Posts Tagged ‘Short Stories’

Holy Supper, Batman!

Tuesday, June 13th, 2017

When the Batman TV show was announced in late 1965, I was ecstatic. It would have been a dream come true had I ever thought to dream it. In January 1966, I was the only comic book fan in my high school in Muscatine, Iowa, and certainly the only person who had been reading the BATMAN comic since around 1954.

Perhaps there were others around me, closeted in four-color shame, but I didn’t know about them. I was open about it. Everybody knew I was into comics, just as everybody knew I was a Bobby Darin fanatic. That I was driven, intense, and wanted to be a writer or a singer or a cartoonist or something in the arts. I was cheerfully humored, although I’m sure this status was no help in getting me laid.

When I got into comics – trading two-for-one at a local antiques shop, or buying them used for five cents or new for a dime – MAD was still a comic book, the original Captain Marvel was still being published, and H.G. Peter was drawing Wonder Woman in a style so eccentric even I knew something was wrong, yet very right, about it. I saw MAD turn into a magazine and the EC horror comics disappear just as I was laying hands on them. Captain Marvel just disappeared, as if a super-villain had taken him out.

For a long time, I had an allowance of ten cents a week, which meant I could buy one comic book a week. Dick Tracy and Batman were the only certainties. The rest went to Dell comics like the sporadic Zorro comics and various movie tie-in issues, filled in with Superman and his “family” – Jimmy Olsen and Lois Lane.

Later I bought Amazing Fantasy #15 off the stands, as well as Fantastic Four #1 and Spiderman #1, and probably the first ten years of both. Sold the valuable issues for hundreds of dollars when I was a college student because, well, I was a college student and the money I got from playing in a rock ‘n’ roll band only went so far.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

In January 1966, a senior in high school, I was delighted and amazed and astounded by the prospect of a Batman TV show. To say I was looking forward to it is an understatement of super-heroic proportions.

Then a disaster happened: on the night Batman would premiere, my church group (the MYF, which I believe stood for Methodists Youths getting Effed) was throwing a supper to raise funds for something or other (certainly not the poor or disadvantaged – probably to go on some trip). I had to serve. Define that any way you like, but it entailed bringing hot plates of food to the waiting victims in the church basement’s dining hall.

Understand that there were no VCRs or any other recording devices to “time-shift” a TV show you wanted to watch. That was as far-fetched as time travel itself. For days I tried to think of a way out. I was past being able to fake sickness for my parents, and the notion of saying I wanted to skip a church function to watch a TV show was as crazy as thinking that someday I would no longer be a Republican.

So I schemed. My parents would be at the church supper, too, which meant the house would be empty. Batman was only a half-hour show. We lived across town, a trip I could recklessly make in under ten minutes. It was possible. It could happen. A laugh oddly like the Joker’s echoed around inside my brain, bouncing off the walls, currently decorated with photos of Elke Sommer.

Wednesday, January 12, 1966. Arriving early at the church, I found a parking place near the kitchen’s side door, went in, and began being conspicuously (suspiciously?) helpful. Hungry Methodists arrived. I began serving. In the kitchen door at right you would go in, pick up your food, then carry a steaming hot plate of who-the-hell-remembers out the other door, at left. Deliver food, maybe get a smile and a thanks (usually not), and repeat the process. At 6:20 P.M., I began the process, entering the kitchen at right, then – not missing a beat – slipped out the side door into the alley and got behind the wheel of my Chevy II.

Like a madman I drove across down, and by 6:29 was seated Indian-style on the floor in front of the TV. The nah-nah-nah-nah-nah theme plays over cartoon credits, my mouth drops open and stays there as I witness a comic-book world awash in color, Adam West and Burt Ward portraying Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson (SPOILER ALERT: the secret identities of Batman and Robin). Frank Gorshin appears as a manic, cackling Riddler, with whom I could identify. The Batusi is danced. Mesmerized, delighted, I watch as the comic book I had loved since age five comes alive in an amazingly deft manner that at once honored and spoofed it – I knew immediately a little kid could enjoy the adventurous, colorful surface, and an adult could enjoy the tongue-in-cheek spoof of it. Since I was both a little kid and an adult, I was the perfect audience.

As the episode (sort of) ended – “Same Bat time, same bat channel!” – I ran from the house to my car like West and Ward headed for the Bat-Pole and the waiting Batmobile, and headed back to the church, where my fellow Methodist teens (and my parents!) (choke!) awaited. I parked, ran to the side door, slipped into the kitchen, picked up a plate of food and exited the door at left, into the dining hall.

Some friend of mine frowned at me and said, “Where have you been?”

I smiled devilishly – more Riddler than Joker. “Home. Watching Batman.”

