The Scary, Scary World Inside the Female

 

 

No wait, why don’t I just pull a pin on a grenade and wait 5 seconds…it will be the same as trying to survive this blog or any discussion that dares to invade the inner sanctum or reasoning process of half the human raceby the male half.


I am in the finishing phase of my 5th novel, Give Us This Day, and for some unknown reason, I risked my life and limb to stubbornly, not only write a book with a female leading character and hero (heroine!) but to have the audacity to go inside her, to delve into her psyche and foolishly think I could come out with my cognitive skills and self-image intact!


Note to all male authors: When delving into the working of the female mind, always, always, always assume that you are wrong. Then just ask any female and you’ll quickly confirm just how wrong you are.  But then ask another female and see how wrong the first woman was! — No, no, no, not that Female #2 agrees with you, noooo, you are not even on the same page as her, the terrifying reality is that she doesn’t agree with Female #1!

Okay, so back to me. I recently was enlightened to the fact that having a male character ask a female character for permission to call her by her first name, i.e. “May I call you, Brooke?” Is actually worse than chauvinisticThis critique hit me like I was T-Boned in my new Corvette just as I was pulling out of the dealer’s lot. I quote from the response of a woman whom I sought out not only for her brilliance but also because she is, like my protagonist, Brooke Burrell-Morton, a powerful person of achievement and position, who was kind enough to read and comment my manuscript, …


It’s huge power play and condescending for a man to address a woman who is an equal or better by her first name.   It’s like him asking her to get coffee for him.  She’s [Brooke is] a sharp cookie and should be offended or at least think he’s a sexist a**hole by his asking. 


I had two simultaneous thoughts when I read that… First, thank God for her and her sharing that critical piece of social decorum of which I was totally unaware, ill-informed and insensitiveAs, apparently, were a few other female early readers who missed it. (See Female#2) 


My second thought was…I am never going to talk to a woman ever again, God knows how many faux pas I commit per minute in just even the most innocent and casual chat with someone of the opposite sexYikes, I don’t want to ever be a sexist a**hole, EVER! Much less announce and confirm that fact in unretractable, New Times Roman set 12 on 12 in 435 pages that will live-on somewhere or on some shelf or digital file till the sun flickers out. 


Now, on second thought, where’s that hand grenade?

 

This is the End: Episode 7 of The Accidental Author and the WESU Series

In this final episode: Loving your characters good and bad • Homage to Tom Clancy “The Master” • Plot line of The Devil’s Quota.

Next Time:
Join us next time as The Accidental Author delves deeper into the arts and craft, nuts and bolts and heart and soul of authoring a novel.
Up coming episodes will feature interviews with authors, publishers and others who will share valuable insights into what makes an author tick… and why!

Watch the whole series!

Episode 1 click here
Episode 2 click here
Episode 3 click here

Episode 4 click here
Episode 5 click here
Episode 6 click here

Me and my shadow

The_Man_with_the_Golden_Helmet_(Rembrandt)
Secrets are the dark side of our portraits. The Masters, in oil, and later photographers on film, used less light on one side of the face or subject to bring out depth or dimension. It’s how they created the realism of three dimensions when, as you know, the paintings were two-dimensional rectangles, same for film. They call it modeling. It makes a picture more interesting, less flat. In writing, characters need shadow too. Only in this case the shadow comes from within. The source of this darkness is usually the secrets a human has but shares with no one but themselves. The kinds of things that only self-love can abide. The literary opportunity here is that these very same secrets could also generate self-loathing.

In photography, contrast ratio is how much light is employed against how much dark. In literary characters, how much light they emit is also a ratio between their secrets, baggage and internal weight – against their lighter natures. This is a very essential tool in deep character analysis. That analysis, by the way, is always best done after the character has taken form. These character elements should be discovered as you are writing, not engineered into the DNA before you write. That way these foibles’ become more organic to the flow of the story and don’t stick out like… “And now a word from our sponsor, the character building department.”

