Posts Tagged ‘Interviews’

Encore for Encore

Tuesday, March 21st, 2023

The poster pictured here will give notice to anyone within driving distance of Muscatine, Iowa, the information needed to attend the theatrical premiere of the filmed version of Mickey Spillane’s Encore for Murder starring Gary Sandy as Mike Hammer.

Encore for Murder premiere poster

It’s a Golden Age Radio presentation, the actors with scripts (sometimes) in hand, the costuming limited, the sound effects produced on stage (often to comic effect) with a foley table manned by the editor of the feature, Chad Bishop. The cast, other than Mr. Sandy, is local, though these are experienced theatrical veterans, many of whom have appeared in independent films. This production of Encore was presented only once, last September, as a benefit for the Muscatine Art Center.

We did record two dress rehearsals, and some footage from those was edited in (sometimes just the audio used), and what was a two-act play was edited into one continuous 90-minute production.

My goal was to produce a substantial bonus feature for a home video release (Blu-ray for sure and possibly DVD) of the expanded Mike Hammer’s Mickey Spillane documentary from 1999. My collaborator Phil Dingeldein shot and edited (and I wrote) enough new material to bring Mickey’s story up to the present, and expand the running time from 47 minutes to about an hour. (The Criterion special edit, for their disc of Kiss Me Deadly, runs about half an hour.) Though taking the doc up to 61 minutes made releasing it on its own a possibility, I felt adding Encore for Murder as an Added Value bonus would enhance the package. I also was proud of what we accomplished on what was essentially no budget (and some free help from Phil and dphilms, and Chad Bishop and Muscatine Community College). Even Gary Sandy donated his considerable services.

Gary, as you may know, played Hammer in Golden Age of Radio-style productions of Encore for Murder in Owensboro, Kentucky, and Clearwater, Florida. Encore was nominated in its original, somewhat longer incarnation for an Audie (Best Original Work) in 2011 with Stacy Keach and a full cast doing it for Blackstone Audio. We won Best Script in 2012 at the International Mystery Writers’ Festival in Owensboro, and in 2018 did a rather more elaborate production at the Ruth Eckard Hall’s Murray Theater in Clearwater, Florida.

The Muscatine production held its own in comparison, utilizing the approach of the Clearwater show, which included a large screen with scene-setting slides, costumes and music. The music we used came from Chris Christensen’s score for Mike Hammer’s Mickey Spillane and Stan Purdy’s 1954 music for Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer Story.

The big news is that VCI Entertainment – who brought the Mommy double feature out on Blu-ray not long ago – will be distributing both the new version of the documentary and Encore for Murder (on one Blu-ray) and taking them out individually to the streaming services.

If you are considering coming to Muscatine for this event, we would recommend the Merrill Hotel, a lovely new facility right on the Mississippi.

* * *

The Max Allan Collins Film Festival that is screening my home (no guests invited) continues throughout my birthday month of March.

5. Murder He Says. This 1945 hillbilly take on The Old Dark House sub-genre is the best comedy Bob Hope never made…but Fred MacMurray did. Helen Walker (of the original and superior version of Nightmare Alley) is wonderful here as is Marjorie Main, very much a sociopathic Ma Kettle. In town police is.

6. Waiting for Guffman. The funniest of Chris Guest’s semi-improvised mockumentaries showcases SCTV superstars Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara, although everyone here is great….Christopher Guest, Parker Posey and Fred Willard tying for MVP. The Blu-ray has much more of local musical Red, White and Blaine, with numbers apparently cut not just for timing purposes but because they are too good.

7. Harvey. One of James Stewart’s three greatest performances (It’s a Wonderful Life and Vertigo being the others). He’s often been called a little too young for the role of Elwood P. Dowd but it works to the advantage of the film, as he comes across less a drunk (much less) and more a sweet person who stepped away from harsh reality into pleasant fantasy. On the other hand, the movie does not shy away from indicating that Harvey really exists and and how are you, Mr. Wilson?

8. Game Night. This 2018 film is the newest in my film festival so far, but it’s a gem. Hilarious with every performance spot on, and Jason Bateman at his very best. Jesse Plemons as the cop next door almost steals the picture anyway.

