Tuesday, January 15, 2019


Two chapters today wrapped up that novel I've been working on, which is #370 for me. I'm not really done done with it, since Livia still has some editing to do on it and I haven't seen her notes yet, but I'm putting it in the books anyway.

Tomorrow I need to write the outline for the next book in this particular series, but I have to discuss it with Livia first to make sure the basic idea for it is feasible.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Dog and Writing Updates

Sammy continues to do well in his recuperation. He's bored, as I would be too in his situation, and he doesn't really like the plastic cone he has to wear, but he doesn't fight it when I put it back on him after he's eaten and gone outside briefly. That's good, because he's big and strong enough that if he was determined not to wear it, it might take several of us to get it on him. Overall, he's been remarkably cooperative about the whole thing. But we'll all be glad when he's back to normal.

Remember that book I was going to wrap up over the weekend? Well, I wrote three chapters yesterday but didn't manage to get to the end of the story. I had enough words already, but my editor gives me some leeway on such things and I wasn't going to rush the ending. So I figured I'd finish it today.

Nope. Two more chapters done, but still not finished. There's just a lot to cover and a considerable amount of choreography required to get all the characters in the right place at the right time. That's always a problem with big-cast books. Surely it'll be done tomorrow, though.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Adventure, March 1939

Clearly, deep sea diving was considered adventurous during the pulp era, because such scenes show up fairly often on pulp covers, such as this one by Rafael DeSoto from the March 1939 issue of ADVENTURE. The scene depicted may not actually be underwater, but you can tell the guy just came from there because of the chest of doubloons he's holding. I don't know if this cover illustrates one of the stories inside or is just a generic adventure image; the latter, I suspect. But I'm sure the stories in this issue are good, considering that they were written by Erle Stanley Gardner, Frank Gruber, Gordon MacCreagh, William E. Barrett, Anthony Rud, and Robert E. Pinkerton. Looks like a solid issue all the way around.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Max Brand's Western Magazine, April 1950

There may not be as much stuff going on in this cover by Norman Saunders as there is in many of his paintings, but it's certainly dynamic and I like it quite a bit. MAX BRAND'S WESTERN MAGAZINE was a reprint pulp, and this issue contains only two stories: "Open Range for Renegades" by Bennett Foster, which was originally published as the novel COW THIEF TRAIL by Morrow in 1937; and "The Laughter of Slim Malone", a Max Brand story from a 1919 issue of ALL STORY WEEKLY that's been reprinted in other collections since then.

UPDATE: Bennett Foster's novel COW THIEF TRAIL was reprinted in paperback by Bantam in 1951 under its original title. (Never pass up an excuse to post the cover of an old paperback, I say.)

Friday, January 11, 2019


Sammy is doing well, eating and drinking fine, taking all his meds, and getting around a little. I think he felt more restless today, as if he's had enough of this and is ready to get back to his normal life. We all are, but it's going to take a while. His buddy Ranger visited him today. The desk where I'm working is just to the right of that picture; you can see the chair where I sit. This arrangement worked fine until Ranger decided he needed to get up and peer over my shoulder while I was writing. I think that was his way of telling me he wanted to collaborate with me. Or that the stuff needs editing.

Speaking of writing, the current book has gone well the past two days, 16 pages yesterday and 21 today. I should finish Sunday unless I get really ambitious tomorrow. And as soon as I wrap up this one, I need to write the outline for the next book in the series. Luckily I already have an idea for it.

I was monkeying around with Word and decided to change the background color. I tried white text on a black background (thirty years ago when I first started using a computer, that was the way the screen looked), but that was too stark for me. I settled on black text on a light green background. Remember the old Lancer Easy-Eye paperbacks in the Sixties? That's sort of what it looks like. And I have to say, so far I like it. It really does seem to be easier on my eyes. Although I never really liked the way those paperbacks looked. The first one I ever bought was GOLDEN BLOOD by Jack Williamson, a novel I ought to reread one of these days.

