I just realized tonight that during the first quarter of this year, I wrote 1313 pages of fiction. At least it wasn't 666. It's a good thing I'm not superstitious . . . although there's a black cat sitting about five feet from me at this moment, and I don't much like the way he's looking at me.
Yesterday I realized that I didn't have enough research material for the book I'm currently writing. The protagonist was about to visit Chicago in the 1890s, and while I know a little bit about that subject, I don't know enough to write competently about it. I didn't have enough in the research books I own, either. So today it was off to the library -- three of them, in fact -- and while I was doing that I realized that after the guy leaves Chicago he'll be going to Boston, and I didn't know enough about that, either. I rounded up books on both subjects and have already figured out a plot point about the Chicago scenes that was bothering me, so the research certainly helped. Between the library visits and a few other errands, I didn't do any actual writing today, but I ought to be able to get back to it tomorrow. And of course, I found a stack of books that I just want to read, too, which is one of the perils of going to the library. I hope to get to them soon, since it seems like all I've been reading lately is research for one project or another.
Well, I'm back on the regular computer. Livia fixed one of the problems on it, and the others all seemed to disappear. So we'll see if it lasts. I spent most of the morning taking one of our dogs to the vet, then ran some errands and came home and wrote for a while. Not many pages today, but I had a really good weekend so I'm considering today sort of a breather.
I'm having problems with my main computer, so I'm checking to see if I can update the blog with my backup computer, a laptop so old I'm surprised it's not steam-powered. If you're reading this, I guess it worked. Until my regular computer is up and running again, though, I may not be posting much.
I had occasion to be in Denton, Texas, today, so while I was there I made a stop at Recycled Books, one of the best used book stores in this area. Some of you who read this blog are quite familiar with Recycled, and for those of you who aren't, it's on the courthouse square and is located in what used to be a good old-fashioned downtown department store. So what we have there are three full floors (including the basement) of old books. I usually get up there two or three times a year. Today I found only a few things I wanted, but I was glad to get them. Here are the highlights: IN THE MOOD FOR MURDER, M.T. Jefferson -- This is the second book in a series of mystery novels set in a small town during World War II. I came across the first one, THE VICTORY DANCE MURDER, a while back and really enjoyed it, so I've been looking for others in the series since then. "M.T. Jefferson" is really veteran paperback H. Paul Jeffers. RENEGADE'S TRAIL, Gordon D. Shirreffs -- Another of Shirreffs' novels about manhunter Lee Kershaw. It's hard to go wrong with anything Shirreffs wrote. Even his minor books are entertaining, and when he was at the top of his game he was one of the best Western writers ever. YOU PLAY THE BLACK AND THE RED COMES UP, Richard Hallas -- The Dell Mapback edition of this famous noir novel, for what I think was a pretty reasonable price. The cover's a little beat up, but hey, it's still a Dell Mapback. I've heard about this book for years but have never read it or even seen a copy before, to the best of my memory. HIDEAWAY, Nikki Content -- This one had me puzzled when I saw it in the store. It's Gold Medal 308, a first printing from June 1953, but I never heard of it, or the author, before. It's a crime story about a gangster hiding out on a tropical island in the Pacific. Seems like I should have run across it before now. Is Nikki Content a pseudonym? A little Internet research tells me that yes, it is. Nikki Content is really Fan Nichols, who wrote at least one other book I own a copy of, the title of which escapes me at the moment. The copy I bought today is in pretty good shape, with a Barye Phillips cover (not a particularly good Barye Phillips cover, mind you, but still). Before heading up to Denton I wrote on the current book and had a pretty productive day, the best in over a week, in fact.
I wrote on the current project today but wasn't satisfied at all with my production. I've never liked it when I have to think too much about what I'm writing (I know that sounds silly), but when things are going well the process is pretty instinctive for me. I just know what needs to happen next. The stretch I'm in now, I'm having to figure it all out. That's a lot slower and not nearly as much fun. So I stopped early and worked on research for upcoming books instead. But I'll write myself out of this little slump in a day or two . . . I hope.
I decided that today would be a day off, only the second day this month that I haven't produced any new pages. So instead we went to two libraries, a bookstore, and worked on the plot for a new book, then I spent the rest of the day reading research material. Livia says that hardly counts as a day off. She's probably right. But it was still a relief not to have to face that blank monitor screen.
