Since I mentioned James B. Hendryx earlier today, it occurred to me that I ought to point out there's an excellent website devoted to him at:http://www.halfadaycreek.com/I've had his novel THE GUN BRAND sitting in one of my various TBR piles for quite some time now, and I need to get to it. It's his second book and from what I've heard somewhat atypical, in that it's a traditional Western rather than a Northern, but that's all right.My own work on the book I started the other day has gone slowly, but it's picked up the past couple of days. I'm up to 45 pages, which in this case equals two chapters. (The chapters in this series are longer than what I normally write.) Bill Crider says I'll be finished with it by August 10. I'm leaning toward taking that as a challenge. We'll see how it goes the next few days. If it's not well, I can always conveniently forget about that challenge stuff.
A rather odd-looking cover from a generally excellent pulp magazine, as featured this week on the WesternPulps website. For many years, the cover illustrations on SHORT STORIES always featured a prominent red sun somewhere in them. I've never read anything by Caddo Cameron, but he had a great name for a Western writer, whoever he was. This issue also has a story by James B. Hendryx, an author with enough avid readers, even after all these years, to have a Yahoo group devoted to him and his work. Hendryx wrote primarily "Northerns" set in the Yukon during the Gold Rush. I've read only one story by him, but I enjoyed it a lot and he's one of those authors whose work I really need to read more of.
I finished reading the second volume in DC's reprinting of Jack Kirby's run on SUPERMAN'S PAL, JIMMY OLSEN. I don't think the stories in this volume are quite as good as the ones in the first volume, or maybe I just have a more nostalgic connection to those issues. Anyway, not-quite-as-good Kirby is still pretty darned good, and these stories are great. Unfortunately, his run on JIMMY OLSEN ended after fifteen issues. In fact, even though Kirby's "Fourth World" mythology had a huge impact on the DC Universe for many years, especially his creation of the villain Darkseid, none of the titles in which that foundation was laid were successful enough to last more than a couple of years. His history after he left Marvel in 1970 is a string of brilliant ideas that were too eccentric to find widespread acceptance among comics readers of the time.Which brings me to Stan Lee. I think the pendulum has swung from Stan getting too much credit to Stan not getting enough credit. Yes, Jack probably plotted most of their stuff. But Stan knew how to write to Jack's strengths and his dialogue and captions made even the most nonsensical concepts seem believable. I've reread a bunch of Stan's work in the Essentials volumes, and even though he could get silly at times, when he was taking things seriously I think he was the best comic book writer I've ever read. Stan was at his best working with Jack, and vice versa. All you have to do is take a look at FANTASTIC FOUR #36 - 60, the best run of any comic book. Ever. In my opinion, of course.
When I started over on that outline this morning, I found that it went much better this time, so much so that I was done with it by the middle of the day. (Granted, it was pretty short.) So this afternoon I was able to get started on the next novel, a series Western, and it felt really good to get some pages going again. I didn't get a lot done because some other, non-writing things came up, but at least I've got a start and the hope that the book will go quickly and smoothly.I'm reading one of the Lassiter novels by "Jack Slade", a Western series published by Leisure/Belmont/Tower in the Sixties and Seventies, and unrelated to the German Jack Slade series with the very graphic covers which I've discussed on here before. This book is called CATTLE BARON and I'm reading it primarily to try to figure out who really wrote it. Unfortunately, I have no idea. A lot of times I can tell with a reasonable amount of certainty who wrote a particular house-name Western just by reading it. This is not one of those times.
I wrestled all day with the outline I needed to do and never could make it be the book I wanted it to be. Well, once I stopped and thought about it I realized what I was doing just wasn't going to work for this particular book. It's another book entirely. So I've put it aside (never throw anything away) and will start fresh tomorrow. Luckily, late in the day I got an email from my editor with a suggestion that I think will help a great deal. We'll see. And I think I've already figured out what to do with the outline that didn't work to fix it for something else.I realize this all sounds a little incoherent, but in my head it makes sense. I hope.
