Heart-Felt Part 6

February 9th, 2016 by Max Allan Collins

Yes, let’s get on with it already! I should very soon (today or tomorrow) get test results that will immediately pave the way for the heart surgery. In that case, a good chance I’ll be going in yet this week. If that happens, my son Nate will start posting weekly the four updates I wrote in advance, and I should be in shape to get back to the regular stand after that.

Watch here and at Facebook for health updates from me or Nate.

Everybody has been great. Thanks for the love and support. Back at ya.

* * *

Publication of the ROAD TO PERDITION novel appears to be happening. As I was looking for a project to keep me busy while waiting for test results, I decided to prepare the manuscript for Brash Books. For those who came in late, in 2002 I wrote a 70,000-word movie tie-in novel (okay, novelization) of the script for the movie that was based on my graphic novel. In my novel, I attempted to be true to the screenplay while weaving in material from the graphic novel as well as historical material about the real John Looney and his era.

The DreamWorks licensing department put me through hell, making me cut anything – including dialogue! – that wasn’t directly from the script. They could not have cared less that I was the creator of this story and its characters. Even after they had accepted my 40,000-word debasement of my original novel, they kept cutting – if, in the film-editing process, director Sam Mendes dropped a scene or even a few lines of dialogue, they removed that from my novel as well. One chapter was reduced to a page and a half.

I’ve always felt I did really good job on the book, and it really paved the way for my sequels, ROAD TO PURGATORY and ROAD TO PARADISE. So I’ve looked for a way to get the novel into print. Now, enough years have passed that nobody at Paramount (who control DreamWorks) seems concerned about my original version finally being seen.

Quick anecdote. I was told by the DreamWorks licensing people that Mendes himself was making the requests for my drastic cuts of the novel. That he wanted it exactly like the movie. Then when I talked to Mendes at the London premiere, he said, “I hear you’ve written the movie novel – can’t wait to read it!”

So, anyway, back in 2016, I was faced with looking at my 2002 manuscript and dealing with it. Making decisions, doing tweaks, ferreting out typos and missing words. This was my original manuscript, after all, not any published version.

My first decision was to change the slightly revised movies names of several central characters back to my version of them – “Michael Sullivan” was restored to “Michael O’Sullivan” and John (and) Connor “Rooney” again became “Looney.” (The change from “Looney” to “Rooney” was done when either Mendes or the screenwriter assumed the former was a comic-booky name provided by a graphic novelist, when of course the latter is historically accurate.)

My second decision was to get rid of two major plot changes. (SPOILER ALERT: skip this paragraph if you haven’t read the graphic novel and/or seen the film). In the graphic novel, as in history, John Looney is not killed. And in the graphic novel, the boy Michael kills the hitman who has shot Michael’s father. In the film, Looney memorably dies in the rain, and a Hollywood ending has the boy unable to shoot the hitman and the dying father being pleased. I had already restored the envelope of first-person narration by the grown Michael, Jr., and a last-page revelation of what became of him.

So I spent a day rewriting those scenes, taking them back to my original intention. But it didn’t work. The screenwriter had done too good a job of laying the groundwork for his version of my scenes. And I had done a really good job in the novel of doing the same, including fixing some plot holes in the script. Re-doing those scenes to make them consistent with the graphic novel created a domino effect of terrible proportions. The next work day, I restored the scenes as I’d originally written them (faithful to the movie script).

It quickly became clear that I had no business doing any significant rewriting. The point of the exercise was to get what I wrote in 2002 into print. This is not to say that I didn’t do some tweaking, but it was mostly a few word choice changes. I did fix a couple of things that bothered me in the movie that I had let pass in the novelization.

An example – in the film, Mike Sullivan has just offered his services to Frank Nitti if Nitti will give up Connor Rooney. Nitti turns Sullivan down, then after Mike has gone, we find that in adjacent room both Connor and John Looney are waiting. In what I think of as the Dr. Evil and Scott scene, Connor tells his father that they should take Mike down right now – he’s in their grasp! Rooney, again like Dr. Evil in Austin Powers, says something like, “You just don’t get it, do you son?” As much as I love the film, this makes me cringe. So I revised it with the father telling his son why it would be unwise to kill Sullivan, specifically that in a busy hotel during the day, the resultant melee would be a disaster. Those who’ve read the graphic novel know that I did have O’Sullivan shoot his way out of the hotel. Not staging that scene was a rare misstep and a missed opportunity.

On the whole, I was very pleased by what I wrote in 2002, and again I did very little rewriting or additional writing. Since Brash Books also intends to bring out ROAD TO PURGATORY and ROAD TO PARADISE in new editions, I feel confident that the prose novel of ROAD TO PERDITION will be a good lead-in – that it forms with the two sequels a trilogy that will please readers, particularly those who became familiar with PERDITION via the film.

