Archive for August, 2014

Hooray For…

Tuesday, August 26th, 2014

Barb and I spent most of last week in Hollywood (California, not Florida). I rarely make trips out there, but this trek was to make “pitches” to various networks about a Heller TV show, and to take a few meetings (there’s a nasty phrase) about the QUARRY TV show.

Beautiful blonde spotted in the Beverly Hills Hotel lobby. Movie star?

First, QUARRY. Though a pick-up has not been announced, everything looks good – promising, let’s say. The meetings I took, both with the writers heading up the potential series and with the top execs at Cinemax, were encouraging.

As for Heller, the pitch meetings went very well and we have some interest. If you’re Heller fan, it’s premature to start doing cart wheels. At this stage, assuming a HELLER series will happen is like sending out birth announcements on your way out to a singles bar hoping to pick somebody up. But it’s a start.

Confused tourist outside CAA shortly before being seized by security.

The pitch process was interesting and a little odd, from a book writer’s point of view, anyway. For a long time – almost a year – I have worked with a top management company to develop a “pitch document.” I don’t remember ever polishing a piece of writing more times or more thoroughly, and I had expected I’d either be reading it or working from an outline of it. I practiced doing it both ways with Barb (don’t take that out of context) and hated the two approaches equally. One of the handful of things I do well is speak extemporaneously, and neither approach tapped into that.

Early in our marriage, when I was starting to publish novels and would do speaking engagements for the Rotary or whatever, I would prepare not at all, and it would make Barb very nervous, very anxious. She insisted that I prepare, that I do the next speech from notes. I did, and I sucked. After that, Barb gave her blessing to me winging such speeches, and never got nervous for me that way again.

I was relieved when, last Monday, my prep for the pitch meetings (set for Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday) included the news that I would not be using the pitch document. That I would be talking extemporaneously to the network execs. I don’t get nervous or anxious in front of audiences, and these pitch meetings included very high ranking people at some of the most famous cable networks. But I was loose and not intimidated, and pretty funny frankly, which I think helped.

Oddly, the pitch document was not left behind at any of the five networks we saw. Apparently you need to have such a document in case somebody asks to see it. But nobody did.

It was a stressful trip (my God I hate those freeways), and expensive, which is why I’ve only gone out to LA for pitch meetings on two prior occasions in the last ten years. But HELLER is important to me, and is a series I would like to be involved in myself, as opposed to just handing it off to talented writers and doing the occasional script.

We’ll see.

Did I mention it was expensive out there? It’s a shock to a couple of Iowa rubes to go out for a light lunch at a casual corner cafe and spend sixty bucks for it (a salad for Barb, fish tacos for me). But I was able to stop at my two favorite places in LA – Amoeba Records and Book Soup. At the latter, a customer recognized me as I was buying a magazine, and was dismayed at not having any of my books along for me to sign. Here’s a tip: everywhere you go, bring my books along. You never know when I’m going to show up.

A director and his star on the red carpet.

On the social side, Barb and I had dinners with Leonard and Alice Maltin; actor (Second City vet) Larry Coven of MOMMY’S DAY and REAL TIME: SIEGE AT LUCAS STREET MARKET; and Mommy herself, Patty McCormack. The latter was a splurge evening for us – we took Patty to supper at the Polo Lounge at the Beverly Hills Hotel, and sat in a booth talking up a storm for almost four hours. I was a director taking his star to the Polo Lounge, and it felt very good.

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Here’s a nice review of SUPREME JUSTICE, which has drifted down the Kindle bestseller charts some but is still hanging on nicely.


Nice Men, Sad Ends

Tuesday, August 19th, 2014
Jeremiah Healy

Jeremiah Healy took his life last week. He was a nice man and a good writer, specializing in PI fiction and legal thrillers (he had a legal background). We weren’t close friends but we were friendly, and because we both graduated high school in 1966 always kidded each other about being classmates. I remember at one long ago Bouchercon he took the time to converse with my son Nate, just a kid at the time, and gave him a signed book or two. He was so affable it’s hard to believe this dire news. I find it impossible to picture him without seeing him smiling. You can read a little more about it here.

