When I’m 64 – I Mean, 65….

March 5th, 2013 by Max Allan Collins

As I write this, my 65th birthday is winding down. I’m in St. Louis with Barb, and we’ve been visiting with our son Nate and his incredible bride Abby. It’s been a lovely weekend, filled with food, the RiffTrax version of HUNGER GAMES, lots of great conversation, an upgrade to the Tennessee Williams Suite at the Moonrise Hotel (Williams, a St. Louis boy, is a fellow U of Iowa Writers Workshop grad), a fun/moving British movie about (fittingly) old people, QUARTET, and just so much more. And yet I find myself reflecting on the reasons why so many people who hit this age choose to retire…and how last week, another fairly rigorous week in the “blog tour” for SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT, I began wondering how long I would want to keep doing this.

Anyone who knows me at all well understands that I love writing, and that I’m very competitive and want to stay in the game. I feel great and have not lost my enthusiasm for life and creativity. How many guys my age are still in the garage band they started in high school? But there are trials. There are trials. Here are three reasons why some day I may decide to kick back, and just read the books that have been stacking up for decades, and watch the Blu-ray discs that have been piling up for years.

1. The uncertainty of the publishing business. This has always been a precarious business to be in – freelance fiction-writing – but lately it seems to be in serious freefall. Borders gone, Barnes & Noble wobbling, e-books taking over. Some of it has benefitted me – TRUE DETECTIVE has sold more copies in the last year than it did in its first year, a thirty-year-old book, thanks to Amazon. But one gets weary of the ground shifting under one’s feet. Like old age (thank you, QUARTET; thank you, Bette Davis), freelance writing isn’t for sissies.

2. Copy editors. I am half-way through the copy edit of ASK NOT. For the umpteenth time in my career, I have had to go through a manuscript painstakingly putting Humpty Dumpty back together. This is despite the lengthy memo I attach to my manuscripts with a detailed description of the elements of my style that a copy editor might think was just me screwing up. I had a particularly intrusive copy editor on TARGET LANCER, complained, and was assured a different one would be assigned this time. No – I got the same intrusive, tin-eared copy editor. I spent an hour just putting the first chapter back together. I have gone through this many, many times, and if I ever retire, I promise I will not miss it.

3. Abuse. Now and then I can get hate mail. Occasionally I get a bad review. The nature of Amazon is that geniuses may comment on a book of mine, and also imbeciles – such is the price of democracy. I’ve also had enemies (yes, I have managed to alienate a few people in these 65 years) who have used the Amazon and B & N reviewing portals to get even with me. I have learned to live with this. But occasionally somebody really steps over the line, as when I got death threats over FLYING BLIND because I suggested Amelia Earhart may have been bisexual.

This week I did an article and slide show for the Huffington Post about controversial comic book covers, as part of the SEDUCTION blog tour, arranged by my publisher. I used primarily 1950s covers. I also used one of Terry Beatty’s MS. TREE covers on the slide show, in part in a self-aggrandizing fashion, but chiefly to demonstrate it as one of the indie comics involved in the famous Friendly Frank’s comic book shop bust that in 1981 got its store owner a sentence of one year (later overturned) in Illinois. That issue of MS. TREE was objectionable because of nudity – of course, that nudity was a statue in the hall of the Justice Department in D.C. (This is explained in text that accompanies the cover – each cover pictured has a paragraph on why I chose it.) George Hagenauer helped me on the slide show, and between us probably a work day went into that; I spent another work day on the article itself. I got paid exactly nothing – it was part of the publicity for my new book. That’s how it works – you do a free article, you get some PR. Huffington Post put a slightly inaccurate headline on my piece, making it look like I had chosen these as the “most” controversial comic books of all time. Among assorted comments, many good – but many from readers who objected to my choices of covers, having clearly not read the article (“Where’s PREACHER?” “Where’s THE LEATHER NUN?”) – came the following:

“I feel this a legitimate question. How can you allow article authors to pompously include their OWN work in the top list? Isn’t that self-promotion and editorially questionable? I feel its a fair question for people to address. Unless this author is really that self-absorbed that he believes his work is that worthy. This is a valid question, please post it.”

