Saturday, November 30, 2013

Writing Update

After hitting the million-word mark yesterday, I had a pretty good morning today (family get-together this afternoon) and finished the month with 416 pages, certainly a respectable total. There were a couple of really good weeks during November to go with a couple of weeks that weren't as productive. But I'm on schedule to get done what I need to get done, and maybe a little extra now and then. I remembered the other day that I have about 10,000 words of a thriller written. If I could carve out an extra few weeks sometime next year I could finish it. Plus I finally have the plot worked out for a Judge Earl Stark novella that's been percolating in my head for a while. I need those 30-hour days!

Now Available: Livin' on Jacks and Queens - Robert J. Randisi, ed.

Legendary western writer and noted anthologist Robert J. Randisi offers up a winning hand with fourteen never-before-published tales of the Old West, each revolving around the central theme of gambling. Among the stories you can expect to be dealt here are:

Jacks or Better by Johnny Boggs
A Cold Deck by Phil Dunlap
The Reckoning by Randy Lee Eickhoff
It Takes a Gambler by Jerry Guin
Odds on a Lawman by Christine Matthews
Pay the Ferryman by Matthew P. Mayo
White Face, Red Blood by Rod Miller
Hazard by Nik Morton
Acey Deucy by John Nesbitt
The Mark of an Imposter: An Evelyn Page/Calvin Carter Adventure by Scott Parker
Horseshoe and Pistols by Robert J. Randisi
Too Many Aces by Charlie Steel
Missouri Boat Race by Chuck Tyrell
The Legend of ‘Blind Ned’ Baldwin by Lori Van Pelt

(That's a fine line-up of authors. I'm looking forward to reading this one.)

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: 10 Story Western, March 1946

This week's cover comes to us courtesy of Keith Chapman, and he sent me a scan of the table of contents page, too, since this issue isn't in the Fictionmags Index. It's almost an all-star issue with stories by William Heuman, Tom W. Blackburn (part of his Chris Defever series), L.P. Holmes, Wayne D. Overholser, Thomas Thompson, Tom Roan, and Gunnison Steele. The other authors, Kenneth Fowler, Joseph W. Quinn and Charles Irwin, also published a number of stories in the Western pulps during the Forties. 10 STORY WESTERN was a consistently good pulp, and this looks like an excellent issue.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Another Million Words

It's the day after Thanksgiving, but tonight I'm thankful that today I went over one million words for the year, for the ninth straight year. As I've mentioned before, I'd really like to reach that level again next year, because I think writing a million words a year for ten years in a row would be pretty cool. If I can do that, I'm seriously considering slowing down some in 2015. I've been really lucky to have the opportunities I've had and I've tried to take advantage of them, but I'm starting to get a little tired. I think the quality of the work is staying fairly high, though. At least I'm still learning new things all the time. That keeps it interesting.

Forgotten Books: Jew Gangster - Joe Kubert

Joe Kubert is one of the first comic book artists I remember becoming aware of because of his distinctive style. Even before I became a comics collector (Christmas Day, 1963, almost fifty years ago), I read assorted comics, including some issues of OUR ARMY AT WAR, so I must have seen his work early on. Within a few years I was a regular reader of his Sgt. Rock and Enemy Ace stories, although it would be a while before I discovered his earlier superhero work. Kubert kept writing and drawing for many, many years and became one of the first creators to produce original graphic novels.

I'd never heard of this 2005 graphic novel until I came across a copy of it recently. JEW GANGSTER, written and drawn by Kubert, is exactly what it says: the story of a young man, Reuben "Ruby" Kaplan, growing up in Brooklyn during the Depression, who falls in with some of the local mobsters and is torn between ambition and greed on one hand and his family and his own moral code on the other.

It's an excellent, fast-paced, noirish story that ultimately doesn't render any judgments. Kubert's black-and-white art is as stylish and effective as ever, with plenty of powerful images including a series of drawings depicting life in Depression-era Brooklyn that serve as chapter breaks.

If you're interested in crime fiction or in some fine work by a comics legend (and I fall into both of those categories), you should definitely check out JEW GANGSTER. It's well worth reading.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Now Available: The Phantom Ranger and the Skateboard Gang - James & Livia Reasoner

Codi Jackson and her father have been forced to move again. Codi’s getting used to being the “new girl” in her fifth grade class—but that doesn’t mean she has to like it. Can’t life just be normal? With her mother out of the picture and her father working odd shifts as a police officer, friends are important—as long as they’re not the wrong kind.

When Codi and a classmate, Keith Wright, are assigned to work on a history project, Codi has to make some hard decisions about her popularity in her new school.
But everything changes when Codi picks up an old Texas Rangers badge that belonged to one of her ancestors and he appears right before her eyes! Her great-great-great-grandfather says he’s come to help her, but how? And how is she going to explain the ghost of her long-ago Gramps to her history project partner and her father?

(This is one of the few unpublished, completed novels we had left after the fire in '08, and now it's the launch book for Painted Pony Books, the new juvenile imprint put together by Livia and Cheryl Pierson. It's a middle-grade book, 27,000 words long, with some mystery, some paranormal stuff, and some Western influence. Even though it's aimed at kids, I think some of you might enjoy it as well. It's available in both e-book and trade paperback editions.)

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Orcs: Forged for War - Stan Nicholls and Joe Flood

I first encountered orcs in The Lord of the Rings novels, but as author Stan Nicholls points out in his introduction to this book, J.R.R. Tolkein didn't invent them. Instead, orcs, like goblins, trolls, etc., go 'way back in folklore. Nicholls has written a series of fantasy novels using a company of orc mercenaries as the protagonists, covering their adventures as grunt-level infantry in an ongoing war involving two different factions of humans and a number of races of supernatural beings.

FORGED FOR WAR is the first graphic novel set in this universe and serves as a prequel for Nicholls' prose novels. It's pretty good, too. This is grim and gritty fantasy, not the more sedate style of high fantasy I've never been able to get into. Stryke, the commander of the orc company known as the Wolverines, is a Sgt. Rock type, the world-weary soldier who just tries to get the job done and keep as many of his men alive as possible.

