Posts Tagged ‘Quarry’s Choice’

Political Correctness

Tuesday, December 1st, 2015

“Politically correct” is a term I wouldn’t mind seeing junked. Also the concept. What makes it worthless is that both the right and the left are abusing it.

Take Donald Trump (please). He is making a political campaign out of saying outrageous, offensive things and then hiding behind the notion that being politically incorrect is an attribute. Many voters who are lining up with him see the Donald as a straight-talker who is not afraid to offend. He tells it as he sees it and doesn’t care what you, or the facts, or human decency, might think.

How did we get to a place where being against political correctness could be seen as a plus? Whose fault is it that political incorrectness has become a badge of honor? I know whose fault, since you asked – the left. Right?

At a time when major political candidates are gaining followers by putting down minorities, women, the afflicted, and any religion that isn’t Christianity, many on the left spend their time complaining about people who say the wrong things. Who have the “wrong” attitudes. How many celebrities or other public figures have had to “walk back” innocuous things they said because they’ve been taken to task by the self-appointed arbiters of what is and isn’t acceptable? God help us if any of us are offended by the opinions or remarks of others. It’s now our responsibility to make sure the Facebook posts and Tweets of the famous reflect only what we consider proper and, well, nice.

Since this is the Christmas season, I want to spread the joy around, so I’ll point out that the right can gang up on somebody for trivial, stupid reasons, too, such as the tempest in a teapot over the holiday coffee cup at Starbuck’s. It’s the war on Christmas! Some people really, really need a hobby. Ironically, of course, Starbucks was just trying not offend anybody. Good luck with that.

I have run into this kind of thing in reviews – both professional and amateur – for many, many years. In my case, it’s mostly a byproduct of writing historical fiction. More times than you’d think, when a character in one of my period pieces uses a word like “colored” to describe a black person, or “girl” in reference to a grown woman, I have been taken to task.

It’s a tricky position for a writer to be in, as when I’m dealing with Mike Hammer in a manuscript I’m completing that was begun by Mickey Spillane in the late ‘40s, ‘50s or ‘60s. Attitudes toward homosexuals, for example, are a bitch to deal with. I usually sort of split the difference, and have the character reflect attitudes of his or her times but not emphasize them, and avoid words (like “faggot”) that come off as painfully harsh to modern ears.

But modern ears need to cut a writer of historical fiction some slack. When I write about Nathan Heller, the format is an old man writing his memoirs about things that happened a long, long time ago. He should not be expected to reflect current attitudes. In fact, if he does to much of an extent, I’m doing a bad job as his Boswell.

Would you like to know what offends me? Thanks for asking. I’m in the odd and somewhat enviable position of having my older novels come back into print. These date as far back as the early ‘70s. Recently (as you probably know) Hard Case Crime has been doing new editions of the original five Quarry novels, four of which were published in 1976 and 1977 (the first novel, QUARRY, was started around ‘72 and completed in ‘74). This week I got a lovely review of that novel, one that pleased and even flattered me. I want to make that clear right now, because this reviewer was not only complimentary, but also very smart in discussing the anti-hero aspects of the character.

But he raised a point that frankly made me close my eyes and count to ten (incidentally, about the extent of my math abilities). Here is what the reviewer said:

“Unfortunately, the book does suffer from its age, specifically when it comes to homosexuality. Boyd is a homosexual, and this fact is brought up several times during the story. While Quarry insists that he doesn’t have a problem with Boyd’s sexual orientation, the fact that he constantly brings it up puts his assertions into question. Now, I don’t think that Collins is homophobic, or even that Quarry was, but it does definitely stand out and is out of place with modern sensibilities.”

A couple of things. That in a novel written in the early ‘70s, I chose to give Quarry a gay partner, and that Quarry himself had no problem with that, is something I’m proud of (and that other modern reviewers, looking at this decades-old book, have commented favorably upon, as something fairly innovative and forward-thinking). But more troubling is the notion that a book written over forty years ago has a responsibility not to offend “modern sensibilities.”

When the early Quarry novels were being prepared for re-publication, Hard Case editor Charles Ardai gave me the opportunity to revise any passages that might offend the delicate ears of today. I declined to take advantage of the opportunity, because the books are the books. They were written when they were written, and I’m not going to spend the rest of this lifetime updating them to please the opinions of new generations.

This reflects a special aspect of political correctness that I would guess drive any writers who’ve been around long enough to see early works of theirs described in the present say as “dated.” I think, in the critical lexicon, the word “dated” should be stricken or at least used very carefully. Of course my novel QUARRY is dated. Read the first few chapters of FAREWELL, MY LOVELY and check out Marlowe’s now racist attitudes and vocabulary. All books that weren’t written yesterday are “dated.” Shakespeare is so dated, his language so difficult to penetrate, that he’s considered to be the greatest poetic playwright of all time.

