Posts Tagged ‘Road to Purgatory’

Heart-Felt Part 6

Tuesday, February 9th, 2016

Yes, let’s get on with it already! I should very soon (today or tomorrow) get test results that will immediately pave the way for the heart surgery. In that case, a good chance I’ll be going in yet this week. If that happens, my son Nate will start posting weekly the four updates I wrote in advance, and I should be in shape to get back to the regular stand after that.

Watch here and at Facebook for health updates from me or Nate.

Everybody has been great. Thanks for the love and support. Back at ya.

* * *

Publication of the ROAD TO PERDITION novel appears to be happening. As I was looking for a project to keep me busy while waiting for test results, I decided to prepare the manuscript for Brash Books. For those who came in late, in 2002 I wrote a 70,000-word movie tie-in novel (okay, novelization) of the script for the movie that was based on my graphic novel. In my novel, I attempted to be true to the screenplay while weaving in material from the graphic novel as well as historical material about the real John Looney and his era.

The DreamWorks licensing department put me through hell, making me cut anything – including dialogue! – that wasn’t directly from the script. They could not have cared less that I was the creator of this story and its characters. Even after they had accepted my 40,000-word debasement of my original novel, they kept cutting – if, in the film-editing process, director Sam Mendes dropped a scene or even a few lines of dialogue, they removed that from my novel as well. One chapter was reduced to a page and a half.

I’ve always felt I did really good job on the book, and it really paved the way for my sequels, ROAD TO PURGATORY and ROAD TO PARADISE. So I’ve looked for a way to get the novel into print. Now, enough years have passed that nobody at Paramount (who control DreamWorks) seems concerned about my original version finally being seen.

Quick anecdote. I was told by the DreamWorks licensing people that Mendes himself was making the requests for my drastic cuts of the novel. That he wanted it exactly like the movie. Then when I talked to Mendes at the London premiere, he said, “I hear you’ve written the movie novel – can’t wait to read it!”

So, anyway, back in 2016, I was faced with looking at my 2002 manuscript and dealing with it. Making decisions, doing tweaks, ferreting out typos and missing words. This was my original manuscript, after all, not any published version.

My first decision was to change the slightly revised movies names of several central characters back to my version of them – “Michael Sullivan” was restored to “Michael O’Sullivan” and John (and) Connor “Rooney” again became “Looney.” (The change from “Looney” to “Rooney” was done when either Mendes or the screenwriter assumed the former was a comic-booky name provided by a graphic novelist, when of course the latter is historically accurate.)

My second decision was to get rid of two major plot changes. (SPOILER ALERT: skip this paragraph if you haven’t read the graphic novel and/or seen the film). In the graphic novel, as in history, John Looney is not killed. And in the graphic novel, the boy Michael kills the hitman who has shot Michael’s father. In the film, Looney memorably dies in the rain, and a Hollywood ending has the boy unable to shoot the hitman and the dying father being pleased. I had already restored the envelope of first-person narration by the grown Michael, Jr., and a last-page revelation of what became of him.

So I spent a day rewriting those scenes, taking them back to my original intention. But it didn’t work. The screenwriter had done too good a job of laying the groundwork for his version of my scenes. And I had done a really good job in the novel of doing the same, including fixing some plot holes in the script. Re-doing those scenes to make them consistent with the graphic novel created a domino effect of terrible proportions. The next work day, I restored the scenes as I’d originally written them (faithful to the movie script).

It quickly became clear that I had no business doing any significant rewriting. The point of the exercise was to get what I wrote in 2002 into print. This is not to say that I didn’t do some tweaking, but it was mostly a few word choice changes. I did fix a couple of things that bothered me in the movie that I had let pass in the novelization.

An example – in the film, Mike Sullivan has just offered his services to Frank Nitti if Nitti will give up Connor Rooney. Nitti turns Sullivan down, then after Mike has gone, we find that in adjacent room both Connor and John Looney are waiting. In what I think of as the Dr. Evil and Scott scene, Connor tells his father that they should take Mike down right now – he’s in their grasp! Rooney, again like Dr. Evil in Austin Powers, says something like, “You just don’t get it, do you son?” As much as I love the film, this makes me cringe. So I revised it with the father telling his son why it would be unwise to kill Sullivan, specifically that in a busy hotel during the day, the resultant melee would be a disaster. Those who’ve read the graphic novel know that I did have O’Sullivan shoot his way out of the hotel. Not staging that scene was a rare misstep and a missed opportunity.

