Jude Hardin

Author, Drummer, Turtle Whisperer

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Location: United States

Monday, December 29, 2008

Marco, Part 2

Just as, in my opinion, Marco needed to earn the title of perfumier, writers, in my opinion, need to earn the title of published author.

Anyone who can scratch out words on a page can have those words printed and bound and put up for sale on sites like Amazon. To me, that type of publishing is tantamount to bottling perfume from a basement lab and selling it from a briefcase in a bar.

In other words, it’s very likely that the end product will stink.

I was at a writer’s conference one time, outside smoking a cigarette, when a fellow attendee strolled up and asked for a light.

“What kind of stuff do you write?” he asked.

“Hardboiled. I’m working on a private eye novel.”

“Anything published yet?”

“Not yet. I’m still looking for an agent. How ‘bout you?”

“Yeah, I have a book out.”

“Really? Who’s the publisher?”

He named a certain POD outfit. "Here, let me give you one of my cards...”

He handed me a business card and walked away. He avoided me for the duration of the conference, preferring instead to hang around with other “published authors.” I felt like grabbing him by the collar and shouting you’re not published either, you punk, but of course I didn’t. Anyway, I doubt my harsh words would have penetrated his cloud of arrogance.

There are no shortcuts to becoming a published author. You have to earn the title by landing a contract with a legitimate publisher, and that can take years of hard work.

Some folks would rather throw up a lab in the basement and start hawking product right away (throw up and hawk being the key words there).

That’s their choice, I suppose, but I really don’t see the point.


In a former life, I tended bar at a Mexican restaurant. It was a hole-in-the-wall dump of a place, a converted Frisch’s Big Boy with a few colorful blankets and sombreros and piñatas tacked to the walls for “atmosphere.” The food was authentic, though, and we always got good reviews in the newspaper.

I started each shift by cutting dozens of limes into wheels for garnishes, mixing five-gallon tanks of margaritas, and generally prepping the bar for what we called “Fiesta Hour.”

Between 2PM and 7PM, you could buy jumbo margaritas and well drinks for half-price, and you could eat fresh tortilla chips and homemade salsa for free. In theory, the cheap drinks and free snacks were supposed to stimulate customers’ appetites. In theory, they would then order a plate of rellenos or enchiladas or pollo con salsa verde. In practice, however, quite a few patrons regularly came in strictly for the cut-rate tequila buzz and comp munchies.

One of those patrons was a guy named Marco.

Mid-thirties, tall and thin, stringy blond hair, big Adam’s apple, still lived with his parents.

He always ordered multiple margaritas on the rocks (light on the ice; he got more booze that way), multiple baskets of chips, and multiple tubs of hot and mild salsa. He never bought anything off the menu, and he never tipped me a dime.

But those weren't the main reasons I dreaded seeing him.

You see, Marco was a self-proclaimed perfumier. He had a “laboratory” set up in his basement, where he distilled oils and essences, spices and extracts--all sorts of exotic and volatile concoctions designed to titillate the human olfactory nerve. Drop-by-drop, Mad Scientist Marco filled tiny glass vials with these precious potions of his, and then mounted the vials in a briefcase for display. Sometimes he brought the briefcase to the bar with him.

There was only one problem with Marco’s fragrances: they didn’t smell very good. In fact, they stunk.

That’s not just my opinion. Everybody who ever smelled Marco’s products said they stunk. Popping the cork on one of his bottles was like unleashing the hounds of perfume hell. Imagine an elevator full of blue-haired, lipstick-toothed octogenarians, whose senses of smell died sometime during the Carter administration. Add a couple of funeral sprays, some rubbing alcohol, and maybe a dash of Pine Sol. Shake well.

Oh, he occasionally sold one of those vile vials, to a kindly cocktail server or a nearby customer who took pity on him. I even bought a bottle one time, only to pitch it in the dumpster on my way home.

Unfortunately, our patronage only encouraged him. He kept making more of that kerosene cologne, kept trying to hawk it during Fiesta Hour. Eventually, the restaurant owner had a talk with him. Marco didn’t come in very often after that.

Marco’s dream was to be a famous perfume designer. The way I see it, he went about it all wrong.

Shouldn’t you know a little bit about chemistry? Shouldn't you be aware of how various substances might interact with human glandular secretions? Shouldn’t you maybe spend some time in Paris or New York or somewhere studying with masters of the trade? Shouldn’t you analyze popular scents on a molecular level to see just what it is about them that turns people on?

