Posts Tagged ‘Articles’

Heller – The Starting Gate

Tuesday, November 21st, 2017

I have been researching the upcoming Nathan Heller novel, Do No Harm, for two months. That has consisted chiefly of reading books – ten cover to cover, reading selectively in another ten, filling a notebook with info and page numbers. With any Heller, a lot of research occurs along the way as well; but, in movie terms, I’ve completed pre-production. This past week I read eighteen contemporary articles on the Sam Sheppard murder case, and two more books. On Monday I start the novel.

The process with Heller has remained largely the same since True Detective back in the early ‘80s. I select the historical incident – usually a crime, either unsolved or controversially solved – and approach it as if I’m researching the definitive book on the subject. I never have a firm opinion on the case before research proper begins, even if I’ve read a little about it or seen movies or documentaries on the subject, just as somebody interested in famous true crimes.

The intent is to find the story in the research, as opposed to having the story firmly in mind and researching it. That’s worked out well for me with Heller – any number of times I’ve come up with theories about what probably really happened that have inspired non-fiction books (by authors who never credit me) (but I’m not bitter).

This time I changed my mind about who murdered Marilyn Sheppard, oh, a dozen times. I in part selected the case because it was a more traditional murder mystery than the political subjects of the last four Heller novels – sort of back to basics, plus giving me something that would be a little easier to do, since I was coming out of some health problems and major surgeries.

But it’s turned out to be one of the trickiest Heller novels of all. Figuring out what happened here is very tough. There is no shortage of suspects, and no shortage of existing theories. In addition, a number of the players are still alive (Sam Sheppard’s brother Stephen is 97) and those who aren’t have grown children who are, none of whom would likely be thrilled with me should I lay a murder at the feet of their deceased parents.

Additionally, the case does not lend itself to some of the usual Heller fun-and-games – like violence and sex. There are no bad guys to kill, and the sexual aspects of the murder make Heller hanky panky distasteful. Oddly enough, this comes after the preceding Heller, Better Dead, which found our hero more sexually active than usual (and that’s saying something).

But the research defines the book. The story emerges from the research and I have to be true to it. That story sometimes – this time for sure – takes its time revealing itself. I have changed the structure of the novel almost as many times as I have changed my mind about who killed Marilyn Sheppard.

For that reason, I do not attempt to write a chapter breakdown/outline (vital in a Heller) until I have completed the research phase. In a way that’s too bad, because if I could discern the shape of the book at, say, a third of the way through the research, I could limit further digging to the areas I need. As it is, I’ve taken notes on scores of things that won’t appear in the book.

That’s okay. In an historical novel, it’s all about the tip of the iceberg, and for me to portray that effectively, I need to know the shape of what’s under the water.

As I indicated, research doesn’t end when the writing begins. Each chapter requires some pre-production as I gather the materials from what I’ve already read, and then as I write it and need things I hadn’t anticipated, more research is done on the fly.

In addition to all this, I have to deal with the feeling I always have at the beginning of a Heller – I experience this, to a lesser degree, with Quarry and really any novel I write – that I may not be up to the job. Coming off health problems, that’s a little exaggerated this time. How do I do this? I ask myself. At least a little panic, a minor anxiety attack, always precedes the writing of chapter one.

I have completed the chapter breakdown/outline to my satisfaction, having wrestled the structure into submission – I have even found a bad guy for Heller to kill. I feel good about where I am, even if certain insecurities creep through.

For me, the saving grace has always been Nate Heller. Like Quarry, he has always been there when I need him. I start writing and there he is.

By the time you read this, I will know if he’s come through for me yet again.

* * *

Despite a few inaccuracies, this is a nice overview of Mike Hammer, touching on the Spillane/Collins collaborations.

Here’s an interesting Road to Perdition (film) article.

Check out this good interview with Hard Case Crime editor, Charles Ardai, flawed only in his neglecting to be mention me (again, I am not bitter). Several Quarry covers are featured, though.

Finally, here’s a lovely piece by Bev Keddy covering many of my books – much appreciate, Bev (who is a boy, he will have you know).

M.A.C.

Still Crazy About “Gun Crazy”

Tuesday, May 16th, 2017

People are always asking me what I read.

