Nice early cover by Rafael DeSoto on this issue of TEN DETECTIVE ACES, which includes stories by Frederick C. Davis (a Moon Man yarn), Paul Chadwick (creator of Secret Agent X), T.W. Ford, W.T. Ballard, Emile C. Tepperman, and Joe Archibald. TEN DETECTIVE ACES was a pretty good pulp, from everything I've seen about it.
I never got around to posting yesterday, but it was a good solid day with 23 pages written. Today was a little better with 24. The thing of it is, I need to hit that pace nearly every day for the next five weeks in order to get everything done that I'm supposed to. Because of a couple of extra books I was asked to take on, my deadlines got rearranged and I'm now going by drop-dead dates, which is when the production department has to have the manuscripts. But it makes life interesting and keeps me out of trouble, I suppose.
< "A Ranger Named Rowdy", the first of a new series of Western short stories by James J. Griffin featuring Texas Ranger Tim Bannon, is now available on Amazon. Those of you who have read and enjoyed Jim's earlier stories and novels about the Texas Rangers will definitely want to pick up this one. It's another action-packed yarn and makes excellent use of the Texas setting.
THRILLING RANCH STORIES was the Thrilling Group's answer to RANCH ROMANCES, and as was the case with that venerable pulp (the longest-running of all), THRILLING RANCH STORIES featured plenty of shoot-em-up action to go along with what editors referred to as "woman interest". As usual, the girl on this cover is in the middle of the gunsmoke along with the stalwart hero. Nice line-up of authors, too: Lee Bond, W. Ryerson Johnson, Gunnison Steele (Bennie Gardner), L.P. Holmes, and the house-names Jackson Cole and Sam Brant, who could've been just about anybody, possibly even somebody else who had another story in this issue. I don't think I've ever read an issue of THRILLING RANCH STORIES, but I should probably remedy that.
As I've mentioned before, I was a regular viewer of NIGHTMARE,
the Saturday night monster movie showcase on Channel 11, the only independent
TV station in our area when I was a kid. (As proof of how ancient I am, we got
four TV stations back then . . . five on a good day when the extremely
low-powered "educational TV" station in Dallas, Channel 13, could get
a fuzzy signal all the way to our little town on the other side of Fort Worth.)
Anyway, that's how I discovered the classic Universal monster movies. And boy,
did they scare me. But I watched 'em anyway and developed a real fondness for
MONSTERS: A CELEBRATION OF THE CLASSICS FROM UNIVERSAL STUDIOS is a coffee
table book about that very subject that came out back in 2006. I missed it
entirely and didn't know it existed until I recently came across a copy at the
library. It starts with the silent version of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA starring
Lon Chaney Sr. and has sections covering Dracula, Frankenstein's Monster, the
Bride of Frankenstein, The Mummy, The Invisible Man, The Wolf Man (my favorite
movie monster!), and The Creature From the Black Lagoon. There's also a section
about the series of movies in which Abbott and Costello ran into many of those
supernatural creatures, and of course I'm a big A&C fan, too.
As you might expect, there are a lot of photographs in this book: stills from
the movies, publicity pictures, movie posters, behind the scenes stuff, etc.,
all of them interesting. But there's also quite a bit of informative text in
each section by Roy Milano, as well as essays by descendants of Lon Chaney,
Bela Lugosi, and Boris Karloff, as well as directors Stephen Sommers and John
Landis, make-up artist Rick Baker, and others.
MONSTERS is a fascinating book, and it's really rekindled my interest in
watching some of these movies again. Or in rare cases for the first time, as
there are some that I've never seen. Will I find the time to get around to
them? Who knows? But if you're a monster movie fan and missed this book like I
did, it's worth seeking out.
19 pages today, so I bounced back from yesterday okay. I thought about trying to write one more just so I'd have 20, but that seemed silly to me. I once stopped with 498 pages on the last day of the month, rather than writing two more to hit 500, because I was in a good place to stop for the day. There's such a thing as being too obsessed with numbers.
I took yesterday off from producing new pages, although I spent most of the afternoon editing the current manuscript and doing some research for an upcoming project. Today I had to deal with what I hope will be a minor medical matter (won't really know how minor -- or not -- for a few days yet), but I managed to get 9 pages done.
This post originally appeared in slightly different form on August 15, 2007.
Speaking of movies you’d think I would have seen before now, I just watched DETOUR for the first time. This one has quite a reputation as a film noir, despite its low budget and lesser-known actors. It’s the story of a guy hitchhiking across the country (Tom Neal) so that he can be reunited with his girlfriend. Unfortunately for him, he accepts a ride from someone he shouldn’t, and he winds up having to cope with death, deception, and a dangerous woman -- all the stuff of classic noir, in other words.
