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A Conversation with Duane Swierczynski and Ed Brubaker: Part II

This week, we celebrate the publication of FUN & GAMES by Duane Swierczynski, a book that CNN.com says “reads like a Quentin Tarantino movie on speed, full of high-octane action, flying by at a breakneck pace, not for the faint of heart, but also with plenty of humor.” Here, we present Part II of a conversation between Swierczynski and award-winning writer Ed Brubaker, author of CRIMINAL, SLEEPER and INCOGNITO, among many others.

Missed Part I? Start reading it here.

DS: The idea for Charlie Hardie, the house sitter, came first, though he didn’t have a name for a long time. You think “house sitter,” you kind of think “burnout.” (My apologies to the many fine professional housesitters working the mansions of America today; I don’t mean you guys.) Anyway, at the very least, I imagined somebody’s who’s been through a rough patch. Someone who used to know how to handle himself, but maybe had fallen on hard times, and was more than a little rusty. Like you said, all of this stuff goes into a mental blender and spins around for a long time… and slowly, a character emerged.

See, I like your question a lot — and it applies to Charlie, because it’s clear he wants to escape from his life. Yet, life won’t let him. It keeps picking on him.

The idea for the… uh, female lead (don’t want to spoil anything) was more or less inspired by certain pieces of celebrity gossip. As well as the whole idea that you can easily bump into a celebrity in L.A., which I find interesting — would you recognize, say, Blake Lively in a very out-of-context situation? Like, if she suddenly broke into your hotel room and told you people were trying to kill her?

Question for you, along the same lines: Do you get starstruck at all? And if so, is it for actors, directors, writers, or musicians?

Continue reading “A Conversation with Duane Swierczynski and Ed Brubaker: Part II”

Ray Bradbury is my ‘Father’

Growing up in a small country town in Australia, my only experience of the wider world came through grainy black and white TV images and the magic of the books that I borrowed from the local library.

I remember being eight-years-old, in July 1969, when teachers assembled the entire school – barely a hundred students – into one classroom. They wheeled in a television and we watched Neil Armstrong emerge from the landing module of Apollo 11. We held our breath. One small step…one giant leap…

Everyone applauded except me. It’s not that I didn’t appreciate the enormity of the achievement, but I had already been to the moon and walked on the surface of Mars and smelt the pungent odor of Jupiter. I had traveled the universe with a writer called Ray Bradbury, who is perhaps the reason that I’m a novelist today.

Bradbury was born in 1920 in Waukegan, Illinois, the son of a lineman for the local power company, who moved often for work between Illinois and Arizona. When very young he developed a passion for the books of Edgar Allan Poe and L. Frank Baum, while immersing himself in popular culture such as cinema, comic strips and traveling circuses.

There were tragedies in his early life. His beloved grandfather and his baby sister died of pneumonia – which could explain why a sense of loss haunts so many of Bradbury’s stories and novels.

At the age of fourteen he moved to California and has lived there ever since. After he graduated from Los Angeles High School in 1938, he joined the Los Angeles Science Fiction League, befriending writers Robert Heinlein and Leigh Brackett. In 1940 he sold his first story to a literary magazine – and a career began that would span more than seventy years.

Apart from numerous books and short stories, Bradbury wrote for years for both Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Twilight Zone. He has penned the screenplay for the classic 1956 version of Moby Dick starring Gregory Peck and directed by John Huston.

I wasn’t born until 1960, but I discovered Bradbury when I graduated from picture books to short stories. From memory, the first I ever picked up was The Illustrated Man a collection of eighteen short stories that opens in Wisconsin where two men sit down to share a meal around a campfire and one unbuttons his shirt to reveal a canvas of ink-decorated skin. In the flickering firelight, the images begin to breathe and move. Each of the tattoos tells a story and gives a vision of humankind’s destiny. There were tales of star-travel, Martian invasions, junkyard rockets and technology awakening our worst instincts.

Continue reading “Ray Bradbury is my ‘Father’”

A Conversation with Michael Robotham and Mark Billingham: Part II

In our ongoing celebration of the publication of THE WRECKAGE, we had Mark Billingham, author of BLOODLINE and Michael Robotham discuss the passage of time for series characters, the origins of THE WRECKAGE, the joys of being an international author and more. Missed Part I? Read it first.

MB: What you say about your characters as friends is interesting. We did a few events together when you were over here recently, and I was struck by the way you talked about your characters – Joe, especially. You mentioned that you regretted giving him Parkinson’s disease for instance. It felt as though you were talking about a friend.