Okay, a little shrill, but a valid question I guess, and immediately answered by another reader who understands how the Huff Post trades PR for free copy. But the same day I received the following e-mail from the same individual:

“Nice article in the HuffPost.
Do you realize how shameless and self-aggrandizing it is, to include TWO of your own comic books on the list? Not to mention, how it perverts the integrity of said article?
How can anyone take you seriously?
I’m surprised you didn’t put Wild Dog on the list as well. Or just fill it with ALL of your comics.
You’re a narcissistic putz, who has no original stories, just totally derivative from everyone else.
Even your look is stolen, Mr. Elton John.
Ha ha ha ha ha.
p.s. You’re little blonde is even more derivative.”

I am probably am something of a narcissistic putz – most entertainers are. And I am derivative of those who came before me, as are almost all genre writers, although I think I’ve put my own spin on the ball. There was only one of my covers used (Huff Post tagged on the cover of the novel I’m promoting.) Still, these opinions are valid enough, if rudely stated. But then the writer, who is blessed of a literary style derivative of the letters Jack the Ripper wrote to the London police, takes a shot at my appearance – making him the ten thousandth person to notice my unfortunate resemblance to a singer whose music I don’t particularly like – and I’m a big boy, so it comes with the territory.

Then he takes a shot at my wife. And he cc’s my son. All while hiding behind a fake name (of a Charles Bukowski character). I may be all the things this guy says I am. But I am not a cowardly prick, nor am I a rat bastard who attacks the family of someone he dislikes.

Though I am 65, and this is the point in the action movie where the aging lead says, I’m getting too old for this shit…and then goes right on kicking ass, till the end of the movie.

“The Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory,” Penny Arcade

Here’s the Huff Post piece my “fan” loved so much (the subject of his e-mail was “KUDOS”):

And here’s an article on how I came to write SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT.

I am dizzy from doing interviews, but I salute my questioners, who came up with their own unique angles on the book and its subject (and author). Here’s one from 8 Days a Geek.

And one from the wonderfully named blog Death, Books and Tea.

Here’s one at Fanboy Comics.

And at Speak Geeky to Me.

Here’s one at My Bookish Ways. Love these blog titles.

Another at Too Busy Thinking About Comics.

And at the UK site, SHOTS.

One at the Geek Twins.

And at Comic Buzz.

More UK attention at the wonderful site Crimetime.

The reviews, I’m pleased to say, have been very favorable. Check out this one at Jildy Sauce.

Here’s a combo article and review at Gnnaz.com.

Tony Isabella, a great comic writer himself, knows plenty about the subject, so it was great to get this terrific review from him.

Here’s a solid review from (wonderful name) Unleash the Fanboy.

And another at Swiftly Tilting Planet.

Also at (another name I love) 8 Days a Geek.

There’s an excerpt at Daily Dead.

And a review at Popcorn Reads(another fantastic title).

Speaking of pop, here’s one at Popcults.

And one at Bullet Reviews.

Finally – stop the presses – it’s an early review for the new Mike Hammer, COMPLEX 90, due in May.


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18 Responses to “When I’m 64 – I Mean, 65….”

  1. Joe Menta says:

    Ditch the copy editors, by God! By all means, have someone proof your works for typos and such, but that’s it. In fact, be truly radical: write your stuff, get it quickly proofed, hire a cover designer, and upload it to Kindle yourself (or with Nate’s help). Then, if anyone else wants to put a paper edition out, tell ’em fine, a long as they’ll take it as is. You’ve paid your dues; you don’t need a twerpy copy editor giving you stress. And this is an editor speaking!

    Then, who knows, if you get rid of that one source of stress, it might be easier to deal with the occasional psycho fan.

  2. Paul.Griffith says:


    As successful as you have been and as great an author s u are it would seem you should be able to shop your work around and settle with someone that will accept your work as it is. After all they aren’t dealing with a rookie writer or novice. You are an award winning, best selling author! I hate to think what we may have missed in your novels if they had been published the way you envisioned them. If this, so called, copy editor is so good why isn’t he writing his own stuff instead of critiquing your work? I much prefer an uncut, genuine Max Allan Collins work over some copy editors version. Just saying, leave it the way it is and let your fans enjoy your work.

