Posts Tagged ‘Road to Perdition Novel’

Put Some Damn Clothes On!

Tuesday, April 17th, 2018

Below is an excerpt from a review of The Bloody Spur from the Western Writers of America Roundup Magazine. It’s what you’d call a mixed review, on the patronizing side, and is mostly a plot summary, which I’ve skipped. But it raises some issues I’ve been wanting to talk about.

“There’s an overdose of descriptions of setting and clothing, and characters are stereotypical. But it’s enjoyable in a conventional-Western way, and the murder mystery has some intriguing twists.”

Let me get the stereotypical charge out of the way first. Yes, the characters established in Mickey’s 1950s screenplay are stereotypical – the stranger in town who becomes sheriff, a beautiful dance hall girl, a blind rancher, a lovely tomboy, and a cantankerous coot who becomes a deputy. There’s also a local doctor. What Mickey did, and what I have continued to try to do, is make these types specific and sometimes surprising in their characterizations, and to bring a gritty, even shocking amount of Spillane-style violence to the party as well as a mystery/crime element.

I don’t mean to respond to the reviewer, just to make clear where Mickey and I are coming from.

What I want to discuss is the charge that I do too much description of setting and clothing. I have always done a good deal of that, but it’s only in recent years that the occasional reviewer (particularly the Amazon variety) has bitched about it. The same is true of the sexual element, but that doesn’t apply too much to the Caleb York novels, so I’ll save that for a future discussion.

From my point of view, too many authors send their characters running around in books stark naked, and I don’t mean in sex scenes. I view clothing as a tool of characterization. The clothing a character wears tells us who this person is, and how these characters perceive themselves, and wish to be perceived.

Setting is the same. A description of a house, interior or exterior, tells us who lives there – a bedroom, particularly, is revealing of character.

Any reader who thinks I can on too much about clothing or setting is free to skip or scan. No harm, no foul.

In an historical novel – which westerns like the Caleb York books are by definition – setting is particularly important. It is also a big part of my 20th Century-set mysteries. If I take Nate Heller to a Hooverville or a strip club, you can bet I’ll give you chapter and verse about those settings. If Heller – in a 1960s-era story, when he’s become prosperous – is something of a clothes horse, that speaks of character, of who is and what he’s become. He’s rather shallow in that regard, frankly – part of his characterization.

In a Caleb York story, if I take my hero into an apothecary or a general store, you can bet I will describe the damn thing, and in some detail. York isn’t walking into a Walgreen’s or a Safeway, after all. Part of this is taking what is a mythic western – having to do with movies and ‘50s/’60s TV, more than the reality of the west – and giving it some verisimilitude. By keeping the underpinnings real, making the setting authentic, I can get away with the melodrama.

And what I do is melodrama. Nobody uses that word anymore, at least not correctly. But much of what I have done as a writer for over forty years is present a realistic surface on which to present my somewhat over-the-top stories.

Again, feel free to skim or skip passages that bore you. Elmore Leonard, great writer that he was, pretty much left you on your own. What he did worked for him (but his “rules” of writing are worthwhile only if you want to be Elmore Leonard when you grow up, and we already have one of those).

I am well aware that I am involved in a collaborative process with the reader. It amuses me when two readers argue over whether a book is good or not, as if they shared the same experience. Obviously they didn’t. Sometimes the play or movie mounted in a reader’s mind is a big-budget, beautifully cast affair; other readers are capable only of amateur night productions.

Leonard and others may wish to cede their stories to the whims and abilities of their readers. I know to some extent that is inevitable – because no two readers will have the same experience reading fiction. But I believe in controlling the narrative to the fullest extent that I can. I consider a chief responsibility of my job is doing my job – to do the work for you, where setting and clothing are concerned and much more.

I understand and accept that I’m blessed and sometimes burdened with readers who are my inevitable collaborators. But I want them to come as close to experiencing the movie I saw in my head, and put down on paper for them, as I possibly can.

