Saturday, August 31, 2013

Writing Update

Historically August has been one of my best months, but in recent years, not so much. My theory is that because we usually go to the coast in June or July, and I work so hard and produce so many pages down there that it wears me out for the rest of the summer. That seems to have held true this year, because my total for August was 352 pages, or just a little under half of what I did in June. Granted, June was my all-time best month, but still . . . I spent a solid week this month working on writing-related projects that didn't produce any new pages, and that hurt my total as well. But there's no doubt I've slowed down, and it looks unlikely that I'll hit 6000 pages this year, as I was trying to do. Of course, there's a good reason I've made it to 6000 only twice in my career: it's hard.

I'm not going to obsess about this, though. (Too late!) I'm not as far behind on my schedule as I've been at times in the past, so I'll just keep doing the best I can and go on.

Saturday Morning Bonus Pulp: Star Western, July 1949

STAR WESTERN was still turning out some excellent issues in the late Forties. This one has a good cover and features stories by top-notch authors Harry F. Olmsted, E. Hoffmann Price, Talmage Powell, Jim O'Mara, Arthur Lawson, and John Jo Carpenter.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Forgotten Books: Conan and the Emerald Lotus - John C. Hocking

As a long-time reader and fan of Robert E. Howard's work, a former member of REHupa, and somebody who has written introductions for several volumes of Howard stories, you might expect me to be a strict purist, somebody who doesn't like pastiches featuring Howard's characters and doesn't think such things should be written. Ah, but that would be rather hypocritical of me, considering how the majority of my career has been spent writing about other people's characters, including my own Howard pastiche (the El Borak story "Wolves of the Mountain" in CROSS PLAINS UNIVERSE).

So, as with most things, I come down pretty much in the middle on this issue. I have no philosophical objections to pastiches, it's just that most of the ones I've read based on Howard's work aren't very good.

For years, though, I've been meaning to read John C. Hocking's novel CONAN AND THE EMERALD LOTUS, which has a pretty favorable reputation even among Howard's most devoted fans. I believe it was Morgan Holmes who first told me that Hocking's book is the best of the Conan pastiches published by Tor. I should have gotten around to it long before now, especially since the author comments from time to time on this very blog. All I can say is that I'm sorry for my procrastination on several levels, the most important of which is that it kept me from reading an excellent novel until now.

CONAN AND THE EMERALD LOTUS is a rare thing, a fantasy novel with a strongly realistic tone to it. Sure, there's plenty of swordplay and sorcery, but the tale revolves around a powerful, highly addictive drug, the sort of plot element you might find in a hardboiled crime novel. It's been said that Howard merged a hardboiled voice with horror fiction to create sword-and-sorcery, and Hocking understands that even though he doesn't try to imitate Howard's style. He spins this yarn in brisk, action-packed prose with occasional touches of creepiness and dark humor. Conan, aligned with one of the sorcerers warring over the potent powder known as the Emerald Lotus, is the most admirable character in the novel, and we know what a bad-ass he is.

At the same time, Hocking gives us the sort of spectacle you expect to find in epic heroic fantasy, especially in scenes like the description of sorcerer Ethram-Fal's stronghold in the badlands of ancient Stygia. And speaking of badlands, there are hints of the Western here, too, in the battles between Conan and his enemies in rugged terrain that might well be Monument Valley, Utah. All of it leads up to an apocalyptic and very satisfying climax.

As it turns out, CONAN AND THE EMERALD LOTUS is one of the most purely entertaining books I've read all year. Hocking knows his stuff and knows how to tell a fine story. I had such a good time with this I'm actually tempted to read some of the other Conan pastiches. But that might not be such a good idea, since I have a pretty strong hunch I've already read the best of them.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

American Vampire Volume 4 - Scott Snyder

Even though I'm not the biggest fan of horror comics, I'm still reading and enjoying the collected editions of Scott Snyder's AMERICAN VAMPIRE, a comic that's almost as much historical fiction as it is horror.

Volume 4 collects three storylines from the comic. The first one, "The Beast in the Cave", is a Western, a prequel story that finds Skinner Sweet, who will later become the American Vampire of the title, and his adopted brother and soon-to-be nemesis Jim Book fighting on the same side as U.S. cavalrymen during the Apache Wars. As you might expect, a supernatural angle crops up and leads to plenty of bloody violence, although things don't really play out the way you might think they would. This arc has some nice artwork by European comics legend Jordi Bernet that reminds me of Joe Kubert's art.

The second storyline, "Death Race", has art by series co-creator Rafael Albuquerque and is set in California in 1954. The protagonist is a typical teenage delinquent and hot-rodder, only as usual things aren't what they appear. This JD has a secret that involves Skinner Sweet, and this four-issue arc features an epic chase and battle between the two of them.

A two-parter called "The Nocturnes" rounds out this collection and spins a yarn set in Alabama in 1954 that mixes doo-wop music, the Korean War, and a type of monster that's new to this series. The art is by Roger Cruz and Riccardo Burchielli.

