Posts Tagged ‘Interviews’

Swap Talk & Bobby Darin

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2014

Just hours ago, I shipped ANTIQUES SWAP off to our editor at Kensington. I say “shipped” out of habit – these days, there’s no rush to make it to a Fed-Ex drop to actually post packages. How many times did Barb and I work all day on final corrections, hoping to make it to the P.O., Fed Ex or UPS on time?

Hitting “send” is somehow not as satisfying as handing a clerk a package or shoving that package into the Fed Ex box. But I would never go back.

Barb and I spent a long day doing the final tweaks and corrections. Our standard operating procedure is that I read and revise a hard copy, using a red pen so that the corrections jump out, and she enters them. This is not just for “Barbara Allan” books, but everything of mine that’s book length.

I’m always afraid that, on the read-through, a novel isn’t going to hang together – as I go, I focus on one chapter at a time, as if I were doing a short story, and I rarely have a sense of how (or not) those chapters are coming together to make a book. Almost always I am pleasantly surprised, sometimes damn near thrilled, by how those chapters turn into something coherent and cohesive. That last read-through, for tweaks and typos, plays a key role, but it’s always nice to know that you’ve written a novel and not just a bunch of scenes.

ANTIQUES SWAP came out very well indeed. But you never know, and we both had our doubts along the way. The story starts at a swap meet and eventually deals with wife-swapping in small-town Serenity. This is delicate, even daring subject matter for a cozy, but I think we walked the tight rope successfully. There’s a scene Barb came up with where a concussed Vivian Borne thinks she’s on a USO Tour with Bob and Bing that is among our funniest.

Last week a number of you jumped on my offer of sending out signed copies of KING OF THE WEEDS for Amazon reviews. I offered 12 copies, but wound up digging into my personal stash for another five. Thanks to all of you who requested books, and my apologies to those who missed out this time. In a few weeks, there will be a similar giveaway with a dozen ARC’s of SUPREME JUSTICE. For those who haven’t noticed, these Updates go up every Tuesday at 9 a.m. Central Time.

In the next two months, we should be posting any number of interviews and reviews. This is one of those times when all my publishing worlds collide – ANTIQUES CON, KING OF THE WEEDS and SUPREME JUSTICE are all out at the same time. I’ve already done an interview for Jon Jordan at Crimespree (see below), and soon I’ll be offering a link to a very long, in-depth one for J. Kingston Pierce of the Rap Sheet and Kirkus on-line.

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In the last year of his life, Bobby Darin did an NBC series called THE BOBBY DARIN SHOW. If you’ve been following my work for a while, chances are you know that I am the world’s biggest Bobby Darin fan. How can I make such a claim? Let’s start with: I own his Gold Record for “Mack the Knife.” Next!

The Bobby Darin Show

Anyway, Darin’s series is in many respects a typical early ‘70s variety show, which is to say a weird hybrid of what was “happening,” baby, and wheezy traditions that dated to vaudeville. Darin is very good at doing sketches and production numbers, and is naturally funny, too. But those ‘70s variety shows, with the partial exception of Carol Burnett, were really pretty terrible. And the reason to celebrate the release of THE BOBBY DARIN SHOW on DVD is chiefly the moments, two or three times a show, when Darin stands on stage in a tux and sings standards and current pop hits in his sophisticated, hip nightclub manner.

Also, every episode (there are thirteen) finds Darin singing to (and with) that week’s female musical guest star. Usually the two perch on stools as he gazes at her with open admiration, in a kind of seduction ending with Darin kissing the female guest tenderly (in near silhouette). What’s most fascinating here is how Darin modulates his performances according to the talents of his partner. Connie Stevens is shockingly weak, and Darin carries her, singing softly and gently. Much the same is true with Nancy Sinatra – but she is much better with him, with his help, than in her embarrassing solo performance of a lame “Boots are Made For Walkin’” follow-up flop.

But when Darin sings with Dusty Springfield – the greatest blue-eyed female soul singer of her generation – they stand facing each other, going toe to toe, delighted by each other’s talent, holding nothing back, although Dusty may be just a little bit surprised that the “Splish Splash”/”Mack the Knife” guy has such incredible r & b chops.

It’s not overstating it to say Darin was dying when he made these shows. Sometimes he clearly feels pretty good, and other times not. He doesn’t betray that, but I can tell. He phrases differently – grabbing more air than usual – when he’s under the weather. At the end of each show, he sings “Mack the Knife” while the credits roll and then recedes into a big empty soundstage in silhouette, which now plays hauntingly. If he’s feeling good, he dances and prances; if he’s having a rough week, he does just enough footwork and body language to fool you into thinking he’s still Bobby Darin. It’s said that he took oxygen off-stage before and after these performances, and that he was like a puppet with its strings snipped till the camera came on and the orchestra kicked in, and he came – for a time – alive.

