Posts Tagged ‘Quarry’

Long-Form TV, Bait Money, Paul Newman and More

Tuesday, January 5th, 2021

Skim Deep should be available by now, the coda to the Nolan series that I’ve written at the urging of Charles Ardai, the guru of Hard Case Crime. It is, as you may know if you’re a regular visitor here, a book in a series I began back in college with my novel Bait Money. That book has been reprinted with its sequel Blood Money as Two for the Money by Hard Case Crime, originally as the first book of mine HCC did, but with an uncharacteristically weak cover, though a new edition from them is coming soon.

Cover of the Skyboat audiobook edition of Bait Money
Audible: Amazon Purchase Link

An audio book – the first ever – of Bait Money is available now, read by the incredible Stefan Rudnicki.

I’m going to touch on Bait Money again, but first…

Over the holidays I found myself bingeing (usually in four-episode stints) on long-form TV. I have begun to think that long-form television is the new great storytelling art form, more satisfying than most movies and novels. When some unifying artistic force (person or persons) has an overriding vision to control and deploy, the long-form’s depth of character and ability to span time and events can give it appeal, impact and power.

Post-Christmas, I indulged in three true-crime mini-series, all of which made compelling viewing – Manhunt: Unabomber and its follow-up, Manhunt: Deadly Games; and Waco, which leaves Netflix (home of all three) in less than two weeks. I probably liked Deadly Games best, because it opened up the Richard Jewell case more completely than the Clint Eastwood-directed film was able to, and featured a fine performance by Arliss Howard as a crusty ATF bomb expert. Cameron Britton and Jack Huston (as the falsely accused Jewell and real Olympics bomber Eric Rudolph respectively) also were excellent. In Waco, Michael Shannon as the chief negotiator Gary Noesner is typically strong, but Taylor Kitsch’s turn as cult leader David Koresh is a shattering, out-of-left-field career best for the star of TV’s Friday Night Lights and the bewilderingly underrated film John Carter – he makes Koresh human and charismatic without minimizing his madness. No small feat.

All three series, however, share a common problem. They are accurate as to the core true-crime material, but play very fast and loose with fictitious material that surrounds it.

Waco places the Branch Davidian siege’s real-life negotiator at Ruby Ridge, which is not true, and goes out of its way to make the Waco cultists seem reasonable and the FBI unreasonable, when it’s fairly clear that both sides were culpable in the tragedy.

Deadly Games – faithful to the Jewell story – adds a car chase and a bunch of risible material about backwoods redneck militia guys helping track Rudolph and even being led by a young, bossy black female FBI agent; also it has the bomber murdering several people in the woods, which never happened.

The male Unabomber profiler is provided with a love-interest female profiler based on the profiler’s (second) wife, who he hadn’t met yet when the events really happened. In an even more questionable liberty, the profiler – who was largely responsible for identifying the bomber – is placed in a Silence of the Lambs relationship with the perp, sharing numerous scenes, when in fact they never met.

I have to deal with this kind of thing in the Nate Heller novels all the time – balancing the needs of the story against what really happened. It’s not easy to stay true to history without being ruled by it, which is why I employ time compression and composite characters, for example. But TV “true crime” has no compunctions about steam-rolling history.

That may be why, in part, the best long-form mini-series I watched (Barb skipped the others, but watched this one with me) is the wholly fictional The Queen’s Gambit. It’s basically a reworking of The Hustler with chess traded for pool, which is perhaps not surprising because Queen’s Gambit is taken from a novel by Walter Tevis, the author of The Hustler (on which the famous Paul Newman film was based).

Several things make the mini-series work, despite chess being something not every rube knows how to play, and that includes this Iowa rube (Barb, of course, can play chess, though does not claim mastery). The story itself works extremely well – we follow a chess-prodigy orphan girl (taught the game by the orphanage janitor) into her early teens she’s adopted by a couple who live in world out of a Douglas Sirk movie, if that movie were written by Tennessee Williams. The teen evolves into an adult as she climbs to the top of the chess world, one match at a time. The 1950s and 1960s are accurately if acidly depicted, with stellar art direction and a cunning soundtrack of popular music.

