Chuck Greaves was last on the Binge Reading Podcast in May, 2020. Now he returns to talk about his fourth book in the Jack MacTaggart series. The Chimera Club.
It’s a fast moving behind the scenes look at LA nightlife with a wonderful twist.
As well as giving us an update on his other activities since he was last on the show Chuck’s going to talk about a recent adventure, a Grand Canyon canoe trip with an unexpected ending….
But before we get there, if you haven’t heard the original interview with Chuck it can be found here:
Jenny: Before we get into talking about Jack MacTaggart, you’ve been having some adventures of your own Chuck haven’t. You just recently you went away on holiday and something happened. Tell us about that.
Chuck Greaves’ holiday misadventure
Chuck: Well, I was rafting down the Grand Canyon. I was supposed to be on a 14 day trip, and at about day eight, I was helicopter rescued and taken to the hospital with a nasty case of COVID.
Jenny: Terrible. I mean they reckon that when you’re out in the wild, with all this fresh air. that you pretty much protected, but it seems not.
Chuck: Well, it was a group of 28 people and we were in pretty close proximity to one another. And as soon as somebody introduces the disease to the group it spreads like wildfire, that’s exactly what happened to us.
Jenny: Yes. Were you having stops on the banks? Were you in contact with other people or did you all set off together and stay in an isolated group for the whole time?
Chuck: Yeah, we were in a pretty insular, isolated group. So it, there was a couple who traveled from Europe to join the group. And I suspect that was how it was introduced and then it kind of made its way around.
Jenny: Well, we’re glad that you’re back on deck and, hopefully not feeling too many long term consequences. So we are talking about Jack MacTagggart, the fourth book, as you know, I was a great fan of the first three.
A classic set up for an brain twister plot
This time Jack gets tangled up in a case, and it’s a very interesting twisty beginning because the man who’s being accused of murder is actually physically in Hong Kong at the time that the death takes place, but the police are still very confident they’re going to make the charges stick. Tell us about that. It’s a really fizzy opening.
Chuck: The basic setup for the book, is what if DNA evidence pointed to only one possible suspect of the crime, but that suspect had the perfect alibi.?
So the way the case sets up, there’s the murder of an amorous Hollywood producer, a sort of a Harvey Weinstein type character, who’s found naked and tied to the bed posts in a luxury hotel in Los Angeles, stabbed.
Then they recovered DNA evidence from the sink in the hotel bathroom. There are two different blood types in the sink, the victim’s and another person’s. And when they run that DNA through the state data bank, it identifies one person who could only be the assailant. The problem is that assailant is 7,000 miles away in Hong Kong on the night of the murder.
So that’s the scenario.
Jenny: And where on earth did that come from, in your head first up, was there anything that sparked that kind of scenario.
Chuck: Not a real case, but I did want to set up a situation that would be a puzzle to unravel. Let’s put it like that.
Different book in terms of writing process
Jenny: And when you’re writing a book like that, it’s extremely intricate in the way that the plot weaves in and out with different revelations. Did you work it all out ahead of time, or was there a certain section where you just let things flow and the answers came.
Chuck: Yeah. This book for me was completely different, in terms of process from the previous three books, because I’m not an outliner, I’m not the kind of writer who starts with a detailed outline and follows it from beginning to end.
I’m very definitely a seat of the pants writer. So for the first three books, I started out by putting Jack into a situation and then let the characters and the narrative just carry me through to the end, you know, making it up as I went.
This time, I knew what the ending was going to be for sure. And as you know, I can’t disclose that without ruining the book, but there was a definitely a high concept surprise ending, and I knew that was going be the ending.
So what I had to do was set up a case that would take me and take the audience through to that.
Jenny: Did that take a lot of perseverance, to do that outlining when it didn’t come naturally?
Chuck: No, I didn’t outline for this one either. I just started writing it, but I knew where I was heading.
Jack: blue-collar guy in a white-collar firm
Jenny: Oh, I see. Okay. Oh, well, that’s fantastic because there are a lot of very intricate twists as we go along.
And as I was reading it, I was thinking, man. This is really well plotted, so it’s very serendipitous that it all came together at the end. You’ve said that Jack is a kind of alter ego for you.
