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MAX ALLAN COLLINS: SPILLANE & I

Written by Ayo Onatade

Max Allan Collins has been a president of The Private Eye Writers of America, and won or been nominated for numerous Edgars and Shamuses for his large (and constantly expanding) body of work, both for fiction and non-fiction.  He is the author of the graphic novel Road to Perdition that was made into an Oscar winning film.  In September 2006 he was presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Private Eye Writers of America. Although known primarily as a novelist and critic Max is also a filmmaker. Upon Spillane’s death in 2006 Collins was entrusted to finish several uncompleted works by Spillane including, Dead Street, The Goliath Bone, and The Big Bang. Hard Case Crime have recently published The Consummata which is a Mickey Spillane novel which he has completed and Quarry’s Ex which is the latest book to feature the hit man Quarry. Here he gets to take about these recent publications.

How did the completion of The Consummata come about bearing in mind the fact that the first book to feature Morgan Raider was written back in the 60s?  Why were you the one to complete the manuscript and not Mickey Spillane?

 Mickey has set the book aside some years ago.  He left behind a surprising number of unfinished manuscripts with substantial starts.  In this particular case, he became disenchanted with Morgan as a series character after a disappointing film version failed to live up to the potential of what he’d hoped would be a new franchise character.

 Did you find it difficult to keep Morgan in that distinctive voice of Spillane, and how does it compare to writing about Quarry?

 Quarry is a natural voice for me.  I can’t remember ever having trouble finding it, even when there are years between books.  Where Morgan or for that matter Mike Hammer is concerned, I am guided by the partial manuscript itself as well as other books written by Mickey around the same time.  It’s a first-person voice, so mostly it’s a matter of staying in character.

 When working with the manuscript for The Consummata how hard was it not to write the story in your voice but to stay true to what you believe Spillane would have wanted?

 Not difficult.  I’m immersed in the material.  The voice is a collaborative one, Spillane and mine woven together, though of course I’m striving to achieve a voice that sounds like his.

 How much of the manuscript of The Consummata did you have to work with?

 About a third of it, which I expanded into two-thirds of the manuscript, which is my standard approach on these projects.  I like to make sure genuine Spillane prose is appearing deep into each novel.  The plot entirely flows from his 100 pages or so, and I don’t introduce new characters, either.

 There is seamlessness in The Consummata despite the fact that it has been written by two authors.  How pleased are you with the result?

 I’m very pleased.  Often, after a few months have gone by, when I flip through one of the Spillane collaborations, I can’t remember who wrote what.  If I can’t tell, I’m confident most readers won’t be able to.

 One of the good things about both The Consummata and Quarry’s Ex is that they are both not in the least and in any shape or form politically correct especially when it comes to the amount of sex and violence in the books.  Did you at any stage feel that you might give in to the need to censor any part of the manuscripts?

 I never censor myself, unless I’m writing for a market that requires restraint.  For example, if I’m working on one of the cosy mysteries my wife and I co-write (most recently Antiques Knock-off), I’m not going to use four-letter works and do extreme sex scenes.

 But I grew up on Spillane and the many authors who imitated him, and the kind of book I am inclined to write is going to have sex and violence in it.  Good, lusty sex, bad, nasty violence.  Sex and violence are life and death, and those are the big topics.  When you’re writing larger-than-life melodrama, they’d better be in there.  As for political correctness, it’s a non-issue to me.  I am following the characters where they want to go, and if they want to be politically incorrect, it’s my job to report accurately on what they’re up to.  Mickey was very right wing and I’m left of centre, but that’s never been a problem…wasn’t personally and certainly not professionally.  If I’m writing about a right-wing character, that’s just who he is.  

 Despite that amount of sex and violence in his books, there are a lot of strong women in The Consummata.  None of the scenes lose their punch, however it is easy to see how Spillane could be criticised for this or be accused of being a misogynist.  Do you believe that the criticism is warranted?

 Spillane being called a misogynist is the cheapest of cheap shots, usually levelled by somebody who hasn’t really read him, or who has a ridiculous agenda.  Mickey was writing strong women from the start – Mike Hammer’s secretary is a licensed P.I. who packs a gun and very much takes care of herself.  Women in Spillane are smart and strong and free-spirited.  I agree that The Consummata is populated with such women.  Now, a case can be made that Mike Hammer is a misanthrope, but that’s another subject.

