Posts Tagged ‘Scarface and the Untouchable’

Hey Kids – Despair and Frustration!

Tuesday, October 1st, 2019

I received an e-mail from a loyal reader and good friend to me and my work, who expressed the following concern: “It is probably just my imagination, but…this week’s and last week’s posts seem to have a certain edge of despair and/or frustration about them. Hope all is well.”

I didn’t answer this directly, but will answer it now. Right here.

While “an edge of despair” goes too far, “frustration” does not. This is a frustrating time for me, and for a lot of working writers. Let’s restrict this to writers in the mystery/suspense genre, because that’s the world I know. But I can tell you there are some difficulties of the moment that are impacting probably everybody but the very upper reaches of fiction publishing – the consistent big sellers, and they undoubtedly have their own woes.

Among the problems – the realities – of publishing that have just begun to show themselves in a major way is the policy of many editors and especially publishers to no longer offer multiple book contracts. For much of my career, going back to the mid-‘70s, I would be offered three-book contracts. For somebody like me – prolific and working no “day job,” and dealing with multiple publishers – that has allowed me to be able to look ahead several years and know I have work. In other words, you know you have money coming in (and something to do with your time).

I have been very, very lucky. The only really slow patch came about when, on the same day back in 1993, I had my Nate Heller contract with Bantam cancelled and my Dick Tracy comic strip contract with Tribune Media Services not picked up for the usual five-year run. I was blessed by the friendship of two great men who are no longer with us: Ed Gorman and Martin Greenberg, who almost smothered me in short story assignments until I could get my career up and running again. From these ashes, rose both Road to Perdition and my movie/TV tie-in career.

Other than that rough stretch, made smooth by Ed and Marty, I have always known that I have a couple of years, at least, lined up, keeping me busy and the lights on.

But publishing itself is in a rough patch. I don’t have to go into any detail with anyone reading this about the ongoing changes in the industry – the disappearance of Border’s, the restructuring of Barnes & Noble, the death of many mystery bookstores, the dominance of Amazon and other on-line stores, self-publishing, Amazon’s own publishing, e-books, etc. Some of that stuff represents new opportunities; others represent empty stores with tumbleweed blowing through.

I benefitted greatly by having the bulk of my Nate Heller backlist picked up by Amazon’s Thomas & Mercer, who later picked up Mallory, the “disaster” series, and two thrillers by “Barbara Allan,” Regeneration and Bombshell.

But of late, many publishers – and I think soon most publishers – are offering authors one-book contracts for new work. That is not only troubling for those of us trying to figure out if we have work/income lined up more than a year, but it also presents creative problems. Take the Antiques series, which deals with an on-going storyline in addition to the self-contained mysteries – Barb and I have regularly figured out three-novel story arcs, which have greatly impacted the books creatively.

There is no such thing as a one-book arc.

Caleb York is now getting one book at a time, and I have built an ongoing storyline into that series as well. But a reality of one-book-a-time contracts means every book has to look over its shoulder and make sure that if it turns out to be the last novel, it will provide a satisfying conclusion to the series.

Hard Case Crime has been a huge boon and boost to me, and they have published more books by me than any other author (thanks, Charles!). But, hard as it may be to believe, I’ve never had more than a one-book contract from HCC (other than when they reprinted the early Quarrys in tandem with the Cinemax series).

Nathan Heller has always benefitted from multiple book contracts – the JFK Trilogy (Bye Bye, Baby; Target Lancer; Ask Not) is one of the major achievements of the saga, in my opinion. But Better Dead and the forthcoming Do No Harm were written on one-book contracts. I am looking at a two-book RFK cycle next, but can I find a house that will guarantee me two slots on their publishing schedule?

Girl Most Likely has done very well, but until we see how Girl Can’t Help It does, I won’t know if a third book will happen. This is both nerve-racking and frustrating. The book has done well – sales have been brisk, and the reviews at Amazon average four-stars…and there have been a lot of them (over 200).

