Saturday, March 13, 2010

Guest Blogger - Craig McDonald

Craig McDonald was scheduled to do a guest blog earlier, but we all know my schedule was a little off in February. Let me give you a little background that I picked up from his website.

"Edgar®—nominee Craig McDonald is an award-winning journalist, editor and fiction writer. His short fiction has appeared in literary magazines, anthologies and several online crime fiction sites.

"His debut novel, Head Games, was published by Bleak House Books in September 2007. Head Games was selected as a 2008 Edgar®—nominee for Best First Novel by an American Author. Head Games was also a finalist for the Anthony, Gumshoe and Crimespree Magazine awards for best first novel."

Thank you, Craig, for being understanding, and rewriting your guest blog. Welcome!

Very special thanks to Lesa for so graciously allowing me to write a bit here about my new book, Print the Legend. The novel is an historical thriller focused on the craft of writing and the strange or even sinister forces that can secretly shape or change the books we receive as readers.

“It’s a dangerous thing to know a writer,” Ernest Hemingway warned.

Print the Legend features crime novelist Hector Lassiter, who is popularly known as the “man who lives what he writes and writes what he lives.” As that phrase implies, there is a strange, even chilling tension between Hector’s life and the material in his novels.

Hector was introduced in Head Games (2007), a tale about the stolen and still-missing head of Mexican revolutionary Francisco “Pancho” Villa and the Bush family dynasty’s possible ties to the missing skull. That novel established that Hector had a long and storied friendship with Ernest Hemingway, extending back to the First World War and their mutual service as ambulance drivers on the Italian front.

The second novel, Toros & Torsos (2008), featured Hemingway as an on-the-page character, moving with Hector through Key West in the run up to the killer 1935 hurricane that ravaged the middle Keys. Toros then tracks Hem and Hector into Madrid and the ruins of the Spanish Civil War, charting the growing estrangement between Hemingway and novelist John Dos Passos. T&T’s final pages introduced Hem’s fourth wife, Mary, setting the stage for my new novel.

Print the Legend explores the death of Hemingway in Ketchum, Idaho, in the summer of 1961, and raises questions regarding the possibility that Hem’s death was something other than an act of suicide.

The novel also explores J. Edgar Hoover’s obsessive and often destructive surveillance of key American writers, including not just Hemingway, but Carl Sandburg, Pearl S. Buck, John Steinbeck, Robert Frost, Rex Stout, Sinclair Lewis, William Faulkner and Dorothy Parker, among many others.

Because Hector is a novelist and screenwriter by trade, writing and the creative arts are running themes through the series. Print the Legend however, is the Lassiter novel in which I wanted to focus squarely on the act of writing. To that end, I peppered Print with several very different kinds of authors.

The Lassiter series is also intended as a secret history of the 20th Century. As this novel is set largely in the 1960s — a decade of change, if there ever was one — in Print I wanted to position Hector against two very different and formidable kinds of women.

In addition to Hemingway and Hector, we have Mary Welsh Hemingway — Papa’s fourth and final wife. Mary was a war correspondent whom Hem began courting while still married to journalist/novelist Martha Gellhorn. Hem and Mary’s marriage, while more enduring, was no happier than Hem’s life with Martha.

When Hemingway died, Mary became Hem’s unlikely literary executrix — actually editing (and substantially altering) Hem’s manuscripts for A Moveable Feast and Islands in the Stream…designing dust jackets and selecting titles for both books. (Note: A Moveable Feast has in fact just been reissued in a “restored” version by Hem’s grandson, purporting to present the memoir as left by Hemingway, and enumerating the many changes and alterations introduced by Mary.)

Mary Hemingway’s still controversial “editing” of Feast is a key plot element of Print the Legend.

Print also introduces us to Hannah Paulson, a promising young fiction writer who is very pregnant and increasingly troubled by the behavior of her husband, Richard, a Hemingway scholar with a growing drinking problem and this notion Mary murdered her famous husband. Richard has agreed to write Mary’s biography as a means of building his case against Mary as Papa’s killer.

