Following in a long tradition -- established last year -- here's the wrap-up on the reading and writing I did in 2005.I read 156 books this year, up a little from last year. Here are my Top Ten, in alphabetical order by author:THE POET, Michael ConnellyTHE MAN WITH THE IRON-ON BADGE, Lee GoldbergCASSIDY'S GIRL, David GoodisTHE COMING OF CONAN THE CIMMERIAN, Robert E. HowardHOME IS THE SAILOR, Day KeeneBLONDE LIGHTNING, Terrill Lee LankfordTHE COMPLETE WESTERN STORIES OF ELMORE LEONARD, Elmore LeonardCREEPERS, David MorrellBIG CITY GIRL, Charles WilliamsHILL GIRL, Charles WilliamsYou really can't go wrong with any of these books.Over on the writing front, I wrote 5524 pages of fiction, my all-time high. This translates into 14 books, and a little over 1.1 million words, the first time I've hit the old pulpster level of a million words a year. Also, 13 of my books were published in 2005 under six different names, including my own. This isn't a record. I had 14 books published in 1998. I sometimes hesitate to talk about how much I've written because some people always think that if something is written fast, it can't be any good. My theory is that all writing is words on paper, and if the right words are on the paper, it doesn't really matter how they got there. But the good thing is that, love 'em or hate 'em, the books are out there and people can judge them for themselves.So it was a good year professionally. My best wishes to all of you for a fine 2006.
2 fatalities, 116 houses destroyed, dozens more damaged . . . This is almost certainly the biggest disaster ever to hit Cross Plains. Here's the address for the relief fund:City of Cross Plains Fire Relief Fundc/o Texas Heritage BankPO Box 699Cross Plains, TX 76443There are also going to be some fund-raisers coming up among the community of Robert E. Howard fans. More details as they become available.
As some of you may know, Texas has been plagued recently by wildfires caused by high winds and an extended drought. Yesterday one of these fires broke out northwest of Cross Plains, where the Robert E. Howard House and Museum is located. This fire swept on into town and caused widespread destruction and possibly some fatalities. Cross Plains has been evacuated, and it's estimated that at least 50 buildings have been destroyed or damaged. You can read the Abilene Reporter-News story about the fire here. (You may have to register to read it.)The Howard House is apparently safe. According to my friend Rusty Burke, who has many contacts in the Cross Plains area, some of the grass around the house burned and the fence was damaged, but the house itself is all right. The houses directly across the street were destroyed, though.I've been to Cross Plains for the annual Howard Days celebration in June for the past ten or eleven years. It's a wonderful little town, and I hate to hear it described as looking like something out of a war zone. If anyone is interested in helping the residents recover from this disaster, donations can be sent to the Red Cross at:Brown County Chapter American Red Cross 600 E. Adams Brownwood, Texas 76801Be sure to note on your check that it's for their Cross Plains fund.If I hear anything else, I'll post updates here.
Today marks 29 years since I sold my first short story and became a professional writer. I wrote about that a year ago, so I won’t repeat the story now, but you can go here to check it out if you’re interested. After another year in the business, all I can add is to quote the old Grateful Dead line: “What a long, strange trip it’s been.”
I’ve finished reading the first of the books I got for Christmas, David Morrell’s recent suspense novel CREEPERS. This one drew a lot of comments from various bloggers when it first came out, but I’m just now getting around to it. It’s the story of a small group of people – urban explorers, they call themselves, but they’re also known as creepers – who break into and explore abandoned buildings. In this case, the building is an old hotel in Asbury Park, New Jersey, that’s about to be demolished. And it won’t come as any surprise to the reader that the hotel contains a lot of secrets and more than a few Very Bad Things.
Morrell writes great action scenes, and the pace seldom slows down for very long in this book. There are also several major plot twists along the way. Some critics felt that Morrell threw in too many reversals of the plot, but I thought they were all fairly clued and logical and liked them just fine. But then, I’m a plot guy, and there’s a lot of plot in this book, especially considering that the action takes place over the course of only six hours.This is only the second novel by Morrell that I’ve read, the other being LONG LOST, which, coincidentally, Ed Gorman mentioned yesterday on his blog. I liked LONG LOST, though I had one problem with the plot in it. CREEPERS, though, is excellent all around, and one of the best books I’ve read this year. (But will it make my Top Ten? I honestly don’t know because I haven’t figured it out yet, but we’ll all find out in a few days if things go as planned.)
So, the kids got you up early and the presents have all been opened, what do you do now? Well, if you have a copy of the anthology WORLDS OF WEIRD (the cover of the 1965 edition is to the left; there's a reprint from 1978 that has Margaret Brundage's famous "batwoman" painting on the cover), you can read Seabury Quinn's story "Roads", which is probably my favorite Christmas short story of all time. Quinn is best known for a long series of occult thrillers published in WEIRD TALES starring the insufferable little Frenchman Jules de Grandin. (The de Grandin stories are often maligned these days, but not by me. I like 'em.) Anyway, "Roads" is a classic and probably Quinn's best work. My friend Kurt Shoemaker recommended it to me several years ago, and I've read it several times since. It's the sort of Christmas story that will put a big grin on your face.We had our family get-together yesterday at my in-laws' house, with lots of family and food and presents, and a fine time was had by all. Today Livia and the girls and I had Christmas morning at home, and of course I have to report on all the good loot I got: an excellent assortment of clothes, a couple of CDs (old Tijuana Brass albums I first bought on vinyl forty years ago -- these will be great music to write by), DVDs of the Roy Rogers TV show and a couple of old movies, David Morrell's recent novel CREEPERS, Gerard Jones's book about the early days of the comic book industry MEN OF TOMORROW, a stack of graphic novels, a pedometer (I've always wanted one of these, and I'm walking for exercise a lot these days), a Far Side wall calender (I keep track of how many pages I've written on these), and a Get Fuzzy desk calender (which will sit right beside my computer -- many's the day my work is jump-started by laughing at Bucky and Satchell's antics).And of course, another year with Livia, Shayna, and Joanna, the best present of all.Merry Christmas to all of you, and very best wishes for the New Year.
On his blog today, Lee Goldberg brought up the subject of when he knew he wanted to be a writer and discussed some of his early efforts along those lines. I think I knew when the other kids in the neighborhood just wanted to run around and pretend to shoot each other, and I wanted to discuss beforehand who all our characters were and why we were going to run around and pretend to shoot each other. They usually weren't very receptive to that idea, but I had the best collection of toy guns so they tolerated me.My first story was written when I was in fifth grade, which would have made me eleven years old. It was a sword-and-sandal epic inspired by all those badly-dubbed Italian movies featuring Hercules and various Hercules-like characters that I was watching on the local TV station at the time. My second was a Western.("Showdown in the Canyon" or some such . . . Lord, the more things change, etc.) I wrote all through junior high and high school -- a series of Hardy Boys ripoffs starring me and my friends, science fiction, secret agent yarns, Tarzan and Lone Ranger stories (early fan-fiction, I guess you'd call it). But I never actually tried to sell anything until I was in college, never succeeded until after I was married and working in an appliance repair shop.Apologies to those who have already heard all this. I think I've rambled on this subject before.By the way, I finished my 185th novel today.
Here's the cover for the second TALES FROM DEADWOOD novel, THE GAMBLERS, which will be on sale May 2, 2006. I know that's a long time from now, so you may want to mark your calenders.
