Category Archives: Robert Gregory Browne

The Well-Dressed Writer

by Robert Gregory Browne


Before I tell you the story behind this photo, let’s have a little contest. 

Whoever can come up with the funniest caption for the photo wins a signed copy of my UK hardback, WHISPER IN THE DARK, when it comes out next year, along with a signed copy of the paperback version of KISS HER GOODBYE.

Okay, so have at it. 

Go to the comments section and write your caption.  I’ll meet you back here when you’re done.

Tick tock.  Tick Tock.

(Theme from Jeopardy!)

Okay, you back?  Read on…

The guy in the photo is not Michael Jordan but me, of course, in a rust-colored, 70’s era three-piece suit.  This is what the well-dressed aspiring writer wore in those days.  I was reminded of this suit when a friend sent me an email showing photos from the J.C. Penny catalog circa 1978.

I looked at those catalog photos and couldn’t believe that people ever dressed like that.

Then I remembered the infamous suit — which I probably BOUGHT from Penny’s — and knew it was true.  This photo is proof.

It was taken about thirty years ago at a wedding.  The two guys in the air are me and the groom’s brother, going for the bride’s garter.  I was the victor — and a good thing, too, because the garter had 20 bucks in it and I was so broke that that twenty was going to feed me for the next couple weeks.

I actually had to rip it out of the other guy’s hand.  Which, come to think of it, probably goes down as one of those "hauntings" I was talking about last time around.

Anyway, I got the twenty, didn’t starve and looked damn spiffy in the process. 

And I’m only SLIGHTLY embarrassed by the suit.  It could have been worse.  I could have been wearing a powder blue tuxedo like the groom and his crew.

What about you?  What fashion embarrassments will you own up to?

Making Sense

by Rob Gregory Browne

My wife and I have an ongoing, but
friendly, argument about which is more tolerable:  heat or cold.

I’m a cold guy.  My feeling is that no
matter how cold you get, you can always pile on more blankets until
you’re fairly comfortable.  With heat, however — real heat — you
can strip down to the altogether and still be friggin’ hot.

The hotter it gets, the more foul my
mood.  But with cold, not so much.

My wife is the exact opposite.  She
says that during winter, no matter how many blankets she piles on,
she’s still uncomfortable.  Her nose and fingers and toes are still
frozen and she hates that.

All that said, I guess it’s a good
thing we both grew up in Hawaii, where it never gets hotter than
about 85 degrees or colder than 60.

But when we were having this argument
the other day, I started thinking about the differences in people,
and it brought to mind something I read years ago about the five
senses and how each of us has a dominant sense.

Some of us might have an extremely
strong sense of smell, for example (like my wife),  while others
(like me) are very visual and can barely smell anything.  For some it
might be a keen sense of hearing, taste or touch.

What does any of this have to do with
reading or writing?

Maybe a lot.  When I write, I find that
I rarely talk about smell in a scene.  In fact, while working on this
new book, I’ve had to consciously force my character to think about
certain smells because it helped sell the scene.

Unlike visual details, adding in that
sense of smell didn’t come naturally to me.  It wasn’t something that
came out of the writing instinctively.  And I assume this is because
I rarely concern myself with smell in my real life.

So I have to wonder.  Are most writers
like this?  Are they led by their dominant traits?

Or what about readers?  Are they
attracted to books or scenes or characters that share their own
sensory preference?

So this is my question to you today.
What is your dominant sense, and do you find yourself favoring it in
your writing or reading?

And, hell, while we’re at it:  which do
you prefer — heat or cold?

High Anxiety

by Robert Gregory Browne

I was a shy child.  So painfully shy,
in fact, that before the age of seven, I didn’t have the nerve to
walk up to a checkout counter and buy a candy bar.  My sister always
had to do it for me.

At nine years old, after some coaching from my uncle on the ukelele, I taught myself to play guitar, and
within a year, I was in a band and practicing in my friend’s garage.
If not The Beatles, we were convinced that we were definitely
destined to be as popular as The Ventures.

Unfortunately, the first time we played
in public was a personal disaster for me.  It was an elementary
school talent competition and we were slated to play a medley of surf
songs, including our two favorites, Pipeline and Wipeout.  But as the
curtain went up, I gathered up what little nerve I had,  strummed my
electric guitar…

And the amp remained silent.  No sound.
Not even a buzz.

