Posts Tagged ‘Eliot Ness’

Writer’s Work is Never Done

Tuesday, January 28th, 2014

When a writer finishes a novel and sends it in to a waiting editor/publisher, a feeling of relief is greater than any sense of accomplishment. What all of us forget, however, is that sending in the “finished” book is only the beginning.

First, there comes an editorial letter, often asking for revisions, followed by a line-edited manuscript, then a copy-edited manuscript and finally galley proofs. For a prolific writer like me, all of these turn up unexpectedly, often at terrible times, and always with a note to get the manuscript or galleys back in something like three days.

Editors don’t care if you’re on deadline with some other book, usually (though not always) for some other publisher. Every editor (rightly) considers the book of yours that is theirs to be the only book.

I also have the problem of not wanting to do any revisions that aren’t absolutely necessary – i.e., a plot point that I haven’t dealt with, or sentences and/or paragraphs that have proved confusing. I rarely agree to elaborate rewrites. Hardly ever. I also am notorious for becoming furious with copy editors. Not all copy editors: just those who have appointed themselves collaborators. About one in three times at bat, I encounter one of these creatures intent upon “improving” my work.

I don’t think I’m alone in this. The only shit fit that Mickey Spillane ever threw in front of me was in response to a copy-edited version of one of his novels. The fury of Mike Hammer at his kill-craziest was unleashed.

But it is the collision of books that can make a writer dizzy.

Last week, after completing QUARRY’S CHOICE, I was immediately thrust into dealing with the galley proofs of the very different SUPREME JUSTICE. Now, because Hard Case editor Charles Ardai is lightning fast, I am already facing the copy-edited manuscript of CHOICE!, before the literary paint is dry. I am grateful and impressed with Charles’ speed, but fear I lack enough distance from the book to effectively work with the copy-edit so soon.

Much of what a professional fiction writer does is little-known or even unknown by readers.

Ahead in the immediate week or two ahead are finishing a TV pitch for a potential Nate Heller TV series, which will require me re-reading STOLEN AWAY and much of TRUE DETECTIVE, taking notes as I go; writing my draft of a “Barbara Allan” Christmas novella called ANTIQUES FRUITCAKE, not due for a while but necessary to deal with now, because of scheduling issues; and getting ready to write a western novel based on an unproduced Mickey Spillane screenplay. The latter prep will include spending many hours with that screenplay, looking at western reference books, and reading some ‘50s western novels by the likes of Jonas Ward and Harry Whittington, to help get the right flavor.

Not complaining, mind you. This beats my other paying jobs (sacking groceries, bussing tables) by some distance.

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Eliot Ness
Eliot Ness

Be sure to check out the Huffington Post piece on Eliot Ness that Brad Schwartz and I put together to defend the Untouchable from attacks from Jonathan Eig (Get Capone) and others, in reaction to the proposal that a new ATF building be named for him.

My pal and collaborator Matt Clemens visited the Twin Cities recently to read one of our short stories at Noir at the Bar.

Speaking of Matt, here’s a great review of WHAT DOESN’T KILL HER, which – like SUPREME JUSTICE – is a book Matt contributed mightily to.

Check out this very good article on cozy mysteries dealing with antiques. Barbara Allan gets some very nice attention here.

Still haven’t picked up THE WRONG QUARRY? Here’s an excerpt.

Here’s a great WRONG QUARRY review, demonstrating that members of my favorite sex (hint: not male) can relate to Quarry just fine.

And finally a review of QUARRY – the first book in the series. How odd and oddly sweet to see a novel that I began writing in 1972 at the U of Iowa Writers Workshop getting reviewed in 2014.

M.A.C.

Spillane, War of the Worlds & More

Tuesday, November 5th, 2013

Before I share some news and links with you, I want to congratulate longtime M.A.C. fan Brad Schwartz, a recent college grad who has begun what I know will be an impressive career with a writing credit on the recent American Experience WAR OF THE WORLDS episode. This aired on various days and at various times on PBS stations, during Halloween week, and may be running again this month – check your local listings. It’s a terrific show, drawing on Brad’s research into the many letters sent by and to Orson Welles, surrounding the famous radio panic. When the DVD and Blu-ray come out, an interview with Brad will be featured.

