The Origins of Brother-in-law

There is a character in my new book ‘Redfish’ called “Brother-in-law.” ‘His real name is Orin Blackmon, but nobody calls him that. To everyone he is simply ‘Brother-in-law.’ The backstory in the book is that he picked up the name while serving in the Navy SEALS.

The real backstory is that I came across a Vietnam vet nicknamed ‘Brother-in-law’ back in 1978, when living in North Carolina while on a mission for my Church. Brother-in-law was living in the town of Henderson, North Carolina and going to college near there on the GI Bill. He was kind of a hillbilly and saw some serious action in Vietnam. He was the point man for his platoon, which as you can imagine, was a very dangerous position to have. In Vietnam, most American casualties came from booby traps and mines, and the point man was usually the one to set them off.

He told me that when he was in Vietnam, his senses hightened to an unbelievable level. For example, one day as he was guiding his platoon through the jungle, his eyes picked up a gossamer thin trip wire out of all the foliage, vines, and vegetation that surrounded him. His fellow soldiers were incredulous. How on earth did he see that, they asked him! Afterwards, they wouldn’t go out on partrol unless Brother-in-law was their point man.

The character in my book is not as gregarious as the real Brother-in-law. He was a happy guy when I knew him: long hair down to his shoulders, a willingness to talk, and a care-free attitude towards life despite all that he’d seen. A remarkable person all-in-all.

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Can a thriller be humorous?

     Can a thriller be humorous? This question came up because of the trouble I have whenever I see a short description of A Thousand Suns. If the description doesn’t mention the humor, I’m bothered that they missed something unique about the book. If it does mention the humor, then I’m worried people wil think the book is funny, light, and not a real thriller. So, with this post, I’d like to set the record straight about humor in my thrillers.
     My books are not humorous, but they have characters who have a well-developed sense of humor and who tend to see the humorous side of most situations. For my characters, particularly Rulon, humor is a safety value and a way of dealing with unpleasant outcomes. In fact, this humor is part of what makes ‘A Thousand Suns’ a realistic book.
     In researching A Thousand Suns, I read the book On Combat by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, a former army Ranger and West Point psychology professor. In it he talks about how men and women in life and death situations use humor to, in a sense, escape from reality.
     A Thousand Suns is a thriller. But it’s not a downer. It has a few laughs, thanks to my characters innate natures, but it also has scenes of courage, loyalty, love, hate, violence, disillusionment, and revenge. I don’t want readers to be crying at the end of it or laughing. I’d like them to put the book down when they are done and simply sigh, “Good story.”      On a different note: I have a new website design at: www.jimhaberkorn.com   I’ve also started using Facebook to publicize my upcoming book A Thousand Sunshttp://www.facebook.com/pages/A-Thousand-Suns/433298710075276?cropsuccess&success=1     Please free to visit those sites, and, if you feel so moved, let me know what you think. This blog post is also found on my website. I’ll be making a decision within a few days about whether to keep this blog or to simply transfer the activity to my website.

Best regards,

Jim – from Zurich

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Financial Experts and other Mohicans

There is a line in one of Rulon Hurt’s favorite movies, the 1992 film “Last of the Mohicans” where Cora Munroe, played by Madeleine Stowe, speaking to her fiancé with whom she is disenchanted but who keeps pressuring her to marry him, says, You’ve complimented me with your persistence and patience, but the decision I’ve come to is this. I would rather make the gravest of mistakes than surrender my own judgment.”
What a well spoken sentiment! And, oh, how many people wish now they had not ‘surrendered their own judgment” by listening to the experts “complimenting them with their persistence” leading up to the last economic crises.   
But there are so many experts and they are so persuasive! And surprisingly for every expert on one side of an issue there appears to be an equally credible expert on the other. Global warming? Financial deregulation? Corporate taxes? Health care restructuring? Take your pick. Passionate experts, all well versed in the oratorical arts, bombard us daily with their well-researched, well-supported, and contradictory conclusions.
In regards how to fix the U.S. economy, I once saw a two-panel cartoon labeled “Economic Experts”. The first panel was of a huge muscular man in a suit lifting a very small, skinny man off the ground by his lapels and screaming into his face “SAVE!!” The second panel was the identical cartoon with the same two characters but this time the expert is screaming “SPEND!!”
To combat this confusion, I’ve developed a personal 4-point method for sifting through experts:
1. Ignore the arrogant experts. At best, their egos blind them to the facts; at worst their arrogance and lack of humility is a cover-up for deception and ill-intent.
2. Be wary of experts who claim that people who disagree with them are unpatriotic. Okay, I can accept that if someone disagrees with you they are a total idiot – but unpatriotic??? Most people make decisions based on self-interest – let’s not kid ourselves.   
3. Follow the money. History proves that many highly accomplished and well educated people wearing expensive suits can and will defend any position – if paid enough money.
4. Do consider the opinion of experts that you trust but never surrender your own judgment. 
In any case, with these four principles in mind, you might consider viewing the movie “Inside Job”, the winner of the 2010 Oscar for best documentary about the causes of the 2008 world-wide economic meltdown. It shows the experts on both sides of the issue and is a sobering indictment of the U.S. financial industry and the members in both parties who aided and abetted their monstrous fraud. And, by the way, one of the film’s surprising revelations was that those same apologists in the Bush administration who fought regulation of the derivatives industry are alive and well and plying their same trade in the Obama administration today.   
My next posting will be on an interesting email I received in regards the name ‘Yohaba Melekson’. Little did I realize that name’s significance when I chose it for the heroine in Einstein’s Trunk.
Best regards,
Jim
Zurich
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A Preview of ‘World of Hurt’

