Debbi Mack interviews thriller author Lawrence Kelter on the Crime Cafe podcast.
The transcript is below, if you’d like to read it.
Debbi: Hello, everyone this is the Crime Cafe, your podcasting source of great crime, suspense and thriller writing. I’m your host Debbi Mack. Before I introduce this week’s awesome guest, I’ll just remind you that the Crime Cafe boxed set—that’s nine books in the boxed set—and the Crime Cafe Short Story Anthology can be purchased online at any online retailer for the very reasonable price of $1.99 for the boxed and $0.99 for the anthology. You can get it at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple, whatever. The buy links are on my website debbimack.com. And with that said I’m thrilled to introduce my guest Lawrence Kelter, a fellow New Yorker and thriller author. it’s great to have you on Larry.
Lawrence: It’s great to be here. Please, let’s stick with Larry.
Debbi: Larry. [laughs]
Lawrence: If I get Lawrence you know, I’m gonna assume that I’ve done something wrong or I’m in big trouble. Larry works just fine.
Debbi: I know what you mean cause when people call me Deborah, I always think of my mother. Deborah!
Debbi: Exactly. I first got to know your work through the Stephanie Chalice thrillers and I hope I’m pronouncing that correctly.
Lawrence: You’re about the only one who does pronounce it correctly.
Debbi: Stephanie Chalice. I like that. What a great protagonist she is. What inspired you to go with that series—to write it?
Lawrence: I was a big and I still am, a big fan of Nelson DeMille and I got sucked in by his John Corey character. At the time, he only had a couple books in that series, but now he’s up to, I guess about seven or eight in the Corey series. And what I liked about him was he had this ascerbic personality and he’s always making smart-ass comments. And I like the punch of having a smile when I read.
You know, there’s a lot of great authors and you know I can’t take anything away from them, but they’re very, very dry and they’ll just go through pages and pages of description. How he approached the crime circle and there was an inner circle and outer circle and the third circle and it’s like, it takes you four pages to get through the crime circle. And it’s “What the …”, you know? I really like DeMille’s character, and I said you know I’d like to do something like that. I hadn’t written at the time. And I can’t copy John Corey. So I kinda borrowed some of his personality traits and I imbued them in a woman, so to speak.
Lawrence: Yeah, so Chalice is supposed to be fun, quirky, a little too savvy for her own good, a little too smart-alecky for her own good, but I think that makes the character memorable and fun.
Debbi: Yes, absolutely and it underscores how she’s a human being, she’s not like a …. I don’t know, a stereotypical woman or whatever you wanna call it right.
Debbi: I like the fact that you can write that. So, much is said about men writing women and women writing men.
Debbi: I don’t see why men can’t write women as authentically as women can.
Lawrence: Well, I’m several books into it now. You know, when I first started out there were some comments saying that she wasn’t a real woman, that she was too much of a man’s vision of a woman and some of that I think was real or right. I think I kinda absorbed those comments and refined her personality as I went along, and she’s seven whole books and three novellas into the series at this point.
So, yeah, she’s gone through a lot of changes and you know there’s a lot of work involved. She starts out as a single gal detective and then she gets a partner that she falls in love with and, by the seventh book, she’s got a child, she’s married and has a child, so you know she’s gone through an evolution, so to speak.
Debbi: And do you picture writing more of that series and where do you think she’ll go from here?
Lawrence: I do picture writing more of it. I haven’t begun to craft the next book yet and that’s because I’ve just had so many things on the back burner and at a certain point you either have to move them up in the line or you know they’re never gonna get looked at. So, that’s what I’ve done and as you probably know, I’m involved in a new project. So that’s taken the bulk of my time.
Debbi: Yes. Tell me about the Chloe Mathers series, the thrillers, the Chloe Mather thrillers. How does Chloe differ from Stephanie, and is this is a trilogy or do you plan to make more out of the series?
Lawrence: Well, what I’ve done—well let me take a step back—Chloe Mather is a little bit more straight-laced than Chalice is.
She comes from a military background. As the story goes, she was a Marine or an ex-Marine, now an FBI agent. And in the Marines, she was one of the few women who actually saw active combat. Normally—and I can’t speak for the armed forces at this moment in time—but when she was in the armed forces most female Marines were clerical or technical that kind of thing who served as liaisons. They never really saw the battlefield, but she was assigned to what they call the female engagement team in the Middle East and what her assignment was—they call it the FET.
What the FET was supposed to do was sort of broker the relationship between Muslim women and the military, because in that culture, men are not allowed to speak with women they’re not married to. So, she’s able to do that as a woman, and she’s out in the Middle East during some of the military offensives and because she’s out there she gets pulled into a couple of real situations, rescues, you know? She was under siege a couple times, she’s a sharpshooter, so she’s a little bit of a stiffer character.
