Posts from the ‘Writers about writing’ Category
August 14, 2018
“I cannot think of any need in childhood as strong as the need for a father’s protection.” —Sigmund Freud
Les Edgerton in conversation with a Trinity College Dublin graduate Kelly O’Brien:
—The Death of Tarpons takes the form of bildungsroman and is written in the first person narrative. Given that you also grew up in Texas in the 1950s, how much did your own coming-of-age play into the writing of the novel?
Les Edgerton: 100%. This is a fairly accurate account of my own experience that summer. It had to be fictionalized to better create the proper drama. Overall, most of the elements in the story are true to life. There are two elements present in every novel—an emotional element and an intellectual element. I would never pay any attention to the intellectual element-that isn’t the job of a novel. An emotional response is all I’m ever after and hopefully never in a surface or superficial manner, but in a deeper, psychological manner.
—The Death of Tarpons examines the notion of masculinity in the development of both Corey and his father’s sense of self. Would you say that masculinity pushed to its extreme – machismo – is a damaging force within the novel? What is the role of Corey’s grand-father from this point of view?
LE: Looking back in a deconstruction exercise is the only way I can answer this. This wasn’t a conscious effort on my part during the writing of it. It depends on your definition of masculinity. To my mind, the grandfather is the only true masculine figure in the story. The father subscribes to a cartoonish idea of masculinity, but Toast is honestly masculine. In fact, he’s so comfortable in his own maleness that he never tries to posture or play some kind of role formed by bad novels and bad movies. I would disagree that the father exhibits some form of masculinity pushed to its extreme. The father doesn’t represent any form of masculinity, but the grandfather absolutely does. One of the chief tenants of masculinity is the person being completely comfortable in his own skin and never considering how he might appear to others. That is the very definition of Toast and the very definition of masculinity.
—The women of the text are essential figures in Corey’s life yet it is the male relationships that are most often at the forefront of the narrative. Do you think that the women in the novel are integral or disposable? And why?
LE: All three women are important to the story, even if their characters don’t come across as disposable. The sister is a stock and stereotypical figure and certain disposable in the sense that she contributes little to the story, at least on the surface. However, she does, as she’s the one character that admires her father’s skewed notion of masculinity and mostly because he pays her attention and doesn’t judge her so long as she shows that admiration. The sister is the kind of female guys like the father are trying to influence and are the only kinds of females they value. The grandmother is little seen, but important in that she’s comfortable in her role as Toast’s wife. She’s the opposite of her granddaughter—she’s a real woman and doesn’t tolerate her son-in-law at all, but actually dismisses him as a man. The mother is crucial to the story because she has effectively abandoned her family for her religion. She’s the person Corey wishes would be on his side and in a normal family would be, but she’s missing in action. She’s simply a weak, selfish person. Her drug here is religion, but it could just as easily be alcohol, drugs, a shopping jones, adultery or almost anything else.
—I felt, as a reader, that cyclicality is an important theme in the novel. I’m referring particularly to the spatterdashes symbol. Was it intended as a meditation on the ways in which we carry the past within us?
LE: It was a literal symbol. As Toast explains to Corey, spatterdashes are an article of clothing that prevented spatter from being dashed on the man. It doesn’t get any more literal than that. In Corey’s case, they represented an heirloom passed down by the males of his family to look toward as something concrete that if he accepted the definition and the history, would see that they represented something that would prevent the crap his father tried to throw at him from besmirching his soul. Sometimes, a cigar is just a cigar, and that’s kind of what these spatterdashes are, to him.
—Forgive my curiosity, but is the spatterdashes story autobiographical and if it is, do you still have them?
LE: The spatterdashes are the fictional part I mentioned earlier. They never existed in my life but they represent everything that Toast meant to Corey.
—The Death of Tarpons almost seems mythological in the manner in which the story culminates. Is it a metaphor – conscious or subconscious – for the mysterious, contradictory and sometimes frightening adult world?
LE: I suspect it may seem mythological in that Corey’s story is fairly common, albeit with varied circumstances. Most good stories are mythological in that they’re ageless and keep recurring over and over. And of course it’s a metaphor. Metaphor is what all stories are about.
—Is it significant that your first novel is a largely autobiographical coming-of-age novel? Was is the first novel you wanted to write or did it just happen to be published before another novel? What’s its significance in your development as a writer?
LE: It’s significant in that most first novels are coming-of-age novels. Probably close to 75% are even if they’re fictionalized as mine was. It’s what we know and what we’re comfortable with. And, often they’re unpublishable simple because of that. As one of my reviewers—Sydney Lea, former editor of The Georgia Review—said, “Leslie Edgerton takes one of the hoariest of projects, the family chronicle…”. I know it’s the kind of novel I saw from nearly all my freshmen students in university classes—autobiography disguised as fiction. There’s a reason it’s considered “hoary”… because it is. And most are dismissed out of hand. It takes a level of writing that most first writers haven’t yet developed. I had, which is why it got published.
It’s significant in that it gave me confidence that not only was my own life valuable material but that I had the writing chops sufficient for publication. Just about all of my fiction is autobiographical. I can’t think of any that isn’t.
“Edgerton’s later novels have become Noir classics to many, and THE DEATH OF TARPONS hints at a childhood that helps explain the author’s successful literary journeys into darkness.” —Jack Getze
June 22, 2018
KOB: Both of your novels are driven by strong female characters. Would you consider your work to be “Women’s Fiction” and if so, how do you feel your position as a male novelist impacts your female-centric writing?
