Mar 262013
Interception City, Published by Black Mask, March 15, 2013

Interception City, Published by Black Mask, March 15, 2013

The best thing any crime writer can do to make his protagonist more sympathetic and far stronger is to provide a worthy (think: very strong, horribly bad or genuinely psychotic) antagonist in the mix.

Endlessly taught in most of the creative writing classes I’ve had, the villain provides the steel spine to any good thriller or action piece. You can make the protagonist as pure or as interesting or even as damaged as you like, but his adversary in evil better be virtually unstoppable.

And evil in ways most of us would rather not even imagine. But as crime or thriller writers, we must. Ask Stephen King.

Anyway, looking back quite a few years, the most obvious example of this to me is the first Dirty Harry movie, called (unsurprisingly) Dirty Harry.

In it, a young Clint Eastwood is excellent as rogue cop Harry Callahan, a legalized killer with a .44 Magnum, but his stature was greatly elevated (as far as the audience was concerned) when he came up against the shockingly savage villainy of the psychotic Scorpio Killer, played with manic intensity by Andy Robinson.

Andy Robinson did such a great job, in fact, playing a murderous and almost-unstoppable lunatic, that it was said producers and casting directors in Hollywood wouldn’t meet with him for a long time afterward, fearing he was too much in real life like the part he’d so brilliantly played.

And when he was blasted away by Dirty Harry’s .44 Magnum in the last act, it was a feeling, I’ll admit, of great satisfaction. The Scorpio Killer finally, after getting away with so damn much, paid for his horrifying sins with his life.

Justice. Or just a need on the audience’s part for a form of simple revenge. For being such a terrible person. Seriously.

The bad guy’s antics are, after all, much of the reason (unsavory or not) that we continue to watch, or to turn the page, waiting for that final moment when the villain’s either blasted into oblivion or, at the very least, arrested and hauled away.

In other words, something inside of each of us can’t stand to see the son of a bitch get away with it.

Ten years later, another of the great bad guys, also played with brilliant savagery, was James Remar as Albert Ganz,  the psychopath of 48 Hours (the violent but hilarious feature film debut of Eddie Murphy, not the TV news show).

Ganz killed as easily as he breathed, and went off like a Chinese firecracker at the slightest provocation, again providing all of us in the audience with a great sense of relief when Nick Nolte eventually shot him multiple times.

Which brings us, in my opinion, to one of the greatest feat(s) of film villainy in many a year, performed by the superb actor Alan Rickman.

Within four years, Rickman managed to play three of the coldest, yet wittiest, villains the screen has ever seen, thus adding that steel spine to three great thrillers.

In the original Die Hard, 1988, as Hans Gruber, he was the brilliant but murderous killer who masterminded the almost-murder of an entire office building full of people, thus giving Bruce Willis a chance to be exactly what a real hero should be.

In Quigley Down Under, 1990, as Elliot Marston, he was the evil Australian ranch owner who was systematically committing genocide against the aborigines until American gunman Tom Selleck shot him down, along with his two evil cohorts, in Marston’s own front yard.

And last, but not least, in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, 1991, Rickman was the mercilessly evil but wisecracking Sheriff of Nottingham, a part played to the hilt by a truly gifted actor, until Kevin Costner ran him through. And through again, I think.

It’s been a while.

In any case, none of the movies above would’ve been as thrilling, or would’ve played out or ended as strongly, had it not been for the superb villains that each provided.

Which reminds me.

When it comes to superb villains, I have to mention the greatest recent villain to calmly (and sometimes humorously) murder his way across a huge expanse of silver screen:

Javier Bardem as the epitome of heartless and pure evil, Anton Chigurh, in the Coen Brothers’ masterpiece, No Country For Old Men, 2007.

A terrifyingly realistic but somehow subdued performance in every way, Javier Bardem’s bad guy even terrified all the other bad guys in the film. And rightly so. And at the same time gave the film such brilliant forward momentum that it rocketed through to the shocking end.

And if you haven’t seen it yet: shocking is the right word.

