Wednesdays with Writers: Thriller/Action writer and creator of the RAMBO series, David Morrell talks about writing the story you were born to write, why psych suspense might be a dying trend, his fear of the marketplace being saturated with too many stories (including original scripted TV series), ROSEMARY’S BABY 50th anniversary & so much more

By Leslie Lindsay 

Rosemarys Baby-CB1r2b

It’s a dreary morning here in Chicagoland. The landscape is bathed in a white mist, and the trees are changing color, leaves dropping one by one. There’s a hush about the air, a tentative pull on the senses that makes us a little more alert, a little more intuitive.

So it might be time to settle in with a classic horror story.

Originally published in 1967, at a time when the ordinary became menacing, ROSEMARY’S BABY brought readers to the brink of what appeared to mundane details that might actually be hiding tragic truths.

Ira Levin, the author of seven books, ranging from horror to mystery to science fiction, among others received an Edgar in 1954 for A KISS BEFORE DYING (his Ira_Levin_novelist.pngfirst novel) and again in 1980 for his play, DEATHTRAP. He received the Bram Stoker Lifetime Achievement Award from the Horror Writers Association in 1996. Stephen King referred to Ira Levin as the “Swiss watchmaker of the suspense novel.” In 2003, he received yet another accolade: the Mystery Writers of America’s Grandmaster Award. ROSEMARY’S BABY sold millions after The Today Show interviewed him, surging the title onto the New York Times bestseller list.

Ira Levin passed in 2007 at the age of 78 in his Manhattan home. Despite the kind of works he’s famous for, Levin was considered mild-mannered and modest.

It would be in true horror fashion if I had Mr. Levin on my blog couch today. Alas, I do not live in a haunted manse shrouded in cobwebs and the wedding cake uneaten. But that’s another story for another time.

Please join me in welcoming David Morrell, who is just as decorated as Ira Levin—220px-Firstbloodbookperhaps more. He’s the author of FIRST BLOOD (from which “Rambo” was created), as well as numerous NYT bestsellers. He’s also the recipient of several major accolades, including the Thriller Master award from International Thriller Writers and three Bram Stoker awards from the Horror Writers Association.

Leslie Lindsay: David, it’s an honor. Thank you for popping by. What draws you to the thriller/horror genre?

David Morrell: I had a tough childhood. My father died in combat. My mother couldn’t take care of me and earn a living, so she put me in an orphanage when I was three. A year later, she remarried, but my stepfather didn’t like children, or maybe it was me in particular he didn’t like. They argued all the time. Lots of verbal violence and sometimes physical. Afraid, I slept under my bed, telling stories to myself in which I was a hero rescuing helpless people. Novelist Graham Greene believed that “an unhappy childhood is a goldmine for a writer.” You could say I was programmed for the thriller and horror genres.

L.L.: In your introduction to ROSEMARY’S BABY, you mention how Levin—and many of his predecessors—take the mundane and spin it into something dark and menacing. This tactic is hugely successful. Why is that?

David Morrell: Using familiar, mundane elements to make horror believable seems obvious, and yet it took a long time for the technique to emerge. In the 1950s, Richard Matheson (THE SHRINKING MAN), Robert Bloch (PSYCHO), and Jack Finney (THE BODY SNATCHERS) are generally credited with inventing it. I quote Douglas E. Winter about how these authors brought “fear from the Gothic landscapes of misty moors and haunted mansions, (inviting) terror into our shopping malls and peaceful neighborhoods—into the house next door.” A decade later, Ira Levin (ROSEMARY’S BABY), William Peter Blatty (THE EXORCIST), and Thomas Tryon (THE OTHER) further developed the technique. Then came the next stage of realistic horror with Stephen King and Peter Straub, etc. So, Levin is solidly in the middle of this trend. His mundane details—the best place to buy swordfish steaks in Manhattan, for example—made what Levin called his “unbelievables” believeable. It was a horror novel that didn’t feel like a genre novel.

L.L.: There is a good deal of religious references in ROSEMARY’S BABY. For one,A1Vmrrc2S+L._SY445_ (1).jpg the second half of her name—Mary. But also: “Oh God!” “hell” and “what the devil” in the dialogue. It’s all there, but one has to be an observant reader. What is your understanding about how Levin structured this tale? And what—if any—research did he do to get it “just right?”

