Sunday, December 31, 2017

The Wrap Up

This was a rough year personally in a lot of ways, and I’m sure hoping that 2018 will be an improvement, but the reading and the writing rolled on, as they have for decades now. That’s what I’m here to talk about today.


I read 117 books this year, a slight increase from last year. Here are my Top Ten favorites, in the order in which I read them.

RIDERS OF THE NIGHT, Eugene Cunningham
SAY IT WAS MURDER, Stephen Mertz
KISS AND KILL, Richard Deming
AVALANCHE!, E.S. Dellinger
PLAY A COLD HAND, Terence Faherty
THE ART OF THE PULPS, Douglas Ellis, Ed Hulse, Robert Weinberg, eds.

If you’re keeping score at home, you’ll note that my blog posts for a couple of these haven’t shown up yet, but they will soon. Also, one of them, SAY IT WAS MURDER by Stephen Mertz, hasn’t been published yet, but it’ll be out next spring from Rough Edges Press. Remember the title (like I’d let you forget!) because it’s a great private eye novel.

The older I get, the more I seem to retreat into the pulp era. Four of the books listed above first appeared in the pulps, and two more are about the pulps, at least partially in the case of the Margulies bio. But four of them are also new books, appearing for the first time in 2017, so I’m not a complete fossil yet. Still, more than a fourth of the books I read this year were either pulps, pulp reprints, or pulp-related. Another fourth were what I would consider vintage paperbacks or hardbacks. So I’m definitely beating ceaselessly into the past, boats against the current.


I wrote a million words again this year, for the 13th straight year. I have a tentative plan to try to hit a million two more times, then semi-retire and write about half a million words a year from then on. (I know, I know, we’ve all heard this before . . .) I spent enough years as a semi-starving freelancer that it’s difficult to turn down work, but I’ve begun to do that now and then. The million words this year included eight solo novels, six collaborations, and sizable chunks of two more novels. No short fiction at all in 2017, and only one of the novels, which probably won’t be out for a while, will have my name on it. But I haven’t worried about that in forty years and don’t intend to start now, as long as I can continue fooling everybody into believing I know what I’m doing and don’t have to take an honest job. I’m ’way too old for that. Many thanks to everyone involved in saving me from that terrible fate, from the editors and agents to the readers to Livia, Shayna, and Joanna, who make it all possible to start with.

I don’t make resolutions, but I have the vague hope that I’ll have more time to read, watch TV and movies, and just generally enjoy life. I plan to attend Robert E. Howard Days in June, I may make it to a science fiction convention or two, and I’ll definitely continue going to hockey games when I can. (I’ve become a big hockey fan and have been known to pontificate about games that I’m watching, based on my vast experience of two whole years as a spectator and never having been on ice skates in my life . . .) The blog will continue, the WesternPulps group will continue (until Yahoo pulls the plug on all the groups, which I remain convinced they will, sooner or later), and I’m sure I’ll still spend too much time on Facebook. To all of you out there who make this stuff fun, my very best wishes and the hope that 2018 is kind to you.

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Pep Stories, January 1930

For the last pulp cover of the year on this blog, something appropriate for New Year's Eve, I hope. I can't tell you anything about the stories or authors in this one, since the cover is all that's currently available on the Fictionmags Index, but in looking at the contents listed for other issues of PEP STORIES from that era, the only authors I recognize are Robert Leslie Bellem, C.S. Montanye, and Jack Woodford. This probably isn't a pulp I'd read, necessarily, but that's an eye-catching cover.

There'll be many more pulp covers to come on this blog, I hope, and plenty of other things, too. I posted less this year than in any year since 2008, mostly due to lack of time and mental energy. I wish I'd been able to do more Overlooked Movies and TV posts, but there were long stretches where I just didn't watch anything suitable for that series. I didn't review as many new books as I would have liked, either, but at least I kept up fairly well with Forgotten Books (although I fudged some of those by reading novellas). I'll have my usual yearly wrap-up post later today, but I figured I'd go ahead and do a blogging wrap-up now. I'm still enjoying it and plan to be around for a good long while. Everyone have a good last day of 2017!

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Thrilling Western, November 1952

This is a pulp I own and read recently. The scan is from my copy. The cover is by Sam Cherry, but it’s not one of his better ones. I picked up this issue to read because it contains stories by a couple of my favorite Western authors, Walker A. Tompkins and Gordon D. Shirreffs. In addition to that, THRILLING WESTERN was a consistently good pulp for all of its long run, so I knew the chances were good I’d be entertained.

I usually talk about the stories as I come to them in an issue, but this time I’m going to change things around and take a look at the short stories first, then the longer ones.

“That Missouri Sodbuster” is by an author I hadn’t heard of, L. Kenneth Brent. As you might expect from the title, it’s a cattle baron vs. sodbuster tale, but unlike most such tales, this one take a slyly humorous approach. It’s entertaining for the most part, although I was waiting for one more twist that never showed up.