Back when I was a kid, one of the comic books I read occasionally was a DC science-fiction title called MYSTERY IN SPACE, which featured the adventures of Adam Strange, an archeologist from Earth who was transported by the mysterious Zeta beam to the far-off planet Rann. Naturally, just like you and I would do if we were to find ourselves sent halfway across the galaxy to another planet, Adam donned a jet pack, picked up a ray-gun, romanced a hot babe who happened to be the daughter of Rann's resident mad scientist, and eventually became the protector of the entire planet. I enjoyed the Adam Strange series. The art was excellent, and while I don't remember much about the stories, I'm sure they were okay.Last year, DC resurrected the character for a mini-series that's been reprinted recently in trade paperback. The concept is a good one: the Zeta beam periodically transports Adam Strange back to Earth, and during one of these normally brief returns to his home planet, Adam gets stuck here when the Zeta beam never reappears. Having left a wife and daughter behind on Rann, this naturally upsets Adam, whose spirits deteriorate until he becomes sort of a bum. Then Superman arrives to give him the bad news that Rann and the rest of its solar system has been destroyed when its sun went nova. But if this is true, why are two alien bounty hunters suddenly after Adam, dropping hints along the way that maybe Rann wasn't really destroyed.This is the beginning of a planet-hopping plot that finds Adam battling his way across the galaxy to find out the truth about what happened to Rann, which also happens to tie into a little thing called the fate of the entire universe. The script by Andy Diggle is top-notch, and the art by Pascal Ferry, while a little modern for my tastes, is also pretty good most of the time. If you like galaxy-spanning, world-wrecking space opera -- and I certainly do -- this is wonderful stuff. Highly recommended.
9 degrees on our back porch this morning, and there's a nice thick layer of ice on everything. We never got any snow, just sleet. But at least the sun is shining, which helps a little. I know this is nothing compared to the winter weather that some of you get on a regular basis, but it's uncommonly cold for this part of Texas. This is probably only the fourth or fifth time in my life that I've seen the temperature below 10 degrees. On the other hand, I made it through the summer of 1980, when the high temperature was over 100 for 42 straight days, without much trouble. So I guess it's just a matter of what you're used to.With nothing else to do but sit around and shiver, I wrote all day yesterday and got 25 pages done. That's good, because I'm still a little behind for the month. I need some more good days like that.
It's 16 degrees on our back porch, a fine sleet is falling, and although the roads aren't bad now, they'll be impassable by mid-afternoon, I'd say. Although there are some things I like about this season (you don't have to mow the grass as often and there aren't many bugs around), I am really not a winter person. Enough of this. I'm ready for spring.
Before there was 100 BULLETS, there was STRAY BULLETS.I know, that sounds a little off grammatically, doesn’t it? But it makes sense if you know that I’m talking about two different comic book series. I just read the trade paperback reprinting the first four issues of STRAY BULLETS, written and illustrated by David Lapham, who also self-published them under the El Capitan imprint. These stories of low-level crime, graphic violence, loneliness, and loss were first published several years before Brian Azzarello’s epic underworld series 100 BULLETS made its debut. STRAY BULLETS doesn’t have the scope of Azzarello’s work, at least not in these issues, but it has its own mythic qualities. The stories, mostly set in Baltimore, jump back and forth in time and revolve around a group of unlucky losers whose lives are touched in one way or another by a mysterious, unseen criminal known as Harry. The dialogue has a lot of street-level realism, and the black-and-white art, reminiscent of Frank Miller’s work on SIN CITY but not nearly as stark and stylized, is very effective. This is fine stuff. Now I have to go out and find the rest of the books in the series.
I belong to a Yahoo group called Vintage Mysteries that reads and discusses an older mystery novel each month. The book of the month for December is THE CASE OF THE VELVET CLAWS, the first Perry Mason novel by Erle Stanley Gardner, originally published in 1933. Well, I'm a huge Gardner fan, so I had to reread this one, which I last read probably 35 years ago. I wasn't sure if I owned a copy or not, but I went to my shelves and found this edition, which is the 23rd printing of the Pocket Books paperback, from November 1946. I finished reading it tonight and found it very entertaining.The first thing you notice about this book is how many of the familiar elements from the series are in place right from the start. The relationships between Perry Mason, Della Street, and Paul Drake are all there, and although they evolved a little over the years, they're immediately recognizable. The story opens, as so many do, with Della ushering a new client into Perry's office. From there the complicated plot is rapid-fire all the way, and since this is the Thirties, Mason actually throws a punch or two. There are a few things lacking: no big courtroom scene at the end, and no Hamilton Burger or Lt. Tragg. But that's okay. I think the Mason series peaks in the late Thirties/early Forties period, but the earlier ones are pretty darned good, too.The cover of my copy is a little beat-up, but I like the art anyway. There's no signature and no credit inside the book, so I don't know who painted it. But I think it's interesting that the artist made Mason look a little like Humphrey Bogart. Bogart would have made a fine Perry Mason in the movies. I can easily see him delivering some of Mason's trademark lines about fighting for his clients. But of course, like most other mystery fans from my generation, when I read one of Gardner's books I can't help but see Raymond Burr and the other actors from the TV series. That image is locked in my head forever.
I've now watched both episodes of ROCKY JONES, SPACE RANGER that are on that DVD I bought the other day. They don't hold up extremely well, but they're fairly entertaining. The special effects are very crude, but that's to be expected. I've always felt that Richard Crane, who plays Rocky, looks more like a villain than a hero, but he works all right here. One bit of sort of interesting trivia is that the Space Patrol, for which Rocky works, has no jurisdiction on Earth. Rocky and his sidekick have to wait until criminals leave Earth's atmosphere before they can arrest them. That makes perfect sense, but for some reason I never even considered it before. I would think that jurisdictional disputes might make for some interesting episodes.I did a little research and found out that this series was produced for only one year. 39 episodes are all that exist. I would have thought it ran longer than that, because I watched it in syndicated reruns on Saturday mornings for a long time when I was a kid.
When I got up this morning I fully intended to work today, but Livia needed more paper for the printer (we go through a lot of paper), and I'm a firm believer in the theory that every so often you've got to just say the heck with the work and not worry about it, so off we went and wound up going from store to store doing Christmas shopping. The crowds aren't bad yet, so it was fairly enjoyable. And it was nice not working. I obsessed over the pages a little too much in November. I still plan to work hard this month, but I'm going to try not to worry about it as much.I picked up a few more dollar DVDs while we were out: one with four episodes of the TV series ONE STEP BEYOND, which I don't remember at all; one with four episodes of THE RIFLEMAN, which I certainly do remember, since we watched it every week in my house when I was a kid; a double feature of DICK TRACY MEETS GRUESOME and NANCY DREW, REPORTER, an odd but appealing pairing; and something called SPACE ADVENTURES, which is actually two episodes of FLASH GORDON and two episodes of ROCKY JONES, SPACE RANGER. I probably already have the FLASH GORDON episodes on some other cheap DVD, but I got this one anyway for the ROCKY JONES episodes. I remember watching this series on Saturday mornings back in the early Sixties. I know, they probably won't hold up very well, but I want to see them anyway. You never know when something will be better than you remember, even though it's usually the other way around.
I know, I know. I'm the last person in the world to see the final (supposedly) Star Wars movie. I thought it had a few nice moments and was better than the second one in this trilogy. I've never managed to stay awake all the way through that one. Overall, though, I wasn't impressed. In fact, I think this entire second trilogy has a fatal flaw: Lucas is asking us to watch three long, glacially paced, confusingly plotted movies so he can tell us a story to which we already know the ending before he ever starts. I think I would have been a lot more enthusiastic about the movies if he had gone forward instead of backward. But that's just me.
