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Friday, December 30, 2011

UNDERCOVER REVIEWS - Mystery Men

Review by Nick Ahlhelm

It is nearly the end of 2011, so this reviewer thinks it is time he looks back at the best pulp work he read in the year. I have certainly read more pulp this year than any other in my life, but there is one clear work that stands out to me as the story that I enjoyed the most.

And that title is Marvel’s Mystery Men. This is not to be confused with Airship 27’s Mystery Men (& Women), the second volume of which I just reviewed last week.

Over the course of five issues, writer David Liss not only introduces five new pulp heroes to populate early 1930s Marvel, he also scripts a compelling adventure featuring all of them. The story starts with the mysterious Operative, easily the most normal of the bunch.
He’s just a man in a trench coat, fedora and mask, but over the course of the series the reader gets a good idea of what motivates him. The Aviatrix may be the most derivative character, basically a female Rocketeer. The Revenant is a vigilante in the Shadow mold that uses tricks and gadgets to appear as an unearthly phantom. Achilles is a young man rejected by his love and left for dead who takes up mystic artifacts to become the most powerful of the loose band of heroes. Finally, the Surgeon is a character in the Spider mold; a man with a brutal history, a terrible disfigurement and an urge to kill as many villains as possible.

The five heroes all enter the series from different angles over the course of the first three chapters, but they all face the same opponent: a madman named the General and his unearthly love interest, who just happens to be an obscure Marvel villain.

David Liss is no stranger to the period, having written several prose novels set in the era. He handles character development surprisingly well for a series jam-packed with characters. The artist, Patrick Zircher, is no stranger to pulp comic fans. Zircher broke in to comics with work on Now’s Green Hornet (alongside Airship 27’s Ron Fortier) and more recently with covers on Marvel’s Noir line of titles. He seems to have a good feel for blending pulp traditions with the superhero art styling of modern comics.

Together the two men have created a really great limited series, a rare breed in today’s comic field. The five issues are now sold out, but fortunately a hardcover edition is now available at comic shops (with bookstore distribution in the next few weeks). Do yourself a favor and don’t pass this one up a second time.

Mystery Men comes Highly Recommended.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

So... Why Pulp: Looking Forward While Looking Behind


It’s that end-of-the-year time again where we’ll be saying goodbye to 2011 and welcoming in 2012. There’s something about a fresh start and new calendar that brings out the urge to do things differently; to change our lives in ways that are healthier for mind, body, and spirit. Many people will be making New Year’s resolutions, and intentions are always best to keep them—at least until January is over. Then in most cases, the month slides by and life manages to get in the way, and so we’re done with that stuff until next year. At least, that’s the way it always worked for me, which is why some years ago I decided not to make any more sweeping New Year’s Day declarations. So far, that is the one resolution I have actually kept.

The month of January is named for the Roman god Janus, who had two faces, one looking forward and the other one behind. Janus presided over time, doorways, gates, transitions, beginnings, and endings, which is perfect for this time of year. I too am looking forward and backward, because to know where you are going, it’s helpful to see where you’ve been and what has been accomplished. That’s doubly important for us busy writers, who often have to juggle home and outside job responsibilities along with deadlines and commitments. Looking ahead is great and healthy, but recalling what happened in the past year is just as important. It’s much easier to plan for the future when you know for sure what worked well, and what was just a trifle too overwhelming, so that not much got accomplished.

No matter what else you are doing, writing takes planning and preparation. Some days, just making the time to write is a chore. Give yourself a pat on the back if you managed to write regularly, especially if you have a full time occupation and/or young children. That shows real commitment, and I salute you.

I am fortunate in not having to hold down a day job, and I’m currently living alone on a second property we purchased last May. That was one positive change we made for 2011, buying this old farm, which has a rustic house that is all on one floor, far better for us aging boomers and my mother, who is approaching 80 now. Less upkeep, less people in and out all day long… It will be easier for me to combine family life and my writing, though harder to concentrate without the seclusion my upstairs office used to afford. I think I will be using those headphones with my writing music much more often.

Since the new place needs renovation, we can’t move everyone in immediately, though someone has to remain here full time. I jumped at the chance to do that, because I knew I had a book to work on, and the solitude of living alone is very conducive to writing. One of my better moves was to slip out of the bustling atmosphere of the old homestead and off by myself, and that was nothing I would have imagined on January 1st!

As it turned out, 2011 was a very busy and transitional year for me career-wise, as I’ve moved from being a writer of short stories to finally having my first book, FORTUNE’S PAWN, published and becoming at least a modest success. As the year played out, I hit more of my stride, putting into everyday practice those habits and tricks of the trade I learned over the previous two decades as a devoted writer. Looking back, 2011 has been a very pivotal twelve months. Looking forward, 2012 is going to be even busier!

One of the things I do when I think back over the writing year is assess what works and what doesn’t. For me, what worked this past year is that I spent most of 2010 writing fantasy pulp short stories, sort of ‘banking’ them up against a possible future time deficit. That came in very handy, freeing up the weeks I needed for taking FORTUNE’S PAWN from a raw chunk cut out of a larger manuscript into a completed novel of its own in a publishable format. I got a lot of positive and helpful feedback on the book, and actually signed a couple dozen copies. I wrote a couple of short stories along the way too, which introduced two new series, though that is nothing like what I churned out the previous year. Having that backlog gave me more time for editing and working with other writers, something I really do enjoy, and I contributed a couple of charity writing pieces that I am very proud of.

I attended PULP ARK in May 2011, my first convention, and had an absolute blast! It was so much fun spending time with the people I had previously only known as avatars and story/art generators, to swap war stories and meet families. The best thing that came out of those days together was the sharing of ideas and the camaraderie of likeminded souls. Writing is a lonely business, and networking with others makes it seem less so. It was great meeting some of the loved ones of fellow writers as well and good that they got a chance to see that their household scribe, artist or vendor is not the only pulp fanatic in the world. In a broader sense now, we are all one big zany family. PULP ARK 2012 is definitely on my New Year agenda, though it is likely the only con I’ll be able to afford to attend.

The writing pace in 2011 was slower for me, giving me time to get to packing, for moving back and forth between domiciles #1 and #2 as necessary, setting up the livable parts of the farm house, and even planting a garden here. As the summer spun into fall, I picked up steam again, and added some extra writing and editing assignments to my schedule. I am now about ¾ of the way through the first draft of the sequel to FORTUNE’S PAWN and hope to finish that before the end of February. On sort of a dare, I branched out from writing strictly fantasy pulp and pounded out a story each in a superhero and private eye genres, and debuted a mixed genre series. I even wrote a couple of poems, and some reviews. Oh, and I now have this bi-weekly column you’re reading… So yeah, it’s been a very interesting and upbeat year with some brand new commitments.

Right now 2012 appears that it will be extremely busy for me, likely the most ambitious writing year I’ve ever had. I am already looking at what I can move out of my daily life to add even more time for writing. Besides the ongoing book and short story projects, I’ve agreed to take on a few larger ones. I can’t detail all of them yet, but news will be forthcoming.

One project added to 2012 is my involvement in Pulp Obscura, a partnership that Pro Se has with Altus Press. Altus has been doing reprints of classic pulp as well as issuing new work based upon existing characters. Pro Se has agreed to produce some newly written collections based on those classics that Altus is releasing or has previously released. When there was a call for writers, I signed on, even though I don’t have a strong background in the classic pulps. It will require a lot of reading and study on my part to emulate that original style and get the settings right, and that is something I am already working on. That’s as much as I can divulge right now, but look for ongoing announcements as 2012 unfolds. My name will be in there now and then. Something new and exciting to take on for sure!

I’ll still be a contributor to Pro Se Presents magazine. I also have some independent reviewing to do. So yep, 2012 will be packed. But looking back over 2011 from here in late December, it was a darn good writing year for me under the circumstances, and I feel that I got plenty done.

Well so far, this has all been all hurray for me, and that wasn’t the intention of this column at all. The point here is that the end of the year and beginning of the next is a good time to reflect and take stock in what you have accomplished, what needs to be done differently in the future, as well as how to handle what is coming up. If you had a rough go of it, and didn’t get much done, now is a good time to sit back and figure out why, and what can be changed. You also might be pleasantly surprised at how much you did actually get done, and that’s really good incentive to get right back to work after the holidays.

I’m not the world’s most organized person but this year I am going to have to get better at that. I’ll likely do what my friend and writing pal Lee Houston has done, and get myself a small desk calendar. That way those pressing deadlines will be written down in front of me. It’s a nice, low tech solution to staying organized that doesn’t need batteries or electricity, and it’s very portable. We do that for appointments, why not for writing as well?

Looking forward while looking back is going to help you a whole lot more in organizing your writing year than a bunch of general statement resolutions will. To have some idea of where you’re going, you have to know where you’ve been, and how much actually got done on those projects you promised to do weeks and months ago. Anybody can say, “In 2012 I want to write more.” A more focused goal might be, “Because I did so many short stories in 2011, this year I need to get a book out.” Now you have a solid direction to head in, which is going to help immensely when you things get busy—which they will!

