Thursday, June 13, 2013

Thursday Review: The Leading Men

This is the story of three men and the TV show that destroys their lives...

The title is one of those clever ones with a double meaning.  A leading man in Hollywood is someone who's the star of a movie or TV show.  The Leading Men in this case refers to three guys who star in a TV show and also are the stars of the novel.  Get it?  Symbolism, bitches!

The first man isn't an actor.  He's Gus Collins, a writer-producer-director who's been working in Hollywood for about 30 years.  He started out on B-movies back in the golden age of cinema and then moved to the small screen once that became a thing.  After his last series flopped and got cancelled after a half-dozen episodes, Gus has been in a forced retirement.  That is until a desperate network gives him carte blanche to come up with a hit series for their fall schedule.

Gus accepts the challenge even though he has no clue what kind of series he wants to do.  That is until that night when he goes to say goodnight to his young son.  He finds the kid is reading a comic under the covers.  When Gus reads the comic, he decides it would be a pretty good TV series.  Plus that might help him and his son bond, which in his golden years is something Gus yearns for.

Of course a TV series needs actors.  In this case it requires two actors to play the hero and his sidekick.  Fortunately Gus is the type who plans ahead, so he has a list of actors and actresses in his office whom he's seen and kept track of in case the right project comes along.  The name he taps for this series is Henry Barton.

Henry left Texas as a teenager to head for New York to star on Broadway.  But 20 years later Henry's working off-off-off-Broadway while he and his supportive wife Stephanie live in a crappy apartment and barely scrape by.  Then Henry gets a call from Gus, who invites him out to LA to audition to play the superhero known as The Grey Knight.  Henry isn't overly anxious to leave New York and give up on his dream of starring on Broadway, but he realizes it's the only way to get his wife out of squalor and give her the family she wants.

As for the Grey Knight's sidekick, Scout, Gus holds an open casting call to fill the role.  In San Diego, young Tony McGraw is going to college and working at a diner to pay for it.  Then he meets a girl named Kristin and in part to impress her and in part on a dare, Tony goes to LA to try out for the Scout role.  To everyone's surprise--especially his--he nails the audition and is offered the part.

From there we have a lot of entanglements and minor catastrophes that largely revolve around the love lives of Henry and especially Tony.  Gus tries to juggle all the problems while keeping the production on track.  As the show becomes a hit, the problems multiply, until they finally reach a bloody climax.

It may or may not surprise you to know "The Grey Knight" was originally called "The Scarlet Knight."  Of course the Scarlet Knight of this story was a bit different than the one who appears in the later series.  The most obvious differences being this one is a man and has a sidekick.  The Percival Graves character from the later series was loosely based on the Scarlet Knight's alterego Herman Edmund in this book.  The Sword of Justice and Black Dragoon are still here, though the origin of both is a bit different.  But perhaps a subconscious seed was planted with this story because at the end there's a planned reboot that would star a female Scarlet Knight, who incidentally had red hair...eerie coincidence.

Anyway, this was my first literary fiction novel.  It was largely inspired by Michael Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay only involving a TV show instead of a comic book.  And of course this hasn't won a Pulitzer Prize...yet. (lol)  If you read Where You Belong or Virgin Territory or any of my other literary novels you might see some similarities.

Besides some comma splices and typos, I think the biggest weakness in the story is a lack of research and social context.  This is supposed to take place in about 1969 but there's really nothing to place it in that period.  Tony does get a hippie girlfriend, but there's no real mentions of Vietnam or anything like that.  I should have integrated that time period more into the story, but this was my first, so you live and learn I guess.  Other than that and that I have no idea about TV production (especially in the late 60s) it's a good book.  Like Where You Belong it's basically a literary soap opera, though without as much graphic sex or violence.

Now here are some Fun Facts regarding this book:
  • The character of Henry Barton appears in two other books:  The Best Light and The Naked World, both times as a crazy old coot.
  • The Naked World is somewhat of a sequel as it follows Henry about 35 years later when he goes on a Don Quixote-ish rampage around a small California town while thinking he really IS the Scarlet, er, Grey Knight.
  • The epilogue of the book takes place about 1988 and I modeled Gus's director son Tim on director Tim Burton, who of course would have been working on Batman at that time.
  • When writing the book I pictured Liam Neeson in the role of Henry and Tobey Maguire in the role of Tony.  Strangely I never figured out who to cast as Gus.  I guess I couldn't decide what older, bald guy would be best.  Anyway, that was 11 years ago so we'd probably need to come up with some new names.  We need someone big and rugged for Henry and someone young and low-key for Tony.
You can buy the ebook from Smashwords, Amazon, and B&N for $3.99! 

Speaking of leading men, tomorrow Box Office Blitz continues!


  1. It's hard to believe the author didn't stress the time period as you've suggested. I like stories that have a clearly defined sense of place and time.

  2. It's hard to write fiction in a time period without doing a lot of research. Cool idea though. I'm confused if you wrote this book or someone else though Pat.

  3. Ok. That's what I thought but I wanted to make sure.

  4. I love your literary fiction so I'll be picking this one up. Where You Belong was fabulous.



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