Posts Tagged ‘The Million-Dollar Wound’

Nathan Heller Confidential

Tuesday, September 12th, 2017

Out of the blue came a lovely e-mail from Nate Heller fan Peter Roff, who is attempting to read the saga in chronological order. He had some questions for me, and I answered them. With his permission, I’m sharing them with you.

Peter writes: Not that you should care, particularly, but I’ve spent the summer re-reading what I refer to as the original Hellers – everything from True Detective through Chicago Confidential – in the order they were released.

It’s a very different thing to see Heller’s character progress and develop in the linear fashion you provide as the creator of his universe then it is to time travel through his life as I first did, having to find the books where I could online, used, and in some cases very hard to get. At onetime I despaired I would never find a copy of Million-Dollar Wound, for example.

They are, in a word, brilliant. Writing is hard enough. Developing a coherent story line even more so. But to interpose fact with conjecture and make it all believable is the work of a true artist.

I have, though, a couple of questions/comments:

1) After finishing Chicago Confidential this evening I had a singular thought: In Nate Heller’s universe, did he kill Sam Gianacana? For some reason, perhaps the solitary nature of his murder, suggests to me he did.

Well, that might have happened if Perdition and its sequels hadn’t come along. The trickiest thing was establishing (not that anyone cares) that Heller and O’Sullivan were in the same fictional universe. That was a decision I struggled with, because Perdition is looser with the facts than Heller. But Road to Purgatory seemed to me to obviously have to tackle the same material as Million-Dollar. So I chose to make them work together as a pair — fit together like a puzzle, if anybody cares.

2) Is it possible, after spending so much time building him up as a character in the second series of Hellers – the ones that begin with Bye Bye, Baby – that you will NOT have Nate tackle the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa? I ask only because it seems such a natural thing for him to be involved in some fashion but the murder (presumably) is outside the timeline you originally announced.

Where I go from here depends, quite frankly, on how long I’m around. I’m in good shape right now but the last two years were filled with nightmarish health problems that almost killed me. I went back and “picked up” Better Dead because I thought that period and the two stories that comprise it were essential to the overall saga. I’m doing Sam Sheppard next in part because it shouldn’t be as demanding as some of the bigger landscape stories. I hope to do both RFK/Hoffa (in a pair of books) and maybe some piece of Watergate. Anything after that would be filling in blanks. But I’m 69, so how much time I have left to play this game remains to be seen.

3) I have not yet read Better Dead – and am trying to decide if I want to continue reading the books in order through the fall – I’ve read them all, including the two collection of shorts – to stay within the chronology as written OR if I should read it now because, in the real world chronology, McCarthyism comes after Chicago Confidential (more or less) but before Marilyn Monroe. If you have a thought as to which direction I should take I would welcome it.

Read Better Dead. If you can do it after Confidential, that would be ideal. A proviso: I can’t guarantee consistency with a saga written over such a long period of time. Heller isn’t perfect as an old guy gathering his memories.

4) Have you considered a Ronald Reagan book. I know we differ politically BUT I have for many years had a sense there’s a mob story there to be told. His relationship to MCA, his tenure as head of the Screen Actors Guild – you touch on it all when Heller goes to Hollywood and gets close to the IATSE/Willie Bioff studio business. But, for sake of argument, follow it through – what if all the racket busting that happened during Reagan’s presidency – particularly the stuff Rudy Giuliani did to the five families in New York – wasn’t somehow, some way, an extremely sophisticated plot to disadvantage The Syndicate and its interests, perhaps even cripple it, for the benefit of The Outfit and the fellows in Chicago?

Not on my plate at the moment, but interesting. Reagan of course is in True Detective. I was never a fan of his presidency but, brother, is he looking good now. Thanks for not letting politics get in the way of reading the novels. I write the very conservative Mike Hammer, after all, and with Mickey Spillane’s blessing — and he and I weren’t exactly on the same political page…..

Peter ends with: I’ve taken up more than enough of your time. I’ll close here but not before thanking you once again for creating Nate Heller and his universe. It has provided me with hours – days really – full of enjoyment. First, through the pleasure of taking in the stories themselves, then in taking the time to delve into the actual history of the events through which he passes and, finally, to contemplate how close to the actual solution you may have come.

He also provided a link to a fascinating story about a real-life Nate Heller in the 20th Century, which puts the lie to the notion that Heller’s life as I report it is far-fetched.

