Friday, December 31, 2004

The Wrap-Up

This is my end of the year post covering both my writing and my reading for 2004. It was a pretty good year for both.

Since 1980, I’ve been keeping a list of all the books I read, which makes it fairly easy to go back at the end of the year and pick out my favorites. Some people were posting Best of the Year lists a week or more ago, but I waited until the last minute in case something really good slipped in at the end. This Top Ten isn’t necessarily a “Best” list, although I think all of these are very fine books. They’re just the ones that I enjoyed reading the most, arranged alphabetically by author:

ASTRO CITY: LIFE IN THE BIG CITY, Kurt Busiek – The trade paperback collection of the first story arc from one of the best comic book series of the Nineties, by the best writer currently in comics.

BLOOD KIN, Henry Chappell – An excellent historical novel about the Texas Revolution and the decade or so afterward. I had a quibble or two about the ending, but the rest of the book makes up for it.

THE BLACK ECHO, Michael Connolly – The first Harry Bosch novel, featuring an intricate, fascinating plot, great characters, and fine writing. Any of the four Connolly novels I read this year could have made this list, but I held it to one.

THE KEEPER’S SON, Homer Hickam – Wonderful old-fashioned storytelling in a World War II novel that features compelling characters, plenty of action, and poignant scenes that stick in the memory.

PALE HORSE COMING, Stephen Hunter – The second Earl Swagger novel, also with an intricate plot and great action scenes. Hunter is probably the best pure thriller writer in the business right now, although the third book in this series, HAVANA, was a bit of a disappointment to me. Still not bad, though.

SCARLET RIDERS, Don Hutchison, editor – This collection of Mountie stories from the pulps is just pure fun, and a lot of it. It’s even prompted me to start checking eBay for issues of NORTH-WEST ROMANCES.

ANGRY MOON, Terrill Lankford – A funny, brutal, cross-genre, crime/horror novel that reads like one of the best B-movies you ever saw, with as emotionally satisfying an ending as you’re likely to find.

EARTHQUAKE WEATHER, Terrill Lankford – Dark and hilarious and complex, this has the pace of ANGRY MOON with even more fascinating characters. One of the best looks inside the movie business that I’ve ever read.

DOUBLE PLAY, Robert B. Parker – Baseball, gangsters, a World War II vet who’s wounded both physically and emotionally, and a vividly drawn Forties setting, along with some of Parker’s best writing in recent years. It’s nice to see him turn out something this good again.

FADE TO BLONDE, Max Phillips – One of the first books from the new Hardcase Crime line, and about as close to a pitch-perfect re-imagining of a Fifties Gold Medal novel as anybody could write.

My preliminary list was twice as long, and it wasn’t easy to trim it down to ten titles. I don’t think you can go wrong with any of these books. As for my total, I read 137 books in 2004, which is about average for me. I haven’t been below a hundred in any year since I started keeping lists, and my high is 183 books. What can I say? I like to read.

On the writing front, I produced 4567 pages of fiction this year, which breaks down into twelve and a half books. Some of them were pretty long, too. If I’d been writing only series Western novels, that would translate into nineteen-plus books. I think this was probably my most productive year ever, although I came pretty close to those totals early on in my career, when I was young and full of energy. It’s a little harder when you’re an old guy.

When I started this blog, I worried a little about the time it would take. So far, the investment has been well worth it. I’ve made some new friends, such as Aldo and Terrill, and it’s also helped me keep in touch with old friends. It’s pretty cheap therapy, too. Thanks to all of you for reading these ramblings, and I hope all of us have a wonderful, healthy New Year.

Thursday, December 30, 2004

Continuity Problems

I'm reading a novel by an author who's a fairly big name in his genre. This is also a book that won a major Best of the Year award. And it's one of the most sloppily-written things I've ever read. Early morning becomes night with no warning. One of the characters says he's never seen a black man before, when three pages earlier he was in a fairly small room with one. Other characters get up and prominently walk out of a scene, yet half a page later they're suddenly back with no explanation, taking part in the conversation, and then they get up and walk out again. I know it can come across as sour grapes when a writer criticizes a more successful writer, but somebody -- the writer, the editor, the copy editor -- really should have caught these mistakes. And I'm only a third of the way through the book, so I don't know what else I'll find. What's really frustrating is that except for the carelessness, this is a pretty enjoyable book with likable characters.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Men's Magazine Stories

In looking through my records the other day before I posted about my first sale, I noticed that in the late Seventies I sold one story each to DAPPER and FLING (got paid on acceptance for both, a hundred bucks each), but I never saw the stories when they came out. I'm not sure I ever saw an issue of DAPPER or FLING, period. I just sent stuff out according to the listings in Writer's Market. So I don't know when those stories appeared or what pseudonym wound up on them. Likewise in the mid-Eighties, when I'd hit a dry spell selling novels, I sold half a dozen or so stories to the digest-sized, letters-oriented men's magazines, fifty or sixty dollars each, on acceptance. I don't think I ever saw any of them except maybe one.

The best men's magazine market for me was Dugent. The editor there, John Fox, liked my work and bought nearly everything I sent him. He even reprinted one of the stories in a DUDE ANNUAL or something like that and sent me a check for thirty-five dollars, which arrived out of the blue and came in very handy. Their payments were on publication, but they were prompt and even sent me author's copies of the magazines. My best sale there was a story in CAVALIER, their top magazine, for which I got $250.00. CAVALIER had been publishing Stephen King stories only a few years earlier. Most of the stories in his collection NIGHT SHIFT came from CAVALIER, I think. If there are any magazines like that left today, I'm not aware of them. But then, I don't check out that market very often, either.

Monday, December 27, 2004

Writing Anniversary

Twenty-eight years ago, I was a newlywed, living in a small, shotgun-style apartment built onto the side of an older house, working for my father as the office manager of his television and appliance repair shop. Earlier, while I was in college, I had written a few short stories and tried to sell them to various mystery and men’s magazines, with a complete lack of success. I had just about given up on writing for a while, but even before we were married, Livia had encouraged me to try again if that was what I really wanted. So by the winter of 1976, I was writing madly in my spare time, still turning out stories aimed mostly at the mystery and men’s magazine markets. Still with no success. The only encouraging sign was that I had started writing movie reviews for the local weekly paper, so at least I got to see some of my words in print.

I also read every writer’s magazine I could find, and in one of them I ran across an article by a fellow named Bill Pippin. I have no idea what happened to Bill or where he is now, but I owe a debt to him. In his article, he suggested that a beginning writer could sell to the confession magazines and make a little money while honing his craft. I had no idea what confession magazines were. Livia had read a few of them that belonged to her mother, though, and she explained to me that the stories in them were anonymously written yarns about semi-hysterical women who managed to get themselves into bizarre, emotionally melodramatic situations. All supposedly true (hence the title of the oldest and most successful confession magazine, TRUE STORY), they were, of course, written by a horde of freelance fictioneers of the sort I aspired to become. (I found out years later that Harry Whittington, one of the best suspense novelists of the Fifties, wrote confession stories at one time.) Since I was trying to break in anywhere I could, I went out and bought a couple of confession magazines at the grocery store and read some of the stories. Then I sat down and wrote one myself, about a woman who starts getting obscene phone calls. The mystery writer in me even put in a little twist at the end of the story, when the identity of the caller is revealed. I titled it “The Voice on the Other End” and sent it off to a company in New York called Ideal Publishing, which put out the confession magazine INTIMATE STORY. I sent it there first because the company’s listing in WRITER’S MARKET said that they paid on acceptance, rather than on publication like most of the other confession magazines. Amateur though I was, I had already figured out that being paid on acceptance was better.

In those days, I was using my parents’ address on all my stories, and I would go by there every morning on my way to work to check the mail. When I stopped there on December 27, 1976, no one was home, so I got the mail out of the box myself. While walking into the house I noticed that there was an envelope addressed to me, and the return address said IDEAL PUBLISHING COMPANY. This wasn’t the usual manila SASE in which my stories always came back to me with rejection slips, either. It was a business-sized envelope, and you can bet my fingers were shaking a little when I got in the house and ripped it open.

Inside was a check in the amount of $167.50, with a notation that it was for my story “The Voice on the Other End”.