* * *

This past Saturday, Crusin’ played the first gig of the season (defined as: not winter, though we were somewhat double-crossed by April sleet and snow). We performed for the Wilton, Iowa, High School Alumni banquet, a very well-attended event that had been going since five p.m. when we went on stage around nine-thirty. We held a good share of the audience for two sets (we took no break) and debuted a lot of new material…well, old material, although a new original was included.


L to R: M.A.C., Joe McClean, Steve Kundel, Bill Anson and Brian Van Winkle.

It went well, and our old friend Joe McClean, a Wilton area boy, joined us on several numbers. Joe was the heart and soul of the great Midwestern band the XL’s, who are also in the Iowa Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame.

Our new guitar player, Bill Anson, is doing a fine job, as are longtime drummer Steve Kundel and our bassist Brian Van Winkle, the “new guy” who has been with us seven years.

It felt great playing again. Loading afterward, not so much. And two days later I still am in anybody-get-the-name-of-that-truck mode.


M.A.C., Joe McClean.
* * *

My Scarface and the Untouchable co-author, A. Brad Schwartz, has written an op-ed piece for the Washington Post that has just appeared. Though I didn’t co-write it, I did some friendly editing and the piece beautifully discusses the somewhat facile comparisons being made of Trump as Capone and Comey/Mueller as Eliot Ness.

Wild Dog is back on Arrow this year. I haven’t watched the previous year yet.

Here’s a great review by Ron Fortier of the complete version of the Road to Perdition novel published by Brash Books.

Here’s where you can get signed copies of my books, including Killing Town and The Last Stand.

Road to Perdition the film is number three on this list of the best twelve Jude Law movies.

Finally, thanks to everyone who responded to the book giveaway posted last week. The books went quickly, and my apologies to those of you who missed out. Another will follow before too very long!

M.A.C.

Movies Are Your Best Entertainment!

Tuesday, December 19th, 2017

Here’s a video I did to promote the prose Perdition saga in the great new Brash Books editions. If you don’t have them, what are you waiting for? A good use for your Amazon gift cards.

And now for Christmas, I thought I would share more opinions about movies with you, all wrapped in a big red bow. You’re welcome.

My son Nate has mentioned frequently my demented taste in film (some of which he shares). When I’m gone, he threatens to mount a web site where every day he will grab one DVD or Blu-Ray or maybe even laser disc at random, and review it. Might be The Big Combo or it could be The Invisible Ghost with Bela Lugosi (both were directed by Joseph Lewis, after all).

To demonstrate what he is talking about, here some movies I’ve watched on home video lately. These include a few movies I saw as awards screeners that I receive as a WGA member. Most I bought. Also, a few theatrical releases are tagged on at the end. All are mini-reviews.

Dolores Claiborne (1995) – really good Stephen King movie with no supernatural aspect, stylishly directed by Taylor Hackford. Great character study and sorta mystery starring Kathy Bates and Jennifer Jason Leigh (of Road to Perdition fame).

Death Rides a Horse (1967) – one of my two favorite non-Leone Lee Van Cleef Italian westerns (the other is The Big Gundown). With John Phillip Law as Clint Eastwood. A new, slightly longer Blu-Ray from Kino. Saw it in the theater twice.

T-Men (1947) – excellent noir directed by Anthony Mann about undercover fed Dennis O’Keefe. O’Keefe is way underrated. Black-and-white cinematography by genius John Alton (I, the Jury). Starts with a stilted intro by Elmer Irey, one of the guys who took credit for taking Capone down and dissed Eliot Ness. See him brought to earth next year in Scarface & the Untouchable: Al Capone, Eliot Ness & the Battle for Chicago.

The Laughing Policeman (1973) – interesting if dreary police procedural with Walter Matthau in a mostly humorless portrayal and Bruce Dern in a rare heroic role, though he’s casually sexist and sadistic, anyway. From a nordic noir novel. 1973 is starting to feel like a long time ago.

