Posts Tagged ‘McCabe Savage’

Dirty Money/Clean Money

Thursday, July 12th, 2018

 

 

For my next book, which is largely still in the research stage, I’ve been studying the fine arts of money laundering and tax evasion.  At it’s most basic level money laundering is the art of hiding ill gotten gains from the FBI, police and the IRS or other tax authorities. These funds may have been procured from illegal activities like drug dealing or accepting bribes in return for political favors or illicit business deals.

 

At its most basic level the task of laundering money consists of exchanging so-called dirty money for clean or untraceable cash or other assets.  The money launderer, lets say a drug dealer, sells some drugs for cash. The cash may or may not be traceable but the launderer uses it to buy some asset from someone else and then turns around and sells that asset for “clean” money.  One of the simplest and common ways for this to be accomplished when dealing with relatively small amounts of money is to walk into a gambling casino and buying say five thousand dollars worth of chips with your “unlaundered” cash.  Depending on whether or not you’re a gambler you can either go to the roulette or craps tables to see how much you can win or lose.  Or, if you’re smarter than that, you can simply go to the casino bar, have a couple of drinks to wile away the time, and then cash in the chips for what is now clean currency.

 

Things get more complicated with larger amounts of illicit funds.  Take the recent indictment of President Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort and his assistant Rick Gates.  Manafort is charged with accepting eighteen million dollars from the Ukranian government to pay for lobbying and influence peddling in Washington. Manafort had the Ukranians wire transfer the eighteen million into anonymous offshore bank accounts and eventually had the funds wired from these anonymous accounts to pay for a wide variety of luxury goods and services including expensive homes in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Virginia and in the chic summer colony in the Hamptons on Long Island.  Naturally, no taxes had been paid on any of this “anonymous” money.

 

The international art market also provides opportunities for laundering much larger sums of money than Manafort’s eighteen million and much, much larger than one could possibly carry into a casino even in a large duffle bag. How this can work is outlined in a recent New York Times article by Graham Bowley and William K. Rashbaum:

 

“When you sell your home the paperwork details the sale, including your name, and the title search lists the names of the people who owned the property before you. But when someone sells an artwork at auction — even something worth $100 million, much more than your house — the identity is typically concealed.

Oh, the paperwork might identify the work as coming from “a European collection.” But the buyer usually has no clue with whom he or she is really dealing. Sometimes, surprisingly, even the auction house may not know who the seller is.

Secrecy has long been central to the art world. Anonymity protects privacy, adds mystique and cuts the taint of crass commerce from such transactions. But some experts are now saying this sort of discretion — one founded in a simpler time, when only a few wealthy collectors took part in the art market — is not only quaint but also reckless when art is traded like a commodity and increasingly suspected in money laundering.

“The art market is an ideal playing ground for money laundering,” said Thomas Christ, a board member of the Basel Institute on Governance, a Swiss nonprofit that has studied the issue. “We have to ask for clear transparency, where you got the money from and where it is going.”

The debate about anonymity in the art world has intensified over the past year, fed in part by the release of the so-called Panama Papers, which detailed the use of corporate veils to conceal ownership, dodge taxes and enable crime, its authors say. Now various expert groups, like the Basel Institute, are coming forward with ways for dealers and auction houses to curb secrecy and combat money laundering. In a significant change, Christie’s said last week it has strengthened its policy in recent months and now requires agents looking to sell a work through the auction house to tell it the name of the owner they represent.

“Where it has concerns, Christie’s declines the transaction,” the company said in a statement.

The stakes have risen alongside the soaring value of art, with an estimated $63.8 billion worth of sales in 2015.

In one current money-laundering case, United States authorities have accused Malaysian officials and associates in a civil complaint of converting billions of dollars of embezzled public funds into investments like real estate and art. Masterworks by Basquiat, Rothko, Van Gogh and others were purchased, many at Christie’s, according to a complaint filed by federal prosecutors. Later, a Cayman Island company owned by one of the accused launderers took out a $107 million loan from Sotheby’s in 2014 using some of those artworks as collateral, authorities say.”

 

The book The Panama Papers mentioned in the Times article, discusses in great detail the many ways for bad guys to hide the existence of dirty money gained through bribes, embezzlement or simple theft.  The first step is to transfer the illicit funds possibly into untraceable bank accounts or in so-called  “shell” companies whose secrecy is legally protected in one or another by the governments of the many small secret tax havens that are dotted around the world.  Some of the most prominent of these are Panama and the British Virgin Islands in the Caribbean, the Isle of Jersey in the English Channel and the Seychelles in the Indian Ocean. One of the first things I learned in Reading The Panama Papers and another similar book called “Secrecy World,” by Jake Bernstein is that the number of people involved in putting their millions and occasionally billions through the anonymous cash machines in tax havens is far bigger than I imagined.  In addition to drug lords, they include the likes of Russian oligarchs, Arabian princes, Sub-Saharan dictators, Latin American politicians, Wall Street hedge fund managers and, not to point any fingers at anyone in particular, but also a lot of well connected real estate moguls who don’t happen to like paying taxes or showing people their tax returns.

