Prime Eliot Ness! And a Fond Farewell

February 19th, 2019 by Max Allan Collins

I am pleased to announce that my filmed version of the play Eliot Ness: An Untouchable Life is now available in HD on Amazon Prime, and included as part of your membership. Here’s a link so you can watch it at your leisure, and I hope you take time to give it a nice rating (as in five star). [Note from Nate: For non-Prime members, rental is $2.99 and you can own the digital HD for $9.99]

As you may recall, the film is a one-man show with my late friend Michael Cornelison bringing Ness back to life. It was made possible by a grant from Humanities Iowa, several airings by Iowa PBS, and a lot of hard work by my buddy Phil Dingeldein and myself (and many others).

This is very gratifying, and of course is the work that led directly to the current non-fiction book, Scarface and the Untouchable: Al Capone, Eliot Ness, & the Battle for Chicago by A. Brad Schwartz and me.

Coincidentally, I got this news while I was in Las Vegas with Brad making two appearances in support of our book at the Mob Museum. The museum itself is a terrific facility, and those who run it are outstanding. I was blown away by how much of what is on display relates to various things I’ve written, from Dick Tracy to the Nathan Heller saga and the four Eliot Ness in Cleveland novels. A wall of photos and descriptions of organized crime killings was virtually a greatest hits of my literary output (Willie Bioff, Mad Sam Destefano, etc.). I will include some highlights by way of photos, including my co-author and me in front of the actual St. Valentine’s Day Massacre wall as well as with the real machine guns used in that, uh, celebration. More photos may follow.

Because our appearance was in conjunction with the 90th anniversary of the massacre, and the seventh anniversary of the Mob Museum opening, the attendance reached record proportions. Both of our appearances were well-attended, as were book signings in the Mob Museum gift shop.

What’s interesting to me is how attitudes in Vegas have shifted on the mob influence that built the modern “sin city.” Back in the ‘80s, researching Neon Mirage – the Nate Heller novel about Ben “Bugsy” Siegel and Vegas – I encountered some resistance to my research into what was then seen by many as an embarrassing aspect of local history. That has definitely changed, as Vegas embraces its colorful past.

Brad did an excellent job, utilizing power point presentations (Baby Boomers – that’s “slide show” to you) and I was frankly not at my best at the first presentation, very tired from travel and a long day. The subsequent presentation, however, found me back on my game and Brad just as good as before. If we get a link to the video of it that the Museum made, I’ll provide it in the next few weeks.

Interestingly, nobody asked me a single question about CSI, which of course was set in Vegas, with my five years as its licensing writer (novels, video games, jigsaw puzzles, graphic novels, often with Matt Clemens) not rating a single inquiry. CSI seems to have retreated into the past, at least the Las Vegas past.

All in all, it was a great trip, and there’s a reasonable possibility we’ll be asked back next year to talk about The Untouchable and the Butcher (the sequel to Scarface and the Untouchable, currently in progress) and the new Nate Heller (Do No Harm, the Sam Sheppard murder case, due out in about a year).

* * *

My fellow classmates at Muscatine High School will be saddened to learn of the death of Steve Kochneff, a beloved figure in our collective past and one of my best friends from those years. As had been the case with Jon McCrea (who became the partial basis for Quarry), Steve was someone I stayed in touch with over the years. He spent much of his life in L.A., pursuing the Hollywood dream, and he and I and Barb often got together there, to catch up, meeting usually at the great deli restaurant, Cantor’s.

At MHS, Steve was a genial madman, an eccentric with a unique comic wit, very popular and known for his creativity and his athletic ability. His father had been a much-loved and successful basketball coach, and Steve – who was tall and lanky – was a center on our MHS team, and excelled in that role.

But Steve also was known for mounting crazy comic skits. He and I were collaborators on these. He would come to my house and we’d hole up in my room with me at the typewriter and Steve pacing and throwing around ideas. This was very much like the old Hollywood cliche, short only of Steve puffing on a cigar. At the height of the James Bond craze, we did a Goldfinger take-off skit at a pep rally about a villain called Purple-and-Gold-Finger (purple and gold being our school colors – why the villain bore the school colors is lost to history and my fading memory). The kids loved it.