For the most part DETOUR works really well. Yes, it looks cheap, but most of it is set in cheap places. I’m just old enough to have experienced first-hand the sort of greasy roadside diners, rustic gas stations, and dingy tourist courts where most of this movie takes place. You could still find plenty of those in rural Texas in the early Sixties. Tom Neal does a pretty good job as the unlucky Al Roberts and provides the usual voice-over narration. And Ann Savage, who plays the femme fatale Vera, is genuinely scary. There’s a moment soon after she meets Neal’s character when she turns her head sharply and looks directly at him for the first time, and her feral expression will send a shiver right through you. I think it’s her performance, and the lines from the script about doom and the arbitrariness of fate, that give DETOUR its reputation.
But the ending of the film is a real let-down. It’s arbitrary, all right, but not in a symbolic way. It’s just abrupt and disappointing and left me with the feeling that some of the movie is missing because of all the things that are set up and then never explored, as if the director said, “Okay, that’s it, we’re out of film.” Maybe that’s what happened, for all I know. I’m glad I finally saw DETOUR anyway. It’s about half of a great film.
A couple of people mentioned this song in the comments on last night's post, and I said I hadn't heard it before. Well, actually, I had, I just didn't realize it. I'm really bad about remembering titles and groups and have to look things up quite a bit. But yeah, this is a good song, too. I don't have the same sort of sentimental attachment to it that I do to "Radar Love", but it's well worth listening to.
I wrote 21 pages today, so I've got a pretty nice little run going, first time in a while I've done 20+ pages three days in a row. And with any luck tomorrow will make it four. Lots of action in what's coming up tomorrow. I can almost smell the powdersmoke already.
If you appreciate an attractive female back, that's a nice Earle Bergey cover on this issue of THRILLING WONDER STORIES. The contents look to be pretty good, too, with stories by Ray Bradbury, Leigh Brackett, John D. MacDonald, Frank Belknap Long, George O. Smith, Arthur J. Burks, and Noel Loomis. An all-star issue, for sure, except . . . nobody thought of it like that at the time. Those authors were just hard-working professional pulpsters, trying to make a living. My heroes.
I've slacked off on getting these updates posted. The middle of the week wasn't very productive, but yesterday I wrote 26 pages and today I did 22, so that's pretty good, I think. I'd like to stay at that level for another couple of days, then maybe take a day off.
This is one of several different pulps that used the name TWO-GUN WESTERN. This particular version ran for 16 issues during the Fifties and had some decent authors in its pages. For example, this issue features Louis L'Amour, Peter Dawson, Gunnison Steele, L.L. Foreman, Noel Loomis, and John G. Pearsol, all veteran, top-notch pulp writers.
(This post first appeared on August 12, 2007, in slightly different form.)
SLATTERY’S HURRICANE is something of an oddity in the career of Herman Wouk. It’s usually not included in the lists of his novels, and I’d never even heard of it until I happened to run across a copy at Half Price Books recently. As it turns out, this paperback original published in 1956 is a novelization of a 1949 movie based on a story by Wouk that was published in the slick magazine AMERICAN. Why there was a seven-year gap between the movie and the novelization, I have no idea.
I’ve never seen the movie, at least not that I recall, but I’ve read the book now and it’s pretty darned good. It’s definitely a Forties-style drama. Navy pilot Will Slattery is passed over for the medal he deserves for sinking a Japanese ship because his squadron leader lies about what happens and claims the honor for himself. Embittered by this experience, after the war Slattery goes to work as a private pilot for a mysterious millionaire and becomes pretty much of a heel, indulging in a series of meaningless love affairs and ignoring the fact that his boss is probably a shady character of some sort. Meanwhile Slattery’s best friend and fellow pilot “Hobby” Hobson stays in the Navy and becomes a hurricane chaser, helping to track the big storms that develop in the Atlantic off the coast of Florida. Hobby also has a beautiful young wife, and when Slattery meets her, sparks fly between them.
Well, if you’ve ever seen very many movies from the Forties, you can predict just about everything that’s going to happen in this novel, from the romantic triangle to the criminal goings-on to the giant hurricane that’s bearing down on Miami before the book is over. It’s the same sort of glossy soap opera that was popular during that era. I thoroughly enjoyed the book anyway because I’m a sucker for that sort of stuff. The movie starred Richard Widmark, Veronica Lake, and Linda Darnell. That should tell some of you all you need to know about the novelization, except for the fact that it’s well worth reading if you should happen to find a copy.
My reading of Herman Wouk’s work has been spotty. I’ve never attempted to get through his giant bestselling historical novels like THE WINDS OF WAR and WAR AND REMEMBRANCE. But I have read his fine early novel THE CITY BOY and his first big success THE CAINE MUTINY and an often overlooked novel from the early Sixties called DON’T STOP THE CARNIVAL (which should have ended one chapter sooner than it did). I read YOUNGBLOOD HAWKE, his novel about a Thomas Wolfe-like novelist, and loved it. I might even reread YOUNGBLOOD HAWKE one of these days, although I probably won’t because it’s so long. I keep picking up a large print copy of MARJORIE MORNINGSTAR at the local library and being tempted to check it out, but again, it’s so blasted long that I haven’t tried to read it yet. I’m glad I read SLATTERY’S HURRICANE, though. It’s a lot of fun.
