Posts Tagged ‘Wild Dog’

Put Some Damn Clothes On!

Tuesday, April 17th, 2018

Below is an excerpt from a review of The Bloody Spur from the Western Writers of America Roundup Magazine. It’s what you’d call a mixed review, on the patronizing side, and is mostly a plot summary, which I’ve skipped. But it raises some issues I’ve been wanting to talk about.

“There’s an overdose of descriptions of setting and clothing, and characters are stereotypical. But it’s enjoyable in a conventional-Western way, and the murder mystery has some intriguing twists.”

Let me get the stereotypical charge out of the way first. Yes, the characters established in Mickey’s 1950s screenplay are stereotypical – the stranger in town who becomes sheriff, a beautiful dance hall girl, a blind rancher, a lovely tomboy, and a cantankerous coot who becomes a deputy. There’s also a local doctor. What Mickey did, and what I have continued to try to do, is make these types specific and sometimes surprising in their characterizations, and to bring a gritty, even shocking amount of Spillane-style violence to the party as well as a mystery/crime element.

I don’t mean to respond to the reviewer, just to make clear where Mickey and I are coming from.

What I want to discuss is the charge that I do too much description of setting and clothing. I have always done a good deal of that, but it’s only in recent years that the occasional reviewer (particularly the Amazon variety) has bitched about it. The same is true of the sexual element, but that doesn’t apply too much to the Caleb York novels, so I’ll save that for a future discussion.

From my point of view, too many authors send their characters running around in books stark naked, and I don’t mean in sex scenes. I view clothing as a tool of characterization. The clothing a character wears tells us who this person is, and how these characters perceive themselves, and wish to be perceived.

Setting is the same. A description of a house, interior or exterior, tells us who lives there – a bedroom, particularly, is revealing of character.

Any reader who thinks I can on too much about clothing or setting is free to skip or scan. No harm, no foul.

In an historical novel – which westerns like the Caleb York books are by definition – setting is particularly important. It is also a big part of my 20th Century-set mysteries. If I take Nate Heller to a Hooverville or a strip club, you can bet I’ll give you chapter and verse about those settings. If Heller – in a 1960s-era story, when he’s become prosperous – is something of a clothes horse, that speaks of character, of who is and what he’s become. He’s rather shallow in that regard, frankly – part of his characterization.

In a Caleb York story, if I take my hero into an apothecary or a general store, you can bet I will describe the damn thing, and in some detail. York isn’t walking into a Walgreen’s or a Safeway, after all. Part of this is taking what is a mythic western – having to do with movies and ‘50s/’60s TV, more than the reality of the west – and giving it some verisimilitude. By keeping the underpinnings real, making the setting authentic, I can get away with the melodrama.

And what I do is melodrama. Nobody uses that word anymore, at least not correctly. But much of what I have done as a writer for over forty years is present a realistic surface on which to present my somewhat over-the-top stories.

Again, feel free to skim or skip passages that bore you. Elmore Leonard, great writer that he was, pretty much left you on your own. What he did worked for him (but his “rules” of writing are worthwhile only if you want to be Elmore Leonard when you grow up, and we already have one of those).

I am well aware that I am involved in a collaborative process with the reader. It amuses me when two readers argue over whether a book is good or not, as if they shared the same experience. Obviously they didn’t. Sometimes the play or movie mounted in a reader’s mind is a big-budget, beautifully cast affair; other readers are capable only of amateur night productions.

Leonard and others may wish to cede their stories to the whims and abilities of their readers. I know to some extent that is inevitable – because no two readers will have the same experience reading fiction. But I believe in controlling the narrative to the fullest extent that I can. I consider a chief responsibility of my job is doing my job – to do the work for you, where setting and clothing are concerned and much more.

I understand and accept that I’m blessed and sometimes burdened with readers who are my inevitable collaborators. But I want them to come as close to experiencing the movie I saw in my head, and put down on paper for them, as I possibly can.

* * *

This past Saturday, Crusin’ played the first gig of the season (defined as: not winter, though we were somewhat double-crossed by April sleet and snow). We performed for the Wilton, Iowa, High School Alumni banquet, a very well-attended event that had been going since five p.m. when we went on stage around nine-thirty. We held a good share of the audience for two sets (we took no break) and debuted a lot of new material…well, old material, although a new original was included.


L to R: M.A.C., Joe McClean, Steve Kundel, Bill Anson and Brian Van Winkle.

It went well, and our old friend Joe McClean, a Wilton area boy, joined us on several numbers. Joe was the heart and soul of the great Midwestern band the XL’s, who are also in the Iowa Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame.

Our new guitar player, Bill Anson, is doing a fine job, as are longtime drummer Steve Kundel and our bassist Brian Van Winkle, the “new guy” who has been with us seven years.

It felt great playing again. Loading afterward, not so much. And two days later I still am in anybody-get-the-name-of-that-truck mode.


M.A.C., Joe McClean.
* * *

My Scarface and the Untouchable co-author, A. Brad Schwartz, has written an op-ed piece for the Washington Post that has just appeared. Though I didn’t co-write it, I did some friendly editing and the piece beautifully discusses the somewhat facile comparisons being made of Trump as Capone and Comey/Mueller as Eliot Ness.

Wild Dog is back on Arrow this year. I haven’t watched the previous year yet.

Here’s a great review by Ron Fortier of the complete version of the Road to Perdition novel published by Brash Books.

Here’s where you can get signed copies of my books, including Killing Town and The Last Stand.

Road to Perdition the film is number three on this list of the best twelve Jude Law movies.

Finally, thanks to everyone who responded to the book giveaway posted last week. The books went quickly, and my apologies to those of you who missed out. Another will follow before too very long!

M.A.C.

Cowboy Christmas

Tuesday, December 26th, 2017

As Christmas miracles go, the finale of the following is decidedly minor, although the whole experience felt major, with some nice surprises along the way.

For the past three years or so, as long as I’ve been involved in getting the Spillane/Collins “Caleb York” series up and running, I have been pestering my PR contact at Kensington Books about trying to get me into True West magazine. There are only two major magazines about the old west (and western movies), True West and Wild West. Both are quite good, and both do some book reviewing. True West seems to lean somewhat more to pop culture-type material, which is my own leaning obviously, and they do a monthly last-page-of-the-issue with various people (actors, authors, musicians and assorted friends of the real and reel west). That interview slot seemed like a great place to introduce myself as a western writer to a big audience – a long shot, but why not try?

I brought this up to Karen, my hard-working PR person at Kensington, who agreed that this was a long shot but worth trying. As the months passed, we didn’t get anywhere. When Barb and I went to Killer Nashville, we had a couple of nice meals with Karen, and I really, really pushed for True West. She would try. But we did know it was a long shot, right?

Finally True West expresses interest – huzzah and hooray! One of the editors wants to interview me – in person. Where do I have to go? Utah? Montana? New Mexico? Arizona? Texas? No, the editor wants to come to me. This sounds incredibly ambitious of him, until I learn he lives in Iowa City. About thirty-five miles away.

All this time one of True West’s editors has been in my backyard! Has been living in the town where both Nate and I went to college (not at the same time), and where Barb and I routinely travel once a month or so for a nice meal at one of any number of terrific restaurants, and for me to drop by Daydreams comic book shop and one of the best bookstores anywhere, Prairie Lights, where I’ve done readings half a dozen times over the years.

I offer to go to him, but editor Stuart Rosebrook wants to come to me. Wants to get a look at Muscatine. We meet at Elly’s, a soup/sandwich/salad place (very good) with a wonderful view of the Mississippi. Stuart and I hit it off immediately – we talk movies and books and Wyatt Earp for several hours, and even manage to eat lunch in the process. I am also interviewed, but mostly we just luxuriate in our mutual interests.

Turns out Stuart is, among other things, the book editor at True West, and the guy who does the monthly back-of-the-issue interview, which is what I’m going to get (yipee!). We spend so much time talking about our shared enthusiasms that he has to follow up with e-mail questions.

Perhaps most interesting is that Stuart’s father turns out to be Jeb Rosebrook, a very successful screenwriter for movies and TV. Among many other things, he wrote Junior Bonner, which starred Steve McQueen and was directed by Sam Peckinpah, no less. He wrote the s-f cult favorite, The Black Hole, for Disney, and his TV writing credits include The Waltons and The Yellow Rose TV series with his friend Sam Elliott (he also produced). His many TV movies include I Will Fight No More Forever (Emmy nominated), Hobo’s Christmas, Mystic Warrior, The Gambler II and The Gambler III. In recent years he’s returned to writing novels, his previous one (Saturday) being decades ago and predating his film and TV work.

At our first meeting, Stuart says his father and mother are coming for a visit over the Christmas holidays. He suggests we get together, so I can meet his dad. The idea of sitting down with a real pro – a guy who wrote for Sam Peckinpah, worked any number of times with Sam Elliott, and wrote dialogue for Jack Kelly’s Bart Maverick (!) in the second Gambler movie, well…it’s enough to make me temporarily put aside my hermit-like ways.

As a nice cherry on the sundae, when Stuart tells his dad about me, turns out Jeb has read my work, and liked it!

So, as the photo that accompanies this piece will indicate, we got together. We had a lovely Christmas Eve eve feast at Peking Restaurant in Muscatine with Stuart and his wife Julie, 21-year-old son (also named) Jeb, 16-year-old daughter Kristina, as well as Jeb and his wife Dorothy. Turns out I’m not the only writer who married a beautiful blonde.


(L to R) M.A.C., Jeb Rosebrook, Stuart Rosebrook

The evening was really a delight, and I hit it off with both Jebs and really everyone at the table – even Barb! Sitting between Stuart and his father, I had a conversation that covered so many topics of interest to me that my head is still spinning. Jeb, who at 82 is younger than you are, is at work on a trilogy of novels (the first two are available now from Amazon, The Charlemagne Trilogy). He has been reading Nate Heller, so I brought him Better Dead, but also Road to Purgatory.

About that. Everybody at the table had done their homework – the night before, Barb and I re-watched Junior Bonner, a charming character study about rodeo life that is quite unlike anything else Peckinpah ever did; and the Rosebrooks watched Road to Perdition. Everybody had good things to say about both films. Kristina, not a regular consumer of R-rated fare, liked Perdition but the violence was a little extreme for her (she better stick with Junior Bonner for her Peckinpah fare!). I brought along (to have them signed) Junior Bonner on Blu-ray and DVDs of The Yellow Rose (complete series), I Will Fight No More Forever, and the collected Gambler TV movies. Barb and I signed an Antiques that Stuart had brought along, and Jeb gave me generously signed copies of three books of his, two of which are in the ongoing trilogy.

Now this is fun. I signed Road to Purgatory to Jeb; he signed his novel Purgatory Road to me. Great minds.

Comes the surprise ending. Stuart had asked to borrow one of my laser disc players because he had a Japanese laser disc of Junior Bonner that he wanted to screen. He has, for some time, been trying to find the original version of Junior Bonner with the song “Arizona Morning” over the opening credits. But the home video release in the United States has (as sometimes happens with such releases) a different song substituted over the opening. If you go to the Amazon reviews of Junior Bonner, you’ll find many fans of the film complaining about the home video release not including the real opening song.

Well, I have three laser disc players, so I just gave one of them to Stuart. He was happy to have it, though neither of us were optimistic about the chances of the Japanese version being the original cut.

The next morning, the Christmas miracle: the Japanese laser disc had the original version with the real opening credits song! Jeb Rosebrook hadn’t heard it for years, and listened to it on the laser disc at least twice. And Stuart was delighted, a Holy Grail found, and that’s the minor but major Christmas miracle.

Another is that Stuart delivered to me an advance copy of the February issue of True West with my back-of-the-book interview. It is perhaps the best single piece on me I’ve ever read. Stuart did a masterful job of distilling and arranging quotes from me into something coherent and informative, from a several hour rambling conversation with me and a few e-mail answers to follow-up questions.

Watch for that issue! Its cover has Dennis Quaid as Doc Holliday in the underrated film, Wyatt Earp.

Happy holidays, everybody!

* * *

Looking for a way to spend your Amazon gift cards? Check out Skyboat Media, which has just released the audio of Quarry’s Climax (I’ll talk more about this terrific release soon).

Here’s info about Back Issue #102, which has a wonderful article about Wild Dog. I’ll talk about this more in an upcoming update.

And here’s a nice write-up about Otto Penzler’s Big Book of Christmas Mysteries, which includes my “A Wreath for Marley,” probably my favorite of all my short stories.

M.A.C.

Two Dracula Flicks and a Great Rip-Off

Tuesday, October 31st, 2017

Barb and I continued our Halloween season nightly horror film fest with a pair of Dracula movies, both of which I’d seen on their initial release and neither of which had made much of an impression on me. What a difference a few years makes.

First up was Bram Stoker’s Dracula directed by Francis Ford Coppola. Stylish to a fault, flirting with incoherence, this Dracula shows what happens when a director goes with the hot talent of the moment. Gary Oldman – who was his era’s Johnny Depp for maybe fifteen minutes – is a singularly unappealing Dracula whose sexual appeal for his female victims is a bigger mystery than the thinking behind Anthony Hopkins’ ridiculously over-the-top Van Helsing. Other momentary stars help bring the lavish production down to dull earth – Winona Ryder, a very lost Keanu Reeves – despite some fun touches, in particular shadows that have a life of their own. With different casting, and a sharper script (this one is by James V. Hart, whose others “credits” include Hook and Sahara), this might have, well, flown.

