stacks an’ stacks of letters.” (Thank you, Perry Como)

Actually, I don’t get many letters, snail mail or email. I don’t even get all that many comments. But we don’t need no steenkin’ letters–I’m gonna answer some questions anyway.

Q. You keep writing that Homeland is character driven. Well, I watched the last couple of episodes and it just seemed like regular television. What are you talking about?

A. Must ‘fess up here.  It looks like Homeland has jumped the shark. Originally the show was driven by Carrie’s (Claire Danes) relationship to Nicholas Brody (Damien Lewis) and Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin). No more. Season Two has devolved into a somewhat more complex and mundane Spy vs. Spy, much to my regret. I still watch it but am disheartened by the path it’s taken and no longer sing its praises. Another great show bites the dust.  Gotta love television.

Q. You extoll the virtues of Treme, but I don’t get it. Every time I turn it on, music is playing.  What kind of television show is that? A variety hour? I thought it was supposed to be about the aftermath of Katrina. What gives?

A. What gives is a unique program that is about the aftermath of Katrina, but also about people who adamantly cling to their New Orleans identity, which is, in no small measure, music and food. So the music is the meat on the bone. There are of course subplots, but each of them is connected in some way to the show’s central themes. Kudus to HBO for bringing it back for a third season (albeit, a shortened one) since it gets lousy ratings. But if you don’t enjoy a program where music is often the centerpiece, don’t bother watching Treme. I find it experimental and daring; plus I’m learning a whole lot about a distinctive, irreplaceable culture.

Q. It seems as if you have the Israeli/Palestinian conflict in your head 24/7. Haven’t you noticed the other hotspots around the world? And every time you write about the conflict you blame Israel. What is that about?

A. It’s about my background. I attended yeshivas from third grade through high school. Other than the Hasids in my high-school yeshiva, who were fervently anti-Zionist because they wanted a theocracy in Israel, I was spoon-fed a history that I later discovered was a whitewashing of the truth about the ways in which Palestinians and Arabs in Israel and out were/are actually treated.

I didn’t understand the extent until I was in college and another part of my personal history underwent a change. That had to do with the Vietnam War, which exploded the way I viewed the world. When I put the pieces back together nothing was the same. I understood what colonialism meant, the realpolitik of American foreign policy, and that understanding forged my commitment to those who were usually getting the short end of the stick. It became impossible not to rethink and relearn Israel’s history and its relationship with the Palestinian and Arab peoples. It would be totally hypocritical for me not to analyze that situation in the same way I do all others. And frankly, what I’ve written is what I believe and know it is backed by hard, cold, facts.

Q. It’s absolutely clear that you hate everyone who might be a Republican. That attitude makes me sick. It’s either your way or the highway for you and your left-wing friends and that’s just bullshit.

A. It would be if you were even close to accurate—but you’re not. I don’t hate all Republicans—as those Republicans who actually know me understand. I hate what the Republican Party has become. I grew up with Clifford Case, Jacob Javitz, and Nelson Rockefeller. And while I didn’t particularly support any of them, I believed, believe, they had honest concern for our social compact. That’s a long, long way from what the party is these days. Now the Republican Party is pushed around and controlled by people whose only concern is forcing their reactionary beliefs to become the law of the land. So, I don’t hate all Republicans. I hate the current Republican Party. I’m not too keen about the Democratic Party either.

Q. You’ve written that you’re finished with “legacy” publishers despite the fact that it was the “legacies” that published your first three Matt Jacob novels. Aren’t you ungrateful and bitter for no reason?

A. I used to be very bitter, but it wasn’t without reason. My third and then my fourth novel (which I took with me as part of a negotiated settlement) were met with ongoing attempts of censorship. In fact, during a protracted fight with the vice president of the house about the so-called villain of my third book, No Saving Grace (which they eventually published the way I wrote it) I was told to change the person’s nationality. When asked why there were no complaints about the embezzling priest, the vice president’s response was “Jews buy more books than Catholics.”  (Buy the e-book and see what I mean.)

