INTO THE STUDIO

On Friday, more baby steps were taken in the effort to turn The Coup into a musical, when composer David Berger, lyricist Paul Mendenhall and I joined three singers, about ten musicians, and a cadre of sound technicians in recording several of the songs that David and Paul have written for the show. The recording studio was located on the third floor of a building at 48th and 7th. Kind of shabby building, but state of the art equipment inside. It made me think that when Napoleon Solo and Ilya Kuryakin went into the back of Del Floria’s humble tailor shop, yes, they might have been slipping into UNCLE headquarters.

David had assembled a band of about ten musicians to perform behind the singers. I am told that this is kind of unusual these days–on these demo records, it’s often just a piano backing the singers. I heard at three songs in total, and a part of another. I liked the music. It’s very jazzy; one romantic number was described, I think accurately, as “very Billy Strayhorn.” Paul’s lyrics are intelligent and witty. The difference between reading them and hearing them performed is amazing; they take on a whole life of their own.

The singers were very good. I only heard Bill Nolte sing in an ensemble piece, so I really didn’t get a good idea of his voice. But Bruce Warren and Jessica Molaskey were very strong. It was impressive to hear how they progressed from take to take. The first take was usually a very straight rendition of the song. Then with each take, they began adding little inflections and variation; by the fourth take, they were really performing the numbers, really acting the lyrics. It’s really incredible how talented these people are.

We should finish the recording this week, followed by another week or so to mix the record. Then the script, the songs and the demo record will go to various people up the food chain–to some producers, who regularly invest and raise money, and to some directors, whose interest would attract investors.

And then we’ll see. . .

(Top photo: Bruce, Bill, Jessica, Paul, me’ Middle left: David, through a glass and darkly, conducts the band; middle right: David and the producer Glenn discuss a take.)

MORE, MORE, MORE!

Reading in The Washington Post the excerpt from Obama’s Wars, Bob Woodward‘s new book, I was reminded of nothing so much as –me!

In The Coup, I described the people Vice President Godwin Pope saw gathered on the floor of the House of Representatives as he sat on the dais awaiting the president’s State of the Union address: “`On the right, the guardians, our military chefs, the members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Not our most valiant warriors, mind you, or our bravest, or our most most bloody-minded, or our most efficiently lethal, but six professionally accomplished, ribbon-bedecked commanders who have learned, through decades of bureaucratic maneuvers, that the answer to every military question, whether it’s about money, time, firepower, or troops, is “We need more.”’

In Obama’s Wars, Woodward writes “From the beginning of the review, it irked Obama that [General] Petraeus, [Admiral] Mullen and Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, then the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, had been out campaigning for more troops on top of the 21,000 that Obama had approved shortly after taking office. In September 2009, Petraeus called a Washington Post columnist to say that the war would be unsuccessful if the president held back on troops. Later that month, Mullen repeated much the same sentiment in Senate testimony, and in October, McChrystal asserted in a speech in London that a scaled-back effort against Afghan terrorists would not work. . . .The only distinctly new alternative offered to Obama came from outside the military hierarchy. Vice President Biden had long and loudly argued against the military’s 40,000-troop request. He worked with Gen. James E. Cartwright, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to develop a “hybrid option” – combining elements of other plans – that called for only 20,000 additional troops. It would have a more limited mission of hunting down the Taliban insurgents and training the Afghan police and army to take over. When Mullen learned of the hybrid option, he didn’t want to take it to Obama. “We’re not providing that,” he told Cartwright.

Obama should have read my book.

THE BATMAN GAMBIT

44-1“Provided that a character is smart enough and manipulative enough,” reads a post on tvtropes.org, “they can get the people around them to do just about anything. Sometimes this can be accomplished by the power of charisma, but other times it needs to be perpetrated through an elaborate scheme. This scheme takes into account everything that The Chessmaster (as well as the viewer) knows about the characters being manipulated, and uses it against them. The patsies in this scheme only act and respond as their own predictability dictates and all the pieces fall into place. This is the essence of the Batman Gambit, which is a storytelling device that can be used by any unusually intelligent character, be they good or evil, to achieve what they want by using their own intelligence to make sure that the most probable outcome that is beneficial to them arises.

“This trope relies heavily on Flaw Exploitation manipulating, although the term `flaw’ is used very loosely here. Sometimes the flaw is that the villains are so predictable that they’ll take the first chance they have to do something mean and underhanded. Other times, the flaw is that the heroes are so heroic that they’ll act for the greater good without even thinking about it. A particularly Genre Savvy person will recognize the fact that heroes always win — and design a plan based on the assumption that they will succeed. . . .The key to making a Batman Gambit work is by carefully guiding and manipulating the motivations of those involved, so that the vegito`obvious’ course of action to them is to do what will make the gambit work and it never occurs to them to do things that would ruin the gambit. Because of the presence of this obvious failure mode, anyone who tries to pull off a Batman Gambit and fails often just ends up looking like a fool. In short, if you can say `but what if he does this?’ and that will mess up everything, then it’s a Batman Gambit.”

