Tuesday, November 30, 2010


Courage: Eight PortraitsImage via Wikipedia
"Eight Portraits of Courage! We need room for a Ninth."

Department of Courageous People, & Death With Dignity
I spent the latter part of yesterday afternoon in a meeting. Its purpose was the notarizing of various documents to do with a truly remarkable woman who I shall, for the moment, merely refer to as 'A.' She is a friend, a neighbor whom I have grown to respect and admire. 

She is only in her sixties. She has had an astonishing life. 'A' is not the initial of her first name. I have chosen it because it stands for 'Adventurer.' 

She is, as we speak – bar a miracle - dying of cancer; so the meeting was mainly to do with her will and what she wanted done if she was rendered incapable: 

“Pull the plug!” conveys the essence of her message.  

The affair could have been tense and generally miserable. In fact, it was surprisingly cheerful, largely thanks to A’s vibrant personality – despite her pain – and the presence of another remarkable woman, B., who happens to be the condo president. It also went on much longer than expected because the notary got stuck in traffic.  

I felt very peculiar when I was asked to witness A.’s request to obtain the medication necessary “to die with dignity.” I was brought up a Catholic and to believe that life is sacred. On the other hand, if your cancer is so pervasive and severe that your death is certain within weeks, and your pain unimaginable, don’t you have the right to determine the time and manner of your passing?

I have no doubt at all but that you do. 

I signed willingly; but inside I confess I just wanted to cry. I still do. Death is as normal as sunrise; but we need all the people of courage that we have. Sadly, the world doesn’t work that way.

Today, I feel a true mixture of emotions; but dominating all is a sense of real hope about the human condition. 

We seem to be remarkably inept at the political level, but down in the weeds, where real people live - and die - there is true grit.

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Sunday, November 28, 2010


Isaac Newton's personal copy of the first edit...Image via Wikipedia
"Of course, I started with a Business Plan."
Department of Bifurcated Writers, Conflicted Authors & Business Planning
We creative types have a tendency to think of ourselves as somehow apart from the commercial world. We have the notion that whereas business people spend their days doing things that are socially dubious, in pursuit of no higher goal than material gain; we authors, painters, movie makers and the like, are out there pushing the envelope of creativity, wisdom and beauty – while not only entertaining the over-salaried and their wage slaves, but illuminating the human condition into the bargain; and, hopefully, making a buck as well.

In short, we – the under-appreciated and seriously unrewarded – seekers of a higher truth - tend to think of ourselves as the antithesis of business people and, just perhaps (though we mightn’t say this publicly), superior.

Let me cross my fingers: Needless to say, I am too high-minded to ever having been guilty of such intellectual arrogance, but I will admit that for much of my life I have been conflicted about the relationship between commerce and creativity.

Department of Epiphanies and Sudden Flashes of Insight
I certainly prefer to think of myself as a writer but recently, while planning to re-enter the writing arena – perhaps sparked off by the most intensive period of work in my life, and arguably the most enjoyable into the bargain – I have had an epiphany: Not only do I like many aspects of business, but I am convinced that we creative types could learn a great deal from the business world – and vice versa.

In fact, in relation to the latter, I feel that U.S. business is far too important to the community be left to the speculators and dealmakers who currently seem to have a lock on that sector, and would benefit enormously from  leveraging that underused asset, American creativity.

Creativity, when you think about it – and you should think about it – is all about adding value in an innovative way – and is about as entrepreneurial as you can get.

I will be pursuing this theme later, but for now, let me just say that, apart from producing works of originality and genius, we writers might be well served if started off by writing ourselves a Business Plan.

“OVERKILL!” I hear you shout; or maybe the Big One has finally hit Seattle.

No. If you don’t where you are going and have determined how to get there, it is exceedingly unlikely you will succeed.

Friends, fellow authors, creative types and related crackpots, oddballs and misfits, planning can be a creative activity too.

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Saturday, November 27, 2010


M1A1 Abrams TankImage by San Diego Shooter via Flickr
"A battle is fought to be won!"

Department of Excellent Writing Advice
As part of learning how to blog – and these days I sometimes wonder whether I’m not more student than writer (or whether the terms should not be interchangeable), I’m currently subscribing to a number of blogs who specialize in giving blogging advice and advice on writing in general.

I’m not just interested in the specifics of such advice, but how they present themselves in general. Inevitably, there are similarities, but all the good blogs have distinctive personalities.

