Wednesday, March 30, 2005

I post a different cover scan every week or so on the home page of the WesternPulps group. This is the current week's picture, from the April 9, 1938 issue of WILD WEST WEEKLY. There are several hundred Western pulp cover scans in the group files available to members. Posted by Hello

Western Lists

Graham asks below about mailing lists devoted to Western fiction. There are actually quite a few.

The largest (he said modestly) is WesternPulps, which is moderated by yours truly. The focus, as the name implies, is on Western pulp magazines, but topics tend to drift to other things Western-related, such as the ongoing discussion of why there's no evidence in Western movies of horses going to the bathroom.

Also devoted to Western fiction in general is Frontier Times, which does a better job of staying on topic. There's a lot of overlap between the membership of this group and WesternPulps, and we all get along fine.

The Black Horse Westerns list concentrates on the Western novels published by Robert Hale Ltd., although it occasionally touches on other Western-related topics as well. Many of the members of this list are Black Horse authors, so the posts tend to deal with writing most of the time, but membership is open to Western readers as well. I don't write for Hale, but I'm a member of this group and enjoy the discussions.

There are also some specialized groups, such as Longarm and Lone Star, devoted to those two series, and The Spanish Bit Saga Club, which discusses the series of historical novels by Don Coldsmith. Morgan Kane, the hero of a series of Western novels first published in Norway, has a list devoted to him. Louis L'Amour has at least five different lists. Other authors who write Westerns such as David Robbins, William W. Johnstone, and James B. Hendryx have lists devoted to their work. Search "Westerns" on the Yahoo Groups main page and there are a surprising number of hits. Anyone who's interested in Westerns ought to be able to find several lists that would be a good fit for them.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Black Horse Express Posted by Hello

Black Horse Express

The latest issue of the Black Horse Express, the excellent on-line newsletter devoted to the Black Horse Western line of books published by Robert Hale Ltd. in England, is now available at . The BHE also includes other items of Western interest. Hale publishes more Westerns than any other publisher in the world, and the quality level of them is uniformly high. If you haven't visited this site, check it out.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

The Hardcase Crime edition of HOME IS THE SAILOR Posted by Hello

Home is the Sailor/Day Keene

Ed Gorman has written eloquently about this novel, most recently here. I can’t add much to what Ed has to say except that HOME IS THE SAILOR is perhaps the quintessential Gold Medal novel. It has all the elements: the tough, somewhat dim hero who stays drunk for much of the story; the beautiful girl who may or may not be what she seems; the dead body that has to be disposed of; and finally the hero on the lam from the cops, charged with something that he didn’t do. Just when poor Swede Nelson thinks his situation can’t get worse, Things Get Really Bad. It all adds up to a fast-paced, maybe not entirely believable novel that’s a heck of a lot of fun to read. If anybody was ever to ask you, “What were those old Gold Medals like, anyway?”, you could do a lot worse than handing them a copy of HOME IS THE SAILOR.

The good thing is that now you don’t have to have the first Gold Medal printing from 1952, like I do (not bragging too much; my copy is BTH). Since HOME IS THE SAILOR has just been reprinted by the fine folks at Hardcase Crime, you can hie yourself down to your local bookstore and buy a brand-new copy that’s not water-stained and falling apart. I recommend that you do so posthaste.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Jungle Adventures

No, that’s not the name of an old pulp magazine, as far as I know. I’m talking about the fact that today, for the first time this year, I had to break out the lawn mower and cut the grass – and weeds – in the front yard. Now, I know that in some locations south of here – Alvin, Texas, say – people have been mowing their lawns all winter, but this is the first time I’ve mowed since last October or early November.

One thing I quickly discovered was that fire ants have taken over our front yard. Ever seen those giant termite mounds in Africa? The fire ant mounds in our yard are only slightly smaller, and I exaggerate only a little for dramatic effect. When I was a kid we didn’t have fire ants. We had the dreaded red ants, which every adult in Texas in the Fifties and Sixties pronounced “red aints”, as in “Watch out for that red aint bed! They’ll bite ya!” Well, as bad as red ants were, fire ants are worse. I managed not to get stung while I was mowing, but I don’t know how I did it. It must have been a sight to see, me pushing the lawn mower and hopping over ant beds with the grace of a wounded walrus.

