Wednesday, July 29, 2009

G.I. Joe: The Movie
The Anatomy of Creating Anti-Buzz
(with an update written on 8/4/09--see end of post)

There's some bad buzz going around for the big screen adaptation of the popular cartoon show. I was a HUGE G.I. Joe fan growing up. Can't say I was thrilled to hear they were making a movie, but the first "Transformers" was far better than I expected. Anyway, when I saw the trailer my thought was, "Ugh...this looks terrible."

Now, I'm not a snob, and in fact I enjoyed "The Mummy" (also directed by Stephen Sommers). As we saw with "Iron Man" and "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" a really good trailer gets people juiced for the film (the IM trailer was so good that The Onion worried about stretching it out to feature film length). So here is a total breakdown of why the G.I. Joe trailer does not work. Here is the actual trailer, so you can follow along at home:

0:11 - Reveal of an underground lair that looks less like 'Cool and ominous' and more like 'Spongebob Squarepants'.

0:15 - Action Movie Cliche #1: Generic bad guy with unidentifiable accent saying, "I want the warheads ready to launch in one hour." Wait, why does that sound familiar...oh yeah!

Dr. Evil: "Here's the plan...we get the warhead and we hold the world ransom million dollars!"

0:19 - Action Movie Cliche 2: Evil guy, over scenes of cartoonish effects and earth-boring drills: "When I'm finished, the world will never forget." Hey, you know who else used drills to deliver their warheads? DR. EVIL!!!!

0:30 - What looks like stock footage of warheads being fired. (wait, what was the point of the drills if they just launch the rockets into the air?)

0:36 - Rocket hits the Eiffel tower. And no, it's not an explosive warhead, it' gunk? Ectoplasm? Regardless, the problem with this scene is that in this Michael Bay movie world, we've seen the destruction of so many landmarks, and done with such better effects than in this scene. The effects in this scene are so bad that they look like a spoof of a Michael Bay movie (more than one person has commented that this movie looks like "Team America" only done with real actors. You're practically waiting for the Eiffel Tower to fall onto the Louvre)

0:52 - Action Movie Cliche #3: Dennis Quaid (in total paycheck mode) says, "We have never faced a threat like this."

0:57 - Action Movie Cliche #4: Quaid: "A team is being assembled." (Seriously, could Quaid sound any more weary or any less interested in his dialogue?)

1:00 - Action Movie Cliche #5: Quaid (again...sense a pattern?): "They are the best operatives in the world." (of course they are...sigh...of course they are)

1:03 - Action Movie Cliche #6: Quaid (good lord, how did he say these lines with a straight face?): "When all else fails...we don't."

1:10 - The Best Operatives in the World are given 'Accelerator Suits'. "What do they accelerate?" Duke asks. "You," replies the random in-charge dude.

Now, here's my biggest problem with this movie. In the cartoons, G.I. Joe wore uniforms that were colorful, camouflaged, patriotic. In the movie, they're jet black. No personality, nothing identifiable whatsoever.

My assumption? The studio (or other suits) felt that making a movie that was 'Too American' might hurt overseas box office. Problem is, now you have a movie that's bland as can be. Can you imagine if Iron Man's suit was black? Or if Optimus Prime was a rusty gray? These characters became popular for a reason, and the movie is just washing that out. What's the point of making a G.I. Joe movie if it has nothing to do with the cartoon? In fact, without the end credits to tell you the title of this movie, you would never have any idea it was even created in the same universe as the cartoon.

1:25 - After a few decent-looking action snippets, we launch right back into Action Movie Cliche #7: Quaid: "This is General Hawk. Mission is a go." (Of course it is! If it wasn't, we wouldn't have a movie! And what the hell is their mission? Stop the bad guy? Pick up some Lunchables?)

1:34 - Action Movie Cliche #8: Duke yelling, "Go go go!"

1:45 - Action Movie Cliche #9: Scarlett O'Hara: "We're running out of time!" (followed by Ripcord's plane getting ensnared by that cheesy green ectoplasm. Seriously, "Ghostbusters" came out in 1984 and their slime was more realistic)

1:58 - Even the G.I. Joe logo is now bland and devoid of personality!

2:01 - Action Movie Cliche #10: Baroness: "This has only just begun." (Mercy, I beg of you...)

