The Hero I Took to VOTE

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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…

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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.

Take a Hero to Vote and Say “Thank You” as You Cast Your Ballot

Back by popular demand, as we approach election day, November 8th, is “Take A Hero to Vote.”  Feel free to share and spread the gratitude.

Resources Online

Do some Detective work in your neighborhood

  • Call your local newspaper and ask for a list of fallen soldiers in your area
  • Ask Family, friends, co-workers, and neighbors
  • Google your town, county, or state, which may have specific websites dedicated to Fallen Soldiers in your area.

Visit Popular U.S. Memorials 

Terrorist in America? Bad Form, old boy.

Screen Shot 2016-01-09 at 10.50.54 AMIn my 5th novel and 3rd bestseller, Give Us This Day, my hero, Brooke Burrell is trying to stop a impending and devastating ISIS attack on New York City, but she is halted in her chase of the bad guys in order to appear in Federal Court to answer charges of illegal government profiling of suspected terrorist. Now, as an author when you go there in a novel, you best know of from what you write. That means research.

Here’s why you should never research. Nightmares! Because real life is much scarier than my book could ever be. In fact, since 2014 the government admits to have captured or killed 113 people implicated in terrorist plots in the United States. HUH? Did you read about this? Was this the lead story on the day I was on vacation? Nearly 6 times the number of terrorist who perpetrated 9-11 were caught or killed since 2014!

Some of them, had travel histories and social media postings that all but said, “Hey, stupid American, look over here, I am going to destroy you, your family and your country.”

Yet in spite of the most expansive immigration and border control systems and budgets of all the countries in the world, at least 113 potential mass murderers waltzed through the system on the way to their dance of death.

Just like Brook Burrell faces in my book, the federal government’s intelligence and law enforcement agencies are caught between our sacred constitution, with it’s civilian protections, and the threat poised by those who intentionally defeat our screening system.

If I wrote how these 113 did it, how they infiltrated, invaded and successfully evaded our federal government’s defensive apparatus as part of a book, no editor would buy it, no reader would believe it and no one would ever read one of my books again.

But here’s the unbelievably scary reality; these intenders of death and destruction eluded our defenses, not by some novel way of avoiding detection using skillful spy craft, or James Bond styled, electronic evasion; where they passed an electronic device over a scanner, thus jamming it and walking through our national front door.

No, they are here, aiming their sights on you, me and the country we love, because they checked the “No” box on the official questionnaire that is the paper document which is all that stands between your family and death by terrorist attack…QUESTION 38

The congress just approved funding to allow 170,000 migrants from countries – known to have been visited – by most all of the 113 to enter our shores. Of those I am as sure as the government that those of them coming here to kill us will surely be stopped at the border by Federal Form  DS-156U.S. Department of State Nonimmigrant Visa Application Form to the United States of America. Question 38(C): “Do you seek to enter the United States to engage in export control violations, subversive or terrorist activities, or any other unlawful purpose?” Check one: yes/no.

That’s it! Just check the “NO” box and you are good to go! BUT read the fine print at the bottom: A “YES” doesn’t automatically signify ineligibly!!!! What a great country… to bomb. But let not your heart be troubled, the system does work – kind of– as the government recently revealed after one migrant was found to be a terrorist; “(he) swore untruthfully on his formal application when applying to become a naturalized U.S. citizen,” See they eventually found out… (all comfy now?)

Sounds like Fiction? Well, It’s Only Fiction… ‘Till It Happens that untruthful bit of genius, that effective means of evasion which defeated and outsmarted our state department’s “State of the ARK” detection system is exactly the same box the San Bernardino terrorists checked off on their entry form as well as the Boston Bombers, the 9-11 hijackers. Add to that the countless other’s, some American citizens, who have similar suspicious travel records and social postings of the likes of, Edward Archer, who yesterday fired 13 shots a Philadelphia policeman and later admitted to authorities he did it as an act of terror for ISIS.

Folks, if I wrote all this in a book, nobody’d believe it.

Post Script: Amazingly, Officer Jesse Hartnett, survived this latest terrorist attack on American soil.

Post Post Script: Also, notice that this computerized U.S. form specifically calls out Nazi’s (1930’s and 40’s) but not Al-Qaeda, ISIS or any other known terrorist organization of today – a form adapted to be filled out on a computer after 9/11/01!!!