Ed Gorman, who is a close friend, tells me that alcoholics who fall off the wagon after a long time sober often are victims of suicide or heart attack. I had no idea – none – that Jerry had alcohol problems or depression, either. If there’s a point here, it’s that we can never know what’s going on inside a life…even a life that seems obviously one thing, as with Jerry, who appeared so upbeat and fun whenever I saw him. He was active in the Private Eye Writers of America, and the year I won the Eye for Life Achievement was the master of ceremonies. I know Jerry’s peers are shaking their heads as much as drying their eyes over this one.

Robin Williams, Popeye

Of course this comes on the heels of Robin Williams’ suicide. I admit, meaning zero offense, that I was not a big fan of his comedy, particularly not of his stand-up. He seemed to me to be rolling over crowds with speed not wit – it was all his distinctive delivery and manic pace, because if you slowed it down nothing was very funny. Maybe there’s something in that. I have a feeling his fans – and there are many of them – will have to deal in the future with trying to find him funny knowing what his private demons were.

Now I am an admirer of much of his film work. He was a solid, sincere, gifted actor and his list of films includes any number that will be around for a long time. One that is under-appreciated is the Robert Altman-directed POPEYE. As it happens, I met Williams after a concert in San Francisco (I was attending a Bouchercon and I’ll bet Jerry Healy was too). Paul Reubens had arranged for me to see a show starring Rick and Ruby from the original Pee-Wee Herman Show. It’s possible Terry Beatty was with me, but I’m not sure why he’d be at a Bouchercon. (It’s not so much that my memory plays tricks on me as it refuses to perform.) Anyway, I was able to go backstage, and Williams was there schmoozing with a hip comedy crowd.

I was doing DICK TRACY at the time, introduced myself as such, and we had a conversation for maybe five minutes. He was low-key, very modest and gracious – a very sweet man. We talked about POPEYE, which had received something of a rough welcome from critics and audiences, and I told him how much I loved it. How cool it was that Altman had done the E.C. Segar comic strip version of POPEYE, and we agreed that this merit of the film hurt it with an audience expecting strictly the animated cartoon version. He said he was grateful to hear from someone in the comics business who “got” the film. Anyway, it was a nice, warm moment between a couple of guys in related professions. I’ve always looked back at that exchange with fondness. Now I’ll treasure it.


Farewell Tour(ing)?

Tuesday, August 12th, 2014
Books-A-Million Signing August 2014
Barbara Collins, M.A.C. and Matthew Clemens at the Davenport BAM!

We had some nice people stop by our two signings in Davenport this weekend, both new readers and old. But the turn-out was modest, even though we’d scored major publicity in the Quad Cities area, like this article in the Quad City Times.

It was enough for us (Barb and me) to admit that signings just aren’t effective any more. Oh, there are exceptions. If an indie bookstore owner is really a first-rate retailer – like Augie at Centuries and Sleuths in Forest Park, where we will continue to sign now and then, or the remarkable Barbara Peters of Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale, Arizona – really knows their onions (and carrots and peas), a signing can be highly successful and worthwhile for the author. Lots of people there, lots of books sold. Enough to justify flying to Arizona? Well, that’s up to the publisher.

But publishers are funding fewer and fewer tours these days, and if you aren’t a superstar author or superstar period (Hillary Clinton, say, whose own book tour was pretty rough actually), a tour is hard to justify. For many years, we alternated funding our own tours with publisher-funded ones. Recently we scaled back to Midwestern tours, typically hitting Minneapolis, Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, Davenport, Chicago and Milwaukee. More lately we cut back to just Cedar Rapids, Davenport and Chicago. But Cedar Rapids’ Mystery Cat (where the signings were extremely successful) is closing at the end of this month.

These Davenport signings were at best modestly successful in a way that just doesn’t justify us losing a work (or, frankly, play) day. Last week we lost a day to doing the Times interview and then driving to Davenport to do TV. On the weekend, the signings consumed both Saturday and Sunday. The promo we did for the signings focused on SUPREME JUSTICE and ANTIQUES CON. When got to the Bam! store, we were told they couldn’t get SUPREME JUSTICE, apparently because of the corporate decision not to carry Amazon-published books. No one bothered to call us and inform us of this, and in fact we’d been assured the opposite – I’d called a few days before to see if books were in and was told they were, including SJ. When we arrived, there were stacks of KING OF THE WEEDS (which had not been the focus of our promo), no SUPREME JUSTICE and a handful of ANTIQUES CON. The first customer in the door asked for SUPREME JUSTICE.

