The Official Blog Of Edward Cline

My Life in Words

Contributing Editor Edward Cline was interviewed by
Family Security Matters about his life, writing career, and goals. He is first and foremost a
novelist, but over the years has written hundreds of book and movie reviews,
political and cultural columns, and papers for a variety of print and weblog
publications. Born in Pittsburgh in 1946, when he graduated from high school,
he went directly into the Air Force because he was going to be drafted. After
leaving the Air Force, he lived and worked around the country, educating
himself (he learned very little in high school) and honing his writing skills.
Currently, he lives in Williamsburg, Virginia.

FSM:  You say you are first and foremost a
novelist. But, what prompted you to write so much nonfiction? You’ve had
hundreds of articles, reviews, and essays published, much of it appearing on Family
Security Matters
.

Cline:  While writing the novels, those were
occasional projects I pursued when I had the spare time and energy, and when I
was invited to submit articles. I’ve written pieces for the Encyclopedia of Library and Information
Science
, McGraw-Hill’s Western
Civilization
, the Journal of Information Ethics, Reason Magazine, The
Social Critic, The Intellectual Activist, The Wall Street Journal, Marine Corps
League, The Library Journal, The Journal of Colonial Williamsburg, and The
Armchair Detective, among other publications. Over the last few years I’ve
contributed to Rule of Reason, Capitalism Magazine, and, of course,
Family Security Matters. Often my pieces are picked up by other weblogs, from
here to Israel and India. Since finishing the Sparrowhawk
series, I’ve had time and energy on my hands. It’s got to be spent somehow,
somewhere, productively. I can’t sit still when there are so many issues to
address.

FSM:  Why do you think it’s necessary to address
those issues?

Cline:  Because I think I can bring a measure of
reason to them. And because it’s in the way of catharsis, of letting off steam.
If I didn’t write about them, I’d blow up. I don’t want to be confined in a
state-run rubber room wearing a straightjacket.

FSM:  You’ve published a collection of your columns.

Cline:  I’ve published three collections: Broadsides
in the War of Ideas
, Running
Out My Guns
, and Corsairs
and Freebooters
. They’re print books as well being on Kindle. They
contain articles and essays on politics, Obama’s rise to stardom (stage-managed
by George Soros), Islam and the threat it poses to the West, the Federalization
of language (i.e., politically correct speech) and various cultural topics,
such as the wholly bogus depictions of Mozart and Salieri in Amadeus. I’m thinking of compiling a
fourth collection, tentatively called Boarding
Parties
.

FSM:  How long have you been writing novels? Or, for that matter, how
long have you been writing anything?

Cline:  I wrote two clunkers before finishing my
first polished novel, Whisper the Guns.
I don’t even have the manuscripts of the first two novels – I disposed of my
copies ages ago, I didn’t want them around – although incredibly, I found an
agent who represented them, a fellow by the name of Oscar Collier (he died in
1998). Those clunkers were my first efforts. One, In the Land of the Pharaohs, was set in a future American
dictatorship, and was about a police detective who’s assigned to help a Federal
agent find the gang that robbed the Federal Reserve Bank of its gold bullion.
The second was a suspense novel about an American businessman, Merritt Fury,
rescuing a woman kidnapped by the Polish Communists. He breaks into the Polish
Consulate and causes a lot of mayhem. I can’t now recall its title or even how
it ended.

Mr. Collier couldn’t
find publishers for the clunkers, however. Whisper
was eventually published in 1992 by The Atlantean Press, a small publisher
based in California. It was about to publish the second in that series, We Three Kings, when it went under. It
had republished two of Victor Hugo’s novels, Toilers of the Sea, and The
Man Who Laughs
. I wrote the introduction to The Man Who Laughs. Whisper,
of course, went out of print. The Atlantean Press editions of those novels
aren’t even listed on Amazon Books.  I
find copies of Whisper now going for
$150 or more from bookstores connected with Amazon Books. I finally republished
Whisper on Kindle two years ago and
recently as a print book, and later We
Three Kings.
The third and last
in that series, Run
From Judgment
, sees Fury being targeted for assassination by some
unknown person. He winds up marrying a British portrait painter and inheriting
a financial weekly much like Barron’s, the U.S.’s leading financial weekly.

FSM:  Isn’t We
Three Kings
about Arabs?

Cline:  Yes. I finished that novel in 1980. Readers have
said it was pretty prescient, because in 1980 the Saudis weren’t much in the
news. I wouldn’t call it “prescient.” As a culture watcher, I’d made
a habit to observe fundamental trends, and our obvious, obscene, and obsequious
behavior to the Sauds was hard to ignore.

