Posts Tagged ‘Scarface and the Untouchable’

A Tale of Two Titles (Actually, More Titles Than That!)

Tuesday, January 21st, 2020

I mentioned a while back that the title of what had been announced as The Untouchable and the Butcher: Eliot Ness, the Torso Killer, and American Justice was called into question by our editor. This is, of course, the follow-up to Scarface and the Untouchable: Al Capone, Eliot Ness and the Battle for Chicago by A. Brad Schwartz and me.

From the beginning, Brad and I had viewed this second book as a sequel, and thought the echo of the first book in the title of the second was desirable. It was certainly intentional. But our editor, not terribly long ago, made his desire known: he wanted the book to stand apart, to stand on its own, and he wanted a title that he considered more marketable.

We felt “Untouchable” said Eliot Ness, but our editor’s opinion was that – minus Al Capone – that connection was not as obvious in 2020. We argued. We lost. And since we agreed with our editor that we wanted to sell books, we began searching for a new title.

So did our editor. He had found a vivid phrase in newspaper coverage of the Mad Butcher case: “The Headless Dead.” Initially it was presented as “The Mystery of the Headless Dead,” but neither Brad nor I liked it – I frankly said it sounded like the Hardy Boys. Do I know how to get on an editor’s good side or what?

But I thought “Headless Dead” was worth considering in some form or other; Brad never came around to it. He and I generated probably a score of titles, among the better ones (some mentioned here previously) Shadow of the Butcher and A Knight in the Dark City. This went on for some time.

Then our editor came up with The Haunting of Eliot Ness. I felt that sounded like a book about the paranormal, but Brad saw the merit of referring to how the Mad Butcher case had haunted Ness to his dying day, among other resonances (the real Ness in history is haunted by the TV/movie Ness, for instance).

Beyond this, we had a subtitle to come up with, and I would guess we came up with two score of those. The problem came down to the title needing to focus on the Mad Butcher case, but the book itself also covered the rest of Ness’s post-Capone life, with an emphasis on his innovations in criminology and law enforcement. He was a real innovator in that regard. So the subtitle needed to suggest that.

We spent three hours on the phone with our editor, and I have to hand it to him for his patience with us and his persistence in arriving at a title that he felt readers would be pulled in by (and that the sales force and marketing folks would also like). In that phone call, we zeroed in the subtitle, and while we didn’t settle on anything, we got very close – we knew we just had to assemble the words we’d summoned in a slightly different way. Exhausted, we went to our separate corners to try to come up with some good versions of our basic idea. Also, we had agreed on the overall title – The Haunting of Eliot Ness.

Overnight, I couldn’t stop mulling that title. All I could think of was spending the rest of my life having to deal with readers complaining that Eliot Ness’s ghost was not in the damn book. Or Capone’s or the Butcher’s or somebody’s ghost. The paranormal feel just couldn’t be denied, I felt – the cadence was strictly The Haunting of Hill House.

The next day I opened the can of worms. I began pitching other titles, including The Mystery of Eliot Ness, as our editor liked the mystery aspect of the book. Brad, rightly, was underwhelmed by that. Our editor was worn down by us. Few editors would have spent three hours on the phone with two stubborn writers in search of one decent title and a good subtitle.

Like Solomon, the editor asked Brad and me to come up with two titles that we both could live with. Brad and I started e-mailing back and forth. I did not go with any version of Headless Dead, because I knew Brad would under no circumstances sign off on that. Brad’s pick was The Haunting of Eliot Ness, which of course I had misgivings about.

Then I came up with Eliot Ness and the Mad Butcher. I was operating on The Texas Chainsaw Massacre theory – has any title ever told you more honestly, more completely what you’re going to get than The Texas Chainsaw Massacre?

To my astonishment, the editor chose Eliot Ness and the Mad Butcher. He was happy with it. I was happy. Brad was happy. We did some tweaking back and forth of the final version of a subtitle that I had attached to my preferred title, and that discussion did not take three hours. More like half an hour of e-mailing. And so.

