Posts Tagged ‘JFK’

Boucher Con Sked and More

Tuesday, October 2nd, 2012

I am frantically working to get two Heller chapters done (I’m in the middle of the first of the two) before leaving for Bouchercon on Thursday morning.

Here’s our Bouchercon schedule:

Barb’s panel (she is the moderator) is at 9.m. Friday. It’s about geriatric crime fighters: MYSTERY MATURES.

MAC’s panel (not moderating) (also not moderate) is at 11:30 a.m., also on Friday: MANFICTION (not my fault).

No room numbers, but if you’re attending, it won’t be tough to find us.

There is a new e-book from Top Suspense, WRITING CRIME FICTION, with chapters by all the members on various topics. Mine is on writing Historical Fiction. It just came out today, so snag it:

And here’s a terrific advance review of TARGET LANCER from that fine crime writer, Bill Crider.

Check out the Big Thrill’s TARGET LANCER write-up here.

And this is a really cool, smart review of the new Mike Hammer short story, “Skin.”

Finally, this nice interview with my Hard Case editor, Charles Ardai, discusses the re-discovery of the final James M. Cain novel, the recently pubbed THE COCKTAIL WAITRESS. Charles is kind enough to mention my role in bringing this important dark novel to the light.


Heller in Progress; Notes on Dredd 3D & The Raid

Tuesday, September 25th, 2012

Updates for the next four to six weeks will be on the brief side, mostly likely, because I am burrowed in on the new Heller, ASK NOT. I will be going to Bouchercon before long, and as much as I look forward to it, I don’t relish the four-day interruption. I really keep my head in a novel while I’m doing it, and don’t like to have the flow disrupted. I tend to be spacey as hell (Barb does most of the driving) and a distracted danger to others. A Heller project is the most intensive of anything I do, because of the combination of character concerns and the voluminous research that I continue reading even during the writing stage. Later this week, for example, I need to write a chapter with a central if obscure historical figure (Texas Ranger Clint Peoples), and the book I ordered about him two weeks ago hasn’t arrived yet. What do I do? Skip that chapter and write it later? These are the kind of obstacles I face, writing a Heller.

The strong advance reviews for TARGET LANCER continue to roll in. Check this one out.

And the recent one-day Kindle sale of 10 Heller novels for $1.99 prompted some kind words about the series. This was one is particularly nice.

Nate and Abby visited us over the weekend – they had to: we kidnapped their dog Toaster after the wedding two weeks ago – and we had a great time going to restaurants and watching movies. Specifically, we watched two movies that were very similar. THE RAID: REDEMPTION (2011) and DREDD 3D (2012). The former is an Indonesian production with a British director, and is one of the wildest and most effective action films I’ve ever seen. The latter is (I think) a British/South African production, based on the famous UK comic book series “Judge Dredd.” It is also terrific, and in many respects even better – a sort of urban ROAD WARRIOR (there’s a pun in there, since Karl Urban plays Dredd). DREDD makes use of 3D better than any live-action action film I can think of. The odd thing is that these two films have nearly identical plots and a number of strikingly similar scenes. Set-up is a raid on a gang-controlled slum apartment highrise where a big-shot gangster is manufacturing drugs, keeping the entire building under video surveillance; trapped within, the law-enforcement raiders must fight their way up and back down against crazy odds. DREDD 3D is nominally futuristic, but otherwise it’s the same premise. Numerous scenes appear to have been lifted from one film to the other. But here’s the truly odd thing: they were shot more or less simultaneously (DREDD began a few months prior). Whatever the case, both are highly recommended (RAID on home video, DREDD 3D in the theaters now – hurry for the latter, because its box-office is thus far lack luster).


The “H” Word

Tuesday, February 14th, 2012
The Comedy is Finished

The rediscovered Donald E. Westlake novel, THE COMEDY IS FINISHED, is getting some great reviews. Regular readers of these updates know that I had the manuscript for the novel in my basement (actually a drawer in a cabinet in my basement, with other Westlake materials). Don and I had explored revising the novel for publication under both our names (or possibly a joint pseudonym) after he had difficulty finding a publisher for an unfunny Westlake novel about a Bob Hope-style comedian. The book didn’t really need any work, but he was sick of looking at it, and I had some ideas about streamlining, and addressing some complaints editors had expressed about the political content. But when the similarly plotted film “King of Comedy” came out, Don called me and scrapped the project. As I’ve said before, when MEMORY came out as the “final” Westlake novel (a book I also knew about but didn’t have a copy of – I could never get Don to loan it to me), I got in touch with Hard Case Crime editor Charles Ardai about THE COMEDY IS FINISHED.

Most of the reviews are mentioning my efforts to get this book into print, and several have been very kind – this one is typical.

