Sunday, January 30, 2011

The End of the Caboose

Remember when you used to see a train go by and, as a kid, we all waited on the edge of our seats for our favorite train car, the caboose?  It was every kid's favorite.  Sure, we all said we liked the engines or the coal cars (who actually saw one of those, really; weren't they all retired by the time we were all born?), but it we were honest with ourselves and the world, we lived for the caboose.  Because the caboose was a great ending.  It meant the train was over and we could get on with our lives, but it was also a dynamite payoff at the end of a great build up.  If only writers could grasp that concept.

I just spent two hours of my life watching the movie Knowing starring Nicolas Cage and for about an hour and a half, I was enthralled.  A mystery involving creepy numbers written by a young girl in the 1950's that are placed in a time capsule set to be opened fifty years later... Nick Cage's kid in the movie getting the envelope with the girl's numbers written on the paper (and if his kid hadn't gotten the numbers, where would the movie be, right?)... and the arrival of creepy men who bore a strange resemblance to the Nick Cage in his angel movie... it was a terrific build up.  See, the numbers foretell future disasters and Cage is trying to stop these horrific events from happening.

I won't ruin the ending, although I should because no one should subject themselves to this drivel.  Suffice to say that it was like the writers were in the room working on the script and were churning out great ideas.  Creepy ideas, full of mystery and intrigue and suspense.  But they had to come up with an ending and nothing was working.  Someone looked at the clock, saw it was getting close to happy hour and announced to the room, "Aw, hell with it; it's 2-for-1 margaritas at the Chili's.  Let's just take the easy way out and finish this thing."  The room agrees, the script is finished, and in T-minus twenty minutes one of the girls is gonna take her top off because as we all know tequila makes her clothes come off.

Movie writers aren't the only people who do this.  In The Firm, John Grisham had such a great build-up that rumor has it, he sold the movie rights before the thing even went to press.  It was the hottest thing made of paper than hadn't burned up.  A lawyer novel with (gasp!) excitement!  A legal thriller?  What the hell was going on in the world?  Sell that thing, now!  Who cares if the book just... ends!  We don't need no stinking ending, print!  Print the money now!

Remember reading the classics?  Huck Finn had an ending, and a good one.  Gatsby, whatever you think of it, had a fitting ending.  It might not have been the best ending in the world, but it was satisfying to a degree.  The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler?  Yep, it had an ending.  What about good movies?  The Godfather?  The door being closed on Kay as Michael becomes the don; there can't have been a better and more fitting ending than that.  Even Avatar, as cliché and Dances With Wolves-in-space as it was, it had an ending.  Come to think of it, so did Dances With Wolves.    

I realize there are things called deadlines.  I also realize that there are, especially in the movie business, people who have a say in how the script comes out before it is on my television set, but really? That's what you guys came up with?  That's what you were paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for?  Do they even have beta readers in Hollywood?  Maybe that's why they're losing money.  My solution:  take the extra time, so that maybe the movie won't come out next summer, but rather in the spring of the next year.  But at least it'll have an ending that won't make someone throw their remote at their brand new TV.

And by the way, Nick Cage... where's National Treasure 3?  You made this Knowing piece of crap when all we want is an answer to what was on page 47.  And it better have an ending.  Kind of like this.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Contract Offer

I've been offered a contract on my novel, The Chosen, by Champagne Books.

Yes, I've got a contract for something I wrote... I can't believe it as I type it; someone wants to pay me money for something I not only created, but wrote!!!

Tentative release date is April 2012, but I'll let you guys know when it actually comes out. For now, I'm having a Scotch and getting back to writing.

Keep dreaming everyone!!!

Sunday, January 23, 2011


My friend, Todd, who writes a blog called "A Man Called Daddy" has a new post up about going to a model train show.  Better him than me.  But it is funny.  Check it out here.

Friday, January 21, 2011

This Close

Today I got the initial design for cover art on one of my books.  It's just the first draft, but it was awesome.  To open that email and see the title I created, the theme and tone of the book I wrote, and my name on there... it was unreal.  A dream come true.  I want to thank my new buddy Matt who is doing all the hard work with the graphics.  He is very talented and will make a lot of money doing this someday.  I feel honored to have met him now.  When the cover is ready to go, I'll make sure you get the first look.  Until then, I've got the Steelers and the Packers winning Sunday.  Have a great weekend!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Book Recommendations

Some books I've read on Kindle and recommend you read as well:

- I just read The Devil's Pitchfork by Mark Terry.  It's a terrific read and I highly recommend it for anyone who likes thrillers.  Mark is a great writer, and knows how to make scenes believable.  The book is about chemical warfare and terrorism, and for those who enjoy escapism and excitement, Mark is a writer to latch on to, hold tight and not let go.  His Derek Stillwater series, of which Devil's Pitchfork is the first one, is a great series.  *Full disclosure:  Mark and I have been email acquaintances for a little over six months.

