Excerpted from Fletch's Fortune by Gregory Mcdonald. Copyright © 2002 by Gregory Mcdonald. Excerpted by permission of Vintage, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Q: Where did the idea for Fletch come from?
A: I was a journalist for the Boston Globe for seven years. I’d be sitting around in the City Room at three o’clock in the morning and we’d tell these crazy stories about this reporter who always, of course, worked for some other newspaper, who would do crazy things. One example was that he would call the city desk and tell them about a murder, identify the murderer, and then ask the city desk not to send photographers out to the house until the widow got home and discovered the body. Over the years this idea grew that there was a witty character here that might be fun for people to read, and the idea of Fletch just grew in my head for a long time before I ever put pen to paper. And when it won the Edgar Allan Poe award, I got letters, lots and lots of letters from people asking for more Fletch.
Q: Did you have any idea of another Fletch book, when you wrote the first one?
A: Absolutely not. If I had, I wouldn’t have left the son-of-a-gun in Rio de Janeiro with three million bucks in his jeans. I had a terrible puzzle as to how to continue the story, with this major thing that happened to Fletch. I couldn’t afford to go to Rio, with a wife and two kids and all that. So I spent the summer discussing this matter with my dog, and I finally—I think in September—I came to the realization that made it all possible. If Fletch didn’t care about money when he didn’t have any, then he shouldn’t care about money when he does have some. And it shouldn’t have changed his personality much, and it didn’t, in fact.
I’d set that book in Boston, because that was where I happened to be at the time and the only place I could afford to go, as it was only a one-toll road.
Some authors write the same book over and over and over again, and I was determined I wasn’t going to do that. I figured if I bored the reader that would be a big sin. So I was even more pleased when the second book, Confess, Fletch also won the Edgar. It was the first, and the last, situation in which a book and its sequel had each won the Edgar.
Q: How do you write?
A: When I get an idea I try to forget it. If it keeps coming back, fuller and fuller over two or three years, and I get to the point of being so focused on it that I can’t tie my shoes, then I start working on it. I figure anything I forget in this process is not worth remembering. I write three days, wear myself out, do something else the next day, then spend another three days writing. The seven-day week has never worked out for me.
Q: What did you think about the Fletch film starring Chevy Chase?
A: The film “Fletch” was made ten years after the first novel appeared and the Fletch novels were international bestsellers. Chevy Chase and director Michael Ritchie and all hands made a classic film out of it.
Q: And now Kevin Smith is slated as writer/director of the next Fletch movie. Have you been personally in touch with him? Will you work with him?
A: Yes. Kevin made an extremely courteous call to me. I enjoyed it. He sounded energetic, informed. I assured him that I am, of course, interested in his creative input in making a Fletch movie, but that I shall never impose upon him. If he has questions as to why I did this or that, or simply wants a touchstone I shall be available to him.
Q: What question do you get asked again and again?
A: These books have been enormously important to people, and I am always asked, “What do they mean?” When you write a book, you only know what you’re intending to do, you don’t know what you’ve done until two or three years later, when people have told you what you’ve done, what it means to them. I’ve had a lot of these kinds of experiences with the Fletch books, amazing experiences. I’ve heard how much these books have meant in the old USSR, as it was collapsing. For example, the great nine million person circulation Pravda, during its last days, was continuing to publish Fletch when they didn’t have the ink to publish the news, and they were publishing Fletch in the daily newspaper with blank pages for the rest of the paper. You know, of the awards that I have won, the one that has meant the most to me came in 1991, when the Moscow Review of Literature elected me “Best Foreign Author, Not Dead.”
Anyway, what does Fletch say? I understand what he says is, “A victim do not be.” Don’t be a victim. If you have a situation or a problem, work your way around it with wit, grace, intelligence, and maybe have some fun with it.
Q: Over the course of the last five years you have gradually forced all of the Fletch books out of print. Why did you want this to happen?
A: Because I had never planned on such a big thing happening in my life, or to have these books be successful here and everywhere, I began, purposely, with the help of my manager, driving them out of print. Which didn’t make me very popular. They were still selling well and doing well. People still wanted them, but they were here or there and everywhere, and no publisher wanted to buy them all together. And I can’t tell you, now that I went through these years of purposely getting the rights back, how happy I am to have them at Vintage, where they are being treated as a collective whole, an entity.
Q: Why has it taken so long for the fourth Flynn book to come out?
A: Everywhere I have gone for the last how many years, always the second or third question is, “When is a new Flynn book coming?” And there hasn’t been one. The reason there wasn’t a fourth Flynn book for so long was because the third Flynn book, Flynn’s In, was declared an instant classic before it was even published, and frankly that sort of intimidated me. And I thought I should maybe stand pat and leave that the way it was. It took me some years, actually, to get over the intimidation and to hear again from people how much they loved Flynn and Jennifer Flynn—the world is crazy about Jenny Flynn and her relationship with her father and of course her twin brothers. Finally I did come to work out, happily and joyously, a new Flynn book which has never been published, but will be published for the first time with Vintage next spring . . .
Q: When you were a kid professionally skippering sailing ships off the coasts of the United States, Europe, Latin America, ever, in your wildest dreams, did you expect to become an internationally famous author?
