Archive for the ‘Message from M.A.C.’ Category

Supreme Resolutions

Tuesday, December 30th, 2014

This is the time for making New Year’s Resolutions, and mine are fairly typical – lose weight, spend less, that kind of thing. It may not be possible at this late date, but I would like to spread my work out over the year, instead of having it front-loaded as it’s been the last several, punishing years. Though it feels like a plot against me, the reality is that the various editors and publishers I work for have their own agendas, and by accident those agendas want me to deliver promised books in the first six or seven months of the year.

Part of why I’ve gone along with that is to save the second half of the year for a Nate Heller novel. I have been working on the new Heller novel, BETTER DEAD, for several months now (much longer, factoring in the research, which remains on going). It’s been a tough one because it covers two cases and the research just never lets up. The process is start/stop because each chapter – frequently covering two major scenes – requires in depth research. Thank God for the Internet, and a pox upon ye all non-fiction works that lack an index.

The relative slowness of the process this time (not slow by almost anybody else’s standards, I admit) means I’ll be delivering the book a little late – not much, probably a week or even a few days (it’s due Jan. 1). But those days eat into the time allotted for the next book, and endanger the break of a week or so I need to take between projects just to recharge, and to do smaller promised projects, and guide my brain onto a new track. On top of this (not seeking “get well” cards or anything), I am still fighting, after two weeks, a bronchial virus that has hit this part of the Midwest pretty bad.

Writers don’t get sick leave, and deadlines don’t give a damn. The answer here is for me not to be so quick to say yes to deadlines suggested by editors with their own needs. I don’t have a handle on this, but I’m going to have to get one. Fortunately, this virus is limited strictly to a nasty cough, so I have been able to work through it, admittedly at a slower pace than normal.

Not looking for sympathy here – my late friend Paul Thomas used to say, “If you’re looking for sympathy, it’s been ‘shit’ and ‘syphilis’ in the dictionary.” But there are some opportunities on the horizon – having to do with television – that could change the way I organize my writing affairs drastically.

Stay, as they say, tuned.

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Check out the TV program “Books Live: Books We Love,” featuring Amazon editors talking about their favorite book picks in the mystery and thriller, science fiction, romance, and general fiction categories. SUPREME JUSTICE is featured as a top pick in the mystery genre – discussed by Thomas & Mercer editor Alison Dasho and host Laure Roppe. In addition, a reader “thank you” I taped at Bouchercon is included in the segment. You can view the program here: http://www.amazon.com/b/?node=10126410011

I’m pleased to say that SUPREME JUSTICE was also chosen by Suspense Magazine as one of the Best Books of the Year.

Best of Suspense 2014

The editors of Suspense Magazine asked me to answer a few questions, and here they are:

If your book had a soundtrack what would be its signature song?

“America the Beautiful” sung by Ray Charles.

If you could go ‘into’ a book (any book) and live there for a bit, which book would it be? And which character would you be?

I’d like to be Archie Goodwin in just about any Nero Wolfe mystery by Rex Stout.

What is the best book you read in 2014?

Fiction: Jack Carter’s Law by Ted Lewis (I did the introduction for this American edition of the prequel to the classic British crime novel, Get Carter).

Non-fiction: Masters of Sex by Thomas Meier

I’d also like to announce that starting with the next Reeder & Rogers thriller, my collaborator Matthew V. Clemens will be receiving cover billing. This is much deserved and I’m grateful to Thomas & Mercer for allowing me to do this.

By the way, SUPREME JUSTICE is well over 3000 reviews at Amazon now.

Here’s a nice year’s-end recognition of KING OF THE WEEDS.

THE PEARL HARBOR MURDERS (published some time ago) somehow made a “best of” list, too!

SUPREME JUSTICE shares the spotlight with Ed Gorman’s RIDERS ON THE STORM as two great year’s end reads. Nice company to be in!