In this story, the Wolverines, who work for a cruel half-human, half-dyadd empress named Jennesta, are serving as bodyguard to a group of goblin scientists who are supposed to be testing a new sorcerous weapon of mass destruction. But there are all sorts of plot twists and double-crosses going on, so it's not surprising that eventually the orcs are just trying to survive when things start to go wrong.

As you'd expect, there's plenty of hacking and slashing going on, some touches of humor, and a nice, fast pace to the story. I'm not crazy about the art by Joe Flood, but it gets the job done. One problem is that so many of the orcs look so much alike, it's almost impossible to tell them apart. The only one who really stands out is Coilla, the lone female orc, who's smaller than the other Wolverines.

I enjoyed ORCS: FORGED FOR WAR quite a bit, enough that I'm going to look for the regular novels. If you enjoy graphic novels and dark fantasy, this one is worth reading.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Tuesday's Overlooked Movie: Flypaper

FLYPAPER is another of those movies I'd never even heard of, and it's always nice when one of those turns out to be pretty good. It's an action comedy in which two different crews of bank robbers try to hit the same bank at the same time, forming an unlikely alliance and taking everybody in the bank hostage. An eccentric customer (Patrick Dempsey) and a beautiful teller (Ashley Judd) try to keep their fellow hostages safe and foil the bank robbers at the same time. But, as you'll quickly come to suspect, this is one of those movies where not everything is as it seems, and there are a lot of plot twists packed into the hour-and-a-half running time.

While FLYPAPER isn't laugh-out-loud funny, it's pretty amusing, and it's fun trying to keep up with the plot. I saw most of the twists coming, but the cast is good enough and the pace is brisk enough that I didn't really care. This is a nice little film and certainly worth watching.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Movie Action Magazine, November 1935

Here's a pulp I'd never heard of. The stories in it are movie novelizations, proving that genre has been around for a long time. The movies in it include THE LAST DAYS OF POMPEII, THE CRIME OF DR. CRESPI, POWDER-SMOKE RANGE, CHINA SEAS (which I featured on Tuesday's Overlooked Movies a while back), GUARD THAT GIRL!, and TUMBLING TUMBLEWEEDS. All of the stories were written by Laurence Donovan except for CHINA SEAS, which is by Edwin V. Burkholder. I'm not sure how much detail they could have included in 10 to 15 page short stories. Looks like an interesting oddity, though.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Now Available: Trouble Man - Ed Gorman (and an Announcement)

Ray Coyle hadn't been a real gunfighter for ten years, and that was the way he liked it. He would have been content to live out his life as a performer in a Wild West show. But then he got the news that his son was dead, killed in suspicious circumstances, and so Coyle set out to discover the truth.

Coopersville was a town full of secrets, most of them ugly. Brutal ex-convict Harry Winston knows those secrets, many of them involving the wealthy Trevor family. And Harry wants not only money but also revenge on the Trevors. His plans are complicated by the arrival of Ray Coyle, who has a score of his own to settle with one of the Trevors . . . and for anybody to get what they want, blood will have to be spilled.

Master storyteller Ed Gorman spins a dark, compelling tale of greed, lust, and murder in TROUBLE MAN, one of the best Western noir novels ever written, now available again from Rough Edges Press. Powerful, tragic, and deeply compassionate, Gorman's critically acclaimed stories and novels have made him one of today's leading authors of Western, crime, suspense, and horror fiction. 
This is one of Ed's best novels, and those of you who haven't read it should check it out. Also, the eagle-eyed among you may notice that it's published by Rough Edges Press. "Who?" you ask. Well, me. I'm Rough Edges Press. Although in the spirit of full disclosure, I'm just the editorial end. Livia's still handling all the heavy lifting when it comes to the technical stuff. But I've been thinking about starting a small press even since before the so-called e-book revolution, and now I have.
What's coming up from Rough Edges Press? More reprints of Ed Gorman Western novels, for one thing. A collection of Western pulp stories from a well-known author, for another. I'm also talking to various authors about some crime, suspense, horror, and science fiction novels, both originals and reprints. The submission requirements for Rough Edges Press are really simple: Stuff I Like. Any genre, any length (although I'd prefer not to publish anything less than novella-length, I won't rule it out entirely). Fast-moving stuff with some action. If you have a book like that you control the rights to, or a new manuscript that would fit, send me an email. The address is in my profile, if you don't already have it.
Meanwhile, Ed's TROUBLE MAN is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords, and it's a great yarn.

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Famous Western, Spring 1943

Fairly crude but eye-catching cover on this issue of FAMOUS WESTERN, and the line-up of authors inside isn't bad: Chuck Martin, Charles N. Heckelman, William Heuman, Roe Richmond, Lee Floren, and Brett Austin (who was also Lee Floren), along with a few lesser-known names. Seems to me like it would be an issue worth reading.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Forgotten Books: The Third Seduction - Jack Lynn

I've read quite a bit about the Tokey Wedge series over the years, but I've never sampled any adventures of the diminutive private eye until now. THE THIRD SEDUCTION was published in 1964 by Novel Books (the same company that published Ennis Willie's Sand series and a number of Orrie Hitt's best novels). It's possible it's a retitled reprint of an earlier book in the series, since Novel Books was notorious for doing that.

Tokey Wedge is five-six, a hundred and forty-five pounds, and looks a little like a smaller version of Shell Scott (not a coincidence, clearly). Despite being smaller than most paperback heroes, he's plenty tough and doesn't hesitate to take on hoodlums and killers a lot bigger than he is. Like most fictional private eyes of the era, he has a long-suffering friend on the police force, and his on-again, off-again girlfriend is a beautiful blond reporter.

As THE THIRD SEDUCTION opens, Tokey is trying to date a beautiful stripper. Wouldn't you know it, no sooner does she agree to go out with him than they're kidnapped by a .45-toting goon who tries to murder them. Tokey manages to get himself and the stripper out of this fix, of course, and then the question becomes which one of them the killer was really after.

