Posts Tagged ‘On Writing’

Hey Kids – Despair and Frustration!

Tuesday, October 1st, 2019

I received an e-mail from a loyal reader and good friend to me and my work, who expressed the following concern: “It is probably just my imagination, but…this week’s and last week’s posts seem to have a certain edge of despair and/or frustration about them. Hope all is well.”

I didn’t answer this directly, but will answer it now. Right here.

While “an edge of despair” goes too far, “frustration” does not. This is a frustrating time for me, and for a lot of working writers. Let’s restrict this to writers in the mystery/suspense genre, because that’s the world I know. But I can tell you there are some difficulties of the moment that are impacting probably everybody but the very upper reaches of fiction publishing – the consistent big sellers, and they undoubtedly have their own woes.

Among the problems – the realities – of publishing that have just begun to show themselves in a major way is the policy of many editors and especially publishers to no longer offer multiple book contracts. For much of my career, going back to the mid-‘70s, I would be offered three-book contracts. For somebody like me – prolific and working no “day job,” and dealing with multiple publishers – that has allowed me to be able to look ahead several years and know I have work. In other words, you know you have money coming in (and something to do with your time).

I have been very, very lucky. The only really slow patch came about when, on the same day back in 1993, I had my Nate Heller contract with Bantam cancelled and my Dick Tracy comic strip contract with Tribune Media Services not picked up for the usual five-year run. I was blessed by the friendship of two great men who are no longer with us: Ed Gorman and Martin Greenberg, who almost smothered me in short story assignments until I could get my career up and running again. From these ashes, rose both Road to Perdition and my movie/TV tie-in career.

Other than that rough stretch, made smooth by Ed and Marty, I have always known that I have a couple of years, at least, lined up, keeping me busy and the lights on.

But publishing itself is in a rough patch. I don’t have to go into any detail with anyone reading this about the ongoing changes in the industry – the disappearance of Border’s, the restructuring of Barnes & Noble, the death of many mystery bookstores, the dominance of Amazon and other on-line stores, self-publishing, Amazon’s own publishing, e-books, etc. Some of that stuff represents new opportunities; others represent empty stores with tumbleweed blowing through.

I benefitted greatly by having the bulk of my Nate Heller backlist picked up by Amazon’s Thomas & Mercer, who later picked up Mallory, the “disaster” series, and two thrillers by “Barbara Allan,” Regeneration and Bombshell.

But of late, many publishers – and I think soon most publishers – are offering authors one-book contracts for new work. That is not only troubling for those of us trying to figure out if we have work/income lined up more than a year, but it also presents creative problems. Take the Antiques series, which deals with an on-going storyline in addition to the self-contained mysteries – Barb and I have regularly figured out three-novel story arcs, which have greatly impacted the books creatively.

There is no such thing as a one-book arc.

Caleb York is now getting one book at a time, and I have built an ongoing storyline into that series as well. But a reality of one-book-a-time contracts means every book has to look over its shoulder and make sure that if it turns out to be the last novel, it will provide a satisfying conclusion to the series.

Hard Case Crime has been a huge boon and boost to me, and they have published more books by me than any other author (thanks, Charles!). But, hard as it may be to believe, I’ve never had more than a one-book contract from HCC (other than when they reprinted the early Quarrys in tandem with the Cinemax series).

Nathan Heller has always benefitted from multiple book contracts – the JFK Trilogy (Bye Bye, Baby; Target Lancer; Ask Not) is one of the major achievements of the saga, in my opinion. But Better Dead and the forthcoming Do No Harm were written on one-book contracts. I am looking at a two-book RFK cycle next, but can I find a house that will guarantee me two slots on their publishing schedule?

Girl Most Likely has done very well, but until we see how Girl Can’t Help It does, I won’t know if a third book will happen. This is both nerve-racking and frustrating. The book has done well – sales have been brisk, and the reviews at Amazon average four-stars…and there have been a lot of them (over 200).

But among those reviews were weak ones from several of the trades, complaining that the book was too much of a departure from my Heller/Quarry/Hammer norm. Some readers have complained similarly, and a really nasty two-star review (“What Is This?”) has headed up the Amazon reviews of the novel from the start, and is still there, discouraging sales.