“Bluffing Ain’t Easy” by Francis H. Ames is more of an action yarn as a rancher and his future son-in-law, an Eastern dude his daughter brought back with her from college, run across a gang of rustlers at work and have to deal with them. There’s nothing you won’t see coming, but the characters are likable and Ames writes well, providing some nice action scenes.

“The Beautiful Guardian” by Gene Austin, an author who wrote several dozen stories for assorted Western pulps, none of which I recall reading until this one. It’s a pleasant enough yarn about a young cowboy, a trio of trouble-making brothers he’s feuding with, and two beautiful young women, one of whom he wants to marry and the other who wants to marry him. This seems like it should have appeared in RANCH ROMANCES in an earlier era, but it’s probably not hardboiled enough for the Fifties version of that magazine.

The last of the short stories is “The Devil’s Swampers” by Bill Burchardt, an author who started in the pulps and went on to write a number of Western novels for Doubleday’s Double D line and other publishers. This is a hardboiled tale of a small-time outlaw’s robbery of a cattle buyer’s office and the obstacles he encounters as he tries to make his getaway. I don’t recall reading anything else by Burchardt, but this is a tough, well-written story and I’ll be on the lookout for his name in other pulps.

“Frontier Signaler” is a novelette by Gordon D. Shirreffs, and not surprisingly, it’s an excellent story. It’s about a young soldier assigned to a heliograph detail in Arizona Territory. The Apaches are on the warpath and getting repeating rifles from some mysterious source, the cavalry keeps getting tricked into looking for them in the wrong places, and our young hero winds up tracking down the gunrunners and exposing the villains. The plot may not be all that original, but Shirreffs’ writing is top-notch and really captures the setting. Plus the whole tone of the story is very tough and the action scenes are great. I’ve never read a bad book or story by Shirreffs, and this yarn continues that streak.

Finally, “Saddle Gun” by Walker A. Tompkins is the lead story in this issue and is billed as a complete, full-length novel. At 60 pages of double-columned text, it actually is a full-length novel. Well, as long as many of the Ace Doubles, anyway. And as usual with Tompkins, it’s a fine story with a mystery element to go along with plenty of Western action. The protagonist, Lex Holt, returns to his home town carrying a Winchester ’73 in a fancy case, a rifle sent to him with a note saying that it was used to ambush and murder Holt’s brother. Everybody in the area believes the younger Holt was drowned in a flood. But Lex, who left years earlier because he didn’t get along with his stepfather, knows different, and when he starts to investigate, it’s not long before there are attempts on his life and then another murder, this time one for which Lex is framed. Jailed and well on his way to being lynched, Lex has to escape, elude the law, and root out the real killer.

The plot may not be all that hard to figure out, but it’s still a lot of fun. There are several colorful old geezers as supporting characters, as well as a beautiful girl who figures into the plot but doesn’t really have a lot to do. Mostly it’s Lex Holt getting himself into and out of dangerous jams, because Tompkins was one of those authors who liked to keep piling more and more troubles on his protagonists until it seemed like there was no way for them to set things right. As you can tell, I really like the way Tompkins plots and paces his yarns. “Saddle Gun” isn’t in the top rank of his efforts, but it’s still very good. I’m a little surprised it was never reprinted as a paperback.

So the overall verdict on this issue of THRILLING WESTERN is pretty favorable. The short stories are okay, nothing special but perfectly readable, while the longer stories by Tompkins and Shirreffs are top-notch, just as I expected.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Forgotten Books: Kiss and Kill - Richard Deming

Richard Deming had a long career as a mystery writer, starting in the Fifties with hardboiled private eye novels featuring a character named Manville Moon and dozens of stories that appeared in the crime and detective digests, including some of the Mike Shayne novellas published in MIKE SHAYNE MYSTERY MAGAZINE under the Brett Halliday house-name. During the Sixties and Seventies he was a specialist in movie novelizations and TV tie-in novels under his own name and several pseudonyms. This is how I first became aware of him, because I read his Green Hornet novel THE INFERNAL LIGHT, written under the name Ed Friend, and his Mod Squad novels, written under his own name. Later I read his Starsky and Hutch tie-ins written as Max Franklin. (I was disappointed in the S&H books because they were novelizations of TV episodes I had already seen, rather than original novels based on the series, as Deming’s Mod Squad books had been.)

Because of this, I’ve always thought of Deming as a competent, reasonably entertaining writer but nothing special. I’ve had to revise that opinion after reading KISS AND KILL, an obscure crime novel of his originally published by the equally obscure Zenith Books in 1960 and reprinted as part of the Armchair Fiction line.

