Thursday, January 31, 2013

An Obscure Credit of Mine

You never know what you're going to find when you go poking around the Fictionmags Index. In 1979 I sold a story to a men's magazine called DAPPER, never having seen an actual issue and going strictly off their listing in Writer's Market. The acceptance came pretty quickly, as I recall, and was accompanied by a check for a hundred bucks or so, pretty good money for a story I wrote in a day or two. But they didn't send contributor copies and I never knew when or even if the story ever appeared. I checked the newsstands in Fort Worth for a while, hoping to come across it, but no luck and after a while I forgot about it.

But what do you know? The FMI has a listing for the October 1979 issue of DAPPER, and there's my story, "Test Drive", under the pseudonym I used for most of my men's magazine stories, Jay Morris. Not just a listing, either, but a cover scan, too, which you can see here. So after more than 32 years, at least I can see what the issue looks like. How about that? Just don't ask me what the story was about, because I don't remember. It was probably a crime story, but I can't even be sure of that.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Movies: ParaNorman

This one is DIARY OF A WIMPY KID: THE SIXTH SENSE. Just imagine that Greg is obsessed with horror movies and can talk to dead people, and he and Rowley have to battle zombies and break a 300-year-old witch's curse, all rendered in an animation style that seems to be intended to make everything as grotesque and unattractive as possible.

Yeah, I'm feeling a little curmudgeonly today. PARANORMAN is actually a fairly entertaining movie, but I didn't care for the animation and actually thought it might have been better as a live-action movie. The story is pretty interesting, though, and the voice actors (who include Anna Kendrick and John Goodman) do a good job. Despite my quibbles, it's worth watching, I think.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Tuesday's Overlooked TV: Clubhouse


Like last week's LOVE MONKEY, CLUBHOUSE was barely there, airing eleven episodes in 2004 and 2005. It was about a kid who gets to live out his dream of being a batboy for a major league baseball team. Christopher Lloyd was well-cast as the grumpy old manager, Dean Cain was an aging ballplayer, Mare Winningham was the kid's mother, and young British actor Jeremy Sumpter (who was later on another sports series, FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS) played the lead. You know I'm a sucker for baseball yarns, so I enjoyed this series.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Movies: Pitch Perfect

It's GLEE: THE COLLEGE YEARS.

I'm sorry. That's too easy, too snarky, and not entirely fair. But there are some definite similarities between the TV show GLEE and this movie about collegiate competitive a capella singing groups. And PITCH PERFECT never veers from the "group of spunky misfits come together to win it all, find romance, and learn some valuable life lessons" formula.

But it's got the really cute Anna Kendrick in it, and the equally cute Brittany Snow, and Rebel Wilson who's always funny and interesting. The movie is pretty inconsistent, with some good scenes and some that are just awful and unfunny, and the fact that it never quite comes together keeps it from being as good as it should have been. But it's certainly not terrible and I had a pretty good time watching it, overall.

One word of warning, though: if you're one of those people, like me, who wonders when it apparently became perfectly all right to show people barfing all over the screen, you might want to avoid this one, or at least look away during a couple of scenes.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Mobsters, December 1952


This is the first and possibly only issue of this pulp from the Thrilling Group, and it wouldn't surprise me if the contents came from stories submitted to some of the other pulps they published. It's an interesting-looking magazine, though, and has a pretty good line-up of authors. Kendall Foster Crossen was a prolific pulpster and paperbacker under various names, probably best known these days, if at all, as the author of the Milo March novels under the name M.E. Chaber, which is a fine hardboiled series about an insurance investigator. Crossen also wrote the Green Llama pulp stories. Bryce Walton, who wrote some well-received science fiction stories, is in this issue, as is Charles Boeckman under his Charles Beckman Jr. pseudonym. I've never seen a copy of this pulp and probably never will, but if I had one in my hands I wouldn't hesitate to read it.

UPDATE: It's been confirmed that there were three issues of this pulp.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Gunsmoke Western, January 1947


This isn't the short-lived but highly-regarded digest magazine GUNSMOKE, published in the Fifties by the same outfit that did MANHUNT, but rather the first issue of a pulp from Trojan Publications, publishers of SPICY WESTERN, SPEED WESTERN, and various other Western pulps. I have no idea how long it lasted, nor do I have any idea who these authors were: John R. Phillips, John Slater, Robert Flemings, Wallace Kayton, Luke Terry, and Joseph McKay. I'd be willing to bet that most, if not all, of them are pseudonyms, so there's no telling who the real authors are. But at least I've heard of the cover artist for this issue: George Rozen. And as always with Rozen, it's a pretty good cover.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Forgotten Books: And the Rain Came Down - S.A. Bailey



If I remember right, back in the dim, prehistoric days of 2008 when the Forgotten Books series started, one of the original reasons for it was to draw attention not only to older books but also to more recent ones that had slipped under the radar somehow and not gotten the attention they deserved.

S.A. Bailey's AND THE RAIN CAME DOWN is certainly such a book. Published by a small press in 2010, it's developed a devoted readership but ought to be more widely known. With luck I can do a little to remedy that situation, since it's a fine debut novel.

AND THE RAIN CAME DOWN is a private eye novel, and it starts with a classic private eye set-up. It was a wandering daughter job. Or rather, in this case, a wandering sister job, although the dynamic is very similar. Jebediah Shaw is an Iraq war veteran who has come back to his East Texas hometown of Athens, where he has a troubled marriage, drinking and drug problems, and a job tracking down bail jumpers for his best friend, who's a private investigator. Jeb doesn't have a license himself, but despite that he's hired by an old acquaintance from high school days who's a member of the richest family in the area. The client's little sister has disappeared, and he wants Jeb to find her and bring her home.

Naturally, nothing about the case turns out to be as straightforward as it appears to be at first. Like I said, this is classic private eye stuff, a structure going all the way back to Hammett and not really changed that much in the eighty or ninety years since. Despite all the twists and turns of the plot – and there are a lot of them – long-time readers of the genre probably won't be all that surprised by the various revelations.

What makes AND THE RAIN CAME DOWN really stand out is the voice through which it's filtered. I'm not a big fan of the angst-ridden, tormented protagonist/narrators that show up in a lot of current hardboiled and noir fiction. Bailey makes that character work in Jeb Shaw, though, and you can't help but root for him despite how messed up he is, probably because he provides a lot of dark but very funny, raw humor as well. And because he paints such a vivid picture of small-town and rural East Texas, which, if you're a fan of the TV series JUSTIFIED, will probably remind you a lot of Harlan County, Kentucky.