In any case, my newest crime thriller, Interception City, written under my pseudonym Parker T. Mattson, is now out in paperback, published by the great folks at Black Mask, and will soon be available as an e-Book as well.

And, yes, I’ve tried to make the bad guys very, very bad, heartless and genuinely evil, even hatefully so, just in case some bad things finally happen to them in the final chapters.

Which would be justice, believe me. And will probably happen, but I’m giving away nothing here. It’s a thriller, after all, and I might’ve (or might not have) broken some rules.

Here’s the link on Amazon, in case you’re interested:

If you read it, let me know what you think.




Writing under a pseudonym

 Joe Moore, pen names, pseudonyms, writer tips, writers, Writing, writing tips  Comments Off on Writing under a pseudonym
Mar 212012

by Joe Moore

A couple of weeks ago, my Kill Zone blog mate, Kathleen Pickering, posted her thoughts on Brand Marketing. In it she discussed among other things using a pseudonym or pen name in relation to building a writer’s brand. One of the reasons Kathy gave for creating an alter ego and using a pen name is liability. Today I want to expand on other reasons for writing under a pseudonym.

Lets start by dropping some names. Ever heard of Samuel Langhorne Clemens, Alisa Zinov’yevna Rosenbaum, Harry Patterson, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, Eric Arthur Blair, David John Moore Cornwell, and Jim Czajkowski? Chances are you have. They’re all world famous writers. But you probably know them by their pen names because they all write under pseudonyms.

Why would a successful author (or any novelist) write under a pseudonym? And should you consider using one?

By definition, a pen name is a pseudonym used in place of the real author’s name. Here are some reasons to use one.

Pro. Let’s say you’re a well-established writer who wants to change genres. You normally write young adult science fiction but now you want to write cozy adult mysteries. Admittedly, the audience is different and your SF fans might not follow you. Plus, your potential cozy audience might not accept you if they’re aware of your previous work. So changing genre can be a good reason to use a pen name. Also, abandoning a failed book series or moving to a new publisher might be a reason to take on a new identity and start over.

Pro. Your real name doesn’t market well to your genre. The action/adventure novel TANK COMMANDER FROM HELL by Mandrake Slaughter would probably attract more fans of that genre than TANK COMMANDER FROM HELL by Percival Glockenspiel. And Mandrake Slaughter is easier to pronounce.

Pro. For whatever reason, you need your identity to remain anonymous and protected. Let’s say you’re a high-ranking government official who decides to write a thriller that comes uncomfortably close to reality. To reveal your true identity would create a totally different spin on your book, one you might want to avoid.

Pro. Your name is too long or it’s hard to pronounce. In the case of James Rollins, his real name is Jim Czajkowski. A wonderful name, but not easy on the eyes. BTW, Jim also writes fantasy novels under the name James Clemens. Also keep in mind that the shorter the name, the larger it can appear on the cover. Just ask Brad Thor.

Pro. Your real name just happens to be Ernest Hemingway or F. Scott Fitzgerald or Dan Brown. Start thinking about a pen name.

Pro. Sex. By that I mean that you’re the wrong gender. You want to write romance and you’re a guy. Plus, your real name is Mandrake Slaughter. Or your main character is a black female and you’re a white male with an unmistakable WASP name. The marketing starts when the reader first sees the title followed by your name. It has to make sense to them that you’re qualified to write the book.

Pro. There are two of you. Sometimes keeping the real names of writing teams works such as Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. In their case, both authors write individually under their real names, too. Other times, choosing a single pen name makes more sense.

Now for a big reason to not use a pen name: It will always come out at some point that it’s not your real name, either in a book review, or at a writer’s conference, or during an interview, or in your Wikipedia bio; the truth will be revealed that your real name is Percival Glockenspiel. But if you don’t mind the inevitable, then go for it. The best advice is to discuss it with your agent and editor. Weigh all the marketing pros and cons. It works well for some, but not for all. Have a really compelling reason before you make the commitment and it gets embossed in gold on your book cover.