All these stories were written by Scott Snyder, and the scripts are fast-paced, bleak, and occasionally punctuated by some very dark humor. I think there were too many flashbacks in "Death Race", which made the story a little hard to follow, but overall I enjoy Snyder's work and I like this series. I'm sure I'll continue to read these collected editions as they come out.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Celebrations in the Ossuary - Kyle J. Knapp

It's a cliche, but in this case it's true: I sat down to glance at this book and wound up reading the whole thing. As many of you know, Kyle J. Knapp was David Cranmer's nephew who passed away earlier this summer. That makes this collection of his poetry that much more poignant, but it's powerful in its own right. Proving, I guess, that maybe noir runs in the family, many of the poems here focus on death, loss, and struggle and have a decidedly dark edge, but that's balanced with vivid, beautiful imagery and clever wordplay that leavens the tone with a bit of humor. It's compelling stuff, no doubt about that. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Tuesday's Overlooked TV Movie: The Blue Lightning

You've probably figured out by now that I'm a Sam Elliott fan. In this TV movie from 1986, he plays a private eye named Harry Wingate (good name for a PI) who's on the trail of a fabulously valuable opal known as the Blue Lightning. His search leads him to Australia, where he winds up tangling with a villainous former IRA gunman (played by Robert Culp), who has taken over a small settlement in the Outback. So, yeah, it plays a lot like a Western, but you don't think I'm going to complain about that, do you? I haven't seen this movie since it was new, but I remember enjoying it. The whole thing is posted on YouTube, so you can check it out for yourself, if you're of a mind to and have better Internet service than I do.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Detective Fiction Weekly, April 4. 1936

DETECTIVE FICTION WEEKLY was an early favorite pulp of mine because I came across a number of copies of it, back in the days when finding pulps in used bookstores was pretty rare in this neck of the woods. I never had this issue, but if I had I'm sure I would have enjoyed it. The lead story is by T.T. Flynn, one of my favorite pulp Western authors. I wish somebody would reprint some of his stories from the detective pulps. Other authors in this issue include Cornell Woolrich, Carroll John Daly, and Richard Wormser. Sounds good to me.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Now Available: Dancing With Dead Men (Trade Paperback Edition)

For those of you who want to read my 300th novel but prefer a print book, the trade paperback edition is now available on Amazon. I've looked at the proof copy of this edition, and it's really nice. Livia did a great job publishing it. You can find it here.

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Speed Western, September 1945

The cover of this issue of SPEED WESTERN is a good reminder of the fact that telephones existed earlier than what we sometimes think. The stories inside are by top-notch authors, too, including William Heuman, Laurence Donovan, and William R. Cox.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Forgotten Books: The Masked Invasion - Curtis Steele (Frederick C. Davis)

It occurred to me recently that big thrillers by authors such as Brad Thor and the late Vince Flynn featuring valiant American intelligence agents fighting apocalyptic threats to the country are just updated versions of the pulp novels starring Jimmy Christopher, Operator #5, America's Undercover Ace. The biggest difference is that Jimmy Christopher dealt with those threats at a faster pace and in about half the wordage of today's overlong thrillers.

I'm a long-time fan of the Operator #5 series. I've written before about discovering the Corinth paperback reprint of one of the novels, LEGIONS OF THE DEATH MASTER, on the spinner rack at Trammell's Grocery Store in the mid-Sixties and being won over instantly. Since Radio Archives is in the process of reprinting the whole series as e-books, I decided to start from the first and read the whole thing. It'll probably take me a while.

The Operator #5 novels were written at first by Frederick C. Davis under the house-name Curtis Steele. Later on Davis would be replaced by Emile Tepperman and Wayne Rogers. But the debut novel in the April 1934 issue, THE MASKED INVASION, is by Davis and was written to order because publisher Harry Steeger and editor Rogers Terrill already had the cover painting they wanted to use, which showed the White House being blown up.

From that germ of an idea, Davis spins a wild but compelling yarn about a masked supercriminal known as the Red Master using a new invention to cause all electrical activity to stop in New York City, resulting in massive blackouts that plunge the great metropolis into chaos. (This same gimmick was used in a number of pulp novels, including the Shadow tale THE BLACK HUSH.) When the range of this superscientific menace expands, it threatens the whole country, which is primed to be taken over by an invasion fleet during the Thirteenth Darkness. Only one man has a chance to stop this catastrophe . . . Jimmy Christopher, of course.

Despite his youth (he's in his early twenties), Jimmy Christopher is already the top intelligence agent in the country. As Will Murray points out in his introduction to the e-book edition, Jimmy Christopher is the typical clean-cut, square-jawed, G-man hero of the era. He's also an amateur magician and will stop in the middle of the action to perform a trick and explain it to his young sidekick Tim Donovan. He has a little charm shaped like a skull attached to his watch chain, and inside it is a deadly gas. He also carries a rapier in a sheath hidden inside his belt. He even has a secret identity, that of society photographer Carleton Victor, although it doesn't come into play much in this novel. Davis also establishes the tradition of always referring to him by both names, Jimmy Christopher. It's an odd stylistic touch, but it works.

