Posts Tagged ‘Short Stories’

Sidekicks

Tuesday, May 26th, 2020

Hardcover:
E-Book: Google Play Kobo

Digital Audiobook: Google Play Kobo

The day this update appears (May 26) is the pub date for the new Caleb York western novel, Hot Lead, Cold Justice.

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

I am not a voluminous reader of westerns myself, though I have long been a fan of western films. I can talk John Wayne, Randolph Scott, Joel McCrea and Audie Murphy with the best of ‘em; same goes for directors like Sam Peckinpah, Budd Boeticher, Anthony Mann, John Ford and Howard Hawks. The early seasons of Maverick are mid-century TV at its best. Probably my favorite western novel (and there’s a certain irony about this – see if you can catch it) is the novelization of Howard Hawks’ movie Rio Bravo by its screenwriter, Leigh Brackett, the woman who shared screenplay credit with William Faulkner on the same director’s film of The Big Sleep.

I’ve never been a big Faulkner fan, but there are two stories about him that I love.

One is that a frustrated reader told him how much trouble he was having understanding what Faulkner had written in The Sound and the Fury. Faulkner told him, “Have you tried reading it drunk? That’s how I wrote the thing.”

Another is that Faulkner was paid big money to fly to a college campus to talk to a creative writing seminar as their keynote speaker. When his turn came, Faulkner went to the dias and asked how many of the college students wanted to be writers. They all raised their hands. Then Faulkner said, “Then why the hell aren’t you home writing?” And sat back down.

I don’t know if either of those stories are true, and I don’t care. Somebody already mentioned here once said, “Print the legend,” and I agree with that.

Getting back to Hot Lead, Cold Justice – a title I suggested as a joke that was immediately embraced (mine was The Big Die-up) – a lovely review has appeared at that great book review site, Bookgasm, and rather than put you to the trouble of chasing a link, here it is (written by Mark Rose):

Max Allan Collins has entered my reading list once again, this time in a genre with which I’m mostly unfamiliar: the Western. Hot Lead, Cold Justice is listed as by Mickey Spillane and Collins, and this is the fifth book in the series featuring Spillane’s character Caleb York.

For those who don’t know, Spillane and Collins were friends, and upon the former’s death, he entrusted his literary property such as his characters (Mike Hammer) and unpublished screenplays (where the character Caleb York originated) to Collins. So Collins has written a number of Mike Hammer stories and now explores the world of late 19th-century New Mexico.

It’s a tough frontier world but the little oasis of Trinidad, New Mexico seems just fine for Sheriff Caleb York. Until his deputy is shot twice and left to die. York had just given the man his long coat and hat, and he’s convinced that the gunmen were aiming for York and not the deputy. Luckily, the deputy survives. But York knows he’s got men after him now.

These men are a rough and brutal lot. Their leader rode with Quantrill, the notorious Missouri raider who massacred the men in the free state town of Lawrence, Kansas during the Civil War. They’ll stop at nothing as they attempt to rob banks in the area in order to set up a stake for themselves and eventually go live on a beach in Mexico. And while they do that, they can find time to ambush York and bring his do-gooder life to an end.

This is a short (just over 200 pages), rip-roaring read with the fast pacing and smooth style that characterizes all of Collins’ work. Characters are simply described, but set up with credible backstories and behaviors. The scenery is all well-described. Dialogue is spot-on, except perhaps for the unfortunate dialect awarded to the deputy’s voice.

If you want a movie-style Western and you’ve read all your Louis L’Amours, I think it would be a place to start with Max Allan Collins and Mickey Spillane’s books featuring Caleb York. Here are the titles in order: The Legend of Caleb York, The Big Showdown, The Bloody Spur, Last Stage to Hell Junction, and Hot Lead, Cold Justice.

Wow. That’s an overwhelmingly positive review, huh? But of course that doesn’t stop me from having a bone to pick.

