Author Mickey Spillane would have turned 101 on March 9. To mark that occasion, Michael Barson offered to share an interview he did a year ago for Crimespree Magazine. Max Allan Collins not only collaborated with Mickey Spillane, he’s the literary executor for Spillane’s estate. Unless you read the article a year ago, some of this may be new to you.
INTERVIEW WITH MAX ALLAN COLLINS BY MICHAEL BARSON
Michel Barson: When did you first begin reading Mickey Spillane’s novels?
Max Allan Collins: During the late ’50s/early ’60s craze of TV private eyes, I began looking at the novels that had served as inspiration or even direct adaptations — a lot of that craze had literary roots: The Thin Man, Phillip Marlowe, Perry Mason, Mike Hammer, 77 Sunset Strip, Honey West. I read Hammettt, Chandler and Spillane in that order, starting at around 12. I would be enticed by the covers of the Spillane paperbacks on the spinner racks at Cohn’s Newsland — I mistook the photos of Mickey, wielding guns and looking tough in a fedora, for Darren McGavin on the MIKE HAMMER TV show.
I would go to the library, using the periodical guide to find reviews and articles about those authors. I found that Hammett and Chandler, almost from the star, were revered, and was astonished — and dismayed — to find Spillane attacked by both reviewers and social commentators. I was equally a fan of all of the Big Three private eye writers — Hammett, Chandler, Spillane — and I think to this day, you can see those influences in my work, along with a helping of Donald E. Westlake in his Richard Stark persona. But the attacks on Mickey made a defender out of me. I was nearly in several fists fights in the early days of Bouchercon over my pro-Spillane stance. By the way, that wasn’t because I was drunk, because I’m not really a drinker — my inebriation was strictly from reading Spillane.
MB: Did you seize on one of his mysteries as your favorite above all others? Why so?
MAC: The first Spillane novel I read was One Lonely Night, and frankly I have never been right in the head since. I was 13.
Mike Hammer is essentially having a nervous breakdown in that book, contemplating suicide when it begins, inadvertently causing the suicide of a young woman who mistakes him for a thug. He maintains an interior monologue with a judge who’s dressed him down, then journeys toward accepting that’s he’s been put on earth by God to smite the bad guys. Hammer was a brutal, randy figure with little in common with Sam Spade and Phillip Marlowe, and Spillane’s fever-dream prose was not Hammett’s spare style or Chandler’s poetic melodrama, either…though, really, he’s more overtly poetic than Chandler. You know who agreed with me? Ross Macdonald.
As an adult, I now know — and this is a spoiler alert for anyone who hasn’t read One Lonely Night — that in a novel that would appear to admire Joe McCarthy, Joe McCarthy turns out to be not only the killer but a Russian mole. How could anyone not love this book?
MB: How long was the period between your first meeting with Mickey and his asking you to collaborate with him on his new and unpublished work?
MAC: The friendship lasted from 1981 till his death in 2006. Starting in the ’80s we did projects together, initially anthologies of uncollected novellas and stories of his, then later more general anthologies that we both picked contributors and stories for. We also collaborated on the MIKE DANGER s-f comic book , which lasted a couple of years and generated a Miramax movie sale, although it wasn’t made. I did the writing of the comic, but Mickey and I developed the property and he kept an eye on things. And he cooperated fully with my 1999 feature-length documentary, Mike Hammer’s Mickey Spillane, a condensed version of which is on the Criteron DVD/Blu-ray release. The real collaboration began when, a week or two before his death, he called and asked if I’d complete his last Mike Hammer novel, The Goliath Bone, for him, should that be necessary. A few days before his death, he told his wife Jane to gather all the unpublished material from his three home offices and give it to me — that I would know what to do. That was a bigger honor than receiving the MWA Grand Master.
MB: In the course of your conversations with him, did Mickey ever reveal to you what inspired him to return to writing crime novels in 1961 after his semi-retirement after becoming a Jehovah’s Witness in 1952?
