Monday, September 15, 2014

Favorite Book Number One

'Strangers' by Dean Koontz (link to Amazon Books)

Let me be clear, I'm not saying that Strangers is the 'best' book, merely that it hits all the right notes for me, personally.

Strangers is the story of six strangers who experience strange waking terrors, and eventually meet, share their stories, and discover that they share an impossible secret. Strangers is a classic ensemble story, wide in scope and full of tension and mystery, questions that last well into the third act. The final reveal is very well crafted, one of the best slow reveals I've read so far.

The characters are what makes the story. An adult sleepwalker. A surgeon with panic attacks. An ex-marine hotel owner who is afraid of the dark. And of particular interest to me, a priest who has lost his faith, who suddenly experiences what seems to be a genuine miracle.

It's very hard to discuss the rest of the story without spoilers. (Be careful if you read reviews of this book. They tend to be full of spoilers.)

As I grow older, I become more comfortable with stories that don't explain everything, that don't answer all the questions they raise. But Strangers stands out as one of those rare works of suspense where the explanation truly and completely satisfies.

I've read Strangers many times, and each time it's just as satisfying. I recommend Strangers without reservation.

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Keep

Tonight, they will all be face-melted.

I finally sat down and watched Michael Mann's THE KEEP, based on the terrific book by F. Paul Wilson. I'm glad I did.

To be clear, the movie is a muddled, inexplicable mess of 80's backlit, smoke-machine, shitty effect-driven scenes, all set to a glorious roller rink electronic score by Tangerine Dream (I'm serious). But I enjoyed it anyway.

The scene where the two greedy German soldiers inadvertently release 'The Evil' is iconic. As is the first time we see Molasar materialize and explode the heads of two more soldiers as they try to rape Eva. The 'smoky' version of Molasar is really well done. If they'd kept him looking like that for the whole film it would have been epic.


The reason why I mention this film is, I remember catching a glimpse of it on TV in the mid 80's when I was a young teenager. The greedy soldier getting face-melted in the narrow tunnel, the acrobatic sex scene (yay sweaters!), and Molasar generally being a bad-ass must have made an impression.

Why? Because as I was watching I realized that some of the scenes in this movie (from way back  in '83) have informed and inspired stories I've written since then. Only I'd forgotten the film's influence. Scenes from Upstairs, The Image, A Conversation With the Devil and possibly others all have imagery and moments that remind me of scenes in this film.

It's kind of incredible that a movie I only saw parts of, one time, thirty years ago, could be so influential.

Gabriel Byrne does not want to be face-melted.

Great cast too. Ian McKellen, Scott Glenn, Jurgen Prochnow, and Gabriel Byrne sounding a lot like an Irishman not pulling off a German accent.

I wish the original 200-minute version Mann showed the studio still existed somewhere, because the choppy 90-minute theatrical cut leaves much to be desired.

It's a great, high concept story about the nature of evil, and visually it's a work of art but my God is it ever hampered by phoned-in performances and some really bad editing choices.

Running won't help, sorry buddy.

Despite it's many, many flaws, I enjoyed the movie. Apparently it stirred my imagination when I was young too. And it scared the shit out of me.

What more can you ask for from an 80's B-Horror movie?

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Favorite Book Number Two

Watchers by Dean Koontz (Link to Amazon Books)

This book works for me on so many levels. Two animals, victims of horrific lab experiments, one brilliant, the other murderous. Two people, both broken, one with nothing to live for and the other with no life. All come together in a story that is somehow suspenseful and terrifying while at the same time, uplifting. Watchers is a story that pulls at your emotions from every direction.

My favorite line of all time comes from Watchers. Travis and Nora have finally figured out how to communicate directly with 'Einstein', the hyper-intelligent experimental dog. Einstein suggests that the humans leave him behind to face the danger alone, and save themselves.

...She stopped hugging the dog and took his head in both hands, met him nose to nose, peered deep into his eyes. "If I woke up some morning and found out you'd left us, it would break my heart." Tears shimmered in her eyes, a tremor in her voice. "Do you understand me, fur face? It would break my heart if you went off on your own."

The dog pulled away from her and began to choose lettered tiles again: 


"You would die if you left us?" Travis asked.

The dog chose more letters, waited for them to study the words, then looked solemnly at each of them to be sure they understood what he meant:


A thoroughly original and genre-bending story that takes us into the minds and hearts of not just people, but of a very special dog as well, something rarely done in popular fiction. Watchers is Dean Koontz at his absolute best.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Favorite Book Number Three

Somewhere South of Midnight (link to Amazon Books)

I do love a good ensemble story. My favorite horror novel of all time, Somewhere South of Midnight tells the story of seven survivors of a horrific motorway accident. Seven people with nothing in common, except for the fact that the accident changed them forever.

