ADDRESSES: Home—Houston, TX. Offıce—c/o Houston Chronicle, 801 Texas Ave., Houston, TX 77002.
CAREER: Journalist and author. Houston Chronicle, Houston, TX, reporter; National Public Radio, reporter.
I Love You Phillip Morris: A True Story of Life, Love, and Prison Breaks, Miramax (New York, NY), 2003.
Also contributor to magazines and newspapers, including New York Times, Houston Press, and People.
SIDELIGHTS: Texas-based reporter Steve McVicker's first book, I Love You Phillip Morris: A True Story of Life, Love, and Prison Breaks, is the story of Steven Russell, a criminal mastermind who was arrested and jailed in Texas five times and managed to escape four times. Russell said that he stayed in prison the fifth time to allow McVicker to complete his book. Praising McVicker's restrained prose, Eric Gerber of the Houston Chronicle wrote that McVicker "avoids trying to analyze or pass judgment. But neither does he serve as an apologist. Instead, he takes a reporter's tack and lets the subject matter speak for itself."
McVicker covers the whole of Russell's life, from his childhood, through his marriage which produced one child, and his time as a police officer in two different states. While living in Florida, Russell decided he was homosexual, lost his family and his job, and resolved to become a career criminal. He used his intelligence to commit fraud-related crimes that would support an extravagant lifestyle, when he was not in prison. During one of his lockups from which he escaped, Russell became infatuated with the Phillip Morris mentioned in the title, who became his partner. McVicker did have access to some of Russell's family and friends to fill out the story, but was honest about having problems verifying facts in Russell's complex life. McVicker stated that he never caught Russell in a lie. James McWilliams of the Texas Observer wrote, "While the core of the story might be misconstrued, or at least unverifiable, the outlines and inner layers have complete integrity and make for a riotous, fun, and even provocative book."
While Russell used his background to get ahead, McVicker's prose was also influenced by his background as a reporter. Robert Taylor of Lambda Book Report faulted McVicker for reporting on Russell's life without explaining why he does what he does. Taylor commented that "McVicker goes at his writing with the thoroughness and tenacity of the journalist he is . . . with the result that the story is sometimes more interesting than the telling of it." A reviewer for Publishers Weekly calls the book and its prose "unexceptional" but because of Russell's personality it was a "success."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Kirkus Reviews, May 1, 2003, review of I Love YouPhillip Morris: A True Story of Life, Love and Prison Breaks, p. 661.
Lambda Book Report, October-November, 2003, Robert Taylor, "Escape Artist: I Love You, Phillip Morris," p. 26.
Library Journal, June 1, 2003, Jim Burns, review of ILove You Phillip Morris, p. 144.
Publishers Weekly, May 12, 2003, review of I LoveYou Phillip Morris, p. 60.
Houston Chronicle,http://www.chron.com/ (August 29, 2003), Eric Gerber, "Journalist Offers Engrossing Portrait of Escaping Jailbird."
Texas Observer,http://www.texasobserver.com/ (July 4, 2003), James McWilliams, "The Master Manipulator."*