A Rotten Tomato for Rotten Tomatoes

May 8th, 2018 by Max Allan Collins

NEWS FLASH: McFarland, who published Mickey Spillane on Screen, is having a big sale. If you avoided this book because of its high price, you can get it for 25% off now, by using the code POPCULTURE25 – that puts it at $26.25, a price that is actually not insane!

Celebrate Mickey Spillane’s birthday with the best critical work ever written about him!

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Barb and I completed and shipped Antiques Ravin’ a few days ago. It’s always an intense ride, as she spends many months on her draft and then I spend a month or so expanding and revising, with her closely supervising. My job is largely to polish and expand, dialogue particularly, plus I add a lot of jokes (and there are always plenty before I start my work, which is why the books are very funny) (no modesty about that at all).

I believe we are at a dozen books in the series. That makes the Trash ‘n’ Treasures books one of my biggest successes in publishing, and I owe it all to Barb.

We sent out five copies of the recently published Antiques Wanted to the first five of you to request a copy, as part of our latest book giveaway.

If you’re won a copy of this (or of Killing Town, The Last Stand or The Bloody Spur), do please post Amazon (and other) reviews. The Last Stand has received a lot of attention, but perhaps because of that, Killing Town has gone almost unnoticed by the professional reviewing community. Judging by the positive response of readers so far – and the historic significance of Killing Town as the first Mike Hammer novel – the critical shrug to the book’s existence is frustrating and a little sad.

Speaking of critics….

As some of you may recall, I gave up my role as Mystery Scene’s film reviewer after I made a film myself and found out how fricking hard it is. Making even a bad film is an extremely tough endeavor for all concerned. The collaborative nature of the process, as well as the financial burdens and responsibilities, means that any time a good film happens, it does just that: it happens, almost in spite of itself. A good film, let alone a great one, is something of a miracle.

So for a long time I resisted the urge to write bad reviews of films. And nothing is easier than writing a bad review, particularly in the age of snark. I still refuse opportunities to write reviews of books by other mystery writers for a myriad of reasons, not the least of which is conflict of interest.

I remember once when Tony Hillerman wrote a negative review in a major publication of one of the early Heller novels, how much it hurt to be attacked from above like that, how unkind and lacking in grace it was, coming not only from a writer much more successful than me, but from someone who I’d played poker with and with whom I’d socialized in a friendly way.

But, if you follow this update at all, you know that I have given in to my not better angels and written the occasional bad review of a movie. I have in particular reported when Barb and I have walked out. Because we go to the movies, on average, once a week – an effort to get out of the house where we both do our work – we have gotten into the habit of deciding at least in part about what we will see based on Rotten Tomatoes, where professional critics have their reviews averaged into a fresh or unfresh rating.

This habit has proved about as helpful as getting hooked on opioids.

Two cases in point.

The Blumhouse horror film, Truth or Dare, has a 15% rating on Rotten Tomatoes – decidedly unfresh. Stuck in the nearby Quad Cities, while Barb dealt with a Social Security problem her 93-year-old mother was having, I took in that film, just to kill time. While Barb has warmed to horror films some, I still have to go by myself at times, if one doesn’t appeal to her. I went to Truth or Dare.

Which was scary and well-directed, nicely acted, well-written, and everything a horror film of its kind should be. Somewhat similar to the Final Destination films, but stressing characterization in a far deeper fashion, Truth or Dare is creepy, involving fun. But it’s a horror film, and isn’t politically correct like Get Out (also Blumhouse, incidentally), so the critics don’t like it. None of them seem to understand that what a genre film, or any film, must do its work on its own terms.

Okay. So I Feel Pretty (I really do!). Barb and I both like Amy Schumer; loved her TV series, enjoyed Trainwreck, though we skipped Statched because Goldie Hawn’s plastic surgery was too disturbing.

Anyway, for whatever reason, the trailer of I Feel Pretty didn’t grab us, though we probably would have gone had we not read so many bad reviews of it. Rotten Tomatoes gives it 34% – definitely not fresh.