David Morrell: Yes, most of the expletives in ROSEMARY’S BABY have a religious context, but they’re so carefully embedded that readers feel the implication more than notice it. Levin thought it would be interesting for Rosemary (you noted the irony of the second part of her name) to give birth to the Devil’s child on June 25, 1966—a date that’s a version of the sign of the Devil, 666, and that’s also the
calendar opposite of December 25, Christmas. He counted nine months backward and collected newspapers about all the important things that had happened in New York City around September and October of 1965. An electrical blackout, a New York Times strike, John Lindsay’s mayoral campaign, and especially a visit by Pope Paul VI who officiated at a mass in Yankee Stadium on October 5. All of these formed the realistic foundation for the novel. The implication is that Satan impregnated Rosemary during the Pope’s visit.

L.L.: I read, too that the movie adaptation of ROSEMARY’S BABY is “one of the most faithful ever” (I think Levin said that himself); whole pages of dialogue are in the movie, so too are specific colors. But it’s hardly the case that movie adaptations are as exact as the book.  Number one, why is that?  Two, what has been your experience of your book to movie adaptations—I’m especially thinking of RAMBO?

David Morrell: Director/screenwriter Roman Polanski was inexperienced with Hollywood’s ways and thought that a film necessarily had to be faithful to its source material. By the time he found out otherwise, he’d crafted a perfect distillation of the novel, quite an achievement given that the book is several hundred pages long while many screenplays are 110 pages long, with a lot of white space. Too often, directors and screenwriters change things to show how creative they are.51xanpEpeqL._SX342_

As for my experience with the film adaptation of my novel, FIRST BLOOD, there were 26 screenplays written for various studios that owned the movie rights at one time or another. Some of the screenplays were unintentionally funny, such as a character referring to Rambo as “the Bobby Riggs of guerrilla warfare.” The final result (released in 1982, ten years after my novel was published) is remarkably similar in terms of plot, but it interprets Rambo differently (as a victim rather than someone who’s furious about what the Vietnam War did to him). Because the character was softened, the ending was changed. Also the role of the police chief was diminished. Despite these differences, I like the film. It’s very well made, and the action scenes get better each year because the stunts are real, not computer generated. For the U.S. Blu-ray DVD of the film, I recorded a full-length audio commentary in which I compare the two.

L.L.: As for writing—what might be your best tips for writing thrillers and also today’s hot genre (domestic) psych suspense?

David Morrell: I teach writing at various conferences, and I always emphasize these two mantras. 1. Be a first-rate version of yourself and not a second-rate version of another author. 2. Don’t chase the market. You’ll always see its backside. These days, domestic psychological suspense is the hot subgenre. It can be summarized as “The person closest to you is your worst enemy.” It’s accompanied by the technique of the unreliable first person in which everyone is basically a liar. The subgenre started with Gillian Flynn’s GONE GIRL in 2012, and after only five years, every agent and editor I speak with complains that this is mostly what’s being 51-89vmRIiL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_submitted [to them.] There are too many followers. You can’t have a long career unless you establish your own identity and make other people imitate you. I talk about this in my The Successful Novelist: A Lifetime of Lessons about Writing and Publishing.

L.L.: Of all your books and your multiple series, is there any one that stands out as something you are most proud of? I know, a bit like choosing your favorite child.

David Morrell: Over 45 years, there’ve been many books. But four of them stand out for me. FIRST BLOOD (1972), because that debut novel set everything in motion for me and has been called “the father of the modern action novel.” THE BROTHERHOOD OF THE ROSE (1984) made a difference also, because it was one of the first espionage novels to blend the British and American spy-novel traditions. The British had authentic spy tradecraft but almost no action. The Americans had plenty of action but laughable spy tactics. I thought it would be interesting to merge the strengths of the two. FIREFLIES (1988) is personally important to me because it’s a meditation about grief after my fifteen-year-old son, Matthew, died from a rare bone cancer, Ewing sarcoma. Finally, in response to another death, that of my 14-year-old granddaughter, Natalie, from the same disease, I escaped into 1850s London with three Victorian mystery/thrillers (MURDER AS A FINE ART, INSPECTOR OF THE DEAD, and RULER OF THE NIGHT). They feature a notorious real-life literary celebrity of the time, Thomas De Quincey, who invented the word “subconscious.” De Quincey’s daughter, Emily, is a strong character in these books and represents the 220px-Thomas_de_Quincey_by_Sir_John_Watson-Gordonindependent woman that I wanted my granddaughter to have the chance to become.

L.L.: Besides scary stories, what’s keeping you up at night? It doesn’t have to be literary.

David Morrell: For 7 years, while I wrote my Victorian novels, I convinced myself that I was on the gothic fogbound streets of 1850s London. When my imagination returned to the present, the hostile tone of the modern world bludgeoned me. FIRST BLOOD came out of the cultural violence of hundreds of riots in the late 1960s. I worry that we’re headed that way again.

