Inspirations for the University Series - by Terrence McCauley
I wish I could point to a single source of inspiration for my University series (SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL and A MURDER OF CROWS), but like most art forms, inspiration doesn’t come from a single place. There are a mixture of books and movies and even movies based on books that gave me the idea for the technological thrillers I’ve written. Some of the source material may surprise you.
Here they are in no particular order:
Inherit the Wind
Yes, I know, it’s a courtroom drama about the Scopes Monkey Trial. It also happens to be one of the best court-room dramas you’re ever going to see. The climactic scenes of two of the finest actors who have ever lived – Spencer Tracy and Fredrick March – thundering away at each other helped me appreciate the power of good dialogue at a very young age. I’ve carried that appreciation into my writing
Network and The Hospital – written by Paddy Chayefsky
Both movies had a great impact on me concerning the power of great dialogue moving the story forward. Yes, both movies benefit by having some of the finest actors of their respective generations (William Holden, Faye Dunaway, Robert Duvall, George C. Scott and
others) but I admire the way Chayefsky seamlessly weaves the dialogue into the story as though it was a separate character from what we see on the screen. It is vivid dialogue at its best, almost to the point of being violent. Both films also struck me because of their relevancy even in today’s world, something I took into consideration when writing SYMPATHY and MURDER. (And as a side note, I think George C. Scott turns in the performance of his career, even better than his portrayal of Patton. That’s just my opinion, of course.
GlenGarry Glen Ross – written by David Mamet
I’ve seen the play on Broadway and I’ve seen the movie more times than I care to count. It’s another fine example of dialogue as its own character. Nary a punch is thrown or a gun fired in this film, but there’s still enough verbal action and brutality here to rival the Saw novels.
Three Days of the Condor
I know it’s based on the excellent novel written by James Grady called Six Days of the Condor, but I saw the film when I was six. It’s about as anti-Bond as a spy thriller can get. There are no gadgets or fast cars. There’s no villain stroking a cat in a lair located in some exotic location. And there are certainly no martinis – shaken or otherwise. This story is all about justifiable paranoia and fear. It’s set in New York at Christmastime, when the city is at its most crowded and the protagonist feels most alone. It was a film that broke a lot of molds and one that I find most enjoyable to this day.
Hurt – Johnny Cash
I know, I know. Someone reading this just pounded their desktop or their lap and screamed ‘Trent Reznor wrote that, moron, not Johnny Cash!’ Calm down. I know he didn’t write it. I know Cash
covered it with Reznor’s permission at the end of Cash’s life. He also changed a couple of the lyrics to give the song a more religious overtone. The effect was, by Reznor’s own admission, a song that became Johnny Cash’s own.
If James Hicks has a theme song, ‘Hurt’ would be it. He eventually disappoints people and hurts people in the course of doing his job. Everyone he knows goes away in the end. He has no real accomplishments to hang his hat on. Yes, he eventually comes to have power, but it’s not institutional power. His is an empire of dirt and he knows it. ‘Hurt’ is a melancholy song for a melancholy man who finds himself losing himself as he gains influence in other ways. I hope to be able to continue the University series to the point where I can show the audience exactly why Hicks is an admirable and tragic figure.