Monday, August 29, 2016

Creating consequences

     The greatest satisfaction to me as a writer is touching other souls out there with a bit of knowledge new to them, or with some emotion that warms them or moves them to think a little more deeply about some aspect of life.  Or simply provides them with a vicarious escape into adventure or intrigue for a few hours.  I keep a nice thick file of e-mails and notes from readers who’ve liked my work.

     I sincerely hope my writing will never incite anyone to violence or cause anyone undue distress.

     Sadly, I don’t think our modern media has any such reservations, and I wonder if they take any responsibility at all for so often severely slanting the news that violence or despair or depression among many is the tragic result.

     When, for example, the beautiful TV talking heads in recent times have harped on single inflammatory phrases such as “unarmed black teenager” over and over and over, without ever telling the whole story, it is little wonder that riots have followed and that police have come under violent attack.  Equally dangerous are those TV stories that expose some weakness in our system that could be exploited by terrorists.  And the media will jump all over any story about terror incidents, granting the terrorists vast publicity—exactly what they were seeking.  Yet the media seem to admit no culpability whatsoever in any of this.

     Our words in fiction or in the media have tremendous power to help people.  Or to goad them to do wrong.

     Those of us who write fictional stories or report on real ones have an unwritten obligation to always take most seriously the potential consequences of our words.


Monday, August 22, 2016


     When I first began selling my debut novel in stores, I couldn’t believe anyone would want my autograph, and I still can’t quite believe it five books later.

     A few famous autographs and what they’ve sold for:

The last autograph John Kennedy signed, on a Dallas newspaper copy.   $39,000.
A Jesse James signed photo.   $52,000
An Albert Einstein signed photo.   $75,000 in ‘09
A baseball signed by Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe.   $191,200 in ‘06
A baseball signed by Babe Ruth.   $388,375
A signed John Lennon/Yoko LP, owned by John’s murderer.   Perversely, $525,000
Lincoln’s signed Emancipation Proclamation.   $3.7 million
George Washington’s signed Acts of Congress.   $9.8 million

     Before Neil Armstrong blasted off for the moon in July, 1969, he and crewmates Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins wanted life insurance, but it was way too expensive, considering their uniquely risky occupation, so they autographed hundreds of commemorative envelopes their families could sell if they didn’t make it back.  The envelopes have become collectibles, and one sold in 2013 for $50,788.

     So buy any one of my suspense novels, available on Amazon and also easily through my website, and I’ll gladly autograph it for you.  And some day . . . who knows what it might be worth?


Monday, August 15, 2016

Impossible fictional things

     The enduring Star Trek TV stories that began in the mid-sixties featured a flip-open communicator.  In 1973, that idea inspired engineer Martin Cooper to invent the first hand-held cell phone.  (Yet, if you have a flipper today you’re considered dinosaurian.)

     In an 1898 short story, the beloved Mark Twain presented the “limitless-distance telephone.”  With this gadget persons could see and hear daily happenings around the globe and discuss them with anybody else separated “by any number of leagues.”  Today we’ve got the World Wide Web.  And it’s accessible on every smart phone.

     A 1911 Tom Swift novel by Victor Appleton had “electric rifle bullets” that were similar to the discharges of lightning.  Many years later Jack Cover invented a stun gun he called Thomas A. Swift’s Electric Rifle, or the TASER.  Other highly popular Tom Swift novels of that period included Tom Swift and His Photo Telephone ... Wizard Camera ... Aerial Warship ... Electric Runabout ... Giant Telescope.  All of which have come to pass.

     In Ray Bradbury’s epic 1953 novel Fahrenheit 451 he envisioned tiny ear buds like “little seashells” that could produce “an electronic ocean of sound, of music and talk.”  Headphones of the time were large, heavy, and cumbersome.

     In Philip K. Dick’s children’s novel, Nick and the Glimmung, an alien could reproduce from itself any valued object it touched.  A prediction of today’s 3-D printing?

     And in Arthur C. Clarke’s haunting classic 1968 novel, 2001: A Space Odyssey, he described a digital “Newspad” on which “A postage-stamp-sized rectangle would expand till it nearly filled the screen and he could read it with comfort.”  An uncanny description of today’s iPad.

     Happily, many times instead of fiction mirroring fact, fact can be born from good fiction.


Monday, August 8, 2016

Reporting lesson Number One    

     When my mother, Edith, was hired on at a Massachusetts daily newspaper as a rookie reporter, her first assignment was to write her own obituary to be filed away just in case.  It turned out to be a tougher assignment than she thought.

     It was a deliberate lesson in humility by her editor.  And in empathy.

     She never forgot it when she was writing news reports about the unfortunate, the troubled, the oppressed, the misguided, or the people out there on the fringes of society.  All those ordinary un-famous souls who still deserve a compassionate and objective appraisal of their lives.


Monday, August 1, 2016

On being different

     For a time I taught creative writing at a community college, and I was struck by the attitudes some students had as they approached the craft.

     Somewhat understandably, many seemed to believe the goal is to be as different as possible in order to make their writing stand out above all the rest.  So they would choose to write in first person present tense.  Or employ every big word they knew in an attempt to impress the reader.  Or stretch the flowery, arty use of metaphors to the breaking point.  I had one student write a short-short story as one long paragraph, all in lower case.

     But with only a little thought, it becomes clear that the goal of a writer, especially in the early stages of learning, is not to be different. 

     Quite the opposite.  The shining goal is to be the same.

     If you wanted to become a fine cabinetmaker, for example, you could do no better than to study how a long-time respected expert does it, and then try to copy every technique, every secret.  Take advantage of all that accumulated knowledge and proven experience.  Try to become that expert cabinetmaker.

     If you want to be a great writer, you can do no better than try your best to emulate those great writers you admire and enjoy and who work within the genre you wish to write.  Try to make your writing as good as theirs in every possible way.  Take full advantage of their years of proven success.  Blatantly copy their every technique.  Try to be one of them.

     Many a great writer has done the same.  Sherlock and sidekick Watson were one of the first super successful fiction teams.  Think about how many writers have boldly copied that idea alone to help achieve success.  Author John D. MacDonald invented Travis McGee and Meyer.  Rex Stout had Nero Wolfe and sidekick Archie Godwin, Robert Crais has Elvis Cole and Pike.  Janet Evanovich has Stephanie Plum and cop Joe Morelli.  Emulating the master Arthur Conan Doyle sure worked out well for them and a host of others who’ve climbed to the literary summit.

     I guarantee this approach of trying your best to follow the examples of the masters will prove to be a shortcut in your own struggle up the literary mountain.  As you do this, your own unique voice and style will begin to emerge automatically, with no conscious effort, simply because you’re you.

     And you’ll wind up being nicely different, anyway.