Friday, December 24, 2004

Books For Soldiers and More

This holiday slideshow of American troops abroad was sent to me by a soldier buddy of mine. I found it gave me a good perspective shift as we enter the holidays:

Regardless of politics, I think most people support the troops on the ground and wish for their safe return. We have a few opportunities this holiday season to make the soldiers' time in the Middle East a little easier, and to provide resources for Iraqi children.

Send a book or two at:

As you know, many of the soldiers are getting by short on equipment and necessities. The Wounded Warrior project, at is great - they let you send backpacks filled with everything from T-shirt to razors.

This organization, sponsored by actor Gary Sinise and Seabiscuit author Laura Hillenbrand, provides soldiers and volunteers the resources to reach out to the Iraqi people by building schools and providing learning supplies:

Fisher House helps build homes near hospitals so family members can stay close to injured soldiers after their return to the United States:

We're pretty goddamned lucky over here, and I think it's worth taking a minute to send something to those people—Iraqis and Americans—whose lives are at risk every minute of every day.

Have a great holiday season.


Friday, December 17, 2004

Updike's Got the Right Idea

So a few days after my last post, I read this article (below) about what Mr. Updike decided to do with his book overload problem. Seems a rather clever solution. It would be pretty great to buy a novel with John Updike's thoughts in the margins. I've long wondered what people would think if they came upon a book I used for research. I've scrawled many an idea in the margins of poison textbooks, CSI sourcebooks, and explosives manuals and I firmly believe that if a secondhand reader came across some of those notions in the course of their reading, it might keep them up nights. But I suppose that's my job anyways....


Author John Updike Sheds Old Books

By The Associated Press

MANCHESTER-BY-THE-SEA, Mass. - John Updike, like many a good book-lover, found the cellar of his house and shelves in his barn were being overrun with books he and his wife have collected over the years.

"They were just collecting dust and mouse droppings," the author told The Boston Globe in Friday's edition.

Their solution? Find someone who would pay for the used books, and haul them away.

"I'm at an age when you think about lightening your load, rather than dumping it on your heirs," said Updike, 72, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner.

Mark Stolle, owner of Manchester by the Book store, bought Updike's collection. But not all of them will be re-sold cheaply.

In some of the books' margins are handwritten questions and analogies from the novelist and essayist — writings that Updike called his "scribblings." Those editions will go for between $200 and $1,000.

Updike, who counts himself a supporter of independent bookstores, doesn't mind that Stolle is making a profit.

"If he's able to make a few dollars on a few of the review copies scattered in there, all the better. He paid a fair price."

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

The Book-Space Continuum

One of the great advantages to being a writer is that you collect books in an accelerated fashion. Before I was published, I used to get books all the time as gifts and from fellow readers who passed along their “must-reads,” knowing I loved nothing more than to dig into a good narrative. When I sold The Tower to Simon & Schuster and paid my first visit to that great, gray building, I couldn’t believe it when my editor waved a hand at wall after wall of filled bookcases and said, “You can pick anything you want and take it with you.” I took a collection of Hemingway short stories, F Scott Fitzgerald letters, two anthologies, a host of thrillers, two science books, and a dictionary (I think he was expecting me to grab a paperback or two for the plane ride home, but he didn’t know who he was dealing with—a days-from-zero-bank-account-balance twenty-two year old). Since then books arrive, blissfully, in fours and fives, sometimes in tens. Galleys for blurbs, packages from agents and lawyers, sets from fellow authors, filled bags from bookseller events. It’s like heaven. The only problem is, the "to-be-read" stack, which used to maintain itself, by some ratio, to the “read” stack, is wholly out of control (I've had to start feeding it). I finally realized I don’t have to save and read EVERY book I’m given, so if something’s outside of my range of interest (which is a damn wide range), after much deliberation, I’ll part with it, but only if I can find it a happy home. After all, you can't just entrust a book to anybody. They’re like puppies, my books, and they keep breeding. I just built in wall-to-wall bookshelves in the biggest room in my house, thinking that would buy me and my wife some relief from the mounds rising from the floor, but to our chagrin, the shelves were almost immediately filled. And the books keep pouring in in gobs. And my friends keep writing them.

If you’ve got to have problems, though, I suppose this ain’t a bad one.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

David Montgomery's Author, Blogger, and Reviewer Best Fiction List for 2004

Prominent reviewer David Montgomery polled 50 authors, journalists, and fans, asking them to name their favorite five books they read in the year 2004. The list includes Laurence Block, Michael Connelly, Robert Crais, Harley Jane Kozak, Lee Child, Barry Eisler, Robert Ferrigno, Lee Goldberg, Denise Hamilton, Terrill Lee Lankford, David Morrell, T Jefferson Parker, George Pelecanos, Thomas Perry, Scott Phillips, Gary Phillips and dozens more—not to mention yours truly. It's quite a list and a good chance to see what the writers are reading. And the bloggers and reviewers.

