Posts Tagged ‘Nolan’

Go Sell A Watchman

Tuesday, July 21st, 2015
Go Set A Watchman

I have read around 100 pages of Harper Lee’s GO SET A WATCHMAN, and frankly don’t know if I’ll get any farther in it.

The writing certainly has at least occasional flair, though the use of point of view isn’t to my liking – suddenly jumping into another character’s POV for a while, and then back again, is an amateur ploy. The secondary characters aren’t particularly compelling, and the dialogue is often precious. But what’s really wrong with the novel is that it has no discernible plot. Unlike its famous predecessor, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (like I had to tell you), there’s no murder trial to provide an engine to the small-town nostalgia set pieces.

MOCKINGBIRD is not a particular favorite of mine. I read it when it came out, in my youth, and have seen the fine film version a couple of times. But it’s not a novel that resonated with me so deeply that I named a child “Atticus” much less became expert in the prose style of its one-hit wonder author.

Mickey Spillane used to cite Lee and Margaret Mitchell as examples of “authors,” when explaining the difference between authors and writers, considering himself a prime example of the latter. An author wrote a book or two, a writer made a living at it and produced a shelf of work.

I take special interest in WATCHMAN because of my role as Mickey’s literary executor. I’m frankly surprised that there’s been as little fuss over just how much material Mickey left behind and just how much of it I’ve prepared for publication. But I do have a special context for seeing how reviewers and commentators have responded to WATCHMAN.

First of all, most of what has been written about the novel has been nonsense. Few have reviewed it on its own terms (the only way to review a novel properly). Many have speculated about whether or not Harper Lee truly gave permission for this early work to be published (though she clearly has). Many talk about the publishing industry in ways that reveal they know nothing about how publishing works, much less novel writing.

The biggest piece of misinformation is that WATCHMAN is a rough draft of MOCKINGBIRD. No. Not even close. It’s a different book about the more famous novel’s principal characters, set twenty years later. Its theme is finding out a beloved parent has feet of clay, and that’s valid enough. WATCHMAN has also been called a sequel or even a prequel. Here we’re getting warmer.

MOCKINGBIRD is the prequel to WATCHMAN. Some sources indicate that Lee and her publisher intended WATCHMAN to be published (and presumably somewhat rewritten) as the third book in a trilogy about these characters. Whether any real work was done on book two, and what that book would have been, is currently withheld. My guess, and it’s just a guess, is that Lee is one of those writers whose initial success sent her spiraling into a life-long writer’s block. Or in Mickey’s terms, an author’s block….

People seem terribly confused that the second book chronologically was written first. But writers (and even authors) know that’s ridiculous – that books in a series or saga can be written in whatever order the writer damn well chooses. My novels STOLEN AWAY and DAMNED IN PARADISE are chronologically the first in the Nathan Heller series; but they were published (and written) as books five and eight respectively.

On the other hand, WATCHMAN should have received a polish that brought it more in line with MOCKINGBIRD (there’s a major inconsistency about the murder trial in MOCKINGBIRD when referenced in WATCHMAN, for example). But the editors were too intimidated by Lee’s reputation to fix such things, and she is apparently not in any shape to do any writing or even editing herself (or if she is, isn’t interested).

Should the book have been published? Many say no. I say, “Hell, yes.” So far I don’t particularly care for the thing, but Harper Lee is a major author, and this is a second book about the famous characters in MOCKINGBIRD, and it makes a very interesting point about putting parents on pedestals.

But the book is a flawed, early work, apparently intended originally for revision so that it could be published after MOCKINGBIRD. So the bestseller approach that Harper (the publisher, not the author) has taken can be seen as at best inappropriate and at worst sleazy.

WATCHMAN deserved a publication that was more respectful of its history and the state it’s in – a scholarly introduction or after word, for example, to explain the context and the importance of the work, however flawed. To present it as just the “new” Harper Lee novel seems designed to make a lot of money while alienating the very readers who are pumping that money in.

Presented as more of an historical artifact, WATCHMAN still would have sold very well, and it would have received a more fair judgment by the public, the press and reviewers.

