Posts Tagged ‘Blood Money’

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.

Nolan.

* * *

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.

M.A.C.

Don’t Bug Me, Baby

Tuesday, July 6th, 2021
Crusin' at Proof Social 2021
Crusin’ at Proof Social, l to r, M.A.C., Steve Kundel, Bill Anson, Scott Anson

The gig Saturday, July 3, at Proof Social in Muscatine went very well, especially considering it had been two years since Crusin’s last outing.

This was the first public performance with bass player Scott Anson (our guitar player Bill’s son). Scott filled in for Brian Van Winkle at the last performance – a private function in 2019 – before Covid sidelined us and everybody. He is a terrific bass player and a real asset to the band. Of course, it was bittersweet without Brian, whose premature, unexpected passing remains hard to accept.

We had a number of my fellow classmates of ‘66 Muscatine High School grads who came out for a kind of unofficial 55th reunion. But the performance on the patio outside the club (the same patio where we performed a number of times in past years for the Second Sunday concert series) enjoyed both nice weather and a standing room only crowd reflecting a broad demographic. My old pal from early Crusin’ days, Charlie Koenigsaecker, brought a group down from Iowa City. Charlie ran sound for us for back in the day and is a popular dj with great taste in addition to working at the Iowa City Library.

Another old friend, Doug Kreiger, came up to me and – once we’d kidded each other for a while – thanked me quite sincerely for all the music and stories I’d shared with my hometown (and beyond) over the years. It was a nice moment and an unexpected expression of sentiment.

I do find myself reflecting on all the years of music, knowing that the road ahead is limited in that regard whereas storytelling is less so. The loading in and out – as I mentioned last time – is so onerous that it calls into question whether or not it’s worth the effort. The day after, as I write this, I feel like I was hit by a truck. That was always the case after a band job, for the last three decades anyway, but now it feels like a bigger truck.

Gigs are unpredictable, always, and after a nice evening with weather cooperating, darkness fell and bugs attracted to the lights illuminating the band swarmed us, like Pappy Yokum getting assaulted by hordes of locusts as he tried to protect the turnip crop. These were tiny bugs, unidentifiable but similar to gnats, though they weren’t biting, just turning my keyboards into a gummy, sticky runway and clinging to my exposed flesh the same way. This didn’t happen till the last set, toward the end, and we limped through fifteen minutes of absolute insect invasion…and toward the end the notorious “fish bugs” joined the assault. They tell me fish bugs have only a 34-hour life span, and that’s way too long.

I’ve played in bands since 1965, frequently out of doors, and never had this happen before. And today I spent an hour cleaning the two keyboards of crushed bug carcasses, also a new experience.

Did God send the little devils to tell me I’d been doing this long enough?

* * *

On our recent trip to Minnesota for a family reunion, which centered around the graveside service of Barb’s mom, Barb and I went to a movie in Minneapolis. And I think I may be seriously out of step. I felt the same way this evening when I watched a movie on HBO Max.

In Minneapolis, we went to F9, as it’s being called, and it’s an appropriate title if “F” stands for what it should. I am easy to please with dumb action movies, and have seen every Fast and Furious movie in a theater and had fun. This one is sloppy and stupid, lacking both the Rock and Jason Stratham, but it did mark Barb and me officially getting back in the moviegoing swing – by walking out.

I didn’t walk out on director Steven Soderbergh’s No Sudden Move, with a cast so star-studded Matt Damon didn’t bother with getting a billing. But the only reason I didn’t walk out was because I was home. It’s a mess, incomprehensible and pretentious and frequently shot with distorting lenses that call attention to themselves. The great Don Cheadle spends the running time looking like he wished somebody had shown him the script. But the critics love it, so I am probably wrong.

F9 puts me out of step with the public and No Sudden Move puts me out of step with the critics. I’ve got all the bases covered!

* * *

Here’s a great review of Two for the Money (mostly about Bait Money but also the Nolan series in general).

And here’s a spiffy review of both novels collected in Double Down (Fly Paper and Hush Money).

Finally, here’s another Two for the Money review, generally not bad, but apparently the 22 year-old me in the early ‘70s was supposed to have better attitudes than “cringingly archaic” ones about women’s looks and tough guy prowess. You’d think I’d been writing a paperback crime novel with an early ‘70s mostly male readership in mind.

M.A.C.

You Like Me, You Really Like Me!…Right?

Tuesday, June 8th, 2021
Do No Harm

In the writing game, you never know when – or even if – honors will come your way. I’ve been lucky, and I mark the first big non-Dick Tracy career breakthrough for me as winning the Best Novel “Shamus” from the Private Eye Writers of America for True Detective in 1984. That put me, and Nate Heller, on the map.

A second Heller win (Stolen Away), and numerous Heller nominations over the years, culminated with the PWA honoring the series itself with the Hammer Award for its contribution to the genre. Then, for the last several Heller novels, it’s been quiet…too quiet.

Now, I am thrilled to say, the most current Nathan Heller novel, Do No Harm, has been nominated for the Best Novel “Shamus” by the PWA.

