Sunday, June 29, 2014

Remembering John Mantley, Part II

John Mantley played the lead on “Buckingham Theatre,” which was the most prestigious program on Canadian radio’s coast-to-coast network. “It was necessary to do half a dozen shows a week to earn a halfway decent living,” he said. “Therefore, we learned to do old voices and young voices and all kinds of accents that would come in handy later on.” Mantley won several provincial and national awards for acting and directing with the New Play Society, Canada’s equivalent of the American ANTA.

Returning to California, he performed as an actor at the LaJolla Playhouse.  “After that I went to New York City, where I starved.  But eventually, I got to play three leads in several shows that were produced by Harvey Marlow, and I got to be friends with him.” Manley assumed Marlow’s job as producer of the television station WOR, when his friend was named general manager. Among three half-hour shows, he produced “Mr. & Mrs. Mystery,” written by John Gay, who later won an Oscar for “Separate Tables.”  Mantley then wrote the half-hour series scripts and played Mr. Mystery, while his wife played Mrs. Mystery. For the original script and their combined performances, they received a grand total of fifty dollars in cash so they could collect unemployment insurance "in order to stay alive.”

The Canadian actor also produced the first foreign language television show in this country, starring an all-Italian cast, and had to change his name for the show to Giovanni Mantelli. It was during his years at WOR that he began to write for television, “because we didn’t have a budget, and I was doing all the things I had to do for a weekly salary of $103, barely enough to live in New York. We had no professional writers. We got our scripts from university students, and anybody who had an idea, and I had to fix them to make them work.”

Mantley spent four years in Rome, where he produced and directed a series of thirty-nine, half-hour  dramatic anthologies for American television, a pioneering effort which played in some two hundred markets and earned investors a good return on their money. “I learned a tremendous amount in shooting the shows in Italy because when we got there, the Italians had never shot live sound. They had no way to do special effects, or even fades and dissolves. All they could do was print film. So it was a great learning experience.”

The Mantley’s first child was born in Italy, “and we survived there because part of the time my wife did the voices—post synchronization of the voices of Gina Lollobrigida and Sophia Loren and many others.” Mantley said he translated Italian films into English by the lip syncing process because American audiences would not accept subtitles.  “And because at that time the American motion picture industry would not sell their films to television because they were trying to destroy the media.”

Mantley borrowed the fare from his cousin Mary Pickford to return to this country, where he found that the entertainment industry had a short memory; no one remembered him or his work. It was then he began to write full time, turning out a number of short stories and articles. His first novel, The 27th Day, became a Book of the Month Club selection here and in England, as well as adapted to film for Columbia Pictures. “The book was somewhat of a minor classic in the science fiction field, I have to believe, because I just bought a first edition which cost me fifty-five dollars.” He subsequently wrote The Snow Birch, at the urging of his cousin, which was produced as the motion picture, “Woman Obsessed” by Twentieth Century Fox, starring Susan Hayward. Mantley recalls that “those books kept my nose above water financially until I began to write for television.”

His first freelance television script was for Desilu Westinghouse Theatre, for which he wrote five. He also wrote for “Harrigan and Sons,” “The Untouchables,” “Outer Limits,” “Kraft Theatre,” “Rawhide,” and nearly a hundred other shows. He freelanced scripts for “Gunsmoke” before he became executive story consultant, and held the same position with “Great Adventure.”

He produced “Gunsmoke,” the longest running dramatic show in television history, for the next ten years. The series had previously been produced on radio before it made the transition to television, and ran five more years.

(The conclusion of this interview will appear next weekend. John Mantley talks about what it was like to work with James Arness and much more.)

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Remembering John Mantley


John Mantley was a writer, actor, executive story consultant and producer of the long-running TV series, "Gunsmoke." Mantley was almost predestined to earn his livelihood in the entertainment industry. Both parents were actors who encouraged him to write as well as act. Of his early movie star cousin, he said, "Mary Pickford and I were great friends, and I was deeply honored to do her eulogy."

The ambitious Canadian was born in Toronto eleven years after his sister, who still taught dancing in her late seventies. "She was the one who was born in the trunk," he said, "but strangely enough, I was the one who ended up being involved in television and films." His father, Cecil Clay Van Manzer, adopted the stage name Clay Mantley, and in later years operated a carnival. He was frequently away from home and his wife ran a number of concession stands in a park across the lake from Toronto. Excursion boats ferried hundreds of vacationers to the Mantley concessions where young John operated the candy booth and learned to make saltwater taffy. "I could throw three loops of candy onto the hook at one time, and I made candy apples, and cut and wrapped the suckers. It was great fun.

"As a child, I loved books and I can remember the excitement and my heart pounding when I rode my bicycle up to the library at St. Catherine's to get the newest book of James Oliver Curwood or Fenimore Cooper. Reading was a very big part of my young life."

Mantley attended a number of public schools in Toronto, but spent most of his teenaged years at St. Catherine's Institute of Vocational Training. "I wanted desperately to become an actor, so I persuaded a really splendid lady to open a dramatic society, and I became the first president and remained so through the years I was in high school. And therefore, I got to play the leads in all sorts of marvelous melodramas."

