TRUE FICTION Videos Hit the Web

The first of many TRUE FICTION videos and trailers have hit the web (I shared some behind-the-scenes photos from the shoot a few weeks back). I really love this “movie style” trailer for the book:

And in this one, I personally invite you to read the book:

I can’t wait for the other videos to come out. They include short interviews and some embarrassing photos from my dark, mysterious past. They will be all over the web but I will be sure to share them here with you, too. I’ll also be sharing photos from my book tour, which begins April 14 at Mysterious Galaxy in San Diego.

The Mail I Get – Long Overdue Monk Edition

I’ve been getting lots of questions about my MONK series. Here are just a few of them.

Hi Lee, quick question about the Monk books. I know they’re stand-alones, but did you intend for the characters to have gradual progressions from book 1 to book 15, which wouldn’t necessarily require the reader to read them in order, but that the reader would get more out of the overall storyline arc if they *did* read them in order?

Yes, particularly after MR. MONK IS CLEANED OUT and onwards through my last book, MR. MONK GETS EVEN. Also, early in the series, the books MR. MONK GOES TO GERMANY and MR. MONK IS MISERABLE (aka Mr. Monk Goes to France) take place basically within hours of each other, so those are best read in order.

Love the Mr Monk book series. I’m in need of a jacket cover for a hardcover book “Mr Monk on the COUCH”. Any idea where I might be able to go and get just the cover?

I don’t have a stack of dust jackets in my closet. You’ll have to buy a used book. There are plenty on Amazon and ABEbooks.

I just finished reading your last book on Monk and something bothers me. Where was the daughter of Trudy – Molly? How is it possible that she was not at the wedding Ambrose and Yuki? After all, she is part of the family. Why she was not invited to the wedding? Was there any reason why you did not mention Molly Evans in your book? Please reply.

If memory serves , I had Molly appear in “Mr Monk on The Road” and I felt that was enough attention paid to her. The character appeared briefly in the last episode of Monk, so she barely registered as a character . She wasn’t monk’s daughter, so she wasn’t related to him or Ambrose. Her character barely existed in the tv show. I saw no reason to spend any more time with a character that viewers and readers didn’t really know or care about. That approach has proven correct since you are only the second person, out of the tens of thousands of readers who bought the book, to bring her up to me in the years since the novel was published. 🙂

Thanks for writing the Monk series. I love them. I love the way you have developed the characters, especially…all of them. I am just very disappointed that you are not going to write any more of them. If you change your mind I shall rejoice.

Thank you, but to quote a cliche, the ship has sailed on the MONK books. I won’t be doing any more. I think writing fifteen books and three Monk episodes is more than enough Monk for me!

I was wondering if you still talk to the maker of monk because if you do I was wonder if you could ask him to make a monk movie! I would love that and I know a lot of fans would love it too!

Andy Breckman wrote a MONK reunion movie several years ago for USA Network. But, from what I understand, it ended up being too expensive to produce.

I’m a HUGE fan of the Mr. Monk book series and the TV series! I’m having a very hard time finding your first book, “Mr. Monk Goes To The Firehouse” so, I was wondering if you could send me a copy at your earliest convenience. Here is my address. Please sign it, too.

I’m so glad that you enjoy the MONK books. I don’t know why you’re having troubles finding MR. MONK GOES TO THE FIREHOUSE. It is widely available from hundreds of booksellers, in some cases for as little as one penny plus postage! That said, I’m not a bookseller nor do I send out free copies of my books to anybody who asks.

I am a huge fan, I have seen the Monk tv show and read all of the Monk books.  How do I go about obtaining a copy of the short story Mr. Monk and the Seventeen steps?

The short story is actually a chapter from one of the MONK books… MR. MONK ON THE ROAD. All the short stories that were published in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine were excerpts from the books that just worked as standalone stories

Writing Diagnosis Murder & How to Plot a Mystery

dm7aI’m heading off next week to the Writers Police Academy, where I will be giving a talk on how to integrate research into your mystery writing…for TV and for books. In preparing my notes, I came across this old blog post about how I wrote the Diagnosis Murder books and episodes. It was great to read… because, after so long, it was as if I was reading something written by someone else. I think I gave some pretty good advice … so I’m sharing the piece again in case you missed it the first time or in the many magazines and books in which it has been excerpted or reprinted over the years.

