Consequential Violence: The Impact of Combat in Fiction

by Gamal Hennessy

The action and thriller genres rely on certain established tropes. The hero needs someone or something to protect. He (or in rare cases she) will define their individuality by being a lone wolf with no affiliation or being a rebel in an existing power structure. When it comes to physical prowess or combat skill, the hero will be placed in situations where they can to injure, maim and kill to show how badass they are. This is one of the pillars of action stories from The Odyssey to Spectre and it can be the best part of a story. But combat, fight scenes and violence lose their impact when they become inconsequential.

Defining Consequence defines consequence as:

1.       The effect, result, or outcome of something occurring earlier

2.       An act or instance of following something as an effect, result, or outcome.

3.       The conclusion reached by a line of reasoning; inference.

4.       Importance or significance:

5.       Importance in rank or position; distinction:

In action and thriller fiction, violence often has no consequences for the characters or the hero. I’ve read a best-selling novel that started with a six man shootout in New York’s Central Park during the day in the 21st Century.  The hero moved through the plot without any acknowledgment of the effect that event would have. The cops never arrived and never investigated the event, even though there is a police precinct in Central Park and the surrounding area has a heavy police presence because of all the high priced real estate around. No one had any video of the incident, even though there are cameras in the Park and everyone has an iPhone. The hero was shot during the incident, but suffered no physical, mental or emotional impact from the incident. There was no mention of any news story about a massive gun battle in the middle of the most famous park in New York City. This lack of consequence gnawed at me until I was forced to put the book down because I couldn’t suspend enough of my disbelief to keep reading.

Exploring Consequence

In real life of course, violence has consequences for everyone involved. Books like Violence: A Writer’s Guide, Real World Self Defense, On Combat and the Writing Violence series discuss the consequences of violence in depth, but in broad strokes physical combat can affect a character’s

  • Mental facilities: people often see and perceive the world in a different way after a violent encounter. Depending on the situation, their view of the world, other people and themselves can undergo profound change. This can happen whether they win or lose.
  • Emotional well-being: We have learned a lot in recent years about the impact of post-traumatic stress disorder on people who go through violent encounters. It doesn’t just impact soldiers engaged in drawn out conflict. PTSD can hit anyone involved in any number of encounters. It should also be noted that some people react in the opposite way, developing emotional frameworks that seek out and enjoy violence.
  • Physical health: It might be obvious to say violence often hurts and can sometimes kill, but when reading action novels or watching action movies, this reality is often ignored. Characters can be shot, stabbed, beaten and bruised in one scene and restored to full health in the next. I know people who have suffered long term injuries in the relative safety of practice. Why ignore all those realities in fiction?
  • Legal Status: Most types of violence are officially illegal in most countries of the world. People who engage in violent acts can easily face arrest, prosecution and prison for something as simple as a street fight. The more over the top and bloody the encounter, the more likely the police will be to get involved, and the legalities of “self-defense” usually don’t protect people who willingly participate in violence
  • Social Status: Different segments of society react to violence in different ways. While a shoving match at a high society party might send someone into exile, a friendly fistfight might not even be remembered the next day in another part of the city or country. In either case, if the event is in public it probably won’t go unnoticed or undocumented in the modern world. Just type in “street fight” or “fist fight” in YouTube to see what I mean. In addition, the “winner” and ‘loser” of the fight will have to deal with the repercussions of their actions in their social circles, whether they are positive or negative.
  • Daily lifestyle: Violence often creates more violence. The winner of a fight today might find himself hunted by the loser, or his friends, or his company, or his country depending on the importance of the loser. The winner of a fight might find himself constantly looking over his shoulder for the revenge attack. In the worst case scenario, he might not be able to ever go home again.
  • Financial Status: Between doctor bills, legal bills, psychology bills and protecting against future attacks, the cost of violence in dollars and cents can cause more long term damage than the physical beating. People have been bankrupted by violent encounters even if they won and even if they were exonerated in court.

Consequence in Story

Barry Eisler is one of my favorite writers and his style inspires my own work when it comes to depicting violence. The John Rain Series is full of violent scenes, but consequence always plays an important role before and after the fight. Mr. Eisler’s characters often spend most of the novel trying to anticipate, eliminate or reduce the impact of impending violence, creating a tension few other writers can create.