Then we heard Bill Maher talk about the film, and specifically the critical reaction to it, on Real Time. Now a lot of liberals dislike Maher, and a lot of conservatives dislike him, too. Which probably speaks well for him. I don’t always agree with him, but I don’t have to always agree with people to be interested in what they have to say.

Here is what Bill said about I Feel Pretty:

I do agree with everything he said here, particularly nailing movie critics (book critics, take heed) for taking a filmmaker to task for not making the movie that said critic would have made. This is precisely what Gene Siskel used to do. He always beat up on movies that weren’t done the way he would have (this from a guy whose favorite film was Saturday Night Fever). I hope Siskel is in Purgatory right now, where he is not allowed to move on until he makes a movie as good as Plan Nine From Outer Space (good luck).

Anyway, Barb and I went to I Feel Pretty and it was very good. Funny as hell, with Schumer’s performance particularly strong (Michelle Williams is remarkable, too). Its message about self-esteem (including the pitfalls of too much of it) is clear and positive, without shortchanging the laughs. A perfect Sunday afternoon matinee movie.

Rotten Tomatoes, you deserve a basket of them tossed at you, one at a sloppy time.

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Here are this year’s International Association of Media and Tie-in Writers “Scribe” Award nominations (and I’m pleased to be among them):

Short Story:
“Banana Republic” by Jonathan Maberry
“Ganbatte” by Keith DeCandido
“Murderers’ Row” by John Jackson Miller
“Pacing Place” by Bob Mayer
“Rear Guard” by Sarah Stegall
“Storm Blood” by Peter Wacks and David Boop

Adapted Speculative and General:
Doctor Who: The Pirate Planet by James Goss
Resident Evil: The Final Chapter by Tim Waggoner
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets by Christie Golden
Kong Skull Island by Tim Lebbon

Original Speculative:
The Librarians and the Mother Goose Chase by Greg Cox
Solar Singularity by Peter J. Wacks, Guy Anthony Demarco, and Josh Voight
Halo: Legacy of Onyx by Matt Forbeck
Star Wars Battlefront II: Inferno Squad by Christie Golden
Star Trek Discovery: Desperate Hours by David Mack
Supernatural: The Usual Sacrifices by Yvonne Navarro

Original General:
Don Pendleton’s The Executioner Fatal Prescription by Michael A. Black
The Will to Kill by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins
Robert B. Parker’s The Hangman’s Sonnet A Jesse Stone Novel by Reed Farrel Coleman

YA Original:
Star Wars Adventures in Wild Space – The Cold by Cavan Scott
Warriors Three: Godhood’s End by Keith R. A. DeCandido
X-Files Origins: Devil’s Advocate by Jonathan Maberry

Audio:
Doctor Who: Across the Darkened City by David Bartlett
Doctor Who: Cold Vengeance by Matt Fitton
Warhammer 40,000: Agent of the Throne, Blood and Lies by John French
Torchwood: Cascade by Scott Handcock
Torchwood: The Dying Room by Lizzie Hopley

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Here’s one of the few Killing Town reviews so far. It’s from Ron Fortier and it’s a beauty.

A nice mention of Antiques Wanted can be found in this fun blog.

This is a quirky but positive review of the audio of Murder Never Knocks, which the reviewer calls Murder Never Knows (which does indicate a certain lack of regard to detail).

Take a look at this fun review of The Last Stand (with kind words about “A Bullet for Satisfaction”).

Finally, here’s a nifty write-up about Spillane, with an emphasis on the novel The Girl Hunters, from top-flight tough-guy writer, Wayne Dundee. I hope Wayne is following the posthumous Hammer novels, and is aware that Complex 90 is really more of a sequel to The Girl Hunters than even The Snake.

M.A.C.

Book Giveaway: The Sequel!

May 1st, 2018 by Max Allan Collins

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

The new Trash ‘n’ Treasures novel, Antiques Wanted, is in stores now in hardcover and e-book editions. Don’t miss it!

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Spring lassos small-town Serenity, as Brandy Borne’s crime-bustin’ mama Vivian hatches a harebrained scheme to run for county sheriff—ropin’ in her daughter to join the rodeo as campaign manager. As the two-woman posse tracks down voters at a local assisted-living home, Brandy’s attempts at corralling Mother’s impractical whims make her feel like a tinhorn on a bucking bronco. But sure as shootin’, unhappy trails lie ahead….

