Posts Tagged ‘Daybreakers’

Santa Thought I Was Special

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2020

This great new edition of Blue Christmas is out now! Look at this wonderful Wolfpack cover!

Blue Christmas Cover
E-Book: Amazon Purchase Link
Trade Paperback: Indiebound Purchase Link Bookshop Purchase Link Amazon Purchase Link Books-A-Million Purchase Link Barnes & Noble Purchase Link
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As I write this, Christmas is five days away, although we always celebrated – and still do, largely – on Christmas Eve.

My father, Max A. Collins, Sr., was a talented man. He was for about a decade probably the most celebrated instructor of high school choral music in the state of Iowa. His students won every prize imaginable, and he put on the first high school musicals in the country of Oklahoma and Carousel, getting state-wide press. He also put on a musical written by Keith Larson, an early writing mentor of mine whose name I’ve given to one of the two main characters in the Krista and Keith Larson series (The Girl Most Likely and The Girl Can’t Help It). Dad left teaching to improve life for his family with a much bigger paycheck as the personnel man at HON Industries (later Human Resources Director).

More important to him, I venture to say, was the male chorus he directed for fifty years, the Muscatine Elks Chanters. In the 1950s, his group competed in the national championship for Elks male choruses. They competed against New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and choruses from every major city you can imagine. They won three years in a row, in fact, and were named permanent national champions with the contest shut down when nobody wanted to compete against them – “They’re ringers!” “He must be using professionals!” No, it was just men from the community, all walks of life (as they say), blue collar workers, doctors, lawyers, businessmen, and druggists, and whoever he had in his chorus, it always sounded the same. He could produce a unique sound from any chorus. He and the Chanters were once featured on the national TV show, People Are Funny (the funny thing they did was wear Bermuda shorts while performing) (hey, it was the ‘50s).

Perhaps I should mention that, right out of college, Dad turned down the opportunity to go professional with an opera company and instead took that teaching job in Iowa where he and my mother raised me. By the way, my late uncle Mahlon was the premiere high-school band director in Iowa in the ‘50s. The Collins brothers were legendary in those circles.

Dad served in the Pacific and his experiences were the basis of my book USS Powderkeg (I added the murders).

My mother was a housewife, as we described it then (and as I suppose Donald Trump still does). She was very active in charities, worked with Dad on the Chanters, and played a whole lot of bridge. She was also about the most attentive mother an only child ever had.

My best childhood memories are of the ‘50s. That was when my mom read to me at night, starting with (God love her) Tarzan. She introduced me to Dick Tracy comic books when I was six. What a gal! She took me to countless movies. She is definitely where I got my love for film and books.

My father was unusual in that he went to college on a split scholarship – music and sports. At Simpson College, he sang, played trumpet, played baseball and basketball and football. For years he was disappointed in me because I did not share his interest in sports. So I got involved in football in junior high. I had a growth spurt and, along with the face mask I wore to protect my glasses, that allowed me to take revenge upon many of the boys who had picked on me when I was a scrawny bookworm with specs. Anyway, I did well enough in high school to get a few football scholarship offers – I knew enough not to take them, because I knew how hard they hit in college – but that bonded Dad and me better.

Both my parents were incredibly supportive of my writing, and of my rock bands. The Daybreakers rehearsed in my parents’ basement for probably three years past my leaving home to marry Barb.

In high school, when all of my friends had summer jobs sacking groceries or pumping gas or building silos, I was told I could stay home and pursue my efforts to become a writer, if I treated it as a job, and worked at it every day. They believed in me. They even kept my allowance ($6.50) going in those summer months, including the $1.50 meal ticket money I was no longer giving Muscatine High School for the privilege of serving me mystery meat, supposed potatoes, and inedible vegetables.

The Collins family playing piano with a small Christmas tree in the background

But this is about Christmas, or anyway starting now it is. I was always informed by me parents that I was spoiled. I accepted this as fact until I grew older and realized that I wasn’t spoiled at all, but I’d had their love and support, which is better. When I was in grade school getting a ten-cent a week allowance (enough for a comic book till they went to twelve-cents), I didn’t feel spoiled. I didn’t in junior high either, when they raised my stipend to a buck (fifty cents of which was meal ticket).

Granted, my Christmases were special, even more special than most kids. For one thing, in a move that no doubt has given me undeserved confidence over my life, they hired a local Santa Claus to come by the house on Christmas Eve with his bag of gifts to see me personally. I was pledged not to tell any other kids that I was getting this special treatment – they might feel bad.

