Tuesday, July 25, 2017


Reader: Two quick questions. First, why do your characters sometimes smoke cigarettes? And second, in your novel THE LOST WITNESS LAPD Detective Lena Gamble shares cigarettes with her partner, Stan Rhodes. Your novel was the bestselling work of crime fiction in Southern California that year, as all the Lena Gamble novels have been, so there's no doubt about it that these scenes were lifted by the people who are writing HOUSE OF CARDS. Does that bug you?

Robert: To your first question, I call it emotional punctuation, and I've used it in all of my novels and screenplays. Not just cigarettes, but nicotine gum, alcohol, and especially, a piping hot cup of coffee. I use them as a way to underline the trouble my characters are in. The need for a crutch of some kind. A moment to say, hey, wait a minute, I'm in too deep. How am I going to get out of this jam!

As I think about it, none of my characters are smokers, per se. Everyone of them quit at some point in their life. But that makes the emotional punctuation even stronger. When Matt Jones hits the wall (as is his way!), sometimes the trouble he's in is so big, he needs that crutch. I should add that Matt's never lit up without thinking about the five reasons he shouldn't (and the five reasons he quit)!
House of Cards "Smoking Scene"

As far as HOUSE OF CARDS goes, you're probably right about the timing. THE LOST WITNESS came out before the TV show and Lena and Rhodes shared cigarettes. The novel was a bestseller, particularly in Los Angeles. At the time, mystery bookstores owned the city and THE LOST WITNESS was No. 1. If someone from the show read the book and liked it enough to be influenced by it, I take that as a compliment. THE LOST WITNESS is still one of my favorite books, so I'm not bummed, it's all good!


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