You’ve said this in the past. I wonder if you could just recap for us, tell us a bit about your relationship with your protagonist and has it been changing over time?
Chuck I have said in the past that Jack is a smarter, funnier, better looking version of me. And that’s the truth.
So I had a very blue collar upbringing, in New York and I ended up working at a very fancy white collar law firm in Los Angeles, when I graduated from law school at age 25. And the Jack character really embodies that sort of background.
He’s a blue-collar kind of guy, a real lunch-bucket kind guy, who finds himself in a fancy law firm in the first book, which is called Hush Money. and he finds himself in a very upscale environment involving equestrian show jumping in that first book, the art world in the second book and the Napa Valley wine scene in the third book.
So I’ve always tried to make Jack fish out of water, and in that sense, I suppose it also reflects my background as a lawyer in Los Angeles.
Always falling for ‘unsuitable’ women
Jenny: It’s interesting though, as your books come along Jack’s got a propensity for falling for the wrong women and, you can still accept that at the age he is – I’m not quite sure what age he is, but late twenties perhaps?
Do you think that you can keep this youthful appeal of lots of women, and perhaps a bit of a commitment phobia going on, or are you going have to make him mature at some stage?
Chuck: I think Jack is probably in his late thirties at this point. So I’m not sure how much further maturation that we’re going to experience here.
I’d also point out that I’ve been happily married for 35 years. So in that respect, I’m very different from Jack.
But I like the idea of a different woman in every book. I don’t know why that appeals to me. After the first book, I had a lot of readers who wanted to see Jack stay with, or get back together with, a woman named Tara Lynn, who was a character in the first book, an equestrian. And I’ve resisted that pressure and that temptation ,
There are a lot of different ingredients that go into the stew. And I think romance is a big one. And if you leave that out, you lose a lot. So I like to put humor in there. I like to put romance in there. And of course I like to put a, a well plotted mystery in there.
Chuck as literary fiction author
Jenny: Yes, that’s right. That was partly what I was getting at because I had the impression that you were very happily settled and very mature in the way that you approached your own personal life. So you’ve got this alter ego chap who perhaps is never going to settle down.
Jenny: Tell us, is there a fifth book in the brewing? Are you going to continue on with them for a bit more longer?
Chuck: , I’d like to. I enjoy writing the Jack books a lot.
I mean, to me, that’s the most fun writing that I do. As you may recall, I write as two different people. I write it as Chuck Greaves, which is the mystery series, and I write standalone more literary fiction as C. Joseph Greaves.
So, I did the three books in quick succession under contract for Macmillan.
I did Hush Money, Green Eyed Lady and The Last Heir in 2012, 2013 and 2014. Then I kind of spread my wings a little bit and I wrote two more C. Joseph Greaves books, one was called Tom and Lucky, which came out in 2015 and one was called Church of the Graveyard Saints, which came out in 2019. So going back to writing Jack after eight years was sort of a return to my roots for me.
I enjoyed it. I think the result was good. I liked this book a lot and I’d like to do it again for sure. I have not started on another book yet. I’ve been doing other things, but, it’s definitely in the plan.
And the Hollywood experience
Jenny: Actually just to recap the last time you were with us was in May2020 and I wanted to ask you a little bit about what had been happening for you in since May, 2020 in terms of books. I mean, I seem to record that you were also doing a nonfiction book based in Hollywood, which we haven’t seen. Is that still on the cards?
Chuck: A first draft is with the publisher. So that may yet happen. I’m not sure what’s happening with that on their end. It’s part of a series they’re putting together and I don’t know where that stands present.
I also, you may not know about this. I’m not sure if we talked about this or not, but I also wrote a screenplay for a treatment for a TV series that was produced, the pilot episode was produced, but it wasn’t sold.
Jenny: Okay. Okay. I think there might have been some mention of that. So talk a little bit about those two projects. Were they related?
Chuck: No, they’re not related. The nonfiction book is a book for a series that, the University of New Mexico Press is doing called Real West, and the concept was to invite Western writers or writers living in the west to write one book about a favorite movie, a Western. I chose Blazing Saddles.
Blazing Saddles – the definitive story
I’ve written the first draft of what I hope will be the definitive book about Blazing Saddles. I chose that subject in part, as I may have mentioned last time, because when I was a lawyer, which I was for 25 years in Los Angeles, one of my clients was Richard Pryor, the comedian,
Jenny: Yes. I recall.
