Posts Tagged ‘Interviews’

Wolfpack Giveaway #2 – Untouchable Cats

Tuesday, October 13th, 2020

I am in the middle of the third of the three novellas I’m doing about a brand-new character (stay tuned) for Neo-Text. So I will try to distract you for the lack of a real blog entry this week with the second Wolfpack book giveaway.

Too Many Tomcats Wolfpack Edition

I have four trade-paperback copies of Too Many Tomcats, my wife Barb’s terrific collection of tales about evil, dead and stuffed felines. I co-authored a couple and wrote the intro. If you are a hold-out among my readers who has avoided reading Barb’s work and/or our collaborative work, now is your chance to finally get wise.

Barb’s short stories are in the vein of the old Alfred Hitchcock Presents TV show and Roald Dahl, and she’s been compared to both (and not just by me!).

In addition, I have two copies each of the four Eliot Ness trade paperbacks – The Dark City, Butcher’s Dozen, Bullet Proof, and Murder by the Numbers.

[All copies have been claimed. Thank you for your support! — Nate]

This is for USA only – mailing overseas and even to just Canada was expensive before the Pandemic.

Here’s the important part – this isn’t really about free books. It’s about getting reviews on Amazon and/or at your own review site, if you have one. Most of you participating in these book giveaways have been good about doing those reviews. But please hold up your end of the bargain.

Eliot Ness Saga, Wolfpack Edition
* * *

Here is a video interview wherein my pal Andrew Sumner talks to me about Ms. Tree, and specifically about the soon-to-be-published second Ms. Tree collection, Skeleton in the Closet.

And here is the appearance (via Zoom) by my co-author A. Brad Schwartz and I at the Mob Museum in Las Vegas in support of Eliot Ness and the Mad Butcher. Includes a power point presentation! Excited?

Finally, here is a nice look at Road to Perdition as Tom Hanks’ most under-rated movie.

M.A.C.

Wolfs and Cats, Living Together, Sunday Fun, and a 5-Day Script

Tuesday, October 6th, 2020
Too Many Tomcats, Wolfpack Cover
Ebook: Amazon Purchase Link

All of the copies in last week’s book giveaway of Murderlized and Murder – His and Hers have been shipped. I unexpectedly received more copies of Murderlized that allowed me to send ten copies out, not just five.

Now we have another Wolfpack release, thus far only available on Kindle, but a physical book will be along soon. It’s Barb’s Too Many Tomcats, an anthology of her stories for the various Cat Crimes collections; I wrote the intro and co-wrote a couple of stories.

Do not be dissuaded by the title and subject – these are dark tales, very much in the Roald Dahl/Alfred Hitchcock Presents vein. While Barb does not (exactly) dislike cats, she is fact allergic to them. The cats in these stories, among other things, tend to be evil, murder victims, and/or dead. It’s a wonderful collection, reflecting many of the tales having been chosen for the Year’s 25 Finest Crime and Mystery Stories anthologies edited by Ed Gorman and Martin H. Greenberg, two great men both sadly gone.

* * *

I am pleased to announce that the project that SCTV’s Dave Thomas and I are in the process of writing has found a home.

Much more about that later.

* * *

For those of you not sick to death of me (which does not include my wife) (or myself for that matter), I did a ZOOM interview with S-F/Fantasy & Mystery author Russ Colchamiro. Russ is a fine, fun interviewer and we talked about things that haven’t made it into my zillion other interviews.

Russ is one of the Crazy 8 Press group of genre writers, which includes (among other excellent scribes) my old pals Peter David, Glenn Hauman, Robert Greenberger and Paul Kupperberg.

Check out the talk between Russ and me right here:

* * *

Although this update/blog appears on Tuesday morning, I often write them the Sunday night before. That’s the case this week.

You may recall I’ve written about a handful of very carefully orchestrated outings that Barb and I have undertaken (an unfortunate word in a pandemic), getting carry out meals to eat in the car or at a park, and slipping into a bookstore or some other retails outlet at an off-time when few if any other customers can be spied. And, of course, only stores where you have to wear a mask to enter, even if you aren’t robbing the joint.

Doesn’t sound like a lot of fun, but the three times we’ve gone out on such outings have been lovely – it felt like the old days, way-way-way back in February of this year, when only our president and Bob Woodward knew the truth about Covad-19.

We had our day planned – another Quad Cities trip. We would again go Portillo’s, a wonderful drive-in restaurant, and then Barb would slip into the Van Maur department store at North Park Mall in Davenport while I would do the same at the Barnes & Noble, for perhaps half an hour. We timed it to arrive at Portillo’s around 10:45 a.m. and the mall at 11:30 (when it opened). We planned it with a precision that Nolan and Jon (if you’re reading this you really should know who that is) would envy.

