Archive for the ‘Message from M.A.C.’ Category

The Grand Master Speaketh

Tuesday, May 2nd, 2017

According to Otto Penzler, the Grand Master Speaketh too long, actually, in accepting his “Edgar” at the banquet last Thursday at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in New York. I told Otto that maybe I should have dropped the thank you that I gave him for publishing the Mike Hammer short story collection recently.

The banquet found me dressed in my James Bond Halloween costume. I was in great company – not only Barb, but my agent Dominick Abel, Barbara Allan’s editor Michaela Hamilton (whose guests we were), Lee Goldberg and Joel Goldman of Brash Books, and Charles Ardai of Hard Case Crime, among others. We had ringside seats, and were right there to helplessly watch M.C. Jeffrey Deaver, MWA president, drop to the stage floor in a dead faint, apparently caused by dehydration. We’re told he’s doing fine, but it was a suspenseful half hour we all could have done without. The EMT and police response was incredibly quick, by the way – something like five minutes.

I went on fairly deep into the night, after a nice video that showed off both my work and that of the year’s other Grand Master, Ellen Hart. As anyone who’s ever heard me speak probably would guess, I never prepare – I just have a vague idea of what I want to say, and go. In this instance, however, I prepared a list of people I wanted to thank, mostly editors and publishers. But when I got up there, I found myself blinded by bright lights, at a podium not lighted at all. I could barely make out anything on my sheet of paper with the thank you’s.

So I forgot some people (Otto I remembered). Who, you ask? How about the MWA itself, and the organizer of the event (and heart and soul of the organization), Margery Flax. I did give Barb a nice shout-out, and my agent Dominick Abel, but I forgot Brash Books altogether, though they had generously bought an ad in the program book and provided free copies to attendees of the uncut Road to Perdition prose novel.

I did manage to talk about the three key mentors of my early professional career – two of whom were MWA Grand Masters themselves, Donald E. Westlake and Mickey Spillane. I mentioned that Don had given his blessing when Bait Money sold, and generated sequels, even though they were outrageously imitative of his work. And I shared some writing advice Mickey gave me – “Take your wallet out of your back pocket before you sit down to write.” To which I said to Mickey, “Mick, I’m pretty sure your wallet is fatter than mine.”

Mostly I talked about Richard Yates, the great mainstream writer. I’ll share with you the story I told at the Edgars, with a few extra touches, since Otto isn’t handy to berate me.

As I began trying to write fiction, I was well-aware of the Writers Workshop in Iowa City, just 35 miles from my house, and I always assumed I’d go there. Never thought I’d have to do anything but just enroll. The Workshop was (and is) a graduate program, but they had a single undergraduate section of about a dozen junior and senior students. In August 1968, two months or so after Barb and I got married, I was due to start at the U of Iowa as a junior (after two years at Muscatine Community College) and thought I better go up there and submit my manuscript, as I’d learned was required.


Richard Yates

Richard Yates was the instructor. I found him in his office where he was straightening things in preparation for the coming semester. A lot of skinny little manuscripts were arrayed on his desk. Short stories. Amateurs! Me, I had a novel tucked under my arm (MOURN THE LIVING).

Yates had a full-face beard and looked like a benevolent version of John Brown, the abolitionist. His eyes were always a little sad and that first day was no exception. I began enthusiastically talking about how I’d been writing mystery and suspense stories, including four novels, since junior high – that my heroes were Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler and James M. Cain…I left out Spillane, knowing he was frowned upon. When I stopped bubbling over like a shaken bottle of pop, Yates took the novel from my hands and regard me with pity.

“I will take a look at this,” he said, “but I hold out no false hope to you. This kind of thing is not what we do here. We are serious writers at the Workshop, writing serious fiction.”

I went home with my tail tucked between my legs, my very dejection a cliche, my world shattered.

A few days later the phone rang. Barb, who’d endured my bleak self-pitying jag, answered, then looked at me with surprise, covering the mouthpiece, and said, “It’s that Richard Yates….”

I took the phone, wondering what abuse waited.