Paperback expert Lynn Munroe has updated his website with an article and checklist about the work of Paul Rader, who was a fantastic cover artist, primarily for paperbacks but some magazine work, too (often repurposed from a paperback cover). The Avallone novel featured here is a sample of Rader's cover work. Paperback fans definitely need to check out Lynn's site. It's incredibly informative and entertaining.
After writing at least 1000 words every day for 14 straight days (and 3000 to 4000 most of those days), I took yesterday off from producing new pages and spent it running errands and doing research for an outline my editor asked for. Today writing got interrupted for firefighting. I heard sirens, looked out the back door, and saw a bunch of flames and smoke. The field right behind our property was on fire again, just like it was back in '08. Luckily this time the wind was different. The fire started from a cigarette somebody threw out along the road, but the wind was against it so it back-burned, which is much easier to control. The volunteer fire department trucks were already there, and they got it put out pretty quick. Nerve-wracking experience, though. After that I didn't really feel much like writing, but I got that outline done anyway. And I was pretty pleased with the way it turned out, too.
The Cash Laramie Universe expands with the introduction of
Cash's grandson, private detective Jack Laramie, in an excellent novelette
written by Garnett Elliott, "The Drifter Detective". Jack doesn't
have your usual big-city office complete with bottle of booze in the desk
drawer. No, he's more of a door-to-door detective, as one character in the
story refers to him, driving around rural Texas in the early 1950s pulling an
empty horse trailer where he sleeps when he doesn't have any place else.
It's a great set-up for a hardboiled private eye series, and Elliott provides
the twisty plot (involving a wealthy oilman suspected of smuggling whiskey to
the Indian reservations in Oklahoma), the beautiful babes, and the gritty
action that the genre demands. He also does a very fine job of capturing the
time and place, and I'm someone who knows whereof he speaks since I spent a lot
of time around West Central Texas in the early Sixties, and I promise you,
things hadn't changed much in the intervening decade.
Basically, "The Drifter Detective" is just a hell of a lot of fun.
The cover even looks like it could have come off a Fifties paperback spinner
rack. I want more Jack Laramie stories, and I'm ready for 'em right now. Highly
I saw Michael Martin Murphey in concert in the old Auditorium Building at North Texas State University (now the University of North Texas) when he was still doing outlaw country stuff like this instead of the Western music and Americana he did later. Let's see, an auditorium full of college kids in 1974 . . . you think they enjoyed a song like "Cosmic Cowboy" or what? (Steve Fromholz opened for Murphey that night and I liked him even better. I'll see if I can find something of his to post.)
As I mentioned last week, here's my post about John Cena's second movie, which originally appeared here on August 16, 2009.
I thought THE MARINE, the previous action thriller starring the WWE’s John Cena, was a surprisingly good, smartly written, and well-acted film. So I hoped that Cena’s latest film, 12 ROUNDS, would be pretty good, too.
In this one, Cena plays a New Orleans beat cop who stumbles into an FBI operation to catch a notorious international arms dealer. He winds up catching the guy and getting promoted to detective along with his partner. But a year later, the brilliant, ruthless villain escapes from prison and returns to New Orleans bent on revenge. He takes Cena’s girlfriend hostage and starts making our hero deal with all sorts of intricately plotted, deadly challenges (the twelve rounds of the title) in order to save her. Needless to say, mayhem ensues. Stuff blows up real good. Cena does a lot of runnin’, jumpin’, and fightin’. But then . . .
Ah, but then 12 ROUNDS turns into one of the most cleverly plotted movies I’ve seen in a long time, and as far as I could tell, all the twists were set up fairly. Some of them you’ll probably be able to predict, but all I can say is that I was surprised a number of times, and I love being surprised by a movie.
Cena handles the action scenes just fine, and he’s a pretty darned good actor, too. He has a very capable supporting cast in this one including Ashley Scott and Steve Harris. The director is Renny Harlin, who may not be the A-list director he was fifteen or twenty years ago but still knows how to put together a pretty entertaining film. (And doggone it, I still think CUTTHROAT ISLAND and THE LONG KISS GOODNIGHT are good movies!)
So not only was I not disappointed by 12 ROUNDS, I was very impressed by it, and if you enjoy intelligent action thrillers, I highly recommend it. And I’m looking forward to Cena’s next film.
UPDATE: That next film was the inspirational sports drama LEGENDARY, which is okay but not up to the level of Cena's first two movies. And that's been it for his movie roles, as far as I know.
