Delusions on a Grand Scale

Never be bullied into silence, never allow yourself to be made a victim. Accept no one’s definition of your life, define yourself.”


Excellent advice from an American icon, but what happens when it’s carried too far?  Is that even possible?  Oh yes, dear reader, it surely is!  This post first appeared on my Jack’s Hideout blog on November 11th, 2011.  I had more fun writing it than possibly any other post I’ve ever put together, and as my regularly scheduled blog date falls on November 11th this year, I am indulging myself by dusting it off and reposting it here.  My apologies to my long-time readers who have seen it before, but I have gathered a lot of new readers since then, and simply can’t resist.  So, without further ado, I present for your enjoyment 11-11-11.

Happy Veterans Day, by the way, and thank you all for your service!


What is it about dates like this that bring them out of the woodwork like some kind of biblical plague?  You know who I’m talking about.  The conspiracy theorists…  The UFO enthusiasts…  The out-of-body travelers…  Ghost hunters…  Moonwalk deniers…  Remote viewers…  Abductees…  Spirit Mediums…  Interpreters of the Mayan calendar…  Well, I could keep this up all morning.  You’ve heard ’em.  Maybe you’ve even had the tragic misfortune to rub up against one in your personal life.  If so, and if you’ve challenged his or her story about how a friendly bigfoot saved his friend’s life by performing emergency heart surgery with a sharp stick while he lay dying in the back country, then you’ve doubtless been accused of being a brainwashed tool of the Government Disinformation Office whose mission is to prevent those among us who are truly enlightened from bringing their higher awareness to a disenfranchised public at large; ah, for the simple life of an idiot!

George Noory

I was at work last night, and into this morning.  As it was the night before a holiday, my main function was to serve as a weight to keep a desk from floating away.  Not feeling my jazz station, I decided to check in on the Lunatic Fringe and see what they’ve been up to since I last visited, so I tuned in Coast to Coast AM with George Noory.  Hoo, boy!  Now, I don’t recommend a steady diet of this stuff, but everyone should turn this on about once every three months just to remind themselves of how many of these wingnuts are running around loose out here unmedicated, voting, driving motor vehicles, and in some cases, reproducing.  You don’t need the bogey man to scare you; that alone ought to do it.

I used to listen to Coast to Coast a lot back in the 90s when I was trying to write fantasy.  I considered it my best source of WTF ideas that, being sane, were way farther out there than I could ever come up with on my own.  Once I accepted the reality that I was not going to be the next Steven King, I moved away from it, as I was worried that if I spent enough time wallowing in this stuff, my own brain cells might begin to rearrange themselves to mimic what they were hearing.

The Coast to Coast of my days with it was hosted by Art Bell, and came out of Parump, Nevada.  No subject was too far afield, and he brought in a range of guests who spoke on a myriad of topics, but who all had one thing in common; no news or science show would get close enough to touch them with a laser-pointer.  I read somewhere, in reference to this show, that it is dangerous to give deranged people a soapbox.   I don’t know.  On the one hand, I don’t believe in censorship in any form.  On the other, I think that in order to live in an uncensored world, it is your responsibility to have enough intelligence to sort trash from treasure.  In other words, as long as you understand that when tonight’s guest is going on about his trip to Venus aboard the Benelarvian starship Graximandr, he is either A, trying to entertain you, or B, stark raving mad, then everything’s good.  Sadly, unless all the callers are plants employed by the show, this is not the case.

An example will suffice.  The show has several phone lines:  East of the Rockies, West of the Rockies, International, First Time Callers, you get the idea.  At least a couple of times, Art Bell used to make an announcement very close to this:

“It is said that the Antichrist has been born, and is even now living among us.  If that is true, and if you happen to be listening, Antichrist, we’d like to hear from you.  What do you like to watch on TV?  What’s your favorite dessert?  What are your plans for humanity?  If you are the one true Antichrist, call the Antichrist Line at 123-4567 now.  This line is reserved for you.”

For the rest of the show, he never hung up that line.  Somebody would call up and rant for five minutes about how he loved the basic evil of society, it made it so easy to mold people to his needs, and here’s what he’s got planned for us after the rapture.  That guy runs down and hangs up, and Art instantly presses the button again.  Next caller introduces himself by screaming, “That guy’s not the Antichrist, I’m the Antichrist!  How dare you put that impostor on my private line?!”  I always had the feeling that Art was rolling on the floor laughing while this was going on, but sadly, those callers weren’t.