MAC: He claimed his absence from novel writing had more to do with an ongoing dispute with his publisher about his advances and royalties. At the same time, he wasn’t in need of funds, not with movie and TV money rolling in. And the notion that he stopped writing his tough, sexy fiction during that almost ten year period, because of his church, isn’t wholly credible, since he was doing one or two novellas a year for various men’s adventure magazines as well as Manhunt, the pulp successor to Black Mask.
MB: What was the process the two of you employed to collaborate while living halfway across the Country from each other? And how often would you actually see Mickey in the course of a year?
MAC: We got together several times a year, usually at his place — he and Jane came to Muscatine, once, when we showed the documentary at the University of Iowa in Iowa City. A lot of it was over the phone, but the actual collaboration on novels didn’t begin till Mickey had passed. I did two short stories with him during his lifetime — one, “The Night I Died,” was me turning an unproduced Hammer radio script into a story. That was mostly Mickey, because the story had plenty of his trademark first-person narration. The other was a Mike Danger story that I wrote and he gave me notes on. I took no byline on the first of the two stories, but we shared it on the second.
MB: Was there one book that proved to be particularly difficult to work on together? If so, for what reason?
MAC: We never did a book together, other than the anthologies. That was always smooth.
For me, the most difficult book was King of the Weeds, though I also feel it was the most rewarding. Mickey had done several versions of various chapters, and had reordered them at one point. The novel had two plots — a serial killer was targeting cops, and the mob and feds were both looking for a billion dollars in cash stashed away in the previous novel, Black Alley. I was faced with a big problem — Black Alley hadn’t been in print for years, so doing a sequel seemed ill-advised. I almost cut that aspect out, but I never could bring myself to do it, because I knew how much Mickey relished the idea of billions in cash being squirreled away. So it took a lot work, figuring out what order to present certain chapters in, and making the missing billions plotline work for readers who either hadn’t read Black Alley or had read it so long ago, didn’t remember it well.
But I kept faith with Mickey and I think very possibly King of the Weeds is the best of the collaborative works. Most sequels aren’t as good as the original — in this case, Black Alley itself improves, because loose ends and thematic aspects of that novel are dealt with satisfyingly in the follow-up.
MB: Although he was a celebrity for nearly sixty years, do you feel it ever bothered Mickey that his early burst of superstardom in the world of books was never fully recaptured over the later decades of his writing career?
MAC: No. He sold very well all through the 1990s, when he was arguably at his celebrity peak doing the spoofy Miller Lite commercials. All of his books were back in print with covers that sometime showed him in shots from one of the commercials. For along time, each generation discovered Spillane all over again and made him there. I am a second generation fan, after all, born a year after I, The Jury came out. I was with him a lot in the ’90s and witnessed how people both remembered him and flocked to him.
MB: How did Mickey react to be named a Grand Master by the MWA? Was he friendly and in touch with many members of the mystery community?
MAC: Mickey was thrilled by receiving the award and having his peers finally recognize him. Though he would never admit it, he was hurt by the attacks on him and his work, particularly by fellow mystery writers. This was a great turn-around for him. He did maintain friendships among mystery writers, Clive Cussler in particular. But I was the only one who went down to South Carolina and spent a lot of time with him — he craved that kind of contact, particularly after his writer pal, Dave Gerrity, passed away.
MB: You are now in the second decade of your position as literary executor of the Spillane estate. The first ten years were extremely productive… What do you see in store for the coming years?
MAC: If the centenary celebration sparks renewed interest, I have plenty of material in the unfinished/unpublished file to keep going. The tricky thing is that a lot of what’s left isn’t Hammer material, and I may have to find ways to convert those into Hammer stories, since he’s the star of the Spillane show, after all. There’s movie interest in Tiger Mann, though, and a couple of things in the files could be refashioned without much trouble into Tiger Mann yarns. There are two horror-oriented screenplays that could become novels, much as his western script about Caleb York has turned into a book series at Kensington, currently The Bloody Spur. There’s a Mike Danger novel. Plenty of material, if the interest remains there.
My first order of business was to get the Mike Hammer material completed — I have two more on the current contract. And of course I saved The Last Stand, his final solo novel, and Killing Town, the very first Mike Hammer book, for the centenary. I wanted something special to celebrate his life and his work, and giving readers his first Hammer and final novel seemed perfect.
