Friday 19 August 2022


Author Larry Beinhart - The Deal Goes Down and a lot more besides - answers a few questions on his reading and writing habits ...

Is the writing full time, part time, a sideline?

            Full time whenever I think I can make it pay.


Is there a day job?

            Writing is the day job.  


Can you offer us a potted biography of yourself?

            Is that a marijuana reference?

            If so, I have to say, weed's not my thing. When I was young, in order to beg off, I'd declaim that I was saving my body for hard drugs. Of course, that wasn't true either.

            Does it mean boiled down and stuffed in a mason jar?

            Grew up in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. Went to SUNY Binghamton where I found out that white people were a majority group. Then SUNY Stony Brook. Co-wrote a screenplay, No Place to Hide, a super low budget indie. I thought the worst thing about it was the script so I stopped writing. Became a grip, gaffer, and film production manager. Hitch-hiked to Miami. Started a commercial film company. Left it to my partner. Back to New York. Worked mostly for a political consultant doing TV & radio. Got unemployment insurance, which I took to be a New York state grant to the arts. Wrote a book. Won an Edgar. 

*I’m about to read The Deal Goes Down.  Can you pitch it to a potential reader in 50 words or less?


"Beinhart brilliantly drags Chandler to the tangled woods of the Catskill Mountains, resulting in a first rate - and first - noir-murder-Buddhist-comic-Woodstock-thriller. Fantastic fun."

            24 words. From Shalom Auslander. He has a cameo in the book.

 (*Read it. Loved it! Thoughts here.) 

Do you have a typical writing schedule?

            It depends on circumstances. Contracted, employed, deadline, seasonal sports (tennis usually means play in the AM, write PM, winter I have to ski 2 or 3 full days a week), family issues.

            Before I had a family, it was out for breakfast, come back, imagine home was an office, write 5 pages, go do something else.

            Actually, I think this last book was sort of written that way. Except I wrote most of it by hand, with a pen in a notebook, at the local coffee shop. Never did either of those before.


When you have an idea and you sit down to construct your story – do you know what the end result is roughly going to look like?

            I think it's best to do so. Else you could get stuck in Eureka, Kansas when you want to surf in Malibu. That doesn't mean it can't change. It often does, but it's best to plan your trip so that it gets you - after great difficulties - to that great destination.  

 Are you a plotter, or do you make it up as you go along?

            A blend. It varies every book.

            Narrative is, in essence, about going somewhere to achieve something.

            That has to be there in the overarching structure. It has to be there in every segment. Get to a goal, get to a goal.

            It is possible to do that totally mechanically. Many books done that way are very successful. The Da Vinci Code is a perfect example.

             My preference is to pretend the characters are just like real people. Who act for realistic motives in a reasonably realistic world. And, once launched, are consistent with themselves.

            I think that has to mean that even if you have a master plan to get your characters from Boston to London through Mexico City and Istanbul and have three killings along the way, each based on a favourite film scene, except that each fails this time, you're going to have to work out a lot of things to make it happen credibly. (Provided you care about credibly). As you do that, it creates new limitations and new possibilities, new things that you must do and certain things you can no longer do.

             A couple of writers I like told me they made it up as they went along, Bob Leuci and Elmore Leonard. Let the characters do the walking.

            This book, The Deal Goes Down, is closest I've gotten. Once I started the main characters up, their desires and needs drove the action forward.

 Are there any subjects off limits?

            Never thought of it. At least not in those terms.

            I wouldn't do a plot whose resolution rests on the revelation that someone was molested as a child. But that's a "not that again" reaction.


 How long from conception to completion did The Deal Goes Down take? Was it a smooth process or were there many bumps in the road along the way?

            Some books are very quick and smooth. The first one, No One Rides For Free, was. The third, Foreign Exchange, was, if you don't count skiing in St. Anton for 5 weeks or so, then traveling through Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Yugoslavia with my wife, baby daughter, & Isuzu Trooper for another month or so. Wag the Dog/American Hero, took a huge amount of research. Salvation Boulevard had to be put away for over a year, then totally rewritten.

            This one came quick and easy.


I believe the book brings back an old series character of yours – Tony Casella – after a 30 year absence. I’m intrigued about the long gap with the character.

Is Tony 30 years older than when he appeared in Foreign Exchange? Has he been in cold storage for all this time? (Lawrence Block literally did that with his Tanner character.)


            He's 30+ years older.

            He's done various things during those years. Various things have been done to him. By time, fate, life. He reveals some of them, as relevant, in the course of the book. If there's another book after this, I expect it will show that he's left out some important bits and been less than honest about others.

            More important, the world is 30 years older. In terms of ethos and spirit, more than technology. 

            I've come to realize - I never set out to do it consciously - that the four books are a history of the effects of economic policy on American society.

