Thursday, September 21, 2017

TOP 10 THRILLERS OF THE '90S

Obviously every top ten list is subjective, however, the ‘90s was the decade that introduced some great authors who went on to wild success in their genre.  Lee Child and John Grisham just to name a couple.  The other aspect of this list is that I’ve read each one of these books so there’s no guessing as to the validity of their worth. I’m not just going by sales figures or popularity, although most of these books were bestsellers.
Here now is my list, in no particular order:

The Firm—John Grisham
Yes, technically this was his second book, but we all know this was the one which got him noticed.  There were courtroom dramas before this thriller, but Grisham took you out of the courtroom and into the family room.  He brought crime to an unsuspecting and na├»ve lawyer who had everything to lose.  The tension is taught all the way through and it’s a relief when it’s finally over.


Jurassic Park—Michael Crichton
This was a mixture of pure entertainment and wildly imaginative scenarios.  Crichton’s narrative is subtle and his explanations for the recreation of dinosaurs is so believable that you never have to suspend disbelief.  This was really a pure joy to submerge yourself into a world where humans become corrupt and animals behave like animals.

Gone Baby Gone—Dennis Lehane
This was a deeply twisted storyline that kept you guessing all the way through.  At one point I thought I had it figured out, but was completely wrong.  It’s a Good versus Morally Correct scenario and Lehane is a master at bringing the complexities of the human condition to the forefront of the narrative.

The Black Echo—Michael Connelly
The very first in the Harry Bosch series.  This also won the Edgar Award for mystery novel.  At its heart this is a mystery, but there are thriller elements to the narrative that can’t be dismissed.  Harry Bosch is a complicated character and Connelly spent painstaking time delivering that element to the reader.  Of course there’s a twist ending, but Bosch’s troubles are always on his shirtsleeve.  A fine debut.

The Killing Floor—Lee Child
This is a no-brainer.  Our introduction to Jack Reacher.  The first time I read this book I was taken back how the prose was so sparse, yet so detailed at the same time.  It seemed that Child would draw you into Reacher’s mind with such vivid imagery, you almost forgot about the great dialogue.  The story is probably the strongest in the series, because it was all new to us.  So glad there would be a jillion more Reacher stories to follow.

The Bourne Ultimatum—Robert Ludlum
The final book in the Jason Bourne series and quite possibly the best.  Carlos the Jackal is after Bourne and the storyline is complicated, but Ludlum masterfully navigates his way through the narrative.  There are bribes, assassins who guess wrong, double-crosses, and ultimately a satisfying ending for Bourne.

The Lion’s Game—Nelson Demille
My favorite of the bunch.  Yes, technically published January, 2000, but that’s close enough.  At first the New York detective John Corey character was too wise-guy for me, but I developed an affinity for it and by the third chapter I was engrossed.  The opening scene has a 747 landing at JFK Airport without contact from the pilot or crew while carrying a Libyan terrorist on board.  The scene goes on for several chapters and switches point of view from the terrorist to John Corey.  The book is 700 pages long, but that was way too short for my liking.  My first introduction to Demille and I grew to love his work.

LA Confidential—James Ellroy
Many books on this list are more popular because of the movie version, but this one needs the respect of the writing to be appreciated.  Ellroy writes with a unique style of giving you snippets without indulging you with all the facts.  Some writers tend to oversell the story, but Ellroy is just the opposite.  If you feel like you missed something, just keep reading and you’ll catch on eventually.  No matter where you are in this story, you’re going to enjoy the ride.

Into Thin Air—Jon Krakauer
Yes, this is nonfiction and therefore not considered a thriller.  However, this book told one of the most spellbinding stories I’d ever read.  The fact that it was a true story written by someone who actually summited Mt. Everest, makes it completely enthralling.  Krakauer follows a team of enthusiastic, yet inexperienced climbers as they battle ferocious hurricane winds, altitude illness and minus 70-degree temperatures.  Krakauer’s prose is powerful and honest and rips at your gut as confused climbers suffering from oxygen deprivation decide to sit down and pull off their clothes in uninhabitable conditions, expediting their demise.  Truly a mind-blowing ride.

Be Cool—Elmore Leonard
This guy is my all-time favorite authorUntil I read Glitz in the early ‘80s, I had no idea that dialogue could be so gritty.  It hadn’t dawned on me that certain seedy characters spoke in slang and didn’t speak in full sentences. Be Cool is the sequel to Get Shorty, which was also a great book, but there are some memorable scenes in this one that takes it over the top.  I’ve spent half my writing career trying to create a character as clever as Chili Palmer.  If only.   

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

HOW NICK BRACCO WAS BORN

It was the late 90’s and I’d received some critical acclaim for my short stories.  I felt like I’d proven myself as a writer and now it was time to take on the novel.  Now, what kind of book was I going to write?  Clue, I wanted to write something that I’d like to read.  I’ve always been a fan of thrillers.  It started way back with my penchant for Raymond Chandler’s mysteries.  His wise guy, Phillip Marlowe, character had me glued to the page.  I will never forget some of the lines Chandler wrote: “She had a voice like an angel and a body that would make a Priest kick a hole through a stained-glass window.”  Classic. 

