Posts Tagged ‘Blood Money’

One More Time for Nolan?

Tuesday, December 3rd, 2019

Apparently I told an interviewer a while back – a few years ago least – that the Nolan series was complete. That I had no interest in writing another, and wouldn’t under any circumstances write a new Nolan novel.

So, of course, I am preparing to write one. I’ll be spending December and January on Skim Deep, the cover for which (by the wonderful Mark Eastbrook, my personal choice among a bunch of wonderful artists provided as possibilities by editor Charles Ardai) appears with this update.

For those of you who came in late, Nolan was the hero (anti-hero?) of my first published novel, Bait Money, written around 1969 and published in December 1972. Nolan (no first name) is professional thief, who – approaching the ripe old age of fifty – wants to pull one last big job and retire. I teamed him with a young would-be cartoonist, Jon (no last name), whose first heist this would be.

Nolan was (and is) an homage (French for “rip-off”) to Richard Stark’s Parker. For a long time, Nolan died at the end of Bait Money, and until an editor returned the manuscript with coffee spilled on it, I had ignored my then agent Knox Burger’s request to un-kill Nolan, which he thought would help the book sell. I did, and it did.

When the publisher (Curtis Books) asked for more, I suddenly had a series. I asked Don Westlake (who of course was Richard Stark) if it was all right with him for me to do a series so blatantly imitative of his own. Don, who’d been mentoring me by mail, was nice enough to say that Nolan with the addition of the surrogate son, Jon, was different enough from Parker for me to proceed with his blessing.

So Blood Money followed, and later came Fly Paper, Hush Money, Hard Cash and Scratch Fever, and finally in the mid-‘80s, Spree. The publishing history is torturous and I won’t go into here, though I’ve discussed it elsewhere in detail.

There’s also a prequel of sorts called Mourn the Living, which was the first Nolan, unsold and tucked away by me till fanzine editor Wayne Dundee heard about it and requested that I allow him to serialize it. Which I did, and it was eventually published a couple of places.

When, a decade and a half ago or so, Charles Ardai was putting Hard Case Crime together, he was nice enough to want to reprint my novel Blood Money, which for inexplicable reasons was and is a favorite of his. I said yes on the condition that he combine it with Bait Money, to make its sequel Blood Money more coherent, into a single volume. He did this. Hard Case Crime is noted for its terrific retro covers, but the Nolan duo – now titled Two for the Money – was possibly the weakest Hard Case Crime cover ever…the only time dark, mustache Nolan was depicted as looking like blond Nick Nolte.

When Charles came around wanting another M.A.C. reprint, I offered to do a new book – The Last Quarry – instead, for the same reprint money, as long as I could get a Robert McGinnis cover. Also, I wanted a chance to finish that cult-ish series once and for all. While I got my McGinnis cover, the rest of the plan didn’t exactly work out that way, and now – with a bunch of new Quarry novels, a Ms. Tree prose novel, several Spillane projects and a couple of graphic novels under our collective belt – Charles has twisted my arm into doing another Nolan.

Part of what made that attractive to me was Charles bringing all of the Nolan novels back out, in the two-per-book format, so that – like the Quarry novels – the entire canon is under one imprint. Better still, we have new covers…including Two for the Money.

Double Down will include Fly Paper and Hush Money. Tough Tender will include Hard Cash and Scratch Fever (these appeared under that join title before but not at HCC). And Mad Money will have Spree and, as a sort of bonus, Mourn the Living.

What will Skim Deep be about? I haven’t plotted it yet, but the premise has to do with a Vegas honeymoon, casino skimming, and a Comfort or two. If you’ve read the Nolan novels, you understand that last bit.

As with the Quarry novels, I will be doing this one in period – probably within a year of the action in Spree.

Am I looking forward to it? Sort of. I have this nagging feeling that by writing another Nolan, at this age, after all this time, I could be bookending my career. So my ambition is not to fucking die immediately after finishing it (or during it, for that matter). I have other contracts to fill, and miles to go before I sleep.