My father fought a lifelong battle with ants. Red ants, black ants, fire ants, he didn’t care, he just enjoyed the combat. At first he employed a scorched earth strategy – he poured gasoline on the beds and set them on fire. I’m sure the theory was that the gasoline would flow down into the ground and burn up the ones under the surface, too, but I don’t think it ever did. As time went on my dad’s efforts advanced to a higher level of technology. He began to use poison. Seemingly once a week he would announce, “I think I’m gonna go dope them aint beds,” and he would spend the rest of the afternoon happily dumping poison on them. As anyone who has tried to get rid of ants knows, the little monsters laugh in the face of such efforts. The so-called poison granules are the McDonald’s French fries of the ant world. They gobble ’em down and go right on about their business. But I guess it makes us feel better to know that we’ve at least tried to win the battle. So next week I’m sure we’ll break out the Amdro and dope them aints. It’s a tradition, after all.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Sin Camp

Having enjoyed that Nightstand Book by Robert Silverberg that I read a week or so ago, I pulled down another one from the shelves, not by Silverberg this time but by Tony Calvano instead. According to Earl Kemp, Calvano was the pseudonym of Thomas P. Ramirez, who also wrote a few sleaze paperbacks for Monarch Books as Tom Phillips but was most prolific under the Calvano name. There was also a Thomas P. Ramirez who wrote several of the Phoenix Force books (a spin-off from the Executioner series); I assume he was the same author, but I don't know that for sure.

Anyway, SIN CAMP is the first thing I've read by Calvano/Ramirez. It's an Army novel, set on and around the fictional Camp Coulter in Texas. The narrator, GI Tom Staton, falls in love with a young Mexican prostitute who works in a brothel in nearby Harden City. He discovers that she's being forced to stay there and decides to rescue her. Naturally, things do not work out well, as Staton also hooks up with a rich nymphomaniac (lots of those around in Fifties and Sixties sleaze novels). There are quite a few sex scenes, and they're slightly more graphic than the ones in the Silverberg novel I read. I'm sure some of that is due to the natural differences in authors, and also SIN CAMP was published two years later, so some of the editorial restrictions may have eased up. There's another main storyline in SIN CAMP that involves the conflict between the enlisted men in Staton's company and the brutal non-coms in charge of them, and these sections read more like a mainstream novel.

The writing is certainly not as good as in the Silverberg book, but there's a lot of raw vitality and fast-paced storytelling to keep the reader turning the pages. The Calvano books have a reputation for a certain amount of violence and sadism, and although it takes its time getting around to it, SIN CAMP has its share. There's also one plot development late in the book that comes out of left field. Despite its flaws, I enjoyed this one quite a bit and intend to continue sampling the various Nightstand Books that I have on my shelves.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Trouble Rides the Texas Pacific

TROUBLE RIDES THE TEXAS PACIFIC, James J. Griffin, iUniverse, 2005

This is the first published novel by my friend Jim Griffin, but I feel confident in predicting that it won’t be the last. It’s a fine piece of work.

Texas Ranger Jim Blawcyzk, the star of a series of
on-line stories, gets his biggest case and his biggest challenge here. In a great opening sequence, the train on which Jim is riding is derailed and robbed by outlaws. Naturally, after rescuing some of the injured passengers, he pursues the owlhoots, but is no simple hold-up. Instead, the incident sets Jim on the trail of a conspiracy that threatens the expansion of the Texas Pacific Railroad across Texas.

There’s plenty of fast-paced action, and while the author’s fondness for the Jim Hatfield stories in the pulp TEXAS RANGERS is well-known, Jim Blawcyzk is no Hatfield clone. For one thing, unlike the Lone Wolf, Blawcyzk has a wife and son and comes across, at least to me, as being a bit older and more settled than Hatfield. The supporting characters, especially the group of Rangers that assists Hatfield in breaking up the conspiracy, are well-drawn and likable. There are echoes of pulp authors Tom Curry and Peter Germano in the prose, but Griffin’s style is his own and flows very well.

