Posts Tagged ‘Quarry’

You Tube and Me (And How to Be a Fiction Writer!)

Tuesday, May 28th, 2024

I have gotten into the habit of looking at a lot of YouTube of late. Working on a big project like True Noir – the ten scripts for a massive audio production of the first Nathan Heller novel, True Detective (1983) – I find the bite-size offerings that YouTube serves up make ideal late night comfort food. Earlier in the evening, I have usually watched a movie on physical media with either my wife Barb or my son Nate – who comes down from his house up the street after he and his wife Abby manage to get our two grandkids Sam and Lucy to bed – and don’t feel like digging into another feature-length presentation.

The algorithm YouTube uses to generate new offerings on their “recommended” feed – fed by what you last watched and by your subscriptions – means there’s always something new to watch. Unfortunately the flaw is that if you sample something just to get a look at it in the “what’s this about?” sense, you get barraged with material generated by that sampling. Look at one Jordan Peterson video and you’ll get ten more. Look at one Jimmy Carr video and get you swamped in those, but also other “offensive” comedians. Check out Steve Schmidt’s The Warning and receive an avalanche of anti-Trump material. Videos on filmmaking often attract my attention, particularly ones on micro-budget indies.

Sometimes that’s okay. You learn things and at times your interests are fed (as opposed to simply your curiosity). I watched a Ballistics Burgers video and enjoyed it and now I’m on my way to learning how to make a delicious cheeseburger, if I ever get around to trying. And the algorithm thing led me to Robert Meyer Burnett of Robservations and Let’s Get Physical Media, who is now my collaborator on the Nathan Heller audio project, and Heath Holland, whose Cereal at Midnight I am now guesting regularly on (or irregularly – about once a month). Both Rob and Heath are now good and valued friends of mine.

You quickly learn that some of the presenters on YouTube are naturals at it – like Rob and Heath – and others are just guys in their basements with the appeal and communication skills of somebody who just starts talking to you in the supermarket. A YouTube video with a subject that interests you, or just intrigues you, is not guaranteed to include a presenter who ought to be presenting. It’s a democratic landscape, but we all know democracy is messy.

Recently I checked out a few videos purporting to teach novices how to write. I am always willing to learn – after all, I’ve only been doing this since I was in junior high in the early 1960s, and writing professionally since 1971. I have since been bombarded by tips on how to avoid “filter words” (a very popular phrase right now) and words to never use (like “very,” which I just did).

What is disconcerting about these videos – and I’ve sampled a bunch, meaning my YouTube feed will drown me in the damn things for a while – is they feature (A) very young writers…damn, I did it again!…or (B) writers you’ve never heard of, or (C), young writers you’ve never heard of. Many tend to be young woman (under thirty) who speak with clear-eyed confidence in training others how to do what has enabled them to become successful writers. Being a successful writer among these self-appointed teachers of the craft often means they self-publish, though that fact is usually glossed over quickly.

Not all of this advice is good, but neither is it necessarily bad. But who are these people, except up-talking young ‘uns who have no business giving advice to anyone? Never mind, because (as I say) not all their advice is bad, and they often do discuss important topics like writing a good first sentence and whether or not to outline.

The problem, beyond too much self-confidence and an overwhelming desire to fill a YouTube screen with their face, is that fiction writing can’t really, not exactly, be taught. I used to do seminars – for a long time, it was every summer at Augustana College in Rock Island, and a lot of my attendees went on to successfully publish – but I always made the point that fiction writing has no rules, just strategies. No right or wrong, just what works. For you. The individual.

I had tips and shared them. For example, I discouraged opening with a line of dialogue, a practice in which a lot of writers (including published ones, even successful ones) indulge. I would point out to those attending the seminars that opening with dialogue does not tell you enough – you don’t know who is speaking or where they are uttering this supposedly reader-catching bit of fake human speech.

Both opening with dialogue and avoiding doing so, however, are a strategies. Tactics. Not rules.

I have written here before about how useless I consider advice from the likes of Elmore Leonard and Stephen King is to wannabe authors. Not because I think Leonard and King are bad, but precisely because they are good. Better than good. They are great storytellers who have developed their methods by trial and error, and by having grown up as little Leonards and Kings consuming a lot of narrative storytelling, both novels and movies and maybe even the occasional play.

