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

Quarry’s Daddy on the TV Series

Tuesday, November 8th, 2016

So what’s my opinion of the QUARRY TV series?

It’s a first-rate show. The finale (like the opening episode) is a feature-length crime story worthy of release as an indie film. The Vietnamese war sequence – one long take – is as remarkable a piece of filmmaking as I’ve seen in some time, capturing the feel and pressure and insanity of battle. The cast has been stellar, as well, and the cinematography, art direction, location work, music selection, those elements and more, have been damn near flawless. Greg Yaitanes directed all eight episodes, meaning he pulled off a sustained nine-hour movie, an amazing feat.

Yet I get e-mails and comments from some readers bemoaning that the show isn’t like the books, and in some cases I have been criticized for essentially selling out, letting a bunch of Hollywood punks run roughshod over my creation. Well, first of all, if somebody wants to give me money to make a movie or TV show out of my stuff, and the price is right, they can star a sock monkey and set the show on Venus for all I care. As James M. Cain said (slightly paraphrasing here), “Hollywood hasn’t done anything to my books – they’re right here on the shelf.”

The books are the books. They have existed and will exist, strictly on my terms. Certain aspects of the novels just do not translate to film (this includes the Quarry-derived film THE LAST LULLABY, which I co-wrote). The QUARRY novels are almost entirely dependent on the first-person voice of Quarry himself – his sense of humor, his personal philosophy, the very sound of the things he says, the irony, the black humor. That’s lost in any QUARRY adaptation, unless you use voiceover, which is just not the same (and usually clumsy).

Additionally, the books are short, compact narratives depicting the jobs that Quarry goes on – none of them individually would sustain a season of television. Once the decision was made to do long-form narrative like MAD MEN or BREAKING BAD, the near novella form of the novels had to be dropped. The approach of the novels is what TV folks call “procedural.” Cinemax wanted a cast of recurring characters with their own evolving storylines – the novels are lone-wolf affairs, with few if any recurring characters.

Nonetheless, I have been impressed from the beginning that writers Michael Fuller and Graham Gordy have been able to draw upon the novels in resourceful, respectful ways that guarantee that my DNA stays in the mix. The eight-episode season that just concluded draws heavily upon the first novel, QUARRY (1976), which presents Quarry five years into doing hits for the Broker. The backstory of that novel – Quarry coming home to find his wife having an affair, followed by Quarry killing the guy – is depicted in the first episode right down to how the cheater dies. As director Yaitanes has made clear, the TV series is an origin story, a prequel to the novel series. And Mike and Graham understood, from the start, that Quarry was a PTSD vet (though the term wasn’t around when I wrote the early novels) and that the Vietnam War was very much an underlying theme. I was very pleased when they agreed with me that the show be set in early ‘70s period.

The Broker remains very much my character, and the way he insinuates himself into Quarry’s life on the show is clever and satisfying. In the 1976 novel, Quarry discovers the Broker is involved in heroin trafficking and this initiates the deterioration of their relationship – that aspect is present in the series in a major way. Also, Quarry in that first novel is working with a gay partner who is losing his focus – also a major aspect of the series. Quarry’s self-hating annoyance at the Broker’s various proteges comes from the 1976 novel as well.

Don’t be confused by my Executive Producer credit – that’s doesn’t mean I have control of anything. The TV series is the vision of Fuller and Gordy (as executed by Yaitanes), and when I write an episode, I am following their lead. It’s their baby. And of course when I’m writing a QUARRY novel, it’s all mine. Nobody gets near that crib but me.

What is important is that the original novels get some nice attention drawn to them, because of the quality TV series the books have spawned. It means more sales. More readers. More money. Much as I love my work, this is not a hobby – I’m trying to make a living here. When something like the QUARRY TV series happens that I can be proud of, so much the better.

Haven’t watched Wild Dog on ARROW yet, by the way. Is he played by a sock monkey? Just wondering.

* * *

The extended battle sequence I mention above is discussed by director Yaitanes here.

Here’s a short, sweet review of the new expanded version of the ROAD TO PERDITION prose novel. It was picked up by AP and has had wide coverage on the Net.

Finally, here are “15 Things You Didn’t Know About Wild Dog.”

M.A.C.