In my next book, Smoke and Shadow, I tell stories of two combat operators and their missions against warlords, slave traders and insurgents. In each novella, the characters take the time to plot, plan and prepare for what might go wrong in their violent encounters. I hope the result creates a dynamic both interesting and realistic.

The Truth about Fiction

Not every story benefits from complex portrayals of violence. Part of the fun of a James Bond or superhero film is ignoring legal and emotional realities for a few hours. But some stories and characters can be enhanced and improved if their violent actions had more consequences.

What do you think? Let me know in the comments. I look forward to hearing from you.

Have fun.

My Top Ten Books for 2014

Many successful writers advise other writers to read more than they write. I enjoy reading, so I accepted the advice without much fight. I set out to read thirty books in 2014 and according to my tracking on Good Reads, I managed to get through forty books this year. A few books were horrible, several were excellent. To look back on my year, I’ve compiled a list of my favorite books for 2014.

Keep in mind this list is for books I read this year, I’m not worried about when the book was released. I also don’t care about format. I read a combination of print, e-book, graphic novel and audio book. I’m concerned with content, not medium. The list includes fiction, non-fiction, how to and humor because I try to be well rounded...

10. The Curriculum by Stanley Bing (audio book): This humorous crash course in business combines concepts in his earlier books (How to Throw an Elephant and What Would Machiavelli Do?) It’s not a funny as the first two books, but it offers more practical advice with it’s laughs.

9. Elektra: Relentless by Rob Rodi and Sean Chen (graphic novel): This book has all the elements of a great Marvel Knights book. It’s a self -contained, character driven story that focuses as more on the humanity of the supporting cast than the “hero” who is almost a force of nature.

8. Words for Pictures by Brian Michael Bendis: Most people see comics as a hobby for nerds and children. A few people see the potential for money with all the movies and TV shows. Word for Pictures focuses on the business and the craft of creating comics in a way I haven’t seen for more than twenty five years.

7. Call for the Dead by John Le Carre (audio book): This turned out to be my least favorite book from one of my favorite authors. Le Carre retains all his skill in creating setting, characters and an intricate spy plot, but the ending he chose seemed forced and unsatisfying.

6. Handbook of Practical Spying by Jack Barth: This light hearted book from the International Spy Museum in Washington manages to offer a lot of real world advice, some historical context and without being dry or convoluted. It’s a painless introduction to modern tradecraft.

5. Being Wrong by Kathryn Shulz (audio book): This exploration of the physical, mental, social, and historical sources of mistakes is disturbing and enlightening at the same time. It doesn’t cover every aspect of error, but it covers enough ground to make you wonder how we haven’t managed to destroy the entire planet by now. 

4. Graveyard of Memories by Barry Eisler (audio book): This is the origin story for the iconic assassin John Rain (soon to be played by Keannu Reves). It contains all the elements of a great Eisler story (meticulous tradecraft, psychological insight and lush settings) but the formula for the story will be familiar to anyone who has read a Rain story before. It’s like listening to your favorite band play live. You know what they’re going to play, but you’re still amazed when they play it. 

3. Sexual Intelligence by Marty Klein: Most sex help books focus on technique or trying to get you back to some golden age of performance in your past. This book focuses on your present and future sexual expression by helping you get past technique and into physical and emotional connection. It rejects performance for pleasure and covers a wide range of sexual situations and examples. The main problem with this book is the people who read it probably don’t need it and the people who need it probably won’t read it.

2. Write, Publish, Repeat by Johnny B. Truant: It’s hard for me to listen to the podcast this book came from (The Self-Publishing Podcast) because the three hosts are friends who work together and spend two thirds of their time on the air self-promoting or meandering off topic. But these three writers have a deep understanding of the business and craft of independent publishing and what it takes to be successful. A lot of my ideas and inspiration to write came from this book when I read it the first time and it is even better the second time around. If you ever thought about writing a book, read this book first.  

1. Talk Dirty to Me by Sallie Tisdale: In a lifetime of reading books, only a handful will be transcendent. Talk Dirty to Me is one of those books for me. This intimate philosophy of sex explores the subject from fundamental questions of attraction, desire and expression and unpacks issues like pornography, prostitution, sexual identity and sexual repression in a thoughtful voice free of shame or blame. Talk Dirty to Me is a book that I’d like to read several more times. It’s not only my favorite books of 2014. It’s one of the best books I’ve read in ten years.

So what was your favorite book of 2014? Comment below and let me know.

Have fun and Happy New Year.


