Comic-Con 2014 Day One

July 24th, 2014 by Max Allan Collins

This was a very long day, starting at 3 a.m. in Iowa. After arriving at the airport in San Diego, Barb and I met up with Nate and Abby in weather so beautiful it seemed like a bad practical joke to a bunch of humidity-ridden Midwesterners. Staying at the Marriot Marina – thanks to Nate’s mad computer skills when the rooms were made available – we are in a much more convenient position to get the most out of the con. Standing in line to get into preview night, we met Ian Abbott, a special effects expert from the UK who worked on tons of huge movies, including SKYFALL and several Christopher Nolan projects. Lovely guy, funny and willing to share fascinating and sometimes hilarious inside stuff. The dealer’s room was crowded and fairly daunting, though Nate and Abby made some key purchases – including a lovely Stan Sakai watercolor – and I picked up some books from Bud Plant’s great booth. Tomorrow at 6:30 PM (see details below) is Nate’s panel on translation.

Comic Con 2014

Comic Con 2014

Comic Con 2014

Comic Con 2014

Comic Con 2014

San Diego Comic Con & Goodbye, Maverick

July 22nd, 2014 by Max Allan Collins

For any of you attending San Diego Comic Con, here is my schedule:

6 to 7 PM, Friday July 25, Room 23ABC: International Association of Media Tie-in Writers: Scribe Awards panel. We’ll be presenting the awards (“So Long Chief” is up for Best Short Story) followed by a panel with lots of top tie-in writers. My only panel appearance this year.

1 PM Sunday July 28 at the Hermes Books booth, signing the MIKE HAMMER comic strip book (which I introduced). This is a tentative time and may change. This is my only scheduled signing and you may bring any books you like for my signature (as long as I wrote them). Duration of signing is open-ended – probably 2:30.

Note, too, that Nate has a panel on Thursday, July 24, at 6:30 PM in Room 26AB. The topic is translation of Japanese into English for manga, games, novels, etc. I’ll be in the audience if you’re looking to track me down. This is always an interesting panel.

I will again be doing daily updates from SDCC with photos and more (starting Thursday morning).

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James Garner

Like most writers who’ve had any sort of success – and this seems to apply particularly to mystery writers – I get questioned frequently about influences. If you’ve followed these updates or seen me on a convention panel or maybe just chatted with me, you know the list: Hammett, Cain, Chandler, Spillane, and a bunch of others. Writers all.

And I sometimes mention – as do such contemporaries of mine as Bob Randisi, Ed Gorman and Loren Estleman – the impact that series television had on me as a writer. Not every writer is secure enough to admit being influenced by what we used to call the boob tube (I always hear Edith Prickley saying that). But those of us who grew up in that wave of TV private eyes in late fifties were probably as influenced by such shows as Peter Gunn, 77 Sunset Strip, Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer, Perry Mason and Johnny Staccato (among others) as we were Hammett, Chandler and Spillane.

More often (though still relatively seldom) you’ll hear a mystery writer admit to having been influenced by filmmakers. I frequently mention directors Alfred Hitchcock and Joseph H. Lewis, and such movies as Kiss Me Deadly and Chinatown. Add Vertigo to those last two and I would challenge you to find many novels that stack up, even by the masters.

But it’s rare that any writers think to mention the influence actors have had on their fiction. I know that Italian western-era Lee Van Cleef influenced my Nolan series, for example, and Bogart is someone that writers sometimes aren’t embarrassed to cite as influential on their work. Not often, but it happens.

For me, the passing of James Garner – a man I never met and never had contact with – reminded me how big an influence this actor was on my life and my work. Before the TV private eye fad, there was the western craze, and discovering Maverick at a very young age shaped me in a way that rivals any parent or mentor. Now of course Roy Huggins had a lot to do with that, as the creator and frequent writer on the series, but it was Garner who brought life to the character, whose like we’d never seen.

