Posts Tagged ‘Antiques Bizarre’

Misteaks From The Blue-Eyed Boy

Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010

G.I. JOE: THE RISE OF COBRA has been nominated for the International Association of Media & Tie-in Writers “Best Adapted” Novel award. The Scribes Awards are held at San Diego Comic Con.

Barb, Matt and I had a nice turn-out at the Borders in Davenport on Saturday. We’re not really doing a book tour for either ANTIQUES BIZARRE or YOU CAN’T STOP ME because the sequels to both are in process right now, and the time just isn’t there.

In fact, ANTIQUES KNOCK-OFF was completed this weekend. By the time you read this, it will be in the hands of Kensington editor Michaela Hamilton. ANTIQUES BIZARRE in particular and the “Trash ‘n’ Treasures” mystery series in general are doing very well – BIZARRE landed on the Barnes & Noble hardcover mystery bestseller list. And there looks to be a strong possibility a new contract for more Brandy & Mother books is coming…stay tuned….

Meanwhile, YOU CAN’T STOP ME has been on the Kindle bestseller list, sparked by a several-day giveaway but lasting well beyond the freebie stage.

Over the years, David Burke at the Quad City Times has given me lots of coverage. This Sunday he did a very nice write-up about YOU CAN’T STOP ME, ANTIQUES BIZARRE and the collaborative process as it pertains to Barb, Matt and Mickey.

A fun blog from comics writer Valerie D’Orazio called Occasional Superheroine has a list of five female comics characters that deserve revival, and MS. TREE is one of ‘em.

And here’s a blog whose list of the best movies of the past decade includes ROAD TO PERDITION as one of the best five adapted from comics. Cool.

Sean Leary, an excellent writer and all-around talented human, used to be the entertainment writer at the Rock Island Argus and Dispatch. Now he has an entertainment-oriented Quad Cities web site, Get Your Good News. He did individual interviews about the new books and the collaborative process with Matt Clemens, Barb and me. These are good – check ‘em out.

I want to talk briefly about reviews, but I want to talk about a very specific aspect of them. After all, everybody has a right to their opinions. And I strive not to bask in the good reviews because that means I would have to take the bad reviews seriously, too. No, I want to talk about reviews (and this particularly happens on the non-pro reviews at Amazon and other internet sites) that revel in finding mistakes in the text.

A number of Amazon reviewers – not just talking about my stuff, but reviews I encounter all the time when shopping for books – will give a book a low-star rating and a terrible review if that book is (in their view) poorly copy-edited or if it has mistakes that the author or the copy editor should have caught (again, in their view).

A review of YOU CAN’T STOP ME (one of only two less than stellar ones out of a whole flock of positive ones at Amazon) dismisses the book largely because the lead character, J.C. Harrow, is initially described as having brown eyes and later as having blue eyes. The book is over 100,000 words long and I promise you it gets a lot of things right, including the descriptions of its large cast of characters.

Here’s what happened, or anyway how it happened. If you’re at this site, you know that YOU CAN’T STOP ME is a collaboration. My co-author Matt Clemens likes to “cast” a story – he puts actors and sometimes other celebrities in the roles, and even sends me photos of the cast. Which, frankly, I ignore, because I don’t work that way. Matt likes to start with the reality of a real human to describe and an actor’s voice to hear in his brain – it helps him, and it’s not a bad technique. But it’s not mine. As it happens, he “cast” Pierce Brosnan as Harrow. I said I thought Harrow was more like Dennis Farina in CRIME STORY, but only vaguely so – a craggy guy in his forties, not James frickin’ Bond. This started a cheerful disagreement between us, which actually became a running gag. I would say, “It’s possible our lead character is under-characterized, if one of us thinks he’s Pierce Brosnan and the other thinks he’s Dennis Farina.”

We were shocked and distressed when we went over the copy-edited manuscript and discovered that Harrow’s eyes were described as having two colors (we had settled on Farina brown, but the initial Brosnan blue crept in). As it happens, we had a copy editor who had taken a fairly heavy hand to the work – my pet peeve – and I put a lot of it back the way it had been, and in fairness to the production folks at Kensington, they got a fairly messy copy-edited manuscript back. Still, we had caught the blue/brown thing – yet it crept through into the galley proof stage, too. We caught it and corrected it again…

…and yet it still got through wrong. How? Who knows? Mistakes and typos happen, particularly with a book the size of YOU CAN’T STOP ME. With typos, sometimes a new typo happens when a change or correction is made that requires new, last-minute typesetting. It’s easy for tiny screw-ups in a book this size.

At the final read-through stage (like the one Barb and I just did with ANTIQUES KNOCK-OFF), we discover all sorts of stuff – little things like a very minor character’s name shifting, or fairly big things, like plot points that somehow (over the many months of writing) got confused.

