by | Nov 16, 2016 | Extraordinary Guest Bloggers | 8 comments

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!

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  1. S. Lee Manning

    David, thank you. Your thoughtful post certainly puts the post-dinner political arguing of many families into perspective. What a testament to your strength. I'm looking forward to reading your new book.

  2. KJ Howe

    David, you continually inspire me with your hard work, dedication to helping others, and professionalism. Holidays can be tough because of all the unrealistic expectations, but it's really about perspective, as you so eloquently point out. If we're healthy and pursuing our dreams, then we must be grateful for what we have instead of bemoaning what we don't have. I'm thankful for you joining us today and for you sharing your wisdom with us. Happy Thanksgiving!

  3. Jamie Freveletti

    David-great to see you here! And thank you for your poignant story. To have a mother who perseveres through broken dreams and still manages to give her son a message of hope that he can do anything is a gift. And congratulations on yesterday's launch of RULER OF THE NIGHT! Like that it's based in the Victorian era and weaves fact and fiction, so it will appeal to those who love history as well. Can't wait to read it. Thank you for the heartfelt and moving post.

  4. Karna Bodman

    Oh David, what an incredible childhood with troubled Holiday memories….and yet you turned out to be one fabulous author who was able to examine those experiences and create characters and stories that not only intrigued and entertained your readers, but perhaps ended up as a type of catharsis for those years. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts. I recommend your wonderful novels to many friends — we are so pleased to have you as our guest here!

  5. Gayle Lynds

    You are inspirational, David, and all of us love your books!

  6. Chris Goff

    Thank you for posting, David. I find it fascinating how the father/son or father/daughter themes have worked their way into your novels as a reflection or therapy for the past. Recently I've started looking at some of my own writing and some of my friends writing to see what themes are always there. For example, I have one friend who always seems to have a five year-old child in some sort of peril and a mother who saves her somewhere in the story. I remember asking her recently if something happened to her when she was five and low and behold, something had happened that threatened the safety of someone her age in her small town. The funny thing is, she hadn't really realized how much that effected her and how often she circled back to that theme. As for me…a dear friend once snapped at me, "You're too white bread" to write whatever it was I was attempting to write. I was a little taken aback, but then I got what he meant. My family was "Leave it to Beaver-ish." An only child, I was the golden girl who could do no wrong. My parents had a solid relationship and were solidly middle-class/upper middle-class. I just sort of sailed through my early life. I began to think I was doomed as a writer, but then I realized something. We all have baggage! Sometimes it's more apparent and overt, but all of us have things to say from a perspective only we can own. David, your stories have touched me over the years. I love your new series and the way you've reinvented yourself over the years to stay on top of your game. I like it even more as I learn more and more of your backstory. Thanks for sharing this slice with us! See you at the Alamo!

  7. Francine Mathews

    I would guess that most enduring and successful writers tap a deep well of personal pain in telling their stories. All of us read in order to understand how to live. Thanks for inspiring us, David.

  8. Unknown

    Hi, everyone. I was on tour for RULER OF THE NIGHT when this blog was posted. I'd have responded to your comments sooner, but I was away from my computer and had to rely on my Phone, which somehow would;t let me respond to each of you individually. Anyway, I'm home for a few days and type this message. Gale and I debated about whether my little essay was too dour, but we finally concluded that its counter-holiday tonight actually be appealing because it was unusual. When I was growing up, I honestly had no idea that my life (the orphanage,a Mennonite farm that I didn't mention, and hiding under the bed) was unusual. I thought every kid grew up that way. Ha. Thanks for your warm-hearted responses.