Archive for December, 2021

Bad Reviews, Christmas Movies, and Gift Cards

Tuesday, December 28th, 2021

Five readers have added their positive reviews/ratings to No Time to Spy at Amazon, pulling our average up to four stars. This is much appreciated. Never too late to join in!

The notion that I’m thin-skinned about bad reviews is one I’m hit with now and then, understandably. But my frustration with bad reviews – specifically the mean-spirited ones like the attempt to sabotage No Time to Spy – has almost entirely to do with the impact it has on sales, because sales impact whether I can make a living or not. And in this case it will determine whether Matt Clemens and I get to write the John Sand novel we’ve been planning.

As for being thin-skinned, I am to a degree. I think all people who work in the creative arts, particularly those who make their living at it, are sensitive individuals, otherwise they wouldn’t be very creative. Most of us learn to take bad reviews in our stride, although writers (the same applies to actors, cartoonists, etc.) handle bad reviews differently – some avoid reading them, others sort through looking for the thoughtful, intelligent ones, ignoring the dumb and/or cruel ones, and genuinely try to learn from constructive criticism.

One of the basic things I’ve learned about writing fiction is its collaborative nature – it’s me plus the reader. I’ve often said words to the effect of, “Sometimes I play Broadway, other times the Three Mile Island Dinner Theater.” I’m only as good as my collaborator. Also, if my collaborator – however intelligent (including those more intelligent than me, which isn’t a small group) – does not share my world view, or at least doesn’t find my world view palatable or interesting, then we are simply not a good fit. Nothing wrong with that.

But few reviewers are wise enough to simply say, “This isn’t bad on its own terms, but it’s not my cup of tea.”

I am at a stage of my career where I am not in sync with several generations. Though I am a liberal democrat, my views are not progressive enough for those who haven’t lived as long as I have. And I will not live long enough to see karma catch up with these generations, but I smile when I think about how it will.

What specifically am I talking about? Here’s one example. It’s becoming more and more common for reviewers and social commentators and even actual readers to complain about characters in novels not having the right attitudes reflective of this cultural moment. I am coming to dread the term “politically correct” (and already dread “woke”), but please take my word for it – it’s just about impossible to write an interesting narrative when everybody in it is “nice.”
Then there’s the peculiar thing I’ve noted here several times. People complain about the explicit sex scenes in my Quarry novels and about the way he describes women, based upon their physicality in terms of sexual attractiveness. These same people never comment on the fact that Quarry is a murderer. Sometimes the explicitness of the violence gets a comment, but what book did they think they were picking up? The Hard Case Crime covers should be an indication. That the “hero” is a hired killer might be another one. Yet another would be that the books all take place decades ago (with the exception of the forthcoming Quarry’s Blood).

Similarly, Nate Heller – whose adventures take place in the mid-20th Century – is criticized for his attitudes toward women and I am scolded also for the occasional explicit sex scene. Yet not once has a reader in a comment section or a reviewer in a magazine or newspaper or on a blog commented on the fact that Heller – like Mike Hammer – often flat out kills the bad guy. Sex bad, murder good?

And when was it, exactly, that I presented Quarry or Nate Heller or for that matter Mike Hammer as a role model for enlightened males?

Watch your step, everybody. It’s getting dumb out there. Be careful you don’t trip over the falling IQ points.

* * *

We had a delightful Christmas here – both Christmas Eve, when we exchange presents, and Christmas Day, with stocking presents. In both cases, Barb – who proclaims proudly that she is a bad cook – proves this to be a charade by way of preparing delicious meals on both Christmas Eve and morn.

We have been lucky throughout the Covid period to be able to interact with our son Nate, his wife Abby and our two grandchildren, Sam (6) and Lucy (3). I hope you other grandparents are bearing up under the realization that yours are not as cute and bright as ours.

But Christmas arrived much too fast, and I never got around to presenting my revised Christmas movies list here. All Barb and I watched were what have become perennials for us: both Bad Santa movies, Christmas Vacation, Office Christmas Party, the original Miracle of 34th Street and the Alistair Sim Scrooge.

The one new Christmas movie was Love Actually, which of course isn’t new at all, having been released in 2003. But we hadn’t seen it. We enjoyed it a great deal, but were struck by how practically every romantic relationship in it would be considered inappropriate today. It’s a sweet movie with a good heart, and yet I wonder when someone will attack it. Maybe they already have. Otherwise, AV and Huff Post are asleep at the switch. They better get with it – otherwise, somebody might enjoy it with a clear conscience.

