Posts Tagged ‘Road to Perdition’

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.

Heart-Felt Pt. 5

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2016
Quarry's Cut

Okay, this is getting ridiculous. The day this is posted I will be getting an out-patient procedure that will determine whether I will finally get my heart surgery, which if so, will likely (pause while I laugh hysterically) be next week. I never dreamed that I would be so eager to get an operation like this, but this has been going on since last June.

I will continue to keep you posted, and either Nate or I will provide updates here and on Facebook (our weekly ones will continue to be posted each Tuesday morning).

My apologies for this unintentional cliffhanger serial – I’m usually not quite this corny – but I continue to appreciate the support from my readers, friends and acquaintances. It’s been a great boost to the spirits.

Perhaps in honor of my inevitable surgery, the Quarry reprint out this month is QUARRY’S CUT. Also coming out this month are mass-market paperbacks of ANTIQUES SWAP and KILL ME, DARLING.

* * *

A piece of good news for longtime readers of my stuff: my complete novel version of ROAD TO PERDITION the movie is due to be published along with reprints of ROAD TO PURGATORY and ROAD TO PARADISE. You may recall that my PERDITION novelization was reduced to a pale shadow of itself back in the day – a 40,000 word condensation of the 70,000-word novel is what was foisted upon the public (it even made the New York Times best-seller list). As a great man once said, “Pfui.” But we appear to be on the verge of vindication.

In addition, new editions of BLACK HATS and RED SKY IN MORNING are in the works, to be published under my own name for the first time (R.I.P. Patrick Culhane).

All five of these books will be published by Brash Books, which is in part the brainchild of my buddy Lee Goldberg.

I now have in hand all five Hard Case Crime reprints of the first five QUARRY novels, each with a stunning Robert McGinnis cover. Or I do, assuming this isn’t an hallucination, which is kind of what it feels like. This latest publication of QUARRY continues to stir up reviews of a novel that was first published in 1976 – that’s forty years ago – and written a few years before that.

For example, there’s a splashy QUARRY review, featuring the McGinnis cover, in the second issue of the amazingly slick and colorful (and expensive) UK magazine, CRIME SCENE. On your newsstands now. Nice write-up, but one that includes the now-usual complaint about Quarry’s non-PC gender attitudes – again, a forty-year old book is accused of being somewhat “dated.” No one seems to mind that he’s an assassin. I guess some things just never get old.

Check out this QUARRY review from Col’s Criminal Library.

And this one from the San Francisco Book Review.

QUARRY’S DEAL is given a fine review at Everything Noir.

Finally, here are a couple of splendid reviews from Bill Ott at Booklist that you may have missed:

QUARRY.
Collins, Max Allan (Author)
Oct 2015. 271 p. Hard Case Crime, paperback, $9.95. (9781783298839).

Originally published in 1976 as The Broker, this first novel in Collins’ series starring the Vietnam-vet-turned-hit-man finds Quarry five years into his career as an assassin for hire, getting his assignments from a middleman called the Broker. Trained to kill in Vietnam, Quarry finds he quite likes the work and has no trouble distancing himself emotionally from what he does. But he doesn’t like complications, and when the Broker adds a wrinkle involving drugs to Quarry’s latest job, the hit man protests. So begins the severing of the Quarry-Broker connection, a relationship that we learn much more about in succeeding novels in the series.

Collins didn’t know Quarry would lead to a series when he was writing it, but he set the table perfectly, even so. Quarry was the first hit-man antihero in crime fiction, and, unlike most of his successors, he remains the most “pure,” in the sense that he isn’t somehow a good guy who only kills those who need killing (Dexter, et al.); no, Quarry kills for money and tells you so. Yes, he has his own sense of justice and will sometimes kill (pro bono) those he feels are on the wrong side of his very personal scales of right and wrong, but he’s still a killer more than a knight errant. And, yes, Collins makes us root for Quarry, or he draws us so completely into Quarry’s world that rooting for anybody becomes beside the point. That, after all, is the real trick to creating a compelling antihero.

