My guest today is Terry Ambrose. His own life has been colorful enough for a thriller autobiography, I think. But he's turned to fiction to tell his stories. Here's a bit about him:
Terry Ambrose started out skip tracing and collecting money from deadbeats and quickly learned that liars come from all walks of life. He never actually stole a car, but sometimes hired big guys with tow trucks and a penchant for working in the dark when “negotiations” failed. You can learn more about Terry on his website at terryambrose.com.
Terry’s latest book, License to Lie, is about a con artist and a criminologist who join forces and learn that with $5,000,000 and their lives on the line, they can’t trust a soul—even their own.
“License to Lie is fast and well written, almost sure to satisfy discerning readers of thrillers. There’s a verve to Ambrose’s language and the story moves with assurance, defying easy predictions.” — T. Jefferson Parker, Author of “The Jaguar” and “The Border Lords”
And here is Terry's post!
The scam—it’s all about stimulus and response. A good con artist creates a world that makes you believe what she’s telling you. Wait…isn’t that what writers do? Create worlds where our readers can escape? Is there a difference?
In a mystery, the story typically focuses on a murder, but could also begin with a kidnapping, a theft, or any other act that garners the protagonist’s interest. Once that hook has been set, our protagonist, and probably the reader, must see the story through to the end. Again, such similarity, but also a difference. A good con appeals to the basest of human emotions, greed. The con artist might offer quick riches, or maybe just the promise of easy money. Either way, the mark wants something so badly he’ll take risks he knows he shouldn’t. He is, pure and simple, caught on the hook and can’t let go.
Con artists know that scams typically succeed or fail because of the emotional responses they evoke, not the logic. Even the most ridiculous and farfetched scam will succeed if that’s what the mark wants most. In fiction, I’m drawn to stories with complex characters and sharp dialog. Does there need to be a murder to get things started? Maybe, maybe not. If the characters are strong and have captured my interest, the crime doesn’t need to be that severe. What’s important for me as a reader is that the crime is something that captures the main character’s interest. Because I’m interested in that character, I’m also hooked.
A scam that involves huge sums of money grabs everyone’s interest. Why? Not because it’s complex. Not because it’s ingenious. It gains attention because of scope. Madoff’s scheme operated on exactly the same principles as the smaller ones: establish rapport, provide a stimulus, and evoke a response. He just thought bigger than most. But, he also gave us a model for stories.
When you think about the last book you read that you really liked, did it not draw you in by establishing rapport in some way? I just started reading T. Jefferson Parker’s “LA Outlaws.” I’m very grateful to Mr. Parker for reading (and writing a blurb for) my latest novel, but that’s not why I’ve included him here. The truth is that I didn’t read “LA Outlaws” when it first came out. However, I’d heard about it many times and when it cropped up (again) in another discussion, I decided that it was high time I read it. The book begins, not with us meeting the hero of the story, Charlie Hood, but in the mind of a thief. She’s smart, sexy, and despite the fact that she’s an outlaw, we like her. I’ve only finished four chapters, but I’m absolutely hooked and will have to finish this one. There are no maybe’s here, Parker immediately established rapport with his character’s voice and provided the stimulus of putting her into a situation that can only lead to more trouble. In essence, he triggered the basest of my reading responses, the desire to bask in the joy of being reeled in by a master.
What do you like in your fiction? Are you a character person? Do you prefer the plot? For you, what’s the stimulus that creates that “must read” response?