Posts Tagged ‘Road to Paradise’

Road Trip

Tuesday, February 7th, 2017

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One of the nicest things that happened to me last year – acknowledging that 2016 was something of a mine field I barely navigated – was the first-time publication by Brash Books of my complete prose version of Road to Perdition.

Thus far, however, we don’t seem to have sold many copies, and at risk of a hard sell, I want to encourage readers of mine in general and of Road to Perdition in particular that this is a book you don’t want to miss.

Perhaps you’ve read the graphic novel and don’t see the point in revisiting this story, particularly if you’ve seen the movie. Or maybe you read the previously published version and figure that, even though it’s 30,000 words shorter, you’ve already experienced this story in prose.

You haven’t. The Brash publication of Road to Perdition brings into print (and e-book) one of my best novels. And it’s a novel that begins (and in this case completes) the trilogy of Road novels that includes both Road to Purgatory and Road to Paradise.

I should also make clear that the new Road to Perdition novel (and it’s “new” despite having been written in 2001) is not just 30,000 words longer – it’s a different novel entirely. To explain, I have to revisit the painful experience of writing it.

Knowing that someone would write the “novelization” of the film based on the graphic novel by Richard Piers Rayner and me – and being, at the time, a hot property among novelization writers – I lobbied to get the assignment myself. I had already done the very successful novelization for DreamWorks and NAL of Saving Private Ryan. It sold half a million copies and was on the New York Times bestseller list. I got the Perdition assignment.

My approach to writing a movie novelization (I hate that term!) is not entirely standard. Unlike a lot of tie-in writers, I throw out much of the dialogue and write my own. (I’ll speak in the present tense here, though it’s doubtful I’ll ever write another movie tie-in novel.) My reasoning is that movie dialogue and novel dialogue are two different animals. In addition, movie scenes – very short, often two pages or less – need fleshing out.

Similarly, movies tend to skip scenes and let the viewer fill in. A movie doesn’t have to explain how a bunch of characters got from point A to point D, because the movie depicts those characters at point D – so they must have got there, right? But in the novel version, I would write about getting from point A to point B and point C before doing point D. In other words, I add scenes.

I once had a call from director Jonathan Moslow, whose U-571 I had novelized. He told me how much he liked the book – this was the only such call I ever received, by the way – but wondered how I’d known to cut several scenes and also to add several others that had not been in the screenplay. I explained that, in my modest way, I was a filmmaker myself – that I’d directed a handful of indie features. And when I read certain scenes, I’d known they’d be skipped; and when I added certain scenes, I’d known they’d be needed…or at least would flesh out the narrative for a reader of the novel.

In Saving Private Ryan, I not only changed the dialogue and added scenes, I did considerable research and wove all kinds of factual material into the narrative. (Later, when I was signed to write the Windtalkers novel – about the Navajo code talkers – I was specifically asked to give that script the same Saving Private Ryan-style research-driven approach.)

What I had learned, doing a dozen or more novelizations, was that what the Hollywood folks wanted me to do was “follow the script out the door.” In other words, I needed to include every beat of action and narrative in the screenplay, preferably in the same order. A conversation about something could be in different words than the screenplay, as long as it appeared in the same place and covered the same ground.

So when I approached the novel version of Road to Perdition, I took my usual approach. I wrote my own dialogue, and I restored material from the graphic novel that had not been in the screenplay. I provided linking scenes. I also added a lot of period detail and historical material that hadn’t made it into the graphic novel, either. The memoir aspect of the graphic novel I restored by way of italicized first-person openings for each chapter.

The novel was substantial for a movie novelization – something like 80,000 words – and I was proud of it. Felt it was my best movie novel and that it was a real complement to the original graphic novel. I sent it to my agent, who liked it very much (and he’s a tough audience), and the tie-in editor at NAL said it was the best movie novelization he’d ever read. He was thrilled. Ecstatic.

Happy times at the Collins household.

Then the DreamWorks people got hold of the book. They were not pleased. They could not have cared less that I was the creator of the original material. What they wanted – what they demanded – was that all of the dialogue from the screenplay be included, exactly as written. They also wanted any material not in the screenplay removed.

I made my case through my agent, and later directly to the editor. But editors who have a movie novelization on their lists answer to the movie studio, who must sign off on the manuscript before publication. So those editors tend not to rock the boat. Whatever the studio wants, the studio gets.

I went through numerous rewrites. In the first of these I put the movie dialogue in, but retained the extended dialogue of my own that had lengthened the scenes fore and aft. This is a necessary novelization technique because movie scripts tend to run 100 to 120 pages, and by contract the novel usually must reach 300 pages. Simple math means that some material needs to be added.

Nonetheless, I was required to remove any dialogue that had not been in the screenplay. To get the book up to any sort of length at all, I changed patches of my dialogue into third-person interior monologue. That’s one of the reasons why the complete Perdition novel isn’t just longer than the previous version, but substantially different.

The craziness continued. As the movie went through various stages of post-production, I was required to cut any scenes that were cut as the film itself was tightened in editing. Most novelizations include scenes that were cut from the film, and that’s one of the fun of reading them – getting deleted scenes, so to speak. Such cutting made mincemeat of the novel – one chapter was reduced to a page and a half.

When the book was finally published in its truncated, bastardized form, the length was around 40,000 words. I thought of it was the Scholastic Books version. That it made the New York Times bestseller list was a bitter victory.

Throughout the process of aborting my own child, I was told that it was director Sam Mendes himself who was insisting on these changes. I’d met Mendes on set and had a long, friendly, even warm conversation with him. I found it hard to believe he’d behave in this fashion. At the London premiere, we spoke again, and one of the things he said was, “I understand you wrote the novelization. I can’t wait to read it.”

So.

If you like my work, if you like Road to Perdition in any of its previous forms, go to Amazon or Barnes & Noble or BAM! and order Road to Perdition: The New, Expanded Novel. You are unlikely to find the book in any brick-and-mortar store, but I do recommended the physical book over the e-book, as it’s a handsome thing.

[Note from Nate: Actually, buy digital, too, since the e-book is currently on sale for 99 cents on Amazon, Google Play, Kobo, and iTunes. Heck, buy it at all four — who knows, maybe you’ll switch devices one day!]

[Also, Indiebound is a service that helps readers find a local bookstore where the physical novel can be special ordered, often online. Here’s the link.]

The sequel, Road to Purgatory, is also a handsome thing, and it’s just been published by Brash. (Read about it here: http://www.brash-books.com/book/road-to-purgatory-coming-in-february-2017/) Brash will be doing Road to Paradise as well, later this year or early next. The books have lovely uniform covers and will make a nice set for you to place on your bookshelf next to Nate Heller, Quarry and Barbara Allan.

The joy of having the real Road to Perdition novel exist will be greatly amplified if some of you actually read it.

* * *

People are always asking me what I’ve been reading. I know they mean novels, but as I’ve said here many times, I rarely read novels, and when I do, they tend to be older ones (lately Simenon’s Maigret novels).

Here are a few recent reads, all non-fiction:

An Unseemly Man, Larry Flynt – prepping for a Quarry novel about a Flynt-like murder target. Frank and smart, with the court battles over First Amendment issues often riveting.

TV (The Book)
, Alan Sepinwall and Matt Zoller Seitz, opinions and history about “the greatest American shows of all time.” Spotty, but readable.

A Life in Parts, Bryan Cranston. I mentioned this before – an excellent memoir by the Breaking Bad actor.

James Bond: The Secret History, Sean Egan. A decent look at Fleming and Bond, the latter in comics and video games as well as film and novels. No sense at all of the role Spillane played in the creation of the character.

That Kind of Woman – The Life and Career of Barbara Nichols, Richard Koper. A sad, repetitive look at the actress’ life. A lot of work went into it, but not really a professional job. Tons of good photos, though.

Andy & Don, Daneil de Vise – excellent dual bio of Andy Griffith and Don Knotts. Griffith is a fascinating guy, with a “Lonesome” Rhodes dark side.

Spotlight and Shadows – The Albert Salmi Story (2nd Edition), a fine bio by Sandra Grabman of the great character actor whose end was heartbreakingly tragic.

Arthur and Sherlock, Michael Sims. A look at the creation of Holmes by Doyle, ultimately unsatisfying, a detailed bio of the author cutting off after the publication of the initial Holmes stories.

A Mysterious Something in the Night: The Life of Raymond Chandler, Tom Williams. A pretty good bio of Chandler, though unremittingly sad. But for a picture section photo cutline, strangely omits any mention of Murder, My Sweet (a key film) and barely mentions the remake Farewell, My Lovely. Also agrees with any literary opinion of the notoriously cranky Chandler in a knee-jerk fashion. Nonetheless, worthwhile.

Wild Wild Westerners, Tom Weaver. B-movie maven Weaver talks to nineteen actors, writers and directors from the heyday of western film and TV, with standout interviews with Fess Parke, Andrew J. Fenady and June Lockhart.

See? I read.

* * *

Comic Mix has a giveaway contest for a Blu-ray copy of the Quarry Cinemax show.

A wonderful write-up on the Blu-ray release of Quarry is at DVD Beaver, one of my favorite sites (and not a porn one, despite its name).

Finally, here’s another Quarry Blu-ray review (haven’t received a copy yet myself).

M.A.C.

A Brash Preview

Tuesday, October 25th, 2016

Brash Books, who have brought the complete version of my ROAD TO PERDITION prose novel into print for the first time, has put together a terrific trailer for You Tube.

Brash will also be doing ROAD TO PURGATORY and ROAD TO PARADISE, and the two Patrick Culhane-bylined titles of mine now under my own name: BLACK HATS and USS POWDERKEG (previously RED SKY IN MORNING).

Two more movies we walked out of:

THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN – we barely made it fifteen minutes into this travesty. Everything that made the original work, from the one-ups-manship chemistry between Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen to the theme of the West leaving the gunfighter behind is sadly M.I.A. The opening is stupidly melodramatic with the villain a wimp (the woefully miscast Peter Sarsgaard) and the action over-blown. The introduction of Denzel Washington’s character is silly (people scurry like roaches in fear of him) and Chris Pratt’s character is so poorly drawn, he’s actually given three introductory scenes (none of which work). The art direction, in its would-be Italian Western-ness, is as precious as a Hummel. We went home and watched the original.

KEEPING UP WITH THE JONESES is the kind of unfunny movie that makes you question your previously high opinion of the topline cast members. Zach Galifianakis has nothing to do in the role of a normal suburban spouse/father, and John Hamm looks like Don Draper, half-in-the-bag, wandering onto the wrong set. It’s the wheeze about normal folks wondering what their sophisticated new neighbors are doing in this dull neighborhood (of course that neighborhood exists only in the imagination of Hollywood, as we have a combination of hick types living in very expensive houses supported by jobs they could never hold). Isla Fisher, for example, who channels Debbie Reynolds in her 1960s mode, is some kind of interior designer currently working on a urinal for her “funny” neighbor. How does this shit get made?

* * *

Here’s an okay but patronizing QUARRY IN THE BLACK review. It’s tough to take criticism from somebody who calls The Broker “The Booker.”

For my taste, more on target, here is this great write-up from Ron Fortier, first-rate scribe his own self.

Here’s another fine review of QUARRY IN THE BLACK, although somehow the reviewer mistakes St. Louis for New York City. A Brit, maybe?

The QUARRY TV show gets more love.

And Wild Dog is getting back into the comic books (I wasn’t invited).

More Wild Dog here.

Finally, here’s info on the excellent QUARRY IN THE BLACK audio read by the great Stefan Rudnicki.

M.A.C.

Heart-Felt Part 6

Tuesday, February 9th, 2016

Yes, let’s get on with it already! I should very soon (today or tomorrow) get test results that will immediately pave the way for the heart surgery. In that case, a good chance I’ll be going in yet this week. If that happens, my son Nate will start posting weekly the four updates I wrote in advance, and I should be in shape to get back to the regular stand after that.

Watch here and at Facebook for health updates from me or Nate.

Everybody has been great. Thanks for the love and support. Back at ya.

* * *

Publication of the ROAD TO PERDITION novel appears to be happening. As I was looking for a project to keep me busy while waiting for test results, I decided to prepare the manuscript for Brash Books. For those who came in late, in 2002 I wrote a 70,000-word movie tie-in novel (okay, novelization) of the script for the movie that was based on my graphic novel. In my novel, I attempted to be true to the screenplay while weaving in material from the graphic novel as well as historical material about the real John Looney and his era.

The DreamWorks licensing department put me through hell, making me cut anything – including dialogue! – that wasn’t directly from the script. They could not have cared less that I was the creator of this story and its characters. Even after they had accepted my 40,000-word debasement of my original novel, they kept cutting – if, in the film-editing process, director Sam Mendes dropped a scene or even a few lines of dialogue, they removed that from my novel as well. One chapter was reduced to a page and a half.

I’ve always felt I did really good job on the book, and it really paved the way for my sequels, ROAD TO PURGATORY and ROAD TO PARADISE. So I’ve looked for a way to get the novel into print. Now, enough years have passed that nobody at Paramount (who control DreamWorks) seems concerned about my original version finally being seen.

Quick anecdote. I was told by the DreamWorks licensing people that Mendes himself was making the requests for my drastic cuts of the novel. That he wanted it exactly like the movie. Then when I talked to Mendes at the London premiere, he said, “I hear you’ve written the movie novel – can’t wait to read it!”