Well, not really. I get it – I understand how somebody entering the serious, relatively realistic world of Caleb York could have difficulty with Deputy Jonathan P. Tulley’s “dialect.” But the thing is, Tulley isn’t speaking a dialect at all. Nobody ever spoke like that. I have no idea where I’m pulling that patois out of, unless I’m sitting on it.

We are in the territory of a character who is great fun to write because he can say or do just about anything, and I don’t have to apologize (even though I seem to be right now.)

Tulley has much in common with Mother (aka Vivian Borne) in the Antiques novels, because there doesn’t seem to be any behavior or train of thought or speech that she can’t get away with. Whenever I think I’ve gone too far with Mother, I run it past Barb and she always says the same thing, “There’s no way you can go too far with Mother.”

That’s because, at least in part, Vivian Borne was conceived as the comedy relief – the sidekick to her amateur sleuth daughter, Brandy. The problem is that Vivian (not surprisingly) didn’t behave. She insisted on having equal footing with Brandy, and began pushing for first-person chapters of her own. She has also developed into a hell of a detective, or (as we say in the cozy world) a heck of a detective. For a long time the girls argued over who was Holmes and who was Watson. But, really, it didn’t take long for Brandy to realize she was Archie Goodwin to Mother’s Nero Wolfe – only Mother is not at all a stay at home detective.

By the way, Antiques Fire Sale was published just a month ago, and is a good place to see what it is I’m talking about.

Sidekicks often become more popular than the more recognizably human heroes they hang around with. Does anyone really think Roy Rogers, for all his charm and his lovely singing voice, was more memorable than Gabby Hayes? What was Marshal Dillon without Chester? When Dennis Weaver left his Good name behind to be a full-fledged hero himself, Festus had to be called in off the bench.

It’s the Kirk and Spock effect.

As for that pesky dialect of Tulley’s, I have written him in a long tradition of characters like Dick Tracy cast members B.O. Plenty and Vitamin Flintheart. No hillbilly ever spoke like B.O., but that didn’t stop Chester Gould from letting him talk, or me from letting him devolve into a babbling source of malapropisms. And John Barrymore, the model for Vitamin, never spoke in the bewildering flowery way of the great Flintheart.

Speaking of hillbillies, no real hillbilly ever had a thing to do with Al Capp’s creations, either. As a kid, I was a Li’l Abner fan for years before somebody pointed out to me that Capp was doing hillbillies. In my college days, a leftist pal of mine complained that Capp was ridiculing poverty-stricken Appalachian mountaineers. I replied that the last time I looked, Capp was ridiculing everybody (just not as well, in his later years, as in his heyday).

Mickey created the way Tulley talks and I ran with it. I realize for some a cartoonish character like Tulley, in the midst of an otherwise straight story, may be bewildering or off-putting. But beyond his peculiar way of speaking, Tulley has grown and evolved from town drunk to sheriff’s deputy, and revealed himself as a good man to have at your side in a gunfight.

I think it was the late, great Bill Crider who said, “Every western ought to have a character in it that could be played by Gabby Hayes.” Or maybe it was the great but not late James Reasoner. Sure, there are loners without sidekicks – Shane, Paladin, late-period Randolph Scott, probably a bunch of others. For many a hero, though, a Pat Buttram or Fuzzy Knight or Walter Brennan is de rigueur. For the more serious-minded, Jay Silverheels or (in The Searchers) Jeffrey Hunter would have to do.

But, goldurnit, even Hondo had a dog. And I think Gabby Hayes could have played that hound right fine.

* * *

Speaking of sidekicks, I am happy to play Gabby Hayes to my lovely wife, Barbara Collins, to whom I was married on June 1, 1968. She would probably prefer Jeffrey Hunter, though.

Fifty-two years, and it really does seem like yesterday. Anyone who doubts that I am a very lucky man just isn’t paying attention.

* * *

Digital Audiobook: Google Play

Somebody in Australia (home of Wentworth!) put together a list of my “oeuvre.” Check it out.

This list of Memorial Day mysteries includes my story, “Flowers for Bill O’Reilly.” I wrote it long ago, before I knew who the ex-Fox commentator was. I’ll change the name next time it’s reprinted.