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by Gamal Hennessy

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The IPN Top Ten Books of 2013

Reading is one of the essential activities of being a fiction writer. We need to read in our chosen genre to understand its conventions and trends. We explore other genres to widen our palette and find unique inspiration. We read the non-fiction to acquire research for our work and to stay in touch with the reality that we avoid while we craft our artful lies. Stephen King said it well in his book On Writing "If you don't have time to read, then you don't have time to write."

I've been able to read about thirty five books this year through the magic of e-books, audio books and the Comixology app. Most of what I've read has been decent, a few I had to abandon before finishing (See How Often Do You Give Up On A Book?). The following ten books comprise the most outstanding writing that I've been exposed to this year.

Keep in mind that this is not a list of books that were released in 2013. This is a list of books that I have read this year. This list also excludes books that I read in the past and went back to during the past twelve months. It’s not limited by genre or format, it is as well rounded (or scattershot depending on how you look at it) as I am. I've provided links to my longer reviews if I wrote one. Otherwise I just provide a link to the Amazon page where the book can be purchased.
  1. Secret Pilgrim (thriller): John Le Carre closes the George Smiley series with an anthology of stories told during a dinner party for the next generation of British spies. Le Carre takes you through the Cold War and into the war on terror with emotional dexterity, dry humor, somber introspection and great insight into the mind of his fictional spies. This book might be just as good as Tinker, Tailor even if it isn't as well known.
  2. On Writing (non-fiction): This is a classic in the pantheon of how to write books. It reveals not only King’s insight on the craft, but his gift of storytelling as well.
  3. Delta of Venus (erotica): An anthology of short stories that explore various aspects of sexual expression with a delicate sensibility that doesn’t shy away from darker impulses
  4. Batman and Psychology: (non-fiction) This book perfectly balances fiction and non-fiction by using eighty years of Batman’s postindustrial mythology as case studies for various psychological conditions. 
  5. The Court of Owls (crime GN): This book blends a manipulation of the Batman mythology with some fanciful zoology about the animosity between bats and owls. The result is a fresh and enjoyable take on an icon that manages to retain all the things that make Batman interesting. 
  6. London Twist (thriller): A novella that marks a slight departure from Eisler’s established conventions and an expansion of his creativity with very pleasant results.
  7. Grendel Tales (crime GN): This book takes two minor incidents in the mythology of the assassin Grendel and unpacks them from the perspective of their doomed protagonists. Fans of Hunter Rose will appreciate the alternate resonance that these stories provide. New readers will be confused by who or what Grendel is, but that enigma will enhance rather than detract from the story.
  8. Merrick (horror): Anne Rice brings her Vampire Chronicles and her Mayfair Witch series together in this book that also includes ghosts, voodoo and magic from the Incas, Egyptians and Christian mysticism. The glut of supernatural forces can be too much at times, and the long flash backs were sometimes difficult to get through, but this was still an excellent Halloween read.
  9. The Killer (crime GN): This is a French book about a lone assassin who has to eliminate his targets, avoid being double crossed by his allies and battle the demons in his own mind in order to survive. It doesn’t push the genre into new territory, but it brings a minimalist flair to established conventions that recall excellent films like La Femme Nikita (See Bloody Inspiration Part 1: My Top 21 Films)
  10. Hawkeye (GN): In the wake of the blockbuster Avengers film, this is a light hearted take on the groups least powerful member. If you ever wondered what a superhero does when he's not saving the world or hanging out with billionaires and thunder gods, then you will enjoy this book.

So what are your favorite books of 2013 (besides the one you wrote, obviously)? Leave me a note in the comments and let me know. I’m always looking for new books to read in 2014.

Have fun.

Bloody Inspiration Part 4: My Top Five Thriller Authors

News of Tom Clancy's death today got me thinking about the writers who have consciously affected my craft. I'm sure that my writing has been influenced by dozens of writers on a subconscious level, but I'm going to stick to the ones that I'm aware of, because I don't want to spend hours in psychoanalysis just to write a blog post.

Here they are in order of importance to me:

1) Barry Eisler
Signature book: Winner Take All (Rain Storm)
Signature character: John Rain
The stories set in the John Rain universe resonate with detailed tradecraft and sudden violence. Eisler conveys a sense of realism that is missing from many testosterone driven espionage thrillers. He also delivers a sense of characterization and true character (See Creating Complex Characters) that is unique in a genre of cookie cutter assassins, maverick FBI agents and special forces tropes. If there is anyone I want to compare my books to, it's Eisler's.

