Posts Tagged ‘Better Dead’

Let’s Talk About Sex!

Tuesday, April 24th, 2018

Last time I discussed why I use clothing and setting descriptions for characterization, as well as to let the reader know how I see things. This was in response to complaints from readers who are bored by such material, and apparently have not developed an ability to skim.

The other complaint I’ve been getting lately – and not until lately, which is interesting – are the sex scenes in my books. Here are some typical Amazon complaints (turds in the punch bowl of many positive reviews) of Quarry’s Climax.

“As one might expect from the title, this is 33% story and 67% 14-year-old’s wet dream. If you’re 15, and still reading this stuff, better get checked out for some syndrome or another…”

“I’m a fan of the Nathan Heller series but this book was not written with an adult audience as it (sic) target. High school boys will love it; the rest of you, not so much.”

Several others took a similar tone.

Before we discuss, I request that you look at the cover of Quarry’s Climax and then read the back cover. Presumably this material was available to prospective buyers. Amazon includes the back cover copy, for example, on their listing.

Back already? Okay. Can anyone tell me why this cover, part of line famous for politically incorrect retro covers, would be on a book that lacked sexual content? How about the back cover, which tells prospective readers that the book is “raunchy,” and is about the publisher of a pornographic magazine who also runs a strip club? Any possibility, do you think, that the story within will have sexual content?

But there are actual reasons for the sexual content that have nothing to do with fairness-in-packaging. Like clothing and setting descriptions, sex scenes in my novels have to do with characterization, both of Quarry himself and the individual women.

For example, in The Wrong Quarry (perhaps my favorite Quarry novel), Quarry has affairs with an older woman and a young, wild one. Actually, the older woman is initially wild too, but as she and Quarry start having a, shall we say, loving relationship, their sex becomes rather conventional…married people sex, you might say. Meanwhile he is seduced by the young wild woman in a sex scene of flashing black lights and a waterbed and, well, you see the difference.

The other big factor is the story itself. When I conceive a story, it’s not out of whole cloth. I find a premise I like, think about it at length, then gradually put together an outline of sorts, which changes and grows as the novel is written. I know who did it and why, where the murder mystery is concerned, but the rest has a certain freewheeling quality. For example, in Quarry’s Climax, our “hero” has an oral sex encounter fairly early on with a stripper, which was not planned. Call it organic.

So the subject matter creates a landscape where different sorts of scenes occur. In the Nathan Heller novel, Better Dead – which has two novella-like sections – Nate encounters a beautiful female Commie in part one, and Bette Page in part two. Do you suppose that Nate gets laid at all in that novel?

But in the recently completed Do No Harm, there’s only one mild sex scene, with a recurring love interest of Nate’s, because the investigation of a brutal murder that is in part a sex crime does not lend itself to sexual shenanigans in Heller’s doings. It didn’t feel right for the tone of the book, or where Heller’s head was at. But back in Better Dead, when Bette Page gets frisky, you can bet Nate is interested.

I understand that in the Me Too era, things have gotten weird. I find it telling, and a little sad, that many of the complaints about sex in my novels clearly come from millennials and whatever the “gen” after that is called. Once upon a time, old people frowned on my smut. Now it’s smug kids who have lived very little. (I’ll pause while my son decides whether or not to edit that out.) That we’re also in the era of Fifty Shades of Grey does confuse the issue some. Are sexy books for women okay, but for men are objectionable?

Those who assume I include sex for gratuitous reasons may be partly right. As a youth, I learned from Spillane and Fleming, and they always had sex scenes sprinkled in as spice. Connery’s Bond always bedded three beauties. But what interests me most is how nobody complains about the violence. I have had not a single one of these sex complainers object to Quarry’s wholesale homicide. Heller’s, either.

Or as the Frankenstein Monster might say, “Sex baaaad, violence goooood.”

Recently working on polishing and completing the ‘50s novella “A Bullet For Satisfaction” (featured in The Last Stand, and developed from unpublished material in Mickey’s files), I edited out a sex scene. Imagine! Why? The characterization was off.

“A Bullet for Satisfaction” appears to be a collaboration between Mickey and one of his writer pals, unidentified. I doubt Mickey would have made the mistake that I had to rectify – a mistake of characterization. A beautiful woman and hero Rod Dexter go to bed (like Connery’s Bond, Rod beds several beauties in the novella), but it’s out of character for both of them.

