Monday, October 20, 2014


At the urging of our mutual publisher, Hadley Colt and I recently engaged in some charla profunda.

Chiefly, we talked shop about the challenges and dark enticements of writing about writing and putting authors down on the page.

Hadly's new book is about a mysterious cult writer who may not be quite as south of the sod as the literati wish to think.

My new novel is about Hector Lassiter and fellow author Brinke Devlin poking around some Key West skullduggery while pounding out their own fictional works.

You can find our two-handed interview here.

Also, do please check out Hadley's PERMANENT FATAL ERROR and consider making a visit to her blog.

You should also please consider following Hadley Colt  on Twitter here and Facebook right here.

This is the trailer to Hadley's new novel. I frankly envy the sucker:

Sunday, October 19, 2014


Irish-born, Cleveland cop Jimmy Hanrahan is my most-frequently re-visited, fictional sidekick, not just in the Hector Lassiter series, but in my books about Lassiter forerunner Chris Lyon, journalist-turned-novelist-turned-vigilante and uneasy family man.

In ROLL THE CREDITS, Jimmy’s third of his five significant appearances in my fictional universe, reciting from government files, OSS agent Duff Sexton at last gives a little official background on the man:

“James Butler Hanrahan,” Duff said. “Born March 17, 1902, to Stephen and Molly Hanrahan in Rathgar, Ireland. Your father was an English professor who moved the family to the States when he accepted a teaching position at Western Reserve University in Ohio in—”

That tells you at least a little more about the man.

Actually, in a fictional sense, Jimmy was born about 1990 when I was writing my first novel—not first-published novel mind you—called PARTS UNKNOWN.

After many years lost ala Hector, struggling to write the literary novels I thought I was obligated to write but which I was not particularly passionate about, sparked by James Ellroy’s THE BIG NOWHERE, I at last turned my hand to so-called “crime fiction.”

For subject matter, I cast back to a historical fiend who stalked northern Ohio during the hard years of the Depression, a homicidal whack-job dubbed variously the “Torso Slayer” and the “Mad Butcher of Kingsbury Run.”

Taking two actual cops who chased the Mad Butcher—one of those detectives did so long-past his official badge-carrying days—I melded the two men into Irish cop Jimmy Hanrahan.

Jimmy was tarnished reporter Chris Lyon’s sidekick in two long-ago written novels a solid decade before he shouldered his way into three Lassiter novels, including ROLL THE CREDITS, THE RUNNING KIND (coming soon) and PRINT THE LEGEND.

(If you look closely, you’ll catch a glimpse of him in the latter pages of the forthcoming HEAD GAMES graphic novel.)

There’s a Website I’ve contributed more than a few pieces to, called MY BOOK, THE MOVIE. If I was to write a piece about Jimmy for that site, my ideal actor to play the role would have been Charles Durning. When I write Jimmy, when I hear his voice in his head, it’s Durning I’m seeing and hearing.

(Jimmy's other significant appearance comes in CABAL, #3 in the Chris Lyon series.)

ONE TRUE SENTENCE: Paperback/eBook


TOROS & TORSOS: Paperback/eBook


ROLL THE CREDITS: Paperback/eBook

Monday, October 13, 2014


Here’s a blast from the past: I’m pretty sure Vince Keenan, brave and kind soul that he is, holds the record for interviewing me the most times. This one first appeared on his site in 2011 when “One True Sentence” debuted in hardcover. This is a slightly shortened version of that interview. You can also reads Mr. Keenan’s review of OTS here.—Craig McDonald, October 13, 2014

What can you tell us about “One True Sentence”?

It’s 1920s Paris. It’s stands as the first Lassiter novel, chronologically. It’s crime novelist/screenwriter Hector Lassiter at ground zero. It’s the book in which he finds his writer’s voice, his path as a genre author, and in which he meets the woman who more or less “invents” the man/character of Hector Lassiter as we’ve come to know him in the three previous novels.

How do you feel the Lost Generation of expatriate American artists in 1920s France are viewed today? What fictional works depict that era best?