 I have really enjoyed reading the Quarry series and had initially resigned myself to the fact that The Last Quarry was the last one in the series so how did Quarry’s Ex come about?

 Actually, The Last Quarry was the first of the Hard Case books about the character.  After decades away from the character, I decided to write his last story.  Originally it was a film script, so to a degree it was a novelization of that.  Then readers and critics loved the book, and said how sad it was the series was over.  That inspired me to write The First Quarry, about the character’s first contract killing, and since then I’ve filled in more about his life and career in the ‘70s and ‘80s with Quarry in the Middle and Quarry’s Ex.

 Quarry as a character comes across as a witty and sardonic person.  However, he really does not have much regard for the sanctity of life.  Did you ever have any difficulty about this aspect of him?

 No.  He himself comments on the inconsistency of his philosophy, which is that life is meaningless but survival is everything.  It’s a distorted, warped point of view he brought back with him after being a sniper in Vietnam.  That’s who soldiers are – decent, normal young people who go into an extraordinary life as paid killers for their country, then are expected to come back to society and behave as before.

 Let’s note that Quarry does not kill haphazardly.  He kills for money and he kills to survive.  Not for the hell of it.

 The Quarry series is over twenty years old but what do you attribute the revival of this series to be?

 Quarry started in 1974, I believe.  I was a kid like he was, except for the killing part.  He was based somewhat on a friend of mine who went to Vietnam.  I always thought it was one of my best ideas, and that it was pretty well done, this normal guy who was a paid assassin.  The first four novels in the mid-‘70s made no splash, but they built a cult following.  Over the years, they got me more fan mail than, say, Nate Heller or Road to Perdition.  In the mid-‘80s, a small publisher wanted a new one and I did it.  When Charles expressed an interest around 2005, I believe, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to bring him back. 

 I believe that the 2008 film The Last Lullaby that featured Tom Sizemore is based on one of the Quarry stories.  Any chance of anymore being made into films?

 That’s a decent little modern noir.  I co-wrote the screenplay, writing the first two drafts, with another writer coming in after me for a draft or two, and me doing a light polish before production began.  I like the movie.  I did not sell any rights to either the Quarry name or any sequels, so I control film rights to the series itself.  I hope there are more movies.  Wouldn’t mind making one myself.

 You had a pretty good & strong relationship with Spillane.  What was it like having such a close relationship with him and what would you say was the best thing about that relationship?

 We were friends.  It was kind of father and son, but mostly two writers talking shop and just fooling around and laughing and having fun.  He was my son Nate’s godfather, and they had a great relationship.  We did projects together, like the MIKE DANGER comic book series and a slew of anthologies, but I did the heavy lifting.  Not much work got done when we were together.  We were having too good a time.

 Have you ever considered it to be a burden completing the manuscripts of one of your biggest influences or has it been like being a kid in a candy store?

 It’s a huge responsibility in the sense that these books – particularly the Mike Hammer novels – need to be finished.  Mickey only published 13 Hammer novels, a very short list for so famous a character.  That I will add at least six novels to the canon, working from Spillane manuscripts, is a responsibility and a delight.  Let’s say I’m a kid in the candy store trying to keep my head and not get diabetes.

 What are you working on at the moment and when can we expect to read some more of the remaining Mike Hammer stories that have to be finished?

 Right now I am doing a non-fiction book called Spillane on Screen with James Traylor, who co-wrote a Spillane critical study with me about thirty years ago.  Then I will be doing a Hard Case Crime novel called Seduction of the Innocent set in the early ‘50s when comic books were under attack in the McCarthy era.  Next year my Nate Heller about the JFK assassination will be out – Target Lancer – and my first Mike Hammer for Titan, Lady, Go Die!, where I’m working from a 1945 Spillane manuscript, the sequel to I, the Jury.

 

Max Allan Collins 

Max signing at Bouchercon, St Louis 2011

 More information can be found about Max Allan Collins at http://www.maxallancollins.com/blog/

 More information about Hard Case Crime can be found at  http://www.hardcasecrime.com or here

Photos © Mike Stotter 2011

 

 

Max Allan Collins



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