So out it went.

I will admit to one thing. Often I have told Barb, “I’m not sure Quarry (or Heller or Hammer) and the love interest will wind up having sex in this one.” But almost always, they do. Barb’s patient smile when I raise the issue indicates she already knew the answer.

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Here are more, better pics from the recent Crusin’ gig in Wilton, Iowa, at their annual all-classes reunion.

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I am sorry to report that Super Troopers 2 is terrible. I love the Broken Lizard guys, and have liked every other movie of theirs, including of course the first Super Troopers. Barb and I were looking forward to this perhaps too much, and I will give it another try on home video release.

But the timing seemed strangely off, the jokes and situations not terribly funny (unless you’re into the comedy stylings of Rob Lowe), particularly the endlessly mined central gag of Canada being stupid or something. We spend a bunch of time with a trio of Mounties who are doggedly unfunny, even Mad TV’s Will Sasso.

Didn’t walk out, though.

I hope this doesn’t spell the end for Broken Lizard, whose members are very talented and likable. We saw them in person at Iowa City a few years ago and they were terrific, and met them after, finding them friendly and down to earth.

As for Super Troopers 2, maybe you can’t go home again. Or maybe middle-aged men acting like the young bucks of the first film just doesn’t work the same way.

* * *

Here’s a nice interview with me on the upcoming Mike Hammer mini-series (the four issues will be collected as a graphic novel).

And Publisher’s Weekly is interested in the Hammer mini-series, too.

M.A.C.

Nathan Heller Confidential

Tuesday, September 12th, 2017

Out of the blue came a lovely e-mail from Nate Heller fan Peter Roff, who is attempting to read the saga in chronological order. He had some questions for me, and I answered them. With his permission, I’m sharing them with you.

Peter writes: Not that you should care, particularly, but I’ve spent the summer re-reading what I refer to as the original Hellers – everything from True Detective through Chicago Confidential – in the order they were released.

It’s a very different thing to see Heller’s character progress and develop in the linear fashion you provide as the creator of his universe then it is to time travel through his life as I first did, having to find the books where I could online, used, and in some cases very hard to get. At onetime I despaired I would never find a copy of Million-Dollar Wound, for example.

They are, in a word, brilliant. Writing is hard enough. Developing a coherent story line even more so. But to interpose fact with conjecture and make it all believable is the work of a true artist.

I have, though, a couple of questions/comments:

1) After finishing Chicago Confidential this evening I had a singular thought: In Nate Heller’s universe, did he kill Sam Gianacana? For some reason, perhaps the solitary nature of his murder, suggests to me he did.

Well, that might have happened if Perdition and its sequels hadn’t come along. The trickiest thing was establishing (not that anyone cares) that Heller and O’Sullivan were in the same fictional universe. That was a decision I struggled with, because Perdition is looser with the facts than Heller. But Road to Purgatory seemed to me to obviously have to tackle the same material as Million-Dollar. So I chose to make them work together as a pair — fit together like a puzzle, if anybody cares.

2) Is it possible, after spending so much time building him up as a character in the second series of Hellers – the ones that begin with Bye Bye, Baby – that you will NOT have Nate tackle the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa? I ask only because it seems such a natural thing for him to be involved in some fashion but the murder (presumably) is outside the timeline you originally announced.

Where I go from here depends, quite frankly, on how long I’m around. I’m in good shape right now but the last two years were filled with nightmarish health problems that almost killed me. I went back and “picked up” Better Dead because I thought that period and the two stories that comprise it were essential to the overall saga. I’m doing Sam Sheppard next in part because it shouldn’t be as demanding as some of the bigger landscape stories. I hope to do both RFK/Hoffa (in a pair of books) and maybe some piece of Watergate. Anything after that would be filling in blanks. But I’m 69, so how much time I have left to play this game remains to be seen.

3) I have not yet read Better Dead – and am trying to decide if I want to continue reading the books in order through the fall – I’ve read them all, including the two collection of shorts – to stay within the chronology as written OR if I should read it now because, in the real world chronology, McCarthyism comes after Chicago Confidential (more or less) but before Marilyn Monroe. If you have a thought as to which direction I should take I would welcome it.

