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Don Winslow, Interviewed by Shane Salerno

Today, the film Savages, based on the Don Winslow novel of the same name, opens in theaters. Check out the trailer, if you haven’t already. Directed by Oscar winner Oliver Stone, the film’s screenplay is the product of a collaboration between novelist Don Winslow and screenwriter Shane Salerno. Winslow and Salerno have known each other for a long time – thirteen years to be exact. They have worked together, including creating the NBC TV series UC: Undercover, trust each other implicitly and often exchange early drafts of their work and talk on the phone every day, usually about film adaptations of Winslow’s work which Salerno produces. At our request, Salerno rang up his buddy Winslow who was in the middle of a cross-country book tour and interviewed the acclaimed crime writer about his life and work.

Salerno: What does it mean for you to be a writer?

Winslow: It means everything to me to be a writer. You know I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was a little kid. I grew up with great story tellers. My old man was a sailor, and I used to sit under the dining room table when he had his old Navy buddies over, and he’d pretend to think that I’d gone to bed and he’d let me sit there and listen to some of the best story tellers in the world so I always worshiped those guys. And we always had books around the house. My old man came out of World War II, you know 17 years old on Guadalcanal and what he wanted to do was ride around on boats, go to every zoo in the world and sit around and read books. So there were always books around our house and we were allowed to read anything we wanted at any age. There was no censorship, no nothing and so I imagined from when I was 5 or 6 years or so that if I could be a writer that would be the best thing in the world to be.

Salerno: Tell me 5 books that knocked you out?

Winslow: Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, George Eliot’s Middlemarch, James Ellroy’s L.A. Confidential–where am I? that’s three?–a book called A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry, it’ll come to me, a really beautiful Indian novel about Mumbai, and, without question, All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy.

Salerno: Name some authors’ you consistently admire in the genre?

Winslow: Well, James Ellroy, T. Jefferson Parker, Michael Connelly, Ken Bruen and John Harvey, Dennis Lehane and Lee Child.

Salerno: You’ve been married for twenty-five years, and yet all of your characters are a mess. How do you access that?

Winslow: [laughs] All of my characters are a mess?

Salerno: They’re a mess!–Every single one of them.–A beautiful mess in some cases but…

Winslow: Y’know, I think methods are interesting. You know what I mean? Vulnerability’s interesting. I don’t think like ‘steady’ is real interesting in fiction, you know? I think that a character’s flaws are what give a character depth and interest. So, I’ve been married for 25 years but I had a life before I was married. It’s a little hard to remember sometimes but I did and I think I was the same kind of flawed, kind of vulnerable kind of character so it is pretty easy for me to access that .

At the same time, I think, you know any writer looks around him. You know, you look at people you look at relationships, you look at other people you know, you look at people in restaurants and cafés, you sit there and you make up stories about them you hear snatches of conversation you see little bits of behavior and that finds its way into your work. But if I was to just sit and write about myself I think we’d have some damn dull books. It would be about some guy sitting alone in a room typing. Not very interesting

Salerno: Give us a short history of your childhood, your parents and growing up.

Winslow: Oh, man. There’s no short history. My dad was a Navy man, Marine in World War II, and then into the Navy, Childhood was spent on most of the destroyer ports on the East Coast. My mom was from New Orleans, my dad met her while he was on leave during World War II. They got married six weeks later, and she came from a family of gamblers. My grandmother was a ward healer for Huey Long after the depression, and then she worked for Carlos Marcello the Mafia chief who probably had Kennedy killed — who by the way I met as a child we used to go to parties at his house in Algiers.

Continue reading “Don Winslow, Interviewed by Shane Salerno”

A Conversation with George Pelecanos: Part II

Part II of the conversation with George Pelecanos celebrating the publication of THE CUT, which the Chicago Sun Times recommends, “Soak it up.” The Washington Post praises Pelecanos’s ability to “maintain a remarkably high level of intelligence and style” and the Los Angeles Times appreciates that “Pelecanos has made Washington his literary stomping grounds, and he gets granular in THE CUT…as clear as if he’d drawn you a map.” If you missed Part I, start reading here.

WALLACE STROBY: I think, for a certain generation of writers, a lot of our work has been influenced by films we saw during our formative years in the 1970s. What are your five favorite crime films of the ‘70s, and why?

GEORGE PELECANOS: THE FRENCH CONNECTION (1971). Not just a film wrapped around a car chase, but an evocative time capsule of ‘70s New York, and an unflinching look at an obsessive cop.  Like the up-on-coke sequence of GOODFELLAS, Friedkin’s kinetic style puts us directly into the fevered mind of Popeye Doyle.  And there’s that chase.

THE GETAWAY (1972). Peckinpah directs the Walter Hill adaptation of Jim Thompson’s novel with signature style. Steve McQueen is believable as a tough guy who just got out of prison and wants his due.  With a flawless supporting cast and a bang-up climax involving shotguns, an old hotel, gunmen arriving in a big convertible, and Al Lettieri, the screen’s greatest vulgarian. I know all about Thompson’s ending versus Peckinpah’s, but no one should bitch about the film’s last scene; it’s damn near perfect.

