Rewritten: The introduction from my Work-In-Progress:

My work-in-progress is a stand alone noir crime fiction novel called In Pocket. The pitch/blurb:

If only Wolfgang hadn’t picked the pocket of the fat woman…

Nomadic pickpocket Wolfgang gets blackmailed into teaching his craft to the mysterious Lilith, a young woman with no aptitude whatsoever to become a pickpocket. Wolf figures the easiest way is to go with the flow and instruct Lilith in the art of emptying other people’s pockets, but even he could never foresee the dreadful things that follow…

IN POCKET is a standalone novel with ties to Martyn V. Halm’s Amsterdam Assassin Series. Follow Wolf as he gets entangled in a possible fatal web of violence and deceit, where nobody is who they seem to be and everyone has a hidden agenda.

Below is the rewritten beginning of the novel (old version is here), which is written in present tense. The rest of the novel is in past tense, except for the interludes…

The world is strangely tilted when I open my eyes to the deafening roar of the helicopter reverberating against the walls around me. The down draft of the blades stir the loose dirt on the grimy bricks and I shield my eyes as swirling grit stings my face. Around me everything remains dark. The helicopter’s searchlight must be trained on something else. Or someone else.

The wind dies down and the roar changes to a bass-line thumping as the police helicopter flies off. Just around the corner I hear a siren starting up. An ambulance, not a police vehicle.

I close my eyes again.

I must’ve passed out. For an instant, I think. Just long enough to lose my bearings. My shoulder smarts from lying on the bricks, but the dull pain in my abdomen is worse. I remember her face looking up at me. And the hard punches in my belly, now a faint throbbing.

Without opening my eyes, I push myself into an upright position, the bricks damp and cold against my buttocks. My legs feel like they’re asleep, but without tingling—the usual pins-and-needles sensation is mysteriously absent.

A bad sign. I think I can forget about running. Or even getting up.

I open my eyes and blink a few times to focus.

The wall across from me is less than two meters away. To my left, a dead-end. To my right, plastic garbage bags leaning against an overflowing dumpster.

The siren grows louder and I lean forward carefully to peek around the dumpster.

Sodium lights flood the sidewalk with sickly orange light that reaches into the dead-end alley just far enough to touch my grubby sneakers. A neon-yellow ambulance races past the mouth of the alley, the sound of the siren fading quickly in the distance.

I go through my pockets to check my possessions, but I seem to have lost them all.

Money, gone. Keys, gone. Straight razor, gone.

I look at my filthy pants, stained with dark spots and smelling of urine. I look at my hands, smudged with street grime. And it all comes back. Why I’m wearing these clothes. My possessions aren’t gone. I left them with her before the stake-out.

I only had my phone and the gun. They’re both gone.

All I have left is the small carton in my inside pocket…

Around the corner I hear muted voices and the crackle of a two-way radio. A moment later I hear a car start up. My right hand grabs one of the plastic garbage bags and a spasm of pain pierces my gut as I heave the bag and toss it next to my legs.

The car halts at the mouth of the alley and the bright beam of a searchlight shines on the opposite wall, then swerves around towards the dumpster that hides me from view. The beam briefly illuminated my grimy pants and the garbage bag hiding my sneakers, but moves away without a pause. The light clicks off and the car trundles away.

I realise I’m holding my breath and let it out slowly.

I listen, but don’t hear anyone else, just my own raspy breathing. I’m alone.

My left hand touches my belly, comes away wet.

Sticky.

I raise my hand to my eyes, but it’s too dark too see.

I peer past the dumpster again, but all I see is a cobblestone quay and a canal. Not enough information to determine where I am. Just another dead-end alley in the centre of Amsterdam. The street sign is missing. Or was never there at all. Not all dead-end alleys here have names.

I remember the carton in my inside pocket and take the pack of cigarettes. I open the lid and brush my finger over the filter tips. And the metal wheel of a cheap butane lighter. I breathe a sigh of relief. I don’t know what would be worse; no cigarettes, or cigarettes and nothing to light them with.

I shake one from the pack and light up. My hands automatically shield the bright flame to prevent giving away my position. In the light I count the contents. Seven left, not counting the one I just lit. And a folded piece of tinfoil curled around a tiny waxed paper envelop. I won’t use that unless the pain becomes too bad.

