Posts Tagged ‘McCabe Savage’

“Fatal Vision” and “The Journalist and the Murderer.” A Tale of Three Very Real and Brutal Murders and the Problems With Writing About Them.

Tuesday, August 7th, 2018

In the early morning hours of February 17, 1970 in a three-bedroom apartment that was serving as married officers quarters at Forth Bragg, North Carolina, a twenty-six year old pregnant woman named Collette MacDonald and her two daughters, one aged five and the other just two, were stabbed and bludgeoned to death. Collette’s husband and the father of the two little girls, Captain Jeffrey MacDonald, a US Army physician serving with the Army Special Forces AKA The Green Berets, was also supposedly attacked but suffered only mild bruises and non-life threatening stab wounds.  Captain MacDonald claims he regained consciousness to find the battered and bloody bodies of his wife and two daughters.

 

The physical evidence at the scene suggested that it was Macdonald himself who had brutally murdered his entire family. However the physical evidence was badly compromised by the incompetence of the MPs who answered the initial call for help.  MacDonald insisted to Army investigators that he was innocent and that the family’s apartment had been invaded by a band of drugged-up hippies, three men and one woman who had been shouting “Acid is groovy…Kill the pigs,” as they attacked the family with knives, an icepick and wooden clubs.

 

Over the course of the next nine years the three murders were investigated over and over again to determine whether MacDonald himself had, in fact, killed his family.  The case was first investigated by Army CID which declared that MacDonald was innocent of the killings. The case then went to the Justice Department which after years of going back and forth, finally indicted MacDonald for the crimes. Four years after the initial indictment and nine years after the killings had taken place, MacDonald was tried in federal court and a civilian jury in Raleigh, North Carolina found him guilty of three counts of first degree murder.  The judge sentenced him to three life sentences in prison, one for each of the killings.

 

For the entire nine years that this was going on, the handsome and charming Captain MacDonald insisted endlessly to anyone and everyone who would listen that he was innocent.  He tried to get major magazines and newspapers to write about the injustice of the accusations.  And he even managed to get himself interviewed on the popular late night network Dick Cavett TV show.  As the case moved toward trial, MacDonald approached a well known author, Joe McGinniss, to write a book about it.  McGinniss had become famous for his best selling account of Richard Nixon’s 1968 presidential campaign, The Selling of the President, but he needed another blockbuster project and so agreed.

 

MacDonald and his team of attorneys invited McGinniss to move into a North Carolina State University fraternity house that they had rented for the duration of the trial.  He did so and they gave him complete and total access to all their discussions, deliberations and strategic planning for the defense.  Over that time MacDonald and McGinniss ostensibly became the best of friends. They hung out together, went running together, went out drinking together and endless discussed the case and how MacDonald’s presumed innocence should be presented.  MacDonald’s idea was that McGinniss would write the story of the trial in a way that utterly exonerated the doctor and would lead to a new trial in the unlikely event that Macdonald was found guilty.

 

There was only one fly in that particular ointment.  During the course of the trial, Joe McGinniss became convinced, along with all twelve members of the jury, that MacDonald had, in fact, committed the murders.  Following the conviction,  McGinniss wrote a lengthy and very detailed book describing the murders and the subsequent court proceedings and describing in detail MacDonald’s and his attorney’s endless and often desperate attempts to avoid justice.

 

In the book, titled Fatal Vision, McGinniss filled in a lot of seeming blanks in the case by writing what really amounted to presumptions of how events he couldn’t have had first hand knowledge of had, in fact, occurred. These were convincing presumptions but presumptions nevertheless.

 

As the book became a major best-seller, Dr. MacDonald became furious with having been “betrayed” by the author.  He filed a lawsuit against McGinniss accusing him of dishonesty, fraud and making false accusations.  McDonald eventually collected three hundred thousand dollars in a settlement.

