Monday, April 29, 2013

Multitude of Favorites 5: Adventure Writers

My earliest reading as a kid, beyond comic books, tended to be adventure stories. I had a pretty insatiable thirst for action and intrigue as a boy-- stories I could put myself into and imagine I was a swashbuckling pirate or a heroic gunslinger or a brave explorer. In some ways, this was a natural outgrowth of my comic book reading-- the next step, I guess you could say.

Here are my five favorite adventure story writers.

Lester Dent. As Kenneth Robeson, Dent penned the vast majority of the classic Doc Savage novels. Originally appearing in his own pulp magazine, these great adventure tales were issued in paperback by Bantam Books, just in time to coincide with my own youth. The brilliant, super-strong, and unbelievably-skilled-at-everything Doc Savage is still one of the greatest heroes of all time, and definitely the greatest hero to come out of the pulps.

Edgar Rice Burroughs. Tarzan, man. You don't get much more exciting and intriguing than the Tarzan novels, especially the first five or six in the series. I can't even tell you how badly I wanted to be Tarzan... hell, I still do.

Robert E. Howard. I came by REH in an odd way, through the Conan comic books Marvel was doing at the time. Imagine my happiness when I discovered the surly barbarian was also in prose stories. I tore through all the Lancer Books editions at an early age, and later discovered the Solomon Kane tales (which are still my favorites from Howard). Much later, as an adult, I stumbled across his Westerns, boxing stories, and "orient adventure" tales and was just as thrilled with them.

Arthur Conan Doyle. I consider the Sherlock Holmes stories adventure tales more than tales of deduction. The best of them have fantastic bits of exotica and intrigue, whether they come from the amazing back-stories related to Holmes and Watson by a client, or the hairy situations our heroic duo find themselves in. Also, Doyle's Professor Challenger stories, like THE LOST WORLD, are flat-out high adventure.

H. Rider Haggard. The hero of Haggard's three most famous novels, Allan Quatermain, has been unfairly cast in modern day as a racist imperialist; granted, there is some of that in KING SOLOMON'S MINES and SHE, but by the standards of the time, he's actually quite sympathetic to the natives he comes across in his epic adventures through lost cities and civilizations in "darkest Africa". And the stories are intensely exciting.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Multitude of Favorites 4: Espionage Writers

Okay, so, so far I've covered my favorite Horror writers, Speculative fiction writers, and "Literary" writers. Time to go all secret agent here.

I miss the Cold War.

In no particular order, here are my favorite writers of spy stories:

Eric Ambler. If you like old Alfred Hitchcock movies, you'd love Ambler. His work was romantic and darkly atmospheric, taking you to all sorts of seedy and exotic places with his hapless heroes. He did his best work between the two world wars, in that strange period of uncertainty and shifting politics. Favorites-- A COFFIN FOR DIMITRIOS, JOURNEY INTO FEAR and EPITAPH FOR A SPY.

Grahame Greene. No one could do the burnt-out agent in far-away lands like Greene. His books were exciting and complex, but also had a remarkably dark sense of humor. I love OUR MAN IN HAVANA and MINISTRY OF FEAR.

Adam Hall. Hall's "Quiller" series is fantastic, balancing the sort-of "real world" feel of someone like John LeCarre with the outstanding action of James Bond. And Quiller himself is a great character-- cynical, ever-closer to burn-out, but thoroughly capable. Favorites-- THE QUILLER MEMORANDUM, QUILLER KGB, and THE NINTH DIRECTIVE.

Edward S. Aarons. His "Assignment" series about Cajun secret agent Sam Durell went on for years; after Aarons died, the series continued, ghost-written under the name Will B. Aarons. Those aren't as good, sad to say. But the ones Aarons wrote were top-notch-- exciting, suspenseful, and chock full of exotic locations and great action. I recommend, especially, the first few: ASSIGNMENT TO DISASTER, ASSIGNMENT-TREASON, and ASSIGNMENT-SUICIDE.

And finally, Alan Furst, the only modern writer on this list. All of Furst's work takes place during WWII, and even though recurring characters are rare, it becomes increasingly clear as you read them that they occupy the same dark and romantic world. Amazingly suspenseful, melancholy, but with surprising bits of action, they're pretty addictive. Favorites include THE POLISH OFFICER, THE WORLD AT NIGHT, and KINGDOM OF SHADOWS.

Some that came close to making my list: John LeCarre (THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD is just brilliant), Donald Hamilton's great Matt Helm series, and Len Deighton (especially THE IPCRESS FILE and FUNERAL IN BERLIN). But I can't include everyone, can I?