     The sequel to Einstein’s Trunk is complete – or, let’s just say, the tinkering and re-writing has slowed to a minimum.
     Maybe it’s a common tendency of authors to always think their latest book is their best – but the truth is, I’m very pleased with how World of Hurt has turned out. The humor is still there, the beginning is snappier, and Rulon is still Rulon. The one big difference is that Yohaba comes more into her own. In fact, for about 60% of the book, she is the driving character.
     I can’t say much without giving away the plot, but I will say that there is still some suspence around Elsa colliding with the earth, and the Russians haven’t given up on dealing with Rulon after he took out their Spetsnaz team in CERN. But there is also an ensemble of new villians that, as happens in so many thrillers, just happen to gravitate towards the hero like yellow jackets at a picnic. The story begins in Idaho, but then the action moves to Zurich where some old scores get settled.
     I like to include in my thrillers a little intellectual/educational meat. In ET it was the information around asteroids, CERN, and nuclear weapons. In WOH the educational side comes out as Rulon deals with some local neo-Nazis and has a chance to observe first hand the rhetorical tactics first developed by their discredited Fuhrer as he spread the Nazi message in the beer halls of Munich in the ’20s and ’30s.
     Embedded in WOH is also my pride in the state of Idaho. As a native New Yorker, it was never clear when I moved to Idaho in the late ’80s that I would be able to adjust. Let’s face it – NY and Idaho are practically polar opposites in many ways. And initially it was an adjustment. But eventually I came to love Idaho and that hard as woodpecker lips toughness you see in many of the long time ranchers – just the sort of people that Rulon grew up with. I hope my love of Idaho is evident in WOH, just as my appreciation of Zurich and Switzerland may have come out in ET.

All the best,

Jim

Zurich

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Why no swearing in Einsten’s Trunk?

The answer to the question posed in the above title  – Ha! I hope you are not expecting anything too profound here –  is that since I don’t swear myself I really have a hard time putting swear words into my characters’ mouths. But, I’m not alone in this. If you are a connoisseur of thrillers you know that Lee Childs has very little bad language in his books. Also, I haven’t read any Clive Cussler since he started working with co-authors, but in his heyday he had almost no bad language, though I seem to recall that a few of Mr. Cussler’s earlier books were a little looser in that regards. John LeCarre too, has very little swearing in his novels, though he just did one recently about the Russian Mafia called, “Our Kind of Traitor” that was replete with bad, though presumably accurate, language.
In any case, I enjoyed writing Einstein’s Trunk without the vulgar language. It was a bit of a challenge trying to construct characters that would be taken seriously as villains when the most I would have any of them say was an emphatic, “Aw, heck”, but it was fun to try. I had to spend a little more time on the dialogue and a little more time creating the scenes, but in the end it was a challenge I enjoyed. Yohaba, too, liked to swear until Rulon asked her to knock it off. With Yohaba, I would simply refer to her ‘verbal napalm strikes’ or some such phrase to get the point across.
I’ve decided that in books and movies, writers put in bad language for two reasons. First, it’s an easy way to show that the bad guys are really bad and that the good guys are really tough and street-wise. Second, it’s a way of showing ‘realism’ or ‘grit’.
I think villainy and grit can be achieved in other ways, though, and it makes for a more satisfying read if writers try to do so. Shakespeare woke up one day and decided to write a love story – and he wrote Romeo and Juliet. No illicit sex, no swearing. Just real insight into this mystery we call ‘love’. Four hundred years later, we’re still talking about it. In the same vein, I’ve done a little studying on the psychology of combat and I can tell you without any hesitation that many of the so called ‘gritty’ and ‘realistic’ thrillers today are not emotionally accurate and honest in how they portray people engaged in life and death situations. To me, that’s the realism I most appreciate.
I saw a movie the other day called, “The Company Men”. In the beginning especially, there was a fair amount of bad language but it was an emotionally and intellectually honest movie. It was about people being laid off from a large corporation and the way that affected their lives. After the movie I found myself talking with great respect about the people who wrote, directed, and acted in it. And the funny thing was, the bad language didn’t add one bit to the realism and honesty that made the movie great.     
In my next posting I will talk about movie and book critics and the roll I believe they should play in the world of writers, movie producers, and publishers.  
Best regards,
Jim
Zurich, June 13, 2011  
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What I learned about writing a novel and getting published