Now, when it comes to Texas there are East Texas guys and West Texas guys (as vast a denominational difference as that between Baptists and Methodists), and I'm much more of a West Texas guy. But East Texas writers seem to be great storytellers (Joe R. Lansdale his own self, anyone?), and you can add S.A. Bailey to that mix. I really enjoyed AND THE RAIN CAME DOWN, and if you're a fan of private eye novels or Texas novels or both, I give it a high recommendation.

By the way, the sequel, THE LINES WE CROSS, will be out soon if it's not already, and I'm looking forward to reading it, too.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Tuesday's Overlooked TV: Love Monkey

This series lasted only eight episodes back in 2006 so it's probably pretty much forgotten. We watched and enjoyed all eight episodes, though. Most shows that can be described as "quirky" don't work for me, but this one did. It was a comedy/drama about a music company executive, played by Tom Cavanagh (who always seemed to be in quirky shows) who was fired from his job and wound up at a small indie label where everybody else was, you guessed it, quirky, too. I thought it was a pretty good show, though, with a good cast that also included Judy Greer, who I really like, and some good music. It's not available on DVD, but the first episode can be found on YouTube.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Movies: Trouble With the Curve

I'm a sucker for baseball movies and I've been a Clint Eastwood fan for going on 50 years now, so it figures I'd like TROUBLE WITH THE CURVE, in which Clint plays an aging baseball scout whose eyesight is failing. Amy Adams is his estranged lawyer daughter. Justin Timberlake is a washed-up ballplayer who's trying to become a broadcaster. Clint has to find a good prospect to save his job and defeat the evil sabremetricians. A bunch of fine character actors such as John Goodman, Robert Patrick, Ed Lauter, and Bob Gunton are along for the ride. TROUBLE WITH THE CURVE is predictable and as manipulative as all get-out, but sometimes I just don't care about such things. I had a fine time watching it.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Astounding Science Fiction, October 1939


I have a confession to make: I've never read any of E.E. "Doc" Smith's Lensman novels. I've meant to for years now. I read his Skylark series (which this cover refers to, even though the story in this issue isn't a Skylark story) when I was in college and enjoyed the books. They were pretty dated even then, but I didn't care. I know the Lensman series is thought to be the inspiration for the Green Lantern Corps. So I still plan to get around to it. But so far, not yet . . .

Isn't that a great cover painting by Hubert Rogers, though? And in addition to the first part of Smith's serial "Gray Lensman", there are several short stories and a novelette by Malcolm Jameson, a science column by Willy Ley, the usual editorial by John W. Campbell, and assorted features. Looks like a good issue to me, even though I don't read much SF from that era anymore. (I don't read much SF, period, anymore, and I'm not sure why. That bothers me, since I grew up reading a lot of it.)

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Saturday Morning Western Pulp Revisited: Wild West Weekly, April 8, 1939



If the cover of this one looks familiar, it's because I featured it on the blog a few weeks ago. But Laurie Powers was kind enough to loan me the issue to read (thanks, Laurie!), so here are some more comments about it.

The cover by H.W. Scott is for the lead novelette, "Kid Wolf Blazes the Iron Trail" and actually illustrates an important point in the story. The Kid Wolf series, written by Paul S. Powers under the name Ward M. Stevens, is always fun. For those not familiar with him, Kid Wolf if a drifting Texan sometimes known as the Soldier of Misfortune, because he always sticks up for those who are down on their luck. In this case it's the settlers of Bonita City, who are victims of a land swindle. It's the old "where is the railroad going through?" plot, but Powers makes it fresh by coming up with a couple of new angles on it and also by featuring a truly despicable villain in gambler and swindler Dice Baldwin. Lots of gunplay in this one, and it's well-written and fast-paced. "Kid Wolf Blazes the Iron Trail" is a strong entry in the long-running series.

Ralph Yergen's "The Noose Swings Low" is billed as a short story, but it's long enough to be considered a novelette. It's also an excellent yarn about a range hog trying to squeeze out the nesters and the drifting cowboy who finds himself in the middle of the hostilities because his widowed sister is one of the nesters. Sure, it's an old plot, but Yergen, who was a prolific pulpster during the Thirties and Forties, handles it well and keeps things moving along at an entertaining pace from start to finish.

Ralph Thurman's novelette "Driftin' Busts a Feud" follows the same pattern by having a standard plot enlivened by good writing and a fast pace. Adventurous young cowboy Driftin' Shale returns to the brasada country in South Texas after several years away and finds that the two old cattlemen who were his mentors have declared war on each other. Naturally Driftin' has to wade in and sort things out. This story reads a little like it's part of a series, but it's not. Thurman, who sold a dozen or so Western stories to various pulps between 1935 and 1939, passed away before it could be published. His death is announced by WILD WEST WEEKLY's editor in the regular department "A Chat With the Range Boss". I read another of Thurman's stories not long ago and wasn't very impressed with it. I liked this one quite a bit, though.

C. William Harrison was a prolific, dependably entertaining pulp author. His story "Gun Plague in Purgatory" is another feud story and a series story as well, featuring Peaceful Perkins. I was never sure if Perkins is a deputy or just a cowpoke who helps out the sheriff on occasion, but he does a good job of untangling the plot in this one and Harrison spins an enjoyable yarn as well.

Despite the line "All Stories Complete" on the cover, that's not really true, because WILD WEST WEEKLY had a habit of running series of linked novelettes that could be cobbled together later into novels. Walker Tompkins was the master of this, and his "Firebrand Fights the Legion" falls into this category. It's at least the second installment about a young outlaw known as Firebrand who discovers that he was kidnapped from his real family and raised as the son of the criminal mastermind Red Hawk, who leads the outlaw band known as the Chihuahua Legion. It sort of works as a stand-alone story, but not really that well. However, Tompkins' smooth, action-packed prose is always worth reading as far as I'm concerned.

Overall this is an excellent issue of one of my favorite Western pulps, and I appreciate Laurie letting me read it. The scan accompanying this post is of the actual issue, including the brown paper pasted onto the spine by the previous owner, which extends to the back cover and the inside of both covers. Not a great thing to do for a pulp's collectible value, but it didn't stop me from being highly entertained by the contents.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Forgotten Books: The Farmer's Hotel - John O'Hara


(This post originally appeared on July 31, 2007.) 