Read Better Dead. If you can do it after Confidential, that would be ideal. A proviso: I can’t guarantee consistency with a saga written over such a long period of time. Heller isn’t perfect as an old guy gathering his memories.

4) Have you considered a Ronald Reagan book. I know we differ politically BUT I have for many years had a sense there’s a mob story there to be told. His relationship to MCA, his tenure as head of the Screen Actors Guild – you touch on it all when Heller goes to Hollywood and gets close to the IATSE/Willie Bioff studio business. But, for sake of argument, follow it through – what if all the racket busting that happened during Reagan’s presidency – particularly the stuff Rudy Giuliani did to the five families in New York – wasn’t somehow, some way, an extremely sophisticated plot to disadvantage The Syndicate and its interests, perhaps even cripple it, for the benefit of The Outfit and the fellows in Chicago?

Not on my plate at the moment, but interesting. Reagan of course is in True Detective. I was never a fan of his presidency but, brother, is he looking good now. Thanks for not letting politics get in the way of reading the novels. I write the very conservative Mike Hammer, after all, and with Mickey Spillane’s blessing — and he and I weren’t exactly on the same political page…..

Peter ends with: I’ve taken up more than enough of your time. I’ll close here but not before thanking you once again for creating Nate Heller and his universe. It has provided me with hours – days really – full of enjoyment. First, through the pleasure of taking in the stories themselves, then in taking the time to delve into the actual history of the events through which he passes and, finally, to contemplate how close to the actual solution you may have come.

He also provided a link to a fascinating story about a real-life Nate Heller in the 20th Century, which puts the lie to the notion that Heller’s life as I report it is far-fetched.

* * *

Last week Barb and I took in an appearance by Bruce Campbell at the beautifully restored Englert Theater in Iowa City. It was a kind of fancy book signing, with every attendee getting a pre-signed book by Bruce, and Bruce then doing some off-the-cuff stuff before reading a funny section of his new Hail to the Chin. He followed this with taking questions from the 700 in attendance, who were clearly the kind of people who longed to have their Ash action figure signed. He gave them a wonderfully wry bad time, humiliating the dumber questions with a light touch, and as for the intelligent questioners…well, there weren’t any.

Afterward he signed one item for anyone who cared to stay and line up to do so, and Barb and I bailed. We had our signed books, and I’d met Bruce before. So we tucked our Evil Dead Season Two blu-rays and DVD of the complete Jack of All Trades away and drowned our disappointment in Pagliai’s Pizza, the best pizza in Iowa City (and the universe).

Watching Bruce Campbell deal with his very special fan base is a study in patience, good humor and genuine understanding of the importance to him of the kind of geeky fan who would bring the complete Jack of All Trades DVD for signing.

* * *

Barb was down with a cold, so I took in IT by myself (she wasn’t that interested). I am lukewarm on Stephen King but I like horror, so I went. You probably did, too. Let me get the negative out of the way, with a little positive mixed in. I read Carrie before the film came out and was mightily impressed. The Shining, too, and a couple of other things. The original films from those two novels are masterpieces, and I include the Kubrick, which nobody seems to notice is a deal-with-the-devil movie.

Anyway, IT (never read the book and didn’t see the old TV mini-series) got off to a bad start with me when an outsider girl got garbage dumped on her by mean girls. Later she would be washed in blood, which the story ties to menstrual blood. In addition to this unimaginative reworking of Carrie (right down to a Travolta-esque bully) we have a fairly lazy reworking of Stand by Me, with kids as stereotypical as the G.I.s in a 1940s war movie. And predictably all the adults in the world of these young teens are monsters – grotesques, Hieronymous Bosch figures in bad eighties clothing. But what do you expect from a guy who wrote two haunted car novels?

Still, it’s a fine line between just repeating yourself and exploring recurring themes, and King is a law unto himself. Any writer has to stand in awe of an author who is so popular that a new section of the bookstore has to be created – that’s right, there were no “horror” sections at all in bookstores before King. Of course, now there are almost no bookstores. (Steve – have you done haunted bookstore yet?)

So did I like IT? Very much. It’s heavy-handed, but I am fine with melodrama, and most horror is very much that. This is a world where fear lurks in darkness – including the almost comically under-lit homes where the teens live with their awful single parents – and each kid must face his or her biggest fear to overcome the monster that their parents may have created. Not an new idea but a deeply resonating one.

