Posts Tagged ‘The Wrong Quarry’

Laughing On The Lam

Tuesday, August 27th, 2013

The ON THE LAM conference, put on over the weekend in Seattle by Amazon’s Thomas & Mercer crime/mystery imprint for their authors, was unlike anything I’ve experienced in forty years of publishing. The T & M crew flew in 75 authors from hither and yon – “yon” being the UK, and hither being places like “Iowa” – simply to give those authors a chance to interact with each other, and the T & M editorial and marketing team. Editors have taken me out for lunch or breakfast many times, and publishers often have cocktail parties at Bouchercon and/or take authors out for a group dinner. But this was different.

For one thing, this conference was almost exclusively attended by one publisher’s writers. For the Saturday panels, family and friends and some local writers group members were in the audience, but mostly this was writers talking to other writers (and to editors). All weekend, the kinds of conversations usually only heard in secluded corners of bars at Bouchercon hotels was the up-front order of the day.

Barb and I both found it interesting and illuminating, and the generosity of T & M toward their authors was damn near mind-boggling. Everybody had a gift bag with a Kindle Paperwhite in it, for example. A Friday morning visit to the Amazon HQ proved the place not to be the stronghold of a Bond villain, rather a campus that reminded me of a well-funded community college right down to friendly students eager to help (and to herd). A fun, tasty lunch on a tour boat on Friday morning was followed by various Seattle touristy options in the afternoon, after which came perhaps the best buffet supper I’ve ever eaten at an event with a Clue-theme (no “mystery game” aspect, thankfully) in the Glasshouse of the frankly eye-popping Chihuly Garden and Glass museum. The next evening, small groups of authors with a T & M editor or other staffer or two woven in, were treated to terrific dinners at a variety of top Seattle restaurants.

MAC on the lam

What was perhaps most impressive were the Saturday panels. I was on one, and saw two others, and they were as good as anything I’ve seen at a Bouchercon. The lead-off panel, with Lee Goldberg, Marcus Sakey, Johnny Shaw and Greg Widen, was a hilarious inside look at Hollywood’s treatment of writers, but also an insightful discussion of adapting one’s own work (as well as the work of others) to the screen. I was on the following panel, and the topic (as I revealed here last week) was branding. After the incredible first panel, I decided the only thing I could do to compete was be an outrageous ham, and I opened by pretending that I was wholly unprepared, because I’d thought I was going to be on an S & M panel – “but I guess this is a different kind of branding.” I shamelessly went for laughs, and got them, but the panel was informative as well. T & M’s Gracie Doyle had done her homework and her questions were spot on. My fellow panelists, Barry Eisler and L.J. Sellers, explored the topic with insight and humor. Eisler is a charming guy with a sharp mind, very serious about his work but always ready with a winning smile. Sellers had a lot of focus on the branding issue and shared her approach of really staying in touch with her readers.

As far as branding is concerned, I came to a couple of conclusions during and after the panel. Because I’m lucky enough to have created something famous – ROAD TO PERDITION – that becomes a brand: BY THE AUTHOR OF. And thanks to PERDITION being historical crime fiction (never mind that it’s a graphic novel), that’s helpful to my historical- crime-fiction brand. I also think individual series are “brands” – and certainly not all readers who consider themselves Max Allan Collins fans read everything. Some Quarry readers are not (surprisingly) at all interested in Nate Heller, and (surprisingly) vice versa. Plenty of my regular readers ignore anything that smacks of tie-in. And a good number haven’t tried the Barbara Allan ANTIQUES fare, while the considerable number of readers that series has generated are unlikely potential Quarry or even Nate Heller fans.

But it was Barb who nailed it: “Your brand is ‘Max Allan Collins.’” Thank you, doll. (Yes, I call Barb “doll” – I am the guy who collaborates with Mickey Spillane, you know.)

Anyway, the T & M event was both fun and educational, our hosts unfailingly warm and generous, and I had a number of conversations with editorial, PR and marketing folks who make me feel that WHAT DOESN’T KILL HER is in good hands.

Which brings me to Amazon reviews. One thing I come back from the On the Lam conference with is a better understanding of how that system works. So I’m going to repeat something I’ve said before: if you like my stuff, please post reviews at Amazon. A sentence or two will do, though by all means express yourself at length if so inclined. If you review a book of mine at your blog, post it as an Amazon review as well. Four- and five-star reviews really boost sales (they are averaged, so a book gets an averaged star rating). Marking good reviews as helpful and bad ones as not helpful is also beneficial.

