PWA Hammers it Home

October 9th, 2012 by Max Allan Collins

Barb and I are freshly back from the Bouchercon in Cleveland. As you may know, neither BYE BYE, BABY nor QUARRY’S EX received a Shamus award (there are no sadder words than those seen all around the net today about those two novels: “Also nominated were”). But to my astonishment, the Private Eye Writers of America presented me with The Hammer, the award honoring a private eye character who has had a long, influential run. Here’s the official language:

“The Hammer – a commendation celebrating a memorable private-eye character or series, and named after Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer – was presented to Nate Heller, the character created by Max Allan Collins.”

It was presented by my pal John Lutz, whose introductory speech was generous and gracious. Coming from a writer of John’s talent and standing made this surprise an even bigger treat. I frankly thought when John was called to the podium for the Hammer presentation that he was winning the award for his great Nudger character, until he began talking about the detective being honored in terms of Chicago, Capone and having bedded both Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield.

L to R: MAC, John Lutz

Incidentally, I believe John was on the committee that gave TRUE DETECTIVE the Shamus for Best Novel in 1984.

This was part of a delightful evening on the Nautica Queen (in the rain on rolling waters), where Barb and I (and cohort Matthew Clemens) hobnobbed with tons of writers and editors and assorted publishing folk, including (but not at all limited to) agent Dominick Abel, writer John Gilstrap, writer/editor Joe Pittman (who with Michaela Hamilton, also present, edited the Penguin run of Nate Heller), EQMM editor Janet Hutchings, Sara Paretsky, Parnell Hall, and so, so many more. The grand bash was thrown by PWA founder Bob Randisi, and beautifully organized by his significant other, Christine Matthews.

Bouchercon itself was fine, if not one of the best of these events. The dealer’s room was small, there were some unfortunate screw-ups (double-booking the ballroom where Kensington’s party was to be held), and I personally wasn’t crazy about some of the panel topics. My personal gripe was that I was in Cleveland but was not put on a panel to discuss local hero Eliot Ness (who appears in the graphic novel ROAD TO PERDITION, about half of the Heller novels, who I write about in his own Cleveland-centric series, and have done an Edgar-nominated play and award-winning film about). All writers have such bitches, but I think mine just might have some validity.

The panel I did appear on was fun but odd, because none of us participating cared much for the topic – MANFICTION. Even the Jon Lovitz-like moderator Andrew Gulli (STRAND editor) disavowed it, about two-thirds through. The discussion primarily focused on thrillers, and the need not to write just for men, but for human beings, which includes women. I thought Barb’s panel, on MYSTERY MATURES (older sleuths – like Mother in the ANTIQUES novels) was much better. Barb was the moderator and the panelists were a varied but articulate and humorous group – Barb did a fantastic job, very funny and deft, and you came away wanting to buy every panelist’s book. That’s the perfect panel.

The biggest disappointment for me was not at all the con’s fault. So many of my friends were not there. Some of the familiar faces that were M.I.A. (another list that could be much longer) were Charles Ardai, Bill and Judy Crider, Gary Phillips, Jeff Pierce and Jon and Ruth Jordan. Without those folks, it just wasn’t exactly Bouchercon for me. But I did get to touch bases with writer Mike Dennis, the legendary Otto Penzler (key in getting Mike Hammer back into print), and writer Dave Zeltzerman, founder of the Top Suspense Group. Again, that’s a short list – I could add Ted Hertel, George Easter, Ted Fitzgerald, Ali Karim and on and on.

Also, the opening night (hosted by Thomas & Mercer) was at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame, where I saw such dizzying artifacts as the electric piano Zombie keyboardist Rod Argent used on “She’s Not There,” a guitar on which Bobby Darin composed songs, the Vox Continental used by Ray Manzarek on “Light My Fire,” and the silver-gray mod suits worn by the Beatles. Barb took pics of Stevie Nicks’ various dresses and almost got us kicked out.

On a further positive note, Barb and I (and also Matt and I) had business breakfasts and assorted meetings with editors from Thomas & Mercer and Kensington and more, and for all the doom and gloom preached about current publishing, things look bright for MAC, Barbara Allan, and the Collins/Clemens team.


