I used to send Mickey Spillane a birthday card every year. I never expected an answer. Imagine my surprise back in ’03 when out of the blue there was a letter in my mailbox. If you want to read it, there it is at the bottom of this post.
He was 85 years old at the time, getting ready to embark on a book tour, and he took the time to sit down at the typewriter and reply to my card.
They just don’t make guys like that anymore.
If you’ve never read a Spillane book, I recommend you start with Vengeance is Mine! and if you like that one, read One Lonely Night. For those who don’t even know who he was, Spillane wrote hard-boiled pulp fiction novels and comic books, including a stint writing Captain America for Marvel. His claim to fame was the fictional detective Mike Hammer. He had a colorful life. He had been a lifeguard, a circus performer, and a fighter pilot in WWII before becoming a writer. At the height of his popularity he made a series of hilarious beer commercials. His quotes are legendary.
- “Inspiration is an empty bank account.”
- “I’m a commercial writer, not an author. Margaret Mitchell was an author. She wrote one book.”
- “I don’t give a damn about reviews. What I like to read are royalty checks.”
- “I have no fans. You know what I got? Customers. And customers are your friends.”
Just starting out as a writer, he was an inspiration. I don’t know how many of you have been following this blog since I started it back in 2008. But back then it was called 808 Hackard Buidling because that’s the fictional address of Spillane’s famous detective. Plenty has changed. Blog has a new name and a custom url. Focus has shifted from fiction to non-fiction. But what hasn’t changed is my blue-collar approach to this craft.
You show up every day, you punch the clock, and you put in an honest day’s work. And while you’re on the clock, you don’t stand around smoking cigarettes or hang out by the water cooler waiting for somebody to tell you what to do next. You get your butt in gear. And above all, you never act like you think your crap don’t stink.
Spillane was a hack writer. He was not politically correct. He wrote violent books. But he was authentic. He was honest. He respected his fans. And he didn’t take himself too seriously. And from him I learned three very important things.
Number one, put the reader first. Number two, write like it’s your job. Number three, tell it like you see it.
I write at 500 words a day whether I want to or not. Otherwise I’m a lazy bastard and I can’t look at myself.
Thanks Mickey. Happy Birthday, wherever you are.