Deadly Women (with Matt Fullerty)


Friday, September 04, 2009

The Ten Commandments of Blogging

Published in Pimp My Novel: September 3, 2009
1. I am thy blog. If you're an author, you should already have a blog. If you're not yet published, now is the time to start.

2. Thou shalt have no other blogs before me. We all love reading blogs—we wouldn't be here if we didn't—but yours comes first. Write your own posts before you spend all afternoon reading someone else's.

3. Thou shalt not make of thyself an idol. Keep your ego in check; you always want to portray yourself positively in your blog. Your reputation is all you've got in this business, and if you earn yourself one as a likable person as well as a great writer, you're a golden calf.

4. Remember thy Schedule and keep it, wholly. You don't have to write a post every day, but keeping a regular schedule is a courtesy and a sort of unwritten contract between you and your readers; they'll know when to expect new content and will come to appreciate and respect you for that.

5. Thou shalt honor thy agent and thy publisher. You couldn't have done this without them. Give props where props are due.

6. Thou shalt not commit character assassination. Everyone has authors or critics they don't like, sometimes personally. Don't pull an Alice Hoffman. And, I guess, don't try to kill anyone in real life, either.

7. Thou shalt not commit adultery, but thou shalt pimp thyself. No one sells you like you do. Facebook, Twitter, &c. The more pervasive your presence, the more likely it is that people will buy your book.

8. Thou shalt not plagiarize. Always quote. Always cite your sources. Always link back to them if they're on-line.

9. Thou shalt not deceive thy audience. Never post anything you don't believe is true, and be sure to provide links to any research you've done. Always be sure to clarify whether a point you're making is an opinion or a fact.

10. Thou shalt monetize. I don't do it because I don't consider blogging a part of my livelihood, but you, as authors, should consider self-promotion as part of the job. Let Google or whomever run a few relevant ads on your blog and make a little cash on the side. (Unless you've got a large readership, though, it probably won't be much.)
Copyright 2009 Pimp My Novel
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Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Dominick Dunne, Chronicler of Crime, Dies at 83

Published in The New York Times: August 26, 2009

Dominick Dunne, who gave up producing movies in midlife and reinvented himself as a best-selling author, magazine writer, television personality and reporter whose celebrity often outshone that of his subjects, died Wednesday at his home in Manhattan. He was 83.

The cause was bladder cancer, a family spokesman said. The spokesman had initially declined to confirm the death, saying the family had hoped to wait a day before making an announcement so that Mr. Dunne’s obituary would not be obscured by the coverage of Senator Edward M. Kennedy’s death.

In the past year Mr. Dunne traveled to the Dominican Republic and Germany for experimental stem-cell treatments to fight his cancer, at one point writing that he and the actress Farrah Fawcett, who died in June, were in the same Bavarian clinic.

He sprang to national prominence with his best-selling novels “The Two Mrs. Grenvilles” in 1985 and “An Inconvenient Woman” in 1990, both focused on murders in the upper realms of society. He later chronicled high-profile criminal trials and high society as a correspondent and columnist for Vanity Fair magazine.

He achieved perhaps his widest fame from his reporting of the O. J. Simpson murder trial in 1994 and 1995 and later as the host of the program “Dominick Dunne’s Power, Privilege and Justice,” on what was then Court TV (now TruTV).

Last year, as a postscript to his Simpson coverage, Mr. Dunne defied his doctor’s orders and flew to Las Vegas to attend Mr. Simpson’s kidnapping and robbery trial.

Mr. Dunne’s magazine career was weighted toward the coverage of sensational murder trials. He made no secret of the fact that his sympathy generally lay with the victim, and he was vocal about what he considered the misapplication of justice.

Sympathetic Stance

He never hesitated to admit that his sympathetic stance stemmed from the murder of his daughter, Dominique, by John Sweeney, her ex-boyfriend, in 1982. Ms. Dunne, a 22-year-old actress, was found strangled, and Mr. Sweeney, who was found guilty only of voluntary manslaughter and a misdemeanor for an earlier assault, served less than three years.