But among those reviews were weak ones from several of the trades, complaining that the book was too much of a departure from my Heller/Quarry/Hammer norm. Some readers have complained similarly, and a really nasty two-star review (“What Is This?”) has headed up the Amazon reviews of the novel from the start, and is still there, discouraging sales.

Why do I read reviews? Often I don’t. Do I take them seriously? You bet I do. Why, because I can’t take criticism like any normal human? (Maybe.) But absolutely these on-line reviewers – bloggers who are courted by publishers now – are taken seriously by the editors and publishers who decide whether or not to offer another precious one-book contract to an author. How successful that writer’s track record is seems increasingly irrelevant, unless sales have been through the roof.

If you are interested enough in my work to click onto the links I provide here weekly, you already know that most of the reviews for Girl Most Likely have been very good. Mostly excellent, actually. But publishing takes the negative reviews more to heart than the positive ones – at least that’s how it feels to me.

One problem was that Girl Most Likely debuted in the UK a month before America, and racked up a number of reviews by females who didn’t like an old male writing about a young female (and that the secondary protagonist was also an old male), as well as readers who understandably don’t like America much right now (and those two groups seem to overlap). Most of those hateful reviews were channeled into Goodreads, which set Girl Most Likely up for an initially rough ride.


Trade paperback edition with new material.

There have been other frustrations. Scarface and the Untouchable: Al Capone, Eliot Ness and the Battle for Chicago by A. Brad Schwartz and myself is one of my proudest accomplishments (though Brad deserves much of the credit). It’s a massive, 700-page work that is probably the definitive work on this important, influential aspect of American history. We received not a single nomination for any of the major mystery awards. We were not reviewed in Mystery Scene or The Strand, although the book was much praised outside the genre (we were the Chicago Public Library’s Book of the Year and won a best audio award).

This is why I put so much emphasis on the importance of on-line reviews coming from those of you who are kind enough (and smart enough) to like my work. That’s why I do the book giveaways – and one is coming soon for Killing Quarry.

Also, thanks to those of you who wrote about your willingness to receive Advance Reading Copies of my stuff for review purposes. Right now I don’t know if Do No Harm is even getting ARCs…I’ll let you know. If not, finished copies closer to publication date will be made available, in part through another giveaway.

And you collectors out there who love classic tough guy stuff, like Hard Case Crime publishes, and wish HCC and others would reprint more great old novels…swell, but how about supporting some writers who are still alive? They need your love, and royalties, much more than dead guys. So when I suggest you write reviews on-line of my books, I also want to encourage you to do the same for any writers whose books you regularly read. Remember what the great Don Westlake said: “A cult author is a writer who is seven readers short of making a living.”

So, despair? Not really. Frustration? You betcha, Red Ryder.

And there’s another aspect to this that gets even more personal. At 71, with some health problems behind me (and, like anybody my age, more undoubtedly ahead of me), I am really less concerned with making a living now and more concerned with building the M.A.C. bookshelf…with expanding my legacy. A major part of that is making sure I can keep doing Heller. I have half a dozen more in mind, and in particular want to get the RFK duo done, as I’ve set that up so thoroughly in the previous novels.

So look for a major push for Do No Harm here, to help make another Heller…more Hellers…possible.

And I want to say that I don’t mean to be critical of my publishers and editors. They are navigating a tough, fluid world, where they’ve chosen to be because (like writers) they love books. I salute Titan, Hard Case Crime, Kensington, Morrow, and Thomas & Mercer for everything they’ve done for me and, so far anyway, continue to do.

And I have books coming out from every one – in some cases more than one.

And I can’t forget Brash Books, who have brought out in beautiful editions not only the prose Perdition trilogy (including the complete Road to Perdition movie novel) but Black Hats and USS Powderkeg, previously seen under the Patrick Culhane byline. (Powderkeg restores my preferred title to Red Sky in Morning and is somewhat revised.)

So will you stop bitching, Collins? You have been so damn lucky in your career! Shut-up and thank your readers for everything.

Next week: some good news on a couple of fronts.

* * *

Here’s a great review from Ron Fortier of the Caleb York novel, Last Stage to Hell Junction.

Urban Politico has a fun review of Seduction of the Innocent.