2) John Le Carre
Signature book: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
Signature character: George Smiley
Where other authors treat spies as modern day daredevil adventurers, Le Carre offers a vision of agents and case officers that is much more human. Flawed personalities, personal distrust and institutional apathy hover over everything in his work. But there is also a charm and a wit that he will use to turn a phrase or describe a situation that is amazing to experience,  whether he is lifting you up or bringing you down. I hope one day to have both Le Carre's gift of language and his grounded characters.

3) Greg Rucka
Signature book: A Gentleman's Game (Queen and Country Book 1)
Signature character: Tara Chace
Rucka's Queen and Country story has found success both as a series of novels and comics. Rucka combines the bureaucratic infighting and troubled spies of Le Carre with the action and high body counts of James Bond. He also focuses on a female protagonist, something that is sadly rare in the espionage genre. Fortunately, I'm trying to change that with my novels.

4) Brian Azzarello
Signature book: 100 Bullets
Signature character: Agent Graves
Unlike everyone else on this list, Azzarello makes comics, not novels. But that doesn't diminish his craft in any way. 100 Bullets weaves crime, conspiracy, politics, sex, violence and social commentary seamlessly in a story that stretches from the discovery of America to the present. The visual nature of the story enhances the raw beauty of it in a way that prose can't accomplish on its own, no matter how much I try.

5) Tom Clancy
Signature book: A Clear and Present Danger
Signature character: Jack Ryan
Clancy's books don't really have a strong influence on my writing. I consciously avoid the type of highly technical descriptions that often left me confused and pulled out of the story when I read his work years ago. I also try to avoid the super patriotic undertones of good vs. evil that he fostered and the impossibly high, end of the world stakes that were common place in his books.

I do draw a lot of inspiration from the universe he created. It was through books like Patriot Games and The Sum of All Fears that I learned to appreciate the complex relationship between the US military and its intelligence services. His books taught me the importance of set ups and payoffs in a narrative that are pure art when done his way. Most of all, I constantly look to the work derived from the Ryan series and expressed in games like Rainbow Six, Ghost Recon and Splinter Cell. Clancy may not have invented Sam Fisher, but he is the godfather of the techno thriller and characters like Fisher couldn't exist without him.

So who are your favorite thriller authors? Who influences what you write and read today? I'm always looking for new authors, so please provide a book title if you can.

Have fun.

See Also

Overnight Success in Ten Novels or Less

"Life's not a track meet. It's a marathon." Ice Cube

Recently I wrote a piece about marketing my first novel (See Marketing the Independent Novel). Many of the comments on that article fell into three camps; some thanked me for sharing my experience, others pointed out the vague and confusing path to marketing success and many encouraged me to just keep writing. I appreciated all the feedback, but it's the last concept that was the most important to me, because it reinforces a basic concept in independent publishing; success often comes from building your bibliography and your craft, rather than from a single bestseller

The Road to Mastery

Supporters of independent publishing stress the benefits of releasing several titles over time:
  • Barry Eisler and J.A. Kornath talk about the cumulative effect of a growing library in their self-publishing discussion Be the Monkey
  • Hugh Howey highlights the impact of treating publishing as a long term business and not a one of shot in the dark in his Salon article
  • Stephen King refers to paying your dues through both publishing and being rejected in his book On Writing

These specific ideas about long-term, constant improvement go beyond publishing to almost every human occupation or skills set.
  • Malcolm Gladwell said in his book Outliers that it takes about 10,000 hours to perfect a skill.
  • Robert Greene echoes this time frame in his book Mastery, claiming that competence takes about seven to ten years of diligent practice to achieve.

Measuring the Process

One of the problems with the multiple book/ mastery concept is measurement. Just how many books does one need to write? How do you count 10,000 hours of "publishing practice"? The answer is subjective, but I try to look at it by dividing the hours into books.

The basic question is 'How many hours does it take to imagine, plot, write, edit, format, market and release a novel including the website and social media content'? I haven't timed it, but 1,000 hours is about 42 full days. I wouldn't be surprised if publishing a book from first inspiration to marketing online took at least 2,000 hours. At that rate, you could reach 10,000 hours in five or six books. Because my calculations are broad generalizations and because I normally take twice as long to get anything done, I'm thinking that after my tenth book my writing and my publishing skills will be strong enough for me to be an overnight success.