Why do I read reviews? Often I don’t. Do I take them seriously? You bet I do. Why, because I can’t take criticism like any normal human? (Maybe.) But absolutely these on-line reviewers – bloggers who are courted by publishers now – are taken seriously by the editors and publishers who decide whether or not to offer another precious one-book contract to an author. How successful that writer’s track record is seems increasingly irrelevant, unless sales have been through the roof.

If you are interested enough in my work to click onto the links I provide here weekly, you already know that most of the reviews for Girl Most Likely have been very good. Mostly excellent, actually. But publishing takes the negative reviews more to heart than the positive ones – at least that’s how it feels to me.

One problem was that Girl Most Likely debuted in the UK a month before America, and racked up a number of reviews by females who didn’t like an old male writing about a young female (and that the secondary protagonist was also an old male), as well as readers who understandably don’t like America much right now (and those two groups seem to overlap). Most of those hateful reviews were channeled into Goodreads, which set Girl Most Likely up for an initially rough ride.


Trade paperback edition with new material.

There have been other frustrations. Scarface and the Untouchable: Al Capone, Eliot Ness and the Battle for Chicago by A. Brad Schwartz and myself is one of my proudest accomplishments (though Brad deserves much of the credit). It’s a massive, 700-page work that is probably the definitive work on this important, influential aspect of American history. We received not a single nomination for any of the major mystery awards. We were not reviewed in Mystery Scene or The Strand, although the book was much praised outside the genre (we were the Chicago Public Library’s Book of the Year and won a best audio award).

This is why I put so much emphasis on the importance of on-line reviews coming from those of you who are kind enough (and smart enough) to like my work. That’s why I do the book giveaways – and one is coming soon for Killing Quarry.

Also, thanks to those of you who wrote about your willingness to receive Advance Reading Copies of my stuff for review purposes. Right now I don’t know if Do No Harm is even getting ARCs…I’ll let you know. If not, finished copies closer to publication date will be made available, in part through another giveaway.

And you collectors out there who love classic tough guy stuff, like Hard Case Crime publishes, and wish HCC and others would reprint more great old novels…swell, but how about supporting some writers who are still alive? They need your love, and royalties, much more than dead guys. So when I suggest you write reviews on-line of my books, I also want to encourage you to do the same for any writers whose books you regularly read. Remember what the great Don Westlake said: “A cult author is a writer who is seven readers short of making a living.”

So, despair? Not really. Frustration? You betcha, Red Ryder.

And there’s another aspect to this that gets even more personal. At 71, with some health problems behind me (and, like anybody my age, more undoubtedly ahead of me), I am really less concerned with making a living now and more concerned with building the M.A.C. bookshelf…with expanding my legacy. A major part of that is making sure I can keep doing Heller. I have half a dozen more in mind, and in particular want to get the RFK duo done, as I’ve set that up so thoroughly in the previous novels.

So look for a major push for Do No Harm here, to help make another Heller…more Hellers…possible.

And I want to say that I don’t mean to be critical of my publishers and editors. They are navigating a tough, fluid world, where they’ve chosen to be because (like writers) they love books. I salute Titan, Hard Case Crime, Kensington, Morrow, and Thomas & Mercer for everything they’ve done for me and, so far anyway, continue to do.

And I have books coming out from every one – in some cases more than one.

And I can’t forget Brash Books, who have brought out in beautiful editions not only the prose Perdition trilogy (including the complete Road to Perdition movie novel) but Black Hats and USS Powderkeg, previously seen under the Patrick Culhane byline. (Powderkeg restores my preferred title to Red Sky in Morning and is somewhat revised.)

So will you stop bitching, Collins? You have been so damn lucky in your career! Shut-up and thank your readers for everything.

Next week: some good news on a couple of fronts.

* * *

Here’s a great review from Ron Fortier of the Caleb York novel, Last Stage to Hell Junction.

Urban Politico has a fun review of Seduction of the Innocent.

Here’s another of those “movies you didn’t know were based on comic books,” featuring a little something called Road to Perdition.