Not Growing Up…Just Getting Older

The Mick

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.

Tom and Nelson Cropped

The signpost up ahead… this is the next stop on…

The Writing Process Blog Hop

Welcome to the next stop on The Writing Process Blog Hop.  I’m Tom Avitabile and thanks for ‘hopping’ in.

First off, I’d like to thank the author who handed this off to me, Joe Badal. An extremely gifted writer and someone of whom I once wrote,

[His] writing is as crisp and as tight as a line drive home run. Author Joe Badal hits all the bases from the military, to the political, the tactical, to safe at home – Homeland that is.

Read Joe’s books, but not on a train, bus or other form of public transportation – You WILL miss your stop!

As followers of the blog know, we are asked to answer four questions, well, I have been cramming for weeks to get the answers right, so here goes…

1)  What am I working on?

That seems simple enough  I am working on two things, er… three things. My fifth book “Give Us This Day” (got four on the shelves and one in the laptop). This book marks the emergence of a new sub series – A Brooke Burrell Novel.  My FBI agent turned special operative for the president turned Navy wife turned reluctant operator again, is getting some nice notices and it just seems right to give her a platform of her own.

The second thing I am doing is totally new for me, editing content on my brilliant cousin George Cannistraro’s brilliant second novel, “Constantine’s Dagger.”  It’s an epic story of war, family, courage, royalty and a mother’s unselfish sacrifice to protect her sons – spanning decades. It is an epic book, and the stuff of miniseries.

The third thing is, I am always working on being a better writer. Blasphemous statement alert: I hate writing!

I am the last person on earth to write a composition for school, much less a 120,000-word manuscript.  Geez all those wordsit gives me the willies just thinking about em.

HOWEVER, I love, love, love AUTHORING!

I see “author” as a more comprehensive role: the job manager, the architect, the engineer, the artist, the psychiatrist, the logistics coordinator, the personnel department, the scenarist and the problem solver. The author does all that before the story goes over to the ‘writing department.’  You know, the monkeys who sit in the room (on the other side of my brain) and bang out words in an order and manner detailed and outlined by the author.)

I guess if I didn’t discover authoring, I would have never had the drive, commitment, and stamina to finish even one chapter.

2)   How does my work differ from others of its genre?

The MONKEYS!  They are what make me different.  In fact, I would venture to say that no serious writer of any period, genre, or level of notoriety has ever admitted, much less, handed his work over to a bunch of damn monkeys…

You see, these little banana-eating, key pounding creatures, only know what the Author has outlined for them to write. But those little troublemakers start writing stuff that wasn’t in the big picture. Yes, I have to edit out many scenes where an agent, or the President, asks someone if theyd like to get a banana but on balance these little guys are so divorced from the story that they bring an “on the ground” perspective to the characters.  It’s like my character’s still have to take out the garbage or change their pantyhose that have a run in them, WHILE they are saving the world. Ugh, monkeys… they complicate the lives of my characters and in doing so bring them closer to the reader’s experiential match points. So, in the end, is my work different from other author’s? I wouldn’t begin to say that, but I know this, every person leaves their creative DNA on anything they write. Plagiarism aside, it is almost impossible for any two writers to write the same scene the same way.

3)   Why do I write what I do?

The old adage states: write what you know. Most people take that to mean, a lawyer should write courtroom dramas and a cop should write crime novels and an old, snoopy biddy should write cozy mysteries.

Well, my stock and trade is as a Stage/Film director. BUT! I started out as an electronic engineer; I have worked for the House Committee on Science Space and Technology; I have built computers and designed new systems in movie making. I am also currently a Senior Vice President and Creative Director of a smaller New York advertising firm.

The core through line tying all this stuff together is human perception, reaction, and condition.  As a director of humans, a student of humans, and a human myself, my core competency is in Human characters.  I know the human character. Therefore in “writing what I know”, I write humans. Humans who are: plagued by their choices, intelligence, stupidity, compassion, pathology, genetics, up bringing, and whatever moral code serves them for good or evil. Then I place them in settings that I know, (see above list) and, even more fun, places I don’t know.

If all that is too wordy then skip to this: “I author the books I desperately want to read.”

Okay kids, we’re coming to the last question. In case you all run out of here, I just want to say that’s it’s been a pleasure hosting this next stop on the blog hop. As you are leaving, you might want to check out some of the books on the table in the back.

