Posts Tagged ‘Nathan Heller’

Heart & Soul Pt. 3

Tuesday, April 5th, 2016

Before we get to the third (and final) episode of my hospital capers, I’d like to share with you the kind of e-mail that makes my days. Here goes (from “R.G.”):

“I recently discovered one of your novels in the new section of the local library. To my surprise it was a Mike Hammer mystery. I have to tell you that I’m now on my third one in the last week. I actually still have all the original paperbacks from Spillane that I purchased for sixty cents many years ago as well as all the Brett Halliday from that era. I can’t tell you how pleased I am to have found you. You would swear that Spillane had finished these manuscripts himself. I had already found finished manuscripts from William Johnstone and Robert Parker but the Spillane books are incredible. I can’t wait to read the rest of them. Thank you so much for your talent.”

This kind of response is what makes it all worthwhile.

Now, part three of HEART & SOUL (some links after):

During my hospital stay, and for a week or so after, I had occasional crying jags. I am told there’s a medical term for that, which I don’t remember, though it’s specifically tied to the fact that your heart is physically removed from your body. I wouldn’t call this depression, more like emotions gone generally out of control, and in fact some of the crying was of the “I love you so much” variety (addressed to my wife, not random nurses).

Late in my stay, I had an odd experience with a crying episode. My breakfast arrived, and while it was worth crying over, that wasn’t the trigger. All I’d ordered was a biscuit with grape jelly, orange juice, and orange jello. Shortly after I finished this feast, a nurse came in and said, “You weren’t supposed to eat your breakfast before I checked your blood sugar.” Then she took the blood sample anyway, and shortly I was told that my blood sugar was very high (no kidding) and I’d be getting an insulin shot.

Understand that I hadn’t been diagnosed with diabetes. But on several occasions, when my blood sugar registered high (the orange Steak-and-Shake shake I had Barb sneak me may have been one culprit), I was given insulin. This was just one of a pin-cushion parade of blood tests and blood draws and I.V,’s and shots that I was subjected to during my stay.

Well, I kind of flipped. Of course after that breakfast my blood sugar was high! I indignantly refused the insulin. Then, as I was preparing to shower, I started to cry. No doubt part of it was the problem with my hand, which at that point was pretty useless, but mostly I was frustrated with the blood sugar fuck up. One of the Occupational Therapy females arrived to help me with my shower and found me in tears. Megan, her name is, and she was sympathetic beyond words. Really talked me down off the ledge, bless her.

“I can’t take this bureaucratic shit,” I said, sobbing. “I hate bureaucracies in general, but this hospital bureaucracy is crushing me.”

Now, upon reflection, the hospital wasn’t all that bureaucratic. They had a schedule they kept, for giving you meds and drawing blood and so on, and my physical therapy (which I valued) was also structured. So mostly I think I was just riding an emotional roller coaster. I can look at it now and know two things: (a) it was no big deal, and (b) I was shattered anyway.

I believe reporting this incident to Barb convinced her more than ever that I would do better at home. My heart surgeon wanted me to stay for another week of physical therapy, but he had no idea how the endless hospital nights were dragging me down. The doctor who ran fifth-floor rehab approved my dismissal, but asked me to stay another night, to get the paperwork done. Even one more long night was hard to face, but I of course went along.

This gave the O.T. and P.T. females a day to give me final testing, and I did well on the P.T. stuff, although on the O.T. side, my hand was not progressing quickly. I was taken to a faux kitchen area to make sure I could bend down and secure pots and pans and use a microwave. Megan (again) wanted me to show her how the dishwasher worked. I said, “Sure,” and called out to Barb nearby, “Honey? Are these clean?”

Finally one of the O.T. females walked me over to a computer with keyboard and said, “You’re not leaving till you type something.” I typed “ROAD TO PERDITION by Max Allan Collins” and “TRUE DETECTIVE by Max Allan Collins.” You will be proud to hear I did not break into tears.

