Saturday, February 10, 2018

The Night Manager TV Series

Scott D. Parker

If you read the rumors about whom might replace Daniel Craig back in 2016, you would have heard Tom Hiddleston’s name bandied about. And, Daniel Craig returns for his fifth and final bow as 007, we viewers have been treated to a glimpse of what a Hiddleston-as-Bond might be like in BBC’s “The Night Manager.”

Based off a 1993 John Le Carre novel, The Night Manager has been updated to modern times. The six-episode series opens with Hiddleston serving as the night manager in a Cairo hotel during the Arab Spring. Most of the action takes place outside the doors of the hotel, but a fetching woman, Sophie, the mistress of local big shot Freddie Hamid, asks Hiddleston’s Jonathan Pine to copy some documents. A former soldier, Pine is horrified to read a list of weapons, including chemical weapons, as sold by Ironlast, the front company for notorious arms dealer Richard Roper (Hugh Laurie). Pine sends the list up to London and where Oliva Colman’s character, intelligence operative Angela Burr, sees it and realizes this is a vital clue to bring down Roper. Unfortunately for Sophie, Hamid believes her to be the leak and she is killed.

And Pine drops out of sight for four years. When next we meet him, he is working in Switzerland hotel and is tasked with welcoming none other than Roper and his moll, Jed Marshall (Elizabeth Debicki). He can barely stomach the man, but puts on a professional face. Until Angela Burr approaches him about going under cover. To do the right thing. Of course Pine says yes or else we wouldn’t have enough to fill up six hours.

What follows is mostly standard fare for spy shows, but the three lead actors help carry The Night Manager above other movies or TV series of its type. The lengths Pine goes to in order to get inside Roper’s inner circle had me asking if I could do it. Likely not. But Hiddleston’s charm in on full display in every scene. He may not be Bond, but he would have been a decent one, probably a little harder edged than Pierce Brosnan but not as masculine as Craig or Sean Connery. Speaking of Bond, the opening title montages is straight out of the Bond playbook as is the music.

Hugh Laurie was a nice surprise for me. I never watched his TV show, “House,” or most of his other movies. In fact, the only thing I can truly remember him in is the live action “101 Dalmatians.” But he plays a bad guy very well. He’s eerie calm, which makes him all the more dangerous. And when he stares at Pine or other characters, silently studying them, it’s a penetrating, withering stare.

The Night Manager is full of tropes and, for the most part, the show steers away from all but the most obvious choice. The one trope that I constantly wonder about is the villain inviting the hero into the evil inner circle. Why do that? Is it born out of excessive suspicion? That isn’t the case with Roper and Pine but it still made me wonder.

What are y’all’s thoughts on The Night Manager? Did the tropes bother you?

Friday, February 9, 2018

The Tarantino Problem

What a week to be an outspoken fan of Quentin Tarantino and an outspoken feminist.

Uma Thurman's interview with The New York Times was a gut churning read, that filled me with mixed emotions. More than anything, recognizing Thurman's own mixed emotions and pain left me sitting with a rock in my stomach. There was a lot of debate around that interview, and I stayed out of most of it precisely because I didn't know what I really thought or felt. After Tarantino gave Thurman the video footage she wanted, and she said he had "Courage" and she was proud of him, it might have been the end of it. If her issues with him are resolved, who am I to carry a grudge?

Unfortunately, before I read the news item outlining Tarantino's statements on Thurman's interview and her response, I read the one that contained audio from a 2003 Howard Stern interview where he claimed that Roman Polanski wasn't really a rapist, and that the 13 year old girl at the center of Polanki's case had "wanted it."

When I read it, I truly couldn't think of anything to say.

I'm not naive. I went through my teens and early twenties like a lot of people did - with "heroes" and putting people I admired on a pedestal. One by one, they disappointed me. Worse, sometimes they didn't disappoint me, so much as I grew and learned, and looked back to be disappointed in myself. So by now, I don't have celebrity heroes (except maybe Ruth Bader Ginsburg), so it surprised me to feel so crushed.

Samantha Geimer, the now grown woman Tarantino was commenting on, came forward to say he was wrong, that she'd "feel better" if he realized that, and then asked that no one be outraged on her behalf. Tarantino apologized, apparently both in a private call with Geimer and in a public statement.