As a kid, I got gifts running to books and a few toys. No model trains, which was fine, because my friend Tom Hufford had a huge Lionel layout if I was ever in the mood, which frankly I rarely was. Once I became a Dick Tracy fanatic I got a lot of Tracy stuff, including several squad cars, and I scored a Robbie the Robot toy that I would love to have today. Also one of those stuffed monkeys with the red butt. The rest is a blur, although I remember my dad spending hours putting together a metal fort that cut him up like a gang fight.

Okay, here’s the thing about Santa coming early. Turns out I wasn’t that special. My father, in addition to teaching and later being an office-furniture executive, directed the church choir – Baptist, then Methodist (it was a paying gig). He had to be part of the midnight service, which I believe started at 11 p.m. (just another of the mysteries of world religion). We always had Christmas with both sets of grandparents – usually my dad’s folks first in Grand Junction, Iowa, and a couple days later a late Christmas with my mom’s folks in Indianola, Iowa.

The gifts from grandparents were so unmemorable I don’t remember any one of them, although my Grandpa Ray always gave me (not just on Christmas) two dollars, which was a fortune. It was also another indication that I was special, because my cousins Kris and Kathy only got a buck a piece (I was sworn to secrecy even as I was starting to learn life was unfair).

Anyway, I figured out – probably twenty years later – that Santa came on the 24th because we were traveling on the 25th. Getting my toys Christmas Eve actually was cruel and unusual punishment, because I was never allowed to bring any of them along.

But things changed in junior high and high school. Dad didn’t have a long Christmas break (as he’d had as a high school teacher) so the trips to the grandparents over the holidays were less frequent.

I got a lot of cool stuff, including a generic gun belt with a cap pistol (the Fanner 50 by Matel was out of reach, too expensive). One year I got This Is Darin, the new Bobby Darin LP – I still have it. Mom made sure I always got a box of cherry chocolates. The big prize was a typewriter, the best present they ever gave me. It was a very expensive gift for one thing, but mainly it said they believed in me. That they thought I really was a budding writer, from the very beginning.

If you’re going to “spoil” a kid, that’s not a bad way to do it.

Max Allan Collins Jr., Age 4-and-a-half, seated in a rocking chair and reading a book titled
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I am pleased to say Borg.com has named Masquerade for Murder one of the best books of the year – specifically Best Retro Read. Skip down and read all about it.

Here’s some Davenport history about the Col Ballroom where the Daybreakers and I get a nice mention. I feature the Col (now unfortunately closed) in The Girl Can’t Help It.

Road to Perdition (the film) gets some love here.

Indiewire thinks Nate Heller deserves to be on TV – you know, so do I!

The great J. Kingston Pierce pays tribute to my late friend Parnell Hall, thusly:

“Another loss for mystery fiction: Parnell Hall, a California-born former private detective and actor turned novelist, passed away on December 15 at age 76. He was best known for penning separate series about an ambulance-chasing New York City private investigator Stanley Hastings (Detective, A Fool for a Client) and ‘Puzzle Lady’ Cora Felton (Lights! Cameras! Puzzles!). In her obituary, Janet Rudolph remembers Hall as a “funny, supportive, musical, generous, and all around good guy. … Everyone loved him.” His most recent novel, Chasing Jack, was released by Brash Books in September. The Gumshoe Site says Hall died of COVID-19.”

I knew Parnell mostly through Bouchercons, but he was one of the sweetest, funniest and flat-out nicest writers I was ever lucky enough to meet. We played a lot of cards together, losing fairly consistently to others. Parnell was also a hell of a writer; and a gifted musician. He appears in my documentary Mike Hammer’s Mickey Spillane. As the Mick would say, Goodbye, buddy.

M.A.C.

Once Upon a Time in Muscatine

Tuesday, August 6th, 2019

If you’d like to pick up any of the Nathan Heller novels that Thomas & Mercer has reprinted (that’s everything but the more recent Forge-published novels including the upcoming Do No Harm), you can do so this month for a mere 99 cents per. Right here. Step right up!

If you’ve read and liked Girl Most Likely, please post an Amazon review, however brief. We’ve drifted just below a solid four stars and could use input from readers who dug it to push us back up. If you haven’t read it yet, what are you waiting for?

