My TV Book Addiction

here comes the bridesI have an addiction — I love books about TV, even if they are about shows I don’t like or have never watched. I buy them on the off-chance I will learn something about the business, or about production, or about writing that I didn’t know before. I especially like books about old TV shows, because then I also learn something about television history. I’m telling you all of that so you’ll understand what possessed me to buy Jonathan Ether’s 640 page book devoted to Here Comes the Brides, a boring, utterly forgettable western series that lasted a mere two seasons in the late 1960s that is known, if at all, for a catchy theme song (“Seattle”) and for featuring Bobby Sherman and David Soul in the cast.

I don’t care about the show — the few episodes I’ve seen were lousy — but I really liked Etter’s The Here Comes the Brides Book: A Behind the Scenes History of the 1968-70 ABC TV Series from those crazy folks at Bear Manor Media (they’ve got to be crazy to publish books like this… but I love them for it). So why did I like the book if I could care less about the show? Because it’s packed with fascinating information about other shows. For instance, William Blinn, creator of Here Comes the Brides, spends a lot of time in the book talking about writing the TV series Bonanza and Shane….and that’s great stuffAnd Brides’ star Robert Brown talks about almost starring in Hawaii Five-O, and his work on the unsold pilots The Yellow Bird with Carroll O’Connor and Colossus with William Shatner, among others. So it’s for those golden nuggets that I was willing to slog through seemingly endless, pointless chapters about actress Bridget Hanley (who?) and her marriage to director E.W. Swackhamer, or the tragic details of Mark Lenard’s multiple melanoma that took his life long after the series was over. The book desperately needed a good editor, but I’m glad it didn’t have one, because it’s the stuff that had nothing to do with the show, that should have been cut, that I liked best. But if you are one of the dozen living fans of Here Comes the Brides, you will absolutely love this book. Every episode is examined in-depth and every regular and guest cast member, and almost every crew member, with the possible exception of the caterer,  are interviewed about their lives and careers. gunsmoke chronicles

Here’s the irony of me liking a book so much about a show that I could care less about: I bought David R. Greenland’s The Gunsmoke Chronicles: A New History of Television’s Greatest Western from Bear Manor Media because I love Gunsmoke, and yet I got nothing out of it at all. It’s a pointless book, a bland rehash of material presented better, and in more depth, by other books about the show. Oddly enough, Greenland acknowledges that fact in his preface: “By 2006, three books about the show had reached the marketplace, and even I conceded that the world did not need another.” And yet, he wrote one anyway, and shouldn’t have bothered, because he adds nothing new or particularly interesting about the series. It’s filler masquerading as content. Unlike the Here Comes the Brides book, there’s no gold here about other shows to make it a worthwhile purchase. Skip it.

Time TunnelMartin Grams Jr’s The Time Tunnel: A History of the Television Program, also from Bear Manor, is much like the book on Here Comes the Brides. It’s massive book (nearly 600 pages)  about a TV failure (it lasted a single season) that’s packed with lots of interesting information…about Irwin Allen and his other shows and about the TV landscape in the late 1960s. Everything you could possibly want to know about Time Tunnel is here, from the original pitch to information on all of Allen’s attempts to do another time travel series after it was cancelled, from the number of pages shot on a particular day to the cost of individual props, from the notes from ABC censors on each script to lists of the stock music cues in each episode, from exhaustively detailed synopses of each of broadcast episode to detailed descriptions of the episodes that weren’t shot. There’s almost too much stuff.  It’s as if Grams decided he had to put every single fact that came across his desk into the book just because he had them. The upside is that there’s something for everybody here, whether your interest is in TV production accounting or screenwriting. The downside is that it makes for tedious reading, even if you are really into the show or into TV history.

NOTE: I bought all three of these books. They were not provided to me for review.

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.

Jonathan Winters on Writing Humor

00000048Jonathan Winters died today at age 87. My parents used to play all of his comedy records for us when we were kids. Those records made me laugh so hard I had trouble breathing. Jump forward to 1997. I was a novelist and TV writer by then and I was invited to be a guest speaker at the Santa Barbara Writers Conference… on a panel on writing humor with Jonathan Winters and Fannie Flagg. I was honored…and absolutely terrified. What the hell was a nobody like me doing on the same stage as a legend like Winters? But he was incredibly gracious and hilariously funny…and that night is one of the most treasured memories of my career. Here's a recording of that hour-long panel.  Although it's a video, there's only a still photo to look at. The audio track is the panel. The picture here, and in the video, is of my mother Jan Curran and Winters at the conference. Somewhere out there is a picture of me with Winters and Flagg, but I haven't been able to dig it up.

 

Jonathan Winters at Santa Barbara Writers Conference from lee goldberg on Vimeo.

Easily Fooled

The Los Angeles Times reports that a jury today convicted the notorious fraud Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter of murder. He's a guy who went around claiming to be a Rockefeller, a bond trader, and a Hollywood producer (he even claimed to be TV writer/producer Christopher Crowe, who is a real person). His frauds weren't very sophisticated, particularly if you happen to have a computer and an internet connection. But I know how easy it is for some people to be fooled.

Recently, I was a guest at a writer's conference and one of my fellow speakers/panelists was a guy who claimed to have written for scores of acclaimed network TV shows and a big upcoming movie. Based on his experience, he'd been invited to speak at writer's conferences, seminars, and libraries from coast to coast, including some nice paid gigs in Hawaii and Mexico. I'd never heard of him…and the instant I met him, I knew something was off.

For one thing, I knew one of the writers of the big, upcoming movie he claimed to have worked on…and I knew writer/producers on most of the shows he said he wrote for…and when I mentioned their names, he was evasive or said he came on the various projects before or after my friends were there. I might have bought that, screenwriting is a pretty nomadic business, but everything he said on his panels and in his talks about writing scripts and working on episodic series wasn't just wrong, it was inane. Even in our personal conversations, he said some pretty stupid stuff about the business. 

So I looked him up on IMDb. No credits. I googled his name, with the titles of the series he said he worked on, to see what came up… and the results I got all came from his website and the conferences he'd spoken at. Now my B.S. meter was in the red zone.

So I contacted my friends on the shows that he said he worked on. Not one of them had ever heard of him. 

So I called the Writers Guild of America's credits department and asked for his credits. They told me he wasn't a member and had no writing credits.

Clearly, the guy was fraud. And not a very sophisticated one either if a mere google search could unmask him. 

Now that the Guild was alerted to the guy, they investigated the issue in more depth, and sent him a strong cease-and-desist letter. 

What I don't get is how so many conferences, libraries, and seminars could have invited this guy to speak, and paid his way to tropical locales, without doing even the most basic check of his credentials. In this day and age, if a guy says he wrote for some of the most acclaimed shows on TV, you should be able to easily confirm it with a simple Google search.  And if you can't, that should be a big, fat, red freaking flag.

I alerted the conference organizers about this guy's fraud, and they said they'd always suspected something was off about him, but he seemed very knowledgeable and was so likeable that they let it go. They won't make that mistake again.

But it's not the conferences, libraries and seminars that booked him that I feel bad for…it's all the attendees over the years who paid to get this guy's bone-headed advice on writing for TV and movies. They're the ones who got taken.