Thursday, February 28, 2013

Writing Update, 2/28

I really enjoy the first day on a new book. I didn't get to devote all day to it, since I had to do some more work on one of those outlines I wrote yesterday, but I still managed to get 16 pages done on the new manuscript. This book features a character I haven't written before (plus a few that I have), so that's always interesting and fun.

I wound up writing 404 pages in February. Added to the exactly 400 I did in January, I have 804 for the year. That's certainly not bad, but I'd like to do a little more than that. I know some of you probably think I'm greedy, or obsessed, or just plain crazy, but here's the thing: there are still stories I want to tell. Lots and lots of stories. And I have to get as many of them out there into the world as I can. I'm not getting any younger, you know.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Writing Update, 2/27

I did some more editing today (my stuff and others), but the main thing was that I wrote two outlines, one of them a 4-pager, the other 10 pages. These days 10 pages is fairly long for one of my outlines, but there's a lot going on in this particular book. And even at that length, it's not that detailed. Still lots of things to work out in the actual writing. But that's good, because it keeps the project fresh and interesting.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Writing Update, 2/26

No pages today. We ran errands part of the day (and talked about plots for future books while we were at it, which sort of counts as work) and I've spent the afternoon editing a book by a friend of mine. I need these change-of-pace days after writing so much in the past week. Tomorrow I'll be back at it, although I think I'll probably write outlines rather than starting the next book. (That'll be the day after tomorrow.)

Now Available: Rivers of Gold -- James Reasoner and L.J. Washburn

RIVERS OF GOLD: A NOVEL OF THE CALIFORNIA GOLD RUSH is now available as an e-book for both the Kindle and the Nook. This is a book that Livia and I wrote a number of years ago, and it's the sort of big, sprawling, historical epic nobody writes much anymore. And if I do say so myself, I think it's the sort of book that we do really well and it's one of my favorites among our historical novels. Lots of action and romance, colorful settings and characters, some historical background, a little humor, and a final scene that I really, really like. Check it out!

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: Crossfire Trail

Somehow we missed this made-for-cable Western starring Tom Selleck and based on a novel by Louis L'Amour when it came out about a dozen years ago, hence the "overlooked" designation. Hard to believe, isn't it? But we came across an inexpensive copy of the DVD at Sam's, couldn't remember if we'd seen it, and decided to take a chance. I'm glad we did.

I'd read the novel probably thirty years ago, so the story wasn't completely new to me and the movie version seems like a pretty faithful adaptation. The hero, Rafe Covington (played by Selleck, and by the way, the character's name was Rafe Caradec in the book), shows up in Wyoming to protect the ranch owned by a friend of his who has died, and to protect the friend's widow (Virginia Madsen) as well. The local saloon owner/bad guy (Mark Harmon) has designs on both.

No, there's nothing here that will surprise anybody who's read or watched a few Westerns. But even something that's very familiar can be quite entertaining if done well, and CROSSFIRE TRAIL is. Selleck makes a great Western hero and has a real flair for delivering lines like the one he says to Madsen when he's explaining why he didn't become a priest like his mother wanted him to be: "Never quite got the knack of turnin' the other cheek." In addition, character actors abound, such as Wilford Brimley playing an old ranch hand who becomes Selleck's sidekick and Barry Corbin as the local sheriff who's in the bad guy's pocket. Brad Johnson is appropriately menacing as a sinister gunfighter.

Simon Wincer, who directed QUIGLEY DOWN UNDER (a great film with a lousy title), is the director of CROSSFIRE TRAIL and keeps the action moving along at a nice pace. The Canadian scenery, standing in for Wyoming, is spectacular, the music is stirring, and all in all I had a grand time watching this one. If you're a Western fan like me and missed it like we did, you should hunt up a copy and check it out.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Writing Update, 2/25

I love the end-of-the-book zone. 36 pages today. My eyes ache, but it's worth it to be done. Of course, I'm not really done. I still have some editing to do, then the manuscript goes to Livia for more editing, then back to me for any final revisions. The chapters I did today were actually sort of tricky, because I knew some of the characters had to die and I literally hadn't decided which ones yet. I hope I made the right decisions. I was also quite fond of the little scene I came up with to end the book and hope it still reads okay when I go back over it.

