The Mail I Get – Unsolicited Filler Edition

Lately I have been getting unsolicited offers to supply posts for my blog. Here's one that came in today from Amy Currie at Phenix Publicity:

Please find pasted below a contributed piece by author and progressive blogger James Protzman, for your consideration. Co-founder of the liberal blog, Protzman was inspired to overhaul his new book, "Jesus Swept," by combining not only the elements of fiction writing, but also his experience with blogging and freelance business writing. His article shares his experience and this transition.

First off, as a piece of PR, this solicitation sucks. The first line should grab the person you are trying to sway, not numb them into a coma. Please find pasted below a contributed piece…? Ugh. It's as if Ms. Currie, a "Senior Publicist" at Phenix, didn't even make an effort to craft a creative or interesting pitch. Either Ms. Currie was too busy to care or she has a lot to learn about writing press releases and garnering attention for her clients.

Beyond the inept execution of the release, I find the basic premise of the "campaign" ill-conceived. Most bloggers blog because they have a world view, an agenda, a product, an opinion, a cause, or an idea…or a combination of all those…that they want to share. Why would a blogger be interested in an unsolicited post by another blogger flogging his book? If Protzman's blog is as good and as popular as he claims, wouldn't a post there generate enough interest (and links/trackbacks) on its own? Why would I, or anybody else, want to carry a 600 word essay (essentially an infomercial) by someone we don't know about a book we don't care about?

Well, we might if his essay was the least bit interesting or provocative, which Protzman's is not. Here's an example of his wisdom: 

With one hand in the blogosphere and the other working for business clients, I started a grand revision of my novel, mixing all three forms – blogging, business writing, fiction – into a spicy soup. I’ve learned these three kinds of writing are as different as earth, wind and fire – except when they’re not.

Uh-huh. I'm enlightened, how about you? There's 500 more words of observations like this available to fill space on your blog if you want it…

The Mail I Get

It's a cliche that everybody thinks their life would make a great story — but now it's not just a story, it's a reality show. I got an email from a guy who thinks there's a show in his budding auto parts business. He writes:

There would be a small but dedicated market for said show on specific cable networks. Not so much featuring the building, but more the economics, structure and work that goes into the business… with the work, cars, and skills being accessories to the focus.
If that interests you, and you would like to discuss further, please let me know. There are a million details, directions and avenues that can be explored within this realm.

I don't know what makes people think that they should share their reality show ideas with me, since I have never written, produced, or created one. But I guess they figure that if you're working in Hollywood, you're plugged into every facet of the TV biz. I'm not. No offense, but you're wasting your time sending me your reality show ideas.

Edgar Nominees Announced

The 2009 Edgar® Award Nominees are…

ImageMystery Writers of America is proud to announce, as we celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of Edgar Allan Poe, its Nominees for the 2009 Edgar Allan Poe Awards, honoring the best in mystery fiction, non-fiction, television and film published or produced in 2008. The Edgar® Awards will be presented to the winners at our 63rd Gala Banquet, April 30, 2009 at the Grand Hyatt Hotel, New York City.


Missing by Karin Alvtegen (Felony & Mayhem Press)
Blue Heaven by C.J. Box (St. Martin's Minotaur)
Sins of the Assassin by Robert Ferrigno (Simon & Schuster – Scribner)
The Price of Blood by Declan Hughes (HarperCollins – William Morrow)
The Night Following by Morag Joss (Random House – Delacorte Press)
Curse of the Spellmans by Lisa Lutz (Simon & Schuster)


The Kind One by Tom Epperson (Five Star, div of Cengage)
Sweetsmoke by David Fuller (Hyperion)
The Foreigner by Francie Lin (Picador)
Calumet City by Charlie Newton (Simon & Schuster – Touchstone)
A Cure for Night by Justin Peacock (Random House – Doubleday)