DFM: I have noticed that women seem to respond well to my work, which I’m happy about because they buy far more books than men. However, I’m not sure about this notion of “Women’s Fiction”. There seems to be this idea in publishing that men write bang-bang-shoot-em-ups, while women pick apart dysfunctional relationships over the kitchen table with a large glass of red wine. Publishers like to categorise books into genres, I guess it makes it easier for them to target the audience they think they’re after, but so far as I’m concerned there’s only good fiction and bad fiction. I don’t really mind whether it’s packaged as crime, romance or a thriller, if it’s well written and captures my imagination I’ll read it, if it doesn’t I won’t. I think one of the most important traits you need as a writer of fiction is the ability to see the world from someone else’s point of view, whether that’s a politically engaged Irish woman, a Timorese teenager or a corrupt ageing Indonesian army officer. It’s the only way, in my view, you can create convincing characters that readers will relate to and care about.
Click on the covers for more information about the books
KOB: The recent Lush cosmetics campaign against Spycops has brought the issue tackled in The Insider’s Guide to Betrayal to light. Decades after these incidents took place, do you believe justice can eventually come from the public enquiry?
DFM: To me the Spycops scandal offers a perfect example of what can happen when a group of people in a position of power who aren’t publicly accountable to anyone for their actions lose sight of what they are there for in the first place. For those who aren’t familiar with the background, what happened was that in the 1970s a group was set up within the Metropolitan Police to infiltrate political organisations that were deemed a threat to society, and in doing so gain intelligence about their activities, plans and intentions. For obvious reasons no one knew about this group, and it didn’t seem to be answerable to anyone outside the Met. There was never any proper debate about what constituted a threat to society, or how far this group could go in order to counter it. As it turned out, the targets were typically peace campaigners, animal rights or environmental activists and other groups the government of the time didn’t particularly like, but who were engaged in legitimate political protest. Even if they did occasionally cross the line of the law, by comparison to the type of terrorism we see today, their activities were benign, almost charmingly quaint. We’re talking about people breaking into a laboratory and releasing a few rabbits destined for experiments, or tearing down some barbed wire outside a missile base, not some fanatic walking into a crowded concert hall and blowing up a hundred people. What has always staggered me about the Spycops scandal is how much effort, resources and moral compromise went into these deceptions when the stakes were so low and the threats to society so trivial. Over the years undercover officers infiltrated these groups and entered into intimate relationships with female members of them, sometimes going to far as to have children with them. At weekends they might go back to their real families; then there would come a time when they would be recalled and simply disappear from the lives of the women they had betrayed, leaving them to wonder what had happened. The collateral damage to the women and their families was mind-boggling, and no one in a position of power wanted to know or do anything about it.
The campaign to bring justice to these women seems to be pretty well organised and it’s certainly very determined. The Guardian newspaper has done and continues to do an excellent job keeping the story in the public eye, so I think despite all their prevaricating there’s a good chance the British Government will eventually be shamed into owning up and paying compensation where they haven’t already. Whether that constitutes justice or not is another question, as the real damage was done years ago and can’t be undone. There was no excuse for it in what’s meant to be an accountable democracy, and it was an absolute disgrace it was ever allowed to happen. What I was interested in pressing in The Insider’s Guide to Betrayal is whether it is ever possible to justify engaging in that level of deception, when the stakes are much higher, when innocent lives really are at risk, and what happens when you decide they are and go down that road.
KOB: Both Francesca and The Insider’s Guide to Betrayal are focused on divided societies. What draws you to explore stories of such societal division?
DFM: The divisions in society, both in Europe and America, are becoming more extreme each year, and it’s something I find very worrying. It’s one of the biggest issues we are currently facing, and in my view is behind a lot of the political turmoil we have experienced, such as Brexit and the election of Trump. History tells us that whenever societies start to experience severe inequalities on the scale we are currently seeing, when people feel they have lost a stake in their society and have nothing to lose by overturning it, it generally ends badly all round. Just ask the French or the Russian aristocracy. Can we achieve a more just society through peaceful means as opposed to violent ones? I’d like to think so, but right now I’m not overly optimistic.
The other thing about divided societies is that people often end up in situations they could never have imagined in a more stable, peaceful environment. I have always been fascinated in what happens when people are pushed to extremes, how moral lines can become blurred, how they will do things and behave in ways that would have astonished and horrified them but a short time ago. How does a football mad kid who likes collecting stickers become a soldier capable of murdering innocent civilians, and what was the process that paved the way for that to happen? It’s only by exploring these threads and understanding them that we have a chance of preventing the worst aspects of our history repeating itself. You only have to look at some of the appalling things people did to each other during the Northern Ireland troubles to realise we are deluding ourselves if we think we are too civilized or sophisticated to go down that road. Bosnia was the same. These things weren’t done by animals, they were done by people like us. That’s the frightening thing about it. We can go down that road any time we choose. The camps are closer than we think. If fiction can wave a red flag and alert us to some of the dangers, then in my view it’s serving a useful purpose.
KOB: While both novels explore divided societies, they also both examine issues of family and human connection. Would you say that this is a major preoccupation of your writing?
DFM: For most people their families – and that concept can be understood in the loosest sense – constitute the arena where they engage in their most intimate relationships, where they feel free to reveal the innermost parts of themselves. And that is certainly a rewarding seam for a writer to mine, so to speak. I am fascinated by our human connections, which interestingly enough is a theme that Forster grapples with in Howard’s End. As a writer, your topic is the human condition and how that plays itself out. Connections are an inescapable part of that. Fiction is all about conflict and collision, whether it’s between world views and wills of the characters involved, or people and their external circumstances. If there is no conflict there is no drama, if there is no drama there is nothing to keep the reader with you. So, yes, I would say that’s a fairly major preoccupation of mine.
