Glen David Gold’s Carter Beats the Devil was a remarkable first novel -- except that it wasn’t a first novel. Gold, an alumnus (along with Michael Chabon and wife Alice Sebold, among others) of the University of California, Irvine’s vaunted writing program, was far from a novice by the time Carter was released in 2001. “Like George Orwell,” Gold said in a publisher’s interview, “I had four novels to ‘get out of my system’ before I arrived at this good one.”
Good indeed. Carter Beats the Devil is a literary freak show of sorts, a mystery/character study centering on a real magician from the 1920s and a plot involving the death of President Warren G. Harding. Gold -- who cites influences including Paul Bowles, John Irving and comic artist Stan Lee -- was already an aficionado of the time period. A key inspiration for the story came as a birthday present from Gold’s father: The gift was a poster depicting Carter the Great himself playing poker with a Mephistophelean adversary. It was an ad for Charles Carter’s show, featuring its third act, “Carter Beats the Devil” -- and a version of the poster appears on the novel’s cover.
Gold had created quite a project for himself when he decided to write about Carter, knowing nothing about magic to start. He plunged himself into research of both magic and the 1920s, research that later added evocative period detail (and critical respect). The nearly universally well-received result was a New York Times Notable Book of 2001, earning fans on the strength of its quirky subject matter and simple but layered prose. “His book,” wrote Stephanie Zacharek in the Times Book Review, “which is a work of fiction built around a framework of real-life characters and events, is simply a grand story told well, in plain language that glows with bare-bones elegance. It's a class act.”
Having sold his second novel already to Hyperion (revealing only that it is set in California’s East Bay area) and set to appear in a Chabon-edited issue of the literary journal McSweeney’s, Gold spent a good deal of 2002 touring and doing interviews with his fellow literary sensation/better half, Sebold. It’s clear that just as Carter Beats the Devil wasn’t his first novel, it won’t be his last.
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Carter Beats the Devil was optioned for the screen by Tom Cruise’s C/W Productions, with Mission: Impossible director Robert Towne attached.
Gold married author Alice Sebold in 2001. The pair met in 1995 while fellow students at the University of California, Irvine; Sebold said in the Contra Costa Times that Gold "is my first reader, and I'm his. He's a different writer than I am, so we play to each other's strengths. It's great living with someone who is a truth-teller about your work."
Gold attempted a career in Hollywood as a screenwriter, getting several scripts optioned but never produced. According to a chat at the Washington Post’s web site, the only thing he wrote that saw the light of screen were “Nickolodeon animation shows.”
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