I’ve watched many horror anthologies over the past month or so, including Creepshow (the movies and the new Shudder series), American Horror Story: 1984, All Hallows’ Eve, and Nightmare Cinema, which is coming to Shudder on October 29.
Shudder, a premium streaming video service from AMC focused on horror, thrillers and the supernatural, has some exciting new content this month. As I write this, I have a live Shudder movie marathon playing in the background of the first six films in the A Nightmare on Elm Street franchise, which were just added to the streaming service. For more details regarding Shudder’s Freddy Krueger offering and other great additions this month, keep reading.
There are many great writing books to choose from. But if you’re an aspiring fiction writer, below are three that should be at the top of your list.
Stuart Woods is one of the first thriller writers whose work I fell in love with. His characters have fantastic names like Felicity Devonshire, Vance Calder and, my all-time favorite, Stone Barrington. I’m constantly impressed by the fluidity of his prose, as well as his wonderfully descriptive romantic scenes. There have been countless occasions when I stopped reading one of his books to recite a passage to a friend because I was so impressed by the use of adjectives, verbs and metaphors. Simply stated, he’s a terrific writer everyone should read. Speaking of which, Stuart Woods has a new Stone Barrington novel available: Standup Guy. Make sure to pick up a copy after reading my interview with the author below.
After graduating college, you started out working at several advertising agencies. What made you realize advertising wasn’t for you, and how did your time in the industry influence your future writing?
I found the advertising business to be a wonderful preparation for writing professionally. I always advise young people who want to write for a living to find a job in advertising, journalism, PR – any profession that requires you to sit down and write a thousand words a day, whether you feel like it or not. Advertising did that for me, and in addition, I had to satisfy some very demanding bosses – some of the best writers in the business – who wanted persuasive writing and every word to count. I left because I felt I had gone as far as I was going to go in that business, and because I had wanted to write fiction since I was a child, and leaving advertising forced me to finally write the novel I had been thinking about since I was ten.
Your first novel, Chiefs, earned you an Edgar Award. How did it feel to be honored by your peers for your first novel?
I didn’t know the Mystery Writers of America were my peers, since I had never heard of the award, though I was very happy to receive it. I thought I had written a novel about how small towns worked, but I was delighted that they found it to be mysterious.
Chiefs was turned into a TV miniseries with a stellar cast of actors, including Charlton Heston, Danny Glover, Billy Dee Williams, and John Goodman. Did you have an active role in the creation of the miniseries, and did it live up to your expectations?
I didn’t write the screenplay, but the producers were kind enough (and smart enough) to send me every draft of the screenplay and solicit my comments and suggestions. I made a lot of those, and they even accepted some of them, particularly in casting. Heston’s character, Hugh Holmes was based on James S. Peters, a father of my home town, and I interviewed him at length about the town’s history. I loaned the tapes of that interview to Heston, and he used them to create his character and his accent. I was delighted with the miniseries; I thought it true to both the plot of the novel and its intent. I played a small part in the mini-series, and they made me travel to New York to read for it. I had a two-minute scene with Billy Dee Williams, a fine actor who, for some reason, could not remember his lines. We rehearsed at length, shot it, then rehearsed some more and shot it a couple of more times. He finally got his lines right, whereas I was perfect throughout. I thought, “This acting thing isn’t so tough; after all I knew my lines.” Then I saw the series at a screening: Billy Dee was wonderful, and I came off as a blithering idiot. I thought, “Maybe there’s something to this acting thing, after all.”
I thought your standalone thriller, Under the Lake, was one of your best. It’s very different from your other work but just as captivating. It even attracted the attention of Stephen King, who lauded the book by saying, “it scared the living hell” out of him. More than 25 years later, what’s your opinion on the novel?
I reread it when someone was writing a screenplay (ultimately unproduced) from it, and I liked it a lot. I tried to get Simon & Schuster to use King’s comment, which was one line in a fulsome letter he wrote about the book, and they wouldn’t. They wanted to say, “It scared the living heck out of me.” (!)
For the past several years you’ve been providing fans with a steady flow of Stone Barrington novels. Do you plan on revisiting any of your other series or writing any new standalone thrillers?
My publisher persuaded me to write only Stone novels in a new contract (he offered me money, and I can be bought). I think he meant that he wanted the words, “A Stone Barrington Novel” on every cover. I tricked him by including all the other series characters in the various novels. Anyway, my readers who write to me like Stone best.
Having written 28 Stone Barrington novels, how do you keep your books fresh?
I have a fevered imagination and a rich fantasy life, which helps with the sex scenes.
Your memoir about sailing, Blue Water, Green Skipper, was re-released in 2012. How did the fans of your thrillers respond to Blue Water, Green Skipper when it was, once again, made available to the public?
I’ve had a great deal of mail about the book from readers – most of them, yachtsmen, and they were all warm in their praise. Reading it allowed me to revisit a happy time in my life. One day, I’ll write a full-blown autobiography, and I’ve reserved the right to plug the old book into the new one. I don’t think I can write about that time of my life any better.