This is a beautifully crafted movie, and the kid actors are so good, they don’t seem to be acting at all. Director Andy Muschietti handles the young cast very well, though he is stronger on creepy than scary (but I did jump a couple of times). Bill Skarsgård as the evil clown is a prime example of the creep factor, his smile oozing saliva and blood lust. And any hetrosexual male who does not fall in love with actress Sophia Lillis as Beverly needs medical attention, right now.

* * *

Crusin’s third gig with new guitarist Bill Anson is our last scheduled date of the year, though if something comes in, we’ll consider it. We’ll be rehearsing once a month over the winter. Here’s a shot of us playing bike night at Ducky’s Lagoon outside Andalusia, Illinois – a lovely night till it got cold, and reminded me why I don’t try to book anything in the winter.

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Here’s a lovely review from the great Bill Crider of the upcoming Quarry’s Climax.

And check out this interesting take on A Killing in Comics. The reviewer suggests that I should be more successful and better known than Michael Chabon, and who I am to argue?

M.A.C.

Nate Heller’s Girl Amy

Tuesday, July 18th, 2017

The History Channel’s documentary on Amelia Earhart as a Japanese POW in Saipan has been called into question. “Amelia Earhart: The Lost Evidence,” which I watched on July 9, was two hours with seemingly an hour of commercials, a docudrama restaging an investigation into Earhart’s (and navigator Fred Noonan’s) disappearance at sea eighty years ago.

Utilizing a documentary style more suited to Bigfoot, ancient aliens or maybe an episode of Pawn Stars, the show did a fairly good job of summarizing the theory I explored in the 1999 Heller novel, Flying Blind. Islanders were interviewed, actual locations visited, a supposed gravesite excavation undertaken, and so on. Admittedly, it had a real Geraldo/Capone vault feel.

I know a lot of Heller fans were watching, the media having gone gaga over a supposedly newly discovered photo of Amelia and Fred on a Marshall Islands pier taken just after they disappeared in 1937. Forensic examiners declared the vague figures in question were “very likely” to be Earhart and her navigator.

The ratings had barely settled when Japanese military history blogger Kota Yamano called foul on the photo, citing the inaccuracy of the declared date, saying the picture had been published in a Japanese-language travel book in 1935, two years before Amelia, Noonan and their Lockheed fell off the planet.

I chatted with my son Nate about this, and shared some thoughts, seeking his wisdom as someone who knows a lot about Japanese culture. Nate has lived in Japan and, as many of you know, works as a freelancer translating Japanese books, manga and video games into English. The kid knows his stuff. (The “kid” is also in his early thirties.)

My reaction was this: the media was instantly accepting of the validity of the photo; and then just as immediately took the debunking at face value. What amused me was how many “experts” on line and on cable news said that if the Japanese had taken Amelia prisoner, and then she died in captivity (possibly executed), their government would surely have come forward and told us. After all, we’re friends now, right?

I’m sure the friendly folks who brought us Pearl Harbor would say “So sorry” and admit to imprisoning and slaughtering one of America’s most beloved historical figures. Right?

This isn’t to say that I think the debunking is fake. It does strike me that no one in the United States (that I know of) has examined the book in question – that the evidence comes only from Japan. And it’s all too typical that we immediately accept the debunking, just as quickly as we did the new “evidence.”

Nate has looked into this and thinks the blogger is legit, and the debunking is likely the real thing, not a Japanese government-engineered hoax, to save face. But I maintain the latter is a possibility.

And despite the Loch-Ness-Monster-is-Real approach of the “documentary” from History Channel, the Saipan theory is more than just a theory – it’s the basis of a Nate Heller book! And most likely true.

Speaking of Nate Heller, Better Dead just won something that I had almost nothing to do with, but which nonetheless pleases me very much – a “Best Cover” award!

And, for those who are wondering, I will spend much of the second half of this year working on a new Heller novel. The Better Dead mass market paperback won’t be released until the next hardcover comes out (which I have to write first).

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Here’s another one of those movies-you-didn’t-know-were-from-comics articles, with nice M.A.C. mentions.

M.A.C.