 

Ten years later, in 1990, another writer, Janet Malcolm, published a fascinating account of the ongoing battle between Dr. MacDonald and Joe McGinniss and examining their differing accounts of what happened that night. Malcolm’s book is titled The journalist and The Murderer and it offers a fascinating insight into the problems of writing any so-called “True Crime” book and is definitely worth reading by anyone who reads or writes so-called “Non-fiction true crime novels” (a term initially used to describe Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood). Malcolm states her point of view about such books and particularly Fatal Vision very succinctly on the first pages of her book.  Here’s what she says:

 

“EVERY journalist who is not too stupid or too full of himself to notice what is going on knows that what he does is morally indefensible. He is a kind of confidence man, preying on people’s vanity, ignorance, or loneliness, gaining their trust and betraying them without remorse. Like the credulous widow who wakes up one day to find the charming young man and all her savings gone, so the consenting subject of a piece of nonfiction writing learns—when the article or book appears—his hard lesson. Journalists justify their treachery in various ways according to their temperaments. The more pompous talk about freedom of speech   and “the public’s right to know”; the least talented talk about Art; the seemliest murmur about earning a living. The catastrophe suffered by the subject is no simple matter of an unflattering likeness or a misrepresentation of his views; what pains him, what rankles and sometimes drives him to extremes of vengefulness, is the deception that has been practiced on him. On reading the article or book in question, he has to face the fact that the journalist—who seemed so friendly and sympathetic, so keen to understand him fully, so remarkably attuned to his vision of things—never   had the slightest intention of collaborating with him on his story but always intended to write a story of his own. The disparity between what seems to be the intention of an interview as it is taking place and what it actually turns out to have been in aid of always comes as a shock to the subject.”

 

I read both the 700 page Fatal Vision and much shorter The Journalist and the Murderer over three long days I spent trapped in an easy chair unable to move about comfortably as I waited impatiently and in pain for hip replacement surgery which will happily takes place in just a few days now. I recommend both.  They’re both fascinating and worth your time.

 

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

 

Follow Jim on Twitter or Facebook for more details!

 

The Story of Tom Joyce:

Tuesday, July 31st, 2018

Tom Joyce’s Father

James Hayman:   Whenever I do readings from one of my books at a library or bookstore, I’m frequently asked by someone in the audience how I learned about police procedures in general and about the Portland Police Department in particular. The answer is simple. Before starting to write my first thriller, The Cutting, I called the PPD and told the woman who answered the phone I was working on a novel featuring a pair of Portland, Maine detectives. I asked her if there was anyone knowledgeable about the department who could help educate me. She said, “I know just the right guy. He’s a detective sergeant who recently retired from the department. His name is Tom Joyce.” 

I called Tom and set up a meeting and he’s been both my friend as well as my source for information about police work ever since.  After learning that Tom’s grandfather, father, brother and uncle preceded him in the PPD and that his son has started his own career, I asked Tom if he’d be willing to write about his life for my blog.  He graciously agreed. Here he is in his own words:

Tom: I find it interesting how one person’s life path finds its way to intersect with another person’s path.  I first met Jim Hayman a few years after starting my second career in 2004 as a professor in the Criminal Justice Department at Southern Maine Community College.

Before I move forward in time from that point I think it appropriate to give a little history from my life path that put me on an intersecting course with Jim’s   My grandparents on my father’s side immigrated from Ireland to the United States.  Delia and Patrick Joyce left Ireland for a better life.  Making their way to Portland, Maine they eventually had children- my father Tom, John and Catherine.

Although my grandfather was affiliated with the Portland Police Department for a brief period, my father and uncle both made it a career, joining the department shortly after WWII and retiring in the 1970’s.  My father retired as a detective, my uncle as a captain.

Three years after my father retired from the department I was sworn in as a Portland police officer in 1979.  I worked as a crime scene technician and eventually was promoted to sergeant and then assigned as a detective sergeant in the criminal investigation division.  I also was responsible for the department’s crime laboratory.

I retired in 2004 to take a full-time teaching position at Southern Maine Community College.  I am fortunate to have the opportunity to share with students my knowledge and experience so that they may realize their aspirations of working in the criminal justice system.  It is wonderful and rewarding to see my students go onto successful careers in the field.

Tom Joyce’s Son

This spring my youngest son Alexander Patrick Joyce was sworn in as a Portland Police officer and wears badge number 67.  That is the same number that my father, brother and I all wore during our time serving on the department.  The tradition lives on.

