Posts Tagged ‘Quarry’

Heller – The Starting Gate

Tuesday, November 21st, 2017

I have been researching the upcoming Nathan Heller novel, Do No Harm, for two months. That has consisted chiefly of reading books – ten cover to cover, reading selectively in another ten, filling a notebook with info and page numbers. With any Heller, a lot of research occurs along the way as well; but, in movie terms, I’ve completed pre-production. This past week I read eighteen contemporary articles on the Sam Sheppard murder case, and two more books. On Monday I start the novel.

The process with Heller has remained largely the same since True Detective back in the early ‘80s. I select the historical incident – usually a crime, either unsolved or controversially solved – and approach it as if I’m researching the definitive book on the subject. I never have a firm opinion on the case before research proper begins, even if I’ve read a little about it or seen movies or documentaries on the subject, just as somebody interested in famous true crimes.

The intent is to find the story in the research, as opposed to having the story firmly in mind and researching it. That’s worked out well for me with Heller – any number of times I’ve come up with theories about what probably really happened that have inspired non-fiction books (by authors who never credit me) (but I’m not bitter).

This time I changed my mind about who murdered Marilyn Sheppard, oh, a dozen times. I in part selected the case because it was a more traditional murder mystery than the political subjects of the last four Heller novels – sort of back to basics, plus giving me something that would be a little easier to do, since I was coming out of some health problems and major surgeries.

But it’s turned out to be one of the trickiest Heller novels of all. Figuring out what happened here is very tough. There is no shortage of suspects, and no shortage of existing theories. In addition, a number of the players are still alive (Sam Sheppard’s brother Stephen is 97) and those who aren’t have grown children who are, none of whom would likely be thrilled with me should I lay a murder at the feet of their deceased parents.

Additionally, the case does not lend itself to some of the usual Heller fun-and-games – like violence and sex. There are no bad guys to kill, and the sexual aspects of the murder make Heller hanky panky distasteful. Oddly enough, this comes after the preceding Heller, Better Dead, which found our hero more sexually active than usual (and that’s saying something).

But the research defines the book. The story emerges from the research and I have to be true to it. That story sometimes – this time for sure – takes its time revealing itself. I have changed the structure of the novel almost as many times as I have changed my mind about who killed Marilyn Sheppard.

For that reason, I do not attempt to write a chapter breakdown/outline (vital in a Heller) until I have completed the research phase. In a way that’s too bad, because if I could discern the shape of the book at, say, a third of the way through the research, I could limit further digging to the areas I need. As it is, I’ve taken notes on scores of things that won’t appear in the book.

That’s okay. In an historical novel, it’s all about the tip of the iceberg, and for me to portray that effectively, I need to know the shape of what’s under the water.

As I indicated, research doesn’t end when the writing begins. Each chapter requires some pre-production as I gather the materials from what I’ve already read, and then as I write it and need things I hadn’t anticipated, more research is done on the fly.

In addition to all this, I have to deal with the feeling I always have at the beginning of a Heller – I experience this, to a lesser degree, with Quarry and really any novel I write – that I may not be up to the job. Coming off health problems, that’s a little exaggerated this time. How do I do this? I ask myself. At least a little panic, a minor anxiety attack, always precedes the writing of chapter one.

I have completed the chapter breakdown/outline to my satisfaction, having wrestled the structure into submission – I have even found a bad guy for Heller to kill. I feel good about where I am, even if certain insecurities creep through.

For me, the saving grace has always been Nate Heller. Like Quarry, he has always been there when I need him. I start writing and there he is.

By the time you read this, I will know if he’s come through for me yet again.

* * *

Despite a few inaccuracies, this is a nice overview of Mike Hammer, touching on the Spillane/Collins collaborations.

Here’s an interesting Road to Perdition (film) article.

Check out this good interview with Hard Case Crime editor, Charles Ardai, flawed only in his neglecting to be mention me (again, I am not bitter). Several Quarry covers are featured, though.

Finally, here’s a lovely piece by Bev Keddy covering many of my books – much appreciate, Bev (who is a boy, he will have you know).

M.A.C.

Road to Paradise Just Published

Tuesday, November 7th, 2017

The new Brash Books edition of Road to Paradise is out, and if you’re a fan of the trilogy – particularly if you’ve never read my complete version of the Road to Perdition movie novel – I hope you’ll support me and Brash in this fine effort, and buy all three. Brash did a lovely job packaging the books, which look very nice on a shelf together.

