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A Conversation with Brian Helgeland

Feb 17, 2011 in Film, Guest Posts

Brian Helgeland is the Academy Award-winning screenwriter of a number of films including L.A. Confidential, Mystic RiverGreen Zone, The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, Man on Fire, and Payback, which he also directed.  One of the preeminent filmmakers in the world, today on MulhollandBooks.com Helgeland discusses the age-old question of inspiration, the art of killing a hero, the enduring power of 70’s crime films, and the endless drama inherent to staring down the barrel of a loaded gun.

From L.A. Confidential and Mystic River to Man on Fire and Payback, you have written (and in the case of Payback, directed) some of the most impactful crime and suspense films of the past fifteen years.  Where did your interest in the genre begin?

For me, everything started at least subliminally the first time I saw Cool Hand Luke. It’s not a crime movie, per se, but everyone exists in it because of either a crime they committed or because their job is to keep the men incarcerated or because they have to visit those men.  Whether Luke’s eating fifty eggs or digging his own grave, it had a profound effect on my creative life.  As for crime itself?  As the sinew of things, I like it because it strips people down to their basic elements.  It gets to the hunting-gathering heart of the matter.  I don’t want to write about the ennui rich people feel.  I don’t want to write about how fun it is when groups of couples get together for laughs.  I could care less.  I want to write about what’s in people’s heads, hearts and between their legs when they either are in prison, might go to prison, have a gun in their face or are pointing one.  You live or you die, literally or figuratively,  depending on a few pressured choices you make.  It is my firm belief that people only reveal themselves when things go wrong and crime and its cousin suspense make things go very wrong indeed.  And like in Luke the guy with the code wins.  It doesn’t mean he’ll live; it just means he wins.  And the code isn’t a moral one.  It’s just the way a character makes certain rules for themselves, has drawn lines within themselves, and then we get to watch and see if they’ll cross them or not.  There’s nothing like a saint without a god as far as I’m concerned.

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Veronica Majeure

Feb 17, 2011 in Popcorn Fiction, Short Stories

Show me the way to the next Whisky BarA Popcorn Fiction Selection. A contract killer gets stuck in Dublin after a job in this crime piece from screenwriter Brian Helgeland.

The first round hits the guy higher than I thought I was aiming. In the chin to be precise. I want to blame it on him swiveling over in his chair as he clocks me coming through the door, but the truth is, this one’s on the Jameson. It took three shots of it to get me up here. Guts bolstered at the expense of accuracy. Irish whiskey for Dutch courage here in the heart of Dublin. But don’t mistake me for a mick. Nothing against them, I just happen to be Polish German. Except for maybe my liver; that’s Irish all the way. As far as the Irishman I’m shooting at, his now missing chin is an unfortunate marring of an otherwise remarkable face. It’s also a violation of my contract, an express point of which was I kill him from the neck down. In other words, no head shots, leave him looking whole and pretty for an open casket funeral. So that part of the deal is a wash. And now he’s getting up from that chair, but the Jameson courage is still coursing through me and the stirring words in Latin found on every label: Sine Metu. Without fear. Although fear is about the only thing I feel as I pull the trigger again and the man goes down. Shot through the heart. Ceased to be. Sounds so much better than deceased. Like there’s a difference, huh?

I’m supposed to turn around and walk out the door, but I step to the desk instead. He was writing something when I walked in and that messed up little part of me needs to know. There are notes everywhere. Scribbles over type. But there by his fallen pen, the last words he would ever commit to paper are these: “I have a theory about love and it goes something like this—” As I stare down at the unfinished sentence, I suddenly wish I’d come in twenty seconds later.

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Black Lens: Part V

Feb 16, 2011 in Black Lens, Guest Posts

Story by Ken Bruen and Russell Ackerman

Ken Bruen is one of the most celebrated crime novelists of our time.

Black Lens is his most secret project.

Read on as the unveiling continues.

Every Wednesday on Mulholland Books.

With art by Jonathan Santlofer.

Fade in…

Read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4.

Repulsion

The call came at the strangest time.

Standing in the door to their bedroom, Romanski’s wife had just given him

The LOOK

………………that allure that he had spent forty years attempting to catch on camera.

He muttered

‘Merde.’

At his age, the farther reaches of his body slowly creeping toward decrepitude.

Though the mind indeed was willing, Bien Sur mais,

the form,

Quelle dommage.

Jack…………..The days of Chinatown, Jack had always worn toute le monde with such style.