2:06 - The trailer's 'Money Shot': Two completely unidentifiable guys (guys? girls? who can tell?) dodging a missile by doing all sorts of acrobatic maneuvers that look as realistic as Joan Rivers's face.

So let's analyze why this trailer sucks:

#1: For the most part, the special effects look cheesy and cartoonish compared to movies like "Transformers" and "Iron Man".

#2: G.I. Joe became popular for a reason. Kids loved the uniforms, the characters, the personalities. In this trailer, nobody is identified, nobody has any personalities, and all the uniforms are stark black. Hence at the end, when the two uniformed guys are hurtling through the air, you have no idea who they are. They could even be bad guys since everyone in the movie seems to have been tailored by Darth Vader. I mean, the G.I. Joe theme was one of the most recognizable cartoon themes of all time. (G.I. Joe! The real American Hero...) At least in their movie the Transformers still made that cool noise when they changed into cars and back.

#3: And perhaps the most egregious...there is not a single line of dialogue in this trailer that doesn't come from the moldy Action Movie Cliche book. Seriously, every single line of dialogue is groan-worthy, and delivered with a complete lack of emotion. You can almost sense the shame in the voice of Dennis Quaid (an underrated actor) when he delivers such ludicrous bon mots. And what's the point of having Marlon Wayans? Marlon is a terrific comedic actor who has also had one fantastic, award-worthy serious role (in "Requiem for a Dream" - one of my all-time favorite movies). But here? He has no funny lines, and does nothing of note. Other than Quaid, he's the most recognizable actor here, yet he does nothing except allow the audience to say, "hey, I know him!"

In the end, the trailer looks cheesy, bland and stupid. Now the movie might be a totally different experience (I doubt it, but let's give them a chance), but they could not have gotten people less excited than if they had a monkey fling feces at the audience during the trailer.

UPDATE: 8/4/09
Shockingly (or perhaps not), G.I. JOE seems to actually be getting some pretty good buzz. The reviews on Rotten Tomatoes are pretty darn positive, and it appears G.I. JOE might be more "The Mummy" than "The Mummy 2". Still doubt I'll see it, but I will happily be proven wrong in my early assessments of the film's quality. Still, this not does detract from the fact that the trailer sucks, and if the movie is in fact good then whoever put the trailer together did the movie a great disservice.


New Interview

Last month I did an interview with the Waterstone's website for THE STOLEN, but we touched on a number of topics. For Yankees, Waterstone's is basically the Barnes & Noble of the UK.

The interview can be read here. (Scroll about halfway down the page)


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

coming December 1st, 2009

So here it is at long last, the final cover for the second of my two books coming out this year, THE DARKNESS. Along with THE FURY (in stores 10/01/09), THE DARKNESS makes up one massive storyline covering two books that will change Henry Parker's life forever.

I'm incredibly proud of these two books, how they feel both intimate yet something on a large scale. They are ripped from today's headlines, yet are based on historical events that present a frightening 'What If?' scenario that may already be taking place.

For fans of the whole Henry Parker series, THE FURY and THE DARKNESS are the most explosive, personal and timely books yet. For newcomers, this is a two-part story that will hopefully rock your world and serve as a thrilling introduction to the series.

This two-part story was inspired by James Ellroy's brilliant masterpiece L.A. CONFIDENTIAL, for reasons that I will happily go into as we approach publication date. I'm not going to post the official description quite yet, but I will leave you with this small teaser...

What happens when a city on the brink--finally gets pushed over the edge?

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Sunday, July 19, 2009

Who Doesn't Get It?

I woke up early this morning, flipped on ESPN and caught the tail end of "The Sports Reporters." I enjoy the show--despite it often coming off as preachy--but something Mitch Albom said caught my attention. During his final monologue, Albom discussed the death of Walter Cronkite. In doing so, Albom stated that young people "Don't see what the big deal is" about the legendary newsman.

Now, at 29 I'm not quite sure I can still consider myself--or speak for--'young people', but that didn't stop me from finding Albom's remarks incredibly condescending. I'm sure if you asked Albom what his kids thought about Cronkite, he would say they had tremendous reverence and respect for the man. So the 'young people' Albom is talking about are not his kids, they're yours or even perhaps you.