​So shading a character in prose is akin to utilizing “Rembrandt Lighting” in film or photography. Too heavy a hand, too much obvious contrast and we start to look stagey, over done. But the right balance of contrast and dimension brought on by the shadow of secrets will fit seamlessly into the canvas of the story.
​Way back in 1930 the biggest show on the air, the radio air that is, was a show that started with the chilling refrain, “Who knows what evil lurks in the heart of men? The shadow knows…”

The Accidental Author – Episode Two

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.

The Thrill-ogy Of It All!

Untitled.jpgGood things come in threes: Three Dog Night, the Musketeers and Coins in Fountains. Three legs, as on a tripod, always find an even plane. So like coffee beans in the after dinner aperitif Sambuca, you always want three. Therefore, after I wrote my first book, The Eighth Day, of course the last thing I ever thought of was three.

Then The Hammer of God hit me – hard. The stars my second book created swirling around my head formed more than just one book’s worth of storyline. So I decided that two books were needed to flesh out the arc of the characters and the fulfillment of their goals.

If you are following along with your calculators or spreadsheets, then =Sum(1+2) yields 3. And thus my “Thrill-ogy” was born. “Three” + “Thriller” compacted neatly into a freshly minted term: thrillogy.

The third leg of my story tripod lands on solid ground June 17th with the publishing of The God Particle by The Story Plant. It encapsulates the maturity and development in my character’s lives plus the evolving threat matrix that continues to drum up scarier and scarier techno-nightmares.

From an author’s perspective, but not maybe a marketer’s, being able to move the lens around to investigate other characters and let them take it for a while is very attractive. The marketer would have it always be the same as my first. “Don’t change a winning formula” would be their advice.  Well, I “dood” it anyway.

In The God Particle, Brooke Burrell, my female FBI agent who had significant supporting roles in both previous books, takes the brunt of the action as she faces death and, worse, the question of what to do with the rest of her life, While the world hangs in the balance.

These were fun to write, and I hope my readers have fun reading all three. So don’t believe that old saw about, three’s a crowd; cram your bookshelf or Nook with my thrillogy and have three times the fun. Sorry, that got a little slogan-y.

Well, it’s off to an Italian dinner and dessert. I think tonight, instead of a Tartufo, I’ll have a Tar-three-fo.

 

imageA BLESSED EVENT…

Weighing in at 375 pages, 108,000 words and, thanks to double sided printing, 3 lbs. I named it The God Particle. And it is kind of a kick for me to be at this final touch point with my third novel. My family planning is now complete with the addition of this third installment in my Bill Hiccock “Thrillogy.” Allow me to reflect on how I arrived at this blessed moment, (Hey, it’s an author’s blog, what did you expect?).

Ahhh, that cute, little first draft, a year and a half of gestation, then its out, smelling like toner powder. Now standing on the spindly unsteady legs of plot lines and character arcs. You marvel at it and know it has more growing to do and you dream about the possibilities.

Oh, oh… someone needs changing! So you unwrap it, the 2nd draft! Flesh out characters, fatten plots, bring in a subplot, make new connections, Hey, I didn’t know I already set up the way these two might meet! I must be a genius.

Not so much. I left out a major hunk of story in the second act! But that’s what why they invented the second pass.

I send it to my word pediatrician, Sue Rasmussen. She makes my perfect bundle of joy even more ‘perfecter’, by pointing out made up words like that one.

I take it on its first vacation, to the beach. We spend seven glorious days in the sand and surf of Puerto Rico. At wheels down of Jet Blue Flight 504 arriving JFK from SJU, I finish the last story edit on the last page. (I love it when the timing works out so well) and shake all the sand out of the book before closing it.

There’s a mid-wife at Kinko’s, Gary. He prints up 10 bound copies with slick little covers with art work in the general direction of the final cover.

Then it’s off to be held by 6 friends and/or strangers to get honest comments.  Most come back good, my cousin George Cannistraro, a talented author in his own right, as always catches a plot point I missed and from that usually the book jumps to 50% better.