* * *

If you’re like me, you probably got Amazon and or Barnes and Noble gift cards as at least part of your Christmas haul. While it’s true I cashed my Amazon cards in late on Christmas Eve, not one to allow gift cards to burn a hole in my psyche, it’s possible you haven’t used yours yet.

My top three suggestions are by me – Fancy Anders Goes to War, The Many Lives of Jimmy Leighton (with Dave Thomas), and No Time To Spy (with Matthew Clemens).

E-Book: Amazon Purchase Link
Paperback: Amazon Purchase Link
Digital Audiobook: Amazon Purchase Link

E-Book: Amazon Purchase Link
Paperback: Amazon Purchase Link

E-Book: Amazon
Paperback: Amazon

If you must use your gift cards on books I didn’t write, here are a few more suggestions:

Star Struck by Leonard Maltin. Full disclosure: Leonard is a pal, but I enjoyed this book immeasurably. It focuses on (as the secondary title tells us) his “unlikely road to Hollywood,” and his encounters with very famous people are shared in an intimate, fun, behind-the-scenes fashion. The way his love for movies, and how his fanzine led to greater things…much greater…is frankly inspiring.

Behind Bars: High-Class Cocktails Inspired by Lowlife Gangsters

Behind Bars: High-Class Cocktails Inspired by Lowlife Gangsters by Shawn McManus, Vincent Pollar and Paul Sloman. This is a sort of recipe book for cocktails, but each one is attached to a famous real or fictional gangster with lovely illustrations of those gangsters by McManus. Now, I’m not a big drinker, but this resonated with me. Why? Michael Sullivan Sr (AKA O’Sullivan) of Road to Perdition fame/infamy is not only included…he’s on the cover! I am highly complimented! (Although not at all compensated.)

The Art of Pulp Fiction: An Illustrated History of Vintage Paperbacks by Ed Hulse. This is a lovely, lavishly illustrated history of paperbacks with info on artists. However…the first paperback cover of I, the Jury was not by the great Lu Kimmel, who did the next version; the original (pictured in Art of Pulp Fiction) was by Tony Varaday. And the hardcover edition did invoke Mickey Spillane’s famous last scene, just the aftermath not the build-up. But this isn’t the kind of book you read for text.

* * *

My old friend Paul Kupperberg was nice enough to include the Jake and Maggie Starr trio of comics-related mysteries on his list of comic book histories and biographies. We don’t exactly fit, but who cares? It’s nice to be noticed.

Happy 2022!


It Was Fifty Years Ago Today…

Tuesday, December 21st, 2021
Fancy Anders Goes To War, Audiobook Cover
E-Book: Amazon Purchase Link
Trade Paperback: Amazon Purchase Link
Digital Audiobook: Amazon Purchase Link

Our Christmas card from Pee Wee Herman/Paul Reubens arrived today.

Christmas time is officially here!!!

My novella, Fancy Anders Goes to War: Who Killed Rosie the Riveter?, is out on audio from Skyboat and available at Audible. At my request, Skyboat used a female narrator – Gabrielle de Cuir – who did a wonderful job. This is a lovely way to get to know Fancy Anders.

* * *

This update will appear on Tuesday Dec. 21, with Christmas a few days away, and – obviously – Christmas Eve a day sooner than that. For me this year, Christmas Eve is the day that resonates the most. Here’s why.

Fifty years ago, I was in grad school at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, studying at the Writers’ Workshop. I had already written two novels there (Bait Money and No Cure for Death) and begun a third (Quarry). I lived in nearby Muscatine with Barb – we’d been married in June 1968 – and she was working at the First National Bank and I was in my first year of teaching at Muscatine Community College. The teaching gig, which I disliked intensely, was part-time; two days a week I drove to Iowa City for Workshop sessions.

A number of good things had happened by this point. The great mainstream writer Richard Yates (Revolutionary Road) had taken me under his wing. Through him, I got my first agent, Knox Burger, the legendary Gold Medal Books editor who now was a one-man literary agency. When Yates wrote him, sending my novel and saying I might be the next Dashiell Hammett or Raymond Chandler, Burger wrote back, “No – but W.R. Burnett, maybe.” Yates didn’t understand why I took that as a compliment.

