Michael Malone, novelist and television writer, dies at 79

Michael Malone, a novelist and television writer who moved seamlessly between genres, writing serious comedy, serious comedy and bestselling crime novels – in addition to working on the soap opera “One Life to Live”, who won critical acclaim during his tenure as editor for his goofy humor and sensitive explorations of social issues — died Aug. 19 at his home in Clinton, Connecticut. He was 79 years old.

He had pancreatic cancer, said his daughter, Maggie Malone.

A North Carolina native who wrote frequently about his home country, Mr. Malone has published more than a dozen novels, including the 1983 picaresque “dealing with sin“, a story of “Don Quixote” in the southern United States, and “Uncivil seasonswhich was released later that same year and marked his first foray into the mystery genre. The book introduced readers to a mismatched pair of North Carolina police officers, junk-eater Cudberth “Cuddy” Mangum and aristocrat Justin Bartholomew Savile V, whom New York Times critic Evan Hunter judge “two of the most memorable police detectives to ever appear in detective fiction.”

Mr. Malone went on to write two more Justin and Cuddy mysteries, including “witness of time(1989), which explored the relationship between racism and capital punishment, and the best-sellingFirst lady(2002), about the “Guess Who Killer,” a fictional female-targeting serial killer from Hillston, North Carolina. He was working on a fourth novel in the series when he died, his wife said. daughter.

Before turning to the mystery genre, Mr. Malone was best known for writing comic novels with a sprawling cast of characters and quirky humor. His 1980 book,Dingley Fallswas set in a small town in Connecticut and featured characters with names like Habzi Rabies, Rich Rage and Ms. Canopy, a patron of the arts who visits the cemetery to speak at her late husband’s grave. “She didn’t necessarily assume he was listening below,” Mr Malone wrote. “Besides, he had rarely listened when he sat across from her at dinner, or in front of the fire in the living room. The change was that he no longer got up or went to bed until she was done.

Mr Malone said he sought to capture the spirit of a place in his work and found crime fiction allowed him to portray a wider cross-section of the communities he wrote about. “What interests me is presenting a politically and socially engaged world,” he told The Guardian newspaper, “and once you write about a police service, you write about social issues , you are in all the politics of a region. By making your characters police officers, you engage them in all ranks of society.

It was partly to be able to tell socially relevant stories to a national audience that Mr. Malone left the University of Pennsylvania, where he taught fiction writing, to join “One Life to Live” as an editor. chef in 1991. “I couldn’t resist it,” he said the New York Times. “I think Dickens would have done it. I invent characters and here they are in the flesh. I have my own Shakespeare company!

Working under executive producer Linda Gottlieb, with whom he previously teamed up on an unproduced film, Mr. Malone helped shape a few experimental but popular seasons of the ABC soap opera. The series featured quirky characters and idiosyncratic storylines — one involved an Egyptologist, a jewel thief, and a sex therapist — while tackling important issues such as sexual assault.

Mr. Malone and his writing staff won a Daytime Emmy Award in 1994 after creating a series of widely discussed episodes about a college student, Marty Saybrooke (played by Susan Haskell), who is raped by a jock and his frat brothers. , and who later brings his attackers to justice. Mr Malone previously made headlines for a story arc featuring the AIDS Memorial Quilt and centering on a teenager (Ryan Phillippe) who is bullied for being gay.

In a 1992 interview with the Los Angeles Timesjournalist Freeman Gunter, editor of Soap Opera Weekly and a veteran of the gay press, described the plot as “a breakthrough”, saying it showed “what it’s like to be gay in a hostile world “.

Mr Malone said he hoped the show would increase acceptance of gay people and other AIDS victims.

“There was no way in God’s green earth that five million people a week would read my novels”, he said North Carolina newspaper Indy Week, “but they might see Viki,” the show’s longtime protagonist, “wearing that AIDS quilt.”

