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

How to Buy Books

Tuesday, June 20th, 2017
Quarry's Climax

A few months from now, Quarry’s Climax will appear. How the demise of the TV show will impact the book series remains to be seen. A graphic novel is coming, for sure, from Hard Case Crime Comics – Quarry’s War (in four issues, then collected). I have discussed a novel called Quarry in the Cross Hairs (or possible Quarry on Target) with my editor at Hard Case, but don’t have a contract yet.

I would like to keep going, and I hope the higher profile given Quarry by the TV series will keep us alive. But it’s a small miracle – maybe not so small – that after all these years, I was able to produce more novels about the character than I did on the first go-round back in the mid-‘70s.

The book business, from the author’s end, is a weird and troubled one, and unless you are an airport author, not terribly secure. But then the book business from the retailer’s end is just as bad – maybe worse.

Barb and I have always made shopping a big part of our recreation, particularly when we go off on a day trip to the Chicago suburbs or Des Moines. I now realize – looking back on the book-, record- and video stores I have frequented – that we experienced a kind of Golden Age of shopping. It says something that my favorite shop of all time was a laser disc outlet. I would spend about three hours there.

Yesterday (Father’s Day), we celebrated my day and Barb’s birthday with a Des Moines trip – actually, we mostly go to Clive. There’s a fine Half-Price Books on offer – the place where all my enthusiasms have gone to die – and a big, well-stocked Barnes & Noble. I shop at Barnes & Noble in Davenport, Oak Brook and Cedar Rapids, as well, and another Barnes & Noble in a different part of Des Moines.

Picking a few things out in the DVD and CD area of the store, taking advantage of a 40% off sale, I noticed no one was at the register – no one around to ask me if I needed help, which I never do (not in a bookstore, anyway). I had noted the same thing at both the Cedar Rapids and Davenport stores over the past month or so. A sales person came back to see how things were going, and I asked about the lack of personnel in this department, apparently chain-wide.

“I used to work with fifteen others,” she said. “Now I’m one of five.”

And it’s a big store.

Those of us who love books need to support bookstores. That sounds obvious, and there’s no question that Barnes & Noble helped drive many indie bookstores out, even pushing Border’s off a corporate cliff. But they are what we browsers have left. I also trade at BAM! (Books-a-Million), who took over the space of a much-missed Border’s in Davenport, and have filled the gap well.

The decline of retail, obviously, is one half of the story, the other half being the rise of Amazon and other on-line ordering options. I am not anti-Amazon. One of my publishers is Amazon’s in-house suspense line, Thomas & Mercer, and all of my books at various publishers have benefitted from the success of my T & M books – none of which are easily found in any brick-and-mortar outlets…as if not selling Amazon-published books will “show them.” As we say in the comics business, “Sigh.”

What can a consumer of books and magazines and DVDs and Blu-rays and CDs do about the apparent slow death of bookstores?

I don’t suggest never ordering from Amazon. I order there a lot, particularly Blu-rays, mostly because Best Buy (where I used to buy my movies) has cut back so far on what they carry. With Amazon and other on-line services, I can pre-order discs and often get guaranteed lowest prices.

The nastiest thing Amazon does, where books and so on are concerned, is give prominence to secondary sellers – who offer used or even new copies at somewhat lower prices than even buying from Amazon itself. Book publishers send out a ton of review copies, and a lot of those freebies wind up as copies available from secondary sellers. When you use that option to buy, you are denying both author and publisher any income.

What do I suggest?

Well, I can share my personal policies, as a consumer of books and more. When I see a book in Barnes & Noble, or any bookstore, I didn’t know existed, that is where I buy it. I don’t look it up on Amazon to see how much cheaper it is. And when I do buy a book (or any media-type item) from Amazon, I buy it from them, not a secondary seller – I want the author and the publisher to benefit, so that more books can happen.

I also buy magazines from B & N and BAM!, unless the title has become hard to find, in which case I subscribe. But I enjoy the little thrill of seeing the new issues of my favorite mags, just as I have since childhood. If the editors/publishers of your favorite magazine request that you subscribe, because it will help them more than newsstand sales, by all means do so.

Just last week I received the final issue of one of my favorites, Video Watchdog, in the mail – a long, glorious run from Tim and Donna Lucas. Bless them both. Such deaths are small things but they add up to a publishing apocalypse.