I’ve just signed a contract for four more Diagnosis Murder books… and the next one is due in March. I have the broad strokes of the story…. but that’s it. The broad strokes. The equivalent of book jacket copy. I’ve still got to come up with the actual story. I’ve been able to procrastinate by doing research on the period… which has given me some plot ideas… but I’ve still got to figure out the murders, the clues, the characters and, oh yes, the story.

This is the hardest part of writing… the sitting around, staring into space, and thinking. This is writing, even if you aren’t physically writing. A lot of non-writers have a hard time understanding this. Yes, just sitting in a chair doing nothing is writing. A crucial part, in fact.

It can be hell… especially when you are on as short a deadline as I am. Everyone has their own method… this is mine:

Once all the thinking is done, I sit down and work out a rough outline… one or two lines on each “scene,” with the vital clues or story points in bold. It’s what I call “a living outline,” because it changes as I write the book, staying a few chapters ahead of me (and, sometimes, requiring me to go back and revise earlier chapters to jibe with the new changes I’ve made… like characters who were supposed to die in the story but don’t). I keep revising the outline right up to the end of the novel. I finish both the book and the living outline almost simultaneously.

While I’m still thinking, and while I’m outlining, and while I’m writing, I compile and maintain what I call “My Murder Book,” a thick binder that contains my outline, my working manuscript, and notes, emails, articles, clips, photographs, post-its…anything and everything relating to my story. By the time the book is done, the binder is bulging with stuff… including my notes on what my next book might be.

Now I’m in the thinking stage, which is why I have time to write this essay. What a great way to procrastinate!

In every Diagnosis Murder book, Dr. Mark Sloan is able to unravel a puzzling murder by using clever deductions and good medicine to unmask the killer.

I wish I could say that he’s able to do that because of my astonishing knowledge of medicine, but it’s not.

I’m just a writer.

I know as much about being a doctor as I do about being a private eye, a lifeguard, a submarine Captain, or a werewolf… and I’ve written and produced TV shows about all of them, too.

What I do is tell stories. And what I don’t know, I usually make up…or call an expert to tell me.

Writing mysteries is, by far, the hardest writing I’ve had to do in television. Writing a medical mystery is even harder. On most TV shows, you can just tell a good story. With mysteries, a good story isn’t enough; you also need a challenging puzzle. It’s twice as much work for the same money. Diagnosis Murder cast

I always begin developing a book the same way – I come up with an “arena,” the world in which our story will take place. A UFO convention. Murder in a police precinct. A rivalry between mother and daughter for the love of a man. Once I have the arena, I think about the characters. Who are the people the story will be about? What makes them interesting? What goals do they have, and how do they conflict with the other characters?

And then I ask myself the big questions – who gets murdered, how is he or she killed, and why? How Dr. Mark Sloan solves that murder depends on whether I’m are writing an open or closed mystery.

Whether the murder is “open,” meaning the reader knows whodunit from the start, or whether it is “closed,” meaning I find out who the killer is the same time that the hero does, is dictated by the series concept. Columbo mysteries are always open, Murder She Wrote was always closed, and Diagnosis Murder mixes both. An open mystery works when both the murderer, and the reader, think the perfect crime has been committed. The pleasure is watching the detective unravel the crime, and find the flaws you didn’t see. A closed mystery works when the murder seems impossible to solve, and the clues that are found don’t seem to point to any one person, but the hero sees the connection you don’t and unmasks the killer with it.

In plotting the book, the actual murder is the last thing I explore, once I’ve settled on the arena and devised some interesting characters. Once I figure out who to kill and how, then I start asking myself what the killer did wrong. I need a number of clues, some red-herrings that point to other suspects, and clues which point to our murderer. The hardest clue is the finish clue, or as we call it, the “ah-ha!,” the little shred of evidence that allows the hero to solve the crime – but still (hopefully) leaves the reader in the dark.

The finish clue is the hardest part of writing a Diagnosis Murder book – because it has to be something obscure enough that it won’t make it obvious who the killer is to everybody, but definitive enough that the reader will be satisfied when Mark Sloan nails the murderer with it.