Debbi: Interesting, very interesting. I’m gonna have to check those books out.
Lawrence: OK. The second part of what you asked. Do I see more Mather? What I did is to kind of keep Mather going and keep Chalice going at the same time. I’ve combined them in a new series.
Debbi: Oh, wow.
Lawrence: Yeah, so what I did was. In Chalice’s last book she was critically injured, she’s recovering, but because of N.Y.P.D. protocol, she’s on medication and she’s gonna be on medication for another six or eight months, and N.Y.P.D. demanded that she’s off medication completely for a full year before she can see active duty or do a normal tour as a detective. And she just couldn’t handle it anymore. She’s too much of an A-personality. She needed to get back out in the field, so she leaned on her friend, Herb Ambler, who’s an S.S.A. at the New York City FBI Bureau, and he pulled enough strings, he had enough clout to get her moved over, and now she’s an FBI agent and Mather’s an FBI agent, so they’re sort of rocking it together.
Debbi: Very, very interesting.
Lawrence: Thank you.
Debbi: I’m interested that you combined the two characters, because I could do the same thing with the series that I’m working on actually. I’m starting a new series and it also takes place in Maryland and you’ve got me thinking now. I think my first taste of your funniest writing was the Frank Mango novel.
Debbi: That’s when I really got to see you just kind of go over the top a little bit and I loved it. It was that wise cracking detective with the name Mango. And he was always getting jibes about that.
Debbi: Was that a standalone or is that part of a series you’d like to write?
Lawrence: I’d like to write more Frank Mango at some point. There was one book, which was called Kiss of the Devil’s Breath.
Lawrence: And that was a novella or a long short story. But I do like his character. And he’s fun to write. I try to pick characters that are fun to write. It actually came about—before I was writing full-time, I worked for a bank and one of the people I was on the phone with all the time was a guy by the name of Frank Mango. You know, I met him once at some point, but it was very briefly and it was not repeated. And the name just kept, you know, poking into my head. It’s like I couldn’t … every time I heard Frank Mango, I said, oh, what a great name, for a big fat rumpled detective, you know?
Debbi: It is, it’s a great name. That’s wonderful.
Lawrence: Yeah, I mean the actual Frank Mango that I took the name from he was nothing like that so. If he hears that he doesn’t think I picture him is this oaf, which I don’t but …
Debbi: But it’s a wonderful name.
Debbi: He should be honored. It’s a very funny novel and good.
Lawrence: Thank you.
Debbi: That’s my personal recommendation to everybody listening. You’ve also collaborated with one of my previous guests, Frank Zafiro, who’s also one of my favorite authors and the book is The Last Collar. What can you tell me about that book and about your collaboration process?
Lawrence: That was interesting. Frank and I had both contributed to an anthology. And that’s where we kind of met, again online, not face-to-face, because I’m in New York and at the time I think he was in Spokane. He’s since relocated, but he’s still out west, and we’ve never met face-to-face. But I had this idea for a novel. I had a character that I had once used in a novel that I never pushed through to publishing. You know, I liked the character, but the story didn’t grab me enough to give it a full commitment.
So, I spoke to Frank and I said, “I’m looking to do a real police procedural.” I said, ”I’m kind of like you know … I’m a fake cop. I know cops, I’ve been involved with cops, but I’m not a cop and I’d like to get a partner who really knows the police force from the inside.” And we talked about it a little bit. We really didn’t kick it around too long.
His biggest concern was that in all the collaborations he’s done, and he’s done several, they always had one voice. I’m sorry, they had two voices. So, it wasn’t necessary to kinda synchronize anything, right? You had two different characters and they could play with each other. And in the book we wrote, we both picked the same voice. I mean. we both took the same voice, so we were concerned that, when it was all said and done, you would read a chapter and say that’s a Larry chapter and that’s a Frank chapter and it would be very disconcerting and not good. But it turns out that after you know a few edits and a little smoothing around the edges, I couldn’t tell what I wrote, he couldn’t tell what I wrote, so it seemed to work.
Then finally we sent it out to some people to read and they said no [they couldn’t tell who wrote what]. So, every once in a while, I’ll come across something that, I said that’s one of your peccadilloes, I know you would say that, but I can’t pick it up in the dialogue.
Debbi: That’s awesome.
Debbi: It just goes to show that writing doesn’t have to be a solitary process. It can be totally a collaborative process.
Debbi: And it can work.
Lawrence: It definitely works. As a matter of fact, it’s invigorating or energizing, because, well for more than one reason. I mean you can also keep something else going on the side and this was one of my thoughts when I wanted to collaborate, because I wanted to be a little more productive. But at the same time, I’m capable of starting things independently, but I usually concentrate on one book at a time. But this was different, because an email would pop up and he would say, “Hey. I just completed Chapter Sixteen.” And he’d send it over to me and I’d read it and say, “This is great now and I know exactly what I’m gonna do,” and we would feed off each other.
