Skeletons in the Reacher Family Closet

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Lee Child learned style from Hemingway. Or maybe from Elmore Leonard or Dashiell Hammett. He writes short, clean, sometimes incomplete but straight-to-the-point sentences. Brief paragraphs, plus almost as short episodic sections consisting of alternating points of view. Except when he writes long action sequences with lots of ands and Reacher did this and that and then his opponents fall down like flies after being sprayed with insecticide. Reacher gets knocked down, too, and instantly he’s back on his feet again. To stay down long means to die.

Hope for the best, plan for the worst.

Although the writing is often sparse and minimalist, it’s also detail-rich. Child pays close attention to tiny details, and so does protagonist Jack Reacher.

Past Tense (Delacorte Press/Random House, November 15, 2018) is Child’s 22nd Reacher thriller.

Patty Sundstrom and Shorty Fleck are a Canadian potato farmer and a timber sawmill worker on their way to NYC to sell something valuable enough to raise sufficient capital to start a new life in Florida. When their old car breaks down in the woods near Laconia, NH, not far from where Reacher’s father Stan was born and raised, they plan to spend only one night. Little do they know they might be trapped there for the rest of their lives.

Jack Reacher, walking and thumbing his way across America, sees a sign for Laconia and decides to visit the town where his father allegedly  grew up. Of course, nothing is ever simple in a Jack Reacher novel. Hope for the best, plan for the worst.

It’s been said that Reacher walks where angels fear to tread. Whenever he encounters a wrong, he feels duty-bound by his own internal code of honor to set it right. Whenever he finds a bully picking on an underdog, he has to step in. He’s a giant of a man, both literally and figuratively.

And when he gets mad, all hell can break loose.

Those are traits he inherited from his father.

Faithful readers will find many of the elements they expect in a great Reacher novel in the 400 pages of Past Tense: an intriguing  mystery to solve (several, actually); plenty of broken noses and broken bones; bodies piled up like cordwood (some dead, others merely knocked unconscious); a beautiful female cop who proves not only extremely competent but an excellent foil for Reacher to toy with; plenty of bad guys and a few good guys Reacher needs to protect; a realistic threat to life and limb; and a get-out-of-town deadline. What makes Past Tense different, however, is the number of previously-unknown Reachers that may or may not be closely related to Jack.

Like all the other Lee Child novels, I couldn’t put this book down. The dramatic tension and anticipation of violence kept me devouring words. Learning more about the Reacher family was icing on the cake. Highly recommended.

 

Lee and me at Thrillerfest. I’m the guy wearing glasses.

 

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Why so many serial killers?

 

“If every age gets the lunatics it deserves, then our age of anxiety deserves those who are in the grip of a compulsion.” Can’t Just Stop: An Investigation of Compulsions by Sharon Begley (Simon & Schuster, February 2017) hypothesizes that “compulsions are a response to anxiety, and modern life is filled with overwhelming anxiety.” Compulsions offer us an illusion of control in a world gone mad. “We cling to compulsions as if to a lifeline, for it is only by engaging in compulsions that we can drain enough of our anxiety to function.”

The idea behind Begley’s book was so compelling that I simply had to buy it. I’m a compulsive bookaholic who needs to know what’s inside every book (which may be an impossible task) or continuous wondering will drive me crazy.

That’s my excuse, anyway, for buying books, and I’m sticking to it. I’ve become a compulsive book hoarder. Books are more than a compulsion with me, they’re an obsession. And, as long as I have a book to read or a book to write, I don’t feel the need to kill anyone.

Is compulsion an anxiety disorder? Is it a personality disorder? An addiction? A syndrome? What’s the difference between Impulsive and Compulsive drives? Everyone feels anxious. Everyone is occasionally impulsive or compulsive. Should impulsive and compulsive behaviors be considered pathological only when they become so excessive they interfere with normal life functions?

Can we control our impulsive and compulsive behaviors? When do we know we need to?

Serial killers are addicts who get pleasure from risk-taking. They thrive on anxiety rather than feel a need to alleviate anxiety. They’re addicted to the pleasure they get from causing pain. They know their actions are wrong, but they can’t stop until they get caught. Seeing how long they can get away with doing something dangerous and forbidden is half the fun. They’re more concerned with what happens when they do something than when they don’t do something. They’re thrill addicts who need regular fixes or suffer the pains of withdrawal. Serial killing is addictive behavior, It isn’t compulsive.

Compulsive behavior, on the other hand, results from worries about what will happen if one does not possess something (knowledge, an object, followers on Facebook, love, money, drugs, bullets, soldiers, words in print, etc.) in sufficient quantity or quality to prevent disaster. It is the opposite of risk-taking. In one’s mind, possession is seen as the only thing that can prevent a future catastrophe from occurring.

Addictions can become compulsions only when worry about what may happen if you can’t continue the addictive (pleasurable) behavior takes over. You no longer get pleasure from risk-taking, but must take different risks to avoid pain caused by discontinuing the risky behavior. Like feeling compelled to kill in order to cover your tracks and not for pleasure. Like stockpiling books you’ll never have a chance to read.

When anxiety becomes fear, compulsions can become obsessive. You’re terrorized that unless you get things just right, absolutely perfect, calamity will happen. You, and only you can prevent bad things from happening, especially to ones you love. Only scrupulous adherence to a magical ritual (like buying certain books or writing them a certain way) will prevent disaster.

As a writer of crime-suspense thrillers, I enjoyed this book ‘s insights immensely. It was written in language a layman could understand, covered the gamut of compulsive behaviors, and tried to tie things together in a nice package. More importantly, though, this book taught me that when compulsions serve a useful function and contribute to a successful life rather than destroying it, being compulsive isn’t always bad.