Battle Cry (1955) – wonderful Hollywood-ized Raoul Walsh-directed adaptation of the forgotten Leon Uris bestseller. Great soap opera of men training where my dad did in San Diego; an incredible cast – Aldo Ray, Tab Hunter, Anne Francis James Whitmore, Anne Francis, Van Heflin, Dorothy Malone…did I mention Anne Francis? L.Q. Jones appears under his real name playing a character called L.Q. Jones, which he then took as his stage name. Tons of familiar male actors making early appearances. Final half hour of battle finally arrives and is compelling.

Annie Get Your Gun (1957) – from VAI, a Blu-Ray of Mary Martin and John Raitt in a TV “spectacular” of the famous Broadway show. Great performances from the stars and lots of fun. Native American stuff and male/female interaction that will amuse you, especially if a humorless gal is in the room watchin’ with you. Assuming you survive.

Thieves’ Highway (1949) – gritty noir about trucking written by A.I. Bezzerides (Kiss Me Deadly!) from his novel, Thieves’ Market. Excellent villain performance from Lee J. Cobb, striking female lead in Valentina Cortese, and Richard Conte fine as a nice guy who is dumb enough to make you talk back to the screen. Hey, everybody in the sleazy bar! Look at all the money I just got! Director Jules Dassin tells us how much he hates capitalism, right before he packs his bags and heads overseas.

Since You Went Away (1944) – surprisingly effective home front soaper from producer/scripter David O. Selznick, directed by John Cromwell. Teenage Shirley Temple (disturbingly appealing – I’m pretty sure Roy Moore has this one on his fave flicks list) and Jennifer Jones convincingly go from kids to young women while Claudette Colbert reminds us why she was a movie star. Moving and generally unmanipulative for this kind of thing. Great cast also includes Joseph Cotten, Monty Wooley, Robert Walker, Lionel Barrymore and Guy Madison. A Christmas movie, by the way, though that doesn’t come in till the last act.

And now some new things….

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – this is an excellent showcase for both Frances McDormand and especially Sam Rockwell, with nice work from Woody Harrelson, too. The movie is challenging because it keeps shifting, challenging your thinking and assumptions, with none of its characters perfect (except perhaps Harrelson’s) and the resolution of its crime story elusive. Lovely writing and direction from Martin McDonagh. One of the two or three best of the year, topped only by Wind River.

The Post – boy, what a disappointing Mr. Show movie! Though they appear in a number of scenes together, David Cross and Bob Odenkirk just never get truly funny. And the story is quite unbelievable – a crooked United States President who tries to stifle and belittle freedom of the press? Some story ideas, even in a comedy, are too outlandish to pull off – just not funny! Supporting players Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep hog the screen from stars Cross and Odenkirk.

I, Tonya – good, quirky docudrama about the Tonya Harding/Nancy Kerrigan incident that ignited interest in women’s competition ice skating. Well done, but star Margot Robbie, though very good, is miscast as Tonya, whose petite figure, not quite pretty face, and white trash aura call for a physically smaller, less overtly attractive, less obviously smart actress. Worth seeing.

Star Wars – The Last Jedi. I am thrilled for Mark Hamill, who knocks it out of the park with a genuine star performance. At its best, this is a wonderful movie and audiences will likely love it, and they should. But it’s way too long and overstuffed with very usual Star Wars plot shenanigans, plus a weak performance or two (Laura Dern, anyone?). But Luke Skywalker shines. This series was launched as The Adventures of Luke Skywalker, you know.

So – these were all viewed over a couple of weeks. That’s how we spend our evenings and the occasional at-the-actual-movies afternoon. This is relaxation in Iowa. If you’re nice to me, I won’t do this to you again.

* * *

Bill Morris says Quarry’s Climax is one of the best books of the year – and he’s right. Read here to find me on a list with Joan Didion.

Here’s a nifty little piece about Quarry’s War issue #1.

M.A.C.

Perdition, Zorro, Movies and More

Tuesday, September 5th, 2017
Road to Paradise

Road to Paradise is coming to trade paperback in November. I am thrilled with the job Brash Books has done on bringing the complete prose trilogy into print. The covers are great, and though many will read the e-book versions, the physical items are handsome.

Of course, this all hinged on getting the original, complete, previously unpublished Road to Perdition prose novel into print, the first of this matched-set trilogy.

