Posts Tagged ‘Quarry’

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.

M.A.C.

Dick Tracy Returns

Tuesday, February 24th, 2015

Yesterday (Sunday, Feb. 22), in Woodstock, Illinois, Barb and I attended the intimate premiere of the documentary CHESTER GOULD: AN AMERICAN ORIGINAL written and directed by Tom and Steve Firak. The documentary, which is very good, was many years in the making and involved interviews with Gould family members as well as several of us who worked on the strip, as well as various experts and cartoonists, including Robert Crumb.

For the record, I am very well represented in the documentary, which any fan of comics (not just DICK TRACY) would find of great interest…ditto any student of popular culture. Chicago PBS has picked the documentary up, which had its on-air premiere the same afternoon as the event; WTTW will be showing it at various times over the next year. The Firaks plan a follow-up doc that will focus on Gould’s artwork and storytelling in more depth, utilizing more of their 200-plus hours of raw material.

The event was held at the Stage Left Café, which is attached to the historic (and beautifully restored) Old Opera House, where Orson Welles performed as a boy. (Woodstock events honoring Welles are coming up in May, one featuring my friend and collaborator, Brad Schwartz, whose book on the WAR OF THE WORLDS broadcast will soon be published.) The Old Opera House also served as the hotel in GROUNDHOG DAY – the town square of Woodstock will be familiar to anyone who has seen that film, which as I’ve said here before is one of my favorites. Woodstock, of course, is where Chester Gould lived and worked (well, five miles away in his country estate).

Filmmaker Tom Firak, who a while back shot extensive interview footage with me here in Iowa, invited us to attend. As regular readers of these updates may have gathered, I carry a certain amount of bitterness about the way my TRACY tenure abruptly ended. In recent years I have come to terms with that, and now realize that my situation is similar to Dean Martin saying his two biggest breaks were teaming with Jerry Lewis and splitting with Jerry Lewis. After all, shortly after a Tribune Syndicate editor (who I still cheerfully hate, except not cheerfully) fired me three months into my new contract period, I came up with ROAD TO PERDITION.

Gradually my love for DICK TRACY and my pride for my fifteen-plus years on the strip have returned to me, signaled by my serving as an editorial consultant and the regular writer of critical introductions to IDW’s series of the complete collected Chester Gould TRACY. Revisiting Chet’s work – a few stories I’m reading for the first time – has reminded me of just how outrageous a visual storytelling genius he was/is, and how much his storytelling technique has fused itself with my DNA.

The intimate gathering at the lovely café – perhaps seventy invited guests were there – included what could be described with a straight face (new TRACY villain! STRAIT-FACE!) as DICK TRACY royalty. These included such members of the Gould family as Chet’s daughter Jean and grandchildren Sue Sanders and Tracy O’Connell, as well as Rick Fletcher’s son Ross and other members of the Fletcher family. Also in attendance were Dick Locher and his wife Mary and Barb and myself. A number of us briefly spoke individually at the microphone before the documentary was shown.

Before and after the screening, I had lovely conversations with every member of the Gould and Fletcher family present. Warm memories flowed freely, and some old wounds were finally healed.

For those who came in late, Rick Fletcher was Chet’s final assistant who became my first artist on the strip. Dick Locher, Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist, had been Chet’s assistant in the mid-‘50s and became my second artist after Rick’s passing in 1983. Both were men of great skill and accomplishment, with very different approaches to TRACY and my scripts. Reminiscing with Rick’s son Ross was a real pleasure – his father is, not surprisingly, obvious in his face – as was chatting with Tracy O’Connell, who bears a striking resemblance to his late grandfather. The afternoon was haunted by friendly ghosts.

For me, the best thing about the event was reconnecting with Dick Locher. We had not seen each other or spoken even on the phone for over twenty years. One day we were collaborators, the next day we were not. I wondered if our meeting would be awkward or perhaps stiff. Not the case. Dick was warm and affable – well, he always has been – but we connected in a way that only people who have been in the trenches together can. It was a delightful meeting between two Iowans – interestingly, Rick Fletcher was an Iowa boy, too – and one that I hope will be repeated. When he spoke at the mic, Locher told a wonderful story about Chester Gould having sent him home with a real machine gun as reference, tipping the Chicago cops to prank Dick by stopping him at the train station to ask what the wrapped-up package was. This got a huge laugh. Then I went to the mic and claimed to have written the story for him.

A lovely day, and some closure for me.

MAC and Dick Locher
M.A.C. and Dick Locher
* * *

QUARRY’S CHOICE continues to get some very nice reviews. But J. Kingston Pierce, who may be the best friend the modern mystery/suspense genre has, has topped them all, writing a fine overview of the Quarry series, the likes of which has never before been done. It opens with an assessment of the hitman genre, and then moves specifically into my work, suggesting – accurately in my opinion – that I created the notion of a hitman helming a series.