            Don't worry, you can read them all, and never notice.

            The context - the zeitgeist, the mise en scene - of the first book is the rise of corporations - the financial shells over actual production - in the 1970s. The second is the Age of Reagan, when government went from counter-balancing the power of money to publicly marrying it. The third, 1989-1990, the year the Berlin Wall came down, was the victory of American democracy and capitalism, its high mark, a time of immense relief, hope, and optimism.

            In this fourth one, that victory has eaten itself. Money has risen so high that all values are measured by money. Money, therefore, is the only value left.  


Did the end result mirror your expectations at the start of the process, or is it a very different book to what you imagined?

            It's more fun than I expected.

            When I started out, given the age of the character, of the people around him, and around myself, I thought it would be a lot more about death.


Was there one spark or germ of imagination which started the story off in your mind?

            Many years ago, I did three books with my wife. She was an actor and a detective. The heroine in the books was a lot like her. The ex-cops in the books were a lot like the real ones she worked with. They books were, comparatively, light, witty, fun. And in their own way, realistic.

            The series got so orphaned that the third was never published even though we were paid for it.

            I recently pulled it out of the drawer. I sent to an ex-agent who I was still friendly with. Her reaction was that it was no longer the current saleable style (in mysteries not spouses). She said The Girl On The Train was the contemporary in thing. I got it. I read it. The heroine was miserable, alcoholic, endlessly complaining, in a dreary self-medicated world. Oh, it was a man who had done her wrong, wrong, wrong, and made her that way.

            Imagine the pain of being trapped on a train with her.  

            The title of the first chapter The Deal Goes Down is Woman on a Train.

            It immediately takes off in very different directions.


Without spoilers, is Tony’s story finally done or can you conceive him coming back for a fifth outing?

             The short answer is show me the money.

             The long answer has to be called a shaggy dog story.

            I was explaining Tony's motivations to someone.

            It came out as a true story about Lazlo, a border collie I once owned. He was very smart. As dogs go. If he got out of the house, you couldn’t drive on my street. Fortunately, it's just a one lane dirt road. My neighbor came to me. He said, “You gotta do something. I have teeth marks on my bumper.” 

            Not the rear. Lazlo did not chase cars. On the front. Lazlo herded vehicles. If he got out on the real road, he’d stop two cars going in opposite directions. He’d stop UPS trucks. 

Lazlo needed a job. I didn’t have one for him. I finally had to give him away. He ended up demonstrating doggie exercise machines on TV, happy and successful. 

            That’s Tony. Languishing and lost.

            Then someone comes to him and offers him a job. It’s an insane, amoral, crazy job. But it calls for his skills. Forty pounds going up against 3,500 pounds (a Subaru Forester) and 5 tons (a UPS truck) at the same time.

            It's like someone left the door open. He can't help it. He's out!

             That’s Tony. That’s me. A couple of border collies. If you got sheep, we’re willing to work.  

 You’ve had a lot of success over the years with your books. Is there one in particular you are most proud of?

 Which would you press into the hands of a new reader first?



   Wag the Dog (originally American Hero) is my most ostentatious.

            Wag the Dog reads like a thriller. It's loaded with literary tricks. Real characters march through the pages beside the fictional ones. Including a cameo for Barry Levinson who ended up making it into a movie. George HW Bush who made the war that inspired the book, is a featured player. It has 100 and something footnotes. All the footnotes about real people are real. All those about fictitious characters are false. In the final chapters the main character - in a very dramatic plot situation - is telling me the story. He's not just telling it, he has transformed it. Because by then he's transformed himself from a shlub PI into a Hollywood player and everything you've heard - which is the whole book - is him pitching the story.

            When books are published as literary fiction, reviewers, if not readers, are very conscious of literary tricks and describe them analytically.

            No reviews have ever commented on all the tricks in Wag the Dog. I like to think that's because they actually worked in service to the story. Which was about turning fiction into reality and reality presented in fictional terms.  

             The book I usually give to new readers is Foreign Exchange. It's the most genial and good-natured. Especially as espionage novels go. It even has mothers and a baby.

             Now, I might say The Deal Goes Down.


I believe American Hero and Salvation Boulevard have both had big screen treatments - the former as Wag the Dog with Dustin Hoffman, Robert De Niro as well as other big names in a stellar cast.

Did you have any involvement in the films? Were you happy with how they turned out?


            In both cases they bought my house because they liked the view.

            Wag the Dog was a brilliant film. I'm proud to be associated with it.

            The question I'm usually asked is, "Was the film like the book?"

            My usual answer is, "It was exactly like the book. All they changed was the plot and the characters." Actually, they changed the war, too, from presenting a real war in dramatic terms to dramatically creating the illusion of a war.

            However, strange as it seems, the experience of the movie and the book are very much the same. They caught the spirit of creating a war for domestic political reasons that Americans could love on TV.


