Thursday, December 12, 2013

Fantastic Storytelling

There's a nasty virus going round the office and I am the latest victim, so while I'm lounging on the couch pumped full of drugs I have been catching up on a BBC show that I've known about for some time, but never bothered to watch. Doctor Who, a program about a time-traveler who goes on wild adventures through time and space. One minute he's in ancient Egypt, then on a distant planet, then back on Earth, well underground, dealing with lizard creatures. Great stuff. A friend recently discovered that I had never seen an episode, so he sat me down to watch one. "You have to watch at least one," he said, and that one turned out to be the 50th Anniversary Special which was so well done and so well written that I've spent the last few days catching up on every episode the cable system has On Demand. I'm feeling about Doctor Who the same way I felt when I finally discovered Wodehouse--blessed is the one who will always have plenty of books to read, or, in this case, television programs to watch.

My cable system only has seasons 5 through 7 so my "first doctor" is Matt Smith, who currently hold the title, and he does a bang-up job of playing the character. He'll be my Sean Connery--everybody after him (or before, as the case may be) will have big shoes to fill. The stories are action packed, well-written, and funny, and they bring you into a world uniquely its own and allow you to get lost in it. And that, if you don't already know, is the essence of fantastic storytelling. I want to be Doctor Who; failing that, I want to be one of his earthling companions who gets to enjoy the adventure, too.

The best stories do exactly what Doctor Who does, and your story doesn't have to be sci-fi or fantasy in order to accomplish the goal, though most stories I'm thinking of are indeed in that genre because the writer is required to construct a realistic world for his story to take place in (such as Star Wars or The Lord of the Rings). The better comic book movies do what I describe--I'm thinking of The Avengers, specifically--and I think the Bond movies fit the bill, too, because they are clearly set in our reality yet occupy a different reality of their own, and tap into one's imagination to the extent that men want to be Bond and women want to be with him (at least the older ones, forget the recent efforts). That's good storytelling, too. I would rather be Bond than anybody in a Frederick Forsyth or John le Carre or Len Deighton novel, where the daily drudgery of the spy business is highlighted more often than anything exciting.

Fantastic storytelling is something writers should all aspire to, but unfortunately I have no idea to prove whether or not we actually create what I describe. How can we judge? The best we can hope for is for a reader to tell us where we took him or her, if our story provided a hypnotic effect, and that's a fine way to judge, isn't it?

Now please excuse me. The Doctor is about to save the Earth again....he's in 1969 and rubbing shoulders with President Nixon and there are aliens about!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Wolf Goes Live

Back before the Earth cooled, I mentioned on this blog that I had a pen name I was planning to use, Dean Breckenridge. My idea was to use that name to do shorter, punchier, much more hard-boiledier (yes, I made that up) stories than I'm doing under my own name, and crank them out on a regular basis. The first two, THE KILL FEVER and THE DARK, are available, with Episode #3 on the way. Please take a look.

They've been a lot of fun to write. Just plain story. No fancy themes or sentimental slop, just rock 'em, sock 'em, shoot 'em, kick 'em action. Basically, it's "Have Gun, Will Travel" set in the inner city, featuring a vigilante hero named Wolf, and they're short, not more than 100 pages in manuscript form. Read 'em on the bus, the train, on the deck, at the beach, wherever--it won't take you long, and I promise a terrific ride.

In THE KILLER FEVER, Wolf must stop a gang war from exploding, the roots of which grow from one man's desire for revenge.

In THE DARK, Wolf takes on kidnappers who aren't the usual suspects, and he has to turn up the heat in order to shake 'em from hiding.

Thanks for looking!

Friday, November 29, 2013

Surviving the Deadline

My silence on this blog lately has not been due to laziness, but racing to meet a deadline. Earlier this year mystery author Paul Bishop asked me to contribute a volume to his Fight Card series, which I thought would be a terrific opportunity to do a story that didn't feature blondes, bombs, and quasi-Bonds for a change. However, I was not at all prepared for the genuine challenge such a story posed. Paul's instructions to me was that the story could be about anything, but boxing had to be at the center of the conflict, and he gave me a December deadline. OK. I did a bunch of research, watched fights, developed what I thought was a pretty good story, and started to write. And then it all screeched to a halt.

When I say halt, I mean almost eeeked along on dry bearings. The writing was hard, the characters wouldn't talk, nothing seemed to make sense, and I swore I would never take another assignment ever again, ever, ever, never. I work from detailed outlines, and I kept going back to the outline, scratching my head, wondering why what seemed to work in that form did not at all work on the actual page.

Did I mention I started this project 30 days before the deadline?

I'm a masochist, you see. But I also wanted to prove that if a writer puts his butt in a chair and produces pages, he can meet a deadline in a short period of time. Maybe even beat it.

The outline assured me I had a good story. I decided to put my faith in my outline and forged ahead. But, wow, what a slog. I would up, at some points during the project, doing as little as one page a day. It was that hard to put together. I have never worked this hard on a book before, nor wanted to quit so many times in the middle.

In the end, I think my Fight Card book will be a worthy entry. It's funny that by the time I reached the end, it all seemed to magically come together. Reading it through for fine-tuning, I can't find that parts that I thought needed fixing, and it all seems to flow along. I think part of the problem was a hectic work schedule that, basically, had me working 30 days in a row at the same time, without any time off, so, luckily, I had my outline to guide me instead of having to sit at the computer each day and figure out what happens next.

I beat the deadline by four days, by the way.