The Return of the Justice Machine

I remember buying, reading, and enjoying the first issues of THE JUSTICE MACHINE back in the Eighties, when it was the first superhero group comic book from an independent publisher. Now series creator Mark Ellis, who's also the author of many fine action/adventure novels, is bringing back THE JUSTICE MACHINE in an all-new graphic novel being funded through Kickstarter. You can find all the details here. I'm backing this one and look forward to reading the finished book.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Writing Update, 2/24

I wrote 21 pages today, which got me into position where I might, just might, finish this book tomorrow, although I'll have to have a really good day. It's pretty much all action from here on out.

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Sinister Stories, May 1940

Not exactly subtle, is it? But there are some excellent authors in this issue, including Hugh B. Cave, David Goodis, and Russell Gray, who was really Bruno Fischer. There were only three issues of SINISTER STORIES, an indication that by 1940 the Weird Menace genre was on its last legs.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Writing Update, 2/23

I've been a little under the weather today (allergies), but I still managed to write 16 pages again. This book keeps making its way toward the finish line. I think of what I'm doing now as choreography. This is a big cast book, and I have to get all the characters in their proper positions for the series of big action scenes that wraps everything up. Can't have somebody showing up out of nowhere in the middle of a battle, not unless you've set up the surprise somewhere back along the way. This particular book doesn't have any real twists like that, but before I'm done, lots of stuff will have Blowed Up Real Good.

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Super Western, March 1938

The only author I recognize in this issue of SUPER WESTERN is J. Edward Leithead, but he's one of my favorites so I'm sure I would have read it if I'd been able to afford the 15 cents back in 1938. Decent cover by Gayle Hoskins. SUPER WESTERN lasted only four issues. This was the final one.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Writing Update, 2/22

The work came a little slower today, so I wound up with 16 pages, still not a bad day's work. I had hoped to wrap up this book over the weekend, but that's not going to happen. There's still just too much story to cover. Sometimes you've just got to write until you're done.

Forgotten Books: The Steranko History of Comics, Volume 1 and 2 - Jim Steranko

Reading Sean Howe's MARVEL COMICS: THE UNTOLD STORY reminded me of these books, which were oversized, "bedsheet" books that came out in the early Seventies, published by the author's own company, Supergraphics. They were the first real comics history books I ever read. Surprisingly, I don't remember where I bought them, but I certainly remember reading them.

I was already a fan of Jim Steranko, who did some great, groundbreaking work as writer/artist on the NICK FURY, AGENT OF S.H.I.E.L.D. comic book. Also during this era, he painted the covers for Jove/HBJ's paperback reprints of some of the Shadow pulp novels, which I also read regularly. By the time I found these volumes on the history of comics, I already knew a little about the subject, but not nearly as much as Jim Steranko did.

Even better, Volume 1 actually has a lot in it about the history of pulp magazines, too, also a subject of great interest to me. Volume 1 covers pulps and the so-called Golden Age of Comics, the Forties. Volume 2 is concerned mainly with the late Fifties and the Sixties, known as the Silver Age. Fascinating stuff, great illustrations. I just got lost in these books for days, learned a great deal, and was thoroughly entertained at the same time. Copies are a little pricey these days, but if you're a comics fan and haven't read them, they're probably worth it.

UPDATE: It's been pointed out to me that Volume 2 covers more of the Golden Age, not the Silver Age. My memory has betrayed me again.

Below are the spectacular wraparound covers of both volumes.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Writing Update, 2/21

I seem to be stuck on 22 pages. That's how much I got written today, for the third day in a row. That's a pretty good pace. I'm also starting to be able to "see" the rest of the book in my head, which is always a good sign.

The Raffle - Wayne D. Dundee

A couple comes into a small rural bar after having car trouble on a rainy night. The woman is gorgeous, the man is broke, and he comes up with a desperate plan to make some money. But as you might expect, not everything is as it seems.