 

My next book won’t be a recounting of what’s in either The Panama Papers or Secrecy World. Rather it will use the information I gleaned from these books and other sources as the background for a murder story investigated by a Private Financial Investigator who is determined to find out who pushed his beautiful and super rich client (who just may turn out to be his girlfriend) off the balcony of her New York City penthouse apartment.

 

 

And please don’t forget to look for my latest McCabe/Savage thriller, A Fatal Obsession, coming out on August 21st and available for preorder now!

 

Follow me on Twitter or Facebook for more details!

 

The Best of Noir: The Big Sleep

Thursday, July 5th, 2018

As a self-professed old movie buff and a writer of half a dozen murder mysteries and suspense thrillers, I was recently amazed by how many of the films named by online magazine Paste as the hundred best Noir Movies of all time I hadn’t seen.  As I went down the list there were almost none I hadn’t heard of and been meaning to see. But there were dozens, even in this age of YouTube, Netflix and Amazon Prime (where all hundred of them are easily available for instant streaming), that I hadn’t yet taken the time to actually watch.  I determined yesterday, after scrolling down the list, to correct this obvious lapse in my “noir education” and to make the effort to see them all.

 

I started with one of the most famous of the lot, director Howard Hawks’ 1946 black and white classic The Big Sleep. A publication called Paste Magazine ranked The Big Sleep number 2, in other words the second best of the best one hundred. And the British newspaper the Guardian ranked it number one its list of the best. Both clearly considered it one of the best film noir ever produced. The film was based on the first novel ever written by the iconic detective fiction writer Raymond Chandler. While Chandler is justly famous for his work in the genre, it is less well known that he only started writing detective fiction, mostly for pulp magazines, at the ripe old age of forty-four in an effort to survive after being fired from his job as an oil company executive at the beginning of the Great Depression.  Still Chandler, along with Dashiell Hammett and James M. Cain is considered one of the first and best writers of the so-called hard-boiled school of detective fiction.  His primary hero, Philip Marlowe along with Hammett’s Sam Spade are probably the most famous fictional private eyes ever created. The Big Sleep was Chandler’s first detective novel and was published in 1939.

 

Even though Time Magazine included The Big Sleep among the hundred best novels of the 20th century, it is not as well respected by most critics as his later efforts: Farewell My Lovely (1940), The Little Sister (1949) and The Long Goodbye (1953).  The plot is said to said to have been a cut and paste job from two of Chandler’s earlier short stories.

 

The movie was produced in 1946. It was directed by Howard Hawks and, unknown to me until I started writing this blog, was that one of the film’s three screenwriters was none other than William Faulkner. The movie starred forty-six year old Humphrey Bogart as Philip Marlowe and a very sexy, very young Lauren Bacall in the second of their four films together. The first was 1944’s To Have and Have Not.

 

The magnetism of the two stars and obvious sexual attraction between the two was, to me at least, the best and most appealing part of the film. And, as just about every film buff knows, it was real. The two became man and wife about the time The Big Sleep was shot and roughly a year before the film was released.

 

Somewhat to my surprise, other than Lauren and Bogie I found the plot to be a confusing and a somewhat boring mess. I had a hard time keeping the characters straight.  Had a hard time following the plot. In fact, according to some critics, even while they were shooting, Bacall and Bogie weren’t quite sure who was doing what to who and why, who was murdering who and why, and who was screwing around with who and why. According to Paste Magazine, “To Chandler, plot was less important than atmosphere and characterization. An ending that answered every question while neatly tying every plot thread mattered less to Chandler than interesting characters with believable behavior.” Sadly, as a viewer I have to disagree. I like to be able to follow the storyline of a movie or, for that matter a novel. In The Big Sleep I found that really hard.  Still Bogart and Bacall are special and just their mutual electricity on the screen made the film worth watching for me.

 

And please don’t forget to look for my latest McCabe/Savage thriller, A Fatal Obsession, coming out on August 21st and available for preorder now!

 

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What’s the Big Idea and Where Did It Come From?

Tuesday, June 26th, 2018

 

One of the questions I get asked just about every time I do a library or bookstore reading is where in the world did I get the idea for the book.  The simple and honest answer to this question is that there is no shortage of ideas for stories. Seed ideas for great stories are all around you. The would-be writer just has to be alert to the possibilities and be willing to plant that seed and let it sprout into something original.