“The Will to Kill” Coming to Audio

Tuesday, May 23rd, 2017

This is one of those Good News/Bad News situations, only it’s really Good News/Bad News/Good News.

Stacy Keach
Stacy Keach

Many Mike Hammer fans – myself included – were dismayed when Blackstone Audio ceased releasing the new Hammer novels on audio, performed by the great Stacy Keach, starting with the current Will to Kill.

All of the previous Spillane/Collins “Hammer” collaborations, read by Stacy, remain available on Audible and elsewhere – they include The Goliath Bone, The Big Bang, Kiss Her Goodbye, Lady, Go Die!, Complex 90, King of the Weeds, Kill Me, Darling, and Murder Never Knocks. In addition are the two Audie-honored radio-style, full-cast audios, The New Adventures of Mike Hammer Vol. 2: The Little Death and The New Adventures of Mike Hammer Vol. 3: Encore for Murder. (There’s also a volume one that Stacy appears in but I did not write, more keyed to the ‘80s TV show than the novels).

Now a new audio publisher, JournalStone, has stepped in, with The Will to Kill first on the docket. Efforts to secure the rights to the short story collection, A Long Time Dead, are under way (I don’t personally hold those). That’s the very good news.

But the bad news is that Stacy Keach is stepping down.

Having ten works of mine (and Mickey’s) with the participation of perhaps the most famous screen Mike Hammer has been a privilege and a gift. I can’t convey what a thrill it’s been hearing Stacy’s voice roll out of those speakers, playing Hammer in stories I co-wrote. I remain thrilled and grateful to Stacy, and he and I will continue to explore projects (both Spillane and otherwise) to do together.

In the meantime, JournalStone has accepted my suggestion for a new audio Mike Hammer in the form of Dan John Miller.

Dan John Miller and his very Velda-like wife Tracee Mae Miller
Dan John Miller and his very Velda-like wife
Tracee Mae Miller

Dan is singer-songwriter and actor from Detroit, currently guitarist and lead vocalist for the gothic country-garage band, Blanche, which also features his lovely wife, Tracee Mae Miller. He has appeared in a number of films, notably Walk The Line, playing Johnny Cash’s guitar player Luther Perkins. Among his many outstanding musical accomplishments, Dan collaborated with Jack White in the band Two Star Tabernacle. (He is also a man of great musical taste, once calling Crusin’s “First Step” on the Bullets CD “the perfect rock ‘n’ roll song.”)

For our purposes, however, it’s his work as one of the top audiobook narrators in the field that is most pertinent.

Dan was named a Best Voice by AudioFile magazine for performances of Pat Conroy’s The Lords of Discipline and Philip Roth’s My Life As a Man. In 2009, he was nominated for two Audies, as well garnering an Audiofile magazine Golden Earphone award, and a Listen Up! award from Publishers Weekly.

Even more important, for anyone likely to be looking at this update, is that Dan John Miller has been the voice of Nate Heller for several years now. He has recorded every Heller novel to date, from True Detective to Better Dead, as well as the short story collection (Chicago Lightning) and novella omnibus (Triple Play). He has done an outstanding job and – much as I’ve looked forward to hearing Stacy as Hammer – the new Heller novels of recent years have only seemed “real” to me after Dan has brought them to life.

At my urging, other audio publishers have tapped on Dan’s shoulder for the Mallory series, entries in the Disaster series, a Quarry (The Wrong Quarry), and the Reeder and Rogers series, currently Executive Order. He brings tough characters to life with both an edge and warmth, and I am very fortunate to have him agree to pick up where Stacy left off with Mike Hammer.

No release dates yet. In fact, I may be a trifle premature here, because some of the negotiations remain under way. But everything looks good – and will sound good.

If you’re a fan of my work, I couldn’t recommend Stacy and Dan – and their respective contributions to the Collins canon – to you more highly. The JournalStone releases will be available on CD, and as downloads from Audible.

Stay tuned.

* * *

Appropriately, Ron Fortier has posted a nice review of The Will to Kill.

Here is a rather unflattering review of the same Mike Hammer book. I generally do not respond to critics, but I have asked my grandson Sam to reply for me. You will see his reply below the link to the review.

Finally, here’s a positive review of The Wrong Quarry, one of my favorite books in the series.

M.A.C.