Archive for September, 2009

Copy Editing

Tuesday, September 29th, 2009

Very soon you will be able to leave comments as these updates become more like a regular blog. But it’s my intention only to post once a week. It would be very easy for me to abuse the blog format and write a bunch of stuff for free every day.

This week found me plugging away at Heller, nearing the half-way mark on the new novel. I also did some work on RETURN TO PERDITION, as Terry Beatty has started on the artwork, and my job is to stay out ahead of him. I played a Crusin’ band job Saturday night.

In addition, Matt Clemens and I spent a day comparing notes, and preparing to send back to our publisher, the copy-edited manuscript of YOU CAN’T STOP ME. There is no part of the writing process that I like less than dealing with a copy-edited manuscript. Copy editing should be restricted to preparing the manuscript for typesetting, correcting typos, correcting spelling, noting missing words, pointing out inconsistencies (i.e., a character starts out with red hair and becomes brown-haired by the end), pointing out word repetition, and flagging unclear sentences or passages (for the author to rewrite). About one out of three copy-edited manuscripts I receive seems to have been attacked by a well-meaning soul who anoints him-or-herself as my co-author. I’ve been at this professionally since 1971. I have taught college English, and countless writing seminars. Yet they constantly “correct” and “improve” me.

What do they correct? How about “fixing” grammar in dialogue? How do they improve me? How about turning long run-on sentences in action scenes, designed to hold the reader down into the fray, into a bunch of short, choppy ones? For me a major problem with such copy editors is my use of punctuation, which I view as a tool and use for sound and effect. Style seems to bewilder some copy editors.

Putting Humpty Dumpty back together is a task I have had to undertake many times. This despite the fact that I usually include a note to the copy editor (very politely stated) that lists my preferences and eccentricities. Understand that the copy editor’s real functions (listed above) are crucial, and I am as often grateful to them as I am, well, not grateful….

The other aspect of the copy-edited manuscript that is frustrating to writers is its arrival at inopportune times — these manuscripts (and galley proofs are the same) frequently arrive with little or no warning, with a crazy turn-around-time, even as a short as a couple of days.

I find, when I’m working on a novel that losing days to this necessary but unexpected work can really slow me down. I build up a certain momentum, and these interruptions — again, a necessary part of the process — cause me trouble. For me, writing a novel is akin to reading one. And I like to stay immersed.


Quarry in the Middle Cover Sketches

Monday, September 21st, 2009

We’ve had our first print review of QUARRY IN THE MIDDLE, by Mike Rogers in Library Journal and it’s a rave:
Collins’s eclectic hit man returns. With his “Broker” (the guy who arranges his kills) dead and Quarry in possession of the man’s records, he begins turning the tables on his fellow assassins by warning their soon-to-be victims and offering to save their skins by cleaning the cleaners—for a hefty fee. Looking to make one last juicy score so he can retire and get out of the life before his own ticket inevitably is punched, business takes him to Haydee’s Port, IL, a backwater sleaze pit that’s “all sex and murder and money.” There he approaches Richard Cornell, a casino owner who’s about to have a fatal accident courtesy of rival gambling boss Jerry Giovanni. As usual, things don’t go quite according to plan, and Quarry finds himself between the two when his cover is blown and Giovanni’s crew come gunning for him instead. Of course, in between shootings and beatings and double crosses Quarry manages to engage in satisfying sex with top-shelf honeys from their 20s to their 50s (he doesn’t discriminate).

Collins masterfully balances the standard sex and violence with humor and style, and like the series’ previous installments, Quarry in the Middle is a lightning-fast-can’t-put-it-down read. As soon as you finish it, you’ll be aching for the next one. Let’s hope Quarry never retires. Highly recommended for mystery collections.

Copyright 2009, Library Journal
Speaking of Quarry, Nate suggested that we show you the preliminary sketches by master noir paperback artist Ron Lesser that led to the published cover of QUARRY IN THE MIDDLE. One of the things that has made Hard Case Crime’s great reputation are the retro covers; another thing that makes the company great is editor Charles Ardai allowing the writer to have input into those covers.

Quarry in the Middle Sketch
Quarry in the Middle Sketch #1, Copyright 2009, Ron Lesser

Quarry in the Middle Sketch
Quarry in the Middle Sketch #2, Copyright 2009, Ron Lesser

Quarry in the Middle Sketch
Quarry in the Middle Sketch #3, Copyright 2009, Ron Lesser

The three rough sketches Charles sent me were all terrific, and he liked them all, but his least favorite was the sketch that ultimately became the basis of the cover. Charles actually allowed me to overrule him. I think he was surprised that I wanted to go with the slickest of the designs, the other two being very much the kind of dark, sexually disturbing image you’d see on a Spillane paperback (or imitation Spillane paperback) in the late fifties or early sixties.

But I liked making the obvious visual pun of having Quarry in the middle of two beauties, and I also liked the fun of putting my everyman hitman into a James Bond-ish image. The book wasn’t written yet, and I knew I could justify Quarry’s spiffier look, clothes and all, in the text. That’s something that happened with THE FIRST QUARRY—the painting came first, and I wrote the scene into the book, just like pulp writers used to in the old days.

