Ask Not Why I Write

November 19th, 2013 by Max Allan Collins
Ask Not Audiobook

The audio of ASK NOT, read by Dan John Miller (the great actor who read all of the preceding Heller novels and short story collections for Brilliance), is available now at Amazon. Recorded Books offers no CD retail edition, but the rather expensive library edition on CD ($102.75) is available, though not through Amazon.

For those of you used to downloading audios, Amazon appears to have it right now. The Recorded Books site lists the download as available December 1, and the CD version for libraries not until Feb. 22. I have contacted the publisher to see if those dates are correct.

I am as anxious as anyone to hear Dan’s reading, because he really is the definitive voice of Nate Heller. I will be leaving my buggy and butter churn behind very soon and getting an MP3 player, so I can download ASK NOT as well as the Audible downloads (first time on audio!) of QUARRY, QUARRY’S LIST, QUARRY’S DEAL, QUARRY’S CUT, QUARRY’S VOTE and (in January) THE WRONG QUARRY.

Publisher’s Weekly asked me to write a piece for their “Why I Write” series, and it’s in this week’s issue. I can’t provide a link because the PW site is for subscribers only. So I’ll share the piece with you here:

by Max Allan Collins

Why do you write?

Many writers have a glib comeback for this question. Samuel Johnson famously said, “No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money.” Asked what inspired him, Mickey Spillane would reply, “The urgent need for money.” And I have often described my career as an ongoing effort to avoid a real job.

Certainly earning a living is a valid reason to write; but really, getting paid is what allows me to write – and has made me a full-time writer since 1977. I take pride in not having a day job, and when asked why I write so much, I usually say, “To keep the lights on.” Anyway, what else am I supposed to do with my time?

The ranks of successful authors include lawyers, doctors and in particular teachers – noble professions, but part-time scribes all. Early on I taught at a college myself, though never more than half-time, having sold my first two novels at the University of Iowa’s Writers Workshop. Teaching drains the creative juices that writing requires, and I got out of academia as soon as possible.

Stories have been my main interest longer than I can remember. My mother read me Tarzan books at bedtime and encouraged me to read Dick Tracy comic books (her favorite strip). Chester Gould’s famous dick led me into Sherlock Holmes, Ellery Queen and the Saint, and – by junior high – Sam Spade, Phillip Marlowe and Mike Hammer, an interest fostered by the wave of TV private eyes of the late ‘50s. My sixth-grade teacher told me I would never be successful because I insisted on writing “blood and thunder” (the title of my 1995 Nathan Heller novel, by the way).

Television and movies encouraged my interest in history, with “The Untouchables” a prime contributor. As a kid, I became fascinated in the real people (Wyatt Earp, Eliot Ness) who fed our popular culture. I was also taken with the people who created that popular culture. I didn’t want to be Dick Tracy when I grew up – I wanted to be Chester Gould. Didn’t take me long to figure out the only thing more fun than being told stories was telling them yourself.

I have an abiding interest in the history of crime fiction – for example, completing Mickey Spillane’s in-progress Hammer manuscripts – but also the way history has informed crime fiction. This has led to my best-known works, the graphic novel Road to Perdition and the Nathan Heller “memoirs” (Ask Not, the “JFK” thriller recently published by Forge).

My career began in Iowa City forty years ago with the sale of my first crime novels, and a love for language, thanks to Raymond Chandler and other noir poets. Now I find myself working harder than ever, risking my reputation by being too prolific, because I am all too aware that I’m in the third act of my career, and there are many more stories I want to tell.

For money, yes. But mostly for the sheer joy of it.

* * *

The same issue of PW has a nice overview of recent novels with JFK assassination themes, with ASK NOT prominently mentioned (and the cover shown). This, too, is for subscribers only. But the magazine is on the stands, should you want to take a look.

Finally, here’s a very interesting ASK NOT review.


Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

11 Responses to “Ask Not Why I Write”

  1. Paul.Griffith says:

    A lot of people would reply that they read for lack of something better to do. I read so my favorite authors can make a decent living; I’ve been keeping MAC up for years! Before that it was Mickey and I’ve also contributed almost as much to Lawrence Block and Brad Meltzer. To keep my favorite authors financially secure, yes. But mostly for the sheer joy of it!! Thanks Max, I always look forward to not only your most recent novels, but your weekly updates as well. I hope you and Barb can enjoy some time off this holiday season!!

  2. Joe Menta says:

    If you have an iPhone, Max, or an Android phone, both will support the Audible app, which makes it so easy to download and play titles. MP3’s are okay, but you’d still have to do the whole “download the title to your computer and then transfer it to the MP3” thing. Not horribly complicated, but the app is so much easier: you buy a title at the Audible website, and it immediately appears right on your phone for download and listening. I listen to my Audible titles either with earphones plugged into my phone, or by piping the phone’s signal through my car’s speakers via bluetooth. If he hasn’t already, I’m sure Nate can make other good suggestions about the most convenient ways to enjoy audiobooks these days.