  3. patrick_o says:

    Max, I’m a young reader — not even 20 yet — and really like your stuff. I’m also one of the few people in my generation, it seems, who did without the Internet until high school, and even then have used it sparingly until I arrived at university. It appalls me how some apparently-normal people become psychopathic monsters online. And this sounds like something a 20-something dickwad (pardon my French) would write. So on behalf of my generation, I apologize. We’re not *all* like that, and some of us even have an IQ higher than that of a Ritz cracker.

  4. dan luft says:

    Your post makes me ask what are your most pure Books? Which manuscripts are the ones that caused the least discussion with copy editors? I’m sure Mourn the Living is quite close to the typescript considering its publishing history but that’s almost as old as you are. I would’ve thought that the Hard Case books would’ve been given the free-pass treatment but you’ve recently mentioned that Ardai likes to get pretty involved with the process. Which ones hit the “sweet spot” with the editors and got into our hands the way you originally wrote them?

  5. I appreciate all these supportive comments. But I need to make something clear — you are, certainly for the most part, seeing “pure” Collins books. What happens is, the copy editor makes all these ridiculous changes, and then I change them back. This is the process that is frustrating and frustratingly long, because I have to look at every change and evaluate it. I can’t just reflexively write “STET” by everything that’s been changed or added. In some cases, a word had been missing, for example. In some cases, I have indeed not been clear. Books need copy-editing. That’s why I attach a memo with all kinds of instructions, which in this (and many cases) were ignored.

    Now and then the line editor — this is usually the editor who bought the book — provides me with an editorial letter making suggestions. This can lead to a rewrite. With SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT, both my agent (Dominick Abel) and editor (Charles Ardai) had the same problem — too much comics history. Getting that reaction, indepentently, from both of them made me go through and give the book a revision…mostly, a cutting (of about 5000 words, line-cutting, not removing sections). No question it improved the book. Occasionally I have been talked into cutting material for other reasons. I wish I still had the original version of TRUE DETECTIVE, because I cut maybe 10,000 words simply because I’d been asked to make it shorter (no real artistic or creative reason — just, let’s not chop down so many trees). I would put those back in if I could. In ANGEL IN BLACK, I was told there was too much sex. Ironically, the same editor (normally a really gone one) had been worried that if Heller got married, there wouldn’t be enough sex in the book. Most of what he asked me to cut or tone down were sex scenes involving Heller and his wife. For those of you who remember that novel, oral sex was a clue to the mystery of the Black Dahlia. Those scenes I would put back in, if I could figure out a way.

    Mostly, though, this is just me fighting knucklehead copy editors over adding or not adding commas, words, etc. A typical instance would be my fight scenes, which are run on and at the same time lacking in commas (this is where I am really involved by Spillane). I always have to restore those.

    I do have to go toe to toe with Charles Ardai on every novel I do at Hard Case. He is, however, a worthy opponent.

    Thanks again.

  6. dnelson474 says:

    I for one have enjoyed your books for years and I hope to enjoy new ones for many more. Keep up the great work.

  7. Max, From what I’m seeing e-books are the future. Since they are making it easier for anyone to publish a book, a known author with a loyal following will have a leg up in marketing them. In your case, you can still hire good, solid editors who, like your agent and the folks at Hard Case Crime, have the intelligence and discernment to make your books better. Maybe you won’t have to worry about getting too old for the game but the rules are changing to make it easier to play. Book tours can be done remotely now as well, so you won’t have to travel so far from Muscatine and your new projects as much. Maybe you just need a vacation and then you’ll be ready to get back to it.