For a good 48 hours, I was legendary at Muscatine Senior High.

Then, two decades later, I would write the Batman comic book for a year and become perhaps the most reviled writer of the feature in history – because I didn’t take it seriously enough, according to fans who take it too seriously…who think the sixties TV show was the worst thing that ever happened to Batman, when in fact it was what made the (sometimes too) Dark Knight a pop-cultural phenomenon.

Who know more about Batman than the seventeen year-old who raced home to see the premiere of the TV show and risked not going to heaven for it. Or at least catching hell from his folks.

Farewell, Adam West.

* * *

There’s a nice review of Bibliomysteries, the Otto Penzler collection that includes the Hammer story, “It’s in the Book.”

Fun review of Supreme Justice here.

Here’s an interesting if patronizing review of both the novel and graphic novel of Road to Perdition by someone who loves the movie and came to the source later.

M.A.C.

Today’s the Day! (Later is Good, Too.)

Tuesday, April 26th, 2016
The Big Showdown
Hardcover:
E-Book:

The Legend of Caleb York
Paperback:
E-Book: Amazon Google Play Nook Kobo iTunes

Antiques Fate
Hardcover:
E-Book: Amazon Google Play Nook Kobo iTunes

The day this appears (April 26) is the pub date of the second Caleb York novel, THE BIG SHOWDOWN, in hardcover, and also of THE LEGEND OF CALEB YORK in mass-market paperback (co-bylined with the great Mickey Spillane). On this same big day, the new Trash ‘n’ Treasures mystery, ANTIQUES FATE, appears in hardcover. A week from now (May 3), the new Nate Heller will be out: BETTER DEAD (more about that next week).

These are all books I’m pleased with. I think THE BIG SHOWDOWN has one of the best, moody scenes of action/violence – a shoot-out in a rainstorm – that I’ve ever come up with. ANTIQUES FATE may be my favorite of the Brandy and Vivian Borne novels, with its faux-British setting reminiscent of MIDSOMER MURDERS and Miss Marple’s St. Mary Mead. It’s also very funny. No brag, just fact, as we western novelists are wont to say. Or is that want to say?

You may think that novels are flying out of my computer as if it were haunted. Actually, last year was one of my least prolific ones, due to the health problems that turned up in May. The only book I wrote during that period was MURDER NEVER KNOCKS (a Hammer, as usual working from Spillane material), and I also managed to do the short story “A Dangerous Cat,” which appears in the current Strand Magazine. The novel was written in the weeks after the treatment in which my heart was jump-started like an old Buick, to get rid of the irregular heartbeat that had turned up with my condition – for maybe a month I felt a lot better.

I wrote “A Dangerous Cat” later, feeling fairly shitty actually, but the story needed writing. It represented the last Hammer fragment that I’d set aside for short story purposes, and writing it would give me a Hammer collection (eight stories) – Otto Penzler is publishing it later this year as A LONG TIME DEAD.

The books that are coming out today (if you’re reading this on the day it appears) predate the health problems, and give something of a false impression about my apparently prolific 2015. But I am happy to report that I am back at work here in 2016, and in fact Barb and I have already delivered the next Trash ‘n’ Treasures mystery, ANTIQUES FRAME. She had been working on her draft throughout the medical adventures during which she was my incredible support system – the last bits of it were written by her in my hospital room. The rapid comeback my right hand made allowed me to get to work after two or three weeks at home.

Currently I am working on the third Reeder and Rogers political thriller. My cohort Matt Clemens is wrapping up his draft while I start mine. So far it looks like SUPREME JUSTICE and FATE OF THE UNION will have solid company. By the way, SUPREME JUSTICE recently hit the 100,000 books-sold mark. This does not count 175,000 books generated in the Kindle First program. Most of those copies were e-books, a fact I have trouble caring about.

Much of this year will be dedicated to getting back on deadline, as much as possible. I have no way to know how quickly the recovery will go, although so far – at nine weeks – I’m told by doctors and physical therapists that I’m doing very well. The biggest obstacle to getting my work done are the essential twice-weekly occupational and physical therapy sessions, which last 80 minutes. Or I should say the biggest obstacle is my reduced stamina and increased fatigue – after the physical therapy, I invariably have needed a nap of an hour or two. Takes a bite out of the writing day.

But things are improving. I had my first band practice (Crusin’) last Tuesday – an hour was about all I could manage, but I managed. We’ll practice again soon and play a two-hour gig in June. This weekend son Nate and his bride Abby visited with our incredible grandson, the criminally cute Sam Collins, in tow. Nate and Abby – currently living in St. Louis – are exploring coming back here to Iowa.

