Thursday, March 23, 2023

Suffolk Mystery Authors Conference

 The Suffolk (VA) Mystery Writers Festival took place Saturday, March 11. This was my first chance to attend in person after having participated the past two years virtually due to covid restrictions. It was worth the wait, though it would have been nice not to have had to.

 

No offense to other events, but the Suffolk festival (hereafter referred to as “SMAF”) is the best-run author event I have ever attended. The organizers, led by the tireless and ubiquitous Katie Kelley, thought of everything.

·       The hotel is part of the conference facility, so we didn’t even have to leave the building.

·       We didn’t have to bring or sell books; they pre-ordered everything for us and handled all sales.

·       Our books were already displayed on our tables when we entered the facility, along with 8.5 x 11 inch color photos of each author and a little “Will return at” clock in case we needed or wanted to attend a panel. (My panel was Keeping it Snappy: Writing Short Stories, moderated by Shawn Reilly Simmons and including Teresa Inge, Nan O’Berry, Josh Pachter, and Art Taylor.)

·       The event was free to the public (about 400 came to see us); those who paid a fee received a swag bag of author gelt (I provided a short story) and an invitation to a private reception with the authors.

·       The authors got swag bags of their own, including a Moleskin journal and a small desk clock.

·       Authors and their families who chose to stay afterward were treated to a fine meal.

Everyone was in a great mood and if there were any hitches, I was unaware of them. Bonus coverage came in the form of the bar being well stocked and relatively quiet, which allowed me to catch up with friends including Ellen Geib Butler, John DeDakis, John Gilstrap, Jeffery James Higgins, and Con Lehane. As might be expected from this group, I had a ball.

 

Bonus bonus coverage came from getting to visit with longtime and dear college friends Dan and Micki Knipple after a 40-year interregnum. They’re the kind of friends you can not see for half a lifetime and pick up with as if it’s only been a week.

 

The next SMAF is March 16, 2024. I plan to be there and encourage anyone available, reader or writer, to do the same. You won’t be sorry.

Thursday, March 16, 2023

Eryk Pruitt, Author of Something Bad Wrong

 Eryk Pruitt is someone I’m proud to know. Writer, filmmaker, bar owner, and raconteur, theirs is always something going on with him that’s worth knowing about, which means it’s worth talking about. Eryk’s newest book, Something Bad Wrong, drops this month from Thomas and Mercer. I was lucky to score an advance copy and I can say with confidence that, much as I enjoyed his previous work, he’s taken a step to the next level here. I could go on for a while about this book, but it’s always best to let the writer do it, and no one can explain Eryk’s thought processes better than Eryk.

 

One Bite at a Time: Welcome back to the blog. It’s been a while. Tell the readers a little about the story in Something Bad Wrong. Great title, by the way. (We’ll get to the background behind the book in a minute.)

Eryk Pruitt: Something Bad Wrong is the story of Jess Keeler, a woman who once aspired to be a journalist until life gets in the way. Then, after the COVID pandemic, while reevaluating her career choices, she stumbles upon her grandfather’s notebook and discovers he was once a legendary local lawman who was haunted by his inability to solve a sensational crime. In attempting to finish what she started, she uncovers a trove of family secrets that threaten to tear their community apart.

OBAAT: I’m a huge fan of your podcast, “The Long Dance.” How much of what you learned from that investigation found its way into Something Bad Wrong?

EP: Thank you very much, Dana. I think the biggest effect that producing the podcast had on my fiction was my access to real police work. Previously to that experience, my fiction had primarily focused on the exploits of criminals, because criminals were all that I had been exposed to. After working on “The Long Dance” for two and a half years next to (retired) Major Tim Horne of the Orange County Sheriff’s Office (NC) I learned not only how investigators work a case, but also how investigators balance real life scenarios. Tim sent me to DNA collection classes, allowed me to process a (manufactured) crime scene, and enrolled me in the local citizen’s academy. Because of all of this, I was able to feel more confident writing about the other side of the law for once.

BAAT: What was the trickiest part of working the podcast into a novel?

EP: Anyone who’s listened to “The Long Dance” knows there are some pretty insane twists


and turns in the story. The craziest part is that we never would have included them if they weren’t true. So when it came time to loosely adapt these events into fiction, there were so many real life incidents that were cut from the book because it would require too much suspension of belief for audiences to buy it—EVEN THOUGH THEY REALLY HAPPENED!!!  

 For instance, in real life, a former ADA and a retired homicide detective were both so obsessed with solving the real-life murders that they gained control of the law enforcement arm of the Department of Motor Vehicles and, after equipping their agents with Tommy guns and radio wrist watches, took over investigations of the double homicide. The fallout turned out to be North Carolina’s own Watergate scandal, as this law enforcement arm was also being used to spy on political opponents when they weren’t investigating murders. Again: This was the Department of Motor Vehicles. (this entire situation is detailed in the seventh of eight episodes of “The Long Dance,” one we titled “Evidence and Information.”

 Obviously, for the sake of the narrative, page count, and my own credulity, I cut stuff like that out. But the story that is told in Something Bad Wrong is complete fiction.

 OBAAT: You’ve earned quite a reputation as a novelist. What made you look into true crime, and then decide to base a novel on it?

EP: I was always fascinated by the storytelling in the podcast “Serial,” and wanted to see if there was a way I could engage an audience in a similar way. The stories of Patricia Mann and Jesse McBane, which were the foundation of “The Long Dance,” is a crime that, many years ago, shocked my community. The more we researched it, the more we felt it was a duty to try and tell the story, bring it to a wider audience, and tell it in the right way.

 To loosely adapt that story into fiction? Well…That’s tricky. For one, it was a story that I could not get out of my head. They say the way to get a song out of your head is to learn the lyrics. I investigated this story and every single nuance and detail for 2.5 years, and it’s failure to result in a prosecution was one of the biggest heartbreaks of my entire life. I became close with the surviving family members and the investigators who had worked this case even longer than I had, and that heartbreak was shared. So I wanted to give a sort of ending to the story and by writing a fictional account that was very loosely based on fact, I was able to give a sort of ending that the real life story wasn’t able to achieve.

 But again, Something Bad Wrong is a complete work of fiction.

 OBAAT: It has been said that fiction is the art of using lies t tell the truth. What was the core truth, or truth, you wanted to express in Something Bad Wrong?

EP: That's a really good question, Dana. We live in the age of Wikileaks and #TimesUp and #MeToo, which is supposed to make it that much more difficult for people to behave poorly without being called out. In so many of these cold cases from decades gone by, the bad actor wasn't necessarily some master villain or evil genius, but just some asshole whose bad deeds never got publicly exposed. The villain in Something Bad Wrong had lived his entire life as an asshole, terrorizing co-workers and women and innocent bystanders, but was allowed to keep on keeping on because [spoiler redacted]. However, if someone had documented or exposed this behavior, then perhaps the victims would still be alive. But that's the way it was for men/women in the days gone by. They were allowed to act up with very few, if any, repercussions.