Shortly after the Borne gals receive a valuable signed photo of an old-timey cowboy actor from the elderly aunt of Vivian’s political opponent, a massive explosion sends Brandy to the ER and auntie to the grave.

With a string of unexplained deaths turning Sunny Meadow into Boot Hill, the ditzy duo—aided by their clever shih tzu Sushi—must lay down the law on a deadly outlaw . . . before someone’s elected the next victim, with the Bornes headin’ toward their last round-up!

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[Note from Nate: All copies given away. Thank you for your support!]

We have finished copies of the hardcover edition of Antiques Wanted in hand now, and have five to share with readers willing to do a review for Amazon and/or other venues (Barnes & Noble, blogs, etc.).

As usual, you must write me at [REDACTED], and include your snail mail address. United States residents only. These will go quickly, so act now. How will know if you win? A book will show up in the mail. We’ll get them out quickly.

As it happens, right now we are wrapping up the next Barbara Allan-bylined novel (she’s Barbara, I’m Allan) (if “I’m Dickens, He’s Fenster” jumped into your mind, you are both old and strange) (talking to you, Mike Doran).

Barb works on her draft for six months or more, and I spend around a month on mine, a very intense process on my part, with Barb staying handy to answer plot questions and such. I polish throughout and wind up adding about a fourth more pages. This novel – Antiques Ravin’ – has an Edgar Allan Poe theme and is the darkest of the books, but with plenty of off-the-wall humor. It’s also the most action-packed (and victim-strewn) of the novels thus far.

Because I am deep in the throes of my draft, I will make today’s update short. But I do want to comment on the nice response for my last two columns, discussing my insistence on clothing my characters (in the first essay), and in stripping them off the attractive female characters (subject of the second essay).

I admit in writing the previous update that I was not thinking in terms of political correctness, in relation to the complaints about sex scenes coming in from some readers. Rather, I was looking at such scenes in terms of characterization and narrative strategy. But I have noticed that a good share of such comments seem to come from younger readers – at my age, “younger” is under forty – which does indicate a cultural shift.

But political correctness has been a problem almost from the beginning for the Nathan Heller saga, going all the way back to the mid-‘80s. That is because I have insisted on Heller’s point of view and speech reflecting the period he’s writing about, as well as his own point in time – in other words, these are the memoirs of a man who was born early in the twentieth century.

So Heller may say “colored” or “Negro” where an African American is concerned. A young woman may be a “girl” to him. An Italian may be a “wop.” Complaints along those lines have been with Heller and me from the start. Neither of us care. Sometimes we have to fight copy editors over such things.

More recently Heller (and Mike Hammer’s and Quarry’s) tendency to give us a somewhat leering appraisal of a young woman’s physicality bothers some readers and reviewers. Again, I don’t care. It’s who these protagonists are. It’s who I am, to some degree, having been a male on the planet for seventy years. I am willing to retrain myself in a lot of ways. Me not noticing, and even cataloguing, a female’s attributes (that word itself seems politically incorrect now) is just is not going to happen.

If a young politically correct heterosexual male wants to pretend he doesn’t notice that a woman is attractive, that’s up to him. But he’s lying not just to us but to himself. I would venture to say the same about heterosexual women and good-looking men (the definition of “good-looking,” of course, being a matter of personal taste and inclination). I’m going to take a wild guess and say this applies to gay men and women, too.

I have been married for fifty years to one of the most enduringly beautiful women on earth. But you can bet I notice the pretty girls (yes, I said girls) who wander across my line of vision.

I should also say that my sex scenes are often, to some degree, meant to make a reader uncomfortable. Again, back at the very start of Heller (in True Detective), I dealt with such things as the use of prophylactics and the aftermath of a virgin’s first sexual experience resulting in blood on the sheets. A good pal of mine, also a private eye writer, objected to my including such things, which spoiled the myth and the romance for him.

