Posts Tagged ‘A Wreath for Marley’

Cowboy Christmas

Tuesday, December 26th, 2017

As Christmas miracles go, the finale of the following is decidedly minor, although the whole experience felt major, with some nice surprises along the way.

For the past three years or so, as long as I’ve been involved in getting the Spillane/Collins “Caleb York” series up and running, I have been pestering my PR contact at Kensington Books about trying to get me into True West magazine. There are only two major magazines about the old west (and western movies), True West and Wild West. Both are quite good, and both do some book reviewing. True West seems to lean somewhat more to pop culture-type material, which is my own leaning obviously, and they do a monthly last-page-of-the-issue with various people (actors, authors, musicians and assorted friends of the real and reel west). That interview slot seemed like a great place to introduce myself as a western writer to a big audience – a long shot, but why not try?

I brought this up to Karen, my hard-working PR person at Kensington, who agreed that this was a long shot but worth trying. As the months passed, we didn’t get anywhere. When Barb and I went to Killer Nashville, we had a couple of nice meals with Karen, and I really, really pushed for True West. She would try. But we did know it was a long shot, right?

Finally True West expresses interest – huzzah and hooray! One of the editors wants to interview me – in person. Where do I have to go? Utah? Montana? New Mexico? Arizona? Texas? No, the editor wants to come to me. This sounds incredibly ambitious of him, until I learn he lives in Iowa City. About thirty-five miles away.

All this time one of True West’s editors has been in my backyard! Has been living in the town where both Nate and I went to college (not at the same time), and where Barb and I routinely travel once a month or so for a nice meal at one of any number of terrific restaurants, and for me to drop by Daydreams comic book shop and one of the best bookstores anywhere, Prairie Lights, where I’ve done readings half a dozen times over the years.

I offer to go to him, but editor Stuart Rosebrook wants to come to me. Wants to get a look at Muscatine. We meet at Elly’s, a soup/sandwich/salad place (very good) with a wonderful view of the Mississippi. Stuart and I hit it off immediately – we talk movies and books and Wyatt Earp for several hours, and even manage to eat lunch in the process. I am also interviewed, but mostly we just luxuriate in our mutual interests.

Turns out Stuart is, among other things, the book editor at True West, and the guy who does the monthly back-of-the-issue interview, which is what I’m going to get (yipee!). We spend so much time talking about our shared enthusiasms that he has to follow up with e-mail questions.

Perhaps most interesting is that Stuart’s father turns out to be Jeb Rosebrook, a very successful screenwriter for movies and TV. Among many other things, he wrote Junior Bonner, which starred Steve McQueen and was directed by Sam Peckinpah, no less. He wrote the s-f cult favorite, The Black Hole, for Disney, and his TV writing credits include The Waltons and The Yellow Rose TV series with his friend Sam Elliott (he also produced). His many TV movies include I Will Fight No More Forever (Emmy nominated), Hobo’s Christmas, Mystic Warrior, The Gambler II and The Gambler III. In recent years he’s returned to writing novels, his previous one (Saturday) being decades ago and predating his film and TV work.

At our first meeting, Stuart says his father and mother are coming for a visit over the Christmas holidays. He suggests we get together, so I can meet his dad. The idea of sitting down with a real pro – a guy who wrote for Sam Peckinpah, worked any number of times with Sam Elliott, and wrote dialogue for Jack Kelly’s Bart Maverick (!) in the second Gambler movie, well…it’s enough to make me temporarily put aside my hermit-like ways.

As a nice cherry on the sundae, when Stuart tells his dad about me, turns out Jeb has read my work, and liked it!

So, as the photo that accompanies this piece will indicate, we got together. We had a lovely Christmas Eve eve feast at Peking Restaurant in Muscatine with Stuart and his wife Julie, 21-year-old son (also named) Jeb, 16-year-old daughter Kristina, as well as Jeb and his wife Dorothy. Turns out I’m not the only writer who married a beautiful blonde.


(L to R) M.A.C., Jeb Rosebrook, Stuart Rosebrook

The evening was really a delight, and I hit it off with both Jebs and really everyone at the table – even Barb! Sitting between Stuart and his father, I had a conversation that covered so many topics of interest to me that my head is still spinning. Jeb, who at 82 is younger than you are, is at work on a trilogy of novels (the first two are available now from Amazon, The Charlemagne Trilogy). He has been reading Nate Heller, so I brought him Better Dead, but also Road to Purgatory.

About that. Everybody at the table had done their homework – the night before, Barb and I re-watched Junior Bonner, a charming character study about rodeo life that is quite unlike anything else Peckinpah ever did; and the Rosebrooks watched Road to Perdition. Everybody had good things to say about both films. Kristina, not a regular consumer of R-rated fare, liked Perdition but the violence was a little extreme for her (she better stick with Junior Bonner for her Peckinpah fare!). I brought along (to have them signed) Junior Bonner on Blu-ray and DVDs of The Yellow Rose (complete series), I Will Fight No More Forever, and the collected Gambler TV movies. Barb and I signed an Antiques that Stuart had brought along, and Jeb gave me generously signed copies of three books of his, two of which are in the ongoing trilogy.

Now this is fun. I signed Road to Purgatory to Jeb; he signed his novel Purgatory Road to me. Great minds.

