Archive for October, 2009

Reading Habits

Tuesday, October 27th, 2009

This week is a “meme” (I’m still not sure I understand what the hell that is) that I’m did in advance of Bouchercon in Indianapolis.

Do you snack while you read? If so, favorite reading snack?

Never eat while I read. Always drink Coke – these days, Coke Zero (it’s a man’s drink – it’s in a black bottle or can!)

Do you tend to mark your books as you read, or does the idea of writing in books horrify you?

With research books, I sometimes uses marking pens on them, college-student style, but usually replace the book with another copy when I’m done. Books I’m using for research tend to get pretty battered.

How do you keep your place while reading a book? Bookmark? Dog-ears?

I never fold down the corners of pages (how could Rex Stout allow Nero Wolfe to do that?) though I will occasionally lay them face-down open, to mark a place. But not for an extended period of time, or in a spine-breaking way.

Fiction, non-fiction, or both?

Mostly non-fiction, about half and half research and pleasure. I get no joy from reading the competition, plus it’s a busman’s holiday, so with a very few exceptions (Ed McBain was one), I haven’t read mysteries (other than to do so for awards committees or market research) since the early ‘70s. Barb reads primarily theater and show business biographies. Nate is a science-fiction and fantasy guy, but not exclusively — he’ll read anything that snags his interest, mainstream, non-fiction, etc.

When I do read mystery/crime fiction, it tends to be classic material. Some years ago I decided to read all the Perry Mason novels. I have re-read Hammett, Chandler, Cain, and Spillane countless times. Similarly the novels The Bad Seed by William March and Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye by Horace McCoy.

Hard copy or audiobooks?

Barb and I travel quite a bit — car trips to Des Moines (for many years I was on the board of the Iowa Motion Picture Association, and there was a monthly meeting) and Chicago (for pleasure and research). And we have done many midwestern book tours, travelling by car. Lately we’ve visited Nate in St. Louis. There are three to six hour trips, one-way.

So audio books are important to us. We have listened to pretty much all of Agatha Christie that way (great writer) and are on our second and sometimes third pass on Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe novels and novellas. Stout has been a fairly recent enthusiasm for me, and I now rank him with Hammett, Chandler and Spillane. For sheer enjoyment, spending time with Archie and Wolfe is tough to beat. See my novels A Killing in Comics and Strip for Murder to see just how much I like Stout.

Are you a person who tends to read to the end of chapters, or are you able to put a book down at any point?

End of chapters or until I get too sleepy to comprehend what I’m reading.

If you come across an unfamiliar word, do you stop to look it up right away?

Usually I figure out the meaning from context and try to remember to check on it later.

Are you the type of person who only reads one book at a time, or can you read more than one at a time?

One book at a time.

This is partly why I don’t read crime and mystery fiction much (other than not wanting to encourage the competition): I am almost always writing a novel, and that is the novel I’m “reading.”

Reading non-fiction while I’m writing a novel is not a distraction, though.

What are you currently reading?

We are about to listen to The Mother Hunt by Rex Stout on the upcoming Indianapolis trip, as well as my audio novel (an advance copy) of The New Adventures of Mike Hammer: The Little Death with Stacy Keach.

I am reading Geniuses of the American Theater: The Composers and Lyricists by Herbert Keyser. Tells about what dark lives most of the great songwriters had while they were inventing American-style romantic love.

What is the last book you bought?

That new book on the Universal movie monsters.

Do you have a favorite time of day and/or place to read?

Late at night, and in the bathtub. Not necessarily mutually exclusive categories. (The shower works less well.)

Do you prefer series books or standalone books?

Hard to say. I have been attracted to series, both as a reader and a writer, but many of my favorite novels are standalone. A basic tenet of storytelling — broken routinely by series novels — is that the main character or characters should grow or change (or fail to), in other words take some kind of journey. Few series characters do that (though Nathan Heller and Mike Hammer have). Certainly Archie and Nero Wolfe never learn a damn thing. Or Perry Mason. Marlowe may learn something in The Long Goodbye.

Is there a specific book you find yourself recommending over and over?