I just read a couple of short stories by Wayne Dundee that are well worth your attention. As it happens, both are Westerns, but not really traditional Westerns. "Adeline" is based on the Orphan Trains, the effort to take orphaned children from the East and find them new homes in the West. Adeline is one such orphan who finds herself in a far worse situation than she was in before, and it's up to an unlikely hero, a bounty hunter named Rawson, to get her out of it. "Quick Hands" is the story of a traveling medicine show, a staple of Old West fiction, but this troupe includes a boxer named McMahon who faces off against the locals in bouts staged in the towns where the medicine show stops. Eventually, however, McMahon and his friends find themselves in trouble where his pugilistic skills won't help, and he has to turn to another talent to save them. As you'd expect from the work of Wayne Dundee, both of these stories are gritty and hardboiled, fast-paced and tough, but they also have a huge, compassionate heart at their center. He has a unique voice that's one of the best in the business, and you won't go wrong with either of these yarns.
You can't beat a free book, especially when it's as good as SHOOTER'S CROSS, the first book in the Rancho Diablo series. Mel Odom did a fine job with this, and you can pick it up free for Kindle today and tomorrow. If you haven't tried the series yet, this is a great way to start. Check it out!
Wow. Look at the line-up of authors on that cover. Plus there are two more who have stories in this issue who don't even make the cover: Theodore Roscoe and Philip Ketchum. And here's the best part: "All Complete". It's like ARGOSY, only without the damn serials! Why wasn't ALL-AMERICAN FICTION a huge success? I don't know, but it lasted for only eight issues before merging with ARGOSY. The quality of all eight issues appears to be equally high, with many of the same authors appearing in each issue. Definitely a short-run pulp worth collecting, I think.
Today was a pretty decent day with 20 pages on the current manuscript. I continue to feel good about the way this one is going. Also, I wrapped up a long intro I've been writing for a collection of stories by one of my favorite authors. More info on that project as it becomes available. I have another introduction to write, and after that I'll probably swear off of it for a while. Unless, of course, someone asks me write one, in which case I'll probably find the project too interesting to turn down. Besides, what writer can resist the opportunity to pontificate about something?
Got the news this morning that my second Redemption, Kansas novel HUNTERS was a finalist for the Western Writers of America Spur Award in the Best Mass Market Paperback category. It didn't win -- THE COYOTE TRACKER by my fellow Western Fictioneer Larry Sweazy did; congrats, Larry -- but as they say, it's a real honor just to be nominated. This is the third time one of my books has been a finalist for a Spur Award, the other two being COSSACK THREE PONIES and UNDER OUTLAW FLAGS, both of which are currently available as e-books (he said with a mercenary cackle). Also, another of the Western Fictioneers, Matthew P. Mayo, won a Spur for his novel TUCKER'S RECKONING. Congratulations to Matt as well. You can find the list of all this year's Spur winners and finalists here.
Like TRIPLE WESTERN, this title featured three novellas in each issue. In this issue, the authors are Lee Floren, Giles A. Lutz, and Brett Austin, who was also Lee Floren. I'm not much of a Floren fan, but his early stuff isn't bad and that's a fine, eye-catching cover (Saunders?). I like Lutz's work. He was consistently good. I might well have picked up this issue of BEST WESTERN NOVELS back then if I could afford it.
Still have lots of non-writing stuff going on, but I got 14 pages done yesterday and 8 today. I've been crunching some numbers and figured out how much I need to be writing in order to get everything done in an acceptable amount of time. It's hard to break down any creative activity into something as mechanical as "I need X number of pages per day", but that can be helpful in getting the work done as long as you're still more worried about the quality than the quantity.
"Plague of the Golden Death", from the December
1937 issue of the pulp magazine SECRET AGENT X, is one of the more unusual
entries I've read in this series. Like The Shadow and The Spider, the Secret
Agent is a veteran of the Great War and served as an American intelligence
officer during that conflict. Most of the time in the pulps, the crime-fighting
hero's wartime exploits are just mentioned, but "Plague of the Golden
Death" actually opens during World War I and gives us a glimpse of Secret
Agent X during those perilous days.
Only the first chapter, though, and then the scene jumps ahead twenty years to
Hollywood, where X has come in response to a plea for help. Many will die if he
doesn't solve the secret of the Golden Death, that mysterious summons claims,
and sure enough, that happens when the crowd at a movie premiere is attacked
with a deadly gas. Almost before you know it, X is captured by the minions of
the criminal mastermind who calls himself the Golden Death (yes, the bad guy
and the murder method have the same name, which is a little confusing at times)
and hauled to the top of the HOLLYWOOD sign, where he's about to be thrown off
to his death!