A lot of authors have used the old plot of having a group of strangers thrown together by circumstances and then seeing what happens among them. John O’Hara does it in a short novel from 1951 called THE FARMERS HOTEL. Set in a small town in Pennsylvania, the story finds a rich couple from Philadelphia who are married (but not to each other), a trio of small-time entertainers (a couple of strippers and their piano player), and a sullen truck driver who drinks too much all forced by a blizzard to stop at the hotel of the title, which, as it happens, has just reopened under new ownership. The middle-aged hotel owner, the cook, the black bellman/bartender (who has an adventurous history involving World War I and gangsters), and the local doctor are also on hand.

As usual with O’Hara, there’s lots of dialogue, most of it very well-written. The story gets darker as it goes on, and the ending is downright bleak. I gather from what I’ve read that this isn’t regarded as one of O’Hara’s better novels; in fact, some critics at the time called it his worst. I haven’t read enough of his work to make any judgments of that sort. But I can say that I enjoyed THE FARMERS HOTEL quite a bit, and it only makes me want to read more of O’Hara’s books.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

James M. Cain Update


Integral works by James M. Cain, now available as ebooks

James M. Cain has been called one of the most important writers of American crime fiction. As one of the founding father of the hardboiled and noir genres, Cain’s influential novels inspired countless writers, filmmakers, and readers around the world.

MysteriousPress.com and Open Road Media are proud to announce the ebook release of twelve of Cain’s later works.

Similar to Cain’s earlier works, The Postman Always Rings Twice and Double Indemnity, these later stories are filled with greed, regret, lust and murder, and his characters are portrayed with the same complexity and desperation.

About the Books: The Moth is a sweeping tale of love, loss, and the pursuit of beauty during the Great Depression. The Magician’s Wife is about a love triangle that turns fatal when a life insurance policy holds the promise of financial freedom. Past All Dishonor is the story of a Confederate spy that risks his life to win the heart of a fallen woman.

Other ebooks include:

·      Sinful Woman
·      Root of His Evil
·      Galatea
·      Mignon
·      Jealous Woman
·      Rainbow’s End
·      The Institute
·      Cloud Nine
·      The Enchanted Isle

These ebooks, available for the first time digitally, now make it possible for American crime fiction fans to read the entire collection of the influential author’s work.

(I've read some of these, but not all, so I'll probably be picking up the others. All the details are here.)

Tier Zero - Henry Brown

Tommy Scarred Wolf thought he had smelled the powder for the last time ten years ago. Then somebody messed with his family.

With no government willing or able to help out, it's up to Tommy and his detective brother, Vince, to find Vince's kidnapped daughter halfway around the world. But rescuing her is going to take funding, firepower, and friends. Fortunately, Tommy knows some shooters just crazy enough to tag along--including some survivors from his last suicide mission: retired SEAL team commander Rocco Cavarra; former Delta Force operator Jake McCallum; and the unflappable sniper Leon Campbell.

On the ocean, in the jungle, and an urban purgatory, Tommy Scarred Wolf and his warrior brothers will face human traffickers, modern-day pirates, a typhoon, and an ultra-secret black ops team so dangerous even the CIA can’t touch them. There's something far more sinister than just "white slavery" going on here, and it's about to ram these men through a crucible which may never end...except in death.


Yesterday Henry Brown posted about the origins of this novel and some of the characters who star in it. Today I want to offer a few comments about it, the first and most important of which is that it's very, very good.

I thoroughly enjoyed the first book in this series, HELL AND GONE. As good as it was, TIER ZERO is better in every way. The characterizations are deeper, the plot has more twists, and hard as it may be to believe, it has even more of the gritty, well-written action scenes at which Brown excels. I thought I knew where the story was going, but it takes a nice hard turn about halfway through that powers it on to the end of the book.

And even though Tommy Scarred Wolf is the protagonist in this book, Rocco Cavarra is back in a strong supporting role. He's one of my favorite current characters and I fully expect we'll be seeing him again in future books.

So if you're a fan of novels that mix military action and international intrigue -- and if you like books that move along at a rapid pace and don't get bogged down in a lot of unnecessary padding (yes, I'm talking to you, 90% of contemporary thrillers), TIER ZERO gets a high recommendation from me. It's available in both print and e-book editions.


And don't forget to drop by Hank's blog to check out the promotion and giveaway he's doing to mark the launch of this book.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Counting Coup with Tommy Scarred Wolf: Guest Post by Henry Brown


COUNTING COUP WITH TOMMY SCARRED WOLF
by Henry (Hank) Brown

Who are your favorite Native American heroes of fiction and film?

If you needed a two-fisted, straight-shooting sidekick, Tonto or Chingachook would probably get the nod. Maybe Posey from The Dirty Dozen or Ben Yazzie from Windtalkers. But what about heroes with the clout to stand on their own, outside of anyone else’s shadow? What about heroes who cast a shadow which other men fall under? Off the top of my head, I would have to nominate Billy Jack, Thunderheart, and Louis L’Amour’s Hondo. (The title character of Geronimo: An American Legend, played by Wes Studi, is disqualified for being historic, not fictional. Besides, he's more of an anti-hero.)

I might have missed somebody, but you have to admit the list is short.

I'm pleased to announce the list may have recently grown by one with the release of Tier Zero. Tommy Scarred Wolf, a Special Forces Gulf War vet, takes over the spotlight in this men's adventure novel, leading a posse of 21st Century gunslingers in a running battle with human traffickers, pirates and a secret team of assassins.

Tommy first appeared in the paramilitary novel Hell and Gone. His genesis came about something like this:

In 2002 I was inspired to write an old-fashioned commando tale--sort of a throwback to the Alistair MacLean novels of WWII. The adventure took place in the Sudan. Since this was a clandestine mission, and the ethnic makeup of that country is mostly black or Arabic, the commando unit had to be composed of shooters who could blend in with the local population. A few black operators were recruited. A couple Hispanics. A Hawaiian. A Lebanese-American. And some veterans of Mediterranean descent--a Greek, an Italian and the Sicilian commanding officer: Dwight "Rocco" Cavarra.
I wasn't about to leave Native Americans unrepresented; not when they've volunteered to fight for the USA in such disproportionately huge numbers compared to any other demographic during every war fought since 1898.

I'd been a civilian for a while by 2002, but I felt a kinship with veterans I didn't share with most people. Me and other vets sort of gravitated toward each other, you could say. One of them I spent some time with was a Shawnee veteran of the 101st "Screaming Eagles."

