BLAIR UNDERWOOD to Star in Film Version of CAMELOT’S COUSIN

[From THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER]

Blair Underwood is heading to Camelot.

buheadshot2010_a_pThe actor’s production company, Intrepid Pictures, has acquired the rights to David R. Stokes‘ spy novel Camelot’s Cousin: The Spy Who Betrayed Kennedy. Intrepid will partner with Little Studio Films to adapt the thriller into a film with Underwood in the lead role.

Set amid the Cuban Missile Crisis, Camelot’s Cousin centers on the discovery of a long-lost journal that indicates one of President John F. Kennedy‘s closest friends was a Soviet spy. In the present day, scholar and media personality Templeton Davis (Underwood) decides to investigate the journal’s contents, which draw him into a decades-old international conspiracy…

[read FULL ARTICLE at THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER]

How Kennedy Became CAMELOT

Vinny is one of my grandsons (I have six, and one granddaughter—thanks for asking). He’s seven years old. The other day, as he showed me a screen and explained the latest level he’d reached in a game I didn’t know or understand, I was struck by the thought that I was exactly his age when my second grade teacher, who for some reason had left a classroom full of, well, second-graders, reentered the room. She was weeping. She wrote on the chalkboard: “President Kennedy has been shot.”

Then she left the room—again.

A few minutes later, right about the time I had my friend Tim in a chokehold (or was it the other way around?), she came back and went to the chalk, once again, writing: “President Kennedy is dead. You are dismissed. Go straight home.”

ows_138455806074453So we did. These were the days before carpools and long lines in front of schools where parents waited. We just walked home. Hundreds of kids poured out onto the sidewalks, with little security, but for a few fellow students wearing special belts around their waist and over one shoulder. They were the “safety patrol.” Becoming a member of that elite “special forces” group was an early ambition of mine, but I digress.

I remember walking home briskly, so that I could tell my mom what had happened. But she already knew. Everyone did.

Now, my folks weren’t Kennedy supporters—they voted for Nixon, and later Goldwater, and then Nixon, again. However, my mother always had the latest magazine lying around featuring the young First Lady on the cover. It’s hard to believe now, but Jackie was only 34 years old when her husband was taken from her, and us.

Over the past 50 years, since that fateful day in Dallas, the Kennedy story has been told, and retold. The thousand days of his presidency are often referred to as “Camelot,” a name pregnant with a sense of wonder and magic. In fact, the nomenclature is used so often, that there are some who may assume that was the way people referred to JFK’s White House when he lived and worked there.

Actually, the Camelot image began to be associated with all things JFK when Jackie Kennedy met with a famous writer after her husband’s murder. His name was Theodore H. White.

The day after Thanksgiving in 1963, and one week to the day from the assassination, Mrs. Kennedy had a late evening meeting with Mr. White at the Kennedy home in Hyannisport, Massachusetts. She had made it clear to the editors of Life Magazine that she preferred White write the primary essay in the special issue they were getting ready to publish. He had covered their wedding for the magazine in 1953, and more recently, he had written sympathetically about Kennedy in his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, The Making of the President, 1960.

During their conversation that night, the President’s widow, talked about how much her late husband had enjoyed the Broadway play, Camelot—particularly its music. He regularly played the original soundtrack record in the White House, usually before they drifted off to sleep.

Don’t let it be forgot,
That once there was a spot,
For one brief, shining moment
That was known as Camelot

White was on deadline. They were actually holding up publication of the magazine, at a cost of $30,000, and waiting for his copy. So after his conversation with Mrs. Kennedy, he went to another room and spent 45 minutes composing the essay. Then he went to a telephone in the kitchen to dictate the story to an editor.

Jackie Kennedy came in as White was debating back and forth with the editor about toning down the whole “Camelot” angle. She gave White an angry look, while shaking her head emphatically—“No.”

And the rest is, as they say, history.

[This article was written for VENTURE GALLERIES–an excellent site for readers and writers. – DRS]

Putin Writing For The New York Times–Stranger Than Fiction?

vladimir-putinNow that Vladimir Putin has apparently joined the editorial staff of the New York Times :-), I am wondering how long it will be politically acceptable to make him and/or the Russians the “bad guys” in fiction?

Those of you who have read my novel, CAMELOT’S COUSIN, know that Mr. Putin is a player in the story. How did I connect him to the Kennedy Assassination, of all things? Well, you’ll have to read the book. 

It now has more that 170 customer reviews at Amazon, with an average rating of 4.6 stars out of a possible 5. I am so grateful to the thousands of readers who have enjoyed the story. If you haven’t read it, grab a copy today, either in e-book or paperback format.

