David Hagerty


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William Faulkner, Super Sleuth

Apparently, William Faulkner, winner of the Pulitzer and the Nobel, was a fan of mystery fiction, even composing a novel and a few shorties of his own in the genre, one of which was nominated for an award by Ellery Queen Magazine. If you read some of his most famous books, particularly A Rose for Emily and Absalom, Absalom!, you see the influence. Good counterpoint to all those snobs who think literary fiction exists on another plane from genre writing.

5 Shows to Watch Instead of House of Cards

Are you mourning the demise of House of Cards? Good political dramas are less common than bad reality TV. Here’s my 5 favorite:

  1. The Wire
  2. Boss
  3. Boardwalk Empire
  4. The Quiet American (movie and book)
  5. The Third Man (move and book)

False confessions

Since 1989, 227 US prisoners have been exonerated due to false confessions. Of them, 84 lived in Illinois. Good fodder for my next book…

My Favorite Depictions of the Windy City

Recently, Chicago has served as the backdrop for many movies and TV programs, but my memories stem from my childhood there, so my favorites all date from the 1980s. Those of you who recall that era will also recall a few of the most popular: The Untouchables, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, everything else by John Hughes.

However, my favorites are none of those. Two linger in my memory even now: The Blues Brothers and Risky Business.

The first one is notable as much for who’s in it as what’s in it: Cab Calloway, Ray Charles, John Lee Hooker, Aretha Franklin and of course Aykroyd and Belushi. It was also the first Hollywood movie filmed in the city for many years, so when it released, every Chicagoan went to see their hometown portrayed. If you haven’t seen it recently, rent it for the music alone.

Still, the movie that most accurately captures my experience of the city is Risky Business. At the time of its release, many critics characterized it as a teen sex comedy. And the plot certainly supports that conclusion (high school kid turns his house into a brothel when he parents go away for the weekend). Today, female viewers would dismiss it as male fantasy (happy hookers) mixed with misogyny (happy hookers). All of which is true and fair criticism.

For me, though, it captured growing up on the North Shore during a time when I was oblivious to the existence of others less fortunate than myself.

To whit, the hero, Joel, is desperate to reach an Ivy League college to please his parents and fulfill his cultural destiny. He joins his high school’s young entrepreneurs club to pad his resume and has nightmares about blowing the SATs.

He’s also a bit callow, scared to make a move on the girl he likes, caught boasting about his non-existent sexual conquests, being chided by his parents for playing the stereo too loud. Meanwhile, his greatest acts of rebellion are playing air guitar in the living room and driving his dad’s Porsche.

Then he meets Lana, the worldly-wise call girl who teaches him what cutthroat capitalism really means.

Throughout his encounters with pimps and prostitutes, car crashes and grand theft, Joel is insulated from any real suffering by the wealth and privilege of his upbringing. Although he’s oblivious to it, he exploits it. Tom Cruise gets the balance of fear and arrogance just right, exhibiting an insecurity we’ve rarely seen from him since.

While my family didn’t have a sports car or a big house, I had plenty of inhibition and self-doubt. Yet I also lived in an insulated bubble that protected me from crime and addiction and failure. (At least, so I thought. More on that in a latter missive.) Joel was the one character I didn’t have to analyze in English class to understand.

Left Coast Crime

Next week I’m packing my books and heading to Reno for my debut at a fan convention: Left Coast Crime. I’ve wanted to go for many years, but this is the first time I could get time off from teaching (there are advantages to joining the dark side of administration).

I’m told the event attracts equal numbers of writers and readers, which will be a refreshing change. Most of you remain anonymous to me, mysteries in and of yourselves. At times writing fiction feels like detection, looking for clues to how you found my work and what satisfies you.

Some writers I’ve heard about survey their readers or study the comments on their Amazon reviews, but the academic in me demands a larger sample size before drawing any conclusions. Still, analyzing website traffic or counting my friends on Facebook feels obsessive and self absorbed. I’d rather meet you all in person.

I’ll be appearing on three panels: speed dating for authors, where 140 readers get to interview me (and dozens of other writers) for 2 minutes apiece (note to self-prepare your elevator speech), as a panelist on political thrillers, and as moderator for a forum on suburban and rural settings. This last one has me furiously studying work by the participants, who include James Hayman and Heather Young (author of The Lost Girls).

Also, I’ll be staffing the author table for Mystery Writers of America at 2 p.m. on Saturday. If you’re there, please stop by and introduce yourself.

The Publisher Revealed

Now that the contract is signed, I can tell you the name of the magazine publishing my new story: Low Down Dirty Vote. It’s an anthology of political crime stories set for release on July 4 this year. My contribution is a prequel to the Duncan Cochrane mystery series, about the primary campaign when he beat a Machine candidate. I’ll put up links as soon as they’re available, but look for it at Amazon and B&N on Independence Day.

Until then, details can be found here.

Short Story Prequel

I don’t often write short stories for contests or theme issues. I generally find the timelines too short and the requirements to strict. However, when I heard about an anthology of political crime stories, I knew I had to submit.

After a week of indecision, I started a prequel to my first book, detailing how Duncan Cochrane took on Chicago’s infamous political machine and its chief architect, Mayor Richard J. Daley. The time is again the Spring of 1978. Jesse Jackson is gaining fame and influence with Operation Push. Dan Ackroyd and John Belushi are in town filming The Blues Brothers. And the river runs green for St. Patty’s Day.

Meanwhile, Duncan has just declared his candidacy for governor and is preparing to face off with Mitch Kupcinek, the Cook County party’s choice, in the primary. He fears that Chicago style politics will prevail. For two decades prior, the Machine had fixed the outcome of every election with dead voters, drunk voters, and repeat voters. Legend even held that they tipped the 1960 presidential race to JFK. In the mayor’s words, elections are too important to leave to chance.

How could an outsider, a businessman, a political novice, defeat the army of of precinct captains, patronage workers, and civil servants? You’ll have to read the story to find out.

I won’t risk jinxing things by telling you the name of the publication. I expect to hear back within a few months, but I’m hopeful that in my next missive I can tell you about the story’s impending publication.

The End of Book 3

Today I wrote the closing words of the third book in my series. Although it still needs major work, I always feel relieved when I finish the first draft. I’d like to think that if I were to die tomorrow, scholars could find it an declare “It stinks, but at least we know what he was thinking.”

So It Ends

I just finished the last season of Mad Men, leaving me feeling lost. Like all good relationships, its end leaves a sense of emptiness. How to replace the people and things I’ve grown to cherish? Whether to find another, knowing it cannot measure up, or mourn.

So it begins (again)

The first line of my latest book, the third in my series of linked political crime novels, reads “Rose Marie Hernandez awoke with a headache.” Now just 65,000 words to go.


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