Bill Crider

December 12th, 2017 by Max Allan Collins

Bill and Judy Crider

My friend Bill Crider posted this on his “Bill Crider’s Pop Culture Magazine,” which has been my favorite blog for many years now.

Things could change, but I suspect this will be my final post on the blog. I met with some doctors at M. D. Anderson today, and they suggested that I enter hospice care. A few weeks, a few months is about all I have left. The blog has been a tremendous source of pleasure to me over the years, and I’ve made a lot of friends here. My only regret is that I have several unreviewed books, including Lawrence Block’ fine new anthology, Alive in Shape and Color, and Max Allan Collins’ latest collaboration with Mickey Spillane, The Last Stand, which is a collection of two novellas, “A Bullet for Satisfaction,” an early Spillane manuscript with an interesting history, and “The Last Stand,” the last thing that Spillane completed. It saddens me to think of all the great books by many writers that I’ll never read. But I’ve had a great life, and my readers have been a big part of it. Much love to you all.

Bill has been battling cancer for a while now, and has just gone into hospice. He lost his beloved wife Judy a while back, but even then he was a positive voice in the wilderness. The news of his illness, of its severity, has rocked the world of mystery fiction – and that’s not an exaggeration. People love this guy. I love this guy.

Many posts on the Net are going up to recommend books by Bill, and you should indeed seek out his fiction in both the mystery and western fields. He has made for himself a particularly admirable career, as a smoothly professional storyteller, but he has never got his due.

Though he’s well-known in the field, and has attended the occasional convention (lately, Bouchercon, despite his health issues), he has stayed close to his Texas home over the years. As someone who has lived his entire life in Muscatine, Iowa, I can identify with that.

I can identify with so much about Bill (and my apologies if this piece briefly becomes about me).

But we both are lovers of mystery and crime fiction, with a special affection for the mid-last-century variety. He knows a lot more about it than I do, though, and I know plenty. I have a wonderful book collection, but if Bill weren’t such a nice guy, he would laugh at me, knowing what he has gathered in his decades of collecting.

Like Bill, I am of the first generation of fans who became professionals. The writers we most admire were never fans, just professional writers who were trying to make a living, and many of them, along the way, became artists. We both have had health problems in the last several years, and each has encouraged the other. Bill was married a long time to a wonderful woman. When he lost Judy, the thought of ever losing Barb sent a sharp pain cutting through me that only for a moment matched what he’s had to live with.

Enough about me, or us, or whatever.

The blog entry above, which Bill says is likely to be his last, touched me greatly. Going through what he is, his only regret is not reviewing something of mine (or mine and Mickey’s)? That may define, for me, bittersweet. That I figure anywhere in his thoughts about now almost embarrasses me.

Looks like Bill Crider the reviewer is no longer going to review me, and damnit, he likes my stuff. We need more like him, not less!

I had that same selfish thought when Ed Gorman left us. In frankness, Ed and I were closer than Bill and I. That’s unusual, because Ed’s relationships with other writers happened almost exclusively on the phone. But I live in Iowa, and so did Ed, only sixty miles away, so we got together now and then. Even did bookstore appearances together. He was one of my best friends – not just writer friends.

So Bill regrets not reviewing my latest. Well, here is what I regret. I regret that we were not better friends. Does that sound like we aren’t friends? Well, we are. But frankly it’s been in that friendly-acquaintances way, until just the last few years anyway. He was one of the writers I know to speak to at a convention, who I always stand and chat with, and go away thinking, “I wish I lived closer to that guy so we could hang.” And not in the western way.

So Bill and I exchanged e-mails, and maybe a phone call or two. I know I went to him when I was suddenly going to be writing a western. If anybody knew this stuff, it was Bill Crider.

I don’t remember the question, but I remember the answer.

“I have no idea,” he said.

An honest writer. We can’t afford to lose many of those, either.

Bill Crider, I wish we’d been able to hang together. Instead of separately.

* * *

Here’s a nice Quarry’s Climax review.

Quarry’s War is racking up a number of solid reviews, like this one.

And this one.

And finally this one.

M.A.C.

