Posts Tagged ‘Road to Perdition’

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.

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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.

Davenport Events & Phantom Release

Tuesday, August 5th, 2014

This has been such a busy writing year so far, Barb and I did not set up a signing tour. We figured between San Diego Con this summer and Bouchercon in Long Beach this fall, a good number of fans would have access to us. But this coming weekend, we are doing two events in our home area.

First, Barb, Matt Clemens and I will be signing on Saturday, August 9, at Books-a-Million in Davenport, Iowa, 4000 East 53rd Street, from 1 pm till 2:30 (approximately). We’ll be signing SUPREME JUSTICE, ANTIQUES CON and KING OF THE WEEDS. That particular BAM! has a deep shelf of Collins (and Barbara Allan) books going beyond the new releases. Barb, Matt and I have done very few of these joint signings.

Second, the very next day – Sunday, August 10 at 2 pm – I’ll be speaking and then signing at Barnes & Noble in Davenport, 320 W. Kimberly Road. Barnes and Noble has been doing a salute to comics and pop culture over the last few weeks, and my talk will touch on ROAD TO PERDITION going from book to film. Barb will be there. Not sure yet about Matt – it will depend on whether this B & B was able to get copies of SUPREME JUSTICE in (the chain has a policy against stocking Amazon-published titles).

Also, on Paula Sands Live (KWQC TV, Channel 6, 3 PM) this coming Wednesday, August 6, Barb and I will be appearing in support of these events. Some of you outside the Channel 6 viewing area may recall Paula Sands from MOMMY 2: MOMMY’S DAY, where she appeared as herself very good-naturedly kidding her own show. I realize this appearance only means something to our section of the Midwest, but Paula has the highest-rated local show in the region.

Though we’re not doing a tour by any means, Barb and I will also be appearing this coming September 14 at Centuries & Sleuths in Chicago (actually, Forest Park). We have cut way back on book signings, for lots of reasons, but C & S is one of our favorite bookstores. It’s devoted to history and mystery and couldn’t be a better fit for us. Owner/manager Augie Alesky is one great guy – fun, funny and knowledgeable…even if he doesn’t believe in author’s discounts. (More about this signing later).

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Phantom of the Paradise Blu-Ray

The terrific Shout! Factory has released a wonderful blu-ray of PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE, which regular readers of these updates may recall is one of my favorite movies. Here’s what I said about it here a few years ago:

How ironic that that steaming piece of cheese, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s stage musical PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, is so popular, and the great rock ‘n’ roll PHANTOM remains a cult item. Paul Williams delivers a fantastic performance and a score equal to it, parodying various rock styles and prescient about several fads to come (a Kiss-style group pre-dates Kiss here). Jessica Harper is charismatic and sings hauntingly well, and William Finley is the perfect sad, crippled, demented Phantom. For a long time Brian De Palma was my favorite contemporary director. He’s had some bad stumbles over the years, but at his best he’s hard to beat. This is the only time, however, that he perfectly merged his comic and melodramatic impulses.

Some day I may write about PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE in more depth, as I think it’s a masterpiece and one of the best films of the ‘70s – certainly my favorite film of the ‘70s. The Shout! Factory release is superior to the foreign blu-rays previously snatched up by PHANTOM phans like me, with a great transfer and wonderful special features stretched out over the blu-ray and the DVD version that’s also included. A new Paul Williams interview is particularly good, making me realize that the film is so special in the careers of Williams and De Palma because the two collaborated on this (and only this) film. Williams is revealed as virtually co-director/writer, when you realize how thoroughly he controlled the songs and their presentation. There’s a minor but annoying glitch in the commentary, where Gerrit Graham and Jessica Harper recordings overlap, but Shout! Factory (rating the only “boo” related to this release) is just shrugging that off as minor, not offering replacement discs. Get it anyway.

If you think you don’t like Paul Williams because you consider “We’ve Only Just Begun” and “Rainbow Connection” and so on to be easy-listening fluff, well…two things. First, you’re wrong – he’s always been a great songwriter; his Three Dog Night material alone proves that (“Out in the Country,” “Family of Man,” “Old-Fashioned Love Song”). Second, the genre-hopping/slicing songs in PHANTOM are his greatest, most sophisticated work, and many of them genuinely rock. If you have avoided this film because it’s a musical (I’m talking to you, Matt Clemens), it isn’t, not in the Broadway sense. All songs here are either performed for an audience (the “Paradise” theater of the title) or on the soundtrack.

Williams, having had post-PHANTOM substance problems, cleaned up in a major way and is having a nice third act in a unique career. He is on the very short list of celebrities I’d love to meet. There’s an interesting recent documentary about him (STILL ALIVE).