The painting itself was tweaked a little to my specifications, as Quarry was depicted as very blond at first and, at my request through Charles, artist Lesser darkened the hair.

Quarry in the Middle

Now that Quarry is “back” (for at least a few novels), embracing the Bond-ish series look in one of the covers seemed appropriate and a hoot.


A Week in the Life

Tuesday, September 15th, 2009

I don’t have any news to report that I can think of, but I hear all the time from people wondering how I write so much, when do I sleep, etc.

And I have frequently talked about how by nature I am lazy (a fact, not an opinion). But when I’m working, really working, I work my ass off and I work steadily. This week is a case in point. I wrote six of the seven days, taking off Friday (Barb and I went to the nearby Quad Cities and saw the very funny EXTRACT and had a nice meal and shopped). But every other day I wrote in the morning, the afternoon and later that night, spending the evening watching stuff with Barb (last week, we ran through both seasons of the wonderful MAD MEN as well as a new MIDSOMER MURDERS from England on a PAL disc).

That’s a typical week when I am in the “bunker,” really, really working. I turned out four Heller chapters (not hacked out or churned out — worked many, many hours on them, with much revision and polishing). I also did my drafts of the synopsis and first chapter for the second serial-killer book for Kensington (the first, YOU CAN’T STOP ME, will be out in March), working from Matt Clemens’ excellent rough drafts (Matt and I spent several hours discussing plot problems and tactics on that project as well).

Other things I did last week include take my 84 year-old mother out to dinner, talk Heller and historical research concerns (and original art collecting) with George Hagenauer, decide to buy the Beatles mono box and not the stereo, talk my wife into letting me buy a second new keyboard for the latest version of Crusin’ (I have now replaced two mid-’80s keyboards with current ones, a Nord and a Roland Juno) . I had no Crusin’ rehearsal last week, though I did rehearse myself several times, and bass player Chuck Bunn and I prepared (with Matt’s help) a lengthy history of the band with photos for use as promo and possibly to help get us into the Iowa Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. (Daybreakers are in, but Crusin’ would like to get in separately — next year is the Crusin’s 35th anniversary.)

Speaking of which, if you’ve ever enjoyed Crusin’ over the years, live or on record/CD, go to the Iowa Rock ‘n Roll Music Association web site and nominate Crusin’ for next year’s Hall of Fame.

That’s a fairly typical week in the life, for when a major project is under way. Before you say, “Wow!”, please note that this is my job. I do not teach or go to a law office or greet at Walmart (yet).

Please observe that Nate is going to have an ongoing list of forthcoming books, right at the top, from now on — the first of many new and exciting changes here at FOMAC.


First Review for Quarry in the Middle

Tuesday, September 8th, 2009

Quarry in the Middle

The first review for QUARRY IN THE MIDDLE (out next month) is in — Ron Fortier has provided a rave review, and here it is:


You’ll see that Ron connects the book to the classic Kurosawa film Yojimbo, and to Fistful of Dollars and Dashiell Hammett, although Ron mentions THE GLASS KEY as the original source. Kurosawa may have mentioned THE GLASS KEY himself, but the real source is Hammett’s first novel, RED HARVEST, the first major hardboiled PI novel and still one of the best, if not in THE MALTESE FALCON’s league. RED HARVEST was Mickey Spillane’s favorite Hammett novel, by the way.

I tip this off myself in the epigrams for the novel, which quote Hammett, Kurosawa and Serigo Leone. By the way, I pride myself on selling this book to Charles Ardai with, essentially, a title and a one-word pitch. In line at the buffet table at last year’s PWA banquet, I said to Charles that I would like to do another Quarry.

He said, “But you’ve done THE FIRST QUARRY and THE LAST QUARRY. What’s left?”


He laughed and said, “Okay, but what is it?”

And I said, “Yojimbo.”

He stuck out his hand and we shook. We’d made a deal.

Two items on a personal note: Barb and I spent a lovely three days in St. Louis with our son Nate, who lives there now, showing us around and taking us to various great restaurants. Beautiful weather to go out walking with our “granddog,” Toaster (an insane Australian Blue Heeler and my favorite animal on the planet, but for a handful of humans). We also dropped by the Big Sleep mystery bookstore, a wonderful browser’s paradise. I think it’s a safe bet that we’ll be doing a signing there next year, probably for the new Barbara Allan and the new Mike Hammer.

And Crusin’ played at a local pub in Muscatine, the Brew, and while the crowd could have been bigger, the response was terrific and it was a pleasure playing a venue with an in-house sound man/sound system. I’m enjoying playing a little more often, and it’s gratifying to see the broad demographic our mix of originals and classic ’60s rock seems to work for. Just a year ago today, the band (under its original name, the Daybreakers) was inducted into the Iowa Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame at Arnold’s Park. Our friends from Wilton, the XL’s, got in this year. If you haven’t ordered the Daybreakers “Hall of Fame” CD, scroll down and do so — not many copies left, and less than 10 of the signed ones. The SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT signed CD’s are similarly in low quantity.

Tomorrow (Monday as I write this) I begin the new Nate Heller novel.