Posts Tagged ‘Road to Perdition’

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.

After Party

Tuesday, March 20th, 2018

The Spillane birthday was truly a phenomenon. So much appeared on line and in newspapers and magazines that I am encouraged knowing the world remembers, and I believe will continue to remember, one of the greatest mystery writers of all time, and who is on the very short list of great private eye writers.

And the celebration will continue all year and into next. Right now we’re discussing a follow-up Mike Hammer radio-style play in Clearwater, Florida, next February or so, as the official closing event. Gary Sandy will likely be back as Hammer.

Killing Town will be out in April, and the Mike Hammer graphic novel from Titan will appear through the summer and fall, and probably be collected before year’s end.

* * *

I am working on Girl Most Likely, a new thriller with a mystery aspect. I hope to be almost finished with it by next update. Though it was conceived as a one-shot, it’s showing signs of wanting to become a series. In an odd way, it’s like a non-overtly-humorous version of the Barbara Allan books – the main characters are a retired police detective father (recently widowed) and his small-town chief-of-police daughter. The thriller aspect is represented by a scary and violent murderer, and the mystery involves the father-and-daughter duo finding out who that killer is, and stopping him or her.

To some degree this flows from my desire to do something American that recalls/invokes the Nordic crime thrillers best represented by The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo in its various forms and such TV series as the assorted Wallander adaptations and the three versions of The Bridge. I like the social commentary aspect of those works and the way a character-driven, not overly hardboiled detective or detectives deal with really frightening, violent adversaries.

I did my Dragon Tattoo variation for Thomas & Mercer a few years ago – What Doesn’t Kill Her – developed with my frequent collaborator, Matt Clemens. This time I’m on my own, though I’ve leaned on Matt for some on-the-fly police procedure stuff and on Barb to keep me honest with the female protagonist (both the daughter and father have equal weight in the narrative, alternating chapters, occasionally interrupted by chapters from the killer’s POV).

I will share more as we draw closer to publication, which won’t be incredibly soon because it’s not finished yet.

Ahead for me are the galley proofs of Scarface and the Untouchable – the thing is massive. Very proud of this, and I have a hunch it’s going to make some noise. My co-author, A. Brad Schwartz, and I are exploring ways to promote the book, which I frankly don’t think will be hard – Capone and Ness are iconic figures in our popular culture. I feel we’ve done them justice and told their story in a new, compelling, ground-breakingly accurate way.

* * *

Barb and I left an area movie theater after about an hour of Red Sparrow.

Now, for a long time I didn’t write negative things about movies. When I started making movies, in my modest way, I got a crash course in how effing hard it is to do. Because of this, I resigned from my Mystery Scene role as film critic, and when I wrote a review column for the late, much-missed Asian Cult Cinema, I wrote almost exclusively about movies I liked.

But, as regular readers of this update know, I have weakened, battered by too many terrible films, until I’m beyond the ability to feel compassion for their makers. Red Sparrow is a good example of why – it is horrid. It makes me wonder if I was wrong to walk out of Atomic Blonde, because Sparrow is so similar and so very much worse.

I am not easily offended. When I am offended, it’s usually something a politician did, not a writer or filmmaker or stand-up comic. But stupidity offends me. Red Sparrow is incredibly stupid, its plot inane. Do I exaggerate? Consider. The female star of the Bolshoi Ballet (which you may be forgiven as thinking of as the Bullshit Ballet in regard to this film) suffers a broken leg that ends her brilliant career. So the KGB (or whatever they’re calling themselves now) recruit her to be a spy…and send her undercover.

World-famous ballet stars being ideal choices for undercover espionage.

Jennifer Lawrence is fine, and very beautiful, and that I would walk out of a film knowing that more of her nude scenes lie ahead speaks volumes in and of itself. For her training in spycraft, she goes to sex-and-sadism school and learns how to give blow jobs to men she doesn’t like (Lawrence’s character herself calls this “whore school”). Her trainer is Charlotte Rampling, apparently cast because she was in the famous sadomasochistic Night Porter decades ago, though what she brings to mind here is Natasha in Rocky and Bullwinkle.