Today I drove down to Brownwood and back, to take my uncle home. I knew this trip was coming up, and that's one reason I really wanted to finish the book I was working on. I don't like having to stop for a day and then go back and write the last five or ten pages of the book. Along the way we drove past a kangaroo ranch (I didn't know there were any kangaroo ranches in Texas) and a bunch of fields where my mother and uncle picked cotton seventy-some-odd years ago. We also took the grand tour of Blanket, Texas, where my mother's family lived in several different houses and where all the kids went to school. I enjoyed the day; I always like hearing about the past and seeing old buildings and such. I just have a good connection with history, I guess, enough so that for years when I was in school I planned on being a history teacher. Now I just write about the stuff.The doctor's office called while I was gone, with the news that the growth the doctor removed from my face last week was precancerous. One never likes to hear any form of the word "cancer", but this isn't really threatening news. I just have to go back in three months and make sure it hasn't come back. My father had several growths removed from his ear over the years, and they never affected his general health.
A day later than I intended, but the current book is finished. (My part, that is. Livia is still working on the editing and polishing, but unless she finds something I really screwed up -- always a possibility -- I won't have to work on this one anymore.) I was shooting for about 350 pages, but it wound up being 404. I don't think that will be a problem, even though the first two books in the series were a little shorter.Next up is an outline for a book that's still several slots down the schedule, and then another Western.
Today I was talking to my uncle, who is visiting my mother for a few days. He's 87 and a big Western reader, so not surprisingly he's read quite a few of my books. Like the rest of my mother's family, he grew up in Brown County, Texas. Now, a while back I wrote a book about the Fence-Cutting Wars, a classic clash between big ranchers and the smaller, "greasy sack" outfits in Brown County during the 1880s and 1890s. My uncle read the book and liked it, and today he was talking about how when he was a kid, he knew an old man who had taken part in the Fence-Cutting Wars. He mentioned as well seeing some of the old fences with the barbed wire that had been cut and spliced back together. The conversation came around to an old man who had taken part in the last Indian fight in Brown County, at Salt Mountain, and how my uncle had known that old-timer, too. Of course, sometimes when relatives start to talk, you have to take their stories with a grain of salt. My uncle is still as sharp as can be, though, and has been an amateur historian for many years. I don't doubt the truth of his yarns, and when you do the math on the years involved, it's certainly possible that during the Twenties there were a lot of old men still around who had actually lived through the things that are now staples of Western fiction. In fact, some of the early Western authors, actors, etc., were rumored to have smelled some powdersmoke themselves. It's history and research material to me, but it was real life to them and to the men my uncle knew, and somehow it makes me feel sort of good to have that close a link to it.Of course, that doesn't mean I'm not old, too. Heck, in my time I've bought brand new paperbacks for a quarter.
I had really hoped to finish the current book today, but even though I've written a lot of pages the past three days, I just didn't get to the end of the story. Some books are like that, a little bigger than I thought they would be. This is the third book in a series, and all the way through I really believed it would be shorter than the first two by several thousand words. Now it's already the longest of the three, and I'm not done yet.But tomorrow I will be. I hope.
Here's this week's scan from the WesternPulps group, and my comments about it to the group:This week we have the cover from the January 1946 issue of THRILLING WESTERN on the WesternPulps website. As usual, that issue featured a Walt Slade novelet by Les Scott, as well as an entry in another long-running series, the Swap and Whopper stories by Syl McDowell. This one is called "Ride 'Em, Rocketpants". I really dislike the Swap and Whopper stories and find them unfunny and almost unreadable. In fact, after falling asleep in the middle of several of them, I don't even try to read them anymore. This is probably due to no fault of McDowell, who certainly seems like a competent author in the non-series stories of his that I've read. The stories just don't work for me but might be favorites of some other reader. I ought to like them, because Swap and Whopper seem to be based on Abbott and Costello, and I love Abbott and Costello. Just a quirk on my part, I guess.This issue also has a T.W. Ford story, and while his work is inconsistent, I've found Ford to be a generally above-average author.http://groups.yahoo.com/group/WesternPulps/
