Posts Tagged ‘Jack and Maggie Starr’

When I’m 64 – I Mean, 65….

Tuesday, March 5th, 2013

As I write this, my 65th birthday is winding down. I’m in St. Louis with Barb, and we’ve been visiting with our son Nate and his incredible bride Abby. It’s been a lovely weekend, filled with food, the RiffTrax version of HUNGER GAMES, lots of great conversation, an upgrade to the Tennessee Williams Suite at the Moonrise Hotel (Williams, a St. Louis boy, is a fellow U of Iowa Writers Workshop grad), a fun/moving British movie about (fittingly) old people, QUARTET, and just so much more. And yet I find myself reflecting on the reasons why so many people who hit this age choose to retire…and how last week, another fairly rigorous week in the “blog tour” for SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT, I began wondering how long I would want to keep doing this.

Anyone who knows me at all well understands that I love writing, and that I’m very competitive and want to stay in the game. I feel great and have not lost my enthusiasm for life and creativity. How many guys my age are still in the garage band they started in high school? But there are trials. There are trials. Here are three reasons why some day I may decide to kick back, and just read the books that have been stacking up for decades, and watch the Blu-ray discs that have been piling up for years.

1. The uncertainty of the publishing business. This has always been a precarious business to be in – freelance fiction-writing – but lately it seems to be in serious freefall. Borders gone, Barnes & Noble wobbling, e-books taking over. Some of it has benefitted me – TRUE DETECTIVE has sold more copies in the last year than it did in its first year, a thirty-year-old book, thanks to Amazon. But one gets weary of the ground shifting under one’s feet. Like old age (thank you, QUARTET; thank you, Bette Davis), freelance writing isn’t for sissies.

2. Copy editors. I am half-way through the copy edit of ASK NOT. For the umpteenth time in my career, I have had to go through a manuscript painstakingly putting Humpty Dumpty back together. This is despite the lengthy memo I attach to my manuscripts with a detailed description of the elements of my style that a copy editor might think was just me screwing up. I had a particularly intrusive copy editor on TARGET LANCER, complained, and was assured a different one would be assigned this time. No – I got the same intrusive, tin-eared copy editor. I spent an hour just putting the first chapter back together. I have gone through this many, many times, and if I ever retire, I promise I will not miss it.

3. Abuse. Now and then I can get hate mail. Occasionally I get a bad review. The nature of Amazon is that geniuses may comment on a book of mine, and also imbeciles – such is the price of democracy. I’ve also had enemies (yes, I have managed to alienate a few people in these 65 years) who have used the Amazon and B & N reviewing portals to get even with me. I have learned to live with this. But occasionally somebody really steps over the line, as when I got death threats over FLYING BLIND because I suggested Amelia Earhart may have been bisexual.

This week I did an article and slide show for the Huffington Post about controversial comic book covers, as part of the SEDUCTION blog tour, arranged by my publisher. I used primarily 1950s covers. I also used one of Terry Beatty’s MS. TREE covers on the slide show, in part in a self-aggrandizing fashion, but chiefly to demonstrate it as one of the indie comics involved in the famous Friendly Frank’s comic book shop bust that in 1981 got its store owner a sentence of one year (later overturned) in Illinois. That issue of MS. TREE was objectionable because of nudity – of course, that nudity was a statue in the hall of the Justice Department in D.C. (This is explained in text that accompanies the cover – each cover pictured has a paragraph on why I chose it.) George Hagenauer helped me on the slide show, and between us probably a work day went into that; I spent another work day on the article itself. I got paid exactly nothing – it was part of the publicity for my new book. That’s how it works – you do a free article, you get some PR. Huffington Post put a slightly inaccurate headline on my piece, making it look like I had chosen these as the “most” controversial comic books of all time. Among assorted comments, many good – but many from readers who objected to my choices of covers, having clearly not read the article (“Where’s PREACHER?” “Where’s THE LEATHER NUN?”) – came the following:

“I feel this a legitimate question. How can you allow article authors to pompously include their OWN work in the top list? Isn’t that self-promotion and editorially questionable? I feel its a fair question for people to address. Unless this author is really that self-absorbed that he believes his work is that worthy. This is a valid question, please post it.”

Okay, a little shrill, but a valid question I guess, and immediately answered by another reader who understands how the Huff Post trades PR for free copy. But the same day I received the following e-mail from the same individual:

“Nice article in the HuffPost.
Do you realize how shameless and self-aggrandizing it is, to include TWO of your own comic books on the list? Not to mention, how it perverts the integrity of said article?
How can anyone take you seriously?
I’m surprised you didn’t put Wild Dog on the list as well. Or just fill it with ALL of your comics.
You’re a narcissistic putz, who has no original stories, just totally derivative from everyone else.
Even your look is stolen, Mr. Elton John.
Ha ha ha ha ha.
p.s. You’re little blonde is even more derivative.”