Brad, George Hagenauer and I are in the early stages of what we hope will be a definitive work on the life of Eliot Ness. With two researchers like that, all I have to do is lean back and figure out where to put the commas.

For those of you in the eastern Iowa area, I will be signing ASK NOT at Mystery Cat Books in Cedar Rapids (112 32nd Street Drive) this Wednesday (November 6). It’s a rare joint appearance with my pal Ed Gorman – Ed rarely does signings, so even some out-of-staters may wish to drive to this very cool bookstore. Starts at 7 p.m. There’s a good chance Barb Collins and Matt Clemens will be on hand, as well.

In Mickey Spillane news, I am negotiating with Kensington (home of the ANTIQUES series) to develop a trio of novels from an unproduced western screenplay that Mickey wrote for John Wayne. The screenplay was called THE SAGA OF CALLI YORK, but that has been tweaked into THE LEGEND OF CALEB YORK, which will be the series name. There’s a possibility it may go beyond three books. More as I know more, but you have to admit it’s exciting – a western by Mickey Spillane written for the Duke!

Perhaps the most disappointing Spillane project has been the book that Jim Traylor and I did for McFarland, MICKEY SPILLANE ON SCREEN. The book has generated scant sales, no award nominations, and a handful of reviews, although Jim and I are very proud of our work on it. It’s a beautiful book with great pictures, packed with Spillane lore, but its high price ($45 for a trade paperback) has discouraged readers.

So Jim and I were thrilled – since the book was published over a year ago – to see a rave review appear in CLASSIC IMAGES, the terrific vintage film publication. Though you can buy CLASSIC IMAGES at newsstands and bookstores worldwide, it is produced in Muscatine, Iowa, by editor Bob King, who is a friend. I was disappointed that for many, many months the publication seemed to ignore the Spillane film book. Just recently, Bob confided in me that he was worried his notoriously tough reviewer might give us a pan. His worries were misplaced, as were mine.

Normally I would just provide a link, but this great review is not available on line. With editor Bob King’s permission, here it is:

Book Points by Laura Wagner

(Originally published in the November, 2013 issue of Classic Images, www.classicimages.com)

Crime writer Mickey Spillane (1918-2006), best known for creating the popular detective Mike Hammer, has always been one of my favorite writers. He began writing professionally for comic books in the 1940s. In need of extra cash after the war, Spillane wrote his first novel, I, The Jury, in nineteen days in 1947. The book, which was a huge success, introduced the character of Mike Hammer.

I, The Jury was also the first movie adapted from a Spillane novel. The 1953 film starred Biff Elliot as the hard-boiled detective. Elliott, however, was no match for Ralph Meeker’s portrayal of Hammer in the classic Kiss Me, Deadly (1955). Other actors who played Mike Hammer include Robert Bray (My Gun Is Quick), Kevin Dobson (Margin For Murder), and Armand Assante (1982’s I, The Jury). Darren McGavin was the first actor to play Hammer on TV, in the 1950s. In recent years, Stacy Keach has become most identified in the role due to a series of television movies and the TV series The New Mike Hammer.

According to The Washington Times, Mickey Spillane “was a quintessential Cold War writer, an unconditional believer in good and evil and a rare political conservative in the book world. Communists were villains in his work and liberals took some hits as well. In a manner similar to Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry, Hammer was a cynical loner contemptuous of the ‘tedious process’ of trials, choosing instead to enforce the law on his own terms.” (Hammer says in One Lonely Night, “I lived only to kill the scum and the lice that wanted to kill themselves. I lived to kill so that others could live. I lived to kill because my soul was a hardened thing that reveled in the thought of taking the blood of the bastards who made murder their business.”)

Spillane was a celebrity in his own right, often appearing on television as himself. As an actor, he appeared in Ring Of Fear (1954), which was co-produced by John Wayne; Spillane also co-wrote the film without credit. Save for the dreary Clyde Beatty circus footage, Ring Of Fear was a pretty good murder-mystery, boasting an excellent performance from Sean McClory as a silky-smooth psychotic and a fascinating Spillane as himself, a writer-detective investigating freak accidents at the circus. He would play his creation, Mike Hammer, in The Girl Hunters (1963), which was filmed in England. Spillane also appeared in Miller Lite beer commercials in the 1970s and ‘80s.

