Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Dedicated communities to the thriller genre

They say you can find anything on the Internet.  There seems to be one unfortunate exception.

As a reader and writer of thrillers, I have been utterly disappointed in my searches for communities devoted to this genre.  I have found exactly ONE, and this organization charges $95 per year to any participant who is not an author published by a *commercial* publishing house.

This bothers me.  So I post here a question and a solution.  The question: are there any other communities *dedicated to thrillers* that offer readers, writers, bloggers, agents, pets, what have you, a place to gather and exchange ideas?

If so, links please!  I'd love to participate.  If not, please find the first here.

If you read, write, or otherwise have any interest in thrillers, please stop by and become a member.  I will link your page, interview you, promote your book/art/agency, discuss your ideas, techniques and tricks of the trade, recommend a good read, and encourage others to do the same.  All that is required of you is an interest in thrillers.  So you can save your $95 for that forensics class you need to complete your next work.


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Top five things about Zoo, by Patterson and Ledwidge

by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge

As a thrill writer, scientist and animal lover, I can't imagine a thriller plot more fun than animals suffering from biological meltdown at the molecular level and thus going bonkers and sabotaging the earth.  That's even more fun than a barrel of monkeys.  And that's pretty fun.  What a blast.

This book has received mixed reviews, ranging from, "Patterson at his finest" to, "wow, this poor shmuck really jumped the shark.  Stop, James.  Please stop.  I'm begging you."  My review is in between.  I think the book was a bit fluffy, and if you're looking for depth, look elsewhere.  But I still enjoyed it and frankly, tore right through it despite myself.  Following are my top five reasons why:

1) The protagonist is a real scientist:
This book is written in first person (except for the parts that switch into the minds of animals...see #2...) and the story is told from the POV of a scientist investigating the whacky phenomenon known as HAC (Human Animal Conflict).  While many reviewers were extremely bothered by this guy's voice, I have to admit, I loved it.  Why?  Because he's real.  Now, I'm'a let you in on something here: real scientists don't all speak and act like total Poindexters.  Most of us are jaded, sarcastic, grumpy ass ugly bastards who can see the humor in almost everything morbid.  The main character of Zoo, whose name happens to be Jackson Oz (how cool is that?) gets himself arrested and refers to his annoying colleagues as "shitheels."  Thank you, Mr. Patterson and Mr. Ledwidge, for keeping it real.

2) Fun with tense hopping:
While the majority of the story is done in past tense, first person, there are moments that jump into present tense, third person.  This technique (one of my faves) is a great way to jump out of a protagonist's head for a moment, offering some alternate dimensions to the book.  In this case, it also gives animals a voice.  Love it.

3) Short chapters:
Literally, almost every new page starts a new chapter.  There are 98 chapters total followed by an epilogue.  Epic.  My friends - eh, I mean readers - harass me endlessly about breaking sections or chapters too frequently.  But I have noticed that it doesn't take them long to harass me about this once I hand them a draft, because they breeze through it in no time.  So I rest my case.  Long chapters inspire a reader to stop at the chapter break and wait until they have more time.  Short chapters let the reader squeak out one more page, even though dinner is burning and the kids are on fire.  And what writer doesn't want that?

4) Those heart-wrenching moments:
Let's face it - readers of thrillers are so used to wickedness that we can watch a character filter through a paper shredder without being either grossed out or the least bit sympathetic.  But hurt a chimp's feelings and you've just snapped a heart string or two.  Zoo brings the humanity by giving us characters we can feel for - animals.  Excuse me for a moment while I go hug my dogs.

5) We never find out what Zoo means
Sorry about this little spoiler, but it's really no big deal in the grand scheme of things.  Here it is: Early in the book, the protagonist makes some reference to the fact that the word Zoo is an acronym.  Throughout the book, I waited to see what could possibly start with a Z followed by two Os.  Zebras and orangutans and ocelots!  Oh my!?  Zany, omnipotent odor?  Nope.  They never reveal it.  While this was, in all probability, a lazy oversight on the part of an author who churns out 3-4 books a year, I found it utterly amusing.  Sort of like a musician deliberately writing an entire line of gibberish into a song and then waiting to see what his listeners think he said.  Brilliant.

When you have some free time, take Zoo out for a walk.  Don't forget the poop bags.  

Friday, November 9, 2012

Excerpt from Vesuvius

I jerked awake.  The familiar dream began to fade.  I could feel a rocking motion beneath me, and I looked down to see that I was lying in a pool of dried blood on the bow of a yacht.  I rolled over onto my back.  Directly above me was the underside of our bedroom terrace.  I could not remember arriving here.

My left hand hurt, and I realized my fist was clenched.  As I opened it, four tiny trickles of blood seeped from indentations in my palm as my husband’s wedding ring fell from my hand.  The boat rocked again, and a subtle rattling broke the early morning silence as the small, gold circle rolled across the smooth wood of the yacht’s bow.

-From the forthcoming novel, The Vesuvius Isotope

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Do you write? Or do you tell stories?

I have a confession.  I really don't give a crap about being a good writer.  I have no aspirations of winning a Grammatical Grammy or accepting a Diction Doctorate.  Honestly, all I really want to do with my so-called "writing" is to tell a great story.

I just finished reading Zoo, by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge.  I'll write a detailed review later, but the bottom line is, it was a terrible book.  The plot was the antithesis of credibility, and the blatant disregard for rules of writing no doubt had every dead author in the history of ink rolling over in his or her grave.  But I loved it.  Why?  Because I kept turning pages until the end.  And while we are baring our souls here, I'll admit that I also made a few mental notes of writing techniques that I totally intend to steal.

But Patterson and Ledwidge cheated a little bit, in my opinion.  They wrote a book that put no responsibility whatsoever onto the reader.  No thinking was required, just pure permeability, absorption of the story and absolute suspension of disbelief.  It worked, and it made for a fun, easy, quick read, as long as the reader didn't stop to think.

This is where I differ in my personal aspirations.  I want to write a book that makes readers think without realizing they are thinking, because I want them to be having too much fun.  If the gods of storytelling ever bless me with such a work, I will consider the book a resounding success.  Critics and rules of the English language be damned.

The Vesuvius Isotope is nearly complete.  I think it's a great story, and I'll be truly pissed at myself if I fail to show it the way I see it.  Yet, the biggest challenge throughout the squiggly journey of its creation has been conveying the story in a way that makes it readable.  Because I'm all too aware that this story demands a lot on the part of the reader.

I guess that's where writing skills come in.  Crap.

How do you take a complicated plot and strip it down to the critical elements?  How do you weave together multiple sub-plots in such a way that readers can follow them, without consulting footnotes and a map?  How do you keep your characters in character, without creating a collection of one-dimensional stereotypes?  

I guess that's where writing skills come in.  Crap.

I guess I need to hone those skills after all, to continue soliciting tips and advice from the actual writers out there.  Excuse me while I go back to school.  Excuse me while I grovel to the Professors of Punctuation and bow to the Wizards of Words.  And please forgive me if I later disregard bits of their advice, because damn it, the story will be better that way.