But it sure is fun to see these new HCC covers. The Van Cleef resemblance (which was part of the Pinnacle covers, to a degree, and very much an element of the Perfect Crime reprints) is mentioned prominently in the novels. I met him once, interviewed him, and he treated me with amusement and at one point got briefly irritated with me. It was unsettling but memorable, being Jon to his Nolan. No guns were involved.

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Here’s a nice essay by my frequent collaborator, Matthew Clemens, on what he learned about suspense writing from the film Jaws.

The First Comics News blog has Ms. Tree: One Mean Mother on its Christmas gift list.

And here Ms. Tree is on another holiday gift guide, from Previews no less.

M.A.C.

Harlan and Harold

Tuesday, July 3rd, 2018

So Harlan Ellison is gone. Not dead, because his work will survive. He may not maintain the presence in the popular culture he once had, because he was chiefly a short story writer. Still, he might overcome that, because after all Edgar Allan Poe and Ray Bradbury were both chiefly short story writers, and they endure. Hard to imagine “I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream” disappearing.

In the aftermath of Harlan’s passing, amid expressions of friendship and loss, came those who figured that while the body hadn’t cooled yet, it would be a good time to say that he was overrated and a “gasbag,” as one dweller in the dingy, dreary corners of Facebook put it. These nonentities who must disparage those who have actually contributed will be with us always –- perhaps more shrilly now, in the age of Trump and Social Media.

In my formative years – adolescence and teens – I read mostly crime/mystery writers. I followed only a handful of science-fiction authors, despite a love of comics, films and TV shows in that genre; among those authors were Bradbury and Ellison. I was particularly attracted by Ellison’s introductory material to his short story collections – I found it fascinating and exciting for the writer to come out from in back of his tales. To be a presence.

There’s no question that he influenced me in that regard. I talk about my work in that same way, if not with as much personality or gift for language; but I do it here, and have introduced many of the reprints of my work and the collections of shorter material.

I also enjoyed his fiction itself, very much, and was aware of his byline on TV scripts on such shows as Burke’s Law, The Outer Limits and Star Trek. Seeing his name on the screenwriter credit of a TV episode always made me sit up. And in my college years I loved his writing about TV, which covered his own experiences in the medium as well as unbridled reviews of various series (collected in The Glass Teat).

I met him in 1973 at a comics convention in Dallas, which happened to be the first such convention I ever attended. Knowing he was the guest of honor, I spotted Ellison in the dealer’s room on the first evening of the show and introduced myself, and told him my first two books had just been published (Bait Money and Blood Money). He congratulated me and asked me to accompany him as he took a stroll around the dealer’s room. He was friendly to me, even warm. Of course, I’d made it clear I was a fan and had brought a book along for him to sign.

Anyway, I accompanied him on his circuit around the room. About half a dozen times, dealers at the show took pot shots at him – picked verbal fights with him (I don’t remember the specific subjects), but were beyond rude. It was like walking down a street in the Old West with Billy the Kid and seeing various punks try to goad him into a shoot-out.

Harlan was soft-spoken, just nodded, said very little to them when he said anything at all. I was confused, knowing Harlan’s reputation for confrontation and not suffering fools. I told Barb about it in our hotel room, not sure whether I was impressed or disappointed.

Throughout the weekend I would stop and chat with Harlan, but we didn’t share a meal or head to a bar or anything – we were just friendly ships that had passed in the night. At the banquet on the final night of the con, with all the dealers and the other guests and many attendees present, Harlan was the scheduled speaker.

I said to Barb, as we sat and dined on rubber chicken, looking around at those who’d verbally assaulted the guest of honor earlier, “How I wish Harlan would take these sons of bitches on.”

And that’s what he did.

Harlan had noted the names of every face that insulted him on that tour of the dealer’s room, and in his keynote speech he reported their rude conduct and called them out individually. Told them it was a hell of a way to treat their guest of honor. And he shot each one of them down, leaving each writhing in a pool of embarrassment.

And I loved it. And I loved him for it, fan of revenge that I am.

A few years later, at a San Diego con, Harlan was going into a ballroom for a panel, accompanied by reps of the con. I paused, gave him a smile and a little wave, not thinking he’d even remember me. Then he called out, “Al! I can’t talk to you right now! We’ll get together later!”

We didn’t. I don’t believe we ever met face to face again, but over the years the damnedest thing happened: out of the blue he would call me. He treated me as if I were one of his closest friends, and as the years and these lovely sporadic calls kept coming, I began to feel that way myself. He made it clear he liked my work and that was extremely gratifying – little in a writer’s life is better than being admired by one of your favorite writers, particularly one who was a formative influence.

We did not agree on Mickey Spillane. He had a low opinion of Mickey typical coming from a progressive writer of his era. But he knew I loved Mickey and his work and he respected that.

One afternoon in my office at home I got a call from Harlan. Mickey’s The Killing Man, his first Mike Hammer in some time, had just come out.

“Al! Did you write this?”

“No. I’ve never ghosted Mickey. That’s his work.”

“Great! Now I don’t have to read it.”

He hung up.

Later he revealed to me that he had a standing order at his regular bookshop to set aside any novel of mine that came out. Only once did he criticize me.

“Al, stop using, ‘He shook his head no.’ Shaking your head is no.”

“Not all shakes of the head mean no, Harlan.”

“Fine. Then characterize those head shakes that way. Otherwise, it’s no!”

“Okay,” I said. “You sold me.”

“And can you watch your word repetition closer, please? You’re a better writer than that.”

Most good fiction writers try to avoid repeating words in the same paragraph or even on the same page (excluding articles like “a” and “the,” of course, and character names). Barb catches most of mine on her edits.

So I said to Harlan, “I admit I do that more often than I should. I try to catch them. But Harlan, a lot of words fly out of here in a year, and sometimes I slip. I’m trying to make a living.”

“Okay,” he said. “I can accept that.”

He was always gracious to me, friendly and funny, and very frank. His anecdotes about Hollywood, frequently ending with him trying to strangle an executive, were priceless. But a year or so ago, he confided that his failing health was something he wasn’t sure he could live with. He said sometimes he contemplated the choice Hemingway had made.

“Don’t do that,” I said, as if he were using too much salt on his food. “Hemingway taking his life colored his work forever. You don’t want that following you around after you’re gone.”

He allowed this was probably good advice.

I was troubled by his admission, but touched that he’d share something like that with me. Yet wasn’t that what had attracted me so as a teenager? This writer who came out from behind his fiction to confront you with his humanity?

And yours?

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Lately I’ve read a number of books about improv comedy and Second City. If you follow these updates regularly at all, you know that I am a huge SCTV fan. When there was an SCTV reunion in 2009, as part of a 50th anniversary Second City celebration, Barb and I spent big bucks to attend the show, which included Joe Flaherty, Eugene Levy, Andrea Martin, Catherine O’Hara, Martin Short and Dave Thomas on stage together. Ramis performed with them, and also directed the performance. He had been a cast member the first season and head writer the second.

I embarrassed myself thoroughly bugging and fawning over any SCTV cast members I happened to encounter, and that was most of them. Why Barb remained married to me after such unconscionable fan boy behavior, I have no idea. But I was a teenage girl in 1964 talking to the Beatles – that bad. Maybe worse.

I’d met Ramis a few years before at a film festival in Chicago. That time I behaved myself, pretty much, getting introduced to him by a mutual friend. He was very gracious, quiet but nice, and he smiled when I mentioned how far I went back with him – to Swami Bananananda and kid show host Ol’ Muley (“These are the worst drawings yet, boys and girls”). We also talked about Stuart Saves the World, his Stuart Smalley movie with Al Franken; I told him how much I liked the film and that I wished it were out on DVD (later it was).

At Second City, though, I first flagged Ramis down the night of the reunion show and tried to remind him that we’d met (I don’t think he remembered) but he was friendly and expressed concern that they hadn’t had enough rehearsal time. He gave me an autograph, as well (I was on the hunt).

Throughout the weekend, I saw him a number of times, basically saying “The reunion was great” and hello, but it must have seemed to him that I was everywhere, maybe even stalking him (I wasn’t – it was sheer coincidence). Finally I caught him alone for a moment and apologized for bugging him (even as I bugged him again) and rather desperately said, “I just wanted to let you know how much I love Groundhog Day. It’s one of my favorite movies and it’s my son’s favorite movie, period. It’s a great, great film, it’s like…It’s a Wonderful Life.”

“It is,” he said with an enigmatic smile. “It is a wonderful life.”

I of course meant that his film Groundhog Day is on a level of importance with Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life. But I am still not sure if he was agreeing with me, or saying his film was a variation on that film, or maybe just that…it’s a wonderful life. As in, it’s wonderful being alive.

I’m still thinking about that ambiguous reply, particularly now that I know a year later he would contract autoimmune inflammatory vasculitis, and be gone in 2014.

The books I’ve read recently about this remarkable actor, writer and filmmaker include Caddyshack: The Making of a Hollywood Cinderella Story by Chris Nashawaty, and Ghostbuster’s Daughter: Life with My Dad, Harold Ramis by Violet Ramis Stiel. The former is fascinating and covers the birth of The National Lampoon, Saturday Night Live and (to a lesser extent) SCTV, with the Caddyshack material starting about midway. It gives a good picture of Ramis at that important time of his life.

His daughter’s book I admit having some problems with, but I would still recommend it to fans of her dad. The book is her memoir, and only really interested me when it was dealing with Harold Ramis himself, although it did that frankly and with insight.

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Here’s a really nice review of the first issue of the Mike Hammer serialized graphic novel from Hard Case Crime Comics (and Titan).

Here’s another good one.

And another.

Finally, here’s a review of Quarry’s Vote.

M.A.C.

After Party

Tuesday, March 20th, 2018

The Spillane birthday was truly a phenomenon. So much appeared on line and in newspapers and magazines that I am encouraged knowing the world remembers, and I believe will continue to remember, one of the greatest mystery writers of all time, and who is on the very short list of great private eye writers.

And the celebration will continue all year and into next. Right now we’re discussing a follow-up Mike Hammer radio-style play in Clearwater, Florida, next February or so, as the official closing event. Gary Sandy will likely be back as Hammer.

Killing Town will be out in April, and the Mike Hammer graphic novel from Titan will appear through the summer and fall, and probably be collected before year’s end.

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I am working on Girl Most Likely, a new thriller with a mystery aspect. I hope to be almost finished with it by next update. Though it was conceived as a one-shot, it’s showing signs of wanting to become a series. In an odd way, it’s like a non-overtly-humorous version of the Barbara Allan books – the main characters are a retired police detective father (recently widowed) and his small-town chief-of-police daughter. The thriller aspect is represented by a scary and violent murderer, and the mystery involves the father-and-daughter duo finding out who that killer is, and stopping him or her.

To some degree this flows from my desire to do something American that recalls/invokes the Nordic crime thrillers best represented by The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo in its various forms and such TV series as the assorted Wallander adaptations and the three versions of The Bridge. I like the social commentary aspect of those works and the way a character-driven, not overly hardboiled detective or detectives deal with really frightening, violent adversaries.

I did my Dragon Tattoo variation for Thomas & Mercer a few years ago – What Doesn’t Kill Her – developed with my frequent collaborator, Matt Clemens. This time I’m on my own, though I’ve leaned on Matt for some on-the-fly police procedure stuff and on Barb to keep me honest with the female protagonist (both the daughter and father have equal weight in the narrative, alternating chapters, occasionally interrupted by chapters from the killer’s POV).

I will share more as we draw closer to publication, which won’t be incredibly soon because it’s not finished yet.

Ahead for me are the galley proofs of Scarface and the Untouchable – the thing is massive. Very proud of this, and I have a hunch it’s going to make some noise. My co-author, A. Brad Schwartz, and I are exploring ways to promote the book, which I frankly don’t think will be hard – Capone and Ness are iconic figures in our popular culture. I feel we’ve done them justice and told their story in a new, compelling, ground-breakingly accurate way.

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Barb and I left an area movie theater after about an hour of Red Sparrow.

Now, for a long time I didn’t write negative things about movies. When I started making movies, in my modest way, I got a crash course in how effing hard it is to do. Because of this, I resigned from my Mystery Scene role as film critic, and when I wrote a review column for the late, much-missed Asian Cult Cinema, I wrote almost exclusively about movies I liked.