But what sells it – beyond the screenwriters and directors making chess games as compelling as any competitive sport, even for a checkers guy like me – is the stunning performance of Anya Taylor-Joy, strikingly beautiful and brilliantly understated in her role, equally convincing as a sheltered teen and worldly young woman, and the various stages between. She also credibly portrays the chess star’s descent into pills and alcohol abuse.

This gave Queen’s Gambit a special resonance to me, and here’s where Bait Money comes back in.

At the University of Iowa, from 1968 to 1970, at the Writers Workshop, I studied with the great mainstream novelist, Richard Yates. I’ve told numerous times the story of how Yates overcame his prejudice against crime/mystery fiction to recognize me as a serious-minded young writer already working at a professional level. Along the way, he became perhaps the key mentor of my writing life.

I would have been content to take all of my classes with Yates, but the program insisted on students experiencing a wider range of instructors. At the Workshop, all of the teachers were respected published authors, which was great, but problematic for a budding mystery writer in the late 1960s. To put things in context, at one point Donald E. Westlake applied for a position – well into his glorious career – and was turned down. Yup, it was a snobby, literary place. Things loosened up some, but when I was there, I was – but for Richard Yates – largely alone on my path.

I was anxious to get through the process and get on with my writing career – even though I hadn’t sold anything yet – and took summer sessions to speed things along. One summer instructor was George Cain, an African American author whose novel about drug addiction, Blueschild Baby, was highly regarded. One day he asked the entirely white class to name their favorite black authors, and the names offered up were predictable (James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison, Richard Wright). Mine were Chester Himes and Willard Motley.

Cain was astonished by these choices, almost offended, and put them both down – Himes didn’t know a thing about the real Harlem, he said, and Motley didn’t count, because he wrote about white people, which made him a sellout. At the time, I didn’t know that Himes had based his Harlem on Cleveland’s Roaring Third Precinct; so I couldn’t defend him, except to say he was a great writer. As for Motley, I said the author was probably just trying to write for a mainstream audience in the ‘40s and ‘50s, the white characters in Knock on Any Door and Let Me No Man Write My Epitaph tackling the same kind of social problems facing African Americans.

Tragically, the talented Cain – who never wrote another book – died of drug addiction himself.

I had several instructors, good ones (Cain included), who were patient with me, despite my insistence on writing crime fiction. Then, in the summer of 1970, I had the opportunity to study with Walter Tevis. I was thrilled. Overjoyed. He was the author of one of my favorite novels! The Hustler was definitely in the hardboiled school, and what a great movie had been made out of it! Obviously Tevis would not share the prejudices toward me and my work that I had sometimes suffered at the Workshop.

And he didn’t. He was a very nice man. As a teacher, he seemed a little lost, and certainly preoccupied. He was, clearly, an alcoholic. He had the sleepy, rumpled manner and bleary eyes that went with it. Often he spoke of his Hollywood experiences and I frankly don’t remember anything else about his classroom approach. Of course, we were young writers in a workshop format and the classes were primarily critique sessions, students talking about each other’s work, the instructor a kind of referee.

Black and white photograph of Walter Tevis holding a lit cigarette.
Walter Tevis. Photo credit: E. Martin Jessee/Lexington Herald-Leader

I don’t remember what fiction I submitted that summer. I know that I had completed Bait Money, and that I was continuing my private sessions with Richard Yates, who had helped me get an agent. I was probably working on No Cure for Death. Anyway – I have no memory of how Tevis reacted to any of the student manuscripts we discussed in class.

I recall vividly him speaking of being approached by a Hollywood producer to write a book or film script about poker that would mirror The Hustler. He turned the opportunity down, but said the project became The Cincinnati Kid, about which he was dismissive and resentful. I managed not to tell him that The Cincinnati Kid was a terrific movie, and the book it was based on by Richard Jessup was another favorite of mine. And that I thought he’d made a big mistake not writing a poker version of The Hustler. But now and then I know when to shut up.