Today, Walt Shiel, author of VIEW FROM THE PUBLISHING TRENCHES http://www.waltshiel.com  offered a nugget that resonated:

“Begin your writing, fiction or article, where the action begins. This action can be internal (e.g. An important insight or personal decision) or external (e.g. a calamity or key even). Begin too early and you lose your reader. Begin too late and you lose your story.”

Now that is good writing.

Department of Book Doctors
Editors used to do all that that is necessary when it comes to critiquing and developing a book. Unfortunately, with the ever increasing of the corporate ownership of publishers followed by the inevitable pressure to cut costs, the editors of traditional publishing houses rarely have the time to do what may be necessary. 

That is a pity for all sorts of reasons starting with the fact that even the most talented writer cannot bring perspective to his or her own work.

Enter ‘Book Doctors’ who do much the same thing as editors used to but who are prepared to do even more than a commercial editor to save book. Here I refer you to Jason Black at PLOT TO PUNCTUATION  www.plottopunctuation.com  I have neither met Jason, not done business with him; but his site is impressive.

I have done some book doctoring myself, and once spent six exhausting months on a project trying to rescue and restructure a truly excellent book about THE BATTLE OF 73 EASTING. The topic was the famous tank battle that took place in the first Gulf War in 1991. The patient survived and you may read the result as WARRIOR’S RAGE by Douglas Macgregor.  

I should probably have claimed co-author status, but he was the one who had been under fire and had seen his men die so it was, quite rightly, HIS story; and a fascinating one at that. 

We also serve who re-write.

I have to say it is a pretty good book.

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Friday, November 26, 2010


Witch doctor of the Shona people close to Grea...Image via Wikipedia
"I'm an expert, head of my local Tea Party group,
and a pretty good cook. So shut up and listen!"

Department of Fantastic Thanksgiving Dinners
My friend, Chris Carrdus, loves to cook. He says that cooking calms him and wonders why we aren’t all taught to cook well. Good cooking starts with locating superior raw materials – a skill unto itself - largely frees one from the dubious merits of the processed foods industry, and results in a tastier, more nutritious and generally healthier end result.

Yesterday, he produced a perfect Thanksgiving Dinner. We are all in awe.

He believes that if you don’t learn to cook at your mother’s knee, the chances are that one will never learn to cook competently. I fear my situation supports his theory. I am no better than an adequate cook. Food at home was prepared by our housekeeper, a lovely woman, whose culinary skills topped out at frying an egg. Food away from home was the product of my boarding school’s kitchen and no better than one might expect under such circumstances. 

My mother could write, paint, spoke excellent French, was a pretty fair opera critic and a compelling conversationalist but there it stopped. When I once remarked that the food at school, unlike that at home, was, at least, edible, she deployed the full power of her extraordinary personality to render me silent and terrified. But I was telling her no more than the truth. Still, through experiencing the really bad, I have come to truly admire the outstanding. 

Thank you, Chris.

Department of Experts, Witch Doctors & Earthly Gods
When I was young, I had the notion that by a certain age, I would be an expert in something or other, and would have the air of confidence, respect, rewards and defensive armor that go hand in hand with such a lofty status.

Over time, I have seen so many experts in so many fields get it wrong so often that I have become skeptical of the societal convention that causes us to largely accept the pronouncements of experts in an unquestioning manner.

This doesn’t mean that I reject the concept of expertise – clearly there are many people who have considerable knowledge and experience in their own subjects. It is more that I deplore the way so many of us abdicate our ability to think clearly and cogently in favor of the pronouncements and posturings of witch doctors (whether they be business leaders, politicians, medical doctors, academics or the military). In fact, it is a favorite journalistic practice to write something like: “Experts say that …” instead of evaluating the evidence.

It is so much easier to pass the buck intellectually.

Perhaps I would adore the rewards and accolades that come from being inside the club that is a professional association – I’m probably no less venal than most – but I find it very hard to believe that they would equal the satisfaction that one gets through retaining one’s intellectual integrity by thinking for oneself.

Because that is what some of us writers do. And regardless of our circumstances, we love it.

Thanksgiving indeed.

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Thursday, November 25, 2010


"The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth"...Image via Wikipedia
"Any more eel anyone?

Department of Conflicted Bloggers
Thanks to reading the blogs of a number of extremely talented bloggers – as part of endeavoring to master this curious activity – I now know that blogs, and the paragraphs and sentences contained therein, should be short, content filled, entertaining; and punchy. Nonetheless, I violated the ‘short’ rule with a vengeance this week to write a veritable essay on the U.S. economy which you can read on my companion blog at http://vortitanicnation.blogspot.com  Essentially, it is a 22 point critique of the current predatory, and valueless, American Business Model, which seems to be very good at making the Super Rich richer but very bad at raising the living standards of the U.S. population as a whole. In fact, they are in decline.