Here's the thing - I still don't know how I feel. Far be it from me to assume Tarantino is the same man he was fifteen years ago, if he says differently. I don't know him, but I do know that I was a worse person fifteen years ago than I am now. The problem I am having, the one that's making this all so difficult to parse, is, I have to pair the comments he made fifteen years ago and the way he interacted with Thurman fifteen years ago, with his earliest statement on the Weinstein controversy, where he owns the fact that he knew Weinstein was a predator but didn't take any action.

At the heart of all the items combining to make a bigger controversy is a rich and powerful man, who didn't trust the women around him and/or didn't feel the women around him were worth as much as his career and success (or in the case of Geimer, the career and success of a director he admired).

What I want to do is respect Geimer's wishes, and not be outraged on her behalf. I am sure that after forty-years of people supporting, criticizing, and debating Polanksi she's had enough. I think it's important to respect victims, and she's made it clear more than once that, like many sexual assault victims, she just wants this whole thing to be over. The tragedy is that it has gone on so long, with no end in sight.

I also want to remain true to my own principles.

And I want to be honest and clear about how Tarantino's art has influenced and inspired me.

The problem is I don't think I can do all three at once.

Do good people ignore accusations of sexual abuse? Yes, they absolutely do. I know many people reading this will say that's a deal breaker, only a terrible person would do that. But I know, from my own experience, from the stories I have heard from many women, that it happens all the time. One of the best men I ever knew, who sacrificed for others and always went the extra mile to care for those in need - that man sent me to work alone with a known predator. I can't talk to him now and ask why. I have theories, some which paint him in a better light and some which paint him in a terrible light - but it doesn't change the fact that in every single instance but one, he was a good person.

I am not arguing that Tarantino is a good person. I don't know him, and based on his interviews over the years, even without the recent controversy, I don't think we'd get along. I am not even arguing that the man I mention above deserves forgiveness for his role in my assault. I'm just saying - it's complicated.

I have participated in victim blaming. I can think of two instances. They both fill me with deep shame. I didn't know what I know now, I had a great deal of learning and unlearning to do. If someone were to say that the way I spoke/behaved then reflected who I am now, I would be heartbroken. I cannot take back the damage caused by not believing the people who were mistreated, or asking questions/making statements I now recognize as awful ("But you let him in your room..." "But you were BOTH drinking..."), but I can grow and learn. I can do better.

Does that absolve me of the damage I caused? I don't know. Probably not.

So back to Tarantino... was he a good, or at least half decent man who now feels deep regret for not listening to Mira Sorvino, Uma Thurman, and others? Does his apology to Samantha Geimer, his acknowledgment of wrong doing, and harm caused, change my feelings about the statements he made?

Fuck, I don't know.

Like I said, I'm balancing three desires here. I want to respect Geimer's wishes not to be outraged for her. And Thurman seemed to accept Tarantino's apology, too. I want to respect my own principles which tell me that rich, powerful men get away with too much, and we have to put our foot down. I want to recognize and honor the influences in my life.

No matter what happens, the influence of Tarantino's films is never going to leave my work. It's never going to disappear from the story of my creative life. There will always be that moment when I watched From Dusk Till Dawn and felt lit up with the possibilities of story telling. There will always be the hundreds of viewings of Reservoir Dogs where I picked apart and analyzed everything I could. There will always be the friendships formed over a mutual appreciation for film, and Tarantino's films specifically. There will always be the memories of watching these movies with my dad - one of the few things we were able to do together and truly enjoy, toward the end of his life.

Separate the art from the artist? Not sure I can. But I can't separate myself from the art, either. That's what this all really comes down to. I don't know Tarantino as a person, I can't decide if he's grown and changed, if he's learned from all his mistakes and has resolved to be a better man. If he says as much, I still won't know, because people lie and make half assed pronouncements all the time. But I know the effect the films he's made have had on me as a creator, and as a person. So I think I am doomed to be conflicted for a long time.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Cover Versions

Chuck D talking about album covers, "It better catch your eye because it don't catch your eyes it not gonna catch your ear." The same can be said somewhat of book covers, if the book cover is no good, you might well pass it over. Independent author Christina Miller writes, "Indie books, especially, need great covers. Covers function as short-handed way to assure the reader that the story was written with as much care and creativity as went into the cover design." Small presses need to take notice.