From there the plot quickly turns into a complicated mix of revolution on an island nation in the Caribbean (in the words of Woody Allen, a fictional but real-sounding country), a looted treasury, feuding beautiful sisters, torture, attempt after attempt on Tokey's life, and finally imprisonment in the mansion of the evil mastermind, complete with a death trap like something out of a James Bond movie. In the midst of all that hectic action, Tokey manages to find time to take several beautiful women to bed, of course.

So, does it all make sense? Well, sort of, although there's a definite feeling that the author was just making it up as he went along. I don't think anybody read these novels for their well-constructed plots, though. They were read for the sex (which like most so-called sexy books from the Fifties and early Sixties is really pretty mild, consisting of leering innuendo more than anything else), the action, and the wise-cracking comedy. Tokey Wedge seems to have been influenced more by Richard S. Prather's Shell Scott novels than anything else, although there's some Dan Turner and Mike Hammer in there, too. Based on an admittedly limited sample, this one book, I'd say Tokey was aimed at readers who found Prather, Bellem, and Spillane just too sober and restrained.

For a long time, the identity of the author, Jack Lynn, wasn't known, but Steve Mertz has done some sleuthing and turned up strong evidence that Lynn was really Max van derVeer, an author who published several stories in MIKE SHAYNE MYSTERY MAGAZINE and ALFRED HITCHCOCK'S MYSTERY MAGAZINE during the Sixties. I seem to remember reading that he may have ghosted some of the Shayne stories in MSMM, too, but I could be wrong about that. I know he was living in Corpus Christi, Texas when he passed away in 1979. There's no telling what other books he may have written under pseudonyms.

I had a good time reading THE THIRD SEDUCTION, but it's definitely politically incorrect and anybody considering reading it or any of the other Tokey Wedge books needs to bear that in mind. It doesn't rise anywhere near the level of the books that inspired it, but it's still entertaining and a nice time warp back to a goofier, more innocent era in paperback fiction.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: The Brave One

This movie didn't make much of a splash and as I recall the reviews weren't very good. I'd say that somebody must have described it in a pitch meeting as "a female DEATH WISH", except for the fact that by 2007 most of the kid executives in Hollywood probably had never heard of DEATH WISH or Charles Bronson. There are a lot of similarities between the two films, though.

Jodie Foster plays a New York City radio personality who's mugged while walking home one night with her boyfriend, who is killed by the attackers. When she recovers from the vicious beating, she buys an unlicensed gun for protection and eventually, like Bronson's character in the earlier film, starts putting herself in situations where violent criminals will come to her so she can blow them away.

Terrence Howard plays a cop trying to catch the vigilante who captures New York's attention, while at the same time attempting to close in on a mobster. In the course of his investigations he meets Foster's character but has no idea she's really the killer he's looking for. An awkward friendship/not-quite-romance develops between them.

There are a couple of plot holes in this movie, one minor, one not so much, but the acting is good all around and it plays out well, generating some nice suspense along the way. And there's a late twist that took both Livia and me by surprise, which is always a good thing.

I enjoyed THE BRAVE ONE and think it's worth watching. It's a low-key movie for the most part, but it perked right along and kept us entertained for a couple of hours. 

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Action Novels, February 1929

You don't see horse racing covers very often on pulps, or at least I haven't noticed that many. The story this cover illustrates is by Jack Byrne, better known as an editor for Fiction House and later for Munsey, but from what I've read of his work he was a pretty good writer, too. And the other authors in this issue are top-notch: W.C. Tuttle, Frederick C. Davis, and Albert Richard Wetjen. That's a nice line-up.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Western Dime Novels, May 1940

I'm not sure why somebody at Munsey's decided to use the term "dime novel" in the title of this pulp when it's clearly not a dime novel and it had been more than twenty years since any of them were published. But hey, who knows why publishers do the things they do? The cover's not bad, and the line-up of authors is a good one. I've never read any of James P. Olsen's Silver Buck stories, but I've enjoyed his other work that I've read. E. Hoffmann Price and Chuck Martin also have stories in this issue.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Forgotten Books: Saddles, Sixguns & Shootouts - Charles Beckman, Jr. (Charles Boeckman)

Charles Boeckman is one of the few genuine pulp authors still with us, and it's quite possible he's the only one still actively writing and publishing. Writing under the name Charles Beckman Jr., he was a prolific contributor to the Western and detective pulps during the late Forties through the Fifties and has written many novels since then.

SADDLES, SIX-GUNS & SHOOTOUTS is a collection of his stories from the Western pulps, and it's a fine introduction to his work for anyone who hasn't sampled it yet. Since the book came out earlier this year, it isn't really forgotten, but since Boeckman's writing isn't nearly as well known as it should be, I think we can stretch the definition that far.

The opening story, the novelette "Brazos Woman" (STAR WESTERN, October 1953) is an epic in miniature, with enough plot for a lengthy historical novel. Beautiful widow Renee D'Aquin flees New Orleans in the 1820s with her two young children and heads for Stephen F. Austin's new colony in Texas. Along the way she encounters a rakish gambler who will move in and out of her life over the next decade. In Texas Renee has to battle against sickness, savage Indians, and finally the tragedy and heroism of the Texas Revolution, culminating with the Runaway Scrape and the Texans' victorious last battle against Santa Anna's army at San Jacinto. As you might expect, with this much going on the pace never slows down much. Boeckman does a good job with the setting, and Renee and the gambler Joseph Smith are both excellent characters complete with human flaws.

"Badman From Boston" (FIFTEEN WESTERN TALES, January 1947) finds a crippled Easterner trying to recuperate from tuberculosis in the dry climate out west so he can have an operation that might enable him to walk again. An avid reader of dime novels, he spins some yarns of his own that put him in the position of having to pick up a gun and take on some outlaws. This is a fine, poignant tale.

"Rusty Guns", from the March 1947 issue of FIFTEEN WESTERN TALES, asks a question you don't encounter very often in Westerns: what happens to a gunfighter who faces off against someone faster on the draw but survives the resulting shootout? This noirish tale provides a very effective answer.

