Barbara Allan: How it Works

September 23rd, 2014 by Max Allan Collins
Antiques Fruitcake

No question comes my way more frequently than, “How do you and your wife Barb collaborate on the ANTIQUES books?” Well, actually, I’m more often asked, “Has anybody told you that you look like Elton John?” But not much.

As I spent last week working on a Barbara Allan project, this seems as good a time as any to answer the first question. (As for the second question, there’s no answering it that will make it go away.)

As part of our most recent contract with Kensington Publishing, Barb and I agreed to write three novellas in the ANTIQUES series in addition to three full-length novels. The idea was to write novellas that could be e-books in an effort to attract new readers, and to prime readers for the next book in the series.

Further, each novella was to be Christmas-themed. This set the stage for possibly collecting the novellas, maybe with a new one, in book form at some point. Looking at the writing of one of these novellas should provide a study in microcosm of the collaborative writing process used by Barb and me on the novels themselves.

The work began several months ago with a series of conversations, fairly casual, about what the basic story would be, and what the title might be. Titles are tricky on these Christmas novellas. Coming up with something clever, like HO HO HOMICIDE or CHRISTMAS STALKING isn’t that tricky (although lots of possibilities have been used, including those); but in our case we have to include ANTIQUES in the title. Something like ANTIQUES CHRISTMAS STALKING has about as much music as a trombone falling down the stairs.

The first of the novellas was ANTIQUES SLAY RIDE and the second (which will be e-published a week from today) is ANTIQUES FRUITCAKE. We considered ANTIQUES MISTLETOE TAG, but that damn “Antiques” made it clumsy. So – we gave up and moved on to figuring out the story.

As is our habit, we kicked around ideas over lunch at various restaurants. Barb suggested something to do with a street-corner Santa Claus getting killed for his donation bag. But that had no “antiques” aspect, so I suggested somebody had put a valuable old coin in the bag, possibly by mistake. Then came the notion that our Santa was not Salvation Army variety, but a good-hearted local person raising money for some good cause. And the valuable-coin donation was on purpose.

From there came both a more detailed plot – with the same kind of back-and-forth brainstorming that Matt Clemens and I engage in – and a possible title. ANTIQUES SECRET SANTA. Finally I came up with ANTIQUES ST. NICKED, which became the title (unless Kensington hates it).

About five weeks ago, we finalized the chapter breakdown (over lunch, of course). When the Hollywood pitch trip came along, Barb went with me and worked on the ANTIQUES story in our hotel room while I was off on meetings. She got her draft of the first of five chapters written.

Back home, she continued at a rate of one chapter a week. In the meantime, I was doing two drafts of that TV script I’ve mentioned as well as several smaller writing jobs I agreed to do in weak moments. A week ago, she turned over her five-chapter, 69-page draft to me.

Monday through/including Thursday, last week, I did a chapter a day, revising, expanding, tightening, tweaking. Along the way I would have plot and character questions for Barb, which she would answer, or that she and I would discuss and work out. End of day she’d read my draft, mark it up, and I would enter her changes and corrections, either then or the first thing next work day.

Friday was beautiful, so we said, “Screw it,” and had one of our typical getaway days, going to the Amana Colonies and then Cedar Rapids for food and shopping. Saturday I did the final of five chapters, and on Sunday we both read the manuscript, first Barb, then me, each making notes and corrections.

Reading any long manuscript that you’ve written a chapter at a time, without doing much referring back as you go, means you’re likely to encounter plot and continuity problems, and that happened here. One thing that happened was that several things in our plot and on a “CHARACTERS/SUSPECT” sheet that Barb had prepared for me had not made it into the manuscript. We wrote them in. By late afternoon Sunday, the manuscript was finished – now 84 pages.

We may not turn it in for a while – that will be our editor’s call – because we did this story way early, in part because Barb needs to get cracking on the next ANTIQUES novel, but mostly because the deadline for the second Caleb York novel (also for Kensington) is the same day as for this novella. A “yikes” would not be inappropriate here.

It’s hard for a writer to know, right after finishing something, if it’s worth a damn. Barb is still just shrugging, shaking her head and making faces about this one. I feel more confident that we have just the right mix of our typical format with our characters presented well, a tricky little mystery, Christmas theme, serious subject matter handled delicately, and lots of laughs.

* * *

Here’s a very good, flattering essay about my work that morphs into a Chicago crime piece. I do wonder if the writer knows that much of what he goes on to discuss was dealt with in my novels ROAD TO PURGATORY and ROAD TO PARADISE.

Here’s a great little piece (with mentions of yours truly) on one of my favorite paperback writers of the ‘60s, Ennis Willie. (I’ll be talking about him and several other under-appreciated writers on a Bouchercon panel.)