- One of the first books I read on my new Kindle was American Assassin by Vince Flynn.  It is still in the same universe as he's always written, the Mitch Rapp series, but with this novel Flynn breaks with the traditional series conventions and decides to do a prequel.  This book explains how Mitch Rapp got to be Mitch Rapp.  For those who love the series, it's a must-read.  For those who are new, it's a perfect way to introduce the series.  I wouldn't recommend starting with it, but if you do, that's fine.

- The one I'm reading right now I can recommend even though I am not even done with it.  I'm that confident in Robert Crais and his latest book The Sentry.  It stars one the two main characters in Crais's series, Joe Pike.  He is a tremendous lead character and thankfully has gotten several books in which he plays the lead and Elvis Cole takes the sidekick role.  If you like the series, you should already have this one, but if you don't, then start.  Crais is a great writer.

I'll recommend books as I finish them.  Up next are books that are not out yet, as I'm beta reading for friends.  Until then, enjoy!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Another New Link

My friend Carolyn Arnold is writing about her journey into the great publishing sea.  And she's doing it quite well, I might add.  Please go see her at A Writer's Journey.  Her latest post is about editing and is highly informative for those who think their first drafts are perfect (they aren't) or that they can edit the moment they finish typing "the end" (you shouldn't).  Editing is where the writing begins, to paraphrase Mark Twain.  And Carolyn does a great job of pointing that out.

Monday, January 17, 2011

New Link

A friend of mine has started a new project that I think mentioning:  Steam & Ink's Murder Your Darlings.  Her name is Charlotte Jane Ivory, and she is a writer who describes herself as having "one foot in the twenty-first century, and one in the nineteenth."  She also has written several "Victorianoir" stories.  A noir story set in Victorian England?  Sign me up!

Her new project, Murder Your Darlings, is all about becoming a better writer.  And can't we all use a little bit of that?  In my opinion, you can never have too much good advice.  If you have an interest in better writing, then follow, bookmark, and give a look regularly to Charlotte's page.  She's awesome.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Writing With Mad Libs

I love thrillers.  Love them.  Did I mention that I love them?  Lately, however, I've seen my some of my favorite writers turn to a process that I call "writing with Mad Libs."

You remember Mad Libs, right?  The perfect intellectual exercise for long car rides when you were a kid... the best way to entertain your friends by inserting the dirtiest double entendres possible into the blanks... they were a blast.  Now, though, it seems that some writers have begun building their own templates and just inserting things into the blanks to make a new novel.

Here's what I mean:  (COOL HERO NAME), a hero who formerly worked with (TOUGH GOVERNMENT AGENCY) is now a (EVEN COOLER GOVERNMENT AGENCY) fixer, operating outside the normal laws of (INSERT WESTERN CULTURE COUNTRY), must stop (TERRORIST OR TERRORIST GROUP) from  (HORRIBLE CATASTROPHE) in (CITY IN WESTERN CULTURE COUNTRY) or millions of people will certainly die a horrific death.  (SEXY, BUT INTELLIGENT SOUNDING FEMALE NAME), a (JOB THAT DOESN'T SEEM COOL AT ALL BUT MAKES HER SOUND SMART) with (PRESTIGIOUS UNIVERSITY OR GOVERNMENT AGENCY), works with him to find the bad guys, stop the threat and save the day.

Insert some action scenes in remote places, lots of technical talk between the female and male leads, and make the bad guy really, really creepy and you've got yourself a novel.  A lot of people have used this formula to perfection and have built decent careers on either this or the template where the cool sounding hero and the sexy, yet smart female lead must find an ancient artifact before the baddies do.  There are tons of writers who have done this, and a vast minority of them are published.  Yes, you read that right, the six companies that run English language publishing (from here on after known as the Big 6), pay people to write this crap because it's "original" and "something different".  Agents rep these books because they are "innovative" and "creative."

Uh... no, they're not.  They are the same book.  If you could do a search for thrillers that are based around the search for Atlantis or a legend of the Knights Templar or the Book of Genesis, you'd come up with a ton of responses.  Do the same thing with the modern-day terrorism novel.

Now,  I am not saying that we should stop reading or writing these novels.  Far from it.  Because they are all escapism, and we LOVE escapism.  But there has to be a different formula out there, doesn't there?  Anyone?  Bueller?  

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Writer's Wrist

I've had writer's block, if there is such a real thing.  In writing my second novel, I got about half way through and just didn't know where to go.  I was on point J.  I knew what happened on points M, N, and O.  But K and L?  Not a clue.  So I quit writing on it for about 6 months.  Sure enough, I read through what I'd written after that six months and wham-bam-thank-musey-ma'am!  I was back in business.  I wrote about 28,000 words in one weekend and the novel was finished.  I've done about two or three novels the same way.