Feeling the collective gaze of the
audience on me, I quickly checked to see if I was properly plugged
in, and the moment I touched my amp, the cable jack fell to the stage
with a resounding thud.

This was followed by a roar of laughter
so loud and forceful, I felt as if it might blow me off my feet.  The
curtain closed and I quickly replugged the cable, but that laughter
seemed to go on forever as a small part of me shriveled up and died.

That I was able to continue at all was
a miracle.  But we played our tunes, got our applause, and ultimately
lost the contest to a seven year-old singing A Spoonful of Sugar in a
squeaky, off-key voice.

Not that it mattered.  All I took away
from the night was that moment of utter humiliation.

Years later, when assigned to do an oral report for a high school biology class, I chose to do a talk on the digestive system.  But as the day approached for me to get up in front of
the class, the butterflies in my own digestive system got so bad that I actually
stayed home from school — only to be forced to do the report the day
I returned.

I reluctantly got up in front of my
fellow students — one of whom was a girl I’d had my eye on (but was
too shy to talk to, of course) — and stammered my way through the
presentation while my classmates quietly snickered.  My teacher,
already a sourpuss, kept frowning at me.  And I wasn’t surprised to
discover that my grade for the report was a big fat D.

As I got older, like most young men, I
continued to have dreams of being a rock star.  I actually got pretty
good at writing songs and performing them for my friends.  But the
idea of being up on stage scared the hell out of me and I never took
my music beyond those private performances.

So I became a writer.  A screenwriter,
in fact.  I won an international screenwriting competition and the
first thing I had to do was fly to Los Angeles to accept my prize —
in front of an audience of industry bigwigs. 

Prepare a speech, they
told me.

So there I stood, nervously clutching a
podium, Jack Lemmon staring up at me with that cock-eyed grin on his
face.  Trying not to throw-up, I said, "I’m a writer, not a
speaker, so I just want to thank the Academy for giving me this
wonderful opportunity.  It’s an honor to be in such fine company."

Then I got off the stage as
quickly as I could, actually believing the words I had just uttered:

A writer, not a speaker.

Oh, boy, how wrong I was.  From that
day forward, a good part of my time was spent speaking, not
writing.  Sitting in front of executives, pitching stories  —
terrified to be in a room full of strangers.

And it never seemed to get better.  No
matter how many meetings I went to, no matter how many stories I
pitched, I never got over that awful, unsettling stage fright.

Years later, I decided to abandon
Hollywood and set my sights on the publishing world.  When I got my
deal with St. Martin’s Press, I thought, ahhh, finally.  All I have
to do now is write.  No more pressure to perform.

What an idiot.

I soon discovered that most novelists,
even mere thriller writers, soon find themselves before an audience.
Be it a conference, a book signing, a speaking engagement.  All of
these things come with the job and are an important part of it.

When I found this out, I shuddered at
the idea of once again having to perform in front of people.  My anxiety level rose whenever I thought about it.

Then, oddly enough, something changed
inside of me.  I can’t pinpoint the moment it happened, but it did.
I participated in my first panel at Thrillerfest and it went quite
smoothly.  I’m told I blushed like crazy, but nobody seemed to mind,
and I even got a few laughs.

Several panels later, I almost felt
like an old pro.   As if I were in my element.   I didn’t love doing
it, still got a tiny twinge of nerves, but I didn’t mind it either.
And I found that people actually responded quite well to me.

When I was asked earlier this year to
go down to San Diego and teach a workshop, I immediately said yes.  I
admit I had an attack of panic before it was my turn to speak, but
that dissolved the moment I started teaching.  And, afterwards,
several people came up to thank me, telling me they really got a lot
out of it.

Now, just this past Saturday, Brett Battles
and I did a joint appearance, speaking together before the Southern
California Writers Association about writing thrillers.  I again had a momentary twinge of nerves, but they disappeared immediately and I felt comfortable and completely at ease.

Brett and I riffed
off each other, spontaneously cracking jokes, sharing our experiences
and offering trips and tricks to a room full of aspiring writers.
And, surprisingly enough, I really enjoyed myself.  In fact, I not only
enjoyed myself but was a little disappointed when it was over.