I must confess I left out one of my favorites: Olivia...and the Missing Toy.

The link to the Mystery Ink article is:

Thursday, December 02, 2004

The Source Code

I was flipping through some of TD's old journals the other day, and I came upon his notes enumerating several axioms which later evolved into the Program's Source Code. For those of you who've yet to Get With the Program, here's a starter course....

But please remember, mind control is a dangerous business. Do not try this at home.


1. Take sole responsibility for your life. You alone cause all outcomes in your life.
2. Delete your Old Programming. Your Old Programming is everything your family and society has downloaded into you that you’ve never considered critically. Your Old Programming is the part of your past that’s holding you back.
3. Overwrite your Old Programming with the Program. You can always recover your Old Programming. It’s in the trash. You can always recover points from it and use them again.
4. Maximize your growth by minimizing your negativity, especially about the Program
5. Reject victimhood. Reject actions to please, to gratify, to ingratiate.
6. Your behavior should be for you. Nothing is more useless than behavior intended to ingratiate yourself to others. It is the epitome of powerlessness.
7. Exalt strength, not comfort.
8. Strive for fulfillment, not happiness.
9. Get with the Program.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Tell Me This Isn't a Charles Willeford Story....(or a Scott Phillips)

Here's my favorite news story of the year: the essence of dark noir....

A 13-year old Virginia Beach boy is being held at the Virginia Beach Detention Center after police say he abducted an exotic dancer last Tuesday night.

According to officials, the dancer showed up at a pre-arranged appointment at a residence - subsequently discovered to be vacant - in the 700 block of South Rosemont Road around 6:30pm.

The woman noticed the client was a juvenile, but was told that the contract was for his older brother. Police say the woman waited for a while, but no one else showed up.

Authorities say when the woman eventually tried to leave the residence, she was stopped by the juvenile who pointed a shotgun at her and ordered her to dance.

The dancer diverted the boy's attention and tried to dial 911 on her cell phone. According to police, the juvenile then grabbed the phone. During the struggle, the woman bit the boy's hand and was able to break free and run to her car.

Police say their investigation identified the suspect, and also led them to believe that another juvenile was involved in the plan to abduct the dancer. Investigators are working on identifying the second suspect.

The initial 13-year old suspect was arrested Thursday. He is charged with abduction by force, conspiracy, use of a firearm in the commission of a felony, brandishing a firearm, and transporting and possessing an assault firearm at age 13.

Friday, November 19, 2004

Tony Scott Goes Small Time on

Amazon continues its push into popular culture with a series of five commissioned short films from major directors for the holiday season. Tony Scott has directed the first ( in his trademark quick-cut, jacked-pacing, mosaic-action style. In some ways, the ironic subject matter provides a clearer window into his tremendous talent than even his feature work because we already EXPECT his features to be riveting. With Agent Orange, you feel the stakes are Enemy-of-the-State high, when in fact, they're as low as a dropped goldfish (this is a reference, not a poor simile...actually, it's both). But Scott commands your attention and modulates your emotions nonetheless. It's a small piece of work to which Scott lends his big-time directoral trademarks.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Andrew Lloyd Webber (and me!) on Adaptations

The film version of The Phantom of the Opera screened this evening at the Writer’s Guild, with Joel Schumacher and Andrew Lloyd Webber in conversation afterward (interviewed by JJ Abrams of Armageddon/Alias/Felicity fame). What I found most interesting was Webber’s reasoning for why he chose the material in the first place. He said he found the original book “confused” and that in choosing material that is imperfect, he finds more inspiration in terms of what he wants to bring to a story. This seems to make perfect sense to me—and in fact, it’s why I’m always puzzled when brilliant movies (Psycho, Stepford Wives) are remade. It’s often been said that only bad movies should be remade. As for material for adaptation, I know that when I have my screenwriter glasses on, I’d prefer a book with a good, yet underdeveloped premise to a book that’s perfect that I need merely to transcribe into a new format. I just don’t know what I’d add to the equation adapting, say, Elmore Leonard. I’d feel like a typist. That is, unless I was able to bring an entirely new sensibility to brilliant subject matter, as Baz Luhrmann did with Romeo & Juliet. Adapting my own work seems different—with The Kill Clause, it felt great being in control (however briefly) of the decision-making process as to which scenes to keep and which to cut, and as to deciding how to steer the story along. I felt as if I had the pick of the litter for every scene—I could select my favorite few moments or lines and build the script scene around those.