So let that be a lesson to you. Writing + butt in chair = produced pages = 100 page manuscript in less than 30 days = a happy Paul Bishop because I don't have to tell him he has a blank spot in his 2014 schedule.

You're welcome.

Now my Fight Card book, still untitled, gets edited by Paul and his people and then by me again and, anyway, I think it will be out late in 2014.

What I hope I take from this experience and bring to my independent work is the same sense of discipline, the "write every day" approach. I am sooooo guilty of not doing that, and taking a year to do a 200 page manuscript which, according to this project, I could have turned out in two months.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Marvel's Agents of S.U.C.K.

I'm trying really hard to like Marvel's Agents of SHIELD but the show isn't helping. Aside from Clark Gregg, the cast is populated with white-bread soap-opera rejects (the Asian master ninja / expert pilot / constant brooder notwithstanding) who have all the believably of a unicorn. I'm supposed to accept that Agent Ward, a Ken Doll who looks younger than ME, is supposed to be a super-secret-agent-master-assassin? When he talks about The Job, his totally-cereal dialogue is a recycled riff from a Z-grade commando movie. How he delivers the lines with a straight face I do not understand. Don't get me started on the hottie "hacktivist" with her smart cracks who seems to only be a place-holder or the teenyboppers playing the scientists who are referred to as one person, which is appropriate, because I can't tell which one is which and I've watched three goddamn episodes already.

While the characters are faceless ciphers, the show has a bigger problem. The show's problem is Joss Whedon (everybody get out your guns and point them at me; I'm about to kill a sacred cow). I know Whedon isn't writing every single episode, but his mark is on each script. Whedon seems to revel in writing smart cracks that subvert genre dialogue cliches and that's okay....when it works. Those imitating his style are only creating cliches of their own, and they aren't funny, and they don't work. I'm not even sure when Whedon does it that it's funny or in any way interesting anymore (though The Avengers had some smart cracks), because it's been imitated to death

So I'm watching basically the show because Tosh.0 hasn't rolled out any new episodes yet and I can't spend all day drinking. Plus the hacktivist looked great coming out of the pool in Ep. 3 with her dress clinging to her curves. Yum. Give her boobs an Emmy.

But I digress.

Oh, and ZombieCoulson? Gag me. Either he's dead or he's alive but don't give me any of this magical rejuvenation whatchamacallit that will probably not even be addressed in the series. They're going to save all of the big reveals for the Avengers movies, don't you worry. Only Tony Stark will get the full explanation of what happened, and RDJ is too good for television. Sure, Samuel L. Jackson made a cameo, but Jackson is the new Michael Caine: a good actor who will slum for a paycheck.

Friday, October 4, 2013

So long, Tom

Too bad about Tom Clancy, especially after we recently lost Elmore Leonard and Vince Flynn. I was never a huge Clancy fan. I thought his work was too long and too overblown with "gee whiz" description that could have been trimmed to tell a better story. I never liked how he presented himself during interviews. He gave off a "I'm better than you" vibe but I think he was more comfortable with gadgets than talking to people, or talking on television. In other words, he wasn't a favorite, but you cannot deny his contribution to the thriller genre.

I picked up The Hunt for Red October while on a trip to Disneyland back in 1986 or '87, and I remember enjoying it, but nothing about the book stands out for me today. He wrote so steadily that I would get the new Clancy every year for Christmas, because somebody in the family thought I was a huge fan; most of the books went unread or half read and ultimately turned into the used bookstore. Seriously, after The Cardinal of the Kremlin, I gave up. There was just too much story and too many details to keep track of. Heck, I was a teenager. Maybe if I read him now I'd appreciate his work more. Maybe I'll be struck with a fit of nostalgia and pick up Red October again sometime.

Monday, September 30, 2013

The Great Gatsby

I first read The Great Gatsby in high school, of course, and because it was forced on me I did not pay great attention to it. Only later in life when I started studying Hemingway did Fitzgerald's name come up again, and I decided to read the book all the way through. It was the only Fitzgerald novel I was familiar with, so I figured it was a safe bet. Low and behold the story, the characters, the cynicism and the sense of hopelessness that lives in the book swept me away. I wasn't reading about America in the '20s. I wasn't reading about the excess of the Jazz Age. I was reading about my time, my friends, and me. I'm Gatsby. I'm also Nick Carroway. Reading Gatsby is like looking into a mirror, or, as Hammett described in the Flitcraft parable, lifting the lid off of life and getting a look at the works.

It's hard not to identify with Nick Carroway, struggling to find a place in the world only to discover your plug may be in the wrong socket, and what do you do when you learn that? We like to say today that if you don't like something, change it. But bumper sticker slogans don't take genuine human behavior into account. It's hard to change once you've started on a path, invested years of effort, and thought you had made the right choice. It's hard to let go of a dream. It's tougher to find a new one, because they don't appear out of thin air. What about  the connections you've made? It's hard to walk out on people when you're not sure you'll find others to fill the space.

And then there's Jay Gatsby himself. There's a guy who couldn't find a new dream, who stayed attached to the old one, and spent his life trying to recapture something that was never his to begin with. His tragic ending robbed us of seeing his story through to the very end, a happy ending, perhaps. Instead of cynicism of the age--coming to terms with the shock of WWI, dealing with the excess that only caused more emptiness, the "what do we do with this thing called life"--fulfilled its role in the process, showing that what's left in the past truly belongs there and we have no chance of recapturing it. If you could see how that very story line is playing out in my life right now, in real time, the impact of that observation would carry even more weight. In other words, I lost my Daisy too. Like Gatsby, I live near her (a wild coincidence I didn't notice at first), separated by a range of hills, which may very well stand for the invisible walls that separate us now. If I may borrow from Dokken, in my dreams she's still here, and it's the same as it used to be. I understand Gatsby.

