I have been accused of authoring “Thrillers that Deliver!” Guilty, I guess, but with an explanation. So, in my own defense here goes.
To the question of how I delivered a thrilling manuscript: I have no idea! In that, no one idea was the final idea. Therefore, like my protagonist who doesn’t know she’s unraveling a huge international conspiracy, I wrote it like that.
After I had those twist and turns in order, I went back and wrote the connective tissue with voltage that energized the “stumbling through the plot,” my main character was unknowingly doing. At any given point she had NO IDEA what was laying out before her. While she was looking over here, the real bad guys, and their horrendous deadly plan, was over there. This connective tissue informs the reader of the true peril she is in. It elevates her simplest innocent action into a hair-trigger moment of which she is unaware.
If a mystery is a “Who done it?” Then my definition of a thriller is, “Stop who’s going to do it!” I believe the trills are more heightened it’s even better when the heroine doesn’t know she is in danger, and millimeters away from stopping them.
The other secret to delivering thrills is to see my plot as a shark in the ocean. The plot, like the shark, must keep moving or die. And just when you think it’s safe, that she can finally take a breath, NOPE!
See if I delivered again, this February when Forgive Us Our Trespasses hits the shelves.
Being an author from the Bronx, the only thing I thought I had in common with Edgar Allan Poe was that he had a place up on the Grand Concourse a few blocks away from George Barbera’s house. But Halloween reminds me that he was also a poet, editor, as well as an author of some of the darkest literature ever created. On Halloween, we dress up and look forward to safe terror. We can get the thrill and giggle, without the danger. We can assume other identities, some random others secretly desired, by merely dressing the part. By the way, this is what authors do every day. But for Poe, he was deemed guilty of darkness by association – to his characters.
Here’s something that he could have written…
Imagine if you dressed up as Jack the Ripper for October 31st. But on November 1st, you woke up in a dank and stinking, horse manure redolent alleyway in Victorian England. A knife – bloody to the hilt in your left hand, a woman of night lay sprawled out beside you on the cobblestones as the blood from her cold, lifeless body congealed at the precipice of the sewer grate. And try as you might, you could not remove the costume. You had become your Halloween avatar.
That’s a pretty good premise for a Poe nightmare, if I say so myself. But it’s not too far from the reality of writing crime, mystery, or thrillers. I get many readers who look at me with a sly smirk, coaxing me to admit that I have lured women to their deaths by seducing them on tropical atolls. Or bludgeoned a fake priest to death on a staircase or one of a hundred other dastardly devices and plot points of my novels. Me! Scared of my own shadow, faint at the sight of blood, a wimp that catches and releases house flies, me! I used to object (and sales went down). Now, I smile like the cat next to the empty canary cage, leaving them to their fantasies, which I created within them. (Sales went back up.)
“Supreme rationalism” is a term associated with Poe. Yet, if you think about it, Poe was saying that there was darkness in every human heart and that it was rational. That darkness was as much a part of our existence as the flowery literary stuff coming out of mid-1800s England and France. As one critic, Herbert Marshall McLuhan, put it, “creating a parochial fog for the English mind to relax in.” In my humble opinion, not many readers relaxed while reading Poe’s detective fiction and horror.
Poe was at once reviled and revered by his literary contemporaries. There are actually psychoanalytical studies made of his work. So supreme was his rationalistic exploration of the darkness that beats within the breasts of man, that (as I occasionally am), he was painted as having been as vile and evil as the characters he created and capable of the horrors he detailed, just like the way I have been imagined by some readers. I see that as a testimonial to his ability to affect the heart of the reader, dark or otherwise. And in that, I take some comfort for being accused of the same thing.
Unlike me at this point in my career, his work was bigger than he was, and it eclipsed his life and forever shadowed him with the darkness he so brilliantly related to readers for generations.
It wasn’t until the 1940’s that a biography by A.H. Quinn finally emerged that balanced this lazy and sloppy “pop” analysis of Poe. For anyone who cared to look, he did not identify, nor was he the reprobate that his madmen and murderers, those that populated and advanced the plots of his most famous pieces, as he so skillfully drew them.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind people having Halloween-type fantasies of how I dress up at night and wonder if the darkness I write about exists within me. It’s all part of the process of reaching into a person’s psyche and messing with their suspension of belief.
