Mickey Spillane - a Writer for the People
I met Mickey Spillane just once. That was at a Bouchercon in Milwaukee and if Bouchercon is also unfamiliar to you it's an annual convention of mystery writers and readers, the biggest of them all. It's named in honor of the late Anthony Boucher, himself a mystery writer and a renowned critic. I was one of the speakers at a couple of Bouchercons but we haven't attended one in recent years because traveling isn't as easy as it once was or, like keeping up with the news, as enjoyable.
Mickey Spillane was just what you would expect the creator of Mike Hammer and a World War II fighter pilot to be. Rawboned, tough, unpretentious. He was a writer and didn't like to be called an author because he felt that title was pretentious. He wasn't impressed by the literary world, not at all. Bill Chambers wrote about the time a literary sort of person told Mickey it was disgraceful that of the ten top selling books of all time seven were written by none other than Mickey himself. He replied, "You're lucky I've only written seven."
While sitting at a table one night with a group that included Mickey I was amused when he was asked about something in one of his books. He said he didn't know because he didn't remember the book. Like a lot of writers, it seems that by the time a book was finished he was so sick of it that he never wanted to see it again. Not that he usually took a lot of time writing one. His first, I the Jury, was written in nine days.
Bill Chambers told a couple of other interesting stories about Mickey Spillane. One was about Ayn Rand, beloved by the literary world for her philosophical novels. She shocked those types when she said that her favorite author was Mickey Spillane. He might have been more pleased by the compliment had she referred to him as a writer. And when some of the writers you'll find hanging out at the Author's Guild criticized his work Mickey said, "Those big-shot writers could never dig the fact that there are more salted peanuts consumed than caviar." Thanks, Bill, for those little tidbits.
Bouchercon will return to Milwaukee next month. Mickey won't be there this time and neither will I. But I can still see him, necktie loosened, fedora pushed back a little on his head, grinning as he told a few of the kind of stories you hear around a table in a bar. Funny stories, often self-deprecating. Mickey Spillane, unique in many respects, in others typical of a rapidly-dying breed. The type of men that aren't likely to pass this way again.
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