Posts Tagged ‘Kill Me Darling’

Leonard Nimoy And Me

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2015

The eccentric and self-aggrandizing mystery writer Michael Avallone liked to show people pictures of himself and Gene Kelly, standing together in a suburban front yard, with the great song-and-dance man’s arm slung around the pulp writer’s shoulder, both men grinning. Donald E. Westlake said to me about this photo, “The only way that could have happened is if Gene Kelly fell out of a plane.”

So the fact that I have a couple of photos of Leonard Nimoy, with me in them (that’s the back of my head in one), doesn’t mean we were pals. I doubt I made much of any impression on him. But he made an impression on me.

In the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, when I was commuting to the University of Iowa in Iowa City from Muscatine (where I still live), Barb and I were in the early days of our marriage. We lived in a little two-room apartment with kitchenette and bath, where I wrote BAIT MONEY while Barb worked at the bank (the one I had Nolan and Jon rob in that novel).

Our first big shared enthusiasm (okay, our second big shared enthusiasm) was STAR TREK, which we began watching during its third season (I was aware of the show but my band the Daybreakers had our regular rehearsal on the night it aired) (no VCRs yet). Shortly after that, STAR TREK reruns began to appear in the late afternoon. I usually got home in time to see an episode.

When my schedule didn’t allow that, I lingered in Iowa City at my pal Mike Lange’s apartment, which he shared with three or four other nerds. Mike and I had been in a vocal quartet that won State every year of high school. He was one of the original sweater-vest-and-briefcase geeks and was very funny, sometimes on purpose. Barb and I called him an “incompetent Spock.” The best way to understand who Mike was is best demonstrated by his asking a waitress, “What is the ETA of a tenderloin?” Years later, Mike would join us for the various STAR TREK movies, invariably on opening night, starting with STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE, which we stood in the snow for several hours to see.

I suppose Barb and I were Trekkies, but the word wasn’t in wide use yet, at least not in Iowa. We went to one of the first ST conventions, in Detroit, where we met Gene Roddenberry, James Doohan, Majel Barrett (later to appear in my film MOMMY) and various writers from the show; I believe “The Menagerie” in black and white was shown. Around that time, I also somehow got in touch with Walter Koenig, who was a Big Little Book collector; we made some trades, and became friends, meeting up at several comic-book conventions. Very smart, nice guy, and an excellent writer. We’ve stayed in sporadic touch over the years.

We also went to see William Shatner, appearing in “The Seven Year Itch” at Pheasant Run dinner theater in Illinois; he was funny and energetic, as you might expect. This was in the early ‘70s. He signed autographs (including my copy of THE TRANSFORMED MAN) and was friendly but bewildered by the many STAR TREK fans who wanted to discuss a series that had been cancelled five or six years before. He said unequivocally that STAR TREK was dead (I asked him, “What about the rumors of rebirth for the series?” and he said, “More like afterbirth.”) I remain a big Shatner fan.

But of course the STAR TREK character and actor who had the Baby Boomers most in his thrall was Spock/Nimoy. The dignity, the humor, the humanity of that characterization spoke to so many things in my generation, not the least of which (pun intended) a shared alienation. Even more than Shatner, however, Nimoy felt captive to his ST role – the ears played a part in that – and it took him decades to understand the importance of his pop-cultural contribution, and to embrace it.

It needs to be said that the chemistry between Nimoy, Shatner and the great Deforest Kelley was the real engine of the show, thrusters be damned. That stroke-of-luck casting for three well-defined characters is the real reason why we are still looking at and talking about that 79-episode, late-‘60s science-fiction series.

In the ‘70s, Barb and I went to see Nimoy in a number of plays. One was THE FOURPOSTER, at another Illinois dinner theater, a matinee in a huge theater-in-the-round with maybe a dozen of us in attendance. Nimoy and his co-star, whose name I don’t recall, gave their all. I was very impressed. Later we saw Nimoy as a very strong Sherlock Holmes in a big, revamped version of the wheezy Gillette play; this was in a big Chicago theater and co-starred LAUGH-IN’s Alan Sues as Moriarty.

The most memorable Nimoy appearance for us was at a small political rally in the basement of the student union at NIU in DeKalb, Illinois, in October 1972. Nimoy was appearing to encourage young, first-time voters to get out and put anti-war candidate George McGovern in the White House. He gave a warm, smart speech, and we were in or near the first row. While we were McGovern supporters, Barb and I were there for Nimoy, of course. (This event, oddly enough, was just written up by me as a part of QUARRY IN THE BLACK.)

Leonard Nimoy at NIU
Leonard Nimoy speaking at NIU, 1972.

Barb and I were, in those years, very dedicated TREK fans. We still are, but as the fan phenomenon grew sillier and more shrill, we kind of reluctantly faded into adulthood. At the same time, as I said above, opening day for a STAR TREK film was our church (we also still worshiped at the temple of James Bond opening days) (still do). And Nimoy was an actor, and later director, who I continued to follow with admiration.