By the way, I once said here that I’ve never seen a movie more times than I have KISS ME DEADLY. It’s possible I’ve watched PHANTOM more often. Back in the day, Terry Beatty and I (often accompanied by Barb) saw PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE in various movie theaters every chance we got. I’m guessing a dozen times, easy. And I’ve owned it on Beta, VHS, laserdisc and three different blu-rays.

If you’ve never seen it, get real, get with it, and you are such a lucky bastard.

A few other quick movie notes: don’t miss LUCY, the best thing Luc Besson (admittedly a wildly uneven filmmaker) has ever done. It’s a cross between a Hong Kong action movie and 2001. Very few of the critics have been smart enough to get this one. Once again, the rule pertains: if you have exposition to deliver, hire Morgan Freeman.

Don’t go near SEX TAPE. I am a Jason Segel fan going back to FREAKS AND GEEKS, but every laugh in this wretchedly written film is in the trailer…and work better in the trailer.

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SUPREME JUSTICE continues to ride the Kindle bestseller charts, and has racked up (as of this writing) a dizzying 1938 reviews and an averaged four-star rating.

Here’s a very favorable SUPREME JUSTICE review from Bookgasm.

Here’s another from Bob’s on Books.

And one from Coastal Breeze News.

And this from Kingdom Books, though you have to dig a little.

For a change of pace, here’s a WRONG QUARRY review from the aptly named Point Blank.

The articles about non-superhero comic-book movies continue, with ROAD TO PERDITION scoring well.

Finally, here at my pal Lee Goldberg’s site is the full list of Scribe winners. We’re sending out the UK trophies today!

M.A.C.

When the Rain Comes

Tuesday, July 15th, 2014

My band Crusin’ appeared Sunday evening at the Pearl City Plaza here in Muscatine, Iowa. We are on an occasionally interrupted hiatus that has shifted our twenty-four or so bookings a year to a mere four or five. This gig was a concert, an hour-and-a-half of ‘60s (and some later) rock plus a few originals, scheduled to be performed outside on a large patio overlooking the Mississippi River. The concert was to begin at six p.m., and we started setting up around four on one of the most beautiful afternoons this stingy summer has offered up. The nation has been suffering extreme weather, but Iowa is an old hand at that – this summer so far, with hell-and-hailstone thunderstorms and more or less constant tornado warnings, has tested our mettle, though.

Fifteen minutes before start time on this lovely day, dark clouds began rolling in. So did our audience, nearly two-hundred hearty souls lugging their own lawn chairs and such. The sky spattered and spit some, but we decided to go on with the show anyway. Come rain or come shine, as the great Johnny Mercer said.

During the third number, the sky exploded and we frantically began tearing down equipment, while trying not to get electrocuted, and moved inside the building, which was essentially a narrow atrium not designed for a concert. The audience thinned by half but was still considerable, and seated themselves on a stairway or on the chairs they’d brought, while many helped us with our equipment. Everyone was fairly soaked.

We dried things off with paper towels, set up only half of the P.A. and did a few other things to accommodate the smallish space. The result was an intimate, almost cabaret-like feel, and we completed the concert to a warm, ever-ready to applaud audience. It was one of those funny situations, a disaster that turned into something special and memorable. We performed very well, particularly considering we hadn’t played for several months (but for a brush-up rehearsal a few days before). Just the kind of gig I long for, the opposite of the occasionally dreary barroom appearances we’d drifted into the last year or so.

Crusin 2014
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So what I am up to, where writing is concerned? If you follow these updates, you’ll know I wrote one novel after another from January through June. I’m due a breather.

Here’s the kind of breather you get around the Collins domicile: I’ve written an introduction for a volume of the CRIME DOES NOT PAY comics collections for Dark Horse; co-wrote a sample chapter of the next ANTIQUES novel (ANTIQUES FATE) with Barb; plotted and then wrote a synopsis with Barb of the next ANTIQUES novella (ANTIQUES ST. NICKED); wrote an essay on vengeance as a theme in thrillers for an upcoming Amazon mystery/crime site (shockingly, Mickey Spillane comes up); and am preparing to write an intro for a new publication of the three Jack Carter novels by the late great UK writer, Ted Lewis – I’m doing JACK CARTER’S LAW, the prequel to GET CARTER (aka JACK’S RETURN HOME).

I’m pleased and at least mildly astonished to report that SUPREME JUSTICE continues to ride high on the Kindle bestseller list. We have racked up a dizzying 1315 reviews and a four-star average. The sniping from some far right readers continues and maybe helps fuel interest. We are two weeks past the Amazon promo event that propelled us, and are still #1 in Legal thrillers and #2 in Political thrillers. We’re at #37 in Kindle books overall, #14 in Mystery and #10 in Thrillers.

I am in discussions with Amazon to do two more Joe Reeder/Patti Rogers thrillers. Matt Clemens and I want to do a trilogy with one book per each branch of government.