A review of one of the ANTIQUES books has an Amazon review that makes a very big deal out of a reference to Aunt Bea from the “Andy Griffin Show.” This ruined the book for the reviewer and earned us a very low star rating. Talk about mysteries – both Barb and I are longtime fans of Andy Griffith. I was a fan of his well before his famous TV show – I remember as a little kid seeing the live TV play of NO TIME FOR SERGEANTS before it went to Broadway! I saw NO TIME FOR SERGEANTS the film in the theater. I bought all of Griffith’s comedy records (“What It Was Was Football”). Barb also is a fan. I can’t believe either of us – and remember, we read the book after we turn it into the publisher in copy-edited form, and then at least once more in galley proof form (usually twice in the latter stage). The only thing we can think of is we spaced out, thinking of SCTV’s parody THE MERV GRIFFITH SHOW, on which Merv Griffin is transformed into Andy Taylor. We are stumped. Did a copy editor or someone in production catch “Griffith” and think it was a goof and change it to “Griffin”? It’s a mystery. Who the hell knows?

I do know it’s unfair to dismiss the rest of the hard work that went into the big writing project that is a novel by seizing upon such occasional goofs, whoever made them.

But I know from long experience, with Nathan Heller, that reviewers and readers love to find historical inaccuracies. Such mistakes would appear to be the prize in the Cracker Jacks for a lot of readers. I can’t tell you how many fan letters I’ve received that tell me how much they love a Heller book or maybe one of the disaster novels, and then without referring to one specific thing that they liked, tell me about the error they spotted. Sometimes these are real errors, and sometimes not (as when someone in Louisiana insisted a road in BLOOD AND THUNDER hadn’t been built yet when I had a vintage research book that said it had).

A very supportive reviewer (whose name I won’t mention) has consistently mentioned a mistake or two found in the Heller and other historical novels despite his very brief per-book review space. This is a reviewer who apparently really loves my work, but rather than comment on the voluminous research I’ve done and the thousands of things I get write (I mean, “right”) in one of the massive Heller novels, insists on grabbing that Cracker Jacks prize and displaying it in public.

Do I sound frustrated? I am. I hate knowing that every copy of YOU CAN’T STOP ME has Harrow with brown eyes and blue eyes. But it can’t be helped. It’s human error. Anyway, Matt and I will reveal in the second Harrow novel that those bastard executives in the first novel had made the TV host wear blue contact lenses on his reality show, CRIME SEEN! He will now have thrown them away….


Mickey Spillane’s Birthday

Tuesday, March 9th, 2010

Today is Mickey Spillane’s birthday, and after a few announcements, I’m featuring a short piece I did about the first film of I, THE JURY by way of tribute. It appeared in Classic Images last year – Classic Images is a great magazine in newspaper tabloid format that is extremely well-edited by Bob King out of the back of my hometown paper, the Muscatine Journal, where I had my first professional writing job.

Barb’s father, William Mull, passed away yesterday. Bill had been suffering from pancreatic cancer (the killer that took Mickey Spillane out, too, coincidentally). But Bill survived over a year with the disease, which enabled his family to spend time with him in person and on the phone, and say goodbyes properly. He was a fine man with a sly sense of humor, a WW 2 combat vet, a great trumpet player, a successful businessman and the father of seven kids, all of whom grew up just fine. To me, his greatest achievement was helping bring Barbara Mull to the planet.

I am working on ANTIQUES KNOCK-OFF, which already had been dedicated to Bill by his daughter. Barb did an exceptional job on the rough draft. I think this will be the best Brandy and Mother mystery yet, but don’t let that stop you from picking up the current ANTIQUES BIZARRE.

Also, I have already done a series of revisions on QUARRY’S EX – Charles Ardai is the most lightning fast editor on the planet – and that book has been put to bed and is off to the typesetter.

You Can't Stop MeAntiques Bizarre

We got a great review from Bill Crider for YOU CAN’T STOP ME. If you don’t follow Bill’s great blog, start doing so now. He obviously has incredible taste.

Craig Clarke, another great blogger, had wonderful things to say about ANTIQUES BIZARRE.

The Court Reporter website recently posted a very controversial list of the top 100 crime novels of all time. I mention this because (oddly, it seems to me) I am represented on that list for…ready for this?…my novelization of AMERICAN GANGSTER. Now I’m proud of that book, and it made the NY Times bestseller list, and won the Scribe from the International Association of Media Tie-in Writers. But of everything I’ve ever written (say, TRUE DETECTIVE or ROAD TO PERDITION or THE FIRST QUARRY)…why that? But I’ll take it, since my policy is that any such list is utter bullshit…unless I’m on it.

