Posts Tagged ‘Barbara Allan’

The Most Beautiful Woman in Puppetland

Tuesday, June 5th, 2018

If you’ve always wanted to read something sentimental and sappy from a hardboiled noir mystery writer, this is your lucky day.

Barb and I celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary on June 1. You can check out the “before” and “after” photos above to see how much damage the years have done to me, and how Barb only gets lovelier as time lightly touches her.

I am reminded of my great grandparents and their Golden Anniversary celebration – dim and yet vivid in my memory. My great grandmother Rushing appeared to have stepped out of Grant Wood’s “American Gothic,” while my great grandfather was more Walter Huston in The Devil and Daniel Webster – she was staid and long-suffering, and he was a twinkle-in-the-eye reprobate.

The entire Rushing clan was gathered at their home for a big and elaborate celebration, with more food than lunch on the Road to Perdition set. At the after-dinner round of toasting, my great grandmother announced that she was divorcing my great grandfather and that he was to gather his things and leave at once. The suffering had gone on long enough, and now that she’d had her celebration for putting in her time, the old boy was sent literally packing.

He died a few years later, hit by a car as he crossed the street heading to a liquor store from the hospital where he was drying out.

I am happy to report Barb has not sent me packing, although some might say she would have the right, even if I’m not a hard-drinking reprobate. I am difficult and self-centered and a classic only child, spoiled by doting parents. She was one of seven (all girls save one), and her mother was bi-polar (not yet the diagnosis) who could make things miserable for her.

That had a lot to do why we married so young – I was twenty and she was nineteen. Her home situation was one I wanted to rescue her from, plus we were – and are – very much in love.

We’ve known each other since childhood. The story goes that we once shared a playpen while our mothers visited, but neither of us remember that. Sometimes we’re described as childhood sweethearts, which is sort of accurate. In the fifth grade, when I first noticed her resemblance to Marilyn Monroe, as I approached an age where such a resemblance was meaningful, she was my girl friend. By the sixth grade we had both moved on.

We were friends in junior high. Barb was an excellent trumpet player and I was a trumpet player, too (note the absence of an adjective before the second “trumpet,” which is what I was – second trumpet). Yes, I was second chair and she was first, and she once humiliated me (quite without malice) when I “challenged” her for her chair. Look, I knew she would wipe the floor with me, but the band director expected it of us all to go after the next chair. Somehow she did not laugh when the band director said to me, “Well, Allan, let’s stop it right there – I lost you on the second page….”

In high school, we went our separate ways – she to band, me to chorus (you had to choose). Our relationship was limited to smiles and nods in the school hallway. She was going with an older boy, a senior. I was going with nobody, not for want of trying. At my first junior-senior prom, my date ditched me. Funny story – I took the same girl to the next prom, and we laughed about winding up together again, though she (like Barb) was going with an older (college) boy.

Prom night 1966, the class had a riverboat ride after the dance – the XL’s with my pal Joe McClean played dances at both the prom and on the riverboat. My band the Daybreakers had their first gig at the after-prom party following the riverboat ride. But, like Vivian in the Antiques books, I digress. Back to the riverboat….

My date somewhere dancing with somebody else, I found Barb leaning against the railing, alone, looking out at the Mississippi gliding by in the moonlight. I think it was misting a little. I joined her and we spoke for maybe five minutes. I don’t remember anything about the conversation, but I do know she was melancholy – I believe she had broken up with her now-college-age boy friend, or anyway her mother had broken them up. We had a very nice conversation, though, and connected, and I do remember wishing she was my date (no offense meant to my actual date, who had ditched me the year before, remember). We connected, briefly, but connected.

We both wound up at Muscatine Community College. Barb’s grandparents had offered their grandchildren funding for two years at MCC, and Barb took them up on it, as did her year-older sister, Ann (very pretty, the Veronica to Barb’s Betty). I had been offered a few football scholarships and a creative writing one at Iowa Wesleyan, where I had won a high school writing competition with a piece about how it felt for us at high school on the day Kennedy was shot. But I turned those down to go to MCC, because I was having a good time with the Daybreakers and wanted to keep the band going.

