Posts Tagged ‘Scarface and the Untouchable’

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.

A Movie We Didn’t Walk Out On

Tuesday, March 27th, 2018

The truth of it is, Barb and I rarely walk out of movies. But when we do, I usually post a rant about it here at the weekly update.

This week we saw Tomb Raider somewhat accidentally – I was trying to drag Barb along to see Pacific Rim: Uprising, having really liked the first movie, but we were there to see it in 3-D, as the Internet had assured us this screening would be.

It wasn’t.

So Barb and I went to Tomb Raider in 3-D instead.

We entered about a minute late, because of the Pacific Rim screw-up. This is rare, as I hate not seeing a movie from the very beginning. But we had made a trip to Quad Cities to see a movie in 3-D and I will not be denied, at least not with such important matters.

Anyway, we had seen the preview of Tomb Raider, thought it looked like a passable Saturday or Sunday afternoon matinee. We were wrong. Surprise: it’s more than that. It is a very good, rip-roaring, occasionally amusing, sometimes exciting and even scary Indiana Jones-type adventure, a sort of haunted house of a movie wherein the ghosts are 1940s serials.

Is it a great movie? No. But it delivers on what it promises – imagine that! Yes, it’s a movie based on a video game, and those underpinnings are there, and typically silly. But if you take the ride, assuming such a ride sounds like fun to you, you will be pleased. This reboot is superior to the earlier Tomb Raider movies starring Angelina Jolie (the second of those being particularly dire). Alicia Vikander is intelligent and charismatic as Lara Croft, and the villain is played by the great Walton Goggins of Justified and Vice Principals. A number of fine British actors pop up here and there, too. Oh, and a tomb is raided.

By the way, among the many things that make going to movies in theaters less and less appealing is the general stupidity of the audiences. I refer not to what they seem to put up with (we were surrounded by people in Red Sparrow who seemed to like it, apparently sadomasochists) but actual sheep-like, lemming-like stupidity.

When Barb and I entered Tomb Raider a minute or two late, it was clear we were not in a 3-D screening. Since we were only here because the film we came for was not in 3-D, as advertised, that this one wasn’t in 3-D was…an irritant. Everyone had their 3-D glasses on. No 3-D was happening. No one seemed to notice or care, though everyone had paid extra for the 3-D experience.

We went out to the lobby, reported the lack of 3-D and the mistake was rectified. The movie was in 3-D now. But if Barb and I hadn’t gone out to the lobby, Tomb Raider would have played flat, much like the graph line of mental activity in the brains of the rest of the attendees.

This is not the first weird thing that has happened to me at the movies lately, not hardly.

On my birthday (my 70th, goddamnit and get off my lawn), Barb and I were visiting our son Nathan, his bride Abby and our hilarious genius grandson, Sam. Nate and I left the rest of the brood home and went to a movie, driving some distance to see Annihilation, a s-f film about which more later. I bought my popcorn and Coke Zero and we were soon seated in the theater. About two minutes into the film, someone came in.

This someone was stomping on the floor and laughing manically. Not an exaggeration – if the Joker had been there, he’d have said, “Who’s the lunatic?” The somewhat late arrival stomped slowly up the steps and took a seat in back, making this weird, loud sort of laugh as he went.

I immediately turned to Nate and said, “Let’s go.”

He understood and nodded. We exited quickly and quietly.

Here’s the thing. We were in St. Louis, a big city. For the first time in my life, during which I have seen hundreds, maybe thousands of movies in theaters, I have never thought I might be in danger. But my response now was instant: this person may be here to kill us.

I’m not going to go into a rant about gun control and mental health and school shootings and movie house mayhem. I am going to let you conjure all that yourself. But it says a lot that I did not hesitate to leave at once in the circumstances described above. Nate and I both wondered if we were overreacting. But neither of us wanted to sit through a movie with someone loudly making noise in the back row (which I figured was a good spot for a shooter, but never mind) even if our lives weren’t in potential danger.

We scouted for another movie on another screen and were spotted by someone with the theater, wondering what we were up to. We reported the incident (if that’s what it was) and, eventually, were given a refund. We drove quite a while to another theater where we indeed saw Annihilation, which is interesting but pretentious, and needlessly unpleasant…or was I not for some reason in the mood for a violent movie?

* * *

I have completed Girl Most Likely. I am setting it aside for much of the rest of the week, to dig into the Scarface and the Untouchable galley proofs…all 700 pages. When I’m done, I will return to Girl with some distance and will do the final read-through, tweaking, chasing down typos and fixing errors and inconsistencies. Should be shipping it in about a week.

Right now I feel very pleased. I think I’ve done something different enough to attract some new readers and not so different as to alienate the rest of you.

Meanwhile, Barb is doing very well on her draft of the new Antiques novel. Her steady development as a writer is impressive and a little scary.

* * *

Here is an absolutely splendid Cinema Retro review of The Last Stand, dealing both with the title story and “A Bullet for Satisfaction,” which I co-wrote.

The Mystery Site has posted a smart review of The First Quarry.