TROUBLE RIDES THE TEXAS PACIFIC is the sort of traditional, action-oriented Western that’s not published much anymore, and that’s a shame because it’s very entertaining and well-written. Highly recommended, and available from the usual on-line bookstores as well as
directly from the publisher.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

The Village

We got around to watching this movie on DVD tonight, and I enjoyed it quite a bit. But then, I always enjoy M. Night Shyamalan's movies even when I don't particularly like them, as was the case with THE SIXTH SENSE and UNBREAKABLE. His work just looks so interesting to me. He frames his shots in such a distinctive way, often aiming the camera through windows and doors and fences, etc., that the look of his films is unmistakable. I think his often-hyped plot twists are pretty predictable -- I guessed them without much trouble in THE SIXTH SENSE, UNBREAKABLE, and also tonight in THE VILLAGE -- but I like the way he writes anyway. And while his movies are definitely leisurely, they never seem slow to me.

Anyway, I liked the creepy feel that THE VILLAGE achieved without much gore and little in the way of action. No one makes better use of things unseen or half-seen. There are some great shots of the creatures blurred and in the background, or just out of the frame. And even though I knew the twist was coming, it was effective.

I haven't said anything yet about SIGNS, which I consider Shyamalan's best film and one of the best I've seen in recent years. It's a beautiful example of the sort of layered writing at which he excels. I love the way that things which don't make much sense early on in the movie come to make perfect sense and take on a deeper meaning by the end. I need to watch this one again, if I can ever find the time.

Edgar Rice Burroughs

From erb-list, a very good email group devoted to the life and works of Edgar Rice Burroughs:

March 19, 1950:

Death Claims Noted Author "Tarzan" Novelist Victim of Illness Van Nuys News Monday, March 20, 1950 Van Nuys, California

Author Edgar Rice Burroughs, 74, creator of the noted fictional figure Tarzan, which has brought him millions in publication and film rights, died yesterday morning at 8:55 a.m. in his Encino home at 5565 Zelzah Ave.
Dr. Herman Seal, the personal physician who was present on a regular morning call at the time of Mr. Burroughs' passing, attributed his death to a heart condition and arteriosclerosis. He had been ill about three months, and for the last six weeks confined to bed and a wheel chair.

Children At Side Also at the bedside were his three children, Mrs. Joan Pierce and Hulbert Burroughs of Sherman Oaks, and John Coleman Burroughs of Tarzana, the Ventura Blvd community named after the family's former estate built in 1918 on a hill overlooking the Valley situated just south of the town which built up along the highway. Also named after the famous figure created by Burroughs is the town of Tarzan, Texas.

"Tarzan of the Apes," was written and published in 1912, starting the road to success for the soon-to-be-famous author. Almost 40,000,000 Tarzan books have been sold, in addition to motion picture rights, cartoon strips, games, radio serials, a candy bar and toys, all adding to Mr. Burroughs' royalties.

He was living in Honolulu during the Japanese attack on Dec. 7, 1941, and thereafter joined the Red Cross and subsequently followed action in the Pacific theater as an accredited war correspondent.

Hold Private Services Headquarters of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. is located in Tarzana, under management of C. Ralph Rothmund in charge of the author's financial empire.

Pierce Bros. Valley Mortuary is in charge of private funeral arrangements now being made, with cremation to follow. It was Mr. Burroughs' last wish that friends give to the Crippled Children's Fund rather than send flowers to his services.

More Obituaries at:
Bill Hillman

Friday, March 18, 2005

More Norton

Half Price Books is having a sale, at least the ones in this area, so naturally I had to stop in when I was close by there today. I got a pretty good sack of books, but nothing spectacular: a Dell mapback mystery by Leslie Ford, a hardback Civil War historical novel by Van Wyck Mason, and several SF novels, including an omnibus edition of Andre Norton's three Warlock novels, since Norton was on my mind (see yesterday's post). I think I read the first one of those, STORM OVER WARLOCK, about forty years ago (it was first published in 1960), but I'm sure I've forgotten it by now and I don't think I ever read the other two.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Up on the Roof

No, not the old song. That's where I spent part of the day, replacing some damaged shingles. Roofing is one of the construction jobs that bothers me the least (painting and plumbing are pretty much tied for the job I hate the most), but I sure wouldn't want to do it for a living. Especially when you're having to fit new shingles in to replace the ones that are damaged or got blown away. It may not be rocket science, but it's still tricky stuff to an amateur like me.

