A Great Interview with David Levinson

virginian-titleThe good folks at the Classic TV History blog are doing God’s work. They’ve just done their second, in-depth interview with TV writer-producer David Levinson, whose many credits include THE BOLD ONES: THE SENATOR, SARGE, CHARLIES ANGELS, HART TO HART, NIKITA and scores of other shows. It’s a long, detailed, terrific interview filled with fascinating anecdotes about the writing and production of the various series that he’s been associated with over his long, varied career. It doesn’t matter whether you know the shows that he’s worked on or if you liked them — this is gold for anybody interested in TV history or in a career in television.  I loved every word of the interview. Levinson has been around a long time and he’s got some great stories, like this one about an episode of THE VIRGINIAN…

Oh, this is good.  By the way, I was a total asshole about this.  This is my second season on the show as a producer.  I’m like 27 years old.  I’d done like four episodes the season before, and I wanted desperately to do a show about black cowboys.  I talked to a writer by the name of Norman Jolley, and we’d come up with a really good story about a cowboy who had worked his whole life to save up the money for his son to go to college, and then he got ripped off.  In order to get his money back, he falls in with a bunch of rustlers to steal the cows from John McIntire’s ranch, and bad things happen.

Nowhere in the script did it mention that the father and son were black.  Just the character names.

Everybody liked the script, and I go in to see the executive producer, and he says, “Who are you thinking of casting?”

I said, “I want to cast James Edwards.”

There’s this long pause, and the executive producer – who, by the way, was the nicest fellow you’d ever want to meet: Norman Macdonnell, who had produced Gunsmoke all those years – looked at me and said, “Isn’t he black?”

I said, “He was the last time I saw him.”

Very gently, he explained to me that we had a primarily redneck audience and you just couldn’t cast a black man as the guest star in one of the shows.  I said to him, “Well, listen, you’re the boss, and if that’s the way you feel, that’s what we’ll do.  But I feel it only fair to tell you that I’m going back to my office and calling The New York Times and The L.A. Times to tell them about this conversation.”

He came up from behind the desk, and he was a big guy.  His face was totally flushed and he looked at me and said, “You little cocksucker.”

I said, “Yes, sir.”

And we cast Jimmy Edwards.  The show went on the air.  There were no letters.  Nobody fucking noticed that there were two black actors playing the leads in this show.  But shortly thereafter I left The Virginian.

No surprise. But the real pleasure of the interview with Levinson aren’t dramatic moments like that but the meat-and-potatoes stuff about the making of TV. I strongly recommend the interview… and everything else on the Classic TV History blog, especially their incredible Oral History of THE SENATOR, which is better than a lot of TV books that I’ve read.

One Reason Why I Write

Richard WheelerThere are lots of reasons why I write mystery novels and thrillers… To entertain myself. To make a living. To tell a story. But sometimes it’s not easy to put my butt in the chair and write. But then I come across a Goodreads blogpost like the one from author Richard Wheeler…and it’s a big motivator.

Each day I read to my wife a couple of chapters from one of Lee Goldberg’s Monk novels, based on the TV series about the obsessive-compulsive San Francisco detective Adrian Monk.

My wife, Sue Hart, is in an assisted living place three blocks from my home. She spent half a century as an English professor, specializing in Montana literature and other fields, before her short-term memory began to fade.

She loves the Monk novels. She had been unfamiliar with them until I started reading them to her in her room, and now she laughs and smiles right along with me, as I spin out the story for her.

There is a genius to the Monk novels. Mr. Monk is crazy and outrageous– but we don’t laugh at him, because there is the pathos about him, and what we feel is tenderness toward him, no matter how peculiar he seems.

These reading sessions, which light up my wife, have made me aware of how gifted Lee Goldberg is as a novelist and storyteller. There is something about reading a story out loud, and catching the response, that tells me more about the work than if I had read it silently to myself. And it is telling me that Lee Goldberg is a splendid storyteller with a great sense of the human condition.

I am touched, and very flattered, by Richard’s post. I’ve received quite a few letters from people who read my books while going through chemotherapy, or healing from an injury, and they tell me how much the laughter, or the mystery, or the adventure has helped them deal with, or forget, the pain. That’s just amazing to me. So now I think of those people whenever I sit down to write.

Two Pros Battle Illnesses With Prose

crime_novelist_Joel_Goldman_02_t640Joel Goldman and Ed Gorman are two of my favorite authors…and two of my favorite people. They’ve both inspired, entertained, and educated me so much over the years. And now, coincidentally, they’ve both given lengthy interviews this week about their careers, their approaches to their craft, and how they have coped with life-changing illnesses while continuing to write great novels.

