Saturday, November 7, 2009

Deep Thought

It seemed appropriate that the Yankees shared the podium at City Hall with Mayor Bloomberg today. This week the team and the mayor showed that the rich and the powerful can buy whatever they want in this country.

Evil Everywhere

This is the point where I should be gracious and congratulate the Yankees on winning the World Series.

But I won't.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Another Gig

I'll be participating on a panel sponsored by the Mystery Writers of America on March 23, 2010. The panel is titled "Hard-Boiled Mysteries: Killing With an Edge." It will be held at the Mid-Manhattan branch of the New York Public Library at Fifth Avenue and 4oth Street.

I'll provide more information once I know more. Once we get close, I might get obsessive about it.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Triumph of Evil

Deep thought:

For a Mets fans, the upcoming Yankees-Phillies World Series is the baseball equivalent of Hitler vs. Stalin. (Okay, my analogy is a tad overblown. Mets fans will understand.)

Friday, July 31, 2009


FWIW, I finished the second draft of NO GOOD DEED this morning. I'm going to let it sit for a bit, then tweak it after we get back from our August vacations (Cape Cod and Disney World).

Looks like I'll be hunting for a screenplay agent. Also looking for somebody to represent NEPTUNE, since Bill Contardi decided to pass on it.

Suggestions are welcome.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

That Was Fast

FWIW, I just finished writing the first draft of a screenplay titled NO GOOD DEED. I read it through this morning. It needs some work, of course. But the bones seem solid, and I was more pleased with the screenplay than I usually am with the first drafts of the stuff I write.

The script is noirish with comic overtones, a la the work of Elmore Leonard, Quentin Tarantino (back when he made movies) and the Coen brothers (sometimes).

My plan is to finish the second draft before our family vacation(s) start in the middle of August. Shortly after Labor Day, I'll look it over one more time, do some touch-ups, and start looking for an agent to represent it. (My literary agent, Bill Contardi, does not represent screenplays.)

If anybody knows a screenplay agent who likes this kind of material ....

Monday, July 20, 2009

Debits Field

Following up on my previous post ...

Jill, Skyler and I made our inaugural visit to Citi Field on July 12. The Mets actually scored nine runs, a total they'll have trouble matching in their combined games the rest of the month.

The park is nice and, obviously, a big upgrade over Shea Stadium. The biggest advantage is that the fans are now much closer to the field. But .....

I had the feeling a family must have when it moves from its longtime house to nicer digs. The new spread is beautiful and everything, but the old place felt like home.

Yes, That's Me

I got a mention in the newspaper I work for (The New York Times -- maybe you've heard of it) on Sunday. Here's the link:

Friday, July 3, 2009


Pete Dexter's new novel, SPOONER, is scheduled to be published in September. (Grand Central Publishing is putting it out.) In an advance word to potential readers and reviewers, Dexter noted that this MS. was in rougher shape than they might be accustomed to, and that many changes are possible before the book actually goes on sale. So take those words, and mine, for what their worth. (For one thing, he or a copy editor really needs to go through the book to clean up a raft of typos and grammatical problems.)

Dexter's career is an interesting one, especially to somebody like me. An ink-stained wretch who attracted attention as a columnist at the Philadelphia Daily News about thirty years ago, he then turned his energies toward writing novels. One of his earliest efforts, PARIS TROUT, won the National Book Award in 1988.

PARIS TROUT is a terrific book that I recommend without hesitation. I'm not so sure about SPOONER, a sprawling novel about a man who resembles Pete Dexter. I warmed up to it as I went along, but I don't know if readers will have the patience to slog through the first two hundred or so pages before they get to the good stuff.

The novel's arc is linear, beginning with the birth of Warren Spooner and following his childhood, coming of age and stuff like that. The spine of the novel concerns Spooner's relationship with his stepfather, the unusually well-named Calmer Ottosson.

As their lives unfold, it turns out that Calmer is a saint and Spooner is a fuck-up. Generally speaking, I don't like stories about fuck-ups, especially youthful ones. Usually they grow up to be George W. Bush. Probably the most famous literary fuck-up of the 20th century was Holden Caulfield. I may have been the only 1970s-era high school student who disliked THE CATCHER IN THE RYE, and I was delighted to read recently in The Times that modern high school students now take a dim view of the book's once-iconic protagonist. The young generation of today is a lot more sensible than many of its predecessors.

