Posts Tagged ‘Quarry’s Vote’

Harlan and Harold

Tuesday, July 3rd, 2018

So Harlan Ellison is gone. Not dead, because his work will survive. He may not maintain the presence in the popular culture he once had, because he was chiefly a short story writer. Still, he might overcome that, because after all Edgar Allan Poe and Ray Bradbury were both chiefly short story writers, and they endure. Hard to imagine “I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream” disappearing.

In the aftermath of Harlan’s passing, amid expressions of friendship and loss, came those who figured that while the body hadn’t cooled yet, it would be a good time to say that he was overrated and a “gasbag,” as one dweller in the dingy, dreary corners of Facebook put it. These nonentities who must disparage those who have actually contributed will be with us always –- perhaps more shrilly now, in the age of Trump and Social Media.

In my formative years – adolescence and teens – I read mostly crime/mystery writers. I followed only a handful of science-fiction authors, despite a love of comics, films and TV shows in that genre; among those authors were Bradbury and Ellison. I was particularly attracted by Ellison’s introductory material to his short story collections – I found it fascinating and exciting for the writer to come out from in back of his tales. To be a presence.

There’s no question that he influenced me in that regard. I talk about my work in that same way, if not with as much personality or gift for language; but I do it here, and have introduced many of the reprints of my work and the collections of shorter material.

I also enjoyed his fiction itself, very much, and was aware of his byline on TV scripts on such shows as Burke’s Law, The Outer Limits and Star Trek. Seeing his name on the screenwriter credit of a TV episode always made me sit up. And in my college years I loved his writing about TV, which covered his own experiences in the medium as well as unbridled reviews of various series (collected in The Glass Teat).

I met him in 1973 at a comics convention in Dallas, which happened to be the first such convention I ever attended. Knowing he was the guest of honor, I spotted Ellison in the dealer’s room on the first evening of the show and introduced myself, and told him my first two books had just been published (Bait Money and Blood Money). He congratulated me and asked me to accompany him as he took a stroll around the dealer’s room. He was friendly to me, even warm. Of course, I’d made it clear I was a fan and had brought a book along for him to sign.

Anyway, I accompanied him on his circuit around the room. About half a dozen times, dealers at the show took pot shots at him – picked verbal fights with him (I don’t remember the specific subjects), but were beyond rude. It was like walking down a street in the Old West with Billy the Kid and seeing various punks try to goad him into a shoot-out.

Harlan was soft-spoken, just nodded, said very little to them when he said anything at all. I was confused, knowing Harlan’s reputation for confrontation and not suffering fools. I told Barb about it in our hotel room, not sure whether I was impressed or disappointed.

Throughout the weekend I would stop and chat with Harlan, but we didn’t share a meal or head to a bar or anything – we were just friendly ships that had passed in the night. At the banquet on the final night of the con, with all the dealers and the other guests and many attendees present, Harlan was the scheduled speaker.

I said to Barb, as we sat and dined on rubber chicken, looking around at those who’d verbally assaulted the guest of honor earlier, “How I wish Harlan would take these sons of bitches on.”

And that’s what he did.

Harlan had noted the names of every face that insulted him on that tour of the dealer’s room, and in his keynote speech he reported their rude conduct and called them out individually. Told them it was a hell of a way to treat their guest of honor. And he shot each one of them down, leaving each writhing in a pool of embarrassment.

And I loved it. And I loved him for it, fan of revenge that I am.

A few years later, at a San Diego con, Harlan was going into a ballroom for a panel, accompanied by reps of the con. I paused, gave him a smile and a little wave, not thinking he’d even remember me. Then he called out, “Al! I can’t talk to you right now! We’ll get together later!”

We didn’t. I don’t believe we ever met face to face again, but over the years the damnedest thing happened: out of the blue he would call me. He treated me as if I were one of his closest friends, and as the years and these lovely sporadic calls kept coming, I began to feel that way myself. He made it clear he liked my work and that was extremely gratifying – little in a writer’s life is better than being admired by one of your favorite writers, particularly one who was a formative influence.