Finally, SUPREME JUSTICE hit this ten best list, as well. Remember, none of these lists is valid or worth your consideration…unless one of my books is on it.

M.A.C.

The Five Great Christmas Movies

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2014

The image this week is our Christmas card to you – originally sent by my parents some time in the early ‘50s.

I’ve talked about Christmas movies here before, and last year I emphasized the fun of looking at some of the more obscure but good Christmas movies, like BELL, BOOK & CANDLE and THE FAMILY MAN.

But there are only five great Christmas movies. This is not a topic for debate. This is strictly factual. You are welcome to disagree and comments to that effect are welcome, but they will be viewed with Christmas charity as amusing, misguided and somewhat sad opinions in the vein of the earth being flat and 6000 years old.

Here are the five great Christmas movies, in this year’s order (it shifts annually).

1. SCROOGE (1951). Alistair Sim is the definitive Scrooge in the definitive filming of A CHRISTMAS CAROL. Faithful, scary, funny, unsentimental, sentiment-filled, flawless (except for a cameraman turning up in a mirror). Accept no substitutes, although the Albert Finney musical is pretty good.

2. MIRACLE ON 34th Street (1947). Hollywood filmmaking at its best, with lots of location shooting in New York. Edmund Gwen is the definitive, real Santa Claus; Natalie Wood gives her greatest child performance; John Payne reminds us that he should have been a major star; and Maureen O’Sullivan is a smart, strong career woman/working mother who could not be more glamorous. Admit to preferring the remake at your own risk.

3. IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946). Heartwarming but harrowing, this film is home to one of James Stewart’s bravest performances and happens to be Frank Capra’s best film. Have you noticed it’s A CHRISTMAS CAROL from Bob Cratchit’s point of view? (View at your own risk: Capra’s last film, A POCKETFUL OF MIRACLES, just barely a Christmas movie, recently released on blu-ray and DVD. Longer than an evening with your least favorite relatives.)

4. A CHRISTMAS STORY (1983). The great Jean Shepherd’s great movie that has turned, somewhat uncomfortably, into a cottage industry of leg lamps, Christmas decorations and action figures. Shepherd’s first-person narration has the snap and humor of Raymond Chandler, and the mix of cynicism and warmth is uniquely his. Plus, it’s a Christmas movie with Mike Hammer and Carl Kolchak in it.

5. CHRISTMAS VACATION (1989) continues to grow in reputation, possibly surpassing the original film. Somehow the John Hughes-scripted third VACATION go-round manages to uncover every Christmas horror possible when families get together and Daddy tries too hard. It’s rare that a comedy can get go this broad, this over the top, and still maintain a sense that we’re watching a documentary about everything than can go wrong at Christmas.

You don’t have to agree with this list. I am perfectly happy with you putting the films in some other order, as long as the first three films I’ve listed remain in the first three. I think I’m being remarkably flexible.

There are two Barbara Stanwyck Christmas movies that have gained blu-ray release and in one case a limited theatrical showing. The latter is a 1945 dog called CHRISTMAS IN CONNECTICUT (paired in theaters by TCM with a mediocre 1938 version of A CHRISTMAS CAROL – a stocking full of coal of a double feature). But the sleeper, and a small masterpiece, is REMEMBER THE NIGHT (1940), written by Preston Sturges and co-starring Stanwyck’s DOUBLE INDEMNITY lead, the wonderful Fred MacMurray.

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Both MIKE HAMMER full-cast audio novels (starring Stacy Keach) get reviewed, here and here. The reviewer really likes THE LITTLE DEATH.

Nice mention of SUPREME JUSTICE here.

Here’s a delightful look at ANTIQUES CON from a theatrical point of view.

Finally, Merry Christmas! Remember, you can get in the Christmas spirit (or anyway the Xmas spirit) with ANTIQUES SLAY RIDE and ANTIQUES FRUITCAKE on e-book, and “A Wreath for Marley” in THE BIG BOOK OF CHRISTMAS MYSTERIES.