Finally, check out this generous write-up, having to do with my writing a brief advance review of a book on Milton Caniff and his STEVE CANYON character Miss Mizzou.

M.A.C.

A Real Bookstore

September 16th, 2014 by Max Allan Collins
Centuries and Sleuths Signing 2014
Barbara Collins and Max Allan Collins with fan Andy Lind

Barb and I did a signing at one of our favorite bookstores, Centuries and Sleuths in Forest Park, Illiniois, this Sunday past. The turnout was modest but included some of our most dedicated fans – one of whom brought two cartons of doughnuts! (Thanks, Rick!) The relatively small group meant that these hardcore fans could ask all kinds of knowledgeable questions, and that was a real pleasure. Among them were Andy Lind – Cedar Rapids fan relocated to Rockford who came all that way – and Mike Doran, old TV expert par excellence and frequent poster here.

Hosts Augie and Tracy Aleksy are ever gracious, good-humored and interested in what authors have to say. We signed some stock for Augie, and since we are doing no more signings this year (and probably few to none next), you may want to pick up signed copies from Centuries and Sleuths. You can call Augie at 708-771-7243, and the e-mail is csn7419@sbcglobal.net. He has signed copies of KING OF THE WEEDS, ANTIQUES CON, THE WRONG QUARRY, and – yes – SUPREME JUSTICE. He has a good quantity of signed ANTIQUES and Hard Case Crime QUARRY titles, too.

What makes Centuries and Sleuths unique is the combination of history and mystery – not just historical mysteries, but books on history. Right now Augie is concentrating on World War One (“celebrating” its 100th anniversary), and has all sorts of non-fiction titles available on the subject, but also fiction. He’s ordering in THE LUSITANIA MURDERS, for instance, in its Thomas & Mercer paperback edition.

Walking into a bookstore like Centuries and Sleuths is a reminder of what makes book buying such a pleasure in a real store with an expert hand-selling owner who really cares. If you are lucky enough to have a good indie bookstore, particularly a mystery bookstore, within your home area, please support them.

As a guy published by Amazon, I buy a good number of books there. But I have a simple rule that I try to follow. If I spot a book in an actual store – and it’s a book of which I was unaware – I buy it there. I don’t look it up on Amazon to get the cheaper price.

I have another rule that pertains to bookstores where I do a signing – I always buy a book there. It amazes me when authors do signings at bookstores and don’t repay the venue with a purchase. Maybe not all authors like books.

* * *

Here’s a nice little write-up about COMPLEX 90.

And out of nowhere comes this fun write-up on the film THE EXPERT for which I wrote the screenplay. The writer doesn’t know the extensive backstory – such as my working for many months on a DIRTY DOZEN version for older actors, then when Jeff Speakman was cast at the last minute had to throw together a very different version – but his views are smart and entertaining.

The Kindle Taproom has a swell write-up on my favorite of the Mallory novels, A SHROUD FOR AQUARIUS.

Finally, a writer picks his five favorite Mike Hammer novels, and there are some interesting surprises, including his favorite (the undervalued SURVIVAL…ZERO!) and THE BIG BANG.

M.A.C.

Centuries & Sleuths Signing

September 9th, 2014 by Max Allan Collins

As I’ve mentioned here, Barb and I are doing precious few signings these days, but this Sunday (September 14) we will be at Centuries & Sleuths in Forest Park, Illinois, at 2 p.m. for a discussion and signing. This is a very cool bookstore and ideal for us – it’s a mix of mystery and history, and owner Augie Aleksy is one of the sweetest, most knowledgeable book store guys you could ever hope to meet. The area the store nestles in is full of fun shops (lots of antiquing – like I said, perfect for us) and restaurants.

Here’s the address: 7419 Madision Street, and the phone number is 708-771-7243. For those outside the Chicago area, I’m sure you could order books through Augie and have them signed at the event. Not sure exactly what he’s got on hand, but it’ll likely be: SUPREME JUSTICE, KING OF THE WEEDS, THE WRONG QUARRY and ANTIQUES CON.

Speaking of things I used to do all the time but do only infrequently now (get your mind out of the gutter), Crusin’ did one of its remaining two 2014 gigs this past Saturday. We appeared at Fruitland Fun Days in Fruitland, Iowa, and did 2 ½ hours with just a short break. Glamourous show biz stuff: playing on a truck flatbed with the park bathrooms behind us.

Fruitland Fun Days

Appearing after us was Jake McVey, a rising country star whose stuff I actually like, very rock ‘n’ roll – amazingly nice guy, and his bandmates were extremely complimentary.