Our author goes on to cite characters from various genres who have used the Batman Gambit. In anime, Vegito in Dragon Ball Z, Akiyama Shinichi in Liar Game, and both Marik and Dark Bakura in Yu-Gi-Oh!; in television, The Mission: Impossible team and Doctor Who; in comics, Wolverine in Wolverine: Origins, Victor Von Doom and doctor-doom_superLex Luthor pretty much all the time, Batman of course, Captain jolieavaAmerica in Earth X, Nick Fury in Ultimate Marvel Universe, and both Ava and Senator Roark in Sin City; in films, Palpatine/Sidious in the Star Wars Saga, General Koskov in the Bond film The Living Daylights, Captain Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean, Neal McCauley in Heat, Mary Poppins, Jason Bourne, Billy Flynn in Chicago, and Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs; and in literature, Hari Seldon in Isaac Asimov‘s Foundation series, GK Chesterton‘s Father Brown in “The Sins fayeof Prince Saradine”, Sherlock Holmes, Milady de Winter in Alexandre DumasThe Three Musketeers, Dantes in The Count of voldemort1Monte Cristo, Artemis Fowl, Bene Gesserit in Frank Herbert‘s Dune, Voldemort in both Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Chauvelin in The Scarlet Pimpernel, Bram Stoker‘s Dracula, both Gandalf and Sauron in JRR Tolkien‘s The Lord of the Rings, PG Wodehouse‘s Jeeves, and (Ta-DAA) Godwin Pope in The Coup, in which “a US Vice-President engineers one of the most brilliant government ousters this troper has ever seen. He plays everybody like cards in a deck and does it with such panache that you find yourself cheering for the Magnificent Bastard.”

If you’re not flattered to among such company, check your pulse, because you must be dead. Thank you, oh anonymous wikidian!

QUOTABLE QUOTATION

“One gift, one time — that’s bribery. Lots of gifts over a long time — that’s politics.”

I have just learned that the above line–spoken by the eminent Roland Vanatua on page 210 of The Coup, was cited in June by Mr. E. Frank Stephenson, an economics professor at Berry College in Georgia. Writing on his blog Division of Labor, Mr. Stephenson said it was “a funny line” from “a good book” that is “a fun political satire that makes a good summertime read.” Thank you, Frank!

I have also just learned that just a few days ago, in what may or may not be a related development, the same line became The Quote of the Day on The Eastside Defender, a website based in Minneapolis that focuses on crime news. Thank you–Twins fans? Squarehead Crimebusters? Land o’ Lakers? Whatever–I’m very flattered.

THANKS, HUGO–WHAT A BEAUTIFUL GESTURE

chavezbook351Writing on TrueSlant.com last week, I observed that the Number 2 book on amazon.com was Eduardo Galeano‘s Open Veins of Latin America, a book about America’s involvement in Latin America first published in 1997. To what did Galeano owe his sudden surge into best-sellerdom? Why, simply, to a genius act of product placement on the part of Venezuela’s president Hugo Chavez, who had pressed a copy into Barack Obama‘s palms. This left with a simple question: How the heck can I get Chavez to give a copy of my book to Obama? Thanks to the mad skills of my friend Ken Smith, I can visualize the dream.

TRUSTY RUSTY

About a month ago I received an email from a gent named Rusty Wornom, wondering if we had ever met. More specifically, wondering if we had ever met at a sci fi convention in Baltimore. Having no memory of ever meeting Rusty or attending a sci fi convention, I could not in good conscience conjure any sparks of an acquaintanceship. However, I did encourage him to read The Coup, and lo and behold, he did. And although the book is not fresh enough for him to write about in The Richmond Times-Dispatch, where Rusty reviews books, he did write about it on his website:

So I just finished his 2007 novel, The Coup. Unbelievably, the blurbs on the dust jacket and on Jamie’s website get it right — this is a biting, yet all too possible, satire on Washington politics and the power of public perception, and it has not received the attention it deserves.

Imagine a President who is a cross between George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, and imagine a Vice President with the smarts and charm of Al Gore and the ruthless tenacity of Dick Cheney, and you would have the Presidential pair in Malanowski’s The Coup. Godwin Pope, the VP, is sick of the President’s good ol’ boy, philandering ways. Almost by accident a plot forms in his mind — a viable way to move Jack Mahone out of the White House so Godwin can slide on in.

The plot is full of wry twists, and Malanowski’s portrait of a conniving, yet thoroughly likable VP is the anchor of the novel. You don’t want to like this bastard, but you do — especially when he falls in love with a journalist, uses her to move his plan forward, yet still quotes Marlowe in a love note: “Come with me and be my love.”

My favorite image: the denouement in the Oval Office. Read it — I won’t spoil it. But the image is rich and precisely perfect. My favorite line: Darkness fell on Washington, and like Dracula’s little children of the night, the pundits came out to feed on the weak and dying.

