I appeared on the TV show Press:Here this morning talking about ebooks and my checkered past. Scott McGrew of NBC, Mike Krey of Investor's Business Daily, and Jon Swartz of USA Today were my interlocutors. What do you think?
It’s happened again. Like recurrent malaria, I’ve just suffered another attack of Anglophilia.
I’m not sure what brought it on, but it became particularly acute this week as I watched the six hour English-made miniseries Downton Abbeyon PBS. There’s a beautiful estate, a righteous nobleman, a couple of headstrong daughters, a rich American wife, a downstairs filled with servants who have intrigues and loves of their own, and an acerbic harridan of a mother (played by the inimitable Dame Maggie Smith!).
I cannot pinpoint precisely when the mosquito-vector carrying Anglophilia bit me for the first time. I did love Sherlock Holmes as a boy. The first time I went to England I stayed a block from 221B Baker Street (or at least where it should be). After college, I studied English history over there along with cricket and lawn tennis and pubs and garden parties. What a life.
I remember Blackwell’s, my favorite bookstore in the world, located on Broad Street in Oxford. I know women who go shopping for shoes to cheer themselves up. Me? During my two years in England, when the least bit bored or out of sorts, I’d just drop by Blackwell’s and leave in the best of spirits. Back then, you didn’t even have to worry about paying for your books. On the way out of the store, I’d just wave a volume and call out my name. At the end of the quarter, a bill would show up. When it came time to move back to the States, I dropped off all my books at Blackwell's and they packed and shipped them to me. (My memory says there were four dozen cartons, but reason tells me there could not have been that many.)
In the last month or so I’ve read memoirs by Ivana Lowell about her privileged (and crazy) upbringing as granddaughter of a marquess and by Dame Antonia Fraser, historian, mystery novelist, daughter of an earl, and widow of Harold Pinter. I’ve also knocked off The Lessons by Naomi Alderman, which is set against a background in Oxford, and Howard Jacobson's The Finkler Question, the Man Booker Prize winner that explores being a Jew in England – which I was, at least for two years.
The United States has a population over 300 million compared to England’s 51 million, but do we write six times more novels worth reading? And why do the English do television so much better than we do? In addition to Downton Abbey, thanks to Netflix, I’ve recently watched the fabulous mini-series The Politician’s Wife and State of Play; the movie version of the latter with Russell Crowe couldn’t hold a candle to the original.
I wish I could say the books I write have been influenced by my Anglophilia. Nope, not that I can tell. My two published books are set right smack dab in Silicon Valley where I grew up and live now. The action in my latest manuscript is centered in Washington, D.C. I think I’d better start following the example of pal and fellow Inkster G.M. Malliett, who is setting another series in England. (Her Wicked Autumn featuring an MI5 agent who has retired as an English vicar will be out, when else, this autumn.) Ah, her research trips must be wonderful. Maybe I should take a chance and get myself over there and wait for inspiration to overtake me. But in the meantime, I’ll just keep reading those English novels and watching those English TV programmes until this latest bout of Anglophilia subsides.
Guess who's going to be on TV this Sunday morning? At 9AM on KNTV, the Bay Area's NBC affiliate (cable channel 3). Moi.
Yesterday I went to the studio and was videotaped for my guest stint on Press:Here, Silicon Valley's version of Meet the Press. I had a ball taping the show yesterday with host Scott McGrew, NPR's Laura Sydell, and BBC's Maggie Shiels. It was 10 minutes, felt like two, and could have gone on for hours. All great people and knowledgable, too. Producer Sabrina Hughes-Lochner, it turn out, is a real crime fiction fan. Did another interview afterwards for BBC with Maggie who looks ready to sign up for my campaign to make Silicon Valley the setting for more crime fiction.
If you can't wait until Sunday the clip is below. Please comment and let me know what you think.
In my last post, I listed one true and six false statements. Now I'm 'fessing up. My comments on the veracity of each of the seven statements are in italics below.