It’s one of the most common questions a writer gets, and I guess I understand it – apparently comes from a desire by a reader to get recommendations from someone whose work they like, and/or validation for books they like from that writer.

I disappoint people when I reveal how little I read of contemporary crime fiction. I’ve stated my reasons many times, but one reason I haven’t discussed much is the busman’s holiday aspect – not that, at the end of working day immersed in crime and mystery, I want nothing more to do with my genre of choice. Rather, that the writing process has worn out the same muscles that are used for reading.

So come evening, Barb and I watch plenty of crime and mystery TV and movies, although admittedly the movies tend to be older ones (like the books in the genre that I do read) and the TV tends to be British. I have a PAL friendly DVD player, and a Region B friendly Blu-ray player, letting me order discs from the UK all the time. We just watched the third season of Broadchurch, for example, and liked it very much. We also watched an excellent British series called The Forgotten, about very old, very cold cases. Also the fourth season of Endeavor and the third season of The Fall. We are looking forward (I’ve already ordered them) to seasons of Midsomer Murders, Murdoch Mysteries, the first season of Tennison, and the last season of Ripper Street.

So I’m very much still interested in the genre, although much of the American brand of TV mystery leaves me lukewarm to cold.

And much of my “reading” of mystery fiction these days is listening to audio books in the car. We have six-hour drives to St. Louis to see son Nate and his bride and our grandson, fairly frequently, and our day trips run to Chicago (four hours one-way) and Des Moines (three hours one-way). We listen to my own stuff – right now, Dan John Miller is doing a great job on Executive Order – and are happy to have Antiques Frame on audio to listen to next. We re-listen to Rex Stout novels and novellas for the umpteenth time, have been through all of Christie, and quite a few Simenon “Maigrets” (after watching the complete French/Belgian series starring Bruno Cremer – loved it).

What I do read, and it tends to be late at night, is a certain amount of non-fiction. Currently I’m reading Brian De Palma’s Split-Screen: A Life in Film by Douglas Keesey, and enjoying it. But I want to recommend a book that you have to go to some trouble to lay hands on.

Gun Crazy: The Origin of American Outlaw Cinema

Gun Crazy: The Origin of American Outlaw Cinema by Eddie Muller is available only here:

http://blackpoolproductions.com/guncrazyretail.html

No Amazon. I stumbled onto a bookstore that carries it (Mysterious Bookshop in NYC). It’s the first American edition of a French book that was available with a wonderful elaborate Blu-ray edition of Gun Crazy.

Muller should need no introduction – he’s the undeniable guru of film noir, the man behind the Noir City Festival and the Noir City Foundation, with its wonderful e-mail magazine and yearly annual. Not surprisingly info is available at www.noircity.com. He’s written acclaimed fiction and non-fiction in the noir vein, and he appears regularly on TCM, every Sunday morning, your time much better spent than watching the Sunday political shows or going to church.

His book on Gun Crazy is remarkable – it’s like reading a terrific Gold Medal paperback that happens to be true, digging into all of the history from my fellow Iowa author MacKinley Kantor to blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, from the maniac King brothers to my favorite B-movie director, Joseph H. Lewis. The pictures are so great – photos, documents, script pages – that the book worked beautifully in French, which I can neither read nor speak. In English it’s sheer delight. Muller contends the auteur theory is crap, an opinion with which I don’t entirely agree, but he makes an excellent argument, using Gun Crazy – so often credited to Lewis more or less exclusively – as a case in point.

My history with Gun Crazy goes back to 1967. I saw Bonnie and Clyde before the fuss, and my life was changed – the fusion of true crime and the fiction genre I loved was taken to a whole new level. I was so in the thrall of Bonnie and Clyde that I read everything I could get my hands on about the real outlaw couple, even looking at old newspapers on microfilm (setting the stage for Nathan Heller research), and I set out to see every movie derived from their story.