So, naturally when it was time to create my protagonist, I decided on a law enforcement officer with a witty disposition.  I went back to my youth working in my father’s candy store in Brooklyn.  The characters in that store were full of . . .  well, character.  There was a special type of character who tended to linger around the store most of the day, in shifts.  They were friends of my dad.  They were dark-skinned, dark-haired and had names like Vinny and Joey and Max.  Yeah, the Mafia.  You see my father was Sicilian and because of that, these guys tended to protect the store while my father was gone and I was alone in the store.  I learned something about that dynamic.  Loyalty.

So, fast forward thirty years, and Nick Bracco was born.  Nick is a Sicilian FBI agent who has a cousin, Tommy, who’s involved in the Mafia.  Tommy ends up being the true wit in these thrillers and I get at least a request a month asking me to write a book with Tommy as the main character.  I had to do tons of research on the FBI and how they operated.  I even interviewed an FBI agent as part of my research.  But Tommy’s character I never had to research.  It seemed I knew at least twenty Tommy’s back in Brooklyn.  

True story, I never had any intention of writing a sequel to A Touch of Deceit.  It wasn’t until I’d sold over 50,000 copies over the first six months that a reader emailed me and asked when the sequel was coming out.  A sequel?  Well, I’m currently working on Nick Bracco #6 and hope to keep going as long as people want to read my stories. 

Writing is hard.  Research can be grueling.  But whenever I hear from happy readers, it makes everything else seem worth it.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

WHY YOU SHOULD SUPPORT AN INDEPENDENT AUTHOR


I wanted to title this post, “What is a Published Author,” but changed my mind when I realized there was a deeper issue I wanted to address.  When I received my acceptance notice from Potato Eyes Literary Magazine for my first short story “Saving the World” some twenty years ago, I had never been more excited.  Truth be told, even after selling over 100,000 copies of my Nick Bracco series, that’s still my favorite accomplishment.  And when I sold my stories to Potpourri and Evansville Review and Amazing Journeys and so on, the success gave me a sense of achievement.  It let me know my work was accepted within the literary community.

Then later, when I received my first Pushcart Prize nomination for the best short story of the year, it solidified the fact that I had some skill.  After a second Pushcart Prize nomination, I finally had the confidence to write novels.  All of these steps led me to where I am today. 

Fast forward twenty years.  Past the literary agent who kept my manuscript on the bottom shelf until a very kind assistant recommended I leave the agency or wait for a phone call that will never come.  Past the second literary agent who said my work was exceptional, but the industry was changing and new authors were pushed to the bottom of the pile.  Publishers were better off trying to sell the fifteenth novel from a somewhat known author than the first one from a fresh voice. 

Recognize this sequel strategy in the movie industry?

So, when I approach the subject of independent authors, I truly mean writers who are independent.  Writers who can choose their distribution method.  They can choose their editor.  They can approve their own cover design.  The independent authors I’m speaking of are not the rare ones who slipped past the gatekeepers by writing inferior work, then posting it on Amazon and hoping for sales.  I’m speaking about writers who chose to take on the industry by forging ahead with their career despite the odds.  Writers who could’ve been published with a legacy publisher but chose not to wait. 

Instead of wasting time railing against the traditional publishing companies who try to squeeze out independent authors, I’d rather stress the positive.  And here are just some of them:

John Locke, J.A. Konrath, Hugh Howey, Amanda Hocking and Jonas Saul, just to name a few.  Authors who decided to take their own path to acquiring an audience for their work.  Writers who weren’t told by a publisher they had to leave politics out of their story, or keep their idea more mainstream. 

So how do we encourage this outbreak of creative storytelling?  Support them.  Blog about them.  Write them.  Tell them what you liked about their stuff.  Tell your friends about their work.  Anytime you’re promoting their product, you’re boosting their chances to create more original work.  You’re giving someone an opportunity to spend more time writing and less time working their day job.  It sounds hyperbolic, but it’s true.  There are so many authors who need to find other means to produce income outside of writing.  It’s grass roots support that could make the difference.

So, if you like an author’s work, nurture it.  Blow on the flames slightly to get the kindle started.  Pun intended.  I will continue to support these fine writers and I hope you will as well.

Here are some other authors who deserve your consideration.  Some are hybrid authors who straddle the line of traditional and independent publishing, but their quality of work is worth your attention:
Robert Bidinotto, Cheryl Bradshaw, Luke Romyn, Lawrence Kelter, Jennifer Chase & Dean Lappi.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

5 THRILLER AUTHORS YOU NEED TO READ


There are so many books to read and so little time.  Over the past few years I’ve discovered a pattern in my reading habits: I’d read an author I’ve always liked— Lee Child and Elmore Leonard for example—then I would branch out to find someone new.  It’s during this branching out period that I found myself disappointed and returning to my shortlist of writers who I know would never disappoint.  How I wish I had a clone with my exact taste who could read books then make recommendations, like Pandora for authors.  So I thought I would try to accomplish something with this post—or at least open doors for some worthy writers who might be flying under the Vince Flynn-David Baldacci, radar.

First up, J.A. Konrath.  Even though he’s sold over two million books in twenty countries, it still feels like he doesn’t get the props he deserves.  His writing is succinct and chilling.  He has a very matter-of-fact way of squeezing your larynx and smirking simultaneously.  It’s a rare talent who could make you cringe and grin on the very same page, but Joe makes it happen on a routine basis.

