The Mail I Get


This email came to my agent, who forwarded it to me:

“Could you tell me the name of the Dalmatian and her owner shown on the cover of the Lee Goldberg book Mr. Monk is Cleaned Out?”

Glades Kicks Ass

The premiere of THE GLADES made TV history for A&E, according to Deadline Hollywood:

Third time proved to be the charm for A&E whose third original series, The Glades, debuted with 3.6 million viewers last night, posting the network's most-watched original drama series telecast ever. The Glades also broke records in the adults 18-49 and 25-54 demographics, delivering 1.4 million viewers and 1.2 million viewers, respectively. Combined with the encore airing, The Glades was watched by a total of 5.1 million viewers last night and grew by 38% from its lead-in.

I have a vested interested in the news. Bill Rabkin and I wrote the third episode and are in the midst of writing another one now.

She Should Have Gone into the Furniture Business

My grandfather owned a furniture store and wanted me to go into the business. I wanted to be a writer. His feeling was furniture was a solid career..that everybody needs to sit somewhere, they don't need to read a book. I argued that what they are doing while they are sitting in that comfy chairs is reading a book or watching TV. But he was right about one thing, it isn't easy making a living as a writer. As author Susanne Dunlap laments on her blog, it's still tough even if you've managed to get published by two major houses.  

my books are timed to come out roughly annually. Based on the advances I have been given for them, each book provides about a quarter of what I require to live on. Even if I gave up my Brooklyn residence and returned to Northampton, I would change that equation to about a third of what I require—which includes debt amassed while going to graduate school and simultaneously raising a family, helping my daughters through the rigors of adult life etc. etc.

So what is an author to do? She thought about putting some of her unpublished work, like the sequel to one of her published books, on the Kindle, but her agent scared her off of doing that.

I cruised around on my hard drive and flirted wistfully with the idea of e-publishing a few unwanted manuscripts, complete books that are very near to my heart but for one reason or another were not taken up by either my adult publisher, Simon & Schuster, or my YA publisher, Bloomsbury. Something held me back, though. And when I exchanged emails with my agent my doubts were confirmed. His advice was to trust that Bloomsbury is working to develop my career by bringing books out in a way that they will not compete with each other, and that self-publishing anything would undermine their sales and probably make me persona non grata.

Personally, I think her agent is full crap…and is wrong to counsel her, particularly in these tough economic times, not to take advantage of an opportunity to make more money off of her writing…especially if it costs her nothing.  He's being an ass.

Yes, it would hurt her career if she put a bad book on the Kindle. But if her books are at the same level as her published work, and will satisfy her readers (particularly if she's written an unpublished sequel to a previous book), the only downside is for him…and the commissions he won't be getting on her work. It will not make her "persona non grata" with publishers. That's just absurd. If her publishers wanted the books so bad, they could have published them. They can't hold it against her that she's found other markets for the work. Would she be "persona non grata" if she sold the books they passed on to another publisher?

I also think that his argument, that she should rely on a publisher to shape and craft her career, is ridiculous. It's her career…she's the one who should be deciding the course to take. They are only thinking of their own needs…not hers. He should know that.

My agent has no problem with me putting my out-of-print work on the Kindle. Sure, she wishes she had a percentage of those sales (and some agents are talking about adding such a clause into their agency contracts) but she sees it as a new revenue stream for books that were otherwise played out. 

I don't know how she'd feel if I decided to put my next book on the Kindle if she's unable to sell it. My guess is that if she believed in the book, and thought it was good, she wouldn't mind on a creative level…but might resent not sharing in the rewards of something she worked hard to sell but wasn't able to.

The Answer Man

Dr. Doug Lyle, medical consultant extraordinaire, posts on his blog today a question I asked him a few years ago for a DIAGNOSIS MURDER novel and his very helpful answer. As it turns out, life imitates art:

Recently, Thomas D. went missing. He had last been seen leaving a party and did not turn up again for four days. This was when a state trooper found his car some 480 feet off the Taconic State Parkway. He was found some 120 feet from his crashed BMW suffering from a back injury and dehydration. He apparently been able to crawl out of his car, which was stuck in a marshy area, but was unable to get to the roadway. He apparently was taken to the hospital and is now doing well. This story reminded me of a question that I receive many years ago from Lee Goldberg and used in my book Forensics & Fiction

A Novel Promotion for Tie-Ins

My publisher, Penguin-Putnam, has found an unusual way of promoting their tie-ins

Congrats to Penguin TV Tie-In Emmy Nominations!

We wanted to congratulate all the nominees for the 62nd Primetime Emmy Awards!

