Posts Tagged ‘Bait Money’

The Grand Master Speaketh

Tuesday, May 2nd, 2017

According to Otto Penzler, the Grand Master Speaketh too long, actually, in accepting his “Edgar” at the banquet last Thursday at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in New York. I told Otto that maybe I should have dropped the thank you that I gave him for publishing the Mike Hammer short story collection recently.

The banquet found me dressed in my James Bond Halloween costume. I was in great company – not only Barb, but my agent Dominick Abel, Barbara Allan’s editor Michaela Hamilton (whose guests we were), Lee Goldberg and Joel Goldman of Brash Books, and Charles Ardai of Hard Case Crime, among others. We had ringside seats, and were right there to helplessly watch M.C. Jeffrey Deaver, MWA president, drop to the stage floor in a dead faint, apparently caused by dehydration. We’re told he’s doing fine, but it was a suspenseful half hour we all could have done without. The EMT and police response was incredibly quick, by the way – something like five minutes.

I went on fairly deep into the night, after a nice video that showed off both my work and that of the year’s other Grand Master, Ellen Hart. As anyone who’s ever heard me speak probably would guess, I never prepare – I just have a vague idea of what I want to say, and go. In this instance, however, I prepared a list of people I wanted to thank, mostly editors and publishers. But when I got up there, I found myself blinded by bright lights, at a podium not lighted at all. I could barely make out anything on my sheet of paper with the thank you’s.

So I forgot some people (Otto I remembered). Who, you ask? How about the MWA itself, and the organizer of the event (and heart and soul of the organization), Margery Flax. I did give Barb a nice shout-out, and my agent Dominick Abel, but I forgot Brash Books altogether, though they had generously bought an ad in the program book and provided free copies to attendees of the uncut Road to Perdition prose novel.

I did manage to talk about the three key mentors of my early professional career – two of whom were MWA Grand Masters themselves, Donald E. Westlake and Mickey Spillane. I mentioned that Don had given his blessing when Bait Money sold, and generated sequels, even though they were outrageously imitative of his work. And I shared some writing advice Mickey gave me – “Take your wallet out of your back pocket before you sit down to write.” To which I said to Mickey, “Mick, I’m pretty sure your wallet is fatter than mine.”

Mostly I talked about Richard Yates, the great mainstream writer. I’ll share with you the story I told at the Edgars, with a few extra touches, since Otto isn’t handy to berate me.

As I began trying to write fiction, I was well-aware of the Writers Workshop in Iowa City, just 35 miles from my house, and I always assumed I’d go there. Never thought I’d have to do anything but just enroll. The Workshop was (and is) a graduate program, but they had a single undergraduate section of about a dozen junior and senior students. In August 1968, two months or so after Barb and I got married, I was due to start at the U of Iowa as a junior (after two years at Muscatine Community College) and thought I better go up there and submit my manuscript, as I’d learned was required.


Richard Yates

Richard Yates was the instructor. I found him in his office where he was straightening things in preparation for the coming semester. A lot of skinny little manuscripts were arrayed on his desk. Short stories. Amateurs! Me, I had a novel tucked under my arm (MOURN THE LIVING).

Yates had a full-face beard and looked like a benevolent version of John Brown, the abolitionist. His eyes were always a little sad and that first day was no exception. I began enthusiastically talking about how I’d been writing mystery and suspense stories, including four novels, since junior high – that my heroes were Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler and James M. Cain…I left out Spillane, knowing he was frowned upon. When I stopped bubbling over like a shaken bottle of pop, Yates took the novel from my hands and regard me with pity.

“I will take a look at this,” he said, “but I hold out no false hope to you. This kind of thing is not what we do here. We are serious writers at the Workshop, writing serious fiction.”

I went home with my tail tucked between my legs, my very dejection a cliche, my world shattered.

A few days later the phone rang. Barb, who’d endured my bleak self-pitying jag, answered, then looked at me with surprise, covering the mouthpiece, and said, “It’s that Richard Yates….”

I took the phone, wondering what abuse waited.

“Mr. Collins,” he said, “I owe you an apology. I’ve read your novel. You’re very serious about what you do, and you’re writing at a professional level above anything else that’s been submitted to me. I would be very pleased to have you in my class.”