There were goodbyes with various nurses and nurse’s aides. One aide named Laura had a talented son in high school who got very excited when he learned I was his mom’s patient. Turned out he was a buff on famous disasters like the Titanic and the Hindenburg, so Barb rounded up copies of the entire disaster series for him. That was a nice boost for my ego, or anyway it was till I realized I couldn’t sign them for him. I did read something of his and dictated to Barb my glowing comments.

Suddenly I was in our car, being driven. The oddest thing was being reminded that we were in Rock Island, Illinois, a mere forty miles from home. It had felt like another planet. Or anyway, Chicago.

Home seemed unreal to me, but I was so glad to be there. Barb got a bench for me to sit on while showering, and rented me a claw-foot cane. I slept in my living room recliner and Barb slept on the nearby couch, so she could walk me to the bathroom should I have to get up in the night. As a middle-aged man (and for me to be middle-aged, I’ll have to live to 136), that means only about a half dozen trips per night.

Soon it became clear I needed to use the upstairs guest room, which allowed Barb to sleep in our master bedroom and put the bathroom a few steps away from me. The claw-foot cane became unnecessary at this point.

For several weeks, I had in-house therapy with both O.T. and P.T. professionals – they were great, mostly giving me exercises I could do at home (I‘m still doing them). A nurse came and gave me a medical onceover every couple of days. Oddly, she turned out to be a new neighbor of ours from two doors down.

I felt okay. My incision was bandaged in a Frankenstein’s monster manner, as were the seven incisions on my inner thighs. But I was alive. I never got the “good drugs” everybody said I could look forward to, unless you count Tylenol. The worst thing was a kind of spongy quality to my walk – it was like I was on a diving board, narrow and bouncy. But my hand responded fairly quickly to the exercises. I worked toward getting my signature back and it took only a few days.

The smartest thing I did – with Barb’s blessing – was order the new keyboard (musical not computer) I’d had my eye on prior to going in the hospital. I found immediately that I could play quite a lot, and for an hour or so a day I worked at it. For getting dexterity back, this was a Godsend. I’m still at it.

After the first week or so, Barb and I began taking the occasional meal out. We took very tentative day trips (in part so we could listen to MURDER NEVER KNOCKS read by Stacy Keach) to Davenport and Iowa City. We also went to a few movies. Barb stayed right with me, then as I got some confidence, she finally dropped me off by myself at the Davenport Barnes & Noble while she went to Von Maur to buy a girl friend an Easter present. At B & N, I spent my fifty-buck Christmas gift certificate and did not fall on my ass – a triumph!

From the start, the biggest problem has been getting my stamina and strength back. Just today I started twice-a-week eighty-minute P.T./O.T. out-patient sessions, and they are working me hard. Good things will happen.

As I wind this up, let me make a couple of points. Some of you have understandably expressed concern about me having had a stroke – hey, it was a mild one and I’m recovering quickly. This is the main thing – a little time in the hospital underscores how many people on this planet have it worse than you do.

Let me close by talking about Barb, or rather demonstrating what kind of wife and friend she is. I’d been home about four days, living on the first floor. She announced that we were going up the stairs to my office. I said, “Nothing doing.” She wouldn’t hear of that, knowing damn well I was avoiding it. She walked me into my office and the surroundings of my work life swallowed me and spit me out. She held me as, yes, I had a crying jag.

The last one.

* * *

Here’s an interesting QUARRY’S CUT review.

Lovely review here of CHICAGO CONFIDENTIAL specifically and the Heller series in general.

Finally, here’s a splendid review of MURDER NEVER KNOCKS. Have you read that yet? Have you posted an Amazon review? Get busy!


Heart and Soul Pt. 1

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2016

First off, I want to say how thrilled I am that QUARRY’S CHOICE has been nominated for a Barry Award (Best Paperback Original). Toward the bottom of this update will be links to the full list as well as some reviews.

Also, note the cover art for the audio of MURDER NEVER KNOCKS – just finished listening to Stacy Keach’s reading of the book, and it’s fantastic. Speaking of MURDER NEVER KNOCKS, if you’ve read and liked it, please post an Amazon review.

