Max Allan Collins's Blog
August 25, 2015
I have been warned not to talk politics here. This warning has come from my son, my wife and many other people saner than me. And I think they’re right. People who read these updates generally know that my politics are left of center – slightly left, I think, but to a Tea Party conservative I probably look like a Commie.
So I won’t write about politics.
But I will write about Donald Trump.
I have friends, smart ones, who like Trump and are with him all the way, assuming that this phenomenon turns out not to be relatively fleeting. I understand the appeal of the outsider, and sometimes the man says things I agree with, at least vaguely. He really is the least conservative conservative I’ve ever seen. How he’s been embraced, it seems to me, has more to do with disgust for Washington, D.C., than any endorsement of his policies. He doesn’t seem to have any policies that I can see, beyond having issues with illegal immigrants.
So this isn’t political. These are just two observations about Mr. Trump.
First, I keep hearing commentators in the media say again and again that they’ve never seen anything like the Donald Trump phenomenon. Well, I have. So have they, or at least they’ve read about it, if they’d think past last Tuesday.
Trump and his cult of personality are straight out of the Huey Long playbook. Yes, we have seen this kind of phenomenon in politics before. So has Europe. They had one guy who made the trains run on time, and another who had an ethnic group he turned into national bad guys. I don’t equate the Donald with the implied names of that last sentence, but the phenomenon is similar. It’s of that stripe. And if he were actually elected and able to do the things he says he wants to do, and claims he can do, he’ll have to become dictator.
But the real reason I’m writing an update on this subject is this: for weeks, Trump has been reminding me of somebody. Reminding me very much of somebody, and I couldn’t put my finger on it.
Then it came to me: Tony Clifton.
Tony Clifton, the jaw-jutting lounge act blowhard who struts and spews nonsense, thanks to his creator Andy Kaufman. Watch Donald strut cluelessly through the Alabama crowd (“How many of you have a Mercedes?”), and wonder if this isn’t yet another brilliant comic creation of someone who left us too soon, a 21st Century reality TV variation on the sublime Tony Clifton.
So my question is this: is that you, Andy? Is that you under there?
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August 18, 2015
I was a junior and then senior in high school in 1964, when Beatlemania hit, and I was as caught up in it as anybody. The recent anniversary of their Shea Stadium concert got a lot of nostalgic talk going, particularly on oldies radio. (Not that someone as hip and culturally relevant as me listens to such a thing.) What hardly anybody discusses, though, is where the concurrent spy craze fit in.
Of course, James Bond – his anti-Beatles remark in the otherwise great GOLDFINGER a rare tin-ear moment from the filmmakers – was a big part of the British invasion. The success of the first few Bond films meant imitations were inevitable, and lots of spy stuff hit the screens, some of it more straight like THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD and THE IPCRESS FILE, but a lot of it crapola like the Dean Martin “Matt Helm” abominations.
A ton of the imitations came out of Europe, particularly Italy, and those mostly terrible movies – for which I have an inexplicable fondness – are now lumped together as the Euro-Spy genre. The two OSS 117 parodies of recent years were takes on Bond, yes, but also on the straight OSS 117 movies from the ‘60s based on a long-running novel series that actually pre-dated James Bond. Some of these are among the best Bond imitations – SHADOW OF EVIL, MISSION FOR A KILLER, PANIC IN BANGKOK. (These are either unavailable in the USA or available only gray-market and/or pan-and-scan form. Check out Amazon France for better copies, most of which have English subtitles.)
But in Iowa in 1964, only the really mainstream spy movies made it here (again, the Dean Martin junk, and the very good Harry Palmers with Michael Caine) and that was true for a lot of the country. Buffs for this stuff wouldn’t see the Euro-spy movies until they hit TV a decade or two later in butchered, horrendously dubbed format, or in the last few years as DVDs and Blu-rays, often with wide-screen images intact and English subtitles. I particularly like the Joe Walker/KOMMISAR X series from Italy, but there’s no excuse for it.
Meanwhile, back in ‘64, television stepped in to feed a spy craze that couldn’t breathe on one Bond film a year and occasional double-feature double-oh-seven re-releases. So a number of spy series hit the small screen, most prominently THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. (co-created by Ian Fleming, a fairly little known fact) and I SPY. I’ve revisited both series in the last several years, and neither holds up very well. Of course, I SPY is now on the pop-cultural scrap heap, thanks to Bill Cosby’s little hobby.
THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. was always spotty. A few years ago, working my way through the show in a spy’s briefcase, I knew I was in trouble when late in the first season – generally considered to be the best – an episode written by the great Robert Towne blew chunks. But at the time, the show was a very big deal. The first episode was expanded, shown in color (the pilot had been shot that way but the first season was otherwise in black-and-white, and the pilot aired that way), and some new violent, sexy scenes were inserted. Also a big scene with David McCullum, who was a non-entity in the pilot but had Spock-like popularity with viewers that got him the second lead, very quickly. This cunning patchwork was titled TO TRAP A SPY and was released theatrically to some success. There were seven more of these recycled MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. movies, mostly utilizing TV two-parters, although only the first two did well, and several went overseas with no stateside theatrical release. They are available as a set on DVD from Warner Archive.
Though Bond was obviously immune, the spy craze died quickly, particularly on TV. THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E., in its third season, went campy, following the lead of the new craze, the Adam West/Burt Ward BATMAN. Everybody hated this version of U.N.C.L.E., and the next half-season (they were cancelled midway) went back to more straight fare, too late. I SPY lasted three seasons. MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE, thanks to great music and a cool premise, out-lived every other espionage show of the era.
What most Baby Boomers remember about THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. (and U.N.C.L.E. was not Uncle Sam, but an organization that seemed vaguely tied to the U.N. for worldwide law-enforcement) (no, I won’t spell out the acronym) are Robert Vaughn as Napoleon Solo (a name Fleming contributed) and David McCallum as Illya Kuryakin. The latter with his Beatle-esque haircut and understated Russian accent was a big pop-cultural deal. Vaughn, smooth and unruffled and impeccably attired, was arguably the best secret agent of the craze but for Bond himself.
So you’re waiting for me to slam the new movie, I suppose. Well, I’m not going to because it’s terrific. Director-co-writer Guy Ritchie has made a sly, darkly funny film that invokes not just the series but Bond and the entire spy craze era, with the look of the film drawing heavily upon the Harry Palmer trio. The twisty script is sexy and clever and occasionally scary. The music is witty and mixes zither exoticism out of FUNERAL IN BERLIN with Ennio Morricone cues, during which the direction takes an overtly Serio Leone take. The leads are fine, Armie Hammer redeeming his LONE RANGER travesty with a Kuryakin reworked into a volatile near psychotic, while Henry Clavill channels Robert Vaughn. It was this near impression – revealing the actor had really studied the series – that won me over early on. Clavill has Vaughn’s cadence and cool, as well as the dimple in his chin.
It’s an origin story, and U.N.C.L.E. itself is barely introduced at the end, though charmingly so, Hugh Grant nailing the spy agency’s boss, Alexander Waverly (the great Leo G. Carroll on the TV series). It sets up a series of films that probably won’t happen. Unfortunately.
Something this smart and witty may not work on the current generation, who won’t get the references and will wonder why every scene isn’t an action one, like the latest video game or the new MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE. Now I liked the Tom Cruise film, found it great fun, but it’s just one Cruise action set piece after another linked by clumsy expository scenes and winning comedy relief from Simon Pegg. THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. won’t be everybody’s cup of spy, but it’s my favorite film of the summer.
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August 11, 2015
I mentioned this in a reply to a comment last week, but for those of you who missed it: our grandson has a name – Samuel Allan Collins. Sam. Some of you may recall that Sam is Nate Heller’s son’s name, and of course there’s Samuel Dashiell Hammett and a man called Spade. So I like the resonance, although I didn’t come up with the moniker.
He’s a little guy – he was early – and he’s dealing with a few problems, but he’s a scrapper, and his parents are with him all the way.
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I am prepping for the next Mike Hammer, which I intend to start very soon (by the time you read this, it’ll be under way). You might be curious as to my process.
Of course it varies every time, because I am generally dealing with manuscripts from Mickey in various states and shape. This time I have about thirty pages of his to start with, but I also have plot and character notes, and the roughed-out ending.
One problem I deal with every time is dating the manuscript. My policy has been to maintain continuity with the existing Hammer books as they were written and published. The idea is to capture Mickey and Mike in the right creative context, as opposed to me just writing my idea of a general Mike Hammer book. Sometimes it’s a snap, as with LADY, GO DIE!, which was clearly designed to be the second novel.
This time I had to search out clues in the manuscript. It feels like an early work, a ‘50s piece, but evidence in the narrative finally led me to realize it was written around 1967. The evidence, specifically, is that Hammer mentions three major New York newspapers that have recently died. Researching them, I found all three folded in 1966.
Next step is to read some Mickey and get in the mood and the swing. What I like to do is read material that was written around the same time as the manuscript I’m completing. In this case (as someone once said), “It was easy.” Mickey published THE BODY LOVERS in 1967. So I am currently reading that novel, which I have grown to like and respect more and more as I’ve read and re-read it over the years. I mark the copy up with a highlighter, as if it were a text book for school.