KISS AND KILL is narrated by Sam Carter, a con man turned murderer who specializes in a lonely hearts racket, marrying widows or spinsters and then knocking them off for their money. His partner in these schemes is a beautiful young woman named Mavis, who pretends to be Sam’s sister but is really his lover. They met when she, as an aspiring con artist, targets him as a mark without realizing that he’s a lot shadier than she is. Sam sets her straight, takes her under his wing, and soon they’re partners, quickly graduating from bunco jobs to murder for profit. They even get married along the way. Then, after several years together, they launch a scam that will turn out to be their most twisted and dangerous yet.

Deming’s writing is great, as lean and fast and hard as a bullet, and Sam Carter’s jovial, matter-of-fact evil is downright chilling. The reader never knows how much to trust what Sam is saying, and there’s no telling where the dark paths these characters go down are going to lead. I don’t know if Deming tried to sell this book to Gold Medal, but it’s every bit as bleak as anything that iconic imprint ever published. If you’re a fan of noir crime fiction, I give KISS AND KILL a high recommendation.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Coming From Stark House: Strange Island Stories - Jonathan E. Lewis, ed.

From Stark House:


Islands are, in many ways, the perfect settings for authors looking to craft stories that explore themes such as human isolation, lost civilizations, strange and unusual animal life, the power of nature, the cruelty of man to his fellow man, and human nature itself. The strange island story takes the reader on a journey into the weird, the bizarre, the scary, and the unsettling. It allows authors to create alternative worlds, places where cannibalism, lycanthropy, and voodoo exist… where islands can literally come alive… where women, rather than men, can be the dominant sex… where the normal rules of geography and topography are defied. Where the only limits are the human imagination. Here are nineteen classic tales from Arthur Conan Doyle, Julian Hawthorne, Francis Stevens, Jack London, H. P. Lovecraft, Frank Norris, M. P. Shiel, John Buchan and many more; plus one new story from the editor himself!

Some of the other authors in this anthology not mentioned above are Algernon Blackwood, Robert Louis Stevenson, Henry S. Whitehead, and James Francis Dwyer. The editor's previous anthology, ANCIENT EGYPTIAN SUPERNATURAL TALES, is a top-notch volume I'm still reading. STRANGE ISLAND STORIES looks like it will be excellent, too. The title alone is more than enough to catch my interest! It'll be out in March but is available for pre-order now.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

The Annual December 27th Post

So how many years is that, now? Yeah, 41, that's right. 41 years ago today that I sold my first story and became a professional writer. I've written about that and much of the background to it in previous December 27th posts, and if you're interested and haven't heard about it until you're bored to tears, I hope you'll go back and take a look at them. In that 41 years, I've written 358 novels (got a good chunk of #359 done), more short stories than I've ever counted up, one non-fiction book, and a bunch of outlines, letters, emails, and blog posts. I believe it was Ed Gorman who once told me that a writer is somebody who sits in a room and types for 30 years. Well, in my case, it's 41 years and counting, because I think I have some good years left.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Christmas Books

I hope everyone had as good a Christmas as I did today. All four of us were together, the food was plentiful and delicious, I even got a little work done early, and there was some top-notch reading material under the tree, among other things. It was a fine Christmas, and tonight I count myself among the luckiest of fellows.

The Art of the Pulps: An Illustrated History - Douglas Ellis, Ed Hulse, Robert Weinberg, eds.

I’ve had this oversized volume for a while now and have been reading it here and there, taking my time and enjoying the many beautiful reproductions of some great pulp covers. Finally finished it, and to use a cliche, I hated to see it end. While the art (mostly covers but some interior illustrations, too) is the focus of THE ART OF THE PULPS, as you’d expect from that title, there are also some very well-written and informative articles on various genres, artists, and writers from the pulps, contributed by the three editors as well as noted pulp scholars Will Murray, Mike Ashley, Laurie Powers, Tom Roberts, David Saunders, Michelle Nolan, and John Wooley. I really can’t emphasize enough what a beautiful book this is, or how it’s essential reading for pulp fans. It’s one of the best books I read this year, and I give it my highest recommendation. If you got an Amazon gift card for Christmas, I can’t think of a better way to spend it. (Unless you want to buy some of my books, of course!)

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas from our house to yours.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Top-Notch Magazine, December 15, 1927

Not exactly a heart-warming scene, but this is the Christmas issue of TOP-NOTCH MAGAZINE from 1927. In addition to the cover story, William Wallace Cook's "Christmas at Crack o' Doom", there's another yarn, "A Two-Fisted Santa Claus" by Reg Dinsmore. Other authors in the issue include Forbes Parkhill, Sewell Peaslee Wright, Sydney Horler, and some others who are really obscure.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Wild West Weekly, December 26, 1942