First of all, I think young people have as much respect for Cronkite--who came to prominence decades before people my age were even born--as you can have for someone whom you did not personally witness at the peak of their career. Naturally there will be something of a disconnect, likely the same way Albom's parents didn't see what the big deal was about Elvis or Woodstock. I have tremendous respect for Cronkite, but he declared his retirement in 1980, when I was exactly one year old, and he began anchoring the CBS evening news in 1962, 17 years before I was born. The vast majority of my knowledge about Cronkite comes from reading about him after the fact, yet I absolutely do know why he is a 'big deal'. And if you take a cursory glance over at his mentions on Twitter, a great many people from my generation revere the man's career and his influence.

Second, I guarantee Albom's statement was not made after polling hundreds of young people (and what age does the term 'young people' encompass? 18? 25? 38? 6? I picture Albom as the judge from 'My Cousin Vinny' asking, "What is a yout?"). It was made from of a feeling of superiority that he understands the significance of Cronkite's life whereas all these stupid little kids--what with their Xboxes and their Beyonces and their YouTubes--do not. Here's the thing: if people who grew up with Cronkite and understand his significance take the time to explain his legacy to those who did not witness it, odds are they would respect the man. Now, I respect what Albom has done in terms of philanthropy and I happen to think he's a pretty good sportswriter. But if these young people Albom refers to don't see what the big deal is, it is not their fault but the fault of those in Albom's generation who failed to teach them.

The bottom line is this: young people look up to those who speak to them, not at them. And by making such a silly, contrived, out-of-touch statement, I dare say that Albom is the one who doesn't get it.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Free as a (Jail) Bird:
Why crime and genre conventions should be free for anyone under 18

When I was growing up, my family lived just a few blocks from the renowned Black Orchid bookstore. My father was a voracious crime fiction reader, and every few weeks he would come home with a bag full of books recommended by Bonnie and Joe. Once he was finished, he would pass them along to me, and I would dive right in. This is where I developed my love of the genre, became fascinated with many of my idols, and became a full-fledged lover of crime writing.

I would have loved to have been able to go to a conference to meet many of these men and women who created the characters and stories I so dearly loved. And I was far the only kid my age who would have done the same. I would have loved to go to a ThrillerFest. Bouchercon. Sleuthfest. Left Coast Crime. If I was a teenager today, sadly it would not even be a possibility. And for thousands of kids who love crime fiction, they're left on the outside looking in.

Between hotel, airfare, conference registration and other incidentals, crime conferences are going to run you upwards of $1,000. Few people have that kind of disposable income, and even fewer young people. And so as much as I love being at book conferences, I can't help but notice that the average age of the attendees tends to veer to the older side. This is not because only older readers read crime fiction, it's because they're the ones who can afford to actually meet their favorites writers while attending informative panels. I think this needs to change immediately.

Young readers are the future. They're our future. I guarantee if we make an effort to attract middle school and high school kids to our conferences, they'd be reading our books for decades. They would spread the world among their friends. Maybe they would recommend a George Pelecanos or Laura Lippman book to their friends along with Stephenie Meyer. Which is why I propose that anybody under the age of 18 should be granted free registration to book conferences.

I understand that there are costs involved with putting on a book conference, and many of those costs are defrayed by the registration fee. But I'd be shocked if you couldn't find a willing publisher (or author) who was willing to cover the costs.

Crime fiction needs to replenish its ranks. Promoting literacy should not only be in the hands of a few authors who have the resources to fund organizations and donate large sums of money. There are thousands, if not millions of eager readers out there who would lose their minds if given the chance to meet Lee Child, Sandra Brown, David Baldacci, Brad Meltzer, James Patterson and Clive Cussler. These readers would be thrilled to meet their favorite writers, and eager to find new authors to devour. We have simply priced these readers out. If we don't make a concerted effort to bring younger readers into the fold, we'll lose them altogether. We need to go out of our way to attract young readers to our festivals.

Let me repeat that: we need to go out of our way to attract young readers to our festivals.

Members of International Thriller Writers have sold over a billion books. Mystery Writers of America is one of the oldest and most prestigious writer organizations in the world. RWA and RT have some of the most fun and innovative conventions in the world. Sometimes these facts are lost on us. They are not lost on young readers.

Let anybody under 18 register free for our conferences. Let's make an effort to open up our worlds to them. And I guarantee you, many of them will never, ever want to leave.

