Sunday, December 31, 2006

The Wrap-up

This is my third annual end-of-the-year post. On the writing front, I wrote a lot this year, even with my eye troubles during the summer and fall. In fact, 2006 was my most productive year ever. But I'm not reporting any numbers this year because I think I obsess too much about such things. I'd rather say that I think I did some pretty good work. I'm especially proud of the story that I wrote for the World Fantasy Convention/Robert E. Howard anthology, CROSS PLAINS UNIVERSE, and my story that appeared on the Hardluck Stories website. Mostly, though, I'm just thankful to still be writing after all these years.

As for reading, I read 139 books this year, down a little from last year. Here are my ten favorites, in alphabetical order by author, with a few comments on each book:

THE SECOND LIFE OF MONSIEUR THE DEVIL, H. Bedford-Jones -- a fine pulp adventure yarn with some very atmospheric writing in it.

THE LINCOLN LAWYER, Michael Connelly -- I didn't like this one as much as most people seemed to, but it's stayed with me, something that I can't say for every book I read. I hope Connelly writes more about Mickey Haller.

GRAVITY, Tess Gerritsen -- Livia has been a fan of Tess Gerritsen's books for several years and convinced me to give one of them a try. I started with this one about a bizarre virus causing havoc on the international space station and really enjoyed it. Great pace and really smooth prose. I read another Gerritsen novel, BLOODSTREAM, that almost made this list.

RIDE INTO YESTERDAY, Ed Gorman -- I read several Gorman Westerns this year and really liked all of them, but this one, originally published under the pseudonym Christopher Keegan, was my favorite. It has an absolutely wonderful ending.

DEAD CAT BOUNCE, Norman Green -- I'd never heard of this author before, but I really liked the book, a crime novel told in a distinctive, highly entertaining voice. I've rounded up some other books by Norman Green but haven't gotten around to reading them yet.

LEARNING TO KILL, Ed McBain -- This collection of early stories by Evan Hunter, along with a fine introduction and story notes, is simply great. What else would you expect?

RED, Jack Ketchum -- From what I've read, this novel, despite some violent scenes, isn't really representative of the rest of Ketchum's work. Doesn't matter, because it's a fine, fine book.

ORCSLAYER, Nathan Long -- Heroic fantasy from the Warhammer series. Great action scenes and good characters in this one.

INVASION OF PRIVACY, Perri O'Shaughnessy -- I read the first two books in the O'Shaughnessy sisters' series of legal thrillers about Lake Tahoe lawyer Nina Reilly. This is the second one, and I liked it a little better than the first, MOTION TO SUPPRESS, but both of them are very good and I intend to read the others in the series.

FAITH AND FIRE, James Swallow -- An action-packed science-fiction novel from the Warhammer 40,000 series.

It was really difficult paring my choices down to just ten books, so in addition to the extra titles I've already sneaked into the comments, this year I also enjoyed two books by Kinky Friedman, COWBOY LOGIC and THE GREAT PSYCHEDELIC ARMADILLO PICNIC; Dick Francis's comeback novel, UNDER ORDERS; BLACK EVENING, a collection of short stories and novellas by David Morrell; the THRILLER anthology from editor James Patterson and the International Thriller Writers; and two fine traditional Westerns, THE CHEYENNE POOL by Lewis B. Patten and TRAIL OF THE HUNTER by Dudley Dean. As you can see, I read across a broad spectrum. Always have and probably always will.

I couldn't even begin to tell you how many movies I watched, but I can pick out my favorite without any trouble: KISS KISS, BANG BANG. I think that's just a great film. I still need to subject it to the repeated watchings test, though, if I can ever get around to it.

I don't make New Year's resolutions, never have. But I hope 2007 is a great year for all of you.

Friday, December 29, 2006

The Weird Detective Adventures of Wade Hammond / Paul Chadwick

I’d read one or two Wade Hammond stories in the past and remembered liking them, so I picked up this recent collection. As noted in the introduction, Hammond is something of an odd amalgamation: he’s a world traveler and adventurer (and he’s obviously done some big game hunting, judging by the trophies mounted on the walls of his apartment), he’s been a newspaper correspondent, and he’s also an unofficial consultant for the police, who have a habit of calling him in whenever there’s some unusual murder.

These stories from the pulps Detective-Dragnet and Ten Detective Aces do a good job of tracing the development of the series during its nearly five-year run. In the early stories, Hammond functions as a pretty standard hardboiled dick, taking on various gangsters and killers. But as the series goes on the murder methods become more bizarre, and soon enough Hammond is facing killer robots, giant tarantulas, ghosts, mysterious balls of deadly purple light that strike from the skies, and walking skeletons. This is a pretty entertaining blend of the hardboiled detective and weird menace genres, and true to the weird menace roots, most of the stories have the old Scooby-Doo resolution, where it turns out there’s a logical explanation for the seemingly supernatural events.

Chadwick, probably best known as the originator of Secret Agent X and author about about a third of the novels featuring that character, was a good solid pulp writer who could handle gritty action scenes and moody, atmospheric horror with equal skill. The only drawback to these Wade Hammond stories is that despite his colorful background Hammond never really comes alive as a character for me. For some reason he remains rather flat. Still, I enjoyed this collection, especially the stories with the more bizarre angles, and I wouldn’t hesitate to read more Wade Hammond stories if I came across them.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

The Korean Intercept / Stephen Mertz

Stephen Mertz's new novel opens with the American space shuttle Liberty being guided back to Earth by NASA computers after a short-lived mission that was called off within hours of lift-off. At least, that’s what the American astronauts on board think. Unknown to them, a traitor in Houston is really bringing the shuttle down to an isolated airfield in the mountains along the border between China and North Korea. When the shuttle commander realizes this, he takes back manual control, but not in time to do anything except avoid the airfield and crash-land the shuttle in the mountains.

This set-up results in an intense, action-packed, big-cast thriller that ranges from Washington to Beijing to the Korean mountains, as the survivors of the shuttle crew try to stay alive while the Chinese and North Korean military are converging on them, along with the personal army of a Chinese warlord and an American covert ops squad. The Chinese and North Koreans want to claim the prize that the shuttle represents with all its technology, while the Americans want to save the shuttle and its crew.

One problem I have with a lot of political/espionage thrillers is that they’re too long for the amount of plot they contain. That’s not the case here, as there’s always something going on in THE KOREAN INTERCEPT and the plot takes some unexpected twists along the way. It’s also told in the smooth, fast-moving prose of a thorough professional, which is exactly what you’d expect from Stephen Mertz.

In the interests of full disclosure, I should say that I’ve known Steve Mertz for more years than I like to think about, probably longer than anyone else in the writing business except for Bill Crider and Joe Lansdale (and my wife, of course). He’s been a good friend and occasional collaborator. But take my word for it, THE KOREAN INTERCEPT is a vastly entertaining action-thriller, and I’d say that even if I’d never met the guy.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The Big Three-Oh

Today marks thirty years since my first short story sale. I've written at length about that first sale and the early days of my writing career here, so I won't take up the space again. However, I would like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to the editors who have bought my work and the readers who have read it for the past three decades. Thanks to all of you for allowing me to avoid honest employment for so many years.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Tales From Deadwood: The Killers

My copies of this book arrived today, so I assume it's either out there on the shelves or will be soon, so you can pick up a copy if you have any cash left over after Christmas. This is the third and for now final book in the series, but I'm still hoping there may be more later.