My ‘moll’ tells me that I am dressing as a gangster for Halloween, spats and all. She’s going as a flapper. I hope the next day I don’t wake up in Al Capone’s gang, Tommy gun in my mitts, in prohibition-era Chicaga!
Oh yeah, right here. Right where you are now. Right where we are now…in front of our screens. Many of us can’t imagine what the last year plus would have been like without them. A time that brought new words into the lexicon. Some not so welcomed, like Comorbidity, Strains, Herd Immunity, and other here-to-fore inside baseball terms – if you played on the immunologist’s ball team. I can’t wait for the frequency of usage for those words to lessen to the point of very seldom.
But since words are my business, here’s one; Zoom. An interesting redefined usage of a verb. It used to mean to accelerate to a faster rate of speed or to express a sudden fast change in movement. Instead, it became the verb for not going anywhere. But it did allow us to do work and meet up with distant friends (you know, the ones also in lockdown, who live across the way). As a director (another of my passions that I am lucky enough to have as a profession), Zoom has a whole different meaning. To move in closer…Ha! But I guess zooming did keep us closer.
One way I got closer to people, who grew to mean very much to me, turned into one of the very few good moments from our time in self-quarantined solitude. Since my other passion is music, I am a drummer, have been since I was 8. Somewhere around 9, my moms skimped and saved to get me an actual drum set. (But really, I suspect, to save her pots, pans, and wooden spoons.) Now, I perform from time to time with two great musicians/entertainers, simply known as Mark and Ted. We play all kinds of music, but one of our ‘sweet spots’ is what is known as “The Great American Songbook,” standards and jazz from the uniquely American idiom of music. That genre is very appealing to folks of a certain age. Over the years, they have become a cadre of loyal fans. Almost every Friday night, at an Italian restaurant in New Jersey, we play for nearly full houses, 2-3 deep at the bar sometimes.
And then came Corona. Tumbleweeds. Crickets. Stay home. Stay safe. Social distance. Our dear fans and friends, most of whom are all in the high-risk group, as one might expect of folks who would love oldies and pop music, were forced to sit at home every night. Gone were those sweet Friday nights when we used to all get together…
So, I gets this idea, see! Why not Zoom a live set to all our loyal following. A live stream. Right from my apartment. Right from my apartment of us performing a set just like we were in the club. Mark, Ted, and I, socially distanced 6 feet apart, plus a large HEPA filter to allow them to sing without masks. Add some digital wizardry and we ‘counted it in’ to a downbeat at 7:15 p.m. on Friday night, May 29th, 20-COVID-20. We performed for our dear friends and music fans, remotely.
The result was that 245 people “zoomed in” that night and texted during the performance. Saying, “Hi,” and thanking us for a few hours of “the way it used to be.” To my surprise, folks from as far away as Malaysia, the U.K., New Mexico, Florida, and even the Bronx (Yaaay!) streamed in. It was a labor of love, met with love and which generated much love. What a great moment in a horrible time.
The sound is a tad bit distorted, but if you like that kind of music…
As for many people whose businesses closed during Covid, creating an online business became the only way to survive. I was lucky enough to hang up a digital shingle announcing that I was available to coach writers through their manuscripts. (I happen to know a little about that.) To my amazement, my little book coaching business went very, very well. I couldn’t be happier with the response I am getting from first-time and published authors who have found my analysis and suggestions well worth my fee. (Thank you to each and every one of you for confirming that I am on the right path). In many ways, I am paying forward the kindnesses, considerate and insightful criticisms, and constructive points of which I was the beneficiary. I received good energy from generous people that led me to seven novels and three #1 bestsellers.
And, of course, when something is successful, good friends and investors step forward. We are now considering a way to avail more folks of some of the handy-dandy tips on “realizing your novel” that I impart to help writers transform into authors. Stay tuned…
Finally, not many of us got through the time of corona unscathed; I, like many of you, lost loved ones, dear friends, and acquaintances. Nothing will replace our loss, but I guess the best we can hope for is for something good to have come out of all this. I believe that some small measure of good must have come out of all our mutual sacrifices. I hope you feel the same…
On Election Day, I continued a tradition that I have been doing for years. My last blog, below, explained it in detail, but in brief; I find the name of someone who died fighting for our freedoms. One of those freedoms is the right to vote, so right before I vote, I say their name and thank them for their sacrifice. Giving their life so that I, (we) can exercise one the most precious human rights there is. namely, to have a say in determining ones’ destiny.