Every Breath I Take

Tuesday, November 1st, 2016

Anybody who has been following my weekly updates this year, even casually, knows I’ve had “health issues.” For a guy who’s been healthy as a horse his entire life, that’s taken some getting used to.

I started to write a recap of my heart surgery and all the procedures leading up to it, but my eyes started to glaze. Let’s cut to (unfortunate phrase) something that turned up in the run-up to the previous surgery – an “infiltrate” in my lower right lung lobe. What follows is a sequel to my three-part “Heart & Soul” write-up about my heart-surgery hospitalization. There will only be one part, this time, and remember what Patty McCormack said in MOMMY’S DAY: “Don’t you know the sequel is never better than the original?”

Last Monday (Oct. 24, as I write this), Barb and I arrived at Trinity Medical Center in Rock Island at ten a.m. for my noon surgery. Barb was deposited in a waiting room where there were plenty of chairs but nonetheless she discovered that people coughing thought sitting close to her was a good idea. I was shuffled off to a space that was larger than a cubicle but smaller than a hospital room where I was required to climb into one of those your-ass-is-hanging-out robes, questioned, given an EKG and drained of some blood (Halloween coming) and subjected to the procedure I was dreading more than surgery: an IV.

The nurse supervising all this, doing much of it herself, was great. All of the nurses I would encounter on this trip were really good, several absolutely top-notch. Barb was allowed to join me at this point. My surgeon, Dr. K, came in with his easy-going bedside manner and made us feel fine, or as fine as possible. The surgery would last an hour, unless he found something he wanted to deal with on the spot, and that could take a couple of hours.

I was feeling pretty cocky. I was convinced this was nothing much, since heart-surgery patients have been through too much to be easily intimidated, and rejected the ride down the hall on my back or in a wheelchair and instead jauntily strolled down the corridor with a nurse, nodding and smiling to all we encountered, my ass hanging out, of course. It’s not my worst feature.

In the operating room, I cracked wise, putting everybody at ease, and soon I was under. When I awoke, seemingly moments later, I was in intense pain. My back felt like I was having the most intense muscular cramp I’d ever experienced. Though it’s a blur, I learned fairly soon that Dr. K had removed half of my lower right lung lobe, and that a chest tube was in, which was causing a lot of my discomfort.

That discomfort was shocking – worse than the heart surgery aftermath had been. I had not been expecting this – it was like waking to find out a truck had hit the operating room.

Before very long Barb was right there with me. She knew, when the operation went deep into a second hour, this was not what we’d expected.

Let’s get this out of the way – she is one amazing woman. She was with me all the way, right there, with support, love and sweet humor. The nurses all commented on what a great wife I have (I do not recall her being told she has a great husband…an oversight, I’m sure). She looked beautiful throughout, and several nurses who discovered we’d been married 48 years were stunned that she might be, well, as old as me.

As afternoon eased (ha!) into evening, Barb and I came to grips with the reality: what was advertised as a probable overnight stay would be at least three or four days, maybe longer (this Dr. K soon confirmed). I didn’t eat anything that first day, but the pain medication (one of those press-it-for-more buttons) did well enough. We watched MSNBC (my conservative friends will now lose all sympathy for me) because I’m a political junkie, especially election years. I had books along, but didn’t have the focus to read. I had my portable blu-ray player along, too, but just wasn’t in the mood.

Barb stayed till about nine p.m. I was coming in and out of it – I’d sleep an hour, watch TV an hour, sleep an hour. And of course medical stuff was doing on, lots of checking my vitals and tending to monitors. Here I encountered the first great nurse, Trish, who chatted with me like an old friend whenever she found me awake. She was a reader, it seemed. She wound up with a signed TARGET LANCER (she’s a Chicago girl).

The stay in the ICU was pleasant, considering, and I expressed a desire not to be moved to another floor, as is the custom on the second day. I was told there wasn’t much chance of moving me, since there were “a lot of beds ahead of me,” so I would probably be able to stay with Trish and the other nurses I’d gotten to know. Like Antonio and Maria, student nurses from Blackhawk College, whose smiles made terrific medicine.

And of course that evening I was moved to the sixth floor. Barb was unhappy. The room was small (though, incredibly, had once been a double). The TV was high, at an angle helpful to no one. One of two dim wall lights was burnt out (not on my side of the room). There was an area for a sink, but no sink. Barb described it as “Strictly Motel 8.”