I recently gave my first interview on SUPREME JUSTICE and the left/right controversy it’s spawned. Read it right here.

Also, Matt and I were asked to write a “Day in the Life of Joe Reeder” for Dru’s Booking Musing.

Another nice review can be seen here.

Here’s a mixed review but an opportunity to win a free copy of the book.

And here’s a short but sweet SJ review.

The film version of ROAD TO PERDITION continues to rank high on lists of comic-book movies – here we’re one of the best five.

And finally here’s a nice KING OF THE WEEDS review from the always interesting At the Scene of the Crime site.

M.A.C.

A “New” Writer Reflects

Tuesday, June 24th, 2014

As I write this, SUPREME JUSTICE has hit 548 reviews and maintains a four-star average. This is a testament to Amazon’s marketing ability, and has taught this old dog some new things, if not tricks.

I continue to be surprised by the confidence of readers who are quite sure that I’m imitating writers who I’ve never read. Any number have scolded me for trying to do Jack Reacher, and are particularly annoyed that my character Reeder’s name is so similar.

Those of you who have followed these updates for a while know that I am notoriously unfamiliar with the work of other suspense/mystery writers of my time. I am strictly a Hammett/Chandler/Cain/Spillane guy. The last hardcover mystery I bought and read was the final 87th Precinct novel. My idea of a new mystery writer is Donald E. Westlake.

I did the original synopsis of SUPREME JUSTICE – and this pre-dates Matt Clemens’ involvement – seven years ago. I’d never heard of Jack Reacher, and frankly my first familiarity with the character was the Tom Cruise movie – I obviously go to a lot of those. Reeder’s name had nothing to do with Reacher. I’ve never read Tom Clancy either, though I’ve seen most of the Jack Ryan movies.

But Amazon reviewers are confident in this case, and many others, that I’m doing Lee Child or Clancy or Grisham or Sandford or any number of writers I’ve never read. By the way, I mean no insult to them or any writer. I have stated here numerous times that (a) my reading time is largely taken up by research, and (b) I am a natural mimic and avoid reading other suspense fiction for that reason.

There’s another reason, and it goes something like this…other people’s mystery novels fall into one of three categories: worse than me, about the same as me, better than me. Why would I want to read something worse than my stuff? Why should I bother reading something that I could write myself just as well? As for those better than me, well, screw them!

Yes, I’m kidding, sort of, and I do occasionally read contemporary crime fiction, as when I’m on an Edgar or Shamus committee, or when one of my writer friends has something out. Thankfully my writer friends are very good – people like Ed Gorman, Steve Mertz, Bob Goldsborough, Bill Crider, Bob Randisi, John Lutz, and half a dozen more.

And I know that a lot of writers continue to read voraciously in their own fields, so this is probably a weakness on my part. But I mention this chiefly to make the point that if I’m setting out to work in another writer’s wheelhouse, it’s more likely to be Mickey Spillane or Rex Stout than John Grisham or Lee Child.

But there’s something else odd – and frankly disturbing, and certainly humbling – that turns up in a good number of these Amazon reader reviews. A lot of these readers think I’m a “new” writer; a fair amount of ‘em go out of their way to say they’ve never heard of me.

I realize I’m not John Grisham or Lee Child, but while I have not read either of those very popular writers, I am aware of their existence. As someone who spends plenty of time wandering in bookstores, and studying the section where my work is shelved, I have a strong awareness (without reading them) of scores of writers in my genre. I read Mystery Scene, Crimespree, The Strand, Deadly Pleasures, always read the review column in EQMM, and attend Bouchercons frequently. So I know who my contemporaries are.

Yet these mystery fans, writing Amazon reviews…some of them, anyway…haven’t noticed I’m alive during this forty-year career of mine. Haven’t noticed my byline on ROAD TO PERDITION or CSI or the Spillane collaborations or…anything. It’s as if they know only the authors whose names they’ve encountered in airport gift shops.

So when I see SUPREME JUSTICE with 500-plus Amazon reviews, and, for example, KING OF THE WEEDS sitting at 21 reviews, I am as disappointed about the latter as I am thrilled about the former.

And sadly convinced that marketing is king.

Here I thought it was writing. What a schmuck!

* * *

Speaking of EQMM, reviewer Steve Steinbock has nice things to say this month about THE WRONG QUARRY and ANTIQUES CON, and other projects of mine. Here’s where you can see it on line; the reviews in question are toward the end.

A very cool new Facebook page dedicated to Mike Hammer and Stacy Keach is here.

The SUPREME JUSTICE reviews on the Net are starting to hit, like this one from Crimespree’s site.

Here’s another…

and another[Note from Nate: This one’s got a drawing for a free copy too!]

and another.

ROAD TO PERDITION continues to make best comics-to-movies lists.

Finally, here’s a very nice KING OF THE WEEDS review from Nerdspan.

M.A.C.