Yesterday I finished the book I've been working on, so today I gathered up all the research books and took them back to the various libraries. I own a lot of books I use for research on different subjects, but when I'm writing something like a historical novel I always have a big stack of books from the libraries, too.But the point is that while I was out, I stopped by Half Price Books and found a few decent items in their vintage paperback section, where the pickings have been pretty slim lately. I bought:THE NAKED NIGHT, a World War II novel by Dan Brennan, published by Lion Books in 1954. I'm not familiar with this author, but I like WWII novels and I also tend to pick up Lion Books when I find them.WIDOWS WON'T WAIT, by Dolores Hitchens, published by Dell, no date but I'd say late Fifties, a reprint of a mystery novel originally published in hardback under the title NETS TO CATCH THE WIND. Appears to be about the widow of a murdered cop trying to catch the killer. I've never read anything by Hitchens, but I've heard good things about her work.THE BIG HEAT, by William P. McGivern, a Pocket Books reprint probably from the early Sixties. The bag is so taped up I haven't tried to get the book out yet. I have several of McGivern's mystery novels, but not this one until now.THE SPAWN OF THE DEATH MACHINE, by Ted White, a science-fiction novel published by Paperback Library in 1968, with a Jeff Jones cover.ASTOUNDING SCIENCE FICTION, digest magazine from September 1959, with stories by Murray Leinster, Algis Budrys, and Christopher Anvil, among others. Cover by Kelly Freas.WHY SO DEAD?, by "Ellery Queen", Popular Library, 1966, and WHAT'S IN THE DARK, by "Ellery Queen", Popular Library, 1968 -- two of the books in the paperback series featuring eyepatch-wearing cop Tim Corrigan. I've never read any of these and don't remember right off-hand who actually wrote them. Paul Fairman? Talmage Powell? All I remember is that they weren't written by Fred Dannay and Manfred B. Lee, the originators of the Queen name.Not a great haul, by any means, but not bad, especially considering that most of these were a dollar and none of them were over two bucks.
Warning: Nostalgia is about to be wallowed in.I have a soft spot in my heart for the Cisco Kid TV series, for one specific reason. An episode of it was the first thing I ever watched on a color TV that belonged to my family when I was a kid. When I was growing up, we probably had more TV sets than most households in the early Sixties, because my father was a TV repairman and we always had several portables around in addition to the big console in the living room. But they were all black-and-white sets. There weren't enough shows being broadcast in color to make buying a color set worthwhile, according to my dad. But some relatives of ours had one, and I always wanted to go visit them so that I could sit in front of the set and stare in rapt fascination at BONANZA or THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF DISNEY in color. It was the most amazing thing I had ever seen.Eventually I made a big enough pest of myself that my dad agreed to get a color TV. The day he was supposed to pick it up, I raced up the street from where the school bus dropped us off, but he wasn't there, and neither was the new TV. I had to wait another couple of hours before he finally got home with it, lugged it in (those old TVs were big and heavy), and set it up. But then it was ready, and when we turned it on, there were Cisco and Pancho, riding the range and chasing bad guys. It was a truly thrilling moment. Later in the evening we watched an episode of DANIEL BOONE, which was new at the time (the Cisco Kid was an old rerun even then), but Cisco was first.All of which is my long-winded way of saying that I picked up a dollar DVD in Wal-Mart recently that has six episodes of THE CISCO KID on it, and tonight I watched one of them, the first time I've seen an episode of this series in years, if not decades. Judging by this one, it was a dollar well-spent. The plot was fairly complex, Duncan Renaldo and Leo Carrillo Jr. were very good as Cisco and Pancho, and the color photography, much of it shot on the familiar locations where so many TV and movie westerns were filmed, was quite good for the time period. The accents and some of the jokes were a little heavy-handed and might almost be considered racist today, but I didn't find them mean-spirited at all. Leo Carrillo Jr. was just plain funny as Pancho, but he was also a competent sidekick for Cisco, not buffoonish in his actions. I've always liked sidekicks who can handle themselves in a fistfight or shootout, and you get the sense that Pancho is really a pretty tough guy.I'm looking forward to watching the other episodes on this DVD, to see if they hold up as well as the first one.
If I was a little ambivalent toward the last Hardcase Crime book I read, Stephen King’s THE COLORADO KID, that’s not the case at all with GRIFTER’S GAME by Lawrence Block. I own a copy of the original Gold Medal edition of this novel, which was published in 1961 under the title MONA, after the beautiful young woman that the narrator, con man Joe Marlin, meets and falls for in Atlantic City while his life is already being complicated by a stolen suitcase with a fortune in uncut heroin in it. And from there, as they say, things get worse.
Though this was one of the first novels published under Block’s name, he was already a seasoned pro by 1961, having written quite a few soft-core porn novels (many of which were actually crime novels), mostly under the pseudonym Andrew Shaw. This experience shows in the writing, which is just as smooth as can be and carries the reader along quickly. Maybe the plot wasn’t quite as twisty as I expected, but it’s still compelling. And the ending is about as noirish as you’ll ever find. Dark stuff, but great.
As mentioned above, I own a copy of MONA, but I’ve never read it because it’s rather brittle and I didn’t want to damage it. This is one of the advantages of having Hardcase Crime around. Thanks to their reprint, I don’t have to take a chance with the original to enjoy this fine novel.
I confess, I like The Punisher. Yeah, I know, he’s a hokey, comic book ripoff of Mack Bolan, the Executioner, but I was a regular reader of THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN when the Punisher was introduced there, and I followed the character through his other appearances in the Marvel line and in his own series, which stopped and started a time or two and included a really nice run by Chuck Dixon and John Romita, Jr. After I stopped reading comics in the late Nineties, I lost touch with the character, though.
Now that I’ve started reading the trade paperback collections of more recent comics, one that I picked up was THE PUNISHER: BUSINESS AS USUAL, which collects six issues of a Punisher series from a couple of years ago. These stories were all written by Garth Ennis, author of the bizarre but great PREACHER series, and feature art by Steve Dillon, also from PREACHER, and Darick Robertson. The Punisher is something of a globe-trotter here, with his adventures taking him from South America to New York to Belfast, Ireland. Not surprisingly, considering that they’re written by Garth Ennis, the stories are full of over-the-top violence and groan-inducing goofiness. They also team him up with Wolverine from the X-Men, one of Marvel’s most popular characters. They’re pretty entertaining in their way, and if I run across more of these collections, I’ll probably read them.By the way, I haven’t seen either of the Punisher movies and don’t have any real desire to do so. I’m not sure the character would work anywhere except in the comics.
Well, I like the cover, which was painted by Glen Orbik . . .
Actually, there are several other things to like about this odd little book. One is the dedication, which reads: “With admiration , for DAN J. MARLOWE, author of The Name of the Game is Death: Hardest of the hardboiled.” Now, I happen to think that THE NAME OF THE GAME IS DEATH is possibly the best hardboiled novel ever written, so I’m glad to see King mention it in a book with a wide readership. Maybe some people who pick up this book because it was written by King will go on to become Dan J. Marlowe fans. Another thing I like about THE COLORADO KID is that it’s short and reads very fast, and in these days when I don’t have as much reading time as I once did, that’s an important consideration. The characters are affable and the setting is well-drawn. But that ending . . .In his afterword, King says that the book is about the nature of mystery in life, and that he thinks readers will either love it or hate it. I can see the first point, but the second doesn’t really apply to me. The mystery to me is whether I even like this book. I think I do, but I’m not sure. I don’t consider the time I spent reading it wasted, which has to count for something.
For those of you planning to go out tomorrow and participate in the biggest shopping day of the year, just a reminder that the first TALES FROM DEADWOOD novel is now available in finer bookstores and Wal-Marts everywhere. Just the thing for those readers on your Christmas list who enjoy extremely gritty historical fiction.Nothing like a little blatant self-promotion on a holiday, now is there?
