Posts Tagged ‘Quarry’s Cut’

Ask Not Why I Write

Tuesday, November 19th, 2013
Ask Not Audiobook

The audio of ASK NOT, read by Dan John Miller (the great actor who read all of the preceding Heller novels and short story collections for Brilliance), is available now at Amazon. Recorded Books offers no CD retail edition, but the rather expensive library edition on CD ($102.75) is available, though not through Amazon.

For those of you used to downloading audios, Amazon appears to have it right now. The Recorded Books site lists the download as available December 1, and the CD version for libraries not until Feb. 22. I have contacted the publisher to see if those dates are correct.

I am as anxious as anyone to hear Dan’s reading, because he really is the definitive voice of Nate Heller. I will be leaving my buggy and butter churn behind very soon and getting an MP3 player, so I can download ASK NOT as well as the Audible downloads (first time on audio!) of QUARRY, QUARRY’S LIST, QUARRY’S DEAL, QUARRY’S CUT, QUARRY’S VOTE and (in January) THE WRONG QUARRY.

Publisher’s Weekly asked me to write a piece for their “Why I Write” series, and it’s in this week’s issue. I can’t provide a link because the PW site is for subscribers only. So I’ll share the piece with you here:

by Max Allan Collins

Why do you write?

Many writers have a glib comeback for this question. Samuel Johnson famously said, “No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money.” Asked what inspired him, Mickey Spillane would reply, “The urgent need for money.” And I have often described my career as an ongoing effort to avoid a real job.

Certainly earning a living is a valid reason to write; but really, getting paid is what allows me to write – and has made me a full-time writer since 1977. I take pride in not having a day job, and when asked why I write so much, I usually say, “To keep the lights on.” Anyway, what else am I supposed to do with my time?

The ranks of successful authors include lawyers, doctors and in particular teachers – noble professions, but part-time scribes all. Early on I taught at a college myself, though never more than half-time, having sold my first two novels at the University of Iowa’s Writers Workshop. Teaching drains the creative juices that writing requires, and I got out of academia as soon as possible.

Stories have been my main interest longer than I can remember. My mother read me Tarzan books at bedtime and encouraged me to read Dick Tracy comic books (her favorite strip). Chester Gould’s famous dick led me into Sherlock Holmes, Ellery Queen and the Saint, and – by junior high – Sam Spade, Phillip Marlowe and Mike Hammer, an interest fostered by the wave of TV private eyes of the late ‘50s. My sixth-grade teacher told me I would never be successful because I insisted on writing “blood and thunder” (the title of my 1995 Nathan Heller novel, by the way).

Television and movies encouraged my interest in history, with “The Untouchables” a prime contributor. As a kid, I became fascinated in the real people (Wyatt Earp, Eliot Ness) who fed our popular culture. I was also taken with the people who created that popular culture. I didn’t want to be Dick Tracy when I grew up – I wanted to be Chester Gould. Didn’t take me long to figure out the only thing more fun than being told stories was telling them yourself.

I have an abiding interest in the history of crime fiction – for example, completing Mickey Spillane’s in-progress Hammer manuscripts – but also the way history has informed crime fiction. This has led to my best-known works, the graphic novel Road to Perdition and the Nathan Heller “memoirs” (Ask Not, the “JFK” thriller recently published by Forge).

My career began in Iowa City forty years ago with the sale of my first crime novels, and a love for language, thanks to Raymond Chandler and other noir poets. Now I find myself working harder than ever, risking my reputation by being too prolific, because I am all too aware that I’m in the third act of my career, and there are many more stories I want to tell.

For money, yes. But mostly for the sheer joy of it.

* * *

The same issue of PW has a nice overview of recent novels with JFK assassination themes, with ASK NOT prominently mentioned (and the cover shown). This, too, is for subscribers only. But the magazine is on the stands, should you want to take a look.

Finally, here’s a very interesting ASK NOT review.


Hardboiled Vs. Cozy

Tuesday, November 9th, 2010

Quarry's CutThis week’s Quarry cover is QUARRY’S CUT, originally THE SLASHER – the final of the first four in the series, published in the mid-‘70s by Berkley Books. It’s the darkest of the first four, the most overtly a dark comedy of any of the novels, and is one of my periodic, probably ill-advised attempts to do an Agatha Christie-style closed environment mystery in the hardboiled style.

I seem to be one of the few mystery writers who likes Christie as much as Hammett, who likes Stout as much as Spillane. Someone recently was putting down cozies, assuming I’d agree, when I had to say, “Uh – I write a cozy series with my wife.” I find things to like in every variation on the fictional sleuth – for example, Barb and I spend much of our leisure time watching British mysteries. We are currently preparing ourselves for withdrawal pangs over the upcoming departure of John Nettles (Inspector Barnaby) from Midsomer Murders (Nettles is leaving after a record number of episodes, though it’s continuing without him). As I mentioned here previously, we recently blew through the wonderful boxed set of Ellery Queen starring Jim Hutton, father of Archie Goodwin, I mean, Tim Hutton.

I don’t understand the hostility between fans of the variations on the detective story – it makes as much sense as the old Marvel Comics/DC Comics rivalry. What I notice most is that people who dislike a writer like Christie or Spillane generally haven’t read them much if at all. Some tried them as kids and had a knee-jerk reaction and never went back and tried again as adults.

The take on Christie is that her characters are cardboard – not true; in fact, the solutions to her mysteries almost always hinge upon psychology. She is also a great dialogue writer – she was, after all, a hugely successful playwright.

Spillane is supposed to be a woman hater, yet his women are remarkably strong with Hammer’s P.I. partner, Velda, a prime, pistol-packing example. The key to enjoying Spillane is understanding that he is not Chandler just as Chandler was not Hammett. Mickey gets dissed over his politics, but there’s nothing really political about that lunatic urban knight Mike Hammer – true, Mickey was a conservative of sorts (as a Jehovah’s Witness, he did not vote), and I am a liberal; but that has had zero impact on the Hammers I’ve co-written.

By the way, if you are unemployed, and you voted for the Republicans – you know, the party that wants to end your unemployment benefits? You are about to get exactly what you deserve.

I read very, very little contemporary crime fiction. I kid on the square that I don’t like to encourage the competition, but the real reasons are (a) my reading time is taken up by research, and (b) the mystery I am “reading” is the one I am writing.

So, instead, Barb and I watch British mysteries on TV, and other mystery series old and new (from Johnny Staccato to Leverage) (Tim Hutton again). And we listen to audio books when we travel. We are heading into our fourth trip through Rex Stout, having listened to Agatha Chritie’s entire body of work twice. If I am doing a Spillane collaboration, I listen to a Spillane audio book.

I can still learn from the classics. I am well aware that some very good people are writing right now. And I do read a handful (chiefly pals like Ed Gorman, John Lutz, Bob Randisi, and a few others). But I doubt anybody’s writing right now who could teach me things I couldn’t learn from Hammett, Chandler, Cain, Spillane, Thompson, Westlake, Stout, Gardner and Christie.

One of these days I am going to discuss the definition of “noir” here. It seems to be a fairly controversial subject. Recently, though, my friend Otto Penzler declared all private eye fiction outside the boundaries of noir. Otto is, of course, one of the most knowledgeable guys in the field. He is also wrong.

But that’s for another update.