  3. Paul, thanks for your lovely “response” to my PW essay.

    Joe, I don’t have an iPhone or an Android (to my knowledge, anyway…it’s possible my fairly low-end Samsung is considered an Android). Cell phones are a pain in the ass to me — as someone working at home, I find a cell useful only on trips, primarily to be able to check my e-mail. I don’t have any Apps other than what came with the thing, and I don’t use those. My main relationship with cell phones is to hate the drivers who slow me down and occasionally almost kill me because they are using the things. I don’t have a Bluetooth, either. My son will ride to the rescue next week.

    I despise this world of downloads. I want physical media — books, DVDs, CDs, etc. You “buy” something as a download and as far as I can tell, thinking that particular something is in your permanent library is a fantasy. The company may go out of business, you may have a computer crash or other electronic mishap, and where are you? Able to pay for something again that you can’t hold in your hands or place on a shelf. I hear from people with Netflicks that they will be watching a series and then it will disappear midstream. I say it’s spinach and I say to hell with it. But I do appreciate you trying to ease me into the 21st century….This is where I would put a smiley face if I didn’t hate emoticons (even the term is appalling). That sound you hear is my son racing to the phone or computer to tell me to behave myself….

  4. Joe Menta says:

    Your rant is so funny, Max, as in so many ways I completely agree with you… especially about the tenuous nature of “owning” digital media. But after decades of buying so many books, DVDs, audios, etc., that were mildly enjoyable but certainly not worthy of repeat immersions, I realized that I didn’t need to have all that crap piling up in the house anymore. Exempting you and one or two other authors who I still enjoy also having physical versions of your works in my hands (because they ARE worthy of repeat visits), I just don’t need the dust-gathering piles anymore.

  5. I have done very well with e-books — at this point, TRUE DETECTIVE has sold more e-books in the past couple of years than all the real book editions of it put together. But e-books represents a way that publishers can reduce their overhead, their effort, and still charge you a bunch of money. You’re buying air. I would rather buy a real book and then sell it for pennies at Half-Price Books than have an e-book copy.

    That said, if I were traveling more, I would probably do so with a Kindle. A lot of my attitude toward download media has to do with my life style — that I work at home, rarely travel any great distance, etc.

  6. mike doran says:

    The following is off-topic, but I can’t think of anyplace else to put it.

    You are familiar with Stephen Bowie’s TV HISTORY site, to which you have contributed comments on sundry topics, as have I.
    Today, I saw a new post there, about lists of well-known TV series, past and present, that Mr. Bowie and his readers have never seen.
    Naturally, this subject intrigued me, and so I came up with a quick list of five, and pushed the button to “Post Comment”.
    And who should I run into but my old fiend, Mr. Websense?
    And what is the Almighty CyberWertham up to now?
    Mr. W is not blocking Mr. Bowie’s site.
    He’s not even blocking the comments (20 so far) at the site.
    No, Mr. Websense is blocking MY COMMENT.
    Reason given: WordPress Comment.
    In the words of the Prophet: AAAAARRRRGGGGGHHHHHH!!!

    Frankly, I’m worried now that I’m not gonna get this one through .

    But if it does, and if Stephen Bowie should happen to see it …

    … well, Stephen, I obviously don’t blame you for this latest Websense anomaly.
    But could you tell me is this has happened or is currently happening to anybody else, and if so what the oedipusrex we can do about it?

    Thank you, Max, for your indulgence in this matter.

  7. Gerard Saylor says:

    I’m listening to Stacy Keach’s GOLIATH BONE narration. He does a swell job.

  8. Stacy has read all of the five published Hammer novels, and is set to do the sixth. I am hopeful he’ll stay aboard for the next three. He does an incredible job and it really, really makes the books special.

  9. Joe Menta says:

    I’m starting “Nice Weekend for a Murder” on Kindle this evening, which will complete my goal (assuming I don’t get hit by a bus) of re-reading- for the first time since their original publication- all the Mallory titles in 2013. I’ve enjoyed rediscovering these books immensely and I hope their new availability is working out for you.

  10. I needed to post you one very small observation to finally say thanks a lot again regarding the unique information you’ve discussed here. It’s so unbelievably open-handed with people like you to convey publicly all many people would’ve supplied as an e book in order to make some dough for themselves, especially since you could have done it if you desired. These secrets additionally worked to provide a fantastic way to understand that someone else have the same fervor just as my own to see more and more related to this condition. I am certain there are several more enjoyable situations ahead for people who look over your blog post.

  11. This post is absolutely bang on to the subject you have picked up. Really nice.