His boss and the head of the unnamed intelligence agency for which he works is known only as Z-7. In addition to Tim Donovan, Jimmy Christopher is helped out sometimes by his father, a retired intelligence operative who has to be careful because a bullet is lodged near his heart, and his twin sister Nan, who sometimes masquerades as him. That's one of the weaker points in this series, in my opinion, but hey, unreasonably effective disguises are a pulp tradition, after all, so we'll cut Davis some slack on that.

As the dreaded Thirteenth Darkness approaches, Davis does a fine job of piling more and more trouble on Jimmy Christopher's head until it looks like there's no way he or the country can survive. And yet, in a great action-filled set piece that occupies the last fourth of the book, Jimmy Christopher finds a way to triumph. The last time I read this story was about 35 years ago, but I still remembered the wild climax and it was just as effective this time around. If this was a movie, some of the stunts involved would be right at home in a modern-day action summer blockbuster.

Despite the over-the-top apocalyptic plots and the occasional touches of pulp silliness, Davis somehow makes his Operator #5 stories at least a little believable. As much as I enjoy Norvell Page's crazed tales of The Spider, I have trouble completely suspending my disbelief when I read them. Davis's Operator #5 novels have that same hysterical edge, but they contain a touch of plausibility that the Spider novels don't. At times they're almost eerily predictive of our political situation now, nearly eighty years after they were written.

After being published originally in the April 1934 issue of the pulp, as noted above, THE MASKED INVASION was reprinted by Corinth in the Sixties (couldn't find a scan of that cover) and a short-lived outfit called Freeway Press in the Seventies. There was a more recent reprint from Wildside Press that's probably still available, plus the Radio Archives e-book edition. So it's not really a forgotten book, but I'm including it here anyway because readers of contemporary thrillers who haven't heard of the Operator #5 series might find something to enjoy in Jimmy Christopher's adventures. As for me, I love 'em, and I'm looking forward to reading more.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

37 Years Ago Today . . .

Smartest thing I ever did. (I only have a couple of wedding pictures, but I'll keep rerunning them!)

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Tuesday's Overlooked TV: The Yellow Rose

Sure, it was a DALLAS rip-off, with two brothers trying to run their late father's ranch in modern-day Texas and clashing with his beautiful young widow, but look at that cast: Sam Elliott as a mysterious stranger, Cybill Shepherd, never more beautiful, Ken Curtis and Noah Beery Jr. as a couple of crusty old cowpokes . . . It ran one season (1983-84) and ended on a frustrating cliffhanger. But we watched 'em all anyway.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Orrie Hitt-inspired Musical

You never know what you're going to find in your email. This morning I heard from Niki Romijn, a Dutch musical theater performer who's written a show about a woman obsessed with the novels of Orrie Hitt, using the same title as one of those books, DIAL "M" FOR MAN. It's a little amazing to me that interest in Hitt's work has spread so far, and I'm proud to be part of the small circle of folks who helped start that resurgence. Here's a small excerpt from Niki's show:

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: All-Adventure Action Novels, Fall 1937

The guy with the machine gun on the cover of this one looks a little like John Wayne to me. Unfortunately, the girl's not doing much for that pith helmet. But the fiction inside looks good: stories by Albert Richard Wetjen, George Bruce, and Captain Dingle, all of them veteran action storytellers. Overall this seems a little sedate for a Fiction House pulp, but I'll bet it was fairly entertaining.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Lariat Story, March 1949

This looks like a pretty good issue. The cover is okay, if not quite up to the same gaudy, lurid level as some of the other Fiction House pulps. But the line-up of authors is particularly strong with stories by Dan Cushman, D.B. Newton, J. Edward Leithead, and John Jo Carpenter.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Now Available: Dancing With Dead Men - James Reasoner (My 300th Novel)

Logan Handley was a gun for hire, a man feared far and wide for his speed and deadly accuracy with a Colt. But then a mysterious malady struck him down and left him a mere shell of the man he had been. Running out of time and seeking help from a famous doctor in Hot Springs, Arkansas, Logan unexpectedly finds himself in the middle of a war between two ruthless timber barons. Not only that, but a dangerous enemy from his past is stalking him as well. No longer able to rely on the fighting skills that garnered him a reputation as a notorious gunman, Logan has to figure out a way to save himself and his new-found friends from violence and tragedy.

DANCING WITH DEAD MEN is the milestone 300th novel from legendary New York Times bestselling author James Reasoner. Part Western, part historical novel, part psychological thriller, it's packed with stirring action and compelling characterization. DANCING WITH DEAD MEN is a masterful tale by one of the top storytellers of our time!

Never before published, full-length 64,000 word novel.

Well, shucks. That sales copy makes me blush a mite. Now let me tell you the rest of the story, as Paul Harvey used to say.

About 25 years ago when I was working for Book Creations Inc., I was one of the regular stable of authors turning out novels for their series Stagecoach Station, which was published by Bantam under the house-name Hank Mitchum. All the books used a place name as their title. I wrote books called PECOS, PANHANDLE, DEATH VALLEY, etc. As usual when working on a series, Livia and I came up with more ideas than I ever got around to using. She gave me the title HOT SPRINGS and the basics of a plot, which I expanded into a pretty detailed outline that I sent to BCI. But for one reason or another (the editor probably switched me to another series, but I don't really recall), it never got scheduled as a Stagecoach Station book, and then that series ended.

