"Mirror Image" (Poisoned Pen Press) now at your bookseller's.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Foyle's War Comes to an End

After bashing (slightly) a recent episode of Foyle's War on PBS's Masterpiece Mystery for its depiction of male therapists as thieves, blackmailers and killers, I have to admit it was hard to see the series come to an end this past Sunday.

The final episode was a strong one, and the interweaving of the war's end with the mystery itself was well done. As usual for the entire run of the series, the writing, acting and direction were first-rate. Plus the production designers did a great job evoking the world of WW II Britain.

I've been a fan of the series since its inception, and am truly sorry to see it go.

Perhaps creator Anthony Horowitz and his team will be entreated to give us a post-war glimpse of these characters in a stand-alone episode in the near future. After all, post-war Britain was a very different place than it had been during the five years of war.

In fact, so completely did the British public want to throw off the memory and deprivation of that time that they chose not to re-elect Winston Churchill as Prime Minister, even while acknowledging his crucial role in guiding the nation and inspiring the nation's citizens during the conflict. But the people wanted to move on...which might make for an interesting new angle with which to view Christopher Foyle and his friends.

Just a thought. Regardless, my appreciation to all involved for a wonderful series.

Next up from Masterpiece Mystery: the Inspector Lynley Mysteries, based on the series of novels by Elizabeth George.

Thursday, July 24, 2008


As some of you know, one of my pet peeves--as both a therapist and a writer--is the abundance of TV shows and films in which psychologists and psychiatrists are portrayed as villains. From Hannibal Lecter to your garden variety culprit on any TV crime show, male therapists are often shown as capable of everything from serial murders to sexual exploitation to brain-washing.

Last Sunday's episode of Foyle's War, on PBS' Masterpiece Theater Mystery, was no exception. Now let me be clear: I'm a huge fan of this series of World War II mysteries starring Michael Kitchen. (In fact, next week's episode is the series finale, after five years, and I'm very sorry to see it go.)

But in last Sunday's show, centered around dark deeds at a mental health clinic, all three of the male therapists at the clinic were guilty of something...one of theft and blackmail, another of sleeping with a disturbed patient's wife, and the third of murder. (The second shrink committed murder, too, but since the victim was the blackmailing, thieving first shrink, I don't think we were supposed to feel that badly about it.)

You see my point. In a first-rate, beautifully-scripted and acted series, there's yet another story in which the male shrinks are all killers, crooks and adulterers. As my old Italian grandmother used to say, "Oy!"

As I've written elsewhere, I know why male therapists are ideal villains...all that education, supposed empathy and concern for humanity, turned to the Dark Side. The ultimate paternal figure turned evil, running amok. Irresistible to screenwriters.

But, c'mon, people. Let's give this on-screen stereotype a rest. At least until the second season of HBO's In Treatment airs, wherein depressed shrink Gabriel Byrne, despite his all-too-human foibles, struggles to do the right thing.

End of rant.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Robert Downey, Jr., Moves to Baker Street

File this under the "That's More Like It" category: after lamenting recently that Sasha Baron Cohen was set to play Sherlock Holmes (to Will Farrell's Dr. Watson) in an upcoming spoof, I was pleased to learn that Robert Downey, Jr., has just signed on to play the Great Detective in a new straight film. Downey's a great actor, and an interesting choice.

The film will be directed by Guy Ritchie. Fingers crossed, I guess.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

WHODUNNIT??---Why not YOU?

In case you're interested, I'm teaching a one-day seminar on writing mysteries and crime thrillers at UCLA Extension on Saturday, July 26. For info, please call 310-825-9415 or (800) 388-UCLA.


Anyway, when the folks at Extension asked me to participate in a short Q&A about the seminar, I was only too happy to oblige. Here's an excerpt: 




Q: Your upcoming one-day seminar is called "Taking the Mystery Out of Writing Mysteries."  In your own work, what has been the most challenging element of writing mysteries?


A: Initially, years ago, the hardest element was the plotting. Then, as I grew more confident as a writer (fueled, in great part, by my years as a screenwriter, which requires diligent attention to plot and structure), I discovered that equally important to a good mystery is creating strong, relatable characters.


Henry James famously said, "Plot is characters under stress," and this dictum is never more apparent than when devising powerful, involving mystery and crime stories.


