Swap Talk & Bobby Darin

April 22nd, 2014 by Max Allan Collins

Just hours ago, I shipped ANTIQUES SWAP off to our editor at Kensington. I say “shipped” out of habit – these days, there’s no rush to make it to a Fed-Ex drop to actually post packages. How many times did Barb and I work all day on final corrections, hoping to make it to the P.O., Fed Ex or UPS on time?

Hitting “send” is somehow not as satisfying as handing a clerk a package or shoving that package into the Fed Ex box. But I would never go back.

Barb and I spent a long day doing the final tweaks and corrections. Our standard operating procedure is that I read and revise a hard copy, using a red pen so that the corrections jump out, and she enters them. This is not just for “Barbara Allan” books, but everything of mine that’s book length.

I’m always afraid that, on the read-through, a novel isn’t going to hang together – as I go, I focus on one chapter at a time, as if I were doing a short story, and I rarely have a sense of how (or not) those chapters are coming together to make a book. Almost always I am pleasantly surprised, sometimes damn near thrilled, by how those chapters turn into something coherent and cohesive. That last read-through, for tweaks and typos, plays a key role, but it’s always nice to know that you’ve written a novel and not just a bunch of scenes.

ANTIQUES SWAP came out very well indeed. But you never know, and we both had our doubts along the way. The story starts at a swap meet and eventually deals with wife-swapping in small-town Serenity. This is delicate, even daring subject matter for a cozy, but I think we walked the tight rope successfully. There’s a scene Barb came up with where a concussed Vivian Borne thinks she’s on a USO Tour with Bob and Bing that is among our funniest.

Last week a number of you jumped on my offer of sending out signed copies of KING OF THE WEEDS for Amazon reviews. I offered 12 copies, but wound up digging into my personal stash for another five. Thanks to all of you who requested books, and my apologies to those who missed out this time. In a few weeks, there will be a similar giveaway with a dozen ARC’s of SUPREME JUSTICE. For those who haven’t noticed, these Updates go up every Tuesday at 9 a.m. Central Time.

In the next two months, we should be posting any number of interviews and reviews. This is one of those times when all my publishing worlds collide – ANTIQUES CON, KING OF THE WEEDS and SUPREME JUSTICE are all out at the same time. I’ve already done an interview for Jon Jordan at Crimespree (see below), and soon I’ll be offering a link to a very long, in-depth one for J. Kingston Pierce of the Rap Sheet and Kirkus on-line.

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In the last year of his life, Bobby Darin did an NBC series called THE BOBBY DARIN SHOW. If you’ve been following my work for a while, chances are you know that I am the world’s biggest Bobby Darin fan. How can I make such a claim? Let’s start with: I own his Gold Record for “Mack the Knife.” Next!

The Bobby Darin Show

Anyway, Darin’s series is in many respects a typical early ‘70s variety show, which is to say a weird hybrid of what was “happening,” baby, and wheezy traditions that dated to vaudeville. Darin is very good at doing sketches and production numbers, and is naturally funny, too. But those ‘70s variety shows, with the partial exception of Carol Burnett, were really pretty terrible. And the reason to celebrate the release of THE BOBBY DARIN SHOW on DVD is chiefly the moments, two or three times a show, when Darin stands on stage in a tux and sings standards and current pop hits in his sophisticated, hip nightclub manner.

Also, every episode (there are thirteen) finds Darin singing to (and with) that week’s female musical guest star. Usually the two perch on stools as he gazes at her with open admiration, in a kind of seduction ending with Darin kissing the female guest tenderly (in near silhouette). What’s most fascinating here is how Darin modulates his performances according to the talents of his partner. Connie Stevens is shockingly weak, and Darin carries her, singing softly and gently. Much the same is true with Nancy Sinatra – but she is much better with him, with his help, than in her embarrassing solo performance of a lame “Boots are Made For Walkin’” follow-up flop.