We did not agree on Mickey Spillane. He had a low opinion of Mickey typical coming from a progressive writer of his era. But he knew I loved Mickey and his work and he respected that.

One afternoon in my office at home I got a call from Harlan. Mickey’s The Killing Man, his first Mike Hammer in some time, had just come out.

“Al! Did you write this?”

“No. I’ve never ghosted Mickey. That’s his work.”

“Great! Now I don’t have to read it.”

He hung up.

Later he revealed to me that he had a standing order at his regular bookshop to set aside any novel of mine that came out. Only once did he criticize me.

“Al, stop using, ‘He shook his head no.’ Shaking your head is no.”

“Not all shakes of the head mean no, Harlan.”

“Fine. Then characterize those head shakes that way. Otherwise, it’s no!”

“Okay,” I said. “You sold me.”

“And can you watch your word repetition closer, please? You’re a better writer than that.”

Most good fiction writers try to avoid repeating words in the same paragraph or even on the same page (excluding articles like “a” and “the,” of course, and character names). Barb catches most of mine on her edits.

So I said to Harlan, “I admit I do that more often than I should. I try to catch them. But Harlan, a lot of words fly out of here in a year, and sometimes I slip. I’m trying to make a living.”

“Okay,” he said. “I can accept that.”

He was always gracious to me, friendly and funny, and very frank. His anecdotes about Hollywood, frequently ending with him trying to strangle an executive, were priceless. But a year or so ago, he confided that his failing health was something he wasn’t sure he could live with. He said sometimes he contemplated the choice Hemingway had made.

“Don’t do that,” I said, as if he were using too much salt on his food. “Hemingway taking his life colored his work forever. You don’t want that following you around after you’re gone.”

He allowed this was probably good advice.

I was troubled by his admission, but touched that he’d share something like that with me. Yet wasn’t that what had attracted me so as a teenager? This writer who came out from behind his fiction to confront you with his humanity?

And yours?

* * *

Lately I’ve read a number of books about improv comedy and Second City. If you follow these updates regularly at all, you know that I am a huge SCTV fan. When there was an SCTV reunion in 2009, as part of a 50th anniversary Second City celebration, Barb and I spent big bucks to attend the show, which included Joe Flaherty, Eugene Levy, Andrea Martin, Catherine O’Hara, Martin Short and Dave Thomas on stage together. Ramis performed with them, and also directed the performance. He had been a cast member the first season and head writer the second.

I embarrassed myself thoroughly bugging and fawning over any SCTV cast members I happened to encounter, and that was most of them. Why Barb remained married to me after such unconscionable fan boy behavior, I have no idea. But I was a teenage girl in 1964 talking to the Beatles – that bad. Maybe worse.

I’d met Ramis a few years before at a film festival in Chicago. That time I behaved myself, pretty much, getting introduced to him by a mutual friend. He was very gracious, quiet but nice, and he smiled when I mentioned how far I went back with him – to Swami Bananananda and kid show host Ol’ Muley (“These are the worst drawings yet, boys and girls”). We also talked about Stuart Saves the World, his Stuart Smalley movie with Al Franken; I told him how much I liked the film and that I wished it were out on DVD (later it was).

At Second City, though, I first flagged Ramis down the night of the reunion show and tried to remind him that we’d met (I don’t think he remembered) but he was friendly and expressed concern that they hadn’t had enough rehearsal time. He gave me an autograph, as well (I was on the hunt).

Throughout the weekend, I saw him a number of times, basically saying “The reunion was great” and hello, but it must have seemed to him that I was everywhere, maybe even stalking him (I wasn’t – it was sheer coincidence). Finally I caught him alone for a moment and apologized for bugging him (even as I bugged him again) and rather desperately said, “I just wanted to let you know how much I love Groundhog Day. It’s one of my favorite movies and it’s my son’s favorite movie, period. It’s a great, great film, it’s like…It’s a Wonderful Life.”

“It is,” he said with an enigmatic smile. “It is a wonderful life.”

