Veteran writer Max Allan Collins has a career where he’s found himself firmly entrenched and very busy in three different mediums. As an author, he is best known for his Shamus Award-winning noir and crime fiction, and is perhaps most recognized for his Nathan Heller and Quarry series of books in addition to completing several unfinished manuscripts by the legendary Mickey Spillane, to critical acclaim. In the comic world, he’s best known for writing “Road to Perdition,” turned into the film by Sam Mendes, and that’s not his only venture into the movie biz, having directed a couple of low budget B pictures and more recently, having penned the book “Black Hats” that has Harrison Ford attached to star in the adaptation. As you can tell, his work crosses over frequently between mediums, and he always seemingly has a new project on the go.
In September and October, the every busy Collins had two new novels hit bookshelves from Hard Case Crime, a new story about hitman-for-hire Max Quarry in “Quarry’s Ex” and “The Consummata,” an unfinished Spillane work that the author took over the finish line. We recently had a chance to talk with Collins and in addition to sharing his process on writing both books, he revealed that the long talked about “Road to Perdition” sequel is still happening — possibly as a directing vehicle for the writer himself — as well as dishing on a still unreleased documentary about “Dick Tracy,” a comic strip he at one time was writing, by none other than Warren Beatty.
A “Road To Perdition” Sequel Is Still In The Works & Will Focus On Michael Sullivan’s Post-WWII Quest To Avenge His Father
For years now talk has continued about a sequel to Sam Mendes’ excellent graphic novel adaptation, “Road to Perdition.” The film, starring Tom Hanks and Paul Newman, followed a hitman who is forced to go on the run, bringing his young son on the road with him on a journey that takes them through the Midwest and into the sprawling metropolis of Chicago. Many have been eager to see the story of Michael Sullivan Jr. continue and while development has moved in fits and starts over the years, Collins confirms a sequel is still very much alive, but that it’s now a question about how to approach the second chapter of the story.
“I’ve got a screenplay that I wrote, and frankly what happened was for years…I was holding out to direct, and I just couldn’t get the job done. I couldn’t get anybody to let me do it. If you’re a guy like me who’s directed a half-million dollar movie and you say, ‘Yeah I’m up for doing [a] $25 million dollar movie,’ they look at you askance, as they say. I get that,” he explained. “Basically there’s two paths we’ve been going down, one is to do it as a big-budget movie and I would not be the director and the other would be to do it as more of an independent film in the $5-8 million dollar range in which case I might get to direct it. So this is still very much in the works.”
The followup will fast forward the narrative a bit, catching up with an older Michael Sullivan Jr. after World War II. “It’s ten years later and the basic idea is the son has gone to the early days [of] war and basically become an Audie Murphy kind of figure, he is literally the first Medal of Honor winner of World War II. And he comes back, he’s wounded and comes home, and was raised by an Italian family. No one knows who he really is. He was adopted and he becomes a hero within the Italian-American community in the Chicago area,” Collins elaborates. “And so he uses this to go undercover, basically, to work for Frank Nitti to put himself into a position to take vengeance for his father’s death. And there’s a novel sequel to that called “Road to Paradise,” [book two in the “On the Road to Perdition” series is called “Road to Purgatory“] and in November the last book in the saga [book 4] comes out — as a graphic novel again — called ‘Return to Perdition‘ and that takes us clear up into the early 1970s. And we’re dealing by the third book…with the grandson of the character that was played by Tom Hanks.”
So there’s a script ready to go for the story, which is certainly epic in scope, but the question remains is if it will ever get off the ground.
Warren Beatty Has Made A “Dick Tracy” Documentary Where He Plays The Comic Hero In Character
The saga of Warren Beatty and “Dick Tracy” is a lengthy one, but it goes something like this: Beatty was given motion picture and television rights to the comic property 26 years ago, but under the stipulation that he would continue to develop projects featuring the yellow-coated detective. After the release of the movie in 1990, Beatty and Tribune Company got into a fierce battle over the rights, with the latter arguing that the writer/actor/director was not following through on his obligations to the franchise. A court battle ensued and when the dust settled earlier this year Beatty came out victorious. During the court battle he revealed that he had been working on a television project to air onTurner Classic Movies, and while it has yet to be seen, it proved that he wasn’t sitting idle on the comic. Moreover, Beatty promised, now that the court case was settled, a “major Dick Tracy project” was going to be on the way.
Collins is deeply familiar with Beatty, the “Dick Tracy” film and the comic in general. He served as a consultant on Beatty’s film and even wrote the novelization, a process that helped iron out some of the story problems while they were making the movie. “With the novelization, I had a lot of problems with Disney and even Warren Beatty’s people and then ultimately the producer of the film took me aside and said that I had solved a bunch of problems in the novelization that they had gone in and fixed,” Collins shared. “They even reshot a scene…actually, the other producer called me and he was looking at the novelization and he asked me, ‘Why did you change this scene where Tess Trueheart’s mother is being extremely critical of Dick Tracy and telling her daughter she’s glad she finally broke up with that guy?’ And I said, ‘Well I changed that because Dick Tracy joined the force to catch the guy who killed Mrs. Trueheart’s husband and Mrs. Trueheart loves Dick Tracy, she would never do that.’ And there’s this long pause…’Oh.’ And the next thing I know, they’ve rewritten the scene and brought Estelle Parsons back in and shot it over.”
And while he hasn’t talked to Beatty in years about a possible sequel — “I haven’t, but I’d actually love to be [involved]. I met Warren Beatty at the time, and he said to me, ‘You’re going to be hearing from me one of these days!’ Well, I’m kind of still waiting [Laughs],” Collins said — apparently, Beatty has been putting together a documentary on Dick Tracy but one with a very interesting twist.
