CROSS PURPOSES introduces a finely drawn Manhattan private investigator, Barney Moon, who upholds Spade and Marlowe’s moral order.
The creative genius behind Barney Moon is Edgar- and Emmy-nominated, Thomas B. Sawyer, who is a novelist, screenwriter, and playwright. He was the head writer/show runner of the classic CBS series, Murder, She Wrote, for which he wrote twenty-four episodes. He has also written two other high-concept thrillers, NO PLACE TO RUN and THE SIXTEENTH MAN.
In CROSS PURPOSES, PI Barney Moon is a driven man. He lives to solve cases. But as a born-and-bred New Yorker, Barney considers anything outside of New York alien territory. And the worst place of all is Los Angeles, which is exactly where his next case takes him.
Unlike his PI, Sawyer is a Chicagoan transplanted to Los Angeles via New York. Even so, he can identify with Barney’s plight. Sawyer was kind enough to grant an exclusive interview to THE BIG THRILL.
MURDER, SHE WROTE brought you worldwide recognition. How do you feel about it today?
One of the most-fun, most-satisfying experiences of my life. I’m forever thankful for the luck to have worked with and written for Angela. A long-running hit like that is sooo rare in a career. And the bonus of working with Jerry Orbach and so many other wonderful actors is almost indescribable.
Novelist, script writer, TV director, lyricist, writers’ teacher and mentor —which is your favorite hat?
Love all of ‘em, but I guess I’d have to say that being writer/show runner is the best and most satisfying, long term. Antic, social, but still with lots of control.
How do you juggle these hats?
I’d say they juggle me, though the TV part seems to have regrettably faded. A rather youth-fixated business. However, as with everything, there are exceptions.
How far in your life do the roots of your multi-faceted talent reach?
Childhood. By age twelve I was fixated on writing and drawing a realistically illustrated, syndicated comic strip. My then-hero: Milton Caniff, who wrote and drew Steve Canyon. My first career was as a comic-book artist. I drew and did some writing for Stan Lee. Never, incidentally, the super-heroes (known to artists back then as “Underwear Characters”). Rather, I did his romance comics and some action-adventure (Leopard Girl, among them). Then I moved on, to advertising illustration.
Did choosing the MALTESE FALCON template over the Agatha Christie model for MURDER, SHE WROTE represent a mature working method, or did it develop into one?
Such templates were instinctive for me. And common in the TV and film business, where pitches for movies, TV series, and episodes were often done in a kind of universally understood shorthand. One-liners were common: “Martin and Lewis meet Romeo & Juliet,” which was the basis for the favorite of my own MSW scripts; or “Battle of Normandy meets GeneralHospital,” which was the premise for one of my series pilots for CBS. THE MALTESE FALCON stood out for me from my first read at age twelve, long before I learned of its seminal position in the genre.
Do you manage your characters or is it the other way around?
Mine talk to me, and I make damned sure I listen.
How difficult is it to manage the develop a recurring character?
Again, listen! They’ll give you your stories and moments.
Does Barney’s character in CROSS PURPOSES represent a synthesis of observations or did he just parachute in on you?
A bit of both, I suspect. A lot of Barney Moon is me. Especially the attitudes toward rules & fools.
Why did you choose a private investigator over a hard-boiled cop?
Easy . For me anyway. I love rascals and rule-benders. A cop, no matter how interesting, is an employee, stuck with the regulations that go with such a job. A PI on the other hand can and—to make him interesting and appealing—should be capable of gaming the system. Which, in theory anyway, should help him get into the bad guys’ heads.
Does Barney plan to retire after CROSS PURPOSES or continue to enthral his fans?
Hell no! My earlier novels were stand-alones. Taking on a book-series was/is new to me—the kind of challenge that keeps me interested.
When can your fans expect the next Barney Moon adventure?
Hopefully in a year.
Is it possible to trace Barney Moon’s literary genealogy in the form of a character/s or template/s?