Chuck: As you may know, Richard Pryor co-wrote Blazing Saddles with, Mel Brooks and two other writers. That was why I chose that book, and then the TV show just fell in my lap.
A prominent TV director, a man named Félix Enríquez Alcalá who’s directed shows you might be familiar with. I, you probably have Breaking Bad. I’m not sure. Do you know those?
Jenny: Definitely. Yes.
Chuck: The Good Wife, ER,
Jenny: Oh, yes. Some big shows.
Chuck: A number of shows he’s directed. He and I were introduced by a mutual friend and we had dinner and he said, let’s do something together.
A TV treatment that went to pilot
So I went home and I wrote, a treatment for a TV show that would be set here in the Southwest, where I lived and the idea was a corrupt, small border town with an entrenched group of town fathers who run the town and are up to no good and some younger more idealistic, more diverse people who move to the town who sort of try to uncover what’s going on behind the scenes in this town.
It involves native American issues because the town borders a native, reservation as I does my ranch. It literally borders, the Ute Mountain Indian Reservation.
That was the concept. And, long story short, I wrote the script for the pilot episode, we went out and raised a very small budget for a TV pilot, nearly $700,000.
We were able to shoot the pilot on a shoestring over the course of two weeks in 2020, during the height of the Covid pandemic, which was also interesting, but it was an eye opening experience for me.
My first experience with television and television production. And because I was wearing two hats, both as a screenwriter and the co-producer, I got to be part of the whole process from soup to nuts. And it was really fascinating.
Jenny: It must have been quite a different experience. Had you done any screenwriting before that?
Chuck: No. The only writing training I had before I quit being a lawyer and became a novelist, was a screenwriting class that I took. So I did have one screenwriting class. Of course that was 30 some years ago, 40 years ago now.
Screenwriting ‘plays to my strengths’
I’m not sure how much that helped, screenwriting it, it’s a very interesting way of writing. It’s very constricting, in the sense of the limitations and the format, but it’s also in a way sort of liberating.
I think it plays to my strengths as a writer because it involves plotting and dialogue. Not a lot of other exposition. So you have to really show and not tell what’s happening.
And snappy dialogue helps. And I think those are strengths of mine.
Jenny: Sure. Sure. Just flicking back to Jack MacTaggart again, I did think that there was a tremendous amount of research that went into the DNA side of the story, because that obviously was a key to the plot. Was that hard to research? Did you find it difficult to find the information you wanted or needed?
Chuck: No, you know, writers in the 21st century are blessed with Google. So you can research just about anything in the world without leaving your computer, which is amazing.
Of course. It wasn’t the case when I first started writing by the way. researching DNA evidence and how it works , and how DNA evidence is processed. and the various legal issues involving the admissibility at evidence, that’s all at your fingertips if you, if you don’t mind doing the research.
And now a turn at song writing
I did quite a bit of research for the book, just enough to make it make sense and to make it realistic. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but it has to be credible and plausible.
Jenny: And were you ever involved in trials that turned on DNA yourself?
Chuck: No, I was never a criminal lawyer. I was a civil, trial lawyer.
So I never did any criminal cases at all. But if I do have criminal procedure questions, which come up all the time, I have friends who were attorneys, federal prosecutors, whom I can call and, and ask questions about those kinds of things.
Jenny: Great. So what are you actually turning to work on now? You’re having a bit of a rest, obviously after this, brush with illness, but what are you hoping to turn yourself to when you start to get back to your writing desk?
Chuck: I’m actually in the middle of an interesting project, that again is a complete change of pace for me.
About a year ago, a very dear friend of mine from New York where I grew up. who’s been a musician his whole life, a fellow named John Melnick reached out to me out of the blue and said, Hey Chuck, have you ever considered writing song lyrics?
And I said, not really, but I’d give it a try, John for you.
Americana on the ‘Shania Twain’ model
So he’s a wonderful wonderful composer, wonderful guitar player. , and, uh, he and I have been swapping songs back and forth.
So I we’ve written about 20 songs together now. And we’re in the process of recording some demo. And we have a producer who’s working with us and we’re gonna, we’re gonna, we’re gonna do some songwriting.
