Turnpike Flameout

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  • About Turnpike Flameout

    When a private jet crashes in the New Jersey Pine Barrens on the Fourth of July, the search begins for faded rock and roller Turnpike Bobby Chin.

    The singer suspiciously survives and turns up wandering in the haunted woods. Soon after, a celebrity sculptor vanishes after unveiling his unflattering statue of the star. The cops say it’s homicide, and make plans to bust Turnpike Bobby.

    Turnpike Flameout - Eric DezenhallBut hair-trigger Bobby isn’t the kind of guy who does time. He’s the kind who gets away with murder.

    When the media circus begins, gangland-bred pollster Jonah Eastman is hired to devise a “P.A.S.” (Plausible Alternative Scenario) for the sculptor’s death. But then a beautiful au pair vanishes from Atlantic City, and it’s all the media want to talk about — not Bobby, which pisses Bobby off because he hasn’t gotten this much attention since the Reagan Administration. As he works to vindicate Bobby, Jonah enters the inner sanctum of the celebrity icon, a world so seductive and lethal that Jonah waxes nostalgic for his days working for the Mafia.

    Turnpike Flameout is a black comic ride through the underbelly of mega-stardom and the spin employed by handlers to ensure that crime pays — quite well, actually.


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  • Q&A with Author Eric Dezenhall

    Q. What is Turnpike Flameout about?

    A. It’s a novel about the self-destruction of a celebrity, a rock star who had a big moment in the early 1980s, and now that moment’s gone. Turnpike Bobby Chin, who got his start as a child sitcom actor, is accused of murder and brings together a “dream team” of lawyers and media manipulators to conjure up a “plausible alternative scenario” to get him off the hook. The tactics used are unethical, shameful — and effective. But that’s showbiz.

    Q. As someone who has handled celebrity damage control professionally, what exactly is the role of a crisis manager?

    A. I’m basically a campaign manager whose job is to make the problem go away, and I have to figure out the best way to make that happen. If there’s a legal issue involved, the focus becomes winning the legal case. If bad, but not illegal, behavior is at issue, I have to figure out if that behavior will be tolerated or rejected by people who matter. If the bad behavior is acceptable — as it often is with celebrities — there’s not much to do. If the behavior is unacceptable, I try to determine the best road to repentance. An apology? A vanishing act? A comeback?

    Q. What makes your narrative voice as a novelist unique?

    A. I don’t write as an objective journalist, but rather as someone who has spent a career on the inside of celebrity and corporate meltdowns — with all of the baggage and bias this implies. The media tend to see these well-oiled “dream teams,” but from the cockpit of the crisis, there is only chaos and desperation. Sometimes audacious strategies are used to draw attention away from core allegations, but the tactical drama pales in comparison to how the star and his handlers come to grips with the reality that the jig is up. On one hand, you want to dislike the players, but on the other hand, there is something very sad about the death of a delusion. I try to convey this in all of its absurdity.

    Q. Tell us something about the psychodrama at work in celebrity flameouts.

    A. The celebrity no longer links his fame with a talent, like singing or acting. He comes to see himself as a star intrinsically, not as a performer or service provider. The further he moves away from the basic skills that made him famous, the more trouble he gets himself into. He is isolated. Whoever tells him the biggest lie, the one that confirms his belief that he’s exempt from the laws of gravity, wins. The handlers aren’t as concerned about the star’s welfare as much as they are maintaining their proximity to the star, which requires deceit. Human behavior expands in the direction of what people can get away with. Most of us have barriers and boundaries, constraints to keep us in line. When a star has a dark impulse, not only are there no barriers to prevent him from acting on that impulse, people will be lined up for blocks to provide him with the forbidden object.

    Q. You reject the notion that celebrities are self-destructive. Why?

    A. Celebrities may be self-destructive in terms of the end result, but I’ve seen no evidence that they’re trying to punish themselves for their success, which is the cliché. Their appetites simply expand and they are ruined by excess and a sense of invincibility and entitlement. John Belushi didn’t want to kill himself, he just had a weakness for drugs. Most of us would not have that weakness indulged because there are things that stand in the way — family, limited finances, limited access to the bad indulgence. Because of who Belushi was, for every one person who said “be careful” there were fifty sycophants who’d get him what he wanted.

    Q. There’s a storyline in Turnpike Flameout about a beautiful au pair who goes missing. What’s our fascination with what you call “lost girls?”

