Posts Tagged ‘Killing Quarry’

Killing Quarry Book Giveaway and…Rambo!!!

Tuesday, October 8th, 2019

I have a whopping 15 advance copies of Killing Quarry (the book will be on the stands in November).

A number of you were nice enough to volunteer to review pretty much anything of mine, when I went on a recent self-pity binge. I am going to ask you a favor, because it will help me get these books out to you. Go ahead and enter this giveaway, even though not long ago you sent me info; it will make things move quicker. Here are the rules.

Write me at macphilms@hotmail.com. You agree to write a review for Amazon, Barnes & Noble or your own blog or review site (if you hate the book, you are released from this commitment, but can review it anyway if you wish). USA addresses only. It’s important that you send your snail-mail address. Also, if you’re one of the kind people who volunteered to review my stuff recently, remind me of that.

These are ARCs (Advance Reading Copies) but they are identical to the coming trade edition – I had made my corrections and revisions beforehand. I would be glad to sign and personalize your copy if you request it.

Thank you for your interest and support. A Girl Can’t Help It giveaway will follow in January or February.

* * *

Rambo: Last Blood has a 27% critical score on Rotten Tomatoes. That was almost enough to scare me off, until I noticed the audience score was 82%. Somewhere there’s a disconnect.

I decided to check out the negative reviews, and here’s a typical excerpt: “…less an escapist action movie and more a dramatized manifestation of the most notorious sentences from Donald Trump’s presidential campaign announcement speech (Matthew Rozsa).” This political, politically correct tone infected most of the negative reviews on view at Rotten Tomatoes.

Also, I read that the author of First Blood, David Morrell, had given his thumbs down to the film. More about that later.

I hardly ever talk politics here. Most people familiar with me and my work know that I am a left-of-center individual. But I have friends and business associates who have different views, and having damaged some friendships over this nonsense, I now try to keep my opinions to myself. I mention this only because I liked Rambo: Last Blood very much, as did my equally (maybe more) liberal wife.

Before I get into that film itself, let’s revisit the first four Rambo films, briefly (my wife and I watched them, one a night, after seeing the new one).

First Blood (1982) is the best film, a fairly faithful rendering of Morrell’s fine first novel (again, more about this later). It is set stateside and deals with both PTSD and smalltown prejudice against long-haired apparent hippies (a brilliant mix) and is a rousing action film that builds and builds to an emotional outburst from the taciturn Rambo about the rage in him and what fueled it.

Rambo: Second Blood (1985) is a fun action film, fast-paced and impressive in what it pulls off without CGI. This is where Rambo becomes iconic in the way Mike Hammer and Tarzan are iconic. A structure that would follow all of the coming films to at least some degree has (act one) Rambo reluctantly getting involved in a mission, (act two) Rambo playing cat-and-mouse games with his pursuers in a jungle setting, and (act three) Rambo kicking ass in a large-scale battle sequence. This really is the Morrell structure moved from America to Vietnam, with Afghanistan, Burma and Mexico substituting in subsequent entries.

Rambo III (1988) is pretty much the same movie as the second one, but bigger and with a few variables – Rambo is captured and tortured in the previous film, but this time his commander – played by the always dependable Richard Crenna – gets the torture routine. The difference is the stoic Rambo, when he does speak, utters quips right out of the Schwarzenegger playbook – this, for instance, is the one where Rambo tells the bad guy, “I’m your worst nightmare.”

All of these movies benefit from rousing Jerry Goldsmith scores that invoke John Barry’s Bond themes.

Rambo (2008), which is also known as John Rambo and was at one point actually called First Blood, comes about twenty years later and manages to be anti-war even as it bathes the screen in blood. It’s fast, entertaining and gritty, and the CGI ups the ante (although I am not a fan of computer-generated blood).

Now let’s talk the current movie, the fifth Rambo, called simply that. I am going to do a plot summary, so skip the next three paragraphs if you’re spoiler sensitive.

