Wednesday, November 7, 2018

                          The latest review of Game Piece

                  BookTrib's Jim Parry had this to say about my latest novel, Game Piece.

Alan Brenham Plays With Our Minds in "Game Piece"            

in Thrillers by

A killer is messing with Barry Marshall’s head — and with everything he holds dear. That sets the stage for Alan Brenham’s chilling, twisting, rocketing thriller, Game Piece (Black Opal Books), in which Marshall is the game piece that the killer is coldly, cruelly maneuvering.



A smart, tough, capable guy, Marshall is a detective on the Temple, Texas police force.  He’s married to Erin.  They have a five-year-old daughter, Cailey.  It’s a good marriage.  And it’s threatened…as is Marshall’s career, his reputation and his family.  What Marshall doesn’t know is that 12 years ago, the killer dated Erin and thinks Marshall stole her.

The killer is enraged and the killer is smart.  He’s learned things that aren’t public knowledge: learned that Marshall is investigating a stolen truck, learned its make and model.  Now he phones Marshall and tells Marshall where to find it, in a local park.  Marshall demands, “Who is this?”  No answer.  So all Marshall can do is go to the park.  When he arrives, there’s no truck.  But there are two corpses: a young man and a young woman, their throats slit.

From a distance, watching the scene through binoculars, the killer thinks the better part of the last 12 years searching for Marshall.  Now he had Mister Badass right where he wanted him. He’d savor every minute watching Marshall twist in the wind.  “Payback’s gonna be a motherfucker,” he thinks.
But what’s the endgame?  And can Marshall turn the game?  Can he stop being used, being played?  Can he find the killer before… Before what?

Hard on the heels of the couple with their throats slit, the killer again phones Marshall, says meet me at a local cemetery.  Marshall goes, and finds a third corpse: another man – most recently a defense lawyer, before that, an assistant county attorney – with his throat slit.  Is there a connection to Marshall?  Marshall can’t find it.

But, at the same time, the killer is also uneasy.  He’s learned the police may have a witness to the killings in the park.  He thinks…“Who the hell could the so-called witness be?  Are they screwing with my head?  Trying to make me think it’d be a matter of time before they caught me?  I’m not the bad guy here.  It’s Marshall.” The uneasy killer is smart.  He learns who the witness is.

When a woman jogger’s throat is slashed, her name strikes a chord with Marshall, but he can’t recall why.  The killer phones Marshall and gloats — and lets Marshall know that he, the killer, has learned something else that isn’t public knowledge.

Author Alan Brenham has given his cop, Barry Marshall, resources.  Brenham has been a Texas law enforcement officer, a criminal prosecutor and a criminal defense lawyer – he knows the databases, the forensics and the other officials that Marshall can draw upon.

But he’s also given his killer resources.  And now the killer uses them to undermine Marshall’s marriage. Marshall’s wife, Erin, gets a letter from a woman who says she’s been having an affair with Marshall.  The letter contains convincing photos.  Then, over the phone, the woman tells Erin intimate details about Marshall: things he does with a woman, things he says and things about his body.

Erin accuses Marshall of cheating on her.  Marshall, who has never cheated on her, figures this is also the killer’s work.  But how does the killer know all this about him?  And where is this game going?
Then another phone call from the killer. He tells Marshall, “Saw your wife.  Real pretty.  Love her curly blond hair. Cute little daughter.”

This case, always personal to Marshall, has become even more so. Now, as this nerve-wracking, who’s-doing-what-to-whom and what’s-coming-next psychological thriller – already fast-paced – ramps up even more, Marshall must draw upon everything he has to find the killer, stop the killer and protect the people he loves.  It’s a deadly game of cat and mouse. 

Just as the killer has messed with Marshall’s head, the author has wonderfully messed with ours.


Sunday, October 14, 2018


I read this article in a newsletter and wanted to share it. 

5 Writing Tips by Barbara Kingsolver 

"The enterprise of writing a book has to feel like walking into a cathedral."
Writers work successfully in so many different ways, I never assume that what works for me is best for someone else. But if a common denominator exists among us, it might be attitude: the enterprise of writing a book has to feel like walking into a cathedral. It demands humility. The body of all written words already in print is vaulted and vast. You think you have something new to add to that? If so, it can only come from a position of respect: for the form, the process, and eventually for a reader’s valuable attention. Top of Form
 Bottom of Form
But if you’ve got a writer’s blood in your veins, you’re going to do it anyway. So it’s a project of balancing the audacity to do this work, and the humility to keep trying until you’ve gotten it right. Here are some strategies.

1. To begin, give yourself permission to write a bad book. Writer’s block is another name for writer’s dread—the paralyzing fear that our work won’t measure up. It doesn’t matter how many books I’ve published, starting the next one always feels as daunting as the first. A day comes when I just have to make a deal with myself: write something anyway, even if it’s awful. Nobody has to know. Maybe it never leaves this room! Just go. Bang out a draft.

2. Then revise until it’s not a bad book. Revision is my favorite work, the part of the process when art really happens. Once you know where you’re going, you can back up and tilt every scene in just the right direction. You can replace every serviceable sentence with one that glows with its own original light. This of course requires an eagerness to throw away a lot of serviceable sentences. Lean on the delete key. It’s frustrating to write a hundred pages you know will not survive, but this is the dirt you have to excavate to get to the vein of gold. These are pages of your novel too, just the unseen ones—let’s call them pages negative-100 to zero—and you can’t skip them. If it helps, keep a “recycle” folder: when you’ve written a scene you love, but reluctantly concede that it’s not moving your story forward, clip and save it in a “maybe” file in case you find some good use for it later. Probably you won’t. But if that illusion helps you cut harder and deeper, this is all to the good.