When the same sort of pressure hit me about Ties That Blind, only aimed at Matt Jacob himself, I was done fighting and walked. At that time there were no e-books or print on demand. The only alternative to the legacies were vanity presses, aka rip-offs. So yes, I was bitter. But that bitterness passed as I grew to like jury consulting and loved the people with whom I worked. When e-books became a viable option, I retrieved all the rights to my books and decided to return to writing. The first three are available (check the Matt Jacob page on this web site) with the fourth just a few months away. Now my only censor is me and I much prefer it that way.

Q. Who the hell are you to put words in a dead person’s mouth like you did with Truman Capote?

A. A fiction writer. I make stuff up.

“You can only be afraid of what you think you know.” 
― Jiddu Krishnamurti


  One of the two T-shirts I bought while we were hanging in Provincetown last week.  The other is pictured on my Zachary Klein Facebook Authors Page, which, if you check it out, please “Like” the page.

I bought this shirt because it is funny, it is true, and it made me think about what fiction really is.  Where is the line between reality and a reflection of reality?  What is that line?  These aren’t entirely new questions because countless people, who have read my Matt Jacob books, have asked how I was able to do as much drugs and drink as my hero and still write a book.

Clearly they believed that Matt Jacob was me rather than a make-believe character.  There’s part of that conflation I appreciate.  It suggests that Matt, my character, is believable enough to be real; and, as a novelist, that is rewarding.  It’s less rewarding to be thought of as a drunken dope addict, but hey, if that’s the price I pay to create interesting characters, so be it.

Actually I begin each book pondering about themes.  What undercurrents of life do I want to think about and explore?  Betrayal?  Ass-biting from the past?  Manipulation?  Lies?  There’s gotta be an overarching idea I’m interested in before I start writing.  Then, it’s how will my characters relate in their own way to the particular theme while still surprising me with aspects of their personality.  Writing a series makes that a little easier because I’ve grown to know some of my cast better and better which means I’m able to dig deeper and deeper into who they really are.  On the other hand, it’s often a lot of fun to introduce the new characters and have the opportunity to discover who they are over the course of the book.

While there’s a difference between detective fiction and straight fiction, there really is a tremendous overlap.  In both cases a story to be told, characters to come alive, situations that need to feel real and a writers’ job to avoid false notes all along the story’s way.

And though detective fiction has a certain form, as someone who works in that area I see my job as pushing the form into different shapes and directions.

A funny incident from my legacy publishing years.  (And a harbinger of much worse things that came.)  I was having lunch with my editor and his assistant concerning TWO WAY TOLL before the book was written.  The editor told me that I was such a good storyteller that I needn’t worry about having the murder within the first forty pages, which was the general rule of thumb for mysteries.  Yet, the very first thing I heard once the book was delivered was, “There’s no murder in the first forty pages.  You know better than that.”  Even after being reminded about our previous luncheon conversation, there was a significant tug of war before they accepted the book as written.

I want more out of my writing than formula.  In fact, I want the individual characters and their relationships front and center.  To me, they should be of greater importance than the “who done it,” which means drawing on interior lives readers can relate to and relationships between these characters that ring true.

That doesn’t mean I short shrift the storyline.  I actually like the challenge of plotting–however difficult it is for me to conjure up that which allows for my people priorities.

Sounds a lot like a literary novel, doesn’t it?  So why am I so committed to detective fiction?  I’ve mentioned in earlier posts that I think of detective fiction as uniquely American and filled with the same potential as jazz—the opportunity to riff and play and experiment with the form with each book I write.  Fresh and new fascinates me.

So what does this have to do with that Provincetown t-shirt?  For me it suggests one of writing’s most difficult challenges.  “Keeping it real” but using imagination to do so.  I’m not interested in rendering my friends’ lives public.  In an interview on my website in the Happenings section, I talk about how a part of me is in each of my characters, but that “part” of me isn’t me and nor are the relationships within the book mine.  Unless I can absorb the internal lives of people I know and meet, unless I can understand the relationships that surround me and transform, transform, transform what I’ve learned in ways that relate to readers, I’ll never be able to “make stuff up.”