Go celebrate the passing year, and ring in the new one with all kinds of hope and merry making. Every calendar change is a chance to begin anew again.

Happy writing year to you, and may your days be filled pulpy delights!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Bold Venture Bulletins - Point Blank



Point Blank (1967)

The violent world of Parker seems like perfect material for a motion picture – there have been several, in fact. The initial film was Point Blank (1967), filmed a mere five years after the original publication of The Hunter by Donald Westlake (bylined as Richard Stark).

The advantage of filming in 1967 is that audiences basically see the world through which heist artist Parker stomps, punches and kills. No need for special effects or period costuming – the period is right there, in the proverbial flesh. Sure, it’s five years later, after the late John F. Kennedy inspired a younger generation to forsake haberdashery, but it’s close enough to the world described in the Stark books.

Unfortunately, the passage of time lends weight to a novel or short story’s credibility, an edge that The Hunter was denied. Today, it enjoys a reputation as one of the seminal novels of the hardboiled genre. In 1967, it was probably considered another cheap paperback to be discarded once you reached the back page.

After reading the Richard Stark novel, and the graphic novel adaptation by Darwyn Cooke, watching Point Blank is like waking up with amnesia. One’s memories of the story are in direct conflict with the events unfolding on the movie screen.

Point Blank begins simply enough – a criminal is double-crossed, and wants revenge on his ex-wife and his duplicitous partner. He also wants his share of the loot. From that point onward, the ball of yarn gradually unravels. Everyone has read the script and forgotten their lines. And their cues.

All references to New York City have been usurped by that young upstart Los Angeles. Parker’s walk across the George Washington Bridge has been replaced with a swim across San Francisco Bay. The illegal weapons deal, which was the catalyst for the novel’s events, has been replaced by a vague “Alcatraz run.” A helicopter sets down in the abandoned Alcatraz Island prison yard. The pilot hands off a briefcase full of cash before taking flight once more.

The pastel shades of L.A. wash away much suspense and atmosphere as Parker (now renamed “Walker) marches through town in search of “Mal Reese”. I had the same issue with Kiss Me Deadly (1955) – Ralph Meeker stomps his way through dozens of bad guys with aplomb, but you’re left wondering how the film might have benefited from Manhattan location shooting.

Parker/Walker’s task is made easier by the presence of Yost (Keenan Wynn), who mysteriously appears to goad him into hunting Reese. “You want the money,” Yost rasps, “and I want the organization.” Whenever the plot runs out of steam, Yost conveniently provides an address, pointing Walker in the right direction. Deus ex machina with a gravelly voice.

Yost justifies the title change – our lead character is no longer The Hunter, but a human “bump-and-go” toy careening from one end of L.A. to the next.

Lights, Camera, No Action

WALKER barges into the current abode of estranged wife Lynn, but the scene is strangely off-kilter. He remains silent and impassive while she explains the reasoning behind her betrayal. They fell in love, wandering through many hazy scenes of expositional flashback, and hanging out with his best friend Mal Reese. Gradually she found her feelings shifting toward Mal, but they were extinguished after the heist.

Mal Resnick, in the novel, was barely an acquaintance when he crosses paths with Parker. Low on funds and opportunities, Parker agrees to a hijacking scheme. His own wife becomes the “trigger-man” when Resnick threatens her – kill your husband, or I’ll kill you both. The misogynistic double-cross makes Resnick more loathsome – and even a talented actor like John Vernon can’t restore the sleaze.

Then, too, Parker is white-washed a good deal. Director John Boorman, in his short documentary about Lee Marvin, says of Point Blank: “The film was about a man, no longer human, who tries to recover his lost humanity.” Elsewhere (probably on the DVD’s director’s comments track), he mentions that the film is about a man who loses his soul.

In the novels, Parker doesn’t have much of soul. He’s beyond redemption, and wouldn’t care if he gave it any thought. This is where the film begins weaving across traffic.

The film leaves a Parker fan wondering, “How difficult would it have been to do this the right way?” Much dialogue is lifted, but tinkered for the benefit of the actors. Familiar characters walk through the scenery, but their backgrounds are revised to make them seem more “human” and “motivated”. Parker’s victims, now Walker’s enemies, to perish in contrived methods that wash the blame from his hands.

Some characters – like Arthur Stegman and Frederick Carter – make the transition from print to screen with ease, especially with old favorites like Michael Strong and Lloyd Bochner portraying them. Any decision to cast Lloyd Bochner (best known for the “To Serve Man” episode of Twilight Zone) gets a thumbs-up from me. Not so certain about the casting of Carrol O’Connor, another favorite of mine, as Brewster.

Angie Dickinson portrays Chris, sister of Walker’s late wife. Apparently, Mal Reese is lusting after her as well, and she becomes live bait for the inevitable confrontation.

Dickinson’s character is based upon Rose (a.k.a. Wanda), the madam of an escort service that Resnick routinely employs. Parker (in The Hunter) looks her up, gets a solid lead on his whereabouts, and then leaves.

She smiled, with a trace of sourness. “You aren’t a guy for small talk,” she said. “Get what you want, and go.”

Alas, John Boorman ignores this sound advice (and important bit of characterization). Chris/Wanda/Rose accompanies Walker through the remainder of the film, a disgruntled sidekick who adds little to the proceedings. This version of Westlake’s character figures she’ll be safer with him, whereas the McCoy couldn’t care less. She taunts him on occasion with remarks like “You should have killed him, you owed it to yourself ... You died at Alcatraz, alright.” A romance blossoms, apparently to illustrate Walker and Reese’s “repressed homosexuality,” as Boorman explains it.

Whatever.

To give the movie a sense of completeness, everything comes full circle to the “Alcatraz run,” the original scene of the crime, replacing the novel’s illegal arms deal. Why the criminals are still making cash drops in a compromised location, surrounded by the inevitable harbor patrol, doesn’t make much sense. It reinforces Boorman’s suggestion that the entire movie is a dying dream, and provides a really cool setting, but not much else.

I wonder how many plot glitches can be waved away with, “It’s all a dream,” before audiences and critics grumble.

Anyway, there’s a minor confrontation before the final revelation, which is intended to shock audiences. The film’s conclusion left me reeling ... for the nearest Richard Stark paperback.

The Hunter is a seminal hardboiled novel, and deserves better. Point Blank is a watched pot that never boils.

By the Book

Point Blank was a monumental disappointment. Having read the novel and graphic novel adaptation, I was anxious to see the film.

“Oh, boy! This is gonna be great!”

I don’t drink, so I couldn’t drown my sorrows in anything stronger than ginger ale. A two-liter bottle. The whole thing.

Where did John Boorman and his intrepid cast and crew go so wrong?

If you read the review proceeding this section, you might have an idea. Hell, I wrote it, and I’m still not certain.

For everyone who knocks the movie, there’s someone who cites it as a seminal hardboiled movie. It’s often cited as the first existential noir film, or something like that.

Perhaps Boorman wanted to direct a film with “artistic” value or flair, and not just peddle another action-adventure film?

Perhaps my opinion of the film is colored by the novel and the graphic novel adaptation. Perhaps if I had seen the film first, I might have thought less of the novel?

Unlikely, that latter scenario, but worth considering.

My great hunch is that motion pictures must appeal to a broader audience, since studio executives are concerned with every profitable penny. Never mind that the film is based upon a book with great sales and excellent reviews – the thundering war-machine of profit must be fed, and it will claim your favorite novel among its casualties.

To appeal to a mass audience – an even mass-er audience – our protagonist’s personality really takes it on the chin. Parker is unconcerned with friendship, remorseless regarding murder, focusing on the next caper, and the one after that. Walker (as he’s called in the film) is shown in flashback meeting wife Lynn (with accompanying voiceover by Sharon Acker), frolicking together on the beach, holding hands in the rain, and taking cheerful day-trips with their best pal Mal Reese.

That scene (and the preceding paragraph) pretty much sums up where Point Blank goes wrong. The character’s personality is softened, and he’s made to seem more “human.” Now, audiences can say, “Aww, he ain’t such a bad guy!” and enjoy the film guilt-free. The concession stand is now open.

Would audiences really care if Parker/Walker is unsympathetic? He begins the novel as a cuckolded and double-crossed man, penniless and left for dead. Isn’t that enough? Even a straight-shooter like Jack Webb would cheer him on.

While reading the novel (and the graphic novel), I sometimes found myself wondering how the material would adapt to film. Or, more specifically, how I would adapt it to film. The biggest challenge would be to translate the “time discrepancy,” as I call it, in which the plot unfolds following one character, before we back-track and follow another character to the same point.

