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Tell Me Lies

This week Mulholland Books celebrates the publication of National Bestseller Nick Santora’s second novel FIFTEEN DIGITS with a week-long extravaganza of great content. Read on for an interview between Nick Santora and actor Jimmi Simpson of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and Santora’s hit show Breakout Kings, on working together, Nick’s writing, Jimmi’s writing, and Nick’s acting.

Mulholland Books: How did you guys meet?

Nick Santora: At the 2009 Stringfellows Male Exotic Dancers Convention. We started out competitors but ended up friends.

Jimmi Simpson: Please don’t start this interview with lies, Nick.

Nick: Sorry.

Jimmi: It was the 2008 Stringfellows Convention. And we’re not friends.

How did you guys actually meet?

Jimmi: Well, Nick was trying to woo me into the project so he took me out for a fancy breakfast.

Really? Where?

Jimmi: McDonalds.

Very funny.

Nick: He’s not kidding. I took him to McDonalds. I bought him a coffee. To everyone in Hollywood, you should know it costs exactly $1.04 to get Jimmi Simpson to do your show.

Jimmi: I have very low self-esteem. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia got me for a tootsie roll and a packet of mustard.

Nick: That’s actually good for basic cable – I wouldn’t think they’d throw in the mustard.

And you guys work on a drama?

Jimmi: Yup.

Nick: Duh.

Nick, did you always know you wanted Jimmi for the role of Lloyd Lowery in A&E’s BREAKOUT KINGS?

Nick: Absolutely. I am a huge of fan of ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILAPELPHA. My co-creator on the series, Matt Olmstead, worked with Jimmi on LAW & ORDER so he was well aware of his talent, too. Jimmi is genius in everything he does – you’d be crazy not to want him on your show, not to want him as a collaborator, not to want him sexually.

Jimmi: I appreciate the support Nick, but we both know you originally offered the role to Ricky Lake and she passed.

Nick: Ya gotta reach for the stars…

Jimmi, the Showrunner of the show you’re a star of is also a novelist. Do you think he spreads himself to thin?

Jimmi: However Nick chooses to spread himself, I know it will be smooth and velvety like talent-flavored cream cheese.

Have you read any of Nick’s books?

Jimmi: I’ve read SLIP & FALL and loved it. I just finished FIFTEEN DIGITS and think it’s amazing. Nick’s ability to create and write for characters is one of the reasons he’s so highly regarded in this industry. This book is a perfect example of that. It reminded me that I love reading really cool crime fiction. FIFTEEN DIGITS is a roller-coaster ride of thrills and anxiety. Kinda like watching Nick thinking about picking up the check for dinner.

Nick: That is such garbage! I pick up the tab all the time!

Jimmi: And then hand it to someone else.

Nick: Need I remind of the McDonanld’s coffee?

Nick, other side of the coin now. You have a lead on your show who is also a writer as Jimmi recently signed on to write a pilot for 20th Century Fox.

Nick: What?! This is the first I’ve heard it! Jimmi, you’re fired.

Jimmi: Good. I can concentrate on my writing.

Nick: In all seriousness … I hate Jimmi. ‘Cause writing is kind of his “hobby”. Not that he doesn’t take it VERY seriously, he does, but it’s his hobby in the sense that he has spent the majority of his career, to this point, focusing on acting. But then he started writing on the side. And I’ve read his stuff. And it’s phenomenal. It’s better than phenomenal. It’s like when Michael Jordan decided to play baseball. What people don’t realize or remember is that Jordan had the longest hitting streak in his league that year and then became one of the best players in the Arizona Fall League. And it was his freakin’ hobby! So, I guess what I’m saying is, Jimmi Simpson is just like Michael Jordan in that he excels at something he hasn’t even begun to fully explore yet. And he’s Black.

Jimmi: He’s not being flippant about race – he’s referring to the color of my soul.

Nick: My point is, Jimmi could be, if he wanted to, running his own show today. I’ve read something like a billion scripts from writers in the business, from writers who want to be in the business, whatever – and Jimmi’s stuff is head, shoulders, pancreas and feet above all of it. I would work for Jimmi on one of his shows tomorrow.

Jimmi: Speaking of crossing over, the novelist/screenwriter/showrunner next to me also happens to be a budding thesp.


Jimmi: Actor. They call them ‘thesps’. Industry thing. You’ll pick it up soon enough.


