Posts Tagged ‘Appearances’

Chinatown, Blue Christmas Coverage and Fruitcake

Tuesday, February 20th, 2024

Thanks to producer Chad Bishop we have a Blue Christmas web page. It includes info about buying advance tickets to some of the premieres and we will be updating it to include the others, so check back to the page for the update info over the next few weeks.

Blue Christmas is an Official Selection of the Cedar Rapids International Film Festival. Info about the festival is right here.

I introduced a great screening of Chinatown at the Fleur Theatre in Des Moines on Saturday night (Feb. 17). A good house – about 70 people – took up one of the three screens. The Fleur is a terrific theater, recently re-opened under new management by Iowa’s Fridley chain. Barb and I would like to thank Fridley’s Chris Kottman for inviting us (and for his hospitality). The Fleur staff is stellar (and they have perhaps the best popcorn in the state…though the Collins Road Theatre in Cedar Rapids rivals it) and the venue is among the best in the Midwest.

Seeing Chinatown – probably atop a three-way tie with Vertigo and Kiss Me Deadly for my favorite film – on a big screen in a 4K presentation (where is the 4K disc, Paramount?) was breathtaking for this fan. The audience was divided in roughly two groups – those who’d seen the film before and those who hadn’t. I envied the latter group, and was pleased to hear laughs and gasps coming at the correct moments.

I talked about the film’s relation to various hardboiled (or noir) mystery writers, including Hammett, Chandler and Spillane, names that weren’t necessarily familiar to the younger attendees (which included a good number of film students from Drake University). While screenwriter Robert Towne often pointed to Chandler as a major influence on the story, I mentioned that Kiss Me Deadly had an impact, too – unlike Phillip Marlowe and Mike Hammer, the protagonist of Chinatown – Jake Gittes – was a “divorce dick,” like the Hammer of the Kiss Me Deadly film.

And I of course mentioned the significance of John Huston, director of the 1941 Maltese Falcon, playing a major role (to say the least).

M.A.C. speaking about Chinatown at the Fleur
I explain to the audience at the Fleur why John Huston’s name is bigger than Roman Polanski’s on the CHINATOWN poster.

My appearance – in a Fleur series featuring writers and filmmakers introducing films that had inspired them – was designed in part to promote the World Premiere of Blue Christmas at the Fleur next Saturday (February 24). I will be there with producer Chad Bishop and a number of the actors, including star Rob Merritt and maybe his co-star, Alisabeth Von Presley, in a red carpet event.

We got great coverage from Channel 13, WHO, in Des Moines, who focused on Blue Christmas and the Feb. 24 event at the Fleur. We were sitting at the counter at the Drake Diner having a fantastic breakfast when suddenly the story came on the big screen near the serving window.

Blue Christmas coverage on TV at the Drake Diner
The view of Channel 13’s BLUE CHRISTMAS coverage from the Drake Diner counter!

Advance tickets are available here.

Our three other premieres are the following:

Collins Road Theater/Cedar Rapids Premiere – March 13th
Palms 10/Muscatine Premiere – March 16th
Last Picture House/Quad Cities Premiere – March 22nd
* * *

Barb and I are already in pre-production on the next indie movie, Death by Fruitcake, which (if all goes well or even passably) will introduce Brandy Borne and Mother (of the Antiques cozy mystery novel series) to the big screen (in Iowa, anyway) and on the flat screen in your house.

What kind of movie is it? Well, it starts with a murder and ends with a fruitcake recipe.

That recipe, which was included in the source novella (“Antiques Fruitcake”) and featured in the paperback collection Antiques Ho Ho Homicides, looked wrong to Barb. For one thing, there was no butter in it. How could that even work?

In order to be responsible storytellers and filmmakers, we set about making that fruitcake recipe, planning to at least taste the finished product, though neither of us are fruitcake fans.

The batter looked like fake vomit – you know, the gag item that Magic and Gag Shops always sell.