John Rambo is on his Arizona ranch where he rides horses when he isn’t obsessively digging tunnels and almost subconsciously preparing for a battle that may never come. His Hispanic housekeeper, with whom he has a warm mother/son relationship, has a teenaged daughter to whom Rambo has been something of a surrogate father. The girl is obsessed with facing her actual father, who deserted her and her mother, years ago; he’s in Mexico and it’s made clear that Rambo cleaned this abusive a-hole’s clock but good, once upon a time.

The girl winds up in Mexico, rejected by Daddy, then roofied and dragged into forced prostitution. Rambo goes looking for her and gets his expected torture scene – this is roughly act one of the usual structure, as earlier Rambo tried hard to talk the girl into not going looking for her despicable old man. After being rescued by an undercover female reporter, who gives him first aid and information, Rambo then goes back to rescue the girl.

This leads to mayhem (act two, minus the cat-and-mouse stuff) as he makes the rescue. But the brutalized and now dope-addicted girl dies on the way home. Rambo, having killed the number two bad guy, goes home and sends his housekeeper away and preps for war with bad guy number one and his minions. Act three is the big battle scene as the bad guys attack, like Apaches on a fort manned by a single brave soldier; and here an underground cat-and-mouse game finds its home within the larger battle.

Throughout this fifth film, Rambo is shown to still be suffering from PTSD, for which he takes (and eventually abandons) medication. A smaller film than the preceding Burma chapter, number five is a solid entry and employs some of the most startling deaths this side of an Evil Dead movie.

And that similarity made me reflect on why the Rambo films entertain – it’s, in part, because they invoke several genres all at once. Rambo is Tarzan, master of the jungle and jungle tactics. Rambo is Mike Hammer, taking vengeance (the main bad guy always gets it good). Rambo is John Wayne – in the current film, he’s specifically the surrogate father of The Searchers– with horseback action heavy in numbers three and five.

But this new film makes it clear, too, that every Rambo is an inverted horror film of the slasher variety – he is Jason or Michael Myers as the hero, stalking and killing and sometimes in a shockingly amusing fashion. Stallone is a master at talking to all our worst but also best instincts – family is important in these films, loyalty and friendship (another Hammer quality), even compassion.

If Rambo (2019) is a smaller film than the preceding entry, and perhaps not quite as epic as what would appear to be the final chapter might be, it’s a terrific action movie, well-executed with a legendary, charismatic star at its center.

What has made many of my fellow liberals, particularly those farther left than yours truly, go apoplectic, is that the bad guys are Mexicans. They ignore an obvious fact: so are most of the good guys – the Hispanic daughter, her grandmother, a doctor who tends to Rambo, the female journalist who helps him and whose own sister went down the same horrifying path as Rambo’s surrogate daughter. Idiots who see the shot of the Trump border fence (actually erected under Obama) see proof that this film is one big red MAGA hat. They don’t notice that the next shot shows Mexican bad guys coming out of a tunnel under that “big beautiful wall,” delivering them in the good ol’ USA.

The reviewers, whose gentle sensibilities have been ruffled by a straight-forward revenge melodrama, seem convinced this film was designed to pander to Trump lovers. I just watched the special features on the previous Rambo movie – the one that came out in 2007 – where in the “making of” documentary, Stallone tells the story of the film to come – Rambo back in Arizona, with the surrogate daughter who goes to Mexico and gets kidnapped into prostitution. This would have been conceived around 2005 – uh, Trump wasn’t president then, was he? I forget. Yet I do recall the review I quoted that insisted the film was inspired by Trump’s campaign announcement speech.

Why does Dave Morrell hate the new film? He has said it left him feeling “degraded and dehumanized.” I understand the complicated feelings writers have about their work being adapted to the screen. I also understand how frustrating it is to be left out of the creative process (Rambo’s creator had some early talks with Stallone about the story, but they stopped in 2016). When my Quarry was adapted for Cinemax, the most distinctive aspect of the character – his dark sense of humor – was largely gone. But I got over it. Well, I cashed the check.

I’m not a close friend of Dave’s, but we’re friendly acquaintances who shared a mentor in Don Westlake. Dave taught at Iowa City and I used to run into him now and then; we would talk, mostly about Westlake.