“Mr. Collins,” he said, “I owe you an apology. I’ve read your novel. You’re very serious about what you do, and you’re writing at a professional level above anything else that’s been submitted to me. I would be very pleased to have you in my class.”

Then, after a long pause filled by my stuttering non-response, he said, “You know, my wife and I watch Carol Burnett every week, and we laugh and laugh, and have such a good time. And I was reminded of your novel.”

I could just see the blurb – “In the Tradition of Hammett, Chandler and Carol Burnett!”

“And it occurred to me,” he said, “that there’s no shame in creating entertainment.”

Thereafter Dick Yates was my champion, even in the instances when he wasn’t my instructor, throughout the rest of my years at the Workshop. He worked with me at his home, had Barb and me over for dinner, and he landed me my first agent (Knox Burger).

First ironic postscript: I had to submit all over again to get into the graduate Workshop. But when I went to pick up my submission at the Workshop office, I was told I’d been declined, and the manuscript of Bait Money was handed back to me. By a quirk of fate, my evaluation was accidentally left in the manuscript, showing I’d been rejected by a grad student whose job was to thin the pile. And I was rejected for the same reasons that Yates had once given me before he read my manuscript.

“If the applicant wants to write this kind of thing,” the grad student wrote, “he doesn’t need to go to the Workshop to do it.”

I took this immediately to Yates – Bait Money had been written under his guidance and supervision – and he went to the top guy at the Workshop. The book was given to three instructors (not grad students) and received the highest rating possible. I was in.

Second ironic postscript: my graphic novel Road to Perdition into a film directed by Sam Mendes. Yates’ great novel Revolutionary Road was made into a film directed by Sam Mendes. Of course, Richard Yates didn’t live to see either.

We lose people along the way. My producing partner Ken Levin lost his wife Mary recently. My friend Ed Keenan, who Matt Clemens, Ed’s wife Steph and I so often played poker with, died while I was in NYC. At the Edgars, I sat watching an “in memoriam” video, and got blindsided by the smiling faces of Ed Gorman and Miguel Ferrer.

That’s why I write these pieces from time to time. To remind myself, and share with you, some of these wonderful people, who stay with us long after they’re gone.

* * *

A nice if brief write-up about the Edgars event, with pics not seen elsewhere, is here.

And a nice write-up about the night can be seen here.

Here’s a nice Executive Order review.

Here’s one for Murder Never Knocks, just out in paper.

Check out this review of the new Hammer, The Will to Kill.

And you can get a signed copy of Will to Kill here (and even see a pic of me signing it) from Otto Penzler’s Mysterious Bookshop. The description says it’s a collection (and they do have copies of Long Time Dead that I signed as well), but Will to Kill is a novel.

M.A.C.

Antiques Frame Just Published

Tuesday, April 25th, 2017

Hardcover:
E-Book: Amazon Google Play Nook Kobo iTunes
MP3 CD:

This week Antiques Frame, the latest “Trash ‘n’ Treasures” mystery by Barb and me (writing as Barbara Allan), goes on sale. There’s also an audio book, which we’ve sampled but haven’t listened to all the way through, though the narrator this time is much more to our liking.

I realize that certain of my readers may not be inclined to pick up a “cozy” mystery, but some reviewers have realized that the series is in part a tongue-in-cheek send-up of that genre, and also that the novels have a certain edge, even if they aren’t Mike Hammer or Nate Heller or Quarry.

This particular novel has special meaning for me – not because it’s my favorite in the series (that might be Antiques Fate, just out in mass market paperback) but because it represented a real breakthrough for me. Antiques Frame was the first book I (co-)wrote after my open-heart surgery and the stroke I had, just for fun, on the operating table. As regular readers here may recall, I woke up in the hospital to a right arm and, to some degree, right side that were as useful as a broken hinge.

At the hospital I had both physical therapy and occupational therapy, and was helped by a number of terrific people in those disciplines. My right side came back within days – I was walking well and able to do the exercises asked of me, from riding stationery bikes to going up and down stairs. But my right hand remained feeble. The idea of typing with it again seemed abstract. The most disheartening thing was that I had lost my signature.

