Sunday, December 21, 2014

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Popular Detective, December 1945

Not exactly a cheerful, festive Christmas cover, is it? The story it illustrates is by Johnston McCulley and is called "Death Plays Santa Claus". Other authors in this issue are the dependable Norman A. Daniels and Joe Archibald. I hope I haven't ruined your Christmas spirit!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Western Story, December 27, 1941

WESTERN STORY usually had a Christmas-themed issue each year. Here's the one from 1941. William Colt MacDonald is probably the biggest name in this issue, along with S. Omar Barker and George Cory Franklin. That's a nice cover, though.

Friday, December 19, 2014

A Million Words and Counting: 10th Anniversary Edition

Today I reached the million word mark for the year, the tenth year in a row I've written that many words. Since I recently calculated the total wordage for my career as approximately 21.5 million, that means I've done almost as much in the past ten years as I wrote in the 28 years before that. But I've had some excellent opportunities and wanted to make the most of them. The first time I reached the million word level, I thought I'd probably never do that much again, but to my surprise the totals kept rising for a few years before beginning to taper off. But an insistent little voice in the back of my head had already started whispering, "A million words a year for ten years in a row." I liked the sound of that and decided I might as well try for it.

Earlier this year, especially after Livia broke her arm, I thought the string was going to come to an end at nine years, but then I had a productive summer and thought I'd just keep at it and see how things wound up. One thing's for sure, I couldn't have done it without all the things she does to help. There's never been a better co-plotter, editor, and uncredited collaborator than her.

As for what the future holds, I've learned not to even try to predict that. My plan was to slow down a little in 2015 and maybe write three-quarters of a million words, then gradually cut back to half a million a year. But that's not going to happen, at least next year. I already have a considerable amount of work lined up, plus I'd like to write some of my own stuff, so I'm going to be right around a million words again. I've already had some discussions about 2016 and '17, as well, and if everything continues as it is, it looks like those will be busy years, too.

But if I fall a little short of a million words any of those years, that's okay. I had the ten-year run I was shooting for. And if the string continues, that's fine, too. I'm just extremely thankful I get to tell stories for a living, and I'm going to continue trying to do the best I can at it, no matter how many words that turns out to be.

Forgotten Books: Christmas at the Ranch - Elmer Kelton

CHRISTMAS AT THE RANCH is a collection of three autobiographical essays by Elmer Kelton that was published in 2003 by McMurry University in Abilene, Texas.  Kelton writes about childhood Christmases spent on the ranch where he grew up and where his father was the foreman, as well as other holiday seasons spent at his grandparents' ranch. The middle section of the book concerns the Christmases of 1944 and 1945, the one just before he shipped out for Germany as a member of the U.S. Army and the one he spent in Austria with the family of the girl he wound up marrying. In the final essay he describes a holiday trip he and Ann took back to Austria in the Eighties. As always with Kelton, the writing is clean and unadorned, without any pretentiousness, with a poignancy and beauty of its own. Those of us lucky enough to have spent time with Elmer can hear his voice in the words. Highly recommended. 

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Coming Soon: Guarding Her Heart - Livia J. Washburn

Julia Courtland was on her way west to marry a man she had never met. Henry Everett, the marshal of Flat Rock, Texas, was the grandson of her uncle's best friend. It seemed like a good match for both of them, and the wedding was scheduled to take place on Valentine's Day. 

Grant Stafford thought the young woman who got on the stagecoach at Buffalo Springs was the prettiest thing he had seen in a long time. She wasn't too friendly, mind you, but she was sure easy on the eyes. Not that Grant had time to worry much about such things. He was the shotgun guard on this run, but more than that, he was an undercover Texas Ranger on the trail of the vicious outlaw gang responsible for a string of stagecoach robberies. 

Fate threw Julia Courtland and Grant Stafford together on a cold February day in West Texas, but it also threw deadly obstacles in their path. A runaway team, a terrible crash, and bullets flying through the air threaten to steal not only their lives but also any chance they have for happiness. If they're going to survive, they will have to learn to trust each other . . . and maybe steal their hearts back from fate.

(This is actually my favorite of the stories Livia's written for Prairie Rose Publications because it has a lot of action in it, including a scene right out of a Republic Pictures B-Western. It'll be out later this month, but it's available for pre-order now.)

Now Available: The Name is Hannibal - Wayne D. Dundee

For more than three decades, Joe Hannibal has stood tall on the fictional PI landscape. The Hannibal books and stories have been translated into several languages and have been nominated for an Edgar, an Anthony, and a total of six Shamus Awards. 

Almost from the outset, Hannibal was dubbed "the blue collar PI" due in equal parts to the series' initial smaller-city setting of Rockford, Illinois, and its surrounding rural areas - as well as to the middle class roots and values that his creator brought to the writing. Later, after author and character both moved to the even more rural setting of west central Nebraska, the distinction only deepened. 

Hannibal has matured and evolved as a character and the writing has been honed to a finer edge. But the admiration for and love of the PI genre that was always at the core and heart of the series has never changed. 