One memorable encounter between us in Iowa City, at a bookstore – Prairie Lights, I believe – we have both written about. He had been offered the novelization job for Rambo II and was uneasy about accepting it. Here’s his version from his website:

I killed Rambo (in the novel First Blood), and now in the novelizations he would be alive. The logic really bothered me. One day, I crossed paths with my writer friend, Max Allan Collins (among other things, he wrote the wonderful graphic novel, Road to Perdition), who said that the problem was easily solved. “Just add an author’s note,” he told me, “in which you say something like, ‘In my novel First Blood, Rambo died. In the films, he lives.’” So that’s what I did.

Two other ironies or at least odd resonances occur to me. First, I had not written any novelizations yet when I suggested Dave ought to take that gig. Second, the next time I ran into him, he was doing a book signing at B. Dalton in an Iowa City mall, and Barb and I were on our way to see Rambo II in that mall’s theater. I believe he was signing the novelization, and I think he signed one to me, but I’ll be damned if I know what became of it.

Dave and I have a bond. We created (as best we can tell) the first two Vietnam vet PTSD anti-heroes in Rambo and Quarry. And we both based those heroes, at least in part, on Audie Murphy.

Here’s what I know about David Morrell: he is a great guy and a great writer. I respect his opinion on the latest Rambo film, and hope he will tolerate mine.

* * *

Check out this amazing podcast largely about Quarry, and specifically about Quarry’s Choice. The reviewer (there are two, both of whom like the Quarry character, one a huge fan) puts Quarry and me in a pantheon of three, the others being Richard Stark and Parker, and Donald Hamilton and Matt Helm. I admit to be blown away by being compared to these greats.

Here’s a fun You Tube review of Ms. Tree: One Mean Mother.

The excellent True West magazine gives me a nice boost for Last Stage to Hell Junction in their current issues and on their website.

Finally, here’s a terrific review of Scarface and the Untouchable…from a gun enthusiast!

M.A.C.

Must Be Raining, ‘Cause We’re Talking Arc

Tuesday, September 24th, 2019

Paperback:
E-Book: Amazon Google Play Nook Kobo iTunes

This going to be very brief, as I am starting work on the new Mike Hammer (Masquerade for Murder), again working from a Spillane synopsis with a few snippets of his prose to work in. The early chapters are always the hardest, getting the tone, getting into the swing of it, and just generally building momentum.

I had a nice response last week from readers interested in getting advance copies of Do No Harm. Interestingly – and disappointingly – not a one asked to see Girl Can’t Help It. I hope readers of Quarry, Heller, Hammer and so on will give this series a fair try. This book has particular meaning for me because I’ve finally – after all these years – really engaged with my rock ‘n’ roll background in the telling of a crime story.

As it happens, I already have on hand Advance Reading Copies (ARC’s) of Girl Can’t Help It, but am hesitant to start sending any out, since the book won’t be available till March 10.

As for Do No Harm, I have yet to ascertain whether there will be Advance Reading Copies at all – if we have to wait till the actual book exists, that will complicate getting reviews out there early enough to do any good. Publishers are starting to send out mostly e-book versions of ARC’s, which sucks. Stay tuned.

I also have not received a supply of Killing Quarry ARC’s, but some are finding their way into reviewer’s hands. A nice write-up is included below.

The readers who wrote interested in doing reviews (thank you, all of you) are mostly veterans of the Book Giveaway Wars here (and there will be more of those). I am building a list (finally) of you loyal reviewers. But I’m frustrated that so few bloggers and other on-line reviewers were a definite minority among those who responded.

Apologies for the brevity this time, but here are some interesting links to make up for it.

This one is a review of Quarry, the first novel I wrote about the character (not the chronological first – that’s The First Quarry), and the third novel I wrote if we start with Bait Money as the opening gun. (Mourn the Living proceeded it, but didn’t get published till years later. Also, there were four full-length novels written by me in my junior high and high school years, never published…thank God…but the reason why I got fairly proficient early on.

This is another nice write-up, mostly about the Quarry books, from a reader who admits having trouble keeping up with me. Here’s the thing, for those who are dealing with my prolific nature: first, I am trying to make a living; and second, I can only write books while I’m alive, so I’m using the time as best I can.

Here’s a write-up about comic book tough girls, and Ms. Tree gets some nice ink along the way.