And after that, things start to get a little goofy. In fact, for most of the
novel the plot seems to make very little sense, and this in a series that was
never known for being rigorously plotted to start with. Secret Agent X (a
master of disguise, remember?) spends most of his time pretending to be matinee
idol Grant Howard, who's starring in a World War I epic called
"Armistice". Naturally, X winds up acting in the movie instead of
Howard and gets to take part in some battle scenes much like the ones in which
he really participated. Inspector Burks, X's nemesis from New York, shows up,
as does his sometimes girlfriend and assistant, perky blond reporter Betty
Dale. The Golden Death kills a bunch of people. And after I spent a lot of time
thinking there's no way author G.T. Fleming-Roberts could ever find a way for
this hodge-podge of a plot to make sense . . . darned if he doesn't do just
that. In fact, he nails down just about every plot point. Sure, some of them
may be a little bit of a stretch . . . but I'm not going to worry about that in
a pulp novel, are you?
Even when I thought the whole yarn had come off the rails, I enjoyed many of
the scenes. As over the top as it is, the stuff about the HOLLYWOOD sign works
really well in Fleming-Roberts' hardboiled prose. So does the big battle scene
on the movie studio back-lot that forms the novel's climax. Once the Agent's
summation of the plot at the end put everything in its place, I wound up
thinking that this is one of the best Secret Agent X novels I've read. It's
certainly one of the strangest. If you're a fan of this series, you definitely
need to read it, which you soon can in an inexpensive reprint editon from Beb
I've seen all the James Bond movies (I haven't seen the 1950s TV adaptation), so it was inevitable I'd watch this one, too. I didn't like it quite as much as I'd expected to -- the plot seemed a little thin to me -- but there's still plenty of good stuff in it: M's Tennyson quote. The return of the Aston-Martin. The big shootout at the castle, which has sort of a Western feel to it. Javier Bardem shamelessly chewing every bit of available scenery as the villain. The feeling of everything coming full circle at the end. I'm still not sold on Daniel Craig as Bond, but I'm all right with it. And of course, I'll keep watching.
This post originally appeared in slightly different form on September 5, 2007.
So you’ve got this big, tough Marine, John Triton, who gets thrown out of the service because he disobeyed orders and singlehandedly saved several other Marines who had been captured by the enemy in Iraq. Triton comes back to his beautiful wife in the United States and has a predictably hard time fitting into civilian life.
At the same time there’s this ruthless gang of professional jewel thieves who are on the run after pulling a big robbery. You know they’re going to cross paths with Triton sooner or later, and when they do . . . well, the story could go one of two different ways. Either it becomes a taut little noir thriller, or it turns into a noisy action/adventure film with lots of running and fighting and shooting and things Blowing Up Real Good.
Since THE MARINE is the first starring vehicle for WWE performer John Cena, who’s attempting to follow in The Rock’s footsteps and become an action movie star, you can probably guess which path this story follows.
That said, THE MARINE is very entertaining and well-written. There’s a thread of dry humor that runs all through the film, resulting in lines like the one delivered by the great character actor Robert Patrick, playing the leader of the bad guys, who orders everyone not to look at him during the big robbery early in the film: “I have intimacy issues . . . and a gun.” By the time John Triton leaps toward the camera with some huge explosion going off right behind him for the third or fourth time, you get the idea that the filmmakers aren’t taking any of this too seriously and neither should we. It’s just a goofy, over-the-top action movie, but a slyly intelligent one at the same time.
Not surprisingly, John Cena has an impressive physical presence, and while the script doesn’t call for him to do much more than run and jump and fight, he handles the few quieter moments pretty well, too. Dwayne Johnson -- The Rock -- was a decent actor right from the start, and Cena may prove to be, too. I liked THE MARINE quite a bit and recommend it to those who like action/adventure films.
UPDATE: John Cena hasn't really lived up to the potential I saw in him in this film, at least not as an action movie star, although he's still a big name in wrestling. But I thought his follow-up to this film was even better, and I think I'm going to rerun my post about it next week.
The human brain is a funny thing. I had a pretty good morning and was having visions of the best day in a while, but after lunch my brain sort of said, "Nah, I don't think so." But I forged ahead and wound up with -- this is getting monotonous -- 16 pages. Why that seems to be my new magic number, I have no idea. But that'll get it done, especially if I can have a few better days here and there, too.
Charles and Patti Boeckman are putting together a collection of Charles's stories from the Western pulps, which were published under the name Charles Beckman, Jr. I'll have more information about this one as it becomes available, but for now, here's the cover. I haven't read much of Charles's work yet, but what I've read has been excellent.
COUNTDOWN TO THE JUSTICE MACHINE'S RETURN OR FINAL CURTAIN!
Only six days away from the close of the Kickstarter campaign to fund the publication of THE JUSTICE MACHINE: OBJECT OF POWER graphic novel.
As I've said before, the art on the book is complete...we're running the campaign mainly so the artists can be compensated what they're owed by the former publisher but also to finance the book's lettering, production and printing. Our funding goal is the bare minimum of the money needed to see it through.
