The following is an interview with Max Allan Collins (creator, Road to Perdition) regarding the upcoming release of the illustrated novella, Fancy Anders Goes to War, from NeoText. In this interview, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief Barbra Dillon chats with Collins about the shared creative process of working with award-winning artist Fay Dalton, why NeoText is the perfect home for this story, and more!
Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: Congratulations on the upcoming release of Fancy Anders Goes to War! For those who may be unfamiliar, how would you describe the book’s premise, and what inspired you to tell this story?
Max Allan Collins: Fancy Anders is a young woman in L.A. in the early 1940s, fairly fresh out of college, and the only offspring of a successful P.I. father and a High Society mother. Her snobby mother embroils Fancy in the expect debutante b.s., but the daughter has designs on working with her father in his successful private investigative agency. While she has no street smarts to speak of, Fancy is something of a wild child with a bent toward airplanes, sportscars, motorcycles and (on her own terms) men. When her father goes off to war to help start up the O.S.S., Fancy is tasked with looking after his largely shut-down agency – answering the phone, dusting, sweeping. But when she gets the chance to go undercover on a murder case, she grabs it.
I think the political unpleasantness of recent years, the whole tribal, partisan thing, got me mulling the World War II era, which seems like the last time America was really unified. You can cite post-9/11, but obviously that didn’t take. And L.A. in the Golden Age of Hollywood has great appeal for me, and despite all the historical detective stuff I’ve done over the years, I’ve rarely used that setting. Of course, a homefront story cried out for a female protagonist.
BD: How would you describe your creative process in crafting this mystery, especially as it will span three novellas?
MAC: I always liked the way Dashiell Hammett’s The Dain Curse was designed in three parts, each of which stood alone but when gathered together worked as one story, even one mystery. So, when NeoText proposed me doing novellas for them, that format came to mind.
Crafting the three interlocking novellas was a matter of looking at wartime L.A. and seeing where Fancy might go undercover in an interesting, evocative setting. That was part of the concept from the beginning – that as a private eye, she would always be going undercover, often essentially as herself, a society page celebrity in L.A. The notion of Rosie the Riveter and an aircraft plant was a natural – more or less immediate. Coming up with the other two settings took reflection and research, but the Hollywood Canteen seemed perfect as well and is the setting for Fancy Anders for the Boys. And finally the Warner’s studios for Fancy Goes Hollywood.
BD: Likewise, what can you tell us about your work alongside artist Fay Dalton in bringing this ‘40s-era story to life?
MAC: She’s a dream. In the 1940s there were several women who painted pin-ups who were their own models – notably Zoe Moezert. Trina Robbins and Olivia De Berardinis are in that tradition, and Fay is in that league and class. The first thing she did was the cover, and we hadn’t settled on who would be doing the interior illustrations yet. But when we saw her work, there was no doubt. I gave Fay suggestions for images, and the notion of starting each chapter with a full-page illo, and she followed my lead to some extent but also had ideas of her own, which were spot on. Her feel for the style of traditional pin-ups brought just the right retro feel without any camp or irony.
BD: What makes NeoText the perfect home for Fancy Anders Goes to War?
MAC: For me, it’s been ideal. Editor/publisher John Schoenfelder kicks ideas around with me, but ultimately he just asks me what I want to do and provides a venue. So far, the emphasis has been on new projects, and new characters, as opposed to any of my established series, which I am fine with. It allows me to try things.
BD: Are there any upcoming projects on which you are currently working that you would like to share with our readers?
MAC: The preferred NeoText format is novella, but they’re also doing a full-length novel of mine this month, The Many Lives of Jimmy Leighton, co-authored by SCTV great Dave Thomas. Dave is obviously famous for his comedy, but he also was a writer/producer on the TV series, Bones and Blacklist. Jimmy Leighton is a genre splice of science-fiction and crime/mystery, contemporary not futuristic, and is a good example of NeoText being open to new ideas. Most traditional publishers recoil when you suggest combining genres.
BD: Lastly, what is the best way for our readers to find more information about Fancy Anders Goes to War and your other work?
MAC: Every Tuesday morning, I post a blog/update on my website, maxallancollins.com. It’s a combination of news about upcoming works, essays about writing, movie reviews, and links to articles and reviews about my work. My son Nathan helps me with it. Nate is a Japanese to English translator and a wonderful writer – he translated the novel, Battle Royale, and is the current translator on Jo Jo’s Bizarre Adventure, a very popular manga.