If you’re at all like me, right now you’re goggling your eyes — because, yeah, holy crap, it’s Max Allan Collins. (Preceded, perhaps, by the, as in, the Max Allan Collins.) He’s got a new detective novel hitting shelves that concerns the murder of a comic book censor in the 1950s. Want to know more? Here, he’ll tell you about it:
Tell Us About Yourself: Who The Hell Are You?
A storyteller is who the hell I am. I have spent decades avoiding real work by telling elaborate lies (novels, short stories, comic books, graphic novels, screenplays) for money. I occasionally tell the truth (non-fiction works like THE HISTORY OF MYSTERY and MICKEY SPILLANE ON SCREEN, documentaries like MIKE HAMMER’S MICKEY SPILLANE, featured on the Criterion edition of KISS ME DEADLY, and CAVEMAN: V.T. HAMLIN AND ALLEY OOP). I am probably best known for writing the graphic novel ROAD TO PERDITION and the historical thrillers with Chicago private eye Nathan Heller, starting with the “Shamus” Best Novel winner of 1983, TRUE DETECTIVE, through last year’s TARGET LANCER.
Give Us The 140-Character Pitch:
SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT is a tough but humorous mystery in the vein of Rex Stout or Ellery Queen, focusing on the 1950s McCarthy-era witch hunt leveled at comic books.
Where Does This Story Come From?
Two things — my desire to pay fairly light-hearted homage to the traditional mystery novels of the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s, a pastiche not a parody, but with the serious historical back-drop of the censorship that was unfairly, even stupidly imposed on comic books, stunting the growth of a storytelling medium out of a misguided concern for children.
How Is This A Story Only You Could’ve Written?
I was a small, impressionable child when Dr. Frederic Wertham launched his jihad against comic books, and witnessed many of my favorite comics either disappear or continue in an emasculated fashion. As an adult, I became a writer in two areas two that are pertinent to this novel — first, I wrote comic strips and comic books, and second, I specialized as a prose novelist in historical detective stories with 20th Century settings. My Nathan Heller novels explored real crimes, and hew close to the events and even use mostly real names. But Jack and Maggie Starr appear in historically based stories, with comic strip/book themes, that are more broadly depicted — murders added to historical subjects, names changed and so on.
What Was The Hardest Thing About Writing SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT?
Balancing the history and the mystery was tricky. I submitted the novel with perhaps 10,000 words more of material pertaining to the history of comic books. I cut this material back, as I already had the problem of the murder not occurring till midway in the novel. That’s a problem or at least a challenge in a traditional murder mystery, because you want the murder as soon as possible, so the investigative proceedings can get under way. But I like to have the eventual murder victim on stage for a while, to show why he or she is killable, and to introduce as many suspects as I can before the inevitable.
What Did You Learn Writing SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT?
The previous two Jack and Maggie Starr novels, written for a different publisher, had faced their own censorship — that publisher did primarily “cozy” mysteries, so I was asked not to get too tough with the action and violence, and to take it easy on the sexual content. At Hard Case Crime, the more sex and violence the better, and while I did not go wild in either department in this novel, it felt very good to have the freedom for Jack to get tough and to swear a little and to even get laid. So what I learned was that, even though I was working in the vein of Stout and Queen (neither of whom did much on-stage violence and sex), Jack and Maggie work better in a less restrained format.
What Do You Love About SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT?
Getting to have my say about the Wertham witch hunt era was very rewarding, particularly because I think I did it in an entertaining way.
What Don’t You Like About It?
It hasn’t been bought for movies or TV yet.
Give Us Your Favorite Paragraph From The Story:
He shoved her hard from behind, like the guy on the cover of that Suspense Crime Stories comic book at the hearing, and she was falling toward me as I hurtled up the stairs. She didn’t tumble, she had the presence of mind to grab onto a banister, which didn’t stop her fall, her hand sliding down the wooden pole just as she began to do a header, but I was up there in time to catch all that long-legged nakedness in my arms.
What’s Next For You As A Storyteller?
I have just completed THE WRONG QUARRY for Hard Case Crime, and my editor, Charles Ardai, will have his notes and a copy-edited manuscript for me to deal with next week. After that, I will do a Mike Hammer short story for Otto Penzler, utilizing a fragment from the late great Mickey Spillane’s files, and then will do my draft of the next ANTIQUES mystery, working from my wife Barb’s rough draft — we write together as Barbara Allan. Our latest book together, ANTIQUES CHOP, will be out in May. The book I’ll be working on is called ANTIQUES A GO GO.
Max Allan Collins: Website