9. Leprechaun. Everything else this time around is a comedy, right? But then so is Leprechaun, and the special features documentary reveals that a second director/writer came in and did the really bloody gore stuff, which doesn’t harm this vastly underrated film much at all, because its absurdity fits right in. Did you expect us to watch anything else on St. Patrick’s Day? I just wish the sequels had stayed consistent with the original. We met Warrick Davis and he’s a great, great guy.

Signed Photograph of Warrick Davis as the Leprechaun
* * *

This terrific review of Spillane – King of Pulp Fiction includes an interview with me. A follow-up will soon cover Jim Traylor’s interview on our well-received book.

Wolfpack has the Eliot Ness “Cleveland quartet” at a reasonable price.

An interesting review of the Yoe Books Johnny Dynamite collection, edited and with contributions by Terry Beatty and me, is here.

If you missed it, here’s the info on the Muscatine Community College “Legends” tribute to, yeah, well, me. It takes place on March 30 (a Thursday evening) and the Encore for Murder screening is March 31.

Tickets here. They’re expensive but go to the college.

Trailers from Hell takes a long look at the current Blu-ray release of Mickey Spillane’s The Long Wait, with a commentary by me.

The Trailers from Hell essay is interesting if pretty patronizing, but trust me – The Long Wait is a terrific Spillane noir. Read about it (and order it) here.

For a look at a Long Wait clip, take a gander at this.

And yes, this time it’s Collider telling us about ten movies from comic books that you didn’t know yada yada yada. But, hey – we’re in fourth position.


Bundle Born, Bornes Born, Legends Made, Unlikely Edgar Nom

Tuesday, January 24th, 2023
The Big Bundle cover
E-Book: Kobo Google Play
Digital Audiobook:

The Big Bundle goes on sale TODAY!

Here is one of my better interviews, probably good because it was conducted by my great editor and pal at Titan Books, Andrew Sumner.

The Big Bundle books went quick, but – interestingly – we had only 11 requests for those 10 copies; in other words, almost everybody who entered won. I suspect people are assuming if they don’t immediately enter, they are screwed; but I hope these giveaways haven’t run their course.

The promised giveaway of Spillane – King of Pulp Fiction is held up because copies I was supposed to receive for this purpose have yet to show up. When they do, I’ll mount another book giveaway.

* * *

Here is a front page (stop the presses!) article from (as I write this) today’s Muscatine Journal, a nice job by Andrea Grubaugh. It details accurately some nice recent news I received.

Muscatine Mystery-series Author
Receives Nomination
for a 2023 Edgar Award

Muscatine’s Max Allan Collins was among the nominees when the Mystery Writers of America announced finalists for the 2023 Edgar Allan Poe Awards, a series of awards meant to honor mystery-focused stories both fiction and nonfiction. Nominees were announced Thursday, Jan. 19, for the 77th annual Edgar Awards ceremony set for April 27 at the New York Marriott Marquis Times Square.

One of the nominees in the Best Paperback Original category was the novel Quarry’s Blood, written by Collins.

Collins called the nomination “an utter surprise.”

“The Quarry series has always been a cult favorite, and well-reviewed, but this kind of mainstream recognition is unusual, unexpected and appreciated,” he said.

Collins has been nominated for an Edgar Award before, but the honor still is special and exciting.

On Thursday, January 19, the Mystery Writers of America announced its nominees for the 2023 Edgar Allan Poe Awards. Among the nominees for Best Paperback Original, one of the books selected was the novel Quarry’s Blood, written by Muscatine’s very own Max Allan Collins.

“I’ve been nominated several times in both nonfiction and fiction categories,” Collins said, “and in 2017 received a Life Achievement ‘Edgar’ award, the Grand Master. But in a 50-plus-year career, I’ve been nominated perhaps half a dozen times, so it’s not something that happens every day.”

Collins’ Quarry Series was created at the Writers Workshop in Iowa City in 1971, while the first Quarry novel was published in 1976. According to Collins, three more Quarry books were produced, with the series then ending after the publisher didn’t ask for more.

“Over the years, (that series’) cult following grew, and I’d get fan mail about the books — pre-email! So I did one more in the mid-’80s,” he explained. “Then about 20 years ago, editor Charles Ardai at Hard Case Crime asked me to do another, and I took the opportunity to write what I thought would be the final book in the series, The Last Quarry.”

