Posts Tagged ‘McCabe’

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! 

Can a Writer Retire?

Thursday, February 27th, 2014

Philip Roth, long one of my favorite writers, recently announced his retirement. In his apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side there’s reportedly a post-it note stuck on his computer screen that says, “The struggle with writing is over.”

But how does a writer retire?  Particularly one as single-mindedly devoted to his craft as Roth.

Philip RothFor more than fifty years Roth wrote constantly, turning out book after book from the novella Goodbye Columbus in his early twenties in 1959 to his last, Nemesis published in 2010.  More than thirty books, some better than others, but all with legitimate literary merit.

According to a piece by David Remnick in the New Yorker, “Roth’s writing days were spent in long silence-no distractions, no invitations entertained, no calls, no e-mails. After I wrote a Profile of Roth, around the time of the publication of “The Human Stain,” we would meet every so often, and he told me the story of how a friend had asked him to take care of his kitten. “For a day or two, I played with the cat, but, in the end, it demanded too much attention,” he said. “It consumed me, you see. So I had to ask my friend to take it back.” Four years ago, he told me that he was interested in trying to break the “fanatical habit” of writing, if only as an experiment in alternative living. “So I went to the Met and saw a big show they had. It was wonderful. Astonishing paintings. I went back the next day. I saw it again. Great. But what was I supposed to do next, go a third time? So I started writing again.”

My question is what will he do this time?  Go back to the Met over and over and over? 

Nevertheless Roth claims he has already said what he had to say.   In Remnick’s piece, Roth quotes the boxer Joe Louis  “‘I did the best I could with what I had.’ It’s exactly what I would say of my work: I did the best I could with what I had… I don’t think a new book will change what I’ve already done, and if I write a new book it will probably be a failure. Who needs to read one more mediocre book?”

I repeat my question, what will he do this time.  Keep returning to the Met?  He’s not young.  He turns eighty this year. But his mind is still sharp. His skills have barely diminished, if at all.  And writing a book is not an effort that demands physical strength like mining for coal or loading heavy furniture onto a moving van to help a still-active crime writer move from his island home to Portland.  Most writers, with some obvious exceptions, are not people who worked simply to make money, to amass a fortune and, having amassed it, now want to spend the rest of their days doing something more fun like chasing potential trophy wives. Or doing something more noble like helping hungry children in Africa or starting a foundation.

Philip Roth is and I believe always will be a writer. Being a writer requires a certain turn of mind. To sit (or in Roth’s case stand) at a desk and dream what it is like to live someone else’s life.  Whether you’re Roth who, no doubt, will be long remembered for his best works or James Hayman who almost certainly won’t, a writer writes. And both Roth and I are writers.

Somebody once asked Mel Brooks who is 87, when, if ever, he planned to retire.  He reportedly responded “Retire? Retire from what? I sit in a chair with a pencil and pad and when I think of something that makes me laugh, I write it down.”

I’m considerably younger than either Roth or Brooks. I’ve still got most of my hair, though now it’s mostly silver instead of its original black. And I’m certainly not as obsessive or disciplined about my writing as Roth.  I do go to parties. I do go to movies and museums. I do have lunch with friends. But at the end of the day, or more accurately, at the beginning of the next day, I go back to my writing.  I feel pretty much the way Brooks does. There’s never any reason to retire from a writing career other than Alzheimers , the horrible disease that felled British writer Iris Murdoch.

Harper Lee wrote one book. She published To Kill a Mockingbird in 1961. And, as far as anyone knows, has written little, if anything since.  Like Mel Brooks she’s now 87.  I don’t know how she did it or how she spends her days. But I think she’s an anomaly.

 Some retirees play golf.  Others do good works. Or take care of their grandchildren. Or travel. I’m not a golfer and at this point have no grandchildren. I have enough money not to be forced to put on a blue jacket and welcome people to Walmart. While I’ve served on a few boards, I’m not very good at it.  I’d like to be able to travel but nobody ever said you can’t travel and still write. In fact, writers have the unique luxury of legitimately being able to deduct the cost of travel from their taxes as research or reading tours. Even Amtrak is reportedly offering writers free train rides as “fellowships,” to write and I for one love writing on trains.

Having recently completed and survived a move from our island home to a house in Portland, I’ve started, after an enforced hiatus, to get back to writing my fourth McCabe/Savage thriller.  I’m 17,000 words in and I like what I’ve got so far and, more importantly, I’m enjoying the days I get to spend inside my characters’ heads.  It’s where I want to be.

 I hope, like Elmore Leonard or Mel Brooks, I’ll still be at it when (and if) I hit 87. I just hope that if I am, someone will want to read about the people I bring to life inside my head and on my computer.

 

The Problem With “Nice”

Monday, December 23rd, 2013

At the risk of appearing Scrooge-like in this season of Merry, Happy and Ho-Ho-Ho, I’d like to add my two cents to a kerfuffle over book reviews that’s been brewing both in the print media and on the Internet for the past month or so.

