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.