Joel was a successful Kansas City trial attorney when he was afflicted with a rare movement disorder which he calls “life annoying” and not life-threatening, but it still forced him to walk away from his legal career. He incorporated his illness into his fiction, with bestselling results. He talks about it in this candid interview with the Lawrence World Journal:

When he developed a movement disorder that caused him to experience involuntary shakes and spasms several times a day, he wasn’t literally under a spotlight. It only felt that way. But unlike his character Jack Davis, who stubbornly continues fighting crime against his doctor’s recommendations, Goldman turned away from the only career he’d ever imagined. Instead, he became a bestselling crime author.

“As crazy as it may sound, I look at this disorder as something that has opened new doors for me,” said Goldman, 60.

[…]In 2006, when he could no longer hide his periodic shakes at work and his doctors said he could no longer handle the long hours and constant travel of his job, he was determined not to feel sorry about leaving behind the law. Instead, he decided to focus full time on his now quite-successful writing career.

“People ask me now if I miss it,” Goldman said of his law career. “And I tell them that I miss it in the way that you miss your first girlfriend.”

You can hear even more about Joel’s books, his love affair with Kansas City, and his movement disorder  in a terrific NPR piece about him that aired last weekend.

Ed was already a successful author with dozens of mystery, horror and western novels to his credit when he was stricken with incurable cancer twelve years ago. He recently underwent a bone marrow transplant and has emerged 100% cancer free, though he knows the cancer will return eventually. But he’s not letting his cancer stop him from writing books, as he tells J. Kingston Pierce for Kirkus Review in this excerpt:

Gorman has been working for the last dozen years under the sentence of an incurable cancer, multiple myeloma—which has only brought his production of prose down to a slightly more human scale. “Before cancer I tried for 1,500 to 2,000 words a day,” he says. “With cancer it’s 500 to 1,000.” Ed_Gorman_-_photo_by_Carol_Gorman2_jpg_210x1000_q85

[…]”When you have incurable cancer you certainly have to face death. You have monthly meetings with your oncologist and those are a roll of the dice. Once in awhile you sit down and get some pretty grim news. As my oncologist told me, I had a choice—to go home and just wait to die or go in with my life. I’ve probably met 200 cancer patients by now, and I’ve never met a single one who didn’t fight like hell to stay alive. And none of them just sat around waiting for the final breath, either.”

You can read even more of the interview, packed with tons of insightful material about writing, that didn’t make the Kirkus article on J. Kingston Pierce’s The Rap Sheet blog.

The healthy attitude Joel and Ed have towards writing in the face of illness may actually be healthy. The Daily Mail reported a couple of days ago that people who write while they are ill recover faster.

 

Who Knew I Knew About Content Marketing?

the-heist-coverI’m always amazed when someone finds meaning, a theme, symbolism, or a message of some sort in my work that I never intended. That was especially true when I came across this article by Samantha Gluck discussing all the things you can learn about content marketing from THE HEIST, the novel I wrote with Janet Evanovich. Here are just a couple of the tips she says you can glean from the story:

1. Know your target audience – content marketing requires that you understand and know your target audience. Nick and Kate take time to learn all about their target, Derek Griffin. They find out about his interests, his fears, his weaknesses, and his habits. Any good content marketer takes time to learn about his target audience. You can do this through conducting focus groups and demographic studies. Read the book to see what Nick and Kate did to learn about Griffin. You’d do well to use the same diligence.

2. Share the work load – one reason Nick Fox enjoys so much success in pulling off his heists and cons is that he knows how to share the load. Nick has an uncanny knack for finding and enlisting very talented and loyal accomplices. He finds a person to play a specific part in each aspect of the elaborate plan. Each of these recruits is the very best as what he or she does. If you want to achieve success – and achieve it in a big way – with your content marketing efforts, you’ll need to follow Nick’s lead. Assess your contacts and network. Look at the best engagers on your various social media profiles.

Many people who regularly engage on Twitter, Google Plus, and Facebook work on a freelance basis. Take your time and find out a little more about them. What makes them good at what they do? Could you use their skills to benefit both your cause and theirs? If so, start courting them and let them know how running with you can benefit them.

3. Identify and understand key objectives – obviously, Kate and Nick have a key objective of nabbing Griffin. But to do that, they have to pull the proverbial wool over the eyes of a few other folks first. Each of these smaller objectives represents a critical step that the hottie duo must pull off to achieve their ultimate goal. As a content marketer, you’ve got to outline each of the foundational objectives that will help you achieve your ultimate goal.