Forgotten Books: Mr. Sixgun - Brian Garfield

Jeremy Six is the marshal of Spanish Flat, Arizona, a small town that serves as the supply center for not only numerous ranches but also some mining operations in the nearby mountains. Six is assisted by his deputy Manny Gutierrez and has numerous friends among the town’s citizens. He’s romantically attracted to the beautiful owner of one of the local saloons. MR. SIXGUN is the first novel in a series by Brian Garfield featuring Jeremy Six, and at first glance, it seems to be solidly in the GUNSMOKE mold.

There are some important differences, though, that become apparent as the story goes along. Jeremy Six is no Matt Dillon. He broods more and is uncertain of his own abilities. His budding romance with Clarissa is no Matt and Kitty. Characters you start out thinking are certain to survive, don’t. Some things do seem influenced by GUNSMOKE, though, such as the tension that grips the town when famous gunman Ben Sarasen shows up and waits around for something, nobody knows what. Then there’s the outlaw gang with a grudge against the town resulting from Six’s arrest of one of their members. All of it comes together in a number of scenes of shocking violence after Garfield skillfully ratchets up the tension.

I’ve heard many good things about the Marshal Jeremy Six series and have been meaning to read it for years. The recent passing of Brian Garfield finally prompted me to do so. MR. SIXGUN is a very well written novel. I wasn’t sure at first if I liked the character of Jeremy Six, but he’d grown on me by the time I finished the book. I enjoyed this quite a bit and certainly will read at least the next book in the series, probably more. Recommended.

(MR. SIXGUN was published originally by Ace Books in 1964 under Garfield’s pseudonym Brian Wynne. It’s available now in an e-book edition from Piccadilly Press, and that’s the one I read.)

Wednesday, January 09, 2019

Sammy's Surgery

Our big ol' Great Pyrenees, Sammy (or as I sometimes call him, Singapore Sammy -- you pulp fans get the reference), had surgery today to repair the knee that he blew out a couple of weeks ago when he was running up and down the fence barking at another dog. He's still pretty groggy, and we're looking at a couple of months of recuperation and rehabilitation, but right now the signs are all good. He's a pretty laid-back dog to start with, so maybe keeping him from being too active won't be a problem. And he doesn't seem to hate the cone, which is good. Any time our other dogs had to wear a cone, they gave us trouble about it.

Between dropping him off early at the vet, worrying about him all day, and then picking him up late this afternoon, I didn't write a blasted thing today. But yesterday was a decent day, a chapter and a half, and I'm sure I'll get some done tomorrow. I'd like to wrap up the book I'm working on this weekend, and I still have a decent shot at that.

A Time to Scatter Stones - Lawrence Block

As I've mentioned here before, I bought the paperback of THE SINS OF THE FATHERS, the first Matt Scudder novel by Lawrence Block, brand-new off the paperback rack at Buddies' Supermarket in 1976, not long after Livia and I got married. She was already getting groceries, but I'd stopped to look at the books and spotted Block's name. In the past, I had bought some of his Evan Tanner books right up the sidewalk in the same shopping center, from the spinner rack in Tompkins' Pharmacy, and enjoyed them. This one looked good, it was the first book in a series, and it was a private eye novel. Good enough for me.

Cut to 2019, more than forty years later, and what am I reading? A TIME TO SCATTER STONES, the newest Matt Scudder novella by Lawrence Block. The more things change, etc., etc., and sometimes I'm glad of that.

Block has aged Scudder in real time, so he's long since retired as an unofficial private detective and is living happily with his wife Elaine, a former prostitute who he met during one of his cases. She belongs to a group that calls themselves the Tarts, an informal organization of former prostitutes and ones who are trying to get out of that life. One of them has a problem with a client who's obsessed with her, and Elaine prevails on Scudder to help the young woman. He's willing to do so, but first he has to find out who the guy actually is, and once he does, decide how best to proceed from there.

It's really interesting and enjoyable to watch Scudder work this case. As he points out himself, he's really too old for that sort of thing and isn't as efficient at it as he once was, but he manages to get the job done anyway. A TIME TO SCATTER STONES is, fittingly enough, a rather low-key and leisurely affair, but despite that, Block manages to generate a considerable amount of suspense and really kept me reading. No one else's prose pulls me along quite so handily, and you can't really point to anything and say, it's because he does this and this and that other thing. I don't know why it works, but it sure does.