This so-called finale, however, once again proved to be popular, to the point where it became a short film (“A Matter of Principal”) and eventually a movie (The Last Lullaby), both of which Collins wrote. A prequel entitled The First Quarry was also written by Collins in the hopes of filling in the blanks of his now-famous hitman’s career. A one-season show based off the series was also made for Cinemax in 2016.

“The character just keeps going,” Collins said.

As for this latest entry, it takes place in the present time period with Quarry himself being Collins’ age at about 70, which he considers to be old for a protagonist in this kind of story. He felt it was this element plus some surprising emotional content that might have made the story all the more appealing to readers.

“It brings him full circle, back to a book originally published as The Broker and later as Quarry, which was set in ‘Port City, Iowa’ — obviously Muscatine,” he said. “It’s unusual for a series novel to be nominated at all for an Edgar because long-running series usually get overlooked, so this nomination was nothing I was anticipating.”

Although he wasn’t sure if his book would be the one bringing home the award this year, Collins said he still felt touched by the acknowledgment.

“This really is one of those times when just being nominated is a special honor,” he said.

Okay, that’s the article, and a particularly good and accurate one for a local newspaper. I’ve had some doozies written about me around here (in the worst sense of the word “doozy”).

Still, a correction or two, or anyway clarification. First of all, I wish I were 70, but I am 74 and will be 75 soon (I believe there are 37 shopping days left till my birthday on March 3, not yet a national holiday).

Second, not only am I not convinced I’ll be bringing home the award this year, I am convinced – in a way, I’m certain – I won’t be. This nomination is such a fluke I am having trouble processing it – novels in series are rarely nominated by the Mystery Writers of America, and novels in long-running series are really, really, really rarely if ever nominated. Add to that the violence and sex that makes the Quarry novels about as un-Woke as they get. The other nominated titles seem to be much more in step with current tastes.

Third, I will almost certainly not attend, so by definition will not be bringing anything home with me. I would like to attend, but a couple of things discourage me. There’s a book in another category that, should it win, would distress me terribly (particularly since I am likely fated to lose in my category). I will allow regular readers here to determine what that book and who that author that is, but don’t look for me to confirm and/or deny. Also, Barb and I are already preparing to attend Bouchercon and one trip per year for us is plenty. We have not traveled to this kind of event since my open heart surgery and Covid lockdown. While I am more or less back to normal, I do tire much more easily than before – I was a force of nature then, whereas now I’m what remains after a force of nature hits.

It’s probably ironic that just last week, I think it was, I was complaining here that Quarry’s Blood was a forgotten child, published too early in the year to make the various Favorite Books lists for 2022…and further whined that The Big Bundle, a December 2022 publication, hadn’t come out in time to be considered.

Truth is, Quarry’s Blood and The Big Bundle did make a handful of those lists, for which I am grateful. And I will be submitting both for the Shamus awards – Quarry is kind of a shirt-tail PI, but he’s been nominated by the PWA before.

Also, on January 19, I received word that I’m receiving another life achievement award of sorts – I’m being named a Muscatine Community College Legend, which around these here parts is a pretty big deal. I was informed thusly: “Our MCC Legends committee would like to honor you as our 2023 Legend for all of the contributions you have – and continue to make – to advance the fine arts.” More generally, the Legends award honors individuals who have been significant supporters of the college, its students, faculty and staff. I attended from 1966 – 1968, and taught there from 1971 – 1976 (the only real job I ever had, except for bussing tables). Barb and I fell in love there, and married shortly after graduation; so MCC has a special resonance for me/us. There will be a dinner on March 30.

* * *

Last week something else cool happened, albeit kind of odd.

Tom Hanks gave an interview proclaiming Road to Perdition his favorite of his films (yay!) but then wondered why nobody ever asked him about it (huh?).

Here’s the thing – I know that film is talked about often, because I do an Internet search on myself every week – not because I’m an egomaniac but due to the need to provide these updates with links to relevant articles. Okay, and I’m an egomaniac.

Anyway, people are out there all the time talking about Road to Perdition. Usually it’s in a familiar context: a discussion of the best Tom Hanks or Paul Newman or Sam Mendes films; a look back at the best gangster films of the past 25 years; or, often, the answer to the musical question, You Didn’t Know This Movie Came from a Comic Book, Did You?

