In 1983 and 1884 I wrote an action, police book called “Punches” about a Houston, Texas police detective Jumpen Jack Kellog. In it, Kellog fights an hybrid, bastard mix of the Texas “Cowboy Mafia” and the Yankee, New York Mafia. A small publisher in Michigan, Cannon-King, a firm that did about 12 books a year, to include about 4 cook books a year, liked the story and picked it up in a hardcover. We sold about 6,000 books through their distribution chain and book catalogs, which is not bad for a first time novel so they tell me. We bickered about the cover as usual, but such is life. Then Cannon-King went under by about 1988. (Cookbooks kept them alive for years and allowed them to dabble in other books they found interesting, like mine.) By 1988 or so, I just assumed the rights to the book – no one was left to care – and put the project away on my shelf. But I always thought Jack Kellog was a great character.
Before Cannon-King, the book was almost accepted by St Martin’s Press, which is a big, BIG League publisher. I had an agent in New York, last name Brown, who schlepped the book through the horrible, book-slog system. St Martins had monthly editor meetings and they liked the premise of Punches. BUT, the Kevin Costner movie, “The Untouchables,” was popular then and the board told Brown that I needed to make Kellog a married man (like Elliot Ness in the movie) and that would make for more tension in the book and be like “other genre things.” I told Brown that the whole premise of the book was that Kellog was an unmarried, loner and the two mafias could not scare him in the traditional ways. Disappointed, Brown said “well, okay” and passed that news on. The next month they met again, and with my no-married news, they turned me flat down. They actually told Brown, “Fuck him. He’s not Stephen King.”
I think that Stephen King line was popular because to my memory I think have heard some other authors receive the same message? Looking back, I should have jumped on that St Martins deal, the Kellog series persona or not.
We later “went” with (is “settled-for” a better verb?) Cannon-King. I made a paltry amount of money as 99% of all writers do. Cannon-King disappeared. Punches, fell back into my hands and sat abandoned on the shelf.
The end of the Kellog story? No! I have been working with the same few guys in “Hollywood” since about 2002 or so. I was under contract and was almost the host of a TV show back then called “Worst Case Scenario,” but I was beat out by the now-famous Mike Rowe. That show was terrible and died in one season. The particulars of the show experience would make for another essay. (Mike Rowe is awesome by the way, then and now). I was almost a co-host of the remake of American Gladiators – the subject of another essay. In 2011, I was producing a reality show about hunting Dead Beat Dads really under way. Had a theme song. Shot some prlim footage. Budget. I was producing it all myself. Then it was nixed. I have been a consultant on a few, low-running cable shows. In 2013, I shot a half-hour pilot TV show with these guys in Hollywood, CA itself about survival fighting and crime. Nothing. Crickets. I recently worked on a war hero-history series. I got a lot of writing and scripts done on it. Then…nixed by the cable network. I might have been the host, but I really am happy just being a writer.
Despite the numerous failures, still, when my guys in Hollywood asked me to write or do something? I always do it, but as a complete pessimist. I never bragged on any of this, because our projects always die, like 99.9999% of all other, book, movie and TV show ideas. (But I have helped some friends get on television thanks to connections to and with these folks.)
So, in about 2009, “Hollywood” called again with a few ideas and my friend Dave said,
“Do you still have that old police book laying around?”
“Punches?” I said.
“Yes, It might make a good 2-hour TV movie. Can you work up a treatment for it, and send us a book?”
“I can. But the book is old. I am a much better writer now after 20 years. I guess I could rework the book?”
“Yeah. Yes, do that.”
So dutifully, I dusted Punches off the shelf, and punched it up. I still love the story and it was fun to enhance and deepen it. It is still like an 80s, 90s police, action movie and in 1985, “Punches” also had numerous pre-Tarantino events in it. The plot also had and still has, a dirty cop character, that was seduced as a mole/spy, by the mob, while said cop was in the academy. This was happening for real here and there back in the 1980s, as we cops were warned back then. This theme appeared many years later, such as in the movie “The Departed.” And in the Whitey Bulger stories. But yours truly had it in my 1985 novel. So now, when people read “Be Bad Now,” and they see these Tarantino moments, and Departed moments, they think I am a “copier?” No. In fact, after you’ve watched the TV Series “Justified,” and see how Kellog acts like Raylon Givens sometimes? You might think I copied some of that? Nope, and no. No copy. The original Kellog was decades before these modern, media things like “Justified.”
So, in 2010, Punches became “Be Bad Now.” How? Why the title change? There was/is a line in the book I ripped off from real life. Myself and a tough, FBI agent caught an armed robber while he was talking in a Dallas phone booth once. We both drew down on the guy and the agent said,
“I heard you was a real bad dude.” The end of both our gun barrels were inches from his head. Then he finished with, “Well…be bad now.”
Even at the crazy moment, I thought that was one of the coolest lines I’d ever heard. So, that line and situation appeared in the original Punches and of course, also in the re-write. I decided to change the title to “Be Bad Now.” WHAT A TITLE!
In the re-write, I kept the time period of 1985 during the 80s oil crunch of susceptible millionaires needing mafia money. At the re-write time, there were a few of these time era/piece, police movies and TV shows out, so the idea of an 1985 police thriller was somewhat, “genre-acceptable.” “Be Bad Now” is so MUCH better than “Punches.” Our agent, our German partners and distributors liked and accepted the book and we all started selling “Be Bad Now” in about 2011.
I have written an irresistible Kellog, short story, “At Least They Died with Their Boots On.” And, I have in my head, a terrific plot for a follow-up Kellog book adventure. Will I get to it? I can only write so much at a time. My agent told me to keep writing serial characters, throwing them against the wall and see what sticks. So far, the Johann Gunther books have stuck best.
But I still miss writing about ol’ City of West Forge, Texas, Detective Sgt. Jumpen Jack Kellog.