So, did you know the real names of the authors mentioned at the start of this blog? Here they are:

Samuel Langhorne Clemens is Mark Twain

Alisa Zinov’yevna Rosenbaum is Ayn Rand

Harry Patterson is Jack Higgins

Charles Lutwidge Dodgson is Lewis Carroll

Eric Arthur Blair is George Orwell

David John Moore Cornwell is John le Carre

Jim Czajkowski is James Rollins

Do you writer under a pen name? Have you ever considered it?

Feb 232012

By Jordan Dane

I’m teaching an online writing class from Feb 20 – Mar 2, hosted by YARWA, the online chapter for Young Adult Romance Writers of America. We’ve chatted about how to get over the hump and finish a book once you’ve stalled out for various reasons. Some people might call this writer’s block, but for me, I refuse to acknowledge anything like that exists. It’s too easy to blame an affliction we seemingly have no control over. I prefer to think my brain is secretly trying to tell me something that I’m not hearing, even though we are close neighbors.

When I can’t hear my brain SCREAMING at me to stop writing, apparently my body can hear that pesky 3-pounds of mush. My fingers boycott me and quit hitting the keyboard or I find many excuses to distract myself—even doing laundry, for cryin’ out loud. Now that’s desperate.

I’ve learned to listen to my body when this happens. It’s my interpreter when it comes to “brain speak.” One way to get me back on track is first understand and accept that my brain is trying to tell me something about the plot, character revelation/motivation, or certain scenes aren’t working and could be better. Usually this part only lasts hours or a day or two, or a good night’s sleep. I’ve found answers for my dilemma in commercials, the NOVA channel, and even have found the complete ending of a book from watching an old skateboard flick, starring Christian Slater, called “Gleaming the Cube.”

But when I can’t find the answer alone, I’ve found a tried and true method for me is cornering ANYONE to listen to me ‘splain it. Usually this poor person is my husband, John. We can chat over breakfast, spending quality time talking about how to kill people and get away with it, or he listens to my ramblings as we drive. (Your gas mileage may vary.) One thing amazes me about this process. It doesn’t seem to matter who I corner or how I ‘splain it, I invariably come up with the answer on my own as I talk it out. It seems the brain needs the mouth to communicate back to my brain. What a weird Détente!

If you haven’t tried this, do it. It will blow your mind. Literally! I’ve concluded that since I spend most of my day in my own head—without speaking—that when I finally DO speak, my brain is listening and finally sends messages that result in solutions. Things I wouldn’t have explored purely thinking about them. Apparently explaining things to someone outside my “brain trust”—whether they ultimately contribute to the process or not is irrelevant—forces me to work things out in a way I can’t do on my own. The act of being more thorough in my explanation seems to be a critical element to my process.

But given the old adage about a tree in the forest, does it take someone else listening to get results to my dilemma? Or is this the first stages of schizophrenia and my way of justifying it? I haven’t ranted to me, myself, and I on this yet. That day might come on its own—along with a nice helping of meds.

Please share with us:

1.) How do YOU jumpstart your writing process?

2.) What have been your strangest diversions when you should have been writing?

Below is a video on how the publishing industry works from author to store:

Feb 222012

By Joe Moore

You finished writing your first book. Congratulations. The good news is, you’ve accomplished something that only a small percentage of the population ever will. Most just dream about it. Few really do it.

Now for the bad news: Your first book is not publishable.

What? Joe, are you crazy? Everyone says my book is great. My mom loves it. My neighbors and the girl that cuts my hair said it was a potential bestseller—as good as King and Patterson. I’ve even been told by my uncle who watches lots of movies that it would make a blockbuster feature film. JJ Abrams would snap it up in a heartbeat. So how can you say that about a book you haven’t even read?

The reason I can say it with confidence is that I’ve found first novels to all be the same—not in subject matter but in common, predictable flaws. And if by some miraculous stroke of luck the literary gods smiled down and your first book is publishable as written, then I would suggest you run to the nearest convenience store and buy a lottery ticket. There’s a good chance you’re on a roll.