Diagnosis Murder book is a manipulation of information, a game that’s played on the reader. Once I have the rigid frame of the puzzle, I have to hide the puzzle so the reader isn’t aware they are being manipulated. It’s less about concealment than it is about distraction. If I do it right, the reader is so caught up in the conflict and drama of the story, they aren’t aware that they are being constantly misdirected.

The difficulty, the sheer, agonizing torture, of writing Diagnosis Murder is telling a good story while, at the same time, constructing a challenging puzzle. To me, the story is more important than the puzzle — the book should be driven by character conflict, not my need to reveal clues. The revelations should come naturally out of character, because people read books to see interesting people in interesting situations…not to solve puzzles. A mystery, without the character and story, isn’t very entertaining.

diagnosismurder-1In my experience, the best “ah-ha!” clues come from character, not from mere forensics – for instance, I discover Aunt Mildred is the murderer because she’s such a clean freak, she couldn’t resist doing the dishes after killing her nephew.

But this is a book series about a doctor who solves crimes. Medicine has to be as important as character-based clues. So I try to mix them together. The medical clue comes out of character.

So how do I come up with that clever bit of medicine?

First, I decide what function or purpose the medical clue has to serve, and how it is linked to our killer, then I make a call to Dr. D.P. Lyle, author of Forensics for Dummies, to help me find us the right malady, drug, or condition that fits our story needs. If he doesn’t know the answer, I go to the source. If it’s a question about infectious diseases, for instance, I might call the Centers for Disease Control. If it’s a forensic question, I might call the medical examiner. If it’s a drug question, I’ll call a pharmaceutical company. It all depends on the story. And more often than not, whoever I find is glad to answer my questions.

The reader enjoys the game as long as you play fair…as long as they feel they had the chance to solve the mystery, too. Even if they do solve it ahead of your detective, if it was a difficult and challenging mystery, they feel smart and don’t feel cheated. They are satisfied, even if they aren’t surprised.

If Dr. Sloan catches the killer because of some arcane medical fact you’d have to be an expert to catch, then I’ve failed and you won’t watch the show again.

The medical clue has to be clever, but it can’t be so obscure that you don’t have a chance to notice it for yourself, even if you aren’t an M.D. And it has to come out of character, so even if you do miss the clue, it’s consistent with, and arises from, a character’s behavior you can identify.

To play fair, all the clues and discoveries have to be shared with the reader at the same time that the hero finds them. There’s nothing worse than withholding clues from the reader – and the sad thing is, most mysteries do it all the time. The writers do it because playing fair is much, much harder than cheating. If you have the hero get the vital information “off screen,” between chapters, the story is a lot easier to plot. But when Diagnosis Murder book works, when the mystery is tight, and the reader is fairly and honestly fooled, it makes all the hours of painful plotting worthwhile.

That, and the royalty check.

When you sit down to write a mystery novel, there are no limitations on where your characters can go and what they can do. Your detective hero can appear on every single page. He can spend all the time he wants outdoors, even at night, and can talk with as many people as he likes. Those may not seem like amazing creative liberties to you, but to someone who makes most of his living writing for television, they are amazing freedoms.

Before a TV writer even begins to think about his story, he has to consider a number of factors that have nothing to do with telling a good mystery or creating memorable characters.

lastwordbetterFor one thing, there’s the budget and the shooting schedule. Whatever story you come up with has be shot in X many days for X amount of dollars. In the case of Diagnosis Murder, a show I wrote and produced for several years, it was seven days and $1.2 million dollars. In TV terms, it was a cheap show shot very fast.

To make that schedule, you are limited to the number of days your characters can be “on location” as opposed to being on the “standing sets,” the regular interiors used in each book. On Diagnosis Murder, it was four days “in” and three days “out.” Within that equation, there are still more limitations – how many new sets can be built, how many locations you can visit and how many scenes can be shot at night.

Depending on the show’s budget, you are also limited to X number of guest stars and X number of smaller “speaking parts” per book. So before you even begin plotting, you know that you can only have, for example, four major characters and three smaller roles (like waiters, secretaries, etc.). Ever wonder why a traditional whodunit on TV is usually a murder and three-to-four suspects? Now you know.

