Trimming the Weeds & a Reprehensible Ranger

July 9th, 2013 by Max Allan Collins

I have completed KING OF THE WEEDS, the final novel created from the six substantial Mike Hammer manuscripts in Mickey Spillane’s files.

This does not mean my collaborations with Mickey are at an end – I hope to fashion three more novels from shorter but still significant manuscripts. There are also short Hammer fragments (five or six pages) that I will continue to flesh out into short stories with an eventual collection the goal. In addition, considerably more non-Hammer material awaits in Mickey’s files, including three unproduced screenplays that I hope to turn into novels. Plus, there are short but significant non-Hammer fragments ranging from a chapter to two or three chapters, sometimes with notes, that could possibly be converted into Hammers. In addition, several outlines for Hammer novels remain (like the one I used as the basis for the audio play ENCORE FOR MURDER).

Mickey wrote and published thirteen Mike Hammer novels. I think it would be very cool if I could add another six novels (to the six I’ve completed) plus a short story collection and double that list. On the other hand, I have reached my first and most important goal – to complete the manuscripts on which Mickey had done considerable work. In several cases – like COMPLEX 90 and the Morgan the Raider novel THE CONSUMMATA – the books had even been announced in the publishing trades. I think Mickey truly intended to go back and finish most of these.

As I’ve mentioned, I will be talking with the folks at Titan at San Diego Con about continuing Hammer. I will report when I get back.

Now, while I say I have “completed” KING OF THE WEEDS, I still have work left to do. I have finished the book in the sense that I have reached the end of it. I revise as I go, a minimum of three passes per chapter and often more, with Barb editing along the way – she seeks out inconsistencies, word repetition, missing words, and makes suggestions. I always enter her corrections and deal with any revisions growing out of her edit before I move on.

Today I start the process of reading and revising. I work with red pen on a hard copy, and Barb enters the corrections and revisions as we go. How long this process takes varies book to book – a Quarry novel may take a day or two, whereas a Heller could take a whole week. This Hammer novel, which has a very complicated plot, will take two days minimum. If I hit something that strikes me as problematic, all bets are off – I will go back to the machine and start re-writing any troubled section. This happens seldom, though.

This was a tough one. I think it turned out well, and my fears have lessened that the older Mike Hammer might not please new readers who know only the wild and woolly private eye of THE BIG BANG, KISS HER GOODBYE, LADY, GO DIE! and COMPLEX 90. But the final chapters are as wild a ride as you’ll find in any of those. And I think the older Mike Hammer, with his career winding down — KING OF THE WEEDS was conceived by Mickey as the last Mike Hammer novel, after all – is very interesting.

Next week, we will be going to the San Diego Comic Con. By “we” I mean Nate, Abby, Barb and me. We will post our schedule (including two panels Nate is on) here next week. Then we will probably post brief daily updates from the con.

* * *

The Fourth of July weekend was a lot of fun with very beautiful weather. The Crusin’ gig at the Brew in Muscatine went extremely well, and lots of locals who hadn’t seen us in a while got to see the current strong line-up – earning us many great comments.

We also spent a good deal of time with my old high school buddy Ron Parker and his very cool wife Vickie, visiting from Florida where they retired after careers in the military. Ron is very smart and funny, but don’t tell him I said so. He is one of the last surviving members of our group of poker-playing pals who went through school together. How far back does this go? Well, we began playing poker together when MAVERICK was airing first-run episodes. Ron and I reminisced about Jon McRae, the basis for the John character in NO CURE FOR DEATH, and our late friend Jan McRoberts, whose mysterious death I fictionally explored in A SHROUD FOR AQUARIUS. Jim Hoffmann, who produced the MOMMY movies, was also part of that group, is also gone. Alive and well of the poker players are Mike Bloom, Nee Leau, John Leuck and David Gilfoyle – the latter the funniest of a very witty bunch of guys. Dave was nicknamed “Wheaty,” and you will meet him in my previously unpublished 1974 novel SHOOT THE MOON, if you buy the Perfect Crime collection EARLY CRIMES coming out late this summer.

The Lone Ranger

With Ron and Vickie, Barb and I went to THE LONE RANGER. I don’t like to write negative reviews, but I found the film reprehensible – misguided, misjudged, misbegotten. If we hadn’t have been with friends, we would have walked out. Disney is a company built on family entertainment, and THE LONE RANGER of radio and TV was the most wholesome of western heroes – he used silver bullets so that would not shoot his gun carelessly, and (like Superman) never killed. This LONE RANGER is an unpleasant western filled with stupid violence put together by a gifted director who wanted to pay tribute to ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST and not the actual source material. The new film’s Lone Ranger is a clumsy goofus and Tonto a nasty lunatic. The tone is uneven to say the least – forced unfunny humor is interspersed with bloody violence. And it’s as slow and long as you’ve heard. Oddly, much of the 2013 LONE RANGER seems culled from the previous disastrous take on this material, the notorious 1981 flop THE LEGEND OF THE LONE RANGER, which did not make a star out of Klinton Spilsbury. Remember that one? The producer alienated every baby boomer on the planet by suing the ‘50s TV Lone Ranger, Clayton Moore, to keep him from doing personal appearances in his mask. LEGEND is a hard film to see – my widescreen copy is from overseas – but it’s actually better than this new RANGER film (faint praise), which lifts from LEGEND such elements as making John Reid (think Clark Kent) a virtuous attorney, turning Butch Cavendish a madman, setting an action set piece on a moving train, mounting a Gatling gun massacre, and showing the Ranger and Tonto dynamiting a bunch of stuff (a bridge in the new picture, a dam in the other).