I don’t remember what I did. Jumped up and down and yelled, probably. I was a professional fiction writer, even if it was just one sale. It was a pretty good sale, too. In those days, $167.50 would pay for a month’s rent on our apartment plus a basketful of groceries.

Well, of course I thought that since my first confession story had sold I must have the formula down pat, so I started writing them as fast as I could. Over the next few months I must have written a dozen more of them. But, as you may have guessed, I was overconfident. Only one of the stories ever sold (although it earned me $175.00, being a little longer than the first one). Ideal Publishing bought it, too.

Meanwhile my first story was published, and for some reason the editors at INTIMATE STORY changed the title to “Forced to Listen to My Boss’s Dirty Phone Calls” and totally blew my twist ending. By the time I wrote the second story that sold, I thought I had a better handle on the types of titles the editors wanted, so I called it “I Paid My Husband’s Debts With My Body!” And of course, when it was published, the editors changed the title to the less-frantic sounding “Housewife Hooker”.

That was the end of my confession magazine career, because while all this was going on, Sam Merwin Jr., the editor at MIKE SHAYNE MYSTERY MAGAZINE, bought a couple of my mystery stories and I abandoned the confessions for my first love, mysteries. I also started selling regularly to the men’s magazines, mostly CAVALIER, DUDE, and GENT, usually the same sort of mystery stories I was selling to MSMM, only with a sex scene added. Those markets kept me busy, plus I soon started writing Mike Shayne novellas for MSMM, and then in the fall of ’78 I decided I ought to try writing a novel . . .

I’m still at it, of course, but I’ve never forgotten Bill Pippin and my brief career as a confession magazine author. And I’ve certainly never forgotten what it felt like to open that envelope and see that first check as a professional writer, twenty-eight years ago today.

Saturday, December 25, 2004

Christmas Loot

We had a low-key but very nice Christmas at home. Spent most of the morning leisurely unwrapping presents. Since the kids are older we don't have to do that at the crack of dawn anymore. An excellent turkey dinner later, and I even went out to my studio and wrote a little. I got some much appreciated functional gifts, like a new heavy coat to replace the one that's just about worn out, but I know what you want to hear about. You want to know about the fun stuff I got.


2. UTOPIA PARKWAY, a CD by Fountains of Wayne

3. The Far Side Wall Calender

4. Get Fuzzy Day by Day Calender

Those last two are actually vital writing accessories for me. I've had a Get Fuzzy Day by Day calender right beside my computer this year, and there were a lot of days when I had to drag myself out to the studio, only to read that day's strip and break up laughing over it. I found writing easier after that. And I always need a good wall calender with plenty of room to write on it because that's where I keep track of my pages and figure out whether I need to pick up the pace. It can also come in handy for tax purposes because I can always tell what I was working on at a particular time.

I never really get into the Christmas spirit like I did when I was a kid, but this was a pretty darned good one. Not to be corny about it, but having the four of us together, all relatively happy and healthy, is always the best present of all.

White Christmas

There's still snow on the ground from the storm earlier in the week, so I'm officially declaring this a White Christmas, only the third or fourth I've seen in my lifetime. (In this part of Texas, you take your White Christmases when you can get them.)

Everyone have a great day.

Friday, December 24, 2004

A Cowboy's Christmas Prayer

A friend of mine sent this to a Western writers' group we both belong to, so I thought I'd pass it along. S. Omar Barker was a cowboy poet and wrote many articles and short stories for the Western pulps during a long career as an author. I never knew him, but I've read quite a bit of his work.

By S. Omar Barker (1894-1985)

I ain't much good at prayin', and You may not know me, Lord-
I ain't much seen in churches where they preach Thy Holy Word,
But you may have observed me out here on the lonely plains,
A-lookin' after cattle, feelin' thankful when it rains,
Admirin' Thy great handiwork, the miracle of grass,
Aware of Thy kind spirit in the way it comes to pass
That hired men on horseback and the livestock we tend
Can look up at the stars at night and know we've got a friend.

So here's ol' Christmas comin' on, remindin' us again
Of Him whose coming brought good will into the hearts of men.
A cowboy ain't no preacher, Lord, but if You'll hear my prayer,
I'll ask as good as we have got for all men everywhere.
Don't let no hearts be bitter, Lord.
Don't let no child be cold.
Make easy beds for them that's sick and them that's weak and old.
Let kindness bless the trail we ride, no matter what we're after,
And sorter keep us on Your side, in tears as well as laughter.

I've seen ol' cows a-starvin, and it ain't no happy sight:
Please don't leave no one hungry, Lord, on thy good Christmas night-
No man, no child, no woman, and no critter on four feet-
I'll aim to do my best to help You find 'em chuck to eat.

I'm just a sinful cowpoke, Lord-ain't got no business prayin'-
But still I hope You'll ketch a word or two of what I'm sayin':
We speak of Merry Christmas, Lord-I reckon you'll agree
There ain't no Merry Christmas for nobody that ain't free.
So one thing more I'll ask You, Lord: Just help us what you can
To save some seeds of freedom for the future sons of man.

Merry Christmas, everyone, and good night.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Christmas Eve Eve

That's how I've thought of December 23 ever since I was a little kid, just one of those odd things that sticks in your mind from childhood. Today was a pretty good one, just colder than usual. We're recovering from a snowstorm that swept through the area yesterday. Now, those of you who live in more northern climes than Texas probably wouldn't consider two to three inches of snow and drifts twice that deep to be much of a snowstorm. But it was pretty white for around here and cold to boot, down in the upper teens. Supposed to be even colder tonight. I've seen the temperature here go below zero only once in my 51 years, and it's been down in the single digits maybe a dozen times. We were lucky yesterday and the roads didn't get very bad, for which I was quite thankful since I had to be out on them last night. The last two times I tried to drive on icy roads I got stuck, and I don't want to repeat that experience, thank you. That's a skill that I just don't have.

I finished Ian Rankin's KNOTS AND CROSSES. Frank Denton comments positively on Rankin lower on this page and hopes that I'll read more of his work. Based on this one, I certainly will, since I enjoyed it quite a bit. I'll admit that overall I like books set in the United States better than those set in England or Scotland (a reversal from my early days as a mystery fan, when I read all the Saint books and many Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, Ngaio Marsh, Margery Allingham, and John Creasey novels). But these days I don't mind reading an occasional book set in the UK. While John Rebus doesn't seem quite as compelling a character as Harry Bosch, to compare him to another in the semi-burned-out cop genre, I liked him well enough. And KNOTS AND CROSSES is short and fairly fast-moving, always a plus as far as I'm concerned.

Babes in Space

Who can resist a website with a name like that?

Tuesday, December 21, 2004


We spent most of the day replacing shingles and repairing some damage on our barns. We should have done this before now, but life's just been too busy. I'm pretty good at putting down shingles when I'm starting from scratch. Replacing and repairing is much more difficult. After climbing up and down ladders and hammering all day, I'm pretty sore and worn out tonight. Sure makes me glad I write books for a living instead of roofing.

I'm reading KNOTS AND CROSSES, the first Rebus novel by Ian Rankin. It's pretty good so far, and this might be a series that I continue reading.

Monday, December 20, 2004

The Bourne Supremacy

I'm not a big Robert Ludlum fan. I've read several of his novels, but I always have a little trouble getting through them. A while back we watched THE BOURNE IDENTITY with Matt Damon, though, and I thought it was okay, lots of runnin' and shootin' and fightin', an agreeable way to spend a couple of hours. Tonight we watched the latest one, THE BOURNE SUPREMACY, and again, it was okay, but I don't think I liked it quite as much as the first one. I had trouble following the plot (not necessarily the fault of the movie, mind you), and I really dislike the way the action scenes were filmed, mostly in close-up, with a jittery camera and extremely quick cuts. The end result is that the viewer (well, me, anyway) has a hard time telling what's going on. Hold the damn camera still for five seconds, already!

By the way, from what I've read about these movies, they have little or nothing to do with Ludlum's novels except the titles and the concept of an amnesiac assassin. I wouldn't know, since the Bourne books aren't among the few of Ludlum's I've read.

The past couple of days have been spent working and running errands, nothing worth writing about. I've been reading stories from the Mountie anthology and the issue of MAX BRAND'S WESTERN MAGAZINE that has the REH story in it.

