Posts Tagged ‘The Will to Kill’

Grand Thanks

Tuesday, December 6th, 2016

The announcement of my Edgar award as a Grand Master from the Mystery Writers of America has garnered congratulations and praise from all over the place. I’ve taken to posting a link to these updates on Facebook and that’s increased the activity.

First, I’m very grateful. It’s particularly fun or, in Facebook terms, to be “liked” (you like me, you really really like me) by old friends, some of whom I haven’t heard from in decades. The world at once seems bigger and smaller.

Second, I’m a little embarrassed. These updates have become more and more confessional. Originally I only wrote an update once or twice a year. My son Nate, who runs this website, said that was not enough – the only way to encourage traffic was with regular content.

So I went weekly, and for some time all I did was talk about books that had recently become available and share links to reviews (I still do that, obviously). Then Nate encouraged me to do updates that gave a behind-the-scenes look at the writing process and what it’s like to be a freelance writer.

People seemed to like hearing about such things, but gradually more personal stuff got into the mix – the major one being my health issues. I didn’t post anything till the day I was set to take my first heart surgery (we had been going through hell for five months prior and I hadn’t made a peep about it here), and what I wrote wasn’t intended to appear till the day I was in surgery.

Then the surgery was postponed, and a second, preliminary surgery scheduled, and suddenly everybody knew about what was going on with my health. As I say, that wasn’t my intention. But I would be lying if I didn’t admit that all the good wishes, which included prayers, didn’t give me a real boost. In the subsequent lung surgery, I found that support similarly spirit-lifting.

I thank you all.

And I thank you, too, for the congratulations about the Grand Master award, which won’t be presented till next April, by the way. This is even more embarrassing than courting good wishes for health reasons, as it falls into the “rah yay me” category.

I’ve been reflecting on the Grand Master this past week, the only troubling aspect of which is that it’s a reminder that a long career preceded it, and that the remainder of that career will be much shorter. Life achievement awards are something people try to give you while you’re not dead. So that part of it is sobering.

Throughout my career – and I will be painfully honest here – I longed for, even dreamed of, receiving an Edgar from the MWA. I have been ridiculously well-honored by the Private Eye Writers of America, also by the Iowa Motion Picture Association; even won an Anthony from Bouchercon, and an award from the Edgar Rice Burroughs bibliophile group. “Barbara Allan” won a major award, too (not a leg lamp, though). But the Edgar, despite half a dozen nominations, has remained elusive.

When I see the array of trophies and plaques, which reflect not only achievement but my own needy efforts to land them – you have to enter many of these competitions to win them – I am a little embarrassed. I obviously need validation. Like most people with big egos, I have self-doubts that are even bigger.

What’s really, really nice about the Grand Master is that you don’t enter to try to win it. A group of your peers just agrees that you should get it. That feels really good.

And the company I’m in includes many of my favorite writers as well as others I admire. For example, Agatha Christie; Rex Stout; Ellery Queen; Erle Stanley Gardner; James M. Cain; John D. MacDonald; Alfred Hitchcock; Ross Macdonald; Graham Greene; Daphne Du Marier; Dorothy B. Hughes; W.R. Burnett; John Le Carre; Ed McBain; Elmore Leonard; Donald E. Westlake; Lawrence Block; Sara Paretsky; Sue Grafton; Stephen King; and Mickey Spillane. That’s just the ones that were influential in my writing life. Two (Westlake and Spillane) were mentors. I omit names of stellar types whose work I am not familiar with, and a handful whose work I dislike (here’s a hint – Angel in Black is a response to one).

I am notorious for not reading much contemporary crime fiction. My glib reason is that contemporary writers in the genre fall into three areas: (A) not as good as I am, so why bother reading ‘em; (B) as good as I am, so why bother reading them, either; and (C) better than I am, and screw those guys, anyway.

The real reasons I don’t read my contemporaries much are less smart-alecky.

First, I am a natural mimic and I tend to pick up the style and habits of other fiction writers. I discovered this writing Blood Money (my second published book) while reading The Friends of Eddie Coyle by George V. Higgins. That writer, a very good one, wrote such distinctive dialogue that I could not shake the cadence of it. Some of it is still in that book.

Second, much of what I write is historical, and that requires a lot of research reading. So what reading I do falls largely into that category. And my pleasure reading tends to be non-fiction, too. Again, reading fiction is dangerous for me.