Then a deep breath as I click send to let (Grandpa) publisher, Lou Aronica at the Story Plant, give it a read.

Tick tock, tick tock… Ding.

A return email! He likes it! He sees the same beauty in it that I do. Only he takes exception to the very end. The edit I did of the very last words in the book that I made at wheels down. Chauvinistic and demeaning were words he didn’t use, but were apt. So I reworked it made it better (as everything he compels me to rework gets) Now it’s good and I am a caring sensitive male once more. Good. He’s going to publish it, Yaaaaaaaaay!

I Go back to editing book four, “The Devil’s Quota.”  While writing book five, “Give Us This Day.”

Ding! Mail’s in. The edited manuscript is sent back to me. Three years after the first draft was nothing more than a blank screen radiating my chromosomes.

Lots of edits, comments and Tsk, Tsk, Tsk’s.  But also an opportunity for one more polish, one more fine tuning, one last chance to bend, shape, smooth out or hone to a fine point the plot, sub plots, characters, locations, interactions, set ups and payoffs. Oh and I get to detangle the dreaded Head Hopping POV shifts (Ugh, I hate those)

Back it goes into the maw of the Publishers system. Through the editorial intestines, purified by the editor’s liver… wait… okay, really bad analogy… Through the editorial process and then suddenly, one blessed day, Ding! The “pages” arrive. This is how my book will look when it’s ‘all growed up’! In fact, it will look like this forever. The font choice, the leading, the kerning, the style elements.  But along with it comes the big admonishment: Not For Editing!  Meaning hands off anything story or content (I had my chance) but identify in red pen only the errant period, wandering comma, perplexed parentheses, and the ever popular spell check replacement that could ‘rune’ your day!

openbook

So here it sits. All ready for it’s coming out date on June 17th 2014.

Beautiful isn’t it (Doesn’t every author believe their new book is beautiful?)

Ahhh, the joys of author-hood. 

Guest Blogger Ethan Cross on The Evil That Men Do

An Exploration into the Minds of Serial Killers

Serial killers are like aliens among us.  They think and act in ways that most of us cannot begin to comprehend, which in turn makes them fascinating.  When we turn on the news and see headlines describing the deeds of a serial killer, we immediately wonder “How could a human being do something like that?” and “What drove him over the edge?”  When trying to unravel these mysteries, investigators often look to the person’s past.  They search for an event or series of events that led this seemingly normal person to their ultimate fall from the realm of the socially acceptable into the world of the criminally insane.  But then, we wonder if there is more at work behind these actions than a traumatic childhood or series of bad experiences.  Was this person born broken?  Are they evil?  Most researchers accept that the deviant behavior of serial killers is a combination of many factors.  When questioned about nature vs nurture, one psychologist asked, “Which contributes more to the area of a rectangle, its length or its width?”  And yet, there is no simple answer, and some maintain that the circumstances into which a person is born determines their personality.

In my novels, The Shepherd and The Prophet, I touch upon the concept of nature vs nurture as I place the reader into the mind of a twisted psychopath named Francis Ackerman.  Ackerman’s father was a psychologist who wanted to prove that he could create a monster by subjecting his seemingly normal son to every known traumatic event that had occurred in the lives of modern day serial killers.  His thinking is obviously flawed because by trying to prove his theories, he establishes that there must be something broken within himself that he could have passed onto his son, giving credence to the very concept he set out to disprove.  While this is only a small piece in the grand tapestry of the novel, it’s still an important factor in understanding the twisted thoughts and character of a man like Ackerman.

In a study conducted by the FBI, researchers found that 74% of the killers surveyed experienced some type of abuse, whether physical or psychological, during their childhood.  43% reported that they experienced sexual abuse firsthand.  The abused child growing up to become a serial killer has become a cliche within our society, and yet there is a definite link between abuse at a young age and violent behavior later in life.  However, the fact remains that most people who were abused as a child don’t grow up to become Ted Bundy, and there are many killers that had a normal childhood.  So, while abuse and circumstance is definitely a factor, there must be more behind the madness.