 

For example the seed idea for my first McCabe/Savage novel The Cutting came from a movie I saw called Dirty Pretty Things.  The film tells the story of an illegal immigrant from Nigeria who is living under the radar in London and working as a clerk at a third rate hotel.  When the owner of the hotel discovers he was a surgeon in his native country, he blackmails the doctor into performing illegal kidney transplants. The hotel owner gets the money from the transplants. The doctor avoids being deported back to Africa.  After seeing that movie I let the notion of illegal transplants roll around in my mind until I eventually found myself wondering if it might be possible for an accomplished surgeon in the US to provide illegal heart transplants.  The recipients would be octogenarian billionaires who, given their age and the shortage of healthy hearts available for transplant, would never qualify for a legitimate transplant program.  The novel that grew out of what-if idea was very different from the movie.

 

To offer another example, the what-if seed idea for my most recent McCabe/Savage thriller, The Girl on the Bridge, came from reading all the news reports about sexual assault on college campuses and also from reading Jon Krakauer’s excellent non-fiction book Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town.  Krakauer’s book tells how members of the University of Montana’s football team were getting away with rape and other forms of sexual assault.  After reading it, I started thinking about basing a book on that subject and began reading other books on the traumatic psychological effects of rape on young college age victims.  A number of them were helpful but one in particular struck me.  It was a memoir titled After Silence: Rape and My Journey Back written by a woman named Nancy Venable Raine.  In her book, Ms. Raine wrote movingly about how the experience of violent rape became a singular traumatic event that changed her life in deeply personal ways.  Jumping off from that point I came up with the idea of creating a young woman named Hannah Reindel who suffers from severe PTSD after having been the victim a violent campus gang rape.  The book begins with Hannah taking her own life twelve years after the event and goes on to tell story of how justice is finally meted out to those responsible for the rapes.  The seed idea for my next book, A Fatal Obsession, which comes out this August 21st grew out of stories I read in the news about  how repeated concussions can damage the brain and produce a condition called  Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy or CTE which doctors suspect led the former New England Patriot’s tight end  Aaron Hernandez to commit multiple murders.

 

Seed ideas are all around you.  You can find them in newspaper stories, movies or TV documentaries and in even in stories written by other authors. To give you a recent example there was an opinion piece in last Sunday’s Washington Post that caught my attention.  It was written by a woman named Rene Denfeld and carried the headline The Other Missing Children Scandal: Thousands of Lost American Foster Kids.  The core of Denfeld’s piece was not about the children recently separated from their parents at the Mexican border nor about the vast public outrage that surrounded the separations. Rather Ms. Denfeld writes about the thousands of kids who disappear from foster care every year.  Many are never found again. Others are forced into sexual slavery.  Imagining the fate of just one of these kids and his or her struggle to survive find might provide ample fodder for a very exciting novel.  If you want to, you can take that seed idea and plant it in your brain.  Ruminate about the possibilities and sooner or later the Muse will strike and you’ll find yourself with an idea for a very exciting novel.   Here’s the link to Rene Denfeld’s piece in the Post if you care to read it.

 

And please don’t forget to look for my latest McCabe/Savage thriller, A Fatal Obsession, coming out on August 21st and available for preorder now!

 

Follow me on Twitter or Facebook for more details! 

 

This is the End: Writing A Compelling Ending

Wednesday, June 20th, 2018

 

Any successful thriller writer will tell you that your book’s got to have a slam bang opening.  But here Joseph Souza, author The Neighbor, a crackerjack novel I reviewed as “A taut, twisty psychological thriller,” tells us why a great ending is equally important.

 

 

Have you ever arrived at the end of your novel and realized it just didn’t work? Or that you had no idea how to end it? Or who did the crime and why they did it? If the answer to these questions is yes then don’t feel like you’re alone. All of us writers feel this way at one point or another.

 

Writing a compelling ending is hard work. It requires a lot of thought and contemplation. You have to be adaptable and willing to look at your story from different angles. How many times have we read a great novel, often one by a big name author, and been sorely disappointed by the ending? It’s almost as if they got tired of their story and just stopped. As writers, we definitely don’t want to leave our hard-earned readers on a sour note.

 

If writing endings were easy, everyone would be a writer. At times, I wish being a writer was like being a starting major league pitcher. You pitch the first eight innings of the game and then have a closer come in to finish the ninth for you. But alas, if you want to be an author, writing a satisfying ending is something we must learn to do.

 

Using another sports analogy; the best defense is often a good offense. And by this I mean that half the battle in composing a great ending is writing a great story. Making the reader care how your story ends means you’ve done a successful job holding their interest. Now you need to smoothly land this jet plane that is your plot and make sure your passengers get to their gates. You’ll need to provide an ending that will give closure and allow the reader to walk away satisfied.

 

The type of book you’re writing can often determine the type of ending you’re shooting for. A police procedural or cozy mystery requires that the ending be neatly wrapped up. Domestic thrillers, which I write, often have ambiguous endings, leaving the reader wondering what just happened. A great example of this is Gillian Flynn’s GONE GIRL. After all the horrendous things Nick’s wife has put him through during the course of the novel, Nick realizes at the end that he can’t just up and leave her. Amy’s gotten herself pregnant, and Nick is terrified that his child will be raised by this evil woman.