Then, after a long pause filled by my stuttering non-response, he said, “You know, my wife and I watch Carol Burnett every week, and we laugh and laugh, and have such a good time. And I was reminded of your novel.”

I could just see the blurb – “In the Tradition of Hammett, Chandler and Carol Burnett!”

“And it occurred to me,” he said, “that there’s no shame in creating entertainment.”

Thereafter Dick Yates was my champion, even in the instances when he wasn’t my instructor, throughout the rest of my years at the Workshop. He worked with me at his home, had Barb and me over for dinner, and he landed me my first agent (Knox Burger).

First ironic postscript: I had to submit all over again to get into the graduate Workshop. But when I went to pick up my submission at the Workshop office, I was told I’d been declined, and the manuscript of Bait Money was handed back to me. By a quirk of fate, my evaluation was accidentally left in the manuscript, showing I’d been rejected by a grad student whose job was to thin the pile. And I was rejected for the same reasons that Yates had once given me before he read my manuscript.

“If the applicant wants to write this kind of thing,” the grad student wrote, “he doesn’t need to go to the Workshop to do it.”

I took this immediately to Yates – Bait Money had been written under his guidance and supervision – and he went to the top guy at the Workshop. The book was given to three instructors (not grad students) and received the highest rating possible. I was in.

Second ironic postscript: my graphic novel Road to Perdition into a film directed by Sam Mendes. Yates’ great novel Revolutionary Road was made into a film directed by Sam Mendes. Of course, Richard Yates didn’t live to see either.

We lose people along the way. My producing partner Ken Levin lost his wife Mary recently. My friend Ed Keenan, who Matt Clemens, Ed’s wife Steph and I so often played poker with, died while I was in NYC. At the Edgars, I sat watching an “in memoriam” video, and got blindsided by the smiling faces of Ed Gorman and Miguel Ferrer.

That’s why I write these pieces from time to time. To remind myself, and share with you, some of these wonderful people, who stay with us long after they’re gone.

* * *

A nice if brief write-up about the Edgars event, with pics not seen elsewhere, is here.

And a nice write-up about the night can be seen here.

Here’s a nice Executive Order review.

Here’s one for Murder Never Knocks, just out in paper.

Check out this review of the new Hammer, The Will to Kill.

And you can get a signed copy of Will to Kill here (and even see a pic of me signing it) from Otto Penzler’s Mysterious Bookshop. The description says it’s a collection (and they do have copies of Long Time Dead that I signed as well), but Will to Kill is a novel.

M.A.C.

Quarry TV Sept. 9; Mike Hammer Book Sept. 6

Tuesday, September 6th, 2016

How bizarre it seems – in a sense, it hasn’t registered – that the novel I began at the University of Iowa’s Writers Workshop in late 1971 has spawned a 2016 TV series.

My instructor, William Price Fox, didn’t like it. Most of the class didn’t, either. But several smart people thought the first two chapters of QUARRY were the best thing they’d ever read in a Workshop class. Fox, a writer I admired, was spotty as a teacher. He shared some good stories about his Hollywood perils, but he also spent several classes reading his own stuff to us. The class was only two hours once a week, and I had to drive from Muscatine (forty miles) to attend. I thought then that Fox reading his own work was lazy and self-indulgent, and I still do. But he did teach me the “Indian behind a tree” concept (ask me sometime).

A week or so after my Workshop class with its mixed reviews of QUARRY’s first two chapters, I sold my first novel, BAIT MONEY, and, a couple of weeks later, I sold the second one, NO CURE FOR DEATH. Both were written at the Workshop when Richard Yates was my teacher and mentor – a great writer and a great guy. The NYC editor wanted sequels to both, so I put QUARRY aside (probably a third of it written) and proceeded with THE BABY BLUE RIP-OFF and BLOOD MONEY. I had graduated in early ‘72 by then.

Then I got back to QUARRY, probably in ‘74, and it sold in ‘75 and was finally published in ‘76 (initially published as THE BROKER).

How vividly I remember sitting in my office in our apartment in downtown Muscatine (over a beauty shop – the smells wafting up were not heavenly) and pounding away at those early books. I thought QUARRY was the best thing I’d come up with, as the Nolan books were glorified Richard Stark pastiches and Mallory was just me filtering my private eye jones through an amateur detective. QUARRY was something original. I was going places! This would, in a good way, leave a mark.