So, anyway, back in 2016, I was faced with looking at my 2002 manuscript and dealing with it. Making decisions, doing tweaks, ferreting out typos and missing words. This was my original manuscript, after all, not any published version.

My first decision was to change the slightly revised movies names of several central characters back to my version of them – “Michael Sullivan” was restored to “Michael O’Sullivan” and John (and) Connor “Rooney” again became “Looney.” (The change from “Looney” to “Rooney” was done when either Mendes or the screenwriter assumed the former was a comic-booky name provided by a graphic novelist, when of course the latter is historically accurate.)

My second decision was to get rid of two major plot changes. (SPOILER ALERT: skip this paragraph if you haven’t read the graphic novel and/or seen the film). In the graphic novel, as in history, John Looney is not killed. And in the graphic novel, the boy Michael kills the hitman who has shot Michael’s father. In the film, Looney memorably dies in the rain, and a Hollywood ending has the boy unable to shoot the hitman and the dying father being pleased. I had already restored the envelope of first-person narration by the grown Michael, Jr., and a last-page revelation of what became of him.

So I spent a day rewriting those scenes, taking them back to my original intention. But it didn’t work. The screenwriter had done too good a job of laying the groundwork for his version of my scenes. And I had done a really good job in the novel of doing the same, including fixing some plot holes in the script. Re-doing those scenes to make them consistent with the graphic novel created a domino effect of terrible proportions. The next work day, I restored the scenes as I’d originally written them (faithful to the movie script).

It quickly became clear that I had no business doing any significant rewriting. The point of the exercise was to get what I wrote in 2002 into print. This is not to say that I didn’t do some tweaking, but it was mostly a few word choice changes. I did fix a couple of things that bothered me in the movie that I had let pass in the novelization.

An example – in the film, Mike Sullivan has just offered his services to Frank Nitti if Nitti will give up Connor Rooney. Nitti turns Sullivan down, then after Mike has gone, we find that in adjacent room both Connor and John Looney are waiting. In what I think of as the Dr. Evil and Scott scene, Connor tells his father that they should take Mike down right now – he’s in their grasp! Rooney, again like Dr. Evil in Austin Powers, says something like, “You just don’t get it, do you son?” As much as I love the film, this makes me cringe. So I revised it with the father telling his son why it would be unwise to kill Sullivan, specifically that in a busy hotel during the day, the resultant melee would be a disaster. Those who’ve read the graphic novel know that I did have O’Sullivan shoot his way out of the hotel. Not staging that scene was a rare misstep and a missed opportunity.

On the whole, I was very pleased by what I wrote in 2002, and again I did very little rewriting or additional writing. Since Brash Books also intends to bring out ROAD TO PURGATORY and ROAD TO PARADISE in new editions, I feel confident that the prose novel of ROAD TO PERDITION will be a good lead-in – that it forms with the two sequels a trilogy that will please readers, particularly those who became familiar with PERDITION via the film.

One final note: one of the trickiest things had to do with converting between word processing programs. You want to know how long ago 2002 was? The book was written in WordStar! I had to convert it to Word Perfect, my preferred program, after which my revised manuscript had to be converted to Word. That meant, as a final step, going through and eyeballing each of around 400 pages, looking for glitches.

* * *

Check out this nifty cover of the mass-market edition of KILL ME, DARLING. By the way, I don’t recall whether I’ve mentioned it or not, but several goofs in the hardcover of COMPLEX 90 were corrected in the paperback version – making it the author-approved text of that novel.

The DARLING paperback will be out this month (the 23rd).

Speaking of my collaborations with Mickey Spillane, I urge you to check out the article at Great Writers Steal that happens to be one of the smartest examinations of either my work or Mickey’s that anybody has ever written.

Less smart is the favorable but patronizing review at the normally more reliable UK site, Crime Fiction Lover. Once again, it turns out that a book written in the ‘70s includes some ‘70s attitudes. And once again, the reviewer troubled by that doesn’t mind at all Quarry killing people.

Speaking of smart reviews, here’s a great one about the Heller novel ASK NOT, from Frank the Movie Watcher.

Let’s wind up with a great piece on THE MALTESE FALCON, from a writer smart enough to quote me.

M.A.C.

Barbara Allan: How it Works

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014
Antiques Fruitcake

No question comes my way more frequently than, “How do you and your wife Barb collaborate on the ANTIQUES books?” Well, actually, I’m more often asked, “Has anybody told you that you look like Elton John?” But not much.