Bret Maverick was a big, good-looking guy, able to handle himself with his fists and passably well with a gun (despite his claims at being slow on the draw). But he would rather charm or con his way out of a jam than fight or shoot. He was quick with a quip but never seemed smug. He was often put upon, and didn’t always win. Though he was clearly better-looking and more physically fit than your average mortal, he conveyed a mild dismay at the vagaries of human existence. And he did all of this – despite (or in addition to) Roy Huggins – because he was James Garner.

Garner’s comic touch was present in much of his work, and of course Bret Maverick and Jim Rockford were essentially the same character. And no matter what literary influences they may cite, my generation of private-eye writers and the next one, too, were as influenced by The Rockford Files as by Hammett, Chandler or Spillane. The off-kilter private eye writing of Huggins and Stephen Cannell made a perfect fit for Garner’s exasperated everyman approach, but it was just notes on a page without the actor’s musicianship.

Not that Garner couldn’t play it straight – he was, in my opinion, the screen’s best Wyatt Earp in Hour of the Gun, and as early as The Children’s Hour and as late as The Notebook he did a fine job minus his humorous touch. But it’s Maverick and Rockford – and the scrounger in The Great Escape, the less-than-brave hero of Americanization of Emily, and his underrated Marlowe – that we will think of when Garner’s name is mentioned or his face appears like a friendly ghost in our popular culture.

Garner’s attempts to resurrect Maverick were never very successful – Young Maverick a disaster, Bret Maverick merely passable, though his participation in the Mel Gibson Maverick film was on target. I was fortunate to get to write the movie tie-in novel of that and – despite an atypically mediocre William Goldman script – had great fun paying tribute to my favorite childhood TV show and to the actor I so admired. (If you read my novel and pictured Gibson as Bret Maverick, you weren’t paying attention.)

Like all of us, Garner was a flawed guy, though I would say mildly flawed. Provoked, his easygoing ways flared into a temper and he even punched people out (not frequently) in a way Bret Maverick wouldn’t. He never quite came to terms with how important Roy Huggins had been to the creation of his persona, and essentially fired him off Rockford after one season. The lack of Huggins and/or Cannell on Bret Maverick was probably why it somehow didn’t feel like real Maverick.

Garner had great loyalty to his friends, however, and as a Depression-era blue collar guy who kind of stumbled into acting, he never lost a sense of his luck or seemed to get too big a head. He resented being taken advantage of and took on the Hollywood bigwigs over money numerous times, with no appreciable negative impact on his career. He was that good, and that popular.

When he gave a rare interview, Garner displayed intelligence but no particular wit, and it could be disconcerting to see that famed wry delivery wrapped around bland words. Yet no one could convey humor – from a script – with more wry ease than Jim Garner. Perhaps he was funny at home and on the golf course and so on. Or maybe he was just a great musician who couldn’t write a note of music to save his life.

It doesn’t matter. Not to me. He influenced my work – particularly Nate Heller – as much as any writer or any film director. He was a strong, handsome hero with a twist of humor and a mildly exasperated take on life’s absurdities. I can’t imagine navigating my way through those absurdities, either in life or on the page, without having encountered Bret Maverick at an impressionable age.

Watch something of his this week, would you? I recommend the Maverick episode “Shady Deal at Sunny Acres,” which happens to be the best single episode of series television of all time.

J. Kingston Pierce has a wonderful post on Garner at the Rap Sheet, with links to his definitive (and rare) two-part interview with Bret Maverick himself.

M.A.C.

When the Rain Comes

July 15th, 2014 by Max Allan Collins

My band Crusin’ appeared Sunday evening at the Pearl City Plaza here in Muscatine, Iowa. We are on an occasionally interrupted hiatus that has shifted our twenty-four or so bookings a year to a mere four or five. This gig was a concert, an hour-and-a-half of ‘60s (and some later) rock plus a few originals, scheduled to be performed outside on a large patio overlooking the Mississippi River. The concert was to begin at six p.m., and we started setting up around four on one of the most beautiful afternoons this stingy summer has offered up. The nation has been suffering extreme weather, but Iowa is an old hand at that – this summer so far, with hell-and-hailstone thunderstorms and more or less constant tornado warnings, has tested our mettle, though.