No quick path to learning how to write fiction is available. None. You have to be obsessive about storytelling – wanting to tell stories, wanting to read/see/and-ultimately create stories. But it’s mostly strategy.

What should the first line be? Is the basic story I have in mind better served by first person prose or third person? How is point of view best served in this piece of fiction? The answers to such questions come from the individual writers.


James M. Cain

Mickey Spillane

Donald E. Westlake

James M. Cain taught me to write dialogue (also Jack Webb on 1950s Dragnet). I never met Cain (or Webb), but they taught me by example. Raymond Chandler and Mark Twain schooled me in writing in first person. I came to know – personally know – Mickey Spillane and Donald E. Westlake. But I learned writing action/violence scenes from Mickey and sublime point-of-view technique from Don, long before I met either one outside of the pages of their books.

Some young blue-eyed girl, staring out at you from the television (or “monitor,” to you younger folks) is not going to tell you what a grown-ass woman like Fannie Flagg or even Ayn Rand will. Rand is a good example because she did a lot of things wrong, but also a lot of things right. That kind of successful writer can stimulate thinking along the “I should do this but not that” line. People of less than genius intelligence (like me) can learn more from Harold Robbins in The Carpetbaggers than Marcel Proust in Remembrance of Things Past – particularly when you are starting out to teach yourself in junior high school.

I don’t mean to pick on the females here, because plenty of guys – particularly in the screenwriting area – are turning their own experiences into rules for the easily swayed. I started watching a video where the interviewer was acting like he was in the presence of a real master of the craft – Robert Towne, maybe, or (again) Elmore Leonard – and when the uber-confident dispenser of screenwriting craft’s credit was finally mentioned, the guy had written a Charlie’s Angel movie.

When I was doing seminars, I worked with a lot of young women of all ages who wanted to be romance writers when they grew up (some of these young women were twenty, others sixty with all stops between). They did a lot of things right, in their fiction, and often came together in writers’ groups and helped each other learn and grow. I found then, and believe now, that this kind of thing is positive. Workshops, like the Writers Workshop at the University of Iowa where I fought many battles, gets you down in the trenches with other writers, discussing specifics like plot and character, not “rules,” learning tactics, not “never use adverbs.”

Most of the people telling you never to use adverbs do so in sentences that contain adverbs.

There is only one teacher who can teach you writing: you. The fiction you love will guide the way. Looking at novels and stories (and movies) that are favorites of yours, but doing so in an analytic way, can be helpful. Hitchcock can teach any writer and that isn’t even what he’s trying to do.

Of the young, clear-eyed women teaching others how to write on YouTube (often with pets lurking in the background, scene-stealing), almost none of them discuss first-person writing, or understand that many of the “filter” words to avoid are crucial to writing effective first-person. Barb and I (as “Barbara Allan”) use two narrators in the Antiques novels, neither of whom is a trained writer, which is a great source of fun for us in the books and, we hope, for readers.

One of these very young (“very” again!) writers weighed in on a topic I’ve explored here quite a bit – the wrestling match I sometimes have with editors and even readers about my insistence on describing what a character is wearing. This young writer said she got around that by simply stating something along the lines of “Joe was a sharp dresser” and never describing Joe’s wardrobe again in any way throughout the novel. That’s a choice. A tactic. But I consider physical description and a rundown on wardrobe to be key elements of characterization, at least as I approach it.

That’s all for today. I have Steve Schmidt and Jordan Peterson videos to watch.

* * *

The first Quarry’s Return reviewer has appeared and it’s a nice one.

How to read the Nolan books in chronological order.

And Road to Perdition is once again cited as an outstanding film from a comics source.

M.A.C.

Eliot Ness, Quarry, Writing Series Characters and More

Tuesday, May 21st, 2024

My YouTube appearances with Heath Holland at his Cereal at Midnight continue, with what I think is the best so far: a discussion of Eliot Ness on screen, kicked off by the current Blu-ray edition of The Scarface Mob from Eureka.