I think “The Lost Generation” has become almost a kind of brand that typifies a way of careless and carnal living as much as the (mostly perishable) writing produced by that generation.

As to works that catch that world, in terms of literature, I’d go with Hemingway’s “A Moveable Feast,” which poses as a memoir, but which Hemingway invites readers to regard as fiction. I personally take the book as a mixture of fact and fiction — as much novel as reminiscence.

My favorite film on that era, and one that has inspired to a degree “One True Sentence” and the earlier “Toros & Torsos,” is the Alan Rudolph film, “The Moderns.” It’s set in mid-1920s Paris, as Hemingway is between wives and “The Sun Also Rises” is just making its mark. It’s a mix of fictional and real characters including Hemingway and Gertrude Stein and a scathing look at art and the tension between life and the page (or canvas). It’s dark comedy punctuated with hot sex, a dreamy flavor of camera work and blurring of times, all set to a terrific, seductive score by Mark Isham.

You’ve said this book wraps up a loose trilogy within the Hector Lassiter series about Hec’s friendship with Ernest Hemingway. What effect does the popular conception of Hemingway have on your treatment of him as a character? Does his larger-than-life image make it easier or more difficult to write about him? Conversely, what challenges are posed by writing about real-life figures who are lesser known to contemporary readers, like Ford Madox Ford?

I try to write Hemingway as I think he must have been — warts and all, struggling with what was probably a fatal bi-polar condition and self-medicating as best he could with writing and alcohol. I’m frankly astounded he survived into his sixties. I’m not sure how widely Hem is read these days by those under, say, age 40, and if he is, I suspect his image as a man is probably shaped by comments by partisan professors and a few lines of biography at the back of his books.

In the 1980s, particularly after his last wife died, there were scores of Hemingway biographies published; a mini-series of his life in which Stacy Keach appeared. That all kind of tapered off in the late 1990s. I don’t think a major biography of Hemingway has appeared in the past decade or so. So I think his actual personality and biography are receding in the collective unconscious again. A piece of trivia: this summer will in fact mark the 50th anniversary of Hem’s death.

In terms of writing Ford and Gertrude Stein and the like, I essentially tried to portray them in a manner consistent with Hemingway’s portraits in “A Moveable Feast,” and, really, as simply other characters. In that sense, “One True Sentence” was essentially conceived to be a crime novel recasting of Hemingway’s “Feast.”

A recurring theme in the book is the distinction between literary and genre writing, and between types within genre (crime fiction versus mystery fiction). How seriously were such distinctions taken in the salons of 1920s Paris? What about today?

One of the first books Gertrude Stein gave an unknown Hemingway to read was the crime novel “The Lodger,” Marie Belloc Lowndes’ Jack the Ripper novel. Stein regarded it as a mystery but of a higher level than most. Hem shared her take. Stein really was an unabashed mystery fan and called her favorite mystery writers “mystifiers.” Hemingway biographies and letters to his publisher requesting novels to be shipped to him include books by Ian Fleming, Raymond Chandler and Georges Simenon, among many others. Hem dug crime fiction, in his way.

The great tension of the time — then and I guess even now — was the conflict between literary and genre fiction. Hemingway was a critical darling when he was unpaid and writing for little magazines and publishing with obscure presses that printed books in runs of under 200. As soon as he signed with Scribner’s and entered the mainstream, Hem was vilified by the Left Bank literati. Going from an Indy to a major house can be a real risk for an author who doesn’t quiet keep a foot comfortably in either pond, and Hem took it from several nasty directions for making that change to a mainstream outlet. Paraphrasing, Hem said he aimed to be read by the low- and the high-brows. And you know, in the end, he pulled it off.

What authors inspired Hector Lassiter? Are there real-world antecedents for Hec’s paramour and fellow writer Brinke Devlin?

Hector is a an amalgam of various writers including James Crumley, Jonathan Latimer (a short-lived Hemingway friend in Key West) and a couple of others I’m not quite prepared to identify yet.