If you haven’t been following it, the brouhaha started when a popular website called BuzzFeed hired Issac Fitzgerald who used to work as the Publicity Director for Dave Eggers’ McSweeney’s Publishing Company, to serve as the editor for its Books Section. Fitzgerald accepted the job because, as he says, “I was missing what I do best, which is talk about books online.”

However, Fitzgerald apparently only likes to talk about books positively, following what he calls The Bambi Rule:  “If you can’t say something nice then don’t say nothing (sic) at all.”  (Fitzgerald acknowledges that the line originally came from Thumper). While the Bambi Rule, whether mouthed first by a rabbit or a fawn, may a good one to follow when one is generating publicity for a book as Fitzgerald used to do but it’s not one legitimate critics or reviewers should be encouraged to follow.

The problem with “nice” is that few, if any, works of fiction are perfect and it is the job of competent reviewers to point what doesn’t work in a book as well as to lavish praise on what does. Reviews should do more than just try to convince people to read the books Fitzgerald or his reviewers fall in love with.

Whether we’re talking about crime fiction, literary fiction or non-fiction, legitimate reviewers should give us a sense of what the author intended and how well they achieved their goals. It should discuss in what ways the book didn’t work as well as the ways in which it did.  Reviews should also provide insights into both the style and quality of the writing.

If the reviewer does their job well, he or she can help people intelligently decide what they want to buy and read.  Just offering an unending stream of nice, as Fitzgerald suggests, isn’t criticism or analysis. At its best, it’s marketing and should be identified as such.  Most of the reader reviews on Amazon and B&N generally fall into this category.  At its worst it’s meaningless pap.

Predictably reaction in both online and traditional media was vociferous.   Both Maureen Dowd and Bob Garfield wrote stinging op-eds on Fitzgerald’s Bambi Rule in the New York Times. Garfield sarcastically ended his piece by noting:

BuzzFeed’s heroic initiative will succeed even if it merely eradicates the depressing negativity that has for so long kept literary criticism from becoming a full-fledged economic sector, like agriculture, transport and erectile dysfunction.

It also brings us one step closer to my two lifelong dreams: first, a newspaper that delivers only good news; and second, diet bacon.”

While I agree with Dowd, Garfield and others who think Fitzgerald is doing readers a disservice, I have to say I also agree that some book reviews and reviewers are unnecessarily––if amusingly––nasty.  I’ve always loved Dorothy Parker’s oft-quoted line,“This is not a book to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force.”

On a decidedly nastier note, Garfield’s column points out that  “The Hatchet Job of the Year Award” went to a reviewer named Camilla Long of the London Times who described a writer named Rachel Cusk’s  memoir of her marital breakup as “a needy, neurotic mandolin solo” written by “a brittle little dominatrix and peerless narcissist.”

That kind of barbed and personal mud-slinging is both nasty and unnecessary. Legitimate constructive  criticism shouldn’t be.  Like any writer, I love getting good reviews and hate getting bad ones.  While I’ve never been the target of anything remotely as ugly as Ms. Long’s poison pen, I would still prefer getting a thoughtful negative review that points out legitimate flaws in my work to one that mindlessly praises it.  Constructive criticism can help me improve my writing and my books.  Empty praise serves no purpose other than to puff up my ego (which admittedly makes me feel good) and to flim-flam potential readers which doesn’t.

A good friend of mine, now in his eighties and a compulsive reader, once asked me how many years I thought I had left in my life.  I offered an optimistic number.  He then asked me to multiply that number by the number of books I usually read in a year.

Even if I made it to the ripe old age I predicted, I was shocked by how few books I’d have time to read before they carried me out.  Given the small number, I’ll continue to depend on good reviewers and thoughtful criticism to help me decide which ones to choose.

I suppose the ultimate problem with “nice” is that it smacks of the philosophy that impels adults to give every kid who participates in a race, even the one who finishes last, equal praise and maybe even a trophy. In literary criticism that simply won’t cut it.

Darkness First

Wednesday, July 24th, 2013

James Hayman:  My next McCabe thriller, Darkness First, is coming out October 1st as the lead title in Harper Collins’ brand new Witness imprint that plans on featuring mysteries and thrillers initially in Ebook format and, in most cases, later on in print.

I decided to go with Harper Collins’ after learning that, while roughly 25% of all books sold in the U.S. are sold in Ebook format, in genre fiction such as mysteries, thrillers and romance, the number is closer to 60% and rising.

Darkness First US Front CoverDarkness First is the first novel in the McCabe/Savage series to feature Detective Maggie Savage, McCabe’s partner, as the key protagonist.  Most of the story is told from her point of view.  As a male writer I wanted to try writing a novel primarily from a female point of view which turned out to be interesting, especially when it came to describing the sex scenes. The book is also the first of the series that takes place primarily outside of Portland.

