Posts Tagged ‘Ms. Tree: The Cold Dish’

Happy Birthday, Mike Hammer – All Year!

Tuesday, January 11th, 2022

So it’s 2022 and that makes it the 75th anniversary of Mike Hammer.

More specifically, it’s the 75th anniversary of the publication of I, the Jury (1947), the first Hammer novel. The character, arguably, begins with Mike Lancer, who appeared in one story written by Spillane and drawn by Harry Sahle, “Mike Lancer and the Syndicate of Death,” in Harvey’s Green Hornet comic in 1942. Lancer became Mike Danger, although none of the comics stories were published till 1954.

Kill Me If You Can cover
E-Book: Google Play Kobo

If you’ve been following this update/blog, you may recall that we have a lot of special things in store this year for the Hammer birthday celebration. I have used several unproduced TV scripts by Mickey to write the 2022 novel, Kill Me If You Can, available in August (and for pre-order now). The book is the prequel to The Girl Hunters (1962) and deals with the missing period between it and Kiss Me, Deadly (1952), showing how Hammer dealt with Velda’s disappearance and apparent demise. (Hint: not well.)

But wait, there’s more: in addition to the full-length novel, we are including five short stories written by me from unpublished Spillane material; this includes two Hammer stories and three others in the Hammer-verse. These stories have appeared in The Strand, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and Mystery Tribune, and are collected here for the first time. I am very grateful to Titan publishers Vivian Cheung and Nick Landau and editor Andrew Sumner for giving me this opportunity to make the 2022 Mike Hammer book something really special.

Again, if you’ve been following these updates at all, you’re aware that Jim Traylor and I have completed Spillane – King of Pulp Fiction, the long-in-the-works biography of Mickey. It’s in the hands of Mysterious Press publisher Otto Penzler who, after some tweaks and minor rewrites, has sent the book into copyediting. In recent weeks I’ve compiled the photos for the book and written captions, all of which have been approved by Jim and which are now in the hands of my son Nate to prepare them for the book designer.

I don’t have an official pub date yet, but the idea is for the biography to be out toward the end of this birthday year.

Additionally, I am working with Wolfpack editors Paul Bishop and James Reasoner, as well as publisher Mike Bray, to bring out several major Spillane books during this celebratory year. First, a collection of Mickey’s YA adventures novels will for the first time gather all three of those books into one volume, The Shrinking Island, named for the previously unpublished final book in the Josh and Larry trilogy. Hardcore Spillane fans have been waiting for this for a long time.

In addition, I have novelized and expanded Mickey’s unproduced screenplay, The Menace – the only work of his that was designed as a horror property – into a novel. Wolfpack will be bringing that out this year, possibly under their recently acquired Rough Edges Press imprint.

Finally, I am in the process of putting together a collection of Spillane’s short fiction – not all that short, because mostly this is novellas – plucked from two long out-of-print collections I edited (Tomorrow I Die and Together We Kill). This new book – Stand Up and Die! – will excise from previous two collections assorted non-fiction and non-mystery-fiction works and leave only vintage Spillane crime yarns.

Included will be a new edit by me of “The Night I Died,” the Mike Hammer short story that marked the only Hammer collaboration between Mickey and me during his lifetime (we of course worked on the revival of Mike Danger together). It is based on an unproduced radio play Mickey wrote around 1953. I am taking a new look at it because I now feel it was too literally a translation of the script.

The novellas, including the title one and the little-seen “Hot Cat” (aka “The Flier”), are particularly strong. This will be a fine addition to the books published in the Hammer birthday year.

In addition, I am working with Bob Deis, the mastermind behind Men’s Adventure Quarterly, to present a raft of other Spillane novellas in at least one collection including the original men’s adventure magazine illustrations.

We had great success with Mickey’s 100th birthday celebration a few years ago; this represents a new – and perhaps last – bite at the apple. I hope to do a few more Hammer novels for Titan, including Mickey Spillane’s The Time Machine (originally Mike Danger but now Mike Hammer) before wrapping up the saga. And if Wolfpack is successful with the Spillane publications above, I have one more unproduced Mickey screenplay to novelize and half a dozen novels he began that are waiting to be finished.

I’m sorry to report that Kensington has not requested a new Caleb York, but Wolfpack has been very successful with their western line, and – again, depending on how these Spillane titles to for them – we may see Caleb (and me) back in the saddle. I don’t have a pub date, but I think Kensington will still be bringing out Shoot-out at Sugar Creek in a mass market edition as yet another Spillane title in the Hammer anniversary year.