Then there’s the work schedule of your regular cast to consider. On Diagnosis Murder, Dick Van Dyke only worked three consecutive days a week and he wouldn’t visit any location more than thirty miles from his home. Co-star Victoria Rowell split her time with the soap opera Young and the Restless, and often wasn’t available to shoot until after lunch.

On top of all that, your story has to be told in four acts, with a major twist or revelation before each commercial break, and unfold over 44 minutes of airtime.

It’s astonishing, given all those restrictions, that there are so many complex, entertaining, and fun mysteries on television.

Those limitations become so ingrained to a TV writer/producer, that it becomes second-nature. You instinctively know the moment you’re pitched a particular story if it can be told within the budgetary and scheduling framework of your show. It becomes so ingrained, in fact, that it’s almost impossible to let go, even when you have the chance.

I am no longer bound by the creative restrictions of the show. I don’t have to worry about sticking to our “standing sets,” Dick Van Dyke’s work schedule, or the number of places the characters visit. Yet I’m finding it almost impossible to let go. After writing and/or producing 100 episodes of the show, it’s the way I think of a Diagnosis Murder story.

And if you watched the show, it’s the way you think of a Diagnosis Murder story, too –whether you realize it or not. You may not know the reasons why a story is told the way it’s told, but the complex formula behind the storytelling becomes the natural rhythm and feel of the show. When that rhythm changes, it’s jarring.

If you watch your favorite TV series carefully now, and pay close attention to the number of guest stars, scenes that take place on the “regular sets,” and how often scenes take place outdoors at night, and you might be able to get a pretty good idea of the production limitations confronting that show’s writers every week.

And if you read my Diagnosis Murder novels, feel free to put the book down every fifteen minutes or so for a commercial break.

Speaking of which, if there’s actually going to be another Diagnosis Murder novel, I better get back to work… sitting in my chair, doing nothing.

 

Garry Marshall was a Mensch

Garry-Marshall-headshot-smallI was very sad to hear about Garry Marshall’s passing. I only had a brief encounter with him, but it had a big impact on me.

I moved to Los Angeles when I was 18 to attend UCLA. I was also working on a book called UNSOLD TELEVISION PILOTS that I began writing when I was nine years old.  As soon as I got to L.A. I cold-called Garry Marshall for an interview. To my shock, he not only answered the phone, he immediately invited me to his office, which turned out to be an apartment in Burbank or Studio City. We spoke for several hours. I was in awe being in the same room with the legendary writer-producer…and having this opportunity to ask him not only about his unsold pilots, but also a million other questions I had about the TV business. He answered them all in wonderful detail. I couldn’t believe how friendly, funny, and open he was to me… or that he would devote so much of his valuable time to help some kid he’d never met.

A few years later, after UNSOLD TELEVISION PILOTS was published, I interviewed him for an article I was doing for Electronic Media (later renamed Television Age) and he shocked me again… this time because he not only remembered me, but told me how much he loved my book. Most people will remember him for the great TV shows and movies he did. I will remember him for being a mensch.

Traveling the World for THE SCAM

The Scam, the fourth book in the globetrotting adventures of conman Nick Fox and FBI agent Kate O’Hare, is out this week and the reviews have been terrific. The action takes place in Honolulu, Las Vegas, Hong Kong and Macau… and I traveled to all those locales to get the details right for the book. Here are some photos…

Here I am in Macau...with the Grand Lisboa casino tower in the background
Here I am in Macau…with the Grand Lisboa casino tower in the background
Hong Kong from Victoria Peak
Hong Kong from Victoria Peak

In fact, I’m writing this blog post from a tiny village in France, where I am in the midst of a European trip researching The Pursuit, the fifth book in the series. The new adventure will take place in Honolulu, Antwerp, Paris, Italy and other exotic places…

Nick Fox is goin
Nick Fox is going to rob the Antwerp Diamond District building behind me… even though there is a police checkpoint out front
Arriving at Antwerp Train Station on a research trip for THE PURSUIT
Arriving at Antwerp Train Station on a research trip for THE PURSUIT

Nothing beats “boots on the ground” to get a real feel for a place, and to make it come alive when you’re writing a book…though I think I made the security people suspicious while I was casing the diamond district building in Antwerp. I don’t blame them. I was planning to rob their vault… only in fiction, not reality.