A: I expected to write. I never felt I had a choice. To me, writing is not a job, occupation, profession. It’s a response to life. My response to life. “Internationally famous?” No. No way. I was determined not to play the insider’s game, you know, New York, Los Angeles, nothing in between but United Airlines. I love to work, hate celebrity.
Q: You wrote for the Boston Globe for seven years. In those seven years you were nominated for the Pulitzer five times.
A: All that says is I didn’t win the Pulitzer five times.
Q: In 1985 Warner Books published a collection of your journalism. You were the first in the major media to write openly against the War in Vietnam. You also wrote on behalf of women’s rights, gay rights, and of course black American and Hispanic rights. You were beat up in the parking lot of the Boston Globe for your stand against the war. How did that make you feel?
A: I never wrote for or against anything. My daddy was a journalist and I am a journalist. However much I would like to have the comfort, I do not belong to a political party, church congregation, shul, or mosque. Such would give people a false prism through which to view and judge my works. The Boston Globe hired me to get the story from the streets, and I did. The people on the streets were against the war, in favor of women’s rights, gay rights, civil rights. They were angry at the press for not getting it. I just wrote down what the street people said and the Boston Globe published it.
Q: What is your purpose in writing?
A: To respond to people’s needs. Maybe to get people to stop hitting each other over the heads. To entertain. Sometimes to make you laugh.
Q: You now live on an antebellum farm in Southern Middle Tennessee?
A: Yes, a real farm with cattle and horses. Each has four legs sticking out. Each morning, we count the legs, divide by four to see how many we’ve got.
Q: Do you work this farm yourself?
A: Well, less than I used to. I still have enough kid in me that I like to go out and get hot, sweaty, muddy once in a while, you know, accomplish something real, physical, visible by the end of the day. Sometimes, you know, it’s as much as thirty years before I know if something I’ve written means anything.
Q: Sailor, Harvard grad, critic, author, farmer. How do you put all this together?
A: What’s the line? I’m not afraid of death, I’m afraid of not having lived.
1. When the I.R.S. man asks Fletch if there is a political motive behind his refusal to pay taxes, Fletch replies that his reasons are "purely esthetic" and claims to find the tax forms visually ugly, "very offensive," and their use of the English language "highly objectionable" [p. 203]. Is Fletch merely toying with the I.R.S. or is his answer in some way truthful? In what ways is it in character for him to be so sensitive to the esthetic nature of things? Is Fletch completely apolitical? Does he have some personal moral code that allows him to make decisions about right and wrong?
2. After questioning a convention full of journalists, the frustrated Captain Neale says, "I thought reporters were people who report the news. The last couple of days, I've gotten the impression they are the news" [p. 211]. In what ways can Fletch's Fortune be read as a satire? What characteristics of reporters are made to appear ridiculous or harmful in the novel? Which reporters are portrayed most satirically?
3. Early in the novel the narrator observes, "To a good reporter, everything was significant" [p. 63]. And after Fletch has solved the mystery of who killed Walter March, he says, "I always look for the controlling intelligence behind anything and everything" [p. 222]. How do these two principles guide Fletch in his investigation?
4. Much of Fletch's Fortune is concerned with blackmail. The C.I.A. blackmails Fletch into secretly gathering personal information on fellow journalists so that they too can be blackmailed, and the media patriarch Walter March employs a cadre of detectives to blackmail his employees and competitors. How is Fletch able to turn the tables on his blackmailers? In what ways does the novel, published in 1978, reflect the Watergate era's obsession with wiretapping and spying?
5. The anchorman Hy Litwack gives a speech about terrorism and television in which he argues that "Terrorism, like many another crime or insanity, is infectious. . . . One incident of terrorism causes two more incidents." Still, he maintains that "television did not create terrorism" [p. 71]. What is the relationship between terrorism and the media? How does reporting crime affect crime itself? How might Fletch characterize the reporter's role in society?
6. Fletch's Fortune is more comical than the first two novels in the Fletch series. What kinds of humor are present in the novel? What scenes or characters contribute most of that humor? How does this comic undercurrent affect the book as a whole?
For discussion of FLETCH, CONFESS, FLETCH, and FLETCH'S FORTUNE:
1. In what ways does Fletch's character evolve over the course of these three novels? How is he different in Fletch's Fortune than he is in Fletch? What traits remain constant in his character?
2. What methods of reasoning and investigation does Fletch employ in these novels to solve each crime? How does Mcdonald manage to keep the reader from knowing more than Fletch does? How surprising is the revelation at the end of each book?
3. Mcdonald has written, "The magic I attempt is to point the finger, as concisely as possible set the scene, then pull back my hand, disappear as the author, leave the reader alone with the characters" (From Gregory Mcdonald's official Website: www.gregoryMcdonald.com/mysteries1.html). What is the effect of this kind of writing? Why is it especially useful in the mystery genre? Does this technique require more from the reader than other types of writing?
4. In addition to the narrative pull provided by the suspenseful investigation of a crime, Mcdonald's novels employ a narrative technique common to all great fiction: conflict. With whom or what is Fletch most often in conflict? How do these conflicts affect the reader's relationship both to Fletch and to the novels as a whole?
5. If you have read any of the work of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Raymond Chandler, and Dashiell Hammett, how does Fletch compare with other heroes such as Sherlock Holmes, Philip Marlowe, and Sam Spade? In what ways is he both like and unlike his predecessors? How has Mcdonald extended or put his own personal stamp on the mystery genre with the Fletch novels?