He also composed poetry as a child, "and I later wrote long, long letters to my cousin Mary from England, Italy, and India. And from this many years later came my first novel, The 27th Day." He then wrote the screenplay.

But it wasn't all fun and games. "Writing is pain, pain, pain, the hardest work I've ever done. The best part of writing is the money you take to the bank, and the first time you see a bookstore with a window entirely filled with your books. But other than that, there is no satisfaction from writing,  for me at least. 

Mantley was trained as a fighter pilot during World War II, and was sent to to England during the waning years of the war when combat pilots were no longer needed. His company was eventually sent to India, where they were trained as commandos by enlisted men. "They just about crucified us," he said, recounting the ten-mile runs with full packs--and further abuses. While on leave, he produced troops shows for the British Armed forces stationed in the Far East.

After the war he studied at the Pasadena Playhouse, where he graduated cum laude. He earned his master's degree and performed in a variety of roles in the legitimate theatre as well as summer stock with Dorothy McGuire. Exhausted although exhiliarated from his Playhouse experience, his weight dropped to 118 pounds and his doctor advised him to take an extended vacation. He returned to Canada, and while recuperating, England issued a tax on American films.

"Hollywood went into complete chaos, and entire departments of all the major studios were dismantled and it was a really bad time for the film industry." Mantley had planned to work for Mary Pickford upon graduation from Pasadena Playhouse, but she sold her production companies when it appeared there was no future for the industry. 

"I was stuck in Canada, and I started to do radio shows with Lorene Green (of later "Bonanza" fame), and half a dozen actors who had made successful careers. Pay was terrible in those days in radio. . .

(Continued next week . . .)

Monday, June 16, 2014

Saving the Wolves

When I began writing my Logan & Cafferty mystery/suspense series, I decided to focus on various social problems, including serial killers in A Village Shattered, drugs in Diary of Murder and homegrown terrorism in Murder on the Interstate.

For my third mystery novel, Gray Wolf Mountain, I researched the unwarranted mass killings of wolves, both in this country and Canada. What I learned was shocking. In the northern Rocky Mountain states, where wolves have been removed from the endangered species list, gray wolf puppies are gassed in their dens and buried alive, while aerial killings of adult wolves are accomplished by shooting them from planes and helicopters.

In both the U.S. and Canada, where government mandated numbers of wolves must not go below one hundred, female wolves are captured and sterilized. Also in Canada, where the Keystone Pipeline is under construction, caribou have been dying off because their natural habitat has been destroyed. But wolves have been blamed for the caribou deaths and nearly a thousand have already been reportedly killed from the air.

In the Yukon Territory where biologists track wolf numbers and their locations with radio collars, the Game and Fish Department is killing great numbers of wolves from the air so that the caribou numbers will increase to 100,000 while wolf numbers dwindle to a hundred in the entire territory. Why? To attract big game hunters.

Why should anyone be concerned about the demise of the wolf as well as the grizzly bear, which is also under consideration here to be delisted. Because they're both keystone predators who influence their habitat’s entire ecosystem and keep the animals that eat plants in check. That in turn increases plant growth and the survival of birds and animals which depend on the plants. It also prevents a build-up of large game animals who will starve to death due to lack of food. In other words, killing off the predators unbalances nature.

To prevent my books from becoming boring nonfiction tomes, I added my two amateur women sleuths, who are always stumbling over bodies and getting themselves caught in the crosshairs of illegal hunters, terrorists, drug gangs and wolf killers, to name just a few. And by adding humor and a little romance in the form of a lovesick sheriff, as well as a few quirky characters, I can inform and hopefully entertain my readers

Gray Wolf Mountain is available in  print and ebook editions.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Canadian Author Joan Hall Hovey

In addition to Joan Hall Hovey's critically acclaimed novels, her articles and short stories have appeared in a number of diverse publications. She has also held workshops, given talks at various schools and libraries, and taught a course in creative writing at the University of New Brunswick as well as tutoring with Winghill, a distance education school in Ottawa for aspiring writers.

Joan is featured in the soon to be released book, The Mystery Writers, with Sue Grafton, Lawrence Block and other well-known and bestselling authors.

Joan, your work has been compared to Alfred Hitchcock and Stephen King. How would you describe your suspense novels?

I'm always flattered to be compared with authors I admire, but I like to think my own writing is unique to me. Of course being a voracious reader all my life, I'm sure my writing has been influenced by many fine authors. We all stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us and paved the way. I'm a big Stephen King fan. Other authors I enjoy are Edgar Allan Poe, Peter Straub, Ruth Rendell and more than I can list here. It's not easy to describe one's own novels, but I will say that I always strive to give the reader a roller coaster ride and a satisfying conclusion. And characters that will resonate with my reader long after the books is closed.

I like to write about ordinary women who are at a difficult time in their lives, and are suddenly faced with an external evil force. I didn't think a whole lot about theme until I had written a couple of books, but I realized with the writing of Chill Waters that my books generally have to do with betrayal and abandonment, and learning to trust again. And more important, learning to trust oneself. Almost any good book will tell you something about the author herself. (or himself.) You can't avoid it.