And Brinke? Brinke Devlin is modeled on a real woman, but recast to resemble Louise Brooks and to write a bit like Craig Rice. Brinke is, in a sense, the female version of Hector and, as it proves out, a kind of template for Hector’s own writer’s persona. Not to say she’s his one true love, but she is the pivotal woman in his life, that simple.

You wrote all eight books in the Lassiter series, of which “One True Sentence” is the fourth, before the second was published. At what point did you realize the scale of this project? Has that scale affected the publishing process?

I wrote the first, “Head Games,” and figured I was done with Hector. So I wrote a standalone novel that’s scheduled to appear later this fall (“El Gavilan”). After I finished that, I got the idea for “Toros & Torsos” and realized it required Hector as “hero.” From there, I just kept writing them until I knew I had completed Hector’s arc. The ninth and last novel (“Three Chords & The Truth”) will bring us something like full circle, finally revealing what ever happened to Hector Lassiter. A lot of old faces will appear in that one from the first book. It really is a circle-closer.

The tricky thing is, because all the books exist, there’s a second-guessing and a re-sequencing that has happened as a result of editors coming, going and changing their minds. The first two novels followed my chosen sequence. “Print the Legend,” the third-published novel, was originally intended to be the next-to last book. OTS was always meant to be number three. I think we’re firmly back to my original sequence, now. The novel that should appear after “One True Sentence” (“Forever’s Just Pretend”) comes right off the end of OTS. 

What Hector book will we be seeing next?

In terms of another novel, “Forever’s Just Pretend” is set across several holidays in 1925 Key West. It’s a love story, centrally; very character-driven. It’s also a bit of a change from the other books in that no historical figures appear in the novel. What we get instead is the deepest, hardest look into Hector Lassiter, the man, we’ve seen. It’s also the only thing akin to a true sequel across the nine novels.

Movie Question: What’s the best cinematic adaptation of Hemingway’s work?

That may be impossible to answer in the sense they all pretty much blow. Nearly every one I’ve seen has been baaad. “For Whom the Bell Tolls” has some good moments and a stirring score. But Gary Cooper and Ingrid Bergman are too old for their roles. On the other hand, that one had the courage to use a Hemingway downbeat ending which doesn’t happen very often. “Islands in the Stream” is kind of interesting in that George C. Scott is essentially portraying Hemingway more than Hem’s character of Thomas Hudson. The first version of “The Old Man and the Sea” is mostly notable only because Hem and fourth wife Mary appear in a background scene at one point. “The Killers” is iconic as a film noir and the only movie based on his own work Hemingway ever really liked, but it also had to shovel on acres of material to pad out the short story upon which it is based. I know there’s a version of “Garden of Eden” looming, but that’s not exactly regarded as a true Hemingway novel since it was edited to a fraction of its original length by Tom Jenks.

Baseball Question: You live in Central Ohio. Reds or Indians?

Like Hector, I’ve never been much of a baseball fan. It was the Reds growing up, and I went to a game or two (Cincy is 100 miles due south of my hometown). As a kid, I sat in the stands and watched Hank Aaron phone it in at Riverfront Stadium so he could break the home run record in his next game in his native state — that further soured my attitude for the game, a bit. The only televised sport I really ever watched consistently was billiards when they’d put the old hustlers like Utley Puckett and Luther — ahemLassiter up against one another in the 1980s. And that, in fact, is the man who gave Hector his surname.

Cocktail Question: You’re in a well-stocked bar. What do you order?

Back in the day, I went through a Glenmorangie craze; some other single malts. I got married in Scotland and sort of sampled the local fare across the Highlands for a couple of weeks. Now it would probably just be a potent and well-made margarita on the rocks, with salt. I’m no beer drinker, and I detest gin. Like Hector, I have an inexplicable but deep-seated distrust of gin drinkers.

ONE TRUE SENTENCE: Paperback/eBook


TOROS & TORSOS: Paperback/eBook


ROLL THE CREDITS: Paperback/eBook

Monday, October 6, 2014


Publishers Weekly has weighed in on the first new Hector Lassiter novel in three years.

The short-form verdict?