Back in the fall of 1971, I was a freshman at Southwest Texas State University in San Marcos, about thirty miles south of Austin. One Friday afternoon I started home after my classes but stopped at Stuckey's in Round Rock, which at that time was about ten or fifteen miles north of Austin (it's town all the way between them now). When I got back in my car to head on home, it wouldn't start. Nothing I could do would make it run. I called my brother-in-law and he agreed to come help me, but it would be about three hours before he could get there. There was a convenience store just up the service road, so I walked over there to wait for help to arrive. The old man who ran the place was very talkative and was glad for me to wait there. There was a stack of comic books on the counter, so I picked up one of them to read. It was SUPERMAN'S PAL, JIMMY OLSEN #139, and when I opened it to the first page, I immediately recognized the artwork of Jack Kirby.I'd been a Marvel fan since 1963 and was very familiar with Kirby's work, of course. I knew he had left Marvel in 1970 and gone to work for DC, but I had never read any of his comics for them and didn't even know he was writing and drawing JIMMY OLSEN, a book I'd never read. Not surprisingly, I was hooked right away and had to hunt up the back issues that I had missed. I also started reading Kirby's other "Fourth World" series for DC: THE NEW GODS, THE FOREVER PEOPLE, and MISTER MIRACLE. The art was great, the scope of the stories was epic, and the dialogue, while a lot more awkward than what Stan Lee had provided for Kirby over at Marvel, had its own goofy charm.Recently DC has reprinted Kirby's JIMMY OLSEN run in a couple of nice, full-color trade paperbacks. I've read the first one, and I enjoyed the stories just as much now as I did nearly 35 years ago, maybe even more. I have the second volume and plan to read it soon.By the way, my brother-in-law did arrive and got me and my junker of a car back home safely. The whole experience prompted me to write a song about it several years later, called "Round Rock Breakdown", one of my very, very rare ventures into songwriting. Don't worry, the song is long gone and I couldn't recreate it. I wouldn't even try.
Today I had a little minor surgical procedure done in the doctor's office. He removed a small growth from my face that he was suspicious of, plus it was located where my glasses bumped against it all the time and kept it irritated. He doesn't really think it was cancerous but wanted to have it biopsied to be sure. Results should be back early next week. Either way, it's gone now, so it shouldn't be a problem in the future.Before that I was able to write some this morning and got 11 pages done. Afterwards I picked up my van from the mechanic and ran some other errands.
I seem to have shifted from spending a lot of time on plumbling problems to dealing with automotive matters. Yesterday I took one of our cars in to be repaired, this morning I got the oil changed in another one and then had it inspected, and this afternoon I picked up the one that was at the shop and left another one there to be worked on. Thank goodness I know a guy who's an excellent mechanic. I can work on cars when I have to but prefer not to. Of course, not all the plumbing problems have gone away. They've just been back-burnered until I get all this other stuff taken care of.Page count today: 12. I'd still like to finish the book this weekend, so that means I have 50 to 60 pages to write over the next four days. That's certainly possible.I'm reading some more in that military SF anthology I mentioned a few days ago. The first two stories, which I really liked, were by Poul Anderson and Philip K. Dick. The one I'm reading now is by Joe Haldeman. I'd have to check, but he may have turned it into part of his novel THE FOREVER WAR later on. It's been too long since I've read that book to be sure without looking at it. Either way, I'm enjoying the novella version in this anthology.Was sorry to hear that James Doohan has passed away. I always liked Scotty a lot. The writers never gave his character much depth, but Doohan made him highly likable anyway.
Our Internet service has been spotty for the past few days, so I figured I'd better get something posted while I can.I saw several mentions on various lists today that Jim Aparo has passed away. For those who aren't familiar with the name, Aparo was a comic book artist who worked primarily for DC during the Sixties and Seventies. Never a comics superstar, he was a solid, dependable pro who drew many a Batman story, all of them excellent. Like most of the comics artists from his generation, he was a fine storyteller.Page count for Monday: 16. I'm getting close to the end of this book and hope to wrap it up this coming weekend. No pages today, too many errands to run, as well as dealing with some more auto repair issues.One of our stops today was Half Price Books, where I bought a DVD of the Richard Lester version of THE THREE MUSKETEERS. I saw this when it was new in the Seventies and have watched it several times since and thoroughly enjoyed it every time. Haven't seen it for quite a while, though, so I'm looking forward to watching it again.I'm reading APACHE HOSTAGE, a Western by Lewis B. Patten. Patten has never been one of my favorites and I didn't like the last book of his that I read, but this one is pretty good so far, one of the better Westerns I've read lately, in fact.
This week's WesternPulps scan, from the May 1948 issue of RANGE RIDERS, an excellent Western pulp series about a trio of range detectives.