Slowly, each survivor discovers they have a power, to heal, to kill, or even to burn. Where did their power come from? What caused the accident? What really happened that dark night on a lonely stretch of road? And what happens next?

Equal parts beautiful and horrific, full of dread and raw emotion, Somewhere South of Midnight never lets up, always surprises and long after reading, the images and questions still linger.

"The bus was losing speed. George frantically gripped the wheel, twisting to look at the rear-view mirror. But he could see nothing. The flaring headlights were impossibly bright, obscuring the mirror, and the only thing he could do was to swerve from his lane, and get the coach on to the hard shoulder and out of the way.

And then everything happened at once.

George MacGowan pulled the steering wheel hard over to the left, heart hammering, eyes dazzled by the headlights as…

Ellis Burwell, filled with anger, floored his accelerator and began to overtake the coach on the inside lane. His car had just begun to pass the rear of the coach when the entire vehicle swung at him, vast and powerful and shuddering. He jammed his hand down on the horn.

And then the screaming began."

Monday, May 12, 2014

We Need People Who Take things Too Seriously

"Without people who take things too seriously, people who are 'too sensitive', how can there be any real empathy in the world? We can't truly care about someone, or something, if we don't take them seriously." - T.D. Fuhringer

Friday, February 14, 2014

When Dialogue Attribution Goes Horribly Wrong.

Here's a quote from Newgate Callander of The New York Times Book Review that pretty much says it all.

Mr. Ludlum has other peculiarities. For example he hates the "he said" locution and avoids it as much as possible. Characters in The Bourne Ultimatum seldom "say" anything. Instead they cry, interject, interrupt, muse, state, counter, conclude, mumble, whisper (Mr. Ludlum is great on whispers), intone roar exclaim, fume, explode, mutter. There is one especially unforgettable tautology: "'I repeat,' repeated Alex."
The book may sell in the billions, but it's still junk.

He said. She said. Unobtrusive, simple and elegant.

Monday, February 10, 2014

T.D. Fuhringer Quote #1

When one's heart has been burned to ash by cruelty, only kindness remains.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

You're not a skilled expert, until you're a skilled expert

Something happened the other night that got me thinking about skill development. Please, let me tell you the story. (YES, this is about writing, bear with me.)

I visited my friend "Hank" on Friday. His wife left him recently so one of his buddies and I went over to his house to cheer him up. Hank told us he was going to make spaghetti. His wife had always done the cooking and his mother before that. In short, Hank has the cooking finesse of an infant slow loris.

He set the pan on fire while trying to cook the beef. He didn't put enough water in the pasta pot. He thought he had spaghetti, when what he really had was a package of fetuccini. He had no cooking oil and couldn't figure out why he'd need any. He thought one can of sauce would be enough for two pounds of ground beef.

It was a disaster, but it was a fun disaster. We helped him get through it and eventually we ended up with a dinner that, while not spectacular, was far from bad. But he got really upset. He realized he's a forty-year old man who doesn't know his way around the kitchen.

I'm a skilled cook. I tried to reassure him, and as the words were coming out of my mouth I had an epiphany. I said, "The only reason why I can cook is because I've been doing it for thirty years. My parents let me start cooking (I wanted to) when I was ten. My first few attempts to make dinner were disastrous. No one is an expert when they first start doing something."

No one is a skilled expert when they first learn how to do something. You're not a skilled expert until you're a skilled expert.

Just because you know how to write, or have good ideas, or your friends tell you that you tell great stories, or you've read a lot of books, doesn't make you a skilled writer. On the other hand, unless you've put in the hours and work necessary to learn the craft, why are you beating yourself up over the fact that your writing isn't publishable? Why do so many aspiring writers expect to write a publishable novel the first time out?

I attempted my first novel in the summer of '93. The only reason why my writing now gets more compliments than criticisms is because I've been learning the craft for twenty-and-a-half years.

Stop thinking you're Hemmingway just because you wrote some alcohol-fueled hoopla that your friends told you was wonderful. BUT also, stop kicking yourself for not being Hemmingway if you're only just starting out. Please learn that you can't be a best-selling author after your first draft, just because you know how to write. I know how to use a scalpel, but I would make a terrible brain surgeon. But brain surgeons exist, and so do published authors. Why? Because they put in the work. They learned, from books, from schools and from professional experts in the field. And it took time. If you've only been writing for a year and you think you've got a masterpiece, you're deluding yourself. If you've only been writing for a year and are ready to stab yourself in the eye because your book is a plot-hole ridden, cliche driven, amateurish grab-bag of unoriginal ideas and mental masturbation, PUT THE KNIFE DOWN. It's okay to be awful when you first start out, EVERYONE IS.