 It was fun to juxtapose that against the present day storyline, where Dan Decker is a character who has been called to task for his bad deeds. I am not going to try and place his inappropriate behavior anywhere on a scale against the deeds of the main villain, but the main difference is that Decker was called out and "canceled" for what he did.

 Have times changed? Does transparency equal a step towards a more perfect society? Who the hell knows, man. But there is, thankfully, a difference between what activities people (men) were blindly allowed to get away unnoticed with in the 70s than they are today.

 OBAAT: You manage to keep busy. Between owning and operating Yonder in Hillsborough, setting up the almost nightly events there (including several Noir at the Bar readings each year), reading at Noirs at Bars from New York to Dallas, and editing the new neo-noir magazine Dark Yonder, how and when to you find time to write?

EP: By throwing elbows. There are a lot of things competing for that time, focus, and energy, and I make sure to defend that time vociferously. It’s what I’ve wanted to do since I was a little boy and sometimes it takes reminding that the whole reason I do anything else is to do that.

 OBAAT: Let’s talk a bit about Dark Yonder, which you edit with Katy Munger. Whose idea was that, and what did it take to get it off the ground? (Editor’s Note: In the interests of full disclosure, the interviewer has a vested interest in getting the word out about Dark Yonder, as he has a story in the inaugural issue.)

EP: It was kind of a mutual idea. I had wanted to do a quarterly through the bar, mostly because my community of Hillsborough, NC, is such a fervent supporter of the arts. They pack the house for our Noirs at the Bars. They tip very well to musicians. They buy the art off our walls. So I wanted to give back to the writing world by bringing them to some new and passionate patrons, as well as provide my friends at the bar with some highly entertaining stories.

 Katy Munger, the former Piedmont Laureate and author of “Tart Noir,” runs her own Thalia Press with Lise MacClendon, and she is a regular reader at our Noir at the Bar. She wanted to team up and do something and pitched a couple of ideas. We ended up merging our two ideas and found ourselves very lucky to have been able to marry our two skill sets and passions.

 For our first issue, we selected ten stories out of 250 submissions. We are very fortunate to have the same result for #2, which will be published on April 13.

  OBAAT: This post will drop on St. Patrick’s Day. As you and your lovely wife, Lana Pierce, went to Ireland last fall, what stuck with you most about the trip, both personally and from a writing perspective?

EP: It was great to get away. I had once tried to live in Ireland after college and experienced that country alone as a penniless ex-pat. It was nice to go back with a bit more of a budget and with the wife. Some of the biggest takeaways cast our own country in a darker light, and I spent a lot of my focus studying their War for Independence as well as their Civil War. Irish history is so fascinating to me and how they overcame centuries of oppressive religious rule, only to be thrust back into conflict with each other, is a huge lesson that I doubt our country can learn by example. We’ll see…

 OBAAT: What’s the current writing project?

EP: My awesome publishers at Thomas & Mercer have contracted me for a follow up book to Something Bad Wrong which they intend to be published in the Spring of 2024 which means I need to get back to work now.

 Thank you, Dana! It’s always great talking to you!!

Thursday, March 9, 2023

My Favorite Westerns

 A few weeks ago I listed my favorite crime movies, films that I never grow tired of while seeing something new each time. That got such a nice response (especially on Facebook), I decided to do it again, this time with Westerns.

 

Here are the criteria I set out in January for the crime films:

1. I have to like the movie.

2. It has to bear up under repeated viewings.

 

With that in mind, here are my personal prejudices:

I don’t generally care for what I call “good haircut” Westerns. The American West was a grungy place; there’s a high bar to clear if everyone looks too well groomed. One movie listed cleared that bar; a few others have questionable grooming, but make up for it elsewhere.

 

I’m also not crazy about movies that perpetuate the myth of The West. More than a few of the problems we have today can be traced to what people think actually happened back then. The last thing I want to see is something that reinforces that. Again, a couple of those listed do that in their own way, but they’re so good I get over it.

 

Here's the list. As before, it’s in chronological order, so no valuation is implied.

 

Shane (1953)

The quintessential “mysterious stranger rides into town, does what has to be done, and leaves” film. Alan Ladd was short, but he was badass. His minimalist speech is not the affectation of the stereotypical laconic cowhand; it’s the language of a man who does not intend to repeat himself. Van Heflin and Jean Arthur are perfect as the homesteaders, and Jack Palance sets the standard for hired guns.

 

The Professionals (1966)

Another classic Western plot: rich man (Ralph Bellamy) hires four mercenaries (Burt Lancaster, Lee Marvin, Robert Ryan, and Woody Strode) to get back his age-inappropriate wife (Claudia Cardinale) who has been kidnapped by a Mexican bandit (Jack Palance). Things aren’t quite what they appear, though the mercenaries make sure justice is done. The stars have a ball working with each other (Editor’s Note: Woody Strode was born 30 years too early or he would have been a big star himself), the sets are appropriately grimy, and the right note is touched in every scene. Has what might be the greatest closing line in Western history.

[Name redacted to avoid spoiler]: You bastard.

[Name redacted to avoid spoiler]: In my case, an accident of birth. You, sir, are a self-made man.

 

Hombre (1967)

Maybe Elmore Leonard’s best novel, and quite possibly the best Western ever. Paul Newman plays John Russell, a white man captured by Apaches as a child and raised on a reservation, who inherits his white foster father’s boarding house. That sets up a stagecoach trip with Russell and a motley band that leads to not only a tense and well-crafted plot, but can provoke long discussions about what people owe each other. Richard Boone cements his place as one of the all-time bad guys, and Frank Silvera as the vaquero creates a minor role that lives forever.

 

The Wild Bunch (1969)

Westerns could never be the same after The Wild Bunch. Sam Peckinpah’s hyperviolent (for the time) ode to the closing of the frontier is, in its way, a buddy movie. What each member of the gang feels he owes the others eventually takes control of the film, as they understand their day is ending and decide to meet it on their own terms.

 

The Outlaw Josie Wales (1976)

Interesting that a film released in the year of the American bicentennial takes such an uncompromising and harsh look at the nation’s history. Clint Eastwood’s breakout film as a director, he also plays Josie, who wanted nothing more than to go home after the Civil War until a Union officer betrays his men at their surrender and murders Wales’s family. Revenge is delayed as Wales accumulates a ragtag band of followers that provide detail of actual life on the frontier while the revenge story plays out.

