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Murray Sinclair - F. Scott Fitzgerald: American Spy


The time is June 25, 1940. Scott Fitzgerald has recently moved into his last apartment on Laurel Avenue, just around the corner from his mistress Sheilah Graham's apartment on Hayworth Avenue and Schwab's Drugstore on Sunset Boulevard. He has been sober for a half-year and is working on a screen adaptation of his short story "Babylon Revisited'' for an independent producer. He doesn’t know it, but he has just a few months left to live.

Through the lost correspondence of Henri Duval, a member of the French Resistance, the historical espionage novel F. Scott Fitzgerald: American Spy tells the story of Fitzgerald’s recruitment by the French Resistance to assassinate the premier of Vichy France on the eve of America's entry into World War II.

This illustrated novel hearkens back to the days of Charles Dickens, Lewis Carroll and Mark Twain. “What is the use of a book without pictures?” wondered Lewis Carroll’s Alice. And we feel the same way. This is an adult version of the sort of story you couldn’t put down late at night when you were supposed to be sound asleep but had to sneak a flashlight under the covers to keep reading!

 A Writer’s Odyssey

Experience enriches a writer’s life. That’s what gets a number of men off the dime in deciding to enlist in the armed forces and then go off to war. They know it will give them something to write about if they survive the ordeal. On the other hand, money makes the world go ‘round is another adage most people know. That’s what makes many a writer pull in the reins on his horse and look for another way to go.

After selling thousands of books and failing to make any money at it, pride and necessity got the best of me in the mid-1980s, and I was inspired to look for another career nearly 40 years ago.

“When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” 1 Corinthians 13:1-13. So, I put away the manuscripts I had finished but not yet sold—which was a hell of a lot more mature than burning them like I felt like doing at the time.

Flash forward to 2018 when, after being in the trenches as a litigator for more than 30 years and running my own law firm for 20 years of that time, it was time to search and destroy more than 200 bankers’ boxes in my storage unit to make room for more.

Lo and Behold! In a box labeled Manuscripts, there it was in its own separate box, a box that had held a ream of typing paper that used to perch on the corner of my desk. The document was clean. I had typed most of it myself on a manual Smith Corona when I ran out of money to pay my regular typist. The first draft was there, too, that I had done in longhand.

As I perused the manuscript, I was in a state of disbelief that I had done nothing with this book as I recounted the embattled emotional state I was in after finishing the novel in 1985. I had published 4 books at that time and was scrambling unsuccessfully to make a living as a novelist and screenwriter, getting occasional assignments, teaching creative writing at 5 local colleges to support a wife and 2 young children, and depending on a feckless literary agent who was certain the best way to proceed was through a movie sale to a high level celebrity producer who said he wanted to purchase the book outright. After waiting more than 6 months for the deal to happen, it fell through right around the same time that another producer claimed he had properly exercised his option on my first novel by filming a home movie populated with his untutored children and mother-in-law as the stars. I had to file a lawsuit (sponsored by the Writers Guild) to put the kibosh on that one.

Suffice it to say I gave up ship in disgust without submitting the book to a single publisher, then I put the book in the box and went to law school in 1987.

Although the ink was slightly faded on the original manuscript, it was in near-finished form when I looked at it more than 30 years later. I hired a freelance copy editor (Andrew Dworkin) to give me an objective perspective on my hunch that I had something special here, retained a semi-retired literary agent who had represented me in the late 1970s, and then decided to form my own publishing company and do the book myself when the process started bogging down again as my old agent quickly ran out of gas after a mere 2 submissions.

I consulted with a distant cousin of mine who had owned a small successful publishing company (an oddity in itself). We both agreed that the book is unique and breaks the mold on a traditional historical novel. Because we felt the narrative naturally suggested numerous pictorial elements, we indulged that aspect and decided to produce the book as an illustrated novel hearkening back to the days of Charles Dickens, Lewis Carroll and Mark Twain. (“What is the use of a book without pictures?” wondered Lewis Carroll’s Alice.) The book contains 10 full page pen and ink drawings, 14 spot illustrations and the front and back covers, all of it illustrated by the renowned artist Rick Geary whose graphic stories have appeared in National Lampoon, MAD, The New York Times, Heavy Metal, Disney Adventures and many other publications. After we hired an award-winning book designer (Jessica Shatan Heslin), our team was complete.

We launched a successful Kickstarter campaign to test the waters and have not looked back since.

This historical, epistolary novel explores whether F. Scott Fitzgerald was recruited to assassinate the premier of Vichy France, Marshal Phillipe Pétain, in 1940. The protagonist is double-agent Henri Duval and the story is set amid the backdrop of Hollywood’s Golden Age.

I set out to disprove Fitzgerald’s late in life quote that “there are no second acts in American lives,” by crafting a story to show that there was nothing that Fitzgerald wanted more than that second act. The fantasy second act I concocted was comprised in equal parts of a dream of rekindled fame and spotless honor of the highest repute. With America on the eve of its entry into World War II, and Hemingway (the monster that Fitzgerald had helped create through ushering Hemingway into the fold of Scribner's) in his zenith, while Fitzgerald struggled hand to mouth with his books largely out of print, the story I devised is the perfect vehicle to explore one final “what if” journey of one of America’s greatest novelists.

As for me, I think this may be my third act or maybe it’s a polish on my first act. Is there a law against going home again? I didn’t see anything against it when I was in law school, but who knows whether I was really the student I should have been? I was always, and will forever be, a dreamer. In my mind, there’s nothing better than a tall tale...

— Murray Sinclair

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