One final note: one of the trickiest things had to do with converting between word processing programs. You want to know how long ago 2002 was? The book was written in WordStar! I had to convert it to Word Perfect, my preferred program, after which my revised manuscript had to be converted to Word. That meant, as a final step, going through and eyeballing each of around 400 pages, looking for glitches.

* * *

Check out this nifty cover of the mass-market edition of KILL ME, DARLING. By the way, I don’t recall whether I’ve mentioned it or not, but several goofs in the hardcover of COMPLEX 90 were corrected in the paperback version – making it the author-approved text of that novel.

The DARLING paperback will be out this month (the 23rd).

Speaking of my collaborations with Mickey Spillane, I urge you to check out the article at Great Writers Steal that happens to be one of the smartest examinations of either my work or Mickey’s that anybody has ever written.

Less smart is the favorable but patronizing review at the normally more reliable UK site, Crime Fiction Lover. Once again, it turns out that a book written in the ‘70s includes some ‘70s attitudes. And once again, the reviewer troubled by that doesn’t mind at all Quarry killing people.

Speaking of smart reviews, here’s a great one about the Heller novel ASK NOT, from Frank the Movie Watcher.

Let’s wind up with a great piece on THE MALTESE FALCON, from a writer smart enough to quote me.

M.A.C.

Heart-Felt Pt. 5

February 2nd, 2016 by Max Allan Collins
Quarry's Cut

Okay, this is getting ridiculous. The day this is posted I will be getting an out-patient procedure that will determine whether I will finally get my heart surgery, which if so, will likely (pause while I laugh hysterically) be next week. I never dreamed that I would be so eager to get an operation like this, but this has been going on since last June.

I will continue to keep you posted, and either Nate or I will provide updates here and on Facebook (our weekly ones will continue to be posted each Tuesday morning).

My apologies for this unintentional cliffhanger serial – I’m usually not quite this corny – but I continue to appreciate the support from my readers, friends and acquaintances. It’s been a great boost to the spirits.

Perhaps in honor of my inevitable surgery, the Quarry reprint out this month is QUARRY’S CUT. Also coming out this month are mass-market paperbacks of ANTIQUES SWAP and KILL ME, DARLING.

* * *

A piece of good news for longtime readers of my stuff: my complete novel version of ROAD TO PERDITION the movie is due to be published along with reprints of ROAD TO PURGATORY and ROAD TO PARADISE. You may recall that my PERDITION novelization was reduced to a pale shadow of itself back in the day – a 40,000 word condensation of the 70,000-word novel is what was foisted upon the public (it even made the New York Times best-seller list). As a great man once said, “Pfui.” But we appear to be on the verge of vindication.

In addition, new editions of BLACK HATS and RED SKY IN MORNING are in the works, to be published under my own name for the first time (R.I.P. Patrick Culhane).

All five of these books will be published by Brash Books, which is in part the brainchild of my buddy Lee Goldberg.

I now have in hand all five Hard Case Crime reprints of the first five QUARRY novels, each with a stunning Robert McGinnis cover. Or I do, assuming this isn’t an hallucination, which is kind of what it feels like. This latest publication of QUARRY continues to stir up reviews of a novel that was first published in 1976 – that’s forty years ago – and written a few years before that.

For example, there’s a splashy QUARRY review, featuring the McGinnis cover, in the second issue of the amazingly slick and colorful (and expensive) UK magazine, CRIME SCENE. On your newsstands now. Nice write-up, but one that includes the now-usual complaint about Quarry’s non-PC gender attitudes – again, a forty-year old book is accused of being somewhat “dated.” No one seems to mind that he’s an assassin. I guess some things just never get old.

Check out this QUARRY review from Col’s Criminal Library.

And this one from the San Francisco Book Review.

QUARRY’S DEAL is given a fine review at Everything Noir.

Finally, here are a couple of splendid reviews from Bill Ott at Booklist that you may have missed:

QUARRY.
Collins, Max Allan (Author)
Oct 2015. 271 p. Hard Case Crime, paperback, $9.95. (9781783298839).

Originally published in 1976 as The Broker, this first novel in Collins’ series starring the Vietnam-vet-turned-hit-man finds Quarry five years into his career as an assassin for hire, getting his assignments from a middleman called the Broker. Trained to kill in Vietnam, Quarry finds he quite likes the work and has no trouble distancing himself emotionally from what he does. But he doesn’t like complications, and when the Broker adds a wrinkle involving drugs to Quarry’s latest job, the hit man protests. So begins the severing of the Quarry-Broker connection, a relationship that we learn much more about in succeeding novels in the series.