And we were a hit.  Afterwards, attendees told us that we
had raised the bar for future speakers and, believe me, those are
words I never in my life expected to hear.

Am I still shy?  Of course.  But these
days, for some reason, I’m better equipped to cope with the shyness.
I don’t know if it’s practice, age, or simply some strange miracle,
that has changed my attitude about such things, but I’m actually
looking forward to the next speaking engagement.  And the next.  And the next.

And, hopefully, I’ll always be able to keep
the guitar plugged into the amp.


But now that you’ve heard about my
worst public appearance disasters, let’s hear about yours.  What went
wrong and how did you deal with it?  And if such things have gotten
better for you, what was the turning point?


P.S.  The winner of my Videorati
opening scene contest has been chosen.  My favorite opening was this

"At the end, there was so much blame to spread around that we
could all have taken a few shovelfuls home and rolled around in it
like pigs in stink. But that’s not the way it goes with most of us.
Most of us like to think that blame belongs on somebody else’s
doorstep. And I’m no different.

I can picture the way it was on the day everything went bad, just
as clearly as if I still had my sight. Of course, I probably made up
most of it. You know how it goes: your mouth fills in the details
your mind doesn’t catch. And then later, when you’re looking back
over everything that happened, your memory just smoothes out some of
the corners, takes away that metal taste of fear, makes you seem a
little braver than you really were, and then paints in a rosy-toned

You’re always the hero of your own story. Even if
that’s not the way it happened at all."

My fellow Murderati-ite, Louise Ure,
wins a signed UK paperback copy of KISS HER GOODBYE.  Send me your
address, Louise, and it’s on its way.


Go ahead and post your favorite opening lines or paragraphs in the comment section.  And those of you who are adding your OWN opening paragraph — for a chance to win a signed copy of my new UK paperback — the rules are as follows:  Make it short and sweet and I’ll simply chose the one I like best.  The contest ends next Wednesday at 11:59 pm pacific time.

Good luck!

Anatomy of a Logline

by Robert Gregory Browne

The screenwriters are taking over Murderati.  Alex’s last couple of posts have been about screenwriting, so I thought I’d add my two cents on the the subject with a blast from the past — an article I wrote for Screentalk Magazine several years ago.  But I think what follows works just as well for those of you writing novels. 

As always, take everything you read here with a grain of salt.  Process is an individual and very personal thing.  Everybody’s is different.


written your script. You’ve labored over it for weeks and months and
polished every syllable until your masterpiece is ready to hit the
marketplace. Now comes one of the most frequently asked questions I get:

Who do
I send my script to?

My response is usually another question: are you sure you’re ready to send it?

many of us want to send out our scripts the moment they’re finished,
yet we don’t even think about what it takes just to find someone to
send it to.

"Find" is actually the wrong word. You’ll never be able to
"find" anyone in this business who actually wants to read a script.

What you have to do is attract readers. And to attract readers you have to call on all your skills as a salesman.


you cry. But I’m a writer not a salesman! Uh-huh. Glad you’ve enjoyed
your stint in fantasyland, my friend, but it’s time to take a step into
the real world. In fact, I could argue that you should be thinking like
a salesman with every single word you put down on paper, but that isn’t
what this article is about.

this point, you have a product that needs to be moved and there’s only
one way to move it: Advertising. Any good salesman knows all about the
benefits of advertising. From the biggest corporation with their
multi-million dollar commercials to the guy standing on the street
holding a sign for the local car dealer: Big Savings! Today Only!

is what any good salesman uses to attract buyers. You go to a used car
dealer to see what’s available and what happens? The salesman comes
over and guides you toward the latest lemon while he tries to
smooth-talk you into buying it. And, boy does he make it attractive. It
has the latest this and the latest that and it’s only been driven by a
little old lady on weekends, and once you get it on the road, this baby
purrs. His sales pitch is his advertisement.

that’s exactly how you get people to read your screenplay. Your sales
pitch. You have to prepare your pitch both verbally and on paper and
you have to present it with confidence and polish. Otherwise nobody
will take you seriously, and nobody will want to read your script.


