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New York City

The Hit Man Cometh: Block at Marymount Manhattan
by Joan Baum, Ph.D.

There's a picture of him on the Web where he looks audaciously knowing. Straddling a stool, he stares ahead-short sleeve shirt, hat, wire rim glasses, handlebar mustache, impish grin. And why shouldn't he be confidant and happy? What a line up of publications-books, short stories, collections, hard bounds, paperbacks. Although many writers may lay claim to the title "Grand Master," bestowed upon him by the Mystery Writers of America," few have as persuasive an argument as the prolific Lawrence Block. Numbers alone make him a prime contender, not to mention the old Recognition Factor-Block's won just about every major mystery, crime and thriller award, including "the Edgar," the Shamus" and "The Maltese Falcon." For titles alone, he could get the Cleverness Prize. Check out, for example: Burglars Can't be Choosers, Time to Murder and Create. The Burglar Who Studied Spinoza, The Burglar Who Painted like Mondrian, The Burglar Who Traded Ted Williams, Eight Million Ways to Die, and his latest, The Burglar in the Rye. Block could-indeed he should-also get the prize for Most Gracious and Ready-At-Standing-in-at-the-Last-Minute. His appearance on Monday, April 17 at Marymount Manhattan College, as part of The Writing Center's Best Selling Authors Series, was as an eleventh-hour substitution for the announced speaker, Jill Krementz, who had to withdraw suddenly because of illness. As Writing Center Director Lewis Burke Frumkes said, in introducing Block, a "lesser talent might have hemmed and hawed at a last-minute invitation. Not Larry." The audience, most of whom were unaware of the change, was thrilled by his laconic performance. His charm lay in the ease with which he delivered a fully formed talk on the theme of The Book Tour, making what must have been familiar material sound fresh and conversational. What to talk about when you're a writer? he mused, broad grin mischievously in place. Writing's not a glamorous activity, despite what people think of writers, he offered off-handedly. It's an enterprise that doesn't readily allow for distinctions between writing or being catatonic.

Delighting the audience by not reading from his work, he talked about the mock burdens and ironies of The Book Tour, "a recent phenomenon" that presses writers to read and do book signings, Block wondered out loud why people show up to hear other people read. Conclusion: "You want to hear us read to be reassured that we can." One wonders how he has time-he's continuously busy writing books, most of them requiring him to keep track of returning protagonists (Bernie Rhodenbarr, Evan Tanner, Matt Scudder, Leo Haig, and Chip Harrison). He puts up with the Tour, however, noting that it's quite a game, beginning with the inane instructions provided by a publicist (drink water; men: wear knee socks) to the Q & A's ("fans are often more savvy than authors"). At one stopping place along the way he was asked why one of his characters behaved the way he did. "How do I know . . . Men are such swine!" At another reading, he recalled, he managed, miraculously, to unload unsold warehouse copies of one of his earliest books, intended to be the first in a series but which he cancelled (it was the kind of book he liked to read, he said, but not the kind he liked to write). Both he and his agent were pleasantly surprised.

As if all his activity with fiction were not enough-he does about a book a year-Larry Block announced that he also writes a hi-folks, here's-what-I'm-working-on-newsletter. It's free "and worth every penny." A recent one begins, "I know, I know. I had every intention of getting this letter out to you on Groundhog Day, and what happened? I saw my shadow and went back inside for six more weeks of sloth. He also reports on backlist titles still going strong, such as Telling Lies for Fun and Profit (1981). A movie question concluded the talk. Yes, films have been made of some of his books. No, they have not been great successes, but Hit Man is about to come out, starring Jeff Bridges.

Incidentally, Lawrence Block is one of the Keynoters at Marymount Manhattan's Writing Intensive and Writer's Conference in June. Meanwhile, MMC's Best Selling Authors Series continues on May 22nd, 7:30 with Daphne Merkin. Call (212) 774-0780 for info.


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