Put Some Damn Clothes On!

April 17th, 2018 by Max Allan Collins

Below is an excerpt from a review of The Bloody Spur from the Western Writers of America Roundup Magazine. It’s what you’d call a mixed review, on the patronizing side, and is mostly a plot summary, which I’ve skipped. But it raises some issues I’ve been wanting to talk about.

“There’s an overdose of descriptions of setting and clothing, and characters are stereotypical. But it’s enjoyable in a conventional-Western way, and the murder mystery has some intriguing twists.”

Let me get the stereotypical charge out of the way first. Yes, the characters established in Mickey’s 1950s screenplay are stereotypical – the stranger in town who becomes sheriff, a beautiful dance hall girl, a blind rancher, a lovely tomboy, and a cantankerous coot who becomes a deputy. There’s also a local doctor. What Mickey did, and what I have continued to try to do, is make these types specific and sometimes surprising in their characterizations, and to bring a gritty, even shocking amount of Spillane-style violence to the party as well as a mystery/crime element.

I don’t mean to respond to the reviewer, just to make clear where Mickey and I are coming from.

What I want to discuss is the charge that I do too much description of setting and clothing. I have always done a good deal of that, but it’s only in recent years that the occasional reviewer (particularly the Amazon variety) has bitched about it. The same is true of the sexual element, but that doesn’t apply too much to the Caleb York novels, so I’ll save that for a future discussion.

From my point of view, too many authors send their characters running around in books stark naked, and I don’t mean in sex scenes. I view clothing as a tool of characterization. The clothing a character wears tells us who this person is, and how these characters perceive themselves, and wish to be perceived.

Setting is the same. A description of a house, interior or exterior, tells us who lives there – a bedroom, particularly, is revealing of character.

Any reader who thinks I can on too much about clothing or setting is free to skip or scan. No harm, no foul.

In an historical novel – which westerns like the Caleb York books are by definition – setting is particularly important. It is also a big part of my 20th Century-set mysteries. If I take Nate Heller to a Hooverville or a strip club, you can bet I’ll give you chapter and verse about those settings. If Heller – in a 1960s-era story, when he’s become prosperous – is something of a clothes horse, that speaks of character, of who is and what he’s become. He’s rather shallow in that regard, frankly – part of his characterization.

In a Caleb York story, if I take my hero into an apothecary or a general store, you can bet I will describe the damn thing, and in some detail. York isn’t walking into a Walgreen’s or a Safeway, after all. Part of this is taking what is a mythic western – having to do with movies and ‘50s/’60s TV, more than the reality of the west – and giving it some verisimilitude. By keeping the underpinnings real, making the setting authentic, I can get away with the melodrama.

And what I do is melodrama. Nobody uses that word anymore, at least not correctly. But much of what I have done as a writer for over forty years is present a realistic surface on which to present my somewhat over-the-top stories.

Again, feel free to skim or skip passages that bore you. Elmore Leonard, great writer that he was, pretty much left you on your own. What he did worked for him (but his “rules” of writing are worthwhile only if you want to be Elmore Leonard when you grow up, and we already have one of those).

I am well aware that I am involved in a collaborative process with the reader. It amuses me when two readers argue over whether a book is good or not, as if they shared the same experience. Obviously they didn’t. Sometimes the play or movie mounted in a reader’s mind is a big-budget, beautifully cast affair; other readers are capable only of amateur night productions.

Leonard and others may wish to cede their stories to the whims and abilities of their readers. I know to some extent that is inevitable – because no two readers will have the same experience reading fiction. But I believe in controlling the narrative to the fullest extent that I can. I consider a chief responsibility of my job is doing my job – to do the work for you, where setting and clothing are concerned and much more.

I understand and accept that I’m blessed and sometimes burdened with readers who are my inevitable collaborators. But I want them to come as close to experiencing the movie I saw in my head, and put down on paper for them, as I possibly can.

* * *

This past Saturday, Crusin’ played the first gig of the season (defined as: not winter, though we were somewhat double-crossed by April sleet and snow). We performed for the Wilton, Iowa, High School Alumni banquet, a very well-attended event that had been going since five p.m. when we went on stage around nine-thirty. We held a good share of the audience for two sets (we took no break) and debuted a lot of new material…well, old material, although a new original was included.


L to R: M.A.C., Joe McClean, Steve Kundel, Bill Anson and Brian Van Winkle.

It went well, and our old friend Joe McClean, a Wilton area boy, joined us on several numbers. Joe was the heart and soul of the great Midwestern band the XL’s, who are also in the Iowa Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame.

