Posts Tagged ‘Ask Not’

Bye, Hef

Tuesday, October 3rd, 2017

The recent death of Jerry Lewis is a reminder that for Baby Boomers like me, our own mortality is continually underscored by the passing of the great media figures who shaped us.

Just as Jerry Lewis had a big impact on what I think is funny, Hugh Hefner – who recently passed away at 91 – was hugely important in my life. My uncle Richard had Playboys in his basement proto-man cave that I saw when I was as young as ten or eleven, learning well before puberty that I liked seeing pictures of beautiful naked women. When I was in junior high, my father received a Christmas present of a subscription to Playboy as a gag gift in a bridge club “Secret Santa” exchange. He had no interest in the magazine and soon forgot about the subscription, because I always got to the mailbox first.

I loved the magazine. I loved everything about it, including, yes, the articles. And the fiction, and the book and movie and record reviews. There was a sophistication an Iowa kid could only dream of. As a comics fan, I was bowled over by the incredible cartoons, not just their raciness but their artistry. And the incredibly beautiful photography of the centerfolds (this is circa 1964 – 1966) defined for me what a woman should look like. I should say “could look like,” because even then I knew this was an airbrushed fantasy. Still, I knew the names of every Playmate from the ‘60s through the mid-‘70s – the beautiful woman I married was completely unthreatened by the Playboy fantasy, and the magazines never had to be hidden around our home.

I came of age in the pre-hippie ‘60s. It was a world of the Rat Pack and sick humor and Beatniks and Ian Fleming’s James Bond and the early Beatles. I still prefer the early Beatles – you can have most of the White Album. But then the ‘70s came along, and magazines that were more frank about sex in prose and in photography – Penthouse, Hustler – began to make inroads for Hefner’s fabulous brainchild. (I write about this in the forthcoming Quarry’s Climax.)

Hefner was important in loosening up the sexual mores of this (and other) nations. For good or ill, he fired some of the first real volleys in the Sexual Revolution (the most important after Kinsey). But the later ‘60s and every decade that followed were problematic for him. He struggled with feminism and self-consciously wrote progressive essays that were very smart but pretty boring. He never found a way to square the circle of a woman having sexual freedom and full human rights. The female as sex object had been defined long before he came along, and he obviously made his fortune and fame expanding and redefining that image. But it limited him and made him seen a hypocrite.

I make no apologies for considering Playboy in its prime (and even for many years after) a great publication. Until the recent revamping (since abandoned) with nudity banished, a new issue always gave me a bit of a thrill reminiscent of getting to the mailbox before my parents noticed I had snagged Dad’s copy of Playboy. For many decades I subscribed, and I looked forward to no magazine more.

For the articles. And so much more.

I always felt Hef was a kind of nerd. He was a work-a-holic who loved publishing and awkwardly took on the sophisticated sybarite persona his magazine dictated. Oh, I realize he really did become a sophisticated sybarite, but when he appeared on TV, particularly on Playboy After Dark, he seemed so awkward and ill at ease.

Somehow that was his charm. It conveyed the possibility to nerds in Iowa and elsewhere that an Illinois nerd could be the man who lived in a mansion filled with beautiful models, movie stars, intellectuals, top nightclub talent, world-class chefs and a never-ending party. I much prefer the quiet life I’ve led with one beautiful woman, but fantasy is still fun to think about.

As some of you know, Hefner was Nate Heller’s friend and there are scenes at the Chicago Playboy mansion in the JFK Trilogy (Bye Bye, Baby, Target Lancer and Ask Not). So Nate tips his fedora to his old friend, while I just say, “Goodbye, Hef.”

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Here’s a nice article on the Nolan series, marred a bit by the erroneous inclusion of the first name “Frank.”

Bookgasm has a nice review of the Bibliomysteries collection that includes the Hammer story “It’s in the Book.”

Gravetapping has a fine review of my pal Steve Mertz’s new novel.

Finally, here’s a brief review of Strip for Murder.

M.A.C.

Heller and York Score

Tuesday, May 17th, 2016

J. Kingston Pierce at the excellent Rap Sheet has given BETTER DEAD a splashy rave as this week’s Pierce’s Pick. Also, in honor of Rap Sheet’s ten-year anniversary, Jeff Pierce is giving away five copies of BETTER DEAD and five more of ASK NOT (in hardcover). Read the rave and all about the free copies right here.

