Writing Styles of the Rich and the Famous: How a Famous Friend Helped Me Write My First Novel

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.
 

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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.

Comments

  1. Gordon Bingham

    Great story! Looking forwrd to this title!

  2. Sally Schmidt

    Very interesting post, and sounds like a good book. I like his viewpoint that we create our own movie as we read. Maybe explains why I rarely enjoy the movies based on my favorite books.

  3. Sheila Korman

    I would love to read this book—thanks for the chance to win a copy!

  4. Karl Stenger

    I would love to read the book.

  5. Deborah Dumm

    looks like a great read

  6. Susanne Troop

    Love a good book!

  7. sasha payne

    I’m an attorney as well and think this will be an interesting read!

  8. Darlene Slocum

    This sure sounds like a good book to me. Would like to read it.

  9. Jackie Wisherd

    Would love to read this book. Sounds interesting.

  10. Karen M.

    Must be a tremendous help to have an already-successful best friend in your corner, but the proof is in the writing, and I’m curious to see the style and voice, characterizations, plot, etc. in this one.

  11. Susan Pertierra

    Great story in your guest post! I’d love to read about Noah Shane.

  12. jane

    Never heard of this author before but would love to read this book

  13. Jean Feingold

    Many thanks for the writing lesson.

  14. Jean Feingold

    Many thanks for the writing lesson.

  15. lasvegasnv

    interesting

  16. Karen Hester

    How fortunate to have a friend like Steve.

  17. Gwen Ellington

    A great title and a public defender! I’d love to read this.

  18. Karen Mikusak

    Would love to win!

  19. Rebecca B Cochran

    Great background on your writing! Had no idea Steve was dyslexic. Looking forward to reading your books

  20. Lisa Mallia

    Gosh – that sounds great. Thank you.

  21. Vernon Luckert

    Would love to win this one!

  22. Kareemah Hamdan

    Thnaks for sticking with a friend despite what others thought of his intelligence. Too many people allow themselves to be swayed by the unthinking opinions of others but you knew a smart guy when you saw one. Kudos on your success.

  23. pearl berger

    Fascinating to learn about your writing and the brilliance of Stepehn Cannell.

  24. ellie lewis

    Your friendship endured and was based upon an authentic and wonderful foundation. Your novel sounds captivating.

  25. Lesa Neace

    This sounds interesting, can’t wait to read it.

  26. Lesa Neace

    This sounds interesting, can’t wait to read it.

  27. jackie morris

    sounds exciting-hope to win

  28. jackie morris

    sounds exciting-hope to win

  29. Deb Philippon

    Enjoyed reading the article, and am looking forwar to winning. Wish me luck!

  30. Peter W. Horton Jr.

    The author is interesting and I want his book! Yes!

  31. Don McClure

    Thanks for the giveaway!

  32. Don McClure

    Thanks for the giveaway!

  33. pat murphy

    Thank you for the chance to win .

  34. Krypton Imai

    Sounds interesting.

  35. Jennifer Hodges

    Looking forward to reading this. Fun backstory.

  36. Barbara Bolam

    Ah, a flawed character just like real life. I’d love to read this book!

  37. Barbara Bolam

    Ah, a flawed character just like real life. I’d love to read this book!

  38. Laurent Latulippe

    A good article. I want to check out the book.

  39. susan beamon

    Enjoyed the article. Would love the book.

  40. Pauline Barlow

    This sounds like a must read.

  41. Carol Lawman

    Yes, I envision everyone and everything in my books and it’s so like a movie! I’d love to read this book, thank you.

  42. Christine Royer

    Thanks for wonderful insights into your freindship with Stephen Cannell. I would love to read your book!

  43. Odedude

    It’s good to have friends like that.

  44. Tracee Imai

    Its always interesting to hear what the author was thinking as he writes.

  45. Janet Gould

    Great article and it looks like a great book.

  46. Janet Gould

    Great article and it looks like a great book.

  47. Jennifer Essad

    love reading the back story of Ivan’s friendship with Stephen – how ironic that they both are famous writers today

  48. Lori P

    How fortunate to have had such a friend to encourage your talents, which might otherwise have been hidden from us all.

  49. Sabrina Fox

    I love reading all about authors and then getting their books. It helps me feel like I can connect to them more. Thanks for the chance at winning the book!

  50. Janis Detmer

    Looking forward to this book and adding a new author to my “regulars”!

  51. L

    A good look at the value of friendship. Book sounds great, too.

  52. L

    A good look at the value of friendship. Book sounds great, too.

  53. Susan Morris

    I want to read all about Noah Shane! Thank you for the chance to win.

  54. Debra Patton

    Wow! You have an interesting path to becoming an author!

  55. Cheryl Kula

    As a writer, I especially enjoyed this post. Looking forward to the book.

  56. Patrick Murphy

    I would like to win this

  57. vicki wurgler

    I would love to read this book-thanks

  58. Carl

    I’m ready for a new thriller and a new author. Thanks for the chance to win a copy.

  59. Pat Murphy

    Sounds like a good read. Always on the lookout for new authors.

  60. rdharrison

    Thanks for the opportunity to win this book. Can’t wait to read it!

  61. Clydia DeFreese

    I always like to hear experience of writers and their friends. Thanks for the sweepstakes…

  62. Clydia DeFreese

    I always like to hear experience of writers and their friends. Thanks for the sweepstakes…

  63. Reeta Harrison

    Can’t wait to read this book!

  64. Alicia Sargant

    would love to read this book

  65. Brad Bonds

    I’d like to read this book.

  66. Carolyn

    Sounds like a great book!

  67. Patricia

    Very interesting anecdote! I look forward to reading this novel.

  68. Patricia Nicklas

    Interesting story. I’m adding this novel to my to-read list

  69. samantha cox

    cant wait to read this

  70. Barbara Fish

    Please choose me for this book!

  71. Valerie Hildebrand

    Sounds like a stellar book….thanks so much for the chance to win!

  72. lasvegasnv

    cool

  73. Daniel Morrell

    sounds interesting

  74. Karen Willett

    Wish I had read about Steve several years ago. My oldest daughter wanted to write more than anything else in her life. Dyslexia was always in her way but she continued to struggle to get there. She died before she could make it happen but this article would have given her a lot of hope that she would succeed.

  75. Deb Philippon

    Really enjoyed reading the interview. Love to read the book. Wish me luck!

  76. dale Poulter

    Interesting to read how you go about writing.

  77. Daniel Morrell

    sounds interesting

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