MR: It’s true. We’ve had this chat before – about how ‘real’ characters become. I know you feel that you’re always in charge of Thorne and your characters, but I find that mine lead me around at times…not doing as they’re told. Joe O’Loughlin is probably the closest to me in age and personality. He has two daughters. I have three. I really really love the guy and If I had my time over again, I would never have given him early onset Parkinson’s Disease.

MB: But you can control the rate of his decline, right?

MR: What I have to do is stop aging him in real time. It’s hard to get my head around the fact that he can age slower than I can.

MB: I took that decision with Thorne a few years ago. It’s pretty liberating. As long as you don’t get stupid about it and keep your characters at the same age for way too long…

MR: What do I do about the children? Can Joe stay the same age, but his daughters grow older? I like the idea that they are growing up. I get so much material from my own teenage daughters. In a perfect world, I’d stop them growing…or meeting boys.

MB: Playing God can get tricky, right? Now, as usual there’s clearly a lot of research behind the new book. Your journo years must have stood you in good stead when it comes to this kind of thing.

Continue reading “A Conversation with Michael Robotham and Mark Billingham: Part II”

A Conversation with Michael Robotham and Mark Billingham: Part I

"lost in time" - infrared photograph, AustraliaIn our ongoing celebration of the publication of THE WRECKAGE, we had Mark Billingham, author of BLOODLINE and Michael Robotham get together for a chat. In Part One of the conversation, they discuss ghostwriting, recurring characters and new challenges.

MB: So another great day in Sydney? How the hell do you write dark twisted mysteries sitting there in paradise?

MR: I must admit I do have trouble glancing out my window and imagining the mean streets. Instead I have sun, sand, surf and…kookaburras. That’s why I don’t write books set in Australia.

MB: Right, we don’t have too much trouble with sunshine in this country.

MR: I wrote a novel years ago – my great unpublished Australian masterpiece – set in a small fishing village. It was on the verge of being published in the UK, but missed out at the final publishing meeting. I was told that if I had set the story in Ireland, Scotland, Wales or England, it would have published it in a heartbeat. That was twenty years ago. Thankfully things have changed a lot since then. Readers are picking up books from all over the world.

MB: Were you attracted to writing stuff set here in the UK after all the years you spent working here as a journalist?

MR: I think I was more realistic having been a journalist and then a ghostwriter in the UK. I’d been making a living from writing for so long, I wasn’t prepared to live on oranges in some freezing garret. I knew that a UK setting would give me a bigger market. We writers aren’t supposed to talk about the commercial side of what we do. We’re supposed to do it for love. But let’s face it. We have bills to pay. Mortgages. School fees.

MB: Too right!. So let’s talk for a bit about the ghostwriter business. How hard is it to write in the persona of someone else? Someone real, I mean.

MR: I did 15 autobiographies for the great and the good…and less good. It was all about capturing the voice, which is not much different to fiction only I was dealing with real characters instead of fictitious ones. It meant living with them for weeks, taping their stories, having them cry on my shoulder. I became part therapist, part-confidante, and part best friend…

MB:  And there are still some that you aren’t allowed to name, right?

MR: I can name about half of them. Otherwise I’d have to kill you.

MB: Well I won’t push it then! Were there some subjects that were just impossible to work with?

Continue reading “A Conversation with Michael Robotham and Mark Billingham: Part I”

When Truth is Stranger Than…

This week, we celebrate the release of Michael Robotham’s THE WRECKAGE, a book that Nelson DeMille called “One of the best novels to come out of the chaos of Iraq; a penetrating peek through the fog of war” and David Baldacci  said, “I have seldom read a more chilling and suspenseful tale.” Here, Michael tells the story behind the novel.

The writing of a novel begins with an idea, which is like an itch that you can’t scratch and nobody can do it for you because it’s in one of those moist private places that other people don’t want to touch. (No, it’s not something that requires a trip to the doctor and a course of antibiotics.)

My itch began in October 2007 when I read a brilliant piece of investigative journalism in Vanity Fair, written by James Steele and Donald Barlett two Pulitzer prize-winning reporters. Steele and Barlett exposed details of the largest airlift of US currency in the history of the Federal Reserve – twenty-one shipments over fourteen months – flown into Iraq in the aftermath of the Iraq War. Stacks of $100 bills were packed into bricks, assembled into large pallets and loaded onto cargo planes bound for Baghdad. It amounted to 281 million individual banknotes or 363 tons of money. Twelve billion US dollars in total – of which nine billion has never been accounted for.  Missing. Gone.