all probably heard of a Svengali Deck, otherwise known as TV Magic
Cards. For those of you who haven’t, a Svengali Deck is a special deck
of playing cards that allows the user to perform a dozen or more
amazing card tricks without having to develop any sleight of hand

the old days, magician/pitch-men used to stand on street corners or at
swap meet booths and demonstrate the wonders of this deck of cards by
showing you an eye-popping trick. This trick would be brief and
straight to the point — just enough to show off the virtues of the
deck and get you digging for the cash to buy one.

you prepare your all-important sales pitch to entice readers to your
script, you have to approach your pitch with the same economy and magic
the magician/pitch-men use. You have to get your story across in a few
simple words and those words must have eye-popping appeal. They must
have that wow quality that forces the reader to say, "I’ve gotta read
that script…" That’s where your logline comes in.


are always a few out there who are relatively new to the game, so this
is for you: a logline is a one or two-sentence summary of your story.
Probably the best place to find a sample logline is to look in your TV
Guide or local equivalent, which are full of brief story summaries. But
let me give you an example.

Here’s a logline for The Fugitive:

he’s wrongly convicted of murdering his wife, a high-powered surgeon
escapes custody and hunts down the real killer, a one-armed man.

not the liveliest logline in the world, but it tells you just about
everything you need to know about the movie. We know who the lead
character is, what his dilemma is, and most importantly, what he hopes
to accomplish.

we have above is essentially the spine of the story — the sentence the
entire movie hangs on. Sure, we could talk about the relentless U.S.
Marshal who is after the doctor; we could talk about the train crash
and the chase sequences and the experimental liver drug, but when it
comes to the logline, none of that really matters. We don’t have time
for it.

that TV Magic card trick, your logline has to be simple and to the
point and it has to attract the reader to the possibility of a great
read. When I look at the above logline, I think, wow, that sounds like
it could be an exciting story. And, of course, we all know it is.

anatomy of a logline is this: the lead character has a problem and must
achieve a certain goal in order to solve that problem. Who, What, How.
Who is the lead character, what is his problem and how is he going to
solve it.

Let’s take a look at The Fugitive again:

Who: A high-powered surgeon.

What: Wrongly convicted of murdering his wife.

How: Escapes custody to hunt down the real killer.

are pretty good that you’re scratching your head right now and saying,
"But my story is much too complex for that." This may be true, but if
you can’t boil your story down to a simple Who, What and How, I’ve got
some sad news for you: you are in serious trouble.

if you can’t boil your story down, no one else is going to be
interested in trying to figure it out. So what’s a poor screenwriter to
do? Try this on for size:


right. The most important step you can take toward structuring a script
is to create your logline or spine before you start writing the script.
You have your idea, you have your characters, you have a general idea
of what you want to happen and how you want it to happen, but what do
you hang it on? Without a spine, your creation will be nothing more
than a mess of flesh and bones. There may be a lot of interesting stuff
there, but it has nothing to cling to.

before you start page one, scene one, the best thing you can do for
your story is figure out the Who, What and How. Write them down.
Fashion them into something that has movement and purpose. Then start
writing. And as you write, always remember your spine. And stick to it.

when the script is done and it comes time to work up a sales pitch, you
don’t have to search. You already know what it is. Your entire story is
based on that sales pitch. As it should be.

can hear you now. "Come on, man, I already told you. My story is too
complex for that." Is it really? Let’s take a look at a very complex
story: The Godfather. We all know The Godfather is full of vivid
characters and great subplots and big moments, but what really is the
essence of the story?

Here’s what I get:

When a powerful gangster is gunned down, his reluctant son must seek revenge and take over the family business.

movie plays on a rich canvas, but it is much less about Brando, the
Godfather, and more about Pacino — Michael Corleone — the up and
coming Godfather. It is the story of his ascent (or descent, depending
on your POV) to the leadership of the Family. Everything in the movie
leads up to the moment Vito Corleone is shot, then follows Michael as
he gets revenge, then eventually takes over as head of the
organization. Everything in the movie hangs on that simple logline or

Do you think Coppola discovered this spine only after he and Puzo wrote the screenplay? I seriously doubt it.


get back to our original notion of what a logline is for. As I said, if
you know your logline before your start, then you shouldn’t have a
problem figuring out what it is after your script is done. But you’re
trying to sell something here. If you follow the usual marketing
strategies, you’ll be sending out query letters and making phone calls
and throwing your pitch at just about anyone who is willing to catch
it. And in order to get their attention; the logline you pitch had
better shine. It shouldn’t simply tell the story. There should be
something in that brief one or two-sentence pitch that really makes it
stand out.

that’s difficult to do if the elements aren’t there. In this day and
age, it isn’t enough to have a great story. These days, with all the
competition out there, you have to have a great story with an even
greater hook. You have to have what is commonly referred to as high
concept — an idea that jumps off the page.