Another vivid memory is Tevis being late to class by a good fifteen minutes – we almost walked out, as a group, in his absence – because he’d been on the telephone talking about a movie deal. Someone was thinking about making a film of his novel The Man Who Fell to Earth, he said.

Now, at that time he’d only written two novels. And he admitted to us that he was having trouble writing fiction at all. In fact – and I thought this was very sad at the time, and a little irritating – he put a chapter of a science-fiction book he was trying to write in front of the class, as one of that week’s manuscripts. He wanted to know what we thought about his work-in-progress. I thought we were there so he could tell us what he thought about ours.

Nonetheless, I had bonded somewhat with him, because I’d told him I was a fan, and he was astounded that I had a copy of The Man Who Fell to Earth in its original edition – a Gold Medal paperback – and that I knew The Hustler began as a Playboy short story. We worked out a trade where he gave me a signed copy of a reprint edition of Man Who Fell (from Lancer Books, a minor league company of the day), as he was short copies. I made the trade. Later I found another Gold Medal edition.

The big thing about the summer session was a one-on-one with the instructor. I believe it was a half hour, and I’d been looking forward to it. I had given Tevis the Bait Money manuscript the first day and that’s what we would be discussing. My session with him was toward the end of the summer session – it’s the last time I saw him.

He said, with my manuscript in hand, “I read the first page of your book, and I read the last page. That’s all I needed to read. You’re going to sell it.”

He handed it to me. And that was the session.

Now he may have read more than that, but at the time I was quietly furious. I was driving eighty miles round trip to attend those classes; I was paying good money to attend. And he reads two pages? Hell, in his class, I’d read a whole chapter of his damn science-fiction novel!

On the other hand, he was a pro, and a writer whose work I admired, and he’d looked at my stuff and said I was going to get published – basically, “Don’t worry about it. It’s going to happen.” And, on Christmas eve 1971, it did happen – that’s when the letter came from my agent.

And I do think he may actually have read my whole book. Because his inscription on my signed copy of The Man Who Fell to Earth was: “To Allan – with great hopes for his good book. Walter, July 1970.”

So I had mixed feelings about Walter Tevis. I thought he was a nice, melancholy man with a drinking problem. I always bought his books, including three more science-fiction titles, the first of which didn’t appear till almost a decade later (Mockingbird). Alcoholics Anonymous had been a factor in an early ‘80s comeback, when in a period of about five years he wrote four of his six published novels.

I bought and read the last of these – his unexpected Hustler sequel, The Color of Money, and loved it. Read it in two sittings. I wrote him a letter telling him so, and reminiscing about my experiences as his student, going over much of what I’ve written here, being frank but also appreciative.

I had a stamp on the envelope and the letter was waiting to be mailed when a newspaper told me that Walter Tevis had died. Lung cancer. He’d struggled with a heart condition as well.

My instructor’s novel, The Queen’s Gambit, is – like so many novels by so many of us – a disguised memoir, chess champ Beth Harmon enjoying early success, succumbing to substance abuse, overcoming it, and making a stellar comeback.

As with Skim Deep to Bait Money, there’s a coda to my Walter Tevis story.

Whenever I meet someone famous, I endeavor to find some way I can connect with that person, as a person. With Tom Hanks, at the Chicago Road to Perdition after party, I talked to him about his directorial debut, That Thing You Do, and my having been in a combo much like the one in his film, opening for ‘60s era bands and so on. He lit up. We connected, however briefly.

I took a similar tack meeting Paul Newman at the New York Perdition premiere after party. I should say that of the famous people I’ve met, he was the most intimidating, with the most impenetrable wall up – not unpleasant or nasty in any way, but…he just seemed like a door that had been knocked on too often.

So I mentioned that I studied at the Writers Workshop with the author of The Hustler.

“We threw the whole book out,” Newman said. “Nothing made it into the film. We didn’t use anything.”

Now, I knew this not to be true. The film is a fairly faithful adaptation. So I was flustered. I said something like, “Well, I liked them both very much.”

We spoke a little bit longer, but I was really thrown. Was he sending me a coded message about how unimportant the source writer (me) was to a film like Road to Perdition? Nonetheless, I told him how honored I was to be part of a project of his, and that seemed to please him. We shook hands.