Many popular writers, including James Patterson, have increased their productivity by collaborating with other authors on novels. Some readers don’t care for this practice because they feel having a co-author dilutes the end product, while others are perfectly fine with it. What’s your opinion on the matter, and would you ever collaborate with another author on a book?
I’ve never done that, though my publisher says he would like it. I’ve instructed my widow-to-be to call my agent as soon as I’m dead and hire a few writers, and I’ve explained to her that Jim Patterson makes more money than God.
Since you’re working on and releasing multiple books a year, how do you go about keeping track of all the characters and details from novel to novel?
My characters exist for me in an alternate universe; I know exactly what’s happened to them, though they know nothing about me. Apparently, they don’t read. I seem to have a gift for keeping their stories in memory.
What are you working on now and what’s next for Stone Barrington?
There are two Stone novels completed and awaiting publication, and I’ll finish another this week. Standup Guy is coming out on January 7th.
My friend Dawnna tagged me in a Facebook post where she listed 10 books that stayed with her for one reason or another. The goal is simply writing down 10 books that touched you without listing them in any particular order or over analyzing what should or shouldn’t be included. Then, you have to tag five friends and ask them to do the same. Since I thought this was a cool idea, I’m turning my list into a blog post. Please feel free to list your “10 Books That Touched You” in the comments section below.
- The Mark – Jason Pinter
- It – Stephen King
- The Pillars of the Earth – Ken Follett
- The Innocent – Harlan Coben
- Six Years – Harlan Coben
- The Money Book for the Young, Fabulous and Broke – Suze Orman
- Think Big and Kick Ass in Business and Life – Donald Trump
- No Way Back – Andrew Gross
- Sex Money KISS – Gene Simmons
- Napalm & Silly Putty – George Carlin
I recently had the opportunity to speak with one of my favorite musicians and actors, Michael Des Barres. Many of you may know him for his role as the sinister Murdoc on the TV show MacGyver. Others may know him from his tenure as lead singer of Silverhead, Detective and The Power Station. While music is Des Barres’ main priority, he still makes time for acting, including his recent role in the wonderful film California Solo.
Below is part one of the interview. Stay tuned for parts two and three. And at the end of each part I’m including live clips from Michael Des Barres’ concert in New York City on March 7, 2013 at the Bowery Electric. I was in attendance, and it was an awesome show. Enjoy!
Hello, Michael. You recently announced your new radio show, Roots and Branches. How did this come about?
I had a relationship with David Lynch because I had done Mulholland Drive with him when it was a TV show. And what happened was he cast me to play the bad guy in the pilot for a TV show for ABC but ABC passed on it because it was incomprehensibly Lynchian, ya know? (laughs) So, a couple years go by and he invites me to the premiere and I realize I’ve been absolutely cut out of it and replaced by these two chicks fucking. And I thought, oh man, this is very exciting, but where the hell’s my footage? (laughs) So, we’ve had a relationship for a while.
But he’s got this amazing TM (transcendental meditation) movement going, and he just created this network, Transcend Radio, and he’s contacted people and asked them to produce some content for that and it ended up my door. And I came up with a show called Roots and Branches, which is essentially about influences, where lots of musicians got their influences and passed it on to the next generation, and the next generation. I deal mainly in American blues music and also the edginess of Manhattan rock and roll, heroin rock and roll, I call it – the psychosis of rock and roll. So I do various genres. I play a song and then I play a song that was obviously influenced by that song or artist, hence the title Roots and Branches, because it’s very important for me. And I do it in the vein of Stevie Van Zandt, who flies the flag of the lineage of rock and roll, the history of rock and roll, soul, pop, and rockabilly, and all of the wonderful music that is, in a sense, threatened by extinction today because of the advent of technology.
If you can see relationships between artists, you can go deep into it and that’s what I want to create: A sort of atmosphere of research, ya know? You start at Zeppelin, then you back to the blues and where that came from. You listen to Jack White and then who influenced him, and equally groundbreaking musicians that inspired them. And it becomes this enormous organism, and hopefully an enormous orgasm (laughs).
I recently read Rod Stewart’s autobiography, and in it he talks about how his music as well as other artists’ music, including The Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck, was influenced by the blues. What was it like during this time period?
I was in the clubs at the time you’re describing with Mitch Mitchell saying to me, “Why don’t you come see me play with this black bloke?” And I did, and it was Jimi Hendrix. I was there in London at the birth of the skinny rock and roll dudes being inspired by the blues. It was a phenomenal hybrid, which I’ll explore deeply in my show. It’s why working working class English boys and girls would turn to the oppressed black slave music that came out of oppression – out of Chicago and the Delta. Why would that be? I think it’s because it’s almost the same today: You get out of the ghetto by being a rapper or a sports figure. It’s the same man, you know?
Yeah, Jeff Beck was heavy. But there were a lot of people that were plugging in and turning up because rock and roll was blues real loud, essentially. And if Chuck Berry hadn’t existed, there wouldn’t be a Mick Jagger or Keith Richards. I mean imagine a world without Chuck Berry in it. What a horrible thought. (laughs). But they were smart enough to marry that with the poetry of Arthur Rimbaud and the style of Oscar Wilde. It was this pop-hybrid of Muddy Waters, Oscar Wilde and Lord Byron with a slide guitar. It was this incredible cocktail of stuff.