Bobby Darin was a character Walden Robert Cassoto played. The coolness of the cat, swinging his songs on these shows, is startling in contrast to the goofy humor bits he does, like when he’s in drag as “the Godmother,” or sitting on a brownstone stoop jawing with a neighborhood pal. His acting talent comes to the fore in some excellent low-key production numbers in which he enacts a scene drawn from a song he’s singing, as in “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight,” where he’s a lower-class joe entertaining a prostitute in a cheap hotel room. Fairly startling, actually.

Darin could do anything. He was Oscar-nominated for a dramatic movie role and won a Golden Globe for a comedy. He was a genuine rocker. He was easily the greatest blue-eyed soul singer of his generation. He recorded some of the first country rock and folk rock, and was a songwriter of talent and versatility (he’s in the Songwriters Hall of Fame). At the start of his career, he opened for George Burns. In the last months of his life, he was the highest paid performer in Vegas.

If you buy this DVD set, know a couple of things. There are some things missing from these shows, apparently mostly guest-star performances that couldn’t be cleared. There are comedy bits you may wish to skip, and some dreadful musical performances by guest stars. I mean, it’s the early ‘70s. We’re talking the kind of era that makes people nostalgic for THE BRADY BUNCH.

But when Darin takes centerstage, with a big band behind him, a microphone in hand, and a rapt audience before him, prepare to get chills. There are performances here, by this dying young man, that are spellbinding and mesmerizing – “Cry Me a River,” “Some People,” “Once in a Lifetime.” A rare live performances of his great hit “Artificial Flowers” (one of his many songs about death) can be found here, and so can his thumbing-his-nose-at-the-reaper signature tune “Mack the Knife” – thirteen times, each different. The most astonishing performance is, perhaps surprisingly, his moving and electric rendition of Don McLean’s “Driedel.” Worth the price of admission.

The DVD set is widely available, on Amazon and at Barnes & Noble, and featured in mail-order catalogues like Critic’s Choice.

For those of you who have no idea what the fuss is, check out this 1962 performance:

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Here’s that interview that Jon Jordan did with me about KING OF THE WEEDS and more.

Barb and I are thrilled that the Washington Post mystery review chose ANTIQUES CON for part of their round-up of new cozies.

And my old pal Ron Fortier (terrific writer his own self) had wonderful things to say about KING OF THE WEEDS.

JFK assassination expert Vince Palamara – one of my unwitting resources – has some very nice things to say about TARGET LANCER here. I can’t tell you how much it means when somebody like Vince approves of my exploration of the key crime of the 20th Century.

M.A.C.

Embarrassing Media Performance

Tuesday, November 26th, 2013

I couldn’t stomach much of the media coverage last week, for the 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination. Am I supposed to care what Angelina Jolie thinks of Kennedy? Or where a tearful Jane Fonda was when she heard? Hand me the air sickness bag, please.

The shameful media emphasis on Oswald as lone gunman and conspiracy theorists as fools came to a surprising head Friday night when Bill Maher, of all people, shrugged the assassination off as “shit happens.”

That’s the standard take of the pro-lone nut crowd – people like me just can’t accept that a great man like JFK could be taken down by a little nobody. Hearing the ridiculous Warren Commission findings taken seriously while the later HSCA  finding for conspiracy are ignored shows just how all-pervasive this new whitewash is.

It doesn’t come from the government. It comes from my fellow liberals wanting to deify Kennedy, to make him a marble figure on a statue like Lincoln. Speaking of Lincoln, how many people out there think John Wilkes Booth was a lone nut “like Oswald”? That will come as a surprise to Booth’s co-conspirators, who swung from ropes.

I’m an admirer of JFK, but also a realist. I understand that a president who sanctions assassinations of other heads of state might just trip over a whole lot of karma. I understand that when you team the CIA up with the Mob (not a theory – an historical fact) to bump off Castro, some nasty ramifications might ensue.

On Maher’s REAL TIME panel, Paul Begala stated that his fellow George magazine founder John F. Kennedy Jr. made a point of saying their new magazine wouldn’t be looking into the assassination. JFK Jr. reportedly said he could spend his whole life doing that, and had decided to move on. The implication was, we should all do the same.

Maher accepted this strained logic – if a son doesn’t give a shit who killed his old man, why should we? But the Kennedy family has always kept a tight control over assassination documents – they knew the dirty laundry that would come out. RFK’s first reaction to hearing about the shooting was that Chicago had done it, and he used his own Rackets Committee veteran investigators to do a sub rosa inquiry (part of the basis for Heller’s activities in ASK NOT).

Let’s keep this very simple. The problem with dismissing as a fool or a crank anyone who thinks a conspiracy took down JFK is this: it only takes two to make a conspiracy, and in this case we have at least two – Oswald and Ruby.