And had also introduced Romanski to his completely whack-o neighbor.

Hunter S.

Who got off most on guns.

A true lunatic in The French meaning of the word,

A buffalo of the legendary endangered species.

Took the way of the warrior, ate his gun.

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Welcome, PW Daily Readers…

Feb 15, 2011 in Mulholland News

It is highly likely that you find yourself here today because you’ve read about Mulholland Books in our dedicated issue of PW Daily. If that is the case, welcome! We hope you will spend some time here, reading about our books, authors and all of the amazing content that we have been posting here since August. We recommend you check out all the posts by Mulholland Authors, our original fiction (notably an original story by Andrew Vachss) as well as the ongoing Popcorn Fiction showcase, a web comic by China Mieville, as well as articles by Nick Tosches, Nelson DeMille, Brad Meltzer, Ian Rankin, and our serialized novel Black Lens by Ken Bruen. Part 5 of Black Lens will post on the site tomorrow. And on Thursday and Friday of this week, we will be featuring a two-part Q&A with Academy Award-winning screenwriter Brian Helgeland.

We’ d like to encourage you to sign up for our eNewsletter so that we can keep you posted about acquisitions, excerpts, reviews, events and everything that is going on here at the website.

You might also want to follow us on Twitter and Facebook, become our friend on Goodreads or Librarything, and if you really want up-to-the second Mulholland news, text the word Mulholland to README.

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What’s the score . . .

Feb 14, 2011 in Books, Guest Posts, Music

InsideThe theme from The Persuaders. My favourite John Barry pick. Without a doubt. I mean, obviously his arrangement for the Monty Norman 007 theme in Dr No, and then all the subsequent Bonds – the Conneriad – From Russia With Love, Goldfinger, Thunderball, You Only Live Twice, and Diamonds Are Forever. But there was something about the theme to The Persuaders that really just got me – that intriguing split-screen title sequence juxtaposing the early lives of Danny Wilde and Lord Brett Sinclair. I haven’t seen it in (cough) forty years, but it’s alive in my mind right now, and is taking me back . . . back . . . the exciting visuals and that pounding theme . . .

The gift of sound and vision.

The death of John Barry recently sees the passing of one of the great practitioners of a peculiarly modern art form – the composition of music for film. Ever since the days of the nickelodeon, stories told with moving pictures have had music accompanying them. They don’t necessarily need it, of course, as shown very effectively by Hitchcock in The Birds, and more recently by Michael Haneke in such works as Hidden and The White Ribbon. But there’s a certain austerity here that, let’s face it, we mightn’t want to see replicated everywhere. Because a good movie score provides colour and emotional commentary. And what a truly great score does is become an integral part of the movie itself. Works its way into the very fabric and texture of it. Such a score makes the movie it accompanies incomplete – unimaginable without it.

Try to imagine, for example, Vertigo without Bernard Herrmann’s mesmerizing score. This music doesn’t just tell us what to think, it is an objective correlative of what we think – of what we feel and experience at a visceral level when we are watching the movie. Its tones and moods are inextricable from the movie’s layers of emotion, from its colour and depth, from its narrative complexity. In the same way, try to imagine Chinatown without Jerry Goldsmith’s score. To Kill a Mockingbird without Elmer Berstein’s score. The Godfather and Amarcord without Nino Rota. 1970s paranoia without David Shire and Michael Small.

Bond without Barry. Everyone can make their own list.

Sometimes a score can even give a fairly ordinary film a bit of a lift. I watched State of Grace on TV late one night recently, Phil Joanou’s 1990 westies gangster flick. It’s pretty good and has a great cast, but Ennio Morricone’s achingly beautiful score raises the bar considerably and infuses the movie’s themes of regret and lost youth with a poignancy that they might not otherwise have achieved.

An alternative to the original score is the mixtape approach, where a movie co-opts existing music, usually classical, and redefines it with new imagery (and occasionally threatens to spoil it, through overkill, as is the case with the adagietto from Mahler’s 5th used in Visconti’s Death in Venice). The master of this form was surely Stanley Kubrick, who had an uncanny ability to pair existing music with whatever personal vision he was committing to screen at the time. In this regard, my own favourite of his is Barry Lyndon, a film in which music and imagery, lighting and colour, are held in such perfect balance that you are literally transported to a previous century. Okay, not literally. But if feels that way.