This is the Christmas issue of WILD WEST WEEKLY from 1942. There's a Christmas poem by S. Omar Barker and a Christmas story by Norman W. Hay writing under the house-name William A. Todd, but judging by the titles, that's the extent of the holiday content. Although "Border Blizzard" by Lynn Westland (Archie Joscelyn) might be a Christmas story, I don't know. Other authors include Walker A. Tompkins with a White Wolf story under the Hal Dunning name, James P. Webb, and Wayne D. Overholser.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Coming From Stark House: The Broken Angel/Backfire and Other Stories - Floyd Mahannah

From Stark House Press:

Sara is a great secretary to Nevada newspaper editor Roy Holgren, and easy to fall for. But it's not until she disappears that Holgren realizes how little he knows about her. She leaves town abruptly with a note that and signs off, Now forget me quickly. A short-haired blond man had come around asking for her, and Holgren just knows she's in trouble. After a little investigating, he finds her in Lodi at a hospital, covered in bruises. Rescuing her, Holgren finds them a vacation cabin along the Sacramento Delta, and starts asking the questions he should have asked before. Sara had worked for a plastic surgeon, and was involved in the murder of the doctor's wife. Holgren knows he has to clear her before they can have a life together, but a murder charge is only the beginning to save Sara, Holgren is in for the ride of his life.

Original hardback edition of THE BROKEN ANGEL, Macrae-Smith, 1957

The killer had dropped a match in the library as he ran through the house to jump into the Cadillac and follow me, but the fire was spotted in a matter of minutes by a passing motorist, and the fire department got there before the body was badly charred. An alert police officer who remembered my trial and threat two years ago was what had gotten the roadblocks up so fast. The cab driver's identification, and my fingerprints all around sewed the case up tight. I was guilty... Six hardboiled stories of revenge, robbery, murder and mayhem from the pages of Manhunt magazine!

I've read one novel and several short stories (all from Manhunt) by Floyd Mahannah, and they were all great. With an introduction by Bill Pronzini, to boot, this looks like a fine book. It'll be out next year and is available for pre-order now.

Forgotten Books: The Christmas Kill - Nick Carter (Joseph L. Gilmore)

I started reading the Nick Carter, Killmaster books when I was a freshman in high school. My first one was HANOI, and the blend of sex, violence, and international espionage had me grabbing up every book in the series I could find for the next several years. I didn’t really burn out on them until I was in college, and even after that I would read one now and then.

With Christmas coming up, I thought it might be appropriate to read a Nick Carter novel I’d never read, THE CHRISTMAS KILL, published in 1983. In this one, our hero, Agent N3 (with the Killmaster designation) for the super-secret government agency AXE, is sent to Japan by his boss, David Hawk, because an old friend of Hawk’s has asked him to investigate what appears at first to be a case of industrial espionage and sabotage. It seems that someone has blown up part of a factory that’s making toy robots to send to the United States for the Christmas toy rush, and the owner of the company blames a competing American-owned firm. However, as soon as Nick arrives in Japan, people start trying to kill him, so it doesn’t take him long to figure out that there’s more to this case than what it seems.

And honestly, if you can’t figure out everything that’s going to happen in this book, you’ve never read any secret agent novels or seen any movies in the genre. It all plays out exactly like you’d expect . . . which isn’t always a bad thing. I got a considerable amount of nostalgic pleasure out of reading this one, even though it’s a pretty minor entry in the series. I enjoyed it enough I might read some of the others I never got around to reading before.

When I starting reading these books, I had no idea who was writing them, of course. But I figured out that there had to be multiple authors and I already kind of knew what a house-name was. By now, most, maybe all, of the Nick Carter novels have been attributed to their actual authors. THE CHRISTMAS KILL, for example, was written by someone named Joseph L. Gilmore, who wrote eight Nick Carters as well as at least one suspense novel and one horror novel under his own name. His style is very straightforward, nothing fancy about it, but despite the thin plot he keeps things moving along at a fairly nice pace. This book is from the era when the books were written in first person, and I’ve always been fond of those. (The series is divided into three eras: third person narration and the hero referred to as Nick; the first person books; and then back to third person, with the hero usually referred to as Carter. I like the first two eras the best and never warmed up to the more impersonal later books.)

A number of my friends wrote Nick Carter novels over the years, and I tried to sell one myself, wrote several chapters and an outline for it, long since lost. But I remember the title I put on it: THE MONDRAGO STRIKE. Don’t ask me anything else about it, but I still like the title and think it sounds like it would have made a pretty good Nick Carter.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Overlooked Movies: Christmas in Connecticut (1945)

Not many Christmas movies start out with a Nazi U-boat attack, but CHRISTMAS IN CONNECTICUT does. A couple of sailors, one of them the always likable Dennis Morgan, are set adrift in a lifeboat. Eventually they're rescued and sent back to the States to recuperate from the ordeal. Morgan's character happens to be a food aficionado, and he's a fan of a magazine column written by Elizabeth Lane, a Happy Homemaker type who's married, has a baby, and lives on a farm in Connecticut. Only Elizabeth Lane (played by the always great Barbara Stanwyck) is really single, can't cook a lick, and her Happy Homemaker persona is pure fiction—unknown to the magazine's publisher, played by the always imposing Sydney Greenstreet. When the publisher comes up with the idea of having war hero sailor Morgan spend Christmas with star writer Stanwyck, she has to scramble to come up with a fake husband, baby, and farm or risk losing her job. Naturally, romance and hijinks ensue.