I of course meant that his film Groundhog Day is on a level of importance with Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life. But I am still not sure if he was agreeing with me, or saying his film was a variation on that film, or maybe just that…it’s a wonderful life. As in, it’s wonderful being alive.

I’m still thinking about that ambiguous reply, particularly now that I know a year later he would contract autoimmune inflammatory vasculitis, and be gone in 2014.

The books I’ve read recently about this remarkable actor, writer and filmmaker include Caddyshack: The Making of a Hollywood Cinderella Story by Chris Nashawaty, and Ghostbuster’s Daughter: Life with My Dad, Harold Ramis by Violet Ramis Stiel. The former is fascinating and covers the birth of The National Lampoon, Saturday Night Live and (to a lesser extent) SCTV, with the Caddyshack material starting about midway. It gives a good picture of Ramis at that important time of his life.

His daughter’s book I admit having some problems with, but I would still recommend it to fans of her dad. The book is her memoir, and only really interested me when it was dealing with Harold Ramis himself, although it did that frankly and with insight.

* * *

Here’s a really nice review of the first issue of the Mike Hammer serialized graphic novel from Hard Case Crime Comics (and Titan).

Here’s another good one.

And another.

Finally, here’s a review of Quarry’s Vote.

M.A.C.

Browsing at B & N

Tuesday, July 11th, 2017

Remember a few weeks ago when I encouraged everyone to buy books at their favorite brick-and-mortar store? By this I wasn’t suggesting that you find a store where you can buy brick and mortar. Rather, I was hoping you would not spend all of your money online, hastening the death of retail.

One of the bookstores I encouraged you to frequent was Barnes & Noble. With Borders gone, and some communities having no indie bookstore, B & N is about all that’s still standing. We have a BAM! (Books-a-Million) in nearby Davenport, and I trade there a lot. If you’re a member of their frequent buyer club, you get a discount coupon for at least $5 on a $25 purchase every week. Nice store.

Barnes & Noble is good about giving members of their club 20%-off-a-single-item coupons frequently. These are nice little surprises in the snail mail every couple of months. Such things take the sting out of buying a book or blu-ray at a price higher than the online option. B & N is weird in that department, by the way – they are routinely cheaper online, and the stores don’t (or won’t or can’t afford to) match their own online price.

A bigger problem is that B & N corporate has made some decisions about their brick-and-mortars that are not helping the whole decline of retail thing. And now a personal story. (Warning: I’ve told better ones.)

I tend to work six days a week and take one unashamed day off. But when I am really swamped, as I have been lately, Barb and I will take half-days off, usually a morning where we drive to the nearby Quad Cities, have breakfast or an early lunch, shop at BAM! and B & N (that’s where I go – Barb usually has other retail destinations), and are back very early afternoon for more work. Such is our devotion to our readers. And the bill collectors.

On my last two trips to the Davenport Barnes & Noble – a lovely, big store with very nice and often knowledgeable staff – I have had several of those 20% off coupons burning a hole in my billfold. Now I am about as hard to get money out of at a bookstore as convincing a sailor on leave that debauchery is worth paying for.

And twice I have spent not a dime.

Here’s the problem. Barnes & Noble has been rearranging their stores in a fashion that indicates either (a) someone is secretly trying to end the brick-and-mortar aspect of their business, or (b) is desperately trying to get fired. For some years, B & N has had – in each section (Mystery, Biography, what have you) – a display at the head of that section that showcases new titles, face out. The corporate genius in question has decided to instead salt those new titles through the existing stock. Occasionally the new titles are face out, and of course the bestseller type books sit out on various new releases tables.

But for the most part, as a shopper, you either have to have the patience to sort through everything in a section to find new titles, or know exactly what you’re looking for. In the latter case, it’s obviously easier to do that online.

Someone clearly doesn’t understand the shopping experience. Someone associated with bookselling actually doesn’t seem familiar with the term “browsing.”

If searching within a section (Science Fiction, Humor, whatever) isn’t enough to frustrate you, might I suggest the B & N blu-ray/DVD/CD section? (Not all B & Ns have those, but many do.) To further make your shopping experience a Bataan Death March chore, B & N has abandoned individual sections to put all CDs (except classical) together, alphabetically. So you can pick up both the Sid Vicious and Frank Sinatra versions of “My Way” in the same area, if you know your alphabet.

