More on Michael Gruber

It’s common knowledge now that Michael Gruber has been ghosting Robert Tanenbaum’s legal thirllers… because Gruber is telling everybody about it. This week, Gruber is interviewed in Publisher’s Weekly, the industry trade magazine, and discussing his ghosting days in detail.

Gruber and Tanenbaum’s mothers are sisters and raised their sons in New York
together. Tanenbaum went on to become a successful trial lawyer, and when one of
his cases became nationally famous, the publishing house Franklin Watts (now a
division of Scholastic) asked him to write a novel about his legal adventures.Hook1
Knowing his cousin could write, Tanenbaum contacted Gruber. "He called me up,"
Gruber remembers, "and said, ‘I’ve written a hundred pages. Would you have a
look at it?’ " Gruber hesitates before explaining his reaction to Tanenbaum’s
hundred pages. "It was the kind of novel by somebody who doesn’t know anything
about writing novels," he says diplomatically. "So I called him, and I said,
‘This is unsalvageable. It’s not a novel, it has no characters, no plot,
nothing.’ He said, ‘What should I do?’ I said, ‘Look, for half the advance, I’ll
write your novel.’ On the basis of that we got another contract, for a lot more
money. And so I went into business."

In the acknowledgements of Tanenbaum’s bestselling "Butch Karp" novels, he always thanked Gruber, who ghosted over a dozen novels for his cousin.  The partnership began to fall apart when Gruber tired of sharing the cash and not the credit.

The cousins became "somewhat estranged" when Gruber said he wanted to have a
relationship with Tanenbaum’s publisher (previously, Gruber didn’t interact at
all with any editor or publisher). This didn’t go over well with Tanenbaum, and
when, thanks to Gruber’s pressuring, Tanenbaum revised his contract so that it
would have Gruber’s name in it, Gruber had to agree that he wouldn’t make any
claim for copyright, and tensions increased.

"It’s very sad," Gruber laments. "You can imagine, being a writer, you write
all these books, but you never experience the life of a writer." He lays out one
scenario: "You’re at a party, and you say, ‘I’m a writer.’ Someone says, ‘Oh,
have you been published?’ ‘Yeah, I have seven million books in print.’ ‘Really?
What’s your name?’ ‘Oh, I don’t publish under my own name.’ "

Resolved, published in 2003, was the last Tanenbaum book Gruber was
involved in (though Tanenbaum continues to publish books, the most recent of
which, Hoax, received mostly tepid reviews). Their relationship now?
Gruber answers, "Zero."

Gruber’s first novel under his own name was TROPIC OF NIGHT, a thriller that has sold 300,000 copies in hardcover and paperback. His new novel VALLEY OF BONES is getting a big push from his publisher (hence the profile in PW and full page ad) and a 100,000 copy first printing. Alerting the fans of Tanenbaum’s books that they were actually written by Gruber can’t hurt his sales, either. Although the publisher decided not to refer to Gruber’s relationship with Tanenbaum in any of their publicity material, that didn’t stop Gruber from making sure word got out.

Personally, I think Gruber should have kept his mouth shut. He made a deal with Tanenbaum to ghost his books and was paid handsomely for  it… to reveal the arrangement now seems malicious, self-serving, and unprofessional to me.  Everybody loses… Tanenbaum, his readers, and Gruber, who comes off as a jerk.

I wonder who is writing Tanenbaum’s books now…. heard any rumors?

English Teacher Castigated for Teaching Mystery Writing

For the last five years, Rebecca Van Cuyk has taught a high school English course in Kaukauna Wisconsin called "History of the Mystery." Now’s she under fire in the local media for corrupting young minds… all because one parent has objected to the curriculum…a parent who believes the course will turn her child into a murderer.

In a letter to the Mystery Writers of America, Ms. Van Cuyk writes:

The class, and I personally, have been under attack (via letters to the editor, radio talk shows, and inaccurate news broadcasts) for approximately a month. Why? Because as a creative writing component of the course, the students were assigned to write their own murder mysteries. One parent objected and has since advertised to the media that I specifically assigned my students to "plot a murder." He has also suggested that "thoughts are the seeds of words and deeds" and the students, as a result, will be more likely to commit murders themselves. My life has been a living hell as a result

Here’s a sample of the grief she’s been getting from 105.7 WAPL radio:

We are proud to name as this week’s Rick and Len Weenie of the Week…. Kaukauna High School teacher Rebecca Van Cuyk who this week it was revealed that she assigned her English class to plan a murder as a writing project.


