One for the books: The literary life of Stephen J. Cannell

Tribune cultural critic

Stephen J. Cannell -- the surname rhymes with "flannel" -- was best known for the scores of TV series that he either dreamed up or produced or wrote. Often, he did all three. He was a creative juggernaut in Hollywood, and if you're anywhere north of, say, 35, his shows were your shows: "The A-Team," "The Rockford Files," "21 Jump Street," "Wiseguy," "Hunter" -- I could go on and on. Cannell certainly did.

Until late last week, that is, when this energetic, talented man with a passion for mass entertainment died from complications of melanoma at age 69.

Why is his name showing up in a literary blog? Because he also wrote novels. Cannell loved thrillers and mysteries. He loved stories, period. He wrote more than 14 novels, including a series featuring L.A. detective Shane Scully. "The Prostitutes' Ball," a Scully novel, is scheduled for Oct. 12 publication.

He made a fortune in TV, but literature was what he loved best. He came to Chicago many, many times to promote his books, and he always talked about his love for writing, for sitting down at his desk and threading a sheet of paper into an IBM Selectric typewriter -- yeah, he was a throwback -- and pounding out a tale.

In person he could come across like a tough guy, favoring black clothes and tight jeans and slicked-back hair and a clipped way of talking, but Cannell had a soft spot for stories. And not just the kind you look at on TV -- he liked stories in books even more.

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