And here’s that early Killing Quarry review I promised you.

M.A.C.

Confessions of a Laserdisc Fiend Pt. 3

Tuesday, July 9th, 2019

I know what you’ve been waiting for.

An update on my laserdisc adventure!

Here it is, anyway. The laserdisc player I ordered was a dud. I did receive a refund for it, but that meant trying again, which I did with trepidation. But the new (I should say “new”) player arrived and works great. I am amazed by how good the discs look and think their analogue nature may explain that. They sound wonderful.

Laserdisc collecting was an obsession I truly enjoyed pursuing throughout the 1990s. While I’ve continued on with DVDs and Blu-rays, the thrill of those 12″ silver discs has never been equaled. It’s very similar to the difference between collecting CDs and 12″ vinyl albums. Now, I have not gotten back on board with collecting vinyl – I prefer CDs, having grown up frustrated by pops and clicks and scratches.

But those big album covers, often folding out, and with extensive liner notes and pictures…what a trip that was! How I loved record albums as a kid, and even into adulthood. I still have all my Bobby Darin LPs (in both stereo and mono) (and a second set of sealed copies) (what a shock) and Kim Wilde and Blondie and…quite a few others, still. Bobby Rydell. Selected soundtracks and Broadway musical albums.

Laserdisc collecting, a hobby I have now renewed (after selling hundreds of them cheap over the last ten years), provides a similar buzz with their LP-like covers. But Blu-rays, and most DVDs, blow the lasers out of the water. Only two reasons (three, counting insanity) justify this nostalgic trip.

First, a good number of discs are of material that has not reached DVD (and may never). Oddball movies – B material and below, TV movies and so on – are what a collector like me is after, with ‘80s schlock often in video limbo. That kind of thing and – in particular – music. The discs I had held on to, when dumping anything I’d upgraded to DVD or Blu-ray, are about one third music – concerts and early video collections (“Eat to the Beat!”), everything from Sinatra to the Beatles, with lots of ‘60s and New Wave in the mix. Japan, where laserdisc was big (and even still is, to a degree) issued a lot of American musical material. Scads of British Invasion acts are represented, including the Animals, Them and the Yardbirds; and with New Wave there’s Kate Bush and Bangles and Kim Wilde and Blondie and Elvis Costello and the Cardigans and a bunch more.

(Porn and R-rated Playboy smut might be of interest to some. I, of course, am more refined, as readers of Quarry’s Climax are aware.)

Some of the stuff I’ve been picking up on e-bay, but I already owned a good deal of it, languishing for wont of a hooked-up laserdisc player and a vintage tube TV. (For those who came in late, laserdiscs look awful on flat-screen TVs.)

My son Nathan, home for the July 4th holiday with his bride Abby and kids Sam and Lucy, has enough hipster in him to be mildly impressed by my retro shenanigans. He has helped me select a better stand for my 21″ inch TV with laserdisc player beneath (hasn’t arrived yet – and I will have to talk Barb into assembling it for me) (I am not a man’s man, even if I do write Mike Hammer).

And so, for now, my laserdisc adventure concludes, and yet it continues. Seems so right somehow.

* * *

Even as I spend my late evenings watching laserdiscs featuring acts like the Dave Clark Five, Ike and Tina Turner (what a happy couple!), Dusty Springfield, the Hollies and the Kinks, my own rock ‘n’ roll adventure continues to wind down.

On the 4th of July, Crusin’ played at the Missippi Brew in their beer garden to a nice, and appreciative, crowd. (My buddy Stu Rosebrook, editor of True West magazine, dropped by with his family for the fireworks.) The weather was much better than our recent gig at the Muscatine Art Center, but it was indeed hot and we played around three-and-a-half hours…a long, long time at my age.

The following day I was so wiped out I feared I was back in a-fib. I hadn’t felt so lousy since I was recovering from my hospital stay, and I was worried, as was Barb. But in a day or so, I was back to normal (so to speak), so it becomes ever more clear that my rocking days are winding down. We have three gigs left, I believe, this season. I still intend to make one more original material CD and then do a farewell appearance next summer.

