Sunday, August 28, 2011

First Foray: Choosing a Topic for Your Debut Thriller, by @mrneil98

As is the case of many avid readers, I have a desire to write. Although my dabbling in gothic horror in the late seventies took a backseat to career and family took forefront, I continued to read, shifting genres from horror to mystery to history to thriller, with many of my favorites encompassing some combination thereof.  Now with my career settled and my nest mostly emptied, I’ve been  re-examining the possibility of writing, this time focusing on the thriller genre. Here-in lies my conundrum. What should be the topic of my first foray?

I have read novels by scores of thriller writers, following many from their first to their most current publication. Utilizing my mathematics background, I analyzed a number of first novel themes. Although the range was wide, I’ve determined that the topic should either be Atlantis or the Knights Templar (at least if you go by mode, since I‘m not sure how to average themes).  As a writer, you wish to focus on an area of interest for the readers and these are two popular topics for writers trying to create a market.

Often it takes an author several books to become an “overnight sensation”, like Dan Brown or Steve Berry. Each had two or three previous books overlooked or rejected outright. It wasn’t until The DaVinci Code with underlying Templar themes, that Brown became a force and readers revisited his previous three works. Similarly, Steve Berry’s third novel, The Templar Legacy, was his breakthrough publication that allowed his previous works (The Third Secret, The Amber Room) to reach a market. There are many other authors that chose the Knights as their preliminary offering. Raymond Khoury hit the NY Times  bestseller list with The Last Templar (and revisited with his fourth The Templar Salvation) and Paul Christopher has also created a  series of Templar books.

Atlantis is another mystery that has intrigued readers, and consequently writers, over recent years. It seems that many writers searching for an initial foothold have explored the mystery of Atlantis. The lure has not only  attracted initial publications like; David Gibbons (Atlantis), Andy McDermott (Hunt for Atlantis), and Thomas Greanias (Raising Atlantis), but established writers have explored the Atlantis phenomenon in novels like Atlantis Found by Clive Cussler and even James Rollins’ YA series with Jake Ransom.

As I reflect on these repeating themes, I attempt to derive a unique perspective but alas, so many writers and so few topics. So where do I go with my first  endeavor?  Atlantis or Knights Templar? Can I merge them somehow? Has that been done yet? At the very least I, like both the aspiring and successful writers who came before, will always have the Nazis to fall back on. 

Sunday, August 21, 2011

"Cold Vengeance" by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child, Post by @mrneil98

I have eagerly awaited the release of the new Aloysius X.L. Pendergast  installment, Cold Vengeance for a year. Let it be known at the outset, that Preston and Child have created a tense thriller to compliment the rest of the series. I will elaborate in a bit, but first, a diatribe that was initiated by George Lucas and The Empire Strikes Back.

The year was 1980 and I had just graduated college. I paid my $3 and sat with friends to watch this sequel to Star Wars. I was awed by the story and visual effects, which contained several huge surprises; Han Solo gets captured, Luke and Darth Vader duel and Luke loses a hand but gains a father. Then the credits started to roll. I remained firmly planted in my seat, not because of the sticky floor, but because I was waiting for the remainder of the movie.

“It’s the second part of a trilogy”, my friend said, as if this would alleviate my dissatisfaction. It did not. To this day I have not seen Return of the Jedi or the other three films, and will not, until I get a written apology from George Lucas and my three bucks back! This experience has made me suspicious toward the “middle child” of literary and cinematic trilogies. 

The second tale of a predetermined trilogy must often struggle with an “identity crisis”. The elder book has set the stage and is lavished with praise while the youngest, last installment gets the attention with a satisfying conclusion but the middle story is often neglected and unfulfilled. While Cold Vengeance is the middle book of the Helen trilogy, Preston/Child had an earlier trio centering on Pendergast’s evil brother, Diogenes. That middle book, Dance of Death, was the best of a strong triad, so my hopes were elevated but unfortunately I came away thinking this book should be subtitled, The Pendergast Strikes Back .

Vengeance begins where Fever Dream ended with Pendergast investigating the death of his wife Helen. It opens with a bang in Scotland (literally), and eventually makes it back to New York where a large part of the action takes place. Returning are Vincent D’Agosta and now college student Corrie, from Still Life With Crows. The action is very intense and there are many scenes with authentic and sustained suspense. While revisiting the Vengeance for this blog, I appreciate it more the second time. Still, I did have that unsatisfied feeling at the conclusion, which I hadn’t felt  with Dance of Death. Both novels leave you with cliffhanging endings but Dance seemed to be more of a complete work. I think part of the reason is that the conclusion, Book of the Dead, was already on the shelf. This time I must wait a year for the finale of the Helen Trilogy.