L.L.: David, it’s been a pleasure. Is there anything I forgot to ask, but should have?

David Morrell: Just a thought about the almost 500 original scripted TV series that are currently being shown either on network TV, cable, or via streaming. No exaggeration. That’s how many there are. When I’m at social events, I don’t hear people talking about books as much as what they’re binge-watching on TV. Add to this the 800,000 self-published books that were released last year, and you have the most competitive [book/publishing] market I’ve ever seen. More and more, I advise beginning authors to write the book they were born to write rather than what’s currently hot, because trends are ever-changing. As I said earlier, if we chase the market, we’ll always see its backside.

For more information, to connect with David Morrell via social media, or to purchase the 50th anniversary edition of ROSEMARY’S BABY, please see: 

DavidMorrell_auphoto.jpegABOUT THE AUTHOR:  David Morrell is the author of First Blood, the acclaimed novel in which Rambo was created. He holds a PhD from Penn State and was a professor in the English department at the University of Iowa. His numerous New York Times bestsellers include The Brotherhood of the Rose, the basis for the only television miniseries to be broadcast after a Super Bowl. An Edgar, Anthony, and Arthur Ellis finalist, an Inkpot, Macavity, and Nero recipient, Morrell has three Bram Stoker awards from the Horror Writers Association and the Thriller Master award from International Thriller Writers. Bouchercon, the world’s largest conference for crime-fiction readers and author, gave him its Lifetime Achievement Award. Visit him at

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, via these social media sites:



[Cover and author image courtesy of Pegasus Books and used with permission. Image of FIRST BLOOD original cover retrieved from Wikipedia, image of Ira Levin from Wikipedia, image of Blu-Ray RAMBO and SUCCESSFUL NOVELIST, and DVD cover of Rosemary’s Baby retrieved from Amazon, Thomas De Quincey from Wikipedia, all on 9.25.17] 


Write On, Wednesday: Bestselling, Edgar-nominated Lisa Scottoline on her new fiction, MOST WANTED, Kamikaze-style writing, rejection letters, her beloved pets, writing with her daughter, & so much more

By Leslie Lindsay

This gal has got a lot of shelf space. I know because I was just in my local bookstore and saw for myself just how prolific she’s been. Writing since 1994, and she hasn’t stopped since. What’s more, she’s incredibly energetic and quite the um…storyteller. I know because I saw her speak in St. Louis when her book, DON’T GO (2013) came out. And then there’s her fierce love for pets, all things Italian, and her cozy farmhouse.Most Wanted- high res cover img

Any idea who I’m talking about?

If you guessed New York Times bestselling and Edgar Award winning author Lisa Scottoline then you’d be spot-on.

In her newest book, Scottoline delivers a gripping brew of domestic suspense exploring hot-button issues of infertility and criminal law in her brand-new domestic thriller MOST WANTED (just released yesterday, April 12th!).

Christine Nilsson, a reading teacher and her husband, Marcus desperately want to become parents. After years of trying to conceive, the couple discover Marcus is infertile. Working with a highly skilled and respected fertility specialist, Christine conceives with the help of a donor. Months pass and Christine is glowing; she’s pregnant.

But a chance glimpse of a news report on television results in a shocking revelation. It appears as if her donor has been arrested for the death—murders!—of three women. Could the biological father of her baby be a serial killer? And what implications does that have for her marriage and the child she is carrying? What might you do?

Today, I am incredibly honored to welcome Ms. Scottoline to the blog couch to talk with us about her searing new novel.

Leslie Lindsay: Lisa, thanks so much for popping by. Years ago, I wrote this line, “Christine wanted a baby so badly, she got two within seven months.” I have no idea where I’m going with that, but it’s haunted me all these years. What wedged itself under your skin that inspired MOST WANTED?

Lisa Scottoline: Leslie, It is an honor to be speaking with you today and I appreciate your time.  That is a terrific first sentence, and it makes me want to read more!  I hope you write that book one day soon!

The inspiration for MOST WANTED came from one of the most emotionally true moments of my entire life, the birth of my amazing daughter, Francesca.  I was thinking about how much my daughter Francesca means to me, and as a single mom with only one child, her, we are really close.  We’re even co-authors!  And even as she’s gotten older, she’s still the best part of my life and the thought came to me – what if I couldn’t have had a child?  What if I hadn’t been able to conceive?  And then I thought, what if I had used a sperm donor to have a child – and then what if my donor turned out to be a suspected serial killer?  It was as wild a “what-if” as I could imagine, but also one that would involve a lot of moral, ethical, and emotional complexity, so I got busy writing and MOST WANTED was born.