For replacing reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmatic with means, motive and opportunity

For instructing kids to plan a homicide which is the worst instruction given to anyone since someone instructed Anna Nicole Smith to wash down a hand full of Secanol with quart of cheap tequila before the American Music Awards.


For encouraging high school students to think about killing someone without realizing that the 5 hours they spend each week suffering through Algebra class is probably spent doing little else.

We are proud to name Kaukauna High School Teacher Rebecca Van Cuyk who assigned students the task of planning a murder as this week’s Rick and Len….. WEENIE OF THE WEEK!!!!

The person they should be ridiculing is the parent who objects to the course but, sadly, that isn’t the case.

Ms. Van Cuyk, in her letter to the MWA, is asking mystery writers for their support in her battle to keep her course from being axed over this ridiculous controversy.

The one parent who has a problem with the assignment (even though his daughter was offered an alternative assignment) is pursuing his agenda of having the Murder Mystery writing component ELIMINATED entirely from our curriculum. He will be presenting his "case" to our Curriculum and Instruction Committee and then the school board. This is where I would like to ask for your help.

As mystery writers, surely you understand that writing a mystery in which
a murder takes place will not make you a murderer. (If it did, I guess you would all be in prison as opposed to free citizens who belong to this organization.)

This seems to have become an issue of "morality," as if by writing about murder, the author is somehow glorifying or condoning the act, or again, be tempted to "try it" himself. I am concerned that the school board will agree to eliminate the assignment based on this erroneous "morality argument."

I am writing to ask if any of you, several of you, or even all of you, would consider writing a letter to our Curriculum and Instruction Committee and school board, addressing any of the following:

1. The "morality" issue
2. The fallacy that writing a murder mystery will create a murderer
3. The literary merit of constructing a well-thought out mystery
4. The skills that can be strengthened by writing a mystery
5. The purpose behind writing a mystery and/or the end result of the
mystery story (to restore order, see good triumph over evil, etc.)
6. Anything you see as relating to the importance/relevance of this
assignment, in specific

It has been suggested by our administrators that we change the assignment
to just be "any kind of mystery." (e.g. the kids can write about surprise birthday parties or searching for the holy grail) While I know that mysteries can effectively be written about anything if the author is skilled enough, that is not the point.

We study mystery authors all semester who write, specifically, about the solving of murders: Edgar Allan Poe, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie, as well as several other lesser known authors. When the murder mystery assignment was created, its goal in part was to "test" the kids on what they had learned about the construction of a murder mystery, in specific.

As one of the teachers of this course, I do not see a benefit in changing the language in our curriculum to assign the students "any kind of mystery." (Please note: as an educator, I do not force students to do things with which they have personal issues. We have always offered an alternate assignment on a case-by-case basis and will continue to do so.)  The big deal here is that ONE parent wants to force us to change our curriculum. One parent, of the over 500 students who have taken this course in the last five years.

If you are inclined to help us retain the integrity (and EXISTENCE) of the murder mystery writing assignment, and willing to write a letter on behalf of the course and the assignment itself, I would appreciate it if you would address it to:

Kaukauna School District
Curriculum and Instruction Committee
112 Main Ave
Kaukauna, WI 54130


Kaukauna School District
School Board
112 Main Ave
Kaukauna, WI 54130

Thank you in advance for any help you would be willing to offer. If you have questions, or merely wish to contact me, please feel free to do so at:


Rebecca Van Cuyk
English Department
Kaukauna High School

If you are as outraged as I am, I hope you will consider writing a letter in support of this teacher and her program.

TV Cannibalization — it’s a Series!

I didn’t realize it before, but thanks to Bob Sassone, I’ve discovered that these TV cannibalizations (see previous post) aren’t just specials anymore, they’re a franchise, which is Industry-speak for a series.

Yahoo reports that NBC is mounting a TV movie about the making of MORK AND MINDY, which is "extending its successful "Behind the Camera" movie franchise."

"The movie is a celebration of a great sitcom and the comic genius of Robin Williams," said executive producer Matt Dorff. "It also explores the downside of the show’s overnight success when the network takes a hit show and tries to fix it."

