Posts Tagged ‘True Detective’

Heller – The Starting Gate

Tuesday, November 21st, 2017

I have been researching the upcoming Nathan Heller novel, Do No Harm, for two months. That has consisted chiefly of reading books – ten cover to cover, reading selectively in another ten, filling a notebook with info and page numbers. With any Heller, a lot of research occurs along the way as well; but, in movie terms, I’ve completed pre-production. This past week I read eighteen contemporary articles on the Sam Sheppard murder case, and two more books. On Monday I start the novel.

The process with Heller has remained largely the same since True Detective back in the early ‘80s. I select the historical incident – usually a crime, either unsolved or controversially solved – and approach it as if I’m researching the definitive book on the subject. I never have a firm opinion on the case before research proper begins, even if I’ve read a little about it or seen movies or documentaries on the subject, just as somebody interested in famous true crimes.

The intent is to find the story in the research, as opposed to having the story firmly in mind and researching it. That’s worked out well for me with Heller – any number of times I’ve come up with theories about what probably really happened that have inspired non-fiction books (by authors who never credit me) (but I’m not bitter).

This time I changed my mind about who murdered Marilyn Sheppard, oh, a dozen times. I in part selected the case because it was a more traditional murder mystery than the political subjects of the last four Heller novels – sort of back to basics, plus giving me something that would be a little easier to do, since I was coming out of some health problems and major surgeries.

But it’s turned out to be one of the trickiest Heller novels of all. Figuring out what happened here is very tough. There is no shortage of suspects, and no shortage of existing theories. In addition, a number of the players are still alive (Sam Sheppard’s brother Stephen is 97) and those who aren’t have grown children who are, none of whom would likely be thrilled with me should I lay a murder at the feet of their deceased parents.

Additionally, the case does not lend itself to some of the usual Heller fun-and-games – like violence and sex. There are no bad guys to kill, and the sexual aspects of the murder make Heller hanky panky distasteful. Oddly enough, this comes after the preceding Heller, Better Dead, which found our hero more sexually active than usual (and that’s saying something).

But the research defines the book. The story emerges from the research and I have to be true to it. That story sometimes – this time for sure – takes its time revealing itself. I have changed the structure of the novel almost as many times as I have changed my mind about who killed Marilyn Sheppard.

For that reason, I do not attempt to write a chapter breakdown/outline (vital in a Heller) until I have completed the research phase. In a way that’s too bad, because if I could discern the shape of the book at, say, a third of the way through the research, I could limit further digging to the areas I need. As it is, I’ve taken notes on scores of things that won’t appear in the book.

That’s okay. In an historical novel, it’s all about the tip of the iceberg, and for me to portray that effectively, I need to know the shape of what’s under the water.

As I indicated, research doesn’t end when the writing begins. Each chapter requires some pre-production as I gather the materials from what I’ve already read, and then as I write it and need things I hadn’t anticipated, more research is done on the fly.

In addition to all this, I have to deal with the feeling I always have at the beginning of a Heller – I experience this, to a lesser degree, with Quarry and really any novel I write – that I may not be up to the job. Coming off health problems, that’s a little exaggerated this time. How do I do this? I ask myself. At least a little panic, a minor anxiety attack, always precedes the writing of chapter one.

I have completed the chapter breakdown/outline to my satisfaction, having wrestled the structure into submission – I have even found a bad guy for Heller to kill. I feel good about where I am, even if certain insecurities creep through.

For me, the saving grace has always been Nate Heller. Like Quarry, he has always been there when I need him. I start writing and there he is.

By the time you read this, I will know if he’s come through for me yet again.

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Despite a few inaccuracies, this is a nice overview of Mike Hammer, touching on the Spillane/Collins collaborations.

Here’s an interesting Road to Perdition (film) article.

Check out this good interview with Hard Case Crime editor, Charles Ardai, flawed only in his neglecting to be mention me (again, I am not bitter). Several Quarry covers are featured, though.

Finally, here’s a lovely piece by Bev Keddy covering many of my books – much appreciate, Bev (who is a boy, he will have you know).

M.A.C.

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.

“The Will to Kill” Coming to Audio

Tuesday, May 23rd, 2017

This is one of those Good News/Bad News situations, only it’s really Good News/Bad News/Good News.

Stacy Keach
Stacy Keach

Many Mike Hammer fans – myself included – were dismayed when Blackstone Audio ceased releasing the new Hammer novels on audio, performed by the great Stacy Keach, starting with the current Will to Kill.

All of the previous Spillane/Collins “Hammer” collaborations, read by Stacy, remain available on Audible and elsewhere – they include The Goliath Bone, The Big Bang, Kiss Her Goodbye, Lady, Go Die!, Complex 90, King of the Weeds, Kill Me, Darling, and Murder Never Knocks. In addition are the two Audie-honored radio-style, full-cast audios, The New Adventures of Mike Hammer Vol. 2: The Little Death and The New Adventures of Mike Hammer Vol. 3: Encore for Murder. (There’s also a volume one that Stacy appears in but I did not write, more keyed to the ‘80s TV show than the novels).

Now a new audio publisher, JournalStone, has stepped in, with The Will to Kill first on the docket. Efforts to secure the rights to the short story collection, A Long Time Dead, are under way (I don’t personally hold those). That’s the very good news.

But the bad news is that Stacy Keach is stepping down.