The doctors and therapists assured me I would get my right hand back, and the doctors especially implied the use would just back on its own. Not true. I had to work hard at it, with exercises ranging from rubber band contraptions to just flat out trying to write my name over and over again.

For a writer, the loss of his or her signature is a blow to the ego, to the very idea of identity. I was determined to get it back. But my biggest fear was losing the ability to type with both hands. Fortunately, almost immediately, I had some ability to use the hand – weak as hell, though. At home I soon found that a computer keyboard is sensitive enough that very faint pressure is all that’s required. My typing style is two-fisted, having trained on (and for a long time using) manual typewriters.

So my left hand was typically strong and my right weak as a kitten. This required backing off on my left. I began writing e-mails and this weekly blog. Very soon I was able to type passably well, and the first project I tackled – still spending time with physical and occupational therapy, for several weeks here at home before going to a facility – was my draft of Antiques Frame.

Again, if you’re a regular visitor here you may know how Barb and I operate on these books. We come up with a title and a basic plot, and sometimes plot the books together and sometimes our plotting session has been good enough that Barb can break down the chapters in an outline of sorts herself. She also does character lists and time lines. The book had been plotted, roughly, before my hospital stay.

She writes a rough draft, usually 200 to 250 pages. I then write my draft of 300 to 325 pages, mostly adding jokes and polishing, plus expanding dialogue. This time she wrote a good deal of her draft in my hospital room on a laptop. As the books are humorous mysteries, I’m not sure how she managed that.

When I began working on the book, I discovered that she had (not surprisingly) done a fine job, but (somewhat surprisingly) the humor quotient was typically high. In my diminished state, I hoped I could keep the thing funny, too. Frankly, I was hoping it would just be in English. But the effort went well, and working on a “Barbara Allan” was the perfect way for me to get back up on the writing horse and write/ride.

My right hand came back within a couple of months, pretty much strong as ever. And several more months later, when the galley proofs arrived of Antiques Frame, I swallowed hard and sat down to read them. I was amazed to find out the book was not only in English, but a solid and very funny entry in the series. It’s a reminder that writers live chiefly in their heads – their physical state is something they have to deal with, obviously, but as long as the mental engine is firing on all cylinders, the rest is incidental.

The other thing I learned is how good my wife has gotten at writing, and how generally wonderful a woman she is – actually, I already knew, but the experience of taking my pass on Antiques Frame was sweet confirmation.

* * *

Barb and I are preparing for our NYC trip for the Edgar awards and my receiving the Grand Master award. That’s on Thursday evening. For those of you in the New York area, here’s the line-up for the Wednesday Edgar-week symposium, which includes Charles Ardai of Hard Case Crime interviewing me.
Symposium Schedule

Cost: $95 members; $125 non-members – with a $15 retroactive discount for those who join MWA within 30 days after.

8:30 – 8:50: Registration

8:55 – 9:00: Welcome – MWA’s Executive Vice President – Donna Andrews

9:00 – 9:50: Meet the Class of 2017 – Best First Novel Nominees
Moderator: STEFANIE PINTOFF, 2010 Best First Edgar Winner (City on Edge, Bantam)
Panelists: Flynn Berry (2017 Best First Edgar Nominee – Under the Harrow, Penguin Books)
Bill Beverly (2017 Best First Edgar Nominee – Dodgers, Crown Publishing)
Joe Ide (2017 Best First Edgar Nominee – IQ, Little, Brown & Co – Mulholland Books)
Nick Petrie (2017 Best First Edgar Nominee – The Drifter – G.P. Putnam’s Sons)
Lili Wright (2017 Best First Edgar Nominee – Dancing with the Tiger – Marian Wood/Putnam)
Heather Young (2017 Best First Edgar Nominee – The Lost Girls – William Morrow)

10:00 – 10:50: From the Writer’s Desk, Part 1
Grand Master Max Allan Collins interviewed by Charles Ardai