In fact, when you strive to develop interesting characters, who are struggling with relatable emotions---fear, envy, lust, etc.---the way they intersect helps build the foundation of the plot. 


Mystery writers need to remember: crime stems from strong emotions, and strong emotions stem from interpersonal conflict. Kinda like life.


Q: As a licensed psychotherapist specializing in creative issues, what are some things from your psychotherapy practice that you bring into your teaching?  What about to your writing?


A: After 19 years counseling writers who struggle with issues like writer's block, procrastination, and fear of rejection---not to mention anxiety and depression---I think I bring to my teaching both a real understanding of the difficulties of the writer's life, as well as some solid tools for addressing those problems. 


That said, despite my many years as both a therapist and a professional writer, I come up against the same fears and doubts as any other writer. Except that now I just see them as part of the creative process, part of who I am when I'm writing, and trust in my craft as a writer.  Most of the time. 


Q: You were recently an inactive instructor, now returning to the Writers' Program to teach this fall.  For those students who may not be familiar with your teaching or with your work, what is it that you'd like students to know about your courses?  What would you like students to take away from your courses?


A: I'd like students to know that my workshops are interactive, lively and combine solid information with good in-class writing exercises.  Also, because of my experience as both a writer and a therapist who counsels writers, I think I bring a unique perspective to whatever personal issues they might be grappling with  that are impeding their work.



Q: Where do you find inspiration for your own writing? 


A: Everywhere. How people interact with each other. My own passions, fears, concerns, interests. Frankly, however, I don't put much stock in inspiration. I think waiting and hoping to be inspired is a drain on a writer's time and energy. You're better served, I believe, by hard work and striving to cultivate imagination, which, unlike inspiration,  is available to everyone and doesn't depend on divine intervention!


Q: What's your best advice for those trying to published mystery novels?


A: Read what's out there, just to get a general sense of what the industry's publishing, but don't try to slavishly emulate it. Now is not the time to write a novel like The Da Vinci Code. That trend is over. Which means, it's a mistake to try to follow trends. I believe your best bet is to mine your own life, your own passions and interests, and then write the kind of story you'd like to read.


For example, in my new collection of mystery short stories, From Crime to Crime, most of the tales are about a group of hapless amateur sleuths based on real people--a therapist (me) and three of my friends. Our relationship to each other, how we interact under stress, our humor and personal foibles---all formed the foundation of the story-telling. Though the mystery stories are of course fictional, I was curious as to how we would react if we stumbled upon crimes and tried to solve them.


Q: Who is your favorite mystery author of all time?  


A: Too many authors to name, across a range of types of mystery stories. Conan Doyle, Hammett and Chandler, Colin Dexter, Patrica Highsmith, Ed McBain, Michael Connelly, James Lee Burke, Robert Crais. We literally don't have the space!


Q: Is there anything else that you'd like students to know about your upcoming class?


A: Just bring writing implements. Oh, and dress is formal.



Again, for info about this seminar, please call UCLA Extension's Writing Program at 310-825-9415 or (800) 388-UCLA.

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Thursday, July 3, 2008

Cohen and Farrell as Holmes and Watson??

Now I'm worried.
I just learned that Sasha Baron Cohen is going to play Sherlock Holmes in an upcoming film, assisted by Will Farrell as Dr. Watson. Hmmm.
Maybe it'll be funny, maybe it'll be...well, not so funny.
Not that I'm a stickler for high-minded seriousness when it comes to my favorite Baker Street duo. In fact, there was an underrated comedy some years back called Without A Clue, featuring Michael Caine as a totally clueless Holmes and Ben Kingsley as the brilliant though unheralded man behind the genius.
Plus, I'm a huge fan of Billy Wilder's Private Life of Sherlock Holmes. Beautifully directed, written and acted, with a real affection for the characters even as they were being gently sent up.
I even enjoyed Gene Wilder as Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother (with the wonderful Leo McKern, of Rumpole fame, as Professor Moriarty).
Then there's a real gem, The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, with a screenplay by Nick Meyer, based on his best-selling novel of the same name. Again, distinguished by a wonderful cast and beautiful production values. With the unlikely but terrific team of Nicol Williamson and Robert Duvall as Holmes and Watson.
Now we have Sasha Baron Cohen and Will Farrell. Am I wrong to be worried about this pairing?  Why can't I get my mind around the idea?
If you get a second, let me know what you think.

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