But I digress.

Somewhere along the line, for reasons that are never entirely made clear, Spooner straightens out and becomes as productive a member of society as a newspaperman can be. This is where the book begins to work. Spooner has a number of Pete Dexter-like adventures, including a near-death experience at the hands of a Philadelphia mob. Spooner's capacity for self-destruction borders on the staggering. It's a tendency that he's aware of, but can't explain. Through it all, Calmer is a rock who keeps his stepson's life anchored.

The bonds between stepfather and stepson gain strength as the two men grow older. Eventually Spooner holes up with his family on an island in Puget Sound, leading the Solitary Novelist life. Calmer, by now a widower, comes to stay with them. Roles are reversed (as they frequently are) as the old man's life winds down.

Given the obviously autobiographical nature of the material, I sometimes found myself wondering why Dexter didn't just give in to the great literary trend of the last fifteen years and write a memoir. At times the book meanders, as opposed to the airtight construction of PARIS TROUT. There's no plot; SPOONER is more a series of reminiscinces. On the other hand, calling it a novel avoids the now-nearly-inevitable charges of fabrication that cling like barnacles to top-selling memoirs, and it's a tribute to Dexter's intellectual honesty that he decided to put this book in its proper category once he determined he had to make up some stuff.

The pity, though, is that he has several taking-off points for a novel, but never follows through on any of them. Any one of SPOONER's several sections could have been amplified into a stand-alone book (with a plot), but instead the parts sail along on the strength of Dexter's sharp prose until they end, without much of a point being made. I felt as if I was reading the first or second draft of a book with a lot of potential. While nobody enjoys being edited, it is an essential process, and I felt that Dexter and his readers might have been better served if somebody at Grand Central Publishing had said: "Y'know, Pete, you've got a lot of interesting stuff here. Pick the one section that interests you the most, and write the hell out of it."

Thursday, June 4, 2009

A Slogan for Our Times

Given my success, and the success of my friend Tim Wendel, in handing out autographed books last week at the book expo, my wife and I have come up with a slogan that we believe truly captures the Zeitgeist of early 21st century America:

"FREE SELLS!!!!!!"

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

A New Project

And so this morning, at around 11 a.m., I started working on my next project -- a screenplay titled NO GOOD DEED.

I have not written a screenplay in years, and I wonder if the Muses are screwing with me. The idea behind the script is strong, and even before I began working on it I had a good sense of what I want to do. (Rarely the case for me when I launch something.)

The truly great thing about screenplays is that you max out at about 120 pages. So I should have a first draft of this completed by the time we start our summer vacations in mid-August.

Stay tuned, as they like to say on TV ......

Monday, June 1, 2009

On the Nature of Fans

Margery Flax's description of my fan Beatrice Weinberg as a "nice Jewish grandmother from Queens" got me thinking ....

My first novel, THE SERPENT CLUB, was a book drenched with sex and violence and violent sex. (I've calmed down a bit over the years.) The reaction to the book was eye-opening. A lot of woemn I would have described as grandmotherly or maiden aunt types really liked it. (He has problems, doesn't he?" one such woman said about the protagonist, as if she thought she could help him.) Although those observations surprised me, I was rocked even more by the responses from some of my colleagues in journalism, presumably jaded and cynical types who were appalled at what I had written.

It's ten years since THE SERPENT CLUB, and I'm still not sure what to make of that divergence. Except to note the wisdom of something my parents told me over and over again while I was growing up: Don't make assumptions about people. You have to judge them as individuals.

Where Have You Gone, Beatrice Weinberg?

Just after my appearance at Book Expo America on Friday, Margery Flax of the Mystery Writers of America told me a fan story. Since I don't have many fan stories, I thought I'd relate it:

Margery got a message one day from an elderly woman at a nursing hime in Queens. The woman, a mystery fan, wondered if there any books the MWA had access to that it could send along to her. Margery liked the woman and wanted to help her out, so she put together a collection of about 40 titles and shipped them along.