That was no easy task in 1967. VCRs were almost a decade away, so I was left to the whim of late-night movies and a University of Iowa film series at the student union, where mostly kids came to laugh at old movies that they were so much smarter than. One by one I picked the movies off: The Bonnie Parker Story (1958), cheapjack sleaze (which is okay by me, generally); They Live by Night (1948), terrific movie directed by Nicholas Ray; You Only Live Once (1937), a Fritz Lang-directed film and another good one; and finally Gun Crazy (1950). As a kid, I’d seen a Naked City episode called “A Case Study of Two Savages” that had frightened and excited me, but had no idea Rip Torn and Tuesday Weld were doing Clyde and Bonnie. I caught up with it again a year or so ago and saw the connection, and wondered if it had inspired in any way the Arthur Penn 1967 Bonnie and Clyde.

It’s surprising that the outlaw couple had already generated very good Fritz Lang and Nick Ray movies (also not surprising that a cheapjack Roger Corman-produced film existed, as part of the drive-in movie cash-in on The Untouchables TV show). But what was astonishing about Gun Crazy (in addition to a thousand other things) was that it was better than Bonnie and Clyde. That after having my life changed by Bonnie and Clyde, Gun Crazy changed it all over again, more deeply, and became a movie on my very, very short list of favorites (regular readers here may recall the others: Vertigo, Kiss Me Deadly, Phantom of the Paradise). It’s a love story in the way the best James M. Cain novels are, and that’s high praise.

Eddie Muller’s book on Gun Crazy is so terrific, so entertaining, I had a reaction that I rarely have: Oh, good – I don’t have to write this book…somebody else has done it for me.

* * *

A local paper has published a nice little article about my Grand Master “Edgar” honor, here (look past the misspelled first name, will you?).

And here is Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine’s editor’s blog on the Edgar event, with a nice shout-out to me.

M.A.C.

The November Man

Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014
The November Man

You should probably see THE NOVEMBER MAN, the new Pierce Brosnan espionage thriller. I attach the “probably” because for all its merits, Brosnan’s return to Bond territory is less than great. It’s a movie easy to damn with faint praise – “pretty good,” “not bad” – but for anyone who’s a fan of the Bond films, this is required viewing.

It’s a typically convoluted spy thriller, with Bourne-ish element and even Le Carre aspects, with strong if not mind-blowing action scenes. But what it mostly has to offer is Brosnan thumbing his nose at the Bond producers who let him go prematurely. Brosnan was excellent in his four Bond films, and not at all to blame for the unfortunate excesses of DIE ANOTHER DAY, which proved to be his final outing.

Here he demonstrates both charisma and toughness, and a streak of brutality not seen in Bond since the Fleming books themselves. Thematically, the film has him as a legendary secret agent who retired ten years ago and now is getting yanked back into the game. He’s up against Luke Bracey’s younger agent – read: Daniel Craig (there’s an even more direct reference early on, when Brosnan’s shown photos of agents who were recent victims of a Russian assassin, and the final dead agent is identified glumly by Brosnan as “Craig”). Fleming’s famous “blunt instrument” description of a good secret agent is invoked, and the female lead, quite good, is “Bond Girl” Olga Kurylenko (QUANTUM OF SOLACE). We’re not meant to think that Brosnan’s character might really be Bond – as was the case with Sean Connery in THE ROCK – but these references add up to a sort of kiss-his-ass valentine to the Bond films. My favorite moment might be Brosnan yanking a guy off a motorcycle but not climbing on and riding off – just stepping over the thing on his shark-like way.

The budget doesn’t allow Bourne or Bond level stunts and set pieces, and the script is uneven. The usually first-rate Bill Smitrovich (Lt. Cramer in TV’s NERO WOLFE and a co-star of THE LAST LULLABY) is given some bad dialogue and responds by chewing the scenery like a starving billygoat. But it’s worth seeing for anyone with an affection for Brosnan as Bond.

* * *

Here’s a nice article that gives Terry Beatty and me some credit for the re-birth of crime comics via MS. TREE.

Vanity Fair online, of all places, has this positive look at novelizations, with quotes from me and my pal Lee Goldberg.

Here’s a nice discussion of Mickey Spillane and Mike Hammer, with an emphasis on the radio version and mentions of my completions of unfinished work from Mickey’s files.

Finally, this link to an early ‘60s ALLEY OPP comic book includes a nice boost for my documentary, CAVEMAN: V.T. HAMLIN & ALLEY OOP.