Schumacher pointed out that he drew a distinction in the film (which is more sexual than the stage version—lots of heaving bosoms and white stockings) between Christine’s innocent first love with Raoul and her more sexual attraction to the Phantom. I’ve always found the Phantom most compelling when interpreted as a personification of Christine’s enmeshment with her deceased father—an enmeshment she must shed in order to enter into an adult love affair. Either way, I agree with Lord Webber’s assessment that the original story is a confused one. “It couldn’t figure out what it wanted to be,” he said. “Part horror, part mystery, and part drama.” When he found the romance at the core, he said, he found his way to the heart of the story he wanted to write. I guess at the end of the day, that’s what we’re all trying to do when we sit down and stare at the blank page.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

SCBA and High Speed Pursuits

Terrill Lee Lankford, my favorite irritable writer pal (my nickname for him, due to the twisted brand of advice he offers, is Uncle Evil), wrote the account below of our nearly doomed outing to the Southern California Booksellers Association award banquet. He was nominated for his latest, EARTHQUAKE WEATHER - a great, highly irreverent take on Hollywood.

As for our clown-car scene, when six of us were crammed in my tiny car, Kim-From-LA's legs-from-LA sticking out the window and Jeff Parker shaking his head with amusement, well, Terrill was good enough to hop out and take some photos. So if you're good and write him, maybe he'll post them on his site.
by Terrill Lee Lankford

In the most stunning upset since last Tuesday, Edward Wright ran off with the Southern California Booksellers Association prize for Best Mystery of 2004 for his novel WHILE I DISAPPEAR at the gala awards event thrown down in Long Beach Saturday Night. Paula Woods, Denise Hamilton, Jacqueline Winspear and I had to console ourselves with good company and lots of drinks. I had my speech all prepared - and I got to use it. It went like this: "It was an honor just to be nominated." I've been practicing that speech since I found out my book had been selected as a nominee back in August. It was rolling off the tongue very easily after three months of practice.

You may be wondering how the SCBA knows what the Best Mystery of 2004 is when we're still in November, so I'll tell you a bit about how it works. The nominations come in from all the members of the SCBA - independent booksellers in Southern California - and the time frame is actually for books released between July 1 of 2003 and June 30, 2004. So all the books released after July 1, 2004 will qualify for best of 2005. I'm not sure why they do this other than the fact that they've traditionally held their big dinners in November (maybe they are beating all the other award ceremonies to the punch as well). Once the votes are in, they whittle the pack down to five books in each category and a committee of three jurors renders the final decision as to the winner.

The SCBA also votes on the best non-mystery novel of the year (they call it "fiction"), best non-fiction book of the year, and best children's book of the year. Among others joining the four of us in the loser's circle this year were Steve Martin and Julie Andrews. That's more good company.

The party this year was held at the Long Beach Aquarium, which was very cool. We were like television for the fish. More than three hundred people were in attendance - booksellers, authors, publishers, vendors. A three-course meal was provided and during each course the fifty or so authors in attendance rotated tables and got to know some of the people who keep us employed. After the shindig, everyone got a big bag of books to take home with them. Public humiliation was never so much fun.

But seriously, congratulations to Edward Wright, he's a great guy and a terrific writer. The prize was well earned. And many thanks to the members of the SCBA. It truly WAS an honor to be nominated.


My girlfriend Heidi and our friend Sandra accompanied me to the ceremony. Gregg Hurwitz (whose most recent bestseller is THE PROGRAM) called and wanted to ride down with us. We met him at his place and decided to take his car because it was larger than ours (I think he's got envy issues). After the ceremony our friend Kim Dower - the publicist more widely known as Kim-From-L.A. - needed a ride back to town because her rented car wasn't due to arrive for more than an hour (Kim doesn't drive on the freeways - but that's another strange story for another day). T. Jefferson Parker also needed a ride to his hotel. So we packed six people and six giant bags of books into the car and hit the road. We passed a cop on the way and instead of ticketing us he just shook his head in awe of the fact that some people never grow up. We looked like a bunch of wrinkled teenagers going to the drive-in in 1959.

After we dropped Jeff off there was slightly more room in the vehicle, but things were still tight for the hour long ride to L.A. Kim lives in the heart of the city so we had to perform a major detour to drop her off. And this is where things get weird. We're cutting up Fairfax at about midnight and all of a sudden we hear sirens behind us. Helicopters are also arriving on the scene, spotlights shining down on us. Hurwitz pulls his car halfway out of the fast lane (I later asked him if this was what he considered the "author's lane") and all of a sudden a vehicle on three wheels and a sparking rim flamed past us going about sixty, barely under control. It missed the side of our car by less than five inches. Fifteen police cars then ripped past us in hot pursuit. The guy tried to make a left turn about three blocks up and he crashed out at the corner. By the time we got there cops were everywhere, guns drawn and ready to rumble. More police cars were coming in from every direction.

Due to the late hour, the event was not on the news when we got home and I'm still not sure of the details - who the driver was, why he was running, how he got the flat tire (spike strip or bad maintenance?), and what happened to him after we cruised by, staring at his car like angry raccoons. All I know is, if that car had slammed into us it would have taken the police a long time to realize that the guy had not blown up a library.

See you next week!