Friday, December 17, 2004

THE RIOT AT BUCKSNORT, coming next spring from the University of Nebraska Press's Bison Books line, where "Shave That Hawg!" will be reprinted under its original title "A Gent From the Pecos" Posted by Hello

Shave That Hawg!

The other day while going through some of my pulps I came across the January 1950 issue of MAX BRAND’S WESTERN MAGAZINE, which contains a reprint of a Pike Bearfield story by Robert E. Howard, “Shave That Hawg!”, originally published in Argosy in 1936 after Howard’s death. I’d never read it, so I sat down and did so this morning. What a joy it is to encounter an unread Howard story and go through it for the first time. This one has plenty of action, the usual exaggerated violence and instances of dry wit, and a fairly complicated plot for a short story. Pike visits East Texas in response to a plea for help from another branch of the family. It seems that his Uncle Joab has started rustling hogs, which of course brings shame to the family and threatens to start a feud. When Pike gets there he discovers that his uncle is not only stealing hogs but is shaving them as well. And then after that it gets even wilder. Highly entertaining, and great work on Howard’s part.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

The Associate; Footloose

I finished THE ASSOCIATE by Phillip Margolin and thought it was an okay book. A nice complicated plot (although I have to be immodest here and admit that I figured out the big twist about halfway through the book) and a fast pace balance out the somewhat flat writing style. I wouldn't hesitate to read another book by Margolin. On the other hand, I'm not going to rush right out and look for another one, either.

In the comments on the previous post, Graham mentions the Mairead O'Clare series by Terry Devane, who is really Jeremiah Healy. As it happens, I own the first book in this series, UNCOMMON JUSTICE, and had forgotten that Devane was really Healy. I've enjoyed all of Healy's books that I've read, so I'll have to give this one a try soon. Thanks for the suggestion, Graham. Meanwhile Bill and Frank disagree a little on Scott Turow (although Frank doesn't exactly give Turow a ringing endorsement). I've looked at Turow's books and they seem a little weighty for my taste. Still, someday I might try one.

On a totally different subject, tonight we watched FOOTLOOSE on DVD, the first time I've seen this since it originally came out on videotape many years ago. Our younger daughter really likes Eighties movies -- she's a big fan of FERRIS BUELLER'S DAY OFF, as am I -- and I had mentioned FOOTLOOSE to her as one that she should watch. It holds up pretty well, I thought, although for all its attempts at being hip in the end it comes off as another "Hey, kids, let's put on a dance" rock and roll movie, not that different really from, say, 1956's ROCK AROUND THE CLOCK. But the music's good, Kevin Bacon is good, Chris Penn is really good, and it's interesting seeing Sarah Jessica Parker in an early role. Well worth watching, I thought.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Legal Thrillers

I'm not a big fan of legal thrillers (unless you count Erle Stanley Gardner's books), but I read one every now and then. I'm about a third of the way through THE ASSOCIATE by Phillip Margolin, an author I've never read before. That's about as vague and generic a title as you can find, but the book itself isn't bad. Margolin's style isn't flashy at all, strictly meat-and-potatoes prose, and there's not much characterization, but he has enough storytelling ability to keep me turning the pages. This book reminds me a little of Stuart Woods' work, before Woods descended into the morass that is the Stone Barrington series. (Obligatory cheap shot at the Stone Barrington books, which I really, really don't like.)

Anyway, I'm looking for recommendations of good authors of legal thrillers. I started a few of John Grisham's early books but never finished them because the plot holes bothered me. The only one I made it all the way through was THE TESTAMENT. Grisham may have improved over the years. I tried one of Steve Martini's novels but didn't care for it at all. Other than that, I'm pretty much ignorant of the field. I own a couple of books by John Lescroat but have never read them.

Oddly enough, though I've never read that much legal fiction, I tend to enjoy legal shows on television. I watched THE PRACTICE faithfully, even when it got silly, and now watch and enjoy the spin-off, BOSTON LEGAL. I have to admit, though, I have a soft spot for Willam Shatner and he looks like he's really getting a kick out of his role. James Spader is very good, too.

But I didn't like ALLY McBEAL. That was one show I just never got.

Monday, December 13, 2004


I fouled up the URL for the WesternPulps group. The correct one is:

Off the Mangrove Coast

A while back on the WesternPulps Yahoo group, we were talking about Louis L'Amour's short story collections, and I just read one of the more recent ones, OFF THE MANGROVE COAST. This is an excellent book with a good cross-section of L'Amour's work. There's only one Western story, but it's a very good one: "Secret of Silver Springs", from the November 1949 issue of RANGE RIDERS. There are two boxing stories, a couple of South Seas adventures, a hardboiled private eye yarn, and a story of revenge in Paris following World War II. Some are pulp stories that were never reprinted until this collection, and others were evidently published here for the first time. As usual in L'Amour collections, there's no bibliographic information, leaving the reader to dig out such things if they're of interest. There's not a bad story in the bunch, though, and some of them are very good. I've felt for quite a while that L'Amour was a better writer at shorter lengths than he was as a novelist, and this book confirms that, at least in my opinion. Highly recommended.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

One More Movie

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?

Saturday, December 11, 2004

More Movies

We seem to be bingeing on DVDs these days. Watched two more tonight, GARFIELD and THE TERMINAL, and I liked both of them quite a bit. GARFIELD got pretty bad reviews, but I found it very entertaining. I still prefer the late Lorenzo Music's version of Garfield's voice, but Bill Murray was fine. The computer-animated Garfield worked for me, too, and although the dog playing Odie was miscast (that's an odd thing to say), he was cute and well-trained. The subject matter of THE TERMINAL didn't really interest me, and I'm a little burned out on Tom Hanks, but darned if the movie didn't win me over. Spielberg imitates Frank Capra about as well as anybody these days (although he'll never have that bleak edge that exists in most of Capra's films, even IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE).

Friday, December 10, 2004

Sequel Night

We watched a couple of sequels on DVD tonight, SPIDER-MAN 2 and SHREK 2. I thought both movies were pretty good. I liked the first SHREK a lot, and the second one was more of the same, maybe slightly sillier. I think the two SPIDER-MAN films are the best comic-book adaptations I've ever seen and do a great job at capturing the look and spirit of the source material. I had a few problems with the script for SPIDER-MAN 2, however. I realize that it's a big challenge to condense years, if not decades, of comic book continuity into a two-hour movie. But some of the changes in SPIDER-MAN 2 struck me as too drastic, too much of a fast-forwarding of the storyline. I didn't mind the updating in the first film, but the purist in me rebelled a little at the second one. On the other hand, it's a visually beautiful film and often captures perfectly the atmosphere that Steve Ditko gave the art in those early issues, like the scene in the alley where Peter throws away the Spidey suit and walks off. The scene in which he struggles to hold up the wreckage is very reminiscent of the sequence in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #33 where he's trapped under tons of debris. I've read that some people consider that the single best issue of a comic book, ever. I don't know about that. (But I do know that the best run of a comic book in history is FANTASTIC FOUR #36 - 51.)

Well, I've strayed off the topic and revealed that I am, as my friend Morgan Holmes says, a comic book dink.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

High Dive

Every so often I like to take a book from my shelves that has been sitting there unread for twenty or more years and read it. The past few days I've been doing just that with HIGH DIVE by Frank O'Rourke, published in 1954 by Random House.

O'Rourke is best known as a Western writer, but he wrote some mysteries, too, and this is one of them, with a set-up that seems more appropriate for a Gold Medal paperback: In a Mexican resort town, a varied group of people come together, some of them rich Americans, some of them the Mexicans who live and work there, including an ambitious young cliff diver. Several of the Americans have carefully kept secrets centering around the missing loot from a Los Angeles armored car company robbery that netted the thieves a cool two million. There are also several cases of incipient adultery going on. Seems like plenty of plot material to work with.

Unfortunately, O'Rourke does practically nothing with it. He reveals too much about his characters too quickly, so that there's no suspense of wondering exactly who is up to what. There's also very little action, and what there is of it occurs off-screen. The reader is left with 205 pages of lifeless, self-consciously literary scenes where the characters sit around and talk. Occasionally there's a nice line, just enough to provide hope that the book might take on a little vitality, but it never happens. This is one of the most disappointing books I've read in a long time. (And if you're going to try to write a hardboiled mystery novel during the Fifties, you ought to know enough about the field so that you don't name a major character "Mike Shane". Even with the different spelling, it's a big distraction.)