Andre Norton

I was sorry to hear that science fiction and fantasy author Andre Norton passed away earlier today at the age of 93. I was never a huge fan of her books, but she was one of the first real SF authors I ever read, back in that long-ago summer when I was also discovering Heinlein and Asimov. I'm fuzzy on the details after all this time, but I read both of her books about the Navajo spaceman who had a telepathic link with several animals, and another series about time travelers, and at least one post-apocalyptic novel by her in an Ace Double edition (DAYBREAK 2250 A.D. might be the title; I'm not up to the research tonight). I always intended to read the Witch World books but never got around to them. The local library still has all of them, so I might give the first one a try.

HILL GIRL by Charles Williams Posted by Hello

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Hill Girl

Every time I get a new issue of Steve Lewis's excellent fanzine MYSTERY*FILE in the mail, one of the first things I read is Bill Crider's column "The Gold Medal Corner". And no matter what author Bill is writing about, I think to myself, "I gotta get some of this guy's books off the shelf and read them." But usually I get sidetracked before I get around to it.

Not this time. Bill's latest column is about Charles Williams, and after reading it I actually went to the shelves and pulled down my Charles Williams books. Now, for years I've heard Bill, Ed Gorman, and other people talk about how good Williams' books are. A few years ago, I read one of his Dell First Edition novels, GIRL OUT BACK, and liked it quite a bit. But I never got back to his other books. (That easily sidetracked business I mentioned above.) Until now. I just finished Williams' first novel, HILL GIRL, published by Gold Medal in 1951. Even knowing how people whose opinions I respect feel about his work, I was still surprised by how very, very good it was. Williams wrote very well, mixing vivid, almost lyrical descriptive passages with dialogue that rings absolutely true. Prose that doesn't want to let the reader's eyes stray away from the page. Like the Silverberg book I read a couple of days ago, HILL GIRL is more domestic drama than crime novel, but that doesn't mean there's no suspense in it. The plot unfolds leisurely but builds to a very suspenseful climax. This is a fine novel, and I suspect it's not even one of Williams' best. I hope I'll get around to another of his books soon, instead of waiting several years again.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Playing Catch-Up

Sorry about the lack of posts the past few days. I haven't done much other than sit in front of the computer and write, which doesn't make for very good blogging material. However, I did manage to watch a couple of movies and read a couple of books, so here are a few comments on them:

SKY CAPTAIN AND THE WORLD OF TOMORROW -- Finally got a chance to watch this on DVD. If I had seen it for the first time when I was twelve years old, I probably would have thought it was the best movie ever made. Seeing it for the first time at fifty-one, I still thought it was pretty good. The complaints I heard about it -- the thin plot, the anachronisms and historical errors, etc. -- are probably true enough, but it was still quite a bit of fun. I didn't care much for Gwyneth Paltrow's performance, but Jude Law was okay and Angelina Jolie looked great for the five or ten minutes she was on-screen. I thought that for a first try, which is basically what it was for writer/director Kerry Conran, it was successful enough to be encouraging about what he might do in the future. I'm not surprised that it didn't make a lot of money, though, since the target audience seemed to be males of the geezer persuasion.

WITHOUT A PADDLE -- Silly, crude, and predictable, but I laughed a bunch of times and didn't doze off once. I like Seth Green and have ever since he started out in movies playing Woody Allen as a child.

THE GRAVEYARD SHIFT by Jack Higgins -- Bill Crider read this early novel by Higgins a while back and really liked it. I liked it, too. Since it's one of those books in which all the action takes place over a short time, in this case one night, I think I would have rated it even higher if I'd been able to read it in a sitting or two, instead of in bits and pieces over four days. Good tough writing and a plot twist or two I didn't see coming. I have a bunch of other early Higgins books I need to read, including several featuring his series character Paul Chavasse.