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And thank you for supporting living authors…

Now the last question…

4)   How does my writing process work?

Pretty well, thank you…Goodnight!  Oh, you want more? Ah, Yes. Well…

I try to write five out of seven days a week mostly. You know, get up an hour early, write through lunch and go to bed an hour later. Don’t watch Homeland or Home Shopping Network. Write instead.

Writing to me is a subset of what I really am. Let me go back and explain, once again, my dirty little secret, I hate writing.  To me writing is a tool, one of many to be used to get to a final product. That product has been designed by the author – me, if you are able to follow this warped way of thinking.

When I am deep in a book, the world and it’s characters that I have created become a dream. A very good dream! When I have to stop writing, it becomes a dream interrupted.  And just like on those nights when you are having one heck of a good dream and you awaken and then try hard to get back to sleep – to re-enter that wonderful dream… Well that’s my process. Only, I always have the last sentence I wrote as a marker of where to pick up that dream already in progress.  I then see life as the distraction that takes me away from this beautiful dream, incredible characters, and a story that keeps me in awe and wonder.

My line is “Writing is a dream interrupted by life.”  The International Thriller Writers, ITW, of which I am a member, said it so much better when they simply said, “Writing is dreaming in ink.”  But you’d expect that conciseness, them being writers and all.

Well, I think I’m done. Thank you for getting this far in my blog.

And now a word about the next stop on the Writing Process Blog Tour, on August 25th.  We have two great authors who are all ready to share their thoughts, practices, fears and joys about the process with you (and I can assure you, no more about monkeys).

 

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ETHAN CROSS

When a fireman or a policeman would visit his school, most of his classmates’ heads would swim with aspirations of growing up and catching bad guys or saving someone from a blazing inferno. When these moments came for Ethan Cross, however, his dreams weren’’t to someday be a cop or put out fires; he just wanted to write about it.

And his dream of telling stories on a grand scale came to fruition with the release of his first book, The Shepherd, which went on to become an International Bestseller published in several countries and languages. Ethan followed this up with more great titles like The Prophet, The Cage, Callsign: Knight, and Blind Justice. His latest book is the third installment of the Shepherd series, Father of Fear, coming from the Story Plant in Summer 2014.

In addition to writing and working in the publishing industry, Ethan has also served as the Chief Technology Officer for a national franchise, recorded albums and opened for national recording artists as lead singer and guitar player in a musical group, and been an active and highly involved member of the International Thriller Writers organization.

Ethan Cross is the pen name of an author who lives and writes in Illinois with his wife, three kids, and two Shih Tzus.

http://www.ethancross.com/category/blog/

AuthorPic1Color-248x300JEREMY BURNS

An avid reader since the age of three, Jeremy Burns was devouring novels by the time other children his age were still learning their ABCs. Blessed (and, at times, cursed) with a decidedly active imagination and an insatiable curiosity for nearly everything, Jeremy made learning and storytelling two of his chief passions. After earning his degree in History from Florida State University, Jeremy accepted a position teaching literature, creative writing, political science, and philosophy at an international school in Dubai. Like the characters in his books, Jeremy is an intrepid explorer whose own adventures have taken him from Mayan ruins in the Yucatan to the pyramids of Egypt, from medieval castles across Europe to the jungles of Bangladesh, and beyond. To date, Jeremy has traveled to more than twenty countries across four continents, seeking adventure, discovery, and ideas for future novels. When not exploring a new corner of the globe, Jeremy lives in Florida, where he is working on his next thrilling novel.

http://www.authorjeremyburns.com

Getting Buzz

I was recently on The Business Buzz with host Jeff Sherman and Marty Keena to discuss aspects of writing a novel including character and plot.

 

Authors of the Round Table

Recently, I was invited to participate in the ITW Thriller Round Table, which (as I dust my shoulders off) is quite an honor. The topic on everyone’s mind: “How do you separate the author from your characters?” Here’s my two cents which is worth a million dollars.

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Social Security Disability Program

Capitol Hill Building in Washington DC

Got a scary note from someone whose identity I will solemnly protect.

Due to his vast time spent in the federal government, working as one of those nameless, faceless bureaucrats and rising to a very high position mostly by playing the game and not making waves, I asked him to do a pre-read of my 4th book, The Devil’s Quota.