I hope all of you had a nice Thanksgiving today. I worked on the current book, as planned, and had a pretty productive day. But I also found the time to watch part of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and some of the National Dog Show (a Thanksgiving tradition in the Reasoner household). Also ate a very good turkey dinner topped off by some excellent pumpkin cheesecake. Can't beat that.I'm reading Stephen King's Hardcase Crime novel, THE COLORADO KID. Should have a few comments tomorrow.
I've been a fan of the sword and sorcery genre ever since I picked up a copy of the Lancer edition of CONAN THE USURPER at Barber's Bookstore in downtown Fort Worth sometime in the mid-Sixties. Barber's, by the way, was a great bookstore that sprawled through several floors of an old building, with new books on the ground floor and used and rare books upstairs. The kind of bookstore you don't find anymore, in other words. Barber's has been closed for quite a while, and I believe all the inventory was sold to Larry McMurtry for his store in Archer City.But to get back to sword and sorcery, I've been reading the stuff for forty years now, and there's a fine e-zine devoted to it called Flashing Swords, edited by my friend Howard Jones. There are several issues on-line, each featuring sword and sorcery stories by both new and well-established writers in the genre. The website also has a section of very good articles about the genre and the authors who have written in it. Check it out and read some good stories.Happy Thanksgiving tomorrow to those of you who celebrate it. Other than turkey dinner and maybe some football watching, I expect it'll be a pretty normal work day for me. Sometimes I take holidays off from the writing and sometimes I don't. Since I'm trying to finish up the current book this weekend, this will be one of the years that I work on Thanksgiving.
I haven't posted a pulp cover in a while, so I thought I'd put this one up. It's also featured on the WesternPulps website this week. I like this one because instead of the clean-cut hero you usually find on Western pulps, this guy is one ugly, mean-looking son of a gun.I don't know if you can make it out in the scan or not, but just below the barrel of the gun in the character's left hand is some faint pencil scribbling that reads "BW Gardner". This pulp is from the collection of the late Barry Gardner, a good friend and an absolutely wonderful fellow who was the son of Bennie Gardner, who wrote extensively for the pulps as "Gunnison Steele". Before he passed away, Barry had collected several hundred pulps with his dad's stories in them, and I wound up with the collection. Bennie Gardner wrote some very good full-length pulp Western novels, but he was really the master of the Western short-short, packing action, a credible plot, and usually a twist ending into two or three pages. Well worth reading, if you're ever flipping through a Western pulp with a Gunnison Steele story in it.
I’ve never been one to have music playing when I write, but lately for some reason I find that I have a CD going more often than not. Most of the time I’ve been alternating between Dimitri Tiomkin’s score for RED RIVER, Max Steiner’s score for KING KONG, and that DRIVE TIME compilation CD I mentioned a while back, which includes music by Tiomkin again, Elmer Bernstein, Ennio Morricone, Aaron Copland, and a few others. I’ve discovered that I really like Copland’s music, enough so that I may look for some other CDs of his work. This CD closes with a rather odd pairing of songs, the theme from “Route 66” by Nelson Riddle and “Happy Trails” by Roy and Dale. “Route 66” is one of those series I wouldn’t mind sampling again. I watched it some when it was on the air originally, but I was fairly young and have a feeling a lot of the storylines went over my head. Really like the theme song, though.
Depending on my mood I have other CDs I play. Lots of Western music, some jazz and lounge stuff, Herb Alpert (both on his own and with the Tijuana Brass), Norah Jones and Diana Krall, a Greatest Hits of Steely Dan CD, and HISTORY: AMERICA’S GREATEST HITS. Now, I’ll admit that America was a pretty cheesy band, but their “A Horse With No Name” was a huge hit the second semester of my freshman year in college, at good old Southwest Texas State University in San Marcos (now known as Texas State University). The radio station we always listened to, KRMA ( “Radio Karma”, get it? Cool!) played “A Horse With No Name” what seemed like twenty-four hours a day. When my roommate and I weren’t listening to that, we were listening to Cheech & Chong’s LP, BIG BAMBU. It’s a wonder I have any brain cells left, not because of ingesting any illegal substances, which I actually didn’t, but a steady diet of Cheech & Chong and “A Horse With No Name” can’t be good for a person. The other vivid memories I have from that year are of watching The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and reading comic books and Doc Savage and Nick Carter paperbacks. Just don’t ask me about any of the classes I took. On the other hand, what better preparation could a person have for a life of writing paperback fiction?
As Cap'n Bob Napier rightly points out in one of the comments to the previous post, there are also openings in OWLHOOT, the Western apa, for anyone interested in producing a Western-related fanzine. We cover a broad range of topics, including Western fiction, movies, history, toys, comic books, TV shows, and music. As with PEAPS, the mailings make for wonderful reading, highly entertaining and often very informative. You can contact Cap'n Bob through his blog to get all the details. And you should be reading his blog anyway, as it's also entertaining.I'm in the midst of yet another week where all I'm doing is sitting and writing, and my reading time has been taken up mostly by editing and polishing another manuscript. Livia and I have also been working on a pitch for a possible new series, but we haven't really gotten it into shape yet. My brain is getting a little punchy from jumping from project to project so much. Still, it's not quite as bad as when I was working on an Adult Western and a biblical novel at the same time . . .
Yesterday was my day off this week, which meant that I went to three libraries, the post office, and I don't know how many stores. A hectic day to be sure.However, the mail brought one goodie: the current mailing of PEAPS, the Pulp Era Amateur Press Society. This is one of two apas I belong to, the other being OWLHOOT, the Western apa. For those of you unfamiliar with amateur press associations, the term refers to a group of people with a similar interest (in my case, currently pulps and Westerns, and I used to be in REHupa, the Robert E. Howard apa) who produce a fanzine consisting of essays, reviews, mailing comments, etc., every quarter or so and send off the appropriate number of copies to the official editor of that particular apa, who bundles them all together and sends out mailings consisting of one copy each of every member's contribution. The arrival of the PEAPS mailing is always a highlight for me. I'll read through it at least three or four times before it's time to put together something for the next mailing. I haven't had a chance to really dig into this one yet, but it looks to be loaded with lists and bibliographic information. Membership is limited, but there are some spots open at the moment. Anyone who might be interested in joining can drop me an email, and I'll put you in touch with the editor.I also read a good pulp story called "Twenty Grand is Jack", a private eye yarn by Eugene Cunningham that appeared in an obscure pulp called BLACK BAT DETECTIVE MYSTERIES, an issue of which was recently reprinted by Adventure House (the edition I read; I sure don't own the original). I wasn't aware that Cunningham had written any private eye stories until I read this one. I knew him strictly as a Western writer, and not one of my particular favorites, either. The detective in this story is a little off-beat. He's a retired general and former soldier of fortune who was mixed up in several revolutions in Central and South America, now the owner of his own private detective agency in San Francisco. I don't know if this was a series or just a one-shot. It certainly could have worked as a series. In this case, the hero investigates an upcoming prize fight that may or may not be fixed, which leads to all sorts of dramatic action, of course. I'm still not real fond of Cunningham's choppy style, but it works pretty well here, better than in his Westerns, in fact. I liked this one well enough that it's almost prompted me to give some of Cunningham's Westerns another try, although I don't have time to do that right now.I didn't make my page count goal today, but I'm still ahead of where I have to be for the month. Just not as far ahead as I was. I'll make it up, though.