Here are a few of the customer comments about CAMELOT’S COUSIN.  — Best Regards, — DRS

What some readers are saying (from Amazon Customer Reviews):

“The author has taken true historical facts of the Cold War era and woven a most wonderful tale which is difficult to put down. Even touching upon and offering a believable reason for the assassination of President John F Kennedy, the book is very readable for someone like me who has lived through the post war sabre rattling between the USSR and the USA. A book to be enjoyed and one that makes for much conjecture as to what really happened.” – Barrie M

Walk on a roof edge“Love the book. Gives you a new possible view of the Kennedy assassination . It is fictional but very believable story.”- Mary Faust

“I was interested to read this because I used to work for an attorney in Memphis, now deceased, that was a member of the OSS and was stationed in London during WWII. He had spoken to me of Kim Philby and he had several books in his library about him so the subject was of great interest to me. I really enjoyed the writing style of Mr. Stokes and the story moved along nicely. As a fan of historical fiction I recommend this book to any one who is interested in the subject.” – Florence Izzi

“I tried this book on for size because I enjoy reading espionage stories and this one sounded interesting. I was not at all familiar with the author but I am a huge fan now. This is a terrific book! Stokes writes in a style that flows and informs as well as entertains. I found the Kennedy tie in to not only pique my interest but hold it firmly tight. This is one of those keep me on the edge of my seat–I hate to put it down for fear I’ll miss something books. I will most definitely turn to other books by Mr. Stokes. Check this out my friends–you’ll be glad you did” – Daniel

I ordered this e-book because it was cheap. Boy, was I in for a big surprise. The storyline is fast-paced and really, really believable. My acid test for a book is whether it keeps me reading at bedtime. This one passed with flying colors. My only disappointment is that there’s no sequel.- Longtime Sailor  [Note to Longtime Sailor – I am working on sequel now, stay tuned! — DRS]

“This book is a wild ride through history and into the present, pulling in the famous Cambridge spy ring and its star defector Kim Philby, Putin’s Russia, and with side trips into JFK’s Oval Office. The book is fiction, but is presented in such a way that builds a case for believability as each piece of information gathered is placed into the growing puzzle. It’s well-crafted and digs deeply into the old late 20th century world of spying and tradecraft, enough to warm the heart of most spy thriller veterans. Most of the book is presented at a pretty fast clip, but slows down near the end as both the hero and the reader need time to wind things down to a realistic and satisfying conclusion. Just because the Cold War is over, it isn’t necessarily the end of exciting, modern spy novels. This book proves it by using the past as a basis for adventure and excitement in the present. Recommended.” – Nyssa

“In recent moths I have read many books associated with JFK and his assassination. This one was an up-all-nighter..I recommend it for a new POV for the conspiracy theories around this event..”- Mary K. Hunt

As someone who was beginning a career in counterintelligence in 1963 I found this book to be very interesting and informative with great historical insights. Anyone interested in the Cold War period, espionage and spies will find this a great read. – Harry J.

Read these and the rest of the 171 customer reviews HERE.

Maybe What Readers Want is Continuity…

[This blog written for VENTURE GALLERIES — please check out that great site! — DRS]

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Having spent years writing primarily non-fiction—history articles, a narrative nonfiction book, some current events and politics—developing my novel, Camelot’s Cousin, was a learning experience. But one surprise came after the book was published.

I began to hear this from readers: “So, David, when do we get to read the next story in your series?”

Next story? Series? Such a thing had never been even a blip on my writing radar until people starting reading Camelot’s Cousin. My plan was to move on to one of about a dozen new nonfiction projects, such as my recently book, Firebrand. I had always seen my books and stories as “stand alone” creations. One stop. One shot. File the material in a closet. Move on.

Then it happened—minor clamor for the next edition. At first, I resisted it. I have too many other things I want to write. The novel was a somewhat of a lark. I wanted to see if I could do it.

Then one night, when my wife and I were catching up on one of our favorite television shows, watching a few episodes recorded on our DVR—it hit me. When it comes to fiction, people enjoy continuity, and they want to know what happens next. This revelation came to me after I heard myself say, “Wow, I can’t wait for the next episode.” It was one of those head-slapping, should-have-had-a-V-8 moments.

So I began to envision a new story involving the cast of characters from Camelot’s Cousin. I am several chapters into it, and I am hooked. I still want to write that other stuff, but I can now see about four or five stories built around my lead character, Templeton Davis, the popular and successful host of a nationally broadcast radio talk show.

Walk on a roof edge

Now, some reading this blog—especially my author colleagues—will likely see my teachable moment as something all too obvious. They might be tempted to think, “Sure, David, we get it. You saw the truck and flagged it down. And then you made a great discovery—they have these vehicles that drive around selling ice cream. You can buy it right in front of your house. Dude—do you live under a rock?”