We get to see many great book covers but we also see our fare share of covers that aren't so good, okay, some are qutie bad. Before we jump into the bad, let's look at the wonderful. First are the books published by the now defunct 280 Steps.

As I've written before, the 280 Steps' covers bring back the spirit of Saul Bass’ movie posters such as Vertigo and Anatomy of a Murder.  One of the problems with these covers was that 280 Steps rarely gave credit to the artists who designed the covers.

A book cover can even inspire an author to write a book. In an interview here at  Do Some Damage, Chris Irvin talked to Scott Adlerberg about how a piece of artwork by Matthew Revert.

...I bought a cover from Matthew Revert. The cover—which is the cover for Ragged, however it had a placeholder title of “Cork Warrior”—had gone unused from one of Revert’s previous projects that went in a totally different direction. I’m a huge fan of Revert’s work, and when I first saw it I was totally taken by each element – the (to me) anthropomorphic dog, the light blue of the falling snow, the worn cover style, etc.

So what happens when bad covers happen to good books. In my review of Marietta Mile's May, I wrote:
... can we talk about that cover, that god-awful cover May is stuck with? A book this excellent deserves a cover equally as compelling. I believe the current cover is doing a disservice to Miles and her book as a cover is supposed to appeal, to repel.

This cover of May is plain cheesy, it doesn't capture the spirt of Miles' book, and, worse, I think potential readers could pass the book by because the cover is not appealing. Sadly, these aren't the only bad cover recently released by Down & Out Books, here is Angel Luis Colón's Meat City on Fire.

The subtle image of the building behind the fire just didn't do it for me, whatever it is.

But let me clear up one thing, the folks at Down & Out do put out some great covers along with some equally great books. Here are two recent covers from Down & Out I loved.

Everyone is allowed to have a bad day, but if you are a publisher, please spend the time and money to put out a cover that is attractive. If you are paying for any type of editing, pay for a good cover designer as well. And, if you are an author and you are presented with a bad cover or one that you don't like, you have got to start saying no.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Gone But Please Don't Forget Me

by Holly West

Edited 2/7/18 at 9:09 a.m.: I feel like this post comes across as too sad sack. I'm not, really! I'm actually super happy and excited about where I'm at. So read it with that in mind. I think you all are great.

This is my last regular post on Do Some Damage. It makes me sad to write that. Sadder than I thought it would, actually. I'm gonna have to hold Steve Weddle to his word that I'm always welcome here.

It's been four years, nearly to the day, since my first novel came out. I say this because it roughly corresponds to when I started as a regular on DSD. If you ever need a gauge of how fast time goes by, get two novels published in one year (in my case, 2014), have grand plans to follow up with several more published novels (each more successful than the last), then wake up four years later and accept that you're still working on the novel you started before those first two were published.

For a long time, I felt great shame about the fact that I haven't lived up to my own writing/publishing goals. And I suppose, if I'm really and truly honest, I still am. But I also understand that nobody is waiting for me, nobody is sitting around thinking about why Holly West hasn't finished another novel, nobody is thinking about me at all. I am the center of nobody's universe but my own. If I feel shame (which is a completely useless emotion, IMO), that's on me, just as my success or failure is on me.

There's no doubt I've learned a lot about the writing biz, about life, and about myself in the four years since my novels were published. I'm a better person now than I was then. Believe it or not, I'm less self-centered. I'm also a better writer.

I feel this tremendous need to go back to the beginning, even knowing I can't go back. But as the wise and not-so-powerful Bryon Quertermous recently told me after I lamented the state of my career, "Our careers haven't even started."

I hate to say it, but he's right. I don't need to go back to the beginning because I haven't even started. There's great comfort in that realization.

With all of this said, I'm excited about a couple of upcoming projects. In January, I submitted what I believe is the best short story I've ever written for inclusion in an anthology collection. I don't know if it will be selected, but if not, I'll try to find a home for it somewhere else. I'm also in the process of editing a short story collection for Down & Out Books called MURDER-A-GO-GO'S: CRIME FICTION INSPIRED BY THE MUSIC OF THE GO-GO'S, with net proceeds benefitting Planned Parenthood and a foreword written by Go-Go's founder Jane Wiedlin. Watch for it in March 2019.