This one goes back on the shelf, and I sort of wish I hadn't taken it off.

Claudine Longet, mentioned below by Cap'n Bob. I can see why the cap'n didn't want to watch Andy Williams' Christmas specials when Claudine wasn't on them anymore. Imagine how poor Andy felt. Posted by Hello

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

The Old Pro at Work

Today, with my nearly thirty years of experience as a hack writer, I was called upon to do something I'd never done before: edit a genetics paper on fruit fly mutation. It had plenty of sex -- those fruit flies really go at it -- and even a touch of weird menace -- the fruit flies get slipped a mickey (a concoction called FlyNap, believe it or not) so that the researchers can perform fiendish experiments on them. It could have used a couple of gunfights, but no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't find a place to slip them in. All in all, a fine paper, and I think it's a sure sale to SPICY DROSOPHILA MELANOGASTER STORIES.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

That Round-headed Kid

Well, I watched A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS tonight for what, the 37th or 38th time? I think I've seen it every year but one since it first aired in 1965. And it still works for me. Sure, the animation is crude and there are several continuity gaffes. And I'm older and a lot more tired and cynical than I used to be. But there are so many classic moments, and the Vince Guaraldi score is so good, that none of that matters. If they're still showing this when I'm 80, assuming I'm still around, I suspect I'll be watching it.

Now, my daughter Joanna prefers the Garfield Christmas Special (I don't recall its exact name). That's the one that she watched when she was a little kid, so of course it means more to her. But I enjoy that one, too, and wouldn't mind seeing it again. It doesn't run every year, though, at least not on broadcast. (Forget cable, out here in the boonies where we are, and I'm too cheap to get satellite. Besides, I already watch too much TV.)

Over on his blog, Vince Keenan has some comments today about RUDOLPH THE RED-NOSED REINDEER. I've seen it many times and enjoyed it, but I don't watch it every year. Hard to believe that it's been around even longer than Charlie Brown.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Medical Update

I'm happy to report that my daughter Shayna seems to be fine and so far hasn't shown any signs of problems from that chemical exposure in the lab the other day. From everything I read on the Internet about that particular gas, it seemed unlikely to me that she could have breathed enough of it to hurt her, but you never know about these things. Being a writer, the worst-case scenario is always the first one that pops into my mind. Or maybe it's just paranoid writers who think that way. Or maybe "paranoid writers" is being redundant.

I worked on the new book again today but progress was much slower. I think I wrote so much yesterday my brain was still tired. And I haven't had a chance to read anything since yesterday morning. I need fiction to keep my thought processes lubricated. I'll never understand writers who say, "Oh, I don't read fiction". Fine for them if it works, but I'd be insane in a week. I blame it on my sister, who took me to the bookmobile when I was six years old. Before that I never knew there were so many books in the world.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Angry Moon

Earlier today I finished reading Terrill Lee Lankford's first novel ANGRY MOON. (First written, second published, if I remember right from the interview on Al Guthrie's excellent Noir Originals website.) Having read Lankford's EARTHQUAKE WEATHER earlier this year, I was expecting a good book. I got it. A very fine book, in fact.

ANGRY MOON starts out seeming to be a well-written but fairly standard crime novel -- mob hitman wants out of the business, but first he has to do one last job: killing his own mentor who taught him everything he knows. But then . . . things get weird. And weirder. This novel has a furious pace and well-drawn characters and is very entertaining. It's probably not as good as EARTHQUAKE WEATHER. It's more of a straight-ahead story and lacks that later book's scope and wonderful use of Hollywood and the movie business. But ANGRY MOON is still about as much pure fun as any book I've read this year.

That leaves me with only SHOOTERS to read. Write more, Lee.

On my own writing front, I got started on my next book today and enjoyed it, as I usually do when I start a new one. Livia and I also discussed that outline I worked on yesterday, kicked around an idea or two to add to it, and tried to come up with a good title. No real luck yet on that front, though.

With ANGRY MOON finished I'll be going back to the Mountie anthology for a day or two and reading a few stories there.

More Research

I spent the morning researching, usually not my favorite part of the writing process, and had a pretty good time for a change. Kept running across things I wanted to investigate more, and each thing seemed to lead to something else. This afternoon I was able to sit down and wrestle it all into a reasonably coherent outline. I'm not really satisfied with it yet but I can let it sit over the weekend and go back next week for some revisions. Also, although I came up with a title, I've decided I hate it and will have to figure out another one. The weekend is going to be spent working on the next series Western. (The outline is for the book after that, a bigger Western novel, although still part of a series.)

Terrill Lankford, he of the kind comment a couple of posts below, has written an excellent piece about CHINATOWN, John Alonzo, and Hollywood in general, which can be found on Ed's Place today. I saw CHINATOWN the day it opened in Fort Worth back in the Seventies, loved it then, and have thoroughly enjoyed it every time I've seen it since then. Haven't watched it in a while, though, so it might be time again. That's about as beautifully constructed a film as you're ever going to see. As for John Alonzo, I was familiar with his work in a film buff sort of way, and it's nice to read Terrill's comments about actually knowing and working with him. There was a time I was planning to write and direct films rather than writing books, but that would have meant going to Hollywood, and of course I'm much too big a hermit for that. I still enjoy the occasional piece of a screenplay I write, though. I seldom finish them and usually turn the fragments into books, but it's nice using different writing muscles now and then.

On top of everything else, I'm also going to spend the weekend worrying about my oldest daughter, who was working on a chemistry experiment at college today and wound up breathing some potentially hazardous fumes (nitrogen dioxide, for you chemistry majors out there). The TA said she didn't get near enough of it to be dangerous, but I looked it up on the Internet and found that 100 PPM of the stuff is dangerous and 200 PPM is lethal, only it takes a couple of days for the reaction to manifest itself. So naturally I'm going to worry. I'm a dad. It's what I do.

Thursday, December 02, 2004


I had planned to start my next book today, but I realized that I need to get the outline done for the book after that, so that I can send it to the editor and make sure it's okay. So it was off to the library for research books (after a stop at the post office to send off that manuscript I finished the other day), and then I was busy with them the rest of the day, making notes of incidents that need to go in the plot and things that I want to investigate further on the Internet. I'll try to get the outline written tomorrow so I can start the next book this weekend.

And to prove that I have the attention span of a toddler, I'm back off the Spur books and am now reading ANGRY MOON by Terrill Lankford, which is an extremely good book so far (no surprise there).

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Harry Potter

Last night we watched the third Harry Potter movie, HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN, on DVD. I read the first two Potter books and enjoyed them quite a bit, but for some reason I never read the others. Maybe I should have. Or maybe I was just sleepy. But I got totally lost and wound up not knowing what happened in the movie. All I know is they ran around some and a bunch of magic stuff happened. I guess I'm going to have to read the book if I want to figure it all out.

It'll have to wait, though, because I'm back to reading Spur entries. I'll get back to my Mountie anthology later. I liked the Roger Daniels story I mentioned in yesterday's post, but the ending of it seemed awfully rushed, as if he was trying to cram a novel's worth of story into a novella. Still, it was good enough that I'll read more of his work if I run across it.

I finished going over that manuscript today, and tomorrow, like it had wings, off it goes to New York.

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

More Mounties

Since the book I've been working on has a Mountie in it, I decided to pull down a book from my shelves, an anthology I've had for several years entitled SCARLET RIDERS: PULP FICTION TALES OF THE MOUNTIES. It's edited by Don Hutchison and published by Mosaic Press. It may still be available for all I know. A lot of good pulp authors wrote Mountie stories at one time or another in their careers -- Ryerson Johnson, Lester Dent, Hugh Cave, Murray Leinster, even Frederick Nebel, who is much better known as a mystery author. I've read several of the stories and am enjoying the heck out of them. Currently I'm reading "Spoilers of the Lost Land" by Roger Daniels, from a 1938 issue of NORTH-WEST ROMANCES. I'd never heard of Daniels before and suspected that the name might be a pseudonym, but a check of the FictionMags Index (an invaluable on-line reference) indicates that he was a journalist and that was his real name. This yarn is a pretty over-the-top blending of the Mountie and Lost Race genres and is very entertaining so far.

