When what you write creeps you out!

Photo Credit: NY Post

I don’t know if this is really in the “It’s Only Fiction `til It Happens” pocket, but I wrote a scene set in Paris where bad guys cover some money laundering tracks by blowing up an art gallery and killing the people who work there. The French authorities never suspect any foul play because the perpetrators made it look like a gas leak explosion.  A few weeks ago, a real building exploded here in Manhattan’s East Village. Two people died. God rest their souls.

It made me feel creepy.  It also made me think.

Last year a whole apartment building, up in Harlem, was destroyed in a gas explosion. When you consider the fact that gas is in 99.9 percent of every home, apartment house and business in the developed world, it’s amazing that it doesn’t happen with more frequency. I guess the fact that when it does happen, it makes the news, bodes well for how relatively safe it is worldwide.

In The God Particle, I used a gas emergency to ferret out some bad guys in a European neighborhood.  And in a Bourne movie, he breaks the gas line and puts a magazine in the toaster. When it pop the whole house pops along with it. Steven Segal turned on the gas jets in the galley of a battleship and threw something in the microwave and set it for “Boom.” So using gas as a deadly device in fiction is not new. It’s how you trigger it that is the area for “fresh air”, i.e. toasters, ringing phones, electrical contacts attached to doorways that spark, etc.  By the way, none of those igniters are what I used in my novel, but you’ll have to wait till October 20th when, “Give Us This Day” premieres at a bookstore near you.

But still, having a real deadly explosion, so close to my fictionalized deadly explosion is a little unnerving.

Tomorrow, I will write of an author who wins Powerball! Let’s see if this “mojo” maintains.

 

When you write BIG keep it small.

Lesson learned this week: 

Epic, Sweeping, and Grand, don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that…

Interpersonal, character-revealing, reflective expositive reveal of the character of your CHARACTERS.

Now, how’s that for a mouthful? 

130,000 words of Epic, Sweeping, and Grand manuscript hit my publisher’s desk with a thump. (Metaphorically, because I sent it as a word file) He lauded it as “terrific”, the plot fresh and ingenious, the new lead character totally carrying the novel, and the last two acts are overflowing with action (and he meant that in a good way).  He went on to say that he loved the scale of the story.

unnamedPretty good, right? Considering that my dear publisher slotted in Give Us This Day, my fifth book, “sight unseen” last year into his prestigious slate of releases for 2015 and the submission of the manuscript was his first hint as to what it was about. His trust in my work and me was unwavering and complete.

But…

After all that, praise, all that positive feedback, he made ONE, little teeny-weeny note. He said he’d have liked to have seen a little more “sense of fellowship” meaning that sense of companionship between the characters.  He was right. Due to the “fish-out-of–water” nature of the beginning of the story, I purposely wrote the characters as all business. What he felt he missed in this BIG story of mine was the little asides about life or quirks that he felt I did so well in my previous four novels, which he published.

SO NOW, PANIC!

Couldn’t sleep for a week. How to…, What to…, How will…, How does…, started and stopped a hundred mental debates in my head between me and the story.  I’d suggest a scenario in a specific place where a little personal jib-jab could occur and then the story side of me said, “Appears, forced!” “Doesn’t flow.” “Useless appendage here.” “Slows the story, as it’s building.”

Let me tell you, the story side of me is tough!

So, finally a week later, with my pen between my legs (Bad turn of the phrase, I realize, now that I wrote it) …tail between my legs, I asked my publisher “LIKE WHAT?”

At this point, I need to tell you that my publisher is a genius. Not because of what he says, but because of what he doesn’t needlessly say. In one succinct line, he ended my turmoil by name dropping one of my minor characters: Nigel. 

Cue the angelic music: Ahhhh Ahhhhhh. 

That was at 5:45 a.m. last Tuesday.  I was really late to the office that day because at 5:46 the whole missing human connection of my story laid out before me like a GPS map. The ‘tilty’ kind in 3D that looks like you’re up in a plane seeing all the way to Grandma’s house. I immediately saw all the good and further story interconnections that paid for the ink, this new facet of the novel consumed. This one drop of gold that he strategically placed in my brain energized and elevated the entire book – in at least four places in the story!  I eventually left for the office mid-morning! The book was 2200 words heavier, but a million times more wonderful.

I entered the office with a smile that most people would assume is due to having gotten lucky, the night before.  In fact, I had gotten lucky at 5:45 a.m. Actually, upon reflection, I got lucky years ago when I met, Lou Aronica of The Story Plant and he published my first book.

Now if I could just fix that other little nagging thing about the scandalous affair in the second act. 

Uh oh, panic rising…

The only “Big Bang” that is left is in Porno!

4f949c8252674.imageIn my novel, The God Particle, the forces of Science and Religion are pitted against one another in a battle as old as Copernicus and the Catholic Church.