This, to me, isn’t any different than when a very famous private eye writer complained about Nate Heller dropping a case when Frank Nitti paid the detective off to drop a case (which Heller did, and bought himself a new suit). I was scolded that a Chandler-esque private eye (and Heller comes out of Phillip Marlowe as much as he does Sam Spade and Mike Hammer) shouldn’t take a bribe from a gangster! Horrors! But Heller knew if he didn’t do what Frank Nitti told him to, my private eye’s bullet-riddled body would wind up in a ditch.

As I touched upon last week, my approach has always been to provide a realistic surface to the larger-than-life doings of the story at hand, thereby making the melodrama play like drama. The notion that Hammett, Chandler, Spillane and for that matter Ross MacDonald brought “realism” to the mystery story is idiotic. The novels of those four are romances (in the non-lovey-dovey sense).

It’s no accident that Mickey Spillane’s favorite writer was Alexander Dumas – The Three Musketeers ends much as I, the Jury does, and The Count of Monte Cristo is a revenge tale.

* * *

Barb and I both liked The Avengers: Infinity War very much. Despite death looming over every frame, the humor of the Guardians of the Galaxy movies and the most recent Thor, and well-tooled quips for Robert Downey’s Iron Man, influence Infinity Wars, making the ride as fun as it is harrowing. The narrative strategy of following little groups within the larger group, and giving the story to each mini-team for a while, works beautifully.

The only weak part is the Black Panther stuff, despite the popularity of the recent movie, which we walked out of, as some of you may recall. Speaking of political correctness, it’s a pandering thing, this Black Panther concept (the actor playing the B.P. is dignified and fine, however).

* * *

This site reports that I am not dead. What a relief!

Finally, here’s another Spillane birthday tribute.

M.A.C.

Let’s Talk About Sex!

April 24th, 2018 by Max Allan Collins

Last time I discussed why I use clothing and setting descriptions for characterization, as well as to let the reader know how I see things. This was in response to complaints from readers who are bored by such material, and apparently have not developed an ability to skim.

The other complaint I’ve been getting lately – and not until lately, which is interesting – are the sex scenes in my books. Here are some typical Amazon complaints (turds in the punch bowl of many positive reviews) of Quarry’s Climax.

“As one might expect from the title, this is 33% story and 67% 14-year-old’s wet dream. If you’re 15, and still reading this stuff, better get checked out for some syndrome or another…”

“I’m a fan of the Nathan Heller series but this book was not written with an adult audience as it (sic) target. High school boys will love it; the rest of you, not so much.”

Several others took a similar tone.

Before we discuss, I request that you look at the cover of Quarry’s Climax and then read the back cover. Presumably this material was available to prospective buyers. Amazon includes the back cover copy, for example, on their listing.

Back already? Okay. Can anyone tell me why this cover, part of line famous for politically incorrect retro covers, would be on a book that lacked sexual content? How about the back cover, which tells prospective readers that the book is “raunchy,” and is about the publisher of a pornographic magazine who also runs a strip club? Any possibility, do you think, that the story within will have sexual content?

But there are actual reasons for the sexual content that have nothing to do with fairness-in-packaging. Like clothing and setting descriptions, sex scenes in my novels have to do with characterization, both of Quarry himself and the individual women.

For example, in The Wrong Quarry (perhaps my favorite Quarry novel), Quarry has affairs with an older woman and a young, wild one. Actually, the older woman is initially wild too, but as she and Quarry start having a, shall we say, loving relationship, their sex becomes rather conventional…married people sex, you might say. Meanwhile he is seduced by the young wild woman in a sex scene of flashing black lights and a waterbed and, well, you see the difference.

The other big factor is the story itself. When I conceive a story, it’s not out of whole cloth. I find a premise I like, think about it at length, then gradually put together an outline of sorts, which changes and grows as the novel is written. I know who did it and why, where the murder mystery is concerned, but the rest has a certain freewheeling quality. For example, in Quarry’s Climax, our “hero” has an oral sex encounter fairly early on with a stripper, which was not planned. Call it organic.

So the subject matter creates a landscape where different sorts of scenes occur. In the Nathan Heller novel, Better Dead – which has two novella-like sections – Nate encounters a beautiful female Commie in part one, and Bette Page in part two. Do you suppose that Nate gets laid at all in that novel?