Here’s another of those “movies you didn’t know were based on comic books,” featuring a little something called Road to Perdition.

Scroll down for nice stuff about Ms. Tree, Killing Quarry and Mike Hammer (although the writer doesn’t realize there are two Collins-scripted Stacy Keach radio-style novels-for-audio).

M.A.C.

A Heller of a Timeline

Tuesday, August 20th, 2019

Okay, so the new Nate Heller novel isn’t out till next March. What’s taking you so long to order your copy? Here’s a peek at the cover, which I like quite a bit.


Hardcover:
E-Book: Amazon Google Play Nook Kobo iTunes

My old pal Tony Isabella, the gifted comics writer who created Black Lightning, wondered a week or so ago if I had ever put together a time line, so that the Nate Heller stories could be read in chronological order. A fan did something along those lines, still posted here, but not updated (and unfortunately that loyal fan has passed away). So I have made an attempt at answering Tony’s request.

Keep in mind that math is somewhat involved here, and I am only famous where math is concerned for being pitifully simple-minded in its regard. Over the years it’s been a real effort not have Nate Heller in two places at the same time. I present this list more as a deterrent than a suggestion, because it demonstrates what a difficult and perhaps not useful process reading the Heller memoirs in order would be.

The major problem is that a number of the novels often begin in one year and jump to another in a second, and even another in a third section. The novels also often have flashback chapters, and I have only scratched the surface where the latterday things Heller does have been made part of this.

Do No Harm – did I mention it comes out in March of next year, and that you can order it now? – has two sections, one taking place in 1957, another in 1966. That’s why to read the Heller memoirs in chronological order, you have to shuffle the deck just so. To make the job possible, and yet harder, for you, I have included the novellas and short stories.

What this chronology mostly demonstrates is that Heller has been a busy boy, and so has his pappy.

The timeline of the Nathan Heller memoirs:

Stolen Away – March 4 – April 18 1932
Damned in Paradise – later April – May 1932
True Detective – December 19 – December 22 1932
“Kaddish for the Kid” (short story) – summer 1933
“The Blonde Tigress” (short story) – August 1933
“Private Consultation” (short story) – December 1933
True Crime – July 13 – September 1 1934
Flying Blind – March 11 – May 16, 1935
Blood and Thunder – August 30 – September 12, 1935
“The Perfect Crime” (short story) – December 1935
“House Call” (short story) – January 1936
Stolen Away – March 13 – April 4 1936
“Marble Mildred” (short story) – June 1936
Blood and Thunder – October 26 – November 10 1936
Flying Blind – March 17 – July 19, 1937
“The Strawberry Teardrop” (short story) – August 1938
The Million-Dollar Wound – November 6 – 12 1939
“Scrap” (short story) – December 1939
“Natural Death, Inc.” (short story) – March 1940
Flying Blind – May 6 – June 4 1940
Majic Man – September 1940
“Screwball” (short story) – May 1941
The Million-Dollar Wound – November 1942
The Million-Dollar Wound – February 2 – March 20 1943
Carnal Hours – July 1943 – approximately September 1943
“That Kind of Nag” (short story) – May 1945
Neon Mirage – June 24 – August 21 1946
Neon Mirage – December 15 – June 20 1947
Angel in Black – January 1947
“Unreasonable Doubt” (short story) – March 1947
Dying in the Post-war World (novella) – July 1947
Majic Man – March – May 1949
“Shoot-Out On Sunset” (short story) – late summer 1949
Better Dead – May 1, 1950
Chicago Confidential – September – November 1950
Strike Zone (novella) – August 1951
Better Dead – March 26 – June 1953
Kisses of Death (novella) – June 1953
Better Dead – November 1953
Kisses of Death (novella) – February 1954
Do No Harm – 1957
Target Lancer – Fall 1960
Strike Zone (novella) – June 1961
Bye Bye, Baby – May 23 – August 1962
Ask Not – Late summer 1962
Target Lancer – October 25 – November 29 1963
Ask Not – September 1964
Do No Harm – 1966
Flying Blind – February 1970
Target Lancer – a few days before Christmas, 1973

