Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Coolest Guy Around

Thriller Guy first became acquainted with Robert Masello’s work when he was assigned the author’s sixth book. Blood and Ice to review.  TG loved the book and gave it a starred review. Briefly, it’s the story of a writer who goes to the Antarctic to write an article about a research station and while there stumbles on an incredible discovery, the bodies of a man and a woman chained together and frozen deep within the ice. The POV switches back and forth between the present and the 1850s where we learn about the man and woman, Lt. Sinclair Copley of the 17th Lancers and Eleanor Ames, a nurse. Of course the bodies slowly thaw, and of course they come back to life. Who could wish for it to be any other way? From then on, it’s all action and thrills with echoes of The Thing and the ending of Frankenstein. TG recommends this book to all readers of supernatural thrillers.

TG interviewed Masello, and found him funny, smart and extremely knowledgeable about the craft and work of writing, which resulted in several blog entries centering around Masello’s excellent book, Robert’s Rules of Writing.

Out in paperback now is Masello’s The Medusa Amulet, an ancient artifact, race-against-time thriller that incorporates supernatural elements and high-level, Da Vinci Code puzzles, with fascinating historical mysteries and plenty of action.

Here’s the deal: TG values intelligence above all in a thriller, and the one thread that runs through all of Masello’s work is how smart he is. He’s an excellent writer, plotter, characterizer and researcher, but he puts it all together in clever unexpected ways that make other thriller writers seem dull and uninspired. TG believes if the stars had been aligned only slightly differently, Masello would have occupied Dan Brown’s Da Vinci space and Dan Brown would have been just another thriller writer lost in the scrum.

Medusa is grounded in the work of Renaissance artist Benvenuto Cellini. Cellini is an absolutely fascinating historical figure. TG read his autobiography many years ago and recommends it highly to anyone who has an interest in Italian or any other art history. Cellini was, besides being a brilliant artist, a total rogue. He tells of killing a number of his enemies with his dagger and was officially accused or charged at least three times of the crime of sodomy with men, and on one occasion with a woman. Cellini fashions an amulet that has the power to bestow eternal life. In the present, art historian David Franco must find the amulet to save his sister who is dying of cancer. The search races around the world and includes a wide cast of historical characters, one of who is the last person in history the civilized world would want to have eternal life.

If you like this genre, let me know and the first person who does so will receive a signed copy of the book. If I can convince Masello to send one on. But, he’s a softy, so I think this is a done deal. 

Monday, June 18, 2012

Oh Death, Where Art Thou?

All around us, evidently. Thriller Guy and his alter ego, Allen Appel, recently wrote of the death of Harry Crews. (See below) Since then there have been so many, Carlos Fuentes, Chuck Brown, that guy from Swamp People who toppled over in his boat and died, and now Ray Bradbury. You could be forgiven if you thought that Bradbury was already dead, he was 91. But he was a seminal figure and meant much to those of my generation who dreamed of places and times and people who were beyond ourselves.

When I was a lad, I read and read and read. Raised in West Virginia, I was handed down books from my mother and older sister, inappropriate books, probably, but we all read to escape, even though life was neither brutish nor unkind. The Carnegie Library was a place of refuge, entertainment, comfort.

I can't remember how I came across Ray Bradbury. I remember paperback books. I read The Martian Chronicles and marveled at that book, but it was Dandelion Wine and Golden Apples of the Sun that changed me. It was not the books themselves. I was a freshman in high school, 1960, and I was in the band room (in my high school, band was the kick-ass sport, TG will write about that one of these days) and I saw someone was reading Golden Apples of the Sun. I asked about the book (As I remember it was a clarinet player, a guy who was a senior and considered really cool) who told me that, yes, he thought the stories were wonderful.

At that moment I realized that I was not alone, not some strange mutant hybrid from a family who read books, unlike those I saw around me. Books that were passed down from your mother, for God’s sake. It was that moment of connection that was so important to me. Maybe I wasn’t a freak? Well, I probably was, but there were others who read the same books that I did.

Here are some things the Ray Bradbury said. They’re not necessarily the nice things that others have put in their eulogies. TG isn’t nice. Here’s the real Ray Bradbury.