 

Many readers were angry that Flynn ended her novel this way. Others loved this ambiguous ending. It left the reader contemplating about will happen next in their relationship. It’s the same reaction many viewers had when watching the last episode of The Sopranos. Tony and his family are sitting in the booth of a diner. Mysterious people walk in and out. There’s something tense and scary about this scene. We wonder what’s going to happen. Will Tony and his family get killed? Then the screen goes black and that’s the end of the show. Some people loved this ending while others despised it and felt they’d been cheated for all the time and effort they put in watching the series.

 

The show, Breaking Bad, on the other hand, has a well defined plot arc that resembles a rainbow; at the end is a pot of gold. The writers wrapped up the show and left no question about Walt’s fate. Each show ended differently, for entirely different reasons, and each ended in interesting fashion. The ending fit the story line.

 

Not to get metaphysical, but what actually is an ending? If you ask yourself this question, I believe it will make writing your endings that much easier. Or at least less harder. Because, when one thinks about it, an ending is merely the beginning of something else. Consider what will happen to your surviving characters after your book ends. If it’s a series, the conclusion will impact how your characters act and think in the next book.

 

The most important aspect of your ending is this: how will the main characters change or be changed by the events that happened in your plot. Sometimes a violent, action-packed ending is not what’s needed. Sometimes, it’s how your character has changed that leaves the reader emotionally impacted. As in GONE GIRL, Nick is left reeling because he will have to live with his evil wife for the foreseeable future. This type of profound ending hits like a sledgehammer and keeps the reader thinking about your story long after it’s finished.

 

Lay the groundwork for your ending by writing a killer plot. A strong storyline will do much of the heavy lifting when it comes to crafting the conclusion. Spend time thinking about how to close out your novel even while you’re writing it. Sometimes it helps to write out a few different scenarios before you find the one that fits best. Often, it will take a few rewrites to get it just right. Then, if you’re like me, you’ll listen to your agent and editor, both of whom will give you additional input as to bring your storyline together.

 

Don’t get discouraged. Endings are tough. Persevere and work your way through them. And with that, I wish you the best writing that killer ending.

 

Joseph Souza is an award winning and bestselling author. His latest novel, THE NEIGHBOR, was published by Kensington. His next novel, PRAY FOR THE GIRL, will be published May, 2019.

 

 

And please don’t forget to look for my latest McCabe/Savage thriller, A Fatal Obsession, coming out on August 21st and available for preorder now!

 

Follow me on Twitter or Facebook for more details! 

 

The Tragic Deaths of Kate Spade, Anthony Bourdain and Richard Cory

Tuesday, June 12th, 2018

This past week marked the tragic suicides of fashion superstar Kate Spade and the celebrity chef and TV star Anthony Bourdain.  Reading about the self-inflicted deaths of these two people who one would have thought had achieved all that they had ever dreamed of, I was reminded of the poem I last read in high school, Edwin Arlington Robinson’s Richard Cory.  The poem reminds us in stark fashion how wealth, success or personal charm can never protect the soul from inexplicable depression.

 

As someone who writes about murder for the pleasure of readers the reality it reminds us of seems particularly apt.  For those who’ve never read Richard Cory or don’t remember it, here it is.  As they say, read it and weep.

 

Whenever Richard Cory went down town,

We people on the pavement looked at him:

He was a gentleman from sole to crown,

Clean favored, and imperially slim.

And he was always quietly arrayed,

And he was always human when he talked;

But still he fluttered pulses when he said,

“Good-morning,” and he glittered when he walked.

And he was rich — yes, richer than a king —

And admirably schooled in every grace:

In fine, we thought that he was everything

To make us wish that we were in his place.

So on we worked, and waited for the light,

And went without the meat, and cursed the bread;

And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,

Went home and put a bullet through his head.

Favorite Memories of Madison Avenue: My Night at the Berlin Wall

Wednesday, June 6th, 2018

It was the creative shoot-out of the year in the advertising business.  Four of the largest and most prestigious agencies in the business…Ogilvy & Mather, BBDO, NW Ayer and Young & Rubicam, the agency where I was working as a senior creative director, were all vying to win the U.S. Army’s recruiting account which at that time, the Fall of 1986, was billing over $125,000,000 a year.

 

Our CEO, a former All-American football player who was used to winning, called me into his office and told me he wanted me to lead the creative effort. He also made it clear to me in no uncertain terms that he wanted to win this one.  In fact, he wanted it so badly he was willing to spend upwards of a quarter of a million dollars of Y&R money to create and shoot a full up sixty second commercial that would be so emotionally powerful it would leave the panel of generals who would be making the decision literally in tears.

 

I went back to my office and called the three art director/copywriter teams who would be working for me on the pitch together for a meeting and explained the assignment.  They were all smart, experienced and creative and in just a few days the three teams got back to me with a batch of ideas.  I went through them. Suggested a few changes here and there.  And then selected the ideas I thought best.  When the changes had been made I arranged a meeting to present them to the CEO and other agency big-wigs.  There were a lot of good ideas but a decision was made.