 

Unforgiven (1992)

Eastwood again, deconstructing more of the Western myth. This time he’s a reformed gunman turned farmer who needs money so desperately he accepts an invitation to kill a couple of men who disfigured a whore. Morgan Freeman is his partner, and Gene Hackman was never better than as Little Bill Daggett, the local sheriff who has many admirable qualities, though not enough to offset his darker nature. The scene where Little Bill tells a journalist (Saul Rubinek) how English Bob (Richard Harris) truly earned his reputation as a gunfighter should be required viewing for those who still subscribe to The Myth.

 

Tombstone (1993)

Yes, it’s a myth perpetuator, but it makes the list for four reasons:

1. Wyatt Earp is not portrayed as the classic white hat good guy.

2. The gunfight at the OK Corral is as well-done and likely realistic as has ever been filmed (though that scene in Wyatt Earp is also excellent).

3. Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday.

4. It’s just so damn much fun to watch, primarily due to Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday.

 

Open Range (2003)

Robert Duvall and Kevin Costner star as the last of the open range cattle operations, matched against a ruthless English transplant who’ll draw no line in his efforts to put them in what he considers to be their places. Lots of good subtext here with the competing ranch operations as well as a look at PTSD in the post-Civil War era.

 

Appaloosa (2008)

Ed Harris wrote the screenplay, directed, and stars in this adaptation of the first of Robert B. Parker’s Cole and Hitch Westerns. Viggo Mortensen is excellent as Hitch, and Harris and co-screenwriter Robert Knott were smart to leave Parker’s dialog as intact as possible. In some ways it’s Spenser and Hawk in the Old West with even harder edges, but the plot and byplay make this one that bears up under repeated watching. My only quibble is that I have a hard time believing a man such as Virgil Cole would fall so hard for Renee Zellweger. Diane Lane was originally cast in Zellweger’s role; her and Cole I could understand.

 

True Grit (2010)

I get that the 1969 version is very good, maybe even John Wayne’s best. I’ll even go so far as to say he earned his lifetime achievement acting Oscar for his portrayal of Rooster Cogburn; Robert Duvall as Ned Pepper is tough to beat, too. Then again, Jeff Bridges is better than The Duke, Barry Pepper is no slouch, and let’s not even try to compare Matt Damon and Glen Campbell; Hailee Steinfeld is also more believable as Maddie. The Coen brothers are far more loyal to the book, and to good effect. Both versions are worth watching, but if you can see only one, this is the one to watch.

 

That’s ten, and I’m sure I’ll do an honorable mention list down the road. That said, there’s one more I can’t bear to leave out of my personal Pantheon. It doesn’t have the weight some of these others do, but I love it so much it gets a pass.

 

Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid (1969)

The ultimate buddy movie, which happens to be a Western. As the beginning states, much of what happens is true. Paul Newman, Robert Redford, and Katherine Ross are a trio for the ages. I will never get tired of watching this movie. In fact, if you told me I could only watch one film for the rest of my life, this might be it. If you gave me five, I guarantee it makes the list.

 

(People are going to ask about Blazing Saddles. It’s in the comedy list I’ll do in a while.)

Thursday, March 2, 2023

Art vs. Craft

 My friend Benoit Lelieve recently posted a review of the movie Tar on his Dead End Follies blog. My response was that he and I would have to agree to disagree on this one. He loved it; I thought it was three hours of my life I’ll never get back, though it seemed longer.

 

I’ve read enough of Benoit’s work to know that if we disagree I should probably take another look to see what I might have missed. Fair warning: what follows is less a review of Tar than of my thought processes and sensibilities.

 

The film is the story of the internationally-renowned conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic and the tribulations of a career dedicated to producing art at the highest level. We’ll talk more about that later.

 

I didn’t hate everything about Tar. An early scene shows Lydia Tar (Cate Blanchett) running a master class for young composers and explaining the facts of life to a student who can’t be bothered with Bach, basically because Bach had too many kids. She explains that he will severely limit himself as a musician to ignore such a giant of the art, and also tells him why. She does it in an inexcusably harsh and belittling manner, but her sentiments are spot on.

 

I also liked the ending, where she [spoiler redacted].

 

The production values and acting are outstanding. There was also a good line where she describes herself as a “U-Haul lesbian.” I laughed out loud at the reference to Charles Dutoit and the Montreal Symphony, as I have some inside knowledge of what happened there.

 

That covers what I liked.

 

What didn’t I like? Pretty much all the characters, especially Tar, who is a narcissistic bitch who not only thinks the world revolves around her, but that this is her due because of her genius. She treats everyone, including her daughter, hideously, often just because she can get away with it.

 

Those around her don’t come off much better, as they’re either duplicitous, toadies, or objects of sympathy. There’s no one to like in this movie, and few to even empathize with for more than a minute or two.

 

Why does this bother me so much? A lot has to do with my upbringing. I was raised working class. Had an aptitude for music and earned both Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees, my Master’s from New England Conservatory. I was good, but not good enough to play at that level. To use a baseball analogy, I was a solid AA player. I did some things very well, but there were holes in my swing that prevented me from making The Show. I learned much about art, but through the prism of working-class craftsmen.

 

 

While not all craft is art, there can be no art without craft. The greatest musicians still routinely practice their scales and other fundamentals. Artists work on their brush technique. Dancers hit the gym to keep their bodies tuned. Art results from the mastering of craft combined with a divine spark one either has or does not, which allows the craft to reach a level that transcends its origins. Spend enough time with artists of the highest order and you’ll see this is true.

 

What breaks my balls about Tar is the multiple layers of pretentiousness it includes. Lydia presents herself as a servant of art, but the primary thing we see her do artistically is to have the opening trumpet solo of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony played offstage. No one wrote more detailed instructions in their scores than Mahler. If he wanted the trumpet off stage, he would have said so. He did say so in the First Symphony, where the trumpets play three fanfares off-stage before joining the rest of the orchestra. The only purpose moving the trumpet off-stage will serve is to generate critical buzz regarding Tar’s “brilliance.” (There are also logistical issues I’ll not go into here.)

 

The film suffers from much the same pretentiousness. In some ways it reminded me of The Power of the Dog, where a good story was crushed beneath the weight of its too obvious efforts to be “artistic,” or, worse, “important.”

 

I am not immune to art. While I abhor melodrama that tries to manipulate my emotions, I am moved by many books, movies, and music. The art must be organic, springing naturally and without effort from the mastering of the craft, something that rests transparently on the spirit that gives it rise. (Props to Kierkegaard via David Milch for teaching me that.) A presumed artist can no more force art into a project than he or she can decide to be taller. Lifts can be added to their shoes, but close examination reveals the artifice.

 

Just as melodrama tries to manipulate your feelings, Tar beats you over the head with its “art” rather than trusting the audience to decide whether it is, isn’t, or just the auteur engaging in three hours of cinematic masturbation.

