Pre-Bouchercon Edition

October 6th, 2015 by Max Allan Collins

Next week I’ll have a report from Bouchercon for you. For now, I have a few random thoughts to share.

The last few work days have been consumed by going over the copy-edited THE BIG SHOWDOWN (the second Caleb York). As I’ve made clear here, I despise copy editors (except for those who follow these updates). This one has taken a light touch but still is comma happy. Copy editors need to know that there’s a difference between “hard cold eyes” and “hard, cold eyes” and that an author chooses between them for effect, Chicago Manual of Style be damned (I don’t own a copy).

The copy-edited manuscript of BETTER DEAD arrived today and Barb won’t even let me open the fat, forbidding-looking package until we get back from Bouchercon. She knows that just thumbing through to see what the copy editor did will send me into a frenzy worthy of Hitchcock.

Copy editors, of course, serve a valuable purpose, particularly in the area of continuity – like a character who starts out blond and becomes brown-haired, or a cousin who mysteriously transforms into a brother. I also appreciate any copy editor who alerts me to word repetition and/or phrases that don’t seem to track. But I like these pointed out for my revision, not revised for me.

They are very young, most of these copy editors, and I am not. Therefore I have to explain to the copy editor of THE BIG SHOWDOWN the meaning and derivation of “grew like Topsy,” although Google could have easily done the trick.

I ran into this kind of thing as early as the mid-‘80s when I had to explain who or what “Jack Armstong, All-American Boy” was to some precious young thing.

I trust some day, probably too soon, some copy editor will query an author about the meaning and derivation of the phrase “road to perdition.”

* * *

Last year around this time, I wrote a scathing review of the season opener for SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE. I seriously doubted that – after following the show since its inception, through thick and sometimes very thin – I would keep watching. As it turned out, I did, and the season wasn’t bad and sometimes was wonderful.

This year’s season opener was excellent, and was stolen by a comedy newcomer named Hillary Clinton. Even host(ess?) Miley Cyrus did well in sketches, her Disney sitcom training coming through – she is definitely at ease in front of the camera. She was also the musical guest, wearing Emperor’s-New-Clothes outfits that could not distract us from noticing that her voice resembles that of an octogenarian smoker somewhere in Florida rasping out, “Bingo!”

One of the sketches was about Taylor Swift’s “squad,” which I guess is celebrities (or in my parlance, “celebrities”) who are summoned to come up out of the audience to wander about the stage while she sings. I know who Taylor Swift is, I know what she looks like, and I’m sure I’ve heard some of her songs…but I couldn’t connect her to any of them if my life depended on it.

As it happens, the Taylor Swift “squad” phenomenon is the subject of a piece in this week’s ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY. I’ve talked here before about how, once or twice a year, some national magazine suddenly makes me realize how out of touch I am – usually it’s ROLLING STONE. EW wins out this time.

Here are some of the “celebrities” in Taylor Swift’s squad: The Weekend (a human being called “The Weekend,” due next week on SNL), Andreja Pejic, Fatty Wap (a human being called…), Rachel Platten, Gigi Hadid, OMI (a human being…), Lily Aldridge, and Walk the Moon (a human…?).

In fairness, I had heard of a few squad members: Ellen DeGeneres, Nick Jonas, Matt LeBlanc and Mick Jagger. Watch for them on HOLLYWOOD SQUARES 2021.

The SNL sketch was a take-off on zombie movies, cleverly suggesting that eventually everyone on the planet would be invited on stage at a Taylor Swift concert. But let’s stay with EW for a while.

Most of the movie and TV stuff I could track. The music section is always rough on me, because I used to pride myself on following the music scene and now I can’t recognize the “oldies” on Sirius XM. The last new band I got excited about is Weezer, introduced to me by my son Nate when he was in high school. Nate is in his early thirties. Once your kids are out of high school and out of the house, you will likely cease to be in touch with contemporary pop music except the occasional big deal like Lady Gaga (who is already an “oldie,” I believe).

Even more depressing is EW’s “10 Great Fall Thrillers.” You may be aware that this is my field – books, suspense, etc. I had heard of exactly one of the ten authors (Lee Child). Now you might remind me that I read almost no contemporary fiction, making this largely my fault, and you would be right. But usually I have a sense of the successful writers in my line of endeavor. And this strikes me as one area where I can’t just sit back and let the world pass me by.

But before I either sit back or sit up, let me bitch about the dreadful visuals in EW. Not long ago they went to an orgy of small print, mixed fonts, floating sidebars and arbitrary color. It now looks like a really wretched web site. And, by the way – there’s nothing an aging baby boomer likes more than trying to read tiny black type on a purple background.