The Criminal Element has chosen The Last Stand as one of the five new books you should read.

And, finally, the indefatigable Jeff Pierce provides several links pertaining to Mickey Spillane and me.

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.

A Tale of Two Birthdays

Tuesday, March 6th, 2018

Before I dig in this week, be sure to check out the incredible Wall Street Journal article on Mickey’s centenary and my role in it.

I was born March 3, 1948. Mickey Spillane was born March 9, 1918. I just turned 70. Mickey is about to turn 100. My friend, mentor and collaborator was almost exactly thirty years older than me.

When I told my agent, the great but always skeptical Dominick Abel, that I was going to do everything I could to get notice for Mickey’s centenary, he had his doubts. I reminded him that Mickey was the best-selling American mystery writer of the 20th Century (possibly best-selling writer of that era period), and he reminded me that the 20th Century was a long time ago.

As we say in comics, sigh.

But I had a plan, involving the first, previously unpublished (unfinished-till-now) Mike Hammer novel (Killing Town) and the very last novel Mickey completed on his own (The Last Stand). I felt those bookends could attract attention, and a PR person at Titan (which includes Hard Case Crime) agreed with me. Her name is Katharine Carroll and she has done a stellar job, and continues doing so. That Wall Street Journal piece is her doing, as is coverage in Publisher’s Weekly, Library Journal (see below), Booklist and much more. She also landed a Playboy spot for the opening chapter of Killing Town – that issue of Playboy is on the stands now. If you buy it, you will see how big I like to see my byline (a combination of healthy ego and poor eyesight). I have spent so much time staring at my huge byline that I keep forgetting to look at the nude women.

The Titan news release about the Mike Hammer serialized graphic novel (four issues to be followed by a collection) is all over the Net, as well as the Hollywood Reporter (link provided last week). What Titan’s publisher, Nick Landau, and Hard Case Crime’s editor, Charles Ardai, have done for Mickey and me is fairly amazing.

I just completed a massively long interview with J. Kingston Pierce, who is scary in the knowledge and precision of his questioning. That will, I presume, appear on his essential mystery-fiction site, The Rap Sheet, before long.

So Mickey is 100. And I am 70 (a fact noted fairly widely on the Net also). I admit I find this a sobering birthday. When you are in your sixties, life still seems to stretch ahead some. When you are in your seventies, not so much. I look around and my film collaborator, actor Mike Cornelison, is gone…for some time now. Ed Gorman has passed. Bill Crider is gone. That the universe can reclaim that kind of talent and energy is unspeakably sad.

I now look at the books I still want to write and don’t know if I’ll be able to get to them all. I wonder if an indie film project rears its head if I can still direct. Stress is a motherhumper after you’ve had open-heart surgery. I find myself working harder than ever, and as fast as I can manage without a negative impact on the quality of the work and the state of my health. Barb wants me to slow down, but I quite honestly feel my best when I’m working.

We spent the birthday weekend with son Nathan, daughter-in-law Abby and the preternaturally smart and funny Sam, our two-and-a-half-year old grandson. It is with sadness and humility that I must report to you that Sam is smarter than all of your grandchildren (put together), should you have any. Don’t bother trying to correct me. You might as well tell a Trump voter the truth about their guy.

At my birthday I reflect on how lucky I am and continue to be. Let’s start with the smartest, most beautiful and talented wife on the planet, Barbara Collins. Let’s continue with a great son and his growing little family. Let’s continue with my ability to avoid a real job while making impossible career dreams come true…continuing Dick Tracy after Chester Gould, completing Mike Hammer from Mickey’s unfinished manuscripts (for a dozen years!), Ms. Tree, the unstoppable Nate Heller, the resurrection of Quarry, making an unofficial sort of sequel to The Bad Seed with Patty McCormack herself, finally (with brilliant Brad Schwartz) setting the record straight on Eliot Ness and Al Capone (the upcoming Scarface and the Untouchable), playing in a band with some of the most gifted musicians in the Midwest, and, oh hell…lots of other stuff. Little things, like a Grandmaster “Edgar” from the MWA (did I ever mention that to you?).

It’s always seemed special and (ridiculous, I know) that Mickey Spillane and I have birthdays just a few days apart – his 9 is even divisible by my 3 (and you thought I couldn’t do math). And yet here we both still are, writing books together.

Even if the 20th Century was a long time ago.

* * *

Here’s some nice coverage of The Last Stand and the centenary at Library Journal, by way of an interview with me.

Check out this great review of The Bloody Spur at Gravetapping.

To help celebrate Mickey’s centenary, that gifted writer Raymond Benson has reviewed Mickey Spillane on Screen (by Jim Traylor and me) at the Cinema Retro web site.

Here’s a quirky (I think) positive review of Quarry’s Climax.

You have to scroll down a ways for it, but there’s a nice look at the Quarry TV series at Hardboiled Wonderland.

Finally, I was wished a nice happy birthday by Comics Reporter…and an old friend of Terry Beatty’s and mine.

M.A.C.