 

The spot we were going to shoot showed a young US soldier on patrol at night at the symbolic dividing line between democracy and tyranny:  the Berlin wall.  The obvious solution was to send our creative and production teams to Berlin and shoot there.

 

Sadly, there was one problem with that particular “obvious” solution.  The US Army’s rules for the pitch stated in no uncertain terms that no one from any of the competing agencies could have any direct contact with any active duty U.S. military personnel.  There would be no way to avoid such contact at the Wall in Berlin.  The second, less obvious solution, was to find a close replica of the wall closer to home.  Our producer and production company dispatched location scouts all over the New York tri-state area.   They found a number of walls that didn’t make the cut.  And one that did.

 

It was an almost exact replica of the real thing surrounding a moving company warehouse just outside of Newark in Harrison, New Jersey. All it lacked was barbed wire strung along the top and the endless graffiti that the real wall had. We sent out team a team of set designers who strung the barbed wire and spray-painted replicas of the real graffiti.  They also created an almost exact copy of Checkpoint Charlie, the best-known passage between the US sector and the Russian sector of the divided city.

 

When everything was ready our creative and production teams along with the young actor we’d cast in the role of an American MP headed out to the wall.  It was a rainy Friday night when we set up and started shooting.  The actor was shown patrolling a sector of the wall and finally arriving at the checkpoint which was manned by extras wearing East German military uniforms and toting (fake) automatic weapons.

 

The shoot all went perfectly.  The only hitch was that our wall and our Checkpoint Charlie happened to be located directly across the street from the Harrison stop on the PATH (Port Authority Trans Hudson) railroad station.  There weren’t many passengers getting off at midnight on a rainy Friday.  But every time a train pulled in a few who’d obviously spent their Fridays drinking too much in Manhattan bars  staggered onto the platform only to be confronted with our machine gun toting East German soldiers and a large sign telling them that they were now “leaving the American sector.”  It was a thing of nightmares and from their shocked, unbelieving expressions I have no doubt that many of these poor souls decided it was well past time to give up the booze.

 

In any event we wrapped the set around three in the morning and headed for home.  We selected our takes and edited the commercial over the next few days and within a week or so I was presenting it (along with the rest of the Y&R team’s voluminous pitch proposal) to the assembled brass at an army conference center south of Washington.

 

The post-script is that we got the account and I spent the next three years as Creative Director on the Army account creating many more pool-outs of the Army’s highly successful “Be All You Can Be” recruiting campaign.

 

 

And please don’t forget to look for my latest McCabe/Savage thriller, A Fatal Obsession, coming out on August 21st and available for preorder now!

 

Follow me on Twitter or Facebook for more details! 

 

Farewell to the Man in the White Suit

Tuesday, May 29th, 2018

Journalist, novelist and lifelong iconoclast, Tom Wolfe, died this month at the age of eighty-eight.  Both well loved and well hated , Wolfe has always one of my favorite authors ever since I dipped into his first book, “The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby.” Way back in what I like to think of as my infancy as a writer, Wolfe blew my mind with his the rat-tat-tat, machine gun like prose that was unlike anything else I had ever read.  To me it was all totally new and totally wonderful.

Wolfe was one of the first, if not the very first, practitioner of what came to be called “The New Journalism,” a style that treated non-fiction profiles and news stories with what I can only describe as utter abandon.  As the online blog “The Agency”  puts it, it’s “Wolfe’s distinctive (though here, nascent) style that ties the book together. A style that uses onomatopoeia, sound effects, creative punctuation, wordplay, obscure vocabulary and purple flights of linguistic acrobatics to tell his stories.”

Here for your pleasure or perhaps confusion is how Wolfe opened the first of his essays in the Kandy-Colored Tangerine:

“Chapter 1

Las Vegas (What?) Las Vegas (Can’t hear you! Too noisy) Las Vegas!!!!

HERNIA, HERNIA, HERNIA, HERNIA, HERNIA, HERNIA, HERNIA, hernia, hernia, hernia, hernia, hernia, hernia, HERNia; hernia, HERNia, hernia, hernia, hernia, hernia, HERNia, HERNia, HERNia; hernia, hernia, hernia, hernia, hernia, hernia, hernia, eight is the point, the point is eight; hernia, hernia, HERNia; hernia, hernia, hernia, hernia, all right, hernia, hernia, hernia, hernia, hard eight, hernia, hernia, hernia, HERNia, hernia, hernia, hernia, HERNia, hernia, hernia, hernia, HERNia, hernia, hernia, hernia, hernia

“What is all this hernia hernia stuff?” This was Raymond talking to the wavy-haired fellow with the stick, the dealer, at the craps table about 3:45 Sunday morning. The stickman had no idea what this big wiseacre was talking about, but he resented the tone. He gave Raymond that patient arch of the eyebrows known as a Red Hook .”