Thursday, November 04, 2004

The Trouble With Biopics...and Taylor Hackford's Ray

Biopics are difficult, because a life doesn't adhere to the structure of narrative, no matter how hard the writer tries to mash it into one. Likewise for pacing - lives are inconvenient in their complexities. They’re often cyclical and they’ll stubbornly stick in a rut or cram all the good events into a condensed period of time (think of your own, for Christ’s sake). Then there’s those damned classic unities. How many jumps of decades can be managed gracefully within an hour and a half (or, as is the case more frequently, two-and-a-half)? But most difficult, I believe, is the fact that if a person is famous enough to have a film made of their life, well, we all know the tune, more or less, as well as the final notes. Malcolm X got shot, Tina Turner left Ike and pulled her life together, Ali beat Frasier and Ray Charles kicked drugs. All of them, coming from humble beginnings, made it big. As a crime fiction fanatic who thrills at unexpected turns, I find that advance notice of the road map detracts from my driving enjoyment.

But counterbalancing my hesitation for the genre were the big hopes I harbored for Ray. I’m an enormous Jamie Foxx fan, having seen him live hosting the ESPYs, and I’ve been continuously impressed and surprised by the range of his talent. He’s an inspired stand-up, actor, singer, dancer, and mimic. Let’s face it; the guy can do anything. Further, you can’t beat Ray Charles. Just the music in the trailers put me in a good mood and made me tap my feet.

I’m pleased to report I found the film delightful. I must say, for most of the movie Taylor Hackford is in his directorial groove. He incorporates music creatively and intelligently, and a few of the musical montages are truly breathtaking. Jamie Foxx does not disappoint—it’s a major league performance (he will be nominated). So dead-on is he in his capturing of Ray Charles that when Hackford cuts to footage of the real Ray in the credit-rolling afterglow of the film, I found the true images almost discordant. That said, the film still labors with some of the problems of the biopic form (flashbacks, struggling to synthesize and condense early childhood memories with myriad vigorous plot lines, trying to sustain and make compelling a wife who put up with philandering and decades of spousal heroin abuse). For the most part, Hackford and White did a splendid job with the script, but I felt for them as they struggled to put together a suitable ending. Lives generally don’t end conveniently. And even less often is a death (or, worse, a title-card-reported death) the punctuation mark with which to close a narrative.

Sunday, October 31, 2004

On Conspiracies and Pettiness

On Sarah Weinman’s excellent blog, (, aka, Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind), people weighed in on the Andrew Klavan debate (see my previous blog entry). As an example of the liberal ferocity rampant among readers and the book community at large, a few people wrote in about the unfair treatment that Robert Ferrigno received among anonymous reviewers on amazon after he expressed some conservative views in an interview. (To know what I think of nameless critics, see my blog entry Anne Rice vs. Anonymous Reviewers). Now I happen to think Robert is a talented writer and a nice guy, and it pisses me off that people slammed him unjustly—and especially sans cahones to sign their commentary. But if people think that political backlash is unique to one side of the spectrum, they are sorely mistaken. For all you writers out there, here’s an experiment: Go post an “I Love John Kerry” sign atop your website and see what pops up within hours on amazon. The point is that anywhere that readers can post comments without accountability, you’re gonna have slant and ugliness. The capacity for pettiness (especially when one is granted an opportunity in which their face and name can be withheld, but none of the vitriol) is neither unique to liberals nor conservatives. Believe me, the guys I hear from occasionally when I get the weight of a handgun off by a half gram (bless them – they’re generally respectful and want to keep me from looking dumb next go around) ain’t voting Nader. I never understand why both sides of the political spectrum squabble over who should be appointed greater martyr status. If you state your views as Robert did, or as Bill O’Reilly does, or as Michael Moore does, you’re gonna piss off people who hold opposing views, and some of them will respond without class or dignity. There’s no vast conspiracy there—it’s human nature.

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Andrew Klavan Takes On The (Liberal) Arts

Below find an article by Andrew Klavan – an excellent writer and friend of mine – and a few comments I had about his thoughts (which follow the article below). Check out Drew’s site at:

Left Good. Right Bad. It's Called Art.
A conservative hero in a movie? That'll be the day.

By Andrew Klavan, Andrew Klavan's latest novel is "Shotgun Alley" (Forge, 2004).

Here's my new idea for a thriller. An ordinary guy wakes up one morning and his wife — who has joyfully devoted her life to him — has disappeared. His neighbor — a kind and intellectual Christian conservative — has become invisible. And his best friend — a peaceful man who supports the war in Iraq — has lost the power to speak. It's scary stuff, all right. I'm going to call it: "The Arts in America."

I don't like to make sweeping statements about the arts because there are always many exceptions. But I have a solid observational berth — I'm a novelist and screenwriter; I'm well read; I go to the movies often — and I can't help noticing that, in the last 25 years or so, large segments of the American population have practically vanished from our fictional landscape.

