DAVID MORRELL GOES ROGUE — ‘TIS THE SEASON: HOLIDAYS HAPPY & OTHERWISE
|David & some of his great novels
Gayle Lynds: It’s with delight Rogue Women welcome our friend and today’s guest blogger, iconic author David Morrell. David created the ground-breaking novel First Blood starring John Rambo, which became the basis of the highly successful Rambo franchise. A writer’s writer, David has won numerous awards and reached the heights of international bestsellerdom with some 30 novels over more than 40 years. His latest tale, the historical thriller Ruler of the Night, has been hailed as “fascinating” by Library Journal and “spectacular” by Publishers Weekly, in a starred review.
On a personal note, it’s been my pleasure to work with David for a dozen years on several projects, including co-founding International Thriller Writers. With David, it’s always a delight.
By David Morrell: With Thanksgiving almost here and a busy holiday season rapidly approaching afterward, I always feel a wave of unease. For some of you, I suspect it’s not unusual to feel this way. Family get-togethers can be nail-biters in terms of whether Uncle Joe will get angrily drunk again or whether Aunt Sally will again annoyingly complain about everything under the sun. Given that this year’s holidays occur after a U.S. presidential election, the chance of family arguments seems especially strong. And then there’s the anxiety of meeting the deadline for preparing get-togethers and buying presents and trying to fulfill expectations.
|David, age 1, with mother
But that’s not the unease I’m talking about. In my boyhood years, I can’t recall a holiday that wasn’t a disaster. My biological father died in combat shortly after I was born. My mother couldn’t stay employed as a seamstress and at the same time watch over me, so she eventually had to make the painful decision to put me in an orphanage.
This happened when I was two or three. After a year, my mother remarried, hoping that her new husband would serve as a father figure to me, but he turned out not to like children. Moreover, the two of them weren’t compatible and fought all the time. At night, fear often compelled me to sleep under my bed.
|David, age 3, with sled
On every holiday, my mother would spend a lot of time preparing a festive meal. But my stepfather always found a way to start a major fight just before the meal was served. His motive? He loved to gamble, and his unmarried brothers always had a card game around dinnertime on holidays. So my stepfather would pick a fight and storm out of the house. Then my mother would collapse in tears at the kitchen table, and the two of us would do our best to eat some of the holiday meal she’d prepared. Every holiday. Every year. You might say I was programmed to feel distressed about any holiday.
I have two takeaways from that story. The first is that as my mother wiped tears from her eyes and poked her fork at the cold chunks of turkey on her plate, she bemoaned her life and urged me to try to make a better one for myself. I can still see her telling me, not once, not twice, but on every holiday, “Just remember, David, you can be anything you want to be as long as you work hard enough.”
Of course, this isn’t true. We all know people who worked to the point of exhaustion throughout their lives and never got anywhere. Bad health. Bad luck. Wrong time. Wrong place. Stuff happens, and hard work isn’t a guarantee of success. But if we don’t work hard, we can’t create the opportunities that can possibly move us ahead. I’ve been a published author for 44 years, and that doesn’t count the years of trying to get published. I don’t think I would have lasted this long or managed to find an agent and a publisher in the first place if not for those bad times and my mother’s bitter refrain about trying harder.
|David Morrell today
My other takeaway is that if not for those holiday arguments between my mother and my stepfather, I might never have had anything to write about.
One of my themes is a young man looking for a father figure worthy of respect and seldom finding one. In part, that’s the point of First Blood
and the contest between Rambo and the police chief who’s old enough to be his father. It’s also the point of my espionage novel, The Brotherhood of the Rose
, in which two orphans are turned into killing machines by a father figure who pretends to love them but only manipulates them.
Those aren’t exactly holiday emotions, but as I explained, I was conditioned to feel stressed on days of celebration. Even so, my mood has possibly changed. My latest novel, a Victorian mystery/thriller called Ruler of the Night
, features another child/father relationship, but this time the tone is no longer bitter as I explore a loving relationship between a 22-year-old daughter and her elderly father.
Maybe I’m in a holiday mood, after all. If Uncle Joe gets drunk or Aunt Sally complains about everything during a holiday dinner, just tell yourself that things could be worse. Hey, it’s better to have a holiday than none at all.
David Morrell is an Edgar and Anthony finalist, an Inkpot, Macavity, Nero, and Stoker winner, and a recipient of ITW’s ThrillerMaster Award. Bouchercon gave him its Lifetime Achievement Award. Blending fact and fiction to an exceptional degree, Ruler of the Night focuses on an actual Victorian murder so startling that it changed the culture — in this case, the first murder on an English train. The murder’s brutality stoked fears that the newly invented railway would, as one newspaper predicted, “annihilate time and space.”
Do you have a favorite David Morrell book or story? Please share!