So that’s, that’s fun and a new thing for me. And it’s, what’s got my attention right now.
Jenny: And what style of music is it?
Chuck: It’s over the waterfront. It’s mostly country folk, what you might call Americana.
Jenny: Sounds great. So I guess it’s a bit like, semipublic, self-publishing in, the literary area area now you don’t have to get somebody to actually approve you as a gatekeeper. You can just go ahead and do it all yourself. Can’t you.
Chuck : Yeah. And, and, songwriting is interesting because there are a lot of different ways you can go with it. I’m learning all this on the fly, but basically, you know, you can, , try to sell your songs, to an established artist, to record them. You can put together an album worth of songs and, find a singer who sing them.
What I call the Shania Twain model, or you can, sell them to a television, , music supervisor for film and television, which is probably the direction we’re gonna be going in. We’ll see.
Retired as a lawyer and having fun
Jenny : But your friend will be the one that’s recording them or.
Chuck : Well, initially, you know, you can only go so far with, your home recording, what they call pro tools. You get to a point where you have to bring in live musicians, and really do a finished track, which is what we’re going to end up doing. We’re in the process of doing it now for one of our songs.
Jenny: So that, that’s what they call a demo. Is it.
Chuck: Yeah, demos. It’s just an example of your song. So, demos can be at various levels of production, but to have a song that’s far enough along in the production process, that you can actually sell it to a music supervisor. It has to be pretty well finished.
Jenny: Oh, that’s, that’s amazing. You are one, to venture off, into different areas aren’t you?
Chuck: Well, you know, I’m retired as a lawyer. So anything I do is for my enjoyment and entertainment. The song writing is fun. The screen writing’s been fun too and something may further come of that. We’ll see, I’ve got a few irons in the fire there, so we’ll just see where things go.
Jenny: And I don’t know if you’d mind me just asking you are about your property because aren’t you also growing grapes for wine? What’s happening with that?
Growing grapes in a small vineyard
Chuck: I do. I have a small commercial vineyard. I grow Viognier and Pinot Noir grapes, which I sell commercially to area winemakers. I don’t make wine.
Jenny: So you don’t have your own label there.
Chuck: Well, I do, but I don’t put it on any bottles. I have my own logo ready to go in case I ever go in that direction.
Jenny: Oh, that’s a wonderful Chuck. Thank you so much for giving us your time when you have had this episode that has left you, perhaps just needing to recuperate a little bit.
We’re very grateful. And, perhaps just one final question, you mentioned about the reader feedback with your readers, wanting Jack to end up with Tara.
What other kinds of feedback do you get about the books?
Chuck: Oh, you know, it’s all over the waterfront. Mostly it’s people saying how much they appreciate the books and when’s the next one coming out.
That kind of thing. The Joseph Greaves books though, the two that were based on real life events, namely Hard Twisted, which was based out on 1935 triple murder case, and Tom and Lucky, which was based on the trial of the mobster, Lucky Luciano…
A Wall Street Journal Best of the Year
I had a number of people contact me who were associated with the real life events, for example, saying, oh, that’s my uncle – he was so and so in your book.
And, you know, I always wondered, what happened, blah, blah, blah. So I get a fair amount of that for those books.
Jenny: The Tom and Lucky one was amazing because there were all these files that you found in a New York barn and dug out. That was quite a remarkable thing to happen.
Chuck: Yes, it was. And, I’m happy to say that book was a Wall Street Journal, Best Book of the Year selection. I’m very proud of that book.
Jenny: Fantastic. Look, thanks so much for your time. It’s been great talking.
Chuck : Same to you, Jenny. Thank you for as always supporting the written word.
Jenny: My pleasure. I always enjoy talking to people like you, Chuck. Thanks a lot.
Chuck: Okay. Take care.
Next month on Encore on Bing Reading
Beautiful Little Fools by Jillian Cantor:
USA Today bestselling author Jillian Cantor reimagines and expands on the literary classic The Great Gatsby in this atmospheric historical novel with echoes of Big Little Lies, told in three women’s alternating voices.
On a sultry August day in 1922, Jay Gatsby is shot dead in his West Egg swimming pool. To the police, it appears to be an open-and-shut case of murder/suicide when the body of George Wilson, a local mechanic, is found in the woods nearby.