But that’s not all. The movie stars little-known Canadian actor Chris Diamantopoulos as Robin Williams, and Dorff believes this could lead to much bigger things…

"We believe that — like ‘Mork & Mindy’ was for Williams — this is going be his springboard to TV stardom."

Hell, if that happens, this could be the start of a whole new franchise. In five or ten years, we could see movies about the making of movies about the making the TV shows. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?

If I were Matt Dorff, I’d take lots of notes during the shooting…

TV Discovers New Way to Cannibalize Itself

Nowadays it isnt enough to resurrect old TV shows for revivals (new movies continuing the stories of the characters from the show), reunion specials (actors reminiscing over clips from the old show) and feature film remakes (like STARSKY AND HUTCH, MISSION IMPOSSIBLE, CHARLIE’S ANGELS, etc.). Clever network executives have figured out a new way to exploit old hits… 

Now they are making TV movies about the making of  old TV shows.

There have been TV movies about the making of  BATMAN,  THE BRADY BUNCH,  CHARLIE’S ANGELS,  THREE’S COMPANY and now ABC is about to air DYNASTY: BEHIND-THE-SCENES OF A GUILTY PLEASURE. 

The movies-about-TV shows try to make the routine  power plays, artistic differences, and personality clashes play out like high drama (or low comedy, depending on your POV)  instead of what it really is — insanely stupid squabbling over nothing. What’s even more amazing is that people actually tune in to watch the stuff.

If this swill keeps scoring in the ratings, can TV movies about the making of MASH, ALL IN THE FAMILY, STAR TREK, and KNIGHTRIDER be far behind?

To me,  movies about the production of classic TV shows is a new low point for television, though not quite as offensive and jaw-droppingly low brow as reality shows like  TEMPTATION ISLAND, WIFE SWAP, FEAR FACTOR, and EXTREME MAKE-OVER.   But I suppose the  television industry’s endless fascination with itself shouldn’t be a surprise…  Showtime just announced it was making a movie out of  the battle between Michael Eisner and Mike Ovitz at Disney.

Warner Brothers Cries UNCLE

Variety Reports that Warner Brothers is exhuming yet another classic TV series for the big screen… they are mounting a feature film version of THE MAN FROM UNCLE.Manfromuncle

The interesting twist here is that the movie is going to be directed by Matthew Vaughn who, for most of his life, believed he was the biol0gical son of UNCLE star Robert Vaughn.  It turns out that he wasn’t (but is actually the biological son of some minor British aristocrat).

Matthew Vaughn is the long-time producing partner of Guy Ritchie and made his directorial debut with LAYER CAKE, a crime thriller that will be released this spring.

At one time, Quentin Tarantino was rumored to be interested in an UNCLE feature…

Writing Sex Scenes

Author Laurell Hamilton talks on her blog about the difficulties of writing sex scenes when you just aren’t in the mood.

I’m supposed to do a sex scene today. Usually it’s not a problem, but today was one of those rare days when I’m just not in the mood…

Most of the time the biggest problem with writing a sex scene for me is the fact that with real sex you have the actually sensations, the immediacy of your own bodies reactions. In a book you have only words, black and white, only words to try and convey so many amazing experiences. Words seem so inadequate for it sometimes. But on one of the rare days when I get up and sex just isn’t the first thing on my mind, then a sex scene becomes a different kind of challenge. How do you get in the mood when you aren’t? How do you capture that mind set when what you’re doing in real life is refinacing your house, or walking the dog. How do you stay in the mood when the mundane world is so busy you aren’t even thinking about your own sex life let alone a fictional character’s love life?

When she lived alone with just one small dog she had an unconventional solution to breaking that particular form of writer’s block.

I put on lingere, lit candles around the computer, and tried to treat it almost like a romantic evening with a real person. It actuallly did help. There’s something about slipping on the thigh highs and black satin and lace, with some unhealthy but kick-ass shoes, that just does it for me.

Oddly enough, that’s exactly how I dress when I write DIAGNOSIS MURDER.

I haven’t had to write a sex scene in some time, but when I do, I don’t try to be slick about it, or make an effort to get my readers excited. I try to make it real in the context of everyday life, not RED SHOES DIARY.

In the first draft of my first book, .357 VIGILANTE, my hero was impotent, unable to get it up because of all the violence in his life. When I turned the manuscript in to my editor, he was shocked.

"The hero can’t be impotent," he cried. "This is a men’s action adventure novel. Not only does he have sex, he has GREAT sex!"

