FEATURED AUTHORS: CHARLES SALZBERG AND ROSS KLAVAN
ABOUT THE BOOK
Third Degree 3 Authors 3 Novellas:
Cut Loose All Those Who Drag You Down:
A crooked reporter who fronts for the mob and who’s been married eight times gets a visit from his oldest friend, a disgraced and defrocked shrink. The man is in deep trouble and it’s clear somebody is going to pay with his life.
After smuggling cigarettes, maple syrup, and coffee, Aggie discovers a much more sinister plot to exploit what some consider a precious commodity: the trafficking of under-aged children for the purposes of sex.
The Fifth Column:
Months after America’s entry into World War II, a young reporter uncovers that the recently disbanded German-American Bund might still be active and is planning a number of dangerous actions on American soil.
Title: Third Degree 3 Authors 3 Novellas
Authors: Ross Klavan, Tim O’Mara, Charles Salzberg
Published by: Down & Out Books (October 5, 2020)
Print length: 320 pages
On tour with: Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours
INTERVIEW WITH TWO OF THE THREE AUTHORS OF THIRD DEGREE
If you could live in any time period which would it be?
I guess it would be Paris in the 1920s, when all the ex-pat writers and artists were bloviating their way through evenings at local watering holes: Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, Pablo Picasso, Morley Callaghan, James Joyce among them. I’ve always been fascinated by the period, read everything I could get my hands on, and even wrote a satirical short story about the period called Looking Back. The reason? I’d like to cut through the myths and legends about them and see them for who they really were. And besides, it would be fun.
If you could meet any author for coffee, who would you like to meet and what would you talk about?
I know this sounds self-serving, but I love meeting up with my co-writer and good friend, Ross Klavan. In fact, we actually do have a weekly lunch—even during self-isolation we Zoomed our weekly lunches. But I know this isn’t the answer this question is supposed to elicit, so I’ll try again. Most famous people, in my experience (as a former magazine journalist I did more than my fair share of celebrity interviews), don’t live up to the expectations you might have for them and so we’re probably better off not having coffee with them or a meal (even if they pick up the check). So, the only way to answer this is to tick off a few of my favorite writers and hope they were as interesting in real life as they are between the covers of their books. Vladimir Nabokov, Philip Roth, Saul Bellow, Djuna Barnes, Emily Dickinson and e.e. cummings. But as another, more realistic answer, as a result of Covid, I have a regular Monday evening Zoom with four other crime writers: Reed Farrel Coleman, Matt Goldman, Michael Wiley and Tom Straw, and I can’t think of any better people (including Ross in this) I’d like to have coffee with. In person.
What’s your all-time favorite city?
That’s easy. New York City, where I was born and have lived my entire life with the exception of four years of college in Syracuse and one year of law school in Boston (probably the worst year of my life).
What’s one thing you never leave the house without?
I have a friend who never leaves home without a notebook tucked in his pocket, so he can journal, and I’m sure that would be a good answer to steal, but I’m gonna go with honesty here. My first thought was to answer my phone, but I realize the real answer is my house keys.
What’s one thing that very few people know about you?
That I’m really very lazy and I hardly spend any time at the computer writing, and I can actually go days and sometimes weeks without writing something. Most who know me would say that’s ridiculous, because I’ve had almost forty books published over the years, not to mention scores of magazine articles and book reviews, but the explanation for that is that I’m an extremely fast typist, close to 90 words a minute, and I have an incredible facility to focus once I am at the keyboard. But as far as logging actual time in front of the computer with my hands on the keyboard, not so much.
What’s your favorite thing to do when there’s nothing to do?
Watch TV or take a walk in Riverside Park or Central Park, stopping every so often to do some reading.
What’s your favorite color?
What drives you crazy?
People who lack empathy. And rudeness.
What do you collect?