But now I have writer's wrist.  No idea if it's carpal tunnel or just the fact that I don't have a computer desk and the dining room table I'm writing on is less than ergonomically efficient.  I don't even know what ergonomically efficient means but it sure sounded good didn't it?

The point of this post is only to give you guys an update on why I haven't written as much lately.  The sequel to The Chosen is called Angelic Dead, or at least that's the working title.  I'll detail more about the two books soon.  Until then, I'm off to get some ice.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Fiction vs. Reality

I was all set to deliver probably the 845,395th post on the internet about the possibility that ebooks and epublishing would soon be on par with brick and mortar book stores and the Big 6 publishers who dominate English Language print.  But then Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was shot in Arizona today by a gunman.  And that changed a lot.

I'm a fiction writer and I specialize in thrillers, stories of suspense and hard-boiled noir crime fiction.  It is inherent that in the stories I write, people are hurt and (quite often) killed.  Not real people though.  They are figments of my imagination.  But I do take an insanely large amount of pleasure in killing off some of these creations of my brain.  And I know dozens of people who take great pleasure in reading about the demise of these "people."  But they are not real; their deaths are not mourned by any real tears, unless I get to be a much better writer that is.

Rep. Giffords is a flesh and blood person.  She is the wife of an astronaut and the mother of two children.  She represented people in Arizona, by all accounts, pretty well.  That is to say, she wasn't involved in any scandal and apparently went about doing the job she was elected to do.  But someone saw fit to try and end her life and the lives of the people who came to see her today.  That someone, whomever he may be, is an idiot; he is crazy, and a living, breathing example of evil.  I hope he gets beat up after he is taken into custody. I hope if some of the people he shot do, God forbid, pass away, that he gets the gas chamber or however they kill people in Arizona.

Fiction, be it in book form or on TV or in the movies, is fake.  We are not responsible for people who kill people in real life.  Neither are people who might have disagreed with Rep. Giffords politically.  But real people do get killed; tragedies do happen.  And as a fiction writer, I would like to say that my thoughts and prayers are with the families of ALL of those people who were shot today.  I hope they all make it.  And I hope that one of my more elaborate and cringe-worthy death scenes awaits the moron who shot them.

Monday, January 3, 2011

I Love the Holidays

I spent the Christmas holidays with my family in Mississippi.

I grew up in Mississippi.  Born there, went to high school and college in the state, and had my first job there.  Morning and afternoon news at a radio station in case you're keeping score at home.  I gave my heart to God in Mississippi, but only after football got first dibs.  After joining the United States Air Force and spending four years overseas, I came back home to Mississippi.

I don't live there now.  I'm in South Florida, only a little ways north of Miami.  My wife is from here; my son was born here.  But it ain't home.  And as much as I believe the phrase "you only need family for the holidays to be special", let's face it... Christmas in 75 degree weather wearing shorts and flip-lops just isn't the same.

Not that there's a foot of snow on the ground here in Mississippi, but at least there's a bite in the wind.  But the weather isn't what I love about the holidays.  It's just a perk.

- I love the cartoon and stop-action specials on television like "Rudolph," "Frosty," and of course "Charlie Brown's Christmas."

- I love all the messages from the troops to their families back home and the show of support by everyone.  I just wish it was like that all the time.

- I love Christmas lights.  Really, I do.  No, really.

- I love giving presents to my son and seeing him try to open them.  I love the fact that he got a train set this year and it didn't matter what else he got after that.  Everything paled in comparison to Thomas, Percy and the rest of the engines.  We could have given the kid a gold-plated riding toy with diamond rims and he wouldn't have cared.

- I love the food.  Which is why I'll never be my ideal weight.  And that's why I'll survive when I'm stranded in a life raft with Bob from "The Biggest Loser."  Take that, skinny boy.

- I love Christmas music.  Just not before Thanksgiving, please.  Because then I hear John Lennon and Yoko telling me that war is over and I want to rip the radio out of the dashboard.

But most of all, I love the fact that for one month, everyone is just a little nicer.  They open doors for each other, they offer to help someone with a heavy bag, they allow someone else to have that closer parking spot... okay, that last one isn't true but you get the point.  Basically, we smile at each other a lot more during the holidays.  If that was the way people acted all year long, the bad guys wouldn't exist and there'd be no need for thriller writers like me.  And that'd be okay; I could learn to like writing about dogs and 17th-century love stories.

You know what, never mind.  Stop smiling and start being mean again.  I got too much Jane Austin in college.  Let's blow some stuff up.   Happy New Year!