From the desk of Craig McDonald
“First novel” and “debut novel” are often treated as
More often than not, they really aren’t.
Certainly it wasn’t so in my case. Like many published
novelists whom I’ve come to know, I had my share of manuscripts behind me
before my “debut novel” saw the light of day.
Long about 2005, casting around for something that might
stick — might finally make some publishing house editor take notice — I hit
upon this idea for a novel about the stolen and still-missing head of the
Mexican revolutionary Francisco “Pancho” Villa.
In summary format, Head Games seems…quirky: Crime novelist
and sometimes screenwriter Hector Lassiter inherits Pancho’s skull and a world
of trouble. Soon, Hector and Bud Fiske, a young poet sent to interview Hector
for True Magazine, are being pursued by Yale frat boys, murderous banditos and
various arms of the federal government. It’s a foot-to-the-firewall chase in a
’57 Bel Air across the long-gone expanse of Lost America.
Despite it’s rather blackly comic, Kerouacian pedigree, Head
Games was a finalist for the Edgar, Anthony, Gumshoe and Crimespree Magazine
awards. It was sold into translation in several countries, and — most cool this
— it was picked up by First Second for adaptation as a graphic novel.
Head Games was the first installment in a cycle of Hector
Lassiter novels. The third, Print the Legend, was just released by
In Print the Legend, Hector travels to Sun Valley, Idaho in
1965 to investigate the circumstances of Ernest Hemingway’s death and uncovers
an all too real campaign by FBI director J. Edgar Hoover to spy on, and, in
some cases, to destroy many of America’s foremost authors and poets.
As I write this, we’re putting finishing touches on the
fourth Hector Lassiter novel, Roll the Credits (Minotaur Books, winter 2011), a
World War II tale centered on a sinister German filmmaker.
At the same time, artist Kevin Singles is at work on Head
Games, the graphic novel.
Those aware of the coming graphic novel often ask about the
process of adapting my “debut novel” to a visual format.
From my perspective, it’s not the long reach some seem to
think it must be.
At the most elementary level, I tend to a very visual
writer. Before I realized I don’t have the chops, there was a time I thought
I’d be an illustrator. I started out down that path before transitioning to
writing. Even so, I tend to write to images.
As a fiction author, I record the story I see in my head. I
tend to think in terms of dialogue. I toggle between the points-of-view of my
characters as they kibitz. I see them in close-ups, wide-shots and I see
settings in establishing or tracking shots.
On a much deeper level, however, the Lassiter novels are
actually constructed around the creative process; around artistic urges. Hector
is popularly known as “the man who lives what he writes and writes what he
lives.” He moves among a sea of other writers, filmmakers, painters and
The Lassiter novels — pulp-lit secret histories — explore the
artistic tradition and romanticism as the clandestine catalyst for real events.
They also entwine with the visual arts at several elemental levels.
In Head Games, and its sequel, Toros & Torsos, Hector
visits the sets of the Orson Welles film noir classics Touch of Evil and The Lady
From Shanghai. The action in those books echoes that of the films…or maybe the
films’ scenarios anticipate the dark arc of Hector’s life. It’s difficult — by
design — to chick-and-egg it.
Art — primarily painting and photography — is the dark heart
of Toros & Torsos. That novel explores the increasingly compelling
contention surrealist art actually “inspired” and shaped the infamous 1947
mutilation murder of would-be actress Elizabeth Short, forever known to tabloid
history as “the Black Dahlia.”
The theory goes that Elizabeth Short’s murder was a
real-world evocation of the surrealist-invented game, “Exquisite Corpse.” That
charmingly-named parlor game found surrealist artists engaging in blind
collaborations on folded-over sheets of paper to fashion arresting, even
grotesque triptych-style illustratio