I am back writing these updates (after the four canned entries that appeared during the month following my open-heart surgery). For the next several updates, I am going to talk about my experiences of late, and you are welcome not to read them and to wait until I get back to books and movies and other “funner” topics. But this is on my mind, and I need to purge some.

A month ago today (as I write this) I had my operation, which involved a valve replacement, two bypasses and a couple of other let’s-keep-this-bastard-alive-while-we’re-in-here items. Of that first day, I remember nothing apart from getting wheeled in the operating room. Barb reports that several hours after the operation, I said, “I made it…I made it….” Shortly after that, like most of us with a pulse, I began complaining.

That night, in the ICU, I hallucinated that I was on a spacecraft and being held prisoner. I could see a long windowed-off corridor where futuristic nurses strolled, ignoring my cries of “Help!”

I remember little of the next two days. I know Barb and Nate were with me as much as possible. Apparently I was not a stellar patient. At some point I learned that my right arm and hand were (to use the medical term) fucked up. Basically the arm was weak and the hand felt like a bunch of sausages sticking out of a wad of mashed potatoes. After initial alarm, I wasn’t worried because I figured it would be temporary.

Various nasty things happened during the ICU stay, including getting tubes yanked out of me and the removal of a catheter. But nothing was nastier than the food. I am considering writing a cookbook called HOW TO SCREW UP TATER TOTS. What saved me was Barb, who was spending every afternoon with me, bringing me food from the outside.

The nurses were nice, very helpful, supportive and even sweet. My heart surgeon dropped by every day, and assured me my hand would “come back.” I gradually came to understand that this would include me working very hard to make that happen.

The worst part of the stay was the long nights. Something about my sleep cycle got screwed up as a side-effect of the heart surgery, so that I would sleep for half an hour and then wake up, thinking it was morning. I spent the nights alternating between reading and sleeping and watching movies on a portable blu-ray player and sleeping some more. Of course due to the surgery I had to sleep on my back. The bed was every bit as comfortable as a hotel-room couch fold-out affair. Nurses came in about once an hour to check vitals and give me tests on my lungs and the occasional pills. I hated these long nights and began begging Barb to take me home.

That wasn’t to be – my hand/arm problem required physical therapy and that meant I was headed to the fifth floor. While still on the seventh floor, I began walking (with a walker at first) and had some preliminary work on my hand. Barb spent many hours with me.

The night of the move I hallucinated again. I thought I was sleeping in a bed in a department store showroom that a nurse and an orderly were disassembling. Then they rolled me out of the showroom onto an elevator and down a hall and into a dark room where I was abandoned. I felt afraid, in fact terrified. I began to shout for help and when a kindly older nurse came in, I said I wasn’t comfortable staying here and wanted to call my wife on the phone. The nurse settled me down and I somehow got back to sleep.


– – –

Here is a fantastic MURDER NEVER KNOCKS review from the great Ed Gorman (glad to have him back reviewing again!).

Here, at the Rap Sheet, is the complete list of Barry Award nominees.

There are several nice mentions of Nate Heller and me in this wonderful piece by Jeff Pierce at the Kirkus blog.

Here’s a short but nice piece on Mickey.

Finally, here’s a good if patronizing review of CARNAL HOURS. The reviewer seems put off by the sexual content – this continues to baffle me, and must be generational. One of the commenters, apparently a Heller fan, finds the novel the “weakest” of the series. I certainly disagree, and have often given it to readers who wanted to sample Heller, because it’s highly self-contained and has a real-life locked-room mystery.


Better Dead

Tuesday, March 15th, 2016
Better Dead

E-Book: Amazon Nook Kobo

The first Nathan Heller novel in three years, BETTER DEAD takes a step back in time from the JFK Trilogy (BYE BYE, BABY; TARGET LANCER; ASK NOT) to deal with the events of the Red Scare-era 1950s.