Also at Jeff’s terrific second blog, KILLER COVERS, which celebrates paperback covers of the ‘40s through the ‘70s, he has paid tribute to BETTER DEAD with a selection of sexy covers featuring redheads.

My pal Bill Crider has published his own BETTER DEAD rave at one of my favorite web sites, BILL CRIDER’S POP CULTURE MAGAZINE. There’s a fun discussion in which I participate in the comments section about the unlikelihood of Nate Heller being involved in so many famous cases. Take a look.

I am pleased and honored to have THE LEGEND OF CALEB YORK (now available in paperback!) nominated for Best Novel by the Western Fictioneers. This link will take you to the entire list of nominees, plus one winner – my great friend Bob Randisi, who is receiving a life achievement award.

Since we seem to be leading off with links this week, check out this excellent review from writer Ron Fortier of QUARRY’S VOTE (the McGinnis-covered Hard Case Crime edition of PRIMARY TARGET).

NO ONE WILL HEAR YOU by Matt Clemens and me is a Kindle Bargain ($1.99), reachable at a link here.

In memoriam of Darwyn Cooke’s untimely passing, and Bobby Darin’s birthday (May 14), COMICS OUGHTA BE FUN prints a condensed version of THE BOBBY DARIN STORY by Terry Beatty and me.

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I think I’ve had it with superhero movies.

BATMAN V. SUPERMAN was long, self-consciously dark and occasionally tedious, but I didn’t hate it, with the exception of Jesse Eisenberg’s vastly misjudged Lex Luther. Superman and Batman retain their charisma, and it was fun seeing Wonder Woman in one of these movies. Otherwise fun was in short supply in this and so many of the genre.

Barb and I walked out of CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR. We did so well into the movie, probably a couple of hours, but an endless fight scene between the two groups of superheroes warned me that the climax of taking on the super villains was yet to come, so we finally bailed, battered but breathing. So many characters and so little impact. And I think I’m finally bored with Robert Downey Jr.’s oh-so-cool schtick as Tony Stark.

The problem with the Marvel movies is the company’s willingness to scrape the bottom of the costumed hero barrel. Even Iron Man is a second-tier guy; and while Paul Rudd is likable as Antman (and his solo movie pretty good), what pop cultural purchase does that character have? At least Superman and Batman are iconic.

But where is the fucking fun? The first AVENGERS movie had that nicely hip/jokey feel thanks to Joss Whedon, without shortchanging the action. Since then it’s been a combination of flat one-liners, over-wrought seriousness, and mind-numbing battles, plus a continuity as convoluted and corny as five years of DAYS OF OUR LIVES. Take the laughable CIVIL WAR moment when Tony Stark gets flummoxed by the thought of Pepper Potts. Yes, we are expected to remember and care about a character with a silly name who isn’t even in the movie.

When Jack Kirby created Captain America (about whom Mickey Spillane occasionally wrote), Cap was a symbol of cheerful patriotism whose Robin-type sidekick, Bucky, rode a motorcycle, all jaunty and cheerful. Now Bucky still rides a motorcycle, but he has turned into a sullen, serious half-villain, half-good-guy, sturm und drang not slam bang.

Now I’m not completely cured. I bought DEADPOOL on Blu-ray the other day because it’s been so widely praised. Haven’t watched it yet, but will. I am looking forward, guardedly, to the new X-MEN movie. But stuff like DC’s SUICIDE SQUAD leaves me cold, the preview so unpleasant and struggling to be dark, I want to upchuck my popcorn. The Joker as hero (okay, anti-hero)? So wrong. So very wrong.

My problem is that as I age, so does the popular culture, and neither of us are what we used to be. I bought AMAZING FANTASY #15 at Cohn’s Newsland, as well as SPIDERMAN #1, FANTASTIC FOUR #1, AVENGERS #1 and X-MEN #1. To me it was all about Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko – from my perspective, the “new” SPIDERMAN artist is John Romita.

Say what you will about Stan Lee, he wrote fun comic books. He lightly spoofed the genre and seemed to be saying, “Yes, this stuff is inherently silly, but let’s have a good time with it.” So Peter Parker was a nerd who got picked on, and the Fantastic Four got evicted from their penthouse digs because being a superhero didn’t pay so good. And he probably cackled at his typewriter when he typed the name Pepper Potts.

