LIFE IS … STRANGER THAN FICTION


 

I’ve already mentioned how rewarding the support from readers and other writers has been as I’ve begun this new career as an author. 
 
But there have been weird moments.  Really weird. 
 
I’m always surprised when someone asks me a question I haven’t been expecting.  To give you a little peek at this surreal aspect of a writer’s life—OK, also of a songwriter’s life—I am going to list my Top 5 “Stranger than Fiction” comments received in the course of exposing myself … my work that is … to the world:

  • Oh, you wrote a book…how many pages is it?
  • Oh you wrote a book…how many copies have you sold?
  • If I buy your book and hate it, can I tell you?
  • Can you give me a copy?
  • Is it going to be made into a movie? Can I be in the movie?

I could tell you I was fleet-of-mind and answered brilliantly.  But as always, I’d rather leave you in suspense.  What would you have said?  Let me know….

IN CASE OF FIRE: CARRY ON!


I am in the middle of my first re-write of the new book, so I’m going to keep this blog entry short but I thought this event was definitely worth taking the time to report:

Monty Python said: “Never expect the Spanish inquisition;” Boy Scout leaders say, “Prepare for the worst:” and then there’s always Murphy’s Law: “Anything that can go wrong, will.”

My wife Jeanne and I went up to Hopewell Junction to do a reading at a library. Usually these readings are attended by forty to sixty people. I had my text printed out as well as a new Reading Group Guide for HUMPTY DUMPTY WAS PUSHED (view the Reading Group Guide here) which I was excited to share.

The reading was scheduled for seven o’clock. As we drove up to the library there was a huge sign that said “Marc Blatte is reading from his book HUMPTY DUMPTY WAS PUSHED” complete with the date and time. Very unexpected … in a good way.

What was not expected in a good way was the smoke in the air as we approached our destination or the number of fire trucks and police cars blocking the way to the library! Turns out there was a fire in a huge house near the library and all roads in the vicinity were cordoned off to the public. Worth referencing the wisdom of Mr. Murphy again: “”Anything that can go wrong, will.”

In the end, only one local person showed up and he was a teen-age library volunteer who was recruited. Three of our friends from the area somehow managed to get through the barricades and made it … but except for my wife Jeanne, myself, and Cynthia the librarian who organized the reading, that was it: all tolled, seven of us.

When given lemons make lemonade… Because there were so few people present I felt emboldened to try something I had always wanted to try. In addition to doing a bit of reading myself I asked up a couple of people in the audience to read: in this case Jeanne and our friend Paul. It was magnificent! Paul read with a British Oxford accent (he was born in the UK and educated there, so it was legit) that gave HUMPTY a bit of “Masterpiece Theater” flavor, and Jeanne delivered a dramatic reading of Vooko in the Hamptons that brought out the funny and poignant aspects of the chapter beautifully.

In the future I will have more readings done by civilians, they really keep things lose and help create a festive atmosphere.

Going to get back to the new book now. REMEMBER: In case of fire, carry on!!!!!

New Work!


My next book is beginning to soar.

  • It’s a mystery.
  • It’s set in NYC, showing a side of my city I hope you will enjoy.
  • It is a Black Sallie Blue Eyes suspense story yet again.

Originally I thought it would be about streetball, which I used to play and love to watch. I began working on it two summers ago by hanging out at The Rucker Park Basketball Courts in Harlem on 155th Street and Frederick Douglass Boulevard (a.k.a. 8th Avenue). Twice a week I took the B train to observe league play until I was able to imagine a character that I could build a story line around.

While there I met a group of very hospital enthusiastic basketball fans who were involved with the Hip Hop Church founded by the famous pioneer of rap, Kurtis Blow. They invited me to a rousing inspirational Thursday night service. I found the place and the experience so inspiring it will be one of the locations in the new book. I also could not resist the pull, as author, to keep writing about the hip-hop world. My new novel, like HUMPTY DUMPTY WAS PUSHED, will be in part set in that world.

I began writing the book in NYC last summer. After writing hundreds of pages I decided it lacked the hard edge and fast pace of HUMPTY. In January, I began again, this time from my home on a remote beach in Nicaragua. Think National Geographic, Discovery Channel, or Animal Planet and you’re close. The next season of “Survivor” is being shot nearby.

Writing a NYC-based urban novel from two thousand miles away was trying. The folks we know from down there and the primitive wilderness environment are … well let’s just say we spend a lot of time getting to know about stuff that leaves us with our mouths open in disbelief.