Edward R. Murrow once said, “The obscure we see eventually. The completely obvious, it seems, takes longer.” I think all of us are like that to a point. It was just a couple of years ago that one of my daughters—32 years old at the time—figured out that the insignia on a New York Yankee baseball cap was actually the letters, “NY.” But then, I only recently noticed that the tune behind the song teaching children their “ABC’s” is the same as “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.”

I don’t know how many books I’ll produce in the Templeton Davis series, but it will be fun watching the characters grow. Hopefully they’ll learn obvious things much quicker than the man with the computer behind the curtain.

Tell Me A Story

Part of my recent Father’s Day experience was the chance to watch one of my favorite movies from decades ago on the big screen. I’ve had the movie’s theme song as my cellphone ringtone for quite a while and, admittedly, I have seen the film so many times that I can quote much of the dialogue verbatim. My wife particularly enjoyed periodic demonstrations of this skill and knowledge last Sunday. Sure she did.

The film is the 1963 classic, The Great Escape—the sort of true story of an epic attempt at mass escape from a heavily guarded German prison camp during World War II. I was seven years old when it came out, so I never got to see it in all its full screen glory. I was first introduced to the story when one of the networks—this was way back when there were just three—aired the movie over two nights in 1967.

the-great-escape

That was a big event in our house. My parents let me stay up late on two consecutive school nights to watch it. It is actually one of my fondest “warm fuzzy” family memories from my childhood. Mom made popcorn, and Dad did color commentary about what World War II was like. I pointed out that his war was Korea—but he held court nonetheless.

What makes a movie endure and remain popular half a century later? Well, certainly the cast is a factor. I mean, Richard Attenborough, James Garner, David “Ducky” McCallum (how old is that guy?), and the ultimate Mr. “Cool”—Steve McQueen—they surely played a role (pun intended) in the film’s contemporary and legacy success. But there must be more. I once saw a film that had Gregory Peck and Michael Caine in it, and it was a bomb.

It’s got to be the story itself.

The late Don Hewitt, long time producer of CBS’s staple 60 Minutes, was once asked about the secret of the news magazine’s staying power. He replied that the key was as old as the Bible and as simple as four words—“tell me a story.”

It is my experience—as a writer and speaker—that good stories begin with questions—Why? Why not? How? What if?

I am often asked how I came up with the story I tell in Camelot’s Cousin. Well, it began with a question. In September 2011, I was invited to speak about my previous book, The Shooting Salvationist, to a forum at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire. In the audience that evening was a writer who won a Pulitzer Prize for journalism in the early 1970s. His area of expertise was intelligence and the CIA.

My host that evening invited this journalist to join us for a late dinner. It turned out to be quite an evening. Having always been fascinated by the world of intrigue during the Cold War, I picked this man’s brain. We talked much about the infamous spy, Kim Philby, who had been abruptly asked to leave the U.S. in 1951, under a cloud of suspicion. During our conversation that night the subject of materials he left behind was discussed. Philby had—according to his own memoir published in 1967—buried them in Virginia.

kim-philby

So, I asked the question—what if someone found what he buried? And what if something Mr. Philby planted beneath the Virginia soil pointed to other nefarious people and things?

That was all it took—I was hooked on a story.

[I wrote this blog for VENTURE GALLERIES, a great site about books and authors. — DRS]

New Novel views Kim Philby through the Looking Glass

[This review written for EXAMINER.COM]

Harold Adrian Russell Philby, better known by his prescient nickname, “Kim,” continues to fascinate writers. Having falling prey to this compelling interest myself with my own research and story, I recall what the wife of a famous writer (someone who actively covered the Washington “spy” beat for many years back in the day) once told me when I shared my interest in all things Philby.  She called it an obsession-inducing black hole.

She understated the case.

So I waited for the latest offering from skilled espionage-stuff writer, Robert Littell, with great anticipation.

I wasn’t disappointed.

The recently released novel is called Young Philby. The narrative is voiced by several characters, real people who interacted with Kim Philby throughout his journey from naïve Cambridge student idealism to full-fledged treachery as one of the most notorious Soviet agents in history.  He was a man addicted to what one biographer called “the drug of deceit.”

Along the way in the pages of Littell’s interpretation of Kim’s life, we witness his (presumably) theory about Philby’s development as an espionage agent.  We learn about a key recruiter, an early love interest, and the order of things with relationship to the other well-known Cambridge spies: Guy Burgess, Donald MacLean, and Anthony Blunt.

Littell’s chronology when it comes to the order of recruitment seems to be one of the most fictional aspects of Young Philby, not fitting with the actual history of what happened. But then again, his ultimate speculation in the book about Philby’s real agenda and loyalty is, as well, clear fiction—compelling fiction—but fiction nonetheless.

A good book from an excellent author who knows his genre—Young Philby is a quick read that will linger in your mind.