For those who don't keep track of such things, be advised that the 101st Airborne Division ceased being Airborne in all but name after Vietnam--transforming to "Air Assault"--a glorified air mobile/heliborne formation. I had been a paratrooper in the 82nd ("All-Americans"-- the only true airborne division left in the US Army), and never tired of reminding him that both of us might have had the "Airborne" tab above our unit patches, but only mine meant anything.

Yeah, I was a jerk. And he was a really good sport about all my teasing. Anyway, one time I mentioned a souvenir I got from one of the prisoners my platoon captured. I still kept it with me, all those years later, even though none of my family or friends could understand or appreciate its significance to me. The epiphany came when he pointed out that the souvenir was actually a coup trophy.

With an interest in history that continues to this day, I had read enough about the "Indian" Wars to understand the concept of counting coup. But I had never made the connection between that and my souvenir-collecting habit from my infantry days. I grew obsessed with the matter for a time, and pumped him for information. So far as I know the Shawnee were never in the practice of counting coup, yet he seemed to be very knowledgeable on the subject. Tommy Scarred Wolf was conceived during this epiphany.

Tommy’s parents failed to pass down a connection to his warrior heritage. He desperately craved that connection as a child and young man. Unlike his brother, Vince, he clung to his dream and pushed himself to become a fighting man of distinction. He also adopted customs of red men from generations long past--counting coup in particular. No, he doesn't scalp enemy soldiers. He does pretty much what I did--taking enemy knives, boots, unit patches, etc.

It's probably a horrible clichĂ© to say something like this, but as the first draft of Hell and Gone was written, Tommy Scarred Wolf took on a life of his own. He and another character stole the show: bringing smoke, taking names, and out-John-Wayne-ing pretty much every other bad mamma-jamma involved in the mission. Unlike the other character, Tommy survived.

It was years later before Hell and Gone finally got published. Then, almost from the start, readers began to ask me about a sequel.

Huh?

A sequel hadn't even occurred to me. If it had, I probably wouldn't have killed off so many characters. I certainly wouldn't have painted myself into a corner, plot-wise, as I did.

I didn't take the sequel suggestions seriously, at first. But the seed was planted.

A South African Facebook chum who was an SOF (Special Operations Forces) vet, and involved as a PMC (private military contractor) in the sorts of things I wrote about, bought the paperback edition of Hell and Gone. Don't ask me how he found the time to read it. Of course I was curious what he thought of it, but the only thing he ever said was, "You should write a story about pirate hunting."

The seed was watered.

Other motivations manifested, and I also saw the genre enjoy resurgence, made possible by the e-book revolution and the explosive growth of indie fiction. I made note of what fans of the genre liked and wanted; what was important to them and what wasn't. My level of expertise in marketing and networking grew from Blind Bumbling Boob to Novice New-wave Nebbish. Over the same period of time, an idea grew.

When I was finally ready to put Tier Zero on paper (er, hard drive, I mean), there was no doubt in my mind that Tommy Scarred Wolf would be at center stage this time. And my confidence in him was justified. He took the bull by the horns and proceeded to break its friggin' neck.

In the case of both Hell and Gone and Tier Zero, the kind of adventure I wanted to read was nowhere to be found...so I wrote it myself. The same can be said for the type of hero I long to see kicking the bad guys where it hurts. Time will tell whether or not Tommy Scarred Wolf joins the short list of iconic Native American heroes in popular culture. I think he's long overdue.

If you're new to the Men's Adventure Blog Tour, Visit Hank's Two-Fisted Blog to find the schedule, the prizes and the ways to win!

(My review of TIER ZERO will coming up tomorrow. -- James)

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Tuesday's Overlooked TV: The John Larroquette Show



Like THE SLAP MAXWELL STORY, which I wrote about a while back, THE JOHN LARROQUETTE SHOW had some pretty dark moments for a sitcom. Larroquette, fresh off his long stint on NIGHT COURT, played John Hemingway, a recovering alcoholic who becomes the manager of a bus station in St. Louis. The other characters included Hemingway's assistant, the owner of the lunch counter, the janitor, and a hooker who worked out of the station and became involved in a romance with Hemingway. The show's philosophy could be summed up by the sign from an amusement part ride that Hemingway stuck up on his office wall: "This is a Dark Ride".

Well, yeah, but it was also pretty funny, although the humor was mixed in with some pretty bleak moments. We watched it regularly and enjoyed it. Now, in looking it up on IMDB, I see that my memory has betrayed me yet again: I thought it ran for only two seasons, but it actually lasted for four seasons. The first one is regarded as the best, because each year the network executives forced the show's creators to tone down the grittiness and soften the characters even more. I'd agree with that assessment, although we watched it all the way through and still enjoyed it. But that first year it was a sitcom the likes of which are seldom seen, and certainly not these days. (The only one to come close is Matthew Perry's GO ON, which is wildly inconsistent but has its moments.) I don't think THE JOHN LARROQUETTE SHOW is available on DVD, but some of the episodes are posted on YouTube.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Now Available: Deadlock (A Judge Earl Stark Western)

"Deadlock", a 7000-word short story featuring Judge Earl Stark, is now available as an e-book on both Amazon and Barnes & Noble at the low price of 99 cents. I wrote this story several years ago for the anthology GUNS OF THE WEST, but I figure there are readers out there who never saw it there. It's a pretty good yarn about Stark presiding over a murder trial where the jury is, shall we say, less than cooperative. Check it out!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Argosy, June 5, 1937


A little late getting this posted this morning, but here's another of my favorite covers, from an issue of ARGOSY that I read about ten years ago. And a fine issue it is, too, with the cover story by H. Bedford-Jones, a novelette by the great Theodore Roscoe, a short story by Frank Richardson Pierce, and serial installments from Frederick Faust ("The Smoking Land" as by George Challis), Lester Dent ("Hocus-Pocus"), Lawrence Blochman, and Martin McCall, who may have been E. Hoffmann Price. ARGOSY is one of my favorite pulps -- although trying to get all the installments of a serial can be maddening at times.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Texas Rangers, February 1948



I've probably read more issues of TEXAS RANGERS than any other pulp. Throw in all the Jim Hatfield novels that were reprinted in paperback during the Sixties and Seventies, and I may have read more novels about him than any other pulp character with the exception of Doc Savage. Jim Hatfield and TEXAS RANGERS have even influenced my writing career. It's safe to say that there wouldn't have been a Cody's Law series if the editor who was at Bantam at the time hadn't wanted a Texas Rangers series similar to the Lashtrow novels he'd edited earlier in his career at Leisure. But those Lashtrow novels by Roe Richmond were actually rewritten and expanded Jim Hatfield novels from TEXAS RANGERS.

