Interview with Author-Screenwriter
Allan Cole

Conducted via e-mail by Karen MacLeod, Sime~Gen Reviews

Allan ColeMacGregor

Mr. Cole and I exchanged several e-mails in the course of the development of this interview. Some of that information is included here. An extensive list of Mr. Cole's work, along with links for purchasing can be found on his home page.

An interview of Mr. Cole, focusing more on his screenwriting work was conducted by Anne Phyllis Pinzow, and is located here.

ALAN COLE: I'm mainly known for my Science Fiction and Fantasy novels, so I hit a brick wall when I wanted to do a detective story. This despite the fact that I've done tons of TV cop shows, ranging from Quincy M.E to the Rockford Files to even Walker, Texas Ranger. But TV and film doesn't count with the publishers. Anyway, that's why I ended up at Zumaya, who have treated me pretty well. MacGregor was a fun idea I wanted to write, and I think it'll probably end up a movie. Then they'll come crawling back. :)

Don't know if you checked out my bio on my homepage . For example, the CIA references in MacGregor are all quite factual. I grew up in the CIA --- my father was a spook. One way or the other I've been involved with that world my whole life.

KAREN: Interesting that screenwriting is considered a different craft than creating books. I see by your website that you also have done some non-fiction work. How is writing for the screen different than books, as both contain dialogue, and "stage directions" or "action?"

ALAN COLE: They are totally different animals. Few screenwriters can successfully switch to novels and few novelists can successfully move into screen work. For one thing, a screenplay is basically a set of architectural drawings. Like those drawings, they are also duller than mud to anyone but the professionals. Even then, I've never heard of anyone saying that they were looking forward to curling up with a good screenplay tonight. There are also very definite rules to the craft of screenwriting; for a novel, there are really no rules. You can write a novel in blank verse if you feel like it and it'll still be a novel at the end. More importantly: a novel belongs to the author. He can sell someone the rights to publish the book, but he still holds those rights. Basically he's leasing the book. Once a screenplay is purchased by a studio they own it. The writer has no rights to it and they can do anything to it that they feel like. Finally, the end result of a screenplay -- a piece of film -- is the work of a committee. A novel is your own damn fault.

KAREN: Your main character in MacGregor ("Mac") is likeable... even your "baddies" are likeable in an odd way....and Novarro's "end" was rather a comeuppence... paybacks are @(#*$*~! I certainly could vividly picture every scene... that's a sign of excellent crafting. You grabbed me with the first sentence of the novel, and compelled me to read on...and I did so, gladly.

ALLAN: Thanks. I always work harder on my villains than almost anything. It's the bad guy who makes a story. If I were an actor, I'd much rather play the bad guy than the hero. It's always the more interesting character. (Just look at Meryl Streep's Oscar-winning performance in "The Devil Wears Prada," and you'll see my point.) Also, a good rule for a writer to remember is that the villain should never be your puppet. When you hero is cleverly planning her next move, the villain ought to anticipate that and run her off the track. The good guy only has to win at the end. Another good rule, is to always keep in mind that in real life things bad things can happen out of nowhere. It's a good element to keep in a story. To keep plots from becoming too pat. As Woody Allen said: "Want to hear God laugh. Tell him your plans."

KAREN Why did you pick the locale you used in Mac's story? I'm not looking for -- "because I live there." I want you to dig deep and tell us... Personally, I think it added a depth to the story.

ALLAN: While researching another book, I came across the "Florida Section" at the Boca Raton library. While perusing the shelves it came to me that their were scores of books devoted just to the scoundrels who have lived in Florida, and live here still. It's really a wild and wooly, anything goes state. It was then that I started toying with the idea of creating a character who was the end result of all those schemers and scammers. In short, he would be related to everybody who was Anybody in Florida history. Everything from governors to pirates, to whores to grand ladies. You can find a description to Mac's colorful background by clicking here.

Anyway, as I was developing the character I started drawing on things from my own background. For example, as a CIA brat I knew that for years that when CIA operatives retired they tended to go into the insurance business in Florida, where they joined their old comrades in spookery. They also went to work for one of the big sugar complanies, or fruit companies like United Fruit. Scratch a South American coup and you'll find the hands of some Florida-based fruit company, or sugar company, or insurance company exec. Who happens to be a retired CIA man. (It's also helps to know that no one really ever retires from the CIA)

Next, I know for a fact that many a South American dictator, formerly backed by us, ended up in Florida when the local populace finally got tired of their thieving and murdering ways and made room for the next El Supremo. So, they end up rich and tan in Florida, probably also working a "consult' to one or more of those above-mentioned fruit companies.

Finally, the central story is right out of the headlines. I'd noticed that Florida had a shameful reputation for the way it neglected, poor children, troubled children and orphaned children. The medical scams that are pulled on children in MacGregor are actually happening. As for the organs for sale bit, that's long been rumored.

KAREN: Do you have further "adventures" planned for Mac?

ALLAN: I have a couple Mac stories in various stages of writing. I've been busy lately, however, with Hollywood work. Also, I'm expecting to make an exciting (for me) annoucement soon about a film deal based on the Sten sci-fi series that I wrote with my late partner, Chris Bunch.

KAREN You have an extensive block of work to your credit. What would you say has been your most significant achievements as a writer?

