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

Heart and Soul Pt. 2

Tuesday, March 29th, 2016

Parody cover courtesy of Gene Eugene

The week I spent on the fifth floor – the rehab area – I remember clearly. The days weren’t bad, with Barb again visiting me from late morning till early evening, and bringing me in real food for lunch. Every day had me receiving a mildly demanding schedule, with O.T. (Occupational Therapy) and P.T. (Physical Therapy) sessions every morning and afternoon.

P.T. concentrates on the waist down, getting you walking again, building your strength up, utilizing such things as parallel bars, stationary bikes and a little flight of stairs. The P.T. trainers tended to be young, several of them working on their grad degrees. The one in charge was an attractive blonde named Tessa who had a deadpan sense of humor that Buster Keaton might have envied (not that Tessa would have any idea who Buster Keaton was). She took voluminous notes on her laptop while her grad school charges worked with me, and I accused her of moonlighting on a blog, which I speculated was called “Fit to Fit,” concentrating on fashion tips for the gym.

Another young woman, one of the grad students (whose name I unfortunately don’t recall), attempted to teach me how to get into and out of bed, without disturbing my chest incision (a big concern at the hospital). She demonstrated easily, using her abs since you’re not allowed to push up on your hands. I asked her how old she was, and she said, “Twenty-two.” Then I asked her how much she weighed, and she said, “One-hundred twenty.” I said last year I’d eaten 120 pounds of doughnuts.

The O.T. trainers who I worked with were all women, of various ages. The youngest, in her early twenties, had never heard of Bela Lugosi. I don’t remember how that came up, but she also had never heard of Boris Karloff. Nor Vincent Price. A somewhat older young woman was passing by, and I asked her about Lugosi and Karloff, and she’d never heard of them either. She did know Vincent Price, and explained to the younger woman that he was “the guy at the end of ‘Thriller.’”

O.T. concentrated on my hand, putting me to work with a Silly Putty-like substance and having me insert tiny pegs into slots. Early on we discovered I had lost my signature and could not use a computer keyboard. But we stayed at it.

One of the things various O.T. females did was guide me through my morning shower. This embarrassed me for about ten seconds. I looked like forty miles of bad road and humiliation was a way of life by now. The point was to demonstrate that I could do my own showering and such without help, or anyway much help. I did this pretty well, despite my dislike of showers (also, I had to sit on a bench in there). My funky right hand had me using my left for shaving, at first, but shortly I began forcing myself to use the right for that (electric razor, not straight razor!) and started brushing my teeth with my right hand as well. A big part of getting my hand back (I’m at about 80% now) has been forcing the right hand to do its work, as with eating utensils.

The bathroom had an oddity that I still can’t figure. The sink was narrow and long, putting way too much distance between your face and the mirror, making shaving very tricky indeed. I described this to one O.T. female as being like watching your neighbor across a courtyard shave out the window.

Another oddity, not in the bathroom, was the reclining chair in which a patient spent a lot of time, since the bed was so uncomfortable. The lean-back lever was incredibly hard to utilize – particularly for somebody who was not supposed to strain his chest incision. I think the guy who bought the sinks also bought the chairs. Musta got a deal.

Between the physical therapy sessions and my lovely wife’s presence, the days weren’t bad at all. Seeing Barb come in the door always lit up my world. But oh those nights, those endless, endlessly interrupted nights.

One of the worst began when my heart surgeon stopped by to ask about, well, my regularity since the surgery. It was a week since then and there hadn’t been any. He said cheerfully, “Well, we’ll hit it from both ends.” I will allow your imagination to help you interpret that, as well as spare you the discomfort and embarrassment that made that particular night the longest of all. But God bless the nurses who saw me through it.

The next day I was so weak and dehydrated that I couldn’t leave my room. The O.T. and P.T. people came to me and we soldiered on.

The last straw that led to Barb and me insisting on a release came on an even longer night. I was alternating short bouts of sleep with reading books and watching DVDs, and a nurse suggested that I take a sleeping pill.

A sleeping pill called Ambien.

Let me do a quick sidebar here, having to do with a gift my son gave me for Christmas, one of the best presents I ever received – a Blu-ray box from Japan of the complete COLUMBO in a cigar box. Fantastic! Barb and I, in the weeks preceding my surgery, watched a COLUMBO episode each evening.

Thus it was that during my hospital stay I dreamed my own brand-new COLUMBO episodes almost every night. Sometimes I was Columbo, sometimes I was the killer, other times I just watched. The most memorable episode was about identical twins who’d both had heart surgery and were sharing a room in the hospital. One brother sneaked out to kill somebody, and Columbo caught him because the two urine jugs in the room had both been filled by one brother.

Nate told me he doubted that would play very well on TV.