Wayne, an older nurse with a Willie Nelson beard and the soothing Southern accent to with it, came along to make our stay more pleasant. He moved the bed near the working light, bitching about the lack of sink (putting us on the same team), and creating a generally welcoming atmosphere.

Along the way I came to terms with hospital food. On my previous trip, Barb had smuggled in a restaurant meal every day to off-set the horror, but I was determined not to put her through that again. I studied that menu like a professor working on a fragment of Sanskrit parchment, and learned what could be abided here – an omelette (made to order) for breakfast, with orange juice and either English muffin or bagel and cream cheese; lunch: meatloaf with gravy, mashed potatoes with gravy, green beans, slice of bread (for God’s sake not “dinner roll!”), vanilla pudding; supper: penne pasta and meat sauce, corn, bread again, pudding again. More than that I cannot help you.

By the third day I was getting worried, but the pain (though controlled by the magic button) was not letting up. I couldn’t reach for anything outside of my immediate grasp without excruciating pain kicking in. I was envisioning weeks of brutal, blubbering recovery. Nonetheless, I resumed my cocky manner and when the physical therapist, a nice young woman, came around, I disdainfully accepted the walker she offered and went up and down the hall, as well as half a flight of steps, without any other help (though the P.T. gal hovered).

Deposited back in my bed, I gave the therapist a jaunty wave and, once she left, lay in a whimpering pile.

That afternoon, however, Dr. K came around and gave Barb a detailed version of stuff he’d told me the day before, when she wasn’t around. (I’d tried to report it back to her, but it was a jumble.) His opinion was that the thing he’d removed from me wasn’t malignant, and it certainly wasn’t lung cancer. But it was possible it could be some lesser cancer, and was being shipped around the country like lost luggage. Experts would let us know in a week or two.

Then he asked Barb to leave the room and he put me on my left side and removed the chest tube. Now I’d had two chest tubes removed in the heart-surgery adventure, not fun, so I was pretty scared, and my body was no help, going into immediate spasms. But the tube came out easily, and instantly – instantly! – the pain was reduced by at least half.

That afternoon I realized I was out of the woods. I could reach for things! I felt more or less human. And Barb and I became determined that I would be home tomorrow, on the fourth day of this episode.

Through this, Barb continued to spend the days and early evenings with me, and I watched more political stuff with and without her. My sleep in the hospital always is uneven, in part because there are interruptions for taking your vitals and making you do breathing exercises; but also because it just is. Worst of all was a 4 a.m. blood draw – while there’s lots of blood in my books, I prefer it absent from my life. Anyway, I would sleep for an hour or two, read or watch something for an hour or two, rinse, repeat.

I watched two movies, neither very good, but not terrible. One was a noir called PLUNDER ROAD (1957) where a bunch of unsympathetic characters pull off a robbery and flee and, 71 minutes later, wind up dead. Okay by me. The other was YOUNG SAVAGES (1961), a juvie courtroom melodrama with Burt Lancaster as a D.A. who comes to the conclusion that maybe he shouldn’t fry three kids for a murder. It’s based on the novel A MATTER OF CONVICTION by Evan Hunter, apparently an attempt to make BLACKBOARD JUNGLE lightning strike twice (it didn’t) and not a patch on any of his Ed McBain 87th Precinct novels.

Now back when we were anticipating this hospital visit, Barb had scolded me about my choice of movies. Why didn’t I watch something good? Something great? Why subject myself to such schlock? Her opinion was that watching good movies would make me suffer less. Regular readers here may recall that I reviewed the fourteen such flicks I saw on my heart-surgery romp, and that they were only moderately less painful than the surgery.

And now I know why I do this to myself – it suddenly came to me! Why watch something really good when you’re miserable and can’t truly enjoy it? Instead, watch some mediocrity that has an element of interest to you (actor, screenwriter, director, cheesy genre) and just kill the time. Do you really want to make VERTIGO or KISS ME DEADLY a hospital memory?