Much later I figured it out. Or anyway I think I did. Newman also starred in The Color of Money (1986), supposedly based on the Tevis sequel to The Hustler. And in that case, the novel really was thrown out, because the Tevis book had a lot to do with the return of Minnesota Fats.

The film version substituted a young pool player, portrayed by Tom Cruise, and the word in the Hollywood trades was that Newman didn’t like working with Jackie Gleason (nominated for an Academy Award for his portrayal of Minnesota Fats), and wouldn’t do the sequel with him in it. And Gleason was too associated with the role to recast, so a new story was written to go with the title of the Tevis book.

The press said Newman claimed he wanted Gleason in as a cameo, and Gleason said he passed after reading scripts that included small scenes with the character that he didn’t feel added to the story. On the other hand, Tevis apparently wrote a faithful adaptation of his book that included Fats as a key player in several senses of the word. The Tevis script was rejected.

In any event, I didn’t care for the film of The Color of Money. It seemed to pander after a young audience via Tom Cruise, and was not one of director Martin Scorcese’s best pictures, and is little talked of today. If you can find the novel, give that a read – it’s very good.

But I have to wonder about that book – did Newman even read the first and last page?

* * *

Here’s a lovely Skim Deep review by Ron Fortier.

Somebody has just discovered the Quarry TV show and likes it.

I made Today’s Word! [I had trouble getting a good link to this (for the time being, it should be the first result at the link above), but I think the newspaper got this from this page at Wordsmith, with some good comments too. — Nate]

Finally, that great podcast Paperback Warrior considers Killing Quarry one of the best ten books the co-host read in 2020.

M.A.C.

Ms. Tree Comes out of the (Skeleton) Closet

Tuesday, October 20th, 2020
Ms. Tree Vol. 2: Skeleton in the Closet
Paperback:
E-Book:

I have not seen a copy yet, but this update will appear on publication day of Ms. Tree Vol. 2: Skeleton in the Closet from Titan.

It reprints in color the rest of the DC comics run from the early ‘90s, and is essentially a casebook – five graphic novellas often dealing with controversial subject matter (gay bashing, date rape, etc.) that unfortunately hasn’t dated at all. There’s also a flat-out horror tale that reveals the roots of the Collins/Beatty team in EC Comics.

I am thrilled that Titan is publishing these books, finally getting all the work Terry and I – influential work, I will immodestly say – in a more permanent form.

This is some of our best work. Volume Three will start at the beginning and the subsequent volumes will continue in the order of original publication.

* * *

For the first time, every person who entered one of my book giveaways – this one for Too Many Tomcats and the Eliot Ness novels – got a book. While that pleases me, it makes me wonder if I’m having too many of these and wearing you people down…particularly those of you who’ve entered and never been rewarded with a book.

The problem is that Wolfpack has been generous enough to put a whole passel of my books out over a short period of time, including Murderlized, a new one. So I don’t mean to swamp you, although it’s important to get reviews for these books out there, including the reprints. Which is the point of the giveaways – to prime the review pump. Well, Amazon Prime the review pump.

The Wolfpack e-book versions have been made available a bit before the trade paperback editions, at times; but I have received copies of most of the books by now and they are beauties. And I am very favorably impressed with the level of the Wolfpack covers. Murderlized is wonderful. So is Too Many Tomcats. And Mommy (while somewhat re-fried as Mommy’s Day) blows me away.

We have new editions coming of Regeneration and Bombshell, the two stand-alone collaborations by Barb and me, and I’m stoked to see what kind of covers Wolfpack whips up with for those.

But the most important Wolfpack release will come in December – Come Spy With Me, the first in the new series by Matthew Clemens and me. It’s set in the early ‘60s and is an unabashed homage to Ian Fleming and the Connery-era Bond films, and the whole spy craze of my youth. Matt and I are going over the galley proofs now, and we have seen the cover, which I hope to share with you soon – it’s a beauty.