When was the last time you saw a conservative politician who was the hero of a movie — as opposed to the slavering villains of "The Manchurian Candidate," "The Contender" or "The American President"?

When was the last time you read a serious novel in which a full-time wife — not just a mother, but a wife — was happy with her life choice as opposed to being a Stepford robot or a trapped bird a la "The Hours"?

When was the last time — outside of pabulum like "Left Behind" or "Seventh Heaven" — you saw an intelligent Christian who wasn't a priest or a milquetoast or Mel Gibson?

It's not that I don't enjoy the stories being told by American artists — I do. And I'm not suggesting that the arts should be traditionalist in intent. I just think they should be more — pardon the word — inclusive. Self-fulfilled housewives, conservative good guys, intelligent people of faith not only exist, they're actually pretty thick on the ground, and I believe the American arts should accurately represent the full panoply of American life.

It's a commonplace and a truth that there are many liberals in Hollywood, and I know for a fact that many in the New York literary establishment are left-wing as well. There's nothing wrong with that per se, but it can have some unfortunate consequences.

People who associate only with the like-minded can sometimes forget that their opinions are just opinions, that their ideology is, in fact, an ideology and that good and reasonable people may disagree. As a result, alternative points of view may be demonized, and institutional intimidation and tacit censorship can begin to exclude opposing voices on the levels of both production and criticism.

I write crime fiction, much of it what you might call neo-hard-boiled. My stuff is not political — and certainly not traditional — but I try to let all my characters speak their minds.

When I submitted my latest novel, "Shotgun Alley," my editor — seeking only my good — suggested I tone down one character's nasty remarks about feminists. When I demurred, he pointed out that the book buyer for one of the major chains might order far fewer books because of it. I still declined, but I'm established and ornery. If I were just starting out, I would've had to be brave, which is much harder.

On the critical front, the cries of "Obscenity!" once meant to censor a "Ulysses" or a "Lady Chatterley's Lover," have now morphed into such loaded accusations as "Racism!" and "Sexism!" intended to silence dissent against the incredibly uniform outlook of mainstream intellectuals. When such dissent breaks through, man, those eggheads squeal like a Texas newsman caught with his pants down by a blogger in pajamas.

Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" is the most obvious case in point. The whipping Mel gave Jesus in that picture was nothing compared with the bejesus the intelligentsia beat out of Mel.

The cries this time were of anti-Semitism and the methods were vicious. The man's father was attacked, his motives impugned and, in some genuinely low moments, Christopher Hitchens and Frank Rich hinted that the director was homosexual, a twice shameful thrust in that it slandered its target and reduced a mode of loving to a schoolyard taunt.

And why? Wasn't it really because Gibson used his artistic talent to present the Christ of fundamentalism? Hey, it's not my thing either, but if we can bring open minds to the partisan constructs of Oliver Stone and Michael Moore, why can't we spend a couple of hours believing in Mel Gibson's God?

Today, traditionalist values have been pushed underground into fantasy — which may account for the power and popularity of such stories. "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy preserved Tolkien's complex Christian understanding of evil, and "Spiderman 2," to these eyes at least, looked very much like an encrypted tribute to our fighting heroes in Afghanistan and Iraq.

But why can't such voices speak outright? I don't think I will lose anything if my neighbors are depicted sympathetically, even if they are among those good neighbors with whom I disagree.

After all, if art is meant to broaden minds, shouldn't it broaden the minds even of those as flawlessly moral, as politically infallible and as spiritually insightful as ourselves?


Since it seems to me that the essence of fiction (and maybe crime fiction even moreso) is man against society, man against the power structure, man against impossible (or strenuous odds), it seems logical that such stories would favor the individual up against corrupt business. After all, who wants to see a big corporation crushing an individual - the odds aren't fair, and it ain't the type of archetypal narrative that hits the pleasure buttons in our rat-like brains. Maybe said corporation has a valid reason, even an ethical obligation, to crush the individual, but it doesn’t seem to me to make for great drama.

