Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Gabriel Cohen's "Red Hook"

Gabriel Cohen is the author of Red Hook, The Graving Dock, and Neptune Avenue (coming April 27, 2009, from St. Martin’s Minotaur), three crime novels featuring Brooklyn South Homicide detective Jack Leightner. He is also the author of the novel Boombox and of Storms Can’t Hurt the Sky, a nonfiction book about how to recover from divorce.

He has written for the New York Times, Poets & Writers, the New York Post magazine, Crimespree, and other publications, and will be the guest lecturer aboard the Queen Mary 2 ocean liner in May, 2009. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Here he shares his tale of Jack Leightner's leap from novels to the movies:
It’s funny—not ha-ha funny, but I just fell down a flight of stairs and got severely banged up but I’m still alive funny—but this was almost not a theoretical question for me. My first novel Red Hook came out in 2001. After it got nominated for the Edgar award the next year, I got a hotshot Hollywood agent. In very short order, she found an interested production company (Denis Leary’s) and an interested screenwriter (Will Rokos, who was very hot that year as he had just co-written Monster’s Ball). There was just one inconvenience: they needed some serious studio money to make the film happen.

I didn’t let that little detail faze me. I was too busy dreaming about the single phone call, the tap from a studio head’s magic wand, that would instantly transform my life for the better. No more struggling to pay the rent. No more part-time gigs doing work I had zero interest in. No more plugging away in total obscurity.

My agent asked me to come up with a list of possible actors for the lead role. I figured, hey, why not start at the top? I still have the list on my computer: Robert De Niro. Nick Nolte. Ed Harris. David Strathairn. Etc. My books are as much about the mysteries of human character as the simple question of whoddunit, and I had gone to great pains to give Jack Leightner, my protagonist, a complex, well-rounded life. Aside from the big case he was working on, the divorced cop was struggling to deal with a difficult son, an uncertain new romance, and a painful secret from his childhood. It seemed (and still seems) like a dynamite role for a middle-aged actor looking for a meaty challenge: a flawed but deeply sympathetic human being, a homicide detective confronting his own mortality and personal life.

To make a short story even shorter, my little bubble managed to stay afloat for just a week. Our attached screenwriter made the rounds of the big Hollywood studios to pitch the tale. Nobody bit. Maybe there weren’t enough car crashes or explosions in the plot.

And that was that. The End. A little window of magical opportunity opened for a second, and then slammed shut. Back to the daily work. Which is okay with me, mostly, because I love the writing. My third Jack Leightner book, titled Neptune Avenue, will be released soon by St. Martin’s Press and I’m hard at work on a fourth installment in the series. I’m just as excited about deepening my protagonist’s character as ever.

I don’t dream about Hollywood very much anymore, though I would love for some serious, thoughtful star, writer, or director to get interested again. Barring that, I’d even settle for a hack job. Why? Because the money would enable me to focus even more intensely on my writing.

But what about quality, you ask? What about ensuring that the movie lives up to the promise of the book?

That’s simple. I always think of the famous novelist who was interviewed while sitting at his writing desk. “What do you think of what Hollywood has done to your movies?”

“Hollywood didn’t do anything to them,” he replied calmly, pointing at his bookcase. “They’re still right there.”
Learn more about the author and his work at Gabriel Cohen's website.

The Page 69 Test: Gabriel Cohen's The Graving Dock.

--Marshal Zeringue