As far as I was concerned Wolfe had to have the kind of cojones one has to admire to submit writing like this to an editor. Nonetheless he did and nonetheless it was published. Famed novelist and fellow iconoclast, Norman Mailer once wrote of Wolfe that, despite his staccato style, his “Extraordinarily good writing forces one to contemplate the uncomfortable possibility that Tom Wolfe might yet be seen as our best writer…”

Born in 1930 to a wealthy Virginia family, Thomas Wolfe was educated at a private boys school in Richmond and graduated cum laude from Washington and Lee University.   Despite his foppish appearance, he was an excellent athlete.  The best pitcher on his college baseball team, Wolfe was good enough to earn a tryout with the old New York Giants. Happily for his future readers, he wasn’t signed and dreams of a baseball career vanished.

After college, instead of going to the Polo Grounds, Wolfe honed his writing skills at the old New York Herald Tribune and after the Trib’s demise he kept on writing for its lone surviving progeny, Clay Felker’s New York Magazine.  The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine Flake Streamline Baby was published in 1965.

Wolfe went on to become world famous, and is best known for two of his subsequent books. The first was “The Right Stuff,” published in 1979. “The Right Stuff” was a masterful depiction of America’s historic journey into space starting with profiles of early test pilots like Chuck Yaeger and going on to the seven astronauts who were chosen for Project Mercury, the first manned space flight by the United States.  The Right Stuff was made into a memorable movie which was nominated for nine and won four Academy Awards.

Wolfe published his first novel “Bonfire of the Vanities,” in 1987.  The New York Times describes it as “a sweeping, bitingly satirical picture of money, power, greed and vanity in New York during the shameless excesses of the 1980s.”  “Bonfire of the Vanities” is my favorite Wolfe book.  I’ve already read it twice and now that Wolfe is gone I plan to read it again.  There is no question in my mind it has influenced my own depictions of vain and shallow, greed is good rich people (“Masters of the Universe”) who show up from time to time in my own McCabe/Savage suspense thrillers.

And please don’t forget to look for my latest McCabe/Savage thriller, A Fatal Obsession, coming out on August 21st and available for preorder now!

 

Follow me on Twitter or Facebook for more details! 

Some of the Secret Places in Maggie and McCabe’s Hometown.

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2018

 

The city of Portland is filled with a treasure trove of historic and hidden places, some located far from the tourist haunts of the Old Port.

 

Last weekend Jeanne and I and a couple of friends decided to get a sense of what the city might be hiding from casual observers and signed up for the Maine Historical Society’s “Magical Mystery Tour”…an annual self-guided tour of some of some of the places tourists and residents alike rarely get to see.  We picked up our tickets at the Historical Society office located next door to Longfellow House, where Maine’s best-known poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was born and grew up.

 

Our first stop, which I’d driven by a thousand times and never knew existed, was the beautiful St Joseph’s Convent, the Sisters of Mercy Mother House on Stevens Avenue.  Built in 1909 the Convent is topped with an elegant gold cupola and inside boasts a stunning hundred-year old chapel with marble columns, a beautiful painted ceiling, stained glass windows and doors depicting biblical scenes. Walking down the exceptionally wide center aisle one can imagine processions of novitiates prostrating themselves before the altar. Upstairs the corridors are lined with narrow doors opening onto tiny individual cells where as many as 250 nuns lived. Each has a now empty brass holder for the Sister’s name. But sadly, all the nuns are gone.

 

Today, this historic building is currently under reconstruction to make way for a mix of senior, affordable and market rate housing. New and partly finished one bedroom and studio apartments were open to be seen and even the smallest studios are about 10 times the size of the nun’s cells.

 

In the side chapel short pews are still lined up in rows. The organ is on an upper balcony with Byzantine style arches carved wood detail. One hopes the developers will at least keep remnants of the chapel for communal use by the new residents. I can imagine circles of people coming together for meetings or performances, or tea and coffee and gossip. Eighty apartments are planned.

 

We next stopped briefly at “Alumni Hall” on the

University of New England Campus, a few hundred yards down Stevens Avenue from St. Joseph’s. An elegant white building, with many Federal style details, Alumni Hall was built to house the Westbrook Seminary in 1834. The bell tower was originally part of Portland’s nineteenth century Market Hall-which was located downtown in what is now Monument Square. When Market Hall was remodeled in 1832, the bell and its tower were moved to the campus.

 

For a totally different flavor we drove to the end of Commercial Street to check out the old Boston and Maine Railroad tunnel. Built in the 1870’s the line carried shipments of grain, ice, lumber, meat and produce and line terminated at the foot of York Street under what is now the Casco Bay Bridge. Impressive granite stones form massive retaining walls to support the infrastructure of rail and road. Sadly, all that’s left of the tunnel is a fenced-in remnant which today houses occasional homeless people on the ledges around and above the tunnel. As I looked at this dark and gloomy place I could well imagine one of McCabe and Maggie’s murderers dumping a body or two at the far end.