Maybe that means I’m not as crazy as I thought.

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The convention season is about to begin again, and I’m gearing up to make personal appearances at four or five cons. I’m not as young as I once was (who is?), so this year I’m limiting my appearances and staying home to write more.

I’ve said numerous times that the writing business is a numbers game (See “The Numbers Game” on my website or in the dozens of other place it’s been published). One becomes a good writer only by writing, and the more you write, the more you’ll get published. Depending on your innate talent and the number of books you’ve read, it takes writing five to ten complete novels before you become good enough to see print.

Each novel I write is better than the novel I wrote before. If you doubt that, compare Claw Hammer with Meat Cleaver or The Girl Who Lived.

It also takes a minimum of five years with five good novels in print before you breakout into public consciousness. Selling books requires word-of-mouth recommendations, good reviews, and titles displayed on bookstore shelves and on library shelves. Few people buy books authored by unknowns.

Does appearing at conventions help? Very little. Attendance at conventions and book signings is a chance to meet and greet the reading public, but it doesn’t sell a lot of books. Not unless people already know your name and recognize you as a good author.

I made a mistake and seriously damaged my authorial career when I stopped writing fiction for twenty years. Sure, there are still some people at conventions who know me and know my work from the 1980s and 1990s. But they are few and far between.

I have been back in the land of the living for nearly four years now. That is, I have regularly attended writing conferernces, genre conventions, and book signings since the year after my wife, Gretta M. Anderson, died of a massive heart attack in 2012. I appeared on panels, presented workshops, and autographed my own books. I attended the Nebula Awards, the Bram Stoker Awards, the Hugo Awards, and the Tiptree Awards banquets. I appeared on programs at MidAmericon II, Thrillerfest, World Fantasy Convention, Stokercon, OdysseyCon, Wiscon, and Windycon. I renewed friendships with authors, editors, and agents I have known for years and became new friends with authors, editors, and agents I met at recent cons.

I have two new stories already published in anthologies since last year, and I’ll have a major novel released on March 2. Four more stories will appear in anthologies by the end of 2017, and so will two more novels. So I must make some efforts to promote those works in the marketplace. I owe it to my editors and publishers, and to fans who expect an autograph when they buy my books.

I’ll be at Murder and Mayhem in Chicago March 11, Stokercon 2017 in Long Beach, CA April 27-30, Wiscon in Madison, WI May 26-29, and Thrillerfest in NYC July 13-16.

This year or the next should be my breakout year. The Girl Who Lived has received excellent reviews, and might be a breakout book. I plan to promote the hell out of it.

So, if you want to read what I believe is my best book yet, buy a copy of The Girl Who Lived.

And ask for my autograph when I seen you at one of those conventions I mentioned.

My Return from the Dead

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Coming back from the dead is never easy.

I deliberately killed myself off twenty-five years ago. I stopped writing fiction to help my wife overcome chronic life-threating illness. Instead of writing fiction, I earned several masters degrees and worked on doctorates in educational psychology and cognitive neuroscience. I learned hypnotic techniques to help prolong human lives and improve the quality of life. I made a name for myself as a hypnosis instructor and author of journal articles.

But Paul Dale Anderson–the author of science fiction, fantasy, horror, and thrillers–was buried and forgotten.

When I returned to fiction writing in 2012, it took two long years for my novels and short stories to again appear in print. I’m still in the process of resurrecting my backlist, but new Paul Dale Anderson novels are now available as paperbacks and e-books.

I began making live personal appearances in 2014, and this year I’m doing the full convention circuit. I’m getting my face and name out there to show people I’m still alive.

I have been back in the fiction game for four consecutive years, and I am about to have a breakthrough. Breakthroughs come when an author publishes consistently for at least five years in one genre or related genres. Breakthroughs occur when name recognition and writing quality reach critical mass.

It takes at least five years before people in this industry take you seriously, five years of writing your heart out, five years of pitching and submitting manuscripts to agents and editors, five years of attending conventions and doing readings and book signings, five years of reaching for the golden ring, missing it by millimeters, before you can grab hold and hang on.

It takes five years for word to get around that your work is worth reading. Any writer worth his or her salt who sticks around for more than five years should notice a breakthrough at the five year mark.

It takes ten additional years to produce a bestselling book. Your writing improves with each book you write, so the more books you write, the better your writing becomes. Sales, also, are accumulative, and the more you write the more books you’ll sell. And the more you sell, the more readers will recognize your name. The more people who recognize your name, the more books you’ll sell. It’s a vicious circle. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Writing is a numbers game.

In order to play the writing game and have a chance at winning, you need:

1. Name recognition

2. Facial recognition

3. Genre recognition

4. Quality (Content) recognition

5. Peer recognition

People will want to buy your work only if other people buy your work. You must fist show that other people like and trust you. Humans are socially conditioned to do what they see other people doing. That’s why books have lots of blurbs from other bestselling authors and reviewers on their covers and in their front-matter.

That, my friends, is a hard truth most writers refuse to admit.

I now have a New York agent, one of the best in the business at a literary agency I respect. I have made new friends, many of them bestselling authors, who know my name and like my work. I help fledgling authors with reviews and blurbs. I have found heaven on earth and I am once again alive and well.

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Watch for my breakthrough novel to appear from one of the Big Five publishers. I’m hard at work on a sequel and three stand-alones.

I’m scheduled to appear on panels at MidAmeiCon II, the World Science Fiction Convention in Kansas City, in August. I’ll be at BoucherCon in New Orleans in September.

Life is good.

Rather than endure long TSA lines at O’Hare International Airport on July 4th,I chose to drive two thousand miles to attend Thrillerfest XI July 5 through July 9 in New York City. It was worth the time and money to attend.

 

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