While I’ve been off blatantly neglecting this blog (this is why I don’t buy plants), I do have a vaguely good reason – after my shortlisting for the Text Prize, I now have a literary agent, and to inflate my ego further there was even a press release about it here! (It’s behind a paywall, but you should totally join BplusP. It mentions that I’m one of Danielle’s first clients, that she’s super great, and I definitely do not have my fingers crossed behind my back when I claim that it says there will be publisher wars about it and I’ll immediately sell movie rights to Guillermo Del Toro and make billions.) Anyway, here’s to moderate success! *clinks glass on computer screen*
I’ve had a lot of fun barrelling through Steve Vincent’s Jack Emery books in the past, and you know my penchant for an author post – it’s essentially like reading and supplying Special Features, which I’ll always head to immediately when I’m watching a movie (yes, Netflix is making this redundant, but I’m always a slow adopter of tech. I’m getting my carrier pigeon to post this blog for me now.) And here, Steve has supplied us with…(drum roll)…
The Jack Emery (Near) Darwin Awards
Ah, the Darwin Awards, the annual event where people who die doing really stupid things are recognised and celebrated. Though unfortunate to be, well… dead, these fine individuals are the recipients of a certain honour – being infamous for the amazing way you left the planet.
I actually think next year’s awards should have a new category: the (near) Darwin Awards. These would be handed out to individuals who went really damn close to wiping themselves out in some wacky or wonderful way, but happened to survive.
If such an award existed and applied to fictional characters, then Jack Emery would come close to winning a (near) Darwin. Through the three novels he’s starred in – The Foundation, State of Emergency and Nations Divided (released 10 December) – he’s come close to death a few times.
If the dictionary definition of stupid is lacking intelligence or common sense, then it goes to reason that a character continuously getting in over his head and cheating death covers one or two of those bases. Jack isn’t stupid, but he probably does lack some common sense.
So here’s a countdown of the five best chances for Jack to walk away with a trophy.
Getting blown out of the sky in a a helicopter!
Jack was driven back into his seat as the pilot banked and climbed again. He smelled smoke. He turned his head to find the Seahawk was aflame, a massive hole in the rear of the aircraft.
Being last man standing in a to the death firefight… more than once!
Jack screamed as the world exploded in front of him. There was no way his voice could be heard over the roar of gunfire, the screams of combat troops and the cries of wounded men.
Having a knife held to his throat by a murderous, driven type!
When he saw her he tried to get to his feet. She pressed the knife hard enough to stall him. She heard him take a sharp breath, and then he slowly sat back down again.
Running towards danger, be it a sniper, a gunman or a tank!
They hadn’t made it to the far end when the deafening roar from the Abrams’ cannon sounded. The building shook with the impact and he heard the front of the building start to collapse.
Running away from his captors and into the desert, while being fired upon!
His heart sank. His run slowed to a jog, despite his pursuers. With helicopters in the air there was no point running.
I definitely feel there’s enough nominations for Jack to have a chance. The good news for him, as well, is that none of these nominations come from his third adventure – Nations Divided – which is out on 10 December. There’s certainly enough moments in that novel for a few more chances, too.
I love asking authors to write guest posts for Reading Kills. I don’t really give any instructions beyond “the story of your book”, because I like to hear what different authors make of it: whether they describe their desks, or the amount of time it takes, or the research – I like to hear whatever angle they want to bring to the discussion. And here, Chris Allen talks about his the Intrepid series, and why he makes things as tough for Alex Morgan as he does.
KEEP MOVING FORWARD
So, I was going to put together a few words about my writing process but then I started thinking about why I approach the books the way I do, particularly the central character – Alex Morgan. After all, before you work out how you’re going to write something – the process – you need to be clear about who or what you’re writing about. Writing in the Crime/Thriller/Espionage arena, I’m sometimes asked about why I don’t equip Morgan with all the latest high-tech gadgets and weaponry. The simple answer is – I don’t want to.
I guess the fundamental construct of my Alex Morgan character is based on the premise that I wanted to present a hero who – in each and every story – has to overcome overwhelming adversity and, ultimately, triumph over it. To achieve that I regularly put Morgan up against seemingly impossible situations without the ability to immediately resort to the use of the latest technology or hardware to get himself out of trouble. That’s quite deliberate on my part.