“I’m sick of being asked to weep for killers,” Mr. Dunne often said. “We’ve lost our sense of outrage.”

During the trial, Tina Brown, who was the editor of Vanity Fair at the time, suggested he keep a journal. The account, “Justice: A Father’s Account of the Trial of His Daughter’s Killer,” was published in Vanity Fair in 1984.

“He never pretended to be objective in covering trials,” Graydon Carter, the current editor of Vanity Fair, said Wednesday. “He was always writing from the point of view of the victim because of what happened to his daughter, and he had a riveting way of knowing, almost like Balzac, what to tell the reader when.”

Mr. Dunne went on to cover the trials of Claus von Bulow, Michael C. Skakel, William Kennedy Smith, Erik and Lyle Menendez, and Phil Spector, as well as the impeachment of President Bill Clinton.

“I realized the power writing has, and it has also helped me deal with my rage,” he said in an interview with The New York Times for this obituary in 2000. “It gave me a lifelong commitment not to be afraid to speak out about injustice.”

Mr. Dunne’s brother was the writer John Gregory Dunne, the husband of the writer Joan Didion. He died in 2003.

High-Profile Clashes

Mr. Dunne’s speaking out led to a lawsuit for slander filed by Gary Condit, a Democratic congressman from California, over remarks Mr. Dunne had made on national radio and television in 2001. Mr. Condit had been scheduled to testify in a deposition about his relationship with Chandra Levy, a federal government intern who disappeared in May 2001 and whose body was found in a Washington park in 2002.

Mr. Dunne quoted a man who asserted that he had heard that Mr. Condit had talked about his relationship with a woman whom he had described as a clinger. Mr. Dunne said this had created an environment that led to Ms. Levy’s disappearance. Mr. Condit’s suit, originally seeking $11 million in damages, was settled for an undisclosed sum and an apology. A later suit by Mr. Condit was dismissed.

Mr. Dunne also clashed with the Kennedy family about his involvement in the 2002 trial of Mr. Skakel, a first cousin of Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Mr. Skakel was sentenced to 20 years to life in the murder of Martha Moxley in 1975. Her body was found beneath a tree on her parents’ property in Greenwich, Conn.

In 2003, in a 14,000-word article in The Atlantic Monthly arguing that the case against his cousin was flawed and had left reasonable doubt, Mr. Kennedy accused Mr. Dunne of intimidating prosecutors and helping to drive the news media into “a frenzy to lynch the fat kid.”

Mr. Dunne said in The Times interview that he had also been a source of information for a book that Mark Fuhrman was writing about the Skakel trial. He had met him when Mr. Fuhrman testified during the O. J. Simpson murder trial. “I had some hot information about Skakel,” Mr. Dunne said, “and I knew Fuhrman would bring it to attention.”

Mr. Dunne, known as Nick to his friends, was a ubiquitous figure in both American and European society. He attributed his success to his being a good listener. “Listening is an underrated skill,” he said in discussing his interviews with political figures and celebrities like Imelda Marcos, Elizabeth Taylor, Diane Keaton and Mr. von Bulow.

At Michael’s restaurant in Manhattan, a favorite gathering spot of the news media elite, Mr. Dunne could often be found at his regular corner table receiving admirers. Even as his health declined, he would show up in his trademark round glasses and a Turnbull & Asser shirt, with the proper white collar and large blue stripes.

With his appetite for gossip, a short stop at his table would usually yield some nugget. And the story would almost always start with, “Do you know what I heard?” and end with “Can you believe that!”

‘A Rotten Athlete’

Born in Hartford, Dominick John Dunne was one of six children of a fourth-generation Irish-Catholic family. His father, Richard, was a heart surgeon, and although the family was well-off, his childhood was not happy.

“I was a rotten athlete, I liked puppet shows and I was kind of a sissy,” he recalled in The Times interview. “Something about me drove my father crazy. He mocked me and often beat me with a wooden coat hanger, and although we belonged to WASP clubs, we were never a part of things. We were like minor-league Kennedys.”

