Posts Tagged ‘USS Powderkeg’

Inspiration, Perspiration and Exasperation

Tuesday, January 29th, 2019

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

USS Powderkeg will be available on February 1. You are unlikely to find it in a bookstore, so go to Amazon or Barnes & Noble or BAM! iTunes has it, too – read about that here.

Info about the book itself is available at Brash Books.

We have used the cover before, but this book – finally under my preferred title with my revised text – is important to me and will require some effort on your part to lay hands on it. This is the novel based on my late father’s experiences in World War II as one of a handful of white officers on an ammunition ship whose crew was otherwise African-American.

After shrugging off our disappointment at Scarface and the Untouchable not getting nominated for an Edgar – my “shrugging off” included expressing how pissed off I was, on Facebook – my co-author, A. Brad Schwartz and I are digging in to make some corrections and additions to the upcoming trade paperback edition (June 4).

This will include a new preface as well as bonus material (in the style of DVD extras) that will focus on the newly discovered case file of one of the Untouchables, which serves to underscore and further verify our conclusions about Ness and how he and his team have been underestimated and short-changed by history.

We are also prepping for a visit to the Mob Museum in Las Vegas over Valentine’s Day, about which more will appear here next week. Brad has also been out on the stump by himself somewhat, as I have been burrowed in, here in very cold Iowa, working on novels. Yesterday day I completed the new Quarry novel, Killing Quarry – although I will be re-reading it and tweaking it and such for a few days this week.

Anyway, among Brad’s adventures in promoting our book (did I mention the criminal overlooking of this major tome by the MWA true crime committee?) included this fine interview.

Speaking of the MWA committee’s neglect, someone I trust has suggested the intimidating length of the book probably put some or all of the committee members off. I suspect some truth might be found in that opinion. Having served on MWA committees, I know it’s a fact of life that the committee members are swamped with books to read in full. On the other hand, the advance notices (particularly the fine mini-review from Grand Master Sara Paretsky) should have encouraged them to do so, anyway.

What can you do to help make the pain go away? Well, if you attend Bouchercon this year, you can vote for Scarface and the Untouchable in the non-fiction Anthony Awards category.

I know I plan to.

Hey, I realize this is undignified and sour grapes and boo-hoo-hoo. I have a love/hate relationship with awards, anyway (love to be nominated, hate not to be, and also losing). But awards as respected as the Edgars bring new readers to the nominated works and especially those that win. They have importance only in that regard, because otherwise it’s just a bunch of subjective nonsense.

I feel much the same way about reviews. I want good reviews not because I need validation, but because more readers will come to the books. I would be lying if I said bad reviews don’t matter to me, because they do, and not just in the sense that they discourage readers (sometimes, oddly enough, such reviews don’t always work that way). But it hurts to have something you’ve put hard work into savaged and/or dismissed, particularly when a smart reviewer nails you for something you’re guilty of.

What hurts about Scarface and the Untouchable is the work, and the years of research, that went into it. I am less angry about this for myself and more for my co-author, whose research (building on my original research in Heller and Ness novels) has upended conventional wisdom about Capone and his tax woes, and Ness and the lack of respect and credit he gets, from those who resent how Hollywood portrayed him. Brad did a stellar, mind-boggling job.

He deserved better.

* * *

As I mention, I finished Killing Quarry yesterday, and will dig into minor revisions throughout the rest of the week. I have a particularly full plate this year, which is why I have written three novels in four months – Murder, My Love with Mike Hammer; the Caleb York novel, now entitled Hot Lead, Cold Justice (my original title, The Big Die-Off, deemed too obscure); and now Killing Quarry. Very shortly I will begin serious work on Girl Can’t Help It, the prequel to the forthcoming Girl Most Likely, a task for which I’ve allowed several months. This will be followed by my draft of Antiques Fire Sale (Barb’s working on her draft now), which I have allowed another month for.