I’ve made a huge investment of time and property (in the sense that my backlist titles and short story collections are properties) in Wolfpack. If those of you who enjoy my fiction in general support those efforts, Wolfpack is the rare company that will let me do what I want creatively. A series that other publishers consider “busted” I can write a new entry for. There could be a new Mallory or Disaster Novel or Jack & Maggie Starr. We are seriously considering doing Reeder & Rogers at Wolfpack and Krista Larson, too. If we have some success, Spillane material will appear there.

Consider Quarry. Quarry as a crime novel series had been dead commercially for decades. But editor Charles Ardai, the guru of Hard Case Crime, encouraged me to write a new Quarry novel many years later. No other publisher would have done that. And it has led to many new Quarry novels, an award-winning short film, a feature film, and a Cinemax TV series.

Not long ago Charles encouraged me to write a new Nolan novel. Nolan also has been “dead” for decades, but Charles liked the series and wanted a new one. Now we are looking seriously at Nolan for a TV series on a streaming service (early days, of course, and these things often tank, but…we’re talking about a series I started in 1973). And Hard Case is bringing all of the Nolan novels out again (two to a book). There will also be audios of them read by the great Stefan Rudnicki.

The new Nolan, Skim Deep, will be out the first week of December.

The support you continue to show the work that I produce, my own and the collaborations, means a great deal.

Thank you.

* * *

Here’s a very interesting look at Quarry, the novel of that title, expressing some interesting insights, as well as some thoughts on the Cinemax series.

This is one of several previews of the second Ms. Tree collection, Ms. Tree: Skeleton in the Closet from Titan.

Scroll down at this entry at the entertaining Atomic Junkshop and see a brief but very strong review of Murderlized by Matt Clemens and me – and a great look at the wonderful cover provided by Wolfpack.

This article presents the Nathan Heller novels in order of publication (includes the short story collection and the novella collection) with nice thumbnails on each. Whether this is the best order to read them in, I can’t say. But I did write them in that order, so it makes sense in terms of following my growth (or decline!) over the years.

M.A.C.

A Wolfpack Book Giveaway and an Adventure in the Wild

Tuesday, September 29th, 2020
Murderlized Cover
Murder: His and Hers Cover

NEWS FLASH! All through October, almost every day, one or another of my novels will be part of the Kindle 99-cent Daily Deal, starting with The War of the Worlds Murder. Throughout this sale, both Girl Most Likely and Girl Can’t Help It will get the one-day, 99-cent treatment, as will all the “Disaster” mystery titles and all three Reeder and Rogers titles, including the very appropriate-at-the-moment Supreme Justice. Check every day!

* * *

This week marks the first of several Wolfpack trade paperback giveaways. First up, two short story collections: Murderlized and Murder – His and Hers.

Murderlized collects most of my short story collaborations with Matthew V. Clemens, co-author of the forthcoming Wolfpack release, Come Spy With Me. Matt and I also co-wrote CSI: Crime Scene Investigations, Dark Angel, and Criminal Minds novels, as well as the Reeder & Rogers trilogy (beginning with Supreme Justice), the standalone thriller What Doesn’t Kill Her, and the two J.C. Harrow novels (starting with You Can’t Stop Me). The title story of Murderlized features Moe Howard of the Three Stooges as an amateur sleuth.

Murder – His and Hers, originally published by FiveStar – collects stories co-written by Barb and me as well as a few of our individual stories. Barb is the co-author of the “Trash ‘n’ Treasures” series (most recently Antiques Fire Sale) and is also the co-author of our son, Nathan Collins. Two standalone thrillers we wrote together, Regeneration and Bombshell, will be brought out in new editions by Wolfpack soon.

[All copies claimed. Thank you! — Nate]

* * *

This past week I shot the Noir Alley segments with host Eddie Muller that will wraparound the show’s presentations of two of my favorite noir films, Kiss Me Deadly and Born to Kill. Both host and guest were in their respective home offices, joined by a Zoom-like link and with top flight folks at TCM handling the remote logistics and tech.

Actually, on my end, my son Nate was handling the tech, and he was here throughout the several hours it took to prep and shoot the two shows (well, the wraparounds for two shows). I would have been lost without him, as a bunch of new equipment was sent by TCM to bring us up to broadcast standards.