Here are the list of nominees from Penguin TV tie-ins:


The Pacific
Outstanding Art Direction For A Miniseries Or Movie
Outstanding Casting For A Miniseries, Movie Or A Special
Outstanding Cinematography For A Miniseries Or Movie (Part 5 and 9)
Outstanding Costumes For A Miniseries, Movie Or A Special (Part 3)
Outstanding Directing For A Miniseries, Movie Or A Dramatic Special (Part 8 and 9)
Outstanding Single-Camera Picture Editing For A Miniseries Or A Movie (Part 5, 9, 8)
Outstanding Main Title Design
Outstanding Makeup For A Miniseries Or A Movie (Non-Prosthetic)
Outstanding Prosthetic Makeup For A Series, Miniseries, Movie Or A Special
Outstanding Music Composition For A Miniseries, Movie Or A Special (Original Dramatic Score)
Outstanding Miniseries
Outstanding Sound Editing For A Miniseries, Movie Or A Special (Part 5)
Outstanding Sound Mixing For A Miniseries Or A Movie (Part 2, 5, 8, and 9)
Outstanding Special Visual Effects For A Miniseries, Movie Or A Special (Part 1 and 5)
Outstanding Writing for a Miniseries,
Movie or a Dramatic Special (Part 8 and 10)

True Blood
Outstanding Art Direction For A Single-Camera Series
Outstanding Casting For A Drama Series
Outstanding Prosthetic Makeup For A Series, Miniseries, Movie Or A Special
Outstanding Drama Series
Outstanding Sound Editing For A Series

Outstanding Original Music And Lyrics
Outstanding Lead Actor In A Comedy Series

Burn Notice
Outstanding Supporting Actress In A Drama Series

Outstanding Music Composition For A Series (Original Dramatic Score)

Return to Cranford
Outstanding Art Direction For A Miniseries Or Movie

Kudos to Penguin for a) taking pride in their tie-ins and b) trying to get some extra attention for them.

Mr. Monk is Out


No, he's not gay. He's published.

MR. MONK IS CLEANED OUT, the 10th book in the series, is out today in bookstores everywhere.  

This is the last book that's set before the final season of the TV series…and takes place against the backdrop of the global financial crisis. Squeezed for money, the SFPD fires Adrian Monk as a consultant…again (you might recall it happened before in MR. MONK AND THE DIRTY COP). Monk figures he can live off his savings for a while. Then Natalie learns that Monk invested his money some time ago with Bob Sebes, the charismatic leader of Reinier Investments, who's just been arrested on charges of orchestrating a massive $100 million fraud. All of Sebes' clients-including Monk-are completely wiped out.

When the key witness in the government's case against Sebes is killed, Monk is convinced that Sebes did it, even though the man has been under house arrest with a horde of paparazzi and police surrounding his building 24/7.

In a sense, it's a classic "locked room" mystery…with a lot of other mini-mysteries thrown in.

The paperback edition of MR. MONK IN TROUBLE is also out. So that should keep MONK fans entertained until January, when MR. MONK ON THE ROAD…the first book set *after* the final season…is released.

Meanwhile, I am hard at work on MONK #13, tentatively titled MR. MONK ON THE COUCH, and its something of a departure from the whodunit structure of the previous books…but more on that later.

I’m Directing a Little Movie


The Owensboro Kentucky Messenger Inquirer had a story on July 4 about the short film I'll be directing there over three days in September.The film is based on my short story Remaindered, which was published a few years back in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine .

RiverPark Center officials are excited about the educational opportunities the film shoot will provide local students.

Roxi Witt, general manager of the RiverPark Center, said the film will give theater arts students the chance to participate in a project that they couldn't experience anywhere else.

"Lee is obviously very accomplished," Witt said. "He's also personable and easy to listen to. He's got some great stories, but has a lot of knowledge and is incredibly meticulous."

The movie's cast and crew will all be from Kentucky and there will be film students on the set watching the production…as well as working as grips and helping out with crowd control. I'll also be hosting a few seminars before, during and after production to give the students a glimpse into how TV shows are written, prepped, produced and edited. The finished film will be screened in October at the inaugural NDX Experience Film Festival in Owensboro

I owe this wonderful opportunity to my buddy David Breckman, who wrote, produced and directed a short film, Murder in Kentucky over four days during the International Mystery Writers Festival at the RiverPark Performing Arts Center in Owensboro last summer. He also used a local cast and crew. You can see David's movie here.

I had such a good time watching him and the crew at work that I was eager to try it myself, though without the pressure to do it all — write, produce, and screen it — in four days.  In my case, the script was written months in advance, we're taking a few weeks to cast and prep, and then we'll shoot over three days and take about three weeks to edit it.

The original intent was to shoot the movie and screen it at the Festival this summer. But state-funded Festival was postponed due to delays passing the state budget. 

However, thanks to the efforts of Festival organizers Zev Buffman and Roxi Witt, and their enthusiasm for the project, the film is going on anyway as part of a local theatre arts education program the RiverPark Performing Arts Center is involved with.

I'll be using a lot of the same crew that David did…namely local producers Rodney Newton and PJ Stark…and actor Todd Reynolds, who played the cop in Murder in Kentucky and who will play the cop in mine, too. I think there should be a local ordinance requiring anyone who produces a crime film in Owensboro to hire Todd to play a detective.