THE LEGENDS OF SLEEPY HOLLOW

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Under threatening skies in a cozy and picturesque former Hudson River train station, twenty or so lovers of literature (or something) came to see the novelist DeLaune Michel and myself perform in a reading sponsored by the Hudson Valley Writers’ Center. The Center’s director, Jerri Lynn Fields, opened the evening with a discussion of the great work the center does, and then brought up Chris Raymond. Chris was an excellent choice to serve as emcee (the program was too brief for him to have been a master of ceremonies, but suitably long for him to called emcee.) Not only is he a fine editor, now with ESPN Books, but he knows both DeLaune and me–he is her neighbor in Irvington, and he and I were colleagues at Esquire (I remember him being a frighteningly energetic tyro.) DeLaune read two beautifully observed passages from her new novel The Safety of Secrets–she is an excellent writer and a most expressive reader, no doubt because she has been an actress– and I chipped in with a piece of The Coup, and then we took questions. “Why are you such a cynic?” asked one gentleman. A cynic? Moi? “Because I was raised right,” I assured him. The rain held off until it was tme to go, and them fell in a furious attack. Driving home through the fields of the Rockefeller properties in Pocantico after the storm had passed, one could still see the lightening exploding in the west, over Rockland County somewhere, backlighting the charcoal clouds that still hung bristling in the sky. Seldom have I seen a sky so dramatic, a memorable end to a fun night. (Above, me, DeLaune, Jerri Lynn and Chris.)

By the way, here is a clip of Delaune acting with Mad Men‘s Jon Hamm in a scene from a TV series called Division Street.

GEORGE AND RACHEL? ARE YOU LISTENING?

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I received a nice note from an artist in California named Lisa Jonte (see http://www.Girlamatic.com, or http://www.never-done.com, or
http://www.Arcanumvisual.com), who was trying to track down an article I wrote called When Disney Ran America, which appeared in the June 1991 issue of Spy. After I sent her a copy, I received a lovely note that read, in part: “Hey there! I got the article yesterday! I must say, it’s aged very well. In fact, I think it’s all the more entertaining for the intervening years. . . . I also finished reading The Coup last night. I’m not normally drawn to political fiction (I find I get enough of that on the news) but your book really did draw me in. If it hadn’t, I might have gotten some work done last night, instead of sitting up and turning pages until 2 am. . . .You actually made Washington and its fictional denizens seems more human, more three dimensional (and in some cases, more sympathetic) than their real-life counterparts ever manage to come across. I’m even more impressed that you could to make me (middle class liberal that I am) give a damn about the life of a self-satisfied trust fund baby. When the time comes to cast the movie, tell them I said George Clooney and Rachel Weisz are the only possible choices for Godwin and Maggie. ”

Thanks, Lisa. Your casting choices are right on.

OBAMA, CLINTON, IMITATE THE COUP?

Last night, “under the cover of drakness” as NBC’s David Gregory hyperdramatically set the scene, Barack Obama met with his defeated rival Hillary Clinton–much like Jack Mahone met with his defeated rival Godwin Pope in the opening pages of The Coup! Okay, okay, so they met a Diane Feinstein‘s house, and not in a parking lot under a T.G.I.Friday’s sign. But still, it’s eeerily similar. Did they discuss the vice-presidency? Well, I bet they didn’t discuss whether or not Joba should go back to the bullpen.

CANADA COPIES THE COUP?

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As most of you who read this blog know, in my novel The Coup, President Mahone is forced to resign when the world learns that he has had an affair with a young woman who is also linked to the head of China’s espionage agency (although, as readers know, much about this relationship has been manipulated by Vice President Pope.) Well, big props to Canada, which has done a terrific job in producing their own version of that scandal. Yesterday, Maxime Bernier, Canada’s Alec Baldwinish Minister for foreign affairs, was forced to resign after it was revealed that he had left confidential, NATO-related documents in the apartment of his now ex-girlfriend, Julie Coulliard, who, rather Judith Exnerishly, had previously been romantically linked to members of Canadian motorcycle gangs. Yes, in what is the most fantastic part of this story, it turns out that Quebec has a big problem with outlaw motorcycle gangs who “have long tried to infiltrate politics and the judicial systems,” as the Times reports. In a TV interview, Ms. Couillard acknowledged that beginning in 1993, she had lived for three years with a “well-known crime figure” who connected to the gangs, and was later married to an actual biker gang member. And then, not long after, Monsieur Minister! What brought this couple together? You tell me. (I don’t know if Ms. Coulliard measures up to Maggie Newbold, but she obviously knows how to capture eyeballs.) Was his downfall a set-up? Well, if a boyfriend leaves documents at a girlfriend’s apartment, do you expect her 1.) to give him a call and tell him, or 2.) phone a lawyer for advice? I don’t know if Bernier was manipulated by rival, but something sure smells fishy to me.