Tuesday, February 23, 2016

First Novel but NOT the Last (I hope)

I’m going to adding Matthew FitzSimmons to my list. What list? The list that includes Dick Francis, Lawrence Sanders, Frederick Forsythe and just a few others. My list of favorite authors for thrillers. This book I just finished by FitzSimmons was well worth the read and well worth looking for and waiting for a next one.

The characters in The Short Drop (here), were fun to read about. The story was twisty and turney and fun and thrilling . . . just what you want from a thriller. Had me guessing quite a bit (and actually, due to one or two holes still in the story, I’m still guessing), and it was fun to read from the beginning.

I even liked the last line! And that's a rarity (see here)

Out in the dark, he heard the creak and slam of a screen door.

FitzSimmons, Matthew -  The Short Drop

Just like with my books I like the idea of educating readers into facets of life that they may not know much about. In my case I chose adventure racing (On the Edge - here) and triathlons (Toe the Line - here). Dick Francis of course uses horse racing. I liked finding out about computer hacking. It wasn’t too heavy on the technical language, and FitzSimmons didn’t get too wrapped up into the nuance. Instead he used it to move the story along.

If I have one critique of this story it would be the end. It came quite abruptly. But what can I say . . . a reviewer has said the same thing about my own book (see here). I have decided to take that critique as a compliment. It wasn’t that the reader was upset by the abrupt ending, they were upset by the end itself. They wanted my story to keep going on and on and on. That’s how I felt about this book. 

Friday, February 5, 2016

Another First Line

I have a running list of first lines that I come across (see here). Some are labeled as "good first lines" (see here) other's get the label "bad" (see here). This list came about because of the heavy emphasis that publishers and readers place on first lines. As an aside . . . I also was compiling a list of "last lines" (see here), but the value of that list petered out due to just how rotten so many last lines are, so I kinda stopped that list a while back.

Today's first line comes from a novel called The Short Drop by Matthew FitzSimmons (see here).

Gibson Vaughn sat alone at the bustling counter of the Nighthawk Diner. The breakfast rush was in full swing as customers milled about, waiting for a seat. Gibson barely registered the crescendo of knives and forks on plates or the waitress who set his food down. His eyes were fixed on the television mounted behind the counter. The news was playing the video again. It was ubiquitous, part of the American zeitgeist— dissected and analyzed over the years, referenced in film, television shows, and songs. Like most Americans, Gibson had seen it countless times, and like most Americans he couldn’t look away no matter how often it aired. How could he? It was all he had left of Suzanne. 

The beginning of the video was grainy and washed out. The picture stuttered and frames dropped; distorted lines rolled up the screen like waves pounding an undiscovered shore. By-products of the store manager having recorded over the same videotape again and again and again. 

Shot down at an angle from behind the cash register, the footage showed the interior of the infamous service station in Breezewood, Pennsylvania. The power of the video was that it could have been anywhere. Your hometown. Your daughter. Viewed in its entirety, the silent security camera footage was a melancholic homage to America’s most prominent missing girl— Suzanne Lombard. The time stamp read 10: 47 p.m. 

FitzSimmons, Matthew - The Short Drop

Not the best first lines, but not bad either. The story actually becomes quite compelling quite quickly.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Since It's Ground Hog Day I Offer This

In honor of Groundhog Day I found this article from the Daily Beast called How to Write Groundhog Day: 10 Rules for Screenwriters by Danny Rubin (see here), author of one of my favorite movies, Groundhog Day with Bill Murray.

I actually contacted Danny Rubin several years ago to see if I could read his original script. I failed. He was very nice about it all, and it might have been my first contact with a true, professional writer. I think it had to do with the story regarding how long Bill Murray's character was stuck in that one day in the movie (see here). Then I read a great article by Jonah Goldberg in National Review about the script (see here . . . well worth the moment it takes to read it). That lead me to go try and find the original script. No joy.

I do like Rubin's article on writing. He offers some great thoughts including this one under the heading "Writers write. And rewrite."

"...most ideas tend to look fully formed and perfect until you actually try to write them down."

Each of my novels started in my head fully fleshed out. Then, as I began to write them, I realized there wasn't much meat on the bone. It took over a year of writing (and worse, rewriting) to get them even to the state they're in now. Funny how the brain can decieve a fellow in to believing its all done but the writing.

"You don’t have to put a gun to person’s head in order to make the stakes life and death. It can be a spiritual death." 

Rubin writes this when talking about Raising the Stakes. This is a common piece of advice. No one cares if the main character fails and he doesn't get the cheese that he wanted on his cheeseburger. But, if the world is about to explode, if the Pope is about to be assassinated, if an election is about to be stolen or a young girl is about to be murdered, well then all of a sudden the reader gives a damn.

This is actually something I struggle with and have been told as much by my beta readers. I need to stop some time during my writing and think to myself, "how can I make this all a bigger deal."

"When encountering a story issue that is keeping you from moving forward, the tendency is to look to plot for your solutions. How can he have a crowbar with him when he gets to the warehouse? How could she know about the baby at this point in the story? How did the car get from the impound lot to the airport? This kind of logistical thinking can drive you crazy and will often lead to some very convoluted plotting in order to get the result you want."

"Or you could tinker with your character. What skills do they have?  What happened in their background that might make them prepared for the challenge you’ve given them? What are they willing to do?"

This one I really struggle with. Allowing the character to drive the action is super tough. I have a plot and several sub-plots and I force the characters through that plot as if they were cars on a roller coaster track. I don't let the characters determine their own fate and what will happen. Not sure how to go about doing it, but having seen Groundhog Day I can certainly see what Rubin means.

It's great advice, and I love his work. Sure wish I had gotten a chance to see that original screen play. Maybe one day.

Monday, February 1, 2016

They Made a Movie of THIS?

I've read a half dozen or more Donald Westlake novels (some of which can be found here), and I have to say that I'm the least impressed by this one, Why Me (see here). So unimpressed in fact that yesterday's discovery that they had made a movie of it is not just surprising, it's utterly shocking.

Although funny and light and witty in the manner of Catch 22 and so many of Donald Westlake's other novels this one had absolutely no depth. It was one note. There was one plot and the story followed that plot along doggedly and without much verve or imagination.

There was one Donald Westlake I read (it was from the library which means I didn't blog about it, so I can't type "here") where he had a try and salvage a treasure from the bottom of a lake in upstate New York. Drowned Hopes (see here). That one was movie worthy. There was another one where he had to try and steal a jewel from a guy's house and the guy wanted him to do it. The Hot Rock (here). That was worth making a movie about. There was another where Dortmunder had to pretend to be a chauffeur in order to get to a painting. The Road to Ruin (here). That was worth a movie. This one was not.

Don't get me wrong, it was good. Like I said in my previous post (here) it is a good Donald Westlake novel. This one was just not as good as so many of the others.