That’s not to say I don’t read some. I re-read my favorite authors (many of them in my Grand Master list above) and, if I’m on a committee for the MWA or PWA, I read the works submitted for award consideration. Plus, I have friends in the field whose work I often read. Also, if somebody gets really, really popular, I check them out. That’s how I came to read some Robert B. Parker, for example, whose work I don’t care for but whose impact on the field I greatly respect.

He won the Grand Master, too.

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This week past the third Caleb York, The Bloody Spur, was shipped to Kensington. In addition, I did final corrections and tweaks on the proofs of The Will to Kill for Titan (Mike Hammer) and Executive Order for Thomas & Mercer (Reeder & Rogers). The proofs of Antiques Frame await.

The Grand Master news was all over the Net, but in some cases it was more than just a regurgitation of the MWA news release. This, from Mysterious Press, for example, includes ordering info on the Mike Hammer collection, A Long Time Dead.

Brash Books, who published the complete Road to Perdition novel recently, did their own write-up as well.

Here’s a brief discussion of the use of history in Quarry in the Black.

My old pal Jan Grape talks about how authors deal with errors in books, leading off with an anecdote that shows me in a perhaps unflattering (but highly accurate) light.

Here’s a brief Quarry TV write-up, with a deleted scene that I (partially) wrote.

The Quarry show makes this Best list.

And here’s a really great review of the finale episode of Quarry, with a look back at the entire world of the series.

M.A.C.

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(Note from Nate: Quarry is available for pre-order on Amazon on Blu-Ray and DVD, although the release date hasn’t yet been determined. Here’s the link!)

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Thanksgiving 2016

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2016

In a year like the one I’ve experienced, it might seem tough to be thankful.

Those of you follow these updates know that I’ve had some health issues. The year began with carotid surgery preceding open-heart surgery, during which I had a stroke. While not major, the stroke left me with a fairly useless right hand – couldn’t type, didn’t even have a signature. And a writer losing his or her signature has lost a key piece of identity.

What followed was a lot of work getting my hand functional again and recovering from the surgery with physical and occupational therapy. Also, in the run-up to the heart surgery, something growing in my lower right lung lobe made itself known, requiring keeping an eye on. Eventually I was scheduled to go in for surgery that would probably be just a closer look, but might result in more serious surgery.

While all of this was going on, my son Nate’s bride Abby gave birth to Sam Collins, a preemie who fought a brave battle for life. Nate and Abby practically lived in the hospital for a month while this little tadpole of a kid fought to be a baby. We visited as often as we could, though this was going on concurrent with my heart condition stuff, and that limited us some.

Then both Barb and I managed to get pertussis, which is to say whooping cough. I got mine in August and she got hers a few weeks later, and we are still coughing (the hundred-day cough, they call it). My adventures, recounted in detail in previous updates, included rushing back from New Orleans the moment I landed because Barb’s pertussis had sent her to the emergency room; and having my lung surgery postponed for a month to allow me to get over my bout with the stuff.

The surgery wound up being more serious. A baseball-size thingie was taken out of my lower right lobe. It’s now been diagnosed as MALT-lymphoma, which has nothing to do with old Pop Jenkins down at the soda shop.

Then, while I was recovering from the lung surgery, glued to the TV, I witnessed Donald Trump being elected president of the United States.

So what the hell do I have to be thankful for?

Almost everything (except for the Trump part).

We can start with this career that has allowed me to concoct stories and get paid for it for four decades. We can move from there to my wife Barb, whose love and support got me through all of the bullshit above – she always knows when I need a tender shoulder and also when I need a kick in the pants. She is not a self-pity fan.

From there we can move to my great son and his equally great wife, who gave me this wonderful grandson who has overcome all of the obstacles and is now smart and healthy and very funny. You may have a baby or a baby grandkid who seems pretty cool, but can yours do an evil maniacal laugh at sixteen months?

As for my travails, I was typing almost immediately when I got home from the hospital. Initially all I could move was the mouse, and for some weeks the sensitivity of the computer keyboard was how my weak right hand was able to register anything. But two weeks home after my three-week hospital stay (two of it in O.T. and P.T.), I was working on my draft of Antiques Frame. Before long I was writing The Will to Kill, the new Mike Hammer, and Executive Order with my pal Matt Clemens. Throughout every stage of various recoveries, I have found that my writing has been unimpeded, that it is a place I can go and think of nothing but the story at hand.

