Not Another Book Giveaway! Also, Entertain or Impress?

February 1st, 2022 by Max Allan Collins
Tough Tender Cover
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Yes, just one week later and it’s another book giveaway.

Hard Case Crime continues its wonderful (to me, anyway) series of Nolan reprints, with two novels to a volume and terrific, movie poster-ish Mark Eastbrook covers. Tough Tender, including both Hard Cash and Scratch Fever, will be published March 22. I have ten advance copies for readers willing to do a review at Amazon (and/or other Barnes & Noble and other review sites). This is USA only and (IMPORTANT) you must include your snail-mail address, even if you’re entered and won before. [All copies have been claimed. Thank you for your support!]

These novels were the last in the original Nolan cycle – all of them (save Scratch Fever) were written for Curtis Books in the early seventies, and later minorly revised when Pinnacle Books picked the series up. Only Bait Money and Blood Money (the first two) saw publication from Curtis Books in 1973. Scratch Fever was written expressly for Pinnacle, and would be the last Nolan until Spree in the eighties. Spree, designed to be the last in the series, has been followed by a “coda” novel, Skim Deep, out last year.

I continue to emphasize the importance of reviews at Amazon in particular. Some of these books – the Hard Case Crime titles and Titan titles – you can find in your favorite brick-and-mortar bookstore. But the likes of The Many Lives of Jimmy Leighton (by Dave Thomas and me, and a book I really love), Fancy Anders Goes to War (I love you, too, Fancy!) and No Time to Spy (the new John Sand omnibus by Matt Clemens and me) can only be ordered online – Amazon probably your best bet.

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As I mentioned in recent posts, I’ve decided to slow down my rate of production. In 2021 I amped things up, and you’ll be seeing the results in the coming months, in part due to this year’s 75th anniversary of the debut of Mike Hammer in I, the Jury. I am hopeful that Spillane – King of Pulp Fiction (the biography by Jim Traylor and me) – will get some special notice. An Edgar nomination is the dream, but Mickey Spillane on Screen by Jim and me, which I remain very proud of, was roundly ignored. Skim Deep got great reviews and was mentioned on not a single “Best of 2021 Mysteries” lists.

I talked a bit last time about books like mine that aim to entertain rather than impress. It’s the books that try to impress (and are often no fun at all) that get the acclaim. Frustrating as that can be, I don’t envy my peers who get the accolades. For one thing, I’ve had my share of honors over the years – maybe more than my share. For another, to be jealous of another writer you have to be willing to trade your book for one of theirs. I might like Angel in Black to have the sales and reputation of The Black Dahlia, but I wouldn’t swap it for a box of Edgars and a boxcar of money.

If writing isn’t about the writer, it isn’t about anything at all.

I mention The Black Dahlia only because a genuine frustration I feel comes from the countless times some well-meaning reader says to me, “You are one of two favorite writers. The other is James Ellroy.”

I usually don’t comment on other writers, and I won’t here, except to say Ellroy is the rare fellow writer I have at times admitted not caring for (his work – personally, our encounters have always been friendly). It just makes a writer’s brain hurt and maybe explode when fans say their other favorite writer is somebody whose work that writer deplores.

But it makes sense that somebody who likes Ellroy’s fiction might like both his and mine. We work the same side of the 20th Century true-crime street, which is enough to attract the same readers. Sex and violence and traditional hard-boiled themes occur in both of us. What somebody like me has to wrap his head around is this: a reader may have the capacity to like two very different approaches to the same subject matter. In fact, a reader should have the capacity to do that.

Writers, however, often have tunnel vision in this area. For me writing is a trial-and-error process. I don’t mean the plotting or the story selection or any of that. I refer to the actual word-for-word hammering it out, the way sentences are assembled, the way paragraphs get put together. On another level, thematic concerns come into play, albeit often subconsciously – world view.

What I am trying to do, in a perhaps stumbling way, is what I’ve been doing all along: attempting to perfect my approach to storytelling. This is one reason why I don’t read much fiction anymore, especially mystery/crime. I’m no longer interested in being influenced. On some perhaps naive level, I am trying to come up with The Way to Write Crime Fiction.

