I’m pretty sure I’ve told some of this story before, so those of you who have already heard it please bear with me. In the spring of 1978, I had been selling short stories to Sam Merwin Jr. at MIKE SHAYNE MYSTERY MAGAZINE for a little over a year. Sam and I corresponded frequently – no email in those days, of course – and in one letter I asked him who was currently writing the Mike Shayne stories that appeared in the magazine under the Brett Halliday by-line. Honestly, I wasn’t angling for work, I was just curious. I’d been reading the stories and wanted to know who wrote them, since I knew by then that the original Brett Halliday, Davis Dresser, didn’t write the magazine stories. (In fact, by 1978 Dresser had passed away.)
Sam replied that he had been writing most of the stories himself and named several recent entries that he’d done. Then he asked me if I would like to try my hand at one, since he liked the short stories I’d been writing for him. The Shayne yarns ran 20,000 words, he told me, and paid “a flat, lousy three hundred bucks”.
Well, to a 24-year-old freelancer struggling to build a writing career, the idea of writing a 20,000-word story seemed a little daunting, but $300 didn’t sound lousy at all. In fact, it sounded like a fortune. That would pay the rent for two months on the apartment where Livia and I were living, with some left over to buy groceries. Plus I had been a reader and fan of the Mike Shayne novels ever since I was ten years old and checked out a copy of THIS IS IT, MICHAEL SHAYNE from the bookmobile that came out to our little town every Saturday from the big library in the county seat.
So of course I wrote back immediately to Sam and told him I’d love to write a Shayne story. He was pleased and said he would send me a copy of the Mike Shayne “bible”. He also instructed me to “just get the story down” and not worry too much about making sure everything was consistent with what had come before. He could go through it and make it sound like a Shayne if he needed to, he said.
But I’d been reading the Shayne novels off and on for years and was confident that I knew the characters, the setting, and the right style for the series. This was the biggest opportunity I’d had so far in my career, though, so I wanted to make sure I got it right. In order to do that, I quickly rounded up the first ten or twelve novels in the Shayne series (I already owned some of them, and the others were still very easy to find back then) and read them one after the other, totally immersing myself in the world of Michael Shayne before I ever wrote a word of my first story, which was published in the December 1978 issue of MSMM under the title I had given it, “Death in Xanadu”. As far as I remember, Sam changed one word in the manuscript, so I think I did a pretty good job of making it sound like a Shayne yarn was supposed to sound.
History of Present Complaint by HLR
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