Block has said this may well be the final Matt Scudder story. Well, maybe, maybe not. We've heard that before. What I do know is that as long as he keeps writing them, I'll keep reading them. A TIME TO SCATTER STONES will be out in hardback and e-book editions at the end of the month, and I highly recommend it.

Tuesday, January 08, 2019

Overlooked Movies: American Ultra (2015)

AMERICAN ULTRA starts off like it’s going to be some sort of low-key indie drama about a young stoner (Jesse Eisenberg) who lives with his girlfriend (Kristen Stewart) in a small town, suffers panic attacks, and works at a dead-end job in a convenience store. But then it takes an abrupt left-hand turn into something very different as people start trying to kill the protagonist and he discovers that nothing he believed was true really is. And quite possibly, no one he knows can be trusted, either.

I’d never heard of this movie, and I’m not a big fan of either Eisenberg or Stewart, but it sounded just quirky enough to take a chance on, and I’m glad I did. It moves really, really fast, has a lot of stylish and well-done (and gory) action scenes, and the supporting cast is top-notch: Walton Goggins (who is in so many movies and TV shows he must not ever do anything except work), Connie Britton, John Leguizamo, and Topher Grace.

I really enjoyed AMERICAN ULTRA. It reminded me a little of THE LONG KISS GOODNIGHT, another movie that bombed at the box office and got bad reviews but has developed something of a cult following because it’s actually pretty good. Whether the same will ever be true of AMERICAN ULTRA, I don’t know, but I can see it happening. This is definitely worth watching if you don’t mind some bloody scenes.

Monday, January 07, 2019

I Can See Clearly Now . . . Well, Relatively Speaking

I went back to the ophthalmologist's office this morning to get the results of that visual field test I took last week. This test matched perfectly with the earlier ones I'd taken, proving that the deterioration in peripheral vision indicated by the test in October was inaccurate. Not only that, they checked the pressure in my eyes while I was there, and it was exactly what the doctor wanted in both eyes. So, good news all around. "Rock solid," as one of the assistants said.

Between that appointment and several other errands that had to be run, not much time was left for writing, but I did a little this afternoon. Saturday was a good day, two chapters. Yesterday I was able to work only in the morning since I had some other stuff to do during the afternoon, but I got one chapter done in that time. And so it rolls on.

Monday Memories: Another One Rides the Bus

Starting in first grade and continuing through most of my public school career, I rode the bus to and from school nearly every day. It came along the service road next to the highway and stopped at our street around eight o’clock in the morning. I always tried to get down the street to the corner a few minutes before that so I wouldn’t miss the bus. The few times that happened, I had to trudge back up the hill to our house and my mother had to take me to school, much to her annoyance.

The people who lived in one of the houses on the corner had a boat, and they kept it in a shed that was fairly close to the road. The shed had no front, but it had sides, a back, and a roof, so when it was raining, or very cold, the kids waiting for the bus crowded into the shed for protection from the elements. We had no trouble hearing the bus’s rumbling engine as it came along the service road toward our street.

Most of the time we waited outside, though, and of course, being kids, we came up with games to play. Since there was a ditch on both sides of the street, we used the one alongside the boat shed for a game called “Quicksand Monster”. One kid would get in the ditch and serve as the Quicksand Monster. The others had to jump back and forth over the ditch while the Quicksand Monster tried to catch one of them and haul him or her in. When that happened, the kid who got caught became the Quicksand Monster, and so the game continued. I have no idea who gave it that name, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t me. I imagine other kids in other places played variations of the same game, but I never heard or read any other references to calling it Quicksand Monster.

The bus had already made three stops before it picked us up. After we got on, it continued on up the service road, made one more stop at the corner of another street, then turned, crossed over the highway, and headed back toward town and the various schools. Some years, the bus I rode also made several stops at a neighborhood on the other side of the highway to pick up the kids who lived there, but when that happened we were really crowded in and really had too many kids on there. I don’t recall that ever being a permanent situation.

Most of the time, after making the one stop beyond our street, the bus returned to the high school first to let off those kids, then cut through some back streets and a residential area to get to the elementary school I attended. Along the way we passed a big concrete watering trough on the corner of some land where people kept cattle. I first noticed that watering trough in the fall of 1959, when I was in first grade. I drive by there occasionally now, and I always look over at it. The watering trough is still there—or at least it was the last time I went by. That corner hasn’t changed in the almost sixty years since then.