In addition, Barb and I listened to the fine Stacy Keach abridgment of KISS ME, DEADLY on a recent day trip to Galena, Illinois. That book obviously wasn’t written in the ‘60s, but it always help to get some genuine Spillane vitamins into my system. An upcoming trip to St. Louis, to visit the grandson and his parents, will have me going all the way to the start, listening to the new Mike Dennis-read unabridged I, THE JURY.
These thirty pages will be expanded into around sixty, at least. The plot outline (there are several, somewhat contradictory) will need some serious thought. But I am itching to start and will probably deal with Mickey’s existing material before I plot the rest of the novel (from his notes).
The book will be called DON’T LOOK BEHIND YOU (a Mickey shout out to his favorite mystery writer, Fredric Brown) and the cover already exists, shared with you here.
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Rich Whitney Turner has written a lovely tribute to, uh, well…me. Do please check this out.
August 4, 2015
Barb and I visited our son Nate, his bride Abby and our new grandson (still unnamed at this writing) over the weekend in St. Louis. The little guy – he was early, and truly is little – is doing fine, and so are his parents. It was a fun visit and heartwarming, and I’ll stop right there before everybody gets sick.
I mentioned last time that there’s a new audio out of my 2008 X-FILES movie novelization, I WANT TO BELIEVE. We listened to it on the ride down and back, and enjoyed it – the narrator, Patrick Lawlor, did a good job. I rarely revisit a movie novelization, and this proved interesting for a number of reasons.
First, as often happens when I listen to an audio of my work, I am in a best-of-times-worst-of-times mode. I usually have forgotten enough about the plot (whether my own or some screenwriter’s) to enjoy the novel as a narrative. But I also cringe at things that I will never get the chance to fix. In writing a novelization of a film, the work often goes fast and has to be handed in on a near-impossible deadline, and I WANT TO BELIEVE could definitely have benefitted from another pass where I tweaked and fixed things. On the whole, though, it came out pretty good. Or as Larry David would say, “Pretty, pretty good.”
When we got home, I decided to look at the film itself. I had it on blu-ray but hadn’t watched it since I saw it in the theater. I haven’t done a movie novelization in a long time (I WANT TO BELIEVE was one of the last), but my most vivid memory of those days is that seeing the film in a theater was always a weird experience for me. I had spent enough time writing the novel that the narrative on hand seemed my own (a delusion). A fact of life for the writer of a movie novel is that you work from a screenplay and do not get access to the film itself, though you are expected to mirror that film. Now and then, you get a few clips and the X-FILES people were generous with wardrobe sheets and cast lists, and were always there to answer questions (“What kind of car does Scully drive?” “What color?”). But mostly you’re flying blind, as screenplays are notoriously bare bones.
Seeing the movie after having just heard the novelization made me feel good about what I’d accomplished. I had definitely imagined, and recorded, a movie from that screenplay that tallied well the actual film. The biggest difference was an odd one. The main villain was described in the screenplay as having black stringy hair and craggy ugly features, and was frequently linked to the Russian madman, Rasputin. In the film itself, blond, rather handsome actor Callum Keith Rennie – who was a good guy co-star on one of my favorite TV series, DUE SOUTH – was the bad guy. So that change was startling.
Others were very minor. A couch turned into a folded-out day bed; bone marrow cancer became lung cancer. Otherwise, I pretty much conjured up the same movie, albeit on paper. Some of the character names – no doubt forced by the legal department on the filmmakers – I disliked. One tough African-American FBI agent was called “Wesley Drummy.” Horrible name, not at all suited to the character. In the film it gets used once or twice; in the book I had to use it all the time. A number of awkward character names made the book seem klutzy at times – this is not at all uncommon in the novelization game. You’re stuck with these stupid names.
I liked the film, which remains much maligned. I do think the X-FILES folks made a major mistake in having Scully and Mulder at odds and separated through much of the story. Nothing wrong with that story, but a crucial creative meeting was skipped – the one where everybody sat down and asked each other, “What do X-FILES fans want to see?” Not Dana Scully turning her back on the FBI and Mulder to tend to a little kid with a brain tumor.
The experience of hearing my books on audio is always gratifying and frustrating. I careen between thinking, “That was a really nice scene/line/description,” to, “Jesus, I wish I could fix that!” And you are the captive of the audio-book reader. I’ve had some great ones, quite a few good ones, and some terrible ones. One guy read DAMNED IN PARADISE in a bad Bogart impression. (I gave my freebie copies to friends as gag gifts.) On the other hand, the Hellers have all been read in recent years by the excellent Dan John Miller, who has virtually become Nate’s voice.