* * *

Last week Barb and I took in an appearance by Bruce Campbell at the beautifully restored Englert Theater in Iowa City. It was a kind of fancy book signing, with every attendee getting a pre-signed book by Bruce, and Bruce then doing some off-the-cuff stuff before reading a funny section of his new Hail to the Chin. He followed this with taking questions from the 700 in attendance, who were clearly the kind of people who longed to have their Ash action figure signed. He gave them a wonderfully wry bad time, humiliating the dumber questions with a light touch, and as for the intelligent questioners…well, there weren’t any.

Afterward he signed one item for anyone who cared to stay and line up to do so, and Barb and I bailed. We had our signed books, and I’d met Bruce before. So we tucked our Evil Dead Season Two blu-rays and DVD of the complete Jack of All Trades away and drowned our disappointment in Pagliai’s Pizza, the best pizza in Iowa City (and the universe).

Watching Bruce Campbell deal with his very special fan base is a study in patience, good humor and genuine understanding of the importance to him of the kind of geeky fan who would bring the complete Jack of All Trades DVD for signing.

* * *

Barb was down with a cold, so I took in IT by myself (she wasn’t that interested). I am lukewarm on Stephen King but I like horror, so I went. You probably did, too. Let me get the negative out of the way, with a little positive mixed in. I read Carrie before the film came out and was mightily impressed. The Shining, too, and a couple of other things. The original films from those two novels are masterpieces, and I include the Kubrick, which nobody seems to notice is a deal-with-the-devil movie.

Anyway, IT (never read the book and didn’t see the old TV mini-series) got off to a bad start with me when an outsider girl got garbage dumped on her by mean girls. Later she would be washed in blood, which the story ties to menstrual blood. In addition to this unimaginative reworking of Carrie (right down to a Travolta-esque bully) we have a fairly lazy reworking of Stand by Me, with kids as stereotypical as the G.I.s in a 1940s war movie. And predictably all the adults in the world of these young teens are monsters – grotesques, Hieronymous Bosch figures in bad eighties clothing. But what do you expect from a guy who wrote two haunted car novels?

Still, it’s a fine line between just repeating yourself and exploring recurring themes, and King is a law unto himself. Any writer has to stand in awe of an author who is so popular that a new section of the bookstore has to be created – that’s right, there were no “horror” sections at all in bookstores before King. Of course, now there are almost no bookstores. (Steve – have you done haunted bookstore yet?)

So did I like IT? Very much. It’s heavy-handed, but I am fine with melodrama, and most horror is very much that. This is a world where fear lurks in darkness – including the almost comically under-lit homes where the teens live with their awful single parents – and each kid must face his or her biggest fear to overcome the monster that their parents may have created. Not an new idea but a deeply resonating one.

This is a beautifully crafted movie, and the kid actors are so good, they don’t seem to be acting at all. Director Andy Muschietti handles the young cast very well, though he is stronger on creepy than scary (but I did jump a couple of times). Bill Skarsgård as the evil clown is a prime example of the creep factor, his smile oozing saliva and blood lust. And any hetrosexual male who does not fall in love with actress Sophia Lillis as Beverly needs medical attention, right now.

* * *

Crusin’s third gig with new guitarist Bill Anson is our last scheduled date of the year, though if something comes in, we’ll consider it. We’ll be rehearsing once a month over the winter. Here’s a shot of us playing bike night at Ducky’s Lagoon outside Andalusia, Illinois – a lovely night till it got cold, and reminded me why I don’t try to book anything in the winter.

* * *

Here’s a lovely review from the great Bill Crider of the upcoming Quarry’s Climax.

And check out this interesting take on A Killing in Comics. The reviewer suggests that I should be more successful and better known than Michael Chabon, and who I am to argue?

M.A.C.

Quarry Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

Tuesday, February 10th, 2015

Last week’s update was written before the news of the HBO/Cinemax pick-up of the QUARRY series (we ran a kind of news bulletin last week).

I have received a lot of public and private congratulations for QUARRY making it to TV. A few people who’ve got in touch are surprised that I’m not jumping up and down in elation, but the truth is that the feeling is more one of relief.

You see, we (I refer to Barb, Nate and me) have known that QUARRY was picked up for series for over six months. At least, I was told it had been picked up, and assured it was picked up, but was also told not to say anything about it in public. I know enough about disappointment in the TV/movie game to realize that until an official announcement is made, anything can happen. And that “anything” is usually bad.

I didn’t tell anybody about ROAD TO PERDITION the movie until Barb and I had been to the set and seen Tom Hanks and Paul Newman standing in front of a 35mm camera.

So it’s been nerve-racking – especially considering that the pilot was shot in August 2013.