I was always a little jealous of Steve’s popularity around the school, since we were collaborators and he got the credit, or anyway the love. I was too intense and needy, and Steve was just a big guy with a great laugh and a wide smile, and all that love came pouring in, unbidden. As with so many high school stars, those days were probably the best of his life. In years to come he would be jealous, in a very sweet and even supportive way, of the success I’d achieved in the arts, staying home in Iowa when he had made the Hollywood trek.

I have talked about how I wrote novels in high school and tried to sell them – writing all summer, marketing all year (unsuccessfully), and my career is based on that enthusiastic early obsessive behavior. Only Steve Kochneff was capable of topping me. He wrote a Laugh-In script a year or so after graduation and drove out to Hollywood to deliver it. My memory is fuzzy on this, but I believe he eventually did do some work on the show.

Over the years he had a lot of projects and many were interesting, and I believe some were stolen from him. He created potential shows, with scripts, for a comedy about female wrestlers, a cop show about a motorcycle-riding Hispanic female detective, and an ambitious film script about a cloning of Princess Diana. And much more. His biggest success, perhaps, was his pioneering production company shooting videos of high-ticket homes in Beverly Hills, Bel Air and other exclusive sections.

We talked a number of times about collaborating, and I offered several times to get involved with projects. But he always preferred to go his own way – to talk to me and get input, but make his own mark. Like many talented people in Hollywood, he came close. So close.

He came back to Muscatine from time to time and stayed with us at least once that I can recall. I know he envied my luck in having Barbara as a wife, so beautiful, so supportive, so talented herself. He knew I had really struck gold there, that this was an element that he wished he had in his life. I know he had close relationships with various women in Southern California and also, I think, in Arizona. But he never shared details with me.

I had a phone call from him a few months ago and it was a warm exchange, as always. I gave him a bad time for not coming to the MHS 50th class reunion, and he revealed to me that he was embarrassed to attend. He thought we all knew that he’d gone to prison for a while, apparently on a trumped-up, non-violent charge. But we hadn’t heard, and when he told me – rather haltingly – I said I was in the friendship business, not the judgement one. Typically, he was full of enthusiasm to write a movie script or TV pilot based on his experiences inside. Like any real writer would, Steve viewed incarceration primarily as an opportunity to do research.

Listen, I loved the guy. It broke my heart to learn he had died January 2 in a psychiatric hospital. But I am relieved that his search for fame and success is finally over, because I suspect as the years passed that effort grew only more frustrating and finally painful. I want to assure you that our phone conversation, perhaps two months before he passed, was filled with laughter.

I can hear that laugh right now. One of those distinctive laughs, a combination of glee and embarrassment.

He signed himself Starko, and I didn’t even get into what a terrific artist – in particular cartoonist – he was.

So long, Steve. Damnit. So long.

* * *

Yes, it’s yet another “Films You Didn’t Know Came from Comic Books” write-up in which Road to Perdition is included.

M.A.C.

Untouchable Vegas!

February 12th, 2019 by Max Allan Collins

My co-author, Brad Schwartz, and I are making two personal appearances at the Mob Museum in Las Vegas, Nevada, next week.

First, we’ll be doing a talk about Scarface and the Untouchable with an emphasis on St. Valentine’s Day. Not surprisingly, that appearance will be February 14 at 7 pm. Here are the details:

Wiseguy Speaker Series and Book Signing: “Scarface and the Untouchable: Al Capone, Eliot Ness and the Battle for Chicago.”

TIME: 7 p.m. to 8 p.m., with a book signing to follow.
LOCATION: Courtroom on the second floor. Seating is on a first come, first served basis with a maximum occupancy of 120 guests.
DESCRIPTION: Over the decades, the stories of mobster Al Capone and lawman Eliot Ness have been subjected to literacy license and Hollywood exaggeration. This new book from authors Max Allan Collins and A. Brad Schwartz peels back the layers of these myths to reveal a deeper narrative of these iconic figures. The event will conclude with a book signing.

Second, on Saturday, Feb. 16, I will be presenting a look at the Road to Perdition in particular as well as at my Nathan Heller novels, in particular Neon Mirage, with its Vegas basis. Interviewing me will be none other than distinguished historian…A. Brad Schwartz! How did we land him? Anyway, here’s the details.

