Posts Tagged ‘Better Dead’

Note from the Bunker

Tuesday, January 27th, 2015

As I’ve indicated in an earlier update, I am really up against it in the first half of this year. With only about a week’s break after finishing BETTER DEAD (the new Heller), during which a lot of other business was conducted, I got right on the next Quarry novel, QUARRY IN THE BLACK. I am about a third-of-the-way in, writing one chapter a day, final draft. I took one day a week off, generally.

I don’t mind working hard, and I feel my novels – particularly those in first person – benefit from the intensity and speed of the process. Right now two of my collaborators, my lovely bride Barb and my good buddy Matt Clemens, are preparing their rough drafts of the next ANTIQUES and Reeder & Rogers novels. They make my life and my job much easier, and the resulting novels will be better than I could have made them on my own.

But the writing may mean for some scattered and occasionally, well, grouchy updates. This report from the bunker includes a few stray thoughts.

First, few comments have come in about my favorite and least favorite movies of 2014 list. Probably I was too belligerent in presentation. Whenever you sense that in one of these updates, you’ll know the writing is rubbing up against me hard, trying to make a pearl.

Birdman

Second, I have now seen both BIRDMAN and FOXCATCHER. Both are very good (Barb agrees) and I was especially impressed by BIRDMAN, which is the rare film that is as driven by dialogue as it is visuals; the cast is outstanding, especially Michael Keaton and Ed Norton, who is spoofing himself to some degree. BIRDMAN would have gone on my Favorite lists.

FOXCATCHER suffers from a sluggish pace and some poor narrative choices, but it is nonetheless worthwhile with excellent performances from Steve Carrell, Tatum Channing and Mark Ruffalo. It would not be on my favorites list.

Keaton is now my Best Actor “Oscar” pick.

By the way, I never watch the Academy Awards. I find the show dull and embarrassing, and many of the movies being honored do not interest me. Is this like a sports fan skipping the SuperBowl? I wonder. In any case, we always watch a movie instead.

Third, a good number of readers misunderstood my rant about getting hit on for free advice. I was specifically talking about my home town and people who don’t really have an interest in me or my work, other than sucking information out of me at a social occasion. On the other hand, with very rare exceptions, I can’t give blurbs anymore because I don’t have time to read the books. Too much research to plow through, and when I’m writing a book, I tend not to read fiction.

I am pleased to report that QUARRY’S CHOICE is racking up some great reviews. Here’s one.

And it’s a thrill to get reviewed at Bookgasm; here’s their QUARRY’S CHOICE rave.

M.A.C.

Choice Reviews!

Tuesday, January 6th, 2015
Quarry's Choice

QUARRY’S CHOICE comes out this week, and I’ve been a little worried because there hadn’t been a single advance review, despite Hard Case Crime sending out a bunch of ARC’s.

Just recently, though, two of my favorite writers – Ed Gorman and Bill Crider – have posted excellent reviews of the novel, one of which is getting some decent play at other blogs (more about that below). But QUARRY’S CHOICE could still use a boost, so if you’re a Quarry fan, and get and like the book, please consider posting an Amazon review.

Also, if you have a blog or some other place where you review books, contact me at and I’ll try to rustle up a review copy for you. (Please, no one tell Nero Wolfe I used “contact” as a verb.)

I thought THE WRONG QUARRY was about as good a Quarry as I could muster, but I have to admit CHOICE seems to me at least its equal. It’s set very early in Quarry’s career (still working as a hitman for the Broker), so if you haven’t read one, this wouldn’t be a bad place to start.

Meanwhile, I have completed the new Heller – BETTER DEAD – and I feel like I fell out a high window, which is not coincidentally one of the crimes covered in the novel. This one is about the McCarthy era and Bettie Page is in it. Do you suppose Heller gets frisky with her? No, I better not spoil it for you….

When I say I’ve completed the book, I should say “completed,” because I will spend the next couple of days giving it a last read-through, looking for typos and tweaking things, hoping to God it all hangs together. I always feel that I’ve got a solid chapter written before going onto the next, but I also always fear that the pile of chapters will not assemble coherently into a book. This has never happened, but I live in terror of the time it does.

* * *

I’m going to discuss something at the risk of sounding like a total prick. For some, that will mean only the added adjective. But here goes….

I have helped a lot of writers in my time. I taught for twenty-some years at a summer writer’s conference, for example, out of which a good ten published writers emerged from my classes. Matthew Clemens was a student of mine there, and he turned out not half-bad. I also taught a summer program at the University of Iowa a couple of times. The great Hugh Holton was one of my students.

So I am not against helping writers. I probably won’t teach again, but I’ve put in my time, and have nothing to apologize about.

But I keep running into a kind of writer locally – I mean right here in Muscatine, Iowa – who imposes on me in a way that drives me crazy. Or at least, I feel imposed upon – I might be wrong (that’s where the total prick thing comes in). Here are a couple of examples.

