Wednesday, November 30, 2011


Although I’m a self-proclaimed “E-BOOK BOOKIE” I must confess that I’ve only read five books on my Kindle. (Richard II, Lysistrata, The Art of War, Aesop’s Fables, and Richard Stark’s bleak and violent heist novel The Score.)

I much prefer the heft and feel and convenience (yes, convenience: no batteries, I can read on my exercise bike—without a fumble costing me $179.00—and I can read in the bathtub. And falling asleep while reading doesn’t result in a chipped tooth).

Blasphemer! Blasphemer!! Blasphemer!!!

Not really. E-books are the undeniable future and I cheer every new innovation and price reduction on Nooks and Tablets and Kindles.

So anyway Penny and I were doing one of our favorite things yesterday, rummaging through the shelves at “Paperbacks and More” in Santa Rosa, CA. Penny had a list and was on a mission and I was mildly searching for a good non-fiction title to read while I’m finishing up my latest novel Beautiful Lies.

When a book caught my eye.

It had the Black Lizard Books logo (always a good sign) and was a 1987 reissue of a 1959 novel A Ticket to Hell by Harry Whittington. I thumbed through the longish introduction, read the first page and bought it.

When I got home I read it.

This 128 page book has more twists and turns and satisfaction than any mystery/suspense book I've read in a long time. Terse, realistic dialog--not a set-up or a scene wasted. I was also delighted to learn that Harry Whittington has written over 150 novels.

Then I read the book’s breezy autobiographical introduction: “I Remember It Well” written by the author. I quote:

Questions most often asked: Why did you write a particular novel, how long did it take to write it, where’d you get the idea for it, and where do you get your ideas?

First, my story germs are contracted differently than those of the leading practitioners of suspense and mystery, and even western, writing. Several stellar-performer-writers have averred on TV and other public dais that they start to write with no idea where they’re going, or how their tale will resolve itself. One famous gentleman, writing for beginning writers, said he rewrote the ending of one book several times before making it come out right.

Despite the protestations of these best-selling writers, I personally find this lack of planning wasteful, unprofessional, and worst, even amateurish. Sometimes, I realize it’s said to sound artistic. Still it’s like setting out in a billion dollar shuttle for outer space with no flight plan. Head for the moon, but if you land on Mars, what the hell? It’s like a magician’s walking on stage without knowing if he will draw a rabbit a dove or anything at all out of his hat.

I usually start at the crisis, climax or dramatic denouement of my story, even if it’s sparked by some unusual scene, character, situation, or speculation. A story is not about “an innocent man framed by his own government” but how—with what special, carefully foreshadowed strength, skill, knowledge, or character trait—he overcomes this terrifying situation. This “planting” and a preconceived “emotional effect” which will gratify, shock and involve the reader is truly what the novel is all about....

I believe a good cabinet-maker can build a cabinet without rebuilding it forty-seven times. And I suggest he likely lays out his entire plan before he starts to build.

Having said this, I immediately stipulate that some of these writers who embark boldly with only nebulous idea, dramatic first scene or unusual character, have sold more books than Poe and I combined. I still hold to my battered barricades. I still don’t want to put myself in the untenable position where, when all else fails, I must resort to God in the machinery...

Souvabitch, that’s good advice.

I’ve read one of Harry Whittington’s 150 novels and I’m anxious to dig up and read a few more.

I wonder how many are on Kindle?


Have you heard about the new “Morning After’ pill for men?

It changes your bloodtype.

My middle-grade novel The Smartest Kid in Petaluma just appeared yesterday in ebook. Check it out at:

No comments:

Post a Comment