My co-poster, Thomas Pluck, will be taking over Wednesdays. I couldn't be happier both to know him personally and to count him as one of my writing allies. He's a good one.

Speaking of allies and friends, there's been no one more supportive of me than Steve Weddle. Steve co-founded Do Some Damage and invited me to join the group way back when. He's also responsible for publishing my first short story in Needle Magazine. I love that guy.

Thank you for all of the support and feedback you've offered over the years. I've loved my time with Do Some Damage and I'll miss it. I'll miss you. But I know where to find most of you so you're not through with me yet.

xx Holly

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Choice Tidbits

I'm pressed for time this go round, so I'm just going to leave some tasty morsels about artists, writers and writing that might prove entertaining.  They come from David Markson's book The Last Novel, which, by the way, I would highly recommend.

There is no such thing as abstract art, said Picasso.
You always have to start somewhere or other.

Writers are the beggars of Western society.
Said Octavio Paz

I am quite content to go down to posterity as a scissors and paste man.
Said Joyce.

Stories only happen to people who know how to tell them.
Said Thucydides.

It takes a lot of time to be a genius, you have to sit around so much doing nothing, really doing nothing.
Said Gertrude Stein.

Anything that is too stupid to be spoken is sung.
Said Voltaire - describing opera.

The proper study of mankind is books.
Said Aldous Huxley.

Thomas Hardy's first wife, Emma, kept a twenty-year diary that was evidently devoted almost entirely to the evisceration of his character.
Hardy burned every word of it at her death.

There are so many ways of earning a living, and most of them are failures.
Said Gertrude Stein.

The only exercise I get these days is walking behind the coffins of my friends who took exercise.
Said Peter O'Toole in his late sixties.

If you are going to make a book end badly, Robert Louis Stevenson once pointed out, it must end badly from the beginning --
Such as by mentioning an eighth-story roof in its very first paragraph.

Life is a long process of getting tired.
Say Samuel Butler's Notebooks.

Reality is under no obligation to be interesting.
Said Borges.

Trollope's declaration that he wrote with his watch on his desk in front of him - so that he could be certain he had produced at least two hundred and fifty words every quarter of an hour.

No further martinis after dinner, Conrad Aiken's physician once commanded.
Following which Aiken frequently refused to eat until practically bedtime.

When I am eighty, my art may finally begin to cohere.  By ninety, it may truly turn masterful.
Said Hokusai. At seventy-four.

I'm a poet, I'm life. You're an editor, you're death.
Proclaimed Gregory Corso to someone in the White Horse Tavern - who shortly commenced punching him through the door and across the sidewalk.

Conclusions are the weak points of most authors.
George Eliot said.

Eugene Sue, most of whose widely read novels dealt with the poor and downtrodden.
And thereby made him a millionaire, Kierkegaard noted.

Minor authors - who lived, men knew not how, and died obscure, men marked not when.
Roger Ascham takes notice of.

Those rare intellects who, not only without reward, but in miserable poverty, brought forth their works.
Vasari likewise commemorates.

One must go on working. And one must have patience.
Rodin told Rilke.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Joe Clifford Talks Moving Forward

"I talked about what a shit show 2017 was personally. Professionally it wasn't much better." - Joe Clifford,

The one constant in life is change and usually only the passing of time tells if it was for the better. Weathering the storm depends on the strength and tenacity of who is being challenged. Author Joe Clifford knows all about challenges. 

Seemingly always busy, Joe serves as acquisitions editor for Gutter Books, producer of Lip Service West, and editor for many award-winning anthologies. All that and he has collected a rich catalog of his own trophy-heavy novels, including GIVE UP THE DEAD, his current Jay Porter book.

Joe's life before, however, is a rockier tale. His childhood was tough; a lesson in how to be hard. As he got older he grew determined to put as many miles between himself and his troubled childhood as possible. He wanted to escape.

Escape can hide in many forms and after spending years as a heroin addict struggling on the streets of San Francisco, Joe pieced his life together and earned an MFA from Florida International University.