 

After leaving the tunnel, we decided to make a quick stop to tour the 87foot Coast Guard Cutter Amberjack which was open for the tour. The Coasties use the Amberjack for their essential work of protecting marine resources, preventing drug smuggling and for search and rescue missions.

 

The young and gung-ho crew were thrilled to show us around. The engine room was small and frankly a little claustrophobic for me. In the pilot-house, the Captain showed us the most current technology and navigation computers, while charts and compasses and dividers were also laid out. All hands must still know how to navigate by the sun and stars.

 

Finally, we toured the galley which was about 12 feet long. Still, when the cook ran through his menus, they sounded a hell of a lot better than what I remember being fed in the army many years ago. Steak and lobster? No way back then. But that’s what they serve today.

 

After a quick lunch we moved on to the First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church to check out the clock and bell tower. First Parish, as it is called, was built in 1825 as a place of worship for a congregation that was first established in 1674. It’s the oldest church building in the city, and one of its finest examples of Federal period architecture.

 

Construction of the current granite building was completed 1826 and the 1802 Simon Willard clock tower and the internal gallery clock were transferred to the building along with 1810 steeple bell. The Simon Willard clock is the last remaining and functioning tower clock in existence. Climbing endless flights of stairs to see the clock turned out to be worth it. We were all fascinated by the simple beauty of the oiled cogs and wheels, and gears of the mechanics of the 116-year-old clock. After a further climb up steep timbered steps, with no handrail we got to the bell tower. Unfortunately, shutters obstruct what must be a terrific view and also shield witnesses from what might be another terrific place to dump a body.

 

The Maine Historical Society will run a similar tour of unseen and unknown places in May of next year so if you’re planning a trip to Portland, keep it in mind. And if you have time stop in at police headquarters at 109 Middle Street and say hi to Maggie and McCabe.

 

And please don’t forget to look for my latest McCabe/Savage thriller, A Fatal Obsession, coming out on August 21st and available for preorder now!

 

Follow me on Twitter or Facebook for more details! 

 

How I Became Don Draper Before There Was a Don Draper.

Tuesday, May 15th, 2018

 

At the tender age of twenty-two, after graduating with a degree in History from Brown University, I began considering what options I might have for the future.  I considered and quickly rejected the various paths my college friends were taking. Since I hadn’t been a particularly good student and studying bored me, a career in academia was of little interest. My mother had always wanted me to become a doctor but the path through medical school and a lengthy residency seemed too long and arduous to be a realistic possibility.  I considered law school.  The exploits of Perry Mason and Ben Matlock getting the best of the bad guys on the witness stand in one exciting murder case or another seemed like it might be fun example to follow. But a lengthy conversation with my much older brother (who’d graduated from Yale Law School and was working on Wall Street) made me realize that fourteen-hour days spent parsing, for example, the arcane verbiage of contracts as an associate in a large law firm would probably lead me to an early leap from the George Washington Bridge. And speaking of Wall Street, the idea of spending my days toiling in the bowels of a big bank or investment banking house as a number of my classmates were doing seemed to me to be the stuff of nightmares even though I knew that such a path might someday make me rich.

I considered other possibilities and even arranged a few interviews.  None panned out.  Neither IBM nor Exxon wanted me which was fine with me because I didn’t think I wanted them either.

So what did I want?

Well, the first thing I wanted more than anything else was to move out of my parents’ suburban New Jersey home, move into my own apartment in New York, hopefully on the upper East Side of Manhattan, date beautiful women and hang out at the best bars.  In short I wanted to start living the life I’d always dreamed about in the big city.

Sadly, to do that I needed to start making some money which meant finding a job.  I was cool with that so long as I could to find a job that A: I’d be good at, B: would genuinely enjoy and C: paid me an adequate salary to live the way I wanted, if not immediately at least eventually.  The only thing I could think of that made any sense was writing.  It was one of the few things I was genuinely good at.  Making up stories and giving them life by putting one word after another was something that I both enjoyed and that always came naturally to me.  All through school, even when I got a lousy grade on a paper, the teacher would almost always compliment the writing.  The papers I submitted were often returned with comments like  “Very well written. But sadly reveals little knowledge of the subject matter. C-”.

Okay so I wanted to be a writer. Who in the world, I asked myself, would pay me at least enough to live on to do what I was good at.  I started looking around. My first thought was magazines and newspapers.  I dutifully sent in resumes and set up interviews with the likes of Time Life, The Daily News, and the Associated Press among others.  None offered me a job. Several suggested I go to journalism school and when I finished my studies come back and apply again. Not a bad Idea except that my parents had been stretched thin putting four kids through college.  I was the fourth of four and simply didn’t want to take any more money from them.

