunting, eventually, and most years they would bring home a deer or two. Around the time TG started hanging around with Sam, Sam was still going to the cabin, but, he said, some of them began bringing assault rifles. These were automatics, God knows where they were getting them. Most hunters would agree that you don’t need or even want an assault rifle to hunt game, but these guys liked to shoot their big guns. I asked him why. He said, “Well, I’ve never seen it, but the guys say that when you shoot a deer with one of those rifles the animals just explode. They said it’s funny to see.” A few more years of this, and Sam stopped going to the hunting cabin. TG is not saying Sam stopped going because TG told him how stupid he thought this was. Nor is TG saying Sam was ever convinced that there were good shows on NPR, but the man grew intellectually and spiritually. Not because TG was a good teacher or example, but because growth comes from experiencing the world beyond one’s own narrow perspective. Sam grew, but there are so many who never will. Their narrowness gives them comfort.

But the image has always remained with TG…”The deer just explode.”

Unfortunately, so do the people. 

Monday, December 17, 2012

Bank Heist

Thriller Guy stumbled across an interesting contest that might be rewarding for one of his clever readers: a contest to write a proposal for a bank heist. We’ll get to that in a minute. TG has read many heist novels and seen many movies in the genre. They are, even the crappy ones, almost always interesting, and the best of them can be fabulous. Most hew to the standard form: the intricate research and planning stage, gathering the crew, outfitting and weaponry, the actual robbery as it unfolds by-the-numbers, and then the escape, which is where most of these well-laid schemes come a cropper. It’s a solid format that has held up well over the years. Here’s TG’s true bank heist story, which doesn’t quite fit the mold..

Many years ago, when TG was a poor and struggling photographer, a friend asked to borrow some photographic developing trays. Ever willing to oblige, TG did so. A year or so later, TG asked for the trays back and when he received them he found them stained a bright pink color that could not be removed. He asked his friend what this was.

It seems that TG’s friend had a friend from New England, let’s call him Steve (not his real name) who would come to town several times a year. This friend would hang around the house for a couple of days then rob a bank in the DC area. A young man, Steve, dressed in jeans, a t-shirt, a baseball hat and a light jacket. would go to a teller and slide across a note saying he had a gun and wanted all the cash in the drawer. He would then leave and make his getaway.

By bicycle. On his trusty ten-speed. No one connected the young man on a bicycle to the guy who had just robbed a bank. The problem was, there was always an exploding dye-pack in the bag that would go off. When the robber got to my friend’s house he would wash the money in the trays and hang it up with clothespins to dry. In fact. If readers will look at their cash, every once in awhile they will see bright pink on the edges, evidence that this money has been in a robbery sometime in the past.

Steve continued his felonious ways for several years, coming to DC when he needed cash, hitting a bank, going back to New England. Eventually, his mother-in-law convinced him to turn himself in. It was a sin, she said, and he should pay his debt to God and society. He did so and sat in prison for a couple of years. TG would have counseled the guy to simply give up his bandit ways before someone got hurt. But those old bugaboos, sin, God and a mother-in-law can be powerful forces. Or, maybe the guy just traded a harping mother-in-law and persistent money problems for a couple of year’s peace and quiet.

So do you think you can plan a bank heist that’s worthy of a thousand dollar prize?  GO HERE for details. If you don’t win the prize, you can always put your plan into action. And make sure there’s plenty of air in your bicycle tires.

Meanwhile, for all your Christmas Kindle needs, you can’t go wrong perusing THE APPEL STORE for fine reading and writing products. A purchase there just might keep TG from having to plan and carry out his own bank robbery to meet his pressing financial responsibilities.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Lincoln's Bad Habits

Continuing the Lincoln jokes discussion…

It seems there is a controversy being waged over the Interweb about Lincoln’s use of profanity, particularly in the Spielberg movie. Famous Lincoln historian Doris Kearns Goodwin says she saw 40 drafts of the movie script and never had a problem with the language, and on the other side, equally famous historian James McPherson says, “The profanity actually bothered me, especially Lincoln’s use of it. It struck me as completely unlikely -- a modern injection into Lincoln’s rhetoric.”

