Posts Tagged ‘True Detective’

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

Tuesday, May 28th, 2024

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

James M. Cain

Mickey Spillane

Donald E. Westlake

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

How to read the Nolan books in chronological order.

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


Cutout Emerges and True Noir Begins

Tuesday, April 16th, 2024
Cutout Audiobook Cover
Digital Audiobook:
Audio MP3 CD:

Today is publication date for Cutout, the new novella written by Barb and me. You should be able to order the print version from Amazon now (it includes some wonderful illustrations and should be a very nice physical book). Also available are the Kindle version and an audio version from Skyboat, who have done such a terrific job with the Quarry novels, the first two of three Fancy Anders titles, and more. The reader is Gabrielle de Cuir, who always does an excellent job. Barb and I have not heard it yet but are anxious to. Nor have we seen the print version and are anxious to.

I’ll interrupt myself to share with you this nice write-up from “Bits and Pieces” at Jerry’s House of Everything blog:

Max Allan Collins and Barbara Collins (or maybe Barbara Collins and Max Allan Collins), Cutout. Crime novella. “A young woman from the Midwest, recipient of an unexpected college scholarship, is recruited into a lucrative courier job that shuttles her from Manhattan to Washington, D.C. There’s a slight drawback: the previous two ‘cutouts’ died by violence.” Preordered; publication date is tomorrow 5/16. Also, Max Allan Collins Collection Volume 5: Twist in the Tale. E-Book compilation five books by Max Allan Collins and Barbara Collins: two novels (Reincarnal and Bombshell) and three short story collections (Murder — His and Hers, Suspense — His and Hers, and Too Many Tomcats and Other Feline Tales of Suspense). A superb bargain.

Thanks, Jerry!

The idea for Cutout was Barb’s and her draft was so good, working with it was a genuine pleasure. I think it represents our best work together, and really reflects her remarkable abilities as a storyteller and just flat-out good writer.

Neo-Text, who brought out the Fancy Anders novellas, is the publisher. They are in finally stages of prepping the third Fancy Anders, which will again have Fay Dalton illos. It’s my hope that the three Fancy Anders novellas (which interconnect) will be gathered into one novel with the Dalton art done full-color justice. And if the first two audios of Fancy Anders read by Gabrielle de Cuir (with music and sound effects) are any indication, Cutout should be very well-served on audio.

On a somewhat similar vein, the Kickstarter for the Nathan Heller fully-immersive audio dramas is about to go live. I have described this as a podcast series but that doesn’t do it justice. You’ll soon be able to get a sample of director Robert Meyer Burnett’s impressive handiwork with the proof-of-concept “pilot” I wrote, based on the opening of Stolen Away. Nate Heller is portrayed on that pilot by Todd Stashwick of Star Trek: Picard fame. That Todd is a Chicagoan and a former Second City cast member resonates extremely well with me.

We are beginning with the first Nathan Heller novel, True Detective, and I have delivered the first of ten scripts, which I am pleased to say got a rave review from director Burnett. I will admit it felt odd returning to a novel I wrote in 1981-1982 for 1983 publication, the book that I consider in many ways the real beginning of my career (meaning no offense to Nolan, Mallory or Dick Tracy). Since I am planning what will likely be the final Heller novel, The One-Way Ride, to be published by Hard Case Crime, the audio series seems somehow right to also be circling back to Nate Heller’s first recorded case, “The Assassination of Mayor Cermak.”

There’s an official Nate Heller/True Noir YouTube Channel with a pic of Rob Burnett, Todd Stashwick and the rest of the cast at the proof-of-concept pilot session.

* * *

Speaking of True Noir, Nate Heller and Rob Burnett, here’s a podcast interview with Rob that gets into True Noir and Heller, on John Suentes’ excellent Word Balloons.

The great Putnum Museum in Davenport, Iowa, is showing Road to Perdition on Sunday, May 19, at
2:30 p.m. in their Giant Screen Theater. I will be handling a Q and A session afterward. Details are right here.

Finally, the best ten performances on film of Tom Hanks are discussed here. Guess what #3 is?


Blue Christmas at The Last Picture House

Tuesday, March 26th, 2024

Today I’m sharing a few photos from our Muscatine, Iowa, premiere screening of Blue Christmas and more than just a few pics from the last stop on our premiere tour, The Last Picture House.

Karlyn Larson, MAC, and my old friend from band days, Charlie Koenigsaecker
Karlyn Larson, MAC, and my old friend from band days, Charlie Koenigsaecker
Sheila Miller, Dave Juering (who plays the
Sheila Miller, Dave Juering (who plays the “snake” Larry Turner in BLUE CHRISTMAS), Rob Merritt (Richard Stone) on the red carpet at the Muscatine Premiere showing of BLUE CHRISTMAS at the Palms 10.
Charlie Koenigsaecker, Karlyn Larson, Christ Causey (Jake Marley in BLUE CHRISTMAS) Barbara Collins and Sheila Miller at the Muscatine, Iowa, Premiere of BLUE CHRISTMAS at the Palms 10.
Charlie Koenigsaecker, Karlyn Larson, Christ Causey (Jake Marley in BLUE CHRISTMAS) Barbara Collins and Sheila Miller at the Muscatine, Iowa, Premiere of BLUE CHRISTMAS at the Palms 10.
Sheila Miller, Linda Annis, Karlyn Larsen and MAC at the BLUE CHRISTMAS Premiere at Muscatine's Palms 10.
Sheila Miller, Linda Annis, Karlyn Larsen and MAC at the BLUE CHRISTMAS Premiere at Muscatine’s Palms 10.