If you drop by here regularly, you’ve seen me link to those articles frequently. I would imagine Tom Hanks doesn’t spend his time pathetically doing internet searches of himself. And I would guess most interviewers have little to ask of him about a performance that was perfect. So his confusion about RTP’s enduring nature is understandable.

What blew me away was how much coverage this got. I counted something like twenty websites that picked the story up, and any number of newspapers. It was mostly the same story. Like this version.

[This is the interview, queued to the question prompting the Road response. Worth a watch!–Nate]

* * *

Barb and I have completed our drafts of Antiques Foe, and I will be assembling the finished product today from a stack of chapters into one manuscript file for me to proof-read tomorrow and Barb to enter (and approve) my corrections and changes. It should be shipped by Wednesday end of day, at the latest.

In the old days “shipped” meant getting a physical manuscript to a FexEx “mailbox” before the last collection, which I think was five or six p.m. This meant printing out several manuscripts, again physical copies (the one area where I am not so adamant about preferring physical media).

This is a good one. Barb did a magnificent job with Brandy and Vivian Borne’s latest, rather harrowing adventure, and, really, it could have been successfully published before I landed a glove on it. Barb claims to like and approve of the tweaks and additions I’ve made, and continues to be the easiest person to collaborate with on the planet. If I had somebody fooling around with my perfectly good words, I’d have a good old-fashioned coniption fit.

She claims the next book in the series will be the last one, and I can understand why – she works incredibly hard on her manuscripts. Coming off a Nate Heller (Too Many Bullets), I can understand how you can do something you love and dread doing it again.

* * *

CrimeReads highlights The Big Bundle as a book coming out this week.

Quarry’s Blood was one of Glen Davis’s favorites of 2022. (Scroll down.)

Here’s an interesting but odd article on what fans of Road to Perdition don’t know about that film. It claims that the rainy climax took place in a boxing ring in the graphic novel. No, it was a boxing ring in an early draft of the script. In the graphic novel, the rainy death was (as in history) Connor Looney’s, not his father. No boxing ring at all. God save us from experts!

Finally, CBR considers Road to Perdition one of the ten great crime graphic novels! (So do I, but I can’t think of another 9.)


Fancy Cover and Year’s End/Year’s End Woes

Tuesday, January 10th, 2023
Backissue magazine cover

An in-depth Ms. Tree-centric interview with Terry Beatty and me appears in issue #141 of Backissue magazine (“SPIES AND P.I.S ISSUE!”). It proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that Terry’s memory is better than mine (a low bar, eh, Terry?). Thank you to interviewer Stephan Friedt for doing such a great and thorough job, and selecting images that show once and for all how good Terry Beatty is.

Backissue #141 with its beautifully laid out and illustrated article (we’re in the Mike Mauser article too) is available here.

* * *

Here is an advance review of The Big Bundle, the new Nate Heller. It’s from Deadly Pleasures, a long-running, very good mystery fanzine which I believe is strictly available as an e-zine now…or is it returning to print? I’ll check into that and get back to you.

In the meantime, here’s the review:

THE BIG BUNDLE by Max Allan Collins (Hard Case Crime, $22.99, December 2022) Rating: A

In 1953 six-year-old Bobby Greenlease is kidnapped. His wealthy parents call on the services of private investigator Nathan Heller, who had represented them in another matter some years earlier. Robert Greenlease insists on having the kidnapping of his son handled on his terms with as little interference from the FBI and police as possible. The kidnappers pick up the ransom, as scheduled, but Bobby is not returned. The kidnappers, however, assure the family that he’ll be back, safe and sound, within twenty-four additional hours. But then half of the $600,000 ransom disappears and things take a turn for the worse. Five years later Heller is called back to try to find the missing money. But Washington politics, Bobby Kennedy, and Jimmy Hoffa all manage to get tangled up with Heller’s efforts to help Greenlease once again.

All of the Heller novels are based in solid fact, thoroughly researched, with details of the characters and their eventual fates detailed at the conclusion of the story. Of course the real-life kidnapping of Bobby
Greenlease is nowhere near as well-known as the 1932 abduction and murder of the Lindbergh baby. Heller had investigated that crime, as well, in Max Allan Collins’ Stolen Away (1992). In spite of the outcome of that case, he is once again entrusted with finding and returning a missing child to his parents.