Since there aren't very many pure adventure novels published these days, and since I liked the other Clive Cussler novel I read, PACIFIC VORTEX, I decided to give this one a try. It's part of a spin-off series called The NUMA Files. Instead of Dirk Pitt, the hero is underwater adventurer Kurt Austin, who heads up NUMA's Special Assignments Team. (NUMA stands for National Underwater and Marine Agency.) The Lost City of the title refers to a geologic formation in the North Atlantic that holds a secret which could have a huge effect, for good or ill, on the world, but most of the action takes place in the French Alps. I wanted to like this book. A lot of it seems pretty much perfect for my tastes. Kurt Austin is a suitably stalwart hero, there's a varied and interesting supporting cast of good guy characters, the villains are properly dastardly and bent on world domination, and the plot is the sort of over-the-top silliness that was so common in secret agent movies and novels during the Sixties, one of my favorite genres. But it has one flaw that I just couldn't get past, one that it shares with a lot of modern thrillers: it's too blasted long. We get back-stories for all the characters. We get descriptions of just about everything that can be described. We get science and technology lessons. All of this is so overwhelming that I started skimming in the second half of the book just to get on with the story, something I hardly ever do. Note that I don't really blame this on Cussler and Kemprecos. Big books are the fashion these days. Readers demand them, and therefore so do the publishers. Or maybe the publishers just decided that books had to be longer and the readers went along with them. I don't know. But I know that as I was reading LOST CITY, I thought there was a pretty good story in there that could have been told in half the wordage. And would have been if it had been written in an earlier day and time. Maybe I should have put a "Reactionary Curmudgeon Alert" on this post. I found enough to like in LOST CITY that I might try one of the other novels in the series someday, but probably not any time soon.
I thought I might as well go ahead and reveal which books I've read from the list mentioned in the previous post, along with their rankings on that list. 1. CHILDHOOD'S END, Arthur C. Clarke 2. FOUNDATION, Isaac Asimov 3. DUNE, Frank Herbert 5. STARSHIP TROOPERS, Robert A. Heinlein 9. THE SPACE MERCHANTS, C.M. Kornbluth and Fredrick Pohl 15. 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, Arthur C. Clarke 16. RINGWORLD, Larry Niven 23. THE GODS THEMSELVES, Isaac Asimov 27. THE WAR OF THE WORLDS, H.G. Wells 28. 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA, Jules Verne 31. THE STARS MY DESTINATION, Alfred Bester 34. ENDER'S GAME, Orson Scott Card 36. LORD OF LIGHT, Roger Zelazny 46. I, ROBOT, Isaac Asimov 51. 1984, George Orwell 55. CITIES IN FLIGHT, James Blish 59. STAND ON ZANZIBAR, John Brunner 61. FAHRENHEIT 451, Ray Bradbury 63. FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON, Daniel Keyes 73. THE PUPPET MASTERS, Robert A. Heinlein 75. THE FOREVER WAR, Joe Haldeman 76. DEATHBIRD STORIES, Harlan Ellison 79. THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES, Ray Bradbury 98. THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN, Michael Crichton 100. A PRINCESS OF MARS, Edgar Rice Burroughs I see that I miscounted in my earlier post. That's 25 books, a fourth of the list. And the newest one is, what, nearly 30 years old? I guess that says something about me. Out of all the ones I've read, the one that probably influenced me the most is A PRINCESS OF MARS. I really loved that series when I was about 12 years old. I still read a Burroughs novel from time to time, and I always enjoy them.
I've read 22 out of the 100, mostly the older books on the list, which isn't surprising considering that I don't read much modern SF. But there are quite a few books on here that I own and have never read, so I really ought to get around to giving them a try. Thanks to Winchell Chung on the Space Opera SF listfor the link.
It felt like that's how far back I was transported today when I opened the mail and found a copy of a small press magazine published in 1980 that contains one of my few published science fiction stories. A friend of mine came across it somewhere, thought I'd like to have it, and sent it to me. I'd have to go back and check the records, but it was probably something like the tenth or twelfth story I had published. I don't recall whether I got paid anything for it other than contributor's copies. And I can barely remember what the story is about. I'm sure if I sat down and read it, it would seem almost like reading someone else's work. I'm tempted to do just that. But somehow I'm a little leery. If it's really bad, I'll wince and be embarrassed. If it's better than what I'm writing now, I'll wince and be really embarrassed. Your basic no-win situation. But it's nice to look at the story and remember the kid who wrote it.
About a year and a half ago, I read through the first four Harry Bosch novels by Michael Connelly in fairly short order and thoroughly enjoyed all of them. I guess I burned myself out on them, though, because I haven't gotten back to the series until now. But earlier today I finished reading the fifth book in the series, TRUNK MUSIC, and with a few minor quibbles, I found Connelly's work as enjoyable as ever.
This one finds Harry Bosch investigating the murder of a minor movie producer whose body is found in the trunk of his Rolls Royce on a hillside overlooking the Hollywood Bowl. The opening scene, where Harry and the other cops are trying to carry on their investigation in full view of an amphitheater full of concert-goers, is outstanding. All the indications are that the killing was a mob hit, but of course things get a lot more complicated than that before Harry untangles everything.