As usual, the success of all this is in your hands.

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Here’s a very smart review of the new Hard Case Comics Ms. Tree collection from Titan, third in the series.

Check out this fabulous review of Fancy Anders Goes to War from Ron Fortier.

Some interesting thoughts about the film version of Road to Perdition here.

This list of the best mysteries of all time includes a number of my titles. Aw shucks, he said. About time, he thought.


Processing Spillane and Heller

Tuesday, November 23rd, 2021

I should probably dispense with asking you to buy and then Amazon-review both Fancy Anders Goes to War and The Many Lives of Jimmy Leighton (co-written by the great Dave Thomas). I won’t even remind you what wonderful Christmas gifts they would make.

I just have too much class for that.

Instead, I’ll talk about process this week. Who doesn’t love process? A few weeks ago I touched on the challenges and difficulties of Spillane: King of Pulp Fiction, co-written with James L. Traylor. We are waiting with anticipation for the editorial notes to come back, which will require tweaking but I hope nothing major, as I am very proud of my draft, and Jim likes it, too.

What surprised me was reading all the material about Mickey I’d gathered going back to my junior high days – I literally used the scrapbook I kept, because it had various articles and reviews pasted in among my carbons of indignant letters to anti-Spillane reviewers and my cartoony portraits of Mickey. What I hadn’t anticipated was the picture all of that material would paint when, for the first time, I read it all at once…not just in dribs and drabs as articles and such first appeared.

I feel like I put together pieces of the Spillane puzzle that had eluded me, despite my close personal relationship with the man for the last 25 years of his life. Many assumptions I’d made – and had cockily presented as fact in various pieces and introductions about Mickey and his work over the recent years – proved short-sighted…not wrong exactly, but lacking nuance.

For example, I no longer think his conversion to the Jehovah’s Witnesses had anything much to do with the near decade-long respite he took from novel writing. I do think his style shifted, and the violence and sex were both more restrained; but not absent. Re-reading The Deep recently, I saw how he used the threat of impending violence to create a story about a tough hero who really only kills once, and then in self-defense. In The Girl Hunters, Hammer kills nary a soul, though he does trick the “evil one” (as Traylor puts it) into self-destruction.

This probably had as much to do with his attempt to develop as a writer and to respond through his work to the incredibly unfair and even vicious attacks upon him throughout the 1950s. Other than perhaps Elvis Presley, no figure in popular culture had ever seen so much success and, simultaneously, so much condemnation. But the bio will, for the first time, reveal the major reason he stopped writing novels at his popular peak.

Writing about Eliot Ness with Brad Schwartz was a similar experience for me. So often Ness had been presented as a glory hound when the research showed he was primarily responding to pressure from above to get positive press. Additionally, things routinely dismissed by the Ness naysayers – including events reported in his autobiographical The Untouchables (mostly ghosted by sportswriter Oscar Fraley) – turned out to have really happened. It shouldn’t have been surprising to learn that Eliot Ness was actually Eliot Ness, but it was.

The Big Bundle Cover, Without text
The Big Bundle (Cover Sneak Peak)

And now, for the first time in several years, I am digging into the research for the upcoming Nathan Heller novel, The Big Bundle (for Hard Case Crime). The case I’m dealing with – the Bobby Greenlease kidnapping of 1953 – is not as famous as most of those I’ve examined; it was at the time, but today it seems mostly forgotten. What gives it the needed household-name-crime aspect that a Heller novel requires is a sinister connection to Jimmy Hoffa and the Teamsters. It is, in fact, the first of two novels about Hoffa and Bobby Kennedy, although this first one focuses primarily on the Greenlease case.

The Heller process is an odd one. First I have to select the true crime that seems appropriate for Nate’s attention (and mine, and yours). Second, I have to familiarize myself enough with the crime to write a proposal to be submitted to an editor/publisher, who must first sign on before I start serious work. Once we’re at that stage, I have to dig into the research, where the proposal was just a superficial look at the case. The approach has always been to look at the subject as if I were preparing to write the definitive non-fiction treatment of the case and then write a private eye novel instead.

A real problem with the proposal stage is that I am only guessing what the book will be about. The in-depth research (you will not be surprised, many of you, that I am in touch with George Hagenauer right now) is what reveals the book to me. And it always surprises me.

