Friday, August 15, 2014


ONE TRUE SENTENCE: Paperback/eBook


TOROS & TORSOS: Paperback/eBook


ROLL THE CREDITS: Paperback/eBook

An amorous axiom: Paris equals passion.

Great scenery, great food, great wine.

And those words. There’s a reason they call French a “Romance Language.”

Vive la différence: Each novel in my series centered around crime novelist and globetrotting screenwriter Hector Lassiter has endeavored to be markedly different from the one that precedes it and from the installment that follows.

Despite the various personal creative challenges I set for myself as its author, there is one element that has remained consistent throughout the Lassiter series.

Hector is, from book to book, confronted by formidable women who leave sometimes dark but always lasting marks on his psyche and soul. Simply put, women run this man’s life.

After entangling Hector with three lovers ranging the spectrum from light to very dark, it seemed appropriate in the middle range of Hector’s saga to introduce the woman who truly made Hector into Hector. The time seemed ripe, in essence, to reveal Hector’s first great love.

My central aim in One True Sentence was to depict the romantic figure in Hector’s storied life. I aimed to portray the woman who most profoundly shaped Hector Lassiter as a lover, as writer and as the shades-of-gray heroic figure readers had come to know in the previous three novels.

Having early established Hector as “The Last Man Standing of the Lost Generation” and as a friend and contemporary of Ernest Hemingway, it was also high time to fully explore a heady period in Hector’s life alluded to—and in the previous novel, Print the Legend, briefly depicted—Hector’s apprenticeship as an aspiring literary writer in the City of Lights, circa 1924.

OTS is number four in series of eight literary thrillers, this one set during one week in February, 1924, in Paris.

In the novel, we see a 24-year-old Hector Lassiter, and his friend, Ernest Hemingway—both not yet known as the authors they will become—living and moving along the Left Bank of the Seine, primarily in the area known as Montparnasse. That’s where all those great writers of the 1920s more or less were based. The photographers, the painters...those wicked surrealists that inform the second Lassiter novel, Toros & Torsos, which also briefly touches base in Paris.

It’s where the famous cafés in which they wrote, drank and talked are centered—La Rotonde, Le Select, Le Dôme and La Coupole and Hemingway’s own favored café, a bit of walk from those other four, La Closerie des Lilas.

Hector went to 1920s Paris dreaming of becoming a literary writer. He emerged a crime novelist and sometimes screenwriter compelled to apologize for his work to his literary friends who people my novels: Hemingway, John Dos Passos, William Carlos Williams…Gertrude Stein.

One True Sentence is the novel in which Stein and Hemingway cast their longest shadows. OTS is a re-imagination of Ernest Hemingway’s 1920s Paris memoir A Moveable Feast as a historical thriller.

The murders of literary magazine publishers plague the Left Bank; Stein gathers the city’s foremost mystery writers in an effort to identify and catch the killer.

Stein, the Modernist grand dame of 1920s Paris—the one who coined the phrase “Lost Generation” and an avant-garde experimenter in prose whose writings remain opaque or even unreadable to even the most patient of readers—was, in fact, an avid fan of mystery fiction. Stein affectionately dubbed favorite crime fiction authors her “mystifiers.” She contended the mystery novel was “the only really modern novel form.” In terms of the literary circles Stein trucked in, her guilty pleasure reads were…unconventional.

So very Modern: in France, in the Twenties for some American expatriates, it seemed only degrees of conventionality were sufficiently unconventional.

In the erotically and artistically charged milieu of 1920s Paris, Hector meets the enticing and mysterious mystery writer Brinke Devlin, a dark-haired, dark-eyed lusty enigma who rocks Hector’s world not just in this novel, but across the balance of his life.

Brinke, a kind of blending of the silent screen siren Louise Brooks and the mystery novelist Craig Rice, is a few years older and ages wiser than Hector. In her own intrepid way, Brinke has already charted the course Hector will follow as an author and screenwriter.

And there are other women in OTS who equally drive the narrative and young Hector’s life—from the formidable and imperious Stein, to a British mystery writer specializing in “locked room mysteries,” and a passionate young poetess with her own dangerous secrets and amorous designs on Hector.

Always, as a swooning backdrop to the novel, there is Paris.

I fell in love with Hemingway’s version of Paris as a young man upon a first reading of A Moveable Feast. In my naïve early 20s, I nursed this notion of running off to the City of Lights and living Hemingway’s memoir. Never mind the fact Hemingway had an exchange rate in his favor that has never again been equaled in history. Never mind the fact I then spoke little more French than ala mode.