But, as regular readers of this update know, I have weakened, battered by too many terrible films, until I’m beyond the ability to feel compassion for their makers. Red Sparrow is a good example of why – it is horrid. It makes me wonder if I was wrong to walk out of Atomic Blonde, because Sparrow is so similar and so very much worse.

I am not easily offended. When I am offended, it’s usually something a politician did, not a writer or filmmaker or stand-up comic. But stupidity offends me. Red Sparrow is incredibly stupid, its plot inane. Do I exaggerate? Consider. The female star of the Bolshoi Ballet (which you may be forgiven as thinking of as the Bullshit Ballet in regard to this film) suffers a broken leg that ends her brilliant career. So the KGB (or whatever they’re calling themselves now) recruit her to be a spy…and send her undercover.

World-famous ballet stars being ideal choices for undercover espionage.

Jennifer Lawrence is fine, and very beautiful, and that I would walk out of a film knowing that more of her nude scenes lie ahead speaks volumes in and of itself. For her training in spycraft, she goes to sex-and-sadism school and learns how to give blow jobs to men she doesn’t like (Lawrence’s character herself calls this “whore school”). Her trainer is Charlotte Rampling, apparently cast because she was in the famous sadomasochistic Night Porter decades ago, though what she brings to mind here is Natasha in Rocky and Bullwinkle.

Guess what the plot is about? There’s a mole in the KGB that Lawrence is supposed to expose! Yes, the same as Atomic Blonde. Someone who liked this film said on Facebook (when Terry Beatty wondered if Red Sparrow was worth seeing) that it reminded him of John le Carré. Yes, if you were to read Fifty Shades of Grey and say, “Wow – this is just like Lolita!”

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Here’s a nice Spillane-oriented interview of me by Mike Barson at Crimespree.

I’m somewhat weirded out by reviews of my early work, but this one – of Bait Money and Blood Money in their Hard Case Crime iteration, Two for the Money – isn’t bad.

J. Kingston Pierce provides my chronology of the Mike Hammer novels, which shows where the Spillane/Collins collaborations fit.

Here’s a preview of the final issue of Quarry’s War.

And I am pleased to see Road to Perdition singled out as one of the ten most stylish movies of the century thus far. Most of the writer’s other choices are good ones, though he includes two movies by Darren Aronofsky, one of my least favorite directors, and his top choice, Blade Runner 2049, Barb and I walked out of. A bad movie that looks great is still a bad movie. The play is the thing says I.

M.A.C.

Grand Thanks

Tuesday, December 6th, 2016

The announcement of my Edgar award as a Grand Master from the Mystery Writers of America has garnered congratulations and praise from all over the place. I’ve taken to posting a link to these updates on Facebook and that’s increased the activity.

First, I’m very grateful. It’s particularly fun or, in Facebook terms, to be “liked” (you like me, you really really like me) by old friends, some of whom I haven’t heard from in decades. The world at once seems bigger and smaller.

Second, I’m a little embarrassed. These updates have become more and more confessional. Originally I only wrote an update once or twice a year. My son Nate, who runs this website, said that was not enough – the only way to encourage traffic was with regular content.

So I went weekly, and for some time all I did was talk about books that had recently become available and share links to reviews (I still do that, obviously). Then Nate encouraged me to do updates that gave a behind-the-scenes look at the writing process and what it’s like to be a freelance writer.

People seemed to like hearing about such things, but gradually more personal stuff got into the mix – the major one being my health issues. I didn’t post anything till the day I was set to take my first heart surgery (we had been going through hell for five months prior and I hadn’t made a peep about it here), and what I wrote wasn’t intended to appear till the day I was in surgery.

Then the surgery was postponed, and a second, preliminary surgery scheduled, and suddenly everybody knew about what was going on with my health. As I say, that wasn’t my intention. But I would be lying if I didn’t admit that all the good wishes, which included prayers, didn’t give me a real boost. In the subsequent lung surgery, I found that support similarly spirit-lifting.

I thank you all.

And I thank you, too, for the congratulations about the Grand Master award, which won’t be presented till next April, by the way. This is even more embarrassing than courting good wishes for health reasons, as it falls into the “rah yay me” category.

I’ve been reflecting on the Grand Master this past week, the only troubling aspect of which is that it’s a reminder that a long career preceded it, and that the remainder of that career will be much shorter. Life achievement awards are something people try to give you while you’re not dead. So that part of it is sobering.

Throughout my career – and I will be painfully honest here – I longed for, even dreamed of, receiving an Edgar from the MWA. I have been ridiculously well-honored by the Private Eye Writers of America, also by the Iowa Motion Picture Association; even won an Anthony from Bouchercon, and an award from the Edgar Rice Burroughs bibliophile group. “Barbara Allan” won a major award, too (not a leg lamp, though). But the Edgar, despite half a dozen nominations, has remained elusive.

When I see the array of trophies and plaques, which reflect not only achievement but my own needy efforts to land them – you have to enter many of these competitions to win them – I am a little embarrassed. I obviously need validation. Like most people with big egos, I have self-doubts that are even bigger.

What’s really, really nice about the Grand Master is that you don’t enter to try to win it. A group of your peers just agrees that you should get it. That feels really good.

And the company I’m in includes many of my favorite writers as well as others I admire. For example, Agatha Christie; Rex Stout; Ellery Queen; Erle Stanley Gardner; James M. Cain; John D. MacDonald; Alfred Hitchcock; Ross Macdonald; Graham Greene; Daphne Du Marier; Dorothy B. Hughes; W.R. Burnett; John Le Carre; Ed McBain; Elmore Leonard; Donald E. Westlake; Lawrence Block; Sara Paretsky; Sue Grafton; Stephen King; and Mickey Spillane. That’s just the ones that were influential in my writing life. Two (Westlake and Spillane) were mentors. I omit names of stellar types whose work I am not familiar with, and a handful whose work I dislike (here’s a hint – Angel in Black is a response to one).

I am notorious for not reading much contemporary crime fiction. My glib reason is that contemporary writers in the genre fall into three areas: (A) not as good as I am, so why bother reading ‘em; (B) as good as I am, so why bother reading them, either; and (C) better than I am, and screw those guys, anyway.

The real reasons I don’t read my contemporaries much are less smart-alecky.

First, I am a natural mimic and I tend to pick up the style and habits of other fiction writers. I discovered this writing Blood Money (my second published book) while reading The Friends of Eddie Coyle by George V. Higgins. That writer, a very good one, wrote such distinctive dialogue that I could not shake the cadence of it. Some of it is still in that book.

Second, much of what I write is historical, and that requires a lot of research reading. So what reading I do falls largely into that category. And my pleasure reading tends to be non-fiction, too. Again, reading fiction is dangerous for me.

That’s not to say I don’t read some. I re-read my favorite authors (many of them in my Grand Master list above) and, if I’m on a committee for the MWA or PWA, I read the works submitted for award consideration. Plus, I have friends in the field whose work I often read. Also, if somebody gets really, really popular, I check them out. That’s how I came to read some Robert B. Parker, for example, whose work I don’t care for but whose impact on the field I greatly respect.

He won the Grand Master, too.

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This week past the third Caleb York, The Bloody Spur, was shipped to Kensington. In addition, I did final corrections and tweaks on the proofs of The Will to Kill for Titan (Mike Hammer) and Executive Order for Thomas & Mercer (Reeder & Rogers). The proofs of Antiques Frame await.

The Grand Master news was all over the Net, but in some cases it was more than just a regurgitation of the MWA news release. This, from Mysterious Press, for example, includes ordering info on the Mike Hammer collection, A Long Time Dead.

Brash Books, who published the complete Road to Perdition novel recently, did their own write-up as well.

Here’s a brief discussion of the use of history in Quarry in the Black.

My old pal Jan Grape talks about how authors deal with errors in books, leading off with an anecdote that shows me in a perhaps unflattering (but highly accurate) light.

Here’s a brief Quarry TV write-up, with a deleted scene that I (partially) wrote.

The Quarry show makes this Best list.

And here’s a really great review of the finale episode of Quarry, with a look back at the entire world of the series.

M.A.C.

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(Note from Nate: Quarry is available for pre-order on Amazon on Blu-Ray and DVD, although the release date hasn’t yet been determined. Here’s the link!)

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