Mr. Malone left the show in 1996 and worked as head writer for the NBC soap opera ‘Another World’ before returning to ‘One Life to Live’ in 2003 and 2004. During his second stint as a screenwriter in chef, he’s been working on a thriller. , “The Killing Clubwhich was tied to the show, with Mr. Malone and one of the show’s characters, Marcie Walsh, both listed as authors. The book made national bestseller lists and used some of the eye-catching techniques Mr. Malone learned during his years working in television.

“My chapters were closing very quietly; now they can end up saying, “Get out of the car!” There’s a bomb in the car!” he said. January review, a literary publication. “It’s the crochet trick that I learned on television. Not a bad lesson to learn either.

The eldest of six children, Michael Christopher Malone was born in Durham, North Carolina on November 1, 1942. His parents divorced when he was young and he grew up with his mother, a fourth grade teacher who was deaf. Mr. Malone served as his ear, developing skills of observation which he later used in his novels. His father was a psychiatrist and Mr. Malone liked to say he was in the same profession, except he listened to “the voices in my head” instead of “the voices on my couch”.

By age 9, he was writing plays, including a 42-act epic titled “The Prince of Chinese Elephants.” “To this day my siblings who live in North Carolina will flee the state if I say anything about putting on a play because they know they’re going to have to dress up as a bumblebee or something. and be in it,” he said. said NPR in 2009. By the time he got to college, he thought he’d like to pursue philosophy instead of acting; a professor suggested he switch to studying literature, noting that Mr. Malone seemed more interested in the lives of philosophers than their theories.

Mr. Malone graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1964, earned a master’s degree from the school two years later and pursued a doctorate in English at Harvard University, where he met his wife, Maureen Quilligan, a scholar. of Renaissance literature which partly inspired his first novel, “Paint the roses red(1975), about a young woman in 1960s California.

As Mr. Malone said, he wrote the novel to avoid writing his thesis, a study of American cinema which later formed the basis of his book”Heroes of Eros: male sexuality in cinema(1979). He never got his doctorate, but he went on to teach at schools such as the University of Pennsylvania, Yale and Duke, where he led a film class in which students were divided into teams to write and produce their own 20-minute films. Their films were honored at a “Golden Apples” ceremony Mr. Malone inspired by the Oscars, with a Best Director award presented by Duke men’s basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski.

Mr. Malone divided his time for many years between Connecticut and North Carolina, where he and his wife settled in the small town of Hillsborough, a literary mecca that was also home to writers such as David Payne, Frances Mayes and Allan Gurganus, with whom he performed an annual two-man stage adaptation of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” “When I got here,” Mr Malone said the wall street journal“I started writing as if I had been set on fire.”

His other novels included “Foolscap(1991), about a university professor assigned to write the biography of an aging playwright, andThe four corners of the sky(2009), a family saga and epic adventure featuring a missing treasure, a crook and a naval aviator.

In addition to his daughter, survivors include his wife of 47 years, Quilligan; a sister and a half-sister; a brother and half-brother; and a granddaughter.

Mr Malone recalled that ‘the most important thing that has ever been said to me as a writer’ came from author Eudora Welty, whom he met at a literary gathering at Yale at the end of the 1970s. When Welty learned that Mr. Malone had written three novels, none of which were set in his native North Carolina, she advised him to “let your fiction grow out of the ground beneath your feet”. He soon began work on “Uncivil Seasons”, which he described as “the first of my novels to be set in this land of red clay, this landscape of my childhood imagination”.

A few years later, he drove from his home in North Carolina to Welty’s home in Jackson, Miss., to say thank you. He sat there for hours but “was too shy to ring the doorbell”, he said. told the newspaper. Finally, he returned home. He didn’t tell Welty about the episode until years later, when he spotted her in the lobby of New York’s Algonquin Hotel. “She looked at me and smiled,” he recalled, “and she said, ‘Oh honey, was that you? I almost called the police.

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