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In Conversation with George Pelecanos and Richard Lange

It’s a rare pleasure to be a fly on the wall during a conversation between Richard Lange and George Pelecanos, two crime fiction masters. Below is our transcript of their exchange, which ranges widely and rivetingly across such subjects as empathy, prisons, the writing process, and why vets make ideal detectives.

Angel Baby by Richard Lange is available now as a hardcover, eBook, and downloadable audiobook. The Double by George Pelecanos will be available as hardcover, large print book, eBook, and audiobook on October 8th.

Richard Lange: First off, let me say that I’m a huge fan of your work from way back, and it’s a real honor to engage in this kind of dialogue with one of my heroes. I especially want to thank you for all you did to spread the word about Dead Boys, my first book. I can’t tell you how many people have told me that they read it because you mentioned it somewhere or recommended it to them. I’m forever in your debt for that.

Now, to the questions. I’ve tried to keep them brief and pertinent but haven’t always succeeded.

The Double by George PelecanosThe Double is the second book featuring Spero Lucas. Why did you choose to start another series, and what are the major differences between this one and your earlier series? Were you looking to explore new kinds of stories and characters in this one?

George Pelecanos: I never plan on a series. When I finished writing The Cut I felt like there was more to explore with the character of Spero Lucas, so I went after it.  Some of the things I only hinted at in the first book come to the forefront in The Double.  Lucas’s war experience in the Middle East has impacted him deeply, and the darker aspects of his psyche have bubbled up to the surface. It’s a harder, more violent, and more sexually explicit book than The Cut.  Also, I liked writing about a young, physical guy who has a young man’s appetites.  I’d been writing about middle-aged guys for awhile, and switching up helped me cut loose.  The Lucas books have a certain kind of drive and energy.

Richard, you made a positive reputation early on with your short story collection, Dead Boys, which you know I enjoyed a great deal. When I read Chapter 6 of your new novel, Angel Baby, I was struck by how complete and polished it was. Detailing the prison life of Jerónimo Cruz, it stands on it own. Is it accurate to say that you craft each chapter in one of your novels with the care and precision that you would in one of your short stories? And which form of fiction do you prefer, both as a reader and writer?

Angel Baby by Richard LangeLange: Maybe because I started as a short-story writer, the individual chapters of the novels sometimes have a self-contained feel to them. They’re almost slices of the characters’ lives. It’s at odds with the narrative demands of the plot, I suppose, but it’s the way I tell my stories, through discrete scenes. I’m a slow, careful writer, even in first drafts, and I spend a lot of time chipping away at things in order to get them to my liking. As you know, what looks simplest is often most difficult to achieve.
As far as what I prefer, short stories or novels, as a reader, I love both equally. When it comes to my own work, stories is where I feel most comfortable, but I’m learning to love the expansiveness of writing novels—which is good, because you can’t make a living writing short stories. Continue reading “In Conversation with George Pelecanos and Richard Lange”

Lauren Beukes’s Film and TV Inspirations

The Shining Girls is a mash-up of a thing: part serial killer thriller, part old-fashioned romantic buddy caper, part time-travel twister. The TV shows and movies that had a major influence on me generally, which I think played into the writing of this book, are:

Memento for its twisty out-of-order storytelling


True Grit for a young bolshy heroine set on justice

Continue reading “Lauren Beukes’s Film and TV Inspirations”

The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes to be Adapted for TV by MRC and Leonardo DiCaprio’s Appian Way

The Shining Girls by Lauren BeukesMulholland Books is thrilled to announce that MRC (House of Cards) and Leonardo DiCaprio’s Appian Way will team up to adapt Lauren Beukes’s The Shining Girls for TV. As reported by The Hollywood Reporter, “The project marks a rare but splashy foray into TV for Appian, which previously made the environmental reality show Greensburg.” The Shining Girls, a stunning thriller about a time-traveling serial killer, is garnering remarkable praise as this summer’s must-read book, and it is the third novel from South African writer Lauren Beukes. Julian Friedmann at Blake Friedmann and Michael Prevett at the Gotham Group negotiated the deal.

Mulholland Books will publish The Shining Girls in the U.S. tomorrow, Tuesday, June 4, but critics around the world have already emphatically praised the book: the New York Times’s Janet Maslin calls it an “expert hair-raiser” and a “strong contender for this summer’s universal beach read,” and the New York Post says The Shining Girls “has got everyone
talking…and some say it’s this summer’s answer to last year’s mega-hit Gone Girl.” The book is already a London Times Top Ten Bestseller.

Josh Kendall, Editorial Director of Mulholland, said, “I haven’t been this excited about a thriller since first reading The Silence of the Lambs or dazzled by an author’s feel for character and plot since first reading Margaret Atwood. The Shining Girls reimagines what great commercial fiction can do.”