If that sounds like an ordeal, it wasn’t, except maybe for Nate and the TCM folks, because Eddie and I had a blast. We were talking about two movies we both love and, more broadly, the crime/suspense genre that we both love. I believe the segments, when aired, will run something like ten minutes per episode, and we went easily twice as long and could have talked all afternoon. We were like two old pals in a bar catching up and comparing notes and having a hell of a good time, drunk on each other’s enthusiasm.

Eddie is a sweetheart and beyond knowledgeable. He has done more to popularize and explain film noir than anyone on the planet, and his efforts to mount film festivals and work for preservation of this sacred/profane style of cinema are second to none. His book on Gun Crazy, which is in my top five films of any genre, is the best book I’ve ever read about a single film. It’s available here.

I am, no flying shit, honored to be on Noir Alley, and talking about Kiss Me Deadly – a movie who nobody but the French gave a damn about when I first discovered it, around 1961 (in junior high!) – feels like a privilege and a vindication.

It airs on TCM on Nov. 21. Write that down, but I will almost certainly remind you.

* * *

Today (Sunday, Sept. 27 as I write this) Barb and I emerged from our modified sheltering-in-place to undertake an outing. The preparation rivaled D-Day and the execution was only slightly less harrowing. And that’s coming from the author of Saving Private Ryan.

Iowa is a place where a good number of the half of this state who support Donald Trump have decided to express their admiration by not wearing masks, pooh-poohing social distancing, and insisting that the death of over 200,000 Americans is a hoax perpetrated by those pesky libtards.

So stepping out into this shit storm takes a good deal of fortitude laced with foolhardiness.

One of our favorite little jaunts is to drive the hour and fifteen minutes from Muscatine to Amana, one of the several Amana Colonies. Two restaurants there, serving German-American food (what’s good enough for the Bund is good enough for us!), are among our favorite dining experiences, although their family-style service isn’t, well, perfect for a pandemic.

But workable for carry out, perhaps? We set out in rain summoned by God to dissuade us. He should know by now that we will not be intimidated when it comes to matters of self-indulgence.

We ordered by phone, when we were fifteen minutes out, and the Ronneburg Restaurant (our other fave is the Ox Yolk Inn) was terrific in putting together carry-out cartons for us. The cashier and wait staff were properly masked (traitors!) even if their patrons mostly weren’t, and appeared to be conducting business in a thoughtfully careful way.

We ate our food in the car, like refugees with a Cadillac SUV. I had forgotten the sensation of being so deliriously stuffed to the gills. Caution thrown thoroughly to the winds, we set out for…wait for it…the outlet center at nearby Williamsburg, where for nearly half an hour we took our lives in our hands by shopping at Coach (Barb) and Book Warehouse (me).

In all seriousness (really) (no kidding), we were impressed by the measures the Williamsburg outlet took – masks were required by patrons and employees alike. I can’t speak for Barb at Coach, but Book Warehouse was definitely helped by the size of the place, with its generous aisles, and of course the lack of interest expressed by Americans of all political parties when it comes to reading books. Where would we be without that?

Best not think that one through.

Now, back in Muscatine in this haven of Blu-rays, reading material, and hoarded food products, Barb and I have returned to sheltering in place, warm and well-fed and terrified that we caught something out there.

Can’t wait for the holidays.

* * *

Footnote to the above: on our adventure, we finished listening to Quarry’s Ex as read by Stefan Rudnicki for Skyboat Audio.

Man, does he do a great job with Quarry. He so gets it. At first it may seem like his warm deep baritone is too old for Quarry, whose boyish charm makes the terrible things he does and thinks go down so smoothly. But Stefan really, really understands the character and conveys the humor that the otherwise excellent Cinemax series completely missed.

And, anyway, these are the memoirs of Quarry, written mostly when he was an older man (as old as me, say), which is the way I view the Heller novels, too.

Stefan has also taken over on Mike Hammer for Stacy Keach, with Masquerade for Murder the latest. Haven’t listened to that one yet, as we do our listening in the car and, as this update indicates, we aren’t driving anywhere much. It took two Quad Cities outings and this Amana trip to get through the four CDs of Quarry’s Ex.

