[Suggestions, observations, and advice, writing as Ben Leiter]

A thank-you note to Dennis Lehane for his book Moonlight Mile.

Mr. Lehane, please excuse my previous ignorance of the quality of your work. The dialogue and plot were as rich as Gone Girl. Of course, I fell in love with your protagonist which you had already planned for every reader to do.

I think I know how you did it: the protagonist is flawed; he is constantly in trouble; he tries to do right by his wife, and he is wicked in love with his little daughter.

So, after I bonded with your hero, and then the Boston Russian mob threatened his family — you had my undivided attention. Great plot twists and turns.

A thriller, through and through.

Maybe my contempt for the Russian mob and other mobs stems from my previous career?



[Suggestions, observations, and advice, writing as Ben Leiter]

I’ve always liked Amy Tan ever since I stumbled on her Joy Luck Club years ago.
Amy said, about her writing, “In real life, I had hundreds of moments of self-doubt. I deleted hundreds of pages from my computer’s memory.”
“As a beginning writer, I was still trying to figure out what qualified as a proper short story versus a prose poem, an anecdote, a character piece, a novella. I actually thought there were agreed-upon answers to questions like these: What is voice? What is story? How should characters develop?”
“ . . . the prose I like is such that everything is there for a reason — every word, every image, every bit of dialogue is needed . . . ”


There is an open, never-ending challenge to writing. But, I think you are best advised to keep your day job.

 One of the best books on writing is Stephen King’s book — ON WRITING. He presents practical, clear-eyed, harsh advice in his usual inimitable style. Delightful read.

Kurt Vonnegut said something to the effect that if you really really want to upset your parents, then tell them you want to go into the arts.

CHECK OUT LIBBY; new at the party

Feel like I’m always late to the party; or don’t get invited; or don’t care: I’m talking about technology. But this time, I knew something about tech that my daughter didn’t.


Available as an app through the Stockton public library. If you have a library card, you can borrow audio books for free for up to 21 days; no fines or late fees. It just electronically disappears.

What’s good—the free audio books go to your hard drive on your iPhone (I now have an iPhone, having turned in my 10 yo flip phone), or computer, or Ipad. No need to use those internet “minutes” or stay connected.

Right now, I have on my audio LIBBY bookshelf:
Astrophysics for People in a Hurry ( by Neil DeGrasse Tyson)
A Man Called Ove (by Fredrik Backman–I thought it would be by a guy named “Ove”?)
The Late Show ( by Michael Connelly)

What also works well for me, is they have 5-minute audio samples– lets me listen to various literary styles/techniques/tones to keep the boys in the basement sharp (that’s a literary reference to the “writing subconscious”).

Tyson let me down though, last night. I was using him to put me to sleep at 3 a.m. Instead, my head filled up with photons, and electrons, and leptons which interfered with my neurons.

Write On!

Critique Groups

I second H’s motion.
The harsh, unremitting, blistering, flaying, take-no-prisoners, in-your-face, critiques of my work–sensitively, kindly, and thoughtfully delivered have been invaluable to me. [Sunglasses]
We also need to meet to remind ourselves that we’re not crazy–we’re writers!

writing as Ben Leiter


I hope no one gets distressed by the occasional cancellation. Summer can be difficult. This group is too effective not to thrive. It has been enormously helpful in my writing. I will have a new manuscript in progress next week and will look forward to a great critique.



On Jul 31, 2018,  Ben Leiter wrote:

Hi folks,
Based on response, I am canceling the meeting for tonite.
Only had 1 fer-sure; and two maybes.
We’ll try for next week.

Write On!

SCREENWRITING–advice to a cousin

E-mail response to a request:

Hey, cousin, here’s a response to your question about screenwriting technique-books, courtesy of Harlan Hague. Harlan is an award-winning writer of westerns. I’ve read his stuff and like it, especially IF I SHOULD DIE.