Also on the YouTube front, Robert Meyer Burnett, on his Robservations and Let’s Get Physical Media, continues to provide updates on his audio “movie for the ears” adaptation of my novel True Detective. It’s called True Noir: The Casebooks of Nathan Heller, and I am writing the scripts myself. I have delivered the first seven of ten of what will be a fully immersive audio presentation directed by Rob, with an incredible Hollywood cast, and will run at least five hours.

Todd Stashwick of Picard and Twelve Monkeys (and much else) makes a terrific Nate Heller. If this project resonates with the public, look for three more Heller novels to become movies for the mind, all adapted by Heller’s creator himself.

You know – me.

* * *

Paperback Warrior posted the cover of the upcoming (it’s a fall release from Hard Case Crime) Quarry’s Return. That was a post on X, which I guess is what they’re calling Twitter now. It’s from Elon Musk, who named a ship after Ms. Tree, then didn’t follow up on his people asking to license the name from Terry Beatty and me. Somehow I’m reminded of the penny-pinching kazillionaires in classic Li’l Abner by Al Capp.

Quarry's Return

But since this cover image is floating around out there, I thought I should share it, though we’re a few months away from the novel’s release. I didn’t expect to be writing another novel about Quarry in his (ahem) later years; but sequels have a way of worming into my brain as if I were a Presidential candidate and then percolating there (that’s what we writer folks call a mixed metaphor).

Now I have a notion for yet another “old Quarry” story that is wormily percolating, and we’ll see. I had thought that The Last Quarry would be the last Quarry; but then a whole slew (past tense of “slay”) of ‘em followed, filling in the blanks of his life and varied career. Then came Quarry’s Blood, which was really designed to be the last, only when it was warmly received for a book about a cold-blooded killer, I changed my mind (again). And now here’s Quarry’s Return, with Quarry again a geriatric retired hitman kicking younger ass.

It isn’t that I was planning to retire the character. I figured I might do the occasional younger Quarry novel while I am still above ground. I am never anxious to retire a character completely, in my imagination anyway. It wasn’t hard at all to bring Nolan and Jon back in Skim Deep something like forty years later. I knocked on their door and they promptly answered, not much the worse for wear.

I think the reason why I’ve stayed with my series characters is that good ones don’t come along that often. The only one I’ve really consciously retired is Mallory, because there really isn’t a premise there to generate more novels, and anyway he’s essentially me and that bores my ass off.

But I will never understand mystery and suspense writers who do a new character each and every time. Most of these scribes, well, many of them are simply hanging a new name on the old character. Also, I am too aware of how unsuccessful some incredible writers have been, trying to create a second series character. You may have noticed, if you’ve been paying very close attention, that I like Mickey Spillane – the man and his writing. But what’s your favorite Spillane series character after Mike Hammer? And Velda and Pat Chambers don’t count. (Velda could carry a novel, and some would say she carried a whole comic book series under a separate name. Hint: Ms. Tree. But can you imagine the sheer snooze factor of a Pat Chambers novel?)

So with apologies to you Tiger Mann fans, Mike Hammer can’t be created twice. Edgar Rice Burroughs came close by writing John Carter of Mars, but that character was no Tarzan (and Carson of Venus wasn’t even Carter). Going back to Mickey, his second greatest series protagonist was Morgan the Raider (The Delta Factor); but I had to finish the only other book that character generated (The Consummata) from a few chapters in Mickey’s files.

Barb, a while back (in the throes of writing an Antiques novel and enduring the suffering that process creates in my talented wife), started talking about ending that series, fed up with the difficulties of generating more stories about Vivian and Brandy Borne. I insisted that she stick with it (not that my insistence carried any particular weight) because the Borne girls are fabulous fictional creations, in my unhumble opinion. They live and breathe on the page, and act of their own volition, as all great series characters do.

Here’s the thing: Rex Stout was a genius. His Nero Wolfe books are among the most readable and re-readable novels of any kind ever written. No other two fictional characters live and breathe like Wolfe and Archie. They are as good as fiction gets in the world of the creation of mystery genre recurring characters. Holmes and Watson never breathed as fully, and before Nero and Archie, they were the top.