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The Hon Company in my hometown of Muscatine, Iowa, is a very successful office-furniture manufacturer. My Dad worked for them for many decades, and I think he would have been proud of my appearance on this Hon-distributed piece on “7 Facts About Muscatine.”

There’s a Nate Heller story in the new anthology, CHICAGO NOIR, which recently got a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly.

Here’s a nice review of the Nolan novel, HUSH MONEY.

And here’s a nice bit about the “Nat” Heller novels.

M.A.C.

San Diego Comic-Con & Hammer Interview

Tuesday, July 7th, 2015
It's in the Book French Edition

As it happens, Barb and I won’t be able to go the Comic-Con this year. So the listings that have me hosting the Scribe awards, doing a signing, and having a Quarry panel are now all inaccurate. Likely I’ll be there next year, but this time, no. My pal Jonathan Maberry will be hosting the Scribes for me.

I have two nominations: Best Novel, KING OF THE WEEDS; and Best Short Story, “It’s in the Book.” Both are Spillane/Collins collaborations.

Coincidentally, a French publisher (Ombres Noires) is translating “It’s in the Book” for their own edition (it’s available in English only in a small book, as well, published by Otto Penzler). They asked me to do an interview, which they will include in the small book, in French of course.

I thought you might like to see it in English.

Interview with Max Allan Collins
It’s in the Book

You wrote the end of a story by Mickey Spillane, who passed away in 2006. You were friends, how did you two meet?

As a young teenager, I idolized Mickey and wrote him dozens of fan letters. He never responded until I published my first novel, BAIT MONEY, in 1973, and sent him a copy, He wrote me a warm, lengthy letter of welcome to the community of professional writers.

Over the years I have been a defender of Spillane, who remains controversial in the United States. Because of that, I was asked in 1981 to be the liaison between Mickey and the Bouchercon mystery convention in Milwaukee, where he was a guest of honor. We immediately hit it off and I began to visit him at his home in South Carolina once or twice a year.

How did you come to complete his manuscripts?

On my various visits to Mickey’s home, he would send partially completed manuscripts home with me. He said this was just because he thought I’d be interested, but on one occasion he said, “Maybe we can do something with these someday.” He was referring to two partial Hammer novels, THE BIG BANG and COMPLEX 90. We had begun to collaborate on projects – a number of noir anthologies of his work and the work of others, a science-fiction comic book called MIKE DANGER, and a biographical documentary I wrote and directed, “Mike Hammer’s Mickey Spillane.”

When Mickey became ill, with a particularly virulent strain of cancer, we stayed in close touch by phone. He was working desperately to finish what he described as the last Mike Hammer, THE GOLIATH BONE. Shortly before his death, he called and said he didn’t think he’d be able to finish it. And he asked me to do it for him, if that proved necessary. I of course said yes.

Around the same time, Mickey told his wife Jane to gather all his unfinished material and give it to me – “Max will know what to do.” No greater honor could be paid me. There were six major Hammer manuscripts, often with notes, and another half dozen shorter Hammer novels in progress. There were also short openings for novels, running from six to ten pages, that I thought would make good short stories. “It’s in the Book” is one of those.

You wrote several stories from his manuscripts. What did you like in this one in particular?

It had a beautifully written opening, with two cops coming to see Hammer in his office, to take him to see a U.S. Senator for some mysterious, important job. Mickey’s manuscript ended before that job was fully described by the client, and that enabled me to use the missing ledger that made the story a bibliographic mystery. You see, editor Otto Penzler had requested that specific kind of story.

What sort of shape did the manuscript have – was it just a few lines, a structure, several chapters?

It was basically that opening, right up to where Hammer meets with the senator. I thought it was a lovely, traditional opening for a private eye story.

It must be a very special experience, and a challenge, to finish a story more than 20 years later. Did you try in any way to modernize the style, the story, or anything – or did you try to remain faithful to Spillane’s style?