It turns out that the woman was a "hard-boiled" buff, and she specifically asked Margery if she had any more books by Tom Coffey. She loved my stuff! At the time, I only had two books out.

Well, now there's a third. Unfortunately, Margery lost contact with the woman, whose name was Beatrice Weinberg. So if anybody knows where Beatrice is, please please please tell her about BLOOD ALLEY.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Deep Thought

For an industry teetering on the edge of oblivion, there sure were a lot of people at Book Expo America on Friday ....

If You Give Out Free Books ....

.... the world will beat a path to your door. That's what I found out today at Book Expo America. Toby Press, which published BLOOD ALLEY, sent me two cartons of books. I figure there were 50 to 60 copies altogether. I had a half-hour to sign them and EVERY LAST ONE DISAPPPEARED.

Margery Flax of the Mystery Writers of America, who did a terrific job organizing the MWA booth, told me that the MWA was one of the few exhibitors at the Expo that was giving away books, so the line in front of the writers was pretty much constant.

For further proof of Margery's thesis, consider what happened when my stint was over. I joined my friend Tim Wendel, who was signing copies of his book RED RAIN at a table in the basement of the Javits Center. Tim signed every copy he had, and had to turn away some people. At one point he had signed every copy he had, and word was put out to get more. People waited patiently for book swag, in surprisingly good humor.

My thanks to Shari and Matthew at Toby Press for providing copies of BLOOD ALLEY, to Margery and her colleagues at MWA for running a smooth operation, and to everyone who showed up to chat and get a copy of BLOOD ALLEY. It was a wonderful event, and I have to add one more thing:


Thursday, May 28, 2009

Neptune (I Think)

Just completed the revisions to my next novel, still tentatively titled NEPTUNE. I sent the ms. to my agent, Bill Contardi at Brandt & Hochman ... and we'll take it from there.

I slashed the first draft version, which exceeded 160,000 words, down to about 87,000 by the time I sent the ms. to Bill. And I have to say, the revised version is a lot better.

I'll be signing copies of BLOOD ALLEY at Book Expo America at the Javits Center tomorrow at 3 p.m. at the Mystery Writers of America booth. Let me give a special shout-out to my friend and colleague Tim Wendel, who'll be appearing at 3:30 to sign copies of his book RED RAIN. (It's a good read! Buy it! Tim's daughter is attending a really expensive private university!)

I want to give another shout-out to my friend and colleague Lew Serviss, who recently ordered a copy of BLOOD ALLEY and sent its sales rank on Amazon up by about 800,000 places.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Two Things Worth Mentioning

Haven't done this for a while. Let's see if I remember how ...

For the first time in a while, I have a gig promoting BLOOD ALLEY. (The book came out about a year ago. To show you how swiftly and dramatically things can change, Dick Cheney was still influential back then.)

On Friday, May 29, I will be signing copies of BLOOD ALLEY at the Mystery Writers of America booth at Book Expo America. The expo is at the Javits Center in Manhattan. My gig begins at 3 p.m. and will last about a half-hour. I hope to see lots of people there, and to hand out lots of books. The cheerful and cooperative folks at my publisher, Toby Press, are sending me two cartons.

The second bit of news concerns my new novel, still tentatively titled NEPTUNE. I completed the third draft today, and will now enter the dreaded Finishing Touches phase. I still hope to have the book completed by Memorial Day.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

More on the New Book

The new book is actually progressing quite well. I'm whacking away at the unneeded verbiage, and something approaching a completed version is beginning to take shape.

I write on a computer (after years of resisting), and I've reached a conclusion: Writing on a computer does not make writing easier, but it certainly makes rewriting easier.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Next Book

I recently completed the first draft of my next novel, which I'm calling "Neptune" unless and until I think of something better.

The book has nothing to do with "Blood Alley," except, perhaps, certain thematic similarities.

It is wwaaaaaaaaaayyyyyyyyyy tttoooooooooooooo llloooooooooooonnnnnnngggggg right now. I'm trying to whack it down, smooth it out, buff up the characterizations, and do all that other neat stuff you're supposed to do while you're rewriting.

I hope to have the second draft completed sometime this spring. You'll notice that I'm giving myself a lot of wiggle room.