I have SAVE THE CAT. It is considered a classic. Easy to read for you, but unfortunately, the only cartoon is on the cover. [Stuck out tongue winking eye]

My suggestions:
*Go to Amazon and buy all three books used. The cost of the book can be less than the postage.
*Start watching/listening to you-tube videos on screenwriting while you are doing your daily pumping-iron routines.
*Get Neil Simon screenplays from the library.
*Check out to see if you can get LIBBY. It’s a free audiobook download (bestsellers, etc.) available through some libraries if you have a library card. Once downloaded, you do not need the internet to listen. You have the audiobook for a set time and it automatically expires. No fines.
*Since you are Irish and may have screenwriting interests, it is a mandatory requirement that you master ULYSSES by James Joyce and memorize the first 100 lines. There will be a test. A representative from the Irish Republic will schedule you when you are ready.

Actually, I think you might do well. Screenplays, in my opinion, are more action and dialogue-oriented/dependent than my stuff which explores the nature of man and the cosmos. Lots of exploring–no answers. Also, I think your stuff would sell.
[Thanks for the followup on the books, Harlan. I would like to borrow the books and look through them. I already have SAVE THE CAT.]

Write On!


Recommended screenwriting books from Harlan Hague:

Here are some standards on screenwriting basics:

Save the Cat, by Blake Snyder
Screenwriting, by Richard Walter
Screenplay, by Syd Field


THE FORCE– by Don Winslow—book report, part 2

Okay, I ventured back into this book two days later, at the mid-point, after taking a break to catch my literary breath. Just too much coming at me. Winslow doesn’t stop.

The famous writer, Tom Wolfe said, “The goal is to penetrate into the central nervous system of the characters.”

Winslow receives a straight A report card on character development. I still love Detective Sergeant Denny Malone, despite his breaking the law, keeping money and dope, and having a Black mistress on the side. I don’t object to the “Black” part, but the “mistress” part.

Denny knows it’ a jungle because he thinks —And we didn’t become kings because our daddies were—we took our crowns the hard way, like the old warriors who fought their way to the throne with nicked swords and dented armor and wounds and scars. We started on these streets with guns and nightsticks and fists and nerve and guts and brains and balls . . . If the world played fair, he’d play fair.

Editors advise thriller writers to throw their protagonists into deep doo-doo, and then make it worse. Let them work their way out, and then toss them into really deep doo-doo. 
 Well, Winslow excels. Denny Malone has more trouble than even an Irish hero-cop can handle.

“Which certain people?” Malone asks. “Who’s coming after me?”
“Everyone,” Chandler says.
Right, Malone thinks—Castillo, the Ciminos, Torres’s team, Sykes, IAB, the feds . . . City Hall.
Yeah, that’s about everyone.

Our beloved Malone—I can’t see any way out for him—then, there’s a little light. Let’s just say the body count climbs pretty high. If you want to keep a totally accurate count, buy a calculator, and then look into your own soul, if you find yourself judging Denny.  I know he’s wrong, but . . .

Maybe you wouldn’t make the same choices, but then maybe you wouldn’t be the king of Northern Manhattan.

I think I’ll leave the moral verdicts to someone else on this.



Count me a great big fan of Don Winslow’s novels. Cartel blew me away with its horrific storyline on the present-day Mexican cartels, their uncontrolled, unimaginable violence, and their corruption of all levels of government. 

Winslow’s book dedication, listing 131 journalists murdered by the cartels, sent its own message before I started page one.

Right now, I’m in the middle of his recent novel, The Force, about the NYPD, and the high profile Manhattan North Special Task Force. The author set the tone again, before page one, this time listing three pages—small type—of all the police personnel killed in the line of duty, during the time he was writing the book.

So, thanks to Winslow’s compelling writing style I’m already in Detective Dennis Malone’s corner, the book’s protagonist. He wants to protect his fellow cops, his family, his city. Maybe I have some wanna-be cop since I’m carrying Irish Catholic DNA like Denny. He madly loves his kids, too.

Sure, Denny and his police crew cut corners to put bad guys away, real bad dudes. And if you’re a perp and you run, they’ll beat on you. 

You don’t shoot at cops, ‘cause they’re the good guys and you may get shot and the ambulance is late, like “wait-till-I-finish-this-cigarette-slow.”

Maybe Denny and his crew confiscate illicit greenbacks and dope and don’t turn it all into the evidence room. They need their personal resources—in hidden accounts the feds can’t find— enough put away for an emergency attorney or to make a run.  