Around the same time, however, his first marriage was crumbling and he was injured in a serious motorcycle accident that nearly killed him. Two steps forward, two steps back.

Joe lumbered on and upon returning to the Bay Area joyfully began a successful writing career, married and started a family. Of course, life is never done teaching and this year brought many more tests and tragedies for Joe.


"I left my agency over the summer, not for anything they weren't doing-my agent got me five book deals in five years-who can ask for more? I reached a point where I needed to make a change."- Joe Clifford,

"When I left my agency...I didn't exactly inundate the market with submissions. I had hoped my name might carry some weight. It didn't. I was back to square one...I stopped trying."- Joe Clifford,

"Several other factors factored into my giving up. Like my brother dying...suddenly pushing on with my career didn't seem so important." - Joe Clifford,

How do you feel writing has helped you during all the recent changes and challenges in your life?

This is always the rub, isn't it? Because as writers we process our grief and loss through words. My wife Justine just said the other day, something like, "I have to read your interviews to see what's going on with you." And it's true. I don't talk as much. Mostly because I am a WAY better writer than I am talker. I mumble a lot. I am more comfortable writing. There's also this idea that the traumatic and harrowing provide material. And that's true too. Happy lives don't translate to entertaining stories. Conflict and drama, tragedy fuel art, and since losing my brother, I can honestly say I've written some of the best shit of my life. The last Jay Porter deals with it. The follow-up to JUNKIE LOVE will deal with it. And now all that said, who gives a shit? I'd trade in all the books and good news, deals, to have my brother back, or to have my mom back (they can keep my father). But no one is giving me that choice, are they? So all I'm left with is the work.

And your legacy, of course. Your children are going to be proud and amazed when they hear your entire life story. Do you consider what your history will mean to them?

Yeah, I think about my history with them. Mostly because how the fuck am I going to tell them not to do drugs? "Yeah, well, sure it worked out for me. But you? No, you shouldn't do it." Good luck telling a teenager that!

You've authored six books and edited several anthologies. That's a lot of time spent writing. Of those creative experiences, which stands out the most in your memory?

Novels are like your children. There is only one acceptable answer: you love them all the same. Memorable? That's a little different. I could get cute and say WAKE THE UNDERTAKER, because it's also true in a way. I wrote that book while in grad school; it's the novel where I learned "how" to write a mystery. There's also the shit that was going on in my life at the time. I was in Miami (I am SO not a Miami guy), going through a horrible divorce, and I almost died in a motorcycle accident. Pretty fucking memorable! But it's tough to answer this question honestly without saying JUNKIE LOVE, the story of my addiction and life and how I got here.

Which of your own books do you enjoy reading the most?

It's funny. With each book I write, I get better. I'd like to think so, at least. I think the latest Jay Porter, BROKEN GROUND (June 2018) is a "better" book than the first in the series, LAMENTATION. Not to disparage my own work. I'm not knocking LAMENTATION; it's more that I know the character better, his world more familiar. My prose is tighter, cleaner.

There's a danger with the series though: the longer you write one, the tougher the reviews. People like to start at the beginning but don't want to feel obligated to start at the beginning and be on the hook for 4 or 5 more. But as the author to a series, I feel obligated to chart a bigger, more overarching growth.

All that said, I think THE ONE THAT GOT AWAY (December 2018), which will be the first in the new batch of standalones to be published by Down & Out Books, is my favorite to read. The best plot, mystery, reveal, etc.

"...I just signed a three-book deal with Down & Out Books to publish my three standalone novels. While writing Jay Porter, I would write and additional novel each year. These books, THE ONE THAT GOT AWAY, SKUNK TRAIN, and OCCAM'S RAZOR, are among the best things I've done. I love the Porter books but it's been especially frustrating to not have these three books out in the world. Now, thanks to Eric Campbell and Down & Out, these works have a home." - Joe Clifford, 

There is a new Jay Porter book coming in June of this year, BROKEN GROUND, but what does the Down and Out contract mean for the series?