And although I am familiar with Paris (my wife is French), going back to Place Vendome, The Catacombs, and the area around the Pasteur institute really helped me with the details for scenes that Janet and I will be writing soon. I’ll be visiting the sewers soon to visit with a good friend who is the star of a hit French cop show that is shooting a murder scene there for an upcoming episode.

Then it’s off to Italy to do some more research. I travel the world so you don’t have to 🙂

Unsold Television Pilots: Everything You Never Saw on TV

Unsold TV Pilots by Lee Goldberg

Unsold TV Pilots by Lee GoldbergMy book UNSOLD TELEVISION PILOTS 1955-1989 is back for the first time ever as an ebook (for Kindle, Apple, and Nook) and as a single volume trade paperback. I began writing it when I was nine years old. By the time I finished it, I was in my early twenties and was far enough along in my TV career that one of my filmed, unsold pilots actually became an entry in this book (If You Knew Sammy, a potential spin-off from Spenser: For Hire). I appreciated the irony. It somehow seemed fitting.

The book was written in those dark ages when information couldn’t be Googled….when research meant spending thousands of hours in libraries, going through books, magazines, newspapers, and microfiches (remember those?) and digging through dusty file cabinets.

At the time, unsold pilots were a mystery, and there was no single resource for finding out information about them. This book became that resource. It was the first compendium of its kind.  And to my shock, and delight, the book became a sensation when it was published, leading to scores of articles, national TV interviews, a paperback abridgement (since republished as The Best TV Shows That Never Were), and over the years not one, but two network TV specials, The Greatest Shows You Never Saw (which I produced) on CBS in 1996 and The Best TV Shows That Never Were (which I wrote and produced) on ABC in 2004. The biggest thrill for me, though, was sitting in the audience of The Tonight Show with my wife Valerie while Johnny Carson, a certified TV legend, held the book in his hand, talked about how much he liked it, and then did a comedy bit based on it.

Over the years, readers have alerted me to mistakes in the book… the most embarrassing of which were the inadvertent inclusion of a few pilots that actually did sell and became series. Cringe. I’ve deleted those entries from this edition but made note of them to preserve the integrity of the original index (the pilots are listed by entry numbers, not page numbers).

I’ve also received hundreds of letters and emails from many attentive readers, who corrected errors, gave me additional details on dozens of pilots and alerted me to some unsold pilots that I’d missed. I’d like to single out Barry I. Grauman and Bill Warren for their eagle eyes and keen knowledge of television.

I’ve corrected most of the errors in the book (I say most, because I did my best to get’em all but I’m sure I missed some) and added some of the new details. However, I haven’t added any substantive new material. The few unsold pilots that I missed in the book have since been noted in the other reference works on the topic that followed mine over the last twenty-five years.

Oh, who am I kidding? The truth is, I didn’t add any new stuff because that would be the path to madness for me. I wouldn’t be able to stop until I brought the book entirely up-to-date, adding all of the unsold pilots produced since 1989.

I’ll share with you my dark secret. Since the day I finished this book, I’ve continued to compile information for a follow-up edition and possible new TV specials. I’ve transferred all my old VHS tapes of unsold pilots to DVD…and I grab any new unsold pilots I can get my hands on or that I can record off-the-air. I still clip, literally and virtually, every article that I see about pilots-in-development. But in this age when it’s so easy to find information on the web, when everything is databased (including, probably, every word of this book), it becomes increasingly unlikely that I’ll ever write a sequel to this book covering 1989-to-present.

And yet… I keep gathering the information. So why do I do it?