The Barnes and Noble did have SUPREME JUSTICE, thanks to the efforts of the hard-working assistant manager who arranged the signing, despite B & N’s corporate attitude toward not carrying a book that has been a bestseller since June (admittedly in the Kindle world).

Barnes & Noble Signing August 2014
Barbara Allan at the Davenport Barnes & Noble Signing

Incidentally, these corporate wars are wearying. I seem to be one of a handful of writers working both sides of this particular street, so I need to keep my opinions to myself, for the safety of my career. But take a look at what my pal Lee Goldberg had to say in response to the New York Times ad signed by lots and lots of writers in protest of Amazon.

All I can say about Amazon is that they – at least their crime fiction publishing arm, Thomas & Mercer – have treated me very well, from involving me in packaging decisions to paying me better royalties than I receive elsewhere. I am frustrated that SUPREME JUSTICE isn’t more readily available as a real book (as opposed to an e-one). But right now we still sit high on several Kindle mystery lists, and have generated a mindboggling 2100-plus reader reviews.

Anyway, touring. Book signings. As I said to Matt Clemens after our Books-a-Million signing for a book the store didn’t stock, “Signings are so ‘90s.” What can we do to replace them?

Well, one of the things is this weekly communication with you. And if you want to get in touch with me, it’s not that hard. Both Barb and I (and for that matter Matt) are happy to sign and return books sent to us, as long as postage and packaging is included. Bookstores are encouraged to send books for us to sign. Barb and I will continue, for the foreseeable future, to do both Bouchercon and San Diego Con. Smaller conventions I will not likely do unless I (or we) are invited as a guest. At 66, I feel no shame at all in suggesting “Guest of Honor” next to my name would feel just fine. (Bouchercon did it back in 1999.)

We love talking to readers. Anybody who hasn’t figured out that I like praise just isn’t paying attention. But our days, our time, is precious to us. I am writing more now than ever, in part because of the sense that time has suddenly become goddamn finite. I still have stories to tell. Barb said, fairly grouchily Sunday evening, “I lost three days I could have been working on the new ANTIQUES novella.”

She’s right.

In the meantime, come see us at Centuries & Sleuths in September. There are exceptions to every rule.


Davenport Events & Phantom Release

Tuesday, August 5th, 2014

This has been such a busy writing year so far, Barb and I did not set up a signing tour. We figured between San Diego Con this summer and Bouchercon in Long Beach this fall, a good number of fans would have access to us. But this coming weekend, we are doing two events in our home area.

First, Barb, Matt Clemens and I will be signing on Saturday, August 9, at Books-a-Million in Davenport, Iowa, 4000 East 53rd Street, from 1 pm till 2:30 (approximately). We’ll be signing SUPREME JUSTICE, ANTIQUES CON and KING OF THE WEEDS. That particular BAM! has a deep shelf of Collins (and Barbara Allan) books going beyond the new releases. Barb, Matt and I have done very few of these joint signings.

Second, the very next day – Sunday, August 10 at 2 pm – I’ll be speaking and then signing at Barnes & Noble in Davenport, 320 W. Kimberly Road. Barnes and Noble has been doing a salute to comics and pop culture over the last few weeks, and my talk will touch on ROAD TO PERDITION going from book to film. Barb will be there. Not sure yet about Matt – it will depend on whether this B & B was able to get copies of SUPREME JUSTICE in (the chain has a policy against stocking Amazon-published titles).

Also, on Paula Sands Live (KWQC TV, Channel 6, 3 PM) this coming Wednesday, August 6, Barb and I will be appearing in support of these events. Some of you outside the Channel 6 viewing area may recall Paula Sands from MOMMY 2: MOMMY’S DAY, where she appeared as herself very good-naturedly kidding her own show. I realize this appearance only means something to our section of the Midwest, but Paula has the highest-rated local show in the region.

Though we’re not doing a tour by any means, Barb and I will also be appearing this coming September 14 at Centuries & Sleuths in Chicago (actually, Forest Park). We have cut way back on book signings, for lots of reasons, but C & S is one of our favorite bookstores. It’s devoted to history and mystery and couldn’t be a better fit for us. Owner/manager Augie Alesky is one great guy – fun, funny and knowledgeable…even if he doesn’t believe in author’s discounts. (More about this signing later).