I glance at my left hand. The sticky stuff covering my palm is red. I lower the lighter to see my belly. The lower half of my shirt is dark with blood. In the weak light the blood looks black. I touch the mess gingerly.

Three holes. Bullet holes.

The lighter sputters and dies. As the flame goes, a ghost-flame shimmers on my retina. I shake the lighter by my ear. Sounds like there is still some fuel left.

I cup the glowing tip of the cigarette in my hand, return the pack and lighter to my inside pocket, and blink to restore my night vision.

A shadow glides over the walls as someone passes the mouth of the alley. I watch from behind the dumpster, unable to draw in my numb legs sprawled amid the refuse that litters the bricks.

The shadow flows over my pants and disappears from view.

I listen to the receding steps.

I don’t want to be found. Not after what I did…

I drag on my cigarette. No idea what time it is. If I’m still in Amsterdam’s old quarter, I should be able to hear the bells from the myriad of churches. And pinpoint my location.

I take a last drag and extinguish my cigarette against the bricks.

The numbness in my legs worries me. Maybe the bullets damaged my spine.

In the distance a church bell chimes.

Once. Twice. Silence.

That sounded like the Oude Kerk, but I’m not sure. If this was the Red Light District it would be busier…

Two strikes, so it’s two in the morning.

Six hours till dawn.

A whole night to die in.

And muse about the events that got me in this predicament.

If only I hadn’t picked the pocket of the fat woman…

I’d love to hear what you think, so please comment below. Also, before I will look for a publisher or publish In Pocket myself I will need beta-readers to make sure the story is as good as I can get it. So stay tuned!

If you want to read the next sample, wherein Wolfgang targets the Fat Woman and set in motion the chain of events that lead to his predicament, send me an email at katlasieltjes@yahoo.com with ‘password sample?’ in the subject line.

 

1400px-inpocket

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Rate/Review this sample from my Work-In-Progress:

My work-in-progress is a stand alone noir crime fiction novel called In Pocket. The pitch/blurb:

If only Wolfgang hadn’t picked the pocket of the fat woman…

Nomadic pickpocket Wolfgang gets blackmailed into teaching his craft to the mysterious Lilith, a young woman with no aptitude whatsoever to become a pickpocket. Wolf figures the easiest way is to go with the flow and instruct Lilith in the art of emptying other people’s pockets, but even he could never foresee the dreadful things that follow…

IN POCKET is a standalone novel with ties to Martyn V. Halm’s Amsterdam Assassin Series. Follow Wolf as he gets entangled in a possible fatal web of violence and deceit, where nobody is who they seem to be and everyone has a hidden agenda.


I passed out. For an instant, I think. Just long enough to lose my bearings. I remember I was running. From someone. Or something? The back of my head hurts. Guess I hit the wall behind me. Without opening my eyes I feel the bricks, damp and cold against my buttocks.

My legs feel like they’re asleep. Without tingling—the usual pins-and-needles sensation is mysteriously absent.

A bad sign. I think I can forget about running. Or even getting up.

I open my eyes and blink a few times to focus. The wall across from me is less than two meters away. An alley. To my left, a dead end. To my right, plastic garbage bags leaning against an overflowing dumpster. I’m in a cul-de-sac.

Street lights flood the entrance of the alley with sickly orange light that touches my grubby sneakers. I listen, but don’t hear anyone else, just my own raspy breathing. I’m alone.

My left hand touches my belly, comes away wet.

Sticky.

Raise my hand to my eyes, but it’s too dark too see.

I peer past the dumpster, but all I see is a cobblestone quay and a canal. Can’t see which one. The street sign is missing. Or was never there at all. Not all dead-end alleys here have names.

I go through my pockets to check my possessions, but I seem to have none. Money, gone. Keys, gone. Straight razor—

I look at my pants, dirty and smelling of urine. I look at my hands, dark with street grime. And it all comes back. Why I’m wearing these dirty clothes. My possessions aren’t gone. I left them. I only had the two-way radio and the gun.

They’re both gone.

All I’ve left is the small carton in my inside pocket…

I take the pack of cigarettes from my inside pocket, open the lid and brush my finger over the filter tips. And the metal wheel of the butane lighter. I breathe a sigh of relief. I don’t know what would be worse; no cigarettes, or cigarettes and nothing to light them with.