I’ve done seven Hammer novels now, and the unfinished Spillane manuscripts spanned his entire career – from 1947 to the month he died. I always try to determine when Mickey was writing the story, and then I immerse myself in material that he wrote around that same time, so I can catch the flavor and capture Hammer at that specific time. Hammer is a much changing character, and a story conceived by Mickey in the ‘50s is vastly different from one written in, says, the 1980s. I don’t try too overtly to mimic Mickey’s style — it’s collaboration, not pastiche. I concentrate on getting Mike Hammer right. It’s a matter of character.

I am a very traditional, Old School mystery writer, so this comes naturally to me.

Did he influence you in your writing, or help you in your own work?

Mickey was a huge influence on me. The key writers for me were Hammett, Chandler, Cain, Thompson and Westlake. These are very different writers in their approaches, and I think having such variant influences has worked well for me. Mickey never really gave me any writing advice – I was already a pro when our friendship developed. But he was supportive and provided blurbs for many of my book covers.

What is it that makes the character of Mike Hammer so special, compared to other popular characters?

Hammer had an enormous impact on popular culture worldwide, well beyond the private eye genre. James Bond is a version of Hammer, for example. Prior to Hammer, detectives did not display the emotions – love, hate, fear – that Spillane gave his hero. Hammer was the first avenger of modern fiction, a hero who used the methods of the villain to triumph over that villain. In addition, Hammer as a combat veteran brought a traumatic backstory to the detective, much imitated since. Finally, Hammer slept with women, unashamedly. While Sam Spade had sex with his femme fatale, just about no detective since had done so. Chandler said disparaging things about Mickey, but after the success of the Mike Hammer books, Marlowe began having an active sex life.

Say what you will about Mickey, but he was the most influential mystery writer of the 20th century…and the bestselling, with the possible exception of Christie.

How did you come up with the idea of this ending?

That idea jumped to mind at the outset. I knew it was a good one. Mickey loved surprise endings, and this was right up his alley.

Are you yourself interested in rare books and first editions?

I am. I have a good collection with many signed books – all the writers I mentioned above, and more. I have a very strong Rex Stout collection, for instance.

What do you enjoy most about writing short novels?

I’m not a short story writer by inclination. I’m very much a novelist. But I’ve grown to like the form. It’s nice to have a project that lasts a week and not several months. My wife, Barbara Collins, is an excellent short story writer.

Who are the authors that inspire you today? Why?

I read very little contemporary fiction. I don’t care to be influenced by trends, and anyway my reading time is taken up largely by research for my historical thrillers. I continue to read and re-read the greats – again, Hammett, Chandler, Cain, Spillane and so on.

Do you read French thrillers?

I’m very traditional on that front, as well – Boileau-Narcejac. Jean Pierre Melville is one of my favorite film directors.

* * *

Speaking of Spillane/Collins collaborations, here’s a look at THE CONSUMMATA at Detectives Without Borders.

The same site followed up quickly with a piece speculating about the Spillane/Collins collaboration process. You’ll see a lengthy comment from me explaining that process in some depth.

Here is a lovely, gracious review of SPREE by one of our great noir writers, Ed Gorman.

M.A.C.

Quarry Pilot Casting News

Tuesday, June 25th, 2013

The producers of the HBO/Cinemax pilot QUARRY have added two more cast members to an already impressive roster:

Nikki Amuka-Bird of the top-notch British series LUTHER and Mary Elizabeth Winstead, whose many credits include the wonderful SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD.

I got a fun e-mail from reader Lee Grant relating to the QUARRY pilot, and I’d like to share it with you:

My introduction to your work came back in the 1980s with The Baby Blue Rip Off and Kill Your Darlings. I graduated to the Nathan Heller novels and rediscovered comics again with Ms. Tree. The Nate Heller and disaster novels remain my favorites, though your treatment of Mike Hammer is right up there with the Mick. Now, if you could only do some Travis McGee or Nero Wolfe novels that would be the icing on the cake. Anyway, my wife and I are at home in Bartlett, TN last night when we receive a call from a woman who is doing advance location work for a movie to be set in an old house in Mississippi. She is interested in using my wife’s old family farm house in it – one that looks like it may have been used by Machine Gun Kelly (BTW) who did spend some time in this area. I don’t think much of the conversation other than it is interesting. I ask what the film is and my wife, Jayme, says the advance scout didn’t remember the title but that it was a mystery. So, Jayme goes to visit the scout today at the house in Independence, Mississppi and when she comes out she literally stuns me saying it is for a film based on a mystery by Max Allan Collins. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. She tells me, “Yeah, it is about some hit man. I think his name is Quarry.” As my teenage daughter would say, “OMG.” I don’t say that myself, I would be more like Nate Heller, but I try to avoid that can of language in emails. The sad news is that the farm house, though no one has lived in it for 25 years, may be too nice to use according to the scout. So it probably won’t be in the film, but to think that it was considered for a Max Allan Collins’ film made my day. Anyway, good luck with the film. If you ever visit the set and need someone to show you some undiscovered BBQ places, or need a driver to Graceland, feel free to drop me a line and I’ll be happy to act as a guide. It would be my way of saying thank you for all of the hours of great reading you’ve given me these past 30+ years.

Any other readers out there who have a close encounter of the QUARRY kind are urged to let me know.

A few comments on recent movies and TV, just briefly….

MAN OF STEEL is well-cast, with both Superman (Henry Cavill) and Lois Lane (Amy Adams) quite wonderful; like Glenn Ford in the first Christopher Reeve SUPERMAN, Kevin Costner gives the Smallville sections a nice homespun weight. But the last act is borderline dreadful, with oh-so-serious co-writer Christopher Nolan meeting up with the excesses of director Zack Snyder in a perfect storm of missteps – i.e., relentlessly idiotic and uninteresting TRANSFORMERS-style destruction of downtown Metropolis, topped off by Superman actually taking a life. And some of the screenwriting is truly abysmal – the movie opens with a lengthy, detailed study of Krypton’s final days, somewhat ponderous but not bad. Then when Russell Crowe as Marlon Brando, I mean Jo-El (Superman’s father), shows up as a ghost or something, he spends five minutes telling Kal-El (Superman) what happened in the first half hour of the movie! Wow. Exposition at its most clumsy, and pointless.

THIS IS THE END, on the other hand, is a truly great comedy, with star/writer Seth Rogen assembling James Franco, Jonah Hill, Danny McBride and many other comic stars of his generation to play themselves in an Apocalyptic horror flick that is largely about these talents pimping themselves out. One of the best movies of the summer, maybe the year.

Barb and I binged on two American remakes/revamps of great foreign TV mini-series – HOUSE OF CARDS with Kevin Spacey standing in for the late Ian Richardson in an excellent U.S. take on the acid British political dark comedy. Not quite as good as the original, which is one of the greatest of all UK television mini-series, but damn good in its own right. Think of it as a very dark take on THE WEST WING.

THE KILLING begins as a faithful remake of the excellent Danish series of the same name (well, the UK name, anyway – the Danish name is Forbrydelsen, “The Crime”), but expands upon it and goes its own way, and ultimately rivals and perhaps exceeds the original. The show got a bad rap and rep because it didn’t solve the central murder by the end of the first season (it never pretended it was going to), but viewing the two seasons binge-style is a hypnotic, rewarding experience. And it’s back for a third season and a new central crime. Mireille Enos and Joel Kinnaman are the very strong leads, two damaged detectives who combine to make an unlikely and even reluctant team.

* * *

A very nice review of SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT in the Cedar Rapids Gazette has been picked up around the Net.

Here’s a review of TWO FOR THE MONEY, the Hard Case crime collection of the first two NOLAN novels, BAIT MONEY and BLOOD MONEY.

Here’s a little preview of THE WRONG QUARRY with a nice uncluttered look at the cover art.

Finally, take a look at this terrific review of TRUE CRIME. I’m so pleased Heller is getting a whole new round of readers thanks to the Amazon reprints.

M.A.C.