PW says:

"Entertaining...a must read for series fans and a solid introduction for new readers." 

Read the entire review HERE.

ONE TRUE SENTENCE: Paperback/eBook


TOROS & TORSOS: Paperback/eBook


ROLL THE CREDITS: Paperback/eBook

Sunday, October 5, 2014


I had the great privilege of participating in several events during this year's just-concluded 2014 Iowa City Book Festival.

Festivities opened Thursday night with a free event in a spooky old church (some time ago "retired" as a house of worship) that  focused on James Ellroy and his new novel, PERFIDIA.

Mr. Ellroy rapped a bit, then read an excerpt from PERFIDIA. We followed with about 40 minutes of wide-ranging conversation before a packed house. After, we took audience questions and signed our respective works.

I'm told at least one film crew documented the exchange and it will likely appear online soon. In the meantime, here are some bullet points regarding Mr. Ellroy's new novel, the first in his emerging "Second L.A. Quartet."

• Mr. Ellroy reread all of the novels in his original L.A. Quartet and subsequent Underworld USA Trilogy in preparation for PERFIDIA, taking detailed notes about his earlier characters that he blended with researcher's notes regarding World War II and war-era Los Angeles.

• He confirmed having an overarching plan for the next three novels in the four-book series, pledging he will deliver "a seamless continuity" across all of the various works.

• As implied by its title, the Second L.A. Quartet (which is technically the first as it's conceived as a prequel) will largely confine itself to Los Angeles. We shouldn't expect to follow any old or new characters to the European or Asian theaters of combat in volumes to come, he said.

• Mr. Ellroy did give some hints about volume two of the new series, which he expects to land in about two-and-a-half-years. As foreshadowed in PERFIDIA, we'll be going south of the border for at least a bit of the next book in the company of "lexicon with a brogue" Dudley Liam Smith, whom PERFIDIA indeed indicates is soon-to-be Mexico-bound. 

James Ellroy and John Kenyon in the Old Brick.

• The Japanese internments at Manzanar and similar camps are also expected to figure in the new book. For some melodic backstory on that dubious chapter of American history, an older song from Ellroy's fellow Angeleno and contemporary, singer/songwriter Tom Russell, as sung by Tom Paxton:

• Dudley Smith debuted along with his deadly minions Dick Carlisle and Mike Breuning in Ellroy's second novel, CLANDESTINE, also set in the 1950s. Asked if he views that novel fitting into this new, larger conception in any way, Ellroy said he emphatically did not, describing CLANDESTINE as one of his "kid writer" books and a straight-to-paperback effort he views as apart from Smith's other appearances in his mature works and this larger, emerging saga.

• Mr. Ellroy is noted for the extensive outlines he uses to create his novels. The outline for PERFIDIA ran to over 700 pages. The U.S. hardcover of the finished book from Knopf also weighs in at 700-plus pages. However, Ellroy noted the original manuscript of PERFIDIA exceeded a thousand pages.

• Mr. Ellroy intended to use his mother as an on-the-page character in his new series, but his editor balked, so she's instead hinted at under an altered identity.

• Some non-book items: Mr. Ellroy confirmed he is working with filmmaker David Fincher on a potential project based on his eBook original novella "Shakedown," centered on real life (and deceased private eye) Fred Otash. Having said that, Mr. Ellroy made no promises the project would ultimately see the light of day.

• He is also working on a script for a new version of the classic film noir "Laura."


On Friday night, a special screening of the Oscar-winning L.A. CONFIDENTIAL was held at FilmScene. While still praising of the work, Mr. Ellroy expressed his opinion the adaptation of his novel is not a "profound" film. It has some significant plot issues, he said, and he isn't convinced by several of the leads. He did, however, praise Guy Pearce and Danny DeVito, as he has done previously.


On Saturday morning, I participated in a discussion with Levi Stahl, editor of a terrific collection of nonfiction pieces by the late-Donald Westlake he calls THE GETAWAY CAR.

Mr. Stahl and I briefly discussed our respective works, then read some excerpts (I read from the opening pages of FOREVER'S JUST PRETEND).