In truth, I do think blogs – generally speaking - should be short, and as described, but I do feel there is a need for longer pieces on occasions, and I am somewhat conflicted as to where to put such essays. There are plenty of possible locations – online storage is booming – but not so many where such thought pieces are likely to be read. Currently Scribd www.scribd.com seems the best option, but I’m open to suggestions.

Department of Thanksgiving and Eels
Happy Thanksgiving to one and all. Though I have had my ups and downs since arriving in the U.S. in 2001 – just in time for 9/11 – I cannot think of a more fascinating time to be alive and writing; so I count myself a very lucky man indeed.

There is a nice piece about eels in the New York Times today. It posits that eels played a significant role in ensuring the survival of the Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony and suggests that eel rather than turkey should be the “symbol of colonial resilience and gratitude.” In short it implies we should be eating eel today instead of turkey. Now there’s a thought to chew on.

Writers tend to do strange things so I had better confess here that I was once briefly in the eel business under decidedly bizarre circumstances. You can read all about it, and other many other adventures, when MY COTTAGE IN IRELAND appears very shortly.

Enjoy the day.

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Tuesday, November 23, 2010


Samurai of the Satsuma clan, during the Boshin...Image via Wikipedia

I prepared for a year before going to Japan to research my second thriller, RULES OF THE HUNT, and it was time well spent. 

It’s a paradox of research, which I have written about before, but the reality is: the more you know in advance, the more people are likely to tell you. They feel that you must be genuinely interested to do all that work, they feel you have paid your dues, and you start the discussion with sufficient knowledge to know what questions to ask, what nuances to pick up, and – especially important in Japan – how to behave.

Chalmers Johnson is dead at 79.
As part of the process I read a great many books and was particularly struck by the works of Chalmers Johnson. Subsequently, I became an even great fan after reading his BLOWBACK  trilogy which documents many of the undesirable consequences of our activities overseas and then moves on to deliver an exhaustive critique of U.S. imperial overstretch which not only generates enemies in itself, but which we cannot afford.

One of the most attractive qualities about Chalmers Johnson, whom I never met except through his writing, was that he was intellectually fearless. He said what needed to be said and the consequences be damned.
He died yesterday at the age of 79.
This is an extract from the eulogy his friend, James Fallows, wrote:

Johnson -- "Chal" -- was a penetrating, original, and influential scholar, plus a very gifted literary and conversational stylist. When I first went to Japan nearly 25 years ago, his MITI and the Japanese Miracle was already part of the canon for understanding Asian economic development. Before that, he had made his name as a China scholar; after that, he became more widely known with his books likeBlowback, about the perverse effects and strategic unsustainability of America's global military commitments. Throughout those years he was a mentor to generations of students at the UC campuses at Berkeley and San Diego.
Johnson and his wife and lifelong intellectual partner Sheila were generous and patient with me, as I was first trying to understand the world they had studied and analyzed. I vividly remember spending an afternoon in the early 1990s on the sunny patio at their house in Cardiff-by-the-Sea, north of the UCSD campus. I'd moved back from Japan, was working on a book about it, and spent hours writing notes as fast as I could as Johnson described Douglas MacArthur's mistakes and (occasional) successes during the U.S. Occupation of Japan, and why Japan's economy was unlikely to open itself on the Western model, even if U.S. or British economists kept giving lectures about the importance of deregulation. I have never concentrated harder as I tried to be sure to capture his bons mots.”

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Monday, November 22, 2010


high wire 2Image by _gee_ via Flickr


Department of The Twins Are In The Tulips
I’ll let you into a secret: mostly ideas don’t come from under a cabbage. Babies, of course, do; as I’m sure you know. I can confirm that for a fact. I’m the eldest of twelve (true) and I remember full well that our garden always featured a healthy crop of cabbages. Mind you, we also grew much else, but I don’t recall any of my siblings being found under the rhubarb. 

Department of Heavenly Voices
Though I’m fascinated by innovation, and have worked with creative people for significant chunks of my life, I don’t profess to understand the creative process to the extent I would like. Then again, perhaps that’s a good thing. Who doesn’t like a good mystery! Nonetheless, this morning I gained an insight into the process. I have been thinking about writing a science fiction novel for some time but had failed to come up with a theme. On the other hand, I had a location – Seattle.  Then this morning, as I was gazing out at the snow falling into Lake Washington, the whole concept came together in a flash and a voice thundered from the heavens: “And don’t forget my byline.”

