Larry Weitzman of Hastings, a first-time novelist with many a sports documentary to his credit,will conduct a Zoom conversation with fellow filmmaker Jonathan Hock on Wednesday, Nov. 18, at 7:30 to discuss Weitzman’s newly released “Ghost Rendition.”
The book is an “action-packed CIA spy thriller, part family dramedy, and full of action, quirky comedy, and all-too-human characters,” according to its website, www.thriftbooks.com/w/ghost-rendition. Published by Humanix Books, the novel is available online and in bookstores.
In an interview on Nov. 7, Weitzman provided more background. “The protagonist is a divorced, suburban dad going through a midlife crisis, who also happens to be an off-the-books CIA contractor. He has always been fanatical about keeping his work separate from his family. His rationale is that it is the only way to keep them safe. But in the process, he has also hidden parts of himself that he isn’t proud of, and the cost of that has hurt his family in other ways.”
Although Weitzman is new to fiction, he is a seasoned writer. After graduating college as a finance major, he spent a year on Wall Street before switching careers, joining NBA (National Basketball Association) Entertainment, where he remained for two decades. During that time he wrote more than 10 documentary films, primarily about professional basketball and the players. While Weitzman is also listed as producer and/or director of several of these films, his main contribution was the script, where, he stresses, his focus was on more than just the sport. His interest was the people, their inner lives, which is what inspired Weitzman to try his hand at fiction.
The idea for a spy novel came to him, he said, after he left the NBA and was working from home making independent documentaries. Taking lunchtime walks, he would observe others doing the same and wonder how they made a living. This got his creative juices going. “I’d start to make up stories in my head,” he said, “like what if one of them was a spy or an assassin. And that is where the idea for the novel started.”
“When I directed documentaries at the NBA, I always tried to find the human side of the story,” he explained. “The basketball action was exciting, but understanding who the players were as people and how that influenced what they did on the court, made the stories more universal. I tried to do the same thing with ‘Ghost Rendition.’ I think the action is fun, but I tried to make the characters more developed than you find in most thrillers.”
His next step was research. Since his knowledge of the CIA was limited, he spent a year reading books, exploring internet sources, and conducting interviews.
Any story involving the CIA promises to be heavy on action, and Weitzman’s doesn’t disappoint. The term “ghost rendition” is CIA jargon for an abduction, carried out here by CIA contractor Gib Alexander, who snatches expert computer hacker Danny Pratt and takes him to Egypt, where the CIA can subject the young man to extreme interrogation outlawed in the United States. In time, Alexander is won over by Pratt and ends up protecting him. Alexander contends with foreign agents, a seductive fellow contractor, and a CIA power struggle. The psychological nature of the story manifests itself largely in his inner struggle to keep his family safe from the perils of his profession and his withering guilt about the secrets he must keep.
Weitzman was fortunate in that all the proofreading was done by his real-life family — wife Jacqueline and their two sons — Will, 22, and Alex, 18. He credits his wife with making sure the female characters “didn’t end up as one-dimensional ‘Bond girls.’”
Viewers of next Wednesday’s presentation, hosted by the Hastings Public Library, will be doubly rewarded. Weitzman will be joined on camera by Hock, who, as mentioned, is a sports documentary filmmaker in his own right. The two men, who also happen to be friends, will discuss the difference between telling real stories and creating their own. The audience shouldn’t be surprised if the two start talking sports as well.