The TV project I mentioned (without naming it) a while back was the writing of my script for QUARRY – episode 5, although my understanding is that elements of my script may appear in other episodes. I have done my rewrite and I have been paid. That was when this started feeling really real. The two writers who adapted the novels into a TV format – Graham Gordy and Michael D. Fuller – have been wonderful to me, and great to work with. Everybody attached to the show has first-rate credentials. QUARRY is in good hands.

Fans of the novels need to understand, however, that the concept of this eight-episode run (this may change if another season comes along) is to look at the start of Quarry’s hitman career. Aspects of Quarry that have been chiefly back story in the novels are the focus of the eight episodes, which start with Quarry’s return home from Vietnam and includes the Broker recruiting him into crime.

Also, the Southern setting – the show takes place in Memphis and will shoot in Louisiana and Tennessee – gives it a flavor of its own. Initially, that setting had more to do with finding an economically feasible location, but that region’s richness (particularly in the world of music) has found its way into the series.

Of the novels, the first one – QUARRY (originally THE BROKER) – seems to have had the greatest impact on the TV series. But that novel charts the ending of Quarry’s personal and working relationship with the Broker, while the TV series explores its beginnings. Those of you who follow the novels likely know that in the more recent Hard Case Crime books, I’ve gone back and explored the Quarry/Broker story in THE FIRST QUARRY and QUARRY’S CHOICE (also the short story, “Quarry’s Luck”).

The most ironic thing about the TV series is also one of the most gratifying: it’s a period piece, concentrating on the Vietnam aspect of Quarry’s background (that Quarry was a PTSD Vietnam vet and a sniper has taken on new resonance, thanks to Clint Eastwood). I say “ironic” because when the series began, it was decidedly contemporary and the Vietnam theme could not have been more current.

For the record, Quarry was created in the fall of 1971 when I was attending the University of Iowa’s Writers Workshop, where the first several chapters were discussed in class and mostly disliked (though those who liked it really liked it). On December 24, 1971, I got word that the Nolan novel BAIT MONEY had sold, and two weeks later that the Mallory novel NO CURE FOR DEATH had sold (both written at the Workshop, under Richard Yates). I put QUARRY away, at about the half-way point as I recall, and wrote sequels to both those books. I’m fuzzy on when I completed QUARRY – whether I returned to it, after the Nolan sequel (BLOOD MONEY) and the Mallory sequel (THE BABY BLUE RIP-OFF) were completed, or if I waited till I’d written three more Nolan novels that were contracted by Curtis Books. But I believe by 1974, it was finished and sold maybe a year later, finally published in 1976. I was again asked for three more books (from Berkley Books) and the first four Quarry novels appeared and disappeared without much notice. (Only EQMM reviewer Jon L. Breen noticed them, and saw potential in their author. He’s been a booster of mine ever since, bless him.)

Then the books began to gather steam as a cult-ish thing, leading to one more novel in the ‘80s (QUARRY’S VOTE, originally PRIMARY TARGET) and three short stories in the ‘90s. So while there hasn’t been a steady stream, Quarry has been active in every decade since his creation.

The short story “A Matter of Principal” got a lot of attention, appearing in several anthologies and leading to an award-winning short film of the same name from my screenplay and then the feature film THE LAST LULLABY, which I co-wrote. The novel THE LAST QUARRY reflected my screenplay (minus the co-writer imposed upon it) and was presented as contemporary, with Quarry a man in his fifties. It was intended as the most perverse ending to the series possible: a happy one.

The unexpected success of THE LAST QUARRY led me to head back in time and do what we call in the comics business “continuity inserts”…although I don’t pretend the continuity is flawless. What the hell – Rex Stout couldn’t keep track of Nero Wolfe’s address and phone number.

The last thing I ever expected to be doing was writing a new Quarry novel in 2015, let alone doing that with a Quarry TV show casting its pleasant shadow. I have, incidentally, completed that book, QUARRY IN THE BLACK, which is another story about Quarry in the Broker years. I should say “completed,” because I have to sit down today and probably tomorrow and read it again and do tweaks and catch typos and continuity glitches.

Anyway, to all of you who expressed your thanks and/or delight about this QUARRY series happening, thank you very much.

* * *

The TV news was all over the Internet last week. You don’t have time to read all of the stories and I don’t have the inclination to post all of the links (actually Nate does that, and he won’t have that inclination, either). But here are some of them.

Comics Mix is the rare place that puts the emphasis on the creator of Quarry (you know…me).

Here’s another.