Then we got up this morning and read the Quad City Times Sunday edition. It told of the 500 cases of Covid logged in the QC’s this week, mostly Iowa side of the river. It also mentioned that Iowa is number four among Covid hot spots in the nation.

And we stayed home.

And you know what? It wasn’t bad. We spent some time together in the morning (none of your business), I got us breakfast at Hardee’s (Mickey Spillane ate their biscuits every day), prepared the living room for carpet cleaning early this coming week (I will be upstairs and the cleaners will be downstairs) (in masks), and I finished up cleaning my office to prepare for beginning a new project tomorrow. Barb and I spent the evening watching three episodes of the British crime show New Tricks, which we have been bingeing. We ate hot dogs that were damn near Portillo’s-worthy.

Of course we also had to watch the president of the United States take a motorcade to nowhere to wave at his fans. Your tax dollars at work.

No, I’m not going to get political, because I have too many friends and business associates who are not just Republicans but support the president. Their privilege, and I don’t want to alienate any of my readers, either.

But just between us, the inside of my head is exploding, twenty-four hours a day.

* * *

I had a wild week, reminiscent of my pre-heart surgery younger days. With another deadline looming, I nonetheless agreed to write a first-draft screenplay for a movie based on “A Bullet for Satisfaction,” a non-Mike Hammer crime novella written by Mickey Spillane and yours truly. (It appeared as a sort of short subject before the main attraction in The Last Stand, the 100th anniversary Spillane novel.)

Basically I had to turn out twenty pages of finished script a day (“first draft” merely means the first version of a script, not something loose or sloppy or haphazard). The novella is a gloriously crazed collection of noir tropes, which attracted an established, Hard Case Crime-loving indie filmmaker to the material. My job was to assemble a bunch of short, fun, off-the-wall scenes into a more coherent whole, combining them, and making them play believably, mining a plot out of the mineral content, without losing what attracted the filmmaker in the first place.

I had a wonderful time. I just loved doing it.

Will it go anywhere? You never know. We have not signed a deal yet, but I had a window in which to work, so I grabbed it – if the project falls through, I’ll wind up with a screenplay, so no harm, no foul. If it goes forward, I am not carrying the ball – I am not the director, who will be doing a second draft from my first. Doesn’t bother me – he’s the director, and it’s his movie. Having talked to him at length, I liked what I heard, and we seem to be on the same page.

But this is the movies, and you never know. My version of The Last Lullaby – my script was faithfully novelized by me into The Last Quarry – was used by a young director to raise the money. I was the Road to Perdition guy, remember? Then a producer came aboard with his own writer and my screenplay was rewritten by someone I’ve never met. After that, I was able to do a polish, but I still wish my initial version had been shot.

On the other hand, despite certain problems with it, The Last Lullaby is still a damn good crime movie and probably a more accurate rendition of Quarry than the Cinemax series (though technically the main character is not Quarry – he’s “Price,” a name I think was appropriate).

Anyway, it’s the movies. I love the damn things, and I love my excursions into screenwriting.

But there’s a reason why you write novels.

They are yours.

* * *

A reminder that this coming Thursday, Oct. 8, 2020, A. Brad Schwartz and I will be appearing via ZOOM at the Mob Museum in Las Vegas to talk about Eliot Ness and the Mad Butcher. You don’t have to go to Vegas to participate, either.

And here’s a great review of the paperback edition of The Big Bang, only the second of the Spillane/Collins collaborative Mike Hammer novels.

M.A.C.

The Mail, A New Book, Sex Island, and Bang-Zoom!

Tuesday, August 18th, 2020

Before I get into more edifying topics – “edifying” in the case of these updates being a euphemism for “self-serving” – I am going to carefully wade into a topic that may be viewed as political. And it is, admittedly…but in a nonpartisan way.

While I occasionally slip, I do my best here not to get into political territory, though I am something of an opinionated political junkie myself in real life. But I have seen several friendships I value become damaged if not ruined by the topic of President Trump. And I have valued business associates (who are also friends) who I would put at risk of alienating if I spoke my views. Finally, those of you who are good enough to check in here to listen to me babble are on the most basic level my customers (as Mickey Spillane used to say) and I don’t care to alienate those who help Barb and me keep the lights on around this joint.

