Posts Tagged ‘Antiques Maul’

Murder Me Quickly

Tuesday, March 26th, 2013

No, that’s not the name of a missing Stacy Keach MIKE HAMMER TV movie. It’s what some readers, critics, and editors wish I would provide them with: a murder in the first chapter. Better still, the first page.

Antiques Maul

This is a relatively new phenomenon, at least as pertaining to my work. It first turned up when the editor on the ANTIQUES series (a very good editor at that) was unhappy that the murder in ANTIQUES MAUL didn’t occur until a third of the way into the book. Barb and I did not want to drastically restructure the novel, nor do any elaborate rewrite, so our solution was to begin with the murder and flash back to the events leading up. Our editor put up with that easy fix, but I don’t think she was really happy. (By the way, ANTIQUES MAUL has been long out of print and will be back in paperback, with a new and much better cover, very shortly.)

From time to time, complaints that murders in my mystery novels take too much time to happen began popping up in blog reviews and in Amazon customer comments. SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT has sparked a lot of those, in the midst of mostly highly laudatory responses. You see, the murder victim, the Dr. Frederic Wertham stand-in Dr. Werner Frederick, doesn’t get bumped off till half-way through.

And don’t accuse me of neglecting to give you a spoiler alert, because any mystery reader who doesn’t realize in the first chapter or two that Dr. Frederick is going to be the murder victim is a very new and naive mystery reader indeed. The very Golden Age traditional set-up brings most (not all) of the suspects on stage, and spends a good deal of time with Wertham in order to show why people might want to kill him. To my way of thinking, one function of a good murder mystery is to paint a portrait of the murder victim. If the murder victim is just a pawn in the game of Clue, then why not just play a round of friggin’ Clue? The book should, in part, be a character study of the murder victim.

Didn’t any of these readers and reviewers ever read a Perry Mason novel or see the classic TV series? Maybe not. But Erle Stanley Gardner took his sweet time killing the murder victim, whose identity was almost always obvious to the reader. Murders frequently don’t occur till a third of the way – sometimes half of the way – through many great mysteries by the likes of Agatha Christie and Rex Stout.

Since I read precious few contemporary mysteries these days, maybe the world and time have passed me by. Well, here’s me waving them goodbye and not giving a damn.

Is it TV that has trained people to expect the murder victim right away? Most of the mysteries shows I watch are British, and some – like the droll MIDSOMER MURDERS – do tend to dispatch the murder victim quickly…although not until a good number of suspects have been trotted out, and after we have met the murder victim in the flesh, and have seen what it is about him or her that makes them eminently killable. By the way, an hour mystery show is not a 300-page novel.

Part of why our ANTIQUES editor wants the murder to come quickly is the practice of putting a sample chapter from the next book at the end of the current paperback of the previous book. This is good marketing, and I get it, I really do…but that strikes me as a tail wagging a dog (in this case, Sushi) (a reference for readers of the series). To me, the only valid question is, “What is good for the novel?” Writing with an eye on how the book will be marketed is undignified even for a lout like me.

SEDUCTION has received a lot of praise (and maybe a smidgen of criticism) for spending many of its pages on the comics industry in the 1950s. As I’ve mentioned here before, at the suggestion of my editor and my agent, I trimmed perhaps 10,000 words of material on the subject, in an effort to make sure the book wasn’t too “inside baseball.” One much published (and inaccurate) mini-synopsis of the book has Dr. Frederick murdered on his way to testify at the Congressional hearing on comic books and juvenile delinquency. In the book, however, the doc makes it there alive and well; we get both his slanted, unfair testimony and that of the Bill Gaines stand-in, Bob Price, on stage.

I will be goddamned if I will omit something that important – to the novel, and to me – just to get a corpse on stage a few chapters earlier. I am not at all interested in the Short Attention Span Reader.

This is not to say I don’t occasionally kill the victim right away. In the first Jack and Maggie Starr mystery, A KILLING IN COMICS, the murder does happen at the end of the first chapter…but not until after we’ve met a passel of suspects at the cocktail party where the murder occurs.

The point is, if there is one, that I structure each murder mystery as seems best for the successful rendering of said mystery. In SEDUCTION, getting a full picture of Dr. Frederick, as well as a real sense of the state of the comic book industry in 1954, struck me as key. The overwhelmingly positive response to the novel convinces me I was right.

* * *

This weekend Nate was home for some general computer and web site work, and for some preliminary talk about our possible Kickstarter film project (more soon). He, his mom and I went to the new theater (the Palms) here in Muscatine and saw a really big, really dumb action movie called OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN, which you’ve probably heard described (accurately) as DIE HARD IN THE WHITE HOUSE. It is absurd and often extremely stupid. It is also enormously entertaining, particularly if you like tough guy stuff that ventures into the brutal. Gerard Butler goes on my short list of potential screen Mike Hammers.