Meanwhile, a lot of our mutual friends – almost all of them – had gone to college elsewhere. Barb and I were, of our extended crowd, about it. So maybe it was natural we wound up together. Our first date was not a rousing success – it was part of a chorus outing at Wild Cat Den, and Barb has always loved the Great Out of Doors, and I haven’t (and don’t). I remember sitting on a rock high above a beautiful expanse of green with the first browns of fall, saying, “You know what the first thing was that the pioneers did, when they came west?”

“No,” she said.

“They built a cabin and got the hell inside.”

I have always known how to charm beautiful women.

Somehow I got a second date with her. I’m sure I was trying to impress her, babbling about writing and music, but she has reported the moment she fell in love with me as when – in the midst of some self-important discourse – I accidentally stuck my fingers in my water glass at Bishop’s Cafeteria in Davenport, Iowa.

We quickly became that arm-in-arm couple in the school hallway who made everybody else sick. We went out on weekends and frequently were together in the evening. We cut class and went to the nearby Quad Cities to have meals and shop (this is something we still do, although it’s work we escape from, not class). Barb’s mother, who called me a “juvenile delinquent,” did her best to break us up. She dragged Barb off to Arizona when a younger sister needed a change of clime for medical reasons, and this seemed in part calculated to put an end to the Barb-and-Al thing. The trip was truncated, only a few months long (despite Barb having transferred to a Tucson college), and we got serious. Really serious.

I don’t recall, exactly, asking her to marry me. I think we both sort of knew we had to get her out of that house. My parents were very supportive but a little suffocating, as the parents of only children often are, but overall they were great. Barb’s grandparents were great, too, letting us live in their home for the first months of our marriage while they stayed in a summer cottage.

I commuted to Iowa City and the University of Iowa while Barb supported us by working at the First National Bank. She was a stellar performer there and rose to an officer’s position. When I landed the Dick Tracy strip in late ‘77, she left the job – she got a retirement party at age 28! – and went back to school…Iowa Wesleyan, where I had almost gone, though she took most of the classes through MCC.

Then Nathan Collins came along in 1982.

To talk about how Barb has grown and blossomed – in ways I never have – would take a book, not a blog entry. It’s too bad the current generation has made “amazing” and “awesome” meaningless, because Barb is both those things. I truly believe if her husband had been a brain surgeon, she would have picked that up. Though she had no strong interest in writing fiction, or even reading it, she displayed a strong story sense from the start. We always went to a lot of movies, and her analysis of them – their strengths, their weaknesses – was always spot on.

She has been, from the start, my editor. I used to work nights, and would always have a chapter waiting for her in the morning. She continues to be the reader whose reaction is both first and foremost. Back in the Ms. Tree comic book days, when Terry Beatty and I were doing the “Mike Mist” minute mysteries as a filler, I asked her to do rough drafts for me. She did. Then when Terry needed a break from drawing the strip, I asked her to try writing a Mist mystery in prose format. She did.

I remember exactly what I said to her, after reading it.

“This is good,” I said. “A little too goddamn good.”

The thing is, she’s not a natural. She has to work at it, which she does – hard and diligently. She brings her considerable smarts and her willingness to work to a craft that many say they want to master, but don’t, or can’t. Soon she began doing short stories for anthologies edited by the late, so great Marty Greenberg.

Her work was so strong, and well-received, that I encouraged her to try novel writing. We did that together, with Regeneration and Bombshell. Then, at editor Micheala Hamilton’s urging, we tried a proposal for a cozy mystery series. That neither of us read cozies did not stop us.

We’ve done thirteen Antiques novels, which makes fifteen novels. Three times the number Dashiell Hammett published, and more than that piker Raymond Chandler ever managed.

Along the fifty year way, this beautiful, brilliant woman has put up with an egocentric lout with whom you may be familiar. She runs the household, and the business, and the cozy mystery series she co-writes with me is one of the most successful things I’ve ever been associated with. Our union has also produced an incredibly gifted son, who also married a fantastic woman, resulting in the cutest, smartest grandson (Sam) in the history of man. No brag, just fact.

Who can blame me for loving Barb even more today than when I was a fresh-faced punk and she was the most beautiful woman in Puppetland (as Pee Wee Herman described Miss Yvonne)?

