Archive for February, 2010

Barbara Collins on Barbara Allan

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010

This week I’m turning the update over to Barb, in celebration of ANTIQUES BIZARRE going on sale this week (the pub date isn’t till March 1 but on sale date seems to be Feb. 23).

Before I do, though, we have had a lovely review of the book that you might like to check out.

Also, Quarry continues to attract attention – for example, this fun review of THE FIRST QUARRY.

In addition, here’s a retro review of the Quarry novel PRIMARY TARGET. PRIMARY TARGET is available as the bulk of QUARRY’S GREATEST HITS from FiveStar.

And now the better (and better-looking half) of the Barbara Allan team, on collaboration – a piece that expands and updates a piece she wrote for CRIMESPREE a while back. She refers to me as “Al,” which many of you know is my nickname.

Antiques BizarreAntiques Bizarre, the fifth book in our Trash ‘n’ Treasures mystery series from Kensington, will be hitting the stores this week. This latest collaboration between Al and me, under the name Barbara Allan, is more of a who done-it than the previous books, but there is still plenty of turmoil in the personal lives of Prozac-popping Brandy Borne, bi-polar Mother, and their blind, diabetic dog Sushi. The mystery revolves around the auction of the newly discovered last Faberge egg that had been commissioned by the Russian Tsar, its disappearance and the death of the buyer.

Often Al and I are asked about collaboration. Why do it? Why risk a friendship, a business association, or (gasp) even a marriage?

Collaboration happens successfully in movies, of course, when the collective efforts of writer, director, and actors come together to make something wonderful – Road to Perdition comes to mind. And collaboration works beautifully in musical theater, too. Where would Rodgers be without Hammerstein? Or a certain composer named Bernstein without the brilliance of a young lyricist named Sondheim? But can the joining of two minds and one computer work as well in novel writing? Quick, name your favorite book written by a duo. Hummmmm…me neither.

My own experience with collaboration came after I’d published a number of short stories, and my next assignment left me with unhappy results.

“What’s wrong with it?” I asked my veteran writer-husband after pressing the pages I had just written into his hands, as if it were a patient in need of resuscitation.

“It’s missing a key scene,” he said a while later, adding, “You got lazy.”

“Awwh, I don’t wanna write it,” I whined. “Will you?”

“Sure…but then my name goes on it, too.”

Well, that seemed reasonable; after all, writing a key scene was much more of a contribution than plot suggestions given to me over breakfast at Country Kitchen, or suggestions jotted in the margins of my work. And so, my first foray into the tricky world of collaboration was quite, quite painless.

Barbara AllanSince then, Al and I have collaborated on other short stories, two stand-alone novels, and – having confidence that the marriage would hold – signed a five-book contract. Our Trash ‘n’ Treasures mysteries – the first of which, Antiques Roadkill, came out from Kensington in fall of ‘06 – have a female voice, with back story that leans more on my life than Al’s, although the antiquing aspect is a shared interest.

Our collaboration process is simple: we plot the novel together, often on a long car trip or over several restaurant meals; usually I take notes. Then I write a complete first draft without Al seeing any of it. If I run into trouble along the way, we discuss the problem over another lunch (there’s a very famous restaurant in Muscatine, Iowa – perhaps you’ve heard of it: Applebees).

Then, when I’m finished with the first draft (and good and sick of it), Al takes his pass, bumping up the word count because I’m a short story writer at heart, and he can flesh out scenes and descriptions, in particular amplifying dialogue. He also fixes any plot holes or too-girly fight scenes.

During this phase there can be some shouting – but only because Al’s office is on the second floor and mine is on the first, and we haven’t sprung for an intercom system yet – as he asks, “What did you mean by this?” or “How about doing it this way?” As Al revises each chapter, I read his second draft for corrections and any final additions or changes I’d like to lobby for. The end product, then, is something we both feel satisfied with.

So. For those of you who dare to follow in our footsteps, here are a few observations and suggestions we’ve learned along the way.

Do not attempt to collaborate if you and your partner have incompatible writing styles. Exception: one person does the research; the other writes. (The great team of Dannay and Lee behind Ellery Queen divided up the work in a fashion that didn’t require compatible styles of expression.)

Maintain separate offices and computers. One person seated at a desk while the other stalks the floor smoking a stogie only worked on “The Dick Van Dyke Show.” Ditto for sitting side by side.

Before writing a word, have a clear and singular vision of what the writing project is to be. This is more than just plotting, but attitude and even thematic concerns. Before beginning our novel Regeneration, we discussed at length the notion of the selfishness of baby boomers, and how they had failed to properly save for retirement.

