Friendly Fire

November 12th, 2019 by Max Allan Collins

You may have heard that I put my foot in it at Bouchercon last week, which is very much the case. I have apologized on Facebook and elsewhere, but I wanted to do that here as well, since this is where I interact with my readers, who are nice enough to care about what I’m up to.

I’ll get to the apology soon enough, but I want to provide some context. Doing so risks being accused of trying to justify what I said, but the unjustifiable cannot by definition be justified. I have been reminded that words matter, and as a wordsmith I believe I already know that, or should. But without context, words just float there, causing trouble.

At Bouchercon last week I presented the Best Novel “Shamus” award. This came at the end of a longer day than is advisable for somebody my age with my recent health history. Barb and I skipped Thursday, the first day of the convention, because it fell on Halloween and we wanted to give out the usual treats and have the fun of spending some time with our two grandkids. That had us getting up at 4 a.m on Friday. Barb was very ill, with a terrible cough; I’d had the same cold but was in the latter stages. At the con, she came out of the hotel room only for a few key events, including the Private Eye Writers of America banquet. She shook no hands.

I spent that first day in meetings with editors and publishers, and we were late for the banquet because one of my obligations (a pleasant one) was stopping by the Thomas & Mercer cocktail party. I’m pretty much a non-drinker, as some of you know, and did not imbibe. So much for that excuse. What remains is the stupid one: I should have grabbed a nap. Cue the eyeball rolls among the young.

Bob Randisi, my oldest friend in the writing game, and his lovely partner, Christine Matthews, do a bang-up job on the banquets. Christine works hard to find a good, interesting venue in each city the con travels to, working by phone mostly, and obviously can only rarely visit the venue ahead of time before booking it. The venue this year was in a charming part of Dallas, and was itself charming, the food excellent, the best PWA banquet ever some have said.

Here comes the however: the logistics of the dining room were dire. In a long narrow room, presenters – sans podium – were facing the short width of the room, specifically the rest rooms, with big groups of diners to the left and right. Without a sound system at the facility, Bob used an amplified microphone, which was just not up to the job, particularly with music coming in from the street directly outside.

Presenters, including Bob himself, quickly were pelted with yells of “Can’t hear you!” from either side of this divided country. As things wore on, the left half of the room got rowdier and rowdier, the right half ever more sedate. Speakers preceding the awards proper began abandoning the mic, and just talking loud – one made a joke of it and yelled his entire fifteen-minute presentation (that got very old). A stand-up comedy routine that went flat had been prepared with visual aids that would have been difficult to see even under better circumstances. A lovely speech written by the absent recipient of the Eye (PWA Grand Master, Les Roberts) proved too lengthy.

By the time I went on, last, some humor was needed, and brevity too, so I tried to provide some of both. How did that go? Mostly okay, actually. I spoke about how much the Shamus award meant to writers – in my case, it jump-started me as a private eye writer in 1984, with True Detective winning Best Novel, after I’d written about crooks and amateur sleuths for over a decade.

Bob had given me the nominee list (and winner) at the event itself, at the little table Barb and I and Christine shared. I’d only been asked the day before to give the Best Novel Award. Once in the past, I’d mangled the names on such a list given me last minute by Bob. Because the tables were filled by the time we arrived, going around trying to find five writers I’d never met wasn’t practical. I did my best, at one point giving Bob a bad time about putting me in this spot again, looking at the list with its several non-Anglo Saxon names, and saying, “Furriners!” in an arch and I thought obviously ironic way, meant to underscore my own ineptitude at pronouncing these names. I think it’s fair to say that people who know me much at all do not consider me a stupid bigot, or a smart one, either.

It got the modest laugh it maybe deserved, and I had no idea some of those attending were offended until an editor from Soho came up to Bob and me after the event, as we stood there chatting with people filing out. The editor stated that what I’d said had made some people uncomfortable; she said this not to me, but to Bob, though I was standing right there. That, frankly, rubbed me the wrong way. So did her adding that she herself had not been offended.

I told her to “Lighten up,” and Bob reminded her that Soho hadn’t yet paid for their banquet tickets. That was the extent of the conversation.