For those out there who hate me – and I can hear you sneering – this is what you should hate me for most: the luck, the fantastic crazy luck, that has given me fifty-two years (thus far) with this awesome, amazing woman.

I love you, baby.

* * *

Speaking of the Antiques series, here’s a lovely review of Antiques Wanted.

M.A.C.

Our Audie Murphy Film Festival

Tuesday, May 29th, 2018

Killing Town, the “lost” first Mike Hammer novel, is now available on audio read by the great Dan John Miller. Read about it here. If you support this audio (and the previous Journalstone Mike Hammer release, The Will to Kill), more will follow!

* * *

I am writing this week’s update on Memorial Day Weekend. It seems like a good time to say a few things about Audie Murphy.

First, let me share with you a part of my prep for writing the Caleb York novels for Kensington (under the Spillane & Collins byline) – essentially, how I get into the mood.

I am about to start the new Caleb, Last Stage to Hell Junction. Whenever I do a York novel, Barb and I have an appropriate western film festival, watching an “oater” each evening. For the first novel, The Legend of Caleb York (from Mickey’s screenplay, which started it all), we watched John Wayne westerns, as Mickey had written the screenplay for Wayne’s Batjac productions, though it had never been produced. My favorites, predictably, are The Searchers, Red River and Rio Bravo.

For The Big Showdown, we watched Randolph Scott, including all of his outstanding Budd Boetticher-directed westerns. For The Bloody Spur, our nightly western was a Joel McRae. And I have been gathering Audie Murphy’s westerns (and his other films) for several years now, with an eye on the festival Barb and I are beginning now.

Audie Murphy, of course, is celebrated as the most decorated American combat soldier of World War II. He received every military combat award, including the Medal of Honor, having – at age 19 – held off by himself an entire company of German soldiers for an hour, then (while wounded) leading a successful counterattack.

Murphy was a Texas boy from sharecropper stock who learned his skills with a rifle by putting food on the table for his six brothers and four sisters, after their father left their mother, who died when Audie was a teen. Murphy lied about his age to get into the U.S. Army, not long after Pearl Harbor (the Marines and Navy having turned him down).

After the war, making the cover of LIFE Magazine for his courageous service, he was taken under the wing of the great James Cagney. From the late forties until his tragic young death in 1971, Murphy was a movie star. Aside from a few A-pictures (like The Red Badge of Courage and The Unforgiven, both directed by John Huston), and several contemporary offerings, Murphy specialized in westerns, as well as a western TV series, Whispering Smith.

But his biggest success was starring as himself (a role he reluctantly accepted) in the film version of his autobiographical war account, To Hell and Back. He was a skilled horseman and a successful songwriter, his work recorded by such stars as Dean Martin, Harry Nillson, Eddy Arnold and Jimmy Dean, among many others. And, not surprisingly, he suffered from what we now call Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He slept with a .45 automatic under his pillow.

Stopped for speeding, Murphy pulled over and, when the officer noticed the .45 on the seat next to the easily recognizable Audie, the cop smiled and said he was a big fan and wanted an autograph. Murphy provided it. Accosted by a gangster at a horserace, Murphy stared him down and said, “I killed sixty of you bums in Sicily – one more won’t make a difference.” The thug moved on. Many a brawny challenger who figured he’d pick a fight with Murphy was quickly and brutally dispatched by the five-foot-five war hero turned movie star.

Or so go the stories. More easily verified is Murphy’s refusal to do ads for cigarettes or liquor, not wanting to set a bad example for young people. He died in a small plane crash.

My character, Quarry, was in part inspired by Murphy. David Morell told me Rambo had the same source. And Robert Stack said his Ness portrayl was inspired by Murphy.

Around Memorial Day, and all year frankly, Audie’s grave at Arlington National Cemetery is among the most visited. He is probably remembered more for his incredible valor as a teenaged war hero than for his movie career, and while that’s understandable, I’m here to tell you he was a fine actor.

In his day – and still today – his ability to star in a film is perceived as a sort of “talking dog” thing – the dog doesn’t haven’t to say anything impressive to qualify for that distinction. My feeling is the studios (chiefly Universal) often felt they had to pair Murphy with a strong character actor – Walter Matthau, Dean Jagger, Barry Sullivan – to carry him.