I have been having difficulty with responding to your comments here. Readers seem to be able to post, but recent responses I’ve made to questions have not made it through the process. I responded three times to this thoughtful post from Mike Pasqua:

Sorry that we didn’t have a chance to connect. Two things: I am pretty sure that, without Miguel, Bill probably would be reluctant to do a one-off SOTI show (I know that Miggie missed shows in the past because he was working but this is different). Second, while no one person is indispensable, the loss of Bat Lash was a terrible blow to Jackie and losing John Rogers was a major body-blow to the Con. Yes, they did their usual great job because they are consummate professionals but John’s loss cast a pall on the event. Rest assured Robin Donlan is more than capable of taking over the reins but people were operating on fumes this year. I know that this was nowhere near the celebration that I expected it to be but it’s hard to be upbeat when there was such a void (I spent time with John’s wife and I know that this was beyond painful for her). Just my two cents.

I’ll respond to Mike right now, and hope what I have to say will be generally interesting to readers of these updates.

Seduction of the Innocent’s surviving four members have discussed the notion of performing again, one last time, obviously without Miguel but in his honor. Bill Mumy was part of that discussion. Now, he might change his mind, but the reality is we were not asked to appear for the 50th San Diego Con, which would have been an ideal place to do a final show, possibly post-Eisner Awards. Our thinking was that we’d probably do a single, if rather long, set. We appeared at DragonCon without Miguel, when his movie work precluded his attendance, so there is (as Mike indicates) a precedence for SOTI playing as a four-piece.

Saturday morning quarterbacking is the easiest thing in the world to do, and I have nothing but respect and appreciation for those who put this juggernaut of a con on. Mike is an old friend and he is a veteran of helping mount this difficult, challenging show. My criticisms of the con are mostly confined to the increasingly dangerous exhibition hall floor, where the problems of crowds were exacerbated by exhibitors who created a frenzy with artificially contrived limited editions that fed lines in main aisles, which in turn sparked belligerent behavior on the exhibitor’s staffs and on convention security. SDCC stands on the precipice of a major, even tragic disaster if these practices are not curtailed.

My other complaints are more personal – that my collecting interests are not as well-served by the show now, and that my age (and the aftermath of health problems) make it difficult for me to navigate a room with 150,000 people in it, all seeking their own pop culture nirvana.

Here’s another comment I wasn’t able to respond to (Nate is working on it), this from Brendan:

It’s wonderful to hear more about your Ms. Tree collections. I managed to track down a large number of original issues several years ago, but some of them were in a pretty sorry state, so it will be great to own fresh copies of the stories.

And a Johnny Dynamite collection is coming out, too?! I can’t wait! Are you and Terry connected to that reprint? I’ve heard you two share the copyright on the character, but was never sure if that was true.

Yes, a Johnny Dynamite collection is coming out from Craig Yoe, gathering all of the Pete Morisi-drawn stories with a bonus Ms. Tree story (one of the few things not collected in the forthcoming five-volume Titan series). I am doing an intro but haven’t written it yet. We do control the copyright.

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Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is probably director/writer Quentin Tarantino’s best film – certainly it’s my favorite movie of his.

I came slow to Tarantino. I did not care for – and am still not a fan of – Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, True Romance and both Kill Bills. With the exception of the Elmore Leonard-based Jackie Brown, his films seemed to me undisciplined show-offy affairs, and painfully reflective of the motormouth, know-it-all video clerk from the ashes of which director Tarantino emerged.

But starting with Inglorious Basterds, Tarantino began to better organize his narratives, making them less self-indulgent without losing his fannish enthusiasm and love of the outrageous. His characters no longer all sounded the same, spewing glib Tarantino speak; rather, they had specificity and even depth. Django and The Hateful Eight were among my favorite films of their respective years, and I am now – however improbably – a fan.

Like Yesterday, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood will work best on a certain kind of Baby Boomer audience member (some will be put off by its bold storytelling and climactic violence). Tarantino lovingly, almost fetishistically, recreates the late ‘60s in Los Angeles, both the era and its artifacts. For those of us who lived through those years, it’s a time machine ride that will plaster a smile on faces despite the lingering presence of the Manson family on this oddly innocent world’s periphery.

I won’t talk much about the plot – frankly, there isn’t much of one, although for something so slight, the payoff is major. And this is a film that needs to be seen cold – avoid spoilers at all costs.

But the incidental joys are endless – replications of ‘50s and ‘60s westerns (and their differences); clips from films and TV shows into which the stars of this film are believably inserted (and, in one case, movingly not inserted); marquees and movie posters of exactly the right releases; products and places and things that now exist only in memory, brought back to life.

The film is not without controversy. Tarantino has not made friends with the far left by hiring some actors who have been tarnished by #Metoo, and his protagonists are obviously white males, one of whom (Brad Pitt) is overtly if quietly macho. An interesting and thought-provoking aspect of the narrative is the possibility that the Pitt character killed his wife – something neither confirmed nor denied – which has generated career-crippling rumors for the stunt man character. Somewhere in there is a commentary about the post-Weinstein criticism Tarantino has been getting, and knew he would inflame, but we are left to sort it out for ourselves.

