Go Sell A Watchman

July 21st, 2015 by Max Allan Collins
Go Set A Watchman

I have read around 100 pages of Harper Lee’s GO SET A WATCHMAN, and frankly don’t know if I’ll get any farther in it.

The writing certainly has at least occasional flair, though the use of point of view isn’t to my liking – suddenly jumping into another character’s POV for a while, and then back again, is an amateur ploy. The secondary characters aren’t particularly compelling, and the dialogue is often precious. But what’s really wrong with the novel is that it has no discernible plot. Unlike its famous predecessor, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (like I had to tell you), there’s no murder trial to provide an engine to the small-town nostalgia set pieces.

MOCKINGBIRD is not a particular favorite of mine. I read it when it came out, in my youth, and have seen the fine film version a couple of times. But it’s not a novel that resonated with me so deeply that I named a child “Atticus” much less became expert in the prose style of its one-hit wonder author.

Mickey Spillane used to cite Lee and Margaret Mitchell as examples of “authors,” when explaining the difference between authors and writers, considering himself a prime example of the latter. An author wrote a book or two, a writer made a living at it and produced a shelf of work.

I take special interest in WATCHMAN because of my role as Mickey’s literary executor. I’m frankly surprised that there’s been as little fuss over just how much material Mickey left behind and just how much of it I’ve prepared for publication. But I do have a special context for seeing how reviewers and commentators have responded to WATCHMAN.

First of all, most of what has been written about the novel has been nonsense. Few have reviewed it on its own terms (the only way to review a novel properly). Many have speculated about whether or not Harper Lee truly gave permission for this early work to be published (though she clearly has). Many talk about the publishing industry in ways that reveal they know nothing about how publishing works, much less novel writing.

The biggest piece of misinformation is that WATCHMAN is a rough draft of MOCKINGBIRD. No. Not even close. It’s a different book about the more famous novel’s principal characters, set twenty years later. Its theme is finding out a beloved parent has feet of clay, and that’s valid enough. WATCHMAN has also been called a sequel or even a prequel. Here we’re getting warmer.

MOCKINGBIRD is the prequel to WATCHMAN. Some sources indicate that Lee and her publisher intended WATCHMAN to be published (and presumably somewhat rewritten) as the third book in a trilogy about these characters. Whether any real work was done on book two, and what that book would have been, is currently withheld. My guess, and it’s just a guess, is that Lee is one of those writers whose initial success sent her spiraling into a life-long writer’s block. Or in Mickey’s terms, an author’s block….

People seem terribly confused that the second book chronologically was written first. But writers (and even authors) know that’s ridiculous – that books in a series or saga can be written in whatever order the writer damn well chooses. My novels STOLEN AWAY and DAMNED IN PARADISE are chronologically the first in the Nathan Heller series; but they were published (and written) as books five and eight respectively.

On the other hand, WATCHMAN should have received a polish that brought it more in line with MOCKINGBIRD (there’s a major inconsistency about the murder trial in MOCKINGBIRD when referenced in WATCHMAN, for example). But the editors were too intimidated by Lee’s reputation to fix such things, and she is apparently not in any shape to do any writing or even editing herself (or if she is, isn’t interested).

Should the book have been published? Many say no. I say, “Hell, yes.” So far I don’t particularly care for the thing, but Harper Lee is a major author, and this is a second book about the famous characters in MOCKINGBIRD, and it makes a very interesting point about putting parents on pedestals.

But the book is a flawed, early work, apparently intended originally for revision so that it could be published after MOCKINGBIRD. So the bestseller approach that Harper (the publisher, not the author) has taken can be seen as at best inappropriate and at worst sleazy.

WATCHMAN deserved a publication that was more respectful of its history and the state it’s in – a scholarly introduction or after word, for example, to explain the context and the importance of the work, however flawed. To present it as just the “new” Harper Lee novel seems designed to make a lot of money while alienating the very readers who are pumping that money in.

Presented as more of an historical artifact, WATCHMAN still would have sold very well, and it would have received a more fair judgment by the public, the press and reviewers.