Having been an investigative journalist for nearly fifteen years, I was fascinated by the account and by the fate of the money. This was the itch I couldn’t quite reach. Because I was no longer, a journalist, I tried to ignore the idea, but it became a futile exercise in thought suppression.

Continue reading “When Truth is Stranger Than…”

In the Morgue

Day 4: The MorgueWe celebrate the publication of Michael Koryta’s THE RIDGE, a novel that the New York Times Book Review calls “a freshly imagined and elegantly constructed variation on the dead-of-night ghost story.” Here, Koryta, a former journalist, explores the appeal of the newspaper morgue–a treasure trove of long, lost stories.

Journalists tend to have a rather odd sense of humor. I have an enormous framed banner in my home that reads: “If you’re looking for Koryta, he’s in the morgue,” and every journalist I worked with found it quite amusing.

It was a parting gift from my friends and colleagues at the Bloomington Herald-Times when I left the newspaper, and it had hung for several years on the wall beside my desk. The reason I could be found in the morgue so often: I was fascinated with the old stories, the forgotten local history recorded by people who had once played the same role that I was now carrying out.

My writing career, though, really did begin in the newspaper morgue, and I think that’s entirely appropriate. I’ve always viewed my sort of fiction writing as coming more from a place of old stories than from the breaking-news side. In both my detective novels and the supernatural stories, there’s a Gothic sensibility at play: the past is reaching out and grabbing the present by its throat. I’ve also always written with the idea that I’m not so much creating the story as discovering it, and for every plot manipulation and alteration, I’m convinced that I’m working toward something that was already there, that I’m just trying to get the fiction sorted properly in the same way I tried to get the facts sorted properly while working as a reporter or private investigator.

Continue reading “In the Morgue”

The Writing of A Drop of the Hard Stuff

An abbreviated version of the following essay appeared on Amazon’s Kindle Daily blog. We thought our dedicated readers might want a look at Block’s words in full. Enjoy!

I was afraid I might be done writing about Matthew Scudder.

I’d certainly spent enough years in his company.  From 1975’sThe Sins of the Fathers all the way to All the Flowers are Dying in 2005, I’d written sixteen Matthew Scudder novels, along with a handful of short stories.  And, because the fellow has aged in real time throughout the series, he’s now reached and passed the biblical high water mark of three score years and ten.  Even if you’re optimistic enough to argue that 72 is the new 71, the fellow’s still a little old to be leaping tall buildings in a single bound.

Now I should point out that this was not the first time I thought Scudder and I were done with each other.  In the fifth book, Eight Million Ways to Die (1982), the fellow confronted his alcoholism and, not without difficulty, chose sobriety.  That was all well and good for him, but I figured I’d written myself out of a job.  The man had undergone a catharsis, he’d confronted the central problem of his existence, so what was left to say about him?  His d’etre, you might say, had lost its raison, and I’d be well advised to go write about somebody else. Continue reading “The Writing of A Drop of the Hard Stuff”

First Lines

Typewriter 5We’re all about page turning here at Mulholland Books and one of the things that really gets you reading is a fabulous first line. We’ve compiled a few that we like, but this is just a starting point. Really, we want to know YOUR favorite first lines. Please contribute your pick in the comments! We might even have Mulholland tote bags for those who particularly surprise us.

“Death is my beat.” –The Poet by Michael Connelly

“Clouds like gusted shadows of the dead moved past the Lenten moon, drifting west toward Jersey. Louie saw them.” –Cut Numbers by Nick Tosches

“I never knew her in life.” –The Black Dahlia by James Ellroy

“The first time I laid eyes on Terry Lennox he was drunk in a Roll-Royce Silver Wraith outside the terrace of The Dancers.” –The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler

“Jack Reacher ordered espresso, double, no peel, no cube, foam cup, no china, and before it arrived he saw a man’s life change forever.” –The Hard Way by Lee Child

“Fuck you.” –Savages by Don Winslow

“Garfield Potter sat low behind the wheel of an idling Caprice, his thumb stroking the rubber grip of the Colt revolver loosely fitted between his legs.” –Hell to Pay by George Pelecanos

“Her stomach clutched at the sight of the water tower hovering above the still, bare trees, a spaceship come to earth.” –What the Dead Know by Laura Lippman