Quentin Tarrantio’s films are a pretty close approximation of the technique. Pulp Fiction jumps all over the continuity map. Reservoir Dogs centers around a jewel heist gone decidedly wrong. It transitions from one viewpoint and time-stream to another, leading up to a significant plot revelation. Reservoir Dogs could serve as a textbook on filming a Parker novel.

The plot unfolds in linear fashion in Point Blank, negating a unique aspect of Westlake’s Parker novels. One more fatality pulled from the train wreck.

With repeated viewings, the film acquires a charm of its own. But it’s a textbook example of how not to adapt a great novel.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Pulp Perusals #5: What Hollywood Can Learn From the Pulps.


Movies for free. – Sounds good doesn’t it? When I first started out posting my various ramblings on the Internet back in the day, with dial-up modems and via providers such as CompuServe, AOL, and Bulletin Boards, I often would write quick reviews of various movies I’d been to see--a habit that eventually led to me actually doing movie reviews for honest-to-goodness websites. These days I write the occasional review over at RevolutionSF. I am lucky enough to get invited to advance press screenings for various movies, often seeing them anything from a few days to several weeks before they are on general release.

In the week before I sat down to write this column I got to see advance screenings of Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, and The Adventures of Tintin. The first two had something in common over the third, and it's not just the use of the colon in the movie title. Simply put, they were both action packed and engaging. While Tinitin (at least to me and everyone else in the party I was with) managed to be action packed, yet boring. (As an aside, the worst review I can ever give a movie is that it was “boring” – at least “dislike” shows that the movie evoked some emotional response.)

My reaction to these three movies got me thinking about what Hollywood can learn from the Pulps. You see I think the Tintin movie was indicative of what is wrong with too many action movies these days – that they have become too enamored of the big set-piece action scenes. Instead of drawing the viewers in emotionally they just want to dazzle them with noise, movement, and flashing lights. The action scenes go on too long, and do nothing to either inform character or drive the plot forward.

While I didn’t enjoy the Tintin movie, I was lucky enough to be at the movies with a great bunch of people, including SF writer Michael Moorcock. Before the movie started we were discussing the recent Robert Downey screen incarnation of Holmes and that while the movies were fun, they weren’t really Holmes as we know him. Mr. Moorcock mentioned that he tends to view the new Holmes movies as Sexton Blake movies – and that’s a substitution that works for me.

The best new action movies take the structure and tropes of the best pulp adventures and transfer them to the screen. To quote from Tommy Hancock’s introduction to this very website, pulp is “the simplistic, yet layered storytelling, the one-two punch of the dialogue and the action, and the over the top antics, characters, and resolutions that made readers believe in the amazing, the fantastic, and the incredible.”

That sounds to me like the recipe for the perfect Hollywood action blockbuster – just like Mission Impossible 4 turned out to be.

I just wanted to end this month on a note of thanks to Mike Bullock for inviting me to join the New Pulp family this year. It’s been a great 2011, and I look forward to enjoying a fantastic 2012 with everyone.

Thanks for reading and have a great New Year.

And to wrap up, here’s the next part of NAMELESS HERE FOR EVERMORE by Rick Klaw, and myself, featuring The Raven.

For those who came in late…

Part 1 - http://www.newpulpfiction.com/2011/10/pigskin-pulp.html
Part 2 - http://www.newpulpfiction.com/2011/11/pulp-perusals-3-brit-pulp.html
Part 3 - http://www.newpulpfiction.com/2011/11/so-which-ones-black-bat-anyway.html

=================

NAMELESS HERE FOR EVERMORE
(Part Four)
By Alan J. Porter & Rick Klaw

*********

Lala Ward paced impatiently up and down the sidewalk outside her apartment building.

“Are you OK, Miss Ward?” inquired the building’s doorman.

“I’m fine, thank you, Fred. I'm waiting for someone, and he's late.”

“If you don’t mind me saying so, Miss Ward, your young man is always very punctual, I hope he hasn’t met with an accident.”

Too late for that, through Lala. “This is someone else.”

“Oh,” said Fred.

A large red Dusenberg pulled up to the sidewalk with a squeal of brakes and a blast from a dual tone horn. Raymond Vandemeer vaulted over the car’s door and alighted next to her. “Ready to go, princess.”

“Yes, and don’t call me princess.”

“But my sweet damsel, you know that I am always ready to be your shining knight.”

“Stop it, Raymond. I like you, and you can be fun to be around, but you're not...”

Vandeemer looked deep into Lala’s eyes. As he spoke his voice seemed to drop an octave, and his sparkling blue eyes took on an almost steely hue. “He’s not here any more. Is he?”

“What?” The crassness of his statement stunned her. But when she looked at him again, that steely look vanished and the same affable Raymond stood before her.

“What? What? Dear heart?”

“What you just said, it wasn’t very nice.”

“You wound me, for I offered to be your shining knight, and now you spurn my overtures.”

“No, the other thing you said.”

“I didn’t say anything else,” Raymond looked puzzled, “did I?”

With a shrug of the shoulders, Vandemeer led Lala to the passenger side of his waiting car, and held the door open for her. He sprinted around to the driver’s side, once more vaulted over the door, settled into his seat, engaged the clutch, and pulled out into the traffic streaming down Madison Avenue without even a glance in the mirror, confident that people would get out of his way. After all, they always did.

As they sped through the city, Lala wondered if she imagined it. Raymond behaved as if nothing untoward happened. He was not a terribly good liar—she remembered the time at the Tavern when he spilled her drink after she excused herself for the restroom. He clumsily tried to cover it up with some improbable excuse involving the waiter, a drunk, and Mayor La Guardia. She immediately saw through that ruse—Lala decided to believe Raymond. She must have misheard.

After a few minutes, Lala spoke up. “Where are we going Raymond? I thought we were going for dinner at the Tavern, but we are heading uptown.”

“Don’t worry sweet thing, we are still going out for dinner, but first we are stopping off to see that nice police Captain. He says he has some information about your actor friend.”

*********

Malone looked up from his desk, surprised to see the elegantly dressed Raymond Vandemeer and Lala Ward eyeing at him expectantly. “And what can I be doing for you fine folks this fine afternoon?”

“Raymond says you have news about Edwin.”

“Edwin?” Malone was momentarily puzzled. “Oh, you must mean Edward Sparrow, your actor friend?
Frustrated, Lala corrected the Captain. “No, his name was Edwin Wilkes.”

“I think you better sit yourself down, Miss Ward.” After making his offer, Malone noticed the only available chair, other than his, piled high with a mix of old case files, discarded brown lunch bags, and other assorted detritus. Before he made a move to clear it, Vandemeer swept the pile up and managed to place it in an unoccupied corner of the floor with a single fluid movement, seemingly displacing not even a single donut box. Flourishing a large silk handkerchief, Vandemeer finished the chivalrous concerto by flicking the accumulated dust off the seat. Show off, thought Malone.

Lala took the cleaned seat, pulling it forward until her knees almost touched the front of Malone’s desk. She leaned forward in anticipation.

“Well Miss, It seems that your boyfriend was using the stage name Edwin Wilkes while here in the United States, but his real name was in fact Edward Sparrow, and he appeared to be a British citizen. In fact he is not just a Brit, he was one of their spies.”

“A British spy!” Lala exclaimed, “That’s ridiculous, why would the British have spies here? Aren't we friends?”

“Ah we keep an eye on them, they do no harm to us. They're mainly here to counteract the few Nazi spies running around, and those who would promote the fascist cause in the US.”

“Ah you mean cove’s like that Lindenburgh chappie,” interjected Vandemeer,”Once a national hero and now shilling for that horrible Hitler and his goose-stepping thugs. Disgraceful.”

“Exactly,” came Malone's terse response.

“But what’s this got to do with Edwin, or Edward?” asked Lala.

Malone continued, “It seems he was using his cover as both an actor and a master of disguise to travel around the country, you know, touring, et cetera—as a way to uncover Nazi plots and expose fascist sympathizers. What ‘appened the other night appears to be connected to his clandestine activities.”

After sitting in stunned silence for several minutes, Lala sputtered, “He and I, well we were…. You know… and he never gave the slightest sign... You know... a double life. I don’t believe it. He was just an actor... a good one. But not a spy.”

“Spies don’t wear badges, my dear,” Vandemeer cooed in something that Malone assumed was meant to be an attempt at a soothing voice, “at least I don’t think they do, I’ve never met one. Well at least I don’t think I have, and if I had how would have known. Of course, except for Edwin, and I didn’t know, and neither did you. After all what better person to be a spy than someone who lies and tells stories for a living?”
“Have you quite finished?” Lala flashed Vandemeer a withering look.

“I don't like to admit it, but Mr. Vandemeer has a point, Miss Ward. An actor would make for a perfect spy.“ He slid the British Security Council folder across the table. “I’m afraid it’s all true. See for yourself.”