I wasn’t aware of this controversy until recently, though I have to admit that I was slightly taken aback when in the movie Lincoln told a (funny) joke which of course I can’t remember, but I believe it contained the word “bastard” or some other mild profanity. I was taken aback, not because of the word, but because they had Lincoln utter it. After years of researching Lincoln for both, In Time of War, the fifth book in the Pastmaster series, and Abraham Lincoln: Detective, the first book in the Lincoln detective series, it was clear to me, Lincoln never swore. He made fun of minorities by telling ethnic jokes in broad dialect, and he told slightly “off color” jokes, but he never swore. He also never smoked (more on that later) and he never drank. I believe many people thought that Lincoln swore because of the off color jokes. Here’s an example of a joke I have Lincoln tell in my Lincoln Detective book, and his explanation of why he told it. Lincoln’s jokes were almost always used to make a point:

"One day," Lincoln began, "a little boy ran into the house where his father the farmer was eating his lunch. ‘Dad, dad’ the boy called, all excited. ‘Come quick! The hired man is out in the barn with the maid! They’re up in the hayloft and they’ve both got their pants down around their ankles! You’d better get out there fast, I think they’re fixin’ to pee all over our hay!’"
            After a moment’s silence there was a roar of general laughter.
"My point being," said Lincoln, mildly, after the crowd quieted, "is that there can easily be two separate interpretations of the same set of facts."

No curse words, but slightly off color. Did Lincoln actually ever tell this particular joke? Maybe. One thing I am sure of, he would have thought it was funny.

The picture at the head of this entry, Lincoln smoking a pipe, I cobbled together when I needed something as an illustration for the book when I put it up as a Kindle. I took a standard picture of Lincoln and put a calabash pipe – the sort famously smoked by Sherlock Holmes – in his mouth, attempting to make the visual point that the book was about Lincoln as a detective. It never occurred to me that most of the rest of the world wasn’t aware that Lincoln never smoked, meaning that most of the rest of the world missed my little joke. I even got emails asking the origin of this particular portrait of Lincoln.

So in my books, Lincoln doesn’t smoke, he doesn’t drink and her certainly never curses. Take a lesson, Spielberg. And check out my Lincoln version:


Saturday, December 8, 2012

Freeing Lincoln

For two days Abraham Lincoln: Detective can be downloaded as a Kindle book for free. Merry Christmas.

The book is narrated by Lincoln’s law partner, William Herndon. Here Herndon tells a story of their early days and Lincoln’s first meeting with Mary Todd.

We were at the home of Colonel Robert Allen with thirty of the young men and women of the town in attendance at a spring dance. The large ballroom, a rarity in Springfield at the time, had been elegantly decorated with sprigs of fresh spring flowers by the young ladies of the town. I engaged the newly arrived Mary Todd for a waltz, and while doing so I fancied I had never danced with a young lady who had such grace and ease. After the number we were promenading through the hall, and I decided to compliment her on her grace. "While I am well aware of my own awkward movements," I said, with what I thought of as charming self-deprecation, "You seem to glide through the waltz with the ease of a serpent." Of course as soon as the words left my mouth I knew that my strange comparison was as unfortunate as it was hideous. I can only plead youth and ignorance, not that it was so long ago. I am a veritable Lothario with women compared to Lincoln, but at the time I was far from experienced when dealing with the female sex. Even so, I knew that I had made a grievous error. She halted for a moment, drew back and retorted, frostily: "Mr. Herndon, comparison to a serpent is rather severe irony, especially to a newcomer."
            I'm damned if I understood what she meant about irony, but there was no mistaking her anger. I suppose I couldn't blame her, but it was only a small inadvertent mistake made by a flustered boy. Perhaps the few sips of whiskey I had taken to steel my courage to ask for a dance had also led to my error.
            I slunk out of the hall feeling about as high as that cursed serpent I had made the odious comparison to and stood at the back of the room while the others took a glass of punch and chatted. I could see Mary Todd regaling her friends with my stupidity, their pretty heads thrown back in laughter, glancing over at me, the oaf, with smiles of amused pity. Oh, how happy I am to now be married and away from such foolishness.
            After the company was refreshed with a cooling drink and some invigorating gossip it was back for more dancing, though I ventured not onto the floor. In fact, I made a silent vow never to dance nor open my mouth again. I might have remained a first-rate pariah forever had Lincoln not risen to that rank and relieved me of the dubious honor.
            It was almost enough to see Abraham approach the lady in question -- him being six-foot-four inches and her topping out at an easy foot less -- to sense that a disaster of some sort was in the offing. At least he had brushed his coat and shined his boots for the occasion. Soon enough they were on the floor amidst the others, Lincoln struggling to keep the three count of the waltz in mind as he ponderously maneuvered his dainty charge around the room. It was painful to watch as she extricated her tiny feet from beneath his giant clodhoppers over and over. After an eternity, the dance finished. Lincoln bent over -- I wanted to shout a warning to him, No! No! Whatever it is, don't say it! -- but I didn't, and he said something to her, and she replied. He looked pained, she assumed what I had now begun to think of as her patented air of superiority and they parted. Lincoln told me later what she had said, though by then I had already heard it from any number of ladies as it was considered the bon mot of the evening, to be repeated until my own sin was washed away in the torrent of Lincoln's clumsiness.
            It seems when the dance had finished Lincoln said to her, "Thank you, Mary Todd, I wanted to dance with you in the worst way." And the fair lady beamed up at him and replied, "Oh, you have, Mr. Lincoln, you have."