Debbi: That’s fantastic.
Lawrence: Yeah, it was really, really lot of fun and Frank’s a super guy.
Debbi: He is.
Lawrence: He’s good to work with, he’s smart, he’s a good writer and you know how can you complain about that?
Debbi: Absolutely. I couldn’t agree more. Well, this leads me up to My Cousin Vinny. And if you can believe this, I didn’t see the movie until just this year.
Lawrence: Oh no, don’t tell me that.
Debbi: And I was just like, “Oh, my God. This is so good. It’s so funny.”
Lawrence: I can’t believe you didn’t see it till now. I don’t think I can continue this conversation.
Debbi: I now, oh come on. Come on, cut me some slack here. There are so many movies, and I wasn’t sure what to think of it, but I kept hearing all this stuff about it. So, I finally said okay. You know, as a lawyer, it’s like I’m a little bit okay about legal movies, but this one really nailed it at the same time that was being funny.
Debbi: I mean there was stuff going on to where I said, yeah, I can actually picture that. But it was so funny at the same time and Marisa Tomei is just priceless.
Lawrence: She is.
Debbi: As is of course Joe Pesci, who’s always priceless in everything and well … your brush with the person who eventually led up to your deal on that. That was, that was remarkable.
Lawrence: Yeah, you know I think My Cousin Vinny for whatever reason. I’m originally from Brooklyn, I kinda lived the Vinny experience. Not so much with actual mob characters, but with guys. Guys from Brooklyn who are kinda like, yeah right, like I’m gonna kick you in the teeth if you don’t turn around and walk away. I lived with those people and then when the movie came out twenty-five years ago, it was just, it touched me. It was just so right on.
The guy who wrote the movie Dale Launer who’s a real comic genius, not only did he write My Cousin Vinny, but he also wrote Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and Ruthless People, three of the the funniest movies ever produced. He’s not from New York. He’s I think from the Midwest originally, and he has been living out on the West Coast for I think forever.
But he had this idea, it originally started with a guy, I guess a guy he knew who had to continually take the Bar Exam, couldn’t pass it, and he said what a great basis for a movie. And he developed My Cousin Vinny. So, yeah, I mean it really resonated with me. It’s the kind of movie that you know, I’m at home and I’m getting ready to go or have a meeting to go to, but the T.V.’s on in the background, cause I always need some noise. I always need music on, or the T.V. on and you know, you’re doing whatever and all of a sudden you hear, “Yeah. You blend,” and that’s it. I would stop whatever I’m doing and, like a robot I would just sit in front of the T.V. and I’d relive the movie.
And about two years ago, those were the exact circumstances that took place, and I said you know what? He’s making, this guy’s making me laugh for twenty-three years. Well, you know as a writer, I think he deserves to know that he hasn’t been forgotten about, that the movie is still relevant and still funny. And I said let me see if I can find out how to contact him.
So I spent a little time online and I was able to. He has a website. I was able to find his website and a little contact screen—not too big—like an inch high and two inches wide. And I went in there and I filled in the screen and I said you need to know that twenty-five years later, I’m still laughing my ass off, what a great job you did, and I’m such a fan of the movie. And, you know, I said, well, enter. Send the message off. I’m never gonna hear back. He’s Hollywood, so I’m just a lowly novel writer you know. I’m dirt beneath his feet. I’m never gonna hear back. And sure enough within twenty minutes he sent me back a two-page response. Telling me all kinds of things about the movie, not only you know his insights and his thought process but, things that are really hard to believe about the making of the movie.
The most unbelievable was that the studio wanted to cut out Marisa Tomei’s character.
Lawrence: I mean can you imagine that movie without Mona Lisa Vito? It would’ve been nothing.
Debbi: No way.
Lawrence: Yeah, right. But they were very, very adamant about it and they actually said, you either have to beef up her role, or we have to cut her out, it’s not gonna stand the way it is. So you know that famous scene, where they’re out in the woods and she’s marching back and forth on the deck with her biological clock speeches and you know the printed catsuit and she’s you know just going off on him. That scene had to be added after the fact or not after the movie was complete, but during filming because they insisted that they beef up the character. And yeah that’s you know so I mean talk about things going wrong. How could they for a minute think they could yank her out of the movie?
Debbi: That’s well I’m tempted to say unbelievable, but unfortunately, I can believe it.
Debbi: It’s well I’ll just leave it at that let’s just say sometimes unbelievable things happen but the right stuff gets made anyway, if you know I mean?
Lawrence: Sometimes, yeah.
Debbi: Yeah, so yeah.