Fruitcake batter, or fake vomit?
Dessert – comin’ right up!
Fake vomit, or fruitcake batter?
Magic shop fake vomit, kids!

But the result was…we swear…delicious. True, we ate it warm with ice cream, but that’s fair dinkum, as they say on Prisoner Cell Block H and Wentworth.

Fruitcake is served – surprisingly delicious!
Fruitcake is served – surprisingly delicious!
* * *

Iowa Public Radio has a really good article on me and Blue Christmas at their web site.

And the great J. Kingston Pierce writes up my announcement that I’m planning for the next Nate Heller novel to be the last. Nice that people still care. Really nice, actually.

M.A.C.

Two Events, A New Movie Script, Nate Heller News and More

Tuesday, February 13th, 2024

Two events are coming up that Iowa residents, particularly those in (or near) Des Moines may wish to attend.

The Fridley Theatre chain has reopened the great Fleur Theater and have booked me in for two events. Coming up this weekend (Saturday February 17) is a presentation of Chinatown that I will introduce. I will be discussing the importance of the film and how it has been a key influence on me and my work.

Then, just a week later on Saturday February 24, I will be there with a number of cast and crew members for the World Premiere of Blue Christmas.

Advance tickets for both events are available at the links.

As you may know, three more premiere events will present Blue Christmas to the public for the first time; it will not be made available (at least nothing is planned yet) until the Christmas season of this year:

Fleur Cinema/Des Moines, World Premiere; February 24th
Collins Road Theater/Cedar Rapids Premiere; March 13th
Palms 10/Muscatine Premiere; March 16th
Last Picture House/Quad Cities Premiere; March 22nd

I will be attending all four and at least some cast and crew will be at these events as well (with Q and A after).

* * *

After delivering the new Trash ‘n Treasures novel, Antiques Slay Belles, to our publisher Severin (who we are pleased to say loves it), Barb and I began work on a film script based on the novella “Antiques Fruitcake,” seen in our collection of three Antiques Christmas novellas, Antiques Ho-Ho-Homicides.

Even before the script was started, we had approached with some success several key actors (mostly from Blue Christmas) as well as secured the primary location for the shoot, which we project for late July or early August (that, of course can change).

Working from the novella, with Barb consulting and editing everything I wrote, I’ve produced a screenplay called Death by Fruitcake which I think successfully captures the feel and approach of the books. For one thing, it has a lot of talking to the camera by Brandy and Mother, breaking the fourth wall. The goal was to be very funny and yet a legit mystery (the way the book series does, at its best anyway).

Why another Christmas movie?

Well, the warm reception we got from not only the home video distributor but a major film chain in Iowa, and several independent theaters, showed the holiday aspect of Blue Christmas was hugely beneficial. We’d been looking for another low-budget film project to do, and doing Christmas again but in a completely different fashion made sense.

This project will be in process all year, so you’ll be hearing about it here.

* * *

I am pleased to announce what is almost certainly going to be the last Nathan Heller novel, The One-Way Ride, which I’ll be writing this year for Hard Case Crime. God willin’ and the crick don’t rise, it will appear in late 2025.

This will, at long last, tell the story of Heller, RFK and Jimmy Hoffa, which takes place in the ‘60s but with first and last sections that feature Heller at the end of his career – chronologically the farthest up I’ve gone (other than brief sections of the whatever-happened-to chapters in various of the books).

I both hate and love the thought of doing a final chapter in Heller’s saga. The love part is (a) getting to do another one, and (b) knowing that this saga has a definitive ending. The hate part is that I love to do them and consider Heller my key work (Quarry would disagree, but I’m not giving him a vote).

Several realities are at play here. First, at my age and with my health issues (which for now I’m keeping in check), doing a massive project like a Heller novel, with its soul-crushing research, is best put behind me. I have several other things I want to do, and speaking of Quarry, I may do more with him. I might also do an occasional Heller short story for the Strand and/or Ellery Queen.

