Monday, July 27, 2015

Questions You Need to Stop Asking and Answers About Harper Lee.

As is known by faithful readers of this blog, Thriller Guy is in the business of helping others write books. “Business” is probably too strong a word for this activity, since the pay is meager and the only real remuneration is the pleasure TG feels when yelling at people over the Interweb. The group of people he’d like to yell at today are those well-meaning individuals, usually friends and family, who persist in asking someone working on a novel the following questions or variations of:

“When’s it going to be done?”  “How many words do you have written?” “When can I read it?” “So how much longer is it going to take?” “You’re what? Two-thirds done? Three-quarters finished?”

And sundry other questions asking for a timetable on finishing your book. TG’s answer in these situations is on the order of, “Sod off, you stupid twit, how the hell do I know when it’s going to be done?” But that’s probably not the best answer, especially if your husband or wife is asking. Why is this question so annoying and even destructive?

Because you don’t really know when it’s going to be finished. Oh, sure, guys like James Patterson have deadlines they meet, but in general a regular writer, especially one who’s got a day job, or a family, just thinks in terms like, “I dunno, Spring? Maybe?” What does finish even mean? First draft? Final draft? Copy-edited? Physical book? Other writers understand these permutations, these differing grades of finishness, but civilians (those who do not write novels) don’t, and if you try to explain, their eyes tend to wander, they lose interest in a matter of minutes, and mostly they think you’re dodging the question and whining. Which you are. The question, usually repeated over time, begins to eat away at many writers. Thriller guy doesn’t give a shit, but we all can’t be like TG. The acid of this question begins to dissolve a writer’s self confidence, and he finds himself ducking into spare rooms and crossing the street when he sees the questioner coming.

Civilians have a number of strong, general opinions about writing: First, most of them admire writers; second, they all think they can write. God knows why they admire writers, but most do. There’s an aura of lonely, sacrificial romance that hovers over the writing profession. TG isn’t going to start a rant about this because a quick glance back over the vast archives of this site will turn up plenty of rabid raves by TG on the subject. As for the second observation, civilians think they can write because they can write. All literate persons know how to write. What they can’t do is string together enough sentences in some kind of structure and order so they end up with a novel, or even a story that others might want to read. It’s difficult, brutal work – I know most of you don’t believe me – and it takes a long, long time to do.

TG’s alter ego, Allen Appel, figures that a novel -- usually one of his time travel series novels -- takes a solid year to write. His last one (The recently published TheTest of Time, available in Hardcover and Kindle HERE) took almost three years because he stopped in the middle to write a different novel. That’s two novels in three years, which isn’t bad, timewise, but certainly different from what he thought was going to happen. If you had asked him in the middle of those years how many words he had finished or when he was finally going to be done, he wouldn’t have had a clue. And the explanation of why that was so would have been as rambling and boring as this blog entry has become. So…

If you know a writer, don’t ask him or her any of the questions noted above. Just pat them on the shoulder, say, “Isn’t that interesting” or “Good for you” and drop the subject. Unless the writer wants to go on about it, many do, but don’t ask when it’s going to be finished. Because they don’t know.

Oh, yeah, there’s one other thing you can do; have a little pity for the writer. But keep it to yourself.

Allen Appel hasn’t forgotten the James Patterson, How-to-Write-a-Novel program he kicked off in the last blog. We’ll get back to that soon. Meanwhile, you can check out Appel’s memoir blog here, where he's finally getting into the sex, or you can always spend a little time HERE on Amazon buying one of his books. That’s a lot better than silent pity.

And the reference to Harper Lee in the title? TG’s pal Larry Kahaner over at The Non-Fiction Novelist has a good piece on how Go Set A Watchman probably came about. Check it out.  

Thursday, July 9, 2015

I Bought James Patterson’s How To Write Class For $90 So You Don’t Have To

First an announcement. I am in the process of writing a memoir. Don't ask me why, I'm not dying or anything, it just seemed like something interesting to do. I have decided to put it up in installments as a blog, which can be seen here. Be warned, there's bad language, X-rated situations and a few deaths, but it's mostly a paean to a small town in West Virginia, circa 1959. Let me know what you think and what you remember of your own distant past.


If you haven’t read last week’s entry, (see below) shame on you. To recap, James Patterson has been badgering me on Facebook to buy his master class where he teaches the tricks and techniques of writing a bestselling novel. In the spirit of generosity to my fellow writers, both published and unpublished, young and old, and my ongoing desire to make fun of whatever I feel deserves criticism and ridicule and the off chance that I, and then you, will actually learn something, I ponied up the $90 and downloaded the class. Writer pal Joel has agreed to go along with me on this journey and help write the novel that Mr. Patterson is going to tell us how to produce. No matter that I’ve already published ten novels, none of them were bestsellers and as Thriller Guy always says, you’re never too smart to learn something new and useful. Will we actually write a book? Who knows, but we’re going to push this thing until we fail, succeed, or just get sick of it. And we will report back to you, Thriller Guy’s faithful readers. If it looks like a good deal, we’ll tell you and you can spend your own $90. If it’s bogus, we’ll tell you and maybe we’ll all get a few laughs along the way.