Thursday, February 23, 2023

High Concept

 The Beloved Spouse™ and I recently watched Oblivion, a 2013 film starring Tom Cruise and Morgan Freeman. It was an interesting idea: aliens from a dying planet invade Earth. They begin the assault by severely damaging the Moon, which releases havoc on Earth. Humans resort to nuclear weapons to win the war, which devastates the planet and forces an escape to Saturn’s moon, Titan. A small crew stays behind to prevent holdouts from the invading force from messing with the huge devices that are sucking up all the water on the planet for transport to Titan. (Yeah, I know, but it’s a science fiction movie, so an adequate quantity of disbelief suspension is required to commit to watching it in the first place.) As you may expect, there are several twists along the way, but I’m not here to provide plot spoilers, though I may spoil it for you in other ways.

 

Oblivion is not a waste of time. The production values are exceptional, and the special effects are believable. Tom Cruise does well, considering he doesn’t all that often have anyone to play off of, and Morgan Freeman is Morgan Freeman, which means he’s outstanding. There are things that don’t work as well, but that’s also not why we’re here.

 

Why we’re here is to go over how Oblivion stands in for so many movies made in recent years, science fiction or otherwise. The film was clearly sold as a high concept, which is fine, as far as it goes. Execution and vision matter even more. What appeared to happen here was that, once greenlighted, someone decided the plot needed “more.” Unfortunately, the “more” turned out to be a mash-up of other famous sci-fi pics. It got so obvious TBS and I started calling them out to each other as they arose.

 

“This is a little like The Martian, but on Earth.”

“Don’t those drones remind you of Star Wars?”

“That’s got a Predator vibe.”

“Remind you of Aliens?”

“Right out of 2001.”

 

There were more. Those are what I remember after a night of cleansing sleep.

 

It occurred to me while writing this that it’s possible the studio muckety-mucks who sent notes might not be aware of these older pictures. I am always mindful of Robert B. Parker telling a story about pitching a Western to some young female executive who listened to the whole spiel, said she liked it, but wanted to know “Who’s this Wyatt Earp guy?”

 

I worked several years on and off on a Western I finally set aside because I decided it wasn’t much more than a retelling of favorite scenes from some of my favorite Westerns. I may have to consider sending that one out after all. Apparently originality isn’t as big a deal as creating the impression of originality long enough to get a contract.

 

Puts me in mind of an old Jerry Seinfeld line about relationships: Once you learn to fake sincerity, the rest is a breeze.

 

(PS

While this post underwent editing, we watched Den of Thieves, with Gerard Butler and Pablo Schreiber. The same issues I had with Oblivion applied here. “Reminds me of the shootout in Heat.” “This is him doing the Chinese acrobat bit from Ocean’s Eleven.” “That’s right out of Inside Man.” “Lifted from The Usual Suspects pretty much verbatim.” It’s a thing now.)

Thursday, February 16, 2023

A Brief Hiatus

 I finished the penultimate draft of the work in progress, which now has a title:

 

Off the Books

 

Thanks to The Beloved Spouse™ for that one, as the story is about work private investigator Nick Forte takes off-license and involves undocumented workers who are…well, you’ll just have to read the book to find out what’s up with them.

 

I’m taking off the rest of February to let the book marinate and do some research to help me decide what to write next. I have more ideas right now than I have time to write them, and I learned from the abortive Western that I don’t do well if I let a book sit too long while working on other projects. Whatever I choose needs to be the priority. I can research and develop other ideas, but whatever story I choose to move forward with will become my more or less constant companion for close to a year. I need to choose wisely.

 

What ideas are jostling for position?

·       A three-book arc to conclude the Penns River series. Corruption and police culture—for both better and worse—will be prominent in these books, and I need to know more about both if I am to do them justice.

·       At least one, maybe two, possibly three Forte novels. I need more background on the core stories before deciding which I want to tackle.

·       Another Western, this time a “memoir” of a fictional character that roamed the West, traveling through famous places while not necessarily meeting the people who made them famous. The plan is for this to be an “as told to” book, with the “ghost” writer making occasional comments where the protagonist’s recollection may be a little hazy.

·       A book involving two new characters in a new universe. The high concept is “Hap and Leonard meet Terriers meet The Nice Guys.” The idea could lead to a new series, but after reading the list above I have no idea when I’d get to more than the one book.

 

I’ll begin the finishing process of Off the Books the first week of March, with an expected completion date around the middle of April. Since the next Penns River book (The Spread) comes out July 31—and I have four Fortes and Wild Bill that can be published whenever—I’ll have plenty of time to sort out my next project.

 

This is the primary benefit of retirement on my writing. Even though I don’t write any more in a day than I used to, more gets done. My imagination is also free to consider new things. It’s fun, though I know myself well enough not to indulge too many impulses, as I hate having things left partially finished.

 

Stay tuned.

Thursday, February 9, 2023

An Interview With Patrick H. Moore, Author of 27 Days

 Patrick H. Moore is a Los Angeles based Private Investigator and Sentencing Mitigation Specialist who has worked in virtually all areas including drug trafficking, sex crimes, crimes of violence, and white-collar fraud. Patrick holds a Master’s degree in English Literature from San Francisco State University where he graduated summa cum laude in 1990. Prior to moving to Los Angeles, he was lead vocalist and played rhythm guitar for Crash Carnival, a San Francisco rock ‘n roll band, and experienced the “naked lunch” of life on the streets for the better part of two decades.

 

Since February of 2013, Patrick has been running All Things Crime Blog, a true crime and crime fiction website, which is one of the most popular (if not the most popular) true crime blogs in the United States.

 

27 Days is Patrick’s second Nick Crane novel.

 

One Bite at a Time: Welcome to the blog, Patrick. It’s a pleasure to have you. Tell us a little about 27 Days.

 

Patrick H. Moore: 27 Days is my second published novel featuring Nick Crane as my PI protagonist.


The first Nick Crane story, Cicero’s Dead, is a relatively straightforward PI novel in which a lovely heiress named Jade Lamont hires Nick to find her troubled missing brother. It did fairly well on Amazon (110 reviews) and many readers enjoyed it, but my problem with it is that it breaks no new ground in the area of crime fiction. It was self-published by ‎Max Myers at U.S. iNDiE BOOKS.

 

I was pleased by the fact that Cicero’s Dead was well-received but troubled by what I saw as its lack of relevance in the age of Trump. This is what I set out to remedy in 27 Days. So I came up with a set of “what if’s.” What if Nick Crane brings a serial killer of women named Frank Constantine to justice only to discover seven years later that Mr. Constantine was a ranking member of a shadowy group of aristocratic alt-right domestic terrorists called “the principals.” And what if several members of the principals including the dread Marguerite Ferguson decide that Nick Crane is public enemy number one and set out to destroy him? And what if Marguerite’s team abduct and brainwash Nick’s business partner and closest friend Bobby Moore as a way to get to Nick? And what if the principals inform Nick that unless he surrenders to Marguerite in twenty-seven days, they will ship Bobby off to Scorpion Prison in Cairo where he will be murdered after being subjected to excruciating torture? Truly, Nick finds himself stuck between the proverbial rock and a hard place.