And at first it seemed it would. The editor wanted three more novels about the character, and of course I eagerly complied. By the fourth book, two things were obvious – QUARRY was not setting the world on fire, and I was having trouble keeping the black-comedy element from spinning out of control. THE SLASHER seemed to me over-the-top, or anyway a subsequent novel would have been.

That doesn’t mean I wasn’t disappointed that no more books were requested by the editor. But the QUARRY series seemed, at four entries, to be complete. I was going places, all right – back to the typewriter to try again.

But a funny thing happened on the way to obscurity – a small cult of interest arose in QUARRY. Smart people like Jon Breen, Ed Gorman and Bill Crider said nice things about the books. The series started getting fan letters. So when I had some success with the Nate Heller novels, I decided to do just one more QUARRY – and I did, PRIMARY TARGET (since re-pubbed as QUARRY’S VOTE). The book was well-received, but that was the end of it.

The end of it, anyway, till the new millennium dawned and a young filmmaker named Jeffrey Goodman came knocking, and a new publisher/editor named Charles Ardai got in touch. From Goodman’s enthusiasm for the QUARRY short story, “A Matter of Principal,” came an award-winning short film written by me, and then a feature-length version co-written by me, THE LAST LULLABY. More or less simultaneously, Ardai asked me to do a QUARRY novel for his new retro-noir line, and I jumped at the chance to give the series a real ending – THE LAST QUARRY, a novelization of my version of the screenplay of the Goodman feature.

The surprisingly strong response to THE LAST QUARRY resulted in a conversation between Ardai and me that went something like this:

“I wouldn’t mind you doing another QUARRY for us,” he said.

“I wouldn’t mind myself.”

“But you ended the series. What book can you write after you’ve done THE LAST QUARRY?”

“Why not…THE FIRST QUARRY?”

Now we’re at eleven novels – QUARRY IN THE BLACK next month – and, after a somewhat rough birth going back to 2012, the QUARRY TV series will debut on Cinemax this Friday, at 9 pm Central time.

I’ve seen all eight episodes and they are excellent. It’s essentially an extended origin story of how returning Marine Mac Conway (the character’s real name, according to the show anyway) becomes hitman Quarry. Michael Fuller and Graham Gordy, the creators of the series, initially did not reveal the character’s “real name,” but it became clumsy for the lead character not to have, well, a name. They dubbed him “Mac” after me – M.A.C. Nice gesture.

And they were smart enough to set the show in the early ‘70s. It’s a nice fit with my current approach, which is to do my new QUARRY novels in ‘70s/‘80s period. You know you are old when a series you began as contemporary is now historical.

So I hope you like the TV series. If you don’t, and are a fan of the books, pretend to, will you? If the show becomes a hit, I may get to write more QUARRY novels.

Stranger things have happened.

* * *
A Long Time Dead

Softcover:

E-Book: Amazon Nook Kobo iTunes

Limited Signed Hardcover: Mysterious Bookshop

Also this week, the Mike Hammer short story collection, A LONG TIME DEAD, will become available in print and e-book editions from Mysterious Press. This is an exciting project for me, as it represents the first collection of Hammer stories, and possibly the last, since I have exhausted the shorter fragments in the Spillane files.

My sincere thanks to Otto Penzler for publishing it. Otto, who edited and published the first three posthumous Hammer novels, has been a great friend to Mickey, Mike Hammer and me.

* * *

The advance reviews for the QUARRY TV show are strong, like this one.

And this one.

Here QUARRY is seen as one of the nine best shows of the fall season.

And here it’s seen as one of the ten best shows.

You’ll enjoy this interview with Michael Fuller, half of the creative team behind the writing of the QUARRY series.

Here’s a nice write-up on the forthcoming QUARRY comics mini-series.

Check out this terrific review of the Hammer novel, MURDER NEVER KNOCKS.

And, finally, here’s a positive review from Kirkus, of all people, for A LONG TIME DEAD.

M.A.C.

Catching up with Me

Tuesday, July 5th, 2016

Crusin’ at Muscatine’s Brew July 4

My pal Ed Gorman – one of the best writers around, and at least as good a friend – did an interview with me that I’d like to share with you. Here goes.