The show, under George Noory’s stewardship, has taken a most insidious tack.  It now starts with an hour or so of “hard” news right from the headlines.  Then, when the rest of the show devolves into guests and callers with Frequent Flyer Miles on the Mothership, it seems like a continuation of the news to those who lack the sophistication to make the distinction.  In other words, while Art was an entertainer, I don’t get the impression that George entirely disbelieves all this stuff.

So, last night, he has on a series of guests who told this wonderful story about having taken part in the government’s beyond-top-secret Project Pegasus, in which young children were put into an elevator in El Segundo, California, and teleported to the surface of Mars, where they cavorted freely without any form of environmental suits or similar protection.  I should throw in a disclaimer here:  Being a member of the great underprivileged masses who were brainwashed as children by good science teachers, and were encouraged to develop that part of the brain that can discern a nugget of truth among a field of fertilizer, there is no way I could follow these enlightened geniuses sufficiently to explain the details of their incredible experiences.  Nonetheless, I think I can hit the high points.

Andrew D. Basiago

The lead guest was Andrew D. Basiago, an attorney, holder of several degrees from UCLA and Cambridge (who must be bursting with pride at their alumnus’ accomplishments), and part-time time traveler on the government’s secret dime.  Seems back in the 60s and 70s, while I was involved in mundane things like fighting in the Vietnam War, he was gallivanting around the Solar System with the likes of Barack Obama (who went by the name of Barry something, Sandaris, I think he said).  His training officer was Major (then Captain) Ed Dames, himself a frequent guest on Coast to Coast, and more on him shortly.  Since this top secret project had not only perfected teleportation, but time travel as well, they already knew that Barry would be president some day.  The scorcher is that they also told Basiago that he is going to be president as well.  He will be running in 2016.  Don’t waste your time voting against him.  They’ve been to the future; it’s already happened.  For a thorough examination of this future president, check this out.  I think it’s all the information you’ll need.

Appearing with him were shills fellow project members Brett Stillings and Laura Eisenhower, a descendant (she says) of the famous and beloved General and President; poor man must have done a backflip in his grave.  To Ms. Eisenhower’s credit, she didn’t claim to have participated.  Her contribution was to elaborate on how hard she had to resist the agents of the program who wanted her famous name to be involved.  Why a beyond-top-secret program would want a high-profile name involved in the first place is something I can’t begin to fathom, but like I said earlier, I don’t claim to be half smart enough to follow these guys.

My Favorite Martian?

Anyway, they needed children to do the actual teleportations because adults were too big for the equipment.  So, Mr. Basiago arrives on Mars in environmental gear, where he is scoffed at by the shirt-sleeved scientists who awaited him (Wait, how did they get there?  Oh, I know, they were sent years before when they were children.  But who trained them to become scientists?  Oh, my head!  I’m not smart enough to follow these guys.).  However it worked out, once on Mars, our intrepid hero and future president shed his useless environmental suit and skipped off to visit the Martians, who he says resembled Nosferatu, and try to avoid the half-a-hundred varieties of deadly predators that infest the surface.  He (a child, remember) was given a suicide pill to take in case he was cornered by one of these predators.  So rife and dangerous were they, that of the 49,000 (!) people sent to Mars in this program, only 7,000 returned to Earth.  An undisclosed number lives there still, and the remainder were killed and eaten by these predators.

Ed Dames

All right, as fascinating as I’m sure you find this, I’ve had about enough.  Go to the Coast to Coast website if you can’t live without a transcript.  Here’s how looney this was:  Ed Dames, the supposed training officer, is a recurring Coast to Coast guest based on his “work” in Remote Viewing.  For the uninitiated, remote viewing is where you close your eyes, go into a trance, and send your disembodied consciousness off through time, space, and dimensions to examine basically anything that does, has, or will exist.  Wow, sounds like a good subject for Coast to Coast.  Oh, wait…  Anyway, as the guests were describing their experiences, Ed Dames called the show and laid into them for including his name in their “delusional fantasy” about teleportation to Mars; even Doctor Doom didn’t want to be associated with these loons.  Draw your own conclusions.