Collins also pairs his antihero with a writing style that is perfect for the man and the premise: mainly straightforward, no-nonsense declarative sentences, more Hammett than Chandler, more Spillane than Hammett. Killers shouldn’t be fancy talkers, especially those who work the drab mean streets of places like the Quad Cities, spanning the Mississippi and connecting Illinois and Iowa, where the action in Quarry takes place. And, yet, just to keep us off balance, Collins will occasionally show some Chandlerian chops, as when he describes a cluster of trees “bent over green and graceful in the less than gentle afternoon breeze, like oversize, out-of-shape ballet dancers trying in vain to touch distant toes.” Even hit men can wax poetic now and again.

Although Collins originally saw Quarry as a stand-alone, he did leave his protagonist in a major pickle at the end of the book. The implication seemed to be that Quarry was doomed—a fitting end for a one-off noir—but when an editor asked the author to write more about the character, Collins was happy to find a way to get Quarry out of his pickle. When Hard Case finishes its reissuing of the first five Quarries, there will be a total of 11 pickle jars on the shelf (the original five plus the six Collins has written since he brought back the series in 2006)—and plenty of room for more.

QUARRY’S LIST
Collins, Max Allan (Author)
Oct 2015. 219 p. Hard Case Crime, paperback, $9.95. (9781783298853).

His relationship with the man known only as the Broker irretrievably broken in Quarry, the first in the series, Collins’ hit-man-for-hire hopes to develop a new business plan. Without the Broker to act as middleman, setting up clients for Quarry and others to kill, it could prove difficult to find marks, but Quarry has grown disenchanted with working through someone else and wants to go another way. But before that can happen, he must deal with the other hit men he knows will be coming for him, as various lethal entrepreneurs vie for the prize of taking over the Broker’s business. Quarry is ready when they come and dispatches a pair of killers with little trouble, but that’s only the beginning. Tracking back to find the man who wants him killed, he falls hard for a blonde in a swimming pool, only to discover that she’s the Broker’s wife and, further, that the man he is hunting is setting up a hit on Mrs. Broker. A plan is forming in Quarry’s mind: the killers in the Broker’s employ will all contract with other brokers eventually and go back to work. If Quarry can find the Broker’s list of killers, he can start his own business by tracking them to their next jobs and hiring himself out to their would-be victims: pay me, and I’ll kill the guy hired to kill you. It’s an ingenious scheme, but there’s lots of preparatory killing to do first.

Hats off to Collins: he needed a scheme to keep his series going, and he found a doozy. As Quarry puts it, “I’d still be killing people, but for the most part it would just be other hit men, like myself, and that seemed a step up somehow.” Originally published in 1976 as The Broker’s Wife, Quarry’s List is being reissued by Hard Case Crime along with the four other early Quarry novels (Collins took a 30-year hiatus from the series before bringing Quarry back in 2006). This one shows Collins developing the storytelling skills that eventually will define his long career as a genre writer. His plots are tricky but never overly so; like the late, great Ross Thomas, he knows how to build a maze but not lose his readers in it before showing them a way out. So it is here, as Quarry must juggle various pieces on a moving chessboard: the list, the widow, the killers, the plan. Fortunately for genre fans, Quarry (and Collins) are up to the challenge.

M.A.C.

Tweaking (Not Drug-Related)

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2015
Better Dead by Max Allan Collins

The work over the past week, and the work ahead during the week after Christmas, is a part of the career of writing that is little discussed. But it’s key to the process.

Over the period of a week, I read and corrected the galley pages of three novels of mine – THE BIG SHOWDOWN (the second Caleb York), ANTIQUES FATE (by Barb and me as “Barbara Allan”), and BETTER DEAD (the McCarthy-era Nate Heller). The latter is a long manuscript, almost the length of the previous two combined.

This stage marks the last chance for a writer to catch goofs, seek out typos and make final revisions and tweaks. Oftentimes, the production person scolds the writer in advance about making any changes. The attitude is that the book is finished and it would be too costly to make any changes that don ‘t address typos or outlandish errors. I ignore this admonition, although I keep my tweaking to a minimum and rarely rewrite unless I really have come across an outright error.

But these final tweaks are often the difference between a smooth read and a rough one. I noticed with BETTER DEAD something that happens too frequently in my work: the last few chapters can have a rushed quality, because I am gathering steam and racing toward the ending – much as a reader of an exciting novel reads faster, even skimming, to get to the end. In BETTER DEAD’s near 400 pages, I found next to nothing in the first 2/3’s, but quite a bit in the final third. These tweaks represent nuance via word choice and sometimes the elimination of repeated words.