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A Conversation with Hilary Davidson and Brad Parks

Feb 11, 2011 in Books, Guest Posts, Writing

Hilary Davidson’s debut THE DAMAGE DONE (Tor Forge) released in September to rave reviews, including from Crimespree’s Jon Jordan, who called it “one of the best debuts I’ve read in years.” Her short story, “Insatiable” won a 2010 Spinetingler Award. An accomplished travel writer whose work has appeared in numerous national publications, Hilary is also the author of 18 non-fiction books.

Brad Parks’ debut, FACES OF THE GONE (Minotaur Books), became the first book ever to win both the Shamus Award and Nero Award. The next in the series, EYES OF THE INNOCENT, released last week and has been called “as good if not better” in a starred review by Library Journal. A former journalist for The (Newark, N.J.) Star-Ledger and The Washington Post, Brad is now a full-time author.

Hilary and Brad are mutual fans and Twitter buddies; and Hilary has already volunteered to be Brad’s gun moll, should he ever need one. They recently had this discussion. It actually did not happen near a fireplace, but they thought the imagery made for a nice headline. Onward…

HD: When I was reading your first novel, FACES OF THE GONE, one question kept running through my mind: How much do you hate Cory Booker? Don’t get me wrong, as mayor of Newark, he’s done a lot of great work to clean up that city. But how different is Booker’s Newark from what you encountered as a reporter at The Star-Ledger, and do the changes affect how you write about the city in EYES OF THE INNOCENT?

BP: Newark is striving to improve itself, but it isn’t going to turn into Green Acres just because the mayor goes on Oprah. Trust me, the Newark portrayed in my books is very familiar to Cory. He lived in Brick Towers — one of the city’s worst high-rise housing projects — for a decade. And I’m sure he’ll remember one time I visited him there. It was during the 2006 campaign, and there was a rumor out that he wasn’t really living in Newark, that he was crashing at a posh place in Manhattan. So around 10 o’clock one night, I did a bed check. I walked up 20 flights of stairs (the elevator was busted), past piles of human feces (no public bathrooms), and rang his doorbell. No answer. I rang again. No answer. So I left him a note, explaining my errand and saying I would appreciate a phone call as soon as he received the note. Sure enough, at 6:15 the next morning, I got a voice mail. First thing he said: “Did you really have to ring the doorbell twice? I was trying to get some sleep.”

So, yeah, Newark still has a seamy side. But so does any city. You certainly didn’t have a tough time finding that in Manhattan with THE DAMAGE DONE. Drugs. Prostitution. Organized crime. Where did a nice girl like you learn so much about such nasty stuff?

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A Conversation with Michael Koryta

Feb 10, 2011 in Books, Guest Posts, Writing

Michael Koryta is the author of many award-winning crime novels and of late, several highly praised novels of supernatural suspense published by Little, Brown. In the wake of the recent publication of The Cypress House, Michael Koryta took time out from his tour schedule to talk about the ins and outs of genre classification, the origin of ideas, and the kind of dark prose necessary to write a character who sees death before the fact.

He reads today at Mysteries to Die for and Book Carnival in Los Angeles. This Friday, February 11thMichael will continue this discussion with a reading at Book Passage in San Fransisco, at M is for Mystery on Saturday February 12th, also in San Fransisco, and at Books Inc in Berkeley on Sunday February 13th. Visit Michael’s website and Facebook page for further tour dates.


How did the idea for
The Cypress House come to you?

I first had the thought of writing about a man who experienced premonitions of death while on the battlefield. It intrigued me – everyone in combat understands that men around them may die, but if you saw who would die, before it happened, that seemed to me to be an intensified and unique horror in a land of horrors. It also occurred to me that for someone who had the gift of premonition, there would be no worse place than the battlefield, no place so painful. With all that said, I didn’t want to write a war story, and I was determined to return to the detective novel form after So Cold The River. Best-laid plans, and all that.

There was a moment – Sunday morning, I was at home in Indiana; I recall this one quite vividly for some reason – that the first scene of the novel sprang into my mind. I had been grinding away on a different book for a few months, and suddenly I had this vision of my clairvoyant soldier, now years removed from his service days, on a train rattling through Florida. He’d been sleeping and woke to see that the eyes of the men travelling with him had turned to smoke. I knew where they were headed – the Florida Keys ahead of the devastating hurricane of 1935 – and I could imagine the scene quite clearly, and even though I was in the midst of another book, I couldn’t let that idea go. I wanted to write it immediately. So I did, and by the time I had the first chapter done, I knew that was the book I needed to be writing.