There's nothing in this movie that's not completely predictable, but it's so stylish, so well-done, and so much fun that I had a great time watching it anyway. Greenstreet and another fine character actor, S.Z. "Cuddles" Sakall, are hilarious. I love listening to Greenstreet talk and laugh and watching him glower when he's mad. Yeah, it's a little odd at first watching him play somebody other than Casper Gutman, but I got over that. Stanwyck is a long-time favorite of mine, especially in her films from the Forties, like this one, and I've become a fan of Dennis Morgan in recent years.

So you've got a great cast, a smooth, funny script, top-notch production values, and some nice holiday spirit. One of my daughters recommended CHRISTMAS IN CONNECTICUT to me, and I'm glad to have found an entertaining Christmas movie that I never saw before.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Argosy, November 7, 1936

"A Novel of Strange Adventure" says the cover blurb about the lead novel in this issue of ARGOSY, and it's got a strange but effective cover to go with it. The mid-Thirties was the best era for ARGOSY, in my opinion. This issue features stories by Donald Barr Chidsey, Cornell Woolrich, Richard Wormser, L. Ron Hubbard, Murray Leinster, and George Bruce. Martin McCall, the by-line on "The Last Crusade", was a house-name. E. Hoffmann Price used the name on the Matala series published in RED STAR ADVENTURES a few years later, but I believe that was the only time. So as far as I know, the real author of this serial is unknown.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Dime Western, August 1939

You could always count on Popular Publications for top-notch Western pulps, and DIME WESTERN was the flagship of their line. This issue has a great bunch of writers in its pages: Walt Coburn, Harry F. Olmsted (under his own name and possibly as by Bart Cassidy, the latter being a Tensleep Maxon story), Cliff Farrell, and Thomas Mount twice (as Stone Cody and Oliver King).

Friday, December 15, 2017

Best, Bill

So there I was, sometime in 1978, reading a copy of ELLERY QUEEN’S MYSTERY MAGAZINE, which had a small section of classified ads on the last page. Among those tiny-print listings, there was an ad for something called THE NOT SO PRIVATE EYE, which seemed to be a fanzine devoted to private eye fiction, my long-time favorite sub-genre of mystery fiction. Back issues were available, so I sent off a check to the editor/publisher, Andy Jaysnovitch, and in due time I got a box in the mail containing all the issues that had been published up until then. I was only vaguely aware of what fanzines are, and that was because I’d read about ones devoted to science fiction, although I’d never seen one. The small Texas town where I grew up wasn’t a place where you would run into such things.

But when I started reading TNSPE, as it was known to its subscribers, I knew right away that I loved this sort of thing: articles about private eye fiction and its authors; reviews of books new and old; and maybe best of all, a letters section where fellow fans could get together. A prehistoric version of Facebook, if you will.

As I looked through those letters and saw the names and addresses of the guys who had written in, I noticed one thing right away. Some of them were from Texas! There were fellow fans of the stuff that I loved! I had never met or even corresponded with any. As far as I could tell, I was the only person who read Mike Shayne or Shell Scott novels anywhere in the vast Lone Star State.

Not only was one of those fans in Texas, he actually lived in Brownwood, a town I knew quite well because I had relatives all over that part of the country. Bill Crider, his name was. So I acted on impulse and wrote him a letter introducing myself. (The other two Texas fans who had letters in TNSPE were Joe Lansdale and Tom Johnson, and I could write a lot about them, too, but this is Bill’s day.)

Bill wrote back immediately. He recognized my name from a story I had published in MIKE SHAYNE MYSTERY MAGAZINE, “Down in the Valley”. That started a pattern that went on for years: I’d write a letter to Bill, and five or six days later, I’d get one in return. (The post office was a little more efficient and dependable in those days, or at least so it seemed.) We talked about books we’d read and movies we’d seen and got to know about each other’s families. After a while, since Brownwood was only a two-hour drive away from where I lived, I drove down there one Sunday and had lunch with Bill, his wife Judy, and their kids Allen and Angela. Later, Bill took us all out to Greenleaf Cemetery and showed me the grave of Robert E. Howard, a writer both of us admired greatly. And he gave me a bunch of duplicate paperbacks from his collection, great old Gold Medals and other vintage paperbacks.