This is, of course, insane. Why do I work so hard? Why is somebody who has five doctor’s appointments with specialists this month behaving like this? Should I slow down? Barb thinks I should.

But I like doing this. I really do. And – while I feel fine and all my reports so far (the dentist today) have been positive – when you are 70 and in a month or so will be 71, you sense that maybe you don’t have all the time left in the world to tell your stories.

And I came here to tell stories.

All of which is prelude to what I want to discuss today. Would you agree that everybody has bad days? Various kinds of bad days, of course – from the simple out-of-sorts day to the depressed-about-bad-news day (not getting an Edgar nomination for a ground-breaking book, to just pull an example out of the air) to the nothing-is-going-right day to…you get the idea.

Now I’m not talking about a sick day (in my business, cold and flu generally don’t count – open-heart surgery does) or a day when tragedy has struck a loved one or friend. Nothing like that. Your favorite aunt dies? Take the day off with my blessing!

No, just that typical terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

When you are writing on a six-day-a-week schedule, with a deadline bearing down, you write anyway. Writer’s block is not allowed, and I never have it, anyway. Recently I thought I had finally encountered this mysterious, possibly mythical beast – I could not get a single workable thing on paper. I always start with a rough draft, knowing that I’m creating the clay for me to shape into sculpture. But this time, I couldn’t get anything on paper worth building on.

Why?

Well, turned out I was effing exhausted! Just flat-out fried. So I took a two-hour nap, as elderly folk are wont (and permitted) to do. When I got up from my snooze, the words flowed. Maybe not like wine, but definitely Coca Cola.

During the writing of Killing Quarry, I had perhaps three bad days – one of them Edgar-related, which of course I won’t go into. Ironically, one of that sorry trio was the last day of the process – the day on which the crucial last chapter was written.

Knowing I was facing a key part of my story, I considered taking the day off – it was Sunday, after all – and just letting my batteries recharge. But I hadn’t run this race to goof off just shy of the finish line. Plus, all of the plot stuff was filling my brain and assembled into good order – I knew exactly what needed doing.

So I did it.

It was something of a slog. I usually do three drafts of every chapter, then give it to Barb, who gives me notes, and I make minor corrections and revisions (sometimes they’re major – Barb has great story sense), and I’m done till the final read-through. Yesterday I did three drafts, took an hour nap, then came back and did another draft. Barb did her read-through and I made a few revisions and corrections from her notes. If you’re keeping score, that’s an additional draft or pass on the chapter.

Now, here is the lede I’m burying (why is it spelled “lede” not “lead”?) (and why don’t I just Google that and not bother you about it?): how does inspiration figure into a working fiction writer’s process?

I would imagine all of us have bursts of inspiration, sometimes entire work session-long ones. Maybe some writers feel inspired for days or even weeks – trust me, they don’t feel like that all the way through a project. Everybody has bad days, remember?

There are two kinds of writers – the ones who can only write on their inspired days, and who navel-gaze on their (many) off days; and the writers who are thankful for the inspired days that God or luck or somebody or some thing grants them, and who on their bad days soldier on. March through the mud to victory, or at least the end of the work day.

Now here is the real dirty little secret about inspiration – the inspired work and the struggle-to-get-through-it work are always of the same quality. When you go back and read through your story or novel, and recall the passages that came easily as if by automatic writing, those passages won’t be any better or worse than the stuff that came hard.

Or anyway those passages shouldn’t be.

Inspiration is just the days the work is going well. If you are any good at all as a writer, you will develop standards that you will not allow yourself to fall below, before you press on. You stay at it till the work you had to work hard at reads just as well as the work that came easy.

* * *

This story about Black Panther’s Oscar nominations mentions a certain other comics-derived film that once-upon-a-time received five nominations (hint: Road to Perdition).

A cry goes out to reprint the Marshall Rogers Batman comic strip. Who was it wrote that again? (Hint: me.)