The day I’m writing this, Dan is in the studio reading FATE OF THE UNION. He did a fantastic job on the first book in the Reeder and Rogers series, SUPREME JUSTICE, and both Matt Clemens and I are thrilled to have him back for FATE. Dan also did a great job on THE WRONG QUARRY, but the new Quarry audio book publisher, Skyboat, features the QUARRY novels as read by the excellent Stefan Rudnicki. Rudnicki is an older, huskier Quarry, a deeper voice than the character usually receives but an excellent, expressive reader. He knocked the ball out of the park on QUARRY’S CHOICE.
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My friend Mike Dennis campaigned long and hard to get to record an audio of I, THE JURY. Check out his story here.
July 28, 2015
Audio MP3 CD:
The surprising news of a new, six-episode season of THE X-FILES featuring the original cast caused me to reflect on just how much Barb, Nate and I enjoyed the series, back in (as they say) the day. How we never missed an episode, even when we were so frustrated we wanted to throw a brick through the screen (“All will be revealed!”), and binge watching our laser discs that allowed some of the fan favorite episodes to be viewed again and again at home (amazing).
The series ran nine seasons and a major, big-budget motion picture was part of the mix, as well. Toward the end of the run, I was well-established as a writer of tie-in novels, and was approached by Harper Collins (the publisher, not some obscure cousin of mine) to develop a proposal for an original X-FILES novel.
In the business of writing tie-ins, Fox TV was notorious for being hard to work with, especially on the X-FILES franchise. But I was such a fan, I wanted to do it anyway. So for a period of about a year, off and on, I worked under the guiding hand of a Harper Collins editor to produce a fifty-page story treatment for a novel. This was entirely on spec, something I rarely do – but remember, I was a fan.
I came up with something I thought was very, very good, and so did the editor – a kind of X-FILES MEETS AMITYVILLE. We sent it in. We never heard a word. No rejection, much less an acceptance. That’s the writing biz – you drop something down a well and don’t even hear a splash.
By this time the series was in its final season, and not only did my tie-in never happen, no other X-FILES novels by anybody happened, either.
Then in 2008, a second film was produced: THE X-FILES: I WANT TO BELIEVE. Out of the blue, I was approached to write the novelization. I was thrilled, although I was apprehensive, because the movie was being produced in great secrecy, and the reputation of the X-FILES people being impossible to work with was a less than distant memory.
As it happened, I WANT TO BELIEVE was the single best experience I ever had, writing movie novelizations. I was one of a small handful of people (something like five) who had a copy of the script. The actors, I understand, had only their own script pages. The cinematographer had to read the script in a bank vault. But it was on my desk in Muscatine, Iowa.
Both Chris Carter and especially co-writer/producer Frank Spotnitz were terrific; I was frequently on the phone with the latter. If I had questions about wardrobe, I was sent daily costume sheets. I had photos from the set when the Internet had next to nothing. In one case, the editor of the film (Richard A. Harris, Academy Award winning editor of TITANIC and TERMINATOR 2) sat at his computer in Canada and described an action scene to me, frame by frame, that was not in my script. We were on the phone for two wonderful hours. Incredible.
I think I WANT TO BELIEVE is one of my best movie novels, but the film itself disappointed a lot of people. I liked it. It was an intelligent monster-of-the-week episode with some daring themes. The mood was right and the two leads were typically stellar. I remain thrilled that, sort of at the last minute, I became a part of THE X-FILES.
Now with the six-episode special-event series coming, a real push on X-FILES material is under way, particularly from IDW, with whom I have a long history. I was approached by the fine writer (also fine guy) Jonathan Maberry to contribute a story to an X-FILES anthology, TRUST NO ONE. I asked if I could do a novella and was given permission.
Now all will be revealed: I used my long-ago story treatment for the novel that never happened to write “The House on Hickory Hill.” Finally I got some money for writing it! Finally that story gets to be seen. And I think it’s a good one.
Also, a series of X-FILES audio books has been produced including the various vintage original tie-in novels and the two movie novelizations (also TRUST NO ONE). That means that suddenly a 2008 movie novel of mine has an audio book. I haven’t heard it yet, but admit I am pleased it exists and will delight at revisiting that underrated tale again, on some road trip to come.
It’s hard to know if THE X-FILES will be a “thing” again or just be a nostalgic blip on the pop-culture radar. The early ‘90s is suddenly a very long time ago. But THE X-FILES is a series that had an incredible impact on everything that came after. CSI, for example, played off a similar flashlights-in-the-dark vibe. As frustrating as the serialized nature of X-FILES could be, it set the stage for so many novelistic series to follow. Of current series, ORPHAN BLACK is steeped in the X-FILES approach.
I, for one, can’t wait to once again be thrilled and frustrated by this seminal series.