Figure out how you’ll measure the success of each step along the way. Kate and Nick have it easy for this part. They either pull off each part of the con, or they don’t and they fail. Content marketers must come up with their own metrics for measuring project success.

I should really follow my own sage advice. I just wish I’d known what my advice was before this! I wonder what else I don’t know that I know… 🙂

 

Kindle Worlds & Fanfiction

TheDeadmanVolume4My friend Barry Eisler recently interviewed Amazon’s Philip Patrick about Kindle Worlds, a new program that allows fanficcers to write, publish, and sell, their own books set in popular book, TV and movie franchises. I’m very excited about this program. So much so, that we’re in talks with Kindle Worlds about bringing THE DEAD MAN series of novels into the program. On the face of it, this might be shocking news for people who’ve read my views on fanfic in the past…and misinterpreted them. Kindle Worlds is fanfiction written with the consent of the creators/rights holders, who can set whatever limits they want on how their characters/franchise are used. I think its a brilliant marriage of traditional tie-in writing and fan fiction… a win/win for creators and for the fans of their work. Here’s an excerpt from Barry and Philip’s discussion:

Philip:  In general, our strong bias is to give writers as much creative freedom as is appropriate to each World. The people who understand  that appropriateness best are the original rights holders—we’re calling them World Licensors—who will know what their audience expects and wants and how far the bounds can be pushed. There are shows, for instance, where mature content is part of the storytelling. And there are other shows where that isn’t the case. That makes sense to me on a lot of levels. So we’re asking each World Licensor to outline what is appropriate for their World’s audience in Content Guidelines. We’ll review submissions to see if they are within those guidelines. Our message to writers is pretty straightforward—follow any World’s guidelines and we will publish your story. And if something falls into a gray area, there’s always room for dialogue. We’ll talk to World Licensors as we review stories and we also will communicate back and forth with a writer if we have any questions.

You can find out more about Kindle Worlds here.

How We Wrote THE HEIST

Janet and leeI was going to write a blog post about how Janet Evanovich and I came up with THE HEIST…and how we write together…but reporter Rich Heldenfels at the Akron Beacon Journal did such a great job doing it for me in a great interview with us, I may not bother. Here’s an excerpt:

“But with two halves miles apart. Evanovich lives and works in Florida, while Goldberg is based in Los Angeles. So there were phone calls, and some visits to Florida by Goldberg, and help from Evanovich’s daughter Alex and son Peter, both of whom work for her company Evanovich Inc.

“We spent a lot of time talking at first, and coming up with the characters, and making sure they were the characters we had been dreaming about, and who they were, what were their aspirations. We made long lists of character analysis,” Evanovich said.

But — surprising in a crime-novel writer — Evanovich said, “I suck at plotting out a book. It’s just not my thing. And Lee is brilliant at it. So, after we set up our characters and our mission statement, Lee went off and set up the plot.” A world traveler, he also knew most of the locations firsthand. (“The only place in this book I haven’t been, and Janet hasn’t been, is Indonesia,” Goldberg said. “So I called people I know who have been there, and did a lot of research.”) But there’s an Evanovich touch in the romantic-sexual tension between Fox and O’Hare.

Since Evanovich was busy with a new Plum novel, Goldberg wrote the first draft of The Heist. Along the way, he sent pages to Evanovich, who made comments before Goldberg continued.

When the first draft was done, “by that time I was done with my Plum, and I took it over,” Evanovich said. “I did a very extensive editing of it  because we wanted a product that would satisfy my readers as well as his audience. My job was to take all of the good stuff he did and put it into my voice” — while retaining a sense of Goldberg’s style.

“I learned so much from her about writing, and about telling stories, and about humor,” Goldberg said of their work together. “She has raised my game enormously. I’m learning all sorts of new things.  There’s a humor that only Janet does. She can take something that I’ve written, for instance, and just by deleting a line or two, or twisting the phrasing, suddenly raises it 1,000 percent. Or she will put in a female point of view that I never would have thought of in a million years.”

To find out more, check out the article.

The Story Behind THE DEAD MAN #18: STREETS OF BLOOD

The Dead Man #18: Streets of BloodAuthor Barry Napier was the winner of the “You Can Write a DEAD MAN Novel” contest last year….and his book, THE DEAD MAN #18: STREETS OF BLOOD, has just been published by Amazon/47North. I’ve invited Barry to talk about his experience writing the book:

I won Amazon’s You Can Write a Dead Man Novel contest last year. The months between October – January were spent writing and editing it. If I’m being honest, I learned a lot from writing it, some of which I think most writers can either relate to or need to know.

