Posts Tagged ‘Dick Tracy’

Laughing On The Lam

Tuesday, August 27th, 2013

The ON THE LAM conference, put on over the weekend in Seattle by Amazon’s Thomas & Mercer crime/mystery imprint for their authors, was unlike anything I’ve experienced in forty years of publishing. The T & M crew flew in 75 authors from hither and yon – “yon” being the UK, and hither being places like “Iowa” – simply to give those authors a chance to interact with each other, and the T & M editorial and marketing team. Editors have taken me out for lunch or breakfast many times, and publishers often have cocktail parties at Bouchercon and/or take authors out for a group dinner. But this was different.

For one thing, this conference was almost exclusively attended by one publisher’s writers. For the Saturday panels, family and friends and some local writers group members were in the audience, but mostly this was writers talking to other writers (and to editors). All weekend, the kinds of conversations usually only heard in secluded corners of bars at Bouchercon hotels was the up-front order of the day.

Barb and I both found it interesting and illuminating, and the generosity of T & M toward their authors was damn near mind-boggling. Everybody had a gift bag with a Kindle Paperwhite in it, for example. A Friday morning visit to the Amazon HQ proved the place not to be the stronghold of a Bond villain, rather a campus that reminded me of a well-funded community college right down to friendly students eager to help (and to herd). A fun, tasty lunch on a tour boat on Friday morning was followed by various Seattle touristy options in the afternoon, after which came perhaps the best buffet supper I’ve ever eaten at an event with a Clue-theme (no “mystery game” aspect, thankfully) in the Glasshouse of the frankly eye-popping Chihuly Garden and Glass museum. The next evening, small groups of authors with a T & M editor or other staffer or two woven in, were treated to terrific dinners at a variety of top Seattle restaurants.

MAC on the lam

What was perhaps most impressive were the Saturday panels. I was on one, and saw two others, and they were as good as anything I’ve seen at a Bouchercon. The lead-off panel, with Lee Goldberg, Marcus Sakey, Johnny Shaw and Greg Widen, was a hilarious inside look at Hollywood’s treatment of writers, but also an insightful discussion of adapting one’s own work (as well as the work of others) to the screen. I was on the following panel, and the topic (as I revealed here last week) was branding. After the incredible first panel, I decided the only thing I could do to compete was be an outrageous ham, and I opened by pretending that I was wholly unprepared, because I’d thought I was going to be on an S & M panel – “but I guess this is a different kind of branding.” I shamelessly went for laughs, and got them, but the panel was informative as well. T & M’s Gracie Doyle had done her homework and her questions were spot on. My fellow panelists, Barry Eisler and L.J. Sellers, explored the topic with insight and humor. Eisler is a charming guy with a sharp mind, very serious about his work but always ready with a winning smile. Sellers had a lot of focus on the branding issue and shared her approach of really staying in touch with her readers.

As far as branding is concerned, I came to a couple of conclusions during and after the panel. Because I’m lucky enough to have created something famous – ROAD TO PERDITION – that becomes a brand: BY THE AUTHOR OF. And thanks to PERDITION being historical crime fiction (never mind that it’s a graphic novel), that’s helpful to my historical- crime-fiction brand. I also think individual series are “brands” – and certainly not all readers who consider themselves Max Allan Collins fans read everything. Some Quarry readers are not (surprisingly) at all interested in Nate Heller, and (surprisingly) vice versa. Plenty of my regular readers ignore anything that smacks of tie-in. And a good number haven’t tried the Barbara Allan ANTIQUES fare, while the considerable number of readers that series has generated are unlikely potential Quarry or even Nate Heller fans.

But it was Barb who nailed it: “Your brand is ‘Max Allan Collins.’” Thank you, doll. (Yes, I call Barb “doll” – I am the guy who collaborates with Mickey Spillane, you know.)