I am probably am something of a narcissistic putz – most entertainers are. And I am derivative of those who came before me, as are almost all genre writers, although I think I’ve put my own spin on the ball. There was only one of my covers used (Huff Post tagged on the cover of the novel I’m promoting.) Still, these opinions are valid enough, if rudely stated. But then the writer, who is blessed of a literary style derivative of the letters Jack the Ripper wrote to the London police, takes a shot at my appearance – making him the ten thousandth person to notice my unfortunate resemblance to a singer whose music I don’t particularly like – and I’m a big boy, so it comes with the territory.

Then he takes a shot at my wife. And he cc’s my son. All while hiding behind a fake name (of a Charles Bukowski character). I may be all the things this guy says I am. But I am not a cowardly prick, nor am I a rat bastard who attacks the family of someone he dislikes.

Though I am 65, and this is the point in the action movie where the aging lead says, I’m getting too old for this shit…and then goes right on kicking ass, till the end of the movie.

“The Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory,” Penny Arcade

Here’s the Huff Post piece my “fan” loved so much (the subject of his e-mail was “KUDOS”):

And here’s an article on how I came to write SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT.

I am dizzy from doing interviews, but I salute my questioners, who came up with their own unique angles on the book and its subject (and author). Here’s one from 8 Days a Geek.

And one from the wonderfully named blog Death, Books and Tea.

Here’s one at Fanboy Comics.

And at Speak Geeky to Me.

Here’s one at My Bookish Ways. Love these blog titles.

Another at Too Busy Thinking About Comics.

And at the UK site, SHOTS.

One at the Geek Twins.

And at Comic Buzz.

More UK attention at the wonderful site Crimetime.

The reviews, I’m pleased to say, have been very favorable. Check out this one at Jildy Sauce.

Here’s a combo article and review at

Tony Isabella, a great comic writer himself, knows plenty about the subject, so it was great to get this terrific review from him.

Here’s a solid review from (wonderful name) Unleash the Fanboy.

And another at Swiftly Tilting Planet.

Also at (another name I love) 8 Days a Geek.

There’s an excerpt at Daily Dead.

And a review at Popcorn Reads(another fantastic title).

Speaking of pop, here’s one at Popcults.

And one at Bullet Reviews.

Finally – stop the presses – it’s an early review for the new Mike Hammer, COMPLEX 90, due in May.


And The Collins Prize Goes To…Richard Zanuck

Tuesday, February 26th, 2013

I start off on a sad note today. Mickey Spillane’s widow Jane lost her mother over the weekend. Ethel was a strong Southern gal who went toe to toe with Mickey, who loved her dearly. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Jane.

People always ask me, the day after, how I liked the Academy Awards show (much as they do with the Super Bowl). The last time I sat through that long evening was at a public event in Des Moines the year that ROAD TO PERDITION was nominated for a bunch of Oscars. What I usually do is record the marathon, then zip through on fast-forward looking for good parts. I had heard that all of the James Bonds would be on stage together as part of a 50 Years of 007 celebration. So that was my main reason for recording the thing.

As a STAR TREK fan, I stopped to watch the over-long but fitfully entertaining opening with Shatner as Kirk coming back in time to prevent a disaster of a show due to Seth MacFarlane’s tastelessness. I don’t follow MacFalane’s shows, and skipped his movie TED, but he was pretty good on SNL a while back. The opening was so endless that they skipped Shatner at the punchline. Later, the Bond tribute, introduced by a stunning Halle Berry, offered up not a single Bond (apparently Brosnan, understandably bitter about getting kicked off the series he saved, had refused to participate). But Shirley Bassey brought the superstar crowd to its feet with “Goldfinger” – a song co-written by the unjustly forgotten Anthony Newley, who is one of my heroes.

Barbra Streisand made a surprise appearance (it surprised me, anyway) to sing “The Way We Were” in tribute to the late Marvin Hamlisch, at the end of the In Memoriam reel. Shamefully, Andy Griffith was left out. Richard Zanuck rated a nice moment, with him on screen insisting that the most important thing about a film was “the story, not the script, the story.” This is from the man who, with his son, read ROAD TO PERDITION and recognized its potential. R.I.P, Mr. Zanuck – I owe you much.