Anyway, the next day I felt even better, and was cocky again, showing off for the physical therapist, rejecting the walker, walking twice as far, going up and down the stairs, a real Olympic work-out. We encountered, on our journey, a P.T. gal from the fifth floor and we had a warm reunion at the nurses’ station. Everybody was proud of me. Aware my ass was hanging out, I reminded these women where my eyes were.

Back in my room, Tessa – my main physical therapist from the fifth floor back in February – came looking for me. That meant a lot. She’s beautifully pregnant now, and I made both Barb and Tessa laugh when I denied paternity. These are the kind of inappropriate remarks you can make at my age in the hospital.

All that was left was to convince Dr. K that I was ready to be discharged. When he entered the room, I stood up so fast from the poorly designed hospital-room recliner that I almost blew it by falling down. But he only smiled, asked a few questions, and sent us on our way. In hospital terms, “being sent on your way” means you sit for three hours waiting for the paperwork to come through.

So I’m back home with the beautiful Barbara. Oddly I don’t feel as well as I did that last day in the hospital. It’s context. You feel great for the hospital. At home, you wondering, Maybe I should still be in the hospital…

I’m writing this on Sunday October 30. On Friday I did some work with Matt Clemens regarding the cover for EXECUTIVE ORDER. Yesterday I did some editorial work on the third Caleb York novel. Baby steps. Tomorrow I will see how much I can get done on a Caleb chapter.

Yes, we are waiting for a shoe to drop where the thing they cut out of me is concerned. Positivity and prayers are welcome, but we feel good. Not cocky, but good.


One week after surgery. (M.A.C., not the pumpkin.)

* * *

The final episode of the first season of QUARRY has aired. I’ll share thoughts about it next time.

Here’s an interesting review of that episode.

Here’s a remarkable overview of my work, with an emphasis on QUARRY and lots of fun pics.

Check out this terrific interview with Mike Fuller and Graham Gordy, QUARRY’s TV stepfathers.

And this one with director Greg Yaitanes.

Here’s a look at the show itself.

QUARRY is number seven on this list of the best 11 TV series of the season.

And finally check out this great take on the QUARRY series from the Washington Post.

M.A.C.

A Brash Preview

Tuesday, October 25th, 2016

Brash Books, who have brought the complete version of my ROAD TO PERDITION prose novel into print for the first time, has put together a terrific trailer for You Tube.

Brash will also be doing ROAD TO PURGATORY and ROAD TO PARADISE, and the two Patrick Culhane-bylined titles of mine now under my own name: BLACK HATS and USS POWDERKEG (previously RED SKY IN MORNING).

Two more movies we walked out of:

THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN – we barely made it fifteen minutes into this travesty. Everything that made the original work, from the one-ups-manship chemistry between Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen to the theme of the West leaving the gunfighter behind is sadly M.I.A. The opening is stupidly melodramatic with the villain a wimp (the woefully miscast Peter Sarsgaard) and the action over-blown. The introduction of Denzel Washington’s character is silly (people scurry like roaches in fear of him) and Chris Pratt’s character is so poorly drawn, he’s actually given three introductory scenes (none of which work). The art direction, in its would-be Italian Western-ness, is as precious as a Hummel. We went home and watched the original.

KEEPING UP WITH THE JONESES is the kind of unfunny movie that makes you question your previously high opinion of the topline cast members. Zach Galifianakis has nothing to do in the role of a normal suburban spouse/father, and John Hamm looks like Don Draper, half-in-the-bag, wandering onto the wrong set. It’s the wheeze about normal folks wondering what their sophisticated new neighbors are doing in this dull neighborhood (of course that neighborhood exists only in the imagination of Hollywood, as we have a combination of hick types living in very expensive houses supported by jobs they could never hold). Isla Fisher, for example, who channels Debbie Reynolds in her 1960s mode, is some kind of interior designer currently working on a urinal for her “funny” neighbor. How does this shit get made?

* * *

Here’s an okay but patronizing QUARRY IN THE BLACK review. It’s tough to take criticism from somebody who calls The Broker “The Booker.”

For my taste, more on target, here is this great write-up from Ron Fortier, first-rate scribe his own self.

Here’s another fine review of QUARRY IN THE BLACK, although somehow the reviewer mistakes St. Louis for New York City. A Brit, maybe?

The QUARRY TV show gets more love.