So the outline sat in our files, retitled DANCING WITH DEAD MEN because we thought that one of these days one of us would write it as a stand-alone Western novel. The file was written on a Laser computer and stored on one of those big floppy disks. At some point Livia converted a lot of those files, and a copy of it was sitting on the flash drive that was in her purse on January 29, 2008, when a wildfire burned down our house and studio. Because of that, the outline was one of the things we didn't lose.

So as I was coming up on my 300th novel, I started casting around for something good to write. My 100th and 200th novels were both house-name Westerns. I wanted #300 to be something under my name. I considered a number of different projects but finally decided I ought to finally take a crack at DANCING WITH DEAD MEN. After all, it had been waiting longer than anything else.

And now it's available at Amazon and Smashwords and in the works at Barnes & Noble, a brand-new novel that only took me 25 years to write! I think it turned out to be a good book, and I'm proud to have it be my 300th novel. I don't normally post samples, but here's the opening:

Christmas Eve, 1873
The killing had stopped for the holidays. For months the two rival mining syndicates, the Rimfire on one side and the Aldena on the other, had been battling, each side blaming the other – correctly, as it happened – for the rash of robberies, sabotage, and outright murder that had plagued the area around Aspen Creek, Montana Territory.

But tonight, the night before the holiest day of the year, hostilities had ceased. For one night, the war over the gold fields had been put aside, and everyone from the area, townspeople, miners, and ranchers alike, had come together in the Aspen Creek town hall for the annual Christmas dance. The weather had even cooperated. It was cold, but not too cold for late December in Montana Territory, and only a light dusting of snow lay on the ground.

Inside the town hall, the air was hot and stifling. The heat came from the pot-bellied stoves in the corners and also from the several hundred people who had crowded into the building for the festivities.

Logan Handley didn't care much for the heat. A few beads of sweat had popped out on his forehead. He had been sick with a fever recently, and even though he seemed to be over it, he didn't feel like he had recovered completely.

A tall, lean man with close-cropped sandy hair, Logan was better dressed than most of the men in the hall. His frock coat, vest, and string tie would have been fashionable even back east. His lone concessions to Western fashion were the high-topped black boots he wore and the flat-crowned black hat with a silver band that hung on one of the hat trees near the hall's entrance.

He paused at the table on one side of the crowded room to pick up a cup of punch. Before the night was over, somebody would spike that punch, more than likely, but for now it was innocent enough, and Logan enjoyed the cool sweetness as he took a sip.

"Well, lookee there. Standin' around and drinkin' punch like he ain't a cold-blooded killer."

Logan had a pretty good idea who had spoken, but he looked around to be sure. He nodded to the stocky, walrus-mustached man and said, "Merry Christmas, Marshal."

"Maybe it will be, if you hired guns'll behave yourselves," Marshal Floyd Mahaffey said. The badge he wore as city marshal of Aspen Creek gleamed on the lapel of his brown tweed suit coat.

Logan had the cup of punch in his right hand, a cautious habit since he was left-handed. He moved his left hand in a graceful gesture and said, "Do you see me wearing a gun?"

"Not right now," Mahaffey admitted. "I'll bet it's out there in one of the baskets, though."

Well, that much was true, thought Logan. He had unbuckled the black leather shell belt and attached holster with its new .45 caliber Colt Single Action Army revolver and left them in one of the baskets that had been set out on chairs in the foyer. A couple of the marshal's deputies, each armed with a shotgun, stood beside those baskets and made sure that every man who came into the town hall deposited his weapons in one of them before entering. Those guns could only be reclaimed when a fellow left the dance.

The deputies weren't exactly diligent in their duty, though. Logan had a .41 caliber over-and-under derringer in his vest pocket, and he would have bet good money it wasn't the only hide-out gun in the hall tonight.

But as long as nobody used any of those hidden weapons, things would remain peaceful. The musicians sawed on their fiddles, people danced and sang Christmas carols and drank punch, young men and women flirted with each other, kids ran around and got underfoot. Everything was as normal as it could be, and that was a refreshing change for Logan.

For men such as him, normal was lonely trails, smoky saloons, squalid cribs . . . and unmarked, unmourned graves.

"John Purcell appears to be havin' a good time tonight," Mahaffey went on. His dislike for gunmen meant it cost him an obvious effort to be civil to the likes of Logan Handley, but he made that effort.

Logan nodded as his eyes sought out Purcell. The local superintendent of the Rimfire Mining Syndicate – and as such, Logan's employer – was dancing with his wife Bedelia. Over on the other side of the room, Clete Barrows, who ran the Aldena, danced with his wife. The two bitter enemies determinedly ignored each other while at the same time making sure as much space as possible separated them. That was wise, Logan thought. An accidental bump on the dance floor might shatter the fragile holiday truce.