Jimmi: Sure. But Nick here made his screen debut-

Nick: It was hardly a “debut”-

Jimmi: IT WAS A DEBUT, MAN! You presented yourself to the world. You stepped in front of that camera and were like, “Here I am baby! Get it while it’s hot!”.

Nick: Well, thank you.

Jimmi: Thank YOU. For the gift of your acting.

Are you being sarcastic, Jimmi?

Jimmi: No. No I am not.

Nick: He is.

Jimmi: I certainly am not. Nick took the role of Prison Guard in the season finale of BREAKOUT KINGS and elevated it to new heights. Those baby browns he’s got can bore a whole into your soul. Some serious Omar Shariff shit.

Nick: I wasn’t a damn Prison Guard. I was U.S. Marshal.

Jimmi: Oh. Sorry.

Nick: Mollo.

Jimmi: What’s that?

Nick: His name. My character’s name. It wasn’t just “U.S. Marshal”.

Jimmi: You gave your character a name?

Nick: And a rich and complex backstory.

Jimmi: Oh. Interesting. Did you utilize that in the filming of the scene?


Jimmi: Right. Right. Which guy were you again?

Nick: This interview is over. Just please buy my book – FIFTEEN DIGITS – so I don’t have to work with this guy anymore.

Jimmi: You love me.

Nick: I do.

FIFTEEN DIGITS is now available in bookstores everywhere. Read more of Nick’s work at WWW.NICKSANTORA.COM.

JIMMI SIMPSON stars in A&E’s BREAKOUT KINGS (check local listings) and can be seen in the upcoming film ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE KILLER (June 2012).

When the Law Falls Short

UnjustFrancis Bacon said that “revenge is a kind of wild justice, which the more man’s nature runs to, the more ought law to weed out . . . . In taking revenge, a man is but even with his enemy; but in passing it over, he is superior; for it is a prince’s part to pardon.”1

Fast forward two and a half centuries, to Abraham Lincoln. He thought vengeance had a time and place. During the American Revolution, he noted “the deep rooted principles of hate, and the powerful motive of revenge . . . were directed exclusively against the British nation. And thus, from the force of circumstances, the basest principles of our nature . . . [became] the active agents in the advancement of the noblest cause—that of establishing and maintaining civil and religious liberty. . . . But this state of feeling must fade, is fading, has faded, with the circumstances that produced it.”2 Lincoln gave this speech in response, in part, to a mob killing of a black man accused of murder. In Abe’s view, it was okay to take vengeance on the British but not anyone else.

Fifty years later, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., admits the importance of vengeance within the legal system, going so far as to say, “the law does [and] ought to, make the gratification of revenge an object . . . correspond[ing] with the actual feelings and demands of the community, whether right or wrong.”3 Holmes saw this as a lesser evil to people perceiving the legal system as failing to satisfy and thus taking matters into their own hands. “If people would gratify the passion of revenge outside of the law, if the law did not help them, the law has no choice but to satisfy the craving itself, and thus avoid the greater evil of private retribution.” Id.4

As a trial lawyer I saw many examples of law and justice diverging, with the law “not helping” the wronged party. Writing the “The Fourteenth Juror” allowed me to inflict private retribution (even if only on the page) on one aspect of the legal system that often fell short in this regard. Gratifying indeed.

Check out “The Fourteenth Juror” in Mystery Writers of America Presents Vengeance, now available in bookstores everywhere.

A Stanford graduate and former (vengeful) plaintiff’s trial lawyer, Twist Phelan writes the critically acclaimed legal-themed Pinnacle Peak mystery series published by Poised Pen Press. Her short stories appear in anthologies and mystery magazines and have won or been nominated for the Thriller, Ellis, and Derringer awards. Twist’s current project is a suspense novel set in Santa Fe featuring a corporate spy. Visit her at

1 Sir Francis Bacon, Essays, Civil and Moral (1625). Yes, this is a footnote. As a former law review editor, I can’t resist.

2 Abraham Lincoln, Lyceum Address, Volume I, p. 108-115 (January 27, 1838). Uh oh; another one.

3 Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., The Common Law 46 (1881). I’m out of control.

4 “Id.” is the abbreviation for the Latin word “idem,” which means same. Lawyers and academics use it to reference the previously cited source. Everyone else just says “same as before.”