Monday I frittered away going to libraries and buying groceries, so finishing the current book had to wait until today. I wrapped it up late this afternoon, still have to do a little polishing but the hard part is done. I should get started on the next one by Thursday.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Shadow at Noon

SHADOW AT NOON, Harry White (Harry Whittington)
Pyramid Books, 1955

After he's forced to kill the son of a wealthy rancher in self-defense, drifter Jeff Clane is wrongly convicted of murder because of the rancher's influence. After escaping from jail before he can be hanged, Clane is pursued by a bounty hunter who wounds him with a long-range rifle shot. However, Clane is taken in and nursed back to health by a family of farmers. Clane's saviors and their homesteader neighbors are being crowded out of their valley by a range-hogging cattle baron who wants the valley for himself and will stop at nothing to get it. Once Clane recovers, he is inevitably drawn into this fight, as well as having to deal with the dangers dogging his own trail.

What a joy this book is to read! And I'm not saying that sarcastically. Yes, the plot is pure formula, although Whittington does go to the trouble of blending two standard plots into one. What makes it so entertaining is the rapid-fire, stripped-down prose and the noir-ish tone of the book. Whittington puts his characters through both emotional torment and physical torture. Clane doesn't heal overnight from his wound but is bothered by it throughout the entire book. Nor is he immune from the psychological effects of not only the violence he endures but also that he's forced to dish out. Like an earlier version of Ed Gorman, Whittington's Westerns are often crime stories populated by more realistic, fallible characters than are sometimes found in Westerns. SHADOW AT NOON is probably too formulaic to be considered one of Whittington's best books, but I had a wonderful time reading it anyway.

Other than reading, I spent the weekend plugging away on the current book and had a productive couple of days. I should wrap up this one on Tuesday, unless I get real ambitious tomorrow.

Friday, November 26, 2004


Steve asks below about the recipe for Livia's wild rice and cranberry stuffing. I checked with her, and unfortunately, there is no recipe. She just made it up as she went along. The main ingredients are wild rice, brown rice, cornbread, and dried cranberries. From there she just added spices until, in her words, "It smelled right." This is a perfect example of why cooking is an art. So, Steve, you're just going to have to experiment, I guess.

I had another good day writing and am glad of that. I can sort of see the rest of this book in my head now. It usually goes faster once I get to that point.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Turkey Day

Well, it was a pretty good day. I ate too much (Livia made a wild rice and cranberry stuffing that was really, really good), wrote 22 pages, and watched the Cowboys win a football game for a change. I was disappointed in Drew Henson's outing but still thought Parcells shouldn't have pulled him for the second half. They have to find out sooner or later if he can play. Julius Jones, on the other hand, seems to have answered that question already. He had a great game and looks like the real thing at running back, something the Cowboys haven't had for a long time. (Emmitt Smith, despite his overall great career, wasn't very good his last few years in Dallas.) All in all, a fairly quiet day at home. I like that better than going somewhere there's a mob of people.


Happy Thanksgiving to everyone who celebrates it. And to those who don't, I hope you have a good Thursday anyway. I plan to spend most of the day writing, as this has been a pretty unproductive week when I couldn't really afford one. But there'll be a turkey dinner to eat and some football to watch, too.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Fade to Blonde

I've spent the past few days writing, going through a copy-edited manuscript, doing some work around the house, and watching it rain. There was one bright spot among all that semi-gloom, however: I read Max Phillips's novel FADE TO BLONDE, published by Hard Case Crime.

A lot of people I know I have already read and raved about this book, and I asked myself, Can it really be that good? The answer is an emphatic yes. It really is that good.

Writing about a past era isn't all that hard. It takes some research to do it right, but it can be done. Writing in the voice of a past era is a much greater challenge, it seems to me. Simply living in the present puts a filter over our eyes and in our brains that makes it difficult not to relate the past to what's going on now. Something that's off-kilter nearly always creeps in. Sometimes it's just an anachronism, sometimes it's a bit of heavy-handed symbolism that's the author's way of saying, "This book isn't really about the past, it's about what's going on in the world now." Somehow Phillips avoids this trap and writes a book set in the Fifties that could have been written in the Fifties. I didn't see a single missed step in the plot or hear a wrong note in the writing. It's been said that FADE TO BLONDE could have been a Gold Medal novel. It certainly could have. It's easily one of the best books I've read this year.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

One More Britton Photo

I can't post this one because it's not the right kind of file, but you can see it at:

And I guess with that I should adjourn this meeting of the Barbara Britton Fan Club and get back to work.

Movie poster for another Barbara Britton appearance Posted by Hello

Barbara Britton and Richard Denning from "Mr. and Mrs. North" Posted by Hello

Friday, November 19, 2004

Books and DVDs

I've been writing some every day, and today was no different. But I also found the time to stop by a Half Price Books location that I don't visit very often. I came out with four books:

A trade paperback called ERNEST HEMINGWAY: A LITERARY REFERENCE, which seems to be a year-by-year overview of Hemingway's work, including letters between him and Maxwell Perkins, assorted reviews, photocopies of manuscript pages, etc. I'm a big Hemingway fan, so I'll browse through this one happily, I'm sure.

The movie tie-in edition of Daniel Woodrell's Civil War novel WOE TO LIVE ON, under the movie title of RIDE WITH THE DEVIL. I never saw the movie, and I've only read one Woodrell novel, TOMATO RED, which I thought was okay but not something that was going to make me a big fan of his work. I liked it well enough to give this one a try, though.

Ace Double F-285, SHIPS TO THE STARS by Fritz Leiber and THE MILLION YEAR HUNT by Kenneth Bulmer. The Leiber is a short story collection. The only thing I've read by Bulmer was a Viking novel under a pseudonym, but it was pretty good.

NAKED IN A CACTUS GARDEN by Jesse Lasky Jr., a Hollywood novel I'd never heard of, but I generally like trashy Hollywood novels.

Not a great haul, but I'll take it.

I watched one of the Flash Gordon episodes on DVD, and while it was pretty cheap and hokey, I enjoyed it. Steve Hollard sports an odd hair style in this series, but for a non-actor he's pretty good, and so are the action scenes. Bill Crider has been talking about the Mr. and Mrs. North TV series starring Richard Denning and Barbara Britton (check out the photo of Ms. Britton on Bill's blog, if you haven't seen it already). I haven't seen any of the TV episodes, but years ago I read nearly all of the Mr. and Mrs. North novels by Francis and Richard Lockridge and really enjoyed them. I also read their series about a police detective named Heimrich, I think. Richard Lockridge continued writing after his wife's death, but the books weren't nearly as good, leading me to suspect that she plotted most of them.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Dollar Tree DVDs

Since I had to be out in the blasted rain today anyway, I stopped by Dollar Tree and pawed through their DVDs. The last time I was there they were about to restock but hadn't done it yet, so I thought there was a good chance I'd find some new stuff. Sure enough I came home with six more DVDs: two discs of Flash Gordon episodes and discs of The Lone Ranger, Jim Bowie, and the Cisco Kid, plus a Western compilation disc with one episode each of Bat Masterson, Annie Oakley, and the Cisco Kid. Cisco occupies a special place in my heart, because when we got our first color TV in 1966 (as I've mentioned before), the very first thing I watched on it was an old rerun of The Cisco Kid. I've never forgotten the excitement of seeing color TV in my own living room. (And if you think that as a kid I was probably a little too wrapped up in TV, you're right. But hey, I read comic books, too . . . !)

Anyway, I think that tonight I'll watch one of the Flash Gordon episodes. Flash was played on TV by Steve Holland, who is perhaps best known as the model for the Doc Savage covers that James Bama painted for the Bantam reprints. However, he was a cover model for lots of paperbacks, including some of the Louis L'Amour novels and the Nevada Jim series. I associate Holland almost as much with Western paperbacks as I do with Doc Savage.

On, You Huskies!

Like Bill Crider, I'm addicted to the cheap DVDs at Dollar Tree and Wal-Mart. One that I picked up a while back at Dollar Tree has three episodes of the old TV series SERGEANT PRESTON OF THE YUKON on it. Since the book I'm writing has a Mountie in it, I thought it would be appropriate to watch an episode of SERGEANT PRESTON. Call it research. Yeah, that's it, research. Hard to believe that in 170 books this is the first one to feature a Mountie, but as far as I can remember that's the case.