Listening to a Quarry novel, when I hadn’t been working on one for a while, brought something home to me – I can see why someone who likes the Quarry books might be confused by Girl Most Likely and Girl Can’t Help It.

A writer – like an painter, actor or a musician – has a right, perhaps even an obligation, not to just do the same thing over and over. I am able to stay fresh with Quarry and Nate Heller and Mike Hammer by painting in other colors, speaking in different voices, and performing in different keys, with the likes of the Antiques series, Caleb York westerns, and the Krista and Keith Larson novels. Same is true of the Reeder and Rogers political thrillers I do with Matt.

It’s likely Quarry and Heller and Mike Hammer fans will be comfortable with John Sand, hero of Come Spy With Me, but I can’t guarantee that. I will say only, to readers who only like one thing or another that I do, I have to write more than just a couple of things or I’ll get bored.

In which case, so will you.

* * *

I’m doing a Zoom interview with Russ Colchamiro this Wednesday (September 30) at 8 pm ET.

And here’s a short but sweet look at Hard Case Crime.

M.A.C.

Murder – His and Hers, Venturing Out & Tracy One Last Time

Tuesday, August 25th, 2020
Murder - His & Hers
E-Book: Amazon Purchase Link

On September 2, Wolfpack’s new Kindle edition of Murder – His and Hers will be available at Amazon.

This collection was previously only an expensive hardcover by Five Star. This new edition will be followed soon by Too Many Tomcats, and before too very long a companion volume, Suspense – His and Hers.

These books collect short stories that Barb and I have written together as well as some written by us individually. Too Many Tomcats, which I edited, is mostly Barb’s solo stories, but all of these will be marketed as by “Max Allan Collins and Barbara Collins.” Wolfpack wants to focus the books as part of their M.A.C. publishing program, so don’t think it’s my ego run (further) amok.

I am hoping that Wolfpack will eventually be publishing our the two collaborative novels, Regeneration and Bombshell, that preceded the long-running Antiques series of mysteries. Those, our first two novels together, were originally published under both our names and later, by Thomas & Mercer, as by “Barbara Allan.” We’re reverting to a joint byline for marketing purposes. All of these will soon be available in print editions (stay tuned).

We also have a collaborative short story coming out in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, though we haven’t been told in what issue yet – “What’s Wrong with Harley Quinn?” – set at the 2019 San Diego Comic Con, which seems like a very long time ago and a different world now. (I also sold a collaborative Spillane/Collins story to EQMM – “Killer’s Alley,” which will be the first Mike Hammer story ever published in those pages; naturally, it will be in their Black Mask section. Barb and I are both thrilled to be contributers to EQMM.)

My bride and I have been writing together for a long time. The process is similar to the one Matt Clemens and I use, although I don’t sleep with Matt, a situation he and I are both fine with. One difference is that I tend to come up with the initial idea when writing with Matt. Usually Barb comes up with the initial idea. Then she and I plot the story together, she writes the rough draft, and I do the second draft. It’s the same for both short stories and novels.

Tomorrow (Monday, as I write this) I will begin work on the new Trash ‘n’ Treasures mystery novel – Antiques Carry On. Barb has completed her draft and I will start in, revising and expanding (she has given me 250 double-spaced pages and I will write 300 to 350 double-spaced pages). The only unusual factor this time is that I’ve already done my draft (from hers) of the first three chapters. That was necessary because we moved to a new publisher and needed to provide a substantial finished sample of the book to that publisher in the effort to land a contract.

We fully intend to keep going with the series, but we are at a funny (odd) juncture, which I trust is one many mystery writers with long-running series are experiencing. In plotting the next book, do we set it pre-pandemic or post-pandemic, or even during pandemic? The problem with post-pandemic, of course, is that none of us know what that will look like.

For seniors like us – and I have underlying health issues that magnify the situation – even a post-pandemic world will be tricky. Maybe it’s already occurred to you that you may have eaten at your last buffet. Or that how (or even if) you go out to the movies will be radically different.

