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Posts tagged ‘Print the Legend’

Craig McDonald about the challenge of writing a series

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.

Signing ARCs at Book Expo America 2007

Signing ARCs at Book Expo America 2007

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.

Dublin reading, August 2016

Dublin reading, August 2016

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.

The first translation: French (La tête de Pancho Villa, Editions Belfond, 2009)

The first translation: French (“La tête de Pancho Villa”, Editions Belfond, 2009)

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.


Paris, March 2011

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.


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The Hector Lassiter book trailers

November 2, 2016


Dear readers,

You may not know it, but one of Craig McDonald’s many talents is producing spectacular video trailers for his books.

Discover the trailer for the Hector Lassiter series and meet “the man who writes what he lives and lives what he writes”: Tender, violent, intelligent, unwise, wanderer, fool for love, righteous, amoral, brave, elusive, arrogant, magnanimous, lonely, convivial,  self-absorbed, great-hearted Hector Lassiter.

On Craig McDonald’s blog, you will find trailers for each individual title,

including the forthcoming THREE CHORDS & THE TRUTH:


Literary suicides: excerpt from PRINT THE LEGEND by Craig McDonald

March 31, 2016


8 PRINTx2700“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.

BetimesLOGO3 blue“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)


Publishers Weekly review of DEATH IN THE FACE

December 21, 2015


Death in the Face“Set in 1962, McDonald’s fine ninth Hector Lassiter novel (after Print the Legend) takes the 62-year-old writer and an old friend of his, 54-year-old Ian Fleming (the creator of James Bond), to Japan. Ostensibly, Fleming is to do research for an Asian-set 007 novel, and Lassiter is covering Fleming’s trip for Playboy magazine. In fact, the pair are on a mission to secure the secret plans made by the Japanese in WWII for a devastating biological weapon. Both men formerly performed intelligence duties, including an attempt, during Operation Flea, to recover the plans immediately after the war. McDonald pays frequent homage to Fleming and his novels, while Lassiter, like an aging James Bond, foils assassins and follows a trail that leads from Japan to Turkey; he even uses a Bond-like gadget to great effect. A brief coda sets the stage for the next and, unfortunately, last Lassiter novel, Three Chords and the Truth.”


Read the review in Publishers Weekly:

Translation rights news: PRINT THE LEGEND to be published in Mongolia

November 18, 2015


Craig McDonald‘s novel PRINT THE LEGEND (#8 in the internationally acclaimed Hector Lassiter series) is going to be translated into Mongolian and published by Bolor Sudar Publishers in 2016.

Hector Lassiter novels have been translated so far into French, Italian, Spanish (Mexico), Japanese, Korean and Russian.

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Listen to an excerpt read by Craig McDonald and read his essay about the novel.


Some like to listen dangerously…

June 15, 2015



One True Sentence   Toros&Torsos    headgames audiobooks  Print the legend









Readergal from Booklist about the voice of Hector Lassiter:

Lust for Listening

Readergal has quite a few invisible boyfriends who talk to her. She has complete control over when they speak and what they talk about. And she has one for almost every mood. These may sound like imaginary men, but they are not. They are Readergal’s favorite male narrators, and each holds a special place in her heart and ears.

Sometimes Readergal likes to listen dangerously. That’s when she calls up Tom Stechschulte, the voice of noir bad boy Hector Lassiter. Hector is a pulp crime writer who “lives what he writes and writes what he lives.” Stechschulte gives Hector a brash and confident, if world-weary, tone, a little rough around the edges. Then he slips into the smoky, gentle voice of a closet romantic guarding the softest spots of his heart. When Readergal wants to be the femme fatale, she cues up One True Sentence, in which swoon-worthy Hector suspects both of the women he’s sleeping with of serially murdering ex-pat literary critics in Jazz Age Paris. Stechschulte’s deft mix of tough ’n’ tender tones conjures up images of Humphrey Bogart.


Click on the cover image of each book for more information

“Print the Legend” & the dark seduction of the writing life

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:
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“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.”

–Craig McDonald

A Very Hector Lassiter Christmas

December 24, 2014


Craig McDonald about three very different Christmas Eves…

Read here:


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Excerpt from Gifts: Bittersweet Christmas Stories by Craig McDonald

December 2, 2014


From “Echoes” by Craig McDonald

“You two are the closest thing to family I have, Hem, and it’s Christmas and that’s about the giving. You’ll just have to live with the receiving, you righteous son of a bitch.” Hector pointed to the gift for our son. “I’ve got no brother or sisters, so I’ll never have nieces or nephews, either. I’m afraid Bumby fulfills that need for me. Christ, Hem, please let me have my Christmas. Without it, I’m left to decorating trees in the gardens with fallen women. What kind of Yule is that? You can’t appreciate family, truly, when you have one. When you don’t, it’s all you think about.”



Read or download GIFTS for free here:
Buy a collector edition here:
Or get an e-book here:

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“Giving voice and face to character: The Lassiter audio books” by Craig McDonald

December 1, 2014


Craig McDonald on new covers for The Hector Lassiter audio books, recorded by Recorded Books.

Read the article here:

One True Sentence  Toros&Torsos

headgames audiobooks Print the legend