Anyway, I was surprised to find that the show was in color. Not very good color, mind you, but still . . . The story was set in a ghost town, and as anyone who has ever watched a B-movie or read a pulp story knows, the buildings in ghost towns are always full of hidden passages and secret hideouts. This episode was no disappointment. Sergeant Preston got to the bottom of the mystery and caught the villains, with the help of his wonder dog, Yukon King. I enjoyed every minute of it.

Less enjoyable has been the weather around here. We haven't seen the sun for about a week now, and I'm tired of the constant gloom and drizzle. I honestly think it's slowed down my production. With the rain not supposed to break until the weekend, I think I'm going to take an extra lamp out to my studio in an attempt to brighten it up some. I hope that helps.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Couple of Books

It occurred to me that I ought to post some covers every now and then. Here are two, one that's out now (Longarm) and one that will be out in January (Trailsman). I don't know what Buck Jones is doing on the cover of that Longarm, but hey, it's always good to see ol' Buck.

Longarm and the Devil's Bride (#311) Posted by Hello

The Trailsman #279: Death Valley Vengeance Posted by Hello


Made stops at two libraries today, as well as Half Price Books and Wal-Mart. I picked up a few research books for that new idea I'm working on, but at this point it's just background. I have no idea when I'd have time to write even chapters-and-outline for the book. But maybe I can get a basic plot written down so I won't forget it later. I didn't buy much at Half Price: a couple of Leslie Ford mysteries (I haven't read the Fords I bought a while back, so I still don't know if I'll like them or not, but what the hey, they were only a buck apiece), and also for a dollar, a copy of ROGUE ROMAN by Lance Horner (a plantation novel transplanted to ancient Rome) to replace a copy I had that seems to have gone missing.

Once we got back I was able to work for a while, got the revisions done I wanted to do on the current book and also wrote a few more pages. There were page proofs of a Trailsman novel waiting on the doorstep when we got home, so I'll be taking the time to read them in the next few days, too.


This was just another chilly, rainy work day, semi-productive, not great. But I did come to a fairly important decision, I think. When I started this book I thought I would change my style a little on it, just to keep things interesting. That's one of the advantages of writing house-name books: as long as you stay reasonably close to the established formula, you can do all sorts of playing around with style and characters. Anyway, fifty pages into this one in my "new" style, I hate it, and it's taking me longer than usual, and I'm smart enough to call a halt to this failed experiment. I'm going to go back and revise that first fifty pages into my regular style and write the rest of it the way I normally would have. It's always good to try new things, but you've got to be able to recognize when they're not working.

Also, I'm distracted anyway because a few days ago Livia gave me a great idea for a book and I'm spending too much time thinking about it rather than the one I'm working on. What I need is more hours in the day. (Yeah, me and the rest of the world, I know.)

Saturday, November 13, 2004


I spent yesterday going to Brownwood, Texas, about 120 miles southwest of where I live, for the funeral of one of my aunts, who passed away on Wednesday. My mother went with me, and we visited a little with other relatives while we were down there. (Both my mother and my father were born and raised down in that area, and I still have lots of relatives around there.) The driving pretty much wore me out. Time was I could drive all day and not feel it much, but that's no longer the case.

When I was a kid I always liked going to the house of the aunt who passed away this week, Iva Mae Heath. She had a nice back yard where her husband Bear liked to grill hamburgers (every kid should have an uncle named Bear). My cousins knew somebody who worked for the local magazine distributor, so they had stacks and stacks of stripped comic books. (In those days, unlike paperback books, only the top third of a comic book cover was torn off to return for credit.) And they had a color TV, too, which was magical to me. We didn't get a color TV until 1966. My aunt was a big fan of Western TV shows, especially BONANZA. I've never forgotten one time when she said that she watched an entire episode of BONANZA wondering where Adam was, before she finally realized that she was actually watching THE VIRGINIAN.

Today I got back to work on the current book and had a pretty productive day. I only have about half an outline on this one, so I hope I don't run into a brick wall part of the way through. That hardly ever happens, but I always worry about it. Winter-type weather has arrived at last in this part of Texas, cold and dreary. I turned on the heater in my studio today for the first time since last winter.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Armistice Day

I don't know when the name was officially changed, but I definitely remember hearing November 11 being referred to as Armistice Day when I was a kid. Whatever you call it, thanks to all the veterans, past and present, who help keep us safe and free.

I never got around to working today, too much real life going on.

Fresh Start

I got my new book started today and as usual really enjoyed getting those first few pages done. New books are always full of promise. It takes a few days before the amount of work they represent really soaks in on my brain. I put that troublesome outline aside, but Livia and I talked about it some more today, while I wasn't working on the new book, and I think we're on the right track with it and can wrap it up in a day or so. Always got something going on in the ol' brain.

I'm reading books for the Spur Awards again. Quite a few submissions have come in during the past week or so, and I have to keep up with them or get swamped.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004


I've now watched a couple of those Superman cartoons produced in the Forties by Max Fleischer. The animation is very good, simple but effective and capable of producing some striking images. But boy, the plots are sure thin, even by Forties cartoon standards. I was also surprised that they monkeyed with the origin story, having Kal-El raised in an orphanage rather than being found by Ma and Pa Kent. But then I got to thinking that maybe at the time these cartoons were produced, Ma and Pa Kent and that whole backstory hadn't been introduced yet in the comic books. For some reason I have the impression that they first showed up in the late Forties. Somewhere I have various comic book history volumes that would answer that question, but I'm too lazy to dig them out.

I had planned to start the next book today, but instead I wound up doing some revisions on a previous book that the editor asked for, as well as grappling with a balky outline that still isn't finished. I think I'm going to have to put it aside and let it percolate in my brain for a while. Sometimes when a plot won't work out all I really need to do is get away from it for a few days, and then when I go back the answer seems obvious.

More Running Around

Yesterday I sat around and worked on outlines for series Westerns I'll be writing in the coming months. Today was what we laughingly refer to as "a day off", which means we went to the library, a bunch of stores, and finished things off by buying groceries. Along the way, though, we worked on the plot for a mystery novel proposal that Livia is putting together. An awful lot of our books have been plotted that way, in the car while we're running around taking care of errands.

I also picked up a couple of DVDs of old Superman cartoons made in the Forties by Max Fleischer. Bill Crider talked about these on his blog a while back. I haven't seen any of these cartoons in years, but they have a good reputation among fans and I plan to watch at least one episode tonight.

I went through that Silverberg anthology and read all the story introductions. That may not be the best way to approach an anthology, but that's usually what I do. In this case, the intros form a sort of literary autobiography, although an incomplete one since they concentrate on Silverberg's SF and barely mention his work in other fields. (There's no mention at all of his Westerns.) Interesting stuff, though. I really don't have time to read the stories, since I've got to get back to reading books for the Spur Awards, but I'll probably dip into it again a few times before I have to give it back to Shayna.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Back to Work

This weekend is being devoted to working on proposals and outlines, sort of the yard work of the writing business. And it can be fun on occasion, too. Today was pretty productive, and I enjoyed it for the most part.

Tonight we watched the DVD of THE BIG BOUNCE, which makes three remakes in a row for us. I wasn't very impressed with this one. Good dialogue and an attractive cast, but the story really meandered around. I haven't read the Elmore Leonard novel or seen the first movie version, so I can't say how this one compares with it.

I'm still reading that Nebel novella; not much time today to read. My daughter Shayna brought home PHASES OF THE MOON, the big "retrospective of six decades" anthology by Robert Silverberg, and I think I'll probably swipe it from her even though there are other things I need to be reading. I've never considered myself a big Silverberg fan; on the other hand, I've never read anything by him that I didn't like. This book has lots of story introductions and memoir-type stuff, and I eat all that up with a spoon.

Friday, November 05, 2004

Yard Work; Books and Movies

I spent most of the day doing yard work, stuff I had let slide while trying to finish the last book. Had to bust up a lot of old boards. We tried to burn some of them but had little luck with that so we wound up bagging up most of them for the garbage. Then did a bunch of mowing. Nothing like manual labor to make you appreciate writing. I'll probably get back to that this weekend.