Every day I filled at least a full notebook page with my signature, and within a month I had it back. If you ever need an M.A.C signature, my wife can tear one of out the notebook I filled with them. (Ask for one from a later page.)

The pertussis Barb and I shared brought us even closer together, because we were dealing with it at the same time. I won’t pretend it didn’t suck, but something odd happens when you are sick and have a reasonable expectation to get well – you start to really, really appreciate normal, everyday life. To look forward to the most trivial damn things – a meal out, a movie, a walk on an autumn day.

As for the lung thing, I am in a wait-and-see mode, and have a few more tests to take, but I am assured this is a treatable, very survivable condition…and I may have no recurrence. At this point there’s been no talk of chemo or radiation.

If that comes, rest assured I will do everything I can to keep writing, and taking advantage of the support and friendship my readers, editors and my great agent Dominick Abel have always provided. Do not worry about me. I am fine, and I am blessed.

Thanks.

* * *

Here’s the Brash Books blog with stuff about Road to Perdition the novel and Quarry as well.

Here’s a nice latterday review of Kill Your Darlings, though oddly the Bouchercon aspect of the story (usually the favorite aspect of readers) is not so favored here.

Finally, here’s a cool review of Dan John Miller reading Better Dead.

M.A.C.

Hammer, Quarry and TV’s Frank

Tuesday, August 30th, 2016

This coming Thursday (Sept. 1) at the Fleur Cinema & Café in Des Moines, I’ll be hosting a screening of both my documentary, MIKE HAMMER’S MICKEY SPILLANE, and the classic Mike Hammer noir, KISS ME DEADLY. Seeing the latter on a big screen will be a treat. The documentary goes on at 6:30 and the film at 7:30. I’ll do a Q and A after, and there should be some books on hand for me to sign.

Here’s more info.

My L.A. stringer Leonard Maltin – think of him as an older, wiser Jimmy Olsen – took and sent me the pic posted here this week, the first reported QUARRY sighting in L.A. The billboard is on Vermont Avenue some blocks down from the old Parker Center.

The premiere of the series will be September 9 at 10 p.m. eastern (10:00-11:15 p.m.). Other CINEMAX playdates, also eastern time: Sept. 9 (11:20 p.m., 12:40 a.m.), 10 (9:00 p.m., 12:35 a.m.), 11 (5:35 p.m.), 12 (11:00 p.m.), 13 (2:05 a.m.), 14 (10:00 p.m.), 15 (9:00 p.m.) and 29 (6:40 p.m.).

As indicated above, the first episode is 75 minutes and plays like a particularly strong indie crime film. I anticipate some fans of the novels will have to adjust to the Memphis setting of the series, but let’s face it – the Broker was born to have a Southern accent.

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I have shipped to Thomas & Mercer the third Reeder and Rogers political thriller, EXECUTIVE ORDER, which concludes the Branches of Government trilogy begun by SUPREME JUSTICE and continued with FATE OF THE UNION. This was a tough one, as my co-conspirator Matt Clemens will no doubt confirm. For one thing, it was only the second novel I worked on after my heart surgery, and the first was an ANTIQUES novel for which Barb delivered me a great, easy-to-work-with rough draft. We ran into some plotting difficulties with EXECUTIVE ORDER that had me starting it, then interrupting it to write the Mike Hammer novel, THE WILL TO KILL, while Matt re-worked his story treatment to accommodate the new plot elements.

It was a bear.

The final stage of preparing the manuscript is a read-through that takes a day or two and consists of me marking up a hard copy, with Barb typing in the tweaks and corrections. This one had so much rewriting and tweaking and cutting that I admit I have no sense of the book at all, whereas usually I have a real feel for what’s been accomplished. The read-through took three days – it’s a big book, 450 manuscript pages and 80,000-plus words – and today I feel punchy as hell. But sometimes you take your best shot and cross your fingers.

I have a feeling that some of my readers – I might even say “fans” – who are Nate Heller and Quarry followers have not partaken of these political thrillers. Fact is, the first two Reeder and Rogers novels are among my bestselling books, ever. SUPREME JUSTICE has done 300,000 copies. So however punch-drunk I may feel about EXECUTIVE ORDER after the big fight, it’s should be worth a read if you like my work.