Lala flipped through the enclosed papers. She didn’t read them, she didn’t really need to. She could tell from the look and just a few brief glances that they corroborated Malone’s story. She returned the folder with a deep sad sigh. “So you think that the Nazis got to him?”

“Not directly,” said Malone, “for sure, they can be arrogant, but from what we've seen in the past they don’t like to get their hands dirty. They like to deal through intermediaries.” Malone paused.

“Yes?” said Lala, waiting for the inevitable pronouncement.

“I... " Malone paused, he took on a more official tone. "We believe that at the request of various Nazi sympathizers, your friend, Mr. Sparrow, may currently be in the hands of a local felon known only as The Boss.”

A peel of laughter rippled through the small office. Lala spun and stared in astonishment at the laughing Vandemeer. “What’s so goddam funny, Raymond?”

“The Boss? He’s an urban myth. Put out by the authorities as a convenient peg to hang unsolved cases on, no offense Captain Malone. Just like that Raven chap is a newspaper story to cover up the actions of overzealous law enforcement officials. Next you’ll be taking those reports of a group of super-folks seriously. What do the press call them, The Alliance, or some such nonsense?”

“I think you should be leaving now, Mr. Vandemeer.” Malone’s icy voice declared. He rose and looked on the verge of bodily throwing the preening socialite out of his office.

“I am sorry if my remarks upset you Captain, we’ll be on our way. After all, we have a dinner reservation to keep.”

Lala Ward stood up and turned to go. Malone noted that she once again refused the offer of Vandemeer’s arm, brushed past him and headed across the squad room making for the hallway door without so much as a backward glance at her companion. Vandemeer turned and shrugged his shoulders at Malone as if to silently say “women!”, in a futile attempt at male bonding.

As the playboy turned to leave, Malone spoke up. “Just a second Mr. Vandemeer, when you arrived Miss Ward said that you'd told her I had information about her boyfriend.”

“Yes?”

“Now, how would you be knowing that?” asked Malone.

“If I recall things correctly Captain Malone, you called me yourself.”

“No I didn’t. As a matter of fact I hadn’t told anyone about that file. The only other person who knew its contents was the person who left it on my desk last night.”

“Well, that’s curious,” said Vandemeer ignoring Malone’s assumptive accusation, “I could have sworn you called me. Must be off, can’t keep the lady waiting. See you around Captain.”

“Indeed,” muttered Malone as he watched the man weave his way between the desks of the squad room, skillfully side stepping between the jostling crowds. The detective marveled at the seeming buffoon's grace.

When Vandemeer disappeared into the outer hallway, Malone retreated to his office, and closed the door behind him. Smiling in satisfaction, he sat behind his desk and picked up the phone. Once the station operator connected him to a private number, he spoke one simple sentence. “The bird has taken the bait.”

*********

Friday, December 23, 2011

UNDERCOVER REVIEWS - Mystery Men (& Women) II

Review by Nick Ahlhelm



A few months ago, I reviewed Mystery Men (& Women) Volume One and enjoyed it greatly. So it is with some delight that I take a look at its sequel, the rather unsurprisingly titled Mystery Men (&Women) Volume Two.

Just like the previous volume in the series, this book breaks its contents up in to four stories of four original creations by a variety of new pulp writers of various skill levels and popularity.

The book opens with Mark Halegua & Andrew Salmon’s “The Red Badge”. This book has nothing to do with a Stephen Crane novel but instead focuses on a truly mysterious New York vigilante. In a city run rampant with crime and where the police have been bought and sold long ago, the Red Badge uses strange technologies to fight crime his own way. The writers use a multiple viewpoint narrative to present the Red Badge as a true mystery. They give us many suspects for the vigilante, but never answer exactly who the masked avenger actually is. While the crime fighting angle is rather run of the mill, the mystery angle gives the character a bit more to make him interesting in stories to come.

Greg Bastianelli’s “Lair of the Mole People” is a very different yarn. It takes a cop and “Ace Crime Reporter” Jack Minch under the ground in search of the very location from the title. They are on the hunt for a lost reporter, Lavonne Valliere, who disappeared over a week ago in search of the mole people. This leads Minch and his erstwhile ally Mike in to battles with giant monsters, mad killers, and not one but two secret societies under the earth. It’s a rip roaring pulp tale, but I’m not sure it fits the overall structure of the book. The title tells me this is a book filled with “Mystery Men” and Jack Minch fails to meet that criteria in my mind. He’s a classic style pulp lead, but he’s far from a costumed hero or even the pinnacle of human perfection. I can’t help but feel this story was included in the anthology simply because there wasn’t anywhere better to put it.

“Dock Doyle & The Wandering City” by Adam Lance Garcia can best be described as meta-pulp. The narrative takes the form of the real life adventures of a pulp fiction hero and serial star. In real life, Dock is just a former baseball idol that gained fame in a gunfight. He’s stuck dealing with the difference between his on screen action hero persona and his real life. Of course this leads him on a larger than life adventure, only that adventure also proves to be more than it seems. The narrative is far darker and violent than any other Airship 27 fare I’ve read and the protagonist far more ambiguous. It’s still pulp, but more akin to the darker crime pulp than the heroic pulp of many New Pulp authors and publishers. It is definitely the kind of tale that could prove divisive in any conversation about what New Pulp is and where it should go in the future.

Derrick Ferguson is a name synonymous with New Pulp and just as Barry Reese anchored the first volume of Mystery Men, Ferguson anchors this one. His tale “A Man Called Mongrel” moves things to the modern day, but makes his setting the third of the four tales to be set in New York. His story comes straight out of the Doc Savage vein, but with an interesting twist. Mongrel isn’t the everyman adventurer with an empire of technology and genius achievements. That guy is his brother. Mongrel is instead a world-class adventurer willing to put his life on the line at a moment’s notice. He ends up embroiled in a case that involves a cyborg killer and a mysterious doctor, all of which sets up nicely…

…but doesn’t finish. Ferguson closes his tale with a cliffhanger that seems like a letdown after the large exciting build of the rest of the novella. Of all the characters introduced in this book though, it seems clear that Mongrel will definitely be returning.

Overall, Mystery Men (& Women) Volume 2 starts strong and finishes strong, but the middle of the book seems to bog down with heroes that may not be the best fit for the book’s concept. While the book as a whole isn’t as strong as the original, it is still offers exciting pieces of narrative fiction that I highly recommend to anyone that enjoys original pulp characters.

Recommended.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

THE ADVENTURES OF FORTUNE MCCALL DEBUTS FROM PRO SE PRESS!

PRO SE’S SOVEREIGN CITY PROJECT EXPLODES WITH THE LATEST CHAPTER-
THE ADVENTURES OF FORTUNE MCCALL BY DERRICK FERGUSON

Press Release-For Immediate Release and Available for Cross Posting and Sharing

Pro Se Productions, a leading New Pulp Company that Puts the Monthly Back into Pulp, proudly announced today the release of its latest book as well as the next chapter in Pro Se’s SOVEREIGN CITY PROJECT.

From noted New Pulp Author Derrick Ferguson, creator of the popular characters Dillon and Diamondback among others, comes THE ADVENTURES OF FORTUNE MCCALL!  A man shrouded in mystery, McCall is a known adventurer and owner and proprietor of The Heart of Fortune, a luxury gambling ship that finds itself docked off the shores of Sovereign City.   But McCall has come to Sovereign with a purpose, one that soon turns into action, adventure, and mayhem for he and his companions.  Traveling with heroes in their own right, McCall brings his unique brand of investigation and justice to a city that wants neither! 

Follow McCall and his aides as they confront the darker side of lust when they meet ‘The Scarlet Courtesan of Sovereign City.’

Instant death and insanity will lay claim to an entire city unless Fortune McCall survives ‘The Day of the Silent Death!’

McCall meets a woman who challenges him to his very core.  While trying to save her missing husband, Fortune comes face to face with ‘The Magic of Madness!’

Money, Money, Everyone Wants the Money!  A mad chase through Sovereign ensues as Fortune hunts to find ‘The Gold of Box 850!’

“This collection,” stated Editor-in-Chief Tommy Hancock, “shows two things.  First off, it shows what great creators Pro Se is working with and how wonderfully solid a concept the Sovereign City Project is.  Secondly and most important, it is just one more example of how Derrick Ferguson is one of the modern masters of this sort of writing, being able to shift from intense mystery to wonderful characterization, from masculine pulp to humorous screwball comedy type scenes, and all in the space of one story.  Derrick makes words flow better than most around today and he shows that best in THE ADVENTURES OF FORTUNE MCCALL!’

Featuring fantastic cover art by David L. Russell based on a concept by Peter Cooper, this volume features amazing interior effects and design by Sean E. Ali!  THE ADVENTURES OF FORTUNE MCCALL are waiting for you!

THE ADVENTURES OF FORTUNE MCCALL
Available at www.amazon.com or through Pro Se’s site-www.prosepulp.com and soon in all online retailers!  And Coming Soon in Ebook Format!