"John deserves to have a good time," Logan said. "All that mischief by the Aldena has put a lot of pressure on him. Rimfire's owners don't care what obstacles he has to overcome. All that matters to them is production."

Mahaffey let out a disgusted snort. "Don't talk to me about what Barrows' men have been doin'. You Rimfire men have been makin' life hell for his operation, too. If there was room in the town cemetery, I'd say all of you oughta just go ahead and kill each other and be done with it."

Logan smiled faintly and took another sip of the punch. "It's Christmas Eve, Marshal. No killing tonight."

Mahaffey made another disgusted noise, shook his head, and started to turn away. He paused to look back at Logan and said, "I don't see your pard Meadows here."

Logan stiffened. He said, "Jim Meadows is no pard of mine. You know that."

Mahaffey shrugged. "He may work for Barrows while you work for Purcell, but you and him are the same stripe, I'm thinkin'."

The lawman's stumpy legs carried him into the crowd. Logan looked down into the red liquid remaining in his cup and frowned. He didn't like being told that he was the same sort as Jim Meadows, but he supposed it was true, at least in a basic sense. Both of them hired out their guns to whoever offered the biggest payoff.

And they had never been too careful about picking sides, either. There was no moral high ground to claim in this dispute between the Rimfire and the Aldena. It had been the same in other places, other times, when disputes boiled over into gunplay and bloodshed. There had even been a few instances when Logan and Jim Meadows had found themselves riding for the same side.

Logan wanted to call Mahaffey back and insist to the marshal that he and Meadows were different, that Meadows was a snake-blooded killer while he, Logan, at least had a few scruples.

But he couldn't, not really.

Forgotten Books: Spy Killer - L. Ron Hubbard

During the Thirties, L. Ron Hubbard wrote in just about pulp genre that existed. “Spy Killer”, from the April 1936 issue of FIVE-NOVELS MONTHLY, is a short novel of Oriental intrigue reminiscent of some stories I’ve read by H. Bedford-Jones.  Two-fisted American sailor Kurt Reid is framed for murder when his ship docks in Shanghai.  He’s helped to escape by a Chinese warlord who demands in return that Reid assassinate a mysterious Japanese spy.  Throw in a beautiful White Russian adventuress and the equally beautiful daughter of a British merchant, each of them with agendas of their own, a few double-crosses, the Japanese army, and Reid is up to his neck in trouble.  I don’t think this yarn is quite as good as the Westerns I've read by Hubbard, but it’s still pretty entertaining.

The scan of the original pulp issue is from the invaluable Fictionmags Index. It's from a damaged copy but the only image I could find on-line.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Witchery: A Duo of Weird Tales - Keith Chapman

I've been reading and enjoying Keith Chapman's Westerns written under the name Chap O'Keefe for several years, but his recent e-book WITCHERY: A DUO OF WEIRD TALES proves that he does a top-notch job with other genres as well. After an interesting introduction that addresses the genesis of these tales, he produces a fine Clark Ashton Smith pastiche set in Smith's evil-haunted French province Averoigne, "Black Art in Yvones". A young protagonist, a beautiful blonde, and a sinister femme fetale even give this tale a slight noirish feel. In the second novelette in this collection, Chapman ventures into sword-and-sorcery territory with "Wildblood and the Witch Wife", featuring a very likable pair of adventurers reminiscent of Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. It's set in historical England rather than a fantasy world, but there's still plenty of sorcery and action.

These are excellent stories and I'm looking forward to more fantasy from Chapman. In the meantime, this duo is well worth the very affordable price.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Tuesday's Overlooked TV: The Quest

The pilot for this Western series was shown as a TV movie in the spring of 1976, and then it premiered as a regular series the following fall. Unfortunately it didn't last very long, airing only about a dozen episodes before it was cancelled. It had a good cast, with Kurt Russell and Tim Matheson playing brothers searching for their sister, who had been captured by Cheyenne Indians. Russell's character was also a captive for several years. Being Western fans, Livia and I watched all the episodes, and even though I haven't seen any of them since then, I remember it as being a pretty good series. The pilot movie and a two-parter from the series have been released on DVD, but the whole series hasn't. There are a few clips on YouTube, but that's it.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Intrepid Travelers - Nicholas Litchfield, ed.

I've been so involved with genre fiction for so long that I tend to forget that I once read a lot of literary fiction, too. (Of course, literary fiction is a genre of its own, but that's probably a discussion best left for another time and place.) What it's always boiled down to for me is that a good story is a good story, no matter what cubbyhole people try to put it in.

The Lowestoft Chronicle is an on-line literary magazine run by Nicholas Litchfield that publishes fiction, poetry, and non-fiction, usually (but not always) with a travel theme. It branches out from time to time into other areas, such as these interviews with me. Nicholas Litchfield did a great job with them, and I'm glad that the first one has been reprinted in INTREPID TRAVELERS, a fine new anthology showcasing some of the pieces published in the magazine in 2012. There are two more interviews in this volume, one with bestselling travel author Franz Wisner and the other with Randal S. Brandt, librarian and expert on the life and works of mystery author David Dodge, who also did a considerable amount of travel writing. Both interviews are entertaining and informative.