The 2013 movie actually ends with the Lone Ranger finally uttering his signature line, “Hiyo Silver, away,” and Tonto telling him never to say that again. The Ranger apologizes, of course. The final line of the movie is a reminder that “tonto” means “stupid” in Spanish. These filmmakers are embarrassed by the material they were hired to re-boot, and should be ashamed of themselves. When would Barb and I have walked out had we not been with Ron and Vickie? How about when Tonto, for a cruel gag, drags a barely conscious, wounded Lone Ranger through horse dung? Or maybe when the grand steed Silver drinks beer and belches. RULE NUMBER ONE IN ADAPTING FAMOUS MATERIAL: Do not have contempt for it.

M.A.C.

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19 Responses to “Trimming the Weeds & a Reprehensible Ranger”

  1. Joe Menta says:

    Will “King of the Weeds” flow naturally into “The Goliath Bone”? Or are both alternate takes on a winding-down Mike Hammer having a final go at a big adventure? I hope it’s something closer to the former. While the quality of the individual stories is the most important thing, why have a muddled and confused overall timeline if you can avoid it? Someone should tell the Bond producers that, too.

  2. It flows.

    One of my goals has been to shape and sharpen the continuity, which Mickey was admittedly somewhat haphazard about.

  3. Paul.Griffith says:

    Wow! I can’t wait for the new Hammer novel! “Complex 90″ was such great fun to read! I am also looking forward to the release of

    the shorter Hammer story collection. I hope Titan can see the relevance of having the other material released to the public. On

    another note, “Target Lancer” was so enjoyable that the wait for the third novel of the trilogy is agonizing. The anticipation waiting for

    new Hammer, Heller, and Quarry books has been exhilarating to say the least! I have already pre-ordered “Ask Not” and “The

    Wrong Quarry” from Amazon. Now all I have to do is sit back and wait…wow, what a great ride it’s been!

  4. Thanks for these lovely comments. I am particularly happy that you liked TARGET LANCER so much — I admit to disappointment that this book did not receive a Shamus nomination, or any other nomination for that matter. On the other hand, I never dreamed we would get a Nero nom for ANTIQUES DISPOSAL, so these things even out.

    The story collection is probably a few years away. Not all of them are written (I have three left do, and these come gradually as time allows, and when a magazine editor prods me for a story).

    Thank you again, Paul.

  5. Brian_Drake says:

    Can’t wait for The King of the Weeds! I first read about it in One Lonely Knight.

    If you want to watch a good Lone Ranger movie, check out the features made after the TV show ceased: “The Long Ranger” and “The Lone Ranger and the Lost City of Gold.” Clayton and Jay at their best! Both are in color and on DVD and worth your time again and again.

    There’s an unintentional blooper in one of them, I forget which, where the Ranger and Tonto are riding away and Silver bumps into Scout and the actors have to move quickly to prevent a tumble. Of course they keep riding like nothing happened. Wonderful films.

  6. Brian, as you might guess, I saw both LONE RANGER features in the theater. I’ve seen them since, but it’s been a while. Seems like a good idea to cleanse the mental palate with a double-feature….

  7. patrick_o says:

    Max, thanks for the warning about THE LONE RANGER. All sorts of warning bells rang in my head when I saw the trailer and saw Johnny Depp’s name being paraded in front of Arnie Hammer’s. Call me crazy, but I think the title character should get top billing, and the sidekick should be #2. Seeing him walk around a la Captain Jack Sparrow also gave me uncomfortable flashbacks to the horrendous “Alice in Wonderland” film in which he did the exact same thing as the Mad Hatter. Thanks for confirming my nasty suspicions — that’ll save me a cool $15.

  8. Paul.Griffith says:

    Sounds like they should have titled it “Tonto”.

  9. I took Brian Drake’s advice, and Barb and I watched the 1956 LONE RANGER movie with Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels. I saw it in the theater when I was eight and loved it. And you know what? It’s still great. We’ll watch the other one, LONE RANGER AND THE LOST CITY OF GOLD, soon. I have no idea what somebody from my son’s generation, without any nostalgic history with the characters, would think, But I loved it, and the thing was full of action and amazing stunts. And it wasn’t overtly a kiddie show in any way. Moore and Silverheels are charismatic and quite wonderful. The new movie is going to go down in history as a debacle.

  10. SPKelly says:

    Being a Hammer newbie, could you put out a chronological order to the books or a preferred reading order?

