Posts Tagged ‘Ask Not’

Working on Nolan’s Return

Tuesday, February 4th, 2020

Cover of Mad Money, which will reprint Spree and Mourn the Living.

I am “coming down the pike,” as Barb puts it, on the new Nolan novel, Skim Deep, the first in the series since Spree (1987). Hard Case Crime editor Charles Ardai has for some time been encouraging me to write a new Nolan, lately to help launch HCC’s upcoming reprint series of the previous novels (they will be done two books to a volume). These sport excellent covers by Mark Eastbrook, and that includes the novel in progress.

Also, a fair number of readers have wanted another Nolan. I’ve resisted this because I felt the character’s story was over – that Spree concluded it nicely. Nolan has always been an ongoing saga as opposed to a series with a premise, in the way of a P.I. novel does or a Quarry or even an Antiques entry.

Of course, Nolan has always been a homage to the Parker series by Richard Stark (aka Donald E. Westlake), and as I often said to Don himself, “Homage is French for rip-off.” Don was always nice enough to say that Nolan, largely because of surrogate son Jon, was distinctly different from Parker. He also on occasion described my Nolan as the Jayne Mansfield to his Parker, and I would correct him, saying more the Mamie Van Doren.

To be fair to myself, the Nolan series did (after the first novel, Bait Money) quickly become its own thing. Nolan is a professional thief of fifty trying very hard to go straight and take part in the American Dream; but karma keeps looking for him, and finding him.

Editors wanting me to write something for them are a seductive lot indeed. So I’ve embarked on Skim Deep and am enjoying it a great deal, or anyway as much as possible when I’m up against a deadline – which is today, as it happens, which I’m going to miss by a week or two.

Then, out of the blue, there’s been some Hollywood interest in Nolan, which seems vaguely serious and involves a bunch of talented people. I’ll say no more because such things often do not play out into anything at all.

Rejoining these characters required little besides checking my previous novels for continuity issues. That’s in part because over the past several decades I have written various versions of a Spree screenplay (optioned a few times) that had me dealing with Nolan, his lover Sherry, and of course cartoonist/musician, Jon.

As is the case with continuing Quarry, I am keeping the novel in the time frame of the original series. Skim Deep takes place in 1988, about six months after Spree.

But I thought you might like another peek behind the curtain, this time as it pertains to working on this as yet unfinished novel.

Over the years I have developed a process that begins with an outline breaking the book down by chapters. Each chapter gets a paragraph or two, and occasionally just a couple of sentences. Among much else, that allows me to make sure the novel will be long enough to satisfy the editor (word count is often specified in contracts, although mostly that’s a guideline not a rule).

Each chapter has to be outlined, at least in my head, like a little novel or anyway a short story. And the narrative tends to develop in ways and directions I didn’t plan. So it is not uncommon for me to re-plot about half-way through, to accommodate the surprises I’ve given myself.

Fiction writing is largely a writer solving problems of his or her own making.

More often than not, I re-plot again, about half-way through the new half-a-novel outline. Sometimes more frequently. I have just written Chapter 11 of 17 (two of which are short chapters near the end). And I have, at this stage, re-plotted four times (after the initial first outline), and have also written a two-page outline of Chapter 11, which had a lot of moving parts to keep track of.

Last night, trying to get to sleep, I re-plotted again, but have not committed those changes to paper, although I will.

This is a tad (just a tad) unusual. But this represents my belief that plotting carefully must still allow for spontaneity. Have a roadmap, yes, but if a sign says, “World’s Biggest Ball of String NEXT RIGHT,” don’t be afraid to veer off. Some things just happen in a story – the ending of Road to Perdition had not been planned…just came out of my fingers when I was writing the final installment for artist Richard Piers Rayner.

Chester Gould did not plot ahead. He liked to say, “If I don’t know what’s going to happen next, neither will the reader.” That’s a little extreme, but Chet had a point.

* * *

Here’s a great write-up about the Reeder and Rogers political thriller series by Matt Clemens and me.

The Mommy/Mommy 2: Mommy’s Day Blu-ray gets some cool coverage at Media Play.

With Girl Can’t Help It waiting in the wings, here’s a nice review of Girl Most Likely.

Finally, MacMillan has the Kindle version of the Nate Heller novel Ask Not on sale for $2.99 here (regularly 7.00).

M.A.C.

Bye, Hef

Tuesday, October 3rd, 2017

The recent death of Jerry Lewis is a reminder that for Baby Boomers like me, our own mortality is continually underscored by the passing of the great media figures who shaped us.

Just as Jerry Lewis had a big impact on what I think is funny, Hugh Hefner – who recently passed away at 91 – was hugely important in my life. My uncle Richard had Playboys in his basement proto-man cave that I saw when I was as young as ten or eleven, learning well before puberty that I liked seeing pictures of beautiful naked women. When I was in junior high, my father received a Christmas present of a subscription to Playboy as a gag gift in a bridge club “Secret Santa” exchange. He had no interest in the magazine and soon forgot about the subscription, because I always got to the mailbox first.

I loved the magazine. I loved everything about it, including, yes, the articles. And the fiction, and the book and movie and record reviews. There was a sophistication an Iowa kid could only dream of. As a comics fan, I was bowled over by the incredible cartoons, not just their raciness but their artistry. And the incredibly beautiful photography of the centerfolds (this is circa 1964 – 1966) defined for me what a woman should look like. I should say “could look like,” because even then I knew this was an airbrushed fantasy. Still, I knew the names of every Playmate from the ‘60s through the mid-‘70s – the beautiful woman I married was completely unthreatened by the Playboy fantasy, and the magazines never had to be hidden around our home.

I came of age in the pre-hippie ‘60s. It was a world of the Rat Pack and sick humor and Beatniks and Ian Fleming’s James Bond and the early Beatles. I still prefer the early Beatles – you can have most of the White Album. But then the ‘70s came along, and magazines that were more frank about sex in prose and in photography – Penthouse, Hustler – began to make inroads for Hefner’s fabulous brainchild. (I write about this in the forthcoming Quarry’s Climax.)

Hefner was important in loosening up the sexual mores of this (and other) nations. For good or ill, he fired some of the first real volleys in the Sexual Revolution (the most important after Kinsey). But the later ‘60s and every decade that followed were problematic for him. He struggled with feminism and self-consciously wrote progressive essays that were very smart but pretty boring. He never found a way to square the circle of a woman having sexual freedom and full human rights. The female as sex object had been defined long before he came along, and he obviously made his fortune and fame expanding and redefining that image. But it limited him and made him seen a hypocrite.

I make no apologies for considering Playboy in its prime (and even for many years after) a great publication. Until the recent revamping (since abandoned) with nudity banished, a new issue always gave me a bit of a thrill reminiscent of getting to the mailbox before my parents noticed I had snagged Dad’s copy of Playboy. For many decades I subscribed, and I looked forward to no magazine more.

For the articles. And so much more.

I always felt Hef was a kind of nerd. He was a work-a-holic who loved publishing and awkwardly took on the sophisticated sybarite persona his magazine dictated. Oh, I realize he really did become a sophisticated sybarite, but when he appeared on TV, particularly on Playboy After Dark, he seemed so awkward and ill at ease.

Somehow that was his charm. It conveyed the possibility to nerds in Iowa and elsewhere that an Illinois nerd could be the man who lived in a mansion filled with beautiful models, movie stars, intellectuals, top nightclub talent, world-class chefs and a never-ending party. I much prefer the quiet life I’ve led with one beautiful woman, but fantasy is still fun to think about.

As some of you know, Hefner was Nate Heller’s friend and there are scenes at the Chicago Playboy mansion in the JFK Trilogy (Bye Bye, Baby, Target Lancer and Ask Not). So Nate tips his fedora to his old friend, while I just say, “Goodbye, Hef.”

* * *

Here’s a nice article on the Nolan series, marred a bit by the erroneous inclusion of the first name “Frank.”

Bookgasm has a nice review of the Bibliomysteries collection that includes the Hammer story “It’s in the Book.”

Gravetapping has a fine review of my pal Steve Mertz’s new novel.

Finally, here’s a brief review of Strip for Murder.

M.A.C.

Heller and York Score

Tuesday, May 17th, 2016

J. Kingston Pierce at the excellent Rap Sheet has given BETTER DEAD a splashy rave as this week’s Pierce’s Pick. Also, in honor of Rap Sheet’s ten-year anniversary, Jeff Pierce is giving away five copies of BETTER DEAD and five more of ASK NOT (in hardcover). Read the rave and all about the free copies right here.

Also at Jeff’s terrific second blog, KILLER COVERS, which celebrates paperback covers of the ‘40s through the ‘70s, he has paid tribute to BETTER DEAD with a selection of sexy covers featuring redheads.

My pal Bill Crider has published his own BETTER DEAD rave at one of my favorite web sites, BILL CRIDER’S POP CULTURE MAGAZINE. There’s a fun discussion in which I participate in the comments section about the unlikelihood of Nate Heller being involved in so many famous cases. Take a look.

I am pleased and honored to have THE LEGEND OF CALEB YORK (now available in paperback!) nominated for Best Novel by the Western Fictioneers. This link will take you to the entire list of nominees, plus one winner – my great friend Bob Randisi, who is receiving a life achievement award.

Since we seem to be leading off with links this week, check out this excellent review from writer Ron Fortier of QUARRY’S VOTE (the McGinnis-covered Hard Case Crime edition of PRIMARY TARGET).

NO ONE WILL HEAR YOU by Matt Clemens and me is a Kindle Bargain ($1.99), reachable at a link here.

In memoriam of Darwyn Cooke’s untimely passing, and Bobby Darin’s birthday (May 14), COMICS OUGHTA BE FUN prints a condensed version of THE BOBBY DARIN STORY by Terry Beatty and me.

* * *

I think I’ve had it with superhero movies.

BATMAN V. SUPERMAN was long, self-consciously dark and occasionally tedious, but I didn’t hate it, with the exception of Jesse Eisenberg’s vastly misjudged Lex Luther. Superman and Batman retain their charisma, and it was fun seeing Wonder Woman in one of these movies. Otherwise fun was in short supply in this and so many of the genre.

Barb and I walked out of CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR. We did so well into the movie, probably a couple of hours, but an endless fight scene between the two groups of superheroes warned me that the climax of taking on the super villains was yet to come, so we finally bailed, battered but breathing. So many characters and so little impact. And I think I’m finally bored with Robert Downey Jr.’s oh-so-cool schtick as Tony Stark.

The problem with the Marvel movies is the company’s willingness to scrape the bottom of the costumed hero barrel. Even Iron Man is a second-tier guy; and while Paul Rudd is likable as Antman (and his solo movie pretty good), what pop cultural purchase does that character have? At least Superman and Batman are iconic.

But where is the fucking fun? The first AVENGERS movie had that nicely hip/jokey feel thanks to Joss Whedon, without shortchanging the action. Since then it’s been a combination of flat one-liners, over-wrought seriousness, and mind-numbing battles, plus a continuity as convoluted and corny as five years of DAYS OF OUR LIVES. Take the laughable CIVIL WAR moment when Tony Stark gets flummoxed by the thought of Pepper Potts. Yes, we are expected to remember and care about a character with a silly name who isn’t even in the movie.

When Jack Kirby created Captain America (about whom Mickey Spillane occasionally wrote), Cap was a symbol of cheerful patriotism whose Robin-type sidekick, Bucky, rode a motorcycle, all jaunty and cheerful. Now Bucky still rides a motorcycle, but he has turned into a sullen, serious half-villain, half-good-guy, sturm und drang not slam bang.

Now I’m not completely cured. I bought DEADPOOL on Blu-ray the other day because it’s been so widely praised. Haven’t watched it yet, but will. I am looking forward, guardedly, to the new X-MEN movie. But stuff like DC’s SUICIDE SQUAD leaves me cold, the preview so unpleasant and struggling to be dark, I want to upchuck my popcorn. The Joker as hero (okay, anti-hero)? So wrong. So very wrong.

My problem is that as I age, so does the popular culture, and neither of us are what we used to be. I bought AMAZING FANTASY #15 at Cohn’s Newsland, as well as SPIDERMAN #1, FANTASTIC FOUR #1, AVENGERS #1 and X-MEN #1. To me it was all about Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko – from my perspective, the “new” SPIDERMAN artist is John Romita.

Say what you will about Stan Lee, he wrote fun comic books. He lightly spoofed the genre and seemed to be saying, “Yes, this stuff is inherently silly, but let’s have a good time with it.” So Peter Parker was a nerd who got picked on, and the Fantastic Four got evicted from their penthouse digs because being a superhero didn’t pay so good. And he probably cackled at his typewriter when he typed the name Pepper Potts.

Batman to me will always be cartoonist Dick Sprang’s giant props and a small cast of vivid, recurring villains, most of whom were comical (the Riddler, the Penguin, even the Joker). Wayne Boring’s Superman was never boring, but often funny, from the torturous attempts by Lois Lane to unmask Superman as Clark Kent to the bald super-villain, Lex Luthor, who always failed. And Bizarro! How much fun was that?

Are we having fun yet, at superhero movies? Or are we still suffering under the mantle of seriousness that has so choked a wonderful if inherently juvenile genre? Embrace your inner kid – don’t be ashamed of him.

M.A.C.

Better Dead

Tuesday, March 15th, 2016
Better Dead

Hardcover:
E-Book: Amazon Nook Kobo

The first Nathan Heller novel in three years, BETTER DEAD takes a step back in time from the JFK Trilogy (BYE BYE, BABY; TARGET LANCER; ASK NOT) to deal with the events of the Red Scare-era 1950s.

This book has been coming for a long time. It’s one of the projects that got set aside when it came time for Heller to make a comeback after about a decade away. To get Heller back out there, I proposed the Kennedy trio, a good bet for a sale because of the high-profile nature of the material; a trilogy with Marilyn Monroe, Jack Kennedy and Bobby Kennedy was appealing. But it meant skipping several things I had planned to do, including a Robert Kennedy/Jimmy Hoffa book that I hope eventually to get around to.

With BETTER DEAD, the tricky thing is that I have two cases for Nate to deal with. Neither seemed right for a single book, but together – with the shared era and a number of common characters beyond Heller himself – the whole just might exceed the sum of its parts.

Joe McCarthy is one of the characters – and factors – that joins the two stories: the Rosenberg “atom spies” case, and the Frank Olson murder. The latter has to do with the Army scientist who was dosed with LSD at a CIA retreat, which had unfortunate results.

Heller is working on the East Coast exclusively this time around – he’s just opened a branch office in the Empire State Building – which puts him right in the heart of Mike Hammer’s world circa 1953. Heller has always had things in common with Hammer, but this time – in this setting – those commonalities come out more prominently. In fact, as the guy completing the Hammer stories from Spillane’s files, I several times questioned whether I’d slipped out of Heller territory and into Hammer. And is that a bad thing? Certainly wouldn’t be the first time.

On the other hand, Heller’s victories can never be as complete as Hammer’s.

Others in the cast include Bettie Page, Dashiell Hammett, Roy Cohn, Bobby Kennedy, and Sidney Gottlieb (the CIA’s Dr. Feelbad).

It’s a wild one. Watch for it May 3rd.

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Check out this cool QUARRY’S LIST review.

MURDER NEVER KNOCKS is a Pierce’s Pick this week!

Here’s a nice review of QUARRY’S DEAL.

And here’s a somewhat late-in-the-game review of DEAD STREET.

M.A.C.