On the whole, I was very pleased by what I wrote in 2002, and again I did very little rewriting or additional writing. Since Brash Books also intends to bring out ROAD TO PURGATORY and ROAD TO PARADISE in new editions, I feel confident that the prose novel of ROAD TO PERDITION will be a good lead-in – that it forms with the two sequels a trilogy that will please readers, particularly those who became familiar with PERDITION via the film.

One final note: one of the trickiest things had to do with converting between word processing programs. You want to know how long ago 2002 was? The book was written in WordStar! I had to convert it to Word Perfect, my preferred program, after which my revised manuscript had to be converted to Word. That meant, as a final step, going through and eyeballing each of around 400 pages, looking for glitches.

* * *

Check out this nifty cover of the mass-market edition of KILL ME, DARLING. By the way, I don’t recall whether I’ve mentioned it or not, but several goofs in the hardcover of COMPLEX 90 were corrected in the paperback version – making it the author-approved text of that novel.

The DARLING paperback will be out this month (the 23rd).

Speaking of my collaborations with Mickey Spillane, I urge you to check out the article at Great Writers Steal that happens to be one of the smartest examinations of either my work or Mickey’s that anybody has ever written.

Less smart is the favorable but patronizing review at the normally more reliable UK site, Crime Fiction Lover. Once again, it turns out that a book written in the ‘70s includes some ‘70s attitudes. And once again, the reviewer troubled by that doesn’t mind at all Quarry killing people.

Speaking of smart reviews, here’s a great one about the Heller novel ASK NOT, from Frank the Movie Watcher.

Let’s wind up with a great piece on THE MALTESE FALCON, from a writer smart enough to quote me.

M.A.C.

Barbara Allan: How it Works

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014
Antiques Fruitcake

No question comes my way more frequently than, “How do you and your wife Barb collaborate on the ANTIQUES books?” Well, actually, I’m more often asked, “Has anybody told you that you look like Elton John?” But not much.

As I spent last week working on a Barbara Allan project, this seems as good a time as any to answer the first question. (As for the second question, there’s no answering it that will make it go away.)

As part of our most recent contract with Kensington Publishing, Barb and I agreed to write three novellas in the ANTIQUES series in addition to three full-length novels. The idea was to write novellas that could be e-books in an effort to attract new readers, and to prime readers for the next book in the series.

Further, each novella was to be Christmas-themed. This set the stage for possibly collecting the novellas, maybe with a new one, in book form at some point. Looking at the writing of one of these novellas should provide a study in microcosm of the collaborative writing process used by Barb and me on the novels themselves.

The work began several months ago with a series of conversations, fairly casual, about what the basic story would be, and what the title might be. Titles are tricky on these Christmas novellas. Coming up with something clever, like HO HO HOMICIDE or CHRISTMAS STALKING isn’t that tricky (although lots of possibilities have been used, including those); but in our case we have to include ANTIQUES in the title. Something like ANTIQUES CHRISTMAS STALKING has about as much music as a trombone falling down the stairs.

The first of the novellas was ANTIQUES SLAY RIDE and the second (which will be e-published a week from today) is ANTIQUES FRUITCAKE. We considered ANTIQUES MISTLETOE TAG, but that damn “Antiques” made it clumsy. So – we gave up and moved on to figuring out the story.

As is our habit, we kicked around ideas over lunch at various restaurants. Barb suggested something to do with a street-corner Santa Claus getting killed for his donation bag. But that had no “antiques” aspect, so I suggested somebody had put a valuable old coin in the bag, possibly by mistake. Then came the notion that our Santa was not Salvation Army variety, but a good-hearted local person raising money for some good cause. And the valuable-coin donation was on purpose.

From there came both a more detailed plot – with the same kind of back-and-forth brainstorming that Matt Clemens and I engage in – and a possible title. ANTIQUES SECRET SANTA. Finally I came up with ANTIQUES ST. NICKED, which became the title (unless Kensington hates it).

About five weeks ago, we finalized the chapter breakdown (over lunch, of course). When the Hollywood pitch trip came along, Barb went with me and worked on the ANTIQUES story in our hotel room while I was off on meetings. She got her draft of the first of five chapters written.