Fine art, (little known fact, Ross Klavan’s wife, Mary Jones is a fantastic artist, and I’m fortunate enough to own several of her paintings) music boxes (though not lately), books (I have way too many, but I’m loath to throw them out,) and baseball memorabilia. During this Covid period I did something really crazy. I took down all the books from all my shelves, divided them into fiction and nonfiction, and then put them back alphabetized. Just the thought of it now elicits a “what the hell was I thinking?” But the result is that now I can find just about any book I own.
5 things you love about writing:
It was Dorothy Parker who said, “I hate writing. I love having written.” And I can certainly understand that sentiment. For me, I actually like writing (when it’s going well), but I hate having to get to the computer to do the actual writing. Once I’m there, however, I really do enjoy it. I don’t labor over a blank page. I always put something down and have never had so-called writer’s block. But what I like even more than writing is rewriting. That, for me, is when the fun really sets in—unless, of course, what I’ve written is crappy and I’m left with the daunting task of either making it better or throwing it out altogether.
5 favorite books:
Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov, Portnoy’s Complaint, Philip Roth, Seize the Day, Saul Bellow, In Cold Blood, Truman Capote, Executioner’s Song, Norman Mailer, and anything by Dashiell Hammett. There are so many more, but these are the ones that first come to mind.
Netflix or Amazon Prime?
Netflix. But it’s a close race, with Hulu a close third.
What’s your latest recommendation for:
Food: For ninety days during the self-isolation brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic the only food I ate, since restaurants were closed, was food I prepared myself, so I’d have to say doctoring up frozen pizzas from FreshDirect, because they allow me to be creative in what I use as toppings.
Music: The new Bob Dylan album (or anything by Dylan), Nancy Griffith, and anything you can find by Dave Van Ronk.
Movie: Movie theaters haven’t been open for so long, it’s hard to remember what I’ve seen that I would recommend. But I have been watching a lot of older films and some of my favorites are Goodfellas (as far as I’m concerned the best movie ever made about the mob, yes, better than The Godfather movies, because it’s more realistic), The Hustler (Paul Newman), In Cold Blood (from the Capote book) and Easy Rider and JoJo Rabbit.
Book: I recently finished my friend Matt Goldman’s Dead West, which I loved, The Third Rainbow Girl by Emily Copley Eisenberg, Furious Hours by Casey Cep. Oh, and I recently reread In Cold Blood and The Executioner’s Song, and they both hold up.
Audiobook: I don’t listen to audio books, but I have been hooked on true crime podcasts, and I’d recommend three: Someone Knows Something (all the seasons are great, but especially the season with the Dee and Moore case), In the Dark, about the Curtis Flowers Case, and American Skyjacker.
TV: I’d say the Charles Manson series on Epix.
Netflix: Babylon Berlin and Narcos, Amazon Prime: Bosch and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (tied with Glow).
What books do you currently have published?
Second Story Man (nominated for a Shamus: I lost, but it did win the Beverly Hills Book Award)
Devil in the Hole (named one of the best crime novels of 2013 by Suspense magazine)
Henry Swann series (in order)
Swann’s Last Song (nominated for a Shamus: I lost)
Swann Dives In
Swann’s Lake of Despair
Swann’s Way Out
Publisher: Five-Star, and Down & Out Books (The first three Swann novels were published by Five-Star, but Down & Out published the next two and has reprinted all of them in paperback, as well as Devil in the Hole and Second Story Man.)
Where did your interest in writing originate?
As a little kid, somebody gave me an old portable typewriter. I couldn’t read or write yet, but I liked carrying it around, and I was positive that somehow it made me important. Maybe I hit the keys once or twice and enjoyed the sound. But also I think like a lot of people who write, writing was ultimately an escape for me. So was reading. As a kid, I had some great old lady school teachers—of course, they were probably really 25 at the time—but I remember them all as wearing wire rim glasses with their gray hair in a bun. They made it seem like reading and writing were just incredible things to do, with the imagination close to magic. I wrote and got some praise for it—which was unusual—so I figured it was a good thing to do. Then a little later, the parents of a good friend started to recommend things to read—hardboiled crime stories, war novels, science fiction, horror, books with violence and sex and everything else. Books for adults. And all I could think was: Wow. Where’s my typewriter?