L.L.: You do a lovely job of researching the law where things like this are concerned and I’m just in awe with the breadth of knowledge. Can you talk a bit about your research for MOST WANTED?

Lisa Scottoline:  You are too kind!  Thanks you so much for mentioning it, because I take the research very seriously.  It is important to me that the details are correct because I want everything to read authentic and real.  My research always starts with books, and I ordered and read a bunch of books about fertility.  Once I feel like I have a grasp on the topic, I turn to the experts in the field to fill in the blanks, for the proper lingo, and hands-on personal accounts.  For MOST WANTED, I spoke to a top reproductive endocrinologist, visited a fertility clinic, and, as always, worked with law enforcement and lawyers.  I always thank my experts in my acknowledgements because they are so vital to the book and to the community.

L.L.: I saw you speak at St. Louis County Libraries in 2013 when DON’T GO (2013) was hitting the shelves. Hugely animated, your big personality lit up the room. The one bit of wisdom you shared that keeps me going as a writer was this, “Boom—there’s a story!” It seems stories are everywhere and it’s up to us—the writers—to harness that energy and potential. Can you tell us what your story development process is like?

Lisa Scottoline: I have written twenty-some novels, and I have done this the same way every time, which is that I have absolutely no outline.  I start only with an idea and then I sit down and start writing, and along the way, try to figure out what the character would do next.  This is the kamikaze school of writing, but it’s the only thing that suits my personality, because I simply cannot imagine sitting down and writing the whole outline of a novel first.  For me, that would mean that actually writing the novel was filling in the blanks.  But everyone has a way of writing that works best, and for me, it’s kamikaze.  While this method creates some anxiety because I don’t always know what I’m writing next, it allows the story to develop naturally, with twists and turns even I don’t see coming.  I’m experiencing the book in the same way the reader will when it is read.

L.L.: Do you have any special writing rituals or routines? For example, I say to my 7 month basset hound, “C’mon, let’s go work,” and she follows me to my desk. Of course, she naps while I do my thing. I can only imagine something similar happens around your office. Please, we’d love to know!

Lisa Scottoline: Basset hounds are adorable!  I have a noisy group of King Charles Cavaliers and a bossy Corgi, who are never far from
Misc Feb-March 2013 012me, usually snoring, while I’m writing.
  I have a pretty set routine when it comes to writing.  I start in the morning after breakfast and I write all day until I meet my word count which is 2500 words a day.  Whether that takes me a few hours or late into the night, I work until I reach my goal.  Then the next day, before I start again, I reread what I had written the day before and then I begin writing for the day.  Two years ago, I got a treadmill desk, and I love it.  The dogs prefer when I write sitting down!

L.L.: I understand you write a humor column called “Chick Wit” in the Philadelphia Inquirer with your daughter, Francesca (fabulous name, by the way). Can you share a bit about that union and process?

Lisa Scottoline: You are right, Francesca and I write the column together, but we also collect the stories, along with additional new essays, in our New York Times bestselling non-fiction series of humor books.  Our most recent book is DOES THIS BEACH MAKE ME LOOK FAT? and coming July 12, 2016 is I’VE GOT SAND IN ALL THE WRONG PLACES.  Francesca is the title genius!  Francesca lives in New York City, so we write our pieces independently, and don’t see each other’s until they are in the book.  Francesca doesn’t need me as an editor, but rather, as a mom, and that is just the way I like it, too!  It is so much fun to read what each other has written, and sometimes the correlations are fascinating.  For instance, Francesca had written about her obsession with reading the wedding announcements in the paper, at the same time I wrote about my obsession with reading the obituaries!  One of the greatest things about the books is that woman of all ages and all walks of life can relate to them.

L.L.: What advice would you give to writers (okay, me) who are feeling discouraged with breaking in?

Lisa Scottoline: For those trying to write, my advice is, as Nike says, Just Do It!  Allow yourself a really lousy first draft, and just get the story down on paper.  You can then edit to your heart’s content, but putting the words on paper is the first, and hardest part.

As for getting published, know from the start that it is a difficult, but not impossible, process, which takes a bit of a thick skin and a lot of perseverance to get through.  But don’t give up, and always keep on writing.  I wrote a screenplay that was never published before I turned to novels.  I got a lot of rejection from agents while shopping my first novel, and my favorite is from a big New York agent who wrote in the rejection letter, “We don’t have time for a new client, and even if we did, we wouldn’t take you.”  I kept going and the rest is history, but I still remember who wrote that letter.