As a writer Spillane was often criticized for his heated prose, his “artless plots, his reliance on unlikely coincidence and a simplistic understanding of the law” (New York Times), while others had difficulty with the extreme violence and sexual content. Even Ogden Nash got into the act when he wrote, “The Marquis de Sade/Wasn’t always mad/What addled his brain/Was Mickey Spillane.” Spillane, himself, called his own writing “the chewing gum of American literature.” He dismissed his critics, remarking, “I’m not writing for the critics. I’m writing for the public.” He described himself as a “money writer,” in that “I write when I need money. I have no fans. You know what I got? Customers. And customers are your friends.” And there was no denying that he was a very popular, influential, and hard-hitting writer.

Spillane died at the age of 88. After his death, his friend and literary executor Max Allan Collins edited and completed several of Spillane’s unpublished typescripts.

“I snapped the side of the rod across his jaw and laid the flesh open to the bone,” Spillane wrote in The Big Kill. “I pounded his teeth back into his mouth with the end of the barrel … and I took my own damn time about kicking him in the face. He smashed into the door and lay there bubbling. So I kicked him again and he stopped bubbling.” How can you not love that? Whew.

The aforementioned Max Allan Collins and James L. Traylor have written a terrific new book called Mickey Spillane on Screen: A Complete Study of the Television and Film Adaptations (McFarland softcover, $45). We get chapters on:

Spillane At The Movies: I, the Jury (1953), The Long Wait (1954), Ring of Fear (1954), Kiss Me Deadly (1955), My Gun Is Quick (1957), The Girl Hunters (1963), The Delta Factor (1970), I, the Jury (1982).

Spillane On TV: Mike Hammer TV Pilot (1954), Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer (1958-59), Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer in Margin for Murder (1981), Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer: Murder Me, Murder You (1983), Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer: More Than Murder (1984), Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer (1984-85) CBS-TV, Return of Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer (1986), The New Mike Hammer (1986-87) CBS-TV, Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer: Murder Takes All (1989), Come Die with Me: A Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer Mystery (1994), Tomorrow I Die (Fallen Angels, 1995), Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer, Private Eye (1997-98).

Appendices: A. The Hammer (Film) Code, B. The Girl Hunt Ballet (The Band Wagon, 1953), C. Who’s Who of Spillane on Film, D. Stars of the Hammer Film Universe, E. Mickey Spillane in His Own Words.

Each movie gets a thorough analysis, a detailed plot summary (with pertinent dialogue and comments), historical background, trivia, and the authors’ opinion of how Spillane’s works are adapted, how the characters are handled, opinions on performances, etc. The commentary is fair and balanced, and in a few instances very funny. I was especially tickled by the chapter on Come Die with Me, a simply dreadful sounding “updating” of Mike Hammer starring Rob Estes and Pamela Anderson. The plot recapping is simply mind-boggling, just amazing sounding, and the author’s insertion of humor is welcome. This was a pilot made with absolutely no understanding of the Hammer character, especially when they had the tough private eye get on a skateboard. I laughed out loud when they wrote, “It has come to this: Mike Hammer on a skateboard.” The whole thing is just so surreal.

It has been acknowledged that the quintessential Mike Hammer has always been Ralph Meeker in the classic Kiss Me Deadly—and rightly so. But, the authors make strong cases for Biff Elliot, Armand Assante, and, of course, Spillane himself as portrayers of Mike Hammer.

I have a personal liking for the 1953 version of I, The Jury, a brutal, very underappreciated film noir. I always thought poor Biff Eliot has been given raw deal, by fans and critics alike. He’s been knocked for his short stature, for his suits with padded shoulders, and for his overall look and speaking voice, but I enjoyed his performance very much. Biff was hot-tempered, quick with his fists, and had an edge to him, which I thought perfect for the role—critics, be damned. I’m glad that Collins and Traylor feel as strongly as I do that Biff should be better remembered. The movie is not shown often, but it’s worth seeing. Another reassessment comes for the ’80s’ I, the Jury with Armand Assante. The authors make it sound like a must-see, and I must confess that before this I hadn’t wanted to see this, but I do now. I judged before seeing this, something you should never do with movies. Assante seems an odd choice for Hammer, but if the authors say he does a good job, then he should be given a chance. This is another film not in circulation.