Guess what the plot is about? There’s a mole in the KGB that Lawrence is supposed to expose! Yes, the same as Atomic Blonde. Someone who liked this film said on Facebook (when Terry Beatty wondered if Red Sparrow was worth seeing) that it reminded him of John le Carré. Yes, if you were to read Fifty Shades of Grey and say, “Wow – this is just like Lolita!”

* * *

Here’s a nice Spillane-oriented interview of me by Mike Barson at Crimespree.

I’m somewhat weirded out by reviews of my early work, but this one – of Bait Money and Blood Money in their Hard Case Crime iteration, Two for the Money – isn’t bad.

J. Kingston Pierce provides my chronology of the Mike Hammer novels, which shows where the Spillane/Collins collaborations fit.

Here’s a preview of the final issue of Quarry’s War.

And I am pleased to see Road to Perdition singled out as one of the ten most stylish movies of the century thus far. Most of the writer’s other choices are good ones, though he includes two movies by Darren Aronofsky, one of my least favorite directors, and his top choice, Blade Runner 2049, Barb and I walked out of. A bad movie that looks great is still a bad movie. The play is the thing says I.

M.A.C.

The Year in Movies

Tuesday, December 5th, 2017

Okay, here are my annual movie awards. I have generously given awards this time to just about every movie I saw. Now, I will see a few more, probably, before year’s end and will likely comment on them. But for now…

Best film in a series I have no excuse for liking:
UNDERWORLD: BLOOD WARS

Best film in another series I have no excuse for liking:
RESIDENT EVIL: THE FINAL CHAPTER

Best film I’m mentioned in the end credits of:
THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE

Best sequel of the year:
JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2

Worst film starring Matt Damon:
THE GREAT WALL

Worst film we didn’t walk out of:
THE GREAT WALL

Best horror film of the year:
GET OUT

Most overrated sequel of the year:
LOGAN

Movie we walked out on but other people liked:
KONG: SKULL ISLAND

Worst movie I didn’t see:
CHIPS

Series most wearing out its welcome:
THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS

Series least wearing out its welcome:
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2

Most disappointing sequel:
ALIEN: COVENANT

Best superhero movie (okay, heroine):
WONDER WOMAN

Best movie in proposed series that will never happen:
THE MUMMY

Worst movie in proposed series that will never happen:
THE MUMMY

Best crime movie:
BABY DRIVER

Best movie that will have Kevin Spacey in it for a long, long time:
BABY DRIVER

Second best superhero movie:
SPIDERMAN: HOMECOMING

Most satisfying series entry:
WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES

Best historical film:
DUNKIRK

Another movie we walked out on that some people liked:
ATOMIC BLONDE

Stephen King movie that sucks a little less than people say:
THE DARK TOWER

Best movie of the year:
WIND RIVER

Sequel better than the original but still no great shakes:
ANNABELLE: THE CREATION

Movie we walked out on featuring cute nuns and Samuel Jackson:
THE HITMAN’S BODYGUARD

Best crime film that isn’t BABY DRIVER:
LOGAN LUCKY

Best thriller nobody saw:
UNLOCKED

Best Stephen King movie and not at all sucky:
IT

Half good, half bad movie of the year:
BATTLE OF THE SEXES

Sorta true movie the critics should have liked more:
VICTORIA & ABDUL

Movie we walked out on that you have no excuse liking:
BLADE RUNNER 2049

Second-best horror movie of the year:
HAPPY DEATH DAY

Best GROUNDHOG DAY rip-off:
HAPPY DEATH DAY

Movie I almost went to and then I read the reviews:
THE SNOWMAN

Second-best superhero movie of the year:
THOR: RAGNAROK

Best remake but still not as good as the original:
MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS

Best historical movie viewed through rose-colored glasses:
LBJ

Worst superhero movie (in which Lois Lane tells Superman he smells good after he’s been dead and buried for a while):
JUSTICE LEAGUE

Best actress in a terrific DC movie and also best actress in a terrible DC movie:
GAL GADOT

Best Christmas movie (and pretty good other days too):
THE MAN WHO INVENTED CHRISTMAS

Movie I really, really hated but didn’t see:
PITCH PERFECT 3

* * *

Here’s a very nice review of Quarry’s War issue #1.

Check out this nice write-up on the film Road to Perdition with a lot of stuff about the graphic novel, too.

M.A.C.

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.