There are still quite a few issues I haven't read, but I'd like to finish the whole series sooner or later. The one I've read most recently is from February 1948. It leads off with the Hatfield novel "Keep Off This Range". The vast Mace ranch in southwest Texas is under attack by the smaller ranches around it, as well as by the neighboring town of Mullen City. (There actually is a town in Texas called Mullin, but it doesn't have any connection with the one in this story. The real one is about halfway between Zephyr and Goldthwaite, which I know because my family comes from that general part of the country.) Anyway, the citizens of Mullen City think that Colonel Crile, owner of the Mace, is responsible for the mysterious disappearances of some of the townspeople. For his part, Crile feels so put upon by what's going on that he posts his range and warns everybody to keep off (hence the title). Hatfield is sent in to find out what's really going on, and as he often does, he works undercover to infiltrate the gang of outlaws that's really behind all the trouble.

The plot is pretty formulaic, but if you're a Hatfield fan like I am it's fun to watch the Lone Wolf go through his paces. I'm pretty sure this was written by Tom Curry. For one thing, it has a proxy hero, cowboy Corky Ellsworth, whose adventures take up the opening couple of chapters before Hatfield is even introduced. Almost every Curry story contains that element. The rest of the novel is structured like Curry's work, too, with Hatfield working his way into the gang, uncovering the motivation for the plot, finally revealing his true identity, and uniting the two feuding factions to smash the real villains. In places the writing strikes me as a little different from Curry's usual style, but that might indicate a more heavy-handed editing job than usual. Overall, "Keep Off This Range" is a very typical Hatfield yarn, entertaining (to me at least) but nothing really memorable.

Next up is an entry in the long-running Long Sam Littlejohn series by Lee Bond. Long Sam is an outlaw, but a falsely accused one who always winds up fighting on the side of good. In every story he's almost caught by Deputy U.S. Marshal Joe Fry, a derby-wearing lawman who pursues Long Sam with the dogged determination of an Inspector Javert or Lt. Gerard, even though you'd think that eventually he'd realize Long Sam is one of the good guys. In "Long Sam's Singing Six-Guns", the outlaw and his nemesis wind up involved with a beautiful young woman who's evidently the leader of a vicious outlaw gang. I enjoy this series quite a bit, although it's wise not to read too many of them too close together.

Harold F. Cruickshank had a long and prolific career as a pulp author, turning out mostly Westerns and war stories from the mid-Twenties to the mid-Fifties. He specialized in wild animal yarns and also wrote a series called the Pioneer Folk that ran in RANGE RIDERS. That series centered on a young married couple, Dal and Mary Baldwin, and was a fairly realistic depiction of the hardships ordinary settlers faced in the Old West. His story in this issue of TEXAS RANGERS, "Deadman's Trail", is a non-series tale about a Ranger searching for a prospector who's been kidnapped by a band of renegade Yaquis. I've never cared for Cruickshank's writing and didn't particularly like this story, but considering his lengthy career plenty of readers must have enjoyed his work.

Another long-running back-up series in TEXAS RANGERS concerns the adventures of Doc Swap, a Gabby Hayes-like character whose main interest in life is, you guessed it, making trades and trying to get the best deal. These were written by Ben Frank, a decent author who put together some fairly complicated plots. The Doc Swap stories are humorous Westerns, but they usually have some darker elements, such as the murder of a harness shop owner in this one, "Doc Swap's Watch Chain Wallop". While the series isn't a favorite of mine, I've found that the stories range from fair to pretty good. This is one of the pretty good ones.

The issue wraps up with William O'Sullivan's "No Skeletons Wanted". It's a good short story about the mysterious goings-on in a small town and the café owner with some secrets of his own who figures it all out. The Fictionmags Index says that O'Sullivan is probably a house-name. I have no idea if that's right, or if it is, who wrote this one. But I liked it anyway.

Overall, I'd say this is a slightly below-average issue of TEXAS RANGERS, fairly entertaining and worth reading but there were certainly plenty of better issues. They can't all be great, though.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Forgotten Books: Pandora's Box - Jack Pine

It's a set-up right out of a Gold Medal novel: A beautiful, amoral young wife. A brutal older husband. A strapping young hunting guide, greedy and not as smart as he thinks he is. A fortune in loot dating back to the Civil War. Classic stuff.

But PANDORA'S BOX isn't a Gold Medal by Gil Brewer or Charles Williams. It's not even a Beacon or a Midwood by Orrie Hitt. Instead it was written by someone using the pseudonym Jack Pine and published by Pendulum Books, a small Atlanta-based publisher in the late Sixties that specialized in sleaze novels. And if any book ever deserved the label "hardboiled sleaze", it's PANDORA'S BOX.

The Pandora in question is Pandora Lockwood, a beautiful redhead who seduces hunting guide Mike Dawson into helping her and her husband Nick recover a treasure buried in a collapsed mine shaft in the Idaho mountains. The plan is that once they have the loot, Dawson will kill Nick Lockwood and he and Pandora will share the money. That's just the beginning of the plot, though. A beautiful underage girl just out of reform school also figures in, as do a couple of hapless flunkies recruited to help dig out the treasure. Before you know it, everybody is scheming to kill everybody else and wind up in sole possession of the money, but before they can do that, they all have to have sex with each other, too.

This is a somewhat awkward amalgamation of noir novel and pornography, and the frustrating thing is that there's a pretty good novella buried among the exceedingly crude and graphic sex scenes. Handled differently, this could have been a Gold Medal, and a decent one, too, because "Jack Pine" could write. There are clever lines throughout, some groan-inducing puns reminiscent of the Western series Edge by George G. Gilman (Terry Harknett), and a surprising amount of black humor interspersed with all the bleak nihilism. Plus a twist ending that's not really surprising but is still effective.

I used to know who Jack Pine really was. I believe his name was Sherman Smith, or something like that. I can't find anything about him on the Internet now. But he wrote more than a dozen novels for Pendulum Books, all of them evidently with crime plots. Any recommendation I give to PANDORA'S BOX would have to be a qualified one – it certainly won't be to everybody's taste – but if I ever run across another novel by Jack Pine, I won't hesitate to pick it up.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Task Force Desperate - Peter Nealen

Alone, Outnumbered, Outgunned.