A cop must find out a way to save a busload of people stranded on a bus that will explode if it drops below 55 MPH.

young wife discovers that the husband she’s been convicted of killing
is not really dead, and escapes custody to track him down.

are high concept ideas that immediately grab you. You can go back to
The Godfather pitch and even that has a pretty high concept idea. And
unless you start with a high concept idea, you’re going to have a
really tough time making your logline shine.

And if your idea isn’t high concept? What do you do?

you wonder if your script really is ready to be read. If you think it
is, you have to find the hook hidden inside of it, find that simple
spine that tells us what the story’s about…

And turn it into gold.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007 at 03:32 AM

by Robert Gregory Browne

Remember me?  The crazy guy on the freeway?  The one who promised to slow down?

have a confession to make.  Although I’ve slowed down in some respects —
I’ve temporarily retired my own blog, have carved out time every night
to read and have tried not to be in such a hurry to put the days and
weeks and months and years behind me —

— I haven’t slowed down on the

It’s a habit.  An addiction.  I like to drive fast.  And I
love to maneuver my rocket in a way that allows me to reach my
destination as quickly as possible.


I’m on the road
the other day, headed toward a doctor’s appointment, and it suddenly
struck me how much driving the freeway is like plotting a story.

That’s right.  You heard me.  Just think about it:

have a goal.  You want to get somewhere.  Getting there is important to
you.  And even though you’re going in straight line, more or less, your
progress is constantly blocked by other drivers.

This, in turn, creates a series of smaller goals for you.  You
keep looking ahead, watching the road, seeking out the empty and free
flowing lane that will allow you quicker passage.  If you make it to
those smaller goals, one after another, then the overall goal — that
final destination — doesn’t seem quite as daunting.

Problem is, as you’re headed for that space in the traffic,
some idiot decides to change lanes right in front of you, forcing you
to hit the brakes or cut into a different lane.  So then you’re
thinking on your feet, changing your strategy as you go.

And, of course, there’s always one driver who seems to be in
just as much of a hurry as you are.  He may not be headed to exactly
the same place, but he’s in your way and his goal is get wherever he’s
going ahead of you.  The next thing you know you’re in a kind of race
with the guy and your emotions are rising, you’re beginning to hate the
sonofabitch so badly you want to bash his car with yours.

And the other characters around you either help you or hurt
you.  Some block your progress, while others kindly get out of your
way, making room for you to move.  There’s the lady on her cell phone
who’s paying more attention to her conversation than the road.  There’s
the GM truck with the ass so huge you can’t see past it, whose driver
has decided to go 50 MPH in the left lane.  There’s the old couple in
their motor home, and the gardener pulling a trailer full of rakes and
lawn mowers and leaf blowers.

The drivers around you begin to take on their own
personalities, some you like, some you hate.  And just when you think
you’re about to make it, everyone suddenly slows down.  There’s an
accident up ahead, or another idiot like you impeding the flow of
traffic, so as the clock continues to tick, road rage begins to set in
and you find yourself quickly reaching that good old boiling point.

But wait — there it is:  a gap in the traffic that leads to another free flowing lane.  And by god, that’s your exit up ahead!

a quick and decidedly clever maneuver, you just barely manage to cut
off the jerk you’ve been competing with and you’re on your way down
that ramp, headed for your final destination.

You’ve made it.  You’ve succeeded.  And while you may be a little rattled, all is good.

Helluva plot structure, eh?

Okay, okay, I know.   I’m a strange guy.  But these are the kinds of things I
think about when I’m driving.  And I’ve decided that if I base my
plots on my driving experiences, nobody will be able to put the damn
books down.

What a Rush

by Robert Gregory Browne

I’m almost always in a hurry.

