Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Inspiration, Obsession & Incarceration

From Paul

I really enjoyed Jacqueline's post last Friday about desperation providing the inspiration for writers to start -- and finish -- their damn books.

Here's the personal story of my first novel. Late 1980's. I'm bored practicing law and not particularly happy about my contribution -- or lack of it -- to society.

I take a windsurfing vacation to Maui. First day, bang! The board pops out of a wave and clobbers my thigh. Pain to the bone. Feels like a broken leg. X-rays show no fracture, just a deep, deep bruise. The Doc suggests Maui Wowie to ease the pain. Really.

I'm hobbled and can't windsurf for two weeks, straight or stoned. So I sit on the beach with a legal pad and begin scratching away. A novel? Who knew? The story was based loosely on a case I handled involving the theft of $2 million from my 90-year-old client.

Here, then, are my very first words of fiction:

The old man loved gadgets, money, and large-breasted women, and at the moment he had all three. His thick hands caressed the newest gadget, a sixty-second camera, turned it over and admired its smoothness, a tidy little box cool to the touch. The money came from the sale of Corrugated Container Corp., the company he had founded in the 1920's. The breasts belonged to Violet Belfrey, and she relied on them as an aging fastball pitcher might his slider. Few men remembered a word Violet said, but the image of her full breasts endured for years. A lot of men and a lot of years. With her solid cheekbones and strong jaw, Violet's age was impossible to determine. Somewhere between forty and hell, the old man guessed.

At the time, I was unaware that, in establishing character, it's probably better to not to describe two people in the same paragraph.

Anyway, I finish the book and it sells for a million bucks. Nah! It doesn't sell. It's turned down by more publishers than Jim Born has guns.

Now here comes the moral of the story. Undeterred, I write another book. "To Speak for the Dead." It sells. I get a two-book, hard-soft, contract from Bantam. (For one cent, you can buy a used copy of the paperback on Amazon. The hardcover will cost you $16.85)
Then, the Hawaiian story sells. "Slashback" becomes the third book of the Jake Lassiter series. This one will cost you a buck on Amazon. Those first lines, blurred with sea water and speckled with sand, are the opening paragraph of chapter two.


Speaking of Maui...

That's where Stephen J. Cannell's hot, hot summer read, "At First Sight" opens.

It's a smart, witty page-turner with an unforgettable villain and a lesson about the self-absorbed, amoral Hollywood lifestyle.

A dot.com millionaire who's on his ass, Chick Best falls hard for a beautiful woman he spots poolside at a Maui hotel. If only he could possess her, his life would soar. Problem is, she's married. Or is that a problem at all? I won't give too much away.

Cannell, the famed writer/producer has a string of television hits going back to "The Rockford Files." His fourteenth novel is a crisply written tale about the meaning of love and consequences of obsession.


George Jung, the titan of cocaine smuggling now serving heavy time in federal prison, has his own Website where you can read his poetry and buy his CD's about, guess what, his life as a smuggler. Jung also has a MySpace page with a countdown clock, ticking away the seconds until his release date (another seven years or so). You may recall Ted Demme's firecracker of a movie, "Blow," with Johnny Depp portraying Jung.

Overheard at the meeting between Billy Graham and John McCain: "Rev. Graham, you have proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that God is not gay. A gay God could never have furnished your home with such mismatched, hideous furniture."


This, from columnist Thomas Friedman in Sunday's New York Times. Under the headline, "Anxious America," he wrote:

I continue to be appalled at the gap between what is clearly going to be the next great global industry — renewable energy and clean power — and the inability of Congress and the administration to put in place the bold policies we need to ensure that America leads that industry...

We used to try harder and do better. After Sputnik, we came together as a nation and responded with a technology, infrastructure and education surge, notes Robert Hormats, vice chairman of Goldman Sachs International. After the 1973 oil crisis, we came together and made dramatic improvements in energy efficiency. After Social Security became imperiled in the early 1980s, we came together and fixed it for that moment...

If the old saying — that “as General Motors goes, so goes America” — is true, then folks, we’re in a lot of trouble. General Motors’s stock-market value now stands at just $6.47 billion, compared with Toyota’s $162.6 billion. On top of it, G.M. shares sank to a 34-year low last week.

That’s us. We’re at a 34-year low. And digging out of this hole is what the next election has to be about and is going to be about — even if it is interrupted by a terrorist attack or an outbreak of war or peace in Iraq. We need nation-building at home, and we cannot wait another year to get started. Vote for the candidate who you think will do that best. Nothing else matters.

This has been fun. I'm going fishing. Great summer to all of you. Soldier on.



  1. Thanks for this post, Paul. Guess old Billy doesn't get multiple copies of the Pottery Barn catalog!

    I read Friedman's column on Sunday, and the very excerpt you quote here has been rattling around in my mind ever since. My hopes were pinned on Obama, who seems to be honing his skills as king of the u-turn, while the trigger-happy one (and where was it that I read McCain is registered as 100% disabled and not fit for work?) continues to give me the creeps, big time.

    Have a great summer, Paul. Get in some surfing - oh, and a bit of the old tap-tap on the computer keyboard.

  2. The last thing industry needs is the autocratic hand of the federal government "leading the way" into the development of new energy sources. Do you really want the people running the war on terror to run the energy industry as well? I always find it curious how people can call for more government influence in the economy while simultaneously bemoaning the government's perpetual incompetence in other areas.

  3. I loved the story about selling your first novel, Paulie. And I LOVE Slashback. It's one of my favorites. While reading it, I alternated between laughing out loud and biting my fingernails.

    I don't want to think about the state of our Union. Too gloomy. Too much wrong. Too much pain in our future.

    Will miss you guys :o(

  4. Yes, and to get really disturbed, read about Bush et al getting $400 million to fund further covert ops in Iran. He has a few more months in office to get us involved in yet another unwinnable war.
    Sad times.

  5. " It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble.
    It's what you know for sure that just ain't so."
    --Mark Twain

    Happy fishing....


  6. Friedman is my favorite middle east expert. Interesting guy and not overtly partisan.


  7. That was a great story about the first novel.

  8. Yes, aren't we all happy about your windsurfing vacation!!

    Fish well, and keep on writing, por favor.

    Tom, T.O.