"The Kid Comes Back" (NEW WESTERN, January 1952) is a revenge tale about a young man who returns home to settle the score against the cattle baron responsible for his father's death. That's a pretty standard plot, but the method the hero chooses to get his vengeance is pretty unusual, and so is the twist at the very end of the story. Those things make this an excellent yarn.

"The Last Bullet", from the May 1954 issue of FIFTEEN WESTERN TALES starts where many stories would end: with a posse gunning down the notorious outlaw and killer Jimmy Laredo. In Boeckman's West, though, not everything is as it seems, so that's just the beginning of a very hardboiled tale of love and vengeance.

"Stagecoach to Hell" (WESTERN ACE HIGH STORIES, April 1954) is about a former badman who has made a new life for himself in a small town, until his past is about to catch up to him in the form of an old enemy who wants him dead. It's a standard plot, but this story is distinguished by some good writing and a particularly touching ending.

"Home is the Killer", from the March 1953 issue of FIFTEEN WESTERN TALES, is set in the days soon after the Civil War when Texas was a particularly hard place to survive. A returning soldier helps out a widow and her son and finds himself chasing a dream that his own violent past may not let him catch.

Bull Hubler, the protagonist of "Bitter Reunion at Rimcock" (10 STORY WESTERN, May 1947) is the sheriff of Rimrock and a successful businessman who operates a freight company, but he's also a moody drunk whose wife left him several years earlier to run away with a gambler. Now she's back with a proposition that means either redemption or death for Bull.

"The Devil's Deadline" (.44 WESTERN, January 1954) features an offbeat protagonist: an aging newspaperman who has to decide if he wants to take on the corrupt lawman who rules a small frontier town. This story is also unusual in that Boeckman comes up with an unexpected way of resolving the conflict, and this twist provides a very satisfactory ending.

This volume comes to a rousing conclusion with "Hell's Cargo", a novelette from the September 1956 issue of ACTION PACKED WESTERN. As you might guess from the title, it's a riverboat yarn, as ace river pilot Steve Kent returns to New Orleans right after the Civil War to settle a score with his former mentor, who has stolen both fiancée and riverboat from Steve. But instead he finds himself in a race with his sworn enemy to see which man's boat can retrieve a fortune in furs from Fort Benton, high up the Missouri River. That the owner of the furs is a beautiful blonde is an added complication. Boeckman really pulls out the stops in this one, which action galore and just enough romance. It's my favorite story in the book and would have made a great John Wayne movie.

A while back I mentioned that despite the claims of some, there are still a lot of great stories in the pulps just waiting to be reprinted. SADDLES, SIXGUNS & SHOOTOUTS is vivid proof of that. Boeckman really should have had some collections of his work published by Leisure, Five Star, etc., so more people would be familiar with it. Even a long-time Western pulp fan like me hadn't really heard of him until a year or so ago. Thank goodness his stories have made a comeback, with a collection of his mystery and detective yarns and several novels currently available. I hope this is just the first collection of his Westerns with more to come, because it's one of the best books I've read this year.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Velvet #1 - Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting

Normally I don't blog about single issues of a comic book, preferring to wait until there's a collected edition available, but I'm going to make an exception for VELVET #1, the first issue of a new spy series written by Ed Brubaker and drawn by Steve Epting, the team responsible for some of the best Captain America stories in the past twenty or thirty years.

According to Brubaker, he wants VELVET to be a cross between the more over-the-top secret agent stuff like James Bond and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and the grittier espionage fiction of authors such as John Le Carre. I think he's succeeded admirably in this first issue.

Set in the late Sixties and early Seventies, the story centers around the activities of Arc-7, a top secret, ultra-hush-hush spy agency with headquarters in London. I'm not sure if it's supposed to be a British agency or an international one like U.N.C.L.E., but that doesn't really matter. One of their agents is murdered while on a mission, and the leaders of the agency quickly decide that there's a traitor in their ranks, a former top field agent who now trains other agents.

But Velvet Templeton, the secretary to the agency's director, believes that the man being blamed for the leak (who happens to be a former lover of hers) is actually being framed, so she sets out to do some investigating of her own. And Velvet has some secrets in her past that make things even more interesting, so that by the end of this issue Brubaker has thrown in some very intriguing twists along with plenty of action.

Since I was a huge fan of all the espionage novels, movies, and TV shows from the Sixties, VELVET is right in my wheelhouse. Brubaker is one of the best writers in the comics business, and I've always enjoyed Epting's stylish artwork and top-notch storytelling. This first issue also includes a fine essay by Jess Nevins, "A History of Spy Fiction Through the Cold War". I really enjoyed this one and look forward to the next issue. Whether you read it as it goes along or wait for the hardback or trade paperback, VELVET gets a high recommendation from me.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Wishing for a Cowboy - Cheryl Pierson and Livia J. Washburn, eds.

Okay, I'm not really the target audience for this book, and most of you probably aren't, either. But I've always gone by the theory that if an author tells me a good story, I don't care what genre it is. Besides, my wife is one of the publishers of this anthology, but I didn't have anything to do with it, no editing, no proofreading, nothing. So I'm coming at it with a fresh eye.

The concept is pretty straightforward: Western romances centered around Christmas, with each story including some sort of food item, and naturally you'll find the recipes for each of them in the back of the book. Sort of like Livia's Fresh Baked Mystery novels.

The book opens with "A Christmas Miracle" by USA Today bestselling author Phyliss Miranda. A beautiful saloon girl, a handsome doctor from back east, a sick toddler, a snowstorm . . . plenty of ingredients here for a heartwarming story, and it works well.

Cheryl Pierson's "Outlaw's Kiss" has an attention-catching opening with a wounded man collapsing on the heroine's doorstep. He's not a stranger, but rather a man she hates enough to think of him as Satan. But as she helps him through the danger that faces him, she has to ask herself if he might really be able to change. There's some nice suspense in this one.

Instead of the Old West frontier, the setting of Sarah J. McNeal's "A Husband for Christmas" is 1919 Wyoming, and she does an excellent job of capturing the era. Her hero is a little offbeat, too, a Native American auto mechanic, and those things combine to make this an interesting tale.