Some stories, such as Michael Mann's The Insider, do feature an ethical businessman - but there needs to be a context for his struggle for there to be an article then film, so he's set against Big Tobacco. But Michael Douglass was something of a hero in The Game, as was Cruise in Vanilla Sky - guys who yanked on the levers of power, then went in search of the truth. Clearly, the bias Andrew talks about IS present - no argument there - I just think there are numerous reasons beyond political slant for that, and also more exceptions than he indicated. When I write about the essence of fiction as being a conflict in which the protagonist doesn’t have the upper hand, that doesn’t carry with it any ideological weight. All that is necessary to the nature of the endeavor, in my humble estimation, is good writing and conflict. And since most writing is not exceptional, people go where is most obvious to fulfill these cookie-cutter conflicts. Examples of conversative themes – say a good businessman beset by self aggrandizing activitists - could certainly be compelling and – if executed properly - carry enormous dramatic weight. As did Oleander – the David Mamet play about the crushing stupidity of evolved forms of political correctness – victimhood wielded as weapon, which leaves its targets with no options for response or defense (except for richly deserved rageful stomping). But what most easily and readily fits the equation (man against forces larger than him) are those obvious conflicts - man against power structure, etc. Is it a vast liberal conspiracy? No – it’s the lowest common denominator for what fits the archetypal bill. One of my golden rules: Never explain by conspiracy what can be explained by stupidity or mediocrity. As Jung argued – the MECHANISM for creating archetypes is inherent in man, not the archetypes themselves. So if people have an instinct to choose a symbol for wisdom, within most cultures they will settle on a wise old man (or woman). It makes sense and it’s obvious. Likewise, unless someone is compelled to leap outside the conventional narrative structures (Bowles, Trollope, etc.), they’ll settle on what most easily fits the bill. Brilliant film and books are ALWAYS a leap beyond the prevailing winds (and usually beyond propagandistic fulfillments of contemporary politics of either side) - and therefore are always rare. Wisdom embodied in a little boy – sounds fascinating. But it requires someone of unusual talent to pull it off and make it convincing. Most hacks and formula writers will simply go with the old man.

As for happy moms - again, Andrew is right in general. But bear in mind Susan Faludi's great assessment of Fatal Attraction in which Ann Archer, mommy warrior of hearth and home defends her realm effectively against evil-bitch working woman-who-must-be-missing-something-due-to-her-lack-of-domesticity Glenn Close. Also, the template for The Missing with Cate Blanchett - tough-ass mom whose fury is unleashed after her kid is wronged seems another common theme. The maternal instinct-as-bad-ass source of power probably peaked with our girl Sigourney in Aliens, and while I certainly won't argue that that's a nice quiet tale of a happy Stepford gal, I do think that the maternal instinct is valued there (but yes, to Andrew’s point, she's a feminist working girl all right). Again, I do see Andrew’s point about the skew - and one thing I loved about his excellent novel Man and Wife (which I highly recommend to you all) is the wonderful portrayal of a wife and mother and the fact that marriage - and the way that a marriage is nestled in a fragile place in time where, for both parties, the past must be not too remembered and not too forgotten - is the centerpiece of the story. I do wish there were more books and films like it - that aren't afraid to have a marriage - a good, real marriage - play an important role. It's something I've tried to do with Dray and Tim in the Rackley novels.

In any event, I recommend you check out Drew’s site – again, it’s I’ve come to rely on him – in his fiction, articles, and in conversation - for his smart, though-provoking takes on matters.

My name is Gregg Hurwitz and I approve this message (and apologize for using too many dashes and run-ons).

Saturday, October 16, 2004

Anne Rice vs. Anonymous Reviewers

The following is a letter Anne Rice recently wrote to her negative reviewers for Blood Canticle on Amazon. I must confess I admire her confronting those who sling shit while hiding behind anonymity. My favorite acerbic professional reviewers - Anthony Lane and James Wolcott to name a few - certainly aren't afraid to add their Hancocks to their opinions. I find that signing one's review makes said review more A. Fair B. Constructive, and if not, then....C. At least incisive in its criticisms and above the whole witty this-book-is-a-piece-of-shit-and-the-author-can't-write school of scholary discourse. It seems all too predictable that the reviews that are the least forgiving and most personal are penned by readers who leave the name box blank.

As for Rice's confidence - well, while I certainly don't share her all her views of the editorial process, you gotta love a woman who'll put her home address out there by way of example for what it means to stand behind your views. If she meets one of her nameless reviewers on equal argumentative footing - or up a dark alley - I'm putting my money on Rice.