Somebody (not me) posted a nice You Tube vid about SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT. Here’s your chance to get an auditory glimpse of the great audio-book reader Dan John Miller (who has done all of the Heller audios to date) as Jack Starr.

The terrific Film Rejects site did a podcast interview with me here. Might be worth your time.

And the SEDUCTION reviews keep comin’, like this one at Celebrity Cafe.

And this one at Pulp 300.

Here’s a comic-oriented review at Con Sequential.

And a short but sweet one at My Big Honkin’ Blogspot.

And another at Atomic Moo (gotta love these blog titles).

Here we are at Kvlt Kvlture.

And finally a perhaps overly analytical review at Chamber Four.

M.A.C.

Antiques Chop Talk

Tuesday, March 27th, 2012

Right now I am in the home stretch of my draft of ANTIQUES CHOP, the seventh “Trash ‘n’ Treasures” mystery that Barb and I have collaborated upon. I should finish this week (and I better, because April 1st is the deadline) (no fooling). Nate suggested that, while I’m in the midst of it, I provide a behind-the-scenes glimpse at the process.

Barb and I begin with a succession of business lunches where we first come up with the basic concept, and usually tie it to a title. The pattern of the titles are to have the word ANTIQUES followed by a punning word, and we have a list of these (continually growing). This time the title ANTIQUES CHOP sparked the premise (sometimes it’s the other way around), leading to the mystery revolving around an ax murder, an unusually gruesome crime for a supposed “cozy.”

We often look at “antique” crimes, which is to say crimes that occurred decades ago but are having latter-day ramifications. So I suggested we make an unsolved Lizzie Border-esque ax murder the centerpiece of the story, and wrote a faux entry about the crime for a non-existent true-crime encyclopedia. From there Barb and I began the back-and-forth process of coming up with a fairly detailed plot. We have to turn in a sample chapter and brief synopsis to our editor at Kensington (and get approval), so we have to have a firm idea of where we’re going before Barb gets started on her draft.

Barb works on that draft for probably six months, although that six months may stretch out to an entire year, because she isn’t always working on it – summers tend to be busy and that keeps her away from the work. Last year, for example, we went on a west coast book tour, plus there’s comic con and other distractions.

As Barb writes, I stay out of her way unless she has a problem or a concern about what she’s up to. Sometimes we discuss a plot point, and oftentimes we discuss it if she feels she has a need to deviate from the plot as originally conceived. Generally, though, I give her all the space she needs.

When Barb delivers her draft, it’s usually about 200 to 225 pages of doubled-spaced copy. My job is to expand and flesh out her draft, providing more dialogue and even more humor and generally apply what I laughingly think of as a more professional gloss. The end result will be 300 to 330 pages. I do my pass in a month or less, working hard and intensely, with Barb editing and suggesting revisions as I go (she reads it, and provides her notes, a chapter at a time). We do a lot of this over business lunches – just yesterday, on what was otherwise a day off, we discussed two plot points that needed shoring up in the chapter I just finished and the one that I will be doing today.

The final step is for me to spend a day or two re-reading the manuscript and marking up a hard copy with revisions, with Barb entering them in the chapter files. Then, common to all writers, we ship it (by e-mail these days) and hold our collective breath, hoping for a delighted response from the editor. On this series, we’ve been lucky to get that response pretty much every time. Occasionally there are rewrites, as on ANTIQUES MAUL where the editor felt the murder occurred too late in the mystery, and we reshaped the book so that it happened virtually on page one and then flashed back.

I said “final step” above, but of course there is much more to do – there will be a copy-edited manuscript to check, and at least one round of galley proofs. We tend to trade off on these assignments, with Barb doing the copy-edited manuscript and me reading the galley proofs. We divide the work that way because (a) I hate the copy-editing stage, since the Moriarty of my career is the Intrusive Copy Editor Who Stalks Me Under Various Names and Guises, and (b) Barb is thoroughly sick of the book by the galley proof stage and is content to leave that step to me.

Do we squabble? Not much. Hardly at all. I may get testy if, as I’m moving forward in my draft, Barb indicates (and she’s always right) that I need to go back and make a few fixes in a chapter that I had considered finished. This occurs, on the rare occasion that it does occur, early in the morning before I have had a chance to become fully human. Let’s just say, first thing in the morning, I’m more Quarry than Mallory.

So there you go. That’s how this particular flavor of sausage is made.

* * *

It’s gratifying to note that I received such a warm reaction to my defense of the film JOHN CARTER – which, let’s face it, was fairly shrill, since the premise of my piece was that anyone who didn’t like the movie was an idiot. Not only did my piece receive more comments than usual, a number of blogs provided links and made favorable comments on my take on this beleaguered film.