"Peaches" is Kathleen Rice Adams' first story, but it reads like the work of a polished professional. Adams takes a traditional plot, that of the rancher and the schoolmarm, and elevates it with some fine writing. This is like a John Wayne/Maureen O'Hara movie that was never made.

Jacquie Rogers' "A Gift for Rhoda" features a bounty hunter seeking out his parents, who he hasn't seen in years, but when he reaches their homestead in Idaho, he finds that they're not there but a beautiful blond mail order bride is. Likable characters and some nice action in this one.

In "Her Christmas Wish" by Tracy Garrett, two lovers who have been separated for years are reunited at an isolated stagecoach station on the Texas plains. Garrett makes excellent use of the setting, and you've got to like any story with a cattle stampede. Well, I do, anyway.

Tanya Hanson's "Covenant" finds a Nebraska homesteading couple dealing with tragedy and secrets in very different ways. This one has some good plot twists in it and characters you can't help but root for.

The book wraps up with Livia's story "Charlie's Pie" and is set not far from where we live. You've got outlaws, Texas Rangers, a mysterious stranger, a strong heroine, and pecan pie. Sounds good to me.

As I said, I'm not the target audience for this book and never will be, but the stories are well written, funny at times, heartwarming at others, and I enjoyed them. WISHING FOR A COWBOY is available in both e-book and trade paperback editions. I'm looking forward to seeing what Prairie Rose Publications comes up with next.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: Zombieland

This movie was pretty successful, so I'm fudging a little, as I often do, by calling it overlooked, but I never saw it until now so I say that counts. As I've mentioned before, we don't watch many horror movies around here. ZOMBIELAND starts out a little too gruesome for my taste but then settles down into more of an action comedy/road movie as nice guy college kid Jesse Eisenberg, enigmatic loner Woody Harrelson, and sisters Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin drive across the zombie-infested Southwest from Texas to California, seeking an amusement park that's supposed to be a sanctuary from the plague sweeping the country.

It's kind of funny after the fact when Eisenberg, who went on to play Mark Zuckerberg in THE SOCIAL NETWORK, makes disparaging comments about Facebook. The movie has lots of intentionally funny lines, too, likable characters, an oddball cameo appearance from an actor playing himself, and plenty of action. It's pretty gory, but after a while the violence becomes rather cartoonish, sort of like a case of Acme Dynamite blowing up Wile E. Coyote.

I don't think this is a great film, but it's pretty darned entertaining, and I think that's all it set out to be. Many of you have probably seen it already, but if you haven't, it's worth watching.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Favorite Reading Spots

Some of you have expressed a tolerance for these nostalgia-laden, semi-autobiographical posts, so here's another one. I think one thing most of us have in common is that we're avid readers and probably always have been. Over the years you've probably had some special spots where you read a lot and have fond memories of them because of that. I've already written about how I enjoyed reading in Study Hall when I was in high school. Here are some other favorite places of mine to crack a book or a comic.

When I was a kid my parents had a low-slung, upholstered rocking chair that was always my favorite place to sit and read. It was next to a window in the living room, so there was good light, and it just seemed to fit me. For most of the years I sat in it, it was covered in some sort of cream-colored naugahyde-like stuff. Next to it was a record cabinet (for those of you who remember records) and when I got back from my weekly trip to the drugstore with the stack of comic books I'd bought, I would sit down in that rocking chair, sort the comics in the order I wanted to read them, saving my favorites for last, and not get up until I'd read through the entire stack.

The same drugstore where I bought my comics also carried a few digest magazines, and I remember reading issues of THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. MAGAZINE in that chair. I could read the entire U.N.C.L.E. novella in the current issue in one sitting, between the time I got home from school and supper (which was always at six o'clock on the dot). Then I'd read the back-up stories the next afternoon. I also recall sitting down in that rocker one Sunday afternoon, after church and Sunday dinner, with the Bantam paperback of THE THOUSAND-HEADED MAN, one of the early Bantam reprints of the Doc Savage novels and the second one I read after METEOR MENACE. Again, I didn't get up until I'd read that entire paperback. I'm thinking I ought to reread it, if I can ever find the time.

One other thing I liked about that rocker: if you rocked hard enough in it, you could tip it over backward. I never got hurt doing that, but my mother hated it. Years later, after I had kids, my mother still had that same chair, and I taught the girls the trick. My mother still hated it. I told her that if she ever got rid of the rocker, I wanted it. Well, she got rid of it, all right, but she wouldn't tell me what she did with it. I suspect she didn't want me to have it because she was afraid the girls would hurt themselves tipping it over. And maybe she was right.

Of course there were other places in my parents' house where I read a lot, including my bed, where I would prop pillows behind me and sit up half the night reading Edgar Rice Burroughs and classic mysteries (John Dickson Carr's THE THREE COFFINS comes to mind, along with a number of Ellery Queen novels) and the summer between eighth and ninth grades, all three Lord of the Rings novels. At some point I got an actual recliner in my room, and that was where I read THE MALTESE FALCON, THE BIG SLEEP, THE MAN FROM DEL RIO, and lots and lots of comic books.

Another of my favorite places to read was a lounge chair on our front porch, as long as the weather was nice, of course. I read more Burroughs there, along with several novels by Robert Heinlein and Isaac Asimov's THE FOUNDATION TRILOGY (in the fat Science Fiction Book Club omnibus edition that some of you probably remember). I laughed my head off reading Richard S. Prather's Shell Scott novel STRIP FOR MURDER. (Those of you who have read it know the scene that set me off.) I read some mainstream fiction there, too, including a volume of Ben Hecht's short stories, some Irwin Shaw, THE MAGUS by John Fowles, and a book that was a bestseller at the time (forgotten today, of course) THE SECRET OF SANTA VITTORIA.