Anyway, as I got older, I began riding on past the elementary school to the junior high, which was the last stop. The bus barn was located there. And finally, when I reached high school, I got off at the first stop every morning.

The routine in the afternoon was much the same, except that route started at the elementary school, went by the junior high, and then the high school last before heading out the highway to the area where I lived. My street was the fourth stop. The bus usually got there about five minutes until four o’clock in the afternoon, which meant I could hurry up the street and get in the front door in time to watch MIGHTY MOUSE or HUCKLEBERRY HOUND or THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN, whichever was running in that time slot that year. Much later, I made sure I got home in time to watch reruns of THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E., which one of the local stations showed every weekday.

I remember missing the bus in the afternoon only one time, and I couldn’t tell you the reason why. But I was in high school, I know that (the old campus, the one’s that now a junior high). It was about a mile and a half from my house, so I decided to walk home instead of trying to call my mother and ask her to come get me. It wasn’t a problem; I was young, and it was only a mile and a half. And I remember enjoying that walk quite a bit. You see a lot of details when you’re walking that you never notice when you’re riding in a bus. I got home about half an hour later than usual, so I probably missed something on TV, but I don’t think I cared. However, that was the only time I ever walked home, so I didn’t enjoy it so much that I started doing it on a regular basis.

Over the years I rode various buses: 5, 15, and 33 are the only numbers I recall. But they were all virtually identical, so it didn’t really matter. They weren’t air-conditioned, of course, but we would let the windows down on hot days. I had a few friends, some from my street and a few from the street where the bus stopped just before us. I don’t recall ever being picked on, although that certainly happened to some kids. Being a fat little nerd, I had learned at a young age to keep my head down and be as invisible as possible in such situations.

That’s the way my bus riding went until the first day of my junior year of high school. The morning ride was normal, but that afternoon when I got on the bus to go home, it followed such a long, circuitous route that it was 5:30 before I walked in the door. Being accustomed to getting home by four o’clock, this delay was flatly unacceptable. I needed that hour and a half for reading comic books and paperbacks or watching TV or playing football, baseball, or basketball. Since I had my driver’s license by then, I asked my dad if I could have a car and start driving to school. He knew a guy who had a used car lot (as I’ve mentioned before, no matter what you needed, my dad Knew A Guy) and within days, I had a car. It was an olive-drab Oldsmobile, a ’66 model, I think, ugly as sin and one step above a junker, to boot. But it ran—most of the time—and I no longer had to ride the bus. That led, the next school year when I was a senior, to the one, count it, one semester of public school that I truly enjoyed, the second semester of my senior year when I came in late and left early.

I wasn’t fond of riding the bus. I wouldn’t say that I absolutely hated it. Most days it was just part of the overall experience of going to school, not really good or bad, just something that had to be gotten through. But by the time my kids were school age, Livia and I were both working at home as full-time writers, so we made our own schedules and one of us was always able to take the girls to school and pick them up. They rode buses for field trips and other extracurricular activities, of course, but never to or from school. That was fine with me, because I always enjoyed those trips with them. They may have missed a few experiences by not riding the bus, but on the other hand, we listened to the radio and we waved at the donkey in the field where we always turned and we went by the house where all the weiner dogs lived and hoped they would be outside so we could see them running around and playing. I hope those moments were worth something to the girls. They certainly were to me. More than any bus ride I ever took.

Sunday, January 06, 2019

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Detective Tales, October 1947

Okay, that's got to be one of the weirdest pulp covers I've ever seen, but man, it's hard to take your eyes off it, isn't it? The authors inside are great, as well: Day Keene, Robert Turner, William R. Cox, Talmage Powell, G.T. Fleming-Roberts, and W.T. Ballard writing as Parker Bonner. I would have grabbed this one off the newsstand in a second.