For the record, as a young adult, I wanted to believe stuff like this.  I did.  Chariots of the Gods? remains compelling to me to this day.  All you need to do is look at the sarcophagus of Palenque to see an astronaut in a capsule.  Mainstream archaeologists “explain” this away by saying, “That’s not what it is.”  Fine, what is it?  Oh, it’s the deceased king ascending to join his Gods; well, that’s all different.  There are things in this world that can’t be explained just by saying “That’s not what it is,” and von Daniken pulled a lot of them together in his book, but just because they’re mysterious doesn’t mean the explanations have to be supernatural, or just plain ridiculous.  I look into the night sky and see 6,000 stars; that’s the number Isaac Asimov said could be seen by the naked eye.  I know there are trillions more that I can’t see, and I can’t imagine that there aren’t other intelligent beings up there somewhere looking at their own night sky and wondering about me.  I can’t imagine that some of them aren’t more advanced than we are.  But consider this:

Consider the cost of developing the technology and engineering the equipment to put the International Space Station in orbit, the ancillary equipment to deliver people and supplies, the ground support infrastructure, everything.  It took the developed nations of the world using their tax bases and their ability to borrow money without collateral to get it done.  Now private enterprise is being invited into the field, because governments are finding it insupportable.  Now imagine what it might cost to send an expedition to another star, whether you postulate faster-than-light drive or not (and what would that cost?).  Once you arrive at said other star, you find a thriving civilization.  Obviously, your mission at that point becomes to hide in a swamp near a small town, and get your jollies frightening the town drunk…  Who’s in charge of the space program for these visitors, John Cleese?

So now I have to present a conclusion to all this rambling (If you haven’t caught on yet, this post was unplanned; I’m working very much without a net here).  I guess it would be, sample everything the wide world has to offer, no matter how absurd.  Enjoy whatever tickles your fancy, no matter how outrageous.  Do no harm.  And above all, keep a tight grip on your sanity, because a lot of this stuff is just waiting for a chance to suck it right out of you, and you don’t have to look far to find people who have already lost that battle.

All right, show’s over, folks.  All things willing, I’ll see you on the 15th with another assortment of Other Voices.  Til then, get out there and live life like you mean it!

Other Voices #12

People say I make strange choices, but they’re not strange for me.  My sickness is that I’m fascinated by human behavior, by what’s underneath the surface, by the worlds inside people”


Good day, my friends, and welcome back.  With Halloween well back in the wake, you might be forgiven for thinking that I’m going to lighten up on the horror promotions.  Alas (or hooray, depending on your outlook), that isn’t likely to happen any time soon.  You see, my chosen genre to write in is horror.  It’s a new choice, and I can’t show you any of my work just yet, as a publisher is still considering it, and will want exclusive rights should he accept it.  I’ll keep you posted on that, but the simple fact is that the groups I belong to, the pages I follow, the teachings I study are increasingly in the field of horror.  There is still a healthy dose of steampunk in my writing DNA, but horror is spreading like an insidious infection that eats at the brain and takes control of the will . . .

All right, that’s enough of that!  The point is that a lot of what I’m exposed to is horror, and it will continue to show up here in what is likely to be disproportionate amounts.  I don’t necessarily want to cultivate an exclusively horror audience, and will actively endeavor to include a variety, but this just stands as an explanation of why things are the way they are around here.  So, with that mission accomplished, let’s get this party started.

~ Books ~


I thought I’d do something different today, and start us out with a book I’ve actually read.  Oriental Vagabonds by Richard Regan is a rollicking tale of a tramp steamer plying her trade in the Far East on the eve of World War II.  Hitler is finalizing his plans for the conquest of Europe and flexing his muscles in Spain, while the Japanese are poised to invade China and eyeing the resources of the East Indies and Indochina to fuel their war machine.  Dangerous times, but there are still profits to be made by men like hard-bitten Skipper Bill Rowden and his vagabond crew, as they work their aging steamer around the treacherous waters of the Far East.  Uncharted reefs, tropical storms, corrupt officials, smuggling and piracy are all in a day’s work to Rowden and his crew, which includes an embittered hard drinking aristocrat, a knife wielding Welshman and a hot-headed, hard-fisted Australian.  On what begins as a routine voyage to New Guinea, Rowden discovers an illegal shipment of arms concealed in his ship, setting off a chain of increasingly dangerous events that drag him unwittingly into the centre of Nazi, Soviet and British attempts to gain the upper hand, before war finally breaks out.  Entangled with Chinese warlords, triads, and a beautiful Russian adventuress, Rowden narrowly escapes Shanghai before the bombs start to fall, but his enemies are closing in.  Deep in the Pacific, in a remote coral fringed lagoon, Rowden and his crew face a violent and explosive confrontation, with little more than fists and wits to keep them alive.