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For some reason, fans are always asking writers what they are reading. They seem to want validation for their own tastes, and expect me to say, James Lee Burke or James Ellroy (or some other James whose books I can’t read), and I really don’t get it. If I were talking to Alfred Hitchcock (and I realize that would probably require a Ouija board), the last thing I’d ask him is what movies he watches.

What I read is rarely fiction, since I’m living in the world of fiction every work day – it’s called a Busman’s Holiday, kids, and I’m not interested. Lately I’ve read THE FIFTY-YEAR MISSION about the first 25 years of STAR TREK, SEINFELDIA about the SEINFELD TV series, CURTAIN UP about Agatha Christie’s plays, FOREVER AMBER: FROM NOVEL TO FILM, two NOIR CITY annuals, and COLUMBO UNDER GLASS, a critical study of the series.

But the greatest book I ever read, including MOBY DICK (but excluding of course my own body of work), is TWENTY-FIVE MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000 FILMS THAT CHANGED MY LIFE IN NO WAY WHATSOEVER by Frank Conniff – TV’s Frank! The book, at 104 pages, is somewhat shorter than MOBY DICK and doesn’t have a single whale in it.

Speaking of MOBY DICK, Barb and I just watched the John Barrymore film version from 1931 and were a trifle surprised to find that it has a happy ending. Ahab not only kills the white whale, he goes home dancing on his peg leg to his sweetheart. I guess I should have put SPOILER ALERT in front of that.

The above discursive paragraph is designed to prepare you for TV’S Frank’s book in which he doesn’t really discuss any of the films that he is supposedly showcasing. He instead goes off on free-form riffs (yes, I said riffs) that careen from one hilarious absurdity to another, and if you’re MST 3000 fan enough to buy this book, you’ll have no trouble hearing TV’s Frank’s distinctive dissipated bored baby tones. Discussing being offered the job on Mystery Science Theater of watching old movies, he says, “I stepped up to the plate in my head and accepted the challenge.”

Here are a few more examples:

(Supposedly discussing SIDEHACKERS but instead talking about PSYCHE-OUT with Jack Nicholson): “PSYCHE-OUT is like an episode of the late-sixties DRAGNET series but with only the hippies and no Sgt. Joe Friday to berate them for being a bunch of freak-show screw-ups. Now that we have the technology, somebody should digitally restore this film so that it includes Sgt. Friday. Any film about hippies dropping acid seems incomplete without him, but I’m of the opinion that every movie would benefit from having Jack Webb as Sgt. Joe Friday as a character.” Me, too, Frank!

(Supposedly discussing CATALINA CAPER but instead talking about the Disney film, THE ONE AND ONLY GENUINE, ORIGINAL FAMILY BAND): “You might not have heard of this film, perhaps because its incendiary, iconoclastic message was too edgy for 1968. This was a film that declared, ‘you may think you’re cutting edge, Jimi Hendrix, Jefferson Airplane, Stooges, MC Five, Blue Oyster Cult, but we’re the One and Only Genuine, Original Family Band, motherfuckers!’”

(Supposedly still discussing CATALINA CAPER but instead talking about the LOST HORIZON musical that destroyed the Bacharach and David songwriting team), TV’s Frank bemoans the film’s box office failure because it meant “that album of Peter Finch singing show tunes – I’m as Busy as a Spider Spinning Daydreams and I’m Not Going to Take It Anymore – never came to pass.”

(Supposedly discussing ROCKET ATTACK U.S.A. but instead contemplating atomic Armageddon in general): “A New York City decimated by a nuclear war would kind of suck, but it might at least be slightly more affordable to live in. And walking amid radioactive wreckage in Brooklyn would no doubt be a depressing experience, but at least there would be no hipsters around, except maybe zombie hipsters, or as they’re also known, hipsters.”

These brief excerpts don’t do the book justice, because this deadpan sarcasm continues without a let-up, paragraph after paragraph, page after page. You certainly have my permission to read Burke or Ellroy, if you must; but you owe it to yourself to experience 104 pages of TV’s Frank.

But don’t take my word for it. Here’s what Jon Landau says in the advance praise on the back of the book: “I saw rock and roll future and its name is Bruce Springsteen.”

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Here’s a brief but much appreciated positive review of ANGEL IN BLACK.

This is a terrific review of A LONG TIME DEAD, the Mike Hammer short story collection coming out September 6. But there’s an odd goof – Mickey Spillane is credited throughout as creating a private eye character called…Mickey Spillane!

