Thanksgiving Thoughts

November 25th, 2014 by Max Allan Collins

Thanksgiving has become to some – perhaps to many – a sort of speed bump on the way to Christmas. It’s long had the capacity to be annoying – no presents and football all day, which for the greedy non-sports fan is a kind of nightmare. I remember with a weird combination of vivid and blurry the years when Barb and I had three Thanksgiving meals to attend in one day due to a family split. And if you have a large dysfunctional family, there isn’t enough turkey in the world to put you to sleep through it.

This marks the first year I’ve seen Thanksgiving (always tough to market) skipped the moment Halloween slipped into its annual grave. Christmas trappings for sale, decorated downtowns, store sound systems pumping out carols and pop Xmas stuff inside and out. We’re talking November 1, people.

To some degree, of course, Black Friday is to blame, and it’s spread more like Black Plague, not only to Thanksgiving itself but the several weeks leading in. I appreciate a good buy (and I get most of mine online, checking for blu-ray, CD and book bargains) but the only thing Black Friday really makes me thankful for is the news footage of people getting trampled at Walmart seeking a flat-screen TV for twenty-five bucks.

Jean Shepherd

Our Thanksgiving looks to be the delight it’s been in recent years. Typical turkey dinner in the company of my wife, my son and daughter-in-law. A movie at the local theater. Probably more movies at home, including “The Star-Crossed Romance of Josephine Cosnowski,” the Jean Shepherd Thanksgiving story aired on PBS last century, inexplicably never (legally) marketed on home video, despite the cult of “A Christmas Story.” Black Friday shopping will probably be limited to on-line hijinks. I will be walking my granddog no matter how damn cold it is. I may even set aside the Heller novel I’m writing for a few days.

But let’s stop, shall we – as the creator of Quarry gets sniffy and sentimental – to do what the word Thanksgiving suggests: be thankful. May I share a few of the reasons why I’m thankful with you? Feel free to grind your teeth.

I married a beautiful girl in 1968 and am still married to her, though somewhere along the way she turned into a beautiful woman. That tops my thankful list, followed close by my talented son and his terrific wife. Barb and I are in good health, we own our home, and live in a pleasant Midwestern city where the cost of living is forgiving, the restaurants aren’t bad, and a new movie theater offers a bunch of screens. If you have not guessed, we are simple souls.

My career, in a tough field for anybody who hasn’t become a household name, is doing fine. There’s TV on the horizon for Quarry and maybe Heller, and I have a small, hearty group of publishers and editors who are keeping me busy and able to purchase blu-ray discs at will. (I’m also thankful that those blu-rays are deductible.) I had a genuine bestseller in SUPREME JUSTICE. I’m doing Quarry again after all these years, and Heller has a home for new novels and another home for all the old books. Most of my novels (excluding tie-ins) are in print or will be soon. This generates income resembling the pension money I’d be getting if I’d put money into a fund and not spent a lifetime buying movies, books and girlie mags. I also have three collaborators in Barb, Matt Clemens and the late Mickey Spillane who make my creative life easier and very rewarding. If this sounds like money is important to me, I remind you that I am the creator of Nathan Heller.

But in truth money is important to me only in the sense that I can continue doing what I immodestly feel I was put here to do: tell stories.

And if you’ve read this far, you are almost certainly among the not huge but very loyal audience that has kept me afloat in my goal of never having a real job.

So most of all – thank you.

M.A.C.

21 Years Later—A Third Shamus!

November 18th, 2014 by Max Allan Collins

I’m afraid my long streak of losing the Shamus has been broken – “So Long, Chief,” the Spillane/Collins story that appeared in the Strand magazine and was nominated for an Edgar – won the Shamus Best Short Story award Friday night at the PWA banquet in Long Beach. Very gratifying to have the Spillane/Collins collaboration receive this kind of validation.

Bouchercon 2014
MAC Receiving 2014 Shamus Best Short Story for “So Long, Chief”

All the winners are at this link.

Bouchercon 2014
Left to right: Grant Bywaters, Sue Grafton, Brad Parks, Lachlan Smith, M. Ruth Myers, M.A.C.

The event was well-attended – over one hundred in a packed room at Gladstone’s restaurant – and the reviews were generally very good. Barb and I filled in for usual hosts Bob Randisi and Christine Matthews, as Bob is recovering from eye surgery and not able to travel. The food was quite good, and the service too, and the waterfront setting nicely noir; but the venue wasn’t ideal – poor sound system and rather crowded, with a cramped presentation area. But a certain sense of intimacy was created.

Bouchercon 2014
Barb and S.J. Rozan, who is about to present the Best Paperback Award

Speeches were short and to the point, and warm memories of Jerry Healy and Marty Meyers, both of whom we lost this year, made for a somewhat bittersweet mood (as did the absence of Bob and Christine). The two big names in female P.I. fiction made a rare joint appearance, as Sara Paretsky presented the Best Novel Award, and Sue Grafton picked up the “Hammer” award for her character Kinsey Millhone – that award, named for Mike Hammer, goes to a character that has had a big impact on the genre as well as longevity.