Scroll down for nice stuff about Ms. Tree, Killing Quarry and Mike Hammer (although the writer doesn’t realize there are two Collins-scripted Stacy Keach radio-style novels-for-audio).

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.

An “Antiques” Stocking Stuffer and the Walmart Big Time

Tuesday, December 11th, 2018

Yes, here I am with another selfless suggestion for something you might give to your loved ones or yourself at Yuletide.


Amazon Indiebound Books A Million Barnes and Noble

Antiques Ho-Ho-Homicides collects, for the first time, the three e-book novellas Barb and I did over the last five years. It’s a paperback (hence a perfect stocking stuffer), and I know some collectors out there prefer hardcovers, but “Barbara Allan” is thrilled that these stories are finally gathered in a real book.

If you are one of the hold-outs who like my stuff but can’t bring yourself to cross the cozy divide, Antiques Ho-Ho-Homicides is an inexpensive way to see Brandy and her mother Vivian in action. A sampler, if you will, and much tastier than those Whitman samplers some people insist upon giving you at Christmas.

I’ve discussed this before, but I still get questions about how Barb and I work together on the Antiques books, and how we stay married doing them. One aspect is that my office is on one floor and Barb’s is on another. But basically it’s this: Barb writes the first draft, and I write the final draft.

The less basic explanation is that Barb is the lead writer. Although I have more experience, and have been doing this longer, the books reflect her sensibilities and storytelling skills. We plot them together, but I stay out of the way while Barb prepares her draft. Sometimes we’ve described that as a rough draft, but really it’s not. Barb polishes each chapter thoroughly and, after at least six months of work, she gives me a perfectly readable and well-crafted novel that happens to be fifty or sixty pages shorter than what our contract requires.

My job is to further polish, and expand, and do lots of jokes. Barb has already done plenty of humor at this stage, but then I add more, with the result being that these novels are damn funny. Barb is wonderful about staying out of my way (as I’ve stayed out of hers, unless asked for input, during her creation of the initial draft). She claims to be so sick of the book at this point that she doesn’t care what I do to it.

This is not true.

She cares a lot, and will ask me why I’ve cut or changed something, and – when I tell her – will either agree or explain why (for plot or character reasons) (these are female point-of-view first-person novels) I need to restore what she originally wrote. Which I do.

The only time we’ve squabbled is when I’ve gotten crabby because I’m overworked. She will not tolerate snippiness. And I’ve been known on rare occasions (somewhat rare) (tiny bit rare) to be snippy, so there you go.

Consider Antiques Ho-Ho-Homicides our Christmas gift to you, except for the part where you have to pay for it.

Kensington publishes the Antiques novels, and also the Caleb York westerns. The accompanying photo will demonstrate that these Spillane/Collins westerns have hit the big time: we are in the Muscatine, Iowa, Walmart with The Bloody Spur! In fact, the Walmart chain bought a whole bunch of copies, and you can buy your copy at your local temple to the memory of Sam Walton.

The Antiques books haven’t made it into Walmart and probably won’t – the chain is very narrow about the kind of books they buy…mostly it’s romances, romantic westerns and westerns, plus a few bestsellers. Not a cozy in sight – not even an hilarious one like Antiques Ho-Ho-Homicides. How do they expect to stay in business?

Speaking of Antiques, here is a terrific review of Ho-Ho-Homicides at King River Life Magazine, which will give you a good idea of what to expect, including discussions of each novella.

Okay, now what you’re wondering is…what can I give Max Allan Collins for Christmas? I will be facetious and serious at the same time: you could write reviews (however brief) for my novels at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, your own blogs and whatever site you deem appropriate. There is a real reason why you might want to consider doing this, if you want new work from me.

The books I write – Mike Hammer, Quarry, Antiques – are seldom reviewed by the mainstream (including lots of Internet reviewers). I do not have the cachet or sales punch of a Lehane or Connelly, who are always reviewed. I am largely ignored, even by people who love my work, in “Best of” lists at the end of the year. This is a bit of a head-scratcher, but it’s a reality. Even the widely, glowingly reviewed non-fiction book Scarface and the Untouchable: The Battle for Chicago isn’t turning up on such lists.