When I was trading emails with Chuck Fritch about his private eye books, he mentioned that he thought one of them was a rewrite of his Ace Double, NEGATIVE OF A NUDE. At the time he suspected it might be PSYCHO SINNER, which turned out to be a different Mark Wonder novel. Well, I now know that the rewrite is STRIP FOR MURDER, published by Kozy Books in 1960 under the pseudonym Eric Thomas. I read it yesterday and today.
STRIP FOR MURDER is a very loose rewrite of NEGATIVE OF A NUDE. It uses some similar characters and situations, but in the end it’s different enough to consider its merits as a novel on its own. The detective here is called Christopher Sly instead of Mark Wonder, but the difference is in name only. In appearance, personality, and narrative voice, he’s exactly the same. (Mark Wonder does get mentioned in this book, though, when one of the characters says to Chris Sly, “You mean you’re really a private eye like Mike Hammer, Shell Scott, Mark Wonder, and Philip Marlowe?”) As in the earlier book, Sly is hot on the trail of a blackmailer who’s threatening a beautiful girl, in this case a stripper named Coral. Things get a lot more complicated than that before Sly tracks down a killer. It’s an entertaining story, very much in the same mold as early Sixties private eye TV series like 77 SUNSET STRIP and SURFSIDE 6. The plot, the banter, and the beautiful girls would have been right at home on those shows. The sex would have to be toned down, of course, but not much. I enjoyed this book enough so that I’m going to have to hunt down some more of Fritch’s Eric Thomas books.
By the way, “Christopher Sly” is the author of at least one novel, SEVEN DEADLY SINNERS, published by Athena Books, the publisher of PSYCHO SINNER. I’d be willing to bet that one is by Fritch, as well.
Page count today: 16.
Well, today was the big day for Harry Potter fans, I suppose. Livia and Joanna went to Sam's Club this morning to pick up a copy of the new book, and Joanna is reading it now. They've both read all the other books in the series. I have to admit that I'm not a real fan. I read the first two books and enjoyed them quite a bit. I thought they were very well-plotted and well-written, if a little heavy-handed on the symbolism at times. But somehow, I never got around to reading the other books, and it's entirely possible I never will. Nothing against J.K. Rowling or her books, there are just other things out there I'd rather read.Page count for today: 22. It felt good to have a more productive day again, but I was worn out by the time I stopped.
This morning I started reading a book that I fully expected to enjoy, based on the dozens of other books I've read by this author over the years. But 30 pages in I wasn't enjoying it at all. Worse than that, I actively disliked it. So I set it aside. I don't keep pounding my head against a book that's no fun to read.I guess that must have thrown me off-stride mentally, because now I can't find anything I want to read. And with all the books, pulps, digests, etc., around here, it's a real chore not to be in the mood to read any of it. Usually when I get like this, I can't read novels but can still handle short stories. Not this time. I have several different anthologies sitting around that I'm working my way through, but I don't want to read anything from any of them. I'm well aware that this feeling will pass, probably by tomorrow morning, but it's disconcerting to somebody like me. Reading has been one of my major activities for decades.Page count for today: 8. I have a little over a week left for this book and need to start moving a little faster on it. Whether or not that will happen, though, is anybody's guess. Today I started editing what I wrote yesterday and realized that some of it was all wrong. I was about to delete the offending section and start that part over when I realized that the writing was actually okay, the problem was that the scene was in the wrong place. I was trying to force it into the story too early. So I just cut it out and moved it to the very end of the manuscript. It'll be there waiting for me when I get to the spot where it needs to go.
Page count for today: 17. Getting a new muffler put on my van took up part of the day.My writing seems to fall into two distinct paces, and they vary from book to book. Some books I gallop along and write 25 or 30 or 35 pages a day, but I can only do that for a few days at a time and then I have to take at least a couple of days off. On other books, such as the one I'm writing now, I do fewer pages per day, usually somewhere between 12 and 18 but sometimes less than 10, but I work nearly every day with few breaks. This month, for example, I've written every day except one. In the end the number of pages I produce each month doesn't seem to vary much, no matter at which pace I get there. I probably prefer the sprints to the every day grind, but whatever gets the job done is fine with me.
