Posts Tagged ‘Skim Deep’

Working on Nolan’s Return

Tuesday, February 4th, 2020

Cover of Mad Money, which will reprint Spree and Mourn the Living.

I am “coming down the pike,” as Barb puts it, on the new Nolan novel, Skim Deep, the first in the series since Spree (1987). Hard Case Crime editor Charles Ardai has for some time been encouraging me to write a new Nolan, lately to help launch HCC’s upcoming reprint series of the previous novels (they will be done two books to a volume). These sport excellent covers by Mark Eastbrook, and that includes the novel in progress.

Also, a fair number of readers have wanted another Nolan. I’ve resisted this because I felt the character’s story was over – that Spree concluded it nicely. Nolan has always been an ongoing saga as opposed to a series with a premise, in the way of a P.I. novel does or a Quarry or even an Antiques entry.

Of course, Nolan has always been a homage to the Parker series by Richard Stark (aka Donald E. Westlake), and as I often said to Don himself, “Homage is French for rip-off.” Don was always nice enough to say that Nolan, largely because of surrogate son Jon, was distinctly different from Parker. He also on occasion described my Nolan as the Jayne Mansfield to his Parker, and I would correct him, saying more the Mamie Van Doren.

To be fair to myself, the Nolan series did (after the first novel, Bait Money) quickly become its own thing. Nolan is a professional thief of fifty trying very hard to go straight and take part in the American Dream; but karma keeps looking for him, and finding him.

Editors wanting me to write something for them are a seductive lot indeed. So I’ve embarked on Skim Deep and am enjoying it a great deal, or anyway as much as possible when I’m up against a deadline – which is today, as it happens, which I’m going to miss by a week or two.

Then, out of the blue, there’s been some Hollywood interest in Nolan, which seems vaguely serious and involves a bunch of talented people. I’ll say no more because such things often do not play out into anything at all.

Rejoining these characters required little besides checking my previous novels for continuity issues. That’s in part because over the past several decades I have written various versions of a Spree screenplay (optioned a few times) that had me dealing with Nolan, his lover Sherry, and of course cartoonist/musician, Jon.

As is the case with continuing Quarry, I am keeping the novel in the time frame of the original series. Skim Deep takes place in 1988, about six months after Spree.

But I thought you might like another peek behind the curtain, this time as it pertains to working on this as yet unfinished novel.

Over the years I have developed a process that begins with an outline breaking the book down by chapters. Each chapter gets a paragraph or two, and occasionally just a couple of sentences. Among much else, that allows me to make sure the novel will be long enough to satisfy the editor (word count is often specified in contracts, although mostly that’s a guideline not a rule).

Each chapter has to be outlined, at least in my head, like a little novel or anyway a short story. And the narrative tends to develop in ways and directions I didn’t plan. So it is not uncommon for me to re-plot about half-way through, to accommodate the surprises I’ve given myself.

Fiction writing is largely a writer solving problems of his or her own making.

More often than not, I re-plot again, about half-way through the new half-a-novel outline. Sometimes more frequently. I have just written Chapter 11 of 17 (two of which are short chapters near the end). And I have, at this stage, re-plotted four times (after the initial first outline), and have also written a two-page outline of Chapter 11, which had a lot of moving parts to keep track of.

Last night, trying to get to sleep, I re-plotted again, but have not committed those changes to paper, although I will.

This is a tad (just a tad) unusual. But this represents my belief that plotting carefully must still allow for spontaneity. Have a roadmap, yes, but if a sign says, “World’s Biggest Ball of String NEXT RIGHT,” don’t be afraid to veer off. Some things just happen in a story – the ending of Road to Perdition had not been planned…just came out of my fingers when I was writing the final installment for artist Richard Piers Rayner.

Chester Gould did not plot ahead. He liked to say, “If I don’t know what’s going to happen next, neither will the reader.” That’s a little extreme, but Chet had a point.

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Here’s a great write-up about the Reeder and Rogers political thriller series by Matt Clemens and me.

The Mommy/Mommy 2: Mommy’s Day Blu-ray gets some cool coverage at Media Play.

With Girl Can’t Help It waiting in the wings, here’s a nice review of Girl Most Likely.