Catch me on the freeway and I’m the idiot who’s weaving in and out of traffic, sometimes forgetting to use his blinker, constantly looking for that strategic maneuver that will get me to my destination a good thirty or so seconds faster than everyone else.

In the supermarket — if you can catch me in one for more than a couple minutes — I’m zipping through the aisles, looking only for what I came for and nothing else, getting frustrated when shoppers block my path with their overstuffed carts.

When I shave, I wield my razor like a Filipino knife fighter, cutting away that annoying morning stubble in seconds flat.

I’m always anxious to be done with whatever it is I’m doing, but I’m never quite sure why.  It’s as if I’m trapped in a suspense thriller in which the hero has no specific goal except to beat a ticking clock.  I think I’ve seen more than a few movies that could fit that particular bill.

Even as a writer, I find myself rushing.  I’m so anxious to finish
writing for the day, to be done with it, that I rarely take the time to really enjoy the
process.  And something about that just seems wrong.

My wife would disagree with me, of course.  About the "in a hurry" statement. 

To her, I’m the guy sitting on the couch with a laptop balanced on his knees, not particularly interested in going anywhere anytime soon — and I’m sure if she’s reading this (hi, hon!), she’s probably thinking, I wish he’d hurry up and mow the lawn.

But even when I’m sitting on that couch, I’m usually anxious to finish writing, surfing, researching, so that I can get on to the next thing, whatever it may be.  When I’m searching on Google, I often wind up rushing to find whatever it is I’m looking for so that I can look up something else I’ve suddenly thought of.  My brain tends to move at warp speed and, as a result, my thoughts are often fragmented.

Yet, this morning, while I was in the shower getting ready to take a shave, I asked myself the very question I never seem to have an answer to:  why?

Why am I in such a hurry?

What if I were to slow things down a bit, I thought.  And before I knew it, I was rubbing the shaving lotion between my palms and slapping it on my face as if I were a fugitive from a John Woo film, moving in slow motion.  I immediately thought of a passage from my first novel, KISS HER GOODBYE, which goes like this:

Somewhere behind him a phone was ringing, but Gunderson ignored it, enjoying the spectacle.  He relished his ability to slow the world around him to a crawl whenever the mood suited him.

He grinned at the exaggerated looks of surprise on the faces of bank tellers and customers.  Marveled at the fluidity of motion with which Luther and Nemo wielded fire extinguishers as they put out stray flames and climbed into the vault to fill their duffel bags.

He watched as, backpack full of Semtex in tow, Sara glided past the Plexiglas teller windows toward the rear of the bank, moving with an easy grace that only his slow-motion point of view could provide.

Gunderson felt high.  As if he’d taken a dozen hits of ecstasy.  But he never took drugs of any kind when he was working, didn’t need them to see the world this way.  This was his gift.  His power.  One he used sparingly and never took for granted.

Nice trick, eh?

Years ago, if the family was hopping into the car and I asked my son to run back to the house for something we’d forgotten, the kid — to our eternal frustration — would never hurry.  And nothing we could do or say would get him to pick up his pace.

When asked why he was always so slow, he responded — at eight years old, no less:  "I’m not slow, I’m deliberate."


As Robin Williams used to say, what a concept.

So, as I stood in the shower this morning, lathering up my stubble in slow motion, I wondered what would happen if I were to spend an entire day moving like this.  Or, better yet, what if I had Gunderson’s gift of slowing the world around me?

Imagine the detail I’d be able to take in.

But as I look around me now, I notice that I’m not the only one afflicted by this illness.  Slow and deliberate seem to be concepts that many of us have failed to grasp. 

There are probably more drivers like me than not — at least where I live.  People are always rushing to get to their jobs, or back home to their loved ones.  Fast food has been part of our lives since I was a kid.  Movies are given a weekend to prove themselves.  Books, if they’re lucky, get three months on the bookstore shelf.  Everything seems to be disposable.

Consume, discard, move on.

But what would happen if we ALL slowed down a bit?  Would mothers weep?  Would the world collapse?

I don’t think so.

So, I’m making a vow, right here and now, to follow my son’s lead and live my life in a more… deliberate… fashion.  To pace myself.  Allow myself time.  To stop and smell the roses.

And who knows, maybe I’ll learn something in the process.