I finished DEAD MAN'S DANCE by Robert Ferrigno. Took me a while to get into this one, but once I did I enjoyed it very much. Nice tight writing, nice twisty plot. I'll definitely read more by Ferrigno. I'm currently reading EAST OF SINGAPORE by Frederick Nebel, a chapbook reprint of a novella from the July 1926 issue of ACTION STORIES. I've read quite a few of Nebel's hardboiled private eye stories from BLACK MASK and DIME DETECTIVE and enjoyed all of them. This one is a bit different, a South Seas adventure yarn, but a lot of fun so far.

Over the past couple of days we watched the DVDs of a couple of remakes: WALKING TALL with the Rock and AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS with Jackie Chan. Both of these movies got bad reviews when they came out, if I remember right, but I enjoyed them quite a bit. I like the Rock, thought THE SCORPION KING and THE RUNDOWN were both very good. WALKING TALL isn't quite as good but still fun. Johnny Knoxville makes a good sidekick. I also like Jackie Chan and thought this movie was really colorful and entertaining. It was silly, even a little dumb at times, but that's okay. And I enjoyed all the cameo appearances. I think I would have really liked this one if I'd seen it as a kid. I remember watching a probably equally unfaithful movie version of Verne's FIVE WEEKS IN A BALLOON and liking it a lot. Also THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND, which is a sort-of sequel to TWENTY THOUSAND LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA. Good adventure movies in those days, although I don't know how well they'd hold up if I saw them again now.

Writing Bunches

Terrill Lankford sent along some nice words commenting on my previous post about finishing my latest book, and I certainly appreciate them. But you went and made me think about what it's like writing lots of books, so this ramble is on your head, Terrill.

I didn't set out to be prolific. I just wanted to write books that I enjoyed writing and make enough money at it to keep from having to go out and get a real job. Early on, though, I was lucky enough to start writing Mike Shayne novellas for MIKE SHAYNE MYSTERY MAGAZINE as one of a rotating group of authors writing as Brett Halliday, and then after a while the editor, Charles E. Fritch, asked me to do all of them. This meant coming up with 20,000 words each and every month. I discovered I had a pretty good work ethic, and I liked the regular check. (This was when MSMM still paid regularly, a situation that, sadly, did not last.) When I started selling novels, I drifted into series work because that was where the most opportunities were at that time. I liked writing the books and I got them done on time and in good enough shape that they didn't need a lot of revision, which meant that the editors liked working with me. They threw me more and more jobs, and I turned down very few of them (and still regret the ones I did turn down). Over the years I've learned that there are a lot of writers who write better than I do, and there are a lot of writers who write faster than I do, so the key for me is to keep combining speed and quality to the best of my ability. Someone once said that writing series books is like hitting a baseball: sometimes you swing and miss, sometimes you get good wood on the ball but hit it right at somebody, sometimes you hit a single or a double or even a home run. But you take your swings as best you can, then get back up to the plate next time and do it again.

I've also had a huge advantage in being married to an excellent plotter and editor. I can say to Livia, "I need a Longarm plot," and usually within a day or so she'll give me one. Or I'll do something incredibly stupid in a manuscript and she'll spot it and either fix it herself or tell me what it needs. So the editors never see those mistakes and probably think I'm smarter than I really am. Some books I plot myself and Livia doesn't find anything that needs fixed except a few typos. But without her help on the others I'd never be able to keep up the pace that I do.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004


I finally wrapped up the current manuscript today. I still have a little editing and polishing to do on it, and Livia may have some revisions to suggest before she's finished going through it, but from a creative standpoint, anyway, it's finished. As I've probably mentioned before, I love finishing books. I also love starting books. It's all that stuff in between that wears me out. This is my 169th novel (not counting a couple of trunk books that never sold). When I started in this business, I figured 100 books would be a good total for a career. I've been revising that goal upward for quite a while. Now I think I'm looking at 300 or so, if I'm lucky and can keep getting contracts. Sounds like a lot, but I know plenty of writers who have done more. Some of them, a lot more. I also know a guy who once said that no writer could ever write more than seven good books. In that case, I was either washed up a long time ago . . . or I just haven't written my seven good ones yet.

Still reading the Ferrigno book.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Big Day

Twenty years ago today, our oldest daughter Shayna was born. It's very hard to believe that it's been that long. Certainly doesn't seem like it. When she was little, we called her a joy and a treasure, and she truly was. Over the years she's grown up into a complex, interesting, and beautiful young woman. We love her a whole bunch. So happy birthday, Shayna, if you're reading this.

On the writing front, I had another pretty productive day but still didn't finish the blasted book, which continues to grow like Topsy. It's going to wind up longer than it has to be (it already is, actually), but the editor likes for the books to be a little long. I should finish it tomorrow.

I'm reading DEAD MAN'S DANCE by Robert Ferrigno. I'd never read anything by Ferrigno before, and while the book is okay so far I have the nagging feeling there's something I don't like about it. It's certainly good enough to finish, though, so we'll see.

Oh, yeah, there was an election today, too . . . or something . . .

Monday, November 01, 2004

Halloween and Other Catching Up

The past couple of days have been spent mostly in front of the computer, trying to get to the end of the current book (which refuses to go quietly into that good night). I did make a library and Half Price Books run today, but more on that later.

Since we live out in the country, we never get trick or treaters on Halloween, so I usually don't get much sense of that particular holiday having come and gone. My one Halloween tradition is to watch IT'S THE GREAT PUMPKIN, CHARLIE BROWN. I recorded it last week when it was on TV and watched it over the weekend. Since it came out in 1966, I think there were a couple of years when it didn't run on TV, and one year I completely forgot about it, so this was probably my 35th time to watch it. And I still enjoyed it. "I got a rock" is still funny. And I've always enjoyed the Snoopy vs. the Red Baron bit. One minor annoyance is that it hardly ever runs in its complete form. For years CBS cut the "I got a rock" bit, and now ABC cuts short Lucy's dog lips rant. Great music, funny stuff, and quite touching in places. A classic, in my opinion. Some people seem to think this was the second Charlie Brown cartoon, after A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS, but it's actually the third. The second one was the not-seen-for-years baseball-themed cartoon. It's been so long I'm not sure of the title. CHARLIE BROWN'S ALL-STARS, maybe?

One of the regular plots in Gold Medal novels was that of the regular joe who winds up being blamed for a murder he didn’t commit, so that he has to discover the identity of the real killer in order to save his own skin. This plot sort of crops up again in Domenic Stansberry’s new novel from Hardcase Crime, THE CONFESSION, which is a clever, very well-written, and very dark updating of the sort of psychological thriller that used to be written by Dorothy B. Hughes and Margaret Millar, among others. Jake Danser may have a regular joe sort of name, but he’s far from that. A forensic psychologist, he’s married to a beautiful, wealthy woman, but he also has a mistress on the side. The mistress winds up dead, and the clues not only point to Jake as being the killer but the investigation also turns up evidence possibly linking him to a whole string of similar murders. This novel is positively crowded with clues. The trick isn’t spotting them; it’s figuring out what to make of them. Stansberry also does a masterful job of playing with the reader’s sympathies. The first person narration makes us want to believe that Jake is really innocent. After all, he’s letting us into his head and telling us his story, so he can’t really be that bad a guy, now can he? Well, maybe . . . and maybe not. Good stuff all around. This is the first book I’ve read from Hardcase Crime, but it certainly won’t be the last.

Pretty slim pickings at Half Price Books today. I picked up three issues of the old Warren black-and-white horror magazine, CREEPY. This was always my least favorite of Warren's horror titles, but I still buy them when I run across them these days.

Friday, October 29, 2004

Hard Case Crime Correction

Let's try that URL again:

I don't know why it didn't come through right the first time. One of the mysteries of Blogger.


I've spent most of the past two days sitting in front of the computer working on the current book, and I'm hoping that I'll finish it this weekend. But I've also managed to read ATTACK!, one of only three novels that I know of by Leland Jamieson. I read a bunch of Jamieson's pulp stories a while back and enjoyed all of them. He specialized in stories about aviation and was published often in BLUE BOOK, one of the classiest of the pulp magazines. It's possible that ATTACK! was originally published in BLUE BOOK. I know it had hardcover editions from two different publishers, Morrow and Grosset & Dunlap. I read the G&D, which was probably the "cheap" reprint edition.