Paperback: 158 pages
            Publisher: Pro Se Press
            ISBN-10: 1468112562
            ISBN-13: 978-1468112566

So... Why Pulp?



Stepping Back, Stepping Away


With what is arguably the biggest holiday on the calendar looming, and the end of the year nigh, sometimes its good to stop a moment and reflect on what it is that drives us to do what we do when we set out to write; and how we should go about it. It’s very easy to get so lost in both the creative and business ends of this crazy indie kaleidoscope world we call New Pulp and let the rest of life go by the wayside. And that, my friends, is not entirely healthy. In fact, it is an all around very bad idea.

You know, writing is just that sort of an insular craft where you spend a lot of time locked up in your mind, with not much more than imaginary people as company. And these days, with conferences, email, local writers groups, social & business networking sites… well it’s easy to do nothing more than associate with those who understand why we do this crazy thing that has us losing sleep to get one more chapter done and one more deadline met. The problem is, you sacrifice some very important parts of yourself when all you do is focus on writing or hang out with writers and talk shop. You lose your sense of humanity outside the group. You forget why we had this dream in the first place. You get stale.

Oh, I know all about deadlines and having too many plates to spin. I’m looking at this year’s goals for my books and stories and wondering how the heck I am going to meet them all, let alone handle the editing I’m taking on, read books for review, network with my author amigos, chat with fans, and still have enough time to eat and sleep. Add in that I want to spend quality time with family, see some friends now and then, plant a garden, get out and do interesting things, maybe even take in an occasional movie... And I absolutely must do some housework because I can’t foist all that on others (and I can’t afford to hire anyone). I have to shop. I need to cook at least a couple times a week. All this will be happening in the midst of chaos because of ongoing renovations to the farm and other family members moving in with me here. So where will the time for all that stuff come from?

I honestly don’t know, but I will either find it or make it. I may need a Tardis, or H. G. Wells’ Time Machine. A few 40 hour days wouldn’t hurt either. But those are my goals for this year, and I am determined to see them all met. Somehow, I know they will be. They always do get met, after a fashion. Some things will be done remarkably well, others will be sort of cobbled together, and the orphan goals will follow me around like limping beggars with tin cups; but I’ll manage. I always do. Pulp hero style, I’ll stomp right up to each of those objectives, grab them by the short hairs, and drag them kicking and screaming bloody murder into existence. At least, that’s the plan!

Realistically speaking, I understand that there will be times when I’m going to have to be woman enough to realize I can’t be all things to all people. The trick is, knowing when to charge uphill with your guns blazing, and when to wave a white flag and let someone in a higher position know you are in over your head and need help. Or just simply say no to something and move on. I still have trouble with that, but it’s getting better.

I am, by my own admittance, a tough old broad. Most of the time I have no problem spitting out what’s on my mind, though I will be as tactful as possible about it. When I turned 50 a few years back, I realized that even if I inherited the best genetic combinations in my family, my life was likely half over. That’s a sobering thought, and troubling too, because I used to be such a simpering people-pleaser. For far too many years I did the things I thought I should do, the way others wanted me to do them, including writing. Well, I’ve gained some exterior crust and a whole lot more backbone to support it, and so now I plan to fill that next half century with things that make me happy. So now I’ve stopped doing things I don’t like that I’ve decided that I don’t need to do, and I concentrate on things that really matter to me. It helps sort things out if you filter your goals through that type of one-way lens.

I love writing; it’s my passion. I have other things I get excited about too, but this is the one that gets me up in the morning even when I am stiff and hurting, and after the necessary chores are done and the family has been greeted and looked after, roots my butt in the chair and gets my fingers to dancing on the keys. The amazing worlds I go to in those self-absorbed hours are hard to break away from. Like a siren on the rocks, they ceaselessly call to me, and it would be very easy to forget who and what I am, and simply devote myself to nothing but my art. Certainly plenty of others have done that over the eons.

There’s a problem with that though, and it’s not one easy to explain to those outside the field. In fact, a lot of us on the inside—myself included there—are in denial about it at least a good part of the time. The fact is, you get dull and boring if all you do or think about is writing. People get tired of hearing about it, so they change the subject or walk away. And that’s often when the dreaded writers block sets in.

A creative mind needs more than one activity to focus on, more than one thing to be lusting after or wistful for. Otherwise you are going to peak and burn out awfully early. It is that very multiplicity of ideas that feeds into the writing muse, and turns her from a harsh mistress into a doe-eyed lover. Don’t limit yourself then; get out and have a life.

Absence does make the heart grow fonder. Taking a day off from writing now and then, on purpose, and doing something else is healthy! Like these holidays that are on the horizon for instance... It’s perfectly acceptable and I wholeheartedly encourage you to set pen and paper, tablet and keyboard, aside for at least one day. Just dig into some everyday reality for a while, savor the time off, forget about all the damn deadlines. Hug your loved ones, kiss someone under the mistletoe, go serve a meal in a soup kitchen, call an old friend, or just sit and watch the weather change. Do something different for a day or two. The work will still be there when you do get back to pounding out words, but the difference is, you’ll be more ready to deal with it. Trust me, this works. A mental health break for writers should be written into every contract and part of every proposal that goes out.

Life is something that you need to experience firsthand, so that you can draw some of it back into your writing. It’s not good to remain too long at the keyboard or in lockstep with the competition. We all want to live the dream and be that big successful author with the instant name recognition and the perks to go with it. But that shouldn’t happen at the expense of sacrificing all the other things we hold dear.

The best part of the writing life is to be able to share it with others; our readers and our peers yes, but most importantly, our loved ones. While the folks at home may or may not be able to understand what it is that drives us, they do want to see us happy, and I don’t think anyone can be truly blissful if they don’t have both the wings to fly with and a secure foundation to stand on. Even if you don’t have any family at all, certainly there is someone or something out there that you can build your imaginary world upon. Without that bedrock below, your house of dreams is not going to stay up very long. We may work in bubble universes of our own imagination, but we have to come out of there once in a while and meet the rest of the world.

So yeah, go be that hermit writer of the pulpiest action adventure tales you can wring out of your guts. But then, be a real hero to those around you who need to see your face now and then, and want to hear some of what you’ve been up to. And while you’re at it, give them a chance to talk about what makes their world go round. Listen to them all: the grannies, the little kids, the bachelor uncles, the homeless guy on the corner, the lady at the cash register with the long red nails and poofy hair. Get into real life now and then. Step back, step away, take a deep breath and relax. Tomorrow is another day, so don’t throw away today just to rush out and meet it.

Now you go have a great weekend, and then get back to that project feeling refreshed and ready to mow those bad guys down and save the world from evildoers. And I’ll do the same, after this weekend is over.

Happy Holidays,
~Nancy

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Table Talk - Readers Questions, Take II


After the success of the first Table Talk with questions from readers, Barry Reese, Bobby Nash and Mike Bullock decided to continue taking questions "from the audience" every now and again. This week, the guys tackle the topic of archetypes and working with different characters. 

***
Question (Josh Bell): Pulps, and subsequently comics, have quite a long history of recycling a lot of material when an idea proves successful. Sometimes, I think the end result grows into its own, my favorite example being Ka-Zar, whom I love almost as much as Tarzan. Though he started out as a very close imitation of the pre-eminent Jungle Lord, his revamp by Stan and Jack in the 60's led to him being, in my opinion, an engaging character in his own right. Closer to the pulp home, the Spider is obviously very similar too and inspired by the Shadow, right down to the slouch hat and twin .45's. This said, the Spider ultimately took a different direction than his predecessor. Still, for every Ka-Zar and the Spider, there are loads more incarnations of the pulp archetypes that fall flat. Do you guys, as the current guardians of pulp fiction, think that the recycling of archetypes is a good thing, as they can serve to reinforce what pulp is all about, or a hindrance, given that it can be seen to lack originality?

Bobby: I think all of the basic types of characters have been done in one form or another. I’m hard pressed to look at any new character and not be able to see some other character that either served as inspiration or is similar, but the similarity is simply a coincidence. Hey, it happens. Ka-Zar may have started out as a Tarzan clone, but he became something different as the character grew and now Ka-Zar and Tarzan are similar only in the fact that they operate out of the jungle.

Recycling is good, but only to a degree. Lance Star: Sky Ranger, for example, was obviously inspired by the pulp aviator characters like Bill Barnes, G-8, and the Blackhawks with a smattering of a few others in there to boot. However, Lance and his merry band have become their own characters. If you drop Bill Barnes and Lance Star into the same story, each character will respond in different ways despite their similarities.

Barry: I've heard there's nothing new under the sun. I think archetypes have power and it's okay to utilize them as long as you bring something new to the table at the same time. Plus, analogues allow us to do stories with characters that we'd never be able to touch otherwise. My Revenant character is "my" version of Lee Falk's Phantom but she's developed far past that. But it's creative shorthand to explain her that way.