I’ve made a list of the most common flaws of first novels. Keep in mind that having one or even a couple of these present in your book will not render the manuscript DOA. But I guarantee you’ll find all of them in the typical first attempt at writing a novel. Here they are in no particular order of importance.

You often use adverbs at the end of dialog tags to “tell” the reader what emotion the character feels. Example: “I’m mad as hell,” he said angrily. “I love you,” she said adoringly.

You rarely utilize any of the 5 senses to draw the reader into the scene.

You resolve conflict with coincidence or luck.

Your manuscript is filled with back-stories that don’t relate to the plot or develop the characters.

You head-hop within a scene between multiple POVs.

You tell the story rather than show it.

You have a “unique” approach to the use of the English language and the mechanics and structure of writing in it. Note: I mean this in a bad way.

Each page is filled with an abundance of adjectives that if deleted would not change anything other than make the writing cleaner.

You recently discovered the exclamation point and want your readers to share in your excitement.

You love ellipses . . .

You have a pet word or phrase that you feel compelled to repeat often in hopes that it will become a favorite of your reader.

You beat your readers over the head with repeated facts just in case they didn’t get it the first dozen times.

Your text is riddled with more clichés than you could shake a stick at.

You use profanity for no other reason than shock.

Your dialog sounds as natural as a first grade primer.

Your characters continually use the name of the person to whom they’re speaking.

You overuse flashbacks and/or start the story with one.

Act II sags like a piece of pulled taffy.

Your story wanders.

Your story starts in the wrong place.

You’re not sure how to create suspense, so you commit “author intrusion” even though you have no idea what the term means.

You confuse the reader.

Your facts are incorrect. Example: The assassin attached the silencer to the revolver so no one would hear the shots.

You slip from past tense to present in narration.

You describe every movement, every second, every detail and every breath of your characters actions for no apparent reason.

You don’t know when to end a scene.

Your plot is a rehash of The Perils of Pauline—your protagonist jumps from one terrible situation to the next equally terrible situation with no dynamics or variation in terribleness.

You either have no subplots or enough for 10 books.

All your characters sound the same when they speak.

Your characters have no flaws.

You rely on stereotypes. The men are all handsome with chiseled faces and athletic bodies. The women are beautiful fashion models. And the bad guys are ugly, disgusting monsters. Note: This is OK if your antagonist is actually an ugly, disgusting monster.

Your story is melodramatic.

Your target audience doesn’t exist.

You manuscript is infested with misspellings, the wrong use of words, grammatical errors, and missing or incorrect punctuation.

You believe that placing the word “very” or “really” in front of an adjective increases the descriptive value of the adjective.

And the one that I see most often: You find it impossible to tell someone what your book is about without rambling on for 10 minutes.

Everyone’s first book contains just about all of the above. Mine did, and I’ll bet yours did, too. But that’s OK. That’s part of the learning process on the road to becoming a published novelist. Every professional was first an amateur. Every bestselling author wrote a first novel that should never see the light of day. Chances are, it was just as full of these flaws as yours and mine.

The secret to this whole novel-writing thing is to keep writing. Few first novels are accepted by an agent much less bought by a publisher. Published first novels are the exception to the rule. For the rest, you’ve got to write that second book. And the third. And the fourth. That’s how you refine the craft. And with each manuscript, you learn to use less clichés, eliminate “very” from your vocabulary, delete needless “ly” words, make your characters more human, find your voice, and all the other thousands of parts to crafting a well-written story.

My mother used to say that when making pancakes, always throw the first one out. That’s because it takes cooking one to make sure the temperature of the griddle is properly set, the thickness and consistency of the batter is just right, and the timing of when to flip the cake is confirmed.

This pancake rule should apply to all first novels. Write it. Learn from it. Make the adjustments. Put it away. And cook some more pancakes.

How many of the flaws-list items did your first book contain? How many books did you write before you got published? Are there any other additions to the list that you’ve seen with first-time writers?