I spent several decades of my writing life supplementing my Heller and other novels with tie-in writing, doing novelizations of movies and original novels of popular TV series, the latter often with Matthew V. Clemens (we’re doing our John Sand series together at Wolfpack currently). One of the frustrations about writing media tie-in novels had always been the lack of respect and attention they got, quite apart from their quality (or for that matter lack of it).

My fellow tie-in writer Lee Goldberg – an actual TV screenwriter in addition to author of novels tied-in with shows where he’d contributed scripts, Monk and Diagnosis: Murder among them – had been thinking about starting an organization like the MWA and PWA for tie-in writers. I was having the same thought at the same time, and both of us had a particular goal of having annual awards, including a grand master award.

We threw in together and founded the International Association of Media and Tie-in Writers in 2006, and created the Scribe Awards for various categories, with the Faust as a grand master award. Faust refers not only to the Faustian bargain tie-in writers agree to with the owners of the properties, but also to Frederick Faust, aka Max Brand, a prolific writer whose creations included Destry (of Destry Rides Again fame) and Dr. Kildare (for which he wrote his own novelizations).

Lee and I stepped down from leadership a few years ago, but the organization – now led by multiple Bram Stoker Award-winning suspense author Jonathan Maberry – is still going strong.

On the heels of the Shamus nomination, I received a second, rather overwhelming honor from the IAMTW, and have been chosen this year’s Faust winner – my third lifetime achievement award (preceded by the Eye from the PWA and the Grand Master Edgar from MWA), which is either an incredible honor bestowed upon me by my peers, or an indication that they think I’ve lived long enough.

Maybe both.

At any rate, I am shocked and pleased by this honor. The previous Faust winners include some of the best writers in the business (not just the tie-in business). I was further honored by a Best Novel “Scribe” nomination for the newest Mike Hammer, Masquerade for Murder.

All of these honors are wonderful, but the greatest honor of all is being married to Barbara Collins for 53 years. We’ve been together 55 – starting to go together at Muscatine Community College in 1966 – and getting married on June 1, 1968.

For our most ambitious post-lockdown day trip, Barb and I went to a favorite spot of ours, Galena, Illinois, to celebrate our anniversary. The accompanying picture is of us at Vinny Vanucchi’s, our favorite Galena restaurant. We shopped and just enjoyed a lovely day, but also stopped by the police department to see Chief Lori Huntington.

Lori is retiring after nine years in that position, and almost thirty years in Galena law enforcement. She was my consultant on both The Girl Most Likely and The Girl Can’t Help It. I could lie and say she was the inspiration for Chief Krista Larson in those novels, but I had conceived of that character before discovering that Galena indeed had a female chief of police.

But knowing Lori, and talking to her at length over the writing of the two novels, meant she had a huge impact on how the character was shaped, as well as keeping me honest about law enforcement in her little town – a tourist center that can see a million visitors, easily, in a year. She has generously agreed to let me stay in touch should I get around to writing a third Krista and Keith Larson novel, which I hope to do.

* * *

Barb and I finally finished listening to – thanks to the Galena drive – the audio book of Do No Harm. What a terrific job Dan John Miller did! He especially nails famous defense lawyer F. Lee Bailey (who passed away recently).

You may recall my continued praise for one of my favorite movies, Anatomy of a Murder. There’s a terrific write-up about the film at AV Club here.

Kristen Lopez has a wonderful podcast called Ticklish Business on which I guested. We discussed the 1964 version of The Killers. I think you’ll enjoy this. Kristen and her equally young female cohorts Drea Clark and Samantha Ellis talk pop culture in a way that gives me hope for the future (there’s an emphasis on classic film).

Here’s a wonderfully insightful review of the paperback of Mike Hammer in Kiss Her Goodbye (with my original uncensored ending)

A “great Tom Hanks gangster movie just hit Netflix” – wonder what it is?

Here’s a terrific review of Two for the Money, the HCC two-fer of Bait Money and Blood Money.

M.A.C.

Back to the Basement

Tuesday, June 1st, 2021

After fourteen months, my band Crusin’ had its first two post-lockdown rehearsals. The accompanying photo illustrating the current line-up was, appropriately, shot in my garage (though we practice in the nearby basement among thousands of books and DVDs).

Crusin' 2021 garage photo
CRUSIN’ 2021, left to right: Collins, Scott Anson, Steve Kundel, Bill Anson

We have three gigs lined up for our “season,” the first being July 4 at the Missipi Brew in the evening leading up to the fireworks. I’ll post the other dates here soon. And another gig or two may come through – we’ll see.

It was great being back with the guys – bittersweet, of course, after the passing of Brian Van Winkle, our longtime bass player. Our guitarist Bill Anson’s son Scott is our new bassist, but not all that new – Brian had stepped away from the band before our last pre-Covid gig, and Scott had been running sound and helping us load in and out for a couple of years. This is the first time we’ve had a father and son in the band, although drummer DeWayne Hopkins (who went on to be mayor of Muscatine) was followed in that role by his son, Jamie.