 

Once I had my basic set-up in place, I decided to make Nick’s task as hard as possible. The U.S. is a big country. There are lots of places where the well-heeled principals could stash Bobby Moore. So that was my challenge, or, rather, that was Nick’s challenge––to locate Bobby Moore, which seemed damn near impossible, and then rescue him, which was even harder.

 

Nick Crane is a free-wheeling PI who has never hesitated to skirt the law when necessary. In 27 Days, however, he is approached by a young, idealistic female FBI agent named Carrie North who is itching to bring Marguerite to justice, not for the kidnapping but rather for conspiring to commit acts of domestic terrorism against the United States. Nick and Carrie are certainly an “odd couple” and they have their share of disagreements (some of which nearly culminate in pitched battles), but as the story progresses and the hourglass empties, they learn to like and trust one another.

 

 

OBAAT: This isn’t a typical P.I. story. It’s more like you put a P.I. story in a blender with a political thriller, which is something I would not have thought to do, so kudos for that. Was this a P.I. story that morphed into a thriller as you developed it, or did you have an idea for a thriller that you thought would be well served by making the protagonist a private investigator?

 

PHM: This is a great question, Dana! I think of 27 Days as combining aspects of a PI novel with aspects of a political thriller. My purpose in attempting to combine these elements was to create a compelling story with plenty of action and excitement that also had social relevance while still keeping my beloved Nick Crane intact as the protagonist. Psychologically, there was no way I could abandon Nick. And, I liked the idea of breaking new ground by combining a PI novel with a political thriller. Keep in mind, I’m not capable of writing a police procedural at this point, and I’m not very interested in writing murder mysteries. So, on balance, I would say that the hybrid form of 27 Days is largely the result of my desire to write a socially relevant thriller that did not hesitate to blend genres while keeping my protagonist intact.

 

(By the way, I think your recent police procedural White Out, which I read and greatly enjoyed, does a wonderful job in taking a police procedural and making it socially relevant by having your lawmen combat a gang of biker white supremacists. In his latest Franky Dast novel, The Long Way Out, Michael Wiley does something somewhat similar. Ostensibly a murder mystery, Mr. Wiley’s novel takes on the specter of racism in the South and the mistreatment of our immigrant population.)

 

OBAAT: Nick Crane is a great name for a P.I. (Of course, I’m predisposed to like PIs named “Nick.”) Where did you get the idea for him, along with his backstory? How did you choose the name?

 

PHM: I chose the name Nick Crane because I wanted a strong and perhaps somewhat traditional PI-type name for my protagonist. What I didn’t want was a “cute” and/or “creative” name. As I recall, Nick Crane was one of the first names that popped into my head as I was brainstorming. When I first started writing the first Nick Crane novel, Cicero’s Dead, I was very much a beginner in the area of reading and writing crime fiction. Other than the occasional crime novel here and there, I had really only read the Dennis Lehane Patrick Kenzie novels, James Lee Burke’s Dave Robicheaux novels, and some of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels. One thing that these three protagonists have in common is that they are seriously tough and courageous SOBs. In a sense, out of these three protagonists, Nick is perhaps most like Robicheaux or Patrick Kenzie in that he has a gentle and caring side in addition to his strong, masculine persona.

 

I’m originally from the Midwest, Wisconsin, to be exact, which is why Nick Crane also hails from the Midwest, in his case Northern Minnesota and the Iron Range. I chose to give him a troubled and painful past as a way of explaining why danger follows him like the bubonic plague. Let’s face it, the dude has issues and they show no sign of going away any time soon. 

 

Although only a small part of 27 Days takes place in LA, I made it Nick’s home base because PIs are often associated with Los Angeles and because LA is where I work as an investigator and sentencing mitigation specialist.

 

OBAAT: I’ve drifted away from this question over the years, but a story such as yours always makes me wonder if you outline, make it up as you go along, or use some middle course?

 


PHM: This is another great question, Dana! The simple answer is that I seem to be constitutionally incapable of coming up with the plot of a novel-length story ahead of time. I wish I could, but I just can’t do it. Because of this, it takes me forever to complete a novel. Sometimes, I go for weeks without a single decent idea regarding how to propel the storyline forward. I seem to do my most effective plotting while in the act of writing and rewriting. Characters, dialogue, and literary style are easier for me, but I find plotting to be extremely hard. I tend to believe that a first-rate crime novel/thriller requires four key ingredients: 1) strong, vivid characters; 2) lively, believable dialogue; 3) a compelling literary style (I like working in the first person); and 4) a kick-ass storyline.

 

OBAAT: As a professional investigator yourself, what things do you see in others’ P.I. novels that either drive you crazy or make you smile while thinking “He/She got that right.”

 

PHM: I would begin by saying that most PI novels and police procedurals do tend to get most things right. Generally speaking, we crime novelists work hard at our craft. We want to be as authentic as possible. If there’s one area where I think some of us sometimes fall short, and this goes for films and TV series as well as novels, it’s in the area of drugs, drug use, and how drugs affect people, especially when it comes to heroin. I don’t know how many times I’ve been reading a novel or story and the writer describes someone on heroin as having dilated pupils. Now the reality is that heroin and opiates in general make one’s pupils tiny, while methamphetamines and stimulants make one’s pupils huge. Every time I encounter this I sigh and think, ‘This author has no business writing about drugs and drug users. He or she has little knowledge in this area.’

 

My lack of expertise in the area of police work and police techniques is the major reason why I have not chosen to attempt to write a police procedural. I just know I would botch it terribly. Though, in recent months I’ve read several strong, well-written police procedurals (including yours, Dana) so perhaps one day I might try writing one.

 

OBAAT: You have an MFA from San Francisco State. Which got to you first, the desire to be a writer, or to be an investigator?

 

PHM: I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was about 15 years old. I was perhaps the slowest learner in history. My first novel took a full five years to write and it was flat-out awful. (Editor’s Note: Welcome to the club that includes damn near all of us.)  I cringe on those rare occasions when I pick it up and read a page or two. Until I turned 30, I worked in manufacturing in Silicon Valley by day and rambled around the streets by night. I also attempted to be a respectable autodidact, at which I failed miserably. Around my thirtieth birthday, several people I respected insisted that I go to college. I listened. They were right. In college, I worked hard and earned an AA, a BA, and an MA all in English Literature. I also took lots of creative writing classes, some of which were very helpful. I wrote a couple of novels during this period, one of which (a Vietnam story) I hope our publisher, Down & Out Books, will choose to publish someday.