The Maltese Falcon above all others. Of Mickey’s books, I often point to One Lonely Night. Chandler, Farewell, My Lovely. The Postman Always Rings Twice. Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye. The Bad Seed. Mark Harris’ baseball novels.

How do you organize your books?

By author. My office has the favorite stuff (Hammett, Spillane, Stout, Chandler, Jim Thompson, Horace McCoy, W.R. Burnett, William March, Erle Stanley Gardner, Mark Harris, Calder Willingham, Ian Fleming, Chester Himes, James M. Cain, a few others). My basement library needs work, but one area has Westlake, Christie, McBain, Block, Gorman, Randisi, Lutz, and other favorites.)

We’ve had another great review for QUARRY IN THE MIDDLE (which comes out this week).

At Bouchercon, I ran into Sharon Clute, who provided me a link to a “Behind the Black Mask” podcast I did a while back.

Also, I want to add to my Bouchercon memory book by mentioning my friend Robert Goldsborough, who wrote seven Nero Wolfe novels to continue the series (how I wish he were still doing it!) and is currently doing a first-rate historical mystery series about about Chicago PI Snap Malek. Other friends we ran into include writer/cop Jim Dougherty and writer Gary Bush, who has just published his Once Upon a Crime collection for Nordin Press (in honor of the great bookstore in Minneapolis); Barb and I have a story in it (“Flyover Country”).

Jim Winter with January Magazine‘s The Rap Sheet Blog posted two video interviews from Bouchercon — one with Barb about the Trash ‘n’ Treasures series and another with myself about the new Heller, Bye Bye, Baby.


INDY Loser’s Circle

Tuesday, October 20th, 2009

M.A.C. @ Bouchercon '09
Max signing at Bouchercon ’09
Photo courtesy Mark Coggins

Yes, a perfect score at the Bouchercon — three nominations, three losses. I won’t tell you who beat me, because I only remember in one case. My attitude toward awards in general is a peculiar mix of not giving a damn and wanting to win, and some awards seem to me more valid and important than others.

For example, the Private Eye Writers of America’s Shamus is meaningful because writers decide, that is committees who look at stacks of material and single out a small group of their peers to recognize. But the Anthony is a popularity contest at Bouchercon, allowing attendees to vote when many (if not most) of them haven’t read the books or short stories in question.

Nonetheless, honors are nice, and I managed to attend all three awards events, although Barb went only to the Shamuses.

That event was pretty terrific, at a blues club called the Slippery Noodle, with Bob Randisi interacting with a local blues duo and presenting the awards in a fun way. I surprised him with the Eye, the PWA’s life achievement award, which a group of ex-presidents cooked up behind his back, aided and abetted by Christine Matthews. Bob has done a great deal for the P.I. genre, but his own first-rate body of work tends to get overshadowed by his creation of the PWA and the Shamus awards, and we tried to rectify that. My nomination was the Nate Heller short story (pubbed in EQMM) “The Blonde Tigress.”

The con itself was well-run with a lot going on. I was on two panels and both went very well. One was on continuing other people’s work (well-chaired by Bond author Raymond Benson) and drew a nice crowd despite being early Thursday afternoon. On Friday we did a panel on the Private Eye in the last four decades, with authors representing the decade in which they first published a P.I. story (I was the ‘80s for Heller). This Randisi production was a smash, with a modest-sized room overflowing and revealing the healthy fan interest in private eyes. Both panels received high marks, and I got positive comments about them throughout the con.

One of the topics on the P.I. panel was how we’d been influenced by incoming authors and trends/changes in the genre. One aspect, for example, was Robert B. Parker’s use of a psycho sidekick (Hawk) for his private eye (Spenser), and how that became a standard convention for writers who followed him (Mosley, Crais, etc.) S.J. Rozan agreed with me that this was a cop-out, and I made the point that my protagonists do their own psychotic dirty work. But what I realized (but did not get around to mentioning on the panel) was that I have not been influenced by anybody in the genre since around 1970. I never thought of sidekicks as a trend, just something Parker came up with that a bunch of other writers imitated. The last crime writer to influence me in a major way was Richard Stark, who I discovered in 1967. It seems odd to me (and this was pointed out on the panel) that some of the newer writers have read Dennis Lahane and other contemporary PI writers, but not Hammett, Chandler, Spillane and Ross MacDonald.