But the situation with the United States Postal Service right now goes way beyond politics. It is a bipartisan problem and we all – all – should step up. It may be incompetence on the part of a postmaster with no background in the postal service; it may be something akin to sabotage, in which case it’s not at all well-thought out sabotage. If the mail is being slowed down on purpose, Republicans need to remember that in the past their party has benefitted far more from mail-in ballots than Democrats – the military, traditionally Republican-leaning to say the least, depends on mail-in ballots. (Mail-in ballots and absentee ballots – like the ones the President and the First Lady use in Florida – are essentially the same thing. Please don’t bother me with a diatribe about how they are not. Please do not write to tell me voting by mail leads to wide-spread fraud, because there is zero evidence to indicate that’s the case.)

This slowdown – which includes removing hundreds of high-speed mail-sorting machines, pulling mailboxes from street corners (public pressure has already addressed this…maybe), firing seasoned employees at all levels, curtailing overtime, and letting mail pile up – has an impact far beyond any misguided, wrongheaded attempt to suppress Democratic votes.

It impacts seniors like Barb and me, and veterans all around the country, from getting their meds in a timely manner. It slows social security checks. It slows down checks from employers (all of my checks come through the mail). It means credit card, rent, mortgage and other vital payments don’t get there on time. It means small businesses have difficulty getting their products to market. It means consumers (many house-bound now) who have to order various goods from home do not get them without a delay. It also means that goods arrive damaged (I have seen this happen personally – books, magazines, DVDs and Blu-rays coming mangled or crushed, over the past few weeks).

And, yes, in a pandemic, voters – particularly seniors like Barb and me – should have the ability to vote from home, by mail, with confidence that our votes will be counted.

What can you do?

E-mail your Senators. Your House representatives, too. It’s easy to use Google to get to them, even if you don’t know their names. Typing in “United States congress Muscatine, Iowa” got me right to Dave Loebsack of Iowa’s Second Congressional District. Typing in “Iowa United States Senator” got me right to Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley (both apparently named at birth by the ghost of Charles Dickens). When you get to their web sites, you’ll find e-mail contact with them a breeze. Be polite. Don’t make bad parenthetical jokes about Charles Dickens. Let them know how your life, how you personally, are being impacted. Tell them you want the postmaster to rescind policies that he himself says have had “unanticipated consequences.” Tell them to properly fund the post office now. Let them think your vote might come their way if they show some responsibility on this issue.

* * *
Murderlized Cover
E-Book: Amazon Purchase Link
Paperback:Amazon Purchase Link

I am delighted to report that Murderlized, a collection of short stories by my longtime collaborator Matthew V. Clemens and me, is available as a Kindle e-book from Wolfpack right now. The cover is fantastic, in my opinion. Matt digs it, too.

Wolfpack secured from me the rights to a number of my books, as you probably have noticed. The e-books are getting out there first, but you will be able to order physical books soon. The efficient wolves in the pack are working right now to get the four Eliot-Ness-in-Cleveland novels out in a two-volume (two-book-per) set of An Eliot Ness Mystery Omnibus. A single volume collecting Mommy and Mommy’s Day: A Suspense Duo is coming, too.

And Murderlized will soon be available as real book, too, as will everything of mine that Wolfpack is bringing out. I hope to be able to do my legendary Book Giveaways for all of these titles, as that occurs.

Murderlized is a massive collection of almost all of the short stories Matt and I have written together in the twenty or so years of our collaboration. (The only missing tales are a couple of licensed stories – one involving Hellboy, another set in the Buffy universe – that were problematic to include.) These are dark tales that fall in the realm of mystery/suspense, and several are overtly detective-oriented, with a few delving into outright horror. One thing Matt and I have done over the years, on occasion, is write the equivalent of a TV pilot – putting an idea for a book series on its feet by way of a short story. An unofficial CSI spin-off set in a Midwestern city is one example, and two horror stories in the X-Files vein represent recent attempts that may yet turn into novels. The series that Matt and I are doing for Wolfpack – which we’ll be revealing a little later – began with two short stories we wrote years ago (one of which appears in Murderlized…but no further hints).

As for the significance of the title, the namesake story has Moe Howard of the Three Stooges solving the murder of Ted Healy, the comedian for whom the stooges first stooged. It’s one of our favorites.

Matt and I go back a long way. I met him in the mid-‘80s when he came to book signings and Crusin’ band gigs, but really got to know him around 1987 at the Mississippi Valley Writers Conference, where I taught every summer for over twenty-five years. I encountered many promising and talented writers at the conference, and at least half a dozen nationally published novelists came out of my classes. I don’t take credit for that – not full credit, anyway – but several romance novels were dedicated to me, and it wasn’t for my Errol Flynn-like charms.