Here's a poster for the Modesty Blaise movie Danny mentions in his comment below. Evidently it came out in 2003, although I don't remember hearing anything about it at the time. From the description it's a prequel to the book and comic strip series and takes place before Modesty met Willie Garvin. The comments on imdb.com range from very good to terrible. I have to admit that judging from the poster, the actress playing Modesty doesn't look much like my visualization of the character, but everybody sees fictional characters differently. I'll probably hunt this up and watch it sometime, if no other reason than that the producer, Marcelo Anciano, is an acquaintance of mine from Robert E. Howard fandom.
I'm reading an oversized trade paperback collection of Modesty Blaise newspaper strips by Peter O'Donnell and Jim Holdaway. I read all of O'Donnell's MB novels many years ago and loved each and every one of them. They're some of the best pure adventure novels I've ever read, and it's a series I really need to reread if I can ever find the time. I've never been quite as fond of the comic strip version of the character, but I like those stories a lot, anyway. And oddly enough, when I read the novels, before I'd ever seen any of the comic strips, I visualized the characters very much like Jim Holdaway drew them, a fact I discovered long after the fact. So far in this collection I've read the stories "The Black Pearl" and "The Magnified Man", and there are still a couple more to go in it. The only version of Modesty Blaise I didn't care for was the Sixties movie with Monica Vitti. I've heard that a new MB movie has either been produced or is about to be. I hope it's a more faithful adaptation.Bill Crider passed along to me the meme that's currently going around, and I must be particularly dense these days because I can't think of any answers to the questions. Maybe tomorrow, but if I'm still drawing a blank I may have to punt.Page count today: 12. I spent part of the day helping my mom run some errands, so I didn't get a full shift done.
Since my daughter Joanna has become a Cary Grant fan, we watched BRINGING UP BABY today. I like this movie a lot but haven’t seen it for quite a while. It’s as sharp and funny as ever, and I continue to be amazed at the sheer amount of dialogue that’s packed into it. Everybody talks fast and nearly non-stop, yet it all makes sense. The director, Howard Hawks, was a master at this, but he could also put scenes on the screen that are almost silent but still tremendously effective. (Not necessarily in BRINGING UP BABY, but more so in films like RIO BRAVO.)
Page count for yesterday: 0. We went to the library and had a bunch of other errands to run.
Page count for today: 9. I planned to do better but wound up spending most of the day working on a plumbing job that went wrong and resulted in a minor flood. I told one of the employees at Lowe’s that I feel like I’ve spent the whole summer in their plumbing department.
One of the best books I read last year was Terrill Lee Lankford's EARTHQUAKE WEATHER. The sequel will be published soon, and anyone who loved the first book will want to read BLONDE LIGHTNING, because it's even better.Mark Hayes is still on the fringes of the movie business after being cleared of murder, and he joins forces with writer/director Clyde McCoy to make a low-budget film noir called Blonde Lightning. The story of how this movie comes about, from start to finish, furnishes the skeleton of this novel, but it's much more than that, as Mark has to grapple with plenty of emotional and moral issues. When someone tries to kill him and Clyde, things get worse. When they try to deal with that threat, things get really bad.This book is not just about the plot, though. It's about the fear of death, and the compromises between art and business, and the power of both love and friendship. It's about striving for a bit of immortality in a very mortal world. Lankford is one of the few authors who can manage to be hilariously funny, heartbreakingly poignant, and bone-chillingly dark in the same book -- sometimes in the same chapter. BLONDE LIGHTNING is a fine, fine book, and although I just finished it, I expect it to linger in my mind for a long time.
Although I never met Byron Preiss and never had any dealings with him, I was sorry to hear about him being killed in a car wreck. (Livia wrote part of a collaborative private eye novel that he packaged, THE BLACK MOON.)
Although he worked extensively in the publishing business and produced many books, my memory of Byron Preiss goes back mostly to a day in 1975 or ’76 when I walked into Reader’s World Bookstore in River Oaks, Texas, and the title of a book on the shelves jumped out at me: WEIRD HEROES – A NEW AMERICAN PULP! By that time I’d been reading all the books that came out during the pulp reprint boom for about ten years. Doc Savage, the Shadow, the Spider, Operator 5, Jim Hatfield . . . I was a huge fan of all of them. To see a book that claimed to be a new American pulp was like a shot of pure adrenaline to me. Naturally I bought it, took it home, and read it immediately.