TNT Options Marcia Clark’s Rachel Knight Series

Marcia Clark‘s best-selling crime novels (GUILT BY ASSOCIATION and GUILT BY DEGREES) featuring L.A. Prosecutor Rachel Knight have been set up at TNT as a one hour series. Clark will Executive Produce with Dee Johnson and Nelson McCormick. Show-runner Johnson will also write the pilot and McCormick is attached to direct. The e-book edition of GUILT BY ASSOCIATION is currently available for $2.99 through the month of July wherever e-books are sold.

To learn more about Rachel Knight and her Los Angeles haunts, check out Rachel Knight’s LA the GUILT BY ASSOCIATION edition and the GUILT BY DEGREES edition.

One-Shot Stopping

GunfightOne of the worst myths created by movies and TV is the one-shot stop. You know how it goes: an action-adventure hero runs into a warehouse filled with bad guys. A gunfight breaks out. The hero runs through a maze of crates and equipment and takes down every bad guy he encounters until he reaches the evil mastermind, who is too skilled and devious to be taken down so easily. Cat and mouse ensues until the evildoer is either brought to justice or killed in some vengeful and Technicolorful manner.

A lot of these scenes take place with the hero using a handgun. He shoots guys on catwalks a hundred feet away (and they fall dramatically into vats of acid or molten metal or they get impaled on some sharp object). Apart from the incredible skill needed to shoot people fatally while running and using a pistol, the even greater fiction foisted on audiences through repetition is that one bullet will kill a human being.

Bad guys go down with one shot, yet the good guys often sustain multiple wounds and keep on going like Energizer bunnies. Isn’t this becoming a cliche’?

One handgun bullet can kill a human being, but at any distance other than close-up, it’s unlikely. The ultimate one-shot showstopper in movies is always the head shot. But in real life, even a head shot is not certain. Just think of Gabby Gifford, the Arizona Congresswoman who in 2011 was shot in the head at point blank range by a would-be assassin. She survived and is gaining back her normal functionality at an amazing rate. Continue reading “One-Shot Stopping”

On Mildred Pierce: A Conversation with Laura Lippman

Both Laura Lippman and myself are ardent, perhaps obsessive fans of the James M. Cain novel, Mildred Pierce. For just that reason, we both had been avoiding watching the HBO miniseries starring Kate Winslet and Guy Pearce and directed by Todd Haynes. Finally, with the series now on DVD, I surrendered and watched it, as did Laura. Below, expanded from an attenuated Facebook thread, are our thoughts on the experience, which ultimately led to the question, as Laura poses it on her blog: what happens when someone has a “deep, mad love for a book”? Is any adaptation of it doomed?


LL:  In the final episode of the five-hour plus adaptation of Mildred Pierce, I began to wonder if it just might be quicker to read the audiobook. Not quite, not at all—it’s 10 hours. But whatever happened to pictures being worth 1,000 words? Stranger still, the last two episodes seemed rushed. It was almost as if someone at HBO said, ‘Oh my god, we authorized how many hours? Pull the plug!’ (Full disclosure, I know and admire/like Cary Antholis, who oversees miniseries there, so I know this couldn’t be the case.)

I know the book so well that I wasn’t sure I could give the miniseries a fair shake. But two things strike me. First, James M. Cain, as a former newspaperman, knows how to write very tight compressed scenes. He violates the principle of ‘show, not tell’ over and over again—and the book is better for it. Take, for example, the scene of Mildred and Monty’s jaunty banter, en route to Lake Arrowhead. It zips by in the novel, written indirectly.

“Going through Pasadena, they decided it was time to tell names, and when he heard hers, he asked if she was related to Pierce Homes. When she said she was ‘married to them for a while,’ he professed to be delighted, saying they were they worst homes ever built, as all the roofs leaked. She said that was nothing compared to how they treasury leaked, and they both laughed gaily. His name, Beragon, he had to spell for her before she got it straight, and as he put the accent on the last syllable she asked: ‘Is it French?’’’

Put in straight-forward dialogue, this exchange loses so much of its charm and breeziness.

The second problem is that it’s a very internal novel. Mildred can’t express her feelings and she often doesn’t understand them. All credit to Kate Winslet for trying to play this literal, humorless character. I think she was miscast. I think almost everyone is miscast, except for Guy Pearce, who made me see Monty’s charm at last; Mare Winningham; Melissa Leo; and maybe young Veda.