I shake one from the pack and light up. My hands automatically shield the bright flame to prevent giving away my position. In the light I count the contents. Seven left, not counting the one I just lit. And a folded piece of tinfoil with the small white envelop beside it. I won’t use it unless the pain becomes too bad.

I glance at my left hand. The sticky stuff covering my palm is red. I lower the lighter to see my belly. The lower half of my shirt is dark with blood. In the weak light the blood looks black. I touch the mess gingerly. Three holes. Bullet holes.

The lighter sputters and dies. As the flame goes, a ghost-flame shimmers on my retina. I shake the lighter by my ear. Sounds like there is still some fuel left.

I cup the glowing tip in my hand, return the pack and lighter to my inside pocket, and blink to restore my night vision.

A shadow glides over the walls as someone passes the mouth of the alley. I watch from behind the trash cans, unable to draw in my numb legs sprawled amid the refuse that litters the bricks.

The shadow flicks over my sneakers and disappears from view.

I listen to the receding steps.

I don’t want to be found. Not after what I did…

I drag on my cigarette. No idea what time it is. If I’m still in Amsterdam’s old quarter, I should be able to hear the bells from the myriad of churches. And pinpoint my location.

I take a last drag and extinguish my cigarette against the bricks.

The numbness in my legs worries me. Maybe the bullets hit my spine.

In the distance a church bell chimes.

Once. Twice. Silence.

That sounded like the Oude Kerk, but I’m not sure.

Two.

Two in the morning.

Five hours till dawn.

A whole night to die in.

And muse about the events that got me in this predicament.

If only I hadn’t picked the pocket of the fat woman…


I’d love to hear what you think, so please comment below. Also, before I will look for a publisher or publish In Pocket myself I will need beta-readers to make sure the story is as good as I can get it. So stay tuned!

If you want to read the next sample, wherein Wolfgang targets the Fat Woman and set in motion the chain of events that lead to his predicament, send me an email at katlasieltjes@yahoo.com with ‘password sample?’ in the subject line.

 

1400px-inpocket


Painkillers Put My Writing On Hold For A Moment…

I’m not writing at the moment. Which is strange for me, because I’m always writing and always having fun with writing. However, I have problems concentrating on my fiction when my life is a mess.

November 22th, around midnight, just as I was about to go to bed after a long day, I got abdominal pains. At first I thought it was indigestion, but the pain got worse and worse, and I couldn’t find any position to ease the pain. Sitting, standing, lying down, nothing worked. And the pain got worse, like a hot poker stabbing the left side of my back.

I’m not unfamiliar with pain, even excruciating pain, but this was worse. This wasn’t a sharp pain for a moment, but an enduring sharp pain that I couldn’t ignore. I swallowed paracetomol and diclofenac and those painkillers did exactly nothing. Standing bent over under a hot shower eased the pain somewhat, but it was three in the morning and I couldn’t sleep in the bathroom stall under a pulsing spray.

My wife woke up at half past five when she heard me downstairs, crying and moaning as I sat on the toilet with a bowl on my lap to throw up while I had diarrhea. I was pale and sweating, close to passing out from the pain. And I still didn’t know what was going on.

We went to the hospital an hour later, with our sleepy children in tow because we couldn’t find a sitter on Saturday morning. I had to give a urine sample, which had blood in it, and my blood glucose was spiking at 10.6, so they told me I probably had Diabetes type 2.

Great, but I was still in pain. Moving about seemed to give me some relief, but I was unsteady and delirious. They took me to the emergency wing, where I was put in a bed and examined. It was there that I learned that my pain was probably the result of a kidney stone.

As the pain suddenly diminished, the consensus among the doctors were that the stone had shifted and no longer blocked the urethra, so I could go home. I could come back when the stone blocked my urethra again.

I asked what we were supposed to do about the stone? ‘Drink lots of water and orange juice to flush your kidneys’, was the only advice. I got more diclofenac and a brochure and was sent packing. At home I could finally sleep, but I felt like I had been stomped in the back with steel-nosed boots.

