Monday musings: If the story turns you on, write about it

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By Caleb Pirtle III

This post is a re-blog from Venture Galleries.

How could my mystery and thriller novels be called historical fiction? They happened in my lifetime.

It appears that we have become locked into a publishing universe that is built on genre fiction, and the genres are changing just about every time the leaves on the trees either grow, turn green, become red and gold, or fall off. These days, it’s not out of the question to find books that are labeled paranormal and historical romantic suspense, a mystery and thriller with time travel. Confuses me.

I thought I wrote thrillers. And mysteries. That’s what I tried to do. That’s what I like to read. My bookshelves and my mind are filled with the fiction of Robert Ludlum, James Lee Burke, Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, John D. MacDonald, Lee Child, Jack Higgins, Ken Follett, and the boys.

But here’s the problem.

I am fascinated with the 1930s and 1940s. I have written three Ambrose Lincoln thrillers and have a fourth ready for release. All of them are set during World War II: Secrets of the Dead, Conspiracy of Lies, and Night Side of Dark – with Place of Skulls waiting in the wings.

It was a glorious era. It was a mysterious era. So many rumors running rampant. So many mysteries lurking in the background. Too much intrigue to know the difference between fact and fiction, truth and contradiction.

It was the dawn of intelligence agencies whose operatives worked in the shadows and behind enemy lines. They were in places where danger lurked around every corner and behind every door. The agents of the United States, Great Britain, Russia, and Germany had their only little private wars going. Winner take all. Not everyone came home. Not everyone was supposed to.

Besides, the era had the greatest villain of all. He was a madman. He engineered a Holocaust. He wore a mustache, made fierce, fiery speeches, and was known to the world as Adolph Hitler. His was the face of evil.

And, of course, Russia had its own madman, Joseph Stalin. He was our friend then. He was our own personal bad guy. Stalin became our enemy as soon as the flames of atomic horror rose in a mushroom cloud above the cities of Japan. His face was just as evil.

We had what he desperately wanted. We had The Bomb. Stalin began building one of his own. And a war turned Cold.

Want to write a thriller? You can’t find a better era.

That’s what I thought. But now I’ve found that I haven’t written any thrillers at all. It was a grand era all right. It was the wrong era.

Now everyone wants to call my novels historical fiction. How could they be historical? They happened in my lifetime.

I was only a small child during World War II, but my father worked in a military plant that built bombs, and I heard him and my mother talking in hushed tones at night about men I didn’t know killing men I didn’t know in places I never heard of.

I was fascinated with what was going on. I still am. But it’s historical or so they say, and they’re probably right.

I could write about the present, and maybe I will. To me, however, there may be mysteries in a world that relies on computers and the digital speed of the Internet and cell phones, but there is little intrigue. There is little suspense.

Suspense is when the good guy is cornered in an alley on a dark street in Berlin with Gestapo agents trailing right behind, and he can’t find a telephone to warn someone that the German storm troopers will attack at dawn.

Where is a phone that works? How can he find it? Will he die before he gets there? And he knows he can’t escape to freedom until he finds that damn phone.

Now that’s suspense.

If he whips out a cell phone and makes that call, it’s ho-hum and time to spread a little more peanut butter on my bread since I know for sure everything is going to work out fine. Make the call. Look up the GPS coordinates on his hand-held computer. And hitch a ride on the helicopter that’s coming in under the cover of darkness.

It may be a really good story. It’s not the story I want to tell.

I want an operative who lives or dies on his own daring, wits, and ingenuity. I don’t want his fate decided by email or Twitter. So I guess I’ll keep writing historical fiction.

And I guess I’ll keep calling the books thrillers. Why change now?

A great writer, J. E. Fishman, penned a piece for Venture Galleries, and his advice for authors was this: “Write what turns you on.”

He’s right.

I do.

And so the battle rages on.

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Thursday teaser: Secrets of the Dead

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By Caleb Pirtle III

Lincoln descended the steps to the pavement. He was facing a strange town on a strange mission under strange circumstances at a strange time in his life.

Somehow, none of it seemed strange.

He may have only been walking the back alleys of his mind.

But he had been here before.

Or he had been to someplace that looked a lot like a dying Baden-Baden when the lights went out. Lincoln walked down the dark street and left the glow of the gaslight behind him. The snow against the building had melted. By morning, it would freeze again. The cold dug deep into an old wound just below the third rib on his left side. In time, the cold would end the pain as well.

Baden-Baden had become a town of silence.

No screams.

No whimpers.

It was as though the town was afraid to breathe, afraid to move, afraid.

On the platform, Captain Emmerich motioned toward the shadows. A small woman with red hair clipped to her neckline and wearing a black leather overcoat walked toward him. “Don’t lose the American,” he said. “Keep your distance, but keep your eyes on him. He will suspect one of us. He does not trust any of us. He will not suspect you. He will regard you as simply another misplaced woman who needs a little help. If he offers to help you, let him. But don’t lose him. He will lead us to the girl, and she will give us the film.”

“What about the American?” she asked.

“Don’t worry about the American.”

“Why not?”

“Leopold will take care of him.”

“Leopold is not here.”

Captain Emmerich smiled. “He will be when it’s time for the American to die,” he said.

Emmerich turned and walked away as the train left the station. The whistle blew, and it sounded like a cry in the night.

About Secrets of the Dead

Ambrose Lincoln is one of the government’s prized operatives, a trained assassin, a man whose past is continually erased by mind control treatments. He is dispatched to Baden-Baden after the Night of Broken Glass to find rolls of film that will tell the truth and uncover the lies. The photographs will reveal to the world the sadistic threat that exists for everyone if Hitler’s mad march isn’t stopped. Lincoln’s mission is to uncover the deadly secrets that his own government doesn’t want him to find, secrets that can change history.

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About the author

Caleb Pirtle III is the author of more than seventy books, including three noir thrillers in the Ambrose Lincoln series: Secrets of the Dead, Conspiracy of Lies, and Night Side of Dark. Secrets and Conspiracy are now audiobooks on audible.com. The fourth book in the series, Place of Skulls, will be released during the spring of 2017. Pirtle’s most recent novel is Friday Nights Don’t Last Forever.

Pirtle is a graduate of The University of Texas in Austin and became the first student at the university to win the National William Randolph Hearst Award for feature writing. Several of his books and his magazine writing have received national and regional awards.

Read more about Caleb on his

And follow him on Twitter @CalebPirtle.

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