Matt was a familiar, positive presence at that conference, becoming a kind of host. He took my class several times, winning the John Locher Memorial Award. He also formed a friendship with the late Karl Largent, highly successful techno-thriller author, and began doing research and more for Karl, including presenting writing classes with him. I bought a story from Matt in 1993 for an anthology, and was impressed enough with his work to suggest we collaborate on a short story. That story, “A Pebble for Papa,” is included in Murderlized.

I began getting very busy with movie and TV tie-in work all through the ‘90s, doing numerous film novels and a pair of NYPD Blue novels. But when I was offered the CSI series, shortly after it began, I called Matt and asked if he’d seen the series (I hadn’t). He had. He’d done some research for me in the past, so I brought him on in that capacity and – since he knew the show – we co-plotted the first book. Quickly he got to know a number of cops locally and was bringing in just the kind of inside forensics info I needed.

I wound up having him develop a story treatment, with the scenes involving evidence and science fleshed out. Quickly that evolved into a collaboration where we plotted the books together, with him writing a story treatment (really a short rough draft), and me the final book. We did that for eight novels, and two CSI: Miami novels as well. We hit the USA Today bestseller list numerous times. More licensing poured in. I did several CSI video games alone, but brought Matt in to help on CSI: Miami. Together we wrote three CSI graphic novels and one CSI: New York graphic novel. We did a bunch of CSI jigsaw puzzles, too (short stories with the puzzle image including clues needed to solve the mystery). For five years we were the sole licensing writers for CSI and its spin-offs. For another two years we did the bulk of that work.

From this came the three Dark Angel novels and three Criminal Minds novels. (I should note that I wrote all of the movie novels alone.) At that point we wanted to break away as a tie-in team and write our own joint projects, which led to the two J.C. Harrow serial killer thrillers, You Can’t Stop Me and No One Will Hear You, followed by the thriller What Doesn’t Kill Her and the Reeder and Rogers political thrillers, Supreme Justice, Fate of the Union and Executive Order.

After my open heart surgery (among other medical fun and games), I stopped pursuing tie-in work other than Mike Hammer, and I of course already had a collaborator on those – the late Mickey Spillane. Matt and I wrote a few short stories during this period, but mostly I was working either alone (including the Krista Larson series) or with Barb (on the Antiques series).

Then Wolfpack came along, which seemed the perfect place for Collins and Clemens to get back to work together, and apart – I intend to do a Krista Larson novel for Wolfpack, and Matt and I will probably be doing a Reeder and Rogers for Wolfpack, as well. I say probably because we want to see where the country is politically after the coming election before diving back into those troubled, murky waters. Also, Matt is working on a solo western.

Wolfpack has been incredibly welcoming to me, and I am particularly grateful to have my short stories collected – the ones I’ve done with Matt in Murderlized, the ones I’ve done with Barb in Murder – His and Hers and the forthcoming Suspense – His and Hers, and the ones I wrote alone in Blue Christmas and the forthcoming Reincarnal.

But, of course, I need your support. If you buy e-books, you’ll find that Wolfpack will always have my material at a friendly price point (and often at sale prices). For those of you who – like me – prefer “physical media” (there must be a better way to use the English language), actual books of these titles are coming soon.

* * *

About once a week, my son Nate has been coming down the street, after getting his two kids to bed, to view a late-night movie with his old man. We tend toward Asian stuff, like classic Jackie Chan material and boxed sets of obscurities by great Japanese director Seijun Suzuki. Lately we’ve been delving into the Criterion Collection’s Blu-ray box set of Bruce Lee films, most recently Enter the Dragon.

Toward the beginning of the film, blaxploitation star Jim Kelly is pointlessly harassed by two racist cops who pull their vehicle up, hop out, and violently assault him (although it doesn’t work out well for them). Later Bruce Lee is told about a creepy rich guy who is a modern-day white slaver who has an attractive female mistress who recruits under-age girls and gets them addicted to drugs, then takes them to a sex island where they can service corrupt big wigs.

Nate looked at me and I looked at him.

“Not much has changed,” I said.

“Not much has changed,” he said.

* * *

Over the weekend I completed the second of three novellas for Neotext that introduce a new female detective character (about whom much more in the not too distance future, as the Mystery Science Theater theme puts it). I still have to re-read the manuscript for typos and inconsistencies and general tweaking.

But the beat goes on.

* * *

And FYI:

THRILLING DETECTIVE & JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY PRESS
Proudly Present
DETECTIVES IN THE SHADOWS
A Hard-Boiled History

Detectives in the Shadows

A special digital event about crime fiction’s hard-boiled history, featuring acclaimed and bestselling authors and celebrating the awesome new book by Susanna Lee.

