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Childhood Obsession Turned Bestselling Novel

Aug 16, 2010 in Books, Guest Posts

When I was about five years old, I became obsessed with Captain Kidd’s buried treasure. I didn’t know who Captain Kidd was, but I somehow knew he buried his treasure on Long Island, where I lived then and still live.

I also didn’t know then how big Long Island was (it’s long), so I figured that the treasure was buried on Jones Beach, the only beach I knew, where my parents took me most summer weekends. I excavated piles of sand over the years, and I don’t need to report that I never found the treasure chest.

Goonies Treasure MapAs I got older and wiser, and got a car, I realized there were lots more beaches on Long Island. Also, I did some research and discovered that the likely location of the treasure, if it existed at all, was Gardiners Island, a privately owned island that lies between the North and South forks of Long Island. Not even close to the thousand cubic yards of sand I’d already dug up. Also, it occurred to me that even a stupid pirate wouldn’t bury his treasure right on the beach. Erosion and all that. The treasure — Captain Kidd’s or anyone else’s ill-gotten booty — would be inland, maybe under a big oak tree or near a prominent rock. Obviously, I needed a treasure map. They sell them at gift shops out on the North Fork. Complete with dotted lines, drawings of rocks, trees, and a big X. About five bucks.

broken lockCaptain Kidd’s treasure is a local legend here on Long Island, but buried treasure, in general, is a universal topic of myth, books, and movies. The idea that there is a fortune buried under the ground, waiting to be found, captures our imaginations and appeals to us (little boys) on several levels. There is, first of all, the history of how it got there — pirates, buccaneers, action, adventure, and probably murder. Also, I think we’re all hardwired to unravel ancient mysteries, to journey out on a quest that will bring us honor and fame, not to mention some loot. On a somewhat higher level, we’re looking for the truth.

Ben Franklin, in his Poor Richard’s Almanack, admonished his fellow citizens to stop wasting their time and energies digging up the countryside to find buried treasure. He pointed out that if these treasure hunters stuck to their trades, they’d be better off financially and so would their families and communities.

Good advice. But like most good advice, it went — and continues to go — unheeded. Everyone wants to turn a quick buck, and digging holes in the ground is not that much work if the reward is a treasure chest brimming with gold and jewels. As long as it doesn’t become an obsession or your day job.

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The Workplace, Wet or Dry

Aug 13, 2010 in Books, Guest Posts

When I first began to write as a kid, what I had in the way of an office was a notepad and a ballpoint pen and any place that was flat where I could work. This was when I was writing entirely for fun, without any knowledge of how something was marketed or sold, or that I was in need of a study or an office.
One problem I had with that method was that my handwriting was akin to dipping an arthritic chicken’s feet in ink and turning it loose on the page. In high school, I took typing. When I’m asked what I think was the most important part of my education, my answer is simple. Typing class in high school and dropping out of college.
After learning to type, my life was never quite the same. Now I could write a story more speedily, more clearly, and have it look like it would look in a book or magazine. Keep in mind, now, I’m talking about actual typewriters, where you rolled the paper into it, typed, and corrected with Wite-Out, and had to have carbons and an extra sheet of paper behind the carbon to make an impression, and therefore a copy, of your deathless prose.
The Wite-Out was messy, and the carbon pages slipped, so that you could finish an entire page, only to discover that you didn’t have an exact copy at all, that a sentence was typed over another, or that the paper had slipped in such a way that it appeared to have been typed at an angle.
Frustrating.
Also, each day I ended up with a complete trash can full of discards. steam cloud . Ah, the good old days. Who’s kidding who?

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Hey, Sinner Man, Where’d You Go?

Aug 12, 2010 in Books, Guest Posts, Mulholland Authors

You’ve probably heard the song. It’s a spiritual, and it starts out something like this:

Hey sinner man, where you gonna run to?
Hey sinner man, where you gonna run to?
Hey sinner man, where you gonna run to?
All on that day . . .

In the verses that follow, we learn that ol’ Sinner Man has run to the north, the east, the south, and the west, to the rock and to the hill and to any number of other sites, and nowhere can he find a place to hide from divine judgment. Then he runs to the Lord, and that turns out to be the answer.

When you look at it like that, it sounds pretty lame, doesn’t it? I’m reminded of the truly awful actor in the truly dreadful showcase production of Hamlet. When some audience members walk out during the famous soliloquy, he breaks character and cries out, “Hey, don’t blame me — I’m not the one who wrote this shit!”

What I did write, however, was a crime novel I called Sinner Man. It was my first crime novel, though it was a long way from being my first published novel. (And it was also a long way from being my first published crime novel, as you’ll see.)