In fact, Jake said he thought we’d be perfect for the Midwestern casino circuit and offered his recommendation and networking help. Twenty years ago, maybe even ten, that would have been tempting – casino money tends to be terrific. But we are winding down. Guitar player Jim Van Winkle is probably moving soon – not far away, but far enough to make gigging very occasional – and drummer Steve Kundel has school age kids (and concerts and games to go to). We will always be available for Bouchercon, though.

Fruitland Fun Days

Since my Hollywood trip, things are heating up on that front, and it makes Crusin’ a luxury I dare not indulge in. At least not much. For example, the day after a gig I am so sore, tired and often hoarse that I can’t work (and I am frequently on deadlines that require at least six days a week).

For those of you wondering what we’re working on, Barb is doing her draft of the third of three ANTIQUES Christmas novellas for the e-book trade. We do hope to collect these eventually, likely with a fourth novellas exclusive to the collection. I’ll be getting to my draft (it’s called ANTIQUES ST. NICKED) later this week.

I am working on a TV script – my first – for a top-secret project. I was given two weeks and delivered it in one week. Got notes on Friday. Today I will turn in the second draft on the day the first draft was due. Am I showing off? Not really. Maybe a little. But I like to demonstrate, when I have a deadline-driven new assignment, that I can deliver.

I am convinced that’s how I got the DICK TRACY gig back in 1977. I got the phone call to participate as one of several writers doing try-out scripts, and that same day I wrote it. They had it in lightning speed (at least the “Special Delivery” variety, since this was way before FAXing, e-mail and even Fed-Ex). And they called off the competition and hired me.

Of course, they eventually fired me with lightning speed in 1993….

* * *

I am pleased (maybe even a little bit thrilled) have J. Kingston Pierce – one of our best, smartest crime fiction reviewers – place one of my novels on his all-time favorite list. Jeff has selected the sometimes overlooked ANGEL IN BLACK, the “Black Dahlia” Nate Heller, which is among my personal favorites.

Here the film version of ROAD TO PERDITION is #2 on a list of the five best movies based on graphic novels. Nice things are said about the original book, as well.

M.A.C.

The November Man

September 2nd, 2014 by Max Allan Collins
The November Man

You should probably see THE NOVEMBER MAN, the new Pierce Brosnan espionage thriller. I attach the “probably” because for all its merits, Brosnan’s return to Bond territory is less than great. It’s a movie easy to damn with faint praise – “pretty good,” “not bad” – but for anyone who’s a fan of the Bond films, this is required viewing.

It’s a typically convoluted spy thriller, with Bourne-ish element and even Le Carre aspects, with strong if not mind-blowing action scenes. But what it mostly has to offer is Brosnan thumbing his nose at the Bond producers who let him go prematurely. Brosnan was excellent in his four Bond films, and not at all to blame for the unfortunate excesses of DIE ANOTHER DAY, which proved to be his final outing.

Here he demonstrates both charisma and toughness, and a streak of brutality not seen in Bond since the Fleming books themselves. Thematically, the film has him as a legendary secret agent who retired ten years ago and now is getting yanked back into the game. He’s up against Luke Bracey’s younger agent – read: Daniel Craig (there’s an even more direct reference early on, when Brosnan’s shown photos of agents who were recent victims of a Russian assassin, and the final dead agent is identified glumly by Brosnan as “Craig”). Fleming’s famous “blunt instrument” description of a good secret agent is invoked, and the female lead, quite good, is “Bond Girl” Olga Kurylenko (QUANTUM OF SOLACE). We’re not meant to think that Brosnan’s character might really be Bond – as was the case with Sean Connery in THE ROCK – but these references add up to a sort of kiss-his-ass valentine to the Bond films. My favorite moment might be Brosnan yanking a guy off a motorcycle but not climbing on and riding off – just stepping over the thing on his shark-like way.

The budget doesn’t allow Bourne or Bond level stunts and set pieces, and the script is uneven. The usually first-rate Bill Smitrovich (Lt. Cramer in TV’s NERO WOLFE and a co-star of THE LAST LULLABY) is given some bad dialogue and responds by chewing the scenery like a starving billygoat. But it’s worth seeing for anyone with an affection for Brosnan as Bond.

* * *

Here’s a nice article that gives Terry Beatty and me some credit for the re-birth of crime comics via MS. TREE.

Vanity Fair online, of all places, has this positive look at novelizations, with quotes from me and my pal Lee Goldberg.

Here’s a nice discussion of Mickey Spillane and Mike Hammer, with an emphasis on the radio version and mentions of my completions of unfinished work from Mickey’s files.

Finally, this link to an early ‘60s ALLEY OPP comic book includes a nice boost for my documentary, CAVEMAN: V.T. HAMLIN & ALLEY OOP.

The San Diego Comic-Con International site posted a photo of author Jonathan Maberry and me at the 2014 IAMTW tie-in panel.

M.A.C.

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