The folks, example: Our neighbor is called El Commandante. She is a warrior goddess famous for leading a group of six women with machine guns and taking the country’s entire parliament hostage for three days—the siege led to the beginning of the end of one of Central America’s most brutal dynasties.

Example: Another of our neighbors, a special envoy to the United Nations, was held in prison in Peru until his country paid a five million dollar ransom fee to have him released. His crime was to transport people targeted for assassination by the then fascist government, out of the South American dictatorship. He did it by flying them over the Andes into Argentina, one at a time in his two-seat single engine plane.

Like them there are constant reminders that “we ain’t in New Yawk no more”, like the people who live near the beach in huts made from plastic garbage bags, who make there living illegally collecting turtle eggs that are used to make Viagra soup, or the folks who live in the hills without electricity because God does not approve of it, or a neighbor who believes the water that appeared on the floor of our bedroom came from a piece of weeping driftwood. We live among camposinos, evangelistas, police Czars, magnificently wealthy oligarchs and the materially impoverished. These folks visit, break bread with us, drink with us, and have given us the privilege of hearing their stories. I find their world so interesting that I decided to make one of the main characters Nicaraguan.

Another aspect of the book is the main character’s, Detective Black Sallie Blue Eye’s struggle to deal with what he sees as his major failing. For those who have read HUMPTY you know that at the end something very unexpected happens. For Sal it is the catalyst for a downward spiral that leads to panic attacks, depression, and eventually to sessions with an exceptional psychiatrist.

So…many exciting things are happening. HUMPTY is coming out in paperback. Raymond de Felitta (writer/director “City Island”) is working on a screenplay of the book. I am about 130 pages into the new book and could not be happier about the way it’s taking shape. So if the blogs stop coming as regularly I apologize. I’m spending the time on another novel featuring Black Sallie Blue Eyes.

How HUMPTY DUMPTY and AC/DC Fall … Into Place


My first goal when writing is to keep the spirit of the narrative consistent and I find listening to the right music keeps me on track. My guiding light for HUMPTY DUMPTY WAS PUSHED was AC/DC’s “You Shook Me All Night Long.”  I blasted that bad boy thousands of times and every time I did it felt like a shot of adrenaline to the heart and a kick to the head that put me exactly in the mind-space I wanted to be.

For starters the opening guitar riff creates an intense mood of expectancy. You hear it and you know something big is about to happen. Me, I get so charged, I don’t know whether to start dancing’ or throw myself out a window. Really.

Now once the drums, bass and vocals kicks in several things hit me that are consistent with the kind of writing I want to do. First the over the top machismo of the lead singer, Brian Johnson‘s, ruff vocal quality says “I am fearless. I will bare my soul”. Me, I want to own that.

Then the over the top images conveyed by the barrage of assertive words… She was a fast machine/ She kept her motor clean/ She was the best damn woman that I ever seen… in the context of the kick ass track speaks that the man telling his story has extreme confidence. In fact he’s so confident he is able to mock himself. I want to own that too. I love people who can make fun of themselves and this recording is the ultimate example of one that allows the listener to experience both the intense emotion of “being there” while at the same time be distant enough to see the ridiculousness of it all.

And finally like all good writing there’s the coup de gras, denouement, the cherry on top, stupefying, satisfying explosive ending; in this case, that massively thick Gregorian chant-like chorus behind which a contrapuntal guitar riff takes the emotional level to new heights. When it comes I feel the pure joy of expectation superceded, that kind of emotion that comes when something unpredictable is delivered, a thunderbolt jolt of satisfaction.

I want my writing to be fast, fearless, intense, faster and funny and end with a knock out punch. I want to take the reader to places that are so intense he gets to the point that he can’t decide whether to put the book down because he doesn’t want it to end or finish it to put an end to the intense experience of reading it. “You Shook Me All Night Long”, the way I feel when I hear it, is the epitome of that experience.

Way back when, I was fortunate enough to write a song with the legendary rocker Willie Nile.

The chorus goes:

You’ve Got To Be A Buddha In A Place Like This

Every now and then there’s a momentary bliss

You’ve Got To Be A Buddha In A Place Like This.

Cranking up “You Shook Me All Night Long” is my fast track ticket to momentary bliss, which is my destination of first choice when I’m about to write.