You're not a skilled expert, until you're a skilled expert.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Favorite Book Number Four

Still Life With Crows by Preston & Child (Link to Amazon Books)
“Where are you from, Mr. Pendergast? Can't quite place the accent.”
“New Orleans.”
“What a coincidence! I went there for Mardi Gras once."
“How nice for you. I myself have never attended.”
Ludwig paused, the smile frozen on his face, wondering how to steer the conversation onto a more pertinent topic.”

Still Life With Crows is my favorite book by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. On the back of one edition it says, "These guys are masters at scaring the hell out of people." And oh yes, they are.

The opening scene is absolutely gripping and intense. It's one of the most memorable descriptions of a cop's reaction to a crime scene, at least that I've ever read.

The main character, Aloysius Pendergast, is the albino love child of Sherlock Holmes intellect, Hannibal Lecter's appreciation for the finer things, and a great white shark with opposable thumbs. He is by far the most interesting detective character in all of fiction. Poirot and Marple were hacks compared to Pendergast. Holmes was a wimpy and obnoxious overgrown schoolboy by contrast.

The book has its flaws. The third act is not as strong as the first act. But that's like saying chocolate fudge cake is not as awesome as white birthday cake with buttercream icing. They're still both cake.

I can say very little about the story without spoilers, so I'll just say, serial killer, eccentric detective, quirky sidekick, small town mentality, and lots and lots of corn. Still Life With Crows is a must read.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Favorite Book Number Five

The Stand by Stephen King (Link to Amazon Books)

“The beauty of religious mania is that it has the power to explain everything. Once God (or Satan) is accepted as the first cause of everything which happens in the mortal world, nothing is left to chance...logic can be happily tossed out the window.” 

 Stephen King redefined the words 'epic' and 'horror' with this brick of a novel. Huge in scope and variety, filled with an enormous cast of really interesting characters, and plenty of King's trademark creepiness, The Stand is King's best work.

Touching on themes of spirituality and religion, community and civilization, and good vs. evil, the book tells the story of the end of the world at the hands of a killer virus. The story follows the lives of dozens of people across the U.S. who survive the apocalypse and eventually meet, but not by accident.

The Stand is a one of a kind book, I've never read anything quite like it. It features King's most memorable characters and a third act that completely messed with my head. I've read it many times and I'm still finding nuances and themes I didn't know were there.

If you only ever read one book by Stephen King, make sure it's The Stand.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Grimm's THE BLUE LIGHT... as a Space Opera