Other than Spade and Marlowe, not really.
Who are your favorite PIs in fiction?
Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe
By what process does the raw, creative imagination that can overwhelm a writer get squeezed into the craft of writing?
Not sure I can answer that one. I guess I process just about everything in terms of story potential. Sort of automatically trying to imagine it in three acts, with the most important question—always being, will it entertain? And then—how can I make it involving for the audience?
How do you manage to survive in a mental space charged with many different talents?
I’ve never thought of it as surviving. I just try to do stuff that interests me—and which doesn’t feel easy. Being massively unsure that I can pull off the next thing—that is my comfort zone.
How old is your ambition to be a writer and did it ever have rivals?
As said, since my pre-teens. The first rival was learning how to draw. As a kid, I figured the writing was the easy part. Later, when I got into film, I initially thought of myself as a director. That was my focus—and goal—when I came to Hollywood. It changed when I wrote/directed my calling-card film, ALICE GOODBODY. A major female television writer/producer saw it and said, “You should be writing for TV.” It had never occurred to me. My response: “I’m a director.” Her reply: “You don’t want to direct in TV. All those producer credits? They’re all writers. They run the business.” I never looked back.
Why did you base a novel and an opera on John F. Kennedy?
Passion. I believe he was one of the most important, inspiring figures of his century. And I’m convinced that our country changed on November 22, 1963. With JACK, my goal was to take the audience by throat, and make them know what we had—and what we lost—that day in Dallas. In THE SIXTEENTH MAN, I wanted to make a statement about what I believe was really behind the events of that day, which I never believed involved Oswald in any way except for his role as the prearranged fall-guy.
After the resounding success of the conspiracy thriller THE SIXTEENTH MAN, what prompted you to write NO PLACE TO RUN, which suggests that 9/11 was another conspiracy involving the U.S. government?
Because I never doubted that there was one, that it was permitted to happen, and abetted, because we needed a provocation for another war. And because the evidence that I was correct kept mounting, and continues to do so. The previous war—Vietnam—had taught the M/I complex an important lesson. That one had been entered into without such a motivating event, and created all sorts of protests, draft dodging, and other problems.
Have intelligence officials and law enforcement officers contacted you s since the publication of these thrillers?
Only to confirm my view. Most impressive to me: several former CIA spooks.
Probably the first hijacking by Arab terrorists took place on July 23, 1968. Since then, Arab radicals had been regularly hijacking planes up until 9/11. What would require a conspiracy for this one to succeed after more than four decades of “successful” experience?
None of the earlier ones involved such a dramatic target nor such an outcome. Washington knew this was in the works, including its ambitious size—and recognized its potential.
What inspired you to write FICTION WRITING DEMYSTIFIED and offer online courses in writing?
I had been speaking at writers’ conferences for years, as well as teaching at UCLA, and so on. I almost invariably recorded my talks, and then had them transcribed. One day it occurred to me that there might be a book in it, and I discovered that I had about five hundred pages.
Do you manage to get any leisure time?
Not much. I write seven days a week.
How do you spend it?
Usually visits with family, most of whom live in the East. Four kids. Four grandchildren.
What other exciting reads can we expect from you?
Working on my next Barney Moon novel. And just recently—finally—completed a memoir: THE ADVENTURES OF THE REAL TOM SAWYER.
When will the memoir be available to readers?
Don’t know. Just sent it off to my agent.
Edgar and Emmy-nominated, novelist, screenwriter, playwright Thomas B. Sawyer was Head Writer/Showrunner of the classic CBS series, MURDER, SHE WROTE. He has written numerous TV movies and series pilots, both comedy and drama. He is co-librettist/lyricist of JACK, a musical drama about JFK which has been performed to acclaim in the US and Europe. Tom is author of best-selling mystery/thrillers THE SIXTEENTH MAN and NO PLACE TO RUN.
To learn more about Thomas, please visit his website.