I’m so sad to hear about Sue Grafton‘s death. Not only was she incredibly talented, she was also a very nice woman.
I’m so sad to hear about Sue Grafton‘s death. Not only was she incredibly talented, she was also a very nice woman.
Here’s the main title sequence for SABLE, an awful series that only lasted for a month in 1988. William Rabkin & I wrote an awful freelance script for this awful series that thankfully wasn’t shot — but it had a lasting impact on us.
The show had a terrible, expository character, an African-American tech wizard in a wheelchair, named Cheesecake. We hated that character…because it wasn’t a character. It was a painful cliche. So “Cheesecake” became our shorthand, and is to this day, for a cliche character who exists only to provide dull exposition.
It’s amazing and depressing how many times that EXACT SAME DREADFUL CHARACTER — the exposition/computer whiz character in a wheelchair — has been repeated in shows since then.
Cheesecake came to mind today because I just watched the first regular episode of Bill Bixby’s THE MAGICIAN, from the newly released DVD boxed set, that had that same “Cheesecake ” expository character — though it was a white guy in a wheelchair and aired several years before SABLE premiered. Just goes to show how long that dreadful, lazy writer cliche has existed.
Here’s an excerpt from “About Face,” the worst script that William Rabkin and I ever wrote…but before I share it with you, here’s the story behind it (which I originally shared on this blog back in July 2006)
We were working as supervising producers on the third season of SeaQuest, a scifi show about a phallic submarine exploring our oceans in the year 2032. We were a day into writing episode 14 when the series got cancelled. But studio and the network were still obligated to pay us for the script — the catch was that we actually had to write it if we wanted our money.
In other words, we had to write a script we knew would never be shot and that we were pretty certain nobody would ever read. But we weren’t about to walk away from $25,000.
So we wrote it in one day…while we were packing up our office. We amused ourselves by writing the worst scenes that we possibly could, reading them out loud to each other as we wrote. We turned in the script as we walked out the door and we assumed it would never be read.
To our horror, we were wrong.
We discovered years later that bootleg copies of this atrocity were showing up at science fiction conventions as one of the “lost episodes” of the final season. Some have even shown up on the Internet. It even became the basis for a fanfic story.
Okay, now here’s the excerpt. All you need to know to follow along is that Piccolo is a man with gills and Darwin is a talking dolphin (I’m not kidding).
EXT. SEAQUEST – CGI/STOCK
as it cruises through the sea.
INT. SEAQUEST – CAFETERIA
Lucas is at a table eating as Piccolo comes in.
Hey, Lucas, what’s the blue plate special today? I’m starving.
Wait – I thought you were starving.
I just lost my appetite.
(re: Lucas’ plate:)
You’d think the Chef could be a bit more sensitive.
The presentation may not be great, but it tastes pretty good.
He holds out a fork of trout.
Here, have a bite.
Piccolo turns away, disgusted.
Are you nuts? Why don’t you go offer Darwin some dolphin pate.
Suddenly Lucas understands.
Tony, you aren’t a fish.
I have gills, Lucas. I may not be a fish, but it still feels like
cannibalism to me.
You’re a human being who happens to have gills, that’s different.
If you could fly, believe me, chicken wouldn’t look very
Chickens don’t fly.
Piccolo glares at Lucas and walks out. Lucas smiles to himself.
I just got back from The Writers Police Academy where I, and two hundred other writers, got to play “cops and robbers.” It was my first time participating in the annual event which, I am told, is as close as you can get to actual police training without becoming a cop. You can see me talking about it on the local news here and here.
The event was held this month at a law enforcement training facility in Green Bay, Wisconsin. It was an amazing opportunity for authors to get hands-on experience and education in crime scene investigation, pursuit driving, arson investigation, improvised explosives, firearms training… the list goes on and on. I learned cool stuff from EMTs, arson investigators, bomb squad members, homicide detectives, uniformed cops, and other professionals that will definitely show up in my books and TV shows. Nothing beats hands-on experience when it comes to discovering those key details that make fiction come alive on the page and on screen.
The event organizers had a flair for the dramatic—the conference opened with a rescue simulation involving a gruesome car crash. Cops, fire, EMTs, and even a helicopter showed up to handle the call. Later, organizers staged a “live shooter” simulation with injuries in a crowded lecture hall. Once again, they went for full dramatic effect. Not only was it entertaining, but it was an excellent teaching/learning experience for everyone… participants and audience alike.