A few weeks after the novel was released in the States, I was walking the streets Hector Lassiter and Ernest Hemingway walked in Paris. In a kind of post-modern turn, I found myself using my own novel as a sort of guidebook for morning and evening tours of the Latin Quarter and Left Bank between interviews my French publisher had scheduled for me in the City of Light.

If I turned left out my hotel door and walked to the corner, I was just yards from the Rotonde, the Select and the Coupole—all those cafés Hector and Hem would sit inside during the winter, or on the terrace if it was warmer, watching the street traffic.

If I turned right out my hotel door, in a very few yards, the street terminated at rue Notre Dame des Champs. That’s the street that Hemingway lived on in 1924, shortly after returning to France after a brief and disastrous return to journalism in Toronto, awaiting the birth of his first son. It’s the street where Ezra Pound maintained (a seldom used) studio.

Turning left onto the rue Notre Dame des Champs takes one to La Rue Vavin—the street upon which Hector lived in Paris, near the Jardins de Luxembourg.
Me, outside Hem's first
Paris apartment.

A short walk from the other side of the gardens one finds 74 Rue du Cardinal Lemoine, where Hem and first wife Hadley lived for many of Hem’s formative writing years in Paris. It was from that location he would leave on European assignments as a correspondent for newspapers back in Canada and the States.

It’s a long time since the 1920s’ Paris that Hem and Hector would have known. A hell of a lot of water has coursed under all those picturesque bridges that join the banks of Paris.

Yet the city, they claim, is ageless in her way. She remains the place that unfailingly evokes Romance with a capital “R.”

An old line has it that Paris, like an enticing woman, “Will kiss you, or kill you but never bore you.”

As an older Hem wrote of Paris in a magazine article long after he’d left her, “She is like a mistress who does not grow old and she has other lovers now…she is always the same age and she always has new lovers.”

Click here for earlier posts on my own Paris literary experiences touched on above: PART 1, PART II

NEXT: Gertrude Stein & Ernest Hemingway: Mystery Fans

ONE TRUE SENTENCE: Paperback/eBook


TOROS & TORSOS: Paperback/eBook


ROLL THE CREDITS: Paperback/eBook

Wednesday, August 13, 2014


ONE TRUE SENTENCE: Paperback/eBook


TOROS & TORSOS: Paperback/eBook

ROLL THE CREDITS: Paperback/eBook

Although my series centers on Twentieth Century crime novelist and screenwriter Hector Lassiter, as many critics and readers have noted, the novels sometimes seem nearly as much about Lassiter’s longtime friend, Ernest Hemingway.

In the first Lassiter installment, the largely 1957-set Head Games, Hem was a kind of off-camera presence. Yet Hemingway cast a long enough shadow in my debut that considerably more than one reader or critic mistakenly left Head Games believing Hemingway to have been an actual character in the book.

In Lassiter #2, the decades-spanning Toros & Torsos, Hemingway was Hector’s sidekick across years of the story’s action.

2010 brought Print the Legend, a novel turning on the possibility that Hemingway’s death in the summer of 1961 might have been something other than the suicide history records.

Hemingway loomed over Print as a kind of restless ghost, and, at key points, Hem was seen in flashback.

In 2011 came One True Sentence. In a more traditionally structured series, this novel would originally have been a series launcher from the get-go. The novel is set during one week in Paris, in February 1924.

Paris. The 1920s. We all have firm and fixed notions about how it must have been. I’m wagering most of us have had those notions set for us by at least some of the writings of Ernest Hemingway.

As OTS opens, Hector Lassiter and Ernest Hemingway are in their early twenties. They’ve had some short stories printed, but neither has yet published — hell, even completed drafting — a proper novel. It’s the youngest we’ve seen Hector and Hem together in the Lassiter series.

The questions began coming my way quickly from early OTS interviewers and newcomers to the books: Why Hemingway?

Partly it’s because I intended the Lassiter series to be as much about key artistic movements — modernism, surrealism, post-modernism and so on — as about solving mysteries. Hemingway was a key figure who straddled or helped to define all those pesky -isms.

Blame it, too, on young, overlapping reads of The Sun Also Rises and A Moveable Feast. Mostly the latter.

From biographies and letters, I see now how contrived or even disingenuous much of Hemingway’s posthumous memoir truly is.

Doesn’t matter. I’m a trust-the-art, not-the-artist kind of guy. The work is the thing. I was seduced, early and powerfully, by Hemingway’s portrayal of what it was like to be a young journalist and aspiring fiction writer in Paris in the 1920s; the place, Gertrude Stein famously said, “Where the Twentieth Century was.”
As a young journalist drafting novels in the evening and on weekends — albeit doing all that writing in Ohio — my life was changed by A Moveable Feast. I wanted to live that book. Hemingway became my master and kind of the literary equivalent of what Elvis represents to rockers — the goal and the cautionary example.