There were other fun moments that I stopped to take in, acceptance speeches here and there (in particular Christof Waltz, Quentin Tarantino, and Daniel Day Lewis), Adele singing “Skyfall” (but so upstaged by Shirley Bassey), and it was nice that in a year of unusually good films that the awards got passed around a little bit. And the winners were unusually gracious to fellow nominees. Everybody reading this probably knows I am an Obama man, and usually adore Michelle, but the First Lady giving out the Best Picture Oscar came off weird and gratuitous. The sock puppet (you read right) version of “Flight” was, by the way, much more entertaining that the actual film, which was a lousy, poorly paced Made-for-TV movie about substance abuse, designed to give Denzel Washington an Oscar-worthy part. By the way, has any actor as good as Denzel Washington ever made so many dreadful films?

While the Academy Awards were recording, Barb and I watched Richard Burton, Roger Moore and Richard Harris in the 1978 adventure movie THE WILD GEESE. We’d never seen it before, and it was terrific. At a theater this week, we took in SNITCH, a very uneven crime film in which nobody seemed worth rooting for. We also watched the last season (three movies) of the great MORSE follow-up LEWIS, on DVD from Britain. As you may gather, I had a fairly lazy weekend.

* * *

The blog tour for SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT appears to be winding down. I have an article to write today for the Playboy site, Smoking Jacket, about controversial comics. My Huff post piece on the same topic, with 10 controversial covers, should be up some time this week. So will any number of interviews I’ve done.

Reviews, mostly very favorable, have been rolling in for SEDUCTION. Check out this Book Reporter rave.

And here’s another great one at Fearnet.

Another fine one popped up at The Book Bag.

Comic Hype has this review.

Here’s one from Cult Geek. I love that younger reviewers, at hip cites like this, are digging the book.

Same goes for this review at Geek Hardshow.

And this fun one from (wonderful blog title) Just a Guy That Likes to Read. I wonder if any porn review site out there is called Just a Guy That Likes to…never mind.

Comics Crux has this write-up.

The very interesting, unusual site Noir Whale looks at SEDUCTION in some depth. Cool approach.

Then there are the interviews. I have endeavored to repeat myself as little as possible. Helping me toward that goal are the interviewers, who have come up with their own takes on the book and their own approaches – they are the saving grace of all my yammering.

Here’s one from Comic Book Movie, and if you scroll down to look at the comments, you’ll learn that I appear to resemble Elton John (no, really?) and that I should play “Doc Ock” in the next Spider-Man Movie. Having bought every issue of Ditko’s SPIDERMAN off the stands back in the ‘60s, I am flattered.

Here’s another interview, this one at Gamma Squad.

And a somewhat horror-themed interview at Dread Central.

Here’s another at Terrible Minds.

And now a change of pace – Woody Haut looks at BYE BYE, BABY and TARGET LANCER. He has to strain himself working his suspension-of-disbelief muscle (poor baby), but he seems to like both of ‘em.

And now my favorite web appearance of the week. At the Writing Reader, the first sentence of a novel of mine has been chosen the First Line of the Week. Please check this one out – I’m making you go there to find out what it is.


Seduction of the Innocent on Shelves Now!

Tuesday, February 19th, 2013

Seduction of the Innocent hits bookshelves real and virtual today. If you already pre-ordered your copy, take this reminder to go pick it up, or alternatively, to call in sick and wait by the mailbox, and skip on down to the regularly scheduled update from Al below. And if you haven’t (for shame!), this is for you…

Part noir, part pulp, and part comic book, Seduction is a detective thriller a la Rex Stout and inspired by the real-life 1950s witch-hunt against Tales From the Crypt publisher EC Comics. With an insider’s view of the history of comics, more than a dozen brand new illustrations in the classic EC style by comic book legend Terry Beatty, and a killer, Hard Case Crime-worthy cover by the great Glen Orbik, Seduction of the Innocent is not to be missed. But maybe I’m biased, so for you jaded Internet-savvy readers out there, here’s what everyone else has to say:

“Truly a breath of fresh air.”—Ron Fortier

“Thoroughly entertaining…Be on the lookout; you don’t want to miss it.”—Bill Crider

“Superior storytelling”—Ed Gorman

“A wonderful, fun, frothy mix of genres… a fast, exciting read, well worth carting along for moments-between or sitting down with for some self-indulgent reading.”—The Geek Girl Project

“Permeated with a sense of, well, joy. Murderous, sexpot, hard-drinking, gun-totin’ scandelous joy.”—pornokitcsh

“Ingenious…great fun, whether or not you are an aficionado of the comics of that era.”—Crime Time

“A must read for crime and comic fans alike.”—MysteryPeople

Seduction of the Innocent is marked by careful plotting, sharp dialog, and a mastery of genre conventions…”—Nerds of a Feather

“Everything I like in one handsome little package”—Books and Writers

Convinced? Buy Seduction of the Innocent today!