In this book, some of the largess from the yearly government haul of our hard-earned taxes is funneled to fuel a private illegal enterprise by an entrepreneurial federal employee – who taps whatever is lying around the spreadsheet to fund it. In my book somewhere around $250k “falls off the federal truck” and seeds his shady endeavor, reaping an outrageous and illicit secondary personal income to his regular paycheck from the Federalis. I thought that was an indicting, criminally devious enough plot point.

His astounding response to my fictional criminal invention was “drop in the bucket”. The bucket being the Waste, Fraud and Abuse Vat that ‘overfloweth’ from the massive amount of money in the system that just can’t be accounted for. He then mentioned, in his letter of last week, the tremendous fraud and waste in misappropriating or inappropriate dispersal of millions of dollars just within one small part of government, the Social Security Disability Program (SSDP) of the government.

That “ooops” of misappropriation is somewhere between $2 and $3 billion out of the $10 plus billion that is disbursed every year by the SSDP. Keep in mind that it is only one department of one administration of the many agencies that make up the huge juggernaut that is the federal government.

Billions going out the door to unqualified recipients while millions of citizens who legitimately deserve these funds to survive, get the crumbs. Now, I am not one to rain on someone’s parade of ‘good luck’, and in my anti-establishment youth my opinion was, if you can game the system – then screw the government. If you can get away with a score like that, good for you. Everybody does it. It’s only the dumb who play by the rules. Of course that was before I paid taxes and realized the government was me, or at least co-funded by me, so screwing the government was a ménage à trois!

 Today, I personally know many people who magically became disabled when their 99 weeks of unemployment ran out. If one of you is reading this right now, don’t worry. I am not a rat. Someone, somewhere in the government is allowing them to reclassify, so I feel they are merely fighting to survive, trying to put food on the table. It’s hard to hold them responsible for utilizing a resource born out of either sloppiness or corruption at the federal level.

 But then I thought about what the Social Security Disability Program is in existence to do. It turned me around when I realized that many deserving citizens, who find themselves unable to work, are turned away because the money earmarked for their legitimate use is being diverted to those who otherwise have no disability.

To be balanced and fair to this issue, critics of the critics would say no one gets turned away. That’s because of the 12 million folks who are in the SSD Program, maybe 25 to 30% are in some way gaming the system. But, they point out, ‘no legitimate claim is denied.’ Somehow the folks who take comfort in this notion, must not pay taxes or they make a lot of money in some way from the SSDP.

So back to what started this all, my book and what I thought was a horendous dastardy deed by a criminal government employee. So I said to myself, I’ll change my book, I’ll expand the plot, I’ll point out this inequity, I’ll lead the reading public to the door of the Social Security Disability Program! I’ll up the ante from a mere $250,000 chicken feed theft to $250,000,000, which would be more in line with reality. I started contemplating my Pulitzer Prize acceptance speech.

“The power of fiction to right the wrongs of our non-fiction world, when those wrongs are so egregious that on the face of it they seem like the invention of fiction themselves…”     – Pulitzer Prize winner Thomas Avitabile

Then the CBS TV show 60 Minutes ran a story this weekend. Although my contact wasn’t in it, it was almost word for word his account of the dis-ability of the government to be accountable. I was scooped! So instead of polishing my Pulitzer I guess I’ll just go back to polishing my manuscript.

 P.S. If you want another little ‘Government Gone Wild’ chestnut to get your blood boiling, after two years of gaming the system (whether you are entitled or not), EVERYONE, even the scammers, automatically qualify for Medicare after two years on SSDP, no matter what age they are, just because they were on SSDP! If you put that in a book, the editor would cut it out as unbelievable.

Avitabile
Tom Avitabile
http://tomavitabile.com/
tom@spadvertising.com

Don’t cry for me, Puerto Rico

Tom Avitabile | Don't Cry For Me, Puerto RicoI know that what I’m about to say is going to draw no sympathy, no empathy, no amount of concern from anybody, and that’s the way it should be. I’m at a wonderful, magical moment in the process of The Devil’s Quota, my fourth book. If you’ve been following the blog, you know that from time to time I’ve been trying to bring you, the reader of the blog (if I’m the blogger, are you the blogee?), into my wacky, arcane, never-been-done-before process of writing.

 Here’s another one: The good news about finally getting the first pass of The Devil’s Quota back from my editor is that it coincides with a holiday, and holidays usually coincide with me taking a trip which ultimately winds up with me under an umbrella on a Caribbean beach with a thick, four-inch spiral bound notebook of three-hole punched, 385 page manuscript. Oh, and a red pen.