The Prince of Bagram by Alex Carr (Random House Trade)
Money Shot by Christa Faust (Hard Case Crime)
Enemy Combatant by Ed Gaffney (Random House – Dell)
China Lake by Meg Gardiner (New American Library – Obsidian Mysteries)
The Cold Spot by Tom Piccirilli (Random House – Bantam)


For The Thrill of It: Leopold, Loeb and the Murder that Shocked Chicago by Simon Baatz (HarperCollins)
American Lightning: Terror, Mystery, the Birth of Hollywood, and the Crime of the Century by Howard Blum (Crown Publishers)
Havana Nocturne: How the Mob Owned Cuba and Then Lost It To The Revolution by T.J. English (HarperCollins – William Morrow)
The Man Who Made Vermeers: Unvarnishing the Legend of Master Forger Hans van Meegeren by Jonathan Lopez (Harcourt)
The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher by Kate Summerscale (Walker & Company)


African American Mystery Writers: A Historical and Thematic Study by Frankie Y. Bailey (McFarland & Company)
Hard-Boiled Sentimentality: The Secret History of American Crime Stories by Leonard Cassuto (Columbia University Press)
Scene of the Crime: The Importance of Place in Crime and Mystery Fiction by David Geherin (McFarland & Company)
The Rise of True Crime by Jean Murley (Greenwood Publishing – Praeger)
Edgar Allan Poe: An Illustrated Companion to His Tell-Tale Stories by Dr. Harry Lee Poe (Sterling Publishing – Metro Books)


"A Sleep Not Unlike Death" – Hardcore Hardboiled by Sean Chercover (Kensington Publishing)
"Skin and Bones" – Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine by David Edgerley Gates (Dell Magazines)
"Scratch of a Woman" – Hardly Knew Her by Laura Lippman (HarperCollins – William Morrow)
"La Vie en Rose" – Paris Noir by Dominique Mainard (Akashic Books
"Skinhead Central" – The Blue Religion by T. Jefferson Parker (Hachette Book Group – Little, Brown and Company)


The Postcard by Tony Abbott (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)
Enigma: A Magical Mystery by Graeme Base (Abrams Books for Young Readers)
Eleven by Patricia Reilly Giff (Random House Children's Books – Wendy Lamb Books)
The Witches of Dredmoore Hollow by Riford McKenzie (Marshall Cavendish Children's Books)
Cemetary Street by Brenda Seabrooke (Holiday House)


Bog Child by Siobhan Dowd (Random House Children's Books – David Fickling Books)
The Big Splash by Jack D. Ferraiolo (Harry N. Abrams Books – Amulet Books)
Paper Towns by John Green (Penguin Young Readers Group – Dutton Children's Books)
Getting the Girl by Susan Juby (HarperCollins Children's Books – HarperTeen)
Torn to Pieces by Margo McDonnell (Random House Children's Books – Delacorte Books for Young Readers)


The Ballad of Emmett Till by Ifa Bayeza (Goodman Theatre, Chicago, IL)
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde adapted by Jeffrey Hatcher, based on the story by Robert Lewis Stevenson (Arizona Theatre Company)
Cell by Judy Klass (International Mystery Writers' Festival)


"Streetwise" – Law & Order: SVU, Teleplay by Paul Grellong (Wolf Films/NBC Universal)
"Prayer of the Bone" – Wire in the Blood, Teleplay by Patrick Harbinson (BBC America)
"Signature" – Law & Order: SVU, Teleplay by Judith McCreary (Wolf Films/NBC Universal)
"You May Now Kill the Bride" – CSI: Miami, Teleplay by Barry O'Brien (CBS)
"Burn Card" – Law & Order, Teleplay by David Wilcox (Wolf Films/NBC Universal)


The Bank Job, Screenplay by Dick Clement & Ian La Frenais (Lionsgate)
Burn After Reading, Screenplay by Joel Coen & Ethan Coen (Focus Features)
In Bruges, Screenplay by Martin McDonagh (Focus Features)
Tell No One, Screenplay by Guillaume Canet, based on the book by Harlan Coben (Music Box Films)
Transsiberian, Screenplay by Brad Anderson & Will Conroy (First Look International)