To me this is vital part of the writing process – that final polish, and a read that occurs several months after the initial writing, which breeds better objectivity. True, I’ve had a chance to view the novel in the copy-edited form a month or so before the galley proofs arrive. But with a copy-edited manuscript, my focus goes to the changes that the copy editor has made, each of which has to be thought through – sometimes copy editors are right, like a stopped clock.

Next up are the galley proofs of MURDER NEVER KNOCKS (the Mike Hammer novel previously announced as DON’T LOOK BEHIND YOU) and QUARRY IN THE BLACK. I also hope to put together a collection of the Mike Hammer short stories I’ve developed from shorter fragments in Mickey’s files; these have appeared in the STRAND, mostly. I’m talking about such a collection with Otto Penzler at Mysterious Press. I need to read my stories and determine what order they should appear in, and I’ll want to write an introduction.

For me it’s a luxury not to be working on a novel over Christmas week – as I often have – and attending to some of the less-glamorous aspects of the writing trade (well, there aren’t really any glamourous aspects to it, unless Hollywood buys something) is a good way to get something done without spoiling your own holiday season, and that of the others in your life.

* * *

I’ve discussed the oddity of reading current reviews of early works, but nothing tops reading a write-up about MOURN THE LIVING, which was my first novel and introduced Nolan…and was written almost fifty years ago. It’s a book I would be loathe to re-read, but in some respects it’s the most important one I ever wrote, as it’s the novel that Richard Yates read that convinced him to invite me into his Writers Workshop class at the University of Iowa. So much of my career has flowed from Yates as my mentor. On the other hand, I always like reading good reviews like this one.

Of course, Hard Case Crime has been reprinting the early QUARRY novels, but late in 2016 they will be publishing a brand-new one, QUARRY IN THE BLACK. Read about it here and get a look at the fantastic cover.

One of those QUARRY HCC reprints has made a stocking stuffers list at the Geek Hard Show. Festive little write-up!

Here’s yet another one of those “best movies that you didn’t know were based on comics” lists. But ROAD TO PERDITION is treated very nicely, so check it out.

That same website – Talking Comic Books – has an interesting podcast (well over an hour) in which a number of film buffs discuss the film of ROAD TO PERDITION in a lively fashion. One oddity, at least from my POV: the guy who says ROAD TO PERDITION is his favorite movie has never bothered to read the graphic novel. In fact, for a podcast that’s part of Talking Comic Books, one might think the graphic novel would get more than one fleeting mention. But that’s all it rates. Still, there’s some fun to be had and some intelligent commentary to be heard.

Finally – Merry Christmas! Or Merry Whatever You Celebrate, as long as it doesn’t involve sacrificing a goat.

M.A.C.

Movie Round-Up

Tuesday, November 17th, 2015

Regular readers of this blog/update may recall that Barb and I see a lot of movies – usually one a week, sometimes more than that; when you work at home, you need the occasional escape. And you’ll know that I at times write about movies here, as I did last time with SPECTRE.

Here are a few quick notes on other movies I’ve seen over the last several months.

GOOSEBUMPS – We saw this in 3-D, perhaps proving my son Nate’s point that I will see anything in 3-D. Not true: I didn’t go to THE WALK, about that guy who did a tightrope act between the Twin Towers. But then I have vertigo (probably given to me by the movie of the same name). Back to GOOSEBUMPS. This is a basically kid friendly movie that is a lot of fun for grown-ups who were “monster kids” themselves (monster kids being those of us who grew up on FAMOUS MONSTERS and other such horror-movie mags). This is a very funny flick in the monster rally vein, featuring Jack Black as R.L. Stine, whose imagination is so strong, his creepy creations come to life, and must stay locked in their respective bound manuscripts or else (or else we have a movie). Black, playing a grumpy-father role that is quite different for him, is nonetheless very funny, particularly when he pronounces the name of the evil ventriloquist’s dummy he’s conjured: “Slaaappy!” The kid leads are appealing enough, too, and the monsters just keep coming.