Seldom do I really answer those who criticize my work. In fact, the entire development of my career has been fueled by my ability to ignore denigrating and trivializing criticism as I realize my dreams and my goals. However there is something compelling about Amazon's willingness to publish just about anything, and the sheer outrageous stupidity of many things you've said here that actually touches my proletarian and Democratic soul. Also I use and enjoy Amazon and I do read the reviews of other people's books in many fields. In sum, I believe in what happens here. And so, I speak. First off, let me say that this is addressed only to some of you, who have posted outrageously negative comments here, and not to all. You are interrogating this text from the wrong perspective. Indeed, you aren't even reading it. You are projecting your own limitations on it. And you are giving a whole new meaning to the words "wide readership." And you have strained my Dickensean principles to the max. I'm justifiably proud of being read by intellectual giants and waitresses in trailer parks,in fact, I love it, but who in the world are you? Now to the book. Allow me to point out: nowhere in this text are you told that this is the last of the chronicles, nowhere are you promised curtain calls or a finale, nowhere are you told there will be a wrap-up of all the earlier material. The text tells you exactly what to expect. And it warns you specifically that if you did not enjoy Memnoch the Devil, you may not enjoy this book. This book is by and about a hero whom many of you have already rejected. And he tells you that you are likely to reject him again. And this book is most certainly written -- every word of it -- by me. If and when I can't write a book on my own, you'll know about it. And no, I have no intention of allowing any editor ever to distort, cut, or otherwise mutilate sentences that I have edited and re-edited, and organized and polished myself. I fought a great battle to achieve a status where I did not have to put up with editors making demands on me, and I will never relinquish that status. For me, novel writing is a virtuoso performance. It is not a collaborative art. Back to the novel itself: the character who tells the tale is my Lestat. I was with him more closely than I have ever been in this novel; his voice was as powerful for me as I've ever heard it. I experienced break through after break through as I walked with him, moved with him, saw through his eyes. What I ask of Lestat, Lestat unfailingly gives. For me, three hunting scenes, two which take place in hotels -- the lone woman waiting for the hit man, the slaughter at the pimp's party -- and the late night foray into the slums --stand with any similar scenes in all of the chronicles. They can be read aloud without a single hitch. Every word is in perfect place. The short chapter in which Lestat describes his love for Rowan Mayfair was for me a totally realized poem. There are other such scenes in this book. You don't get all this? Fine. But I experienced an intimacy with the character in those scenes that shattered all prior restraints, and when one is writing one does have to continuously and courageously fight a destructive tendency to inhibition and restraint. Getting really close to the subject matter is the achievement of only great art. Now, if it doesn't appeal to you, fine. You don't enjoy it? Read somebody else. But your stupid arrogant assumptions about me and what I am doing are slander. And you have used this site as if it were a public urinal to publish falsehood and lies. I'll never challenge your democratic freedom to do so, and yes, I'm answering you, but for what it's worth, be assured of the utter contempt I feel for you, especially those of you who post anonymously (and perhaps repeatedly?) and how glad I am that this book is the last one in a series that has invited your hateful and ugly responses. Now, to return to the narrative in question: Lestat's wanting to be a saint is a vision larded through and through with his characteristic vanity. It connects perfectly with his earlier ambitions to be an actor in Paris, a rock star in the modern age. If you can't see that, you aren't reading my work. In his conversation with the Pope he makes observations on the times which are in continuity with his observations on the late twentieth century in The Vampire Lestat, and in continuity with Marius' observations in that book and later in Queen of the Damned. The state of the world has always been an important theme in the chronicles. Lestat's comments matter. Every word he speaks is part of the achievement of this book. That Lestat renounced this saintly ambition within a matter of pages is plain enough for you to see. That he reverts to his old self is obvious, and that he intends to complete the tale of Blackwood Farm is also quite clear. There are many other themes and patterns in this work that I might mention -- the interplay between St.Juan Diago and Lestat, the invisible creature who doesn't "exist" in the eyes of the world is a case in point. There is also the theme of the snare of Blackwood Farm, the place where a human existence becomes so beguiling that Lestat relinquishes his power as if to a spell. The entire relationship between Lestat and Uncle Julien is carefully worked out. But I leave it to readers to discover how this complex and intricate novel establishes itself within a unique, if not unrivalled series of book. There are things to be said. And there is pleasure to be had. And readers will say wonderful things about Blood Canticle and they already are. There are readers out there and plenty of them who cherish the individuality of each of the chronicles which you so flippantly condemn. They can and do talk circles around you. And I am warmed by their response. Their letters, the papers they write in school, our face to face exchanges on the road -- these things sustain me when I read the utter trash that you post. But I feel I have said enough. If this reaches one reader who is curious about my work and shocked by the ugly reviews here, I've served my goals. And Yo, you dude, the slang police! Lestat talks like I do. He always has and he always will. You really wouldn't much like being around either one of us. And you don't have to be. If any of you want to say anything about all this by all means Email me at And if you want your money back for the book, send it to 1239 First Street, New Orleans, La, 70130. I'm not a coward about my real name or where I live. And yes, the Chronicles are no more! Thank God!

Wednesday, October 13, 2004


It only comes once a year....It involves lots of death, mayhem and alcohol....that's right - Bouchercon 2004. It was a well-run event this year, I thought. Toronto, as always, is a user-friendly city, though I must confess I'd almost forgotten that it actually gets cold in fall in other parts of the world, so spoiled am I by California weather. A lot of great authors showed up - everyone from Michael Connelly, Dennis Lehane, Gayle Lynds, Christopher Rice, Lee Goldberg, Ridley Pearson to some folks I hadn't met before, but enjoyed seeing, like Barry Eisner and Michael Collins (the other Michael Collins, Dennis Lynds's dopplegänger showed up too). For the banquet, I sat next to one of my favorite booksellers, Otto Penzler. Otto was in rare form, his acerbic wit complementing the proceedings.