And now, in honor of Mickey’s birthday….

by Max Allan Collins

I, The Jury 3DMickey Spillane was not a fan of the films British producer Victor Saville fashioned in the 1950s from the mystery writer’s bestsellers, I, the Jury, The Long Wait, Kiss Me Deadly and My Gun Is Quick. So incensed by what he considered a mishandling of his famous private eye, Mike Hammer, Spillane wrote and co-produced THE GIRL HUNTERS (1963) in which he starred as Hammer himself.

Time has been kind to several of the Saville films, notably KISS ME DEADLY (1955), starring Ralph Meeker, directed by Robert Aldrich and written by A.I. Bezzerides. The film had a strong anti-Spillane subtext but was nonetheless a brilliant evocation of Mike Hammer’s violent, sexually charged world. Late in life, Spillane came to appreciate KISS ME DEADLY, which is now considered a noir classic; but he never warmed to the others. With MY GUN IS QUICK (1957), wherein Robert Bray portrayed Hammer, Spillane had a point: it was a slipshod quickie. THE LONG WAIT (1954) (with Anthony Quinn as a non-Hammer protagonist and an array of beauties including Peggie Castle) does have its admirers, with a particularly strong climax involving starkly expressionistic lighting.

Though he counted Biff Elliot a friend, Spillane disliked I, THE JURY (1953). He thought Elliot was too small, though his chief complaints were with the script and such details as Mike Hammer’s trademark .45 automatic being traded in for a revolver, and he howled about Hammer getting knocked out with a coathanger. He found director/screenwriter Harry Essex obnoxious and disrespectful, and was irritated that his handpicked Mike Hammer – close friend, ex-cop Jack Stang (for whom the hero of the posthumous novel Dead Street is named, and who appears briefly in I, THE JURY in a poolroom scene) – was turned down for the part.

In 1999, Mickey and I were invited to London where the National Film Theater was showing my documentary, “Mike Hammer’s Mickey Spillane,” as part of a retrospective of Spillane films. Mickey did not bother to attend any of the screenings except my documentary. But I was eager to attend a rare 3-D screening of I, THE JURY.

I’d always liked the film, and had argued its merits (and those of KISS ME DEADLY) to Mickey over the years. Of all the Saville films, I, THE JURY seemed to catch best the look and flavor of the novels; it was fun and tough and sexy, and the dialogue had crackle. What had disappointed moviegoers at the time remains disappointing: the most overtly sexual aspects of the plot (a dance studio may or may not be a brothel, several characters may or may not be homosexual) became incoherent due to censorship issues, and the famous striptease finale reduced lovely Peggie Castle’s disrobing to taking off her shoes!

But Elliot himself was a terrific Mike Hammer – an emotional hothead who could be as tough as he was tender. That he was a little smaller than readers might have imagined Hammer only makes him seem less a bully. He fights hard and loves hard, and may not be as smart as most movie private eyes, which gives him a nice everyman quality. It’s a shame Elliot, with a screen presence similar to James Caan’s, was not better launched by the film.

The revelation of the screening, however, was the 3-D cinematography – seen “flat” on TV, the film doesn’t seem to be much of a 3-D movie, with only a few instances of objects and people coming out of the screen. But the 3-D screening revealed the brilliant John Alton’s mastery at creating depth, bringing the viewer inside the images. As one of a small handful of 3-D crime films, I, THE JURY is an unacknowledged 3-D gem.

Barbara Collins on Barbara Allan

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010

This week I’m turning the update over to Barb, in celebration of ANTIQUES BIZARRE going on sale this week (the pub date isn’t till March 1 but on sale date seems to be Feb. 23).

Before I do, though, we have had a lovely review of the book that you might like to check out.

Also, Quarry continues to attract attention – for example, this fun review of THE FIRST QUARRY.

In addition, here’s a retro review of the Quarry novel PRIMARY TARGET. PRIMARY TARGET is available as the bulk of QUARRY’S GREATEST HITS from FiveStar.

And now the better (and better-looking half) of the Barbara Allan team, on collaboration – a piece that expands and updates a piece she wrote for CRIMESPREE a while back. She refers to me as “Al,” which many of you know is my nickname.

Antiques BizarreAntiques Bizarre, the fifth book in our Trash ‘n’ Treasures mystery series from Kensington, will be hitting the stores this week. This latest collaboration between Al and me, under the name Barbara Allan, is more of a who done-it than the previous books, but there is still plenty of turmoil in the personal lives of Prozac-popping Brandy Borne, bi-polar Mother, and their blind, diabetic dog Sushi. The mystery revolves around the auction of the newly discovered last Faberge egg that had been commissioned by the Russian Tsar, its disappearance and the death of the buyer.

Often Al and I are asked about collaboration. Why do it? Why risk a friendship, a business association, or (gasp) even a marriage?