Over the week the pain slowly lessened. The Monday after the weekend of pain I had my blood tested again for glucose, but it had dropped to 7, so I didn’t have Diabetes type 2. Which was a relief.

Monday, December 30th, the pressure in my back began to build again. I called on my physician, but the first moment I could have my kidneys scanned with ultrasound and x-ray was the next Friday. So my New Year’s Day was pretty much spoiled by stomach cramps and nausea. At Friday morning the ultrasound showed that my left kidney was swollen, filled with urine and blood, so they also took two x-rays of my kidneys and bladder.

I called my physician in the afternoon, but they were clearly too busy with other patients, so finally I got a message that they had taken a cursory look at the X-rays and report from Radiology, but they’d have a referral letter for Urology ready for me the next Monday.

So I suffered through another mostly sleepless weekend, called the hospital on Monday and made an appointment for Tuesday at eleven. With no immediate need for the referral letter, I stayed at home and went to my physician Tuesday at ten to get my referral letter.

The referral letter had not been made yet, my physician wanted my urine to check for blood and… The sleep deprivation and pain took its toll and I cursed her for wanting to do more tests and reneging on her word that the referral letter would be ready. Due to my anger she referred me to her younger colleague to write me the referral letter.

In the office with the younger colleague, I found out a few things. A) I should’ve been taking my diclofenac with two paracetomols, that would have increased the effectiveness of the diclofenac and diminished my pain, and B) when I told her I had been drinking three liters of water a day, as per advice of my physician, she told me I should’ve stopped drinking more than absolutely needed when the pain began…

I got my referral and at Urology they told me that my six-millimeter kidney stone was an average size and their usual advice was pain management for a month. However, since my left kidney was swollen with fluids (because I had followed my physician’s advice to drink three liters of water per day), they deemed the kidney stone an urgent case for removal. So I got an appointment for early the next morning when they were going to break up the stone by using ESWL (Extracorporeal Shock Wave Lithotripsy). In the meantime, they prescribed Tramadol, an opiate to reduce the pain so I could finally get some sleep.

At eight the next morning I rode my bicycle back to the hospital for the ESWL treatment.

The process for ESWL is: You lie on a water-filled cushion, and the surgeon uses X-rays or ultrasound tests to precisely locate the stone. High-energy sound waves pass through your body without injuring it and break the stone into small pieces. These small pieces move through the urinary tract and out of the body more easily than a large stone.

I would receive three thousand high energy sound waves, which feel like someone is whacking your lower back with a small hammer. The intensity of the whacks is increased in increments, from 1 (the least painful intensity) to 6 (the most painful intensity). The first few increments were easy, and while the pulses became more painful, I easily managed the last thousand pulses at the highest intensity. The nurse who handled the ESWL was pleased with reaching level 6, since most people can’t handle anything above level 4 or 5.

My wife drove me to another hospital, where I visited an orthopedic expert for recurring pain in my wrist (caused by an irritated tendon in my wrist), and afterward I could take public transport back to the first hospital to retrieve my bicycle and cycle home. Three hours later the pain increased and I was retching, pale and sweating again, close to passing out. At half past eight in the evening we asked a neighbor to sit in our house in case the children woke up and rushed back to the ER at the hospital.

At the hospital I got an IV drip with Diclofenac and Fentanyl, which took away aaaallll my pain. I drowsily answered their questions, but while the pain had been extreme, I could expect some pain when I’d be flushing out the crushed kidney stone. When the fentanyl drip was empty, the pain returned, and they gave me three doses of morphine, but the morphine only diminished the pain somewhat without removing it altogether, like the Fentanyl.

Still, there was not much they could do, and my pain was not harmful, so I was sent home again. So that’s the situation I’m currently in. I feel ‘okay’ most of the time and the rest I’m between cramps and outright pain.

Next Wednesday the urologist will check my kidneys for progress and determine whether I need more ESWL treatments. Meanwhile the drugs make me drowsy, so I put my fiction writing on hold until that pesky stone has left my body.

I hope to resume writing on the Amsterdam Assassin Series and my stand-alone novel In Pocket by the end of next week. In the meantime I will rest and read when I’m not too dizzy, so if you have anything you want me to read, this would be a good time. Although I’m pretty sure I’ll be too cantankerous to write positive reviews…

Edit:  So, the CT scan found six stone fragments forming a queue in my urethra and Wednesday February 12th I went into the hospital to have them removed. Thankfully under complete anesthetic, they inserted tubes through my male organ to reach the bladder, where they burrowed through the urethra to the left kidney, crushing every stone they found with lasers and flushing them out, leaving a JJ shunt between the kidney and the bladder to prevent the urethra from collapsing as it healed.

I woke up after the operation with an IV drip and a catheter that continuously gave me the urge to urinate. After a drug-induced sleep between Wednesday and Thursday, both IV and catheter were removed and I was discharged. I felt fine until the drugs wore off, then I felt extremely violated…

Since I’d been too stoned to pay attention, I missed the part about the drugs I needed to take at home, so I spent Friday in increasing bouts of severe abdominal cramps and went back to the hospital on Saturday, where they told me (haha), I should’ve gone to the pharmacy to pick up my Oxybutinine, which would relax my abdominal muscles and at the same time make me too stoned to concentrate on even the most mundane tasks.

It’s Wednesday the 19th now and I’ve been stoned 24/7 and not by choice. It’s no fun taking drugs when you’re not allowed to relax and go with the flow. Instead I have to concentrate getting through the day taking care of my children… Well, two more weeks and they’ll remove the JJ shunt and I’d be able to stop taking drugs…

UPDATE:

March 5th my JJ shunt came out. The procedure should be relatively painless. First they put some numbing gel on your genitals, then a hollow tube with a light and camera goes inside and through the hollow tube goes a flexible snake with pliers at the end that grab the shunt and pull it out.

The problem is that the JJ shunt has two curls on either end, so there’s some resistance as the pliers pull on the shunt as the upper curl (in the kidney) uncurls and straightens so it can pass through the urethra. Got that picture? Good.

I could follow through a monitor as the camera inched closer to the curl in my bladder. The pliers opened and after some maneuvering the pliers closed on the end of the curl and started pulling it toward the camera tube. Then the slippery shunt escaped the pliers and sprung back.

I can tell you right now, that doesn’t feel good at all.

Second attempt, and the shunt is almost at the camera tube when the beak of the pliers let go and the shunt sprang back. Like someone uses your innards like a slinky. Spooooinggg.

Then I lost my cool and snapped at the assistant, “Can you hold tight on the damn thing?”

She excused herself and the third attempt went fine, the JJ shunt slithering out of my body like a reluctantly evicted squatter. They asked if they should throw the JJ shunt away, but I had them lock the bastard into a specimen bottle so I’d have something to gloat over.

So now I could stop with the drugs and get some clarity again. Should help with going back to writing fiction again!

JJ Shunt


OPINION: Stickler for Verisimilitude?

stick·ler noun \ˈsti-k(ə-)lər\ : a person who believes that something is very important and should be done or followed all the time
veri·si·mil·i·tude noun \-sə-ˈmi-lə-ˌtüd, -ˌtyüd\ : the quality of seeming real

I’ve been asked about my author bio, which says, ‘Martyn is a stickler for verisimilitude in fiction, even if that requires learning new skills’. So what does it mean to be a stickler for verisimilitude? Does it just mean I’m borderline obsessive about realism in fiction? Well, yes. And no.

Let’s start with the beginning (always a good place to start).

What’s the first thing a reader does when they pick up a novel? They show their willingness to ‘suspend their disbelief’. The reader knows they’re going to read what is basically, well, a lie. Or rather, a fabrication of the truth. To keep their disbelief suspended, the reader needs help from the author. The author has fabricated this story, but to stave off disbelief, the story has to ‘ring true’.

So how do you make your work ‘ring true’?

All genres have their particular realities. What will ring ‘true’ in science fiction, will be ‘ridiculous’ in suspense fiction. Romance novels have another idea of ‘romance’ than literary fiction. A reader’s expectation will be matched to the genre they are reading. A reader of romance novels will expect a happily-ever-after ending and might be disappointed when the blossoming relationship ends in misery, while for literary fiction readers, the opposite might be ‘true’.

To suspend disbelief, an author has to keep the novel’s intended audience and their expectations in mind, which can backfire horribly if the author starts to mix genres, especially if they intend to cater to the separate genres in the mix. For example, romantic suspense is often unrealistic to hardcore suspense readers, and too realistic for the tastes of romance readers. The author will have to walk a fine balance between ‘reality’ and the expectations of the audience.

However, even without mixing genres, many authors make mistakes that destroy the verisimilitude.

My particular field is suspense fiction, where it should be fairly easy to keep the story ‘ring true’. Most suspense fiction is set in the present or the not-too-distant past, dealing with human beings without artificial enhancements, who have to adhere the laws of physics. As most of us live in the same world, readers won’t find much difficulty in identifying with the characters. The characters in suspense fiction often live in a shadow world due to their occupation and often they need to keep their occupation hidden from everyone around them except maybe their co-workers.

It’s this hidden world that attracts the suspense reader, the inner workings of the societies that are mostly shielded from the general public. Whether it’s the ‘good’ side of law enforcement and legal proceedings or the ‘bad’ side of crime, the author needs to know what they’re writing about. If the author hasn’t been part of this shadow world they will have to do research, because many readers of suspense fiction are extremely knowledgeable. And the smallest wrong detail can shake the foundation of the reader’s ‘suspension of disbelief’.

I’ve written a couple of articles on suspense fiction research, but what does it take to become knowledgeable to a sufficient degree? If you want to write with confidence and strive for verisimilitude, this means you will have to go to the inhabitants of the shadow world. And that is not for the faint-hearted.

The blurb of my first book says, ‘Reprobate gives a rare glimpse in the local Dutch culture, information on the famous Dutch capital, the narcotics trade, computer hacking, motorcycle gangs, mehndi bridal tattoos, martial arts, the psychology of social engineering, and the brutal effectiveness of disciplined violence’. Since I’ve been a part of Dutch culture from birth and lived in Amsterdam for almost three decades, the first two items on that list don’t pose research problems, but the rest…

I never traded in narcotics, but I know people who use and/or deal in drugs. I can’t hack a computer, but I found people who could and did. I ride a motorcycle, but I’m not part of a gang. And while I have some real tattoos, I needed to get a temporary henna tattoo to understand mehndi and its connotations and, yes, dangers.

Of course I used to be a bouncer for discotheques and night clubs and I’ve been involved in the martial arts for over two decades, so anything to do with violence is pretty much old hat to me. And, according to my wife, it’s a good thing I don’t have bad intentions, because my social engineering skills would make me an excellent con man.

While I know many of the elements of suspense fiction first hand, I still had to do an awful lot of research. Most of my research is reading. Not other suspense novels, which are often too rife with errors to be considered valuable information. And the information on the internet is often unverified and therefore questionable.

However, when it comes to the ‘tools of the trade’, even if you’re from a society where firearms are severely restricted and it is difficult to get first hand experience, the least you can do is check details on the manufacturer’s website.

Most, if not all, manufacturers have websites where you can find the right details about guns, like the safety measures, how many rounds go into a magazine, whether there are large capacity magazines and other accessories available, product manuals, sometimes even animated videos on how to field-strip their products.

Of course, this is not just applicable to firearm research, but also to vehicles, alarm systems, lock picking, computer hardware and software, hacking, explosives, controlled substances, and the list goes on and on.

Which is why it bothers me when an author gets details of these existing products wrong. It’s literally five minutes of research to check the Glock website to see their patented safety measures, which differ from the safety measures on other semi-automatic pistols. If the author doesn’t even bother to get those facts straight, why should I believe anything else in their novels?

Now, I did get responses from authors that they wrote for ‘entertainment’ purposes. Or they would point out other works that also contained severe flaws. Neither of those excuses are valid, in my opinion.

The first excuse is moot, because I too write fiction to entertain people and if I can do the research, so can they. What they mean is, if an actor in a Michael Bay movie can shoot two guns at the same time, why can’t I put that in my suspense fiction? Well, you can. But I will ridicule your book in a review because the story lacks verisimilitude.

But the second excuse is inexcusable, in my opinion. To point out that other authors, sometimes well-respected, prolific and successful, make egregious mistakes is no excuse to do the same.

When I read Gorki Park by Martin Cruz Smith, I was fascinated by the details in reconstructing facial features from skulls. However, in the last part of the book, his protagonist, a law enforcement officer, attaches a silencer on a revolver. Such a stupid mistake throws everything he wrote before that in doubt. My disappointment was so encompassing that I never touched another book by Martin Cruz Smith.*

The Trophy Taker, written by Lee Weeks, had a protagonist decapitate someone with a 6-inch throwing star. Even if I had no martial arts knowledge of the use of shuriken, I would still know enough about physics to know that beheading someone would require something a bit more substantial than a throwing star.

Lee Weeks joins the authors who think a bullet fired from a handgun has enough kinetic energy to throw a human being backwards and other details that defy the laws of physics. Watching action movies is not ‘research’.

I probably go above and beyond what most people call research. I persuaded a forensic pathologist to let me observe an autopsy so I could describe one accurately. I learned how to use lockpicks; hotwire cars; surveillance and counter-surveillance techniques; psychological and physical coercion methods and application; navigation, orientation and mobility techniques for the blind; and a variety of ways to dispose of bodies.

And while not all of that is necessary and I’m quite sure the NSA has a file on me now, one of the reasons I enjoy writing suspense fiction is that my research needs provide me with an excuse to indulge my insatiable curiosity not only for my own benefit, but also to write fiction that is as close to reality as possible.

That it also makes me a scourge on those artists who pass on diligent research in favour of copying action movies I consider a bonus.

* Another mistake I found in Gorky Park: “He (Arkady Renko) found the revolver safety on the left by the cylinder and pushed it off.” The ‘safety’ on the left by the cylinder is the ‘crane latch’ that unlocks the cylinder and allows the cylinder to swivel away from the revolver for reloading.

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OPINION: Writing a series is lazy writing to cash in on gullible people!

Recently, a discussion on GoodReads was started by a reader who loved stand-alone books, but every book he was offered seemed to be part of a series. The thread quickly turned ‘anti-series’ with complaints about sequels being less good than the first novel, stories become repetitive, single volume books being enlarged to fill several volumes to make more money from gullible readers, writers becoming too lazy to invent new characters, and so on.

As I write a suspense fiction series, I want to address these issues in this blog article.

When I wrote Reprobate, I had some excellent ideas for additional plot lines that would explore other sides of the freelance assassin protagonist, so I decided to develop the Amsterdam Assassin Series as a series of stand-alone novels and short stories that have the same characters but enjoying one book does not rely on having read the other books/stories. No cliffhangers beyond readers want to know what will happen next in the lives of the protagonists.

As to the concerns addressed in the GoodReads thread:

“Can’t you put just everything in one book?”

No. The books are all over 100K and all have a different theme. The first book, Reprobate, deals with the protagonist breaking her own rules and the consequences. The second book, Peccadillo, has criminals trying a hostile takeover of her legitimate business, unaware that they’re dealing with an assassin. In the third book, Rogue, Katla comes to the attention of global intelligence communities when she kills the wrong target. I’m currently working on the fourth novel, Ghosting, which will show yet another side of the character.

“The first book is mostly good, but the rest is repetitive crap.”

Most reviewers agree that the second book is superior to the first book. I just published the third novel. Feedback from the beta-readers convince me that Rogue is both different from Peccadillo and Reprobate, but just as interesting and entertaining. Just because some people force themselves to turn a stand-alone book into a series doesn’t mean every series writer succumbs to this laziness.

“You write a series to cash in.”

If I wanted to cash in, I’d write short novels in a hot genre, not suspense fiction about a freelance assassin in Amsterdam. And as I sell somewhere around 30-60 books per month, I’m not ‘cashing in’. If I listened to ‘market experts’ I would abandon the series due to the meagre sales. However, I do have fans who want to know what happens to the protagonists and are eager for future books (check my reviews), so I just ignore the sales and keep on writing what I love to write.

“Series are just fluff/sugar coated candy/throwaway books.”

My series is pretty dark, which is quite normal for a suspense fiction series with a freelance assassin protagonist. I’ve been praised for the brief instances of wit that lighten the mood and ground the story in reality. In keeping with the need for verisimilitude, the events in the books have real moral/ethical/physical consequences and I received feedback from fans on how scenes made them reconsider the reader’s own attitudes.

“You’re just too lazy to invent new characters.”