If you’ve read HUMPTY I would like to know if you imagined a soundtrack to it. Writer/director Raymond de Felitta, who is doing a film version, asked me for musical suggestions. While I‘ve been tuned into a lot contemporary music by artists like Eminem, Jay-Z, Wu-Tang, I plan to do a lot more listening before making recommendations, so far the list is short and consists of classics:

AC/DC                                        You Shook Me All Night Long

Run DMC/Aerosmith             Walk this Way

Grand Master Flash                 The Message

What I’m Learning


One of the most rewarding parts of publishing my first novel has been the support and encouragement I’ve received from readers but also from other writers.  WOW.  I can’t believe how generous they’ve been! I should not be surprised, though….

Years ago, I was fortunate enough to have a personal friendship with the Grand Master author, Evan Hunter: you might know him as Ed McBain, author of the much praised 87th Precinct novels.  His early work includes the somewhat autobiographical novel The Blackboard Jungle; he also penned the screenplay for Hitchcock’s The Birds adapted from DuMaurier’s short story of the same name.

I met him through his son Richard-who is now a master harmonica player and author- when we were high school kids playing in a band together. In my freshman and junior years in college he and I worked together as composer/lyricists on a show Evan had written called “Hard Times”. It was a very close fluid collaboration and Evan encouraged me to find a way to bring my free-floating fiction ideas to the page, which I did in song form. Like my book my songs were often based on a character in a situation that has all of the potential to be long form but never was. A good example is the song that got me and my partner Larry Gottleib nominated for a Grammy, The Four Tops Hit “When She Was My Girl”. The bridge is When she was my girl, there was laughter and loving in my world everyday.  When she was my girl, oh what joy she would bring now I’ve lost every thing she’s gone. The great soul singer for the group, Levi Stubbs added The big legged girl is gone, which we thought was genius.

Years later, I’ve finally got to create characters and situations in a long form by writing HUMPTY DUMPTY WAS PUSHED. Better late than never

Evan had great advice for writers.  He told me the reason he was successful is that “I finish  what I start. Lots of guys give up. ” To a teenager trying to figure out why some people succeed while so many others fail in life, it made a very strong impression about how much of success has to do with the work ethic. That little piece of wisdom was a real wake-up call.

Since the publication of HUMPTY DUMPTY, I’ve heard from authors I’ve read and loved, and from some I have only recently discovered.  This includes the amazing Ken Bruen, who was a good friend of Evan’s, and whose dark novels of suspense are original, intense and compelling.  What I am discovering is that authors are also mentors, and cheerleaders.  I’m immensely proud of my novel, and this new community of like-minded scribes is a bonus I never anticipated.

Let me know who inspires you, in writing and reading.  What’s the most inspirational thing you’ve read or heard another author say?  Leave a comment.


Lights, camera, action … at the keyboard.

Director/writer Raymond De Fellita is fuckin’ brilliant, fahgedaboudit. I saw “City Island” at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2009 and I plotzed. I could not believe that somebody could have the imagination and craft to put together such high-minded ridiculousness. So what did I do?

Well, my wife went over to talk to Julianna Margulies (they go way, way back to when she was a baby). While she and Julianna were reminiscing, I found Raymond standing right behind me. So I told him how great I thought “City Island” and his work was, and told him about HUMPTY DUMPTY WAS PUSHED. He told me there was a buzz about it and I should send the novel to him. Two days later we talked about him doing the movie.

Since then, we’ve been working on it, and the creative process has been really thought provoking.

Raymond said he wanted to start with a treatment, but before he did, he had several questions regarding the background of the characters.

For example… (and note: Spoiler alert!):

QUESTION: How good is PROOF POSITIVE? Is there more mileage in the story if the group is GREAT? Maybe makes the whole journey downhill sadder if in fact they have major stuff?

Good Question. So I answered:

Several things about the process are true here—it is based on my experience as a producer. First Biz is a producer like Eminem’s producer, Dr. Dre. Now Dre has also produced numerous other bestselling artists, so I’m not implying that Eminem isn’t amazing. But he’s rapping over some masterpiece-type music, which in all likelihood was created by Dre. So first you have Biz the producer with a history of hits (like Dre), and the tracks Proof are rapping over is probably a killer one created by Biz. ?Second, when a producer is hot in the biz, he can do no wrong. Biz’s track record is why Sunn wants in on anything with which Biz is involved.

Questions like this one from Raymond force me to think about my novel as a point of departure for something cinematic. This process makes me think about what I’ve written in a different way that causes me much brain freeze as well as elation … lots of “duh? And “huh!” moments.

