Friday, May 01, 2015

Costly Witch Hunts, Free Books

Night Life, former film and TV screenwriter David C. Taylor’s 1950s-set cop thriller, has enjoyed some very favorable criticism since its debut earlier this spring. Kirkus Reviews called it “a strong debut … featuring a hard-edged but properly vulnerable detective.” Publishers Weekly promised that “Readers will want to see more of the distinctive [protagonist], whose wealthy background as the son of a Broadway producer puts him at odds with his fellow cops.” Other readers have bandied about adjectives such as “engrossing” and “compelling” when remarking on Taylor’s literary effort.

Taylor’s publisher, Forge, boils down his novel’s plot in the following way:
New York City in 1954. The Cold War is heating up. Senator Joe McCarthy is running a witch hunt for Communists in America. The newly formed CIA is fighting a turf battle with the FBI to see who will be the primary U.S. intelligence agency. And the bodies of murdered young men are turning up in the city.

Michael Cassidy has an unusual background for a New York cop. His father, a refugee from Eastern Europe, is a successful Broadway producer. His godfather is Frank Costello, a Mafia boss. Cassidy also has an unusual way of going about the business of being a cop--maybe that’s why he threw a fellow officer out a third-story window of the Cortland Hotel.

Cassidy is assigned to the case of Alexander Ingram, a Broadway chorus dancer found tortured and dead in his apartment in Hell’s Kitchen. Complications grow as other young men are murdered one after the other. And why are the FBI, the CIA, and the Mafia interested in the death of a Broadway gypsy?

Meanwhile, a mysterious, beautiful woman moves into Cassidy
’s building in Greenwich Village. Is Dylan McCue a lover or an enemy? Cassidy is plagued by nightmares--dreams that sometimes become reality. And he has been dreaming that someone is coming to kill him.
Now you could win the opportunity to read Night Life for yourself. Below, we’re installing a short piece submitted by author Taylor, in which he provides some background to his composing of this new novel. That’s followed by specifics on how you can enter a drawing to score a free copy of Night Life. Read on.

* * *

by David C. Taylor

I spent more than 20 years in Los Angeles working in movies and television with some success. I wrote feature films, cable movies, TV movies, and scripts for TV shows such as Kojak and The Rockford Files back when CBS, NBC, and ABC were the only TV games in town. Hollywood eventually grinds a writer down. Script changes are made for what looks to the writer like arbitrary reasons such as casting, location availability, weather, demographics, or the gut instinct of the producer’s youngest son. When you flinch at the prospect of a meeting at a studio, it is time to go.

As a young man I started out as a writer of prose fiction but soon learned that selling short stories to literary magazines was a path the slow starvation. Hence the move to Los Angeles. The time came, though, when I wanted to return to writing prose fiction, not only to scratch the itch that had always been there, but also to control what I wrote. Unfortunately, the writer’s path is rarely a smooth one. My agent in L.A. retired about when I left--not cause and effect, she was ready to stop. A year or so after we departed L.A., I finally completed work on a novel, In Blood, and set out with perfect confidence to find an agent in New York. It never occurred to me that someone who had made a living as a writer for more than 20 years would have difficulty. I soon learned that past successes in movies and TV carried almost no weight in the publishing world in New York. It was a case of “what have you done for me lately?” and I had done nothing. After two years and many letters and submissions I found a wonderful agent who took the leap of faith that is necessary when dealing with a first-novelist. She was unable to place In Blood with a publisher, but I soon finished Night Life, which was published recently by Forge, an imprint of MacMillan. The novel is the first entry in a series; the second book will come out next year, on April 1.

(Left) David C. Taylor, photographed by Susan Wilson

Night Life is a noir thriller that takes place in New York City in 1954, the era of Senator McCarthy’s anti-Communist witch hunts, the Cold War, and the turf battles between the CIA and the FBI over which agency would control intelligence operations for the U.S. government. I chose the era for my story, because it was the era in which I grew up in New York as a free-range child and youth, and I had indelible memories of the city at that time. I am attracted to propulsive, driving stories and to the complexities that criminal actions, and abuses of power by authorities, place on normal people, and Night Life allowed me to explore that world.

There are, of course, a number of differences between writing for Hollywood and writing prose fiction that go beyond the interference of other people on the writer’s work. Movies, like sharks, are always moving forward. There is no time for the audience to contemplate while the story is going on, while a novel is consumed at the individual pace of the reader. The reader can go back and check past chapters, stop and think about what is happening and why, luxuries not available when watching a movie. A novel can explore a character’s inner life, his or her thoughts, and can comment on his or her actions by stepping aside; a movie can only occasionally do the same, and it is often a clumsy moment that breaks the narrative flow. A novelist must construct his physical world in detail. A screenwriter merely sketches his, knowing that costume designers, production designers, set designers, and others will construct the physical world for the camera. A screenwriter is restricted to what he can accomplish in two hours or less. (There is more latitude in TV series. Witness Breaking Bad, for instance, which works as a novel as far as its length and complexity go.) A novelist is only restricted by his imagination and the demands of his story. He may leave in everything that enhances the reader’s understanding and pleasure, and must take out anything that does not. The screenwriter, on the other hand, fights to strip the story to its leanest form, and the script becomes a blueprint used by the many other people who join together to make a movie or TV show. Both disciplines have their joys and rewards, but after 20-some years in the film business, I am happy to be back in the business of writing prose fiction off the movies that run in my head.

* * *

OK, so let’s move on to the contest.

Publisher Forge has kindly reserved five copies of Night Life to give away to lucky Rap Sheet readers. If you’d like a chance at winning one of those, all you need do is e-mail your name and postal address to And be sure to put “Night Life Contest” in the subject line. Entries will be accepted between now and midnight next Friday, May 8. The five winners will be chosen completely at random, and their names listed on this page the following day.

Sorry, but at the publisher’s request, this contest is open only to residents of the United States and Canada.

So what the heck are you waiting for, people? Enter now!

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