Other factors are the way sales got impacted by the way a UK dock strike screwed up the publication of Too Many Bullets, which I consider to be a major book in the saga. That strike, as I’ve outlined here before, meant the 2022 publication of The Big Bundle effectively got pushed to the first quarter of 2023. That had the novel careening into Too Many Bullets, published early fall 2023, meaning two Hellers were published in one year (effectively). It led to the major trade publications (Publisher’s Weekly, Booklist, Kirkus and Library Journal) not reviewing Too Many Bullets (and in the past they have almost always reviewed the Heller novels). That cost us bookstore and library sales.

And it made getting Hard Case Crime to do another book in the series required a real sales job from me.

On the other hand, we’ve had several really terrific reviews lately for Too Many Bullets. Check out this one from the fine fanzine Deadly Pleasures (who tabulated how many “Best of the Year” lists various books appeared on – Too Many Bullets appeared on five):

Too Many Bullets
by Max Allan Collins
Hard Case Crime, $26.99, October 2023
Rating: A

Nathan Heller is body-guarding Robert (“Bob! Not ‘Bobby!’”) Kennedy on June 5, 1968, the night he won the California Democratic primary. As they walk through the crowded Pantry in L.A.’s Ambassador Hotel, a dozen or more shots ring out. Kennedy falls, as do five others, but he is the only one to die. A dazed Sirhan Sirhan, gun in hand, is slammed down by Roosevelt Grier, Rafer Johnson, and Heller. The LAPD muscles the FBI out of the investigation of the assassination, since it’s clearly an open-and-shut case against Sirhan. But months later, a now skeptical Heller undertakes his own investigation, first at the behest of columnist Drew Pearson, then Time/Life after Pearson’s death. After all, there weren’t enough guns and there were too many bullets in that room. And what of the mysterious woman in the polka-dot dress that several witnesses saw fleeing the scene?

Mystery Writers of America Grand Master and Private Eye Writers of America’s Lifetime Achievement “Eye” Award recipient Max Allan Collins’ first Nathan Heller novel, True Detective, was published in 1983. This latest novel marks forty years of some of the very best and most cohesive historical detective fiction ever written. Each book in the series has been meticulously researched, down to the smallest factual details, then tied together with a cleverly plotted and convincing fictional re-examination of events surrounding a murder, a kidnapping, a disappearance, extortion, assassination or other well-known crime. What’s more, there is a well-reasoned solution to previously unsolved or questionable cases. Collins uses real names whenever possible, adding to the authenticity. Each book also contains a wrap up of what happened to characters after the story has concluded.

Too Many Bullets follows that established pattern. Collins presents little known facts gathered from autopsy and police records, things that were conveniently overlooked in a rush to judgment. But it is the reasoned conjecture that he wraps around those facts that make for fascinating reading. Further, he faithfully recreates the politics of the late 1960s. Readers will almost come to believe that they were caught up in the panic in the hotel’s Pantry, so realistic is the writing. In today’s world, with crazy conspiracy theories abounding, this novel takes a deep dive into one that just might not be so crazy.

The author has previously explored other Kennedy family assassination (and near assassination) stories, but this may just be one of his best. No need to have read any of the previous novels in the series, since Collins doesn’t write them in chronological order anyway. The final two sentence paragraph sums up Heller’s dedication to the job perfectly. If this is the final Heller (and I sincerely hope it is not), the detective goes out on a very high note.

Well, Too Many Bullets isn’t the last Heller, if I can get The One-Way Ride written. But that’s a fine review.

As I’ve said here before, it’s no picnic for an old white guy to get a book sold in a marketplace filled with young Woke editors who have apparently slept through the history of noir fiction. I am lucky to still be in business at all.

For example, I have pitched (sometimes with Matt Clemens and sometimes on my own) half a dozen projects (full book proposals) to Amazon’s Thomas and Mercer, where the Reeder and Rogers trilogy sold hundreds of thousands of copies and my back list has flourished for over a decade. And they haven’t gone forward with a thing. In fairness, the second of my two Krista Larsen novels (Girl Can’t Help It, a book I love) has not earned out yet and maybe never will. Still, the royalties on that title and several dozen others keep coming in and I’m grateful to them (particularly to the initial editors at Thomas and Mercer who made Ian Fleming and Max Allan Collins among their first buys).

I am not complaining (exactly). I have a full plate of work for 2024. But with both Nathan Heller and Mike Hammer getting their series wrapped up, I have to be resilient and creative. (Hammer was always planned to be finite – no new novels written solely by me, strictly M.A.C. finishing up Mickey’s works-in-progress.)

That’s why I’m directing and writing indie movies again. It’s why I’m developing a Nate Heller podcast, bringing the books to life, collaborating with my buddies Phil Dingeldein, Mike Bawden and the great Robert Meyer Burnett, a genuine YouTube star. Recently Rob did a blisteringly funny, wickedly sharp takedown on Amazon (don’t mean to pick on them, and this isn’t Thomas & Mercer) putting out a statement with advice to writers (particularly screenwriters) that is so D.E.I. (Diversity Equity and Inclusive) as to be absurdly hilarious. Take a look. (His Robservations episodes always begin with promos for other stuff of his, so be patient. It’s worth it.)

Also worth a watch this week is Heath Holland and me talking about the latest Kino Lorber film noir Blu-ray boxset on his fine podcast, Cereal at Midnight.

* * *

Here is another lovely Too Many Bullets review.

This article discusses why Tom Hanks decided to do Road to Perdition.

Finally, Ron Fortier is back with a retro review of my The Hindenburg Murders.

M.A.C.

Tickets on Sale, Spillane Bargain, and a Novel Out the Door

Tuesday, January 30th, 2024

Advance tickets are on sale for the World Premiere of Blue Christmas in Des Moines at the Fleur Theater on February 24. Buy them here.

Advance tickets are on sale for the Muscatine premiere of Blue Christmas at the Palms theater on March 16. Buy them here.

When I have a ticket link for the Cedar Rapids Premiere at the Collins Road Theatre on March 13, I will post it.

When I have a ticket link for the Quad Cities Premiere at the Last Picture House on March 22, I will post it.

* * *
Spillane: King of Pulp Fiction Audiobook cover

The Edgar-nominated Spillane – King of Pulp Fiction by Jim Traylor and me is on sale at Barnes & Noble for an astonishing $13.47. That’s literally half price for a new hardcover copy. Not sure how long this price will last, so I’d suggest striking while the iron is hot. [The Nate Heller novel The Big Bundle is also 50% off! — Nate]

Pictured here is the audio edition. It, and the e-book edition, are priced higher than the hardcover (at the moment).

For those of you wondering if I’m planning to attend the Edgar Awards event, that’s as yet undecided. I have expressed here my feeling that there remains enough anti-Spillane sentiment to make a win difficult. Also, the other nominees include books on Poe and Ellroy, the first the author the award is named after (!), the second a highly celebrated author in the hardboiled field.

The other factor is that Blue Christmas has been entered in the Iowa Motion Picture Association awards and I am waiting to see how we fare there. As a three-time former president of that organization – and with a new film I’ve written and directed utilizing Iowa talent (and Iowa money), my first indie offering since 2006 – I have a responsibility to consider that event (which takes place in the same time frame as the Edgars) instead. I can only be in one place at a time.

A further factor is that a New York trip would cost me about what I was paid as an advance for Too Many Bullets. Add to this a trip from Muscatine to Manhattan and the air travel (and taxi rides) it would entail would be difficult for me at this age and with my health issues.

Again, a decision has yet to be made.

I will say that in the unlikely event that Spillane wins, it would be an honor second only to being named an MWA Grand Master, an award I treasure.

* * *
Antiques Foe cover

This morning Barb and I shipped Antiques Slay Belles to Severn, our publisher (based in the UK).