And yet Rex Stout’s publisher kept after him to create another series. And of course he was a smashing success with his other incredibly famous character, Tecumseh Fox. Right? Right? Okay, how about Alphabet Hicks? There’s a banger of a character! Or how about giving Inspector Cramer a mystery of his own? Or that famous female PI, Dol Bonner?

Nope. One of the few true geniuses of mystery fiction, Rex Stout, stunk up the place with these more contrived creations. So I’m of the opinion that when a mystery writer stumbles upon a character that resonates with the public, said mystery writer should give the public what they want.

Are there dangers? Yes, artistic ones. For example, what if I’d been hugely successful right out of the gate with Nolan, who was after all an homage to Don Westlake’s Parker (“homage,” as we all know, is French for “rip-off”). I might still be writing nothing but Nolan books. I’d have written, say, 40 or 50 Nolan and Jon novels…selling millions…and writing nothing else.

Writers do need to flex their talents. That’s why Robert B. Parker wrote westerns on the side and did his own unsuccessful Dol Bonner-type female private eye novel. So it’s risky, sticking with one series. I do think, with the Antiques books, you have two interacting characters – like Archie and Wolfe – who provide a kind of engine for the story beyond the plot machinations.

Mickey wrote about Mike Hammer throughout his sporadic career. Early on he came to feel he’d characterized Hammer so fully, there wasn’t anything else to say. He compensated by writing Tiger Mann and some standalones, though he drifted back to what was essentially the same protagonist under various names. What kept him artistically sane (not a word used much in relation to Mike Hammer, I grant you) was his decision to make Hammer always reflect where he, Mickey Spillane, was in his life. He allowed Hammer to grow somewhat older (not realistically so, but older) and to allow this indomitable character to have frailties – Hammer went on a seven-year drunk; he was, in several novels (including some I completed) recovering from wounds or otherwise physically impaired. This reflected Spillane’s own advancing years, and the on-and-off nature of his writing career.

Look, every mystery writer – every writer – has to do this his or her own way. I am only suggesting that for me it’s been an interesting, rewarding ride, following my characters through their advancing years (and mine). That was true of Nate Heller in the current Too Many Bullets. It was true of Nolan and Jon in Skim Deep. And Quarry in Quarry’s Blood and Quarry’s Return. And if I ever return to Ms. Tree, you can bet your ass she’ll be in menopause.

* * *

Speaking of Ms. Tree, Terry and I are working on the sixth and final Titan volume of the collected Ms. Tree, which gathers almost everything he and I did with the character and her supporting cast (no The P.I.s, though). She had an impressive dozen-year comics run (1981 – 1993) and represents one of the most gratifying collaborations I’ve ever enjoyed. Terry Beatty and I, I am glad to say, will always be thought of by many comics fans as a team.

Right now Terry is working on helping put together (much as he has on the Titan volumes of collected Ms. Tree) our Dark Horse Johnny Dynamite graphic novel, Underworld, in an improved publication that will happen later this year.

It’s an enduring frustration to me that we both worked on Batman but never together. And that we both did syndicated comic strips (Dick Tracy and Rex Morgan respectively), but not as a team. He’s still doing Rex Morgan, but he doesn’t need me – he writes it himself. I like to think he had a good teacher.

As for Dick Tracy, the VCI Blu-ray collection of the four RKO Tracy feature films – with two new commentaries by me and lots of bonus features – will be out in early August.

Getting back to Ms. Tree, here’s Comic Book Treasury’s best crime comics write-up (it invokes Road to Perdition, but lists Ms. Tree).

And speaking of Collins/Beatty, here’s a look at Wild Dog at Tvtropes. It says: “The series was writted by Max Allan Collins with art by Terry Beatty.” I don’t know who “writted” this otherwise nice piece.

M.A.C.

Spirit of Seventy-Six

Tuesday, March 5th, 2024

The Muscatine premiere of Blue Christmas on March 16 is already about half sold-out, so if you want to attend, getting tickets now is not a bad idea. It’s reserved seating, which is another factor.

Advance ticket sales are available here.

Blue Christmas Horizontal Poster
* * *

Here’s a nice article about Blue Christmas and its upcoming Muscatine premiere.