The conflict between Science and Religion has been raging throughout history and reflected in the art and literature of every culture. Even in movies, i.e., Inherit the Wind.  The two sides are dug in, each convinced that their understanding of the way things came about, the way things are and what will happen next, is the correct version of the “Truth.”

Embarking on a book that had as its subtitle, “The Super-Collision of Science, Religion and Terror,” I quickly realized I’d better know that of which I write.  The overwhelming conclusion from my research for The God Particle is that religion is dismissed by intellectuals as a myth, a fairy tale, and the opiate of the masses. Implicit in that designation was that the “masses” were “Asses.” That perception is based on the statement, “Science is fact…period!” All other explanations are inventions of fantasy for those of lesser intelligence to wrap themselves in.  Truth be told, that’s the kind of proposition you’d expect from Science, where proof, logic and empirical data rule the roost.

On the other side, although not as prevalent, are many of those in the Faith/Religion camp who are of the opinion that it is, in fact, Science that is mentally incapable of fathoming the inescapable conclusion that there is intelligent design. That there was a divine hand in all of this, mixing the primordial soup that was the nascent universe. These “believers in God” find comfort and solace in their religious belief that all of this is not an accident of a cosmic chemistry set being driven by Newtonian forces to cool and congeal into “Everything.”

But last week, Science took a bad hit.  The scientific fact that the universe was created in a Big Bang event 13 billion years ago has been rocked to its molten core. So indelible, so entrenched was this “Truth,” that Nobel Prizes were awarded for two engineers from AT&T who discovered the echoes of the Big Bang in the far outer reaches of the universe. That’s how cocksure Science was of its facts. And Yet…

So where does that leave the debate? Well, to me it means that Scientists, Intellectuals and adopters of the scientific method and it’s rock solid conclusions, turn out to be just as prone to myth as the “religious believers” except the science-based people believe in a different myth. A scientifically provable myth! But their scientific proof is only as good as the method they use. Being human scientists, the only insight they gain is built upon assumptions in science made earlier. In other words, science-minded folks derive comfort in their myth because it is proven by their own math, logic and evolving science (whose metamorphosis’s is built upon the very same expanding science doctrine, so it has the incestuous ability to compound any error made in the first steps, i.e.: The Big Bang) Another ironic way to look at this is that the blind devotion to scientific logic is fallible because an earlier error or misdiagnosis, leads to revised theories and are then used as “Gospel” in proving the next logical step or advancement of scientific doctrine.

So in the end, The Big Bang has lead to the Big Mess. Science has been proven by its own methods to be just as mythically based as Religion. Therefore, can the claim now be made that scientists are the priests and shaman of a belief system that is just as fanciful a faith-based doctrine, as those who they accuse of being religious? The only difference being that their religion of science is one that excludes God.  Nonetheless, what we learned last week was that science’s “facts” are just as suspect as those tenets of their religious counterparts.

14_largeNow, not that I am a genius, but I saw this coming. Way back in my research I realized that there is no way to win, prove or even be ahead in this debate between religion and science. No matter what side you are on, it’s circular. But, I did do one thing that was genius; I quoted one. In the very first pages of The God Particle you’ll find this quote, the smartest thing anybody ever said about the issue, from a member of the Scientific Hall of Fame no less:

All Religion, Arts and Sciences are branches of the same tree. – Albert Einstein.

Works for me…

It’s Only Fiction ‘Til It Happens: Where it all started.

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Years back I wrote a screenplay called, Looking Glass. It was my first ever effort at writing something longer than a school composition. Which I sucked at, ergo, writing wasn’t something I embraced until I was 28. Back then I had an idea based on the fact that a friend of mine’s father was the twin of a venerated academy award-winning actor – which no one was aware of at the time. The time being the pre-Internet, pre-social media days of the eighties. Anyway, armed with this secret, I imagined an epiphanous scene in a movie that as yet had no story or plot. The scene was the here-to-fore impossible shot of an actor and his doppelgänger coming face to face as the camera does a 360 all around them. Everyone in 1982 would have scratched their heads as to how we managed to do that shot. Today you can do it on a laptop!

But I “progress,” – So then the question was “what’s the plot” to put around this “socko” scene. Here’s what I came up with: what if my “twinned” star is a top Air Force pilot. So good he is the chief pilot of Air Force One. Then he gets a promotion! To a secret plane, more important than AF1. More dangerous, more expensive, more movie box office value. I called it, Looking Glass. I made it a converted 747 with the interior that rivaled a large nuclear submarine. Packed with electronics, defensive measures and the power to launch, run and win a nuclear war. I gave it technical “gee whiz” powers that were beyond that of any plane. Or so I thought. Turns out, I nailed one of the biggest secret programs ever. It was not even known to certain defense contractors, who at first commented on how my script was pure fiction, but then recanted with their tail between their legs as they dug deeper into a black program that turned out was my Looking Glass movie plane.