On the other hand, Sharon Tate as portrayed by Margot Robbie, is a sweet, sympathetic portrait that shows the director as anything but misogynistic. This is in keeping with Tarantino’s improved ability to create characters for his little playlet-like scenes that aren’t just fragments of himself. Particularly winning is a surprisingly touching yet unsentimental scene between DeCaprio’s fading TV star and a female child star.

DeCaprio and Pitt give unflinching performances as “heroes” who are hugely flawed. What you ultimately have in Once Upon a Time is a loving critique of Hollywood and that specific late ‘60s era, at once a valentine and a reality check. Oh, and if you are avoiding this because of the Manson aspect, don’t. Their presence is unsettling but not a deal-breaker.

For me, the film had some interesting resonances. I was working on the script for in 1993 and ‘94 in Hollywood – not living there, but making numerous trips – and the world of this film was close to what I witnessed. Growing up in Muscatine, Iowa – and staying here for my whole life (so far) – it often strikes me as odd, how many brushes and near brushes with Hollywood I’ve had.

For example, Bruce Lee is depicted in the Tarantino film, and his son Brandon was my friend – and a huge Quarry fan. I once got a telephone call from him (while Barb and I were living in our downtown Muscatine apartment over a beauty shop, our rent $100 a month) to tell me how much he loved the Quarry novels. By the way, Damon Herriman plays Charles Mansion in Once Upon a Time – he played the Boyd character (renamed “Buddy”) in the Quarry TV series. I spent time with him on set – he’s a delightful guy…Australian, by the way.

Also, right now I’m reading Funny Man, a warts-and-all bio of Mel Brooks, and discover Jose Ferrer was a pal who Brooks often ran his stuff by, because he found Ferrer a good judge of what’s funny. Of course, Jose was Miguel’s father. I once spoke to Jose Ferrer on the phone about his love for mystery fiction, and he was so impressed that I was close to Mickey Spillane.

Yet here I am in Muscatine.

Right now I’m glad to be, because Nate and Abby and Sam and Lucy (son/daughter-in-law/grandson/granddaughter) have moved here and are just up the street from us now. Guess who went to a 3 pm matinee of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood with me?

Nathan Collins.

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Ron Fortier has done a wonderful review of Murder, My Love. Check it out!

A detailed entry on my band, The Daybreakers, is on Wikipedia. I had nothing to do with it, which makes it special to me. Pretty good. Check it out, too.

Finally, here’s a short but sweet review of The Wrong Quarry, my favorite of the list books (Brandon would have loved it), on Sons of Spade.

M.A.C.

Antiques on Audio

Tuesday, May 30th, 2017

Our previous update was largely about audio versions of M.A.C. titles, particularly how great a job Dan John Miller does on Nate Heller and will soon be doing for Mike Hammer, now that Stacy Keach has stepped down.

Last year, for the first time, one of our Trash ‘n’ Treasures mysteries under the joint “Barbara Allan” byline was released on audio – Antiques Fate. It was a professional job, and Barb and I were happy to have it out there, but we felt our protagonists – Brandy and Vivian Borne – needed to be more distinctly different in performance. We also felt the audio had given our book a typical cheery cozy mystery feel, whereas the Antiques books are rather subversive send-ups of the genre, with Brandy a put-upon, wry narrator, and Vivian an off-the-wall local theatrical diva. We made our feelings known, and the publisher responded by assigning the very talented, skillful Amy McFadden to the just-released-on-audio, Antiques Frame.

Amy McFadden
Amy McFadden

We are about half-way through the audio, and are delighted with what Amy is doing. She has captured both our main characters, and their narrative voices (we have first-person narration from both Brandy and Mother) beautifully. As her web site notes, “Amy McFadden has narrated over 250 titles in many different genres with a focus on Comedic Fiction, Romance, and not-super-violent Thrillers. She is an Earphones Award winner, and a four-time Audie Award finalist in Humor, Mystery/Thriller and Literary Fiction.”

Read more about her here.

Speaking of the Antiques series, we recently completed Antiques Wanted. I interrupted work on the Eliot Ness/Al Capone joint bio to work on it, when Barb delivered me her rough draft. I also have been working on a Spillane book for next year’s centenary of his birth, completing an early ‘50s novella, A Bullet for Satisfaction, and editing his last solo novel, The Last Stand, for joint publication by Hard Case Crime. Should be a very special book – Mickey finished The Last Stand a few weeks before he passed.