Journalstone has put out an audio of The Last Stand, the last book Mickey completed in his lifetime, edited by me and with a novella I co-wrote, also included on the audio. I haven’t heard it yet, but it’s read by that wonderful narrator, Dan John Miller.

This is an insightful review of my Batman prose short story, “What is The Sound of One Hand Clapping.”

And, finally, here’s a smart review of Mickey’s novel The Girl Hunters, from the anthology of three Hammer novels I edited and introduced. Complex 90, of course, is the sequel.

M.A.C.

Publish or Perish the Thought…

Tuesday, February 18th, 2020

Recently here, I’ve bemoaned the perils of having three books published almost simultaneously by three different publishers. Some of you might be thinking, “Oh boo hoo hoo – poor him, having all that success.”

That’s an understandable reaction. But this imperfect storm really does present me with a shaky future (as if my impending 72nd birthday didn’t make my future shaky enough). The threat is that one, or even all three, may under-perform.

Aside from this, I have noted some troubling things going on in the publishing of fiction (non-fiction, too, but my emphasis is chiefly fiction of course) that have already had a negative impact on many writers. Till now, I’ve been lucky. For a non-household name in the pop fiction field, I have had a long run. Many writers, touted as the next big thing, have fallen by the wayside while I traversed the road to Perdition with Quarry, Nate Heller, Ms. Tree, the Borne girls, and a good number of others.

Barb and I have always done a certain amount of promo ourselves. Most publishers have traditionally had a PR staff (or at least a staffer) who we could call upon for support. We assembled a list of reviewers over the years (a once proud thirty or so, now dwindled to a dozen, with the passing of so many print venues) that could be shared with PR reps, who would see that copies of the latest novel were sent out. Meanwhile, these promo folks took care of getting advance copies or finished books to the trades and often many newspapers and other publications around the country known to do reviews of mysteries.

Of my current publishers – no names will be mentioned – two still have a PR person assigned to me, and the help is much as before, and much appreciated. In the case of something special – like the 100th birthday of Mickey Spillane – that help gets ramped up. In the case of several other publishers, no PR person is available to me at all.

I have been told the approach to marketing, on one of my new books, will be “holistic.” This reminds me of George Carlin when he said, “Real chocolatey goodness! Know what that means? No fucking chocolate!” An editor at that same publisher told me flat-out that – beyond sending copies of the trade publications (Publisher’s Weekly, Booklist, Kirkus, Library Journal), publicity was my responsibility, a “D.I.Y.” effort.

Much of this comes down to utilizing social media. Now, while I do this weekly update/blog here, and also post it on my two Facebook pages, I have chosen (thus far) not to use Twitter or Instagram or whatever other platform has come along since I began writing this piece. I am, after all, a man in his early seventies who has a land line. I use my cell phone to keep track of my e-mails, do simple Internet searches (“Davenport Iowa movie times”), and…what else, there’s something…oh yes, make and receive phone calls. I text rarely and with great difficulty.

I don’t use any apps. I live in Iowa. Do you really think anyone my age in Iowa knows how to use an app? Just in case you don’t get the reference, I will share (briefly) our experience at the local Democratic Caucus, when the debacle it was to become was only a twinkle in the Iowa Democratic Party’s twitching eye.

The woman running things – a volunteer, bless her heart – spent the early part of the evening reading aloud instructions in the wrong order, and laughing hysterically about how badly she was screwing things up. As things got worse, this nice woman (not being sarcastic), who was a retired school teacher, began to attempt to regain order by counting, very loud, “One..two…three…!” to the rowdy class before her.

So.

Let’s not depend on a soon-to-be-72-year-old author (from Iowa) to use apps, shall we?

Yet a number of my publishers want me to expand my social media footprint. I am supposed to write entertaining, pithy Tweets. I am supposed to provide photos of my food and pets and now and then a book of mine on Instagram. And my son Nathan and I, teeth gritted, are exploring doing some of that.

But am I crazy to think that I should be spending my time and creative energy writing my fiction?