For adepts of serious summer reading:
June 20, 2018
Kelly O’Brien: Both of your novels, Francesca and The Insider’s Guide to Betrayal are set in the 1970s and 1980s, is this period of time significant to you? What interests you in the writing of historical fiction?
Donald Finnaeus Mayo: Most decades have something interesting to offer, and if you have lived through them your recollections will obviously be coloured by your own experiences. Though to hear the 1970s and 1980s described as historical fiction makes me feel very old! I tend to be drawn to subjects or events as opposed to specific decades, but I also think you sometimes need a bit of time to elapse before you can gain a proper perspective of an era. If you’re too close to an event you can end up writing reportage rather than fiction. I remember a slew of novels about 9/11 came out a few years after the twin towers came down, and people didn’t seem ready for them. They had already digested all the documentary coverage they could take, and it begged the question as to what fiction could add. It takes me a long time to percolate ideas and work out what I really think. Possibly there’s an element of nostalgia to it as well. In writing about an era I get the chance to immerse myself back in it; what music people were listening to, what was happening in the world, what they were wearing, what they feared and where their hopes lay, recreating that world for people who weren’t there or may have forgotten what it was like. Right now I’m writing a novel about the impact of the 2008 financial crash on a small town in the American South.
KOB: Francesca follows the story of a young woman in East Timor during the Indonesian invasion of 1975, a moment of history that is potentially not very well-known, is this what inspired you to tell Francesca’s story?
DFM: It was more personal than that. My father worked in the oil business, and I spent a number of years as a child living in Indonesian Borneo. This period coincided with the invasion of East Timor, which ended up costing the lives of almost a third of that country’s population. Cocooned in our expat bubble, we were completely oblivious to what was happening. That was deliberate – journalists, human rights activists and anyone else who might cause trouble were kept well away from the place by the Indonesian government. With no social media, mobile phones or internet, it was possible for a military dictatorship to effectively shut a region off from the outside world in a way that seems inconceivable today. Western powers such as the United States and Australia, who did know what was going on despite what they may have said publicly to the contrary, were happy to sit by and let Suharto’s troops embark upon this genocide because he represented a bulwark against communism, which they were terrified of spreading throughout South East Asia. Saigon had only recently fallen, and there were worries revolutions could be sparked off through Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and beyond. So poor old East Timor, who had never threatened anyone, was forgotten and left to suffer. It was only many years later, when I was working as a volunteer for Amnesty International in London, that I started coming across all these cases of human rights abuses from the region. When I examined them more closely, I was shocked to discover this mass murder had been taking place just a few hundred miles from our tennis courts and swimming pools. No one talked about it, no one wanted to upset the cosy relationship between the Suharto regime and the western oil companies. The genesis of the novel lay in the idea of what would happen if these parallel worlds jumped off their rails and collided.
KOB: You have worked previously as a radio journalist for the BBC. Do you bring any of your journalistic skills or knowledge to your fiction writing?
DFM: I’ve always been interested in politics, and in newsrooms you’re surrounded by people who live and breathe it, so you get some great conversations going with bright, witty, well-informed people. They are fairly cynical environments, and there’s a lot of cut-and-thrust between the reporters, peppered with a fair amount of black humour. It’s no place for shrinking violets. Journalism taught me discipline when it came to writing. You need to check your facts, and you need to get your point across quickly. A radio news story might be less than 100 words, so you have to make sure each one counts. On the other hand, it can be quite restrictive in what is deemed important and worthy of coverage. What’s not reported is often as significant as what is. You can end up thinking the entire human experience amounts to plane crashes, political clashes, sport and celebrity intrigue. Journalism is also very workaday and practical. There isn’t any of the mystique of the tortured writer struggling to come to grips with the essence of life as there is with fiction. Complain to a news editor you’re suffering from writer’s block and he or she will inform you the deadline’s less than an hour away and politely suggest you just get on with it. You learn very quickly to push through the barriers when the muse has taken the morning off. That helped me a lot when I was trying to juggle novel-writing with looking after young children.
KOB: You begin The Insider’s Guide to Betrayal with a quote by E.M. Forster. Was Forster a particular influence on the narrative of the novel?
DFM: Not especially, other than the quote, which came from one of Forster’s essays rather than his novels but seemed to sum up the essence of The Insider’s Guide to Betrayal. I read a lot of Forster as a teenager, but haven’t really returned to him much since they made all those Merchant Ivory films of his books. I suppose the main thing I have taken from Forster is his emphasis on creating three-dimensional characters, which is something I have always tried to do in my work. I don’t believe in goodies and baddies per se, even one of the most odious characters in Francesca, Benny Surikano, is partially redeemed by the love he has for his son. I suppose one of the most interesting things about Forster as a person is his struggle to live a double life as a gay man in an era when that could not only destroy your reputation and livelihood, but land you up in prison. You just need to think of what happened to Alan Turing to appreciate just how repressed certain aspects of people’s lives had to be for their very survival. Having made one of the most spectacular contributions to Britain’s effort to defeat the Nazis by cracking the Enigma code, he was subsequently hounded by the police for a gay indiscretion to the point where he committed suicide. How those forces played themselves out in Forster’s fiction is a matter of ongoing debate. I know some literary scholars get very irate when everything he wrote is viewed through this lens – others see it as the only way to understand him properly as an author.
To be followed on Friday, June 22nd, 2018
Click on the covers for more information about the books
November 29, 2016
Not the end of something?
By Craig McDonald
In autumn 2007, HEAD GAMES was published by Ben Leroy and Bleak House books.
It went on to earn best first novel nominations for the Edgar Award, the Anthony, and the Sélection du prix polar Saint-Maur en Poche in France, among others.
It also launched a series of ten novels featuring protagonist Hector Lassiter, pulp magazine writer, crime novelist and sometimes screenwriter.
