Wednesday, January 30, 2008
But we will come back, better than ever. Sure would appreciate some thoughts and prayers along the way, though.
Thank you all.
Monday, January 28, 2008
With a set-up like this, you know there’ll be plenty of action in the book, and as usual on that score, Brandvold doesn’t disappoint. He writes some of the best shoot-outs in the business, and his eye for detail, his tongue-in-cheek humor, and his knack for dialogue make this novel a fast, very entertaining read. After not reading any Longarms for a while, I’m having a great time getting back into the series these days.
Sunday, January 27, 2008
Although director McG, with his hipster sensibilities, would seem like an odd choice to helm an aggressively old-fashioned movie like this, WE ARE MARSHALL is slick, very well-made, and effective, even though it’s also somewhat depressing. The cast is excellent: Matthew McConaughey and Matthew Fox as coaches, David Straitharn as the university president, DEADWOOD’s Ian McShane as the father of one of the players killed in the plane crash. And the soundtrack is great, a cross-section of the songs I used to hear on the radio all the time in those days. (KXOL 1360 AM in Fort Worth, for those of you might care. There were two major rock stations in Fort Worth in those days, KXOL and KFJZ 1270 AM, and just like there were people who preferred the Beatles and people who preferred the Rolling Stones, there were KXOL listeners and KFJZ listeners, and very little crossover between the groups. At least among the people that I knew . . . but I digress.)
I wouldn’t put WE ARE MARSHALL in the top tier of inspirational sports movies, but it’s pretty entertaining and worth watching. The script springs a nice twist near the end that I liked a lot. If this is the sort of movie you enjoy and you haven’t seen it yet, you should definitely check it out.
Saturday, January 26, 2008
It doesn’t start off particularly well. The lead “novel” (actually more of a novella) is “The Ranch of Hidden Men” by John Starr. Originally, John Starr was the pseudonym of Jack Byrne, who was the editor of LARIAT STORY at the time this issue was published. At some point, though, it became a house name, probably a year or so later when Byrne left Fiction House (the publisher of LARIAT STORY) to become an editor at ARGOSY. Byrne may be the author of “The Ranch of Hidden Men”, or he may not. Either way, it’s not a very good story. It’s the old “drifter saves the ranch from the bad guys” plot, and while there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s so stereotypical that a story using it needs either an unexpected twist, good writing, or both. This one has neither. It has a very tired, by-the-numbers feel to it, with a lot of florid writing that just pads the word count. Even that sort of prose can be effective (see the work of A. Leslie Scott, for example), but I don’t think it works here. The novelette that follows, “Red Chaps” by Walter Clare Martin, is even worse, a humorous Western that’s not funny at all. I have a low tolerance for humorous Westerns; I like those by W.C. Tuttle, but that’s about it.
Things pick up, though, with “Whispering Knives” by C.K. Shaw, a novelette with another old plot, the hunt for the pieces of a treasure map that was split up among the prospectors who discovered a mother lode of gold, but Shaw has a nice hardboiled style that makes it a readable yarn. The four short stories that follow are even better: “Old Renegade” by Earl C. McCain concerns the hunt for a wild, killer bull in the South Texas brush country, with some rustling thrown in for good measure; “The Six-Gun Payoff” by the always-dependable Gunnison Steele (really Bennie Gardner, father of the late Barry Gardner, who was known to many of you) is an effective short-short about the redemption of an old outlaw; “Snake Sign” by Walt Coburn (one of my favorite Western pulp authors) is a murder mystery, not too hard to figure out but fun; and “The Water Cure” by E.B. Brunt is a fairly realistic cattle baron vs. small ranchers yarn set in the 1920s.