“The Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing at Arizona State University is a home for writers, readers, and the literary community.” That’s the quote on their website at https://piper.asu.edu
Here’s a few events on their upcoming schedule.
1. A BIG EVENT WITH GREGORY PARDLO ON MAR 21!
o Pulitzer prize-winning author Gregory Pardlo presents his talk, “The Messenger is the Message: Voicecraft and the Personal Essay” Thursday, March 21 at Tempe Center for the Arts
2. LOTS OF CLASSES FROM THE PIPER WRITERS STUDIO: Featuring eight new classes and workshops in memoir, fiction, poetry, publishing, and more
o 3/20: Building Compelling Scenes with Blair Hurley
o 4/2: Built Environments: The Craft of Formal Innovation with Saretta Morgan
o 4/6: True Story: Using Journalism Basics to Report Memoir with Amy Silverman
o 4/8: Advanced Fiction Workshop with James Sallis
o 4/20: Seven Ways to Disrupt Your Poetry with Terese Svoboda
o 4/27: From Query Letter to Publication: Navigating the Publishing Ecosystem with Yi Shun Lai
3. PLUS TWO ONLINE CLASSES IN APRIL & MAY: Publishing Opportunities for Fiction and Nonfiction Writers with Beth Staples and Revising Your Novel with Corey Ann Haydu.
“All classes are non-credit, and are intended for, and open to the public.”
How glamorous is the life of a bestselling author on tour? They hustle from place to place with little downtime, as you’ll be able to tell from these photos of C.J. Box while he was in town for his book event for The Poisoned Pen. Two days in the life of the author.
And, here’s the proof that the authors have to work on the entire tour. Here’s C.J. Box, just before his flight to Denver. He’s signing more books in Terminal 4 at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.
Don’t forget to check the Web Store for Box’ latest book, Wolf Pack, and copies of his other Joe Picket novels. http://bit.ly/2VZJqSg
The Hot Book of the Week at The Poisoned Pen is C.J. Box’ Wolf Pack. Joe Pickett is back, and you can have a signed copy of the latest book in the series. You can also order copies of the other books in the series through the Web Store. http://bit.ly/2XXhssk
Here’s the summary of Wolf Pack.
Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett encounters bad behavior on his own turf–only to have the FBI and the DOJ ask him to stand down–in the thrilling new novel from #1 New York Times-bestselling author C.J. Box.
The good news is that Joe Pickett has his job back, after his last adventure in The Disappeared. The bad news is that he’s come to learn that a drone is killing wildlife–and the drone belongs to a mysterious and wealthy man whose son is dating Joe’s own daughter, Lucy.
When Joe tries to lay down the rules for the drone operator, he’s asked by the FBI and the DOJ to stand down, which only makes him more suspicious. Meanwhile, bodies are piling up in and around Joe’s district in shocking numbers. He begins to fear that a pack of four vicious killers working on behalf of the Sinaloa cartel known as the Wolf Pack has arrived. Their target seems to be the mystery man and everyone–including Joe, Nate, and others–who is associated with him.
Teaming up with a female game warden (based on a real person, one of the few female game wardens at work in Wyoming today) to confront these assassins, Joe finds himself in the most violent and dangerous predicament he’s ever faced.
If you’re a fan of C.J. Box’, you’re going to want to watch the event. He’s interviewed here, first by Barbara Peters, owner of The Poisoned Pen, and then by Robert Anglen from The Arizona Republic.
I’m sure William Kent Krueger will be kind to debut author John McMahon when he interviews him at The Poisoned Pen on Monday, March 18 at 7 PM. McMahon will discuss his first police procedural, The Good Detective. Krueger will sign Desolation Mountain. Copies of books by both authors can be ordered through the Web Store. https://store.poisonedpen.com
This interview isn’t quite as kind.
John McMahon is the debut author of “The Good Detective,” a fast-paced new thriller that
introduces Detective P.T. Marsh.
Detective Marsh is a hardened police detective barely getting by—and drinking hard—in Mason Falls, Georgia. Not too long ago, Marsh was a rising star on the police force. But the shocking deaths of his wife and son have left him a shell of his former self. He’s reckless and adrift, though still an ace detective with a passion for justice.