I don't know. That's out of my control. If Oceanview wants another Jay Porter, I am happy to write it. But I can say this: it will be a new Jay Porter. I'd want any Jay Porter from Book 6 on to feature a harder, quieter, less complain-y Jay. Not that Jay doesn't have a lot to complain about. You see the Marlowes, et al, and they are hard and quiet and have their own cynical worldview. But you don't know WHY they are that way. I'd want a 6th Porter to have that same aesthetic. Except if you wanted to find out WHY Jay is the way he is, you can read 1 - 5 and learn the story of how a man was broken.

What can you tell us about THE ONE THAT GOT AWAY?

THE ONE THAT GOT AWAY is the story of Alex Salerno, a 29-year-old woman from Upstate NY, who was abducted 12 years earlier, the latest in a horrific string of abductions. She got away. They caught the guy. No more girls were supposed to die. Until another one did. Something like that. I can't remember the exact elevator pitch. It's based on this fucked-up story I once read in Cosmo. One of my friends thought it would be funny to sign me up for a free year. But the joke's on them. Because I got a book deal out of it! But it's a seriously fucked-up story. One of the worst things I've ever read and it shines an unflattering light on the worst of people. Being as writer, of course, I filed it away, thinking of ways to use this story to do what I do, y'know, "entertain" but illuminate a greater truth. That's what writers, artists, do, right? Mine tragedy, personal and familiar, to show we're not alone. At least I think that's what we do?

I've noticed a pattern. I think. You seem to favor female writers. Gillian Flynn. Paula Hawkins. You've also been very helpful to loads of female writers. Why do you think this may be the case?

That's really sweet. That makes me sound like a nice person! No, the truth is I don't have a demographic I help more than others. I help people who want to be writers because if I am in a position to help, I should help. I can't do much. But I DO remember before I got my first book published, how desperate I was to get my work out there and how helpless I felt. Now that I've at least cleared that hurdle, I hate seeing anyone else suffer or feeling alone or having something to say but not having the avenue to say it. 

But, yes, in terms of what I read these days? Almost exclusively female. (I'm reading Emily Carpenter's Weight of Lies right now--SO good!) Flynn, Hawkins, Mary Kubica, Jamie Mason, Hilary Davidson, Shannon Kirk, Wendy Walker, Eileen Cook. There is just a ridiculous talent pool of women writing crime right now. I am also making up for lost time. Since I neglected half the population for YEARS. I used to only read white dudes with books from 1938 - 1955. So I'm catching up...

Your writing goes dark and I know you often joke about channeling the characters you are following. How do you jump from the dark back to the light? How does your current family life, stable and happy, help your writing?

Ha! I do! I just got a pack of fake cigarettes because I like to chomp on them as I write Jay Porter, who smokes like a fiend. But that light and dark thing, man, it's real. I remember reading where Gillian Flynn, when she was writing Gone Girl, had to leave herself a reminder on her desk, something like, "Leave the darkness upstairs," because she was taking Amy Dunne downstairs to her husband. (Personally I would love to be married to Amy Dunne, but that probably says more about me.) I know I drive (my wife) Justine crazy when I am writing Jay Porter, who, let's face it, isn't the most pleasant guy to be around. And, yeah, it does affect me and my relationships. You spend all your time in someone's head, how can it not? I'm not sure one sets out to write dark. It's whatever interests you and draws your attention. I've always been drawn to those darker places.