Realtor Suzi Webb (great name) – a good friend from my high school days – arranged a tour for us of half a dozen houses. I went along and, despite a lot of stairs, held up fine. Okay, I took and hour and a half nap after – but just a few weeks ago that adventure would have been out of the question.

For those of you who haven’t stopped reading yet, let me say that I never expected to discuss these health issues here. But my son has always encouraged me to look at behind-the-scenes stuff, and me reporting on how the writing is going seems pretty basic.

* * *

a ten minute interview I did at the last Bouchercon (in Raleigh), specifically focusing on B’Con memories and my general attitude about the annual event.

Here’s a fun review of TWO FOR THE MONEY, the Hard Case Crime omnibus of BAIT MONEY and BLOOD MONEY.

And here’s a list from a lawyer selecting 10 “Great Novels About the Supreme Court.” One of them is SUPREME JUSTICE!

M.A.C.

Go Sell A Watchman

Tuesday, July 21st, 2015
Go Set A Watchman

I have read around 100 pages of Harper Lee’s GO SET A WATCHMAN, and frankly don’t know if I’ll get any farther in it.

The writing certainly has at least occasional flair, though the use of point of view isn’t to my liking – suddenly jumping into another character’s POV for a while, and then back again, is an amateur ploy. The secondary characters aren’t particularly compelling, and the dialogue is often precious. But what’s really wrong with the novel is that it has no discernible plot. Unlike its famous predecessor, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (like I had to tell you), there’s no murder trial to provide an engine to the small-town nostalgia set pieces.

MOCKINGBIRD is not a particular favorite of mine. I read it when it came out, in my youth, and have seen the fine film version a couple of times. But it’s not a novel that resonated with me so deeply that I named a child “Atticus” much less became expert in the prose style of its one-hit wonder author.

Mickey Spillane used to cite Lee and Margaret Mitchell as examples of “authors,” when explaining the difference between authors and writers, considering himself a prime example of the latter. An author wrote a book or two, a writer made a living at it and produced a shelf of work.

I take special interest in WATCHMAN because of my role as Mickey’s literary executor. I’m frankly surprised that there’s been as little fuss over just how much material Mickey left behind and just how much of it I’ve prepared for publication. But I do have a special context for seeing how reviewers and commentators have responded to WATCHMAN.

First of all, most of what has been written about the novel has been nonsense. Few have reviewed it on its own terms (the only way to review a novel properly). Many have speculated about whether or not Harper Lee truly gave permission for this early work to be published (though she clearly has). Many talk about the publishing industry in ways that reveal they know nothing about how publishing works, much less novel writing.

The biggest piece of misinformation is that WATCHMAN is a rough draft of MOCKINGBIRD. No. Not even close. It’s a different book about the more famous novel’s principal characters, set twenty years later. Its theme is finding out a beloved parent has feet of clay, and that’s valid enough. WATCHMAN has also been called a sequel or even a prequel. Here we’re getting warmer.

MOCKINGBIRD is the prequel to WATCHMAN. Some sources indicate that Lee and her publisher intended WATCHMAN to be published (and presumably somewhat rewritten) as the third book in a trilogy about these characters. Whether any real work was done on book two, and what that book would have been, is currently withheld. My guess, and it’s just a guess, is that Lee is one of those writers whose initial success sent her spiraling into a life-long writer’s block. Or in Mickey’s terms, an author’s block….

People seem terribly confused that the second book chronologically was written first. But writers (and even authors) know that’s ridiculous – that books in a series or saga can be written in whatever order the writer damn well chooses. My novels STOLEN AWAY and DAMNED IN PARADISE are chronologically the first in the Nathan Heller series; but they were published (and written) as books five and eight respectively.

On the other hand, WATCHMAN should have received a polish that brought it more in line with MOCKINGBIRD (there’s a major inconsistency about the murder trial in MOCKINGBIRD when referenced in WATCHMAN, for example). But the editors were too intimidated by Lee’s reputation to fix such things, and she is apparently not in any shape to do any writing or even editing herself (or if she is, isn’t interested).

Should the book have been published? Many say no. I say, “Hell, yes.” So far I don’t particularly care for the thing, but Harper Lee is a major author, and this is a second book about the famous characters in MOCKINGBIRD, and it makes a very interesting point about putting parents on pedestals.

But the book is a flawed, early work, apparently intended originally for revision so that it could be published after MOCKINGBIRD. So the bestseller approach that Harper (the publisher, not the author) has taken can be seen as at best inappropriate and at worst sleazy.

WATCHMAN deserved a publication that was more respectful of its history and the state it’s in – a scholarly introduction or after word, for example, to explain the context and the importance of the work, however flawed. To present it as just the “new” Harper Lee novel seems designed to make a lot of money while alienating the very readers who are pumping that money in.