Today, suffering from almost six months of cabin fever, we ventured tentatively out. Prior to Covid-19 we almost always took a day off every week that included going to either the nearby Quad Cities or Iowa City/Cedar Rapids for shopping, dining and sometimes a movie. We also have a nice movie theater here in Muscatine, and often took in films there – you may remember how often I did little movie reviews here back in the Good Old Days.

Since then, trips out for groceries and meds have been about it. I’ve cancelled doctor’s appointments and – although going to the local hospital for blood work – have had my consultations over the phone. We have been essentially sheltering in place since fairly early March.

But today we drove to the Quad Cities. We went through the drive-through at Portillo’s and got delicious food, which we ate in the car. We went briefly into the Davenport Books-a-Million, where masks are required and where the filled parking lot places were fairly sparse, and shopped a little and used the restroom (carefully) and drove home. An outing. An honest-to-God outing. On the way home we took the river road, which is scenic as hell and includes the quarry that Quarry was named after. We were listening to the audiobook of Quarry’s Ex read by the fabulous Stefan Rudnicki, so it was fitting.

In terms of what we used to do, it was kind of pitiful. After six months of sheltering, it was fabulous.

I don’t feel like we took any risks worse than our weekly grocery run. I know a lot of seniors get their groceries delivered, or pull up outside the supermarket for curbside service. But I rather pathetically look forward to a weekly grocery run – it’s early morning (we get up at six a.m. to make it there by seven) and it’s worth it, because the music is oldies, not country western, which you may have noticed I despise. The joy of hearing Bobby Rydell singing “Wild One” or Bobby Darin doing “Things” while I look for mini-cans of Coke Zero is difficult for me to articulate.

Meds we get going through a drive-up.

Also, I have a new appreciation for McDonald’s and Burger King.

So. What world will Barb and I write about when we do the next book about Brandy and Vivian Borne, if we’re lucky enough to get to keep going (as writers and as living breathing human beings)? How much zany laughter does a pandemic produce, anyway? I am planning to write a new Krista and Keith Larson novel – should I set it during the pandemic? Would that be interesting? Or will this be a period that no one will want to re-live? Yes, we look at movies made during the Depression, but mostly they are full of guys in tuxes and gals in ballgowns, or maybe Toby Wing wearing nothing but a great big dime.

And why is anybody still on the planet who would make a Toby Wing reference?

And yet the beat goes on.

* * *

This past week found me finishing up the second novella in the new series I’m doing for Neotext – more about that soon – and cleaning my office and dealing with copy-edited manuscripts and clearing my desk of smaller projects before I dive into Antiques Carry On.

One of those projects is writing the introduction to the 29th volume of The Complete Chester Gould’s Dick Tracy for IDW. I have written introductions to the previous 28 volumes, too.

And now, with Intro 29, I will have written about the entire run of Chester Gould’s Tracy. This volume ends immediately before my fifteen-year tenure begins. Writing about the last, less than stellar year and a half or so of Chet’s work – though that work definitely has its rewards – was a bittersweet experience. My intro gets personal, as during this period my pal Matt Masterson and I were, every six months or so, getting together with Chet at his Tribune Tower office and dining at the prestigious Tavern Club for lunch. On the first such visit, I met my future collaborator, Rick Fletcher. At the time I had no idea that I would be the second writer on this great, important comic strip.

So writing this final intro was indeed a bittersweet thing. Like this damn pandemic, it was gave me a real sense of my mortality – although once you’ve had open heart surgery, your mortality’s on your mind quite a bit, actually. Like – am I dying, or is that just gas? When I first met Chester Gould, he was 72. My age now.

I hope you Tracy fans are taking the time to read my little introductory essays, which I think are pretty good. And fans of mine who haven’t been collecting these Tracy volumes ought to start – but not with the last one. Try something from the ‘40s or early ‘50s and see just how good Chester Gould was at his peak.

* * *

Here’s a nice review of Ms. Tree: One Mean Mother. Scroll down for it.

And here’s a Quarry’s Choice review. Again, scroll down for it. This may be my favorite Quarry novel – definitely my favorite “list” book.

M.A.C.