Batman to me will always be cartoonist Dick Sprang’s giant props and a small cast of vivid, recurring villains, most of whom were comical (the Riddler, the Penguin, even the Joker). Wayne Boring’s Superman was never boring, but often funny, from the torturous attempts by Lois Lane to unmask Superman as Clark Kent to the bald super-villain, Lex Luthor, who always failed. And Bizarro! How much fun was that?

Are we having fun yet, at superhero movies? Or are we still suffering under the mantle of seriousness that has so choked a wonderful if inherently juvenile genre? Embrace your inner kid – don’t be ashamed of him.

M.A.C.

Better Dead

Tuesday, March 15th, 2016
Better Dead

Hardcover:
E-Book: Amazon Nook Kobo

The first Nathan Heller novel in three years, BETTER DEAD takes a step back in time from the JFK Trilogy (BYE BYE, BABY; TARGET LANCER; ASK NOT) to deal with the events of the Red Scare-era 1950s.

This book has been coming for a long time. It’s one of the projects that got set aside when it came time for Heller to make a comeback after about a decade away. To get Heller back out there, I proposed the Kennedy trio, a good bet for a sale because of the high-profile nature of the material; a trilogy with Marilyn Monroe, Jack Kennedy and Bobby Kennedy was appealing. But it meant skipping several things I had planned to do, including a Robert Kennedy/Jimmy Hoffa book that I hope eventually to get around to.

With BETTER DEAD, the tricky thing is that I have two cases for Nate to deal with. Neither seemed right for a single book, but together – with the shared era and a number of common characters beyond Heller himself – the whole just might exceed the sum of its parts.

Joe McCarthy is one of the characters – and factors – that joins the two stories: the Rosenberg “atom spies” case, and the Frank Olson murder. The latter has to do with the Army scientist who was dosed with LSD at a CIA retreat, which had unfortunate results.

Heller is working on the East Coast exclusively this time around – he’s just opened a branch office in the Empire State Building – which puts him right in the heart of Mike Hammer’s world circa 1953. Heller has always had things in common with Hammer, but this time – in this setting – those commonalities come out more prominently. In fact, as the guy completing the Hammer stories from Spillane’s files, I several times questioned whether I’d slipped out of Heller territory and into Hammer. And is that a bad thing? Certainly wouldn’t be the first time.

On the other hand, Heller’s victories can never be as complete as Hammer’s.

Others in the cast include Bettie Page, Dashiell Hammett, Roy Cohn, Bobby Kennedy, and Sidney Gottlieb (the CIA’s Dr. Feelbad).

It’s a wild one. Watch for it May 3rd.

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Check out this cool QUARRY’S LIST review.

MURDER NEVER KNOCKS is a Pierce’s Pick this week!

Here’s a nice review of QUARRY’S DEAL.

And here’s a somewhat late-in-the-game review of DEAD STREET.

M.A.C.

Heart-Felt Part 6

Tuesday, February 9th, 2016

Yes, let’s get on with it already! I should very soon (today or tomorrow) get test results that will immediately pave the way for the heart surgery. In that case, a good chance I’ll be going in yet this week. If that happens, my son Nate will start posting weekly the four updates I wrote in advance, and I should be in shape to get back to the regular stand after that.

Watch here and at Facebook for health updates from me or Nate.

Everybody has been great. Thanks for the love and support. Back at ya.

* * *

Publication of the ROAD TO PERDITION novel appears to be happening. As I was looking for a project to keep me busy while waiting for test results, I decided to prepare the manuscript for Brash Books. For those who came in late, in 2002 I wrote a 70,000-word movie tie-in novel (okay, novelization) of the script for the movie that was based on my graphic novel. In my novel, I attempted to be true to the screenplay while weaving in material from the graphic novel as well as historical material about the real John Looney and his era.

The DreamWorks licensing department put me through hell, making me cut anything – including dialogue! – that wasn’t directly from the script. They could not have cared less that I was the creator of this story and its characters. Even after they had accepted my 40,000-word debasement of my original novel, they kept cutting – if, in the film-editing process, director Sam Mendes dropped a scene or even a few lines of dialogue, they removed that from my novel as well. One chapter was reduced to a page and a half.

I’ve always felt I did really good job on the book, and it really paved the way for my sequels, ROAD TO PURGATORY and ROAD TO PARADISE. So I’ve looked for a way to get the novel into print. Now, enough years have passed that nobody at Paramount (who control DreamWorks) seems concerned about my original version finally being seen.