LOVE ADDICT by Don Elliott (Robert Silverberg) -- After reading Silverberg's essay in SIN-A-RAMA and realizing that I owned this book, I decided to go ahead and read it. A lot of the Nightstand books by Block, Westlake, and others are really crime novels masquerading as soft-core, early Sixties porn. Although there are some drug pushers in it, LOVE ADDICT doesn't really qualify as a crime novel. It's more of a noir-tinged romance, as nice guy hero Jim Holman, who is being divorced by his shrew of a wife, falls for nightclub singer Helene Raymond. Helene was hooked on heroin by her musician ex-boyfriend, but Jim thinks he can save her from her addiction. Not much actually happens in this book, but it races by anyway thanks to Silverberg's clean, polished prose and his evocative portrayal of New York City as both glittering metropolis and squalid hellhole. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and intend to dig out more of the Nightstand books that I own.

I also watched the first chapter of ZORRO'S FIGHTING LEGION (thanks, Bill) but haven't had a chance to get back to it. I've seen this serial before, at least parts of it, because I remember the goofy costume worn by the bad guy, Don del Oro. The cast strikes me as second-rate (Reed Hadley and Sheila Gray as the hero and heroine, instead of, say, Clayton Moore and Linda Stirling), but the rest of the talent is top-notch, especially the directing team of William Witney and John English. I've never seen a Witney/English serial that wasn't visually exciting. And Republic's production values are generally pretty good. I hope I get to watch this one at a fairly quick pace.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Chris LeDoux

I went out to run some errands today, and when I turned the radio on in the car, Chris LeDoux's great song "Cadillac Ranch" was playing. I didn't know at the time that LeDoux had passed away.

I'm one of those people who can listen to almost any kind of music and find something to like about it. Probably comes from being around a mixed-format radio station quite a bit when I was younger. I never listened to country music much until about fifteen years ago, though, and when I started, Chris LeDoux was one of my favorites. Still is. I liked all of his hits all right, but there's even better stuff on his albums that never got any radio play, songs like "You Just Can't See Him From the Road", about modern cowboys. I'm sorry to hear that he's gone.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

The New Adventures of Tarzan

I finished watching THE NEW ADVENTURES OF TARZAN, one of the movie serials I got for Christmas. I’d been wanting to see this for quite some time, since I read that it was one of the most faithful adaptations of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ character and that Burroughs himself had been involved in the production. I found the serial to be a mixed bag, with quite a few problems but also with some things to like.

When I was a kid, one of the local TV stations showed Tarzan movies every Saturday morning and Sunday afternoon. I was a faithful viewer and watched many of them over and over again, especially the Johnny Weissmuller movies. One Tarzan film that I didn’t like at all was TARZAN AND THE GREEN GODDESS, starring somebody called Bruce Bennett as the Ape Man. To a Weissmuller fan who had never read any of Burroughs’ novels, almost everything about TARZAN AND THE GREEN GODDESS was wrong. Bennett’s Tarzan wore clothes, spoke perfect English, and hung around with a chimpanzee called Nkima. Where was Cheetah? And the story took place in Guatemala, for goodness sake, instead of Africa. What were they thinking when they made this one?

Well, now I know, of course, that TARZAN AND THE GREEN GODDESS was the edited-down, feature version of the serial THE NEW ADVENTURES OF TARZAN, starring Herman Brix, who later went by the screen name Bruce Bennett. And the things I hated as a kid about Brix’s portrayal of Tarzan now didn’t bother me at all, since I know that was the way Burroughs actually wrote about the character.

To get the serial’s weaknesses out of the way first: the pace is glacial, the acting is uniformly bad, the script includes chapter after chapter of mostly pointless running around the Guatemalan jungle, and the production values are cheap even by the standards of the day. The lack of a musical score except over the opening and closing credits also hurts the film.