11:00 – 11:50: Just the Facts – If you’re not writing what you know, you’re writing what you want to know – and today’s savvy reader will send you a note if you get it wrong, How do writers of fiction and nonfiction crime approach research? When do they know they’ve researched enough?
Moderator: LAURIE R. KING, MWA NorCal Chapter President (Murder of Mary Russell – Bantam)
Panelists: Ruth Franklin (2017 Best Critical/Bio Nominee – Shirley Jackson – W.W. Norton)
Laurence Leamer (2017 Best Fact Crime Nominee – The Lynching – William Morrow)
Kate Summerscale (2017 Best Fact Crime Nominee – The Wicked Boy – Penguin Press)
Caroline (Charles) Todd (2017 MHC Award Nominee – The Shattered Tree – William Morrow)
James Ziskin (2017 Best PBO Nominee – Heart of Stone – Seventh Street Books)

11:50 – 1:00 Lunch Break (On Your Own)

1:00 – 1:50: Nursery Noir – Writers of mysteries for young readers may have the toughest audience of all. How do dark stories translate for the teen and tween set? How do adult writers get into the minds – and hearts – of kid readers?
Moderator: LORI RADER-DAY, MWA Midwest Chapter President (The Day I Died – William Morrow)
Panelists: Brent Hartinger (2017 Best Young Adult Nominee – Three Truths and a Lie – Simon Pulse)
April Henry (2017 Best Young Adult Nominee – The Girl I Used to Be – Christy Ottaviano Books)
Sarah Lariviere (2017 Best Juvenile Nominee – The Bad Kid – Simon & Schuster BFYR)
James Ponti (2017 Best Juvenile Nominee – Framed! – Aladdin)
Billy Taylor (2017 Best Young Adult Nominee – Thieving Weasels – Penguin YR – Dial Books)
Susan Vaught (2017 Best Juvenile Nominee – Things Too Huge to Fix by Saying Sorry – Paula Wiseman Books)

2:00 – 2:50 Liars Club – Liars, cheats, thieves, murderers – and, sometimes, those are the protagonists. How do writers create characters that keep readers up at night? How do they create empathy in characters who make bad guys look pretty good?
Moderator: JEFFERY DEAVER, 2017 MWA President (The Burial Hour – Grand Central Publishing)
Panelists: Laura Benedict (2017 Best Short Story Nominee – “A Paler Shade of Death” – St. Louis Noir)
Alafair Burke (2017 Best Novel Nominee – The Ex – HarperCollins)
Robert Dugoni (2017 Best PBO Nominee – The 7th Canon – Thomas & Mercer)
Lyndsay Faye (2017 Best Novel Nominee – Jane Steele – G.P. Putnam’s Sons)
Alison Gaylin (2017 Best Novel Nominee – What Remains of Me – William Morrow)
Martha Hillier (2017 Best TV Episode Nominee – “Dark Road” – Vera)

3:00 – 3:50: #AuthorLife – There’s no one way to be a crime writer. Agent/no agent. Small press/big five. Plotter/pantser forever. How did these authors get into the life of crime – and what advice do they have for aspiring writers taking a stab at mystery?
Moderator: MARK STEVENS, MWA Rocky Mtn Chapter President (Lake of Fire – Midnight Ink)
Panelists: Megan Abbott (2017 Best Short Story Nominee – “Oxford Girl” – Mississippi Noir)
Patricia Abbott (2017 Best PBO Nominee – Shot in Detroit – Polis Books)
Reed Farrel Coleman (2017 Best Novel Nominee – Where it Hurts – G.P. Putnam’s Sons)
Tyler Dilts (2017 Best PBO Nominee – Come Twilight – Thomas & Mercer)
Adrian McKinty (2017 Best PBO Nominee – Rain Dogs – Seventh Street Books)
Wendy Corsi Staub (2017 MHC Award Nominee – Blue Moon – William Morrow)

4:00 – 4:50: From the Writer’s Desk, Part 2
Grand Master Ellen Hart – Interviewed by Oline Cogdill

* * *

All the books have been mailed out on our “free books” offer. Just about everyone who requested one got one.

