I have sad news; another great team has been broken up.  When I think of teams, I immediately envision the greats such as Hope and Crosby, Fred and Ginger, Sonny and Cher and Martin and Lewis, all household names to most of us -- well, known to most of us beyond a certain age.  How about Batman and Robin? One of the most recent team pairings became local legends, Shelby, and Oreo.  They soaked up the sunshine together and watched the neighborhood; they had the same human friend, Lilly, who loved them both and showered them with hugs.  Shelby and Oreo even shared their food; if Oreo left any food in her outdoor feeding area, Shelby would gobble it up before it had any chance of growing stale and, when Oreo had a successful hunt, she left the feathers under a certain bush so that her canine friend was gifted.

                We understood that her life would be different once her six kittens were born.  By the way, they were born in Lilly’s bedroom closet.  Oreo stayed home with the kids and took care of them as would any full-time mom, leaving them for just moments in order to satisfy her own needs.  If she didn’t meet up with Shelby, she would circle the house and leave her scent on the downspout by the back door and at the base of the Butterfly Bush which was her favorite hiding place when hunting birds.  Sometimes she would wait at the front door to remind me to leave her some food.

                The day finally came when all of her children had been placed in forever homes and her responsibilities declined.  She would come around and expect to be fed more than once a day and, seeing as how skinny she had become, I obliged.  She and Shelby would still have meaningful conversations as they wandered about with me trailing behind them, but these sessions were now less frequent.  Then one afternoon we noticed that Oreo’s cat food was uneaten; Shelby took care of that as she wouldn’t have wanted it to spoil or be eaten by some other creature.  This became part of Shelby’s routine for many days to come. 

It’s been about two months now since anyone has seen Oreo.  Shelby still starts off her morning sniffing the drain spout next to the back door, checking for her scent around the Butterfly Bush and even looking under the car where Oreo liked to escape the afternoon sunshine. When I see Shelby staring out through the front door window, I know she still is waiting for her friend to cross the street and run up onto the porch, but Oreo isn’t coming.

Life for so many of us settles into a certain routine, a routine that we assume will go on forever.  We expect the same people will be part of our lives forever, the same opportunities available at all times, the same world that we are all part of.  For good or bad, ours is a world that is static, forever changing, and we, through the course of time, learn from it and change with it accordingly.  This is life; this is how we grow, through our experiences.  I understand, but how do you explain it to a hound dog with a broken heart?




"You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can't please all of the people all of the time."  This statement was made by monk and writer, John Lydgate, in Fifteenth-Century England.  One only has to be reminded of what's been happening in the US recently to readily agree.

All gays are exhibitionists or perverts and shouldn't have civil rights bestowed on them until they straighten up.  The General Lee is a symbol of southern prejudice?  Come on, get real!  Oh, let us not forget that our Constitution needs to be changed because it is so out of date and thereby meaningless and irrelevant to this modern generation and its needs.  These are all issues we have to work out as a country.

Life goes on as we strive for perfection.  We strive, we reach, but I doubt that we will ever achieve it. What seems perfect to one of us usually causes another to cry out in anger or shame.  Let's face it; we are not an agreeable group of people.  We are diverse and that is what makes us special.

This country was settled by unhappy people who came to America wanting to escape a bad situation in their own homeland, who sought to better themselves in a new, less restrictive environment.  This country was also settled by people who were brought here against their will and enslaved, such as the Africans, Irish and Germans.  Many of these people did not arrive with smiles on the faces, loving and agreeing entirely with every other group's varying cultures and beliefs.  Hate and prejudice traveled with and arrived here with the first shipload of future Americans.  Time didn't heal all wounds, but things were either dealt with, replaced with new issues of more importance at the time or ignored by the general populace.

Wave upon wave of these new issues washed ashore over the course of time, issues that were sometimes unthinkable to some citizens who instead, chose to stow them in a place far away, adrift, not to be thought of or talked about.  But like Pandora's Box, unpopular and controversial issues have a way of surfacing and spreading, demanding our attention.  When we ignore and refuse to intelligently discuss issues, arbitration may be necessary, especially when those on one side or the matter or the other demands action to be taken.

Just like children fighting over the last cookie, a person who has been given the authority, may step in and make the decision based on the facts that he or she is privy to.  The outcome may be agreeable to all concerned or it could lean heavily toward one participant's advantage.  Another result might be that it is determined that the cookie will remain uneaten.

