Talking Out of Turn: Revisiting the '80s with William Diehl An Interview with Kevin Courrier

Author William Diehl
(Sharky's Machine, Chameleon, Primal Fear), a writer who wrote luridly powerful pulp with a political tinge, became a fascinating exercise in self-examination. When I discovered that Diehl was a pacifist who once marched with Martin Luther King in the South during the demonstrations against segregation, I was compelled to find out how such a peaceful man reconciled his polar opposites. To both my surprise and satisfaction, he was more than happy to comply while providing a vivid examination (through his thriller Chameleon) of the growing political mercenary movements in the eighties that would ultimately lead to Waco and Oklahoma City. Diehl would die at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta on November 24, 2006, of an aortic aneurysm. At the time of his death, he was working on his tenth novel.


kc: I get the impression that when you sit down to write there's quite a war going on in your head.

wd: That's quite true. I find that subconsciously things from my past keep getting in and coming out of the books. A lot of the critics in reviewing Chameleon have called it one of the most violent books ever written. Yet I'm basically a pacifist. I don't own weapons. I don't even have a gun in the house. I live alone on an island. No doubt that it's a throwback to World War II when I served as a ball-turret gunner. All of those latent aggressions and violence are surfacing now. It has to be that because I'm certainly not interested in becoming active in the things I write about. But I should say that there's nothing about the violence and the weaponry that I depict in Chameleon that isn't really happening today.

kc: In this book, you examine an assassination squad -- a secret terrorist organization that trains at "The Farm" -- What is that?

wd: I knew that "The Farm" existed. I've known about it for several years and I met the man who runs it. He's a guy named Mitch Warbell. One night, we started talking about the place and he told me that while a lot of mercenaries go through the training course, many of these people are bankers and folks going to countries where terrorism is prevalent. They take the course as a self-protective device. That's what triggered the idea. Then I went out and took the course. Over a period of six months, I spent time talking to the instructors. Their stories gave me the basis for the book.

kc: When you were describing a moment ago those latent aggressions and the violence, how does it manifest itself when you are writing a book like Chameleon?

wd: The first chapter of the book was triggered by the Doobie Brothers' song "What a Fool Believes," which I heard on the radio as I was driving home. The song started a lovely little romantic story going in my head. Suddenly, it turned very dangerous and it got very violent. I don't know where it came from. All of a sudden, as I'm working on this romantic idyll, it got very tough. It was then that the story took off.

kc: At the heart of this violent story is a particular code of honour. Where does this come from?

wd: Chameleon is a story about honorable people versus dishonorable people. And I've put at the heart of it the Oriental philosophy of honor. My belief is that the Oriental philosophy of honour is a very positive and uncompromising belief. Whereas in my country, you have to struggle just to be a little bit honest. That's why in my novel Sharky's Machine you have four cops who are basically losers who become winners in the end because they couldn't be corrupted. That's also the story of Chameleon where you have two or three people who are honourable. I'm dealing with knights on white horses slaying dragons. And I still believe that's possible.

kc: Does the writing of action fiction though become a safety valve for your own violent fantasies?

wd: It's indeed a great release. What it is, is playing out your fantasies on paper. For instance, in Chameleon, I developed my own brand of martial arts. What I did was draw stick figures where I could try out the moves -- sometimes in front of a video camera -- and describe them. I really got into it. Then I also got into the method of trying to remember things without taking notes which is what these people in the book could do. I never took it as far as them but I found that if I went into a restaurant and found it fascinating enough to use in a book, I can remember every little detail of it. Then I file it away in my word processor. Often I tell people that I'm a method writer because I actually act things out in the room because you deal with your psyche on paper.

kc: How do you act these things out?

wd: If I'm angry, I go in and write a violent passage for a book. When I come out, I don't even want to step on an ant. If I'm writing about a character that I really like, and I know that the character is going to be killed, I can get depressed for a couple of days. In Sharky's Machine, when Nosh, Sharky's best friend, gets killed, I got into a funk over that and I couldn't write for over three days. I was so upset over having to kill that character. When certain things happen, I react emotionally as it is really happening. It can be draining at times. It's a good thing that I live on an island where my house is a hundred feet from the Atlantic Ocean. A lot of times after writing a passage I'll go down to the beach just to calm myself down. What happens is that I get hysterical inside and I can't translate that on paper. How do you describe to anybody the feelings and thoughts that go through your head at times like that? The best thing to do is find a way to get rid of it, once you've used up the part you need to put on paper.

kc: I'd like to take that a step further. If you resolve certain conflicts within yourself, does it also mean that your writing will change?

wd: Absolutely. My writing changed radically from Sharky's Machine to Chameleon. And a lot of it is in the emotional content of the book. I think Chameleon is a better book than Sharky even though it feels colder. Maybe that's because of what some of the characters do in the story.

kc: Has living on the beach provided the sanctuary needed?