The newly published Executive Order has received some nice notices, like this one.

And another one here.

This article includes me as a mystery writer doing some TV scripting.

Finally, and I kid you not (as Jack Paar used to say), here’s a review of the 1985 trade paperback, The Files of Ms. Tree Vol. 1.

M.A.C.

The Big Time

Tuesday, April 18th, 2017

The picture was taken at the Muscatine, Iowa, Wal-Mart, showing the paperback edition of The Big Showdown for sale on its shelves. This, my friends, is truly the big time. I haven’t spotted a book of mine here since the heyday of the CSI tie-ins.

I’d had reports of sightings of The Legend of Caleb York at Wal-Marts here and there around the USA, but it didn’t make it to my hometown, where the book area is fairly modest. Romances make up the biggest number of titles, but westerns are also a staple. Mysteries/thrillers of mine don’t make the cut.

While the new Mike Hammer novels, and the several non-Hammer Hard Case Crime posthumous Spillane titles, have all done modestly well, the success of Spillane as a western byline might just have more impact. And Wal-Mart is a big part of that, because they are one of the few book outlets that support Westerns, big time.

And the Spillane byline has real resonance with the older audience that buys Westerns. Not all Western readers are Baby Boomers like me, who recognize the name of the bestselling fiction writer of the 20th Century. But a good share are. Mickey’s friend Louis L’Amour, who died in 1988, is still one of the top names in the Western field.

Mickey, of course, viewed Mike Hammer as a Western-style hero moved to the urban frontier. He often said that Hammer “wore the black hat,” but was a good guy nonetheless.

Though I’ve been a fan of Western movies and TV since childhood – what Baby Boomer male wasn’t? – I never considered writing a Western novel. I’ve only read a handful in my life. But one of my earliest obsessions was the Maverick TV show, and a good deal of Bret Maverick got into Nate Heller. And I watched all those shows – Bat Masterson, The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, Gunsmoke (when it was thirty minutes), Yancy Derringer and so many more.

And some of my favorite films are westerns – The Searchers, Ride the High Country, Rio Bravo, Red River, The Tall T, Comanche Station, Ride Lonesome, Seven Men from Now, and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. My character Nolan drew from the Italian westerns of Lee Van Cleef – The Big Gundown, Death Rides a Horse, For a Few Dollars More.

So maybe it was inevitable that, before I rode off into the sunset, I’d be writing some Westerns. I had already written the novelization of the movie version of Maverick and the Wyatt Earp Meets Al Capone novel, Black Hats (new edition coming from Brash Books).

Plus the unproduced screenplay of Mickey’s that started it all, The Saga of Calli York, was written for his pal John Wayne. (“Calli” a now inappropriate nickname for “Caleb,” the former dropped from the books.) You’ll note quite a few Wayne titles among those listed above. I had only intended to write the one book, novelizing that screenplay, but my editor at Kensington Books insisted on three novels. And now I’ve signed to do two more.

This marks the first time Mickey’s byline appears with mine on books to which he didn’t contribute any writing. But the Caleb York yarns use his characters and situations and are a legitimate extension of the vision he developed in the screenplay – a winning combination of the Western myth of those John Wayne and Randolph Scott westerns and a more violent, pre-Leone approach.

The sex is there, too, but somewhat soft-pedaled. Apparently Wal-Mart will go for the tough stuff, but nothing smutty. Maybe that’s why Nate Heller never made it on their shelves….

* * *

I had a fun e-mail from my old pal Steve Noah that I’d like to share with you.

“Max,
Am in Kigali, Rwanda at 1:20 AM finishing EXECUTIVE ORDER and thought you might be interested to know that the clever lighting of the Washington Monument you mention on page 233 was provided by Musco Sports Lighting, with ties to Muscatine.
Best,
Steve”

My thanks to Steve for this fascinating info.

Musco is a very famous lighting company, much used in big-time sports and by Hollywood. The “Musc,” as you may have figured out, stands for Muscatine, the river town of 23,000 where Barb and I have always lived.