Burger said in the same letter, “I’m afraid young Collins is a blacksmith in an automotive age.” I rather like that line, because it’s probably the most accurate appraisal of me and my work anybody ever made. But the important thing is that Burger took me on as a client.

That had been something like a year and a half before, and neither Bait Money nor No Cure for Death had sold. I’ve written before about how Burger objected to the original ending of Bait Money, in which Nolan was killed; it was downbeat in a very late ‘60s/early ‘70s movie way, and had to do with me writing what I thought was a book about the death of the last American tough guy. It had been rejected seven times, I think, most recently by an editor at Pyramid who had spilled coffee on the manuscript.

In those days publishers would not accept a carbon manuscript and photocopying was strictly a Star Trek kind of thing. Burger said that since I had to re-type it anyway, I might as well put a better ending on it. Specifically he said, “Robin doesn’t leave Batman to die.” And that resonated, and so young sidekick Jon came back and rescued old (48!) Nolan.

That had been the last I heard of it. As I say, I hated my teaching job. I came to like it more, but that first year I was dealing with remedial students – functional illiterates who had somehow been granted high school diplomas, presumably to flush them from the public educational system. I had come home to our little apartment some time in the fall of ‘71 and broke down while Barb held me.

“Is this it for me?” I said. “Am I not going to be a writer?” I’d been writing books and stories since junior high, convinced I would be an author. Teaching had always been something to fall back on. But right now I felt like teaching had fallen on me. And hardly anybody at the Workshop, teacher William Price Fox included, thought much of my book in progress – Quarry.

On December 24, 1971, I received a letter from Knox Burger. I didn’t figure it for a Christmas card, and wondered if he might be dropping me. Instead he was informing me that Curtis Books was buying Bait Money.

You will not be surprised to learn that this was my most joyous Christmas ever. But I recall being a little frightened, too. I had that “Now what?” feeling that comes with getting blindsided by success. Curtis also wanted two more books in a Nolan series!

I called Don Westlake, who had been something of a mentor to me – he was a client of Burger’s too, coincidentally – and shared the news. His response about my learning I’d sold my first book on Christmas Eve was a memorable one: “Sometimes God acts like O. Henry and there’s nothing that can be done about it.”

He also gave me his blessing to write more Nolan books, despite the character being a shameless imitation of his Parker. He felt the Jon sidekick humanized Nolan and, if I kept Jon in the mix, the series could be something of its own. (He did, at times over the years, refer to me as the Jayne Mansfield to his Marilyn Monroe.)

New American Library Bait Money

In the first week or so of 1972, Curtis Books bought No Cure for Death, as well. I am fuzzy about it, but I think I waited to finish Quarry till after I’d written Blood Money, the second Nolan. At any rate, Blood Money was submitted early enough in 1972 for it to be published simultaneously with Bait Money in December 1972 (with a January 1973 publication date).

My comp copies came on Christmas Eve, 1972. God was still in an O. Henry mood, or anyway Knox Burger was.

As it happened, Curtis Books only published those first two novels, though they bought three more Nolans (Fly Paper, Hush Money and Hard Cash) and another Mallory (The Baby Blue Rip-off), before getting swallowed up by Popular Library. All of those books went into Popular Library’s inventory and weren’t published until the rights came back to me years later. That’s how Nolan wound up at Pinnacle Books in the early ‘80s and – around the same time – Mallory at Walker for hardcover and TOR for paperback.

That’s more detail than you need to know. And some of it I’ve shared before. But when it occurred to me that Dec. 24, 2021 would mark fifty years since I sold my first novel, I thought it worthy of mention here.

Fifty years is a long time.

And an eye blink.

The postscript is that Christmas came a little early this year – a few days ago, to be exact. A movie deal has closed on one of my properties.


* * *

If you’re wondering what to get me for Christmas (and I know you are), you can…if you have already read (and liked) the three John Sand novels by Matt Clemens and me…post an overall review at Amazon of the trilogy, which has just been published on Kindle in an omnibus edition called No Time to Spy. The moment the boxed set went up, so did a negative overall review by markh (a fellow Iowan no less), a 600-word condemnation of the novels designed to convince no one to buy it.

