Wednesday, May 23, 2018


Thriller writers make terrible patients. I’m proof of that.

Since I’m constantly looking for ways to kill or main my characters, I do a lot of research into weird diseases, poisons and the like. As a result, there is hardly a symptom that I haven’t experienced, at least psychosomatically. I am what you might call a paranoid hypochondriac. If I don’t develop a disease on my own, I’m sure someone plans to give it to me.

When I don’t feel well, I don’t think stomach flu. It has to be Ebola or rabies.

I’ve spent a lot of time in bed, an easy chair and you know where else, all of which are conducive to catching up on one’s reading. That is a mixed blessing, since one of the books I read was All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. A superb book, 10 years in the making, which immediately made me want to give up writing, because I’m not sure I belong on the same planet with talent like that.

It didn’t help that as soon as I got the book, Doerr won the Pulitzer Prize, an award that my colleagues and I at The New York Times barely missed getting for our coverage of the Wall Street Crash of 1987. Bitter, who me? For years I thought of buying a parakeet, so I could line its cage with the explanatory article from a rival paper that beat us out (a story later disproved, by the way).  

Speaking of the media, I must vent.

What is wrong with the American media? Readers of this blog may remember that I have argued that fiction writing suits me better than journalism because I can finally tell the truth. I was being somewhat snide, perhaps looking for a laugh.

But I’m not laughing now.

Over and over again, I read a paper or watch the nightly news, and am informed that ISIS or some other alphabetical monstrosity has shot, beheaded, burned alive or otherwise slaughtered some innocents, only to be informed that the images of the atrocities are too gruesome for public consumption. (Of course, two hours after the nightly news, that same too-delicate public is subjected to dozens of network and cable shows featuring shootings, stabbings, eviscerations, autopsies and zombies eating brains.)   

What if cell phones cameras and other modern tools were available during the Holocaust?

“There are reports that the Nazis are gassing and cremating millions of Jews and other prisoners in so-called death camps. We have decided that the images are too disturbing to broadcast.”

Next stop: 50 million dead in World War II.

There are important stories out there. Instead, we get two hours of prime time on a royal wedding. Now, I happen to like the royals (British variety, not the Saudis). But I’d rather have a zombie munch on my frontal lobe than watch two hours of pomp.

I feel a headache coming on. Probably anthrax. Luckily I’ve been hoarding Cipro.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018


This is a column about generations. As in missing them, or being caught between them.

It is, of course, is a situation not unique to my writing life. For example, I was too young for Grace Kelly, and now I’m too old for Amy Adams. Don’t think that doesn’t bug me every day.

On a more rational note, I was born in the waning days of World War II and thus am not part of “The Greatest Generation”, which beat the Nazis. World War II is considered a just war, and provided a clarity of purpose that many subsequent conflicts have, to say the least, lacked. In WWII, we were attacked, everyone enlisted and went to fight enemies so cartoonishly evil that seven decades years later they can still be trotted out in books and films to evoke a visceral reaction.

Now, someone does something bad to us, and by the time a soldier finishes basic training, he or she is sent to fight someone else (usually by some politician who never got closer to a uniform than watching a war movie about the Nazis).

And I don’t quite fit in with the “Baby Boomers” that the “Greatest Generation ” lustily generated soon as they got home, although I do feel some kinship with them, as our so-called “entitlements”, such as Social Security and Medicare, are assaulted by what I’ve termed the “Ungrateful Generation”.

Cosmic moral considerations aside (including the Grace Kelly-Amy Adams thing), writers can have problems with being in the wrong generation. Especially mystery and thriller writers, such as myself. Not to put too fine a point on it, science and technology (both real and Hollywood-pseudo), have robbed the genre of much of its charm and made writers (including screenwriters) lazy. Again, such as myself.

In the good old days, circa 1940 or 1950, the private eye and the cops (who put up with him because he used to be flatfoot) would stand over a body in a hotel room. Even when there is a good suspect, things will then mosey along at a leisurely pace. 

COP IN CHARGE: “He won’t get away. Clancy, dust for prints and put out an A.P.B. Check all the bus, railway stations and airports. Set up roadblocks. It’s only a matter of time.”

The private eye smiles and lights up a Lucky Strike. He would bet his trench coat that it won’t be that easy. And he’s right. The suspect is not quickly apprehended because he is hiding out in remote mountain cabin with his moll, who looks nothing like Grace Kelly or Amy Adams, but certainly looks like someone you want to be holed up with in a remote cabin. (By this point, readers and/or filmgoers are rooting for the fugitive). Both the police and the private eye spend days trying to find him, and there are more plot twists than there are Viagra commercials on modern TV.

But now:   

COP IN CHARGE: “He won’t get away. We’ll “ping” the GPS chip in his mobile phone and triangulate his position between three cell towers. What’s that, Clancy, you already did that and he’s in custody? Great. Let’s get some donuts. I’m hungry.”

At which point the private eye lights up a filtered Virginia Slim and is immediately arrested for smoking indoors.

Between video surveillance cameras, which are apparently everywhere, and D.N.A. analysis, “perps”, in print or on the screen, don’t have a chance anymore, at least until the case is thrown out in court on a technicality.

In the days of noir, without hard evidence the police usually had to beat confessions out of suspects in a room with a couple of chairs and a lamp. (They rarely used the furniture; they used truncheons). And the confession held up in court, the only technicality being whether the killer got AC or DC in the electric chair.   

Not anymore.

Imagine the scenario today, in which a Gorgeous Female Cop (who does look like Amy Adams) is facing a smiling killer and his Nattily Dressed Lawyer across a table in a brightly lit interrogation room with a one-way mirror, behind which stand a slew of supercilious forensic experts.

N.D.L.: “If you have nothing else, Lieutenant, my client and I are leaving. Come on, Nigel.”

G.F.C. (holding up a small vial): “Not so fast, counselor. Do you see what’s in this vial?”

N.D.L. (leans in): “Looks like a dead mosquito. (Laughs) My client didn’t have anything to do with it.”

G.F.C.: “Very funny. But this mosquito was trapped in the room where the six people your client murdered were found. On a hunch, we checked the D.N.A. of the blood it ingested and it didn’t match any of the victims. But it matches your client’s. Do you want to explain how his blood got into a mosquito in the murder room when he claims to have been at a Knicks game?”

Behind the mirror one of the forensic experts says, “What a lame alibi. Who the hell goes to a Knicks game?”

Of course, the killer pleads down to attempted jaywalking, but that’s another story.     


“Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.” I think I got this quote from Oscar Wilde right. It should be every writer’s mantra — up to a poi...