Sunday, February 4, 2018

A Tenth Anniversary first book came out 10 years ago this week. It was crime, but it wasn’t fiction. The False Prophet: Conspiracy, Extortion and Murder in the name of God recounted the true story of a California man who claimed to be the one chosen to usher in the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. And he decided that he needed to finance his apocalyptic cult through any means – including drugs, prostitution, and fraud. None of those crimes made him enough income, however. So he turned to murder.
When Taylor Helzer was done, he had killed five people and irreparably harmed the lives of many more.
I covered this case as a newspaper reporter, starting the very day bodies began to surface in the Sacramento region of the Bay Area. That was in 2000. The court case didn’t finish until 2004. It wasn’t until that was complete that law enforcement officials could speak freely to me about their roles in the case. That also became when I could get access to things like trial exhibits and court transcripts. Then I put together a nonfiction book proposal, which had to include a detailed chapter-by-chapter outline.
As I was creating the book proposal – which ultimately ran to 53 pages – I knew that I wanted the book to read like a novel. I wanted my readers to become completely immersed in the story and not be pulled out of it with phrases like “the witness later recalled that he saw…” To me, that sort of thing was jarring. So I structured my narrative to read like a crime novel. BUT everything in it – every single detail – was true. What makes me smile now is that I didn’t realize at the time I also was laying the groundwork for my career as a novelist.
Here’s the overview of the case I wrote to lead off my book proposal:
Taylor Helzer is a handsome devil.
Imagine his trusting brokerage clients, a retired couple who want his steady hand to make sure their savings can support their beloved RV vacations. Imagine an innocent girl meeting this gorgeous man at a rave, his flirting and his smile making her knees weak when she is with him. And imagine a daughter happy and in love as she talks about her new boyfriend, a man she doesn't know has secret plans for more than just romance.
Taylor Helzer is much more than an ordinary lothario or con artist. As the millennial year 2000 begins, he proclaims himself the prophet of God who will usher in the coming reign of Christ.
And he has a plan.
He says he wants to spread peace and love throughout the world by starting what he calls a self-awareness program, but his real intention is to brainwash participants and create his own personal cult.
Like any other American dream, this one needs funding, $20 million by his estimate. He will raise the money at any cost, because in direct contradiction with his program goal, Taylor does not believe in keeping the peace, or in right and wrong. Drugs, prostitution, extortion, murder -- anything goes.
He jettisons the Mormon faith in which he was raised but conveniently keeps many of its teachings, including belief in divine communication and the anointing of prophets. He brainwashes two fellow Mormons, including his brother, into helping him. And then he starts killing. The retired couple, the girlfriend, her mother and more die at Taylor's hands. Three of the bodies are dismembered, stuffed into gym bags and sunk in the Sacramento Delta. The killings quickly become infamous -- the duffel-bag murders. Only through crack police work and his own drug-addled attempts at money laundering are Taylor and his two disciples caught.
The False Prophet: Conspiracy, Extortion and Murder in the Name of God will be the first authoritative book chronicling Taylor Helzer's journey from good Mormon boy to condemned mass murderer. Based on more than four years of reporting and research, the book will be written by the only journalist to cover the case from the commission of the crimes to the imposition of the sentences. The book will be 324 pages long, excluding 16 pages of photographs, four pages of acknowledgements and 12 pages of endnotes.
The author is the only person to have the endorsement of the families and friends of all the victims and the cooperation of law enforcement officials, as well as exclusive access to never-before-released grand jury testimony in the case.
Instead of merely recounting Taylor Helzer's criminal activities, the book will place his disturbing plans in a broader context by paying close attention to how his religious upbringing helps fuel his messianic ambitions. It also will make clear through the recollections of many of Taylor's friends and his accomplices that had he not been caught, he could have become a cult leader of unparalleled power and reach, with no morality binding him to the laws of man or God.
The False Prophet will include details too compelling, and simply too bizarre, to imagine:
- Taylor, who served a Mormon mission in Brazil in his late teens, wants to train Brazilian orphans as assassins and then use them to kill the leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The leaderless church will then have to make him its prophet.
- Taylor's ex-girlfriend, who is initially involved in his plans, leaves him to become a model in Hollywood. The Playboy magazine issue featuring her as the centerfold hits newsstands the same week the duffel bags are discovered in the Sacramento Delta.
- A friend and theological sounding board of Taylor's who helps him cover his tracks is both a self-described witch and a practicing Mormon, beliefs she does not find at all incongruous.
- One of Taylor's money-making schemes involves running a prostitution ring catering to wealthy businessmen. Potential working girls he meets at raves are given questionnaires that include such questions as "Is murder ever wrong?"
- The three accomplices – Taylor, his brother Justin, and their friend Dawn Godman – leave voluminous evidence, including several "to do" lists that include tasks like "ashes, vacuum, (and) tooth brush bathroom," which are easily found by police. 
The False Prophet will be structured chronologically with the exception of the first three chapters, which will introduce the victims and foreshadow their deaths. The book then will turn back to the childhoods of Taylor and his brother Justin Helzer and continue forward through the commission of the crimes, their arrests and subsequent convictions.
That was the beginning of my book proposal (and the beginning of my publishing career). The finished product hit stores on Feb. 5, 2008. It seems like just yesterday.