Why bring this up now? Forbes Magazine just ran a story;

“A Doomsday Plane Reminder: Nuclear Weapons Haven’t Gone Away” – Loren Thompson Contributor

It’s an article about how the Air Force is now seeking funding for upgrading the E4B NEACP. My baby, the one I designed in my screenplay. You see, as I pointed out in The Eighth Day;

At first blush, nuclear weapons research seemed a relic of America’s
paranoid, mutually assured destructive past…even though the Cold War
ended nearly two decades before, one tiny troublesome fact remained.
It seemed someone forgot to tell the Russian Strategic Rocket Force,
its commanders, and their nineteen missile divisions to go home,
it was all over. Instead, the Soviet’s mega death-tipped SS-20s and the
like were still targeted at Main Street, U.S.A., just like in the bad old days.
Our politicians had moved this undiminished nuclear threat to the back
burners of America’s collective consciousness, primarily by negotiating
away atmospheric and below-ground testing. It was good public relations
but it did nothing to reduce the stockpile of overkill both nations stored away
like dangerous nuts for a nuclear winter.

So, “news flash,” in terms of nuclear war, it’s still 1962. Nothing has changed. The nuclear sword of Damocles is still poised over our heads. The “nuclear clock” is still a few ticks from midnight. All that has changed in over 50 years is, no bomb shelters, no kids practicing going under their desks and putting there hands over their heads and no Conelrad Alerts. (look it up if you are under 40)
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In my movie, there was always one Looking Glass plane in the air at all times… after all it was right in the middle of the cold war… Now a quote from today’s article (or my screenplay; take your pick);

…the media have ceased paying attention to the most likely way in which America might one day disappear forever.
America’s military hasn’t.  One of the four doomsday planes is kept on continuous alert and manned at all times.  

Later in the article:

U.S. military planners take this threat so seriously that when the president [Mr. Obama] goes overseas, one of the doomsday planes always follows.  It needs to be nearby at all times, as does the military aide within a few yards of the president carrying nuclear launch codes and communications gear. 

So there you have it, the moment when, “It’s Only Fiction ‘til It Happens,” was born. I will leave you with this new appreciation of an old recurring nightmare. Sleep tight.

Extra Credit worries: In that same screenplay back in 1982, religious fundamentalists conspired to hijack Looking Glass and start a nuclear war killing all the infidels by replacing my acting twin with his brother in that great scene!

Read the full article that nuclear weapons haven’t gone away here

Episode 5 of the Accidental Author

Click above for the latest episode of the Accidental Author and hear me discuss the following • Backstory to the Bill Hiccock “Thrillogy” • Passion-the essential element to being a good writer • Perfection – the enemy of good.

Don’t miss an episode!

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

Episode 4 click here

Me and my shadow

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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 Three

Happy Thanksgiving! Here’s our normally Thursday posting, today. Click above for the latest installment of The Accidental Author. In this episode: How to start and get through a first draft. A great quote from one of the biggest author’s around and how to see your writing as an art form. Did you miss an episode? Click here for episode 2 and here for episode 1.

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 Drone Wars vs. Hot Beans!

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Okay, so I am going to try to make this not some old guy rant about, ‘In My Day…” but since The Eighth Day has achieved #1 bestseller status, many more people have been reading it and resonating with the Bronx, New York side of the story. Which elicits E-mails from fans of both the book and the Bronx. “Belly Flopping” a street game being central to the character development of FBI Special Agent, Joey Palumbo, has started a stream of E-mail consciousness that lead to HOT BEANS!

For those of you NOT blessed to have grown up on the gritty streets of the Bronx, I will endeavor to explain this particularly unique “childhood” game.

Start with a Garrison Belt, which is a serious looking strap of leather that’s around two inches wide with a mean-ass metal buckle on the end. Just like in Hide and Go Seek, one person is designated as “It.” The rest of the kids hide at “home base” around the corner. Now the guy that’s “it” hides the belt anywhere on the street. When he’s got the belt where is sure no one will find, he yell’s, “REEEEEAAADDYYY!”

Everyone comes around the corner to find the belt. The one who finds it, gets to yell, “HOT BEANS” and then gets to whip the crap out of everyone who is caught between the home base (around the corner) and him. At this point it would help to remember we are talking a heavy thick belt with a heavy buckle that can draw blood.

Believe me you don’t know what terror, fear, trepidation, caution, strategy and courage is until you play this game. Why? Because unlike other games, where the only skin in the game is playing for a win, bragging rights or the most points, in Hot Beans, your skin is actually at risk in this game.

Today, kids hardly go out into the street anymore. Their games are on a computer. The optimists and sociologists say it’s a good thing, that they are developing skills for our techno-future.