We like to think that we are the masters of our own fate, but the truth is that much of who we are was determined before we spoke our first word or even took our first breath.  The intricate make-up of our genes had already laid out a certain path before us.  We can overcome this and change our fate, but that doesn’t negate the fact that certain barriers or advantages exist from the moment of our births.  A five-foot-four man can play professional basketball, but he has a much greater barrier than someone born to be seven-foot-one.  And beyond the physical characteristics, there are certain mannerisms and behaviors that we seem to inherit as well.  Since my daughter was a tiny baby, she has tucked her thumb into her palm and held it with the rest of her fingers.  The gesture seemed strange to me at first, until I realized that I do that constantly.  She obviously didn’t learn this behavior from me, and it’s fascinating to think that such a small action could be coded within her genetic sequence.  It stands to reason that a person could be born with an inherited pre-disposition to violent behavior, but is there even more than genetics and circumstance at work?

There are also certain religious or philosophical issues to consider.  Is there an evil or negative force at work in the universe beyond what we can see and easily quantify?  These factors are often dismissed by the psychiatric community, but since most of us believe in some sort of higher power, we can’t help but wonder at the existence of evil.  Although this is an area that is even more difficult to study and classify, I believe it’s where the true key to deviant behavior may be found.  I believe that all serial killers, regardless of varying circumstance and genetics, share one common trait.  They all harbor a darkness inside themselves, a darkness that shines through in their terrible deeds.  But the truly scary thing is that I believe we all carry this darkness or capacity for evil to some degree, and this is where genetics, knowledge, and the events of our pasts come into play.  These factors contribute to our ability to hold the darkness at bay.  We’ve all learned from a very young age how to manage our impulses.  Otherwise, we would allow that sudden animal instinct of anger or lust to elevate into rape or murder and our society would quickly crumble.

I’ve always found this concept of darkness and the questions that go along with it to be fascinating.  Can the worst killer overcome the darkness and find some form of redemption?  Can they learn to control the darkness despite the barriers working against them?  What happens to a good man who embraces the darkness with the best of intentions under a banner of righteousness?  It’s these concepts, along with others, that I explore within the pages of my novels.

ETHAN CROSS is the International Bestselling and Award-Winning Author of The Shepherd, The Cage, Callsign:Kinight, and his latest, The Prophet–a novel described by bestselling author Jon Land as “The best book of its kind since Thomas Harris retired Hannibal Lecter” while #1 New York Times Bestselling Author Lisa Gardner said, “The surprises are fast and furious and will leave you breathless to read more.”

Modesty, Chastity, Young Love and the taliban

Tom Avitabile | SetaraRight smack dab in the middle of editing my fourth book The Devil’s Quota – which is set in New York City, upper New York State, Canada and Afghanistan – I felt I had constructed a beautiful love story between an American G.I. and a local Afghan girl. It was all very lovely and very soft around the edges. I was positive that I had captured the true euphoria of that first spark of love, infusing into the relationship the electric sensation two soul mates tingle with every time they meet. I topped off that exchange of energy with its titillating aftermath and breathless anticipation of their next encounter. I even threw in a dash of the fanciful ‘what if’ and the ‘what when’ dreams that occupy their every idle moment.

From a plot perspective, I had set their encounter at the community well, literally at the most nurturing and central location of a war-ravaged, dirt poor Afghan farm village. I had Sgt. Eric Ronson, the perfect male hero for a love interest; a strong, strapping young warrior buck.  As for my femme extraordinaire I had an incredibly radiant, simple farm girl, Setara.  I even had over-arching symbolism in their meeting across not only the walls of the well but the one million walls between their cultures.

So I had it, the forbidden love, fighting to survive against the prejudices, mores and  traditions of the times in which they live.  And then….

The burqa happened.