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Phantom of the Paradise Blu-Ray

The terrific Shout! Factory has released a wonderful blu-ray of PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE, which regular readers of these updates may recall is one of my favorite movies. Here’s what I said about it here a few years ago:

How ironic that that steaming piece of cheese, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s stage musical PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, is so popular, and the great rock ‘n’ roll PHANTOM remains a cult item. Paul Williams delivers a fantastic performance and a score equal to it, parodying various rock styles and prescient about several fads to come (a Kiss-style group pre-dates Kiss here). Jessica Harper is charismatic and sings hauntingly well, and William Finley is the perfect sad, crippled, demented Phantom. For a long time Brian De Palma was my favorite contemporary director. He’s had some bad stumbles over the years, but at his best he’s hard to beat. This is the only time, however, that he perfectly merged his comic and melodramatic impulses.

Some day I may write about PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE in more depth, as I think it’s a masterpiece and one of the best films of the ‘70s – certainly my favorite film of the ‘70s. The Shout! Factory release is superior to the foreign blu-rays previously snatched up by PHANTOM phans like me, with a great transfer and wonderful special features stretched out over the blu-ray and the DVD version that’s also included. A new Paul Williams interview is particularly good, making me realize that the film is so special in the careers of Williams and De Palma because the two collaborated on this (and only this) film. Williams is revealed as virtually co-director/writer, when you realize how thoroughly he controlled the songs and their presentation. There’s a minor but annoying glitch in the commentary, where Gerrit Graham and Jessica Harper recordings overlap, but Shout! Factory (rating the only “boo” related to this release) is just shrugging that off as minor, not offering replacement discs. Get it anyway.

If you think you don’t like Paul Williams because you consider “We’ve Only Just Begun” and “Rainbow Connection” and so on to be easy-listening fluff, well…two things. First, you’re wrong – he’s always been a great songwriter; his Three Dog Night material alone proves that (“Out in the Country,” “Family of Man,” “Old-Fashioned Love Song”). Second, the genre-hopping/slicing songs in PHANTOM are his greatest, most sophisticated work, and many of them genuinely rock. If you have avoided this film because it’s a musical (I’m talking to you, Matt Clemens), it isn’t, not in the Broadway sense. All songs here are either performed for an audience (the “Paradise” theater of the title) or on the soundtrack.

Williams, having had post-PHANTOM substance problems, cleaned up in a major way and is having a nice third act in a unique career. He is on the very short list of celebrities I’d love to meet. There’s an interesting recent documentary about him (STILL ALIVE).

By the way, I once said here that I’ve never seen a movie more times than I have KISS ME DEADLY. It’s possible I’ve watched PHANTOM more often. Back in the day, Terry Beatty and I (often accompanied by Barb) saw PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE in various movie theaters every chance we got. I’m guessing a dozen times, easy. And I’ve owned it on Beta, VHS, laserdisc and three different blu-rays.

If you’ve never seen it, get real, get with it, and you are such a lucky bastard.

A few other quick movie notes: don’t miss LUCY, the best thing Luc Besson (admittedly a wildly uneven filmmaker) has ever done. It’s a cross between a Hong Kong action movie and 2001. Very few of the critics have been smart enough to get this one. Once again, the rule pertains: if you have exposition to deliver, hire Morgan Freeman.

Don’t go near SEX TAPE. I am a Jason Segel fan going back to FREAKS AND GEEKS, but every laugh in this wretchedly written film is in the trailer…and work better in the trailer.

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SUPREME JUSTICE continues to ride the Kindle bestseller charts, and has racked up (as of this writing) a dizzying 1938 reviews and an averaged four-star rating.

Here’s a very favorable SUPREME JUSTICE review from Bookgasm.

Here’s another from Bob’s on Books.

And one from Coastal Breeze News.

And this from Kingdom Books, though you have to dig a little.

For a change of pace, here’s a WRONG QUARRY review from the aptly named Point Blank.

The articles about non-superhero comic-book movies continue, with ROAD TO PERDITION scoring well.

Finally, here at my pal Lee Goldberg’s site is the full list of Scribe winners. We’re sending out the UK trophies today!