Our new guitar player, Bill Anson, is doing a fine job, as are longtime drummer Steve Kundel and our bassist Brian Van Winkle, the “new guy” who has been with us seven years.

It felt great playing again. Loading afterward, not so much. And two days later I still am in anybody-get-the-name-of-that-truck mode.


M.A.C., Joe McClean.
* * *

My Scarface and the Untouchable co-author, A. Brad Schwartz, has written an op-ed piece for the Washington Post that has just appeared. Though I didn’t co-write it, I did some friendly editing and the piece beautifully discusses the somewhat facile comparisons being made of Trump as Capone and Comey/Mueller as Eliot Ness.

Wild Dog is back on Arrow this year. I haven’t watched the previous year yet.

Here’s a great review by Ron Fortier of the complete version of the Road to Perdition novel published by Brash Books.

Here’s where you can get signed copies of my books, including Killing Town and The Last Stand.

Road to Perdition the film is number three on this list of the best twelve Jude Law movies.

Finally, thanks to everyone who responded to the book giveaway posted last week. The books went quickly, and my apologies to those of you who missed out. Another will follow before too very long!

M.A.C.

Book Giveaway and C2E2

April 10th, 2018 by Max Allan Collins

I have four copies each of The Last Stand, Killing Town, The Bloody Spur and advance bound galley proofs of Antiques Wanted.

When these sixteen are gone, they are gone. [They’re gone! Thank you!]

E-mail me at REDACTED and list in order of preference which of these you’d like. If there’s one you don’t want, list only those you do. I need you to include your snail mail address – and it’s USA addresses only. I ask only that you post a review on Amazon and/or Barnes & Noble, or your own blog.

Today we are recuperating from Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo (C2E2). The con itself was great. We had some issues with the hotel (Marriott Marquis), which despite its proximity to the event itself at McCormick Place, required endless walking of skywalks to get to the sprawling facility. The very modern hotel did not include hot water in the shower. And at a con, brother is a shower a necessity.

Not surprisingly, a con like this requires more security than ever, pretty much the same as an airport. Signs of the times (literal signs) were posted everywhere informing attendees that “COSPLAY IS NOT CONSENT.” It shows how schitzy our culture is – young women in the MeToo era walking around near naked, representing themselves as characters mostly created by men at their most objectifying.

I would say perhaps as many as 25% of attendees were in costume, some changing two or three times a day. Fun and sometimes disturbing stuff, and always a roadblock in aisles as the momentarily famous pause to pose for photographs.

From my standpoint – Barb was not appearing, just being my support staff – it was a fine con. Both panels I did – one on horror, the other on Chicago crime – were extremely well-attended. The horror one was aided by the presence of James S. Murray, of the Impractical Jokers TV show (he’s written a horror novel, The Awakened). Very nice guy.

My signings, particularly the Saturday one, were well-attended. I met a lot of readers and had some fun conversations. Many of them brought books from home and the material was wide-ranging – I signed things I’d forgotten about and even a few I’d never seen before. A veteran told me of buying my books on a military base overseas – some of the books I signed for him had the PX’s mark. Cool and humbling.

* * *

Here’s a nice review of The Last Stand, including comments on “A Bullet for Satisfaction.”

The rest of this update will be photos from the con, courtesy of Barbara Collins.

* * *

Chicago Crime Panel, l to r, Crimespree editor Jon Jordan, M.A.C., David L. Carlson, Landis Blair (writer and artist of The Hunting Accident)


M.A.C. at Anderson Bookshop Booth


M.A.C. signing.


James Murray, M.A.C.

Chicago Comic Expo Starring Me

April 3rd, 2018 by Max Allan Collins

Well, maybe not starring…

But I will be appearing at C2E2 on this coming Saturday and Sunday. I’ll be doing one panel each day (details below) and a signing will follow each. I am told copies of the hardcover Killing Town will be available, almost two weeks ahead of the official on sale date.

The Comic & Entertainment Expo is a 3-day exhibition and conference of comic and pop culture with exhibits, talks and cosplay competitions.
Dates: Apr 6, 2018 – Apr 8, 2018
Location: McCormick Place – South Building, Chicago, IL

Here are the panels:

Horror in Fiction and Non-Fiction
April 07, 2018, 12:30 PM – 1:30 PM
Room S403
Whether it’s a haunting, a monster, or a mobster, horror is just one of those genres that crosses borders, from fiction to non-fiction. What does it take to make a story “horrific,” and why do we love it so much? Join authors Max Allan Collins (Scarface and the Untouchable), and James S. Murray (Awakened) as they discuss their love of things that go bump in the night and real-life scary stories.