Back home, she continued at a rate of one chapter a week. In the meantime, I was doing two drafts of that TV script I’ve mentioned as well as several smaller writing jobs I agreed to do in weak moments. A week ago, she turned over her five-chapter, 69-page draft to me.

Monday through/including Thursday, last week, I did a chapter a day, revising, expanding, tightening, tweaking. Along the way I would have plot and character questions for Barb, which she would answer, or that she and I would discuss and work out. End of day she’d read my draft, mark it up, and I would enter her changes and corrections, either then or the first thing next work day.

Friday was beautiful, so we said, “Screw it,” and had one of our typical getaway days, going to the Amana Colonies and then Cedar Rapids for food and shopping. Saturday I did the final of five chapters, and on Sunday we both read the manuscript, first Barb, then me, each making notes and corrections.

Reading any long manuscript that you’ve written a chapter at a time, without doing much referring back as you go, means you’re likely to encounter plot and continuity problems, and that happened here. One thing that happened was that several things in our plot and on a “CHARACTERS/SUSPECT” sheet that Barb had prepared for me had not made it into the manuscript. We wrote them in. By late afternoon Sunday, the manuscript was finished – now 84 pages.

We may not turn it in for a while – that will be our editor’s call – because we did this story way early, in part because Barb needs to get cracking on the next ANTIQUES novel, but mostly because the deadline for the second Caleb York novel (also for Kensington) is the same day as for this novella. A “yikes” would not be inappropriate here.

It’s hard for a writer to know, right after finishing something, if it’s worth a damn. Barb is still just shrugging, shaking her head and making faces about this one. I feel more confident that we have just the right mix of our typical format with our characters presented well, a tricky little mystery, Christmas theme, serious subject matter handled delicately, and lots of laughs.

* * *

Here’s a very good, flattering essay about my work that morphs into a Chicago crime piece. I do wonder if the writer knows that much of what he goes on to discuss was dealt with in my novels ROAD TO PURGATORY and ROAD TO PARADISE.

Here’s a great little piece (with mentions of yours truly) on one of my favorite paperback writers of the ‘60s, Ennis Willie. (I’ll be talking about him and several other under-appreciated writers on a Bouchercon panel.)

Finally, check out this generous write-up, having to do with my writing a brief advance review of a book on Milton Caniff and his STEVE CANYON character Miss Mizzou.

M.A.C.

Son Of A Pitch

Tuesday, May 10th, 2011

Not long ago, I was out in Hollywood for one of my rare “pitch” trips. One session was on the studio lot of a network with a very famous writer/producer, with a new Mike Hammer series the subject. Two sessions at two cable networks were for “Interstate 666″ (the hardy among you may remember my short story of that name in one of the HOT BLOOD paperbacks). The latter would be in partnership with producer Carl Amari (who did my two Mike Hammer “radio” novels, most recently THE NEW ADVENTURES OF MIKE HAMMER: ENCORE FOR MURDER). Carl has a deal with Fangoria magazine, who would “present” the film and subsequent series.

These are always long shots, but I have a lot of faith in Carl. The possible Hammer series – my involvement there would likely be limited to a script or two per season – is in the hands of my longtime friend, movie/TV agent and producing partner, Ken Levin.

ROAD TO PURGATORY remains in play, and is one of several projects I hope to do with my frequent collaborator, Phil Dingeldein, of dphilms in Rock Island.

I just heard the other day that “Interstate 666″ won Best Unproduced Screenplay at the Iowa Motion Picture Awards. I was for many years very active with the Iowa Motion Picture Association, but for the last several have stayed mostly on the sidelines. As such, I didn’t attend the awards presentation, but I’m obviously happy to win.

There was some fun coverage of various M.A.C. projects on the net this past week.

A big surprise was the attention my two Jack and Maggie Starr novels received at the Noir Journal. They don’t really consider the books “noir,” but like them anyway, and (like me) wish there were more. There’s a possibility I will be doing a third Jack and Maggie mystery, this time for Hard Case Crime – which means it will be sexier and more violent, and maybe even noir enough for the Journal to pronounce it such.

KISS HER GOODBYE is not on the bookstore shelves yet (you remember bookstores, right?) and is still a pre-order at Amazon and Barnes & Noble; but it’ll be out in a couple of weeks, and continues to get nice coverage. A bookseller has very nice and I think smart things to say about the book here.

There are also some nice KISS HER Goodreads comments you might find worthwhile.

