The Sloppy Art of Survival | Excerpt from Broken Slate

In real life, impulsiveness is a more genuine reaction to adversity than calm, rational thinking.

I’ve mentioned in a number of interviews over the years that I wasn’t a big fan of novels when I was a kid. In fact, I wasn’t much of a pleasure-reader at all. If one of my teachers wasn’t assigning me a book to read, I wasn’t inclined to pick one up. And when I was required to open my mind to literature, I’d have some serious trouble maintaining interest in the story.

There was one memorable exception, however.

In junior high, my Language Arts teacher instructed her students to choose a novel from a large classroom bookcase. It was filled with thin, age-appropriate paperbacks. When it was my turn to thumb through the selection (which I remember doing with great disinterest), a particular cover stuck out to me. It featured the image of an old Jeep, seemingly abandoned along a cracked desert floor. In the foreground was a canteen and hunting rifle. It screamed intrigue.

Deathwatch by Robb White (1972)

“Deathwatch” the title read in a bold, red, military-style font.

Of course, you’re not supposed to judge a book by it’s cover, but that’s exactly what I did that day. And for that act of personal shallowness, I am forever grateful. The 1972 novel by author Robb White drew me into a gritty tale of survival that I’ve never forgotten.

The story revolves around a timid, financially broke college student named Ben, who is hired as a hunting guide by a wealthy lawyer named Madec. Madec has received a special permit to hunt bighorn sheep in the Mojave Desert, and Ben (who has some desert experience as a geology major) is there to assist him.

Things go south pretty quickly when Madec shoots and kills an old prospector, mistaking him (at a distance) for a sheep. Ben is adamant that they report the shooting, but Madec, fearful over the legal ramifications, decides otherwise. When he realizes that Ben won’t be detoured, Madec concocts a story that Ben went crazy, shot the prospector, and then ran off. And to make the story stick, Madec forces Ben (at gunpoint) to strip down to his shorts, and walk out into the desert, without water, where he is sure to die of exposure. Madec keeps an eye on him through the scope of his rifle to make sure he doesn’t return.

Robb White did an excellent job of telling this story of survival through the eyes of Ben — a character whose innocence, ill-preparedness, and raw desperation are easily identified with by the reader. We’re right there beside Ben, making the same mistakes under terrible circumstances, as he clumsily and savagely fights to stay alive.

As a thriller author, I try hard to develop that same sense of sloppy survival in my work. To me, a protagonist that is in control and comes into situations with an edge over his or her adversaries isn’t quite as interesting…or quite as real.

In real life, impulsiveness is a more genuine reaction to adversity than calm, rational thinking.

Below is an excerpt from an action scene in my new Sean Coleman thriller, Broken Slate. Enjoy!

The board was too big and heavy to use as an effective weapon, and the thought of pulling it over the top of their bodies to hide behind lasted only seconds.

The beam of light bounced off of something reflective just above the mound of sand providing Jack’s only cover—another empty beer bottle. A small crab poked at its lip with its pincher.

When the light left the bottle, Jack grabbed its neck. When he sensed his pursuer was within a few feet, the man’s trudging steps steady and unaware, he lunged to his knees with a snarl and threw the bottle like a battle-axe directly at the man’s face.

The bottle exploded on impact and the flashlight fell to the ground. The man wobbled backwards, clutching his nose. Jack tackled him to the sand before he could get off a shot. He blindly punched the man’s face and gouged what he thought were the man’s eyes, and then kneed his groin. The man doubled over and Jack struck his head with fist after fist. The man became limp, sagging to the sand.

Jack’s fingers traced the man’s left arm up to his hand, then did the same with his right. The gun was in neither. He found the flashlight and lit up the small section of beach around his body, searching the sand. The gun was nowhere. “Shit!”

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