The Road to Perdition
DATE: Saturday, Feb. 16
TIME: 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. with a book signing to follow.
LOCATION: Courtroom on the second floor.
COST: Free
DESCRIPTION: In this special discussion, “Road to Perdition” author Max Allan Collins will be interviewed by fellow author A. Brad Schwartz (“Scarface and the Untouchable”) about the fascinating story behind his acclaimed novel. Set in Chicago during the Great Depression, the graphic novel, “Road to Perdition” tells the story of Michael Sullivan, a Mob enforcer on the hunt for revenge after a failed hit.
Attend and learn about:
The real-life Mob inspiration behind the character of Michael Sullivan.
The Academy Award-winning film adaptation starring Tom Hanks, Paul Newman and Jude Law.
Collins’ other novel, “Neon Mirage,” which delves into early Las Vegas and Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel.

The Mob Museum will have other events related to their own seventh anniversary. Here’s a cool article about that and about the Massacre.

Hope to see you folks from the Vegas area there, and any vacationers, too!

* * *

An excellent crime film, Cold Pursuit, is in theaters now. It’s not the typical Liam Neeson revenge thriller that it might seem to be. Reviews are mixed, but the bad ones seem obsessed with Neeson discussing his own irrational rage as a young man and how destructive that was. More about that later.

The film is a black comedy based on another good film, In Order of Disappearance (2014), starring Stellan Skarsgaard, who played the Broker in the never-aired Quarry pilot (how I wish he’d been retained, though his replacement wasn’t bad). Though some nice, mostly American-related touches are added, this is one of the most faithful remakes I’ve ever seen, probably because the same director did both: Hans Petter Moland. New screenwriter Frank Baldwin, however, made some interesting adjustments to the new setting, in particular substituting Native American drug-dealing ring for Serbian gangsters.

As for the Neeson controversy, it’s a fine example of how the left is going to screw up their anti-Trump efforts. I am a liberal, as you probably know, a somewhat left of center one who is probably more an independent but who so often votes Democrat, it’s a moot point. My son thinks I am not nearly progressive enough, but then he’s 35 and I’m 70, and that means I’ve suffered through more reality than he has.

So Neeson, discussing revenge, tells an interviewer that after a friend was raped by an African American, he was filled with rage and wanted to go out and thrash the first “black bastard” that gave him trouble. He spoke of this as a bad thing, something that demonstrated how stupid revenge can be, particularly racially oriented revenge, and how dumb he had been as a troubled young man before he grew older and wiser and came to his senses.

Of course the far left has seized upon his racial comments out of context and made Neeson into a racist. No question in this climate that many really shitty things are going down – I mean, is there any politician in Virginia who didn’t think blackface was funny and okay back in the 1980s? Uh, I was there for the ‘80s, and it wasn’t.

But must we work so hard to ruin people’s careers? Is it really surprising Al Franken put his arm around women who wanted their pictures taken with him while he shared his goofy grin with the camera?

Republicans don’t apologize. That’s not an attribute, but it works better than attacking each other when somebody makes a slip or just says something you don’t agree with. Nuance, people.

Just wait. The Democrats will find a way to blow this. The left will somehow manage to keep Trump in the White House. What the hell – every Liam Neeson movie needs a bad guy.

M.A.C.

Giving Away a Girl!

February 5th, 2019 by Max Allan Collins

Paperback:
E-Book: Amazon
MP3 CD:Amazon
Audio CD: Amazon

[All copies have been claimed. Thank you for the terrific response! –Nate]

Yes, it’s another Max Allan Collins book giveaway, this time of Girl Most Likely. The usual conditions prevail – you must agree to post a review at Amazon with reviews at Barnes & Noble and blogs also welcome. (If you dislike the book, you are encouraged to keep it to yourself and consider your obligation satisfied).

Reviews do not have to be lengthy.

IMPORTANT: Do not post your Amazon reviews until April 1, when the book goes on sale – no foolin’. Amazon won’t run reviews till the book is available (pre-orders don’t count). Blog reviews can appear any time.