In one session, I got the chance to learn tourniquet techniques… and the lesson ended with me entering a dark, smoke-filled room with loud music and strobe lights to find a victim who’d list both legs and was bleeding out (water, not blood) and I had to apply what I’d learned under pressure.
I also cleared a building with an active shooter (on a simulator and in “reality” in a specialized training house), learned to fire a Glock and a rifle, pulled over speeders in simulated night-time traffic stops, and drove a police cruiser “in pursuit” in a training track.
We also got to examine up close squad cars, SWAT vehicles, urban assault vehicles, mobile command vehicles and all of the equipment in the vehicles and that the officers carry.
There were so many great seminars that I wasn’t able to attend that I wanted to… which I guess means I’ll have to go to the conference again next year. Authors Boyd Morrison, Melinda Leigh, Robin Burcell, and Kendra Elliot, who have attended many previous WPA conferences, warned me this would happen. Once you go to WPA, you’re in for life.
Like all writing conferences, I also enjoyed catching up with old friends and making lots of new ones. If you write crime novels, I strongly recommend that you sign up for next year’s conference the instant tickets become available.
Pictured: Tod Goldberg (who writes with Brad Meltzer), Robin Burcell (who writes with Clive Cussler), Lee Goldberg (who writes with Janet Evanovich), Maxine Paetro (who writes with James Patterson) and Boyd Morrison (who writes with Cussler) got together at The Writers Police Academy to talk shop and shoot big guns.
The Jew Team — Tod Goldberg & Me
One of best parts of beginning a new Fox & O’Hare adventure for me is traveling to the locales where the story will take place. For our new, #1 New York Times bestseller THE PURSUIT, that meant heading off to Honolulu, Antwerp, Paris, Bois-Le-Rois, and Italy’s Amalfi Coast…and also drawing upon on my past experiences in Montreal and Lohr, Germany.
The Antwerp diamond heist at the opening of THE PURSUIT is loosely based on a real incident, so I read lots of articles and books on the subject, sought the advice of the U.S. Ambassador to Belgium, and visited the scene of the crime for myself. It makes it much easier for me to write about a place and make you feel like you’re there, too, if I’ve experienced it first-hand. That’s because it’s the little details that I discover, the things that stick in my memory, that make the locales come alive for me when I sit down to write..and, I hope, for you in the retelling.
For the two heists in Paris in THE PURSUIT, I scouted locations throughout the city (mostly on foot) before deciding on where all the events should take place…then took hundreds of photos, studied maps, and consulted experts, like an infamous “cataphile” who roams the city’s underground catacombs.
I also spent a lot of time in Sorrento, Capri, and Positano Italy soaking up the atmosphere (and plenty of limoncello) looking for the right location for the bad guy’s “vacation home.” I found it during a boat trip from Sorrento to Positano, then fictionalized it to suit my devious creative needs. A day trip to Capri gave me some great historical “background” for an an interesting obsession for the villain and his home. If you’ve read the book, then you know exactly what I’m talking about. I never would have stumbled on either the location or the historical nugget without making the trip.
I recently returned from a nearly month-long research trip to Australia and New Zealand for the sixth Fox & O’Hare adventure and I can’t wait to take you there on the page…
Yesterday several dreams came true all at once.
First off, you can now call me a #1 New York Times bestselling author. THE PURSUIT, my fifth Fox & O’Hare book co-authored with Janet Evanovich, debuted at #1 on the ebook bestseller list (and #8 on hardcover, and #3 on print & ebook combined). Hitting #1 is a dream come true… but it got even better thanks to some cosmic coincidences.
As some of you may know, my brother Tod is also an author. His latest book is THE HOUSE OF SECRETS , co-authored with my friend Brad Meltzer, came out in early June …the same day as the paperback edition of THE SCAM, my fourth Fox & O’Hare book with Janet Evanovich, was released. It’s a total coincidence, since we have different publishers. HOUSE OF SECRETS debuted at #6 on the New York Times hardcover bestseller list and last week THE SCAM was #5 on the New York Times mass market paperback list.
But this week we are on the same bestseller list together — THE PURSUIT is #8 and THE HOUSE OF SECRETS is #16 on the New York Times hardcover bestseller list.