Jeff Stone and his team of Praetorian Security contractors are marking time on counter-piracy duty aboard a freighter in the Gulf of Aden when the boredom ends abruptly. A major US base on the Horn of Africa is overrun in a well-coordinated terrorist attack, and those base personnel who survive are taken hostage. With the world economy tanked, and most of the Western militaries dangerously thinned, the Praetorian operators find themselves to be the hostages’ only hope of rescue.

The mission wasn’t going to be simple, or easy. But as events in East Africa accelerate, and outside players start to show their hand, the Praetorian shooters start to realize just what a desperate gamble they are embarked upon, and what this particular job is going to cost…


This near-future thriller is a prime example of the new wave of excellent military adventure novels coming out these days, most of them independently published. It's also a debut novel from a very promising writer. I'm especially impressed by the way Nealen set himself the difficult job of writing TASK FORCE DESPERATE in first person, from the point of view of Jeff Stone. It's really not easy to write a large cast book with a lot going on in the plot and make it work when you have to stick with one narrator. Nealen succeeds admirably in that. This is a well-written, literate thriller, and I really enjoyed it. Recommended for any and all action fans, and available in both print and e-book editions.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: Safety Not Guaranteed



SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED is just the sort of movie this series of blog posts was made for. I'd never heard of it until the science fiction and fantasy website io9 included it on the list of the best SF and fantasy movies of 2012. So I checked it out and think it's an excellent film.

The story concerns a magazine journalist and a couple of interns investigating an oddball guy who claims to have invented a time machine and advertises for a companion to go back in time with him. "Provide your own weapons", the ad says. "Safety not guaranteed." So in order to get the story, the female intern answers the ad.

Well, you can probably guess most of what happens from there, up to and including the ending. But the journey to get there is very entertaining. This is one of those rare comedy/dramas that actually works for me, with some very funny moments and some very touching ones. It's well written and well acted. Most of the cast I'd never heard of, with the exceptions of Jake Johnson, who's great on the TV series NEW GIRL and very good here as the journalist, and Kristen Bell in a very small but pivotal part late in the movie.

I enjoyed SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED, so it gets a strong recommendation from me.

Monday, January 07, 2013

Movies: The Amazing Spider-Man

This is a well-made, perfectly fine film, but what's the damn point in remaking a movie that's only ten years old? Does Hollywood think the public's attention span is that short? Well, actually, they may have a point about that . . .

So, taken for what it is, THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN has its good points and its not-so-good. As usual with comic book movies, it takes characters and plot points from years of continuity and crams them together in an arbitrary fashion to come up with a story. Movies like this always turn me into Comic Book Guy from THE SIMPSONS, as I sit there mentally grousing about this change and that change and that other thing they got totally wrong.

However, this new version gets some things right that the 2002 movie got wrong, primarily giving Spidey web-shooters instead of making his web-spinning a natural ability. A lot of the shots are very Ditko-esque, enough so that I think it had to be deliberate. They get the feeling of the early issues right part of the time, anyway.

Why, though, do you take somebody like Emma Stone, who would have made an excellent Mary Jane Watson, and cast her as Gwen Stacy instead? And I would have liked to see a nod to the other Marvel movies, as well. I mean, Spidey met the Fantastic Four in the very first issue of his own title, after making his debut in AMAZING FANTASY #15. He's always been part of the Marvel Universe. Why not acknowledge that?

Sequels are clearly intended. If they get made, I'm sure I'll watch them, since I found enough to like in this one to keep me interested. What I'd really like to see, though, is a comic book movie that stays faithful to its source material.

Edge of Black - J.T. Ellison


I don't read a lot of current thrillers, but one author who has become a favorite is J.T. Ellison. EDGE OF BLACK is her second novel to feature forensic pathologist Dr. Samantha Owens, who also appeared in Ellison's Nashville-set police procedural series starring Detective Taylor Jackson.

In this one Sam has relocated to Washington D.C. and become a professor instead of a medical examiner, but that doesn't stop her from getting involved in the investigation of an apparent act of biological terrorism that leaves three random victims dead. Ah, but are they really random? It comes as no great surprise that they're not.

Ellison does a fine job of gradually uncovering the different layers of the plot. I really enjoy books structured like that. She's also very good at creating likable protagonists, and Sam Owens certainly falls into that category. Her romantic interest, former Army Ranger Xander Whitfield, is a good character, too. Yeah, he's a little idealized, but not annoyingly so, probably because the romance angle is played down enough to make this novel, for the most part, a combination of police procedural and anti-terrorism thriller.

Mostly, though, it's well written, smartly paced, and highly entertaining. If you're a fan of contemporary thrillers, you should check out J.T. Ellison's work, and EDGE OF BLACK would be a good place to start since it's out now. Even though it's part of a series, it works just fine as a stand-alone.

Sunday, January 06, 2013

Movies: Premium Rush

This is a pretty good little action thriller about a bike messenger (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) in New York City who winds up trying to deliver an envelope that somebody is willing to kill to recover. The plot is pretty predictable, even with a number of flashbacks, but the execution is top-notch. Lots of well-staged action scenes, a little humor, and an entertaining, fast-paced hour and a half. I liked it.

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Adventure, September 1947



The glory days of the pulp magazine ADVENTURE are considered to be the Teens and the Twenties, and it was still a force to be reckoned with during the Thirties. But it was bought by Popular Publications and by the late Forties was thought to be just a shadow of what it once was. And that may well be true. But here's the thing: it was still a pretty darned entertaining pulp. Case in point, the September 1947 issue, which I read recently.

First of all, that's a fine cover by Rafael DeSoto. Jungle? Check. Stalwart, hairy-chested hero? Check. Sinister native fetish? Check. Blazing gun? Check. Big-ass snake? You betcha! Even if it doesn't go with any of the stories in the issue, it's a heck of a cover.

The issue's contents start off with the novella "According to His Lights" by William Chamberlain. I had read several of Chamberlain's YA war novels, but this was the first pulp yarn of his that I'd read, at least as far as I remember. This one opens with a couple of officers visiting Corregidor after the war, then flashes back to the days in the Thirties when they were young lieutenants stationed there and their clashes with a harsh and uncompromising commanding officer. I had a pretty good idea what was going to happen in this one, but I like Chamberlain's no-frills style and the story has an undeniable air of authenticity about it, probably because in addition to being a pulpster he was also a career soldier and retired as a brigadier general in the Air Force in 1946 to concentrate on his writing career. I'll definitely be on the lookout for more of Chamberlain's work.