L.L.: I’m constantly inspired by good reading…it makes me want to be a better writer. What are you reading now? Does it influence your work?

Lisa Scottoline:  Since I am writing three books a year, much of my time is spent reading research books, but that said, I’m always reading something!  I love all kinds of books, both fiction and non-fiction, and every book I read, whether good or not, influences my work in some way.LisaScottoline

L.L.: What is inspiring you nowadays?

Lisa Scottoline: I am always inspired by strong women, similar to the strong women in my life, such as Francesca, my mother, Mary, and my best friend, Franca.  In fact, Franca’s incredible work as an advocate for children with learning disabilities was part of the inspiration behind my next Rosato & Associates novel, DAMAGED, due out on August 16, 2016.

L.L.: Is there anything I’ve forgotten to ask, but should have?

Lisa Scottoline: Your interview was terrific!  The only thing else I would like to say is how grateful I am to all those who read me.  I feel very lucky spending my life doing something I love, and that is all possible because of you, Leslie, and all of my other amazing readers!  So, thank you, from the bottom of my heart!

L.L.: Lisa, it was a pleasure! Thank you for chatting with us today and all the best with MOST WANTED!

Lisa Scottoline: Leslie, thank you so much for your wonderful and insightful questions!  I wish you the very best with your writing!

For more information, please see: 

Lisa Scottoline’s website

Twitter: @LisaScottoline


Lisa Scottoline Most Wanted jacket photo. Credit April NarbyAuthor Bio: Lisa Scottoline is a 20 time New York Times best-selling and an Edgar award-winning author with over 20 novels (in 20 years) under her belt, including her latest novel MOST WANTED (St. Martin’s Press, April 12, 2016). Her stories have been translated into 25 different languages and her wildly popular, weekly non-fiction column, “Chick Wit,” co-written with her daughter, Francesca Serritella, appears in The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Lisa’s books have solidly landed on all the major bestseller lists including The New York Times, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, Publisher’s Weekly, Washington Post and The Los Angeles Times. Her book LOOK AGAIN was named “One of the Best Novels of the Year” by The Washington Post and as part of World Book Night 2013. It has also been optioned for a film adaptation. Lisa has over 30 million copies of her books in print and is published in over 35 countries.

Lisa, a Philadelphia native, graduated magna cum laude from the University of Pennsylvania, earned a B.A. in English in just three years and received a Juris Doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania Law School cum laude. Lisa worked as a trial attorney until the birth of her daughter, Francesca Serritella. She left the firm to raise Francesca and began a part-time career writing legal fiction. Francesca is now an honors graduate of Harvard, author and columnist. Lisa, as a single parent, considers her greatest achievement raising Francesca and now they co-write the “Chick Wit” column for The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Through her writing, Lisa’s contributions have been recognized by organizations throughout the country. Lisa is the recipient of the Fun Fearless Fiction Award by Cosmopolitan Magazine, was named a PW Innovator by Publisher’s Weekly and was honored with AudioFile’s Earphones Award.

Lisa has served as President of Mystery Writers of America and has taught a course she developed, “Justice and Fiction” at The University of Pennsylvania Law School, her alma mater for which she one an award for Best Adjunct Professor as voted on by the students.

Lisa believes in writing what you know and puts so much of herself into her books. As evidenced in the bond of sisterhood among her characters, family is profoundly important to Scottoline, she has stated, “I come from a very loving, close-knit Italian family.” Lisa says she need not look past her own family, “The Flying Scottolines” for inspiration. In her nonfiction books and columns, Lisa reflects in an honest and humorous way what it is like to be a middle-aged woman maneuvering through life and her relationships with her family (Daughter Francesca, Brother Frank, and her hilarious, opinionated, octogenarian, Italian, Mother Mary), men, and food.

Lisa is an incredibly generous person, (she opens her home to a fully inclusive book club party every year), an engaging and entertaining speaker, a die-hard Eagles fan and a good cook. Her iPod has everything from U2 to Sinatra to 50 Cent, she is proud to be a Philadelphian and American and nothing makes her happier than spending time with her daughter. She lives in the Philadelphia area with her array of disobedient pets, loves the coziness of her farmhouse and wouldn’t have her life any other way.

[Special thanks to J. Karle at SMP/Macmillan. Cover and author image courtesy of author. Anderson’s Bookshop/Naperville retrieved from website 4.11.16. Drawing of writer at desk with dog from the archives of K. Lindsay]