We’ve both fantasized about this happening and now it actually has. We both have a hard time believing it. We owe a big thank you to Janet Evanovich and Brad Meltzer for their big roles in making this dream come true…and especially to all of YOU for buying our books.
People are always writing me for advice about TV and publishing, not that I have any great wisdom to impart. But that doesn’t stop me from replying anyway.
Hello Mr. Goldberg:
I was referred to you by a friend of your friend XYZ…I am 64 years old and I have a screenplay that desperately needs a place to go, and your name was delivered as the unquestionable favorite. Please let me know if you might be able to provide me any guidance or wisdom. Should you not be able or interested, (she tries to put away that big pouty lip), your suggestion of someone else would be greatly appreciated.
I am sure you get a lot of emails and maybe this may not reach you, but here’s hoping. I am an aspiring actress/model and went to a meeting with XYZ at Culver Studios last week. He claims to have been a director/producer for NBC/Universal but the IMDB just doesn’t seem legitimate. He also claims to be married to actress XYZ but there is hardly any information on her either.
He says he wants me to come and work for him and learn the business to become an assistant producer and star in his upcoming movies, but things just aren’t adding up. I called NBC Universal and asked them if his name was on the employee list and was not. Due to all of the scams and human trafficking which he spoke a lot about, I want to be safe. Do you know how I can navigate safely through this industry and or have any advice for me on how I can obtain legitimate information and backgrounds on producers and directors?Well, it sounds like you already checked this guy out and learned that something is very fishy. His picture on Imdb also seems amateurish to me… as if by standing beside the studio gate, which anybody can do, he’s trying to confer legitimacy on himself. I’d steer clear of him. Keep in mind, anybody can rent studio space. Just because their office is on a movie studio lot does not mean they are legitimate. In addition to imdb, you can check out producers with the PGA (Producers Guild of America) to see if they are members… or, if they are writer/producers, you can check with the WGA (Writers Guild of America) to see if they are members (or if their companies are guild signatories). You can find out if a director is legit by contacting the DGA (Directors Guild of America) and seeing if he or she is a member. If they are offering you acting jobs, check them out with SAG (Screen Actors Guild) to see if they are signatories or if there are any issues with their company that the union knows about. Lack of produced credits on imDb and non-membership in one of those guilds would raise a big red flag for me.
Nothing beats “boots on the ground” for researching locations for a book. I always pick up details that no guidebook, or Google Earth trawl, will turn up. Not only that, but I love to travel to new places…here or abroad. I just returned from a three week trip to Australia and New Zealand to research the as-yet-untitled sixth Fox & O’Hare book.
My travels this time took me first to Sydney (and Manly Beach and Bondi Beach), where everyone was too damn good looking. Even the old people looked like models. All the women seemed to be wearing black… my theory is that they were morning all the fat, imperfect friends and relatives that had been exiled from the city. After three days roaming Sydney, we headed off to Brisbane, where I was relieved to see not everybody was perfect. My wife desperately wanted to see some Koalas, so we went to a local reserve where we could hold the cuddly animals and get up-close-and-personal with kangaroos. We roamed the city on foot and by ferry, then rented a car and headed off to explore the Gold Coast one day and the Sunshine Coast the next. The two coasts couldn’t be more different. The Gold Coast highly developed, with skyscrapers, high-end stores, and endless beaches…while the Sunshine Coast is more laid-back, less developed, but also with long, flat seemingly endless beaches.
From Brisbane, we flew on Emirates to New Zealand. I’ve never been on an Emirates plane before and was amused by the wood-grain trim around the portholes and the faux-wood toilet seats in the unusually spacious lavatories. We were welcomed in both Auckland (and later in Wellington) by cousins of actress Alexia Barlier, who was one of the stars of my movie FAST TRACK: NO LIMITS. We spent a day roaming around Auckland on foot, then the following day we took a boat out to Waiheke Island, rented a car, and explored the entire island. We managed to visit all of Waiheke’s beautiful beaches and even visit two wineries for meals and some wine-tasting.
We arrived in Wellington in time to enjoy the final day of Cuba Duba, a vibrant street fair, and were met by more of Alexia’s cousins, who introduced us to the city and entertained us in their incredible, hillside home, where they have breathtaking views of the city. We also met up with Jeroen Ten Berge, the artist who designed the covers for my DEAD MAN books, WATCH ME DIE, KING CITY, McGRAVE, and many other titles. He showed us around and it was a real treat to see the city through his eyes. After that, we rented a car and explored the countryside and the coast on our own, catching some dramatic vistas along the way.