To get the above-mentioned quibbles out of the way, the plot in this novel doesn't seem quite as strong to me as the ones in the first four books, despite some nifty reverses here and there. And for much of the book Harry doesn't seem to have the same intense emotional involvement as before. Most of the time this is a pretty straightforward procedural.
But a Connelly novel that's not quite up to the level of other Connelly novels is still a pretty damned fine book. Reading his spare yet elegant prose is always a great pleasure, and nobody handles the little details of a police investigation better than he does. Everything builds to a nice, satisfying climax, and I finished the book eager to read the next one in the series.
One last note: TRUNK MUSIC is a good example of how this series needs to be read in order, as Connelly brings back a character from an earlier book and reveals several important plot points from that book.
On the writing front, I was only able to work this morning, as the rest of the day was taken up with car repair matters, but it was a nice productive morning. Also, I learned today that a one-book ghosting deal with the possibility of more to come is now a definite three-book deal. As I told the editor, three books is always better than one. While I don't have the amount of work lined up that I did a while back, it looks like I'll have enough to keep me off the streets and out of trouble for a while. Of course, I can always use more . . . Finally, I got an email today from someone wanting to know if I was from Oklahoma, used to ride a motorcycle, and worked at a newspaper in a small Oklahoma town. I had to answer no, no, and no to those questions (although I did once work as a newspaper columnist, but it was at a paper in a small town in Texas, not Oklahoma). Still, I have to admit that I'm intrigued by the notion of a biker/reporter named James Reasoner roaring around Oklahoma, solving mysteries and fighting crime and such. If you're out there, buddy, drop me an email.
Not that I haven't been working. In the past five days I've done two outlines, finished a short story that I started a while back, and extensively revised a couple of proposals, including writing some new sample chapters. But today I started working on a new novel, so I feel like I'm really back at it. As I've said before, I really like the first day on a new book. Today wasn't all that productive, but I enjoyed it anyway.
Every so often we like to catch up with a movie that we missed when it first came out, so tonight we watched the DVD of THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS with Paul Walker and Vin Diesel. When I was growing up I never cared much about hot rods or car racing or anything like that, although I read quite a few novels about those subjects by authors like William Campbell Gault and Henry Gregor Felsen. I found THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS to be very entertaining, though. Not much plot, but plenty of car chases, car stunts, fistfights, shootouts, and beautiful women. What's not to like? As my younger daughter pointed out to me, "If it had just had a sword fight in it, it would have been your perfect movie." As I mentioned a couple of days ago, I've been spending my writing time working on a bunch of different things -- short stories, outlines, proposals -- writing new stuff, rewriting old stuff, and generally having a pretty good time with it. It's been a nice break from sprinting through one novel after another, and I plan to keep it up for another day or two. I'm toying with the idea of trying to write at least one short story every time I finish a novel, but I don't know if I'll be able to do that or not.
This has been another of those weeks where I haven't done much except write. Been making a push to finish the current book, which I did late this afternoon. I love starting a book and I love finishing a book. All the stuff in between . . . well, that's why they call it work, I guess. Got a nice little reward to start the day today, though. I have a book on the USA Today bestseller list for only the second time in my career. It's under another name and I'm contractually obligated not to reveal what it is, but it's there. I also found a little time this week to watch a movie and saw WALK THE LINE. I'm not a big fan of biopics, but I liked this one a lot. Thought Joaquin Phoenix did an amazing job of sounding like Johnny Cash, in both his speaking and singing voices. And the physical resemblance is close enough to work. I haven't seen any of the other performances that were nominated for the Best Actor Oscar, but Philip Seymour Hoffman must have been really good in CAPOTE to beat out Phoenix. Reese Witherspoon doesn't look or sound like June Carter Cash to me, but she was still good. The music was great all the way through. I was reminded while watching the movie that the song "Walk the Line" was the first Johnny Cash song I ever heard when it was new. As for reading, I'm almost finished with THE FEAR MERCHANTS, from the March 1936 issue of SECRET AGENT X. Published under the ridiculous house-name "Brant House", this novel is the work of Paul Chadwick. SECRET AGENT X was a minor-leaguer compared to pulp series like THE SHADOW and DOC SAVAGE, but there are quite a few decent stories in its relatively short run, and this is one of them, as the always-anonymous Secret Agent X battles a vicious arson/extortion ring. Now that I've finished the book I was working on, I plan to spend a few days editing it and working on some outlines, proposals, and short stories, before starting another novel next week.