Well, the verdict was mixed. Some of the stuff I liked, some of it I didn’t, and some of it just puzzled me because it didn’t seem very pulp-like at all. But I enjoyed the series enough so that I bought all the other volumes as soon as they came out. And I always appreciated Byron Preiss for trying to recapture that pulp magic, even though I didn’t think he fully succeeded.
I think he also had a hand in Jim Steranko’s CHANDLER, what we would now call a hardboiled graphic novel, although the edition I bought when it was first released was more the size of a digest comic book.
We’ve seen several movies lately on DVD. A quick rundown:
MISS CONGENIALITY 2 – Well, it’s got Sandra Bullock in it, and she’s so cute and sweet. Not a great movie by any means, but I enjoyed it. Better than the critics said it was.
THE PACIFIER – Well, it’s got Vin Diesel in it, and he’s so . . . Wait a minute, that doesn’t work for this one. I thought it was one of the most predictable movies I’ve seen in a while, but the cast worked hard and Vin Diesel showed a pretty good touch for comedy. I enjoyed it. Better than the critics said it was.
HITCH – To me, Kevin James is funny even when he’s standing still and not doing anything. He’s great in this movie, and Will Smith is his usual charming self, and I thought it was a really good-hearted film. I enjoyed it a lot. I don’t remember what the critics thought of it, and I’m too lazy to look it up.
BEYOND THE SEA – Kevin Spacey’s bizarre but utterly heart-felt biopic of/tribute to Bobby Darin. Great music, a great performance by Spacey that really grew on me during the course of the movie, and a pretty good evocation of the time period. If I remember correctly, most of the critics looked at this one and said, “Huh?” I enjoyed it a lot once I got into it.
I’m obviously not a real tough critic when it comes to movies (my recent rant about THE HULK notwithstanding). Give me a halfway decent story, actors I like, good music and good production values, and I’m happy.
Today’s page count: 17. Not bad.
All I had to do was mention that I was going to start posting my page count on here again, and today I wrote 23 pages, my best day yet on this book. That's some potent mojo. (But we'll have to see if it lasts.)
A few days ago I wrote about Charles E. Fritch’s private eye novel NEGATIVE OF A NUDE, published as half of an Ace Double in 1959. Well, there’s a sequel to this book, but it’s just a fluke that I ever found it. Some years ago while browsing through a used bookstore, I picked up PSYCHO SINNER by Eric Thomas, what appeared to be a typical early Sixties sleaze novel published in 1961 by an outfit in California called Athena Books. But the front cover copy mentioned Hollywood private eye Mark Wonder, and I immediately recognized that as the name of the character from NEGATIVE OF A NUDE.
I bought the book, of course, and now that I’ve read it, I can say without any question that Eric Thomas was a pseudonym for Charles E. Fritch, and PSYCHO SINNER is a direct sequel to NEGATIVE OF A NUDE, featuring not only Mark Wonder but also Dody Dutton, his girlfriend from the previous book. Despite its soft-core porn appearance, there’s really not much sex in this book, and what there is isn’t much more graphic than what would have appeared in a Gold Medal or a Dell book from the same era. PSYCHO SINNER is a straightforward private eye novel in which Mark Wonder is hired by beautiful starlet Silvi McClair to find out who’s trying to kill her. Wonder’s search for the truth leads him to a nudist colony, a beatnik nightclub, the office of a powerful Hollywood movie producer, and the apartment of a female psychiatrist who’s as stunning as any starlet. There are echoes of Richard S. Prather and Robert Leslie Bellem here, but Fritch has his own voice, and it’s a fast-paced, entertaining one. This book lacks the dark edges that made NEGATIVE OF A NUDE a more powerful novel, but it’s still great fun and I’m certainly glad I came across it and bought it years ago.
Last month spoiled me. Despite a lot of real-world crap happening in June, the book I wrote last month went so fast and so easy and turned out so well that I want all of them to be like that. And of course, they aren't. The current project has been a struggle from the very first day. So I'm going to resort to using this blog as a self-motivational tool again and start listing how many pages I wrote each day. Today was a big 10. (Although to be fair, some errands kept me busy part of the day and I got in just one shift at the computer.) I'll be talking about other things, too (such as the fact that I've started watching serials again and am two chapters into ACE DRUMMOND), but we'll see if having to own up each night to that day's production will make me work a little harder.
