Thursday, December 17, 2009



MAX ALLAN COLLINS, a frequent Mystery Writers of America "Edgar" nominee, has earned an unprecedented fifteen Private Eye Writers of America "Shamus" nominations for his historical thrillers, winning for his Nathan Heller novels, True Detective (1983) and Stolen Away (1991). Currently he is completing a number of "Mike Hammer" novels begun by the late mystery writer, Mickey Spillane, starting with The Goliath Bone (2008).

His graphic novel Road to Perdition (1998) – basis of the Academy Award-winning Tom Hanks film, directed by Sam Mendes – was followed by two acclaimed prose sequels and another graphic novel. His other comics credits include the syndicated strip "Dick Tracy"; his own "Ms. Tree" (co-created by artist Terry Beatty); "Batman"; and CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, for which he has also written video games, jigsaw puzzles, and an internationally bestselling series of novels.

He has been termed "the novelization king" by Entertainment Weekly, penning such titles as Saving Private Ryan, The Mummy, The X-Files: I Want to Believe, GI JOE: The Rise of Cobra, and American Gangster, winner of the 2008 Best Novel "Scribe" Award from the International Association of Tie-in Writers. His TV novels include DARK ANGEL, BONES and CRIMINAL MINDS.

An independent filmmaker, he wrote and directed the Lifetime movie "Mommy" and a sequel, "Mommy's Day." He wrote "The Expert," an HBO World Premiere, and "The Last Lullaby," starring Tom Sizemore, based on his acclaimed novel, The Last Quarry. His "Eliot Ness: An Untouchable Life" – currently airing on PBS stations nationally – and documentary, Caveman: V.T. Hamlin & Alley Oop, are both available on DVD.

Collins lives in Muscatine, Iowa, with his wife, writer Barbara Collins; as "Barbara Allan," they write the successful "Trash ‘n’ Treasures" mysteries, with Antiques Bizarre coming out in 2010. Their son Nathan works in the video game industry translating Japanese into English.

1. Tell us about your current novel.

Several books will be coming out early next year -- in the Spring.

One is the latest "Trash 'n' Treasures" mystery by "Barbara Allan," which is my wife Barb and me -- ANTIQUES BIZARRE It's as funny as the previous entries, I think, but maybe a better mystery. I think some of my readers avoid these, because they figure the books are cozies. But Jon Breen and several other reviewers understand that the books are to a degree spoofs of cozies. It's a hardcover from Kensington.

Collaboration seems to be taking up a lot of my time, but in a good way. I've co-written a new thriller, YOU CAN'T STOP ME, with Matthew Clemens, who has worked on my CSI and CRIMINAL MINDS novels with me, and there will be a sequel as soon as we get around to writing it. Matt and I decided to do a CSI type novel of our own, and the premise is very cool -- it has a reality TV show host, like John Walsh, announcing on air that the next season will be devoted to assembling a forensic superstar team and tracking down the killer of his family...on the air. This is from Kensington, too, a mass market paperback.

Later in the spring, THE BIG BANG, the second of the Mike Hammers I'm writing, from unfinished Mickey Spillane manuscripts, will be out. The fragment, which was substantial, dated to 1964, and that's the year the story is set in -- hippies, discoteques, LSD, the works. The first one I did, THE GOLIATH BONE, was Mickey's last book and featured an older, somewhat mellow Mike Hammer. This one is vintage Hammer all the way. I'm really excited about it. Harcourt is doing it in hardcover -- it's an Otto Penzler book.

And I just finished the first Nate Heller in about a decade -- BYE BYE, BABY, the murder of Marilyn Monroe. I'm hoping it will be out from Forge/TOR late next year, but haven't been given a pub date yet.

2. Can you give a sense of what you're working on now?

I'm just starting the third of the Mike Hammer novels. This is a terrific story from the late '70s. I have two substantial manuscripts representing two very different takes on the same story. I will be weaving these Spillane fragments together into what I think will be another vintage performance from Hammer. For Hammer fans, here's an interesting tidbit -- Hammer and his secretary/partner Velda have broken up at the start of this yarn.

3. What is the greatest pleasure of a writing career?

Avoiding real work. I haven't had a real job since I sacked groceries in high school. I did teach at a community college for the first five years of my career, but only half-time and that was also not a real job by my definition, at least the way I did it.

I find writing fairly hard -- emotionally and physically taxing -- but I love having written, and there's nothing better than holding a fresh copy of a new book of yours in your hands.

