Posts Tagged ‘Supreme Justice’

Eight Million (and More) Stories

Tuesday, February 25th, 2014

I have begun the Spillane western, now entitled DEATH RIDES IN and labeled “a Caleb York Western.” I’m working from a screenplay Mickey wrote for John Wayne in the late ‘50s which, obviously, was never produced. There will be a background intro that will discuss Mickey and Wayne’s history together.

It feels okay so far – one chapter in – but with the exception of the MAVERICK novelization and the flashbacks in BLACK HATS, I’ve never tackled a western before. I called my long-tall-Texan pal Bill Crider for some help on a few points – he knows what he’s doing – and that helped me saddle up and ride. The script – not necessarily written for Wayne the actor, rather Wayne the producer – is very much a vehicle that you might have seen starring Audie Murphy or Randolph Scott circa ‘58. I love that, but as somebody who doesn’t read contemporary western novels, I can’t anticipate how modern readers will react. It’s very much a tough Spillane story transferred to the west, so that’s a plus.

My love for westerns comes not from novels – I’ve maybe read a dozen in my life, counting TRUE GRIT – but from movies and TV. Lately I’ve been watching a lot of old TV, sometimes with Barb, sometimes alone. We both greatly enjoyed revisiting MAVERICK, which was my favorite show of any kind in my distant youth – James Garner’s Bret Maverick influenced Nate Heller as much as any mystery-fiction PI – and Barb grew up on it, too. I’m also fond of Jack Kelly’s Bart Maverick, and the very best episodes often feature both brothers. I would argue that “Shady Deal at Sunny Acres” (maybe you saw the remake – THE STING?) is the greatest single episode of a TV series ever made.

Binge watching is something Barb and I (and Nate, when he was younger) practically invented. But it must be said that serialized series of today work better than runs of classic series of the ‘50s and early ‘60s. Those shows had such punishing schedules – PERRY MASON did as many as 39 hour-long episodes a year – that maintaining consistency much less high quality was damn near impossible. On the other hand, Barb and I have worked our way through PERRY MASON – inhaling each half-season DVD release in a couple of days – and it has a surprisingly small number of clinkers. Maybe half a dozen out of 271 (!). The best episodes, not surprisingly, are adapted from Erle Stanley Gardner novels. The first two seasons are mostly such adaptations, and are highly recommended.

MAVERICK doesn’t fare quite as well. The first two seasons are excellent, really as good as TV westerns of that (or really any) era get. But creator/producer Roy Huggins left at the end of season two, and James Garner was starting to have battles with some very stupid Warner Bros. executives who thought screwing their star out of money was a good plan. Season three begins well but flags at mid-point, and toward the end, even some Bret episodes are clinkers. Season four lacks Garner, and Roger Moore is brought in as a Maverick cousin, faring only so so. “The Maverick Line,” one last Garner held back from season three, does the impossible: it’s a lousy Bret/Bart episode. Jack Kelly was magical working off James Garner, but tended to do the straighter, more “serious” episodes, and when Garner left, he was shifted into Garner-style scripts. He was pretty good at comedy but wasn’t getting the level of material that Garner got in the Huggins years. So my advice would be: watch the first two seasons.

As for more contemporary fare, right now Barb and I are working our way through VERONICA MARS, and are almost done with the second season, which is very good if not up to the amazing first one. We’ll press on to the somewhat maligned third season, as we prepare for the imminent VERONICA MARS feature (I was a Kickstarter contributor). VERONICA MARS is one of the really great private eye series. The first season may be the best single season of any private eye show. Kristen Bell, as a teenage detective (the set-up is pure Nancy Drew – her father is a P.I. – but the feel is absolute FREAKS AND GEEKS) tosses off witty lines with a wry ease that Marlowe or Rockford might well envy.

Barb did not join me on my long journey through the complete NAKED CITY – 138 episodes. This is a wonderful show, with much to recommend it. Initially John McIntire is Lt. Dan Muldoon, the fatherly mentor to James Franciscus’ younger detective. They have a nice chemistry, but McIntire leaves two-thirds of the way through the first season – his landmark demise in “The Bumper” remains shocking – and Franciscus grieves his way through the remainder of the year. Replacing McIntire is Horace McMahon with his overly gruff, even unpleasant Lt. Mike Parker. When the show returns in a new one-hour format (after a year hiatus), it’s almost a surprise McMahon has been asked back. Franciscus does not return – he was a busy movie and TV actor – and Paul Burke comes in as the similar Adam Flint, his liberal, sensitive cop warming McMahon’s Parker up. The only cast member who spans all four seasons is Harry Bellaver as lovable, not-brilliant Detective Frank Arcaro.