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Here’s an interesting article on the QUARRY TV series moving to Memphis for its last weeks of production on season one. Lots of mentions of the novels.
Finally, here’s a write-up on the Eclipse comic book company that includes a brief but very nice mention of MS. TREE.
July 21, 2015
I have read around 100 pages of Harper Lee’s GO SET A WATCHMAN, and frankly don’t know if I’ll get any farther in it.
The writing certainly has at least occasional flair, though the use of point of view isn’t to my liking – suddenly jumping into another character’s POV for a while, and then back again, is an amateur ploy. The secondary characters aren’t particularly compelling, and the dialogue is often precious. But what’s really wrong with the novel is that it has no discernible plot. Unlike its famous predecessor, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (like I had to tell you), there’s no murder trial to provide an engine to the small-town nostalgia set pieces.
MOCKINGBIRD is not a particular favorite of mine. I read it when it came out, in my youth, and have seen the fine film version a couple of times. But it’s not a novel that resonated with me so deeply that I named a child “Atticus” much less became expert in the prose style of its one-hit wonder author.
Mickey Spillane used to cite Lee and Margaret Mitchell as examples of “authors,” when explaining the difference between authors and writers, considering himself a prime example of the latter. An author wrote a book or two, a writer made a living at it and produced a shelf of work.
I take special interest in WATCHMAN because of my role as Mickey’s literary executor. I’m frankly surprised that there’s been as little fuss over just how much material Mickey left behind and just how much of it I’ve prepared for publication. But I do have a special context for seeing how reviewers and commentators have responded to WATCHMAN.
First of all, most of what has been written about the novel has been nonsense. Few have reviewed it on its own terms (the only way to review a novel properly). Many have speculated about whether or not Harper Lee truly gave permission for this early work to be published (though she clearly has). Many talk about the publishing industry in ways that reveal they know nothing about how publishing works, much less novel writing.
The biggest piece of misinformation is that WATCHMAN is a rough draft of MOCKINGBIRD. No. Not even close. It’s a different book about the more famous novel’s principal characters, set twenty years later. Its theme is finding out a beloved parent has feet of clay, and that’s valid enough. WATCHMAN has also been called a sequel or even a prequel. Here we’re getting warmer.
MOCKINGBIRD is the prequel to WATCHMAN. Some sources indicate that Lee and her publisher intended WATCHMAN to be published (and presumably somewhat rewritten) as the third book in a trilogy about these characters. Whether any real work was done on book two, and what that book would have been, is currently withheld. My guess, and it’s just a guess, is that Lee is one of those writers whose initial success sent her spiraling into a life-long writer’s block. Or in Mickey’s terms, an author’s block….
People seem terribly confused that the second book chronologically was written first. But writers (and even authors) know that’s ridiculous – that books in a series or saga can be written in whatever order the writer damn well chooses. My novels STOLEN AWAY and DAMNED IN PARADISE are chronologically the first in the Nathan Heller series; but they were published (and written) as books five and eight respectively.
On the other hand, WATCHMAN should have received a polish that brought it more in line with MOCKINGBIRD (there’s a major inconsistency about the murder trial in MOCKINGBIRD when referenced in WATCHMAN, for example). But the editors were too intimidated by Lee’s reputation to fix such things, and she is apparently not in any shape to do any writing or even editing herself (or if she is, isn’t interested).
Should the book have been published? Many say no. I say, “Hell, yes.” So far I don’t particularly care for the thing, but Harper Lee is a major author, and this is a second book about the famous characters in MOCKINGBIRD, and it makes a very interesting point about putting parents on pedestals.
But the book is a flawed, early work, apparently intended originally for revision so that it could be published after MOCKINGBIRD. So the bestseller approach that Harper (the publisher, not the author) has taken can be seen as at best inappropriate and at worst sleazy.
WATCHMAN deserved a publication that was more respectful of its history and the state it’s in – a scholarly introduction or after word, for example, to explain the context and the importance of the work, however flawed. To present it as just the “new” Harper Lee novel seems designed to make a lot of money while alienating the very readers who are pumping that money in.
Presented as more of an historical artifact, WATCHMAN still would have sold very well, and it would have received a more fair judgment by the public, the press and reviewers.
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The Hon Company in my hometown of Muscatine, Iowa, is a very successful office-furniture manufacturer. My Dad worked for them for many decades, and I think he would have been proud of my appearance on this Hon-distributed piece on “7 Facts About Muscatine.”
There’s a Nate Heller story in the new anthology, CHICAGO NOIR, which recently got a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly.
And here’s a nice bit about the “Nat” Heller novels.
