Friday, June 15, 2012

Fabulous MUST READ Guest post by Robert C. Fleet PLUS a E-Book Give Away

Welcome to an in depth view of the characters in Salt City.  Robert Fleet took a youth spent in Texas and Missouri, combined it with a university education in New York, Amsterdam & London, and found himself spending the first three years of his professional career as an actor-writer with the Chinese Zignal Theater Ensemble (a satellite group of La Mama E.T.C.). A colorful blend of kung-fu spectacle and lyrical Peking Opera, the group supported itself by producing summer stock musicals in New York parks. Europe lured him back, however, and a summer at Jerzy Grotowski's Teatr Laboratorium lengthened into several return trips to Poland – and the writing of a serialized crime novel, Salt City, for the purpose of obtaining a visa to stay in the then-Communist country to marry his artistic collaborator-wife, Alina Szpak (co-producer of Last Mountain).  The novel was confiscated, however, when he put in the character of an African-American policeman speaking Russian: the Polish communist censors were afraid their Soviet “partners” would be offended.

In America during this same period, Robert's theater activities in New York included directing anything from children's theater (40 of his own short pieces) to Yiddish historical dramas, Irish repertory, full-fledged spectacles and his own experimental performances (Kyrie, in Latin, French and Gaelic; the verse drama Pas de Deux, adapted from a Yukio Mishima story).

Salt City - Synopsis

Syracuse, upstate New York. The “Salt City.” An apartment building on the edge of The Projects – and Anne Malloy dies, thrown out of a sixth floor window, an apparent suicide, while Mark Cornell watches. Mark was there for a purpose, his part-time gig being to snap incriminating photos for a divorce lawyer who happily takes cases over the phone. Watching the apartment was Mark’s assignment.

But this assignment has a problem: Mark learns that “Anne Malloy” had died months before, leaving behind a grieving husband. So who is this woman?

It’s 1976, before cellphones, internet, and all the easy ways of satisfying curiosities, so Mark Cornell’s search for a name to give the victim makes him a foot soldier slogging personally through the facts. And, as those facts pile up, Mark discovers that he really shouldn’t be playing detective, stumbling across the thin line between commerce and crime.

I would like to Thank Robert C. Fleet for taking my idea of profiling his characters and giving us some very interesting and entertaining insight into this book.

Hi, Vickie,

I really like your interest in “What books, authors, genres, favorite fictional character and so on would the main characters in Salt City like?”

Y’know, I started out as an actor – then segued to writing because there were stories that I wanted to tell that didn’t have me in them. One of the basics of acting is to create a biography for your role. Not just facts, but a character profile of likes and dislikes, loves and fears, all those things big and small that shape our reactions.

The same holds true for writing. I like to joke that the best thing about writing is that I get to “play” everybody. Sometimes this is can be painful, leading to dark or uncomfortable places. Most times it’s fun. Always an adventure.

Mark Cornell, Salt City’s main character, was really pretty easy to profile – after all, I had gone to Syracuse University, just like Mark, and knew every locale and person he met. But he wasn’t me. Never me.

Mark’s a “professional” graduate student – I couldn’t wait to get out of school, finally! – and his reading likes are a combination of somewhat snobby classics just to show off and, to veg out when no one’s looking, Mark keeps a stash of James Bond thrillers, Mad Magazines and, dog-eared, the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Y’see, Mark has to read big thick books every day as part of his delaying-the-real-world “day job” of grad school. He likes them, of course, or he never would have survived grade-wise. He even mentions Hegel and Dostoyevsky – and I imagine Mark finds a certain pseudo-soulmate identification with the intellectual vivacity of Stavrogin in The Devils. But at heart Mark’s not cruel and far more innocent than any of the “great literature” characters he admires.

It’s an innocence he’s rapidly losing, though.

And he hangs on to music. Desperately.  ABC, though: Anything But Country. It’s 1976, so I have no doubt Mark is listening to Pink Floyd on a well-worn LP.

The second main character in Salt City is Davis Malloy. Davis is the enigmatic, grieving husband of Anne  Malloy, the murder victim who starts off the story.  I don’t want to give away the plot, so I can’t write too much about anyone but Mark. Still, Davis is old school Southerner, and he will listen to Country music – not the Willie Nelson variety but more in the feelin’-sorry-for-myself vein.

Davis probably read his last real book in college and after that lives on business reports and white papers. If Davis Malloy had to identify himself with a character, I’m sure it would be Ashley from Gone With The Wind – though he probably never finished the book, just watched the movie with his high school girlfriend. So Davis thinks of himself as Leslie Howard.

The main female character in Salt City is Davis Malloy’s sister, Linda Malloy. When we meet her, Linda’s hard-pressed by events, confused and angry – without much opportunity to lose that confusion and anger as she tries to figure out what’s going on between Mark and her brother Davis and all the crap coming down on her parents’ farm in Alabama.

But she has her moments, and I like Linda a lot. She has a sly sense of humor in the midst of the backwoods she is temporarily stuck in out of loyalty to her parents. So, to that end – and remember, this is the mid-1970s, Linda would be reading Rita Mae Brown’s Rubyfruit Jungle. Nope, Linda’s not lesbian or liberal feminist or particularly radical about anything – but she is strong, smart and independent – and reading this book gives everyone around her a bit of a rise.  And (this is why we read, don’t we?) it breaks Linda out of the stifling atmosphere of a rural world that she actually feels comfortable in and understands.

Oh, and she’ll listen to Mark’s Rock music and Country: Linda’s a lot more open-minded and adventuresome than either of them. (Just don’t tell Mark that: he needs his self-image.)

My favorite character in Salt City is Ray St. Johns, the self-styled “lover man” who finds himself in the middle of everything.

Ray (different last name) was my roommate for a year-and-a-half: a black, ex-Vietnam vet studying Nursing at the Syracuse University medical school. 90% of everything in this book that happens to Ray really did go down like that at one time or another. And a few times I was caught up in it with Ray. Writing Ray’s profile was easy.

Ray liked his R&B music slow and easy. He read medical textbooks with his eyes half-closed and – damn him! – retained everything. He read every paperback in sight for fun, and couldn’t remember a word the next day.

Gotta go back to Mark Cornell to close this up.

There’s no escaping the fact that Salt City reads a lot like a Raymond Chandler novel. Ironically, although I later won the entire American Library collection of his books & stories by penning a faux Chandler chapter for a Barnes & Noble contest, I had never read any of his stuff when I wrote Salt City. I had only read Chandler’s essay “The Simple Art of Murder.”

Any mystery writer should read this essay: it makes sense. So much sense that, when I began this story of a professional grad student moonlighting as a photographer for a divorce lawyer, I found it easy to identify with and develop a character seeking the truth with a notion of justice – a notion that collides with the “mean streets” of reality. Sometimes the mean streets just look like familiar people and places you know. Even if you’re still a student in college.

You can buy Salt City Here:
Robert C. Fleet Online:
 Visit these stops too:

6/15Lissette E. Manning /Review
6/16 The Self-Taught Cook /Review

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