The separate Mike Hammer television series starring Darren McGavin and Stacy Keach have neatly organized chapters. It isn’t feasible to talk about every episode, naturally, but by concentrating on select episodes and summing up others, and discussing recurring themes, etc., they give us an excellent flavor of the series’ runs. This is harder than it looks, but the authors make it seem effortless. Good writing, all around. Complete episode guides are included.

Their very persuasive write-ups pinpoint all of the films’ strengths and weaknesses with good analyses and some clever wording. I was very glad, since we are talking about some film noirs within, that the authors did not resort to phony “noir writing.” You know what I’m talking about. We’ve all read books about noirs where the authors think they have to write “tough,” in the so-called style of noir. It only comes across as irritating. Thankfully, that is missing here, and we instead get good, solid writing.

You love Spillane? This is the book to get. A better discussion of the films adapted from his work you will not find. Nor are there authors more knowledgeable than Collins and Traylor. Plus, there’s an interesting Q&A with Spillane conducted by co-author Collins at the book’s conclusion.

Photos are terrific, with some behind-the-scenes shots that were new to me.

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Reviewer J. Kingston Pierce gives ASK NOT star treatment in this article about JFK-related fiction.

Here’s a rave review of ASK NOT from Bookreporter.

Randy Johnson at Not the Baseball Pitcher serves up this great ASK NOT review.

And the Historical Novel Society provides this short but sweet ASK NOT critique.

EARLY CRIMES has pleasantly surprised me by generating some really great reviews for a book that could easily have been dismissed as self-indulgence on my part. Check out this remarkable Bookgasm write-up.

And Ron Fortier, always a first-rate writer and reviewer, also has good things to say about EARLY CRIMES. Like a lot of people (I’m relieved to say), he’s really digging the early ‘70s, previously unpublished novel SHOOT THE MOON included in the collection.

Speaking of WAR OF THE WORLDS, my novel gets a nice mention in this article.

And TARGET LANCER, out in mass market paperback, continues to generate some new reviews, like this one.

I am among celebrated company in this article about “famous writers” who are also ghostwriters. The subject is Spillane, but the one book I could really be considered a “ghostwriter” on isn’t mentioned. And I won’t mention it, either….

Finally, here’s a write-up on the multiple-author novel INHERIT THE DEAD. I wrote a chapter for it (collaborating with Matt Clemens), but I haven’t mentioned it here, because (a) I haven’t read the book yet, and (b) they spell my middle name wrong on the back cover. But you can read about it here.

M.A.C.

Laughing On The Lam

Tuesday, August 27th, 2013

The ON THE LAM conference, put on over the weekend in Seattle by Amazon’s Thomas & Mercer crime/mystery imprint for their authors, was unlike anything I’ve experienced in forty years of publishing. The T & M crew flew in 75 authors from hither and yon – “yon” being the UK, and hither being places like “Iowa” – simply to give those authors a chance to interact with each other, and the T & M editorial and marketing team. Editors have taken me out for lunch or breakfast many times, and publishers often have cocktail parties at Bouchercon and/or take authors out for a group dinner. But this was different.

For one thing, this conference was almost exclusively attended by one publisher’s writers. For the Saturday panels, family and friends and some local writers group members were in the audience, but mostly this was writers talking to other writers (and to editors). All weekend, the kinds of conversations usually only heard in secluded corners of bars at Bouchercon hotels was the up-front order of the day.

Barb and I both found it interesting and illuminating, and the generosity of T & M toward their authors was damn near mind-boggling. Everybody had a gift bag with a Kindle Paperwhite in it, for example. A Friday morning visit to the Amazon HQ proved the place not to be the stronghold of a Bond villain, rather a campus that reminded me of a well-funded community college right down to friendly students eager to help (and to herd). A fun, tasty lunch on a tour boat on Friday morning was followed by various Seattle touristy options in the afternoon, after which came perhaps the best buffet supper I’ve ever eaten at an event with a Clue-theme (no “mystery game” aspect, thankfully) in the Glasshouse of the frankly eye-popping Chihuly Garden and Glass museum. The next evening, small groups of authors with a T & M editor or other staffer or two woven in, were treated to terrific dinners at a variety of top Seattle restaurants.