Now for the things I liked about it. Herman Brix is no great shakes as an actor at this stage of his career (he improved some in later years) but he looks just fine in the part, as both the civilized Lord Greystoke and the Ape Man. The only thing I didn’t like about his performance is the awful yell he does. He’s supposed to be yelling “Mangani”, which is reasonable since that was Burroughs’ name for the race of great apes that raised Tarzan, but it just doesn’t sound right to me. Some of the action scenes are fairly well done, and there’s some unintentional humor when Tarzan battles a group of Guatemalan ninjas, for want of a better word, who wear outfits that bear a marked resemblance to KKK robes, only made from black cloth instead of white. The filmmakers save the best stuff almost for last, in the penultimate chapter that takes place mostly on a sailing ship caught at sea in a bad storm. There are some really nice back-lit shots of Tarzan battling the villainous ship’s captain in the pouring rain. The final chapter itself is bizarrely anti-climactic, as the scene shifts to Greystoke Manor in England, where there’s a party going on and for some reason Tarzan and everyone else are dressed in gypsy outfits. Several flashbacks recap the high points of the story (it doesn’t take long), and then it all wraps up without any further action.

This probably makes the serial sound a little worse than it really is. I enjoyed it and am glad to have finally seen it, but I never felt compelled to watch more than an episode or two every week.

Now I have to decide what to watch next. These are the other serials in the boxed set I got for Christmas:

THE LOST CITY (William “Stage” Boyd)
ACE DRUMMOND (John “Dusty” King)
UNDERSEA KINGDOM (Ray “Crash” Corrigan)
DICK TRACY (Ralph Byrd)

Any and all suggestions will be much appreciated.

The first paperback edition of Spillane's first novel. I actually own a copy of this, although it's a little beat up. Posted by Hello

Mickey Spillane portraying his character Mike Hammer in the movie THE GIRL HUNTERS Posted by Hello

Happy Birthday, Mickey Spillane

As noted on the Rara-Avis mailing list, today is Mickey Spillane's 87th birthday. I've read almost everything Spillane ever wrote (well, not counting his Golden Age comic book scripts) and enjoyed most of it a great deal. I have a signed hardback copy of VENGEANCE IS MINE, thanks to Bill Crider who carried it to the Milwaukee Bouchercon for me many years ago and got Spillane to sign it. So happy birthday, Mickey, and thanks for all the great entertainment over the years.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Harold Bell Wright

This talk about forgotten authors got me thinking about another one that goes back even farther. I think I've mentioned before that my mother was a big Zane Grey fan when she was young. Well, Zane Grey is hardly forgotten, but another of her favorite authors from that time pretty much is: Harold Bell Wright. I've never read anything he wrote, but I have seen and enjoyed the 1941 movie based on his novel THE SHEPHERD OF THE HILLS. (Of course, I watched it because it was a John Wayne movie, not because it was based on a Harold Bell Wright novel.) The story is set in the Ozark Mountains, and while Wright may be forgotten in most places, his story is still being staged in a live production at the Shepherd of the Hills Outdoor Theatre in Branson, Missouri.

What really started me thinking about this is the fact that my mother is currently reading another Harold Bell Wright novel, THE WINNING OF BARBARA WORTH, in a fairly recent large print edition from Thorndike Press. Since I go to various libraries quite a bit, I try to keep her supplied with large print books to read, and when I saw a couple of books by Wright, I figured I ought to get one for her. It's something of a challenge to find books that she'll like, since they have to be clean, preferably set in the United States, and have at least a little action and suspense to them. I try to get older books for her as much as possible, although she likes some current authors like Janette Oke. I mentioned the other day that a book of mine set in Brownwood, Texas (the area where she's from) came out recently, and she asked if I thought the print would be large enough for her to read it. When I get my copies of it, I suppose I'll take one to her, but I'll have to warn her that there's lots of killin' and cussin' in it. Maybe she can skip those parts.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Frank Yerby

Talking about Harold Robbins the other day got me started thinking about other authors who were very successful at one time but are almost forgotten now, and it just so happens that I'm currently reading a novel by one such author: CAPTAIN REBEL by Frank Yerby.