This mini-rant was sparked by the paragraph I quoted (in which the word “dated” does not appear), but in fact this reviewer is very smart and generous, and you should read the other things he had to say here.

Speaking of Quarry, I am delighted to report that J. Kingston Pierce has selected QUARRY’S CHOICE as one of his ten favorite crime novels of 2015. As always, I deplore such lists unless I am on them.

And I’m pleased to say reviews for FATE OF THE UNION (what a wonderful Christmas present a copy of that would be for your family and friends!) have been rolling in. Check out this terrific one.

Finally, as a sort of sidebar to this week’s discussion of political correctness, here is a mini-review from a conservative reviewer who has no problem with the hero’s “leftish politics.” Those of you who remember how some conservative Amazon reviewers objected to SUPREME JUSTICE will understand why I’m so gratified by this write-up.


On The Quarry Set — And A Giveaway!

Tuesday, May 26th, 2015

The handful of pictures here will give you an idea of how great a time Barb and I had on the QUARRY set in New Orleans.

We spent one full day on set and another half day. Those days are long – they work twelve hours – but that was not a surprise. The indies I’ve worked on ran the same kind of schedule. The set-up was reminiscent of ROAD TO PERDITION – giant warehouse space (PERDITION actually used an armory) turned into a studio. There were a trio of these massive adjacent warehouses, one a studio, the other a workshop, the last an enormous prop room with stuff from various decades that you might see in 1972 (Coke machines, lamps, phones, phone booths, TVs, record players, kitchen tables, etc.).

I spent minimal but pleasant time with director Greg Yaitanes, who was a little busy (he’s directing all eight episodes as one big movie). Barb and I watched in one of several “video villages” as half a dozen scenes were shot. Several of the actors – notably Logan Marshall-Green and Nikki Amuka-Bird – recognized Barb and me from the pilot shoot in Nashville in the summer of 2013, and greeted us warmly. Both of these actors are terrific as pros and people.

Logan Marshall-Green, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Max Allan Collins

I’m sure Quarry fans want to know how I feel about Logan in the part – well, he’s spot on. He gets the dark humor, he has screen presence to burn and conveys the deadly side of our man effortlessly. What will be disconcerting to the more literal-minded is Quarry’s Southern drawl. And in fact, the entire switch of settings to the south from the midwest will trouble some. But it lends great flavor and mood to the proceedings.

I can’t talk about the specifics of the season – that, as they used to say on THE PRISONER, would be telling – but it’s fair to say that this is an expanded, in-depth look at Quarry’s origin.

I also spent about half an hour talking to Damon Herriman, who plays Buddy, Quarry’s gay hitman partner. In the novels, Buddy is called Boyd, but the name was changed because of the well-known Boyd character in the great JUSTIFIED. Here’s the irony – Damon was, as they say, a fan favorite on that very series, playing the sublimely hapless Dewey Crowe. As I gushed over how great he was as Dewey Crowe (one of those names that require both halves when spoken), Damon at one point went into some Dewey Crowe speechifyin’. Startling to have this articulate Australian suddenly burst into Kentucky patois. And so very cool to sit there and hear. A sweet man capable of depicting bitter darkness.

Max Allan Collins, Damon Herriman

Matching the time I spent with these terrific actors (and I met several others, each a delight) was the lengthy session I had with the two writers who believed in bringing Quarry to TV, Graham Gordy and Michael Fuller. We mostly just made each other laugh, but also discussed possibilities for a second QUARRY season, should that come to pass. In that case, I would again be writing one of the eight scripts. I shared my thoughts on where a second season might go.

For a source writer, the most impressive thing about a set visit is seeing the size of a production like this. It’s mindboggling to think that something I cooked up in college in 1972, just trying to out-crook Don Westlake’s third-person thief with my own first-person hitman, could lead over forty years later to this mammoth assemblage of humans and machines, an army battling to entertain.

Still, as with my PERDITION set visit, I am always reassured that the process is the same as on my little indies. Some writers are ill at ease and bored on a film set.

I’m home.

* * *

It’s a tad late to be doing this, but we have come up with four Advanced Reading Copies of ANTIQUES SWAP and four more of THE LEGEND OF CALEB YORK. They are available first-come-first-served by writing to me at Ask for one or the other, and indicate if you’d settle for either. IMPORTANT: include your mailing address. And sorry, but US residents only please.

As I say, this is free, and like everything that’s free, there’s a price: a review at Amazon and/or other similar sites, including your own web site. No strings.

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Here’s an interesting review of QUARRY’S CHOICE.

And another here.

Finally, Just a Guy That Likes to Read likes to read both Mike Hammer (COMPLEX 90) and Quarry (THE LAST 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.

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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.


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
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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….