THE RAFFLE is a tightly plotted, nasty little noir crime story from Wayne D. Dundee, so you know it's going to be compelling and well-written. Dundee throws in several nice twists on the way to a powerful ending. This is a fast, excellent, entertaining read. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Writing Update 2/20

I wound up doing the same amount of pages today as yesterday, 22, but it was more of a struggle. I think the weather had something to do with it. It was cold, rainy, and gloomy all day, and I kept feeling like I'd rather take a nap. But late in the day the pace improved, and I know what I'm going to do when I start again tomorrow (I don't always know), so that's good. Closing in on 70K words on this one, which means I have about a hundred pages to go.

Marvel Comics: The Untold Story - Sean Howe

I've mentioned before how I became a comics reader, and primarily a Marvel Comics reader, on Christmas Day 1963 when a couple of my cousins gave me a stack of comics they didn't want anymore. So I missed the birth of the so-called Marvel Age, but not by much. I got in very early on with many titles that are still going relatively strong nearly 50 years later.

So it comes as no surprise that I really enjoyed MARVEL COMICS: THE UNTOLD STORY by Sean Howe. It's a massive history of, you guessed it, Marvel Comics, going all the way back to the childhood of Martin Goodman, who would grow up to publish pulp magazines in the Thirties, comic books under the Timely imprint during the Forties, and finally in the Fifties would establish a company called Magazine Management, which published not only comics but also men's adventure magazines such as MALE and STAG. Those men's magazines were the backbone of the company, but Magazine Management continued to publish comics with various degrees of success until 1961 when Stanley Lieber, who scripted and edited the company's comic book line, and freelance artist Jack Kirby created a group of oddball superheroes called the Fantastic Four.

Despite this book's sub-title, a lot of the material it covers, especially in the first half, isn't really untold. For several decades comics fans, and quite a few comics creators, have argued about who deserves the credit for creating the FF, and thus Marvel Comics, Stan Lee or Jack Kirby. (For the record, I tend to believe it really was a collaborative effort.) The story makes for fascinating reading anyway, and there's quite a bit in it about the various writers and artists that I didn't know. The Sixites and Seventies are my favorite era for comics and the stories from that time are the ones I remember the best, so I found that part of this book to be fascinating, entertaining reading.

The second half, which covers the Eighties, Nineties, and on up to the current day, is heavily concerned with corporate matters, as Marvel is bought and sold on a regular basis after Martin Goodman retires. All the corporate shenanigans that go along with this time period in the company's history are as labyrinthine and convoluted as the X-Men continuity, but not as much fun. It's important, though, because as the business grew many of the creative decisions were driven by corporate interests, rather than simply trying to tell good stories. I've also said before that I disagreed with almost every creative decision Marvel made during the Nineties, to the point that I finally just walked away from comics completely for several years. What I didn't realize was just how many of those decisions were made by corporate bean-counters, rather than the writers and artists charged with actually producing the books. All the marketing stuff just becomes overwhelming after a while.

But there are still plenty of colorful personalities involved, and Sean Howe writes very well in clear, concise prose that kept me turning the pages. I started reading Marvel Comics again a few years ago and continue to enjoy them quite a bit, although there are a few things going on I don't care for (primarily the habit of renumbering the books every few years, and I've never been a fan of the big company-wide crossover "event" stories, either). Overall, I think MARVEL COMICS: THE UNTOLD STORY is an excellent book. If you're a comics fan, it gets a high recommendation from me. It'll probably be on my top ten list at the end of the year.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Writing Update 2/19

Desperate times call for desperate measures. As some of you know, I've been mired in a slump since about the end of July last year. Oh, I've had some good stretches here and there, but overall my production has steadily dropped. I'm only doing about 80% of what had been my normal pace for the past few years. So here's what I'm going to do. I'm going to bore all of you, and myself, by bringing back the daily page count here on the ol' blog, in the hope that fear of being shamed will keep me productive.

Actually, today was a pretty good day. I wrote 22 pages, which is a little over 4000 words. I don't keep an accurate word count, but when I've checked my estimates in the past they're pretty close, a little on the conservative side if anything. I need to be doing just about that much every day, and if I don't, I expect some of you to hold my feet to the fire. These books won't write themselves, you know.