So here is a page by David Enebral and Jason Jensen with the display lettering (sound effects added). It would be a shame all around if this is the only place people see this work (that guilt-trippy enough for ya?)
This is a good version, of course, but the best "Wipeout" I ever heard was a drum solo version played by a guy I went to school with, Dale Sacco, in a high school talent show about 1967. You had to be there.
This was the second and final issue of this pulp. It's short life probably wasn't due to a lack of good stories in its pages, though, since the authors in this issue include Bruno Fischer, Edward Ronns, D.L. Champion, and Carroll John Daly. And the cover is by Rudolph Belarski. Pretty good talent all around, but you can never predict how things will go in the publishing business.
This was another busy day with a lot of real life things going on, but the work went well this afternoon and I wound up with 22 pages for the day. I'm closing in on the one-third mark in this manuscript and ought to hit it tomorrow.
I like this cover. Nice sense of action to it. I don't know who painted it, but I think I've seen it on at least one other Western pulp from the Thrilling Group, which wouldn't be surprising because they often reused covers. I've read an expanded paperback version of "The Texan" by Leslie Scott writing under his A. Leslie pseudonym. There are also short stories by Giff Cheshire, Del Rayburn, and William L. Jackson.
This post first appeared in slightly different form on June 28, 2007.
Having read and enjoyed Jim Tully’s memoir BEGGARS OF LIFE, about his life as a hobo during the early part of the Twentieth Century, I decided to try another of his books. CIRCUS PARADE is set during the same time period but focuses on a season that Tully spent traveling with a rather disreputable circus. It’s well-written and filled with circus lore, colorful characters, and both comedy and tragedy. Tully makes it seem as if the circus world was populated mostly by brutal, dishonest thugs, and to a certain extent that’s probably true. But there are a few sympathetic characters, such as Hilda, the 400-pound Strong Woman; Whiteface the Clown; and Jock, the livestock handler who was probably Tully’s best friend despite being a morphine addict.
CIRCUS PARADE is pretty episodic, and some of the episodes are so grotesque and over-the-top that you have to wonder if Tully made them up or at least embellished them. His books are supposed to be non-fiction, but I have a feeling that he didn’t always let the facts get in the way of a good story. Also, the sex and violence in this book must have been pretty shocking to readers in 1927, when it was originally published. Even a cynical old Adult Western writer like me was shocked a few times.
I didn’t like CIRCUS PARADE as much as I did BEGGARS OF LIFE, but I did enjoy it and found it to be well worth reading. I’m sure I’ll read more of Jim Tully’s books, too, but I’ll probably wait a while before trying another one.
By the way, I read the original edition, but the retitled paperback reprint has a better cover, so that's the one I've posted above.
I've been up a lot in the middle of the night lately. Thought I might as well schedule some posts for myself and anybody else who can't sleep. Really like this song and anything else by Wes Montgomery.
Marshal Bill Harvey puts his life at risk every day to protect the people of Redemption, Kansas. But there’s only one resident whose well-being comes before all else, and if you touch her, you’re as good as dead in his books...
Bill thought he had his hands full with the hotheaded Jesse Overstreet, a Texan like himself, who’d stumbled into town. But Overstreet is the least of his problems when Caleb Tatum and his gang sweep through town, cleaning folks out of every last penny. As a bonus, they make off with a beautiful hostage, Eden Harvey, Bill’s wife...
While Bill and his posse ride hard through Kansas to save Eden and the old buzzard Mordecai Flint is left alone to police the town, a broken marriage turns violent and a suspicious gypsy spooks the townspeople. Mordecai desperately needs Bill to return. And he might just get his wish when the posse finds unexpected help from that fiery Texan, Overstreet. Bill will surely get back his beloved, at any cost...
The third Redemption, Kansas novel is now available in both print and e-book editions from all the usual outlets. I really like the cover on this one, and it actually illustrates a scene from the book, which isn't always the case. I think it's a pretty entertaining yarn, so check it out!