* * *

1. Tell us about your current novel.

There are a couple of things that will become available soon. One is the complete version of the ROAD TO PERDITION novel. It was written in 2002 to accompany the release of the film, but DreamWorks licensing made me do a drastic cutting/rewrite, eliminating 30,000 words and any dialogue or action that wasn’t included in the book. I am very grateful to Brash Books for negotiating with DreamWorks for the real, complete novel to finally be published.

About the same time, Hard Case Crime will be bringing out QUARRY IN THE BLACK, obviously a new Quarry novel with what I think or hope is an interesting setting — George McGovern’s presidential campaign and a black leader in St. Louis who is supporting that ticket with public appearances. If you ever wanted to see how Quarry would behave at a Ku Klux Klan meeting, now is your chance.

And Otto Penzler is bringing out A LONG TIME DEAD, collecting eight Mike Hammer short stories that I developed from Spillane fragments. That’s exciting in part because there’s never been a Hammer short story collection before.

2. Can you give a sense of what you’re working on now?

I just finished a Mike Hammer novel, THE WILL TO KILL, working from a few chapters in Mickey Spillane’s files. It’s very unusual for a Hammer, because the mystery is right out of Agatha Christie, with greedy children fighting over the proceeds of a murdered patriarch’s estate.

Not too long before that, I did my pass on the new Barbara Allan mystery, ANTIQUES FRAME, co-written with my wife Barb. That was my first project after open-heart surgery and a minor stroke, and it was very gratifying to be able to get back up on the horse and ride so quickly. just weeks after the surgery.

Next up is EXECUTIVE ORDER, the third Reeder and Rogers political thriller, in collaboration with Matt Clemens.

3. What is the greatest pleasure of a writing career?

The greatest pleasure of a writing career is having one. The notion that I could ever hold down a normal job is highly suspect.

4. What is the greatest DISpleasure?

I don’t know if there’s a dis-pleasure for me. I really love this life. The things that frustrate me are minor in the bigger picture. For example, I despise having copy editors rewrite me, and have spent way too much time in my life putting various Humpty Dumptys back together. It’s always disappointing when a novel is critically ignored or particularly when the public ignores it. When a publisher drops a series, it can be crushing—I had to wait ten years before I felt I could re-launch Nathan Heller, and a lot of time was lost there.

5. If you have one piece of advice for the publishing world, what is it?

For the publishing world itself? Don’t judge an author by how well his or her last book sold. Judge each book on its own merits, and that includes proposed novels from authors whose professionalism isn’t in question.

6. Are there two or three forgotten mystery writers you’d like to see in print again?

So many of my favorites are back in print again in the POD and e-book fashion. But it would be nice to see Horace McCoy, Mike Roscoe and Roy Huggins out there in a more major way. I was pleased to see Ennis Willie finally get some attention, but unfortunately it’s faded somewhat.

7. Tell us about selling your first novel. Most writers never forget that moment.

Mine is easy to remember. I got the letter (my agent at the time never called me) on Dec. 24, 1971—BAIT MONEY, the first Nolan novel, had sold on Christmas Eve! When I told Donald E. Westlake about it—he’d been a mentor to me—he said, “Sometimes God behaves like O. Henry, and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

* * *

Here are a few things on the Net you may enjoy.

First, this is a rare (and detailed) review of MICKEY SPILLANE ON SCREEN by Jim Traylor and me. The author gives me all the credit, which is wrong, but otherwise it’s an interesting read on what is apparently a very right-wing web site.

Take a gander at this early review of the Mike Hammer collection, A LONG TIME DEAD.

Finally, one of America’s greatest mystery book stores, Mysterious Bookshop, has signed copies (available by mail) of BETTER DEAD.

M.A.C.

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Today’s the Day! (Later is Good, Too.)