Marco didn’t do any of that. Marco bought some smelly stuff through the mail, pumped it into amateurish-looking containers, tried to sell it from a briefcase at the cantina.

And he wanted to call himself a perfumier.

Sorry, Marco, but you have to earn that title.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Amazing Fact #1

As a nation, we eat 13,680 cans of Spam every hour.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

P.I. Cri-Fi

The novel I’m planning to go back on submission with in January falls under the general category of crime fiction, and under the general subgenre of private eye novel.

P.I. Cri-Fi.

You heard it here first.

One of the problems with private eye novels (or with any novels, for that matter) is coming up with a main character who stands out from the crowd.

Do we need another Philip Marlowe, another Spenser, or even another Amos Walker?

Nope. Those are all great characters, but they’ve been done. And done, and done...

Sometimes, especially with a P.I. novel, it’s tempting to fall into the voice of parody. Amusing, but not what I’m after.

What am I after?

I want a guy who’s honest. Compassionate. Loyal. Intelligent. A good lover and a capable fighter...

But, I also want a guy who’s wounded. Deeply wounded. So wounded, in fact, that the very essence of his being aches with it 24/7.

Is this the guy?

Twenty years after crawling from the fiery wreckage of a chartered jet and witnessing his wife and daughter perish, a blues guitarist turned private eye makes a horrifying discovery: the crash was not an accident...

Meet Nicholas Colt, PI. Once a successful recording artist with mansions on both coasts, he now resides near Jacksonville, Florida, in a 1964 Airstream Safari travel trailer. He’s forty-five, living paycheck to precarious paycheck, and is forever haunted by the memory of his wife and daughter. His music died with them, along with any faith in a higher power.

I think this is the guy. He’s my guy, anyway, and he’s different from every other private eye out there.

After a third major rewrite, the book is back in my agent’s hands now, and I’m hoping it will be back in some editors’ hands within the next month or so.

Will the third time be a charm?

Stay tuned.

Your turn. What makes your character stand out from the crowd?

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Profound Cerebral Question #5

Why are men so utterly pathetic at wrapping presents?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

How to Write a Thriller: Part Three

"And they're hanging their stockings!" he snarled with a sneer.
"Tomorrow is Christmas! It's practically here!"
Then he growled, with his grinch fingers nervously drumming,
"I MUST find a way to keep Christmas from coming!"
For, tomorrow, he knew...

...All the Who girls and boys
Would wake up bright and early. They'd rush for their toys!
And then! Oh, the noise! Oh, the noise! Noise! Noise! Noise!
That's one thing he hated! The NOISE! NOISE! NOISE! NOISE!
Then the Whos, young and old, would sit down to a feast.
And they'd feast! And they'd feast!
They would start on Who-pudding, and rare Who-roast-beast
Which was something the Grinch couldn't stand in the least!

They'd do something he liked least of all!
Every Who down in Who-ville, the tall and the small,
Would stand close together, with Christmas bells ringing.
They'd stand hand-in-hand. And the Whos would start singing!
They'd sing! And they'd sing!

And the more the Grinch thought of the Who-Christmas-Sing
The more the Grinch thought, "I must stop this whole thing!
"Why for fifty-three years I've put up with it now!
I MUST stop Christmas from coming!
...But HOW?"

Take a tense situation and pile on the complications. Just when it seems things have gotten as bad as they possibly can for you main character, make things worse. Start the clock ticking. Make the reader worry. The consequences of the main character failing to achieve his/her goals should be severe.

Now, you might be asking yourself, "Why is Jude Hardin qualified to give anybody writing advice about anything?"

That's a legitimate question. The answer?


These are just some tidbits I've learned from reading, reading, reading, and writing, writing, writing over the past few years.

And that's the best advice of all for aspiring writers, IMHO: Read more, write more.

You can belong to umpteen critique groups, pay thousands of dollars for an MFA, and visit every writing guru on the internet every day till Kingdom Come, but you're still going to have to put the reading and writing time in if you want a chance at publication.

There are no shortcuts. None at all.

Now get busy and write the next blockbuster, 'cause I really need something good to read!

How the Grinch Stole Christmas just ain't cuttin' it.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

How to Write a Thriller: Part Two

The Grinch hated Christmas! The whole Christmas season!
Now, please don't ask why. No one quite knows the reason.
It could be that his head wasn't screwed on quite right.
It could be, perhaps, that his shoes were too tight.
But I think that the most likely reason of all
May have been that his heart was two sizes too small.