On three different occasions in the last few months, the same man – friendly, nice – approached me at various functions…two parties, once a dance my band was playing at (during a break where I needed to catch my breath)…and pumped me hard for writing advice. Well, not writing advice so much as publishing advice. This ranged from where he should send his stuff to how to approach the people he would send it to, etc. I don’t know this man, particularly – he was a friendly acquaintance of my father’s. But he buttonholed me three times and pumped and pumped.

What I suppose makes me feel like this is an imposition is this: not once did he mention anything I’d written, not even saying he’d seen the film of ROAD TO PERDITION. He was not a fan. I sensed he’d either not read me or had and wasn’t impressed. What impressed him was that I was a professional who lived in his hometown who he could utilize.

Not long ago Barb and I went to a fall cook-out down the street. A woman from our neighborhood who I did not recognize came over to the picnic table where I was sitting and handed me a five-page essay she’d written. She was taking some kind of college class and wanted to know why she hadn’t received a better grade. At this social function, with people around me roasting and eating hot dogs and S’mores, I sat and for at least half an hour dealing with her, reading the paper, giving her a critique, showing her the good, the bad. Here’s the ugly: when I was done, she wanted to know if she could e-mail me her future papers for my critiques, apparently to have me check them before she handed them in. I said no, I just didn’t have time. She was offended.

This next example isn’t a writer. It’s a nice guy down the street who comes out and talks to me when Barb and I are out for a walk, and who at neighborhood parties gravitates to me for a talk. Generally I find him pleasant and smart. But he continually talks to me about mystery and suspense writers he’s reading, telling me his opinions, which is mostly how good they are – I know more about Lee Child than most people who have actually read him. He never mentions my work. Never indicates he’s ever read me. Finally I gave him a couple of books of mine. He’s never said a word about either (one was TRUE DETECTIVE).

This strikes me as peculiar. He obviously thinks because I’m a mystery writer that I would like to hear his opinions on the genre. But if he doesn’t read me, or have any interest in my work, why should he care what I think? And why should I listen?

The phenomenon seems to be strictly hometown – I can’t think of a parallel with (let’s call them) real readers who I encounter at a convention or at a bookstore (sometimes an event, sometimes just somebody who recognizes me and stops to say something nice about my work).

Do I have a right to tell somebody looking for free help that I’m at a social event and don’t care to talk shop? Or something? Should I ask my neighbor why he wants to talk to me about mysteries when he doesn’t read or like mine?

Just wondering.

* * *

What a pleasure to read a great, insightful review from a writer you admire. Here are Ed Gorman and Bill Crider reviewing QUARRY’S CHOICE.

KING OF THE WEEDS has made another ten best list!

Check out this lovely review of BYE BYE, BABY.

Here’s a very solid New York Times article on movie and TV tie-ins, in which I am quoted.

Here’s a great look at the Disaster series.

I have written an introduction for a collection of pre-Disney ZORRO comic books for Hermes Press. It’s a lovely book and the stories are great fun. This reviewer isn’t much impressed, but it’s still worth checking his review out.

And finally here’s a very nice write-up about my work in general and Nate Heller in particular.

M.A.C.

Supreme Resolutions

Tuesday, December 30th, 2014

This is the time for making New Year’s Resolutions, and mine are fairly typical – lose weight, spend less, that kind of thing. It may not be possible at this late date, but I would like to spread my work out over the year, instead of having it front-loaded as it’s been the last several, punishing years. Though it feels like a plot against me, the reality is that the various editors and publishers I work for have their own agendas, and by accident those agendas want me to deliver promised books in the first six or seven months of the year.

Part of why I’ve gone along with that is to save the second half of the year for a Nate Heller novel. I have been working on the new Heller novel, BETTER DEAD, for several months now (much longer, factoring in the research, which remains on going). It’s been a tough one because it covers two cases and the research just never lets up. The process is start/stop because each chapter – frequently covering two major scenes – requires in depth research. Thank God for the Internet, and a pox upon ye all non-fiction works that lack an index.

The relative slowness of the process this time (not slow by almost anybody else’s standards, I admit) means I’ll be delivering the book a little late – not much, probably a week or even a few days (it’s due Jan. 1). But those days eat into the time allotted for the next book, and endanger the break of a week or so I need to take between projects just to recharge, and to do smaller promised projects, and guide my brain onto a new track. On top of this (not seeking “get well” cards or anything), I am still fighting, after two weeks, a bronchial virus that has hit this part of the Midwest pretty bad.

Writers don’t get sick leave, and deadlines don’t give a damn. The answer here is for me not to be so quick to say yes to deadlines suggested by editors with their own needs. I don’t have a handle on this, but I’m going to have to get one. Fortunately, this virus is limited strictly to a nasty cough, so I have been able to work through it, admittedly at a slower pace than normal.

Not looking for sympathy here – my late friend Paul Thomas used to say, “If you’re looking for sympathy, it’s been ‘shit’ and ‘syphilis’ in the dictionary.” But there are some opportunities on the horizon – having to do with television – that could change the way I organize my writing affairs drastically.

Stay, as they say, tuned.