Windy City Crime: Stories About The Chicago Gangland
April 08, 2018, 12:00 PM – 1:00 PM
Room S405a
The Chicago gangland of the 1920’s and 30’s remains legendary to this day, romanticized in films, tv shows, and popular songs. The true original gangsters are larger than life figures, icons of both history and popular culture. Join Max Allan Collins (Scarface and the Untouchable), David Carlson and Landis Blair (The Hunting Accident: A True Story of Crime and Poetry) for a discussion of one of some of Chicago’s most notorious gangsters.

There will be a later Chicago signing, for Scarface and the Untouchable, with both (A.) Brad Schwartz and (The) Max Allan Collins Sunday August 19 2 PM at Centuries and Sleuths. Okay, Mike Doran?

* * *

This will be a somewhat short update because I am up to my eyeballs (see photo) with the galley proofs of Scarface and the Untouchable. All 700-some pages of it. I have never had to spend this much time on a read-through, tweak-session before.

But because you are loyal enough (or bored enough or foolish enough) to read these updates every week, I will speak about some TV shows and a movie that Barb and I liked – no negative, walk-out stuff today.

The Death of Stalin is a very funny, very dark sort of satire with an amazing cast including Steve Buscemi (as Nikita Khrushchev!) and Jeffrey Tambor (thankfully not recast and digitally replaced or something). Everybody else is a top-flight British actor, and one of the delights is that nobody does a Russian accent – it’s all very unabashed bloody British, which makes it both funnier and, oddly, more real.

Though its history is compressed, the film is fairly faithful to the events, which had they been portrayed without an overtly Monty Python-esque quality (Michael Palin has a key role, wonderful) and even a Mel Brooks-ian feel, might have been too harrowing and grim to be tolerated.

The Death of Stalin is proof that worthwhile movies are still out there; but TV seems a more reliable place to find something, well, good.

Barb and I recently binged on the first two seasons of Stranger Things – what an excellent series. Millie Bobbie Brown’s amazing performance as Eleven, a psychic child who breaks free from the lab of her CIA-type captors, is one of those immediately iconic performances/characters that rank with Mr. Spock and the Mulder/Scully combo. This is in a cast that includes many standouts, notably Winona Ryder and David Harbour, as well as the quartet of friends into Dungeon and Dragons and video games, circa 1983-1984: Finn Wolfhard, Gaten Matarazzo, Caleb McLaughlin, and Noah Schnapp. The Duffer Brothers are the creators and main writers as well as occasional directors. Shawn Levy also directs episodes, and very well.

There’s a lot of talk about the ‘80s references in Stranger Things, almost too much. I have an affection for those years, despite (not because of) Ronald Reagan, and mostly for New Wave music. But I don’t have a nostalgia for the ‘80s because I hadn’t been growing up then, as I had been in the ‘50s, ‘60s and early ‘70s. To me John Carpenter, Steven Spielberg and Stephen King are just contemporary talents, not touchstones of my youth.

The good news is that Stranger Things is not just a wallow in references. The most overt reference is an interesting one – Stephen King’s It. Why? Because the Duffer Brothers (think the Coens if they had been Monster Kids) went after the job of scripting the 2017 It film and got turned down. Stranger Things (which co-stars one of It’s young players, Finn Wolfhard) is essentially their variation on the job they were denied.

It’s also decidedly better than It.

If you haven’t checked the series out, you should. Stranger Things is on our list with Fargo as top-tier current (or anytime) TV.

Also on the list is season five of Endeavour, the Morse prequel which has been good from the start but really shines in this latest go-round. It hasn’t aired on American PBS yet, but presumably it will. (We watched it on PAL DVD from the UK.) Each ninety-minute episode of this fine mystery series is better than most theatrical movies.

* * *

Finally an objective view of me – turns out I’m a legend! Check this out.

And here’s a short but sweet piece on Mickey.

M.A.C.

A Movie We Didn’t Walk Out On

March 27th, 2018 by Max Allan Collins

The truth of it is, Barb and I rarely walk out of movies. But when we do, I usually post a rant about it here at the weekly update.

This week we saw Tomb Raider somewhat accidentally – I was trying to drag Barb along to see Pacific Rim: Uprising, having really liked the first movie, but we were there to see it in 3-D, as the Internet had assured us this screening would be.

It wasn’t.

So Barb and I went to Tomb Raider in 3-D instead.

We entered about a minute late, because of the Pacific Rim screw-up. This is rare, as I hate not seeing a movie from the very beginning. But we had made a trip to Quad Cities to see a movie in 3-D and I will not be denied, at least not with such important matters.