In lieu of me interviewing John McMahon, I asked his main character, Detective P.T. Marsh to step in and do the honors.
McMahon and Marsh sit down at a place called Moonie’s Roadhouse in Flowery Branch, Georgia. It’s home to neither of them, a favorite of McMahon’s and a good hour from home for Detective Marsh. The good news – they both enjoy brisket and pulled pork.
The food is brought out. A basket of pork with slaw. Sweet barbecue sauce atop brisket. A couple sides of cream corn and Brunswick stew, along with a plate of sliced turkey.
(Author) John McMahon – I hope you’re hungry.
(Detective) P.T. Mash – I’ve been on a case for 72 hours. I’m that odd mix of hungry and exhausted.
The two men dig in.
P.T. Marsh – So I’m supposed to interview you? That’s how this works?
McMahon – I’m an open book.
McMahon – Sorry, I couldn’t help the pun, go ahead.
Marsh – You start “The Good Detective” with me being woken up in my truck by some three-hundred-pound bouncer outside of a strip bar. Why start there? It’s not flattering, falling asleep like that.
McMahon – Horace Ordell. He was on shift that night at The Landing Patch. And you were screaming in your sleep, P.T. You were scaring Horace.
Marsh – He wasn’t scared of me. He’d tried to extort me.
McMahon – He did threaten you. What was the expression you said about Horace?
Marsh – If brains were leather, he wouldn’t have enough to saddle a june bug.
McMahon – Exactly. And then you drive off because you remembered you promised one of the club’s dancers that you’d help her out by teaching her boyfriend a lesson.
Marsh – Just a healthy talking to. The boyfriend was a Neo-Nazi. Maybe one hit to the nose. A shot to the ribs. His friends will hardly notice the scars.
McMahon – Except when your partner Remy picks you up the next morning to head to your latest murder scene, it’s the boyfriend’s house you arrive at.
Marsh – And I get that feeling. That bad feeling.
McMahon – I think I know why. There’s a boy who’s been murdered in a very strange way. And initial accounts say the Neo-Nazi may have done it.
Marsh – Yeah, I don’t want to talk about the case.
McMahon – How does it feel to know you might have killed your prime suspect?
Marsh – We don’t comment on active investigations. Especially to writers.
McMahon – Your prints are all over the boyfriend’s house.
Marsh – This food is suddenly not to my liking. And I thought I was the one asking questions.
McMahon – So ask me a question.
Marsh – What would I possibly want to know about a soft writer like you?
McMahon – People are getting nervous in Mason Falls. There’s secrets.
Marsh – No secrets from me.
McMahon – Your past…
P.T. Marsh gets up. Shakes his head.
Marsh – You don’t know me.
Detective Marsh walks out and McMahon takes the untouched food from P.T.’s side of the table – slides it over to his.
“The Good Detective” drops in stores March 19th. It has been selected as an OKRA Fresh Pick by SIBA, the Southern Independent Bookseller’s Alliance.
John McMahon will be on tour, looking for great barbecue places in South Carolina, Phoenix, Houston, San Diego, and L.A. (while also going to those towns’ best independent bookstores for Q&A and Signing). Find out more about the tour at JohnMcMahonBooks.com
It seems this is the week to say goodbye to long-running mystery series. Ed Ifkovic ends his Edna Ferber mystery series with the tenth book, Run Cold. The book is the Poisoned Pen’s selection for the March History/Mystery Book of the Month. You can order copies of Ifkovic’s books, including a signed copy of Run Cold, through the Web Store. http://bit.ly/2VOhkJA
Ed Ifkovic has something to say about the book, and the series. But, before that link, here’s the summary of the final book in the series, Run Cold.
“The Arctic trails have their secret tales
That would make your blood run cold.”
—Robert W. Service, “The Cremation of Sam McGee”
Jack Mabie claims to be the meanest man in Alaska, yet the old sourdough seems to be just one of the crusty geezers in every roadhouse bewildered by how his lawless frontier life has morphed into the pastel 1950s world of martini cocktail bars up and down Fairbanks’ Second Avenue.
