Thursday, February 09, 2006

Pro-File: Max Allan Collins

Pro-File: Max Allan Collins


MAX ALLAN COLLINS has earned an unprecedented seven Private Eye Writers of America "Shamus" nominations for his "Nathan Heller" historical thrillers, winning twice (True Detective, 1983, and Stolen Away, 1991). The new Heller novel, Flying Blind (to be published by Dutton in August '98), explores the most famous mystery of the twentieth century, the disappearance of Amelia Earhart. His previous Heller novel, Damned in Paradise (1996), the story of Clarence Darrow's last case, will be reprinted by Signet in July 1998.

Termed "mystery's Renaissance Man" (by Ed Hoch in The Best Mystery and Suspense Stories of 1993), Collins has created three celebrated contemporary suspense series --Nolan, Quarry and Mallory (thief, hitman and mystery writer respectively). He has also written four widely praised historical thrillers about real-life "Untouchable" Eliot Ness; and is an accomplished writer of short fiction: "Louise," his contribution to the popular anthology Deadly Allies, was a Mystery Writers of America "Edgar" nominee for best short story of 1992.

He scripted the internationally syndicated comic strip DICK TRACY from 1977 to 1993, and wrote three TRACY novels; a number of collections of his TRACY comic strip work have been published. He is co-creator (with artist Terry Beatty) of the pioneering female P.I. comic-book feature MS. TREE, and has written both the BATMAN comic book and newspaper strip. The Collins/Beatty mini-series JOHNNY DYNAMITE (published by Dark Horse) has been optioned for film by Adam Kline Productions. MIKE DANGER, a science-fiction comic book project with bestselling mystery writer Mickey Spillane for Big Entertainment, ran for several years, ending in 1997; it is currently under option to Pressman Films. An epic graphic novel about Capone-era crime, Road to Perdition, is forthcoming from Paradox Press/DC Comics.

Collins is the one of publishing industry's leading authors of movie tie-in novels, including the international bestsellers In the Line of Fire (Jove, 1993), Maverick (Signet, 1994), Waterworld (Boulevard, 1995), Daylight (Boulevard, 1996), Air Force One (Ballantine, 1997), and Saving Private Ryan (Signet, 1998). He has written two original NYPD BLUE novels for Stephen Boccho and Signet Books, Blue Beginning (1995) and Blue Blood (1997).

His screenplay THE EXPERT was shot in Nashville in 1994 -- starring Jeff Speakman and James Brolin -- and was an HBO world premiere film, airing in April 1995. Upcoming movie projects include his screenplay SPREE (from his novel of the same name), under option to filmmaker William Lustig (RELENTLESS, MANIAC COP) and IN HEART AND SOUL, a 1960s midwestern drama to be written and directed by Collins.

Working as an independent filmmaker in his native Iowa, he wrote, directed and executive-produced "Mommy," a suspense film starring Patty McCormack, which aired on Lifetime cable in 1996; he performed the same duties for a sequel, "Mommy's Day," released in 1997. The recipient of two Iowa Motion Picture Awards for screenwriting, he wrote "The Expert," a 1995 HBO World Premiere film starring James Brolin. He was also Creative Consultant on the Disney production, "Dick Tracy" (1990), for which he wrote the bestselling novel.

One of the creators of the controversial and enormously successful "True Crime" trading cards published by Eclipse in 1992, Collins has authored (or co-authored) a number of bestselling card series, reflecting his interests in popular culture and true crime, including PAINTED LADIES, POCKET PIN-UPS, DIGEST DOLLS and CHICAGO MOB WARS (the latter with longtime associate, George Hagenauer). He has also co-authored ONE LONELY KNIGHT, an Edgar-nominated critical study on Spillane (with James Traylor) and THE BEST OF CRIME AND DETECTIVE TV, a review of TV detectives (with John Javna); and a collection of his movie review columns from MYSTERY SCENE magazine is forthcoming from Borgo Press.

A longtime rock musician, he has in recent years recorded and performed with two bands -- Seduction of the Innocent in California, Crusin' in his native Muscatine, Iowa, where Collins lives with his wife, writer Barbara Collins, and their son, Nathan.

Collins and his wife Barbara have collaborated on a number of short stories and their first novel is in the works.

1. Tell us about your current novel.

ROAD TO PARADISE, which came out from William Morrow in December 2005,
completes the trilogy begun by the graphic novel ROAD TO PERDITION. Like
the second book, ROAD TO PURGATORY (currently out in mass market paperback),
PARADISE is a prose novel. A few reviewers and listings refer to this as
the "Perdition" series, but it isn't really a series in the usual sense --
more a family saga in the context of several kinds of families. The
protagonist, Michael O'Sullivan Jr., is an adolescent in PERDITION, in his
early twenties in PURGATORY and in his fifties in PARADISE. The attempt is
to bring this story full circle, with Michael finally finding his redemption
(or the path to it) in the third novel -- in which he and his teenager
daughter retrace the violent journey of Michael and his father in PERDITION.