John Scott Douglas was a prolific pulp author from the Twenties to the Fifties. His short story "Deep-Water Decision" is about a couple of highly competitive deep sea divers, each of whom is willing to endanger his own life to show up the other one. It's an okay story, if not particularly memorable.

Fred Gipson is best known as the author of the novels OLD YELLER and SAVAGE SAM, but before that he wrote quite a few Western stories for the pulps. "Hell and Holy Water" is a humorous story about a couple of mischievous boys, a big sister's romance with a bronc rider, blackmail, and a runaway team of horses. Pretty good stuff that does a fine job of capturing rural Texas.

"Eskimo No Cry" by Howard Stephenson is set in post-war Alaska, but that's all I got out of it because it's written in the form of a report from some bureaucrat and it's so dry I gave up after a few pages.

C.P. Donnel, Jr.'s "Ashes to Ashes" is a short-short about an incredibly lucky bartender and the unlikely source of that luck. It's amusing, but I'm not sure what it's doing in ADVENTURE. It strikes me more as something that should have appeared in one of the slicks.

"Escape to El Dorado" by Allison W. Bunkley is billed as a "Fact Story", and it reminds me of the sort of yarn that would show up more often a few years later when ADVENTURE became more of a general interest men's magazine with a lot of non-fiction in it. Ostensibly it's about a new search by helicopter for Colonel H.P. Fawcett, the British explorer who disappeared in the Mato Grosso in 1925. That's really just an excuse for a recap of Fawcett's expedition and disappearance and the subsequent sightings and theories about what happened to him. It's pretty interesting stuff. I believe there was a new book about Fawcett and his disappearance written just a few years ago, so some people are still trying to figure out what happened to him.

Next up is a serial installment from a novel by James Norman, HE WHO RIDES THE TIGER. Didn't read this one, either, since it's part four of five.

"The Man Who Didn't Like Texas" by Clifton Adams is an oilfield story about an epic fistfight and feud between a massive roughneck and an icy-nerved nitroglycerin expert who "shoots" the wells with nitro to bring them in. Adams is a fine Western writer who knew his way around the oil patch, and this is an excellent story with plenty of action and humor, told in first-person narrative resembling that of Robert E. Howard's Breckinridge Elkins without being quite as slapstick.

"A Pig for Muana Loa" by Carl J. Kunz (a writer unknown to me – and to the Fictionmags Index) is a pretty good story about the clash of cultures and a volcanic eruption in Hawaii.

Earl Sutterfield is another mystery. I can't find anything about him. But his story "When Your Number's Up", about a crew working on a railroad tunnel through a mountain, is okay. Lots of detail about tunnel work mixed in with a decent story that's marred by an ending I didn't care for.

Eustace Cockrell had a fairly long career as a pulp writer, but based on "1:54 and a Fraction", I'm not sure I see how. It's a trifle about harness racing that never caught my interest.

Plus assorted columns and departments.

So overall, this is a good but certainly not great issue of ADVENTURE. It has that fine cover going for it, plus three pretty good stories (by Chamberlain, Gipson, and Adams). The rest of the contents are pretty much forgettable. The biggest drawback is that several of the stories seem more like they were intended for the slick magazine market, rather than being pulp yarns, and they just weren't, well, adventurous enough. Still, it's an issue worth reading, even if you just pick and choose the good stuff.

Saturday, January 05, 2013

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Exciting Western, March 1952



This is another issue I own and read recently, and the cover scan is from my copy. I don't know who the artist is, but the scene is a little too dimly lit for my taste. It has a nice sense of menace and impending violence to it, though, so it's not really a bad cover. I don't know what caused that streak of light across the center of the scan; it's not on the actual pulp. But I noticed that the scan of this issue on the Fictionmags Index has the same streak. Odd.

Anyway, on to the contents. The March 1952 issue of EXCITING WESTERN starts off with the novella "Brand for a Maverick" by one of my favorite Western pulp authors, Walker A. Tompkins. It's the story of a range feud as well as something of a Romeo and Juliet yarn, since the only surviving members of the feuding clans are Speck Seevy of the CV spread and Beth Adams of the Circle A, and Beth happens to be in love with Speck even though he doesn't return the feeling. There's also the local range hog, Jake Grote (with a name like that he might as well be sporting a neon sign that says VILLAIN), assorted colorful supporting characters, and a little orphan girl who's the catalyst for the action. This story is a bit more humorous and lightweight than most of Tompkins' work (hence the use of the word "rollicking" to describe it on the cover), and with the romance angle it probably would have been more at home in RANCH ROMANCES rather than EXCITING WESTERN, but that really doesn't matter. I found it very fast-moving and entertaining. Tompkins comes in for some criticism from some quarters, mostly because of his early serials that ran in WILD WEST WEEKLY which were, admittedly, pretty over the top. But by the Forties I think he had matured into a fine Western writer and I've always enjoyed his novels and stories.

Tom Roan's "Fight for Your Mate" is a wildlife short story, told entirely, and with no dialogue, naturally, from the point of view of a bull moose. I read quite a few novels and stories like this when I was a kid, but I really don't like them now and I didn't finish this one, despite the fact that I usually enjoy Tom Roan's work.

Next up is the novelette "Riders of the Haunted Hills" by A. Leslie, really Alexander Leslie Scott, who also wrote as Bradford Scott and under the house-name Jackson Cole created the Jim Hatfield series in TEXAS RANGERS and wrote more than 50 of the Hatfield novels in that pulp. His yarn in this issue of EXCITING WESTERN is about a new sheriff trying to find out who bushwhacked and killed the previous sheriff, and anybody who has read much of Scott's work will know immediately where this one is going. Scott had a tendency to use the same half-dozen or so plots over and over. That said, his sometimes flowery prose is under fairly good control in "Riders of the Haunted Hills" and he keeps the plot perking along nicely. I've read a lot of Scott's stories and have gotten a great deal of enjoyment from his work, but I'll admit he's probably best read in small doses.

"Gambler on the Range" is a noirish short-short from a writer whose work is new to me, Nick Selsky. In fact, this is the only story of his listed in the Fictionmags Index. It's fairly well-written but suffers from being extremely predictable.