Betimes Books has just published the climactic novel in the series, THREE CHORDS & THE TRUTH, set in Nashville about a year after HEAD GAMES, and bringing back several characters from that first novel.
CHORDS was always envisioned as a kind of HEAD GAMES sequel and definitive circle-closer.
I actually wrote the “last” Lassiter novel many, many years ago, much of it in situ in Nashville, Tennessee. I interviewed various songwriters and sat in on sound-checks to gather source material and atmosphere.
But mostly, I focused on putting a capstone on the Hector Lassiter saga.
Few are the mystery series in my experience that round out with the fulfillment of a charted character arc or larger story.
Most series simply trail off into oblivion because of soft sales, or the death of their author.
If the series is particularly popular, when the creator dies, some other writer is brought in to keep churning out inferior, never quite satisfying continuations, again toward no planned end.
There are very few exceptions to this rule of the never-ending series.
Most of those that occur still don’t typically deliver a unified story arc carried to a planned climax built toward across the span of the series.
More often, some poor author gets a dire diagnosis and so races the clock to close out their series before they too are “closed out.”
Others elect to do something mirroring Agatha Christie’s strategy of writing a series closer well ahead of time, then holding it in reserve for posthumous publication.
(Though in the Dame’s case, even killing off her character didn’t stop others from publishing further Poirot novels following the appearance of CURTAIN.)
I’ve long acknowledged James Sallis’ cycle of Lew Griffin novels as the inspiration for the Lassiter series.
Sallis wrote an interconnected and finite series of novels that together tell a larger story and build to a final revelation regarding his central protagonist.
With the Lassiter series, I wanted to do something similar: Construct a series toward a known end, allowing each book to stand alone, more or less, but in sum telling a much larger story regarding the character of Hector Lassiter and his eventual fate.
It was an audacious or perhaps even foolish goal to write a whole series ahead of any contract commitments. Certainly, given what I now know of the vagaries and failings of much of the publishing industry, it was a very naïve and hopeful thing for a baseline cynic like myself to undertake.
Yet I wrote first drafts of the novels in the series in the space of about three months per title, back-to-back, working toward the known conclusion of this last, Nashville-set series-closer.
The later entries in the series were mostly well into composition before the second novel, TOROS & TORSOS, was even contracted for publication by Bleak House Books.
Please let me run a highlighter over that point: Most of the series, including the last volume, was virtually written before the second book reached the galley stage some time in the summer of 2008.
There was never any guarantee the books would all see print. There was every chance the project might stall around book four or five and the rest of the novels would remain in limbo.
But the series has hung in there, collecting an international audience through translations in Spanish, French, Italian, Russian, Korean and Mongolian, among others.
In English language form, the Lassiter series currently encompasses four different publishers.
HEAD GAMES was also quickly optioned for graphic novel adaptation by First Second Books, prior to its Bleak House publication. I wrote the script for that project over a weekend nearly ten years ago (the art came much more slowly).
Next October, nearly ten years to the day that HEAD GAMES the novel was released, HEAD GAMES the graphic novel will at last appear.
A short story collection will also follow next year from Betimes Books, which now prints uniform editions of the entire series.
The short story collection will feature a never-before-published Lassiter novella set in the 1920s that roughly approaches the word count found in HEAD GAMES.
So while THREE CHORDS does represent the climax of the Hector Lassiter series as originally set forth, the Lassiter saga still has some moves left.
Hector has opened remarkable doors for me and provided international travel opportunities for my family.
He is forever there somewhere in my head, sometimes whispering in my ear. When you write this much about a single character for so long, you actually begin to see the world through his eyes.
Telling this storyteller’s story has resulted in years of wonderful correspondence and conversation with readers of all ages, nationalities and interests who’ve followed his saga.
I very much look forward to hearing the reactions to this “last” Hector Lassiter novel.
Contact us for a free electronic review copy!
Hadley Colt about her second novel for Betimes Books, a reinvention of the timeless legend of Sherlock Holmes
September 28, 2016
From Hadley Colt‘s blog:
PUBLISH OR PERISH? (THE RED-HANDED LEAGUE DEBUTS)
“I am lost without my Boswell.”
The Red-Handed League, my new thriller about Sherlock Holmes, debuts this week.
Hewing to a Doylean naming strategy, this little essay might be called, The Matter of the Murdered Biographer. It could also be titled, The Case of Fearful Symmetry.
My first work published by Betimes Books was the literary thriller Permanent Fatal Error. It centers on a presumed-dead cult novelist ala J.D. Salinger or Thomas Pynchon whose would-be biographers mysteriously die.
The Red-Handed League is a present-day prequel to Conan Doyle’s first-published Sherlock Holmes tale, A Study in Scarlet.
My new book spins on inappropriate relationships between students and instructors at an upscale private school. It also re-imagines and melds aspects of several noted Holmes tales, including “The Red-Headed League” and “The Master Blackmailer.”
What goes around comes around, they say.
Or as Holmes might observe, “Everything comes in circles. The old wheel turns and the same spoke comes up. It’s all been done before, and will be again.”
There’s a creepy nexus between my first and second books for Betimes, you see.
While we were working on cover designs and last touches for The Red-Handed League, my publisher ran across an article about a man obsessed with writing the definitive biography of a famous author, only to die violently under the most mysterious of circumstances.
The excellent article by David Grann detailing this real-life mystery was published in The New Yorker in December 2004.
“That’s pretty far back in the rearview mirror, Ms. Colt,” you might point out.
And I’d respond, “Yes. Yes, it is.”
There is fearful symmetry in this. Deliciously lingering mystery, too.