During the course of writing my first book, Einstein’s Trunk, I read a lot of advice about writing. At the time it wasn’t always easy to know which advice to follow. In the end, I pretty much decided to do things my way. For example, against a lot of advice, I didn’t do an outline of the plot, but rather let the plot develop from idea to idea as I wrote. If that sounds crazy, I just read an agent’s blog where he paraphrased Hemingway, who he claimed once said: that you shouldn’t sketch out your plot – if you know where you are going then your reader will too.  Ha! It turns out my instincts might have been correct!
I did however, try to find the best book I could on writing, and whether I succeeded or not I’ll never know, but I did find a very good one: The Book on Writing by Paula LaRocque. I endorse it wholeheartedly.
But, in the end, what I learned is that writing a book is about telling a story. And that telling a good story well is a perfectly acceptable goal. It’s not necessary to write the great American novel. Just tell a good story. If you do, there’s a chance people will want to read it. At the very least, you’ll get a kick out of writing it.
As far as getting published is concerned, I learned that that is extremely difficult. First, there’s a lot of competition to find a good agent and then afterwards to find a good publisher. I also learned that with so many authors willing to do almost anything to get their book published that there are a lot of shady people in the business quite willing to relieve authors of their money. Fortunately, there are websites out there (Preditors and Editors, and Writers Beware) who perform a valuable service by pointing out the spurious tactics and specific offenders. In the end, though, what I learned was that after you’ve written a good story, perseverance counts for a lot. No joke.
My next posting will be about the TV series Prison Break and what it taught me about writing thrillers.  
Jim
Zurich, May 24, 2011
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Why Write Thrillers

First of all, thrillers are fun to write. With thrillers you have men and women running around getting in fights, escaping traps, solving riddles, and outsmarting bad guys. What could be more fun than writing about that? Second, for a writer, thrillers are also a bit of an intellectual challenge. You have to introduce characters and construct a plot that hangs together, leaves people in suspense, and provides clues without giving away the ending. Not easy to do, but fun to work on – like solving an enormously complicated puzzle where the pieces are constantly moving.  
But while all of this sounds like fun – let’s face it – it also sounds a bit shallow. Is that all that thrillers are good for – shallow, escapist entertainment? The answer is an emphatic no.
Two writers in particular have proven that thrillers can be used as a vehicle for exploring wider issues and even defining entire eras. Read any of John LeCarre’s cold war novels and you’ll see what I mean. Nothing captures the somberness and suspicion of post World War Two U.S. and Soviet relations quite like a LeCarre book. And the same thing can be said for Martin Cruz Smith’s Gorky Park and what it does for the day-to-day grind of living in Russia during the early 1980s.
But good thrillers can also, as can any good story, do something for us far more important – they can help us understand our own values and who we are. Thrillers, almost by definition, present us with scenes of violence, betrayal, dastardly acts as well as bravery, loyalty, and honesty. As we read thrillers we match ourselves against both the villains and the heroes and in so doing learn something about what we believe and who we are.
I wrote Einstein’s Trunk, and the subsequent yet to be published sequel World of Hurt, because I wanted to say something about love, the complexity of human behavior, and about the courage that is oftentimes concealed and left unacknowledged in humble, simple people.
My next posting will be on what I liked best about Einstein’s Trunk and what parts I had difficulty writing.   

Jim
Zurich, May 2, 2011

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Revenge in Einstein’s Trunk

Right now Einstein’s Trunk is being sold by well over 80 resellers. Those resellers are mostly from the U.S. but many are from all over the world, including New Zealand, Australia, South Africa,  India, most of the countries in Europe, and many from countries whose languages I don’t recognize. (Note: I’m hoping one of those is Communist China and that president Hu Jintao will require all his citizens to own a copy of ET – ala the little Red Book – but that’s another story.)

Many of those resellers carry a short description of the book that was written by my publisher Cedar Fort, but a few have written descriptions of their own. There have also been a few reviews on websites that provided plot summaries, and I’ve personally received emails from people telling me what they thought of ET. In all of these descriptions very few have picked up the importance of Revenge in ET.