Would any of you like to join me?

Are You What You Write?

by Robert Gregory Browne

My wife is concerned.

"I think you should blog about it on Murderati, Rob.  See what other people think."

She works in the office of a public high school.  When it came time for my first book, KISS HER GOODBYE to be released, she was sure to let everyone at work know, and helped generate a huge gathering of well-wishers at my Barnes and Noble launch.

A lot of her colleagues came out and bought a signed copy of the book, and I was, to say the least, grateful. Grateful to all the people who showed up and, of course, grateful to my wife for getting them out there.  No one could ask for a more exciting and successful launch (we sold every book in stock — close to sixty).

But, as I said, she’s concerned.

You see, there are parts of my book that aren’t exactly politically correct.  Some of the characters, being bad guys, are vile, bigoted creeps.  One in particular, a guy by the name of Bobby Nemo, treats women as sex objects, utters profanities, racist, sexist and homophobic slurs, and is generally not a very pleasant guy.  The words that come out of his mouth, the things he thinks, are not pretty.

And this is what has my wife concerned.  She worries that all those people who showed up to buy my book, all of those colleagues — people she sees day in and day out — will read the book with its slimy characters like Nemo and wonder what kind of man she married. 

She’s afraid they’ll read the book and think that its characters and situations are a reflection of me, of the way I think and feel.

I remind her that I’m writing crime fiction, that the people who populate that world are not very nice, and that unless my characters think and speak the way criminals and cops think and speak, I won’t have much of a book.

I also try to point out that I’m just about the polar opposite of Bobby Nemo —

— yet she still worries.  Her colleagues don’t really know me, she says.  And what if they assume that I’m some sort of racist pervert.  How embarrassing.

To complicate matters, she recently listened to my first podcast with Brett Battles — a podcast on creating characters ( — and I happened to utter the words, "all of my characters are me" as I explained my approach to writing.

And this is true.  In a way, all of my characters ARE me.  I’m like a method actor taking on a role, using details of my own life to flesh out each character I’m trying to portray.  It’s something that can’t be helped.  By using my own experiences, coupled with imagination, I’m able to create what I hope are very compelling, three-dimensional people.

That still doesn’t mean that Bobby Nemo ever, for even a moment, speaks for me.

I seem to recall the young Stephen King running into all kinds of trouble with his early books.  Who is this guy?  people wondered.  He’s gotta be sick in the head.

But as we all now know — or at least assume, based on his appearances on various TV shows — Mr. King is a relatively mild-mannered guy who, like me, shares little, if anything, with the whacked out characters he creates.

Or does he?

All of this gives rise to a question:  how much of ourselves do we
consciously or unconsciously put into the people we create to populate
our novels?  Do our novels give us an excuse to allow our long suppressed emotions and beliefs to come out? 

I can confidently so no, that isn’t the case for me.  I just make stuff up.

But what about you?  Are YOU what you write?


Daily Meal Plan

by Robert Gregory Browne

I don’t go to a lot of fancy restaurants. I’m more of a meat and potatoes kind of guy.  Or meat and rice to be more precise.

If you’ve ever spent time in Hawaii — where I grew up — and had the local food, you’ve probably encountered plate lunches. A plate lunch is food at its most basic: meat, rice, macaroni salad. And if you go to the right places, like Rainbow Drive-In or Grace’s, the gastronomical experience is akin to athletic sex with the Girl Next Door.

Needless to say, I love plate lunches.

There are a number of fancy restaurants in Hawaii as well. Honolulu is big on Asian/European hybrid dishes, created by local cooking stars like Roy Yamaguchi.

Roy’s restaurant, which sits near the ocean in Hawaii Kai, serves exquisitely tailored meals that are the equivalent of, say, bedding that Exotic Movie Star you’ve always dreamed about — without the inevitable letdown.

But to my mind, Roy’s is an exception. Many of the other fancy restaurants in Honolulu try very hard to reach such heights but often fall flat. The atmosphere may be great, the service may even be top notch, but the meal itself leaves something to be desired.

What does any of this have to do with writing or publishing?

I recently read a novel that tried very hard to be a fancy restaurant. There were enough clever similes and tortured metaphors to choke a rhino, and it took three pages for the hero to walk across the room. The prose, while sometimes brilliant, was mostly borderline purple. As I read, all I could think was let’s get on with it! and finally ended up tossing the book aside.