Perhaps this novel spoke to me so strongly because I have lived this life myself, cruising the Orient of the deck of a tanker in the late 1960s.  For that reason, though, and the similar background of the author, I can attest to the authenticity of the settings and characters, and if you’d care to join a crew for a life-and-death adventure that doesn’t depend on supernatural creatures or technologically superior aliens for its chills, pour a mug of strong coffee, add a dash of your favorite “creamer,” and settle back on a quiet evening for the voyage of a lifetime.  268 pages; $2.99 on Kindle.


Before Safe Haven: Alex.  81-page novella by Christopher Artinian.  A virus has infected billions all over the world, turning its victims into vicious zombies.  The UK and Ireland have remained uninfected . . . until now.  Alex Munro’s city is put in lockdown as an outbreak of the zombie virus takes hold.  Each day the government broadcasts claim a new victory in the fight.  Each night more shots are heard as the undead begin to stake their claim to the streets of Leeds.  What will he do?  What can he do?  For Alex, family is everything.  Survival is everything.  Heroes aren’t born.  Heroes are made.  Today we need a new hero.  Today we need Alex.  This is his story.  $2.99 on Kindle.


Lost Christmas Memories.  224-page novel by Dana Mentink.  Can she trust this Gold Country Cowboy with her life?  Tracy Wilson witnessed a murder — but after a head injury, she can’t remember what she saw.  Now someone plans to silence her for good, and only cowboy Keegan Thorn believes her.  With a killer after her at Christmas, Tracy is running out of time to remember, and falling dangerously hard for the cowboy who could break her heart.  $4.99 on Kindle.


The Crossing. 128-page novel by David Heilwagen.  In the summer of 1983, Rafael Gregorio, a poor Cuban fisherman, loaded his small family into a makeshift boat and escaped Communist Cuba forever.  Their ultimate destination: Key West, Florida – a mere 90 miles away.  But first they had to cross the treacherous waters of the Gulf Stream.  This is their story.  An epic adventure that has Rafael and his family battling deadly sharks, fighting hunger and thirst, as well as nearly being tossed into the ocean by a massive tropical storm.  The Crossing is a story of classic simplicity in every way, reminiscent of Hemingway’s, The Old Man and the Sea, or Steinbeck’s, The Pearl.  The story explores the themes of love and family, courage in the face of danger, triumph in the face of loss, as well as showing us what one family is willing to endure in their quest for freedom.  99¢ on Kindle.


A Change of Rules.  226-page novel by L.L. Thomsen.  There is not much that Solancei, life-shield and cousin of Princess Iambre, will not do to protect her oldest, dearest friend.  In fact, there is not much that Iambre will not do for her salty-tongued, martial arts-loving cousin either, yet when Solancei finds herself trapped by an unpredictable opponent in an illegal, back-yard duel, little do either young women understand how their golden ideals are about to be tested in ways neither could have conjured up in their darkest nightmares.  Facing hard choices, Solancei must dig deep to extricate herself from a bad situation before it can escalate, but can she escape the trap awaiting her?  Iambre is nothing if not a demanding heiress and if Solancei misses their scheduled appointment there could be worse than daggers to pay.  Without Solancei’s temperance, the headstrong and spoiled Iambre could well seize the opportunity to renew her indelicate association with Bilan, the Captain of the King’s own Lancers, and Solancei knows this can lead to nothing good.  With everything to fight for, the Princess’ life-shield does not realize that this one rainy day will be the first in a world that’s about to be turned upside-down – because destiny and chance are calling, and they will not take no for an answer.  $2.99 on Kindle.