Having ten works of mine (and Mickey’s) with the participation of perhaps the most famous screen Mike Hammer has been a privilege and a gift. I can’t convey what a thrill it’s been hearing Stacy’s voice roll out of those speakers, playing Hammer in stories I co-wrote. I remain thrilled and grateful to Stacy, and he and I will continue to explore projects (both Spillane and otherwise) to do together.

In the meantime, JournalStone has accepted my suggestion for a new audio Mike Hammer in the form of Dan John Miller.

Dan John Miller and his very Velda-like wife Tracee Mae Miller
Dan John Miller and his very Velda-like wife
Tracee Mae Miller

Dan is singer-songwriter and actor from Detroit, currently guitarist and lead vocalist for the gothic country-garage band, Blanche, which also features his lovely wife, Tracee Mae Miller. He has appeared in a number of films, notably Walk The Line, playing Johnny Cash’s guitar player Luther Perkins. Among his many outstanding musical accomplishments, Dan collaborated with Jack White in the band Two Star Tabernacle. (He is also a man of great musical taste, once calling Crusin’s “First Step” on the Bullets CD “the perfect rock ‘n’ roll song.”)

For our purposes, however, it’s his work as one of the top audiobook narrators in the field that is most pertinent.

Dan was named a Best Voice by AudioFile magazine for performances of Pat Conroy’s The Lords of Discipline and Philip Roth’s My Life As a Man. In 2009, he was nominated for two Audies, as well garnering an Audiofile magazine Golden Earphone award, and a Listen Up! award from Publishers Weekly.

Even more important, for anyone likely to be looking at this update, is that Dan John Miller has been the voice of Nate Heller for several years now. He has recorded every Heller novel to date, from True Detective to Better Dead, as well as the short story collection (Chicago Lightning) and novella omnibus (Triple Play). He has done an outstanding job and – much as I’ve looked forward to hearing Stacy as Hammer – the new Heller novels of recent years have only seemed “real” to me after Dan has brought them to life.

At my urging, other audio publishers have tapped on Dan’s shoulder for the Mallory series, entries in the Disaster series, a Quarry (The Wrong Quarry), and the Reeder and Rogers series, currently Executive Order. He brings tough characters to life with both an edge and warmth, and I am very fortunate to have him agree to pick up where Stacy left off with Mike Hammer.

No release dates yet. In fact, I may be a trifle premature here, because some of the negotiations remain under way. But everything looks good – and will sound good.

If you’re a fan of my work, I couldn’t recommend Stacy and Dan – and their respective contributions to the Collins canon – to you more highly. The JournalStone releases will be available on CD, and as downloads from Audible.

Stay tuned.

* * *

Appropriately, Ron Fortier has posted a nice review of The Will to Kill.

Here is a rather unflattering review of the same Mike Hammer book. I generally do not respond to critics, but I have asked my grandson Sam to reply for me. You will see his reply below the link to the review.

Finally, here’s a positive review of The Wrong Quarry, one of my favorite books in the series.

M.A.C.

Titanic Update

Tuesday, October 15th, 2013

This week’s update will largely be devoted to another round of Bouchercon photos (courtesy of our Kensington editor Michaela Hamilton’s friend Eugene George) and some very nice links to reviews and articles.

Cinematic Titanic Farewell Tour

I’ll just briefly say that Barb and I spent a great weekend in St. Louis with Nate and Abby, taking in Cinematic Titanic whose live show was part of its “Bon Voyage” tour. The cast “riffed” a wonderfully terrible ‘70s movie called INVISIBLE STRANGLER in which such pros as Stephanie Powers and Elke Sommer are crushed by terrible direction and miserable dialogue, blissfully unaware of the outlandishly bad special effects with which they would share the screen. We are all huge fans of the two spin-off groups from MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000 (the other being, of course, Riff Trax). Titanic, after half a dozen years, numerous live shows and a dozen DVD releases, is going on “indefinite hiatus.” There was a definite valedictory feel to the evening, with Joel Hodgson sharing a slide show that revealed new information about the influences and beginnings of MST3000 (3000 is not a year, for example, but a model number). We briefly met Joel, Frank Conniff, Mary Jo Pehl, Trace Beaulieu and Dave “Gruber” Allen, who was filling in for an ailing J. Elvis Weinstein. (Gruber played Counselor Rosso on FREAKS & GEEKS! Trace and Joel appeared on the show, and the absent Weinstein was a writer/producer on that great series.) Like the Riff Trax boys, the Cinematic Titanic cast is gracious, warm and witty when dealing with their many fans.

Bouchercon 2013
Max Allan Collins on panel

Bouchercon 2013
Matthew Clemens and Barbara Collins signing

Bouchercon 2013
Barbara and Max signing

Bouchercon 2013
Barbara on panel

* * *

I’m thrilled to share with you this stunning rave review from Bookgasm of ASK NOT.

Here’s an article on crime comics that gives MS. TREE her due.

And this ranking of Tom Hanks’ best six movies includes a familiar title.

Here’s a nice if brief review of the TRUE DETECTIVE audio.

I was gratified by this terrific look at ONE LONELY NIGHT from a reviewer who initially disliked Spillane and Mike Hammer (based on upon reading I, THE JURY) but tried LADY, GO DIE! at my urging and got turned around. Then ONE LONELY NIGHT sealed the deal. Read the comments below, too.

Finally, the DARK ANGEL trilogy, written by Matt Clemens and me, gets a very nice appraisal here (scroll down till you see Jessica Alba).

M.A.C.