Some readers seem flummoxed by the O’Sullivan saga. It starts as a graphic novel (Road to Perdition), becomes a movie of that novel generating a novelization of the screenplay (with me doing a novel based on a screenplay based on my graphic novel), followed by a sort of prequel graphic novel (Road to Perdition 2: On the Road) published in three parts and then collected, with two prose sequels (Road to Purgatory and Road to Paradise) and a final graphic novel (Return to Perdition) rounding things out.

Even I’m confused.

How did all that happen? Well, when the movie came along I did not want to see a novelization written by anyone but me. Since at the time I was doing a lot of movie and TV tie-in work, I felt it would be an embarrassment to have someone else do it. I did not predict that my novel would be butchered (and that I would have to do the butchering myself), nor did I predict that many years later a publisher would come along (Brash) to navigate the rocky waters of freeing up novelization rights to a big-budget Hollywood film so that my full version could finally be published.

The weekend Road to Perdition opened and was a hit, I rolled into action (or that is, my agent rolled into action). I was ready with the idea to do the two prose sequels, knowing that my artist – the wonderful Richard Piers Rayner – could not produce graphic novel sequels in a timely enough fashion to take advantage of the moment. But I also knew there was an appetite from publishers for more Road to Perdition in comics form, and indeed both Marvel and DC came looking. Richard was enlisted for the covers (that sort of fell through, an editorial decision I did not control) and several other terrific artists came on board to get Road to Perdition 2 out there quickly.

The coda to the series, Return to Perdition, with my longtime collaborator Terry Beatty coming on board, would have been a prose novel if the publishers of Purgatory and Paradise has been interested – they weren’t, but DC was. So we ended as we began, as a graphic novel.

I do view the graphic novel material as one thing – three graphic novels – and the novels as something else – a prose trilogy. That they fit together is more a bonus than a necessity. The prose trilogy works fine on its own.

That torturous tale – as dull a one as I have ever told – ultimately adds up to my gratitude to Brash Books for bringing the prose trilogy out in a lovely, uniform editions, with special thanks for rescuing the Perdition prose novel from tie-in oblivion.

Road to Paradise was an especially difficult one to put together, making me flex narrative muscles – characterization depths – that I hadn’t before or since. I think of it as a kind of deadpan tragedy, with some blood-spattered redemption by journey’s end.

Again, you won’t be sorry if you add these to your Max Allan Collins shelf (something each and every American should have!).

* * *

The question I am most often asked – well, the question I’m most often asked is, “Has anyone ever told you that you look like Elton John?” – but the next-most-asked-question is, “What do you read?”

I’ve often said that I read little contemporary fiction, and almost no crime or mystery fiction beyond the people I learned from – Hammett, Chandler, Spillane, Cain, Thompson, Stout, Christie, Gardner, etc. What I do read is non-fiction. Right now I am plowing thorough sixteen books related to the Sam Sheppard case for the Heller I’m about to write.

But I find time, here and there – in doctor’s offices and on the can or in the tub (not a pretty thought, but a reality) to read a good deal of non-fiction. Here are some books I’ve enjoyed of late.

Mr. Novak: An Acclaimed Television Series by Chuck Harter is one of the best books that Bear Manor Media has published. Bear Manor Media puts out pop culture titles no one else would, and are to be commended for it, although only a handful display real excellence, like A Maverick Life: The Jack Kelly Story by Linda Alexander, The Matchless Gene Rayburn by Adam Nedeff, and Sandra Grabman’s forthcoming Petrocelli: San Remo Justice, for which I wrote the introduction.

Though Mr. Novak was my favorite TV series during my high school days, it had slipped from my memory somewhat due to the lack of a second-run life of reruns (but for a brief time on TNT). Possibly because it ran only two seasons (although racking up 60 episodes), Mr. Novak never got into syndication. A few years ago I bought a few gray market DVDs with Novak episodes, and found it as compelling now as I had in high school.

The 1963 – 1965 series was a sideways imitation of the then very popular Dr. Kildare, with Richard Chamberlin’s young doctor and Raymond Massey’s wise mentor setting the pattern for James Francisus as idealistic English teacher John Novak and Dean Jagger as the principal who helped him along. The series was generally very well written by (among others) producer/creator E. Jack Neuman, John D.F. Black and Meyer Dolinksy, directed by such luminaries as Richard Donner, Paul Wendkos, and Ida Lupino, with many top actors, including young ones like Beau Bridges, Kim Darby, Terri Garr and in particular Walter Koenig, starring in three episodes (once as a Russian exchange student!), just one of many future Star Trek talents who turn up in front of and behind the camera. The series was earnest, usually intelligent and explored many topics of the day, a surprising number of which still pertain.