Monday, December 25, 2006


It was another fine Christmas in the Reasoner household. We opened presents this morning, I worked for a while, and then we spent the afternoon with Livia's family. This year we agreed to hold the gift-giving down to a reasonable level (and actually stuck to it for a change), but I still got some good stuff: a couple of CDs ("In Between Dreams" by Jack Johnson and the soundtrack of "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly", which is great music to write Westerns by), a DVD ("Cool Hand Luke", a great movie I haven't seen in 'way too many years), a very nice pair of leather gloves, a new Dallas Cowboys t-shirt to replace the one that's wearing out, a Get Fuzzy desk calendar (it goes right beside my computer; I can't start the day's work without a visit with Rob, Satchel, and Bucky), and a Black & Decker Auto-Wrench, a battery-powered crescent wrench that automatically adjusts to the size of the nut or bolt. I'm not much of a tool guy, but I do like a good crescent wrench, and this appears to be a really nice one. My brother-in-law gave me a life-size standup of Humphrey Bogart that's already in my studio waiting to inspire me to get more pages written.

Tonight we watched "The Polar Express", which I hadn't seen before. Lots of really stunning visuals, and I like a nice inspirational story now and then. Plus Peter Scolari did one of the voices, and as a "Bosom Buddies" fan, I always like to see him working with Tom Hanks again.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Friday, December 22, 2006

Graham and Crimespot

Let me join with others in expressing my admiration and gratitude to Graham Powell for his great Crimespot website. It's a regular stop for me, and it's introduced me to a number of blogs that I now read every day. Also, Graham and I live in the same neck of the woods, so I hope to run into him in person one of these days.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Two Goodis Stories

So far I've read several of the stories in the David Goodis collection, BLACK FRIDAY, but a couple of them really stand out.

"The Case of the Laughing Queen", a novelette that originally appeared under the pseudonym Lance Kermit in the October 1942 issue of the pulp 10 STORY MYSTERY, begins with the death of a man wearing a king's crown whose body is found on a barge towed into New York from the Atlantic. In the ice coating the barge's deck is scratched the dying message, "The queen was smiling." Then a former prizefighter dressed like a priest is found murdered on the steps of Grant's Tomb. The murder weapon is a 500-year-old spear that once belonged to a Spanish conquistador. Put in charge of solving these murders is Ricco Pasquale Maguire, an Italian/Irish millionaire playboy who's also a homicide cop. (Shades of Amos Burke!) Then . . . things get weird.

This story is as crazed and over-the-top as it sounds, and not like anything else by David Goodis that I've ever read. The plot never makes a whole lot of sense, but that doesn't really matter. It's still highly entertaining.

"Caravan to Tarim", although written for a slick (COLLIER'S, October 26, 1943), is very reminiscent of the sort of straight-ahead adventure story that usually appeared in, well, ADVENTURE. Or ARGOSY or BLUE BOOK or one of the other general fiction pulps. The hero is a two-fisted American who works for an Arab merchant bringing caravans of trade goods across desert wastes where Bedouin raiders are always a danger. There are double- and triple-crosses, gun battles, camels, and sand dunes. What else do you need in a story like this? Not much, when it's told in such a smooth, hardboiled style as Goodis employs here.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The Name is Grinch, James Grinch

We were watching the DVD of Ron Howard's live-action HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS (or is it just called THE GRINCH? No matter.) I've seen this several times before. All of us in the Reasoner household agree that while Jim Carrey seems to be trying to imitate Boris Karloff's voice from the original cartoon, what comes out sounds exactly like Sean Connery's voice instead. Are we the only ones who feel this way?

The blog that Charles Gramlich mentions in his comment on the previous post can be found here. It has some excellent posts on writing and plotting.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Catching Up

When this blog goes silent, as it has for the past week, you know I haven't been doing much of anything except sitting in a room and typing. The current project is going along fairly well, although the past couple of days I'm starting to sense that I've overcomplicated the plot, something that's a recurring problem with me. I tend to throw in too many twists and sometimes have to prune some of them as I go along. I'm working from a very short outline this time, and that usually makes the problem worse. But I'm confident that I'll be able to hammer it all into shape.

I've also been in one of my reading funks (which, oddly enough, often seem to coincide with my blogging funks) and don't have the patience right now to read novels, even though I have a ton of them on hand that I want to get to. And considering how much books weigh, I may not be exaggerating with that "ton" reference. Anyway, thank goodness for short stories. I've been alternating between three different volumes: THE WEIRD DETECTIVE ADVENTURES OF WADE HAMMOND by Paul Chadwick, a small-press collection of stories from a series that originally appeared in the pulps Detective Dragnet and Ten Detective Aces; BLACK FRIDAY & SELECTED STORIES by David Goodis, a Serpent's Tail collection of the novel BLACK FRIDAY and a dozen stories from various detective pulps (I'm just reading the short stories and saving the novel until later); and 100 CROOKED LITTLE CRIME STORIES, one of those Barnes & Noble anthologies edited by Marty Greenberg, Stefan Dziemianowicz, and Bob Weinberg that I've been working my way through for at least a year now. If I finish these off and still don't feel like reading novels, I have plenty of other collections and anthologies and digest magazines on hand.

The only other thing I have to report is that I got to watch the film based on my short story "Graveyard Shift", which I mentioned in the previous post. I liked it a lot and thought the actor who played the lead character was just about perfect in the role. Patrick Wager, the writer/director, did a fine job of adapting the story. And to answer the question Juri asked in a comment, Patrick is not related to the writer Walter Wager, although his father is named Walter.

Monday, December 11, 2006

My Movie Career

A while back a short film was made based on one of my old stories, "Graveyard Shift", which originally appeared in MIKE SHAYNE MYSTERY MAGAZINE and has since been anthologized a couple of times. The writer and director, Patrick Wager, has posted the film on YouTube and it can be seen here. With my steam-powered computer and tin-can-and-string Internet connection, I'm not going to try to download it, but I've asked my daughter to get it for me, so I'll probably see it in a few days. In the meantime, if you're interested it only runs about seven minutes, I think.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

A Heaping Helping of Crow

By the way, those comments I made yesterday about inaccuracies in Dave Barry's pop culture references . . . Never mind. He's right, I'm wrong.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

The Shepherd, the Angel, and Walter the Christmas Miracle Dog / Dave Barry

I'm a big fan of Dave Barry's work, so I had to read this new Christmas novella. It's set in 1960, in a little town in New York, and the narrator's name is Doug Barnes. Not surprisingly, it's pretty autobiographical, or at least it seems that way. There's no telling how much of the story really happened, although I think it's a safe bet that the bizarre climax didn't occur in real life. Anyone familiar with Barry's writing probably won't be expecting a nice, straightforward, linear narrative, so the lack of same won't be a surprise, either. What you get is an entertaining yarn that sort of sprawls around like real life, with all sorts of digressions and jumping back and forth in time. The main storyline concerns the Christmas pageant being put on at the church Doug and his family attend. Doug and a couple of his friends play shepherds; Doug's little brother and sister are angels. As for Walter the Christmas Miracle Dog, he plays an important part in the story, too.

This reads a little like an updated version of a Jean Shepherd story (which is a good thing since Shepherd is one of my favorite authors). It's pretty lightweight compared to Shepherd's work, and my other complaint is that if you're going to go to the trouble to establish a specific year as your setting, you really need to get your pop culture references right, too. I know mistakes like that don't bother a lot of readers, but they annoy me. I'm willing to forgive them in such a good-hearted book as this one, though. This is good nostalgic fun with a few laugh-out-loud scenes.

Thursday, December 07, 2006


I've been hunkered down writing lately, which explains why this blog has been quiet. I've managed to watch the first four episodes of COMBAT! on DVD, though.

COMBAT! was one of my favorite TV shows as a kid. I watched it nearly every week during its original run in the Sixties. Then during the Eighties I saw some of the episodes again in syndicated reruns and still enjoyed them. Now, I'm glad to report that the series still holds up pretty well. The production values are high, the black-and-white photography is really good, and the acting, writing, and direction are all top-notch. Vic Morrow, who usually played villains (and was good at it, too), is excellent here as the stalwart Sergeant Chip Saunders. Rick Jason as Lieutenant Hanley is kind of a stiff (Jason was intended to be the star of the series, but Morrow eclipsed him within a few episodes), but I don't mind him too much. The supporting cast, playing the GIs in Saunders's squad, are all great, although the best of the bunch, Jack Hogan as Kirby and Dick Peabody as Littlejohn, are barely visible in the early episodes I just watched.

In fact, that's the problem with the early episodes, many of which were directed by Robert Altman. They tend to concentrate on one or two characters, and I enjoy the later episodes more because they're more of an ensemble effort. I really like the interaction of the various squad members. But some of the early ones are still really good, like the second episode, "Any Second Now", which was directed by Altman and features Hanley trapped in a French church with an unexploded German bomb and a shaky British bomb disposal officer who's losing his nerve. This is a fine episode. I hadn't seen it since it was first broadcast in 1963, but I still remembered it after nearly 43 years.

I don't know when or if I'll get around to watching any more of these, but I'm glad to know that a show I liked a lot back then was actually pretty good. (That hasn't been the case with all of my old favorites.)

Friday, December 01, 2006


In his comment on the previous post, John Hocking (a fine author of heroic fantasy himself) asks about my outlining practices. I've written books with no outline at all, just a vague idea of what I wanted to do (a recipe for disaster -- I'm lucky I've never had to scrap a sizable portion of a book and have always been able to figure out how to save it), and I've written books from a highly detailed 60 - 70 page outline that was pretty much a condensed version of the novel (that was what the publisher wanted, but I never liked writing those mammoth outlines and gradually whittled them down to 20 - 30 pages).

These days, most of my outlines range from about half a page to three pages. If I'm working with a particularly complicated plot, the outline might grow to six or eight pages, just so I can be sure I've got everything lined up so that it'll all hold together. Sometimes I have the beginning, middle, and end, and sometimes I just have the first part of the book figured out and work out the rest as I go along. In other words, I'm all over the map when it comes to outlining, but I nearly always have one, such as it is.

I went to the TCU Press signing this evening and had a good time as usual. The crowd wasn't as large as it sometimes is, but I still signed quite a few books. Got to talk to old friends and met a few new ones. This is the last signing I'll be doing for a while . . . unless, of course, somebody else asks me.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Getting Ahead of Myself

I did something recently on a book I was working on that I’d never done before. And after all these years, there aren’t very many writing tricks that I haven’t tried. I wrote the ending of this book before I got to it. Usually my method is to go straight through a project, start to finish, without skipping around. But I was writing along on this book when it suddenly occurred to me how it should end, so I went ahead and moved down a ways in the file and wrote the final two paragraphs, so they were already done when I got to that point. I revised them slightly to make them fit better with the paragraphs leading up to them, but I didn’t make many changes. They wound up pretty much the way I originally wrote them.

I should point out that while I always know in a general way how a book is going to end, this is the first time the actual words came to me ahead of time like that. I was surprised but pleased. I always like the chance to try something new when I’m writing.

Weather Update

It's cold. It rained, it sleeted, it snowed. The roads are slick. I stayed inside and wrote all day.

Could've been worse.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Winter's A-Comin'

We just had a blue norther blow through about twenty minutes ago, bringing with it the promise of snow, ice, and the first hard freeze of the season. The temperature is already plummeting and the wind is blowing hard. Last year we had the coldest weather in early December, before winter officially started. I hope it doesn't get that cold any time this winter, because that cold spell truly sucked. As you may have guessed, I'm not fond of winter weather, even what passes for winter here in Texas.

Luckily I'm not doing much these days except sitting at the computer and writing, and my studio has a decent heater in it. I really think cold weather slows my brain down a little, though. We'll see how it turns out.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Jury Duty

I had to go to jury duty this morning, for the fourth or fifth time in my life. The only time I ever actually got put on a jury, the case lasted less than five minutes. The judge threw it out first thing because of some procedural error by the prosecution. Today, even though I got there early, the small lobby in the courthouse where we had to wait was already packed, with no place to sit and not nearly enough ventilation. So we stood there waiting for more than an hour and a half before being called in and told we could go home because all the cases on the docket had been pled out at the last minute. I was glad not to get put on a jury for a case that could last days or even weeks -- my writing schedule doesn't have that kind of leeway in it -- but at the same time I was frustrated to have spent that time for nothing. I also found myself thinking that if I was on trial for a major crime -- or even a minor one -- I'm not sure I'd want my fate in the hands of twelve bored, uncomfortable, and annoyed people.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

TCU Press Signing

For those of you in the Fort Worth area, I'll be signing books this Friday (that's December 1) at the Botanic Gardens as part of TCU Press's Annual Autograph Extravaganza, from four to six in the afternoon. Most of the contributors to NOAH'S RIDE will be there, of course, along with a number of other Texas authors. I've been to many of these annual get-togethers and always enjoyed them. It's more informal than most signings. Instead of the authors being lined up behind a table, it's more like a reception where everyone can mingle. A good chance to visit with readers and other authors. One author always gives a short talk, and this year it's Carlton Stowers. They're supposed to have copies of the Point Blank Press edition of TEXAS WIND for sale and maybe a few more of my books. If you're in the neighborhood and want to stop by, I'd be glad to see you.

Thursday, November 23, 2006


I hope all of you who celebrate Thanksgiving had a fine day today. And for those of you who don’t celebrate Thanksgiving . . . well, I hope you had a fine day, too.

My schedule called for me to put in a full day at the computer today, so in between eating too much good food and napping a little, I did exactly that. I need to wrap up the current book by the end of the month. Working on a holiday isn’t that unusual for me, and it’s particularly appropriate on Thanksgiving, because I’m really thankful for the work I have. Not a day goes by that I don’t thank God for the opportunities I’ve been given. My work isn’t particularly profound (although if you look, every now and then I try to slip in something worth thinking about for a minute or two) and I’m not out to change the world. Instead I get the chance to entertain people, to make them laugh or occasionally get a little misty-eyed, to give them something to read when they’re happy or something to read when they’re sad and need to get away from the world for a little while. It’s one of the greatest blessings in the world, and the reason I’m still pounding away at it after all these years.

And, of course, so I won’t have to get a real job.

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

No More Rain/Kasey Lansdale

I bought this CD at the World Fantasy Convention from Kasey Lansdale her ownself, and now that I’ve had a chance to listen to it all the way through several times, I can report that it’s really, really good.

I’m not sure what I was expecting, maybe some sort of country/pop crossover like the music of Faith Hill or Shania Twain. A few of the songs lean that direction, but for the most part this is pure, traditional country, mostly up-tempo and mid-tempo songs with a ballad or two mixed in. Kasey has a fine, strong voice and sings these songs with the ease and confidence of someone who’s been in the business a long time. Her talents aren’t confined to singing, though, as she also wrote five of the ten songs included here, including the title tune. I don’t know enough about music to comment on the technical aspects of anything . . . but I’ve been listening to country music, off and on, for more than forty years, and this is good stuff.

During the weekend of the convention, Kasey and her band opened for the legendary Ray Price and from what I heard got a standing ovation from the audience. I’m sure it was well-deserved.

Monday, November 20, 2006

The Box/Peter Rabe

I've neglected some of the classic Gold Medal authors, reading only a few of their books over the years. Peter Rabe falls into that category. I'd read only one of his books, the first one in the Daniel Port series (the title escapes me at the moment), and I didn't much like it. So I decided to give him another try and read one of his best-known novels, THE BOX.

This book has an absolutely great, atmospheric opening. In a sleepy little desert town on the North African coast, a tramp steamer drops off a large wooden crate about the size of two coffins. Whatever is in the crate smells bad and is moving around, and when it's opened up, a man comes lunging out, a wild, half-crazy man who's been shut up in the box since the ship left New York. His name is Quinn, and he's a former mob lawyer who's been closed up in the box with enough food and water to keep him alive, then placed on the steamer as punishment for a falling out with the gangsters who used to be his associates.

That's not really a spoiler, because all of that back-story is spelled out on the back cover of the 1962 paperback, the cover of which, by Barye Phillips, accompanies this post.

Unfortunately, after that great opening, the book goes 'way downhill for me. The plot takes a nice twist or two, but meanders around so much on the way that I had a difficult time maintaining any interest in it. While undoubtedly well-written, Rabe's style is just too slow and literary for me, and the constant shifting around of point-of-view within scenes really annoyed me. Quite a few people whose opinions I trust really like Rabe's books, so I have to conclude that he's just one of those authors whose work doesn't appeal to me for some reason. Dan Cushman, who also wrote some Gold Medals, is the prime example of this sort of author. Considering what he writes about and his pulp background, I ought to love his stuff, but I had to struggle to finish the few books of his I read, and I finally gave up on him.

I'm not going to give up on Rabe. For one thing, I already own most of his books. But I don't think I'll be trying another one of his any time soon.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Bust/Ken Bruen and Jason Starr

BUST starts out with a classic noir scenario – a man wants to get rid of his wife, so he hires somebody to kill her . . . and then, Things Go Wrong. And they keep Going Wrong for the next 250-odd pages.

Despite the old-fashioned plot, authors Ken Bruen and Jason Starr (certainly two of the most popular writers in the hardboiled/noir genre at the moment) come up with a generally fresh approach to the material. BUST is well-written, with great dialogue, and is very funny in places despite the grim and sometimes grotesque subject matter. In the end, though, this is a book I admire more than actually like, because everyone in it is irredeemably evil, stupid, or both. There’s nobody to root for. Of course, not everybody cares about having characters to root for, and for those readers, I’d recommend BUST very highly. It falls into the category of being a fine book but just not to my taste.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Clifford: April 3, 1995 - November 14, 2006

Our family lost a really good friend today with the passing of Clifford, our miniature Schnauzer. He came to live with us when Shayna was in fourth grade and Joanna in second grade, so he's been part of the family for a long time. In some ways his health was never very good. When he was fairly young he seemed to have a mild stroke that kept his rear legs from working like they were supposed to. He recovered very well, though, and could run and play normally except for some occasional awkwardness. Then a few years ago he developed heart trouble, and I think that was finally what caused his death. His heart just gave out. But he lived several years longer than we ever expected him to.

Without a doubt, Clifford was the most cheerful dog I've ever known. If ever a dog could be said to always have a smile on his face, it was Clifford. He lived for attention. A good bout of ear rubbing and head scratching could make him whimper in pure bliss. I wish I could have given him a few more of those times, but no matter how much love he got, he always gave more.

On the list of good dogs I've had in my life, Clifford is 'way up there.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Under Orders/Dick Francis

When Dick Francis’s wife passed away several years ago and he announced that he wouldn’t be writing any more novels, there was speculation that Mary Francis was really writing the books instead of her husband. It’s possible that she contributed to them, of course, but despite Francis’s “retirement”, here’s a new novel from him, and to me it seems to be written in the same style, with the same voice, as all the other Dick Francis novels I’ve read.

UNDER ORDERS features the return of former-jockey-turned-private-eye Sid Halley, who starred in several of Francis’s earlier novels. He’s in good form here as he investigates the murder of a jockey who may or may not have been deliberately losing races. The suicide of one of the suspects seems to close the case, but Sid (and the reader) know right away that the so-called suicide is really another murder. Sid’s poking around leads him to the on-line gambling industry and puts him and some of his loved ones in deadly danger before he sorts everything out and tracks down the killer.

This is a tightly plotted, well-written novel with some nice, harrowing action scenes and the usual vividly rendered horse-racing background. I enjoyed it more, in fact, than the last several novels before Francis “retired”. I hope this isn’t a one-shot return and that there’ll be more Dick Francis novels in the future.


James Ward Lee has some nice things to say about my novel TEXAS WIND over on his excellent blog, Jim Lee's Texas, including:

Reasoner’s book is really good, really gritty, and really Fort Worth.

High praise from a fine writer like Jim is always appreciated.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Bob Wayne

One of the highlights of the convention was getting to see my old friend Bob Wayne again. Bob is now a vice-president of DC Comics, but back in January of 1981, when I first met him, he was the owner of the recently-opened Fantastic Worlds Bookstore in Fort Worth. This was the first real comics and science fiction store I'd visited on a regular basis, and it was almost a home-away-from-home for me for a few years. Bob brought in a lot of comics professionals and SF and fantasy authors for signings, and I got to meet most of them. This was how I got to know Neal Barrett Jr. and Scott Cupp, among others. Bob and I still trade e-mails fairly often, but this was the first time I'd seen him in years.

Autograph Party

Just a general shot of the autograph party on Friday night at the WFC.

Cross Plains Universe Party 3

Mark Finn, Charlotte Laughlin, Bill and Judy Crider

Cross Plains Universe Party 2

Another shot from Rudy's.

Cross Plains Universe Party

This photo was taken at the CROSS PLAINS UNIVERSE party at Rudy's on Thursday, November 2. That's Karen Lansdale and Jayme Lynn Blaschke at the near end of the table, with Neal Barrett Jr. at the far end.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

World Fantasy Convention

I'm getting back on my feet now after having been sick all week, so I thought I'd better write a little about the World Fantasy Convention before I forget everything that happened there.

First of all, this photo is from the Nineteenth Century Heroes panel moderated by Bill Crider, which turned out to be one of the best panels I've attended at any convention. From left to right, Scott Cupp, Bill Crider, Jess Nevins, and Barbara Kesel.

Now, to back up to last Thursday, most of which was taken up by the drive down to Austin. I arrived in mid-afternoon, checked in to the hotel and at the convention registration counter, then wandered through the dealer's room for a while and said hello to people. Evidently the art show was moved into the dealer's room at the last minute (I don't know the story on this, just going by comments I overheard) and the result was a more crowded room than usual. The highlight of the day was the CROSS PLAINS UNIVERSE party that evening at Rudy's Barbecue, my favorite place to eat in Austin. The food was great and so was the company. I have a few pictures from that evening that I'll get posted in the next day or two.

Friday I attended the excellent Guest of Honor interview of Glenn Lord conducted by Paul Herman. Glenn is so friendly you tend to forget that he's a living legend. I went to one panel about barbarians in fiction that was pretty interesting. Friday was also the day the members of the International Association of Media Tie-in Writers who were at the convention got together. Bob Vardeman was already an old friend of mine, and I got to meet Jeff Mariotte, Nancy Holder, Tim Waggoner, and Alice Henderson. I've read and enjoyed books by all of them except Alice, and I intend to read something by her soon. That night was the mass autographing, where I signed copies of CROSS PLAINS UNIVERSE one after another for nearly two hours. Between that and the NOAH'S RIDE signings, I think I've autographed more books in the past few weeks than in all the rest of my career put together. Later that evening I stopped in briefly at the launch party for BLOOD AND THUNDER, Mark Finn's new biography of Robert E. Howard, but I was too tired to stay for very long.

Saturday I attended the CROSS PLAINS UNIVERSE reading, which consisted of Michael Moorcock, Jessica Reisman, Lillian Stewart Carl, and Lawrence Person reading excerpts from their stories. The selections were all excellent and really made me want to read the rest of the book. The panel I was on also took place on Saturday. The subject was "Deconstructing Howard", and while I think it was a good panel and I didn't make a fool of myself, there were at least a dozen people in the audience who were more qualified to be up there than I was.

I didn't attend the awards banquet Saturday night but heard a lot about it later, most of it well-deserved anger for the failure of the judges to give the Lifetime Achievement Award to Glenn Lord. That was a terrible lapse of judgment.

Sunday I packed up, checked out of the hotel, attended Bill's panel, did a last pass through the dealer's room, then headed out for home, taking with me a cold virus and a lot of good memories, most of which revolve around seeing old friends and spending hours just sitting and talking with Bill and Joe Lansdale and Scott Cupp and Bob Wayne. Even though I was worn out, I hated to see the convention end.

I didn't buy much in the dealer's room: Mark's BLOOD AND THUNDER and several of Joe's books that I didn't have, plus one of his daughter Kasey's CDs, which I'll be writing about here once I've had a chance to listen to it all the way through. What I've heard so far is great.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Joe R. Lansdale

Here's Joe his ownself in the dealer's room at the World Fantasy Convention. You can't see it in this picture, but there's a table full of Joe's books in front of him. (And I believe that's Scott Cupp's arm in the right foreground.)

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Another One From the WFC

Someone working for the convention snapped this photo of me at just the perfect moment, as I was explaining, "My brain is this big."

Checking In

After spending four days at the World Fantasy Convention in Austin, I come home, immediately get sick, and have to deal with a balky computer on top of it. But while I'll be posting more about the convention in days to come and also posting more pictures, I wanted to get at least one photo up while I can. This was taken by Billy Lee in the lobby of the convention hotel last Friday night, after the autographing. From left to right: Joe Lansdale, Bill Crider, Judy Crider, and me.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Halloween Medical Update

I went to the ophthalmologist today for a check-up and got a clean bill of health on both eyes. The vision in the left one (the one that had the retinal tear during the summer) has improved some, although it may always be a little obstructed and the eye itself is more prone to fatigue. But I've adjusted pretty well, I think. My writing pace is almost back up to where it needs to be. The doctor told me to come back in six months for one more check-up, and if everything still looks all right, I won't have to go back after that unless new problems develop.

Since the kids are older, Halloween isn't what you'd call a big holiday around here anymore. Also, we live out in the country, so we've never had trick-or-treaters. We watched IT'S THE GREAT PUMPKIN, CHARLIE BROWN last week (hey, you can't miss the Great Pumpkin -- or at least, I can't, having watched it nearly every year for the past forty years), but that's about the extent of our Halloween celebrations around here.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Adventures With a Texas Humanist/James Ward Lee

I've known Jim Lee for several years now and always enjoy getting a chance to talk with him about books, as I did last week during all the NOAH'S RIDE activities. He's a fine essayist, and his collection TEXAS, MY TEXAS is well worth seeking out. I think ADVENTURES WITH A TEXAS HUMANIST, published a couple of years ago by TCU Press, is his most recent book. I've been reading it the past few days, along with the Kinky Friedman book (now there's a pair for you, Jim Lee and the Kinkster).

This volume is divided into three sections: literary criticism about Texas writers and their work; folklore; and autobiographical essays. Now, I don't mind admitting that lit-crit is usually pretty heavy going for me, but Jim Lee writes some of the best I've run across. His essays are clearly written, straight to the point, and entertaining as well as informative. The centerpieces of this section, lengthy articles entitled "The Age of Dobie" and "The Age of McMurtry", are both excellent reviews of Texas writing, and to prove that academic endeavors can extend to a wide variety of subjects, Lee also provides a fine analysis of the Clark Gable/Spencer Tracy movie BOOMTOWN and ties it in with numerous novels centered around the oil industry in Texas (a particular interest of mine). I'm not that interested in folklore, but the essays in this section are interesting, and one of them, about sidekicks in B-Western movies, is great fun. The autobiographical essays are my favorites, as they take Lee from a young man in a private school in Tennessee through his service in the Navy during the Korean War to his four decades as an English professor at what is now the University of North Texas. His sense of humor really comes through in these.

What baffles me is how I managed to spend several years as an English major at what was then North Texas State University in the mid-Seventies, when Jim Lee was the head of the English department, and never take one of his classes or even really know who he was. I'm glad that's not the case now.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

'Scuse Me While I Whip This Out/Kinky Friedman

Somehow I missed this collection of Kinky Friedman's essays when it came out a couple of years ago. Regular readers of this blog know that I like the Kinkster's books. (I have to get around to reading his novels one of these days.)

However, this is probably my least favorite of his books that I've read. It's mostly about various singers, politicians, and other celebrities that Friedman knows, and I didn't find those essays as interesting as the ones he's written about more ordinary people. There are some highlights, though, including a piece about Kinky's trip to the Australian Outback and a memoir about his father, Tom Friedman. (A similar but even better essay about Friedman's parents and the children's camp they ran for years on the Medina River can be found in the collection TEXAS HOLD 'EM.)

So, while I found this book somewhat disappointing, it's still worth reading.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

One More

Me at the book signing, also courtesy of Russell Andrew. And I think that's enough of my mug for a while.

Another One From Bass Hall

Here's a group shot from last night, missing only a couple of the participants. Seated, left to right, are Jane Roberts Wood and Mike Blackman. Standing, left to right, are Phyllis Allen, Mary Dittoe Kelly, Mike Cochran, Mary Rogers, Carlton Stowers, me holding the microphone and looking like a crooner, Elmer Kelton, and Jeff Guinn. Photo by my friend Russell Andrew.

The previous photo was taken by my daughter Shayna, by the way, as I should have noted when I posted it.

Bass Hall

Cast your gaze at the above picture and you'll see a real rarity: me in a tie. I'm signing books at Bass Hall in downtown Fort Worth, where all the authors of NOAH'S RIDE gathered tonight to be interviewed, answer questions from an audience of about a thousand people, and sign copies of the book. I'm in the middle, with Phyllis Allen to my left and Edgar-winning true crime author Carlton Stowers next to her. To my right are Mary Rogers, Mike Cochran (another fine true crime writer), and Mary Dittoe Kelly. I should have some other photos to post later in the week.

Although I'm not that fond of public speaking, the evening seemed to be a rousing success, and we sold a lot of books. With the proceeds going to charity, that's a good thing indeed. I spent quite a bit of time talking Western pulps with Elmer Kelton and mysteries with Carlton Stowers, so that was fun as always. There was a bit of a surreal moment when I was standing on stage with all those award-winning novelists and journalists, literary lions, and living legends, as a little voice in the back of my head started singing the old song from Sesame Street, "One of these things is not like the others, one of these things just doesn't belong . . ."

But it was a great evening, and I want to thank Jeff Guinn, Judy Alter, and James Ward Lee, the guiding lights behind the project, for allowing me to be part of it.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Batman: The Greatest Stories Ever Told

The problem with any “best of” or “greatest stories ever told” collection is that nobody will ever agree on the contents. So, to get the quibbling out of the way right up front, how can you have a book called BATMAN: THE GREATEST STORIES EVER TOLD and not include Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams’ “Night of the Reaper”, my favorite Batman story ever? Not to mention the classic Batman/Enemy Ace story, “Death Stalks the Skies”, also by O’Neil and Adams?

With that out of the way, let me say that this is a very good collection indeed if you’re a Batman fan. I include myself among that number and have for more than forty years. I had already read some of the stories in this volume, but I enjoyed reading them again. And the ones that were new to me were all very entertaining. I consider the Sixties and Seventies to be the best era of the Batman’s long run, and most of the selections here come from those decades. Thankfully, the Fifties are ignored for the most part. The stories during that period tended to put the Batman in silly, science-fictional situations for which he wasn’t suited at all, and even though they were the first Batman stories I ever read, ’way back when, I don’t care for them now. The O’Neil/Adams team, in my opinion the best to ever produce Batman stories, is represented here by “The Joker’s Five-Way Revenge”, an excellent story from an era that returned the Batman to his urban noir roots. There are several stories written by Bill Finger, who was underrated and almost unknown for a long time because the Batman’s appearances were always by-lined Bob Kane, who co-created the character with Finger and did the art in the early years before a long series of ghosts took over that chore. The always dependable and entertaining Mike W. Barr contributes a fine story from the Eighties, and the most recent story, by Devin Grayson, is also good and shows a nice appreciation for the character’s history.

So while these aren’t necessarily “the greatest stories ever told” when it comes to the Batman, they’re very good and make up a very entertaining and highly recommended collection.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Granbury Signing

The book signing in Granbury yesterday afternoon went very well. Eight of the NOAH'S RIDE authors were there. We did a short talk about the process of writing a collaborative novel, then signed copies of NOAH and other books. They had the Point Blank Press reprint of TEXAS WIND, and I think I signed eight or ten copies of it, which isn't bad for me. The best part of the day was getting to visit with old friends like Jim Lee, Carlton Stowers, and Danny Odell. Danny and I had a good talk after the signing about Donald Hamilton, Ed McBain, F. Paul Wilson, and John D. MacDonald. All in all, an enjoyable afternoon, and thanks to the Friends of the Granbury Public Library for including me.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Cross Plains Universe Cover

Here's Gary Gianni's cover for the World Fantasy Convention anthology, which will be out in a couple of weeks.

Noah's Ride Book Signing

For any of you in the North Texas area who feel like taking a scenic drive down to Granbury, I'll be doing a book signing at the city hall there on Saturday afternoon from 3:00 to 5:00 along with several of the other authors who contributed to NOAH'S RIDE, a collaborative Western novel just published by TCU Press. That's an old scan of the preliminary cover, but it's the only one I have handy. In addition to the authors listed there, Carole Nelson Douglas also wrote a chapter for the book. The Granbury signing is part of the city's annual harvest festival and also part of the launch for NOAH'S RIDE. The proceeds from the book all go to charity. Copies of other books by the authors will also be for sale at the signing.

By the way, I wrote Chapter Five, just in case anybody's keeping score at home.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Dead Cat Bounce/Norman Green

I didn't really intend for it to work out that way, but this is the third novel in a row I've read about professional criminals. First was the unnamed con man/narrator of David Dodge's THE LAST MATCH, then the Dolly family from Daniel Woodrell's WINTER'S BONE, and now Stoney, Fat Tommy, and Tuco, a trio of scam artists operating in New York City and New Jersey. The protagonist of this one is Stoney, a likable guy despite his profession. Estranged from his wife and two teenage children, Stoney is trying to clean up his act by quitting drinking. He has no plans to give up being a grifter, though, which is good because his special talents at crime, along with those of his two partners, come in very handy when some secrets about his family are revealed and danger threatens his loved ones.

Some books come out of nowhere and surprise you. I'd never heard of Norman Green, despite the fact that he's published four other well-received crime novels, including SHOOTING DR. JACK, which introduced Stoney, Fat Tommy, and Tuco. This is a perfectly fine urban hardboiled crime yarn with a suitably twisty plot, but what elevates it to an even higher level are Green's perceptive portraits of the characters involved in that plot. His heroes are borderline losers who are trying, sometimes with success and sometimes not, to hang on to their dignity and find something worth living for, and they come up against some suitably psychopathic villains. Green's dialogue is excellent, and he's as good as anyone I've read lately at getting to the heart of things with a few well-crafted lines. This is highly recommended and one of the best books I've read all year.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Winter's Bone/Daniel Woodrell

Ree Dolly is an older-than-her-years sixteen-year-old who lives in the Missouri Ozarks. Saddled with the responsibility of taking care of her two younger brothers and her mentally ill mother, Ree’s problems grow worse when her father, who is charged with operating a crystal meth lab, disappears after having put up the family home as security for his bail. If Ree can’t find him and persuade him to show up in court, she and her mother and brothers will be forced out of their house. Unfortunately, all of Ree’s large extended family are criminals of one sort or another, and they don’t want her to find out what really happened to her father.

This is a book that’s gotten a lot of good press, and deservedly so. Because of its Ozark setting and teenage girl protagonist, some critics have compared it to Charles Portis’s TRUE GRIT. To me it seems more like an updated version of a backwoods novel by Harry Whittington or Charles Williams, to name just two authors who often mined the same bleak vein of rural poverty and desperation and lawlessness that Woodrell makes use of in this novel. It took me a while to settle in to Woodrell’s style, but once I did I found myself racing right through the story. Occasionally funny, often horrific, and always well-written and suspenseful, this is a fine book. I liked it considerably more than the only other Woodrell novel I’ve read, TOMATO RED.

Saturday, October 14, 2006


Coming up with the list of ten detective novels a couple of posts ago got me to thinking about the first books I read by some favorite authors of mine, my introduction to their work, if you will. So, naturally, since I like lists, here's another one -- the first books I read by some notable mystery authors, and a few science-fiction and Western authors, too:

Edgar Rice Burroughs, A FIGHTING MAN OF MARS
Raymond Chandler, THE LADY IN THE LAKE
Leslie Charteris, THE SAINT IN MIAMI
Michael Connelly, BLOOD WORK
Dick Francis, WHIP HAND
Erle Stanley Gardner, SHILLS CAN'T CASH CHIPS (as A.A. Fair)
Dashiell Hammett, THE CONTINENTAL OP
Clarence E. Mulford, HOPALONG CASSIDY
Richard S. Prather, DEAD MAN'S WALK
Mickey Spillane, THE DEEP
Harry Whittington, THE DOOMSDAY AFFAIR
Jack Williamson, GOLDEN BLOOD

I went on to read many, many more books by all of these authors. Of course, there are scores of other authors whose work I've read extensively, but I don't recall which book of theirs I started on. Of the ones listed above, I remember where I bought the ones that I own, which libraries I checked the others out of, and where I was when I read all of them. Just don't ask me what I had for supper last night, because I might not be able to remember that.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

The Last Match/David Dodge

Written in 1973 but not published until now (by the great Hard Case Crime imprint), THE LAST MATCH is the final novel written by David Dodge, author of PLUNDER OF THE SUN, an earlier Hard Case release, among numerous other novels. Spanning several continents and decades, it’s the story of an unnamed American con artist and small-time crook who has a few noble qualities despite the shady life he leads.

A lot of crimes take place in the course of the novel and there are some tough action scenes, but overall THE LAST MATCH isn’t nearly as dark and hardboiled as many of the Hard Case books. Rather, the tone is that of an unrepentant rogue spinning yarns about the life he’s led, a life that he has thoroughly enjoyed. Dodge’s breezy, fast-paced style is an absolute joy to read, and the scenes of local color on the Riviera and in South America are excellent. The book is a little too long and the plot meanders around a little too much for my taste, but the characters are uniformly intriguing, as are the various con games and swindles in which the narrator gets involved. It’s all capped off nicely by an afterword written by Dodge’s daughter that talks about how much of the novel was taken from real life. This is a fine addition to the Hard Case Crime line, with the usual very nice cover, and comes highly recommended by me.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Ten Detective Novels

David Montgomery has generated some discussion over on his excellent blog with his list of Ten Greatest Detective Novels. I like lists, of course, so I had to start thinking about that. I'm a little leery of words like "greatest" and "best" and even "favorite", but these are ten novels that stand out in my memory of more than forty years of reading mysteries:

THE BIG SLEEP, Raymond Chandler
THE BLACK ECHO, Michael Connelly
THE MALTESE FALCON, Dashiell Hammett
ONE LONELY NIGHT, Mickey Spillane

Obviously, most of these are older books. Really older books, in some cases. And I think it shows I tend to like earlier books in a writer's career. The wide swing in sub-genres and styles is indicative of the fact that I grew up in the Sixties reading mysteries from the local libraries, and I just considered myself a mystery fan, not a fan of any particular kind of mystery. The thing about these books is that I can remember where I was when I read each of them, so they must have made an impression on me.

And of course, the list would probably be different tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

The Notorious Bettie Page

I guess my introduction to Bettie Page was the character modeled after her in Dave Stevens’ Rocketeer comic books in the early Eighties. I don’t recall ever knowing anything about her before that. And I’m still not a big fan, although I’m interested enough in the magazine industry during the era in which she rose to fame (the late Forties and the Fifties) that I watched this biopic about her the other day. In fact, during the opening scene set in a newsstand, while the camera is panning over the selection of men’s magazines, I found myself thinking, “Hey! I’ve got some of those issues of ADAM!”

This movie looks great. The cinematographer, set director, art director, etc., do a fine job of capturing the feel of the Forties and Fifties. I haven’t seen a new movie filmed in black and white for a while, and it works very well here. Even the occasional color sequences have a special vibrancy to them. The performances are also good, especially Gretchen Mol as Bettie, who comes across as completely unselfconscious even though she spends about half the movie nude. Speaking of which, the pin-up shots that are recreated seem pretty tame these days, even quaint, and they’re not erotic at all.

The big problem this movie has is the plot: there’s not much of one. Bettie grows up in Nashville, marries a jerk she shouldn’t have, leaves him, and eventually drifts into nude modeling. That’s it. The government investigation into the pornography industry holds the potential for a few fireworks, but none ever develop. I realize that when you’re making a movie about actual people and incidents, you’re sort of stuck with the storyline that history gives you, but in this case that leaves you with a well-made, well-acted movie in which almost nothing happens. I’d call this one a disappointment.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Yard Work

I've been hitting the writing pretty hard lately (hence the scarcity of new posts during the past week), so today I decided to take some time off and do a few other things that needed done. With my eye problems and the heavy work schedule, I sort of let the place go this summer. This morning I wrote an outline for a series Western, then spent the rest of the day mowing, using the weed eater, and firing up the ol' chainsaw to cut down a dead tree -- which promptly fell on me. Paul Bunyan I ain't. But other than a few scratches I'm fine, no harm done. Unfortunately, late in the afternoon the battery on the lawn mower shorted out, so when it died, I couldn't get it started again. Had to push it back into the barn. And of course it was too late to get another battery today. Now, I like mowing about as much as Bill Crider does, but I have to admit I was a little disappointed. I wanted to get a few more places mowed before I called it quits for the day. Who knows when I'll get back to it? But at least I got the worst of the tall stuff cut down.

The life of a freelance writer is just non-stop glamor, isn't it?

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

A Peach of a Murder

Today was the official publication date of the first book in Livia's new mystery series from Signet, and she also got her box of author's copies today. We haven't seen it in the stores yet, but we'll be going out to look around for it later in the week. I like the cover a lot and think Signet did a great job with the book.

I can't really write a review of it, of course, since I'm a wee bit biased, but I think it's a very good book, the sort of novel that fans of cozy mysteries will enjoy very much, while at the same time having a bit of a darker edge in places. And the second book in the series, which I read not long ago, is even better.

Livia has started blogging, too. Check it out.

Monday, October 02, 2006


Some of you may have noticed that I've added some links to this page. (Yes, it took me more than two years to figure out how to do this!) I haven't been able to get them to look just like I want them to, but at least they're there and seem to work. I'll be putting up more of them -- slowly, mind you -- so if any of you have a link to your blog or website you want me to add to the list, let me know and I'll get them posted as soon as I can.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

More Movies

We've seen a couple of really good movies recently, neither of which did much business at all at the box office. Guess that just proves I'm out of step with the vast movie-going public.

LUCKY NUMBER SLEVEN is one of those very intricately plotted crime movies where nothing is what it seems and you have to watch closely all the way through to see how everything fits together. I had most of it figured out by the halfway point, but there were still a few twists I wasn't expecting. I really like this sort of movie and tried to achieve something of the same tone in my novel DUST DEVILS, which will be out next year from Point Blank Press. (Nothing like a little BSP in the middle of some movie comments.)

THE GREAT RAID is the sort of World War II movie I didn't think they made anymore. Shoot, I didn't think anybody in Hollywood even knew how to make this sort of movie anymore. It's based on the true story of how American Ranger troops rescued hundreds of POWs from a Japanese prison camp in the Phillipines. In addition to the commando raid, there are also prison camp scenes and a look at how the underground helped set up the whole thing. Very stirring and well-done, and as far as I could tell, historically accurate, although I don't know as much about that part of the war as I do about some other areas.

Anyway, these movies may not have done well in the theaters, but they're sure worth a DVD rental, in my opinion.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Warhammer Novels

I’ve never been a prodigious reader of novels based on role-playing games, but I’ve read quite a few Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms novels. Recently, I’ve read a couple of books based on the Warhammer game and really liked them: FORGED IN BATTLE by Justin Hunter and VALNIR’S BANE by Nathan Long.

One of the best things about the Warhammer books is the setting. It’s an alternate universe version of Europe, with Emperor Karl-Franz ruling over an empire that stretches across the Warhammer analogs of France, Germany, and other assorted countries. The Empire faces all sorts of supenatural threats from surrounding regions. Despite the presence of magic and monsters, the novels, which focus on the Empire’s various armies, have a very gritty tone to them, with most of the characters being grunt-level soldiers. The technology level is particularly interesting. Most of the fighting is done with swords, lances, halberds, etc., but gunpowder exists and the armies have primitive firearms, including matchlock rifles and cannon. That provides a welcome difference from a lot of sword-and-sorcery novels.

There are different series within the overall Warhammer series. FORGED IN BATTLE is the first of the Ragged Company series and follows a company of halberdiers as they try to stop beastmen from overrunning the village they’re assigned to protect. There’s a definite Western feel to this one, as the soldiers fight war parties of beastmen and try to convince outlying settlers to come into the village where they’ll be safer. Substitute cavalry for the halberdiers and Comanches for the beastmen, and you’ve got a John Ford Western. VALNIR’S BANE, the first of the Blackhearts series, has a more traditional fantasy plot, as a group of heroes set off to recover an artifact with mystical powers that will swing the balance of power in a war between the Empire and the forces of Chaos. Of course, the soldiers who go on this commando-like mission are recruited from convicts facing the gallows for various crimes, so there’s a certain resemblance to the Dirty Dozen (a time-honored plot if ever there was one). Nathan Long does a great job with it, creating good characters and putting them in dozens of perilous situations. One plot twist is a little predictable, but since it’s one I’ve used myself on more than one occasion, I can’t quibble about that.

Overall I enjoyed both of these books quite a bit and will definitely be reading more in the Warhammer universe.

Saturday, September 23, 2006


Since today was the first day of fall, I suppose it's appropriate that a cold front blew through this morning, bringing with it a few thunderstorms, then clearing off this afternoon to leave behind a beautiful day with lots of blue sky, white clouds, and a cool north breeze. It was so nice I went for a couple of walks, bad for my allergies but good for everything else. Most of the day was spent at the computer, though, getting started on the new book. As usual for the first day on a new project, the pages went well and were very enjoyable.

I think I'm going to read something just for fun the next few days. I haven't decided what it's going to be, however. I have a couple of books sitting by my chair ready to go: VENGEANCE RIDER, a Western by Lewis B. Patten, and VALNIR'S BANE, a fantasy novel by Nathan Long. May be time to flip a coin.


Oh, yeah, I've also started my annual battle with hay fever. This time of year I really start looking forward to the first freeze, because that will get rid of most of the pollen for a while.

Catching Up

I've been in a cave for the past week. Well, not really. The last time I was actually in a cave was a little over 16 years ago, and that was Wonder Cave in San Marcos, Texas. No Carlsbad Cavern, but not a bad little cave. Anyway, since finishing the manuscript I mentioned in my last post, I've been busy editing some of Livia's stuff, working on a few proposals of my own, and writing a short story that I'm hoping to sell to an anthology. I really enjoy having a stretch like this every now and then, where I work on a bunch of different things in a relatively short period of time. But tomorrow (today, actually, since it's after midnight) I'll be starting work on a new book, so things will get somewhat back to normal around here, I expect.

I've just about adjusted to my new glasses, although things still look a little odd every now and then. For several days I had a problem with one of the lenses popping out of the frames with no warning. One of the screws that hold the frame together just wouldn't stay in, so I replaced it with a slightly longer screw, and when I took a good look at the old one, I saw that the threads were a little fouled up on it. I'm hoping that was why it kept working loose. So far so good on the new one.

Everything I've read lately has been either for research or for the Scribe Awards, given by the International Association of Media Tie-in Writers. I'm one of the judges, so I can't really talk about the submissions I've been reading. Wouldn't be ethical, seems to me. We saw a fairly interesting movie the other night, DOMINO, based on the life of bounty hunter Domino Harvey, the daughter of actor Laurence Harvey. It was filmed in a really odd style and was a little hard to follow, but I sort of liked it. Mickey Rourke was great as a fellow bounty hunter.

And that's all I have to report for now.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

#195 and New Specs

I picked up my new glasses on Tuesday, but I waited until today to switch over to them because I wanted to finish the current manuscript first. I wrapped it up late yesterday afternoon, my 195th novel. I've already started thinking about #200. If everything stays like it looks now, I know which book it will be (a house-name Western) and when (sometime in February).

Anyway, I'm now wearing the new glasses, and I hate them. This is not an unexpected development. I've always had trouble adjusting to new glasses, which is one reason I went so long wearing the ones I had. I can see better at a distance, but everything from about ten feet on in just looks wrong. I know I'll get used to them, but I'm going to gripe about them anyway. And I must admit, they look a lot better than my old ones did. We mustn't lose sight (so to speak) of the things that are really important.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Movies, Movies, Movies

We've been watching quite a few movies lately, but I've been slacking off when it comes to writing about them. So, to play catch-up, here are brief comments about some of the movies we've seen.

INSIDE MAN -- A nice twisty bank robbery yarn, with a lot of moral ambiguity. You really don't know who to root for most of the time. I liked it quite a bit.

THE SHAGGY DOG -- I thought this remake of the Disney classic (I remember seeing the original when it was new) was extremely predictable and really not very well-written. And I laughed all the way through it anyway. There's just something about a man acting like a dog that's funny to me.

ROB ROY -- Somehow we missed this swashbuckler when it came out back in the Nineties. I've written so many historically-based, soap-opera-like novels that sometimes when I'm watching a movie like this, I get a definite feeling of "been there, wrote that". I liked it anyway. Good scenery, good photography, and some fine sword fights. Between the poor sound recording and the Scottish accents, we had to turn the captions on to keep up with the dialogue, though.

FIREWALL -- Another bank robbery movie, although a very different one. It's hard not to like Harrison Ford, and Paul Bettany makes a good villain in this one.

ASK THE DUST -- A major disappointment. I'd heard enough good things about this one that I wanted to like it. But there's almost no plot and the whole movie is glacially paced. The photography is great, Salma Hayek goes skinny-dipping, and there's a nice quote from H.L. Mencken about writing. Those are about the only positive things I can say about this one.

RAY -- Pretty grim, but I liked it. Jamie Foxx deserved his Oscar. But when it comes to musical biopics, I think I liked WALK THE LINE and BEYOND THE SEA better, probably because I like the music of Johnny Cash and Bobby Darin more than I do that of Ray Charles.

YOU KNOW MY NAME -- Made for cable Western with Sam Elliott as Marshal Bill Tilghman. You gotta love Elliott for his voice and that craggy face, and the movie was pretty accurate historically. A little too bleak for my taste, but what are you gonna do? Rewrite history? Oh, yeah, there's also a brief appearance by James Gammon, one of my favorite character actors, as an outlaw named Arkansas Tom. Good stuff.