Presented as more of an historical artifact, WATCHMAN still would have sold very well, and it would have received a more fair judgment by the public, the press and reviewers.

* * *

The Hon Company in my hometown of Muscatine, Iowa, is a very successful office-furniture manufacturer. My Dad worked for them for many decades, and I think he would have been proud of my appearance on this Hon-distributed piece on “7 Facts About Muscatine.”

There’s a Nate Heller story in the new anthology, CHICAGO NOIR, which recently got a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly.

Here’s a nice review of the Nolan novel, HUSH MONEY.

And here’s a nice bit about the “Nat” Heller novels.

M.A.C.

Why Critics Can’t Be Trusted With Sequels

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2014

The kneejerk reaction of most film critics to a sequel is to trash it. They walk in hating the movie they are being forced to see (usually for free, I might add). There have been exceptions – the second GODFATHER, for instance – but in recent years, when sequels have proliferated, the critical response to them has been so automatically negative as to make their comments worthless.

Case in point: two recent films that are sequels to very successful comedies have received almost interchangeably bad reviews: DUMB AND DUMBER TO and HORRIBLE BOSSES 2.

In the first instance, the critics have a point – this many-years-later sequel to that beloved celebration of idiocy is something many of us looked forward to. Who, with the ability to laugh, would not want to catch up with Lloyd and Harry? For the first two-thirds or so of the film, the movie is funny, and Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels deliver throughout. Then there is a bad and unfortunate stumble in the third act, where plot concerns kick in and laughs fall out. And the co-directing/scripting Farrelly Brothers seem out of step, their gross-out ‘90s sensibility turning cruel, not darkly funny. An easy line to cross, particularly when you’re struggling to catch lightning in a bottle twice. You’re more likely to get hit by it.

So DUMB AND DUMBER TO probably deserves some bad reviews – though not to the severe degree it suffered. But, yes, it’s a disappointment.

Then comes HORRIBLE BOSSES 2. The reviews read almost exactly the same as those for DUMB AND DUMBER TO. But the film is easily funnier than its predecessor, if having less integrity (this is a fate most sequels meet). BOSSES 2 builds on the first movie, turning its trio of former would-be murderers into would-be kidnappers (Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, Jason Sudekis), who are in high bumbling, fast-talking form. Bateman may be the funniest straight-man of all time, and that’s coming from somebody who reveres Bud Abbott and Dean Martin.

Jaimie Fox, Jennifer Aniston and Kevin Spacey reappear in top form (the latter a glorified cameo that still almost steals the film) while Chris Pine turns out to be very funny, at times seeming to channel William Shatner more overtly than in the reboot STAR TREK films. Then there’s the most horrible boss of all – Christoph Waltz – who is, as usual, a master of civility-coated villainy.

This is one of those richly comic films that will require several viewings to catch every funny line. At the same time, it manages to present a new story for the central characters that has enough echoes of the previous one to serve the “same but different” requirement. Because we are familiar with the characters, they don’t build – they reappear full-throttle and yet ascend from there.

A typical critical complaint: the three leads do not have horrible bosses this time. And that’s true – they are the horrible bosses, although in a much different way than the trio they hoped to murder last time around.

The lesson here is simple: don’t trust film critics (except me, of course). Most of them didn’t like either DUMB OR DUMBER or HORRIBLE BOSSES, either – so their reviews tend to be bad sequels to a previous bad review.

* * *

Our condolences to a good friend, Bill Crider, on the passing of his wife Judy. There was not a nicer, smarter couple in the world of mystery fiction. Hearing Bill describe Judy as his in-house editor, business manager and collaborator resonated deeply with me.

Typically, Bill hasn’t missed a day posting funny and informative squibs on what is my favorite blog site, hands down: Bill Crider’s Popular Culture Magazine.

* * *

I posted this already on Facebook, but here’s a terrific review of THE GIRL HUNTERS on blu-ray and DVD.

Here’s a nice review, with a mention of moi, of Otto Penzler’s The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries. This came out last year but is hitting the book stalls again. You can find a personal favorite short story of mine, “A Wreath for Marley,” in its pages.

I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving. We certainly did, with son Nate and his wife Abby as well as granddog Toaster, who expects (and gets) walks in the most frigid of Iowa weather (which is pretty damn frigid). We shopped not at all on Thanksgiving (assuming “on line” doesn’t count) and on Saturday we fed mazuma into the mammoth maw of American consumer culture. My sale-item find – a new office chair with improved back support…black leather but with a gold Hawkeye symbol on that head rest. That echoey laughter you hear is from my late father, a devoted Hawkeye fan always mystified by my lack of interest in my alma mater’s sports program.

M.A.C.