I'm absolutely the most unqualified person in the world to talk about poetry (the closest I ever came to writing any was the lyrics to an unrecorded country song that popped into my head one day). Let's just say that I enjoyed the poems in INTREPID TRAVELERS. I can talk about the fiction, though, and it's all good. Some favorites are "Cracked Windshield" by Tamara Kaye Sellman, a story about a young woman who delivers cars from one side of the country to the other that felt to me like it ought to be the opening chapter of a novel; "Bloody Driving Gloves" by Hector S. Koburn, a short, potent, noirish crime yarn; and "The Final Ascent of Hal Tripp" by David Klein, a tale about climbing Mount Everest that strikes a Kilimanjaro-esque note although the plot is very different from the Hemingway story. I really liked the writing in all of these. There's also the supremely silly "You and I Have Something in Common" by Brian Conlon, which is about a very bizarre job interview.

More than anything else, INTREPID TRAVELERS is refreshing. It's well-written, takes the reader to a wide variety of literary destinations, and makes even a confirmed hermit like me want to get up and go somewhere. Highly recommended.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Adventure Trails, July 1938

The Western pulps weren't the only ones that liked bright red and yellow covers. This is the first issue of a short-lived pulp called ADVENTURE TRAILS, which certainly promises plenty of action and excitement. The only author in this issue I'm really familiar with is Eugene Cunningham. But then a little investigation turns up the fact that "Rodney Blake" was really none other than my old favorite H. Bedford-Jones. I don't think I knew this before now. Bedford-Jones used the pseudonym on at least a dozen stories, most of them Westerns that appeared in lower-tier pulps. For that reason alone I'd grab this one if I ever saw a copy of it, which isn't that likely.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Western Story, April 26, 1941

This is an issue that I own and read recently, and as usual with these, the scan is from the actual copy I read. The cover by H.W. Scott isn't as good as others I've seen by him, but it's serviceable.

By the 1940s, Walt Coburn's work had become more inconsistent, but most of his stories were still pretty good, especially the ones that appeared in WESTERN STORY, the dean of Western pulps. The lead novella in this issue, "Come All You Texas Rangers" isn't set in Texas, as you might expect, but rather in Montana. Its protagonist is the son of a Texas Ranger, however, and the roots of the story go back to Texas, where a herd of cattle was rustled from Bill Loren's father and driven north. Bill is trying to track down the rustlers and is posing as a riverboat gambler to do so, and as the story opens he's about to be hanged for a murder he didn't commit. From there Coburn springs plot twist after plot twist, most of which don't come from too far out in left field, before wrapping things up with a nice showdown between Bill and his sidekick, an old mountain man known as Shale, and the two main villains of the piece. "Come All You Texas Rangers" isn't in the top rank of Coburn's work – it has a certain air of by-the-numbers about it – but it's an entertaining yarn.

Perry Westwood's "Guns by Proxy" makes use of a very standard plot, that of the drifting gunman who saves a small rancher and his family from a rapacious cattle baron, but it's well written with plenty of good action. I don't know anything about Westwood, but something about his prose that's hard to pin down makes me think he might have been British. His style reminds me a little of some of the British Western authors who have written for the Black Horse Western line.

Tom Roan is an author whose work I've found to be inconsistent, but his short story in this issue, "Blizzard Justice", is a good one. A young cowboy breaks out of jail during a snowstorm to solve the murder for which he's been framed and winds up snowbound in a line shack with a dangerous assortment of characters. Coincidence maybe drives the plot a little too much, but Roan keeps things ripping along at a good pace.

Seth Ranger was really Frank Richardson Pierce, a fine writer who was prolific in the Western pulps under both of those names. His story of an old desert rat prospector, "Hard to Kill", is something of an oddity in that it's set partially in the Old West and partially in more modern times. It's a good yarn, too, about land development and a crooked developer, the sort of thing that Pierce did about as well as anyone in the Western pulps.

"Caribou Trek" is a wildlife story about a caribou bull trying to escape from a pack of wolves. While the author, Jim Kjelgaard, was quite possibly the best at this story of story and this particular one reads pretty well, I'm still not a big fan of the sub-genre.

"Secret of the Frying Pan" by Mojave Lloyd is a mystery story, with a murder to solve and a hidden map that leads to a valuable mine. The hero is a tinker who has invented a whistle he wears on his nose. Really. This one is just a little too offbeat for me and I didn't care for the author's style, but I'll admit that the plot had a nice twist.

Also in this issue are an installment of a serial by Walker Tompkins, "Wagon Wheels West", and the usual WESTERN STORY features about guns, mining, and travel and a pen-pal column, none of which I read.

My overall verdict is that this is a slightly below average issue of WESTERN STORY. The Coburn and Pierce stories are good, the Roan and Westwood stories are not as good but still enjoyable, and the other contents pretty forgettable. But I still had a good time reading it.