wd: Yeah. I remember when the film of Sharky's Machine had its world premiere in Atlanta. All of the movie stars came and it seemed like the biggest thing since Gone With the Wind. As a result of it, I started to get a celebrity status in Atlanta. I was expected to be places and doing things. This started to really disturb me because I started to lose the independence that I had gained by writing these books. One day, I got on this airplane and flew down to the coast of Georgia and told this real estate agent that I wanted an island. The agent found me one immediately. Now I don't even go to the mainland. I don't even want to leave this place. There's one place there that is like Cannery Row restaurant filled with expatriates and people who just go to escape like me. I go there in the morning, read the newspaper and chat, then I don't see them until the next day. Since I moved there my writing productivity just jumped.

kc: I guess the biggest distinction some would have to make meeting you -- or knowing you -- is to separate the man from the writer?

wd: Probably most writers become very involuted and difficult to deal with when they're working. And I feel that I'm difficult to deal with because I vague-out. I can hold a conversation without even knowing what I'm saying. I'm so used to doing it. When I'm through, I wake up one morning and the book is finished and I have nothing to do. It's a bit of a downer because I've been living with it for so long. Then I go and do crazy things like scuba diving for weeks at a time. It's a schizophrenic way to make a living, but I wouldn't have it any other way. I love the isolation. Nobody can invade it. What other occupation is there where you can be totally isolated and deal with yourself in whatever terms you want to deal with yourself in?

Talking Out of Turn #13: William Diehl (1982)

-- Kevin Courrier is a writer/broadcaster, film critic, teacher and author. His forthcoming book is Reflections in the Hall of Mirrors: American Movies and the Politics of Idealism. Courrier continues his lecture series on Film Noir (Roads to Perdition) at the Revue Cinema in Toronto in March. He's also facilitating a film series called Reel Politics at Ryerson University continuing February 27th.

Seven Ways to Die Quotes

Seven Ways to Die: A Novel by William Diehl
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Seven Ways to Die Quotes  
“Listen. The past will become the present and the future will unfold before your eyes. Sometimes when you are alone it is okay to think about what has gone before. In your life, I mean. To understand why the past has become the present. Sometimes it is okay to think about where the trail will lead you, and why you are following it at all.”

Kansas City Star Mentions Seven Ways To Die



Seven Ways To Die by William Diehl with Kenneth John Atchity  


William Diehl, the Georgia author of several mysteries, among them “Sharky’s Machine” and “Primal Fear,” died in 2006. He left about 400 manuscript pages of a final mystery, along with detailed notes.

With the blessing of his widow, Virginia Gunn Diehl, a film producer named Michael A. Simpson gave the manuscript to friend Ken Atchity, a former Kansas Citian who is also an author and film producer.

The book, “Seven Ways to Die,” now has been published. It was based in part on a coroner’s handbook given to Diehl by an Illinois medical examiner.

“I went into it in a kind of forensic way, seeing what was there and the outline Bill had done,” said Atchity, who grew up in part in Kansas City and graduated from Rockhurst High School.
“I spent two years putting this jigsaw puzzle together, reading Bill’s work over and over again.”

The response from Diehl’s fans has been gratifying, Atchity said. “A lot of them think it is really Bill’s work,” he said.

For more about Atchity, go to

 To reach Brian Burnes, call 816-234-4120 or send email to

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Awesome Review Of Seven Ways to Die!

fran l
What if you could communicate and understand the voices and sounds of animals? What if those voices and sounds could keep you safe and help you understand your environment? Animals can teach humans so many things if we really pay close attention. Love is something we all want and animals when treated with kindness and caring love us unconditionally. Some animals help us to heal and others teach us about ourselves, each other and the world we live in. It takes time to learn this skill and develop this trust in order to communicate with animals. Right of passage is often part of the Native American culture. Young boys before becoming part of the tribe and men have to endure a survival test. One young boy and an older man enter the woods on horseback so that the child can begin his journey into manhood. With only the bare essentials that they allow, knowing how to survive on his own this young man and the older man venture to a campsite, each their final meal together and at dawn’s light the man is gone and the young boy is now on his own. Smart, alert and knowledgeable, the young boy moves further on and comes face to face with many obstacles. Killing a rabbit for his dinner he never sees the rattler that was about to attack him. Staying focused and centered he deals with the venom and the wound hopefully removing all of the poison before it enters his bloodstream. With his grandmother’s red ointment as a salve to prevent infection he cleans the wound and then something miraculous happens. While asleep as wolf removes the tourniquet on his wound and cleans it in its own special way. Could this wolf be a special gift from God to help guide him through? Now at the end of his journey he would become a man. Let’s meet this young man-years later: Micah Cody our main character.

Serial killers target many people for different reasons. Melinda was a beautiful young dancer who never made it into the company of any ballet. Wanting to make a living she entered an entirely different and more dangerous world of dancing. Before leaving work she finds a card with a number on it. Asking the bartender if he knew where it came from lead nowhere. Entering her apartment was the last thing she would ever do. The killer was waiting for her.