Anyway, the T & M event was both fun and educational, our hosts unfailingly warm and generous, and I had a number of conversations with editorial, PR and marketing folks who make me feel that WHAT DOESN’T KILL HER is in good hands.

Which brings me to Amazon reviews. One thing I come back from the On the Lam conference with is a better understanding of how that system works. So I’m going to repeat something I’ve said before: if you like my stuff, please post reviews at Amazon. A sentence or two will do, though by all means express yourself at length if so inclined. If you review a book of mine at your blog, post it as an Amazon review as well. Four- and five-star reviews really boost sales (they are averaged, so a book gets an averaged star rating). Marking good reviews as helpful and bad ones as not helpful is also beneficial.

This doesn’t just go for me. Any book by any writer whose work you enjoy will benefit from your positive review at Amazon (and at Barnes & Noble). Do an Amazon search for a writer you like (for example, Max Allan Collins) and look at the averaged star-rating of individual novels. If the overall rating is under four stars, that book could use some love. By the way, what often brings the ratings down is another Amazon practice that is mostly positive – offering a title at a (temporary) bargain e-book price. The bargain pricing of TRUE DETECTIVE, when the Amazon reprints/e-books first came out, helped get a 1983 novel to number one on the Kindle fiction list. But the low price brings in readers who are looking for a cheap thrill and who are not necessarily a good fit for a given book – readers who don’t like mysteries say, “What the hell, I’ll try this.” Sometimes you get a new reader; but lots of times you don’t. Not a good author/reader fit. So an author winds up with a bunch of one- and two-star ratings. Anybody reading this blog knows that TRUE DETECTIVE is not a novel that deserves that kind of rating.

So go back and see what kind of ratings your favorite writers have racked up for their various books, and when it strikes you a book has been under-valued, drop in a review – again a sentence or two will do: it’s the star rating that matters most. Give your favorite books a nice boost. It’s free.

Which brings us to EARLY CRIMES. Right now EARLY CRIMES, not a T & M publication, has no reviews. Nada. I was told by an Amazon marketing expert that books with terrible reviews and lousy star averages do significantly better than a book that has no reviews at all.

A while back, I offered ARCs (bound galleys) of WHAT DOESN’T KILL HER to a limited number of readers willing to do an Amazon review. I screwed up a little, because those reviews can’t be posted till the book is out – September 17, kids! Well, EARLY CRIMES is out now, and is, so far, decidedly a non-event.

So I am offering copies of the book to the first ten readers of this blog who are willing to do a review. (If you read it and hate it, you are excused from class.) Request one at my e-mail address: But this is only for readers who live in the United States. The overseas and Canadian postage damn near broke me last time I tried this. My apologies.

I want to emphasize that readers should get in the habit of supporting their favorite authors and books by writing these short reviews for Amazon and Barnes & Noble. And don’t forget Goodreads. The more reviews that appear, the more important the book seems to potential new readers; the higher the star rating, the more new readers will be attracted. This is an easy grass-roots thing you can do for all of your favorite writers.

* * *

I was one of many authors who noted the passing of the great Elmore Leonard last week for J. Kingston Pierce at his fine Rap Sheet blog.

My old buddy (and editor) Chris Mills did a nice post about the forthcoming THE WRONG QUARRY, including the cover shown without cover copy – nice.

Here’s a fun review of SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT.

And here’s an interview I did that I’d forgotten about, from a December 2004 sitdown for a documentary about crime in Chicago that never happened. I talk a good deal about DICK TRACY, Ness, Capone and Frank Nitti.


Quarry in Memphis

Tuesday, August 6th, 2013

Nate will be providing an array of photos that will tell the story better than I ever could, but I will say our four days in Memphis were a real adventure and a wonderful experience.

I’ve been on my share of movie sets – admittedly, mostly my own – but I never fail to get caught up in the excitement of filmmaking, whether it’s Phil Dingeldein and me shooting a movie in a week using security cameras or sitting next to Richard Zanuck watching Sam Mendes trying to get Paul Newman to emote in the master shot. Some people find the process boring, but not me – at least, not when it’s my material being filmed.

