Posts Tagged ‘Do No Harm’

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.

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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.

Days in the Life

Tuesday, January 30th, 2018

Normally I don’t take my work – that is, the novel in progress – along on trips. Business or pleasure or a mix, I like to do the work in my office at home. Also, I hate the smaller, flat-keyed keyboard of a laptop, so generally writing in the hotel room is a non-starter.

Occasionally there are exceptions. On the recent Florida trip, we left Iowa with two chapters remaining to be written on the new Heller, Do No Harm. The second-to-the-last chapter was the action climax, which I was still working on in my mind. It drives me crazy to have to walk away from a book at that late stage because of some event I agreed to do months and months before, never realizing when that event would fall within my writing life.

We were in Clearwater five days. Between rehearsals and performances of Encore for Murder, we were busy and most of what we did, beyond the theater, was look for good eating places and do a little shopping. Took in one movie (Proud Mary, a black version of Gloria that was a nice throwback).

Every night as I tried to go to sleep, my brain was working on that second-to-last chapter. I had outlined that chapter, and knew what needed to be done with it, but something was wrong, or at least wasn’t satisfying. Several nights into the trip, what I needed to do crystalized. And it had hold of me but good.

So the next day I wrote that second-to-the-last chapter in the hotel room, on my laptop, working all afternoon and a few hours after we got back from the opening night performance. I ran it off the next morning in the lobby’s business center and gave it to Barb to read on the plane, and proof and critique. When we got home that night, I incorporated her fixes and suggestions and did a final tweak.

That meant I was able to finish the book ahead of schedule, writing the final chapter and the bibliographic end notes on the day after we got back.

It’s no big deal to write in a hotel room. I have many writer friends (Bob Randisi especially comes to mind) who regularly write on their latest project when they are traveling. But for me it’s a rarity. And it indicates how thoroughly a book I’m writing can take hold of me.

That opened up the following week for other things. In the first few days, I proofed and tweaked the novel, and assembled the manuscript for e-mailing to my editor and my agent. On Wednesday and Thursday I did a rewrite of the other Mike Hammer radio play, The Little Death, for Zev Buffman in Clearwater. Finally Barb and I went to Galena, Illinois, for two days on a combination work-and-pleasure jaunt. The work part was researching Galena for my next novel, The Girl Most Likely (for Thomas & Mercer).

In Galena we met with the charming and very helpful Chief Lori Huntington. This was a particularly important meeting because the protagonist of the novel is the chief of police of Galena. We also drove around the area and got to the know the town a little better than on our previous visits, where we were pretty much strictly downtown shopping and eating. We even toured the historic Galena home of President Grant, the town’s most famous former citizen.

That was Friday and Saturday. On Sunday I wrote a short story, “The Big Run,” for the Strand magazine from an unproduced 1954 Mickey Spillane teleplay — part of the centenary celebration. We also went to a crime movie, Den of Thieves, which has a nice surprise ending, though it suffers from having nobody worth rooting for among either the cops or the crooks.

All in all, a productive couple of weeks.


M.A.C. and Galena police chief, Lori Huntington
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Here’s a nice Publisher’s Weekly interview with me about things Spillane, by fellow Mick fan, Michael Barson, who is a bigtime pop culture expert.

The great James Reasoner likes The Last Stand and tells you all about it here.

M.A.C.

Hey Kids! Comics!

Tuesday, November 28th, 2017

The first of the four-issue serialization of Quarry’s War, the character’s first graphic novel appearance, goes on sale November 29. There are three alternate covers, designed to fleece you, er, give you an opportunity to choose the one you like best.

This link will take you to all of the covers plus a five-page preview.

The four issues will be collected as a trade paperback, though I don’t know when – sometime next year. To some degree, this project happened because of the TV show, and since Cinemax did not take Quarry past the first season, I can’t be sure there will be another graphic novel.

What this did provide me with was an opportunity to explore Quarry’s back story more thoroughly and do something about his Vietnam experiences. The first three issues are evenly divided between Vietnam and a post-Vietnam assignment from the Broker. The fourth issue kind of pulls both story lines together.

The graphic novel was, in part, a response to the Cinemax series with its Vietnam emphasis. But mostly the visual format of comics made it the perfect place to show what Quarry’s life was like overseas, as well as explore his beginnings from boot camp to the Broker first knocking on his door.

Also, his restrained response to the guy who’d been cheating with Quarry’s Joni.

* * *

I am two chapters in on Do No Harm and, while it’s a pleasure to be with Nate Heller again, brother is it hard. I kidded myself thinking this would be an “easy” Heller. The case is complex and I have a time-hopping structure that may make me (but I hope not you) dizzy.

I managed to get a little work done over Thanksgiving and the long weekend. But with Nathan, Abby and two-year-old Sam visiting, that wasn’t always easy – also, I was busy falling off my stay-away-from-sugar-and-starch diet, eating the equivalent of an entire pecan pie over a three-day period. In my defense, Barb makes the best pecan pie anywhere. Ask Nate.