 

I had no intention of becoming an actual crime writer until after I moved to LA and went to work as an investigator and sentencing mitigation specialist. This is where the pieces slowly fell into place and after a few years on the job, I was able to combine what I had learned during my misguided youth on the streets with what I was learning as an investigator. I’ve had some memorable clients who taught me a great deal by simply recounting their personal histories.

 

 

 

OBAAT: Your bio describes you as a “sentencing mitigation specialist.” I have an idea of what that means, but please lay it out for our readers.

 

PHM: As a “sentencing mitigation specialist,” my job is to help our clients, all of whom are facing felony charges––generally of the federal variety––get “soft landings” when they come before the judge for sentencing. Let me quickly outline the process: First, I interview my clients and their relevant family members thoroughly, sometimes for as much as 12 to 20 hours, depending on how much they have to say and how many family members I need to interview; second, I collect character reference letters written on my clients’ behalf; third, I fill out a bunch of bothersome forms and, more importantly, write an extensive Mitigation Letter addressed to the U.S. Probation Officer. The purpose of the Letter is to persuade the probation officer to recommend a sentence far below the advisory sentencing guidelines, based on both the client’s “history and personal characteristics” and whatever legal issues need to be mitigated. Fourth, I use the Mitigation Letter as a template for my ultimate task––writing a powerful and persuasive Sentencing Memorandum in which I try to convince the judge to give our client a break. More often than not, we are successful in this endeavor. A good result is getting our client a sentence of half or less than half of what he or she is facing under the advisory sentencing guidelines.

 

OBAAT: What’s next for you?

 

PHM: At the end of 27 Days, although safe for the moment, Nick Crane is hardly out of the woods. Marguerite Ferguson still wants his scalp and is determined to get it. Therefore, I’m currently writing the sequel to 27 Days in which Nick attempts to penetrate to the heart of the principals’ operation, to the “heart of the octopus,” if you will. Its working title is Giant Steps. As usual, at this stage of the process, I have only the vaguest sense of where this story will take us.

 

I’ve already written a prequel to 27 Days that still needs a little polishing but is nearly ready to go. Its title is Rogues and Patriots. This is the story of how and why Nick Crane was originally abducted by the principals. In it we meet Marguerite and Thomas Quincey and Desmond Cole and Nick’s part-time girlfriend, the striking Adara Ghaffari. My sense is that Rogues and Patriots should probably be published before Giant Steps, but we’ll see what Lance Wright at Down & Out Books thinks when the time comes.

 

In closing, I want to thank you, Dana, for taking the time to read 27 Days and for asking such thoughtful and interesting questions.

 

 

 

 

Thursday, February 2, 2023

Deadwood Revisited

 The Beloved Spouse™ and I recently completed our more or less annual viewing of Deadwood. We now know the show well enough to recite the lines along with the actors and can spare the attention to look for more subtle things: set dressing, how the actors use their eyes, how they play off each other when they are not speaking. It’s all fascinating and no one has ever done it better than David Milch and the cast and crew he assembled.

 

I could write a series of posts about Deadwood but, looking through the blog’s history, I have no material changes to what I said in 2015. (About which, pardon my puffery, Jim Beaver (Whitney Ellsworth in the series) commented, “Great piece.”)

 

I do have additional thoughts.

 

In 2015 I wrote: Probably the greatest praise I can give Deadwood is that it has made me re-examine my creative process. (Such as it is.) Since then I have become much more intimate with not only Milch’s process, but his attitude. I have

·       Watched, taken notes on, and distilled his series of informal talks titled “The Idea of the Writer.” They’re fascinating, if rambling, and I can’t recommend them highly enough for anyone interested in the creative process. All are available on YouTube.

·       Read Milch’s books: True Blue (with Bill Clark, about the first two seasons of NYPD Blue); Deadwood: Stories of the Black Hills (companion volume to the series); and Life’s Work, his memoir.

·       Read The Deadwood Bible: A Lie Agreed On, by Matt Zoller Seitz, an exhaustive labor of love that details everything from Milch’s life and career to oral histories of the show’s production, cancelation, and resurrection as Deadwood: The Movie.

·       Seen the documentary Without a Net: Creating NYPD Blue, directed by Marc Ostend and executive produced by Milch’s wife, Rita. The film depicts and dissects the end of Milch’s tenure at NYPD Blue. Don’t let his wife’s involvement fool you. This is no puff piece.

 

Several changes resulted:

·       I interpreted the concept of resting transparently to suit my situation, using it daily when drafting and rewriting.

·       There are no problems, and nothing is ever “wrong.” There are things that need to be better.

·       The best time for research is not during the writing but before, and it is not too specific. The best research becomes part of you and is expressed more between the lines than in specific explanation. I always had some of that attitude; a future blog post will describe a renewed interest.

·       “Visions come to prepared spirits,” a quote from the German chemist August KekulĂ© after discovering the structure of the benzene molecule. (After 25 years’ work, the answer came to KekulĂ© in a dream.) Now I try never to rush an idea to fruition.

·       “The testifying to the going out in spirit by the act of imagination.” Milch believes nothing exists in a vacuum, and that we are all connected in some way. I’m not as sold as he is, but I have found the task of writing—and let’s face it, much as we love to write, doing it well is a task at times—much more palatable. The “going out in spirit” part has also made my life a better place, and probably better for those who interact with me.

·       “The artist’s job is to find imaginative associations in what is merely fanciful.” Our job as writers is to take personal experiences—things significant only to us—and find ways to give them meaning for our audience.

·       Milch never thinks about writing except when writing. My adjustment is that I never try to think about writing unless I’m writing. That doesn’t mean things never force themselves into my thoughts; those that do, are welcome. I rarely play music or listen to the radio in the car; in good weather I take walks. If something about the writing pops up uninvited, well, the least I can do is let it visit a bit.

·       Milch’s memoir is unsparing in its evaluation of his life. I have neither his demons nor his gifts. Maybe they go hand in glove, though I think those types of explanations are more excuses than reasons. I mention it here because it taught me to be honest with myself in all aspects of my life, and to understand that all I can do is the best I can. (See “going out in spirit” above.)

 

I set out to write about Deadwood and ended up writing about David Milch. (Again.) I don’t see any good way around that. Deadwood is Milch. To talk about the show without going into some detail about him is to miss the point of its creation.

 

We’ll watch Deadwood again.

Thursday, January 26, 2023

My Favorite Crime Movies

 That’s right, my Top Ten list. You don’t like it, make your own.