Virtually everyone we met on set was great. The crew is a friendly, hardworking bunch from four states – California, Mississippi, Tennessee and (I think) Louisiana…though it may be Arkansas. I immediately got hugs from both director John Hillcoat (LAWLESS) and a particularly warm one from director of photography Javier Aguirresarobe when I complimented him on his terrific work on WARM BODIES. Producer David Kanter of Anonymous was essentially our tour guide, a warm and friendly one at that. But best of all was getting to know and really talk Quarry with writers Michael D. Fuller and Graham Gordy (both of RECTIFIED). Before going to set, I delivered to their trailer complete sets of the first editions of the original 1970s Quarry paperbacks THE BROKER, THE BROKER’S WIFE, THE DEALER and THE SLASHER. I don’t have many of these left, and Michael and Graham were like fanboys reacting to receiving them. These are smart, talented guys who know the Quarry series inside out. I’m very lucky to have them (as they put it) “playing in my sandbox.”

The actors were friendly, warm, and very interested in meeting Quarry’s creator (and his family). Logan Marshall-Green and I immediately started talking about Quarry, and watching him play the character showed me how much homework he’d done. My first sight of him on set, actually, was him talking to a wheelchair-bound Vietnam vet who had found his way to the set. Logan is a charismatic, intense actor but not pretentious. He has the young Quarry nailed, and you have a real sense that this committed actor is the linchpin of the production.

Nate, Barb and I are all big fans of SCOTT PILGRIM VS THE WORLD, so meeting Mary Elizabeth Winstead was a big deal. She turned out to be as friendly and approachable as someone you’ve known for years. She plays Quarry’s wife Joni and seems anxious to come back for more.

And Stellan Skarsgard is supernaturally right as the Broker. He’s also friendly and funny, a very charming guy. I pointed out to him that the Broker wasn’t as evil as the guy he played in GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, and he said, “So I am progressing.” I brought him a vintage copy of THE BROKER and he was quite taken with the sleazy paperback edition (and pleased to see his character get top billing). He was fascinated by the terrible mustache worn by the Broker on that cover.

The cast is amazing. Kurt Yaeger (SONS OF ANARCHY) plays a Quarry adversary and had done incredible homework, bringing a well-read copy of the Foul Play Press paperback edition of QUARRY for me to sign. He’s friendly and fun and an awesome athlete (“awesome” in its true meaning). Nikki Amuka-Bird (LUTHER) was pleased and amazed to find out that Barb and I were fans of the outrageous UK series BAD GIRLS, on which she was a regular in season six. She was a delight to chat with, and she too had been reading the Quarry books. She plays the wife of Quarry’s Vietnam buddy, Jamie Hector (THE WIRE), who I met briefly. Very friendly, and I watched him tear it up with Logan on several scenes. Just before we left, I was able to shake hands and briefly talk with Noah Taylor (GAME OF THRONES), who plays Buddy, a character based on Boyd from QUARRY aka THE BROKER. (My understanding is Boyd became Buddy to avoid confusion with the Boyd Crowder character on JUSTIFIED).

The first of two on-set days began mid-afternoon at a ranch-style home in Mississippi that stood in for Joni and Quarry’s house (there’s a pool where Quarry loves to swim). Warm, but nothing Iowans aren’t used to. The rest of that day was spent at a gravel and stone quarry, where Quarry and the Broker confab (we had brought our bug spray). The second day was in Memphis at several funky bars, only a few blocks from our hotel.