Both rehearsals went well, although all of us were rusty to a degree – not so much where playing was concerned, but in remembering chords and lyrics and the structure of arrangements. We had spent a lot of time in 2019 working on originals for one last CD, and were playing them on the job, but for now we’re tabling them. Without a CD to promote and sell, playing the originals seemed wrong somehow – we’re a classic rock band (a ‘60s/’70s/’80s variety) and audiences are not there to hear our originals.

We will still do a handful of our own songs this season, but next year we hope to be out there with a CD of original material, and possibly include the original songs from my movie Real Time: Siege at Lucas Street Market, which feature my late, longtime musical accomplice Paul Thomas on guitar, vocals, producing and songwriting.

In addition to being rusty, I admit to having some problems with my hands, specifically arthritis in my thumbs, which hasn’t impacted my typing (yet) but which did slow me down at the organ keyboard…my brain kept asking my fingers to do things to which my fingers replied, “Are you effing kidding?”

This leads me to suspect that next year – assuming I’m here and so is everyone else in the band (uh, I’m no longer the oldest person in Crusin’) – will be our farewell mini-tour with a CD the jewel (or jewel case, anyway).

Funny thing. I did not personally rehearse at all during those fourteen months. I have a Roland keyboard in my office and I occasionally played it, usually when I was watching a laserdisc of some vintage rock group (New Wave the newest) and wanted to see if I could figure out (or remember) the chords. But I stayed out of the band room in the basement, other than to retrieve a DVD. I had something akin to a mental block about it and I can’t explain why.

That Roland keyboard in my office I had ordered when I was recovering from my heart surgery with my right hand essentially useless after the operating-table stroke I suffered. That keyboard, in addition to Physical Therapy exercises and such, was my savior. Very early in the recovery process I realized I had enough minimal strength in my right hand and fingers to type on a computer keyboard, which can tolerate a very light touch. Hardest thing about that was my usual hammering-away left hand needed to cool it some to have both hands work effectively in tandem.

But it was playing the Roland keyboard that largely got the use of my hand back – muscle memory, I guess. But we had it set on the dining room table like an oddly-shaped meal and I would play it several half hours a day, just doing improv things, like the “Light My Fire” and “Evil Ways” leads.

As for why I didn’t rehearse during those fourteen months, I can’t explain it. I often thought about going downstairs to practice, but I never did. I do know that I have never been one to “jam” – I like the structure of playing a song. My late uncle Mahlon Collins was a terrific trombone player who in his retirement years lived in Los Angeles and played in some big bands out there with top players…people who backed Sinatra-type top players (also with Chris Christensen of Seduction of the Innocent!). And Uncle Mahlon said he was the same way. He admired the soloists but he read charts. He liked structure. Songs.

I’m not exactly that way, because my ability to read music is limited and mostly I know chords – an organ player, not a pianist. And I do solos all the time – a Hammond B-3-style organ is great for improv and for more structured solos, too. If anyone cares, my favorite keyboard players are Rod Argent, Mark Stein and Alan Price. (I play a Nord that works well as a B-3 clone and the new version of the VOX Continental, for combo sounds.)

But just playing to play – again, getting together to jam – is not my…jam. I don’t write songs unless there’s a project – an indie movie of mine that needs songs, a CD we’re doing, even the time my father asked me to write a song for him to dance with my mother at their 50th wedding anniversary (it was called “Patricia,” which was her name, and was a pretty good tune). I wrote a Christmas song for a concert my dad was doing with his men’s chorus one year.

However…without a reason, an assignment, I would never sit down and write a song just for the hell of it, the way real musicians do. My guitar player Bill Anson writes songs all the time and he worked diligently in his home studio rehearsing Crusin’ (and other) material all through those fourteen months. I haven’t written any songs since I wrote my half dozen or so for the CD (the rest will be by Bill, except for one we wrote together, called “Crusin’” for some reason, which we performed at the 2018 induction concert for the Iowa Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame).

I will say that – other than my arthritic thumbs protesting – I had no problem after fourteen months picking up where we left off. I always say – where my keyboard playing is concerned – I never knew enough to forget much.

* * *

Our first two-part Book Giveaway went very well – Barb and I sent out two boxes of books on Saturday. A few people got two books as we had some Antiques Fire Sale paperbacks left over.

We will probably have another giveaway next week.

I’m not trying to smother you people in pulp, it’s just that I have no control over publication dates. When a book comes out, I do a giveaway. Which means there may be several in the same month or two, or six months or more may pass between ‘em.

But I thank all of you who participate in these giveaways and we’re grateful for your reviews.

* * *

For some reason this video, in support of Scarface and the Untouchable by Brad Schwartz and me, has resurfaced. It’s on Fox Nation. [Photosensitivity warning: flashing lights]

Here is a swell review of Two for the Money, the Hard Case Crime combo of the first two Nolan novels, Bait Money and Blood Money.

And finally here is a fantastic review of Shoot-out at Sugar Creek from Bookgasm and Alan Cranis.

M.A.C.