The Year in Movies

December 5th, 2017 by Max Allan Collins

Okay, here are my annual movie awards. I have generously given awards this time to just about every movie I saw. Now, I will see a few more, probably, before year’s end and will likely comment on them. But for now…

Best film in a series I have no excuse for liking:
UNDERWORLD: BLOOD WARS

Best film in another series I have no excuse for liking:
RESIDENT EVIL: THE FINAL CHAPTER

Best film I’m mentioned in the end credits of:
THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE

Best sequel of the year:
JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2

Worst film starring Matt Damon:
THE GREAT WALL

Worst film we didn’t walk out of:
THE GREAT WALL

Best horror film of the year:
GET OUT

Most overrated sequel of the year:
LOGAN

Movie we walked out on but other people liked:
KONG: SKULL ISLAND

Worst movie I didn’t see:
CHIPS

Series most wearing out its welcome:
THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS

Series least wearing out its welcome:
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2

Most disappointing sequel:
ALIEN: COVENANT

Best superhero movie (okay, heroine):
WONDER WOMAN

Best movie in proposed series that will never happen:
THE MUMMY

Worst movie in proposed series that will never happen:
THE MUMMY

Best crime movie:
BABY DRIVER

Best movie that will have Kevin Spacey in it for a long, long time:
BABY DRIVER

Second best superhero movie:
SPIDERMAN: HOMECOMING

Most satisfying series entry:
WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES

Best historical film:
DUNKIRK

Another movie we walked out on that some people liked:
ATOMIC BLONDE

Stephen King movie that sucks a little less than people say:
THE DARK TOWER

Best movie of the year:
WIND RIVER

Sequel better than the original but still no great shakes:
ANNABELLE: THE CREATION

Movie we walked out on featuring cute nuns and Samuel Jackson:
THE HITMAN’S BODYGUARD

Best crime film that isn’t BABY DRIVER:
LOGAN LUCKY

Best thriller nobody saw:
UNLOCKED

Best Stephen King movie and not at all sucky:
IT

Half good, half bad movie of the year:
BATTLE OF THE SEXES

Sorta true movie the critics should have liked more:
VICTORIA & ABDUL

Movie we walked out on that you have no excuse liking:
BLADE RUNNER 2049

Second-best horror movie of the year:
HAPPY DEATH DAY

Best GROUNDHOG DAY rip-off:
HAPPY DEATH DAY

Movie I almost went to and then I read the reviews:
THE SNOWMAN

Second-best superhero movie of the year:
THOR: RAGNAROK

Best remake but still not as good as the original:
MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS

Best historical movie viewed through rose-colored glasses:
LBJ

Worst superhero movie (in which Lois Lane tells Superman he smells good after he’s been dead and buried for a while):
JUSTICE LEAGUE

Best actress in a terrific DC movie and also best actress in a terrible DC movie:
GAL GADOT

Best Christmas movie (and pretty good other days too):
THE MAN WHO INVENTED CHRISTMAS

Movie I really, really hated but didn’t see:
PITCH PERFECT 3

* * *

Here’s a very nice review of Quarry’s War issue #1.

Check out this nice write-up on the film Road to Perdition with a lot of stuff about the graphic novel, too.

M.A.C.

Hey Kids! Comics!

November 28th, 2017 by Max Allan Collins

The first of the four-issue serialization of Quarry’s War, the character’s first graphic novel appearance, goes on sale November 29. There are three alternate covers, designed to fleece you, er, give you an opportunity to choose the one you like best.

This link will take you to all of the covers plus a five-page preview.

The four issues will be collected as a trade paperback, though I don’t know when – sometime next year. To some degree, this project happened because of the TV show, and since Cinemax did not take Quarry past the first season, I can’t be sure there will be another graphic novel.

What this did provide me with was an opportunity to explore Quarry’s back story more thoroughly and do something about his Vietnam experiences. The first three issues are evenly divided between Vietnam and a post-Vietnam assignment from the Broker. The fourth issue kind of pulls both story lines together.

The graphic novel was, in part, a response to the Cinemax series with its Vietnam emphasis. But mostly the visual format of comics made it the perfect place to show what Quarry’s life was like overseas, as well as explore his beginnings from boot camp to the Broker first knocking on his door.

Also, his restrained response to the guy who’d been cheating with Quarry’s Joni.

* * *

I am two chapters in on Do No Harm and, while it’s a pleasure to be with Nate Heller again, brother is it hard. I kidded myself thinking this would be an “easy” Heller. The case is complex and I have a time-hopping structure that may make me (but I hope not you) dizzy.

I managed to get a little work done over Thanksgiving and the long weekend. But with Nathan, Abby and two-year-old Sam visiting, that wasn’t always easy – also, I was busy falling off my stay-away-from-sugar-and-starch diet, eating the equivalent of an entire pecan pie over a three-day period. In my defense, Barb makes the best pecan pie anywhere. Ask Nate.

Also, I am embarrassed to report that there is sad news for the rest of you: none of you have children or grandchildren as cute and smart as Sam Collins. My apologies.