WHEN: Tuesday, August 18, 2020. 6 p.m. EDT.

WHERE: Join us via Zoom at https://us02web.zoom.us/j/87153268756

More info: https://thrillingdetective.wordpress.com/2020/04/08/the-thrilling-detective-zoom/

Join a riveting online discussion on the past and present of hard-boiled crime fiction with leading crime fiction authors. Featuring Max Allan Collins (Road to Perdition), Ace Atkins (the Quinn Colson series), and Alex Segura (the Pete Fernandez series), the live event will celebrate the release of Susanna Lee’s new history of the genre, Detectives in the Shadows: A Hard-Boiled History. The event will be hosted via Zoom by Kevin Burton Smith of the Thrilling Detective Web Site and Johns Hopkins University Press.

America has had a love affair with the hard-boiled detective since the 1920s, when Prohibition called into question who really stood on the right and wrong side of the law. And nowhere did this hero shine more than in crime fiction. In Detectives in the Shadows, literary and cultural critic Susanna Lee tracks the evolution of this character type—from Race Williams to Philip Marlowe and from Mike Hammer to Jessica Jones.

In addition to being accomplished authors, everyone on the panel has a vast knowledge of the genre’s history. Enjoy a fascinating moderated discussion about crime fiction’s most iconic gumshoes and participate in a live Q&A with the panelists.

* * *

Here’s a radio interview Brad Schwartz and I did for our new Eliot Ness and the Mad Butcher.

And, for those of you sitting on the fence about whether or not to buy a copy, here’s a Crime Readers excerpt from that book.

Finally, here’s a fun career piece on the great Darren McGavin. The Mike Hammer material draws from (and credits) Jim Traylor and me for our book Mickey Spillane on Screen.

M.A.C.

A 99-Cent Sale, A Podcast, A Ness Book Review, and More

Tuesday, June 30th, 2020
Eliot Ness and the Mad Butcher cover
Hardcover: Indiebound Purchase Link Bookshop Purchase Link Amazon Purchase Link Books-A-Million Purchase Link Barnes & Noble Purchase Link
E-Book: Amazon Purchase Link Google Play Purchase Link Nook Purchase Link Kobo Purchase Link iTunes Purchase Link
Digital Audiobook: Amazon Purchase Link Kobo Purchase Link
Audio MP3 CD: Indiebound Purchase Link Bookshop Purchase Link Amazon Purchase Link Books-A-Million Purchase Link Barnes & Noble Purchase Link
Audio CD: Indiebound Purchase Link Bookshop Purchase Link Amazon Purchase Link Books-A-Million Purchase Link Barnes & Noble Purchase Link

The Thomas & Mercer has eight of my titles as part of its Mystery, Thriller & Suspense Kindle book deals starting 7/1/2020 and running through 7/31/2020. These e-books are only 99 cents USD during the promotion period:

The Lusitania Murders
The Pearl Harbor Murders
The Titanic Murders
The Hindenburg Murders
The London Blitz Murders
The War of the Worlds Murder
Midnight Haul
What Doesn’t Kill Her

My pal, writer Paul Bishop – a remarkable guy and the Renaissance man some people claim me to be – has a great podcast called Six-Gun Justice. As an adjunct, he interviews writers, and he did one with me. For the few of you who may not be sick of hearing my voice yet, here’s your chance to do so. Seriously, Paul did a great job with his questions and his editing. My interview and several others can be accessed here. [Note: The M.A.C. Interview podcast is dated 6/17/2020.]

Also, here is a great review of the soon-to-be-published Eliot Ness & the Mad Butcher by A. Brad Schwartz and me, from Library Journal:

Eliot Ness and the Mad Butcher: Hunting America’s Deadliest Unidentified Serial Killer at the Dawn of Modern Criminology

Collins and Schwartz (Scarface and the Untouchable) reunite to continue the story of law enforcement agent Eliot Ness, known for leading the Untouchables, the group famous for bringing down Al Capone. Ness moved on to serve as Cleveland’s public safety director during a tumultuous time in the city’s history following the Great Depression. He confronted various crime and political challenges, which are detailed within the book. The story is anchored by Ness’s efforts to identify the Mad Butcher, a serial killer who terrorized Cleveland and whose actions followed Ness until the end of his career. The book is thoroughly researched and well paced, a feat considering the breadth of Ness’s work.

VERDICT: A successful blend of history and suspense, this volume will appeal to readers interested in true crime and law enforcement.
Reviewed by Kate Bellody

Because I am wrapping up a novel that I haven’t told you about, because it is frankly under wraps until the publisher gives me the go-ahead to talk about it in public, the update this week is chiefly an article about me that ran a few days ago (as I write this).