Finally, Scarface and the Untouchable made Otto Penzler’s Mysterious Bookshop best of the year list, as chosen by the staff – see “Mike’s Picks” on page three.

M.A.C.

An Old White Man Speaks (Reluctantly)

Tuesday, October 9th, 2018

I don’t like falling into the Old White Man category, but the facts (remember them?) seem to make my membership in that sad club mandatory.

And I really don’t want to talk politics, and I don’t intend to talk directly about it, exactly…but my brain just won’t give me anything else to talk about right now.

I’ve mentioned before that I used to accept all “friend” requests on Facebook, because I viewed anyone interested in me as either a current or potential reader, aka customer. But because of the vile political rants that often came to me through that door, I now only accept people whose names I recognize. Apologies.

On Facebook, I look at posts in groups I’ve joined having to do with illustration, comics, movies and other quirky interests of mine. I look at my “feed” (or whatever it is) maybe every couple of weeks. So I no longer regularly follow the fun things that friends post about themselves and their families – it’s the price of avoiding the horror of what people think.

So lately I have mostly posted stuff about my band, including links to performances, and links to reviews and interviews with me (and often A. Brad Schwartz, since Scarface and the Untouchable is still out there doing well). Yet my brain urges me to talk politics and current events. I want to swat my head with a rolled-up newspaper – Bad brain! Bad!

Here’s the thing. I have friends and business associates (and sometimes those categories overlap) who are firm Trump supporters. I also have readers who fall into that category, and (as noted above) they are customers, who I would not care to anger and irritate. Call me a coward if you like, but I relish being able to make a living.

But I want to wade in, just a little. I consider myself a centrist, if somewhat left of center. Back in the days of the Ms. Tree letter column, pre-Facebook by decades, I would express my views on a subject – abortion comes to mind – and receive hate mail from both the left and right, from those who could not process the notion that I did not approve of abortion, thought it was probably a sin (if you believe in that kind of thing), but still felt it should be legal, because who am I to foist my opinion on what a woman wants to do with her body?

When you stand in the middle of the road, that gives traffic coming from both ways an equal opportunity to run you down.

Where we are now is that we essentially have three political groups – two parties and an unruly center – who define themselves as republican, democrat or independent. There are major divides within those groups, of course, but more and more people are calling themselves independent because of frustration with both Coke and Pepsi. The problem with declaring yourself independent politically is that in most states you can’t vote in primaries. That means the hardcore republicans and democrats get to pick their candidates, which means one extreme meets another extreme at the ballot box, and many independents feel very frustrated by the choices presented them.

A good friend of mine from high school – the very definition of an independent thinker – told me he had not voted for president last time. He thought Trump was an idiot, but he despised Hillary Clinton. So nobody got his vote.

What I said to him was, “John!” (Let’s call him John.) (After all, it’s his name). “John! The lesser of two evils is still less evil.”

So let me boil down, as someone in the middle, what I think is the biggest problem we face.

Everybody who leans left, whether considering themselves democrats or progressives or independent, needs to consider how good the republicans are at branding. At labeling. What the republican base loves about President Trump is that he “tells it like it is.” But any objective look at the man would tell you he is a liar, possibly a pathological liar. The genius is in the labeling. The other day Trump made up a bill about immigration – made it up, my friends, it doesn’t exist – and gave it a name and blamed it on the democrats. This is in a long line of genius manipulation of branding from the republicans. They are not Anti-Abortion, they are Pro-Life. Genius. When protestors swarm their offices, they call it “mob mentality.” They know that if you want to cut down trees, you call yourself the Tree Conservation Group.

Meanwhile, many democrats are starting to add “socialist” to their name. Bernie Sanders is a mover and shaker in the demo world, but he isn’t even a democrat. I would take him more seriously as a democratic candidate for the presidency if he were a damn democrat. Old White Males like me (on either side, or in my case in the middle of the divide) know that for many older people (say, forty up), “socialist” is a loaded word, like “fascist” or “Communism.” There are plenty of fascists out there on the right who are smart enough not to call themselves fascists. It takes a democrat to do something that dumb.