Think of the collaboration as two builders teaming to construct a house: one writer takes the lead and fashions the structure (to specifications already agreed upon); the other writer then takes over and decorates the interior. The interior decorator should not go knocking out supporting walls; conversely the original builder should not re-arrange the furniture, at least without discussion.

Those who think collaboration is somehow a time-saving approach are, well, confused. It is actually harder – although if each writer has a sense of his or her strengths and weaknesses, that’s a great help. If writer A and B agree that A is better at dialogue, for example, writer B can write short dialogue scenes knowing that writer A will come along later and effectively expand.

Sometimes it comes down to sheer knowledge – I don’t think I’ll be handing over the fashion do’s and don’ts, or even the antiquing tips, to Al any time soon. But why should I break my back writing a fight scene with the creator of Nathan Heller in the house?

Beyond shoring up each others weaknesses through your own strengths, why should a writer embark on such a perilous enterprise? The answer is as simple as collaboration is complex: a third writer is created.

A successful writing collaboration creates a distinct third voice in an end product that – because of the strengths each writer brings to the work table – could not have been accomplished alone.

That’s when two plus two can equal five. Even my husband can do that math.

Barbara Allan’s ANTIQUES BIZARRE Wallpaper

Monday, February 22nd, 2010

With the release of Antiques Bizarre coming this week, I thought I’d whip together this desktop wallpaper of the book’s funky cool cover. Check it out below or at the “Downloads” button on the left. If this one’s not your style, we also have wallpapers for Road to Perdition, Quarry, Ness, and The London Blitz Murders. Please let me know if you’d like to see more! (And don’t worry, a real post is still coming on Tuesday morning, and it’s a good one.)

Antiques Bizarre Wallpaper
4:3 large (1600 x 1200) | 4:3 medium (1024 x 768)
HD (1920 x 1080) | 16:10 widescreen (1440 x 900)

The Maltin Falcon

Tuesday, February 16th, 2010

I’ve posted a number of links lately to reviews of THE BIG BANG, YOU CAN’T STOP ME and ANTIQUES BIZARRE, as well as older books of mine. But this week I’m happy to report that some nice write-ups appear in current issues of bigtime national newstand magazines. You know – the kind you can hold in your hand and turn the pages.

Antiques BizarreANTIQUES BIZARRE – due out next week – received a splendid four-star review in the March 2010 RT BOOK REVIEWS (RT standing for ROMANTIC TIMES). The magazine always leads off with a review followed by a spoiler-free plot summary. Among other things, RT describes the novel as “a cozy with a twist” and “hysterically funny as well as a solid mystery.” An insightful comment notes that our protagonist Brandy “has an unusually realistic life in all its messiness.”

Jon Breen leads off his Jury Box column in the March/April ELLERY QUEEN MYSTERY MAGAZINE with high praise for Hard Case Crime, singling out three books for excellent three-star reviews (Jon does not bestow 1/2 stars, a three-star review is second only to a four-star one in the Jury Box). He describes yours truly as “one of the best and most prolific and versatile crime writers currently practicing,” and QUARRY IN THE MIDDLE as a “most welcome 1980’s flashback,” and wraps up saying, “Neat plot, fine style, fast reading.” Jon – just about the best scholar in best mystery fiction, and a fine mystery novelist in his own right/write – has been a supporter of my work for decades, and to whatever degree I have a respectable reputation, he has played a major role. The first review I ever received in a national magazine was from Jon in EQMM…for one of the early Quarry novels.

And I know you will want to read the March PLAYBOY for its articles – particularly one small, snazzy one. PLAYBOY gives the forthcoming THE BIG BANG a solid write-up under the heading KILLER FICTION – HAMMER LIVES, including a full-color shot of the ‘60s pop-art front cover of the novel. Among other nice things, the review/mini-article says, “Max Allan Collins, Spillane’s collaborator and author of Road to Perdition, has expertly completed a second Spillane novel, The Big Bang, out this spring. The book will transport you back to gritty 1960s Manhattan, where Spillane’s antihero Mike Hammer drops acid and takes on the mob.” What a thrill to get such great coverage from the very magazine I used to steal out of the mailbox before my father knew it had arrived.

There are few movie reviewers that I admire or trust, but Leonard Maltin is one of them. Time for one of those “full disclosure” things: we are friends. We became friends after I did a DICK TRACY movie interview for him and ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT back in 1990 – he called me up and dubbed me, “Mr. Sound Bite.” Our mutual obsessive love for movies, particularly of the ‘30s, ‘40s and ‘50s, fed a wonderful friendship. Yes, he has given me occasional good reviews, but he doesn’t always like what I do (he was a fan of MOMMY, for example, but didn’t think much of MOMMY’S DAY). I find myself agreeing with him more often than not, and you can follow his reviews and pop culture commentary at Leonard Maltin’s Movie Crazy.