Mike: I'd have to quibble a little bit with the use of the word "archetype" here. I don't really think there are any pulp archetypes. For me, the archetypes for characters go back thousands of years, back to the old Greek tragedies. While Doc Savage and Phantom are built from those archetypes, they in and of themselves aren't ones.

From there, I'd toss out that I build a lot of my characters from the original archetypes, as have countless creators before us, including a lot of the original pulp authors. By doing that, we're not recycling so much as we are building on a solid foundation that's lasted as long as the written word.

Of course, your mileage may vary…

Bobby: I’d agree with that. There’s no new character I’m going to create that someone can’t find some aspect of it that exists elsewhere, whether I knew about it or not. That’s just a reality I have to accept. All I can do is tell the best story I can and hope readers like it.

Mike: Exactly.

Barry: I think you’re arguing semantics. You could say that every piece of fiction can originally be traced back to mythology. But there ARE modern archetypes – the Doc Savage figure, the perfect man with the cadre of followers – might have mythological origins but that doesn’t mean that in our modern parlance, it’s not an archetype of its own. I think it’s pretty damned silly to dismiss everything from the Greek days on as being unworthy of the term archetype.

Question (Luis Guillermo Del Corral): I would want to write stories about this character, or this another. But... what character would you never write about and why?

Bobby: I don’t have a list of characters lying around that I never want to write. That said, I have, on occasion, turned down writing gigs because I did not feel that I was the right writer for the job. Two instances that come to mind were stories with Peter Pan and Sherlock Holmes. While I like both characters just fine, at the time I was offered those assignments I did not feel like I was the best writer to handle them. So, instead of potentially turning in a sub-par story, I decided to decline the option. Now, that doesn’t mean I would never write these characters. If the option became available again then I might feel differently.

Mike: I'd definitely echo Bobby's comments. I turned down a chance to write Green Hornet because the character doesn't really resonate with me which means I doubt I'd be the best man for the job. I've also turned down a few others for similar reasons. In addition to that, there's often choices presented, like "pick a character from this list" and I'll gravitate towards the characters I either already love or the ones that seem more up my alley than others. That's not to say any of them are bad characters, just not the right ones for me to write.

Barry: There are lots of characters that I don’t think I’d have the voice or desire to do correctly. Like Bobby mentioned, I’ve had numerous chances to handle Holmes but aside from a guest appearance he made in one of my stories, I’ve turned all the opportunities down. I love Holmes and re-read the originals all the time but I don’t think I’m the right guy to write him. And there are some characters I just don’t like – The Spider, being one. Could I do it? Sure. I mean, if somebody offered me a million dollars to write The Spider, you can be damned sure that I’d try and find a hook for the story… but it’s not something that I’m looking to do.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

PULP EMPIRE PRESENTS HEROES & HERETICS AS E-BOOK!

Heroes & Heretics now available for e-reader devices
December 20, 2011

Pulp Empire (http://www.pulpempire.com) is proud to announce that our next print anthology Heroes & Heretics is now available for purchase on all digital devices. The new book features 19 stories by a bevy of new and returning Pulp Empire authors. Almost every pulp genre is covered from Milo James Fowler’s western “Fool’s Gold” to Jack Mulcahy’s sword & sorcery saga “Into the Demesne of Dhuada”.

While a print edition will be available within the next few weeks, this is a great chance to get over 300 pages of new pulp storytelling just before Christmas. For the low, low price of $2.99, readers can experience Dixon Hill’s “Blazing Troubles” or Timothy Miller’s dark “The Devil Within”. With Amazon and Barnes & Noble’s gift services, it makes a great last minute gift for any e-reader owner.

Pick up your copy at the link’s below:

Pulp Empire is a subsidiary of Metahuman Press, a publisher of new super powered and pulp fiction. For more details on Metahuman Press and its line of print and electronic books, please visit http://www.metahumanpress.com.

Press Release: Pro Se Enters eBook Business

Pro Se Productions announces today that while still putting the Monthly Into Pulp as it has since publishing its first work in August 2010, it now makes its extensive library available in E-book format! Leading off with veteran Pulp Author Barry Reese's THE ADVENTURES OF LAZARUS GRAY, Pro Se plans to not only make its current catalog available in coming weeks and months via the Kindle, Nook, and in other digital formats, but it also intends to make its upcoming 2013 calendar available via ebook as well.

"Yes," Tommy Hancock, Partner in and Editor in Chief of Pro Se Press reports, "This process has taken a while and there's a few reasons for that. We originally offered PDFs of our titles and those actually were quite successful, but the requests for Kindle, Nook, and more versions digitally have poured in since day one. Our biggest hold up was having the staff to produce quality e-books. We now have that in the person of Russ Anderson, a Pulp author and a vital part of Pulpwork Press as well. Russ is already at work converting our current books into digital formats, hoping to complete at least one a week for the foreseeable future."


THE ADVENTURES OF LAZARUS GRAY, the first book entry into Pro Se's Sovereign City Project features a hero who awakens on the city's shores with no idea who he is. Taking the name Lazarus Gray, he forms a team of adventurers to battle the crime, corruption, and evil rampant in Sovereign City. And its now available for the Kindle here at Amazon and in a variety of formats here at Smashwords! Hancock states that it will be available from Barnes and Noble for the Nook within the week!

Stay tuned for further announcements as Pro Se enters the digital age with E-Books-Pulp Style!

Friday, December 16, 2011

UNDERCOVER REVIEWS - Road to Perdition

Review by Nick Ahlhelm

Anyone that saw the movie version might be surprised at just how good a pulp comic Road to Perdition actually is. Originally published in 1998 by the Paradox Press division of DC Comics, the original graphic novel wore its main influence on the sleeve. A quote by Kauzo Koike, creator of Lone Wolf & Cub opens the tale of a gangster assassin and his son on the roads of the Midwest in 1930.

The story is presented rather simply. Our narrator is the young son, clearly many years later, but our protagonist is Michael O’Sullivan. Known as the Archangel of Death, he serves the Rock Island crime boss John Looney. His son Michael Junior witnesses one of these hits. Looney’s son Connor orders a hit on O’Sullivan while he travels to the family home and murders O’Sullivan’s wife and other son.

It’s a dark, brutal set-up and from there the novel shows its pulp roots. The senior O’Sullivan quickly lives up to his roots as he becomes the Archangel of Death across the Midwest. He massacres gangsters, robs banks and evades the police, Looney’s men and the gangsters under the command of Frank Nitti and Al Capone, Looney’s Chicago associates.

Ultimately, the story comes down to a pair of bloody deaths that conclude the story with a satisfying if somewhat tragic bang.

Max Allan Collins knows the area he writes well and serves to bring it to life in vivid detail. Much like his Nate Heller series of novels, he knows the history of the time and place, and uses it to weave an amazing pulp narrative around the actual events. Unfortunately, Michael Junior’s narration sometimes distracts from the proceedings. His dry matter of fact approach often helps fill us in about historical figures presence, but the narrative technique often just drags down the story unnecessarily.

Richard Piers Rayner drew the book over a period of months and his attention to detail shows on every page. The English artist draws with a photorealistic style that still holds some rough edges. It creates an almost surreal black and white world at times, which probably serves a graphic narrative as bloody as this well.

Thanks to the far inferior movie’s success, Road to Perdition remains in print and probably will remain so for a long time to come. It’s a fascinating piece of crime pulp in comic form and well worth a read by any pulp fan. Highly Recommended.

UNDERCOVER REVIEWS - Gideon's Sword

GIDEON’S SWORD
Preston & Child
Vision
380 pages

Review by Ron Fortier.

In 1995, thriller specialist Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child joined forces to write a best selling novel titled, “The Relic.” In the process, they created one of the most popular action suspense heroes ever to appear on the printed page; FBI Special Agent Pendergast. Although the book was a big success and later adapted to film, it was the creation of Pendergast that would be remembered. It has always been my personal belief that the character’s instant popularity surprised the two and they wasted no time in bringing him back in further adventures. Enough so that with each new Pendergast book, his fame among action devotees continued to spread and today he has a huge, loyal following.

When the pair announced, last year, that they had created a brand new series hero and would be releasing his first book in 2011, the news spread like wildfire across the book world. Eager fans soon learned the new character was named Gideon Crew and the authors had clearly set out to make him as different from Agent Pendergast as they could. We were also informed, via their website, that a major Hollywood studio had optioned the film rights from the galleys alone. Obviously the marketing machines were moving in high gear. The hardback arrived earlier this year to resounding critical acclaim and as of a few weeks ago the paperback edition which is what I’ve just finished reading.