Other conditions are: you must include your snail mail address in your e-mail, and we can accept only USA requests.

I have ten advance copies to give away. Technically, these are Advanced Reading Copies and are uncorrected…only I didn’t make any corrections after this stage of publication, so you’ll be getting the real book. No hardcover is being published, so the trade paperback is it.

This grass roots support is vital. The book is published by Thomas & Mercer, Amazon’s suspense line, so I really encourage reviews at Amazon most of all, since they keep a close eye on their publications. T & M are giving me a great deal of support, and I will be doing everything I can to help in that effort. You’ll be seeing guest blog entries from me elsewhere, for example.

Whether or not you send in for one of the ten freebies – and act quickly, because these tend to go the first day – I can really use the support of those of you interested enough in my work to drop by here.

I will soon be composing an essay for Crime Reads about the attractions – and dangers – of an author known for one thing (noir in my case) writing a change-of-pace novel. And Girl Most Likely certainly is that. Oh, it’s got violence and suspense, all right. But the protagonists are not the tough guys/gals I often write about in my overtly hardboiled fare – rather, Krista and Keith Larson are non-genre figures, reminding you (I hope) of real people you know.

Both father and daughter are law enforcement – Krista is a police chief who previously was a detective on the Galena PD, Keith a retired homicide cop from Dubuque – so you won’t find them foreign in any way. But Heller or Quarry or Hammer, they ain’t. And no first-person in sight.

So that’s a danger. I’ve already encountered that with the Barbara Allan books, which despite being good mysteries and funny as hell – and in that regard very much cut from the same cloth as my other work – do not please all of my longtime readers. Some of those readers refuse to even try the “Trash ‘n’ Treasures” Antiques mysteries. And some who do don’t like them. Different strokes.

Girl Most Likely is not as radically different as the Antiques books are from other things I’ve done (often with Matthew Clemens), like the CSI books, What Doesn’t Kill Her, the Reeder and Rogers trilogy, USS Powderkeg, (did you order that yet?) and the Barbara Allan-bylined standalones – Bombshell and Regeneration. But this Girl is different. It flows from my desire to follow the example of Nordic noir, for one thing.

We’ve had two advance reviews from the “trades” – a patronizing one from Kirkus and a bad one from Publisher’s Weekly. This demonstrates the dangers of a change-of-pace book. Kirkus thinks Girl Most Likely reads more like a novel written by Barbara Collins, tacking on the left-handed compliment of that not being altogether a bad thing. The problem with that is, Barb has never published a novel that I didn’t collaborate on with her (I am the “Allan” in “Barbara Allan,” remember). As for PW, they hope next time I’ll “return to form,” which means obviously that I should stick to hardboiled noir.

Both those reviewing services, by the way, publish only unsigned reviews.

As long as real people read Girl Most Likely – that’s you I’m talking about – these snarky, sullen reviews from the trades won’t hurt the novel. Maybe library sales could suffer a little, but I am pretty firmly placed in those ranks.

An author like me, who only occasionally rises to the bestseller lists, depends on library sales. I’m always amused when a reader apologizes to me for checking my books out from the local library, rather than buying them. Well, no apologies are necessary – those libraries buy the books!

I will be talking more about Girl Most Likely as we approach the pub date. In the meantime, I will be writing the prequel, Girl Can’t Help It (yes, it’s about rock ‘n’ roll).

As for the attractions of a change-of-pace novel, that’s obvious, isn’t it? The chance to do something new, to flex different muscles, and maybe to attract new readers, who otherwise wouldn’t have tried any of my books.

Hey. Everybody. Thanks for the support. More free books to follow!

* * *

Saw Stan & Ollie today and loved it. In this part of the world, finding a theater that had this snapshot of “the boys” at the end of the team’s career was tricky as hell. But we did it. The leads (Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly) were sublime, the supporting cast damn near as good, and the script a sensitive but not overly sentimental job of it.

Also, you will understand why it was tough for the very popular likes of Abbott & Costello and Martin & Lewis to stay together. You can extrapolate why rock acts split, as well, when fans can’t understand why their favorites (who are making such great money) can’t just get along.

I found it moving. I’m at an age where the movies and music I grew up loving get to me in a visceral way. I choked up in this one more than once.