* * *

No politics, but as a true patriot I cannot help but recall the words of Paul Revere via Longfellow: “One if by land, two if by sea, three if by air!”

* * *

Here’s the first (great) Killing Quarry review from longtime Quarry booster, Ron Fortier.

This review of Murder, My Love is pretty good, too.

Finally, out of the blue, came this review of the Ms. Tree prose novel, Deadly Beloved.

M.A.C.

Inspiration, Perspiration and Exasperation

Tuesday, January 29th, 2019

Paperback:
E-Book: Amazon Google Play Nook Kobo iTunes

USS Powderkeg will be available on February 1. You are unlikely to find it in a bookstore, so go to Amazon or Barnes & Noble or BAM! iTunes has it, too – read about that here.

Info about the book itself is available at Brash Books.

We have used the cover before, but this book – finally under my preferred title with my revised text – is important to me and will require some effort on your part to lay hands on it. This is the novel based on my late father’s experiences in World War II as one of a handful of white officers on an ammunition ship whose crew was otherwise African-American.

After shrugging off our disappointment at Scarface and the Untouchable not getting nominated for an Edgar – my “shrugging off” included expressing how pissed off I was, on Facebook – my co-author, A. Brad Schwartz and I are digging in to make some corrections and additions to the upcoming trade paperback edition (June 4).

This will include a new preface as well as bonus material (in the style of DVD extras) that will focus on the newly discovered case file of one of the Untouchables, which serves to underscore and further verify our conclusions about Ness and how he and his team have been underestimated and short-changed by history.

We are also prepping for a visit to the Mob Museum in Las Vegas over Valentine’s Day, about which more will appear here next week. Brad has also been out on the stump by himself somewhat, as I have been burrowed in, here in very cold Iowa, working on novels. Yesterday day I completed the new Quarry novel, Killing Quarry – although I will be re-reading it and tweaking it and such for a few days this week.

Anyway, among Brad’s adventures in promoting our book (did I mention the criminal overlooking of this major tome by the MWA true crime committee?) included this fine interview.

Speaking of the MWA committee’s neglect, someone I trust has suggested the intimidating length of the book probably put some or all of the committee members off. I suspect some truth might be found in that opinion. Having served on MWA committees, I know it’s a fact of life that the committee members are swamped with books to read in full. On the other hand, the advance notices (particularly the fine mini-review from Grand Master Sara Paretsky) should have encouraged them to do so, anyway.

What can you do to help make the pain go away? Well, if you attend Bouchercon this year, you can vote for Scarface and the Untouchable in the non-fiction Anthony Awards category.

I know I plan to.

Hey, I realize this is undignified and sour grapes and boo-hoo-hoo. I have a love/hate relationship with awards, anyway (love to be nominated, hate not to be, and also losing). But awards as respected as the Edgars bring new readers to the nominated works and especially those that win. They have importance only in that regard, because otherwise it’s just a bunch of subjective nonsense.

I feel much the same way about reviews. I want good reviews not because I need validation, but because more readers will come to the books. I would be lying if I said bad reviews don’t matter to me, because they do, and not just in the sense that they discourage readers (sometimes, oddly enough, such reviews don’t always work that way). But it hurts to have something you’ve put hard work into savaged and/or dismissed, particularly when a smart reviewer nails you for something you’re guilty of.

What hurts about Scarface and the Untouchable is the work, and the years of research, that went into it. I am less angry about this for myself and more for my co-author, whose research (building on my original research in Heller and Ness novels) has upended conventional wisdom about Capone and his tax woes, and Ness and the lack of respect and credit he gets, from those who resent how Hollywood portrayed him. Brad did a stellar, mind-boggling job.

He deserved better.

* * *

As I mention, I finished Killing Quarry yesterday, and will dig into minor revisions throughout the rest of the week. I have a particularly full plate this year, which is why I have written three novels in four months – Murder, My Love with Mike Hammer; the Caleb York novel, now entitled Hot Lead, Cold Justice (my original title, The Big Die-Off, deemed too obscure); and now Killing Quarry. Very shortly I will begin serious work on Girl Can’t Help It, the prequel to the forthcoming Girl Most Likely, a task for which I’ve allowed several months. This will be followed by my draft of Antiques Fire Sale (Barb’s working on her draft now), which I have allowed another month for.