I have no idea who markh is, but he’s one of that small, hardy group who profess to have liked my work in the past and are now attempting to make sure no one reads anything by me written in my doddering old age. His objection is chiefly that Matt and I are writing spy yarns in the mode of the early ‘60s James Bond craze, and trying to pass them off as serious espionage novels.

Of course, that’s not the case. The books are very slightly tongue-in-cheek, yes, but are rather tough, violent adventure stories that have everything to do with the Fleming novels, the Connery films, and the less spoofy spy stuff of the early ‘60s – Harry Palmer, Matt Helm (the books not the movies), I Spy, John Drake, first-season Man from UNCLE, etc. Nobody said these were realistic much less inside looks at the world of espionage. The Spy Who Came in from the Cold they ain’t. They are, we hope, fun.

I have no objection to somebody not liking my stuff, but the way markh was lying in wait to post his overall slam on the day No Time to Spy was published, is…what is the word?…creepy. He had already expressed his individual dislike of the books. But apparently, because he refers to my blog in his review, he takes offense that I don’t sit still and shut up when he sets out to convince others not to read me (in a supposed context of being a fan, or shall we say former fan).

But I have a Christmas gift for markh: You no longer have to read my books. You have my permission, my blessing, not to. Let me take it a step farther, in the spirit of giving: don’t read my books. I don’t care to have my words running around in your head where you can scramble them. We are not a good fit, markh.

For the record – at Amazon, Come Spy with Me has an average of 4.1 out of 5 stars, both Live Fast, Spy Hard and To Live and Spy in Berlin an average of 4.4 out of 5 stars.

But right now No Time To Spy has an average based only on markh’s negative review. Stunting the sales of the omnibus could easily lead to Matt and me not being able to write another John Sand. Which seems to be markh’s goal.

By the way, Amazon now has the paperback edition at $15.99 (I have not seen a copy yet).

* * *

Paperback Warrior, a truly great site for fans of pulp fiction at its best, posted a nice array of Quarry covers recently, and said lovely things about the series. They also provided a link to their various smart reviews of a number of the novels published by Hard Case Crime.

Here’s an interesting piece on movie novelizations (I get a mention).

This is a wonderful article about the little-known comic strip, Mr. Oswald, which incorporates my thoughts of this lost gem.

Happy Holidays, everyone.


John Sand, Jimmy Leighton, Mike Nesmith and Christmas Music

Tuesday, December 14th, 2021

My concern for your welfare knows no bounds. Hence, I am helping you with your Christmas shopping by pointing out a couple of possibilities for last-minute gift-giving (or post-Christmas use of Amazon gift cards). Later on this page I will talk about some Christmas CDs you might wish to consider. But first….

No Time to Spy: The John Sand Box Set cover
E-Book: Amazon
The Many Lives of Jimmy Leighton
E-Book: Amazon Purchase Link
Trade Paperback: Amazon Purchase Link

The three John Sand spy novels, collected in an omnibus titled No Time to Spy, will be out tomorrow (Dec. 15, 2121) on Kindle. It’s a mere $5.99. A print version will follow, probably before the end of the year.

Get it here.

The Many Lives of Jimmy Leighton is on sale on Kindle for a ridiculous $3.99. The trade paperback, with a cool Faye Dalton cover, is available now for $8.99, also a steal. You can order right here.

Dave and I did an interview about The Many Lives of Jimmy Leighton for The Dave Thomas Appreciation Page on Facebook. Emily Elizabeth conducted it. Here it is:

For those who do not know much about the book, can you give a brief summary to your followers here at Dave Thomas Appreciation?

MAX: It’s a contemporary hybrid of a science-fiction novel and a crime story. Jimmy Leighton is a smalltime thief who stumbles into a quantum experiment and gets thrust into one version of his life after another – various paths he might have taken but didn’t. Part of what sends him cycling through his many lives is getting shot, and throughout all of his trips he is in a coma in the hospital in the initial timeline. There two police detectives are trying to solve the mystery of who shot Jimmy Leighton – they are a mismatched pair, a veteran Black widower and a virtual rookie who is female and gay. How they come together as a team is a story in itself.

DAVE: Okay, Max has summed it up pretty well. Anything I would add to that would be redundant and boring.

There’s no denying that the concept of Jimmy Leighton is impressively unique, and that is quite the rarity these days in an endless cycle of regurgitated remakes and done-to-the-death storylines, so having a novel like this is beyond refreshing and is something we could all really benefit from, more frequently, as an audience. How did you initially develop the idea for the story?