The San Diego Comic-Con International site posted a photo of author Jonathan Maberry and me at the 2014 IAMTW tie-in panel.

M.A.C.

Royal Reviews for KING OF THE WEEDS

Tuesday, May 13th, 2014

Majestic reviews have been pouring in for the new Mike Hammer, KING OF THE WEEDS (I’ll share some of them below).

Barb and I drove to St. Louis for Mother’s Day weekend with son Nate and his bride Abby (see pic taken on Sunday at the Wildflower restaurant, site of their wedding in 2012). On the way there and back, we listened to Stacy Keach’s reading of KING OF THE WEEDS.

Mothers Day 2014

It’s impossible for me to overstate what a thrill it is for me to hear Stacy read these Spillane/Collins collaborations. He’s done an incredible job on all of them, but perhaps because of the vaguely melancholy nature of this tale of an older Hammer, he brought something very special to it.

The book itself was a tricky and challenging one, because Mickey had taken several passes at it, combining chapters from one draft into another. There are three major plot elements – the mob billions from BLACK ALLEY, the mysterious deaths of police officers by seeming accident, and the release of a man convicted of a notorious series of slayings forty years ago (Pat Chambers’ first major arrest). In various versions, Mickey would abandon one or more of these elements, and I determined – in part to use as much of his work as possible – to make all three weave together in a credible and interesting manner. I actually put off the writing of KING OF THE WEEDS till last among the major manuscripts, because I knew it would be a bear, and I feared it might be the weakest of the six. But I feel it turned out very well indeed – thanks in large part to the genius of Mickey Spillane – and reviewers and readers are agreeing, a number singling it out as the best of all six.

I was asked to write about the process of collaborating with the late great author by the first-rate UK site, Crimetime. Check out my article here.

Before we move on to the KING OF THE WEEDS reviews, I need to share a surprisingly tardy but extremely good review of THE WRONG QUARRY from Publisher’s Weekly this week:

Collins’s 10th noir featuring John Quarry (after 2010’s Quarry’s Ex) is easily his best—a sharp-edged thriller with more than one logical but surprising twist. Quarry used to work as a hit man on assignments arranged for him by a middleman known as the Broker, but that work ended when Quarry had to take him out. Making use of the Broker’s records, he has begun a new phase in his killing career. He identifies the targets of other hit men, and then, for a price, offers to take them out on behalf of the intended victims. And, for an extra fee, Quarry removes the threat entirely by killing the person who ordered the hit. The early 1980s find Quarry doing exactly that in the “Little Vacationland” of Stockwell, Mo. He learns that the local dance instructor, Roger Vale, is to be killed because he’s suspected of murdering a teenage girl, and offers to save his life, for a price. The lean prose, brisk pacing, and clever plotting are a winning combination.

Back to KING OF THE WEEDS. The October Country site has this fine review from a first-time Hammer reader.

The Book Reporter has these nice things to say about KING OF THE WEEDS.

My pal Ed Gorman, one of my generation’s best mystery writers, wrote this brief but fun salute to KING OF THE WEEDS.

You’ll have to scroll down to see it, but Comic Book Resources has good things to say about Mike Hammer’s latest at their site.

The UK’s Bookbag reviews the previous Mike Hammer, COMPLEX 90, a very good review of the “I’m-Embarrassed-But-I-Really-Like-This” school.

Here’s a nice review of the under-seen, under-reviewed FROM THE FILES OF…MIKE HAMMER collection from Hermes Press. I love this book but it’s expensive, so relatively few have seen it (like the McFarland MICKEY SPILLANE ON SCREEN). The reviewer gives nice props to Ed Robbins, but underplays Mickey’s own participation in the strip. Mickey co-plotted all of it and wrote the first two of three Sunday page continuities himself.

Now here’s a peculiar one but gratifying. Despite a painfully politically correct swipe at Mickey Spillane, this reviewer for the Daily Kos has interesting and nice things to say about (ready for this?) THE LUSITANIA MURDERS. Yes, the day KING OF THE WEEDS was published, and a week after ANTIQUES CON came out, the Daily Kos reviewed a book of mine from twelve years ago. But the reviewer likes it, so I’m fine with that.

M.A.C.