"Buckner's Error" – Queens Noir by Joseph Guglielmelli (Akashic Books)


James Lee Burke
Sue Grafton


Edgar Allan Poe Society, Baltimore, Maryland
Poe House, Baltimore, Maryland


Sacrifice by S.J. Bolton (St. Martin's Minotaur)
The Killer's Wife by Bill Floyd (St. Martin's Minotaur)
Stalking Susan by Julie Kramer (Random House – Doubleday)
A Song for You by Betsy Thornton (St. Martin's Minotaur)
The Fault Tree by Louise Ure (St. Martin's Minotaur)

The Mail I Get

I got an email today asking me about the 1988 ABC TV series MURPHY’S LAW, which starred George Segal as an insurance investigator and Maggie Han as his much-younger girlfriend. The email said, in part:

“I am a big fan of Murphy’s Law, and I am not sure anyone else can answer my question! What happened in the unaired episode? (I believe it was called “All’s Wrong That Ends Wrong”.) And while I have you, were there plans for where the series would
go, had it continued? […] Did you enjoy the series? What was it like working for Michael Gleason and Leonard Stern? There is so little written about the show, I would love to know any of your recollections.”

The series was based on the TRACE and DIGGER novels by Warren Murphy. Michael Gleason, the creator and showrunner of REMINGTON STEELE, was the executive producer and Ernie Wallengren was the supervising producer. Each episode was titled after one of the Murphy’s Laws from the books published by Price Stern & Sloan (a company co-founded by Leonard Stern, one of our producers).

Gleason protege Lee David Zlotoff (who created MacGYVER) wrote and produced the 90-minute pilot which, as I recall, neither ABC nor New World Pictures Television was too happy with. So they brought in Michael, who re-cut it, shot some new scenes, and dropped the melancholy Mike Post theme in favor of a song by Al Jarreau. The idea was to make the show more light-hearted, though there definitely were some on-going dramatic elements regarding Murphy’s battle with alcoholism and his efforts to win visitation rights with his young daughter from his estranged wife, played by Kim Lankford.

I have enormous affection for MURPHY’S LAW because working on it had a lasting impact on me personally and professionally. It was the first staff job that Bill Rabkin and I had ever had…and it came right after the longest writers strike in the history of the TV industry. We wanted the job so bad and it was astonishing to us that we actually got it.We were working on the CBS/Radford lot and sharing a floor with the staff of THIRTYSOMETHING, which was pretty cool, too.

I was a huge admirer of Michael Gleason’s and, frankly, couldn’t believe we were actually working for him. He was so charming, creative, funny and friendly…he couldn’t have made it easier or more exciting for us… but even so, I was intimidated to actually have achieved my dream, and so afraid of failing, that for the first day or two after we got the green-light to write our script I suffered complete writer’s block, which broke only because Bill was there to walk me through it. We wrote two scenes together, line by line, and it was so much fun that I got so caught up in the writing that I forgot to be afraid.

I could go on and on about the show but the best thing about it was that Michael Gleason and Ernie Wallengren were wonderful writers and producers and very nice people. They taught us everything they knew, let us into casting, editing, music spotting and every other aspect of production…and gave us far more responsibility than we had any right to have. They also became more than our bosses…they became very close friends who we would work with again and again over the years. Series regular Kim Lankford introduced her cousin Carrie (or was it her niece?) to Bill, who promptly fell in love and married her…and they are still together today.

To answer your specific questions…we worked closely with Michael Gleason and consider him our mentor. We owe our careers to him and Ernie. We met Leonard Stern many times, but he wasn’t actively involved in the writing or producing of the series.