Of course, the location shooting, capturing late ‘50s/early ‘60s New York, is the real star – the Bowery, Greenwich Village, Times Square, we’re there. The talent pool is drawn from Broadway and the Actor’s Studio, including regular Nancy Malone, very winning and naturalistic as Burke’s girl friend, Libby. The series is justly famous for early appearances by Dustin Hoffman, Robert Duvall, James Caan, Bruce Dern, Sandy Dennis, Alan Alda, Jessica Walter, Martin Sheen, Peter Fonda, Gene Hackman, Christopher Walken and many more. Moonlighting Broadway stars like Robert Morse, Orson Bean, Maureen Stapleton, Jack Klugman and William Shatner turn up frequently as do such Hollywood legends as Mickey Rooney, Sylvia Sidney, Dennis Hopper, Roddy McDowell, Chester Morris, Steve Cochran, Claude Rains, and Burgess Meredith. Jack Warden, Carroll O’Connor, Lois Nettleton and Nehemiah Persoff make multiple appearances. Legendary acting coach Sandy Meisner has a rare on-screen role in one episode – he was Mike Cornelison’s teacher. Small world.

NAKED CITY is a child of early television – dramas like STUDIO ONE and PLAYHOUSE 90 – and is essentially an anthology series pretending to be a cop show. This can be a problem, because the cops are often shoehorned in, and sometimes the stories have little to do with crime. Some of the famous actors deliver terrible, scenery-chewing performances; many of the young actors – James Caan, Dustin Hoffman – are so in Brando’s thrall, you want to shake them until they agree to see a movie that isn’t ON THE WATERFRONT. The shadows of Tennessee Williams and William Inge loom large, turning some of the scriptwriters into pretentious windbags, burdening actors with impossible, archly poetic dialogue.

After a while, I began to see writers in the opening credits whose scripts I knew I’d abhor – in particular, Abram Ginnes, a blacklisted writer so over the top, his silly titles serve as a warning: “Stop the Parade, a Baby Is Crying,” “A Horse Has a Big Head, Let Him Worry,” “Robin Hood and Clarence Darrow, They Went Out with Bow and Arrow.” He’s responsible for at least a dozen episodes, and I would run screaming into the night before sitting through any of them. And almost every change-of-pace “comedy” episode is cringe-worthy.

There are several NAKED CITY “best of” collections, but unfortunately they choose episodes featuring famous cast members, with no thought to quality of writing. So why do I recommend the series?

Because when the show is good, it is really good – on that same list that includes “Shady Deal at Sunny Acres,” you’ll find “A Case Study of Two Savages,” in which hillbilly honeymooners Rip Torn and Tuesday Weld cut a bloody carefree swath of robbery and murder across Manhattan. Scripted by Frank Pierson – who wrote everything from DOG DAY AFTERNOON and COOL HAND LUKE and was working on MAD MEN when he died in 2012 – “Two Savages” clearly influenced Arthur Penn’s BONNIE AND CLYDE (the historical couple is directly referenced) and Weld’s later PRETTY POISON. Rip Torn’s performance is my favorite among all the NAKED CITY’s – funny, dangerous, charismatic. Actor’s Studio “Method” at is best.

And there are plenty of other terrific episodes – Duvall in “A Hole in the City,” Klugman in “The Tragic Success of Alfred Tiloff,” Rooney in “Ooftus Gooftus.” Writers include Howard Rodman, W.R. Burnett, and Gene Roddenberry. Directors include Arthur Hiller, Paul Wendkos, and Irvin Kershner. But you must commit to the complete series, and learn which writers and actors you want to avoid as you move through.

I should mention that the series creator, Stirling Silliphant (adapting the Jules Dassin film), writes all but a few of the first season half-an-hour episodes, which is my favorite season (not a view widely held, I admit). He only scripts a few of the hour-long episodes, as he’s off to create ROUTE 66. Silliphant is a fine screenwriter (IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT), though he’s somewhat purple in THE NAKED CITY (its first-season incarnation included “THE”), a sin committed to some degree by almost all of the writers involved. So you have to get in that groove.

But it’s worth it. The omniscient narration by Lawrence Dobkin (credited to producer Herbert Leonard in the first season, but sounding identical) is so very memorable, often giving the series a novelistic feel. Ed McBain was clearly influenced by the Dassin film, and must have watched this series, as well – the 87th Precinct vibe is strong. The music is memorable as well – Billy May at first, later Nelson Riddle.

How interesting is NAKED CITY, for all its flaws? In the first hour-long episode, an unbilled Peter Falk is killed before the opening credits. The episode also features Eli Wallach, George Maharis, Clifton James and Godfrey Cambridge.

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The first SUPREME JUSTICE advance review is in (from Ron Fortier) and it’s a rave!

ASK NOT gets a lovely write-up here.