Lawrence: Yeah, he also wanted, he had a vision of the Rocky character, which really was not Joe Pesci. His original vision for the Rocky—well, I gave it away—for the Vinny character, not the Rocky character was more of a Rocky Balboa. Maybe not a guy whose punch drunk like Rocky is with slurred speech but more of a …
Lawrence: He’s an underdog but he’s also got some physical stature and in his mind was a former amateur boxer. So he’s a bigger guy. He’s a bigger, stronger guy than you know you look at Joe Pesci. Not that you could get anything over on Joe Pesci, right? “I make you laugh?: You know?
But, his image was a bigger lox of a guy actually with a touch of dyslexia, because if you remember in the movie, he’s always with a book, but he’s struggling, he’s making a face, he’s putting it down, he’s closing the book. That’s because he struggles to read, not that he has any intelligence deficit. He just struggles to read. And he wanted Robert De Niro to play Vinny Gambini.
Lawrence: Right. This goes back you know the movie was released in 1992. Twenty-five years ago. Five years before Robert De Niro made his first comic appearance in Analyze This, which was super funny and Robert De Niro was just so funny, as you know, in comedy. But it was five years before that movie came out, and the studio had again said “Robert De Niro make a comedy? Are you daft?” And basically, laughed him off the lot and said well you know we’re gonna hire Joe Pesci and of course, thank God they did, cause Pesci was amazing.
Debbi: He was, yes.
Lawrence: Really amazing, but it just interesting that the studio people—it’s like do they really know what they’re doing? What, do they just look out when something comes out good. I mean it’s, it’s bizarre.
Debbi: It is bizarre. Speaking of Robert De Niro and comedies have you ever seen Midnight Run?
Lawrence: You know I think I’ve caught part of it. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the whole thing.
Debbi: It’s hilarious.
Lawrence: Yeah, what’s the premise of that?
Debbi: A white collar criminal. Well, an accountant steals money from a gangster basically, basically the Mafia.
Debbi: A Mafia don, I guess, and, he’s arrested in Los Angeles, but he skips bail and a, what do you call it, bounty hunter played by Robert De Niro is hired to go to New York and find him. He realizes, he figures out he’s in New York, and he has to get him back to L.A. And the chain of events that they go through getting from New York to L.A. It makes the comedy. I don’t wanna say much more than that.
Lawrence: No, that’s enough. Yeah, I’m going to have to watch that.
Debbi: There’s also a rival bounty hunter who was hired by the same bail bondsman. Who you know, you’ll see. And Yaphet Kotto is in it as an F.B.I. agent. His name is Alonzo Mosley and one of the running jokes is that Robert De Niro, who plays a guy named Jack, has stolen his F.B.I. ID and he goes around impersonating Alonzo Mosley, and it’s just very, very funny. It’s like The Odd Couple on the road.
Debbi: Because the accountant is played by Charles Grodin.
Debbi: So, you can just picture this match, I mean. It’s fantastic, it really is.
Debbi: You should see it. So, having said that. I’m reading both of your books, both the one that you co-wrote with Frank Zafiro and Back to Brooklyn.
Debbi: And enjoying them. And I’m really glad you could be on the show today. Is there anything else that you would like to add before we conclude? What more can you say?
Lawrence: Well, the only thing I can say is that writing Back to Brooklyn, which is the My Cousin Vinny sequel is probably the most fun I’ve ever had as a writer. I mean just sitting down at the keyboard listening to those two bicker in my head it’s just, you know, it keeps me going all day long and when I finish writing for the day, it’s like I just sat down and watched a great comedy movie. I don’t wanna say great because I’m, you know, I’m writing it.
Debbi: But you were inspired by a great movie.
Lawrence: Inspired by a great movie. Yeah. And this is what we hope to be the first in a series of books featuring Vinny and Lisa. They’ll sort of be a modern-day Nick and Nora team, not two stuffy Brits, but … two funny partners from Brooklyn, where Lisa does some investigation and, of course, Vinny litigates.
A third book, a second book is already in the works, and we’re also doing a novelization of the movie with new scenes, some background, and tidbits about the writer’s original thoughts that never made it onto the screen. So, new enough and fresh enough to revive the story without just making it a straight translation of what viewers saw on celluloid.
Debbi: Well Larry, that is fantastic. I’m very happy for you.
Lawrence: Thank you. Thank you. I’m having fun with it.
Debbi: That’s wonderful. I think it’s absolutely fantastic, and I know what you mean about the Brooklyn thing, because I’m from Queens myself.
Lawrence: Right. I remember that.
Debbi: Yeah. So, I know about that.
Debbi: And with that I will just say thank you very much, Larry for being here today, and again I’ll remind you that you can get The Crime Cafe 9 Book Set and the short story anthology online at crimecafe.net or debbimack.com. Just go to the Crime Cafe link and the buy button will be there. Buy buttons. Whatever. And until next time. Happy reading, and I’ll see you in two weeks.