Wednesday, August 23, 2006

I Spell My Name… Danger!

Catchup time. Should have written this a month back because I actually have a Mickey Spillane story. Rather, it's a story that Spillane told a lot, but it hasn't had much currency on the web yet. So here it is.

I saw Spillane at the 1995 Chicago Comics Convention (or as it's now known, WizardWorld Chicago. What was he doing at a comics convention? Well, it's well documented that Spillane got his start in comics (I believe it was Les Daniels' 1971 book "Comix" that reprinted one of his text filler stories from a 1940's Atlas comic). And it's known that his Mike Hammer character started out as an unsold comic called "Mike Danger." Well, that year, "Mike Danger" was seeing publication as a 40's gumshoe thrown into the future, courtesy of Tekno Comix, an imprint that was big on sci-fi comics "created" by big names (Gene Roddenberry, Leonard Nimoy, Isaac Asimov, John Jakes and Neil Gaiman) but scripted by others.

So to promote his comic, he was doing the convetion circuit. I saw him at a panel with Harlan Ellison. No doubt there was a third writer on the panel, but anybody sharing a panel with Harlan and Spillane is relegated to the "third Tenor" role. Whatever the title of the panel was, it should have been "An hour in a room with liquored-up Harlan Ellison and Mickey Spillane." I think you see where I'm leading.

So these old pros are regaling the audience with tales about writing cheap fiction back in the 1950's. Harlan goes on about a certain editor who wouldn't pay him for a published story until he hoisted a 50-pound office typewriter and threatened to cave said editor's head in. The crowd is heeding the warning in the convention program not to ask Harlan what the hell happened to "The Last Dangerous Visions." Following was Spillane's story. No way is this remembered monolgue verbatim, but the story only works told in the first person:

I'm in my editor's office and we're talking about mystery writing. At some point in the conversation, he wondered if it was possible to write a mystery novel that made no sense without the last paragraph. I said "I can write that." And I did.

So next the editor says "I'll bet a thousand dollars you can't write a mystery where the whole climax depends on the last word. I said, "You're on." I start the book, and a few weeks later, I mail him with manuscript, but I leave out the last word. A few days later, he calls me yelling "What was the word? What was the word?" I said, "Gimme my thousand bucks, you sonuvabitch!"

Hey, I may spoil a lot of things, but I won't spoil this one. If you don't know already, it's one of the Hammer books. I may read it myself if I ever have time for a whole novel.