I've talked here before about Will Eisner, specifically his work on the classic comic strip The Spirit. (Of course, calling The Spirit a comic strip really isn't accurate, but it's not exactly a comic book, either . . . but I'm getting sidetracked.)TO THE HEART OF THE STORM really does deserve the name "graphic novel". Told in flashbacks as a young recruit, an artist named Willie, rides a troop train in the early days of World War II, it's the story of Eisner's own family and his childhood and adolescence growing up as an artistically talented youngster in Brooklyn and the Bronx. One of the themes is the anti-Semitism that Eisner and his family encountered, but that's hardly the whole story. This book is filled with touches that are universal to childhood: being picked on by bullies, having to care for a younger sibling, dealing with parents, etc. It's great stuff, wonderfully written and drawn, and ultimately quite moving. I highly recommend it.
The reason for the scarcity of new posts on this blog in recent days is that I haven't really done anything this week except sit in front of the computer and pound the keyboard. And since I'm one of those dinosaurs who learned to type on an actual typewriter -- and a manual one, at that -- I really do pound the keyboard. This point was brought home to me when I did some cleaning up in my studio not long ago and found the five or six keyboards I had busted over the years and neglected to throw away. They're gone now.And I didn't have any books to talk about because I've been reading the same one all week, an incredibly long novel that I wound up hating. I stuck with it because there was some good stuff in it, and then the ending just wrecked it. It's my own fault. I've been burned before by the same author, in exactly the same way. I got some pulp reprints that I'd ordered in the mail today, so I may stick with them for a while.Tonight we watched the DVD of BATMAN BEGINS. I'm a noted curmudgeon and nit-picker when it comes to movies based on comic books, but I thought this one wasn't bad. The people who made it had their hearts in the right places. There were a few things I didn't like (over and above the godawful modern-day action movie editing style), but there were enough shots that looked really right to more than make up for the problems. I do wish, though, that they'd managed to work in the "Criminals are a cowardly, superstitious lot" line. It's just not a Batman origin story without it.
I think it's just shameful the way some people are talking about Lindsey Lohan's nipples just to increase the traffic on their blogs. You won't catch me talking about Lindsey Lohan's nipples on here, no, sir. Nor will I discuss Paris Hilton's nipples, Angelina Jolie's nipples, Reese Witherspoon's nipples, or, for the sake of diversity and equality, Antonio Banderas's nipples.So there.
Some of the first comics I ever remember reading were Westerns: THE LONE RANGER, ROY ROGERS, and GENE AUTRY. Not too long after that, an early favorite of mine was KID COLT, OUTLAW. (I wouldn't mind reading some of those again, to see how they hold up.) Over the years the popularity of Western comics has certainly come and gone, but they've never really gone away completely. In recent weeks two new Western series have debuted, both from DC.Actually, only one is completely new: LOVELESS, written by Brian Azzarello, author of the excellent, mythic crime series 100 BULLETS. LOVELESS shows a strong Spaghetti Western influence, and the plot -- former Confederate soldier comes home after the war to find his land taken over by Union soldiers and brutal carpetbaggers -- is very similar to the backstory of the long-running Slocum paperback series, as well as numerous other Western novels. It's hard to tell where the story will go from that setup, though, because things barely get underway in the first issue. As usual, Azzarello writes good dialogue, but like the TV series DEADWOOD, it's heavily laced with profanity.The other new series is actually a relaunch of an old series (and another favorite of mine), JONAH HEX. Bounty hunter Jonah Hex is also a former Confederate, a brutal man who carries as many emotional scars as he does physical ones. He starred in a long-running series of his own during the Seventies and early Eighties, and I liked most of the stories quite a bit. This new series treds pretty much the same ground, following Hex's life as a bounty hunter and gun-for-hire. Unlike LOVELESS, which is intended to be an on-going storyline, the scripts for the new JONAH HEX are self-contained and well-written by Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti.I've read the first issues of these new series and liked them both. In addition to the rough language in LOVELESS, both books are pretty bloody and violent, so they're not for the squeamish. The art on both series is excellent, by Marcelo Frusin on LOVELESS and Luke Ross on JONAH HEX. I plan to continue reading these comics, and I'd like to see them be successful because, well, they're Westerns, and there ought to always be Western comics in the world. In my world, anyway.Now, if anybody at Marvel wants me to write a relaunch of KID COLT, OUTLAW, I'd be more than happy to talk to them . . .
This is the other half of that Ace SF Double I was reading the other day, and like Lesser's RECRUIT FOR ANDROMEDA, this early novel by Robert Silverberg, writing as Calvin M. Knox, is pretty good. It's also a good example of taking a standard plot from one genre and transplanting it to another. In hardboiled mysteries, you've sometimes got the lone government agent out to smash the dope racket in a corrupt town. In THE PLOT AGAINST EARTH, you've got the lone Terran agent out to smash the hypnojewel racket in a corrupt galaxy. A little hokey, but Silverberg makes it work just fine and his prose is always a pleasure to read.I don't know if this story was first published in one of the SF digest magazines, but it certainly seems possible, especially given the fact that the book is dedicated to Robert A.W. Lowndes, one of the magazine editors who bought a lot of Silverberg's early fiction. I like the cover on the Ace edition, which is by Valigursky, because not only is it striking but it also depicts an actual scene from the book.
At times I've felt like the last author on the planet who didn't have his or her own domain name. Well, no more. Now you can go to www.jamesreasoner.com to read about the books I've written in the past, see the books that are currently out, order autographed books, etc. There's also plenty of information there about all of Livia's books. This is actually the same website we've had for a while, but it's newly updated. The best way to contact me is still through this blog, though.
I haven't posted much about the writing lately because there just hasn't been much to say. Yesterday was a bad day, the first one I've had in a while, and today wasn't much better until late afternoon, when I finally got up a head of steam and wound up with 25 pages for the day. I have things worked out so that I know how many pages per day I have to do in order to get everything in on time, and yesterday put me in a hole. Today's output, though, shaved off a little of the deficit, and I hope to be back on track by the time the weekend is over.A couple of weeks ago I turned down the chance to pitch for a TV tie-in novel. The series in question is one I've never watched, the advance was low, and while the deadline wasn't ridiculously short, it happened to fall when I have other books due, so I knew that even if I got the job (unlikely due to my lack of familiarity with the show), I could never deliver on time. Still, even with all that going against it, the decision to not even try for it gnawed at me for a few days. I'd really like to do more tie-in work, but this just wasn't the right job at the right time.I'm reading THE PLOT AGAINST EARTH, an early SF novel by Robert Silverberg writing as Calvin M. Knox, and hope to have a few things to say about it tomorrow.
Gideon Hawk is a dedicated and highly competent lawman until a personal tragedy starts him on the vengeance trail. Frustration with a corrupt justice system turns him into a full-fledged vigilante who deals with lawbreakers on their own level. It would be easy, based on that description of the plot, to dismiss this book as Mack Bolan in the Old West, but it’s actually much more than that. With his sure-handed prose, Peter Brandvold creates a fast-paced, action-packed novel that also has a great deal of emotional depth.It’s no coincidence that one of the characters in this novel is named DeRosso. At times in this bleak but compelling tale Brandvold almost seems to be channeling pulp and paperback author H.A. DeRosso, widely acclaimed as the master of Western noir. Brandvold has his own voice, though, influenced by comics, Spaghetti Westerns, and a strong grounding in traditional Western novels. His characters are sometimes bizarre but always well-drawn, so that even the most unsympathetic of them come across as human, and he writes great action scenes as well as having a heartbreakingly poignant touch with the quieter moments. This is a fine, fine book for readers who like their Westerns on the hardboiled side.
And here's the cover of the science-fiction digest mentioned in the previous post, with art by Malcolm Smith. Growing up, the only SF magazines I ever saw were ANALOG, AMAZING, and THE MAGAZINE OF FANTASY & SCIENCE FICTION. I never knew IMAGINATION and its companion magazine IMAGINATIVE TALES existed until Bill Crider told me about them. Since then I've been picking up issues on eBay every now and then, and I've enjoyed every one of them.