MAX: I’ll defer to Dave on that, except to say that he had more than the basic idea – he had a story treatment and two or three chapters. That was our beginning and as both of us have experience in the world of crime fiction – me as a novelist primarily, and Dave working on Blacklist and Bones – we developed the secondary story about who-shot-Jimmy-Leighton.

DAVE: Okay, so here’s what happened. Initially, I came up with The Many Lives of Jimmy Leighton as an interdimensional television show – I’ve always been interested in time travel and other dimensions, and I’ve had more than one idea in this arena. However, when I researched the physics behind a theoretical move to another dimension, I came up with Princeton Physicist Hugh Everett III who introduced a concept in 1957 that became known as the Many Worlds Interpretation. What Everett said was that all the outcomes of every choice exist – even if they are not realized. For example, you come to an intersection and can turn right or left. If you turn right and get home safely, that’s your reality. But if you had turned left, you might’ve been in car accident and there would’ve been consequences to that. Everett believed that the right turn – the road not taken – created a universe where all the consequences of that righthand turn would tumble out, creating other choices and other consequences that ultimately created a different reality or universe. To me, the idea that there might be other universes where our lives are different, sometimes not dramatically different and other times very different, was intriguing. So, I worked this into a story about a little thief from South Boston who sticks his nose into a quantum physics experiment as a way in. Then I created some other characters and worked it up into a pitch for a television show. Well, it didn’t sell. So, I decided to write it as a book, something I’d never done but I’m always up for a new challenge. Well, I wrote three chapters. And then, in characteristic Dave Thomas style, I moved on to another better-paying project. I’m old-fashioned and I like to get paid for my work. So The Many Lives of Jimmy Leighton just kind of sat there for a year or two until I met Max. Now Max is an accomplished novelist and I was excited to hear what he had to say about this idea. Was it a novel or just a failed TV pitch? He read it, liked it, and said, in his opinion, it could be a novel. But then he went on to say he’d be willing to get me a book agent, a publisher or – what he’d rather do is write it with me. Well, that was all I needed to hear. I mean, the guy has written more than 100 novels and I had written…well, none! So, we started to talk and, very soon, Max helped me realize that what I’d come up with was not a novel at all but merely a layer for a novel. Working with Max made The Many Lives of Jimmy Leighton into a book. We added the two investigators, Neer and Farr, and the concept that Jimmy had been shot when he broke into the physicist’s lab – that became a mystery layer of the story that grounded the whole sci-fi concept. And what was a particular surprise to me, was that the idea of Jimmy getting shot also helped make the physics behind the book make more sense. Because, according to Everett, the only way to cross the barrier from one dimension to another was to commit “quantum suicide.” Well, we weren’t going to do that because we wanted Jimmy to be able to come back at the end of the book to the dimension where he started and resolve the story. But getting shot and hovering in a coma, halfway between life and death – now that gave Jimmy an entrance to other versions of his life that he couldn’t control. Okay, I know, I know, this is much more of the mechanics of our writing that anyone needs or wants to know. But this is an example of how the collaboration made this book greater than my original concept for it. The sum of the parts, right?

What would you say was your favorite thing about working with each other?

MAX: Dave challenges everything – makes me reach for something new or different, not just the path of least resistance. Also, we share a lot of interests, and it’s always fun when we realize we have something other enthusiasm in common.

DAVE: I think I answered that in the previous question. But maybe I could add that I learned a lot of technical stuff working with Max – things that a writer needs to know when he moves from one type of writing which, in my case was television, to another form – namely, the novel. Max knows novels and he was my teacher in this collaboration. There were just so many technical things about writing a novel that I needed to know that I didn’t know. It’s funny, I went all the way through university to the Masters Degree in English literature, taking apart the works of famous writers like Conrad, Vonnegut and Faulkner, writing essays on style and structure but that does not teach you how to write a novel. To do that you need someone like Max, someone who has spent years sitting in front of a typewriter, banging out thousands and thousands of words, learning all the tricks by doing. It’s the old saying – “there are those who write and those who teach about writing.” To me, the best way to learn anything is by working with someone who actually does it for a living.

If Jimmy Leighton were to ever be adapted into a film or television series, is there any role, either on or offscreen, that you would like to take in it?