I'm more than ready to declare Fitzgerlad better than Hemingway, not because of his tight writing and minimalist style, one actually tighter than Hemingway and more coherent and to the point, but because nothing Ernest has written has had the impact of Gatsby. No other literary work has lived so long in my head after reading.

I will say the same of the 2013 film starring Leonardo DeCaprio as Gatsby. While the film is too busy and too colorful from the visual standpoint, the film captured
the heart of the story perfectly and I will say it is the best interpretation of the film ever done. I hated it during the first few minutes when they jettisoned the greatest opening lines of a story ever written, and instead substituted something with less impact, but they used, verbatim, the last monologue of the book to great effect. It was mesmerizing.

Fitzgerald and I were actually born in the same city, albeit many years apart, so in a way I feel a connection to him. We both did some drinking to cover up problems only to find they never went away but were, in fact, intensified, because you can't escape your subconscious. And while he said that there are no second acts in America, I can't help but argue with that. Dreams may not be easy to find, but they're out there, like a carrot on a stick, and if you run fast enough maybe you stand a chance of grabbing one.

Monday, September 16, 2013


Eventually I always keep my promises. You may remember me saying in an earlier post that I would like to go through the James Bond books written by John Gardner once again. I read them all as they came out in the '80s and '90s but never held onto them. Now that we have access to wonderful reprints, I have started going through the books and I am very pleased indeed.

I've already mentioned License Renewed; now I'm reading Gardner's second Bond, For Special Services. This is the book which reintroduces SPECTRE as the villain of choice, with a new Blofeld taking the reins of the organization. It's a great set-up, and Gardner makes the connection to the Fleming novels by giving us a terrific background update which really makes the series feel like a whole story. I liked that bit of detail. Gardner was truly a student of Ian Fleming and it shows.

The scope of the story is also good, taking us from one location to another. Gardner had to write longer stories than Fleming, so we probably get a little padding and extra details that Fleming left out, but they are value-added details and one shouldn't quibble about them. What I like about the extra stuff is that it shows Bond as part of a larger organization. Fleming always sent Bond off alone and we never got the feeling that MI6 was the big organization that it is; Gardner changed that. His Bond feels more like a genuine working man who takes on extraordinary assignments.

Bond is teamed with Felix Leiter's daughter, Cedar, a decent bit of plotting, but one I would have avoided. Bond treats her like his own daughter so we get no raunchiness here. Cedar, of course, falls for Bond. Other than giving the book another link to the past, I'm not sure she does anything a different character could provide. It's neat to see Bond able to control his urges, though.

Without going too much into the story, I will say that Gardner provides a terrific outing for OO7, with a twist that thrilled me back in the day and one I'm sure will still deliver, even though I know the Big Reveal going in.

Gardner's writing is very business-like. Just the facts. He doesn't engage in a lot of hoopdedoodle. He puts you in the action. If he had quit after For Special Services or even after the third book, Icebreaker, his place in Bond history would be secure. I didn't care for where he took Bond in the later books. Before his tenure was done, Bond seemed tired, going through the motions, and maybe he had too many girlfriends get killed. We'll see if my opinion changes as I read the rest of the series.

Of course, I have to nit-pick Gardner's choice of weapons for OO7. Was the Walther PPK really so bad? In this book Bond is issued a Heckler & Koch VP70, certainly an interesting piece in the history of firearms, but not very cool. In Icebreaker Bond gets a deserving gun, the HK P7, and Gardner finally issued him a permanent piece in Role of Honor, but I wish he'd have stayed with the PPK. Or, at least, given Bond the P7 from the start, or, better, a Walther P5. Once again he isn't around to answer those questions. But he wrote some good books and we can be glad for that.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Abominable Thirty-Nine Steps

You can't read or write thrillers without coming across a book entitled The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan. You probably first encounter it because of the Hitchcock film, or maybe another author or reviewer mentions it. I think I first came across it as an OTR adaptation, and later Buchan's work was mentioned as a precursor to Ian Fleming's novels. The Thirty-Nine Steps is touted as the "original thriller" that sets the table for every thriller that followed. By that, the critics are correct, first is first; however, it's not a good book.

The hero, Richard Hannay, in one of the strangest introductions ever written, is told of a sinister plot. The teller of the tale is murdered, and poor Dick is on the run. He has to stop the dastardly villains before they strike, or all is lost. Instead of taking direct action, Hannay spends 99% of the book running through the Scottish countryside hiding in bushes. He's being hunted by the villains, but not terribly efficiently. Every person he comes across is able to somehow assist him, and the string of coincidences Buchan expects us to swallow along the way are too much. Compared to The Thirty-Nine Steps, the television series 24 is the epitome of logic. In one sequence, for example, Hannay is captured and put in a farm shed. A mining engineer by trade, Hannay quickly deduces that there is material in the shed with which he can make a jolly good bomb! Right-O, let's blast our way out so we can go back to running through the bushes! The book is loaded with such "it just so happened" events that strain your sense of disbelief. It becomes a joke.