1. I dated Stephanie Zimbalist of the Remington Steele TV show. No such luck. (I am ignoring Diana's comment.) Loren figured this one was true, saying he knew I struck out with Ali MacGraw. Two things, Loren: 1) she was married to Robert Evans when I met her and 2) I do have a handwritten souvenir of our "relationship" on my office wall.
2. I flew on a small plane with Paul Newman.
Bingo! I was taking a late flight from DC to Boston. Noise abatement rules had already kicked in at Logan, so I climbed on a petite turboprop which made little noise compared to a jet. We were going to be polite and not awaken the slumbering Hub. Anyway, just about the only other passenger was Mr. Newman. There were a number of flight attendants, but I don't recall being attended by any of them; they all hovered around him. (Richard B picked this as the correct statement over on Facebook. You win, Richard!)
3. I was lost for over six hours in the sewers of Paris.
In the summer of 08, I was stuck in King Hezekiah's 2700 year-old tunnel under Jerusalem. But nope never been in the Parisian nether lands.
4. I went to a garden party at Buckingham Palace and met the Queen.
I did go to a party at the American Embassy in London where I noted a Picasso over the loo, but, nope, Her Majesty never invited me over for a cuppa and crumpet.
5. When camping, I found a rattlesnake cuddled on top of my sleeping bag when I awoke.
Diana says I'm not the camping type. Say what? I was a boy scout. Still this is a whopper.
6. My first marriage lasted less than three months.
[Not posting a photo here!]
I didn't get married till I was 35. So, I just skipped the first marriage and went right to the trophy wife.
7. Vice President Mondale asked for my input for Jimmy Carter's infamous malaise speech. (That's me on bottom right)
Deb says she thinks the guy in the bottom right is indeed me. She is correct, but we were discussing intelligence legislation, not the malaise speech. (That's Director of Central Intelligence Stansfield Turner to Vice President Mondale's right.)
Thanks everyone for playing along. Your guesses were inspired!
Overwhelmed by the reviews of his Lush Life, I headed over to M is for Mystery yesterday afternoon to hear what Richard Price had to say. As happens so often, Mr. Price spent too much time of his allotted sixty minutes reading from the book. If I'm going to buy the book, I want to read it myself and not have someone else steal the juicy parts. During the Q&A, I asked why reviews seemed to treat Lush Life as "literary" fiction rather than crime fiction. A little explication here. I expected him to rant about artificial lines between genres. In fact, I wanted him to, since such words would be a balm to me who recently received a rejection from a major publisher that said my opus "is a gripping book that kept me turning pages from the very start." Then came more compliments, before the conclusion: "However, at the end of the day... the subject matter is just still too firmly in the genre world" for us. All right, all right. Enough whining. Anyway, Price said he was treated as a literary writer because that's the way he wants to be treated. He said that he himself doesn't read "detective stories" since you forget what they were about minutes after finishing them. In his mind literary fiction deals with big themes and describes an important slice of the world in a way "detective" fiction does not. (Remember I did ask about crime fiction.) He did say he was an admirer of George Pelecanos, Dennis Lehane, and Elmore Leonard as well as the old-timers like Hammett and Chandler.
In response to another question, Price said what he originally turned into his editor was twice as long as the final manuscript. He said he and the editor worked together to find the story hidden in that first draft. How many editors do that kind of thing nowadays?
I had hauled #4 along with me -- he's nine -- since we were due at our synagogue right after the signing. He sat in the front of the store during the reading and Q&A where he was supposed to be keeping his nose in a Tom Swift: Young Inventor book, but he confessed to listening to Price talk. I hope the words he heard were new to him, but with three older siblings I fear they were not.
One other piece of advice that I keep forgetting to pass along. Recently, I watched State of Play, a BBC miniseries about a murder wrapped in a political scandal. It's available on DVD from Netflix. Get it. Watch it. It's being turned into a big deal movie in 2009 with Ben Affleck, Helen Mirren, Robert Wright Penn and Russell Crowe, but don't wait for that. It can't be as good (especially since they are moving it, of course, from London to D.C.)