Getting a novel out is a harrowing job. The writing itself was concluded last Thursday. We essentially took Friday off, then dug in for a long weekend of assembling the manuscript.

That’s always tricky. Both Barb and I write in WordPerfect, so a conversion to the more accepted Word is necessary. We also create a file for each chapter as we go. The first stage of prepping the completed manuscript for the publisher is to assemble the chapters into a single file, a task I take on. The next stage is for me to read the hard copy we’ve created and for Barb to enter the corrections and to consider the tweaks I’ve made (sometimes she disagrees with them, and we discuss, and usually she’s right). Usually I get about 100 pages done and Barb begins her process of entering the corrections/tweaks while I press ahead. This is a job (on a 60,000-word manuscript like Antiques Slay Belles) that usually takes two full work days.

Occasionally I discover something that got past both of us and that requires a rewrite. That happened this time, and a considerable slice of the first chapter had to be reworked. This takes considerable poise to deal with in a cool-headed manner, and of course we both ran around with our hair on fire for a while before figuring out how to fix the problem.

Another issue is the conversion itself. We frequently discover page-numbering problems, and working in one word processing program that requires a change into another word processing problem has, as they say, issues. I do a certain of amount of work in Word and so does Barb, but for fiction writing, we both much prefer WordPerfect and we pay for that preference at this last stage of the process.

I handle the actual conversion, and I go through page by page looking for conversion problems, but I inevitably miss a few. Still, I think we send in a very clean manuscript. About the only thing I like about the conversion process is that Word gives the entire manuscript a fresh spell- and grammar-check, and I’m able to address some goofs we made that we hadn’t previously caught.

Last step is simply to send it to our editor with an attachment of the manuscript.

Now we sit back and wait for the editorial response. Usually this comes quickly, but a problem I have that some writers do not is that I almost immediately move on to my next project. And by the time I get the editorial notes, asking this and that (about plot in particular), the novel in question is less than fresh in my mind.

Not complaining. All of this is part of the process. But I am guessing this aspect of getting a novel written (and delivered) is off the radar of most readers. And that’s not a criticism. You have a right to not care (or not seek knowledge of) how the sausage is made.

Just in case you are interested, though, I thought I’d share this vital but little discussed aspect of the creation of a manuscript by fulltime professional writers.

* * *

Later this week I am joining Heath Holland on a taping his Cereal at Midnight podcast for what may become a regular (once a month?) exercise in discussing Blu-rays and 4K’s. We are starting with the latest Kino Lorber boxed set of western films.

Heath has been slicing up my two-hour (yikes!) career interview with him into bite-size portions. Here’s me on the relationship between Quarry and Audie Murphy.

M.A.C.

Back in Business

Tuesday, January 9th, 2024

Somehow it’s the first week of 2024 and it seems to be business as usual around M.A.C. Productions. Which means we are busy but there’s nothing “usual” about it. But it’s all good news, and good problems, so despite the Buck Rogers sound of the date on my calendar, I am rarin’ to go.

First news to share is that we have lined up four Iowa premieres for Blue Christmas in February and March.

We will have the World Premiere in Des Moines at the Fleur Theatre on Saturday, February 24. The Fleur is a terrific venue. They have a quote from me on the wall! We had a big Road to Perdition event there on the film’s release, and a few years ago I introduced (and spoke after) a screening of Kiss Me Deadly.

Our Cedar Rapids Premiere will be Wednesday March 13 at the Collins Road Theater. Another great venue, Collins Road Theater (love that name) is very supportive of independent film, hosting the Cedar Rapids Film Festival.

(We are entered in the fest and, if selected, there will likely be another Collins Road screening of Blue Christmas on the weekend of the fest, April 5 – 7.)

We will have our hometown Premiere at the beautiful Palms 10 Theater here in Muscatine on Saturday, March 16. It’s a treat and a privilege to have our film made available to our friends and family so close to home. We’ll go the Red Carpet route and everything.

