Thursday, February 24, 2011

New Books: No One Will Hear You by Max Allan Collins and Matthew Clemmons

a new books piece by Matthew Clemens

It was Butterfly McQueen, in the role of Prissy in Gone With The Wind, who said, “I don’t know nothin’ ‘bout birthin’ babies.”

That was sort of the feeling I had while Max Allan Collins and I worked on NO ONE WILL HEAR YOU, the sequel to our first Kensington forensics/serial-killer thriller, YOU CAN’T STOP ME. Max and I have been collaborating for over ten years and, most of the time, I have felt comfortable working with a writer considered by many to be a living legend.

The usual analogy for this sort of thing is that writing a book is like giving birth. If that’s true, then this was like having a litter of puppies while juggling chainsaws and riding a unicycle after drinking a triple espresso.

All during the process, characters misbehaved, didn’t step up to the plate and perform, or, in some cases, new characters entered the world fully-formed and ready to rock. Characters wanted, even demanded voluminous interior monologues, but that desire was slowing things down. The book was, in short, giving us fits.

Then, well into the process – me having finished my rough draft, Max about one-third of the way along on his draft - we made some decisions. First, streamline. Though response to the first Harrow, YOU CAN’T STOP ME, had been largely positive, a few readers and reviewers complained that the opening third took too long to get things set-up and the story rolling. With a large cast, it’s easy to get bogged down in back story.

So, following the examples set by Ed McBain in his 87th Precinct books, Richard Stark in his Parker novels, and Dashiell Hammett in, well...everything, we cut anything that didn’t drive the plot forward or inform characterization.

In our other collaborations, we had always used fewer chapters (12 to 15 being the norm); this time we tripled the number of chapters but cut their length by up to two-thirds. Where the mantra in real estate is location, location, location, ours became pace, pace, pace. The idea was to trim the fat and turn this book into a lean, mean, fighting machine. At the same time, we had been contracted to deliver at least 100,000 words – bestseller-style thrillers don’t fit the 50,000-word format of McBain and Stark.

So this took us into new places, including plot twists we had neither planned nor anticipated. When Max and I decided we needed to go all Hammett on their asses, that put me a few chapters ahead of him, cutting and sometimes adding. I remember vividly calling him up and saying, “Looks like we’re going to kill character’s-name-here!”

“Groovy,” Max said.

Although these alterations to our joint style took us out of our comfort zone, we felt these changes would turn this into a rocket ride from beginning to end.

We think we’ve succeeded. Read NO ONE WILL HEAR YOU and see if we’re right.

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