And another.

Here’s a local one from the Quad Cities, which doesn’t even rate as the columnist’s top story (a prophet in his own town kind of thing).

Some, like this one, hit the Vietnam aspect harder.

The AV Club, not surprisingly, gets somewhat snarky about it. I remember when I was young and smart…well, I remember some of it.

The “American Sniper” connections led to this kind of coverage.

And finally…what’s this doing here? A really sweet review of THE MILLION-DOLLAR WOUND!

M.A.C.

10 Heller Kindle Titles $1.99

Sunday, September 23rd, 2012

All day today (Sunday, September 23), Amazon’s Kindle Deal of the Day is featuring the Nathan Heller series, with the following ten titles available for only $1.99 each!

The Million-Dollar Wound
Neon Mirage
Stolen Away
Carnal Hours
Blood and Thunder
Flying Blind
Majic Man
Angel in Black
Chicago Confidential
Chicago Lightning: The Collected Nathan Heller Short Stories

Shareable link: http://amzn.to/ORG0Yb

This is the first time NEON MIRAGE, BLOOD AND THUNDER, MAJIC MAN, and CHICAGO CONFIDENTIAL have been showcased on the daily deal.

Of further interest to digital readers, Amazon has been rolling out a new feature called Whispersync, which syncs your place in a book between Kindle devices and the Audible audio edition, allowing you to switch back and forth between reading and listening. Now Amazon is offering many Audible editions at a significantly reduced price for owners of the Kindle editions. This only applies to the Audible download edition, not the audio CDs or MP3 CDs, but the downloadable version works on many portable devices and can be burned to CDs through iTunes. Abby and I have been listening to the Heller audio books (read by the wonderful Dan John Miller) on CD on our road trips over the past year and we’ve really been impressed by the readings. Look for the Audible edition on each Amazon book page.

Hammer and Noms

Tuesday, May 29th, 2012

Two Mike Hammer projects have earned nominations in the annual Scribe Awards from the International Association of Media and Tie-in Writers. “The New Adventures of Mike Hammer: Encore for Murder” is nominated in the new audio category, and KISS HER GOODBYE is nominated in the Best Original Novel category.

The Daggers are British awards for crime and mystery fiction. I don’t know much about them, other than that they are prestigious; but the Hammer short story “A Long Time Dead” has been “shortlisted.” Whether this is a nomination or an even shorter list of nominees will follow, I can’t tell you. But here’s the full “short” list.

My cyber press tour, which I thought had wound down, continues, at least for a while. Comic List broke an interview with me into two sections, one on LADY, GO DIE and other things, another centering on the long-threatened ROAD TO PERDITION sequel. Several people comment that there should not be a sequel – apparently unaware that I’ve already written three (and the “in-between-quel, RTP 2: ON THE ROAD).

Hermes Press has announced my collection of the Mike Hammer comic strip. We have apparently located the missing Sunday lacking in the long-out-of-print previous two-volume edition, plus I’ve done two new essays about the strip and Mickey. It’ll be a very handsome book.

Mickey Spillane's From the Files of... Mike Hammer

This fairly positive but condescending review of LADY, GO DIE! is (somewhat unfortunately) probably the widest circulated of any of that novel’s reviews. The reviewer refers to the novel as a “sequel” to I, THE JURY (yes, using quotes, apparently to question its authenticity – Mickey’s partial manuscript was very clearly a sequel to I, THE JURY, and I don’t appreciate the doubt this reviewer appears to cast).

Here is Part One of an interview I did with Comic Geek (Part Two will appear later this week).

Yup, here’s another interview with me. Tired of hearing me yammer? Me, too.

For a change of pace, here’s a nice review of THE MILLION-DOLLAR WOUND, indicative of the new lease on life the Amazon reprints and e-books have given Nate Heller.

I love this review of LADY, GO DIE! (“Why don’t you marry it?” – Pee Wee Herman).

This LADY, GO DIE! review is nice, too.

So is this one.

And an overview here.

While the cyber press tour has certainly slowed down, I still have an interview or two coming up. I wonder how this is impacting sales? I don’t see how Titan could have done much better in getting the word out on the web.

If you haven’t picked up LADY, GO DIE! yet, let me encourage you to do so, and not just because I’m the co-writer. As I may have mentioned, the book is physically beautiful, with the classic Spillane photo tipped in on the front cover and his signature boldly reproduced on the back (gotta slip off the dustjacket to see this).

In the meantime, work on the fifth of the Hammer collaborations begins this week – COMPLEX 90.

M.A.C.