4. What is the greatest DISpleasure?

I hate the uncertainty -- having to scramble for gigs, having nothing vaguely like security, and the climate in publishing seems to have gotten tougher with every passing year.

I also have a capacity for petty jealousy that I try not to give into. But when I see somebody whose work I abhor have great success, I feel like somebody dropped a hot rivet into my brain. I also resent (and do not work at all to restrain this feeling) writers who have made it big, very early on, and have no sense that they were at all lucky. In show business, which writing is, luck plays an enormous role. I have been exceptionally lucky twice -- once, when the DICK TRACY strip came my way, and again when the graphic novel ROAD TO PERDITION got made into a movie. I am always ready when opportunity knocks, but a lot of the time I am out there doing the knocking.

5. If you have one piece of advice for the publishing world, what is it?

Don't give up on books. Do not release books directly to the Kindles and Nooks (or whatever they're called) -- make the electronic delivery the paperback of the 21st century. Readers should have to wait six months or a year to read a new book in that fashion.

I will cheat and add a second one, and this goes to booksellers, particularly buyers at the big chains: stop looking at computer read-outs and consider the book itself. Who cares what an author's last book sold? The question is, how good is this book.

6. Are there two or three forgotten mystery writers you'd like to see
in print again?

Max Allan Collins
Max Allan Collins
Max Allan Collins


Ennis Willie
Mike Roscoe
Ted Lewis

7. Tell us about selling your first novel. Most writers never forget
that moment.

My first novel, BAIT MONEY, took a year or two to sell. I was at the University of Iowa Writer's Workshop, and my mentor, Richard Yates, got me lined up with Knox Burger as an agent. Burger wanted me to change the ending (the lead character, Nolan, got killed) and I refused. He sent it out a bunch of times, and then somebody at (I think) Pyramid Books spilled coffee on the manuscript. In those days, early '70s, you typed up a manuscript -- no photocopies yet, and certainly no carbon could be sent. So if a manscript got slimed, physically I mean, you had to retype it. And Burger said, "As long as you have to re-type the thing, why don't you take the opportunity to change the lousy ending?" So I did. Nolan lived, and the book sold next time out, to Curtis Books. And Nolan went on to star in a series of novels.

The news arrived on Christmas Eve, 1971. When I told Don Westlake (another mentor) about it, he said, "Sometimes God acts like O. Henry, and there's nothing you can do about it."

8. You have one of the great websites. Between Nate's work and yours it is
not only eye-catching but really informative. You get a real sense of
YOU, the notion that there's a real person writing these books and
screenplays and playing in a band.

I appreciate that. It was always pretty good, but Nate and I decided a few months ago that it needed a serious overhaul. I was doing updates once or twice a year, and that wasn't cutting it. Now we're once a week (appears Tuesday morning), and it's turned into a kind of blog, because I don't always have career stuff to talk about. People are responding well. Nate is very, very sharp -- he just landed his first really big gig as a translator of Japanese, doing an entire book for Viz.


Dan_Luft said...

Sure he may not be famous but since he's a novelist, a filmmaker, plays in a rock band and was a personal friend of Mickey Spillane AND Donald Westlake. Max has lived my American dream.

I interviewed him for a couple moths ago and he was friendly and interesting.

If I could ever get my act together I'd like to put a body of work together that's 1/3 as good or the size of his.

Kenneth Mark Hoover said...

Frankly, I'm not too big on completing unfinished novels by dead writers. But that's just me.

Anonymous said...

Good interview but why the picture of Elton John?

Mathew Paust said...

I would echo both Daniel and Anonymous, and would add the "angry Elton" look and peevish reaction to abhorred writers' success brings to mind Martin Amis's character Richard Tull in The Information. Can't help but wonder if Mr. Collins isn't pulling our collective leg.

Whatever the weather, Road to Perdition is a powerful tale.

Cap'n Bob said...

I've always enjoyed books by Al, and his music ain't bad, either. Or his movies. Talk about your Renaissance man.

Max Allan Collins said...

I was asked by Mickey, shortly before his death, to finish his novels, for the benefit of his widow.

All writers resent the success of other writers whose work they dislike. But you can't envy another writer unless you are ready to trade works with him or her. I wouldn't trade mine for anybody living or dead.

Congratulations for being the 10,000th person to note the Elton John resemblance. As Don Rickles would say, you win a cookie. Incidentally, in 40 years of playing rock 'n' roll, as both a keyboard player and lead singer, I have never played an Elton John song.