Don Winslow chats with Michael Mann at the Times Festival of Books

After years as one of the nation’s best-selling crime novels, Don Winslow has announced his retirement to write a few days before taking the stage at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books on Sunday for a conversation with filmmaker Michael Mann.

“I love writing,” he said in a statement posted to Twitter on Saturday, “and I don’t take this decision lightly.” The final work in the trilogy that begins with his new book, “City on Fire,” won’t be released until 2024, but he’s already written it all.

Winslow also announced his new full-time gig: dubbing the videos he created to oppose Donald Trump in the 2020 election and funding a “digital army…to combat Republican lies and misinformation.” The previous videos, which also featured Jeff Daniels and Bruce Springsteen, received 250 million total views, according to Winslow. Its new goal is to reach “one billion documented views”.

Curiously, Winslow said none of this in USC’s Bovard Auditorium during a conversation with Mann; the elephant (or donkey) in the room was off in a corner. The audience of several hundred people didn’t seem to care; there was much more to say. Winslow spoke to Mann, the prolific director of crime films and TV series (“Miami Vice,” “Heat”), about the art that inspired them — from Shakespeare and Tolstoy to Coppola and Kubrick — and the two recounted anecdotes related to their processes.

Winslow focused on “City on Fire”. Mann also published a novel this year – his very first. Co-written with Meg Gardiner, “Heat 2: A Novel” is both a prequel and sequel to her seminal film. Although the plot obviously involves a crime, he bristled on stage at being called a “genre writer”.

Winslow, on the other hand, said he doesn’t mind the label. Indeed, a French journalist had once asked him “in a not particularly friendly tone” if he thought that, as an author of detective novels, he lived in “a literary ghetto”. Winslow’s answer was simple: “Yes, and I like my neighborhood.”

What nagged Winslow, he said, was the question of whether mystery writers put themselves in a bubble. He argued that they should instead “address the great classics which all have the same themes as modern detective fiction: loyalty, betrayal, lust, love, murder, revenge, compassion”. Example: he found inspiration for “City on Fire” in “The Iliad” and “The Aeneid”.

One of the highlights of the afternoon was the men’s shared enthusiasm for another artsy crime film that revisits the classics, Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Godfather.” Mann called it “a fantastic melodrama” and “a perfect film”; Winslow offered his own intriguing analysis.

“‘The Godfather’ is a retelling of Shakespeare’s ‘Henry IV’,” he said. “It’s the exact same plot.” After explaining some of the connections between Coppola’s iconic film and Shakespeare’s play, he offered one final connecting thread: “While I admit that Diane Keaton is an odd sort of Falstaff, that’s the role which she occupies.” The audience burst out laughing.

There was only time for a few questions at the end of the panel, during which mention was finally made of Winslow’s recent and very public career hiatus. One woman explained that she was part of her digital army, referring to her work for Now-Sens. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff in Georgia. Was it finally time? Would her question prompt Winslow to talk about his retirement? No. It was that classic Q&A landmine – more of a comment than a question.

About Herbert L. Leonard

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