This short novel was originally published in the July 1953 issue of the science-fiction digest IMAGINATION, under the title “Voyage to Eternity”. It was reprinted six years later as half of Ace Double D-358 as RECRUIT FOR ANDROMEDA. By the way, I think the magazine title is much better than the book title.
The plot won’t contain many surprises for anybody who has read much science-fiction. Approximately every two years, a certain number of healthy young males between the ages of 21 and 26 are selected in a national lottery and drafted to serve in some top-secret project. Supposedly a system is in place to rotate these men back out of the service, but in reality they all disappear and none of them ever come back. This has led the public to dub the project the Nowhere Journey (which also would have made an okay title). Unknown to anyone in America, the Communist empire in Russia has a similar project going on. Lesser cuts back and forth between an American draftee and a Russian one, and you know they’ll wind up butting heads sooner or later. Bit by bit, the reader is let in on the secrets of the Nowhere Journey, and everything finally comes together in a slam-bang space battle.
I’ve been aware for a long time that Stephen Marlowe, the author of the Gold Medal series about hardboiled private eye Chester Drum, was really Milton Lesser and that he started off writing science-fiction. Only in recent years, though, have I actually started to read some of Lesser’s SF and found out just how much of it he really wrote. He consistently turned out smooth, entertaining prose no matter what the genre, and that’s the case in this novel. Interestingly, there’s a little story-within-the-story in this book that echoes some of Lesser’s Gold Medal work as Marlowe. Although dated and fairly predictable, RECRUIT FOR ANDROMEDA is worth reading.
The cover of the Ace edition is by Emsh.
I’ve read a lot of books by Donald E. Westlake over the years and have always preferred his more hardboiled novels to his comic capers (although those are pretty good, too). His series about the thief Parker, written under the pseudonym Richard Stark, is a high-water mark in the genre, and I like his novels about disgraced detective Mitch Tobin, written under the name Tucker Coe, almost as well.
361 is one of Westlake’s early hardboiled novels, published in 1962 and reprinted earlier this year as part of the great Hard Case Crime line. (It also happens to be the only Hard Case Crime reprint so far that I didn’t own in the original edition.) A few lines from the back cover copy sum up nicely what sort of book this is: “The men in the tan-and-cream Chrysler came with guns blazing. When Ray Kelly woke up in the hospital, it was a month later, he was missing an eye, and his father was dead. Then things started to get bad.”
That told me right away this was my kind of book, a real nose-buster of a novel, to use a line of cover copy from a different publisher. As it turns out, though, it’s more than a simple vengeance yarn, as Westlake springs a couple of decent plot twists that just make things worse for his protagonist/narrator Ray Kelly. The writing is terse throughout. Overall, an excellent book, and I’m glad the guys at Hard Case Crime brought it back into print.
I finished reading this trade paperback collection of the first story arc from Dark Horse's Conan comic book, written by Kurt Busiek with art by Cary Nord. Busiek is one of my favorite comics writers (his ASTRO CITY was a great series, as was UNTOLD TALES OF SPIDER-MAN) and he approached the task of writing Conan adaptations and pastiches the right way, by going back to the original stories as Robert E. Howard wrote them and by taking part in the various Howard groups on the Internet. The result is an excellent job in the sections of this volume that are adapted from Howard stories. The sections that are original stories by Busiek start off well, with Conan staying fairly true to the character as Howard established him. But near the end of this collection, the story takes a turn that seems so wrong to me, so un-Howardian, that I wasn't able to get past it. I realize that everybody has their own interpretation of these things, but I can't buy this one.As for the art, I remember reading Cary Nord's run on DAREDEVIL several years ago and liking it. Some of his Conan art is good, too, such as the cover for this trade paperback, but most of it is too blurry and vague for my taste, and the fact that it was colored directly from Nord's pencils and not inked first doesn't help matters. I think it was really crying out for the definition that a good inker could have given it.However, nobody pays me to write or draw comic books and likely never will, so take these opinions for what they're worth.
I went to the doctor today for a check-up on the place where he removed a pre-cancerous growth from my face during the summer. There was no sign of it coming back, so he pretty much gave me a clean bill of health (other than some ligament problems and a touch of arthritis in my left knee, which was the other reason I went to see him). That good medical report must have inspired me, because I came home and wrote all afternoon and had a very productive day.
With the current book almost finished and another one coming up that I hope to start this weekend, I took part of today off and went to the Fort Worth library to gather up research for the new one. Of course I found a few non-research books that I want to read, too. In what may come as a surprise to most of you, I didn't go to Half Price Books when I finished at the library. I was diligent and came home and worked instead, wrote a chapter that brought me that much closer to the end.I'm reading LONE STAR AND THE GOLDEN MESA, #33 in the Lone Star series of adult Westerns. As those of you who have read my zines in the Western apa OWLHOOT already know, I really like this series because the plots are usually pulpish and often outlandish and downright goofy, but always presented with a straight face. All of them were published under the house-name Wesley Ellis. I know who wrote many of the books in the series, but this is one where the author is unknown to me. It's pretty well-written and enjoyable so far.
Here's a nice action-packed Western pulp cover that I like, scan courtesy of Jim Griffin. Full-scale brawls like this are relatively rare on Western pulp covers. I also like the titles that the editors at Popular Publications came up. "Water Rights for Hell's Back-Yard" has that bizarre touch that so many of the stories in Popular's Western pulps possess.
What a stupid controversy. It's the Astros' ballpark. If they want the roof closed, it ought to be closed. I agree with Dan Patrick of ESPN, who was just saying that the Astros' owner ought to close the roof anyway, just before the first pitch is thrown. And play the theme from STAR WARS over the PA system while they're doing it.
I don’t think it’s available in stores yet, but today Livia and I received author’s copies of our new Civil War novel, CALL TO ARMS, published by Cumberland House, and it's a beautiful book, as usual. I'll try to get a scan of the cover posted tomorrow. This is the first book in The Palmetto Trilogy, which focuses on South Carolina’s role in the war. It’s also the first time my name has been on a book in almost two years, since my Western non-fiction volume, DRAW. Publishing the majority of my work under pseudonyms and house-names has never bothered me and still doesn’t, but I don’t mind admitting that seeing my name on a book is a very nice feeling.
The first book I ever read by Jack Williamson was GOLDEN BLOOD, a paperback reprint of a fantasy/adventure serial originally published in the pulp WEIRD TALES. (The edition I read, for those interested in such things, was the Lancer “Easy-Eye” Edition, with larger print and that odd, light green paper. I don’t know how many of those “Easy-Eye” volumes there were, but it seemed to be an experiment that came and went fairly quickly.)
But back to Jack Williamson. After reading and enjoying GOLDEN BLOOD some forty years ago, I read all of his novels about the Legion of Space, some of the best space opera ever written. At least, that was my opinion at the time, and I’m not sure there’s a better judge of such things than a wide-eyed junior high kid like I was. In fact, I read just about all of Williamson’s work I could get my hands on and liked most of it. I even met him and enjoyed several conversations with him at a science-fiction convention more than twenty years ago. Over the years I’ve continued to read his books and have gone back to reread some of the old stuff in the beautiful collections published by Stephen Haffner.