MAC on the lam

What was perhaps most impressive were the Saturday panels. I was on one, and saw two others, and they were as good as anything I’ve seen at a Bouchercon. The lead-off panel, with Lee Goldberg, Marcus Sakey, Johnny Shaw and Greg Widen, was a hilarious inside look at Hollywood’s treatment of writers, but also an insightful discussion of adapting one’s own work (as well as the work of others) to the screen. I was on the following panel, and the topic (as I revealed here last week) was branding. After the incredible first panel, I decided the only thing I could do to compete was be an outrageous ham, and I opened by pretending that I was wholly unprepared, because I’d thought I was going to be on an S & M panel – “but I guess this is a different kind of branding.” I shamelessly went for laughs, and got them, but the panel was informative as well. T & M’s Gracie Doyle had done her homework and her questions were spot on. My fellow panelists, Barry Eisler and L.J. Sellers, explored the topic with insight and humor. Eisler is a charming guy with a sharp mind, very serious about his work but always ready with a winning smile. Sellers had a lot of focus on the branding issue and shared her approach of really staying in touch with her readers.

As far as branding is concerned, I came to a couple of conclusions during and after the panel. Because I’m lucky enough to have created something famous – ROAD TO PERDITION – that becomes a brand: BY THE AUTHOR OF. And thanks to PERDITION being historical crime fiction (never mind that it’s a graphic novel), that’s helpful to my historical- crime-fiction brand. I also think individual series are “brands” – and certainly not all readers who consider themselves Max Allan Collins fans read everything. Some Quarry readers are not (surprisingly) at all interested in Nate Heller, and (surprisingly) vice versa. Plenty of my regular readers ignore anything that smacks of tie-in. And a good number haven’t tried the Barbara Allan ANTIQUES fare, while the considerable number of readers that series has generated are unlikely potential Quarry or even Nate Heller fans.

But it was Barb who nailed it: “Your brand is ‘Max Allan Collins.’” Thank you, doll. (Yes, I call Barb “doll” – I am the guy who collaborates with Mickey Spillane, you know.)

Anyway, the T & M event was both fun and educational, our hosts unfailingly warm and generous, and I had a number of conversations with editorial, PR and marketing folks who make me feel that WHAT DOESN’T KILL HER is in good hands.

Which brings me to Amazon reviews. One thing I come back from the On the Lam conference with is a better understanding of how that system works. So I’m going to repeat something I’ve said before: if you like my stuff, please post reviews at Amazon. A sentence or two will do, though by all means express yourself at length if so inclined. If you review a book of mine at your blog, post it as an Amazon review as well. Four- and five-star reviews really boost sales (they are averaged, so a book gets an averaged star rating). Marking good reviews as helpful and bad ones as not helpful is also beneficial.

This doesn’t just go for me. Any book by any writer whose work you enjoy will benefit from your positive review at Amazon (and at Barnes & Noble). Do an Amazon search for a writer you like (for example, Max Allan Collins) and look at the averaged star-rating of individual novels. If the overall rating is under four stars, that book could use some love. By the way, what often brings the ratings down is another Amazon practice that is mostly positive – offering a title at a (temporary) bargain e-book price. The bargain pricing of TRUE DETECTIVE, when the Amazon reprints/e-books first came out, helped get a 1983 novel to number one on the Kindle fiction list. But the low price brings in readers who are looking for a cheap thrill and who are not necessarily a good fit for a given book – readers who don’t like mysteries say, “What the hell, I’ll try this.” Sometimes you get a new reader; but lots of times you don’t. Not a good author/reader fit. So an author winds up with a bunch of one- and two-star ratings. Anybody reading this blog knows that TRUE DETECTIVE is not a novel that deserves that kind of rating.

So go back and see what kind of ratings your favorite writers have racked up for their various books, and when it strikes you a book has been under-valued, drop in a review – again a sentence or two will do: it’s the star rating that matters most. Give your favorite books a nice boost. It’s free.