I will be back sharing more of my thoughts than I should next week.

This is probably the most in-depth article ever written about me and my work. It was put together from various sources and interviews with me by Sean Leary, a successful (and terrific) writer of regional bestsellers in the Quad Cities. This appeared over the weekend at QuadCities.com as part of their regular Saturday in the Arts feature.

A few inaccuracies are included, due to my sloppiness being interviewed, and I am correcting those parenthetically in boldface. [From Nate: The article on QuadCities.com includes a nice selection of pictures, so I recommend checking out the article there as well.]

Scribe Award-Nominated Max Collins Still Having A Killer Time As A Best-Selling Author

Max Allan Collins’ success is no mystery.

The man in black has proven to be a maestro at making people’s lives full of stress, misery and murder — and people love him for it.

It helps that the people are fictional, characters in the canon of the Muscatine-based author, who, this month, was nominated for a Scribe Award for his 2019 novel, Murder, My Love. The awards winners will be announced July 15.

It’s only the latest honor for the longtime penman, who saw his novel Road To Perdition turned into an Oscar-nominated film, his novel series Quarry made into a series on Cinemax, his band Crusin enter the Iowa Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 2018, and who was given the 2017 Grand Master Award for lifetime achievement as a fictional murderer, a maestro of mystery novels, for over four decades.

MWA’s Grand Master Award represents the pinnacle of achievement in mystery writing and was established to acknowledge important contributions to this genre, as well as for a body of work that is both significant and of consistent high quality. Collins certainly fits both categories.

“The Mystery Writers of America is the primary professional group of mystery and suspense writers, and getting its lifetime achievement award, the Grand Master ‘Edgar,’ is about as good as it gets,” Collins said. “The list of Grand Masters includes many of my personal favorites, Mickey Spillane, Rex Stout, Agatha Christie, Alfred Hitchcock, and Erle Stanley Gardner, among many others. It’s a thrill to be in their presence. The award comes at a time when I’ve battled my way back from some nasty health issues, so it feels like really, really, good medicine. And, yes, it’s something I’ve dreamed of receiving, though didn’t know if I ever would.”

But how does it feel to be at that point in his career when he’s received a lifetime achievement award?

“It’s a mixed bag,” Collins said. “I’ve received several others, notably the Eye from the Private Eye Writers of America, and it’s nice to see your body of work recognized, but sobering knowing that nobody gets this kind of honor until their third act.”

His first two acts have been pretty impressive, and his debut was at a young age.

“I decided to be a writer in junior high and began submitting novels soon after,” Collins said. “I went to the University of Iowa Writers Workshop and sold two novels while I was there, Bait Money and Blood Money. (Blood Money came later – No Cure for Death was the other book I sold while at the Workshop.) I never looked back. I taught briefly, part-time, at Muscatine Community College, but I’ve never had a fulltime job except freelance writing. That was made possible in part because I landed the Dick Tracy strip, which gave me a nice income for fifteen years, by which time my novel-writing career was established. I stayed afloat by not being afraid to try different kinds of storytelling. I’ve done comic books, comic strips, novels, short stories, non-fiction books, trading cards, movie scripts, TV scripts, jigsaw puzzles and video games. I took on a lot of movie and TV novels, and put my name on them when others said I should hide behind a pseudonym. I felt using my own byline kept me honest, and it built an audience because many of my media projects were high-profile, movies like Saving Private Ryan and American Gangster, and TV properties like CSI and Criminal Minds—Matt (Clemens) worked on the latter two with me. I am proud to be a professional writer.”

Getting His Start With A Four-Color Fan Favorite

To many fans, Collins’ name is synonymous with a two-fisted, four-color counterpart — which is celebrating the 30th anniversary of its celluloid incarnation this year. Although his resume includes such hard-boiled characters as Mike Danger and Ms. Tree, to comics aficionados, he’s best known for his run as writer of the Dick Tracy newspaper strip from 1977 to 1993. Collins would go on to pen the novel for the film version of Tracy, and that novel would end up being the driving force for the screenplay for the Oscar-nominated film starring Warren Beatty in 1990. (The incredible story of that can be found on Collins’ blog.) The job was the realization of a childhood dream.

“It sounds corny, but it really did all begin for me with Dick Tracy, because I started reading that when I was a little kid — 7, 8 years old,” he says. “Most kids read Dick Tracyand wanted to be Dick Tracy when they grew up. But I read it, and I saw this signature on the strips, Chester Gould, and I was just fascinated by it, by the idea of someone writing it. I thought there was very little chance I could grow up and be Dick Tracy, but I could be Chester Gould. And by God, I was for about 15 years.

