Posts Tagged ‘Seduction of the Innocent’

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.

Snapshots of a Friendship

Tuesday, January 24th, 2017

I met Miguel Ferrer in 1987 at the San Diego Comic Con. I approached his friend Bill Mumy as a fan – not so much of Lost in Space as of his band, Barnes & Barnes, of “Fish Heads” infamy. Knowing he was guest of the con, I had brought copies of several CDs for Bill’s autograph, and – in line for something and being lucky enough to be right ahead of Bill and Miguel – I got the CD inserts signed. We chatted. Turned out Bill and Miguel were hardcore comics fans, in particular of the Golden Age, and collected the heavy-duty, expensive stuff – early Batman, Superman and Captain America, among many others. They had hung out with Jack Kirby, Bob Kane and Stan Lee.

I was enough of a comics celebrity, as writer of Dick Tracy and Ms. Tree, to gain immediate acceptance, and we went together to a dance in the ballroom of the Hotel Cortez (later Miguel did memorable location work for Traffic at this fleabag). The band was nothing special. In talking about Barnes & Barnes with Bill, I’d mentioned that I was a longtime rock musician myself, and somebody – probably me – said, “We could go up there right now and do better, cold.” (I’d gathered that Miguel was a drummer.) We’d been standing with the enormously tall and talented (and tall) Steve Leialoha, who said, “Well, I play bass.” I said, “Guitar, keyboards, drums, bass.” Bill said immediately that he would talk to con organizer Jackie Estrada about having us play next year. But of course we needed a name.

Miguel, like any good drummer, did not miss a beat. He said, “Seduction of the Innocent.”


Seduction of the Innocent, circa 1988

That very night Bill pitched us and got a commitment for the 1988 San Diego Comic Con. During the year that followed, Bill and I swapped song lists. We used my band Crusin’s song list as a jumping off point, picking the things that seemed to make sense, and Bill added some hipper tunes. So we knew what to work on before we gathered for our first practice.

A few days before the con, we assembled in Bill’s living room in his very cool Laurel Canyon house, and played through his stereo speakers, which were very powerful. And of course we fried them. In the future we would be either in a rehearsal hall or some other room the con provided, and amps would be rented to our specs.

I’m not sure whether we played “King Jack” that first year (Bill’s tribute to Jack Kirby) but we certainly did it by our second performance. And there was a second performance, because we killed at the first. The dance floor was packed, many of the dancers in costume decades before the term “cosplay” was coined. “Pussy Whipped,” another Bill original, was delivered in Miguel’s distinctive growl and was a big favorite. The ‘60s covers we did included “Mr. Soul,” “Cinnamon Girl,” “You Can’t Do That” and “We Gotta Get Outa This Place.” Also, “Knocking on Heaven’s Door” – Miguel again, assuming a singular poignance now.

At our first meeting, I didn’t really know who Miguel was. He’d done some TV and had a small role in Star Trek 3: The Search for Spock, and he’d filmed his breakout role in Robocop, but it hadn’t been released yet. During the year leading up to Seduction’s debut, Miguel got very hot and stayed that way through the ‘80s and ‘90s (and beyond). But he was always the most lovable, loving guy to his fellow band members. No attitude. Just great big smiles and wry humor.

We played half a dozen times at San Diego Con, with Chris Christensen – whose small label, Beat Brothers, issued our original material CD, The Golden Age – joining us around the third appearance. Chris was another hardcore comics fan and a versatile “casual” musician, meaning he played all kinds of music with all sorts of bands. When Miguel was drumming, he’d play rhythm guitar for Bill’s lead; when Miguel was singing, he’d play drums.


Seduction of the Innocent, Santa Monica Pier

My friendship with Miguel doesn’t exist in a linear way in my mind. I remember how much we connected – he was the first guy to call me “brother,” and he meant it. I heard some California expressions from him before they got into the national vernacular: “He’s toast,” and “Sweeeeet.” He was a mystery reader and both he and Bill became Nate Heller fans in a major way (Bill wrote a song called “True Detective” for the Golden Age CD). Chris was, too, and probably Steve…but Steve always looked like he loved everybody and everything.