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01CW8BMA4?ref_=cm_sw_r_kb_dp_XqrMxbMVNX10Z&tag=kpembed-20&linkCode=kpe
Check out Joe’s webpage here: http://www.jakonrath.com/And if you’d like to read one of his more recent Jack Daniels thrillers, check out Last Call.

Next up, Diane Capri.  She began her career as a lawyer, but don’t hold that against her.  Think John Grisham with a sharp wit.  Her writing is simply impeccable.  She doesn’t waste time on narrative that’s unnecessary to the plot, yet you feel like the scene is happening right in front of you.  Her Judge Willa Carson thrillers are my favorite, but her Hunt for Jack Reacher series is probably more known.  I would recommend trying her latest Judge Willa Carson Mystery, True Justice:
https://www.amazon.com/True-Justice-Judge-Carson-Mystery-ebook/dp/B06X1FPNVZ/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1491146508&sr=1-1&keywords=true+justice
 

Now for Rick Murcer.  He began his writing career later in life, so his style is tight and to the point.  No wasted motions.  As if he only has so many books to write and he wasn’t going to waste time with superfluous storylines.  His Manny Williams series contain some tremendous thrillers.  Don’t believe me? Just read some of the reviews from the readers who’ve followed him along the way.  I would try out his latest, Cajun Fire.  Read the first chapter and tell me you aren’t hooked.
https://www.amazon.com/Cajun-Fire-Manny-Williams-Thriller-ebook/dp/B01GCZXRO2/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1491146648&sr=1-1&keywords=cajun+fire
 

Vincent Zandri is a photojournalist who travels around the globe to capture the feel of his settings better than any author on the planet.  While most writers delve into their imagination to portray the image in the reader’s mind, Vincent can actually paint it for you from memory.  He’s been there, spoken with the natives, and returned with a story that almost certainly was influenced by the adventure he witnessed during his research. Don’t believe me?  Check out his webpage here:  http://www.vincentzandri.com/ And as far as his books, he writes several series, but his Dick Moonlight is the creepiest and most interesting to me.  Try his Murder by Moonlight. This was the book that got me excited about his work.
https://www.amazon.com/Murder-by-Moonlight-ebook/dp/B0073I2PM8/ref=tmm_kin_title_0?ie=UTF8&m=AG56TWVU5XWC2
 

And Finally, one of my favorites, Claude Bouchard.  Claude is a Canadian businessman who got the writing bug and made it his fulltime job.  And I’m glad he did.  His dialogue-heavy thrillers keep you turning the pages while giving you plenty of chills discovering what his characters are up to.  I would try his latest Vigilante series thriller, Getting Even.  There is a cathartic thrill to watching an assassin exact revenge on people who do bad things.  And don’t we all want justice to be served?
https://www.amazon.com/Getting-Even-Vigilante-crime-thriller-ebook/dp/B01DI9X27W/ref=pd_rhf_se_p_img_5?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1&refRID=JRRCRY05MN3CMF8NH70R
 

I can assure you that I’ve read at least one book from each of these authors and wouldn’t recommend them if I didn’t find their work riveting.  Hopefully you’ll find someone in this group who will fill your days with nail-biting thrills.  They are definitely worth a try.    

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

SURPRISING SERVICE THE FBI PROVIDES TO WRITERS


When I first created my Nick Bracco character some fifteen years ago, I had very little knowledge of how the FBI operated outside of what I’d seen on TV and in the movies.  It was Nick’s Mafia cousin Tommy that I had a much better grasp of, since I was surrounded by Sicilian family members all the time during my youth.  But I needed to research the FBI so I could bring a reality to my character.  I read several books that were truly informational, including a great one by Ron Kessler titled, The FBI.  However, there were still questions that lingered in my mind that I needed answered.  Remember, this was pre-Google.

I picked up the phone and dialed the local Phoenix FBI field office and asked if I could interview an FBI agent for a book I was writing.  Now, here’s the important part—I didn’t tell them it was fiction.  I think that might have something to do with the fact that a moment later I was transferred to a gentleman who introduced himself as Agent Simpson (let’s go with that, since my memory is foggy.)  He was pleasant, even asking me if he could have my phone number in case we got disconnected. I knew, of course, he was staring at my number on his caller ID, so right away he was making sure I wasn’t lying.

After the guy answered a litany of questions for me, I was fascinated that someone would take time out of their busy schedule to do such a thing.  Until I discovered that was actually doing his job.  Each field office has a Public Affairs Specialist who’s there to work with the media, including writers who are working on articles or books about the FBI.

If you’re writing a thriller, it’s not a bad idea to make that call.  I remember asking things like: Does an FBI Agent have to use government-issued weapons or can they buy their own?  Does every shooting incident require a debriefing?  Do FBI agents get to choose their partners?  I can tell you that some of these answers were not what I expected.

I’ve heard of writers doing ride alongs with police and I’m not sure the FBI does that, but I promise if you call your local field office there is someone there who can answer some of your questions.  Hey, your tax dollars are helping pay for this service, so why not take advantage of it. 