Ladies and gentlemen, introducing…

Eliot Ness and the Mad Butcher: Hunting America’s Deadliest Unknown Serial Killer at the Dawn of Modern Criminology

Available this coming August by M.A.C. and A. Brad Schwartz. You can order it at Amazon now, under its now former title The Untouchable and the Butcher: Eliot Ness, Al Capone, and America’s Jack the Ripper.

One of the reasons that subtitle is gone, by the way, is that very early in the writing we decided not to use the Al Capone material because it would have taken us to an unpublishable length.

And for those of you who have been holding off on getting Scarface and the Untouchable, the hardcover is available here for $6.98!

But you should also know that the current trade paperback has a bunch of corrections and bonus material that may make you want to spring for the version still on the bookstore shelves.

* * *

This review of both Mommy and Mommy 2: Mommy’s Day at Horror Fuel is extremely gratifying. The reviewer sees past our low-budget limitations to the performances and story. He likes both movies, but rates the second one higher – a rare honor for a sequel. Please give this a look.

And in just a few days at Amazon the Mommy/Mommy 2 25th Anniversary Blu-ray goes from pre-order to in stock! Still $19.99 (almost ten bucks off!).

M.A.C.

Dispatch From the Bunker

Tuesday, October 22nd, 2019

The audio book of Scarface and the Untouchable, I am pleased to report, is up for a Voice Arts Award, thanks in no small part to narrator Stefan Rudnicki…assisted by two other narrators, A. Brad Schwartz and Max Allan Collins, under Stefan’s direction.

For those of you attending Bouchercon, look to see Barb and me there, Friday through Sunday. The con begins on Thursday, but that’s Halloween, and my four year-old grandson will be in costume, seeking candy, which I do not intend to miss.

Next week I’ll give you the breakdown on our panels and signings (Barb and I each have a panel appearance).

I have been very much burrowed in on the next Mike Hammer novel, Masquerade for Murder. It will be out next March. This is the second Hammer I’ve written from a Spillane synopsis, with only two scraps of Mickey’s prose to work into the book (including the opening, however). That’s an intimidating prospect, but I think it came out well.

The novel takes place in the late ‘80s and is a follow-up (not a sequel) to Mickey’s The Killing Man. Like the preceding Spillane/Collins Hammer novel, Murder, My Love, the synopsis may have been written by Mickey as a proposed TV episode for the Stacy Keach series. This means I had fleshing out to do, and I hope I’ve done Mike and the Mick justice.

I am working with a new editor at Titan, Andrew Sumner, who knows Hammer well – he was the skilled interviewer for one-on-one interviews with me at the last two San Diego Comic Cons. Andrew knows American pop culture inside out, and this is good news for me and the series. I will, very soon, be preparing a proposal for three more Hammer novels – two of which have considerably more Spillane material to work from.

The 75th anniversary of Mike Hammer looms in 2022, and we are already planning for it. With luck, the long-promised Collins/James Traylor biography of Spillane will be part of that. There will be a role for Hard Case Crime in the mix, too, and possibly even another graphic novel, this one based on a classic Spillane yarn.

For Masquerade for Murder, I spent a lot of time with The Killing Man, assembling typical Spillane phrases, settings and passages for reference and inspiration. I try to incorporate a Spillane feel, particularly in descriptions of weather and NYC locations; but I stop short of writing pastiche – I am less concerned with imitating Mickey’s style and more concerned with getting Hammer’s character down.

It’s somewhat challenging positioning each novel in the canon in proper context. Hammer was a shifting character – shifting with Mickey’s own age and attitudes – and I want each book to reflect where the writer and his character were when Mickey wrote the material I am working from. The last two have been later Hammer – specifically, late 1980s. Next time, assuming I land another three-book contract, I will be writing a story set around 1954. I look forward to that, because it’s the younger, rougher and tougher and more psychotic Hammer that many of us know and love.