There are writers who can pull this kind of thing off. Make their words sound like poetry and still manage to compel the reader forward, creating a meal that’s both exotic and satisfying.

But more often than not I prefer the meat and potatoes (or rice) served up by guys like Donald Westlake or John Sandford or Elmore Leonard, where the words never get in the way of the story. I have little tolerance for fancy prose.  And just to prove to you that I’m not a complete ass, I’ll admit that this may well be my failing more than the writer’s.

I believe you can be clever without being pretentious. You can turn a beautiful phrase without calling so much attention to it that you might as well be wearing a sign that reads, AREN’T I BRILLIANT?

There is nothing fancy or clever about my prose. I always write from inside a character’s head, feeling and seeing only what he or she feels and sees, and speaking in a voice that reflects his or her attitude toward the world. This isn’t necessarily the correct way to write — there is no correct way, only what works. But it’s MY way.

So, barring a few exceptions, I think I’ll continue to avoid fancy restaurants and stick to plate lunches.

The Girl Next Door may not be as gorgeous as that Exotic Movie Star, but she rarely disappoints.

I realize, however, that not everyone shares this particular bias or sentiment or whatever you want to call it.  So I’m curious to know:

What type of meal do you prefer?

Dialing for Dopplegangers

by Rob Gregory Browne

When I was planning my upcoming book, I decided to use a premise I’d had banging around in my head for several years. It was one of those great story hooks that seem to take hold and won’t let go. I had originally conceived of it as a movie idea, but had never really fleshed it out as a screenplay.

When it came time to pitch a book to my publisher, the first thing that came to mind was this premise, so I wrote up a few paragraphs and sent it off. They liked it.

After getting the deal, I set about trying to figure out how to plot the thing. I had a lot of ideas in mind, including a solution to the “mystery”(although the story is more thriller than mystery), but I was still struggling to find the right path, and eventually, every writer’s foe — insecurity — set in.

Was I going to be able to write this thing?

Then one day I was tooling around the Internet and I happened across a description for a book written by one of my favorite authors. It was a book I didn’t know about, had somehow missed, and I was excited by the discovery.

But when I read the description, my jaw just about dropped. Oh, my god. The author had used a very similar hook to the one I was gearing up to write. Worse yet, it looked like the solution to the “mystery” was identical to mine.

Needless to say, I was filled with dismay. How could I write my book now? I might as well give it up.

This kind of thing has happened to me over and over again in my many years as a writer. I come up with what I think is a unique idea only to discover that someone else has come up with the very same or a similar idea.

As upsetting as this is, whenever it happens I just say to myself, at least your ideas are commercial.

Several months ago, Tess Gerritsen talked about this on her blog after readers had contacted her to ask if she had sold her book VANISH to the movies.  An upcoming TV movie had a similar premise to Tess’s story, the tale of a ruthless U.S. crime syndicate that forces foreign women into sexual slavery.

Tess explained that, no, she hadn’t sold the rights, but that these things happen.  And much more frequently than we’d like.

A few days later, she and I traded emails about the subject.  I told her how, fifteen or so years ago, I had sold a script to Showtime about — guess what? — a ruthless U.S. crime syndicate that forces foreign women into slavery.

So, sometimes I just have to shake my head and ask:  How many stories are there out there?

How often does this idea dopplegangbang happen to other writers?

Are there only so many ideas sitting in some universal collection box, waiting to be grabbed by people like us, first come first served?

It certainly seems so.

The good thing is that my dilemma with my own upcoming book has a happy ending. Reading the synopsis of that other writer’s story turned out to be the best thing that could ever happen, because it forced me to think on my feet and to take my idea in a completely different direction.

It forced me to stretch as a writer.  While that basic hook remains, the new solution to the “mystery” has made the story much richer, deeper, more complex than before.

Once I came up with that new solution, the path seemed to open up for me, introducing me to new supporting characters and situations that I would never have thought of had I stuck to the original version.

The result is a book that both my US and UK editors think is even better than the previous one, and it certainly never hurts to please your editors.

And in the end, I’ve come to realize that the premise itself is only that — a premise.

It’s execution that’s key.