March 29, 2011

Fiction comes to life on daytime drama

Behind the Book by
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Hyperion Books first talked with me about writing a novel tied to ABC’s daytime drama “One Life to Live” while I was co-head-writing the show. My first response was no. I didn’t want to do a novelization of the soap opera or a spin-off or a journal. Besides, there was already more than enough fiction for me to imagine in the world of “One Life” itself five hours of drama a week, 52 weeks a year of interlaced, multigenerational plots for a whole town full of people of every social and psychological ilk. That narrative range and abundance of character was what had drawn me, as a novelist, to writing soap opera. I loved its capacious canvas and its generic receptivity. But I couldn’t stop thinking about Hyperion’s suggestion, and about how soap opera might lend itself to the idea not of novelizing the show, but of writing a novel on the show. That was the genesis of The Killing Club.

We would watch a fictional character create a piece of fiction, a mystery novel, as a storyline on “One Life to Live.” We would watch the novel as it was being planned, and as it was written, and read, and finally published. The novel was “written” by Marcie Walsh (wonderfully played by the actress Kathy Briar), a smart, spunky young woman who attended “Llanview University” and worked as the receptionist at the Llanview police station. For her fiction, she drew upon as writers do people and events in her “real” life: the detectives and lawyers with whom she worked and the crimes she saw being investigated around her. As she caught the mystery bug, she read other mysteries (including one of mine) and she tried (sometimes with comic, sometimes with dangerous results) to solve crimes herself. Finally, encouraged by her doctor boyfriend and her crew of college friends, she decided to write her own book. The Killing Club is that novel. The plot evolved from an idea for a movie that my colleague at “One Life,” Josh Griffith, and I had had about a group of misfits in high school who have a club in which they imagine ingenious ways to murder their “enemies.” Then, 10 years later, one of the club members is murdered in just such a bizarre way. Then another club member dies. Then another. Who is killing the Killing Club? And why? On the show, a friend of Marcie’s sent the manuscript to Michael Malone, the novelist, a “professor at Llanview University.” Mr. Malone liked what he saw of Marcie’s book and decided to help her with it and then to find her a publisher. He sent the novel to Hyperion Books. They accepted it. Excitedly Marcie traveled to New York to meet Gretchen Young, who is the real editor of the real book, just as Chip Kidd, whom she was also thrilled to meet, is the real cover designer. The Killing Club was “published” on the show at the same time that it was published in “real life” mid-February. In the future, mysterious goings-on will happen in Marcie’s life that eerily reflect the plot of the novel. The creation of the novel, The Killing Club, over the past year on “One Life” has been, then, the creation of a fiction about a fiction inside a fiction. But it is also a “real” novel. In that regard, for me the challenge was, as always, the narrative voice. What sort of narrator would Marcie Walsh “create”? The voice turned out to be that of Jamie Ferrara, a young wisecracking homicide detective in the small town of Gloria, New Jersey, the working-class daughter of an Italian-American cop, and herself one of the founders of the Killing Club.

People ask me, is this a Marcie Walsh book or a Michael Malone book? I would answer that my books are Michael Malone books, but each evolves from the characters who inhabit it. The minute I hear the voice of a narrator, from word one of page one of a story, I am listening to that character’s voice. The narrator of Handling Sin is very different from that of The Last Noel, and Jamie Ferrara is very different from the Southern detective Cuddy Mangum in my Hillston novels. But they are all, I trust, equally at home in the landscape of my fiction.

Acclaimed novelist Michael Malone published his first book in 1975 and went on to write such Southern comic classics as Handling Sin. He has also written extensively for television, including two stints as head writer for the soap opera “One Life to Live.” In his latest book, The Killing Club, Malone combines both careers with fascinating and spine-tingling results.

Michael Malone

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The Killing Club

The Killing Club

By Michael Malone
ISBN 9781401301569

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