I also have gone over the galley proofs of the new Heller, Do No Harm, also out in March (as is Girl Can’t Help It!) (yikes)! It was written a while ago and I was pleased to view it from a distance – and pleased to find I liked it very much.

I hope you’ll agree.

You didn’t have anything else to do next March but read three books by me, did you? You can take April off and dive back in, in May for Antiques Fire Sale.

* * *

Here’s a nice, extensive look at Ms. Tree.

Wild Dog has his own Wikipedia entry now – a good one.

One of our best contemporary crime fiction critics and historians, J. Kingston Pierce, has included The Titanic Murders in a fun look at disaster mysteries.

The late, great Paul Newman is lauded in this write-up about the film of Road to Perdition.

And finally, that man Jeff Pierce is back with a fine piece about the subject of last week’s update, actor Robert Forster.

M.A.C.

Hey Kids – Despair and Frustration!

Tuesday, October 1st, 2019

I received an e-mail from a loyal reader and good friend to me and my work, who expressed the following concern: “It is probably just my imagination, but…this week’s and last week’s posts seem to have a certain edge of despair and/or frustration about them. Hope all is well.”

I didn’t answer this directly, but will answer it now. Right here.

While “an edge of despair” goes too far, “frustration” does not. This is a frustrating time for me, and for a lot of working writers. Let’s restrict this to writers in the mystery/suspense genre, because that’s the world I know. But I can tell you there are some difficulties of the moment that are impacting probably everybody but the very upper reaches of fiction publishing – the consistent big sellers, and they undoubtedly have their own woes.

Among the problems – the realities – of publishing that have just begun to show themselves in a major way is the policy of many editors and especially publishers to no longer offer multiple book contracts. For much of my career, going back to the mid-‘70s, I would be offered three-book contracts. For somebody like me – prolific and working no “day job,” and dealing with multiple publishers – that has allowed me to be able to look ahead several years and know I have work. In other words, you know you have money coming in (and something to do with your time).

I have been very, very lucky. The only really slow patch came about when, on the same day back in 1993, I had my Nate Heller contract with Bantam cancelled and my Dick Tracy comic strip contract with Tribune Media Services not picked up for the usual five-year run. I was blessed by the friendship of two great men who are no longer with us: Ed Gorman and Martin Greenberg, who almost smothered me in short story assignments until I could get my career up and running again. From these ashes, rose both Road to Perdition and my movie/TV tie-in career.

Other than that rough stretch, made smooth by Ed and Marty, I have always known that I have a couple of years, at least, lined up, keeping me busy and the lights on.

But publishing itself is in a rough patch. I don’t have to go into any detail with anyone reading this about the ongoing changes in the industry – the disappearance of Border’s, the restructuring of Barnes & Noble, the death of many mystery bookstores, the dominance of Amazon and other on-line stores, self-publishing, Amazon’s own publishing, e-books, etc. Some of that stuff represents new opportunities; others represent empty stores with tumbleweed blowing through.

I benefitted greatly by having the bulk of my Nate Heller backlist picked up by Amazon’s Thomas & Mercer, who later picked up Mallory, the “disaster” series, and two thrillers by “Barbara Allan,” Regeneration and Bombshell.

But of late, many publishers – and I think soon most publishers – are offering authors one-book contracts for new work. That is not only troubling for those of us trying to figure out if we have work/income lined up more than a year, but it also presents creative problems. Take the Antiques series, which deals with an on-going storyline in addition to the self-contained mysteries – Barb and I have regularly figured out three-novel story arcs, which have greatly impacted the books creatively.

There is no such thing as a one-book arc.

Caleb York is now getting one book at a time, and I have built an ongoing storyline into that series as well. But a reality of one-book-a-time contracts means every book has to look over its shoulder and make sure that if it turns out to be the last novel, it will provide a satisfying conclusion to the series.