 In the prima facie case of the ultimate beach read, while bikini clad Bunnies and really buffed Brads wave at some Steves and Bobs who are bobbing in the water, I sit in the shade under an umbrella, looseleaf across my lap, red pen at the ready, attempting to be an unbiased, unemotional, disconnected reader/arbitrator of that which I wrote.

 It’s an interesting process: That progress from the writing phase to the editorial stage acts as a kind of mental sorbet, cleansing the mental palate. This allows attacking the book fresh, and energizes me with very insightful and illuminating powers. The biggest advantage is the modality switch from the extreme high-definition quality of a retina display laptop to reading toner on paper. That, in and of itself, it is a transformational step.

 For someone born before the computer, who learned how to read on paper, there is actually a discernible difference. The skill, the comprehension and the “Oh geez, I didn’t notice that on the screen!” moments overtake you when you are actually holding the book. Somewhere in between, my “workday” on Isla Verde also has a Piña Colada (virgin of course, I’m working) and various friends and curiosity seekers stopping by, wondering why I’m sitting under an umbrella doing my homework when everybody else is playing.

Tom Avitabile | Don't Cry For Me, Puerto RicoI will come home from the Caribbean with not only sand in my bathing suit, but hopefully sand-sprinkled pages of a manuscript. I’ll shake it out—the sand, all those crazy knotted sentences, all those overused pronouns, all those not-defined-well set up scenarios and characters, all shaking loose with them—leaving only a pristine, perfect first draft which will then go back to my editor. As the shampoo bottle taught us: repeat, rinse, repeat.

 *Editor’s note: To that end, there will an Ethan Cross guest blog filling this space- enjoy.

Avitabile
Tom Avitabile
http://tomavitabile.com/
tom@spadvertising.com

Hold Page 1 Clancy Died!

Avitabile - Tom ClancyThe King is dead!

For myself and millions of others, Tom Clancy, was the King of the techno-thriller. I was brought into reading fiction by his excellent work. I have first editions of every one of his Jack Ryan series. But what I really got from Mr. Clancy was a reverence and respect for those who risk their tomorrows for our safety today.  Before The Hunt for Red October, Clear and Present Danger, The Sum of All Fears and the others, military heroes were mostly one-dimensional war-fighters. Clancy opened them up, made them regular people with a skill set to be respected and he gave them souls. Without overtly writing it out, he revealed the warrior’s code, he brought a level of admiration, professionalism and honor that filled in the outlines sketched by the likes of John Wayne et al.

Clancy also appealed to me because he was a master at explaining the technical on the way to laying the foundation for a heart-racing story.  Also because he was just an insurance salesmen fooling around with his kid’s video game and synthesized one of the greatest Naval techno-thrillers of all time.

His prescient detailing of a jumbo jet passenger plane being used as a guided missile years before 9/11 was the kernel at the heart of this very blog, “It’s Only Fiction `til It Happens!”

I have homages to TC throughout my work. Just short of plagiarism, my Dick Bridgestone, super-operative, who is a fierce warrior and expert spy, is kinfolk of John Terrence Kelly or as we know him, Clancy’s John Clark.

In fact, in my first book, I had my lead character, Bill Hiccock actually consult a best selling author on some “What-if” scenarios as he tried to figure out what the bad guys were up to.  With Clancy in mind, I set the meeting on a palatial mid-atlantic estate on the Chesapeake, replete with military artifacts and statues and hardware on the grounds.  I had him negotiating his “rate” as getting to fire off the 16-inch guns on the U.S.S. Iowa, his fall back position was if he could shoot off one cruise missile. Speaking as a “novelist” he gave my Professor Hiccock the novel idea which became the inciting element to his quest. My “Clancy” couched his idea in the phrase, “If I were writing the book I’d….”

Tom Clancy has achieved what many of us write for, immortality. Although he is gone, his work will never leave us.

God rest your soul, Tom Clancy.

Here’s the excerpt from The Eighth Day where I had Hiccock meet with Frank “Clancy” Harris:

CHAPTER 12 PEN AND SWORD

The exclamation “Pull!” was followed shortly by an ear-piercing shotgun blast which shattered a clay pigeon. The pieces fell serenely into the Chesapeake Bay. The skeeter, in shooting goggles, ear protectors, duck hunter’s hat, and red flannel jacket, was bestselling author Frank Harris. When he was 45, he started fooling around with some military-styled video games, and a year later wrote his first thriller, which became a huge hit.

