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....