Unless one has never read a Preston & Child Pendergast book, it would be impossible for anyone to read “Gideon’s Sword” without constantly comparing the two fictional heroes. What I appreciated immediately was how the writers set about breaking convention and actually giving this premier outing not one but two separate stories. If the casual reader picks up the title based solely on the back cover blurb, he or she is going to expect to find a typical revenge drama wherein Gideon Crew goes after the people responsible for his father’s death when he was only a child. This entire opening section of the novel serves brilliantly in defining our protagonist and giving us a complete origin history. In a few chapters we learn who he is, what he has done with his life and where those choices have taken him.

But when that first plot is resolved effectively in the first quarter of the book, I found myself both surprised and delighted. Suddenly the book seemed to take a detour down an entirely different road, one that led to the unknown and unexpected. Crew is recruited by a unique organization in the employ of the government to become an independent spy.
The logic, according to this top secret “engineering” outfit is Crew’s own anonymity in the world of espionage is his greatest asset, one that will give him the advantage over competing foreign agencies.

His first assignment is to retrieve an important formula from a supposedly defecting Chinese scientist. But when that fellow is murdered upon his arrival in New York, Crew finds himself locked in a deadly race with a merciless assassin to retrieve the mysterious data. Adding to the puzzle is no one knows what the secret really is. At this point, Preston & Child do what they do best and that is amp up the pacing so that the story and action begin to accelerate exponentially from chapter to chapter until their over-the-top climax arrives, leaving this reviewer with finger blisters from turning the pages so fast.

“Gideon’s Sword” is a top-notch pulp thriller worthy of any fans attention and support. As to whether Gideon Crew lives up to his predecessor’s well earned status among loyal readers is another matter. There were many things I liked about Crew, but again this was only a first meeting and I’m going to reserve the thumbs up or down until at least one more book. There is a rather important plot element regarding the character’s future that I’ve purposely avoided detailing here. It is one you need to discover for yourself. I won’t spoil it for you. Read the book and then we’ll talk.

UNDERCOVER REVIEWS - Dillon and the Legend of the Golden Bell

THE BELL TOLLS FOR THEE

Dillon and the Legend of the Golden Bell
by Derrick Ferguson

Review by Andrew Salmon

I want to preface this review by saying that I’ve never been a fan of updating classic heroes. For this fan, The Shadow in the 21st Century is just not going to work. The incredible BBC series, Sherlock, for me, is the exception not the rule. That said, however, I definitely am a fan of bringing the pulp tradition into the modern day with new characters. When they are done well, that is.

Dillon and the Legend of the Golden Bell (Pulpwork Press, $11.95) is done well. Very well indeed. One of the true classic of the New Pulp movement, Derrick Ferguson’s novel should be required reading for action junkies anywhere.

Ferguson simply gets what pulp is all about and brings the classic awe-inspiring landscape of the genre into the modern day for a thrill a minute, edge of your seat ride. The plot is deceptively simple: Adventurer for hire Dillon is hired to recover the golden bell in the hopes of preventing a civil war.

What you get is a roller-coaster ride, slam-bang adventure tale you won’t soon forget. Dillon is a compelling hero and it’s no wonder he has already become a series character to watch. The supporting cast is also given their moments to shine as the ‘simple’ plot continues to get weirder and the stakes are constantly upped in action sequence after action sequence.

Gadgets abound from jetpacks to weirdo creatures, car chases, and enough lead fired to fill the Grand Canyon with shell casings. The pacing is good throughout and the reader is treated to character pauses just long enough to catch one’s breath before things erupt once more. This is a novel you simply cannot afford to miss.

My only knock against the book, and it is a minor one, is that the striking cover conveys (at least to this reader) that the book is set in the classic pulp period of the 1930s. As this is a modern day adventure, this could be off-putting for some readers. A trifling quibble but there it is.

Dillon and the Legend of the Golden Bell is a great book. I could tell you more about it but that would only waste time you could spend reading it. Do not miss this one, pulpsters!

UNDERCOVER REVIEWS - Glamour Job

Review by Ron Fortier


GLAMOUR JOB
By Doug Farrell
BookSurge Publishing
484 pages

Every now and then, I trip over a book that’s really hard to describe genre-wise and this is such a case. It’s a madcap adventure that falls somewhere between fantasy, slapstick comedy and social satire. That all these elements mix effectively and in the end produce a heady concoction of genuine adult delight is a testament to Farrell’s own imagination in brewing what he aptly describes as “A Fairy-tale for Grown-ups.”

The set up deals with a fairy war that occurred in another dimension wherein the goblin race lost and was forced to flee to our world, arriving in 1947, two years after the end of World War II. Convincing certain human scientist to help them, the goblins invented special disguises that allowed them to go undetected in our world and for decades walked among humans, some even interbreeding with them. Ultimately the same scientists who developed these sophisticated camouflages saw the potential for monetary wealth by using the same formulas to create beauty aids for human women. They create Glamorine, a Chicago based million dollar cosmetic empire built on the results of these techniques and certain goblin magics.

The book’s theme plays with duel definitions of the word glamour. The first being a quality of fascinating, alluring, or attracting, especially by a combination of charm and good looks. It also means magic or enchantment; spell; witchery.

The protagonist is super model and the face of Glamorine, Laurie Morgan, whose grandfather was one of the scientists who created the company. As the story opens Laurie has become disillusioned by her near perfect life and is in the process of divorcing her loving husband, Nick. Laurie is suffering from ennui unable to explain her own dissatisfaction and believes she’s become trapped in a dull, boring routine of existence. No sooner is the divorce granted then she is contacted by a blue gnome name Hawley disguised as a little girl. He warns Laurie that her life is in danger. As if confronting an actual blue dwarf weren’t enough, Laurie begins to running into women throughout Chicago who looked exactly like her.

As paranoia begins to set in, Hawley explains that there is a goblin revolution in the works. After decades of living in secrecy amongst mankind, a group of goblin leaders have concocted a scheme to take control of Glamorine and replace its board of directors, including Laurie and her grandfather, with phony disguised goblins. Once they’ve achieved this end, they plan on poisoning the cosmetics produced to Glamorine to eliminate all of mankind and take over the Earth.

Needless to say having an army of vicious goblins out to do her in is more than enough motivation to snap Laurie out of her malaise and back into living at full tilt if only to stay alive. Before the book’s conclusion arrives, she will have been held prisoner in an underwater complex below Lake Michigan, met and been devoured by a fire breathing dragon and allied herself with tiny pig-fairies only she can see. “Glamour Job” is a rollicking tale that never lets up and is filled with satirical jabs at how we treasure a make-believe beauty that is simply an illusion devised by Fifth Avenue to milk millions from starry eyed little girls all wanting to grow up and become runway princesses. But do be warned, this is only the first chapter in a trilogy and the ending does come somewhat abruptly.

We also note by the print date that “Glamour Job” is four years old. All the more reason to seek it out as it might have flown under your radar. Urban fantasy isn’t one of this reviewer’s most favorite genres, but “Glamour Job” has enough action muscle to sustain it for even the most jaded pulp reader. If you are looking for something truly different and fun, you would be hard press to do much better than this book.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Fourstory Premieres Dr. Dusk!

Dr. Dusk, the newest New Pulp hero from author Mike Bullock, makes his smashing debut today at Fourstory.org.

Art by Craig Russette.
In what has now become affectionately known as “The Age of Adventure,” mystery men patrolled the streets of our bustling cities, stalking the shadows and preying on those who would harm innocent citizens. Doctor Dusk, one such man of mystery, walked the line between order and lawlessness. As the stories go, the man who became Dusk had experimented on himself until he was able to unlock his body’s peak physical potential, making him faster, stronger and more agile than any normal man could ever dream of becoming. Armed with two modified 1911 Colt .45s that fired special rounds, and his heightened physical prowess, the Doctor quickly became the scourge of the underworld. While little else is known of Doctor Dusk, his exploits have recently come to light in a series of journals, found within the walls of an old tenement building on the lower east side. The following was taken from one such journal...


To read the complete story, FOR FREE click here.

So...Why Pulp? “HOW DO YOU FIND THE TIME TO WRITE?”



“HOW DO YOU FIND THE TIME TO WRITE?”

I get this question fairly frequently. I think that’s because to someone who doesn’t write regularly, the whole creative process seems to be a big mystery. And anyone who knows me personally realizes I have a lot of irons in the fire. Besides being a full-time homemaker, I have a whole bunch of other interests. I’m a gardener, crafter, pet owner, and avid reader. I cook and I love to haunt thrift shops, yard sales, and flea markets. I spend as much time as I can outdoors. I even get some time with family now and then. LOL But I still manage to turn out a lot of writing.

My stock answer is you don’t find the time; you make the time. If it’s important to you to do something, you do it. So you sit down, you look at your life, and you decide what really matters most. If writing is in there somewhere in the top five, you drop something else that is not essential to your health and well being. Maybe miss a couple of TV shows a week? Or skip the news; and catch up with it later. Computer or console games, playing with your phone (texting can fill a lot of time), reading every inspirational or funny email that gets forwarded, watching endless online videos, or putzing around on the social networking sites kill countless hours. Avoid that get-together you’d rather not go to anyway… Just don’t take it out of family time or get in trouble over it at work, because we do have to set priorities. If you still want to keep doing all that stuff, get the writing done first, and save it for reward time later.