Saturday, December 1, 2012


Thriller Guy is turning the blog over to his alter ego, Allen Appel today.

Because I wrote two books about Abraham Lincoln, a lot of people have been asking me my opinion of the new Spielberg film. I liked it, which sounds like faint praise but considering how badly they could have mangled it I thought they did a good job. I do have to say, though, they screwed up by not ending the movie with the shot of Lincoln leaving the White House to go to the theatre. I would bet a thousand dollars that Tony Kushner ended his screenplay at that point and then a focus group or some dunderhead producer felt they just had to include the assassination and the scene of Lincoln giving his second inaugural speech, which looked like it had been clipped out of an earlier version and tacked on at the end.

Click to order
Click to order
         For my own Lincoln books I spent many months researching before undertaking the actual writing. I read every available biography, spent many days at the Library of Congress and looked into every Lincoln nook and cranny on the Internet. Because Lincoln was an active, speaking character in the two books I knew I had to have him tell some jokes, so I researched that area in depth. The jokes he tells in the movie are mostly ones I have heard many times. In my books I tried to put in only jokes that I hadn’t heard before and which were not recorded over and over in other books. So if you’d like to read some new Lincoln jokes, you can download the Kindle book of In Time of War, the fifth volume in my Pastmaster series, or for even more hilarity read Abraham Lincoln: Detective. This is a mystery with Lincoln taking the Sherlock Holmes role with Watson being played by his law partner, William Herndon. I think it’s a funny, intriguing look at the young Lincoln just at the point of his life shortly before he married Mary Todd.

For Thriller Guy’s next blog I’ll tell some of the Lincoln jokes in these two books. Meanwhile, here are two from my Lincoln joke file.

Number One: He was quite capable, however, of telling the story of the man in the theatre who placed his high hat on the adjoining seat, open side up, and becoming interested in the play, failed to note the approach of a fat dowager until she had plumped down upon it. Then gazing ruefully at the ruin of his top-piece, he reproachfully observed: "Madam, I could have told you the hat wouldn't fit before you tried it on."

Number Two: Trial: A small town prosecuting attorney called his first witness to the stand, an elderly grandmother. He approached her and asked, “Mrs. Jones, do you know me?” She responded, “Why yes, I do know you Mr. Williams. I’ve known you since you were a young boy. And frankly, you’ve been a disappointment to me. You lie, you cheat on your wife, you manipulate people and talk about them behind their backs. You think you’re a big shot when you haven’t the brains to realize you will never amount to anything but a two-bit paper pusher. Yes, I know you.”

The lawyer was stunned. Not knowing what else to do, he pointed across the room and asked, “Mrs. Jones, do you know the defense attorney?” She again replied, “Why yes, I do. I’ve known Mr. Bradley since he was a youngster, too. He’s lazy, bigoted, and he has a drinking problem. He can’t build a normal relationship with anyone and his law practice is one of the worst in the entire state. Not mention he cheated on his wife with three different women. Yes, I know him.”

At this point, the judge gaveled the courtroom to silence, called both counselors to the bench, and in a very quiet voice said, “If either of you bastards asks her if she knows me, you’ll be jailed for contempt.”