Note From The Bunker #2

February 3rd, 2015 by Max Allan Collins

[Nate’s note: Before we get to the regularly scheduled Update, we have some breaking news:


Cinemax today officially announced an eight-episode series order to drama pilot Quarry. Production will begin March 30 on location in New Orleans and Tennessee. Created and executive produced by Graham Gordy & Michael D. Fuller. Based on the novels of Max Allan Collins, the show will be directed and executive produced by Greg Yaitanes (Banshee), along with executive producer Steve Golin (True Detective).

Quarry tells the story of Mac Conway (Logan Marshall-Green), a Marine who returns home to Memphis from Vietnam in 1972 and finds himself shunned by those he loves and demonized by the public. As he struggles to cope with his experiences at war, Conway is drawn into a network of killing and corruption that spans the length of the Mississippi River. Jodi Balfour, Peter Mullan, Nikki Amuka-Bird and Damon Herriman co-star, along with Jamie Hector, Edoardo Ballerini and Skipp Sudduth. “This nuanced and dynamic show marks an exciting moment in the evolution of Cinemax programming,” said HBO’s Michael Lombardo.

An HBO Entertainment production in association with Anonymous Content, the series is also executive produced by Matt DeRoss, David Kanter, Max Allan Collins and Ken Levin. Additional writers on the series include Jennifer Schuur and Max Allan Collins.

Cinemax has been making strides in original programming with dramas Banshee and The Knick, the latter earning the sister HBO network its first awards nominations.

And now, back to the Update….]

* * *

Here’s the first major review for the upcoming Mike Hammer novel, KILL ME, DARLING – and it’s a great one from Publisher’s Weekly no less:

Kill Me, Darling

Set in 1954, Collins’s seventh posthumous collaboration with Mike Hammer creator Spillane (after 2014’s King of the Weeds) is one of his best, liberally dosed with the razor-edged prose and violence that marked the originals. The New York City PI has hit the bottle hard after his longtime assistant and love, Velda Sterling, abandoned him with a one-word note. Then Mike’s friend on the NYPD, Pat Chambers, tells him that Velda has surfaced in Miami, on the arm of Nolly Quinn, a notorious mob-connected pimp. Mike cleans himself up and heads south to rescue Velda from Quinn, only to find that she doesn’t want to be rescued. Collins faithfully follows Spillane’s successful formula, including frequent gunplay, menacing thugs, and betrayal. He even matches Spillane’s colorful turns of phrase (e.g., “My bullet shattered his smile on its way through him and out of the back of his head”). Agent: Dominick Abel, Dominick Abel Literary Agency. (Mar.)

* * *

I am still working on the new Quarry novel and might finish this week, if all goes well. But a writer never knows. I often say that I never get writer’s block, which is the kind of boast than can catch up with you. No writer’s block, that’s true in its way, but I do have bad days.

A typical bad writing day for me happens as follows. I have a very good writing day, turning out more pages than usual, and I am floating on a cloud of genius. Then, that night, going to bed around midnight, having gone blissfully and quickly asleep, I wake up at 1:30 a.m. Wide awake. I do my best to get right back to sleep, but no go. I go downstairs, read something until I get sleepy, which takes an hour to two hours. Then I sleep in my recliner for a while, wake up after a while and trudge back to the bedroom, where I get to sleep right away. But I wake up at the usual time, after a very disrupted night’s “rest.”

The writing day that follows is almost always a disaster. I do write. But I am not my usual nimble self. What’s normal for me is ten to fifteen pages of finished draft. Last week, after my rocky night, I spent all day on four pages.

Some of that has to do with the research that is now required of a Quarry novel, now that they have become historical books themselves, in their quirky way. I spend as much time chasing details on Google or in reference works as I do writing – not that different from the Heller process.