Another good review began oddly, stating that there might be something fishy about this discovery if it hadn’t come from me, because after all I can be trusted. You see, the reviewer (Steve Donoghue) says “a more honest thousand-word-a-day hack isn’t living.”

Here’s the thing. I resent the word hack. Any writer would. It is the “n” word of the writing world. Further, if Steve Donoghue thinks that a “hack” is anybody who can turn out a thousand words a day, he is (in my case at least) 1500 words short. And trust me, Donald E. Westlake never had a thousand-word writing day in his life. Ed McBain probably never had a day under 5000 words.

Anyway, speed or lack of it has no bearing on the quality of writing, which should and does speak for itself. I rewrite heavily, but my practice is not to rewrite the life and spontaneity out of a work. Barb considers herself slow – 1000 words would be a good day – but the result is terrific and has an off-handed feel as if she just threw it off quickly. That’s an art in itself.

I understand that – like Don – I am a prolific writer. This does not mean that I don’t work hard at writing. In fact, I work very hard at it, and if I write 2500 words of a Nate Heller or Jack Starr or some other historical novel, many hours of research have gone into it. And it’s not just research. One thing that Barb and I share in our approach is a propensity for thinking about what we’re going to write for at least as long as it will take to write it.

For me writing is an art, yes, but first and foremost it is a craft, and selling what I’ve crafted is my business – you know, like trouble was Phillip Marlowe’s. When a reviewer – whether in the New York Times or on a blog – dismisses a writer as a “hack,” or talks about a writer “churning out” or “grinding out” a book, that reviewer is indulging in a lazy, prejudiced, sloppy way of thinking…and writing. Those of us who do this for a living – and are not lawyers or doctors or teachers who write on the side, and are not blockbuster writers who can afford to write a thousand words a day, or less – deserve more consideration if not respect than being called the “h” word.

* * *

Here’s a nice review of CHICAGO LIGHTNING.

Here’s a fun review of a short story that Barb and I did a while back, “Flyover Country.” [From Nate: Most recently published in the anthology ONCE UPON A CRIME, 2009]

And here’s a column on the great film noir, GUN CRAZY, from writer Mike Dennis. The comments below include one by me.

George Hagenauer is spending a few days here at La Casa Collins in our first meeting about the new Nate Heller novel, tentatively titled ASK NOT (the second JFK book). We’ll be mostly brainstorming, strategizing, and assigning homework to each other.


Eliot Ness, Pat Chambers, R.I.P.

Tuesday, October 18th, 2011

Someone on my Facebook page suggested that at my age I shouldn’t be surprised by the passings of friends. But I have lost two of my best friends, both artistic collaborators, in under a week. It feels like the Apocalypse, one drop at a time. We joined Chuck Bunn’s family and friends Sunday afternoon for a celebration of his life…a lovely event, really, but for me it was in the shadow of a second death, the day before.

Michael Cornelison was my friend. No question. But beyond that, he played such a key role in my adventures in indie filmmaking that it’s hard to imagine ever making another film without him. He co-starred with Patty McCormack in both “Mommy” films (playing two different parts, disappearing into each so completely that few viewers noticed he was in both films…in lead roles!). He was the cop lead in “Real Time: Siege at Lucas Street Market.” He starred in three award-winning short films of mine, and he narrated both “Caveman: V.T. Hamlin and Alley Oop” and “Mike Hammer’s Mickey Spillane.” His last stage appearance, earlier this year, co-starring with his talented son Nick, was in a five-minute play I wrote for a Des Moines competition (we were the judges’ pick the first of two nights). He played Captain Pat Chambers to Stacy Keach’s Mike Hammer in the Audie-winning “The Little Death” and in this year’s “Encore for Murder.” And of course he was the star of the one-man show “Eliot Ness: An Untouchable Life,” which Phil Dingeldein and I preserved as an HD film.

That merely speaks to my collaborations with Mike. In the ‘70s and ‘80s he was in Hollywood, where he starred in three pilots, was a guest star on many major shows (including but not limited to HILL STREET BLUES, WHITE SHADOW, BJ AND THE BEAR, DALLAS, REMINGTON STEELE, KNOTS LANDING, HUNTER and, in a recurring role, THE GREATEST AMERICAN HERO), and appeared in numerous films, notably MY FATHER’S HOUSE with Cliff Robertson, WHERE THE BUFFALO ROAM with Bill Murray and LOST IN AMERICA with Albert Brooks. In high school he landed a role in Norman Lear’s COLD TURKEY with Dick Van Dyke, and in his later years was a staple of indie film in Iowa (a nice role in THE FINAL SEASON, for instance) and was damn near the bedrock of Des Moines theater. He essentially discovered writer/director Frank Darabont when they collaborated on the short Stephen King film WOMAN IN THE ROOM, which went to home video as part of the NIGHTSHIFT collection and sparked Darabont’s filmmaking career. Additionally, Mike was one of the movers and shakers (writing, acting, directing) behind the legendary old-fashioned radio drama show out of Des Moines, REJECTION SLIP THEATER, which ran for ten years on WHO and was covered on NBC’s TODAY SHOW.