A couple of doors down the street was a rent house that my parents owned, and for a while my sister and brother-in-law lived there. I hung out there quite a bit and usually had a book with me. It was on the front porch of that house I read Mickey Spillane's ONE LONELY NIGHT. My brother-in-law had a shelf of science fiction novels I raided, so there was still more Burroughs and Heinlein, along with E.E. "Doc" Smith and A.E. van Vogt.

Along in those same years, I spent a lot of time at my aunt's house in the tiny Texas town of Blanket, not far from Brownwood. Some of you know exactly where that is, and no doubt you also know that there's not much to do in Blanket. I had a transistor radio and stacks and stacks of books. I read the great comic novel RHUBARB by H. Allen Smith. I read a bunch of Larry and Streak and Nevada Jim Westerns by "Marshall McCoy", really Len Meares, who became a good friend by correspondence years later. I read the Lancer editions of the Conan stories by Robert E. Howard (complete with the meddling of L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter, but I didn't understand that until years later, either). While at the grocery store in Brownwood, I bought copies of FLINT by Louis L'Amour and THE SPY IN THE OINTMENT by Donald E. Westlake. A trip to the drugstore in Comanche, a dozen miles the other direction from Blanket, yielded an issue of THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. digest magazine that featured "The Pillars of Salt Affair", actually written by Bill Pronzini under the Robert Hart Davis house-name. Years later, the one time I met Pronzini, I told him how much I enjoyed reading that story in a big brown armchair in my aunt's house. On a similar note, I recall reading one of Edward S. Aarons' Sam Durrell novels, ASSIGNMENT—SCHOOL FOR SPIES, while I was there. Then, somewhere during that stretch, I met the girl who lived across the street from my aunt and afterwards spent less time reading, but it probably says something about me that I remember all those authors and titles but have absolutely no recollection of her name.

Eventually I went off to college, spending a year at Southwest Texas State University in San Marcos (it's now just Texas State) and then finishing my degree at North Texas State University in Denton (now the University of North Texas). At SWTSU I read a bunch of Doc Savage and Nick Carter novels, many of which my roommate borrowed and read as well. I lived in a dorm for one year at NTSU, had an apartment in Denton for a year, and commuted for a year, plus the two summer sessions it took me to finish up. I still read a bunch of comics, and it was along in here that I started reading the Executioner series as well, going through them as fast as I could lay my hands on them. I remember reading a number of Donald Hamilton's Matt Helm novels while I lived in the apartment. While I was commuting, my home-away-from-home became the NTSU library, particularly an isolated corner where a dozen or so study carrels were located behind the stacks where thousands of bound periodicals were shelved. I sat in one of those carrels between classes with food I had snuck in and whatever paperback I was reading, often one of the Jove reprints of a Shadow novel with a cover by Jim Steranko. The library had some of the early trade paperback collections of classic comic strips like DICK TRACY and TERRY AND THE PIRATES, and I'd get those off the shelves and read them as well.

Of course, that area was designed for studying, which I also did . . . very occasionally. It's a wonder I ever made it through college. But hey, when you stop and think about it, I was studying. I just didn't know it.

Later I grew up (sort of), got married, and had daughters who wanted to go to dance class and Girl Scouts. I spent a lot of hours sitting in various vehicles outside of various buildings waiting for them, and of course you know how I passed the time. With pulps, and Dean Koontz novels, and science fiction digests. (I was on my great hiatus from comics by then.) The Girl Scout troops met in the local community center and the parking lot wasn't lit well enough to read by during the winter months when it was dark by the time we'd get there. So I took a little battery-powered light with me and held it over the book with one hand while I turned the pages with the other hand. Sometimes it was cold enough that I had to wear gloves. Sure, I probably could have gone into the building and found some place warm and well-lighted to sit and wait, but I got to where I enjoyed being out there in the car, huddled in a coat, a little island of light in a dark parking lot, just me and my books. I'm sure people thought I was crazy. But I'll bet a few of you understand.

Now I read mostly on the sofa in our living room. As I write this, my Kindle, a trade paperback collection of some Western pulp stories, and a magazine are waiting there beside it for me. Here in my office there's a stack of comics three feet to my left, within reach if I lean over a little between chapters in the current manuscript. To my right is a low bookcase full of research books, but stacked in front of it so that I have to move them occasionally are a couple of stacks of pulp reprints from Black Dog Books and Altus Press and some trade paperback comic book collections. On top of the bookcase is a small stack of library books (a mystery novel and two old Westerns). If I turn my chair around, I'm facing eight sets of metal shelves (four pairs set back to back) completely full of double-stacked paperbacks. On the tops of those shelves are big stacks of hardbacks and trade paperbacks, and there's another set of metal shelves full of hardbacks and trade paperbacks stuck in a corner, along with two six-foot-high stacks of unshelved hardbacks and trade paperbacks. Now, as I look around, I spot a bag of paperbacks I bought at one of the stores down at the coast this past summer that I've never gotten around to putting on the shelves. And this is after losing everything in the fire and starting over less than six years ago. If I never buy another book, I'll never get around to reading all the ones I have.

But what a sad world it would be if I never bought another book. There are bound to be more good reading spots out there, just waiting for me to discover them.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Now Available: Trails of the Wild

It's been a long day on the trail. The sun is setting, the campfire is burning, and the storytellers are sitting around waiting to entertain you. TRAILS OF THE WILD features six short stories of the Old West and a brand-new Cash Laramie novella by Wayne D. Dundee.

Tension builds as a Texas Ranger is pinned down by an outlaw's rifle fire and a deadly diamondback crawling over his legs.

Laughs abound when a man fights to maintain his own identity in the shadow of his famous, deceased grandfather Davy Crockett.

Fear strikes while shape-shifting coyotes prowl outside the shack of a sole line rider in secluded ranch territory.

All this and more raise the stakes and turn conventions upside-down. BEAT to a PULP's TRAILS OF THE WILD offers the boldest and most thrilling Western tales from the sharpest wordsmiths of our time.

(My short story "Rattler" is included in this anthology. I'm looking forward to reading the others. TRAILS OF THE WILD is available in both e-book and print editions.)