This book has been coming for a long time. It’s one of the projects that got set aside when it came time for Heller to make a comeback after about a decade away. To get Heller back out there, I proposed the Kennedy trio, a good bet for a sale because of the high-profile nature of the material; a trilogy with Marilyn Monroe, Jack Kennedy and Bobby Kennedy was appealing. But it meant skipping several things I had planned to do, including a Robert Kennedy/Jimmy Hoffa book that I hope eventually to get around to.

With BETTER DEAD, the tricky thing is that I have two cases for Nate to deal with. Neither seemed right for a single book, but together – with the shared era and a number of common characters beyond Heller himself – the whole just might exceed the sum of its parts.

Joe McCarthy is one of the characters – and factors – that joins the two stories: the Rosenberg “atom spies” case, and the Frank Olson murder. The latter has to do with the Army scientist who was dosed with LSD at a CIA retreat, which had unfortunate results.

Heller is working on the East Coast exclusively this time around – he’s just opened a branch office in the Empire State Building – which puts him right in the heart of Mike Hammer’s world circa 1953. Heller has always had things in common with Hammer, but this time – in this setting – those commonalities come out more prominently. In fact, as the guy completing the Hammer stories from Spillane’s files, I several times questioned whether I’d slipped out of Heller territory and into Hammer. And is that a bad thing? Certainly wouldn’t be the first time.

On the other hand, Heller’s victories can never be as complete as Hammer’s.

Others in the cast include Bettie Page, Dashiell Hammett, Roy Cohn, Bobby Kennedy, and Sidney Gottlieb (the CIA’s Dr. Feelbad).

It’s a wild one. Watch for it May 3rd.

– – –

Check out this cool QUARRY’S LIST review.

MURDER NEVER KNOCKS is a Pierce’s Pick this week!

Here’s a nice review of QUARRY’S DEAL.

And here’s a somewhat late-in-the-game review of DEAD STREET.


Heart-Felt Part 6

Tuesday, February 9th, 2016

Yes, let’s get on with it already! I should very soon (today or tomorrow) get test results that will immediately pave the way for the heart surgery. In that case, a good chance I’ll be going in yet this week. If that happens, my son Nate will start posting weekly the four updates I wrote in advance, and I should be in shape to get back to the regular stand after that.

Watch here and at Facebook for health updates from me or Nate.

Everybody has been great. Thanks for the love and support. Back at ya.

* * *

Publication of the ROAD TO PERDITION novel appears to be happening. As I was looking for a project to keep me busy while waiting for test results, I decided to prepare the manuscript for Brash Books. For those who came in late, in 2002 I wrote a 70,000-word movie tie-in novel (okay, novelization) of the script for the movie that was based on my graphic novel. In my novel, I attempted to be true to the screenplay while weaving in material from the graphic novel as well as historical material about the real John Looney and his era.

The DreamWorks licensing department put me through hell, making me cut anything – including dialogue! – that wasn’t directly from the script. They could not have cared less that I was the creator of this story and its characters. Even after they had accepted my 40,000-word debasement of my original novel, they kept cutting – if, in the film-editing process, director Sam Mendes dropped a scene or even a few lines of dialogue, they removed that from my novel as well. One chapter was reduced to a page and a half.

I’ve always felt I did really good job on the book, and it really paved the way for my sequels, ROAD TO PURGATORY and ROAD TO PARADISE. So I’ve looked for a way to get the novel into print. Now, enough years have passed that nobody at Paramount (who control DreamWorks) seems concerned about my original version finally being seen.

Quick anecdote. I was told by the DreamWorks licensing people that Mendes himself was making the requests for my drastic cuts of the novel. That he wanted it exactly like the movie. Then when I talked to Mendes at the London premiere, he said, “I hear you’ve written the movie novel – can’t wait to read it!”

So, anyway, back in 2016, I was faced with looking at my 2002 manuscript and dealing with it. Making decisions, doing tweaks, ferreting out typos and missing words. This was my original manuscript, after all, not any published version.

