Friday, July 30, 2010

The Second Thirteen, 2010. An Excerpt

Where: High in the mountains near Zug, Switzerland.
When: Winter. The day before Christmas.
Background: When I was writing the climax to this story, I decided we needed to visit Zug and find out for ourselves what it was like. So I got on the internet and met the manager of a hotel in Zug, who generously offered to host our stay at the fabulous Parkhotel. Because this portion of the story took place on a farm, a limousine was arranged to take us high into the mountains, where we visited the actual farm you will read about in the book. It had a picturesque chalet, with white wooden shingles, scalloped trim, and a cute balcony. It also had a massive barn with broad eaves and enough perfectly-sawn firewood to last several winters.

Here is what happens in the book:

With fresh air filling his lungs, Johann inched forward.
He reached the path to the chalet just as the front half of the barn’s massive roof caved in. Sparks and debris billowed high into the air.
Falling onto his side, Johann turned to watch the other half of the roof collapse. A fire truck stopped nearby and several firemen raced toward the barn.
Two paramedics grabbed their gear and ran toward him.
Johann tried to sit up.
"Lie still," one of the paramedics said, kneeling beside him. She placed an oxygen mask over his mouth.
"Maria!" protested Johann hoarsely, pushing the mask away. The protest caused a spasm of deep coughing.
"You must lie still!" the paramedic repeated, replacing the mask. "Your lungs have been damaged by the smoke."
"Maria," Johann whispered through the mask, his dark eyes erratic and wild.
"His sister. Check the chalet," the first paramedic said.
Her colleague ran to the house and soon returned.
"It's empty," he said.
The first paramedic looked at Johann then at the raging barn.
She swallowed hard.
Where was Maria?

Thursday, July 22, 2010

We Never Forget Our First

We never forget our first, and Jessica Chapnik was mine. And although you're filled with anticipation and excitement at what might happen as a result, your first can be a frightening experience ... terrifying, even painful ... forever etched in your memory.

But it can also be exhilarating beyond description. In fact, it's the element of venturing into the unknown that makes it so alluring.

Actress and musician, Jessica Chapnik. Photo courtesy The Daily Telegraph.

Jessica has gone on to greater things. Aussies will remember her as "Sam Holden" on the hit television show, Home and Away. In 2008, she recorded the Ben Lee soundtrack for the Joel and Nash Edgerton film, The Square. The song was nominated for an Australian Film Institute Award for "Best Original Music Score," as well as an ARIA (Australian Recording Industry Association) Fine Arts Award for "Best Original Soundtrack". A singer of exceptional talent and beauty, Jessie has toured internationally with musicians Sarah Blasko, Ben Lee, the Kahn Brothers, and Old Man River. Her 2010 Appleonia Music video, It's Not So Precious, exemplifies the gentle, inspirational quality to her voice. Which surprised me since she is such a raging soccer fanatic (go Argentina!) who loves espionage thrillers and vegetarian pizzas (go pizza!).

So while most of you may know Jessica as an exceptional actress and musician, to me she will always be "the first" ... my first ... book critic to review The Second Thirteen, when it was originally published in Australia in 1999.

At the time, Jessy was writing for Who magazine (the Australian version of People magazine), to whom I had sent a copy of my novel for review consideration.

A first review can play with your mind. It did mine. For one thing, I had no idea Who magazine would even look at my novel. Who was, after all, one of the premier celebrity magazines in Australia, and I was this unknown author whose book had been published by a micro-press no one had ever heard of. And if by some miracle they did review it, would they like it? Would they trash it? Was this going to be a painful experience? Fears collided with possibilities (and a wild imagination) to produce a tornado of emotional turbulence. I could hardly stand it. But, as I said before, it was the element of venturing into the unknown that was, in fact, its allure.

We need book critics. We rely on their seasoned judgment to sift the wheat from the chaff. Sure, some critics like to find something wrong with everything: "no turn unstoned," as the old saying goes. Some are snotty, uppity elitists who are downright arrogant and rude.

So are some writers.