And Wild Dog is getting back into the comic books (I wasn’t invited).

More Wild Dog here.

Finally, here’s info on the excellent QUARRY IN THE BLACK audio read by the great Stefan Rudnicki.

M.A.C.

A Phone Call from Ed

Tuesday, October 18th, 2016

Ed and Carol Gorman

Around forty years ago, I got a phone call. I was in my basement office in the middle of something, but I answered it. There was no caller ID then, though I wasn’t getting all that many phone calls, anyway.

This very distinctive, friendly but strangely shy voice identified himself as Ed Gorman. He lived in Cedar Rapids (about sixty miles from my home, Muscatine) and was a writer himself, although he told me this in a modest, dismissive, almost embarrassed way.

Any call from a would-be writer sent up a warning signal. I had already been at it long enough that I was getting calls from local and area writers (and sometimes farther afield than that) wanting help that usually consisted of reading their book and/or giving them advice on getting published.

But this call didn’t seem to be like that. Ed Gorman was calling specifically to tell me how much he loved my QUARRY novels. At that time there were only four of them, published in 1976 and ‘77, and while the stirring of a cult reputation for the books was out there, this was different.

This obviously very literate, self-effacing, intelligent man knew all about the books and really, really liked them. He had been compelled, he said, to give me a call about them – which was something he’d been thinking about doing for a long time.

We talked for about an hour, and hit it off, both having rather dark senses of humor, but then he rather abruptly said he had to sign off. He had something he had to do. I asked him what, and he said, “I’m getting married in half an hour.”

In a way that’s all you need to know about Ed Gorman. He was a writer who wanted to tell other writers that he admired them, and why. He was funny and quirky and uniquely Ed – that he had chosen to call me out of the blue about QUARRY right before he was off to get married to the beautiful, wonderful Carol, seems so very wrong and so perfectly right.

We began talking on the phone regularly – so regularly, and for such long conversations, that I used to get in trouble with my beautiful, wonderful wife about the phone bill. I learned that Ed had been primarily a literary writer, with short stories appearing in various publications of that sort (it was much later that he revealed he’d also written short stories for low-end men’s magazines). He said he wanted to branch out into novels.

As he came to know, and as I have said before in public, one of my proudest accomplishments as a writer was helping turn Ed Gorman into a novelist. He particularly took to one piece of advice. I said, “Think of every chapter as a short story. That won’t intimidate you – after all, you’re already a short story writer. And, anyway, with a chapter, you need the same coherent beginning, middle and end as a short story.” Very soon he sent me a novel.

It was good. There was a problem with the ending that I told him about, and he took it well, and gratefully. Then I learned he had thrown the book away and started over. I felt terrible about it, and for the only time in our friendship, I balled him out. I am someone who never throws any piece of writing away, a chronic recycler, and what he’d done appalled me. But he was impulsive and eccentric and his own harshest critic, so his action was as in character as it was rash.

Ed and Carol visited Barb and me in Muscatine, and we did the same with them in Cedar Rapids. Carol and Barb are writers too, very good ones, so the conversations over the years were four-way, not the boys over here and the girls over there.

It took me a while to learn that Ed rarely traveled, and that he was in fact something of a hermit. Because we both lived in Iowa, and had writing styles that were not dissimilar, I for a time had the honor of being accused of using “Ed Gorman” as a pseudonym. What a writer that would make me.

“Is it true,” people would ask me, “that you’ve actually met Ed Gorman?” I actually had.

The thing is, being around people made Ed nervous. This still strikes me as strange because he made his pre-writing-career living as an ad man, PR guy and also writer of political speeches (politics being a lifelong interest, even obsession).

Stranger still is how charming and effortlessly social he was on the telephone. Scores of writers are bound to now come forward and say how well they knew him, but admit that they never met him.

I saw him quite a bit, at least comparatively speaking. With Carol and Barb, we met at restaurants; he and Carol came to book signings of mine (he very rarely did his own); we did a number of appearances together (doing Q and A as well as signing, at the late lamented Mystery Cat in C.R. and elsewhere). For a number of years Barb and I, and writers Bob Randisi and Marthayn Peligrimas, would meet Ed and Carol for quarterly get-togethers at the Ox Yoke Inn in the Amana Colonies. These were lively, frequently hilarious bitch sessions about the writing life. Bob was a great friend of Ed’s (they started Mystery Scene together), and is a great friend of mine. Writers know a lot of other writers, but mostly it’s friendly acquaintances. Bob, Ed and I were real friends.