Then it was back to Australia for a few days in Tasmania, where we explored the city of Hobart and followed the so-called Convict Trail, soaking up the dramatic history of the island…and its roots as a penal colony. We also visited the bizarre, controversial, stunning, and unforgettable MONA Museum…which was like visiting an art galley designed by SPECTRE.
The entire trip was a fascinating and inspiring experience. I’m looking forward now to delving into the history of Australia, Tasmania and New Zealand, searching for those nuggest that will make the places, and the characters who live there, come alive in Nick and Kate’s next adventure. I took hundreds of photos that I can use to refresh my memory as I write. Here are just a few…
My friend author Gerald Duff shares the story behind the writing of his tasty new novel Memphis Ribs, which Entertainment Weekly calls ‘A tangy tale of murder, gang warfare, crack cocaine, and barbecue.’ I’m sucker for a great thriller and for barbecue, so this was a home run for me!
When I wrote my novel Memphis Ribs, I did it for the same reason that all writers take up a task that lasts so long and uses up so much electricity. I was mesmerized by the topic, in this case my trying to understand the essence of the Bluff City where I had come to live for a spell. And it was a spell, because that’s what Memphis casts upon those who come to live with her.
Memphis is an embodiment of the central paradox of the South. It is both tight and loose, and so are Southerners. Memphis has more churches of every denomination, conducting more worship services, attended by more of the faithful, than any comparably sized city in the nation.
Memphis also has more low dives and honky tonks, more high and low bars, more prostitutes and drug houses, more robberies and gang shootings, more muggings and murders, just generally more of the fast life, than any other metropolitan area in the country. If Nashville, Tennessee’s richest city, is about the greed for money and the drive to make it, Memphis is about giving in, abandoning all hope, and having a good time.
Memphis has suffered from calamities over time, including a yellow fever contagion which decimated the city in the nineteenth century and the assassination of Dr.King in the twentieth century which dealt the finishing blow to Memphis’s status as a contender in the big world of growth and commerce. For the commercial hopers and city planners, these disasters were apocalyptic, but for the writer they created a climate and culture conducive to dream, disillusionment, regret, and loss.
The advantages for a novelist are clear and compelling. All is vanity, endeavor is doomed, and success is fleeting, evanescent, and gone. That’s the country where a novelist feels most at home.
How all this influenced me as a chronicler of a fictional pair of police detectives – one black, one white – trying to solve some crimes in the Bluff City is clear enough. Memphis and its contradictions and energies and despair and humor emboldened me to try to capture in fiction some of its toughness, violence, obsession with barbecue and beautiful women, its racism and restiveness, and its hard-edged hilarity. I tried to do so by casting as a Memphis homicide cop a man in North Mississippi I had come to know. He was an independent cotton farmer, a Vietnam veteran who wasn’t outwardly bothered by his year in that war as a combat infantryman, and a man completely at ease with himself. He drank copious amounts of bourbon without seeming to become drunk, he loved his wife, and he had many friends, black and white, who admired and gave him great room and latitude. His fictional partner in the novel knows him to the core.
All I’m trying to do in Memphis Ribs is to show how Danny M. would act if called upon to sort out some crimes in the Bluff City. In my attempt, I hope I’ve captured some of the gut and soul of that city on the big river that flows through the heart of America.
My friend Mark Smith’s The Death of the Detective is widely considered to be one of the best detective novels ever written…and was a National Book Award finalist. It was a honor for me to be able to republish it this last month through my company, Brash Books. I’ve asked Mark to share the story of how his remarkable book was written.
I think it was Heywood Hale Broun who said, “When a professional man is doing the best work of his life, he will be reading only detective novels,” or words similar. I hope, even at my age, I have my best work ahead of me, but when I was writing The Death of the Detective, in my leisure hours I was exhausting the classic English who-dun-its written between the Wars, favoring Dorothy Sayers and Freeman Wills Croft, while also re-reading Raymond Chandler and re-discovering Nero Wolfe. In this regard I shared the addiction with the likes of William Butler Yeats, William Faulkner and FDR, among others.