My two signings, after the panels, were hugely well-attended, which is very gratifying when the only lines that compare are for guys like Michael Connelly (the guest of honor) and a handful of women writers.

We saw many friends, including John and Barbara Lutz, Bill Crider, Donald Bain, the Crimespree Jordans, Harlan Coben, Gary Phillips, Christine Matthews, Sara Paretsky, Otto Penzler, and so many more. Some meetings with friends were of the ships-passing-in-the-night variety, others were meetings and/or luncheons. Agent Dominick Abel threw a great evening dinner party at a funky Italian restaurant, for example, and we had another Italian lunch with uber-fan Brad Schwartz and his dad. Matt Clemens and I had a delightful meeting with our Kensington editor, Michaela Hamilton, wherein the three of us brainstormed our way into the second J.C. Harrow novel (the first, You Can’t Stop Me, comes out in March). Barb and I sat with the editors of EQMM and Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine at the Shamus dinner, and hobnobbed with Penguin editors at their cocktail party. Business and fun blends in a very cool way at a Bouchercon.

The only bad thing was the Hyatt hotel’s geography — the con in this rather sterile, cold-looking hotel was spread out over four floors, and you never felt like you’d seen everybody — and you hadn’t. My Vertigo/DC editor, Will Dennis, was there, for example, and we never connected.

On the long car trip from Iowa to Indiana, Barb and I had a chance to listen to an advance pressing of The New Adventures of Mike Hammer, Vol. 2: The Little Death with Stacy Keach as Mike Hammer, a full-cast original audio novel for Blackstone (December) that I wrote based on a Mickey Spillane short story. With no modesty whatsoever, I will tell you that it is great — hugely entertaining for both casual and hardcore Hammer fans. And Keach is wonderful.

Lots of interest in Quarry at the con, but also nice comments about two series that are either over or an hiatuses: the Criminal Minds books and the Jack and Maggie Starr “comics” mysteries. Most of all, Barb and I encountered “Barbara Allan” fans who were glad to hear about the new one, Antiques Bizarre, coming out next Spring. We gave away copies of the first book, Antiques Roadkill, at the big book bazaar Sunday morning, an experiment to get readers reading series and authors they hadn’t before sampled. Something of a mad house, but an interesting idea not quite run amok.

Next year it’s San Francisco, and the year after St. Louis.

Last but not least, on a non-Bouchercon note, here is another great Quarry in the Middle review, this time from my pal Ed Gorman.


Quarry at Large

Tuesday, October 13th, 2009

Quarry in the Middle

We’ve another great QUARRY IN THE MIDDLE review, this one from Craig Clarke. Check it out at his Somebody Dies blogsite:

And my friend Ed Gorman, who has long been a booster of the Quarry novels, interviewed me about the series. It’s been linked lots of places, but in case you missed it, here goes:

And the Fresh Fiction website has singled out the previous Quarry, THE FIRST QUARRY, for some unexpected love:

Bill Crider posted a nice review and general Quarry write-up:

My LAPD cop pal Paul Bishop, who been helping me via e-mail on BYE, BYE BABY research questions, has a great website, and he’s been kind enough to showcase Quarry…and the last time I visited, he was playing Bobby Darin’s “All By Myself”!

Anyway, see the man at:

That novel is up for both Barry and Anthony awards at the upcoming Bouchercon. Speaking of which, here are my two panels at the Indianapolis event:

Oct. 15, Thursday:
“This Pen for Hire,” 1:30 pm to 2:30 pm

Oct. 16, Friday:
“PI Novel through the Years,” 10:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.

Presumably these will both be followed by one-hour autograph sessions.

Matt Clemens is attending the con, and so is Barb, though neither are doing panels this year.