Even though ET has an end-of-the-world threat, that threat won’t play out unti April 13, 2029. I chose that date, by the way, because that is the date when  Apophis, a real asteroid that at one time had the highest probability of striking the earth as calculated by the Torino Impact Hazard Scale, is supposed to hit.

ET is not about saving the world. ET is about people, many of whom either know nothing about the asteroid threat or who are sceptical about it, who get caught up in the riddle of the trunk and from there descend in a downward spiral of revenge. In the course of fulfilling an assignment from their country, several Russian agents get put in the hospital by Rulon Hurt. At that point the hunt for the trunk becomes secondary while balancing the ledger vs. Rulon becomes the primary goal. ET is about revenge and its negative consequences. And, I suppose, also about the healing power of love and forgiveness. The theme of revenge continues in the sequel which I’ve just completed. If the first two books sell reasonably well, then I have plans for a third where saving the world will be the primary plot driver.

In my next posting I will talk about villians.

Best regards,

Jim

Zurich, April 23, 2011

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Just saw my first copy of Einstein’s Trunk

We’ve probably all had this experience at one time or another in regards something we’ve accomplished, but I must admit that seeing my first book in print for the first time was special. But moving on, I am acutely aware that it is my first book, and I have not yet reached the pinnacle of literary prowess or success.

Just recently, I read John LeCarre’s first book “Call for the Dead” written in 1961. The reviews at the time referred to it as “brilliant, suspenseful, thrilling…” As I read the book I could see flashes of the John LeCarre I came to greatly admire in “Tinker Tailor, Soldier, Spy” and “Smiley’s People”, but I could see that Mr. LeCarre still was working out his style in his first book. And so it is with me in Einstein’s Trunk. I tried a different style in my “Russia chapter” in the beginning and then moved to a more casual style when Rulon was the primary subject – trying to capture Rulon’s easy-going, Idaho rancher’s nature. I believe, it wasn’t until John LeCarre’s third book – The Spy Who Came in from the Cold” that he truly ‘broke out” as a writer. In any case, if after reading Einstein’s Trunk, if anyone has feedback on the style, good or bad, I would appreciate hearing their opinion.

Next posting will be on why I have humor in my book – after all, aren’t thrillers supposed to be about serious people doing serious things like saving the world?

Best regards,

Jim
Zurich, March 21, 2011

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Points of research in ‘Einstein’s Trunk’

I personally like books that are intellectually stimulating, even in my choice of thrillers, so I tried to include information in Einstein’s Trunk that would satisfy that need. In the course of writing ET, I had to do a fair bit of research on hammer throwing, Einstein’s life, nuclear science, CERN, nuclear weapons, and astronomy.
Einstein was a particularly interesting subject. I had no idea he had an illegitimate daughter with his first wife before he married her and then put the daughter up for adoption. It seemed such a sad story. There are many details including a book written on the subject, but it’s still not definitive what happened to the child. In ET I chose what I thought was the most plausible scenario. I originally had quite a large chapter devoted to that story, but, alas, it got edited out in the interest of keeping the plot moving along. It was probably the right decision – after all, I was writing a thriller. But the story of the illegitimate child was important to the plot.
I was also fascinated by the 1939 letter Einstein wrote to Roosevelt endorsing the Manhattan project and then his later guilt at having done so. It turns out even geniuses have their regrets. That worked its way into the book as well.
I did a lot of my research on the internet. It’s an amazing tool. I can sit in my living room typing away, want to know the difference between the different types of nuclear weapons, and find the answer in seconds. Same thing is true for any science subject. And the information on the internet isn’t necessarily superficial if you dig around.   
The astronomer Palissa was one of my internet discoveries. How convenient that he named an asteroid ‘Elsa’, the same name as Einstein’s second, and most beloved, wife. If you read ET, you’ll see how that got worked into the plot.
Not all of my research took place on the internet, however. I live in Zurich and actually walked the streets I mention in ET. With a few artistic deviations, the descriptions are accurate. The chase scenes in Höngg are particularly well drawn because I lived in that Zurich neighborhood for five years. And there really is a Desperado restaurant a block away from Meierhofplatz. I’ve eaten there many times.
For the hammer throwing details I was given a most excellent education on the subject over dinner one night in the Tres Kilos Mexican restaurant (one of Rulon’s favorite Zurich eating establishments) by Martin Bingisser, an American expat living in Zurich and avid hammer thrower. He gave me such interesting information that I also included some hammer throwing details in the sequel I’m writing now.    
CERN I visited, but couldn’t get in, though the descriptions of the Meyrin gate and surrounding scenery is accurate.
All the best,
Jim
March 17, 2011, Zurich
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