My recommended reading order to give you a roughly chronological read, without whiplash, while letting each case finish itself:

True Detective
Stolen Away
Damned in Paradise
True Crime
Blood and Thunder
Flying Blind
The Million-Dollar Wound
Carnal Hours
Neon Mirage
Angel in Black
Majic Man
Chicago Confidential
Better Dead
Bye Bye, Baby
Target Lancer
Ask Not
Do No Harm

But my preference? I think my development as a writer (and perhaps my inevitable decline) will be better observed by reading the novels in the order I wrote them:

True Detective
True Crime
The Million-Dollar Wound
Neon Mirage
Stolen Away
Carnal Hours
Blood and Thunder
Damned in Paradise
Flying Blind
Majic Man
Angel in Black
Chicago Confidential
Bye Bye, Baby
Target Lancer
Ask Not
Better Dead
Do No Harm

The two collections – novellas in Triple Play and the short stories in Chicago Lightning – can be read any time, and in any order, you choose. You’re welcome!

Gathering this material reminds me how much I like these books. This is not to say I love every turn of phrase or twist of plot. But I am proud of what they accomplish – specifically looking at these famous crimes and mysteries in a fresh, in-depth manner while creating a private detective who I think can stand shoulder to shoulder with Marlowe and Hammer. That’s obviously immodest, but I often think of what my late friend, Stu Kaminsky, said about his Hollywood private eye, Toby Peters: “I really like those books,” he told me. “I have fun doing them.”

I have fun writing Heller, too, although the research has been brutally hard. Writing Do No Harm, I could only think back to the pre-Google days of many trips to libraries to look at microfiche and bound copies of old magazines, the countless trips to used bookstores to search out ancient magazines and forgotten volumes. On second thought, I kind of miss that….

Not really.

* * *

Here is a terrific review of Girl Most Likely in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine:

**** Max Allan Collins, Girl Most Likely, Thomas & Mercer, $15.95. Chief Krista Larson of Galena, Illinois is the youngest female police chief in the country. The night of her ten-year high-school reunion, a beautiful former classmate is stabbed to death. Krista’s father, a retired Iowa detective, makes a connection between this murder and the stabbing of another classmate in Florida several months earlier. Father and daughter and the small Galena police force interview suspects and follow clues to catch the killer. Girl Most Likely reminded me of Longmire crossed with Grosse Point Blank fitted into a closed-circle plot worthy of Agatha Christie.

My co-author, A. Brad Schwartz, appeared at the Mississippi Book Festival in support of our Scarface and the Untouchable. Here’s the true crime panel, on which he did a terrific job.

M.A.C.

Centuries & Sleuths Rules!

Tuesday, June 11th, 2019

The signing at Centuries & Sleuths on Sunday afternoon was a lot of fun. Not a big group, but dedicated fans – familiar faces plus a couple who drove 3 ½ hours to see me. As Judy Tenuta says, it could happen.

The occasion was Antiques Ravin’ by Barbara Allan and everybody bought a copy. Barb was charming and funny, and I blathered as usual. Lots of good questions, though, and a young woman impressed me with her knowledge of and interest in hardboiled fiction. How wonderful to find a Millennial female who is a fan of Mike Hammer and loves Velda.

Other fans encouraged me to keep writing Hammer, and I assured them that I had another half dozen books I could write from Spillane material.


M.A.C. and longtime fan Mike Doran

I am writing this Sunday night. Monday Brad Schwartz and I will go to WGN-TV to be interviewed by Larry Potash about E.J. O’Hare, the Capone Outfit crony whose son O’Hare Airport is named for. It’s part of promoting the trade paperback of Scarface and the Untouchable, which was just published. As you may recall, it has additional new material that wasn’t in the hardcover, and a few corrections have been made as well.

Brad appeared at the Printer’s Row book expo on Sunday while Barb and I (Barbara Allan, remember?) did the signing and talk at Centuries and Sleuths.