I probably write too much. That keeps work that, if other people did it, would be taken more seriously. I am not whining or complaining (well, I guess I am) but I do understand that even readers who follow my work can’t always keep up with me.

Here’s the deal. If I don’t write, publishers do not send money to my house. That’s one thing. The other is that I am 70, have had some harrowing health issues (that I seem to have either overcome or am handling well) and realize that I don’t have forever to tell my stories.

And I have a lot more stories I want to tell.

Actually, I do not work as hard as I used to. Over the years, most Heller chapters were written in a day (25 to 30 double-spaced pages). I was a boy wonder till I got old. I slowed down starting with Better Dead. In general, my work load now is ten finished pages, six days a week. (Sometimes only five days.) It’s no different than with people with a “real” job – they work five or six days a week, and nobody applauds them, or tries to talk them out of it.

As I’ve mentioned, I have friends who have done these sort of interventions to get me to retire and get Barb and me to go take a cruise with other aging couples. I would rather write. Barb and I treat ourselves well and have a great time together, and don’t feel the need for a lot of travel to do that. She is a beautiful woman and lovely company, and is the one thing in my life that is worth hating me over.

She and I are watching one Christmas movie or television episode per evening right now. I may write about this soon. But I will say this – Holiday Inn is a wonderful movie, and White Christmas sort of stinks. Maybe my son Nathan is right: Die Hard is a better Christmas movie than White Christmas.

* * *

Here six great books (available inexpensively) are recommended, and one of them is True Detective (and I’m pleased and grateful, but it’s not “Allen,” okay?).

Shots looks at upcoming Titan titles, including the new Hammer, Murder, My Love.

The Strand magazine is on the stands now, with the key Spillane “Mike Hammer” short story, “Tonight, My Love.”

We’ve linked to this review before, but this time it’s attached to the mass market paperback of The Bloody Spur, out right now.

Finally, here’s a lovely write-up on the three Jack and Maggie Starr mysteries.

M.A.C.

Book Giveaway: The Sequel!

Tuesday, May 1st, 2018

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

The new Trash ‘n’ Treasures novel, Antiques Wanted, is in stores now in hardcover and e-book editions. Don’t miss it!

* * *
Spring lassos small-town Serenity, as Brandy Borne’s crime-bustin’ mama Vivian hatches a harebrained scheme to run for county sheriff—ropin’ in her daughter to join the rodeo as campaign manager. As the two-woman posse tracks down voters at a local assisted-living home, Brandy’s attempts at corralling Mother’s impractical whims make her feel like a tinhorn on a bucking bronco. But sure as shootin’, unhappy trails lie ahead….

Shortly after the Borne gals receive a valuable signed photo of an old-timey cowboy actor from the elderly aunt of Vivian’s political opponent, a massive explosion sends Brandy to the ER and auntie to the grave.

With a string of unexplained deaths turning Sunny Meadow into Boot Hill, the ditzy duo—aided by their clever shih tzu Sushi—must lay down the law on a deadly outlaw . . . before someone’s elected the next victim, with the Bornes headin’ toward their last round-up!

* * *

[Note from Nate: All copies given away. Thank you for your support!]

We have finished copies of the hardcover edition of Antiques Wanted in hand now, and have five to share with readers willing to do a review for Amazon and/or other venues (Barnes & Noble, blogs, etc.).

As usual, you must write me at [REDACTED], and include your snail mail address. United States residents only. These will go quickly, so act now. How will know if you win? A book will show up in the mail. We’ll get them out quickly.

As it happens, right now we are wrapping up the next Barbara Allan-bylined novel (she’s Barbara, I’m Allan) (if “I’m Dickens, He’s Fenster” jumped into your mind, you are both old and strange) (talking to you, Mike Doran).

Barb works on her draft for six months or more, and I spend around a month on mine, a very intense process on my part, with Barb staying handy to answer plot questions and such. I polish throughout and wind up adding about a fourth more pages. This novel – Antiques Ravin’ – has an Edgar Allan Poe theme and is the darkest of the books, but with plenty of off-the-wall humor. It’s also the most action-packed (and victim-strewn) of the novels thus far.

