A Fair Hearing

August 4th, 2015 by Max Allan Collins

Barb and I visited our son Nate, his bride Abby and our new grandson (still unnamed at this writing) over the weekend in St. Louis. The little guy – he was early, and truly is little – is doing fine, and so are his parents. It was a fun visit and heartwarming, and I’ll stop right there before everybody gets sick.

I mentioned last time that there’s a new audio out of my 2008 X-FILES movie novelization, I WANT TO BELIEVE. We listened to it on the ride down and back, and enjoyed it – the narrator, Patrick Lawlor, did a good job. I rarely revisit a movie novelization, and this proved interesting for a number of reasons.

First, as often happens when I listen to an audio of my work, I am in a best-of-times-worst-of-times mode. I usually have forgotten enough about the plot (whether my own or some screenwriter’s) to enjoy the novel as a narrative. But I also cringe at things that I will never get the chance to fix. In writing a novelization of a film, the work often goes fast and has to be handed in on a near-impossible deadline, and I WANT TO BELIEVE could definitely have benefitted from another pass where I tweaked and fixed things. On the whole, though, it came out pretty good. Or as Larry David would say, “Pretty, pretty good.”

When we got home, I decided to look at the film itself. I had it on blu-ray but hadn’t watched it since I saw it in the theater. I haven’t done a movie novelization in a long time (I WANT TO BELIEVE was one of the last), but my most vivid memory of those days is that seeing the film in a theater was always a weird experience for me. I had spent enough time writing the novel that the narrative on hand seemed my own (a delusion). A fact of life for the writer of a movie novel is that you work from a screenplay and do not get access to the film itself, though you are expected to mirror that film. Now and then, you get a few clips and the X-FILES people were generous with wardrobe sheets and cast lists, and were always there to answer questions (“What kind of car does Scully drive?” “What color?”). But mostly you’re flying blind, as screenplays are notoriously bare bones.

Seeing the movie after having just heard the novelization made me feel good about what I’d accomplished. I had definitely imagined, and recorded, a movie from that screenplay that tallied well the actual film. The biggest difference was an odd one. The main villain was described in the screenplay as having black stringy hair and craggy ugly features, and was frequently linked to the Russian madman, Rasputin. In the film itself, blond, rather handsome actor Callum Keith Rennie – who was a good guy co-star on one of my favorite TV series, DUE SOUTH – was the bad guy. So that change was startling.

Others were very minor. A couch turned into a folded-out day bed; bone marrow cancer became lung cancer. Otherwise, I pretty much conjured up the same movie, albeit on paper. Some of the character names – no doubt forced by the legal department on the filmmakers – I disliked. One tough African-American FBI agent was called “Wesley Drummy.” Horrible name, not at all suited to the character. In the film it gets used once or twice; in the book I had to use it all the time. A number of awkward character names made the book seem klutzy at times – this is not at all uncommon in the novelization game. You’re stuck with these stupid names.

I liked the film, which remains much maligned. I do think the X-FILES folks made a major mistake in having Scully and Mulder at odds and separated through much of the story. Nothing wrong with that story, but a crucial creative meeting was skipped – the one where everybody sat down and asked each other, “What do X-FILES fans want to see?” Not Dana Scully turning her back on the FBI and Mulder to tend to a little kid with a brain tumor.

The experience of hearing my books on audio is always gratifying and frustrating. I careen between thinking, “That was a really nice scene/line/description,” to, “Jesus, I wish I could fix that!” And you are the captive of the audio-book reader. I’ve had some great ones, quite a few good ones, and some terrible ones. One guy read DAMNED IN PARADISE in a bad Bogart impression. (I gave my freebie copies to friends as gag gifts.) On the other hand, the Hellers have all been read in recent years by the excellent Dan John Miller, who has virtually become Nate’s voice.

The day I’m writing this, Dan is in the studio reading FATE OF THE UNION. He did a fantastic job on the first book in the Reeder and Rogers series, SUPREME JUSTICE, and both Matt Clemens and I are thrilled to have him back for FATE. Dan also did a great job on THE WRONG QUARRY, but the new Quarry audio book publisher, Skyboat, features the QUARRY novels as read by the excellent Stefan Rudnicki. Rudnicki is an older, huskier Quarry, a deeper voice than the character usually receives but an excellent, expressive reader. He knocked the ball out of the park on QUARRY’S CHOICE.

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My friend Mike Dennis campaigned long and hard to get to record an audio of I, THE JURY. Check out his story here.

And, finally, here’s a good if somewhat patronizing review of ANTIQUES SWAP.


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3 Responses to “A Fair Hearing”

  1. stephen borer says:

    CONGRATS to Nate & Abby !

  2. Mike Doran says:

    Congratulations on the debut of COLLINS: THE NEXT GENERATION!

    Don’t sweat the mushy stuff. Grandparents get to do that; it’s in the union contract.

    (Does the kid have a name yet?)

  3. Max Allan Collins says:

    The name has happened: Samuel Allan Collins. Sam.

    That’s Nate Heller’s son’s name (Sam) and also Dashiell Hammett’s first name and Sam Spade’s. Nice resonance, I think.

    But mostly you just look at this kid and say, “Hell, that’s a Sam.”