At Terry Beatty’s wedding some years ago, Ed – who loved Terry and his work – made an unprecedented move by attending the reception. I might be slightly overstating, but Ed was damn near the life of the party. Laughing, chatting, circulating. I was astonished.

Later I asked him, “What happened to Ed Gorman, the guy who can’t stand being in even the smallest crowd?” He told me he’d been a nervous wreck at the reception, a total screaming mess inside. I had witnessed an amazing performance.

Once, responding to my efforts to get him to a Bouchercon, Ed told me didn’t like driving long distances because he’d once been in a car crash. I asked him why he didn’t fly there. He said he’d also been in a plane crash. I asked him why he didn’t take a train. He said he’d been in a train crash. Asking him why he always took the stairs in tall buildings, he said he’d once been in an elevator when it fell. There’s also a story about an escalator, but you get the drift.

Was he kidding me? I’m not sure. Really I don’t think so. He was a self-described bundle of neuroses, yet as grounded a writer as I’ve ever known. He worked hard and well and fast, and never compromised his craft and art. Now and then he would rail on about some writer whose work he disliked, but never in public, and no one had more generous, enthusiastic things to say about other writers and their work than Ed. Mystery Scene was in part about getting writers who were otherwise being ignored their due by way of articles and reviews. He worked with Black Lizard and founded Five Star to get books and writers back into print.

I think it’s fair for me to say that no other writer in our genre ever did more for his brother and sister writers.

In 1992, around Thanksgiving, I got a double career whammy when my DICK TRACY contract was not picked up, and my Nathan Heller novel contract was unexpectedly cancelled. I shared my woes with Ed. Suddenly I had short story assignment after short story assignment from Ed and his great friend, Marty Greenberg. Ed and Marty keep me afloat for six months while I regrouped. They were also responsible for turning my wife Barb into a writer, largely with assignments for stories in the CAT CRIMES anthologies.

Ed, of course, had a dark side. This came across as black comedy for the most part, and I heard for many decades his prediction that we were nearing the end of mystery-fiction publishing. It was over! Sometimes his gloom got to me, and Barb would say, “Were you talking business with Ed again?” I started making a habit of making him laugh when I could see that he was letting bleakness get to him. Of course, we’d always laughed together, each an easy mark for the other.

He was always complimentary about my work and gave me glowing reviews, and he was the first to really recognize any value in QUARRY, and he kept that up over the years. Surprisingly often, he would call and say that the day before he’d re-read one of the books, and make my day with effusive praise. I’ve never had a phone call like that from anybody else.

If for some reason you’ve never read Ed Gorman (which I doubt, if you’re coming to this blog), I have always been partial to the Jack Dwyer series, in part because I got to read the first one, Rough Cut, in manuscript. His horror novels, as Daniel Ransom, are first-rate. He was a terrific western writer, as well – Guild is a favorite of mine. The Poker Club became a good little film, though not as good as the source. And he was the best short story writer of my generation – seek out his collections.

In the last twenty years or so, I talked less with Ed on the phone – though still fairly frequently – as e-mails and blogs kicked in. His voice always had something apologetic in it, like he was afraid he was interrupting. He never was.

Those phone calls – and a phone call was where it all began – are precious to me now in my memory. How we laughed and laughed. What I’d give for another call from Ed right now. Me and a hundred other writers. But I’m the only one he called on his way to his wedding.

* * *

Here’s a nice write-up of the sixth episode of QUARRY.

And another on the same subject.

Jon Breen, writing one of his rare EQMM columns, has nice things to say about ROAD TO PERDITION and its sequels as well as the QUARRY novels. Like Ed Gorman, Jon was an early booster of the series and my work.

All about the composer behind the music on QUARRY.

Two music tracks from QUARRY can be heard here.

QUARRY is one of the best new shows of the season, it says here.

More QUARRY praise.

ROAD TO PERDITION is on the list of highest-grossing R-rated comic book adaptations.

Finally, here’s an article about the young director of photography of QUARRY.

M.A.C.