Author Harter has gathered every scrap of information about the show imaginable, and the book’s major fault is its cut-and-paste nature, as many articles (including PR flackery) appear in wholesale fashion. But he makes up for it by more contemporary interview excerpts from many actors and creative personnel from the series, for which he provides a smart, lively episode guide. And pictures. Wonderful, wonderful pictures.

I am in particular a fan of Franciscus, who had a fine career and almost broke through as a major film star. But Novak was his signature role, and his dedication to it and the series he helmed came through strong in his performances, which still have a modern, Method-ish feel, despite his hunky good looks. Jagger is predictably excellent, but health concerns and apparently some creative issues – not the least of which was the second season’s impending cancellation – found him exiting early, with an equally compelling Burgess Meredith stepping in as a somewhat unpopular teacher elevated to the principal position.

Harter, for all his love for the series and diligence in telling its story, misses a few steps. He does not mention that Franciscus had a resemblance to John F. Kennedy (he would later play him in the film The Greek Tycoon) that led to a special episode about the death of a teacher. Nor did he notice the in-jokey, unbilled appearance in one episode by Suzanne Pleshette, Franciscus’ co-star in the film Youngblood Hawke (from the Herman Wouk novel).

A DVD release of the first (and superior season) is on the horizon from Warner Archives.

Other books I’ve enjoyed of late include Wayne and Ford: The Films, the Friendship, and the Forging of an American Hero by Nancy Schoenberger, a well-done combination of dual biography and critical film study; You Ain’t Heard Nothin’ Yet: Interviews with Stars from Hollywood’s Golden Era by James Bawden and Ron Miller, an interesting follow-up to their Conversations with Classic Film Stars; and From Holmes to Sherlock: the Story of the Men and Women Who Created an Icon by Mattias Bostrom, a fascinating treatment of Doyle’s creation of Holmes and the way in which it became such a popular culture juggernaut, sometimes in spite of Doyle’s descendants.

* * *

Here’s a fun write-up on the best five Logan Marshall-Green bad-ass performances (guess what the top pick is).

Here’s info about the magazine Back Issue #101, devoted to rock ‘n’ roll in comics, featuring a nice article on my band, Seduction of the Innocent.

This terrific look at Quarry concentrates on the most recent novel and the very first one. Don’t miss this.

M.A.C.

October Country

Tuesday, October 24th, 2017

Barb and I often watch a movie on Blu-ray or DVD in the evenings, and when October rolls around, we make a steady diet of horror films.

For many years, Barb avoided most modern horror films (she’s always liked “monster movies”), but after she worked on Mommy and Mommy’s Day, and had a behind-the-scenes glimpse at making movie mayhem, she has been much more open to such fare. In particular she is a fan of the Alien movies, in part because of the strong female central characters in those films (Aliens by far her favorite).

In the past we’ve gone through the Universal horror films, many Hammer UK films, as well as the Scream, Halloween and Nightmare on Elm Street franchises. This year we tackled Friday the 13th, although we stalled out after number five (a good entry), having begun to tire with number four (a bad entry). We decided to pick up next October with the rest of the series.

The only real misfire was the Phantasm series, which I like but Barb couldn’t abide. I understand that – the Phantasm movies are a very quirky affair and you either get into their sloppy but earnest amateur style or you don’t.

We took comedic side trips into Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein and Chopping Mall, the latter a film I’d watched earlier this year and put on the “Barb should see this” pile. I have several more of those I want to show her, mostly low-budget ‘80s fare that had limited releases theatrically but success on home video (not unlike Mommy); these include Warlock and Wishmaster, both spawning series that quickly got terrible. Vamp and the two Waxworks film are pending.

The top of the pile (and I spoke of this one before, briefly) is the South Korean film, Train to Busan. If you haven’t seen this, you need to. I avoided it for a while because it is a zombie film, and I’m fairly sick of those. But Busan is a remarkable piece of filmmaking that works on many levels, not the least of which is the scarcy-as-frigging-hell one. Most of it takes place on a train where a handful of survivors are wading through and battling off the many passengers who have gotten infected, died and quickly returned as ravenous zombies. In that regard, Busan is like Dawn of the Dead and other good zombie movies that have a strong adventure aspect – a resilient group of humans flees and outwits a zombie horde.

Train to Busan

But Busan has many serious socially charged themes, including greed, sacrifice, family, and bio-tech hazard. It’s also well-acted and brilliantly shot and staged; the director is Yeon Sang-ho. I think of the Hollywood fare that I’ve either suffered through or walked out on, in recent years, and see in BUSAN a level of filmmaking I’ve rarely encountered of late. I believe you can find this streaming on various services, and the Blu-ray is inexpensive.