Beginning with his first novel, THE FOXES OF HARROW, in 1946, Frank Yerby was a major player in the historical novel game for the next twenty-five years or so. His books sold well and received good reviews. Three of them -- the above-mentioned THE FOXES OF HARROW, along with pirate novel THE GOLDEN HAWK and Crusades novel THE SARACEN BLADE -- were made into movies. I've never seen any of them, but I have read THE GOLDEN HAWK and THE SARACEN BLADE and enjoyed both books. Yerby also wrote some contemporary novels, but the ones I've read seem to be lacking something, as if he was more comfortable with historical settings for his stories. The theme that runs through all the Yerby novels I've read is that of redemption. His heroes are nearly always cads and scoundrels, capable at first of almost any sort of immoral behavior. Over the course of the action, though, the hero suffers through a series of tragedies, often of his own making, before emerging as a changed, better man. Put that way, it sounds a little hokey, but Yerby was capable of making it work. The idea of the wastrel reforming and becoming a decent person is a powerful one. It's much easier for the reader to identify with a flawed character than with one who's too perfect.

CAPTAIN REBEL is a Civil War novel, a genre that I read sparingly. To tell the truth, I have trouble reading most historical novels because I've written so many of them, about quite a few different time periods. It's inevitable that some of them produce a feeling of "been there, written that" when I try to read them. But I still find the good ones very enjoyable, and Yerby's work falls into that category because he writes more about the people involved than he does about the history. Give me interesting characters doing interesting things and I'll read just about any novel, regardless of genre or setting. Although his work deteriorated late in his career (he died in 1991 and wrote well into the Eighties), for a long time Frank Yerby could be counted on to deliver the goods.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

From Ed Gorman

My post of a couple of days ago about the book SIN-A-RAMA prompted this email from Ed Gorman (reprinted with Ed's permission):

Speaking of Silverberg's "My Life as a Pornographer," I think it's one of the best pieces on hack writing I've ever read. A real masterpiece.

Silverberg's piece appeared in "Hot Talk," a Penthouse spin off that I thought was going to make me rich. One day this editor calls up and says that he's a big fan of my stuff and would I like to write for this men's magazine. I'd done a fair share of men's stuff and was trying to stop because the pay was lousy and it took months to get paid. Then he mentioned Guccione was publisher and the rate was a thousand a story. He said he needed several stories pronto. You bet I wrote them, six or seven in a week. Then a couple more for which I was paid (as I recall) fifteen hundred a story.

But as I talked to the editor over two or three months (he was a great guy) I realized that as funny as his sarcasm was, it was going to get him in trouble if he ever talked to his boss that way. Which he hinted he did. He left not too long after--before making me rich. His other two faves were Silverberg (who I heard was getting twice as much, understandably, as I was) and John Shirley, who wrote some pretty edgy stuff. I wrote the kind of story that you could shove (excuse the expression) sex scenes into if you wanted to. In fact, after the editor left and they quit doing fiction, I sold three of the stories to regular crime fic markets just by excising the heavy-breathing parts.

BTW, the thousand dollars I got for a one-afternoon story was exactly what I got from Zebra for my second novel.

And as a final note about the seventies and eighties skin mags before they quit doing fiction--this one sleazy mag had owed me money for over a year. When I called for the sixty-second time, the youthful-sounding editor (actually a nice enough kid) said, "Between us, Ed, we're going belly up. So I wouldn't expect those checks. But if you ever come to New York, I'll give you some great grass."

Them were the days. --Ed Gorman

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Harold Robbins

There's been considerable discussion today among a writers group I belong to about Harold Robbins in general and his novel THE CARPETBAGGERS in particular. Even those of you not of the geezer persuasion probably recognize Robbins' name, but you probably have to be over forty to really remember when he was a frequent presence on the bestseller lists.

