Thanks for taking the time to visit Manic Readers Mr. Weissbourd.
You’ve had some amazing experiences…Volunteer a the Museum of Modern Art in Paris, teaching English in Thailand, and producing Ghost Story with Fred Astaire, Melvyn Douglas, John Houseman, Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Patricia Neal. Can you tell us a bit about them? Did you meet any of those great actors?
I was a volunteer at the Museum of Modern Art in Paris just after May 1968 (the student uprising). I worked in a new section called ARC (Animation, Recherché and Confrontation). It was a wonderful experience meeting many young artists (some of whom I’m still in touch with) who were doing happenings, conceptual art, performance art and all kinds of experimenting. I participated in a continuous conversation with them about what “art” could be and do that influenced my writing today.
Producing Ghost Story with Fred Astaire, Melvyn Doulas, John Houseman, Douglas Fairbanks Jr etc. was an important experience for me. Yes, I met them all, occasionally hosting dinners for all of them together. It was like going back to another time – a time when telling great stories with great charm and flair was the norm. Those dinners were unforgettable.
What are the differences between running a production company and an investment company?
Running a production company is more entrepreneurial than running an investment company. At a production company, what you hope to do is get films made. To do that, you need to develop good material and then convince directors and actors to commit to that material. Finally, you have to convince a studio or an independent financier to finance it.
Running a successful investment company is about understanding what’s happening in financial markets and being able to read trends and directions. The way I do it, the choices I make are not stock specific. Rather, I pick managers then decide how much is allocated to long equities, how much is allocated to fixed income, alternative investments, etc.
How did all these experiences help you as a writer?
Producing movies was hugely helpful to me as a writer.
I began my career as a producer working closely with screenwriters.
A newcomer to Hollywood, I approached writers whose movies I loved – movies such as “Klute,” “Two for the Road,” and “Ordinary People” – and worked with those writers and others, including working with Ross Macdonald, a legend in crime fiction, on his only screenplay.
This was the “New Hollywood” (1967 – 1980) and I found writers whose work grabbed viewers viscerally, not with explosions but with multi-dimensional characters that would draw you into a deeply moving story.
As a producer developing a screenplay, you look for stories with strong, complex characters and a “rich stew” — that is to say, a situation with conflict, emotional intensity, and the potential to evolve in unexpected ways. This is exactly what I try to create in the books that I write. I learned how to do that as a producer developing screenplays.
About In Velvet…Why did you make Rachel a bear biologist rather than a ranger or some such?
I made Rachel a bear biologist because an old male grizzly bear is so central to the story, and I wanted someone who could “think like a bear.”
I have spent a lot of time in Yellowstone Park and I think it’s a national treasure. There is no place like it in the world – the geothermal features, the landscape, the wildlife, the mission. It’s a place where the well-being and preservation of wildlife comes first. I was intrigued with this starting point: what if something went very wrong? What if there was unseasonal animal behavior in a remote corner of Yellowstone Park?
IN VELVET and Inside Passage both feature what could be called wild untamed natural environments. Are they particular favorites of yours or do you have other reasons?
My years of fishing both in Yellowstone and up the Inside Passage led me to know and love both of those wild places.
Who’s in control, you, the characters, or a bit of both?
I like to think that I’m in control, but when the writing is going well, the characters take on a life of their own and often surprise me.
Why strong female protagonists dealing with authoritative corruption?
I’m interested in strong women and how able they are when confronted with harsh realities.
WHY do you write? Is it a choice or do you HAVE to?
I love to write. It allows me to focus on things I really care about. After producing movies and managing other people’s problems, writing – choosing the problems I want to deal with – is a genuine pleasure for me.
Do you have favorite genres or author(s) you enjoy reading?
Yes, I love the old mysteries – Hammett, Chandler, Macdonald and I love great character-driven thrillers – Stieg Larsson, Ross Thomas, ( Scott Turow – though his work is part mystery/suspense, it’s very character driven) etc.
We have some authors and preferences in common…What’s your favorite way to relax?
I love fly fishing, especially on the Madison River in Montana. It’s my favorite way to relax.
Have you read anything lately you’d highly recommend?
Yes, I’d highly recommend WHERE’D YOU GO, BERNADETTE by Maria Semple.
That does sound like a good read. Thank you so much for visiting with Manic Readers, Mr. Weissbourd. I’ve enjoyed your visit.
My Thoughts on IN VELVET
When Dr. Moody is discovered dead in a bear’s cache the Northwestern corner of Yellowstone is closed for bear management. Rachel Stanley is the bear biologist who discovered Dr. Moody and the bear in question is hers, Wooly Bugger. During her field trips Rachel is seeing out of season behavior, mutations, and what appear to be extinct Irish Elk. Rachel doesn’t buy the official line for why the Northwestern corner of Yellowstone is still closed and is determined to get to the truth.
IN VELVET has a large diverse cast of characters so a brief introduction to the main ones is necessary.