Saturday, January 05, 2019

New Blog About Northerns

Author G.W. Thomas has started a new blog called NORTH-WEST ADVENTURES, all about Northerns, a genre that's at least a cousin to Westerns, but taking place in Canada or Alaska, featuring Mounties, prospectors, fur trappers, etc. I've posted many covers from the Northern pulps and really enjoyed the ones I've read. On this blog, Thomas discusses the genre, the authors and their books, and even reprints some public domain comics and stories. I'll be making it a regular stop on my blog rounds. You can check it out here.

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Real Western, June 1945

To start off the year in this series, a pulp that I own and read recently. The scan is from my copy. The cover is by A. Leslie Ross, far from his best work, I think, but reasonably eye-catching. And as the cover copy proclaims, the featured story is “Outlaw River” by Bliss Lomax, who was really Harry Sinclair Drago, starring his series characters, range detectives Rainbow Ripley and Grumpy Gibbs. In fact, it’s almost the only story in this issue, since there’s only one back-up yarn, “A Muleskinner Goes to War” by Lee Floren.

I’d never read any of the Rainbow and Grumpy novels until now, and I have to say, W.C. Tuttle must have been a tolerant man. If he wasn’t, he would have sued Drago, since Rainbow Ripley is a pretty blatant copy of Hashknife Hartley, although Grumpy is more Gabby Hayes-like than swiped from Sleepy Stevens, Hashknife’s sidekick. But then, there have been plenty of other range detective characters in Westerns, so best just to take Rainbow and Grumpy for what they are and move on.

In this yarn, they’ve come to Idaho to take the side of a couple of miners who leased a failed gold mine from the corporation that owns it and then struck an unexpected bonanza. Once the owners of the corporation realize the mine is valuable after all, they want to run off the men who leased it and hire an old enemy of Rainbow and Grumpy to do so.

In addition to this, the local cattle baron is up to his neck in an irrigation scheme that may have something fishy about it, and that’s tied in with the job that brought Rainbow and Grumpy to Idaho, too. Throw in a romance between a crusading newspaper editor and the cattle baron’s beautiful granddaughter, and you’ve got plenty of elements for Drago to work with. In fact, the whole thing gets maybe a little too complicated at times.

As a mystery, “Outlaw River” isn’t much, but there are some nice action scenes and Rainbow and Grumpy are a likable pair of heroes. One stylistic touch that annoyed me was Drago’s habit of switching back and forth constantly in the way he refers to Rainbow Ripley. Sometimes he’s Rainbow, sometimes he’s Rip, sometimes he’s Ripley. I’ve come across that technique in work from other authors, and it never works very well for me.

“Outlaw River” was reprinted several years later as a paperback of the same title, as half of an Ace Double with SHOWDOWN AT YELLOW BUTTE by Jim Mayo, who was Louis L’Amour, of course. I don’t know if Drago expanded it for book publication, but if he did it probably wasn’t by much. At 75 pages of double-columned fairly small print, this is one of the few “book-length novels” published in the pulps that actually fit that description.

Lee Floren’s “A Muleskinner Goes to War” is also a pretty good story about a muleskinner who works delivering loads of gold from a mine to the nearby town and his efforts to corral a gang of outlaws who keep stealing the shipments. This one has some nice touches, such as the protagonist being married and also worrying about his wife cheating on him, and Floren keeps things moving along well.

With only two stories on which to rise or fall, the June 1945 issue of REAL WESTERN still manages to come down pretty much smack in the middle. Both stories are okay but not great, and that describes this issue as well.

Friday, January 04, 2019

Forgotten Books: Sheba - Orrie Hitt

For the first Forgotten Book of the year, I’m turning to an old favorite author, Orrie Hitt. SHEBA was published originally by Beacon Books in 1959 with a great cover by Rudy Nappi and is available today in an e-book edition. The title character, Sheba Irons, is a beautiful young woman in a bad situation: she lives at home (a rundown house in the country) with her drunken, lazy father and brother and her mother, who’s too beaten down by life to ever stand up for herself or Sheba. The only glimmer of hope Sheba has is that she has a job, even though it’s only working as an office girl at a car dealership. And she has a boyfriend of sorts, a young tree surgeon, but he keeps pressuring her for sex and Sheba is a good girl, a virgin who’s determined to save herself for marriage.

