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An Interview with Max Allan Collins

This interview was conducted via e-mail on September 21, 1999. Many thanks to Mr. Collins for graciously taking the time to respond to my questions.

Q. Are there any plans to use a series character other than Nathan Heller in any future novels, or should these series be considered "done"?

A. I would probably do an occasional novel about each of these characters, if my agent (and some interested publisher) would let me. But I have been told I need to focus on Heller -- and, since that's the best stuff I do, why not?

The least interesting to me is Mallory, but I would love to do another Nolan, and would probably do several more Quarry books, given half a chance, as he is my favorite character, after Heller. I have a specific Quarry story in mind, already.

I am just about to write a new Eliot Ness.

Q. Have you ever considered a "cross over" novel with your series characters? Nolan and Quarry seem like a good mix.

A. I have considered crossing those two characters over. Whether I'll ever get around to it is...another story.

I will probably continue to do the occasional Quarry short story, in hopes of having enough for a collection, one day.

Q. Have you ever considered a prose novel featuring a comic book character you have created, such as Ms. Tree?

A. I've done some prose short stories about Ms. Tree, as you know, and there has been occasional interest from publishers, particularly during the DC period. But back when DC had the license, I would have had to split the dough with them -- so I declined.

It's also problematic that I am a man writing about a woman P.I. That might be a hard sell to editors and to readers.

Q. How much reference material is usually made available when writing a movie novelization?

A. Usually just the script itself -- sometimes a few photos, occasionally some footage, but not often. Now and then a preview trailer.

Q. Your movie novelizations seem to include many scenes not seen in the films. Are these cut scenes, additions you make, or both? How much liberty are you allowed to take with scripts?

A. Scenes in the scripts, that make it into the novels, are frequently cut from the movies; but I also invent stuff, fill in the empty spaces, so to speak. I have to follow the plot exactly, but can add new stuff to the plot -- as long as nothing is contradicted -- and I almost always throw out the script's dialogue, and do my own. I do a lot with backstory, to give the characters some substance. Also, I do my usual research job, which gives the books weight.

Q. The early Nathan Heller books contained photographs of the real life characters involved in the story. Why was this discontinued?

A. The new publisher didn't want to pay for the photos. I didn't mind, because I came to consider them a gimmick, a distraction. Readers were raving about the photos, and forgetting the novels.

Q. In the letter column of the Ms. Tree comic, casting for a Ms. Tree movie was often speculated upon. Who is your current favorite choice to play Ms. Tree?

A. What's her name, the Xena actress.

Q. What about Nathan Heller, Nolan, and Quarry?

A. Heller is a tough one. I don't see anybody out there right now, but could live with any major star -- like Heller, I'm mostly interested in the dough!

Nolan was written for the late Lee Van Cleef. I'm partial to Dennis Farina now, or Robert Forster. Stacey Keach would also be tops. Quarry...maybe my pal Miguel Ferrer.

Q. Do you have a favorite of your novels or characters?

Just Heller and the Hellers in general. Maybe FLYING BLIND.

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