    As for your e-poison pen pal, it makes me think of an anecdote about a Democratic president Heller probably will never meet. In 1976, Jimmy Carter supposedly complained to an advisor about the Secret Service. They were keeping him from interacting with voters the way he wanted and he thought they were not necessary. The advisor told him, “Governor, if you don’t have Secret Service it means you ain’t worth shooting.” I think this fits your situation: if you weren’t doing something right you wouldn’t get jerks attacking (anonymously, of course) on the Internet. Louis

  8. Thanks for these great comments, everybody.

    Louis, e-books are a big part of what I’m up to these days. Almost everything of mine (there are a few exceptions) is out on e-book, and I have 28 e-books that are directly with Amazon…the latter has given Heller a new, wider audience. I am doing an original standalone thriller for Amazon later this year (WHAT DOESN’T KILL YOU), written with Matt Clemens, and though that will be available in a print version, the e-book is where the most copies will undoubtedly be sold.

    E-books aren’t just the future, they’re the present. But some problems do arise. Suppose I were to do new Nate Heller novels for Amazon (a real possibility), how would longtime readers react to the lack of a hardcover edition (the print version would be trade paperback). And would national reviewers pay any attention? Usually Heller gets Publisher’s Weekly, Booklist, Kirkus and other mainstream reviewing sources. Barnes & Noble and other bookstores are boycotting Amazon print publictions, so you wouldn’t find Heller in a B & N. For the present, I’m happy to be with a mainstream publisher like Forge…but I keep an open mind, and my options open.

    The copy editing problem is more an annoyance — a big one, but an annoyance — because it costs me arrgravation, and two to four works days to put Humpty Dumpty back together. I mention it primarily to say that it’s one of the things I won’t miss if I ever do retire.

  9. Paul.Griffith says:

    I understand that e-books are a great source for new revenue and reaches a somewhat younger generation, but to leave out the hard core, hard cover fans would be awful! There is nothing better than having a BOOK in your hands, able to turn the page, see the photographs (many of the older Heller novels have these) and be able to collect them! I have several signed books. You can’t have that with an e-book! There must be some way to ensure both sets of fans are offered an opportunity to continue to read (and collect) our favorite novels. I have all of the Heller, Mallory, Quarry, and Nolan books. I wouldn’t let go of them for anything. I also have all of Spillane’s books and look forward to every new book when it comes out. I often go into my study and look through my books, I can’t imagine going to my i-pad and having the sam satisfaction about e-books. Remember when we used to have albums? Although the music is debatably just as good on a C.D. and now i-pod, there is something I miss about sitting with an album cover looking at the photo’s and reading the lyrics. There is jut something special about the anticipation of a new Max Allan Collins novel and the satisfaction of holding it in your hands, adding it to your library and getting it signed. Somehow the newer generations have missed out on a lot.

  10. mike doran says:

    This new post made me remember the old ARMCHAIR DETECTIVE days, when Bill DeAndrea and Parnell Hall would recount their own battles with copy editors who took their jobs way too seriously.

    Just now, though, I had another semi-related flashback – to Stan Freberg’s skit “Elderly Man River”.

    Remember that one? Stan is trying to sing “Ol’ Man River”, while “Mr.Tweedley” from the Citizen’s Radio Committee is correcting the song’s grammar and recasting its lyric to make it more “family-friendly” (a term not in use in the ’50s, but that’s what it is).

    Almost all of the copy editing war stories I’ve read seem to reflect this – mainly how you get nickel-and-dimed to death on spelling and grammar, but every so often some CE with ambitions beyond the bullpen decides to strike a blow for this or that personal agenda.
    One of Parnell Hall’s stories was about how his CE on one book was a nascent feminist who dutifully changed every “his” in the manuscript to “his or hers” in order to eliminate the “obvious sexism” – and how it took most of a working day to restore his dialogue to something resembling American speech.

    I don’t doubt that any or all of your writer friends could put together a whole book full of similar experiences –
    – which sort of makes me glad I’m not a writer myself.