Here’s a small example. In True Detective, in what is essentially the origin of Nate Heller, Heller sells out to the Chicago Outfit to get promoted from uniform to plainclothes – to become a detective. He fingers the fall guy (who is playing along) to get somebody blamed and put away for the publicity-attracting murder of reporter Jake Lingle. The willing patsy, very minor in all of this but a seminal part of Heller’s story, is a real-life low-level mob guy named Leo Vincent Brothers.

So I’m researching The Big Bundle yesterday. For reasons I won’t go into right now, a taxi cab company run by a St. Louis racketeer named Joe Costello is instrumental in the story. I went in familiar with Costello in, again, only a superficial way – his name came up in the preliminary research and got him on my radar. So now, reading a book called A Grave For Bobby by James Deakin, I learn that Joe Costello’s partner in the taxi cab company…wait for it…was Leo Vincent Brothers.

This kind of thing always sits me on my ass. This tiny fact isn’t key to the story – it’s just an odd resonance, and a reminder that Heller’s life is just one long story, not really a succession of novels. Another name turned up yesterday, a Chicago thug with ties to the JFK assassination.

It would help if I had a steel-trap mind. But I don’t. I didn’t in my thirties and I really, really don’t in my seventies. So such discoveries send me scrambling back into the research.

In the meantime, I am looking for a way to insert Nate Heller into this narrative in a meaningful, credible way.

Wish me luck.

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Two brief Blu-ray recommendations.

Jack Irish Season 3, Blu-ray

Jack Irish Season 3 is out from Acorn. It’s the final season of this series (there are actually five seasons, but the first two were movie-length episodes) and it’s a four-hour movie, essentially – one story, wrapping up the series in a smart, thoughtful way. I will go so far as to say it’s one of the best wrap-ups of a series, certainly one of the most satisfying, I’ve ever seen.

Guy Pearce plays a solid modern version of a private eye in this Australian neo-noir with all the surviving regulars back. Three years have passed since the preceding series and the passage of time and the need to learn, grow and move on is the central theme.

Great series.

Speaking of great, Eddie Muller has delivered one of the best Blu-rays of the year in the Flicker Alley presentation of The Beast Must Die (La Bestia Debe Morir), a 1952 Argentinian noir based on the Nicholas Blake novel, The Beast Must Die. Blake was really Cecil Day-Lewis, a UK poet laureate who is also the father of actor Daniel Day-Lewis.

While it’s a bit pricey, the blu-ray is essential for noir enthusiasts, and if you spring for it, be sure to watch Muller’s introduction, which provides context and more, including how-to-watch Spanish-language melodrama of this period, i.e., the acting tends not to be subtle.

You can get it directly from Flicker Alley here.

The Beast Must Die Blu-Ray
The Beast Must Die Theatrical Poster
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Check out this lovely review of Fancy Anders Goes to War.

Here’s a Ms. Tree: The Cold Dish preview with info.

Also here.

I did a Mike Hammer interview for what, uh, appears to be an interesting magazine….


Ms. Tree #3, Some Shameless Begging & Two Great Movies

Tuesday, November 16th, 2021
Ms. Tree: The Cold Dish cover
Paperback: Bookshop Purchase Link Target Purchase Link

The third Ms. Tree collection is out today from Titan. It goes back to the beginning, including Ms. Tree’s first black-and-white origin tale from Eclipse Monthly, and continues on with the full color Eclipse issues that follow. Read about it here.

The latest book giveaway is now over and ten copies each of Fancy Anders Goes to War and The Many Lives of Jimmy Leighton are in the mail to the winners. Thanks to everyone who participated in this last MAC giveaway of 2021.

For those of you who are considering picking up copies of either Fancy or Jimmy – and I hope you will try them both – here’s a gentle reminder: you won’t find them in a brick-and-mortar store. These are, for now at least, exclusively available on Amazon.

Reasonably priced, I should add: Fancy is $2.99 on Kindle and $6.99 as a physical book; Jimmy is $3.99 on Kindle and a mere $8.99 as a physical book. Both are nice-looking books, too, with lovely Fay Dalton covers. Right now Fancy is sitting at Amazon at 7 reviews (and 24 ratings) with a 4.4 average. Jimmy has a mere three ratings and two reviews, although the rating is five stars.