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Black Lens: Part IV

Feb 09, 2011 in Black Lens, Guest Posts

Story by Ken Bruen and Russell Ackerman

Ken Bruen is one of the most celebrated crime novelists of our time.

Black Lens is his most secret project.

Read on as the unveiling continues.

Every Wednesday on Mulholland Books.

With art by Jonathan Santlofer.

Fade in…

Read Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.

“FAME”

–DAVID BOWIE

The director was back in his study, his kids safely in bed.

He gave a rueful chuckle, “SAFE!”

In this fucked-up psycho world where Ransom got more hits on Facebook than Brad Pitt.

He permitted himself a small shot of amber Glenfiddich, the ultimate whiskey first introduced to him by Johnny Depp.  Allowing himself the rare privilege of an Americanism.

Depp was his kind of actor, no interest in fame, only the work. And the suggested bio-pic of his own self, with Johnny in the lead.

Mais non.

He wasn’t ready for the final chapter yet.

Cochons . . . the nightmares, still they came.

Merde.

Shit and fuck.

And then some.

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Outlaw Fiction: To Romanticize or Not to Romanticize?

Feb 08, 2011 in Guest Posts, Mulholland Authors, Writing

Today marks the paperback publication of Thomas Mullen’s critically acclaimed The Many Deaths of the Firefly Brothers, an impeccably-researched journey across the storied era of public enemy gangsters…with a twist, that the LA Times called arip-roaring yarn that manages to be both phantasmagorical and historically accurate.” As the new edition of his novel hits the shelves, Mullen reflects on the balancing act between right and wrong and using  a generous helping of both principles to entertain, shock and amaze.

Writing a book in which the main character is a criminal poses some tricky dilemmas for a writer. How likeable should your outlaw be? If he or she is too likable, are you being unrealistic?  Worse, are you romanticizing crime, trying to make palatable for a mass audience a thing which, in real life,is actually pretty rotten and harmful?

I found myself wrestling with this when I was writing my second novel, The Many Deaths of the Firefly Brothers, which tells the tale of two fictional bank robbers in the 1930s, the era of famous real-life hoods like John Dillinger, Bonnie and Clyde, and Pretty Boy Floyd. Even back when those desperadoes were still alive and still robbing banks (and still, let’s not forget, killing a lot of people), the public debated how they should be represented in newspapers and pulp magazines, in dime novels based on their lives, in newsreels, and in the films that Hollywood quickly cranked out to capitalize on J. Edgar Hoover’s wildly popular “War on Crime.” Were they Robin Hoods or maniacs?  Heroes or villains?  Good people pushed too far by a crooked system, or just plain rotten to the bone? John Dillinger was said to be a charmer, putting his arm around a prosecuting attorney for a photo op after he was arrested.  Bonnie Parker wrote poetry and took dashing photos of herself and her lover Clyde with cigarettes in their mouths and guns in their hands. Floyd was called a decent family man caught into an impossible position due to the Depression and some missteps as an adolescent. But is any of that true, or was that just the way journalists and filmmakers portrayed them to better package their stories for a public that was hungry for white-knuckle stories and was yearning, in the dark days of the Depression, for hope?

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Writers and Food

Feb 04, 2011 in Guest Posts, Writing

Day 095/365: Burn Baby, Burn!A recent conversation with Jeffery Deaver revealed details of a survey he had undertaken. Whereas I had found a strong link between writing and music (and hence a great number of writers also turn out to be musically inclined), he had discovered that a great number of writers like to cook. I have to count myself among that happy crew, being both writer, musician and cook.

Count Orsino, beginning Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night with the words “If music be the food of love, play on…” perhaps best summarizes the relationship I now perceive between food, writing, music, even art in general.

When considering the subject of food, I thought immediately of home, of the large stone-floored kitchen, the marble island that centers it, the wide black cooking range. It is here that I prepare food for friends, for transient visitors. Most of all, it is here that I now prepare food for my family, and rare is the day when I am not to be found there in the early evening. There are times, of course, when touring and literary engagements take me away for a few days, sometimes a week or two, and always I am eager to return, not only to the company of my family, but to my familiar ground: the kitchen.

Orphaned at an early age, I did not know a family kitchen in the house. My brother and I—separated when he was eight and I was seven—stayed apart and away from home until we were teenagers, and even then—returning from school as teenagers—we suffered the loss of our maternal grandmother, the woman who had raised us. My mother and father already gone, my maternal grandfather dead many years before in a drowning accident, we were left to fend for ourselves.

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