    A. I’m interested in how the culture can be turned on its head by a lost girl. There is something so powerful about the archetype of the damsel in distress that it overpowers wars or earthquakes or anything else that’s in the news. It’s fashionable to criticize this, to ask where are our priorities? But we already have the answer: We are worried about the personal dramas of attractive people because we can play out the plot in our minds. We are hardwired to process little human escapades, but there isn’t a damned thing we can do about a tsunami on the other side of the world, and we know it.

    Q. Who is Turnpike Bobby Chin based upon?

    A. He’s based upon every celebrity who confuses random good fortune with permanent destiny. I base my characters on cultural phenomena, not real people.

    Q. There’s been a lot of talk lately about Tom Cruise’s antics. Is this a flameout?

    A. Not yet, but it sure is a midlife crisis. This is a guy who has been as big as the Beatles since he was in his teens. His fame is very much anchored in his youth. It’s all he knows. Jumping up and down on couches about a hot young girl is an adolescent move. I’m the same age as he is so I understand the overwhelming drive men have to try to extend their lives by lurching backward. Unlike Turnpike Bobby Chin, however, I think that Cruise has an enduring talent and that he’ll find his footing as Redford and Newman did before him.

    Q. Is the kind of disinformation campaign by a media “guru” that you portray really possible?

    A. Rarely, but the public believes it’s commonplace, and that’s what I’m tweaking. We have a strange history of worshipping gurus who claim to have answers, “ways”. With all the hucksterism this country has known, we should have a more sophisticated sense of causality, but we don’t. The latest snake oil salesman is the “spin doctor,” who leads clients to believe he’s got a way to control external elements. Everybody has an investment in the spin doctor: The spinner himself is hustling for clients; the client wants to believe they’ve brought on a miracle worker; the public demands that its theory of black magic be upheld; and the media like to traffic in shamans who purport to explain our world to us. If you hate President Bush, you’ll be inclined to believe that Karl Rove is the omnipotent devil. If you hated Bill Clinton, you may think he got away with things because James Carville was the evil puppeteer. These are very sharp guys, but it’s astonishing how much power we ascribe to them. In reality, a guru is just a strategist whose counsel collided with events that were already proceeding in his direction.


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  • Reviews for Turnpike Flameout

    “The author keeps getting better with every novel.”

    “The jabs are first-rate. And who could resist one gangster named Doo-Wop and another operating out of an ice cream truck?”

    “With snortworthy humor, Eric Dezenhall takes you to a messy, sinister realm — the weird world of crisis-managing a retrograde pop idol who’s gone right off the edge. Finally — an irresistible mystery for people who hide their copy of Us Weekly inside a copy of Vanity Fair inside a copy of the Economist. Smart, bizarre, and oddly danceable.”

    Turnpike Flameout is one of the funniest, smartest novels I’ve ever read. Everything about the book is top-shelf — the characters, the humor, the writing, the satire, the slick plot. I’m a bit embarrassed to admit it, but Eric Dezenhall has written a novel that leaves the rest of us mumbling and shaking our heads, wondering how in the world he pulled it off.”

    “This is what’s really going on while the rest of us are watching the spun-for-the-masses version of star meltdowns on Entertainment Tonight! A fast-paced trip behind the facade of celebrity persona into the rarely seen reality of what it means to be a fading star. The ultimate celebrity tantrum, totally outrageous and totally believable.”

    “In this funny and fast-moving novel, Eric Dezenhall has created a weird world peopled by even weirder characters.”

    Turnpike Flameout is a wildly irreverent parody of traditional “whodunit” mysteries, and it is colorfully enriched by the narrator Eastman’s savage irony and hard-earned cynicism. Author Eric Dezenhall pulls out all the stops in his satirical assault upon America’s preoccupation with pop culture supernovas. On some levels this fine mystery employs a delightfully eccentric blend of styles reminiscent of Jonathan Swift and Don DeLillo, but Dezenhall’s style is uniquely effective and entertaining. Readers ought to thoroughly enjoy the hours spent in Turnpike Bobby’s garbled world, but they will even further enjoy narrator Jonah Price Eastman’s irresistible charm and his boundless resourcefulness.”

    “Literate, witty… a merry cornucopia of characters… the rest of us can thoroughly enjoy the ride.”

    “Noir-ish adventures… quirky characters… an entertaining ride.”


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Turnpike Flameout - Eric Dezenhall

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