Thursday, June 29, 2017

So long, Thriller Guy

It has become obvious that the always shadowy Thriller Guy has not made the transition from scarred urban warrior crouched in his basement lair to the kinder hills and small towns of North Carolina.

I’ve thought about how to bring him to a natural, or unnatural end. Maybe going down in a brisk pre-dawn firefight on some unnamed snow-capped ridge under siege from a legion of turbaned AK-wielding hajjis. He’d like that. Or perhaps something more ironic, more absurd. I’ve always been amused by the scene in the movie Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf when George sits Martha down after a long night of drinking and tells her, in Richard Burton’s solemn, sonorous voice, that their son Jim was killed that afternoon on a country road… “when he swerved to avoid hitting a porcupine and crashed into a tree.” How ignominious. How completely un-Thriller Guy.

At any rate, it’s clear that he’s run out of writing advice to sling around.

I began writing this blog almost exactly eight years ago.  There have been 234, now 235, posts, and the site averages a couple of thousand visitors a month. These are nowhere near viral statistics, but in terms of years Thriller Guy has out-written probably 99.5% of all the bloggers who have declared their intentions and started in posting on a dedicated site. Blogging is tough. My old, lamented, lost friend Bhob Stewart used to say blogging was “public writing,” which is as good a definition as I’ve ever come across. When you’re writing, it’s as if your readers are in the same room with you, crowding around, looking over your shoulder, nagging, “No, that’s bullshit, you’re an idiot,” as you struggle to ignore their taunts. Then, you may ask, if it’s so damned difficult why are there so many blogs? Because it’s also amazingly easy. All you have to do is sign onto BlogSpot or one of the other sites and just start blathering. My rule of thumb, or rather Thriller Guy’s rule of thumb, is don’t even call yourself a professional blogger before you have at least 100 entries etched into the unforgiving surface of the Internet. Then you can have a conversation with TG about what it’s like to be a blogger, to come up with something new every time you sit down at the keyboard and launch into another tirade. You think it’s easy generating that much ire week after week, year after year?

I’m going to drop a bomb here: Thriller Guy is not real; he is a character. I’m sorry if some of you have been misled over the years, thinking that TG is a tough, kick-ass grizzled ex-warrior who learned to craft novels and was willing to share his writing experiences. I hope you haven’t been too disappointed that he never has had time to get together and have a beer and toss around war stories with you as you’ve requested. I’m going to give it to you straight: Thriller Guy is actually a portly old guy who sits in his basement tossing out advice on how to write fiction, particularly thrillers. TG has never been in the military. He has never heard a shot fired in anger. He has little experience with guns. Thriller Guy has never jumped out of an airplane or crept around behind enemy lines. TG has never even seen a real pair of Night Vision Goggles.

TG is actually something of an asshole. As a writing coach and mentor he was designed to be irascible, opinionated, taunting, and sometimes cruel. I, his creator, was sick of all the well-meaning writing mentors who pat wanna-be authors on the head and bestowed their gentle nurturing advice as if writing was somehow special work, done by special people, for whom a harsh word or dearth of praise would throw these aspiring “artists” into fits of melancholy, from which stygian depths they would never arise to craft their masterpieces.

No, it was always TG’s goal to give anyone who thought they wanted to be a writer a swift kick in the ass in the hopes that reality would kill off the weaker ones and dissuade those who didn’t have the stones to continue in the face of unrelenting insults and ridicule. TG did not want to gently bestow the lessons of his vast experience upon those supplicants who knelt at his feet with their sad pleading eyes, TG wanted to take his experience and beat them over the head with it. To chase them away, back to real lives.

Of course it didn’t work. Writers seem to have a predilection for torture, probably because real writing is one of the worst tortures that deluded humans can wish upon themselves. There is a romanticism about writing that is completely misplaced, but the more a professional writer tries to drive that point into the thick, disbelieving skulls of the neophyte the more ridicule these greenhorns beg for. As if rejection is somehow honorable. It’s not. It’s painful. And it’s unfair. And there’s not a goddamned thing you can do about it. TG could teach you all the tricks of the genre trade and you’re still not going to get your fair slice of the pie. The system is rigged, as that asshole Donald Trump would say. As always it’s rigged in favor of the guys and gals who are already making a ton of money, and it’s rigged against any novice no matter how talented he or she may be. I know authors who have a dozen published books under their belt and they still can’t find an agent, much less a publisher. Self-publishing? Go ahead and hang onto your inspiring, hopeful stories about guys like Hugh Howey making it big by publishing his own stuff with Amazon. Unfortunately, you aren’t Hugh Howey and your self-published book will probably sell around five copies. I know this from my own experience. All of my books are available in some form on Amazon. You can buy them here. But you probably won’t. Some of them sell reasonably well, some of them don’t, and I don’t have a clue why there’s a difference.

Don’t blame Thriller Guy for these sad truths. He tried to stop you way back eight years ago when you came to him, begging in your plaintive voice, “How do you do it, TG? How do you write a best-selling thriller novel?” TG gave you all that he had learned over the years spent in the filthy, cruel trenches of publishing. Parsed it out over 234 entries. All the tips and tricks of the trade. And in the end it always came down to TG’s mantra: Sit down; Shut up; Get to work.

That’s the secret. If you do that, you’ll write your book. It’s that simple. And that difficult. What so many of you are asking for is not how to write a book, but how to write a successful book. How to make money writing a book, how to become famous by writing a book, how to amass legions of fawning admirers by writing a book. Alas, Thriller guy can’t tell you that. I can’t tell you that. No one is able to do that. And beware those who tell you they have the secret and they would be glad to sell it to you.

Annie Dillard writes in her book, The Writing Life, that after Michelangelo died, someone found in his studio a piece of paper on which he had written a note to his apprentice, in the handwriting of his old age: “Draw, Antonio, draw, and do not waste time.”

Like the man said: Sit down; Shut up; Get to work.

Here’s one last secret. TG wouldn’t want me to tell this one, he’d be embarrassed to admit it, but over the last eight years he and I have met, via the Internet, because of this blog, quite a few excellent writers.  Writers who, if they persevere against all the terrible odds that TG has thrown at them, are going to write terrific books. Who are in the process of writing terrific books. So we’ll let TG go, at least for now, to wander off into some other reality. No more yelling. This is me, Allen, whispering into your ear…

Hush, child. No more questions. Sit down. Write. You can do this. Trust me. Write.

Onward. Always Onward.

                                                                                    Allen Appel
                                                                                    Written in his studio aerie,
                                                                                    Overlooking his back yard,
                                                                                    On a lovely day,
                                                                                    June 28, 2017