The Betimes Books publisher and her author were struck by the very strange overlap between the mysterious death of a deceased novelist’s would-be biographer (the set up for an elevator pitch for Permanent Fatal Error) and the fact our second novel together centers on Sherlock Holmes.
You see, the real-life biographer who met his mysterious death in his home surrounded by Holmesian books and collectibles was a revered Sherlock scholar named Richard Lancelyn Green.
His intended biographical subject was (of course) Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
Apparent cause of death: (Clears throat) Self-garroting with a bit of string and a spoon.
Pray, go off now and read Mr. Grann’s superb piece on this mysterious affair. I’ll wait here, staring out the window, surely brooding, but sans pipe or violin.”
Hooked? Continue reading here
August 4, 2016
Thanks to all who attended last night’s reading in Dublin!
For those who weren’t there, here is a recording of the event: https://www.periscope.tv/w/1ypKdPmjArRKW
If you want to read the excerpt that Craig read last night, the first chapter of Head Games, click here:
And here is Craig McDonald‘s speech and a few pictures of the venue and the event.
“One character, ten novels.
Please allow me to introduce you to Hector Lassiter, author, screenwriter and adventurer.
He’s my primary protagonist and a guy who’s high-jacked an obscene amount of my personal head space.
At base, Hector’s a man always in pursuit of strong sensations and experiences he can lay down on the printed page.
For the purposes of tonight’s reading, I ask you to imagine it’s 1957. We’re sitting in a drinking establishment, not in Dublin, but rather in some dusty, sweltering cantina hard up against the Rio Grande as we call it in The States.
The Mexican’s call the same body of water that divides our countries the Rio Bravo. You see, on my dark side of the Atlantic, even the rivers have aliases.
Tonight you’ll be riding shotgun in THE classic American car: a Fifty-Seven, Chevrolet convertible Bel Air. We’re on the road with Hector and his sidekick for this particular escapade that I’ll be reading from, a young and aspiring poet named Bud Fiske.
In his peculiar corner of pop culture, Hector’s also known as “the man who lives what he writes and writes what he lives.”
He’s the protagonist of a finite arc of the ten novels I referenced a moment ago. The last, Three Chords & The Truth, will appear this November courtesy of Dublin-based Betimes Books, who hosts our gathering this evening along this la frontera of the mind.
The novel to come this fall is a kind of sequel to Head Games, which is the first and mostly widely published Hector Lassiter novel, and one that will also appear as a graphic novel next fall. Head Games is the book I’ll be reading from tonight.
With border tensions, Donald Trump and his huge, beautiful wall—such a great wall—as well as all-too real, cross-border terrorism fears looming large back home, Head Games is arguably more timely than ever.
So here’s the thing: If any label best describes the Hector Lassiter series, it’s probably “Historical Thrillers.” My novels, or maybe Hector’s, always combine myth and history.
The Lassiter novels spin around secret histories and unexplored or underexplored aspects of real events. They’re set in real places. The also frequently incorporate real people.
As a career journalist—yes, I still toil in that uncertain trade, despite my swanky secret life as a published novelist—I’m often frustrated by the impossibility to definitively nail down people or events.
Read five biographies of the same man, say, of Ernest Hemingway, or Orson Welles, and you’ll close each book feeling like you’ve read about five different people.
So I’ve reluctantly concluded defining fact as it relates to history is like stroking smoke or tapping a bullet in flight.
History, it’s been said, is a lie agreed to.
But maybe in fiction we can find if not fact, something bordering on truth. With that possibility in mind, I explore what I can make of accepted history through the eyes of this man.
The “hero” of my series, your guide through my books, is Hector Mason Lassiter, a shades-of-grey man who’s a charmer, a rogue, a bit of a rake—a handsome rover, if you will—and, himself, a crime novelist.
Some others in the novels say he bears a strong resemblance to the actor William Holden. Hector smokes and drinks and eats red meat. He favors sports jackets, open collar shirts and Chevrolets. He lives his life on a large canvas. He’s wily, but often impulsive. He’s honorable, but mercurial.
He often doesn’t understand his own drives. That is to say, he’s a man. He’s a man’s man and a lady’s man. He’s a romantic, but mostly unlucky in love. Yet his life’s largely shaped by the women who pass through it.
Hec was born in Galveston, Texas on January 1, 1900. He came in with the 20th Century, and it was my aim his arc of novels span that century—essentially, through each successive novel, giving us a kind of under-history or secret-history of the 20th Century.
Tall and wise beyond his years, as a boy Hector lied about his age and enlisted in the Army. He accompanied Black Jack Pershingand participated in the general’s abortive hunt down into Mexico to chase the Mexican Revolutionary Pancho Villa who attacked and murdered many American civilians in the town of Columbus, New Mexico.
Villa’s was the first and only successful terrorist assault on the United States homeland prior to the events of September 11, 2001.
Much of that part of Hector’s life figures into Head Games: You’ll catch some glimpses in the reading to follow.
Head Games originally was published in 2007.
Its follow-up in original publication sequence, Toros & Torsos, opens in 1935 and features Ernest Hemingway as a kind of sidekick. Subsequent books about Hector similarly hopscotched back-and-forth through the decades upon original publication.
The current Betimes Books releases of the Hector Lassiter series present the novels in roughly chronological order—at least in terms of when each story opens.
Call me audacious, or call me crazy: The Lassiter novels were written back-to-back and the series mostly shaped and in place before Head Games was officially published. Let me run a highlighter over that point: this series was largely written before the first novel was even contracted for publication.
It’s very unusual in that sense: a series of discrete novels tightly linked and that taken together stand as a single, larger story.
My approach as a writer has always been to try and describe the movie I’m seeing in my head.
Tonight’s film is a kind of mash-up of Sam Peckinpaugh, Quentin Tarantino, and if you believe several book reviewers, the Cohen Brothers.
