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?

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Demo Dick

In Thriller Guy's last post, the joke was how much better, at least as far as getting the story out to the public, the raid on Osama's compound would have been if they had invited along Dick Marcinko and co-author Jim DeFelice to write down the main plot points and add the humorous details. For those of you who don't know Marcinko, (shame! shame!) he's the Navy man who many years ago designed and developed Red Team Six, the SEAL unit that killed Osama. Dick – aka The Rogue Warrior, Demo Dick, Shark Man of the Delta, The Geek -- led Red Team Six for three years, after which he was tasked with coming up with a unit that would test the vulnerability of US military forces around the world. This unit, known as Red Cell, succeeded in infiltrating naval bases, nuclear submarines, ships, airports, embassies, Air Force One and God knows what else. Marcinko claims that he and the boys stole nuclear devices complete with launch codes. And Thriller Guy believes him.

Marcinko was such a pain in the ass to his superiors they contrived to get him arrested and imprisoned for supposedly defrauding the government over contractor acquisition contracts for hand grenades. He did his time, and TG bets that no one ever attempted to make a little girl out of Dick Marcinko.

Dick published the autobiographical account of his career in 1992. Rogue Warrior became a big bestseller, and it deserved to be. Thriller Guy, under the name of his alter ego, Allen Appel, began publishing novels in 1985 with the first of the Alex Balfour time travel books, Time After Time. TG was several books into the series and thinking of branching out into military-type thrillers, which he did so in 1994 with Hellhound, written with Craig Roberts and TG's own son, Thriller Guy Jr. As research for this sort of writing, TG bought Marcinko's book and read it with pleasure. Marcinko's schtick, carried on through the thirteen or so of the following novels, is to tell the story of Dick Marcinko in his various adventures as a SEAL and later as the leader of his own military contractor agency, Red Cell, as the story of Dick Marcinko and his band of merry, deadly, warriors. In other words, Marcinko the author refers to himself as Marcinko the fictional warrior. It's a bit too tricky and self indulgent at times, but really, would a guy like TG who refers to himself in the third person have a leg to stand on if he decided to chastise Marcinko for this Point Of View? Of course not. Actually, TG thinks that Marcinko's authorial voice is spot on: funny, self-deprecating and perfect for telling his tales.

So way back in the day, when TG was just starting to write action thrillers, when it came time to write a big battle scene he would head for the bookshelf, let his copy of Rogue Warrior open to virtually any page, read along in one of Dick's action scenes for awhile then head to the computer and dive into his own battle scene. This is a method that TG still recommends to those who write him asking for tips and tricks in the thriller writing trade. TG is not telling you to steal from another writer, simply to use that writer to fire up your own physical and intellectual heat while writing your own scenes. TG doesn't really need this kind of kick-start these days, but he looks back with some nostalgia on those times when he was just entering the thriller field.

So imagine TG's surprise last week when he was assigned the latest Dick Marcinko/Jim DeFelice thriller, Domino Theory, for review. TG has reviewed many Marcinko thrillers over the years, and he feels that they just keep getting better and better. The early ones were co-authored with John Weisman, and they were fine, but TG feels that DeFelice “gets” Marcinko's voice better. TG has no way of knowing how much input Dick has in the books, but one would like to think that he at least comes up with the idea, gets together with Jim and the two of them slam down enough Bombay Gin (Dick's favorite) until they have the major plot points worked out so Jim can head off to his personal writing lair and put the book together.

And if not, if Marcinko doesn't do anything to write the book other than be the headliner and split the profits with DeFelice, if the drinking is all by himself in Rogue Manor where he strides the hallways in his smoking jacket, puffing on a Cuban cigar, where he laughs a little too loudly and flatters the fabulous babes who gather round, and where he dives into his money vault like Scrooge McDuck and gambols – paying little attention to his battle-scarred, aging body -- in his many millions earned from his storied military and writing career, well, fine, good for him. The guy has earned it.

The hard way.