ROLLING THUNDER (1977). Vietnam vet William Devane returns home to a world he no longer understands and gets his hand shoved down a garbage disposal by home invaders. Devane sharpens the hook on the end of his arm, cuts down a shotgun, and goes to work. John Flynn, directing from a Paul Schrader script, crafts a slow-building actioner and elicits ace performances from all concerned, most notably blaxploitation veteran Linda Haynes, Luke Askew as Automatic Slim, and Tommy Lee Jones as Devane’s damaged, loyal war buddy. Watch Devane and Jones blow the shit out of their enemies in a whorehouse at the film’s climax. “I’ll just get my gear.”

CHARLEY VARRICK (1973).  Don Siegel’s thief-unwittingly-steals-from-the-mob movie is first-rate entertainment featuring the director’s crackerjack stock troupe of character actors.  Walter Matthau plays the title role with understated cool, and Joe Don Baker is memorable as a killer named Molly. I proudly own a T-shirt that reads, “The Last of the Independents.”  It’s written on Charley’s flight suit, which figures prominently in the film’s last shot.

DIRTY HARRY (1971).  Siegel again, directing Eastwood. Yeah, it was popular, but there was a reason it hit a public nerve. A studio film with this kind of lead character was truly anarchic and would never be greenlit today. Pauline Kael trashed it, which made me want to see it twice.  She hated STRAW DOGS, too.

Continue reading “A Conversation with George Pelecanos: Part II”

An Excerpt from Limitless: Part II

In 2002, Alan Glynn wrote the celebrated suspense novel The Dark Fields. On March 18, The Dark Fields will come to theaters as the film Limitless, starring Bradley Cooper, Robert DeNiro and Abbie Cornish.  To celebrate, Mulholland Books will run a three-part series: three chapters from the book (generously provided by Picador from their Limitless movie tie-in edition), accompanied by stills from the film. As well as some forthcoming extras. Get ready for Limitless, the author’s cut.

Missed Part 1? Read it first.

We went to a bar over on Sixth, a cheesy retro cocktail lounge called Maxie’s that used to be a Tex-Mex place called El Charro and before that had been a spit-and-sawdust joint called Conroy’s. It took us a few moments to adjust to the lighting and the decor of the interior, and, weirdly, to find a booth that Vernon was happy with. The place was virtually empty—it wouldn’t be getting busy for another while yet, not until five o’clock at least—but Vernon was behaving as though it were the small hours of a Saturday morning and we were staking our claim to the last available seats in the last open bar in town. It was only then, as I watched him case each booth for line of vision and proximity to toilets and exits, that I realized something was up. He was edgy and nervous, and this was unusual for him—or at any rate unusual for the Vernon I’d known, his one great virtue as a coke dealer having been his relative composure at all times. Other dealers I’d been acquainted with generally behaved like ads for the product they were shifting in that they hopped around the place incessantly and talked a lot. Vernon, on the other hand, had always been quiet and businesslike, unassuming, a good listener—maybe even a little too passive sometimes, like a dedicated weed smoker adrift in a sea of coke-fiends. In fact, if I hadn’t known better, I might have thought that Vernon—or at least this person in front of me—had done his first few lines of coke that very afternoon and wasn’t handling it very well. Continue reading “An Excerpt from Limitless: Part II”

An Excerpt from LIMITLESS

In 2002, Alan Glynn wrote the celebrated suspense novel The Dark Fields. On March 18, The Dark Fields will come to theaters as the film Limitless, starring Bradley Cooper, Robert DeNiro and Abbie Cornish.  To celebrate, Mulholland Books will run a three-part series: three chapters from the book (generously provided by Picador from their Limitless movie tie-in edition), accompanied by stills from the film. As well as some forthcoming extras. Get ready for Limitless, the author’s cut.

[1]

IT’S GETTING LATE.

I don’t have too sharp a sense of time any more, but I know it must be after eleven, and maybe even getting on for midnight. I’m reluctant to look at my watch, though—because that will only remind me of how little time I have left.

In any case, it’s getting late.

And it’s quiet. Apart from the ice-machine humming outside my door and the occasional car passing by on the highway, I can’t actually hear a thing—no traffic, or sirens, or music, or local people talking, or animals making weird nightcalls to each other, if that’s what animals do. Nothing. No sounds at all. It’s eerie, and I don’t really like it. So maybe I shouldn’t have come all the way up here. Maybe I should have just stayed in the city, and let the time-lapse flicker of the lights short-circuit my now preternatural attention span, let the relentless bustle and noise wear me down and burn up all this energy I’ve got pumping through my system. But if I hadn’t come up here to Vermont, to this motel—to the Northview Motor Lodge—where would I have stayed? I couldn’t very well have inflicted my little mushroom-cloud of woes on any of my friends, so I guess I had no option but to do what I did—get in a car and leave the city, drive hundreds of miles up here to this quiet, empty part of the country . . . Continue reading “An Excerpt from LIMITLESS”