July 14, 2015
Actually, Mike Hammer probably has shot five-hundred in his career, but I refer not to bad guys but the fact that at the International Association of Media and Tie-in Writers “Scribe” Awards, KING OF THE WEEDS did not win Best Novel, while the Hammer short story, “It’s in the Book,” did win Best Short Story.
No complaints. The Scribes have been great to the Spillane/Collins collaboration – we’ve won once for Best Novel (KISS HER GOODBYE, twice for Best Short Story (“Book” and “So Long Chief”) and once for Best Audio (“Encore for Murder”).
I am particularly pleased to see “It’s in the Book” honored, because it’s my favorite of the Hammer short stories (and it was overlooked by the Edgars and Shamuses, which had both singled out “So Long, Chief”). Right now I have one more Hammer fragment that would work as a short story, and I may save it for an eventual collection.
“It’s in the Book” is available as a small book and has been collected in a book club collection (see Mike Doran’s comment last time) and in the UK in a collection called DEATH SENTENCES.
Here are all the Scribe nominees with winners in bold face:
BEST ORIGINAL NOVEL – GENERAL
24: Deadline by James Swallow
Murder She Wrote: Death of a Blue Blood by Don Bain
Mike Hammer: King of the Weeds by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins
Homeland: Saul’s Game by Andrew Kaplan
The Killing: Uncommon Denominator by Karen Dionne
BEST ORIGINAL NOVEL – SPECULATIVE
Sleepy Hollow: Children of the Revolution by Keith R. A.
Grimm: Chopping Block by John Passarella
Star Trek: Disavowed by David Mack
Star Trek: Foul Deeds Will Rise by Greg Cox
Grimm: The Killing Time by Tim Waggoner
Pathfinder: The Redemption Engine by James Sutter
Fringe: Sins of the Father by Christa Faust
ADAPTED NOVEL – GENERAL AND SPECULATIVE
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes by Alex Irvine
Noah by Mark Morris
War of the Worlds: Goliath by Adam Whitlach
YOUNG ADULT – ALL GENRES, ORIGINAL AND ADAPTED
Spirit Animals: Blood Ties by Garth Nix and Sean Williams
Battletech: The Nellus Academy Incident by Jennifer Brozak
Penguins of Madagascar by Tracey West
Pathfinder: Hunter’s Folly by Josh Vogt
Mike Hammer: It’s in the Book by Max Collins and Mickey Spillane
Stargate: Perceptions by Diana Botsford
Pathfinder: Queen Sacrifice by Steven Savile
Tales of Valdemar: Written in the Wind by Jennifer Brozek
Dark Shadows: The Darkest Shadow by Nev Fountain
Dark Shadows: The Devil Cat by Mark Thomas Passmore
Blake’s 7: Fortuitis by George Mann
Doctor Who: Iterations of I by John Dorney
Pathfinder Legends: The Skinsaw Murders by Cavan Scott
GRANDMASTER (“the Faust Award”): TERRANCE DICKS
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I note with sadness the passing of writer Tom Piccirilli, a very gifted man who reviewed many of my novels, and always favorably. When a writer as fine as Tom likes your work, you figure you’re doing something right.
Many tributes have appeared, but I’ll provide just this link to my friend Jeff Pierce’s write-up at the Rap Sheet.
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Here’s a lovely review of THE LEGEND OF CALEB YORK from James Reasoner, who – like my pal Bill Crider – is a real western writer. When I pass muster with guys like James and Bill, I breathe a sigh of relief.
July 7, 2015
As it happens, Barb and I won’t be able to go the Comic-Con this year. So the listings that have me hosting the Scribe awards, doing a signing, and having a Quarry panel are now all inaccurate. Likely I’ll be there next year, but this time, no. My pal Jonathan Maberry will be hosting the Scribes for me.
Coincidentally, a French publisher (Ombres Noires) is translating “It’s in the Book” for their own edition (it’s available in English only in a small book, as well, published by Otto Penzler). They asked me to do an interview, which they will include in the small book, in French of course.
I thought you might like to see it in English.
Interview with Max Allan Collins
It’s in the Book
You wrote the end of a story by Mickey Spillane, who passed away in 2006. You were friends, how did you two meet?
As a young teenager, I idolized Mickey and wrote him dozens of fan letters. He never responded until I published my first novel, BAIT MONEY, in 1973, and sent him a copy, He wrote me a warm, lengthy letter of welcome to the community of professional writers.
Over the years I have been a defender of Spillane, who remains controversial in the United States. Because of that, I was asked in 1981 to be the liaison between Mickey and the Bouchercon mystery convention in Milwaukee, where he was a guest of honor. We immediately hit it off and I began to visit him at his home in South Carolina once or twice a year.
How did you come to complete his manuscripts?
