Posts Tagged ‘Short Stories’

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Short and Sweet

Tuesday, April 2nd, 2013

My son says that I am turning into “that guy at the end of 60 MINUTES” (he wasn’t sure whether that was Mickey Rooney or Andy Rooney), meaning that I am starting to make this update the home of weekly curmudgeonly rants. So this week I’ll devote myself to mostly positive short takes.

Last week was spent writing a long Mike Hammer short story (almost 12,000 words) for Otto Penzler’s series of mini-books with a bibliophile theme. Otto sells these in his legendary Mysterious Bookshop in NY. Otto says he will publish the mini-book, entitled IT’S IN THE BOOK, late summer. We’ll provide a link when the time comes.

Speaking of Mike Hammer short stories, you’ll find “So Long, Chief” in the new issue of The Strand. These Mike Hammer short stories are developed from fragments in Mickey Spillane’s files, usually five or ten pages. I’ve worked up half a dozen short stories so far (two more fragments await) with an eye on an eventual Hammer short story collection.

Last week something delightful happened – Harlan Ellison called to say how much he liked SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT (mine, not Dr. Wertham’s). Harlan is one of my two favorite science-fiction writers (the other being Ray Bradbury) and one of my favorite writers, period. He was a huge influence on me as a young writer. I admire not only his prose but his passion, and his willingness to fight authority. That he likes my work means more than I can say, and that he occasionally takes the time to call me up and say so just flat out amazes me. It’s an honor to be sharing a publisher with him – Hard Case Crime has just brought out a new edition of his first novel, WEB OF THE CITY, which I bought back when it was called RUMBLE. Thank you, Harlan.

Our local Blockbuster went out of business and had a blow-out sale that to this Blu-ray/DVD collector was like Black Friday times ten – the final two days, Blu-rays and DVDs were a buck a piece. I am just starting to plow through my finds ($150 or so of ‘em), but already I have found a real gem, a Jackie Chan movie from 2010 that I’d never heard of: SHINJUKU INCIDENT. Some of you know that I used to have a regular column in Tom Weisser’s great Asian Cult Cinema magazine, and this film would have rated a rave and a full column there. Jackie plays a Japanese illegal in China in the ‘90s, a good-hearted soul shaped by circumstance and necessity into a crime boss. This is unlike any Jackie Chan movie I’ve ever seen, and it really is an Asian take on SCARFACE, as the DVD cover promises, right down to the shocking violence.

On a wholly different note, I have been watching Warners Archives’ new Wheeler and Woolsey collection. I like a lot of vintage comedy teams that other people (like everybody in my family) find irritating and/or revolting. For example, I am a fan of the Ritz Brothers (do you own a sign photo by the team?) and Olsen and Johnson (if you have a signed photo by them, I’ll buy it). But, yes, I also like the more accepted teams, from the Marx Brothers to Abbott and Costello and of course Martin and Lewis. Wheeler and Woolsey arguably belong in this last group. They were very popular (21 films in the late twenties and thirties for RKO) but because of Woolsey’s death in 1938, they were prematurely over…and Wheeler was unable to shape a film career on his own. Woolsey wears horn-rimmed glasses and smokes a constant cigar, sort of a combo of Groucho and George Burns (who lifted much of his schtick from Woolsey), and is a wiseguy con man character, while Wheeler is a lovable simpleton constantly eating an apple or a banana. Neither is the straight man, and both sing and dance, with Wheeler playing the romantic leads, often with Betty Boop-ish cutie Dorothy Lee. They are very much in the Marx Brothers theater of the absurd wheelhouse, and often share that team’s writers (of both scripts and songs). Some of their early movies are very creaky (DIXIEANA is worse than a trip to the dentist), and their later ones range from okay (HIGH FLYERS) to dreadful (SILLY BILLIES). But at their best, they are terrific, as in HIPs, HIPS HOORAY and COCKEYED CAVALIERS (both with Thelma Todd, a onetime Nate Heller squeeze). HIPS is in the Wheeler-Woolsey collection, and so is the very good mystery comedy THE NITWITS, and of the early ones another comedy crime entry, HOOK, LINE AND SINKER, is fun. The collection is mostly good, and on single discs or double features the Archive has such wonderful Wheeler and Woolsey titles as PEACH O-RENO, KENTUCKY KERNELS (with Spanky from Our Gang), and the crazed political satire DIPLOMANIACS (co-written by Joseph L. Mankiewicz). Their pre-code stuff is extremely racy, by the way (when a dish asks Woolsey if he’s looking at her knees, he says, “Oh, I’m above that”).

Barb and I went to the new GI JOE movie at the fancy new theater in town, and it’s entertaining enough, though it makes OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN look like a Ken Burns documentary. Mostly I’m just glad I didn’t get hired to turn it into a novel. The previous GI JOE was the only time I wrote a movie novel and felt I hadn’t been able to transcend a poor script (as I did with DAYLIGHT and I LOVE TROUBLE, for instance). With GI JOE, I just fought the thing to a draw. Maybe it’s not a coincidence that I haven’t had a movie novelization gig since….

Today I start on my draft of ANTIQUES A GO GO – Brandy, Vivian and Sushi in New York at a comic book convention.

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Bill Crider, whose website is one of my favorites, and who is a terrific writer his own self, has delivered a COMPLEX 90 review that is, in the author’s immodest opinion, spot on. One of my favorite reviews ever.

M.A.C.