Fifteen minutes before start time on this lovely day, dark clouds began rolling in. So did our audience, nearly two-hundred hearty souls lugging their own lawn chairs and such. The sky spattered and spit some, but we decided to go on with the show anyway. Come rain or come shine, as the great Johnny Mercer said.

During the third number, the sky exploded and we frantically began tearing down equipment, while trying not to get electrocuted, and moved inside the building, which was essentially a narrow atrium not designed for a concert. The audience thinned by half but was still considerable, and seated themselves on a stairway or on the chairs they’d brought, while many helped us with our equipment. Everyone was fairly soaked.

We dried things off with paper towels, set up only half of the P.A. and did a few other things to accommodate the smallish space. The result was an intimate, almost cabaret-like feel, and we completed the concert to a warm, ever-ready to applaud audience. It was one of those funny situations, a disaster that turned into something special and memorable. We performed very well, particularly considering we hadn’t played for several months (but for a brush-up rehearsal a few days before). Just the kind of gig I long for, the opposite of the occasionally dreary barroom appearances we’d drifted into the last year or so.

Crusin 2014
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So what I am up to, where writing is concerned? If you follow these updates, you’ll know I wrote one novel after another from January through June. I’m due a breather.

Here’s the kind of breather you get around the Collins domicile: I’ve written an introduction for a volume of the CRIME DOES NOT PAY comics collections for Dark Horse; co-wrote a sample chapter of the next ANTIQUES novel (ANTIQUES FATE) with Barb; plotted and then wrote a synopsis with Barb of the next ANTIQUES novella (ANTIQUES ST. NICKED); wrote an essay on vengeance as a theme in thrillers for an upcoming Amazon mystery/crime site (shockingly, Mickey Spillane comes up); and am preparing to write an intro for a new publication of the three Jack Carter novels by the late great UK writer, Ted Lewis – I’m doing JACK CARTER’S LAW, the prequel to GET CARTER (aka JACK’S RETURN HOME).

I’m pleased and at least mildly astonished to report that SUPREME JUSTICE continues to ride high on the Kindle bestseller list. We have racked up a dizzying 1315 reviews and a four-star average. The sniping from some far right readers continues and maybe helps fuel interest. We are two weeks past the Amazon promo event that propelled us, and are still #1 in Legal thrillers and #2 in Political thrillers. We’re at #37 in Kindle books overall, #14 in Mystery and #10 in Thrillers.

I am in discussions with Amazon to do two more Joe Reeder/Patti Rogers thrillers. Matt Clemens and I want to do a trilogy with one book per each branch of government.

I recently gave my first interview on SUPREME JUSTICE and the left/right controversy it’s spawned. Read it right here.

Also, Matt and I were asked to write a “Day in the Life of Joe Reeder” for Dru’s Booking Musing.

Another nice review can be seen here.

Here’s a mixed review but an opportunity to win a free copy of the book.

And here’s a short but sweet SJ review.

The film version of ROAD TO PERDITION continues to rank high on lists of comic-book movies – here we’re one of the best five.

And finally here’s a nice KING OF THE WEEDS review from the always interesting At the Scene of the Crime site.

M.A.C.