For a blu-ray collector like me, the best (and by that I mean “worst”) is yet to come. The blu-ray section is no more. Instead, a massive section combining DVDs and blu-rays now awaits your browsing pleasure (I also don’t really mean “pleasure”) (sarcasm is fun). Blu-ray buyers tend to be snobs – they avoid DVD unless absolutely necessary. I’m not sure my son buys any DVDs any more. And I would under no circumstances buy a DVD of something available on blu-ray.

Also, the new release blu-rays were formerly displayed on a little shelf above the bins. No more. End caps and other displays may showcase new titles, but again blu-rays and DVDs are mixed.

This may in part reflect the cutting back on help in that section of the B & N stores. With no one to ask, “May I help you,” there are fewer places to look. If you know your alphabet, you’re in business! Hope you have plenty of time on your hands and don’t have to get home to entertain America with your fiction.

What these new policies at B & N are doing is discouraging the brick-and-mortar shopping experience. It’s now not only cheaper and easier to shop online, it’s no longer less fun. By which I mean, it’s more fun.

I still encourage you to shop at B & N, but also to politely complain about the new user-unfriendly sections throughout their stores. If I can go there twice on shopping expedition and return with my 20% off coupons still tucked away, something is seriously, seriously wrong.

* * *

Here’s a nice Jon Breen EQMM review of A Long Time Dead. Jon doesn’t really like Mickey Spillane, but he likes me. Watch him deal with that. (Answer to his question: Collins.)

This is an article on the newly turned-up photographic evidence that supports my Amelia Earhart theory as expressed in Flying Blind – back in 1999! That book is mentioned in the comments.

Here’s yet another of those write-ups about movies you didn’t know were from graphic novels, with Road to Perdition nicely mentioned.

Finally, here’s a lovely review of Quarry’s Vote.

M.A.C.

Passings

Tuesday, March 21st, 2017

Three show business figures passed away recently, and as it happens, I had passing meetings with each.

CHUCK BERRY, 90, I met at an airport where we shared a gate. He was traveling with a guitar in its case, and appeared to be alone. But it was unmistakably him. As a longtime veteran of rock ‘n’ roll, I had to have a moment. I didn’t ask for an autograph, afraid I might start trouble for him, because a lot of people obviously didn’t recognize him.

“I just want to thank you for starting it all,” I said.

He smiled and said you’re welcome, and we shook hands.

I think I said something about having played rock ‘n’ roll for decades, and he said where he was headed, though I’ve forgotten. He was quiet but friendly.

What I said to him was about right. Little Richard and other black artists of the early rock days really were r & b starting to become rock, and Elvis fell in that category as well. But Chuck Berry, with his guitar-driven rock and his teenage subject matter, was not r & b, but at the very forefront of the new genre. Pure rock ‘n’ roll.

He was playing regularly in his home, St. Louis, until very recently.

TONY ROSATO, 62, is one of the unsung heroes of SCTV. He and the great Robin Duke were in the final season of the original incarnation of the show (they both moved to SNL after). His big character on the show was TV chef Marcello Sebastiani, but he was also a fine mimic, playing Lou Costello in a memorable Abbott and Elvis Costello parody.

He had a fine career, with a lot of Canadian TV, but mental health problems took him into a tragic area in later years.

I met him at the SCTV reunion in Chicago several years ago, in a crowded lobby of fans and Second City performers. He was accompanied by a minder of sorts and was obviously feeling a little lost. He was frankly surprised when I recognized him and asked for an autograph, which he gave me, and he smiled when I told him what a big fan I was of his SCTV and SNL work.

ROBERT OSBORNE, 84, the charming and knowledgeable presenter on Turner Classic Movies, I met backstage (actually upstairs somewhere) at a theater in Hollywood. My pal Leonard Maltin was giving me a chance to meet Jane Powell and a few other celebrities at the TCM Film Festival that year. I chatted with Osborne about (this will surprise few) how cool it would be to have a Mickey Spillane film festival on TCM, as they’d already shown The Girl Hunters a few times and Kiss Me Deadly many times. He was friendly and gracious, and exactly the guy you saw on TV.