Because I am deep in the throes of my draft, I will make today’s update short. But I do want to comment on the nice response for my last two columns, discussing my insistence on clothing my characters (in the first essay), and in stripping them off the attractive female characters (subject of the second essay).

I admit in writing the previous update that I was not thinking in terms of political correctness, in relation to the complaints about sex scenes coming in from some readers. Rather, I was looking at such scenes in terms of characterization and narrative strategy. But I have noticed that a good share of such comments seem to come from younger readers – at my age, “younger” is under forty – which does indicate a cultural shift.

But political correctness has been a problem almost from the beginning for the Nathan Heller saga, going all the way back to the mid-‘80s. That is because I have insisted on Heller’s point of view and speech reflecting the period he’s writing about, as well as his own point in time – in other words, these are the memoirs of a man who was born early in the twentieth century.

So Heller may say “colored” or “Negro” where an African American is concerned. A young woman may be a “girl” to him. An Italian may be a “wop.” Complaints along those lines have been with Heller and me from the start. Neither of us care. Sometimes we have to fight copy editors over such things.

More recently Heller (and Mike Hammer’s and Quarry’s) tendency to give us a somewhat leering appraisal of a young woman’s physicality bothers some readers and reviewers. Again, I don’t care. It’s who these protagonists are. It’s who I am, to some degree, having been a male on the planet for seventy years. I am willing to retrain myself in a lot of ways. Me not noticing, and even cataloguing, a female’s attributes (that word itself seems politically incorrect now) is just is not going to happen.

If a young politically correct heterosexual male wants to pretend he doesn’t notice that a woman is attractive, that’s up to him. But he’s lying not just to us but to himself. I would venture to say the same about heterosexual women and good-looking men (the definition of “good-looking,” of course, being a matter of personal taste and inclination). I’m going to take a wild guess and say this applies to gay men and women, too.

I have been married for fifty years to one of the most enduringly beautiful women on earth. But you can bet I notice the pretty girls (yes, I said girls) who wander across my line of vision.

I should also say that my sex scenes are often, to some degree, meant to make a reader uncomfortable. Again, back at the very start of Heller (in True Detective), I dealt with such things as the use of prophylactics and the aftermath of a virgin’s first sexual experience resulting in blood on the sheets. A good pal of mine, also a private eye writer, objected to my including such things, which spoiled the myth and the romance for him.

This, to me, isn’t any different than when a very famous private eye writer complained about Nate Heller dropping a case when Frank Nitti paid the detective off to drop a case (which Heller did, and bought himself a new suit). I was scolded that a Chandler-esque private eye (and Heller comes out of Phillip Marlowe as much as he does Sam Spade and Mike Hammer) shouldn’t take a bribe from a gangster! Horrors! But Heller knew if he didn’t do what Frank Nitti told him to, my private eye’s bullet-riddled body would wind up in a ditch.

As I touched upon last week, my approach has always been to provide a realistic surface to the larger-than-life doings of the story at hand, thereby making the melodrama play like drama. The notion that Hammett, Chandler, Spillane and for that matter Ross MacDonald brought “realism” to the mystery story is idiotic. The novels of those four are romances (in the non-lovey-dovey sense).

It’s no accident that Mickey Spillane’s favorite writer was Alexander Dumas – The Three Musketeers ends much as I, the Jury does, and The Count of Monte Cristo is a revenge tale.

* * *

Barb and I both liked The Avengers: Infinity War very much. Despite death looming over every frame, the humor of the Guardians of the Galaxy movies and the most recent Thor, and well-tooled quips for Robert Downey’s Iron Man, influence Infinity Wars, making the ride as fun as it is harrowing. The narrative strategy of following little groups within the larger group, and giving the story to each mini-team for a while, works beautifully.

The only weak part is the Black Panther stuff, despite the popularity of the recent movie, which we walked out of, as some of you may recall. Speaking of political correctness, it’s a pandering thing, this Black Panther concept (the actor playing the B.P. is dignified and fine, however).

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This site reports that I am not dead. What a relief!

Finally, here’s another Spillane birthday tribute.

M.A.C.