EXCLUSIVE: ROAD TO PERDITION Writer Max Allan Collins Talks LADY, GO DIE! And More
Best-selling author Max Allan Collins talks about the latest instalment in the Mike Hammer series Lady, Go Die!, as well as looking back on the big screen adaptation of his graphic novel Road To Perdition, his other upcoming projects and much more.
Max Allan Collins is perhaps best known for his graphic novel Road To Perdition. In 2002, it was adapted into an Academy Award-winning film which starred Tom Hanks and was directed by Skyfall helmer Sam Mendes. Collins is also an award winning author who has written many best-selling novels, including the popular Nathan Heller and Mike Hammer series. It was last year revealed that Harrison Ford will star in an adaptation of his book Black Hats, a story about Wyatt Earp, who ended his career as a private detective in Los Angeles. His latest instalment in the Mike Hammer series (a continuation of the books written by the late Mickey Spillane) is Lady, Go Die! from Titan Books and is on sale now. Below, he talks about that and much more, including whether or not he'd be interested in returning to superhero comics after a controversial run on Batman a few years back and his thoughts on the Road To Perdition movie.
Can you tell us about your relationship with Mickey Spillane and how you came to write Lady, Go Die!?
Mickey was my favorite writer as a kid. I got into his work about the same time I started reading Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, but Spillane was trashed by the critics whereas the other two were lionized. Throughout my early career, I wrote letters of comment and articles in mystery fanzines defending Spillane -- kind of absurd, since he was the most popular American mystery writer of the 20th Century. Anyway, I became known as Spillane's key defender and I wound up being the liaison between a mystery convention and Mickey, when he was a guest. We became friends, I started visiting him at his South Carolina home, and we did a bunch of projects together -- anthologies, the Mike Danger comic book, some film projects. When Mickey was ill with pancreatic cancer, he asked me to complete his final Hammer, The Goliath Bone, if he couldn't. Then in his last week he told his wife Jane to gather his unpublished, unfinished material and give it to me, saying I would "know what to do." There were half a dozen substantial unfinished Hammer novels, and I set about to complete them. I did three, including The Goliath Bone, at Harcourt. Now I'm doing the next three at Titan. Lady, Go Die! is particularly interesting because it's the earliest by far of the unfinished Hammer novels. It's a sequel to the second Hammer, I, The Jury, one of the bestselling mystery novels of all time.
What are the main challenges of continuing Spillane's work in comparison to your own projects?
There are challenges, but mostly this is just as much a pleasure as it is an honor. I am very familiar with Mickey's work, and I make sure I'm immersed in the novels he was writing around the same time as the unfinished manuscript I'm completing, to try to be faithful not just to his tone and style but to where his head was at, at the time. There's a big difference between Hammer in Lady, Go Die!, which was started in 1945, and The Goliath Bone, which was written around 2005.
For anyone unfamiliar with the Mike Hammer series, what would you tell them about the character and this latest novel?
Lady, Go Die! isn't a bad place to start -- it's very near the beginning, and Hammer is young, brash, a real wild man. The character was an outlandish innovation when he was created, despite being constructed on the familiar private eye model. But he was far tougher than even Sam Spade and Phillip Marlowe, frequently behaving as a vigilante, and he was the first series hero to be openly sexual, often "bedding" the "dames" in these stories. The violence is extreme. You hear the term "pulp fiction" a lot, but this is the real deal. One thing that may be helpful is to understand that Frank Miller's Sin City is a Spillane pastiche.
What should fans expect from the other upcoming Mike Hammer novels, Complex 90 and King of the Weeds?
Complex 90 is a cold war thriller, with Hammer going to Russia and fighting "Commies" here and abroad. It's the sequel to a famous Spillane novel, The Girl Hunters, the movie version of which starred Spillane himself as Hammer. King Of The Weeds was meant to be the final Hammer novel, started in the '80s and worked on by Mick periodically through the '90s. But he set it aside when he got the idea for The Goliath Bone, which grew out of 9/11.
Looking back, are you happy with how the adaptation of Road To Perdition turned out?
Very happy. Terrific film with a fantastic cast, beautifully directed. Decent script, and fairly faithful to the source. The music has been incredibly influential -- so very many films have Perdition-inspired scores now.
Do you have any plans to return to writing comic books or graphic novels?
I will probably be doing a new Ms. Tree with Terry Beatty soon. Another company approached me about doing a crime graphic novel and we'll see what the terms are -- that's in process. I was disappointed that Return To Perdition, the recent final graphic novel in the saga, got almost no attention. That's discouraging, so I tend to work where I'm wanted, not only by the money people but by the readers. I would always be interested in doing Batman, even if just to tweak the people who think I'm the anti-Christ of Batman writers. But I'm not terribly interested in superhero stuff, or if I'm going to write somebody else's character, it's going to be Mike Hammer...who I'd like to take into the graphic novel world, by the way. We were talking to Marvel about doing the original novels in graphic novel form, but that fell through the cracks somehow.
What else have you got coming up?
I am about to start work on Complex 90. My wife and I have a humorous mystery series we write under the joint psuedonym "Barbara Allan," with an antiquing backdrop. These are very popular, and the latest just came out, Antiques Disposal, and got on Barnes & Noble's hardcover mystery bestseller list. I'm very excited about Target Lancer, the new Nate Heller novel, which will be out in November -- it's about the JFK assassination, and goes down an entirely new road.
To read more about Max Allan Collins and his work, click HERE. Stay tuned to CBM tomorrow as we have some very interesting updates for you on a planned big screen adaptation featuring the Mike Hammer character and the sequel to Road To Perdition. Many thanks to Max for taking the time to answer my questions.
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