The issue is wrapped up by another “novel”, “The Fifth Horseman” by James P. Olsen. Olsen, under the name James Lawson, wrote spicy, hardboiled detective yarns about Dallas Duane, a PI who works in the Western oilfields, and I really like the stories I’ve read from that series. “The Fifth Horseman” is a little more serious. Again, the plot is one that had whiskers even in 1934: a gang of old outlaws get together again to help an old friend from the owlhoot trail who has reformed and settled down. The hero is a young outlaw who had fallen in with them. Anybody who has read very many Westerns will know how this one is going to play out, but Olsen spins his tale with such enthusiasm, including a number of over-the-top action scenes, that I found it pretty entertaining. This is the first Western story I’ve read by him, but I wouldn’t hesitate to read more.
My copy of the pulp is coverless and I can't find a picture of it on-line, so I can’t post a cover scan. It came from the collection of Barry Gardner, who’s mentioned above. Barry collected hundreds of pulps that contained his dad’s stories, but he didn’t care that much about the condition, so many of them are brittle and coverless, like this issue. I don’t really care, either, as long as I can read them and enjoy the stories, and I have to say that despite a couple of clunkers, the August 1934 issue of LARIAT STORY is pretty darned good.
Wednesday, January 23, 2008
This is the story that introduces Professor Hugo Strange, one of the first master villains to cross paths with Batman. Obsessed with his research into genetic manipulation, Strange resorts to crime to finance his experiments. Having transformed mental patients into hulking monsters by altering their DNA, he uses them to carry out robberies. Also weaving through this story is Bruce Wayne’s romance with Julie Madison, his first girlfriend in the comics, and subplots involving organized crime in Gotham City, in which characters who were created later are retconned into the original Hugo Strange story. This is the sort of revisionist history I don’t really mind, since it expands on what went before more than really changing it.
This series was written and drawn by Matt Wagner, who was also the author of the long-running SANDMAN MYSTERY THEATRE comic book, one of the very best in the past twenty years. I don’t know if the various story arcs from that series have been collected in trade paperbacks (I suspect they have), but they’re well worth hunting up and reading. So is BATMAN AND THE MONSTER MEN, which I enjoyed a lot.
Tuesday, January 22, 2008
Sunday, January 20, 2008
From left to right: Dennis McHaney, Todd Woods, Dave Hardy, Gary Romeo, Indy Cavalier, Rob Roehm. This shot was taken at the grave of Tevis Clyde Smith.
The historical marker at the Howard gravesite. Sorry it's not very easy to read in this photo. Anyone who knows me very well can tell you that I'm not much of a photographer.
The Howard headstone. Yes, that's my shadow.
Indy guarding the cake with a broadsword. That's Jack Baum in the white shirt, and I'm shooting the picture over Rusty's shoulder (not an easy thing to do).
Howard's room, where all his stories were written. You can't really get a sense from this picture of how narrow and cramped the room really is. The typewriter on the desk isn't Howard's actual typewriter (that belongs to a collector in California, I believe) but it's the same model. Usually during Howard Days his room is roped off, but since the crowd was so small for this gathering, we were able to walk into it and stand by the desk. It's quite a feeling for a fan.
I drove down to Cross Plains during the morning, arriving a little before eleven o’clock to find everyone scattered through the various rooms of the Howard House, enjoying animated conversations. Although the day was clear and pretty, it was a little too chilly to gather outside in the back yard pavilion, where most of the activities during the annual Howard Days gathering in June take place. I said hello to everyone, admired the birthday cake sitting on a table in the kitchen, and began circulating, trying to catch up with everyone since I missed last year’s Howard Days and hadn’t seen any of them since the World Fantasy Convention in Austin more than a year ago.
After a while, several of us adjourned to the nearby Subway for lunch, where the conversation continued, of course. Then it was back to the Howard House, where we cut the birthday cake and enjoyed it. Later in the afternoon most of the group caravaned down to Brownwood, where we visited Howard’s grave in Greenleaf Cemetery. This was the first time I’d been to the gravesite since the late Eighties, when Bill Crider (who lived in Brownwood at the time) took me to see it. While we were there yesterday, we also visited the grave of Tevis Clyde Smith, who was probably Howard’s best friend, and walked around the cemetery looking at some of the other old graves, including that of Noah T. Byers, an early Texas pioneer who served as the armorer to Sam Houston’s army during the Texas Revolution in 1836. The Texas Declaration of Independence was written in Byers’ blacksmith shop in Washington-on-the-Brazos. It certainly made for an interesting afternoon for a Texas history buff like me.