The right has to own up to the cruelty and falsehoods their leader espouses; they need to examine his pro-Russia stance and look at a lifetime of sketchy business success built on tax fraud and inherited wealth. The left needs to stop requiring purity of their candidates and focus on the shameful way women have been minimized, ignored and even ridiculed in this latest debacle, and then go with the best available choice.

I understand that people are tired of gritting their teeth when they vote for somebody. And I hate being practical. It’s more fun being right, and there is comfort in indignation. But being practical is often necessary.

The lesser of two evils is less evil.

* * *

This past Saturday, Oct. 6, I was a speaker at the Iowa City Book Festival. I appeared on a fun panel about what authors read (and I revealed how little fiction I read these days) but also gave an hour talk to a nice crowd in a room at the Iowa City Public Library.

I was supposed to do a reading, but I wasn’t in the mood and instead gave an extemporaneous talk about my career, with an emphasis on my years at the University of Iowa’s Writers Workshop. Barb says I was out of control, but in a good way. I did get a lot of laughs, including from Barb.

It was recorded and I’ll share a link, if possible, on a future update.

Here’s another podcast about Scarface and the Untouchable with Brad and me.

And another.

Here’s info about the upcoming, revised Red Sky in Morning, now correctly titled USS Powderkeg.

Finally, here’s a nicely compact Scarface and the Untouchable review.

M.A.C.

Perdition, Zorro, Movies and More

Tuesday, September 5th, 2017
Road to Paradise

Road to Paradise is coming to trade paperback in November. I am thrilled with the job Brash Books has done on bringing the complete prose trilogy into print. The covers are great, and though many will read the e-book versions, the physical items are handsome.

Of course, this all hinged on getting the original, complete, previously unpublished Road to Perdition prose novel into print, the first of this matched-set trilogy.

Before long Brash will be bringing out USS Powderkeg (a slightly revised version of Red Sky in Morning) and Black Hats under my name, jettisoning the Patrick Culhane pseudonym the publisher insisted upon.

If you’re a regular reader of mine, please support these great efforts by Brash Books to get my novels out there again and in the manner I prefer.

Check out the Road to Paradise page out at their web site.

* * *
Zorro Vol. 6

I’ve been a fan of Zorro since childhood – some of you may have read my introduction to the Hermes Press collection of Dell’s pre-Disney-TV version of the character, including four wonderful issues drawn by the great Everett Raymond Kinstler.

Well, publisher Rich Harvey’s Bold Venture Press has just completed an ambitious program to collect all of the original novels and stories about Zorro by his creator, the underrated Johnston McCulley. The sixth and final volume was just published, and I had the honor of writing the introduction, in which I detail the torturous route to finally having these rare Zorro tales collected and accessible to readers. It’s a bewildering mystery why the well-written stories by the creator of one of popular fiction’s most iconic characters (on a par with Sherlock Holmes, Tarzan and, uh, well, Mike Hammer) have been so elusive. That doesn’t mean I don’t try to solve it….

The great color covers of those early Dell issues provide most of the cover images of this series.

Read about it (with ordering info) here.

* * *

Two excellent recent crime films are worthy of your attention (and your money).

Steven Soderbergh’s return to movie-making, Logan Lucky, is a clever, funny but not campy heist picture with a Southern twist. The cast is terrific, but the stand-out is Daniel Craig, and to say he’s playing against type is a bit of an understatement – stick around for his hilarious credit at the close. And what a surprise it’s been seeing just how much talent Channing Tatum turns out to have, and this is coming from the skeptical author of the G.I. JOE novelization.