Collins is a master (actually an MWA Grand Master!) at finding a plausible method of inserting his long-running fictional detective into the events of the day. He does this by using actual places, events and real people such as Kennedy, Hoffa, Chuck Berry, and Drew Pearson to add authenticity to the narrative. In doing so Collins immerses the reader in the 1950s’ era lifestyle. What’s even more remarkable is that he’s been doing this for forty years, since his 1983 debut Heller novel, True Detective.

If you’ve never read a Heller novel, don’t be discouraged by the fact that this is the eighteenth book (plus a number of short stories) in the series. The chronicles are not published in any specific order, moving around in time from the days of Capone and Nitti to Monroe and the Kennedys. But this one, the first from Hard Case Crime, is as good a place to jump in as any other. Then you’ll want to go back to the 1920s and start with that first one in what is one of the finest historical crime novel series being published today.

Don’t know who wrote the review. Possibly editor George Easter himself. I’ll let you know when I know.

The Big Bundle is, according to Amazon, going to be available later this month (January 24). As it was officially (and actually) published in December of last year, this just about guarantees screwing me up for awards consideration, and of course the book was not read by most of the people who do year’s end “Best of” lists. This is not a plan to make my life miserable (I don’t think), just the books getting tied up in London in a dock strike.

The e-book has been available since the originally announced publication date, and I’m not sure about the audio book (read by the great Dan John Miller). I know the latter exists, because (like the hardcover edition) I’ve had the audio book since early December.

Sigh, as the great Charlie Brown frequently said.

But the Big Bundle reviews have been stellar so far, especially the starred Publisher’s Weekly, and (among others) Deadly Pleasures is a nice one, too, obviously.

A problem that few of you who stop by here will have is that a certain breed of dedicated mystery reader refuses to start reading a series with any entry but the first, and doggedly plows on ahead in order of publication. I am anal retentive enough to understand this. But it really hurts writers of a long-running series – it’s the sales and response to the current book in a series that determines whether there will be any more.

So when a reader who has (finally) decided to take a look at Nathan Heller (or any long-running series) feels obligated to start with the first book, he or she is actually decreasing the chances of that series continuing. The current entry’s sales dictate the future, or lack of one, for the series. My suggestion is: sample the current book, and if you like it, go back to the beginning. And in the case of Nathan Heller (and for that matter Quarry), keep in mind that the books were neither written nor published in chronological order.

At the beginning, the first four Heller novels were indeed written in chronological order, with the first three comprising the Frank Nitti Trilogy. But starting with Stolen Away (the fifth published Heller), I began jumping around – the famous unsolved (or controversially “solved” crime) at the heart of a Heller novel simply reflected what I was interested in writing about and/or what I could sell to an editor. So in Stolen Away (the longest entry in the saga), the novel begins before the first book (True Detective) and its last section takes place after the third book, True Crime. In fact, that last section of True Crime takes place after Blood and Thunder, as well. Confused yet?

This is bound to give the anal retentive among you a migraine. But in the case of Nathan Heller, you can’t easily read them in chronological order–Damned in Paradise, for example, takes place in the middle of Stolen Away! You have to read part of one book, move to another book, then come back again to the previous one you began.

Reading the books in the order in which they were written makes more sense, but not much. The danger for me is that some readers might skip a Heller because the famous case my guy is working on is not of particular interest to them. Then that reader has got out of the habit of reading Heller.

The Big Bundle is an unusual Heller in one sense: the famous crime (the Greenlease kidnapping) at its center is not as famous as it once was. Everybody remembers the Lindbergh baby, but few recall little Bobby Greenlease. The narrative does involve Jimmy Hoffa and Bobby Kennedy.

Interestingly, I get occasional complaints from readers who stay away from Heller – or have read one or two and bail on the series – because they can’t accept one private detective being involved in so many famous crimes. These are the kind of people who have no problem with Perry Mason handling 100 murder cases and Archie & Nero solving seventy-some murder mysteries. People! Take the ride.

The Greenlease case got on my radar a long, long time ago, and I knew I would get around to it. It’s frustrating to me that the book was published when it was – December books (which, as I say, The Big Bundle is – pub date is December 2022) – tend to fall between the cracks where Best of the Year lists are concerned. Not the reader/reviewers fault: they can only reflect back on what they’ve been able to read.