Warning: nostalgia ahead. During the summer of 1966, I lived with my sister. Well, technically I suppose I still lived with my parents, but I spent the whole summer at my sister's house. My brother-in-law was in basic training that summer. I spent it reading and watching TV, mostly old movies and reruns of shows like LEAVE IT TO BEAVER and DOBIE GILLIS. I also wrote the longest piece of fiction I'd done so far, a 40,000 word mystery novel shamelessly in Hardy Boys mode, featuring me and my friends as the detectives. (Long, long since lost, and I wouldn't put it up on Amazon as an e-book even if it wasn't . . . I don't think.) I also wrote a 30,000 word piece of what we'd now call fan fiction, combining two of my interests, the work of Edgar Rice Burroughs and secret agents. That's right, I called it TARZAN: THE MAN FROM A.F.R.I.C.A. (Go ahead and groan. I did.) This one is also long lost. After those long days of reading paperbacks and comic books, watching TV, and scribbling furiously in spiral notebooks with a fountain pen, every night I listened to an hour or so of a radio show that ran every night on KRLD 1080 AM from 11:30 at night until 5:00 in the morning. It was called "Music 'Til Dawn" and was a nationally syndicated show sponsored by American Airlines. It featured easy listening music, which I already liked even though I was 13 years old. What can I tell you, I was a weird kid. But I think mostly it came from growing up around small-market mixed-format AM radio, so I listened to and liked just about every kind of music. I really liked the theme song from "Music 'Til Dawn", which I think was played by Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops Orchestra. But I don't know the title of it, and I've never run across anybody else who even remembers the blasted show. Figuring that the entire knowledge of the universe can be found in the blogosphere, I thought I'd ask here. Do any of you (those of a certain age) remember ever hearing American Airlines' "Music 'Til Dawn"? Did I hallucinate it? And if it was real, does anyone recall the name of the theme song? I've searched the Internet for this info with no luck. I'd love to hear the song again nearly fifty years later. UPDATE: Thanks to Todd Mason for sending me the link to the clip below. I had thought about "That's All", but for some reason that seemed wrong to me. Nice to know that my first instinct was right after all.
I said yesterday that I wasn't hitting on all cylinders, and I was right. I start each day by going over what I did the day before, and I had to do a lot more work than usual on yesterday's pages. But once I took a sledgehammer and a power saw to them, they turned out okay, I think. Today was one of those days when real life kept rearing its ugly head, but I wound up getting 17 pages done. I've been working on this book for exactly a week and have just under a fourth of it done. I'm pretty satisfied with that pace. Although if real life would cooperate for a change and it went a little faster, I'd be just fine with that, too.
It's been a while since I've read one of these trade
paperbacks reprinting a story arc from Ed Brubaker's great noir series
CRIMINAL. LAWLESS is the second volume, and the title is not only a good
description of the protagonist, it's also his name. Tracy Lawless is a young
man gone bad who had to choose between being sent to prison or joining the
army. It was an easy decision for him, and for a while he found a home for
himself in the military before he got in trouble there, too, and wound up in a
Now Tracy's younger brother Ricky, who also drifted into a
life of crime, is dead, and Tracy breaks out of prison and returns home to find
out who killed him and settle the score. In order to do that, he has to assume
a fake identity and infiltrate the crew of professional thieves Ricky used to
run with. His quest is complicated because one of those thieves is a beautiful
woman who was in love with his brother . . .
Of course that's just one of the dangerous complications,
which comes as no surprise to those of us who are fans of hardboiled, noirish
crime fiction. LAWLESS may be a graphic novel, but it's written and plotted
like a prose novel that could have been published by Gold Medal or Dell or Lion
Books. Brubaker writes great dialogue, and the artwork by Sean Phillips goes
perfectly with it. From its violent, enigmatic beginning to its downbeat
ending, LAWLESS makes for compelling reading. I have several more of these
CRIMINAL collections, and I have a hunch I'll be dipping into them soon.
I took yesterday off, which as it turns out may have been a slight mistake because I really had to struggle to get back into it today and never did feel like I was hitting on all cylinders. However, I wound up with 16 pages for the day, so I can't really complain about that. The honeymoon is definitely over on this book, though. Well, if it was easy they wouldn't call it "work", would they?
Mentioning Brad Johnson in last week's post about the movie CROSSFIRE TRAIL reminded me of this short-lived Western series in which he played the title character. Created by Texas screenwriter Bill Witliff, who did the script for LONESOME DOVE as well as writing movies such as HONEYSUCKLE ROSE and BARBAROSA, it's the story of Ned Blessing, who was both outlaw and lawman in his long, adventurous life and narrates the story in each episode from a jail cell where he's waiting to be hanged. Evidently the character first appeared in a TV movie in 1992 called NED BLESSING: THE TRUE STORY OF MY LIFE, in which he was played by Daniel Baldwin. The TV series, which starred Brad Johnson as Ned Blessing and appeared the next year, was apparently a reboot of the storyline and covered some of the same ground. I don't recall ever seeing the TV movie version, but we watched every episode of the regular series and enjoyed it a great deal. It was an offbeat Western filled with colorful characters, including a deputy named Sticks Packwood who was played by the great character actor Tim Scott. Unfortunately, the series only ran for five episodes before being cancelled. The good news is that the five episodes, plus a sixth one that never aired, are all available on DVD. I may have to hunt 'em up and watch them again.