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: North-West Romances, Spring 1940

With all that action going on, that looks to me like it might be a Norman Saunders cover, but I don't know for sure and I'm not enough of an art expert to do more than hazard a guess. But whoever painted it, I like it, and the stories in this issue look good, too. Authors include Frederick Nebel, A. deHerries Smith, Karl Detzer, Sgt. Dan O'Rourke, and James P. Olsen. Love the title of the story by the house-name John Starr, too: "Sourdough Girl". If it didn't already exist, I might have to write it.

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Lariat Story, September 1946

With the girl in that pose, that's got to be an Allan Anderson cover, doesn't it? Looks like a fine issue with stories by D.B. Newton, Les Savage Jr., and Richard Brister, among others.

Friday, November 08, 2013

Forgotten Books: The Archer Files - Ross Macdonald

I don't recall the first Ross Macdonald book I read. It may well have been THE MOVING TARGET, the first book in the Lew Archer series. I remember checking it out of the library very early on. But not long after that I joined The Mystery Guild, and one of the books I got as part of my membership was ARCHER IN HOLLYWOOD, a thick green omnibus volume with three novels in it: THE MOVING TARGET (which I'd already read), THE WAY SOME PEOPLE DIE, and THE BARBAROUS COAST, as well as an introduction by Macdonald about the writing of the books.

Well, that was enough to make me into a lifelong fan of Ross Macdonald's writing and the Lew Archer series in particular. All the books up to that time had been reprinted in paperback (most by Bantam, a few by Pocket Books), and used copies were readily available. I snatched them up and read all I could get my hands on, including the short story collection THE NAME IS ARCHER, which I remember reading at my aunt's house in Blanket, Texas.

All the stories from THE NAME IS ARCHER—and more—can by found in THE ARCHER FILES, a great collection published a few years ago by Crippen & Landru. That "more" I refer to includes a biographical sketch of Lew Archer by Tom Nolan, who edited the book, and what Nolan calls "Case Notes", which are actually the openings of Archer stories that Macdonald never finished. Some of these fragments are brief, only a page or two, but others are fairly substantial. All of them are entertaining and very frustrating at the same time, because we don't get to find out how the stories end. But Macdonald's prose is as compelling and appealing as ever.

I won't claim to have reread all the stories in THE ARCHER FILES for this post, but I reread several of them and they hold up very well, no doubt about that. One of them, "Gone Girl", opens with a couple of lines I really like and have never forgotten: "It was a Friday night. I was tooling home from the Mexican border in a light blue convertible and a dark blue mood." Ah, that sweet first-person private eye narration . . . I just love it.

If you've never read Macdonald's work and haven't made the acquaintance of Lew Archer, THE ARCHER FILES would be a great place to start. If you're an old fan like me, well, reading these stories took me back to the Sixties and early Seventies, when I was devouring all the private eye yarns I could find, and it was a great feeling. Now I might have to try to find the time to reread some of the Archer novels.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Dominic Fortune: It Can Happen Here and Now - Howard Chaykin, et al.

In 1975, writer/artist Howard Chaykin created a character for the short-lived Atlas/Seaboard comics company called The Scorpion. In the two issues under that title produced by Chaykin, The Scorpion was a mysterious, swashbuckling adventurer named Moro Frost who operated in 1930s Hollywood. Due to creative differences, Chaykin left the title after those two issues, and a third issue of THE SCORPION by different creators and featuring a different character was published before Atlas/Seaboard collapsed. The company put out some pretty good comic books during its short life (I read most of them), but my favorite was probably Chaykin's version of THE SCORPION.

A short time later, the second issue of Marvel's black-and-white magazine MARVEL PREVIEW featured a story called "The Power Broker Resolution" that starred a mysterious, swashbuckling adventurer in 1930s Hollywood named Dominic Fortune. The writer/artist who produced that story? None other than Howard Chaykin. Yep, Dominic Fortune was a reworked version of The Scorpion, with little changed except the character's name. I enjoyed it as much as I had the two earlier issues.

The story didn't lead to much, though. A few years later in one of Marvel's color comics, MARVEL PREMIERE #56, Dominic Fortune surfaced again in a story called "The Big Top Barter Resolution", with art by Chaykin and Terry Austin and script by David Michelinie. This is a fun story that features a pre-Howling Commandos appearance by Dum Dum Dugan. But again it didn't lead to an ongoing Dominic Fortune series.

Over the years other writers and artists used Fortune as a guest star in various stories, filling in his back-story as they went along, something with which I'm not totally in agreement. (The urge to produce "origin" stories is a plague that afflicts mainly Hollywood—the movie version of SOLOMON KANE, anyone?—but it crops up in the comics industry, too. As far as I'm concerned the worst thing that Marvel ever did with Wolverine was to give him a detailed origin. I much preferred the mystery that surrounded his early appearances.)

But back to Dominic Fortune. A few years ago, Chaykin wrote and drew a Fortune mini-series for Marvel's MAX imprint, which means it has a lot of cussin' and nekkid women in it, two things to which I'm not opposed in principle, but it's easy to go overboard on them and that's almost the case here. Not quite. "It Can Happen Here and Now" finds Fortune being hired by a movie executive to ride herd on three drunken, washed-up ham actors who are still valuable to the studio. In trying to keep them out of trouble, Fortune winds up in the middle of a Fifth Columnist plot to assassinate FDR. This story aspires to be a fun romp, and most of the time it is. It's a little too heavy-handed in its politics for my taste, but overall I enjoyed it.

The trade paperback DOMINIC FORTUNE: IT CAN HAPPEN HERE AND NOW reprints the MAX mini-series, the two early Dominic Fortune stories from MARVEL PREVIEW and MARVEL PREMIERE, and a six-part Fortune serial that previously was available only on-line. This story, written by Dean Motter and drawn by Greg Scott, is excellent, a globe-trotting adventure in which Fortune is hired by a young woman who wants him to prove that her sister's deadly leap from the top of the Hollywood sign was murder, not suicide. In the course of the story, Fortune visits Berlin, where he encounters Barons Strucker and Zemo and the young S.S. officer who will become the Red Skull; Latveria, where he meets gypsy healer Werner von Doom and his pregnant wife (no points for guessing who that kid turns out to be); and a tiny country in Africa called Wakanda. There's also a cameo by Howard Stark. The story is a lot of fun for a long-time Marvel fan like me.