Keep ‘em flyin’ – keep buying.

* * *

My pal Bill Crider, at his indispensable blog, has revisited a book of mine from the misty past of the ‘80s.

M.A.C.

Holy Supper, Batman!

Tuesday, June 13th, 2017

When the Batman TV show was announced in late 1965, I was ecstatic. It would have been a dream come true had I ever thought to dream it. In January 1966, I was the only comic book fan in my high school in Muscatine, Iowa, and certainly the only person who had been reading the BATMAN comic since around 1954.

Perhaps there were others around me, closeted in four-color shame, but I didn’t know about them. I was open about it. Everybody knew I was into comics, just as everybody knew I was a Bobby Darin fanatic. That I was driven, intense, and wanted to be a writer or a singer or a cartoonist or something in the arts. I was cheerfully humored, although I’m sure this status was no help in getting me laid.

When I got into comics – trading two-for-one at a local antiques shop, or buying them used for five cents or new for a dime – MAD was still a comic book, the original Captain Marvel was still being published, and H.G. Peter was drawing Wonder Woman in a style so eccentric even I knew something was wrong, yet very right, about it. I saw MAD turn into a magazine and the EC horror comics disappear just as I was laying hands on them. Captain Marvel just disappeared, as if a super-villain had taken him out.

For a long time, I had an allowance of ten cents a week, which meant I could buy one comic book a week. Dick Tracy and Batman were the only certainties. The rest went to Dell comics like the sporadic Zorro comics and various movie tie-in issues, filled in with Superman and his “family” – Jimmy Olsen and Lois Lane.

Later I bought Amazing Fantasy #15 off the stands, as well as Fantastic Four #1 and Spiderman #1, and probably the first ten years of both. Sold the valuable issues for hundreds of dollars when I was a college student because, well, I was a college student and the money I got from playing in a rock ‘n’ roll band only went so far.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

In January 1966, a senior in high school, I was delighted and amazed and astounded by the prospect of a Batman TV show. To say I was looking forward to it is an understatement of super-heroic proportions.

Then a disaster happened: on the night Batman would premiere, my church group (the MYF, which I believe stood for Methodists Youths getting Effed) was throwing a supper to raise funds for something or other (certainly not the poor or disadvantaged – probably to go on some trip). I had to serve. Define that any way you like, but it entailed bringing hot plates of food to the waiting victims in the church basement’s dining hall.

Understand that there were no VCRs or any other recording devices to “time-shift” a TV show you wanted to watch. That was as far-fetched as time travel itself. For days I tried to think of a way out. I was past being able to fake sickness for my parents, and the notion of saying I wanted to skip a church function to watch a TV show was as crazy as thinking that someday I would no longer be a Republican.

So I schemed. My parents would be at the church supper, too, which meant the house would be empty. Batman was only a half-hour show. We lived across town, a trip I could recklessly make in under ten minutes. It was possible. It could happen. A laugh oddly like the Joker’s echoed around inside my brain, bouncing off the walls, currently decorated with photos of Elke Sommer.

Wednesday, January 12, 1966. Arriving early at the church, I found a parking place near the kitchen’s side door, went in, and began being conspicuously (suspiciously?) helpful. Hungry Methodists arrived. I began serving. In the kitchen door at right you would go in, pick up your food, then carry a steaming hot plate of who-the-hell-remembers out the other door, at left. Deliver food, maybe get a smile and a thanks (usually not), and repeat the process. At 6:20 P.M., I began the process, entering the kitchen at right, then – not missing a beat – slipped out the side door into the alley and got behind the wheel of my Chevy II.

Like a madman I drove across down, and by 6:29 was seated Indian-style on the floor in front of the TV. The nah-nah-nah-nah-nah theme plays over cartoon credits, my mouth drops open and stays there as I witness a comic-book world awash in color, Adam West and Burt Ward portraying Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson (SPOILER ALERT: the secret identities of Batman and Robin). Frank Gorshin appears as a manic, cackling Riddler, with whom I could identify. The Batusi is danced. Mesmerized, delighted, I watch as the comic book I had loved since age five comes alive in an amazingly deft manner that at once honored and spoofed it – I knew immediately a little kid could enjoy the adventurous, colorful surface, and an adult could enjoy the tongue-in-cheek spoof of it. Since I was both a little kid and an adult, I was the perfect audience.