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Saturday, July 11, 2009

Live Tweeting the Thriller Awards

Thriller fans - I am planning to live Tweet tonight at the banquet for the Thriller Awards, presented by International Thriller Writers. Hopefully I can do this without drawing the ire of many people who know all sorts of ingenious ways to kill someone and dispose of their body.

You can follow my Twitter feed at


Wednesday, July 08, 2009


The fourth annual ThrillerFest begins today with Craftfest. I'm sure over the next few days millions of recaps and articles will be written, so I'll just point you to two links: the official ThrillerFest website, and author Jonathan Maberry's blog in which numerous authors (myself included) talk about ThrillerFest and ITW.

Tonight I'll be attending the second Strand Critics award ceremony. The Strand has been incredibly supportive to me, nominating THE MARK last year for "Best First Novel" while including that book and THE STOLEN among their best books of 2007 and 2008. It's a terrific magazine that publishes all sorts of things for mystery lovers of every ilk. Check out their website here and the list of this year's nominees here.

I'm also nominated for a Thriller award for "Best Short Story" for 'The Point Guard' which was published in KILLER YEAR: A Criminal Anthology. The awards will be announced on Saturday night. I'm up against a murderers row of writing talent, so I'l say it here first: It's an honor just to be nominated.

And if you plan to be at ThrillerFest, please stop by my panel:

Friday, July 10th
4:00 pm
WHO DID YOU WANT TO BE WHEN YOU GREW UP?: The books and authors that inspired you
Moderator: Tim Maleeney
Lisa Gardner
Andrew Gross
Patricia Gussin
Steve Martini
Jason Pinter

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Monday, July 06, 2009

Sarah Palin

I don't write about politics very often. Not because I don't follow it (I do), but because there's just so much out there from people vastly more informed than I am (and much from those who are not). But maybe that's why I should write about politics. I don't consider myself a hardcore member of either party (I could be swayed by a great candidate from the GOP or the Dems), and I'm definitely not a member of the 'loony left' or 'nutjob right'. Yet I do read commentary from both sides of the aisle (I have HuffPo and The Fox Nation bookmarked), and think that Keith Olbermann can spout as much bluster as Rush Limbaugh. So with that in mind, here are my thoughts about Sarah Palin:

As I've mentioned before, I was there when Sarah Palin spoke at the opening ceremonies at Bouchercon in Anchorage in 2007. She was sharp and funny --although more than one person remarked how little must be going on in Alaska for the Governor to take time to welcome a bunch of mystery writers. Still, she made such a good impression on me that when McCain announced Palin as his running mate, I thought, "Ooh, that's a game changer." Well, it was and it wasn't.

Palin proved to be an incredibly difficult politician to get a handle on. On one hand, she could deliver a knock-em-dead speech that electrified the G.O.P. faithful (like at the Republican
National Convention). On the other, when forced to speak off the cuff she came across as defensive, combative and uninformed. She redeemed herself slightly during the VP debate, though that was partly because the bar had been set so low due to her previous interviews. When interviewed by friendly hosts (Sean Hannity et al) whose questions seemed to fall into the "Why is Barack Obama so terrible?" and "Why does the mainstream media hate you?" category, Palin thrived. When comfortable, Palin was witty, and could deliver a line with enough bite to make an offhand remark sink in. Yet for those of us who fell more in the middle, we grew increasingly frustrated with Palin's inability to delve beyond talking points and platitudes, and at some point she officially became McCain's hatchet man, throwing about charges of socialism and accusing Obama of "palling around with terrorists."

Many on the right, including Palin herself, charged the media with 'elitism.' I always laugh at that, considering Barack Obama is the son of a Kenyan goat herder who made the vast majority of his money off of books he wrote himself, while George W. Bush came from a family of wealthy politicians and John McCain married a young millionaire heiress. No knocks on either, but charges of 'elitism' tend to be driven more by ideology than fact. But I digress.

There were many on the far left who hated Palin simply for her accent and way of life, calling her 'Caribou Barbie'. But for most of us, we took what she had to say at face value. I grew tired of the 'pro-America areas of this great nation' speeches, and how she seemed to view New York and California as though they were Sodom and Gomorrah. If you govern a country, you govern each and every one of its citizens--even in states that tend to vote blue. Yet I always felt like Palin openly believed every New Yorker/Californian had the exact same temperament as David Letterman, Maureen Dowd, or even Satan himself.