However, I wonder about those men and women who operate the drones and other High Tech, Stand Off, Remote controlled weaponry that we are embracing as national policy. I am referring to those who joystick their way through a war, one that’s been made impersonal and game-like on LCD screens. A process that transforms the deadliest endeavor of mankind to be remarkably like, Call Of Duty or Battlefield 3.

What happens if somebody pulls the plug on their console, will they, who have been raised in this kind of Sanitized War, be able to become warriors? The bigger question is, are Americans, who never played HOT BEANS and have no skin in the game but a vote once a year, citizens who in general have become war weary, will they have the grit to turn to our war fighting soldiers who have tested their mettle? Combat ready troops who are the ultimate weapon, and last resort, in defending a nation’s way of life and thus all we hold dear? Or will our techno-war complacent population cower at “home base” when some big, ugly brute from a foreign land wields an actual big belt with malicious intent?

P.S. Millions of people play war-based video games. All of these games are sold with graphics depicting “Shit Wired Tight” soldiers who are shown as stoic, deadly and dressed to kill. These are homage’s to the true warrior. Yet, millions of players, who assume these roles, never show up to a Veteran’s Day parade or write their congressperson to take better care of the actual “prototypes” of these fake computer icon warriors, when they return from the real life battle.

Those images and the exploiting of heroism has amassed many billions of dollars in box office for games and almost equal amount for movies. Unlike these computer generated figures, our soldiers have actually faced danger, unspeakable horror and have risked everything. Yet, far too many are homeless.

Here’s a thought for all you gamers out there, donate 1% to 10% of your highest war game score to Veterans Matter or text VETS to 41444.

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Upon Further Review…

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Along with the corner bookstore, many of the benchmarks of the book business have bitten the digital dust. Hundreds of thousands of books now flood the virtual shelves of the big and small on-line retailers. Marketing experts call this “fragmentation” while most authors call it “frustration.” It seems nowadays this evolution in book selling has made the REVIEW, the gold standard in determining how much buzz, support, exposure and sales potential a book receives.

“If you like your thrillers realistic enough to make your spine tingle, and well-written enough to keep you turning pages, you must pick up THE DEVIL’S QUOTA.  Tom Avitabile is at the top of his game.  Read this book.” – Linda Fairstein, New York Times bestselling author of TERMINAL CITY and DEATH ANGEL

But how does an author garner reviews, and good ones at that? The simple answer is write a great book. The nuanced answer: start the snowball effect, the more reviews, the more people read the book, the more they post reviews and it goes on like that until you have an avalanche of reviews.

“The go-to guy for pure thriller reading pleasure, Tom Avitabile delivers with every word.” – John Lescroart, New York Times bestselling author of THE KEEPER and THE OPHELIA CUT

It’s also great when your big –time multi million selling, NY Times bestselling authors who huge fan bases, take the time to read your book and then serve up glowing quotes. That’s just gotta help. But in the new democracy of the Internet, average readers hold an awesome power also. Their reviews on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, iBook, Good Reads and other sites are critical in informing the large retailers where to put marketing “soft dollars” to push a book over the top.

“This gritty and interesting novel swooped me up early in it’s pages and hung on tight to me until the very last words.” – Five Stars – Good Reads by Booklover Catlady

Me personally, I would never push my reviews in your face, but it is a dire necessity today to garner as many 5-Star reviews as you can. Why? The algorithm (No, not the Al Gore Rhythm, which if you’ve watched him dance is decidedly not in evidence) but those little robotic calculators that today make decisions large and small in everything from your refrigerator, to automated factories to how Amazon decides a book is worthy of “Push”

“This is the kind of book you want to snuggle up with for a quick and quiet thrill.” – The View From the Phlipside

So the new reality is this: an author could get tens of thousands of dollars worth of boost marketing from on-line book sellers if the Al Gore Rhythm machine inside their servers counts a certain number of glowing reviews. Now this isn’t money in the author’s pocket, it’s in soft dollars or what you would have to pay them to push a book like this to their customers. Let’s just say for that kind of advertising they’d charge you four arms and six legs. But old Al Gore the Rhythm King, he’s going to bestow that windfall on a purely digital, cold, unemotional basis – namely reviews!

“Tom Avitabile’s plots are page-turning and gripping. Good read for all fans of crime/thriller fiction!” – Crystal Book Reviews

Therefore in conclusion, you may not be able to judge a book by it’s cover but, Al-A-Gore-ically, they can, and do, judge a book by it’s reviews…

“Reading a novel is like being in a car and taking a journey. The narrator is driving. And whether he drives fast and cruises the curves or whether he’s pedestrian and pokes through the plot – he’s in control.
Tom Avitabile is a cocky chauffeur and The Eighth Day is one hell of a ride.”
-Anonymous via Amazon

Here’s some links in case if by now you haven’t gotten the clue, that I would love a good review from you.

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