On VENGEANCE and The General

Revenge has always been a human passion – as well as a problem for any civilized society. Early on, Jehovah reminded the Israelites that ‘vengeance is mine,’ while Aeschylus immortalized the blood feuds of the House of Atreus, which took a goddess to end, thus establishing the rule of law.

Dramas of revenge were popular enough in Renaissance England to spawn a distinct genre, the Revenge Tragedy, ironically most famous for that reluctant avenger, Hamlet, whose dithering raised the body count without ultimately sparing the king. Of course, Shakespeare knew a good thing when he saw it: revenge not only calls upon a variety of visceral and ancient emotions, it also offers excellent plot possibilities.

I’ve been rather fond of these, myself. Looking back over my short stories, I find revenge plots constructed around a variety of characters, ranging from a middle aged archeologist (male) to a restauranteur (female) with stops along they way for several wronged wives and husbands, an angry daughter, plus a disgruntled academic dean and a traumatized student. Most of these stories are told from the avenger’s point of view. Continue reading “On VENGEANCE and The General”

Mystery Writers of America Presents Vengeance: An Introduction

Editing this anthology was a lot of fun—not least because Mystery Writers of America’s invaluable and irreplaceable publications guy, Barry Zeman, did all the hard work. All I had to do was pick ten invitees. And write a story. And then later on read the ten winning stories chosen by MWA’s blind-submission process. Piece of cake. Apart from writing my own story, that is, which I always find hard, but that’s why picking the invitees was so much fun—I love watching something difficult being done really well, by experts.

It was like playing fantasy baseball—who did I want on the field? And just as Major League Baseball has rich seams of talent to choose from, so does Mystery Writers of America. I could have filled ten anthologies. Or twenty. But I had to start somewhere—and it turned out that I already had, years ago, actually, when I taught a class at a mystery writers’ conference in California. One of the after-hours activities was a group reading around a fireplace in the motel. A bit too kumbaya for me, frankly, but I went anyway, and the first story was by a young woman called Michelle Gagnon. It was superb, and it stayed with me through the intervening years. So I e-mailed her about using it for this anthology—more in hope than in expectation, because it was such a great story, I was sure it had been snapped up long ago. But no—it was still available. Never published, amazingly. It is now.

One down.

Then I had to have Brendan DuBois. He’s a fine novelist but easily the best short-story writer of his generation. He just cranks them out, one after the other, like he’s casting gold ingots. Very annoying. He said yes.

Two down.

And I had Twist Phelan on my radar. She’s a real woman of mystery—sometimes lives on a yacht, sometimes lives in Switzerland, knows about oil and banks and money—and she had just won the International Thriller Writers’ award for best short story. I thought, I’ll have a bit of that. She said okay.

Three down. Continue reading “Mystery Writers of America Presents Vengeance: An Introduction”

How I Created I Hunt Killers by Accident

Some history here…

Many years ago, back when I was a Wee Wannabe, I attended a writers conference in order to pitch The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl. One of the first editors to show an interest in the book was Alvina Ling of Little, Brown.

Through a series of events no one involved can remember, Alvina somehow never got the chance to bid on the book when it went to auction. For some reason, the book just never went to Little, Brown. Oops.

Well, it worked out all right anyway ‘cause the book was published by the fine folks at Houghton Mifflin and people seemed to dig it, which is cool.

But Alvina and I had really connected, and as time went on we kept bumping into each other at various publishing functions, and I kept swearing to her, “I have a book I’m working on that you’ll want to see.” And she kept saying, “Great!”

And then I kept falling down on the job, deciding over and over that the cool thing I intended to show to her just wasn’t ready yet. (It still isn’t, Alvina. Someday…)

Cut to 2009. I moved to New York and Alvina, upon finding out, suggested we get together for drinks. As we chatted, I mentioned a couple of projects I had in the hopper that I thought might interest her ― one was a picture book and one was a YA superhero novel (no, not Archvillain ― something else entirely). She was polite, but I could tell neither one really intrigued her.

(BTW: No one else wanted the picture book, either. And I haven’t done anything with the YA superhero novel…yet.)

She asked what else I was working on. At the time, I was deep into a tough part of the first draft of a book so massive and complex that I had nicknamed it “The Book That Will Kill Me.” So I said something like, “Well, I’m working on this real killer―” Continue reading “How I Created I Hunt Killers by Accident”

Blood, Kin and Structure: A Conversation between Andrew Vachss and Joe R. Landale, Part II

NsameMissed Part I? Read it here.