But you get the idea of the nature of my dreams in that place. Under the first-time influence of Ambien, I dreamed not of Columbo but of Miss Marple and her two talented nephews. Remember those great Christie characters? Me either. But they got themselves caught up in a gauzy European horror film right out of Dario Argento, with a serial killer slaughtering everybody left and right. I was suddenly in the midst of it all, trying to move through one sheer curtain after another while the killer pursued me.

Now understand that I was not allowed to get out of bed without assistance. That I was essentially in the process of learning to walk again. That I was required to ring for help to use the bathroom. Nonetheless, I apparently ran out into the hall, shouting, “Murder! He’s killing everyone! Murder! Save me!” I don’t think I fell down – I certainly had no signs of that, after – but I remember vividly being on the floor while a nurse bent down before me like she was giving a water bowl to her dog.

“Do you know where you are?” she asked.

“I’m not sure,” I said. “But I think I’m in Max Allan Collins’ room.”

Time to go home.

NEXT WEEK: HOME AGAIN HOME AGAIN

– – –

Check out the Wikipedia page for the QUARRY TV series.

And the official QUARRY series web site.

Speaking of Quarry, top writer Mike Dennis provides this great QUARRY’S VOTE review at his web site.

M.A.C.

Heart and Soul Pt. 1

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2016

First off, I want to say how thrilled I am that QUARRY’S CHOICE has been nominated for a Barry Award (Best Paperback Original). Toward the bottom of this update will be links to the full list as well as some reviews.

Also, note the cover art for the audio of MURDER NEVER KNOCKS – just finished listening to Stacy Keach’s reading of the book, and it’s fantastic. Speaking of MURDER NEVER KNOCKS, if you’ve read and liked it, please post an Amazon review.

I am back writing these updates (after the four canned entries that appeared during the month following my open-heart surgery). For the next several updates, I am going to talk about my experiences of late, and you are welcome not to read them and to wait until I get back to books and movies and other “funner” topics. But this is on my mind, and I need to purge some.

A month ago today (as I write this) I had my operation, which involved a valve replacement, two bypasses and a couple of other let’s-keep-this-bastard-alive-while-we’re-in-here items. Of that first day, I remember nothing apart from getting wheeled in the operating room. Barb reports that several hours after the operation, I said, “I made it…I made it….” Shortly after that, like most of us with a pulse, I began complaining.

That night, in the ICU, I hallucinated that I was on a spacecraft and being held prisoner. I could see a long windowed-off corridor where futuristic nurses strolled, ignoring my cries of “Help!”

I remember little of the next two days. I know Barb and Nate were with me as much as possible. Apparently I was not a stellar patient. At some point I learned that my right arm and hand were (to use the medical term) fucked up. Basically the arm was weak and the hand felt like a bunch of sausages sticking out of a wad of mashed potatoes. After initial alarm, I wasn’t worried because I figured it would be temporary.

Various nasty things happened during the ICU stay, including getting tubes yanked out of me and the removal of a catheter. But nothing was nastier than the food. I am considering writing a cookbook called HOW TO SCREW UP TATER TOTS. What saved me was Barb, who was spending every afternoon with me, bringing me food from the outside.

The nurses were nice, very helpful, supportive and even sweet. My heart surgeon dropped by every day, and assured me my hand would “come back.” I gradually came to understand that this would include me working very hard to make that happen.

The worst part of the stay was the long nights. Something about my sleep cycle got screwed up as a side-effect of the heart surgery, so that I would sleep for half an hour and then wake up, thinking it was morning. I spent the nights alternating between reading and sleeping and watching movies on a portable blu-ray player and sleeping some more. Of course due to the surgery I had to sleep on my back. The bed was every bit as comfortable as a hotel-room couch fold-out affair. Nurses came in about once an hour to check vitals and give me tests on my lungs and the occasional pills. I hated these long nights and began begging Barb to take me home.

That wasn’t to be – my hand/arm problem required physical therapy and that meant I was headed to the fifth floor. While still on the seventh floor, I began walking (with a walker at first) and had some preliminary work on my hand. Barb spent many hours with me.

The night of the move I hallucinated again. I thought I was sleeping in a bed in a department store showroom that a nurse and an orderly were disassembling. Then they rolled me out of the showroom onto an elevator and down a hall and into a dark room where I was abandoned. I felt afraid, in fact terrified. I began to shout for help and when a kindly older nurse came in, I said I wasn’t comfortable staying here and wanted to call my wife on the phone. The nurse settled me down and I somehow got back to sleep.

NEXT WEEK: THE BEST HALLUCINATION YET

– – –

Here is a fantastic MURDER NEVER KNOCKS review from the great Ed Gorman (glad to have him back reviewing again!).

Here, at the Rap Sheet, is the complete list of Barry Award nominees.

There are several nice mentions of Nate Heller and me in this wonderful piece by Jeff Pierce at the Kirkus blog.