Read now 64 years after it was published in 1940, this would have to be considered an alternate history novel. It centers around a U.S. aircraft carrier in the South Atlantic when war breaks out between the United States and Germany over Germany's attempt to invade and take over Brasil so that the Nazis can use it as a base for an invasion of North America. The pilots on the American carrier Scarab have to stop the German invasion fleet almost singlehandedly.

There's not much characterization other than the one pilot who functions as the book's protagonist, but Jamieson writes very well about air and naval combat. The battle scenes are extremely well-done, and his portrayal of life aboard an aircraft carrier is vivid and convincing. I'm no expert on such things, but I did quite a bit of research on the subject while I was writing my World War II series and have also visited the U.S.S. Lexington several times where it's now docked in Corpus Christi, Texas, and everything about ATTACK! rings true to me. Personally, I would have liked a little more detail about the planes -- were those dive bombers Dauntlesses, and were those fighters Avengers? -- but that's pretty minor. Jamieson probably kept things deliberately generic and vague because he was writing about something that, from his perspective, hadn't happened yet. That's very different from writing historical fiction.

Anyway, next up is THE CONFESSION by Domenic Stansberry, one of the new Hardcase Crime line of paperbacks. Anybody who hasn't seen these books needs to visit their website immediately.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Congrats to the Red Sox

Well, it wasn't your classic, down-to-the-last-out-in-the-seventh-game World Series, but it was pretty enjoyable to watch, at least in bits and pieces as I watched it. Nothing against the Cardinals, but I'm glad to see the Curse of the Bambino finally broken. I don't think I would have given the MVP to Manny Ramirez. My vote would have gone to the Boston relief pitcher, what's his name? Foulke? The guy who was out there in the ninth inning seemingly every game, not only in the World Series but also in the ALCS. I think he deserved it. I was more interested in baseball this year than I have been in quite a while. The Rangers had a great start and were in contention for most of the season, I rooted for the Astros on occasion, and then I got caught up in the playoffs. Next year I'll probably go back to ignoring baseball, but who knows.

Had another good day of work. I'm about five chapters from the end of this book and ready to be done with it.

I'm reading TRIBE OF THE TIGER, a chapbook reprint of a Secret Service novella by Lemuel De Bra, originally publiished in BLUE BOOK in 1940. De Bra's plots sometimes seem a little thin to me, but his stories read well.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Back to Work

Taking a day off yesterday worked out pretty well, because today I had my most productive day in a while. I'm getting close enough I can almost see the rest of the book in my head. Not quite, not yet, but I'm getting there.

I watched some of the World Series game tonight. It seems like I usually get around to turning it on around the seventh inning. Looks like a good thing I decided to root for the Red Sox. Of course, Yankee fans probably thought the same thing when they were up three-oh. I'll believe the curse is broken when I see it.

I finished "Power of the Range" and enjoyed it quite a bit. Very predictable stuff, but pretty well written with one nice twist that I didn't see coming. Now I find myself in the position that's becoming more and more common: I have literally thousands of unread books around here, and I can't decide what I want to read next. I suppose it's a good problem to have, but it can be annoying at times.

Monday, October 25, 2004

Library Day

I've never been one of those write-every-day-of-the-year writers. That's fine if it works, but it doesn't for me. I like to write for four or five days in a row and then take a day off. Lately, though, I've been putting in longer stretches. I turned out pages for the past eleven days in a row before today, so I decided to take a day off and run errands instead. I wound up going to three libraries, the post office, Wal-Mart, Sam's Club, Half Price Books, and a regular grocery store. I found only one book at Half Price that I wanted, a Sixties Lancer edition of Wilson Tucker's SF novel THE LONG LOUD SILENCE. This is supposed to be one of his best books, but I've never read it. Most of what I checked out at the library were research books, plus some large print romance novels for my mother. She doesn't get out to the libraries nearly as often as I do, so I try to keep her supplied with stuff to read. I'll be getting back to work tomorrow, I'm sure.

Tonight I'm reading "Power of the Range", a Jim Hatfield novel by Jackson Cole (Tom Curry, in this particular case) in the April 1944 issue of the pulp TEXAS RANGERS.

The Spirit

For the past couple of weeks, between other things I've been reading THE SPIRIT ARCHIVES, VOLUME I by Will Eisner, and I finished it tonight. This is a perfect book for reading in bits and pieces, since all the stories are only seven pages long. For those who don't know, these are comic book stories that ran originally in a syndicated weekly insert in various newspapers during the Forties and Fifties. The Spirit is really amateur criminologist Denny Colt (a great name) who was put into suspended animation when he was drenched in chemicals while battling the evil Doctor Cobra. Since he appeared to be dead, he was buried in Wildwood Cemetary. (Darn good thing he wasn't embalmed first . . . ) When he wakes up a day later, he decides to let his Denny Colt identity remain dead and buried so that he can fight crime without anybody knowing who he is. To that end, he dons a small mask, which of course conceals his true identity from everyone even though he still looks and dresses exactly like Denny Colt. But arguing with comic book logic is wasted effort. Better to just enjoy the stories.

And these stories from the first seven months of the feature, June through December 1940, are certainly enjoyable. They start out as pretty standard Forties comic book fare but gradually take on a humorous edge at times, while at other times the stories feature some pretty grim slice-of-life social commentary. Sometimes the same story manages to be both funny and bleak. Eisner was also an innovative artist as well as a good writer, and the stories are usually much better that most of what was being published in comic books at the time.

I'd read quite a few of the Spirit stories from the late Forties. During the Seventies some of them were reprinted by Warren Publishing, the same outfit that produced VAMPIRELLA, CREEPY, and EERIE (also magazines that I read and enjoyed). By the late Forties, some of the Spirit stories were being written by Jules Feiffer, and together he and Eisner produced some of the best comics of all time. The early stories aren't as good as the later ones, but they're still well worth reading.

Saturday, October 23, 2004

Uncovered Treasures

So yesterday we decided to get rid of the old sofa that's been in our living room for almost twenty years and replace it with a new recliner. For several years the sofa has been sitting right against a couple of sets of book shelves. Once it was carried out and the new chair was carried in, I looked at the shelves and realized that I can now easily get to books that have been covered up for years. Books I want to read. Books I didn't even remember owning. That was a good moment, and now, more than a day later, I'm still pulling books off the shelves at random now and then, flipping through them and saying to myself, "Hey, this looks pretty good."

When I haven't been looking at books, I've been sitting in front of the computer writing my current one. I haven't yet dug myself out of the hole I'd gotten in, but I'm getting closer. Took a little time off tonight to watch some of the first World Series game and was glad to see Boston win. I have to wonder if both pitching staffs are worn out from the league championship series and if the rest of the series will be a slugfest like tonight. I hope not. I like offense, but I enjoy a good pitching duel now and then, too.

Friday, October 22, 2004

A.A. Fair

I finished reading THE BIGGER THEY COME, the first Donald Lam/Bertha Cool book by Erle Stanley Gardner writing as A.A. Fair. This is a very entertaining blend of tough guy banter and a plot so complex I'm still not sure if I followed all of it (common for me when reading a Gardner book). The edition I read was the sixth Pocket Books printing from 1963, and it smells great. I read somewhere years ago that decaying book paper gives off mold spores that are slightly hallucinogenic. I don't know if that's true or not, but I sure love the smell of old books. The first Pocket Books edition was in 1943. Just imagine how good it must smell by now, man. If the Hardcase Crime guys want to really recapture the feeling of that era, they've got to find some way to get rid of that new book smell.

On a slightly more serious note, I was sorry to see the Astros' season come to an end, but they had a good run. I don't have anything against the Cardinals, but I hope Boston wins the World Series.

Thanks to a tip from Bill Crider, I've added yet another blog to my list of regulars, Book Heaven, from Andy Jaysnovitch. In the late Seventies, Andy published a mystery fanzine called THE NOT SO PRIVATE EYE. I bought copies of it from him and that was my introduction to the world of mystery fandom, as well as to a couple of guys who are still my friends, Bill Crider and Joe Lansdale. They had letters published in the magazine, and I was thrilled to discover there were actually other people interested in the same stuff I was. Better yet, they were in Texas. Someday I need to dig out those old copies of TNSPE. I can't get to them easily, but I know where they are.