But when Darin sings with Dusty Springfield – the greatest blue-eyed female soul singer of her generation – they stand facing each other, going toe to toe, delighted by each other’s talent, holding nothing back, although Dusty may be just a little bit surprised that the “Splish Splash”/”Mack the Knife” guy has such incredible r & b chops.

It’s not overstating it to say Darin was dying when he made these shows. Sometimes he clearly feels pretty good, and other times not. He doesn’t betray that, but I can tell. He phrases differently – grabbing more air than usual – when he’s under the weather. At the end of each show, he sings “Mack the Knife” while the credits roll and then recedes into a big empty soundstage in silhouette, which now plays hauntingly. If he’s feeling good, he dances and prances; if he’s having a rough week, he does just enough footwork and body language to fool you into thinking he’s still Bobby Darin. It’s said that he took oxygen off-stage before and after these performances, and that he was like a puppet with its strings snipped till the camera came on and the orchestra kicked in, and he came – for a time – alive.

Bobby Darin was a character Walden Robert Cassoto played. The coolness of the cat, swinging his songs on these shows, is startling in contrast to the goofy humor bits he does, like when he’s in drag as “the Godmother,” or sitting on a brownstone stoop jawing with a neighborhood pal. His acting talent comes to the fore in some excellent low-key production numbers in which he enacts a scene drawn from a song he’s singing, as in “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight,” where he’s a lower-class joe entertaining a prostitute in a cheap hotel room. Fairly startling, actually.

Darin could do anything. He was Oscar-nominated for a dramatic movie role and won a Golden Globe for a comedy. He was a genuine rocker. He was easily the greatest blue-eyed soul singer of his generation. He recorded some of the first country rock and folk rock, and was a songwriter of talent and versatility (he’s in the Songwriters Hall of Fame). At the start of his career, he opened for George Burns. In the last months of his life, he was the highest paid performer in Vegas.

If you buy this DVD set, know a couple of things. There are some things missing from these shows, apparently mostly guest-star performances that couldn’t be cleared. There are comedy bits you may wish to skip, and some dreadful musical performances by guest stars. I mean, it’s the early ‘70s. We’re talking the kind of era that makes people nostalgic for THE BRADY BUNCH.

But when Darin takes centerstage, with a big band behind him, a microphone in hand, and a rapt audience before him, prepare to get chills. There are performances here, by this dying young man, that are spellbinding and mesmerizing – “Cry Me a River,” “Some People,” “Once in a Lifetime.” A rare live performances of his great hit “Artificial Flowers” (one of his many songs about death) can be found here, and so can his thumbing-his-nose-at-the-reaper signature tune “Mack the Knife” – thirteen times, each different. The most astonishing performance is, perhaps surprisingly, his moving and electric rendition of Don McLean’s “Driedel.” Worth the price of admission.

The DVD set is widely available, on Amazon and at Barnes & Noble, and featured in mail-order catalogues like Critic’s Choice.

For those of you who have no idea what the fuss is, check out this 1962 performance:

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Here’s that interview that Jon Jordan did with me about KING OF THE WEEDS and more.

Barb and I are thrilled that the Washington Post mystery review chose ANTIQUES CON for part of their round-up of new cozies.

And my old pal Ron Fortier (terrific writer his own self) had wonderful things to say about KING OF THE WEEDS.

JFK assassination expert Vince Palamara – one of my unwitting resources – has some very nice things to say about TARGET LANCER here. I can’t tell you how much it means when somebody like Vince approves of my exploration of the key crime of the 20th Century.

M.A.C.

New Mike Hammer Novel Giveaway

April 15th, 2014 by Max Allan Collins
King of the Weeds

Last week, my offer of a dozen ARC’s (advance reading copies) of ANTIQUES CON to readers willing to do an Amazon review found all twelve spoken for within 24 hours.

This week I have a similar offer, and it just might go quicker (we will post here and on Facebook when the offered books are gone). [Note from Nate: We're all out again. Thanks for the terrific response!] I have a dozen copies (not advance reading copies, but the real deal, and I’ll sign them) of KING OF THE WEEDS, the Mike Hammer novel going on sale May 6. Again, this is predicated on your willingness to write an Amazon review (also encouraged are Barnes & Noble reviews and blog reviews in general). Do not try to post your review before May 6 – Amazon does not allow advance reviews except from their own selected cadre.