The obvious resolution to this dilemma would have been to share the cookie equally and skip the middleman, right?  What are the chances of that happening?

I won't say if I approve or disapprove of the Supreme Court's recent decisions, but they sure did open up a giant bag of worms!  Stay tuned for season 226 next year of The Supreme Court Rules Again!




A few days ago I was walking the aisles of the BLADE Show in Atlanta with my son, Jason and my two teenage grandsons, Alec and Aidan.  Since Jerry’s passing, a day trip to BLADE has become a mother/son outing which I hope can continue, maybe even with the grandsons in attendance as well.  Seeing what’s new and what stays popular is always a reason to be there but, more importantly, getting together with industry friends and catching up on what’s new with their families and such is priceless.  We call or email friends who are coming in for the show and set up a time and place to meet, then go our separate ways and maybe get together later to discuss what we saw that was of special interest.

Our family tradition for as long as I can remember is that the first stop taken once we get through the exhibition hall doors is the Crawford Knives table.  Pat and Wes and the Aherns go back many decades; Wes and Jason meeting and working shows such as this when they were young teens.  I’ll never forget how the two of them managed to order and actually get a pizza delivery person into the SHOT Show.  Pat has been making quality custom knives since 1972 and now Wes is giving his old man some slack, taking over most of the daily chores involved in their business.  Crawford knives have found their way into my purse on many occasions as well as Jerry’s pockets.  Occasionally, one of their knives has dangled on a neck chain or, disguised as an ordinary object, tucked away in a desk or dresser drawer. Their table always has new and interesting knives and is knee deep in attendees. 

Next stop on our annual tour is Benchmade where Les and Roberta de Asis hang out.    Balisong USA started manufacturing balisongs in the late 1970s, and then changed its name to Pacific Cutlery in the early 1980s, before finally becoming Benchmade. After seeing a demonstration of what the knife could do in the hands of a pro like martial artist, actor, stuntman and author of one of the first books published in the US on Balisong knives, Jeff Imada -- who also incidentally, was the fight/stunt consultant for all the TWILIGHT movies -- it was decided that our character Natalia, in the SURVIVALIST series needed such a knife as one of her primary weapons. After all these years, Natalia still lets her Butterfly knife soar and always hits her mark. Family life and children haven’t slowed her up any more than being the First Lady of the United States. 

Moving over to stage right is the booth where A.G. Russell and his wife Goldie hold court.  They graciously take the time to talk to everyone who comes over to speak with them, showing new designs as well as knife show favorites.  His name, as well as Goldie’s, are legends in the knife industry and to collectors. A.G. Russell Knives is the largest reseller of knives in the world, founded in 1964. In 1970, he co-founded the Knife Collectors Club and the Knifemakers' Guild, both of which are the oldest continuously functioning organizations of their types.  He was the first member of the Knife Digest Cutlery Hall of Fame and produced the first commemorative pocket knife.  In 1975, he designed a knife that Jerry fell in love with and carried with him either inside his waistband or tucked inside his boot.  Jerry even gave John Thomas Rourke, the lead character in the SURVIVALIST series, a STING boot knife that was good for hunting and everyday tasks as well as for personal protection.  His Sting has been through a lot over the years and has helped keep our hero alive and well.  Rourke still carries a Sting 1A with a black chrome finish, ready for its next challenge.

 In the SURVIVALIST time frame, over 650 years have passed.  In our world, Natalia, with her Balisong and Rourke with his Sting have now been fighting the good fight for almost 35 years, the series premiering in 1981.  I think that sounds like a great endorsement for their choice of edged weapons. Jerry picked the best for his own personal carry and for those fictional characters that fought to stay alive.

Old friends, new friends, endearing friends.  Friends that you share a common bond with, new friends that might surprise you, friends that you trust to be there when you need them; they all can be found at the Blade show. 





                  The five Ws should be found in any type of story.  Of what use would an account of a crime be without stating the who, what, where, when and why?  Maybe the facts are not found in the first paragraph like a newspaper account but eventually the reader would be given the particulars, otherwise there would be nothing left to tell; the facts are an integral part of the story. 