But anyone at all savvy about film and film-acting can look at Murphy in almost any of his pictures and see how his instinctive, charismatic under-playing seems modern and real while many of the actors around him appear to be shouting and hamming it up. He is present in every scene, quietly reacting, watching, then delivering lines naturally and effectively.

And in scenes of violence, just who this baby-faced boy/man is always comes to the fore. He’s a killer. Real deal. Not a murderer, but a soldier who unflinchingly does what he has to. But he’s not one note: he can be boyish, he can be scary, he can be romantic, he can be funny, he can be tough as hell – as much as I like Randolph Scott (and that’s a lot), Murphy has far more colors to his palette.

We’ve been watching him for a week or so now, and not all of the movies are good – toward the mid-1960s (particularly when he’s not working at Universal), his films are programmers, bottom-bill fodder for drive-ins. But he made some fine westerns, too, and worked with such great genre directors as Don Siegel, Budd Boetticher and Jack Arnold.

My favorite, the latter director’s work, is No Name on the Bullet. Murphy is an assassin who comes to a small western town, quietly checks in at the hotel and minds his own business – only his business is killing someone while he’s in town…but who. Everyone in the community seems to have a secret worth killing for. It’s a very Quarry-like role. The quiet killer side of him is in evidence – the film is thoughtful, a sort of High Noon turned inside out, and Murphy is great. Just great.

In collecting Murphy’s films, I’ve had to order DVDs and Blu-rays from all over the world. A few are available here (including No Name on the Bullet), and there’s a nice boxed set from Turner Classic Movies – check it out.

Oddly, Murphy is considered a major star in Germany. Think about that – our decorated hero is revered by the losers, and patronized and even ignored by the winners. This is much odder than Jerry Lewis being lionized in France (though the French are right about Lewis, and they like Murphy, too, for that matter).

Salute this Texas sharecropper’s son, while Memorial Day is still in the air, won’t you? For his service to his country, by all means. But track down some of his movies. He was a real movie star, and – unlikely as it seems – a fine actor.

* * *

The forthcoming Scarface and the Untouchable is one of the ten summer books Chicago Magazine recommends.

Here’s a fine review of Killing Town.

Check out this advance look at the first issue of the Hammer four-issue comic book mini-series.

The Quarry TV series gets some love here.

Finally, here is a wonderful review of Antiques Wanted by a reviewer who really gets what Barb and I are up to.

M.A.C.

Merry X-Mas?

Tuesday, May 15th, 2018

Some of our loyal readers may recall that Barb and I did three e-book novellas over the past several years, all with a Christmas theme, none available as anything but e-books.

That will change soon. I am, this very week, working on the galley proofs of Antiques Ho-Ho-Homicide (by Barbara Allan, of course), collecting those three e-books into an actual book…a mass market paperback only (no hardcover).

We’re very pleased that this book is happening. The novella form works well for Brandy and Vivian Borne, and we like all three stories. If you’ve never read an Antiques novel, this one will make a good sampler – but it won’t be out till Christmas season, of course.

* * *

Batman: Elseworlds #3 includes Scar of the Bat, my Batman/Eliot Ness graphic novel, drawn by the great Eduardo Barreto. It comes out mid-June. Info here.

* * *

We had the fun of having Nathan, Abby and our grandson, Sam, for Mother’s Day, dining at the lavish new Merrill Hotel in Muscatine. Sam likes to visit because “Grandpa has the best cartoons,” a wise observation for a nearly three-year-old. His favorite is “A Froggy Evening,” reflecting the great taste that has been passed down through the miracle of DNA. He also laughs at his own jokes – gee, I don’t know where he gets that.

Nate finished his latest Japanese-to-English project – the book is excellent and is some of Nate’s best work. We’ll announce it when it reaches publication.

With no nepotism in the mix, Nate’s publisher for the book is Tor, current home of Nate Heller.

* * *

Barb and I went to Rampage, which is the very definition of a movie that we did not walk out of, though we strongly considered it. The Rock, I mean Dewayne Johnson, is very good at action tinged with humor. But the script is mostly an embarrassment – the bad guys build a homing device for the monsters they created…on top of their own building in downtown Chicago! – and some of the performances are downright painful.