Did the heavenly voice have an American accent? Doubtless: I don’t recall. But the incident made me realize that one of the ways I assemble a story is by racking up a series of elements on a mental shelf and not worrying about whether they connect or not. 

Time, one’s subconscious and faith does the rest. Here I don’t mean faith in a religious sense but more in the sense of the confidence of a high-wire walker. Somehow, you know that things will work out even though any observer with his or her head screwed on would say that your chosen profession was hazardous, insecure, stressful in the extreme and scarcely conducive to marital stability. 

Yet you persevere because it’s what you do; and you can’t conceive doing anything else. It’s not a job. It's a mission in life. It’s a compulsion - and it is truly satisfying. 

Sounds like writing to me.

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Sunday, November 21, 2010


James JoyceCover of James Joyce

Department of Hubris , Corruption, Greed, Incompetent Banks, Interchangeable Words & Predictable Outcomes

As I write this, Ireland is frighteningly near being bankrupt – and would be if it hadn’t got the EU to backstop it - a sad fate indeed for a country that had transformed itself from being one of the poorest nations within the EU, as late as the Eighties, to becoming one of the wealthiest by the first decade of this century.

The scale of the catastrophe – an entirely appropriate word in this context – is hard to grasp.

I find it particularly upsetting because I was once heavily involved in trying to reform the Irish economic system – with some success at the time - so now it is particularly galling to see so much of the progress that resulted being destroyed as a consequence of entirely preventable, and reprehensible, behavior.

Department of 'So what happened?' 
I’m going to write about it in detail some other time when I’ve dug a little deeper, but, in broad terms it seems to be a classic example of a nation getting rich too quickly, thoroughly bad political leadership, massive greed at just about every level, a property bubble that reached insane proportions before it burst, and a banking system that performed just about as badly as the U.S. financial sector.  Add in arrogance and corruption in large doses – and stir.

And now the Irish are emigrating once again. Since I devoted over a decade of my life, and all I possessed, to preventing that very thing, my initial reaction was to feel very, very angry. But since I have mellowed with the years – and everything is fodder to a writer – I have moved on to feel more philosophical than irate – and to await ‘The Big Picture’ – the scaled up version of Ireland’s economic collapse where the currency in question is the U.S. dollar.

I have run across two quotes about Ireland that fits the mood. One is the disturbingly accurate classic from James Joyce:

“Ireland is the old sow that eats her farrow.

The other makes me smile – which is exactly what I need to do right now to counter these bitter developments. It comes from Dave Barry.

“Geographically, Ireland is a medium-sized rural island that is slowly but steadily being consumed by sheep.”

If we don’t change our ways, much the same fate await the U.S. economy – and for much the same reasons; and, as with Ireland, the collapse will come with disturbing speed. As for the sheep, could it be that the American version comes with two legs, is also known as ‘the voter’ and is disturbingly easy to manipulate.

Watch this space.

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Monday, November 15, 2010


A fan dance by Michelle L'amour at the 2007 Mi...Image via Wikipedia
Department of Fans & Other Fantastic People
If you are debating whether you should write to an author or not, all I can do is answer for myself: PLEASE DO!

I doubt that most other authors, no matter how famous, feel differently. Whereas you, the fan, might feel that well known authors never see their fan mail and that it is processed by some underling or machine, I suspect that is not the case where the reading of it is concerned. Most of us are human, after all, and we humans like praise. I cannot speak for the Martians amongst us.  

Fan letters are a great motivator and, at least in my case, they have a habit of arriving at just the right time. My daughter, Evie, used to joke that she wrote all of them – and I’ve had about 7,000 - but I think otherwise. Indeed, I know otherwise because some of my fans have become very close friends.

I try and reply to all my fan letters personally. That makes me think about the person who wrote to me initially so don’t get the idea you are taken for granted. You are not. Some email gets lost in the sheer volume of the stuff and where that happens and you don’t get a reply, all I can do is say ‘I apologize’ and encourage you to write again. But mostly I do reply first time around – and with pleasure.

I appreciate all fan mail but am especially touched by those who go on to achieve writing success for themselves. I know how hard the struggle is.  I salute those who persevere. Indeed, I salute all who try. Writing is marvelous but it’s very tough.

