Sunday, October 10, 2010

Q&A: Ed Gorman

Odds are many of you reading this already know Ed Gorman. Novelist. Editor. Raconteur. Friend of the website. The man who introduced me to The Whistler. Author of Stranglehold, in stores October 12. And the latest subject of what threatens to become a recurring feature, the VKDC Q&A. Thanks again, Ed.

Q. What can you tell us about Stranglehold?

Dev Conrad is forced to leave the campaign he’s working on and fly downstate (Illinois) to see why another campaign his political consultancy oversees is having so much trouble. Even before he gets there he knows that the dragon lady (a former movie star) hates her daughter-in-law, who just happens to be the Congresswoman running for re-election. The dragon lady is the chief financial backer of the campaign and never lets anyone forget it. Especially her daughter-in-law.

I wanted to highlight the fact that all over the country there are these small political dynasties. Seats are passed from generation to generation. If it’s not the sons and daughters of the former long-serving pol then it’s the nephews and the grandchildren. Writ large this is the Kennedys and the Bushes.

In the case of Stranglehold the candidate’s father was a brilliant and respected liberal senator for five terms. But after being widowed and marrying the dragon lady he began to forget some of his old principles and enjoy himself in the brave new world of fab his new wife introduced him to. Thus his falling out with his daughter who still believes in the principles he set aside. But the daughter had some crazy dark years after her mother died and now they’ve come back on her. Somebody is trying to destroy her career from the inside of the campaign.

Q. You’ve said that Stranglehold owes something to Ross Macdonald. Where do you see his influence on the book? Where would you place Macdonald in your personal pantheon of crime writers?

The Ross Macdonald influence is found in the relationship of the dysfunctional family at the center of the book. The members are isolated from each other and suspect each other of terrible things. Macdonald’s novels and stories are filled with this sense of distrust and betrayal.

In the case of Stranglehold I show how a family can be divided up into warring camps and the effects on all concerned. In this case all the warring has a direct effect on the campaign.

I believe that Ross Macdonald was the finest writer of private detective fiction ever. Flat out.

Q. Stranglehold is inspired in part by your own experience as a speechwriter. The quotations from Jefferson and H.L. Mencken that open the book hint at a certain disillusionment with the process. Did proximity to campaigning turn you off politics? Did you ever work for a candidate whom you considered a good writer?

I think the Jefferson quote states my belief exactly – the moment you decide to run, you begin to change as a person. Subtly at first but by the time you’ve completed a campaign or two you’ve become what you once dreaded – a standard issue pol whose first priority is getting re-elected. This applies to both sides. There are a few exceptions, Senator Bernie Sanders being the sterling example. Senator Al Franken may have the same kind of guts. But face it, by and large both sides have been selling out the middle and working classes for decades. Not to mention signing up for wars so they can wave flags at the next election.

And no, I’ve never personally met a pol who was a good writer.

Q. You also worked in advertising for many years. Are candidates actually sold in the same way as commercial products? Is there any additional satisfaction in crafting a successful campaign for a candidate?

Negative advertising works well for most candidates. Trash your opponent before he or she can trash you. It seems to me that negative advertising works less well in big time package advertising. You can get away with claiming that your pill works twice as fast and twice as well as the other guy’s pill, but that’s different from saying that your opponent slept with his female staffer or that years ago he climbed into the monkey cage at the zoo and exposed himself.

Q. Any chance we’ll see Dev Conrad again?

I’m working on the next Dev now. This is a little bit different for me. It has a fairly unique premise at its center. All the way through the first draft I kept wondering if maybe it was a little too far out there for people to believe. But then just the other day I saw pretty much the same thing in a news story in Politico. Reality is always ahead of you.

Movie Q. What’s a political thriller you think is underrated?

I don’t think it’s under-rated but I think it’s now been passed by – The Ipcress File by Len Deighton. He took an old premise – probably came from Edgar Wallace or one of those early Brits – wedded it to Carnaby Street culture and produced a cynical but very believable Cold War thriller.

Baseball Q. Did you root for a team growing up? Do you still follow them now?

I don’t follow any kind of sports now. I played baseball until I reached eleventh grade at which time I started drinking. I would’ve been much better off playing ball.