Well, as you can probably guess, a lot of that changes during the course of this novel. Sheba discovers that she has a knack for selling cars (the fact that she’s gorgeous probably has something to do with this), she’s pressured into getting involved in a shady kickback scheme with a guy who runs a finance company, and she winds up not only losing her virginity but getting mixed up with several guys who are typical Orrie Hitt heels. There’s even a beautiful lesbian after Sheba before her rise to success and power (relatively speaking) hits the inevitable obstacles and falls apart. Since this is a Hitt novel, you can figure that things will eventually work out for Sheba, at least to a certain extent, but he puts her through the wringer before that.

While this book probably doesn’t belong in the top rank of Hitt’s work, due to a rather thin plot and the abruptness of the ending, it’s a solid second-tier novel that’s compulsively readable. I really raced through it and enjoyed it a lot. SHEBA is set in a small city called Mayville, and it occurred to me that many of Hitt’s novels show us what was going on in the seedier parts of those towns where Beaver Cleaver and the Andersons from FATHER KNOWS BEST lived. I love those shows, but I don’t mind seeing the Fifties from a different perspective now and then, too. Orrie Hitt delivered that perspective better than anybody else in the business.

Thursday, January 03, 2019

Correction and an Odd Statistic

In looking over my records of my reading last year, I realized I'd left a book off the list. So actually, I read 116 books in 2018, the exact same number that I read in 2017. I don't know the odds against that.

Today was just a regular writing day, nothing real-life-related to deal with. I finished the chapter I left off in yesterday and wrote another one to go with it. I have three-fourths of this book done and am starting to feel some momentum building toward finishing it off.

Wednesday, January 02, 2019

Visual Field Test

I had an appointment at my ophthalmologist's office this morning for a visual field test, and the forecast was for freezing rain at just the time I was supposed to go, so it's been a little nerve-wracking the past few days waiting to see what the weather was going to do. I'm a warm-weather flatlander who doesn't drive on icy roads unless it's a matter of life and death, and there are a lot of big hills between here and the neighboring town where the office is located. When the time came, technically there was freezing rain--it was raining and the temperature was 30-32 degrees--but the roads were just wet and I didn't have any trouble getting there and back. Still, I hate stuff like that.

Now, for those of you not familiar with the visual field test . . . it checks your peripheral vision, and since I was diagnosed with glaucoma a few years ago, I've had several of them. How it works is, you stare into a machine one eye at a time (yeah, you get to wear a cool eyepatch like a pirate) and hold a little clicker. The machine shows you a seemingly random pattern of tiny flickers of light out at the edge of your vision, and you push the button on the clicker every time you see one. This goes on for about ten minutes for each eye.

My tests had gone pretty well until the last one a couple of months ago, which indicated that I'd lost some peripheral vision in my left eye. The doctor was not convinced that the results were totally accurate, though, since the pressure in my eyes is fairly well controlled with medication. As he put it, sometimes you just have a bad day on the machine. I explained to him that I've also had some deterioration in my fine motor skills over the past year or so, and sometimes I actually saw the flash, I just couldn't get my thumb to push the clicker in time. So he said, well, we'll just test it again after a little time has passed.

That test was today. I felt like my reflexes were a little sharper than last time, so maybe that helped. But I could also tell that the peripheral vision in my left eye really didn't seem as good as that in the right eye. But I'm no ophthalmologist, so we'll just have to wait and see (no pun intended). I go back next week to talk to him and find out the results.

After all this, I got home in time to get in almost a full day at the computer, but the pages came pretty slowly. I wrote a chapter and some of the next one. Good enough under the circumstances, I suppose.

Tuesday, January 01, 2019

New Year's Day

Yesterday was not as productive a final day as I would have liked for 2018, so I got up this morning determined to do better. Some holidays I take off from writing, but New Year's Day is nearly always just a normal working day for me. It's cold and gloomy here, so I didn't really have anything else to do. I wound up writing two chapters (18 pages), so that's a decent beginning to 2019. I need to finish this book by the middle of the month and have about 150 pages to go. I should make it.

And I did take the time to watch part of the outdoor hockey game between the Bruins and the Blackhawks, so that's kind of celebrating, isn't it? (Although I didn't care who won, neither of those are my teams.)

I hope it was a good day for all of you.