But in the recently completed Do No Harm, there’s only one mild sex scene, with a recurring love interest of Nate’s, because the investigation of a brutal murder that is in part a sex crime does not lend itself to sexual shenanigans in Heller’s doings. It didn’t feel right for the tone of the book, or where Heller’s head was at. But back in Better Dead, when Bette Page gets frisky, you can bet Nate is interested.

I understand that in the Me Too era, things have gotten weird. I find it telling, and a little sad, that many of the complaints about sex in my novels clearly come from millennials and whatever the “gen” after that is called. Once upon a time, old people frowned on my smut. Now it’s smug kids who have lived very little. (I’ll pause while my son decides whether or not to edit that out.) That we’re also in the era of Fifty Shades of Grey does confuse the issue some. Are sexy books for women okay, but for men are objectionable?

Those who assume I include sex for gratuitous reasons may be partly right. As a youth, I learned from Spillane and Fleming, and they always had sex scenes sprinkled in as spice. Connery’s Bond always bedded three beauties. But what interests me most is how nobody complains about the violence. I have had not a single one of these sex complainers object to Quarry’s wholesale homicide. Heller’s, either.

Or as the Frankenstein Monster might say, “Sex baaaad, violence goooood.”

Recently working on polishing and completing the ‘50s novella “A Bullet For Satisfaction” (featured in The Last Stand, and developed from unpublished material in Mickey’s files), I edited out a sex scene. Imagine! Why? The characterization was off.

“A Bullet for Satisfaction” appears to be a collaboration between Mickey and one of his writer pals, unidentified. I doubt Mickey would have made the mistake that I had to rectify – a mistake of characterization. A beautiful woman and hero Rod Dexter go to bed (like Connery’s Bond, Rod beds several beauties in the novella), but it’s out of character for both of them.

So out it went.

I will admit to one thing. Often I have told Barb, “I’m not sure Quarry (or Heller or Hammer) and the love interest will wind up having sex in this one.” But almost always, they do. Barb’s patient smile when I raise the issue indicates she already knew the answer.

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Here are more, better pics from the recent Crusin’ gig in Wilton, Iowa, at their annual all-classes reunion.

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I am sorry to report that Super Troopers 2 is terrible. I love the Broken Lizard guys, and have liked every other movie of theirs, including of course the first Super Troopers. Barb and I were looking forward to this perhaps too much, and I will give it another try on home video release.

But the timing seemed strangely off, the jokes and situations not terribly funny (unless you’re into the comedy stylings of Rob Lowe), particularly the endlessly mined central gag of Canada being stupid or something. We spend a bunch of time with a trio of Mounties who are doggedly unfunny, even Mad TV’s Will Sasso.

Didn’t walk out, though.

I hope this doesn’t spell the end for Broken Lizard, whose members are very talented and likable. We saw them in person at Iowa City a few years ago and they were terrific, and met them after, finding them friendly and down to earth.

As for Super Troopers 2, maybe you can’t go home again. Or maybe middle-aged men acting like the young bucks of the first film just doesn’t work the same way.

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Here’s a nice interview with me on the upcoming Mike Hammer mini-series (the four issues will be collected as a graphic novel).

And Publisher’s Weekly is interested in the Hammer mini-series, too.

M.A.C.

Killing Town In Stores Now

April 17th, 2018 by Nathan Collins

Hardcover:
E-Book:

Killing Town, the lost first Mike Hammer novel, is in stores now!

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Mike Hammer steals a ride on a train upstate to Killington. But he is welcomed by a nasty surprise: he is accused by police of raping and murdering a young woman near the freight yards. Roughed up by the cops and facing a murder charge, Hammer’s future looks bleak. Only a beautiful blonde, Melba Charles—daughter of powerful Senator Charles—might possibly save him… if he pays the price.

But why would Melba help save a man she has never met? And, more to the point, where is the real murderer?

From a brittle, brown manuscript, the first Mike Hammer novel—begun by Mickey Spillane in the mid-forties and completed seventy years later by Max Allan Collins—is a gift to mystery fans on the occasion of the noir master’s 100th birthday.

aug 19, 2003 visitors since August 19, 2003.