Once Miguel was in Chicago for a shoot on a Scott Bakula movie – In the Shadow of a Killer – around 1991. I was in the city promoting something or other, and Miguel and I spent several evenings together, with late-night conversations on everything from how good Diana Krall was to what it was like playing drums for Bing Crosby (which he had on Crosby’s final tour)(he also played drums on Keith Moon’s solo album). His famous father, Jose, was a big mystery fan too, and Mig got his dad on the phone to introduce me to him – that’s right me to him. Mr. Ferrer was impressed that I was friends with Mickey Spillane – can’t remember much else, just how wonderful it was having that warm, familiar voice in my ear.

Miguel had an afternoon off from the Bakula shoot and I had arranged a tour for us through the secret rooms beneath the Green Mill Café. The latter looked then as it did decades before (and probably does now) – a green-hued deco den of iniquity. As it happened, a comic book shop was next door and the eccentric owner, whose name I will not divulge (though he’s now deceased), had promised the tour. It had been set up weeks in advance.

But when we arrived, the comics shop owner – let’s call him Joe – was not to be seen. It took some talking, but the clerk revealed Joe was downstairs, where he’d been for over a week on a bender. Miguel and I exchanged glances, but gave each other what-the-hell shrugs. We found Joe slumped over a table with a glass and a whiskey bottle and a magnum revolver on it. There was a cot and a little refrigerator, but mostly bare cement.

Joe snapped awake, recognized me, remembered the promised tour, bolted to his feet and, issuing us orders, went quickly through a doorway into the basement’s nether reaches. Miguel and I exchanged glances and followed. After all, the gun had been left behind.

Through several chambers we went, including an ancient men’s restroom with urinals lined up St. Valentine’s Day Massacre style, while Joe turned on hanging bulbs along the way, leaving them swinging in memory of Psycho. He babbled about this being where Capone’s boys went during mob wars and did so while moving very quickly. We could hardly keep up. At one point, Miguel whispered, “Are we going to die down here, Al?” I said, “Maybe. But don’t worry – with the rats, they’ll never find us.”

Somehow the tour ended, and our lives did not. Anyway, we were back above ground.

One of Seduction’s most memorable early gigs was at the Santa Monica Pier in the building with the famous merry-go-round (another was when Wildman Fisher sang “Merry-Go-Round” with us at a San Diego con appearance, but that’s another story). We were joined on some tunes by Shaun Cassidy, who was a nice guy and strong performer.

Prior to rehearsing in LA for the gig, Barb and I were invited by Miguel to stay at his mother’s house. His mother – Rosemary Clooney – would not be home; she, too, was gigging. We had the big house in Beverly Hills to ourselves, and we gingerly peeked into an expansive living room with a picture of Bing on the piano and the ghosts of Sinatra and how many others lingering among expensive furnishings that dated back decades. There was admittedly a Norma Desmond feel to the place. We’d been asked to answer the phone, and Barb did – taking a message from Rosie’s friend Linda Ronstadt.

Before our stay ended, Rosemary came home and, with Miguel at her arm, gave us a tour, including the living room. Oh, yes, all those famous people had been here many times, sometimes singing around the piano. She was as sweet and down-to-earth as my own mom, giving us copies of her latest records. Later, she was at the stove making marinara sauce, and my Lord it smelled good. But Miguel and Barb and I were on our way to a comic-shop gig.

In late night hotel-room conversations, the topic of working together often came up. We each said to the other, “If at the end of our days, we haven’t done a film or movie together, we should kick ourselves.”

Miguel and I talked seriously about having him play Heller in a movie – my novella, “Dying in the Post-war World,” was written for him in lieu of a screen treatment. Miggie was friends with a screenwriter who’d had a big success and wanted to move into directing, and – on a trip to LA specifically for this purpose – I took an afternoon meeting with him in Miguel’s little Studio City bungalow. But after we’d talked for an hour or so about Heller, the screenwriter said suddenly, “You know what we should make? A western.”

Miguel and I traded glances – his seemed to speak volumes about the disappointments and absurdities that he dealt with day-to-day in that town. Back to Iowa.

Which is where Miguel almost appeared in Mommy as Lt. March. He accepted the role on the proviso that if a big-paying gig came along, he could bow out with just two weeks notice. I was fine with that, and he allowed me to use his name and picture in our preproduction publicity, and gave us a letter of intent for fund-raising. A major film came along, and Miguel had to bow out, but he paved the way for Mark Hamill to take the role. Mark was another hardcore comics guy and very close to Bill and Miguel, and I’d spent some time with him at a couple of comic cons – a smart, funny man. (As it happened, Mark dropped out a week from the start of the shoot because of a conflict with voiceover work. We were able to secure Jason Miller for the role.)