On Saturday March 22, the Quad Cities Premiere will be held at the Last Picture House in Davenport. This is the brand spanking new theater that is the brainchild of the Quiet Place//65 filmmakers (local boys!), Scott Beck and Bryan Woods. Their support of their home-state filmmakers is much appreciated.

We – Chad Bishop, Phil Dingeldein and I (the executive producers of Blue Christmas) – are very grateful to the various managers of these theaters for welcoming us onto their screens. It came together remarkably quickly and is extremely gratifying.

Chad and I will be participating in a Q and A session after each screening with various cast members present. Phil Dingeldein will be there as much as his busy schedule allows, as will star Rob Merritt and his co-star, Alisabeth Von Presley. Alisabeth and Rob have been confirmed for the Cedar Rapids premiere.

As you may know, we shot the principal photography in Muscatine Community College’s Black Box Theater, and we are working out details for a screening there as well for students and teachers.

If you were a contributor to the fund-raising effort, and were promised admission to a premiere, please write me at macphilms@hotmail.com and let me know which of these premieres (choose one, please) you would be able to attend. More details will follow.


I’m centerstage with my back to the camera, directing Alisabeth Von Presley and Rob Merritt in Blue Christmas; left of me is Liz Toal, first camera assistant, and I’m blocking my buddy Phil Dingeldein, at right.

A lot of people who keep up with these updates helped make this film possible, and we are very grateful. I frankly thought I’d hung up my indie film shootin’ iron with Eliot Ness: An Untouchable Life (2006). But Encore for Murder came together so well as a play, we shot it at the last minute and soon the ol’ juices were flowing. Which in a man my age isn’t pretty….

I will tell you, with no modesty at all, that Blue Christmas came out most satisfactorily (as Nero Wolfe might say). That our cash budget was $14,000 indicates just how remarkable a feat this was. (The budget would sky-rocket if everyone, myself included, who took no remuneration were actually…you know…paid.)

Heath Holland at Cereal at Midnight on YouTube showed off on both the Blu-ray of Mike Hammer’s Mickey Spillane (which includes Encore for Murder as a bonus feature) and the DVD of Encore on his wrap-up of new releases. Thank you, Heath! (I am recording an interview with Heath tomorrow.) You can also rent both the documentary and the recorded Golden Age Radio-style play on Amazon Prime and VUDU.

* * *

And so the writing year begins.

I have just completed what I’m calling Conversations With Nathan Heller, a 13,000-word look at the entire Nate Heller novel series to date. The format is that I am visiting Heller at his Boca Raton digs to interview him before beginning each book in the series. This has been done for Otto Penzler at Mysterious Press, and was just shipped yesterday. What Otto’s reaction will be is hard to say, but obviously I hope he likes it. The title may change – that will be up to Otto, at least to some degree – but I think any Heller reader will get a charge out of it.

No idea when this will be published, but I will keep you informed here. I’m told there will be a square-bound hardcover edition.

Additionally I have corrected and tweaked Quarry’s Return, the copy edited version on its way back to editor Charles Ardai. The novel is scheduled for December, I believe. Going to be a busy December, with Blue Christmas possibly playing in some regional theaters (we’re working on that).

In the meantime, Barb has been working on her draft of Antiques Slay Belles – another Christmas book! I will start my draft yet this week.

After that I will be starting the massive podcast script combining the novels True Detective and True Crime (the first two Hellers) into one massive dramatic piece.

Stay tuned.

* * *

I received today copies of the fifth Ms. Tree collection, Ms. Tree – Heroine Withdrawal. It’s (as Chester Gould used to say) a honey. Just physically lovely. I am so grateful to Nick Landau and Vivian Cheung at Titan for keeping after to me to do these Ms. Tree collections with them (a shout-out to the great Andrew Sumner).

I also received two books from Gary Kato, who helped Terry Beatty out on Ms. Tree from time to time – Peter Pan in Return to Never Never Land and Satin’s Ways – both written by my pal Ron Fortier. Both are published by Redbud Studio.

M.A.C.