This doesn’t just go for me. Any book by any writer whose work you enjoy will benefit from your positive review at Amazon (and at Barnes & Noble). Do an Amazon search for a writer you like (for example, Max Allan Collins) and look at the averaged star-rating of individual novels. If the overall rating is under four stars, that book could use some love. By the way, what often brings the ratings down is another Amazon practice that is mostly positive – offering a title at a (temporary) bargain e-book price. The bargain pricing of TRUE DETECTIVE, when the Amazon reprints/e-books first came out, helped get a 1983 novel to number one on the Kindle fiction list. But the low price brings in readers who are looking for a cheap thrill and who are not necessarily a good fit for a given book – readers who don’t like mysteries say, “What the hell, I’ll try this.” Sometimes you get a new reader; but lots of times you don’t. Not a good author/reader fit. So an author winds up with a bunch of one- and two-star ratings. Anybody reading this blog knows that TRUE DETECTIVE is not a novel that deserves that kind of rating.

So go back and see what kind of ratings your favorite writers have racked up for their various books, and when it strikes you a book has been under-valued, drop in a review – again a sentence or two will do: it’s the star rating that matters most. Give your favorite books a nice boost. It’s free.

Which brings us to EARLY CRIMES. Right now EARLY CRIMES, not a T & M publication, has no reviews. Nada. I was told by an Amazon marketing expert that books with terrible reviews and lousy star averages do significantly better than a book that has no reviews at all.

A while back, I offered ARCs (bound galleys) of WHAT DOESN’T KILL HER to a limited number of readers willing to do an Amazon review. I screwed up a little, because those reviews can’t be posted till the book is out – September 17, kids! Well, EARLY CRIMES is out now, and is, so far, decidedly a non-event.

So I am offering copies of the book to the first ten readers of this blog who are willing to do a review. (If you read it and hate it, you are excused from class.) Request one at my e-mail address: macphilms@hotmail.com. But this is only for readers who live in the United States. The overseas and Canadian postage damn near broke me last time I tried this. My apologies.

I want to emphasize that readers should get in the habit of supporting their favorite authors and books by writing these short reviews for Amazon and Barnes & Noble. And don’t forget Goodreads. The more reviews that appear, the more important the book seems to potential new readers; the higher the star rating, the more new readers will be attracted. This is an easy grass-roots thing you can do for all of your favorite writers.

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I was one of many authors who noted the passing of the great Elmore Leonard last week for J. Kingston Pierce at his fine Rap Sheet blog.

My old buddy (and editor) Chris Mills did a nice post about the forthcoming THE WRONG QUARRY, including the cover shown without cover copy – nice.

Here’s a fun review of SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT.

And here’s an interview I did that I’d forgotten about, from a December 2004 sitdown for a documentary about crime in Chicago that never happened. I talk a good deal about DICK TRACY, Ness, Capone and Frank Nitti.

M.A.C.

Quarry Pilot Casting News

Tuesday, June 25th, 2013

The producers of the HBO/Cinemax pilot QUARRY have added two more cast members to an already impressive roster:

Nikki Amuka-Bird of the top-notch British series LUTHER and Mary Elizabeth Winstead, whose many credits include the wonderful SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD.

I got a fun e-mail from reader Lee Grant relating to the QUARRY pilot, and I’d like to share it with you:

My introduction to your work came back in the 1980s with The Baby Blue Rip Off and Kill Your Darlings. I graduated to the Nathan Heller novels and rediscovered comics again with Ms. Tree. The Nate Heller and disaster novels remain my favorites, though your treatment of Mike Hammer is right up there with the Mick. Now, if you could only do some Travis McGee or Nero Wolfe novels that would be the icing on the cake. Anyway, my wife and I are at home in Bartlett, TN last night when we receive a call from a woman who is doing advance location work for a movie to be set in an old house in Mississippi. She is interested in using my wife’s old family farm house in it – one that looks like it may have been used by Machine Gun Kelly (BTW) who did spend some time in this area. I don’t think much of the conversation other than it is interesting. I ask what the film is and my wife, Jayme, says the advance scout didn’t remember the title but that it was a mystery. So, Jayme goes to visit the scout today at the house in Independence, Mississppi and when she comes out she literally stuns me saying it is for a film based on a mystery by Max Allan Collins. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. She tells me, “Yeah, it is about some hit man. I think his name is Quarry.” As my teenage daughter would say, “OMG.” I don’t say that myself, I would be more like Nate Heller, but I try to avoid that can of language in emails. The sad news is that the farm house, though no one has lived in it for 25 years, may be too nice to use according to the scout. So it probably won’t be in the film, but to think that it was considered for a Max Allan Collins’ film made my day. Anyway, good luck with the film. If you ever visit the set and need someone to show you some undiscovered BBQ places, or need a driver to Graceland, feel free to drop me a line and I’ll be happy to act as a guide. It would be my way of saying thank you for all of the hours of great reading you’ve given me these past 30+ years.

Any other readers out there who have a close encounter of the QUARRY kind are urged to let me know.

A few comments on recent movies and TV, just briefly….

