Posts Tagged ‘True Detective’

Books, Podcasts…and an Imminent Baby

Tuesday, September 18th, 2018

We are on pins and needles (or as the British invasion’s Searchers say, “needles and pins”) waiting for word of the imminent birth of our grandchild, a girl, to son Nathan and our wonderful daughter-in-law, Abby. Our grandson Sam will shortly be deposed from his throne, but I trust he will remain sufficiently worshiped (he will be by us, anyway).

We will keep you posted.

A bunch of Kindle deals are available right now. Until the end of the month, for 99 cents each, you can get the e-books of

Damned in Paradise (Purchase link: )
True Detective
Chicago Lightning
Kill Your Darlings
Nice Weekend for a Murder
The Baby Blue Rip-Off
No Cure for Death
Midnight Haul
Shroud for Aquarius

And at Kobo, through 9/24, you can get the first Antiques mystery as an e-book – Antiques Roadkill – for 99 cents.

I am going to be appearing at the Iowa City Book Festival Oct. 1 – 7 in, not surprisingly, Iowa City. Barb will be along and we’ll both be signing. My specific event is Saturday, Oct. 6, 2:30 p.m. at the Iowa City Public Library, meeting room A. (Map)

A very nice write-up about Nate Heller, and specifically True Detective, appears at the excellent Black Gate site. It’s a pleasure to know a book I wrote thirty-five years ago (my son Nate’s age) is still enjoyed and even lauded today. I love writing the Heller novels, difficult though they are to do, and hope I can stay on the planet long enough to do three or four more. Anyway, here is the article, with a very nice intro and after word (one point deducted for spelling my middle name “Allen”).

Here’s where you can hear the Life Elsewhere interview with Brad Schwartz and me. Part 1 and Part 2. [Note from Nate: I had a little trouble finding where to listen — try this page and look for the 9/9 and 9/16 shows in the drop-down menu.]

Another two-part podcast with Brad and me is here.

Here’s a podcast about Ms. Tree that I haven’t listened to yet.

Brad and I did a very cool half-hour interview at Anderson’s Bookstore in Naperville, Illinois, not long ago, with excellent interviewer Becky Anderson.

There’s also a “Lightning Round” with Becky, worth a look/listen.

M.A.C.

Book Giveaway: The Sequel!

Tuesday, May 1st, 2018

Hardcover:
E-Book: Amazon Google Play Nook Kobo iTunes

The new Trash ‘n’ Treasures novel, Antiques Wanted, is in stores now in hardcover and e-book editions. Don’t miss it!

* * *
Spring lassos small-town Serenity, as Brandy Borne’s crime-bustin’ mama Vivian hatches a harebrained scheme to run for county sheriff—ropin’ in her daughter to join the rodeo as campaign manager. As the two-woman posse tracks down voters at a local assisted-living home, Brandy’s attempts at corralling Mother’s impractical whims make her feel like a tinhorn on a bucking bronco. But sure as shootin’, unhappy trails lie ahead….

Shortly after the Borne gals receive a valuable signed photo of an old-timey cowboy actor from the elderly aunt of Vivian’s political opponent, a massive explosion sends Brandy to the ER and auntie to the grave.

With a string of unexplained deaths turning Sunny Meadow into Boot Hill, the ditzy duo—aided by their clever shih tzu Sushi—must lay down the law on a deadly outlaw . . . before someone’s elected the next victim, with the Bornes headin’ toward their last round-up!

* * *

[Note from Nate: All copies given away. Thank you for your support!]

We have finished copies of the hardcover edition of Antiques Wanted in hand now, and have five to share with readers willing to do a review for Amazon and/or other venues (Barnes & Noble, blogs, etc.).

As usual, you must write me at [REDACTED], and include your snail mail address. United States residents only. These will go quickly, so act now. How will know if you win? A book will show up in the mail. We’ll get them out quickly.

As it happens, right now we are wrapping up the next Barbara Allan-bylined novel (she’s Barbara, I’m Allan) (if “I’m Dickens, He’s Fenster” jumped into your mind, you are both old and strange) (talking to you, Mike Doran).

Barb works on her draft for six months or more, and I spend around a month on mine, a very intense process on my part, with Barb staying handy to answer plot questions and such. I polish throughout and wind up adding about a fourth more pages. This novel – Antiques Ravin’ – has an Edgar Allan Poe theme and is the darkest of the books, but with plenty of off-the-wall humor. It’s also the most action-packed (and victim-strewn) of the novels thus far.