3. Get cozy with your own company. It’s no coincidence that a lot of writers are introverts. At some point in the life of a manuscript you’ll want to get feedback, but not while it’s in the birth canal. Ninety-nine percent of your working life will be spent laboring in a room by yourself. I can’t overstate the value of silencing the social noise and writing with nobody looking over your shoulder. Other people may tell you what sells, what the market is hungry for, and to my mind that information is unhelpful, if not toxic. If you hope to add some original stone to the cathedral of books in print, it will have to come from your unique position in the universe. It takes a quiet acquaintance with your own mind to identify that place.

4. Study something other than writing. In school, in life, wherever you can get it, acquiring authority over interesting material will boost the confidence side of your writing equation. I feel incredibly lucky to be one of the few novelists on the planet who followed the (somewhat accidental) plan of getting undergraduate and graduate degrees in biology before starting my literary career. If I had it all to do over again, on purpose, I would follow the same course, not just because I love science but also because of the career edge it offers. I have at my disposal a well of information on, say, evolutionary theory, genetics, the mechanics of climate change and such as that, which I can work to translate into literature for readers who didn’t take those classes but are honestly eager to learn. If I had three wishes, I might spend one on giving more scientists the facility and will to write novels. We could also use more novelist-anthropologists, civil engineers, farmers, you name it. Craft is a lifelong study for writers: debut novels I read for fresh vision; classics I reread carefully for technique; the plots of movies I deconstruct while my patient husband drives us home from the theater. Craft is always on the table. But content can make the meal.

5. If you’re young, and a smoker, you should quit. Ditto for all other habits likely to shorten your life. Self-destructive behaviors are useful to a writing career only in the movies. In actual experience I’ve never known a manuscript to be moved forward by a reckless affair, drinking binge, or tangle with the law. The boring truth is we need to look after ourselves, for a good reason: getting old is our secret weapon. Readers come to books for many reasons, but ultimately they’re looking for wisdom. That’s something writers can offer only after we’ve accrued it, like scar tissue, usually by surviving things we didn’t want to deal with—a process otherwise known as aging. This is fantastically good news! Twenty, thirty, or forty years after all the athletes, dancers, models and actors of our cohort have been put out to pasture, we can look forward to doing our greatest work.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

        




                               UPDATES - JUNE 2018


It's been a while since I posted, yet much has happened since my last in October 2017. My next novel, Game Piece, is in the publisher's queue at Black Opal Books. It is expected to be released in October 2018. Follow Detective Barry Marshall as he is about to lose everything he holds dear – his wife, his career, and his reputation. A mysterious phone call leading him to the dead bodies of a young couple kicks off the ultimate endgame.

The first in a new Cailey Marshall series, Finding Cailey, is in the hands of my editor. Once she's finished and any changes are made, that manuscript will be headed for the publisher.

Meanwhile, I'm working on the first draft of the sequel to Finding Cailey. It will be set in Jamaica and involve an international cast of characters with a new type of mystery tugging at her elbow while she struggles to deal with a leftover demon from her misadventure in Finding Cailey.

Be back soon with more updates.


Monday, October 2, 2017

Fleshing Out Your Fictional Characters



Stephen King said, in a recent blog, that authors must “tell stories about what people actually do.” He stated that “…bad writing usually arises from a stubborn refusal to tell stories about what people actually do, such as murderers sometimes helping old ladies cross the street. Since people in your stories are what readers care about the most, it falls on you to acknowledge all the dimensions your characters may have, making them well-rounded and interesting. Anything less reduces them to a two-dimensional cut-out.
Fleshed-out characters create reader fascination, which is what causes readers to turn pages. Give them strengths, weaknesses, and vulnerabilities. This gives them a potential to succeed yet forces them to struggle to reach their goal – whatever it may be – love, revenge, or security, to name a few. Tell the reader why they must reach that goal.
Make your characters consistent and yet surprise the reader. Most readers love twists. Give them some. Make them wonder what’s going to happen next. Make them human. That’s what King implores writers to do.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

WRITING A STRONG FEMALE CHARACTER

Women deserve to be well-represented in fiction. They make for awesome characters. Too many times a novel features female characters as sidekicks who could not exist without a male protagonist driving the story. A female character isn't necessary to support the male character's story arc. Females can do quite well on their own and not as dramatis personae existing to create romantic tension. They are, in their own right, as compelling  as any male character. They can drive a story forward quite well in most any plotline.

A strong female protagonist has her share of successes, failures, hopes, and motivations. She doesn't have to be Einstein-smart or a raving beauty. Flawed female characters fascinate readers. Make her real. Give her strengths, weaknesses, quirks, and emotions. Let her feel the whole spectrum of emotions from grief to elation. Force her to make choices, major and minor, right and wrong. Let her win some battles and lose a few.

The greater the challenge, internal or external, blocking her path, the more a reader will relate to her. Seemingly insurmountable hurdles generate conflict and suspense. And they drive a novel and keep readers turning pages. In Dean Koontz' novel, The Silent Corner, rogue FBI agent Jane Hawk had a lot to lose if she stumbled - her son and her life. Other prominent female characters include Lucy Guardino in C.J. Lyons' FBI thrillers, Hermione Granger in J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series, and Jackie Brown in Elmore Leonard's Rum Punch.