My first two novels, the companion novels, Toyland and House Across the White (original title, The Middleman), were psychological thrillers and a modern retelling of a fairy tale. Before taking on the ghost story, my fourth novel, The Moon Lamp, I settled on my favorite genre, the detective story. Originally sketched out as something of a short story in which the detective in his quest of a killer discovers only his victims, with each murder leading both men to the next, the book became seriously ambitious when I added the moral and ironic complication of the detective himself being somehow responsible for the deaths by reason of his continued pursuit of the killer. This seemed to me a wonderful metaphor for the America of my time and place. And the detective as my representative American—or hero, if you wish. So much better for an urban environment than a cowboy.
The novel became enlarged when I added an interwoven subplot of young people and a minor plot of gangsters and made the killer’s victims believable round characters who were either sympathetic or interesting, so that, in a departure from the genre and the movies, the reader would be emotionally effected when their deaths occurred. After all, the tradition in Chicago writing, from Dreiser to Bellow, is compassion. Adding to the novel’s length was my recreation of each particular setting where the corpses were found strewn across the landscape of what is now called ‘Chicagoland”, thereby involving as many varied localities as I could in the crimes.
Many readers would say Chicago was the main character in the book, a response that surprised and disappointed me. Only years later did I come to find there was some justification for this observation. In my day, Chicago, for guys like me, was pretty much an open city, and I felt free to venture where I pleased. After high school, I worked as a mucker (sandhog) digging the subway extension beneath the post office, was a tariff clerk for the CBQ Railroad, the timekeeper on the foundation work for the Inland Steel Building and a merchant seaman on the Great Lakes before graduating from Northwestern University and living on the Gold Coast– across from the Ambassador East, no less.
Some readers, including allegedly mafioso and their children, have claimed the gangster plot is the best piece of the book, and that the gangsters are entirely believable, recognizable characters, perhaps something of a first in American fiction. The question asked then, is how did I come by my insights and knowledge? Henry James said writers should “receive straight impressions from life”, a piece of advice I find irrefutable for a naturalistic writer. Lo and behold, at the age of sixteen I worked as a busboy one summer at a nightclub-restaurant on the outskirts of Chicago owned by a former Capone mobster that was frequented by his fellows in the trade, alone (sometimes to play cards in a closed-off dining room), or with their families. These people not only became human to me, they became ordinary, and for a writer, now accessible to the play of his imagination. For example, I witnessed the tipsy top mobster in Chicago at closing time fail miserably in his attempt to pick up a not-so-exciting waitress, while my boss, a rather comic character who reminded me of Lou Costello ( a new restaurant in the area that threatened to be competition for his restaurant was bombed that summer every time it tried to open) would show up at the restaurant furious after losing a bundle at the track and order the help to drain all the nearly empty catsup bottles into new bottles. Without these contacts I suppose I would have had to take my gangsters from the cliches of movies and television (pre-Sopranos) and yes, probably from crime novels, also.
I have a couple of regrets about the novel. I notice a reviewer claimed I had predicted the practice of criminal profiling. If so, I’m not sure where that occurs in the novel. However I did make two predictions that came true that I cut from the book when I reduced its original text by some twenty percent which included not only blubber but the author’s commentary, prophecies and missteps into outright fantasy. One was the prediction that we would suffer from some new and deadly sexually transmitted disease which I changed to suggest old-fashioned syphilis. It seemed to me that given our new libertine sexual proclivities with limitless partners that such was likely to occur. Hence, soon thereafter, Aids. The other was my direct assertion that the mindless violence on film and television not only deadened us to the pain of violence, but encouraged violence, making it a centerpiece of our culture, a notion that was dismissed as hogwash at the time, but seemed an obvious cause and effect to me. Today this observation is pretty much accepted. So much for my career as Nostradamus.
A final admission. Although the Viet Nam war is never mentioned in this novel, and occurred after the time this novel takes place, it occurred during the time I was writing it with the nightly death count on the news. I like to tell myself my rage against that misadventure, along with my nostalgic love-hate relationship with the lost Chicago of my childhood and youth, were the energy sources behind the novel’s composition. It could even be said, with some hyperbole, that I wrote this book alone in my study in place of publically marching with the thousands demonstrating in the street.
One of my great pleasures of publishing this book, along with receiving a nomination for the National Book Award and seeing the novel on the New York Times paperback bestseller list, were the invitations to join the Mystery Writers of America and the British Crime Writers Association.
The Death of the Detective is available from Brash Books, Toyland and The House Across the White, from Foreverland Press.