I was in high school when I discovered Harold Robbins' books. The first one I ever read was THE ADVENTURERS, which I knew about because somebody brought a copy which got passed around study hall so that we could all read the dirty parts. (Just like Mickey Spillane in a slightly earlier generation.) I bought a copy of THE ADVENTURERS and read the whole thing, not just the dirty parts, and thought it was okay. This guy Robbins was a decent storyteller, and since the book did have a lot of sex scenes in it, that certainly didn't hurt anything. But then I read an earlier novel of his, A STONE FOR DANNY FISHER, and was knocked out by how good it was. The sex wasn't as graphic as in the later books, but the characters were great and the pace of the story kept me flipping the pages. Even then I knew the story was a little melodramatic, but I didn't care. I was hooked. The next Robbins novel I read was THE DREAM MERCHANTS, which was about the very early days of the movie business. It was even better, and ever since I've been fascinated by that era. (I've always wanted to write a novel about the origins of the movie business. I know it's been done to death, but I'd still like to. In fact, I have a really good outline if any publishers are reading this . . . )

Anyway, after that I read all the Robbins books I could get my hands on. THE CARPETBAGGERS was in there somewhere, and STILETTO and WHERE LOVE HAS GONE and NEVER LOVE A STRANGER. I don't remember all the titles. None of them were as compelling as THE DREAM MERCHANTS and A STONE FOR DANNY FISHER, but still I read each new one as it came out until about the mid-Seventies. Then, somehow, the books didn't seem as good anymore. Whether my tastes changed or whether Robbins lost whatever it was that appealed to me in his fiction, I don't know. But I never read any of them after that. I've never reread the ones I liked so much, either. I'm afraid they wouldn't hold up and I'd be disappointed.

A couple of years ago I picked up a new Harold Robbins book, SIN CITY. It's a novel about Las Vegas, but it's not actually by Harold Robbins at all, despite the fact that his name is on the cover. It's one of those "after Harold Robbins' death, the publisher worked with a carefully selected author, etc." efforts, meaning that somebody else wrote a Harold Robbins type of novel, perhaps based on some of Robbins' notes or outlines. I may get around to reading it someday.

Back to THE CARPETBAGGERS, which is loosely based on the life of Howard Hughes, subject of the current film THE AVIATOR. Courtesy of Bill Crider, here's a link to an article about the novel. You can read another article about Robbins by Dick Lochte here. And another one by Ian Parker here.

At this late date, I don't know if Robbins was even a good writer, let alone a great one. But when I was sixteen and sitting in study hall or in a lawn chair on the front porch of my parents' house, he was something even better -- a great storyteller.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005


As soon as Bill Crider mentioned this book on his blog a while back, I knew I had to have it. Like a lot of paperback collectors, I'm fascinated by the soft-core porn novels published in the Fifties and Sixties. In fact, I'd say I like reading about the books and their authors more than I enjoy reading the books themselves (although I've read quite a few by authors like Harry Whittington, Mike Avallone, and Block, Westlake, and Silverberg under their various pseudonyms, and find them all consistently entertaining). You can see the cover of this new book about "Sleaze Sex Paperbacks" (to quote the cover copy) and read the comments of Bill and others here.

Well, I ordered a copy and it arrived yesterday. I've already read it cover to cover and have reread parts of it. The highlight is a reprint of Robert Silverberg's wonderful "My Life as a Pornographer", which I missed in its original magazine appearance. Opening the book and seeing the cover of LOVE ADDICT, which was Silverberg's first novel for William Hamling's Nightstand line, as well as the first Nightstand book published, prompted me to exclaim, "Hey! I've got that book!" I didn't realize it was the debut book in the most famous line of porn novels ever published. In fact, I was surprised as I looked through page after page of cover reproductions by just how many of those books I own. I've never really collected them, just picked them up now and then as I ran across them.

As is the case with IT'S A MAN'S WORLD, the other book I have that was published by Feral House, SIN-A-RAMA could have used a little more text, a little more of the ol' who-wrote-what. But it's still a great book, highly entertaining and informative. The only problem is that now I want to go dig out some of those Andrew Shaw and Clyde Allison and Don Elliott books I have and read them, and I just don't have time.

Good News

That potential deal I mentioned a few days ago is now a reality, as today my wife Livia agreed to write a new mystery series for NAL. The negotiations concluded with the proverbial "nice deal", but as far as I'm concerned, any deal where I get to help spend the money and don't have to write the books is a nice deal indeed.