* * *

Check out the TV program “Books Live: Books We Love,” featuring Amazon editors talking about their favorite book picks in the mystery and thriller, science fiction, romance, and general fiction categories. SUPREME JUSTICE is featured as a top pick in the mystery genre – discussed by Thomas & Mercer editor Alison Dasho and host Laure Roppe. In addition, a reader “thank you” I taped at Bouchercon is included in the segment. You can view the program here: http://www.amazon.com/b/?node=10126410011

I’m pleased to say that SUPREME JUSTICE was also chosen by Suspense Magazine as one of the Best Books of the Year.

Best of Suspense 2014

The editors of Suspense Magazine asked me to answer a few questions, and here they are:

If your book had a soundtrack what would be its signature song?

“America the Beautiful” sung by Ray Charles.

If you could go ‘into’ a book (any book) and live there for a bit, which book would it be? And which character would you be?

I’d like to be Archie Goodwin in just about any Nero Wolfe mystery by Rex Stout.

What is the best book you read in 2014?

Fiction: Jack Carter’s Law by Ted Lewis (I did the introduction for this American edition of the prequel to the classic British crime novel, Get Carter).

Non-fiction: Masters of Sex by Thomas Meier

I’d also like to announce that starting with the next Reeder & Rogers thriller, my collaborator Matthew V. Clemens will be receiving cover billing. This is much deserved and I’m grateful to Thomas & Mercer for allowing me to do this.

By the way, SUPREME JUSTICE is well over 3000 reviews at Amazon now.

Here’s a nice year’s-end recognition of KING OF THE WEEDS.

THE PEARL HARBOR MURDERS (published some time ago) somehow made a “best of” list, too!

SUPREME JUSTICE shares the spotlight with Ed Gorman’s RIDERS ON THE STORM as two great year’s end reads. Nice company to be in!

Finally, SUPREME JUSTICE hit this ten best list, as well. Remember, none of these lists is valid or worth your consideration…unless one of my books is on it.

M.A.C.

How We Make The Sausage

Tuesday, October 7th, 2014

Now in Paperback!

A little more behind the scenes stuff this time….

The writing week began with detailed discussions between Barb and me over the plot of the next ANTIQUES novel, which she will be diving into soon. The story takes place outside of our usual setting of Serenity in a village that was founded by Brits and has patterned itself on their model of smalltown life.

Barb struggled some on the previous novel because we’d been a little too open-ended on our plotting, and this time she wanted to try working from a somewhat more detailed plot breakdown. Lots of back-and-forth ensued, I put my ideas down on paper, and finally she developed all of it into a several-page chapter-by-chapter breakdown. I went over this, discussed some possible changes and additions, and then we locked it. Since then Barb has written a second chapter (we had already written the first chapter, a requirement of our Kensington contract – we have to give them a brief synopsis and a first chapter for approval) and we seem to be on our way.

In the meantime, with my desk cleared of all other writing assignments, I dug in full-time on research for the next Heller novel, BETTER DEAD, which deals with the McCarthy era and specifically the Rosenberg case. Lots to read, and some of it fairly mind-numbing. I find at this age I tend to read a lot, nap a little, read, nap, etc. I was trying to get as much read as possible before the arrival of my longtime researcher (and friend) George Hagenauer. In recent years, every Heller novel has included a preliminary visit from George, who arrived Sunday afternoon around two p.m., lugging more reference books for me to read.

At this point George is more on top of the history than I am. Our sessions often involve fairly heated discussions reflecting our conflicting takes on the material. George tends to be more fixed on the historical accuracy issues (although he’s loosened up) while I am the guy reminding him that first and foremost a Heller novel is a private eye thriller. He is very good at the underlying political currents and at spotting material that can link us back (and in this case forward) to other Heller novels.

Three hours of discussion and brainstorming finally had the first (longer) section of the novel revealing its shape. The story I want to tell was fitting into, and flowing out of, the history. The timeline was behaving itself, too, so that little or no compression would be needed. But the final aspect that needed attention was (private eye thriller, remember): where will the sex and violence come from?

However much the Heller novels are historically accurate, and outpace other such novels, they still need to have the classic hardboiled PI elements – murder, lust, betrayal, action…the good stuff. So the conversation turned to: who’s trying to stop Heller in his investigation? We kicked around possibilities and came up with something fresh, largely thanks to George.

Over supper at Salvatore’s Restaurant (Barb stayed behind, as George had a cold she didn’t want to catch), we hashed out more issues. Tomorrow morning (I’m writing this on Sunday evening) we will get back to it, and talk about the final section of the book, which concerns CIA dosing its employees with LSD to see what would happen. You know, like teenagers at a party in 1968.

George will probably be on the road shortly after lunch (he came here straight from a Minnesota comic con – and ended Sunday with some comic art trading, which is how we met three-plus decades ago).

By the way, the most recent Heller, ASK NOT, has just been published in mass market paperback by Forge.

* * *

The moderator on my upcoming Bouchercon panel has taken to reading the QUARRY novels by way of prep. He’s even posted this very nice essay on the books.

And check out the Forge/Tor web site where they promote the ASK NOT paperback.