Category Archives: Books – thrillers

Crazy Japanese religious cults: how I got the idea for my first book

Today I thought about why I used the Japanese religious cult “Aum Shinrikyo” as the starting point for my first novel. My ex-wife and I stopped in Japan on our way back from Europe in 1985, and we visited Tokyo, Kyoto and Hiroshima. I loved the place. The train system was fantastic, the country was full of old temples with beautiful architecture, and it was easy to get around even though we didn’t know the language.

Kyoto in autumn, from Wikimedia Commons by Wikimedia user  FG2
Kyoto in autumn, from Wikimedia Commons by Wikimedia user FG2

In between about 1988 and 1997 l learned Japanese on-and-off in evening classes. My ex- and I started home-hosting Japanese visitors and Japanese students from nearby La Trobe University. In 1989 and in 1994, I visited again, only this time on my own. I stayed with Japanese friends.

The year after my 1994 visit, the Japanese religious cult Aum Shinrikyo released Sarin nerve gas in the Tokyo subway system. This event was a major shock to the Japanese people. They were not used to domestic terrorist groups engaging in mass killings in Japan. Soon everyone wanted to know: who are these people? The name Aum Shinrikyo means “Supreme Truth.” Their leader, Shoko Asahara, preached a mixture of Yoga, Christianity, Buddhism, and Nostradamus. He believed the end of the world was near. Don’t they all? He declared himself to be Jesus Christ. He used LSD and electric shock therapy on the group’s followers. Some were murdered.  Shoko was also big on conspiracy theories involving the Freemasons, the British Royal Family and the Jewish people. Yep, they were crazy as batshit. But the group had made a point of enrolling students from some of Japan’s top universities. They promoted themselves as the religion for the intellectual elite. After the gas attacks, Shoko and many of his followers were arrested.

When I stated my novel in the mid-1990s, I had a vague idea about a religious group mounting an attack on something in Australia. I asked: what if some of Shoko’s followers evaded arrest, invented a genetically modified virus, and threaten to release it at an international sporting event in Melbourne Australia. I invented a mini-Olympic Games that I called the “Pacific Games.” Setting the book in my own city seemed a pretty obvious thing to do. I could write scenes in Melbourne, and I had learned enough about Aum to visualize what they would do.

Sometimes I look at other writers and ask, “How did they get their idea?” How did Philip Hose Farmer get the idea to write Jesus  on Mars? (You guessed it: Earth detects some ancient Greek letters carved on a doorway into a mountain on Mars. They go inside and who do they find? Jesus and a bunch of guys following first century Judaism. I won’t spoil the plot.)

So, what’s the most unusual story idea you’ve seen in a book, and where do you think it came from?

I’d love to hear from you.

Note: this is my blog site.   For information about editing an academic thesis, click here.

My novel Fire Damage, an action thriller, is available on Amazon Kindle, here : the novel is based on the Japanese religious cult Aum Shinrikyo, which released Sarin nerve gas in the Tokyo subway system in the 1990s. If you don’t have a Kindle, you can download the app to read it on your computer or phone from here. For the paperback version, click here.

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Your TV is spying on you: Big Brother is coming

1984

Here are a few strange things I came across this week.

US company Verizon has applied for a patent  for a device that would allow a TV to monitor people in their living rooms, picking up sounds,  telling whether the occupants  are children or  adults, and whether they are having an argument. If it detected an argument, it might then should an advert for marriage counselling. If it detected the sound of gym equipment being used, it might show ads for fitness equipment or personal trainers.

The device would also be able to recognize the skin tone and guess the race of the person watching the TV. In the novel 1984, the government watched everybody through their telescreens in the name of Big Brother. If we thought Facebook and other computer applications were playing ‘big brother’ when they keep track of which websites we visit, so they can target ads to us, we haven’t seen anything yet.

Ellen DeGeneres told us Bic had a new line of “pens for women.” Seriously? The pens are supposedly designed to fit a ‘female hand,’ whatever that means.  They come in pink and mauve. I wonder who in the company thought this was a good idea. De Generes sends it up with a mock ad which is amusing.

A sixteen-year-old Norwegian kid downloaded an app onto his smart phone that mimicked the sounds made by dying rabbits. (The app was intended for people hunting foxes.) He and a friend thought it would be funny to put the phone in the middle of the road to see what happened. They did. A fox came, sniffed and nipped the phone, then picked it up in its mouth and made off with it. There’s a video here. The kid didn’t get his phone back.

If you stay on the page after the fox video, you can also see a video of an Albino Echidna, ( more or less an Australian hedgehog.) The commentary is in Swedish, but there’s an English explanation here .

Finally, a man  in Australia, was charged with cruelty to an animal (among other things) after he bit a police dog, which bit him back. The man had been arrested for breaching a restraining order, and began kicking the cage in the back of the police van. When police attempted to move him to another vehicle, he kicked and bit a police dog. The dog bit back, and the guy required stiches in his arm.

Does anybody have any strange news items they’ve come across? And how do you feel about  your TV set detecting your race, age gender, based on being able to recognize skin tones and voice types.  Is this going too far?

How many characters spoil the plot?

Last night I saw Prometheus, the supposed prequel to 1973 film Alien, with Sigourney Weaver. Frankly, the plot didn’t impress me, and the film suffered from what I suspect is a common fault in films and books: too many “main” characters. It becomes difficult to emotionally identify with any one character. I felt no real identification with any of the on-screen characters in Prometheus. When I think back over some of the best films, there are usually one or two, maybe three main characters, but that’s the limit. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoohas Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist.

Poster for 1984, from Wikipedia

Catch 22 has Captain Yossarian. We see the other characters, but none of them gets even remotely equal time with Yossarian.  George Orwell’s 1984 has Winston Smith. As best I recall we never see his lover, Julia, nor his torturer, O’Brien, without him. As a result, we are totally invested in Winston. Even though Harry Potter has Hermione, Ron, Dumbledore, and Snape, we know who the main character is. (And Rowling had the advantage of seven books over which to tell her story.) Steel Magnolias had half a dozen, but we are mostly invested in Julia Roberts, as Shelby, who is diabetic, not expected to be able to carry a child, and becomes pregnant anyway. She needs a kidney transplant, gets it, it fails, and finally she has to be disconnected from life support.

In order for me to be invested in the fate of a character, they need to be centre-front. They need to have a problem I can identify with.

So what about you? Do too many characters make it hard for you to get invested in a film or book? What’s your limit? what do you prefer? when you think about the films you thought were “best” films, how many lead characters did they have?

(On an unrelated topic, Piper Bayard and Holmes have an interesting article on spy ships between WWI and WWII. at Piperbayard.wordpress.com)

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My novel ‘Fire Damage,’ an action thriller, is available on Amazon Kindle, at:
The novel is based on the Japanese religious cult Aum Shinrikyo, which released Sarin nerve gas in the Tokyo subway system in the 1990s. If you don’t have a Kindle, you can download the app to read it on your computer or phone from here:

Knowing you could have prevented your sister’s death.

Today I released my new novel, Fire Damage, on Amazon Kindle.

How do you get over knowing that you could have prevented your sister’s murder?
Cameron Oakwood is an intelligence analyst whose sister and nephew were killed in a car bomb explosion outside a politician’s office.  Cameron knew terrorists had made death threats against the politician. His family blames him for not warning his sister to stay away from that building. The case was never solved. Three years after her death, his family has cut him off. Consumed by guilt, Cameron obsessively re-reads documents he has hoarded to do with the case. He is becoming addicted to alcohol and tranquilizers.
Cameron is assigned to work with FBI agent Jodie Finch on threat by a Japanese doomsday cult to release a genetically engineered virus at an international sporting event in Melbourne, Australia. She is attracted to his intelligence, his humor and his honesty, but she worries about his addictions and his obsessions about his sister’s death. She wonders if he is ready for a new relationship.
As they work together, the terrorists take hostages to a remote country house in the path of oncoming forest fires. Cameron and Jodie have only hours left to prevent the biological attack. As they  race to rescue the hostages, they make a stunning discovery about the identity of the bomb maker who killed Cameron’s sister. But they make their discovery in the most frightening possible circumstances, when all their lives hang in the balance.

If you’d like to visit the site, and possibly buy a copy, you can see it here.  If you want to down the kindle app to read kindle books on your computer, you can get it here.