Sonia Petrievich, an editor at The Gold, her father Hank’s weekly pro-statehood paper, learns through the mukluk telegraph about Jack’s gleeful account of murders and robberies and shell games during the gold rush days. Her breezy March 1957 profile lets Jack revel in newfound notoriety.
Edna Ferber, not completely satisfied with her forthcoming novel Ice Palace, has just returned for further research and is fascinated by Jack and his wild tales. Plus the previous summer, young Athabascan lawyer Noah West, a war hero and Sonia’s lover, bent on bettering the lives of Alaskan Natives, had sharpened Edna’s sense of a corner of the territory she’d ignored: “I felt I’d lost sight of the real Alaska, the heartless icebox in the North, the blank-eyed old-timers still haunted by gold… I’d forgotten Alaska is still frontier…a violent, mysterious world below the glossy skin I’d written about.”
When Jack is found beaten to death, Noah becomes a suspect. Two violent deaths follow. Edna, Noah’s advocate, decides she needs to clear his name, believing the murders are connected. As debates over potential statehood rage, Edna begins unearthing scandals and sordid stories hidden in Fairbanks but also dating back to village life in Fort Yukon and down into the Lower 48.
What horrible secrets carried from the Arctic Circle have led to so many murders? And what novelist could stand aside from this story?
On Saturday March 16 at 2 PM, Glen Erik Hamilton, author of Mercy River, will appear to discuss and sign his latest Van Shaw novel. He’ll be joined by Brad Parks, author of The Last Act. Signed copies of books by both authors are available through the Web Store. https://store.poisonedpen.com/
Parks had his chance to write a post for the blog last year. This time, I’ve invited Glen Erik Hamilton to sit “In the Hot Seat” and answer questions. Thank you, Glen.
Glen, would you introduce yourself to readers?
Hello People of the Poisoned Pen! I write the Van Shaw series of what I call mystery thrillers, for lack of an easier category. Mystery because there’s usually something Van must investigate, and Thriller because those investigations inevitably lead into hazardous waters. My debut novel Past Crimes was nominated for a few lovely awards, including the Edgar, and won three of them: the Anthony, the Macavity, and the Strand Magazine Critics Award. I grew up in Seattle aboard a sailboat – raiding my parents’ collection of paperbacks when the wind didn’t cooperate — and now live near Los Angeles with my family.
You know how much I love Van Shaw. Would you introduce him?
Van’s an unusual beast. He was raised in Seattle by his maternal grandfather, a Belfast émigré named Dono. The two men share their full name, Donovan. Dono was a former armed robber turned professional burglar, and he raised Van with that perspective and those skills. Van was stealing cars, among many other things, long before he could legally drive. The two men fell out when Van was eighteen and Van escaped into the Army. To his surprise, he found a home in the Rangers and served with distinction for almost ten years. Special Operations gave Van a moral focus he was lacking, and honed his belief in honor and in justice, but it ironically also gave him the discipline and toughness to be a much more effective criminal than Dono could ever be. If he chooses that path. Back home now, Van occupies two worlds, and he’s not entirely at ease in either.
Tell us about Mercy River, without spoilers.
When Van’s closest friend from the Rangers is arrested for murder, Van rushes to the remote Central Oregon town of Mercy River to help, only to learn that the town is playing host to hundreds of fellow veterans of the 75th Ranger Regiment. They have gathered for a raucous annual party and charity drive called the Rally, run by a decorated Special Ops general. Both the town and the Rally have some major secrets, and as is his way, Van quickly finds himself on the bad side of dangerous people. Worse, his friend Leo is actively resisting any attempt to prove his innocence.
Where do you go for atmosphere when you return to Seattle?
I return as often as I can, both because I love the place and because the city changes so rapidly. Which was one of the reasons I wanted to write about it. I try to explore “new” neighborhoods with every visit. I inevitably pass through downtown and Van’s home turf on Capitol Hill, of course. But I also find myself returning to regular haunts like the shipyards on Harbor Island, Pioneer Square, the industrial areas south of the stadiums, and parks like Volunteer and Magnuson. And if I can catch a ferry over to Bainbridge on a clear day, that’s always a good trip.