At the convention the next day, I attended Barb’s panel and my own – a PWA panel, as it happened – and did several signings and prowled the book room. No one mentioned what I’d said at (or after) the banquet, and even now I don’t know whether the blowback was brewing at the con or if that waited till social media got hold of it.

Monday morning, back in Iowa, I was writing when I got an e-mail from an editor saying I needed to issue an apology, brief and immediate, and hope that it put out the firestorm. I frankly did not know what he was talking about, but I tracked it down, and yes, what I’d said at the PWA banquet was a “thing” on Facebook.

I use Facebook sparingly and Twitter not at all. I had not reflected on what I’d said, as a presenter or to that Soho editor after. The first had been just a sarcastic throwaway, the latter a response not to her complaint so much as what struck me as the risible manner in which that complaint had been made. I made two back-to-back posts, one protesting the rush to judgment, particularly from people who weren’t in attendance (“furriners” had become “foreigners”), and another apologizing to the nominees.

Sometimes when you say something stupid, you don’t even realize it was stupid till later. Now, as I reflected, I came to feel I had diminished the honor of the nominees, not only presenting in a jokey manner an award I immensely value myself, but doing so with a tasteless throwaway – lampooning a view I consider so ridiculously stupid, I couldn’t imagine anyone taking it at face value.

So I apologized on Facebook, and apologized privately to several of the nominees. In the former case, I was accused of trying to explain away my screw-up; but in the latter case, I found the nominees with whom I was able to connect (including the winner) not only gracious, but helpful in making me understand how hurtful that one word had been. They also made a good case for the bravery of the editor who approached with her comment after the event.

My main concern, frankly, is those nominees. It makes me heartsick – actually, nauseated – to think that I took anything away from their honor. I have sat as a nominee in a PWA banquet myself, many times, and I know the pins-and-needles feelings that go through you, waiting for the winner’s name to be read. As literally the person who has lost more Shamus awards than anyone else on the planet, I assure you that anxiety never leaves.

So to them my apology is unconditional, and it extends to everyone in that room, including the SoHo editor, who was the only one with guts enough to make her complaint heard at the event itself. That apology extends to anyone who has offered criticism to me about this, or felt in any way offended. And I apologize to the PWA and its membership for putting them on the spot. To all but the mean-spirited among you, I apologize.

And I thank the editors who got in touch supportively, and to my fellow writers who defended me, some of whom got chastised almost as much as I did. I knew the smart thing to do would probably have been to make a short but complete apology and get out of Dodge. If you read these Updates, you know that’s not my way. Instead I engaged in the discussion at Erin Mitchell’s thread.

That was the extent of my engagement, however, except for adding a few comments at blogs where this came up, repeating (no cut and paste – always a fresh start) my apology. I got into discussions of various aspects of this debacle with posters at Erin’s site, and got a better understanding of seeing this through the eyes of others. For a long time, I did not feel that my behavior with the Soho editor was wrong, but it was, and I should have known that earlier. It took mettle to approach us, and I was flat-out rude to her. I am not known for rudeness, but I was rude.

Maybe a nap would have helped.

I disagree with certain of these reasonable posters on the topic of intent. Many insist intent doesn’t matter (I got compared to a rapist in this discussion, which was no fun). I would argue that mean-spirted intent does matter. Me lampooning ethnocentric attitudes, poorly, is not equal to a racist’s idiocy.

But they do make a good point – dying by friendly fire makes you just as dead as when the bad guys are doing the shooting.

Mystery Convention Foto-Fest

November 5th, 2019 by Max Allan Collins

This is almost an all-photo update.

Barb and I arrived back home late afternoon from the Dallas Bouchercon. We were there only for Friday (including travel) and Saturday, leaving Sunday (today) early. We had not attended the last two because of the New Orleans medical emergency at home that sent me back as soon as I arrived, and last year’s Iowa Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame honor at Arnold’s Park, which had us cancelling our planned attendance to the Alaska B’Con.


M.A.C. presenting the Best Novel “Shamus” at the Private Eye Writers of America awards banquet.

Many people, aware of my health issues of a few years ago, assumed I didn’t attend for several years because of that; and I received many nice but kind of amusing compliments about how good I looked (code for: gee, you’re not dead!).