So who else, I asked myself would pay me to write? I was pondering this question when one afternoon I found myself standing outside 666 Fifth Avenue (in those days the landmark building was not owned by Jared Kushner).  I was wearing in my grey flannel interview suit and carrying a number of resumes in my borrowed briefcase. Suddenly the skies opened and it began pouring.  I retreated into the lobby.  Since the rain didn’t look like it would be stopping anytime soon, I checked out the building directory to see if there were any companies housed there that might be worth talking to.  There were three that I’d heard of.  Two advertising agencies…Ted Bates and Benton & Bowles…and Revlon, the big cosmetics company.  I figured any or all of them might be a possibility.  Somebody had to write all those magazine ads and TV commercials.  Bates was on a higher floor than the other two and I figured I might as well start at the top and work my way down.  I went there first and managed to get myself an interview with gruff looking, gray-haired man who I figured was about my father’s age. He was in charge of training programs in what was then called the personnel department (nobody had yet dreamed up the euphemism Human Resources.)  He looked me up and down seemed to approve of the way I was dressed.  He looked at my resume and expressed approval at the fact that I had graduated from an Ivy League university.  He asked me what I wanted to do. I told him my dream job was to write TV commercials for such Bates as Mobil Oil and Anacin headache pills. He emitted a non-committal but gruff sounding bark.

 “I don’t hire people for the Creative Department,” he told me. “But I do have a spot in the Account Executive Training Program you look like you might be a good fit for the agency’s account executive training program.”

I wasn’t sure what made me look like a good fit but supposed it was the fact that I’d bought my suit, tie, shirt and shoes at Brooks Brothers which I later discovered was kind of the Company Store for ad execs.  I told him I didn’t want to be an account executive, and repeated that I wanted to be a copywriter.  He said he couldn’t help me with that. That to get a job in the creative department not only would I have to have talent (which I was pretty sure I did) but that I’d have to be able to show one of the Creative Directors a portfolio of ads and TV commercials. I’d never written an ad in my life but offered to show whatever Creative Director he could hook me up with some of the papers I’d written in college. He said that wouldn’t do. I sighed deeply and prepared to leave.  “Wait,” he said. “I need someone for the training program and think you might like it.”  He went on to tell me what being an account executive would entail and encouraging me to think about it.  As he was talking, I had an “Aha!” moment.  If I accepted a spot in the account executive training program, I’d be on the inside. And being on the inside meant I’d almost certainly get to meet most if not all of the Creative Directors.  And maybe I’d be able to convince one or another of them to give me a shot.

And that’s exactly what happened. The personnel guy made an offer. I accepted and within a couple of months had met all the senior creative directors and mentioned to each of them that I really wanted to become a copywriter. Most shrugged and said “that’s nice.”

But I finally ran into one who needed help desperately enough to give me a shot.   ”Okay,” he said. “I have a client meeting tomorrow. I need to show them a new sixty-second TV spot for my Viceroy Cigarette campaign. I don’t like anything I’ve seen so far from the team.  Here are some storyboards of what’s already on air. You’ve got one hour.  Go write me something new that fits the campaign show me what you come up with. I’ll be here late.”

I went back to my cubbyhole and looked at the storyboards for the commercials that were already on air.  They all followed a given format. Written in rhymed doggerel each showed somebody successfully handling a stressful situation and being rewarded by being Viceroy cigarette.

I dreamed up one or two situations that fit the format but that I didn’t like. Then I wrote one that worked.  The that showed a small plane landing on a runway while the voiceover, accompanied by appropriate music, said (and yes, forty plus years later I still remember all the words: “My first solo flight and here comes the ground/A little bit bumpy but home safe and sound/My instructor said, ”Man, you handled her fine/then pulled out a cigarette and said have one of mine. /Some filters taste too strong, he said, and some too light. But Viceroy’s got the taste that’s right. That’s right. That’s right. Viceroy’s got the taste that’s right.”

I went back upstairs to the creative director’s office. He ignored me for about five minutes while he worked on something he was writing. Then he said, “Okay. Show me what you’ve got. I started to hand him the script.

He said, ”No, no. Tell me what I’m seeing and then read me the words. Sell me on it.”

I did as he asked.

“Interesting,” he said, “Read it again.”

After I finished the second reading, he took the script and went over it a few times.  “Not bad,” he said. “Not bad at all.  I’ll have one of the art directors draw up a board and we’ll show it to the client tomorrow.”  I managed to avoid jumping up and down in elation, at least until I got back to my own cubby.

Naturally I wasn’t invited to the meeting but out of the three or four spots presented mine was the one the client liked best. Two weeks later, My First Solo Flight, the first commercial I’d ever written, was in production in Los Angeles. Naturally I wasn’t allowed to go to the shoot either, but while it was going on I was transferred from the Training Program to a slot as a junior copywriter on Viceroy, Mobil Oil and a couple of other accounts. I was at last writing for a living. The rest, as they say, is history.