I’m a little flummoxed by the lack-luster number of ratings for Jimmy, particularly after Dave Thomas and I have done so many podcasts and online interviews in support of it. A possible problem is that the interviewers (understandably) use the opportunity to talk to Dave about SCTV.

Anyway, I can use your help on both of these, as NeoText is a new and unconventional company, with its emphasis on e-books and developing properties that have movie and TV potential. So if you’ve read and liked either or both of these novels, please at least stop by Amazon and provide a rating, and better yet a review, however brief. If you like my work, NeoText provides a venue that seems particularly nurturing.

Wolfpack is similarly a very positive venue for me. They have some fun things coming where the John Sand series by Matt Clemens and me is concerned, and are going to be a big part of the 75th anniversary of Mike Hammer with a new (non-Hammer) novel by me from a Spillane screenplay and a collection of Mickey’s three middle-grade (kid) novels, including one previously unpublished. And there may be a collection of his crime novellas as well.

Yes, I know I harp on it. But buying these NeoText and Wolfpack books, and rating/reviewing them, will greatly impact how much – and whether – I can continue to bring you my brand of crime/mystery entertainment, which many of you are nice enough to say you enjoy.

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Something else I frequently harp on (this will not be a harangue, I promise) are reviewers and readers who complain about my detailed descriptions of clothing and settings – and descriptive passages in general. The peculiar thing about such complaints is that I am often complimented on my fiction being lean and fast-paced, which seems at odds with this other view.

Here’s the thing: I see myself as creating films on paper. I don’t mean, necessarily, that I’m trying to create something that can become a movie, although that’s fine with me – I can always use the money. I simply consider what I do to mirror filmmaking – and this view has become more pronounced since my time working as an indie filmmaker.

The obvious parallel might seem to be “director,” and that holds up in the sense that a film director (good ones, anyway) pull everything together, both before, during and after production. As Stephen King said (I paraphrase), “Movies are the least efficient way to tell a story known to man. Also the coolest.”

I don’t see myself as the director of a novel, however, but as the everything of a novel – wardrobe, lighting, location, casting, acting, and oh yes script. This relates to my obsession with controlling the narrative and to make the reader not an equal collaborator in the process. Some fiction writers desire a major level of collaboration from readers. That’s fine – perfectly okay. But my goal is to give readers – much as filmgoers at a movie – a shared experience. For them to “see” the same novel that I did.

Obviously that’s impossible – readers are by definition collaborators. They have to be. But, as I’ve said, sometimes my play (moving from film to theater in my tortured analogy) is performed on Broadway and sometimes at the Three Mile Island Community Playhouse.

This is, improbably, leading up to a brief discussion of two of my favorite movies – two terrific movies that I watched over the weekend because I had purchased new 4K Blu-rays of them: The Sting (1973) and (my favorite film) Vertigo (1958).

What The Sting and Vertigo have in common is Edith Head, costume designer. The costumes in both films are carefully designed to reflect the characters who wear them – no, not just “carefully,” but “brilliantly.” The Sting makes that point overtly as the complicated ruse the con men stage is essentially a play they mount, right down to costumes and characterizations (and props and sets). The production designer on The Sting used only a few real locations (in Chicago and Los Angeles) and instead mostly utilized the Universal backlot where the look could be controlled. The music, wrong by several decades but absolutely perfect, was used as mood-setting connective tissue under mostly silent scenes, often with establishing shots – much as descriptive opening paragraphs in novels function.

In Vertigo’s pre-production, Kim Novak – about to deliver a great performance that idiot critics in the ‘50s couldn’t discern – was upset about having to wear gray, pale make-up and such an near-platinum hair color. She didn’t understand that her director – Alfred Hitchcock – wanted to make a ghost out of her, a dreamy presence emerging from San Francisco fog. Edith Head went to Hitch with a list of Kim’s preferred colors, and Hitch said, “She may wear any color she likes as long as it’s gray.”

Kim Novak in Vertigo

The director also saw to it that the color green – the other color associated with Novak’s Madeline persona – be used throughout the film, often subtly. At times this is in Novak’s wardrobe, and even the color of her car. But also in an inquest’s dreary setting, where a few touches of green intrude significantly. In the scenes in Midge’s studio, where Scotty goes for comfort and friendly mothering, the many items representing the inhabitant’s artistic interests include a ghostly green mask of a beautiful woman, facing away from the room. It’s just a touch. You can watch the film five times and not notice it. But it’s there.