“Leonard Maltin is actually a good friend of mine, and Leonard told me how Beatty came and they shot an interview with Beatty staying in character as Dick Tracy. It was all scripted by Beatty I understand. I don’t believe this has ever been shown yet, but there is this special on Dick Tracy — and on sort of the history of Dick Tracy — and with Beatty playing Dick Tracy, with Leonard Maltin interviewing him,” Collins revealed, adding, “He did it several years ago and that’s how he was able to go in and say, ‘No, I did another Dick Tracy project.’ And my understanding is that’s how he was able to prevail.”
That sounds kind of amazing, so let’s hope that eventually sees the light of the day.
Max Allan Collins’ Own Moviemaking Experiences Helped Inform The Setting Of “Quarry’s Ex”
What many new readers to Max Allan Collins may not know is that “Quarry’s Ex” is not only a return to a character — the hitman for hire Max Quarry — that he first created and published over three decades ago, he’s also picking up a series that he handed off a few years ago as well. “When ‘Hard Case Crime’ started up a few years ago, Charles Ardai asked me for a new Quarry novel, and so I wrote a novel called ‘The Last Quarry‘ which was intended to basically finish the series,” Collins explains. “That was pretty much contemporary, meant to be that many years later — Quarry was pretty young in the early books, and now he was a guy in his ’50s — and the book did unexpectedly well.”
So well in fact, that “Quarry’s Ex” marks the third novel written after the “end.” But instead of reviving the character, Collins instead has created new stories that fill in the gaps between the timeline established between “The Broker,” published in 1976, and “The Last Quarry” in 2008. As the director of a couple of low budget indies — “Mommy” and its sequel “Mommy’s Day” — and of course, due to his adventures getting his various works turned into movies, Collins is more than familiar with the movie world and it proved to be ample setting for his story that finds Max Quarry in the Las Vegas desert unraveling a mystery involving a movie director making a cult flick.
“So basically what I’ve done [is] filled in what happened to him between the last book I published and then there was a book I published in the ’80s. So that gives me the parameters of where I can operate…I just sort of picked periods that I though might be of interest, might be a good setting for Quarry,” Collins told us. “This is in fact the ’80s, sort of Reagan era, and I’m very interested in the film, and I’ve done some low budget independent filmmaking myself, so I thought it would be fun to tap into that world as the setting.”
“I knew how that world works, and I thought it was fun to just sort of plop Quarry down in the middle of a B-movie, sort of a motorcycle movie. I thought that would be fun, and it was [Laughs].”
Max Allan Collins Is Not A Purist When It Comes To Working With Mickey Spillane’s Manuscripts
As any fan of noir or pulp fiction knows, Mickey Spillane is one of the giants of the genre. His creation of private detective Mike Hammer is one of the great characters of all time, and has influenced countless writers since, but there is a trove of rough drafts and unfinished manuscripts that reveal the author had more to say. And Collins more than anybody is intimately familiar with what Spillane left behind, and in the past few years, has taken a handful of writer’s works over the finish, completing them as new novels. “I have this unique relationship with the Spillane estate because Mickey essentially in his last days asked me to do this,” he said. “And knew he had a lot of unfinished material there that had commercial worth, and looking to making a living for his wife, he called me in and essentially gave me carte blanche to work on this stuff.”
The resulting books which have included “The Big Bang,” “The Goliath Bone” and “Kiss Her Goodbye” have all been met with positive reviews. But his latest, “The Consummata” has a trickier backstory. It was started by Spillane as a sequel to “The Delta Factor,” in which he introduced a new character, the James Bond-esque CIA agent Morgan The Raider. A forgettable movie adaptation was produced in 1970 and seeing as there was no more incentive to keep writing books for the character, Spillane put it to the side. Well, Collins completed the novel and we asked him how his approach differs when he’s taking on material started by somebody like Spillane.
“These manuscripts which are substantial manuscripts — they tend to be 20,000 to 30,000 words long, and the ultimate book is going to be 60,000 to 75,000 words long — I always look at where they fall in his career, when he worked on it,” Collins said. “And then I look at the books he wrote immediately before that and the books he wrote immediately after that and I really study them for style. And I go through with a marker like I’m preparing for a college exam and just really get it to where I feel like I’m immersed in his voice from that particular period.”
But if you think Collins just throws the text into a word processor, and then writes around Spillane’s words in order to preserve everything he first put down, you may be surprised. “The other aspect of this, and I know this probably would make a purist wince but, I do not just plop Mickey’s third of the book down and pick up where he left off. I view it as unpublished material, I view it as rough draft, I try to expand it and extend it, do new scenes within what he has setup, so that I create a joint voice, a collaborative voice,” he explained. “I try not to do just sort of pastiche, I try to make it feel like this is a book we wrote together, that’s my attitude. By doing that, it extends his material two-thirds of the way into the book, which means there’s genuine Spillane content, very deep into the novel. And then when I take over, I’m so immersed myself in that voice, I’m able to maintain it and readers [can’t tell the difference].”
“I stick with the characters that he’s presented, I stick with the plot threads, the things he’s set in motion. I do not impose something new, I do not bring new characters in,” he adds. “If I bring in a new character in it’s going to be something he mentioned who was off stage…I make sure that everything I do flows out of and completes everything he wrote.”
It sounds like a balanced approach, and having read the book ourselves, the goal is met of having one unified voice delivering the world Spillane created. Both “Quarry’s Ex” and “The Consummata” are in stores now.