In the early ‘90s, when Tekno-Comics – by way of my late good friend Marty Greenberg – invited Mickey Spillane and me to create a comic book (MICKEY SPILLANE’S MIKE DANGER), the various celebrity creators of the various titles in that line were gathered at several events. Leonard Nimoy had created an s-f title, LEONARD NIMOY’S PRIMORDALS, which put me in the same room with him a number of times.

Max, Mickey, Mickey, Leonard, Neil
M.A.C., Mickey Spillane, Mickey Mouse, Leonard Nimoy, Neil Gaiman

At a Disneyworld event, specifically a luncheon, I mentioned that Barb and I had seen him in several plays, including SHERLOCK HOLMES. We spoke about Holmes for a while – Nimoy played him in a short film, as well – and he had a clear love for the character (according to Nicholas Meyer’s STAR TREK: THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY, Holmes is an ancestor of Spock – and Meyer should know). I found Nimoy reserved but friendly, very Spock-like actually.

Later that same year, at a Griffith Observatory event, he was coming down an aisle with his lovely wife and I was coming up the aisle with my lovely wife. Surprisingly, he remembered me, sticking out his hand for me to shake, and flashed that great smile that is always so shocking coming from Spock. We spoke for just a minute or so, but…well, it was a moment I won’t forget. Maybe I am a Trekkie.

He died at 83. As someone said, that sounds really old, unless you’re a man of 82. I am a man of 66, who will turn 67 on the day this update appears, and 83 sounds less old than it used to. But it’s tough to have a better life, at least in terms of art and career, than Leonard Nimoy. He turned Spock into a cultural icon as well as a character of enormous appeal and power, mostly by underplaying. He appeared in numerous other TV shows and movies, and directed some as well; he was a skillful writer, one of the few poets I ever bought books by, and was a respected fine-arts photographer. Yes, I am going to say it. He lived long and prospered.

Just not long enough.

* * *

Here is an absolutely terrific, starred review of KILL ME, DARLING by Spillane/Collins.

March 15, 2015. KILL ME, DARLING. Spillane, Mickey (Author) and Collins, Max Allan (Author) Mar 2015. 246 p. Titan, hardcover, $22.95. (9781783291380).

It’s the mid-1950s. Four months ago, private eye Mike Hammer’s partner and girlfriend, Velda, left him without any sort of explanation. Mike leapt feet first into a bender, a four-month drunk; when this superb, old-school crime novel opens, he’s addicted to the booze and uninvolved in the world. His best friend, NYPD captain Pat Chambers, tells Mike he had better get his act together because Velda has turned up in Florida, hanging on the arm of a big-time gangster, and Velda’s boss from her undercover-cop days has turned up dead, the victim of a mugging that looks suspiciously like murder. So Mike heads off to the Sunshine State, determined to pull his head out of the bottle and find out why Velda left him—and, just maybe, to pull her out of whatever hole she’s put herself in and bring her back home. This latest collaboration between Hammer’s creator, the late Spillane, and noted crime writer (and frequent Spillane coauthor) Collins is based on an unfinished Spillane manuscript, but it reads seamlessly; in fact, it’s impossible to tell which parts were written by Spillane and which were written by Collins. Yes, it’s a new book, but it feels like something from 60-odd years ago, when Spillane’s prose was young and raw and full of energy. For Mike Hammer’s fans—yes, there are still plenty of them out there—it’s a sure bet. — David Pitt

Ron Fortier, fine writer in his right (righter in his own write?) is among the first to review KILL ME, DARLING.

This review of QUARRY’S CHOICE is favorable but suggests you may need a shower after reading it. Why not? I’m all in favor of cleanliness.

Here’s an interesting if patronizing essay/article on Mickey Spillane.

Here’s a nice mention of QUARRY’S CHOICE from my old pal Chris Mills (he did the great Perfect Crime “Van Cleef” covers for the NOLAN reprints). Beautiful look at the McGinnis cover.

Finally, check out this excellent, darn near in-depth look at MS. TREE.


Note From The Bunker #2

Tuesday, February 3rd, 2015

[Nate’s note: Before we get to the regularly scheduled Update, we have some breaking news:


Cinemax today officially announced an eight-episode series order to drama pilot Quarry. Production will begin March 30 on location in New Orleans and Tennessee. Created and executive produced by Graham Gordy & Michael D. Fuller. Based on the novels of Max Allan Collins, the show will be directed and executive produced by Greg Yaitanes (Banshee), along with executive producer Steve Golin (True Detective).

Quarry tells the story of Mac Conway (Logan Marshall-Green), a Marine who returns home to Memphis from Vietnam in 1972 and finds himself shunned by those he loves and demonized by the public. As he struggles to cope with his experiences at war, Conway is drawn into a network of killing and corruption that spans the length of the Mississippi River. Jodi Balfour, Peter Mullan, Nikki Amuka-Bird and Damon Herriman co-star, along with Jamie Hector, Edoardo Ballerini and Skipp Sudduth. “This nuanced and dynamic show marks an exciting moment in the evolution of Cinemax programming,” said HBO’s Michael Lombardo.