Most critics, however, are decent people who devote a lot of hours to their craft. They're not in it for the big bucks. They're in it for the love of reading. Critics and writers (and publishers) have one thing in common: the desire to present a good book to the public. These days, with shrinking budgets and cutbacks, there are fewer critics writing for fewer publications, so the challenge of getting reviewed in a major publication is harder than ever. But in today's world, a good review -- or a bad one -- can spread "virally" like wildfire via twitter, Facebook, MySpace, and a host of other social networking sites and blogs, not to forget the customer review sites hosted by online giants like Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Like never before, the reader has become the critic with a voice.

Which keeps a writer like me on his proverbial toes, especially since I have updated The Second Thirteen into what I hope is a sizzling thriller that will yank you in by the lapels and not let you go until the final page. Whether I succeed or not will be -- gulp -- up to you.

As for Jessica, with whom I stay in touch ... well, my "first" had this to say: "The Second Thirteen, by Kansas-born, Adelaide-based James Houston Turner ... will delight aficionados of the genre with its punchy pace, intricate plot, compelling structure and, best of all, goose-bump-raising-climax."

Stay tuned for updates on when the new edition of The Second Thirteen will be available.

A self-confessed pizza fanatic, James Houston Turner writes thrillers and invents new topping combinations from his home in Adelaide, South Australia. You may visit him at

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Honoring Simon Baker and Dr. William S. Bate.

What a privilege to meet actor Simon Baker, star of the hit TV series, The Mentalist, who was honored at the prestigious G'day USA 2010 black tie gala in Hollywood. Wendy and I had flown from Australia to meet with several film executives regarding my screenplay, Big John, a true story based on the life of Big John Levi, the great 1920s Native American fullback from Haskell Institute in Lawrence, Kansas.

Simon Baker and Wendy Turner at the G'day USA black tie gala
We then topped off the week by attending the gala, where actress Nicole Kidman introduced Simon to the crowd. She told us about the years Baker struggled as an actor, which eventually earned him a Logie Award in his native country of Australia for Most Popular New Talent. But his career never really ignited, so at Kidman's urging, Baker -- a former bricklayer -- moved his family to Los Angeles, where he scored a supporting role opposite fellow Aussies, Russell Crowe and Guy Pearce, in the 1997 Academy Award-winning film, L.A. Confidential. This was followed by other successful roles, including the popular TV series, The Guardian, the film, The Devil Wears Prada, and finally the blockbuster TV series, The Mentalist.
Baker was affable and accessible and enjoyed meeting fans. Which may not continue for long given the shocking behavior of some people. Wendy and I were speaking with him at the gala when several young women in sprayed-on cocktail dresses shoved their way to the front and burst into the conversation.

Sam Worthington
Two of them held digital cameras my way while talking with him effusively. I snapped pictures, after which they grabbed them abruptly away and shoved their way toward Aussie actor, Sam Worthington, star of Clash of the Titans and Avatar, who was standing a short distance away. Sorry about that, Sam.
One of the highlights of the evening was Nicole Kidman's introduction of Baker with husband Keith Urban. With Kidman

Wendy Turner and Keith Urban
dancing around on the stage, Urban sang a humorous tribute to Baker to the tune of Men At Work's iconic Australian classic, Down Under. Some of the lyrics include, "From a small town in Tasmania, in the rugged country of Australia, came a little boy with wide-eyed wonder, destined to rise up from Down Under. And his name is Simon Baker, surfer dude, home renovator... he's a sexy baby maker, and secretly your laptop screen saver. He's a straight-up guy, no bullshit taker. He's CBS' big money-maker, The Mentalist, a ratings breaker." Baker then donned his "rockin' Buddy Holly glasses" to shouts of approval from the crowd. Urban's song brought down the house and you can watch it on YouTube here: ( Other honorees at the gala were golfer Greg Norman, who was introduced by the legendary John Travolta, and actress Toni Collette.
Toni was introduced by the gorgeous and zany Cameron Diaz who, after witnessing the roof-raising introduction of Simon Baker by Keith and Nicole, said to the audience: "After that, I looked at Toni and she looked at me, and I said, 'We are so f#*ked!' " The crowd went wild with laughter.
But as spectacular as the black tie gala was, by far the greatest highlight of our trip was seeing Dr. William S. Bate, whose cancer diagnosis helped save my life back in 1991. After a missed diagnosis by another doctor in San Diego, I was examined by Dr. Bate, whose biopsy confirmed what he suspected simply by looking at the swollen mass on my jaw: a malignant tumor was eating its way into the bone. Not having health insurance, we were forced to fly to Australia for medical help, where a team of surgeons excised the tumor, by that time the size of an orange. We had to pay for the operation, but $17,000 was a lot less than the $200,000 required in San Diego. I was given 18 months to live. It will soon be twenty years!