Or more correctly my editor, Sue Rasmussen happened …  to come across in her research that, according to the taliban, which is known to shoot you if you do not comply, women have to wear a burqa in public. That means fully covered, without the tiniest slit for the eyes! However, the inherent slapstick comedy of women walking into walls and bumping into things is avoided with a dark mesh over the eyes. (See, the Taliban isn’t totally unreasonable.)

But I, however, walked right into a wall. The whole “their eyes met” gone, the descriptives like “the radiance on her face” gone, the insightful “he could see her attempt to suppress her elation over seeing him,” gone!

Conclusion: There is absolutely nothing on the romantic attractor side of a story if the taliban were to write it. One of many good reasons never write a Taliban-based love story, because in a world lousy with taliban, all marriages are arranged. The young-ins have absolutely no say with whom they shall grow old. In short, romance, as we would artfully construct it, becomes a charge listed on an order of execution, read aloud before the stoning to death of the young girl.  

So you can see that the Western-accepted, innocent, G-rated acts like two kids smiling at one another, God forbid holding hands, a scandalous peck on the cheek or the public humiliation and spectacle caused by him merely gazing upon her naked face, in the taliban world, puts a crimp in my romantic story. It is also a fatal AK47 bullet wound through my entire book because I need that relationship in Afghanistan as the emblematic inciting incident for the rest of the story. Those characters also become major players as the story unfolds.

At this point, I’ve got a lot riding on Afghanistan and it’s being spoiled by a thin veil of mesh fabric. That means my two love interests will pass in the night or at least the darkness of the taliban-imposed morality police.

So I took my case to the Google World Court and I looked up images of Afghan women and right there in vivid, living color, in stills taken recently, are images of many women in burqas, but then my heart stopped, almost like my male character’s, when I saw the one woman among them in the hijab. Then, I found many photographs of hijab-clad women among the populace.

The hijab saved my life.

The hijab, more like a loosely worn scarf around the head, allowing full facial features rescued my love story. Now I actually have photographic proof that hijabs and burqas can co-exist with men in the same public space.

Saved! Book back on course. Everything’s good with me. Not so much with the women living under oppression though. Hmmmm, maybe that’s another book?

Plan B From My Inner Space!

Backstory: In the 60’s, the powerhouse Top 40 music station in New York City, and most of the east coast, was 77 WABC. Although its studios were on 6th avenue in New York City, its transmitter ‘shack’ was knee deep in a swamp in the Jersey Meadowlands. The highest power transmitter allowed by law, 50,000 watts, created an RF electrical field so powerful that “fluorescent lights” in the shack never went off, they were always on, even if unplugged, they just glowed naturally from the intense power in the air. However, the balanced AAA class phone lines that connected the studios to the shack, were the weak link in the chain. So off in the corner, sat a solitary tape machine with two giant 10-inch metal reels loaded and waiting for somebody to push “Play”

On that tape was the incomparable Dan Ingram playing records and talking them up just like always, except from time to time he’d say, “If you are hearing me now it means we were almost off the air.” It was a Standby Tape, ready to fill the airwaves until the problem was fixed.

Here now, for similar reasons, let’s delve into for lack of a better word “authoring.”

vectorstock_267I hate writing. I’ve always hated it. Always tried to avoid it. Looked for ways to escape it. A root canal was always a more appealing option than writing. So naturally I became an author.

Here’s the secret: I still hate writing. But I love authoring. Authoring is a multifaceted discipline of which the actual act of writing is a vehicle to achieve the end. To me an author is the strategic planner, the visionary, the god of the universe the he invents. Writing on the other hand is tactical, trapped within the lines the author has proscribed. Writing is the last part of my authoring process. In fact, I talk a story to death, long before I write it. I see the situations long before I type Chapter One. I feel the character’s loves, hates, desires and fears long before I commit them to words. In fact, I once went at a story like a buzz saw. Zipping out page after page, fueled by an incipient scene and a few fragments of dialog. I was going to beat the band.

But then the Author had a problem. I went too fast, went tactical too early. I ran out of motivation. My motivation, once I encapsulated the dynamics of the story that had fueled me, was out and now committed to prose, I stopped.

