Having recently enjoyed the latest novel, Seduction of the Innocent, from the ever-prolific Max Allan Collins, I was honoured that he dropped by to answer a few questions here about his work and his life of crime (writing):
1. At the end of 2011, Crimespree magazine did a cover feature on you and your work celebrating 40 years in print – a heck of an achievement ! Do you have a favourite book, or series, from your vast canon of work to date?
My favorite series, and the work of mine that I think has the best shot at surviving, is Nathan Heller. For those unfamiliar with the series, Heller is a private detective in Chicago who is very much in the Phillip Marlowe mode, but gets involved with many of the great crimes and mysteries of the twentieth century. I’m often asked what my favorite Heller novel is, but I really consider it one body of work…one ongoing, massive novel. But I would single a few out as favorites – TRUE CRIME (John Dillinger), STOLEN AWAY (Lindbergh kidnapping), FLYING BLIND (Amelia Earhart). And I’m very happy with my most recent additions to the saga, the three novels that comprise my JFK trilogy – BYE BYE, BABY, TARGET LANCER and the forthcoming ASK NOT.
Second place would be Quarry. It’s very cool that something I created back in college in 1971 is still going strong. Just completed the tenth Quarry novel, THE WRONG QUARRY, for Hard Case Crime.
I also love working with my wife Barb on our “cozy” mystery series about antiquing – we write together as “Barabara Allan,” and the next book, ANTIQUES CHOP, will be out in May.
2. That same cover feature showed you standing proudly before a huge collection of crime fiction books and memorabilia – what is your most treasured possession amongst those? And is there a book or a piece of crime fiction history you are still trying to track down?
I don’t know if I can narrow it down to one item – I have signed books by Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and James M. Cain, and that’s probably as good as it gets. And I have first edition hardcovers of every Mickey Spillane novel, signed by Mickey. Oh, and a signed BAD SEED by William March, dated just days before his death.
The missing link for me is an obscure paperback that some people say doesn’t exist, although I swear I saw it many, many years ago…and couldn’t afford the thirty-five cent price. DRAGNET 1967 by R. Trailins. There is a DRAGNET 1968 by David Vowell that is fairly common. These are Popular Library paperbacks. I’m a huge fan of Jack Webb and DRAGNET – the 1950s version, not the ‘60s one.
3. Seduction of the Innocent marks the 3rd book for comic world mystery books featuring Jack and Maggie Starr – are there any plans to relaunch A Killing in Comics and Strip for Murder in the UK?
I have the rights back, finally, and they will probably be reprinted, and made available on e-book, before too long. Titan hasn’t shown any interest in reprinting them, so they will probably join the many backlist titles of mine published by Thomas & Mercer at Amazon.
I’m very grateful to Titan and Hard Case Crime for this opportunity to continue with Jack and Maggie, as I had originally intended this to be a trilogy, and felt like the series had been cut off prematurely. Now I’m considering doing a fourth one.
4. Any plans ahead that will team you with Terry Beatty to illustrate again? And do you work closely on the books?
I can’t imagine doing Jack and Maggie Starr without Terry. The idea from the start was to do something that was sort of in-between a novel and a graphic novel. I just loved books with illustrations as a kid. I am hoping that one day there will be editions of my prose ROAD TO PERDITION sequel novels, ROAD TO PURGATORY and ROAD TO PARADISE, with Richard Piers Rayner illos.
Terry doesn’t have huge input, frankly, though carte blance to draw what he pleases, with my suggested image as a starting point – I send him a script, just like we’re doing comics. He does not see the novel, though, till it comes out. I love the way Terry does artwork appropriate to the story at hand – he’s very EC Comics in this one!
5. What’s next from Max Allan Collins and will we see you in the UK anytime soon?
I love the UK. I am not sucking up – I am a genuine Anglophile, born of James Bond and the Beatles in the ‘60s. My wife Barb and I very much want to visit London (again) and other UK cities in the near future. That’s a real benefit of having a British publisher. By the way, all of my favorite crime shows of recent years are British – HUSTLE, FOYLE’S WAR, LEWIS, POIROT, MIDSOMER, and on and on. I buy the British discs – I don’t wait for them to air or go on sale in the USA. My wife is hooked as well.
6. What’s the best/worst writing advice you’ve ever heard or been given?
Best advice is to write what you know, and this is tricky if you’re attracted to genre writing. The breakthrough for me was when I “robbed” the bank where my wife worked, for my first published novel, BAIT MONEY – it’s one of two novels collected in Hard Case Crime’S TWO FOR THE MONEY. Also in that novel I made the secondary protagonist a young comic book collector, which is exactly who and what I was at the time I wrote it. So it’s a matter of looking at your life and experiences and figure out how that might relate to whatever sort of novel you like to read. Another thing I did was use my home area as the setting, at a time when everybody in the crime genre in America was doing New York and Los Angeles.
Worst is to imitate another writer. I’ve done my share of that, but I was such a mix of influences, it allowed me to generate my own voice. Even when I wrote the novels collected in TWO FOR THE MONEY, which were heavily influenced by Donald E. Westlake’s Parker series, I was as much in the sway of Spillane, Hammett, Chandler and a dozen other mystery writers. Elmore Leonard’s famous “how to write” list is terrible. Great as Leonard is, all he did was outline how to write like him. Well, there already is an Elmore Leonard, thank you very much.
7. Who has/have been your favourite new crime author discoveries in the last twelve months?
I am notorious for not reading other crime fiction writers. I’m a natural mimic and don’t care to be influenced. So I read chiefly writers from the Golden Age of mystery fiction. I came to Christie and Rex Stout very late, for example, and loved Stout so much, the Nero Wolfe pastiche aspect of the Jack and Maggie Starr books is unmistakable. Still, I don’t think I’m outright imitating him. I occasionally discover a mystery writer because of a TV series – I became a fan of Colin Dexter through MORSE, for example.
My taste has always been quirky – among my favorite mainstream writers are William March, Calder Willingham, and Mark Harris, and if you’re unfamiliar with them, you’re not alone. In recent years I discovered Fannie Flagg, who writes Southern humor, famously FRIED GREEN TOMATOES, but there is always a mystery in her novels, though she’s seldom discussed in those terms.
Thanks again to Max for his time and to Titan Books for kindly setting up the Q&A.