Later, I made another trip to Brownwood and delivered a VCR to him. They had just started selling those to the public, and my dad sold them at his TV shop, so I was able to get him a good deal. The thing was enormous and heavy, had a corded remote, and would record a whole two hours on a videotape. But for the early Eighties, it was a pretty cool deal. On that same trip, Bill took me to a couple of used bookstores in Brownwood, so I went home with more books again.

Around that same time, Bill sold his first book, a Nick Carter novel written with a friend of his named Jack Davis. I remember unfolding one of Bill’s letters and seeing the first line: “The Nick Carter book SOLD!” From that beginning, he went on to become one of the most beloved and acclaimed mystery writers of the past three decades with his Sheriff Dan Rhodes series as well as other mystery series and stand-alones. And while he was doing that, he published a bunch of critically acclaimed Western and horror novels and became one of the most reliable authors of house-name men’s adventure and Western novels. We worked together on six books, four in the Cody’s Law series under the name Matthew S. Hart and two in the Trailsman series as Jon Sharpe.

We saw each other fairly often at conventions like Aggiecon and Armadillocon and best of all, the annual Cluefests in Dallas. On the Friday evening of Cluefest, Dallas mystery fan Barry Gardner (who, as it turned out, was the son of Bennie Gardner, aka Gunnison Steele, one of the Western pulp authors I greatly enjoyed) held a barbecue at his house for a small group of fans and writers that included at various times Bill, Scott Cupp, Marv Lachman, Richard Moore, Steve Stilwell, Bruce Taylor, and others I know I’m forgetting. Those evenings are some of the best convention-related memories I have.

With the rise of the Internet, Bill and I traded emails instead of letters, but we stayed in touch. He started a blog (which in the early days featured frequent posts about how much he disliked mowing his lawn) and that blog inspired me to start one of my own. By this time he had moved from Brownwood to Alvin, near Houston, to teach at Alvin Community College. We still ran into each other at conventions but not as often since real life kept us away from them more than it used to. But every time we saw each other, it was like the proverbial no time at all had passed. We could sit down and pick right up talking about books, writing, movies, and anything and everything else.

The trials that Bill has gone through over the past decade are probably well known to everyone reading this. He helped his wife Judy battle cancer and then, after losing her, fought the disease himself. Through it all, he’s continued to turn out fine books, kept producing his blog until very recently, and adopted three kittens whose luckiest day ever was the day Bill found them. He’s been able to make it to a few conventions. I saw him at Armadillocon in Austin in 2016, and again, the times we spent together there will always be favorite convention memories.

At the bottom of that very first letter from Brownwood all those years ago was the signature, “Best, Bill”. That’s exactly what everyone who knows Bill has gotten from him: his best friendship, and it’s very good indeed. Here’s to you, Bill, with thanks for the past forty years. It’s been my honor and my great pleasure.


Forgotten Books, Bill Crider Edition: We'll Always Have Murder - Bill Crider

I wanted to read something I hadn’t read before for Bill Crider Week, which is no easy task because I’ve read a lot of Bill’s books over the years. But somehow I’d never read WE’LL ALWAYS HAVE MURDER, which was intended to be the first of a series featuring Humphrey Bogart, narrated by Terry Scott, a private eye who works for Jack Warner. Like Bill Lennox and Dan Turner before him, Terry Scott is a Hollywood troubleshooter whose job is keeping movie stars out of trouble. In this case, the star is Bogart. Frank Burleson, a sleazy private detective who works for one of the lower-rung studios in much the same capacity that Scott works for Warner Brothers, is trying to blackmail Bogart. Jack Warner wants Scott to get Burleson off the star’s back. But when Scott and Bogart pay a visit to Burleson, they find the guy murdered—with a .45 stolen from Bogart’s apartment during a wild party lying beside the body—and a couple of hostile cops show up mere moments later to complete the frame.

All you have to do is read that description of the opening to know that this is the sort of book I love, and I suspect many of you do, too. Naturally enough, Scott and Bogart set out to find the real killer in order to clear Bogart’s name. If Burleson was trying to blackmail Bogart, it stands to reason he had other blackmail targets as well, and since most of the people who were at Bogart’s party and had the opportunity to steal the murder gun are working together on a jungle picture at Superior Studios, that leads the two investigators into more trouble in a back-lot jungle, where, before you know it, another murder takes place.

What do you want in a book like this? Snappy patter? Gangsters? Thuggish henchmen? Night clubs? Beautiful actresses? Fistfights and shootouts and our heroes being taken for a ride? You get all that and more in WE’LL ALWAYS HAVE MURDER, and all of it told in a smooth, fast-paced style. Bill does a great job of blending historical characters with fictional ones (Peter Lorre’s cameo appearance is wonderful). Writing a historical mystery like this can be tricky. It’s easy to go overboard with the period details. Bill never does this, and as a result, the setting is very evocative without being heavy-handed.