I will say I’m convinced that Todd Haynes loves the novel. Continue reading “On Mildred Pierce: A Conversation with Laura Lippman”

A Conversation with the Breakout Kings: Nick Santora and Domenick Lombardozzi

Nick Santora is the author of SLIP AND FALL and FIFTEEN DIGITS both forthcoming from Mulholland Books. He is also the co-writer, co-executive producer and co-creator of Breakout Kings which premieres this Sunday, March 6th at 10PM on A&E. Here, Santora and Domenick Lombardozzi (star of Breakout Kings, The Wire, Entourage and more) discuss their collaboration on the show, the concept of literary TV and, most importantly, which New York borough is the best.

Mulholland Books: Nick, you’ve described shows like The Sopranos, The Wire, and now Breakout Kings as “literary TV.” What does the phase mean to you?

Nick Santora: I think to me, and there are other shows that I think fall into that category as well like Boardwalk Empire. But to me, it’s trying to take television to a different level of storytelling -when you’re doing stuff that you have not necessarily seen before. There’s television out there that is absolutely great; and that makes a lot of people happy and makes a lot of people a lot money, but it’s definitely, for lack of a better term, I guess, a bit old hat. It’s the straight case of where character dialogues are interchangeable and it just doesn’t make a difference who says what. I can state from experience: I’ve worked on shows where I’ve been on set, and I’m not going to name the show; but, where one actor was having trouble with his lines, and his buddy, another actor has said don’t worry, I know that line. I’ll take it and you take my line, it’s shorter. And my writer brain and my producer brain both cramped at hearing that until, I actually saw them play the scene and I realized- it just doesn’t make a difference, who says what.

Because the whole entire episode is about the case and the characters are nothing but meats puppets that give exposition. It really bothered me, and I swore that if I could ever get my own show on the air, I would try at least to make the show about something other than just the case of the week. And on Breakout Kings, that’s what I and Matt Olmstead, my co-creator on the show, have tried to do and I think that we have been relatively successful.

MB: Domenick, your Wikipedia entry claims that your main inspiration as an actor is the film State of Grace. While the film is a cult classic, it’s also kind of a narrow choice, so I thought I’d ask…

Domenick Lombardozzi: No, that’s not true. Although, I do love the movie. Gary Oldman. Fantastic. Although I did A Bronx Tale when I was fifteen, it wasn’t until I did a movie called Kiss me Guido that I really fell in love with acting– just the whole process, the learning what other people do, the camaraderie. It was that experience for me because we actually took that movie from nothing, and got funding, did readings to get money, to get that movie we made for Tony Vitale, and it was just that whole process that really inspired me.

NS: Kiss Me Guido is another example of literary film–Tony Vitale is really a talented writer. You know we can all go out and see a movie that is a lot of incredible special effects, and the star of the movie frankly is what’s done in the editing biz with the incredible talented editors, and the CGI, and all the incredible technology that is available today. Those movies are great and I love those movies; and I’ll be the first one to go and see one of those films, but, I also love a film where the star is the story, and the actors are bring the story to life.

Continue reading “A Conversation with the Breakout Kings: Nick Santora and Domenick Lombardozzi”

All About the Bad Guy

western cowboy still lifeA couple of weeks ago, I started watching The Sopranos. I never watched it when it was on television, because at the time everyone else in the world was so over the moon about it. I hate things that other people tell you you should see. It’s the reason I never saw Avatar, and why The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is known to me as The Book That Sits on My Shelf. I have no good reason to avoid The Sopranos, James Cameron’s masterpiece, or the tattooed Swede. For no good reason, I just lose interest when the bandwagon fills up. It’s sort of the way George Carlin felt about Lance Armstrong and Tiger Woods. He refused to get on board with either, because he was “tired of being told who to admire.”

The only flaw in being stubborn and judgmental is that occasionally you end up trailing the bandwagon and looking like an idiot. I walked into the staff room at my school last week and said, “Hey, you know, The Sopranos is pretty good.” I got a look that told me what I had said was about as groundbreaking as “Fire good.”

Indeed, The Sopranos is a good show. I should have tried it sooner, really, because the concept is right up my alley. The show is all about the bad guy.

The three books I have had published so far, and the other three that are still on my hard drive, have all been about a bad guy. It’s never intentional. For some reason, every time I put pen to paper, what comes out of me is never about anyone who is getting into heaven. I don’t think I’m alone in this. Crime fiction is all about the bad guy. But what is it about the bad guy that people love so much?

Continue reading “All About the Bad Guy”

The Murders in Memory Lane: Remembering Henry Kane

Henry Kane’s pretty much forgotten these days, with all his work out of print.  You can Google him, as I did, and you’ll unearth a great deal of information that way, some of it true.  And you can find copies of his books on eBay and Amazon and other used-book sources.  He wrote over sixty novels, and while none of them hit any bestseller lists, there were enough copies printed so that some survive.