As for what I'm working on, well, I can't tell you, of course, other than to say that it's a big thriller that should clock in at about 90,000 words. I'm past the two-thirds point and closing in on three-fourths. There'll be a lot of action from here on out, so I'm hoping that will help things move along at a faster pace. Action has always been fun for me to write. When I get caught up in a big battle scene, the pages just fly by. Oddly enough, sex scenes are usually the same way, although I'm not writing anything these days that has sex scenes in it. But when I was doing a lot of Adult Westerns, I always liked the chapters that included both a gunfight and a sex scene, because I could do those suckers in a hurry!

I've told this story before, but one time an editor called me up and asked me to write a book in a week for him. I said I couldn't do that and talked him into giving me two weeks. I started this book with no outline and only a vague idea of the plot, but I figured if I could manage to put a gunfight or a sex scene -- or both -- in every chapter, the book ought to go pretty fast. I didn't quite hit that goal -- four of the 21 chapters have no gunfight and no sex scene -- but I wrote the book in 11 days and was very pleased with the way it turned out. Anybody who wants to know what the book was, you can email me and I'll tell you, but I'm not going to post the title here.

That's it for this episode of Adventures of a Hack Writer. (And you don't know how tempted I am to use that as the title for this series of posts, but I'm not actually that cynical in real life. Yet.)

Tuesday's Overlooked TV: Buddy Faro

Here's another very short-lived series I thought was pretty good. Thirteen episodes were made, but only eight aired in the fall of 1998 before it was cancelled. The set-up is all in that title sequence. Famous private eye vanishes, only to be found twenty years later by a young, eager PI and resumes his career. It was a funny, well-written, affectionate parody of shows like PETER GUNN and 77 SUNSET STRIP. Dennis Farina, who was so good in CRIME STORY, played the title character, Buddy Faro. The series was created by Mark Frost, who worked on HILL STREET BLUES and TWIN PEAKS and has written several mystery novels, none of which I've read. BUDDY FARO seemed to be aimed directly at fans of old private eye novels and TV shows, like me, and I guess there just weren't enough of us.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Movies: The Perks of Being a Wallflower

When I put this movie on our Netflix queue I obviously didn't look closely enough at it, because I thought it was a peppy high school comedy. Actually, despite a few moments of dark humor, it's more of an angst-filled, slow-moving mope-fest about child abuse, suicide, and promiscuity. But I have to admit, it's a fairly well-done mope-fest, with those previously mentioned humorous moments, some really effective scenes, and good acting for the most part. I say for the most part because while I like Emma Watson just fine in the Harry Potter movies, having her play a slutty American teenager was probably not the wisest choice. This is an okay movie and probably worth watching, just don't go into it expecting any pep.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Now Available: Rancho Diablo: Songbird - Colby Jackson (Bill Crider)

Yowza! The new Rancho Diablo novel is out. And speaking of yowza . . . check out that cover featuring the gorgeous Kasey Lansdale. Bill Crider is the author behind the Colby Jackson pseudonym this time around. If you're a Western fan you won't want to miss this one.

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Far East Adventure Stories, April 1931

Guy bears a certain resemblance to Popeye, doesn't he? Seems strange now to see a story by Jay J. Kalez featured over those by H. Bedford-Jones, Hugh B. Cave, and Murray Leinster. I don't know that I've ever read anything by Kalez, an author who's almost completely forgotten. Leslie T. White and Warren Hastings Miller, both good writers, are also in this issue.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Fifteen Western Tales, July 1943

As always with a Popular Publications Western pulp, there's a good line-up of authors in this issue: Les Savage Jr., William Heuman, Tom W. Blackburn, Philip Ketchum, Chuck Martin, Rod Patterson, and others. Popular put out consistently good pulps.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Forgotten Books: The Embezzler - James M. Cain

This post originally appeared on November 20, 2007.

James M. Cain is one of those authors whose work I haven’t sampled extensively, nor do I know all that much about him and his career. More than a quarter of a century ago I read his novels THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE and SERENADE and liked them both, especially POSTMAN, which is still one of my favorite noir novels. I have Roy Hoopes’ massive biography of Cain but haven’t read it yet.