“The whole fascination with crime fiction really does go back to my childhood. Dick Tracy, The Untouchables TV show … those were things that I loved. That was partly because my father would tell me about stories in the paper about John Dillinger when he was a kid. He would talk about how he and his family would go out and see crime scenes afterwards. So at a very early age, I got this picture that behind this noir genre, there were real events and real characters, and that very much appealed to me.”

Sharing his work with friends was also a spur to his development.

“Just to get that encouragement, to have my friends say, `Oh, you wrote this? This is really cool,’ was a big deal for me and helped me to keep going,” Collins says. “The other thing that was important was having encouraging teachers. I had several good teachers throughout growing up that nurtured and encouraged me, and I was fortunate to have them helping me along.

“Talent is a relatively small part of it. It’s really enthusiasm and having those flames fanned by people in that educational support system. A good teacher can have such an impact on a young mind.”

After graduating from the University of Iowa with a degree in creative writing, Collins taught at Muscatine Community College and spent almost three years sending out manuscripts in hope of landing his first book deal. (This is a little wrong – I sent the novels out while I was at the Workshop starting in ‘68. I sold them right about the time I started teaching at MCC in 1972.)

“I was very discouraged,” he says. “I remember I had a manuscript come back around ’72, and it was really discouraging, and I thought, `Maybe this isn’t for me; maybe I’m not going to make it. And then, sometimes God decides to act like O. Henry. I got on Christmas Eve 1972 the letter saying that my first book, Bait Money, had been sold. And a year later it came out in time for Christmas the next year, and I’ve been going ever since.”

A Renaissance Man

In the ensuing four-plus decades, Collins has proven to be a Renaissance man of the genre. He’s tackled everything from comics to films to documentaries to novelizations of films and TV shows. He’s also been a regular on local music stages with his band Crusin, which was inaugurated into the Iowa Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame two years back.

All told, he’s placed over 100 novels on bookshelves — many featuring his most famous character, Nate Heller. His locally produced independent films, including the cable hits Mommy and Mommy’s Day were released as a DVD set called The Black Box. (And now are on Blu-ray.) To top that off, he also has several other writing projects on his plate and is busy knocking out novels with his wife, Barbara, and his other co-writer Matthew Clemens.

Asked about the constant movement, Collins chats breezily about his diverse interests and passions. His gesticulations and the rising timbre of his voice spark the image of him as a junior-high kid, bursting to share his action-jammed tales with his friends. However, his work ethic also seems driven by the memory of his early career struggles. Talking about them, his demeanor slumps.

“Even today, I think one of the hardest things about this profession is how long publishers sit on books,” he says. “It’s so crushing to go to that mailbox and wait to see that manuscript sticking out with that rejection letter.”

Collins hasn’t gotten many of those lately. (Actually, I have.)

Looking back on his career, of what is he most proud?

“Probably just having a career — being able to make a living at fiction writing without a day job, which I’ve been doing since 1977,” he said. “Career highs include landing the writing of the Dick Tracy strip back in ’77; winning the PWA Shamus Best Novel, True Detective, in 1984; directing and writing five independent features, with Mommy airing on Lifetime; and having my graphic novel, Road to Perdition made into an Academy Award-winning film with Tom Hanks. I’m also proud of what my wife (Barbara Collins) and I have achieved with our humorous ‘Antiques’ mystery series.”

The road to Road to Perdition

Undeniably, Collins’ most well-known achievement to the general public has been Road To Perdition, the graphic novel which led to an Oscar-winning film starring Tom Hanks, Paul Newman, Jude Law and various other heavy hitters.

“As I’ve gone down the suspense and mystery path, it has fascinated me to see how history feeds into the popular culture,” Collins says as he begins to talk about his most famous achievement. “The fact that there was a real Al Capone and an Eliot Ness and a John Looney, and that their traits ended up influencing these fictional characters like Dick Tracy or Vito Corleone, is very interesting to me.”

In 1998, Collins’ graphic novel Road to Perdition, based in part on Quad-Cities gangland history, smashed out of the gates to become a best seller. It almost immediately drew interest from Hollywood, and in 2002, it hit screens nationwide as a critically acclaimed — eventually Oscar-nominated — film starring Tom Hanks and Paul Newman.

The national notice also brought the Muscatine author a large dose of recognition on the local scene. One book-signing session at Borders in Davenport featured a line of fans snaking out the door and into the parking lot. “It was very rewarding,” Collins says, quietly.

Perdition generated a prequel, Road to Perdition 2, as well as two sequels, Road to Purgatory and Road to Paradise, the last of which was released in December 2005. (The three can be found as a trilogy for sale on Amazon Kindle now.)