The point is, whether you look at the phenomenon from the number of books or the time it takes to become a great publisher (and not just a great writer) there is very little support for the idea that you can release one book and achieve all of your creative and financial goals.

The Hidden Struggle

One difference between independent publishing and the traditional route is the public nature of your growth. If you spend years submitting work to agents and then more time struggling to secure a publisher, improving your craft all the while in relative obscurity, when you succeed it might appear as if you burst on the scene and took the world by storm. That might have even been the story that is used to market the book. But that's not how it happens for most people. Writers like Stephen King, J.K. Rowling and Anne Rice could have easily spent their 10,000 hours under the radar, but their success involved just as much work as it will take for you and me. We just didn't get to see it.

Of course, I'm not suggesting that everyone who releases ten books and spends 10,000 hours becoming an independent publisher will have success. There are a lot of writers with more skill than me who have put in their time and not seen the results they wanted. All I'm suggesting is that success after several releases is more viable and realistic than striking gold with your first book. It is also more fun and less stressful. Why fret over the sale of one book when you can take the long view of your publishing empire?

Have fun.

Like a Spy to Honey: Sexual Seduction in Real and Fictional Espionage

A story is making the news this week about a US military contractor who is accused of passing nuclear weapons secrets to his Chinese girlfriend. This story is the latest episode in one of the most subtle and successful kinds of operations; the honey trap. But while this type of spy tale is titillating, it does not get the attention it deserves in modern espionage thrillers.

When Truth is Stranger than Fiction

In espionage parlance, a honey trap (or a honey pot) is the use of sexual seduction to recruit agents, either through blackmail or emotional manipulation. The use of honey traps can be traced back to ancient civilizations. Cleopatra’s seduction of Julius Cesar and later Mark Anthony to improve diplomatic relations between Egypt and Rome is one of the early honey traps. Casanova also used his seductive skills as a spy (as well as for general recreation).

Modern honey traps are also well documented. Dozens of military and diplomatic officers including Clayton Lonetree, Sharon Scranage and James Smith gave up secrets to their honey traps. One of the more bizarre cases occurred when a male Chinese opera singer named Shi Pei Pu pretended to be a woman, seduced a French diplomat and convinced him that “she” was pregnant to entrap him. This might be the most famous honey trap story of all because it was fictionalized into the play M. Butterfly.

A Bit of Honey

Honey traps have had a mostly minor role in spy fiction. Vesper Lynd is recruited by a male honey trap in Casino Royale. Nikita sometimes acts as a honey trap in La Femme Nikita. A honey trap poses as a prostitute to kill one of the assassins in Munich. The Fiona character in Burn Notice and her historical counterpart Cinnamon Carter in Mission Impossible act as short term honey traps in their respective teams. Most recently, Barry Eisler has shined the spotlight on his own honey trap, Delilah, in the novella London Twist. In the vast majority of espionage fiction, the honey traps act as love interests for the protagonist, rarely getting their own time in the sun.

A Taste of Honey

The book I’m currently writing is about a honey trap forced to spy on her lover. I’m creating a unique story, in part, because I am making the sexual seducer the protagonist. I’m exploring the motivations, struggles and choices that come with the use of sexuality as a tool of deception. The seduction in A Taste of Honey hasn’t been thrown in just for the sake of putting sex in a story. It is a way of exploring the true nature of the characters and the world they live in.

Human intelligence experts often refer to money, ideology, coercion and excitement (MICE) as the key motivators to recruitment. Sex is one of the most basic forms of excitement that we have and a powerful form of recruitment. There are plenty of examples of honey pots in fiction, but they are dwarfed by the number of assassins, rouge CIA agents and Delta Force heroes. I have nothing against assassins. Hell, some of my favorite characters are assassins. I just think the genre could use a bit more honey, and I plan to provide it.

Have fun.

Sex as a Window to the Soul: Using Sexual Expression to Reveal True Nature

“Sexual energy can have many transformations: at the lowest it is biological; at the highest it is spiritual. It has to be understood that all creative people are highly sexual." Osho

There are many ways a writer can show the true nature of their characters. By placing them in conflict with their world at various levels and forcing them to make choices, the fundamental essence of the character is revealed. In thrillers, lives are at stake. In mysteries, justice often hangs in the balance. Every genre of fiction has its conflict conventions, but sexual expression is an unused goldmine for the revelation of character, especially in spy fiction.