At 118 pages (in my Collins Classic edition), the story is thin. It's generic by today's standards, but there's a reason for that. Buchan may have been a pioneer in what we call a thriller today, but, in this book, he did nothing but lay a foundation upon which the rest of us have built the house. Pioneers may set the stage, but it's those who carry on that really take the creation and do something with it. Pick any of the old masters, and their modern counterparts do it better. The Mike Hammer novels may have been huge in their day, but they lack the scope and creativity of the Nate Heller books. Max Allan Collins took what Spillane built and greatly improved the concept. When you read Spillane afterwards, you wonder why he kept repeating the same ideas. Count how many "best buddies" Mike Hammer has to avenge to see what I mean. If you only have Kiss Me, Deadly and One Lonely Night, you have the best examples of Spillane available. Meanwhile, Collins always does something fresh. Not one Heller book is the same as another.

If I may borrow Raymond Chandler's opinion regarding the mystery story, no thriller has yet been written that can be considered so perfect that it cannot be surpassed by another. This is why we continue to assault the citadel. For that, we can thank John Buchan. We like to read thrillers, and a lot of us like to write them. They're fun and exciting. There's nothing better than a good thriller, and nothing worse than a bad one. While I appreciate Buchan's effort, I'm afraid The Thirty-Nine Steps is simply a decent beach book, but hardly a classic.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Frederick Forsyth, Modern Master

Nobody, and I mean nobody, weaves a plot like Frederick Forsyth. He's one of the reasons I think British thriller writers are better than American, and not because of his extreme, almost zealous, attention to details, but because he layers plot points like no other author I can think of, and, unlike his American counterparts, doesn't have to spice his narrative with shoot outs, car chases, or exposed girl parts, to keep a reader interested. He's plot and story, meat and potatoes, and if you want something on the side, you need to look elsewhere.

I'm late to the Forsyth party. I understand he's far past his heyday of the '70s and '80s, but he still turns out good work, and his classics are still very readable. In this example, I am talking about The Fourth Protocol, which was written in 1984. It was the first Forsyth book I read, around 1988, I think, when I was in 6th grade and had just discovered Ian Fleming. Since Forsyth seemed like the modern equivalent, I gave him a try, but my comprehension levels at that age were not what they are today, and I could barely keep up. I thought the movie was better, because it eschewed most of the intricate plotting in favor of car chases, shoot outs, and exposed girl parts. Today, it is the opposite. From Icon to Avenger to Protocol (those are the books I've read so far), Forsyth delivers the goods.

The plot of Protocol features a renegade KGB operation to detonate a small nuke in the UK in order to influence a coming election. That alone sounds like a nice 60,000 word paperback potboiler or 90-minute B-movie, but try doubling that length to get the scope of the story. Forsyth provides great details on the workings of MI5 and MI6, who are tasked with tracking down the KGB agent assigned to the mission. You get the feeling that if something like this actually happened, this is how the British would solve the problem. We get tangents that don't seem to have anything to do with the main plot, but are actually critical to the outcome, and I wish I could describe how Forsyth weaves it all together. With some of those tangents, their relation to the rest of the book isn't revealed until the very last page. And then it hits you like a sledgehammer--you never see the twist coming. It's like looking at a master's painting. You can see what was done, but you have no idea how to duplicate it or even explain to a bystander why it's as amazing as it is. Those of us who know, though, and recognize a true craftsman, can appreciate the end result and be envious of how the master created the piece. And, maybe, someday, we'll be that good too. He is worth not only reading for entertainment, but for how to get better as a writer.

Not that he doesn't have flaws. Most of Forsyth's characters are ciphers. We know very little about them, they have very little, even minor, characterization, yet somehow, despite that, he hooks you. The characters really don't matter, they could be anybody, but he gives them names so we can tell them somewhat apart. It's the story that grabs you, and how Forsyth connects all the dots, and the details of how spies work, that makes these books rise above. If he were writing straight potboilers, the effect would not be the same.

I don't think Forsyth could sell today, at least to the Big 5. There are 100 reasons his books shouldn't work, but they do work, and work well indeed. We can be glad he started when he did, and thankful that his long-established fan base keeps him in print and in business.

Anyway I'm enjoying his books a lot, and he's still alive and kicking, so maybe we'll get a few more. Up next is The Day of The Jackal, his first, and I'm sure it will deliver the goods too.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Elmore Leonard: Aw, hell....

Today we learned that Elmore Leonard passed away. When I read a few weeks ago that he had suffered a stroke, I figured today's news would reach us sooner rather than later. Strokes are nasty. Nobody ever really recovers from them.

I won't repeat in this space how terrific Leonard was as a writer; we already know that. I did not read his entire body of work, but I read enough to know that he was a major player and anybody who said otherwise was illiterate at best or stupid at worst.

If Elmore Leonard inspired me in any way, it was to stick to my guns at a time when other writer friends, and even family members, were telling me that my crime stories weren't  "in vogue" and I needed to write something "more commercial that would sell" and then I could "write what I want."

I gave in. I hated myself for it, but I gave in. And then I read Leonard's introduction to a reprint of The Friends of Eddie Coyle by George V. Higgins.

I had never read Eddie Coyle or followed Higgins, but I knew he had died just prior to the release of the reprint (Leonard mentions his death in the intro), so I gave it a look. In the intro, Leonard wrote of how Higgins inspired him to stick to his own guns. He was writing about his criminals, you see, and publishers were telling him that he needed characters who were sympathetic and likable. He disagreed, and continued to face complications because of it. Higgins, he said, had the same problem, and was once dropped by an agent because of his stubbornness. Higgins, though, carried on, and became a success.

Leonard said: "Let this be an inspiration to beginning writers discouraged by one rejection after another. If you believe you know what you’re doing, you have to give publishers time to catch up and catch on."