            Salvation Boulevard was a good film. I saw it three times, at Sundance, in Woodstock, and on the Jersey Shore. I liked it each time. Audiences seemed to love it. Yet it disappeared faster than any film I've ever seen.

            I got to know the director-writer and his co-writer. I told them that they treated my book like a castle made of Legos. They knocked it over, then made their own house out of the pieces. Every once and a while I'd notice a piece being used the way I used it.

            Don't get me wrong. That's not a complaint. If I were to make complaints they would be that their version needed another $5 million or so and that a faithful-to-the-book version could only have been done as a TV miniseries.  


 Are there any unpublished gems in your bottom drawer?


            I just self-published one of them.

            Zombie Pharm. You can get an e-version of it on line. It's dramatic - as zombie stories must be - and wickedly satirical. A friend of mine who is a Joyce scholar told me she never reads zombie things. I told her it was to zombie stories what A Modest Proposal by Johnathan Swift was to agricultural essays.

             The Rich Can't Be Trusted With Money, a non-fiction book about economics.

 What’s the current project in progress?

             I just did a script with Juan Jose Campanella (Oscar, best foreign film, Secrets in Their Eyes) for a TV pilot. It's supposed to go to contract for three more episodes and a bible.

 What’s the best thing about writing?

             Aside from getting paid?

            The pleasure of building things. Making them work.  

 The worst?

             Not selling a project.

 Moving on….

What are the last five books you’ve read?

Dashiell Hammett's five novels.

Red Harvest, The Dain Curse, The Glass Key, The Maltese Falcon, The Thin Man


Who do you read and enjoy?

           I read more non-fiction than fiction these days.

 Is there any one book you wish you had written?

           Dianetics: the Modern Science of Mental Health, by L. Ron Hubbard. I always wanted to establish a whole religion and be the top guru.


Celestine Prophecy. I could be wrong about this, but it seems like it must have been really quick and easy to write and it made $1.5 million back in the 90's.


Favourite activity when not working or writing?


 What’s the last film you watched that rocked you?

TV has gotten better than film. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, the first season of The Boys, Tokyo Vice, The Man in the High Castle

 TV addict or not? What’s the must watch show in the Beinhart household?


 What are the last three pieces of music you’ve listened to?

Too many to list.



 What’s your favourite vegetable?


            Any vegetables from Italy are better than anywhere else. But they're even better in Sicily.


When and where did you last have a fist fight? School, church, a sleazy neighbourhood bar?

            On the street. Broadway and 45th. A long time ago.

            There have been some physical altercations since, but I wouldn't call them fist fights. Nor are any of them particularly memorable.

 Have you ever been thrown out of a bar or a club?

            Why would I be?

 Do you have any tattoos?


 What was your first pet’s name?


            short for George Bernard Shaw. He was a beagle.

 What’s the worst meal you have ever eaten?

            I only remember the good ones.

 Do you have any irrational fears?

            The rational ones seem sufficient.

 What’s your favourite vacation destination?

            Any place with mountains and snow.

 When did you last tell a lie?


Many thanks to Larry Beinhart for his time.

Checkout out his latest from Melville House - The Deal Goes Down. Thank me later!

A legendary, Edgar-Award winning writer returns, and so does his legendary detective, with a gripping thriller about marital discord, contract killing, off-piste skiing and the deep state...

Ex-private eye Tony Casella lives in the Catskill mountains, a lonely old tough guy whose body can no longer do what it once did.  His wife and son are dead; his daughter barely talks to him; his bank is in the process of foreclosing on his home.

But a chance encounter with a rich young woman on a train changes everything. He is hired to take care of her superrich, sexual predator husband. That job leads to others and he joins a small start-up whose mission is to save women from abusive marriages. Provided their spouses are in the top 0.01%. It's a luxury service destined to make great profits. 

Tony’s problems seem to be over, but are they? An old, angry associate is determined to get his cut of Tony’s earnings, murky government agents start to tail him, and when he is sent to the Austrian alps to kill a Russian oligarch and rescue his American wife, all hell breaks loose…

Packed with action The Deal Goes Down is an unforgettable portrait of a Lion in Winter who still has a few tricks up his sleeve, from a writer garlanded with awards and critical acclaim and whose novel American Hero was made into the classic film, Wag the Dog.


  1. Really interesting interview, so thanks, both. I like the idea of at least having a rough idea of how a story's going to end before starting it; I do the same thing, and it helps me to keep my focus. Having scheduled writing time (even if it varies sometimes) is really helpful, too. Thanks for sharing, and much success!

    1. Glad you enjoyed the interview, Margot. It's interesting to see the different and sometimes similar approached authors take to their craft.

  2. Col – Thanks for posting this interview. Interesting and humorous.