So. Welcome to the world of Hector Lassiter.
It’s 1957, and we’re in a bottom-rung cantina in Ciudad Juarez—these days regarded as the murder capital of the world. We’re in this cantina with Hector and Bud.
From somewhere, there’s a tune playing on piano or accordion. Some piece of Mexican music… Maybe it’s Volver, Volver, or maybe Cancion de Mixteca…
A fight’s looming, and to coin a phrase, this is no personal brawl—anyone can join in.”
Craig McDonald, Dublin, Ireland, August 3rd, 2016
P.S. WE STILL HAVE A FEW COPIES OF CRAIG McDONALD’S BOOKS SIGNED BY THE AUTHOR!
DON’T MISS YOUR CHANCE TO PURCHASE ONE! CONTACT US
March 31, 2016
“Hector sat in a booth alone in the back of the Italian restaurant. The freezing rain was lashing the windows and the trees lining the streets of Georgetown looked like glass sculptures. He took another sip of red wine and pulled the letter from his pocket. He read it five times:
Poor dearest Pickle:
There is no surprise in this.
I’m awfully sorry for the mess.
The body’s been dying for some time (from the moment really, that second plane went down at Butiaba), and the rest has raced in pursuit these past months. It has all finally gone to pieces and I am beat to the wide beyond promise of recuperation or recovery.
Now it’s over and you can get on with your life.
I’ve spent my mornings since the last war working at four books I can’t finish. And all of these last, unfruitful years spent rummaging through the remise of my memory for likely material has only stirred up old ghosts and guilts. Untenable regrets that all of the bottles of giant killer I am now denied and all of the last bits of love that you might still muster towards me cannot palliate.
A writer who can no longer write can no longer live.”
The letter continues in PRINT THE LEGEND, available here.
“A novelist who has a main character first use[d] The Hemingway Review as a doorstop and later set another issue on fire and fling it out a window probably isn’t holding his breath waiting for a favorable review of his book in that particular publication. But Craig McDonald’s Print the Legend (its title taken from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, the 1962 Western directed by John Ford) deserves the attention of Hemingway aficionados… McDonald tosses off throw-away allusions and inside jokes with apparent effortlessness… McDonald is a writer’s writer, so the book is also, improbably but effectively, a meditation on the art of writing fiction.” —THE HEMINGWAY REVIEW
“Through Hector’s musings and actions, we are treated to an intimate view of Hemingway’s writings as well as his life. And as Lassiter tries to protect the woman he loves while pursuing a personal enemy, he evolves into a credible romantic figure. This book will appeal to readers who read outside the crime genre.” —VERONIKA PELKA, HISTORICAL NOVEL SOCIETY (Editor’s Choice Selection)
March 8, 2016
FRANCESCA: Genesis of an idea
It’s easy to forget just how different the world was back in the mid-1970s. No mobile phones, no internet, no Starbucks on every street corner. Easier, too, for dictators to keep a lid on their shenanigans. You could take out a town, empty a region of its population without any fear of pesky demonstrators posting evidence of your atrocities on YouTube for all to see.
So it’s hardly surprising the Indonesian invasion of East Timor passed me by, even though I was living in the region at the time, an expat teenager whose father worked in the oil business. The local media was strictly censored, whilst foreign correspondents who might have kicked up a fuss were for the most part unable to access the place. Besides, who was interested in what was going on in a backwater most people had never heard of?
It wasn’t until the early 1990s that I encountered East Timor again. Doing some volunteer work for Amnesty International in London, I kept coming across cases from the conflict. The more I looked into it, the more shocking it became. Worse, I realised I had been in Indonesia when this tiny country was gobbled up by its neighbour and large parts of its population annihilated.
Several hundred miles away our lives continued in their cocooned luxury, oblivious to what Suharto’s soldiers were doing. No one mentioned it, no one spoke out, no one did anything that might upset the cosy relationship between the Indonesian government and the western oil companies. Everyone was making money, and besides Indonesia was on our side, a bulwark against communism.
Discovering these parallel worlds inspired me to write Francesca. In particular, I was interested in people who straddled both, the ones with the fullest picture. As they created their own dramas, sorrows, joys, tragedies and triumphs, a novel was born.
— Donald Finnaeus Mayo, March 2016
“A full-bodied tale of love and war set against the complex political and commercial landscape of Indonesia in the 70s. Its a moving and sensitively written story that draws you in from the start.”
“Francesca has all the ingredients of a great novel – a compelling and interesting story that engages you from the start, genuine characters with whom one can feel real sympathy and powerful descriptions that creates a real sense of atmosphere. If I have any criticism of the book it is that it could be longer – the character development is such that you’re left wanting to know what happened to them in more detail than there is in the book – but then maybe it’s always good to leave the reader wanting more. In any event, it’s a great story that will provide a powerful insight into a period of history that has only recently started to get the coverage it deserves.”
“The sense of location is sparkling. The tension is high. The author is an accomplished storyteller, with journalism experience, who captures the destruction of war in convincing detail. He demonstrates a beautiful way with language and a clever ear for dialogue.”
“Beautifully written, historically educational, sharp insights into human nature. Highly recommended as a Book Club read.”
“A fascinating story inter-weaving a cast of characters around one woman’s journey through life.”
February 29, 2016
An exceptional, in-depth, interview with Craig McDonald by Steven Powell, a researcher at the University of Liverpool, UK.
Steven Powell is the editor of Conversations with James Ellroy (2012) and 100 American Crime Writers(2012). He has written several articles for the British Politics Review, blogs about crime fiction at VenetianVase.co.uk, and co-organized the “James Ellroy: Visions of Noir” conference at the University of Liverpool. His most recent work is James Ellroy: Demon Dog of Crime Fiction (Palgrave Macmillan 2016).