On my various visits to Mickey’s home, he would send partially completed manuscripts home with me. He said this was just because he thought I’d be interested, but on one occasion he said, “Maybe we can do something with these someday.” He was referring to two partial Hammer novels, THE BIG BANG and COMPLEX 90. We had begun to collaborate on projects – a number of noir anthologies of his work and the work of others, a science-fiction comic book called MIKE DANGER, and a biographical documentary I wrote and directed, “Mike Hammer’s Mickey Spillane.”
When Mickey became ill, with a particularly virulent strain of cancer, we stayed in close touch by phone. He was working desperately to finish what he described as the last Mike Hammer, THE GOLIATH BONE. Shortly before his death, he called and said he didn’t think he’d be able to finish it. And he asked me to do it for him, if that proved necessary. I of course said yes.
Around the same time, Mickey told his wife Jane to gather all his unfinished material and give it to me – “Max will know what to do.” No greater honor could be paid me. There were six major Hammer manuscripts, often with notes, and another half dozen shorter Hammer novels in progress. There were also short openings for novels, running from six to ten pages, that I thought would make good short stories. “It’s in the Book” is one of those.
You wrote several stories from his manuscripts. What did you like in this one in particular?
It had a beautifully written opening, with two cops coming to see Hammer in his office, to take him to see a U.S. Senator for some mysterious, important job. Mickey’s manuscript ended before that job was fully described by the client, and that enabled me to use the missing ledger that made the story a bibliographic mystery. You see, editor Otto Penzler had requested that specific kind of story.
What sort of shape did the manuscript have – was it just a few lines, a structure, several chapters?
It was basically that opening, right up to where Hammer meets with the senator. I thought it was a lovely, traditional opening for a private eye story.
It must be a very special experience, and a challenge, to finish a story more than 20 years later. Did you try in any way to modernize the style, the story, or anything – or did you try to remain faithful to Spillane’s style?
I’ve done seven Hammer novels now, and the unfinished Spillane manuscripts spanned his entire career – from 1947 to the month he died. I always try to determine when Mickey was writing the story, and then I immerse myself in material that he wrote around that same time, so I can catch the flavor and capture Hammer at that specific time. Hammer is a much changing character, and a story conceived by Mickey in the ‘50s is vastly different from one written in, says, the 1980s. I don’t try too overtly to mimic Mickey’s style — it’s collaboration, not pastiche. I concentrate on getting Mike Hammer right. It’s a matter of character.
I am a very traditional, Old School mystery writer, so this comes naturally to me.
Did he influence you in your writing, or help you in your own work?
Mickey was a huge influence on me. The key writers for me were Hammett, Chandler, Cain, Thompson and Westlake. These are very different writers in their approaches, and I think having such variant influences has worked well for me. Mickey never really gave me any writing advice – I was already a pro when our friendship developed. But he was supportive and provided blurbs for many of my book covers.
What is it that makes the character of Mike Hammer so special, compared to other popular characters?
Hammer had an enormous impact on popular culture worldwide, well beyond the private eye genre. James Bond is a version of Hammer, for example. Prior to Hammer, detectives did not display the emotions – love, hate, fear – that Spillane gave his hero. Hammer was the first avenger of modern fiction, a hero who used the methods of the villain to triumph over that villain. In addition, Hammer as a combat veteran brought a traumatic backstory to the detective, much imitated since. Finally, Hammer slept with women, unashamedly. While Sam Spade had sex with his femme fatale, just about no detective since had done so. Chandler said disparaging things about Mickey, but after the success of the Mike Hammer books, Marlowe began having an active sex life.
Say what you will about Mickey, but he was the most influential mystery writer of the 20th century…and the bestselling, with the possible exception of Christie.
How did you come up with the idea of this ending?
That idea jumped to mind at the outset. I knew it was a good one. Mickey loved surprise endings, and this was right up his alley.
Are you yourself interested in rare books and first editions?
I am. I have a good collection with many signed books – all the writers I mentioned above, and more. I have a very strong Rex Stout collection, for instance.
What do you enjoy most about writing short novels?
I’m not a short story writer by inclination. I’m very much a novelist. But I’ve grown to like the form. It’s nice to have a project that lasts a week and not several months. My wife, Barbara Collins, is an excellent short story writer.
Who are the authors that inspire you today? Why?
I read very little contemporary fiction. I don’t care to be influenced by trends, and anyway my reading time is taken up largely by research for my historical thrillers. I continue to read and re-read the greats – again, Hammett, Chandler, Cain, Spillane and so on.
Do you read French thrillers?
I’m very traditional on that front, as well – Boileau-Narcejac. Jean Pierre Melville is one of my favorite film directors.