* * *

A very nice Big Showdown review by that fine writer James Reasoner can be found here. Mr. Reasoner has forgotten more about writing westerns than I will ever know, so this one felt especially good.

And speaking of the late/great Quarry TV series, this blog concludes with a look at the episode I wrote.

Full confession: my work on the Quarry series was stretched out over two episodes (the next one after the one reviewed here). The other writer and I were each assigned a solo writing credit for one episode for reasons I’m not entirely clear on. I also wrote (and was paid for) an episode for season two, which of course was never filmed.

M.A.C.

Heller – The Starting Gate

November 21st, 2017 by Max Allan Collins

I have been researching the upcoming Nathan Heller novel, Do No Harm, for two months. That has consisted chiefly of reading books – ten cover to cover, reading selectively in another ten, filling a notebook with info and page numbers. With any Heller, a lot of research occurs along the way as well; but, in movie terms, I’ve completed pre-production. This past week I read eighteen contemporary articles on the Sam Sheppard murder case, and two more books. On Monday I start the novel.

The process with Heller has remained largely the same since True Detective back in the early ‘80s. I select the historical incident – usually a crime, either unsolved or controversially solved – and approach it as if I’m researching the definitive book on the subject. I never have a firm opinion on the case before research proper begins, even if I’ve read a little about it or seen movies or documentaries on the subject, just as somebody interested in famous true crimes.

The intent is to find the story in the research, as opposed to having the story firmly in mind and researching it. That’s worked out well for me with Heller – any number of times I’ve come up with theories about what probably really happened that have inspired non-fiction books (by authors who never credit me) (but I’m not bitter).

This time I changed my mind about who murdered Marilyn Sheppard, oh, a dozen times. I in part selected the case because it was a more traditional murder mystery than the political subjects of the last four Heller novels – sort of back to basics, plus giving me something that would be a little easier to do, since I was coming out of some health problems and major surgeries.

But it’s turned out to be one of the trickiest Heller novels of all. Figuring out what happened here is very tough. There is no shortage of suspects, and no shortage of existing theories. In addition, a number of the players are still alive (Sam Sheppard’s brother Stephen is 97) and those who aren’t have grown children who are, none of whom would likely be thrilled with me should I lay a murder at the feet of their deceased parents.

Additionally, the case does not lend itself to some of the usual Heller fun-and-games – like violence and sex. There are no bad guys to kill, and the sexual aspects of the murder make Heller hanky panky distasteful. Oddly enough, this comes after the preceding Heller, Better Dead, which found our hero more sexually active than usual (and that’s saying something).

But the research defines the book. The story emerges from the research and I have to be true to it. That story sometimes – this time for sure – takes its time revealing itself. I have changed the structure of the novel almost as many times as I have changed my mind about who killed Marilyn Sheppard.

For that reason, I do not attempt to write a chapter breakdown/outline (vital in a Heller) until I have completed the research phase. In a way that’s too bad, because if I could discern the shape of the book at, say, a third of the way through the research, I could limit further digging to the areas I need. As it is, I’ve taken notes on scores of things that won’t appear in the book.

That’s okay. In an historical novel, it’s all about the tip of the iceberg, and for me to portray that effectively, I need to know the shape of what’s under the water.

As I indicated, research doesn’t end when the writing begins. Each chapter requires some pre-production as I gather the materials from what I’ve already read, and then as I write it and need things I hadn’t anticipated, more research is done on the fly.

In addition to all this, I have to deal with the feeling I always have at the beginning of a Heller – I experience this, to a lesser degree, with Quarry and really any novel I write – that I may not be up to the job. Coming off health problems, that’s a little exaggerated this time. How do I do this? I ask myself. At least a little panic, a minor anxiety attack, always precedes the writing of chapter one.

I have completed the chapter breakdown/outline to my satisfaction, having wrestled the structure into submission – I have even found a bad guy for Heller to kill. I feel good about where I am, even if certain insecurities creep through.

For me, the saving grace has always been Nate Heller. Like Quarry, he has always been there when I need him. I start writing and there he is.

By the time you read this, I will know if he’s come through for me yet again.

* * *

Despite a few inaccuracies, this is a nice overview of Mike Hammer, touching on the Spillane/Collins collaborations.

Here’s an interesting Road to Perdition (film) article.

Check out this good interview with Hard Case Crime editor, Charles Ardai, flawed only in his neglecting to be mention me (again, I am not bitter). Several Quarry covers are featured, though.

Finally, here’s a lovely piece by Bev Keddy covering many of my books – much appreciate, Bev (who is a boy, he will have you know).

M.A.C.

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