Posts Tagged ‘JFK’

Pop Culture Clash

Tuesday, January 15th, 2013

Starting about ten years after I graduated from college, I began having an experience that has repeated itself many times since: I would read some entertainment publication, perhaps Rolling Stone or Entertainment Weekly, and feel hopelessly out of touch with the popular culture around me. Since I make my living in pop culture, and have been a fan of pop culture since early childhood, this is distressing. I have prided myself, over the years, for being more connected to what was going on in entertainment than the average person of my advanced age (whatever that advanced age happened to be at the time…in this country, all ages past 35 are advanced).

That happened again to me over the weekend, as I sat down to read Entertainment Weekly’s 2013 preview issue. And my recurring problem – shared possibly by other purveyors of popular culture who aren’t in their twenties or early thirties – reasserted itself with a vengeance. I understand that the popular culture is fragmented. We don’t have, and haven’t had for some time, the kind of shared experience we once had – Elvis and the Beatles on Ed Sullivan, or the premiere episode of The Beverly Hillbillies, or opening week of Thunderball.

There are, obviously, some pop culture experiences of today that rival the shared experiences of the Twentieth Century. The Super Bowl and American Idol, for instance, neither of which I’ve ever seen, but have an awareness of because of their all-pervasiveness. Michael Jackson and Madonna were last gasps of the shared pop culture experience (and even they were not on an Elvis/Beatles level), as they were part of the MTV era that flowed out of the greater cable TV explosion that so fragmented our entertainment experience. I’m not saying this is a bad thing, just an undeniable thing. I don’t believe Lady GaGa has a pop cultural resonance on a level with Madonna, just as Madonna doesn’t have a pop cultural resonance on a level with the Beatles. (On the other hand, the Beatles were on a level with Elvis, just as Elvis was with Sinatra before him.)

But for a writer, even one who often deals with historical subjects, to lose touch with the pop culture is death. And at 64, I’ve reached that age the Beatles once sang about in relation to a distant old age, so I know death is also an undeniable thing. Yet somehow it chills to me read an issue of Entertainment Weekly and see so much I know little or nothing about.

What follows are rhetorical questions, and you may post answers if you like, but understand that’s not the nature of these questions.

Who the hell are Niall Horan and One Direction? Must I watch a show called GIRLS on HBO and endure “superawkward sexual encounters”? Why would anyone want a Blu-ray boxed set of the Jackson Five cartoon show? (Not understanding nostalgia may represent a hardening of the arteries in someone as drenched in nostalgia as I am.) Who the hell are Nick Kroll, Hunter Hayues, A$AP Rocky, Conor Maynard, and M83? Who are Campo, Chainz featuring Dolla Boy, and Arcade Fire (the last falls into a category that I would designate as Actually I Have Heard of Them But Have Never Knowingly Heard Their Music). Why are there so many TV stars I am unfamiliar with (Chris Coffer, Monica Potter, Season Kent, Manish Raval, Thomas Golubic)?

The reason I am posing these questions rhetorically is that if they were actual questions, the obvious answer to all of them is: I’m out of touch. But fragmentation is a mitigating factor, as is bad pop culture that a reasonable human shouldn’t be expected to endure. You make decisions, as you trudge through life, about certain things you aren’t going to put up with. For me, Rap/Hip Hop falls into that category, as does country western music. Both pander to our worst instincts, though I am aware that intelligent defenses can be made of various artists and specific works within those fields. Country western music gave us Patsy Cline, so it can’t be all bad. Rap is a travesty, and I refuse to call it “music” since at his core is a lack of melody. I know doggerel when I hear it – I am an English major, after all.

Not that there isn’t plenty in this issue of Entertainment Weekly that I’m familiar with – probably a good share of which would be unfamiliar to a lot of people my age. But this is that moment, which has repeated so many times in my life, where I feel the popular culture is rolling over me, flattening me like a steamroller in an old cartoon.