Writer/director Taylor Sheridan’s Wind River is a worthy follow-up to the excellent Hell or High Water (and, yes, I remember how much I hated Sicario, but he didn’t direct that). It begins leisurely and takes full advantage of its beautifully bleak snowy Indian reservation setting before some shocking action kicks in. There’s nothing new here – a fish-out-of-water young female FBI agent is teamed with a somewhat older local fish-and-wildlife man, and the sad backstories of various characters are things we’ve heard before…virtually everything here is familiar. But the kicker is how well done it all is, how quiet and deep the characterizations are, with Jeremy Renner nailing a quiet, modern cowboy with all the right tough-guy moves. He looks nothing like Nate Heller or Mike Hammer, but could play either one admirably.

* * *
Crusin' @ Ardon Creek

Crusin’ played a gig last Friday evening at Ardon Creek Winery – a lovely setting and a lovely evening. We play under a tent, open to a gentle slope where people dance and sit at tables to sip wine and munch bring-your-own goodies. To one side is the vineyard. Really a beautiful venue for us, with an appreciative crowd. We’ll be back next year.

Our new guitar player, Bill Anson, is doing a terrific job; good singer and he plays very well. He had to pick up about 36 songs – well, he brought about five or six suggestions along, which we learned – in about three weeks, during which we played two gigs. As I said about the previous performance, there were a few train wrecks but no fatalities, and we have the makings of a very good version of the band.

We play once more this year – at Ducky’s in Andulsia, Illinois, Thursday evening (6 to 9) – outdoors again, for their “bike night.” Our next scheduled appearance is April ‘18, and over the winter we’ll be retooling our list.

M.A.C.

15 Favorite Novels Challenge

Tuesday, July 4th, 2017

My writer pal Raymond Benson posted one of those “make a list” challenges, in which the premise is to enumerate your favorite fifteen novels, alphabetically arranged by author. I’ll take an annotated swing.

Every one of these books represents an author whose work I admire (and collect). I make no apology for the authors who don’t appear here, Hemingway and Fitzgerald for example, whose work I also like but would never describe as “favorites.” Decades ago, a teacher at the University of Iowa who I found patronizing told me once that anyone who had never read Proust was an uneducated lout. That has kept me Proust-free in my lifetime, unapologetically.

1. The Postman Always Rings Twice, James M. Cain. Cain’s novel is where I learned how dialogue can drive a narrative, and also how a crime novel about two terrible people can work as a love story. Without this, no Gun Grazy or Bonnie & Clyde, not to mention a third or so of all Gold Medal paperbacks. “I kissed her. Her eyes were shining up at me like two blue stars. It was like being in church.”

2. Farewell, My Lovely, Raymond Chandler. This is where it all came together for Chandler – a plot that actually works (unlike the shambling wonder that is The Big Sleep), filled with hardboiled poetry and a cast of memorable grotesques with Marlowe at his wise-ass best. “I needed a drink, I needed a lot of life insurance, I needed a vacation, I needed a home in the country. What I had was a coat, a hat and a gun. I put them on and went out of the room.”

3. Evil Under the Sun, Agatha Christie. Christie was such a underrated writer. The idea that she wrote mere puzzles is more a reflection on a reader’s lack of insight than any deficiency in the work of this tough-minded, tricky writer. She wrote excellent dialogue, playwright that she was, and remains the gold standard of mystery fiction. “The sun shines. The sea is blue. But you forget…there is evil everywhere under the sun.”

4. Cold Comfort Farm, Stella Gibbons. I love this little book, with its vivid characters, running gags and self-serving protagonist, who views the rustic relatives she’s sponging off as a fix-‘er-up project. The original BBC adaptation with Alistair Sim is woefully absent on home video since an early VHS release. “I saw something nasty in the woodshed.”

5. Dr. No, Ian Fleming. I got into Fleming when he was marketed as a British Spillane, and thought his books were terrific. I still do, most of them anyway, and this is a fine example. From Russia with Love is arguably better, this one is pure Bond at his undiluted best. “What’s your name?” “Bond. James Bond.”

6. The Maltese Falcon, Dashiell Hammett. My favorite book. Hammett defines and perfects the private eye novel, and walks away, undefeated. “He felt like somebody had taken the lid off life and let him see the works.”