* * *

Our pal Mike Doran made a very funny comment about old rockers emerging on PBS fund-raisers “looking like John Houseman.” In fairness to old rockers, I should point out that Flo and Eddie always looked like John Houseman. So did most of the Grateful Dead. On the other hand, Creed Bratton of “The Office” was once a long-haired cutie-pie when he was in the Grass Roots.

Also, the Happy Together concert featured some very well-preserved rockers – Mark Lindsay looked great (at least from the cheap seats) and he’s in his early seventies, and the Cowsills (some of whom were kids back in the day) had a youthful vibe. Both the Vanilla Fudge and the Zombies, who I saw in recent years, were vital-looking and eternally youthful.

But, yeah, Mike – there are a ton of John (Rock and Roll!) Housemans out there….

* * *

Here’s a nice review of A KILLING IN COMICS. The Jack and Maggie Starr series is getting a nice lift from the Dover reprints.

Check out this piece on how to build suspense in fiction – I’m quoted.

Finally, here’s a short, sweet review of QUARRY’S CHOICE.


Bouchercon 2015 M.A.C. Sked

September 29th, 2015 by Max Allan Collins
Bouchercon 2015

Before long, Barb and I will be heading to Raleigh, North Carolina, for this year’s Bouchercon. We will be making a rare appearance on the same panel (I don’t recall this happening before), and are frankly lucky to be on any panel alone or together – more about that below.

But for now, here’s our schedule:

Friday, Oct. 9:

2:30 PM, signing and book giveaway at the hospitality suite, hosted by Forge/TOR. The signing will only last half an hour, and free copies (of ASK NOT, I believe) won’t last long. You are free to bring copies of other books of mine (and ours) for signing.

4 PM Panel – both Barb and me – Crime, Mystery & Thriller Writing Before & After ‘The Internet & Smart Phones’
State AB.

5 PM – Autographing by both of us (Matthew Clemens will likely also be signing with us). Author’s room.

We will also be attending (and, as last year’s winner, I’ll be presenting “Best Short Story”) (currently trying to figure out how to win this, since I wasn’t nominated) at the annual Shamus Awards Banquet, which starts at 6:30. I understand the venue has no drinking, so it will be a surly crowd.

And that’s it. Nothing on Saturday or Sunday except business meetings with editors and my agent. Also, Matt’s panel is Friday at 8:30 AM in State AB – “Plot Twists in Mystery Narratives.” He and I will likely be at each other’s signings so that we can both autograph our collaborations.

Now here’s why I almost wasn’t on a panel. Barb and I, much better organized than usual, booked the con hotel way in advance. Then I started dealing with a health problem that I’m not ready to discuss that hit us in a nasty way and we essentially lost a good two months from any career stuff. But when I was in shape to seriously schedule going to Bouchercon, we bought our plane tickets and were ready to rock ‘n’ roll.

Not long ago – just a few weeks – I started wondering why I hadn’t heard from the con about appearing on a panel. I usually get at least one panel and often two, because I am, let’s face it, not shy in such situations. Barb is less keen to do panels, but she’s excellent on them – like the time on a cozy panel when she refused to say what kind of tree she’d like to be.

Anyway, I wrote an e-mail to the con organizers – Barb having advised me to “be nice” – and asked what was up. Why had I been overlooked? I reminded them of my credentials, emphasizing the upcoming QUARRY Cinemax series. Erin Mitchell at the con was very nice about it, answering me immediately, and apologizing profusely. They really wanted my participation. Then she wrote me saying that somehow my registration had fallen through the cracks – anyway, she couldn’t find it.

Barb and I discussed this and came to the embarrassing conclusion that we were mis-remembering having registered for the con. Yes, we had registered for the hotel, all right…but not the event. I got in touch with Erin and apologized and sent in our registration fees at once. I made it clear I’d love to be on a panel, but understood this was late in the game. Maybe Barb and I could be on tap should somebody on a panel drop out, last-minute.

Well, Bouchercon 2015 did better than that. They put a whole new panel together, to give us and a handful of other authors, who were flying Bouchercon standby essentially, a place on a panel. Panels are important not only for the public appearance opportunity, but because autograph signings are scheduled right after.

Erin also provided a list of booksellers for us to contact, to make sure our stuff is available in the dealer’s room. Every bookseller responded favorably.

So I want to thank Erin, Al Abramson and my old buddy Ali Karim for making this happen (even if UK resident Ali insists on pronouncing “shit” as “shite”). Stand-up folks all around.

Be there or be square!

* * *

Here’s an interesting review of THE GIRL HUNTERS DVD and Blu-ray, commenting favorably on my participation. Oddly, throughout the body of the piece, the reviewer refers to the film as THE LADY HUNTERS.


The Man Who Brought Quarry (Back) To Life

September 22nd, 2015 by Max Allan Collins
Available October 13
E-Book: Amazon Google Play Nook Kobo iTunes

No, this week’s update isn’t about me – or not primarily about me. Nor is it entirely about Hard Case Crime editor, Charles Ardai. Rather it’s mostly about the man who is very likely (at 89) our greatest living illustrator.

