Posts Tagged ‘Mourn the Living’

Barb’s Mom and Writing From Experience

Tuesday, May 11th, 2021

Barb’s mother passed away last week. I mention this not to initiate a flood of condolence wishes, which since Barb does not use Facebook might fall on deaf ears anyway. Dorothy Carolyn Jensen Mull was 97 and had endured a long bedridden convalescence, although saying Dot’s passing was a “blessing” in a way does not make it any easier for Barb and her six siblings.

I mention it here because Dorothy deserves thanks and recognition for inspiring, to a degree, the character Vivian Borne in the Antiques cozy mystery series that Barb and I write. This is not to say that Dot was a zany eccentric or a local theater diva – neither was the case. But she was highly spirited and for a number of years went antiquing with Barb from this flea market to that garage sale. This led to Barb and her mom running a booth at an antiques mall together for a good number of years, which was a major inspiration for the book series.

And I am happy to say that Dot enjoyed the Trash ‘n’ Treasures mysteries, which in her later years (with her eyesight failing) were read to her by Barb’s sister Anne.

I go into this in part because it speaks to Barb’s methods and mine where it comes to writing fiction. Though we work in a genre with its own conventions and (to use the tiresome current favorite term) tropes, we both instill elements from our own experience in our storytelling. The psychologist character in the Antiques books draws from Barb’s sister Cindi, yes, a psychologist. Barb has an older sister just as Brandy Borne does, although past a few superficial similarities the resemblance ends there. She also has a sister, Kathe, whose work in Broadway theater impacted our novel, Antiques Con. My brother-in-law Gary inspired a friend of Quarry’s who has somehow managed not to get killed, either in real life or fiction.

This kind of thing goes back to the earliest days of my career, when I was first able to inject elements of my real life into my crime-fiction fantasy. Mourn the Living had an Iowa City setting and reflected the hippie era there when I was in college. Bait Money finds Nolan and Jon robbing the bank where Barb was working at the time; she provided me with their security protocols!

Even in writing historical fiction I draw upon my own experiences. I wouldn’t have written The Titanic Murders if I hadn’t read in grade school a Tab book club edition of Jacque Futrelle’s The Thinking Machine. Getting betrayed by my best friend from high school (who embezzled from me) played a part in any number of my novels in the last twenty years, including Quarry’s Ex, which also drew upon my experiences making indie movies.

Anyway, it’s a lesson aspiring writers in any genre should take to heart. Don’t just write out of the books you’ve read and movies and TV you’ve seen. Draw on your experiences even in the context of mystery fiction or s-f or westerns or…really, any genre.

And one last thing – thank you, Dorothy. You inspired me, through your daughter and your own unique spirit.

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Scarface and the Untouchable Cover

Scarface and the Untouchable – the Capone/Ness non-fiction work by Brad Schwartz and me – hit the entertainment news last week. CBS is exercising their option to pick up the property for a series and it’s going to Showtime. We’ll see if it happens.

Read about it here, where you’ll discover my middle name is “Allen” and that apparently no one but me (and you) remembers that this all began with The Untouchables TV series starring Robert Stack.

* * *

Barb and I went to a movie at the local theater for the first time since the pandemic hit – something like fourteen months. We are, as you may be aware, frequent moviegoers and it was definitely strange to be back doing something so familiar after over a year and a half away from it. The theater did a good job with every other row blocked off and masks in the outer areas. We went at an off-time (3:30 pm on a Sunday) and were among perhaps seven other moviegoers.

The film was terrific – Wrath of Man, starring Jason Stratham and directed by Guy Ritchie. I like Ritchie’s films very much – he is essentially the UK’s Tarantino. It’s a very hardboiled crime story and not for the faint of heart (or the five year-old whose parents took her to this screening), minus the humor and quick cutting of most Ritchie films. This has more of a Richard Stark feel than the Parker film Stratham starred in a few years ago.

* * *

Here’s a wonderful review of Shoot-out at Sugar Creek, the new Caleb York.

And another.

Jeez, maybe you guys ought to read this one.

M.A.C.

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.

* * *

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.