In Darkness First Maggie goes home to Machias in Washington County, where she was born and raised, to help Maine State Police CID detectives and DEA agents track down a murderous oxycontin dealer who has viciously killed a young woman who worked with him. In the process, the murderer came perilously close to killing Maggie’s oldest and dearest friend, Emily Kaplan, a doctor who was trying to help the murdered woman. Eventually (naturally) the hunt for the killer takes a number of unexpected turns and draws Mike McCabe, into the case.Screen Shot 2013-07-24 at 6.18.12 AM

I drew the title Darkness First from the fact that Washington County is the easternmost county in the continental United States where, as many have noted, the sun rises first in America.  I found it interesting that far fewer people had made the point that Washington County is also where darkness  arrives first.  As Hemingway might have said, the sun also sets. And, of course, bad things happen when it does.

The book introduces a number of new characters I like and who may appear again in future McCabe/Savage novels.

These include Maggie’s father, John Savage, the four term sheriff of Washington County who, “a lean six-four, with a gray mustache and a weathered face, Savage looked more like a sheriff in a John Ford western than one in a rural county in Maine. He was even armed like Wyatt Earp with his pride and joy, an original 1873 long-barreled Colt .45 Peacemaker, strapped to his waist. All he needed was a horse and a Stetson hat to complete the image.  And somewhere at home Maggie was pretty sure he had the hat.”

Another of the characters I like in this book and may use again is Maggie’s best and oldest friend, Dr. Emily Kaplan.  In addition to being a doctor, Emily, at six-foot-three and one hundred and eighty pounds, is a former all-star basketball player and a one-time world-class amateur boxer. She is also something of an idealist. Emily practices medicine out of her childhood home, “a small but pretty colonial farmhouse set at the end of a country road on the outermost edges of the village of Machiasport…It was, she liked telling the few friends from med school who bothered to visit, the global headquarters of Machiasport Family Medicine.  They would smile at her small joke and tell her how much they admired her decision to work here, among the people of the poorest and most underserved county in a poor and underserved state. A few told her they were sometimes tempted to do the same sort of thing. But, as far as she knew, none ever had. Her classmates had richer fields to till.”

In the book we also meet Maggie’s ne’r do well brother Harlan, an ex-marine who suffered serious wounds serving two tours in Iraq and who is still suffering from the effects of  PTSD.   Harlan makes much of his living, such as it is, playing pool for money in a bar, The Musty Moose, in Machias. “The pool tables in the side room at the Moose were crowded with the usual assortment of players and hangers-on. Maggie spotted Harlan in a game at table three and leaned in against the wall under the head of a long-dead bear some taxidermist had stuffed with its mouth open and fangs exposed, in full roar. The creature looked like it was seconds away from leaping off the wall and gobbling up the nearest player.

She watched her kid brother sweep the table till all that was left was the eight ball pressed against the far rail about a foot from the pocket. He had a good eye, that was for sure. Probably why they’d made him a sniper in the Corps.”  That good eye comes in handy later in the book.

The last of the characters to mention is Tabitha Stoddard, the murder victim’s eleven-year-old sister. Tabitha is a nerdy, bookish, semi-fat kid with big round glasses, who, improbably, sets herself the task of tracking down her big sister’s murderer and who, in fact, ends up being a key part of catching him. We first meet Tabitha shortly after she learns that her sister Tiffany has been murdered.

“Tabbie had a hard time thinking of Tiff as dead. Everything about her big sister had always seemed so alive. Tiff was everything Tabitha always wanted to be but knew she never would. She was beautiful. Smart. Fun and funny. The idea of someone like Tiff being dead seemed crazy. Ridiculous.

Tabbie told herself to stop being stupid. Anybody could be dead and, at eleven years old,  a person really ought to understand what being dead meant. Dead was dead. Just like Terri was dead and had been for three years. Just like Grammy Katherine was dead. And their old dog Lucy. She was dead too. Tabbie’d gone to the vet with her mother when they gave Lucy the shot. The vet put the needle in and just like that Lucy went from being an alive thing to a dead thing.  At eleven years old a person obviously knew what dead meant.

What she wasn’t all that sure about was what happened after you were dead. Were you just not there anymore? Gone. Poof. Like you never existed? Just a rotting lump of meat in a box underground being eaten up by bugs and worms?

Or was dying more like what they said in church?  Tabitha was by no means certain it was, but if it was, well then there was a distinct possibility Tiff was flying around somewhere in either heaven or hell. She was in what Mrs St Pierre who lived up the road called a better place. Mrs St Pierre came over with some cupcakes after she heard on television about Tiff being murdered. Tabbie didn’t know why Mrs. St. Pierre thought cupcakes would help but apparently she did.”

Darkness First comes out first in the British Commonwealth countries.  On September 15th, Penguin UK will release it in Britain, Australia, New Zealand, India, South Africa and so on.  Two weeks later Harper Collins will release the book as the lead title in the launch of their new Witness Impulse E-book imprint.