Collins didn’t know Quarry would lead to a series when he was writing it, but he set the table perfectly, even so. Quarry was the first hit-man antihero in crime fiction, and, unlike most of his successors, he remains the most “pure,” in the sense that he isn’t somehow a good guy who only kills those who need killing (Dexter, et al.); no, Quarry kills for money and tells you so. Yes, he has his own sense of justice and will sometimes kill (pro bono) those he feels are on the wrong side of his very personal scales of right and wrong, but he’s still a killer more than a knight errant. And, yes, Collins makes us root for Quarry, or he draws us so completely into Quarry’s world that rooting for anybody becomes beside the point. That, after all, is the real trick to creating a compelling antihero.

Collins also pairs his antihero with a writing style that is perfect for the man and the premise: mainly straightforward, no-nonsense declarative sentences, more Hammett than Chandler, more Spillane than Hammett. Killers shouldn’t be fancy talkers, especially those who work the drab mean streets of places like the Quad Cities, spanning the Mississippi and connecting Illinois and Iowa, where the action in Quarry takes place. And, yet, just to keep us off balance, Collins will occasionally show some Chandlerian chops, as when he describes a cluster of trees “bent over green and graceful in the less than gentle afternoon breeze, like oversize, out-of-shape ballet dancers trying in vain to touch distant toes.” Even hit men can wax poetic now and again.

Although Collins originally saw Quarry as a stand-alone, he did leave his protagonist in a major pickle at the end of the book. The implication seemed to be that Quarry was doomed—a fitting end for a one-off noir—but when an editor asked the author to write more about the character, Collins was happy to find a way to get Quarry out of his pickle. When Hard Case finishes its reissuing of the first five Quarries, there will be a total of 11 pickle jars on the shelf (the original five plus the six Collins has written since he brought back the series in 2006)—and plenty of room for more.

QUARRY’S LIST
Collins, Max Allan (Author)
Oct 2015. 219 p. Hard Case Crime, paperback, $9.95. (9781783298853).

His relationship with the man known only as the Broker irretrievably broken in Quarry, the first in the series, Collins’ hit-man-for-hire hopes to develop a new business plan. Without the Broker to act as middleman, setting up clients for Quarry and others to kill, it could prove difficult to find marks, but Quarry has grown disenchanted with working through someone else and wants to go another way. But before that can happen, he must deal with the other hit men he knows will be coming for him, as various lethal entrepreneurs vie for the prize of taking over the Broker’s business. Quarry is ready when they come and dispatches a pair of killers with little trouble, but that’s only the beginning. Tracking back to find the man who wants him killed, he falls hard for a blonde in a swimming pool, only to discover that she’s the Broker’s wife and, further, that the man he is hunting is setting up a hit on Mrs. Broker. A plan is forming in Quarry’s mind: the killers in the Broker’s employ will all contract with other brokers eventually and go back to work. If Quarry can find the Broker’s list of killers, he can start his own business by tracking them to their next jobs and hiring himself out to their would-be victims: pay me, and I’ll kill the guy hired to kill you. It’s an ingenious scheme, but there’s lots of preparatory killing to do first.

Hats off to Collins: he needed a scheme to keep his series going, and he found a doozy. As Quarry puts it, “I’d still be killing people, but for the most part it would just be other hit men, like myself, and that seemed a step up somehow.” Originally published in 1976 as The Broker’s Wife, Quarry’s List is being reissued by Hard Case Crime along with the four other early Quarry novels (Collins took a 30-year hiatus from the series before bringing Quarry back in 2006). This one shows Collins developing the storytelling skills that eventually will define his long career as a genre writer. His plots are tricky but never overly so; like the late, great Ross Thomas, he knows how to build a maze but not lose his readers in it before showing them a way out. So it is here, as Quarry must juggle various pieces on a moving chessboard: the list, the widow, the killers, the plan. Fortunately for genre fans, Quarry (and Collins) are up to the challenge.

M.A.C.

Heart-Felt Pt. 4

January 26th, 2016 by Max Allan Collins

I apologize. I really do. But there’s been another postponement of the surgery. I was supposed to go in for the operation on Jan. 26 (the day this is posted), but now I have to take another pre-op test that day. With some luck, the surgery will be rescheduled yet this week – maybe Thursday, but that’s a guess.

Barb had warned me not to post about my pending surgery until after-the-fact. She is always right. Still, it’s nice to find out people prefer you to be alive. I’ll see what I can do.

Since I am in total limbo as I write this, I can only say that I – or possibly Nate – will be providing brief updates here and on Facebook, as we know more.

Many thanks to all of you for your support and patience.

* * *

Throughout these fun and games, I have continued working – not at my usual pace, but working. As I may have said, I’ve done two TV scripts as well as a Hammer novel, MURDER NEVER KNOCKS. I received advance but finished copies of that over the weekend, and it’s a handsome book. What’s more, I like the story within the handsome covers.