First, Lee Goldberg and William Rabkin were very kind about pointing out a few of my flaws…flaws that have plagued me since writing my first short story at the age of 14. Among them…I’m too wordy. I tend to wax poetic when it’s not called for. I try to create back story that serves as a story in and of itself (this one, I will argue to my last breath, is often necessary and pivotal for longer works). When I try to write about someone collecting information or being smacked by insight, I tend to come off as too passive.

The great thing is that I have had these things pointed out by editors in the past. But with The Dead Man #18: Streets of Blood, these things were not only pointed out, but highlighted with blood and gore. Writing this book was perhaps my biggest lesson in reigning myself in when I wanted to get too wordy or experimental when it wasn’t called for.

This book was equally odd to write because of its content. It’s one of the bloodier things I have written in a while. When you consider the fact that I was writing a faith-based suspense novel at the same time, it was a very challenging and eye-opening few months.

So, while researching parts of scripture for the faith-based novel, I was also having to research old morbid nursery rhymes for my Dead Man book.

I’m not going to lie…it was sort of fun.

So again, a big thanks to Lee Goldberg for helping me through the process. It was an intensive course in writing short novels while helping me to further cripple some of the mistakes that I still wrestle with in my writing.

 

A Horror in Horror

Open Casket Press

Book Editing Terror!

Author Stant Litore is warning horror writers to be wary of publisher/editor Anthony Giangregorio and his much-maligned Open Casket Press. Litore alleges that Griangregorio goes far beyond traditional book editing, massively rewriting manuscripts and then publishing the altered works without the consent of the authors. Griangregorio has been known to change the gender of characters and add rape scenes. This outrageously over-the-top editing and rewriting amounts to what Litore calls “a crime against intellectual property.” I don’t know if I’d go that far, but it’s certainly unprofessional, unethical and inept. Another blogger, Cussedness Corner, warns authors away from Giangregorio as well by offering a horrifying, line-by-line analysis of Open Casket’s terrible author contract.

Sleazy Rights Grab

The Authors Guild reports that magazine publisher Conde Nast (Bon Appétit, GQ, The New Yorker, Self, Vanity Fair, Vogue, and Wired, among others,) is attempting to screw freelancer writers out of a significant chunk of the TV & movie rights to their articles. Movies such as Saturday Night Live and Hurt Locker began as magazine articles. 

[They] would slice writers' share of potential film and television income to freelance works appearing in its magazines by more than 50%. Its new boilerplate contract — introduced last year — would give the company a free, exclusive 12-month right to option dramatic and multimedia rights. Under the contract, Condé Nast could choose to extend that option by up to 24 months for a modest sum. Should Condé Nast exercise the option, the writer would, under boilerplate terms, be paid just 1% of the film or tv production budget. Negotiated film and tv agreements typically pay the author 2.5% or more of the production budget. […] Christine Haughney of the New York Times writes about the contract and dispute today in an article that quotes Jan Constantine, the Authors Guild's general counsel.

 

A Ballsy Scam

I stumbled on this post from Writer Beware very late…but wow, what a ballsy and inept scam. A fake PR firm, the Albee Agency, advertised itself with fake endorsements from non-existent novelists and even a few real authors…and actually thought they could get away with it. Victoria Strauss caught'em. 

Now, these are all authors I'd never heard of before. Maybe their books never got published, or went out of print, or something. Maybe my Google-fu was just not up to par. But wait–here's an author I do know: Chuck Wendig (if you're not familiar with his blog, you should get to know it). Wow, Chuck really had a great experience with Albee, didn't he?

However, I have a suspicious mind. So I dropped Chuck a line, asking if he'd indeed hired The Albee Agency to do PR for him. His response:

WTF? Who is the Albee Agency? They have a testimonial from me on their main page that I never made. thealbeeagency.com (@victoriastrauss)

[…]So….fake testimonials. Nonexistent authors; authors quoted without permission. There are no gray areas here: The Albee Agency is engaging in fraudulent behavior. This just emphasizes–as if y'all didn't already know–that writers need to watch out for scams.

The bigger point, though, is that even without the fake testimonials, there is plenty to beware of here. If Albee were absolutely, scrupulously honest about the authors it has worked with, it would still be offering services of dubious value for too much money, with no assurance of professional expertise.

And that, my friends, is a much bigger danger these days than an outright, bona-fide scam.