I am pleased to say that the early reviews on LADY GO, DIE! are coming in and, so far, are all favorable. The book received a very nice write-up in the often tough Publisher’s Weekly.

And there was a very gratifying (and I think perceptive) review from one of my favorite contemporary crime writers, Bill Crider, at his blog (perhaps the best mystery fiction blog out there).

Similarly, Ron Fortier – another strong contemporary scribe – has written a LADY, GO DIE! review that appears at several blogs, including his own Pulp Fiction Reviews.

The Brandywine site continues to work through the Nate Heller backlist, and this time FLYING BLIND is discussed.

QUARRY’S EX has picked up several, slightly belated (favorable) reviews, like this one at Books Are For Squares and this one at Pulp 300.

Here’s a thoughtful new look at the film version of ROAD TO PERDITION.

And here’s a guy who says he’s addicted to my books. I have to wonder if he discovered Nate Heller through the Amazon reprint series, who essentially gave TRUE DETECTIVE away (for under two bucks) for a while there. You know, the drug dealers really had something with their “first one’s free” approach.

M.A.C.

New Antiques

Tuesday, February 8th, 2011

Antiques Knock-Off

ANTIQUES KNOCK-OFF is supposed to be coming out March 1st, but I am getting reports that it’s already out. I am pleased to report that Barb and I have had rave reviews from both Kirkus and Publisher’s Weekly for this entry in the “Trash ‘n’ Treasures” series. I’m getting increasing positive feedback from readers of my usual hardboiled fare that they are digging this cozy series, which Jon Breen aptly describes as “subversive.” If you don’t laugh at these, check your pulse – you may have passed away.

One of the interesting things about the net is that reviews of older books show up. This week some really perceptive reviews popped up of various not-current works.

With ANTIQUES KNOCK-OFF just hitting the shelves (our best “Barbara Allan” yet in my opinion), it’s fun to see ANTIQUES MAUL, the second book in the series, turn up on a Kindle review site. I love it when a reader “gets it” – particularly a reader who blogs. Reviewer Joe M. points out that ANTIQUES MAUL is on sale for Kindle at under five bucks!

Indian Book Reviews has a very nice review of MORTAL WOUNDS, the collection of my first three CSI novels. I’m very proud of those novels, written in collaboration with my NO ONE WILL HEAR YOU co-author Matt Clemens. We did eight CSI novels and two CSI: MIAMI, all of which are among the most successful non-science-fiction TV tie-ins of all time. Matt and I are waiting to hear if the Harrow series will continue at Kensington – if you buy copies (real books or Kindle) you will help the cause!

The fun blog Not The Baseball Pitcher has a review of my 1981 Nolan novel – FLY PAPER! Pretty decent review, too. Speaking of Nolan, I am working on a deal to bring Nolan and Jon back into print (books #3 through #8 – the first two are still available as TWO FOR THE MONEY). They will be trade paperbacks, not initially available on e-book.

Finally, I’ll mention we had a very successful two-night stand at the Riverside Casino here in Iowa. We appeared with Denny Diamond, an excellent Neil Diamond tribute act, and had great response. We are in talks right now possibly to appear at the St. Louis Bouchercon. That would be our third Bouchercon appearance, and we hope it happens, because the other two were a blast!

M.A.C.

Message from M.A.C. – September 19, 2008

Friday, September 19th, 2008

This is probably my record year for number of books published (and for me that’s saying something, I know). But I’m really proud of what Barb and I have accomplished of late, and want to make sure you’re aware of what’s out there already, and what’s coming.

Antiques Flee Market

In September from Kensington, “Barbara Allan” (Barb and me) will have the reprint of ANTIQUES MAUL (ISBN 978-0-7582-1194-1) out and the new “Trash ‘n’ Treasures” mystery, too: ANTIQUES FLEE MARKET (ISBN 978-0-7582-1195-8), with a Christmas theme. It’s been getting the best reviews of the series yet. These are funny cozies with an edge, and fans of my tougher stuff may be surprised by how much they’ll enjoy these…and we’ve just signed to do two more!

The Goliath Bone

Very soon Harcourt will publish the first new Mike Hammer novel in over a decade — THE GOLIATH BONE (ISBN 978-0-15-101454-5), which I completed from Mickey Spillane’s nearly finished manuscript. This is the first of at least three Hammers I will complete from manuscripts Mickey entrusted to me. To say this is an honor and a thrill is an extreme understatement. It’s also getting great advance notices. Do not miss this one!

The success of THE LAST QUARRY (which has been made into the film THE LAST LULLABY, on the festival circuit now) has led to the new prequel, THE FIRST QUARRY (ISBN 0-8439-5965-7), which Hard Case will publish in paperback in the fall. This is also getting wonderful advance reviews. This one is definitely not cozy, and could be the nastiest noir novel I’ve ever written….