Can you give us some hints about your next book?
Van’s mother Moira died when he was only six years old, so his memories of her are very limited. His grandfather closed himself off from the pain of losing Moira, and subsequently never shared much about her with Van as he grew up. Neither of them ever learned who Van’s father was. It’s high time that Van discovers more about his family, perhaps more than he’d truly like to know.
Everyone’s journey to publishing is different. Tell us about your journey to publication of the first Van Shaw novel, Past Crimes.
I began writing when my wife and I moved to Southern California in the mid-2000s, just experimenting at first to see if I liked it. Writing classes and groups eventually followed. When my manuscript was just about done, I figured I needed some practice in selling it. I went to ThrillerFest in 2013 and attended their PitchFest “speed dating” afternoon with agents and editors. Events after that felt like a fairy tale: There was plenty of interest in the book, which turned to a couple of offers of representation and an excellent partnership with my current agent! My agent made a two-book deal with William Morrow two months after, and Past Crimes was released in Spring 2015. I remind myself with great frequency to be grateful; it certainly doesn’t happen that way for everyone.
What has been the highlight of your writing career so far?
That’s a tough question, because every time a writer passes a big milestone or receives any acclaim in a hard business, it’s worth celebrating. In fact it’s critical to celebrate. Applauding our own serious effort keeps us sailing through the storms. But if I had to pick one highlight, it would have to be when the first book sold. That’s tremendously validating, to have an agent willing to fight hard for your career and then have a publisher invest both financially and creatively in your work. That’s often the first time that someone outside your friends and family says “Yes, we believe in you.” A huge moment.
If you had to recommend 5 books for a person to read so they could get a feel for you and your reading taste, what 5 would you pick?
I’m going to list three books that were cornerstones of my early reading, and two much more recent novels which are so good, I’m re-reading them both for the pleasure of it and to study the craft involved:
The Deep Blue Good-By – John D. MacDonald – or any of the Travis McGee series, with JDMacD’s knight errant working on the outskirts of the “civilized” world. Growing up aboard boats, these were almost required reading.
Gorky Park – Martin Cruz Smith – the honorable investigator in a corrupt system, and a hell of a love story in the bargain.
Ripley Under Ground – Patricia Highsmith – my favorite of the Ripley’s novels, with the amoral and extremely dangerous Ripley at his slippery best.
November Road – Lou Berney – one of 2018’s most lauded novels, and deservedly so. Both emotionally resonant and a page-turning thriller, which is a very tough balance to achieve, much less this brilliantly.
Sunburn – Laura Lippman – another of last year’s very best, a subtly woven tale of desperation with characters who reveal new depths in every chapter.
What book or author is underrated, in your opinion?
A novelist named Marc Olden, who was very prolific and bridged the gap between 1970s-80s pulp and more highbrow thrillers extremely well. He was nominated for the Best Paperback Original Edgar in 1978. Many of his series – such as Black Samurai – explored being African-American and drawn to other cultures because America’s was so fraught. Perhaps most significantly, Olden wrote beautifully about martial arts and why people pursue a life of practicing them. He was himself an accomplished karate and aikido instructor, and his books were influential in starting me on a similar path, as I read his novel Giri when I was about thirteen. He died in 2003, and it’s one of my regrets that I never wrote to him to let him know how much I’d enjoyed his work.
A warning. I see you’re appearing at the Poisoned Pen with Brad Parks. Brad either sings or jokes his way through everything. The last time he was at the Pen, he griped ahead of time about appearing with Christopher Rice. Rice was “too young, too attractive”. Any plans you can tell us about taking over the stage from Parks?
I trust Brad’s not making the same gripes about me. The thing with Parks is: you can’t let that karaoke train get rolling, so I’ll take a page from Van Shaw’s book and wire Brad’s microphone to shock him every time he starts to sing. Join us and watch the fun…
You can order Glen Erik Hamilton’s books through the Web Store, including a signed copy of Mercy River. http://bit.ly/2Tt8Afd