7. The Southpaw, Mark Harris. Harris is somewhat forgotten, but he’s a wonderful, adventurous novelist. I am not a big baseball fan, but the four Henry Wiggen novels (Bang the Drum, Slowly is the most celebrated) use a first-person voice as American as Huck Finn and Philip Marlowe. “First off I must tell you something about myself, Henry Wiggen, and where I was born and my folks.”

8. The Bad Seed, William March. I have called March a coherent Faulkner, and I stand by that. If you’re familiar with the Mommy movies, you know how highly I regard his sad story of the mother of a monster. “It seemed to her suddenly that violence was an inescapable factor of the heart, perhaps the most important factor of all – an ineradicable thing that lay, like a bad seed, behind kindness, behind compassion, behind the embrace of love itself.”

9. Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye, Horace McCoy. For a novel so little discussed, it could hardly be more influential – Jim Thompson comes from this ambitious first-person account of a brilliant psychopath, one of the most ambitious noir novels of the formative era. “I squeezed the trigger and the bullet hit him in the left eye and a drop of fluid squirted and the eyelid fell over the hole as a window shade falls over a pane of darkness.”

10. Prince of Foxes, Samuel Shellabarger. Shellabarger, once hugely popular, now unjustly forgotten, wrote sprawling novels wherein a swashbuckling fictional character was woven into a well-researched historical fabric. He was as much an influence on me as Hammett, Chandler, Cain and Spillane. “It illustrates the adage that the deeper the dung, the richer the rose. Who remembers the dung when the rose has blossomed?”

11. One Lonely Night, Mickey Spillane. The wildest and craziest of the early Mike Hammer novels also happens to be the first I read (at age thirteen). I have never been right-in-the-head since. “Nobody ever walked across the bridge, not on a night like this.”

12. Too Many Cooks, Rex Stout. Picking one Nero Wolfe novel is tough – I often cite the hardboiled Golden Spider as a particular favorite. But this is a delightful one, with Stout’s humanely leftist leanings coming through as well as his humor via Archie Goodwin and first-rate mystery plotting (an area in which he didn’t always excel). “Nothing is simpler than to kill a man; the difficulties arise in attempting to avoid the consequences.”

13. Pop. 1280, Jim Thompson. I discovered Thompson in high school and remember reading this in study hall. The psychotic sociopath as narrator/protagonist hit me hard, and played a role in the shaping of Quarry, although my guy is neither psycho nor sociopath, despite the opinion of some. “I’d been chasing females all my life, not paying no mind to the fact that whatever’s got tail at one end has teeth at the other, and now I was getting chomped.”

14. The Caine Mutiny, Herman Wouk. I love Wouk’s work and consider him underrated and unfairly dismissed. I tried to pay tribute in Red Sky in Morning, which will soon be reprinted by Brash Books under my preferred title, USS Powderkeg under my own name (not “Patrick Culhane”). Wouk, still around at 100, is a wonderful storyteller, and few writers have ever created a more memorable character than Captain Queeq. “Life is a dream, a little more coherent than most.”

15. Rambling Rose, Calder Willingham. Willingham was one of my first non-mystery-writer enthusiasms. This is a lovely book, but I like virtually everything of his, from End as a Man to Eternal Fire. He wrote about sex in a way that was at once playful and dead serious. He was one of the great screenwriters, too (Paths of Glory, The Graduate, Little Big Man, Rambling Rose). “I will call her Rose. On a broiling August afternoon in 1935 when I was close to thirteen years of age, a big towheaded girl came to our house with dusty shoes, runs in her stockings and a twinkle in her cornflower eyes.”

* * *

The IMDB entry on Quarry is worth a look.

Here’s a write-up on Hard Case Crime and its move into comics with some nice (if brief) mentions of me and Ms. Tree.

Finally, here’s a nice little bit about the Spillane centenary from the great Rap Sheet.