The Musco operation is adjacent to the junk yard where the climax of my movie Mommy was shot in 1994. They provided the lighting. I often joke that they just turned their lighting trucks around and pointed them our way, but really they did much more than that.

I’m honored that this incredibly famous company supported my small filmmaking endeavor.

* * *

Wild Dog is a regular on Arrow, now. Still haven’t seen any episodes. I’ll watch when I receive a check.

M.A.C.

Hey, Kids! Free Books…Again!

Tuesday, April 11th, 2017

Paperback:
E-Book:
Audio MP3 CD:

Once more, we are going to offer copies of our work – and I’m talking in the editorial “we” to some extent, but also about Barb and me – to the first responders (and not just cops and fireman) among readers who agree to post an Amazon review. Barnes & Noble works, too, and if you have your own blog, that’s great also. But Amazon seems to be where sales get an impact.

As has happened to me too many times to mention, I have a bunch of books coming out more or less at once. So here’s what’s on offer…

The Will to Kill by Mickey Spillane and You Know Who. The new Mike Hammer that I wrote working from Spillane material, and something of a change of pace, with an Agatha Christie-type set-up complete with greedy offsprings in a big remote house.

Antiques Frame by Barbara Allan. Brandy goes to jail accused of murdering the wife of the man she’s been dating for much of the series, and Mother must investigate, including contemplating attracting attention by going “the partial Vivian” (as opposed to the Full Monty). These are funny novels and if they don’t make you laugh, you’re dead from the neck up. Available are a mix of trade paperback advance copies and a few hardcovers.

Antiques Fate by Barbara Allan. This is the paperback reprint of last year’s hardcover. Brandi and her mother go to an English-style village where Vivian will do her one-woman show of “the Scottish play,” and murder most foul will ensue.

The Big Showdown by Mickey Spillane and me. The second Caleb York western, now in paperback. The crazy brothers of somebody Caleb killed in the first book are on the warpath, and they aren’t even Indians. There’s also a mystery growing out of the murder of a recurring character. (Well, not recurring anymore….)

Executive Order by M.A.C. and Matthew V. Clemens. The conclusion to the “Branches of Government” trilogy of political thrillers which are almost as bat-shit crazy as the real world. Have you met Reeder and Rogers yet? If you haven’t tried one of these, what are you waiting for?

Five copies of each are available. Write me at [REDACTED] and list, in order of preference, the books that interest you. You’ll only get one of the titles. If there’s something you already have or aren’t keen on getting, don’t list it.

IMPORTANT: include in your e-mail your snail-mail address. You’ll likely be skipped over if you don’t. Also, this is only for the USA. Canadians must buy the books to read them. Don’t feel bad – Trump isn’t your president.

Okay? Got the rules?

These go fast, but it usually takes at least a few days, so don’t give up without trying.

And if you’re already a paying customer for any of these, picture me on my knees begging: write Amazon reviews of the books of mine/ours you’ve read lately. Post those reviews on your blogs and Facebook pages, but make sure to do so at Amazon. Will to Kill, a novel people really seem to like, is very under-reviewed. Quarry in the Black could also use some love, and the same goes for Better Dead.

Grass roots attention is important. The trades (Publisher’s Weekly, Booklist, Library Journal, Kirkus) are reviewing less and less of my material, apparently because when a series runs a while, they just don’t bother. Or maybe they just think I write too much. Even Mystery Scene and Ellery Queen are spotty – the last Queen review just lumped a bunch of my books together.

This doesn’t go for just me – any writer you like, any writer you follow, will benefit (and stay in business) by you writing an Amazon review and/or a Blog entry. A good place to start? My stuff.

Thank you.

Speaking of reviews, here’s a nifty one of The Will to Kill.

Here’s a piece wondering if there will be a second season of Quarry, wishing there would be. From your lips to Cinemax’s ear.

Some coverage of the Stacy Keach Mike Hammer audios can be found here.

And Ms. Tree gets some love here, including a podcast (that I haven’t heard yet).

M.A.C.