Sex for Characterization
Last month, I discussed the difference between characterizations and true nature in fiction writing. In short, characterizations are the definable qualities of a person and their true nature is the choices they make under pressure. As a vehicle of characterization, sex is used all the time. The male hero falls for the femme fatale. Now we know some characteristics of both of them. The man is heterosexual and sexually active. The woman is on some level attractive. This basic idea can be expanded indefinitely. The unquenchable sexual appetite of James Bond, for instance, is as much a part of his character as his nationality. But even this high profile sexual expression doesn’t speak to the true nature of the character.

Sex for True Nature
If sexual expression is going to be used to reveal true nature, then the sexual choices that a character makes need to be explored. There are a variety of questions that can be asked to further this goal:
  • Who are they sexual with? Are they alone? Are they with one person and not another? Why?  
  • When are they sexual? Under what circumstances and at what point in the story does the event take place?
  • Where are they sexual? Is there some risk based on the location or do they insist on total privacy and security?
  • What sexual acts are they involved in? How vanilla or kinky are they? How simple or intricate are their thoughts or actions during the sexual encounter?
  • Why are they taking this action? Is it the release of some emotion, if so, which emotion? Is the expression designed as a reward for someone or as a punishment for someone else, or both? Is it a celebration or a submission?
  • How are they sexual? Is the character kind or cruel? Are they considerate or selfish? Are they experienced or naïve? Are they exploratory or conservative? Are they active or passive? This is perhaps the most important question when sexual expression is used to define true nature.

When you look at sexual expression from this perspective, the true nature of James Bond (at least the movie portrayals of him) is never revealed. We know he has a lot of sex. We know he is very eclectic in his sexual tastes, but beyond that, Mr. Bond is a mystery even after six decades of films.

So What?
Can we know a protagonist’s true nature without watching her in bed? Of course we can. Millions of fine books have been written over the years without it. So why should anyone want to put it in now? The answer boils down to creativity. In a time where everything has already been done and a fresh new idea is as rare as a winning lotto ticket, using sexual expression to gain insight into character and move the narrative is the road less traveled and could be the ripest avenue for exploration in modern fiction.

Sex in My Novel
I’m currently writing a novel called a Taste of Honey. It this story, sexual expression exposes both the characterizations and the true nature of all the main players. Instead of writing yet another novel about assassinations, bombings and hand to hand combat, I’m crafting a spy story that is more subtle in its execution. The stakes are still very high and the tension isn’t reduced because there are less bullets flying. I just decided to write a different type of spy novel. Hopefully the world will be ready to enjoy it.

Repression, Rejection and Titillation
There is a reason why more writers do not use sexual expression as a vehicle to reveal true nature. The stigma attached to sexual expression in America has a chilling effect that marginalizes sex to the fringes of pornography. There are few ‘legitimate’ writers who are in a position to take this bold step under their own name. Anais Nin and Henry Miller did it in their prose. Anne Rice did it with Sleeping Beauty and Barry Eisler has taken steps in that direction with his spy fiction. I’m going to follow them because these are the stories I want to tell and I don’t have anything to lose.

Sex for the sake of defining character is fine. Sex for pure titillation is great too. But I’d like to go in a different direction and see where it takes me. It might not make me rich, but it will definitely be interesting.

Have fun.

London Twist: A Book Review

When I decided to become an independent publisher, Barry Eisler was the one of the modern writers who inspired me most. I wanted to capture the lethal complexity of his characters and the world they live in. I strive to emulate the visceral depth that he brings to both his tactical descriptions and his combat scenes without parroting his style. London Twist marks both a slight departure from his established conventions and an expansion of his creativity that achieves very pleasant results.

Readers familiar with the John Rain series will recognize Rain's former lover and honey trap Delilah. It is her first solo operation that provides the catalyst for the new direction. But Mr. Eisler doesn't simply change the gender of his protagonist and continue on his merry way. In Twist, seduction replaces murder as the method of choice without sacrificing the tactical element that makes Mr. Eisler's writing so enjoyable. The seductive and erotic scenes are handled with just as much meticulous rigor as his previous combat descriptions and this time they come off as much less desperate and violent as his earlier sex scenes. Of course, the deception, paranoia and double crosses that consume the Rain series are on every page of this novella, but with London Twist, Mr. Eisler proves he can write about both sex and violence skillfully.

