Mickey Spillane & How Sausage Is Made

February 9th, 2010 by Max Allan Collins

The Big BangBill Crider, who has one of the best mystery-related sites on the web, has done the first on-line review of THE BIG BANG, and he likes it. Check out why.

Bill does wonder if the increased size of my byline reflects more involvement than in DEAD STREET (where I was left off the byline but for a title page “prepared for publication by” credit) and THE GOLIATH BONE (where a magnifying glass was required to see my minuscule “with” credit). Each of these endeavors is different – GOLIATH BONE had three or four variant first chapters for me to deal with, and a substantial false start, and next year’s KISS HER GOODBYE again had a substantial false start in addition to a 100-page chunk plus notes.

But the bylines were simply what the publishers wanted – Charles Ardai at Hard Case did not want two books with my byline appearing close together on his rather small list; Otto Penzler and Harcourt wanted Spillane emphasized and me downplayed, for the first of these books, which I condoned (but only for the first book).

The truth is, these are genuine collaborations, all of them. I would put them at 50%/50%. I usually take Mickey’s work, expand upon it, and extend it so that it takes up at least half of the finished product. Probably about 60% of the wordsmithing in these novels is mine. But the plot idea, and various notes, and sometimes rough drafts of endings, plus the other 40% of the writing, are all Mickey’s. That’s how it’s done. I don’t believe anything like it has ever occurred in mystery fiction, a writer of Mickey’s magnitude leaving half a dozen substantial manuscripts behind, having designated a trusted collaborator (me) to complete them.

I should say I also draw upon published Spillane work. In THE BIG BANG, there is a chapter written by me in which Hammer meets with Junior Evello (nephew of KISS ME, DEADLY villain Carl Evello) at a Little Italy restaurant. When the subject comes up, Hammer says he didn’t kill Junior Evello’s uncle; in a typically Spillane italicized style, I flash back to the death of Carl Evello – mostly in Mickey’s words – from KISS ME, DEADLY.

Any time I do New York stuff, I draw upon Mickey, having re-read and annotated and marked-up his Hammer novels. I try to concentrate on novels written around the same time as the manuscript I’m completing. For THE GOLIATH BONE, I concentrated on the last two Hammers, THE KILLING MAN (1989) and BLACK ALLEY (1996). For THE BIG BANG, set in 1964, I concentrated on THE SNAKE (1964) and THE BODY LOVERS (1967). For the forthcoming KISS HER GOODBYE (set in 1975, more or less), I concentrated on SURVIVAL…ZERO! (1970).

Each of the Spillane projects is different. DEAD STREET had a fairly polished manuscript that ended with two or three chapters to go, plus a lot of notes. Of the unpublished works, this one needed the least help from me. The completed chapters I lightly polished, and fixed continuity problems, doing little bits of connective-tissue type writing. The final three chapters were entirely my work. That one’s probably 75% Mickey. The six Hammer novel manuscripts were discovered in various stages of completion, never less than 100 pages, sometimes with false starts that yield benefits, usually with plot notes.

I have also turned shorter Hammer fragments of Mickey’s into short stories – one appeared last year in THE STRAND, and another will appear in that magazine later this year. I have the makings for perhaps another five such short stories. I also used a Spillane novel outline (sans any actual manuscript) to plot the next NEW ADVENTURES OF MIKE HAMMER audio novel for Blackthorne.

There are also four shorter incomplete novel manuscripts that could lead to another group of Hammer novels, if publishers and readers are interested. Right now we are at the end of the three-book contract with Harcourt, so the three other substantial Hammer manuscripts are in a holding pattern, waiting to see how THE BIG BANG and KISS HER GOODBYE do. If you have any interest in seeing the rest of Mickey’s Mike Hammer canon completed and published, you need to support those two novels (and, if you haven’t already, pick up THE GOLIATH BONE in one of its several editions…a mass-market paperback is coming).

I’ve had many questions about the Mickey Spillane posthumous projects, with people often assuming my role is larger (or sometimes smaller) than it is. It’s a collaboration. Very similar to how I work with Barb on the Barbara Allan bylined “Antiques” novels, and with Matthew Clemens on such tie-ins as CSI and our new serial killer thriller, YOU CAN’T STOP ME, which comes out in a couple of weeks. Collaborations vary from team to team, though. I would say Barb does up to 70% of the “Antiques” books; but my 30% and overall polish earns me my collaborative stripes.

You Can't Stop MeOn tie-in stuff (never with shared byline), Matthew’s role began primarily as a researcher and co-plotter submitting a story treatment (based on a brainstorming session with the two of us, with me in the lead), to finally doing full rough drafts from our co-plotting efforts, although usually on the short side.

That’s true for both Barb and Matt – they know that I am going to not just polish but expand the work, and in particular add dialogue, so they will give me a rough draft half to three-quarters the length the book needs to be.

Occasionally I will throw out entire chapters written by one of them, and start over (but only very occasionally – this happened for the conclusion of one of the CSI: MIAMI novels Matt and I did, and for the wrap-up chapter of the forthcoming Barbara Allan ANTIQUES BIZARRE).

Why collaborate? Well, with Mickey, it’s obvious – only 13 Mike Hammer novels were published in Mickey’s lifetime, 13 of the bestselling mysteries of all time, including such classics as I, THE JURY, ONE LONELY NIGHT, KISS ME, DEADLY and THE GIRL HUNTERS. Ours is an opportunity to add six more titles to the canon, not only with Mickey’s content but with his blessing.

As for Barb and me, we enjoy collaborating (that’s how Nate got on the planet). We enjoy plotting the stories together, and as the books are on one level comedies, we enjoy having the humorous input of two people with sharp senses of humor. Simply put, she puts in every joke she can think of, and I put in every joke I can think of. Result: lots of jokes.

Matt came aboard primarily as a researcher, and then – because I knew of his writing abilities – I thought having him write rough drafts would be an effective time-saver. It wasn’t, really, because I always did a complete draft (once he said to me, “I thought I recognized one of my sentences in the last one!”), but what I came away liking was the third voice we created. A good collaboration is synergistic – two plus two equals fourteen. While there are plenty of Matt’s sentences in YOU CAN’T STOP ME, it is about as fifty/fifty a project as you can imagine…and neither of us could have done it alone.

Bill’s comment that my bigger byline on THE BIG BANG may indicate a bigger contribution by me is at odds with the truth of publishing. Often times, the bigger name of a dual byline did the least amount of work. YOU CAN’T STOP ME is very much a fifty-fifty novel by Matt and me, but my name is much larger, because I am the bigger name (at the moment). But usually with such a situation, you could safely guess that the smaller name did more or even most of the writing.

So, anyway, here at the Collins plant, that’s how the sausage is made. Bring your own buns – stone-ground mustard optional.

Dr. Hermes’ Retro Reviews has done a really nice, and in my opinion very smart, in-depth review of my novel THE HINDENBURG MURDERS (out of print but easily found at ABE or Amazon’s used book service). That’s the novel that features Saint creator, Leslie Charteris.

A while back I started a Facebook Friends page, and it was a disaster because I didn’t know how to deal with it. Nate has helped me set up a Facebook Fan page (the Friends one is an abandoned amusement park, now). But I encourage you to become a fan at that new page, even those of you who are just friends and to whom the idea of being my fan is quite ridiculous. You know who you are.

M.A.C.

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