Posts Tagged ‘Flying Blind’

Sex And Violence

Tuesday, March 13th, 2012

When I set out to write hardboiled mystery novels, very much influenced by Mickey Spillane and the Gold Medal writers, I made sure my work was strong on sex and violence. I still do. Not only are these ingredients key to the noir sensibility, they represent (as I’ve said numerous times) the big topics: life and death.

And while my historical novels have an element of education/information in them, the primary purpose is to entertain, and usually in the fashion that I established early on – meaning there will be sex and violence.

Over the years this has been commented on occasionally by reviewers, but not really that often – the subject tends to come up in a more general way, i.e., why is there so much sex and violence in noir fiction?

But in the past several years, I have been getting criticized much more often about the sexual component of the books. I don’t mean to defend myself here or to complain about those reviews – I am just observing that there seems to be something afoot in the culture, something more staid, even more prudish. I graduated high school in 1966, so the sexual revolution was all around me, reflected in popular culture from underground comix to nudity-flung films.

So what’s up lately with this anti-sex scene sentiment? And almost always coming from men. Men who don’t want to read about sex. Which strikes me as bewildering. These comments often come from readers who otherwise like the books. Here’s an excerpt from an Amazon Review of CARNAL HOURS that is otherwise a rave:

“The author seems determined to inject some short, steamy sex episodes in each book. These are gratuitous and serve no purpose other than to establish the ‘ladies man’ reputation of Heller, which could be accomplished without the silly detail. I’m not prudish but each time these short episodes struck me as stupid and juvenile.”

I might wonder why any reader of book with the word “carnal” in the title would be surprised to find sex scenes in that book. But this Amazon reviewer is joined by a handful of professional reviewers who have lately made similar comments. George Easter, for example, in the fine magazine Deadly Pleasures, made that his sole carp in a very positive review of BYE BYE, BABY.

Again, I mention this because I find it odd, not to complain about it or defend myself. I will say this: anyone who considers the sex scenes in Nathan Heller novels to be mere gratuitous porn isn’t really paying attention. I don’t believe there is a single Heller sex scene involving my guy with some casual pick-up in a bar or whatever – there are references to such happenings, but they remain off-stage. The sexual encounters are there for characterization reasons, usually to build emotion and establish a closeness, even a love, between Heller and a woman who is crucial to the tale being told, often tragic romances as in TRUE DETECTIVE, TRUE CRIME, THE MILLION-DOLLAR WOUND, FLYING BLIND and BYE BYE, BABY. Some of these are real women, like Amelia Earhart, Sally Rand and Evelyn MacClean Walsh, and this gets me nasty letters at times (“How dare you?”). I had death threats over my depiction of Earhart as bisexual. Here’s the thing: Nate Heller didn’t have sex with any of these women, because Nate Heller is a fictional character.

My sex scenes do make people uncomfortable at times, and I’m rather proud of that. A mystery writer pal of mine, when TRUE DETECTIVE came out, was offended (perhaps the term is “grossed out”) that Heller used condoms and he and the lady in question cleaned up after the act. The sex was too real, apparently. An editor talked me into toning down oral sex passages in ANGEL IN BLACK…between Heller and his wife (oral sex was both characterization and a major clue in that novel).

Anyway, if you guys out there want to skip the sex scenes, fine by me. My generation of guys would more likely have underlined them. If this is progress, count me out.

And isn’t it interesting that none of these reviewers have ever complained about the graphic blood-splattering violence in my work?

* * *

We had a very nice review for the upcoming Barbara Allan, ANTIQUES DISPOSAL, in Publisher’s Weekly.

Our good friend and that good writer Ron Fortier wrote a lovely review of ANTIQUES DISPOSAL on his fun Pulp Fiction web site.

Brandywine Books posted yet another fine Heller review, this time looking at TRUE DETECTIVE.

The low price ($2) this month of FLYING BLIND on Kindle e-book caught some nice attention here.

Perfect Crime Books has announced their Nolan reprint series, with all the covers posted.

The quirky and entertaining Temple of Schlock reviewed THE CONSUMMATA, and back on my birthday took an eccentric look at QUARRY’S EX.

Nate is heading to Japan for a month on a business vacation. He will still be handling the weekly Updates, but they will likely be a little shorter in the near future. Also, I’m working on ANTIQUES CHOP, which means you may be spared these longer entries until I am finished and Nate returns.


Cover Boy

Tuesday, November 1st, 2011
Deadly Pleasures

Seeing my face on the cover of the current DEADLY PLEASURES (Summer 2001, issue 66), is gratifying if frustrating – I’d have looked better twenty or even ten years ago. But it’s nice to see Nate Heller get this kind of attention – editor George Easter told me I’d get the DP cover when I wrote another Heller (this was during the drought between CHICAGO CONFIDENTIAL and the current BYE BYE, BABY). And he kept his word.

The issue is an embarrassment of riches, because editor Easter reviews/discusses seven of the books I have out this year (he skips ANTIQUES KNOCK-OFF, either not knowing about “Barbara Allan” or just not liking the cozy stuff). Ted Fitzgerald in the same issue provides a rave review of BYE BYE, BABY as well, and Roger M. Sobin does retro coverage of FLYING BLIND, comparing it to the 2009 film “Amelia” (which I thought was dreadful…the film, not Sobin’s solid discussion).

When Jon Breen retired from regularly writing the review column in ELLERY QUEEN MYSTERY MAGAZINE, “The Jury Box,” I thought I was cooked. Jon was a big booster of my stuff and reviewed me regularly. I figured the new guy, Steve Steinbock, would have more sense. Fortunately, he doesn’t, as the new EQMM (December 2001) gives generous “Jury Box” attention to a slew of my novels, leading off with a four-star BYE BYE, BABY review.

This kind of coverage is so important. For those of you who think my ego is out of control, when I mention such things, well, you’re probably right…but the real appeal of it to me is that the books get attention and gain more readers. That’s not really an ego-driven desire. It’s on the most basic level a desire to keep the lights on in this joint. I can’t stay in business if the books don’t sell, and I have never been a success on the level of a Harlan Coben or Lee Child. I remain a freelance writer desperately avoiding getting a real job.

Here’s a great write-up on the Nate Heller series worth checking out.

And here’s one specifically about the new Heller collection, CHICAGO LIGHTNING.

Oddly, this is a nice review of DEAD STREET, reacting as if the book just came out. The comments below the smart review reveal the level of idiocy that Spillane can elicit in apparently intelligent readers.

This week the new Titan collection of Simon and Kirby crime comics comes out, with my introduction. USA TODAY interviewed me about the book and about S & K.

Work continues apace on SPILLANE ON SCREEN as Jim Traylor and I keep the words flying between Iowa and Georgia. It’s a McFarland book and will be horrendously expensive, no doubt, but it’s gonna be worth it.