As discussed on this blog a few days ago, Williamson is still writing novels, the latest of which is THE STONEHENGE GATE. The most recent Williamson novel I read before this one was THE SILICON DAGGER, which I didn’t like very much. The storyline of that one just didn’t seem like a very good fit for Williamson’s talents. Not so THE STONEHENGE GATE, which is old-fashioned science fiction in the best sense of the term. Four professors discover a Stonehenge-like monument mostly buried under the sands of the Sahara Desert, but it turns out to be a gateway that sends them on a galaxy-hopping adventure. The story isn’t nearly as rollicking as that description makes it sound, however, because it takes several very dark, thought-provoking turns along the way.
A few things about the book bothered me. The plot is driven by a large coincidence, and the first third, as the heroes travel from planet to planet in the sort of travelogue-SF that was popular in the genre’s early days, moves pretty slowly. Once the characters get involved in a local rebellion on one of the planets they visit, though, the pace picks up considerably. Although it takes a while to get there, the book achieves some of that epic sense of wonder that makes the best science fiction so good and so rewarding to read, and it’s another worthy addition to Jack Williamson’s long career.
I’m a little behind on everything this week, because I spent yesterday afternoon and part of the evening in the local emergency room with my mother, who fell and broke her wrist, along with injuring her hip and shoulder less seriously. Luckily my brother and I were both with her when she took her tumble, so we were able to get her to the hospital in a hurry. Then there was the long wait for X-rays, CAT scan results, etc. She was able to go home and didn’t have to spend the night in the hospital, which is good, of course, and seems to be doing pretty well today.
There’s a certain amount of irony in all this, since she’d been living alone for over a year since my dad passed away but finally moved into an assisted living center at the first of this month because the rest of the family was worried that she would fall or get hurt some other way while she was alone.
Last night somebody decided it would be fun to knock our mailbox over, so this morning was spent repairing it and putting up a new post for it. While Livia did most of the work, I did help dig a post hole, one of my least favorite jobs. But we got the box back up before the mail ran, which means we didn't miss any junk mail or bills.On a more pleasant note, one of my editors e-mailed today and asked me to write a book that I wasn't expecting to write. I agreed, of course -- the only question was whether or not I could meet the deadline -- and have started working on the plot. Should be fun, but then, I enjoy most of the things I write. I'm easily entertained.
Today Livia and I stopped by to visit for a little while with my mother, who is 89. Tonight I'm about to start reading THE STONEHENGE GATE, the new novel by Jack Williamson. That got me to thinking that when Williamson published his first story and became a professional writer, my mother and father were both 12 years old. Livia's parents were alive, but probably not walking and talking yet. And yet Williamson is still publishing novels on a fairly regular basis. If any author has ever had a more long-lasting career, especially at such a high level, I'm not aware of it. Hugh Cave came close, and Nelson Bond is in the neighborhood, but I think Jack Williamson may be the champ when it comes to staying power.
I took some time off yesterday and we watched a couple of movies on DVD, one fairly recent and one a little older. These were the first movies we'd seen in a while.The more recent one was KINGDOM OF HEAVEN, the big historical epic about the Crusades, starring Orlando Bloom. I keep watching big historical epics because I like the genre, but most of the ones I've seen lately have been disappointing. TROY and ALEXANDER come to mind. KINGDOM OF HEAVEN has problems but is something of an improvement over those two. Much of the movie is slow and hard to follow, and it's plagued by alternating overly loud battle scenes and conversations in which the actors whisper and mumble so much that the dialogue is incomprehensible, at least to my aging ears. But the last hour or so of the movie, during which Bloom and his fellow Crusaders defend Jerusalem from Saladin's army, is pretty good, with one excellent scene and some decent action that's not marred too much by the choppy editing so beloved by modern filmmakers.The older movie we watched was MURDER BY NUMBERS, with Sandra Bullock as a homicide detective on the trail of a couple of thrill-killing high school students. That's not a spoiler, by the way. The audience is in on what's going on from the first. I tend to like Sandra Bullock in almost anything, but she's not given much to work with here. The driven cop who's an emotional wreck is such a cliche that it's hard to overcome without some really good writing, and that's not much in evidence in this movie. But the ending is fairly suspenseful and not bad. And as I may have mentioned, it has Sandra Bullock in it.Today was spent running lots of errands, including a stop by Half Price Books, where I picked up a couple of CDs that might make good background music for working. One is the complete score from the movie RED RIVER, composed by the great Dimitri Tiomkin and performed by the Moscow Symphony Orchestra. The other is a compilation called DRIVE TIME: ROUTE 66, which starts with the theme from THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN and ends with HAPPY TRAILS by Roy and Dale. In between is a lot of music by Aaron Copland, Ennio Morricone, and again, Dimitri Tiomkin. It's playing as I write this and is pretty good.
Just say the name "Ed" and chances are that most of the people in this end of the writing world will know immediately who you're talking about. There's a distinct possibility that without Ed Gorman I wouldn't even be in the writing business anymore. Time and time again he's helped me get work, usually when I really needed it to keep going. His old Ed's Place was the first blog I ever read. And then there are all the great books and stories he's written, several of which are on the shelf right beside me as I write this.Now Ed says he's closing down his blog because of his health problems. I believe him, but like Bill Crider, I also believe that Ed will be back. Anything else is just unacceptable. So go read Ed's final post (for now) and then keep this fine writer -- and even better man -- in your thoughts in the days and weeks to come. I know I will.
I'm very pleased to announce that Italian rights to my novel TEXAS WIND have gone to the publisher Einaudi Editore for their Stile Libero Noir imprint. If you look at their website, even if you don't read Italian (which I certainly don't), you can see that they have a great lineup of authors, including Joe Lansdale, Elmore Leonard, James M. Cain, Jim Thompson, Cornell Woolrich, Jonathan Latimer, and many others. I'm really happy and honored to be part of that group. I'll post the cover art when I get it.And many thanks to Al Guthrie, J.T. Lindroos, John Betancourt, and Sean Fodera for making this come about.
Some of you may remember when I mentioned several months ago that I'd started watching the serial ACE DRUMMOND. Well, I finally finished it, and the fact that it took me so long to watch all of it may give you a hint as to its quality.ACE DRUMMOND was based on the comic strip of the same name that was "created" by Captain Eddie Rickenbacker. My guess would be that Rickenbacker didn't contribute much to the strip other than his name, but I could be wrong about that. Ace Drummond is known as the "flying G-man of the air", and in this serial he's sent to China to investigate sabotage plaguing International Airways' efforts to build an airport in Mongolia. It seems that a mysterious masked villain who calls himself The Dragon is trying to prevent the airport from being built because it's near the location of a secret mountain of jade.There were a couple of things I liked about this serial. The recap at the beginning of every chapter is done in the form of a comic strip, which is an interesting, refreshing change from the usual serial recaps. Also, a very young Noah Beery Jr. plays Ace's sidekick Jerry and does a good job, already showing signs of the fine character actor he would become.However, that doesn't make up for the glacial pace of the plot, the poorly done action scenes (you can sure tell this wasn't a Republic Pictures production), and the weakness of the lead actor, John King. As Ace Drummond, the skinny, narrow-shouldered King is about the frailest-looking serial hero I've ever seen. He also has the annoying habit of breaking into song in just about every chapter, and if that wasn't bad enough, it's always the same dumb song.This isn't a terrible, unwatchable serial, but compared to good ones like ZORRO'S FIGHTING LEGION and S.O.S. COAST GUARD, it's pretty mediocre stuff.