In addition, I’ve done various short projects, including a Sherlock Holmes story with Matt Clemens, one of two we were asked to do (the other one I may be working on this week, depending on how things go down). A few of you may recall that Matt and I, a few years ago, collaborated on short stories to accompany and supplement various puzzles, including some famous licenses, like CSI and its spin-offs, THE MENTALIST and NCIS. The Holmes stories will be attached to jigsaw puzzles, as well.

I’ve always wanted to do a Holmes story – well, a Holmes novel, really – so this has been fun. On the other hand, I did not have time to re-read any Doyle, which I would certainly have done had this been a novel project. As usual, Matt and I plotted both tales together, and he has written rough drafts. As indicated, I have completed a final draft of one, entitled “The Adventure of Professor Moriarty’s Notebook.”

One of the other small projects I’ve done in recent months is a Mike Hammer story for THE STRAND, “A Dangerous Cat.” I believe it will be in the next issue.

That story completes eight that represent short but useful Hammer fragments from Mickey Spillane’s file of unfinished stories and novels. One of these became “So Long, Chief,” which was Edgar-nominated and Shamus-winning. With all eight completed, I have a book, the first ever Mike Hammer short story collection (Mickey wrote very few short Hammer tales). I have assembled these in roughly chronological order, and written an introduction discussing how the stories came to be. Otto Penzler, who published THE GOLIATH BONE, THE BIG BANG and KISS HER GOODBYE when he was at Morrow, is going to publish the collection later this year, as A LONG TIME DEAD: A MIKE HAMMER CASEBOOK from his Mysterious Press.

The book will have a very limited print run of perhaps 1000 trade paperback copies before going into POD status (and will obviously be available as an e-book). In addition – pay attention, fanatics – a limited hardcover edition of only 100 copies (signed by me and Jane Spillane) will also be available. This will quickly become the hardest-to-find hardcover first-edition in the Spillane canon.

M.A.C.

Heart-Felt Pt. 3

January 19th, 2016 by Max Allan Collins

I know, I know – those of you kind enough to be following the saga of my heart surgery must be saying, “Enough already! Get it over with!”

That’s roughly my own sentiment, as Barb and I have been dealing with this since late May 2015, and have been told seemingly countless times that the surgery was two weeks away, or even days away. I would estimate at least half a dozen postponements.

On the other hand, the doctors have always had good reasons for doing so, and I certainly want to undergo this procedure at the optimal moment. This postponement, as I mentioned on Facebook, has to do with the need for me to recuperate more fully from the initial carotid surgery. I am doing much better and feel confident that I’ll be ready for the scheduled Jan. 26 (a week from the day I’m posting this) surgery.

Recovery time is hard to judge, but I won’t be able to attend the Iowa Democratic caucus, although Barb probably will. We are, not that it matters, Hillary supporters. Bernie is a one-note candidate (mean evil nasty billionaires) and a self-avowed socialist (and the Republicans are salivating to have that to go after in a Democratic nominee). Either way, I am almost convinced we will have Donald Trump as a President (it’s a lock if Bernie gets the nomination). If Bernie thinks Americans hate billionaires, he’s just not paying attention – many of them love money-bags Trump, and just look at the recent Powerball mania. We don’t hate billionaires. We want to be one!

My apologies for the mini-political rant. But whichever, whatever political views you hold, the more rabid among you will understand my frustration at being benched on the night of the big game.

I continue to be grateful to my friends and readers (again, lots of crossover there) for the show of support and even love. Barb had discouraged me from posting here and at Facebook about my medical follies, having been through all of these postponements and fearing more. She was, not surprisingly, right about the postponements. But I don’t mind the support and love one little bit. It’s encouraging. Those of you who want to read more books by me are in line with my desire to write them for you.

If all goes as planned, a week from now – when the next update is posted – I will be in the operating room, getting fixed (not in the veterinarian way, one would hope). I may write another update prior to that, but as things stand, my son Nate has four updates I’ve provided, each looking at a different upcoming book. I may add to some of these, depending on how my recovery goes. The first week will be in the hospital and I’ll definitely be out of pocket, and I’m told the second (first at home) will be rough, and I’ll likely be even more goofed up than usual, on pain meds. At some point I may be able to report in and add to these written-in-advance updates.

And in the meantime – particularly the day and day after the surgery – Nate will post updates here and on Facebook.

Good thoughts and vibes, prayers and positivity, all appreciated. Speaking for the entire gang – Nate Heller, Quarry, Brandi and Vivian Borne, Mike Hammer, Dick Tracy, Mommy and Jessica Ann, Ms. Tree, Nolan, Mallory, Eliot Ness, Jack and Maggie Starr, Joe Reeder and Patti Rogers, and all the rest – we love the lot of you.

M.A.C.

aug 19, 2003 visitors since August 19, 2003.