Because of the briefness of our visit, we both had jam-packed schedules. Barb and I did a Kensington signing and I did a Tor/Forge signing – where advance reading copies of Do No Harm were given out! I hadn’t even been able to confirm that there would even be ARC’s of Do No Harm, so I was amazed and pleased to see them. Barb and I did a signing after her panel, and I did one after mine, with Matt Clemens also there to sign our collaborative works.


M.A.C. signing at Bouchercon. Matt Clemens standing.

Barb did a great all-female panel (except for moderator William Kent Krueger), equally divided between cozy writers and thriller/standalone writers. Barb, who was battling a bad cough (doing better now), didn’t show it and put in what I thought was her strongest panel appearance ever – articulate and funny. She was in rough enough shape (though not to the naked eye) that I was prepared to come up and take her place if she had to flee. But somehow she pulled it off.


Kate Moretti, Cathi Stoler, Barbara Ross, Vanessa Lillie, Barbara Collins, Sherry Harris, William Kent Krueger.

Immediately after Barb’s panel (both were Saturday afternoon), I was on a panel about the history of the Private Eye Writers of America and also the first time each panelist came to a Bouchercon. I shared the stage with some great writers who are also pals of mine, including moderator Bob Randisi, my longest friendship in the writing game, going back to 1973 when he was the first person I ever met who had read my books but wasn’t a relative.


Bob Randisi, M.A.C., S.J. Rozan on the Private Eye Writers of America panel.

Robert Randisi. Max Allan Collins Jr. SJ Rozan Reed Farrel Coleman Michael Sears. A legendary group of P.I. writers, discussing the PWA and Bouchercon (according to the Facebook caption!). Credit Chad Williamson.

I am embarrassed and a bit unhappy that I was only able to say quick hellos or exchange a few brief words with my many friends at Bouchercon, but my limited stay at the event and my impossible schedule made that inevitable. I did manage to spend some quality time with Lee Goldberg of Brash Books; Grace Doyle, Liz Pearsons and Sarah Shaw of Thomas & Mercer; and Micheala Hamilton of Kensington. Among other things, I conned meals out of all of them, who happen to be fun people to be around, as well as colleagues in the writing game who help keep me in business.


Bob Randisi (founder of the Private Eye Writers of America) and M.A.C. at the Shamus awards.

M.A.C.

Our Bouchercon Schedule

October 29th, 2019 by Max Allan Collins

Here’s a photo of yrs truly at San Diego Con in 1982 chatting with the great Hank Ketcham, creator of Dennis the Menace, at the Inkpot Awards (I won one and so did he). It was taken by my old pal Alan Light, and has absolutely nothing to do with Bouchercon, other than I will no doubt again be mixing with my betters.

Barb and I haven’t attended a Bouchercon, the World Mystery Convention, in four years. Health issues were a part of it, and previous commitments kept us away in some instances.

Most frustratingly, in 2016, when I’d recovered well from my heart surgery, including a stroke on the operating table, I managed to get pertussis (whooping cough) and so did Barb. She had a worse case of it and, with me out of the woods, she sent me off to New Orleans alone for Bouchercon XLVII.

When I got in at the airport in that city, I almost immediately got a call from a neighbor saying Barb had been rushed to the Emergency Room, fighting for breath. I immediately booked a flight home – meaning I spent almost all of that day either going to the airport, in the air, in layovers, and going back home again (picked up by those kind neighbors). So I was in New Orleans for about an hour and fifteen minutes. I was glad I returned, because Barb had a rough weekend and she needed me. She recovered well, but it was a nasty one.

Prior to that, Barb and I went almost every year to Bouchercon. We made both Long Beach and Raleigh. Those were the last times I saw my pal Bill Crider, who this year’s con is rightfully honoring. He is sorely missed.

Now, with luck, both halves of Barbara Allan will be in Dallas next weekend. The con starts on Thursday, October 31. But that’s Halloween and we take that seriously in this suspenseful household, so we won’t be arriving till Friday morning.

Here is our schedule:

FRIDAY NOVEMBER 1

Kensington Books signing (Barbara Allan), 2 – 3 PM

Forge Books signing (Max Allan Collins) 3:00 – 3:30

NOTE: Both are, I believe, in the book room.