Do you ever get writer’s block?
Years ago, in my late 20’s, I sold a screenplay and moved to London (England) to finish the rewrite and work on a novel. For some reason, I was suddenly writing about something that really bothered me, guys I knew in the Army who got screwed and sent to Vietnam (years later this became the movie Tigerland). I was also working as a radio journalist and my first marriage was breaking up. I sold a short story to the BBC, which was considered a very prestigious outlet. After a couple of years I came back home and weirdly, almost immediately went into a serious writer’s block. I could do journalism but nothing else. This wasn’t just like “oh-I-don’t-feel-like-it” or “poor-me-I-can’t-think-of-anything,” it scared the shit out of me. I went to see a psychoanalyst and ended up on the couch for eight years. At the end of it, I was writing again but much differently. My unasked for advice is, if you’re really stuck and you know down deep that the best thing to do would be walk into traffic (you know who you are), go “talk to somebody.” If not, just about all writing problems are solved just by writing. Even if you can’t stand what you put on the page, even if you feel that way for days, it’ll eventually unravel, and you don’t have to know the reason why.
What are some of your favorite films?
How about the films Barry Lyndon, Sweet Smell of Success and 8 ½ for favorites right now. This list changes from day-to-day and sometimes even includes the films I’ve written. But those three, for now. All of them have a feel for life that’s absurd and funny and mordant and heated and icy all at the same time. Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon is also gorgeous. He found a special lens that allowed him to shoot in candlelight and, of course, that also meant that for every take they had to get the candles burning down to the same length. Sweet Smell of Success is beautiful black-and-white and written in this fantastic style where the dialogue is like street poetry. And 8 1/2 (along with Dr. Strangelove which I should have mentioned) . . . just funny, sad, intense visions of the world.
Do you have any mentors?
I never had a mentor. I don’t have an MFA. Probably too bad, it would have saved me some time. The one genuinely famous author that I knew pretty well was James T. Farrell, who wrote Studs Lonigan among other books. I met him through my aunt—they’d both been Socialists during the 1930’s. He was an incredible guy, disturbingly feisty and articulate. Jim had fished with Hemingway, drank with Dashiell Hammett (who he didn’t like) and talked to Trotsky. I’d come away from our conversations feeling like the world was a better place. He talked a lot about how you could never actually reach out and get to some kind of Final Reality, it was all approximation and story. And the first time he showed me his writing room, he said (very starkly) “I come in here every day and I test the limits of my sanity.” He wasn’t kidding. It took me a long time to genuinely understand what he was talking about.
What's the most surprising thing you've learned from writing?
The most surprising thing I’ve learned from writing—about writing—is how incredibly difficult it is. And I’m not talking about great writing—just writing something that doesn’t make you want to drink detergent. I do some teaching now (The Maslow Family Graduate Creative Writing Program at Wilkes University) and I have to get students to realize that writing—how we’re talking about it—and other forms of writing like blogs, emails, twitter offerings . . . it’s the difference between running a marathon and walking across the street. Both actions use the same muscles and sort of similar movements . . . but for Writing (the marathon) you’d better train and take it seriously and put yourself into it. Otherwise, you’ll collapse.
Excerpt from ”The Fifth Column” by Charles Salzberg:
I met with the managing editor, Bob Sheldon, and then he handed me over to Jack Sanders, the chief of the metro desk. Both nice guys. Both came from the same mold that gave us Dave Barrett and Bob Doering, my Litchfield bosses. I walked out of there thinking I’d done pretty good. As much as I hated to admit it, I think they were impressed with my having gradu- ated from Yale. “We don’t get many Ivy Leaguers wanting to work here,” the managing editor said. “I’d be happy to be the first,” I replied. And that was true.
That afternoon, it was the Herald Tribune’s turn and I didn’t think went quite as well. I could tell they were looking for someone a little older, a little more experienced. And I was sure my nerves showed, not especially what you want when you’re trying to impress someone and convince them you’re the right man for the job.