Ironically, the origin of the story of hit man Michael Sullivan and his son, Michael Jr., lies in part in the bonding between Collins and his son, Nate, over their mutual love of the Japanese comics series Lone Wolf and Cub. The tale of a renegade samurai’s vengeance-stained travels with his infant boy provided the template for Perdition.

“I loved the image of this warrior with a baby carriage,” Collins says. “That combination of tender and tough has always fascinated me.”

Collins’ research for another novel, 1983’s True Detective, helped provide the characters and setting for the epic.

“I came across this guy, John Looney, who had been a gangster in the Quad-Cities in the ’30s. I couldn’t use him at the time, but I kept him on my shelf. So when it came time later that I wanted to pursue that idea of the Godfather-style executioner in the mode of Lone Wolf and Cub, I remembered that character of Looney. I thought it would be really cool to center the story around this local gangster. So I merged the two ideas, and that’s how Road to Perdition was born.”

(Looney operated in the teens and twenties – I couldn’t use the material in True Detective because it took place in the early thirties, although he is mentioned. When I did Road to Perdition as a graphic novel, I took the liberty of moving Looney up a decade or so, to take advantage of the Capone and Nitti era about which I wrote in the Heller novels – Looney had been aligned with the Chicago Outfit but under Johnny Torrio’s reign.)

Although at this point, the story has reached a satisfactory end, Collins hasn’t ruled out the possibility of revisiting the characters. “If you talk to most writers, they’re not inclined to sequels,” he says. “But I grew up reading serials, so I guess I always thought if I liked these characters and I think there’s something left to be said, I’ll want to write more about them.”

Following His Quarry, Continuing His Legacy

Speaking of series, Collins’ series Quarry, one of the first novel series to feature a hit man as its central character, was developed into a series by Cinemax that aired for one season in 2016, and continues to enjoy success as a literary endeavor. Collins has also continued his series of mystery novels with his wife, Barbara, his Nathan Heller series, the Reeder and Rogers suspense novel series he co-writes with Matthew Clemens, and more.

He’s also an active figure on the area writing festival scene, often giving classes and seminars for aspiring writers.

(I am semi-retired at this kind of thing – very rare now, once quite a major part of what I did.)

What kind of advice would he give to aspiring mystery writers?

“It’s a steady learning process,” he said. “There are writing schools, and I attended the best at the Writers Workshop in Iowa City. And there are seminars, and I’ve taught my share. But writing is chiefly self-taught. It comes from reading analytically, learning to edit your own work, and staying at it. I don’t think I’ve ever made any quantum leaps in my writing, but I’ve gotten incrementally better all along the way. I’m much better now than I was when I first published…but I wasn’t bad then.”

What has he most enjoyed about the process?

“Oddly, collaboration has been one of my biggest joys,” Collins said. “I say `oddly’ because writing is largely solitary. But I loved making films, most of them with my terrific collaborator Phil Dingeldein, and the whole collaborative experience, from movie set through editing, was the best. I also enjoy collaborating with my wife Barb on the ‘Antiques’ novels — that’s special, being able to co-author works with your spouse and stay happily married. Matt Clemens and I also have collaborated on a score of books, and I’m collaborating posthumously with Mickey Spillane, completing his unfinished manuscripts. Making new Mike Hammer novels happen is a delight to the thirteen year-old me, who travels with me everywhere.”

Collins is hardly resting on his laurels, lifetime achievement-wise or otherwise. He’s got a number of deadly projects on his bullseye for the coming years, and his latest Caleb York western novel, Hot Lead, Cold Justice, was released just a few weeks ago, on May 26.

As Collins said of the new novel on his blog, “Unlike the other Spillane co-bylined books in the Mike Hammer series (and other crime novels), these westerns are mostly by me, working with characters and situations from Mickey’s various drafts of his screenplay, The Saga of Calli York, written for John Wayne but never produced. I have endeavored in these novels – I just completed another – to bring either a strong mystery or crime novel element into the proceedings. Even if you don’t usually read westerns, I think you will have a good time – assuming you are reading my other work, in particular the Spillane material.”

No matter what your literary interests, you’re sure to have a killer time reading any of Collins’ books.

The author of this piece:
Sean Leary

Sean Leary is an author, director, artist, musician, producer and entrepreneur who has been writing professionally since debuting at age 11 in the pages of the Comics Buyers Guide. An honors graduate of the University of Southern California masters program, he has written over 50 books including the best-sellers The Arimathean, Every Number is Lucky to Someone and We Are All Characters.