Paperback: | E-Book:

Audio CD: | Audio MP3 CD: | Audible:

UK: | CA: | AU:

Tom Arnold, Paul Williams and More

Tuesday, February 19th, 2013

To celebrate finishing THE WRONG QUARRY, I took Barb to Cedar Rapids to Penguin’s Comedy Club to see Tom Arnold. Yes, I am a romantic devil. Actually, my friend Dwayne Clark – a very funny, smart comedian from Des Moines – was the opening act, and he got us tickets for the event.

M.A.C. with Dwayne Clark

I’ve always liked Arnold, consider him an amusing quirky presence who has enlivened any number of movies, including the recent HIT AND RUN, which I’ve extolled here several times. (I will watch anything with Kristen Bell in it, even the fairly awful HOUSE OF LIES on Showtime.) Dwayne as the opening act was his usual funny, wry self, the perfect laidback warm-up for the energetic Arnold, who was something of a revelation.

He was absolutely great. Tom is an Iowa boy and he relates to an Iowa audience in a special way. He is extremely fast, frank and funny as hell. Both Barb and I were mightily impressed. Beyond just his autobiographical humor and his nimble ease interacting with the audience, he proved to be a genuinely nice guy. Between packed shows, he made himself available to anyone who wanted a picture or to have anything signed. The only merch he brought to hawk was t-shirts helping to support his camp for kids with cancer. Great guy.

M.A.C. with Tom Arnold

As those of you who may recall how high PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE ranks on my favorite movie list, you may not be surprised to learn that I am a Paul Williams fan. While he was very funny on talk shows in the ‘70s, he will be remembered as one of the great songwriters of the late Twentieth Century. Sometimes he’s written with collaborators, other times alone (as on PHANTOM), but few tunesmiths tap into love and loneliness better, certainly not of his generation. So I was looking forward to the documentary, PAUL WILLIAMS – STILL ALIVE, and while it’s a challenging, even confrontational work, I was not disappointed.

Filmmaker Stephen Kessler (VEGAS VACATION) essentially makes a documentary about making a documentary, often making himself look bad in the process. This is intentional, as it charts the perils of the doc maker who goes into a project with preconceived notions and then tries to impose them on the film – having done two documentaries myself, I can report that you shoot first and determine the point you wish to make in the editing process. It’s an at times uncomfortable viewing experience, particularly early on, as you feel (and share) Williams’ discomfort and even irritation with Kessler. But it’s worth the trip, and you come away with a good picture of (and good feeling about) the subject. I will be surprised if Terry Beatty, my fellow PHANTOM freak (we saw the film together maybe ten times in theaters way back when), doesn’t find this film fascinating. It’s available on DVD – I spotted it at a Best Buy in their paltry documentary section.

Today I embark on dealing with the copy-edited manuscript of THE WRONG QUARRY – editor Charles Ardai is very fast, which is great, but it does rob me of the usual distance I have when dealing with edits on a work finished months before (as opposed to days). I hate being edited. I despise the copy-editing process. I realize every book needs some editing, but I do not like having an unrequested collaborator on my work. Charles is a very aggressive editor who likes to be part of the process – he has said in print that he wants to be involved with every sentence in a novel he publishes. So our editing sessions are always…interesting. But he is smart, so I can’t just ignore him (I did a fairly elaborate rewrite on SEDUCTION, at his bidding, which is beyond rare for me). Barb knows I will be dealing with copy edits today and has already said she will be steering me a wide path.

* * *

Steve Steinbock, who has the not enviable job of following the great Jon L. Breen as the book reviewer for ELLERY QUEEN MYSTERY MAGAZINE, has been doing a great job. And I say that at least in part because he seems to like my books. In the current issue, March/April, he praises both LADY, GO DIE! (“Collins has the ear – and the chops – to bring Spillane’s hero to life”) and TARGET LANCER, which he rates as a four-star read. Here’s his conclusion: “While being so unapologetically hardboiled you can crack a tooth on it, TARGET LANCER is also an intricately plotted thriller and a unique epic historical adventure.”

Here’s another fine TARGET LANCER review, this one from the Historical Novel Society.

And the SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT reviews keep streaming on in, like this fine one from the UK site Crime Fiction Lover.

And Geek Girl loves her some SEDUCTION, too.

Plus these nice words from Porno Kitsch.

Keep an eye on the web over these next few weeks (I will do my best to help out). I am about to undertake a “blog tour,” which means I will be doing a dozen or more interviews and articles about SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT. The interviews seem to come from younger readers. Here’s a typical question: “Who the hell are you?”