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.