But the way I do a Quarry novel is much different than a Heller. Because of the historical crimes involved, a Heller novel is tightly plotted, with each chapter detailed in at least a paragraph in a document that can be anywhere from ten to thirty pages long. With Quarry, my chapter outline reverts (not surprisingly) to the approach of my early career, with each chapter indicated by a sentence or two. For QUARRY IN THE BLACK, my outline says for chapter one: “Quarry gets job from Broker.” Another says: “Quarry and Southern gal connect at club.” That’s it. The rest is done on the fly.

That really works for Quarry, but if I’m having an off day? He is just not himself. Like I am not. Sometimes I can power through it. Sometimes I can come back in the evening (which I did with the four pages mentioned above, which turned into seven) but not always. Being older doesn’t help.

And there’s that other thing that writers never talk about – that as writers we change from day to day. Make that second to second. Back in the ‘80s, before word-processing programs automatically saved every now and then, I lost an entire chapter of the Eliot Ness novel, THE DARK CITY. It was devastating. When I knew the chapter was gone, really really gone, I started over and did my best to remember it.

Of course, I couldn’t. The chapter, as it now exists, covers the same ground. But it’s not as good as the one I lost. If I were to lose this little essay and start over, it would be substantially different and none of the phrasing would be replicated. In the mid-‘80s, I lost a chapter of PRIMARY TARGET (aka QUARRY’S VOTE) and the same process happened: I tried to remember it and only came up with a shadow of what it had been.

If a writer starts working on a story or chapter in a novel on Monday morning, even working from a detailed outline, it will be substantially different that if he waited till Tuesday afternoon. We, like what we write, are works in progress. We hope it’s progress, anyway.

A number of people lately have asked me what order to read the Quarry novels in. Chronological would seem to make sense, like starting with THE FIRST QUARRY, moving to QUARRY’S CHOICE, then QUARRY aka THE BROKER, sliding the later-written books into continuity. But THE BROKER was written when I was in my early twenties; THE FIRST QUARRY and QUARRY’S CHOICE were written by a man in his sixties. Do you understand why my advice would be to read the books in the order I wrote them? Because the writer who did the first four Quarry novels was a very different one.

* * *

Here’s an okay review of SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT, but the reviewer doesn’t quite get it….

Here’s a fun review of DAMNED IN PARADISE.

And now, with the blessing of being snowed in, I will head back to the bunker. Only I’m already there.


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7 Responses to “Note From The Bunker #2”

  1. Joe Menta says:

    Congrats on the Quarry/Cinemax announcement! I can’t wait, especially because the “Banshee” folks are involved. That really is a great show, which will only add to the chances that “Quarry” will be, too. The strong source material doesn’t hurt, either, lol.

  2. stephen borer says:

    To quote Jed Clampitt, “Hoo Doggies!” Glad to read the news!

  3. Brian Drake says:

    Who the heck is Mac Conway????’

    Congratulations on the Cinemax deal and I cannot wait to see the finished show. By the way, I just picked up the new Quarry. The check-out girl at Barnes & Noble said she liked the cover; I spent a minute or two giving her the history of the series, which seemed to interest her. You may have a new reader! You’re welcome. :)

  4. Max Allan Collins says:

    Thanks for the great comments, guys.

    Brian, the early drafts of the pilot — in fact I think the pilot was originally shot — did not reveal Quarry’s real name, as is the case in the books. As the two writers developing the series discovered, it became clumsy not to use a civilian name for Quarry, and I had never revealed one, so they came up with Mac Conway — the first name, they say, in tribute to some M.A.C. or another.

    The eight episodes deal with a time in Quarry’s life that I never covered in any details — coming back to find his wife in bed with a guy (you know the rest) and his beginnings with the Broker. The series has taken on a Southern flavor due to the choice of filming locations. The only novel that reflects that is the current QUARRY’S CHOICE.

  5. Peter says:

    I wondered why nothing on location in the Quad Cities. If the television series will deal with that earlier part of Quarry’s life, will the script be allowed to include the word bunghole?

  6. Gerard says:

    Congratulations on the TV show.

  7. Matthew Hewitt says:

    Great news on the tv show, I’d assumed it was dead in the water given the amount of time passed since the pilot.