 

Top Ten lists are the two-inch erections of writing.  (A man and a woman go to bed together. She sees his erection measures two inches, at best, and asks, “Who do you expect to satisfy with that?” “Me,” he replies.) Everyone has their own tastes and criteria. Watching the Godfather trilogy a few weeks ago got me to thinking about my personal Pantheon of crime films. Take it for what it’s worth.

 

I have two primary principles when evaluating films for my list:

1. I have to like the movie.

2. It has to bear up under repeated viewings.

 

This means pictures such as A Touch of Evil don’t make the cut, no matter how much Chili Palmer likes it. I can appreciate the art, but a movie that casts Charlton Heston as a Mexican and leaves Janet Leigh to sit alone in a motel room for most of its duration is not something I’m going to watch a lot. Or even again.

 

Pulp Fiction is also right out. I’ve seen it many times and will probably see it again, but my opinion changes with every viewing. Is it brilliant? Is it a series of brilliant scenes that don’t quite equal the sum of their parts? Is it indecipherable, self-indulgent twaddle? Is it all of the above? Every time I watch it, I come down on the side of a different answer.

 

What does make the cut? These are all movies I’ll watch again—most of which I own—and look forward to doing so, knowing I’ll find something to enjoy I missed before. I made no effort to rank them; they are displayed in chronological order of their release.

 

The Maltese Falcon (1940)

The quintessential black and white noir film, in my mind rivaled only by Sunset Boulevard. (Which did not make the list because I don’t consider it a crime movie, though there is a crime committed.) The complex plot is not too complex to follow, and all the ends are tied off without being too pat about it. Bogart looks nothing like how Spade is described in the book, but he’s still perfect in the part. My only quibble was with Mary Astor as the femme fatale, but a little research taught me she had a reputation as a Hollywood bad girl at the time, which made her more believable to audiences of the day.

 

The French Connection (1971)

Including this one saved me a beating from Reed Farrel Coleman, but it would have made the cut, anyway. Gene Hackman and Roy Scheider made their bones here; Hackman already had a name for himself, but Popeye Doyle blew him up. Don’t pay too much attention to the story; this is the ultimate mood picture, with one of the great (underrated) soundtracks ever. The chase sequence still grips me, though I have come to wonder how many cars that subway train had.

 

The Godfather (1972)

I talked about this one last week.

 

The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973)

Wonderful and faithful adaptation of George V. Higgins’s groundbreaking novel. My favorite Robert Mitchum performance, though Peter Boyle, Richard Jordan, and Steven Keats were all worthy of award consideration. The movie that, as much as any, shaped my ideas about criminal life.*

 

Chinatown (June 1974)

My go-to film when anyone complains about the water situation in Southern California. It’s a desert. People weren’t meant to live there. Just about a perfect noir.

 

The Godfather Part 2 (December 1974)

I talked about this one last week, too.

 

The Usual Suspects (1995)

It’s hard to imagine anyone who reads this blog isn’t familiar with The Usual Suspects, but I’ll not say much just in case, lest I spoil the greatest reveal in crime film history. Kevin Spacey steals the show, but all of the supporting actors are outstanding. Fun fact: Chazz Palmentieri played federal agent Dave Kujan (pronounced koo-yawn.); “Cujon” (very close in pronunciation) is a Cajun word for “fool.”

 

LA Confidential (1997)

Here it is, Mike Dennis. I wrote a blog about this one over ten years ago that probably needs some updating now that I’ve read the book. The only thing close to a flaw I can find is the display of Susan Lefferts’s body in the identification scene. She was killed by shotgun but doesn’t have a mark on her. Think how good a film must be for that to be my major quibble.

 

The Drop (2014)

A clinic in how to get in and get out of a story as economically as possible while still providing maximum impact for the audience. Tom Hardy is at his chameleon best, and James Gandolfini, Noomi Rapace, and Mattias Schoenaerts hang right with him. The final reveal here is first rate.

 

Hell or High Water (2016)

Taylor Sheridan’s masterpiece to date. Not that his other work isn’t good, but Hell or High Water shows both the criminal and law enforcement side with equal depth and understanding. The final scene between Jeff Bridges and Chris Pine, each understanding the other better than the other thinks, worthy adversaries to the end, ties off a movie as well as any I’ve seen.

 

* -- This is why Heat, Goodfellas, and Casino didn’t make the list. They’re all brilliant films worthy of repeated viewings, but they’re too flashy.

 

I expect this list to satisfy no one other than myself. Bring it on.

Thursday, January 19, 2023

The Godfather Trilogy

 The Beloved Spouse™ and I took a few days to watch all three Godfather movies in order. For Christmas, The Sole Heir gave me Mark Seal’s excellent book Leave the Gun, take the Cannoli, which describes how the films came to be, from Mario Puzo’s personal backstory right up until the movie’s phenomenal success. Seal wrote an entire book about just one of the pictures, so I’m not going to try to get into all of them in a single blog. I can supply a list of salient thoughts.

 

·       The original is the best. For a long time I was unsure if Part 2 might be better, but on further review, The Godfather is damn near a perfect film, maybe the best ever.

·       Part 3, or as it’s now called, The Death of Michael Corleone, is not worthy of inclusion with its predecessors. I’ll not spend any more time on this lizard.

·       Forty-seven-year-old Marlon Brando’s performance of the aging Don Corleone is one of the great performances of all time. There are those who criticize his speaking voice and mannerisms; I grew up around a lot of people of Italian ancestry, used to rehearse at the local Italian American Club, and he nailed those old guys.

·       Francis Ford Coppola and Puzo worked hand-in-glove on the screenplay, which is brilliant. Kudos to Puzo for acquiescing to cutting a lot of the book. Not that he had much choice, but Seal describes the collaboration process as more than cordial, leading to a life-long friendship.

·       The lighting and cinematography of the original are breathtaking. One can almost smell the interior of the Corleone house. The contrasts of New York, Hollywood, and Sicily are artfully displayed in the photography.

·       For all the graphic, extreme, and cartoonish violence we’ve seen over the past fifty years, the death of Sonny Corleone is still hard to watch, as is his beating of Carlo Rizzi.

·       The first two films contain wonderfully controlled performances by Al Pacino. Great as his career has been, he would have been well served by doing more of this in his later years.

·       Let’s not forget the performances of James Caan as Sonny and John Cazale as Fredo. Robert Duvall has a much smaller part, but has Robert Duvall ever given a less than masterful performance?

·       Nino Rota’s score is unobtrusive and enhances every scene in which it appears.

·       Has there ever been a second-tier supporting cast better than Richard Castellano (Clemenza), Abe Vigoda (Tessio), John Marley (Jack Woltz), Sterling Hayden (Captain McCluskey), Al Lettieri (Sollozzo), Alex Rocco (Moe Greene), and Richard Conte (Barzini)? Adding Michael V. Gazzo (Frankie Pantangelo), Lee Strasberg (Hyman Roth), G.D. Spradlin (Senator Geary), and Dominic Chianese (Johnny Ola) in Part 2 was pretty slick, too.