Your modern music seems to harken back to that classic three-chord rock and roll.
Yes, because what happens is, as an artist in the beginning it’s all about passion. Then you learn how to do it and you learn the chords that are complicated, and to keep yourself interested you start experimenting. And you lose sight of why you did it in the first place. Rock and roll is a synonym for having sex. It’s not a synonym for meditation. So you’ve gotta roll with it. And, for me, I went on all sorts of tangents because I was thinking too much. But when I got back to it three years ago, when I was in Texas recovering from an accident, I broke a lot of bones, I had time to reflect on what I really wanted to do, so I started to write. I couldn’t write with my right arm because it was smashed, so I wrote with my left hand these social media updates and people started to respond. So I took those ideas and put them to simple chords, blues-based music and I wrote “My Baby Saved My Ass,” (laughs) which sounds funny and cute but it’s true. It’s a redemptive song about the redemption of love transcending a drug addict’s downward spiral.
Stephen King once stated that, “The idea that creative endeavor and mind-altering substances are entwined is one of the great pop-intellectual myths of our time.” Like King, you’ve overcome drugs and alcohol. Do you agree that these substances don’t enhance an artist’s creative work?
He and I are the only ones that have said that. I mean, I’ve been saying that for 30 years. The myth of the self-destructive genius is bullshit. And I can give you one and only one example: Jim Morrison did not write the “Great American Novel” … and he could have. And it’s as simple as that. Genius is divine; it’s a talent you’re given by the universe. It’s like being born beautiful and you fuck yourself up.
I always think of Chet Baker and his beautiful face and how ravaged it was at the end of his life when he fell out of a hotel room window and smashed his skull because of heroin. So, I’m with Stephen King. It is a myth, and I’m 100% more creative with clarity than I am in a fog. I might think I’m a genius, but I’m not.
What made you stop using drugs?
I looked in the mirror and I looked like a monster. And I’m way too narcissistic and vain to look like that. I can honestly say vanity got me through it (laughs). I felt like a fool, and there’s nothing worse for me than feeling foolish. And being a slave to something? Good lord! I can’t be owned by a bag of white powder…unless it’s foundation. It’s absurd; it’s childlike. Unfortunately many of our greatest artists capitulated to it and died, and that’s a shame.
To answer your question, I’m not being glib when I say I looked in the mirror and didn’t like what I saw. It was absolute vanity. But once I got into that spiritual groove, I woke up from the trance of drugs. And I wrote “Obsession” within the first few weeks of being sober. Everybody around me was saying “I’m obsessed with this” and “I’m obsessed with that.” Is it an obsession? Yes. So I thought, OK, and I wrote that song, which was a worldwide hit because people could relate to the thing.
Stephen King is arguably the most influential author alive. So, when he provides his opinion on books, people listen. Below is a wonderful quote by him on books as an entertainment medium, as well as a fun interview King did earlier this year with Craig Ferguson.
“Books are the perfect entertainment: no commercials, no batteries, hours of enjoyment for each dollar spent. What I wonder is why everybody doesn’t carry a book around for those inevitable dead spots in life.” – Stephen King
James Patterson is arguably America’s most popular author. He’s sold 260 million books worldwide and holds the record for most hardcover fiction titles to appear on The New York Times Bestseller list: 76. Needless to say, he’s everywhere – even my shore house.
During my trip to Ocean City last week, I found a copy of Now You See Her in the living room. This title caught my eye last summer when it was first released, so I was determined to finish it before coming back to Philadelphia. Like many of Patterson’s books, it was a gripping adventure filled with unpredictable twists and turns.
Here’s the book’s official description from James Patterson’s website:
The perfect life
A successful lawyer and loving mother, Nina Bloom would do anything to protect the life she’s built in New York–including lying to everyone, even her daughter, about her past. But when an innocent man is framed for murder, she knows that she can’t let him pay for the real killer’s crimes.
The perfect lie
Nina’s secret life began 18 years ago. She had looks to die for, a handsome police-officer husband, and a carefree life in Key West. When she learned she was pregnant with their first child, her happiness was almost overwhelming. But Nina’s world is shattered when she unearths a terrible secret that causes her to run for her life and change her identity.
The perfect way to die
Now, years later, Nina risks everything she’s earned to return to Florida and confront the murderous evil she fled. In a story of wrenching suspense, James Patterson gives us his most head-spinning, action-filled story yet–a Hitchcock-like blend of unquenchable drama and pleasure.
Similar to his previous works, Now You See Her started off with a bang and didn’t let go until the last page. It moved at a break-neck pace and featured over-the-top action. Moreover, the characters were believable and the villains’ dialogue was delicious. While Patterson’s prose would never be confused with Stephen King’s, if you suspend your disbelief and give Now You See Her a shot, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Below is an interview with James Patterson about Now You See Her: