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.