Still more WRONG QUARRY reviews are coming in. Here are two that are less than raves – the always interesting Alpha-60 and a new one to me, Bullet Reviews. Both complain about one of my favorite things in the novel, having to do with the build-up given to one of the hitmen Quarry goes after. Go figure.


Writer’s Work is Never Done

Tuesday, January 28th, 2014

When a writer finishes a novel and sends it in to a waiting editor/publisher, a feeling of relief is greater than any sense of accomplishment. What all of us forget, however, is that sending in the “finished” book is only the beginning.

First, there comes an editorial letter, often asking for revisions, followed by a line-edited manuscript, then a copy-edited manuscript and finally galley proofs. For a prolific writer like me, all of these turn up unexpectedly, often at terrible times, and always with a note to get the manuscript or galleys back in something like three days.

Editors don’t care if you’re on deadline with some other book, usually (though not always) for some other publisher. Every editor (rightly) considers the book of yours that is theirs to be the only book.

I also have the problem of not wanting to do any revisions that aren’t absolutely necessary – i.e., a plot point that I haven’t dealt with, or sentences and/or paragraphs that have proved confusing. I rarely agree to elaborate rewrites. Hardly ever. I also am notorious for becoming furious with copy editors. Not all copy editors: just those who have appointed themselves collaborators. About one in three times at bat, I encounter one of these creatures intent upon “improving” my work.

I don’t think I’m alone in this. The only shit fit that Mickey Spillane ever threw in front of me was in response to a copy-edited version of one of his novels. The fury of Mike Hammer at his kill-craziest was unleashed.

But it is the collision of books that can make a writer dizzy.

Last week, after completing QUARRY’S CHOICE, I was immediately thrust into dealing with the galley proofs of the very different SUPREME JUSTICE. Now, because Hard Case editor Charles Ardai is lightning fast, I am already facing the copy-edited manuscript of CHOICE!, before the literary paint is dry. I am grateful and impressed with Charles’ speed, but fear I lack enough distance from the book to effectively work with the copy-edit so soon.

Much of what a professional fiction writer does is little-known or even unknown by readers.

Ahead in the immediate week or two ahead are finishing a TV pitch for a potential Nate Heller TV series, which will require me re-reading STOLEN AWAY and much of TRUE DETECTIVE, taking notes as I go; writing my draft of a “Barbara Allan” Christmas novella called ANTIQUES FRUITCAKE, not due for a while but necessary to deal with now, because of scheduling issues; and getting ready to write a western novel based on an unproduced Mickey Spillane screenplay. The latter prep will include spending many hours with that screenplay, looking at western reference books, and reading some ‘50s western novels by the likes of Jonas Ward and Harry Whittington, to help get the right flavor.

Not complaining, mind you. This beats my other paying jobs (sacking groceries, bussing tables) by some distance.

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Eliot Ness
Eliot Ness

Be sure to check out the Huffington Post piece on Eliot Ness that Brad Schwartz and I put together to defend the Untouchable from attacks from Jonathan Eig (Get Capone) and others, in reaction to the proposal that a new ATF building be named for him.

My pal and collaborator Matt Clemens visited the Twin Cities recently to read one of our short stories at Noir at the Bar.

Speaking of Matt, here’s a great review of WHAT DOESN’T KILL HER, which – like SUPREME JUSTICE – is a book Matt contributed mightily to.

Check out this very good article on cozy mysteries dealing with antiques. Barbara Allan gets some very nice attention here.

Still haven’t picked up THE WRONG QUARRY? Here’s an excerpt.

Here’s a great WRONG QUARRY review, demonstrating that members of my favorite sex (hint: not male) can relate to Quarry just fine.

And finally a review of QUARRY – the first book in the series. How odd and oddly sweet to see a novel that I began writing in 1972 at the U of Iowa Writers Workshop getting reviewed in 2014.


Supreme Satisfaction

Tuesday, October 29th, 2013

Matt Clemens and Max Collins, in younger days….

Today I sent out the manuscript of SUPREME JUSTICE to my editor at Thomas & Mercer. It always feels a little odd to e-mail a manuscript after so many years of spending a work day running off copies for the editor, my agent and often my researchers, then wrapping packages and running to the post office or Fed Ex, trying to get there before closing. But done is done, and I’m glad to have that project under my belt.

The writing went very well. The idea was one I’d put together as a proposal probably five years ago, but never sent it around because my plate was too full – it’s an ambitious subject having to do with the Supreme Court. A while back I brought Matt Clemens on board, and together we fleshed the proposal out into a more complete document. SUPREME JUSTICE is now the second novel of a two-book contract for Thomas & Mercer (WHAT DOESN’T KILL HER being the first).