It could be because I’m mentally ill. Or maybe because it’s a habit that I started when I was seven years old and I’ve never entirely grown up. I’m still that kid inexplicably fascinated by all those lost pilots, those would-be TV series that never were…

 

The Mail I Get – I Don’t Remember Edition

Some recent mail I received asking me questions I can’t answer because I don’t remember:

I’ve long admired your work on Diagnosis Murder, especially the fifth season. I emailed you about ten years ago asking if you had a floor plan of the beach house from Diagnosis Murder. You said you had one but misplaced it. I’ve taken it upon myself to draw a floor plan myself using footage from the show as well as from satellite images and the movies Lovelines and Malibu Bikini shop to help with the lower level. I’ve also found many photos at three different websites trying to rent or sell the house, but most of those are photos from a significantly renovated version of the house. I’ve tried to keep my floor plan of the house as close to the way it was on the show as possible, though I’ve filled in missing parts with photos of the current version of the house where I could. For the parts left completely unseen, like a few of the bathrooms, I’ve tried to come up with how they might be laid out. If I send you the floor plan I created would you be able to give me feedback?

It’s been over a decade since I shot Diagnosis Murder. I don’t remember anymore exactly how the house was laid out. Sorry!

Hello Lee , I just finished reading Mr. Monk goes to the firehouse. I wonder, where’s the ax (?) that being used to kill Sparky? Seems nobody search for the bloody ax to get finger prints or something.
Hope to hear from you bcause I couldn’t sleep thinking about this.

Sorry, but it has been so many years since I wrote the book, I don’t remember what, if anything, came of the ax or if it even mattered. It’s certainly not worth losing sleep over!

I have not yet read all the Monk books nor seen all the episodes, so I apologize if my question has already been addressed, but I wondered what you thought of something that occurred to me recently, and that is concerning Adrian Monk and the Wedding Ring.Reading how he reacted to Julie’s cast, and his insistence that she have two to be balanced, I suddenly wondered how he coped with wearing a ring on the third finger left hand, and not a matching one the right. I assume that Adrian takes the ring off when he’s completing his obsessive bathroom cleaning routines etc. but I’m sure he still wears it at other times – his love for Trudy is too strong for him to abandon it. He is wearing one on the cover of Mr Monk is Miserable.
So – how does he cope? Does he, in fact, wear an identical ring on the right hand? I’ve not noticed one. Knowing the character as you do, what do you think? If you have an answer I’d love to hear it. If you find it fascinating as I do and decide to write it into your next Monk book, please credit me in the acknowledgements for giving you the idea!

I dealt with the ring issue in one of the books… MR. MONK IS A MESS or MR. MONK GETS EVEN, I believe. But I may be mistaken about which one. The 15 tend to blur together for me.

The Mail I Get – Monk Edition

MrMonkOnTheCouchI still get lots of questions and comments each day about my Monk books… here’s a sampling:

Dear Lee, It was with mixed feelings that I read Mr. Monk’s last adventure.  Happiness at reading more enjoyable Monk escapades, and sadness that there will be no more of them. I did appreciate that one of the lipo-suction patients was Frank Cannon.  ha ha   What a ride.  Barb

Thank you, Barb. The other lipo patient was McCabe, the character William Conrad played on JAKE AND THE FATMAN…but so far, nobody has caught that reference.

It’s a rare to find an author who understands that a unique quirky character is really one of the most important parts of a good book. Love your character and I think the books are really wonderful. So often they are just plot oriented by vanilla unmemorable characters. So congratulations of writing truly fantastic books. Allan

Thank you, Allan. But I can’t take credit for creating that brilliant character. The credit belongs to Andy Breckman. He just let me borrow Monk for the books.

Hello Lee, You end your chapters in a manner that makes it difficult to not keep reading. Please stop doing that. You will thank me later. It might tempt some people into stopping in the middle of a chapter, and that violates the natural order of the universe.

Now that the above is out of the way, let me pass along my delight for both the Monk series and the Fox and O’Hare series – mysteries and absolutely hilarious! After thirteen years of retirement at age 70 it is getting harder to head for the treadmill daily, books the only way to get through it. My wife and I had read all the Janet Evanovich books (also all the Agatha Christie’s and a whole lot in between), so glad to have found The Heist, The Chase, and will read The Job (a Christmas book to each other) after Mr. Monk and the Two Assistants. We have also seen all of the Monk TV episodes, and reading the books and remembering the appearance of the characters is extra fun. Thanks for these two series, and will explore your other books! Leonard

Thank you for your very kind words about my MONK and FOX & O’HARE books… though they are meant to be serious drama. It troubles me that you find them funny.