I do precious few bookstore appearances these days, but Centuries and Sleuths, with its emphasis on history and mystery is special, as are Augie and his wife Tracy Alesky, the owners of the cozy but book-packed shop.


M.A.C. and Augie

Barb and Tracy

Bob Goldsborough showed up, before Barb and I did our talk, to get some books signed by me, and by him to me, as well. He is doing a fantastic job continuing the Nero Wolfe series, and we make an obnoxious mutual admiration society.

* * *

Here’s a terrific review of Last Stage to Hell Junction.

M.A.C.

The New Mike Hammer Audio Rocks (Said the Author)

Tuesday, March 26th, 2019

Note from Nate: The entire Barbara Allan Trash ‘n’ Treasures series of eBooks are on sale now through April 1. Most are $1.99, but a couple are $.99 or $2.99. The newest novel, Antiques Ravin’ comes out April 30, making this the perfect time to catch up and fill in any you’ve missed! I’ve provided links to all major online eBook storefronts, but if I’ve missed your preferred store, please leave a comment and I’ll add it.

Scroll down for this week’s regularly scheduled update. Thanks!


Amazon Google Play Nook Kobo iTunes

Amazon Google Play Nook Kobo iTunes

Amazon Google Play Nook Kobo iTunes

Kobo

Google Play


Amazon Google Play Nook Kobo iTunes

Amazon Google Play Nook Kobo iTunes

Amazon Google Play Nook Kobo iTunes

Amazon Google Play Nook Kobo iTunes

Amazon Google Play Nook Kobo iTunes

Amazon Google Play Nook Kobo iTunes

* * *


Audiobook (digital): Kobo Audible
Audiobook (MP3 CD): Amazon Nook
Audiobook (Audio CD): Amazon Nook

Barb and I are listening to the audio of Murder, My Love in the car. We had a trip to Cedar Rapids recently (more about that later), which took us through half of it. Another trip, this time to the Quad Cities and back, got us about 3/4’s of the way.

It’s quite wonderful.

I have been very blessed to have perhaps the actor most identified with Mike Hammer – Stacy Keach himself – reading all of the Hammers for audio starting with The Goliath Bone and ending with Murder Never Knocks. I have no way to express how cool it was to hear that voice, so identified with Mike Hammer, reading the books I’ve written in posthumous collaboration with Mickey Spillane himself.

Stacy also was Hammer in the two audio book radio-style presentations of mine in the New Adventures of Mike Hammer series (I wrote volumes two and three of the three produced) – The Little Death (Audie award winner for best script) and Encore for Murder (Audie award nominee for best script). I actually acted with him in a couple of scenes on both. Bliss.

When for various reasons, the very busy Mr. Keach stepped down, another of my favorite readers took over – Dan John Miller, the voice of Nate Heller, who read The Will to Kill and Killing Town. He did a fine job and made a particularly good younger-sounding Hammer, appropriate to Killing Town in particular. (He has just done Girl Most Likely, which I haven’t listened to yet, but definitely will.)

Now Stefan Rudnicki has picked up the mantle. Stefan claims to love my work, and I certainly love his. He’s been the reader of the Quarry novels for a while now, and also did an award-winning job on the massive Scarface and the Untouchable: Al Capone, Eliot Ness, and the Battle for Chicago by A. Brad Schwartz and me. An amazing job by a reader/actor who really knows how to bring a book alive.

Now he’s taken on Mike Hammer, and he is doing a fantastic job. He gets every nuance of the tough-guy and smart-ass stuff, as well as the noir poetry. If you have stepped away from these audios, because Stacy isn’t doing them anymore (and I get that), you need to get back on board. Stefan in particular brings an older Hammer to life, which is perfect in Murder, My Love, a chronologically later book in the canon.

Don’t miss these. Also, we’ll get to keep doing them if you buy ‘em. The problem with a long-running series, particularly on audio, is that at a certain point the audio publisher feels there are enough books in a series – say, Mike Hammer – to suffice.

Speaking of Scarface and the Untouchable, if you’re going to Bouchercon, and haven’t sent in your Anthony ballot yet, shake a leg. That book is eligible, as are Killing Town and Antiques Wanted, and the Spillane/Collins stories “The Big Run” (EQMM) and “The Punk” (Mystery Tribune).