* * *

Here’s a nice review of Quarry’s Climax that does not obsess over the sex scenes! The reviewer dislikes the Quarry TV series, though. I liked it. Of course, I was getting the checks….

And Angel in Black is included in this look at various Black Dahlia books (both non-fiction and fiction).

M.A.C.

Inspiration, Perspiration and Exasperation

January 29th, 2019 by Max Allan Collins

Paperback:
E-Book: Amazon Google Play Nook Kobo iTunes

USS Powderkeg will be available on February 1. You are unlikely to find it in a bookstore, so go to Amazon or Barnes & Noble or BAM! iTunes has it, too – read about that here.

Info about the book itself is available at Brash Books.

We have used the cover before, but this book – finally under my preferred title with my revised text – is important to me and will require some effort on your part to lay hands on it. This is the novel based on my late father’s experiences in World War II as one of a handful of white officers on an ammunition ship whose crew was otherwise African-American.

After shrugging off our disappointment at Scarface and the Untouchable not getting nominated for an Edgar – my “shrugging off” included expressing how pissed off I was, on Facebook – my co-author, A. Brad Schwartz and I are digging in to make some corrections and additions to the upcoming trade paperback edition (June 4).

This will include a new preface as well as bonus material (in the style of DVD extras) that will focus on the newly discovered case file of one of the Untouchables, which serves to underscore and further verify our conclusions about Ness and how he and his team have been underestimated and short-changed by history.

We are also prepping for a visit to the Mob Museum in Las Vegas over Valentine’s Day, about which more will appear here next week. Brad has also been out on the stump by himself somewhat, as I have been burrowed in, here in very cold Iowa, working on novels. Yesterday day I completed the new Quarry novel, Killing Quarry – although I will be re-reading it and tweaking it and such for a few days this week.

Anyway, among Brad’s adventures in promoting our book (did I mention the criminal overlooking of this major tome by the MWA true crime committee?) included this fine interview.

Speaking of the MWA committee’s neglect, someone I trust has suggested the intimidating length of the book probably put some or all of the committee members off. I suspect some truth might be found in that opinion. Having served on MWA committees, I know it’s a fact of life that the committee members are swamped with books to read in full. On the other hand, the advance notices (particularly the fine mini-review from Grand Master Sara Paretsky) should have encouraged them to do so, anyway.

What can you do to help make the pain go away? Well, if you attend Bouchercon this year, you can vote for Scarface and the Untouchable in the non-fiction Anthony Awards category.

I know I plan to.

Hey, I realize this is undignified and sour grapes and boo-hoo-hoo. I have a love/hate relationship with awards, anyway (love to be nominated, hate not to be, and also losing). But awards as respected as the Edgars bring new readers to the nominated works and especially those that win. They have importance only in that regard, because otherwise it’s just a bunch of subjective nonsense.

I feel much the same way about reviews. I want good reviews not because I need validation, but because more readers will come to the books. I would be lying if I said bad reviews don’t matter to me, because they do, and not just in the sense that they discourage readers (sometimes, oddly enough, such reviews don’t always work that way). But it hurts to have something you’ve put hard work into savaged and/or dismissed, particularly when a smart reviewer nails you for something you’re guilty of.

What hurts about Scarface and the Untouchable is the work, and the years of research, that went into it. I am less angry about this for myself and more for my co-author, whose research (building on my original research in Heller and Ness novels) has upended conventional wisdom about Capone and his tax woes, and Ness and the lack of respect and credit he gets, from those who resent how Hollywood portrayed him. Brad did a stellar, mind-boggling job.

He deserved better.

* * *

As I mention, I finished Killing Quarry yesterday, and will dig into minor revisions throughout the rest of the week. I have a particularly full plate this year, which is why I have written three novels in four months – Murder, My Love with Mike Hammer; the Caleb York novel, now entitled Hot Lead, Cold Justice (my original title, The Big Die-Off, deemed too obscure); and now Killing Quarry. Very shortly I will begin serious work on Girl Can’t Help It, the prequel to the forthcoming Girl Most Likely, a task for which I’ve allowed several months. This will be followed by my draft of Antiques Fire Sale (Barb’s working on her draft now), which I have allowed another month for.