If memory serves (and I might point out that, if memory truly served, there’d be no need for me to write this piece or for you to read it), I wrote Sinner Man sometime in the winter of 1959–60. In the summer of 1957, after two years at Antioch College, I’d dropped out to take a job as an editor at Scott Meredith Literary Agency. I was there for a year and wrote and sold a dozen or so stories of my own during that time. Then I dropped in again, or tried to; I went back to Antioch, but by then I was writing books for Harry Shorten at Midwood and had sold a lesbian novel to Fawcett Crest, and I had more books and stories to write, and what the hell did I care about Paradise Lost or Humphry Clinker, let alone The Development of Physical Ideas? So at the end of the year, I went to New York and took a room at the Hotel Rio, where I wrote another book for Midwood and, as my first for Bill Hamling’s Nightstand Books, one I called Campus Tramp.

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Live Chat with Don Winslow

Aug 11, 2010 in Books, Live Chat

What follows is a transcript of the live chat with Don Winslow, author of Savages, a book that I think is the literary equivalent of narcotic stimulants.

We’ll start with a few questions from me:

Sarah Weinman: – So first I wanted to talk a bit about Savages opening chapter (or opening line) and, at the risk of quoting myself – always dangerous – my sense was that “If you cackle out loud, you may proceed to Chapter 2. If not, you’re not Savages ideal reader, and it’s no great loss.” So was “fuck you” always the way the book started? Or did you have to pare things down, hack away at it, before that phrase became the book’s opener?
Don Winslow: First, Sarah, thank you for all the very kind words about the book. As a matter of fact, ‘fuck you’ was the first sentence I wrote, even before I had characters or a plot. I guess I was just in a bad mood. But then I got thinking, ‘What about it?’ Who says it? Who thinks it? The next thing I knew a 20-something Orange County woman named O was describing her friend Chon, and it went from there.

Sarah Weinman: Savages has quite the high-wire act in that it starts out as kind of high comedy – two guys and a girl, partying in the USA, so to speak, a threat nobody really takes seriously – and then things get Very Serious and it turns out that light-hearted beginning is basically a big lie. How did you make sure not to have too much comedy or too much tragedy, so that the tension between the two keeps the reader going until the illusion basically gets ripped away?
Don Winslow: Well, I like the high-wire, maybe because I’m so afraid of heights. I think life itself constantly flips between tragedy and comedy, and often very quickly and without warning, so I just wrote it that way. Frankly, if I thought something was funny, I put it in and took the chance. But as the story moved inexorably toward tragedy, the events argued against going for any laughs. Sometimes I think of story structure as a wave – it builds and builds and can do some funky things, but when it breaks, it breaks – when it crashes it crashes.

Harry Hunskicker: No memory, U wake up in a motel w/ pile of $ & dead hooker, police at the door. What fic. charac. do you call?
Don Winslow: [laughs] I call Philip Marlow, no question. But if you really are in this situation, Harry, you might want to consult a good lawyer.

Sarah Weinman: There’s a one-page narrative monologue near the end of the book that I think really delivers Savages knockout punch to American material culture and to the way boomer selfishness has not only failed subsequent generations but the country as a whole. Which is to say, you don’t mince words, and it seemed like the whole book was written from a place of frustration, if not anger, at how we ply ourselves with consumerism and are wholly ill-equipped for a world where such values don’t count.
Don Winslow: Yeah, I was pretty angry when I was writing this book. Hell, I’m pretty angry now. The widening economic disparity, the yapping, quarreling politicians who won’t address the real problems, the obsession with celebrity and cheap fame, and the endless consumerism that serves as a narcotic – really our worst drug problem. I was especially pissed off at the right-wing media bullies and congressional cretins who feel entitled to say anything, but then go running to mommy if anyone hits back. So I thought I’d take a rhetorical baseball bat to them.

Mexico's war on drugsDuane Swierczynski: Do you research before, during, or after writing a novel — like, say, Savages, which is full of tons of sharp insights into drug cartels, grades of marijuana, etc.? (Then again, it is entirely possible you’ve run a cartel at some point, and research is a moot point.)
Don Winslow: Thanks Duane! You know, I do a fair amount of research before and during. And so, it’s funny because you don’t know what you don’t know until you have to write it and so you think you’ve done enough research and then you’re writing and you realize there’s something you don’t know.
Afterwards, I try not to, I try to forget it and move on to the next book

Kathy Roberts: What’s on your iPod?
Don Winslow: Steve Earle, Robert Earle Keen, lots of Springsteen, James McMurtry (like in Larry McMurty’s son), Thelonius Monk, John Coltrane and a surf reggae band called Common Sense out of Laguna Beach

Cort McMeel: For me, The Power of the Dog was a seminal work of fiction. You wove an extremely complex plot with a lot of uninventable details of the Mexican drug trade while painting an in depth portrait of a whole gallery of characters. My two questions:
1) In your research did you interview any actual DEA agents, drug cartel members, Mexican police and/or prostitutes? 2) If so, who was the most interesting to you personally, and why?
Don Winslow: Thanks for the kind words, Cort. I have to be really careful about this. Suffice to say that I did a lot of research, including talking to people. Beyond that, I think I’d better be discreet. You know, they’re all interesting in their own ways.