Memphis is a great town. I much prefer it to Nashville, even if the latter is where I recorded “Psychedelic Siren” with the Daybreakers back in 1967. I despise country western, as is fairly well known (exceptions: rockabilly and Patsy Cline), and a town where both rock ‘n’ roll and soul music have such deep roots holds huge appeal to me. We did not go to Graceland – it’s very hard for me to do things I’m expected to do – but we made the Sun Records tour, which I enjoyed very much…standing in the same space as Howling Wolf, Elvis, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison and Jerry Lee was like being a believer in church. No remodeling to speak of has been done in the studio, where bands are still recording to this day (or night…it’s evenings only, due to the tours). Next time we will hit the Stax Museum, highly recommended to me by my Crusin’ bandmate Brian Van Winkle.

It was hard to leave Memphis, and not just because of the food there or the ten hours that lay ahead on the return voyage to Muscatine (we broke that in two on both ends of the trip, to spend time with Nate and Abby in St. Louis).

I haven’t spent this much time on set since ELIOT NESS: AN UNTOUCHABLE LIFE, and it really reminded me of how much I miss filmmaking. I am hopeful that I will be part of the process, when…you can’t make me say “if”…this pilot is picked up. Working with these people would be a blast.

And that dated usage reminds me to comment on just how much fun seeing QUARRY produced in ‘70s period is. The costumes and art direction takes you back to an era that remains vivid in my memory, and yet has somehow how become a long time ago.

As I write this, they are still filming, with two days to go. I do wish I were there.

* * *

Something wonderful and wonderfully strange popped up on the Net recently. Somebody posted at Harlan Ellison’s chat site, complaining about writers continuing the work of other writers, included me on the list of infamy, for finishing Mickey’s work. Harlan stepped up and defended me loud and long in his own inimitable fashion. He and I don’t agree on Mickey as an artist, but I can’t tell you what it means to me to see one of my favorite writers – and Harlan is that, all right – defending me and saying I’m a terrific writer myself. For a guy like me, it doesn’t get any better. This sparked some interesting responses (including one from our friend Mike Doran), so scroll down to Harlan’s piece, then take in the responses. [Nate here—New posts will push the older ones down, eventually into an archive. Look for “A VERY FRIENDLY BUT VIGOROUS TAKING-BY-THE-SHOULDERS AND SHAKING FOR JIMMIEJOE IN KOKOMO” on Sunday, August 4 2013]

David Williams is a smart, straightforward reviewer who has been systematically reviewing the Heller novels. He usually likes them a lot (not always), but he has been a huge supporter of the series and of me. This link will take you to a TARGET LANCER review, and this one will take you to a very nice overview of the series from this reliable reviewer.

Another of those “movies you didn’t know were from comic books” has popped up. Not bad of its kind.

This is an interesting, somewhat positive review damaged by the reviewer’s agenda (a rather stunning misreading of the women in COMPLEX 90). It’s intelligent, though, and worth reading, if for no other reason than seeing how political correctness can spoil a book for you. Velda is called “Thelma” by the female reviewer at one point, and considering THELMA AND LOUISE, that’s an interesting Freudian slip.

This look at graphic novels properly credits ROAD TO PERDITION for its historic role in the rehabilitation of the art form.

Here’s a look at Hard Case Crime and THE FIRST QUARRY from a reviewer who likes my work but isn’t crazy about the tough, nasty, sexy nature of my books there (and other books as well). Interesting stuff, showing how you can not like something and do so in a measured, non-hysterical way.

Keep an eye out for VCI’s new DICK TRACY serial releases (DICK TRACY – COMPLETE SERIAL COLLECTION, DICK TRACY – 75th ANNIVERSARY EDITION ORIGINAL SERIAL). Phil D. and I prepared new video documentary material for these (and they include older doc material by us, as well, plus a commentary by me on the first several chapters of DICK TRACY).

And now I’m going to turn the update over to Nate for some more Memphis pictures.


Quarry Set 2013
All signs point to a series pickup

Quarry Set 2013
with Nikki Amuka-Bird

Quarry Set 2013
with Director John Hillcoat

Quarry Set 2013
with Logan Marshall-Green aka The Right Quarry

Quarry Set 2013
with Graham Gordy and Michael D. Fuller (and the mad photobomber)

Quarry Set 2013
Pure 70s

Quarry Set 2013
Kurt Yaeger says “See you next week!”