Mystery writer Mike Dennis is also very kind to QUARRY’S CHOICE, here.

Finally, Urban Politico likes QUARRY’S CHOICE, too, but seems a little embarrassed about it….

M.A.C.

Collaboration Again

Tuesday, February 17th, 2015

This week I begin serious work on the second Reeder & Rogers novel, STATE OF THE UNION. Prior to this, work on my end has been limited to creating a synopsis for both the original proposal and a work document, and ongoing story conferences with co-author Matt Clemens, who has for some months been working on a rough draft for me. I am meeting with Matt today – he’s coming down from Davenport to Muscatine – and he will turn over materials to me and we’ll talk about what I’ll be doing as well as the final chapters of the rough draft that he’s still working on. (We’ll also discuss doing a proposal for another, very different series.)

So I will be heading into the bunker again, but the process of collaboration is much easier on me than working on a Heller or even a Quarry, where I am starting with blank pages, with a lot of research left to do. Matt will have done most of the research – there’s always some research to do on the fly – and that makes my life easier.

People often ask about the collaborative process. My three collaborators – Barbara Collins, Matthew V. Clemens and the late Mickey Spillane – have only one thing in common: a lot of talent. In each case, I start with a short manuscript and expand and polish it to the desired length and the finished product. For an ANTIQUES book, Barb gives me 200 to 250 doubled-spaced pages, which is the basis of my draft, which comes in around 325 pages. With Matthew the length of the projects vary, but with Reed & Rogers, I probably get 50,000 to 60,000 words from Matt and take it up to around 80,000 or 90,000. For the first six Mike Hammer novels I completed (ditto THE CONSUMMATA), I had about 100 double-spaced pages of Mickey’s, which I turned into around 300. KILL ME, DARLING – coming out soon – is the first Hammer that starts with less of Mickey’s work (44 double-spaced pages) but I think stacks up well with the prior collaborations. My process turned those 44 pages into around 100, and of course Mickey had set the entire plot in motion in his opening chapters.

But I don’t think looking at these collaborations as numbers games tells the real story. The real reason to collaborate is not to save time – I could frankly do original works in about the same time that it takes me to do my drafts from Barb’s and Matt’s – rather the combination of talents, the merging of two voices into another unique voice that reflects both writers.

For the record, Matt co-wrote all of my CSI novels, both CRIMINAL MINDS, the trio of DARK ANGELS, the BONES novel, and doubtless other things that are slipping my mind (he contributed to RED SKY IN MORNING, for example). And of course we’ve written quite a few short stories together, and are in the early stages of putting together a rather massive collection of them. One of these days I’ll assemble a complete list of the books we’ve worked on together.

I am very lucky that both Barb and Matt never bitch about the changes I make. If anyone ran roughshod over me the way I do them, I would be homicidal. But understanding that the process means providing me with rough-draft material may be helpful to the egos of these two gifted writers, both of whom have shown their individualistic stuff in short stories. And Mickey seems to have done just fine without me….

* * *

Local papers often produce dreadful stories out of interviews with local celebrities. In my case this week, I got very lucky. Muscatine Journal writer Ky Cochran did an excellent article on the Quarry books and upcoming TV series. Check it out.

Chester Gould and Max Allan Collins
Chester Gould and M.A.C. in 1981 (photo credit: Matt Masterson)

There’s a Chester Gould documentary – which I haven’t seen yet, but I’m featured as one of the interviewees – that airs next Sunday on Chicago PBS. There’s a special INVITE ONLY event that same day at Woodstock, Illinois (filming site of the brilliant GROUNDHOG DAY). Barb and I are planning to attend, and I may be speaking, briefly. Read about it here, but I’ll report back next week.

M.A.C.

Quarry Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

Tuesday, February 10th, 2015

Last week’s update was written before the news of the HBO/Cinemax pick-up of the QUARRY series (we ran a kind of news bulletin last week).

I have received a lot of public and private congratulations for QUARRY making it to TV. A few people who’ve got in touch are surprised that I’m not jumping up and down in elation, but the truth is that the feeling is more one of relief.

You see, we (I refer to Barb, Nate and me) have known that QUARRY was picked up for series for over six months. At least, I was told it had been picked up, and assured it was picked up, but was also told not to say anything about it in public. I know enough about disappointment in the TV/movie game to realize that until an official announcement is made, anything can happen. And that “anything” is usually bad.

I didn’t tell anybody about ROAD TO PERDITION the movie until Barb and I had been to the set and seen Tom Hanks and Paul Newman standing in front of a 35mm camera.

So it’s been nerve-racking – especially considering that the pilot was shot in August 2013.