Which brings us to EARLY CRIMES. Right now EARLY CRIMES, not a T & M publication, has no reviews. Nada. I was told by an Amazon marketing expert that books with terrible reviews and lousy star averages do significantly better than a book that has no reviews at all.

A while back, I offered ARCs (bound galleys) of WHAT DOESN’T KILL HER to a limited number of readers willing to do an Amazon review. I screwed up a little, because those reviews can’t be posted till the book is out – September 17, kids! Well, EARLY CRIMES is out now, and is, so far, decidedly a non-event.

So I am offering copies of the book to the first ten readers of this blog who are willing to do a review. (If you read it and hate it, you are excused from class.) Request one at my e-mail address: macphilms@hotmail.com. But this is only for readers who live in the United States. The overseas and Canadian postage damn near broke me last time I tried this. My apologies.

I want to emphasize that readers should get in the habit of supporting their favorite authors and books by writing these short reviews for Amazon and Barnes & Noble. And don’t forget Goodreads. The more reviews that appear, the more important the book seems to potential new readers; the higher the star rating, the more new readers will be attracted. This is an easy grass-roots thing you can do for all of your favorite writers.

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I was one of many authors who noted the passing of the great Elmore Leonard last week for J. Kingston Pierce at his fine Rap Sheet blog.

My old buddy (and editor) Chris Mills did a nice post about the forthcoming THE WRONG QUARRY, including the cover shown without cover copy – nice.

Here’s a fun review of SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT.

And here’s an interview I did that I’d forgotten about, from a December 2004 sitdown for a documentary about crime in Chicago that never happened. I talk a good deal about DICK TRACY, Ness, Capone and Frank Nitti.

M.A.C.

From Huff Post to Penthouse

Tuesday, May 15th, 2012
Barnes and Noble Davenport Signing 2012
Barnes and Noble Davenport Signing 2012

Lots of nice readers stopped by to chat and buy a book or two (or more) at our book-signing at the Davenport Barnes & Noble Sunday afternoon. The store got in lots of interesting titles besides LADY, GO DIE! and ANTIQUES DISPOSAL – all of the Quarry Hard Case Crime titles, all of the Eliot Ness “Speaking Volumes” trade paperback reprints, among other titles. The hardcovers of BYE BYE, BABY and ANTIQUES KNOCK-OFF are there, too. We signed all the stock. We are not doing a major tour, so if you want signed books, you can contact Paul at CRM2970@bn.com. He’ll help you out.

I am not writing an in-depth Update this week because there is plenty to read about me and by me right now as my Internet “tour” continues to generate lots of web attention.

Of the interviews I’ve done, the standout is (not surprisingly) by Jeff Pierce of The Rap Sheet, who really went in depth about the writing process behind LADY, GO DIE!

The big flashy, splashy appearance was an article with slide show I did at Huffington Post on the game-changing detectives. Be sure to read the comments to see how many “readers” don’t bother to read what they’re commenting on.

Here’s a brief behind-the-scenes article by me followed by an excerpt from LADY, GO DIE!

The Playlist did an interesting, mostly favorable review of LADY, GO DIE! that got picked up all over the place.

The Criminal Element posted an essay I wrote for them discussing “noir” as the replacement word of “hardboiled.”

George Kelly briefly, nicely discussed LADY, GO DIE! as a “forgotten book.” Well, it was forgotten by Mickey….

In the midst of the Spillane flurry, Bill Crider posted a great review of ANTIQUES DISPOSAL. Bill’s site remains my favorite in the mystery field, even when he isn’t reviewing me.

I wrote a brief blog on the Mike Hammer movies for Destroy the Brain. For the complete story, take advantage of the Barnes & Noble huge discount on the just-published MICKEY SPILLANE ON SCREEN by Jim Traylor and me.

Here’s another nice LADY, GO DIE! review from Daily Rotation.

Finally, check out this month’s Penthouse – Mike Hammer is mentioned on the cover, and LADY, GO DIE! gets an excerpt with cool art on the inside. Yes, you should read it for the articles and the fiction…like I do.

M.A.C.