I was on a panel with Mike and Dennis and Kirk Russell about the importance of place in our fiction. The topic was a bit limiting, I thought (as is the case with most panels, I found there's only so many times we could answer questions about a specific topic before the well runs dry..."Are there any places you WOULDN'T want to set a story?") but we got it rolling a bit later with some improv, and it was a lot of fun to be featured with authors whose work I respect so much. Most fun, as always, was seeing the hardcore genre readers, who really know their stuff. I'm always impressed with the range and scope of mystery fans' libraries.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Grown-Up Movies

A lot of critics and writers have complained of late that in the rush for first-weekend-box-office numbers, studios have stopped making grown-up films. They gear their marketing dollars (and movies) toward a younger target audience - kids with disposable income who will be willing to go back and see a movie they like several times. Clearly, this isn't always the case, but I like to pass on word about movies-especially genre films-with a bit more depth.

So here are a couple of grown-up film recommendations.

MAN ON FIRE - if you missed this Tony Scott/Denzel remake, you should check it out. The characters in it are great. Here's an additional treat for you Creasy fans - a website dedicated to the book series' elusive and talented author, who writes under the pseudonym A.J. Quinnell:

I also recently rented SPARTAN, a David Mamet film starring Val Kilmer. If you like Mamet, this one's a must-see. I was surprised that it was glossed over in theatres. It's a strong, tough piece of writing, loaded with twists and reveals that feel organic to the plot.

Sunday, October 03, 2004

In a Contentious Season

It seems that with political debates and the close of Major League Baseball, everyone has more opinions than usual. Yesterday's San Francisco Giants game - in which the Los Angeles Dodgers came back and stunned my boys with a bottom-of-the-ninth victory - was one of the worst viewing experiences of my life (yes, I am a Giants fan through-and-through despite my relocation to this fine City of Angels). My grandfather, a Boston sports fanatic - used to get angina when his beloved Sox played the Yankees. My high blood pressure during political and sports seasons makes me wonder if being a writer (or reader) makes me more susceptible to the slings and arrows of contemporary competitions. Do you think we relate more, agonize more, suffer more because we've been conditioned to do so by burying ourselves in countless films and books? After all, conflict is story, more or less, and I've found the 9-inning variety to be as compelling and painful as anything Thomas Hardy ever set down.

In any event, there's always next season....

Thursday, September 23, 2004

What I'm Reading

I’m back from tour, for the most part, with only my Toronto Bouchercon leg remaining. I had a delightful time, met quite a few great readers, visited the blue and the red states, and had many drinks with booksellers (who tend to be happy inebriates like us writers). A lot of people had questions about mind control after my intro to The Program, and I was happy to expound on my undercover sojourns into cults, and some of the psych research I did—everything from studying influence techniques employed by used car salesmen to reading about strategies employed by the Chinese captors in American POW camps during the Korean War. A few people came up to speak to me privately afterward who were either in a cult themselves, or who had lost family members into cults and as usual, those personal connections were the most memorable and moving.

One of the advantages of going on tour, aside from delectable airplane food and sitting next to loquacious travelers who “don’t have time to read anything except for work journals,” is that I get to catch up on my reading. Packing and planning are key; nothing sucks more than realizing that ALL the books you packed for your Phoenix-SF-Sacramento-Madison-Milwaukee-Cleveland leg of your trip are boring, unimaginative, or poorly written (or all three). But I had a great run this time out. My companions were:

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon – A delightful first person voice, great ironic humor. I found it utterly charming. For those of you structure sluts out there (and I am one myself) – don’t go in expecting a perfectly organized mystery. It is whimsical and loose and just go with it and don’t bitch.

Manhattan Nocturne by Colin Harrison – This book blew me away. A beautiful, moving, insightful piece of crime fiction. The characters are razor-sharp, the writing couldn’t be better, and the dialogue sings. There are a few riffs where Harrison lets loose that are truly inspired. This is one of the best novels I’ve read in the past few years.

The Magus by John Fowles - All right, I know, it’s a little long. And flawed by Fowles’s own admission. But it does have this wonderful, youthful energy to it, and the degree of mind-fucking going on has rarely—if ever—been paralleled. Fowles’s wonderful cerebral voice really comes through, and is perfectly married to a narrative with roots in Jungian thought. A great book to read with Dennis Lehane’s Shutter Island.

Life of Pi by Yann Martel – I know, I know, I’m the last person in America (and Canada) to read this book, where have I been, what’s wrong with me, head-in-the-sand, etc., etc. It takes me a while to get to these smash hits – I like reading them once the heat dies down a bit and I can see them for what they are. And this was a delightful little read. The bit at the end with Japanese interviewers was truly hysterical.

California Girl by T Jefferson Parker – You just can’t beat Jeff. A beautifully textured book that’ll surprise you for its depth of reach. I’m always amazed by Jeff’s compassion for his characters—even his antagonists are richly, fairly drawn. I’m looking forward to the planned discussion I’m having with Jeff at the West Hollywood Book Festival Oct 3.

I hope you’re having as much luck as I am in your choices of late.