MAN OF STEEL is well-cast, with both Superman (Henry Cavill) and Lois Lane (Amy Adams) quite wonderful; like Glenn Ford in the first Christopher Reeve SUPERMAN, Kevin Costner gives the Smallville sections a nice homespun weight. But the last act is borderline dreadful, with oh-so-serious co-writer Christopher Nolan meeting up with the excesses of director Zack Snyder in a perfect storm of missteps – i.e., relentlessly idiotic and uninteresting TRANSFORMERS-style destruction of downtown Metropolis, topped off by Superman actually taking a life. And some of the screenwriting is truly abysmal – the movie opens with a lengthy, detailed study of Krypton’s final days, somewhat ponderous but not bad. Then when Russell Crowe as Marlon Brando, I mean Jo-El (Superman’s father), shows up as a ghost or something, he spends five minutes telling Kal-El (Superman) what happened in the first half hour of the movie! Wow. Exposition at its most clumsy, and pointless.

THIS IS THE END, on the other hand, is a truly great comedy, with star/writer Seth Rogen assembling James Franco, Jonah Hill, Danny McBride and many other comic stars of his generation to play themselves in an Apocalyptic horror flick that is largely about these talents pimping themselves out. One of the best movies of the summer, maybe the year.

Barb and I binged on two American remakes/revamps of great foreign TV mini-series – HOUSE OF CARDS with Kevin Spacey standing in for the late Ian Richardson in an excellent U.S. take on the acid British political dark comedy. Not quite as good as the original, which is one of the greatest of all UK television mini-series, but damn good in its own right. Think of it as a very dark take on THE WEST WING.

THE KILLING begins as a faithful remake of the excellent Danish series of the same name (well, the UK name, anyway – the Danish name is Forbrydelsen, “The Crime”), but expands upon it and goes its own way, and ultimately rivals and perhaps exceeds the original. The show got a bad rap and rep because it didn’t solve the central murder by the end of the first season (it never pretended it was going to), but viewing the two seasons binge-style is a hypnotic, rewarding experience. And it’s back for a third season and a new central crime. Mireille Enos and Joel Kinnaman are the very strong leads, two damaged detectives who combine to make an unlikely and even reluctant team.

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A very nice review of SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT in the Cedar Rapids Gazette has been picked up around the Net.

Here’s a review of TWO FOR THE MONEY, the Hard Case crime collection of the first two NOLAN novels, BAIT MONEY and BLOOD MONEY.

Here’s a little preview of THE WRONG QUARRY with a nice uncluttered look at the cover art.

Finally, take a look at this terrific review of TRUE CRIME. I’m so pleased Heller is getting a whole new round of readers thanks to the Amazon reprints.

M.A.C.

Nero Nom For Antiques Disposal—Satisfactory

Tuesday, June 18th, 2013

Barb and I (and for that matter our son Nate) are huge Nero Wolfe fans. Our preferred mode of enjoyment is the fine series of audio books read by Michael Pritchard, which Barb and I have listened to perhaps five times. I am also a fan of Bob Goldsborough’s continuation of Rex Stout’s great series – he was a role model for me in my work on Mickey’s unfinished novels.

So it was with particular pleasure and even a little pride that Barb and I learned that we’d been nominated for the Wolfe Pack’s prestigious Nero Award. This award is, rivaled only by the Edgar, the remaining award in mystery fiction that I still dream of winning – in part because it’s physically cool, being a bust of Wolfe himself. Read about it at the Rap Sheet, where you can see who the other three nominees are (like I’m going to tell you!).

The other big news this week is that top-flight actor Stellan Skadrsgard (THOR, THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO), has been cast as the Broker in the Cinemax QUARRY pilot. This will be a recurring role, if the pilot goes to series, at least for the first season (regular readers of the Quarry books know why the Broker will not likely be around for the long haul…).

IMPORTANT ANNOUNCEMENT: I have learned that reviews of WHAT DOESN’T KILL HER cannot go up on Amazon until after the book has been published. So those of you got review copies from me will have to wait until then, although you can post at Goodreads any time and the also on blogs of your own. When the book comes out in September, I will remind you to post those reviews.

By the way – and this was mentioned in a comment response here, but many of you may not have seen it – I am close to signing with Hard Case Crime to do another Quarry novel, which I would write later this year. The title will probably be QUARRY’S CHOICE. It will not be a “list” novel, but will return to the period where Quarry works for the Broker. (THE WRONG QUARRY will be out in January, and I immodestly suggest it’s among the strongest in the series.)

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Favorable reviews of COMPLEX 90 continue to roll in, but I really get a kick out of it when a young woman like the reviewer at Nerds in Babeland connects with Mike Hammer and his world, particularly a smart one who recognizes how strong Velda and the other female characters are.

A very well-conducted interview, part of the COMPLEX 90 blog tour, is here, at Celebrity Cafe.

And here’s another one, nicely handled by the interviewer, at blogcritics.