Friday, August 09, 2013

Forgotten Books: Vandals of the Void - Jack Vance

When I was a kid I loved the science fiction novels published by the John C. Winston Company, many of which were available on the bookmobile that came out to my little hometown every Saturday from the public library in the county seat. How could I not love them? I mean, look at that classic endpaper painting by Alex Schomburg! I read all of them I could get my hands on, beginning with, as I recall, THE YEAR THE STARDUST FELL by Raymond F. Jones. Although my first one could have been the iconic DANGER: DINOSAURS! by Richard Marsten, who was Evan Hunter, of course. I can't remember for sure.

But one I'm certain I never read was VANDALS OF THE VOID by Jack Vance, and since this is Jack Vance Week on Forgotten Books, why not? Well, for one thing, copies of the original edition can be found easily on-line, but they ain't cheap. As in a couple of hundred bucks not cheap. Luckily, there's a Kindle edition which is very inexpensive considering the alternative. It doesn't have those great endpapers, of course, but I was able to read the book itself.

The protagonist of VANDALS OF THE VOID is Dick Murdock, the teenage son of an astronomer. Despite being of Terran heritage, Dick was born and raised on Venus. He gets to leave the planet for the first time when he goes to visit his father at an observatory on Earth's Moon. On the way he sees a disabled spaceship with everyone on board dead and hears about a dreaded space pirate known as the Basilisk who is thought to be to blame for the atrocity. Once he gets to the Moon he meets an old prospector who claims that the remnants of a race of lunar natives still live in caves deep under the surface. That's more than enough to draw me in, but there are more plot twists still to come, as a murder takes place and Dick is forced to turn detective to expose the killer and save his own life.

There's almost a frontier feel to this novel, since space travel has progressed only as far as Terran colonies on Mars and Venus and is actually fairly primitive. I don't mind a big sprawling galactic empire space opera once in a while, but I really like this sort of smaller scale story, too.

I would have absolutely loved this book when I was twelve years old. Heck, I enjoyed it a lot now, and I'm considerably older than twelve. Unlike many of you, I haven't read a great deal of Jack Vance's work. I've enjoyed what I've read, he's just one of those authors I've never sampled extensively. In the reviews of this one I've read by Vance fans, there are a lot of comments about how it's one of his early novels and his later books are much better written, but I've got to say, I think VANDALS OF THE VOID is very well written, with a smart plot, a refreshingly realistic and likable protagonist, and plenty of excitement. I had a great time reading it.

I may have to see if any of those other Winston SF novels are available as e-books.

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Stan Lynde, R.I.P.

Most of you probably know what a huge fan I am of writer/artist Stan Lynde and his long-running comic strip RICK O'SHAY. I'm very sorry to report that Stan has passed away from cancer at the age of 81. His obituary in the Washington Post can be found here. I'm glad I got to know him and had a chance to tell him how much his work meant to me. Somewhere Hipshot Percussion is looking up at a snow-capped mountain and telling his ol' pard so long.

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: Van Helsing

(This post originally appeared in somewhat different form on December 12, 2004.)

Tonight we watched VAN HELSING. A fairly entertaining movie, I thought, but boy, is it frantic. Running, jumping, shooting, fighting monsters, getting in all the scenes that'll work to adapt for the video game, piling on the CGI and special effects . . . Well, it just wore me out after a while. Some REH fans think that the movie stole Hugh Jackman's look from Solomon Kane, and I can see that with the big hat and the black duster. That's all that seemed Howard-influenced to me, though. Kate Beckinsale looks great, especially in the first shot where we see her, when she's drawing her sword. My biggest problem with the movie is the legacy of Mel Brooks. Every time somebody calls Igor by name, I halfway expected him to say, "That's EYE-gor!" And of course I kept thinking that the Frankenstein Monster was going to break into a chorus of "Puttin' on the Ritz".

Ah, well . . . I think I've seen all of Stephen Sommers' films. Each one has gotten more elaborate and piled on the special effects, and each one has been a little weaker than the one before it, in my opinion. I liked THE JUNGLE BOOK a lot and loved THE MUMMY. Sommers just needs to have his characters take a breath now and then and try to work in a little more actual story. But then, who am I to be telling anybody how to make movies?

Monday, August 05, 2013

Fight Card: Rumble in the Jungle - Jack Tunney (David James Foster)

This has been such a busy year that I've fallen behind on my Fight Card reading, a situation I'm going to attempt to remedy, beginning with RUMBLE IN THE JUNGLE, written under the Jack Tunney house-name by David James Foster, who contributed the first international entry in the series, KING OF THE OUTBACK. In this excellent yarn, boxer Brendan O'Toole, haunted by tragedy and seeking refuge in the bottle, winds up working on a construction crew building a hotel in an African country wracked by revolution. When the Americans are captured by rebel forces, they're tossed into a jungle prison camp known as Hell Camp XXI, which is under the command of a brutal ex-Nazi who stages boxing matches between the prisoners and a giant guard.

If that plot set-up doesn't pull you right into the story, you're made of sterner stuff than I am. Foster does a fine job with the action as the prisoners try to survive and O'Toole has to step back into the ring several times. The boxing scenes are great and Foster keeps the tension building to a satisfying conclusion. This volume is a good reminder of just how entertaining the Fight Card series is, and I hope I can get caught up on it soon. In the meantime, if you haven't read this one, you should give it a try.