The director of THE LAST LULLABY, the Quarry movie, has a short but sweet interview on that subject here.

And the Collins/Beatty Wild Dog gets a brief, smart write-up at Scoop. Check it out.

Getting back to the Hollywood trip, it was a whirlwind two days, but I got to spend an evening with my pal Leonard Maltin and his wife Alice and daughter Jess, three of my favorite people. Leonard booked a booth at Musso & Frank’s, the famous old Hollywood Blvd restaurant, and the specific booth he booked (the “Chaplin” just inside the doors) was the one I used for Nate Heller and a Dorothy Kilgallen-type newspaper columnist in the forthcoming BYE BYE, BABY. A nice coincidence.

Nicer still was getting to accompany Leonard to the TCM Film Festival where I met Jane Powell and Robert Osborne (and saw Leonard interviewing Ms. Powell, followed by a big-screen screening of SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS). I kidded Mr. Osborne that I should have been an interview subject for TCM’s Mike Hammer evening (then upcoming, now past). Mr. Obsborne took my joshing seriously and started talking about budget constraints, etc. He warmed up after that, but I have to say – they should have had me on. Mr. Osborne made two errors in the introduction of THE GIRL HUNTERS, saying that most critics panned Mickey as Mike (not true – he got mostly raves) and that the film was Mickey’s debut as an actor (of course not – that was RING OF FEAR…which TCM has aired a number of times).

The three Hammer films TCM aired were KISS ME DEADLY, MY GUN IS QUICK and THE GIRL HUNTERS. Still MIA for TCM are the original I, THE JURY and THE LONG WAIT, both far better than MY GUN IS QUICK – although TCM aired a great print of that…and MGM is making the film available here.

M.A.C.

Returning to Perdition

Tuesday, September 7th, 2010

I am back at work on Return to Perdition – strictly on the front burner now. I’m inspired by Terry Beatty’s great artwork. I hope this graphic novel, the conclusion to the Perdition saga, is out next year some time. Some of the characters and events intertwine with the Marilyn and Kennedy Nate Heller novels, which is tricky.

And negotiations to possibly film my screenplay from my novel Road to Purgatory are continuing apace. I never believe this kind of thing till the check clears and shooting begins, but it’s promising, very promising.

After a busy summer, Crusin’ has no bookings this September – next date is Oct. 1 at the Elms in Muscatine. But we have been booked back to Riverside Casino in December, which is very encouraging, and we are putting together our live CD to help show other venues what we can do. Any Midwestern mystery conventions would be wise to consider us.

Even now The Big Bang is racking up some nice notices. You’ll have to scroll down to read this nice one from the Lansing State Journal.

It’s a pleasure to see an Augusta Chronicle article about cult crime writer Ennis Willie getting widespread attention on the web. Considering Willie was a mystery himself for years, seeing his picture and reading an interview with him is almost surreal…definitely surreal is seeing my own name prominent in the article. A good job, though the writer seems to think Willie was a rich, famous writer in the ‘60s, when even then he was an obscurity, published by a minor softcore smut house (Merit Books) out of Chicago. Over the years, a handful of us realized we had been reading and loving and collecting Willie, and our enthusiasm turned him into a much-collected writer – the original paperbacks now go for a lot of money. The article, of course, covers the new Willie collection, Sand’s Game, from Ramble House.

Fun to see Dead Street (by Mickey Spillane with a little help from yrs truly) getting attention so late in the game with this really nice write-up.

Downright odd is seeing my Dick Tracy movie novelization getting attention, but here’s a pretty good article on my adventures with Disney on that project. You can get my version in the book Tied-In, available at Amazon on Kindle and print-on-demand.

I’ll wrap by saying Barb and I saw some very fun movies this weekend – Machete and Going the Distance, incredibly different films but similar in that they are entertaining and not cookie-cutter Hollywood. Machete is, of course, an outrageous B-movie ride, while Going the Distance is a really funny, uncontrived romantic comedy with Justin Long and Drew Barrymore. In addition, we got the blu-ray from England of the new updated Sherlock (Martin Freeman of the original Office is Watson) – it’s first-rate, really terrific. It’s coming out over here soon, and don’t miss it. In its way it’s very faithful, and by dumping the Victorian era, you get an idea of what it must have been like to encounter the Sherlock Holmes tales when they were first published, and were cutting-edge current, not fog-wrapped nostalgia.

M.A.C.