Archive for Thursday, April 12, 2001

Book Review - ‘Still Life’

Local writer moves from screenplays to novels with ‘Still Life’

April 12, 2001


Bruce Jones is fascinated by dark and evil characters. As a Hollywood screenwriter, Jones worked on network movies and was the creator of HBO's early 1980s anthology series, "The Hitchhiker." His wife, April Campbell-Jones, collaborated with him on projects and pursued her own TV endeavors.

It was a production strike in 1988 that brought them back to Kansas City, while also being the impetus that Jones needed to launch a new career as a novelist.

"It shut production down, and that was really devastating. And even more is at stake now," Jones says, referring to the 1988 Hollywood production stoppage, and the threatened upcoming writer's strike.

Jones has since made a good living writing crime suspense novels. Now he's upping the ante by moving into police procedurals with his first book in a new series that introduces readers to recurring character Detective Amiel "Touch" Benson.

"Still Life" is published by Onyx and will be available in bookstores in May. Jones is writing the new series under the pseudonym of Bruce Elliot. Not for any moral or political reasons, it's just that the businessman in him knows it makes more sense to use an alias to help keep the writing styles separate.

"It's an effort to put both the author and character under the same banner," he says. "It's easier for buyers."

The novel finds the Benson character joining forces with radio psychologist Teri Fields to capture a serial killer. The criminal considers murder an art form, and calls the radio doc to convey messages to Benson about where the next corpse will be located. While the FCC wants to shut the show down, Benson strives to keep it going and uses Fields as a way to trap the killer.

Jones knows how to survive in the competitive writing markets, and he's made his living for several years creating in two vastly different formats for screenplays and novels. It actually rankles him a bit that many readers don't think a writer can write so well in such different styles.

"To be perfectly honest, I dislike the fact that I'm always referred to as a former screenwriter. Critics can be myopic in that they think you can't write prose ... I grew up reading prose, not screenplays," Jones says.

In "Still Life" some of the screenwriter's strengths do bleed through the pages. Graphic visual descriptions, terse dialogue and a plot that not so much moves as blisters from page to page all help propel the story along. Jones decided to create a recurring character because he says the hardest part of finishing a story is letting go of the characters and fantasy world that reside in his storyteller's imagination. By having Benson on the scene, Jones can revisit the same people and areas over and over again. And by setting it in Los Angeles, he's employing a setting that he's readily familiar with.

"I work in the morning and it's immensely enjoyable. I don't enjoy finishing a book because I've been living with the characters and then it all ends. So I started thinking about continuing characters. There are certain ways the L.A. robbery and homicide department works, and so there is a lot I'm already familiar with," he says.

What also appeals to Jones is that as a novelist he has more control over his storylines and characters than a screenwriter does. Once a screenwriter turns over a script, it becomes a part of a collaborative process. There are pros and cons to both styles of writing, Jones says.

"If a novel fails, they point at you. If a movie stinks, there is a bale out in that others besides the writer get blamed," he explains.

And despite his film connections, Jones does not issue his novels with the intent of turning them into scripts.

"Writing a novel with the thought of it being a screenplay is counterproductive," Jones says. "Having said that, I am delighted whenever people offer me money for what I've written."

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