 The story? This Saudi
sheik has bought up all these rare gold coins to use in a museum in Riyadh. The
last one is owned by an American, who won’t sell it, and the sheik sics his
nephew on him to terrorize him into surrendering it. Fury rescues the man
during this mugging, killing the nephew during the fight. The man, Crenshaw,
gives the coin to Fury in the way of appreciation. Then he’s murdered. The
sheik, who’s also something or other at the U.N., is given carte blanche to
deal with Fury as he pleases by the State Department. In the meantime, a
homicide detective, Wade Lambert, works to prove that Fury murdered the nephew.
He winds up siding with Fury and is suspended from the police force and goes
into hiding before he’s kidnapped by the sheik. There are more murders, and no
plot spoilers here. Fury triumphs in the end.

FSM:  What were you doing in the meantime, while
writing all these novels?

Cline:  Making a living. I held numerous jobs on Wall
Street, in insurance, banking, for Icelandic Airlines, and so on, working
chiefly as a teletype agent for all these firms. I also worked as a reader for
a few publishers. My work life enabled me to pursue my life work, my novels.
The only break in that period I had was when I moved to East Lansing, Michigan,
and Michigan State University, to research my first detective novel, With
Distinction
. Wade Lambert was the progenitor of Chess Hanrahan, a
detective who solves what I call “moral paradoxes.” With Distinction is set in the
philosophy department of a fictive university. A philosophy professor is
murdered, and Chess can’t believe that anyone would want to murder such a
person. As he investigates, he learns why. In that novel he’s the chief of
police of this university town. Then in First
Prize
, the second in the series, I move him to New York as a private
detective. In this one he solves the murder of a prize-winning novelist. The
third in that series, Presence
of Mind
, pits him against the denizens of diplomacy.  The fourth and last in that series, Honors
Due
, has him playing cat-and-mouse with some Hollywood types over the
murder of a scholar.

First Prize was originally
published by the Mysterious Press/Warner Books in 1988. Otto Penzler, the
publisher, was the power behind that break and published it against the wishes
of his editors. At the time, it was represented by George Ziegler, whom I
called the last “gentleman” agent in the business. It was even
reviewed in The New York Times.  It was
in print for years before lapsing. First editions of it are now going for some
pretty outlandish prices. Perfect Crime
Books
has now published the whole Hanrahan series.

FSM:  What was it like, dealing with publishers,
trying to interest them in your books?

Cline:  Publishing seems to have always been in a
state of flux, completely rudderless in terms of literature and literary
standards, although it usually followed intellectual trends, such as the French
deconstructionists or the New School Progressives or the Postmodern Realists
and Surrealists. One really couldn’t decide who was running the “literary”
show: critics such as Stanley Fish (a postmodernist Marxist) and Edmond Wilson
(a leftist) and Granville Hicks (a leftist), or publishers such as Bennett Cerf
(of Random House) and George Delacorte, or editors and teachers such as Hiram
Haydn.  Compounding the confusion have
been successive generations of aspiring writers and editors expectorated from
university humanities courses, whose literary senses have been stripped of all
standards and value and whose only ambition was to make names for themselves as
arbiters of literature and culture. I remember that when I was a reader for a
few publishing houses, invariably the trash I called trash in my reports was
published, and the books I thought had promise or showed a glimmer of
intelligence, were consigned to the slush piles. I lasted a year in that
racket.

FSM: Were you still working
in New York?

Cline:  No. By the time First Prize was published, I had moved to Palo Alto, California. I
had accepted a job offer there with a free market think tank, the Institute for
Humane Studies. I finished the rest of the Hanrahan novels there, on an IBM
Selectric typewriter, which I still have. When IHS moved to George Mason
University a year later, I elected to stay on in Palo Alto, where I made my
living working for various Silicon Valley software firms and other companies.
While at IHS some of my nonfiction writing was published and even syndicated in
various newspapers. I even wrote four book reviews for The Wall Street Journal.

FSM: There’s a third
detective series of yours, isn’t there?

Cline:  Yes. This one is set in San Francisco in 1928
and 1929, and features Cyrus Skeen, a wealthy private eye who uses his cases to
collect material for his short stories, which he writes under a pen name. Its
genesis is peculiar. I was invited by Western Michigan University Press to
write an article for an anthology of articles about detective and crime
fiction. I wrote the piece, called “The Wizards of Disambiguation,”
which burst the balloons of various left-wing literary critics who alleged that
Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon
was a kind of proletarian novel. In the piece I prove that, while Hammett had
Red sympathies, his hero, Sam Spade, wasn’t some kind of signifying avatar of
communist ideology and that all the Frankfurt School-inspired
“deconstructive” interpretations of the novel were just so much
hooey. The piece wasn’t accepted. It turned out, I learned later on, that all
the other essays in that anthology were written by left-wing critics. But the
exercise led me to write an answer to The
Maltese Falcon
, set in the same week and year as Hammett’s story, which was
originally serialized in Black Mask Magazine in 1928.  Thus was born China
Basin
, which I finished in 1990. Skeen is asked by a French countess
and retired British officer to find Thomas Becket’s chalice, stolen from them
by a psychotic and very elusive killer. It’s also an audio book, as are First Prize and Whisper the Guns.