Fridley Theatres to hold red carpet premiere
for local indie film on March 16

A red-carpet premiere is coming to Muscatine for a local indie production.

This month, on Saturday, March 16, the Palms 10 Theatre in Muscatine will be holding a premiere for Blue Christmas. The red-carpet event will begin at 6 p.m. with the movie starting at 7 p.m. A Q&A will be held with the film’s cast and crew afterwards.

Taking place on Christmas Eve, 1942, in Chicago, Blue Christmas focuses on a private eye named Richard Stone, who is visited by the ghost of his late partner on the 1-year anniversary of his murder. Through the guidance of three visiting spirits, Stone is forced to visit his past, present and future to finally find his partner’s killer, as well as redemption for himself.

The film was written and directed by Muscatine novelist Max Allan Collins and stars Iowa actor Rob Merritt; Alisabeth Von Presley, who some may recognize from her time on America’s Got Talent; and Chris Causey. Chad Bishop helped produce and edit the film while Phillip W. Dingeldein served as the director of photography.

Collins described the film’s story as a mash-up of The Maltese Falcon and A Christmas Carol.

“They’re two of my favorite movies and two of my favorite novels, and I just saw a way to kind of do them both at the same time… So the material will be familiar to people, and it’s material that really resonates with people because it’s about a person who becomes better by the end of the story,” he said.

Although Collins is best known for his books and comics, this is far from the only time that he has worked in film. Throughout the ’90s and early 2000s, Collins had the opportunity to work on several independent film productions. After he was unable to get a sequel to the film adaptation of Road to Perdition, however, Collins shifted focus back towards his writing and left the film scene.

Then, in 2022, during the production of Encore for Murder, a Mike Hammer radio play that was performed live before then receiving a video recording, Collins was inspired to try doing film again, he said.

“(Encore for Murder) got me thinking about getting back into doing an indie film after about a decade and a half away from doing them,” he said. “I really do enjoy doing films because I enjoy the collaborative nature of it. Being able to bring talented people together is very rewarding, and it’s very different from the sort of solitary endeavor that writing a novel is.”

Reflecting on the production, which was filmed in October 2023 over the course of only six days, Collins had much praise to give the film’s cast and crew. He also thanked Naomi DeWinter and Muscatine Community College for its support in letting the production use its Black Box Theatre for nearly all of its filming.

“It was very much a Muscatine/Quad Cities affair,” Collins said. “I’m really proud of what we were able to do with it – and, boy, does it look good on the big screen.”

Tickets can be purchased on the Fridley Theatres website at https://www.fridleytheatres.com/movie/Muscatine-Palms10/BLUE-CHRISTMAS#.

For those who are unable to make it to these one-time showings, Collins said Fridley Theatres, the chain that owns Muscatine Palms 10, has shown interest in showing the film at each of its Iowa and Nebraska theatres during the 2024 holiday season.

“That’s something we’re really excited about,” Collins said.

You can read the article with photos here, at least for the present.

* * *

Our Cedar Rapids premiere (with Cedar Rapids-area stars Rob Merritt and Alisabeth Von Presley present, as well as me and Chad and various cast members) will be March 13. The house is already half sold out. Tickets can be ordered here.

Our final premiere will be at the Last Picture House in Davenport, thanks to our friends Beck and Woods (creators of A Quiet Place). Here’s where you can buy advance tickets for the Friday, March 22, event.

We are also an official selection in the Cedar Rapids Independent Film Festival, with a 9 a.m. screening and a 1:05 p.m. screening on April 6. Barb and I will be attending the latter screening.

* * *

For any birthday past 70, my late grandfather Ray Rushing used to answer questions about his age this way: “Over seventy, damnit!”

I know the feeling.

On March 3, yesterday as I write this, I turned 76 and the only thing that’s good about is that I’m not dead. There’s so much left to do and I’m going to try to do it. As Barb says, “Just keep on keepin’ on.”