He is also, of course, the author of the annual, indispensable LEONARD MALTIN’S MOVIE GUIDE. Five years ago, he was forced to publish a second book to include the older movies that time and space had shoved out of his regular guide – LEONARD MALTIN’S CLASSIC MOVIE GUIDE. For those of us who live by Turner Classic Movies and who spend way too much money at Warner’s Archive (at, this book is similarly indispensable. The second edition of this has just come out. If you love movies, you need both of these books stacked in a handy place in your home theater (in my case, next to my recliner in the living room).

151 Best Movies You've Never SeenAt the same time, a book that I would rank with Leonard’s best has also been published: 151 BEST MOVIES YOU’VE NEVER SEEN. I am a movie buff, pretty hardcore, but I had heard of only about half of these, and had seen only around 25. These are short – page and a half – chatty reviews in Leonard’s deceptively easygoing style, personal without being obnoxious, informative without being pedantic, one of those books that go down in wonderful handfuls, like popcorn. Most of the films are of fairly recent vintage – last ten years or so – and perhaps a third are foreign; one of the surprises is how few Golden Age era films Leonard discusses.

But one of the vintage movies he praises really made me smile – the much-maligned 1931 version of THE MALTESE FALCON. He does not make a case for it being superior to the 1941 John Huston/Bogart classic – even I wouldn’t do that – but he does sing its praises in a manner that makes you want to drop everything and watch it right now. That’s true of every essay in the book, and you – like me – will likely make a list of movies you want to find on DVD or on cable, as soon as you have finished this great book.

Musical note: Crusin’ had a capacity crowd for the Valentine’s Day dinner dance at Piazza Bella. Lovely evening. For those concerned, please know that we did not play “Pussy Whipped.”


Mickey Spillane & How Sausage Is Made

Tuesday, February 9th, 2010

The Big BangBill Crider, who has one of the best mystery-related sites on the web, has done the first on-line review of THE BIG BANG, and he likes it. Check out why.

Bill does wonder if the increased size of my byline reflects more involvement than in DEAD STREET (where I was left off the byline but for a title page “prepared for publication by” credit) and THE GOLIATH BONE (where a magnifying glass was required to see my minuscule “with” credit). Each of these endeavors is different – GOLIATH BONE had three or four variant first chapters for me to deal with, and a substantial false start, and next year’s KISS HER GOODBYE again had a substantial false start in addition to a 100-page chunk plus notes.

But the bylines were simply what the publishers wanted – Charles Ardai at Hard Case did not want two books with my byline appearing close together on his rather small list; Otto Penzler and Harcourt wanted Spillane emphasized and me downplayed, for the first of these books, which I condoned (but only for the first book).

The truth is, these are genuine collaborations, all of them. I would put them at 50%/50%. I usually take Mickey’s work, expand upon it, and extend it so that it takes up at least half of the finished product. Probably about 60% of the wordsmithing in these novels is mine. But the plot idea, and various notes, and sometimes rough drafts of endings, plus the other 40% of the writing, are all Mickey’s. That’s how it’s done. I don’t believe anything like it has ever occurred in mystery fiction, a writer of Mickey’s magnitude leaving half a dozen substantial manuscripts behind, having designated a trusted collaborator (me) to complete them.

I should say I also draw upon published Spillane work. In THE BIG BANG, there is a chapter written by me in which Hammer meets with Junior Evello (nephew of KISS ME, DEADLY villain Carl Evello) at a Little Italy restaurant. When the subject comes up, Hammer says he didn’t kill Junior Evello’s uncle; in a typically Spillane italicized style, I flash back to the death of Carl Evello – mostly in Mickey’s words – from KISS ME, DEADLY.

Any time I do New York stuff, I draw upon Mickey, having re-read and annotated and marked-up his Hammer novels. I try to concentrate on novels written around the same time as the manuscript I’m completing. For THE GOLIATH BONE, I concentrated on the last two Hammers, THE KILLING MAN (1989) and BLACK ALLEY (1996). For THE BIG BANG, set in 1964, I concentrated on THE SNAKE (1964) and THE BODY LOVERS (1967). For the forthcoming KISS HER GOODBYE (set in 1975, more or less), I concentrated on SURVIVAL…ZERO! (1970).