Before long Brash will be bringing out USS Powderkeg (a slightly revised version of Red Sky in Morning) and Black Hats under my name, jettisoning the Patrick Culhane pseudonym the publisher insisted upon.

If you’re a regular reader of mine, please support these great efforts by Brash Books to get my novels out there again and in the manner I prefer.

Check out the Road to Paradise page out at their web site.

* * *
Zorro Vol. 6

I’ve been a fan of Zorro since childhood – some of you may have read my introduction to the Hermes Press collection of Dell’s pre-Disney-TV version of the character, including four wonderful issues drawn by the great Everett Raymond Kinstler.

Well, publisher Rich Harvey’s Bold Venture Press has just completed an ambitious program to collect all of the original novels and stories about Zorro by his creator, the underrated Johnston McCulley. The sixth and final volume was just published, and I had the honor of writing the introduction, in which I detail the torturous route to finally having these rare Zorro tales collected and accessible to readers. It’s a bewildering mystery why the well-written stories by the creator of one of popular fiction’s most iconic characters (on a par with Sherlock Holmes, Tarzan and, uh, well, Mike Hammer) have been so elusive. That doesn’t mean I don’t try to solve it….

The great color covers of those early Dell issues provide most of the cover images of this series.

Read about it (with ordering info) here.

* * *

Two excellent recent crime films are worthy of your attention (and your money).

Steven Soderbergh’s return to movie-making, Logan Lucky, is a clever, funny but not campy heist picture with a Southern twist. The cast is terrific, but the stand-out is Daniel Craig, and to say he’s playing against type is a bit of an understatement – stick around for his hilarious credit at the close. And what a surprise it’s been seeing just how much talent Channing Tatum turns out to have, and this is coming from the skeptical author of the G.I. JOE novelization.

Writer/director Taylor Sheridan’s Wind River is a worthy follow-up to the excellent Hell or High Water (and, yes, I remember how much I hated Sicario, but he didn’t direct that). It begins leisurely and takes full advantage of its beautifully bleak snowy Indian reservation setting before some shocking action kicks in. There’s nothing new here – a fish-out-of-water young female FBI agent is teamed with a somewhat older local fish-and-wildlife man, and the sad backstories of various characters are things we’ve heard before…virtually everything here is familiar. But the kicker is how well done it all is, how quiet and deep the characterizations are, with Jeremy Renner nailing a quiet, modern cowboy with all the right tough-guy moves. He looks nothing like Nate Heller or Mike Hammer, but could play either one admirably.

* * *
Crusin' @ Ardon Creek

Crusin’ played a gig last Friday evening at Ardon Creek Winery – a lovely setting and a lovely evening. We play under a tent, open to a gentle slope where people dance and sit at tables to sip wine and munch bring-your-own goodies. To one side is the vineyard. Really a beautiful venue for us, with an appreciative crowd. We’ll be back next year.

Our new guitar player, Bill Anson, is doing a terrific job; good singer and he plays very well. He had to pick up about 36 songs – well, he brought about five or six suggestions along, which we learned – in about three weeks, during which we played two gigs. As I said about the previous performance, there were a few train wrecks but no fatalities, and we have the makings of a very good version of the band.

We play once more this year – at Ducky’s in Andulsia, Illinois, Thursday evening (6 to 9) – outdoors again, for their “bike night.” Our next scheduled appearance is April ‘18, and over the winter we’ll be retooling our list.

M.A.C.

Goings and Comings

Tuesday, August 15th, 2017

Dick Locher passed away last week.

As many of you know, I worked with Dick from 1983 until 1992, having taken over the writing of the Dick Tracy strip from Chester Gould in 1977, working first with Chet’s last assistant, Rick Fletcher. My relationship with Fletcher was occasionally rocky, due to my continuing friendship with Chet after Rick fell out with his former boss and father figure. But we did some very good work together.