MAX: I’d love to collaborate on a screenplay of it or TV series adaptation with Dave, who is a terrific screenwriter. I think he should play Dr. Goldman but he doesn’t agree…but he has to play some role.

DAVE: I have no interest in acting in an adaption of Jimmy Leighton or anything else for that matter. Acting is for young people who really want to do it and I am not young anymore. Personally, I think I look terrible on camera. I just plain don’t like looking at my face on the screen. On the other hand, I love telling stories. And I can do that without showing my old face. I would be happy to write a screenplay or teleplay with Max – especially since we would be on my home turf there and maybe I could be as valuable to him as he was to me in the world of novel writing.

Being an avid longtime fan of Dave’s work, I have noticed a slight similarity between this story and what is easily my favorite project of his, which is an amazing 1980s Showtime television film titled The Incredible Time Travels of Henry Osgood. The film centers around Dave’s character, a history professor displeased with modern life, who finds himself thrown firsthand into a number of various historical periods and events after being hit by a car. In what ways do you feel these two stories, and their respective titular characters, could be juxtaposed against each other?

MAX: My working relationship with Dave grew out of being an SCTV fan in general and a Dave Thomas fan in particular. I have a copy of Henry Osgood and knew there was a resonance between the two stories. As we got to know each other, it soon became obvious that we were both interested in a certain kind of fantasy story with a real-life aspect – Here Comes Mr. Jordan, A Christmas Carol, Groundhog Day. I’d always wanted to do that kind of story and Dave made it possible for me to realize that.

DAVE: When I first went to Disneyland, my favorite ride was not the most elaborate rides like Pirates of the Caribbean or the haunted House. It was the Peter Pan ride where you get in a rickety little cart and roll into Wendy’s bedroom and then the window opens and out you go, flying over the city of London and off to Never Never Land. That’s my favorite type of story – where the writer opens a window in the real world and beacons the reader to take a trip with him – out the window to some other reality where the rules are different and strange. I love stories like that. So, of course, whenever I get a chance to write them, those are the sorts of stories I love to tell.

Imagining for a second that the multiverse is, in fact, real, do you believe there are any versions of Dave Thomas and Max Collins out there who are living particularly interesting lives?

MAX: I often think about the paths not taken – both in terms of the right and wrong choices I’ve made, but also luck…even fate. Sometimes it seems like Dave and I were fated to do this project together. We have an incredible number of things in common.

DAVE: I absolutely believe there are better versions of me out there in the multiverse. And worse versions too – because I have dreamt about them. Ugggh! It’s pretty scary. So yes, I believe in alternate universes. And I believe in ideas. That’s one thing little kids don’t understand when they learn that Santa Claus isn’t real. No need to cry kids because no version of a real Santa will ever be as powerful as the idea of Santa. We all have a picture of him in our minds’ eyes, fat and jovial with a perfect beard, a real one, and a twinkle in his eye that says he knows who’s been naughty or nice. He’s perfect and will live forever.

Finally, with the holidays coming up: is there any chance of autographed copies becoming available? I can’t think of a better gift!

MAX: Because the book is only available through Amazon, we haven’t figured out a way to do that. We haven’t even met in person! It’s all been phone and Zoom calls…a lot of them. During the Covid lockdown, we spoke pretty much every day.

DAVE: Sorry… maybe ask Santa for it. But if it doesn’t come then don’t get all dramatic and sad. After all, it’s just a stupid signature. The real gift is the book. And it’s only $8.99 on Amazon ($3.99 for Kindle). Happy Holidays to all.

* * *

Here are some of my favorite Christmas albums available on CD, a physical media that is quickly approaching eight-track status. This is not a “best Christmas Albums of All Time” list – just what Barb and I enjoy.

I tend toward secular Christmas music, because the non-religious aspect of the holiday is my preference. My parents, who did so much positive in my life (as you may recall from previous posts), made me despise church and particularly recoil at most Christmas religious music. This has to do with my father being the minister of music at a Methodist church and throughout my childhood (aided and abetted by my mother) ruining a wonderful holiday of gift-giving and greed by (a) making me go to a midnight Christmas Eve service every year and (b) taking me away from my gifts for a week of travel (starting by car after that midnight Eve service) to both sets of grandparents to eat up my Christmas vacation.

