Read an exclusive guest post from author Ivan Weinberg, then make sure you're signed in and comment for a chance to win a copy of Justice by the Pound!
My only claim to the rich and famous was my closest friend in high school. Steve was always cool. He drove a cool car, had the cool haircut, was a great athlete, wore the right clothes, and said all the right things. But he just barely scraped by in school because he was dyslexic. He was dyslexic in a day when they didn’t know what dyslexia was, so they thought he was dumb.
We’d stay up all night studying for a test, and he'd have the material cold. Then, we’d take the exam the next morning, and he couldn't recognize the questions. He'd panic with the time limits and couldn’t read the writing. It was all backward, undecipherable. But he worked harder in school than anyone. It was clear to him that he wasn’t dumb, and it was clear to me too.
So, what became of the profoundly dyslexic Steve? He grew up to be Stephen J. Cannell, a writer of course, who morphed into the biggest independent producer of television in Hollywood. You’ve seen him. He’s the guy at the end of the show sitting at the typewriter as the pages float out and circle into his initials. Steve ended up with over 40 network television shows—most of which he created and wrote—which won him countless Emmys. And he made a boatload of cash, literally, as in his 160-foot yacht, Big D, on which we cruised the Mediterranean for several years running, poking in at Portofino, Majorca, and Ibiza, having cocktails out on the fantail and being fawned over by an immaculate crew as gawking locals walked up and down the wharf trying to guess who we were. I always imagined they figured I was Brad Pitt. Okay, maybe Jason Alexander.
Why do I tell you this? Well, about the time he bought the boat, Steve sold the studio and started writing novels, most of which were bestsellers. You might remember The Plan, Viking Funeral, The Tin Collectors, and King Con? And it was about that time—aboard Big D over single malt and Cohiba cigars late at night—that we swapped stories of his plot ideas and my cases as a public defender (he loved the cops and robbers) and he convinced me to write my own novel.
So was conceived Noah Shane, Alameda County’s newest public defender. Then, not only did he help me find an agent but he mentored me in my writing and gave me encouragement when it all struck oars from time to time—and here I am, ten years and two Noah Shane novels later. But it was the style, character development, and structure that he shared with me that I wanted to tell you about.
Steve was definitely a writer, even when he wasn’t one yet. He loved TV. What he loved most was the creation of it all, the ideas that came alive. And he loved real people, damaged like we all are. He was one of the first to come up with the flawed protagonist. For example, he and a partner created Jim Rockford, the lovable and violence-averse private eye of The Rockford Files. So, step one for me involved characters who bring their own issues to the table.
Noah is a smart, athletic, talented guy, but he definitely avoids commitment at all costs, having grown up with a narcissistic mother who never committed to him. To make matters worse, soon after he arrives at the office, he finds that he’s claustrophobic in the lock-up when he goes to interview clients. What could be a worse malady for a PD? But now we have a couple of challenges that provide tangible obstacles, right? And the rudiments are in place for the arcing of his character over the course of the story.
Since Steve came at the novel from his history of writing for television, he brought with him the structure of the three-act play and a propensity to be very visual in his descriptions. He wanted the reader to see the scene that he saw, like on TV, which was a posture that I didn’t agree with entirely. And as to story, his bias was to let the characters tell it through action and dialogue rather than entangle the reader in pages and pages of exposition of backstory and tangential facts as the omniscient narrator droned on and on. That part I embraced wholeheartedly.
As you can tell, I didn’t always agree with Steve’s very visual descriptions. My own experience is that I’m often disappointed with a film or TV series that’s created from a novel I have loved. Have you been there? I think it’s because we created our own movie as we read it, and the screenwriter can never match that. So, I believe in giving just enough description to put the reader in context and story, then letting him or her take it from there. Readers don’t have to see it just as I do; in fact, they often like it better when they bring their own experience to bear. The surprises are more acute, the lessons more real.
Such an extraordinarily rich part of my life, this writing. I sometimes wonder what the difference would have been had we not had those single-malt-fueled sessions on Big D that started the process rolling. I know I wouldn’t see things in the same way, with the eye of one charged with capturing motivation and story. I’d be missing a lot of the color and texture of what plays out around me, and I’d definitely be the poorer for it. When I think about it, Steve actually cut through all that cash and celebrity and gave me the gift of the real wealth he had accumulated. Of course, sitting on the fantail passing for Jason Alexander wasn’t all that bad either.
Comment below for a chance to win a copy of Justice by the Pound by Ivan Weinberg!
To enter, make sure you're a registered member of the site and simply leave a comment below.
TIP: Since only comments from registered users will be tabulated, if your username appears in red above your comment—STOP—go log in, then try commenting again. If your username appears in black above your comment, You’re In!
Justice by the Pound Comment Sweepstakes: NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN. A purchase does not improve your chances of winning. Sweepstakes open to legal residents of 50 United States, D.C., and Canada (excluding Quebec), who are 18 years or older as of the date of entry. To enter, complete the “Post a Comment” entry at https://www.criminalelement.com/blogs/2018/02/writing-styles-of-the-rich-and-the-famous-how-a-famous-friend-helped-me-write-my-first-novel-comment-sweepstakes beginning at 3:00 p.m. Eastern Time (ET) February 12, 2018. Sweepstakes ends 2:59 p.m. ET February 20, 2018. Void outside the United States and Canada and where prohibited by law. Please see full details and official rules here. Sponsor: Macmillan, 175 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10010.
To learn more or order a copy, visit:
Ivan Weinberg is a practicing lawyer in the San Francisco Bay Area specializing in medical-legal litigation, representing physicians and patients in matters that focus on complicated medical issues. His interest in the criminal justice system was stimulated by his years as an Assistant Public Defender, and his novels explore conflict on the interface between law and medicine. Ivan lives in Mill Valley, California, with his wife, Marilyn. He has four sons, a daughter, and eight grandchildren.