T.C. McClary's "Shorthorn Outlaw" is a mild little tale about an aging badman and the widow who wants him to reform, settle down, and get married. Not much action, but it's well-written and had a nice elegiac feel to it. This is another one that would have been right at home in RANCH ROMANCES.

And finally we come to a story that actually did appear first in RANCH ROMANCES, a reprint of a long novella by L.P. Holmes called "Skyline Trail" that was originally published in the Second May 1944 number of that venerable pulp. It's a range war story, with cattleman Jim Coryell trying to save his Castle spread from the sinister plotting of a rival rancher. There's a beautiful girl with a crippled brother, a lynch mob, several shootouts, treachery, and romance (of course). There's not a thing in this one I didn't see coming, but that didn't keep me from getting caught up in it and really flipping the pages. I haven't read much if anything by L.P. Holmes, but based on this story I need to remedy that. He wrote really well, in a style that reminds me of Ernest Haycox and Luke Short. Predictable or not, this is the best story in the issue.

So EXCITING WESTERN for May 1952 turns out to be a mixed bag, with one excellent story, a couple of good ones, and the other yarns minor and forgettable. Still well worth reading as far as I'm concerned, and I'm glad I did.

Friday, January 04, 2013

Forgotten Books: The Prisoners - Matthew S. Hart (James Reasoner and Bill Crider)

I'm probably fudging a little by writing about a book I had a hand in, but the Cody's Law series is long out of print and probably won't ever be reprinted, so it's pretty much forgotten. Besides, Bill mentioned this book recently on an email group we both belong to, and I thought some of you might be interested in it. Warning: this post is as much memoir as it is about the book and has some behind-the-scenes stuff in it, so if that doesn't appeal to you, feel free to move on. My feelings won't be hurt, I promise.

The Cody's Law series came about because the Western editor at Bantam at the time had worked at Leisure earlier in his career and edited a series of Westerns by Roe Richmond about a Texas Ranger named Lashtrow. Some of you have probably read some of those books. Richmond must have been a believer in the freelancer's adage, "Never throw anything away." Because those Lashtrow novels were actually rewrites and expansions of novels that Richmond wrote for the pulp magazine TEXAS RANGERS during the Fifties, featuring Ranger Jim Hatfield. For the paperback version, Hatfield became "Lash" Lashtrow, but the supporting characters all remained the same.

The Bantam editor approached an editor at Book Creations Inc., the book packaging company I was doing a lot of work for at the time, and asked BCI to come up with a Texas Ranger series similar to the Lashtrow books. The editor at BCI was also an author and planned to write the first book in the series, and he asked me if I would continue it from there. I agreed, of course, since back then I never turned down work (I still don't turn it down very often, and only when I just don't have time to do anything else). As it turned out, the editor at BCI was too busy to write the book, so after doing an outline and a couple of chapters he gave it to me and told me to use whatever I wanted out of it. By this time he had mentioned the Roe Richmond/Lashtrow connection to me and asked me if I was familiar with those books. I just said that I was and didn't mention that I was very familiar with the original versions, having read dozens of issues of TEXAS RANGERS including some of Richmond's Jim Hatfield novels. I think I was the only one in this particular loop aware of the true origin of the Lashtrow books.

So I kept the outline, rewrote the first couple of chapters the editor had done, renamed the hero Sam Cody (I don't recall what his name was in the first draft), and finished the book, going one step further back than the Lashtrow books and basing my version very much on the Jim Hatfield character from TEXAS RANGERS, while still trying to make him a distinctive character in his own right, of course. Sam Cody was never a Jim Hatfield clone . . . but I tried to get that same sort of Western pulp hero spirit into the books.

So time went by and I wrote the first six books in the series, all published under the pseudonym Matthew S. Hart. I was doing a lot of other work for BCI, and the editor got worried that the workload might be too much for me. He wanted to bring in another author to write a couple of the books. I wasn't real crazy about this idea. I felt like I could do it all (a feeling that still gets me in trouble from time to time). But since BCI owned the series I couldn't really object.

The editor also wanted me to team up with yet another author on the other books, with me providing outlines and the other author doing first drafts, which I would then edit and polish. The person he had in mind was Bill Crider, who had written a couple of books for BCI.

Now, as it happens, Bill is my oldest friend in the writing business and a fine author, so I was pretty pleased with this arrangement. The first book we did together was #8 in the series, EAGLE PASS.

Which brings us to THE PRISONERS.

I've mentioned many times how Livia helps me with the plots on some of my books. She wrote a half-page outline for the book that became THE PRISONERS, which I developed into a much more detailed outline (the editors at BCI loved detailed outlines). The plot involves Sam Cody having to fetch in a prisoner from an isolated mansion on the West Texas plains during a freak blizzard and ice storm. The family that lives in the mansion is . . . unusual, to say the least, and gives Cody a lot of trouble as he tries to complete his assignment, which is also complicated by the captured outlaw. So after a while I started telling people that THE PRISONERS was the world's only vampire/lesbian/cannibal/incest Western. Which as far as I know it is. I believe that description is a little exaggerated, though, since I don't remember them being vampires. But I suppose they could have been.

What's odd is that despite all those bizarre elements, I think THE PRISONERS turned out to be a decent traditional Western with a stalwart hero, a villainous outlaw, and plenty of ridin' and shootin'. I'm not sure how we pulled all that together, but I believe we did.

On a related note, some years ago I was at a convention where Elmer Kelton was the Guest of Honor, and I wound up with the job of doing the GOH interview with him. During the interview I pointed out the rather strange juxtaposition of having the man widely regarded as the world's greatest living Western writer (and maybe the greatest Western writer of all time) sharing the podium with the co-author of the world's only vampire/lesbian/cannibal/incest Western. But hey, that's the writing business for you, isn't it? You never know who you're going to wind up sitting next to.

Copies of THE PRISONERS, and all the other Cody's Law books, can be found pretty cheaply on the Internet. I wrote #1 – 6, and Bill and I collaborated on #8, 9, 11, and 12. I think they're all solid, entertaining Westerns.

One more side note: the contract was supposed to run through #14, but after #12 had been turned in, Bantam told BCI they were cancelling the series. In fact, they not only cancelled Cody's Law in mid-contract, they cancelled the other three series I was working on for BCI at the same time, effectively putting me out of work, a condition that didn't last long, thank goodness. But for years after that whenever Livia and I got bad news, we would groan and say, "Oh, no! We've been Bantamed!"