Thursday, October 04, 2007

The Bourne Hook: Guest Blog by Mark Terry

Please welcome our very first guest-blogger, Mark Terry! I’m a terrible host, because I’m leaving for the weekend (my birthday!). Will you please help me make him feel at home while I’m gone?

// wife and I went to see "The Bourne Ultimatum" about a week ago. The big debate was whether to see "3:10 to Yuma" or "Bourne" and ultimately Matt Damon won out over Russell Crowe and Christian Bale.

We loved the movie. I enjoyed the first two, "The Bourne Identity" and "The Bourne Supremacy." Lots of action, intrigue, and enough plot to require you to pay attention-what’s not to like? My wife and I also like the fact that Jason Bourne is so smart. He’s not just an action hero, he’s smarter than the people he’s taking on.

That said, I have a confession to make. And this is a confession from a guy who writes action thrillers. I don’t particularly care for the books by Robert Ludlum. I’ve only read a few of Ludlum’s own and I find his writing to be sort of, er, dull and thudding. He was a terrific storyteller, I think, and what’s more, and probably most important, Ludlum really understood the concept of a "hook."

And that’s where I really have to give him credit for the Bourne books. There are tons of espionage novels out there-I write novels on the edge of espionage-with competent spies. And there are even some with not-so-competent spies (Mrs. Pollifax, anyone?). But Ludlum had a hook, you see?

A spy-an assassin-who has amnesia.

I mean, when you put it like that it sounds like all those in-jokes in Elmore Leonard’s "Be Cool," where Chili Palmer laments that they made a sequel to "Get Shorty" and they gave the character amnesia. (Was it "Get Lost?" I don’t remember and I’m too lazy to go hunting for the book.) Hell, I’m just barely old enough to remember an episode of "The Mod Squad" where Linc wanders around L.A. with amnesia.

But still. there’s your hook.

When I was an aspiring novelist versus, say, the struggling novelist I am now, I used to lament the fact that mystery novels were always built on what I felt were cheesy hooks: the female P.I., the caterer detective, the wedding planner detective, the golf pro detective, the freelance writer sleuth, the national park ranger detective, the black detective, the Hispanic detective, the blind detective, the deaf detective, the gay detective, the lesbian detective, the paralyzed detective. I once told my agent I needed to write a book featuring a black, female, lesbian, blind, quadriplegic cop-turned-lawyer detective. My agent wryly noted that it would give me a lot of demographics to market to.

So what do you think? Who’s the next big spy? Jim Bone, ghost spy? Felicia Smith, animorph spy, able to turn herself into a cat?

// Terry’s latest book, The Serpent’s Kiss, is out! Here’s the blurb:

A terrorist calling himself the Serpent unleashes sarin gas in a Detroit restaurant during the breakfast rush, killing 52. Homeland Security troubleshooter Derek Stillwater is called in on a race against time to stop the next attack...

14 bonus scribbles:

spyscribbler 10/04/2007 10:37:00 PM  

Felicia ... love it, the animorph spy! Thanks for guest-blogging, Mark!

I agree with you about Ludlum. Great stories, great storyteller ... but I have trouble with the voice.

Those fight scenes in The Bourne Ultimatum were TOTALLY awesome. I loved them!

Loreth Anne White 10/05/2007 03:09:00 AM  

Ah -- I still love Ludlum :) I think if the book holds the reader to the end, it works.

But mostly I want to say: HAPPY BIRTHDAY SPY!!!

Bernita 10/05/2007 04:14:00 AM  

Definitely a ghost spy!

Jennifer McKenzie 10/05/2007 08:32:00 AM  

Happy Birthday Spy!!! And great guest blogger.
I love Robert Ludlum. But I do think his concepts translated better to film.
And Matt Damon is a fabulous Jason Bourne.
As far as hooks go, believability still has to be there. That's why P.I. and Detectives are still being churned out.
I think the trick has always been to take what is believable and twist it to a new perspective.
Funny you should say "Ghost Spy". Crystal Jordan, an up and coming author, released a short story called "Revenant". It's now being reworked as a single title and the premise is "ghost spies". LOL.

Michelle,  10/05/2007 08:53:00 AM  

I loved Ludlum. I read him when I was young and almost anything on the page entraced me, not sure how I'd feel if I read them now, but I LOVED them at the time. I wish the movies had kept Marie, the just-as-smart partner to Bourne, but I like the movies despite the fact they don't.

Michelle,  10/05/2007 08:54:00 AM  


Mark Terry 10/05/2007 09:25:00 AM  

Those of us old enough to remember, I believe Michael York played Jason Bourne back in the 70s. (Correct me if I'm wrong; I could be). I think Matt Damon is an excellent Bourne.

avery 10/05/2007 10:28:00 AM  

Happy birthday, Spy!

Mark, welcome. Love the cover art on your novel.

I'm ashamed to say I'm not much of a spy novel reader. Which is sad, because I love spy movies and TV shows. The TV show Burn Notice has a good premise; the burned CIA operative trapped in Miami with the family he's spent years cutting off, doing "A-team" type work with his gun-happy ex-girlfriend and his aging buddy who's former FBI and Navy Seal. I think the campiness of it all is what wins it for me. The show doesn't take itself very seriously.

As far as what's next, I don't think I have anywhere near enough experience to speculate. I just hope it's good and--writing gods, don't strike me down for this--is made into a movie. ;)

Mark Terry 10/05/2007 01:02:00 PM  

Thanks re. cover art. Kevin Brown is the house artist at Midnight Ink who does my covers and I think he rocks.
I like "Burn Notice" too, although I've only seen it all the way through a couple times. Sorry to say, it's on past my bedtime (old fogey at 43, sigh). Y'know, I wonder if it's on iTunes yet. That might work. I recently downloaded the season premier of "Bones" because we missed it. Of course, it was free, which helped, although TV episodes are pretty cheap on iTunes anyway.

Edie 10/05/2007 01:27:00 PM  


I thought The Bourne Ultimatum was great while I watched it, but when I walked out, I thought it was one long chase movie. A good chase movie, but still ... Shrug.

I'm a minority of one, I know. I loved The Brave One with Jodie Foster, because that had so much character building.

Bernita 10/06/2007 10:06:00 AM  

Happy Birthday, Natasha.
October people rock.

Stewart Sternberg 10/06/2007 10:49:00 PM  

Okay...I'm going to buy your book asap Mark. A restaurant in Detroit??? Hmmmm. You know, as a former Detroiter and a resident of Michigan, I am always skeptical when reading books set in my own backyard. But I shouldn't be. I mean, look at the stuff by William Kienzle or Elmore Leonard. Still...I'm a hypocrite. I'm in the middle of horror novel set in Detroit.

Hey Spy..good stuff here, looking back a bit. Happy Birthday. Whatever you do, don't drink Ripple and spend the evening thinking: "Another year closer to my death." Happy Birthday.

spyscribbler 10/07/2007 08:38:00 AM  

Thanks so much for guest-blogging, Mark! And thanks, everyone, for saying hi while I was gone!

Stewart, you're from Detroit, too? I was just there this weekend! I gotta tell you guys, Detroit is, um, well, it's a perfectly nice city, but ... it's got SMOG! Yuck!

Mark Terry 10/07/2007 11:29:00 AM  

Thanks for the opp. And yeah, when I drove into the city some days I could see the yellow haze.

Stewart, hope you enjoy.