“If you are not already initiated, I hope this interview will persuade you to start reading the Lassiter novels. They are compelling, thrilling and darkly humorous.
Lassiter is a brilliant creation…”
Craig McDonald is an author and journalist. He has written fourteen novels, including, to date, nine books in the award-winning Hector Lassiter series. I have kept up a correspondence with Craig these past few years as we are both avid readers of James Ellroy. I’m also a massive fan of the Lassiter novels, and when Craig agreed to be interviewed by me, he also kindly supplied an advance copy of the final novel in the Lassiter series, the forthcoming Three Chords and the Truth. If you are not already initiated, I hope this interview will persuade you to start reading the Lassiter novels. They are compelling, thrilling and darkly humorous. Lassiter is a brilliant creation– a crime writer who learned his trade with Ernest Hemingway and the Lost Generation in Paris in the 1920s. He is also a man who seems dangerously prone to violent intrigue, doomed love affairs…
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November 8, 2015
Craig McDonald about his new novel:
DEATH IN THE FACE: THE YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE FACTOR
(Caution: Mild spoilers ahead for the James Bond novel and film, YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE.)
In 1962, a gravely ill Ian Fleming went to Japan to research what would result in his penultimate James Bond novel, YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE.
Typical of Fleming, he planned for himself a macabre itinerary he hoped would showcase the stranger sides of Japan that might in turn inform his novel. He went in the company of two journalists with Asian expertise (more on them later).
The resulting book is one of the darker, more doom-laden of the James Bond novels, almost gothic in atmosphere, and a world away from the resulting 1967 film adaptation which became the first Bond film to jettison the majority of its Fleming inspiration’s plot.”
Continue reading here
October 23, 2015
This latest in Craig McDonald’s Hector Lassiter series—Death in the Face–is perhaps his finest. It’s my fervent hope that this isn’t the last in this wonderful series!
Like all the previous books in this series, McDonald sheds light on some of the most important literary figures of the past near-century on a personal level via the Hector Lassiter character and his adventures and that alone is worth the price of admission. For instance, I’ve never been a fan of Ian Fleming’s writing, but after experiencing this version, I confess I’m reevaluating my opinion of him. But, more important and irrespective of my opinion of Fleming’s literary acumen, this is a wonderful look at the writer from albeit a fictionalized account, and, like all the other literary figures who grace the pages of the Lassiter novels, delivers to the reader a delightful perspective on their lives not to be found elsewhere.
That McDonald is able to affect my own bias against Fleming is a telling thing and attests to the level of writing he is able to command. A remarkable read, a remarkable author and a remarkable portrait of an interesting literary figure. Highly recommended.
DEATH IN THE FACE is available here
October 21, 2015
Craig McDonald about Yukio Mishima, one of the characters in his latest Hector Lassiter novel, Death in the Face:
“Yukio Mishima (born Kimitake Hiraoka) was a gifted novelist and one of Japan’s great literary figures. He was a true renaissance man who composed nearly three dozen novels, nearly as many books of essays, more than two dozen short story collections, plays, screenplays and who dabbled in acting.
He was considered a likely contender for the Nobel Prize for literature.
Mishima was increasingly appalled by Japan’s post-war Westernization and turned further and further toward martial arts studies and an embracement of Samurai codes of life and personal conduct. He practiced body-building and kendo, and, in 1968, he formed is own private militia.
His death came almost immediately upon completion of his novel, THE DECAY OF THE ANGEL, the final volume of his SEA OF FERTILITY tetralogy that many regard as Mishima’s masterwork.
Yukio Mishima shares a lunch with my fictional novelist, Hector Lassiter, in DEATH IN THE FACE, the next-to-last novel in the Lassiter series.
Lassiter is in Japan, dogging the steps of his fellow thriller writer Ian Fleming, who has come to gather materials for his James Bond novel YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE.”
Continue reading here: http://craigmcdonaldbooks.blogspot.fr/2015/10/death-in-face-strange-life-death-of.html
May 25, 2015
Craig McDonald about his inspiration for Roll the Credits. Fascinating!
“Roll the Credits is, in short form, the Second World War and liberation of Paris seen through the eyes of author/screenwriter Hector Lassiter. But it’s also a special novel in the Lassiter canon for me. Long before RTC, there was the Lassiter entry Head Games. That novel was dedicated to the memory of my maternal grandfather, William Charles Sipe, Sr.”
Continue reading here: http://craigmcdonaldbooks.blogspot.ie/2014/09/how-i-came-to-write-roll-credits-aka.html
May 20, 2015
The following essay by Craig McDonald is a re-presentation of a blog post originally written for Lesa Holstine’s sight in March, 2010 upon release of his novel PRINT THE LEGEND in hardcover.
The novel is now available for the first time in paperback, as well as eBook and audio formats: http://viewBook.at/Print_the_Legend
“Print the Legend” & the dark seduction of the writing life
Print the Legend explores the death of Hemingway in Ketchum, Idaho, in the summer of 1961, and raises questions regarding the possibility that Hem’s death was something other than an act of suicide.
The novel also explores J. Edgar Hoover’s obsessive and often destructive surveillance of key American writers, including not just Hemingway, but Carl Sandburg, Pearl S. Buck, John Steinbeck, Robert Frost, Rex Stout, Sinclair Lewis, William Faulkner and Dorothy Parker, among many others.
Because Hector is a novelist and screenwriter by trade, writing and the creative arts are running themes through the series. Print the Legend however, is the Lassiter novel in which I wanted to focus squarely on the act of writing. To that end, I peppered Print with several very different kinds of authors.