FSM:  And after that?

Cline:  I had so much fun writing China
Basin
that I decided to continue the series. I felt that I could no longer
set a detective story in my own time, what with political correctness gaining
strength and the politics becoming more and more statist. Publishers were
becoming leery of anything that went against political trends, not that any of
them gave me a second look. Also, trying to force my heroes work within all the
federal regulations and stifling laws brought me no joy or satisfaction. So I
decided to set the next novels in a time when the hero had more freedom of
thought and action. I finished The
Head of Athena
in 1992. In it, Skeen agrees to try to exonerate an
atheist lecturer of the charge of murdering his ex-wife. Next came The Daedâlus
Conspiracy
in 2011, and lastly, The
Chameleon
, in 2012. Skeen takes on some very unusual cases in the last
two, and his politics also become more evident. All are now published by the
Patrick Henry Press as print books and are on Kindle.

FSM:  Why is there such a big time gap between The Head of Athena and The Daedâlus Conspiracy? It’s nearly
twenty years!

Cline:  For a long while I had been taking notes for
a historical novel set in the pre-Revolutionary period. That period, I had
decided, had not been justly or fairly represented in American fiction. I
decided to do something about it. I wanted to dramatize why the Revolution
happened, and not write just another costume period novel. The election of Bill
Clinton in 1992 caused me to think: If I’m ever going to write this novel, I
had better start on it now, because politically and culturally, things can only
get worse and I may not have a chance or even the freedom to write it. So, in
1993, I packed up my bags and moved to Williamsburg, Virginia, to begin
researching and writing the series, Sparrowhawk.
I finished it in 2005. It turned out to be six titles, plus a Companion to the series, published in
2007. The first title appeared in 2001. The series was published by
MacAdam/Cage of San Francisco.

FSM:  How did that come about? 

Cline:  To paraphrase Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon (who was paraphrasing
Prospero in The Tempest), it was the
stuff that dreams are made of. In 2000 I had moved temporarily to Las Vegas to
take a breather from working on the novel, which I had worked on steadily while
working full time. I had sent out queries to publishers and agents about their
interest in Sparrowhawk. No interest.
I was in the middle of the fourth title of the series. I was feeling pretty
despondent. I got a note from my retired agent, George Ziegler, suggesting I
query MacAdam/Cage, a new publisher that that was looking for “quality
fiction.” I had heard that line before – I didn’t think much of the
“quality fiction” I saw was being published – but sent a query to the
firm. They expressed interest. I submitted the first of the series. Before I
knew it, I had a contract for the first four titles and a promised contract for
the rest of the series. Book One: Jack
Frake
came out in 2001, the other titles consecutively up to 2007, as well
as the trade soft covers.

FSM:  So, it was smooth sailing from that point on?

Cline:  No, it was rough seas and an un-prosperous
voyage. My relationship with MacAdam/Cage blew hot and cold. They did a very
nice job in designing and packaging the series, but did next to diddly to
market it. If it sold, it sold on its own merits. It was a series that the
reading public had to discover itself. Which it has, but with no help from the
publisher. They did not know how to sell it. In addition, one of their readers
thought that the hero of Book One,
Jack Frake, was unbelievable, and thought he could be made more credible if I
gave him an Oedipus complex or something. I said no deal, and if that meant no
contract, that was fine with me. They gave in and never made another editorial
suggestion.

The series became a
revenue generating mainstay for the publisher. Then, shortly after the Companion came out, I stopped getting
royalties. To make a long story short, I got no satisfaction from the
publisher, and had to threaten legal action to get paid what was coming to me.
This tug of war lasted some four years. The publisher’s appetite was bigger
than its ability to publish big time. It was buying some very trendy books and
going into bidding wars against far bigger publishers, such as Random House and
Harper/Collins, and paying writers fabulous advances. Their books did not sell.
The publisher began suffering significant losses.