ALLAN: At age 64 it astounds me that I've been able to make a full time living as a writer since the summer of 1964. And I've been freelancing since the summer of 1979. It was my childhood dream.

KAREN: Give us a little taste of something --- perhaps of your current work in progress --- that will make someone who reads our interview want to search out your work. A short teaser would work... a few sentences of plot, to make us want to pick up the review, and then the book or screenplay.

ALLAN: Here's the prologue of a book I've been working on for three years. The title...:

Lucky In Cyprus
A True Story about a Teacher,
Some Terrorists, an Earthquake, And the CIA


        I imagine the child. Heís twelve, slender, dark forelock curl against skin paled by weeks of travel. His blue eyes are set in deep hollows. I imagine him sitting on a hard wooden bench. The bench is old and polished by many years of shifting behinds.
        It is the only furniture in the long, narrow airport corridor - empty except for his parents, infant brother, and the stern Greek solider standing guard over them. The boy has not moved from that bench for twelve hours. He has a book in his hand - The Count Of Monte Cristo.
        Heís a quiet young man, but do not mistake the silence and tired eyes for melancholy. Heís intensely curious, drinking in the sounds of the many strange languages crackling over the hallway speakers. Even the drab walls and small piles of oiled sawdust on the wooden floor seem fascinating. The soldier stares at him coldly as the boy studies his olive drab uniform, webbed harness, and especially the M1 rifle he clutches. The boy is not afraid.
        Iíve met the boy before: On a train steaming west to California, holding his pretty motherís hand as she jostles through the crowd of whistling soldiers and sailors home from war; and at San Diego Harbor, peering at the forest of submarine conning towers bristling out of the mist - the whole harbor ringing with the hoot, hoot of fog horns as he wondered which sub contained his father.
        Iíve seen him in Florida, laughing and running from the Brahma bull calf heís teased into play. And later, by his grandfatherís side, as the old man shoots the head off a turtle swimming in the middle of the lake.
        There were other times, other places: rattling up the Florida highway in a `36 Dodge, bound for Philadelphia where his father was going to leave them so he could go off and fight against the Communists this time, instead of the Nazis and Fascists. And Iíve seen that boy tinkering with a homemade short-wave radio, catsí whiskering up voices from thousands upon thousands of miles away.
        Yes, weíve met before. But never in so grand an adventure as this - under military guard at Athens Airport; his father accused of conspiring to smuggle gold and the boy knowing the joke was on them because his father was an American spy - a CIA agent - and soon the barred doors would swing open and that blustery, imperious Greek diplomat would come scurrying up to them, hat in hand, streaming a greater flood of apologies than he had threats twelve hours ago. And that young soldier, so imperious before, would bow and scrape and beg Luckyís pardon.
        I imagine the child - more than fifty years gone now. I know him well, for that boy is me.

KAREN: Anything you find difficult to accomplish in crafting your work?

ALLAN: Writing never gets any easier. The more you learn, the more you realize how little you know and how much better you could be.

KAREN: What's your opinion on the direction of the publishing industry, especially the influence of e-publishing?

ALLAN: It's my opinion that electronic books, in one form or another, are the future of publishing. Don't get me wrong - I love books on paper, with a nice cover that protects the pages from the elements. But I think the era of Gutenberg is nearing its end. Kind of like the gasoline combustion engine. Might not happen in my lifetime, but I think it will be sooner than we all think.

KAREN: Do you have any goals in life you have yet to meet? If so, would you like to elaborate some on them?

ALLAN: A hundred years from now I'd like some child to walk into whatever is the cyber equivalent of a market stall and find one of my books there. And then he'll open it and as he reads he'll think - "Oh, my..."

KAREN: When you can find time for your writing, do you follow any specific routine?

ALLAN: I write five days a week, eight hours a day and I take weekends, birthdays and holidays off. In the morning the first thing I do at work is answer any correspondence from my foreign editors or translators. Then I rewrite whatever I have written the day before. That done I launch myself into new words. I average about ten pages a day.

KAREN How do you control your characters? I know of several authors who are driven to write 'what their characters tell them.'

ALLAN: Characters take over all the time. I've had them take over the damned book and insist they were the main character, instead of the wimp I'd had in mind. (See Daughter Of Liberty on my homepage.) Mainly, what I do is create a very thorough outline. But I don't become a slave to the outline, so characters and newly realized developments can come through. However, with a good outline, you can always get yourself back on the true trail again. However, if this becomes impossible, you'll usually discover that you screwed up. And you'll have to go back over your outline and see where.

KAREN What do you suppose is your greatest strength as a writer? Character development? Place? Something else?

ALLAN: Character and dialogue. Everyone has always said those were my strong points. And I'm damned good at throwing my characters a curve whenever they get too comfortable.

KAREN Who were/are your major influences that guided you to become an author/screenwriter?

ALLAN: A man named Jim Demedrakis, a Greek Cypriot, who was my teacher when I was a boy.

KAREN: Where do you see yourself going in the future with your writing?

ALLAN: I publish on average a book a year. I hope to continue doing so for as long as I live.

KAREN: Answer this one in any way you wish.... What advice do you hav e for potential authors or screenwriters, given that you say there is a difference in the crafting of such works?

ALLAN: The best advice I can give any budding writer - no matter what the craft - is that they should write, write, write each and every day. A day without words is a day that you failed.