There are already a number of really great writers like Andy McNab, Vince Flynn and Tom Clancy who have very successfully created stories imbued with the latest tech and/or field craft. When I developed the Alex Morgan and Intrepid concept I made a conscious decision to strip back the resources available to the agents so that they were forced to rely mostly on themselves not weapons or tech. In fact, I spell this out very early in the first book DEFENDER when Arena Halls is commenting on Intrepid during a conversation with her boss, Abraham Johnson in Chapter 9:
“I understand the general’s known to run it old school, sir. Sends his agents out with the maxim ‘live by your wits’. He’s not keen on modern gadgets, or technology in the field… No fan of the modern ‘techno-spooks’, as he calls them.”
So, you see, this was a deliberate choice I made. The idea originally came from the Vietnam veterans who trained me as a young soldier and later as a young officer. They would regularly reinforce that all they had to rely on was their rifle and their mates. So, I simply wanted to honour that in the construct of the characters and stories I created.
Of course, in addition to all that, it is my job as an author first and foremost to entertain.
I set out to put the reader right there with the characters – embedded in the action – to, hopefully, feel as though they are living the experiences I am describing as they read. I set out to provide an escape from normal life, particularly for the majority of readers who have never had the experiences of ex-soldiers or law enforcement people. For example, if Alex Morgan simply emerges from out of nowhere and takes out all the villains with a silenced automatic then the action would be over and done with within the matter of a paragraph. There would be no confrontation. No odds to overcome. No contest to test the hero’s mettle. How do we know what he’s really capable of unless we take him to the brink of his own mortality? And if we don’t know the answer to that question, why would he be worth our effort and loyalty? Books are all about pace and excitement – to keep the story interesting and propel the reader through the pages. Our protagonist needs to be taken to the brink, allowing the reader to contemplate the very decisions the protagonist has to make that ultimately see them prevail or fail. All of the uncertainty and anxiety that the reader experiences in wondering whether or not the hero will survive an altercation, solve a crime or somehow beat the odds are fundamental to the readers enjoyment of the story.
I suppose there’s a bit of the Rocky Balboa approach to what I expose Alex Morgan to in my stories and I believe that’s why readers enjoy the stories: “But it ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward; how much you can take and keep moving forward.”
Helldiver, the fourth book in the Intrepid series, is out today – and you can find more info out here.
David Rollins a Sydney-based ex-journo, ex-advertising, now-pilot and now-author with a stack of thrilling novels up his sleeve and more to come. After his Special Agent Vin Cooper books, including the pulse-stopping Standoff, he’s now tackling the historical thriller with Field of Mars, tracing a lost legion in Ancient Rome. As a renowned nosey parker, I asked him to write about how he works.
I often get asked what my writing process is. The fact is, writing a novel is a pretty romantic notion for a lot of people. But is it? Most people envisage that they’ll be sitting in their study, soothing music playing, and otherwise undisturbed while the creative juices flow. Hmm…my reality is that I write at a desk in my bedroom, facing a brick wall. I used to listen to music, but for some reason I don’t any more. I used to do that so I could block out the real world and concentrate instead on the world playing out behind my eyes. I don’t need to do that anymore. I can hold reality at bay at will. I write sitting in departure lounges, or on planes, or in the back of taxis. I can write anywhere. Sometimes I have to because there’s not enough time for that desk in my bedroom.
For years I wrote 2000 words a day and I was religious about it. Sometimes that writing would start at 6 am and finish at 8 or 9 pm – whenever that 2000 words was on the hard drive. Some days I could peel off 2000 words a few hours. Sometimes the words come fast, and sometimes you have to lever them out with a crowbar. These days, there’s so much else I have to do that I’m happy if I just advance the story. Even a couple of hundred words, if that’s all I can manage.
When I’m in the middle of a manuscript, I go over and over the dialogue in my head until it sounds about right. Sounds cool, right? But often this happens at 4 in the morning when I’m trying to sleep. Or when I’m trying to exercise. Or when I’m watching my daughter play soccer. Or driving. Or at a restaurant with friends. In fact, sometimes I wish the voices in my head would just fuck off and leave me in peace. My wife will often say, “Hey, where are you?” because I won’t be in the here and now, I’ll be in someone else’s skin, in some other place, and, recently, in some other time. It’s relentless.