Anyway, we had seen the preview of Tomb Raider, thought it looked like a passable Saturday or Sunday afternoon matinee. We were wrong. Surprise: it’s more than that. It is a very good, rip-roaring, occasionally amusing, sometimes exciting and even scary Indiana Jones-type adventure, a sort of haunted house of a movie wherein the ghosts are 1940s serials.

Is it a great movie? No. But it delivers on what it promises – imagine that! Yes, it’s a movie based on a video game, and those underpinnings are there, and typically silly. But if you take the ride, assuming such a ride sounds like fun to you, you will be pleased. This reboot is superior to the earlier Tomb Raider movies starring Angelina Jolie (the second of those being particularly dire). Alicia Vikander is intelligent and charismatic as Lara Croft, and the villain is played by the great Walton Goggins of Justified and Vice Principals. A number of fine British actors pop up here and there, too. Oh, and a tomb is raided.

By the way, among the many things that make going to movies in theaters less and less appealing is the general stupidity of the audiences. I refer not to what they seem to put up with (we were surrounded by people in Red Sparrow who seemed to like it, apparently sadomasochists) but actual sheep-like, lemming-like stupidity.

When Barb and I entered Tomb Raider a minute or two late, it was clear we were not in a 3-D screening. Since we were only here because the film we came for was not in 3-D, as advertised, that this one wasn’t in 3-D was…an irritant. Everyone had their 3-D glasses on. No 3-D was happening. No one seemed to notice or care, though everyone had paid extra for the 3-D experience.

We went out to the lobby, reported the lack of 3-D and the mistake was rectified. The movie was in 3-D now. But if Barb and I hadn’t gone out to the lobby, Tomb Raider would have played flat, much like the graph line of mental activity in the brains of the rest of the attendees.

This is not the first weird thing that has happened to me at the movies lately, not hardly.

On my birthday (my 70th, goddamnit and get off my lawn), Barb and I were visiting our son Nathan, his bride Abby and our hilarious genius grandson, Sam. Nate and I left the rest of the brood home and went to a movie, driving some distance to see Annihilation, a s-f film about which more later. I bought my popcorn and Coke Zero and we were soon seated in the theater. About two minutes into the film, someone came in.

This someone was stomping on the floor and laughing manically. Not an exaggeration – if the Joker had been there, he’d have said, “Who’s the lunatic?” The somewhat late arrival stomped slowly up the steps and took a seat in back, making this weird, loud sort of laugh as he went.

I immediately turned to Nate and said, “Let’s go.”

He understood and nodded. We exited quickly and quietly.

Here’s the thing. We were in St. Louis, a big city. For the first time in my life, during which I have seen hundreds, maybe thousands of movies in theaters, I have never thought I might be in danger. But my response now was instant: this person may be here to kill us.

I’m not going to go into a rant about gun control and mental health and school shootings and movie house mayhem. I am going to let you conjure all that yourself. But it says a lot that I did not hesitate to leave at once in the circumstances described above. Nate and I both wondered if we were overreacting. But neither of us wanted to sit through a movie with someone loudly making noise in the back row (which I figured was a good spot for a shooter, but never mind) even if our lives weren’t in potential danger.

We scouted for another movie on another screen and were spotted by someone with the theater, wondering what we were up to. We reported the incident (if that’s what it was) and, eventually, were given a refund. We drove quite a while to another theater where we indeed saw Annihilation, which is interesting but pretentious, and needlessly unpleasant…or was I not for some reason in the mood for a violent movie?

* * *

I have completed Girl Most Likely. I am setting it aside for much of the rest of the week, to dig into the Scarface and the Untouchable galley proofs…all 700 pages. When I’m done, I will return to Girl with some distance and will do the final read-through, tweaking, chasing down typos and fixing errors and inconsistencies. Should be shipping it in about a week.

Right now I feel very pleased. I think I’ve done something different enough to attract some new readers and not so different as to alienate the rest of you.

Meanwhile, Barb is doing very well on her draft of the new Antiques novel. Her steady development as a writer is impressive and a little scary.

* * *

Here is an absolutely splendid Cinema Retro review of The Last Stand, dealing both with the title story and “A Bullet for Satisfaction,” which I co-wrote.

The Mystery Site has posted a smart review of The First Quarry.

The Criminal Element has chosen The Last Stand as one of the five new books you should read.

And, finally, the indefatigable Jeff Pierce provides several links pertaining to Mickey Spillane and me.

M.A.C.

aug 19, 2003 visitors since August 19, 2003.