That morning, as I was leaving for my interviews, my aunt asked what I’d like for dinner. “I’m sure you could use a home- cooked meal,” she said, then started to probe me for my favor- ite foods.
“No, no, no,” I said. “I’m taking you out for dinner...”
“I appreciate it, Jakey, but you really don’t have to do that.” “Are you kidding? I want to do it. And believe it or not, they actually pay me for what I do at the paper. So, I’ve got money burning a hole in my pocket and what better way to spend it than taking my favorite aunt out to dinner. Just think about where you’d like to go. And do not, under any circumstances, make it one of the local luncheonettes. If I report back to my mom that that’s where I took you, she’d disown me.”
“You choose, Jakey. After all, you’re the guest.”
I got back to my aunt’s around 3:30. She was out, so I decided to catch a quick nap. I was beat, having been up before five that morning, meaning I got maybe three fitful hours of sleep. And even the excitement of being back in the big city didn’t keep my eyelids from drooping. And I had no trouble falling asleep, despite the sound of traffic outside the window.
I was awakened by the sound of Aunt Sonia unlocking the door. I looked at the clock. It was 5:30 p.m. I got up, straightened myself out, and staggered into the living room just as she was headed to the kitchen carrying two large paper bags filled with groceries.
“Remember,” I said, “we’re going out for dinner.”
“Are you sure, Jakey,” she said as I followed close at her heels into the kitchen.
“One-hundred percent sure. Here, let me help you put those things away.” She smiled. “You won’t know where to put them,” she said as she placed both bags down on the kitchen table.
“You think with all the time I spent here as a kid I don’t know where the milk, eggs, bread, flour, and everything else goes? And even if I didn’t, I’m a reporter, remember? I think I can figure it out.”
“I’m sorry, Jakey. I guess I can’t get the little kid out of my mind. I’ll put this bag away, you put away the other.”
“So, what’s new around here, Aunt Sonia?” I asked as I ferried eggs and milk to the icebox.
“I mean, it’s not the same old Yorkville, is it?”
“I’m not sure what you mean, Jakey.”
“You do read the papers, don’t you? We’re at war with Germany, Italy, and Japan. This is Yorkville. It’s crawling with German-Americans, right?”
“I really don’t see much of a difference,” she said, stowing away the last of the groceries in the cabinet next to the stove. I got the feeling this was a subject she was not interested in dis- cussing, which made it all the more appealing to me. Maybe that accounts for my going into journalism.
“There’s got to be a little tension, doesn’t there? I mean, wasn’t there that big Nazi rally at Madison Square Garden a few years ago?”
“I don’t really pay much attention to the news, Jakey. Of course, I read everything your mother sends me that you wrote. But the news, well, it’s very upsetting.” She shook her head back and forth slowly.
“That’s putting it mildly,” I said as I pulled out a chair and sat down at the kitchen table.
“Have you decided where we’re going?” Aunt Sonia said. I could see she was still uncomfortable talking about anything having to do with the war. And then it hit me. Her son, my cousin Bobby, who was several years older than me, pushing thirty, in fact, recently enlisted and was now somewhere in Eu- rope. No wonder she was reluctant to talk about it.
“I thought the Heidelberg might be fun. I remember you taking me there as a kid. It was like one big party. I remember someone was at the piano playing these songs I’d never heard before. And this very strange music...”
She smiled. “Oom-pah music. And you were so cute. You got up and started swaying back and forth.”
My face got warm. “I don’t remember anything of the sort,” I said, embarrassed at the thought of doing something so attention-grabbing.
“You can ask your mother if you don’t believe me. But just let me change and freshen up and we’ll get going.”
Excerpt from ”Third Degree” by Ross Klavan, Tim O'Mara and Charles Salzberg. Copyright 2020 by Ross Klavan, Tim O'Mara and Charles Salzberg. Reproduced with permission from Ross Klavan, Tim O'Mara and Charles Salzberg. All rights reserved.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Connect with Tim O'Mara:
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