Tuesday, April 26th, 2016
The Big Showdown
Hardcover:
E-Book:

The Legend of Caleb York
Paperback:
E-Book: Amazon Google Play Nook Kobo iTunes

Antiques Fate
Hardcover:
E-Book: Amazon Google Play Nook Kobo iTunes

The day this appears (April 26) is the pub date of the second Caleb York novel, THE BIG SHOWDOWN, in hardcover, and also of THE LEGEND OF CALEB YORK in mass-market paperback (co-bylined with the great Mickey Spillane). On this same big day, the new Trash ‘n’ Treasures mystery, ANTIQUES FATE, appears in hardcover. A week from now (May 3), the new Nate Heller will be out: BETTER DEAD (more about that next week).

These are all books I’m pleased with. I think THE BIG SHOWDOWN has one of the best, moody scenes of action/violence – a shoot-out in a rainstorm – that I’ve ever come up with. ANTIQUES FATE may be my favorite of the Brandy and Vivian Borne novels, with its faux-British setting reminiscent of MIDSOMER MURDERS and Miss Marple’s St. Mary Mead. It’s also very funny. No brag, just fact, as we western novelists are wont to say. Or is that want to say?

You may think that novels are flying out of my computer as if it were haunted. Actually, last year was one of my least prolific ones, due to the health problems that turned up in May. The only book I wrote during that period was MURDER NEVER KNOCKS (a Hammer, as usual working from Spillane material), and I also managed to do the short story “A Dangerous Cat,” which appears in the current Strand Magazine. The novel was written in the weeks after the treatment in which my heart was jump-started like an old Buick, to get rid of the irregular heartbeat that had turned up with my condition – for maybe a month I felt a lot better.

I wrote “A Dangerous Cat” later, feeling fairly shitty actually, but the story needed writing. It represented the last Hammer fragment that I’d set aside for short story purposes, and writing it would give me a Hammer collection (eight stories) – Otto Penzler is publishing it later this year as A LONG TIME DEAD.

The books that are coming out today (if you’re reading this on the day it appears) predate the health problems, and give something of a false impression about my apparently prolific 2015. But I am happy to report that I am back at work here in 2016, and in fact Barb and I have already delivered the next Trash ‘n’ Treasures mystery, ANTIQUES FRAME. She had been working on her draft throughout the medical adventures during which she was my incredible support system – the last bits of it were written by her in my hospital room. The rapid comeback my right hand made allowed me to get to work after two or three weeks at home.

Currently I am working on the third Reeder and Rogers political thriller. My cohort Matt Clemens is wrapping up his draft while I start mine. So far it looks like SUPREME JUSTICE and FATE OF THE UNION will have solid company. By the way, SUPREME JUSTICE recently hit the 100,000 books-sold mark. This does not count 175,000 books generated in the Kindle First program. Most of those copies were e-books, a fact I have trouble caring about.

Much of this year will be dedicated to getting back on deadline, as much as possible. I have no way to know how quickly the recovery will go, although so far – at nine weeks – I’m told by doctors and physical therapists that I’m doing very well. The biggest obstacle to getting my work done are the essential twice-weekly occupational and physical therapy sessions, which last 80 minutes. Or I should say the biggest obstacle is my reduced stamina and increased fatigue – after the physical therapy, I invariably have needed a nap of an hour or two. Takes a bite out of the writing day.

But things are improving. I had my first band practice (Crusin’) last Tuesday – an hour was about all I could manage, but I managed. We’ll practice again soon and play a two-hour gig in June. This weekend son Nate and his bride Abby visited with our incredible grandson, the criminally cute Sam Collins, in tow. Nate and Abby – currently living in St. Louis – are exploring coming back here to Iowa.

Realtor Suzi Webb (great name) – a good friend from my high school days – arranged a tour for us of half a dozen houses. I went along and, despite a lot of stairs, held up fine. Okay, I took and hour and a half nap after – but just a few weeks ago that adventure would have been out of the question.

For those of you who haven’t stopped reading yet, let me say that I never expected to discuss these health issues here. But my son has always encouraged me to look at behind-the-scenes stuff, and me reporting on how the writing is going seems pretty basic.

* * *

a ten minute interview I did at the last Bouchercon (in Raleigh), specifically focusing on B’Con memories and my general attitude about the annual event.

Here’s a fun review of TWO FOR THE MONEY, the Hard Case Crime omnibus of BAIT MONEY and BLOOD MONEY.

And here’s a list from a lawyer selecting 10 “Great Novels About the Supreme Court.” One of them is SUPREME JUSTICE!

M.A.C.