Each of the Spillane projects is different. DEAD STREET had a fairly polished manuscript that ended with two or three chapters to go, plus a lot of notes. Of the unpublished works, this one needed the least help from me. The completed chapters I lightly polished, and fixed continuity problems, doing little bits of connective-tissue type writing. The final three chapters were entirely my work. That one’s probably 75% Mickey. The six Hammer novel manuscripts were discovered in various stages of completion, never less than 100 pages, sometimes with false starts that yield benefits, usually with plot notes.

I have also turned shorter Hammer fragments of Mickey’s into short stories – one appeared last year in THE STRAND, and another will appear in that magazine later this year. I have the makings for perhaps another five such short stories. I also used a Spillane novel outline (sans any actual manuscript) to plot the next NEW ADVENTURES OF MIKE HAMMER audio novel for Blackthorne.

There are also four shorter incomplete novel manuscripts that could lead to another group of Hammer novels, if publishers and readers are interested. Right now we are at the end of the three-book contract with Harcourt, so the three other substantial Hammer manuscripts are in a holding pattern, waiting to see how THE BIG BANG and KISS HER GOODBYE do. If you have any interest in seeing the rest of Mickey’s Mike Hammer canon completed and published, you need to support those two novels (and, if you haven’t already, pick up THE GOLIATH BONE in one of its several editions…a mass-market paperback is coming).

I’ve had many questions about the Mickey Spillane posthumous projects, with people often assuming my role is larger (or sometimes smaller) than it is. It’s a collaboration. Very similar to how I work with Barb on the Barbara Allan bylined “Antiques” novels, and with Matthew Clemens on such tie-ins as CSI and our new serial killer thriller, YOU CAN’T STOP ME, which comes out in a couple of weeks. Collaborations vary from team to team, though. I would say Barb does up to 70% of the “Antiques” books; but my 30% and overall polish earns me my collaborative stripes.

You Can't Stop MeOn tie-in stuff (never with shared byline), Matthew’s role began primarily as a researcher and co-plotter submitting a story treatment (based on a brainstorming session with the two of us, with me in the lead), to finally doing full rough drafts from our co-plotting efforts, although usually on the short side.

That’s true for both Barb and Matt – they know that I am going to not just polish but expand the work, and in particular add dialogue, so they will give me a rough draft half to three-quarters the length the book needs to be.

Occasionally I will throw out entire chapters written by one of them, and start over (but only very occasionally – this happened for the conclusion of one of the CSI: MIAMI novels Matt and I did, and for the wrap-up chapter of the forthcoming Barbara Allan ANTIQUES BIZARRE).

Why collaborate? Well, with Mickey, it’s obvious – only 13 Mike Hammer novels were published in Mickey’s lifetime, 13 of the bestselling mysteries of all time, including such classics as I, THE JURY, ONE LONELY NIGHT, KISS ME, DEADLY and THE GIRL HUNTERS. Ours is an opportunity to add six more titles to the canon, not only with Mickey’s content but with his blessing.

As for Barb and me, we enjoy collaborating (that’s how Nate got on the planet). We enjoy plotting the stories together, and as the books are on one level comedies, we enjoy having the humorous input of two people with sharp senses of humor. Simply put, she puts in every joke she can think of, and I put in every joke I can think of. Result: lots of jokes.

Matt came aboard primarily as a researcher, and then – because I knew of his writing abilities – I thought having him write rough drafts would be an effective time-saver. It wasn’t, really, because I always did a complete draft (once he said to me, “I thought I recognized one of my sentences in the last one!”), but what I came away liking was the third voice we created. A good collaboration is synergistic – two plus two equals fourteen. While there are plenty of Matt’s sentences in YOU CAN’T STOP ME, it is about as fifty/fifty a project as you can imagine…and neither of us could have done it alone.

Bill’s comment that my bigger byline on THE BIG BANG may indicate a bigger contribution by me is at odds with the truth of publishing. Often times, the bigger name of a dual byline did the least amount of work. YOU CAN’T STOP ME is very much a fifty-fifty novel by Matt and me, but my name is much larger, because I am the bigger name (at the moment). But usually with such a situation, you could safely guess that the smaller name did more or even most of the writing.

So, anyway, here at the Collins plant, that’s how the sausage is made. Bring your own buns – stone-ground mustard optional.

Dr. Hermes’ Retro Reviews has done a really nice, and in my opinion very smart, in-depth review of my novel THE HINDENBURG MURDERS (out of print but easily found at ABE or Amazon’s used book service). That’s the novel that features Saint creator, Leslie Charteris.

A while back I started a Facebook Friends page, and it was a disaster because I didn’t know how to deal with it. Nate has helped me set up a Facebook Fan page (the Friends one is an abandoned amusement park, now). But I encourage you to become a fan at that new page, even those of you who are just friends and to whom the idea of being my fan is quite ridiculous. You know who you are.