James Houston Turner and Wendy Turner

So imagine Dr. Bate's surprise when I walked into his office to say thanks. He and I had not seen each other since 1991 and he did not even know that I was alive. He asked where I had gone for my treatment and I told him. He said, "There are few places in the world better than Adelaide, Australia, for what you had done. They did a magnificent job."
We shook hands and a beaming Dr. Bate said I had made his day. I told him he had made my life.
Thanks to Dr. William S. Bate, Dr. Dan Hains, Dr. James Katsaros, Dr. Peter O'Brien, and Dr. Liz Coates, James Houston Turner continues to write thrillers from his home in Adelaide, South Australia. You may visit him at

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

There is no God, says the Bible.

"There is no God," says the Bible. It's right there, plain and simple, for everyone to see. Psalm 14:1. Think I'm kidding? Check it out for yourself. Don't worry about which version of the Bible you're using; they all say pretty much the same thing.

There is no God.

Oh, yeah, I forgot about the first part of that verse. You see, in its entirety Psalm 14:1 says, "The fool has said in his heart, 'There is no God'."

The point of this has to do with what I call "hijacking" of religious texts to prove a point. I did it just now. I lifted a phrase out of context and made a misleading statement to illustrate my point.

Hijacking is nothing new, and it usually has much more serious consequences. For centuries, men have been hijacking verses to keep women quiet and exert control over every aspect of their lives (naturally, while ignoring those verses that praise their multi-task skills, initiative, and leadership abilities). Still other verses have been hijacked to prevent people from drinking alcohol, to justify slavery, conduct inquisitions, shun outsiders, and declare "holy wars" (what an oxymoron that is!).

No wonder so many people hate religion. How many wars have been fought in the name of religion? How many of us have had religion rammed down our throats? And yet how many good deeds have also been done: wells dug, people clothed and fed, houses built, hospitals built, lives saved. In other words -- faith in action. If religious zealots actually served God with something other than rhetoric, they would be building hospitals, not blowing them up. Feeding people instead of starving them.

Actions do, indeed, speak louder than words. But actions based on the whole truth, not isolated fragments.

There is a difference between passion and extremism, and the dynamics of both continue to fascinate me. Take the opening paragraph of Chapter 12 from my geopolitical thriller, The Identity Factor: "There are cities, there are great cities, and there is Jerusalem. Able to make small men feel great and great men feel small, Jerusalem is forever a passion to those who believe, a marvel to those who do not."

There is nobility in passion. But there is a line -- a precipice, if you will -- between passion and extremism ... when individualism turns malignant. And hijackers are masters at finding just the right verses to justify their malignancy. Thankfully, there are those passionate enough about protecting our common humanity to take a stand against oppression and brutality.

And not all of them are in novels.

In my case, some of them are, which is why I've invited you here. This blog will be about life as seen and experienced by a writer ... this writer.

It's about "the road between the lines," which was inspired by the book of Genesis, where one verse described Abraham being in one location, with the next verse describing him hundreds of miles away. So I asked myself one day: I wonder what happened on the actual road he traveled between those lines I just read. What took less than a minute for me must have taken weeks for Abraham. What were his days like? What did they talk about? What did they joke about? Did they get argue? Did they belch (and did everyone laugh then, as we do now when that happens)? What was the "road" for Abraham really like?

There is, of course, no way to tell apart from the historical and religious documents we have been given.

But I hope to give you some insight into
my road between the lines. This is a work in progress, just as I am a work in progress, so I hope you will leave comments, which will help guide me along this road.

I look forward to hearing from you.

James Houston Turner writes thrillers from his home in Adelaide, South Australia. You may visit him at