Everyone else headed back to Cross Plains for supper after that, but I left from Brownwood and came on home. My route took me through Dublin and Stephenville, where numerous UFOs were spotted last week, but I didn’t see a thing out of the ordinary. One of the businesses in Dublin had a portable sign out front, though, that read “Aliens Welcome”.
The gathering also served as a launch party of sorts for Dennis McHaney’s new book RETURN TO BEAR CREEK, as he hand-delivered copies to several of us there who had pre-ordered it. Published in a limited edition of 50 copies, it’s a very nice volume devoted to Breckinridge Elkins, the larger-than-life hero of many humorous Western stories by Howard. RETURN TO BEAR CREEK contains an introduction by Dennis, articles by Rob Roehm and Mark Finn, and facsimile reprints of six Elkins yarns from the pulp ACTION STORIES, along with reproductions of the covers of those issues. I don’t know if any of the copies of this book are going to be available to the general public, but it’s certainly worth having if you’re a Howard fan.
All in all, I had an excellent time. The small, informal nature of the gathering reminded me a great deal of the first few Howard Days I attended, which are some of my favorites. I’m glad the event has grown and attracted as many attention and as many attendees as it has, but a more low-key get-together like this is great fun, too. The weather in January is always iffy, of course, but I hope we’re able to have some more of these birthday parties in the future.
Friday, January 18, 2008
Oh, I could quibble about a few things, of course. I don’t like the movie version of Dr. Doom. I wish we could have actually seen Galactus. And where was the Watcher? Plus there are no really good clobberin’ time moments for the Thing. But the computer-generated Silver Surfer looked good, and Lawrence Fishburne seems to be channeling James Earl Jones in providing the voice for the character. Michael Chiklis and Chris Evans are fun as usual as Ben Grimm and Johnny Storm. The script captures the spirit of the comic book stories, even though it changes them a little more than I would have liked. And at an hour and a half, the movie proceeds at a nice, brisk pace and seems a lot more focused than the overstuffed (but much more financially successful) SPIDER-MAN 3.
RISE OF THE SILVER SURFER got what I consider an undeserved critical drubbing. I liked it quite a bit and thought it was better than the first Fantastic Four film, as well as staying truer to its source material than either of the Spider-Man or X-Men franchises. If they want to make more of them, it would be just fine with me.
Thursday, January 17, 2008
I’m also still reading stories from the BIG BOOK OF PULPS, as well as a few other things I’ll probably comment on in time.
I was very sorry to hear today that Ed Hoch has passed away. I never met him in person and corresponded with him only sporadically, but he struck me as a very nice guy. And he was a wonderful writer, no doubt about that. I recall reading some of his Captain Leopold stories in THE SAINT MYSTERY MAGAZINE, ’way back in the Sixties before he began his amazing run of appearing in every issue of EQMM for more than three decades. He’ll certainly be missed.
Sunday, January 13, 2008
Saturday, January 12, 2008
The Robert E. Howard MUSEUM Grounds and Gift Shop
OPEN TO ALL
10 am – 5 pm
for Tours, Conversation
& REH Fellowship
Robert E. Howard Readings
Cross Plains Library
& view their REH Collection
and new Microfilm Reader
Schedule a trip to Howard’s
gravesite in Brownwood
Birthday Cake – 2 pm
Dinner at Jean’s Feed Barn 6:30 pm
Be sure to make a donation
to Project Pride to insure
these fine events continue
Friday, January 11, 2008
Wednesday, January 09, 2008
I was tempted to give up on this one early on, but I stuck with it and ultimately was glad that I did. It’s certainly the worst JDM novel I’ve read, but there are enough good lines, enough examples of elegant writing, and enough effective moments that I consider it worth reading . . . barely. MacDonald was a good enough natural storyteller that the second half of the novel can’t help but pick up a little steam as it unfolds. If you’re a JDM fan, you can make it through A MAN OF AFFAIRS all right, but if you’ve never read his work before, you’d be much better off starting with almost any of his other novels. (I have to qualify that because I haven’t read all of them.)