Here’s a taste of Winslow:

All he’s seen, Malone isn’t a big fan of God and figures the feeling is mutual. He has a lot of questions he’d like to ask him, but if he ever got him in the room, God’d probably shut his mouth, lawyer up, let his own kid take the jolt.

. . .This was the fourth girl this animal had done, and every cop in the Three-Two was looking for him. 

The Haitians got there before the cops did, found the perp still on the rooftop and tossed him off into the alley.

Malone and his then partner caught the call and walked into the alley where Rocky the Non-Flying Squirrel was lying in a spreading pool of his own blood, with most of the bones in his body broken because nine floors is a long way to fall . . . 

The cops feel for the Vics and hate the perps, but they can’t feel too much or they can’t do their jobs and they can’t hate too much or they’ll become the perps. So they develop a shell, a “we hate everybody” attitude force field around themselves that everyone can feel from ten feet away.

You gotta have it, Malone knows, or this job kills you, physically or psychologically. Or both. 

The feds come after our hero, Detective Sergeant Denny Malone. They want him to flip. He refuses. He’s totally not a rat. Then, he agrees to give up several corrupt Assistant District Attorneys. Denny’s troubled, but he never liked the legal beagles anyhow.  He knows, no matter how he spins it—he is a rat. But no way, no how, will he give up cops.

And now the federal task force wants dirty cops and Denny needs to deliver. 

Winslow has done such a superb job at this point in capturing the reader, I mean, we understand the mean streets Denny has to own and without his thin blue line, rules be damned, we’re all at risk, aren’t we? 

Screw “probable cause.”

Planting a gun on a really bad hombre? No biggie. 

Except that Winslow’s expert writing ensnares us again. Our protagonist runs out of self-rationalizing room. And we realize that Denny, truly a hero cop, is corrupt. The sheepdog has turned wolf too many times. We like Denny and think we understand Denny, but . . . 

So, at this point, at 1:30 a.m. PCT, I wasn’t feeling good about my man, Denny, and his options—couldn’t see any way out, and neither could Denny, so I had to turn the lights out, half-way through the book, and hope for sleep.

It’s been two days. I guess I’m ready to go back in and see how Denny is doing. I’m nervous and I’m concerned because I never get the feeling that Winslow specializes in happy endings. He’s too busy writing what’s really going on.

By the way, Winslow’s writing in The Cartel, so horrifically accurate, triggered word on the street that Winslow better start looking over his shoulder. I love the guy. 



[Suggestions, observations, and advice, writing as Ben Leiter]

In thrillers, always keep the reader on the edge, never let them relax. 

There are all kinds of thrillers: the usual spy-thriller, action-adventure thrillers; police thrillers; romantic thrillers; military thrillers; legal thrillers; and the list goes on.

I think I did this in my last book, BETRAYAL OF FATHER GARZA, more than my others, but did I do it enough, or is the thrill gone?

AFTERLIFE: Eben Alexander vs. Woody Allen

LEITER WRITING TIPS #4 — AFTERLIFE: Eben Alexander vs. Woody Allen
[Suggestions, observations, and advice, writing as Ben Leiter]

from PROOF OF HEAVEN by Dr. Eben Alexander, who experienced a significant near-death experience:
[“And particles are made up of …Well, quite frankly, physicists don’t really know. But one thing we do know about particles is that each one is connected to every other one in the universe. They are all, at the deepest level, interconnected.”
“This other, vastly grander universe isn’t ‘far away’ at all. In fact, it’s right here — right here where I am, typing this sentence, and right there where you are, reading it. It’s not far away physically but simply exists on a different frequency. It’s right here, right now, but we’re unaware of it because we are for the most part closed to those frequencies on which it manifests. We live in the dimensions of familiar space and time, hemmed in by the peculiar limitations of our sensory organs and by our perceptual scaling within the spectrum from subatomic quantum up through the entire universe. Those dimensions, while they have many things going for them, also shut us out from the other dimensions that exist as well.”
“The universe has no beginning or end, and God is entirely present within every particle of it.”]

But Woody Allen says: “I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work. I want to achieve it through not dying. I don’t want to live on in the hearts of my countrymen. I would rather live in my apartment.