My upcoming spy novel also focuses on the consequences of combining intimacy and deception and once again, Barry Eisler has inspired me with his latest work. It is a short and sweet alternative to John Rain that you will enjoy if you appreciate the intelligent thriller.

Have fun.

Bloody Inspiration Part III (My top 12 books for 2012)

One of the main benefits of being an independent publisher is that your reading takes on a whole new dimension. Every book you consume feeds your creativity; suggesting new ideas, new insights and new concepts.

I don’t know how many books, short stories and graphic novels I’ve read in the past year, but this list comprises the better material that has come across my Kindle. Unfortunately, I haven’t written reviews for all of them (I’ve been kind of busy) but I’ve provided a link for the ones I did. My tastes seem to focus on a particular subject this year. Can you tell what that could be?
  1. Erotic Capital (non-fiction): This is an intriguing redefinition of personal motivation and gender relations that has changed the way I look at social dynamics. If you only read one book on this list, read this one.
  2. Facing Violence (non-fiction): This is a well written treatise on avoiding and coping with violence that every martial artist, gun owner and self-defense enthusiast should read to calibrate their world view to reality
  3. Why Women Have Sex (non-fiction) Using a combination of anonymous surveys, lab experiments and multi-discipline research, two psychologists attempt to answer the most complicated question of all time.
  4. La Seduction: How the French Play the Game of Life (non-fiction): A case study of the seductive process on a national scale. It’s great for students of seduction and Francophiles alike.
  5. Venus in Furs (erotic fiction): A classic BDSM romance that was an interesting introduction into the psyche of bottoms.
  6. The Art of Intelligence (non-fiction): The author has a unique and authoritative view of espionage from the end of the Cold War to the beginning of the Iraq War and this is one of the better books on the subject that I have read.
  7. The Art of Love (erotic fiction): A short and amusing version of the Art of Seduction that was written more than 2,000 years before Robert Greene was born.  It’s a nice historical look at the seductive process.
  8. The Honourable Schoolboy (crime fiction): The follow up to the classic Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. It’s good, but not as engrossing as the first novel.
  9. The Lost Diary of Don Juan (historic fiction) Douglas Abrams has added to the universal legend by imaging a character that is part spy, part seducer and part honey trap.
  10. Henry and June (erotic fiction): Anias Nin’s autobiographical story of her polyamorous Parisian affair with Henry Miller is alluring and liberating, but it is also frustrating and incomplete. I think that was what she lived and what she wanted to describe.
  11. The Khmer Kill: A Dox Short Story (crime fiction): One of my favorite author’s gave one of his supporting characters a little time in the limelight. The result was good, but it wasn’t as strong as his other short stories.
  12. Simply Irresistible (non-fiction): This book takes one archetype in the Art of Seduction and expands it out into a full blown process of its own. It doesn’t pack the same punch as the original, even though it uses the same formula.
  13. Exit to Eden (erotic fiction): It was supposed to be a modern classic in BDSM romance, but I probably cheated myself by listening to the abridged version.

So what were the best books you read for 2012?

What new trends and themes do you see when you look back on your year in reading?

Let me know with a comment.

Have fun.

The Detachment: The Avengers of Assassination

Barry Eisler is one of my favorite thriller writers. I aspire to create characters and mood the way he does. He is one of the few modern authors that has mastered everything that is attractive about the spy thriller while avoiding all of the clichés. The Detachment is a climax of various storylines, but it stand up as a compelling thriller in its own right.

As I was reading the last few stories in Mr. Eisler's universe (Lost Coast, Paris is a Bitch and Inside Out) the parallels between his mega plot and a trend in popular films became very clear. In the current spate of summer blockbusters from the company I used to work for (Thor, Iron Man, Captain America and Hulk) each had films that will culminate in the composite Avengers film. Eisler works a similar concept in his universe. The only difference is that he's writing about assassins instead of Avengers.

The best part of the story is that you see each main character from the external view of the other characters and from their own internal perspective. Each one appears as an antagonist in relation to the others when seen from the outside and a struggling protagonist in their own head. No one's motives seem artificial or far-fetched. It is these dual perspectives, when added to the elaborate tactics, high level of detail and engrossing dialogue that has always been a part of the Rain series makes for a very enjoyable listen. By the middle of the book, you'll be sure they will all kill each other and you might not be able to decide who's side you're on.

I don't know if these all four of these characters should ever be in a book together again, but I hope they are.

Have fun.