So I rewrote the sex scenes. I made them utterly ridiculous. They defied logic. They defied gravity. All the hero had to do was glance at a woman and she’d collapse into multiple orgasms.  A few days after I turned the manuscript in, I got a call from my editor.

"I read the sex scenes," he said.

I figured what he was going to say next was that the book was rejected and my contract for two more was canceled. I was wrong.

"Not only were they hot," he said, " they were real."

I was relieved…and deeply depressed. If those scenes were real, than my love life was pathetic. Or, at least, more pathetic than I already thought it was.

The last time I wrote a sex scene for a book was for my novel THE MAN WITH THE IRON-ON BADGE, which is coming out next fall. The sex is urgent, sloppy, awkward, and funny. Not the least bit erotic but, I hope, real.  Here’s a snippet from it:

I’m afraid the surprise and excitement were too much, because I came in about three minutes. But I don’t think Carol minded, it calmed me down and allowed me to concentrate real hard on getting her off. And believe me, it took my complete attention. Pleasing a woman, especially Carol, isn’t easy and with me, at least, there’s a lot of potential for embarrassment and humiliation…

If you’re a writer, what is your approach to writing sex scenes… and if you’re a reader, how do you feel about reading them?

Reading the Proofs

I always look forward to reading & correcting the page proofs/galleys — the final, typeset version of  my books.  I haven’t out-grown the thrill yet. To me, that’s when a book truly feels real. And reading it isn’t a chore, except for the time it takes away from my other work.  But author Sandra Scoppettone doesn’t feel the same way about her galleys.

Having to read it again is hideous.  I don’t feel like reading it.
It’s interrupted my writing schedule.  In fact, it feels like torture
having to read it.  But this will be the last time.  Once a book is
published I never read it again.

It’s usually been such a long time since I finished writing the book that it feels as if what I am reading was written by someone else.  I enjoy it. That said, I don’t go back and read my books again, not that it’s any kind of hard-and-fast rule with me. It has just worked out that way. There are a lot more things out there that I’m interested in reading than my own work.

How do you other authors out there feel about reading your galleys?

More of the Same

Publisher’s Weekly has given Adrian McKinty’s new novel HIDDEN RIVER a starred, rave review, describing it as:

… an
outstanding and complex crime novel that should appeal to fans of hard-boiled
Celtic scribes such as Ken Bruen and Ian Rankin.

No wonder, since the hero, Alexander Lawson, shares so many similiarities to Bruen’s Jack Taylor and Rankin’s John Rebus.  Two guesses what Lawson’s story is. He’s  "a
down-and-out ex-cop with a heroin habit,"  booted from the Belfast homicide squad for stealing heroin from an evidence locker.  I bet the police Captain is still out-to-get-him,  and that his personal relationships are a mess… and yet women still are inexplicably drawn to him. Of course, there’s more to this novel than just that…

This is not only an expertly crafted suspense novel but also a revealing
study of addiction.

Of course it is. I haven’t read the book, but I feel like I have already. Many, many times…

Who Was the Best TV Doctor?

I received this email today:

I read your blog frequently and am always interested in the TV/movie production insights you provide.  I was also interested in your comments on TV private eyes.  Now since you write a show that includes a doctor, perhaps you’d give us your thoughts on your fave TV doctor.

They run the gamut from Dr. Kildare to Marcus Welby to Dr. Carter on ER with side shoots going off to Hawkeye Pierce and Trapper John, MD and the entire cast of "Scrubs".

Peter Tietjen

I like Dr. McCoy (Star Trek), Dr. Adams (Gunsmoke), Rafferty (Patrick McGoohan from the short-lived series "Rafferty"), and Dr. Greene on ER.  I also like Hugh Laurie as Dr. House in the new Fox series.

What about the rest of you?

Outrage at Blanco

I picked up Bill Crider’s western OUTRAGE AT BLANCO to read in Hawaii later this month. The first line is certainly a grabber:

Jink Howard sat in the shade of a tree and ate tomatoes out of a can while Ben Atticks raped the woman in the wagon bed.

I’m also bringing with me another western, Elmer Kelton’s THE DAY THE COWBOYS QUIT and Dan J. Marlowe’s VENGEANCE MAN. I’m thinking of bringing the paperback edition of JONATHAN STRANGE & MR. MORRELL that I bought in Toronto…but it must weight five pounds.