Matthew Clemens: Collaborating with Max Collins
Ed here: I would never have finished my first novel without the encouragement of Max Allan Collins. His friendship and advice gave me the push I needed to stop scrapping quarter-novels and half-novels and finally complete one. Here Matthew Clemens talks about his own literary relationship with Al.
It started with a phone call. Al and I had been friends for over ten years by then, and had been looking for something we could work on together for a year or so when he called and suggested that we tackle this new CSI project together. With my background in true crime, and having actually seen the show, we decided that this was the property that we could finally collaborate on. That was the beginning.
A lot of people in this business have tried to collaborate before. Some have had success, some not so much, and friendships have been ruined over people trying to work together.
For me, the reasons for our success are pretty simple: He’s Bruce, I’m Clarence. Every band, no matter how successful, has a leader and Al is our Bruce Springsteen. You don’t walk into a collaboration with an author who has written a kajillion books and expect to be an equal partner when you have one regionally successful, co-op published true crime book. So, I became Clarence Clemons (no relation).
What’s made me believe, over the years, that we’re doing something right is that everything we do seems to have a voice that is neither mine nor Al’s. There is a voice that comes out when we work together that molds itself to the stories we have to tell.
The process has remained pretty much the same since day one, though the depth of my involvement in that process has deepened. We come up with ideas, spit ball them until it starts to look like something we’re both interested in, then I go off and do the research and write up my draft. Originally, when I mostly just did research, I would write up the facts of the research and pass it along. As that evolved, I found myself writing some of my findings in the voices of the CSI characters to make life easier for Al.
Some of the CSI material, particularly the tricky science stuff, was hard to explain, and by me (and my) sliding it into a conversation between characters made it easier for Al to incorporate that into the novel without having it sound expository (something the show did on a regular basis). We both were angered by the show constantly having conversations between characters where they told each other information they would both already know. One of our early goals was to eliminate that from the books as much as possible. That was one of the steps that allowed my role to grow.
Having done a number of forensics and often serial killer-oriented thrillers together for the CSI, BONES, and CRIMINAL MINDS tie-in novels (fourteen in all), we decided to develop something of our own along those lines, to utilize the skills we developed in that sub-genre and so that we could own something we created. YOU CAN'T STOP ME is the result.
So, here we are, ten years later (twenty-three years into our friendship), and after nearly twenty novels, over a dozen short stories, four graphic novels, and eight jigsaw puzzles (yes, you read that right), and we still get along, still enjoy the process. And for me, I still get to stand on stage next to Bruce Springsteen every night so being the big man is still pretty cool too.