I also don’t always know exactly where the story will go, though I’m reasonably clear on where it will end up. I write a kind of an outline and this includes several key scenes I can see clearly. The outline is important – if it works, I know the book will work. This is my “spine” or “railway tracks” – I’ve heard a number of writers call this different things, but it’s all the same. If I don’t have something like this – even a paragraph – I know I might lose the plot.
You want to know one of my most favourite sounds? It’s the clatter of fingers on the keyboard of a computer. What a beautiful sound – all those words and thoughts being created. It’s like a rush of new life.
Is writing a novel romantic? Maybe it is, I don’t know. What I do know is that no one else will write it for me. If the words get written that’s me. If the words don’t get written that’s also me. So instead of going to the pub, I write. Instead of going to watch a game of rugby, I write. I’ve missed quite a lot over the years. And maybe lost a friend or two also. But in their place I now have 10 novels and each one has been its own adventure. I went to Siberia to research THE ZERO OPTION. And the Thai-Burma border for A KNIFE EDGE. For STANDOFF, I went to Colombia, Panama and Texas and hung out with The Texas Rangers and watched drug couriers come across the Rio Grande at night. I’ve also met some great people, though admittedly some of these have been conjured in my own brain.
And when you write the novel, you live with these people in your thoughts for the duration. That’s not always a good thing, believe me, because a novel has to be convincing. If you can’t convince yourself that the characters and the situation (or plot) is real, you can forget about convincing your readers. So when I’m deep in the story, the lines of what’s real and what’s in my imagination can get a little blurry. My family is used to it now, but the outcome is that I’m thought of (I believe) as being either vague and dreamy. There’s no room left in my head for names or faces or places that aren’t in my current book. It’s weird, I guess, but that’s how it rolls for me.
High Beam (check out my pal Karen’s review here)is the first book in the DI Mahoney series, set in Tasmania – and I’m thrilled to see books set in places you don’t see in literature as much – and is a pacey new read by S J Brown. Here, he tells us how his tale of politics, violence and football came to be.
WHY NOT ?
Despite an almost overwhelming body of advice not to, writers continue to embark on the perilous path to being a published author. And with the hope, again in the face of a welter of evidence pushing the contrary opinion, they may become commercially successful.
Why plug away for months, usually years, at creating a product that may be submerged by unpitying waves of indifference? Why do all the research into your subject area and work unceasingly at improving your writing technique if there is so slim a chance of actually seeing your novel on the shelves?
Quite simply because the risk is so great. You are not risking your life but you are placing a great deal else at risk; your sanity, self-esteem, sense of self, reputation, and belief in a fair and just universe all go on the line. You are truly putting yourself out there in front of “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.” Yet in doing so you are taking on life by endeavouring to leave your footprint in a definitive way.
And also because you soon realise that ‘success’ as an author comes in many forms. That is at the heart of what I have experienced over the past few years as I seek to make the transition from writer to author (my distinction is simple: an author is a published writer).
Here is why I believe I am a ‘successful’ author;
1. I acquired some ‘bum glue’ and sat down to write and write and write some more. Prior to hearing Michael Robotham’s blunt advice on how to be a writer I had dabbled and made a number of promising, but false, starts. I learned to make time to facilitate a writing schedule. I took steps to learn all I could about crafting fiction, the publishing industry and the specialities of my preferred genre (e.g. it would be hard to create good crime fiction without a solid grasp of forensics and investigative procedure). Then I cut, edited, re-wrote and effectively re-created my manuscript. I overcame lethargy. I learned the crucial truth that inspiration is but a small part of writing: perspiration is at the heart of so many good books.
I took pains to improve and, in doing so, I have experienced success in my battle with despair, self-doubt and fear. It’s an ongoing struggle but I’m advancing.
2. I have fallen deeply for the process. Professionals of all persuasions often talk about “being in the zone.” As I sit at my desk and disappear into the fictional world I’ve created there is a palpable sense of being completely engaged in the task. In the background ABC Classic FM is playing but the only times I consciously hear it is at the time-pips on the hour. Otherwise I’m with ‘my people’ and that’s a great feeling. I doubt the day will come when I feel the same about proofing a manuscript but you never know.
3. My books are on the shelves (and my e-books are in the cloud somewhere: I’m not overly technical). For an indie author to get your books placed is a real achievement. You have to sell your product (and yourself) very hard. Fortunately there are plenty of booksellers prepared to back authors who dare to ask. And they are selling. You won’t have seen me on the best-seller charts (just yet!) but they are selling.