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Gregg Allman died at home last week at age 69.

I admit to not being an enthusiast of Southern Rock, but Allman’s talent is inescapable. I did not know him, but we intersect in an interesting way.

In 1967, as some of you know, my band the Daybreakers went to Nashville to record. My father had been a high school music teacher and one of his students became a successful country western artist – Jack Barlow. Barlow’s producer was Buddy Killen, the top music publisher in Nashville – his Tree Music was where Ms. Tree’s name came from, by the way. Killen, a very nice, sophisticated man, was also a major Nashville producer. He agreed, as a favor to Barlow, to record and produce a session with the Daybreakers. We figured we’d go home with something professional to release locally.

Killen had some top country artists on his roster, including Barlow. But he also had a major r & b artist, Joe Tex, who was released by Atlantic’s subsidiary, Dial. The Atlantic execs had told Killen he needed to round out his roster with a rock act, so he was on the lookout. After our session, he signed us to five-year contracts and, in early ‘68, “Psychedelic Siren” was released. It became a regional hit, and has since become oddly famous, covered any number of times by other groups, and included on various compilations of Sixties garage band rock. To some, it is my major claim to fame.

But back in 1967, times changed in a short time span, with our Paul Revere & the Raiders/Turtles approach dating almost immediately – we heard “Purple Haze” and “Light My Fire” on the radio, driving back to Iowa, and exchanged a collective, “Uh oh.” We learned those two songs at our next practice.

Where does Gregg Allman come in?

Well, Killen signed one other rock act – a group called, at the time, the Allman Joys.

“They were really way ahead of their times, I realize now,” Killen said, talking about the Allman Brothers, not the Daybreakers.

Our one Dial single was DIAL #45-4066. The Allman Joys’ “Spoonful” was DIAL #45-4046. A recent E-bay auction brought $89 for the Allman Joys single. But “Psychedelic Siren” went for $199.99.

Either way, Killen dropped us both.

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Here’s a nice article on why the Road to Perdition film is an overlooked masterpiece (they left out that I created the story, though).

M.A.C.

What, Me Retro?

Tuesday, November 24th, 2015

I was watching the pilot of the Cinemax QUARRY with my wife, son and daughter-in-law (don’t tell HBO), and Barb turned to me when the character the Broker first entered and nudged me and smiled and said: “You did that.”

Well, I did, but a long, long time ago. About 43 years. At the Writers Workshop in Iowa City, where the instructor didn’t like the opening chapters I’d written very much, and most of the class wasn’t wild about it either.

At 67, I suddenly find myself aware of how very long I’ve been doing this, and am gratified that suddenly a lot of what I’d thought to be ephemeral works of mine are turning back up in print, and getting on the radar of a new generation or two of readers. Some of what I’ve written has almost by definition been ephemeral – specifically the movie novelizations and TV tie-in’s – though SAVING PRIVATE RYAN remains in print and a publisher is seeking permission from DreamWorks to do a hardcover edition.

But almost everything else with my byline is available again or soon will be, much of it from Thomas & Mercer, but also such boutique publishers as Perfect Crime, Speaking Volumes and Brash Books.

For these weekly updates, I routinely do a Google search to see what reviews and such have popped up on the Net, for me to provide links here. More and more I am surprised to find write-ups about older books of mine. It’s almost jarring, because often the reviewers are more familiar with the work than I now am.

Of course, the new Hard Case Crime editions of the first five Quarry novels have sparked interest, and in particular QUARRY (the first novel) has received some gratifying attention. Here’s one such write-up.

And here’s another.

And one more.

Fairly regularly, somebody comes along and praises either the entire “Disaster Series” or singles out one of the books in particular, like this piece that focuses on THE LUSITANIA MURDERS.

So many of these reviews of older work of mine just seem to appear out of the blue, like this look at the Eliot Ness novel BULLET PROOF.

But nothing could prepare me for this article specifically focusing on the musical side of my years on the planet, discussing both the Daybreakers and Crusin’.

Here, dealing with a somewhat more recent novel, is a nice review of the Jack and Maggie Starr mystery, STRIP FOR MURDER.

Coming full circle, the just published FATE OF THE UNION is pulling in some nice reviews, like this lovely one from Bill Crider, a writer I much admire.

Finally, my pal Ed Gorman brought in Ben Boulden of Gravetapping to review FATE OF THE UNION on Ed’s terrific blog, also a positive review.

M.A.C.