Not to be confused with the mobster of the same name, Mickey Spillane was a prolific pulp novelist from the post-WWII era. He had heart as a writer… and though he was an international bestseller, literary critics despised him.
Spillane had a motto and it went: “I’m a writer, not an author.”
“The difference is a writer makes money.”
“Authors write, writers get paid.”
When asked about his literary influences, Spillane replied: “Dollars.”
He was a voracious reader in his childhood, reading Alexander Dumas and Herman Melville, eventually starting to write in the 1940s comic book industry for titles such as “Batman“, “Captain Marvel“, “Captain America“, and “Superman“. He served in the Army Air Corps during WWII, enlisting the day after Pearl Harbor.
In 1947, he wrote his first story “I, the Jury” in 19 days for some quick cash, published by EP Dutton. The novel introduced a character that would stay throughout Spillane’s career: hard-boiled P.I. Mike Hammer.
His work stayed in the vein of hard-boiled Black Mask 1930s school of pulp fiction. He had another motto for that: “violence will outsell sex every time.” Spillane incorporated gore to his crime fiction.
Spillane attributed some of his success to Roscoe Fawcett of Fawcett Gold Medal Books, who envisioned a market for original novels instead of reprinted classic books that were dominating the paperback market at the time.
Mickey Spillane believed that “the first page sells the book”. His narratives were first-person spoken monologues, directly addressed to the reader.
The character of Hammer went on for a subsequent string of crime novels.
After Spillane converted to Jehovah Witness in 1952, he paused from writing…. for nearly a decade. He didn’t need to write though, his royalties from his previous books made more than enough. He returned with Mike Hammer in 1961 in “The Deep“.
In 1964, he started a spy series with the character, Tiger Mann. Mann, similar to Hammer, was anti-communist and often took out Reds.
During the 50s while Spillane was on hiatus, Ian Fleming had taken some parts of what had previously been Spillane’s market. This, combined with the collapse of censorship in the 60s, meant that the previous themes of gore and sexuality in Spillane’s work weren’t as hard-hitting as they had been before.
He took another hiatus between 1973 and 1989, other than two children’s books. In 1989, he released another Mike Hammer novel and then his last novel in 1996, “Black Alley“.
Here are some more quotes from him:
“I have no fans. You know what I got? Customers. And customers are your friends.”
“Nobody reads a mystery to get to the middle. They read it to get to the end. If it’s a letdown, they won’t buy anymore. The first page sells that book. The last page sells your next book.”
“Hemingway hated me. I sold 200 million books, and he didn’t. Of course most of mine sold for 25 cents, but still… you look at all this stuff with a grain of salt.”
“If I need something, I’ll invent it.”
“If the public likes you, you’re good.”
“I’m a commercial writer, not an author. Margaret Mitchell was an author. She wrote one book.”
Due to Spillane winning a Twitter Poll I recently ran (up against Ian Fleming, who came in second, Jack London, and Thomas Hardy), I’ll be studying his writing for the next few months. I’m still deciding if I want to read in a linear fashion or jump around more… maybe I’ll even alternate between Spillane and Fleming because of the neck-and-neck race they had during the poll.
Regardless of what path I take while studying Spillane’s methods and techniques in writing, I will be starting with “I, the Jury” and going from there.