Or let’s look at it this way – to believe Oswald was a lone nut who shot JFK, you also have to accept Ruby as a lone nut who shot Oswald. So the media/Maher theory isn’t the Lone Nut Theory – it’s the Two Lone Nuts theory…which is particularly ludicrous when you consider that Ruby was a mobbed-up guy from Chicago with ties all the way back to Capone and a history in Cuba with the Marcello crowd.

I’m generally a Maher fan. He’s a smug prick, but he’s funny and smart. But he can also be glib and shallow, and this is one of those times. Him and the rest of the media.

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The ASK NOT signing went very well at Barnes & Noble in Davenport, Iowa, Saturday afternoon. Big bookstore chain signings often suck, but at this one – despite a Hawkeye game (even my collaborator Matt Clemens didn’t attend the signing) – we had a steady flow. A good stack of ASK NOT sold, quite a few TARGET LANCER paperbacks, plus a whole lot of ANTIQUES books, which Barb and I signed.

Speaking of ANTIQUES, three of the paperback reprints are going back to press – ANTIQUES ROADKILL, ANTIQUES DISPOSAL and ANTIQUES KNOCK-OFF – which reflects just how well this series continues to do. If you’re a hardboiled M.A.C. fan and haven’t tried one, now’s as good a time as any, and the current ANTIQUES CHOP is one of our best.

As for ASK NOT, we had some nice attention last week, although with so many JFK books out there, mine got a little lost in the shuffle. An appearance on Paula Sands Live on KWQC-TV Davenport no doubt boosted the Barnes & Noble appearance. Paula is so great – some of you will remember her from her acting stint (as herself!) in MOMMY’S DAY.

The reviews for ASK NOT at Amazon are generally raves, but we only have around a dozen at this point. If you’ve read and liked the book, could you please post a short review? If you didn’t like the book, keep in mind that I don’t come to where you work and criticize you.

My “WHY I WRITE” piece for Publisher’s Weekly was picked up by two of the best blogs in mystery fiction: Ed Gorman’s and Bill Crider’s.

The other non-Gorman Ed’s Blog posted a nice ASK NOT review here.

One of several radio interviews I did last week is available at this link.

My old pal David Burke at the Quad Cities Times did this short but sweet interview/write-up, promoting the Barnes & Noble signing.

Tony Isabella, great guy/terrific writer, gave his blog followers a nice heads up about the forthcoming WRONG QUARRY.

And here’s a fun review (read the comments, too) of THE GIRL HUNTERS. By the way, a blu-ray is coming and I will likely be involved.

M.A.C.

Get Together Now

Tuesday, September 3rd, 2013

Last week Barb and I met with Ed and Carol Gorman and Bob Randisi and Marthayn Pelegrimas for one of our periodic get-togethers at a restaurant in the toursity/rustic Amana Colonies. Every one of us is a published writer, though the “girls” tend to gather at one end of the table (after a family-style repast) and the “boys” at the other. Too bad both ends of the table aren’t recorded secretly, because the conversation is quick and funny and very “inside baseball.”

Ed and Bob are my two oldest and best friends in publishing (not counting collaborators). We were all three involved in the creation of MYSTERY SCENE magazine (me the least – I was the movie reviewer there, serving in that capacity for almost a decade….Being in at the beginning and helping mold MYSTERY SCENE has not led me to a cover story there, more’s the pity). What a pleasure spending time with working writers, discussing the current ever-shifting state of publishing. Anecdotes of recent and fairly ancient vintage got shared, and all of us – with large backlist catalogues – are seeking various ways to get our stuff back out there. Mostly it’s e-book-driven, of course.

Speaking of Ed, he later e-mail interviewed Barb for his terrific blog, and Barb is very hard to nail down for that sort of thing, so enjoy.

Otherwise a slow week for M.A.C. news/attention on the web, with the exception of this very nice WHAT DOESN’T KILL HER review.

On Labor Day (today, as I write this), Matt Clemens came down to deliver some materials on the in-progress thriller, SUPREME JUSTICE. We also explored possible new thrillers and discussed the possibility of publishing an expanded version of our long-out-of-print short story collection, MY LOLITA COMPLEX.

It’s been a while since I commented on movies here, so let me give you a very brief rundown on what Barb and I have seen lately:

Les Daniels’ THE BUTLER – a mess, but fun, unless you are an Obama hater.

ELYSIUM – a mess but no fun. We walked out.

THE WORLD’S END – a wonderfully funny, quirky Brit beerfest and a perfect conclusion to the trilogy that also includes SHAUN OF THE DEAD and HOT FUZZ. I met Simon Pegg and Nick Frost at Comic-Con a few years ago and they were swell blokes.

M.A.C.

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: macphilms@hotmail.com. 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.

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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.

M.A.C.