This Week at the Podunk Playhouse

July 8th, 2014 by Max Allan Collins
Supreme Justice

We are a week past Amazon’s promotional campaign for SUPREME JUSTICE, which means the novel’s selling well at its regular price ($11.99 for a real book, $4.99 on Kindle). We have topped 1000 reviews – incredibly enough – and remain in the upper reaches of the Kindle bestsellers list (#1 in political and legal thrillers). That means, for a week anyway, the Amazon push kept us going strong past the promo. I continue to monitor the reader reviews and it’s been something of a revelation – there are a lot of different kinds of readers out there, and some are (frankly) not that bright. We have conservatives who hate the book (and stop reading) because the hero is a liberal. We have liberals who hate the book (and stop reading) because the first chapter is in the point of view of a conservative. We have people revealing the identity of the perpetrator (sans SPOILER ALERT). We have reviewers who complain about my bad writing who are barely literate. We have prudes whose eyes begin to bleed at the sight of a profanity in print (I have been termed a “liberal libertine” – cool!). A certain minority of readers can’t figure out that the book takes place in the future and accuse me of not knowing the age of a certain ball player or when JFK was killed. But we also have mostly smart readers, who give the book a well-reasoned three or four or five stars.

Revelation may be the wrong word – how about “reminder.” This has been a reminder of a basic tenet about reading any book (but especially fiction) that is rarely mentioned much less discussed. Simply, reading a book is a collaborative process. Nobody out there is experiencing a novel of mine the same as somebody else. In a way, it’s my play being cast and staged in the theater of somebody else’s mind. Sometimes I play Broadway, and sometimes I play the Podunk Community Playhouse. Getting back to the collaborative notion, sometimes I have a brilliant collaborator, most times just a damn good one, and now and then a really lousy one.

Elmore Leonard preached leaving all the boring stuff out. He was a genius of sorts but became a lazy writer, leaving so very much to his collaborators. If you wonder (as sometimes reviewers…usually amateur ones…do) why I describe clothing and the exteriors and interiors of homes and buildings and include the weather and various other sights and sounds and smells, it’s because I know if I don’t, you will.

Ironically, the people who really like my books could do that just fine. But it’s a struggle for the Podunk Community Players, and I’m the kind of artist (there, I said it) who wants to control the audience’s experience as much as possible. Knowing that every reader will have a different experience, I want to limit the parameters of that experience so that, for a majority of readers, it’s at least a similar one.

* * *

My son Nate’s new manga is out. I haven’t read it yet, but he will post info on where and how to get it for me here…right, Nate?

[Nate] Right!

Battle Royale: Angels' Border

First, from my editor: “The infamous BATTLE ROYALE lighthouse scene depicted in the film and novel shocked and mesmerized audiences as the girls experienced their own microcosm of joy, love, betrayal and ultimately death. BATTLE ROYALE: ANGELS’ BORDER is author Koushun Takami’s first new work since the publication of his groundbreaking and controversial novel more than a decade ago. It notably expands the BATTLE ROYALE saga in a new way with the story of Yukie Utsumi and the other girls, whose distinct personalities and tragic nature of their deaths made such an indelible impression in the original story.”

As a longtime fan of the original novel and movie (I delighted in showing the latter to my unwitting classmates in high school) (and anyone who survived that got hit with MEET THE FEEBLES), I did a double-take when I saw ANGELS’ BORDER on a “New Release” table in a Japanese bookstore. After almost fifteen years, Koushun Takami was back! I knew I had to translate it and get it to English-speaking fans. Two years later, I landed the gig for Haikasoru’s new translation of the original novel, and the time was right for ANGELS’ BORDER. When I reached out to editorial, they were already thinking the same thing.

This is my first manga translation, and Viz took a real chance by allowing a newcomer (at least in this medium) to steward such a high profile title, but they recognized that by having the same translator handle the novel and the manga, the two works would have a stylistic continuity. I’m admittedly biased, but I think their gamble paid off.

Buy your copy here:
Amazon | BAM! | RightStuf! | B & N

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After an absence of several weeks, the excellent book review site Bookgasm (with editor Rod Lott) is back. A really terrific and very smart ANTIQUES CON review just went up there.

Last week Bookgasm posted this very positive review of KING OF THE WEEDS.

A number of book review blogs are looking at SUPREME JUSTICE, as in this nice write-up at Bilbliotica.com.

Check out this SUPREME review at Author Exposure.

And finally here’s a delightful review of THE WRONG QUARRY.

M.A.C.

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