Dominic Fortune certainly isn't one of Marvel's top-tier characters, but I like him and I enjoyed this collection. If you're a fan of the character or of Howard Chaykin's work, it's well worth reading.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: Boxcar Bertha

This movie is overlooked in the sense that I wanted to see it when it came out in 1972, but for one reason or another I never did until now. Even though it's set during the Depression, it's very much a product of its times with its not very convincing violence, its abundant nudity, and its theme of the little guy striking back against The Man.

Barbara Hershey, surely one of the most beautiful actresses ever, plays Bertha, the daughter of a cropduster who's killed early on when his greedy employer forces him to go back up in a plane that's having engine trouble. (Every character in this movie who isn't broke or who's an officer of the law is a brutal, greedy, psychotic bastard, by the way. Like I said, it came out in 1972.) Left on her own, Bertha falls in with Big Bill Shelley, a union organizer who's battling against the local railroad line. They get separated, and she winds up traveling with a con man and gambler from up north. Eventually they all wind up together, along with the black mechanic who worked for Bertha's father, and decide to hell with union organizing, they'll just become a gang of criminals instead, so we're off on a lot of Bonnie and Clyde-like action.

Most of the plot is so ham-fisted that it's cartoonish, even though it's supposedly based on real events, and being that this was an American International picture produced by Roger Corman, the production values sometimes are a little less than top-notch. However, director Martin Scorsese (yep, that Martin Scorsese; I believe this was the first movie he directed) keeps things perking along at a pretty entertaining pace, and the film's crudities actually wind up being part of its charm. I probably would have liked it better if I'd seen it in 1972—I definitely would have been more a member of its target audience then—but I enjoyed it now. The day Livia and I watched it, we had started two current movies that turned out to be incredibly boring and wound up stopping both of them after half an hour in which nothing happened. As I said to Livia after we'd watched BOXCAR BERTHA, "At least stuff happened in this movie." Yes, it does. And for that reason, along with the nostalgia value, it's worth watching.

Monday, November 04, 2013

The Castro Directive - Stephen Mertz

Stephen Mertz has been one of the leading authors of adventure fiction and a good friend of mine for more years than I like to think about. His latest novel THE CASTRO DIRECTIVE is a fine addition to his body of work, and it's a special pleasure and honor for me to read it since it's dedicated to me.

Set in 1961, it's the behind-the-scenes story of the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion and the aftermath of that bungled operation. Aware that Castro has a mole somewhere in the group of Cuban refugees planning the invasion, President Kennedy sends for a special operative, Green Beret Sergeant Michael "Graveyard" Morgan, to root out the spy.

A book like this is very tricky to write. Most readers already know the historical outcome, so in order to generate any suspense you have to make the story about how events wind up the way they did. In other words, the story is about the journey, not the destination. Mertz does an excellent job of accomplishing this by coming up with compelling fictional characters and some plausible twists and turns that probably didn't happen but could have. He also makes good use of the historical characters and events. The scenes featuring JFK, Bobby Kennedy, and other historical figures come across as very authentic.

Then, part of the way through, Mertz throws in another highly effective twist by involving Graveyard Morgan's estranged wife and daughter in the mix and making the mission personal for him. This ratchets the suspense up to an even higher level.

I remember this era and the Bay of Pigs invasion fairly well, although I was pretty young at the time and more concerned with surviving elementary school. But I recall enough, and have studied enough history since then, to know that Mertz does a top-notch job capturing that time period. If you want to read an excellent historical thriller by a real pro at the top of his game, you definitely should check out THE CASTRO DIRECTIVE, which is available in both trade paperback and e-book editions. It gets a high recommendation from me.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Uncanny Tales, November 1939

Nobody ever bought a Weird Menace pulp because its cover was tasteful and restrained, and this is a perfect example of that. Creepy villains in space helmets, nearly naked girl, stalwart raygun-toting hero . . . what more do you need? Well, how about stories by Robert Leslie Bellem, Arthur J. Burks, Ray Cummings, Allan K. Echols (better known for his Westerns) and Russell Gray (Bruno Fischer)? Over the top, sure, but I'll bet it's fun.

Saturday, November 02, 2013

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Variety Western, March/April 1939

I'm not sure I'd ever heard of this Western pulp from Ace, and I've definitely never seen any of the issues. This one has a busy but not bad cover, and one of the featured authors is the great Harry F. Olmsted. His story here was probably a reject from Popular or Street & Smith, but I'll bet it's pretty good anyway. Almost every other author in this issue is a house-name, so I have no idea who really wrote the stories.

Friday, November 01, 2013

Forgotten Books: The Savage Hours - L.P. Holmes

When I read RUSTLER'S MOON by L.P. Holmes last month, I enjoyed it enough that I knew I'd be reading more by him soon. And so I have. THE SAVAGE HOURS is a short novel published by Ace Books in 1966, and it's another fine piece of Western entertainment.

The protagonist of this one is undercover lawman Jim Bannion, who's sent in to a rich ranching area in Oregon find out if the local badge-toter has turned crooked. Immediately, Bannion finds himself in the middle of a land grab and swindle cooked up by the local judge (not a spoiler, Holmes doesn't have any real mystery in these stories). Several murders, bushwhackings, and brutal fistfights later, Bannion and an unexpected ally close in on the bad guys and set everything to rights in fine hardboiled style.

There's a decent plot twist in this one (that unexpected ally mentioned above), but for the most part veteran Western readers will know what's going to happen. Holmes writes so well, though, that it doesn't really matter. A book like this is pure comfort food to somebody like me who grew up on them and would have made a fine early Fifties movie directed by Andre de Toth and starring Randolph Scott as Bannion. Or if you want a little lower budget, substitute Joseph Kane for de Toth and Rod Cameron for Scott. I have several more L.P. Holmes novels on hand and plan to get to them soon.