An HBO Entertainment production in association with Anonymous Content, the series is also executive produced by Matt DeRoss, David Kanter, Max Allan Collins and Ken Levin. Additional writers on the series include Jennifer Schuur and Max Allan Collins.

Cinemax has been making strides in original programming with dramas Banshee and The Knick, the latter earning the sister HBO network its first awards nominations.

And now, back to the Update….]

* * *

Here’s the first major review for the upcoming Mike Hammer novel, KILL ME, DARLING – and it’s a great one from Publisher’s Weekly no less:

Kill Me, Darling

Set in 1954, Collins’s seventh posthumous collaboration with Mike Hammer creator Spillane (after 2014’s King of the Weeds) is one of his best, liberally dosed with the razor-edged prose and violence that marked the originals. The New York City PI has hit the bottle hard after his longtime assistant and love, Velda Sterling, abandoned him with a one-word note. Then Mike’s friend on the NYPD, Pat Chambers, tells him that Velda has surfaced in Miami, on the arm of Nolly Quinn, a notorious mob-connected pimp. Mike cleans himself up and heads south to rescue Velda from Quinn, only to find that she doesn’t want to be rescued. Collins faithfully follows Spillane’s successful formula, including frequent gunplay, menacing thugs, and betrayal. He even matches Spillane’s colorful turns of phrase (e.g., “My bullet shattered his smile on its way through him and out of the back of his head”). Agent: Dominick Abel, Dominick Abel Literary Agency. (Mar.)

* * *

I am still working on the new Quarry novel and might finish this week, if all goes well. But a writer never knows. I often say that I never get writer’s block, which is the kind of boast than can catch up with you. No writer’s block, that’s true in its way, but I do have bad days.

A typical bad writing day for me happens as follows. I have a very good writing day, turning out more pages than usual, and I am floating on a cloud of genius. Then, that night, going to bed around midnight, having gone blissfully and quickly asleep, I wake up at 1:30 a.m. Wide awake. I do my best to get right back to sleep, but no go. I go downstairs, read something until I get sleepy, which takes an hour to two hours. Then I sleep in my recliner for a while, wake up after a while and trudge back to the bedroom, where I get to sleep right away. But I wake up at the usual time, after a very disrupted night’s “rest.”

The writing day that follows is almost always a disaster. I do write. But I am not my usual nimble self. What’s normal for me is ten to fifteen pages of finished draft. Last week, after my rocky night, I spent all day on four pages.

Some of that has to do with the research that is now required of a Quarry novel, now that they have become historical books themselves, in their quirky way. I spend as much time chasing details on Google or in reference works as I do writing – not that different from the Heller process.

But the way I do a Quarry novel is much different than a Heller. Because of the historical crimes involved, a Heller novel is tightly plotted, with each chapter detailed in at least a paragraph in a document that can be anywhere from ten to thirty pages long. With Quarry, my chapter outline reverts (not surprisingly) to the approach of my early career, with each chapter indicated by a sentence or two. For QUARRY IN THE BLACK, my outline says for chapter one: “Quarry gets job from Broker.” Another says: “Quarry and Southern gal connect at club.” That’s it. The rest is done on the fly.

That really works for Quarry, but if I’m having an off day? He is just not himself. Like I am not. Sometimes I can power through it. Sometimes I can come back in the evening (which I did with the four pages mentioned above, which turned into seven) but not always. Being older doesn’t help.

And there’s that other thing that writers never talk about – that as writers we change from day to day. Make that second to second. Back in the ‘80s, before word-processing programs automatically saved every now and then, I lost an entire chapter of the Eliot Ness novel, THE DARK CITY. It was devastating. When I knew the chapter was gone, really really gone, I started over and did my best to remember it.

Of course, I couldn’t. The chapter, as it now exists, covers the same ground. But it’s not as good as the one I lost. If I were to lose this little essay and start over, it would be substantially different and none of the phrasing would be replicated. In the mid-‘80s, I lost a chapter of PRIMARY TARGET (aka QUARRY’S VOTE) and the same process happened: I tried to remember it and only came up with a shadow of what it had been.

If a writer starts working on a story or chapter in a novel on Monday morning, even working from a detailed outline, it will be substantially different that if he waited till Tuesday afternoon. We, like what we write, are works in progress. We hope it’s progress, anyway.

A number of people lately have asked me what order to read the Quarry novels in. Chronological would seem to make sense, like starting with THE FIRST QUARRY, moving to QUARRY’S CHOICE, then QUARRY aka THE BROKER, sliding the later-written books into continuity. But THE BROKER was written when I was in my early twenties; THE FIRST QUARRY and QUARRY’S CHOICE were written by a man in his sixties. Do you understand why my advice would be to read the books in the order I wrote them? Because the writer who did the first four Quarry novels was a very different one.

* * *

Here’s an okay review of SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT, but the reviewer doesn’t quite get it….

Here’s a fun review of DAMNED IN PARADISE.

And now, with the blessing of being snowed in, I will head back to the bunker. Only I’m already there.