Welcome to our stop on this tour. Brought to you by Innovative Online Tours!
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.
Thanks so much for taking the time to do this interview
What type of music do you listen to?
A couple of years ago I read a Willie Nelson interview asking why/how he could perform a 60s Yarbirds song, his own Country song, and a Muppets song in the same concert. He answered, “It’s all one song – I just have to find where I fit in.” Same for me. As a creative artist – in reading, music, or anything – I’m not allowed to be “fixed” on one thing.
That said, I listen to anything just to keep my mind open. But I see that my current iPod/Spotify play list (because I do have music that I am drawn to) includes:
Don’t Tell me To Do The Math (Los Campesinos)
When Doves Cry (Patti Smith version)
Sell Out (Reel Big Fish)
Sweet Jane (Velvet Underground & Mott the Hoople)
And a lot of Modest Mouse.
In my quiet moments, I go to classic jazz circa Miles Davis and John Coltrane in the 1950s (though I like Santana’s and McLaughlin’s “A Love Supreme” version)
On some days I go straight to Pop, from the 60s to today.
Do you have any hidden talents?
Well, I’m a pretty good actor. You can see some of my work on an indie feature I just did, PLAYER, at www.playerthemovie.us I recently worked in Clint Eastwood’s “J. EDGAR” in a scene with Dame Judi Dench and Leonardo DiCaprio: she’s a comic blast and he’s incredibly intense and hardworking.
What is one book you could read over and over?
“The Big Sleep” by Raymond Chandler. Actually, almost anything by Chandler: he combines cynicism with really graphic images (“her eyes had all the emotions of a wet stone” (from THE HIGH WINDOW)). I also read/re-read (because he essentially wrote the same book 80 times) anything by P. G. Wodehouse, which is a cult and I probably shouldn’t admit it. Actually, I read anything in front of me.
Is there an author or book that inspired you to become a writer?
Nope. Started writing when I was a kid, age 8, before I knew much about anyone else. Just needed to put some thoughts on paper and it grew from there.
What do you do in your free time?
I have an extremely exciting wife, who promised “Your life with me won’t be boring” and has lived up to that expectation.
How do reviews, good or bad, affect you?
Horribly – and not at all. I have gotten good reviews for bad stuff and bad reviews for good stuff, so I’ve had to develop a “controller” that says “This is what you wanted to create – at this time in your life – you did it – move on.” Career-wise, of course, good reviews help. I always wish I had more.
Funny story: I wrote a movie script recently, PLAYER, with a Special Thanks in the final credit to “Alexander Pushkin and Bertolt Brecht” – my dogs, because they were so quiet during the shooting of the film. THEN, when the movie opened at the Gene Siskel Film Center in Chicago, one reviewer wrote her entire review based on “the obvious literary influences of Pushkin and Brecht.” Mmmmm. Probably the lesson here is: don’t make jokes about your own work.
When writing, do you plot and organize, or do you write then fit it all together?
I’ve done both. I have a couple of novels written from scratch, a couple well-outlined – and 5 novels I started from scratch, un-outlined, that are still unfinished years later. I am lucky, I guess, in that either way I have a strong feeling for plot and character continuity. But, I have to admit, it is a serious bummer to be staring at these 5 novels, 80 pages in, that I have no idea where to go next.
What is one thing you absolutely need while writing?
Quiet and solitude. I tend to write at 4 in the morning till 8 a.m. I have great dreams when working on a novel, wake up totally conscious, and can write when it’s cold, miserable and dark – with no one else awake – in fantastic bursts of energy.
Then, of course, I spend the afternoons with the boring task of copy-editing. But it’s the creating moments that make life worth living.
Anything you would like to add?
Do other things. Even if you hate them. And keep your eyes open. Listen. Watch. Observe. Even while you’re doing whatever “straight” job you do to eat and pay the rent. I got this from my always-creative wife, who comes from the world of European films and theater, and it has kept us going through every dark time. Use everything. And enjoy. Art/writing/creating without fun is just pretentious. Don’t be stupid, but have fun!
I really appreciate you taking time from your schedule to answer these questions.
Robert Fleet took a youth in Texas, Missouri & New York, university education in Syracuse, Amsterdam & London, and then spent the first years of his career as actor-writer with the Chinese “Zignal Theater Ensemble” at La Mama E.T.C. A summer in Poland at Jerzy Grotowski's Teatr Laboratorium lengthened into extended stay — and writing a Polish-serialized crime novel, Salt City, in order to obtain a visa to remain in the then-Communist country to marry the woman he saw on his first day there: his artistic collaborator-wife ever since, Alina Szpak. In America, Robert's NYC theater activities included directing children's theater, Yiddish historical dramas, Irish repertory, full-fledged spectacles, and his own works.
Teamed with Alina, Robert turned to film and video, directing-acting in the 1980 drama “Unveiling,” about life in Manhattan’s SoHo society. Script doctoring a wilderness documentary in California led to production of his own feature script, 1984’s “Brothers of the Wilderness.” In 1984-86, Robert adapted his magic realism novel, White Horse, Dark Dragon (Putnam) into the screenplay for the feature film “White Dragon” (aka "Legend of the White Horse" aka “Bialy Smok”).
Forays into journalism have been published in the Los Angeles Times, Commonweal, and other venues. Robert has translated/adapted plays from the Chinese, Polish, Russian and French originals — often in collaboration. His 1994 novel, Last Mountain (Putnam) was nominated for an American Library Association award. In 1999, Robert directed the feature version of “Last Mountain,” co-adapting the screenplay with his son, Stephan Szpak-Fleet. Information on the book and movie @ www.legend44.com/lastmountain
After the L.A. Riots, Robert collaborated with Soon-Tek Oh and the Korean-American “Society of Heritage Performers,” adapting “Contemporary Korean Short Stories” for NPR, writing “Behind The Walls” (“that pointed nowhere familiar from Orwell, Koestler, Pinter, Dorfman…a Godot-like romp” BackStage), and “Don Juan, a tragi-comedy of errors” (“reminiscent of Cyrano” L.A. Weekly). He co-directed “Have You Heard,” one of only three American productions invited to the Theater of Nations Festival ’97.
Screenwriting recently, Robert wrote the shorts “A Good War,” Texas Waltz,” “The Wrong Path,” “Butterfly,” “The First Person” and “Zaufanie (Trust”) – the last two appearing at the Cannes Film Festival. His feature-length docudrama “To Die For Words: the Last Days of Ken Saro-Wiwa” is optioned, with acclaimed director Charles Burnett (“To Sleep with Anger”) committed to direct. In the past few years, two of Robert’s feature screenplays were produced independently: “My Best Friend’s Deception,” a black comedy/mystery (Cinegraphe Pictures, Canada) — and “Player,” a drama, directed by Alina Szpak (Legend 44 Productions – trailer at www.playerthemovie.us).
Acting, recently: In addition to playing the lead in “Player,” Robert Fleet is a familiar face on the festival circuit, appearing in over three dozen shorts. On stage, Robert appeared in award-winning Los Angeles productions of “Cabaret,” “LULU, a Play with Music” and in Stephan Szpak-Fleet’s “Pilate” at the L.A. Theatre Center. He is featured in Clint Eastwood’s “J. Edgar” playing opposite Leonardo DiCaprio and Dame Judi Dench.
A ridiculously undertrained carpenter, Robert has recently renovated his house under the despotic instructions of his producer/director wife, with no assistance from his son. They are owned by several pets.
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