* * *

This weekend we saw two films, one of which (ZERO DARK THIRTY) will likely be among my favorites this year, and another (GANGSTER SQUAD) which will likely be among my least favorites. Despite the political squabbling (by parties with varying agendas) in the media over the use of torture, ZERO DARK THIRTY is a gritty, involving docu-drama reminiscent at times of the great BBC series SPOOKS (aka MI-5). The real-time Bin Laden raid is stellar filmmaking. By the way, if you lit a match under my foot, I would gladly give you the atomic bomb secrets. So maybe with some weak-willed persons, torture does work.

GANGSTER SQUAD is a handsomely mounted but incredibly dumb supposed look at Mickey Cohen’s reign as a mob boss in post-war LA. I have never seen a more inaccurate “true crime” film, which is essentially a sloppy, riciulously violent re-do of THE UNTOUCHABLES, with Sean Penn’s smirky, sneering one-note performance managing to be even less true to Mickey Cohen’s character than the moronic screenplay. I hate movies like this, because not only do they suck, but they usually flop and make it tough for good period crime movies (say, based on a Nate Heller novel) to happen. Though over the top and obvious, the art direction makes sumptuous eye candy, and Josh Brolin is very good as a Mike Hammer-ish cop. He would make an excellent Hammer. On the other hand, sleepy-eyed, whiny Ryan Gosling remains the opposite of charismatic, a walking void who sucks the life out of any scene he enters.

* * *

I spent the week doing my draft of a 12,000-word novella called “Antiques Slay Ride,” a Christmas-themed e-book being done as a promotion for the Trash ‘n’ Treasures series. It will appear, not surprisingly, toward the end of this year.

Congrats to Dan John Miller, who was selected as one of AudioFile Magazine’s “Voices of the Year” for his performance of FLYING BLIND. If you’re a Heller fan who listens to audios, I highly recommend Dan’s readings of all of the novels (yes, he’s done them all, and the short story collections, too). He really is Nate Heller.

Some nice Net reviews have rolled in of late, including this one on CHICAGO LIGHTNING.

And here’s a swell TARGET LANCER review.

Short but sweet, this review of SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT comes from the UK’s Crimetime site.

Speaking of the soon-to-be-published SEDUCTION, here’s some Goodreads reviews of the novel.

Here’s a review of the previous Jack and Maggie Starr mystery, STRIP FOR MURDER, with a fun discussion of Fearless Fosdick.

Finally, check out this perceptive review of BYE BYE, BABY, and you may want to read my comment posted below it.


The “D” is Silent

Tuesday, January 8th, 2013

I have just wrapped up my first original novel for Thomas & Mercer (i.e., Amazon), WHAT DOESN’T KILL YOU. It’s a thriller that my Harrow series collaborator Matt Clemens worked on with me – our usual pattern of me coming up with the idea, the two of us co-plotting, and Matt writing a story treatment (sort of a short rough draft) out of which I develop the novel. I was behind deadline, which means I worked through the holidays on it. The story has to do with a Victims of Violent Crimes support group, some of whose members team up to go after the serial killer who targeted all of their families. With its young female lead, it’s at least vaguely an American take on THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO. It’ll be out late this year.

My favorite (and least favorite) movie list got a lot of play on the Net last week, with plenty of people disagreeing with me on the DARK KNIGHT RISES, but otherwise generating quite a bit of agreement. If you’re wondering why DJANGO UNCHAINED didn’t make either list, it’s because I hadn’t seen it yet.

Well, I have now, and it would have rated high among my favorites. It took me a long time to warm to Quentin Tarantino – I found RESERVOIR DOGS and PULP FICTION full of themselves, and didn’t like the KILL BILL movies, either. I knew all of the references and cringed when too-familiar music was used in his cobbled together soundtracks (the IRONSIDE theme…really?). But JACKIE BROWN, with the underpinning of a real Elmore Leonard story, was terrific, and INGLORIOUS BASTERDS, with its inherent love of film and hatred of Nazis, made me a fan. Now the world’s most famous know-it-all video clerk has hit a grand slam with DJANGO UNCHAINED. As with BASTERDS, the writer/director does better within the confines of period dialogue (not that anachronisms don’t crop up, but unlike the earlier movies, it doesn’t sound like QT is just talking to himself). DJANGO is a witty, wonderfully over-the-top tribute to both the MANDINGO Southern gothic genre and Italian westerns (with the patched-together score working extremely well with this appropriate music, familiar but using the sources not specific enough to distract) with bold jagged red credits, camera zooms and grainy flashbacks, plus many wonderfully familiar faces (Bruce Dern among them). You also get to see QT blow himself up real good (worth the price of admission). This is the first movie in a very long time that I would like to see again on the big screen.