M.A.C.

Late Greats

Tuesday, December 16th, 2014
Eli Wallach

In their December 19th issue, Entertainment Weekly singled out twelve “irreplaceable legends” who passed in 2014. A supplemental small-print list of 66 celebrities who also passed in 2014 is provided, with a sentence of so of description for each.

It would be ungracious (even for me) to suggest that some of the EW chosen are less legendary and irreplaceable than others who only made the small-print list. But I am all too willing to suggest that the EW Late Greats list displays a shameless lack of any sense of history.

This is not to say that I wasn’t pleased to see mini-articles on such personal favorites of mine as James Garner, Jan Hooks and Harold Ramis. I am not in particular a fan of either Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Maya Angelou, but that’s probably my problem – maybe the Emperor is wearing nifty threads. But the only choice among the EW Late Greats – the only one – representing a sense of popular culture history is Lauren Bacall.

Here are some of the late greats who weren’t deemed to have had the pop-cultural impact of Joey Ramone.

Sid Caesar

Phil Everly (even Joey would disagree with that one).

Sid Caesar (the father of sketch comedy) (Jan Hooks would, I think, agree with me).

Mickey Rooney (the biggest box-office star of the 1930s and a fine actor and comedian who worked for most of his 93 years).

Eli Wallach (one of the great character actors of all time).

P.D. James (major crime novelist).

And most egregious of all:
Shirley Temple

Shirley Temple Black (the most famous child star ever and a huge popular culture figure in the ‘30s and beyond, a virtual symbol of hope in the Depression).

There are other terrible omissions: Pete Seeger, Bob Hoskins, H.R. Giger, Elaine Stritch, Richard Attenborough, Ben Bradlee, among others. Surely the arbitrary figure of 12 Late Greats could have been expanded, and certainly a broader sense of the history of show biz and the arts might have been brought to bear.

Last night, on the final episode of the much-derided but actually excellent Aaron Sorkin series THE NEWSROOM, a responsible-minded young person – away from running the network’s web site for a time, in exile having protected a source – finds his even younger underlings in the midst of a blog entry they’re brainstorming. The subject is “The Most Over-rated Movies of All Time.” Their returning boss notices that the oldest over-rated film on the list is THE MATRIX, and comments that fourteen years and “all time” are two different measurements. He also asks them why they would list the most over-rated movies, as opposed to the most under-rated. They have no answer, other than to suggest it’s more fun. Rightly, the web site boss tells his peers he’s ashamed of them.

I may yet defend THE NEWSROOM at more length, but I’ll say only that one of its themes – very offensive to certain brats at the Huffington Post and AV, who treat Sorkin as if he’s Ed Wood – is that the news back in three-network times used to be better, or at least more responsible. That TV news used to be journalism. That people writing and delivering news once needed credentials – you know, experience.

My point is that EW’s writers share that same problem – thinking that fourteen years ago is the beginning of time.

M.A.C.

Cosby, Capp and Blake

Tuesday, December 9th, 2014
Hickey & Boggs

A few days ago I received in the mail a long-ago pre-ordered blu-ray of HICKEY & BOGGS (1972), one of my favorite private eye movies; it’s an early script by Walter Hill and stars its director, Robert Culp, reunited with his I, SPY co-star, Bill Cosby. A few years before his death, Culp was at the San Diego Con and I was able to chat with him briefly and tell him how much I loved his movie; he seemed very pleased, and would be no doubt be thrilled by the availability of the film. I haven’t watched the disc yet, but I wonder if it’s going to be hard to get past Cosby’s presence in the light of the media storm around him.