Cold Vengeance is a wonderful read as the summer winds down, provided you read Fever Dream first. Be warned that you will need to delay your immediate gratification since the conclusion, Return of the Pendergast is a year off.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

"The Silent Girl" by Tess Gerritsen

Another rock out loud thriller novel from a female author.  I don't say this like it's some kind of shock or surprise when it happens, but rather because I continue to notice a rather sexist bent within our not-so-little community of thriller readers that slants towards male authors.  So much so that many thriller authors of the female persuasion choose to use their initials rather than put out there that they are women.

Enough's enough already, guys.  Let's get completely over this particular little quirk and just... move on.  These women are creating thriller fiction that is fun, fast-paced, adrenaline-filled and un-put-downable.  They also manage to infuse a level of perspective and flexibility into their story telling that male authors will occasionally let slide.  And I'm a guy.

Okay.  Done with my soap box rant.  This novel's a winner.  Sure, if you're not into paranormal stuff permeating your straight-up-thriller, you may be a little bugged, but keep reading.  This one will grab you by your unmentionables and keep tugging while you breathlessly beg for more.  Good stuff.  Really good stuff.  Oh, and if you're new to Tess Gerritsen, this is her 9th (yes, NINTH) Rizzoli and Isles novel.  So, if you like, there's more where this puppy came from.  Lots more.  Plus a TV series and stuff.  :)

And if you don't dig on the thrillers, the interesting bent this one has will serve to introduce you a bit more gently to this genre.  It's cool.  It's dark.  It's intense.  And it's just an absolute page-turner.  So give it a shot and let me know what you think!

You can buy The Silent Girl here.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Oh Baby, It's Cold Inside (These Thrillers) Post by @mrneil98

Yes, I know it’s summer and it’s supposed to be hot but these last two weeks have been extreme. Several days in triple digits, topping out at 106 in Newark, NJ last Friday. One of the greatest challenges was rotating the ice cube trays properly so there would always be some available. During this time I finished reading Monster of Florence by Douglas Preston, a non-fiction about a serial killer terrorizing the Tuscany section of Italy. Fascinating story and reflects on the current Amanda Knox case, particularly in the handling of the investigation but that is a blog for another day. Looking for a new novel I perused my bookcase and was immediately drawn to titles like The Ice Limit, Ice Hunt and Iceberg. I began reflecting on thrillers I have read with a frigid setting and a “chilling” title.

After eliminating dozens of “Ice” titles (whether Black, Blue, Crimson or with Fire) due to the use of ice as slang for diamonds, I whittled the voluminous  pile to my top four with an honorable mention from the same author. While I tried to achieve the initial cooling off from the title, the setting of the novel is far more important to plummeting the temperature of our psyche. So here they are in David Letterman-esque countdown form:

4.            Iceberg by thrill master Clive Cussler. An early Dirk Pitt (when I devoured them) where a Viking ship is found incased in, well, you can guess. Although a little dated technologically, Cussler is an excellent storyteller who influenced many of the current generation of writers. Every time I read a Rollins novel with Gray Pierce and Monk Kokkalis interacting, it reminds me of Dirk Pitt and Al Giordino.  Honorable Mention: Artic Drift also by Cussler, co-written by his son Dirk. The later Dirk Pitt adventures also have his twin adult children that magically appeared around the fifteenth book of the series. This book centers around mysteries involving the Northwest Passage.

3.            The Shining by Stephen King. Although the title does not immediately give you that arctic blast, the setting is a snow-bound Colorado hotel in the dead of winter. King masterfully uses the weather as a tool to further isolate Jack Torrance. The book is amazing but the movie is a huge disappointment (as with most film versions of novels). Where the written word leads to tension and suspense, the film caused unintended laughter.  Honorable Mention: Misery by King. Again, the snow-bound setting, although this time back home in Maine. One of the few books that translated just as well to the screen thanks to an amazing performance by Kathy Bates.

2.            Ice Hunt by James Rollins. This pre-Sigma chiller features the abandoned Soviet Ice Station Grendel, which may not be completely empty. The ice station is located on an island of ice. This novel introduces the character of seaman Joe Kowalski, now a member of Sigma and an excellent source of humor to relieve the tension of the moment. Rollins spun him off with a 2005 short story “Kowalski in Love” then he became “the muscle” for Sigma and now, as of The Devil Colony, a full member.  Honorable Mention: Doomsday Key by Rollins. Although not entirely set in the frigid climate, a good portion takes place in Norway and in particular the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. Besides, I must include any book where the heroes are rescued from certain death by a rampaging herd of polar bears.

1.            The Ice Limit by Doug Preston and Lincoln Child. A billionaire is after a meteor that he believes is on an island between South America and Antarctica. An earlier novel that introduced the intriguing engineering genius Eli Glinn, who returned in several Pendergast books and now is the mission provider of the Gideon Crew series.  Honorable Mention: Terminal Freeze by Lincoln Child. A solo venture about the discovery and thawing of new species of prehistoric cat, the book is simultaneously a thrilling creature feature and a satire of current television entertainment. It works wonderfully on both levels.

There are so many more cool books to chill with during the dog days of summer but I recommend losing yourself in the wintry terror of one of these featured titles.