This is, of course, insane. Why do I work so hard? Why is somebody who has five doctor’s appointments with specialists this month behaving like this? Should I slow down? Barb thinks I should.

But I like doing this. I really do. And – while I feel fine and all my reports so far (the dentist today) have been positive – when you are 70 and in a month or so will be 71, you sense that maybe you don’t have all the time left in the world to tell your stories.

And I came here to tell stories.

All of which is prelude to what I want to discuss today. Would you agree that everybody has bad days? Various kinds of bad days, of course – from the simple out-of-sorts day to the depressed-about-bad-news day (not getting an Edgar nomination for a ground-breaking book, to just pull an example out of the air) to the nothing-is-going-right day to…you get the idea.

Now I’m not talking about a sick day (in my business, cold and flu generally don’t count – open-heart surgery does) or a day when tragedy has struck a loved one or friend. Nothing like that. Your favorite aunt dies? Take the day off with my blessing!

No, just that typical terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

When you are writing on a six-day-a-week schedule, with a deadline bearing down, you write anyway. Writer’s block is not allowed, and I never have it, anyway. Recently I thought I had finally encountered this mysterious, possibly mythical beast – I could not get a single workable thing on paper. I always start with a rough draft, knowing that I’m creating the clay for me to shape into sculpture. But this time, I couldn’t get anything on paper worth building on.

Why?

Well, turned out I was effing exhausted! Just flat-out fried. So I took a two-hour nap, as elderly folk are wont (and permitted) to do. When I got up from my snooze, the words flowed. Maybe not like wine, but definitely Coca Cola.

During the writing of Killing Quarry, I had perhaps three bad days – one of them Edgar-related, which of course I won’t go into. Ironically, one of that sorry trio was the last day of the process – the day on which the crucial last chapter was written.

Knowing I was facing a key part of my story, I considered taking the day off – it was Sunday, after all – and just letting my batteries recharge. But I hadn’t run this race to goof off just shy of the finish line. Plus, all of the plot stuff was filling my brain and assembled into good order – I knew exactly what needed doing.

So I did it.

It was something of a slog. I usually do three drafts of every chapter, then give it to Barb, who gives me notes, and I make minor corrections and revisions (sometimes they’re major – Barb has great story sense), and I’m done till the final read-through. Yesterday I did three drafts, took an hour nap, then came back and did another draft. Barb did her read-through and I made a few revisions and corrections from her notes. If you’re keeping score, that’s an additional draft or pass on the chapter.

Now, here is the lede I’m burying (why is it spelled “lede” not “lead”?) (and why don’t I just Google that and not bother you about it?): how does inspiration figure into a working fiction writer’s process?

I would imagine all of us have bursts of inspiration, sometimes entire work session-long ones. Maybe some writers feel inspired for days or even weeks – trust me, they don’t feel like that all the way through a project. Everybody has bad days, remember?

There are two kinds of writers – the ones who can only write on their inspired days, and who navel-gaze on their (many) off days; and the writers who are thankful for the inspired days that God or luck or somebody or some thing grants them, and who on their bad days soldier on. March through the mud to victory, or at least the end of the work day.

Now here is the real dirty little secret about inspiration – the inspired work and the struggle-to-get-through-it work are always of the same quality. When you go back and read through your story or novel, and recall the passages that came easily as if by automatic writing, those passages won’t be any better or worse than the stuff that came hard.

Or anyway those passages shouldn’t be.

Inspiration is just the days the work is going well. If you are any good at all as a writer, you will develop standards that you will not allow yourself to fall below, before you press on. You stay at it till the work you had to work hard at reads just as well as the work that came easy.

* * *

This story about Black Panther’s Oscar nominations mentions a certain other comics-derived film that once-upon-a-time received five nominations (hint: Road to Perdition).

A cry goes out to reprint the Marshall Rogers Batman comic strip. Who was it wrote that again? (Hint: me.)

Finally, Scarface and the Untouchable made Otto Penzler’s Mysterious Bookshop best of the year list, as chosen by the staff – see “Mike’s Picks” on page three.

M.A.C.