The TV project I mentioned (without naming it) a while back was the writing of my script for QUARRY – episode 5, although my understanding is that elements of my script may appear in other episodes. I have done my rewrite and I have been paid. That was when this started feeling really real. The two writers who adapted the novels into a TV format – Graham Gordy and Michael D. Fuller – have been wonderful to me, and great to work with. Everybody attached to the show has first-rate credentials. QUARRY is in good hands.

Fans of the novels need to understand, however, that the concept of this eight-episode run (this may change if another season comes along) is to look at the start of Quarry’s hitman career. Aspects of Quarry that have been chiefly back story in the novels are the focus of the eight episodes, which start with Quarry’s return home from Vietnam and includes the Broker recruiting him into crime.

Also, the Southern setting – the show takes place in Memphis and will shoot in Louisiana and Tennessee – gives it a flavor of its own. Initially, that setting had more to do with finding an economically feasible location, but that region’s richness (particularly in the world of music) has found its way into the series.

Of the novels, the first one – QUARRY (originally THE BROKER) – seems to have had the greatest impact on the TV series. But that novel charts the ending of Quarry’s personal and working relationship with the Broker, while the TV series explores its beginnings. Those of you who follow the novels likely know that in the more recent Hard Case Crime books, I’ve gone back and explored the Quarry/Broker story in THE FIRST QUARRY and QUARRY’S CHOICE (also the short story, “Quarry’s Luck”).

The most ironic thing about the TV series is also one of the most gratifying: it’s a period piece, concentrating on the Vietnam aspect of Quarry’s background (that Quarry was a PTSD Vietnam vet and a sniper has taken on new resonance, thanks to Clint Eastwood). I say “ironic” because when the series began, it was decidedly contemporary and the Vietnam theme could not have been more current.

For the record, Quarry was created in the fall of 1971 when I was attending the University of Iowa’s Writers Workshop, where the first several chapters were discussed in class and mostly disliked (though those who liked it really liked it). On December 24, 1971, I got word that the Nolan novel BAIT MONEY had sold, and two weeks later that the Mallory novel NO CURE FOR DEATH had sold (both written at the Workshop, under Richard Yates). I put QUARRY away, at about the half-way point as I recall, and wrote sequels to both those books. I’m fuzzy on when I completed QUARRY – whether I returned to it, after the Nolan sequel (BLOOD MONEY) and the Mallory sequel (THE BABY BLUE RIP-OFF) were completed, or if I waited till I’d written three more Nolan novels that were contracted by Curtis Books. But I believe by 1974, it was finished and sold maybe a year later, finally published in 1976. I was again asked for three more books (from Berkley Books) and the first four Quarry novels appeared and disappeared without much notice. (Only EQMM reviewer Jon L. Breen noticed them, and saw potential in their author. He’s been a booster of mine ever since, bless him.)

Then the books began to gather steam as a cult-ish thing, leading to one more novel in the ‘80s (QUARRY’S VOTE, originally PRIMARY TARGET) and three short stories in the ‘90s. So while there hasn’t been a steady stream, Quarry has been active in every decade since his creation.

The short story “A Matter of Principal” got a lot of attention, appearing in several anthologies and leading to an award-winning short film of the same name from my screenplay and then the feature film THE LAST LULLABY, which I co-wrote. The novel THE LAST QUARRY reflected my screenplay (minus the co-writer imposed upon it) and was presented as contemporary, with Quarry a man in his fifties. It was intended as the most perverse ending to the series possible: a happy one.

The unexpected success of THE LAST QUARRY led me to head back in time and do what we call in the comics business “continuity inserts”…although I don’t pretend the continuity is flawless. What the hell – Rex Stout couldn’t keep track of Nero Wolfe’s address and phone number.

The last thing I ever expected to be doing was writing a new Quarry novel in 2015, let alone doing that with a Quarry TV show casting its pleasant shadow. I have, incidentally, completed that book, QUARRY IN THE BLACK, which is another story about Quarry in the Broker years. I should say “completed,” because I have to sit down today and probably tomorrow and read it again and do tweaks and catch typos and continuity glitches.

Anyway, to all of you who expressed your thanks and/or delight about this QUARRY series happening, thank you very much.

* * *

The TV news was all over the Internet last week. You don’t have time to read all of the stories and I don’t have the inclination to post all of the links (actually Nate does that, and he won’t have that inclination, either). But here are some of them.

Comics Mix is the rare place that puts the emphasis on the creator of Quarry (you know…me).

Here’s another.

And another.

Here’s a local one from the Quad Cities, which doesn’t even rate as the columnist’s top story (a prophet in his own town kind of thing).

Some, like this one, hit the Vietnam aspect harder.

The AV Club, not surprisingly, gets somewhat snarky about it. I remember when I was young and smart…well, I remember some of it.

The “American Sniper” connections led to this kind of coverage.

And finally…what’s this doing here? A really sweet review of THE MILLION-DOLLAR WOUND!

M.A.C.