He was born in 1918, earned a law degree, but if he ever practiced the profession he gave it up when he found he could make a living with a typewriter.  He wrote a great deal over the years for radio and television, and probably created the series “Martin Kane, Private Eye,” which had a good run on both media.  The Blake Edwards TV show, “Peter Gunn,” was clearly inspired by Kane’s series of books about one Peter Chambers, though Kane never got any official credit.

I read his stories in Manhunt, and his books, when I began trying to write crime fiction of my own.  In the first or the third person, Kane wrote with no apparent effort and produced narrative that was sophisticated, amusing, and urbane.  I haven’t read anything of his in ages, and the books I once owned have long since moved on to other owners, but I remember having enjoyed them all.

I came to know him through our mutual agent, another Henry—Henry Morrison.  I spoke with Henry Morrison recently, and learned that it was at HK’s urging that HM opened up shop as an agent back in the mid-Sixties.

HM had decided to part company with Scott Meredith, for whom he’d worked for almost ten years, and was planning to sign on as an editor at a paperback house.  He said as much to Kane, who took him out to dinner and told him he was making a mistake and wasting years of great experience.  He should open his own agency, Kane said, and that way he’d be doing what he was best suited to do, and working for himself, and would no doubt blossom as an excellent agent.

And would Kane go with him?

“No,” said Henry Kane.  “Because you might not make it, and then where would I be?  But set up on your own, and get yourself some clients, and if you’re still in business a year later, then I’ll go with you.”

And that’s what happened.  Henry Morrison became a successful agent, and after a year Henry Kane became his client, and never left.  I met Kane a couple of times when we were both visiting HM’s office to drop off a manuscript or pick up a check, and in the early 70’s we got to know each other.  I was living on 22 acres outside of Lambertville, New Jersey, and had a fourth-floor walkup studio on West 35th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues that I used for writing and adultery.  (I was far more successful at the former pursuit, and wrote several books there, including Ronald Rabbit is a Dirty Old Man and Chip Harrison Scores Again.)  Henry Kane lived on Long Island—Lido Beach, if memory serves—and spent Monday through in an apartment on 34th Street west of Ninth Avenue.

I paid a few visits to his pied-a-terre, and had some good conversations.  He took his work seriously, and insisted that each page be perfectly typed before he went on to the next one.  He began the work day by swallowing a Dexamil capsule, and after a certain number of hours at the typewriter he’d pour himself a little Scotch to soften the edge of the speed.  He’d sit there typing and chain-smoking and sipping Scotch until the day’s work was done, and then he’d go out for dinner and a night on the town.

Uh, don’t try this at home.

Continue reading “The Murders in Memory Lane: Remembering Henry Kane”

A review of Sky1’s Thorne: Sleepyhead

Sky1 is airing a series of shows based on Mark Billingham’s Detective Thorne books. Mulholland Books will publish a Detective Thorne novel by Mark Billingham, Bloodline, in July 2011. To learn more about the television series visit the mini-site or download the mobile app.

I don’t do appointment TV. I used to, when there were fewer channels, fewer commitments, fewer mouths to feed….Woe betide anybody who stood between me and Steve Austin when I was a kid in the 1970s. I was addicted to Cracker back in the late 1990s. Towards the end of that decade, became something of a TV addict by default while working as a reviewer for Time Out magazine. More recently I was glued to the screen for the excellent, underrated series The Cops, which lasted a mere two series, and the superb Red Riding adaptations, as well as Five Daughters, the draining, but brilliant, exploration of the destruction Ipswich serial killer Steve Wright wreaked on the families of the women he killed. But these days I’m filling up the hard disk with recordings I’ll never get around to watching. I’ve got stuff on there from before last Christmas….I’d rather read, or watch a film, or play football with the munchkins.

That changed with Thorne: Sleepyhead, adapted from Mark Billingham’s extraordinary debut thriller. It’s one of those packages in which pretty much everything comes off. There are a lot of police procedural dramas out there. Plain-clothed rogues battling against the clock or glacial, grizzling Scandinavian detectives. Serial killers. Phantoms from the past. Monsters in everyday clothing. But what makes Thorne stand out is the pace, the acting and the classy directing from Stephen Hopkins, who kept Jack Bauer on his toes in 24.

David Morrissey plays DI Tom Thorne, and just a few minutes in, like Rathbone’s Holmes or Connery’s Bond, it’s difficult to imagine another face in the role. He’s the first person we see, huffing and puffing as he chases down a felon. His quarry runs into a house in a desperate bid to escape…and trips over a corpse lying on the kitchen floor. So begins this nightmare, which is at times exhilarating, unbearably tense, and truly frightening.

Continue reading “A review of Sky1’s Thorne: Sleepyhead”