When Barb complained that Dracula should be a handsome leading man type – not a quirky self-indulgent nebbish – I dug out Dracula starring Frank Langella. John Badham is hardly my favorite director – he was responsible for Saturday Night Fever, after all – but he does a very respectable job that, all these years later, comes across as the Masterpiece Theater version of Dracula.

Langella’s surprise Broadway triumph as the count, in Edward Gorey-designed play, ran for 900-some performances between October 1977 and January 1980. The actor fought to keep Dracula a romantic anti-hero in the film version, eschewing blood-shot eyes and fangs, and his lady love/slash victim, portrayed by Kate Nelligan, similarly sold the gothic romance at this version’s (stake-through-the) heart.

The film apparently suffered due to the recent release and success of the spoof Love at First Bite with George Hamilton, but it plays very well now. Coppola’s casting of the moment is defeated by Badham’s transfer of the Langella Broadway performance, Nelligan’s full-blooded heroine, and a supporting cast showcasing those crazy kids, Sir Lawrence Olivier and Donald Pleasance. A wonderful John Williams score is another big plus, and the script is in part by W.D. Richter, whose cultish credits include the likes of Buckaroo Banzai and Late for Dinner (which he directed but did not write).

The Blu-ray (and the previously released laser disc) are a revision of the theatrical version, with Badham desaturating the color to near black-and-white, to recall both the Gorey stage version and the original 1931 film, while the theatrical release had a kind of golden glow forced upon the director.

Anyway, decades later my opinion of the Coppola film worsened and that of the Badham film got elevated.

Happy Death Day

As Barb and I near the end of our horror festival, we took in the current theatrical release Happy Death Day, which is a slasher film/mystery variation of Groundhog Day. This is an example of why paying some attention to Rotten Tomatoes can pay off. I had seen the preview of Happy Death Day and contemptuously dismissed it as a rip-off. I was looking forward to both Suburbicon (directed by George Clooney from an early Cohen Brothers script with a top cast) and the nordic noir, The Snowman. The critical response to both was dismissal – Suburbicon rates 26% fresh and Snowman a staggering 8% fresh. Meanwhile, Happy Death Day rates 69% fresh with a lot of positive reviews.

Our only other possibilities were the well-reviewed downers Thank You for Your Service and Only the Brave. We were in the mood for neither, plus there was something Trump era-ish about both, and anyway Happy Death Day worked as part of our Halloween-month film festival.

And Happy Death Day is terrific. It is indeed a rip-off of Groundhog Day (which it cheekily admits right on screen in its second-to-last sequence) but it’s clever, witty and brings in some nice new twists to the stuck-day concept. Further, lead Jessica Rothe is appealing even when she’s playing the early, somewhat unpleasant version of her character (like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, Rothe must learn to be a better person as the day repeats – but she must also solve her own murder).

* * *

I am deep in the research for the upcoming Heller, which is about the Sam Sheppard murder case. I find the material disturbing in the same tough-to-get-to-sleep fashion of the research for Butcher’s Dozen and certain of the CSI and Criminal Minds novels.

I am also wrestling with the nature of the case, which does not lend itself to certain elements that Nathan Heller books always contain – specifically, sex and action. This feels much more Perry Mason, and I haven’t decided whether to just go with it or to find ways to make the book more typically Heller.

On the other hand, I’m pretty sure I’ve figured out what happened in this controversial case. Hint: it wasn’t the One-armed Man.

* * *

I may have provided this link before, but check out this nice “mini-interview” at Rumpus.

The actor who plays Wild Dog weighs in on the new costume controversy, which Terry Beatty sparked without wanting to. For the record, I think the costume sucks.

Finally, here’s a lovely review of the Mike Hammer short story collection, A Long Time Dead, from that great writer, Bill Crider.

M.A.C.

Toronto No Go

Tuesday, October 10th, 2017

Due to a flare-up of health issues, I will not be attending the imminent Bouchercon in Toronto. Barb will also be staying home. We are disappointed, obviously – we were to be on a panel together (a rare treat) and looked forward to seeing readers and signing books, while I am still enjoying MWA Grand Master 2017 bragging rights.

But I’ve had a rough month, leading to getting some medications adjusted and tests taken, with a procedure (not an operation) likely. Just part of the ongoing effort to stay on the green side of the grass. Please don’t be unduly alarmed. Don’t even be duly alarmed.

Throughout a month of sickness, I nonetheless wrote Killing Town, chronologically the first Mike Hammer novel, working from a substantial (60 double-spaced pages) Spillane manuscript from around 1945…before I, the Jury!! It has an ending that will either delight, outrage or disgust you…perhaps all at the same time.

Delivered it yesterday. Killing Town will join The Last Stand in the celebration of Mickey’s centenary, the first Mike Hammer novel bookending the final Spillane solo novel.

* * *

Barb and I went to two movies recently, both of which were based on “true” events (as opposed to what, fictional events?), and both were entertaining.

One was Battle of the Sexes with Emma Stone as Billie Jean King and Steve Carell as Bobby Riggs in seriocomic look at the much ballyhooed match between a onetime tennis champ (male) and a current tennis champ (female).

The other, also a comedy-drama, was Victoria & Abdul, in which a lowly Muslim clerk is chosen (because he is tall) to go to England to present Queen Victoria with a gift for her Golden Jubilee from her loyal Indian subjects. The elderly queen takes a shine to him and they become friends (not lovers, though there is a friendly flirtation). Judi Dench presents an amusing and touching portrait of the aged queen, and Ali Fazal is almost as good as a man who is somewhat naive and perhaps a little too ambitious but basically decent.

I enjoyed both films, but Victoria much more. The actors in Battle cannot be faulted, and not just the leads – the supporting casts in both these films are first-rate. The films share a similar agenda – each one attempts to make some serious societal points through the story being told while keeping that story itself the primary goal.

On this score Battle fails rather miserably. Rather than focus on the equality of women as the clear central issue, it takes a sustained side trip into gay rights, by way of a romance novel-ish treatment of the married King’s relationship with another woman (who becomes the team’s hairdresser). What could have been an impactful sidebar insists on being much more, ballooning the film to over two hours.

Instead of allowing the social satire to play out – to let a depiction of the events make the points at hand, in particular the neanderthal attitudes toward women that righteously fuel feminism – a heavy-handedness and even at times embarrassing editorializing (“One day people will be allowed to love who they love”) clouds the narrative and does something Billie Jean King would never do: take the eye off the ball.

On the other hand, Victoria charms and delights, allowing the anti-Indian (and specifically anti-Muslim) attitudes of those around the Queen to speak for themselves. Effortlessly, points are made about today in this look at yesterday – exactly what Battle should have been doing.

Victoria’s director, Stephen Frears, has never been a big favorite of mine; but I now think I may have been wrong about him. His direction here is quietly stylish, the performances he gets from wonderful British actors (particularly Eddie Izzard as the king-to-be) faultless.

Meanwhile, the direction of Battle is plagued by handheld cameras and crushingly claustrophobic close-ups, particularly in the syrupy lesbian love sequences. On the other hand, the film’s tennis court action is well-done and compelling. Two directors are credited, Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (of Little Miss Sunshine fame).

* * *

Barb and I spend October evenings watching horror movies, in anticipation of Halloween. Last year we watched mostly Hammer horror. The year before we watched the Nightmare on Elm Street movies and the Halloweens.

This year began with a terrific little sleeper called The Final Girls (2015). This one is so original and clever that I don’t want to spoil it for you, but prepare to have the chills work even though laughs are what it’s mostly after. In brief, some kids at a horror film somehow wind up inside that very horror film.

Chucky

We have just completed the seven Child’s Play/Chucky movies. Barb liked all of them except the newest one, but I liked it, too. What makes Chucky perhaps the best of all these series (there are clinkers in all the other modern horror franchises that began with Halloween) is that an effort has been made to make each movie distinct as to setting and style. While all of the films are dark comedies, the first three are rather more traditional slasher pictures, despite the evil doll at their center. But with Bride of Chucky, things got overtly comedic yet ever darker, and the series knowingly jumped the shark in Seed of Chucky, with Curse of Chucky a knowing return to more scary form.

Here’s why Chucky is the best of these franchises: the same person has written all of them. That is something that Hollywood never allows. But Don Mancini has written them all and directed the last three (he’s a damn good director, too). Mancini and his partners create a continuity that, while wacky as hell, carries over from film to film. None of the other franchises even bother trying. In the world of Chucky, actors return. In Curse of Chucky and the current Cult of Chucky, the kid who played Chucky’s “friend forever” returns as an adult – the same actor. Jennifer Tilly, introduced in Bride, has been around ever since, to an admittedly varying degree, and she is a special effect her own self.

And like Robert Englund in the Nightmare films, actor Brad Dourif (whose daughter Fiona is excellent in the most recent two Chuckys) brings a cackling madness to the voice of the killer doll that makes him both amusing and frightening.

* * *

Here’s a nice little Quarry’s Climax write-up from Mystery People.

Finally, here’s another Wild Dog on Arrow TV article. I have the Blu-ray box of the current season, but still haven’t got round to watching it.

M.A.C.