The Northwestern corner of YellowstoneNational Park ~ Without Yellowstone and its unique ecological system there would be no story. Yellowstone is the main character. The park’s description is vibrant and detailed making it easy to experience its beauty and wonder vicariously.
Wooly Bugger ~ Rachel’s wily old grizzly. Wooly Bugger is as integral a character as the people.
Rachel Stanley aka the bear lady ~ divorced single mother of Molly & Rainey’s ex-lover. Rachel is socially awkward at the best of times. Strong and determined, she’s perfectly suited to her work and protective of the park and animals, especially Wooly Bugger.
Rainey ~ burned out teacher, fly fisherman, former P.I. & Rachel’s former lover. Rainey is thoughtful, methodical, and quietly intense. Sheriff Jesse has it out for Rainey for a variety of reasons. They’re currently in a stalemate but given Jesse’s ability to turn situations to his advantage that won’t last long.
Lloyd ~ owner of the local café & teller of tall tales.
Jen Donahue ~ Chicago cop on leave trying to retrieve her son, Jimmy, from her ex- husband, affectionately known as Cockeye. Jen and Rainey meet in one of the most offbeat ways I’ve ever read. Jen’s looking for help regaining her son and Rainey just might be the answer to her prayers.
Sheriff Jesse Stinson ~ What does he not have a finger in, legal or illegal. Crooked as a dog’s hind leg with a mean streak a mile wide Jesse is not a man to cross lightly. He owns the county and most of the people in it.
Gummer Mosk ~ Enforcement ranger for the North Yellowstone sub district & Jesse’s partner in various illegal activities. Gummer is fond of animals and young women. He has an eye on his future.
Bodine ~ Poacher and associate of Sheriff Jesse. As they say back home, he’s a mite tetched, not the amusing or entertaining tetched either. Bodine’s one of those people you give a wide berth, crossing the street to avoid them. Scary.
Mitchell Picker ~ Assistant superintendent of North Yellowstone and bit of a twit.
Dr.Moody ~ Researcher of thermophiles in the Sentry Hot Springs. Ray Moody is dead when we “meet” him.
Phillip Renard ~ Dr. Moody’s former French assistant. Phillip is carrying on with Dr. Moody’s research. Phillip is self-serving.
Danny Briley ~ Government Grant Administrative Officer and friend of Rachel’s. Danny’s a bit of a hippie.
IN VELVET is Mr. Weissbourd’s second book and it’s been my pleasure to read both. One of the main features, and personal favorite, of his work to date is the intelligence of his characters, men and women alike. Not only are they intelligent but each possesses a different type of intelligence. Combined with their fortitude, depth and diversity it adds up to a character treasure trove. They may be meanern’ the devil, annoying as all get out, awkward, or chill you to the bone, but they engage and never bore. Not once did I roll my eyes wondering WTFrill? Their behavior is always spot on and realistic. That’s the scary part. People that cruel and adept at hiding it actually exist; the stuff of nightmares for me.
You too can learn the wonders of thermophiles! Naturally, given the animal mutations and out of season behavior, there’s a lot of scientific discussion involved. Science is not my forte by any stretch but Mr. Weissbourd makes it understandable, plausible and interesting without talking down to the reader. That’s quite a feat.
IN VELVET hits the ground running and doesn’t stop until the last page. Each chapter has sections focusing on different characters and their actions moving the story and events at a rapid pace. Once started it’s best to strap on your seatbelt and make sure you have time to enjoy this astute high octane ride. IN VELVET left me breathless, a bit contemplative, and completely satisfied. Beneath the action packed thrill ride IN VELVET was about the consequences of actions, decisions, and the manipulation and exploitation of Nature for all the wrong reasons. Nature has a way of getting her own back. Secondly it’s about forgiveness because without it there’s no moving on or growth. And last but not least, second chances, because most, though not all, people are worth a second chance.
Mr. Weissbourd is offering one (1) lucky commenter a print copy of IN VELVET (Sorry U.S. only). Fishing…yes or no & how. Do you clean your fish? I’ve fished with a cane pole and rod & reel. Yes I had to bait my own hook & clean my fish. In the interest of honesty I wound up cleaning all the fish whenever I went. 🙂 Giveaway ends @ 10 pm est 5-23-14. Good Luck!
Burt Weissbourd is a novelist, screenwriter and producer of feature films. He graduated fromYale University with honors in psychology. During his student years he volunteered at the Museum of Modern Art in Paris and taught English to college students in Thailand. After he graduated, he wrote, directed, and produced educational films. He began a finance program at Northwestern University Graduate School of Business but left to start his own film production company in Los Angeles. He produced films including Ghost Story starring Fred Astaire and Raggedy Man starring Sissy Spacek, which the New York Times called “a movie of sweet, low-keyed charm.” He’s a voting member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. In 1987, he founded an investment company that he still runs. Inside Passage, his first novel, was published in 2013. In Velvet is his second novel. Teaser, the sequel to Inside Passage and the second book in the Corey Logan trilogy, will be published in winter, 2014. He lives in New York City.