The TV writers have been on strike, but I haven't missed them. That's because the most compelling reality show ever is playing itself out in a long-running series. It's called "Presidential Primaries" where in American elections an African-American has pulled ahead of a crown princess and a war hero has risen from the dead to beat the rich, famous, and evangelistic.
When I was a boy, I read Convention by Knebel and Bailey and The 480 by Eugene Burdick, both about presidential contests. Although I almost always prefer the written word to what I see on the screen, the current, ongoing reality show surpasses even my memories (from an impressionable age) of those two books in drama, pathos, arrogance, earnestness, and human failings.
Several years ago, NBC used the slogan "must see TV." Now watching CNN on primary and caucus Tuesday nights is must see for me. I cannot wait till March 4 for the probable climax of the show.
I wonder if the sequel, called "General Election" and coming this fall, will be as compelling.
For reasons I don't understand I was invited to a dinner at Stanford last night with Bill Keller, executive editor of the NY Times, Gary Pruitt, CEO of the McClatchy newspaper chain, Harry Chandler of the Chandlers who used to own the LA Times, Marissa Mayer, VP at Google, and Joel Brinkley, former NY Timesman and now Lokey VIsiting Professor at Stanford. Spent some time schmoozing with members of the McClatchy family, John Markoff of the Times, like me an ex-staffer on Jordan Junior High's Dolphin Diary, and Jonathan Rabinovitz, director of media relations at Stanford. (Old friends Mark, Lisa, Steve, and Chris were as surprised to be invited as I was.) The after-dinner panel discussion, entitled "Pressing Times: Can Newspapers Survive in the New World of Journalism?", moderated by Brinkley, was interesting enough, but not much new, not much controversy. The panelists all answered the title question "yes," more or less. Pruitt spoke of the business advantages of owning the only newspaper in town; he didn't advocate one-paper towns, just said they were a reality. Keller reveled in working for a paper controlled by a family willing to sacrifice current returns for high quality journalism. Mayer said Google consisted of "computer scientists, not reporters" and wanted to work with papers to help them make more money from their websites. Chandler showed some bitterness at his family having sold the LA Times and said, somewhat tongue in cheek, that maybe the secret to the future of big city papers was finding "benevolent billionaires" to own them. The mothers of the panelists would have been pleased. They were all excruciatingly polite. None of the hissing and scratching I would have liked to see. We already knew that the newspaper business was in peril. I wanted to ask about the disappearing book review sections in daily papers, but didn't get the chance.
From l-r, Bill Keller, Gary Pruitt, Joel Brinkley, Marissa Mayer
When I got home, I read for a little while and then watched a Perry Mason I'd Tivo-ed. In this one (circa 1962) Perry was MIA and his place in the courtroom was taken by -- of all people -- Bette Davis. It was surprisingly with it in grappling with the issue of discrimination against women lawyers. By the end Los Angeles DA Hamilton Burger was begging for mercy.
I don't know if I've ever watched the Emmys before, but I did last night. Let me explain. Sam Dubbin and I go back a ways. To show you how far back, I'll admit that I was an usher at his wedding. In fact, I think I wrote letters of recommendation for him to get into grad school. Anyway, Sam called yesterday afternoon to remind me that one of the happy products of his marriage, son Robert, was nominated for an Emmy. Robert -- who seems to have changed his first name to "Rob" -- is one of the staff writers on the Colbert Report. (My daughter Helena even found his listing on the IMDB database.) I would have loved to have seen Robert, resplendent in newly purchased evening clothes, with the show's writing team on national TV , but it was not to be. In the way of all big brothers who do not like to share with their younger siblings, Jon Stewart's Daily Show won the Emmy for variety, musical or comedy series and then hogged the Emmy for writing in same. But still, can you imagine? An Emmy nomination for Robert who is in his mid-20's? Robert's parents and grandparents must have been kvelling when his name was read on the air (and pronounced correctly). I know I was.