A few have. Reviewers who received ARCs or e-mail galleys have included The Big Bundle perhaps three or four times on best of year’s end lists. But it’s frustrating. It’s hard enough to get anybody to sing about a book in a long-running series without the music falling between the cracks of the piano.

And then there’s the Edgars – it’s tough enough under good circumstances to get acknowledged in that field of competition. But the confusion of a book published in December but not widely available till late January seems a guarantee for no attention at all.

I am not alone. Any writer who has a book published in December is up against it. Actually, any writer who has a book published in January (and the next few months) is, too. People have shorter memories than they do attention spans. Quarry’s Blood got fabulous reviews but it was published in February ‘22 and I don’t know a single year’s end best of list it made. (If you know of one, give me a shout.)

Why do you suppose is that there’s such a prejudice against long-running series in awards consideration? In many cases, it’s other mystery writers (many of whom write series) doing the judging. As fans of the mystery genre, we bow to the likes of Rex Stout, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie, Raymond Chandler, Erle Stanley Gardner, and Dorothy Sayers, who devoted themselves (well, Doyle reluctantly) to series that ran a good long while. Today, series entries are routinely ignored in awards consideration. Publishers scrap-heap series, even long-running ones, to make room for new series (which are also doomed to be dropped after an entry or two, because no publisher today wants to spend their time building a series).

I don’t know that anything can be done about any of this. Call me a whiner (and I certainly am!) but it’s a frustration that many mystery writers…perhaps most…feel from time to time.

* * *

The second of the three Fancy Anders short novels is soon to appear (March 7), Fancy Anders for the Boys. I just did the proof read on the galleys and was very pleased. The art, again by the great Fay Dalton (the cover and one full-page illo for each of the ten chapters) is superb. This week you get a look at the stunning cover Fay provided.

Fancy Anders for the Boys cover

The Fancy Anders novellas are primarily e-books, but Neo Text (who continue to be wonderful to work with) does a short print run followed by POD, so you physical media types (like me) can have an actual book version.

The advantage of the e-book over print is that Fay’s art is mostly in color and you get gray tones in the print version. The three short novels (which I wrote back-to-back during the Covid lockdown) were designed to tell one long story in the fashion of serialization that the pulp Black Mask indulged in – with Hammett’s The Dain Curse, for example, which told three stories each of which resolved but also intertwined into what is now seen as a novel.

The end game is going to be to find a publisher who will do all three books in a larger format with the illos in full color (a few have limited color) and that it will be seen as the novel I always intended.

I loved doing this project and adore Fancy and relish the ‘40s period. I hope I get to do more, though in what format I have no idea (yet).

* * *

Some of you may recall that I have at times in interviews I’ve mentioned the impact of certain writers (Alexandre Dumas père, author of Three Muskateers and its sequels, for example) of historical fiction on the true-crime based Nathan Heller novels. The name I cite most prominently is Samuel Shellabarger, author of two of my favorite books (and movies), Captain from Castille and Prince of Foxes. Shellabarger wrote several more novels in this vein, and a few other things (he died rather young, at least young by my standards), but I recently – to my delighted surprise – learned that he had started out as a mystery writer.

He was also an academic and scholar, so he published under pen names: John Esteven and Peter Loring. I have begun picking his mystery novels up, when I can afford them – they don’t run cheap – and I’m reading one now. Graveyard Watch (1938) by Esteven isn’t very good, though, and I’m hopeful others of Shellabarger’s mysteries are better.

This one is in first-person with an Irish-American narrator whose brogue drips off the page. Among other things, Shellabarger was a linguist, so this reflects an interest of his, but it doesn’t make the read any smoother. And he reports an accent from an Asian woman that I can’t begin to decipher (both the accent and the woman).

I will try others by him, though, because learning of Shellabarger’s mystery writer roots, I suddenly felt like I’d found a kindred spirit. Heller is definitely in the vein of Shellabarger’s fictional heroes who find themselves smack in the middle of non-fictional history.

Read about him here.

* * *

Here’s a nice write-up on the forthcoming Classic Flix release of The Long Wait (with my commentary).

Finally, the best crime comics are selected here (check out #8).


Publisher’s Weekly, the Spillane Doc, Encore and More!