So I lean toward Santa Claus and chestnuts roasting with a minimum of Jesus and Silent Night (although that’s a lovely song).

1. DEAN MARTIN – “Making Spirits Bright.” This is the ultimate cool, laid-back Christmas CD, and “Silent Night” is the only exception of the “Let It Snow” vibe (and it’s a very nice version at that). “Christmas with the Rat Pack” is pretty good, too, but take your Dean straight, if you can.

2. DIANA KRALL – “Christmas Songs.” This is fairly new and a softly jazzy wonderful compendium of all the usual suspects. She has a smoky voice and whimsical approach that reminds me of Julie London while being very much her own artist.

3. PHIL SPECTOR – “A Christmas Gift for You.” Sure, he was a murderer, but he rounded up the likes of Darlene Love, Ronnie & and the Ronnettes and the Crystals to wish you a merry Christmas. Just because he spent his last years behind walls doesn’t mean we can’t dig his wall of sound.

4. THE BEACH BOYS – “The Beach Boys’ Christmas Album.” One of Brian Wilson’s early masterpieces. My band used to do “Little Saint Nick” and let me tell you, doing Beach Boys material is hard. Sounds so simple and is so darn complex. Bask in those harmonies while sipping hot chocolate by the fire. Do it now!

5. BOBBY DARIN – “The 25th Day of December.” Darin’s presence on this list will come as no surprise, but except for “Christmas Auld Lang Syne” (a single release not on the original album) no Brill Building pop is on this at all, and no American songbook classics like Dino’s album is rife with either. It’s all religious stuff, but is one of Darin’s best albums, beautifully sung with a lot of rocking spirituals, in particular “Child of God.”

6. SOUTH PARK – “Mr. Hankey’s Christmas Classics.” If I included a murderer, why are you surprised by the presence of a talking poo? Or maybe you aren’t. We spend Christmas in Hell and along the way hear the best version of “Oh Holy Night” ever.

7. LET IT SNOW! – a cocktail lounge collection of Christmas tunes. There are a bunch of these anthologies out there and you probably only need one. This is as good as any.

8. THE BRIAN SETZER ORCHESTRA – “Christmas Rocks!” This is a “best of,” but really any one of Setzer’s CD’s will do. You probably don’t need more than one.

9. ELLA FITZGERALD – “Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas.” One of the best secular, swinging Christmas albums ever made. And no religion at all. Bliss!


The Fab Four: Hark!

10. THE FAB FOUR – “Hark!” The best Beatles tribute band of all time collects its two Christmas albums (one of which had songs in an early Beatles style, the other in later, psychedelic Beatles mode) on one disc with two bonus cuts. This is a dead-on Beatles imitation, hilarious at times in its witty restructuring of Christmas classics into ghosts of Beatle songs past. For years I gave many copies of the original releases to friends and particularly bandmates over the years. This really is the great Beatles Christmas album the Beatles never made. Get it here.

There’s also a Monkees Christmas CD (“Christmas Party”), which I’ve only listened to a couple of times so far, but it’s very good. I’ll be spinning it more often now that the great Mike Nesmith has passed. Raise a glass of spiked egg nogg to the Wool Cap.

I really loved the Monkees TV show, and their albums, which I looked forward to almost as much as a new Beatles record. My first band, the Daybreakers, played many Monkees songs, and so over the years has Crusin’. Crusin’s was honored in 1992 to be asked to contribute to the Monkees tribute CD, Here No Evil. The CD was the brainchild of our great one-time guitar player, Rob Gal, and our track, “Little Bit Me, Little Bit You” – produced by the late Paul Thomas (miss you, buddy) – was singled out in the reviews. Nesmith was a wonderful songwriter, signer and comic actor, and he appears to have come to positive terms with his Monkees tenure and fame.

Here No Evil
* * *

This great review of Three for the Money, the Jack Kamen EC crime story collection, is complimentary about my introduction. The Christmas spirit has finally brought Fantagraphics and me together….


No Time to Spy

Tuesday, December 7th, 2021
No Time to Spy: The John Sand Box Set cover
E-Book: Amazon

Next week – Wednesday December 15, to be exact – No Time to Spy will go on sale at Amazon (it’s up for pre-sale now). It will likely be labeled The John Sand Box, although there’s a possibility it might say The John Sand Trilogy (this has been under discussion at Wolfpack, our publisher…although we will soon be moving to Wolfpack’s Rough Edges Press imprint under the auspices of the great James Reasoner).