Comes the surprise ending. Stuart had asked to borrow one of my laser disc players because he had a Japanese laser disc of Junior Bonner that he wanted to screen. He has, for some time, been trying to find the original version of Junior Bonner with the song “Arizona Morning” over the opening credits. But the home video release in the United States has (as sometimes happens with such releases) a different song substituted over the opening. If you go to the Amazon reviews of Junior Bonner, you’ll find many fans of the film complaining about the home video release not including the real opening song.

Well, I have three laser disc players, so I just gave one of them to Stuart. He was happy to have it, though neither of us were optimistic about the chances of the Japanese version being the original cut.

The next morning, the Christmas miracle: the Japanese laser disc had the original version with the real opening credits song! Jeb Rosebrook hadn’t heard it for years, and listened to it on the laser disc at least twice. And Stuart was delighted, a Holy Grail found, and that’s the minor but major Christmas miracle.

Another is that Stuart delivered to me an advance copy of the February issue of True West with my back-of-the-book interview. It is perhaps the best single piece on me I’ve ever read. Stuart did a masterful job of distilling and arranging quotes from me into something coherent and informative, from a several hour rambling conversation with me and a few e-mail answers to follow-up questions.

Watch for that issue! Its cover has Dennis Quaid as Doc Holliday in the underrated film, Wyatt Earp.

Happy holidays, everybody!

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Looking for a way to spend your Amazon gift cards? Check out Skyboat Media, which has just released the audio of Quarry’s Climax (I’ll talk more about this terrific release soon).

Here’s info about Back Issue #102, which has a wonderful article about Wild Dog. I’ll talk about this more in an upcoming update.

And here’s a nice write-up about Otto Penzler’s Big Book of Christmas Mysteries, which includes my “A Wreath for Marley,” probably my favorite of all my short stories.

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.

Holiday Edition

Tuesday, December 3rd, 2013

Santa delivered an early present to the M.A.C. household by way of an award for MICKEY SPILLANE ON SCREEN (by Jim Traylor and me), courtesy of the great movie-fan publication CLASSSIC IMAGES, for “Best Film Noir Book of 2013.” Specifically, it was given by reviewer Laura Wagner in her year’s end Book Points column. Ms. Wagner also singled out MICKEY SPILLANE ON SCREEN for one of the Best Covers of 2013 as well as honoring the book’s Photo Layout. These last two honors were shared with several other books, but the Best Film Noir Book is mine and Jim’s alone.

To help celebrate, why not pick up a copy? Yes, yes, it’s expensive, but it so happens McFarland is running a 20% off sale on not just MICKEY SPILLANE but all of their titles till December 31st. Here’s a link for those of you who didn’t blow everything on Black Friday or Cyber Monday.

Big Book of Christmas Mysteries

And speaking of the holidays, my personal favorite of my short stories – “A Wreath for Marley,” my CHIRSTMAS CAROL MEETS THE MALTESE FALCON yarn – is included in the terrific new fat-as-Santa anthology, THE BIG BOOK OF CHRISTMAS MYSTERIES, edited by my jolly old friend (well, maybe not jolly) Otto Penzler. What an honor to be included with such personal heroes of mine as Rex Stout, Agatha Christie and Donald E. Westlake. I have arrived, even if I had to sneak down the chimney to do it.

A Bird for Becky

“A Wreath for Marley” features Richard Stone, a Heller-like detective in Chicago in the forties; it’s the basis for my as yet unproduced screenplay, BLUE CHRISTMAS. There is one other Stone story, “A Bird for Becky,” also with a holiday theme – Thanksgiving. It’s just come out as an e-book, available on Amazon, for a mere 99 cents. Yes, I should have promoted this in time for Thanksgiving, but since you’re full of holiday spirit (and maybe undigested turkey), maybe you’ll give it a try, anyway.

A couple of movie recommendations. FROZEN, which should be seen in 3-D, is a Disney CGI musical about princesses…hey, wait! Hold up! Come on! Listen for a second….It’s very good and often witty, incredibly well-animated, with music by the co-writer of THE BOOK OF MORMON score, and the lead – complete with excellent singing – is VERONICA MARS herself, Kristen Bell, who hasn’t been given a shot a vocalizing like this since the wonderful REEFER MADNESS TV movie. And for a completely inappropriate second feature, try HOMEFRONT, with Jason Stratham in redneck Louisiana up against that peckerwood James Franco, in a ‘70s Bronson-style melodrama from a screenplay by Sylvester Stallone (also a producer). If you trade your brains in for a bucket of popcorn before entering, you will have a fine violent time (I did).

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ASK NOT reviews continue, like this very strong one (if a bit patronizing) from Woody Haut. Seems Woody thinks it’s unlikely that Nate Heller could be involved in so many famous crimes – really, Woody? Never occurred to me….

Here’s an ASK NOT interview with a bit of a forensics slant.

LADY, GO DIE! has received a nice write-up here.

And here’s a strong review about Stacy Keach’s reading of GOLIATH BONE on audio.

Finally, you’ll enjoy this reassessment of Mickey Spillane from a reviewer who followed my suggestion to read more than just I, THE JURY before giving his final verdict. (Get it? Jury? Verdict?)

M.A.C.