This short novel was originally published in 1953 under the title "Silent Victory" in the pulp TWO COMPLETE SCIENCE-ADVENTURE NOVELS, and then later was reprinted as THE WAR OF TWO WORLDS as half of Ace Double D-335, which is where I read it. Poul Anderson has never been one of my favorite authors, but he could be counted on for consistently entertaining work, and that's the case here.THE WAR OF TWO WORLDS takes us back to the Solar System as it was originally portrayed in SF, with life on other planets -- or at least one other planet, in this case Mars. This novel begins where some would end, as a long, bloody war between the Terrans and the Martians finally grinds to a halt with the Martians emerging victorious. The narrator and hero, a spacer with the United Nations forces, returns to a defeated Earth under Martian occupation. But not all is as it seems, and before you know it, we're off on a cross-country adventure that at times reads more like hardboiled crime fiction than SF.The short length and pulp origins means that the story is almost all action without much characterization, but there are some nice plot twists along the way and the pace seldom lets up for very long. Not a great book, but I found it pretty enjoyable.
I finished reading this book last night but decided it was too late to write a post about it. That was probably for the best, because it gave me a chance to recover a little from the experience. BIG CITY GIRL is a brilliant book, one of the best Gold Medals I’ve read, but it’s about as bleak and harrowing as anything you’re liable to come across. Charles Williams gives us the parallel storylines of fugitive murderer Sewell Neely and his trampish wife Joy, who is staying with Sewell’s family on their failing cotton farm in East Texas. From the evocative cover by Barye Phillips (one of his best) to the last few sad, powerful, subtly horrifying pages, this is rural, “backwoods” noir at its best.
For years, people whose opinions I trust (most notably Ed Gorman and Bill Crider) told me how good Charles Williams’ books were. Still, it took me a while to get around to reading any of them, maybe because I watched a movie based on one of them (THE HOT SPOT) and didn’t care for it. But then a year or so ago I read one of his Dell First Edition novels, GIRL OUT BACK, and this year I’ve read HILL GIRL and now BIG CITY GIRL, and I’m a Williams fan for good now. Some of his later books are about sailing, and he’s supposed to be an excellent writer about the sea, but I haven’t gotten to those yet. Based on the novels I’ve read, though, he’s as good as you’ll find at chronicling the lives of hardscrabble country folks whose luck has run out. I’m glad I still have a stack of his books on hand.
The Queens of Smalltown Texas"Miss Gatorfest, Anahuac, TexasAshley Rhodes, 17, stands in a pink satiny dress and a tiara, not a bit ruffled by the freshly killed alligator hanging from a weigh-in cable beside her.It is the middle of September's alligator hunting season, and that means it's Gatorfest time in Anahuac, a Gulf Coast town near the mouth of the Trinity River. Hunters will win Gatorfest prizes for the largest reptile hauled in."My question is: Does Bill Crider know about this?
This week on the WesternPulps website, we have another cover scan provided by Jim Griffin, from the February 1946 issue of WESTERN TRAILS. Not surprisingly, a horse plays a major role in this cover, and it's more humorous than most of the covers I've seen on Western pulps published by Ace.
A while back I read and commented about Bill Napier's novel SPLINTERED ICON, which I assumed was a debut novel. One of the readers of this blog informs me, though, that while SPLINTERED ICON is the first of Napier's novels published in the United States, he's written at least three previous thrillers that were published in England: NEMESIS, REVELATION, and THE LURE. I looked these up on Amazon UK, and they sound interesting. If the American edition of SPLINTERED ICON is successful, maybe his other books will be reprinted over here as well.One thing I noticed was that the usual Amazon "Customers who bought this book also bought . . . " list included books by James Rollins and Jack Du Brul. I've bought books by both of those authors recently but have never read anything by either of them. I'm wondering if I need to move them up in the pile of books to be read or leave them where they are.
Today was the biannual county-wide clean-up day. For us country folk, it's a big day, because we get to load up all the stuff that the normal garbage pickup service won't take, haul it off, and dump it for free. Brush, lumber, old furniture, appliances that don't work, almost everything is fair game. We borrowed a pickup, loaded it to the gills twice, and got rid of a bunch of junk we didn't need.After that I sat down and wrote a chapter in the current book, so it was a productive day for me.I'm reading BIG CITY GIRL by Charles Williams, hope to finish it and have some comments on it tomorrow.
TRAIL OF THE RENEGADE is the third novel by James J. Griffin about Texas Ranger Jim Blawcyzk, following on the heels of TROUBLE RIDES THE TEXAS PACIFIC and BORDER RAIDERS. The series started out good and has gotten better as it goes along, so it's no surprise that TRAIL OF THE RENEGADE is the best Blawcyzk novel so far.The story finds Blawcyzk and several of his fellow Rangers sent to north central Texas to round up a gang of outlaws that has been slipping across the Red River from Indian Territory. The gang is led by the infamous Ned Scanlon, an owlhoot whom Blawcyzk is especially anxious to corral. The result is a well-written, action-packed traditional Western novel, but best of all, a lengthy flashback provides some back-story for Blawcyzk, whose history has been something of an empty slate until now. There's also a very poignant ending that features some of Griffin's best writing so far.
My science-fiction story turned into a novelette, perhaps even a novella (I'm not sure where the dividing line is, wordage-wise). That comes as no surprise to me, since I tend to write long. Anyway, I finished the story this morning, then went ahead this afternoon and started the next novel on the schedule. As the old saying goes, no rest for the wicked.And speaking of wicked, I just read IMMORAL, a debut novel by Brian Freeman. It's a well-written, complexly plotted mystery about a cop's search for two missing teenage girls who disappeared at different times and seem to have no connection between them. Most of the action takes place in Duluth, Minnesota, an area about which I know nothing, and Freeman does an excellent job with the setting, rendering it vividly for the reader.Currently I'm reading TRAIL OF THE RENEGADE, the third Western novel by my friend Jim Griffin. I'll have some comments on it in a day or two.
Bill Crider posted yesterday about Gil Brewer's novel THE THREE-WAY SPLIT (which I have on my shelves but have never read), and one of the things Bill mentions is that the book is only 128 pages long. That made me think about when I was a kid, and 128 pages was my favorite length for a paperback because I could read part of it at school in study hall and then finish it at home after school.I don't think kids today know much about study hall. It doesn't fit into their busy, regimented, caffeine-fueled schedules. But it was my favorite part of the day during junior high (where it was mandatory) and high school (where it was an elective, but I took it every year but one anyway) because most of the time I could use it to read books. Occasionally I had to spend part of the period doing homework, but mostly I sat there reading the Saint, Nero Wolfe, Doc Savage, Conan, Jim Hatfield, John Carter, Mike Hammer, Travis McGee, Shell Scott . . . you get the idea. I certainly wasn't going to waste that valuable time in the middle of the day studying.Except, of course, given the way I've made my living, I really was studying, I just didn't know it. Neither did the coach who was in charge of study hall, who was always irritated by the fact that I was sitting there reading paperbacks. He liked to come and loom over my desk (he was large enough that he could actually loom), and the following conversation always took place:"Don't you have any homework, Reasoner?""Done it already, Coach.""What kinda grades you make, Reasoner?""Straight A's, Coach."Followed by indeciperable muttering as he walked off.One of the other coaches where I went to high school, the head football coach, in fact, was also the algebra teacher, and a very good one. One day I was sitting in his class during some slack time, so I took out a paperback and started to read. I know it was a Shell Scott book; I think it was BODIES IN BEDLAM, but I'm not sure about that. But the coach saw me reading it and called me up to his desk, told me to bring the book with me. I was pretty nervous, expecting to have it confiscated -- and I wasn't through with it. But instead the coach said, "You like that book? I think I've read all those Shell Scott novels. They're great!"Well, I was flabbergasted. This was the first adult I'd ever talked to who actually liked to read some of the same stuff I liked. Most of them who paid any attention to what I read disapproved of most of it, like I was going to grow up all warped or something because of it. They were right, of course, but that's not the point. What was important to me was finding a fellow fan, and in an unexpected place, at that. Obviously, I've never forgotten it.