4. The feedback is (largely) positive. Reviews, both informal and formal have been constructive and very encouraging. Bearing in mind obtaining any sort of review in the mainstream media is exceedingly difficult to accrue any publicity or critical feedback is a huge bonus.
5. I’ve had the opportunity to experience afresh the generosity of the wider community. While it could have been anticipated my local Dymocks proprietor (Ian Campbell in Hobart) would be a great source of commercial insight (I’m a long-time book buyer and we know each other through sport) it was an unexpected bonus to find, on a recent trek through country Victoria, so many booksellers giving up valuable time to offer advice and encouragement. (And agreeing to stock my titles!)
6. (Trumpet fanfare)! Early in 2016 I’ll be appearing at my first Literary Festival. This is big. I’m not kidding. Not just the occasion (Tamar Valley Literary Festival 2016) but the opportunity. It’s like your debut book launch, first author signing in a different town, premier radio interview: an event that reinforces a belief I am inching toward some semblance of public recognition that my input into the cultural world is valued.
With an acknowledgement to George Orwell, that’s why I write. Well, partly. Of course it’s do with a host of other reasons but the foregoing is my personal response to the question of why an embryonic writer should stick at it. To paraphrase another Anglo author, E M Forster, it is the way “to connect, only connect.”
For me, crime fiction is the best means to connect with other booklovers. Rather than construct a thesis on the attributes of the genre let me simply say this: it is the branch of fiction that deals most comprehensively with the trials and tribulations of life. My take on the police procedural is the “Whydunnit”: here the focus is on why seemingly quite normal people are driven to take life. The stress that drives someone to contemplate homicide and the pressure the detectives endure in the investigation of such a crime is at the heart of my “TAS Noir” novels.
Stephen Brown (S J Brown) is the author of the Detective Inspector Mahoney series. Set in Tasmania, they seek to show what is happening beneath the placid ‘tourist poster’ surface. HIGH BEAM and DEAD WOOD are available in stores.
When I started writing my crime novel, I had this ridiculous grand idea that I would circumvent every cliché known to criminal/literarykind. It’s the same mindset I had when I was pregnant: I am going to be very special and different and everything will be perfect. Turns out, to get to where you need to be, you do need to sometimes feed a kid junk food just to keep your sanity; you do need to sometimes stick in a bloodthirsty prologue just to keep things sufficiently violent.
Prologues, those dastardly things that have you seeing the crime from the criminal’s point of view, or from decades earlier when something deadly and vaguely-to-desperately relevant happened, or from the end of the book as someone clings for life and regrets the turn of events that brought them here—we’ve all read them. They aren’t the measure of whether a book is good or not, but I usually found them frustrating. Just get into it! I don’t want the killer’s italicised thoughts all over the first three pages. Stop giving me spoilers! I hate spoilers.
Then without even realising, I’d written a prologue that had a sinister lead-up to the crime in my book—a murder—that was not entirely relevant and set months before the core events. Good work, brain! I’ll high-five myself right in the forehead. So for my third draft I ditched it, thinking the book would be stronger for it. And perhaps it is, but there’s one thing missing: criminal tension. Instead, I’ve had to set up the circumstances leading to the death and how my protagonist gets there, and while things trip along there is not much in the immediate way of danger. And if, like me, your crime doesn’t happen smack at the start – if it needs a few wheels oiled, a few characters introduced or a few blissfully unaware days to pass – it can be worrying to an author that things aren’t, well, criminal enough. “Is this even crime?” a reader may lament as twelve pages are spent with bunnies leaping through dainty meadows. Of course, on page thirteen there’s a cyanide-laced rabbit trap in the grass or a sniper out for revenge on the bunny that killed his mother, but readers aren’t to know that. So how do you rope them in and tie them to a chair if the peaceful meadow is necessary? Well, there are a few options: make it unnecessary and cut out the first few pages that you wrote a year ago that were a masterpiece then but, possibly, a bit incoherent now; or put in a prologue. Make it violent or up the stakes. Threaten the person we’re going to officially meet on page one. Steal someone’s money. Travel through a creepy house. Kick a puppy. Make it known that this is a crime book and shit is going to get real. Do that, or do it early in chapter one.
So here’s my one piece of barely-professional advice: write a prologue if you must, but for the love of genre fiction, don’t do it in italics. I know, guys, I know. But don’t.