Bouchercon 2014
Barb presenting the Hammer Award to Sue Grafton

For me – beyond the highlight of winning a Shamus after a 21-year dry spell, what the Private Eye Writers of America banquet meant was the end of a rewarding if punishing first full day at Bouchercon.

Bouchercon 2014
Kensington editor Michaela Hamilton, agent Dominick Abel, and Barbara Collins

It began with a breakfast with my TOR/Forge editor, the funny and very smart Claire Eddy, as we discussed Nate Heller’s future (which is of course in the past). At eleven I did a two-hour interview (with a full camera crew) for Thomas & Mercer, creating material for a new Kindle mystery site. Then back to the convention hotel (the modernistic and rather unfinished-looking Hyatt) for an hour-and-a-half signing of ASK NOT at a TOR-sponsored hospitality suite event. From there came a 3:00 panel on obscure but worthwhile mystery writers (I did Ennis Willie, Horace McCoy and Roy Huggins, as well as made a case for Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe series as a hardboiled private eye series of comparable stature to Hammett, Chandler, and Spillane). Always fun to be on a panel with the great Gary Phillips, and audience members were taking notes like a bunch of court reporters.

Bouchercon 2014
Left to right: Sarah Weinman, M.A.C., Gary Phillips, Charles Kelly, Sara J. Henry, Peter Rozovsky

Immediately thereafter, I appeared on a panel on screenwriting and adapting books to film – well-attended and pretty good, but a little “inside” – after which Barb and I ran over to the restaurant to put the PWA banquet in motion.

First thing Saturday, Barb was on a terrific panel – one I frankly had figured would be pretty thin (pets in mysteries) – where she really knocked it out of the park. The other panelists were also very strong and (almost) as funny as Barb. After that, we did our only Con-sponsored signing, as there had been no time the day before to sign after my two panels. Immodestly I will say that we had a huge line and I signed non-stop for an hour and a half, during much of which Barb was signing, too. Such great people, such enthusiastic readers. What a joy.

More meetings followed, with editors from Thomas & Mercer and Kensington, all positive and fun. T & M presented me with a plaque for selling 175,000 copies of SUPREME JUSTICE in June 2014 alone. Our friend and editor Michaela Hamilton (whose guy Eugene George generously provided some of the pics here) talked to Barb and me about the ANTIQUES series, and some Caleb York brainstorming went on as well.

The con flew by, obviously, and since we’re having nasty Iowa weather (it’s 12 degrees as I write this), that California sun (and Ocean breeze) (and palm trees) were tough to leave behind. It was gratifying to meet and talk to so many fans, but unfortunately a lot of them were surprised to find us there. Both Barb and I were left out of the program book, though we had submitted mini-bios and pics as requested; and my name was spelled inconsistently in the schedule of panels and on my name tag (lots of “Allen”). It’s a byproduct of Bouchercon being a fan-run con – though that is part of its charm – because the tastes of local fans can lead to some sloppy handling of authors attending.

Bouchercon 2014
Phoef Sutton, M.A.C., Lee Child, and Lee Goldberg

SPOILER ALERT: Bitch session follows.

I will present my personal award for general crappiness to American Airlines. Sunday was a nightmare getting home. American Airline neglected to inform us that the last leg of our flight home (Moline) had been cancelled – we only found out semi-accidentally, getting ready to board a flight to Dallas/Fort Worth when we volunteered to check our carry on items. At that point the counter guy stumbled onto the info that we couldn’t get home from Dallas today. So we didn’t board and sought out the customer service area, where a long line of displaced customers stood like Titanic passengers hoping to find room in a life boat. There one chatty employee was blithely handling everybody in an I-have-all-the-time-in-the-world manner.

I had better luck with an AA 800 line rep, although much of the news was bad – even if we went to Dallas/Ft. Worth and got a hotel room, there were no Moline flights out the next day. Our Long Beach Bouchercon trip seemed about to include two days (minimum) in Dallas. Finally I re-routed to Chicago, where there were also no Moline flights available, but with some difficulty I was able to line up a rental car for us to drive home. Again, no help from AA – they seized just about everybody-on-the-flight’s carry-on bags (ours had already been sized and deemed well within bounds by AA staff on entry of the terminal), and sent them to baggage claim, dooming us all to lost time. Then, to top off their service from hell, they gave us the wrong baggage claim carousel number – I just happened to spot what looked like our carry-ons down at another carousel, where they were taking a ride to oblivion. So AA cost us yet more time, when it was already 11 p.m. The Enterprise rental car outfit was terrific, however, as was National, the sister company through whose 800 number I was able to find a car to get us home.

At 3:15 a.m.

So farewell, American Airlines! Allow me to middle-finger salute you as you fly into that so richly deserved oblivion where you dispatched the carry-ons that you had so feverishly wrested from our grasp.

* * *

Here’s a terrific review of ASK NOT at I Love a Mystery. Full disclosure: it’s by Larry Coven, who appeared in my films MOMMY’S DAY and REAL TIME: SEIGE AT LUCAS STREET MARKET.