Colonel Collins, Lord of Mystery

Tuesday, June 19th, 2012

Barb and I were guests this weekend (actually, we left last Wednesday) for the International Mystery Writers Festival at Owensboro, Kentucky. The event celebrates the world of mystery with a focus on showcasing new plays – three were presented this year, including a new stage-designed version of ENCORE FOR MURDER (the longer audio version of which, starring Stacy Keach, is available from Blackstone Audio, and was a nominee for the Audie).

I was presented with a lovely award designating me the First Lord of Mystery (previous winners, including Sue Grafton, Mary Higgins Clark and Angela Lansbury, were Mistresses of Mystery). Both Barb and I were made honorary colonels by the Commonwealth of Kentucky. This is an elite group that includes Colonel Sanders, Colonel Lee Goldberg and Colonel Robert Randisi (the latter two received their colonel-ship at the event as well).

I’m not sure how many plays were submitted, but my impression is quite a few. The other two plays that earned production at the fest were LOST AT SEA by Donald C. Drake (the other Firesign radio-style production) and ABSOLUTELY DEAD by Michael Walker (starring Kathy Garver of FAMILY AFFAIR FAME), the latter the “main stage” play.

The event is held at the River Center in Owensboro on the Ohio River, a lovely, massive modern facility with several stages. One is a 1500-seat theater, the main stage. ENCORE FOR MURDER was staged in a smaller “black box” theater similar to the one where ELIOT NESS: AN UNTOUCHABLE LIFE was presented in Des Moines. One highlight was a Lee Goldberg-led interview session, after ENCORE’s premiere, on an expansive patio outside the River Center, with the Ohio River Bridge in the background, where fifteen minutes of clips from my various movies (THE EXPERT, MOMMY, MOMMY’S DAY, REAL TIME, ELIOT NESS, THE LAST LULLABY, ROAD TO PERDITION) were shown on a drive-in-theater-size screen.

People were incredibly nice to us, and we did several signings, as well as just autographing books folks brought up for us to sign as we hung out in the cavernous River Center lobby. Barb and I did a workshop discussing our collaborative approach to the Barbara Allan books, and we attended a similar one given by Bob Randisi and his partner Christine Matthews. Roxi Witt, the manager of the River Center and producer of the event, is a gracious, ebullient hostess whose warmth and kindness are unparalleled.

What made the event really special was the great production of ENCORE FOR MURDER, which was revised and shortened for live production (the original was two and a half hours on audio, and the live version is two acts, each under an hour, with an intermission). Two figures from the legendary Firesign Theater (and regular readers of my updates know what a comedy buff I am) were instrumental in the production. David Ossman co-directed (with his wife Judith Walcutt) and Phil Proctor appeared in three roles, including a very funny Ozzie the Answer, who I described as Leo Gorcey and Huntz Hall’s lost love child. Phil’s actress wife Melinda Peterson gave perhaps my favorite Velda performance ever, playing her deadpan as if channeling Keely Smith. Richard Fish made a great Pat Chambers, reminiscent of Paul Sorvino’s in the Assante I, THE JURY, and Amy Walker and Cassie Post were luminous as potential femme fatales. The approach was broader than the original audio, getting all the comic lines across but not camping it up (I had cautioned Phil Proctor that this was Mike Hammer, not Nick Danger). Firesign superstars Ossman and Proctor have been instrumental in presenting radio-style productions at the Owensboro festival. (The festival also presents films and Lee Goldberg debuted his latest short there, produced with the help of the River Center.)