All my books are generally rooted in childhood. I draw on my life for inspiration and an emotional connection. Then I'm off and running. The seeds for Night Corridor, for example, were planted in my childhood. On Sundays, I went with my grandmother to visit an aunt in the mental institution, once called The Lunatic Asylum. She'd spent much of her life within those walls. They said she was 'melancholy'. Though the sprawling, prison-like building has long since been torn down, the sights, sounds and smells of the place infiltrated the senses of the 12 year old girl I was, and never left. Night Corridor is not about my Aunt Alice, but it was indeed inspired by her.

My latest novel The Abduction of Mary Rose was inspired by a true story as well. After her adopted mother dies of cancer, Naomi Waters learns from a malicious aunt that she is a child of a brutal rape. Her birth mother, a teenager of MicMac ancestry, lay in a coma for eight months before giving birth to Naomi, and died five days later. Feeling angry and betrayed, but with new purpose in her life, Naomi vows to track down the man responsible and bring him to justice.

Are your novels set in your home territory of New Brunswick, Canada? And what inspired them?

My novels are set in fictional towns that could be anywhere in New Brunswick or Maine, since the flora and fauna are similar. Although I did set part of Nowhere To Hide (Eppie Award) in New York. I researched the city but I also spent time there. But New Brunswick, which lies on the Bay of Fundy, Canada, is part of my DNA. And the town where I live, whose streets and hills and shops are bred in my bones, is probably in essence where all my novels are set, whatever fictional name I give them.

What have you stressed in your creative writing classes at the University of New Brunswick?

I stress to students (and myself because we teach to learn) to relax and let the story come to them. Not that you don't have to think; you do of course. But sometimes we think too hard. Imagine, I tell them. Imagine.

Please explain the distance education school in Ottawa for aspiring writers.

I have been a tutor with Winghill School for writing for over 20 years. Most of the correspondence is conducted over the Internet, though a few students prefer to correspond by mail. It's a great school. I enjoy my work and get almost as excited when my students publish as when I do myself. I'm sure I learn as much from them as they do from me.

How has your writing evolved since your first books, Nowhere to Hide and Listen to the Shadows.

Language is important to me, and I hope my work is always improving in some way. Maybe the dialogue is crisper, the transitions smoother, the characterizations deeper, but always evolving. And that comes simply from being an avid reader of the best there is, both in my own and other genres. And writing and writing and writing. Since I both love to read and write, it's not a chore. Too, I like to think I've grown as a human being over the years. I've become more insightful, more compassionate. And that reflects in your writing.

What, in your opinion constitutes a good suspense novel? And what’s more important, character or plot?

With any novel, regardless of genre, characterization is the most important element. Without a character readers can care about and identify with at some level, the most ingenious plot won’t matter. That doesn’t mean your character is without flaws, quite the contrary. Consider the late Patricia Highsmith’s Tom Ripley. He is a ruthless killer, but we are fascinated by his complexities and we're happy to follow him throughout the books.

In the end, I don’t think you can separate character and plot. They are interwoven. With suspense, I am always aware of the thread in my story and I hold it taut, letting it out a little at a time, but never letting the thread go slack. It should grow tighter and tighter until it fairly sings. This is what constitutes a page-turner. It’s a promise I make to my readers and one I take very seriously. Reviews tell me I’ve succeeded for the most part, and that makes me happy.

How has the ebook revolution affected your own work and are the electronic versions outselling your print editions?

Absolutely. It’s totally different now. My first two novels were published by Zebra/Kensington Books, New York, and sold thousands of books. They didn’t take the third one and I was suddenly without a publisher. I didn’t feel up to doing the rounds of agents and publishers again, so I went with a small Canadian publisher, BWLPP Publishing, mainly an ebook publisher who published authors with a track record, but also bring the books out in print.

With ebooks you promote in a totally different way, mainly on the Internet. Although I still do book signings in my local bookstores, I can see that my focus is different now. I’m quite sure I’ll not see those big numbers again, and I really don’t mind. That doesn’t mean I’m not always looking for new ways to promote the books, and without annoying people. Pretty much like most ebook authors. Once, my books could be found in bookstores across Canada and the U.S. That's no longer true.

Now they're available worldwide on the Internet. Sounds great, but that means that you're vying for readers with literally thousands more writers showing up every day, many of whom are self-publishing. Some of those books should never have seen the light of day. But I've also found some excellent new authors among them. We have stars like J.A. Konrath, James Scott Bell, Timothy Hallinan, L.J. Sellers and others who are making a very good living selling their ebooks. So in the midst of this gargantuan storefront window, you have to somehow find a way to make your books stand out. 'Ay, there's the rub'. But the possibilities are endless.

Describe your writing schedule.

I write in mornings when I’m freshest and the day has not yet had a chance to intrude on the muses. I work on other things in the afternoon – tutoring, promoting and whatever else needs doing.

Advice for aspiring suspense novelists.

Try to write true, whatever you write. Find that truth inside the fiction. Write out of yourself. That’s important.

Thank you, Joan.

You can visit Joan at her website:
She's also on Facebook, Twitter, My Space and Booktown.