When I read that, I bought the book. I absolutely had to have that book. Even if it wound up being a lousy book (it wasn't), I needed to have that introduction handy so I could go back to it time and time again. I knew what Leonard wrote would be important to have--sometimes you have to let them catch up and catch on. Best advice ever.

I don't write very much in the crime genre anymore, having found the series character--international adventurer Steve Dane--that I want to write about for the rest of my life, who is more in line with James Bond than Chili Palmer, but the advice still resonates, because some choices I make with my books aren't necessarily popular with everybody (adding humor, breaking the fourth wall, etc.).

I refuse to try and please anybody but myself. I learned that, more than anything else, from Elmore Leonard. And for that, I am grateful.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

I don't always read books....

To coincide with the release of The Rogue Gentleman in paperback, the ebook is free until Friday! If you download it, all I ask in return is a review, whether or not you liked it.

Sunday, July 14, 2013


You've been waiting for it.....

THE ROGUE GENTLEMAN is now in paperback, available from Amazon.

Get your copy today!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Fleming Find: The Man With The Golden Gun

I wish I had my digital camera to post a picture of this but it's in a box somewhere....

Anyway I was browsing through a used bookshop I had never visited before, and low and behold I found a stack of Ian Fleming hardcovers! Wow! Never before have I found such a treasure. I have a partial set of Fleming hardcovers already, but they are reprints, and the publisher did not do the entire series. Only Golden Gun and Octopussy were left out of the line-up, and I pretty much never thought I'd have even a shot at completing the set, but now I'm jazzed to find Octopussy.

I'm sure this book is a reprint. It does not have a dust-jacket, but the price (under $10) was right, so I grabbed it.

The Man with the Golden Gun was Fleming's last book, as you probably know. He died before putting the finishing polish on the story, and it shows in spots. I think the first two chapters are some of the best in spy fiction, as Bond returns from a stint in Russia where he was brainwashed to kill M. It's a terrific sequence, full of tension and suspense; after that, Bond is off on what is described as a suicide mission, but the stakes never really rise to that level. It's a pedestrian mission, really. There's a good bit of shooting at the end, and the last chapter really does put a lid on Bond.

If this is all we ever had to finish the series, it's not a bad dose. It's not the best, but it's not the worst, and Heaven knows that Fleming phoned it in a few times while perfectly healthy (a giant squid in Dr. No? Really, Ian?) so we can cut him some slack here.

Of course, much later after Fleming died, came the continuations. I don't talk much about them, though I did like John Gardner's work, especially Licence Renewed, which I've always considered a home run. I think his first three Bond books were very good. We can nitpick those at a later date, perhaps. In fact, I'd like to. Better go get the Gardner reprints and see if I can find the first continuation, Colonel Sun.....the less I say about Raymond Benson's work, the better. Benson is a fine writer, but I didn't like his version of James Bond one bit.

So where's Octopussy hiding?

Monday, June 17, 2013

Published...Sort Of

A few months ago fellow thriller scribe Matt Hilton sent out a call for submissions for an ebook anthology he wanted to produce called Action: Pulse Pounding Tales Volume 2, which you can now buy on Amazon for your Kindle. I sent Matt a story called THE FIXER which I submitted under my new pen name of Dean Breckenridge. I thought this would be a great way to introduce the Breckenridge name as novels based on the characters in THE FIXER are on the way. An author never assumes he'll be accepted first shot out of the box so imagine my surprise when Matt wrote to tell me he not only wanted my story but, despite
my asking, did not require any revision.

THE FIXER is hard-boiled crime piece and features a character named Wolf who is a middleman between cops and crooks. Sometimes justice needs a little help, and that's when Wolf comes in. If you have nobody else to turn to or if you're getting a raw deal, he'll be there. He answers to nobody but himself so he has no problem ruffling feathers on either side. And ruffle them he does.

Personally, I don't think THE FIXER is all that great. It's a character piece that I wrote to "practice" with the new concept. I'm not even sure how it blends with the continuity established in the novel featuring these characters; I may expand it into a full novel at some point, or I may ignore it entirely. This is the third time in 13 years of selling stories that something I've written has been accepted as-is. Let that be a lesson to those of you trying to figure out what's wrong with your story when it comes back with a rejection. Chances are, there's nothing wrong with it at all. You need to keep sending it out until you find an editor who likes it. When it comes back, send it out again. Don't even mess with the manuscript for one second. Not one. Not one single second. Don't even look at it.

I started using the Breckenridge name for hard-boiled pieces while I will continue to churn out thrillers under my real name. I think there should be separate brands, if you will, for each type of story, since they are different from each other, and those who read thrillers may not like crime stories and the other way around. The hard-boiled stories that have previously appeared as by Brian Drake will reappear under that name once I get some new covers--soon, I promise--as there is no reason to put them out under the new name when readers are used to seeing them under mine. But from now on, that won't be the case.

Anyway, should you be interested, ACTION 2 includes a terrific cast of writers who you should keep your eyes on, such as my pal Paul D. Brazill who has been kind enough to mention my work on his blog. Matt Hilton is tops, too, by the way. Why he hasn't had wider recognition I do not understand, but his Joe Hunter character is somebody you want on your side. I've often said that British writers are better than American writers, and he proves the point once again. So thank you, Matt, for the opportunity; I hope ACTION 2 brings you the audience you deserve.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

How JJ Abrams Created Star Trek Into Darkness

The following is a never-before-heard discussion between director JJ Abrams and screenwriter Roberto Orci about creating the new Star Trek movie. This article contains bad language and spoilers so don't say I didn't warn you.