I decided to try another of his novels, and when I looked around I realized I had THE EMBEZZLER in three different editions: its original appearance in the hardback omnibus THREE OF A KIND, the Avon paperback reprint shown here, and the excellent Gorman and Greenberg anthology PULP MASTERS, which is where I actually read it.

THE EMBEZZLER is narrated by Dave Bennett, a likable and bright-but-not-too-bright former college football star who’s the vice-president of a California bank. He falls in love with the wife of the head teller who works for him, and it just so happens that said teller has been steadily embezzling money from the bank. Dave and the sexy Sheila set out to deal with both of those problems, and you just know things aren’t going to work out the way they intend. Sure enough, every twist of the plot just makes things worse for them, until things get desperate enough for gunplay and a considerable amount of slam-bang action.

This is a short novel in the best sense of the term, with plenty of plot and character but not an ounce of padding. Cain moves the story right along and never lets the reader’s interest flag. I saw the major plot twist coming before it got there, but the ending took me a little by surprise. I thought it worked really well, though. I don’t know how this book ranks in the general consensus of Cain’s body of work, but I really enjoyed it and Ed Gorman’s intro to it in PULP MASTERS makes it clear that he did, too. I’ll be reading more of Cain’s novels, and I hope it won’t be another twenty-five years before I get to the next one.

UPDATE: Well, it wasn't twenty-five years -- I read Cain's novel SINFUL WOMAN a while back. I still haven't read that Hoopes biography of him, but I still have a copy of it (a different one, since this post comes from before the fire) and I will one of these days. I have quite a few of Cain's novels on my shelves, too, and hope to get around to them eventually.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

News From Black Dog Books

The Black Dog Books website is temporarily offline do to ye olde publisher
overlooking to pay his hosting renewal by the appropriate deadline.

I expect the website to be back online in 24 to 48 hours.

Thank you for all the emails of inquiry. Your shared concern is appreciated.

Tom Roberts
Black Dog Books

Movies: Taken 2

We watched the first TAKEN movie and thought it was okay. The second one is more of the same, a brisk, efficient action film. The best part about it is that Liam Neeson seems to be having a great time playing a bad-ass as he runs around Istanbul chasing the bad guys who have kidnapped his ex-wife. You'll know nearly everything that's going to happen, but it's still fairly entertaining.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Tuesday's Overlooked TV: We've Got Each Other

If you don't remember this sitcom, it's probably because it ran for only 13 episodes in 1977 and '78. I haven't seen it since then, it doesn't seem to be available on DVD, and there are no clips from it on YouTube. I found a few photos of the two stars, but that's all.

I remember it fondly, though, probably because one of my favorite character actors, Oliver Clark, got to play one of his few leading roles. Clark was Mr. Herd, one of Dr. Bob Hartley's patients on THE BOB NEWHART SHOW, and Beverly Archer played supporting roles in many TV series during the Seventies and Eighties. You may recognize their faces even if you didn't know their names. In this series they played a married couple where the husband had some sort of job where he worked at home (I believe he wrote copy for a sporting goods catalog or something like that, but I could be 'way off) and the wife worked as a photographer's assistant. Another great character actor, Tom Poston, played the photographer. The show was created, written, and directed by some of the people who worked on THE BOB NEWHART SHOW, and I remember the episodes being pretty sharp and funny in the gentler, subtler way that television had back in those days. WE'VE GOT EACH OTHER didn't run long enough to achieve any sort of greatness or even leave much of a mark at all, but I liked it.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Lola: Locked & Loaded - Peter Brandvold

"Lola: Locked & Loaded" is the latest short story offering from Peter Brandvold, ol' Mean Pete his own self. It ties in with his Rogue Lawman series and serves as an origin story of sorts for the character Saradee Jones, who plays an important role in that series. So if you're a fan of Gideon Hawk, the Rogue Lawman, you definitely need to read this story.