Knowing I couldn’t really live Hem’s memoir, I promised myself to write my own Paris novel that I could live in — to put my own vision of the City of Light on the page. The question was what would that novel be about? Who would anchor that book? Years passed.

Between January 2005 and December 2007, as a fiction writer, I had what Hemingway used to term “a belle époque.” I wrote most of the Lassiter series, the standalone novel El Gavilan and the nonfiction book, Rogue Males. The pages were piling up.

Simultaneously, I was re-reading a lot of Hemingway. I came back to A Moveable Feast with a grown man’s eyes.

I wrote Toros & Torsos between Halloween and Christmas of 2006. On January 1, I began to write One True Sentence (then traveling under the working title of City of Lights). Unconsciously, my own 1920s Paris novel was unfolding in my head even as I was in the early going of composing Toros.

From the jump, OTS was envisioned to be a noir turn on A Moveable Feast and a kind of post-modern dark comedy about the mystery genre itself.

Gertrude Stein was an unabashed mystery fan (more on this in a post yet to come). She called her favorite mystery writers her “mystifiers.” In an early meeting, Stein urged on a young Hemingway a copy of Marie Belloc Lowndes’ Jack the Ripper tale, The Lodger.

I envisioned a series of murders of literary magazine editors along both banks of the Seine — crimes that would hit a commercially unviable writer like Gertrude Stein where she lived. In desperation, Stein — fixed in the Nero Wolfe-like comfort of her favorite chair in her salon — gathers to her a collection of Paris-dwelling mystery writers to stop the killings.

The detectives in One True Sentence include an Agatha Christie-esque British writer of locked-room mysteries who has long been established as Hector’s bête noire. We meet a fetching American female mystery writer named Brinke Devlin who looks like Louise Brooks and writes like Craig Rice. Representing the hard-boiled school, we have Hector (and, in his way, Hemingway). Bouncing up against this collection of unlikely amateur detectives is a Simenon-like French inspector. 

As One True Sentence unfolds, we meet characters and witness events that will inform the early novels of Hector Lassiter and Ernest Hemingway. We’re a party to a secret history of events living between the lines of Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast.

We’re afforded a glimpse of the portion of the iceberg lurking below the water line to put it in Hemingway’s own artistic terms.

For Hemingway, particularly, February 1924 was a kind of pivotal moment in time. Intimations of a tipping point being reached for the young writer were just being felt.

Hem was newly returned to Paris after a disastrous return to daily journalism in Toronto. He came back with one small press collection of his writings behind him, and another pending in the fall. He became a subeditor to Ford Madox Ford’s literary magazine, The Transatlantic — a plot point in OTS. Despite no novel to support it, Hem’s reputation as a fiction writer to watch was just beginning to spread.

All of those key literary and artistic figures who appear in A Moveable Feast were in Paris that winter — crowding in some last good food and wine before abandoning the city to an expected influx of tourists anticipating Paris’ role as host city to the Summer Olympic games.

And then there were the suicides.

Paris always had its share of men and women intent upon killing themselves. The always-suicide-preoccupied Hemingway even wrote an early, undistinguished poem about all that.

Yet as the winter of 1924 unfolded in a haze of snow and freezing rain, the suicide rate in Paris spiked, particularly in artistic circles.

Handwringing journalists and the like blamed the young artistic community for the spate of self-inflicted deaths (“Terror Sweeps Latin Quarter” one 1924 French headline read). All those deaths suggested to me the key plot point for OTS. They inspired a Dada-like artistic clique called “Nada” — a dark cult embracing murder and suicide.

This, then, is the milieu of One True Sentence: A single week in Paris in all of its winter 1924 glory. Murder, sex and all those great writers and painters colliding, many of them treacherously bent upon screwing one another in something other than a carnal sense.

It’s Hector Lassiter and Ernest Hemingway at ground zero. It’s the key romance in Hector’s life with the woman who makes Hector, well, Hector.

It seems appropriate that Papa have the last word on the time and the place: But Paris was a very old city and we were young and nothing was simple there, not even poverty, nor sudden money, nor the moonlight, nor right and wrong nor the breathing of someone who lay beside you in the moonlight."

NEXT: A Passport to France

ONE TRUE SENTENCE: Paperback/eBook


TOROS & TORSOS: Paperback/eBook


ROLL THE CREDITS: Paperback/eBook

Sunday, August 10, 2014


ONE TRUE SENTENCE: Paperback/eBook


TOROS & TORSOS: Paperback/eBook


ROLL THE CREDITS: Paperback/eBook

"Oh, how the ghost of you clings..."