I’m pleased to report that in December VCI Home Entertainment is bringing out my documentary, CAVEMAN: V.T. HAMLIN & ALLEY OOP on DVD! It’s a great package, with an extended Will Eisner interview and a panel discussion at a Des Moines Historical Museum screen of the film that features me, producer Mark Lambert and the current OOP writer and artist team, Jack and Carole Bender. CAVEMAN has been seen several times on Iowa PBS as part of the celebration of the OOP strip’s 75th Anniversary. (This means all of my indie films will now be available on DVD.)

For the past several months, Barb and I have been out in the midwest, appearing at bookstores and libraries and other events, talking about various books (including those just mentioned) and other projects. Here’s what we’ve been talking about:

Red Sky in Morning

STRIP FOR MURDER from Berkley Prime Crime — a snazzy trade paperback, a Rex Stout-style mystery that combines graphic novel elements (my longtime MS. TREE cohort Terry Beatty did the comic art), and is a lot of fun. The story is loosely based on the notorious Al Capp (Li’l Abner)/Ham Fisher (Joe Palooka) feud.

RED SKY IN MORNING (ISBN 978-0-06-089255-5) is by “Patrick Culhane” — the byline I began with the Wyatt Earp/Al Capone novel, BLACK HATS (in mass-market paperback now, ISBN 978-0-06-089254-8). This one is special to me, a book I’ve planned for decades based on my father’s experiences in the Navy in WW 2 as a young officer in charge of black sailors handling explosives in the Pacific. It’s my CAINE MUTINY, hinging on the infamous Port Chicago disaster, but there is a mystery. You may have this on the way — please don’t miss RED SKY. EQMM’s Jon Breen says it’s one of my best.

In movie/TV world, my New York Times bestseller AMERICAN GANGSTER picked up the “Scribe” for Best Novel at San Diego Comic Con from the International Association of Media Tie-In Writers. Current tie-ins of mine included THE MUMMY: TOMB OF THE DRAGON EMPEROR (ISBN 978-0-425-22313-0) and X-FILES: I WANT TO BELIEVE (ISBN 978-0-06-168771-6), and the second CRIMINAL MINDS novel, KILLER PROFILE (ISBN 978-0-451-22382-1). The third CRIMINAL MINDS, FINISHING SCHOOL (ISBN 978-0-451-22547-4), is out in November from NAL (my fave of the 3).

X Files: I Want to Believe
Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz at Forbidden Planet

In non-literary news, I’m thrilled to report that my ’60s garage band, the Daybreakers, has been inducted into the Iowa Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. Over the Labor Day weekend, we appeared with seven other inductee bands in concert at Arnold’s Park on Lake Okoboji, to a packed house of over 1000 rock fans. What made this truly special was that the original line-up of the band — guitarist Mike Bridges, bassist Chuck Bunn, guitarist Dennis Maxwell and drummer Buddy Busch (and me) — were able to assemble from around the country and reunite both to be honored and to perform for the first time together since 1968. We did half an hour and, frankly, we killed — a magical set in which we took a major risk, doing mostly original material at an oldies show!

Of course, our major claim to fame nationally (make that our only claim to fame nationally) was our infamous single “Psychedelic Siren”/”Afterthoughts.” “Siren” is one of the most anthologized garage-band songs of the ’60s, currently available on a Sundazed CD called GARAGE BAND ’66: Speak of the Devil. We managed to reproduce the siren sound on stage and the crowd went nuts. We also played live, for the first time, “I Need Somebody,” an original written by our late great bandmate, Bruce Peters.

Daybreakers Hall of Fame Collection

A limited edition of 100 CDs called “THE DAYBREAKERS aka Crusin’ — The Hall of Fame Collection” was pressed for the show. This is essentially the long-out-of-print “Thirty Year Plan,” and is filled with Daybreakers/Crusin’ recordings, studio, demo, live, from 1967′s “Psychedelic Siren” to the ’90s songs from the “Mommy” movies. We have about forty of these left.

For $15 postpaid (plus $7.50 for shipping outside the U.S.), you can get a copy of “The Hall of Fame Collection.” For $25 (plus $7.50 for shipping outside the U.S.), you can get a copy signed by the entire band (there are only 15 of these).

[2013 EDIT: All options temporarily sold out! We'll recheck our remaining stock and make a new post soon!]

We have uploaded footage of “Psychedelic Siren” from our Hall of Fame performance. Check back soon for more clips!

And Crusin’ has added Daybreaker bassist Chuck Bunn to the mix, and will be performing more in the midwest than in recent years. Stay tuned!

M.A.C.