BRIDGE OF SPIES – Tom Hanks plays insurance lawyer James B. Donovan, who brokered the trade between the USA and Russia of Soviet spy Rudolf Abel for U-2 pilot Gary Powers (note: U-2 is not a rock band in this instance). While I admittedly have a unique point of view here, I see this as something of a companion piece to ROAD TO PERDITION, with Hanks back in a topcoat and hat, a somber period setting, PERDITION producer Spielberg behind the camera, and influential composer Thomas Newman providing music with its many echoes of that previous score. This first-rate film recalls such ‘60s non-Bond movies as FUNERAL IN BERLIN and THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD – the story is essentially a John Le Carre novel in real life – and Hanks quietly carries the equally quiet screenplay (the Coen brothers were involved) on his shoulders.

STEVE JOBS – This apparently bombed at the box office (as did the previous JOBS), but it shouldn’t have. Michael Fassbender is particularly strong in a stellar cast that includes Kate Winslet, Jeff Daniels, and Seth Rogen, all beautifully cast in a warts-and-all biopic. Danny Boyle’s direction of what is at heart a stage play opens things up with a drifting camera and the occasional daring effect, as when he uses a wall in a hallway to cast a moving image relating to the topic at hand. But the real star is Aaron Sorkin, whose screenplay represents the best post-WEST WING example of his walk-and-talk approach. Perhaps the people in Sorkin’s world are too witty and too articulate, and would that the world itself had the same problem. Sorkin brilliantly structures the film around three key introductions of new product by Jobs, and Boyle gives each section a distinct look, in part via film stock. I have the math skills of a third-grader, and not a top-notch one at that, but I had no trouble following the tech stuff enough to stay in the game. STEVE JOBS plays really well on the big screen, though its life will largely be on video. A pity.

CRIMSON PEAK – Guillermo Del Toro’s haunted house movie is a near masterpiece swaddled in gothic trappings with steampunk seasoning. It’s as if Stephen King was writing DOWNTON ABBEY – actually, the first act, set in 1880s Boston, exceeds the latter in its time-machine feel. Essentially a gothic romance – think JANE EYRE or even REBECCA – CRIMSON PEAK weds a young, talented woman (Mia Wasikowska) with writerly ambitions to a mysterious, handsome, financially strapped aristocrat (Tom Hiddleston) with a tragic background. She soon finds herself in a magnificent but ramshackle mansion where her husband and his spooky sister (Jessica Chastain) share secrets. This is sumptuous filmmaking, filled with haunting images, like the snowy landscape turned red by the brick-fodder clay beneath.

SICARIO – A crime movie with a fine cast, stylish direction and a compelling score has no excuse to be this disappointing. Emily Blunt as an FBI agent is at the center of the action, but despite her T-shirt and sloppy attire, she is painfully girly, whining and deferring to men and even being saved by one, after she makes a bad dating decision. The script is a mess, illogical and poorly structured, with Blunt disappearing from the twenty-minute climax, which suddenly, jarringly puts Benicio Del Toro in charge of the narrative. And the joint CIA/FBI plot to bring down a drug lord is stunningly stupid. Still, the film has a lot going for it, in particular its unsettling look at crime-ridden Juarez. But the failed FX series, THE BRIDGE (reworking the nordic original), mined similar territory much more effectively, particularly in its second season.

THE PEANUTS MOVIE – Okay, it’s in 3-D. You don’t have to see it in 3-D, but why would you not? Do you really want to see Snoopy go after the Red Baron, all two-dimensional? My wife gave me a sideways look when I said I wanted to go to this, but in the theater, she came around quickly when we discovered that the film was a faithful compendium of the great Schulz comic strip, essentially Peanuts’ greatest hits wrapped up in a loose but rewarding narrative. The three-dimensional modeling of the characters is offset by their facial expressions having a drawn-on look.

* * *

Here’s an intelligent review of the first Quarry novel (entitled, as you may recall, QUARRY, recently reprinted with a Robert McGinnis cover). Interestingly, this same reviewer did not like THE WRONG QUARRY, which I consider to be a superior novel. Still, the first book in a series almost always has more integrity than what follows, particularly when that novel wasn’t conceived to be the first in a series.

Check out this brief but interesting look at the forthcoming QUARRY TV series.

Finally, ROAD TO PERDITION gets some decent coverage on this list of worthwhile non-superhero comic-book movies. Scroll down a little and you can vote for your favorite such movie (helpful hint: your favorite such movie is ROAD TO PERDITION).

M.A.C.