But the MVP player was Gary Sandy. Gary, of course, worked with me on MOMMY’S DAY, and I specifically requested him to play Mike Hammer. Stacy Keach was approached but his schedule wouldn’t allow, and I felt Gary – who lives in Kentucky and had participated in past festivals – would make a great Hammer. And he did. Not easy to step into a role so identified with another actor, but he put his own spin on the role and brought an incredible energy that became the engine of the show. He won Best Actor in the event’s awards, and the play essentially swept those awards.

I am already considering returning next year with a play version of THE LITTLE DEATH.

Next week I hope to have photos for you from the festival and specifically from the production of ENCORE FOR MURDER.

Lee Goldberg, Phil Proctor, and Max

Hard Case Crime has announced my Jack and Maggie Starr novel, SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT. Check out the fun news release here (the cover is depicted…small, but it’s there).

More about the book, and a much larger look at the cover, is here.

Mystery writer Mike Dennis has posted a great review of LADY GO, DIE! at his site.

And another nice review can be found here, at Radiant Lit.

Good ANTIQUES DISPOSAL reviews continue to roll in, like this one.

And this one.

Finally, here’s a fun blog post about a reader who discovered my work when she was ten, thanks to the DICK TRACY novelization. Here’s hoping she got the 6th printing (sold only through schools), which includes the ending.


Say Hello To Goodbye

Tuesday, May 17th, 2011

Kiss Her Goodbye

I have spotted KISS HER GOODBYE on the shelves of the Davenport Barnes & Noble, so you should be able to find the new Mike Hammer hardcover at your favorite brick-and-mortar. (The trade paperback of THE BIG BANG should be right next to KISS HER.) I don’t know if Borders is carrying the new Hammer (they aren’t getting as many titles in right now, for obvious reasons), but I encourage you to snag this one at Amazon or elsewhere on line, if you don’t have a “real” bookstore handy.

Don’t wait for the trade paperback, because I don’t know if there will be one. This is the last of the Harcourt Spillane/Collins Hammer novels, and the future of the remaining three is in your hands.

Also, the Stacy Keach-read audio book should be out soon. Stacy thinks KISS HER is the best of the three. Our old friend Craig Clarke seems to agree at his Somebody Dies blog.

Great news on about THE LAST LULLABY. I’ll let director Jeffrey Goodman tell you:

“I am very excited to announce that we have signed with Level 33 Entertainment to distribute THE LAST LULLABY in the United States. We are currently aiming for a Fall release of a newly-packaged DVD. At this point, I am not sure what extras it will include, but we are looking into some different things. We also expect this release to place LULLABY in many other places and make it much more readily available.”

Whether there will be a blu-ray seems up in the air. I also don’t know if Jeffrey will include me in the extras on the disc, but I’m hoping there will be some short history-of-Quarry feature, and possibly the original, award-winning short (“A Matter of Principal”) that spawned the film.

Speaking of Quarry, Hard Case Crime has brought out all of their Quarry novels again as part of their re-birth at Titan, the great UK publisher distributed in the USA by Random House.

You might check out this interesting if odd and not entirely accurate mini-article about my DICK TRACY movie tie-in, as part of a list of 100 famous rejections. For the record, it wasn’t Warrren Beatty who went to bat for my novel, rather producer Barry Osborne. And the rewritten version was deemed fine by Disney, they just made me remove the identity of the Blank, making the book the bestselling mystery novel ever published that didn’t reveal who did it. (The 6th printing includes my real ending – all other printings are incomplete.)

ROAD TO PERDITION has made another top ten comic book movies list.

It has also made this top 25 comic-book movies list.

And speaking of movies, you can get my long out-of-print boxed set THE BLACK BOX on sale for under $25 right here. It includes an anniversary edition of MOMMY and MOMMY’S DAY (with lots of special features not previously available), plus REAL TIME: SIEGE AT LUCAS STREET MARKET and the anthology film SHADES OF NOIR (available nowhere else, and including the original, longer cut of my Mickey Spillane documentary, recently shortened/re-edited for the Criterion KISS ME DEADLY release).