Whatever the reason,
His heart or his shoes,
He stood there on Christmas Eve, hating the Whos,
Staring down from his cave with a sour, Grinchy frown
At the warm lighted windows below in their town.
For he knew every Who down in Who-ville beneath
Was busy now, hanging a mistleoe wreath.

Give us a sense of who your main character is. We need a reason to care. Give us a glimpse into his/her psyche and motivations without dwelling on back story too long. Always keep the story moving forward, with tension on every page.

Why is your character uniquely equipped and motivated to tackle the arduous tasks that lie ahead?

Stay tuned for Part Three tomorrow!

How To Write a Thriller: Part One

Every Who
Down in Who-ville
Liked Christmas a lot...

But the Grinch,
Who lived just North of Who-ville,
Did NOT!

Start in media res. Blood on the floor. Tension from the get-go. Establish the primary conflict ASAP, and make sure it’s a clash that can sustain friction through to the climax.

Do you have an opening line or paragraph from a thriller that you'd like to share? It can be one of your own, or someone else's. Feel free to go nuts in the comment section.

Stay tuned for How to Write a Thriller: Part Two tomorrow.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Google Maps

I can go here, type in my old address, click on the Street View option, and virtually roam the neighborhood I grew up in. I can actually see, with striking detail, the Crape Myrtle my grandmother planted in our front yard forty-some years ago.

Try it! You'll like it!

Isn't this a marvelous tool for writers? We no longer have to depend on memory for setting description. With a click here and a drag there, we're on location instantly.

Of course, I suppose this is also an excellent tool for burglars and other criminals. The real ones and the villains in our stories. They can case a neighborhood without ever leaving the comfort of their own lairs...

Friday, December 12, 2008

Profound Cerebral Question #4

What happened to profound cerebral question #3?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

So I've been thinking...

About the MacGuffin thing. In the comments section of my previous post, my friend Erica said:

In a book, I would feel betrayed. Of course it's all in the exectuion, but depending on how big a plot point it is, if I got to page 300 and the author never clued me in, I don't think I'd be happy.

And in an email, my friend Lainey said:

I'm left wondering about that damn tape!

So I've been thinking, maybe this MacGuffin thing isn't such a great idea in a book after all.

When the book gets published, do I really want 500,000 emails saying What about that damn tape?!

Well, yeah, 500,000 emails would be awesome regardless of what they said. BUT, I definitely don't want my readers to feel betrayed, so I've decided to add some dialogue that will wrap up the loose MacGuffin ends. It'll take about five minutes, and that little problem will be solved.

Thanks to Erica and Lainey for catching me in time.

We hear a lot about how we should strive to make our books cinematic in nature, but it's always good to be reminded that what works in one medium might fail miserably in another.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

My MacGuffin

The book I’m planning to go back out on submission with in January contains what movie folks commonly refer to as a MacGuffin; that is, an object that motivates the characters and advances the plot, but is fairly meaningless otherwise.

Alfred Hitchcock is sometimes credited with coining the term. Someone once asked him about it in an interview, and he said (paraphrasing): It might have come from a conversation on a train. Traveler A asks Traveler B what he has in the baggage compartment.

“A MacGuffin,” says B.

“What’s a Macguffin?”

“It’s a contraption for trapping lions in the Scottish highlands.”

“But there are no lions in the Scottish highlands.”

“Then that, my good man, is no MacGuffin!”

So you see, said Hitchcock, a MacGuffin is really nothing at all...

In Pulp Fiction, it was the briefcase.

In my book, it’s a camcorder tape.

While readers might be curious about the history behind it, and how a certain character got her hands on it or whatever, the MacGuffin, by nature, is really of no consequence. It just...is. It’s a plot device, pure and simple.

In my case, I allow the reader to see what's on the tape, but everything else about it remains a mystery.

There would be no plot without it, yet it is of no importance.

Make sense?


Has anyone else ever used a MacGuffin? Planning to, maybe?

I’d love to hear about it.

Profound Cerebral Question #2

All my life, I’ve heard the word handbasket used in only one context.

What exactly is a handbasket, and why is it perceived to be the most dreadful mode of transportation to Hell?

Monday, December 08, 2008

Profound Cerebral Question #1

Why does anybody buy expensive trash bags?