Here’s a short but nice piece on Mickey.

Finally, here’s a good if patronizing review of CARNAL HOURS. The reviewer seems put off by the sexual content – this continues to baffle me, and must be generational. One of the commenters, apparently a Heller fan, finds the novel the “weakest” of the series. I certainly disagree, and have often given it to readers who wanted to sample Heller, because it’s highly self-contained and has a real-life locked-room mystery.

M.A.C.

Better Dead

Tuesday, March 15th, 2016
Better Dead

Hardcover:
E-Book: Amazon Nook Kobo

The first Nathan Heller novel in three years, BETTER DEAD takes a step back in time from the JFK Trilogy (BYE BYE, BABY; TARGET LANCER; ASK NOT) to deal with the events of the Red Scare-era 1950s.

This book has been coming for a long time. It’s one of the projects that got set aside when it came time for Heller to make a comeback after about a decade away. To get Heller back out there, I proposed the Kennedy trio, a good bet for a sale because of the high-profile nature of the material; a trilogy with Marilyn Monroe, Jack Kennedy and Bobby Kennedy was appealing. But it meant skipping several things I had planned to do, including a Robert Kennedy/Jimmy Hoffa book that I hope eventually to get around to.

With BETTER DEAD, the tricky thing is that I have two cases for Nate to deal with. Neither seemed right for a single book, but together – with the shared era and a number of common characters beyond Heller himself – the whole just might exceed the sum of its parts.

Joe McCarthy is one of the characters – and factors – that joins the two stories: the Rosenberg “atom spies” case, and the Frank Olson murder. The latter has to do with the Army scientist who was dosed with LSD at a CIA retreat, which had unfortunate results.

Heller is working on the East Coast exclusively this time around – he’s just opened a branch office in the Empire State Building – which puts him right in the heart of Mike Hammer’s world circa 1953. Heller has always had things in common with Hammer, but this time – in this setting – those commonalities come out more prominently. In fact, as the guy completing the Hammer stories from Spillane’s files, I several times questioned whether I’d slipped out of Heller territory and into Hammer. And is that a bad thing? Certainly wouldn’t be the first time.

On the other hand, Heller’s victories can never be as complete as Hammer’s.

Others in the cast include Bettie Page, Dashiell Hammett, Roy Cohn, Bobby Kennedy, and Sidney Gottlieb (the CIA’s Dr. Feelbad).

It’s a wild one. Watch for it May 3rd.

– – –

Check out this cool QUARRY’S LIST review.

MURDER NEVER KNOCKS is a Pierce’s Pick this week!

Here’s a nice review of QUARRY’S DEAL.

And here’s a somewhat late-in-the-game review of DEAD STREET.

M.A.C.

Antiques Fate

Tuesday, March 8th, 2016

[Nate here — Before we get to this week’s (pre-written) update, I thought I’d copy over a short post my dad made on his facebook page on Sunday.]

I have been home for five days. Barb is great, loving and supportive but keeping me in line. I face several months of rehab, mostly because my right hand is weak and sluggish. Can’t type much or even write my name. Not great for a writer/keyboard player. Outlook is good if I put in the work. Which I will. But I can’t properly thank you wonderful people for the love and support.

Antiques Fate

Hardcover:
E-Book: Amazon Google Play Nook Kobo iTunes

On the very same day that Pinnacle is publishing the hardcover edition of THE BIG SHOWDOWN, Kensington is releasing the hardcover of the new Trash ‘n’ Treasures mystery, ANTIQUES FATE, by Barbara Allan (Barb and me). This coincidence is made at least a little odder by Pinnacle and Kensington being two imprints of the same publisher.

FATE plays off “fete,” as the setting is not Serenity, Iowa, but Old York, Iowa…a quaint fictional village somewhat based on the Amana Colonies. The difference is that the Amanas have a German history, which they maintain to some degree, while New London is Brit-oriented, maintaining that slant to an almost absurd degree.

Barb and I both are big fans of all sorts of British TV mysteries, from MORSE to LEWIS, FOYLE’S WAR to SHERLOCK, MISS MARPLE to POIROT, GEORGE GENTLY to MIDSOMER MURDERS…among others. The picturesque hamlets of MARPLE and MIDSOMER inspired the Old York setting, and we had a great time playing off a type of mystery that we both enjoy.

We also found that readers responded well to ANTIQUES CON, with its New York setting (hence Old York, this time around). As much as fans enjoy visiting Serenity, we began to realize the series had been around long enough that a little variety was in order. So we decided to do another non-Serenity novel, and will probably do so again.

By the way, it’s very funny. It really is.

Here’s a lovely MURDER NEVER KNOCKS review from the great Bill Crider.

And this nice KNOCKS review from Crime Fiction Lover.

M.A.C.