I would also recommend the Danish crime series THE KILLING, the third season of which has just appeared on DVD and blu-ray in England. A great, gritty series with a strong female detective and unusual emphasis on politics as well as the cost of crime upon a victim’s family. Each season explores one case (Barb and I watched the ten-hour third season in one excessive Sunday marathon). This is advertised as the third of a trilogy, though the ending is a cliffhanger of sorts. I have never seen the American version of this show.

Here’s a nice review of TARGET LANCER from Richard Katz of Milwaukee’s great mystery bookstore, Mystery One.

Over at CRIMESPREE magazine, editor Jon Jordan has included TARGET LANCER on his memorable reads of the year list.

Here’s another Best Books of the Year list TARGET LANCER made (ranking high among thrillers).

Jeff Pierce’s indispensable Rap Sheet has a preview of coming attractions that includes both SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT and the forthcoming MIKE HAMMER comic strip collection.


A Tale of Two Christmas Eves

Monday, December 24th, 2012

Here’s a piece about my two most memorable Christmases that I wrote recently for Bookreporter. Happy holidays, everyone, and thank you for your interest and support in 2012.

My ambition, from junior high school onward, was to be a mystery writer, specifically to write and publish the kind of hardboiled fiction people are calling “noir” these days.

I had written four novels in high school and a number of short stories, spending my summers creating the manuscripts that I would send out during the school year. I had any number of encouraging responses, but no sales.

At the University of Iowa Writers Workshop, I was blessed to have Richard Yates — the great mainstream author of REVOLUTIONARY ROAD — as my mentor. He helped me shape my pulp fiction into something that strove to be something more, even if it didn’t always. He got me an appropriate agent in New York, a crusty ex-paperback editor named Knox Burger, who said of my Raymond Chandler/Mickey Spillane-inspired work, “I’m afraid young Mr. Collins has learned to be a blacksmith in an automotive age.” Yates had told Burger that he thought I was another Dashiell Hammett. Burger said, “No — W.R. Burnett maybe.”

The story continues over at

And here are pics from my appearance at Centuries and Sleuths in Forest Park, Illiniois, doing a Q and A at the Midwest MWA Christmas party on Dec. 16.

Before I sign off, here are a few links you might like to check out.

Here’s an interview I did about the Disaster series, in support of the current reprint program from Thomas & Mercer.

This is a well-done “get to know” me and my work from the fun site Mystery People.

The private eye-centric blog Sons of Spade has a nice TARGET LANCER review.

And here’s a very much appreciated positive review (and more) from the great Bill Crider about the forthcoming (February) SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT.


Road to Heller

Tuesday, December 11th, 2012

This is a brief update, as Barb and I are on the road with the TARGET LANCER book tour. We have already done Iowa City (Prairie Lights), Scottsdale AZ (Poisoned Pen), and Houston (Murder by the Book), and will have done Left Bank Books in St. Louis by the time you read this. Check the above listing of a few other appearances.

M.A.C. discusses TARGET LANCER at Left Bank Books, Central West End, St. Louis

Great reviews for TARGET LANCER continue to appear, like this very smart one of Scene of the Crime.

Mystery People continues to give us great TARGET LANCER coverage at their web site and now with a You Tube video.

And the very first SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT review has popped up by terrific writer Ron Fortier. The book comes out next February, which suddenly isn’t so far away.

Quick recommendation: HITCHCOCK with Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren, playing art houses mostly (at the moment anyway).

More next week.