At the moment, No Time to Spy is listed only as a Kindle title, but a print edition will be available soon. We’ll announce that here. The Kindle price is $5.99, which for all three Sand novels is less than two bucks a book. Such a deal. (Don’t know the print edition price yet.)

The nature of the Sand novels makes an omnibus collection like this ideal, as the books work well as one big novel. Truthfully, they would work even better with a fourth book that Matt and I have in mind, but that’s in the hands of readers like you. For those of you who are interested enough in my work to pay attention to these blog/updates, but haven’t tried John Sand yet, now’s the time. If you read on Kindle, get busy. If you prefer print, stay tuned.

These books – despite what a few knucklehead reviewers on Amazon have said (you know – the “I’m a big fan of Max Allan Collins but his books suck” contingent) – these are not in any way spoofs. They are rather tough and violently actionful in the manner of the Fleming originals and the films (all but certain Roger Moore entries). They are not serious John Le Carre exercises, but take place in that world of ‘60s spies where Bond, Harry Palmer, Napoleon Solo (first season), John Drake and Matt Helm (books only) lived. This is the world Austin Powers made fun of.

I realize a good number of you are Old School readers. You not only like physical media, you like to browse in actual bookstores. But I have to ask your patience and, frankly, your help because my markets today are only partly served by the likes of Barnes & Noble and BAM!, no matter how much money I spend at both and the few independent bookstores I run across as an Iowan in Covidville. Two of my primary markets are e-book driven – Wolfpack and Neo-Text – and both serve the print market only through Amazon. Nothing I can do about that – I go where I’m wanted.

So don’t expect to find John Sand or Fancy Anders or Jimmy Leighton on the shelves of traditional bookstores. Ain’t gonna happen, at least not for a while. Take what’s left of my future in your hot little hands and help Jeff Bezos send William Shanter even further into outer space.

Captain Kirk and I implore you.

* * *

Matt Clemens and I live about thirty miles apart. I’m in Muscatine, Iowa, and he’s in Davenport, Iowa. We have written around 30 novels together, and he worked on all four of my indie features. I talk with him on the phone frequently and did so throughout the Covid lockdown, during which we wrote two of the John Sand books. But today, when he drove to Muscatine to bring me some books, was the first we’ve been in the same room together for almost two years.

It was fun. We talked about mystery writer stuff and explored possibilities for a fourth John Sand novel, while the family dog, Toaster – a demented Blue Heeler (is there any other kind?) – barked and then whimpered and finally rolled submissively on her back for Matt.

No one had been in our house except the others in our lockdown bubble – Nate and his missus and their two young ‘uns – since March 2020. Toaster is crazy as it is, but the presence of Matthew – not a small man – absolutely drove her past the brink and into insanity…a watchdog delirious with joy thanks to a human she knew well but hadn’t seen in ages.

Relationships on the phone and zoom work – they really do. But being in the same room as a friend and talking and interacting and looking at each other…it’s a part of being human that I’d missed more than I realized.

We did something we rarely did at the end of the day, Matt and me – we shook hands.

“Let’s write a book together next year,” he said

“Let’s,” I said.

* * *

Last week and through the weekend – with Jim Traylor’s counsel – I revised Spillane – King of Pulp Fiction for editor Otto Penzler at Mysterious Press. I delivered it today. I have also completed the 14-page synopsis of The Big Bundle, after spending many hours reading research, looking for the story part of the word history.

I think I found it, and I’m excited to be starting what will surely be one of the last few Heller novels, meaning it needs to be a really good one.

My very next project, which I will begin writing on the day this update appears, is my draft – working from Barb’s – of Antiques Foe. The pun, for those of you paying attention, is “faux/foe.” I really enjoy working on these.

* * *

Here is a Dave Thomas interview about our book The Many Lives of Jimmy Leighton.

About half-way through this podcast, the Evil Genius (Dave Slusher) talks about really liking my books but doesn’t think they’re great – they don’t show much “art.” At the beginning of my career, the New York Times mystery critic said: “Collins has an artless style that conceals a great deal of art.” So there, Evil Genius. But thanks.

Finally, we posted a link to this Ron Fortier review of Skim Deep before, but it’s such a lovely one, here it is again in case you missed it (picked up by ESO Network).