At the risk of further name-dropping, I have to mention Miguel’s good friend, Brandon Lee. Brandon loved being around Seduction of the Innocent, and he played roadie for us at several gigs, and partied with us afterward. He seemed to take to me and we got along great. Miguel turned him onto the Quarry novels and Brandon loved them – called me on the phone to rave, once. I asked Miguel, “Why has Brandon taken to me so? There are those who can resist my charms.” Miguel grunted a laugh and said, “Simple, Al. It’s ‘cause you never ask him about his father.”

Only later did I realize that with Miguel any interaction or talk about his famous parents had come from his end, not mine.

Seduction shot a video of “The Truth Hurts” for the Golden Age CD release, and Brandon was in it. Not sure that still exists – it was good.

Just days before we were scheduled to play at WonderCon, Brandon died tragically on the set of The Crow. Bill and Miguel had to cancel because they were to be pallbearers. Steve, Chris and I appeared with Crusin’ guitarist, Paul Thomas, as “Reduction of the Innocent.”

I had a small falling-out with Miguel when we hadn’t gigged for a while. He and Bill had a more serious, real band going – the Jenerators – and in an interview, Miggie jokingly dismissed Seduction, and said something like, “Max Allan Collins is lucky he’s a great mystery writer, ‘cause he couldn’t make a living as a musician.” I didn’t like that – I had in fact made a living as a musician for a while – and I called him on the phone about it. He heard me out and we had a typically warm, laughter-filled conversation.

But I learned through the Seduction grapevine that I was “in the cornfield,” where banished friends of Bill and Miguel went (a reference to Bill’s famous Twilight Zone episode, “It’s a Good Life”). The two friends would refer to those who’d got on their bad side by saying they were in the cornfield. I understood what had happened. Miguel was very non-confrontational, while I was and am somebody who has to deal with things right now or they’ll eat me alive. Also, Miguel was a star, and while he never played that card, I had stepped over a line.

When we got offered another San Diego con gig, I was afraid I’d jinxed it. Bill didn’t want to play without Miguel, even though we had done so once when Miguel again got a last-minute movie role. But Miguel said he was in. And when we rehearsed for the gig, it was clear all was forgiven. After the first rehearsal, I apologized, embarrassedly, and Miguel said “Forget it, brother,” with a grin and a shrug.

I had a habit, stepping down off the stage after a night that felt particularly good with the band, of quoting my late friend Paul Thomas: “Rock ‘n’ roll happened.” Bill and Miggie always kind of laughed at that, good-naturedly. But I to this day say it after a good Crusin’ gig. Seduction blew the roof off the dump at the San Diego con appearance. And as we came down off the stage, Miguel came over and put his arm around me and said, “Al! Rock ‘n’ roll did happen.” And he grinned that wonderful grin. It was a kind of apology, but it was much more than that. It was love, brother.

Sweeeet.

M.A.C.

Fifty Years and Counting

Tuesday, September 27th, 2016

Cinemax has posted the third episode of QUARRY on You Tube. Enjoy!

QUARRY Episode 3: “A Mouthful of Splinters”

This weekend was Muscatine High’s 50th Class Reunion. Barb and I both were dealing with the pertussis that had dragged us both down of late, but I am out in front of her a week and a half and was in shape to participate in all of the activities on Friday and Saturday night. This included a boat ride on the Mississippi and then a big get-together at the same Legion Hall where I once ate pancakes prepared by Presidential candidate Howard Dean.

In part because I had attended three grade schools locally, I made lots of friendships that extended beyond the tight little group of us who played poker and palled around and got in Leave-it-to-Beaver type “trouble.” So I had the chance to touch bases with many, many friends, and it was pretty great. Several of my best friends were there – Ron Parker and Mike Bloom in particular, names that mean nothing to you but the world to me – and so many others. For instance, Joyce Courtois was the alto in my high school quartet, fantastic singer and wonderful, warm person – together we set a record: three “number one” ratings that put us in the All-State Chorus three years running…only quartet in the state that ever accomplished that. Impressed? I didn’t think so. It certainly didn’t get me laid.