In certain areas of fiction writing, writers are given modest advances and then essentially required (if they want another contract) to spend those advances on promotion – going to each other’s signings (how this works without flying around the country I can’t tell you), attending numerous conventions (which does require flying or in some cases driving around the country), and endlessly interacting with readers (and other writers) on social media. Not only is this time-consuming, it turns professional writers – these writers are pros by definition, since they are receiving advances and sometimes royalties – into amateurs.

Like any real professional writer, I need the bulk of my income to…how shall I put this?…live on.

This began with the romance writers and the very positive practice of writers groups. For decades I taught at a writers conference and interacted with romance writers (had several romance novels dedicated to me, which took some explaining to the novelists’ husbands and my wife) and that included their writers groups. From these groups in my area, and the support and help the writers gave each other, came any number of published novels. Obviously, the same is true all around the country.

But a downside, which in my opinion some publishers take advantage of, is the maintaining of an amateur approach by requiring those writers to sink or swim largely based upon the willingness of those writers to plow their hard-earned advances into promo.

The romance writers have taken a hit lately. Romantic Times, once a powerful newsstand magazine, has recently ceased its annual convention and its web site is shutting down, too. This seems to flow at least in part from a controversy having to do with a romance writer attacking another romance writer’s perceived racial, sexist and other biases. Sides were drawn in the controversy and attacks and apologies began to fly. Whether writers should be criticizing each other in this manner is a topic worth discussion, but I won’t get into that here.

Still, it points out that concerns related to political correctness now hover over publishing in a very real way. I recently had an editor I respect label something of mine as “dated” in its “hardboiled” approach. Now, “dated” in that context is code for two things: first, the content may not be in step with politically correct attitudes; and second, I am an old white male. It’s also worth noting that you don’t hear an editor use the term “hardboiled” in any fashion but a negative one. I never use the term myself. When an editor likes that sort of thing, it’s “noir.” You know what “hardboiled” is? It’s a dated term, in the right and proper sense of the word “dated.”

These are, as I perceive them, realities in the world of fiction writing and publishing these days. I point them out not to try to change them – we’re past that, I’m afraid – but to explain to those of you who are kind enough to like my work why I have spent so much time worrying about having three books out at the same time.

How I am doing my best to promote my work in this climate?

For some time, I have accepted very, very few “friend” requests on Facebook. This was back when I checked my “feed” frequently. But a good two years ago, I curtailed that because I was disgusted by the amount of political blather. I also couldn’t keep my mouth shut (hard as that might be to imagine) and wound up damaging longstanding, real friendships. So lately I’ve been accepting “friend” requests if I can tell that the individuals making those requests have a real interest in things I care about…non-political things. Accepting these friends is a part of trying to expand my footprint.

A few days ago Barb and I sent out two big boxes of books to, first, winners in our last book giveaway here; and, second, to reviewers, with a letter explaining that having three novels out at the same time was not my idea. Some of these reviewers I’ve never sent to before. To get Girl Can’t Help It into the hands of potentially friendly reviewers, I spent a day searching Google to locate every positive review (including mixed ones) for Girl Most Likely and offered those reviewers/bloggers a copy.

Beyond this, Nate and I will be exploring using Instagram. Maybe Twitter too, but that puts my stomach and my head in a competition over which hurts the most.

And I want to say, to any publishers or editors who might be reading this, that I understand they are struggling to stay afloat, too. These are tough times in publishing, and have been for a while.

But here’s the thing: I came to this planet to write, not to Tweet.

* * *

I know what you’re all looking for – another book with Max Allan Collins content to buy!

Well, you’re in luck, because this is a good one – the new Mystery Writers of America anthology, Deadly Anniversaries. My story, “Amazing Grace,” is based on a real incident from my childhood, which Barb suggested I use when an assignment in this thematic anthology came my way.