This year’s hero is a World War II Sergeant who won his medal of honor in the bloody Okinawa conflict, one April day in 1945. I discovered his incredible story while researching a character arc for my new book, Constantine’s Dagger. His citation below says it all…
For more truly amazing reading, go to MEDAL OF HONOR WINNERS. Next week, I’ll post the other man of honor I met, vis-a-vis research, whose story also plays a role in my new book.
When I was 10, the New York Yankees were the “best-est” thing ever in the whole world. The world at that time was the entire Bronx. Yogi Berra (8), Joe Pepitone (25), Roger Maris (9) and Mickey Mantle (7) were the bubble gum cards that got you respect and honor in any schoolyard. The Yankees were so cool, that the candy at Ida’s Sweet Shop on Burke Avenue was named after them. Baby Ruth bars and the M&M boys. And Yogi sold Yoo-hoo Chocolate drink on TV. To be fair, Gil Hodges from the Brooklyn Dodgers, also sold Maypo on TV. But Maypo was a hot, maple flavored oatmeal cereal, not peanuts and nougat wrapped in chocolate. The Yankees were, as was candy, the biggest thing to that point in my decade long life.
I remember that on long hot summer days, you licked the salty sweat that dribbled down your face from your lips as the sun bounced off the concrete of the schoolyard’s ball field and blasted you from below and above. Squinting, you watched Joey Mangione wind up to pitch a black electrical tape wrapped, “clincher” softball at you. At that second you fantasized that you would step into the bucket, explode your rear hip and extend perfectly through the swing, connecting on the fat part of the bat and send that ball right over the 12-foot chain link fence into the traffic on Bronxwood Avenue – just like Mantle or Maris! Extra points if you hit Mr. Deputo’s old salmon and dingy white, colored Studebaker that never moved from the spot outside his house.
In all that time, the thought of actually meeting Roger Maris or Mickey Mantle was the same fat chance as going to the moon. We’d hang out on River Avenue at 161st street outside the Stadium after the game. And sure, maybe we’d catch a glimpse of Tresh, Richardson, Boyer, Whitey Ford even Mantle, but they were out of there like a shot. Piling onto the team bus or beyond reach on the other side of a blue, police stanchion line. A couple of dorky lawyer’s kid’s from the suburbs usually got up front to get an autograph or shake a hand. But not us, we was nobody’s kids. We was just Bronx guys.
Now I am considerably older than I was back in the 60’s and hero worship has gone the way of the Studebaker – free agented and drug tested out of existence. But we did eventually go to the moon. And so did I, last week, in fact.
Now that I am an author, my heroes have changed. The new “Yankees” in my life are the literary team that plays at the top of the New York Times standings. Guys and gals who can hit the long ball out 20 to 30 million books. Men and women who keep their percentages up by coming to bat and connecting… connecting with their fans. At Thrillerfest, the International Thriller Writer’s convention that I attended last week, I met the Mickey Mantles and Roger Maris’ of the game I play in now.
My hero worship, adjusted for age and decorum, returned. The same awe and esteem by which I held The Mick and the rest of the pinstripe company was back and at full gush. So that’s how me, a kid from the Bronx, wound up just shooting the breeze for twenty minutes with Nelson DeMille, a kid from Queens. We didn’t talk baseball much, but I did get his autograph… on his latest book, Radiant Angel.
Here’s the thing. In my life, as a Director – Writer – Producer – Author, I have met and worked with some of the biggest stars, names, celebrities and musicians ever and never asked for a picture… but here’s me and Nelson from Jamaica.
In the window above is the next installment of The Accidental Author, some real heartfelt confessions in this one plus an homage to one of the finest authors living today. If you missed episode one, click here.
We are delighted to welcome back novelist Tom Avitabile to Omnimystery News, courtesy of The Story Plant, which is coordinating his current book tour. We encourage you to visit all of the participating host sites; you can find his schedule here.Last month we featured an excerpt from Tom’s third thriller to feature presidential science advisor William “Wild Bill” Hiccock,The God Particle (The Story Plant; June 2014 trade paperback and ebook formats). Today we’re sitting down with him to talk a little more about the book and the series. Click here for the full Q&A