However, it serves perfectly fine as a stand-alone yarn, too, a classic revenge tale as the 19-year-old daughter of a murdered sheriff sets out to bring her father's killers to justice. As always in a Brandvold story, there's plenty of gritty action and vivid writing, and he throws in a nice twist in the plot as well. I enjoyed it a lot and give it a high recommendation.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Mystery Novels Magazine, May 1935

I don't know much about this pulp except that it ran for nine issues during the mid-Thirties. Nor do I know anything about the author of the lead novel, Stanley Hart Page. That sounds like a pseudonym to me, but since the Fictionmags Index has possible birth and death dates for him, maybe not. Wyatt Blassingame was a prolific pulpster, mostly in the Weird Menace magazines, and of course Leslie Charteris's Saint stories are some of my all-time favorites. MYSTERY NOVELS MAGAZINE isn't one of the top pulps, but it probably wasn't bad.

Saturday, February 09, 2013

Movies: Here Comes the Boom

I may be in the minority in this group, but I like Kevin James's movies. I always find them funny and good-hearted, and this new one is no exception. Sure, the plot is contrived and pretty silly. He plays a burned-out high school biology teacher who decides to become a UFC fighter so he can make enough money to save his school's music program, which is led by Henry Winkler (yep, the Fonz his own self). I watched it with a couple of teachers, and they cracked up again and again at the school scenes. I thought it was pretty funny, too. Oh, and did I mention that the movie has Salma Hayek in it? That's enough reason to watch right there, as far as I'm concerned.

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Indian Stories, Summer 1950

There were only three issues of this pulp, which would seem to bear out the theory that stories featuring Indians weren't that popular with the readers. None of the other Indian-themed pulps lasted very long, as far as I know. But it wasn't for lack of good writers being involved. This first issue of INDIAN STORIES featured contributions from Les Savage, Jr., Walt Sheldon, and John Murray Reynolds, among others. And it had a decent cover by Allen Anderson, to boot.

Friday, February 08, 2013

Forgotten Books: So I'm a Heel - Mike Heller (Arnold Hano)

In a genre known for its often unlikable narrators/protagonists, SO I'M A HEEL fits right in. Ed Hawkins is a heel, all right. He's a World War II vet who got his lower jaw blown off in the South Pacific. It was replaced with a plastic prosthetic, but that still leaves Ed full of resentment over what happened to him. He comes home to a life with his wife and ten-year-old son in a small town in California and ought to be happy, but for one reason or another he can't hold a job, he's mean and sullen, and he blames everybody else for his troubles.

Then one day, the opportunity to blackmail one of the richest men in town practically falls into Ed's lap, and he seizes on it as the way out of all his troubles. But I think we all know things aren't going to work out that easily for Ed . . .

I used to have a copy of the Gold Medal edition of this book, but I never got around to reading it and had no idea who Mike Heller really was. Now I know the author is Arnold Hano, and the book is available again in the Stark House collection 3 STEPS TO HELL. That's good because it's a compelling novel with some really fine writing in it. It's a little offbeat for a Gold Medal because of some of its subject matter – saying any more than that would be too much of a spoiler – and because of its approach, which is decidedly low-key and realistic. There's crime in it – maybe – but it's not really a crime novel, more of an examination of just how low somebody can sink. And of how unsympathetic an author can make his leading character and still have the reader rooting for the guy.

Hano succeeds admirably in this, which makes for a very satisfying ending. SO I'M A HEEL is fast-paced, hardboiled, and paints a vivid picture of small-town life that can be both noble and sordid. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Tuesday's Overlooked TV: The Pacific

Overlooked, of course, only in the sense that I didn't see it until recently . . . although it didn't take me as long to catch up to it as it did the companion series BAND OF BROTHERS.

THE PACIFIC is set up similarly to the earlier series, following a group of real-life characters through the war in the Pacific, starting with the battle for Guadalcanal and following on through to the beginning of the post-war era. It's based primarily on two books written by the participants, HELMET FOR MY PILLOW by Robert Leckie and WITH THE OLD BREED by Eugene Sledge. I own both of those books but haven't read them yet.