I thanked him for everything he did for classic films and for sharing his enthusiasm, and knowledge, with viewers. And I’m glad I did.

While I never met him, BILL PAXTON, 61, was a good friend of my pal Bill Mumy and appeared in “Fish Heads” (which he also directed) and other Barnes & Barnes videos. What a terrific actor, and what a devastating loss. If you’ve never watched his HBO series Big Love, you should correct that mistake.

I don’t recall meeting the great cartoonist BERNIE WRIGHTSON, who like me was born in March of 1948, but I loved his work. Decades ago, when I started realizing interesting new things were happening in comics, and that I wasn’t the only one who liked the medium, Bernie Wrightson was at the forefront.

Such passings define bittersweet – we are so lucky to have experienced the art these creators shared with us, and so unlucky to be denied any more.

* * *

For those who suspect I have become a curmudgeon where current movies are concerned, walking out more often than staying to the finish, I am pleased to report Barb and I saw a terrific movie this weekend – Get Out.

Written and directed by Jordan Peele, Get Out is a horror movie with darkly satiric overtones and some outright comedy that never dampens a truly creepy tale that might be described as an African-American Stepford Wives…though that doesn’t do it justice.

Remember how lousy I said the script of Kong was? And how I was chastised for expecting a monster movie to have good dialogue? Well, he’s a horror movie on a modest budget with no huge stars (but a strong cast) that not only has sharp dialogue but a well-constructed narrative that pays off everything it sets up, in a most satisfying manner.

This one I’ll be buying on Blu-ray.

* * *

The Will to Kill, the new Spillane/Collins, is getting some lovely reviews. Have you ordered your copy yet? What are you waiting for? You wanna get on Mike Hammer’s bad side? In the meantime, check out this wonderful Criminal Element review.

And here’s another great Will to Kill review, this one from the NY Journal of Books.

The new Hard Case Crime edition of Quarry’s Vote inspired this sweet review.

And Publisher’s Weekly likes Antiques Frame, due out in about a month.

Finally, once again my Eliot Ness/Batman graphic novel of some time ago is getting noticed.

M.A.C.

Quarry TV Sept. 9; Mike Hammer Book Sept. 6

Tuesday, September 6th, 2016

How bizarre it seems – in a sense, it hasn’t registered – that the novel I began at the University of Iowa’s Writers Workshop in late 1971 has spawned a 2016 TV series.

My instructor, William Price Fox, didn’t like it. Most of the class didn’t, either. But several smart people thought the first two chapters of QUARRY were the best thing they’d ever read in a Workshop class. Fox, a writer I admired, was spotty as a teacher. He shared some good stories about his Hollywood perils, but he also spent several classes reading his own stuff to us. The class was only two hours once a week, and I had to drive from Muscatine (forty miles) to attend. I thought then that Fox reading his own work was lazy and self-indulgent, and I still do. But he did teach me the “Indian behind a tree” concept (ask me sometime).

A week or so after my Workshop class with its mixed reviews of QUARRY’s first two chapters, I sold my first novel, BAIT MONEY, and, a couple of weeks later, I sold the second one, NO CURE FOR DEATH. Both were written at the Workshop when Richard Yates was my teacher and mentor – a great writer and a great guy. The NYC editor wanted sequels to both, so I put QUARRY aside (probably a third of it written) and proceeded with THE BABY BLUE RIP-OFF and BLOOD MONEY. I had graduated in early ‘72 by then.

Then I got back to QUARRY, probably in ‘74, and it sold in ‘75 and was finally published in ‘76 (initially published as THE BROKER).

How vividly I remember sitting in my office in our apartment in downtown Muscatine (over a beauty shop – the smells wafting up were not heavenly) and pounding away at those early books. I thought QUARRY was the best thing I’d come up with, as the Nolan books were glorified Richard Stark pastiches and Mallory was just me filtering my private eye jones through an amateur detective. QUARRY was something original. I was going places! This would, in a good way, leave a mark.