Joe Lansdale: It changed my life. Reading books and going to libraries. I mean we have so much that’s online now, but when I was growing up and you were growing up, libraries were very import, especially if you couldn’t afford books. And a lot of times I couldn’t. So I would spend a tremendous amount of time in libraries and books like Huckleberry Finn and To Kill A Mockingbird all changed my life, and not just in the way of teaching you certain things and reinforcing things you were being taught.

But there was a kind of magic and beauty and almost mythological element to those books, and I know that what I was striving for to some extent was to give this sort of excitement and suspense and to talk about the things that you and I have been talking about, but also bring this sort of beauty and magic to things that were sort of dark and enchanting at the same time.

Andrew Vachss: How big was the library that you had access to as a child?

JL: The original was a book mobile, and you know how big a book mobile is. It was essentially a little bus or van that came around that had books and you’d let kids come in one or two at a time and walk down the aisles and check them out, and then it came back a week or two later, whatever the time was, and then you returned that book and got another one.

And so that was my first one, and the second one was a library that at the time I thought was big. I mean I look at it now and I know it wasn’t. But I read every book in there that I possibly had an interest in, and then I went to the Gladewater Lot Library, which was a little bigger. But to me, I read anything that I could get my hands on. I mean if I found books in the garbage or if I found magazines . . . you know my mom picked up things for me when she could. But the original thing was the size of a small van.

Continue reading “Blood, Kin and Structure: A Conversation between Andrew Vachss and Joe R. Landale, Part II”

An Interview with Joe R. Lansdale: Part II

Joe R. Lansdale, whose acclaimed new novel EDGE OF DARK WATER caused New York Journal of Books to proclaim it has “all the potential of becoming a classic, read by generations to come,” recently took some time out of his day to talk with Mulholland Books about his inspirations and writing process while his novel works its way into bookstores across the country.

Missed Part I? Read it here.

Did you choose Hollywood as the characters’ destination for reasons other than May’s ambitions for her life? What do you think a place like Hollywood represent to people in Depression Era, small East Texas towns like the one in which EDGE OF DARK WATER is set? Did you have something in mind for what Hollywood represented for May Lynn, specifically?

Hollywood, especially then, the thirties, was one of those far away places that seemed to offer something special. It was a place someone could go to and become something new and shiny and famous. Or at least that was the thought. It was like Oz. A magical place.

It was a dream destination; it was very early on part of our American myth. I think for May Lynn it was that and more. It was a possible escape from poverty and the possibility of maybe working in a café and then becoming a wife and mother. Not bad ambitious, necessarily. But they weren’t good ambitions for her; she felt she was something special, and that there was a magic cloak out there in Hollywood somewhere waiting to be tossed over her shoulders.

Speaking of Hollywood, a few of your stories have been adapted for television and film, including the novella Bubba Ho-Tep, which was adapted into the cult classic film of the same name starring Bruce Campbell. Can you tell us a little about how it feels to see your writing transformed for the screen? Continue reading “An Interview with Joe R. Lansdale: Part II”

A Conversation with Joe Lansdale: Part I

Joe R. Lansdale’s eagerly anticipated novel EDGE OF DARK WATER, which has already received tremendous praise and was selected by Publishers Weekly as one of its top picks of the Spring 2012, is working its way into bookstore across the country now.

Joe recently took some time out of his day to take part in a conversation with Mulholland Books about his acclaimed new novel. Start reading Part I below.

EDGE OF DARK WATER is set during the Depression Era. How much does the time period influence the story? What do you enjoy most about writing in earlier times? What’s most difficult about it for you?

The Great Depression was the engine for the story. I didn’t make a point of identifying the era, I just sort of let the story determine that gradually with clues the reader would pick up on. I think I originally wrote it with a year in mind, and slipped it in, but when I started rereading it, I took that out. I thought it stood on it’s on, and the time period would be evident, and that if it wasn’t it would stand on it’s on without it. But I think it’s pretty clear. I grew up on stories about the Great Depression because my father and mother were born at the turn of the twentieth century. My father in 1909, my mother in 1914, I believe.