Hard Case Crime has been a huge boon and boost to me, and they have published more books by me than any other author (thanks, Charles!). But, hard as it may be to believe, I’ve never had more than a one-book contract from HCC (other than when they reprinted the early Quarrys in tandem with the Cinemax series).

Nathan Heller has always benefitted from multiple book contracts – the JFK Trilogy (Bye Bye, Baby; Target Lancer; Ask Not) is one of the major achievements of the saga, in my opinion. But Better Dead and the forthcoming Do No Harm were written on one-book contracts. I am looking at a two-book RFK cycle next, but can I find a house that will guarantee me two slots on their publishing schedule?

Girl Most Likely has done very well, but until we see how Girl Can’t Help It does, I won’t know if a third book will happen. This is both nerve-racking and frustrating. The book has done well – sales have been brisk, and the reviews at Amazon average four-stars…and there have been a lot of them (over 200).

But among those reviews were weak ones from several of the trades, complaining that the book was too much of a departure from my Heller/Quarry/Hammer norm. Some readers have complained similarly, and a really nasty two-star review (“What Is This?”) has headed up the Amazon reviews of the novel from the start, and is still there, discouraging sales.

Why do I read reviews? Often I don’t. Do I take them seriously? You bet I do. Why, because I can’t take criticism like any normal human? (Maybe.) But absolutely these on-line reviewers – bloggers who are courted by publishers now – are taken seriously by the editors and publishers who decide whether or not to offer another precious one-book contract to an author. How successful that writer’s track record is seems increasingly irrelevant, unless sales have been through the roof.

If you are interested enough in my work to click onto the links I provide here weekly, you already know that most of the reviews for Girl Most Likely have been very good. Mostly excellent, actually. But publishing takes the negative reviews more to heart than the positive ones – at least that’s how it feels to me.

One problem was that Girl Most Likely debuted in the UK a month before America, and racked up a number of reviews by females who didn’t like an old male writing about a young female (and that the secondary protagonist was also an old male), as well as readers who understandably don’t like America much right now (and those two groups seem to overlap). Most of those hateful reviews were channeled into Goodreads, which set Girl Most Likely up for an initially rough ride.


Trade paperback edition with new material.

There have been other frustrations. Scarface and the Untouchable: Al Capone, Eliot Ness and the Battle for Chicago by A. Brad Schwartz and myself is one of my proudest accomplishments (though Brad deserves much of the credit). It’s a massive, 700-page work that is probably the definitive work on this important, influential aspect of American history. We received not a single nomination for any of the major mystery awards. We were not reviewed in Mystery Scene or The Strand, although the book was much praised outside the genre (we were the Chicago Public Library’s Book of the Year and won a best audio award).

This is why I put so much emphasis on the importance of on-line reviews coming from those of you who are kind enough (and smart enough) to like my work. That’s why I do the book giveaways – and one is coming soon for Killing Quarry.

Also, thanks to those of you who wrote about your willingness to receive Advance Reading Copies of my stuff for review purposes. Right now I don’t know if Do No Harm is even getting ARCs…I’ll let you know. If not, finished copies closer to publication date will be made available, in part through another giveaway.

And you collectors out there who love classic tough guy stuff, like Hard Case Crime publishes, and wish HCC and others would reprint more great old novels…swell, but how about supporting some writers who are still alive? They need your love, and royalties, much more than dead guys. So when I suggest you write reviews on-line of my books, I also want to encourage you to do the same for any writers whose books you regularly read. Remember what the great Don Westlake said: “A cult author is a writer who is seven readers short of making a living.”

So, despair? Not really. Frustration? You betcha, Red Ryder.

And there’s another aspect to this that gets even more personal. At 71, with some health problems behind me (and, like anybody my age, more undoubtedly ahead of me), I am really less concerned with making a living now and more concerned with building the M.A.C. bookshelf…with expanding my legacy. A major part of that is making sure I can keep doing Heller. I have half a dozen more in mind, and in particular want to get the RFK duo done, as I’ve set that up so thoroughly in the previous novels.