As I spent last week working on a Barbara Allan project, this seems as good a time as any to answer the first question. (As for the second question, there’s no answering it that will make it go away.)

As part of our most recent contract with Kensington Publishing, Barb and I agreed to write three novellas in the ANTIQUES series in addition to three full-length novels. The idea was to write novellas that could be e-books in an effort to attract new readers, and to prime readers for the next book in the series.

Further, each novella was to be Christmas-themed. This set the stage for possibly collecting the novellas, maybe with a new one, in book form at some point. Looking at the writing of one of these novellas should provide a study in microcosm of the collaborative writing process used by Barb and me on the novels themselves.

The work began several months ago with a series of conversations, fairly casual, about what the basic story would be, and what the title might be. Titles are tricky on these Christmas novellas. Coming up with something clever, like HO HO HOMICIDE or CHRISTMAS STALKING isn’t that tricky (although lots of possibilities have been used, including those); but in our case we have to include ANTIQUES in the title. Something like ANTIQUES CHRISTMAS STALKING has about as much music as a trombone falling down the stairs.

The first of the novellas was ANTIQUES SLAY RIDE and the second (which will be e-published a week from today) is ANTIQUES FRUITCAKE. We considered ANTIQUES MISTLETOE TAG, but that damn “Antiques” made it clumsy. So – we gave up and moved on to figuring out the story.

As is our habit, we kicked around ideas over lunch at various restaurants. Barb suggested something to do with a street-corner Santa Claus getting killed for his donation bag. But that had no “antiques” aspect, so I suggested somebody had put a valuable old coin in the bag, possibly by mistake. Then came the notion that our Santa was not Salvation Army variety, but a good-hearted local person raising money for some good cause. And the valuable-coin donation was on purpose.

From there came both a more detailed plot – with the same kind of back-and-forth brainstorming that Matt Clemens and I engage in – and a possible title. ANTIQUES SECRET SANTA. Finally I came up with ANTIQUES ST. NICKED, which became the title (unless Kensington hates it).

About five weeks ago, we finalized the chapter breakdown (over lunch, of course). When the Hollywood pitch trip came along, Barb went with me and worked on the ANTIQUES story in our hotel room while I was off on meetings. She got her draft of the first of five chapters written.

Back home, she continued at a rate of one chapter a week. In the meantime, I was doing two drafts of that TV script I’ve mentioned as well as several smaller writing jobs I agreed to do in weak moments. A week ago, she turned over her five-chapter, 69-page draft to me.

Monday through/including Thursday, last week, I did a chapter a day, revising, expanding, tightening, tweaking. Along the way I would have plot and character questions for Barb, which she would answer, or that she and I would discuss and work out. End of day she’d read my draft, mark it up, and I would enter her changes and corrections, either then or the first thing next work day.

Friday was beautiful, so we said, “Screw it,” and had one of our typical getaway days, going to the Amana Colonies and then Cedar Rapids for food and shopping. Saturday I did the final of five chapters, and on Sunday we both read the manuscript, first Barb, then me, each making notes and corrections.

Reading any long manuscript that you’ve written a chapter at a time, without doing much referring back as you go, means you’re likely to encounter plot and continuity problems, and that happened here. One thing that happened was that several things in our plot and on a “CHARACTERS/SUSPECT” sheet that Barb had prepared for me had not made it into the manuscript. We wrote them in. By late afternoon Sunday, the manuscript was finished – now 84 pages.

We may not turn it in for a while – that will be our editor’s call – because we did this story way early, in part because Barb needs to get cracking on the next ANTIQUES novel, but mostly because the deadline for the second Caleb York novel (also for Kensington) is the same day as for this novella. A “yikes” would not be inappropriate here.

It’s hard for a writer to know, right after finishing something, if it’s worth a damn. Barb is still just shrugging, shaking her head and making faces about this one. I feel more confident that we have just the right mix of our typical format with our characters presented well, a tricky little mystery, Christmas theme, serious subject matter handled delicately, and lots of laughs.

* * *

Here’s a very good, flattering essay about my work that morphs into a Chicago crime piece. I do wonder if the writer knows that much of what he goes on to discuss was dealt with in my novels ROAD TO PURGATORY and ROAD TO PARADISE.

Here’s a great little piece (with mentions of yours truly) on one of my favorite paperback writers of the ‘60s, Ennis Willie. (I’ll be talking about him and several other under-appreciated writers on a Bouchercon panel.)

Finally, check out this generous write-up, having to do with my writing a brief advance review of a book on Milton Caniff and his STEVE CANYON character Miss Mizzou.

M.A.C.