My dad was in his early forties when I was born and my mother in her late thirties, so they had reached their mature years during the Great Depression. My father had ridden the rails to go from town to town to compete in boxing and wrestling matches at fairs. It wasn’t his primary way of making a living, but it was something he did because he needed the money, and he enjoyed it. For the record, those kinds of wrestling matches led to the invention of what is known as pro-wrestling today. Only when my dad did it, the outcome was not ordained.

I remember hearing stories about people being  poor and so desperate. My mother said once they only had onions to eat, for a week or so. And my father told me about some relatives of theirs that were so hungry they ate clay, craving the minerals, I suspect. A lot of my relatives had gone through the Great Depression, and it impacted them. They saved everything, and were very careful with food, cautious about being wasteful. They saved string and stubs of pencils and rubber bands, you name it. Now and again I’ve seen those TV episodes of things like HOARDERS, and thought, well, I can see why they saved that piece of cloth. It can be reused. And those shoes aren’t so bad. You could wear them to work in the yard; like I’m going to work in the yard. But the bottom line is growing up when they did, and then me growing up with them, and knowing what they had been through, it had its impact.

People think times are hard now, and it certainly is for some, but on the whole, not like it was then. Those were tough times and our country was on the brink. It just barely survived. That said, I did enjoy writing about that era because I feel such a kinship to it, having grown up hearing about it all my life. I think it’s more interesting to think about and write about than to live it, though it might be interesting to have lived through it. Continue reading “A Conversation with Joe Lansdale: Part I”

TORSO Revisited

Earlier this month, Marvel reintroduced a refreshed and reformatted edition of the classic, Eisner Award-winning crime comic TORSO, by Brian Michael Bendis and Marc Andreyko to graphic novel readers everywhere. Read on for an interview with Brian Michael Bendis and an excerpt from the comic’s opening pages.

How did the writing of TORSO influence your later crime comic work including SCARLET?

Torso was one of the biggest challenges of my career. Taking on the responsibility of a true story but abstracting it in graphic novel form is a very large mountain to climb. When Mark Andreyko  brought up the idea he was thinking of it only in movie terms, but I became obsessed with the idea of how to do the story is a graphic novel.

Once you delve into that level of reality and research on one project, it becomes the standard to which every other project, whether it is Scarlet or even Spiderman, must rise to. Continue reading “TORSO Revisited”

Spy vs. Spy: Thomas Mullen Interviews Olen Steinhauer

The Weather ManIn the last three years, I’ve read six novels by Olen Steinhauer, more than any other writer. This doubtless means that I have neglected the classics of late, but it also speaks to the addictive nature of the worlds he creates and the rush that readers receive when being propelled through his spiraling plots.

Steinhauer has rightly been called the heir to John le Carre and a modern master of the spy novel. This month marks the publication of An American Spy, the conclusion of his critically acclaimed trilogy that follows the misadventures of Milo Weaver, an operative in the CIA’s secretive Department of Tourism.

Through a convoluted series of dead drops at international airports, crinkled notes in Brooklyn doggie parks, and flash drives left behind at Starbucks locations in the Bay Area, I asked Olen the following questions. His answers arrived in my inbox a few weeks later, as a coded attachment to an email from a Nigerian man asking me if I’d help wire some money to his family.

Thomas Mullen: While I was writing my own attempt at a spy novel, I read in a review somewhere that “all the best spy novelists were themselves once spies,” noting people like John le Carre and Joseph Conrad. I thought, “Oh, shit.” But then I remember writers like you, and I feel better. After all, you’ve written outstanding spy novels, yet you were not a spy (as far as I know). Do readers and critics too often underestimate the value of imagination and research?

Olen Steinhauer: How about Eric Ambler, Len Deighton, and Alan Furst?

I think the media, and readers, really do underestimate the value of research and imagination in this regard. Le Carre was once briefly a spy, but what he created is realistic only in small part because of this. He began writing when fantasy spies (read: 007) were all the rage, and he knew from experience that espionage looked a lot different. Yet when it came to creating his fictional spy universe, he depended primarily on his knowledge of human nature, which is why his novels read like reality.

A knowledge of human nature is any novelist’s real tool (without it a novelist has no business writing novels), and if used properly it gives verisimilitude to strange planets, a distant past or culture, and the peculiar subculture of espionage. An obvious point to bring up is that Ian Fleming worked in espionage during World War II, but I don’t think anyone would call his books realistic, least of all him. Continue reading “Spy vs. Spy: Thomas Mullen Interviews Olen Steinhauer”