As a detective sergeant, one of the most interesting cases I worked on was the murder of Amy St. Laurent in 2001.  What started as a missing person case with suspicious aspects developed into a murder investigation.  The investigation illustrates the cooperation among multiple law enforcement agencies and how good old fashion police work absent much forensic evidence brought a killer to justice.  A book on one investigation I worked was memorialized in the book, “Finding Amy”, written by author Kate Flora and Portland’s one time Assistant Police Chief Joe Loughlin. The book tells a lot about how the Portland Police operate. I should mention that two of the investigators who deserve most of the credit for advancing this case to the ultimate conviction of the man responsible for Amy’s death were Portland Police Detective Daniel Young and Detective Scott Harakles of the Maine State Police.

One of the things I’ve discussed with Jim over the years is how criminal investigation is really both an art and a science.  On the science side forensics can be a much simpler tool to use in solving crimes than obtaining truthful statements from victims, witnesses and/or suspects.  Physical evidence does not pick sides, it just sits there and, provided it is properly examined and analyzed, it can shed significant insight into what really happened.  Get a DNA match, or a fingerprint match and it’s usually game over at that point.

Tom Joyce (Right) and His Brother Peter

On the other hand, getting the truth about a crime out of people, especially ones who would rather not give it, can be a challenge. Which is where the art of interrogation comes into play.  My father often said, “All the actors are not in Hollywood”.  What he meant was that as a police officer he ran into “actors” during his investigations.  Victims, witness and suspects in his investigations at one time or another all lied to him. If you are going to lie you need to sell it, you need to be a good actor.  Suspects try to lie their way out of the situation they have gotten themselves into.  Some are better actors than others. “So-called witnesses also lie to the police often to help out a buddy who committed some type of crime.   And then there are the phony victims. For example, I once dealt with a so-called victim who swore up and down that he had been robbed and his weekly work pay stolen.  It took persistent questioning to reveal that he was lying and that the whole robbery story was false.  What really happened was that our so-called “victim” had blown a good portion of his pay at a bar and needed an excuse to tell his landlord since the rent was due and he was a little short on cash. Filing a false police report of a crime is itself a crime in Maine.

After I retired from the police department in 2004 I became a full-time teacher of Criminal Justice at Southern Maine Community College.  One day I got a telephone call in my office at S.M.C.C. from a man by the name of Jim Hayman who said he was in the process of writing a book and asked if I would be willing to help him with background information. Jim was doing his homework on the Portland Police Department and how real life criminal investigations are handled.  He wanted to know specifics on how the department operated and particularly the criminal investigation division.  He was looking for information and insight concerning criminal investigation.  Like most police officers I was more than willing to share with Jim my knowledge and experience on the department and all aspects of police work.  All too often folks get a distorted perspective watching those police shows on TV. The majority of police officers want the public to know the ins and outs of how they do their job.  It helps in building a positive relationship between the public and police.

Anyway, after I agreed to help we set up a date and talked. Jim’s novel centered on the fictional adventures of Detective Sergeant Michael McCabe who worked at the Portland Police Department and by coincidence held the same exact position I once did in the detective bureau. Jim asked a lot of questions and I did my best to answer them. As a result I believe the character of McCabe accurately reflects both the personal and professional issues a real officer might experience and have to handle.

As a retired officer, it was refreshing to have an author like Jim who was willing do his homework with the goal of portraying police work as it is actually done.  I have commended Jim on this point on more than one occasion over the years.

As the years passed by and Jim wrote a series of stories based on the McCabe character, we have continued to stay in touch and have developed a good friendship.  And when he has questions concerning police work I’m still more than happy to answer his questions.  I appreciate his reaching out in order to put a real-life police perspective into his stories.  I wish him the best of luck on his upcoming books.

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

 

Follow Jim on Twitter or Facebook for more details!

 

(Images courtesy of Tom Joyce)

Conan Doyle for the Defense

Friday, July 27th, 2018

For today’s blog I’d simply like to draw Sherlock Holmes fans attention to a review in the New York Times of a new book about the time Sir Arthur Conan Doyle filled in real life the role Holmes filled in so many of his stories: putting the clues together and solving the crime.  The book is titled: CONAN DOYLE FOR THE DEFENSE

The True Story of a Sensational British Murder, a Quest for Justice, and the World’s Most Famous Detective Writer. The author is Margalit Fox and while the review is not exactly a rave, the case it discusses is certainly an interesting one for all fans of mystery fiction and/or true crime.  Just click the link to read.

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!

 

(Images from The Strand Magazine, original publisher of the Sherlock Holmes cases)

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!

 

Follow me on Twitter or Facebook for more details!

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!

 

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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!

 

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