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9 Responses to “PWA Hammers it Home”

  1. Paul.Griffith says:

    Congratulations! Although I certainly feel you deserved the Shamus for Bye Bye, Baby, the Hammer is a wonderful accomplishment and I know Mickey would have been proud to have you presented with an award named after his character. Cannot wait until the new Heller novel “Target Lancer” is released!!
    Best Wishes,

  2. Paul.Griffith says:


    A few months ago I saw a picture of you and Mickey in London. Was that on your site and how can I access it?

  3. Thanks for these kind words, Paul.

    The pic of Mickey and me at the Tower of London is available right here by clicking on PRESS ROOM and scrolling down to publicity photos.

  4. Spike says:

    Congrats on the Hammer. Heck, you can get a Shamus anytime.
    ManFiction? C’mon, you’re writing for a niche crowd and you’ve
    got it down to a science. Why change in the probably vain hope
    of getting more women readers. My wife reads historical fiction,
    they’re all heavy on the heroine, not the hero. I tried reading
    one once and made it to page 43 and never picked it up again.

    Too bad Edison was just before Heller’s time. I can see him hiring
    Heller to investigate Tesla, who was a very enigmatic person. A
    lot of underhanded stuff went on between the two of them in
    their battle over direct current vs alternating current. A battle
    Edison lost.

  5. Kim says:

    Congratulations on The Hammer award, you deserve it! The whole idea of “manfiction” amuses me because I’m a woman and have been a Heller fan from way back in junior high…instead of reading the usual teenage lovesick dreck of that era, I was into the hardboiled/noir genre. It inspired and influenced me to try my hand at writing, all those years ago, and while what I write now is mostly fanfiction (feel free to chortle uncontrollably, I will not be offended), I chuckle whenever people contact me and are shocked to find that I am indeed a “chick” instead of a male writer, because apparently I don’t write “like a girl” (whatever “writing like a girl” means).

  6. I know that Mickey had many, many female fans. And I always try to write strong women characters, and almost every Heller has a romance as a subplot. The vast majority of readers are women and it’s suicidal, in my opinion, to write a “boy’ book. Now and then somebody like Clancy or Ludlum comes along and so resonates with men that the authors become big deals. Me, I just try to write for human beings. I wrote a long series of comics about a female PI (Ms. Tree), cast Agatha Christie as the detective in THE LONDON BLITZ MURDERS, and currently co-write a series (the ANTIQUES novels with Barb) about two women who are amateur sleuths.

    Manfiction my delicate behind.

  7. Kim says:

    Exactly! When I read something, I’m not thinking in terms of if it’s aimed at women or men, I’m looking for a good solid plot and likeable characters. And what I write is hopefully designed to appeal to PEOPLE, not specific genders, but when I first started publishing my stories, I was a bit shocked at some of the slightly misogynistic attitudes on the site from both men AND women. The men argued that I couldn’t be a woman because women couldn’t be counted on to write anything but romance, and the women argued that I had to be a man because only a man would be interested in writing police procedurals.

  8. Spike says:

    The majority of Heller fans are women? I never would have thought
    that. My wife doesn’t like PI books and never has. She reads mostly
    women authors who write historical fiction. She did read the Flashman
    books, but those are loaded with romance too. Women must like Heller
    because so few real men are like him. He always knows what he wants,
    always says the right thing, is well dressed, and doesn’t talk down to
    women. He has a steady job, doesn’t lie, always has money, and his peers
    look up to him. The more I talk about him, the more I realize I have a man
    crush on Heller. Sigh..

  9. Brad Schwartz says:

    Hi M.A.C.,

    You were robbed of the Shamus award, but congratulations on the Hammer! I can’t think of any writer or detective, fictional or otherwise, who deserves that recognition more, and it’s only right that an award named in Mickey Spillane’s honor go to his one true heir.

    I’m unclear, did Bouchercon neglect to do a panel on Eliot Ness, or did they have one without inviting you? Either is bad, but the latter in particular is egregious. Certainly would have made for a better discussion than “Manfiction,” I’m sure.

    Regardless, I hope you had a chance to make it to the Cleveland Police Museum when you were there, for the complete Ness experience.