After, we discussed crime and mystery writers, the craft of crime fiction, and some little known facts about Mr. Westlake, including a youthful criminal act that briefly landed him in jail and may have had an impact on Westlake's later writing career (particularly in terms of subject matter and a potential identification with lawbreakers).

Later that same afternoon, I joined Franca Treur, Kinana Issa, June Melby, Chi Li and Jon McGoran for a panel on the twin and tangled topics of "Loyalty and Betrayal."

The very craft of writing was addressed from various perspectives as a kind of potential betrayal by several of us on the panel, although our takes on how the craft of constructing a story—be it "true" or "false"—constitutes betrayal or loyalty reflected significant variation.

For my part, I also discussed some of the exterior factors I feel impel today's writers to potentially "betray" their craft in quietly insidious ways—the pervasive demand for constant attention to "platform" and potentially off-putting self-promotion through social media and the like...tasks that threaten to distract from the actual writing.

As you may have already gathered, our panel was decidedly multi-cultural (in addition to we three Americans, the other authors represented Syria, the Netherlands and China).

It was striking, at least to me, how some of the non-U.S. authors discounted any pressures they felt exerted upon them for similar self-promotional efforts by their publishers or respective cultures.

Saturday closed with a "Noir at the Bar" event at FilmScene with fellow crime writers John Kenyon, Jon McGoran and Scott Phillips. We took turns doing some readings. (In a playful gesture, I read a bit from PRINT THE LEGEND, in which perceived genre writer Hector Lassiter finds himself keynoting a literary event and brushing shoulders with sometimes askance literary academics).

Following our readings, Scott introduced a screening of THE ICE HARVEST, based on his acclaimed novel of the same name and directed by the late-Harold Ramis.

I want to thank the organizers of this terrific festival and all those great people of Iowa City who turned out for events spread out across the former churches, the coffee shops, senior centers and movie houses of Iowa City.


The first five novels in the Hector Lassiter series—One True Sentence, Forever's Just Pretend and Toros & Torsos—are newly available from Betimes Books. (Ordering information below)

ONE TRUE SENTENCE: Paperback/eBook


TOROS & TORSOS: Paperback/eBook


ROLL THE CREDITS: Paperback/eBook

You can make a good case for Ernest Hemingway having left a profound mark on hardboiled crime fiction.

Graduate students and crime fiction aficionados have murdered trees arguing whether Hemingway influenced Dashiell Hammett or whether inspiration ran the other direction.
Raymond Chandler incorporated Hemingway in his fiction, wrote an astonishingly inept parody of Hemingway prose and staunchly defended Hem’s much-pilloried novel Across the River and Into the Trees.
Hem’s had many near brushes with composing crime fiction: “The Killers,” that opening Tommy gun salvo in To Have and Have Not and his aborted crime novel Jimmy Breen (dropped in favor of A Farewell to Arms) — all toed the genre line. Hemingway was in fact a frequent crime fiction and thriller reader.
In A Moveable Feast, he writes of Gertrude Stein giving him a copy of Lowndes’ Jack the Ripper novel The Lodger, sending Hem off on a Lowndes reading tear. Later, he moved on to Simenon, and letters and book requests sent his editor indicate Hemingway also sampled Chandler, Hammett and Ian Fleming.
In the Cuba portion of Toros & Torsos, I allude to a woman’s mutilated torso that was found not far from Hem’s Cuban home, the Finca Vigia. This is not an invention on my part: the murder is remarked on in several Hemingway biographies.
Presumably unsolved, the mutilation murder was variously ascribed to a deranged spouse or boyfriend, the Cleveland Torso Slayer, some other serial killer or some bizarre rite associated with a secretive religious cult peculiar to Cuba.
Whatever the truth behind the grisly murder, it clearly made a very strong impression on Ernest Hemingway as he writes about it in an eerie passage that survives in his posthumously published novel Islands in the Stream.

ONE TRUE SENTENCE: Paperback/eBook


TOROS & TORSOS: Paperback/eBook


ROLL THE CREDITS: Paperback/eBook