Due to some really tight deadlines in December, January, and February, I had to cut back on reading some of the Yahoo groups I belong to (I'm a Yahoo groups junkie, I'm afraid). As a result, I missed announcing that the latest issue of The Black Horse Express was available on-line. It's full of interesting material for Western fans, and a new issue will be along at the end of this month. And speaking of Black Horse Westerns, one of that line's most prolific authors, David Whitehead, has a new website that includes a fine article about the history of the British Western, along with a lot of other good reading. Another favorite Western author of mine is Gordon D. Shirreffs, and Jim Collette advises me that he now has a website devoted to Shirreffs and his work. This is another fine site with plenty of cover scans. This week also brought the most recent mailing from the pulp apa PEAPS, and although I haven't had a chance to do more than skim through it, it looks like the usual great collection of pulp-related fanzines. PEAPS has several openings for membership at the moment, so if you're a pulp fan and would be interested in joining, let me know and I'll put you in touch with the editor. Lastly, today's mail included the third issue of the SF/horror/dark fantasy magazine SUBTERRANEAN (from the fine folks at the superb small press publisher Subterranean Press), with stories by Norman Partridge, Poppy Z. Brite, and Lewis Shiner, among others. I'm a little behind on this magazine, having read only the first issue not long ago, but I enjoyed it a great deal, especially the stories by Peter Crowther and Kealan Patrick Burke. So there's a wide assortment of authors and subject matter for you, and all of it good.
When I was answering the question on Ed Gorman's blog about forgotten mystery authors who deserve to be reprinted, I should have thought of Thomas B. Dewey. He was one of my favorites when I first started reading PI fiction back in the Sixties, but I doubt if very many people today are familiar with his work. Dewey was best known for a long series of novels about a private eye called Mac. The reader never learned the character's full name. But he also wrote another series about PI Pete Schofield, who was different from most fictional private eyes in the fact that he was married, to a gorgeous redhead named Jeannie who usually managed to get involved in helping Schofield solve his cases. (Shades of Mike Shayne and Phyllis! Those are wonderful books. But that's a different post . . .) The fact that Schofield was married doesn't seem to have had much effect on how many beautiful women throw themselves at him in each book. It still happens with considerable regularity. He just turns them down and remains faithful to Jeannie, even when he winds up in bed with some nude lovely, as he does in this book. The plot involves a dead bullfighter and a drug-smuggling ring operating across the California/Mexico border, not that it matters a whole lot. The fun in this book -- and it's a lot of fun -- comes from Dewey's breezy style and the headlong pace of the story. To a lot of modern readers of PI fiction, a book like this (from 1961) must seem almost as much of a relic as an Old Sleuth dime novel. THE GOLDEN HOOLIGAN certainly has its faults: the plot is maybe a little too simple, Schofield probably gets hit on the head and knocked out one too many times, and the frequency with which the female characters get naked seems pretty contrived at times. But I don't care. I grew up on this stuff, and I still love it. Dewey's Mac novels are considerably more serious than the Pete Schofield books, which come across as lightweight but highly enjoyable potboilers. If the guys at HardCase Crime are looking for good books to reprint, they could do a lot worse than some of Dewey's early Mac novels, such as EVERY BET'S A SURE THING. One last note on Dewey: I've been told that he spent the last years of his life in Mason, Texas, and continued to write books even though the market had changed and he could no longer sell them. Maybe they just weren't any good. But the thought of unpublished Dewey novels that are probably lost forever . . . well, it makes me shake my head in regret, that's for sure. But at least there are several of his published novels that I haven't gotten around to reading yet.
The high temperature here today was 93 degrees, breaking a record set in 1899. In Mineral Wells, about thirty miles to the west, the temperature was 97. Getting really warm days during the winter isn't all that unusual. This is Texas, after all, cold one day, hot the next -- and then back again, but still, temperatures in the nineties during March aren't all that common.
Originally published by Zebra Books in 1989 and recently reprinted by Pinnacle Books (both imprints of Kensington Books), this is the first novel in a series about blood brothers Matt Bodine and Sam Two Wolves. Set against a well-drawn background of the Indian Wars in Wyoming and Montana during 1875 and '76, it makes good use of Johnstone's trademark fast pace and exciting action scenes. It also has an epic feel to it as the fictional characters interact with several real ones, including General George Armstrong Custer. Not surprisingly, the Battle of the Little Big Horn plays a major part in the novel, and as far as I can tell, Johnstone presents the action accurately. Those who know more about that particular battle than I do might find a few things to disagree with. That's true about almost any area of Western history, though. I don't know if the other books in the series revolve around historical incidents. I intend to read them and find out. I generally enjoy Johnstone's books, and BLOOD BOND is the best Western of his that I've read so far.