by T. D. Fuhringer

      "You had one job, Spliff. And you couldn't even do that."
      "Listen," said Spliff, "Just because I lost one little bounty..."
      The Vorbedrox waved all six of his thin, pink arms in frustration. "You're done, Spliff. No more bounties for you, not in my sector. Now get out, or I'll throw you in the pain vat!"
      Spliff shook his head. You're gonna regret this, Vorbedrox, he vowed.
      Back on the ship, he checked the fuel gauges. He tapped the gauges but it didn't help. "Well Phantom, we've got enough juice to get off this rock but that's about it." The ship didn't respond. He had removed its vocal interface a while back, to pay for fuel. He sighed.
      The Phantom blasted off Drox and Spliff set a course for Benemar. He made the jump to lightspeed and settled in for a nap, but few minutes later, the Phantom's alarms started flashing. "You've gotta be kidding me."
      He dropped out of lightspeed and discovered the reason for the alarms. A Thurbian frigate was in the way. They seemed to be in trouble, so he docked with the frigate and offered his services.
      "We don't have much use for a bounty hunter," said the Thurbian Captain, a large female with green eye-stalks. 
      "There must be something I can do for you?"
      "Can you fix a hyperdrive?" she asked, hopefully.
      Six hours later, soaked in sweat, Spliff reported that the repairs were complete.
      "Do you know anything about cargo loaders?"
      He frowned. "Yeah, why?"
      Five hours later, Spliff reported that the frigate's cargo bay was reorganized.
      "You're a miracle worker," said the Captain. "But would you be willing to do one last tiny little thing for us? It'll just take a second."
      Spliff crossed his arms and waited. The Captain showed him an access hatch and explained that they'd lost a Blue Crystal down the shaft and well, Thurbians were terrified of small spaces and... Moments later, he had the crystal and started back up the shaft.
      "Terrific!" said the Captain. "Here, pass me the crystal so you can climb faster." She lowered a greasy tentacle.
      "I don't think so," said Spliff warily.
      "Fine. Then rot!" The Captain closed the hatch, sealing him in. He sighed, sat down and decided to take the nap he'd missed earlier. But as he relaxed, he heard a gentle voice from the Blue Crystal say, "Speak, and be heard." 
      Spliff laughed. "Sister, unless you can get me outta here, I don't have anything I need to say."
      The Blue Crystal flashed. Spliff was free!
      "Well that's some trick." He raced for the Phantom and broke the ship away from the frigate. A thought occurred to him. "Hey blue," he said, "Any chance you could do something about our fuel situation?" 
      The Blue Crystal flashed. The gauges read 'FULL'.
      "What about that greasy Thurbian?"
      The Blue Crystal flashed. The Thurbian frigate erupted into a ball of fire and debris!
      Spliff smiled. "You and me Blue, we're going places." He flew the Phantom back to Drox and landed right in the middle of the Pleasure District. He booked a room at the best hotel and ordered off the room service holo. One of everything. When the bell-bot showed him the bill, he said, "Hey Blue, can you get the tab this time?"
      The Blue Crystal flashed. The bill was paid.
      Spliff suddenly had a brilliant idea. "Listen Blue, any chance you could bring me the Vorbedrox' personal pleasure girl and make her, well... you know... want me instead?"
      The Blue Crystal flashed. The girl appeared, wearing nothing but a smile.
      "Well hello there!" said Spliff. They spent the night together and the next morning, she returned to her master. Spliff spent the day gambling, profitably, and after night fell, he asked the Blue Crystal to summon Vorbedrox' pleasure girl once more. 
     When she appeared, she told Spliff how pissed the Vorbedrox was. "It's making him crazy, trying to figure out where I was all night, hee hee!" They spent the night together again, and the next morning she returned to her master.
     That night when she appeared, she started to tell Spliff how the Vorbedrox had gone out of his mind, vaporized people left and right, then smashed up his favorite treasures.
      But before he could reply, soldiers burst into the room and grabbed them both. Spliff only had time for one thing, and he used it wisely. He slipped The Blue Crystal into his pocket. The soldiers brought him before The Vorbedrox.
      Pinker than usual, the Vorbedrox screamed at him. "You stole my pleasure girl!"
      "Well, yeah," said Spliff, grinning.
      "You think you're smart? Well I'm smarter, I put a tracker on her this time, and it led my men straight to you. I've got you cold, Spliff. You're done."
      Spliff shuffled and hemmed and hawed. "Are you gonna blast me?"
      "You bet your skinny ass I'm gonna blast you! Any last requests?"
      Spliff lowered his eyes. "Just one. I'd like to look at my crystal one last time."
      The Vorbedrox wasn't stupid. "Search him!" The soldiers found The Blue Crystal and showed it to him. "Bah. It's just a toy. Here, look at it all you want." He threw the crystal to Spliff.
      Spliff's face split into a wicked grin. "Hey Blue. Vaporize these creeps, would ya?"
      The Blue Crystal Flashed. The soldiers vanished.
      The Vorbedrox screamed and reached for his blaster.
      Spliff said, "Blue, you know what to do."
      The Vorbedrox erupted into wobbly chunks and pink mist.
      "Blue, I think I love you," said Spliff. He took The Vorbedrox' lair and treasure for himself, commissioned a magnificent pedestal and security system for The Blue Crystal, and he and the pleasure girl lived happily ever...
      "My name is Veronica, asshole," said the crystal. "Not 'Blue'!"
      The Blue Crystal flashed.

Story copyright 2012 by T.D. Fuhringer.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Favorite Book Number Six

Chiefs by Stuart Woods (Link to Amazon Books)

 "The boy ran for his life."

 Covering fifty years and three generations of police in the small town of Delano, Georgia, Chiefs is easily the best story about law enforcement I have ever read. Part family saga, part murder mystery, part political thriller, the book also manages to deliver a powerful look at race relations in the Southern U.S. from the 40's to the 80's.

Chiefs is one of the books most directly responsible for birthing my interest in writing fiction. It's also the book that got me reading suspense novels and thrillers.

There is a scene, which I'll try not to spoil, that has stuck with me for more than two decades. The scene illustrates the tragedy of ignorance and the unintended  consequences of closed-mindedness and small-town 'common sense'.

Rich in history, suspenseful, bold and even funny, Stuart Woods Chiefs is a must read for anyone who likes vivid storytelling and/or stories of law enforcement.