Matt did virtually all of the research, and he and I broke the story down into chapters over one of our typical lunch meetings. His story treatment is essentially a short rough draft and he did a really fine job. The book took longer than it should have because my work got interrupted by several trips, most recently Bouchercon. I hate to travel in the midst of writing – it screws up my momentum terribly.

In some respects, the novel is a departure for me. It probably most resembles the CSI novels that I did with Matt, and our two J.C. Harrow novels for Kensington. But the political subject matter and backdrop is new – well, it is cut out of somewhat the same cloth as my movie tie-ins, AIR FORCE ONE and IN THE LINE OF FIRE – and the book has a very dialogue-driven, fast-paced manner. I don’t want to say anything about the plot, because it’s very much a high concept and I’d just as soon not have somebody “borrow” it.

I will be anxious to see how my editor and agent respond to the book. From this vantage point, SUPREME JUSTICE feels very good. Of course, as the old saying goes, so does your head when you stop beating it against the wall….

ASK NOT is attracting some nice reviews, like this one in the Cedar Rapids Gazette.

This is a rare positive Kirkus review for my work, but it’s odd. Really strange. Check it out and see for yourself.

Book Reporter provides an ASK NOT write-up (but not review) here.

Scroll down at Awards Circuit and find a brief but really nice TARGET LANCER review.

And here’s another of those odd but positive Alpha 60 reviews of various Quarry novels, this time THE FIRST QUARRY.


Movie Immortality And More

Tuesday, September 10th, 2013

What have I been up to? Besides the occasional band job and one trip after another, you mean? Well, I spent most of last month writing a spec TV pilot – I can’t say more than that, but I can say I am pleased with how it came out. I then dug into the political thriller SUPREME JUSTICE, Matt Clemens having delivered most of his story treatment (he’s still working on the third act, after some brainstorming with me when he dropped off the first two-thirds of the treatment).

Barb and I are also preparing for Bouchercon in Albany – we each are on two panels, details of which (including times) will be posted next week. (Matt’s on a panel, too.) I have a busy schedule at the con, in part because WHAT DOESN’T KILL HER debuts there. Official pub date is September 17, which means a week from when this is posted, those of you who requested review copies can finally post at Amazon.

Some nice EARLY CRIMES reviews have appeared at Amazon, some of which flow from the review copies I sent out to nine readers (yes, one copy remains to be claimed). I have had to turn down several foreign requests because of prohibitive postage.

Saw two movies this weekend and liked them both – WE’RE THE MILLERS was a very funny crime comedy (I was surprised by how much I liked it – I basically only went, by myself, because Barb kicked me out of the house while she watched tennis). Both of us loved the over-the-top and very clever RIDDICK – writers will be keenly interested in the film’s audacious structure, which shifts the point of view from anti-hero Riddick to his adversaries for the entire second act. I think Vin Diesel would make a good Hammer (he even does noir-ish voiceovers in RIDDICK).

Barb and I also watched the Criterion Blu-ray of Lubitsch’s TO BE OR NOT TO BE as well as the new Blu-ray of SHANE. I had forgotten how great both of those were. It struck me that one-time household words like Jack Benny (star of the former) and Alan Ladd (star of the latter) now each have their immortality tied up in a single film. But immortal they are.

Arguably the same can be said for Gary Cooper in HIGH NOON, and possibly Cary Grant in NORTH BY NORTHWEST. Kim Novak, recently interviewed fascinatingly on TCM by Robert Osborne, is strictly VERTIGO now, but that’s plenty. Jimmy Stewart, on the other hand, is a star who has many classic films on his list – VERTIGO, REAR WINDOW, HARVEY, IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE, MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON, ANATOMY OF A MURDER – and that puts him in a rarefied class. I would argue the same for John Wayne – STAGECOACH, THE QUIET MAN, THE SEARCHERS, THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE (Stewart again!), RED RIVER, RIO BRAVO. There’s a pretty good list for Bogart, too, though oddly Marilyn Monroe, the movie star of stars, has arguably only one great film on her credit list (SOME LIKE IT HOT), though cases can be made for several others.

These are the kinds of thoughts that keeps an aging Baby Boomer up at night.

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Nothing feels better to a writer than having a writer you admire give you a good review. Here Ed Gorman weighs in on WHAT DOESN’T KILL HER.

And here’s another very strong WHAT DOESN’T KILL HER review.

Speaking of writers I admire, here is Bill Crider with the first review of ASK NOT.

ASK NOT gets a nice mention by Jeff Pierce in his Kirkus blog.

And Brian Drake compares me favorably to Mickey Spillane in (of all things) a discussion of John Buchan’s 39 STEPS. Be sure to scroll down for my comment.

Finally, here is ROAD TO PERDITION getting classified yet again as one of the great comics-to-movies films. It does not mention Richard Piers Rayner, however, and that’s shameful.