Now, I don’t have music to underscore things like Hitchcock does – I can mention songs playing in the background of a scene and I suppose that’s as close as I can come; lucky Hitch had Bernard Herrmann to create the single greatest film score of all time. And Hitchcock could choose Saul Bass for the opening credit sequence, whereas only rarely have I had a say in my book covers. Even a powerful director like Hitch couldn’t control exactly what Bass and Herrmann came up with, of course. But Hitchcock knew who he was choosing – knew what he was after.

Hitchcock was controlling. I am no Hitchcock, but I am just as controlling. I believe that wardrobe reveals character; so does where that character lives. Colors invoked are important. So is weather, no matter what Elmore Leonard thought. The things I choose to describe about setting are not random. They intend to create mood, among a dozen other things.

I could talk about Vertigo for hours and some day I may write about it in depth, much as I have Kiss Me Deadly, which is my second favorite film. (Others, as you may recall, include Chinatown, Gun Crazy and Phantom of the Paradise.)

This is not to say that in watching a movie we all have the same, exact experience. But we are exposed to the same data, and the way that data is presented limits the ways it can be interpreted.

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Sad but interesting story about Cinemax with many Quarry references….

Dave Thomas and I talk about The Many Lives of Jimmy Leighton here.


Not Another Book Giveaway! Plus Covering Ms. Tree

Tuesday, September 21st, 2021
Bombshell, Wolfpack edition cover
Paperback: Indiebound Purchase Link Bookshop Purchase Link Amazon Purchase Link Books-A-Million Purchase Link Barnes & Noble Purchase Link
E-Book: Amazon Purchase Link

We have ten copies to give away of the lovely new Wolfpack edition of Bombshell by Barbara Collins and me.

[All copies have been claimed! Thank you for participating, and check back soon for more giveaways. –Nate]

Bombshell is the historical espionage thriller in which Marilyn Monroe meets Nikita Khrushchev on his visit to America in 1959. It has been published previously with Barb receiving top billing, and again under our joint “Barbara Allan” pen name. I’ve been given top billing here to bring it in line with my other Wolfpack titles, but frankly Barb deserves more credit than I do – the novel springs from a short story of hers and reflects her long interest in (and expertise about) Marilyn Monroe.

Again, the main event this week is another chapter in my ongoing memoir, A Life in Crime, which I’ve done for NeoText to help promote Fancy Anders Goes to War, which comes out on October 5, with The Many Lives of Jimmy Leighton (by Dave Thomas and me) coming out October 25.

This week is the story of how Ms. Tree came to be, and includes a fantastic array of Terry Beatty’s cover art (and the covers by guest artists of the DC issues and the current Titan archival collections). It’s right here.

Ms. Tree: The Cold Dish cover
Paperback: Bookshop Purchase Link Target Purchase Link
* * *

Norm Macdonald made me laugh harder than anyone I can think of. His deadpan talk-show delivery of corny groaner punchlines after torturous build-ups seemed at odds with his razor-sharp surprising stand-up sardonic observations that shattered the boundaries of political correctness. With quietly self-amused fearlessness he tested what an audience would tolerate, flirting with the ugliness of dark humor yet consumed by a sunny Canadian decency and integrity. The nasty side of his humor was funny in part because he seemed to have an innate sweetness as well as a sense of his own absurdity.

He was at his peak of popularity when he held the news desk at SNL, with two movies on the way, positioning him to be the next Bill Murray or Michael Keaton. But his gambler’s streak kept him from playing it safe, instinctively knowing that what he had to offer was his willingness to go where he shouldn’t like the class clown who faces expulsion but has one last crack to make about the teacher.

So when the boss at NBC, Don Ohlmeyer, ordered Norm to lay off the O.J. Simpson jokes, and the Michael Jackson digs too, Norm simply smiled that small sly smile and upped the ante. My favorite Norm moments were shared by the victim of those moments, prop comic Carrot Top, who showed real class here by sharing with an audience his own skewering.

Norm only topbilled two movies – Dirty Work and Screwed. Neither was loved by critics at the time, but both capture Norm at his best, in particular the dizzingly bad-taste exercise that is Dirty Work (“Note to self: making love to blow-up doll is not as good as advertised”). And Screwed teams Norm with Dave Chappelle, with Elaine Stritch and Danny DeVito offering delightfully unhinged support.

In this humorless, uptight era, the death of Norm Macdonald is the death of comedy.

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This podcast interview with me becomes available today.