Sunday, August 04, 2013

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Complete Adventures, December 1937

This appears to have been the only issue of this pulp, but it has a good cover and one of the best adventure writers in J. Allan Dunn. I'm not familiar with the other authors, but I'm sure they're pretty good, too. Just another example of too many pulps on the newsstands for all of them to survive.

Saturday, August 03, 2013

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Popular Western, January 1946

This is really a prototypical Western pulp from the Thrilling Group. A nice cover by Sam Cherry, and stories by Oscar J. Friend, Larry Harris, Johnston McCulley, a Sheriff Blue Steele yarn by Tom Gunn (really Syl McDowell), and a Buffalo Billy Bates story by Scott Carleton (a house-name, maybe Walker Tompkins). I'd read this one for sure. And I may someday, because I think I own a copy of it, but I can't guarantee that.

Friday, August 02, 2013

PWA Banquet Info

The Private Eye Writers of America Shamus Awards Banquet will be Friday night, Sept. 20th, starting at 6:30 PM, in Albany, NY the same weekend as Bouchercon. The event is open to the public. You need not be a PWA member to attend. Come rub elbows with your favorite writers. For questions and ticket information email

(I've only been able to attend one PWA banquet, but it was a lot of fun. If you're going to be close to Albany in September, you ought to check this out.)

Forgotten Books: Wolf's Head - John Benteen (Ben Haas)

This entry in Ben Haas's superb Fargo series finds soldier of fortune Neal Fargo in the Pacific Northwest. As a favor to his old friend, former president Theodore Roosevelt, Fargo signs on to help a timber company get a huge shipment of logs downriver to Puget Sound. A rival company will stop at nothing, up to and including sabotage and murder, to stop that from happening. But the bad guys hadn't reckoned on Fargo.

If you want to learn something about logging in the early 20th Century, this is the book for you. Haas obviously knew a lot about the subject and communicates it in clear, easy to understand prose. This is no dry educational tract, though, because Haas mixes in the background with plenty of action scenes, and nobody, with the possible exception of Robert E. Howard, ever wrote action btter than Ben Haas. Shootouts, epic fistfights, a desperate duel with axes, large scale gun battles, forest fires, and millions of tons of logs rampaging down a flooded river . . . well, you get the idea.

And of course I loved every bit of it. The Fargo series is one of my all-time favorites. My only quibble about it is that Haas spends a little too much time in each book filling in Fargo's background and going over the weapons he carries. But that's a very minor point. The offbeat settings and plots, the relentless pace, and the smooth, action-packed prose much more than make up for it. Great stuff, and if you haven't read any of the Fargo books, you should.

Thursday, August 01, 2013

Writing Update

In a comment on an earlier post, Jeff Meyerson reminded me that I haven't posted any writing updates for a while, so the first day of the month seems like a good time to resume. Unfortunately, today was my first day off from writing in a couple of weeks, so I have no pages to report. I can mention, though, that June was my most productive month ever, with 707 pages written. That's the first time I've hit the 700 mark after coming close a couple of times in the past. Then I followed that up with exactly 500 pages in July. For the year I'm 12 pages off a 6000-page pace, so I've got a good shot at achieving that. I've hit 6000 twice before and would like to again. Mainly, though, I just want to get a million words done again. If I do that this year and next year, that'll make 10 years in a row. Has anybody ever written a million words a year for 10 straight years? I don't know, but it seems likely Walter B. Gibson did when he was writing two Shadow novels a month and a bunch of other stuff besides. Frederick Faust might have. It can't have been done too many times, though.

Of course, all this talk about pages and words doesn't mean anything unless the work is good. I think I'm doing a pretty good job most of the time, but the final decision on that is up to somebody other than me.

Tomorrow it's back to work. 

Rag Baby - Mark Ellis

Mark Ellis is best known for his science fiction and action/adventure work (he's the creator of the highly successful series OUTLANDERS and served as its principal writer for many years) and for his excellent comic book scripts for THE WILD, WILD WEST, THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E., and THE JUSTICE MACHINE, among many others. But he started out to be a hardboiled crime writer, as he explains in this post on his blog, and he's reviving those early efforts, starting with the excellent novella "Rag Baby".

Bonaparte "Bone" Mizell is a retired DEA agent, security consultant, and unofficial private eye who's hired by a strip club owner and gangster to deal with a blackmailer. Soon enough, in classic hardboiled fashion, Bone finds himself involved in a twisty yarn including murder, drugs, and a deranged Iraq war vet who seems to have come back from the dead. The plot has enough surprises to be effective, but where Ellis really shines is in the relentless pacing of the story, the vivid depiction of its scruffy central Florida setting, and its rugged, likable hero. I suspect Bone Mizell will be making a return appearance in the future, and I'm certainly looking forward to reading more about him. For now, if you're a fan of hardboiled crime fiction, I recommend you check out "Rag Baby", which is available in a very affordable e-book edition.