Also, I am embarrassed to report that there is sad news for the rest of you: none of you have children or grandchildren as cute and smart as Sam Collins. My apologies.

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A very nice Big Showdown review by that fine writer James Reasoner can be found here. Mr. Reasoner has forgotten more about writing westerns than I will ever know, so this one felt especially good.

And speaking of the late/great Quarry TV series, this blog concludes with a look at the episode I wrote.

Full confession: my work on the Quarry series was stretched out over two episodes (the next one after the one reviewed here). The other writer and I were each assigned a solo writing credit for one episode for reasons I’m not entirely clear on. I also wrote (and was paid for) an episode for season two, which of course was never filmed.

M.A.C.

Heller – The Starting Gate

Tuesday, November 21st, 2017

I have been researching the upcoming Nathan Heller novel, Do No Harm, for two months. That has consisted chiefly of reading books – ten cover to cover, reading selectively in another ten, filling a notebook with info and page numbers. With any Heller, a lot of research occurs along the way as well; but, in movie terms, I’ve completed pre-production. This past week I read eighteen contemporary articles on the Sam Sheppard murder case, and two more books. On Monday I start the novel.

The process with Heller has remained largely the same since True Detective back in the early ‘80s. I select the historical incident – usually a crime, either unsolved or controversially solved – and approach it as if I’m researching the definitive book on the subject. I never have a firm opinion on the case before research proper begins, even if I’ve read a little about it or seen movies or documentaries on the subject, just as somebody interested in famous true crimes.

The intent is to find the story in the research, as opposed to having the story firmly in mind and researching it. That’s worked out well for me with Heller – any number of times I’ve come up with theories about what probably really happened that have inspired non-fiction books (by authors who never credit me) (but I’m not bitter).

This time I changed my mind about who murdered Marilyn Sheppard, oh, a dozen times. I in part selected the case because it was a more traditional murder mystery than the political subjects of the last four Heller novels – sort of back to basics, plus giving me something that would be a little easier to do, since I was coming out of some health problems and major surgeries.

But it’s turned out to be one of the trickiest Heller novels of all. Figuring out what happened here is very tough. There is no shortage of suspects, and no shortage of existing theories. In addition, a number of the players are still alive (Sam Sheppard’s brother Stephen is 97) and those who aren’t have grown children who are, none of whom would likely be thrilled with me should I lay a murder at the feet of their deceased parents.

Additionally, the case does not lend itself to some of the usual Heller fun-and-games – like violence and sex. There are no bad guys to kill, and the sexual aspects of the murder make Heller hanky panky distasteful. Oddly enough, this comes after the preceding Heller, Better Dead, which found our hero more sexually active than usual (and that’s saying something).

But the research defines the book. The story emerges from the research and I have to be true to it. That story sometimes – this time for sure – takes its time revealing itself. I have changed the structure of the novel almost as many times as I have changed my mind about who killed Marilyn Sheppard.

For that reason, I do not attempt to write a chapter breakdown/outline (vital in a Heller) until I have completed the research phase. In a way that’s too bad, because if I could discern the shape of the book at, say, a third of the way through the research, I could limit further digging to the areas I need. As it is, I’ve taken notes on scores of things that won’t appear in the book.

That’s okay. In an historical novel, it’s all about the tip of the iceberg, and for me to portray that effectively, I need to know the shape of what’s under the water.

As I indicated, research doesn’t end when the writing begins. Each chapter requires some pre-production as I gather the materials from what I’ve already read, and then as I write it and need things I hadn’t anticipated, more research is done on the fly.

In addition to all this, I have to deal with the feeling I always have at the beginning of a Heller – I experience this, to a lesser degree, with Quarry and really any novel I write – that I may not be up to the job. Coming off health problems, that’s a little exaggerated this time. How do I do this? I ask myself. At least a little panic, a minor anxiety attack, always precedes the writing of chapter one.

I have completed the chapter breakdown/outline to my satisfaction, having wrestled the structure into submission – I have even found a bad guy for Heller to kill. I feel good about where I am, even if certain insecurities creep through.

For me, the saving grace has always been Nate Heller. Like Quarry, he has always been there when I need him. I start writing and there he is.

By the time you read this, I will know if he’s come through for me yet again.

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Despite a few inaccuracies, this is a nice overview of Mike Hammer, touching on the Spillane/Collins collaborations.

Here’s an interesting Road to Perdition (film) article.

Check out this good interview with Hard Case Crime editor, Charles Ardai, flawed only in his neglecting to be mention me (again, I am not bitter). Several Quarry covers are featured, though.

Finally, here’s a lovely piece by Bev Keddy covering many of my books – much appreciate, Bev (who is a boy, he will have you know).

M.A.C.