I’ll be at the Shamus Awards, where the Nate Heller short story “The Blonde Tigress” has been nominated (it appeared in EQMM). That’s Friday evening at 7:00 pm. at the evocatively named Slippery Noodle.

I continue on my insane effort to wrap up the new Heller, BYE BYE, BABY, before Barb and I leave early Thursday morning. I have been maintaining a punishing pace, but I enjoy being immersed in a novel I’m writing. Even if I get the three remaining chapters written, however, the book will not be “done” done. I will still have to put together the bibliographic end note, which is chapter-length, as well as I do a complete polish of the whole thing. So another week’s work awaits. Why batter myself like this? It’s an artificial deadline, to replace the real one I missed long ago, plus I want to avoid the frustration and distraction of going away for four or five days with the story nearly told.

My friend Stu Kaminsky passed away a few days ago. We were often talked about in the same breath, because of his Toby Peters character and my Nate Heller, and in the late ‘80s we seriously considered doing a crossover novel (we even had a subject picked out). Stu was a fine writer, but what I most remember is the warm way he treated me. We spent a day together once, which included seeing ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA (his first time seeing this film for which he wrote the English dialogue in its uncut form), and thereafter whenever he saw me, he treated me the way you would your best friend. We were not close, rarely spoke on the phone, but when we were together, we might have been brothers. This is unique in my experience and I won’t forget it.


The Last Lullaby DVD Premiere

Tuesday, October 6th, 2009

Welcome to our new and improved website! It’s more like a blog, and you can comment and everything.

This time, our UPDATE is not from me, but director Jeffrey Goodman with exciting news about THE LAST LULLABY.

Take it away, Jeffrey….

Quarry was introduced in 1975 and now in 2009 we have the first feature film about Max’s popular, innovative hit man character. After a tremendous festival run (eighteen film festivals from Oregon-New York, with stops in Malaysia, The Bahamas, and Canada in between) and ten weeks in theaters, The Last Lullaby marks its DVD Premiere, October 19th.

The Last Lullaby

This first run, limited edition DVD (in other words, just the movie but no special features) will be available from the film’s website. And for the first month of the release, we are offering several great promotions. First off, anyone who buys the DVD will be entered into a drawing to win several film-related prizes. Also, if you join our Facebook group, our monthly e-mail update list, our Lullaby blog, or follow us on Twitter AND we attain certain numbers by October 19th, each person in these groups will receive a coupon for a 20% discount on the DVD. For more information on these promotions, please visit the following link:

It’s been a great pleasure working with Max and bringing his tremendous story and character to the screen. Quarry’s longevity is a testament to Max’s special talent. His (Quarry’s) first feature is also my first feature, and a true labor of love. I hope you all enjoy.

Jeffrey Goodman

Thanks, Jeffrey. I like this film very much and anybody who enjoys my work should, too.

Speaking of Quarry, here’s our second print review for QUARRY IN THE MIDDLE and it’s just as good as the Library Journal rave:

When Collins decided to bring his hit-man hero Quarry back after a three-decade hiatus, he gave us The Last Quarry (2006), seemingly stamping paid to the series. But then, devilishly, he produced The First Quarry (2008). Naturally, we now have Quarry in the Middle—that’s “middle” both chronologically, in the sense that the events described here fall more or less midway between First and Last, and thematically, in that Quarry is caught in the middle between two gangsters vying for control of a potential gambling-and-vice mecca on the Illinois-Iowa border (the action is set in the mid-1980s, with legalized gambling on the horizon). No longer a paid hit man, Quarry is freelancing, tailing his former associates, determining their targets, and offering his services to the potential victims for a hefty price. This time that strategy backfires, and Quarry finds himself the target. Collins, a consummate craftsman, dipsy-doodles his way through the plot machinations like Earl the Pearl dribbling in traffic, and he’s equally dexterous at balancing Quarry the emotionless killer against Quarry the knight errant. Perfectly emulsified pulp pleasure.

— Bill Ott, Booklist Online

Also, CRUSIN’ is appearing live this weekend—9 to midnight at the Pearlview Ballroom at the Hotel Muscatine, 101 West Mississippi Drive, Muscatine, Iowa (More info: