Robert Bidinotto on How to Write a Thriller

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Dennis, your quotation of Branden (in #20) from his Full Context interview of 1996 gives an incomplete picture of his view of OPAR. I have linked to the following interview previously at OL, though you may not have seen it. It was made by Phil Bosta probably in late 2009 or early 2010. It was uploaded to Youtube on 1/14/10. In the first minute or two of my link below, you will find Branden saying of the accuracy with which OPAR represents Rand’s philosophy: “technically correct” and “quite accurately correct.” This link is to the second part of the full interview, and I think you would enjoy viewing both parts.

By the way, the view expressed by Nathaniel Branden, Barbara Branden, and others that OPAR cannot be persuasive to a novice has been disproven strictly speaking. Long ago I’ve recounted here (not too often, I hope) my meeting of a woman at an Objectivist conference in summer of 1992 who had come there having thus far read nothing of Rand or any other Objectivist literature except OPAR. A few days ago, a newcomer to this site introduced themselves by reporting their lead to the philosophy, thence to OL, was from reading OPAR.

(Micheal, could the OPAR portions of this thread by moved to a more appropriate place where they might be more logically findable in the future?)

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From the top… Mickey Spillane's "Mike Hammer" never impressed me. I read a couple and could not understand Rand's fascination with that versus, say, Robert Heinlein and Isaac Asimov, both of whom reduce Mickey Spillane to entropic dust. Ian Fleming was interesting for several novels. I can see why he sold to Playboy and from there caught the eye of John F. Kennedy. Whether that redeems JFK's "fascist New Frontier" is another question entirely. After three or four, they lose their luster. The same is true of the "Jack Reacher" novels of Lee Childs. Like the "Jack Ryan" stories from Tom Clancy I learned a few things about post and patrol, infiltration, surveillance, and generally being a guardian of other peoples' safety. But, ultimately, the artificial universe becomes cloying. Oddly enough, perhaps, I never experienced that with Heinlein and Asimov, though I did with William Gibson: after four cuts, it just lost its edge.

That said, I am enjoying a re-read of Difference Engine by Bruce Sterling. It is not just just the steam punk. It is as much the scripting of the narrative, the weaving of the story lines.

I am not a fiction writer. I only was paid for two published two science fiction stories and neither in a science fiction pro-zine. (I wrote unpaid science fiction vignettes in The Libertarian Connection. Francisco Ferrar can tell you about those.) Similarly, I usually do not "get" poetry, though I published several poems in PC Today and other computer magazines. So, as a writer of nonfiction, I admit to being out of my element in recommending gurus to follow. I only offer this (unpublished).

So you want to be a Jedi,

Want to warp through hyperspace,

And you want to be a hero,

Want to save the human race.

My advice to you, my friend,

as strange as it may seem,

is to play the kind of ballgames

that don't require teams.

When the taxman's at the airlock

And custom's on the vid,

Your ego will not help you

As much as will your id.

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By the way, the view expressed by Nathaniel Branden, Barbara Branden, and others that OPAR cannot be persuasive to a novice has been disproven strictly speaking.

I mainly agree with his point about there being no attempt at bridge building. I think when he said it wouldn't influence anyone who wasn't already a believer he didn't mean those who are still novices to philosophy in general. Though it can be read that way; it's not an ideally precise answer.
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  • 3 months later...

On the theory that Robert Bidinotto may be monitoring this thread: You have a customer here, waiting for the audiobook of your second novel. I wrote your first review on Audible, I gave you five stars. I'll give you what you deserve next time too. C'mon, hop to it!

I've finally given up on RB producing an audiobook of his follow-up novel. It's on special right now, the Kindle price being $2 instead of the usual $5. So yes, a $3 price differential is the ultimate motivating factor here. Which seems a little silly, eh?

I know it's about the environmental movement. Here's hoping it's better than Michael Crichton's execrable (qua literature) State of Fear.

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I like Crichton's book.

This is where I learned about politicians, the media and lawyers all trying to keep us in a state of fear for social control. The state of fear is great propaganda.

I wish this theme would get more traction. Ironically, a real-life state of fear drowned out the theme of the book as everyone yelled at each other about climate control when they discussed it.

Fiction-wise, it was a bit contrived, but no more than a typical mid-range techno-thriller.


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I just finished RB’s second book, Bad Deeds. It’s not the kind of thing I would normally read; if I'm going to take in a straight thriller it's going to be via audiobook.

Bad Deeds is about a conspiracy to outlaw fracking, while profiting by taking away people’s land via eminent domain, endangered species restrictions and such-like. Once tagged, the conspirators can buy out your "bad deeds" for a song, to install their windfarms and solar panels, with government money behind them of course. Natur'lly, violent clashes being the sine qua non of the genre, there are head-bashings and explosions distributed through beginning, middle, and end. The bad guys are (almost) all dead in the end (oops, spoiler, sorry!).

Criticism: The love story, picking up where it left off at the end of Hunter, wears out it’s welcome. It's too predictable, to the point that I had tunes from Annie Get Your Gun stuck in my head while reading*. But specifically, I think it would have been better if RB hadn’t intercut as many scenes of domestic bliss into his exposition. Of course it’s ultimately integrated into the plot, but there's too much early on. BTW and FWIW their relationship arc has a Dominique/Roark element to it.

My favorite part was when Dylan and Annie visit Wonk at home. He’s a great comic relief character.

I enjoyed Hunter better. Maybe because it was an audiobook. But this was a good sequel. If you’ve heard RB’s talk (posted earlier on this thread) you know he aims to keep you turning the pages. I’m one for lingering in the fictional woods.

* Though it turns out RB’s Annie has to use a knife when the time comes. Surely a case of intertextual anxiety of influence!

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That looks like a great book. I just ordered it.

I know you've been trying your hand at fiction writing, so you might find it inspirational. It's not a how-to book, but the author certainly has demonstrated that he knows how-to.
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  • 2 years later...

I just submitted an review of Robert's latest.  It hasn't posted yet, I don't know how long that takes. 

Under the headline "Hunter's bodycount migrates ever northward"

If you liked the prior two in the series, you’ll like Winner Takes All.  Starkly anti-Left politics, fight scenes matching Lee Child’s best, logical plot progression.  There’s a nice homage to that supreme masterpiece of the thriller genre, The Day of the Jackal.  A worthy sequel.

IMO you need to have gone through the prior two first, this book doesn’t stand on its own.  Most of the great thriller series (Jack Reacher, Travis McGee, Matt Helm, James Bond) hit a reset button at the beginning of each installment.  New love interest, and little or no carryover of plot strands.  Not here.  And the length keeps increasing (Hunter 12 hours, Bad Deeds 15, now 18 for Winner Takes All).  I think something will have to give if this series is to stay on track.

My main criticism is well stated by the (fictional) thriller writer James Rodman: “an artist with a true reverence for his craft should not descend to gooey love stories, but should stick austerely to revolvers, cries in the night, missing papers, mysterious Chinamen, and dead bodies — with or without gash in throat.”  We’re now on a third installment with Hunter and Annie together, and there’s not much room left for relationship progression.  Their conflict is now about whether/when Hunter is going to inform Annie’s father that they’re engaged.  Sorry, but this is fit for Barbara Cartland, alternately P.G. Wodehouse, depending on whether the treatment is one of forthright glutinous sentimentality or (preferably) something gently satirical and humorous.  It’s just not thriller material.  So by the end of Winner Takes All I found myself hoping that the author’s next homage would be to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.  Specifically its final chapter.  

The reader is excellent. 


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I thought it was just me. I could not finish the first book  because the love scenes, which seemed to be written and rewritten to drain any earthy excitement out of them,  interrupt ed rather than complemented the thriller plot. So I gave up.

I usually skip sex scenes in novels, unless one is bad enough to earn a Bad Sex Award. There is so much foreplay -- oh, get to the point, think I,  because I am  a crabby old  but still,above all, a Respectable Widow!

I agree 9th, kill off Annie or better, let her skip town with the pool guy.

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20 minutes ago, caroljane said:

I agree 9th, kill off Annie or better, let her skip town with the pool guy.

I was a little concerned the Bond reference was too obscure.  After all, that one became the movie with George Lazenby. 

Yes, indeed, Annie must die.  Mwah ha ha!  That Hunter may live.  And kill. 

37 minutes ago, dldelancey said:

Thanks for the review, doc.  I've been trying to decide if I'll skip this installment.  I was beyond over Hunter and Annie in the last book.  I don't know if I can stomach the engagement.

It was meant to be a positive review!  Now looking at it again, whew, referring to Barbara Cartland, that was pretty harsh. 

BTW, since you're both looking for something else to plow into, the Wodehouse references in the review came from the short story Honeysuckle Cottage, which you'll find as the final chapter here:

This volume, full to the brim with masterpieces, also includes Portrait of a Disciplinarian.  Within which occurs the immortal line "Can you produce the peke?" 

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10 hours ago, 9thdoctor said:

BTW, since you're both looking for something else to plow into, the Wodehouse references in the review came from the short story Honeysuckle Cottage, which you'll find as the final chapter here:

Someone has uploaded it to YouTube.  I doubt it will stay up for long, this channel is chock full of copyrighted material, and hasn't been around long yet. 

I've set it up so it should start at the beginning of Honeysuckle Cottage.


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