Eventually Palin played the sexism card, which she had a right to do, though it came off as somewhat hypocritical considering she had previously knocked Hillary Clinton's similar views. To some extent, the sexism/elitism charges were warranted. There were attacks on Palin and her family that neither Obama or McCain (or even the Bushes) ever saw. She was right in confronting David Letterman, whose joke about her 14-year old daughter was tasteless and defenseless. But then she crossed the line as well. Palin put out a statement condemning Letterman's remarks, the final paragraph of which stated, "Willow, no doubt, would want to stay away from David Letterman." The insinuation being that Letterman was either a child molester or someone who could not be trusted around a 14-year old girl.

Palin had the high road. And with this remark she took the low, low road. On the Today Show, Palin said of the comment, "Take it however you want." As though the comment might have numerous meanings. It did not. As a public figure you have every right to protect your family, but her comment was simply put, messed up. And very, very unbecoming of someone who might seek the highest office in the land.

After the election, Palin's star seemed to rise as McCain's dimmed. Her name was included in every discussion about the future of the G.O.P., and she was immediately considered a frontrunner for the 2012 presidential nomination.

And then she resigned.

Now as many have pointed out, there are four possible reasons for Palin's departure:

1) Family.

Palin and her family have been dragged through the mud, and face half a million dollars in legal bills. She's tired of the public scrutiny, tired of her children being in the spotlight, and she wants to lead a (relatively) normal life. Noble, if that's the case, but I don't really buy it. Everything Palin has said since her resignation has led us to believe she plans to stay in the public eye, even mentioning (on her Facebook page, of all things) that she has a 'higher calling' and still intends to work for change.

2) She wants to run for President.

At this point, I have to agree with Charles Krauthammer that Palin is just not a viable candidate. She already had a long way to go to convince anyone outside the far right that she was capable, and with her resignation Palin's Presidential ship has struck an iceberg. She barely made it 2.5 years into a 4-year term, and quit on the very people of Alaska who elected her. Use whatever basketball analogies you want, the bottom line is she quit. I still do not understand how an elected official can simply resign from office without informing her constituents of the reasoning behind it. The bottom line is this: if Palin runs for President, anyone who runs against her, whether it be Republican challengers or the Democratic candidate, can say, "You can't handle being the Governor of Alaska, how the hell can you handle being the President of the country?" And this is one question Palin simply cannot spin.

3) Money.

This ties into #1. Palin has mounting legal bills. But she is also the most recognizable name and brand in the Republican party. It is very possible that Palin knows she is a long shot to win a nomination and/or the presidency, so why not cash it when the chips are high? Between books, speaking engagements and a possible television show, Palin could easily reap in many multiples of the $125,000 she currently earns (or earned) as Governor. By doing this, she could continue to be a prominent right-wing voice without facing the scrutiny of being a national candidate.

4) Scandal.

It's possible, but I'm not sure I buy it. I just can't believe that after all the scrutiny she faced as a Vice Presidential candidate, somehow investigators (both Federal and in the media) failed to unearth some massive conspiracy up that would derail her career. I can't say it's impossible, but why would something come out now that did not come out during the campaign, when she was under a far more powerful microscope?

If I had to guess, Palin's resignation is a combination of 1 and 3. Mounting debts combined with massive earning power convinced Palin that the best thing for her would be to work from outside the Governor's office. We'll see if that holds water.

Sarah Palin remains one of the most interesting politicians of our age. She is without a doubt the most ring-wing politician on the national stage in some time, yet she does not look or act like a typical politician. But as John Green pointed out in this funny video, Chewbacca is not a typical politician either. This is not to compare Sarah Palin to a hairy wookie, but to say that she is simply not cut from the same cloth at Mitt Romney or Newt Gingrich. If you're on the far right, this is a blessing. If you're on the far left, it's a curse. If you're like me and fall more in the middle, you simply interpret the facts as they come. And from my perspective, I cannot see Sarah Palin competing again on the national stage. I would not vote for someone who resigned from their elected position without having the decency to inform their constituents as to the reasons for their decision. Say what you want about 'politics as usual', but I would want my candidate to stand firm in harsh wind.


Saturday, July 04, 2009

Friday, July 03, 2009

Daily Mirror (UK) gives THE STOLEN 4 Stars...

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