I just want to let you know that I really enjoy the books you contributed to the Monk series. As someone who has been diagnosed with OCD (whether rightly or wrongly), I have to say that you seem to have done a good job portraying what really goes on in the brain of an OC person (here I should add the caveat that I haven’t actually gotten far in any of your books – they’re too thought provoking to finish in a timely fashion). If in the past I would firmly deny that I had OCD (“My unusual behavior is not symptomatic of any illogical thought processes, thank you very much. It is a combination of *ultra*-logical thinking, and natural responses to my excess anxiety”), now I am not so sure. I find it very easy to identify with your version of Mr. Monk. [..]Without changing the way I view myself and my rationality, I now find it easier to accept the label of OCD.[..]In the future, I intend to use your books as “textbooks” to help other people better understand the true nature of OCD. Sammy

Now that is frightening. You do know I make it all up, right? I have no special understanding of OCD… I just have a rich fantasy life.

The Story Behind THE WALK

Here’s a new video interview with me about my thriller THE WALK, which twice hit #1 on the Amazon bestseller list and, if you don’t count my co-authored books with Janet Evanovich, is the bestselling novel of my career. It didn’t start out that way. It was a bomb when it was originally published in hardcover by Five Star, a small press, in the early 2000s. But I re-released it in a new ebook and paperback edition when the Kindle came along and it was an immediate hit. The novel has been published in a German and, starting TODAY, in a new French edition, too!

Working with Ernest Kinoy on Diagnosis Murder

Diagnosis Murder castI just learned that Ernest Kinoy. one of the most honored writers in TV history, passed away this week. I was fortunate enough to work with him on two episodes of DIAGNOSIS MURDER.

Dick Van Dyke really wanted us to do an “important” episode of DIAGNOSIS MURDER and felt we should get a “major” writer to do it (I suppose we could have been offended by that…the implication that we were doing mediocre episodes and were mediocre writers, but we chose not to take it that way). William Rabkin and I, who were the show runners at the time, were glad to do it. We saw it s a chance to not only work with a writer we admired, but also to get some critical attention. So we decided to aim high, to find an acclaimed, award-winning writer from the “golden age” that Dick would immediately recognize and respect…but that would be an honor for us to work with as well. Whoever we chose also had to be a writer with episodic experience, someone who wouldn’t have a problem working with continuing characters and delivering a story that worked within our franchise. That narrowed the field a bit. Our first pick was Ernest Kinoy but, to be honest, we thought he’d turn us down flat. After all, this was the guy who wrote Skokie, Roots, Murrow and  Victory at Entebbe and classic episodes of such dramas as The Defenders, Naked City, Route 66 and Playhouse 90. 

So we gave him a call…and to our astonishment, he was genuinely interested. We sent him some episodes of our show, as well as some issue-oriented story areas that we were kicking around. He immediately jumped on a notion we had about HMOs…insurance plans that require patients to use specific hospitals and doctors and that leaves life-changing medical decisions in the hands of bureaucrats who are more concerned with the bottom line than patient health.

Kinoy’s only hesitation was that it had been decades since he’d written an episodic teleplay and he wasn’t sure if he’d be able to pull it off.  He had no reason to worry. The guy was pro…one of the greats of our business.

He delivered a powerful story and a terrific script, entitled First Do No Harm, that stood out as the only episode of the show that didn’t have a murder. Yes, someone died, and Dr. Sloan investigates the death, but the perpetrator was a system, not an individual. The script captured the voices of our characters…but it was Kinoy’s voice that really came through. His dialogue had a unique cadence, one that Dick embraced. It was a real thrill for us, professionally and personally, to work with him, although it was long distance, by phone and fax.

We liked the experience so much that we invited him back to do a second episode the following season…another issue-based story, this one about assisted suicide…and it gave us the chance, as an added bonus, to reunite Dick with Kathleen Quinlan, his co-star in  the film The Runner Stumbles, his most dramatic role. Dick relished the part and we relished working with such a gifted writer. It was the last episode of season 6, the final episode that Bill and I produced of the series, and it was a great way to go out.

The two episodes ended up being Kinoy’s last, produced credits. I hope he was as proud of the episodes as I am.