How does it feel to have been named a Mystery Writers of America Grand Master?
Obviously, it feels great. I've been dreaming of this specifically for maybe 50 years. When I started writing mystery fiction, I had no idea that I'd have as long and as successful a run as I've had. I knew by the time that I was 12 years old that I was going to be a writer—back then, I was writing short stories. When I was in my 30s, I wrote some novels that, fortunately, as it turned out, were never published.
What mystery authors first influenced you?
Back when I was 12, it was what was available, what I could get in the library. I couldn't even go to a drugstore then and buy a paperback, so I read Sherlock Holmes, and I loved it. I've gone through the complete stories several times, and my copy is full of yellow marker. Later on, I chanced upon a Mickey Spillane, with a very lurid cover, in the backseat of the car of the father of a friend of mine, and that exposed me to something other than the traditional mystery story. It changed everything for me. From that point on, all I wanted to do was write mystery stories.
What was it like to work on A&E's Nero Wolfe TV series?
I ended up writing the last episode, "Immune to Murder," based on one of Rex Stout's short stories. I thought it was a terrific series, by the way. I don't know for sure why it didn't continue. I love the Nero Wolfe/Archie Goodwin novels. I just loved listening to those characters in my mind talking to each other, but the stories aren't much. You've got about a 45-minute-long episode to make that written story into something visual and to somehow capture the story's essence. I don't think it's possible to be true to the original; it just can't be the same in a different medium.
You're soon to publish your ninth Abe Lieberman mystery, Terror Town. Is this character based on a real person?
He's actually the only character of mine I did base on someone I knew—the Hollywood director Don Siegel, whom I worked for at one point. Lieberman's upbringing and background are close to my own. Like me, he grew up in Chicago; his Old Testament philosophy is similar to mine. His origin is interesting. I was under contract to do a series set in Chicago with a young Hispanic private investigator. I decided that I didn't want to do it and told my publisher that instead I wanted to use a secondary character I really liked from a stand-alone novel, When the Dark Man Calls. That's how the Lieberman series got started.