Short and Sweet

April 2nd, 2013 by Max Allan Collins

My son says that I am turning into “that guy at the end of 60 MINUTES” (he wasn’t sure whether that was Mickey Rooney or Andy Rooney), meaning that I am starting to make this update the home of weekly curmudgeonly rants. So this week I’ll devote myself to mostly positive short takes.

Last week was spent writing a long Mike Hammer short story (almost 12,000 words) for Otto Penzler’s series of mini-books with a bibliophile theme. Otto sells these in his legendary Mysterious Bookshop in NY. Otto says he will publish the mini-book, entitled IT’S IN THE BOOK, late summer. We’ll provide a link when the time comes.

Speaking of Mike Hammer short stories, you’ll find “So Long, Chief” in the new issue of The Strand. These Mike Hammer short stories are developed from fragments in Mickey Spillane’s files, usually five or ten pages. I’ve worked up half a dozen short stories so far (two more fragments await) with an eye on an eventual Hammer short story collection.

Last week something delightful happened – Harlan Ellison called to say how much he liked SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT (mine, not Dr. Wertham’s). Harlan is one of my two favorite science-fiction writers (the other being Ray Bradbury) and one of my favorite writers, period. He was a huge influence on me as a young writer. I admire not only his prose but his passion, and his willingness to fight authority. That he likes my work means more than I can say, and that he occasionally takes the time to call me up and say so just flat out amazes me. It’s an honor to be sharing a publisher with him – Hard Case Crime has just brought out a new edition of his first novel, WEB OF THE CITY, which I bought back when it was called RUMBLE. Thank you, Harlan.

Our local Blockbuster went out of business and had a blow-out sale that to this Blu-ray/DVD collector was like Black Friday times ten – the final two days, Blu-rays and DVDs were a buck a piece. I am just starting to plow through my finds ($150 or so of ‘em), but already I have found a real gem, a Jackie Chan movie from 2010 that I’d never heard of: SHINJUKU INCIDENT. Some of you know that I used to have a regular column in Tom Weisser’s great Asian Cult Cinema magazine, and this film would have rated a rave and a full column there. Jackie plays a Japanese illegal in China in the ‘90s, a good-hearted soul shaped by circumstance and necessity into a crime boss. This is unlike any Jackie Chan movie I’ve ever seen, and it really is an Asian take on SCARFACE, as the DVD cover promises, right down to the shocking violence.

On a wholly different note, I have been watching Warners Archives’ new Wheeler and Woolsey collection. I like a lot of vintage comedy teams that other people (like everybody in my family) find irritating and/or revolting. For example, I am a fan of the Ritz Brothers (do you own a sign photo by the team?) and Olsen and Johnson (if you have a signed photo by them, I’ll buy it). But, yes, I also like the more accepted teams, from the Marx Brothers to Abbott and Costello and of course Martin and Lewis. Wheeler and Woolsey arguably belong in this last group. They were very popular (21 films in the late twenties and thirties for RKO) but because of Woolsey’s death in 1938, they were prematurely over…and Wheeler was unable to shape a film career on his own. Woolsey wears horn-rimmed glasses and smokes a constant cigar, sort of a combo of Groucho and George Burns (who lifted much of his schtick from Woolsey), and is a wiseguy con man character, while Wheeler is a lovable simpleton constantly eating an apple or a banana. Neither is the straight man, and both sing and dance, with Wheeler playing the romantic leads, often with Betty Boop-ish cutie Dorothy Lee. They are very much in the Marx Brothers theater of the absurd wheelhouse, and often share that team’s writers (of both scripts and songs). Some of their early movies are very creaky (DIXIEANA is worse than a trip to the dentist), and their later ones range from okay (HIGH FLYERS) to dreadful (SILLY BILLIES). But at their best, they are terrific, as in HIPs, HIPS HOORAY and COCKEYED CAVALIERS (both with Thelma Todd, a onetime Nate Heller squeeze). HIPS is in the Wheeler-Woolsey collection, and so is the very good mystery comedy THE NITWITS, and of the early ones another comedy crime entry, HOOK, LINE AND SINKER, is fun. The collection is mostly good, and on single discs or double features the Archive has such wonderful Wheeler and Woolsey titles as PEACH O-RENO, KENTUCKY KERNELS (with Spanky from Our Gang), and the crazed political satire DIPLOMANIACS (co-written by Joseph L. Mankiewicz). Their pre-code stuff is extremely racy, by the way (when a dish asks Woolsey if he’s looking at her knees, he says, “Oh, I’m above that”).

Barb and I went to the new GI JOE movie at the fancy new theater in town, and it’s entertaining enough, though it makes OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN look like a Ken Burns documentary. Mostly I’m just glad I didn’t get hired to turn it into a novel. The previous GI JOE was the only time I wrote a movie novel and felt I hadn’t been able to transcend a poor script (as I did with DAYLIGHT and I LOVE TROUBLE, for instance). With GI JOE, I just fought the thing to a draw. Maybe it’s not a coincidence that I haven’t had a movie novelization gig since….

Today I start on my draft of ANTIQUES A GO GO – Brandy, Vivian and Sushi in New York at a comic book convention.

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Bill Crider, whose website is one of my favorites, and who is a terrific writer his own self, has delivered a COMPLEX 90 review that is, in the author’s immodest opinion, spot on. One of my favorite reviews ever.


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2 Responses to “Short and Sweet”

  1. Joe Menta says:

    It’s funny– for a few years there it seemed like you were doing nothing but novelizations and tie-ins. But then they suddenly stopped, as if you were subjected to an intervention or something (I mean, many of them were terrific books, but I think your fans prefer that most of your stuff be Collins-generated material). I can’t imagine, though: if you’re frequently frustrated by excessive notes and suggested changes editors send your way now, you must have really gotten headaches during your tie-in days. Don’t those “gun for hire” jobs have like eighteen people checking over their content before they get approved for publication? I guess it helped that you probably weren’t as emotionally attached to those jobs as you are to your own creations like Heller.

  2. I had many battles on the novelization and tie-in front, and it’s possible, perhaps probable, that I got a rep for difficulty, and that is likely why I don’t get offered as many of those as I used to. Lately it seems like I get asked if I’d be willing to be one of three writers put up for a gig, and then I never get it. But I don’t really care at this point. The kind of thrillers that Matt Clemens and I did (CSI, BONES, CRIMINAL MINDS) are better done as originals, like the forthcoming WHAT DOESN’T KILL HER (note title change — my idea, not the publisher). And Mike Hammer, as a character I didn’t create, represent about all the time I want to spend right now on something that isn’t mine.

    Also, I have done very well with my back list at Amazon and elsewhere, and I frankly resent all those books I wrote that I don’t own, that aren’t generating any income for me (most did not have royalties attached). With Mike Hammer, not only is it a labor of love, I am a full partner. It’s the pinnacle of my “tie-in” career.

    But I did that work to make a living. It was what I was able to turn to after I lost the DICK TRACY strip and the income it generated. I was not able to put out more than two or three books under my name in one year without raising the ire of my publishers. But tie-in novels didn’t count. I could do as many of those as I wanted, and nobody cared. They weren’t “real” books.

    I liked being able to write different kinds of things — thrillers, science-fiction, sword & sorcery, westerns, you name it — which the M.A.C. box doesn’t allow. And I think, particularly through the very successful CSI novels that Matt and I did, I attracted new readers to my other stuff.