We did take a break from horror to watch the fifth season of Wentworth, the reboot/re-imagining of the great Aussie soap opera, Prisoner Cell Block H (actually, just “Prisoner” in its native land, Patrick McGoohan nowhere in sight). We’re about two-thirds through and remain riveted to this deftly plotted and well-acted series, which strikes me as better than any TV series currently generated in America in the crime genre.

A sixth season is in the works. This one is on Netflix, I believe. We’re watching it on a Blu-ray from the UK.

* * *

On the health front, I am doing quite well. I have a procedure scheduled this week that I may be able to skip, as medication seems to have gotten rid of my a-fib and put my heartbeat back where it’s supposed to be. A cough that has nagged me for many weeks seems beaten back, too, and my energy level is close to normal. I am taking a shitload of pills, but gradually am getting off some of them.

I do regret missing Bouchercon. Looks like everybody had a great time.

On the work front, editing on Scarface and the Untouchable by A. Brad Schwartz and myself continues apace. Killing Town has been delivered, and I am researching the next Heller and hope to be writing in early November.

* * *

Here’s a review column by the great Maxim Jakubowski (no one knows his stuff better) that includes a nifty Quarry’s Climax review.

Check out this terrific Bookreporter review of Quarry’s Climax.

And here’s an interview with me on the Quarry novels from Adam Hill.

M.A.C.

Hey Kids! Free Books (Again!)

Tuesday, October 17th, 2017

Paperback:
E-Book: Amazon Nook Kobo iTunes

Hardcover:
E-Book: Google Play Kobo

[Nate@3:21 PM: All giveaway copies are claimed. Thank you for your support!]

I have six advance copies of the just-published Quarry’s Climax for the first six readers who request one and promise an Amazon review (Barnes & Noble also encouraged, and blog posts, too). Reviews need not be lengthy. And I have six advance copies of The Bloody Spur, the new Caleb York western, which will be published in January.

Rules: only the USA, foreign shipping a little too pricey. And you must include your snail-mail address in the e-mail you send requesting the book.

* * *

I know many of you were disappointed to learn that Stacy Keach had stepped down from reading the Mike Hammer audios. But I was able to enlist the man who has brought Nate Heller to life many times – Dan John Miller.

The Will to Kill is available now from Audible on Journalstone (the CD version isn’t available yet). Barb and I are listening to it in the car as we gallivant about the Midwest, and Dan has done a terrific job.

* * *

More Mike Hammer news, which I should soon be confirming. But reliable sources tell me a Blu-Ray of I, the Jury in 3-D is at long last in the works!

I love the movie and getting it on Blu-ray in 3-D is probably my remaining Holy Grail of movie collecting.

I have seen it theatrically in 3-D, which improves the movie immeasurably. The cinematography is by the great noir master, John Alton, and it’s written and directed by Harry Essex of Creature from the Black Lagoon fame. The cast includes the much underrated Biff Elliott as a very Mickey-like Hammer, the lovely Peggie Castle, Preston Foster, Elisha Cook Jr., and John Qualen.

* * *

I am sorry to report that we walked out of Blade Runner 2049. I have friends (including Terry Beatty) who loved it. I found it infuriatingly poor in pacing and coherence, despite the plot being simple. We gave it an hour, and when we left, Harrison Ford hadn’t been in it yet.

When I got home, I did some checking and discovered the director, Denis Villeneuve, had been responsible for two films I despised, Sicario and Arrival. I should have done my homework.

* * *

It has been, as people of my generation are wont to say, a bummer, having to bail out of the Toronto Bouchercon at the last minute. Matt Clemens is having such a good time there that I have determined to throttle him when he returns (in his sleep – he’s bigger than I am).

But it was necessary (staying home, not throttling Matt). I had another rough week, and am goofed up on meds as the docs work on getting me regulated to where I can have the jump-start procedure that will, I hope, take me out of a-fib and back into a regular heartbeat.

Good thoughts and prayers are appreciated, but what I really want you to do is buy Quarry’s Choice.

* * *

Well, the TV geniuses have screwed up Wild Dog already. Read it and weep.

Barb is speaking at a brunch in Muscatine on Thursday. A rare public appearance by my beautiful, somewhat publicity-averse wife.

Here is a lovely article about Quarry, with a gallery of the Hard Case Crime covers.

Check out this lovely Quarry’s Climax review.

And here, I am pleased to say, is another.

M.A.C.