So look for a major push for Do No Harm here, to help make another Heller…more Hellers…possible.

And I want to say that I don’t mean to be critical of my publishers and editors. They are navigating a tough, fluid world, where they’ve chosen to be because (like writers) they love books. I salute Titan, Hard Case Crime, Kensington, Morrow, and Thomas & Mercer for everything they’ve done for me and, so far anyway, continue to do.

And I have books coming out from every one – in some cases more than one.

And I can’t forget Brash Books, who have brought out in beautiful editions not only the prose Perdition trilogy (including the complete Road to Perdition movie novel) but Black Hats and USS Powderkeg, previously seen under the Patrick Culhane byline. (Powderkeg restores my preferred title to Red Sky in Morning and is somewhat revised.)

So will you stop bitching, Collins? You have been so damn lucky in your career! Shut-up and thank your readers for everything.

Next week: some good news on a couple of fronts.

* * *

Here’s a great review from Ron Fortier of the Caleb York novel, Last Stage to Hell Junction.

Urban Politico has a fun review of Seduction of the Innocent.

Here’s another of those “movies you didn’t know were based on comic books,” featuring a little something called Road to Perdition.

Scroll down for nice stuff about Ms. Tree, Killing Quarry and Mike Hammer (although the writer doesn’t realize there are two Collins-scripted Stacy Keach radio-style novels-for-audio).

M.A.C.

A Heller of a Timeline

Tuesday, August 20th, 2019

Okay, so the new Nate Heller novel isn’t out till next March. What’s taking you so long to order your copy? Here’s a peek at the cover, which I like quite a bit.


Hardcover:
E-Book: Amazon Google Play Nook Kobo iTunes

My old pal Tony Isabella, the gifted comics writer who created Black Lightning, wondered a week or so ago if I had ever put together a time line, so that the Nate Heller stories could be read in chronological order. A fan did something along those lines, still posted here, but not updated (and unfortunately that loyal fan has passed away). So I have made an attempt at answering Tony’s request.

Keep in mind that math is somewhat involved here, and I am only famous where math is concerned for being pitifully simple-minded in its regard. Over the years it’s been a real effort not have Nate Heller in two places at the same time. I present this list more as a deterrent than a suggestion, because it demonstrates what a difficult and perhaps not useful process reading the Heller memoirs in order would be.

The major problem is that a number of the novels often begin in one year and jump to another in a second, and even another in a third section. The novels also often have flashback chapters, and I have only scratched the surface where the latterday things Heller does have been made part of this.

Do No Harm – did I mention it comes out in March of next year, and that you can order it now? – has two sections, one taking place in 1957, another in 1966. That’s why to read the Heller memoirs in chronological order, you have to shuffle the deck just so. To make the job possible, and yet harder, for you, I have included the novellas and short stories.

What this chronology mostly demonstrates is that Heller has been a busy boy, and so has his pappy.

The timeline of the Nathan Heller memoirs:

Stolen Away – March 4 – April 18 1932
Damned in Paradise – later April – May 1932
True Detective – December 19 – December 22 1932
“Kaddish for the Kid” (short story) – summer 1933
“The Blonde Tigress” (short story) – August 1933
“Private Consultation” (short story) – December 1933
True Crime – July 13 – September 1 1934
Flying Blind – March 11 – May 16, 1935
Blood and Thunder – August 30 – September 12, 1935
“The Perfect Crime” (short story) – December 1935
“House Call” (short story) – January 1936
Stolen Away – March 13 – April 4 1936
“Marble Mildred” (short story) – June 1936
Blood and Thunder – October 26 – November 10 1936
Flying Blind – March 17 – July 19, 1937
“The Strawberry Teardrop” (short story) – August 1938
The Million-Dollar Wound – November 6 – 12 1939
“Scrap” (short story) – December 1939
“Natural Death, Inc.” (short story) – March 1940
Flying Blind – May 6 – June 4 1940
Majic Man – September 1940
“Screwball” (short story) – May 1941
The Million-Dollar Wound – November 1942
The Million-Dollar Wound – February 2 – March 20 1943
Carnal Hours – July 1943 – approximately September 1943
“That Kind of Nag” (short story) – May 1945
Neon Mirage – June 24 – August 21 1946
Neon Mirage – December 15 – June 20 1947
Angel in Black – January 1947
“Unreasonable Doubt” (short story) – March 1947
Dying in the Post-war World (novella) – July 1947
Majic Man – March – May 1949
“Shoot-Out On Sunset” (short story) – late summer 1949
Better Dead – May 1, 1950
Chicago Confidential – September – November 1950
Strike Zone (novella) – August 1951
Better Dead – March 26 – June 1953
Kisses of Death (novella) – June 1953
Better Dead – November 1953
Kisses of Death (novella) – February 1954
Do No Harm – 1957
Target Lancer – Fall 1960
Strike Zone (novella) – June 1961
Bye Bye, Baby – May 23 – August 1962
Ask Not – Late summer 1962
Target Lancer – October 25 – November 29 1963
Ask Not – September 1964
Do No Harm – 1966
Flying Blind – February 1970
Target Lancer – a few days before Christmas, 1973

My recommended reading order to give you a roughly chronological read, without whiplash, while letting each case finish itself:

True Detective
Stolen Away
Damned in Paradise
True Crime
Blood and Thunder
Flying Blind
The Million-Dollar Wound
Carnal Hours
Neon Mirage
Angel in Black
Majic Man
Chicago Confidential
Better Dead
Bye Bye, Baby
Target Lancer
Ask Not
Do No Harm

But my preference? I think my development as a writer (and perhaps my inevitable decline) will be better observed by reading the novels in the order I wrote them:

True Detective
True Crime
The Million-Dollar Wound
Neon Mirage
Stolen Away
Carnal Hours
Blood and Thunder
Damned in Paradise
Flying Blind
Majic Man
Angel in Black
Chicago Confidential
Bye Bye, Baby
Target Lancer
Ask Not
Better Dead
Do No Harm

The two collections – novellas in Triple Play and the short stories in Chicago Lightning – can be read any time, and in any order, you choose. You’re welcome!

Gathering this material reminds me how much I like these books. This is not to say I love every turn of phrase or twist of plot. But I am proud of what they accomplish – specifically looking at these famous crimes and mysteries in a fresh, in-depth manner while creating a private detective who I think can stand shoulder to shoulder with Marlowe and Hammer. That’s obviously immodest, but I often think of what my late friend, Stu Kaminsky, said about his Hollywood private eye, Toby Peters: “I really like those books,” he told me. “I have fun doing them.”

I have fun writing Heller, too, although the research has been brutally hard. Writing Do No Harm, I could only think back to the pre-Google days of many trips to libraries to look at microfiche and bound copies of old magazines, the countless trips to used bookstores to search out ancient magazines and forgotten volumes. On second thought, I kind of miss that….

Not really.

* * *

Here is a terrific review of Girl Most Likely in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine:

**** Max Allan Collins, Girl Most Likely, Thomas & Mercer, $15.95. Chief Krista Larson of Galena, Illinois is the youngest female police chief in the country. The night of her ten-year high-school reunion, a beautiful former classmate is stabbed to death. Krista’s father, a retired Iowa detective, makes a connection between this murder and the stabbing of another classmate in Florida several months earlier. Father and daughter and the small Galena police force interview suspects and follow clues to catch the killer. Girl Most Likely reminded me of Longmire crossed with Grosse Point Blank fitted into a closed-circle plot worthy of Agatha Christie.

My co-author, A. Brad Schwartz, appeared at the Mississippi Book Festival in support of our Scarface and the Untouchable. Here’s the true crime panel, on which he did a terrific job.

M.A.C.