At the age of 55, the former bank manager was a multi-million-dollar word machine churning out high-tech spy and political novels. Although Harris never served in the military, when his publisher dressed him up in pseudo military casual attire for the picture on his dust jackets, he looked every bit the part of a retired flag officer. He had handsome features, and the peaked cap covering his balding head made him appear years younger.

He was firing from the jetty that extended into the bay from his 25-acre waterfront estate. Hiccock, standing next to him, recoiled from the kickback as the next blast emptied out of the double-barrel shotgun in his hands.

“This is about the terrorists isn’t it?” Harris asked as he removed his ear protectors and walked over to the gun table.

Hiccock smiled. How could he have expected this guy not to figure it out? “Let’s make believe you didn’t ask that and I didn’t nod, okay?”

“Just like in one of my books. What’s the Washington braintrust think?”

“They’re looking for the ghost of cold wars past. They are so inside that box, a light goes on when you open the door. That’s why I’m here.”

“Generals always lose the start of the next war because they fight it like the last war. After a few licks, they’ll catch on.” Harris wiped down the shotgun and placed it on the table.

“Something tells me the clock may run out before we get off the last shot.”

“Well, I think I know what you’re looking for, but it’s going to cost you.”

Hiccock surveyed the vast accumulated wealth of Harris’ surroundings. A quarter of a mile behind him, knights in armor, forever mounted on stuffed horses, stood on motionless display behind the 20-foot glass windows of Harris’ armaments room. A Sherman Tank was propped up like a statue with a landscaped circular garden surrounding it amidst original Remmington sculptures with a few Robert E. Lee pieces thrown in for good measure. It was Harris’ private homage to man’s largest and longest-running endeavor: war.

“Forgive me, but what else could you possibly need or want?”

“The U.S.S. Iowa.”

“The what?”

“I want one magazine battery, three cycles, nine rounds,” Harris said matter-of-factly as he reset his “ear muffs” and heaved a shotgun into the ready position. “Pull!” he called to his houseboy, butler, or whoever was launching the clay pigeons, 50 yards downrange from them. The clay pigeon disappeared in a smear of powder. “I get to squeeze ‘em off!”

“Let me get this straight, Mr. Harris. You want the United States battleship Iowa for target practice?”

“Each shell weighs 2,700 pounds, is 16 inches around and can hit a target 20 miles away. Ever hear one of those babies go off as it belches out flame and smoke? What a sight! What a sound!” He gently wiped down his prize shotgun. He picked up a smaller weapon.

“How about a million dollars, a plane, and enough fuel to make it to a sympathetic country?”

“Okay, one cruise missile?”

“I can’t believe I am negotiating weapons of mass destruction with you!”

“That’s what you need to afford the best-selling author who has everything.”

“Deal. I hope.”

“Trance-inducing visual graphics,” Harris said plainly.

Hiccock again smiled. “That’s certainly outside the box. You mean brainwashing by computer?”

“If it was my novel and I was writing it, I would have the bad guys lulling regular people in with hypnotic graphics, the kind only a computer can make. Clicking the mouse would make the graphics swirl and perform. When their mouse click responses start to lag or match a predetermined rhythm, then I‘d know they were going under and ready to accept input. All that would be left to do is implant the commands. Maybe by telephone.”

“That is brilliant. I’ll order a check of the phone company logs.”

“Yeah, maybe I shouldn’t have told you. It would have made a great book. Well it’s yours now. Time to feed more fish.”

“Feed more fish?”

Harris picked up one of the target pigeons. “I have them specially made from freeze-dried compressed fish food. Mixed with a little egg, they harden like clay. The minute they hit the water they re-hydrate into fish food.” He brandished an Uzi sub- machine gun. “Watch this.” He smiled at Hiccock. “Pull!” he barked.

With the sound of a zipper, the gun spit out 30 rounds per second. The plate was not exactly shattered as much as separated in mid-air, continuing in the rough shape of a plate until gravity pulled the falling pieces apart. “Neat huh?” he asked with the excitement of a schoolboy.

•••

Avitabile
Tom Avitabile
http://tomavitabile.com/
tom@spadvertising.com