I can’t even pretend to be an objective reviewer in this case, since Bill and I have been friends for more than 40 years, but I can tell you this in all sincerity and you can believe me or not: WE’LL ALWAYS HAVE MURDER is a wonderful book, one of the most entertaining I’ve read in a long time, and I give it my highest recommendation. And I’d say that whether I knew the guy or not.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Fantastic Adventures, December 1952

Okay, maybe I'm crazy, or just a 12-year-old boy at heart, or both, but that cover by Robert Gibson Jones is just great! Riding in a sling under the neck of a giant bat while fighting spaceships with a smoking raygun! I mean, what could possibly be cooler? I don't know which story in this issue of FANTASTIC ADVENTURES it goes with, if any of them. Milton Lesser, who went on to become Stephen Marlowe, of course, is the only author in it I've heard of. The others are a mixture of house-names and writers I'm not familiar with. I'll bet I'd have a good time reading it anyway. Or I could just look at the cover and imagine my own story to go with it.

Saturday, December 09, 2017

A Million Words and Counting

Today I reached a million words written for the year, for the 13th year in a row. Superstitious? Who, me? But I think there's a good chance I'll try for that mark again next year, and hey, if you're gonna write a million words a year for 14 straight years, you might as well go for 15, am I right?

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Western Novel and Short Stories, October 1956

Well, that's one of the oddest Western pulp covers I've run across. I'm not sure I actually like it, but it's certainly eye-catching. The artwork is by Stanley Borack, who did the covers for a bunch of men's adventure magazines. Inside this issue of WESTERN NOVEL AND SHORT STORIES are stories by Elmore Leonard, Noel Loomis, S. Omar Barker, Edwin Booth, John H. Latham, and William Vance, which is a fairly strong line-up of writers.

Friday, December 08, 2017

Forgotten Books: The Ebony Juju - Gordon MacCreagh

I enjoyed the first Kingi Bwana novella, “The Slave Runner”, quite a bit, but Gordon MacCreagh’s second novella in the series, “The Ebony Juju” (originally published in the July 13, 1930 issue of ADVENTURE) is even better.

This yarn finds the American hunter and freelance trouble-shooter named King being asked by an official of the British government to investigate rumors of gun-smuggling and a possible native uprising around Lake Victoria in Africa. King, not wanting to get wrapped up in all the red tape of working for the government, refuses. But he plans to head in that direction anyway, since he’s on the trail of a fortune in ivory that’s supposed to be buried somewhere in the area.

Wouldn’t you know it, the bad guys, fearing King’s possible involvement, decide to kill him to eliminate that potential threat to their scheme. (Doc Savage’s enemies made this same mistake, over and over again.) The attempted assassination fails, of course, but now they’ve gotten King actually interested in what’s going on in the area. He discovers that the natives (and yes, they’re very restless) are being stirred up by a large idol carved of ebony that can move and talk when it’s possessed by the spirits. (Didn’t I see this same plot in at least one Tarzan movie?)

Eventually King figures out everything that’s going on and foils the villains. You knew he would. Along the way, though, there are a couple of very suspenseful scenes and a lot of fine, authentic writing about Africa. These Kingi Bwana stories are starting to remind me of Robert E. Howard’s El Borak yarns in the way they’re structured, which makes me wonder if Howard read them. We know he was a fan of ADVENTURE. The locations are different, of course, and MacCreagh’s work lacks the breakneck pace and action of Howard’s stories. MacCreagh’s stories move along more deliberately and seem more concerned with creating tense scenes, which they do quite well. But there’s the same element of the “Great Game”, the political and espionage manueverings between England and Russia as they try to solidify their power in what they consider a backwards part of the world.

I’m only two novellas in, but I’m really enjoying this series so far. In this story, we learn that King is a Westerner, having grown up in Dakota Territory, and if they had made a Kingi Bwana movie back in the Thirties, Randolph Scott would have been perfect for the part. I’m glad I have the entire series and will continue reading and reporting on it here.

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Overlooked Movies: Diggstown (1992)

James Woods and Oliver Platt are con men. Louis Gossett Jr. is a boxer involved in the game they're running. Bruce Dern is the mark. Heather Graham is young and beautiful. Punches are thrown, blood is spilled, and plot twists abound.

I vaguely remember when DIGGSTOWN came out, but we never watched it and I couldn't tell you why. I like boxing movies and I like con game movies, and this is a pretty entertaining combination of the two genres, with a little Southern small town Americana thrown in. The supporting cast includes Randall "Tex" Cobb, who I've always liked. So I enjoyed DIGGSTOWN quite a bit and am glad we finally watched it.