JJ Abrams: "So what are we going to do for the next Star Trek movie? I'm thinking of just calling it Star Trek 2. Because it's, like, the second movie. See how I did that right there?"

Roberto Orci: "That would be silly--there's already been a Star Trek 2."

JJ Abrams: "But this is the new timeline, so it's Star Trek 2, Timeline 2, and we can--"

Roberto Orci: "Can't it just be a normal Star Trek movie?"

JJ Abrams: "It's gotta have flash and dash and explosions and stuff because the audience can't follow a normal story. They're all ADDHDD what-ever-the-D kids, remember? But seriously, what are we going to do?"

Roberto Orci: "Let's do something original that Star Trek hasn't done before. It's the first voyage of the new crew, they're uncertain about how they might handle the challenge, and we really throw something tough at them. We can have some action but it should make you think--"

JJ Abrams: "Thinking is too hard, man. How about this: Maybe the Enterprise can go to a planet where all the women are blonde and wear black underwear and just stand around. We'll shoot it in high-def. Half naked blonde chicks will look great on the IMAX screen."

Roberto Orci: "Um, JJ--"

JJ Abrams: "No, no, no, I got an idea. Let's make the bad guy Khan, let's kill Kirk instead of Spock because that would be a cool twist...oh and let's make Khan a white British guy so we avoid any racial stuff because he's supposed to be, you know, like, all Indian and ethnic or something, and after we kill Kirk we bring him back to life so nobody starts crying, and boom-chicka-wow-wow there's our movie. Cash the check, bang some chicks, make another one. You in?"

Roberto Orci: "But, um, that's kinda like what's already been done."

JJ Abrams: "So what? Everybody who remembers is old and the studio doesn't care about them. We're going after the young people who weren't even born when that other version was made."

Roberto Orci: "Well, um, I guess--"

JJ Abrams: "Oh, and let's have Spock kiss Uhura. That's hot right there. Some Vulcan-on-black action, man, that's what we need."

Roberto Orci: "But what's the story?"

JJ Abrams: "I don't know. They fly into space, have some laser battles....what else do you need?"

Roberto Orci: "I don't think its' a good idea, JJ."

JJ Abrams: "I'm not paying you to think, dumb ass. Forget the story, forget originality, forget anything deep. I want blondes in their underwear, Vulcans kissing black chicks, a white Khan, and lots of explosions. Gene Roddenberry can go fuck himself."

Roberto Orci: "Um, he's dead, JJ."

JJ Abrams: "Then that would be hard for him, wouldn't it?"

Thursday, May 9, 2013

I Don't Need No Rules for Writing

How often do you listen to advice? Any kind of advice? And how often do you ignore it? I think as we get older we ignore more. We've already heard a ton of it by a certain point and as we go forward the old advice stored in our memories is really no different than any new advice we may be given; we also get to the point where we say, "Fuh-get it," and damn the torpedoes because advice is like opinions and we all know what opinions are like.

That's what I think, nowadays, when it comes to writing. I enjoy reading about a writer's routines and how he or she planned (or didn't plan) a particular book, but when it comes to their "rules on writing" which we see a lot, I have no use for their remarks. When I was young, I certainly did. Boy did I! I thought there was a secret in there somewhere and if I sifted through enough advice, I would find it. Instead I found a lot of tips that helped me when I was starting out. Those tips improved my reading as well so I could see what authors followed those rules and which ones didn't. After so many years, I have decided that "rules on writing" are only for the writers who write those rules and really don't apply to anybody else. Are you listening, Elmore Leonard?

On this wonderful website, Brain Pickings, you'll find a ton of information about writers on writing and their rules for it. We still need this stuff because there are always people starting out, either teens like me back in the day or grown-ups who have finally decided that now's the time to write "that darn book."

But I look at these articles now the way a seasoned veteran looks at a cadre of rookies. You smile as you think of all the neat stuff they're about to learn, and you feel satisfied that you yourself have learned enough that, while you should always refresh so as to never get rusty (and that's an important point), you also know enough now to make up your own rules.

Which, in my case, I only have one. Tell the story in the best way possible. If that means using an adverb, then I'm using every adverb I can think of and if Stephen King doesn't like it, fuh-get him.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Too Much Black Mask?

There was a time when I thought the hard-boiled writing style, as pioneered in Black Mask magazine, was the only way to write. I'm certainly not the only one, nor am I the only one to extol the virtues of the magazine and the writers who wrote for it and how they wrote, both individually and as a group. But I got to thinking today...has Black Mask been too much of an influence? Have today's crime writers neglected the development of their own voice in order to continue a writing tradition that doesn't necessary work all the time?

I think I almost fell into that trap. The stripped down style of Hammett. Chandler, Stark, et al, was wonderful to read and I worked hard to emulate it. Allegedly, I did it very well. The editors who bought my first handful of stories thought so, and even one who turned a story down said I had a "talent for this sort of thing" but as I moved from my 20s to my 30s I started reading different authors (like Leslie Charteris and PG Wodehouse and F. Scott Fitzgerald) and found a whole new way of storytelling that was just as wonderful as the hard-boiled style (you could make a case that Fitzgerald stripped his prose a little, but not to the same point Hammett did).

Based on reading Charteris alone, I started writing The Rogue Gentleman, and while there is still a mix of the hard-boiled in spots, the writing is much more filled out than what I had previously done. I wasn't comparing myself to Dashiell Hammett or Paul Cain or Frederick Nebel or any of the other hard-boiled masters. I was finding my own way and, I think, finally developing a voice that sounded like my own. Allegedly, I've done well with it.