* * *

The Hon Company in my hometown of Muscatine, Iowa, is a very successful office-furniture manufacturer. My Dad worked for them for many decades, and I think he would have been proud of my appearance on this Hon-distributed piece on “7 Facts About Muscatine.”

There’s a Nate Heller story in the new anthology, CHICAGO NOIR, which recently got a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly.

Here’s a nice review of the Nolan novel, HUSH MONEY.

And here’s a nice bit about the “Nat” Heller novels.

M.A.C.

Mike Hammer Shoots .500

July 14th, 2015 by Max Allan Collins
Death Sentences

Actually, Mike Hammer probably has shot five-hundred in his career, but I refer not to bad guys but the fact that at the International Association of Media and Tie-in Writers “Scribe” Awards, KING OF THE WEEDS did not win Best Novel, while the Hammer short story, “It’s in the Book,” did win Best Short Story.

No complaints. The Scribes have been great to the Spillane/Collins collaboration – we’ve won once for Best Novel (KISS HER GOODBYE, twice for Best Short Story (“Book” and “So Long Chief”) and once for Best Audio (“Encore for Murder”).

I am particularly pleased to see “It’s in the Book” honored, because it’s my favorite of the Hammer short stories (and it was overlooked by the Edgars and Shamuses, which had both singled out “So Long, Chief”). Right now I have one more Hammer fragment that would work as a short story, and I may save it for an eventual collection.

“It’s in the Book” is available as a small book and has been collected in a book club collection (see Mike Doran’s comment last time) and in the UK in a collection called DEATH SENTENCES.

Here are all the Scribe nominees with winners in bold face:
BEST ORIGINAL NOVEL – GENERAL
24: Deadline by James Swallow
Murder She Wrote: Death of a Blue Blood by Don Bain
Mike Hammer: King of the Weeds by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins
Homeland: Saul’s Game by Andrew Kaplan
The Killing: Uncommon Denominator by Karen Dionne

BEST ORIGINAL NOVEL – SPECULATIVE
Sleepy Hollow: Children of the Revolution by Keith R. A.
DeCandido
Grimm: Chopping Block by John Passarella
Star Trek: Disavowed by David Mack
Star Trek: Foul Deeds Will Rise by Greg Cox
Grimm: The Killing Time by Tim Waggoner
Pathfinder: The Redemption Engine by James Sutter
Fringe: Sins of the Father by Christa Faust

ADAPTED NOVEL – GENERAL AND SPECULATIVE
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes by Alex Irvine
Noah by Mark Morris
War of the Worlds: Goliath by Adam Whitlach

YOUNG ADULT – ALL GENRES, ORIGINAL AND ADAPTED
Spirit Animals: Blood Ties by Garth Nix and Sean Williams
Battletech: The Nellus Academy Incident by Jennifer Brozak
Penguins of Madagascar by Tracey West

SHORT STORIES
Pathfinder: Hunter’s Folly by Josh Vogt
Mike Hammer: It’s in the Book by Max Collins and Mickey Spillane
Stargate: Perceptions by Diana Botsford
Pathfinder: Queen Sacrifice by Steven Savile
Tales of Valdemar: Written in the Wind by Jennifer Brozek

AUDIO
Dark Shadows: The Darkest Shadow by Nev Fountain
Dark Shadows: The Devil Cat by Mark Thomas Passmore
Blake’s 7: Fortuitis by George Mann
Doctor Who: Iterations of I by John Dorney
Pathfinder Legends: The Skinsaw Murders by Cavan Scott
GRANDMASTER (“the Faust Award”): TERRANCE DICKS

* * *

I note with sadness the passing of writer Tom Piccirilli, a very gifted man who reviewed many of my novels, and always favorably. When a writer as fine as Tom likes your work, you figure you’re doing something right.

Many tributes have appeared, but I’ll provide just this link to my friend Jeff Pierce’s write-up at the Rap Sheet.

* * *

Here’s a lovely review of THE LEGEND OF CALEB YORK from James Reasoner, who – like my pal Bill Crider – is a real western writer. When I pass muster with guys like James and Bill, I breathe a sigh of relief.

M.A.C.