Here's the thing about these Bourne movies. We watched the first three and I guess I liked them okay because I kept watching them, but I couldn't tell you anything about the plots except in the vaguest terms: "Uh, this guy ran around a lot and people kept trying to kill him." Well, when we watched the fourth and newest one, THE BOURNE LEGACY, I remembered a little more about the first three. "Oh, yeah, there's a sinister government conspiracy trying to cover up a failed super-soldier program. And a guy runs around a lot while people keep trying to kill him." That's right. Except for the fact that it's Jeremy Renner playing a new character named Aaron Cross instead of Matt Damon playing Jason Bourne, it's the SAME EXACT MOVIE. Don't get me wrong. THE BOURNE LEGACY is well done and fairly entertaining, and I actually like Jeremy Renner as much or maybe even more than Matt Damon, but a better plot sure would have helped it. And the seemingly endless motorcycle chase through the streets of Manila that serves as the climax is at least four times too long. It just goes on and on and then sort of stops, like the movie itself. Despite all that, if they make a fifth movie in the series, I'll probably watch it. Because by then I'll have forgotten almost everything about the first four.
The Western Fictioneers publishing program is really expanding these days. There are three new releases from the Western Fictioneers Library, WF's reprint imprint: LEAVING KANSAS, a Spur Award winner for Best Western Novel from the legendary Frank Roderus; JUDGE ON THE RUN, another fine action-packed traditional Western from Clay More (Keith Souter); and RANGER'S REVENGE by James J. Griffin, one of the best chroniclers of Texas Ranger yarns in the business. I've read all three of these, and they're well worth your time. Also available are THE PEACEMAKERS VOLUME 2 and VOLUME 3, excellent collections of more stories that either won or were finalists for the Peacemaker Award for Best Short Story. You can't go wrong with any of these.
I felt like I was running out of gas a little today, but I still had a pretty productive day with 17 pages. Don't know if I'll work tomorrow or take the day off. Probably have to wait and see how I feel in the morning.
Fine cover by Lawrence Sterne Stevens on this one, and behind it a fine group of authors: John D. MacDonald (twice; in addition to the lead story he also a short story under the house-name Peter Reed), Frederic Brown, Walt Sheldon, Alfred Coppel, Robert Moore Williams, and others. I really like most of the SF from this era and ought to read more of it.
I wrote 24 pages today, which made me feel pretty good about the way this one is going. Three days in and I have almost 12,000 words. Now, I know people who can write 12K words in one day, but that's beyond me. I'm happy with the pace, and more importantly, I think I'm doing pretty good work. I hope it continues.
Another action-packed Norman Saunders cover, and three Western novellas by dependably entertaining pulpsters. I've enjoyed everything I've ever read by D.B. Newton and Giles A. Lutz. Don't really know anything about Ray Townsend, but he turned out a lot of stories in the late Forties and early Fifties. THREE WESTERN NOVELS MAGAZINE ran for only seven issues, but it looks like there were some good stories in its pages.
Having started the current book just yesterday, I'm still in the honeymoon phase with it. 22 pages today, and I enjoyed the work and thought it went pretty well. I'm hoping this feeling will last through the weekend, at the very least.
A new interview with me has been posted on the Lowestoft Chronicle. This one focuses mostly on my Western writing, and you can read it here. Lowestoft editor Nicholas Litchfield always asks interesting questions and puts together a fine on-line magazine of fiction, poetry, and writing-related features. Be sure and check out the rest of the contents while you're over there.
This post first appeared in slightly different form on June 3, 2007. I'm a bit swamped and will be rerunning a few more posts, but I hope they're all old enough that they'll be new to most of you.
I first became aware of Jim Tully and his work a few years ago from reading Rusty Burke’s article“Robert E. Howard’s Bookshelf”,available on the REHupa website. Tully was one of Howard’s favorite authors. Along with Dashiell Hammett and Ernest Hemingway, he’s generally credited with being one of the founders of the hardboiled school of American literature. The difference is that Tully most often wrote non-fiction rather than fiction.
I’ve finally gotten around to reading one of his books. BEGGARS OF LIFE: A HOBO AUTOBIOGRAPHY is the story of Tully’s experiences as a “road kid” in the early Twentieth Century. The Hammett and Hemingway comparisons are apt. Tully writes in a terse, spare style that’s punctuated by occasional bursts of lyricism. He’s especially good at capturing characters in a few short sentences, and the moments of violence are handled very effectively. Since the hobo life is largely an outdoor one, Tully’s descriptions of nature also stand out, especially a sequence about riding on top of a train car during a spectacular storm. There are also plenty of wry observations about sex and politics and culture along the way.
My only complaint about BEGGARS OF LIFE is that it’s a little too long and occasionally repetitive. There are only so many times you want to read about Tully and his hobo friends getting onto or off of a train. But other than that, I think this is a truly fine, maybe even great, book. I highly recommend it to anybody who enjoys hardboiled writing. I believe it was reprinted fairly recently, although I read the original 1924 Albert & Charles Boni edition, obtained through Interlibrary Loan by the local library. Tully also wrote books about the circus and boxing, and I intend to read those, too.