The Guy Who Was Quarry

Tuesday, May 28th, 2013
The Wrong Quarry

Writing this on Memorial Day, I am reflecting on how the novel QUARRY (aka THE BROKER) came to be, especially in light of the recent casting of Logan Marshall-Green in the lead of the HBO/Cinemax pilot. Whether this pilot goes to series or not, it’s almost mind-boggling to me that something I created at the University of Iowa Writers Workshop back in 1972 would have such continuing resonance.

Again, because it’s Memorial Day, I am thinking about my late friend Jon McRae, one of the funniest and most troubled guys I ever knew – and often the troubled side of him was very funny. He was very much the inspiration for Quarry, although Quarry himself is much more me than Jon. But like Quarry, Jon did come home from Vietnam to find his wife cheating on him (he did not murder the guy, though I’m sure it occurred to him), and he was the textbook example of a decent Midwestern kid who went into the military to become a hero, and indeed became one…but a fucked-up one.

Jon used to come home and stay with us on his leaves. I noticed he had begun to drink heavily – lots of vodka. He was a machine-gunner in the tail of a chopper, a job with the highest mortality rate in that war; in that circumstance, I would have been into vodka myself. Jon loved my books and would show up on his leave with a bag filled with whatever weapons I had written about lately. He said I needed to handle the guns that my characters used. We would go out to a garbage dump and shoot the place up. It was great fun.

He was a sweet guy, I swear to God. He was a romantic. He was a huge movie buff, particularly ‘30s and ‘40s ones. He was the first among us to bring a James Bond-like briefcase to school (many of us followed suit).

But after he was in the service, everywhere he went, he packed a gun. I was always a little edgy around him. On leave, he would wear a buckskin coat like Sheriff Brennan’s son John in NO CURE FOR DEATH (that character was directly based on him), and also a longhair wig. He would go with the Daybreakers on band jobs, and when we ate at truck stops afterward, he would bait truckers into calling him a hippie and then hurl them against a wall.

He also went to my classes with me at the University of Iowa, no longhair wig there, rather a full-dress uniform, silently daring any anti-war protester to call him a baby killer.

Jon is gone now, under somewhat mysterious circumstances. He stayed in the Marines for a long time, but I believe he was a civilian, somewhere in the Philippines, when he passed, maybe twenty years ago – again, I have no idea what the details are, or even the vague outlines for that matter.

The Quarry novels are all dark comedies, which is to say tragedies played out so absurdly you have to laugh. The idea of Quarry was always that he was me, and us – that he was a decent, intelligent but fairly ordinary young man who was sent off to fight a meaningless war. We have never been the same since that war. Those of us who did not go would watch body bags getting loaded onto choppers (like the one Jon flew) as we ate our evening dinner on TV trays. It made us numb. But that whole war made us numb. It wasn’t a fight against Hitler or even the imperialistic Japanese. To this day, no one really knows what that war was about. And it damaged us all.

But it damaged guys like Jon most. God bless him, and all the other Quarries who fought for us, despite the vagueness of the mission, heroes we did not treat nearly well enough upon their return.

* * *

The COMPLEX 90 reviews keep coming in, and most are very good, even raves. Check out this terrific one from Noir Journal, where it’s the featured book.

Full disclosure: Ed Gorman is one of my best friends. But he’s always one of our greatest living crime-fiction writers, and somebody who (like me) defended Mickey Spillane back when others threw bricks. I’m delighted that he wrote favorably about COMPLEX 90 at this terrific blog.

Now and then we get reviewed at Not the Baseball Pitcher, and I am always impressed with the blogger’s work. He likes COMPLEX 90.

I get a real charge out of seeing positive reactions to the Hammer books from young people who have never read a Spillane or Collins book before. This is a very cool one.

This is an interesting, mostly negative review that I think says more about the UK reviewer than it does about the book, and reminds me of the kind of hysterical attacks (“wish fulfilment wank fantasy for hardened Republicans”) that used to be leveled against Mickey, though oddly the reviewer does credit Spillane for his importance and power. If you haven’t read the book yet, there are spoilers.

Here’s a really nice piece from a comics fan about the film version of ROAD TO PERDITION.

And finally, here’s a fun review of the reprint of the Nolan novel, FLY PAPER.

M.A.C.