My recent tie-in novels are the latest CSI, KILLING GAME (Pocket) and THE
PINK PANTHER (HarperCollins). The latter is a very funny novel. No

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

I've just completed the first draft of a television movie screenplay based
on my long-running female P.I. comic book, MS. TREE. And I'm working on a
paperback-original novel called A KILLING IN COMIC BOOKS for Prime Crime, a
medium-boiled Rex Stout-ish mystery dealing with the comic book industry
right after the Second World War; and researching my next big historical for
Morrow, which is about Wyatt Earp. Also, we have just premiered my new
indie movie, ELIOT NESS: AN UNTOUCHABLE LIFE, based on my Edgar-nominated
>3. What is the greatest pleasure of a writing career?

Hands down, the great pleasure is being able to pursue a passion and get
paid for it. I consider myself a storyteller and, accordingly, work in
many mediums. I love readiing novels and get to write them for money; I
love movies and occasionally get to make them; I love comics and get to
script them. My hobbies have turned into my job, and what could be a
greater pleasure than that?

>4. What is the greatest DISpleasure?

I disilike the editiorial phase, even though I like working with editors.
That sounds contradictory, but when I finish a novel, I finish it -- and a
real attitude adjustment is required from me to do revisions (especially
when I don't think they're necessary) and deal with copy-edited manuscripts
and galley proofs. But I am too anal retentive to blow these things off, so
I handle all of this in a responsible, professional way. My pet peeve for
decades remains the same: over-eager copy editors, particularly those with
either a tin ear or a desire to write their own novels.

On the other hand, the actual editors -- as opposed to copy editors -- have
helped me improve my work. Sarah Durand at Morrow gave me great notes on
PURGATORY, for instance, and definitely improved the book. The biggest
problems, of course, occur in licensing work -- there is never any
predicting on what the Hollywood side will demand of a novelization or a
tie-in novel. My worst experience was novelizing the screenplay of ROAD TO
PERDITION (which of course was based on my own work) -- I delivered 100,000
words, fleshing the story out into a genuine novel not unlike my
sequels...and was forced to cut it in half, leaving out anything that wasn't
in the filmscript.
>5. If you have one piece of advice for the publishing world, what is it?

This applies to a specific aspect of my own career -- publishers who are
interested in pursuing that seductive buzz word GRAPHIC NOVEL (okay, buzz
words) should find existing properties that can be effectively repackaged,
as opposed to trying to fund new ones, at least right now. The comic book
market is such a niche one that great things published there, over the past
twenty years -- like my own MS. TREE -- would be brand-new for a mainstream

I have had at least half a dozen calls, post-PERDITION, from publishers
wanting to do graphic novels with me...until the numbers got crunched and
the budget required to hire an artist to illustrate, say, 300 pages made the
projects unrealistic.

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

W.R. Burnett is the great forgotten master -- the true peer of Hammett,
Chandler, Spillane and Thompson. And his impact on the popular culture is
at least as great as any of them. He lived too long and wrote too much,
however -- a problem that resonates with me.

He's not exactly forgotten, but I place Horace McCoy high on the list, as
well -- KISS TOMORROW GOODBYE is better than any Jim Thompson, and I say
that as one of the couple of people (Ed Gorman's one of the others) who put
Thompson back on the map.

And Ennis Willie -- who wrote a couple dozen wonderfully fun, pulpy
Spillane-school tough guy novels that were published in the mid-'60s as
softcore porn -- deserves at least a one-volume retrospective. Lynn
Meyers, who co-edited my Spillane anthology BYLINE: MICKEY SPILLANE, is
putting one together with Steve Mertz and myself, and will soon seek a
publisher. Willie was sort of the Betty Page of paperback pulp -- a cult
favorite about whom nothing was known, and who utterly disappeared after a
short, prolific period. But he has turned up alive and well, a successful
printer. We should print him.
>7. Tell us about selling your first novel. Most writers never forget that

I attended the esteemed Writers Workshop at the University of Iowa, where my
mentor Richard Yates guided me through my early mystery novels. BAIT MONEY,
NO CURE FOR DEATH and THE BROKER were all written there. Yates helped me
land Knox Burger as an agent, and -- during my grad school days -- Burger
showed BAIT MONEY around for almost two years. Originally BAIT MONEY had a
bleak ending -- the hero, Nolan, died. The typescript got coffee spilled on
it (at Pyramid Books, I believe, dating me and the book) and Burger asked me
to re-type it, and "Change that goddamn downer ending." Nolan lived in the
new typescript, and it promptly sold -- on Christmas Eve, 1972, weeks before
I graduated. When I told Don Westlake at the time, he said, "Sometimes God
decides to be O. Henry, and there's nothing we can do about it."

Max Allan Collins


Blogger Harry said...

What an amazing career, and from all acounts what an amazing guy. I didn't know he was a rocker! Live and learn :)

7:48 PM  

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