I am frankly still trying to sort out my feelings about the Cosby scandal. Based on the where-there’s-smoke-there’s-fire theory, he seems to be a sexual sociopath; but the common aspects of the stories his alleged victims tell are so public, making up a new one wouldn’t be that tough. Public figures are easy targets, and I have to wonder how many famous actors and rock musicians who caroused their way through the Swinging Sixties and the sexual revolution of the Seventies aren’t just a little bit nervous right now. Do you really imagine every groupie Mick Jagger partied with was of legal age?

The best that can be said for Cosby is that he has been a hypocrite, spouting family values and peddling wholesome kiddie entertainment and telling young black men how to behave. You can’t be a pudding pitchman and America’s favorite TV dad and also hang out at the Playboy Mansion (as a married man) and not come up smelling like Brut.

It shouldn’t be necessary to say it, but women are correct that no means no, and that dressing provocatively is not an invitation to dine. At the same time, if I were the father of a gorgeous teenage daughter heading out to a party at Caligula’s place, I just might advise her that she’s putting herself in harm’s way.

Rich and powerful men – and show biz figures are often regular folks who rose (from poverty, in many cases) to dizzying heights – often think decadence is a privilege. But even if Cosby is the monster he’s being made out to be, should the court of public opinion pass the ultimate verdict? I’m just asking. When the journalistic landscape is blurred with blogs, and even Rolling Stone messes up on this very same issue of sexual misconduct (on campus), aren’t we being urged to listen to our basest instincts? Cosby has never been criminally charged. Allegations of misconduct many decades old are as unreliable as memories of that vintage.

My favorite comic strip is Li’l Abner, and I consider Al Capp a genius – a great writer, satirist, artist. But I have long struggled with the sexual misbehavior of Capp’s last years (concurrent with a shrill swing to the right in his comic strip, lessening its impact and its legacy). I dealt with this in my novel STRIP FOR MURDER, for which I’ve taken some heat as a Capp basher. I am anything but a Capp basher – he probably has few bigger fans. But he seems, tragically, to have fallen prey either to mental illness or his worst demons. Or perhaps it’s as easy (and hard) as this – a bad human being can also be a great artist.

The Capp conundrum has never stopped me from enjoying Li’l Abner. On the other hand, I can’t watch a NAKED GUN movie without squirming when O.J. is on screen. And Robert Blake was once a favorite of mine, but since the murder of his wife, I can’t watch anything he’s in. Will I react the same way to HICKEY & BOGGS? Don’t know yet.

Jackson Pollock killed a young woman and injured another when, in a deep drunken depression, he crashed his car. He killed himself, which is an artist’s privilege, but what the hell business did he have endangering one woman and murdering another? Does that make his art invalid? Does it put the splatter into his splatter paintings? I honestly don’t know.

Artists – and I include writers and film people and painters and our entire sorry breed – are all, to some degree, messed up. My wife Barb, in her wisdom, says that all an artist owes us is the art. God knows what Sinatra did behind closed doors, but oh when he was at the microphone. Bing Crosby beat up his boys, and two or three of ‘em killed themselves; but what would Christmas be without Der Bingle?

I would like to think that I will have no trouble watching HICKEY & BOGGS or episodes of I, SPY (I’ve never seen an episode of Cosby’s famous sitcom). But I’m not sure. I seem to be selective about who I forgive. Still, I come away with two things: Barb’s notion that artists only owe us their art; and my notion that the Internet is not the place to go for a fair trial.

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ASK NOT did not win the Nero, an award I very much covet because (among other reasons) it is so damn cool looking. The winner was my friend David Morrell. Read all about it here.

Check out this nice review of THE GIRL HUNTERS blu-ray.

This is a lovely write-up about the Shamus Awards banquet at the recent Bouchercon.

Here’s a great review of the Nate Heller novel, MAJIC MAN.

What do you know? Some kind words about my BATMAN work, specifically the short story “Sound of One Hand Clapping.”

Finally, here’s a very interesting look at Warren Beatty’s half-hour “sequel” to the DICK TRACY film, co-starring my pal Leonard Maltin.

M.A.C.