Drafted into the Army during his senior year in high school, Mr. Dunne fought in the Battle of the Bulge and won both his father’s admiration and a Bronze Star for crawling past Nazi sentries and carrying back a wounded soldier. After his Army service, he attended Williams College, where he and a group that included Stephen Sondheim started a theater.

After graduating in 1949, he moved to New York, where he became stage manager for television shows and later an assistant to the producer of “Playhouse 90.” In 1954 he married Ellen Griffin, who was known as Lenny and with whom he had two sons, Griffin and Alexander, in addition to Dominique.

By 1957 he was in Santa Monica, Calif.; a year later he was producing at 20th Century Fox and living in Beverly Hills. By the 1970s he was a vice president of Four Star Television and produced “The Boys in the Band,” “Panic in Needle Park” and other films.

Dominick and Lenny Dunne became famous in the industry for their parties, the most memorable of which was a black and white ball, held in 1964 to celebrate their 10th anniversary. The guests included Nancy and Ronald Reagan and Truman Capote, who two years later used the idea for his own ball of the same name, at the Plaza Hotel in New York, a renowned event to which the Dunnes were not invited.

“My jobs never qualified me for the strata of Hollywood we moved in,” he recalled. “I always kept scrap books and saved everything. On some level, I knew it was not going to last.”

It didn’t. Devastated when his wife asked for a divorce — “She was the real thing, and I became a fake,” he said — he declined into “a hopeless alcoholic,” he admitted, and started to use cocaine. Returning from Mexico, he was arrested for drug possession at the airport in Los Angeles.

But his drinking continued, and though none of his films were box-office smashes, the denouement came in 1973 with the widely panned “Ash Wednesday,” a picture he produced starring Ms. Taylor. Compounding that failure was the publication in a trade newspaper of a joke he told, while he was drinking, about a Hollywood power broker.

“I kind of knew it was going to be my swan song,” he said of the remark. He became a nonperson in the industry.

At one point he sold all his possessions including, for $300, his dog, a West Highland terrier. He went on unemployment, all the while terrified that his friends would see him in the line.

In 1979, approaching his mid 50s, he left Los Angeles. “I got into the car and didn’t know where I was headed,” he said in an interview. “I drove north, stopped for a flat tire in Oregon and stayed there in a one-room cabin for six months.” There he started to write for the first time. The book was a novel of Hollywood, “The Winners.”

A New Chapter

He moved to New York in 1981. Reviews of “The Winners” were scathing, but his editor, Michael Korda, advised him to go in another direction.

“He told me there was nothing people liked more than reading about the rich and powerful in criminal situations,” Mr. Dunne said. “It was, like, ‘Boing’ in my head, and I made a genre out of the thing. I wrote ‘The Two Mrs. Grenvilles,’ about a social family whose son married a showgirl who was then accused of murdering him. Two million copies were sold and that book utterly changed my life.”

Other books followed, among them “People Like Us”; “A Season in Purgatory,” based on a rich Catholic family and murder; and “An Inconvenient Woman,” about a social couple and the murder of the husband’s mistress.

In 1999 he published a memoir, “The Way We Lived Then, Recollections of a Well-Known Name Dropper,” studded with photographs of the famous.

His increasing prominence as a reporter, writer, author and television personality made him a staple at fashionable dinner parties and social events.

“All the people who dumped me years before were now giving dinner parties for me,” he said during Mr. Simpson’s trial. “And I went.”

Although he had been divorced for two decades, he remained devoted to his ex-wife, who learned she had multiple sclerosis in 1972, until her death in 1997. He is survived by his sons Griffin, an actor and director of New York, and Alexander of Portland, Ore.; and a granddaughter, Hannah Dunne.

In 2000, Mr. Dunne was found to have prostate cancer. Six years later he was being treated in a hospital when, he said, he decided to leave. Disconnecting himself from the medical instruments attached to him, he walked out and took a taxi home.

“It caused a lot of commotion at the hospital,” he said. “But I was convinced I was going to die, and the room was not the right setting for my death scene.