I think “Amazing Grace” might be my best short story. I am pleased to say that Publisher’s Weekly singled it out in their rave review, giving me lead position in a book filled with work by Grand Master mystery writers:

“Anniversaries of all kinds are the source of mayhem for the 19 stories in this entertaining all-original anthology from MWA grand masters Muller and Pronzini. Wedding anniversaries feature prominently, as in Max Allan Collins’s diverting ‘Amazing Grace, ’in which a 50th anniversary cake becomes the catalyst for murder.”

* * *

Barb and I are listening to Dan John Miller’s reading of Girl Can’t Help It in the car (he’s not in the car with us – we’re using CD’s). We’re about half-way through. He is doing his usual masterful job, making the book come alive, and making me look (sound) good.

Dan has also performed Do No Harm, meaning he’s narrated every Heller to date. We are really looking forward to that. He is fantastic.

* * *

Finally, my pal Paul Bishop (I’m tempted to say “pard”) includes the forthcoming Caleb York novel, Hot Lead, Cold Justice, on the premiere episode of his podcast (with Richard Prosch), Six-Gun Justice. These guys do a great job.

M.A.C.

Pop the Clutch!

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2019

Hardcover:
Paperback:
E-Book: Amazon Nook Kobo

For those of you who might wonder whatever happened to the Max Allan Collins/Matthew Clemens writing team, this answer is…here’s a new story by us in a great new anthology with a killer line-up of writers.

It’s a visual feast of a book, as the cover itself tells you. But every story has a great illustration, and that includes ours – Steve Chanks did a great job, and I’ve shared it here with you.

Here’s the press release:

Welcome to the cool side of the 1950s, where the fast cars and revved-up movie monsters peel out in the night. Where outlaw vixens and jukebox tramps square off with razorblades and lead pipes. Where rockers rock, cool cats strut, and hot rods roar. Where you howl to the moon as the tiki drums pound and the electric guitar shrieks and that spit-and-holler jamboree ain’t gonna stop for a long, long time . . . maybe never.

This is the ’50s where ghost shows still travel the back roads of the south, and rockabilly has a hold on the nation’s youth; where lucky hearts tell the tale, and maybe that fella in the Shriners’ fez ain’t so square after all. Where exist noir detectives of the supernatural, tattoo artists of another kind, Hollywood fix-it men, and a punk kid with grasshopper arms under his chain-studded jacket and an icy stare on his face.

This is the ’50s of Pop the Clutch: Thrilling Tales of Rockabilly, Monsters, and Hot Rod Horror. This is your ticket to the dark side of American kitsch . . . the fun and frightful side!

Table of Contents includes:

“The Golden Girls of Fall” by Seanan McGuire
“Sea Lords of the Columbia” by Weston Ochse
“Tremble” by Kasey Lansdale and Joe R. Lansdale
“The Demon of the Track” by Gary Phillips
“Outlawed Ink” by Jason Starr
“We Might Be Giants” by Nancy Holder
“Universal Monster” by Duane Swierczynski
“Draggers” by David J. Schow
“The Starlite Drive-In” by John M. Floyd
“Dr. Morbismo’s InsaniTERRORium Horror Show” by Lisa Morton
“Hot Babe” by Bill Pronzini
“The Prom Tree” by Yvonne Navarro
“I’m with the Band” by Steve Perry
“Mystery Train: An Arcane Investigation” by Max Allan Collins and Matthew V. Clemens
“Lab Experiment Turf War” by Jeff Strand
“The She-Creature” by Amelia Beamer
“Fish out of Water” by Will Viharo
“I Was a Teenage Shroom Fiend” by Brian Hodge

* * *

This is one of my shorter updates, because I am working on the new Quarry novel, Killing Quarry, and doing my best to get it done before the upcoming Mob Museum appearance in Vegas by Brad Schwartz and myself, having to do with celebrating a certain day in February (think about it). More, much more, about that very soon.

For now I’d just like to reflect on how interesting it is to me when I see which topics I explore cause a lot reaction and comments, while others – including ones I thought would spark controversy or at least talk – get no reactions at all. At least not in writing.