Tuesday, December 20th, 2022

For those of you looking for cyber stocking stuffers, or who will need a way to use that Amazon gift cards you’ll be receiving, four of my books are on sale as Kindle titles right now for a meager $1.99 each until the end of 2022. You can avail yourself of the Collins/Clemens titles Executive Order, Fate of the Union, What Doesn’t Kill Her and my solo title, Girl Most Likely. Also available for $1.99 (not sure for how long) is my collaboration with SCTV’s Dave Thomas, The Many Lives of Jimmy Leighton, a science-fiction-tinged crime thriller.

The three Clemens co-authored titles are among my bestsellers at Amazon, and Girl and Jimmy are two of my personal favorites, which if you haven’t tried, you have this opportunity to brighten our mutual Christmases by doing so.

Executive Order cover
Fate of the Union cover
What Doesn't Kill Her cover
Girl Most Likely cover
E-Book: Amazon

The Many Lives of Jimmy Leighton cover
E-Book: Amazon Purchase Link

* * *

Spillane – King of Pulp Fiction (Mysterious Press) will be out February 7 of next year, which is sooner than it sounds. James Traylor and I had a nice if brief interview with longtime Spillane buff Michael Barson in the latest Publisher’s Weekly.

You can see it here, including color photos of me and of co-author Jim Traylor, which we are considering releasing as NFT trading cards at $99 each.

This week I’m planning to shoot the material for the expanded edition of my 1999 documentary, Mike Hammer’s Mickey Spillane. Several years ago, the doc was edited (and slightly updated) from forty-eight minutes to thirty-some) for the Criterion release of Kiss Me Deadly.

I’ve been planning to reinsert some footage we cut initially (it had run something like fifty-three minutes), and to insert new interview footage with myself, to cover things not discussed and to include what has happened regarding Mickey’s work since his death in 2006.

Phil Dingeldein, my partner in cinematic crime, has found a very good copy of the documentary among our materials and shared it with me. At risk of sounding foolishly boastful, I had forgotten had good it was. Further, it was tightly edited with Chris Christiansen’s terrific score playing almost non-stop beneath. That made it problematic to insert anything that had been previously edited out, material we would have to locate among the dozens of tapes from the 1998 shoot. Mickey’s interview footage had taken up ten Betacam tapes alone.

And as tempting as it might be to restore what I’d been encouraged to cut years ago, disrupting the smooth edit of what arguably is my best work as a filmmaker is not worth doing. For this reason, I’ve decided to expand the current cut in a new way. It will open with an explanatory introduction by me, and at the conclusion of the original documentary a sort of epilogue will follow, bringing the Spillane story up to date. It will also expand the doc to around an hour, which is considered feature length in the documentary game.

The tricky thing is that this new footage will be primarily me talking on camera, which is something not even my late mother would have relished seeing. Our challenge is to include enough interesting visual material to edit over my mug as we can manage. Oh, you’ll see plenty of me, just not enough to turn most stomachs.

We will be covering Mickey’s final novel (Something’s Down There) and his passing, including his request to me to complete the last Mike Hammer novel (The Goliath Bone) and to develop his unfinished material. But it will also briefly discuss our friendship and our collaboration on various projects, including anthologies of his and other mystery writers, the Mike Danger comic book series, and the documentary the viewer will just have seen.

The focus will be on the posthumous collaborative novels and conclude with the 75th anniversary of Mike Hammer’s debut in I, the Jury (1947). We’ll include documentary footage of the production here in Muscatine, Iowa, of Encore for Murder with Gary Sandy, including interview footage with Gary and the actors who play Velda and Pat Chambers. This should connect Mike Hammer’s Mickey Spillane – the 75th Anniversary Edition nicely to the feature version we’ve recently completed of the Encore for Murder live performance. I am hopeful that we will see a Blu-ray and/or DVD of the new version of the Spillane doc with Encore for Murder as a bonus feature.

As I said, the expanded documentary will come in around sixty minutes or a tad under, and should be a good length for the streaming services and possibly for PBS. Whether Encore for Murder will stream or not, I can’t say. But I will do my best to make it available to any of you who are interested. I am probably too close to know how good it is or isn’t. Clearly Gary Sandy is wonderful as Mike, and the local actors are much better than I could ever have hoped. Several clearly are professional level, and everyone does well.