Because I am deep in the throes of my draft, I will make today’s update short. But I do want to comment on the nice response for my last two columns, discussing my insistence on clothing my characters (in the first essay), and in stripping them off the attractive female characters (subject of the second essay).

I admit in writing the previous update that I was not thinking in terms of political correctness, in relation to the complaints about sex scenes coming in from some readers. Rather, I was looking at such scenes in terms of characterization and narrative strategy. But I have noticed that a good share of such comments seem to come from younger readers – at my age, “younger” is under forty – which does indicate a cultural shift.

But political correctness has been a problem almost from the beginning for the Nathan Heller saga, going all the way back to the mid-‘80s. That is because I have insisted on Heller’s point of view and speech reflecting the period he’s writing about, as well as his own point in time – in other words, these are the memoirs of a man who was born early in the twentieth century.

So Heller may say “colored” or “Negro” where an African American is concerned. A young woman may be a “girl” to him. An Italian may be a “wop.” Complaints along those lines have been with Heller and me from the start. Neither of us care. Sometimes we have to fight copy editors over such things.

More recently Heller (and Mike Hammer’s and Quarry’s) tendency to give us a somewhat leering appraisal of a young woman’s physicality bothers some readers and reviewers. Again, I don’t care. It’s who these protagonists are. It’s who I am, to some degree, having been a male on the planet for seventy years. I am willing to retrain myself in a lot of ways. Me not noticing, and even cataloguing, a female’s attributes (that word itself seems politically incorrect now) is just is not going to happen.

If a young politically correct heterosexual male wants to pretend he doesn’t notice that a woman is attractive, that’s up to him. But he’s lying not just to us but to himself. I would venture to say the same about heterosexual women and good-looking men (the definition of “good-looking,” of course, being a matter of personal taste and inclination). I’m going to take a wild guess and say this applies to gay men and women, too.

I have been married for fifty years to one of the most enduringly beautiful women on earth. But you can bet I notice the pretty girls (yes, I said girls) who wander across my line of vision.

I should also say that my sex scenes are often, to some degree, meant to make a reader uncomfortable. Again, back at the very start of Heller (in True Detective), I dealt with such things as the use of prophylactics and the aftermath of a virgin’s first sexual experience resulting in blood on the sheets. A good pal of mine, also a private eye writer, objected to my including such things, which spoiled the myth and the romance for him.

This, to me, isn’t any different than when a very famous private eye writer complained about Nate Heller dropping a case when Frank Nitti paid the detective off to drop a case (which Heller did, and bought himself a new suit). I was scolded that a Chandler-esque private eye (and Heller comes out of Phillip Marlowe as much as he does Sam Spade and Mike Hammer) shouldn’t take a bribe from a gangster! Horrors! But Heller knew if he didn’t do what Frank Nitti told him to, my private eye’s bullet-riddled body would wind up in a ditch.

As I touched upon last week, my approach has always been to provide a realistic surface to the larger-than-life doings of the story at hand, thereby making the melodrama play like drama. The notion that Hammett, Chandler, Spillane and for that matter Ross MacDonald brought “realism” to the mystery story is idiotic. The novels of those four are romances (in the non-lovey-dovey sense).

It’s no accident that Mickey Spillane’s favorite writer was Alexander Dumas – The Three Musketeers ends much as I, the Jury does, and The Count of Monte Cristo is a revenge tale.

* * *

Barb and I both liked The Avengers: Infinity War very much. Despite death looming over every frame, the humor of the Guardians of the Galaxy movies and the most recent Thor, and well-tooled quips for Robert Downey’s Iron Man, influence Infinity Wars, making the ride as fun as it is harrowing. The narrative strategy of following little groups within the larger group, and giving the story to each mini-team for a while, works beautifully.

The only weak part is the Black Panther stuff, despite the popularity of the recent movie, which we walked out of, as some of you may recall. Speaking of political correctness, it’s a pandering thing, this Black Panther concept (the actor playing the B.P. is dignified and fine, however).

* * *

This site reports that I am not dead. What a relief!

Finally, here’s another Spillane birthday tribute.

M.A.C.

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.

* * *

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.