Raymond Hanley was a young stockbroker engaged to his boss’s daughter. Entering the apartment the maid finds a horrific sight. Both victims Melinda and Raymond, although the murders were two years apart were made to look like suicides. Where they? Enter Micah Cody and his special Tactical Assistance Squad, which he created for one purpose to capture serial killers. What is unique about this squad is their ability to step into an investigation at any point and take it over. Each member of the team handpicked by the Micah to work the murders and hopefully solve these cold cases. His team consists of Lieutenant Frank Rizzo, Detective Calvin Bergman and the forensic pathologist Max Wolfsheim. But, not everyone wants them to solve their cases and one man is determined to bring them down and prove that he has what it takes to solve these murders. Crime reporter Ward Hamilton has written many well-documented novels but needs another winner to get back on top. Two failures did not endear him editor of the magazine he writes for. Jake Sallinger had him over a barrel and now he had to pitch and idea that would give him the advantage he needed to get control of his career and bring this unit down.

As we flash forward to the crime scene the author allows the reader to enter the apartment of the deceased and takes everyone including the detectives and Micah on an inside tour of the apartment, the investigative process and the procedures followed along with questioning the witnesses. Neighbor questioned and the maid sent home there is much more that needs to be addressed as the victim’s black book contains a lot of information and Black Halloween Mask was found. But, there is much more as our star reporter was given the deadline of Halloween for his first article in the series he wants to right dealing with this unit.

Bringing his team together in their unique surroundings the reader meets all of the members and gets to know what their specialties are and the author introduces more information about the murder. One black book had all of his vital information plus receipts with his expenditures except for the one for the taxi that took him home. But, there was a vital piece missing and before they could piece it all together the team needed to know where his computer, blackberry and cell phone were, find the missing receipt from the taxi company and learn where he stopped before going home. Raymond Hanley had several meetings before returning home and one might have gotten him killed as the author reveals more about his man’s life than his future wife would like to know.

Kate Winters has just joined their team as their ADA in order to keep them on the right course during an investigation. Meeting the team and entering the investigation she learns more about the case, the victim’s lifestyle and the possible reasons he might have been killed. This self-made man was into more than most women would want their fianc├ęs to be into and there has to be linked to his other activities that got him killed. As the autopsy was completed what is related is that the victim knew his killer, submitted too much of what happened and the bondage involved and the end result still remains to be figured out.

The crime scene was devoid of blood and the reason why you will learn as you listen to Max’s detailed account of the autopsy and his findings. Approaching Raymond’s boss brings up other questions as to why he handled the information in such a clinical manner and did not seem to really focus on who might have killed him, how or why. So, what is the interest of this reporter as he renters the action and enlists the help of his editor to ask the police for some assistance in getting the files of the cold case he is writing about. The link between Melinda’s death two years before and the present one just might come to light.

The research alone is quite extensive in this book taking us into life of a young man from the Nez Perce Indian Reservation to his present life as the head of the Tactical Assistance Force. Added into the plot that keeps it moving is the research into police investigations, how an autopsy is handled and how a proper investigation is run. Why would someone go to a sex club and go to the trouble of handing your partner a key to your front door and apartment unless the killer or other person gave the key to someone else? Who wanted to eliminate Raymond Handley that they went to so much trouble to create a crime scene cleaner than most homes after a service comes? When Handley’s next-door neighbor takes an interest in Cody why does he come to her aide? When he introduces her to a friend she learns about his unique ability to communicate with animals as she observes him with the two wolves that he rescued and a friend who took care of their wounds. There is much more as we learn more about Amelie, Bergman and his quest for answers using the black book and Louis Nevins his friend and business associate. Why are the wolves howling and how will this link together? Characters that are vividly described, devoted to their craft and would make any police department proud to have on their team.

Micah and his team were relentless in following each clue and trying to prevent more deaths but the killer seemed to be ahead of TAZ and from Melinda whose death two years before you will learn was related to one of the deaths in the present led the killer to get six more victims. Seven unique ways to die and just why each victim was chosen you won’t believe. But, when Micah is in danger and the killer is upon him and the mode of death inflicted will he be able to remain calm and use his knowledge of the past, his childhood experiences and the words of the Old Man to save himself or will he be number 7 as the killer planned? How this all ties together and just why all the murders occurred you have to learn for yourself? Seven Ways to Die: All painful and each unique in its execution. Who was behind the plot to try and bring Micah down? Why wanted him gone? Author William Diehl’s last novel is definitely a testimony to his outstanding writing, fast paced plot with intricate twists, turns, surprises and an ending that you won’t expect or see coming. With the outstanding support of Virginia Gunn Diehl who provided the manuscript and author Kenneth John Archity his final story came to life for everyone to read. Do you hear the wolves?

Thank you for giving me the honor of reviewing this book.

Let’s give this book: FIVE HOWLS

Fran Lewis: reviewer

Diehling for Dollars

Bill Diehl caught the proverbial brass ring, but it was with a last-minute lunge: As he and his agents were talking on the phone about which of two offers to accept from publishing companies for his first book, the phone company cut off his service for non-payment. 

 "I had to walk about a half-mile to a phone booth to finish the negotiations." 

From that phone booth, Diehl negotiated a $1 million deal with the Dell publishing company. 

Sharky's Machine
by William Diehl
Atlanta narc cop stumbles across a mob murder with government ties.
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