And at first it seemed it would. The editor wanted three more novels about the character, and of course I eagerly complied. By the fourth book, two things were obvious – QUARRY was not setting the world on fire, and I was having trouble keeping the black-comedy element from spinning out of control. THE SLASHER seemed to me over-the-top, or anyway a subsequent novel would have been.

That doesn’t mean I wasn’t disappointed that no more books were requested by the editor. But the QUARRY series seemed, at four entries, to be complete. I was going places, all right – back to the typewriter to try again.

But a funny thing happened on the way to obscurity – a small cult of interest arose in QUARRY. Smart people like Jon Breen, Ed Gorman and Bill Crider said nice things about the books. The series started getting fan letters. So when I had some success with the Nate Heller novels, I decided to do just one more QUARRY – and I did, PRIMARY TARGET (since re-pubbed as QUARRY’S VOTE). The book was well-received, but that was the end of it.

The end of it, anyway, till the new millennium dawned and a young filmmaker named Jeffrey Goodman came knocking, and a new publisher/editor named Charles Ardai got in touch. From Goodman’s enthusiasm for the QUARRY short story, “A Matter of Principal,” came an award-winning short film written by me, and then a feature-length version co-written by me, THE LAST LULLABY. More or less simultaneously, Ardai asked me to do a QUARRY novel for his new retro-noir line, and I jumped at the chance to give the series a real ending – THE LAST QUARRY, a novelization of my version of the screenplay of the Goodman feature.

The surprisingly strong response to THE LAST QUARRY resulted in a conversation between Ardai and me that went something like this:

“I wouldn’t mind you doing another QUARRY for us,” he said.

“I wouldn’t mind myself.”

“But you ended the series. What book can you write after you’ve done THE LAST QUARRY?”

“Why not…THE FIRST QUARRY?”

Now we’re at eleven novels – QUARRY IN THE BLACK next month – and, after a somewhat rough birth going back to 2012, the QUARRY TV series will debut on Cinemax this Friday, at 9 pm Central time.

I’ve seen all eight episodes and they are excellent. It’s essentially an extended origin story of how returning Marine Mac Conway (the character’s real name, according to the show anyway) becomes hitman Quarry. Michael Fuller and Graham Gordy, the creators of the series, initially did not reveal the character’s “real name,” but it became clumsy for the lead character not to have, well, a name. They dubbed him “Mac” after me – M.A.C. Nice gesture.

And they were smart enough to set the show in the early ‘70s. It’s a nice fit with my current approach, which is to do my new QUARRY novels in ‘70s/‘80s period. You know you are old when a series you began as contemporary is now historical.

So I hope you like the TV series. If you don’t, and are a fan of the books, pretend to, will you? If the show becomes a hit, I may get to write more QUARRY novels.

Stranger things have happened.

* * *
A Long Time Dead

Softcover:

E-Book: Amazon Nook Kobo iTunes

Limited Signed Hardcover: Mysterious Bookshop

Also this week, the Mike Hammer short story collection, A LONG TIME DEAD, will become available in print and e-book editions from Mysterious Press. This is an exciting project for me, as it represents the first collection of Hammer stories, and possibly the last, since I have exhausted the shorter fragments in the Spillane files.

My sincere thanks to Otto Penzler for publishing it. Otto, who edited and published the first three posthumous Hammer novels, has been a great friend to Mickey, Mike Hammer and me.

* * *

The advance reviews for the QUARRY TV show are strong, like this one.

And this one.

Here QUARRY is seen as one of the nine best shows of the fall season.

And here it’s seen as one of the ten best shows.

You’ll enjoy this interview with Michael Fuller, half of the creative team behind the writing of the QUARRY series.

Here’s a nice write-up on the forthcoming QUARRY comics mini-series.

Check out this terrific review of the Hammer novel, MURDER NEVER KNOCKS.

And, finally, here’s a positive review from Kirkus, of all people, for A LONG TIME DEAD.

M.A.C.