By the time we shot the 13th episode, we knew we’d been canceled and were going through the motions. The final episode, at New World’s insistence, was designed as a spin-off starring Joan Severance as a thief-turned-insurance investigator. Two versions were cut — one as a MURPHY’S LAW episode, the other as a pilot that largely cut our cast out of the action. I don’t know who had the brilliant idea of trying to sell a spin-off from a canceled show but, needless to say, it went nowhere. At the end of the episode, Murphy wins his long battle for unsupervised visitation rights with his daughter and the final shot is the two of them embracing on an airport runway.  The episode never aired…but I have a copy.

As far as I know, the show has never been in syndication and the only episode ever released to home video was the pilot…

Here’s the main title sequence…

The Return of Character?

The New York Times has an interesting take on the departure of  Gil Grissom (William Petersen) from CSI tonight…and what it says about the current state of TV mysteries.

Grissom has found a successor,Dr. Raymond Langston (Laurence Fishburne), a pathologist and college professor who seems to share Grissom’s slavish work ethic and kindly reticence. But Langston is not his only successor. Simon Baker, who plays Patrick Jane on “The Mentalist,” the new CBS hit, is a greater threat to the Grissom legacy. More than any other show, “The Mentalist” signals that intuition is the big new thing, while forensic science and nerdy, obsessive lab workersGrissom, the lead investigator on the show, makes a forlorn plea for his life’s work in his last episode. “People lie,” Grissom tells Langston. “The only thing we can count on is the evidence.”
Nowadays it’s the evidence that fibs.

Perhaps we are finally seeing the end of cold, forensics-driven procedural, where a team of science-spouting professionals in designer clothes track one serial killer after another.  But I would argue that it's not the success of "The Mentalist" that is driving the change…rather the continued popularity and durability of cable shows like "The Closer," "Saving Grace," "Monk," "Psych," and "Burn Notice" (not to mention that they are also less costly to produce than a glitzy procedural).

The new formula, which seems to take a nod from "Monk,"  is the eccentric detective and his no-nonsense female partner…as seen today in "The Mentalist," "Life,"  "Fringe," and "The 11th Hour."  And there's more to come. ABC's upcoming "Castle" teams up an eccentric mystery novelist with a no-nonsense female cop. I don't know yet if  the eccentric detective who can spot lies in Fox's "Life to Me" is also teamed up with a no-nonsense lady cop…but I would be surprised if he isn't.

Even with the over-reliance on that formula, I'm glad to see character making a comeback and forensics fading a bit in importance.  Character is a lot more fun to watch..and to write.

Mr. Monk and the Great Review

Author Bill Crider reviews MR. MONK AND THE TWO ASSISTANTS on his blog today. He says, in part:

As I’ve said before (here and here), I’ve never seen an episode of Monk. Yet I have a great time reading Lee Goldberg’s novels based on the series (and I’m not even reading them in the order of their publication).
I don’t think a book in this series will ever get an Edgar nomination. Why? Maybe it’s greatest drawback is that it’s a tie-in. Tie-ins don’t get a lot of respect. Too bad, because people who don’t read them often miss a real treat. Also, there’s not a lot of heavy-duty angst.

The lack of recognition for tie-in books is why Max Allan Collins and I established the International Association of Media Tie-in Writers (aka IAMTW or I Am a Tie-in Writer) to raise awareness of tie-in books and their writers. The organization is now three years old and boasts over 100 members. We also established the Scribe Awards, honoring excellence in tie-in writing.

One of the beefs with the Edgars is that the judges seem partial to angst-ridden, hardboiled novels and neglect thrillers and light-hearted fare. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but I can understand why that perception persists — I don’t think that a “comedy” has ever won the Best Novel Edgar. That said, Gregory MacDonald won for “Best First Novel” for FLETCH in 1975 and Sharyn McCrumb won “Best Paperback Original” for BIMBOS OF THE DEATH SUN in 1988.  

The Monk books may never merit an Edgar nomination, but TWO ASSISTANTS did win the Scribe Award last year from the IAMTW for “Best Original Novel” in the General Fiction category and I am very proud of that.