The two updates that really caught your attention lately were, first, the discussion of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” and second, my twelve favorite film directors. I get a real kick out of how my choices of the latter frustrated and irked some of you. As I said in my comments last week, there’s a big difference between a “favorites” list and a “best” list.

I would be remiss not to include, say, Kurosawa and Kubrick (to name a couple K’s) on a best directors list. But I have every right to prefer watching Don Siegel or Joseph H. Lewis movies over theirs. Favorite is personal taste – one would hope somewhat informed taste, but personal. My favorite color is green.

Wanna fight?

* * *

Getting back to Pop the Clutch, here’s a nice review of it.

And here, in addition to Amazon, is where you can order it.

M.A.C.

Ms. Tree Collected, A Royale Review and Boo to Halloween

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2018

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

The Ms. Tree prose short story, “Louise,” an Edgar nominee, is featured in editor Otto Penzler’s new anthology, The Big Book of Female Detectives.

This seems as good a time as any to confirm that Titan will be bringing out (in five or six volumes) the complete Ms. Tree comics, organized into graphic novel form. This is of course long overdue. I will likely be doing new intros, although it’s doubtful Terry Beatty will contribute new covers – the plan right now is to draw from his many outstanding covers for the comic books themselves.

* * *

Two more brief movie reviews…

Barb and I took in Bad Times at the El Royale, a ‘70s noir with an excellent cast that includes Jeff Bridges, Jon Hamm, Cynthia Erivo, Dakota Johnson and Chris Hemsworth. It’s written and directed by Drew Goddard, who wrote for Buffy on TV and did the screenplays for The Martian, Cloverfield and World War Z, among others. El Royale resonates with me in part because it’s a take-off on Cal Neva, the resort straddling California and Nevada that figures in my novels Bye Bye, Baby and Road to Paradise.

I’m sure some critics are comparing El Royale to Tarantino, and its novelistic approach (both the way it’s organized and its attention to character) is in that same ballpark. But El Royale has its own feel, and does not suffer the Tarantino habit of all the characters talking like the writer. I won’t say much about the plot, other than a central element is money from a robbery long-hidden in one of the rooms of a hotel that has become a faded relic of Rat Pack days, having lost its gambling license.

The screenplay draws upon a Spillane novella, “Tomorrow I Die!” (title tale of an anthology of Spillane short fiction I edited) that was adapted into one of the best films from Mickey’s work, an episode of Showtime’s Perfect Crimes. (Mickey’s story was his take on The Petrified Forest.) It also draws upon someone I wrote about here a while back, who was a war hero and a movie star (paying attention?).

Anyway, it’s a terrific film. You’ll feel like you’re spending the evening at the El Royale, though you’ll be having a better time than most of the characters.

We also saw the new take on Halloween, which is getting a lot of good reviews. Most of those reviews focus on Jamie Lee Curtis and her empowered if psychotic take on the older Laurie Strode. What rewards the film has are tied up in Curtis/Strode. I was amped for the film because I’m a horror fan, plus the screenplay is co-written by Danny McBride, of whom I’m also a fan. But the movie isn’t good. It’s not exactly bad, either, but there are almost no scares, merely unpleasantness and gore. It has a low-budget feel, and not in a good way, and even the John Carpenter music feels forced. One plot twist having to do with the substitute shrink for the Loomis (Donald Pleasance) character is meant to be a shocking surprise and just plays dumb and unconvincing.

After recently seeing the excellent Insidious films, and revisiting the very good Truth or Dare (all of these are Blumhouse productions, as is this new Halloween), the return of Michael Meyers fell flat for both Barb and me.

* * *

For those keeping track, I have delivered Murder, My Love, the new Mike Hammer. This one is based on a Spillane synopsis, but is the first of the novels with no Mickey prose woven in. I think it came out well, but it raises the question of whether I should continue Hammer when I run out of Spillane source material.

* * *

My novel of In the Line of Fire gets a latterday review! Positive, too.

Finally, here’s a Road to Perdition piece that discussed both the graphic novel and the film. Sorta likes both. Sorta.

M.A.C.