As in BAND OF BROTHERS, the battle scenes are brutal and graphic and very well-staged, and the acting is good all the way around, especially James Badge Dale as Robert Leckie and Joseph Mazzello as Eugene Sledge. Overall, though, this series suffers a little in comparison with the earlier one. Admittedly, BAND OF BROTHERS is one of the best mini-series ever made, so that comparison may not really be fair, but it's unavoidable. There are three main storylines in THE PACIFIC, including many scenes set far away from the action in Australia and in the United States. That jumping around in the plot, along with the romances in which several of the characters become involved, can't help but make THE PACIFIC feel like a really well done war soap opera rather than a recreation of history. I also missed the narration by actual veterans that figured so prominently in BAND OF BROTHERS, but again to be fair, most of the participants in THE PACIFIC, including all three main characters, had passed away by the time the series was produced.

So I feel bad about quibbling over these points when I really did enjoy THE PACIFIC and am glad we watched it. If you enjoyed BAND OF BROTHERS, you definitely should give this one a look, too.

Monday, February 04, 2013

Hit Me - Lawrence Block

If you were to ask me, I'd probably say that I don't care much for books about hitmen. But at the same time, I've read all of Lawrence Block's books about Keller and thoroughly enjoyed every one of them, including the latest, HIT ME, which will be out in a couple of weeks.

On the surface, Keller is retired, living in New Orleans with his wife and daughter, working at an honest job renovating houses, and enjoying his hobby of stamp collecting. Not surprisingly, though, his old profession lures him back in, and he finds himself taking assignments again from his former handler Dot. As usual, these jobs take him all over the country and sometimes out of it.

HIT ME is made up of four loosely connected novellas, "Keller in Dallas", "Keller's Homecoming" (which takes him back to New York City), "Keller at Sea" (his target is on a cruise ship), and "Keller's Sideline" (in which his stamp collecting hobby becomes an actual business of sorts), plus a short story, "Keller's Obligation", which is probably my favorite because it puts a very interesting new twist on the series. These stories are all smoothly plotted, of course, and as has been said before, nobody writes a better sentence than Lawrence Block. There's also a lot of stuff about stamp collecting in the stories, and even though I have zero interest in that subject, Block makes it fascinating anyway. The addition of Keller's wife Julia, who knows what he really does for a living, has made him a deeper and more sympathetic character, which if anything makes the contrast between his home life and his professional life even more interesting. You can't help but like Keller, even when you know maybe you shouldn't.

This is a fine book and I really enjoyed it. It's not necessary to have read the others in the series to appreciate this one, so if you haven't made Keller's acquaintance yet this is a good place to start. If you're read the other books, you'll certainly want to read this one, too. Highly recommended.

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Sea Stories, May 1927

That's just a pretty cover on this pulp. I also like the line "Once a reader, always a reader". Very true, at least in my case. SEA STORIES ran for 118 issues from 1922 to 1930, so this issue is sort of in the middle of that stretch. Murray Leinster is probably the best-known author from this issue, which also includes stories by Bob Du Soe, George Allan England, A. Hyatt Verril, and S.B.H. Hurst, all of them pulpsters of some popularity. I don't think I've ever seen an issue of SEA STORIES, but I'll bet there were some good stories in its pages.

Saturday, February 02, 2013

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Dime Western, May 15, 1935

This issue of one of the leading Western pulps features a good cover by Walter Baumhofer and a great line-up of authors: T.T. Flynn, Walt Coburn, Ray Nafziger, Cliff Farrell, Robert G. Pearsol, Art Lawson, and Bart Cassidy. And this was just an average issue of DIME WESTERN! That would be an all-star issue of most pulps. Some people claim that everything worth reprinting from the pulps has already been reprinted. I don't believe that for a second.

Friday, February 01, 2013

Forgotten Books: Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine, May 1968

I think I can fudge enough to call a digest magazine a book. It's approximately 50,000 words of fiction, after all. And while I was looking for something else the other day, I came across a stack of old issues of MIKE SHAYNE MYSTERY MAGAZINE that a friend sent to me. The urge to read some of them hit me, so here are my comments on the first one I got to.