Jeffrey Dean Morgan is given a star entrance – I guess he’s on Walking Dead, which I don’t watch – and he’s frankly terrible, making an awful character, well, awfuler. He plays a CIA type agent with corny cowboy dialogue and a pearl-handled .45 side-draw on his belt, which has a big cowboy buckle. One of the biggest disappointments of Rampage was that his character did not die (the possibility of seeing that was an inducement not to walk out).

* * *

One of the few reviews Killing Town has received is from Book Reporter, and it’s a nice one.

A brief but good Killing Town review can be seen here.

And another from the New York Review of Books.

M.A.C.

A Rotten Tomato for Rotten Tomatoes

Tuesday, May 8th, 2018

NEWS FLASH: McFarland, who published Mickey Spillane on Screen, is having a big sale. If you avoided this book because of its high price, you can get it for 25% off now, by using the code POPCULTURE25 – that puts it at $26.25, a price that is actually not insane!

Celebrate Mickey Spillane’s birthday with the best critical work ever written about him!

* * *

Barb and I completed and shipped Antiques Ravin’ a few days ago. It’s always an intense ride, as she spends many months on her draft and then I spend a month or so expanding and revising, with her closely supervising. My job is largely to polish and expand, dialogue particularly, plus I add a lot of jokes (and there are always plenty before I start my work, which is why the books are very funny) (no modesty about that at all).

I believe we are at a dozen books in the series. That makes the Trash ‘n’ Treasures books one of my biggest successes in publishing, and I owe it all to Barb.

We sent out five copies of the recently published Antiques Wanted to the first five of you to request a copy, as part of our latest book giveaway.

If you’re won a copy of this (or of Killing Town, The Last Stand or The Bloody Spur), do please post Amazon (and other) reviews. The Last Stand has received a lot of attention, but perhaps because of that, Killing Town has gone almost unnoticed by the professional reviewing community. Judging by the positive response of readers so far – and the historic significance of Killing Town as the first Mike Hammer novel – the critical shrug to the book’s existence is frustrating and a little sad.

Speaking of critics….

As some of you may recall, I gave up my role as Mystery Scene’s film reviewer after I made a film myself and found out how fricking hard it is. Making even a bad film is an extremely tough endeavor for all concerned. The collaborative nature of the process, as well as the financial burdens and responsibilities, means that any time a good film happens, it does just that: it happens, almost in spite of itself. A good film, let alone a great one, is something of a miracle.

So for a long time I resisted the urge to write bad reviews of films. And nothing is easier than writing a bad review, particularly in the age of snark. I still refuse opportunities to write reviews of books by other mystery writers for a myriad of reasons, not the least of which is conflict of interest.

I remember once when Tony Hillerman wrote a negative review in a major publication of one of the early Heller novels, how much it hurt to be attacked from above like that, how unkind and lacking in grace it was, coming not only from a writer much more successful than me, but from someone who I’d played poker with and with whom I’d socialized in a friendly way.

But, if you follow this update at all, you know that I have given in to my not better angels and written the occasional bad review of a movie. I have in particular reported when Barb and I have walked out. Because we go to the movies, on average, once a week – an effort to get out of the house where we both do our work – we have gotten into the habit of deciding at least in part about what we will see based on Rotten Tomatoes, where professional critics have their reviews averaged into a fresh or unfresh rating.

This habit has proved about as helpful as getting hooked on opioids.

Two cases in point.

The Blumhouse horror film, Truth or Dare, has a 15% rating on Rotten Tomatoes – decidedly unfresh. Stuck in the nearby Quad Cities, while Barb dealt with a Social Security problem her 93-year-old mother was having, I took in that film, just to kill time. While Barb has warmed to horror films some, I still have to go by myself at times, if one doesn’t appeal to her. I went to Truth or Dare.

Which was scary and well-directed, nicely acted, well-written, and everything a horror film of its kind should be. Somewhat similar to the Final Destination films, but stressing characterization in a far deeper fashion, Truth or Dare is creepy, involving fun. But it’s a horror film, and isn’t politically correct like Get Out (also Blumhouse, incidentally), so the critics don’t like it. None of them seem to understand that what a genre film, or any film, must do its work on its own terms.