Quick anecdote. I was told by the DreamWorks licensing people that Mendes himself was making the requests for my drastic cuts of the novel. That he wanted it exactly like the movie. Then when I talked to Mendes at the London premiere, he said, “I hear you’ve written the movie novel – can’t wait to read it!”

So, anyway, back in 2016, I was faced with looking at my 2002 manuscript and dealing with it. Making decisions, doing tweaks, ferreting out typos and missing words. This was my original manuscript, after all, not any published version.

My first decision was to change the slightly revised movies names of several central characters back to my version of them – “Michael Sullivan” was restored to “Michael O’Sullivan” and John (and) Connor “Rooney” again became “Looney.” (The change from “Looney” to “Rooney” was done when either Mendes or the screenwriter assumed the former was a comic-booky name provided by a graphic novelist, when of course the latter is historically accurate.)

My second decision was to get rid of two major plot changes. (SPOILER ALERT: skip this paragraph if you haven’t read the graphic novel and/or seen the film). In the graphic novel, as in history, John Looney is not killed. And in the graphic novel, the boy Michael kills the hitman who has shot Michael’s father. In the film, Looney memorably dies in the rain, and a Hollywood ending has the boy unable to shoot the hitman and the dying father being pleased. I had already restored the envelope of first-person narration by the grown Michael, Jr., and a last-page revelation of what became of him.

So I spent a day rewriting those scenes, taking them back to my original intention. But it didn’t work. The screenwriter had done too good a job of laying the groundwork for his version of my scenes. And I had done a really good job in the novel of doing the same, including fixing some plot holes in the script. Re-doing those scenes to make them consistent with the graphic novel created a domino effect of terrible proportions. The next work day, I restored the scenes as I’d originally written them (faithful to the movie script).

It quickly became clear that I had no business doing any significant rewriting. The point of the exercise was to get what I wrote in 2002 into print. This is not to say that I didn’t do some tweaking, but it was mostly a few word choice changes. I did fix a couple of things that bothered me in the movie that I had let pass in the novelization.

An example – in the film, Mike Sullivan has just offered his services to Frank Nitti if Nitti will give up Connor Rooney. Nitti turns Sullivan down, then after Mike has gone, we find that in adjacent room both Connor and John Looney are waiting. In what I think of as the Dr. Evil and Scott scene, Connor tells his father that they should take Mike down right now – he’s in their grasp! Rooney, again like Dr. Evil in Austin Powers, says something like, “You just don’t get it, do you son?” As much as I love the film, this makes me cringe. So I revised it with the father telling his son why it would be unwise to kill Sullivan, specifically that in a busy hotel during the day, the resultant melee would be a disaster. Those who’ve read the graphic novel know that I did have O’Sullivan shoot his way out of the hotel. Not staging that scene was a rare misstep and a missed opportunity.

On the whole, I was very pleased by what I wrote in 2002, and again I did very little rewriting or additional writing. Since Brash Books also intends to bring out ROAD TO PURGATORY and ROAD TO PARADISE in new editions, I feel confident that the prose novel of ROAD TO PERDITION will be a good lead-in – that it forms with the two sequels a trilogy that will please readers, particularly those who became familiar with PERDITION via the film.

One final note: one of the trickiest things had to do with converting between word processing programs. You want to know how long ago 2002 was? The book was written in WordStar! I had to convert it to Word Perfect, my preferred program, after which my revised manuscript had to be converted to Word. That meant, as a final step, going through and eyeballing each of around 400 pages, looking for glitches.

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Check out this nifty cover of the mass-market edition of KILL ME, DARLING. By the way, I don’t recall whether I’ve mentioned it or not, but several goofs in the hardcover of COMPLEX 90 were corrected in the paperback version – making it the author-approved text of that novel.

The DARLING paperback will be out this month (the 23rd).

Speaking of my collaborations with Mickey Spillane, I urge you to check out the article at Great Writers Steal that happens to be one of the smartest examinations of either my work or Mickey’s that anybody has ever written.

Less smart is the favorable but patronizing review at the normally more reliable UK site, Crime Fiction Lover. Once again, it turns out that a book written in the ‘70s includes some ‘70s attitudes. And once again, the reviewer troubled by that doesn’t mind at all Quarry killing people.

Speaking of smart reviews, here’s a great one about the Heller novel ASK NOT, from Frank the Movie Watcher.

Let’s wind up with a great piece on THE MALTESE FALCON, from a writer smart enough to quote me.

M.A.C.