Department of Number 1 Fans
My Number 1 fan is a delightful lady called Debra G. Waggoner who has been writing to me for fifteen years now and includes an elegantly penned Christmas Card as part of the process. She is a woman of great courage who holds down two jobs and looks after her unwell but much loved husband with grace and fortitude. To me she symbolizes the very best of America; and I feel honored by her regard for my work.

Department of Terrific Fellow Authors
I received an intriguing fan message today via Facebook from fellow author ZAC HAMRIC.

Zack says, "Victor, Just wanted to let you know that your first three books were a major influence in my writing. I'll have to check out your ebooks that were just released...".

Unfortunately, the ebooks aren’t up yet but they will be soon. 
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Thursday, November 11, 2010


Cover of "The Devil's Footprint"Cover of The Devil's Footprint
Department of Blogs, Blogging & Bloggers
Here is the plan – and like all plans subject to change. As matters stand, it’s a work in progress but my overall intent is to:

Keep Victor O’Reilly – Letters From An Author as my personal blog mainly devoted to my fiction writing, my life, and the business of writing in general. There will be separate pages for my different fiction books so, as matters stand, these pages will be headed:
How will I know when I’ve got my blog writing approach right? Almost certainly as a result of your telling me – plus the ‘inner voice’ that we writers are supposed to possess. But right now all of that is academic because I know perfectly well what you want – from thousands of emails - and that is to get the books I have already written published as soon as possible.

Set up separate sites for my non-fiction works because they each cover distinctly different areas. They are:

Economic & Political Stuff: TITANIC NATION: How To Avoid Icebergs: The Case For Fundamental Change In The American Way Of Life

Military Stuff & Memoir: GETTING TO KNOW THE WARFIGHTERS: The Fascinating True Story Of Victor O’Reilly’s Research Into The U.S. Army For His Book ‘The Devil’s Footprint.’

Personal Memoirs: MY COTTAGE IN IRELAND: A True Story Of Dropping Out To Write, To Find Love, And To Live A Very Different Way Of Life

My intention is to update my main blog, Victor O’Reilly – Letters From An Author, roughly five days a week, except when interrupted by traveling, particularly intensive writing and so on, and to update the other sites only when particularly relevant content comes in. With the next Presidential Election now only two years away, that may be quite often where Titanic Nation is concerned.

So far, Victor O’Reilly – Letters From An Author and Titanic Nation are up and running. The main delays have more to do with my lack of technical competence than anything else. The time has come to get some compatible technical help.

By the way, all the above books are finished – subject to any fresh ideas that may hit me – so any delays in launching them have to do with matters other than writing. However, I’m confident that once the publishing process starts, which will be the ebook phase, it will happen at some speed.

Next Book Department
I’m planning to write novel inspired by my own recent experiences which will seem at first to be a classic short novel, free of action and primarily concerned with the human condition, which will morph into a thriller; and which will end with a scene of absolute violence and a twist. It’s proving to be something of a challenge because I’m not relying on action to hold your interest but am more dependent on character and story; that said, I expect the action in the book to blow your socks off. After that, I intend to write the fifth Fitzduane in the series. Not sure about a sequel to TITANIC NATION. I would like to do one but am far from sure there will be the time before November 2012. But, I could be tempted.
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Wednesday, November 10, 2010


levitationImage by anomalous4 via Flickr
Department of Introspection While The Internet Is Down
I have had so many computer problems since I first started a using a personal computer seriously in 1986 – over a quarter of century ago – that I’m surprised that I now deal with them with equanimity. I must be mellowing. Today, for instance, though offline due to some gremIin despite the ever increasing use I’m making of the internet (though using Chrome, Gmail, Google Apps, Blogger, Evernote, and other web based software), I’m continuing to work by operating the old–fashioned way. I’m utilizing the copy of MS Word that’s installed on my laptop instead of the Cloud. As long as that continues to function, and I can write, I seem to be able to get through the day temporarily disconnected from the digisphere without frothing at the mouth. Writing is my Zen, so to speak. I may move on to levitation.

Why am I blogging?
Am I doing it because everyone says authors should if they are to sell any books, or to indulge my ego; or am I seeking to build it into a high traffic web site to make money; or am I just writing for the sake of writing? Or do I merely regard blogging as a test of my writing skills, a challenge I’m determined to master.