In fairness to myself – and I work hard at being fair to myself – I’d already revived Quarry somewhat by way of a short film I wrote and co-exec-produced, “A Matter of Principal” (2003), followed by a feature film, “The Last Lullaby” (2008), which I co-wrote. But the latter hadn’t happened yet when my friend Charles Ardai, called to try to talk me into writing a new Quarry novel for his emerging Hard Case Crime line.

I had created Quarry in 1971 or ‘72 at the Writers Workshop at the University of Iowa in Iowa City. The book, and three sequels, was published in the mid-70s, and one more in the mid-‘80s.

As it happened, I had my screenplay of what would become “The Last Lullaby” sitting on my desk. Having done any number of novelizations in my time, I figured doing one based on my own script wouldn’t be tough. On the other hand, I had a full plate and didn’t need the work.

So I gave Charles a kind of ultimatum. I would do a Quarry novel for him if he got Robert McGinnis to do the cover. McGinnis was famous for movie posters (including James Bond films) and beloved covers for such private eye series as Shell Scott and Mike Shayne, and had done a number of covers for 1960s Mickey Spillane paperbacks. In mystery fiction fandom, McGinnis was generally considered the master – and I agreed with that assessment. He brought a modern look to the pulp cover that set him way apart, and still does. (Several books, edited by the indefatigable Art Scott, collect many of those incredible images.)

The thing was, Charles – an award-winning writer his own self – had been keeping the McGinnis covers for his own novels. Would he be willing to meet my demand?

As it happens, he was, and once I knew I had a McGinnis cover on the way, I was ready to do just one more Quarry, to be titled THE LAST QUARRY. I’d always felt Quarry was second only to Nate Heller among my creations (all writers sound like God when talking about their work), and relished the idea of writing a final book for the series. Period-at- the-end-of-sentence kind of thing.

As it happened, the cover art was finished before I even started writing the novel (which would become a frequent situation with subsequent Hard Case Crime books of mine). This gave me the chance to write the cover scene, thought up by the great McGinnis, into the novel itself – something many an oldtime pulp writer would do (“Here’s the cover, Ray, flying saucers and shit – come up with a story!”).

Something surprising happened – THE LAST QUARRY did quite well. It had solid sales and garnered incredible reviews. (That didn’t stop the director of “The Last Lullaby” from bringing another writer in and changing things around – which is why I forbade the use of the name “Quarry” in the film itself…though I do quite like the end result). So I began thinking about how to do another Quarry novel. Charles thought that was a good idea, but how could I write another book when the previous series entry was labelled THE LAST QUARRY?

“Because I’m going to write a novel called THE FIRST QUARRY,” I said, detailing my hitman’s first hit, a notion Charles found pretty much delightful.

Since then, as many of you know, I’ve been filling in the blanks between the first four novels and QUARRY’S VOTE (aka PRIMARY TARGET), and the years after that, as well. You know you’re effing old when a series you began as contemporary now requires you to write period pieces.

Only one other Quarry novel has been graced with a McGinnis cover – the recent QUARRY’S CHOICE – though the other HCC covers have been stellar, too. I also had the joy and honor of seeing a McGinnis cover adorn one of my Spillane collaborations, THE CONSUMMATA (also at Hard Case, of course).

And now a QUARRY TV series has completed shooting its first (and I hope not last) season of eight episodes. Think about it: something I created in college in 1972 will be a TV series in 2016.

And without that McGinnis painting, none of it would have happened.

So when Charles and I began discussing doing Hard Case Crime editions of the first five Quarry novels – and publishing them on a fast schedule, to take advantage of the Cinemax series – the need for wonderful covers, right away, came into play. HCC is known first for its fantastic covers, and not the afterthought of writers like me.

I said, “Why not go to Bob McGinnis? See if he has any paintings of beautiful women in his inventory?”

Charles thought this was a splendid idea, but unlikely. He contacted McGinnis and learned the master had five such paintings in his inventory – the exact number we needed!

I was sent the available unpublished images, which I loved, and put each cover painting with an appropriate novel. Several are spookily appropriate. There was also a need for an image of Quarry himself, and Charles chose the Quarry face from…THE LAST QUARRY cover. While the TV series tracks the adventures of a much younger Quarry, the McGinnis version seemed definitive – and also would match up with a McGinnis cover.

When I look at these covers, it’s as if I were spinning a rack of paperbacks at Cohn’s Newsland in 1966 – I see dream-come-true imagery, taking on the look of the old Dell “Mike Shayne” books. Perhaps I am in a LIFE ON MARS type coma, and inventing all of this stuff.

Because this can’t really be happening, can it?

