Combustible Celluloid

Interview with Mickey Spillane

I, the Writer

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

When I was first assigned the "Why I Write" column for the San Francisco Examiner, one of the first names that came to mind was Mickey Spillane (1918-2006). We spoke on the phone, and it was great. He was 87 at the time and bragged: "I can't throw a cinder box around anymore. But I got a full head of hair and I don't wear glasses."

He told all kinds of great stories such as this:

"I got a Jaguar downstairs that John Wayne gave me. I had re-written a movie for him. And it was a hollywood thank-you card. I woke up one day and I look out and there's a white jaguar. 32,000 miles on it. But I use it as a prop when photographers take a picture of me. I've got my original teddy bear too."

Here's the article as it was published in August of 2005:

Living legend Mickey Spillane is a master hard-boiled crime writer in the tradition of the Hammett/Chandler school. His most famous creation, tough guy private eye Mike Hammer, first appeared in I, the Jury in 1947. Spillane has sold nearly 140 million books since, and is currently the most translated writer in the world. His most recent book, Something's Down There was published in 2003, and he is currently at work on what he claims will be the final Mike Hammer adventure.

Q: Why do you write?

MS: I write to make money. It's an income-making device. It keeps me eating. I'm not an author; it's a business.

Q: What book are you reading right now and why?

MS: My own. I'm halfway through my new book!

Q: Did being born in Brooklyn help form your writing style?

MS: I hate that place. I wrote I, the Jury to get out of New York. I grew up in Elizabeth, New Jersey during the depression. I'm an only child. We didn't have anything. At that time they gave you $250 for an advance on a mystery story. But I was smart about the publishing business; I saw paperbacks coming. I thought, 'This is going to be the new deal.'

Q: How did you envision Mike Hammer when you first created him?

MS: I've known cops like that. I used to hang around with cops. I'm very familiar with the whole police setup.

Q: Do you write on a typewriter or a computer?

MS: I don't go near computers. I can't handle the on-off button. I work with Smith-Coronas. They're electric. I want to see those keys jumping on me. I've got a bunch of manuals. I just gave one to a young guy I know. He wanted to know which books I wrote on it, but I couldn't remember.

Q: When you're re-writing, do you find that you often cut sentences down, or build them up?

MS: Writing is strange. I wish I could tell you how to do it. I just write something and, 'hey that's pretty good!' I don't re-write a single thing. If it needs re-writing, then it's no good. I throw it away.

Q: What's your technique for writing mysteries?

MS: I always start with the ending. When you read a book, why do you stick with it? To get to the end. And you hope the end is so good that you hope it justifies all the time you spent reading the thing.

Born: Brooklyn, NY
Education: Attended Kansas State College (now University)
Favorite song, piece of music: I'm a longhair type: classic music. Richard Wagner.
Biggest literary inspiration, author: Alexandre Dumas. I wish he could have written more.
Biggest literary inspiration, book: The Three Musketeers, by Alexandre Dumas. The second one (The Count of Monte Cristo) wasn't so hot.
Most memorable book from my childhood: The Prisoner of Zenda, by Anthony Hope
Book re-read most often: Action stuff. I've got a big library. I don't throw books away.
If I could only retain one book on a desert island, it would be: The Bible.
Book I've read lately that I'd recommend most: My own. I'm halfway through my new book!
Most meaningful line from any book or poem: "The last man on Earth sat alone in a room. There was a knock on the door." He was a great writer. He's dead now. He died not too long ago. I'll leave it up to you to find out where it comes from! (Note: these are the first two lines of a 1948 sci-fi short story entitled "Knock," written by Fredric Brown.)

(Photo courtesy Simon & Shuster. Photograph by Dwain Patrick.)

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