    And that brings me to the Case Of The Vanishing Publishers – another reason to be glad I’m not a writer (or at least not a free-lance writer).
    I was looking at my shelves the other night, counting up how many different publishers you’ve had over the years (Walker, St Martin’s, Bantam, NAL, Morrow, Kensington, Forge, Five Star, Hard Case, and I know I’m missing somebody but I only have a limited time to write this).
    I wonder if you find yourself envying writers who had long-term relationships with a single publisher (Rex Stout with Viking, Erle Stanley Gardner with Morrow, Agatha Christie with Dodd Mead, etc.). I’ve read that these relationships often arose out of personal friendships between the writers and the publishers; I’m guessing that such things are less possible today, when many of the best-known names in the book business are now under conglomerate control – no more “personal touch”.
    Of course, there’s the other possibility in your case: if you had found one publisher early on and stayed for years, would you have been held to one character/series, or could you have as many different branches to your literary tree as you have now?
    All that is idle speculation. Fate and fortune made you go all over the place, and we in the readership are duly grateful for that.

    As it now stands, I’ll have at least four new titles for you to sign next time you get to C&S.
    ‘Til then …

  11. Mike, I had a pretty nice long relationship with Penguin. And right now, Titan (which includes Hard Case Crime) is just swell to work with, and the top man is a good friend of mine.

    Paul, I wholeheartedly agree about books, but I will say that the trade paperbacks Amazon is publishing of mine are very handsome. A trade paperback is indeed a book. If Heller ever moves somewhere in trade/e-book, I may try to have a limited edition hardcover published, as well.

  12. Paul.Griffith says:

    I agree the trade paperbacks are fine, in fact that is what my Nolan and Quarry books are as well as some of my Spillane (although I have all of the Mike Hammer in hard cover though some like “I, the Jury” are later versions). And that would be ok if that is all that is available, I just hate the thoughts of NO books and only e-books being available, such as is the case with the Hammer short stories. It would appear that may indeed be the case one day. Hopefully after I’m gone.

  13. “Skin” is the only Hammer short story by Spillane/Collins available only on e-book. Recently I was asked to submit it to one of the “best of” volumes and, if it’s accepted, that would see print, too. The Hammer short stories (there are five so far) developed from Spillane fragments will eventually be a book. I am considering doing prose versions of the two audio novels for that book, as well.

  14. Paul.Griffith says:

    Thanks for the good news Max! The book of short stories will be something to look forward to. It will also be a “must” for Hammer aficionados. Of course, I am always looking for anything “new” from M.A.C. Keep the great work coming, there are some out here who can’t imagine not having a new M.A.C. book to read!

  15. mike doran says:

    Well, while I was running all those various imprints through my aging brane, I momentarily forgot that The Penguin Group now owned many of them.
    But look at the word – GROUP.
    I think that’s the point I was trying to make – that the ongoing consolidation of publishers has so contracted the marketplace.
    Also that current business types are less likely to cultivate writers than the more single-minded sorts of the past.
    When I mentioned Stout, Gardner, Christie, and others, I was referencing writer-publisher relationships that lasted for DECADES – and weren’t likely to be imperiled if the new book didn’t sell as well as expected.
    Obviously, your luck has been somewhat better than many others in this regard, and good on you for that.
    (Please note that I said “somewhat” – I remember 1993 too.)

    But consider someone just starting out now – unless he’s got a fair-sized nest egg and an unlimited amount of time, what does he need to do to catch on?

    I’d love to be completely wrong about this.
    Unfortunately, I remember my growing-up years – the late ’50s and ’60s – when i could get whatever I wanted, any time I wanted, any place I wanted, in most cases for less for a buck.
    And I compare with today, when the things I like are having so much trouble even seeing print – shoved off the shelves by teen-aimed tripe, overheated sex stuff, political mudfighting, and so many other things I find off-putting.

    Aaaahhh, I’m just getting worked up for nothing (the crappy weather isn’t helping).
    I’ll just wait for the new books.

  16. stephen borer says:

    uh, about the “kick back” comment in the 2nd pp – being a greedy reader, i’d politely ask you and your partner to please keep writing. i’d ask the same if mr. spillane, mr. doyle, or mr. poe were around.

  17. Spike says:

    Why did you have to tell us there was a lot more to True Detective than we saw. Now I’ll always wonder what we missed.

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