With all of the adoration given to Black Mask and the hard-boiled style, is it choking off greater creative effort? Hard-boiled certainly teaches you the basics. Less is more. Get the action going. Be clear, pay attention to important details, have realistic motivations. But at some point, those training wheels have to be taken off and the writer must find his own voice. To continuously try to keep the tradition alive for the sake of the tradition itself doesn't do the crime and mystery genre any favors, and only continues the idea that hard-boiled fiction consists of dummies in trench coats and hats who talk out of the side of their mouths and carry a gat in each hand and end every sentence with "sister" or some other wise crack and lines like, "I got hit with a brick as heavy as Texas and after that the lights went out. I woke up with a slight headache that a couple of beers took care of, picked up my coat and hat, and went to find the fat man so I could give him back the brick."

Hard-boiled doesn't work all the time. Sometimes you need the extra details, the emotions, all the things that Joe Shaw said to cut. Sometimes you don't need them, too. Finding that balance is the key. I think I've found it, though I reserve the right to go back to the pure hard-boiled style when I feel like it. Because, while it's a good way to teach writing, it's also friggin' FUN.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Paul Cain: The Complete Slayers

They finally did it. About a year or so ago, Centipede Press released the definitive collection of Paul Cain fiction--basically everything he ever wrote for Black Mask, etc. Paul Cain: The Complete Slayers collects every piece of fiction he published. Sticker price: $75. For some reason I didn't jump on it at the time, and now, since only 500 copies were printed, prices are between $140 and $200. I scored a copy for $140 on eBay. I have never paid that much for a book and, judging by the result of this one, I will never bother doing so again. But let me tell you the good stuff first.

The content is wonderful. It has the most extensive biographical information on Paul Cain than any other reference book I have come across, the reproduced magazine and book covers are terrific, the interior illustrations are amazing, and it's an absolute thrill to finally have all of these stories. I am a real Paul Cain junky. You can keep Hammett and Chandler and all those other guys. If I'm stuck on that desert
island, I want my Paul Cain books.

Not only do you get all of his short stories, but the book includes the original version of Fast One in its serial form. That's neat to see. Each story is connected, of course, but the opening of each installment includes background detail of what came before, and a few other extra lines, that were cut from the novel. (Now if I can only get the original stories that made up Red Harvest!) Cain changed a few names here and there but it's still the same fast-paced story that you either love or hate. I still say the only thing wrong with it is the ending, so I always stop reading where Grandquist says, "I forgot."

But for a book that was priced so high to begin with, and commands a premium now, you'd think the people involved in assembling the book (I'm looking at you, Keith Alan Deutsch--see comments below why I have omitted the other editors) could have hired a decent layout and copy editor. There are typos and extra words (the bio says Cain had "several two sons") as well as layout problems, where paragraphs don't quite line up and some lines of dialogue are on the same line. I paid how much for this? For such a handsome volume, with such pros with their names on the cover, it's sloppy, and disappointing.

But it is the mother lode. This is all the Paul Cain there ever was or ever will be. I will read every story very slowly. And then I'll read them again and again. They never get old. I read Fast One once a year!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

My Other Identity

Are you one of those writers who has a stack of material in a file? Things you think would make good books or short stories that you'll "get to someday"? I've got a trunk full. Stuff I'll never get to or even live long enough to write. The other day I figured out a way to actually use some of that stuff. Like other writers before me, I'm going to use another name to write those "other books".

I've selected "Dean Breckenridge" for my new pen name. I just pulled it out of my rear end. My own books will be the Steve Dane series and other full-scale thrillers in the traditional form; under the Breckenridge name, I'll do pulpy crime stories. Most of those ideas I'll never get to are things I thought were too generic; upon new examination, they're actually okay, but still not something I want to do under my own name, so I'll make use of them under this new identity.

I'm in the middle of the first Breckenridge book, Blood Cries, about a war vet coming home to find out who raped his sister. It's turning into a really good vigilante action story. It will probably be short, but that's okay. A short, punchy action story is sometimes just what the doctor ordered.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Adventures in Createspace

If you're thinking of using Amazon's Createspace to publish your ebook in paperback, I can heartily recommend the service.

I've been setting up my new novel, The Rogue Gentleman, for paperback publication over the past few weeks, and it's been a great experience. A friend helped me out with the interior layout, and I was tempted to hire somebody to
design a new cover. I had already purchased a cover for the ebook but wasn't sure how to make it fit with the paper version. A little futzing around after work one night solved the problem, and I was able to do all of the cover art myself by dropping it into Amazon's pre-made template.

I ordered a proof once the initial layout was done, and it looks amazing. The glossy wraparound front stock not only brings out the colors in the cover, but also the lettering of the back copy. Inside, the content is in nice black ink on white paper, and not cheap paper, either. It's in the trade paperback format rather than mass market, and it's a quality presentation indeed. The product is well worth $12.99 (which I think is market standard currently), should you decide to take the plunge, but I'll be pricing mine around $7.99 (lucky #7 and all that).

Of course, reading the proof, I found not only errors but other things in the text that I wanted to adjust. Now the corrected file is back at Amazon awaiting their review; once done, I'll order another proof for yet another check. I think I'll have it on sale by summer.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

James Bond Is NOT the Worst Spy Ever

I am often amused when noted authors, critics, literary scholars, et al, state with the kind of authority reserved only for God himself that James Bond is the worst spy ever. A simple Google search will reveal a lot of writing on that subject, and a lot of it very vitriolic, especially from authors who were contemporaries of Ian Fleming but did not then and do not now share his kind of success.