Just don’t tell him your last name is Ponzo and your father used to help the Mafia run the numbers in his candy store back in the '70s.  I’m sure the statute of limitations has run out by now, but somehow I skipped that part during my interview.      

Sunday, January 29, 2017

ELMORE LEONARD IS ALIVE AND WELL


Elmore Leonard has had a profound effect on my writing career.  Anyone who’s familiar with my Tommy Bracco character knows what I’m talking about.  Before I began reading Elmore’s work, characters always seemed to have a stilted tone to their dialogue.  Like a 40's movie where everyone spoke in perfect English.  But Elmore, Dutch, Leonard came along and changed the game for good.  Suddenly, gangsters were talking in slang without explaining it to the reader.  Just follow along, Elmore seemed to suggest.  You’ll get it after a while.
 

Here’s a sample of what I’m talking about.  Below is the opening scene to Freaky Deaky. Chris Mankowski is a bomb expert summoned to Booker’s home.  Booker is a gangster who answered his telephone where the women he was dating told him to sit down. When he sat down, she told him the chair he was sitting on had a bomb in it and the moment he stood up he’d be killed:

"Man, be careful there," Booker said, bringing his hands off the chair arms to bunch the skirts of the robe between his bare legs, up tight against his crotch.

"You feel anything under you?"

"When I sat down it felt… like, different."

Chris slit open the facing of the seat cushion, held the edges apart and looked in. He said, "Hmmmmm."

Booker said, "What you mean hmmmmm? Don't give me no hmmmmm shit.  What's in there?"

Chris looked up at Booker and said, "Ten sticks of dynamite."

Booker was clutching the chair arms again, his body upright, stiff, telling Chris, "Get that shit out from under me, man. Get it out, get it out of there!"

Chris said, "Somebody doesn't like you, Booker. Two sticks would've been plenty."

It’s a thing of beauty.  The entire scene.  But this post isn’t about Elmore.  This post is about his son Peter.  You see, when Dutch passed away in 2013, it left an empty hole in my reading sequence.  I tended to give new authors a try, but once I finished that book, I would always resort to another Elmore book to get that flavor back in my mind.  Sometime in the past year I was groping for another book and realized that I’d read everything Elmore had written.  And that’s saying something, since he’d written over 50 novels.

That’s when I discovered that his son, Peter, was also a novelist.  Just on a lark I read the beginning to one of his books and realized very quickly that Peter was the spitting image of his father when it came to writing fiction.  The narrative and dialogue was a perfect replica of his father’s tone.  Now, don’t get me wrong, he’s not copying his father’s work, it’s his own style and his own imagination, but boy, it’s remarkably appealing to anyone who’s familiar with Dutch’s work.
 

So far, I’ve read Unknown Remains, Trust Me and Eye Closed Tight.  The first two were fantastic reads.  The third book jumped around a little bit too much for my liking, but the dialogue was so enjoyable, that I pressed on and finished liking the story very much.

I’m writing this to encourage anyone who’s an Elmore Leonard fan to give Peter’s books a try.  I think you’ll enjoy the experience.  Do yourself a favor and go to Amazon and read the beginning to one of his books.  Or go to a bookstore and pick it up.  You’ll know within a page or two whether it’s the style you would appreciate.  If it is--enjoy.

And you’re welcome.     

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

WHY WRITERS CONTROL THE ENTERTAINMENT INDUSTRY


There’s a famous scene in the 1992 movie, The Player, in which a young Hollywood executive played by Peter Gallagher tells the veteran executive, Tim Robbins, “Who needs writers, this thing writes itself.”
And honestly, there’s a segment of the entertainment industry who still subscribe to that theory.  We’ve all been to those movies too.  The ones that follow a familiar formula with familiar punchlines and familiar dialogue.  Battlefield Earth anyone?  But whenever there’s a hit, there’s good writing.  A great example is this year’s critically acclaimed drama, Manchester by the Sea.  This is by far the most depressing movie I’ve ever witnessed.  I wanted to go see Schindler’s List just to lighten my mood after this one.  However, the dialogue was so moving and the acting so superb, you ignored the fact that you’ve seen this movie plenty of times before.


If you think about your favorite TV shows, the one which makes you laugh, the one which made you relate to the characters, it was almost purely the writing that got you there.  I had this feeling leaving the movie Why Him? this past weekend.  It was a plot that seemed so typical that it would be easy to pass up.  However, the writing is done so well, that it’s almost impossible not to laugh. 

Think about some of the most iconic movies in the past fifty years and you’ll almost always have a line that brings it all back to you:

“You can’t handle the truth!”

“I’m going to make him an offer he can’t refuse.”

“There’s no crying in baseball.”

“Go ahead, make my day.”

You get my point.  The best actor in the world can’t deliver a crappy line and make it work.  However, a good writer can make an average actor seem extraordinary.

So the next time you’re enjoying something on TV, your phone, or the big screen, remember who drew you in and got you to watch the next scene.  It was that pimple-faced writer who spent his or her youth learning how to create a cogent passage with heart.  Writing may seem to be dissipating with advent of digital media, but believe me, those words are just as potent in your book or on your screen.  Writers make the world of fiction go around and I’m just glad to be a small part of that community who appreciates the effort.