Mike left a body of work as a working actor that would be impressive even if he hadn’t mostly operated out of his home state. I met him in the mid-‘70s when he was acting opposite my sister-in-law Kathe Mull at Charlie’s Showplace in Des Moines. I had used Charlie’s as a pattern for a theater in QUARRY’S DEAL, and Mike had read that, got a kick out of it, apparently dug my writing, and we became friends. Shortly after that he was off to California for almost a decade. When he returned, he began nudging me toward indie filmmaking. We developed several potential indie films (check out my story “Firecracker Kill” for one of them), way way way ahead of the curve. Finally “Mommy” turned our dreams into reality. He was my right arm as well as my lead actor on all my productions. He was child actress Rachel Lemieux’s dialogue coach, for example, on “Mommy.” But most of all, as Patty McCormack said: “He is such a wonderful actor.”

This does not touch on the many visits and phone calls where we talked not just shop but our abiding love in pop culture. He was a jazz guy and I rock ‘n’ roll, but we coincided everywhere else. We would talk James Bond and MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. We would talk Tarzan and WILD, WILD WEST. We would talk about obscure TV shows of our youth like T.H.E. CAT and JOHNNY STACCATO. He would tell me about his actor friends, mentor Robert Lansing and roommate Peter Weller. I would rhapsodize about Mickey Spillane and he would share his love for Doc Savage.

He lived the life he wanted to live. He had a substance abuse flirtation in Hollywood but threw it off like a coat gone out of fashion (that may be in part why he moved back to Iowa – we never spoke directly of it). He was a “gentleman drinker” (as he put it) until he was told quit or die – he quit, but he continued smoking and his eating habits would have killed me long, long ago. He was at once selfish child and generous grown-up (perhaps that was why we bonded so), and a caring, sweet friend who (again, perhaps why we bonded) operated off of an engine of enthusiasm.

In his prime, he was a leading man (“Mommy” caught that) who should have been very famous and successful. I often told him he was the kind of leading man I most admire – the really good-looking guy who has a twinkle of humor and a wellspring of intelligence, masculine but not macho. Think James Garner or Paul Gross. With a break or two, he could have been so much more than he was, and yet what he accomplished is almost mind-boggling…and mostly from Iowa.

He called me the night he summoned an ambulance. The liver problem that he’d been told meant he’d die in ten years – eighteen years ago – had finally caught up with him. While he waited for the ambulance, he thanked me for my friendship and support and told me he loved me. I told him I loved him, too. We talked for about forty-five minutes.

Then the ambulance came.


This weekend Barb and I attended the GLIBA event in Dearborn, Michigan – Great Lakes Independent Booksellers Association. I spoke at the Saturday night banquet (as did Christopher Moore and Luis Alberto Urrea, both great guys). I only had fifteen minutes, so I took a risk and just opened it up for questions – with Barb as a shill in the audience to pick up the slack if the audience members were shy. I think it went well. I was there to talk about BYE BYE, BABY and the upcoming TARGET LANCER. Some good if sometimes tense conversations with indie booksellers flowed out of their concerns (and frankly resentment and hostilities) over e-books in general and Amazon in particular, and of course I’m being reprinted by AmazonEncore, so some view me as sleeping with the enemy. But the conversations were constructive, and a step in the right direction.

We also had a lovely luncheon with my pal Brad Schwartz and his great parents. Brad is a senior in college now and working on a very exciting Orson Welles project – the “Ness kid” has come a long way! Speaking of which, just hours after our luncheon, Brad was the first fan I heard from about the death of Mike Cornelison – he and his parents had driven from Ann Arbor to Des Moines to see the play, “Eliot Ness: An Untouchable Life.” Brad is a Ness buff and considers Mike’s Ness the best of all. So do I.

Here’s what the Des Moines Register had to say about Mike.

QUARRY’S EX got some major love on the net this week. This particular review has been picked up all over the place.

And here’s a Playlist double-feature review of both QUARRY’S EX and THE CONSUMMATA.

Here’s another fun CONSUMMATA review.

Both QUARRY’S EX and THE CONSUMMATA are reviewed here, the former a rave, the latter less so but not a pan by any means.

Finally, Tom Piccirilli’s blog has some nice things to say about CHICAGO LIGHTNING.