I felt privileged to work with Locher, another former Gould assistant – one who went on to be a Pulitzer Prize-winning political cartoonist. Our relationship was generally a positive one, and we were friendly, though never really close. We lost contact when I was fired from the strip and I was somewhat resentful that he had not gone to bat for me. In my incredibly biased opinion, the strip under Dick never recovered from my exit.

A few years ago I joined Dick at Woodstock, Illinois (Gould’s home city), for the screening of a Tracy documentary we were both a part of. We re-bonded very nicely and any bumps in our past road was smoothed. It became clear he was equally unhappy with the editor who’d fired me, but as a company man he’d kept that to himself. We stayed in touch and exchanged e-mails, artwork and books. It was a nice way for our collaboration to evolve into a professional friendship.

The Tribune did a nice write-up about him, but I’m too petty to give you a link, because the Trib has conveniently written me out of Dick Tracy’s history. So I’ll give you this nice link instead.

Here’s one last fond fedora tip to my partner Dick Locher.

* * *

I think I’ve quoted this before, but where Tracy is concerned I often recall what Dean Martin reportedly said about Jerry Lewis: “The two best things that ever happened to me were meeting Jerry Lewis, and splitting with Jerry Lewis.”

I hated getting fired off Dick Tracy. I felt I had revitalized the strip. Friends, like Mike Gold, told me I should only do ten years, since it wasn’t my creation, and Chet Gould himself advised me not to let Tracy dominate my career, since he would always be the creator.

But Tracy was my childhood obsession and I would be still be writing it, had I not been fired by an editor who despised me almost as much as I despised him.

And yet, just as getting Tracy was the best thing that happened in my early career, losing it was the other “best thing.” Road to Perdition came about because I was scrambling to find a new comics project. The dust had barely settled on my Tracy firing when Andrew Helfer approached me to create a noir graphic novel for DC. Off the top of my head I pitched Gun and Son (which became Perdition), combining my love for Lone Wolf and Cub with the real-life story of John and Connor Looney and a betrayed lieutenant in Rock Island’s mob scene of the early 20th Century. The latter had been something I ran across researching my novel True Detective but couldn’t find a way to use, except in passing.

The rest, as they say, is history. No Tracy firing, almost certainly no Road to Perdition. For a lot of years, the famous thing I was known for was Tracy. Now the strip has receded into something of an interesting footnote and “author of Road to Perdition” is the famous thing.

I am leading up here to a wonderful review by that talented writer Ron Fortier about my prose novel version of Road to Perdition. You need to read this review, and if you have not yet purchased for your reading pleasure and edification the Brash Books edition of the complete version of the novel, what are you waiting for?

* * *

Yesterday Crusin’ performed for a late afternoon concert on the patio at Pearl City Plaza in Muscatine.

It could have been a nightmare. A couple of weeks ago our guitarist walked out on the band at rehearsal and I had a very limited time to decide whether to cancel our remaining two gigs of the year, or find a replacement.

My way is not to roll over and die, however, and with the recommendation of our drummer, Steve Kundel, I approached a well-known area musician, Bill Anson, to fill in. We rehearsed four times, one of them a marathon session, and Bill proved to be a great guy as well as a skilled, gifted guitarist/singer. What we do is not really his genre of choice, but I am hopeful he will stick around for a while. (I have offered him the position of Permanent Temporary Guitarist, perhaps channeling “Permanent Latrine Orderly” from No Time for Sergeants.)

How did the gig go? The audience was large and appreciative, and while there were occasional train wrecks, there were also no fatalities, and I can say in all honesty I haven’t had a better, looser time on a band job in years.

Thanks, Bill. And thanks to Brian Van Winkle, our bassist extraordinaire, for sticking with us in a sticky personal situation.

We play at least one more time this year, at Ardon Creek Winery on September 1, 6 to 9 pm. It’s a wonderful outdoor venue. Check it out, if you’re in the area.

* * *

Here’s a lovely piece on the Quarry TV series.

Here’s a nice write-up on the new Bibliomysteries collection that includes “It’s in the Book” by Mickey and me – my favorite of the Hammer short stories.

Scroll down and read nice things about the forthcoming Quarry’s Climax.

M.A.C.