I'll tell you more about Remaindered as the project progresses…

If you are interested in reading the short story that inspired the movie, it's in my collection Three Ways to Die, which is available on on the Kindle and it's on Smashwords, too, in every other e-format you can think of.

Adapting the Novel

51vHLcJAD8L._SS500_  I've adapted a few novels for the screen over  the years, and it's always a difficult task. You've got to capture what made the book great, but you've also got  to change a lot of things in order to make it work as a screenplay. 

I always watch movie adaptations with a close eye, hoping to learn from the ones that work and even those that don't. Speaking of learning, I thought I'd pose the question about how to go about adapting a novel for the screen to Richard Walter, who was my professor at UCLA and who has written Essentials of Screenwriting, a fantastic new book that incorporates and expands on his earlier classic, Screenwriting.  His response wasn't quite what I expected….

My own screenwriting teacher, USC’s late and legendary Irwin R. Blacker, used to ask his classes the following: “When adapting a novel for the screen, what do you owe the original material?”

He demanded a one-word answer.

The answer: Nothing.

What every writer owes–and it is all that he owes–is the best movie he can write. To whom does he owe that movie?

To the audience.

My first bit of advice to writers contemplating adapting a novel to the screen: Don’t do it.

Instead, write an original screenplay.

I’ve opined in my books and lectures and elsewhere that in my view the most depressing aspect of Hollywood is its refusal in recent years to produce original screenplays. Everything seems to be a remake, a sequel, a prequel, or an adaptation from a novel, a board game, a video game, a comic book, even a toy from Hasbro or Mattel.

When writers ask me about adapting novels, I ask them why they want to do that. Wouldn’t they prefer to create characters and stories of their own invention rather than use another writer’s? Inevitably they tell me that they were hugely, vastly touched by the particular novel, that they found it transporting and transforming.

Consider, however, that if it has so profound an effect upon readers, perhaps that’s its ideal form. Write it as a movie and it’s almost guaranteed to be disappointing.

It’s revealing to consider that many among the finest adaptations have come not from great books but from mediocre ones. The Graduate has to be among my favorite films. How many people have read the Charles Webb novel upon which it is based? Others may disagree, but it is not highly regarded as a piece of timeless literature.

Consider also Kramer Versus Kramer. It’s another brilliant film from a less-than-brilliant novel. How many people have read the Avery Corman novel? Those who have testify that it does not hold a candle to the film.

If a book is really, truly great, then that’s what it wants to be: a book.

Extraordinarily worthy books tend to make lousy movies. Catch 22 or Angela’s Ashes are only two examples.
There is another important reason for writers to avoid writing adaptations: copyright. Why speculate on a script when you do not own the underlying rights?

Some writers option the rights to books they’re adapting, but options eventually expire, don’t they? A studio, impressed with the notion of a particular adaptation, can simply wait out the option period, and then move in and take it over, eliminating the spec writer and bringing in the current hot writer de jour.

Writers can do what nobody else in the business can do: write. From nothing they can create something: a screenplay. Actors can’t do it. Directors can’t do it. Producers can’t do it. Writers alone can do it, and it’s all that they should do.

Notwithstanding any of the above, if you’re nevertheless writing an adaptation, perhaps on assignment for a producer or studio or network, the key is to remember what Professor Blacker preached all those years ago. Your debt is not to the original material but to the audience watching (and paying for) the movie. Remember that you can’t really ruin a novel. If you adapt one into a trashy, useless script, the book still remains unchanged; the letters do not rearrange themselves on the page.

Adaptors should feel free to delete scenes and entire chapters from the book; they should feel equally free to create wholly new material, even invent new characters, if in doing so they create a finer script. They should try at most to capture merely the spirit of the book, if that, and avoid becoming a slave to the facts and data contained in the original pages.

I've been in both positions…I have been assigned books to adapt by a studio or network and I have optioned books myself and written spec adaptations. So far, both scenarios have worked out very well for me (though Richard Walter's cautions about the pitfalls of optioning books yourself are very true and valid concerns). 

When I take on an adaptation, I basically follow the advice that Richard just shared…I make whatever changes are necessary to stay true to what worked for me in the book but to make it play as a movie. That often means stripping out subplots, compressing events (the classic example is Six Days of the Condor becoming the move Three Days of the Condor), removing characters or "merging" them into a new one (one example: James L. Brooks took three boyfriends in the book Terms of Endearment and made them into one wholly new one, played by Jack Nicholson), adding new characters (or sparing those who died in the books), and changing the third act (as Scott Frank did with Get Shorty). 

As an author myself, I also feel a need to make the author happy, which is not something I should really be thinking  about in the adaptation process. Most likely,  you are bound to piss them off with your changes. So far, though, I've been lucky. All the living authors whose work I've adapted have been very pleased with the results…in many cases, they've told me they wish they could go back and make the same changes in their books, which is enormously flattering.