The production’s MVP is Chad Bishop, who has (under the burden of my supervision) edited Encore for Murder from the actual performance and two dress rehearsals, with the bulk of the footage taken from the former. Chad was the on-stage foley person – part of the fun of doing a Golden Age Radio-style show is having the sound effects performed on stage. But in addition to doing all the foley work, Chad was mixing the sound and laying in recorded sound effects and music cues…all done live. If he had not pulled that feat off, we couldn’t even have considered putting together a “movie” version of our production.

I know I’ve talked about this before, but I look back on what we did in September of this past year with a bit of wonder.

I was initially approached to do a Dick Tracy radio show and refused, then offered the use of my play “Encore for Murder,” which in 2011 Stacy Keach had recorded with a full cast for Blackstone audio. Later Gary Sandy had starred in live productions in Owensboro, Kentucky, in 2012, and in Clearwater, Florida, in 2018. I had been present for both, not directing but able to work with the director and actors in both cases.

So when local theater maven Karen Cooney – who is affiliated with the Muscatine Art Center – asked me to do a Golden Age Radio-style play, I of course thought of “Encore.” Initially I was going to play Hammer myself, but Karen suggested I ask Gary. It was a long shot, and I said I’d think about it.

Before taking that step, I wanted to see what kind of cast Karen had put together. I attended the first table read and was impressed. I went home and told Barb I thought the actors were quite good, but didn’t trust my judgment – I wanted them to be good, after all. Barb, who is totally no-nonsense (she has to be), agreed to come to the next rehearsal. I read Hammer, which seemed to perk the players up even further. When Barb and I went home, she said, “You’re right. They’re good.”

I called Phil and got the project on his radar. I told him if this thing came together, we should try to shoot it with multiple cameras. Throughout the month or rehearsals, co-directing with Karen, I kept Phil in the loop. But it wasn’t till the week of the performance that I said, “Let’s do this thing. I don’t want it to disappear into the ether.”

We shot the two rehearsals and the performance with multiple cameras (four), some provided and operated by Phil, others by Chad, who runs Muscatine’s public access channel 9. On performance night, unbeknownst to us, one of the key cameras ceased to function for the last ten minutes of the show. That’s one of the places where having dress rehearsal footage came in handy.

Keep in mind Gary was only present for three days. The rest of our cast is amateur (a few are pro-am, having appeared in some indie films). But we would at the very least have something for Chad’s public access channel, and I was – and am – hopeful one of the two PBS stations in my area might be interested.

I think it’s likely that the Spillane documentary will be on some streaming services. Whether Encore for Murder will be deemed worthy remains to be seen. I will let you know, and be frank about our fate.

As I said last week, I will be entering this into a couple of Iowa film festivals.

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Who Killed Santa?  A Murderville Murder Mystery

If you have Netflix, I would guess you are occasionally disappointed, even frustrated, by their original fare. But when they get it right, they get it right. And their Who Killed Santa? A Murderville Murder Mystery is hilariously wonderful. You should probably watch the six episodes of the Murderville series on Netflix first; but it should work on you even without that.

The premise is that a famous actor or sports star portrays the partner of Terry Seattle, a homicide cop played by Will Arnett. The mysteries are actually clever and can be solved if you pay attention, which the guest stars sometimes don’t. You see, they have not seen the script, which makes them the butt of the jokes cascading through each episode – at least when Arnett isn’t taking the comic heat himself.

It’s based on a wonderful British series, Murder in Successville, which ran for three seasons. The celebrities on Successville are not always recognizable to an American audience, but it works just the same. You can find those original episodes on You Tube. (I wrote a little bit about Murderville before, back in February of this fading year.)

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Matt Clemens and I did a joint interview on a podcast hosted by the talented and gracious Terrence McCauley that you may find of interest. Matt was excellent. I will tell you frankly that I sucked. I talked too much, I didn’t wait for the questions, I was searching for words, and my only excuse was the podcast hadn’t got on my calendar and I was caught flatfooted by it. But Matt is good.

Here’s a nice essay on the film version of Road to Perdition.

Here’s another.

This essay looks at the tropes that can be found – or in some cases were generated by – Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer. I am mentioned.

This years-late review of my Dick Tracy: The Secret Files anthology is well done, if a tad late in the game.

The article calls Road to Perdition one of the best crime comics of all time. You bet! But, uh…where’s Ms. Tree?