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.

Tweaking (Not Drug-Related)

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2015
Better Dead by Max Allan Collins

The work over the past week, and the work ahead during the week after Christmas, is a part of the career of writing that is little discussed. But it’s key to the process.

Over the period of a week, I read and corrected the galley pages of three novels of mine – THE BIG SHOWDOWN (the second Caleb York), ANTIQUES FATE (by Barb and me as “Barbara Allan”), and BETTER DEAD (the McCarthy-era Nate Heller). The latter is a long manuscript, almost the length of the previous two combined.

This stage marks the last chance for a writer to catch goofs, seek out typos and make final revisions and tweaks. Oftentimes, the production person scolds the writer in advance about making any changes. The attitude is that the book is finished and it would be too costly to make any changes that don ‘t address typos or outlandish errors. I ignore this admonition, although I keep my tweaking to a minimum and rarely rewrite unless I really have come across an outright error.

But these final tweaks are often the difference between a smooth read and a rough one. I noticed with BETTER DEAD something that happens too frequently in my work: the last few chapters can have a rushed quality, because I am gathering steam and racing toward the ending – much as a reader of an exciting novel reads faster, even skimming, to get to the end. In BETTER DEAD’s near 400 pages, I found next to nothing in the first 2/3’s, but quite a bit in the final third. These tweaks represent nuance via word choice and sometimes the elimination of repeated words.

To me this is vital part of the writing process – that final polish, and a read that occurs several months after the initial writing, which breeds better objectivity. True, I’ve had a chance to view the novel in the copy-edited form a month or so before the galley proofs arrive. But with a copy-edited manuscript, my focus goes to the changes that the copy editor has made, each of which has to be thought through – sometimes copy editors are right, like a stopped clock.

Next up are the galley proofs of MURDER NEVER KNOCKS (the Mike Hammer novel previously announced as DON’T LOOK BEHIND YOU) and QUARRY IN THE BLACK. I also hope to put together a collection of the Mike Hammer short stories I’ve developed from shorter fragments in Mickey’s files; these have appeared in the STRAND, mostly. I’m talking about such a collection with Otto Penzler at Mysterious Press. I need to read my stories and determine what order they should appear in, and I’ll want to write an introduction.

For me it’s a luxury not to be working on a novel over Christmas week – as I often have – and attending to some of the less-glamorous aspects of the writing trade (well, there aren’t really any glamourous aspects to it, unless Hollywood buys something) is a good way to get something done without spoiling your own holiday season, and that of the others in your life.

* * *

I’ve discussed the oddity of reading current reviews of early works, but nothing tops reading a write-up about MOURN THE LIVING, which was my first novel and introduced Nolan…and was written almost fifty years ago. It’s a book I would be loathe to re-read, but in some respects it’s the most important one I ever wrote, as it’s the novel that Richard Yates read that convinced him to invite me into his Writers Workshop class at the University of Iowa. So much of my career has flowed from Yates as my mentor. On the other hand, I always like reading good reviews like this one.

Of course, Hard Case Crime has been reprinting the early QUARRY novels, but late in 2016 they will be publishing a brand-new one, QUARRY IN THE BLACK. Read about it here and get a look at the fantastic cover.

One of those QUARRY HCC reprints has made a stocking stuffers list at the Geek Hard Show. Festive little write-up!

Here’s yet another one of those “best movies that you didn’t know were based on comics” lists. But ROAD TO PERDITION is treated very nicely, so check it out.

That same website – Talking Comic Books – has an interesting podcast (well over an hour) in which a number of film buffs discuss the film of ROAD TO PERDITION in a lively fashion. One oddity, at least from my POV: the guy who says ROAD TO PERDITION is his favorite movie has never bothered to read the graphic novel. In fact, for a podcast that’s part of Talking Comic Books, one might think the graphic novel would get more than one fleeting mention. But that’s all it rates. Still, there’s some fun to be had and some intelligent commentary to be heard.

Finally – Merry Christmas! Or Merry Whatever You Celebrate, as long as it doesn’t involve sacrificing a goat.

M.A.C.