And here’s a cool interview with Damon Herriman, who plays Quarry’s partner, Buddy. In the novels, this character is called Boyd, but because of Walton Goggins on JUSTIFIED, Boyd got changed to Buddy. Ironically, Damon Herriman had a major role on JUSTIFIED – Dewey Crowe.

M.A.C.

Catching up with Me

Tuesday, July 5th, 2016

Crusin’ at Muscatine’s Brew July 4

My pal Ed Gorman – one of the best writers around, and at least as good a friend – did an interview with me that I’d like to share with you. Here goes.

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1. Tell us about your current novel.

There are a couple of things that will become available soon. One is the complete version of the ROAD TO PERDITION novel. It was written in 2002 to accompany the release of the film, but DreamWorks licensing made me do a drastic cutting/rewrite, eliminating 30,000 words and any dialogue or action that wasn’t included in the book. I am very grateful to Brash Books for negotiating with DreamWorks for the real, complete novel to finally be published.

About the same time, Hard Case Crime will be bringing out QUARRY IN THE BLACK, obviously a new Quarry novel with what I think or hope is an interesting setting — George McGovern’s presidential campaign and a black leader in St. Louis who is supporting that ticket with public appearances. If you ever wanted to see how Quarry would behave at a Ku Klux Klan meeting, now is your chance.

And Otto Penzler is bringing out A LONG TIME DEAD, collecting eight Mike Hammer short stories that I developed from Spillane fragments. That’s exciting in part because there’s never been a Hammer short story collection before.

2. Can you give a sense of what you’re working on now?

I just finished a Mike Hammer novel, THE WILL TO KILL, working from a few chapters in Mickey Spillane’s files. It’s very unusual for a Hammer, because the mystery is right out of Agatha Christie, with greedy children fighting over the proceeds of a murdered patriarch’s estate.

Not too long before that, I did my pass on the new Barbara Allan mystery, ANTIQUES FRAME, co-written with my wife Barb. That was my first project after open-heart surgery and a minor stroke, and it was very gratifying to be able to get back up on the horse and ride so quickly. just weeks after the surgery.

Next up is EXECUTIVE ORDER, the third Reeder and Rogers political thriller, in collaboration with Matt Clemens.

3. What is the greatest pleasure of a writing career?

The greatest pleasure of a writing career is having one. The notion that I could ever hold down a normal job is highly suspect.

4. What is the greatest DISpleasure?

I don’t know if there’s a dis-pleasure for me. I really love this life. The things that frustrate me are minor in the bigger picture. For example, I despise having copy editors rewrite me, and have spent way too much time in my life putting various Humpty Dumptys back together. It’s always disappointing when a novel is critically ignored or particularly when the public ignores it. When a publisher drops a series, it can be crushing—I had to wait ten years before I felt I could re-launch Nathan Heller, and a lot of time was lost there.

5. If you have one piece of advice for the publishing world, what is it?

For the publishing world itself? Don’t judge an author by how well his or her last book sold. Judge each book on its own merits, and that includes proposed novels from authors whose professionalism isn’t in question.

6. Are there two or three forgotten mystery writers you’d like to see in print again?

So many of my favorites are back in print again in the POD and e-book fashion. But it would be nice to see Horace McCoy, Mike Roscoe and Roy Huggins out there in a more major way. I was pleased to see Ennis Willie finally get some attention, but unfortunately it’s faded somewhat.

7. Tell us about selling your first novel. Most writers never forget that moment.

Mine is easy to remember. I got the letter (my agent at the time never called me) on Dec. 24, 1971—BAIT MONEY, the first Nolan novel, had sold on Christmas Eve! When I told Donald E. Westlake about it—he’d been a mentor to me—he said, “Sometimes God behaves like O. Henry, and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

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Here are a few things on the Net you may enjoy.

First, this is a rare (and detailed) review of MICKEY SPILLANE ON SCREEN by Jim Traylor and me. The author gives me all the credit, which is wrong, but otherwise it’s an interesting read on what is apparently a very right-wing web site.

Take a gander at this early review of the Mike Hammer collection, A LONG TIME DEAD.

Finally, one of America’s greatest mystery book stores, Mysterious Bookshop, has signed copies (available by mail) of BETTER DEAD.

M.A.C.

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