This week our son Nathan visited Barb and me for several days, and during that time our author copies came of not only ANTIQUES CON and KING OF THE WEEDS, but Nathan’s BATTLE ROYALE (the cult classic Japanese novel of which he did a new, superior translation). Kind of amazing: every time the doorbell rang, there were more boxes of our books! (And an angel got its wings, of course.)

Battle Royale Remastered

Nathan’s presence was fortuitous in another way – he was here to participate for Barb and me (and Mrs. Nathan Collins, Abby) in the frantic on-line event known as the San Diego Con making hotel rooms available. The rooms go in under twenty minutes, and the good ones (downtown) are gone in under two minutes. Nathan took under 90 seconds to enter the required info, including a list of six hotels in order of preference, and – thanks to computer dexterity on Nate’s part that both his mother and I lack – we were rewarded with rooms at the Marriot Marina next door to the convention center. This is winning the nerd lottery. We have been attending San Diego Comic Con for many, many years…and this is the first time we’re staying at everybody’s first choice for lodgings.

Right now I am working on ANTIQUES SWAP – really dug in on it. Another week and a half, I would estimate, and my draft will be complete. Barb did such a great first draft that my work has been easy – or as easy as writing ever gets, which isn’t very.

Allow me to quickly comment on a few recent TV series and movies.

First, TV. JUSTIFIED is a great show and had a terrific season finale, setting up one last great big season with Raylon Givens and Boyd Crowder facing off one last time. ARCHER – renamed ARCHER VICE – is winding up its latest season, and it remains my favorite series on TV, just a truly demented guilty pleasure, should any of you be able to experience guilt. On Blu-ray, we watched three JACK IRISH movies, a very good hardboiled private eye show from Australia based on a novel series – beautifully shot, well-written, well-acted, with Guy Pierce excellent as the somewhat forlorn (but not despairing) lead. At least as good is the new season, the sixth, of GEORGE GENTLY with British TV superstar, Martin Shaw. These four movie-length episodes are superior to most of what you might see at the movies themselves. Set in the changing times of the late ‘60s, with a father-and-son relationship between an older and younger cop, GENTLY is as good as anything in the UK crime department with the possible exception of SHERLOCK.

Onto film. I didn’t hate CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER. [Note from Nate: mild spoiler alert] In fact, there is much to like, in particular Chris Evans’ portrayal of Cap, and Scarlett Johansson in a skin-tight cat suit. Audiences are reacting very well to this one and I feel like a bit of a spoilsport not to be caught up in its spell. But every surprise is predictable, and it suffers from the oh-so-serious rendering of childish concepts Stan Lee threw off in his sleep decades ago. Guys, SHIELD is not the CIA – it’s an imitation of UNCLE, as in MAN FROM. The Winter Soldier is Bucky, and Bucky is Captain America’s Robin, fer chrissakes. You would think I would relish these movies, having grown up on Marvel (and Atlas before it). But the fun has been drained out, largely. By the way, almost all of the endless fight scenes are incoherent. When a CAPTAIN AMERICA movie’s biggest surprise is that Robert Redford is not the Red Skull, we have a problem here at the Merry Marvel Marching Society (yes, I was a charter member).

For wild action that is not incoherent, although it’s gory as hell (in a good way), catch THE RAID 2. Though it lacks the purity of the single-setting first film, RAID 2 has more fantastic action set pieces than you can shake a baseball bat at (and there will a baseball shaken). This is the rare Asian crime film that actually beats John Woo at his own game.