And check out this nice DEADLY BELOVED review at the Just a Guy That Likes to Read blog.

M.A.C.

Bouchercon 2014 Schedule

November 11th, 2014 by Max Allan Collins
Bouchercon 2014

Here is the schedule of our appearances at Bouchercon on Friday November 14 and Saturday November 15.

FRIDAY

SIGNING: TOR/Forge
Hospitality Suite (Seaview Rotunda & Foyer), approx. 1:30 – 2:30 pm
M.A.C.

PANEL: Beyond Hammett, Chandler, and Spillane
Lesser known noir writers of the pulp and paperback era.
(Promenade 104 B), 3 to 4 pm
M.A.C.

PANEL: From Page to Screen
Stories in books, television, and movies
(Promenade 104 A), 4:30 – 5:30 pm

NOTE: NO M.A.C. AUTOGRAPH SIGNING AFTER THESE TWO PANELS

PWA “SHAMUS” Awards Banquet
M.A.C. co-hosting with Barb
6:30 drinks, 7 pm dinner

SATURDAY

PANEL: Must Love Dogs & Cats
Pets in cozy mysteries
(Regency D), 8:30 – 9:30 am
Barbara Collins

SIGNING: Book Room
Barbara and Max Allan Collins, 9:30 am

* * *

Some nice MS. TREE nostalgia here.

Here’s one of the best QUARRY overviews you’re likely to see. Very insightful.

I’ll report back on Bouchercon next week, most likely with pics.

M.A.C.

Couldn’t They Make the Dog’s Pic Bigger?

November 4th, 2014 by Max Allan Collins

I thought I’d share with you the cover of the just-published large-print edition of ANTIQUES CON. Frequently large-print books have new, different covers and this is a good example of that. It also demonstrates how the “cute pet” aspect of cozy mysteries is viewed as uber-important by editors and publishers. Barb’s panel at the upcoming Boucher Con in Long Beach is devoted to the subject of pets in mysteries.

Antiques Con Large Print

I’m also posting my latest jack-o-lantern. Pumpkin carving is one of my few skills, so I thought I’d better share this one with you. We love Halloween around here, and decorate inside and out, plus view horror films in the evening all October. We ran through the HALLOWEEN flicks a year ago, so despite the lavish new Blu-ray boxed set that I picked up, we are saving a binge of that for next spook season. This time we concentrated on Hammer films (the Brit studio, not Mike), a number of which are now on Blu-ray, particularly in England. That’s where having an all-regions player comes in handy.

Jack-o-Lantern 2014

Barb is hard at work on her draft of the new ANTIQUES book and I have just wrapped up research on BETTER DEAD and will begin writing it today (Monday, as I write this). It’s a big subject and I’m intimidated. When I’m gearing up for a Heller, I have terrible stage fright – I have to tamp down the panic of wondering how I do this. I have a similar feeling before starting a Quarry, though not so intense. The enormity of a Heller project – the countless decisions that have to be made, the mountain of research that has to be culled and shaped – makes me uncharacteristically unsure of myself. Fortunately, Heller himself – like Quarry – seems always to be there, to assert himself and guide me.

A few brief movie recommendations.

JOHN WICK is a first-rate, stylish thriller with the underrated Keanu Reeves as a retired hitman brought back into action by tragedy, fate and maybe karma. It’s larger than life and particularly good at creating a fantasy world of hitmen and gangsters who operate with the benign neglect of the authorities (a point cleverly made by one quick scene). This was an odd experience for me, because the film is clearly influenced by my work – ROAD TO PERDITION, both the film and graphic novel; the Nolan series; and of course Quarry. But it’s also beholden to POINT BLANK, and that film (and the Richard Stark novels) had a huge impact on me and my career. The Parker novels were the last thing I read as a fan that influenced me, as both Nolan and Quarry demonstrate. Prior to that I was strictly a private eye guy, an inclination that came back around. Anyway, odd to see a film that is influenced by me and by the stuff that influenced me.

BOOK OF LIFE is a computer animated number drawing upon “Day of the Dead” Hispanic imagery. Very good, with a decent script that has some wit to it, BOOK is a feast for the eyes and a relief to me, since I was afraid BOX TROLLS had ruined such films for me.

ST. VINCENT is a comedy/drama that has nothing particularly new to say but says it well. What a relief to see Bill Murray at the center of what is clearly a Bill Murray movie, and not just a quirky supporting role in an indie. It’s almost an updating the relationship at the heart of MEATBALLS. Naomi Watts is very good as a pregnant Russian stripper, and Melissa McCarthy shines in a supporting role that shows her depth as an actress, though she does have a few very funny moments to remind us of her considerable comic skills. Most of all, ST. VINCENT understands the difference between sentiment and sentimentality.

* * *

Here’s a nice small review of that crime comics anthology I contributed to a while back.

Once again ROAD TO PERDITION makes a list of best graphic-novel movie adaptations. Weird poster, apparently from India.

Finally, Jeff Pierce at the Rap Sheet kindly picked up my mention of the private-eye soundtrack boxed set that just came out in the UK.

M.A.C.

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