The Protector.  334-page novel by Danielle L. Davis.  Detective Sydney Valentine is more than willing to sacrifice a normal life to put ruthless killers behind bars.  But even the seasoned detective can’t quite shake the image of Scrabble letters stuffed into a dead social worker’s mouth.  With a puzzling crime scene and no immediate suspects, Valentine’s trail threatens to turn cold.  When another suspicious death hints at a shadowy past, Valentine suspects she has a clever serial killer on her hands.  As the investigative noose tightens and the body count rises, will the determined detective piece together the clues in time, or will she become the next victim of the murderer’s deadly game?  The Protector is a gripping police procedural novel.  If you like psychological crime thrillers, complex twists and turns, and gutsy heroines, then you’ll love Danielle L. Davis’s captivating book.  99¢ on Kindle.


The General Theory of Haunting.  299-page novel by Richard Easter.  Winter, 1809:  Lord Francis Marryman’s wife, Patience, is dying.  In the madness of his grief, desperate to keep Patience’s memory alive, he’s compelled to build a memorial in the form of a remote country Hall.  But as the plans move forward, Marryman Hall seems to become alive with more than just memories.  Francis, a brilliant mathematician and scholar, has built more into the walls than just bricks and mortar.  Autumn, 2018.  Siblings Greg and Lucy Knights, owners of K&K Publishing Company, are seeking a venue to celebrate the 18th anniversary of their company’s inception.  At such short notice, there is only one option that still has vacancies:  Marryman Hall.  Winter arrives and as heavy snow falls, the guests drop out until a much depleted party of just 6 reach their destination and soon find themselves snowed in.  As the guests’ private lives and demons are exposed in the increasingly awkward, claustrophobic atmosphere , the secrets of Marryman Hall and her history are also brought into shocking light from the darkness.  In his grief, it’s possible that Lord Francis Marryman may have made a terrible mistake.  The General Theory of Haunting is the perfect ghost story to curl up with on the long winter nights – like Marryman Hall’s guests, you won’t know what’s truly happening until it’s way too late.  £1.99 on Kindle.


Paradigm Shift.  238-page novel by S.T.K. Chan.  What if the battle for good and evil were being fought just out of our sight, beyond our reach?  How far should one go to seek out the good and destroy evil, and what consequences might their choices have?  After Lisa barely manages to escape an invasion from the Rebel army in her home of Malta, she discovers Exo.  This ancient dimension is made of memories from the past and brings forth all the strong echoes we leave behind.  Lisa desperately wants to resolve the conflicts of this inner world peacefully, but quickly learns she must fight the shadows in people’s hearts, materialized through battle re-enactments, warfare and emotional turmoil.  99¢ on Kindle.


Zombie War. 323-page novel by Nicholas Ryan.  It was conceived in the deserts of Iran – a monstrous terrorist plot that would change America forever – and it was unleashed in a football stadium one sunny Sunday afternoon.  Zombie War is a detailed account of the zombie apocalypse as it sweeps through the southern states of the USA and how the American military struggles to contain the infection.  Written as a combination of narrative followed by interviews with the combatants, the book is a chillingly realistic portrayal of the devastation and the dreadful cost to all those who survive.  $3.99 on Kindle.


Things.   350-page novel by Francine Garson.  Jenny Gilbert is what you might call a hoarder, but she’s a neat hoarder.  She’s a clean hoarder.  And she’s keeping it all a big secret.  To everyone who knows her, Jenny is a successful young college counselor.  But secretly, she is also a collector, some may even say a hoarder.  As a former military brat, she is on a mission to find and reacquire the many relics of her childhood that she was forced to leave behind with each of her family’s moves, and she has rented a secret second apartment to accommodate her growing obsession.  When Jenny reconnects with Nick, a man from her past, a romance begins.  But, as she tries to hide an increasingly complicated web of secrets from the man she’s falling in love with, she becomes enmeshed in a messy tangle of omissions, half-truths, and lies.  Then, when Hurricane Sandy adjusts its course, aiming itself directly at both of her apartments on the New Jersey shore, Jenny finds herself catapulted into a truly desperate situation.  At its heart, Things is the story of a young woman searching for a sense of rootedness, a sense of home.  But she needs to learn that amassing physical things is not the way to find it, and that what she seeks is not an external thing at all.  Her quest is aided, as well as complicated, by Nick’s arrival and the looming threat of the most destructive hurricane in New Jersey’s history.  $3.99 on Kindle.