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The same site followed up quickly with a piece speculating about the Spillane/Collins collaboration process. You’ll see a lengthy comment from me explaining that process in some depth.
Here is a lovely, gracious review of SPREE by one of our great noir writers, Ed Gorman.
June 30, 2015
Here’s the cover for FATE OF THE UNION, the second Reeder and Rogers political thriller from Thomas & Mercer. The first, SUPREME JUSTICE, was one of my bestselling novels ever, so I’m hopeful this one will do well, too.
Whether it will engender the same kind of political controversy as the first remains to be seen. I can’t see any reason for conservatives to get their panties in a bunch this time around, or progressives either; but you never know.
The cover process at Thomas & Mercer is fascinating – they provide a number of possibilities and give the author great input into the final product. I think this one is very good, and that it makes a nice fit with the SUPREME JUSTICE cover.
You’ll note that Matt Clemens shares byline this time around. That’s only a cosmetic change, because Matt was a collaborator on SUPREME JUSTICE as well, and the previous Thomas & Mercer novel, WHAT DOESN’T KILL HER. I wanted to include him on the byline of those, but was discouraged from doing so, because some people make the unfortunate assumption that when a secondary byline appears with a (fairly) well-known author’s, that means the book was ghosted.
Those of you who follow these updates know that Matt and I are genuine collaborators. Our process is one we have shared openly. I usually come up with the basic premise of a novel, and we then – in several sessions – come up with a plot. We both work on a chapter breakdown/synopsis, and then Matt writes a shortish rough draft, which I polish and expand into a longer novel. It’s a synthesis of two writers, and it’s worked very well for us for a long time. We developed the approach on the very successful CSI novels and have continued it elsewhere.
I’m proud and pleased to share cover credit with Matt.
And this book represents, in both our opinions, our best work together. It comes out next November.
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June 23, 2015
Nobody at DC Comics informed me of this, but a collection of all of my BATMAN comic book stories has been published. A small box of comp copies arrived the other day, my first contact with DC on the book. Its pub date is July 21, but comic book shops may have it sooner.
It’s a handsome volume, but I haven’t sat down to read it yet. That experience will no doubt be bittersweet, because my BATMAN comics were not well-received by a significant number of fans. Even today, I’m one of the least popular BATMAN writers on many comics chat sites.
My position has always been that I did a good job, but was undone by poor editing. The latter is hard to prove, because I no longer have my scripts and my memory is fuzzy – I just know that certain explanatory captions were dropped and several sequences that were cross-cut got reassembled in a more linear, boring fashion. Back in those pre-Internet days, contact with an editor (in this case, the legendary Denny O’Neil) was strictly through the mail and the occasional long-distance call. I’ve come to think that Denny and I were not a good fit because, ironically, we both respected each other’s work so much that we didn’t want to step on the other guy’s toes.
What really turned me into an also-ran on BATMAN was the inability of O’Neil to pair me with an artist for longer than two issues. Sometimes the second part of a story would be drawn in an entirely different manner from the first, and apparently minus any reference material having been provided to the second artist to keep character visuals consistent with the first. There are eight comic-book stories by me in this volume (a handful by other writers are included) and for those eight issues, I had six artists.
Among the ironies of my brief tenure on BATMAN is my Toys ‘r’ Us success. That company went to DC, wanting to put together bags of BATMAN comics; the Toys ‘r’ Us people looked at about three or four years of BATMAN…and picked out my issues. I made a lot of dough from those reprints.
I’ve also been told that my material has been a source for animated BATMAN adventures.
The most famous thing about my version of Jason Todd is that fans voted to kill him off, like Andy Kaufman getting voted off SNL by phone. I should say that the writers who followed me (notably Jim Starlin) did not take Jason Todd’s story in the direction I intended and had set up.
BATMAN – SECOND CHANCES is complete as to my comic-book stories. But it does not include the first continuity of the BATMAN strip that I did before the Tribune forced me to step down at the threat of a lawsuit (the great Marshal Rogers was the artist). I did a final comic-book script about my Mime character that was never produced, but I turned it into a BATMAN short story. My two BATMAN graphic-novel projects – SCAR OF THE BAT, Eliot Ness Meets Batman; and BATMAN – CHILD OF DREAMS based on the Kia Asamiya manga – constitute the rest of my body of work on the Dark Knight, and represent my best work there. And it speaks well of Denny O’Neil that he recruited me for SCAR OF THE BAT after all we’d been through.
For the record, I was not fired – I quit. Now, I probably quit about fifteen seconds before I would have been fired…but I beat ‘em to the punch.
BATMAN – SECOND CHANCES represents a second chance for my comics stories on that character to be reappraised, and I’m pleased to have these stories gathered in one place.