All of these theaters – the Fleur in Des Moines and the Palms in Muscatine (both of which are Fridley Chain venues), as well Bruce Taylor’s Collins Road Theatre in Cedar Rapids and Davenport’s Last Picture House – have been incredibly supportive, and the turnouts have been stellar. Cedar Rapids, Muscatine and Davenport were all sold out, strictly capacity crowds with tickets at a premium.

First A.D. Jodi Hanson watches from the sidelines at the packed house for BLUE CHRISTMAS at the Last Picture House.
First A.D. Jodi Hanson watches from the sidelines at the packed house for BLUE CHRISTMAS at the Last Picture House.
The capacity crowd at the Last Picture House in Davenport prior to the Premiere screening.
The capacity crowd at the Last Picture House in Davenport prior to the Premiere screening.

The response from the audiences has been great, but of course we are careful not to get too full of ourselves, as we are well aware we have a home court advantage. Still, it feels very good. As I’ve said here before, Blue Christmas was designed for streaming and home video, and seeing it up on these huge movie screens, with booming movie-theater sound, has been frankly thrilling to our little army of actors and crew who turned six days and $14,000 into a credible movie – in a world where Hollywood thinks $5 mil is low budget.

I was blessed with a terrific cast, all from here in Iowa, and a crew that included my producer (and editor and much else) Chad Bishop, longtime partner and D.P. Phil Dingeldein (aided by First Camera Assistant Liz Toal), and our lead actors Rob Merritt, Alisabeth Von Presley and Chris Causey. But really everyone in our cast of 24 (!) and tiny crew of half a dozen (!) hearty souls came through for me and for the production.

At the Last Picture House, Director of Photography Phil Dingeldein schmoozes with First Assistant Director Jodi Hanson and Set Design/Props Mistress Meg McCarthy.
At the Last Picture House, Director of Photography Phil Dingeldein schmoozes with First Assistant Director Jodi Hanson and Set Design/Props Mistress Meg McCarthy.
Brian Linderman – Eddie Marley himself in BLUE CHRISTMAS – gears up for the Quad Cities Premiere at the Last Picture House.
Brian Linderman – Eddie Marley himself in BLUE CHRISTMAS – gears up for the Quad Cities Premiere at the Last Picture House.
Chris Causey (Jake Marley in BLUE CHRISTMAS) answers a query at the post-screening Q and A at the Last Picture House in Davenport.
Chris Causey (Jake Marley in BLUE CHRISTMAS) answers a query at the post-screening Q and A at the Last Picture House in Davenport.
The beautiful Barb Collins with unknown attendee at the Last Picture House premiere.
The beautiful Barb Collins with unknown attendee at the Last Picture House premiere.

We have one more stop on this mini-tour – Blue Christmas is an official selection of the Cedar Rapids Independent Film Festival and will be shown at 9 a.m. and at 1:05 p.m. on Saturday April 6, again at the Collins Road Theater (1462 Twixt Town Rd, Marion, IA 52302 – Marion runs side by side with Cedar Rapids). Tickets are $10 advance and $12 after April 4. I will be there for the 1 p.m. screening.

This will be the last opportunity to see the film before this year’s holiday season, when we’ll be in a number of Iowa theaters as well as available on Blu-ray from VCI Home Entertainment (MVD is handling streaming marketing, but it’s too early days to know what streamer or streamers will make it available).

The real final stop of our mini-tour will be for the Iowa Motion Picture Association Awards, an event held in Forest City, Iowa, on May 4. But this is a competition, not a festival.

My apologies to my readers and friends (not exclusive groups) who have been subjected here of late to pretty much nothing but news of this indie film production. We’ll be back to our regularly scheduled Heller, Quarry, Antiques news very soon.

And serious work on True Noir the Nate Heller podcast starting with a 10-episode adaptation of the first novel, True Detective, begins this week.

* * *

According to this excellent article on Road to Perdition (the movie), James Bond was not Daniel Craig’s best role!

Finally, here’s a video about the upcoming Nate Heller podcast series. Check it out!


Spirit of Seventy-Six

Tuesday, March 5th, 2024

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

Advance ticket sales are available here.

Blue Christmas Horizontal Poster
* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tickets can be purchased on the Fridley Theatres website at

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

* * *

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

I know the feeling.

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

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

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

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

Dune Part Two

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

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

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

In other words, your mileage may vary.

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

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

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

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

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

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