Crusin’ at Geneva Country Club, Muscatine, MHS 50th Reunion; left to right, M.A.C., Jim Van Winkle, Steve Kundel, Joe McClean, Brian Van Winkle (in back)

Unfortunately, Barb was still having a rough ride with the pertussis, and almost didn’t go at all…but finally she pulled herself together to go to the Saturday night event, which was the big blow-out, including Crusin’ playing for the dance. She looked beautiful despite being sicker than a dog (neither of us is contagious, if you’re wondering) and people were very pleased to see her.

I was supposed to be presenting a reunion of the original Daybreakers for the dance, but health issues worse than mine among the band members made that fall apart. So Crusin’ played, with our good friend Joe McClean of the XL’S as special guest on a dozen songs. The XL’S and the Daybreakers are the only area bands to make it into the Iowa Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. Joe is an unparalleled showman and he was warmly received – the XL’S had played our senior prom two years running. (In 1966, the Daybreakers made their debut at an after-prom party.)

I had a rough evening because my cough-ravaged throat was in bad shape, but I got by. We played two one-hour sets that were supposed to be separated by a fifteen-minute break. But I was afraid people of my advanced age would head for home and their jammies if we didn’t keep the party going. So we played a solid two hours – for those of you who are wondering if I’m recovering well from my heart surgery last February.

In honor of the Daybreakers, we played “Psychedelic Siren,” with Joe on bass and our regular bassist, Brian Van Winkle, on siren – an instrument Brian mastered immediately, idiot savant that he is. Discussions about how much is idiot and how much savant are ongoing.

It was a lovely night, all in all. Never skip your high school reunion (and we’re available to play there, by the way).

* * *

I am thrilled and somewhat astonished that PUBLISHER’S WEEKLY has reviewed my expanded ROAD TO PERDITION prose novel and given it a rave – and a rare starred review!

The Mike Hammer collection, A LONG TIME DEAD, continues to get terrific reviews, like this one.

Here’s a lovely LEGEND OF CALEB YORK write-up.

And CALEB is inspiring this discussion group.

Here’s a welcome if not exactly timely SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT review.

Check out this excellent interview with QUARRY TV writer, Graham Gordy, although oddly somebody seems to think the Memphis setting came from the books.

This will link you to a local interview I did on Vintage Sound 93.1, Muscatine’s first-rate classic rock station – with the great Tony Tone.

Finally, if you haven’t read BLOOD AND THUNDER, the Nate Heller “Huey Long” novel (and if so, what’s wrong with you?), you can get it on Kindle for 99 cents, as this nice write-up (scroll down) indicates.

M.A.C.

Note From The Bunker #2

Tuesday, February 3rd, 2015

[Nate’s note: Before we get to the regularly scheduled Update, we have some breaking news:

QUARRY ON CINEMAX

Cinemax today officially announced an eight-episode series order to drama pilot Quarry. Production will begin March 30 on location in New Orleans and Tennessee. Created and executive produced by Graham Gordy & Michael D. Fuller. Based on the novels of Max Allan Collins, the show will be directed and executive produced by Greg Yaitanes (Banshee), along with executive producer Steve Golin (True Detective).

Quarry tells the story of Mac Conway (Logan Marshall-Green), a Marine who returns home to Memphis from Vietnam in 1972 and finds himself shunned by those he loves and demonized by the public. As he struggles to cope with his experiences at war, Conway is drawn into a network of killing and corruption that spans the length of the Mississippi River. Jodi Balfour, Peter Mullan, Nikki Amuka-Bird and Damon Herriman co-star, along with Jamie Hector, Edoardo Ballerini and Skipp Sudduth. “This nuanced and dynamic show marks an exciting moment in the evolution of Cinemax programming,” said HBO’s Michael Lombardo.

An HBO Entertainment production in association with Anonymous Content, the series is also executive produced by Matt DeRoss, David Kanter, Max Allan Collins and Ken Levin. Additional writers on the series include Jennifer Schuur and Max Allan Collins.

Cinemax has been making strides in original programming with dramas Banshee and The Knick, the latter earning the sister HBO network its first awards nominations.

And now, back to the Update….]