A few years back, I was in New York City chatting with the person who casts voices and selects readers for Recorded Books’ unabridged audio treatments of novels and nonfiction titles.

We’d finished touring the Recorded Books studios and offices and had settled in to discuss my recurring character, crime novelist Hector Lassiter, and how Hector and all those real, now-gone people who populate the Lassiter series of historical literary thrillers might best be transitioned to audio.

Tom Stechschulte was already a virtual lock to “be” Hector. But when I mentioned there would be shifts in point of view from book to book in the latter going — some presented in third-person, others narrated by Hector — it raised the issue of whether a second reader might be in order. Say…an actress.

“If Hector was to have a recurring love interest,” she said, “well, then…”

I assured the Recorded Books studio director that was not the case; that each novel would likely have a different female character playing against Hector.

That was true up to a point. But across the several novels in the series, there are two women in Hector’s life who potentially hang in there for more than a single book or even two.

There was this one formidable woman, in particular, whom I had already committed to paper.

In original publication sequence, ONE TRUE SENTENCE is the fourth novel about Hector Lassiter, a man variously known as “the man who lives what he writes and writes what he lives,” as well as, “the last man standing of the Lost Generation.”

If, as noted, OTS is the fourth novel in publication sequence, it was actually conceived to be number three. But it doesn’t stop there in terms of “backward time.”

Long before OTS' original 2011 publication, but with several of the Lassiter books already written or in my head, I figured after just two previous installments, readers would likely form a fairly strong and fixed notion of Hector Lassiter, the man.

In this cycle of novels that has never taken the direct, chronological route that ninety-nine percent of other mystery series hew to, it seemed to me that around book three the time would be ripe for a major change up.

Through newspaper articles and magazine profiles excerpted in the first Lassiter novel, HEAD GAMES — through other characters’ asides and Hector’s own admissions — a kind of informal biography of Texas-born Hector Lassiter emerges through the first three published books.

But most of that biographical material is confined to the late 1920s and beyond.

We know little, if any, about Hector’s childhood. We haven’t been afforded a glimpse of how Hector became Hector.

ONE TRUE SENTENCE is the first of two, back-to-back books that supply those answers.

While previous novels have sprawled across continents and decades, ONE TRUE SENTENCE occurs across a single week in Paris, circa February 1924.

OTS introduces the woman in Hector Lassiter’s crowded life, the fetching and bewitching mystery writer Brinke Devlin.

Brinke was name-checked in PRINT THE LEGEND (Lassiter #3 in original publication sequence), but she’s always been lurking in the background. Hell, I’d fully written her story before my debut, HEAD GAMES, ever saw print.

It is Brinke, who, at base, “created” the Hector Lassiter his readers know. Brinke is a darkly creative woman who moves Hector from the path of a struggling, often-blocked literary writer to the pulp-frenzied, dark-end-of-the-street, crime fiction novelist Hector is fated to be. As the series continues to unfold, it becomes clear that Brinke becomes a kind of dark template for the women who will attract an older Lassiter.

But there's even more of a lingering effect Brinke exerts on Hector that goes to his core as an author.

Years before Hector is tagged with his designation as a novelist who writes what he lives and puts his turbulent life down on the page, slightly older and much more worldly Brinke is already pioneering the dark art of living one’s life to feed one’s fiction.

From conception, Brinke was formulated to be très formidable. Visually, and more than a bit biographically, Brinke was modeled on silent screen siren Louise Brooks, a globe-trotting woman who eventually left acting and became a writer of sorts.

I put at least as much effort into shaping Brinke and her back-story as I did Hector’s. Though I never envisioned writing a series about her, I approached the task with the notion that I actually intended Brinke to stand as her own series character. (Some nights, I still think about writing novels about her, pre-Hector. Like Hector, I've come to miss her company.)

At the same time, ONE TRUE SENTENCE also casts Brinke as a potential villainess — a complication that further kick-starts the evolution of Hector’s own eventual, shades-of-gray persona and sets him up for the still-rather controversial and Goodreads debated-over love affair(s) depicted in TOROS & TORSOS.

If, as the saying goes, the boy is father to the man, then equally true, I think, is the fact that a bewitching, dark muse arriving at the right wrong moment in that man’s life makes him the author he’s fated to be.

ONE TRUE SENTENCE charts the beginning of Brinke's shaping of Hector; a process that is completed in its sequel, FOREVER'S JUST PRETEND, also available (but for the first time ever) on Aug. 21. More details on ordering coming soon. 

NEXT: The story behind the story of ONE TRUE SENTENCE.

ONE TRUE SENTENCE: Paperback/eBook


TOROS & TORSOS: Paperback/eBook


ROLL THE CREDITS: Paperback/eBook