“If you’re not careful in tragedy, one extra rape, one extra incest, one extra murder and it’s hoo-haw time all of a sudden.
“But a novel has all kinds of pitfalls because it takes longer and you are around people, and if you’re not careful you will talk about it. The novel is also hard to write in terms of keeping your love intense. It’s hard to stay erect for two hundred days. So, get the big truth first. If you get the big truth, the small truths will accumulate around it. Let them be magnetized to it, drawn to it, and then cling to it. 
“You can’t write for other people. You can’t write for the left or the right, this religion or that religion, or this belief or that belief. You have to write the way you see things. I tell people, Make a list of ten things you hate and tear them down in a short story or poem. Make a list of ten things you love and celebrate them. When I wrote Fahrenheit 451 I hated book burners and I loved libraries. So there you are. 
From an interview…
Do you write outlines?
No, never. You can’t do that. It’s just like you can’t plot tomorrow or next year or ten years from now. When you plot books you take all the energy and vitality out. There’s no blood. You have to live it from day to day and let your characters do things.
Action is hope. At the end of each day, when you’ve done your work, you lie there and think, Well, I’ll be damned, I did this today. It doesn’t matter how good it is, or how bad—you did it. At the end of the week you’ll have a certain amount of accumulation. At the end of a year, you look back and say, I’ll be damned, it’s been a good year.
Work is the only answer. I have three rules to live by. One, get your work done. If that doesn’t work, shut up and drink your gin. And when all else fails, run like hell!
Mr. Electrico was a beautiful man, see, because he knew that he had a little weird kid there who was twelve years old and wanted lots of things. We walked along the shore of Lake Michigan and he treated me like a grown-up. I talked my big philosophies and he talked his little ones. Then we went out and sat on the dunes near the lake and all of a sudden he leaned over and said, I’m glad you’re back in my life. I said, What do you mean? I don’t know you. He said, You were my best friend outside of Paris in 1918. You were wounded in the Ardennes and you died in my arms there. I’m glad you’re back in the world. You have a different face, a different name, but the soul shining out of your face is the same as my friend. Welcome back.
Now why did he say that? Explain that to me, why? Maybe he had a dead son, maybe he had no sons, maybe he was lonely, maybe he was an ironical jokester. Who knows? It could be that he saw the intensity with which I live. Every once in a while at a book signing I see young boys and girls who are so full of fire that it shines out of their face and you pay more attention to that. Maybe that’s what attracted him.
When I left the carnival that day I stood by the carousel and I watched the horses running around and around to the music of “Beautiful Ohio,” and I cried. Tears streamed down my cheeks. I knew something important had happened to me that day because of Mr. Electrico. I felt changed. He gave me importance, immortality, a mystical gift. My life was turned around completely. It makes me cold all over to think about it, but I went home and within days I started to write. I’ve never stopped.
Seventy-seven years ago, and I’ve remembered it perfectly. I went back and saw him that night. He sat in the chair with his sword, they pulled the switch, and his hair stood up. He reached out with his sword and touched everyone in the front row, boys and girls, men and women, with the electricity that sizzled from the sword. When he came to me, he touched me on the brow, and on the nose, and on the chin, and he said to me, in a whisper, “Live forever.” And I decided to.

 Thriller Guy. 

 So shut up, and drink your gin....

Monday, June 4, 2012

Back Again

Yes, Thriller Guy has returned. And where has TG been? Earning a living, if you can call it a living. In the last month or so, TG has helped judge a couple of national novel writing contests, written a ton of reviews and done some work on his own stuff. He's got three new stories in the can, two of them novelettes. Right now you are probably asking, what's a novelette? Here's the scoop on nomenclature, Little Ones.

First there's the short story. Poe said the length of a short story should be how long it takes to read the story in one sitting. Thriller Guy says a short story should be from one to nine thousand words, maybe more. Less than a thousand words gets you into Flash Fiction territory.

A novelette, is around 7500 to 17,000 words. You don't hear the word novelette much these days, maybe it sounds too wimpy or French or something, but TG kind of likes it.

A novella is 17,000 to 40,000 words. Anything longer is a novel. A short novel would be from 40,000 to 75,000 words and a “regular” novel, according to all the publishing contracts TG has signed, and that's a bunch of them, is around 100,000 words.

So in the last months, TG has written two novelettes to go with a novella, all of which are new and unpublished. All three pieces of fiction are about chickens. That's right, chickens. And right now, TG is not even going to explain why this is so. Maybe later. Maybe never.

One of the novel contests TG judged was interesting, in that TG had to read 10 books in ten days, and review each of them. This reading overload was no one's fault but his own, letting the deadline creep up on him the way deadlines tend to do. By the end of the ten days, TG's eyes were weeping blood and he was forced to remain in a dark room with cooling washcloths over his eyes and fevered brow for several days. The problem was, each of the ten books was interesting in its own right, so TG couldn't just toss any of them aside and say they were crappy and never going to win anyway. Plus, TG has a ridiculous sense of honor when it comes to reading and reviewing, which keeps him from ever shortchanging any author, at least as far as putting in the necessary reading as required.

At any rate, TG is back in harness, and he thanks all of you who wrote to ask what had happened to the blog. Was TG all right? When could they see a new entry? Actually, there were damn few of you who wrote asking these questions, but that's OK, TG is sure you all have very busy lives.

So what's coming up? TG will be writing about Robert Massello's The Medusa Amulet, which he thinks is a damn near perfect example of the Da Vinci Code type thriller; he'll turn the blog over to his alter ego, Allen Appel, who will continue the riveting account of his experiences after publishing his first book, and he will put out more fabulous writing tips for those who want to write and publish novels while at the same time trying to disabuse as many of you as possible who still think that writing is actually a career and a worthwhile endeavor.

So stay tuned, Little Ones, TG is back in harness.