But the best movie I’ve seen this year – though it’s admittedly not to every taste – is THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL. I run hot and cold on Wes Anderson. Hated MR. FOX, loved MOONRISE KINGDOM. Was annoyed by DARJEELING EXPRESS, was crazy about RUSHMORE. This new film is his best, combining all of his obsessions and quirks into one very funny, very moving film, with a mindboggling cast that is unlikely to be repeated, even in another Wes Anderson film. Anderson is a novelist on screen, but one who shares the vision inside his skull with the viewer.

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Here’s a blast from the past: a review of THE HISTORY OF MYSTERY.

And here’s a fun review of THE WRONG QUARRY, specifically of the audio version read by the great Dan John Miller.

M.A.C.

Antiques Giveaway and a Nomination

April 8th, 2014 by Max Allan Collins
Antiques Con

The International Association of Media and Tie-in Writers has announced this year’s Scribe award nominees. It was a tough field (COMPLEX 90 did not get a novel nomination, for example), which is healthy considering how weak the tie-in field generally is these days. I am pleased to say the Spillane/Collins MIKE HAMMER short story, “So Long, Chief” – already honored as an Edgar nominee – is also a Scribe nominee.

In the past, these awards have been presented at San Diego Comic Con. We intend to do so again this year, but haven’t received confirmation from the con as yet. I’ll post that info here when I have it.

In the meantime, here is the full list of nominees at my pal Lee Goldberg’s terrific web site.

On a related note, here’s a terrific recent review of Lee’s book on tie-ins (with contributions by me).

A flurry of M.A.C. books has started to hit, including mass-market paperbacks of TARGET LANCER and ANTIQUES CHOP (the latter perhaps my personal favorite of the series). Coming up very soon are ANTIQUES CON (April 29), KING OF THE WEEDS (May 6) and SUPREME JUSTICE (June 1).

[Nate: All copies are claimed for now—see you next time around!] I have available twelve ARC’s (advance reading copies) of ANTIQUES CON for the first dozen of you who are willing to review it for Amazon (and other sites, such as Barnes and Noble and Goodreads). First come, first served, and only USA addresses, please. You can’t post at Amazon until the book is out, so April 29 is the key date. Goodreads reviews can go up immediately. Amazon is crucial because it takes nine reviews to get on their radar.

I am trying to get copies of KING OF THE WEEDS from the publisher for a similar giveaway, and will have some in a few weeks for SUPREME JUSTICE.

Again, I can’t stress how important these Amazon reviews are, not just for me but for any authors whose work you follow and enjoy. You don’t need to post lengthy reviews – a line or two is sufficient. If you are a Quarry or Nolan fan, for example, please consider going to Amazon and posting quickie reviews of those. The Nolan books are in particular under-reviewed, and again, this keeps the Amazon algorithms from kicking in.

Getting back to ANTIQUES CON, we’ve just had a delightful review from ROMANTIC TIMES (a great place for a cozy mystery to get attention). Take a look:

Romantic Times May 2014
ANTIQUES CON
**** ½

Allan’s madcap series has never been the most typical of cozies; it provides non-stop humor as well as a logical, tangled mystery. Vivian is wildly charming, although she often drives Brandy close to insane. The New York City comic book convention setting gives the story a gentle, satirical backdrop. This is a fun, fast mystery that shows Allan at the top of her game.

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M.A.C.

April Amazon Deals

April 6th, 2014 by Nathan Collins

Today only (April 6), these twelve Nathan Heller and Mallory e-books are only $1.99 each on the Kindle Store:

Nathan Heller:

Triple Play: A Nathan Heller Casebook
Neon Mirage
Carnal Hours
Blood and Thunder
Flying Blind
Majic Man
Angel in Black
Chicago Confidential

Mallory:

Nice Weekend for a Murder
No Cure for Death
Kill Your Darlings
A Shroud for Aquarius

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Through April 16, Kindle editions of Midnight Haul and Barbara Allan novels Bombshell and Regeneration are $1.99 each.

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Triple Play in paperback is $7.48, 10% off the standard price as part of the April Bookshelf deals.

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For M.A.C. fans across the pond, What Doesn’t Kill Her is part of this month’s UK Kindle 25 £1 deal.

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