Writer’s Work is Never Done

January 28th, 2014 by Max Allan Collins

When a writer finishes a novel and sends it in to a waiting editor/publisher, a feeling of relief is greater than any sense of accomplishment. What all of us forget, however, is that sending in the “finished” book is only the beginning.

First, there comes an editorial letter, often asking for revisions, followed by a line-edited manuscript, then a copy-edited manuscript and finally galley proofs. For a prolific writer like me, all of these turn up unexpectedly, often at terrible times, and always with a note to get the manuscript or galleys back in something like three days.

Editors don’t care if you’re on deadline with some other book, usually (though not always) for some other publisher. Every editor (rightly) considers the book of yours that is theirs to be the only book.

I also have the problem of not wanting to do any revisions that aren’t absolutely necessary – i.e., a plot point that I haven’t dealt with, or sentences and/or paragraphs that have proved confusing. I rarely agree to elaborate rewrites. Hardly ever. I also am notorious for becoming furious with copy editors. Not all copy editors: just those who have appointed themselves collaborators. About one in three times at bat, I encounter one of these creatures intent upon “improving” my work.

I don’t think I’m alone in this. The only shit fit that Mickey Spillane ever threw in front of me was in response to a copy-edited version of one of his novels. The fury of Mike Hammer at his kill-craziest was unleashed.

But it is the collision of books that can make a writer dizzy.

Last week, after completing QUARRY’S CHOICE, I was immediately thrust into dealing with the galley proofs of the very different SUPREME JUSTICE. Now, because Hard Case editor Charles Ardai is lightning fast, I am already facing the copy-edited manuscript of CHOICE!, before the literary paint is dry. I am grateful and impressed with Charles’ speed, but fear I lack enough distance from the book to effectively work with the copy-edit so soon.

Much of what a professional fiction writer does is little-known or even unknown by readers.

Ahead in the immediate week or two ahead are finishing a TV pitch for a potential Nate Heller TV series, which will require me re-reading STOLEN AWAY and much of TRUE DETECTIVE, taking notes as I go; writing my draft of a “Barbara Allan” Christmas novella called ANTIQUES FRUITCAKE, not due for a while but necessary to deal with now, because of scheduling issues; and getting ready to write a western novel based on an unproduced Mickey Spillane screenplay. The latter prep will include spending many hours with that screenplay, looking at western reference books, and reading some ‘50s western novels by the likes of Jonas Ward and Harry Whittington, to help get the right flavor.

Not complaining, mind you. This beats my other paying jobs (sacking groceries, bussing tables) by some distance.

* * *
Eliot Ness
Eliot Ness

Be sure to check out the Huffington Post piece on Eliot Ness that Brad Schwartz and I put together to defend the Untouchable from attacks from Jonathan Eig (Get Capone) and others, in reaction to the proposal that a new ATF building be named for him.

My pal and collaborator Matt Clemens visited the Twin Cities recently to read one of our short stories at Noir at the Bar.

Speaking of Matt, here’s a great review of WHAT DOESN’T KILL HER, which – like SUPREME JUSTICE – is a book Matt contributed mightily to.

Check out this very good article on cozy mysteries dealing with antiques. Barbara Allan gets some very nice attention here.

Still haven’t picked up THE WRONG QUARRY? Here’s an excerpt.

Here’s a great WRONG QUARRY review, demonstrating that members of my favorite sex (hint: not male) can relate to Quarry just fine.

And finally a review of QUARRY – the first book in the series. How odd and oddly sweet to see a novel that I began writing in 1972 at the U of Iowa Writers Workshop getting reviewed in 2014.


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3 Responses to “Writer’s Work is Never Done”

  1. Joe Menta says:

    Have you dipped into the OTHER “True Detective” yet, namely the new HBO series? I’m enjoying its moody, methodical, slow-burn approach, and am curious if you have any views. Also, the title might throw some accidental interest your way, if viewers do an Amazon or Google search in a quest for items related to the show. That can’t be a bad thing, right?

  2. Max, I enjoyed the HuffPo defense of Eliot Ness but I have to ask you something in all seriousness: I own a (so far unread) copy of Get Capone-should I just try to sell it or donate it to Goodwill now? If so, what’s a good account of Scarface’s downfall I can pick up instead? Also, is Eig not to be trusted on any research or just this topic? I ask that because I also have his Lou Gehrig bio. Thanks. Louis

    P.S. I’m also enjoying the other True Detective as well. I read Nic Pizzolato’s Galveston last fall and I’m pleased at how much the series has the same tone and feel as his novel. Maybe this will inspire other mystery writers to create their own shows. The Adventures of Nate Heller, anyone?

  3. I’m not sure if there’s a Capone book I’d whole-heartedly recommend. I do know that Brad Schwartz, George Hagenauer and I are in the planning stages of providing one.

    I can’t deal with a show called TRUE DETECTIVE. I know it’s probably very good, but that’s just how it is.