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Batman Is My Mr. Miyagi

Aug 11, 2010 in Books, Comic Books, Guest Posts

I write mysteries. I love writing mysteries. And I also write comic books. So when I was recently at Comi-Con, someone at one of the panels asked me how comics have influenced and/or seeped into my mystery and novel writing. Indeed, one of the editors at Mulholland Books asked if the action-packed nature of comics helped develop the action and pacing I use in the novels.

So let me tell you the answer.

Yes.

Duh.

And the best part? I had no idea I was doing it.

You see, when you do your first novel, it goes out, and you hope people read it. Same with your second. But by the time you hit your third, people start looking at all the books together. It was then that the smart readers stepped forward. One e-mailed me through my website and said, “I’ve now read three of your novels. What are your issues with your father?” And later, someone else wrote about how reading my novels was like seeing the underbelly of the pacing in a comic book: short chapters and a cliff-hanger, short chapters and a cliff-hanger.

To be honest, I was surprised. But the moment I heard it, I knew it was true.
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Making Sense of Nothing and Making Nothing of Sense: A Maundering on the Taxonomy of Writing and I Forget What Else

Aug 09, 2010 in Books, Guest Posts

“Fair is where you go to see the pigs race.”
— James Luther Dickinson

Nick ToschesWe are uncomfortable with works that can not be placed comfortably into a category. The English-speaking literary establishment has embraced the French word genre since the eighteenth century. We would do well to remind ourselves that the term, via the Latin genus, is a cognate of another French word, générique, whence the English generic. And, for example, noir, given generic catch-all meaning by American critics in the 1940s, is but another blanditude that consigns to the supermarket-aisle school of literary values many books whose unique qualities are thus obscured.

As George Eliot said in her 1856 essay on Heine: “In every genre of writing it preserves a man from sinking into the genre ennuyeux.” The “it” refers to wit, and the French phrase displays her own subtle wit: “the boring genre.” And it is true that most books consigned to one genre or another belong to the far-encompassing genre of boredom, even if there are no Boring sections designated as such in bookstores.

Most best-selling books belong to one genre or another—espionage, crime, horror, suspense, romance, mystery, self-help, ghost-written political memoirs that take the genre of boredom to a ghastlier realm. Best-sellers that perfume themselves with a contrived literary air fall short of what good genre writing offers. What, after all, was The Name of the Rose but a bad mystery whose plot-workings could not be believed at any turn? I actually read that one. We speak of putting the wounded out of their misery. I have now long felt the same about semiologists. As for something like The Unbearable Lightness of Being, which was said to far transcend the romance genre, I would never read a book with such a pretentious title so like the whine of a moon-calf. Semiologists and moon-calves aside, even straightforward attempts at genre by real writers of true greatness often fail dismally: William Faulkner’s 1949 volume of mystery stories, Knight’s Gambit, is one of the worst books he did.

I am not saying that any genre writers, be they scriptomanic pulp hacks or masters of their corner of the marketplace, could ever beat out, except maybe financially, the few writers of our time who have doomed themselves, or been doomed, to the lower-paying racket of greatness.

But what of the latter, the great, or of those who walked the edge of greatness, who have been relegated to the ranks of the former? That’s what I want to talk about here.

Specifically I want to talk about Patricia Highsmith and George V. Higgins. Why these two? As I’m not auditioning for a creative-writing teaching job—I’m too old to look up girls’ skirts and fill them with the unbearable lightness of being—I’ll tell you the truth.

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One Day, One Column

Aug 09, 2010 in Mulholland News

Welcome to the website of Mulholland Books, an imprint of Little, Brown and Company.

The goal of Mulholland Books is to publish the best suspense fiction in the world.

The goal of MulhollandBooks.com is to bring you as close as possible to that which is great about the world of suspense at large.

In order to introduce you to all that is Mulholland, we’ve invited our friends, from across the field, to do what they do best. Write.

One Day. One Column. Many Amazing Voices.  Posted daily at 7 AM. Watch out.

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Mulholland Books Mission Statement

Aug 09, 2010 in Mulholland News

Mulholland Drive is a winding stretch of road that follows the ridgeline of the Hollywood Hills. Its hairpin turns, sharp cliff-faces and breathtaking views of Los Angeles are shrouded in secrecy and imbued with drama, making them synonymous with suspense. The mysteries of Mulholland have inspired countless novels, films and works of art, from the classic mysteries of Raymond Chandler and James M. Cain to the voices of James Ellroy, Michael Connelly, Michael Mann, and David Lynch.

The goal of Little, Brown’s Mulholland Books is simple: to publish books you can’t stop reading. Whatever their form—crime novels, thrillers, police procedurals, spy stories, even supernatural suspense—the promise of a Mulholland Book is that you’ll read it leaning forward, hungry for the next word. With a focus on online community building, internet marketing and authentic connections between authors, readers and publisher, Mulholland Books will be at the center of a web of suspense.

The history of suspense is long and storied, and Mulholland Books is proud to be part of its future. Unexpected, fresh, and with a 21st century approach to publishing, meet Mulholland: you never know what’s coming around the curve.

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