As the episode (sort of) ended – “Same Bat time, same bat channel!” – I ran from the house to my car like West and Ward headed for the Bat-Pole and the waiting Batmobile, and headed back to the church, where my fellow Methodist teens (and my parents!) (choke!) awaited. I parked, ran to the side door, slipped into the kitchen, picked up a plate of food and exited the door at left, into the dining hall.

Some friend of mine frowned at me and said, “Where have you been?”

I smiled devilishly – more Riddler than Joker. “Home. Watching Batman.”

For a good 48 hours, I was legendary at Muscatine Senior High.

Then, two decades later, I would write the Batman comic book for a year and become perhaps the most reviled writer of the feature in history – because I didn’t take it seriously enough, according to fans who take it too seriously…who think the sixties TV show was the worst thing that ever happened to Batman, when in fact it was what made the (sometimes too) Dark Knight a pop-cultural phenomenon.

Who know more about Batman than the seventeen year-old who raced home to see the premiere of the TV show and risked not going to heaven for it. Or at least catching hell from his folks.

Farewell, Adam West.

* * *

There’s a nice review of Bibliomysteries, the Otto Penzler collection that includes the Hammer story, “It’s in the Book.”

Fun review of Supreme Justice here.

Here’s an interesting if patronizing review of both the novel and graphic novel of Road to Perdition by someone who loves the movie and came to the source later.

M.A.C.

A Cancellation, a Nomination & an Anniversary

Tuesday, June 6th, 2017

HBO/Cinemax has finally officially cancelled the Quarry series, but this comes as no surprise. A shake-up at the network, as well as a conflict between the star (who is committed to another series pilot) and the director of all eight episodes, spelled it out long ago.

What’s most disappointing to me is that my script for season two will not be produced, and I was really happy with it. We had thought some other network might pick the show up, but that now seems unlikely.

I am happy to have had a quality show that gave my Quarry books a higher profile. My hitman has now generated an award-winning short film, a festival-winning feature, and now a first-rate series, and my writing was a part of all three. Maybe we’ll see more of him on screen yet.

More pleasant news came by way of a Shamus nomination for the Spillane/Collins short story, “A Dangerous Cat,” which appeared in The Strand magazine and is also in the collection A Long Time Dead: A Mike Hammer Casebook from Mysterious Press.

Barb and Al, early 1970s
Barb and Al, early 1970s

But the biggest event of the past week was our 49th wedding anniversary, on June 1, which we celebrated with an overnight stay at Galena, Illinois, where always have a wonderful time. For me, it was especially gratifying because – after the various operations and the stroke and all – I was able to spend a long day walking and enjoying myself, feeling very much back to normal (or as close to normal as I ever get). Galena is a quaint, pretty little town of 3500, with lots of boutique shopping and some 65 restaurants. I will be doing a thriller next year set in this scenic community.

On the trip to and from Galena, we finished listening to the audio book of Antiques Frame, so beautifully read by Amy McFadden. It was a reminder to me about how much Barb has grown and flourished as a writer, a profession she never dreamed of entering. Having such a beautiful, talented, smart, funny, patient wife for all these years is the best award/reward I could ever hope for.

The week leading up to the two-way getaway was a busy one, as was the weekend following. I did final edits on the Spillane volume, The Last Stand, which includes the previously unpublished novel of that name, as well as an early ‘50s novella, also previously unpublished, A Bullet for Satisfaction. The latter is a Spillane/Collins collaboration, the former the last solo effort by Mickey. There’s also an introduction explaining the history of both novels. Hard Case Crime will be publishing in both hardcover and soft.

In addition, I wrote the introduction for the collected Dick Tracy Volume 23, for IDW, and dealt with the copy-edited versions of two short stories written by Matt Clemens and me for a pair of horror anthologies. Finally, I wrote the introduction to Scarface & the Untouchable, the joint Capone/Ness bio.

That book now focuses on the Chicago years, with a second volume projected to deal with the rest of Ness’s life. This week I’ll start work on my polish/tweak of the nearly 900-page manuscript. Co-author A. Brad Schwartz and our writing/research associate, George Hagenauer, are working on the bibliography and end notes.

* * *

The complete list of Shamus nominations can be seen at the great site, The Rap Sheet.

Here’s a good current interview with me.

A ton of articles on the cancellation of the QUARRY series are out there, many quoting Michael D. Fuller’s blog post about it. Here’s a good example.

M.A.C.

Antiques on Audio

Tuesday, May 30th, 2017

Our previous update was largely about audio versions of M.A.C. titles, particularly how great a job Dan John Miller does on Nate Heller and will soon be doing for Mike Hammer, now that Stacy Keach has stepped down.

Last year, for the first time, one of our Trash ‘n’ Treasures mysteries under the joint “Barbara Allan” byline was released on audio – Antiques Fate. It was a professional job, and Barb and I were happy to have it out there, but we felt our protagonists – Brandy and Vivian Borne – needed to be more distinctly different in performance. We also felt the audio had given our book a typical cheery cozy mystery feel, whereas the Antiques books are rather subversive send-ups of the genre, with Brandy a put-upon, wry narrator, and Vivian an off-the-wall local theatrical diva. We made our feelings known, and the publisher responded by assigning the very talented, skillful Amy McFadden to the just-released-on-audio, Antiques Frame.

Amy McFadden
Amy McFadden

We are about half-way through the audio, and are delighted with what Amy is doing. She has captured both our main characters, and their narrative voices (we have first-person narration from both Brandy and Mother) beautifully. As her web site notes, “Amy McFadden has narrated over 250 titles in many different genres with a focus on Comedic Fiction, Romance, and not-super-violent Thrillers. She is an Earphones Award winner, and a four-time Audie Award finalist in Humor, Mystery/Thriller and Literary Fiction.”

Read more about her here.

Speaking of the Antiques series, we recently completed Antiques Wanted. I interrupted work on the Eliot Ness/Al Capone joint bio to work on it, when Barb delivered me her rough draft. I also have been working on a Spillane book for next year’s centenary of his birth, completing an early ‘50s novella, A Bullet for Satisfaction, and editing his last solo novel, The Last Stand, for joint publication by Hard Case Crime. Should be a very special book – Mickey finished The Last Stand a few weeks before he passed.

* * *

Gregg Allman died at home last week at age 69.

I admit to not being an enthusiast of Southern Rock, but Allman’s talent is inescapable. I did not know him, but we intersect in an interesting way.

In 1967, as some of you know, my band the Daybreakers went to Nashville to record. My father had been a high school music teacher and one of his students became a successful country western artist – Jack Barlow. Barlow’s producer was Buddy Killen, the top music publisher in Nashville – his Tree Music was where Ms. Tree’s name came from, by the way. Killen, a very nice, sophisticated man, was also a major Nashville producer. He agreed, as a favor to Barlow, to record and produce a session with the Daybreakers. We figured we’d go home with something professional to release locally.

Killen had some top country artists on his roster, including Barlow. But he also had a major r & b artist, Joe Tex, who was released by Atlantic’s subsidiary, Dial. The Atlantic execs had told Killen he needed to round out his roster with a rock act, so he was on the lookout. After our session, he signed us to five-year contracts and, in early ‘68, “Psychedelic Siren” was released. It became a regional hit, and has since become oddly famous, covered any number of times by other groups, and included on various compilations of Sixties garage band rock. To some, it is my major claim to fame.

But back in 1967, times changed in a short time span, with our Paul Revere & the Raiders/Turtles approach dating almost immediately – we heard “Purple Haze” and “Light My Fire” on the radio, driving back to Iowa, and exchanged a collective, “Uh oh.” We learned those two songs at our next practice.

Where does Gregg Allman come in?

Well, Killen signed one other rock act – a group called, at the time, the Allman Joys.

“They were really way ahead of their times, I realize now,” Killen said, talking about the Allman Brothers, not the Daybreakers.

Our one Dial single was DIAL #45-4066. The Allman Joys’ “Spoonful” was DIAL #45-4046. A recent E-bay auction brought $89 for the Allman Joys single. But “Psychedelic Siren” went for $199.99.

Either way, Killen dropped us both.

* * *

Here’s a nice article on why the Road to Perdition film is an overlooked masterpiece (they left out that I created the story, though).

M.A.C.