As well as my series was
doing, it couldn’t carry the whole firm. 
Behind all its backlist authors’ backs, it sold the electronic or e-book
rights of the whole backlist to a British publisher to keep afloat. I didn’t
learn about that until I put up the series myself on Kindle, with cleaned up
texts, and was told that I was in violation of contract. So, down they came.
I’ve patched things up with MacAdam since then – the relationship since then
has been tepid at best – but now the publisher is negotiating the sale of the
firm to some other outfit, and the future of Sparrowhawk is in question. For all I know – because the publisher
won’t answer my queries, which does not bode well for the future – it’s a done
deal. Publishers Weekly is looking into it.

FSM:  What a rollercoaster ride!

Cline:  You can say that again. Sparrowhawk represents a big chunk of my life. I had to fight for
it. I may still need to fight for it.

FSM: What were your first published writings?

Cline: Aside from a handful of letters to the editor, my first
“professional” writings were fillers for Barron’s National and
Financial Weekly, now just known as Barron’s. I rewrote corporate press
releases into bland short items, with no byline. They were intended to fill
blank spaces that followed a regular column or news item.

FSM: How did you get that job?

 Cline: I had just moved to New
York City from California, and had worked for a few stock brokerages. I was in
between jobs and on an impulse went into the Dow Jones building on Broad Street
to see if the Wall Street Journal was hiring. The personnel department (not the
“human resources” department) referred me to Barron’s. They were
looking for a “go-for.” So, with some excitement, I went up upstairs
and was interviewed by Robert Bleiberg, the editor-in-chief, and began the next
day. I loved Bleiberg’s editorials. They were consistently pro-freedom and
harshly anti-government. I was hired as the paper’s librarian, but soon was
asked to write fillers, and then was sent out to cover press conferences and
performed other minor editorial tasks. No bylines, however.

FSM:  What other tasks?

Cline:  Oh, proofing the writers’ copy, running
errands between Barron’s and the Journal, even going for writers’ lunches. I
completely reorganized the paper’s library. It was a mess. The writer at the
desk in back of me was an elderly gentleman, either German or Austrian. I had
long discussions with him about economics and political economy. He introduced
me to Hayek and von Mises.

FSM:  Why did you leave Barron’s?

Cline:  The assistant editor didn’t like me, and I
didn’t like him. When Bleiberg was away on vacation, this editor managed to
make it impossible for me to remain there, so I quit. It was so long ago, I
can’t recall the circumstances now.

FSM:  What then?

Cline:  While at Barron’s, I volunteered to work for
Nixon Campaign Headquarters on Park Avenue. I worked as a news reviewer. I
watched the television evening news and wrote up reports on whether or not the
coverage was pro- or anti-Nixon or pro- or anti-Humphrey. This was in 1968.
When Nixon won, he had to leave the law firm he was a partner with, and I got
to go next door to the Dow Jones building to wait with hundreds of other
well-wishers in the lobby for him to come down from the law offices. I got to
shake his hand. I’m still wiping the grease from it. Later, when he imposed
wage and price controls, I swore I’d never work for another politician. And I never
did.

FSM:  Well, enough about your writing career. What
about you? Ever married?

Cline:  Never married. Had a few disastrous romances.
Not much of a social life, because I’ve had little time for one. But, allow me
to correct you. My career is my life. Anything outside of it is not the stuff that dreams are made of. I
wouldn’t presume to bore people with it.

FSM:  Thank you, Mr. Cline.

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8 Comments

  1. jayeldee

    Wow. THAT–yours–is a life well-lived.

  2. John Shepard

    Thank you, Ed, for sharing this interview. I feel like I know you better, even though you've long been one of my favorite people. Your pen is certainly mightier than a sword, helping to give rebirth to Man's life on Earth. I'm sure that you understand Miss Rand's phrase about those fighting for the future living in the future today. The best possible today, I think.

    And, I agree with what jayeldee said.

    I hope your getting beyond your flu.

  3. John Shepard

    Ugh. "your" = "you're"

  4. Edward Cline

    Family Security Matters will be running the piece tomorrow, along with my Orc-in-Chief piece. Capitalism Magazine will also be running it, and Perfect Crime Books will be posting it on its site, and also including it in its next catalogue.

  5. John Shepard

    Good to know.

    I'm curious, Ed. Your avatar, who painted it?

  6. Edward Cline

    John: That is a life-size oil portrait of me done by Roxanne Albertoli. It appears on the flaps and back covers of many of my books. Ed

  7. John Shepard

    Thank you, Ed, for the info.

    I'm familiar with the photo of you on the back, inside cover of your Sparrowhawk novels, the one of you standing near some sailboats, it looks like, and with the photo of you that is used at Family Security Matters, which I've seen elsewhere and which I most connect to you in my mind.

  8. Blogger

    Buy A .925 Silver Chain Online.

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