I should be glad that Ellroy’s approach differs so drastically from mine. I should understand that the reader is somebody who goes along Restaurant Row and sometimes eats Chinese and sometimes Italian, and loves both. Nothing wrong with that.

With Ellroy, I have encountered too many smart people who like his work to dismiss their opinions. I have come to accept that I have had a strong element of envy in my reaction to him, because he is more successful in terms of readership, acclaim, earning power, etc. But where he isn’t more successful (and is in no way trying to be) is as the author of Max Allan Collins novels.

Shakespeare said the play is the thing. From this we extrapolate that the novel is the thing – the fiction (short stories and movie scripts, too) a writer creates is the thing. I congratulate any writer who can manage to make a living doing this throughout a lifetime – even me.

Even James Ellroy.

Smart people’s tastes vary. Here is the sentence many consider to be the best first sentence in private eye fiction; it’s by James Crumley in The Last Good Kiss:

When I finally caught up with Abraham Trahearne, he was drinking beer with an alcoholic bulldog named Fireball Roberts in a ramshackle joint just outside Sonoma, California, drinking the heart right out of a fine spring afternoon.

You may like it very much, and you won’t be the only intelligent human who shares that opinion. I think it’s a lousy first sentence, overloaded and too cute and trying way too hard. Really, just horrible.

We’re both right.

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Speaking of right, here’s a lovely review of The Many Lives of Jimmy Leighton from Ron Fortier.

Road to Perdition, the graphic novel, has made a list of the best 110 “thriller books.”

The film is highly regarded here.

And here.


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7 Responses to “Not Another Book Giveaway! Also, Entertain or Impress?”

  1. Thomas Zappe says:

    Compare yourself to another at your own risk.

    Those who feel the need to do the comparing usually come in second place.

    I would have written earlier, but I had to lay in supplies before the impending blizzard of falling frozen iguanas brings all local commerce and transportation to a standstill in St. Louis environs.

  2. David Anderson says:

    You are right about that Crumley first sentence, and right about Elroy too! Perhaps it’s got something to do with writing that draws attention to itself, and writing – like yours – that doesn’t. I like yours best.

  3. Rob Brooks says:

    I agree with David above! I think it was Elmore Leonard in his 10 Rules for Writing who said that if it sounds like writing, take it out. (paraphrased poorly by me) Writing like that Crumley line gets in its own way, and pulls me out of the story. That’s obviously not the case for everyone. That’s the beauty of fiction. There’s plenty to go around!

  4. Steve Atwell says:

    I agree, it’s easy to be a fan of more than 1 writer of any particular genre. Much like it’s possible to be a fan of both the Beatles & the Stones.

  5. Steve says:

    Thank you God…I really,really agree with you about that Crumley line.

  6. Some good responses here. Yes, I am a Beatles guy but also love the Stones (and the Animals and Them and especially the Zombies). Citing Leonard is a little ironic, because I consider most of his 10 rules to be valid only for himself. I have been accused of over-describing and the reason why I do that is because I’m striving to make the reader experience what I am experiencing in my brain. To see what I’m seeing. Still, I’m sure I overdo at times. And I certainly do like to turn a nice phrase now and again. Creating mood (as Mickey does at the beginning ONE LONELY NIGHT) (describing weather, a Leonard no no) can mean working the poetic side of the street. It’s when the writer shows off, as I think Crumley does in that much-admired sentence, that my stomach starts to hurt. Westlake said, “Good writing is invisible.” The Crumley approach (in that first sentence at least) calls attention to the writing. The intent should, in mh opinion, be to pull you into the story.

  7. Bill P says:

    Regarding the ability to like authors whose work you might despise, I appreciate the Beatles/Stones analogy, but I think of it like food. I like pizza, but I also like Thai Food. I don’t go to the same restaurant to get both. The Italian owners of the pizza joint I like might despise Thai food and not eat it at all, but it doesn’t stop them from making damn good pizza. Maybe to extend the metaphor, you might like only NY-style pizza that you make, but despise deep dish Chicago pan pizza, even if the basic ingredients are the same. I might like both kinds.

    Bottom Line: You make damn fine “pizza”, MAC, and we all appreciate it or wouldn’t be here. Also appreciate the engagement you give on this site. Keep your recipes, they are good and work for you! We’ll keep eating.