Friday, November 18, 2016

HOW TRUMP HAS GREATLY IMPROVED THE LIFE OF A NOVELIST


Sometime in early 2001 I sent a copy of my manuscript, A Touch of Deceit, to a top literary agency in New York City.  Initially the book was rejected because the agent had a tough time believing that the U.S. would ever get involved with a Kurdish uprising in the Middle East.  Implausible was the word he used.  Then September 11th came and the world changed.  The implausible became very plausible.

When Donald Trump won the Republican nomination for President, it was a shocker.  No sane person would have predicted his victory.  And now that he’s about to be the leader of the free world, everything has changed. 
  

Clearly there’s a divide in our country that goes deeper than liberal and conservative.  Something that Donald Trump tapped into with 3-word catchphrases like ‘Drain the Swamp’ and ‘Build the Wall.’  Its ramifications are being felt globally with protests and warnings from foreign leaders.  The Democrats are screaming that Russia had something to do with the outcome of our election.  And they may be right.

If I were to write a novel three years ago and documented verbatim what happened in the past election cycle, my manuscript would’ve been soundly rejected again. Implausible.  And they would have a point.  Three years ago this scenario was unbelievable. 

But here’s the good news for fiction writers.  Trump has allowed us the freedom to stretch the boundaries of credibility much farther than ever thought possible.  Do you have a storyline that includes a Muslim-American terrorist who’s spent his life building a platform to become President, only to create havoc with our policies allowing a nuclear bomb to be fired at a Middle-Eastern enemy?  Go for it.  Do you have a plot that includes a Presidential candidate who’s a sex addict?  Why not? 

At this point the American public has seen it all and nothing is out of bounds any longer.  Love him or hate him, Donald Trump has opened up so many storylines for future novelists that were considered ridiculous just a few weeks ago.  I can feel the creative juices flowing already. 

How about a movie star who became Governor of California, then went on to become one of the most beloved Presidents in . . . oh wait.

Let’s start with an alien from another galaxy, far, far away.  I’m in.        

Friday, November 11, 2016

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN FICTION COINCIDES WITH REALITY


When I began writing my latest Nick Bracco thriller, A Touch of Defiance, I had no idea how closely it would emulate national events.  My character, Leo Frazier, is a closet bigot who’s attempting to overthrow the government with his collection of disaffected civilians called the Civil Resistance Movement.  There is civil unrest in our country and Frazier is taking advantage of our angst by drawing people against each other. 

Now in all my Bracco books I never delve into politics.  I never mention if Nick is a Republican or Democrat.  In fact, I never even mention which side of the aisle the President himself resides.  It’s not my place to instill a division among my readers.  I’ve always wanted my stories to be alone in their world without finger-pointing.  The main thrust of my work is simple.  Good versus bad.  The lines get blurry of course when you have a member of the Mafia working with an FBI agent to track down terrorists, but that’s the fun part.  How far can you go before you cross that line?  After all, even gangsters can be patriotic.

So when my story overlaps with today’s news cycle, I’m reminded that we are all part of the same community.  We are all on this spaceship called Earth hurling throughout the universe at breakneck speed and the people in the back of the ship are trying to kill the people in the front of the ship.  As a writer, I find solace in the fact that I can’t possibly prevent division in the world, nor can I bring people together with some fictional series about the mob fighting terrorist.  But I do gain a cathartic buzz knowing that I can offer my readers a sense of triumph.  You can join in with my characters and clench a fist of victory.  This form of accomplishment can be medicinal in this time of disparate agendas.  We are all part of the same spaceship.  So pick up your favorite thriller and delve into the pages.  Let your mind wander.  And please, be accepting of the other side—whatever that other side may be.    

Hop on and enjoy the ride.          

Thursday, October 20, 2016

HOW TO WRITE A THRILLER

I don't do how-to's very often.  It sounds pompous to have the recipe for a good thriller locked up into one blog post.  However, I do have some tips to help authors who endeavor to write thrillers.  There are certain ingredients to the recipe that make for a great reading experience.

First of all you need a protagonist who is flawed.  Even Ian Fleming's, James Bond, had his flaws.  Yes, he was a womanizer who drank and smoked.  The same goes for Raymond Chandler's, Phillip Marlowe, who had a weakness for scotch and long-legged women.  Think Macbeth or Gatsby or Jason Bourne. Very flawed indeed.  Even Indiana Jones was afraid of snakes.

Second, you need an antagonist who is believable.  I know we're conditioned to seeing movie villains who are simply there for maniacal reasons.  They're trying to blow up the White House, or poison the planet's water supply, but why?  The best antagonist has a plausible reason for their behavior.  Make him/her have an underlying reason for their actions.  This makes it compelling for the reader to understand the plotline and stay with you until the end.

Finally, and the most important part of the process, is the rhythm of the story.  This can be characterized as a writer's style.  How you negotiate the mixture of dialogue and narrative will eventually determine the ability to force the reader to turn the page.  Resist the temptation to show off all your knowledge of a certain subject.  If you're a gun enthusiast, don't spend three paragraphs explaining the intricacies of a 9mm Beretta.  It's what the character is doing with the Beretta that matters.  The ultra successful Elmore Leonard famously said, "Try to leave out the part that the reader tends to skip."  That's probably the best advice.  You probably never skipped over dialogue did you?  I'm not saying you should leave out important details, but mix it up.

The best way to do this is to "Show not Tell."  This is also a popular saying that needs to be followed.  Don't say, she was mad.  Show her slamming her fist on the desk.  It's rhythm.  It's the cadence of the story that keeps you reading.  A good way to make sure this is employed is to use the 5 senses in every scene.  The sound of the waves crashing on the shore as the detective searched for the body.  The smell of formaldehyde during the autopsy.  All of these pull the reader inside the room and place them right there in the scene itself. 

If this sounds like basic stuff to you, then you're already a seasoned author with a solid grasp of the fundamentals.  But as with any profession it requires talent and routine.  Even major league baseball players hit off of a tee every day during the season to keep that muscle memory going.  As long as you employ these features in your writing, you're bound to have a successful product on your hands.  And I'll let you decide what success is, but for my money, success comes from reading your work with a smile on your face knowing you did your very best to write the story you were trying to tell.                 

  

Saturday, October 1, 2016

HOW NICK BRACCO BECAME AN FBI AGENT


When Nick Bracco was just 16, his parents were gunned down by gangbangers in their hometown of Baltimore.  We learn about this event in the short story, In the Beginning.  Nick ends up living with his cousin Tommy and they become inseparable.  They spend lots of time at Pimlico Race Course, hanging around the stalls and picking up information about lame horses and crooked trainers.  This is where their childhood accelerates into adulthood. 

Around this time, Tommy gets mixed up with a bookie who offers them the identity of the two kids who murdered Nick's parents.  Both kids want revenge.  The bookie offers the boys the resources to get the murders alone and Nick and Tommy get their chance to retaliate. 
 

This is the very moment that defines the two cousins.  Tommy wants to kill the boys and he’s ready to put them down and move to Florida to escape prosecution.  Nick is onboard, but something stops him.  Maybe guilt from his Catholic background.  Maybe the ethics engineered into his system by his father who was a Baltimore Police Officer.  A man who reeked of integrity and fairness.  A man who insisted on having a black partner so he could better understand the plight of inner city kids and their challenges in a white world.

So when it came time to fire his weapon and change the fate of their lives, killing the two souls who took away his father, Nick hesitated.  Tommy urged him on, but Nick could feel his father looking down on him. 

It must be understood that Nick had no interest in following his father’s footsteps and joining the Baltimore Police Department.  It never even occurred to him, until that defining moment when Tommy insisted that Nick didn’t follow him into a life with the Mafia.   

You can learn exactly how Tommy prevented Nick from other bad choices and how Tommy acquired the colored toothpick habit and much more in the very first Nick Bracco short story: In the Beginning.  

Friday, September 16, 2016

HOW MY RELATIONSHIP WITH THE MAFIA HELPED FORM NICK BRACCO

In the early 70’s, the Mafia was a prevalent part of New York society.  The Mafia understood that people enjoyed to gamble and they became the conduit for all those who needed an outlet for their gambling habit.  If I’m making it sound like they were performing a service to society, it’s the Sicilian in me that’s talking.  Anyway, my father owned a Candy Store/Luncheonette in Brooklyn an hour and a half away from our home on Long Island.  We had an apartment in the back of the store, so my father would stay there all week and drive home on weekends.  When I was sixteen, I would meet him halfway to the city on Friday afternoons and he’d give me the keys to the store and our German Shepherd dog for protection.  Think about it, I was sixteen years old and running a business by myself each weekend.  But, as you will soon find out, I was never alone.

Now, my dad’s Sicilian friends knew that I was working there all weekend and they would be frequent guests in the store.  At the same time, they would take their daily bets from our customers for the football game or play the numbers (This was basically a lottery before the government took over the business.)  These gentlemen would linger around and talk sports with me, or school, or family matters, with great interest.  Of course their sense of loyalty and honor among friends became instrumental in my upbringing.  In particular, a gentleman named Max would spend hours telling me about his family and how he was raising his kids to be better than him.  A trait all parents can relate to.  “Do as I say, not as I do.”  

Anyway, when it came time for me to write a novel, for some reason I gravitated to a Sicilian FBI Agent whose cousin was in the Mafia.  Nick Bracco and Tommy are direct reflections of my experiences with these fine gentlemen.  I could actually here Max’s voice coming out of Tommy’s mouth when I sat down to write a scene.  There’s no doubt these formative years had molded me to the person I am today. 

I will leave you with one true story that will reflect the serious nature in which these men took my status among their tutelage:  There was a neon Dreyer’s Ice Cream sign that hung in the front window of our store, something that I could reach from behind the counter.  That sign was always to remain lit 24 hours a day.  The reason?  Across the street was a popular hangout for some of the Sicilian boys called Young’s Tavern.  It was privately known that if I was ever in trouble, I was to turn off the sign.  Well, at 10:55 one Friday night, just five minutes before we closed, a teenager came in to buy a fountain drink. (Yes, I would mix coke syrup in a glass with seltzer water to create Coca Cola.)  He sat at the counter and glanced around the store for a couple of minutes, then asked where my help was.  He also asked how much cash I would collect in a day.  Now I was just sixteen, but I wasn’t stupid.  This was when I decided to turn off the Dreyer’s Ice Cream sign.

