Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Poker Club

By Pat Browning

The popular TV series “Castle” begins its new season on ABC September 20. Unless they have a surprise for us, the episode will end with the character Rick Castle at a card table with real-life authors James Patterson, Michael Connelly and Stephen Cannell. Talk about heavy hitters.

Take Patterson. According to a profile in New York Times Magazine, one in every 17 novels sold since 2006 were written by Patterson. He has five co-writers and pays them out of his own pocket. He can afford it. He reportedly made $70 million last year, publishing nine books with the help of coauthors. The mind boggles.

Anyone interested in how a mega-franchise works, can read the profile at

Confession time. I can’t read Patterson. Graphic slash and gore are not my thing. I browsed through summaries of his books on Amazon and couldn’t find a single one I would read. However, any author as popular as Patterson -- 14 million copies of his books in 38 different languages -- deserves a plug. One of his latest books is THE POSTCARD KILLERS, written with co-author Lisa Marklund. Young couples in Paris, Copenhagen, Frankfurt, and Stockholm have been found dead. Little connects the murders other than a postcard to the local newspaper that precedes each new victim. Read at your own risk.

My all-time favorite of the poker players is Stephen J. Cannell, who scripted one of my all-time favorite TV shows, “The Rockford Files.” Yes, Cannell writes novels now but nothing can top his string of popular TV shows. He got his start on the writing staff of Adam-12 in 1970. After a few years he began to create and produce his own shows: Baa-Baa Blacksheep, Hardcastle and McCormick, The A-Team, Baretta and Hunter, to name a few.

The Rockford Files won an Emmy for Outstanding Drama in 1978. There’s been some talk of making a new Rockford Files but it would be laughed off the screen. There is only one, and it stars James Garner, who is getting a bit long in the tooth to do all that stunt work. Better to let a legend remain who and what it is – a legend.

Besides his enormous talent, Cannell is also a generous genius. On his web site he teaches a FREE Online Writing Seminar. Whether you’re writing a novel or a screenplay, he takes you through the process of writing, step-by-step, in five parts:

Part One - The discipline of writing; Part Two - How to choose your story; Part Three - Creating characters; Part Four - The three act structure; Part Five - Other things to think about. Check it out at:

There’s a Cannell anecdote I’ve remembered since I first read it a few years ago. I found it again on a web site for Orange Coast Magazine. Cannell has been married to his 8th grade sweetheart, Marcia, for 45 years. Quoting from an interview by Tina Dirmann titled “Mr. TV’s Love Tips”:

So you told her (Marcia) you wanted to give up a steady job with your dad for a chance at writing for TV?
Exactly. It was the late ’60s and we were walking around the island, pushing our first child, when I asked Marcia for permission to leave my father’s business. I was so nervous. She’d be giving up this guaranteed lifestyle. But I just said, “I really want to be a writer full time.” And she said, “Then that’s what you should do.” Just like that!

Did you ever ask her what made her respond like that?
Years later, when I was successful, and I had all these Emmys on my mantle, I asked her, “Why did you say that? Nobody in their right mind would gamble on such a crapshoot!” And she said, “It just never occurred to me you would fail.”
End Quote.

Every writer should have such a supportive spouse! You can read the interview at

Michael Connelly was unknown to me until I pulled THE BRASS VERDICT off the library shelf. Chapter One hooked me. In 19 short, sweet sentences it sets up the book perfectly:

Everybody lies.
Cops lie. Lawyers lie. Witnesses lie. The victims lie.
A trial is a contest of lies. And everybody in the courtroom knows this. The judge knows this. Even the jury knows this. They come into the building knowing they will be lied to. They take their seats in the box and agree to be lied to.
The trick if you are sitting at the defense table is to be patient. To wait. Not for any lie. But for the one you can grab onto and forge like hot iron into a sharpened blade. You then use that blade to rip the case open and spill its guts out on the floor.
That's my job, to forge the blade. To sharpen it. To use it without mercy or conscience. To be the truth in a place where everybody lies.
(End Quote)

Connelly started out as a reporter. In 1986, Connelly and two other Florida reporters spent several months interviewing survivors of a major airline crash. Their magazine story landed Connelly a job on the crime beat at the Los Angeles Times.

His first novel to feature LAPD Detective Hieronymus Bosch was THE BLACK ECHO, based in part on a true crime that occurred in Los Angeles. Published in 1992, it won the Edgar Award for Best First Novel by the Mystery Writers of America.

His 19th novel, The Brass Verdict, was released in October 2008, and introduces Lincoln lawyer Mickey Haller to LAPD Detective Harry Bosch in a fast-paced legal thriller. Coming in October is THE REVERSAL, with Mickey Haller and Harry Bosch working together on the high-profile retrial of a brutal child murder.

Connelly's books have been translated in 35 languages and have won the Edgar Award, Anthony Award, Macavity Award, Los Angeles Times Best Mystery/Thriller Award, Shamus Award, Dilys Award, Nero Award, Barry Award, Audie Award, Ridley Award, Maltese Falcon Award (Japan), .38 Caliber Award (France), Grand Prix Award (France), Premio Bancarella Award (Italy), and the Pepe Carvalho award (Spain).

Connelly’s web site is at

“Castle” poker players from; Season Finale of "Castle," May 17, 2010.
L to R: James Patterson (back to camera) Michael Connelly, Stephen J. Cannell, Nathan Fillion (Castle).
Rockford Files from Wikipedia: Jimmy, Angel and Rocky.
Stephen J. Cannell from Wikipedia.
Michael Connelly from Wikipedia, taken 2007 at Texas Book Festival, Austin, TX


P.A.Brown said...

I love Castle. I also respect these authors. I have all of Connelly's books and he's in my top five.

The only thing I object to in this (and other shows with writers) show having these writers on is that it perpetuates the myth that all writers are millionaires. The only time you ever see writers who aren't, they're always portrayed as hacks. Why can't they just once show a good author who writes good books but don't make big bucks -- just like it is in the real world.

Anonymous said...

Well, Pat, it's a TV program and TV is always looking for "names." The program's little joke wouldn't get much attention if the poker players were named Tom, Dick and Harry.

Besides, at least one of them -- Stephen Cannell -- started out as just another writer and got lucky. He was working for his father and just took a chance on making a living as a writer. Patterson also started small and made his own luck. You should read those profiles I provided the links for. All 3 of those big-name writers paid their dues. They earned their success.

Pat Browning

Beth Terrell said...

I admire Patterson's business savvy, but I can't read his books, not because of the gore; I've just never been able to get into them. I think maybe having so many authors involved makes the characters less consistent and therefore less real than I like. But he has definitely touched a chord in a lot of readers.

I love Michael Connelly's work. My favorite of his is probably THE POET, but THE LINCOLN LAWYER and THE BRASS VERDICT are right up there.

I gotta check out Cannell's site.

I'd love to sit in on one of those poker games!

P.A.Brown said...

I'd love to be at that poker game, as long as I didn't have to play. LOL. I can't read Patterson's stuff either, I've only tried one Cannell, I would try more. But Connelly is my man. Yes, the Poet, The Scarecrow, City of Bones. I spent $140 on 3 signed, first editions of his books and never regretted it. Anyway, love him, and gotta get his new one.

I'd agree it's the big names they want, but this isn't the only show that does it. They all do. You never see a competent, struggling writer. They've all either made it big, like Jessica Fletcher, or they're hopeless, like the authors that Woodie Allen and other big screen actors have played. Jack Nicholson --crazy. The list goes on.

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