Working on Nolan’s Return

February 4th, 2020 by Max Allan Collins

Cover of Mad Money, which will reprint Spree and Mourn the Living.

I am “coming down the pike,” as Barb puts it, on the new Nolan novel, Skim Deep, the first in the series since Spree (1987). Hard Case Crime editor Charles Ardai has for some time been encouraging me to write a new Nolan, lately to help launch HCC’s upcoming reprint series of the previous novels (they will be done two books to a volume). These sport excellent covers by Mark Eastbrook, and that includes the novel in progress.

Also, a fair number of readers have wanted another Nolan. I’ve resisted this because I felt the character’s story was over – that Spree concluded it nicely. Nolan has always been an ongoing saga as opposed to a series with a premise, in the way of a P.I. novel does or a Quarry or even an Antiques entry.

Of course, Nolan has always been a homage to the Parker series by Richard Stark (aka Donald E. Westlake), and as I often said to Don himself, “Homage is French for rip-off.” Don was always nice enough to say that Nolan, largely because of surrogate son Jon, was distinctly different from Parker. He also on occasion described my Nolan as the Jayne Mansfield to his Parker, and I would correct him, saying more the Mamie Van Doren.

To be fair to myself, the Nolan series did (after the first novel, Bait Money) quickly become its own thing. Nolan is a professional thief of fifty trying very hard to go straight and take part in the American Dream; but karma keeps looking for him, and finding him.

Editors wanting me to write something for them are a seductive lot indeed. So I’ve embarked on Skim Deep and am enjoying it a great deal, or anyway as much as possible when I’m up against a deadline – which is today, as it happens, which I’m going to miss by a week or two.

Then, out of the blue, there’s been some Hollywood interest in Nolan, which seems vaguely serious and involves a bunch of talented people. I’ll say no more because such things often do not play out into anything at all.

Rejoining these characters required little besides checking my previous novels for continuity issues. That’s in part because over the past several decades I have written various versions of a Spree screenplay (optioned a few times) that had me dealing with Nolan, his lover Sherry, and of course cartoonist/musician, Jon.

As is the case with continuing Quarry, I am keeping the novel in the time frame of the original series. Skim Deep takes place in 1988, about six months after Spree.

But I thought you might like another peek behind the curtain, this time as it pertains to working on this as yet unfinished novel.

Over the years I have developed a process that begins with an outline breaking the book down by chapters. Each chapter gets a paragraph or two, and occasionally just a couple of sentences. Among much else, that allows me to make sure the novel will be long enough to satisfy the editor (word count is often specified in contracts, although mostly that’s a guideline not a rule).

Each chapter has to be outlined, at least in my head, like a little novel or anyway a short story. And the narrative tends to develop in ways and directions I didn’t plan. So it is not uncommon for me to re-plot about half-way through, to accommodate the surprises I’ve given myself.

Fiction writing is largely a writer solving problems of his or her own making.

More often than not, I re-plot again, about half-way through the new half-a-novel outline. Sometimes more frequently. I have just written Chapter 11 of 17 (two of which are short chapters near the end). And I have, at this stage, re-plotted four times (after the initial first outline), and have also written a two-page outline of Chapter 11, which had a lot of moving parts to keep track of.

Last night, trying to get to sleep, I re-plotted again, but have not committed those changes to paper, although I will.

This is a tad (just a tad) unusual. But this represents my belief that plotting carefully must still allow for spontaneity. Have a roadmap, yes, but if a sign says, “World’s Biggest Ball of String NEXT RIGHT,” don’t be afraid to veer off. Some things just happen in a story – the ending of Road to Perdition had not been planned…just came out of my fingers when I was writing the final installment for artist Richard Piers Rayner.

Chester Gould did not plot ahead. He liked to say, “If I don’t know what’s going to happen next, neither will the reader.” That’s a little extreme, but Chet had a point.

* * *

Here’s a great write-up about the Reeder and Rogers political thriller series by Matt Clemens and me.

The Mommy/Mommy 2: Mommy’s Day Blu-ray gets some cool coverage at Media Play.

With Girl Can’t Help It waiting in the wings, here’s a nice review of Girl Most Likely.

Finally, MacMillan has the Kindle version of the Nate Heller novel Ask Not on sale for $2.99 here (regularly 7.00).

M.A.C.

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One Response to “Working on Nolan’s Return”

  1. stephen borer says:

    Glad to read about the progress on “Skim Deep”, glad to see a redheaded, oh, sorta, ‘Diana Rigg’ on the new cover art. Thought the cover art came after the novel…or perhaps this Eastbrook art is for a reprint.

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