After an excruciatingly long two minutes, the front door opened and three very drunk and large Sicilian men came lumbering into the store and circled the kid sitting at the counter.  One guy placed his arm around the teenager and picked up his drink and drank the remainder of the Coke.  The kid looked like he was going to puke.  Then the guy said, “I don’t think you should ever come back into this store again.”  The teenager was a blur running out the door.  As my Sicilian friends left, one of them said to me, "Hey, kid, turn the light back on.”

No one ever spoke about the incident.  There was no need. 

Now, we live in a different world and Tommy’s character has been modified to represent the world we’re living in.  However, the essence of his loyalty and respect for the underprivileged shows through in every scene.  My Sicilian friends probably did some unseemly things back in the day, but their sense of honor was the only side they showed to me.  And as an author, I’m grateful for their stories.              

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

EXCLUSIVE: READ THE OPENING TO THE NEXT NICK BRACCO THRILLER NOW


                                                               A Touch of Defiance
In a mere ten seconds the Garvey Space Systems building went dark and the front door burst open with a flash of light and an earsplitting blast.  Two men wearing Halloween masks barged through the opening with their assault weapons pointed at Amir Hassam.  They wore headlamps which bored into Amir’s face as they ordered him to the floor.  They had to shout because his ears were dullened from the blast.  Amir’s stomach catapulted in circles as he slithered along the tile floor until he was up against the wall, pleading for the men not to shoot.   A third masked man entered behind them holding a computer tablet and tapping the touch screen with quick fingers.
 

            Amir was the only security personnel on staff that night, yet he was completely baffled why these men were even there at three in the morning with such little value inside. 

            He threw his hands in the air and blurted, “Please, take anything you want.  I will not stop you.”

            “We know,” the leader said, swiveling his head around the room and shining the headlamp along the interior of the lobby.  They seemed to be waiting for the computer guy to do something. 

Amir was just glad they weren’t firing at him, taking each second as a gift.  He was a security guard at the propulsion laboratory owned by a billionaire who decided to create a rocket ship for passengers to orbit the earth.  There was an abundance of one-percenters who were willing to part with the hundred-thousand-dollar down payment and wait the five years for production.  It’s why Amir was confused.  There wasn’t anything inside that complex that would be of interest to anyone besides a competing laboratory.  This gave Amir hope, thinking these men could be white collar criminals and not thugs after some big payday.

The computer guy made one last tap on his tablet and the lights came back on.  Amir could see the three men clearly now, their faces hidden behind the rubber mask, but their lips and eyes were uncovered.  Was it an old President?  He couldn’t tell.

The leader of the trio shoved his rifle into Amir’s face and said, “Get up.”

Amir jumped to his feet, his heart pulsing throughout his body.

The leader pointed the rifle to the seat behind the reception counter and ordered Amir in front of the computer.

“Get us in!” the leader yelled.

At first Amir didn’t understand, then the computer guy said, “He won’t know the password to the company system.”

Amir nodded fervently.  “Yes, that is correct.  I know nothing about the company except that they make rocket ships.  That is it.”

“Turn it on,” the leader insisted.

“Not that one,” the computer guy said.  Then he pointed to a computer sitting by the end of the long countertop that fronted the reception area.  “That one.”

“What’s the difference,” the leader said with a little attitude. 

“Only one person uses that computer, so she’ll have the same login every time.”

The leader stared at the computer guy as if he were about to challenge him, but decided to point his rifle at the other computer and yell, “Now!”

Amir was nearly about to faint.  His brain was lacking blood flow as he stumbled like a drunk and sprawled to the floor.

Computer guy quickly maneuvered around the leader and stood in front of the computer.  He placed his tablet on the counter and zipped open a small pouch.  He removed a test tube from the pouch and sprinkled a blue powder over the keyboard.

From the doorway, the third guy was looking toward the street.  “Let’s get going here.”

“Relax,” the leader said. “It’s an industrial park.  There aren’t any neighbors.”

“Still,” the guy said with an eye on the empty road.

Amir sat motionless hoping they might forget about him sitting on the floor.  His hands were clammy and his stomach was cramping.

The computer guy lowered some microscopic lenses over his eyes, the mask making him look even more sinister.  “There are oils on the fingers of the woman from the lotion she uses each morning.  I can see the keys that are smeared with the lotion.  It’s the same six keys each day.  Now I need to decipher the sequence by the direction of the smears.”

“C’mon,” the guy by the door shifted his weight from side to side like someone with a full bladder.

After a minute, there was a faint chime.

“I’m in,” computer guy said.

He tapped the keys with extreme dexterity, as if he knew exactly what he was looking for.  From the back hallway there was a metal-sounding click.  Computer guy looked up at the leader and said, “Go.”

The leader ran to the warehouse and Amir could hear him push through the iron gate that sealed off the laboratory from the rest of the building.  Everything was happening so fast, Amir couldn’t catch his breath.  The computer guy leaned over the counter and said, “Give me your phone.”

Amir quickly pulled the phone from his pocket and tossed it to the guy.  The guy snatched it out of the air, then grabbed his tablet and began tapping again.  Amir sat there frozen, grateful to be alive.

The leader emerged from the hallway carrying a shiny canister and jogging past the counter, then slapping the computer guy on the shoulder.  “Let’s go.”