Collaboration happens successfully in movies, of course, when the collective efforts of writer, director, and actors come together to make something wonderful – Road to Perdition comes to mind. And collaboration works beautifully in musical theater, too. Where would Rodgers be without Hammerstein? Or a certain composer named Bernstein without the brilliance of a young lyricist named Sondheim? But can the joining of two minds and one computer work as well in novel writing? Quick, name your favorite book written by a duo. Hummmmm…me neither.

My own experience with collaboration came after I’d published a number of short stories, and my next assignment left me with unhappy results.

“What’s wrong with it?” I asked my veteran writer-husband after pressing the pages I had just written into his hands, as if it were a patient in need of resuscitation.

“It’s missing a key scene,” he said a while later, adding, “You got lazy.”

“Awwh, I don’t wanna write it,” I whined. “Will you?”

“Sure…but then my name goes on it, too.”

Well, that seemed reasonable; after all, writing a key scene was much more of a contribution than plot suggestions given to me over breakfast at Country Kitchen, or suggestions jotted in the margins of my work. And so, my first foray into the tricky world of collaboration was quite, quite painless.

Barbara AllanSince then, Al and I have collaborated on other short stories, two stand-alone novels, and – having confidence that the marriage would hold – signed a five-book contract. Our Trash ‘n’ Treasures mysteries – the first of which, Antiques Roadkill, came out from Kensington in fall of ‘06 – have a female voice, with back story that leans more on my life than Al’s, although the antiquing aspect is a shared interest.

Our collaboration process is simple: we plot the novel together, often on a long car trip or over several restaurant meals; usually I take notes. Then I write a complete first draft without Al seeing any of it. If I run into trouble along the way, we discuss the problem over another lunch (there’s a very famous restaurant in Muscatine, Iowa – perhaps you’ve heard of it: Applebees).

Then, when I’m finished with the first draft (and good and sick of it), Al takes his pass, bumping up the word count because I’m a short story writer at heart, and he can flesh out scenes and descriptions, in particular amplifying dialogue. He also fixes any plot holes or too-girly fight scenes.

During this phase there can be some shouting – but only because Al’s office is on the second floor and mine is on the first, and we haven’t sprung for an intercom system yet – as he asks, “What did you mean by this?” or “How about doing it this way?” As Al revises each chapter, I read his second draft for corrections and any final additions or changes I’d like to lobby for. The end product, then, is something we both feel satisfied with.

So. For those of you who dare to follow in our footsteps, here are a few observations and suggestions we’ve learned along the way.

Do not attempt to collaborate if you and your partner have incompatible writing styles. Exception: one person does the research; the other writes. (The great team of Dannay and Lee behind Ellery Queen divided up the work in a fashion that didn’t require compatible styles of expression.)

Maintain separate offices and computers. One person seated at a desk while the other stalks the floor smoking a stogie only worked on “The Dick Van Dyke Show.” Ditto for sitting side by side.

Before writing a word, have a clear and singular vision of what the writing project is to be. This is more than just plotting, but attitude and even thematic concerns. Before beginning our novel Regeneration, we discussed at length the notion of the selfishness of baby boomers, and how they had failed to properly save for retirement.

Think of the collaboration as two builders teaming to construct a house: one writer takes the lead and fashions the structure (to specifications already agreed upon); the other writer then takes over and decorates the interior. The interior decorator should not go knocking out supporting walls; conversely the original builder should not re-arrange the furniture, at least without discussion.

Those who think collaboration is somehow a time-saving approach are, well, confused. It is actually harder – although if each writer has a sense of his or her strengths and weaknesses, that’s a great help. If writer A and B agree that A is better at dialogue, for example, writer B can write short dialogue scenes knowing that writer A will come along later and effectively expand.

Sometimes it comes down to sheer knowledge – I don’t think I’ll be handing over the fashion do’s and don’ts, or even the antiquing tips, to Al any time soon. But why should I break my back writing a fight scene with the creator of Nathan Heller in the house?

Beyond shoring up each others weaknesses through your own strengths, why should a writer embark on such a perilous enterprise? The answer is as simple as collaboration is complex: a third writer is created.

A successful writing collaboration creates a distinct third voice in an end product that – because of the strengths each writer brings to the work table – could not have been accomplished alone.

That’s when two plus two can equal five. Even my husband can do that math.

Barbara Allan’s ANTIQUES BIZARRE Wallpaper

Monday, February 22nd, 2010

With the release of Antiques Bizarre coming this week, I thought I’d whip together this desktop wallpaper of the book’s funky cool cover. Check it out below or at the “Downloads” button on the left. If this one’s not your style, we also have wallpapers for Road to Perdition, Quarry, Ness, and The London Blitz Murders. Please let me know if you’d like to see more! (And don’t worry, a real post is still coming on Tuesday morning, and it’s a good one.)

Antiques Bizarre Wallpaper
4:3 large (1600 x 1200) | 4:3 medium (1024 x 768)
HD (1920 x 1080) | 16:10 widescreen (1440 x 900)