To help me make the mental transition, Raymond drew a terrific comparison for me that I think you’ll like. Remember the film “LA Confidential?” Well, if you view is award-winning film and then read the novel you’ll see that the film’s and Ellroy’s novel’s approach are different. The novel is more complex; the movie focuses on the emotional journey of two characters. Yet one comes away with a cohesive whole; and that’s what Raymond said he would like to achieve with HUMPTY DUMPTY.

I am finding this process wonderfully enlightening. What’s really been interesting is how this collaboration has altered (very favorably) my approach to my next novel. Thank you Raymond!

Stay tuned as the process continues.

(from the Travelogue files) It’s better than poo…


To my niece,

What you heard is true and this is the whole story:

Jeanne and I went on our four-wheelers to a place called the ‘dry rain forest’. You’re probably thinking I have it all wrong, how can there be a ‘dry rain forest’? Is that like a ‘hot snowball’? Well, yes and no. The dry rain forest is named so because it is dry half of the year and wet the other half, but not very wet. So, instead of calling it the ‘not very wet rain forest,’ they call it the dry one.

The forest is about five miles from our house. In order to get there, we take a small dirt road to a smaller dirt road that’s only big enough for one car. We have been on this road before and we know some people who live in Coyado, the village in the forest.

Anyway, before the forest, there is a lot of land that cattle graze on. As soon as we’re past the open pastures, we’re in the forest. It happens suddenly. One minute you are in the bright sunshine and the next minute you’re in the shade, surrounded by huge trees that stretch high up into the air. At times, you can hardly see the sky. Inside the forest it’s cool and comfortable.

When we were about a half-mile in, we began to hear deep, loud sounds, almost like a motorcycle. We looked into the trees and way, way up we could see moving figures. They were howler monkey’s.

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There were about four of them above me. They howled. I howled. And every time I howled, they answered me. I must have gotten them very agitated, as, all of a sudden, I felt drops, but I knew it wasn’t rain. As soon as I realized what it was, I drove away as fast as I could. Later, I was told I was lucky, because I learned when they feel threatened they sometimes throw poo. I guess I was really lucky!

From there, we drove our dirt bikes into the very small town of Coyado, where people still live like it is the dawn of man. No electricity, no running water and no cars, but they have horses, cows, pigs, and chickens. We have a friend there, Gerrado, who has ten horses. His job is to take people on rides. Your aunt and Jeanne went on a long ride once, across a river along a beach and into the ocean. They loved it. When you come, we hope that you will ride the horses, too. They are very tame.

Also, I saw some whales. They migrate right near our house. Before you see them, you see their spouts of water shooting high in the air. Incredible.

I miss you and your mom and dad. Jeanne sends love to everyone, me too.

Uncle Marc

A Magical Moment Before Publication


I had spent so long writing and re-writing Humpty (five years) that I had not given much thought about what would happen next.

Eight months before publication, my wife Jeanne and I, knowing that we were going to be out in California for our youngest daughter’s graduation, set up an appointment to meet with Josh Jason, the publicist for Schaffner Press. When the meeting took place one of the things he asked was this; if I could get any author in the world to give a quote for Humpty, who would it be?

I’m a huge John Burdett fan. His novels brim with suspense, philosophy, wacky characters, and unpredictable turns. His fans strike me as the perfect audience to appreciate Humpty. In my best case scenario each one would read Humpty, love it, then buy ten copies to give to their best friends. So as a lark I said John Burdett, not really thinking anything more about it.

To my absolute amazement Jason called, four months later with this: “A rollicking page turner that engrosses from page one — a unique, hip, urban whodunit that ushers in a new voice to the mystery genre.” John Burdett. The words seemed to propel me off the ground. It was a moment of magic, a true unexpected joy before the book was even published! I could hardly wait to see what happened next.

Library Love


Back in late May, at BookExpo’s Librarians’ Book Shout and Share panel, I met Jason Honig, who is with the San Francisco Public Library. He gave a wonderful presentation on some hot picks from BEA. After the talk, we met, chatted and exchanged cards. Later, he emailed me to tell me that he had ordered 15 copies of Humpty for their library!

It feels wonderful to be a part of the library system. To Jason all the other librarians who encourage reading and are passionate about putting books in the hands of readers: THANK YOU!


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“It’s hard to believe this is his first novel. Blatte has a terrific future.” -Paul Ingram