Finally, MacMillan has the Kindle version of the Nate Heller novel Ask Not on sale for $2.99 here (regularly 7.00).

M.A.C.

Mommy Is About to Escape!

Tuesday, January 14th, 2020

I got some advance copies of the Mommy/Mommy’s Day Blu-rays that will be coming out in a week or so from MVD/VCI. I wanted to share my reactions with you and encourage you to order this three-disc package. It is still on pre-order from Amazon at a reduced price.

My editor/director of photography Phil Dingeldein and I put in many hours getting the materials ready for this release. Back in the day, the two Mommys went out to VHS and on TV as 4:3 (so-called “full screen”) presentations, though we had designed both for widescreen and on laserdisc and DVD it went out that way. But for High Def release, we needed to reframe every shot for 16:9, and that was a lot of work.

Both features had been taken by Phil and me to a place called Woodholly in Hollywood (get it?) for the then much-used “FilmLook” process, which involved frame skipping and other tricks of the trade. This allowed us to get past Lifetime and other markets with a feature shot on high-end video as opposed to film. We were never happy with Mommy after FilmLook, because we had not been informed that the process darkened the image and that we would need to allow for that in shooting (that is, deliver a brighter master than would normally be the case).

In digging through the materials, we found the original output master we had taken to FilmLook – in other words, the original, unFilmLooked version. That’s what we worked with for the Blu-ray release.

The image on the Blu-ray has a soft look, particularly on Mommy, but not unpleasingly so. I adjusted my TV to the “natural” setting (as opposed to “movie”) and liked it better; I hiked the sharpness a little, too.

Mommy’s Day (aka Mommy 2) utilized the high-end video master of the FilmLooked version – we could not find the un-FilmLooked tape, but Mommy’s Day had never bothered us, as we’d allowed for the brightness issue before we took it out to Woodholly (in Hollywood, remember?).

This is a nice 3-disc package. The two features share a Blu-ray, as does a DVD. A second DVD offers up a plethora of bonus features – a vintage “Making of Mommy” documentary, a very gritty behind-the-scenes look; another making of doc from PBS; Leonard Maltin on Entertainment Tonight extolling Mommy; an interview I did with Patty for Mommy’s Day that covers her career; a vintage trailer for Mommy; and a Blooper Reel. Back on the other two discs are new commentaries by Phil and me. Barb looks stunningly beautiful on both documentaries, by the way.

Revisiting these little movies, I remain proud of both, and think Mommy’s Day is the rare sequel that doesn’t just refry the first movie, and in some respects is better than its predecessor. I remain astounded that reviewers and viewers sometimes don’t see both films as the dark comedies they are, but on the whole the reviewers back then (and today) have been positive in their response, and picked up on the intentional humor.

I think anybody interested in my work will find this release worthwhile. Certainly any fan of The Bad Seed should jump right on board.

If you buy the 3-disc package from Amazon, and like what you see, reviews will be appreciated.

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Speaking of reviews, Barb and I will be sending out an enormous mailing today of advance copies of Girl Can’t Help It, Antiques Fire Sale, and Hot Lead, Cold Justice; also a few of the Mommy Blu-rays.

These go to reviewers in some cases, but mostly are me following up on a Killing Quarry book giveaway here a while back by sending Girl Can’t Help It in particular (and sometimes the other two books) to some of you who didn’t get in on the Quarry books. All of these are ARC’s – advance reading copies.

If you receive one of the ARC’s, take note of the publication date. Amazon won’t accept reviews until a book is out, and Girl Can’t Help It won’t be out till March, and the other two later than that.

I regret to report that no ARC’s of Do No Harm, the upcoming Nate Heller, will be available here. My publisher sent them out to the magazine reviewers and the rest were distributed at Bouchercon – they flew out of there. But I have requested copies for an Update giveaway as soon as the finished book is available.

Stay tuned.

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This is a downright wonderful Killing Quarry review that I hope you will take a look at. It’s from the delightfully named site Outright Geekery.

Another great one here.

And this one, from Criminal Element, is damn good, too. I’m so happy that this new Quarry is pleasing readers.

Meanwhile, I am just getting started on Skim Deep, the first Nolan and Jon novel in three decades or so.

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.

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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.