This morning I was telling Livia about Evan Hunter passing away, which she hadn't heard, and at the same time I lifted the cushion on my recliner to look for something. I was surprised to see that a book had slipped down inside the chair at some time in the past. It was in a plastic bag, so I knew I'd probably bought it at Half Price Books, from the nostalgia section. I reached into the chair and pulled it out . . . and it was a copy of the science fiction novel TOMORROW AND TOMORROW by Hunt Collins, who was, of course, Evan Hunter. I bought it a couple of months ago, had no idea it was missing, and I'm not really sure how it got inside the chair. But the timing of the whole thing struck me as one of those odd coincidences that sometimes occur. Since I have the book sitting here, maybe I'll go ahead and read it in the next few days.
Bill Crider posted about this book a few days ago and made it sound so intriguing that I had to read it, too. I've been a fan of H.A. DeRosso's work for several years now. THE GUN TRAIL is probably the bleakest thing I've read by him so far. While reading it, the thought occurred to me that DeRosso is the anti-L'Amour. He uses the same sort of standard Western plots that Louis L'Amour (and hundreds of other Western writers) used and still use. DeRosso just turns them upside-down and gives his characters all sorts of moral conflicts and emotional torment. You can see why he was never hugely successful, going against the grain like that, and to be honest, as much as I like his books, I wouldn't want a steady diet of them, either. But anybody who likes hardboiled or noir fiction should definitely seek out DeRosso's books. THE GUN TRAIL hasn't been reprinted yet, but several of his other novels and a couple of short story collections are readily available in hardback and large print editions from libraries and as paperbacks from Leisure.
This bad news is going around quickly, but I have to weigh in on it. Evan Hunter has passed away at age 79 after a long struggle with cancer. I've been reading and enjoying his work for more than four decades now. I was in elementary school when I read his Winston SF novel DANGER--DINOSAURS!, written under the name Richard Marsten. Of course, I had no idea then that it was really by Evan Hunter. I just knew it was a terrific book. A few years later I discovered the 87th Precinct books by Ed McBain. I began grabbing them up and racing through them as fast as I could, and I still remember vividly sitting in study hall and reading COP HATER, THE MUGGER, and THE PUSHER. Terrific books, every one. Eventually I found out about all the various pseudonyms he used and began tracking down his other books, including a couple of Gold Medals as by Curt Cannon, I'M CANNON--FOR HIRE and I LIKE 'EM TOUGH. They were great, and incredibly hardboiled. (Those books were, of course, based on the Matt Cordell stories published in MANHUNT under the Hunter name. I didn't know that then, but it doesn't really matter, either.) I read THE BLACKBOARD JUNGLE after seeing the movie. I read some of his other mainstream novels like SONS. Luckily, I still have quite a few of his novels on hand that I've never read, such as a hardback of THE PAPER DRAGON that sits about two feet from me on the shelves as I type this. I kind of drifted away from the 87th Precinct series in recent years, but I'm sure I'll read all of them eventually. Hunter was just a great writer.
It was a quiet Fourth of July in the Reasoner household. One daughter was at work all day, the other is sick with a summer cold. Livia went to the grocery store, I wrote 16 pages on the current book and did some more plumbing work, replaced a bad fill valve on a toilet. We live up pretty high, so we can see all the fireworks displays in the area just by going out in our driveway at night. When the kids were little we'd always go out and watch the fireworks on the Fourth of July. Not so much in recent years. But I saw a few and enjoyed them. Hope it was a good holiday for those of you who celebrate it, and a good Monday for those who don't.
WesternPulps scan -- BEST WESTERN NOVELS, November 1947
It was a year ago today that I started writing this blog. My goal was to have fun with it, and I certainly have. I hope all of you reading this have gotten some enjoyment from it as well. Thanks to Bill and Ed for prompting me to get started in the first place.