Yesterday I had other stuff besides writing going on, so I only made it to the computer for a few hours. Wrote 7 pages during that time, and despite my early reservations I still think this book is shaping up fairly well. Circumstances are going to prevent today from being very productive, too, but I’m going to do what I can and not worry about it.
Monday, January 07, 2008
My page count today was 22. I worked on a different computer, just to change things up a little. I've been doing that for the past several books. Each of them has been written on two or three different computers, in two or three different rooms. I don't know if that helps or not, but it hasn't hurt. The extremely prolific pulp author H. Bedford-Jones had several different typewriters with a different story going in each one, and he'd switch back and forth between them. I haven't gone that far yet and don't plan to. I can work on more than one project at a time if I have to, but I don't like it.
Sunday, January 06, 2008
Unlike some things, I can pinpoint, sort of, when I became a fan of hardboiled pulp fiction like the stories included in THE BIG BOOK OF PULPS. It was on a very foggy December evening in 1967, when I picked up a copy of the Pocket Books edition of the Ron Goulart-edited anthology THE HARDBOILED DICKS at the Book Oasis in Fort Worth’s Seminary South Shopping Center. I was there with my mother, my brother, and my sister-in-law. I was aware of pulps before that, but only Doc Savage and the Shadow. When I read Goulart’s book, which included authors such as Frederick Nebel, Norbert Davis, Raoul Whitfield, John K. Butler, and Lester Dent, the stories immediately struck a chord in me that still rings as clear and true today as it did then. I’ve read a ton of hardboiled pulp mysteries in the past forty years, and a lot of work that was influenced by those stories, and I still love ‘em.
Today’s page count: 20. And the pages that I thought were terrible when I was writing them yesterday didn’t look so bad today. In fact, they were all right. They just needed a little polishing.
Norris plays a PI who gets drawn into a case involving a pair of fabulously valuable diamonds stolen from an archeological dig in the Sinai Desert. It seems that the only person who can cut them properly is an Auschwitz survivor who’s being pursued by one of his ex-Nazi tormentors. Throw in a hostile cop who does the stereotypical bit of not wanting a private eye getting mixed up in an active case, and you’ve got a decent mix of elements, even though they certainly don’t break any new ground. Norris is pretty effective as a PI, and of course there’s plenty of action. When the rating screen came on at the first of the movie and said it was rated R for Violence, my daughter Joanna commented, “It’s a Chuck Norris movie. Why don’t they just say it’s rated R for Ass-whuppin’?” It certainly qualifies. Stuff even Blows Up Real Good, although the movie takes a while to get around to it. I found it to be an enjoyable way to spend an hour and a half. Your tastes may differ.
Saturday, January 05, 2008
THE BONE GARDEN has a contemporary framing story about the discovery of an ancient skeleton buried on the property of recently-divorced Julia Hamill, but for the most part it’s a historical thriller set in Boston in 1830. The hero is Norris Marshall, a young medical student and resurrectionist who pays his tuition at medical school by digging up fresh corpses to sell to the anatomy instructor at the school. As you might expect, this is enough by itself to lead to some fairly gruesome scenes, but then Gerritsen throws in a masked and caped serial killer known as the West End Reaper, an epidemic of childbed fever that kills numerous women after they’ve given birth, gangrene, amputation, and assorted other horrors. The plot is pretty complicated, as Norris falls under suspicion of being the West End Reaper and has to work to clear his name, as well as to help a beautiful young Irish immigrant, Rose Connolly, who finds herself caring for her newborn niece after her sister’s death. Seems that on top of everything else, a group of mysterious individuals wants to lay hands on that baby, and they won’t stop at anything to achieve their goal.