While new Hannibals continue to be written, the original titles -- though somewhat sketchily available over the years -- remain strong, entertaining works. In order for readers to be able to discover this for themselves, a series of "boxed set" collections is being re-issued. 

Volume I, presented here, features the first three full-length Hannibal novels: 

(These are great books, some of the best PI novels of the modern era, and you absolutely cannot beat the price. Grab this collection now!)

Forbidden River - Frederick Nebel

The title story of this great collection from Black Dog Books originally appeared in the June 1930 issue of FIVE-NOVELS MONTHLY. Instead of a trapper or a prospector or a gambler, the protagonist of Frederick Nebel's novella "Forbidden River" is a Chicago lawyer. Dick Berens is on his way to a friend's hunting lodge in Canada for a vacation when he encounters a beautiful and mysterious young woman on the train. When she disappears, Berens wants to find out what happened to her, which results in a tumble from the train and being stranded in the north woods. And when he does succeed in finding the girl, he also finds himself deeper in trouble involving a murder, a sinister stranger, and a couple of dogged Mounties.

This story has more of a mystery element than the first two stories in the collection, and more romance, too. Nebel keeps things perking along nicely, as usual, although I wish Berens had used his background as a lawyer more in trying to untangle the dangerous mess in which he finds himself. Overall, "Forbidden River" is a very entertaining yarn and maintains the high quality of this volume.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Now Available: Hunting Monsters is My Business - John M. Whalen

Mordecai Slate was a mysterious figure who roamed the United States and its Territories from 1870 to 1912. He was more or less a bounty hunter, who just happened to specialize in hunting outlaws of the supernatural variety. He carries a special modified 1855 Colt Revolver Rifle that fires 12 rounds of silver ammunition, a Remington double-barreled Derringer, a Colt Peacemaker .45, and a silver-plated stiletto. But his hard, cold attitude as a professional is perhaps his greatest weapon. Where others lose their heads in fear or rage, Slate keeps his cool. He isn't out for revenge or justice. But when he's paid to do a job, he always sees it through to the end. 

In HUNTING MONSTERS IS MY BUSINESS, undead Tlingit tribesmen rise from their graves in the Yukon; something not of this world stalks Dodge City; a creature emerges from the ocean off the coast of the Monterey Peninsula. Slate takes on these and other terrifying creatures in nine tales of horror and wonder, including a brand new novella written specially for this book.

Saddle up with Slate and ride with him through the Wild, Weird West. The print edition is now available, with an e-book edition coming next week.

(The first Mordecai Slate novel, VAMPIRE SIEGE AT RIO MUERTO, is excellent. I'm looking forward to reading this collection of his adventures.)

Tuesday's Overlooked Movie: The 12 Dogs of Christmas

(This post originally appeared in different form on December 26, 2009.)

This Christmas movie I'd never heard of turned out to be pretty good. It’s set in 1931 and is about a girl from Pittsburgh whose father has to send her to live with her “aunt” (really an old girlfriend) in a small town that has a local ordinance against dogs. Naturally the girl winds up with an adorable dog and makes friends with a family that provides a “dog orphanage” just outside the town limits. The mayor’s brother is the dogcatcher and rides around in a motorcycle sidecar while his assistant drives the motorcycle. There’s a lot of mild danger and adventure and plenty of cute little kids and dogs.

This is a family-friendly movie, very sweet and heart-warming and inspirational, but the Depression-era setting is portrayed in an appropriately dark and gritty manner. The cast, all of whom were unfamiliar to me except for character actors John Billingsley and Richard Riehle, does a good job, and the period detail is good with one exception: I don’t think the football term “Hail Mary pass” had been coined in 1931. That’s a pretty minor quibble, though.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Bad Times: Blood Red Tide - Chuck Dixon

Chuck Dixon's time-traveling former Army Rangers return in BLOOD RED TIDE, the second novel in the Bad Times series. Hiding out from villains left over from the first book, they and their scientist allies plan another trip into the past, this time to recover a fortune buried on an island in the Aegean Sea by Phoenician traders. Naturally, things go wrong, and Dwayne, the leader of the Rangers, and Caroline, the beautiful blond scientist who helped invent the time travel device, find themselves in the middle of a sea battle between the Phoenicians who captured them and a couple of ships from the Carthaginian navy. Meanwhile, back in the present (The Now, as the Rangers call it), the rest of the group is being stalked by at least two groups of mysterious enemies.

BLOOD RED TIDE is a wonderfully fast-paced, very colorful book. The battle scenes set in the past are downright Howardian at times. But while you might expect the action and adventure to be the primary appeal of a novel by Chuck Dixon, I've got to say that the science-fictional premises he's playing with are even more intriguing. He's come up with some new twists in an old genre, blended them with great action scenes, piled mystery upon mystery, and I'm really looking forward to seeing how it all plays out.

CANNIBAL GOLD, the first novel in this series, is one of the best books I've read this year, and BLOOD RED GOLD is a worthy successor. The next one, AVENGING ANGELS, is already out, and I'll be reading it soon, I hope. If you haven't checked out this series already, start at the beginning, as the books benefit from being read in order. They're great fun, and thought-provoking, to boot.