Couldn’t write. Didn’t want to.
Found every excuse not to. Then it hit me. My writer stopped because my author didn’t fully create the story. Without authoring there could be no writing. So there you have it, the dilithium crystal (Star Trek reference) of my impulse-writing engine revealed. Ultimately my books may be good or they may suck, that is in the opinion of the reader and beyond my control, but my process is always hot, energetic, sexy, breathless and satisfying… as long as that f**king author (or I should say king author…me) does his job first!

My Internal War on Woman… Defending my inner female

In a discussion with a friend, I was relating an aversion I was having about pushing for an answer from a Hollywood Studio that is currently considering my third book, The God Particle, as a potential big budget blockbuster.

Now, truth be told, this whole adventure started much like the nine other phone calls that were going to change my life. In every prior case, I was fearless, I aggressively followed up, I dared to ask uncomfortable questions, to probe the true dynamic in play. With this drummed up courage and “damn the torpedoes” attitude I went full speed ahead, braced and buttressed against the disappointing news that eventually came. But the stinging barbs of “oooo so close” and “We love it but…” bounced off me like bullets off Superman.

But not this time! This time I am filled with apprehension. Dreading the phone, not wanting to tempt fate, or anger the Gods. It is a very uncomfortable place for me to be. But the question is why? Why this time, why this manuscript? (the others were mostly screenplays). At first I thought the answer to be self-evident… Age! As you get older you get… well, soft. You become tired of the bumps and bruises you never noticed before. But that didn’t quite fit. During this same time I have put my butt on the line for hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of production and media time, by taking on projects with impossible goals and deadlines. I have relished the challenge. Never shrinking away but embracing the opportunity to perform beyond 100% and prove to myself that I can adapt, innovate and overcome any situation, in life and in business.

So why the timid, little boy, “scaredy-pants” act over this book? Over this tenth “life changing” opportunity? What is different?

Then it hit me. Everything I have done before was in my wheelhouse. Part of my success was always assured by the fact I was only playing on home-fields, at games I had a chance at winning. These were situations where I was in control of all the elements, and confident in the product.

Ahhh but this story is my first, full-fledged jump into the life, psyche and thought patterns of a female! Specifically my FBI agent turned Quarterback Group Operative, Brooke Burrell. At first I thought this was a kind of starter kit into the female mystique, in that I already had a good character base for her developed over two books, where she not only grew into her character, but into her life. And the safety rail for me was, she was in a traditionally male line of work, she had to interface and meld into the workplace mindset. Therefore, if I went too heavy male in her actions or motivations, I felt and hoped the reader would allow it, as her reacting to a male dominated environment. Easy to write a woman in that context! Piece of Cheesecake.

However, then she was always a supporting character. Therefore, I could, by reflection in the other characters, define her. It was my choice to go as deep as I wanted or leave it to the observation of the other characters to fill in the blanks.

Now, Brooke is the main character of my third book with my usual main characters taking a more supportive role. Many times in the story there isn’t anyone around to reflect off of, so I have to go inside her. It’s scary in there! I adhere to the adage, “You are a piece of all the characters you write.” So hello Brooke, welcome to my inner female. Not much organic female development in here within me, so my external observations of females have to be reversed tracked into the woman I am defining, creating motives and histories; impulses and predilections that become the cause that affects her behavior.

When writing about her, I can throw the world at her, and make her deftly respond, win, lose or draw. But going into her being, writing “her,” needs a feminine map with symbols and marks on it that most males are genetically incapable of reading.

So that’s it. That’s the fear. If they decide to make the movie, that would be nice, but if not, nothing changes, no big deal. But the reason for my nail biting apprehension, however, is the fear of them saying, “SHE doesn’t work for us.” Or worse, “you wrote a guy with breasts!”

Well, Brooke is all written now, she’s out there in the big world, I hope I have given her all the attributes of character and flaws of humanity that make her a compelling figure, but like most fathers, I pray that I just made her a good woman.