Okay. So I Feel Pretty (I really do!). Barb and I both like Amy Schumer; loved her TV series, enjoyed Trainwreck, though we skipped Statched because Goldie Hawn’s plastic surgery was too disturbing.

Anyway, for whatever reason, the trailer of I Feel Pretty didn’t grab us, though we probably would have gone had we not read so many bad reviews of it. Rotten Tomatoes gives it 34% – definitely not fresh.

Then we heard Bill Maher talk about the film, and specifically the critical reaction to it, on Real Time. Now a lot of liberals dislike Maher, and a lot of conservatives dislike him, too. Which probably speaks well for him. I don’t always agree with him, but I don’t have to always agree with people to be interested in what they have to say.

Here is what Bill said about I Feel Pretty:

I do agree with everything he said here, particularly nailing movie critics (book critics, take heed) for taking a filmmaker to task for not making the movie that said critic would have made. This is precisely what Gene Siskel used to do. He always beat up on movies that weren’t done the way he would have (this from a guy whose favorite film was Saturday Night Fever). I hope Siskel is in Purgatory right now, where he is not allowed to move on until he makes a movie as good as Plan Nine From Outer Space (good luck).

Anyway, Barb and I went to I Feel Pretty and it was very good. Funny as hell, with Schumer’s performance particularly strong (Michelle Williams is remarkable, too). Its message about self-esteem (including the pitfalls of too much of it) is clear and positive, without shortchanging the laughs. A perfect Sunday afternoon matinee movie.

Rotten Tomatoes, you deserve a basket of them tossed at you, one at a sloppy time.

* * *

Here are this year’s International Association of Media and Tie-in Writers “Scribe” Award nominations (and I’m pleased to be among them):

Short Story:
“Banana Republic” by Jonathan Maberry
“Ganbatte” by Keith DeCandido
“Murderers’ Row” by John Jackson Miller
“Pacing Place” by Bob Mayer
“Rear Guard” by Sarah Stegall
“Storm Blood” by Peter Wacks and David Boop

Adapted Speculative and General:
Doctor Who: The Pirate Planet by James Goss
Resident Evil: The Final Chapter by Tim Waggoner
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets by Christie Golden
Kong Skull Island by Tim Lebbon

Original Speculative:
The Librarians and the Mother Goose Chase by Greg Cox
Solar Singularity by Peter J. Wacks, Guy Anthony Demarco, and Josh Voight
Halo: Legacy of Onyx by Matt Forbeck
Star Wars Battlefront II: Inferno Squad by Christie Golden
Star Trek Discovery: Desperate Hours by David Mack
Supernatural: The Usual Sacrifices by Yvonne Navarro

Original General:
Don Pendleton’s The Executioner Fatal Prescription by Michael A. Black
The Will to Kill by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins
Robert B. Parker’s The Hangman’s Sonnet A Jesse Stone Novel by Reed Farrel Coleman

YA Original:
Star Wars Adventures in Wild Space – The Cold by Cavan Scott
Warriors Three: Godhood’s End by Keith R. A. DeCandido
X-Files Origins: Devil’s Advocate by Jonathan Maberry

Audio:
Doctor Who: Across the Darkened City by David Bartlett
Doctor Who: Cold Vengeance by Matt Fitton
Warhammer 40,000: Agent of the Throne, Blood and Lies by John French
Torchwood: Cascade by Scott Handcock
Torchwood: The Dying Room by Lizzie Hopley

* * *

Here’s one of the few Killing Town reviews so far. It’s from Ron Fortier and it’s a beauty.

A nice mention of Antiques Wanted can be found in this fun blog.

This is a quirky but positive review of the audio of Murder Never Knocks, which the reviewer calls Murder Never Knows (which does indicate a certain lack of regard to detail).

Take a look at this fun review of The Last Stand (with kind words about “A Bullet for Satisfaction”).

Finally, here’s a nifty write-up about Spillane, with an emphasis on the novel The Girl Hunters, from top-flight tough-guy writer, Wayne Dundee. I hope Wayne is following the posthumous Hammer novels, and is aware that Complex 90 is really more of a sequel to The Girl Hunters than even The Snake.

M.A.C.