  11. Of course, I encourage you to read the new books because that helps keep Hammer alive (and the lights on in my house). But I just put this together in hopes it would appear at the front of the next book (KING OF THE WEEDS):

    I, the Jury
    Lady, Go Die!*
    The Twisted Thing (published 1966, written 1949)
    My Gun Is Quick
    Vengeance Is Mine!
    One Lonely Night
    The Big Kill
    Kiss Me, Deadly
    The Girl Hunters
    The Snake
    Complex 90*
    The Big Bang*
    The Body Lovers
    Survival…Zero!
    Kiss Her Goodbye*
    The Killing Man
    Black Alley
    King of the Weeds*
    The Goliath Bone*

    * = M.A.C. co-author

  12. mike doran says:

    Apropos of the Hammer Chronology:

    As we all know, several years back NAL (or whatever the hell they’re calling themselves now) put out Collections of the earlier Hammers, three to a volume (the first and third carried intros by you).

    That left four Spillane Hammers not accounted for, in order to make a full (boxed?) set.

    That sort of thing always gets to me, has for as long as I’ve been buying books – this close to a full set, and The Long Wait for the obvious last volume to drop.

    Just out of curiosity, was there a planned Volume 4 (with another of your spiffy intros), but the bean counters at NAL (or whoever) dropped it?

    Update:
    ANTIQUES CHOP still MIA on Chicagoland bookshelves (what there are of them, anyway).
    (Maybe if you’d published it first in Swedish. :-D )

  13. SPKelly says:

    Thanks for the list.

    I always buy the books of my favorite authors to help keep them in business. But I haven’t read any Hammer yet and knowing where to start in a long-running series makes it easier.

  14. Mike, I’ve seen CHOP in two suburban Chicago area B & N’s. The book was on their hardcover bestselling mysteries list for a couple of weeks at least.

    I have tried on several occasions to get another Hammer volume out of NAL. I believe the remaining ones are available from them individually as e-books.

    I actually had a scuffle with NAL over the third antho (I did not do the intro the second book — Lawrence Block, who really is not a Spillane fan, wrote it). I had been promised a modest fee (I believe $500) and sent in the intro, and the editor there wrote back saying it was a spiffy intro, thanks, but there was nothing in the budget to pay me anything. But they were happy to use it, and figured I would consider it a labor of love. So I pulled it, saying if I was going to do it for free, I’d just post it on my web site. There was a bunch of back and forth between them and my agent, and they finally paid up. Keep in mind they knew I was in business with the Spillane estate, so color the disrespect for not just me but Mickey any way you like.

  15. mike doran says:

    Thanx for the quick reply.
    War Is Hell, ain’t it?
    (And the fact that Spillane essentially put NAL (back when it was Signet) in business in the first place speaks (pardon the expression) volumes.

    I’m still holding out against e-books (if the Good Lord had wanted us to push buttons … ).

    Which two B&Ns did you find CHOP in?
    Remember, I don’t drive, and any store I can’t get to via public transit is cut off from me.
    And how in bloodyhell can a book get on a bestseller list if it’s not in ALL THE STORES?
    (I’m not really that pissed off, but I can’t do italics on this site … )

    On another matter:
    Sometime, perhaps within my lifetime, someone will be able to explain to me how Johnny Depp came to be cosidered a great – or even a good – actor.
    I’m not planning to see LONE RANGER OF THE CARIBBEAN anyway, at least not in a situation where I have to pay for it.
    I never cared much for ham with mustard, particularly smoked butt.

    O)K, I got it all out of my system.
    On to other things …

  16. stephen borer says:

    Going back too many years : after i read that the Wrather Corporation got the injunction to keep Mr. Moore from wearing the mask, i got ticked. When “THE LEGEND OF THE LONE RANGER” came to one of our two first run theaters, i picketed the theater. The staff was furious and threated to call the police ; in a rare burst of intelligence, i had already called the police and asked about picketing and even wrote down the sgt.’s name. So i told the staff go ahead, call the police, get more publicity for Mr. Moore. Only picketed for five nights, only one of my 108 first cousins, Gertrude, saw me.
    For some reason, i’ve still not seen “TLOTLR”.

  17. Terry Beatty says:

    We bailed on the Depp/Hammer Lone Ranger while it still had a hour to go. I’d seen enough.

    There’s also an awful made for TV version from a decade ago. Possibly even worse than the current version. LR ends up in a hot tub with Tonto’s sister. Not kidding. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0323100/

  18. mike doran says:

    Probably ought to have waited ’til tomorrow, but what the hey:

    This past weekend, I finally found ANTIQUES CHOP.
    B&N in Skokie (where I probably wouldn’t have gone if I hadn’t had a Books-A-Million coupon to burn off two malls down).
    Anyhow, I got the book – and now I gotta wait ’til November and your C&S appearance.

    Maybe I’ll have better luck (short of having to resort to Internet ordering) in finding the other new books you’ve got coming.

  19. Mike, thanks for being so persistent!

    Depp has talent but I question his taste. I loved him in ED WOOD, and when he did straight stuff like DONNIE BRASCO, he was fine. I think the absurdly overrated Captain Jack Sparrow characterization opened nothing but bad creative doors for him.

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