That may explain why I did Blue Christmas at this ripe old age and have another indie film on the docket for later this year. More about that later. For now I have on my plate a final Heller, more Antiques novels with Barb (we were just offered a two-book contract from Severn), the final Mike Hammer novel for Titan, and a very exciting project that I’ve pitched (apparently successfully, but it’s early days) that I won’t be able to share with you until it’s signed, sealed and delivered. This year’s Quarry novel (Quarry’s Blood) may be the last, as well. Kind of feels like I’m wrapping things up, but there’s still a lot going on – one last indie movie after Blue Christmas, for example. And a Nate Heller series adapting True Detective (True Noir: The Nathan Heller Casebooks) and perhaps other of the novels as fully produced multi-part podcast. This involves my pals Robert Meyer Burnett, Mike Bawden and Phil Dingeldein.

My health seems to be relatively good, though I have a bad day now and then (one was on my birthday itself) that indicates I have to pace myself better if I want to stick around for a few more years.

On my birthday we went to Dune Part Two and I really didn’t care for it. Neither did Barb. Son Nathan, a science fiction fan, liked it more but termed it “slow and unpleasant.” We had all liked Part One, and the advanced praise for Part Two from a bunch of people whose opinions I trust make me question my own judgment. I found the film tedious in the desert sequences and over-the-top in the bad guy portions with two risible villains – the usually reliable Stellan Skarsgård (the Broker in the Quarry pilot!) and least-scary-sociopath-ever, Elvis actor Austin Butler, as well as Christopher Walken as the evil emperor or something, a particularly misguided choice.

Dune Part Two

But Barb and I seem to be alone on this. The best I can say for it is that the lead, Timothée Chalamet, did a creditable job. Best supporting players? The giant worms.

I love science fiction and fantasy movies and TV, particularly Star Trek (I am a stubborn Star Trek The Motion Picture apologist) and the first two Star Wars films, and Forbidden Planet and Outer Limits and on and on. But I’ve always found s-f novels, most of them anyway, clunky with prose worthy of the side of a paint can (Ray Bradbury and Richard Matheson excluded). I truly believe this to be my problem, because too many smart people love the stuff, and I was a shit science student. But man I love me some Kirk and Spock and Bones.

Here’s the thing. Feel free to love Dune Part Two. Too many smart people like it for me to be right about this for anybody but myself. The narrative arts (actually a lot of art in general) is the receptor plus the deliverer. Novels and short stories, and movies too, are inherently collaborative – the audience member plus the artist. I like to say, when somebody dislikes a book of mine, fair dinkum (as the Aussies put it) – sometimes I present my shows on Broadway, other times at the Podunk Playhouse.

In other words, your mileage may vary.

Certainly people who dislike my work are not wrong (though I prefer to think of them as misguided). I get complaints from readers (and reviewers) who think I go into too much detail about clothing and setting, when my approach is otherwise fairly spare. It confuses some readers and irritates others.

My frequent collaborator Matt Clemens always says something to the effect of, “Max doesn’t like to have his characters run around naked, unless they’re naked.”

Ironically, this has to do with my twin enthusiasms for prose fiction and motion pictures. From a very, very, I might say VERY, early age I sought out the books (prose novels and comic books) that movies I liked had been based upon. And I would admit, if pressed (and you’re pressing me now, aren’t you?), that the works I most admire tend to be movies. I probably like Chinatown better than Hammett and Chandler, and boy do I like Hammett and Chandler. I probably like the film Kiss Me Deadly more than Mickey’s actual Mike Hammer novels (maybe excluding One Lonely Night, Spillane at his most vivid and crazed).

So on some level I am trying to make prose fiction that plays like a movie in your mind. I may or may not be successful at that, but that’s the attempt, anyway.

Going back to Dune Part Two, the smartest response I’ve seen to it comes from people who love Frank Herbert’s novel and find the film a sort of visual adjunct to that work as opposed to a cinematic version of it.

But what do I know? If I tell you I liked the David Lynch Dune much more, would you have me locked up? Maybe in the cubicle next to David Lynch?

M.A.C.

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

Tuesday, January 30th, 2024

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

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

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

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

* * *
Spillane: King of Pulp Fiction Audiobook cover

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

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

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

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

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

Again, a decision has yet to be made.

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

* * *
Antiques Foe cover

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

M.A.C.