Collaboration Again

February 17th, 2015 by Max Allan Collins

This week I begin serious work on the second Reeder & Rogers novel, STATE OF THE UNION. Prior to this, work on my end has been limited to creating a synopsis for both the original proposal and a work document, and ongoing story conferences with co-author Matt Clemens, who has for some months been working on a rough draft for me. I am meeting with Matt today – he’s coming down from Davenport to Muscatine – and he will turn over materials to me and we’ll talk about what I’ll be doing as well as the final chapters of the rough draft that he’s still working on. (We’ll also discuss doing a proposal for another, very different series.)

So I will be heading into the bunker again, but the process of collaboration is much easier on me than working on a Heller or even a Quarry, where I am starting with blank pages, with a lot of research left to do. Matt will have done most of the research – there’s always some research to do on the fly – and that makes my life easier.

People often ask about the collaborative process. My three collaborators – Barbara Collins, Matthew V. Clemens and the late Mickey Spillane – have only one thing in common: a lot of talent. In each case, I start with a short manuscript and expand and polish it to the desired length and the finished product. For an ANTIQUES book, Barb gives me 200 to 250 doubled-spaced pages, which is the basis of my draft, which comes in around 325 pages. With Matthew the length of the projects vary, but with Reed & Rogers, I probably get 50,000 to 60,000 words from Matt and take it up to around 80,000 or 90,000. For the first six Mike Hammer novels I completed (ditto THE CONSUMMATA), I had about 100 double-spaced pages of Mickey’s, which I turned into around 300. KILL ME, DARLING – coming out soon – is the first Hammer that starts with less of Mickey’s work (44 double-spaced pages) but I think stacks up well with the prior collaborations. My process turned those 44 pages into around 100, and of course Mickey had set the entire plot in motion in his opening chapters.

But I don’t think looking at these collaborations as numbers games tells the real story. The real reason to collaborate is not to save time – I could frankly do original works in about the same time that it takes me to do my drafts from Barb’s and Matt’s – rather the combination of talents, the merging of two voices into another unique voice that reflects both writers.

For the record, Matt co-wrote all of my CSI novels, both CRIMINAL MINDS, the trio of DARK ANGELS, the BONES novel, and doubtless other things that are slipping my mind (he contributed to RED SKY IN MORNING, for example). And of course we’ve written quite a few short stories together, and are in the early stages of putting together a rather massive collection of them. One of these days I’ll assemble a complete list of the books we’ve worked on together.

I am very lucky that both Barb and Matt never bitch about the changes I make. If anyone ran roughshod over me the way I do them, I would be homicidal. But understanding that the process means providing me with rough-draft material may be helpful to the egos of these two gifted writers, both of whom have shown their individualistic stuff in short stories. And Mickey seems to have done just fine without me….

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Local papers often produce dreadful stories out of interviews with local celebrities. In my case this week, I got very lucky. Muscatine Journal writer Ky Cochran did an excellent article on the Quarry books and upcoming TV series. Check it out.

Chester Gould and Max Allan Collins
Chester Gould and M.A.C. in 1981 (photo credit: Matt Masterson)

There’s a Chester Gould documentary – which I haven’t seen yet, but I’m featured as one of the interviewees – that airs next Sunday on Chicago PBS. There’s a special INVITE ONLY event that same day at Woodstock, Illinois (filming site of the brilliant GROUNDHOG DAY). Barb and I are planning to attend, and I may be speaking, briefly. Read about it here, but I’ll report back next week.


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