My first decision was to change the slightly revised movies names of several central characters back to my version of them – “Michael Sullivan” was restored to “Michael O’Sullivan” and John (and) Connor “Rooney” again became “Looney.” (The change from “Looney” to “Rooney” was done when either Mendes or the screenwriter assumed the former was a comic-booky name provided by a graphic novelist, when of course the latter is historically accurate.)

My second decision was to get rid of two major plot changes. (SPOILER ALERT: skip this paragraph if you haven’t read the graphic novel and/or seen the film). In the graphic novel, as in history, John Looney is not killed. And in the graphic novel, the boy Michael kills the hitman who has shot Michael’s father. In the film, Looney memorably dies in the rain, and a Hollywood ending has the boy unable to shoot the hitman and the dying father being pleased. I had already restored the envelope of first-person narration by the grown Michael, Jr., and a last-page revelation of what became of him.

So I spent a day rewriting those scenes, taking them back to my original intention. But it didn’t work. The screenwriter had done too good a job of laying the groundwork for his version of my scenes. And I had done a really good job in the novel of doing the same, including fixing some plot holes in the script. Re-doing those scenes to make them consistent with the graphic novel created a domino effect of terrible proportions. The next work day, I restored the scenes as I’d originally written them (faithful to the movie script).

It quickly became clear that I had no business doing any significant rewriting. The point of the exercise was to get what I wrote in 2002 into print. This is not to say that I didn’t do some tweaking, but it was mostly a few word choice changes. I did fix a couple of things that bothered me in the movie that I had let pass in the novelization.

An example – in the film, Mike Sullivan has just offered his services to Frank Nitti if Nitti will give up Connor Rooney. Nitti turns Sullivan down, then after Mike has gone, we find that in adjacent room both Connor and John Looney are waiting. In what I think of as the Dr. Evil and Scott scene, Connor tells his father that they should take Mike down right now – he’s in their grasp! Rooney, again like Dr. Evil in Austin Powers, says something like, “You just don’t get it, do you son?” As much as I love the film, this makes me cringe. So I revised it with the father telling his son why it would be unwise to kill Sullivan, specifically that in a busy hotel during the day, the resultant melee would be a disaster. Those who’ve read the graphic novel know that I did have O’Sullivan shoot his way out of the hotel. Not staging that scene was a rare misstep and a missed opportunity.

On the whole, I was very pleased by what I wrote in 2002, and again I did very little rewriting or additional writing. Since Brash Books also intends to bring out ROAD TO PURGATORY and ROAD TO PARADISE in new editions, I feel confident that the prose novel of ROAD TO PERDITION will be a good lead-in – that it forms with the two sequels a trilogy that will please readers, particularly those who became familiar with PERDITION via the film.

One final note: one of the trickiest things had to do with converting between word processing programs. You want to know how long ago 2002 was? The book was written in WordStar! I had to convert it to Word Perfect, my preferred program, after which my revised manuscript had to be converted to Word. That meant, as a final step, going through and eyeballing each of around 400 pages, looking for glitches.

* * *

Check out this nifty cover of the mass-market edition of KILL ME, DARLING. By the way, I don’t recall whether I’ve mentioned it or not, but several goofs in the hardcover of COMPLEX 90 were corrected in the paperback version – making it the author-approved text of that novel.

The DARLING paperback will be out this month (the 23rd).

Speaking of my collaborations with Mickey Spillane, I urge you to check out the article at Great Writers Steal that happens to be one of the smartest examinations of either my work or Mickey’s that anybody has ever written.

Less smart is the favorable but patronizing review at the normally more reliable UK site, Crime Fiction Lover. Once again, it turns out that a book written in the ‘70s includes some ‘70s attitudes. And once again, the reviewer troubled by that doesn’t mind at all Quarry killing people.

Speaking of smart reviews, here’s a great one about the Heller novel ASK NOT, from Frank the Movie Watcher.

Let’s wind up with a great piece on THE MALTESE FALCON, from a writer smart enough to quote me.