* * *

Last week Barb and I appeared at the Ed Gorman Celebration of Popular Fiction at Coe College in Cedar Rapids. (We were the only guests at the inaugural event. As Miles Davis once said, told he was going to be late for the show, “I can’t be late for the show, man – I am the show”).

Barb and I taught a full classroom of interested and obviously bright students, who took lots of notes and asked plenty of smart questions. That evening I spoke for an hour, a good portion of my talk devoted to my late friend Ed Gorman and what a wonderful writer he was, and what an incredible friend he was to me (and to Barb, whose writing career he encouraged and supported with anthology invites).

Ed’s lovely, gracious wife Carol drove us around and kept us company. We stayed overnight at the DoubleTree in downtown CR, because it was a long day. I mention this because some of you may be wondering why I so seldom do this kind of thing anymore, especially since I tend to be really good at it (no brag, just fact, some asshole said) and so obviously enjoy myself doing such dates. The signing afterward was similarly fun and I loved talking to longtime readers and new ones alike.

But I have to say such events are going to be few and far between now. I doubt I’ll do more than one convention a year, and it will probably be Bouchercon. I am available to be a guest of honor at just about any other mystery or comics con, as I am easily flattered and like to have my hotel room and transportation paid for. Who doesn’t?

Coe made for a long day. We took that hotel room so I could rest between the teaching session and a cocktail party meet-and-greet followed by the speaking engagement. The long day required me to go up a lot of stairs and walk all over the campus, or at least it seemed that way to me. Listen, I’m not really complaining – I enjoyed the hell out of it, and I got a lot of laughs during my speech, which is almost as good as a fat royalty check. Almost.

This is not about my health issues, or at least is only partly about them. The medication I’m on can give me dizziness, and my gait gets unsteady when I get tired, ever since the minor stroke I had on the operating table. People think because I am energetic and charming and witty as hell that I am a Superman. Maybe, if he had pockets full of Kryptonite.

This is something Barb and I are dealing with. I noticed it for the first time in Vegas at the Mob Museum, where at my first of two appearances I felt I stunk up the joint (I was very good at the second event, a day…and a bunch of rest…later.) At the same time, I am preparing for my band Crusin’ and our “season,” which begins early summer and lasts through early fall. Last year we played around nine gigs, mostly out of doors, which makes me wonder if I should make this my last gigging season.

Nonetheless, I am hoping we will make a new CD this summer, all original material.

The one thing that doesn’t seem to be terribly impacted by age and occasionally sketchy health is my writing. I am more prolific than ever, which makes it hard for some readers to keep up with me. But that’s when I feel the most myself and the most alive – at the machine. Making up stories.

I am not looking for sympathy, which I do not deserve, and don’t mean to imply I am unwell, which I am not. I feel very good almost all of the time. It’s a matter of energy, and I think when this dreadful Midwestern winter gets tired of torturing us, and I get out walking again – and gigging again – I will start to feel in shape.

Just know that the reason my book signings and con appearances are more and more infrequent doesn’t mean I don’t love you. It means that I have to watch my energy level and make sure any appearances are infrequent and, when I do take one on, designed to give me time for rest…and to drop me at the door by car of wherever I’m appearing, with Barb at my side.

What I want to spend most of my time doing now is writing books, and short stories and non-fiction pieces and movie and TV scripts. And I think that’s probably how you’d prefer I spend my time, too.

* * *

Here is what I consider a first-rate interview with yours truly, in support of The Girl Most Likely.

Supreme Justice is chosen one of the best 21 legal thrillers of the 21st Century. Hey, Matt Clemens – we are in some heady company, my friend!

The Rock Island Dispatch-Argus lists some men who made their mark who come from the Quad Cities area. I sort of make the list by hanging onto John Looney’s coattails.

Finally, here’s some stuff about Batman: Child of Dreams by Kia Asamiya and me. Looks like some collectibles were generated from that, unbeknownst to me.

M.A.C.