Den of Antiquity.  190-page anthology edited by Bryce Raffle.  When one thinks of a den, one tends to think of comfort.  A cozy room in the house – a quiet, comfortable place, a room for conversation, reading, or writing.  One doesn’t tend to think of high adventure, dragons, vampires, airships, or paranormal creatures.  And yet, that’s just what you’ll find in these pages.  Stories of adventure and mystery!  Paranormal, dark, and atmospheric tales!  The fantastical and the imaginative, the dystopian and post-apocalyptic, and everything in between!  So settle in to the coziest room in your house, plop down into your favorite armchair, and dive in to the Den of Antiquity.  Featuring stories by Jack Tyler, E.C. Jarvis, Kate Philbrick, Neale Green, Bryce Raffle, N.O.A. Rawle, David Lee Summers, William J. Jackson, Steve Moore, Karen J. Carlisle, B.A. Sinclair, and Alice E. Keyes.  $2.99 on Kindle [all proceeds go to the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund].  This anthology was great fun to be a part of, and my story, Brass & Coal, can be read in its entirety at the tab above.  There are a dozen more of like or superior quality between these covers, so check it out and climb aboard; it’s a grabber of a ride! 

~ Blogs ~

With one holiday down, another looms ahead, and Michael May’s Adventure Blog isn’t one to ignore a holiday.  With Christmas in the offing he presents a new feature, Sleigh Bell Cinema.  The first podcast looks at a modern classic, The Muppet Christmas Carol, a treat not to be missed, nor is Michael’s discussion with fellow podcaster Mike Westfall.

I’ve mentioned Inmate Blogger several times recently.  It’s a powerful site that probably isn’t what most of you are used to, and I generally wait a week or two before repeating promos, but they have posted the history of how the site came to be, how it works, what it aims to accomplish and so on, and it’s very much worth a read if its contributors have caught your attention at all.

An interesting site I’ve encountered for the first time this week is Roger Floyd’s Blog.  Roger has been at it for a long time, since 2010 in fact, and he writes of science, sci-fi, writing, and the environment.  His latest post concerns itself with the distressing and increasing habit of agents and editors of not responding to correspondence.  Worth a read, and maybe a follow.

C.W. Hawes is celebrating four years and 29 books this month, and has posted all about it, including sales figures and marketing strategies.  This is a very worthwhile read for anyone getting into the indie business who wants to look at the inner workings of a successful indie’s machinery.  Be careful though; this has also shone a light on how amateurish my own efforts have been, and that may have some repercussions later.  Stay tuned . . .

The other C.W., this one C. William Perkins, operates a blog called The Home of Lorna Lockheed, which is very much worth a look.  He has written a most entertaining collection of three novellas featuring Lorna Lockheed, a hard-drinking, foul-mouthed female version of Commando Cody.  Also on the blog, he is in the midst of a review series of contemporary classic books including works by Vonnegut, Steinbeck, Melville, Fleming, and Hemingway; these are interspersed with reviews of TV shows.  Maybe I should move his listing from Writing to Popular Culture . . .  Or I could wait a bit on that.

Penelope Burns of the blog Write, Blog, Create, is offering up tips for new bloggers this week, so if you are one of those, I recommend a read; there’s a lot of good information there for the new folks who are still finding their way.

It’s time to give Karen J. Carlisle another shout-out.  Among Karen’s accomplishments are Viola Stewart, Aunt Enid, and The Department of Curiosities.  I have partaken of her work and it comes highly recommended.  Slide over and check out her site if you’re looking for some interesting reading.

The Christmas holidays are looming on the horizon, and Michael May has caught the spirit, adding a feature called Sleigh Bell Cinema to his Adventure Blog.  If seeing classic Holiday Movies subjected to the sort of in-depth discussion he has previously applied to westerns and superheroes is for you, this could be a very enjoyable stop on your reading rounds.

Sunday is Veterans’ Day.  We here in America, and I think most free nations, owe our veterans, well, everything.  If you’re somewhere that celebrates November 11th (the end of the First World War) as a holiday, or even if you aren’t, take a moment to thank someone who wrote a blank check to their country for anything up to and including his or her life; they’re the reason we have what we have.  Richard Schulte devoted an issue of his photoblog to this, and is a stirring look at patriotism in action.