Five vintage books by me re-published in a five-month period…all with Robert McGinnis covers?

And surely it can’t be possible that I’m looking at the original LAST QUARRY cover painting by McGinnis, hanging on my office wall? (The painting that is, not McGinnis.) And in what universe would a sweet guy named McGinnis just send me that original, because I’d been so overjoyed, having him do the cover of one of my novels?

Feel free to hate me. I would. Particularly since I’ve been married, since 1968, to a woman who looks like she stepped out of a McGinnis painting.

* * *

Here’s a nice review of the BATMAN: SECOND CHANCES collection, out now.

And here’s a lovely review of STRIP FOR MURDER, which will soon be available in a new edition from Dover.


Crusin’ Returns & Recommended Noir Reading

September 15th, 2015 by Max Allan Collins
L to R, M.A.C., Steve Kundel, Jim Van Winkle, Brian Van Winkle

After nine months, Crusin’ was reborn yesterday at Pearl City Plaza in Muscatine (Iowa, for those not paying attention). After a combination of purposely limiting our playing and some health issues that caused us to cancel four bookings, we finally gigged and a very nice gig it was. The outdoor event on the Pearl City patio (for the Second Sunday Concert series) was packed with a very responsive audience. We played for an hour and a half, and it went very well. I felt loose and good, and was (no attempted modesty here) very goddamn funny on the mike patter.

It was just wonderful to be back with my bandmates, Jim Van Winkle, Steve Kundel and Brian Van Winkle. Best moment for me happened before we started when a kid about thirteen wanted to know if we were going to play “the Vanilla Fudge song.” You know we played it, although I pretended we were attempting the Supremes version and failing miserably.

The day this update appears (September 15) is the deadline day for nominating bands to the Iowa Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. Although the Daybreakers are/is in, Crusin’ – celebrating the 40th anniversary this year of its first public appearance – is not. If you have heard and enjoyed the band, either in live performance or on CD, you might consider nominating us. You can get the info on a recent posting at the Crusin’ Facebook page.

* * *

I received an e-mail from a fan asking the following:

As someone with an extensive knowledge of classic crime fiction, I was hoping you could possibly provide me with some recommendations as to what is some of the most “out there”/weird, ambitious, unconventional, interesting, and dark crime fiction from the 30s to 60s?

I’m not asking for a list of a 100 titles or anything like that. Just a handful of writers that never get mentioned amongst the likes of Highsmith, Marge Millar, and guys like Thompson and Willeford etc… but are comparable and are worth seeking out for the enthusiast and ploping down the $100 or so for a barely readable copy.

Here is my response, which you may find of interest:

The list of great hardboiled writers covers most of the really good writing — Hammett, Chandler, James M. Cain, Spillane, Jim Thompson. I’m not a Ross MacDonald fan (not a detractor, either though) but many would add him to that list. I would add Rex Stout.

A key writer, too little discussed, is Horace McCoy. His KISS TOMORROW GOODBYE is an incredibly influential work. And of course THEY SHOOT HORSES DON’T THEY is well-known.

Chester Himes could be added to the list. UK writer Ted Lewis (GET CARTER) is another. Two books that used to be much talked about but that have fallen off the radar are YOU PLAY THE BLACK AND THE RED COMES UP by Richard Hallas and THIEVES LIKE US (filmed twice) by Edward Anderson. But it’s been thirty years since I read them, so….

Elliott Chaze’s BLACK WINGS HAS MY ANGEL is a highly regarded James M. Cain school novel, originally a Gold Medal paperback. I haven’t read it in a while, but when I did, I loved it. William Lindsay Gresham’s NIGHTMARE ALLEY (source of the famous Tyrone Power movie) is a masterpiece. Almost anything by Charles Williams is worthwhile. A lot of people like David Goodis.

Hope this is helpful. I’m sure I’m forgetting some things. I should say that I like Erle Stanley Gardner, too, but many consider him lightweight. I don’t — his subject matter in the Perry Mason novels is right out of the Cain playbook: money and sex.

ADDENDUM: I should have included Richard Stark, although the vibe I got from the inquiry was for earlier stuff than that. I might have included John D. MacDonald, whose work I like but who has never been in my personal pantheon. Many writers whose opinions I trust – Ed Gorman, for one – consider John D. among the very best. Ed and the rest are almost certainly right.

Don Westlake (aka Richard Stark, of course) once told me a story that endeared MacDonald to me. They were guests on a “mystery cruise,” inhabited by a handful of mystery stars and a boatload of fans. Each day each writer offered up a story of theirs for the passengers to read and discuss. MacDonald, who didn’t know Don well, approached him on deck, and tentatively said, “Don, I really liked your story. But were you really fair to the reader?” Don said, “Screw the reader.” MacDonald grinned, offered his hand, and the two shook merrily.

Also, Don didn’t say “screw.”


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