Posts Tagged ‘McCabe Savage’

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.