“You’re no angel, you know how this stuff comes to happen: Friday is payday and it’s been a grand day sogged by a slow ugly rain and you seek company in your gloom, and since you’re fresh to West Table, Mo., with a new hand at the dog-food factory, your choices for company are narrow but you find some finally in a trailer court on East Main, and the coed circle of bums gathered there spot you a beer, then a jug of Tequila starts to rotate and the rain keeps comin’ down with a miserable bluesy beat and there’s two girls millin’ about that probably can be had but they seem to like certain things and crank is one of those certain things, and a fistful of party straws tumble from a woven handbag somebody brung, the crank gets cut into lines, and the next time you notice the time it’s three or four Sunday mornin’ and you ain’t slept since Thursday night and one of the girl voices, the one you want most and ain’t had yet though her teeth are the size of shoe-peg corn and look like maybe they’d taste sort of sour, suggests something to do, ‘cause with crank you just want something, anything, to do, and this cajoling voice suggests we all rob this certain house on this certain street in that rich area where folks can afford to wallow in their vices and likely have a bunch of recreational dope stashed around the mansion and goin’ to waste since an article in The Scroll said the rich people whisked off to France or some such on a noteworthy vacation.” –Tomato Red by Daniel Woodrell

“When a fresh-faced guy in a Chevy offered him a lift, Parker told him to go to hell.” –The Hunter by Richard Stark

Keep the list going! Contribute in the comments.

Fearful Joys

German Reichstag in BerlinLooking at the Recently Played smartlist in iTunes, I can tell there’s a song that’s had massively more airplay in my world than any other over the last couple of months. That doesn’t surprise me. I’ve put it on at random points during the day. I’ve had it on repeat in the background while I’ve worked at a scene. I’ve sneakily put it on several times while people have been over for dinner, and listened to it again after they’ve gone, while tidying up kitchen. The song is Ich Bin Ich, by Rosenstolz.

And the strange thing is that I have absolutely no clue what it is about.

One of the reasons I like listening to European pop (apart from the songwriters being unafraid of outmoded concepts like ‘melody’) is that if I leave my mind off the hook it’s merely a pleasant sound; with lyrics in English the words pick at me and distract me from working. I listen to a bit of French pop too — I like it, so screw you — and with those songs I can generally make some sense of the words, if I concentrate. Rosenstolz are from Austria. With German, I’m totally lost. It might just as well be in Aramaic, or Welsh, or machine code.

Continue reading “Fearful Joys”

A Conversation with Pete Hamill and Carl Hiaasen: Part II

read all about it.In our ongoing celebration of the publication of Tabloid City , we recorded a conversation between old friends Pete Hamill and Carl Hiaasen.If you missed Part I of the conversation, read it here. In Part II, they discuss local reporting, the future of journalism and the joy of being a novelist.

Carl: There’s a character in Tabloid City who I really loved. She reminded me of police reporters I’ve known, Helen Loomis is her name. All of us who grew up in a newsroom remember the Helen Loomis-es of the world. The best cop reporters of all time. They’re just wonderful, the best reporters, the fastest and the best writers on deadline.

Pete: And the least diva-like.

Carl: Because they’re dealing with the most horrible of human conditions every day of their lives. The most horrible crimes. The victim is a child or someone who is helpless. I mean, the stuff that most of us wake up with nightmares about. She’s a great character.

Pete: She’s obviously based on a couple of real life people I’ve known in the past. And I hope we keep getting people like that.

Carl: How do we do local reporting now? It’s one thing if you’re the Wall Street Journal or the Times. But what happens if you live in Rockledge, Florida. And you don’t have a local paper covering the city council, covering the police beat. How do you get your news without the Helen Loomis-es.

Pete: If you have a hyper-local site, as they now call them, dealing specifically with the local. It’s not the site that writes the stories, it’s reporters. And I think all these newspapers laying off people all over the place: that that is one of the greatest recruiting grounds for talent that is also a teaching talent. That these older people who are getting laid off—copyeditors and beat reporters. They should instruct the young in the craft. They don’t have to have big long airy sermons about ethics and all that. But the craft. Like how they instructed people in 15th century Florence by having them paint clouds for a year and a half and maybe getting up to eyelashes in the second year. To pass that craft on, it can’t be completely taught in journalism schools. How to create something that is right and accurate in 20 minutes because the deadline is looming. I think we’re crazy as a people, not just because I loved the life I had as a newspaperman, we’re crazy to let those people go sit in the sun in Sarasota. I think they should be working somewhere as a post-graduate school for a lot of kids. And making the internet professional.

Continue reading “A Conversation with Pete Hamill and Carl Hiaasen: Part II”