These critics procede to note with great enthusiasm all of the parts of the Bond movies and books that "just aren't realistic" and "not what a real spy would do."

For some reason, these guys and gals do not like James Bond.

Is it the success of Ian Fleming and the Bond films, which have done more to influence spy stories than Brian Freemantle ever will, and who the hell is Brian Freemantle anyway? John le Carre is a known Fleming-basher, but I'll dare say more people know Fleming's name than le Carre's, and I will bet that many more have been entertained by Fleming's work than le Carre', it certainly isn't drivel. But it's not terribly entertaining.

Perhaps it's the influecne of the Bond Lifestyle, because most guys want to be Bond. Maybe that's what makes the critics angry. Guys want to have the clothes, the cars, the women, the guns, and the adventures, that James Bond has. Other writers and filmmakers have been able to tap that area of the imagination, but Fleming/Bond are tops in the category; we note that the Bond critics have not been able to achieve the same result.

Maybe Graham Greene and Len Deighton wish they had created a hero that influential.

The value of the Bond character goes beyond the millions of dollars the books and films generate. Ian Fleming and James Bond inspire the imagination. If you remember nothing else about the adventures, you know were you somehow transported into a world where a spy could indeed behave the way Bond does, and not only get away with it, but still accomplish his missions, get the girl, and, basically, stick it to the slug heads who say that's not the way it's supposed to be.

Nobody wants to read about a paper-pushing desk-jockey. (Sorry, Len--I tried but I couldn't get through The Ipcress File.) I don't want to know that the CIA and MI6 are bloated bureaucracies where it's a miracle anything ever gets done and how the hell did we survive the Cold War with such asinine egos working in those buildings?

That's why Bond is popular. He gets the job done. Oh, and he's fun. That's something the slug heads seem to forget. They also seem to forget the fact that James Bond isn't real, and that's important.  Fleming never claimed to be writing non-fiction. Why y'all so upset? Why cut down more trees just to write books that are "more realistic."

Nobody reads fiction for realism.

We read fiction to be entertained. Ian Fleming has been enteraining me since I was 13 years old, and I'm almost 40 now. There is no other author who has remained at the top of my reading list for so many years.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013


You may have noticed there are a few things missing from this blog. Like the links to my books that are not The Rogue Gentleman. While giving allowing Bullet for One, my private eye story, which received very nice reviews from pros like Paul Bishop and Wayne Dundee (thanks, guys), to be downloaded free was a huge success, for better or worse, I have decided to pull the old books for a variety of reasons, most of which are to do with the fact that those books suck.

Well, maybe suck is the wrong word. But they done got their problems, Horace.

I was learning when I wrote them, and they could be better, and maybe in the future they will be available again, slightly revised with the help of my awesome editor Elaine Ash. For now, they're gone. Not many people bought them anyway, and those who did have not come back for more (that tells you something, doesn't it?) so it's best to move on.

For now, my efforts will be on launching Steve Dane, the aforementioned rogue, in paperback (coming soon and priced to move), and keeping that series going. The Rogue Gentleman: Mine to Avenge is well on its way to completion; at least two other Dane adventures have been fully outlined and are ready to go.

There are other non-series surprises coming too.

Thank you for all of your support; let's raise a glass to Steve Dane and carry on.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Sinister Activity of My Neighbor Part Two

You remember Mandy, right? The neighbor I think is spying on me. I returned home from an overnight visit to my father today and saw her collecting her mail. I went over and said hello, and we chatted for a spell.

Turns out she's involved in Wicca, which Wikipedia says, "is a pagan, witchcraft religion...developed in England during the first half of the 20th century and...introduced to the public in 1952 by Gerald Gardner, a retired British civil servant. It draws upon a diverse set of ancient pagan and 20th century hermetic motifs for its theological structure and ritual practice."

I guess Christianity is boring.


Mandy is now considering becoming a "high priestess" or whatever Wicca's version of that rank is, but she's in a pickle. Apparently such a position would require her to give up smoking, drinking, and sex.

"I would die," I told her.

She thought that was funny, but only a little. She had one of those thousand-yard looks in her eyes that made me realize she was genuinely serious and genuinely concerned about the decision. I guess one of the Warlocks, the male version of the high priest, asked her about it at the last meeting. One can only imagine what such a meeting might be like.

To each his own, the lady said, as she kissed the cow. I'm not here to pass judgement, but, like Han Solo, I think hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side.

You will be proud of me, though. I refrained from from suggesting I could be her last fling. Somehow it didn't seem appropriate.

At least now she'll be busy thinking of other things and not spying on me when I leave for work in the morning. Cherish small victories.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Another Super7even Adventure!

Call me crazy but I've been thoroughly enjoying an ongoing web series called The Adventures of Super7even. Here's one episode:

Produced by stuntman Scott Rhodes and a variety of other Hollywood folks who, apparnently, do this on the side, the series features our costumed hero, Super7even, as he battles the evil forces of Worldwide Evil in their attempts to...oh, you get the idea. This show doesn't require any brain work. Good guys vs. bad guys, lots of style, some humorous quirks and tongue-in-cheek moments; it's just plain fun. It shows that there is plenty of talent in Hollywood and maybe even a few original ideas but unfortunately the Hollywood culture is such that alternative methods of production and distribution are required to get that talent in front of viewers. Thank goodness for YouTube.

Anyway there are a lot of episodes to watch. Check out the website for more.