                The same premise holds true for both fact and fiction.  You’re reading about a person entering a room; what does he see?  The two-seater airplane is ready for takeoff and the bad guys are right behind the hero and the beautiful woman he just rescued.  Enemy fire is closing in on our couple and they reach the plane just moments ahead of the advancing hail of lead.   What does our hero do to get off the ground and into the air?  A couple goes to an elegant, expensive restaurant for a romantic night on the town.  The gentleman slips the maitre d some cash, and the maitre d seats them.  Where?  What do they order?  If there is music in the background, what is being played?  What are they wearing?  Did I mention this town that they’re in is Rio de Janeiro?

                When reading a work of fiction do you just assume that the author knows everything? Jerry was fond of the books of a particular writer who was popular a number of years ago and still is until he caught her in a series of gun errors.  He figured if she hadn’t checked her accuracy in that field, how could you be sure she was correct in others?  He totally gave up on her because he could no longer believe a word her characters said.

Today, with the help of Google, you can get information on just about everything, but as to how good or bad that information is, can be dubious.  Getting expert advice can sometimes be challenging.  When the majority of our books were being written such as the TAKERS, THE YAKASA TATTOO and the SURVIVALIST series, the internet was not available in the Ahern household but hard copy reference books and a telephone were.  We had and I still do have a pretty good reference library but tracking someone down with the specific information you need and talking with them and asking them questions is still the best way to go.

                I remember spending hours talking with a person who was knowledgeable in the rites associated with Voodoo and getting straight which Loa would you need to help you in various situations and which were good and which could really make a bad situation worse.  We had a lady who had spent her life as a missionary help us with the nuances associated with the Portuguese language which would differentiate one class of person from another.  We got to know her rather well and would spend time over at her house learning a great deal from her about the various cultures surrounding the Amazon.  We killed people (only bad ones, of course) and saved lives through various medical procedures as told to us by physicians, piloted nuclear submarines and fought the Japanese mafia all with a little help from our friends. 

                I just want to thank you all for the help you have given over the years, not just for our books, but for all books, to published writers and someday soon published writers.  Without your knowledge and insight, we may not have had the courage to include topics that were a stretch for us to even imagine.  Without being able to talk and discuss with you that which you know far more about than we do, we may never have thought of the various twists and turns we were able to include in our stories.  Thanks for listening to our stupid questions and not laughing too much and for not changing your phone number or email address because you thought we were stalking you.  Hopefully, some of us have been able to take from you and pass it on, inspiring others to learn more. 




An interview with the author of THE SYNOPSIS TREASURY

Recently I had the pleasure of reading THE SYNOPSIS TREASURY by author and screenwriter, Chris Haviland.  Over the course of many years and with the help of countless  friends such as well- known writers, Ben Bova and Kevin Anderson, Chris has compiled a collection of actual synopses that writers such as Terry Brooks, Frank Herbert and Margaret Weiss, to name a few, sent to publishers.  Some of these synopses were short and to the point, others …well.  H.G. Wells was so confident that along with his story idea he quoted the percentage he expected to be paid and when he wanted his work published!  Each author’s synopsis is preceded by a short biography and comments from Chris. 

If you have aspirations of becoming a writer and want to pick up pointers from some of the best authors on how to sell your idea, THE SYNOPSIS TREASURY will be an invaluable tool.  If you are looking just for a fascinating look behind books you may have read, you might be surprised at what the concept was originally pitched as before it evolved into its final form.




Please give us some background as to what you have done professionally. 

I originally began my career in filmmaking, with a BA in Radio / TV / Film from UNT. I co-founded a movie production company at the new Universal Studios Florida in March 1990, having already been there for a year working as a PA, Extra and Stand-in on various movies and television shows. My role in the company was to write screenplays. We had some close calls but ultimately did not succeed in raising private financing for any of mine. We finally fund a script written by our other partners, however, in the family genre. I ended up as a co-producer on that film. Shot in 1997 as THE FIRST OF MAY, we cast Julie Harris, Mickey Rooney, Dan Byrd, and Joe DiMaggio, and it was distributed to HBO and still plays on some cable stations. Meanwhile I ended up working for the web content and mobile device industries to support my new wife, and later my new kids, and I've become skilled at Operations Process Improvement. Over the years I built or improved back-end processes for four startups (Mail.com, About.com, LiftDNA which was acquired by OpenX, and most recently Soft card which was acquired by Google) and numerous other gigs. As of this interview I'm back on the market for another position. In between all this I have written screenplays that have fared well in writing contests, most recently a science fiction satire called CODE & CREATION which was a semi-finalist in the prestigious Nicholl Fellowships, sponsored by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences (of Oscar / Emmy fame), becoming one of 129 best out of 7,197 entries in the biggest screenwriting competition in history until that time. I have also sold a few short stories, but with the publication of THE SYNOPSIS TREASURY this year I'm shifting my focus back to novel writing.