Shamus Awards Dinner, 6:30 PM at Hattie’s, 418 N. Bishop Avenue. I am not nominated (boo!) but I will be presenting the Best Novel Award (yay!).

SATURDAY NOVEMBER 2

Barbara Collins, Such a Good Family, 1:00 PM – 2:00 PM, Reunion F

Max Allan Collins, Private Eye Writers of America, 2:30 PM – 3:30 PM, Landmark C

I have had no official notification yet, but the usual order of business is a signing following each panel. Assuming that to be the case, I will be with Barb at the Barbara Allan signing, and she will be with me at the M.A.C. signing. If I can corral Matthew Clemens to join us at the latter signing, I will; in any event, Matt will be there, so bring you Collins/Clemens books for signing.

M.A.C.

Dispatch From the Bunker

October 22nd, 2019 by Max Allan Collins

The audio book of Scarface and the Untouchable, I am pleased to report, is up for a Voice Arts Award, thanks in no small part to narrator Stefan Rudnicki…assisted by two other narrators, A. Brad Schwartz and Max Allan Collins, under Stefan’s direction.

For those of you attending Bouchercon, look to see Barb and me there, Friday through Sunday. The con begins on Thursday, but that’s Halloween, and my four year-old grandson will be in costume, seeking candy, which I do not intend to miss.

Next week I’ll give you the breakdown on our panels and signings (Barb and I each have a panel appearance).

I have been very much burrowed in on the next Mike Hammer novel, Masquerade for Murder. It will be out next March. This is the second Hammer I’ve written from a Spillane synopsis, with only two scraps of Mickey’s prose to work into the book (including the opening, however). That’s an intimidating prospect, but I think it came out well.

The novel takes place in the late ‘80s and is a follow-up (not a sequel) to Mickey’s The Killing Man. Like the preceding Spillane/Collins Hammer novel, Murder, My Love, the synopsis may have been written by Mickey as a proposed TV episode for the Stacy Keach series. This means I had fleshing out to do, and I hope I’ve done Mike and the Mick justice.

I am working with a new editor at Titan, Andrew Sumner, who knows Hammer well – he was the skilled interviewer for one-on-one interviews with me at the last two San Diego Comic Cons. Andrew knows American pop culture inside out, and this is good news for me and the series. I will, very soon, be preparing a proposal for three more Hammer novels – two of which have considerably more Spillane material to work from.

The 75th anniversary of Mike Hammer looms in 2022, and we are already planning for it. With luck, the long-promised Collins/James Traylor biography of Spillane will be part of that. There will be a role for Hard Case Crime in the mix, too, and possibly even another graphic novel, this one based on a classic Spillane yarn.

For Masquerade for Murder, I spent a lot of time with The Killing Man, assembling typical Spillane phrases, settings and passages for reference and inspiration. I try to incorporate a Spillane feel, particularly in descriptions of weather and NYC locations; but I stop short of writing pastiche – I am less concerned with imitating Mickey’s style and more concerned with getting Hammer’s character down.

It’s somewhat challenging positioning each novel in the canon in proper context. Hammer was a shifting character – shifting with Mickey’s own age and attitudes – and I want each book to reflect where the writer and his character were when Mickey wrote the material I am working from. The last two have been later Hammer – specifically, late 1980s. Next time, assuming I land another three-book contract, I will be writing a story set around 1954. I look forward to that, because it’s the younger, rougher and tougher and more psychotic Hammer that many of us know and love.

I also have gone over the galley proofs of the new Heller, Do No Harm, also out in March (as is Girl Can’t Help It!) (yikes)! It was written a while ago and I was pleased to view it from a distance – and pleased to find I liked it very much.

I hope you’ll agree.

You didn’t have anything else to do next March but read three books by me, did you? You can take April off and dive back in, in May for Antiques Fire Sale.

* * *

Here’s a nice, extensive look at Ms. Tree.

Wild Dog has his own Wikipedia entry now – a good one.

One of our best contemporary crime fiction critics and historians, J. Kingston Pierce, has included The Titanic Murders in a fun look at disaster mysteries.

The late, great Paul Newman is lauded in this write-up about the film of Road to Perdition.

And finally, that man Jeff Pierce is back with a fine piece about the subject of last week’s update, actor Robert Forster.

M.A.C.

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