“I stayed home for five days and did everything the doctor told me to do,” he added, “and a week later I flew to Europe.”
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Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Why'd He Do It? Post-Mortem of a Grisly Death

Books of The Times: Why'd He Do It? Post-Mortem of a Grisly Death
A sickening account of a murder and suicide that riveted post-Katrina New Orleans.

Zackery Bowen appears on the cover of “Shake the Devil Off” as a lanky, handsome guy in a baseball cap, sitting in the French Quarter of New Orleans and staring at the camera with the insouciance of an off-duty movie star. In one hand he holds a wine glass. In the other hand he holds a kitten.

No word on whether the kitten escaped Zack unscathed. But the soused-looking woman sitting next to him in this same photograph, Addie Hall, did not fare well. She wound up the victim of a murder that was grisly even by New Orleans’s high standards. Let’s skip the particulars except to say that “Gal Pal Gumbo” was The New York Post’s headline for a story about Addie’s grisly murder, and that one of the most pleasant assertions that Ethan Brown, Zack’s biographer, can make on his subject’s behalf is that rumors of Zack’s cannibalism were simply not true.

At this point it might be reasonable to ask why Mr. Brown decided to write a whole book about Zack, who wound up jumping off a roof after he messily dispatched Addie. One answer is that Mr. Brown happened to be in the neighborhood. He and his wife were celebrating their wedding anniversary in New Orleans in the fall of 2006, just as Zack and Addie and their story’s gory details became the talk of the town.

When Mr. Brown learned that Zack had endured a trifecta of earlier nightmares — military service in Kosovo, military service in Baghdad and then Hurricane Katrina — he wondered if this was not the story of a true American tragedy. So he decided to delve (his word, though wallow would be more accurate) into the sad particulars of Zack’s unrelentingly seedy life.

In his hagiographic “Zeitoun” Dave Eggers uses the Katrina ordeal of a single brave man to embody the transcendent decency that helped Abdulrahman Zeitoun survive a terrible ordeal. “Shake the Devil Off” is the flip side of that story. It becomes a bottom-feeding account of boozy, mindless cruelty despite Mr. Brown’s strenuous efforts to give it the moral heft of a war story and to paint Zack as a victim of post-traumatic stress disorder.

This is not to say that Zack didn’t suffer, or that his suffering was not in some way emblematic of other veterans’ experiences. It’s to say that Mr. Brown, who reports this story with a heavy hand, tin ear and salacious eye, doesn’t make it matter.

“Shake the Devil Off” is filled with inarticulate testimony about who Zack was and how he got that way. When his father became a bartender at strip clubs, Zack’s mother says, “I was like, ‘This isn’t how it’s supposed to be.’ ” The crushing disappointment of Zack’s failure to become homecoming king at his California high school in 1995 is duly described.

So is the mating call (“Ya’ll want a shot of Jägermeister?”) with which 18-year-old Zack wooed Lana Shupack, the 28-year-old stripper who would become his wife. Once Zack enlisted in the 709th Military Police Battalion, Lana and her co-workers kept Zack supplied with strip-club photos that did not boost his morale.

The sections of the book that are about Zack’s exposure to war are no less perfunctory. The book explains how the spunkiest, most patriotic member of Zack’s unit, a young woman standing barely 5 feet tall to his 6 feet 10 inches, became an early casualty, and how this and many other losses around Zack hurt him. “He was happy-go-lucky and then he was just depressed,” one Army friend recalls. Zack’s size-17 ill-fitting boots and hammertoe troubles also become part of Mr. Brown’s story.

Bristling from a “general (under honorable conditions)” military discharge (instead of the “honorable discharge” his commander had recommended), which he found deeply unjust, Zack returned to New Orleans with a zest for bartending and not much else to sustain him. Then he met Addie, who is described here as having been a wonderful person except on those occasions when she wasn’t and whose abusive, alcohol-fueled “spells” were well known to those around her.

Yet Zack and Addie found something to make them flourish: the evacuation of New Orleans during Katrina and their decision to wait out the storm (“We’re bartenders so we’re well stocked”) in what Mr. Brown calls a “poststorm Shangri-la.” The storm that caused surreal misery for Mr. Zeitoun and his family was a kind of aphrodisiac for Addie and Zack.

“They liked the lifestyle we had during the hurricane,” a friend reports. “They liked camping out. They liked not having to work. They liked not having the responsibility of paying bills. They didn’t like the change back to normalcy.” But the flood waters retreated, taking with them some of Zack’s sanity. Still, he retained the ability to compartmentalize that he had developed in the service, to the point where he could calmly make notes about Addie’s decomposing body after having killed her during one of their frequent fights. Zack could forget all about Addie, go out bar hopping, pass out in a drunken stupor and only then remember that he had a girlfriend problem.

“Shake the Devil Off” sees all this as part of a tragic arc. And it spares no occasion for voyeurism. Once the story is over and Mr. Brown still has pages to fill, he assails the United States government policies regarding war, Katrina and veterans’ rights.

He watches television. (He is angered by Michael Moore’s high-handed hurricane talk on Keith Olbermann’s show.) And he resorts to domestic details of his own. The news that one of his dogs threw up in the back seat of his car at the time of Hurricane Gustav is one of the less sickening parts of Mr. Brown’s story.
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Paul Morphy, Chess Player, World Champion!

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Monday, August 31, 2009

Why chess is a perfect game for fiction - KGB chess!

Stuart Evers
Friday August 28 2009
The Guardian
The summer of 1972 is a golden one for writers seeking a tumultuous background to their fiction. Kicking off with the breaking of the Watergate scandal, continuing through "Hanoi" Jane Fonda's tour of North Vietnam and ending with the massacre at the Munich Olympics, that summer is stuffed with so many huge international events that a humble game of chess seems rather a distraction. But this was the match between Boris Spassky and Bobby Fischer - and the whole of the cold war world was watching.

The central character in David Szalay's second novel, The Innocent, however, has to content himself with listening on the radio. A former hardliner and former member of the nascent KGB, Aleksandr sets up his battered and broken chess set and moves his little chess pieces according to the increasingly tired voice calling the action from Reykjavik. It's just four pages long, this scene, but Szalay imbues it with a stillness and a tension that is taut and increasingly expressive.

The broken board, the chessmen wrapped in a newspaper reporting a decade-old east v west crisis, the frown on Aleksandr's face as he fails to spot Fischer's error: all of these images, when taken together, perfectly articulate the internal combat waging in Aleksandr's head. His faith in the great experiment is failing, yet chess is there to remind him where his allegiance lies. The section ends with a simple, yet effective, conclusion: Aleksandr is looking at the board, staring at the "silent little pieces of wood whose significant positions are tonight transfixing the world."

Even without the backdrop of political schisms and the spectre of mutually assured destruction, chess is a transfixing game in its own right - especially for writers. It has been the inspiration for countless novels, plays and pieces of short fiction, many of which are collected in a wonderful anthology called The 64-Square Looking Glass. What is it that makes chess such a consistently fascinating subject?

Chess, by its very nature, is a battle between two different thought processes; it gives the novelist the opportunity to go into the players' minds, while retaining an element of plot at the same time. This approach is brilliantly explored in Carl Haffner's Love of the Draw by Thomas Glavnic, a novel as strikingly good as its title. Here, 10 games of chess - which become ever more gripping as Haffner tries desperately to avoid losing - are the springboard to a familial history and an elegy for a disappearing Vienna. It's one of chess's finest novels, sitting comfortably alongside Nabokov's The Luzhin Defense and Paulo Maurensig's The Lüneburg Variation.

More abstractly, chess is attractive to writers as it mirrors the very act of writing itself. Planning ahead, tactics, manipulation are both part of fiction's palate as well as chess's. In both his fiction and his plays, Beckett used the imagery of the chess set, moving his characters around like lowly, articulate pawns. The conclusion of Murphy may be the finest expression of the game's intrinsic link to both art and humanity - "The ingenuity of despair" indeed.

Taking Beckett to its postmodern conclusion, Martin Amis's Money featured a chess game between the central character, the plumply odious John Self, and the spitty, roll-up smoking "Martin Amis". It's an extraordinary scene and one that despite my general loathing of his style and subject matter, I must concede is brilliantly written, controlled and executed. It's the only time where I could see what the fuss was all about, especially at the game's close when "Amis" apologises, as much for creating him as for beating Self at the board.

While Szalay's novel is far from the glitzy literary chicanery of Amis, The Innocent does, like Money, pivot around its respective chess scene. And while Self is playing his creator, Aleksandr is playing out other people's moves as well as his own personal demons. Neither are chess men, yet this is the game they play - for no other has the weight and heft to support such an important part of a novel.

--- Copyright (c) Guardian News and Media Limited. 2009

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Sunday, August 30, 2009

Chess and the KGB novel - "an exciting and memorable read"!

Viv Groskop
Sunday August 23 2009
The Observer
Spring 1948 and Aleksandr, a KGB major, is sent to an isolated psychiatric clinic in the Urals to investigate Anatoly Yudin. A famous pianist in the 1930s, Yudin disappeared during the Second World War and was presumed dead. Now he has resurfaced and has a strange form of amnesia. Or does he? Aleksandr suspects Yudin may be writing anti-Soviet tracts. Does Lozovsky, Yudin's doctor, know something? The story is told by Aleksandr, looking back from 1972 as he begins to see the whole of Soviet history - and the role he has himself played - in a different light.

With Aleksandr, David Szalay, winner of the Betty Trask Prize 2008 for his debut London and the South-East, has created an extraordinary character, a KGB man you can imagine knowing or even being. Aleksandr is an idealist, a "real" communist, who truly believes in the system and wants to do the right thing. Anyone who has seen the German film The Lives of Others will recognise the type: he's a cousin of Stasi Captain Gerd Wiesler, another Everyman who suddenly finds himself questioning everything he has ever believed.

This, then, is a similar situation in Soviet form. Szalay's trick is to make us feel for Aleksandr and sympathise with his dilemmas, while inserting the odd chilling clue as to what's really going on. ("Turn off his light," he says to the officer guarding a man under interrogation and we suddenly realise the conditions the prisoner has been kept in.) Aleksandr's journalist brother, Ivan, offers a foil to the ideological purity; he is prepared to take risks and sees the flaws in the system - until he becomes a beneficiary of it himself. Over the course of the book, the two brothers swap roles, with Aleksandr becoming more disillusioned and Ivan happily riding the gravy train.

The novel's focus swings dramatically between the two brothers' changing relationship and the fate of Yudin and Lozovsky, until we, like Aleksandr, are no longer sure who's in the right, who is supposedly guilty and who really has done something wrong. The result is not so much a critique of the Soviet system - or of totalitarianism - as a comment on the uncertainty of life, how little we know others or even ourselves.

Woven into the narrative are fascinating accounts of historical moments, seen through the eyes of ordinary Soviets, which gradually affect Aleksandr's mindset: losing to the Germans 3-0 at football in the 1972 European Championship final; Bobby Fischer beating Boris Spassky at the Reykjavik chess championships. When Aleksandr's KGB mentor, a man whom he considers to be as trustworthy and "pure" as himself, is targeted, his world implodes. Meanwhile, there are scenes of quiet, comic desperation from everyday Soviet life. The KGB officer supposed to be intercepting Lozovsky falls asleep at his post. In a communal flat, people find themselves involuntarily registering what their neighbours last had to eat and when they last smoked a cigarette.

This is an exciting and memorable read. Expertly researched, it feels authentic, but wears its learning reassuringly lightly. Anyone who appreciated Martin Amis's Koba the Dread and Orlando Figes's The Whisperers will love it, as will fans of The Lives of Others or Burnt by the Sun. As with both films, the theme of silent, regret-filled horror is beautifully, chillingly captured.

--- Copyright (c) Guardian News and Media Limited. 2009

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