I am definitely of the view that billions of us are being manipulated to spend a great deal of time doing stuff in the digisphere that is more distraction than substance, and decidedly destructive in its effects. However, I don’t automatically include blogging in that category. True, some blogs are so bad that one is tempted to advise the author to go stand on the edge of a skyscraper in a high wind while drinking a pint of beer while doing a handstand, but at the top end of the scale many blogs are terrific; and it’s still an evolving format.

As best as one can know one’s own mind – we humans are funny in that regard – the primary purpose of this particular blog is to enable me to talk to talk to you, my readers (both current and prospective), both to say thanks for the extraordinary support I’ve received over the years, and to encourage you to buy new books (which you will soon be able to do after a long hiatus). Everything else, if I am to be honest about is, is secondary.  

Have I found the right blend of content, humor and length as yet? I don’t think so – but the journey is half the fun.

Department of “The Damn Internet Isn’t Working Yet.”
Quote from my friend Chris Carrdus after an abortive conversation with Technical Support who, as normal, admitted no corporate fault: “The Cloud – a fabulous parking space for responsibilities.”
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Tuesday, November 9, 2010


Cobbe portrait, claimed to be a portrait of Wi...Image via Wikipedia
Department of Missing Ideas & Half-Formed Thoughts
Words are fine and beautiful things, but they are of limited value to an author unless they add up to a fully formed thought or idea; and they are rarely so obliging. Instead ideas have an irritating habit of arriving in fragments, in an untimely manner, and sometimes litter one’s mind for years. Worse, they have a disconcerting habit of retreating into one’s darkest recesses to the point where even the most brilliant thought can be forgotten. That is a tragedy of Hamlet-like proportions for a writer. That raises the question of where one should park an idea until needed; in such a form that it can be found. The latter is the really important bit and the hardest.

I don’t think there is any one solution. Rumor has it that Shakespeare plotted everything on his cuffs (driving Anne Hathaway nuts), but the traditional way was to carry around a notebook and keep a journal. It remains a thoroughly sound approach, but so much is going on these days that I’m of the view that one needs some kind of free-text database as well. Ideally, it should copy a web page (in whole or part) with a click of a mouse, be always on hand in one’s browser, handle multi-media, and keep the data itself on both one’s computer and the Cloud – and work on PCs, and Macs and the full range of electronic gizmos. Such a product is Evernote which is available in both Free and Premium Editions. As I mentioned yesterday – while forgetting to explain Evernote (it was one of those days) - the definite guide to Evernote is Brett Kelly’s Evernote Essentials. Not only will it tell upu a lot but, above all, it will tell you how to find.

Department of Research Without Ending Up Dead
Some writers don’t need to do any research  - and such people have my respect and admiration – but where thriller writing is concerned, I’m a believer in a three pronged approach: (1) Read every book you reasonably can on the subject. (2) Research the Internet. (3) Talk to those who know, and get as close to the reality as possible – short of getting yourself killed.

The reading-oneself-in part should come first. People will respect you more if you have done your homework, and they’ll talk more freely if they respect you – and you are more likely to know what questions to ask.

When I was researching the character of Etan for GAMES OF THE HANGMAN I spent several days hanging around the set of an excellent current affairs program called TODAY TONIGHT. The impressive presenter,  Olivia O’Leary (I think I was smitten for a while), memorably remarked over dinner that her boyfriend, the famous journalist Robert Fisk, had advised her that the only way to assess the truth of a situation was “to be there and put your hands in their wounds.” 
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Sunday, November 7, 2010


An Unmarried WomanImage via Wikipedia
Department of the Salt Mines, Talented Slaves Division
Clearly one can make a living from blogging though whether more than few make a good living – something of a personal matter – is an open question which I won’t attempt to answer. Currently, we’re going through a phase during which too many blog writers are chasing too few markets, so the fees paid to many writers are derisory; but that may change as the market mature and more attention is given to the quality of the writing. So far my impression is that a great many blogs are impressively mediocre, but  that some terrific talent is emerging In short, this new genre is going places.

I have been particularly impressed by some of the financial bloggers, and will shortly be posting a list on my TITANIC NATION blog (where I talk about the future of this country) but I am becoming increasingly aware of some marvelous writers who blog about writing and much more besides. One notable example is Carol Tice  who has just sent out a high content blog which lays out the details of how she earned $5,100 in a month. Her golden rule is “Never run out of story ideas” and she certainly seems to follow it because she wrote no less than 58 posts to earn her money. Frankly, she shouldn’t have to because she is damn good, but I suspect that reflects the current state of the market.

A feature of writers like Carol is that they are generous with their information and helpful to aspiring writers.  In that spirit, she is involved with The WM Freelance Writers Connection, a truly invaluable site that is updated every day. There is no doubt about it: If they don’t already, women are going to rule the world. If they are as talented as Carol, and work as hard, they may well deserve to.

But Men Write Too Department
We do indeed and here let me draw your attention to a highly entertaining writer called Brett Kelly who not only wrote the definitive guide to Evernote, Evernote Essentials but publishes a high content blog which helps computer illiterates like myself get the most out of our software. His extremely helpful blog is appropriately called Bridging the Nerd Gap – or chasm in my case. He’s just excellent.

Department of Sad News
About a year ago I did an assignment for the Piasecki Aircraft Corporation and was agreeably surprised to find that their director of administration, Vicky Myers, bore a striking resemblance to actress Jill Clayburg, a real favorite of mine since I saw her in that marvelous movie, An Unmarried Woman.  Today, we learned that Jill Clayburg had died – way too young – of cancer at the age of 66. I’m normally not much of a celebrity follower, but this news has touched me.
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Saturday, November 6, 2010


Iguana in Marathon, FloridaImage via Wikipedia
Department of Decidedly Difficult Things To Do.
One of the advantages of writing non-fiction is that before you, personally, start any work, the very raw material  you have collected will tend to indicate some kind of structure. This isn’t to say you can’t be unorthodox in your approach – starting a biography with a dramatic incident instead of writing it chronologically – but at least there will be an innate logic stemming from your research as to how you will present your writing.

Fiction suffers from the great advantage and disadvantage of offering infinite choice. Where a novel is concerned, the writer is God during the process of creation (though at a certain stage Satan will enter the process in the form of your agent or editor or both). True, being God means you can do anything, but it also makes you responsible for every single aspect of the world that is your book, a truly exhausting task given that one is faced with infinite alternatives. This leads me to the conclusion that when God created Free Will (this is an intellectual concept – you don’t have to believe in God to read on) He did so more in the spirit of delegation than as an act of ultimate generosity. Being no fool, He wanted us to do much of the work. God, as of course you know, is a capitalist.

This leads me to my main point. The hardest part of writing a novel – at least insofar as I am concerned – is the structural phase during which you drastically reduce the variables by making make the hard choices which will shape the actual work. Once that is done – within the six days or so generally conceded to be the standard for creating a world – you can put your feet up on the seventh day and let your characters get on with it. All they have to do is live (though dying is quite the thing where thrillers are concerned). But the hardest part is the plotting.


Just not quite as hard; though considerable stamina in involved where a classic big thriller is involved. It’s more like running a marathon. True, running a marathon can kill you, as the pioneer of that race found out first hand, but at least you know where you are going.

Department of Discombobulating Details
Fundamentally, Al Qaeda are waging economic war against us; and we are assisting their efforts by over-reacting and waging the most expensive material war in history against that organization - thus draining our coffers and assisting Bin Laden in his objectives. For example, it costs us $50 million to kill one Taliban - and they are reproducing faster than we can kill them. This makes no sense. 

Department of Unusual Blogs & Fascinating People
I doubt very much that most of us have a handle on the kind of seismic changes which are taking place as a consequence of the digisphere but John Robb author Global Guerillas http://globalguerrillas.typepad.com/ may be such a man. 
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Friday, November 5, 2010


An honor guard from the French army's 6th Batt...Image via Wikipedia
Department of Mindboggling Productivity: Enter ‘The Digiter.’
It’s rather hard to get a grip on an author’s productivity because such intangibles as ‘thinking’ come into the equation – and even then how can an observer detect what an author is thinking about, let alone the effectiveness of such thinking. Then there is the interesting fact that an awful lot of work is carried out by one’s subconscious (a tricky little fellow – or fellow-ess -  at the best of times) which seems to do its best work when one is asleep.  

Of course, a time and motion expert could count words; but that’s not as straightforward as it sounds since the quality of the words is a factor; and how does one judge quality since, all too often, neither author nor editor can agree? And how can you depend on measuring word-count when re-writing and polishing are so integral to the writing process?  

I rather like the idea of the languid lifestyle of a creative genius, and was brought up in an environment where a pre-lunch sherry was de rigeur, and lounging by the pool – drink in hand - looking at gorgeous women in Monte Carlo was just what one did every long and lazy summer, but the truth is that I work like a dog and take writing productivity very seriously.  Why so? Well, these days an author has to write, blog, market himself, and – for god’s sake - Tweet.  Hemingway would have had a heart-attack.

Enter ‘The Digiter, ’ the writer equipped with the range of skills and talents demanded by the digisphere – as much at home with multimedia as with wordsmithing, and with the talent for self-promotion and the thick skin of a Donald Trump. Is that a good thing? I’m skeptical but pragmatic. Writing is so demanding I suspect it needs total commitment, and every atom of air and molecule of blood you have left in your body. But I don’t make the rules and the current rules of the game in this Darwinian digisphere we are creating – but certainly not controlling - are demanding in the extreme. They remind me of the French Foreign Legion slogan: “March or die!” though in this case they might be better expressed as “Produce across the spectrum or be unrecognized.”

I’m far from sure all writers seek celebrity status – there are considerable disadvantages to that condition – but I’m fairly certain that all of us seek recognition. As to whether we are all prepared to pay  the price, I can only answer for myself. Suffice to say that: yes, I take productivity very seriously indeed.

Department of Unexpected Feelings & Three Legged Cats
Unending wars and economic gloom apart, by conventional standards my current situation might be regarded as extremely difficult at present, and I have never worked harder in my life; but I find myself strangely content and optimistic. Can writing, so associated with angst, have that effect – or am I under the spell of Charlie, The Three-Legged Cat, and her companion, Chester The Molester? Or am I enjoying morphing into a digiter?  

Digitate on that, and when I know the answer, I’ll tell you. Probably.
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NEW YORK - FEBRUARY 09:  Amazon.com founder an...Image by Getty Images via @daylifeMining the Digisphere Department 
I’m continuing to squirrel away on work to do with marketing my books via the Kindle (to be followed by print) but the more time I spend in the DIGISPHERE - which I define as Internet + Computer Power + (a new wave of brilliant) Software + Mindset - the more I am convinced that we don’t as yet fully appreciate this extraordinary resource we have at our disposal. It’s much more than a giant encyclopedia crossed with instant communications technologies and leavened with multimedia entertainment capabilities. It’s a synergistic environment. The totality is vastly more powerful than the sum of its parts. It is also – both currently and potentially – a problem solving tool of unprecedented power and application.

But are we using it this way? My general sense is that we’re using it tactically to increasingly great effect – sometimes for good and sometimes to our detriment - but we’re not yet using it adequately to get to grips with our more fundamental problems. Yet I am convinced that the answers are out there and that with the aid of the digisphere, we can find them.

This viewpoint leads me to a number of conclusions: 
  • We are neither asking the right questions nor framing the questions correctly. We are letting our various ideologies get in the way of our reasoning to a degree which is downright frightening.
  • We haven’t given nearly enough thought to the fact the availability of the digisphere means we need to rethink how we do just about everything and particularly how we work. 
  • We are absolutely failing to appreciate the sheer power of what we have at our disposal together with the fact that this power and its related capabilities is increasing geometrically. 
  • We are in serious danger of letting this power be controlled by special interests to the detriment of democracy and the public good. 
  • We need to change the Constitution to deal with this. NOTE: I’ll be developing these thoughts in a separate paper, but my essential point is that most of the big problems we are facing only exist because we are not bothering to solve them. They are no longer intractable. Our current addiction to ideologies – so much easier than thinking - may be an exception. 

Department of Incredibly Ingenious Solutions 
Want the font of your choice to appear in every just as you intended? Check out WebInk http://www.extensis.com/en/WebINK/index.jsp and drool. Being of a graphic turn of mind, I’ve been looking for something like this for some time.

Department of People Who Really Do Seem To Know What They Are Doing 
LinkedIn is a professional network made of some 80 million of the sort of people it tends to be advantageous to network with. It’s business oriented rather than social and, based upon my experience so far, surprisingly effective. However, I would have made much more progress if I had had a guide because it’s not entirely clear at first – or even later on - how everything works. Enter a lady with the rather glamorous name of Kristina Jaramillo who really does seem to know which fork one should use (metaphorically speaking) when in such illustrious company. - Kristina@getlinkedinhelp.com  and http://www.GetLinkedInHelp.com Her phone number is 609-306-6205

Department of Really Good Thrillers 
I hate to boast but since self-promotion is the American Way and this is my blog, I probably should. Let me compromise by quoting Cosmopolitan on Games Of the Hangman:

“The hunt for the Hangman drives the plot with all the urgency of the Indy 500, but the author never sacrifices character to action – a rare grace in this genre… A truly captivating, atmospheric, un-putdownable read.”

The new books will be Kindled very soon – and the wait will be worth it.

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