Monday, December 04, 2017

Ernest Haycox and the Western - Richard W. Etulain

Reading ON A SILVER DESERT, the biography of Ernest Haycox by his son Ernest Haycox Jr., prompted me to read this book as well. ERNEST HAYCOX AND THE WESTERN by Richard W. Etulain is a fairly new book, released earlier this year, although much of it is drawn from Etulain’s 1966 doctoral dissertation. It’s not a biography, although there’s necessarily some information in it about Haycox’s life, and not exactly a critical examination of Haycox’s work, either, but more of a book about Haycox’s work and career, how he approached the writing of his stories and novels and how he handled the life of a professional author of Western fiction in the first half of the 20th Century.

This is just the sort of book I really enjoy. I never tire of reading about what, how, and why writers write what they do. Etulain devotes a lengthy chapter to Haycox’s time as a Western pulpster, from 1924 to 1930. After that, although Haycox still wrote some for the pulps, he had broken in to the slicks and sold most of his work to COLLIER’S. As a pulp fan, this part of the book is probably the most interesting to me, but the later chapters about Haycox’s work for the slicks, the movies based on his stories, and his efforts late in life to break away from traditional Westerns and write major historical novels, are all well written and well worth reading.

Having read these two books, I’m in the odd position of having almost read more about Haycox and his work than I’ve actually read of his novels and stories. I’m exaggerating, of course, but because, as I’ve mentioned before, I was never much of a fan of his books, I’ve barely scratched the surface of what he produced. I have quite a few volumes on his work on my shelves, though, and plan to read something else by him soon.

Sunday, December 03, 2017

Fast Job

Due to a schedule bottleneck largely of my own making, I wound up with just three weeks to write an 80,000 word historical novel. That would have been a pretty fast pace even back in my younger days, and now it's a lot more than I normally do. But I felt like I had to give it a try.

So just a few minutes ago, I sent the manuscript to my editor in New York. 82,522 words written in 19 straight days. Not something I'd want to do again any time soon. But I think the book turned out to be pretty good, and that's the most important thing.

I'll be starting the next one tomorrow.

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Hollywood Detective, October 1945

It's not just the number of words Robert Leslie Bellem wrote that's impressive, although that has to be considerable, it's the sheer number of stories. For example, for every 90,000 word novel I write, Bellem had to come up with ten or twelve workable short story plots to equal the same wordage. That's insane. I can't even imagine how many hundreds and hundreds of plots he created. (And sure, he probably repeated himself some, but still . . .)

What prompts this is the fact that Bellem wrote every story in this issue of HOLLYWOOD DETECTIVE, four Dan Turner yarns under his own name and a non-series story as Jerome Severs Perry. And this is hardly the only issue of a pulp written entirely by Bellem. The guy was a wonder. At least he didn't do the cover for this issue, but whoever did turned out a good one.

Saturday, December 02, 2017

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Lariat Story, November 1947

Good ol' LARIAT STORY. For two thin dimes, you got covers like this one by Norman Saunders, stories by authors such as Les Savage Jr., H.A. DeRosso, John Jo Carpenter (John Reese), Will C. Brown (really C.S. Boyles, the other author from Cross Plains), Rollin Brown, W.F. Bragg, and Ben Frank. (Well, I'm not much of a Ben Frank fan, but I like everything else I've read by those other guys.) Plus story titles like "Gun-Witch From Wyoming". I think the readers got their money's worth.

Friday, December 01, 2017

Forgotten Books: On A Silver Desert: The Life of Ernest Haycox - Ernest Haycox Jr.

I always enjoy reading about writers, and that inspired me to pick up a copy of ON A SILVER DESERT: THE LIFE OF ERNEST HAYCOX, a biography by the Western author’s son Ernest Haycox Jr. I’ve never been a big fan of Haycox’s work, although it’s grown on me in recent years. I’ve found that I really enjoy his early pulp novellas, more so than his later novels, which he regarded as more serious and ambitious. But you know me—give me a bunch of ridin’ and shootin’ and fightin’, and I’m happy.

Although I’m more interested in Haycox’s work as a writer, Haycox Jr. does a fine job with the family history and in painting a vivid picture of his father’s personal life to go along with the professional. I learned a lot about Haycox and his career that I didn’t know, and perhaps most importantly, this biography makes me want to read more of his work.

The one thing in the book I’d take issue with is a comment in the foreword by Ronald L. Davis which mentions that the Western Writers of America referred to their annual awards as the Erny (after Haycox) until they changed it to the Spur Award. I don’t believe this is right at all. I seem to remember reading that there was some discussion among WWA’s membership (at the time, many of them were founders of the organization) about calling the award the Erny, but that never got off the ground and it’s always been the Spur (and not the Golden Spur, another common mistake that people keep repeating).

One quibble in a lengthy book admittedly is pretty minor, so I don’t hesitate to give a high recommendation to ON A SILVER DESERT. (The title comes from an early Haycox novel, THE SILVER DESERT, which I’ve read and enjoyed.) For anyone interested in the history of Western fiction or in the life of a professional writer in the first half of the 20th Century, it’s well worth reading.