I downloaded the class, which was easy enough to do. It comes in 22 installments, which they figure you can cover in six weeks, but you can view them in whatever speed you like. I also printed out the workbook, though the idea of actually filling it out is a little daunting, but, in for a penny, in for a pound as John LeCarre might say. I then watched the first two classes, which ran about 15 minutes together. These consist of Patterson sitting in several indoor locations and talking to the camera. One of the rooms he’s being recorded in looks like a very nice office/den. The others don’t have much character. Patterson speaks in an amiable, conversational tone, familiar but not overly so. He gives a general overview and then in the second entry he talks about how he got started in the business, and how you have to have passion if you are going to undertake writing a novel.

Here are my first impressions.

In the opening section, he missed a spot back by his right ear while shaving the morning of the taping. This didn’t really bother me all that much, but I noticed it and was happy in later shots when that was corrected. I liked his shirts, and in one sequence he was dressed in a navy blue mock turtleneck and a suede sport coat, which is a classic writer’s outfit. The suede sport coat seemed a little dressy for the informal setting, but it was saved from being rich-guy and pretentious by being sort of beat up. What impressed me most is that he and I share exactly the same taste in shirts!  In three separate shots his shirt looks exactly like three of my own shirts. And I often wear a sport coat with a mock turtleneck, though I ditched my brown suede jacket after the swinging sixties. But the similarities were astonishing. Obviously, I am well on my way to being a bestselling novelist.

In the writer’s den setting, where Patterson seemed the most comfortable, I noticed several important details. In the back, on the right on a shelf are a number of wine bottles in a row. And on his desk, from behind which he is giving his lecture, you can see the top third of a bottle that is obviously some sort of spirit. A quick shot a few minutes later shows a bit more of the bottle, and to me it looked like a dark rum, possibly Gossling’s. This was exciting because it spoke directly to me, as I also like wine and have a great fondness for Gossling’s dark rum!!! If I needed any more proof that the class was going to be a perfect fit for me, this was it.
James Patterson, not me. Note shirts just like mine, bottle of rum on desk and bottles of wine in back on right.

My overall takeaway? So far, I like it. He tells some jokes, curses but not to excess, makes a few mistakes (at one point he says his first book was rejected 31 times and ten seconds later he says it was rejected 34 times) and generally presents himself well and makes the writing a novel process at least sound doable. It’s clear the guy sees novel writing as a business that one can succeed at if one is willing to put in the work. No blabbering about writing as art and that nonsense. Even Thriller Guy would hold off making fun of him.

OK, it’s a good start. Don’t send him your $90 yet, we’ve got a long way to go, but so far I’m on his side.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

You Too Can Be James Patterson: At Least You Can if You’ve Got $90.

This is not me. This is James Patterson.

Allen Appel: Thriller Guy hates Facebook. He’s just not a Facebook kind of guy. That’s why he’s turned the blog over to me today. Or at least one of the reasons. It pains me to say this, but TG is becoming more and more unreliable when it comes to fulfilling his blogging duties. Yes, he’s still just as full of contrary opinions, prejudices and repressed -- and not so-repressed, anger – that he’s always evidenced in these pages, and he’s still likely to burst into fits of rage and rant on and on over seeming trivialities, but I’ve heard him grumbling lately that “Life is too short.” Which seems to be his way of saying he’d rather be out practicing his shooting, going walkabout, sitting by the water drinking rum and having lunch with his writer pals than toiling over a keyboard. So we’re going to give him a break while we embark on a new project. But don’t think he’s retired, or even on vacation. After all, it’s his blog.

TG: And don’t you forget it, Appel. I’m watching you. I’ll be back.

Appel: OK, OK, TG, just trust me. I can handle this.

Facebook has recently been bombarding me with ads from my new best friend James Patterson (megaselling author of hundreds of novels selling zillions of copies) which promise that James can teach me how to write a bestselling novel. Fair enough. While I have published ten novels and many non-fiction books, it is true that none has been a best seller. All I have to do, these ads say, is fork over $90 and I can get started on a Masterclass that will reveal the tricks and secrets of the bestseller trade. This prompts a number of questions…

Q. Do they think I’m so deluded I believe that?

Q. Do I actually think that James Patterson cares about anything more than getting possession of my $90?

Q. Would this Masterclass have any value at all?

Q. Why have I not been charging $90 for the same advice I’ve been dishing out here for free?

So in the same altruistic spirit that fuels this whacky blog, I sent in my $90 and enrolled in James Patterson’s novel writing class. I have a writing partner, Joel, who has agreed to undertake this adventure with me, to follow James’ lessons as we see if the class is a valuable asset, or just a Patterson money-making scheme. Joel is a fellow writer and an expert on security issues who brings a deep knowledge of the technology of the spy business. Plus he knows a hell of a lot about weapons and the business of mayhem, both real and on the page. We have an idea for an espionage/adventure novel that we think is intriguing. Now all we have to do is have James Patterson teach us His Way to Bestsellerdom.

If TG were writing this, he’d miss no opportunity to make fun of Patterson. While I can’t say I won’t dabble a bit in that myself, I’m going to try and follow his instruction as if I were a first-timer who is a believer, and at the same time add my own advice gleaned from a harrowing 30+ years in the grueling novel writing business. And that’s my pledge to you, Jerry. (Seinfeld reference.)

In other business, as many of you know, my new novel, number six in the Pastmaster
Click here to order copy
series, The Test of Time is up in hard copy and as a Kindle on Amazon. This was a Kickstarter book, funded by the generous donations from terrific readers and friends. If any of you who donated have not received your signed copy of the book from me please let me know so I can send it to you!

So stay tuned, Thriller Guy readers, as we set off in our leaky boat to follow our captain, James Patterson, on our exciting journey to stardom.