Writing a series is actually more difficult than writing stand-alone novels, mostly because you need to satisfy both the new readers and the readers who read the other books, which requires a fine balance of putting in just enough back story to please both. Meanwhile, I dedicated myself to writing about characters who might never ‘hit it big’ with fans. Writing stand-alones with new characters doesn’t require any referencing to published stories.

Also, the series does feature new characters. Granted, they may be antagonists, but if the antagonists don’t measure up, the protagonist will fall kind of flat. I go by the principle that any character I create should be able to hold their own as protagonist of their own stories, so they have to be fully developed, not just sounding boards for the main characters.

Still I understand how readers don’t want to read series and prefer stand-alone books. In that case, Reprobate would work as a great stand-alone novel because it has all the characters, but all the plot lines are resolved in the end and you don’t need to read the other books.

Except if you want to know what the future holds in store for Katla and Bram…


RANT: Toddlers and Tiaras

The rainy season came and with it indoor exercise. So I went down to the gym to walk the treadmill.

Right in front of the treadmill are huge TV screens that show a variety of channels. Today, during my exercise, I watched a reality show around underage beauty pageants called ‘Toddlers & Tiaras’ on TLC, which is a show about beauty pageants for infants.

I don’t mind (too much) if an adult wishes to enter into a pageant. Although I dislike the vapid nature of pageants where superficial aesthetics are awarded, I can understand why some people need the validation. I can understand pet pageants, where dogs and cats are groomed until sometimes they no longer resemble pets.

I cannot stand these beauty pageants for infants and children. Of course I’d heard of the show and I’d seen flashes of announcements, but I never watched a whole T&T episode.

Apart from dressing up toddlers as adults and teaching them how to ‘seduce’ the panel, the children seemed to be programmed to become self-centered superficial brats. An 8-year old girl was behaving horridly egotistical, smugly announcing that she’d feel bad for the other contestants who would be crying when she’d walk off with the crown. She ended up getting a price for best personality (!) and three other awards, but the ulitmate award went to a 1-year old. She was visibly upset, crying and pouting, and went into a total meltdown in the corridor behind the stage.

And the parents looking at each other with tight plastic smiles hiding the raging hatred. Talking to each other how ‘rude’ some parents were for not having their child on the stage on time, and gnashing their teeth about the injustice of a one-year old winning a 1,000 dollar award.

I look at my three-year old, smearing her face with chocolate and laughing at herself in the mirror and I realise how child abuse can take different forms. Dressing a child up as an adult and proclaiming that they ‘like’ going to these meat market pageants is just as horrific as claiming they ‘like’ to be sexually intimate with adults. These beauty pageants teach children how to behave like adults in order to please adults.

Children have an innate need to please their parents, both because they love them and because children do realise that they are dependent on their caregivers. To abuse that need for affection by parading them on superficial beauty/popularity meat markets is just as despicable as sexual abuse.

Of course the parents who project their vapid ambitions on their children will claim that the children enjoy the pageants, relish the dressing up, and welcome the competition. I won’t deny that. I’m sure they do. But you have to ask yourself ‘why’?

A child needs affection and encouragement. And children have excellent antennae to gauge their parents feelings.

These pageant children relish dressing up. So does my 3-year old daughter. She dresses up like a lion or a horse or a crocodile. Sometimes she dresses up like a princess. It’s a way for children to try out different personae and interact with the world.

The competition is a different aspect. Children are geared towards pleasing their parents and they know they’ll be praised for performance. However, competition has a dark side where sportsmanship is denied and children are encouraged to ‘crush’ the competition. Children crying because a panel didn’t consider them the most beautiful child is a clear signal of rampant egotistical superficiality. Instead of teaching children that happiness is more important than beauty, these children will become self-centered brats for whom adoration equates success. And where the lack of adoration plunges them into deep and dark despair. They’ll be beautiful on the outside, but ugly and twisted inside because their beauty becomes their only currency for affection. And they won’t have the mental development of adults to deal with this ignominy.

And no child welcomes a highly strung competitive ‘beauty pageant’, where they are taught that dressing up provocatively and wiggling their undeveloped bodies for adult strangers will get them parental adoration from ‘caregivers’ who have no idea how grotesque their ambitions truly are.