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Alone in a Room

Jan 28, 2011 in Guest Posts, Writing

Not long ago I found myself alone in San Francisco with some of the most famous paintings in the western world. One entire room was devoted to Van Gogh: Starry Night Over The Rhone, The Bedroom at Arles, Portrait Of The Artist, some of Van Gogh’s most famous works. Paul Gauguin’s self portrait (right), was also on display. And I have to admit, it reminded me of myself, his defensive expression — OK, I’ve been known to wear it, and probably for the same reasons!

I’d seen some of these paintings before, in Europe, but as they are always mobbed by the public they are hard to really experience, in the way the artists intended. But that night, because of a fluke, I got to see them up close and alone. I had a strange sense of intimacy, as if Van Gogh were standing next to me wondering what I thought. It was an unbelievable experience, and quite a moving one.

That night reaffirmed something I already knew. Art, whether in the form of paintings, music, or novels, doesn’t rely on money-worth to be valuable to humanity. In fact, Van Gogh’s work would not have reached my generation if not for his brother Theo’s intervention and love of art. It bears repeating: Van Gogh’s paintings had no market to speak of. They were worth zero francs at the time of his death, as gallery owners in Paris were unwilling to hang work they considered ugly, and certainly not fashionable.

The “Marketplace” held in such high esteem today, the Marketplace that has been elevated to the right side of God in importance, failed humanity in the most serious way in the case of Van Gogh. It has failed us before (the slave trade), and most certainly is failing humanity again as millions of people are unable to find jobs because bankers were profligate and now need our help to insure their future… blah, blah, blah. How many great works of art have been lost because they had no “cash value,” tossed into the trash by indifferent landlords looking for the real loot? Van Gogh gave the world something beautiful and important, which he could never “monetize.” Now, ironically, his work is priceless. The Marketplace is, of course, a false God, which I was reminded of that evening.

Every morning I wake up, pour my coffee, turn on my computer and get set to work. More often than not, I find an email solicitation from a well-known company in Los Angeles that sells stuff to writers. Below is an example. (I’m not sure they are your friend, by the way, as they claim in their ad.)

A new year brings a fresh start, so now’s the time to get your creative plan in motion. Fortunately, fill in the blank Store has the experience and the services you need to help you achieve your artistic aspirations. From the top screenwriting tools like (fill in the blank) to novelist’s programs like (fill in the blank), there’s something to ignite every imagination. Another great way to get those creative juices flowing in the New Year is through a writing course. Our current line-up of classes covers a vast amount of interests, and many are available to take in-store, or online for our friends who live outside of Los Angeles.

This store is part of a huge industry that preys on young writers — and older writers, for that matter — and it bothers me. Most of the stuff they sell is not going to help you with problems you’ll face when starting out as a writer of novels or screenplays. Writing novels or screenplays is not about the size of your hard drive!

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Rachel Knight’s Los Angeles

Jan 27, 2011 in Books, Guest Posts, Mulholland Authors

Los Angeles at nightWe’re gearing up for the release of Marcia Clark’s Guilt by Association in April 2011 which is getting amazing advance reviews, including the following:

“Marcia Clark’s debut novel showcases her experience and knowledge of the legal system. The pace, plot and dialogue are as sharp as they come in the genre. Her character of Rachel Knight bleeds real blood, sweat and tears on the page. Guilt is a four-bagger for Clark and her many new fans will eagerly await her next step up to the plate.” -David Baldacci

“You must read this book: it is wildly and complexly plotted, ebulliently witty and filled with riotous humor; it details the inner workings of the L.A. legal system with unprecedented accuracy and verve – and to top it off, it is a damn, damn, good thriller.” -James Ellroy

Named one of the Best Mystery/Thrillers of Spring 2011 by Publishers Weekly.

Marcia’s main character LA District Attorney Rachel Knight describes many favorite places in Los Angeles in Guilt by Association. Check out Rachel Knight’s LA:

Historic Biltmore Hotel, Gallery Bar, Downtown Los AngelesThe Biltmore Hotel: Rachel Knight’s glamorous home. “The sheer beauty of the hotel lobby struck me afresh: the stained glass set into the soaring dome ceiling, the ornately cut Lalique chandelier, the plushness of the huge oriental rugs spread over dark henna-colored marble floors. Walking into the lobby always felt like I’d been enfolded in the embrace of a Rubenesque duchess. “

Engine Company Number 28: Location for Rachel’s illicit lunch with the coroner’s investigator. “An LA staple for over twenty years, the restaurant in a restored firehouse is still a popular spot. The original firehouse that had stood on the same spot in 1912 was now restored with mahogany booths, brick floors and pressed tin ceilings – and the original fireman’s pole. “

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Black Lens: Part II

Jan 26, 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.

Mulholland Books is proud to present the unveiling of Black Lens.

One chapter a week.

A read you’ll never forget.

With art by Jonathan Santlofer.

Fade in…

Missed Part 1? Read it first.


A figment of your own imagination.

He knew that.

Sweet fuck, he’d been told often enough.

Mainly by ex-wives.

Some others too but as he wasn’t paying them alimony, did they count?

Like fuck.

Not in the Wolf’s world.

And what a world it was.

He was fifty-five now and if fifty was the new thirty, no one had told him. He was what they politely term




He knew.

Did he ever.

Did he care?

A lot.

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A Conversation with Brian Koppelman

Jan 25, 2011 in Film, Guest Posts, Writing

As the co-writer (along with his writing partner David Levien) of movies like Rounders, Ocean’s Thirteen, Knockaround Guys, Runaway Jury, and Solitary Man (which he also co-directed with Levien), it’s safe to say Brian Koppelman knows a thing or two about making criminals and con-men spark for wide audiences. As his film Solitary Man blazes a path across the DVD shelves, Koppelman talks about the indelible aspects of his writing process and the eternal appeal of a dangerous man dressed in black.

“Not a Poe Fan” explodes off the page with much the same wildly clever, expansive dialogue you’re known for writing in the screenplays for films like Ocean’s 13 and Rounders. Plus or minus a few lines of description, is writing prose really that different from writing scripts?

Thanks for the kind words. Truth is, I love to read writers talking about this stuff—process, intention, technique—but when I am writing, I never think about any of it consciously and certainly not when putting out the first draft. I just try and let whatever is below the surface come out onto the page. And then, when I rewrite, I try as hard as I can to clean it up without fucking it up. In that way, the screenwriting and prose writing are the same, I guess. The work that happens before the writing begins is different, though, for me. There are such specific time constraints in film that you sort of need a roadmap before you start. A plan. When writing this story, as I am sure reading it will tell you, I had no map or plan at all. Continue reading ›

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Not a Poe Fan

Jan 25, 2011 in Popcorn Fiction, Short Stories

Edgar Allan Poe

A Popcorn Fiction selection. A bookmaker’s heavy haggles with a degenerate sucker who can’t make his payments in this crime story from top screenwriter Brian Koppelman.

“…No shit!  Really?  You’re saying they put this cafe on the very spot Edgar Allan Poe used to live?  Well.  Well!  If I were the sort of guy who gave a fucking shit about Edgar Allan Poe, I guess I’d give a fucking shit that he fucking lived here. But since I am the opposite of the kind of motherfucker who gives a fucking shit about where Edgar Allan Poe dined, shat and slept, excuse me if I do not strike an impressed pose.  Instead, why don’t you impress me.  Go into your pocket and take out the money you owe.  And then, why don’t you put it on the table where I can proceed to pick it up and move towards the door in one fluid and easy motion, leaving you here to appreciate the ambiance and heavy portents of the illustrious haunting author’s former haunt.”

Wow, I thought, this guy has either done way too much coke, seen way too many Tarantino movies or done a whole lot of coke while watching Tarantino movies. But he was the guy Block sent to collect.  So he was the guy I was going to have to deal with. I forced a smile and dove in.

“Mr…Mr…You never told me your name–” Continue reading ›

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A Writer’s Life

Jan 24, 2011 in Guest Posts

154/365A writer’s life is often considered to be a life of ease. Apparently there was a survey last year of the British public, and following on from “professional footballer” as the most favored profession, “writer” came second. I think somewhere there must be a viewpoint that a writer rises late (he would have to following the quantity of alcohol consumed at last night’s lavish launch party, surrounded by adoring fellow celebrities, the red carpet rolled out, assistants and attendants on hand to cater to every whim), and while fielding telephone calls from Hollywood producers vying for movie rights, the hosts of popular TV culture and arts shows offering ever-increasing quantities of money to feature in a prime-time documentary, our writer would breakfast on scallops and quails’ eggs, smoke a packet of Lucky Strikes, down three cups of Blue Mountain hand-ground coffee, and then type a handful of words on his battered Underwood or Remington before retiring to the club for an afternoon of witty repartee and good cognac with the likes of Norman Mailer and John Updike.

Sorry to have to let you down, but a writer’s life is not quite this way. Continue reading ›


The Day Before The Day After

Jan 21, 2011 in Guest Posts

old refrigerator_1.jpgI was 5 years old, and I lived in a house on top of a hill. Below it was a honky-tonk, and a highway ran in front of that. Across the highway was a drive-in theater. There were a few houses nearby, and there was a junkyard. This and my parents and my little black dog were my world.

It was the 1950s, a time when our country feared the Russians and feared the Bomb. We were the first generation to grow up under the shadow of the Bomb, and it was a big Bomb, and from comic books and B movies we knew if it were dropped we’d be knocked ass over teakettle, and that when the smoke cleared there would be nothing but radioactive bones left, except for those lucky few who could afford bomb shelters and plenty of canned goods and drinking water. Sometimes the builders forgot about toilets down there, but at the End of the World you can’t have everything.

Of course, even if one did survive in a bomb shelter, then, as the B movies depicted, once the survivors were brave enough to come out of their holes and venture into the light of a new, bleak world, there would be that pesky problem of radiation, and, of course, giant lizards or ants or some guy with three eyes and a limp who wanted nothing better than to eat you and build a hut from your hair and bones.

We believed that then—that overnight, radiation could create critters that had never before existed, swell common household rodents and lizards and insects to giant size.

I mention all this because a neighbor was building a shelter in his back yard, a deep hole in the ground where things could be stored in case of a nuclear attack. I don’t remember much about the building of it, but I remember my parents talking about it. Their conversation went something like this.

Mom: “He’ll be safe and we won’t.”
Dad: “It’ll fill up with water.”
Mom: “What if the Russians drop the Bomb?”
Me: “What Bomb? What’s a Russian?”
Mom: “Don’t worry about it, Joey. Russians are people. They are evil communists who live on the other side of the world.”
Me: “What’s a communist? How do they live on the other side of the world? Won’t they fall off?”
Mom: “It’s okay, Joey. Don’t worry about it.”
Dad: “Russians drop the Damn Bomb, you can bend over and kiss your ass goodbye.”
Me: “Bomb?”
Mom: “It’s okay, Joey. No one is going to drop
the Bomb.”
Mom to Dad: “He’ll be safe down there and we won‘t, and we have Joey to think about.”
Me: “Bomb?”
Mom: “We’ll be fine, Joey.”
Dad: “I tell you, the son of a bitch’ll fill up with water.”

And so it went.

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Los Desaparecidos

Jan 20, 2011 in Guest Posts, Short Stories

Storm at SeaUrban Waite is a brilliant new talent about to publish his debut novel The Terror of Living (Little, Brown, February 2011) which Stephen King has called, “A hell of a good novel, relentlessly paced and beautifully narrated. There’s just no let-up. An auspicious debut.” This is the second of two short stories that are appearing on Visit the Original Fiction tab above to read “Don’t Look Away.”


It was snowing again in Santiago. On the news the boats were out in Valparaíso Bay, the divers in the water. I sat on the couch watching the flakes fall into the Pacific. The gunwales all but covered, and the simple blue of the boat turning white. And when I close my eyes the television disappears and I see bodies falling from airplanes, helicopters circling in the night. The snow taps gently against my window. It has been thirty years, and now they wanted to rush.


Here is where it all started to fall apart. The wind coming up off the ocean, the grass moving on the low tableland, and the rocks in front of me like charcoal in the darkening air. My son, Andres, rode the small brown pony, wearing the rifle on his back, the woven leather strap across his chest. He called to the dogs, and the dogs were barking and leading the sheep down the mountain. The snow came then, riding in on the wind, until the flakes seemed to make their own paths, blowing down in streams like animals on a game trail.

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Black Lens

Jan 19, 2011 in Black Lens, Guest Posts

Story by Ken Bruen & Russell Ackerman

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

Black Lens is his most secret project.

Starting today, Mulholland Books is proud to let the unveiling of Black Lens begin.

One chapter a week.

A read you’ll never forget.

With art by Jonathan Santlofer.

Fade in…









Ransom was excited. He paced his narrow cell like Rilke’s panther.

Phil Spector was due to be transferred to the prison that evening.

Ransom had already bribed the guard to deliver a note to Spector. It read:

“Maestro, welcome, the running dogs have caged you as they have me. But fear not, my pilgrim, I have your back and you’ll learn that what Charlie says is the real law in this joint. As soon as you are settled, drop by. I have some stunning songs that need the wall of sound.”

He was pleased with the note.

It was



And had the Ransom tone of ultimate authority.

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Richard Stark’s (Donald E. Westlake’s) The Hunter, aka Point Blank (1962)

Jan 18, 2011 in Books, Guest Posts

The following article was originally published in the fantastic Edgar-nominated anthology Thrillers: 100 Must Reads, edited by David Morrell, who has kindly given us permission to re-print Duane Swierczynski’s essay here. Please support this wonderful and timely collection available wherever books are sold.

Donald E. Westlake (1933–2008) was born in Brooklyn and raised in Yonkers and Albany. He attended colleges in New York state without graduating. Considered a writer’s writer by his peers, Westlake received an Academy Award nomination for his screenplay, The Grifters, three Edgar Awards, and the Grand Master Award from the MysteryWriters of America. His first novel, The Mercenaries, was published in 1960. Thereafter Westlake wrote under his own name as well as several pseudonyms, in part to combat skepticism over his rapid rate of production. His pen names included Tucker Coe, Samuel Holt, EdwinWest, and Richard Stark. Under his own name, he invented the comic caper genre (The Fugitive Pigeon, 1965) and wrote a number of humorous novels about a luckless criminal named John Dortmunder. Meanwhile, as Richard Stark, he chronicled the brutal existence of career criminal Parker. Combining the two, Westlake’s comic caper novel, Jimmy the Kid (1974), features Dortmunder’s gang of bumbling kidnappers using a Richard Stark/Parker novel as a blueprint for a crime. Westlake wrote over one hundred novels, many of which were made into movies, The Hot Rock and Bank Shot, for example. The Hunter was filmed twice as Point Blank (with Lee Marvin) and Payback (with Mel Gibson).

I discovered Richard Stark in Stephen King’s The Dark Half. In an afterword, King talked about how fictional tough guy writer George Stark was modeled on Donald E. Westlake’s “Richard Stark” alter ego. I was seventeen years old, and I remember thinking I really needed to track down some stuff by this Stark guy. He sounded like my kind of writer. But this was an Internet-less 1989, and I couldn’t find a single book by Stark, in print or used.

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