This is, of course, insane. Why do I work so hard? Why is somebody who has five doctor’s appointments with specialists this month behaving like this? Should I slow down? Barb thinks I should.

But I like doing this. I really do. And – while I feel fine and all my reports so far (the dentist today) have been positive – when you are 70 and in a month or so will be 71, you sense that maybe you don’t have all the time left in the world to tell your stories.

And I came here to tell stories.

All of which is prelude to what I want to discuss today. Would you agree that everybody has bad days? Various kinds of bad days, of course – from the simple out-of-sorts day to the depressed-about-bad-news day (not getting an Edgar nomination for a ground-breaking book, to just pull an example out of the air) to the nothing-is-going-right day to…you get the idea.

Now I’m not talking about a sick day (in my business, cold and flu generally don’t count – open-heart surgery does) or a day when tragedy has struck a loved one or friend. Nothing like that. Your favorite aunt dies? Take the day off with my blessing!

No, just that typical terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

When you are writing on a six-day-a-week schedule, with a deadline bearing down, you write anyway. Writer’s block is not allowed, and I never have it, anyway. Recently I thought I had finally encountered this mysterious, possibly mythical beast – I could not get a single workable thing on paper. I always start with a rough draft, knowing that I’m creating the clay for me to shape into sculpture. But this time, I couldn’t get anything on paper worth building on.

Why?

Well, turned out I was effing exhausted! Just flat-out fried. So I took a two-hour nap, as elderly folk are wont (and permitted) to do. When I got up from my snooze, the words flowed. Maybe not like wine, but definitely Coca Cola.

During the writing of Killing Quarry, I had perhaps three bad days – one of them Edgar-related, which of course I won’t go into. Ironically, one of that sorry trio was the last day of the process – the day on which the crucial last chapter was written.

Knowing I was facing a key part of my story, I considered taking the day off – it was Sunday, after all – and just letting my batteries recharge. But I hadn’t run this race to goof off just shy of the finish line. Plus, all of the plot stuff was filling my brain and assembled into good order – I knew exactly what needed doing.

So I did it.

It was something of a slog. I usually do three drafts of every chapter, then give it to Barb, who gives me notes, and I make minor corrections and revisions (sometimes they’re major – Barb has great story sense), and I’m done till the final read-through. Yesterday I did three drafts, took an hour nap, then came back and did another draft. Barb did her read-through and I made a few revisions and corrections from her notes. If you’re keeping score, that’s an additional draft or pass on the chapter.

Now, here is the lede I’m burying (why is it spelled “lede” not “lead”?) (and why don’t I just Google that and not bother you about it?): how does inspiration figure into a working fiction writer’s process?

I would imagine all of us have bursts of inspiration, sometimes entire work session-long ones. Maybe some writers feel inspired for days or even weeks – trust me, they don’t feel like that all the way through a project. Everybody has bad days, remember?

There are two kinds of writers – the ones who can only write on their inspired days, and who navel-gaze on their (many) off days; and the writers who are thankful for the inspired days that God or luck or somebody or some thing grants them, and who on their bad days soldier on. March through the mud to victory, or at least the end of the work day.

Now here is the real dirty little secret about inspiration – the inspired work and the struggle-to-get-through-it work are always of the same quality. When you go back and read through your story or novel, and recall the passages that came easily as if by automatic writing, those passages won’t be any better or worse than the stuff that came hard.

Or anyway those passages shouldn’t be.

Inspiration is just the days the work is going well. If you are any good at all as a writer, you will develop standards that you will not allow yourself to fall below, before you press on. You stay at it till the work you had to work hard at reads just as well as the work that came easy.

* * *

This story about Black Panther’s Oscar nominations mentions a certain other comics-derived film that once-upon-a-time received five nominations (hint: Road to Perdition).

A cry goes out to reprint the Marshall Rogers Batman comic strip. Who was it wrote that again? (Hint: me.)

Finally, Scarface and the Untouchable made Otto Penzler’s Mysterious Bookshop best of the year list, as chosen by the staff – see “Mike’s Picks” on page three.

M.A.C.

aug 19, 2003 visitors since August 19, 2003.