1.  What got you interested in writing THE SYNOPSIS TREASURY?

It began in the 80's with frustration at writing my own synopses for my own work, not being clear as to what plot points in a long novel should be in front of the publisher to help them make a decision. I learn better by seeing real examples rather than reading a "how to" book. For example, it was easier for me to learn how to write spec screenplays by reading actual spec screenplays that sold, rather than reading any one particular non-screenwriter's book on how to do it. At the Maui Writer's Conference in 2002, I was having a conversation with author Ben Bova about the publishing process, and I told him I had always wished there was a book of ACTUAL synopses that other authors wrote which led to a contract. He thought it was such a good idea that he encouraged me to put it together myself, then pitched it to his wife (the late Barbara Bova, literary agent) who picked me up. It was a completely unexpected project.

2.   You say you have more letters that didn’t make it in here.  Will there be a second book? 

I have enough material for 2 more books! Some of it is really fantastic stuff by some legendary deceased authors. However, the first book needs to be successful enough to warrant a second book. There is a possibility I might create a supplementary online "magazine" of synopses to publish these (a suggestion from David Brin a few years ago, before I found my current publisher) but I'd have to get a lot of publishing rights cleared with estates, which is a huge challenge (and one of the main reasons they didn't make it into the first book).

3.   How did you decide which ones to use?

The criteria mostly came down from WordFire Press in May 2014. Number one priority: do I already have worldwide rights to publish in any media? If I didn't, or at least some dialog started with the author or estate, then I had to set the chapter aside. With what was left, I had to re-contact all my authors and estates and get them up to speed. In some cases I needed additional materials from them which weren't in my early drafts of the book, such as the author photo. This process alone took about four months of work, and I actually passed my first deadline. I had to shave a few authors out of the stack because I could not re-establish contact with them. But WordFire Press was supportive of what I was trying to accomplish, and extended my deadline a bit. It paid off, because the resulting book has an impressive and diverse selection of authors, career levels, and styles. I also had to choose someone to write the book's introduction, and I preferred it to be a career editor. Fred Pohl had passed away since I had spoken to him. So I decided to contact former Del Rey editor Betsy Mitchell, to whom Terry Brooks introduced me back in 2002. And she not only agreed, she dropped everything and wrote it! It was the perfect fit (especially as she was on the receiving end of many of these authors).

One more thing I’d like to add: The Synopsis Treasury was targeted at Science Fiction & Fantasy authors. While I attempted to solicit many mainstream authors, I was either not able to make contact, or they had nothing to submit. Not all authors write synopses, but apparently, Science Fiction & Fantasy authors write and submit them more often. Or perhaps genre publishers require them more often. I’m not sure. 
 A few of the authors, while best known for science fiction or fantasy, a represented in my book by a mainstream synopsis, such as H.G. Wells’ THE WHEELS OF CHANCE which was a romantic comedy he wrote in between his major science fiction masterpieces. In fact a majority of Wells’ books were mainstream, not what we would call science fiction, but SF is what he is best known for now. It should be remembered that the genre had not yet been define at that time. In fact it actually coalesced out of his work and some of Jules Verne’s (also mostly an adventure writer) to become a new sub-genre of adventure with the dawn of the industrial era. Regardless of the genre, the book can be of great use to anyone interested in how to write a synopsis for the eyes of a publisher or agent. But science fiction & fantasy literary fans will also find it fascinating!

4.   Do you have a favorite?

I don't know, because I like all of them for different reasons! If I was cornered to deliver a favorite chapter, it might be Robert A. Heinlein's, because I like the dialog between Heinlein and Fred Pohl (himself a renowned science fiction writer) who was his magazine editor at the time. This dialog shaped a rough draft into a final draft. Pohl never had a problem telling a major author that he didn't like something, and Heinlein had no problem dealing with what his editor didn't like. I think there's a lot to be learned from that.

5.   With your own writing, do you find your final product close to your original concept or do you use a synopsis mainly to give you only a direction in which to proceed?