The Lassiter series is also intended as a secret history of the 20th Century. As this novel is set largely in the 1960s — a decade of change, if there ever was one — in Print I wanted to position Hector against two very different and formidable kinds of women.
In addition to Hemingway and Hector, we have Mary Welsh Hemingway — Papa’s fourth and final wife. Mary was a war correspondent whom Hem began courting while still married to journalist/novelist Martha Gellhorn. Hem and Mary’s marriage, while more enduring, was no happier than Hem’s life with Martha.
When Hemingway died, Mary became Hem’s unlikely literary executrix — actually editing (and substantially altering) Hem’s manuscripts for A Moveable Feast and Islands in the Stream… designing dust jackets and selecting titles for both books. (Note: A Moveable Feast has in fact just been reissued in a “restored” version by Hem’s grandson, purporting to present the memoir as left by Hemingway, and enumerating the many changes and alterations introduced by Mary.)
Mary Hemingway’s still controversial “editing” of Feast is a key plot element of Print the Legend.
Print also introduces us to Hannah Paulson, a promising young fiction writer who is very pregnant and increasingly troubled by the behavior of her husband, Richard, a Hemingway scholar with a growing drinking problem and this notion Mary murdered her famous husband. Richard has agreed to write Mary’s biography as a means of building his case against Mary as Papa’s killer.
As Hannah finds herself questioning “the way of the writer” as represented by Mary, Richard and an Idaho-town full of Hemingway scholars, she is increasingly drawn to Hector Lassiter — a working novelist who seemingly lives on his own terms…a man who embodies the writing life with a kind of seductive panache.
Print the Legend, in a sense, is Hannah’s book even more than it is Hector’s. Through Hannah, we explore the strange and tragic arc of Hemingway’s rise and fall as the premier stylist of his generation. Hannah provides harrowing glimpses into the creative process and the destructive shadow play that can result when authors and scholars become too cozy.
It is Hannah, also, who is forced by circumstances to display that quality of “grace under pressure,” Hem so fretted over. This comes in a scene I wrote as a kind of homage to Hemingway’s wrenching birth scenes in the short story Indian Camp, and Hemingway’s second novel, A Farewell to Arms.
The other key writer in this cast of authors is an FBI agent/thriller writer named Donovan Creedy. Inspired by novelist/spy/Watergate plumber E. Howard Hunt, Creedy stands in for a tiny army of FBI agents who actually followed, spied on and haunted Hemingway through his final decades.
Those around Hemingway — those who stood close witness to his steep physical and mental decline — were convinced Hem’s obsession with FBI surveillance was another symptom of his growing mental instability…straight-up paranoia.
Indeed, that very attitude was a factor in Mary Hemingway’s approval of the electroshock treatments that arguably hastened Hem’s destruction.
Following Hemingway’s death, requests made under the Freedom of Information Act opened up countless FBI documents (many still heavily redacted) that proved conclusively the FBI was tracking Hemingway and followed him right into the Mayo Clinic…reportedly perhaps even consulting directly with Hem’s doctors.
Hoover, too, left behind countless memos regarding Hemingway, revealing Hem was a kind of obsession of Hoover’s, particularly moving forward from the late 1930s.
This is the terrain of Print the Legend, a literary thriller that aims to underscore Hem’s own cautions about the risk of getting too close to a fiction writer, as well as the seductive dangers of leading “the writing life.”
May 12, 2015
“I should mention I have no method to my reading. If I had, I would waste less time on unworthy books (ah yes, The Goldfinch…)
Currently I’ve chosen well. I am revisiting the illicit charms of Lady Chatterley’s Lover which I read in my early teens probably concealed behind a copy of Smash Hits magazine. The language is flowery and a little archaic. Tittering must surely be encouraged when DH Laurence repeatedly describes the Lady orgasming as having “reached her crisis.” As Constance advances in her sexual awakening, all the flowers are in bloom in the woodland where she trysts with the groundsman in his hut.”
Continue reading here: A Blooming Good Read.
Jackie Mallon is the author of SILK FOR THE FEED DOGS
April 29, 2015
“When something of literary merit affects you, then a sliver is naturally going to rub off on your prose.”
Read the full text here: Reading when I write?
April 28, 2015
I don’t have a method but… and it’s a big ‘but’… I can speak of a pattern that has repeated itself with all four of my novels. And the same will be true with my next. I see my novels metaphorically. By that I mean an image comes to me… and that image, that poetic metaphoric image, contains all I need to know about the fiction to follow. The image is always (to me) more than just an image. Not only does it give me the beginning, middle and end of the narrative, but it also suggests a fundamental elemental universal of our world. I don’t mean to suggest the demonic/divine illumination of the 18th or 19th century novelists, nor do I want to glorify or romanticize the artistic process, but this is what I’ve experienced as a Writer.
If pressed, I would say this metaphoric image is a gift; some poets have it, I’m told. Where it comes from… who knows? I call it… the fecundity of the unconscious.
My particular unconscious showing me the way: Before words or thought or deliberation or calculation that which lies deepest inside me articulates itself with this image. Once it appears I allow it – or it allows me – to form, shape, edit and refine itself over a gestation period that can last two to twenty years. The image never leaves me. And though as a Writer and person I evolve and change, recreate myself and the forms I might make use of as a novelist, the first image, the central image… stays the same. I’ll give you an example. The day I finished my novel The Nihilesthete an image came to me of a man hovering over a surveillance camera while hiding in his closet, spying on a boy and girl. It only took me twenty-plus years to find the courage to write that novel now titled Penthouse F.
Richard Kalich is the author of CENTRAL PARK WEST TRILOGY, including The Nihilesthete, Charlie P, and Penthouse F.
April 27, 2015