Despite all that being packed into the book, at times it seemed to me that there wasn’t enough story to justify the length, but books being too long is a common complaint with me when it comes to modern thriller fiction and probably has more to do with my own tastes than with the books themselves. Gerritsen has a sure hand with characters and a way of really making the reader root for the sympathetic ones. She ties everything together pretty neatly at the end, too. While I don’t think THE BONE GARDEN is as good as the other two Gerritsen novels I’ve read, I enjoyed it quite a bit and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it. I’m sure I’ll be reading more of her work.
On the writing front, Friday was an actual day off. I ran some errands, rested, read, watched some TV. Did nothing writing-related at all, unless you want to count stopping by Half Price Books for a little while and browsing the shelves. Today I got back to work and wrote 18 pages. I’m not real satisfied with the way this book is going so far, but I’m confident that I’ll whip it into shape.
Thursday, January 03, 2008
Today’s page count: 15. I had some non-writing issues to deal with, too.
Wednesday, January 02, 2008
Anyway, to get back to the new monitor, it’s huge, and I like it. At first it seemed too big, too overwhelming, until I realized that since it’s a flat-screen I had room to push it back about six inches from where the old monitor sat. That helped a lot. Also, the old steam-powered computer I use for writing doesn’t fully support it. The monitor instructions say to set the resolution on the computer to 1920 X 1200, but it won’t go that high, only to 1600 X 1200. It looks pretty good at that setting, a little stretched out but not enough to worry about. I’m sure I’ll get a newer computer eventually, but right now it doesn’t seem like it’s worth the trouble. All I know is, the way I work now is a far cry from writing my stories in longhand in a spiral notebook with a fountain pen, which is exactly what I did for the first few years of my career, including a bunch of short stories, some of those early Mike Shayne novellas, and my first two novels. I’m as nostalgic as the next guy, but I sure wouldn’t want to go back to that.
Today, for example, I wrote 20 pages on the new book, which I never did when I was writing in longhand, and actually considered it a fairly mediocre day. However, yesterday while I was working I knew something was wrong with the plot, but I never could figure out what it was. Today it seemed obvious, and I was able to fix the problem by deleting one paragraph and writing one to replace it. Would that all fixes were so easy. (I was trying to make the plot too complicated, if you were wondering. I struggle with that all the time.) So it was a pretty good day in that respect.
Tuesday, January 01, 2008
Most of the time I have pretty good first days on my books, and that was the case today as I wrote 24 pages. Yes, it’s the Return of the Page Count, at least until I get bored with it. Remember, though, I put about 10% fewer words on each page than most writers (I like plenty of white space), so adjust those numbers accordingly if you’re so inclined.
When I started this blog a few years ago I intended for it to be mostly about writing, rather than me blathering on about the books I read and the movies I watch. I quickly discovered that it’s difficult to talk about writing, though, when more often than not I can’t reveal what I’m working on. I’m going to try to do more writing-related posts this year anyway. I’ll just be vague about the specifics, which means that all I can say about the book I’m currently writing is that it’s a house-name Western. And that I got a gunfight, a fistfight, and a knifefight in the first eleven pages. Nothing like starting off with a little action.
Don’t worry that with the increase in writing-related posts that I’ll neglect the other stuff, though. You’ll still get the book and movie blather. I probably won’t try to list every book I read and every movie I watch, as I did in ’07, but I’ll still talk plenty about the ones I liked. There may also be an increase in pulp-related material. As some of you know, I used to belong to PEAPS, the pulp apa, but I resigned due to lack of time to produce a decent ‘zine for the mailings. I’m sure I’ll still be reading pulps and pulp reprints, though, so expect a few comments on them to show up here.
So while this blog may evolve slightly, for the most part it’ll be business as usual.