San Diego Comic-Con & Hammer Interview

July 7th, 2015 by Max Allan Collins
It's in the Book French Edition

As it happens, Barb and I won’t be able to go the Comic-Con this year. So the listings that have me hosting the Scribe awards, doing a signing, and having a Quarry panel are now all inaccurate. Likely I’ll be there next year, but this time, no. My pal Jonathan Maberry will be hosting the Scribes for me.

I have two nominations: Best Novel, KING OF THE WEEDS; and Best Short Story, “It’s in the Book.” Both are Spillane/Collins collaborations.

Coincidentally, a French publisher (Ombres Noires) is translating “It’s in the Book” for their own edition (it’s available in English only in a small book, as well, published by Otto Penzler). They asked me to do an interview, which they will include in the small book, in French of course.

I thought you might like to see it in English.

Interview with Max Allan Collins
It’s in the Book

You wrote the end of a story by Mickey Spillane, who passed away in 2006. You were friends, how did you two meet?

As a young teenager, I idolized Mickey and wrote him dozens of fan letters. He never responded until I published my first novel, BAIT MONEY, in 1973, and sent him a copy, He wrote me a warm, lengthy letter of welcome to the community of professional writers.

Over the years I have been a defender of Spillane, who remains controversial in the United States. Because of that, I was asked in 1981 to be the liaison between Mickey and the Bouchercon mystery convention in Milwaukee, where he was a guest of honor. We immediately hit it off and I began to visit him at his home in South Carolina once or twice a year.

How did you come to complete his manuscripts?

On my various visits to Mickey’s home, he would send partially completed manuscripts home with me. He said this was just because he thought I’d be interested, but on one occasion he said, “Maybe we can do something with these someday.” He was referring to two partial Hammer novels, THE BIG BANG and COMPLEX 90. We had begun to collaborate on projects – a number of noir anthologies of his work and the work of others, a science-fiction comic book called MIKE DANGER, and a biographical documentary I wrote and directed, “Mike Hammer’s Mickey Spillane.”

When Mickey became ill, with a particularly virulent strain of cancer, we stayed in close touch by phone. He was working desperately to finish what he described as the last Mike Hammer, THE GOLIATH BONE. Shortly before his death, he called and said he didn’t think he’d be able to finish it. And he asked me to do it for him, if that proved necessary. I of course said yes.

Around the same time, Mickey told his wife Jane to gather all his unfinished material and give it to me – “Max will know what to do.” No greater honor could be paid me. There were six major Hammer manuscripts, often with notes, and another half dozen shorter Hammer novels in progress. There were also short openings for novels, running from six to ten pages, that I thought would make good short stories. “It’s in the Book” is one of those.

You wrote several stories from his manuscripts. What did you like in this one in particular?

It had a beautifully written opening, with two cops coming to see Hammer in his office, to take him to see a U.S. Senator for some mysterious, important job. Mickey’s manuscript ended before that job was fully described by the client, and that enabled me to use the missing ledger that made the story a bibliographic mystery. You see, editor Otto Penzler had requested that specific kind of story.

What sort of shape did the manuscript have – was it just a few lines, a structure, several chapters?

It was basically that opening, right up to where Hammer meets with the senator. I thought it was a lovely, traditional opening for a private eye story.

It must be a very special experience, and a challenge, to finish a story more than 20 years later. Did you try in any way to modernize the style, the story, or anything – or did you try to remain faithful to Spillane’s style?

I’ve done seven Hammer novels now, and the unfinished Spillane manuscripts spanned his entire career – from 1947 to the month he died. I always try to determine when Mickey was writing the story, and then I immerse myself in material that he wrote around that same time, so I can catch the flavor and capture Hammer at that specific time. Hammer is a much changing character, and a story conceived by Mickey in the ‘50s is vastly different from one written in, says, the 1980s. I don’t try too overtly to mimic Mickey’s style — it’s collaboration, not pastiche. I concentrate on getting Mike Hammer right. It’s a matter of character.

I am a very traditional, Old School mystery writer, so this comes naturally to me.

Did he influence you in your writing, or help you in your own work?