·       It’s Michael’s story, but the depiction of the Cuban revolution in Part 2 provides pithy commentary on American hubris regarding Cuba and, by extension, much of the rest of the world in the 50s and 60s.

·       Diane Keaton is better in Part 2 than in the original, but she didn’t bloom as an actress for another few years. Fortunately for all of us it was in time for Annie Hall.

·       Interesting note from the book that I did not know: Sofia Coppola is the baby christened in the finale of the original.

·       The wedding scene is masterful at providing exposition and backstory without being too obvious about it. Well, yeah, it’s clear that is what’s being done, but it has momentum of its own while laying out everything we need to know for the next two-and-a-half hours.

·       Rivals Casablanca for iconic lines.

o   “I believe in America.”

o   “I’ll make him an offer he can’t refuse.”

o   ‘What have I ever done to make you treat me so disrespectfully?”

o   “Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.”

o   “Someday, and this day may never come, I will ask you for a favor.”

o   These were off the top of my head. I could fill a blog post on great lines alone if I took the time to check them out in IMDB.

It’s hard to imagine anyone who reads this blog who has not seen at least the first two Godfather movies. If you haven’t, rectify the situation as soon as possible. While they hold up to repeated viewings, revealing new things each time, there’s nothing to compare to seeing them for the first time. Darken the room and make sure you go to the bathroom before starting. You’re not going to want to stop.

Thursday, January 12, 2023

Jim Winter, Author of The Dogs of Beaumont Heights

 Jim Winter is the crime fiction name of TS Hottle. Born in Cleveland, he was raised on a steady diet of Star Trek, The Rockford Files, and early Spenser novels. He moved to Cincinnati in 1991 to be with the love of his life. He finally met her in 2017 and married her a year later.

 

As TS Hottle, he writes science fiction, but as Jim, he's written crime fiction for over twenty years. By day, he is a software developer. He lives with his wife Candy in suburban Cincinnati.

 

One Bite at a Time: Hi, Jim. It’s always good to talk with you. I think we go all the way back to the old Crimespace web site. Your new book is The Dogs of Beaumont Heights, which is an intriguing title that could go several ways. Which way does it go?

 

Jim Winter: It's a play on words. The dogs refer to the gang members trying to use vacant houses to store their stashes. It also refers to the literal dogs the leader Linc uses to guard those stashes. He has an associate running a fighting ring for pit bulls and hits on the idea of using the females to guard the houses in a neighborhood called Beaumont Heights.

 

OBAAT: This is the second book in the series set in Monticello, Ohio and featuring Detective Jessica Branson. Is this a sequel, a separate entity that uses the same characters and location, or a mix of the two? For example, are the bad guys here the same, related to, or completely different from those in Holland Bay?

 

JW: Special Investigations is the same. I actually didn't add anyone new to the mix. But Branson is more established in her role. Linc was a minor member of Baggy's crew in Holland Bay. Now he's stepped into the roles filled by Baggy and Armand. And Rufus King still looms over that operation, all with an eye of leaving the Game, as it's called in Monticello.

 

Roberts was a minor character in Holland Bay, a potential threat to Branson. But now he's doubly frustrated trying to get rid of Branson and chasing after the chief's position.

 

If anything is new, it's Isaac, the former Amish man who runs the junkyard. He enjoys dressing the part of his former life, but he's also every bit as ruthless and shrewd as those he does business with.

 

OBAAT: What led you to choose Ohio as the setting?

 

JW: When I first had the idea for Holland Bay, I had written stories set in Cleveland, where I grew up. But the city has become unrecognizable to me over the years, and Cincinnati, where I live now, is too close for me to write about. I need distance. On the other hand, placing a city in between Cleveland and Toledo and giving it a history and cast of characters from history let me come up with a living, breathing setting. And you can see reality from Monticello. Cedar Point and Put in Bay are visible from the lakefront, and the tallest building downtown offers a view, on clear days, of Canada and of the Key Tower in Cleveland. Once you have the source for names of streets and neighborhoods and the geography, a fictional city just comes alive.

 

OBAAT: Tell us a little about Jessica Branson, including who would play her in a movie?

 

JW: Branson, after several rewrites, became the series' central character. I was drawn to her because she got knocked down for doing her job and sent to a dead-end squad in hopes she'd quit. But she likes being a cop and decided to force a paycheck out of the city until they fired her. Only the dead-end squad suddenly becomes the mayor's pet project, and the man who investigated her gives her the second chance he thought she originally deserved. So Jess has to adapt. She's got a house she can't afford to keep and can't afford to sell, and, as I had happen when I owned a rental, gets saddled with the tenants from hell. That puts her in Roberts's crosshairs. But, as we found out in Holland Bay, she's done taking crap off of people more powerful than her. She tells Roberts the only way he can get rid of her is to fire her, and of course, she's going to make sure that decision hurts badly.

 

When Holland Bay started making rounds, I always thought Jessica Chastain or Jeri Ryan could play her, and Ryan could probably still pull off the character. Now, maybe if it were a streaming series or a movie, Jess Bush from Strange New Worlds could be a logical next step for her. Justine Lupe from Succession and Mr. Mercedes might be a good choice. Only she would have to play the role a lot harder than she did Holly Gibney (whom she really brought to life), but I think she has the chops.

 

OBAAT: What writers, books, films, or television shows influenced you when you developed the idea for this series?

 

JW: Originally, I pitched Holland Bay as The Wire meets 87th Precinct. I still think that's true, though the idea of a rotating central character has gone by the wayside. From the police side of things, Branson is front and center when I'm not focusing on the political machinations within the city. So she's more McNulty than Carella, though she has better control of her appetites than McNulty ever did.

 

I also drew a bit from Stephen King, whose fictional Maine is more real than some people's real-life settings. Castle Rock and Derry and TR 90 are more real than some writers' LA or New York, or even the Cleveland written by this hack in the early 2000s… Oh, wait. That was me.

 

OBAAT: How long have you been writing and what would you say is the most important thing you’ve learned? Could be about craft, the business, or anything related.

 

JW: I started doing this "for real" about twenty years ago, with a couple of breaks during that time, and a sidetrack into science fiction. Over time, I learned you're not likely to get rich, I'm a bit of a control freak (hence my approach to science fiction), and you have to love what you're doing.

 

OBAAT: What are you working on now?

 

JW: I am working on the follow up to The Dogs of Beaumont Heights with the working title Harbourtown. That name will likely go away as the story progresses. And I'm prepping one of several sci-fi books I dictated during what I call my Stupid Writer's Trick™ when the pandemic raged.