* * *

Here’s the first major review for the upcoming Mike Hammer novel, KILL ME, DARLING – and it’s a great one from Publisher’s Weekly no less:

Kill Me, Darling

Set in 1954, Collins’s seventh posthumous collaboration with Mike Hammer creator Spillane (after 2014’s King of the Weeds) is one of his best, liberally dosed with the razor-edged prose and violence that marked the originals. The New York City PI has hit the bottle hard after his longtime assistant and love, Velda Sterling, abandoned him with a one-word note. Then Mike’s friend on the NYPD, Pat Chambers, tells him that Velda has surfaced in Miami, on the arm of Nolly Quinn, a notorious mob-connected pimp. Mike cleans himself up and heads south to rescue Velda from Quinn, only to find that she doesn’t want to be rescued. Collins faithfully follows Spillane’s successful formula, including frequent gunplay, menacing thugs, and betrayal. He even matches Spillane’s colorful turns of phrase (e.g., “My bullet shattered his smile on its way through him and out of the back of his head”). Agent: Dominick Abel, Dominick Abel Literary Agency. (Mar.)

* * *

I am still working on the new Quarry novel and might finish this week, if all goes well. But a writer never knows. I often say that I never get writer’s block, which is the kind of boast than can catch up with you. No writer’s block, that’s true in its way, but I do have bad days.

A typical bad writing day for me happens as follows. I have a very good writing day, turning out more pages than usual, and I am floating on a cloud of genius. Then, that night, going to bed around midnight, having gone blissfully and quickly asleep, I wake up at 1:30 a.m. Wide awake. I do my best to get right back to sleep, but no go. I go downstairs, read something until I get sleepy, which takes an hour to two hours. Then I sleep in my recliner for a while, wake up after a while and trudge back to the bedroom, where I get to sleep right away. But I wake up at the usual time, after a very disrupted night’s “rest.”

The writing day that follows is almost always a disaster. I do write. But I am not my usual nimble self. What’s normal for me is ten to fifteen pages of finished draft. Last week, after my rocky night, I spent all day on four pages.

Some of that has to do with the research that is now required of a Quarry novel, now that they have become historical books themselves, in their quirky way. I spend as much time chasing details on Google or in reference works as I do writing – not that different from the Heller process.

But the way I do a Quarry novel is much different than a Heller. Because of the historical crimes involved, a Heller novel is tightly plotted, with each chapter detailed in at least a paragraph in a document that can be anywhere from ten to thirty pages long. With Quarry, my chapter outline reverts (not surprisingly) to the approach of my early career, with each chapter indicated by a sentence or two. For QUARRY IN THE BLACK, my outline says for chapter one: “Quarry gets job from Broker.” Another says: “Quarry and Southern gal connect at club.” That’s it. The rest is done on the fly.

That really works for Quarry, but if I’m having an off day? He is just not himself. Like I am not. Sometimes I can power through it. Sometimes I can come back in the evening (which I did with the four pages mentioned above, which turned into seven) but not always. Being older doesn’t help.

And there’s that other thing that writers never talk about – that as writers we change from day to day. Make that second to second. Back in the ‘80s, before word-processing programs automatically saved every now and then, I lost an entire chapter of the Eliot Ness novel, THE DARK CITY. It was devastating. When I knew the chapter was gone, really really gone, I started over and did my best to remember it.

Of course, I couldn’t. The chapter, as it now exists, covers the same ground. But it’s not as good as the one I lost. If I were to lose this little essay and start over, it would be substantially different and none of the phrasing would be replicated. In the mid-‘80s, I lost a chapter of PRIMARY TARGET (aka QUARRY’S VOTE) and the same process happened: I tried to remember it and only came up with a shadow of what it had been.

If a writer starts working on a story or chapter in a novel on Monday morning, even working from a detailed outline, it will be substantially different that if he waited till Tuesday afternoon. We, like what we write, are works in progress. We hope it’s progress, anyway.

A number of people lately have asked me what order to read the Quarry novels in. Chronological would seem to make sense, like starting with THE FIRST QUARRY, moving to QUARRY’S CHOICE, then QUARRY aka THE BROKER, sliding the later-written books into continuity. But THE BROKER was written when I was in my early twenties; THE FIRST QUARRY and QUARRY’S CHOICE were written by a man in his sixties. Do you understand why my advice would be to read the books in the order I wrote them? Because the writer who did the first four Quarry novels was a very different one.

* * *

Here’s an okay review of SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT, but the reviewer doesn’t quite get it….

Here’s a fun review of DAMNED IN PARADISE.

And now, with the blessing of being snowed in, I will head back to the bunker. Only I’m already there.

M.A.C.