Yes, you need reward time, and you need to get out and see people that aren’t coworkers or characters in your head. So please, do other things besides writing, because if you don’t, you’ll get stale. Just make sure you actually made some time for writing in the first place. It’s kind of a balancing act.

One thing I have in my favor is that I don’t have a job to commute to every day. Having to be at work at a certain time and getting enough sleep at prescribed hours cuts down on your writing time severely. My days are more my own now and that helps, though I have sacrificed a lot of financial security for that. There are trade-offs… At this age, my children are adults and don’t need me there on a regular basis, there’s no more dragging them around to this activity or that. When the last one left high school I was getting serious about writing as a career, and so I told myself there would be no more volunteer work at schools or in the community—at least not on a regular basis. That’s time all given back to writing. I can be more flexible in my hours, so if the muse happens to be an early bird today and a night owl tomorrow, that’s fine—within reason, because I still have to walk the dog in the morning and I need to be awake for that.

Whatever happens, I make the best of every opportunity, and yeah, the housework often takes a back seat. Again, it involves prioritizing. The dishes and laundry are most important as they are health issues, but they can also be done in between writing sessions. Cooking is something I still enjoy but I do it a lot less frequently now, because other people can fend for themselves, or even cook for me. The rest of the housework gets accomplished as the spirit moves me. I tell visitors that it’s OK to sign your name in the dust, just please don’t add the date. And no swinging on the cobwebs yelling like Tarzan either!

But really, this is more about the heart of writing than how to do it, because getting to writing is very much a mindset, and you need to find your own working rhythm. You either want to write, and will make that time, or you should move on to something else that you’re more passionate about. And there’s no crime in that! No one said you have to love everything about writing so much that you’re willing to sacrifice other things you enjoy more. Give yourself permission to just write only when you feel like it and don’t be too concerned with making a career from it. It’s not necessary to excel at everything.

Yet, if you are writing with the idea of becoming published, you do have to realize that like anything else, this is skilled work, and it has a learning curve. You won’t be good at it overnight, and even when you are writing well, there is always someone whose story is going to get picked before yours will. To write publishable work requires lots of practice, a sense of dedication, a thick hide for rejection and criticisms, and a big heaping dollop of self discipline. Overall, you have to keep at it, be patient, and willing to learn new tricks.

Case in point: I am now a pulp writer. I didn’t start out as one—oh no, I began writing with the idea of doing children’s books. I was doing all right, judging by the stories I wrote and read to my sons’ elementary school classmates. The teachers enjoyed them; in fact they loved it when I came in to read and I would hold the attention of those eighteen kids long enough that they could sneak out for a break. I had fun with that, but it wasn’t where my heart was, as far as writing was concerned. I was reading some Sci Fi, Horror, and lots of Fantasy at the time, and enjoying it immensely, so decided I wanted to write for adults more than I did for kids. That was the first big change.

That’s what I spent the next twenty one years doing, creating new speculative fiction stories for more mature audiences, and loving every moment of it… except for the publisher rejections. Those are definitely mood killers. I could paper the walls with those cold and clinical form letters with their stamped signatures. Sometimes the turnaround was quick and I knew my carefully packed manuscript only made it out of the slush pile long enough to stick that dream-killing piece of paper into my hand lettered self-addressed and stamped return envelope. Now and then I got a penciled-in response in the margins, meaning someone had actually read part of it, though one note actually said I shouldn’t give up my day job. Very disheartening!

There were times I would pout and hang up my keyboard for a few months, frustrated that I was doing the best work I knew how to do, but still couldn’t break through that final barrier between hobby writer and published author. Then I’d read something that was supposed to be the latest and greatest offering by the best new author of the decade, and knew I could write rings around that person. That would fire up my inner competitor again. There were other days I’d just chuck the papers in a drawer, stick the floppy disk (remember those?) in a box, and go on to something more rewarding. But always at some point the muse would start whispering sweet nothings in my ear, and eventually I’d be back at the PC or laptop, pounding out the characters and scenes in my head. And now I have files full of that stuff to draw from. Twenty one years is a long time to wait for something positive to happen. You have to love what you’re doing to hang on to a dream that long.

My break finally came in April of 2010, when Tommy Hancock of Pro Se Press accepted a couple of those forsaken tales to publish in Fantasy & Fear Magazine. That was all the incentive I needed—to actually hold that magazine in my hand, see my name on the page, and know someone, somewhere, was actually reading what I wrote. An incredibly empowering feeling, but it also brought responsibilities too. I now had series of stories to write, and I was expected to contribute often. No more putting things off until tomorrow because I felt like looking up free crochet patterns and recipes online, or typing long heartfelt emails to all my friends. Now I had to write every day, and I learned to make the time work for me.

I’m almost ashamed to admit that I wasn’t much of a pulp reader over the years; the majority of my experience was with Robert E. Howard’s Conan stories. I always admired Howard’s ability to keep the pace frantic and the action breathless, but didn’t realize at the time that was one of the basic tenets of pulp. I just thought it was his style. And yeah, I had a passing familiarity with Tarzan, Doc Savage, and The Lone Ranger, but mostly through Saturday afternoon TV movies. I enjoyed old westerns, and have always loved the Ray Harryhausen animated mythic adventures, Japanese monster flicks, and of course Indiana Jones. But it really never struck me how pervasive and beloved pulp is, how entwined it has become in our culture, until I was on the inside of making it. Pulp is amazing and enduring stuff, and those of us who love it, can’t get enough of it.

Writing pulp is quite a bit different than writing for mainstream publication. I learned quickly that you have to keep that pace up or the story drags and you lose readers. So I had to look at my older work with a far more critical eye. A lot of stories got more than a quick once-over; they got rewritten with the present audience in mind. Things that I had started but not finished, or rough ideas that were no more than notes, became far different works than what I originally planned. When Tommy and I started talking books, and I casually mentioned I had this 800 and some-odd page monstrosity I had been shopping around for years, I began to realize that there are no sacred cows when it comes to writing. After writing pulp stories for months, a read through showed me that my book was ponderous, wordy, repetitious, and dull as dishwater in places. There was also enough material in there for at least three stories of average pulp novel size. So that too had to be cut back and chopped up, and a good portion of it is being rewritten. The things you do for the opportunity to be published and read…

The initial 1/3 or so of that seminal book became my first published novel, Fortune’s Pawn. It took me roughly three and a half months to go from beginning to end of that lopped off section and rewrite it for a more ‘pulpy’ approach. It took a lot of soul searching too, because the original book was my baby, a labor of love over four years in the making back in the early 2000s when I was still struggling to get published somewhere. I would write in the afternoons on our living room PC and late at night into the wee hours of the morning, with my laptop on my knees in bed. But I remembered while I was rewriting what became Fortune’s Pawn that I had also changed the focus of the original book quite a bit as I went along. The core story is still the same, the characters I started with remain, the setting never varied. But the way I told the story, the pacing, and some of the events got juggled or altered to reflect the tastes of my current potential audience.

I initially wrote the book for myself, but I rewrote it for my readers, and in the end it is still a compromise between what I wanted it to be then, and how it needs to be now. It’s a tightrope walk between mainstream fantasy and pulp, and that seems to be my sweet spot in all this. By all accounts, the book sold fairly well. More importantly, I like it and enjoyed redoing it. Along the way, I learned to be flexible, and work with the people who want to publish me. A valuable lesson, no matter how long you have been writing.

So I guess the bottom line here is, if you want to write, you’ll make time for it. If you want to write well, you’ll learn how by writing often and knowing your audience. If you talk to other writers, you’ll get a lot of ideas about what works, and what doesn’t. Borrow them shamelessly because no one really minds. At the end of the day though, what matters is that you got something on the page, even if it is just some scribbled notes with descriptions, and arrows pointing at something on a hand-drawn map.

Writing is a mindset. It’s something you have to do, and something you want to do. You need to be just as creative about making the effort to write as you do when you do sit at the keyboard or with pen and paper in hand and the ideas begin to flow. Just keep at it, no matter how little time you have to actually write, because eventually something will click, and your life will change overnight from hobbyist to serious author. No, you likely won’t get wealthy, but your life will be richer for the effort, and that’s a very important thing. And if like me, when that time comes and you have countless files full of ideas jotted down and stories started, you’ll be a lot better off than sitting in front of a blinking cursor wondering what words to put on the page and playing another round of solitaire while you wait for inspiration to come wallop you over the head.

Don’t be afraid of changing how you do things. Embrace it; make it your own. That’s how dreams come true you know. I’m living proof of that. Before you know it, people will be asking you how you do that thing you do, too.