As Hannah finds herself questioning “the way of the writer” as represented by Mary, Richard and an Idaho-town full of Hemingway scholars, she is increasingly drawn to Hector Lassiter — a working novelist who seemingly lives on his own terms…a man who embodies the writing life with a kind of seductive panache.

Print the Legend, in a sense, is Hannah’s book even more than it is Hector’s. Through Hannah, we explore the strange and tragic arc of Hemingway’s rise and fall as the premier stylist of his generation. Hannah provides harrowing glimpses into the creative process and the destructive shadow play that can result when authors and scholars become too cozy.

It is Hannah, also, who is forced by circumstances to display that quality of “grace under pressure,” Hem so fretted over. This comes in a scene I wrote as a kind of homage to Hemingway’s wrenching birth scenes in the short story “Indian Camp,” and Hemingway’s second novel, A Farewell to Arms.

The other key writer in this cast of authors is an FBI agent/thriller writer named Donovan Creedy. Inspired by novelist/spy/Watergate plumber E. Howard Hunt, Creedy stands in for a tiny army of FBI agents who actually followed, spied on and haunted Hemingway through his final decades.

Those around Hemingway — those who stood close witness to his steep physical and mental decline — were convinced Hem’s obsession with FBI surveillance was another symptom of his growing mental instability…straight-up paranoia.

Indeed, that very attitude was a factor in Mary Hemingway’s approval of the electroshock treatments that arguably hastened Hem’s destruction.

Following Hemingway’s death, requests made under the Freedom of Information Act opened up countless FBI documents (many still heavily redacted) that proved conclusively the FBI was tracking Hemingway and followed him right into the Mayo Clinic…reportedly perhaps even consulting directly with Hem’s doctors.

Hoover, too, left behind countless memos regarding Hemingway, revealing Hem was a kind of obsession of Hoover’s, particularly moving forward from the late 1930s.

This is the terrain of Print the Legend, a literary thriller that aims to underscore Hem’s own cautions about the risk of getting too close to a fiction writer, as well as the seductive dangers of leading “the writing life.”

Thank you, Craig. Please check out Craig's website at and the book trailers for Print the Legend.

Print the Legend by Craig McDonald. St. Martin's Press, ©2010. ISBN 9780312554378 (hardcover), 352p.


Naomi Johnson said...

Thanks for hosting one of my favorite authors, Lesa.

That birthing scene with Hannah is unforgettable. There's a lot of talk these days about strong, female characters and what is usually meant by that is a character who can give and take with the male characters, and who is independent and assertive. The character of Hannah Paulson is less cliched than that. Her strength is a quiet, internal strength of mind that sees her through the worst life throws at her, including an alcoholic husband and a birthing that just about made me bite a hole in my lower lip.

le0pard13 said...

Thank you Craig and Lesa for this overview of PRINT THE LEGEND. I'm looking forward to the release of the audiobook version of this in May (I've already listened to HEAD GAMES and T & T). Given what Naomi has said, narrator Tom Stechschulte is going to have quite sequence to breathe life into ;-). Thanks very much for this.

Michele Emrath said...

I am intrigued. I want to read all three books RIGHT NOW! And I must say I agree with Naomi's comment about strong women. We assume there is one definition for that, but there isn't!

Thank you, Lesa, for this interesting guest blogger. And you have an award on my blog!
Southern City Mysteries

Lesa said...

Thank you, Naomi, for your additional comments, particularly since I don't have access to the computer during the day while I'm in Tucson. And, thank you, Michael.

Thanks for the award, Michele. I'll check when I get back on Monday.

Craig McDonald said...

Lesa, thank you so much again for allowing me to be a guest writer at your site.

leOpard: I'm curious, too, to see how Tom S. handles some scenes in the novel. We discussed the book when I recently interviewed him and I tried to prepare him for some of the narrative challenges to come.

Naomi: Thank you, again, too. As we discussed the other night at the Westerville event, that birth scene is, for me, perhaps the pivotal moment in the novel and I do regard this book as being at least as much Hannah's novel as Hector's, and maybe more Hannah's book, in the end.

Michele: Thank you so much for stopping by and for your time and interest.

Lesa said...

You're welcome, Craig. Thank you for doing the guest blog while I was in Tucson. I appreciate it!