As usual, the May 1968 issue of MSMM leads off with a "short novel" featuring Miami private eye Mike Shayne. This is actually a 20,000 word novella (although I think this one might be closer to 25K). "The Baby Doll Murder", which is a good title, by the way, is almost certainly by Dennis Lynds writing under the house-name Brett Halliday. Lynds wrote nearly all the Shayne novellas from 1963 to 1970, making him the most prolific "Brett Halliday" of all time. Coming up with that many mystery plots, month after month, year after year, is an amazing achievement. I had a pretty good continuous run as Brett Halliday, too, but only for two and a half years, and by the end of that stretch my brain was running on fumes, let me tell you. (Of course, I've written 76 full-length novels in the past 60 months, which will also wear out your brain, but at least I've switching back and forth between a lot of different Western series, not to mention some thrillers and mysteries, too.)

Anyway, "The Baby Doll Murder" finds Shayne investigating a murder that took place a year earlier. A beautiful blond model who was famous for a series of ads for baby doll pajamas was found bludgeoned to death with a candlestick, and the police never solved the crime. But then a young man comes forward out of the blue to confess to the killing, and his father, believing that confession to be false, hires Shayne to find the real killer. Shayne doesn't know at first whether the kid is lying, but an attempt on his life when he starts poking around in the case convinces him that somebody is trying to hide something.

And of course that's true, as Lynds twists the plot this way and that with his usual skill. Shayne's secretary Lucy Hamilton, his reporter buddy Tim Rourke, and Miami chief of police Will Gentry don't have much to do in this one, but Shayne gets in some nice sparring with his old nemesis, Miami Beach chief of detectives Peter Painter. Eventually Shayne uncovers the truth, but not before wading through a number of nicely done red herrings. The actual solution is a little weak, but it's a product of its era.

The back-up stories in MSMM were usually pretty good. The first one in this issue, "Tell Tale" by George Bellefontaine, is a little bit of an odd fit for a hardboiled crime digest since it's a domestic drama about the trouble a woman gets into by gossiping, but it's well-written and fairly effective.

"Arizona 'Ma' Barker – The Devil's Daughter" is one of a series of true crime yarns by David Mazroff that ran in MSMM for quite a while. It's pretty long, probably 10,000 words, a well-researched tale of Depression-era crime that's lightly but luridly fictionalized, as Mazroff comes up with thoughts and dialogue for the historical characters he's writing about. It works well, and the story is very entertaining. I'm looking forward to reading more of these.

Next up is a relatively early novelette by Bill Pronzini, "The Bomb Expert", which is about a hired killer who goes beyond his assignment. It's cleverly plotted and well-written, as you'd expect.

"The Obvious Way Out" by Richard O. Lewis is about a tyrannical college professor and an unexpected confrontation with some students. This one is okay, but that's as far as I'd go.

"The Stubble of Beard" by Dan Ross is one of a series about Mei Wong a Chinese art dealer in Bombay who serves as an amateur sleuth, helping out his friend Inspector Bannerjee. The Mr. Wong series ran for nearly twenty years in various mystery digests. I've read a number of them. They're mild little puzzle stories, usually entertaining, as this one is. Ross is an interesting author. A Canadian, he started out as an actor and playwright and wound up writing more than 300 books, most of them Gothics and historical romances under the names Marilyn Ross, Clarissa Ross, and a few other pseudonyms. He also wrote the long-running series of paperback tie-in novels based on the TV show DARK SHADOWS. He didn't follow the show's continuity, however, deciding instead to go off on his own storylines with the characters, creating a sort of alternate universe DARK SHADOWS. I can't imagine a tie-in author being allowed to get away with that today. I read some of the DARK SHADOWS novels back when I was in high school, when the show was still on the air in its original run, and I remember thinking they were pretty good.

The issue wraps up with "Peabody's Obsession", a tale about an art theft by Hal Ellson, an author I usually like. I didn't think much of this story, though.

MSMM was probably past its prime in 1968, although it ran for a long time after that (and I'd like to think it was pretty good during the era I wrote for it). I think the magazine peaked in the stretch from 1960 to '65, when nearly every issue was full of good hardboiled private eye action. But it was still a solidly entertaining magazine in '68, and this issue is a good example of that. Actually, almost any issue from the Fifties and Sixties is well worth reading, if you're lucky enough to come across any. (By the way, the scan accompanying this post is of the actual copy I read. The cover's a little grimy, but hey, that just gives it character.)