DU Alumni

TV experience informs alum’s debut crime novel

TV writer/producer/director James Conway (BA ’71) recently published his debut mystery novel. Photo courtesy of James Conway

It took only a glimpse at DU’s recruiting materials for James Conway to know he’d found his future alma mater.

“When I was looking through the college catalogs, I saw the mass comm school, and there was a picture of a guy standing behind a camera, and I said, ‘That’s what I want to do,’” says Conway (BA ’71). “When I was 14 I had taken a tour of Hollywood studios with my family, and I fell I love with it.”

Conway kept his eye on the show-biz prize during his time at DU, working for a Denver-based producer of industrial films and commercials while he was still an undergrad. When that producer moved to Los Angeles he asked Conway to come with him, and the DU grad found himself working on the late-’70s nature program “The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams,” as well as TV movie version of such classics as “The Time Machine” and “The Fall of the House of Usher.” In the years that followed, Conway jumped full time into writing, producing and directing for TV, working on “MacGyver,” “Beverly Hills, 90210” and “Melrose Place,” among others.

He also was a frequent visitor to the world of “Star Trek,” where he believes he was the only director to work on episodes from the first season of “The Next Generation” to the last season of “Enterprise.”

“I would go back and forth to ‘Star Trek’ over the years,” he says. “That was great for me. It was home. I really loved that show, and I loved everybody there. I think I directed 17 episodes total of all the different shows, but the biggest thrill for me was doing the ‘Enterprise’ pilot.

“It was a two-hour pilot, and the budget was something like $12 million, which is a huge amount of money for a pilot,” he continues. “When we were done, Paramount had this big theater on the lot, and so we’re sitting in the theater, I was dead center with my wife and kids, and up on the big screen comes the show in perfect stereo — it was fantastic. It was a real high point.”

More recently, Conway has worked on “Smallville,” “Psych” and “Charmed” — on which his wife, Rebecca Balding, had a recurring role — but he also has become a crime novelist, publishing his debut book, Dead and Not So Buried (Camel Press), in February. Not surprisingly, it is set in the world of show business.

“I love murder mysteries, I love thrillers, and because you write what you know, I know Hollywood,” he says. “I had my idea for the open first, where someone kidnaps the body of a 1960s starlet and holds it for ransom. The idea came from there, then I developed the character and the rest of the characters and outlined it like I would any project, and started writing.”

The book is selling well, he says, and he’s already at work on a sequel. Library Journal called Dead and Not So Buried “a clever mystery with one more satisfying twist at the very end,” while the New York Journal of Books said, “Mr. Conway’s Hollywood is alive with betrayal, greed, lust, and all the basilar passions that have typified Tinsel Town since the first silent film. His characters breathe on the page and are enlivened with emotions and desires that are nearly palpable.”

Credit the accolades to Conway’s knowledge of his subject, and credit them to the book’s captivating villain, a type the author knows all too well.

“The bad guy in the book is an actor,” he says. “It always fascinates me how Hollywood is filled with these guys who were the best-looking guy in high school, captain of the football team, good actors, big man on campus, and they always have everything really easy. Then they come to Hollywood, and they walk into a room for their first casting session, and they look around and the room is filled with guys who look just like them, who were big man on campus where they came from.

“Suddenly they realize that it’s going to be a little tougher than they thought, and that’s what happens to the antagonist in this book. It doesn’t go quite the way he expects, and he decides to get even with the people who he thinks have wronged him.”

James Conway will read from and sign copies of Dead and Not So Buried at 7:30 p.m. June 29 at the Tattered Cover in Highlands Ranch; visit www.tatteredcover.com for more information.




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