I write my synopsis after I finish the novel, so it tends to be the same as my original concept. I write more screenplays than novels, but the process is the same. However, I try to get a lot of outlining done prior to writing the story. I don't always stick to the outline because sometimes the story bends itself as the characters find their voices and personalities, and I think of new ideas along the way. At that time I may rewrite the outline to make sure I know where I'm going, but sometimes I'll do that mentally and not on paper (since it's very time consuming and I lose momentum when writing outlines). Some publishers will want an outline, but usually not in the first submission. Outlines are longer and more detailed chapter summaries. The synopsis is far more condensed, and I'll boil the story or outline down to a synopsis when I'm ready to start shopping the manuscript. Of course some accomplished authors can sell their novel idea before they write it, and will claim that the final product can and often will end up different from the synopsis. Sometimes they work closely with the editor between each draft of the novel to shape it further. So the synopsis is just a starting point in the submission process, nothing more.

6.  If you were an editor reading these synopses, what would you be looking for that would either turn you off to a story idea or compel you to want to buy it?

I have never worked as a fiction editor, so that's a good question. I think like a writer and an end-reader, but editors are trained to think like a marketing professional. They know what books in their list are selling and have an instinct for the types of story elements, themes and character types that seem to be working best for them right now. That's why one publisher will say, "not for us" and other may give you a try. Their sales results and specialties are different. My best answer would be to first look at the sub-genre to make sure it's the flavor that sells for my company, and then look deeper at how the protagonist evolves from start to finish, and how the plot unfolds (potential for suspense and forward movement). It's easier for a storyteller to sell than a wordsmith these days, especially if you're using a synopsis. (All writers are both storytellers and wordsmiths, but they usually lean either toward one style or the other. The "storyteller" uses fairly simple language to build interesting characters and drive the plot forward. They are less likely to win an award for their ability to choose an interesting combination of words to describe their scene, but are more likely to sell lots of books. Good example: J.K. Rowling. The "wordsmith" uses a strong command of language to convey emotion, like painting a portrait with words. They are more likely to win a literary award for their creative narrative, but risk slowing the plot down which doesn't work as well in today's immediate-gratification market. Good example: Ray Bradbury. If it's a new author I would be more strict about the storytelling elements because an accomplished author has an audience to give the book an extra push, and a synopsis can't give a proper example of wordsmithing anyway.

7.  With so many authors turning to self publishing, do you think the quality suffers because of a lack of sales pitch needed?

Quality is determined ultimately by the end reader, and the reader can only really speak for themselves.  The self-published author (who does all the publishing themselves – finds the printer, handles the book format, etc) and the vanity-published author (who pays a third-party press to do all that work) both skip the step where they have to sell it to a marketing professional who knows what sells. That is a risky decision, especially when the writer is paying for everything and will not likely recoup their investment, not to mention warehousing their inventory for years to come (although e-book publishing and POD is quickly overtaking the warehousing method for these types of publications). Instead, these authors have to put on their marketing hat without really knowing what sells well and try to sell to the end reader. Their target is inevitably going to prioritize the type of synopsis found on the cover copy on the back of the book, which is not the same style of synopsis. The cover copy has to tantalize the reader to find out more about the story, not tell them how it ends, whereas the synopsis to the publisher is the other way around.

8.  Any new projects you’d like to tell us about?

Most recently I have optioned a horror-comedy screenplay called FANG HUNTERS to an independent producer. On option is like a lease rather than sale. The producer "owns" the property for a period of time that allows them to budget the script and raise financing before deciding to put down the money to buy it. When the option runs out, the rights fall back to the screenwriter. This is how many, many movies get made, and a majority of them never get produced. The reality of the movie business. So while it's a cool milestone, it's just the first of many. Meanwhile, I have a handful of other screenplays on the market. And I'm working on a rewrite of a major space opera novel manuscript which almost sold to a major publisher, but ultimately it took well over a year for them to make a firm decision to move forward with it, and in that wait period I decided to withdraw my submission and break it into a trilogy of shorter novels rather than a really long one. I feel it will sell better this way. I hope to send that back into market again soon.

9.  Where can we find THE SYNOPSIS TREASURY?

The Synopsis Treasury is available to order in print from the usual sources, as well as in e-book. Kevin J Anderson also bundles it with his other writing instruction books via WordFire Press. Kevin J. Anderson and I will both be attending Dallas FanDays over the Memorial Day Weekend where signed copies will be on sale at Kevin's table.