Recently I got back in touch with an old friend, author and editor Charles E. Fritch. Chuck was my editor at MIKE SHAYNE MYSTERY MAGAZINE for several years and was the one who asked me to take over writing all the Mike Shayne novellas. This was the first regular writing job I ever had, and I've always been grateful to Chuck for the opportunity.Trading e-mails with him inspired me to dig out one of his old novels and read it. NEGATIVE OF A NUDE is half of an Ace Double (TILL DEATH DO US PART by Louis Trimble is on the other side) and as far as I know the only book Chuck did for Ace. It features private eye Mark Wonder, who is hired to recover some blackmail photos and along the way finds himself trying to solve the murder of an old enemy of his so that the killing won't be pinned on him. At first the story is told in a light, breezy style reminiscent of Richard S. Prather, and Fritch does light and breezy just fine. But then he springs some surprises that put a much darker face on things and elevate this book from a romp to something richer and deeper. The plot also becomes surprisingly complex for a book that probably clocks in at 40,000 words or less. All in all, an excellent novel. Fritch wrote at least one other Mark Wonder novel that was published by a small publisher I can't recall at the moment. I know I own a copy, so I'm going to have to see if I can find it and read it, too.
Thanks to Vineeth Abraham of the WesternPulps group for the link to a great website featuring thousands of cover scans from vintage paperbacks. I've barely scratched the surface of the stuff on this site, but I have a feeling I'll be spending a lot of time there.
Just thought I'd try out Blogger's new image uploading feature with the cover of a fine new book now available at bookstores nationwide.
I finally got around to watching this movie tonight (Thursday) on DVD. If you’ve been reading this blog for very long, you know my track record on comic book movies that were trashed by the critics. The critics hated DAREDEVIL. I kind of liked it. The critics hated ELEKTRA. I kind of liked it. The critics hated THE HULK . . . Well, you know the old saying about two out of three. I hated it, too. In fact, it’s going to be hard to talk about it without sounding like Comic Book Guy from THE SIMPSONS, but I’ll try.
First, there were a few things that I did like. Jennifer Connelly was okay as Betty Ross. (I tend to cut Jennifer Connelly a lot of slack.) Sam Elliott was perfectly cast as General Thunderbolt Ross. The cameos by Stan Lee and Lou Ferrigno were just about perfect, over with quickly and not too cute. I appreciated the fact that much of the action took place in the American Southwest, like it was supposed to. I always liked the fact that the Hulk’s origin wasn’t in some big city somewhere. I even smiled a little at the nod to the TV version of the character at the very end of the movie. And the CGI Hulk, the object of much ridicule when the movie first came out, actually looked okay – when he was on screen by himself. It was only when he had to interact with his surroundings that the horrible blunder of making him twenty to twenty-five feet tall was apparent. He should have been around seven feet tall, eight tops.
To move on to the other things I disliked, for much of the movie the pace was too slow and brooding. I thought Eric Bana was miscast as Bruce Banner. Mostly, though, I thought all the tinkering with the origin story was just terrible. Making Bruce’s condition the result of his father’s genetic experiments with cellular regeneration totally invalidates the original concept of the character as created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. The whole point of the Hulk is that there is a monster lurking in everyone that can be unleashed under the right circumstances. Bruce Banner, incredibly brilliant though he may be, is still an Everyman in the comic book version, until exposure to the radiation from the gamma bomb changes him. The movie version of the character starts out different from everyone else. He’s a mutant, more suited to being a member of the X-Men. (Speaking of which, I’ve never seen those movies, either. I’ve got to get around to watching them.) There’s just no good reason to make that change in the character. I realize a movie is different from a comic book or a novel. I’m not opposed to making some changes in an adaptation. There were changes from the original in the Spider-Man movies and the Lord of the Rings movies, but those didn’t bother me because overall the movies were faithful to the spirit of the source material. The movie version of the Hulk is a perversion of the source material.
Which brings me to the whole subject of retconning, i.e. the practice of going back and changing a character’s origin or back-story for the purpose of updating him or making him more acceptable for whatever reason to a current audience. I have a simple stance on retconning. I don’t like it. I think it’s unnecessary. Give me a time paradox any day over wholesale jettisoning of years or decades worth of continuity. That’s the main reason I dislike so many of the comics that have been published in the past ten to fifteen years.
From what I’ve seen of the new Fantastic Four movie, it looks pretty good and reasonably accurate. However, when some of you go see it, no matter what the movie tells you, just remember: Reed Richards was an OSS agent during World War II. Ben Grimm was a fighter pilot during the same war. Reed designed, built, and launched his rocket for one reason and one reason only – to beat the Commies into space. Trust me on these things. I was there when they happened.