David Williams continues to review Heller novels in succinct, smart fashion, as in this look at BYE BYE, BABY.

And Just a Guy That Likes to Read liked reading TRUE CRIME very much, as his review indicates.

An annotated reprinting of my BATMAN comic strip story (illoed by the great Marshall Rogers) is here. I’ve posted this before, but this is a revised, expanded version.

And here’s a fun look at the “Barbara Allan” Marilyn Monroe thriller, BOMBSHELL, a book that really got lost between the cracks until Thomas & Mercer gave it a new lease on life.

M.A.C.

The Guy Who Was Quarry

Tuesday, May 28th, 2013
The Wrong Quarry

Writing this on Memorial Day, I am reflecting on how the novel QUARRY (aka THE BROKER) came to be, especially in light of the recent casting of Logan Marshall-Green in the lead of the HBO/Cinemax pilot. Whether this pilot goes to series or not, it’s almost mind-boggling to me that something I created at the University of Iowa Writers Workshop back in 1972 would have such continuing resonance.

Again, because it’s Memorial Day, I am thinking about my late friend Jon McRae, one of the funniest and most troubled guys I ever knew – and often the troubled side of him was very funny. He was very much the inspiration for Quarry, although Quarry himself is much more me than Jon. But like Quarry, Jon did come home from Vietnam to find his wife cheating on him (he did not murder the guy, though I’m sure it occurred to him), and he was the textbook example of a decent Midwestern kid who went into the military to become a hero, and indeed became one…but a fucked-up one.

Jon used to come home and stay with us on his leaves. I noticed he had begun to drink heavily – lots of vodka. He was a machine-gunner in the tail of a chopper, a job with the highest mortality rate in that war; in that circumstance, I would have been into vodka myself. Jon loved my books and would show up on his leave with a bag filled with whatever weapons I had written about lately. He said I needed to handle the guns that my characters used. We would go out to a garbage dump and shoot the place up. It was great fun.

He was a sweet guy, I swear to God. He was a romantic. He was a huge movie buff, particularly ‘30s and ‘40s ones. He was the first among us to bring a James Bond-like briefcase to school (many of us followed suit).

But after he was in the service, everywhere he went, he packed a gun. I was always a little edgy around him. On leave, he would wear a buckskin coat like Sheriff Brennan’s son John in NO CURE FOR DEATH (that character was directly based on him), and also a longhair wig. He would go with the Daybreakers on band jobs, and when we ate at truck stops afterward, he would bait truckers into calling him a hippie and then hurl them against a wall.

He also went to my classes with me at the University of Iowa, no longhair wig there, rather a full-dress uniform, silently daring any anti-war protester to call him a baby killer.

Jon is gone now, under somewhat mysterious circumstances. He stayed in the Marines for a long time, but I believe he was a civilian, somewhere in the Philippines, when he passed, maybe twenty years ago – again, I have no idea what the details are, or even the vague outlines for that matter.

The Quarry novels are all dark comedies, which is to say tragedies played out so absurdly you have to laugh. The idea of Quarry was always that he was me, and us – that he was a decent, intelligent but fairly ordinary young man who was sent off to fight a meaningless war. We have never been the same since that war. Those of us who did not go would watch body bags getting loaded onto choppers (like the one Jon flew) as we ate our evening dinner on TV trays. It made us numb. But that whole war made us numb. It wasn’t a fight against Hitler or even the imperialistic Japanese. To this day, no one really knows what that war was about. And it damaged us all.

But it damaged guys like Jon most. God bless him, and all the other Quarries who fought for us, despite the vagueness of the mission, heroes we did not treat nearly well enough upon their return.

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The COMPLEX 90 reviews keep coming in, and most are very good, even raves. Check out this terrific one from Noir Journal, where it’s the featured book.

Full disclosure: Ed Gorman is one of my best friends. But he’s always one of our greatest living crime-fiction writers, and somebody who (like me) defended Mickey Spillane back when others threw bricks. I’m delighted that he wrote favorably about COMPLEX 90 at this terrific blog.

Now and then we get reviewed at Not the Baseball Pitcher, and I am always impressed with the blogger’s work. He likes COMPLEX 90.

I get a real charge out of seeing positive reactions to the Hammer books from young people who have never read a Spillane or Collins book before. This is a very cool one.

This is an interesting, mostly negative review that I think says more about the UK reviewer than it does about the book, and reminds me of the kind of hysterical attacks (“wish fulfilment wank fantasy for hardened Republicans”) that used to be leveled against Mickey, though oddly the reviewer does credit Spillane for his importance and power. If you haven’t read the book yet, there are spoilers.

Here’s a really nice piece from a comics fan about the film version of ROAD TO PERDITION.

And finally, here’s a fun review of the reprint of the Nolan novel, FLY PAPER.

M.A.C.