The door guy pulled something out of his jacket, then ran over to an open space in the lobby and began spraying something on the wall.  Amir was afraid it was some kind of chemical and he began hyperventilating.  When the door guy was finished spraying, he sprinted out the door.  The computer guy tapped his tablet and the darkness resumed.  The leader was the last one to the entrance.  He stood in front of the opening and swung his rifle around, pointing it at the weaponless security guard.

Amir thought about his infant daughter who would only know her father from stories told by family and friends.  He was about to beg for his life when the leader dropped the rifle to his side and said, “Wait ten minutes before you leave.”

            Amir let out a whimper as he heard a car start.  He waited a full twenty minutes before he got to his feet and crept outside.  It was cloudy and cold.  A typical winter night in Baltimore.  He walked almost a mile before he reached a convenience store and dialed 911. 

When the police finally arrived, the first words out of Amir’s mouth were, “I want to see my family.”     

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

SINFUL 7 IS NOW RELEASED


The Sinful 7 is a new anthology which includes stories from 7 bestselling authors who each write a story about one of the 7 deadly sins.  This book includes a new Nick Bracco short story titled, "The Greed Factor."  Yes, greed is the sin ju jour.  https://www.amazon.com/Sinful-Seven-Rick-Murcer-ebook/dp/B01KU4X0VG/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1471963511&sr=8-2&keywords=sinful+7#nav-subnav

Friday, June 3, 2016

THE GREED FACTOR: A NICK BRACCO THRILLER--FINAL CHAPTER


                                                        Chapter 14

 

           

            They were driving north on I-10 toward downtown Tucson with Nick in the passenger seat and Matt and Dane in the back.  Jesse Martinez was already in custody and going through the bargaining process of reducing his sentence for information on Reynoso’s Uranium-trafficking deal.  The Familia Reynoso was greeted quite harshly by a CIA-FBI taskforce a half mile offshore from the Puerto Vallarta port.  It would be a long process, but the FBI’s Russian contacts would eventually lead them in the right direction.  In the digital era there were always trails to follow and the FBI would get their due.   

            Matt was looking down at his phone scanning his emails when he glanced at Dane.  “We found your friend.”

            Dane’s mouth opened and stayed there.  “How? Where?”


            “He crawled his way to the front door of some unsuspecting family just inside our border,” Matt informed him.  “He was suffering from multiple gunshots and many broken bones, but it looks like he’s going to survive.”

            “What?  That’s crazy!”

            Hal looked over his shoulder at the kid from behind the wheel.  “Really?  That’s crazy?”

            “Leave him alone,” Nick said.  “He’s delirious.”

            “That’s the nicest thing you could say about him,” Hal said.

            Nick grinned. 

            Hall turned onto an exit ramp with the sun lighting up the eastern horizon.

            “Where are we going?” Dane asked from the back seat.

            “You think we’re going to let you go free after all the trouble you caused?” Nick asked.

            “But . . . but . . .” Dane stammered, his eyes pleading with anyone who would look his way. 

            No one did.

            Hal turned right and maneuvered down a two lane road, then turned into the entrance to a small hospital overlooking the highway.

            “But I helped you find that Reynoso guy, right?” Dane said, looking at the parking lot and recognizing something.  “Wait, that looks just like my mom’s car.”

            “That’s because it is your mom’s car,” Nick said.

            Hal swung the SUV around the semicircle drop-off area fronting the entrance to the hospital and stopped.

            “What’s going on?” Dane asked.

            Nick swiveled around in his seat and said, “Your friend is inside and I’ll bet he’d like to see you.”

            “So . . . I can go?”

            Nick nodded. 

            Dane looked at Matt and he nodded without looking up from his email check.

            Dane pulled the handle on the door and when it opened, he said, “Are you coming with me?”

            “No,” Nick said.  “We’re leaving.  We have more important challenges ahead of us.  You’re free to go.”

            “But—”

            “Your car is at Palisades Repair Shop a mile from where you drove it into the ocean.  I hope you have good insurance.”

            “And I’m not going to be arrested?’

            “No.”

            “What about those guys that were waiting for me outside you complex?  You said they were going to be at my house.”

            “We lied,” Nick said.  “It was a couple of college kids.  The driver’s mom is an old friend from Baltimore.  They were glad to sit in the rain for a couple of hours for a little extra cash.”

            Dane tried to put the pieces together while sitting there with his hand still on the door handle.

            Nick finally raised his eyebrows.  “You can go, Dane.  You did something very stupid and broke some laws in the process, but you are a guppy in an ocean of sharks.  We’re after the sharks.  Stay out of Mexico for the rest of your life and you’ll be just fine.”

            Dane still couldn’t believe his ordeal was ending.  “What if I have more questions?”

            Matt rolled his eyes, then pulled a business card out of his coat and tossed it at the kid.  Dane lifted from his lap and gave it a serious examination, as if it might be a fake.

            “Go,” Matt said, “before we change our minds.”

            Dane got the hint.  A smile creased the side of his face.  He jumped down out of the back seat and just as he was about to shut the door, Matt said, “Hey kid.”

            Dane froze.

            Matt gave him his best FBI agent glare and said, “Don’t be greedy.”

 

                                                                           THE END