Mickey was a huge influence on me. The key writers for me were Hammett, Chandler, Cain, Thompson and Westlake. These are very different writers in their approaches, and I think having such variant influences has worked well for me. Mickey never really gave me any writing advice – I was already a pro when our friendship developed. But he was supportive and provided blurbs for many of my book covers.

What is it that makes the character of Mike Hammer so special, compared to other popular characters?

Hammer had an enormous impact on popular culture worldwide, well beyond the private eye genre. James Bond is a version of Hammer, for example. Prior to Hammer, detectives did not display the emotions – love, hate, fear – that Spillane gave his hero. Hammer was the first avenger of modern fiction, a hero who used the methods of the villain to triumph over that villain. In addition, Hammer as a combat veteran brought a traumatic backstory to the detective, much imitated since. Finally, Hammer slept with women, unashamedly. While Sam Spade had sex with his femme fatale, just about no detective since had done so. Chandler said disparaging things about Mickey, but after the success of the Mike Hammer books, Marlowe began having an active sex life.

Say what you will about Mickey, but he was the most influential mystery writer of the 20th century…and the bestselling, with the possible exception of Christie.

How did you come up with the idea of this ending?

That idea jumped to mind at the outset. I knew it was a good one. Mickey loved surprise endings, and this was right up his alley.

Are you yourself interested in rare books and first editions?

I am. I have a good collection with many signed books – all the writers I mentioned above, and more. I have a very strong Rex Stout collection, for instance.

What do you enjoy most about writing short novels?

I’m not a short story writer by inclination. I’m very much a novelist. But I’ve grown to like the form. It’s nice to have a project that lasts a week and not several months. My wife, Barbara Collins, is an excellent short story writer.

Who are the authors that inspire you today? Why?

I read very little contemporary fiction. I don’t care to be influenced by trends, and anyway my reading time is taken up largely by research for my historical thrillers. I continue to read and re-read the greats – again, Hammett, Chandler, Cain, Spillane and so on.

Do you read French thrillers?

I’m very traditional on that front, as well – Boileau-Narcejac. Jean Pierre Melville is one of my favorite film directors.

* * *

Speaking of Spillane/Collins collaborations, here’s a look at THE CONSUMMATA at Detectives Without Borders.

The same site followed up quickly with a piece speculating about the Spillane/Collins collaboration process. You’ll see a lengthy comment from me explaining that process in some depth.

Here is a lovely, gracious review of SPREE by one of our great noir writers, Ed Gorman.

M.A.C.

Fate of the Union—Covered

June 30th, 2015 by Max Allan Collins
Fate of the Union

Here’s the cover for FATE OF THE UNION, the second Reeder and Rogers political thriller from Thomas & Mercer. The first, SUPREME JUSTICE, was one of my bestselling novels ever, so I’m hopeful this one will do well, too.

Whether it will engender the same kind of political controversy as the first remains to be seen. I can’t see any reason for conservatives to get their panties in a bunch this time around, or progressives either; but you never know.

The cover process at Thomas & Mercer is fascinating – they provide a number of possibilities and give the author great input into the final product. I think this one is very good, and that it makes a nice fit with the SUPREME JUSTICE cover.

You’ll note that Matt Clemens shares byline this time around. That’s only a cosmetic change, because Matt was a collaborator on SUPREME JUSTICE as well, and the previous Thomas & Mercer novel, WHAT DOESN’T KILL HER. I wanted to include him on the byline of those, but was discouraged from doing so, because some people make the unfortunate assumption that when a secondary byline appears with a (fairly) well-known author’s, that means the book was ghosted.

Those of you who follow these updates know that Matt and I are genuine collaborators. Our process is one we have shared openly. I usually come up with the basic premise of a novel, and we then – in several sessions – come up with a plot. We both work on a chapter breakdown/synopsis, and then Matt writes a shortish rough draft, which I polish and expand into a longer novel. It’s a synthesis of two writers, and it’s worked very well for us for a long time. We developed the approach on the very successful CSI novels and have continued it elsewhere.

I’m proud and pleased to share cover credit with Matt.

And this book represents, in both our opinions, our best work together. It comes out next November.

* * *

Check out this terrific review of THE LEGEND OF CALEB YORK from the great book review site, Bookgasm.

M.A.C.

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