And that’s 30 for this issue.  Join me Sunday for a WTF belly laugh from the past, and until then, read well, and write better!


Plot is people.  Human emotions and desires founded on the realities of life, working at cross purposes, getting hotter and fiercer as they strike against each other until finally there’s an explosion – that’s Plot.”


Many of you will have heard by now that Lynda Dietz has convinced me that this piddling little blog I run here has value, so once again, the exact opposite of what I announced would happen is happening.  I hope someone finds this interesting . . .

This week I’m going to discuss the Gizmo that Drives the Story, often called the MacGuffin, a term coined by Angus McPhail and popularized by Alfred Hitchcock.  It is, in its simplest terms, a plot device in the form of some goal, desired object, or other motivator that the protagonist pursues, often with little or no narrative explanation.  The MacGuffin is nearly ubiquitous in any sort of adventure fiction, and even in genres like romance, one of the two primary characters can be considered the MacGuffin that drives the actions of the other.  We all need them; we all use them.  What do we do with them?

In my experience, where many new writers fall afoul of the MacGuffin comes from ignoring that phrase, “with little or no narrative explanation.”  They expend page after page, whole chapters sometimes, explaining what the MacGuffin is, how it works, and why its capture or defense is vital to the fate of The World As We Know It.  See, there is always this temptation to get lazy, to let the story of the MacGuffin carry the narrative at the expense of character development.  No!  Bad writer!

As an author, this is a complete waste of your time as well as physical resources if you’re expending ink on paper, and can even serve to drive your readers away; if they wanted to read a science textbook, they wouldn’t have chosen your thriller.  To study and make the point, let’s examine a prime example of the MacGuffin done right:  Ian Fleming’s James Bond novel From Russia With Love.  The film is very close to the novel as adaptations go, so whichever you’ve experienced will be fine.

The MacGuffin in this story is a Soviet Spektor (novel) or Lektor (film) coding machine much coveted by western intelligence for whom 007 works.  The villains conscript a beautiful cryptography clerk, Tatiana Romanov, to contact MI6 with a fable about how she wants to defect, but will only attempt it if superspy 007 comes to collect her, and as a sweetener, she will bring “her” code machine, the Lektor.  MI6 smells a rat, but of course, the Lektor is too big a prize to ignore, and 007 is duly bundled off to Istanbul to make the pickup.  Waiting to off him is a whole operation prominently including dirty-deed organizer Colonel Rosa Klebb and super-assassin Donald “Red” Grant.  Much merriment ensues.

But our purpose here is the study of the MacGuffin, and the main thing to note here is that once the Lektor is mentioned and defined, it is rarely brought up again.  We’re told that it’s an unbreakable coding machine, the west wants it, and the rest of the story concerns itself with 007’s efforts to secure it and his interactions with those using it for bait in order to assassinate him.  We know it’s what he’s after, we see it briefly when he opens its small case to verify that that’s really what’s inside, and we see the case a couple more times during their flight from the assassins, but it never becomes the focus of the narrative.

The story of From Russia With Love is the interactions between Bond, Romanov, Klebb, and Grant, plus a few incidental characters.  It is not about the Lektor; that could have been any desirable state secret, a list of agents, or the outline of an operation.  It isn’t about the Orient Express, where the climactic fight between Bond and Grant takes place.  That could have been set on a Caribbean island or a space station without changing much of anything; some later films were set in just those places.  No, the story of From Russia With Love, as it is with any quality work of fiction, is the story of how the characters go about pursuing their goals, and the friction between them that this causes.  I can’t tell you how to find great commercial success; that has eluded me for almost fifty years, but if you want your work to be well-regarded by however many readers you have, lock this into your memory, and never lose sight of it:

Characters are fiction.

Make that your focus, and you’ll never go too far wrong.

And those are my thoughts on MacGuffins.  I hope someone found this useful, or at least entertaining.  I found it enjoyable, and I offer my thanks to Lynda once again for bringing me back to this.  Enjoy, comment, question, and be back here Thursday for my latest roundup of Other Voices.  See you then!