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Manhunt: Best Crime Fiction Magazine Ever.

A lot of crime fiction fans would cite Black Mask as the greatest of all crime fic magazines-- after all, it was where Dashiell Hammett prowled, as well as Raymond Chandler, Earl Stanley Gardner, Paul Cain and Raoul Whitfield. Hammett alone would make a strong argument for Black Mask. But honestly, once you get past those greats, well... there was more mediocre stuff in Black Mask than great stuff.

I'm going with Manhunt as the greatest crime fiction magazine ever. I realize a lot of it is down to personal tastes, but come on, just scope out some of these great writers that contributed to Manhunt:

Mickey Spillane. Lawrence Block. Evan Hunter. Gil Brewer. Donald Westlake. Bret Halliday. David Goodis (!!). John D. MacDonald. Helen Nielsen. Honestly, just about every great writer of hard-boiled and/or noir in the '50's and early '60's appeared in Manhunt.

The editors of Manhunt had spot-on taste, were amazingly fearless in the subject matter and types of situations they allowed, and the writing was almost uniformly great.

My first brush with Manhunt came with the great anthology HARD-BOILED, edited by Bill Pronzini and Jack Adrian. There were several stories in it culled from Manhunt, and being the sharpish fella I am, I noticed that all my favorite selections shared that in common. I began seeking out more stuff from Manhunt, came across a paperback original called BEST FROM MANHUNT that served to solidify my opinion.

Since then, I've been collecting original issues when I can afford them (which is not often).

Here's something that would be great: Someone should get a hold of the rights to the name "Manhunt Magazine" (if such rights even exist?), and revive it. Make it a paying market, maybe as an on-line venue, with great art and only the best noir stories available. Yeah, there's plenty of excellent sites featuring dark crime fiction already, but c'mon... if you're a writer, wouldn't you LOVE to have something published in Manhunt?

Monday, April 15, 2013


Offend: v. To cause displeasure, anger, resentment or wounded feelings.

Lotta folks walking around being offended these days.

They don't like cuss words. Or skimpy clothes. Or sexiness on TV. Or violence. Those are forces that decay the moral fabric of society and are offensive to right-thinking people, yeah?

This is something I have a hard time getting my head around. Yeah, there are things that bother me, certain behaviors that I think are wrong or irresponsible. Is that the same thing as being offended? I don't really know. But the things some folks get up in arms about boggle me.

Some podunk town in Louisiana just outlawed saggy pants. Any one walking around with their underwear showing because of ridiculously saggy pants will be fined. The reason? They are offensive to the community standards.

Most of us, I imagine, find the saggy pants look idiotic. I know I do. But honestly, a law against them? If it's now illegal to look like a dumb-ass, half of us are going to wind up in jail eventually.

If I was Boss of the World, I'd ignore the stupid saggy pants thing and focus on stuff that's actually offensive: Reality TV. Donald Trump. Bullying in elementary schools. Bigotry.

And for those who are "offended" by strong language, sexuality, etc... I would suggest that you being "offended" is really on you, isn't it? It's nobody else's problem, friend. Get over it.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

CITY OF HERETICS in paperback

I like you old school people. The ones who read actual books made of paper and ink and all that old-fashioned stuff. So I've been doing my best to make sure the majority of my work is available not just electronically but in paper as well.

So, just for you (and because I like the way it looks on my shelf) here's my second novel, CITY OF HERETICS, in trade paperback for the measly price of 14.99.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Stupid plans

I had a writing plan for the year. I laid it out in detail back in January, and I really thought I was going to stick to it. Haha. I crack me up. Oh, plans, you are so amusing.

It went off the rails early on, not out of laziness this time (I swear!) but just... life and circumstances and stuff.

I'm still writing every day, still sticking to that. It's April now, and I've missed maybe seven days so far this year. So I'm not beating myself up or anything. But the particular agenda I set for myself caved in really quickly as other projects vied for attention, a couple things took longer than I thought they would, and yet other things hadn't stewed long enough to start on.

No worries, though. So far this year, I've finished a new Hawthorne story, a Gideon Miles novella, and a couple short stories. Next up, the synopsis for a screenplay I've been discussing with a film-maker friend of mine (more on that later, as if develops) and then... well, I'm not saying. Because the minute I put my plans down in black and white, that's when they start messing up on me.

But I will say that 2013 looks like it's going to be a busy, busy year.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Hawthorne: Bad Sanctuary now available

"Bad Sanctuary", the fourth Hawthorne story, is now available on Kindle.

"A Night of Blood and Fire...

An abandoned Army fort is the perfect hideout for the worst criminals around. Or so they thought. In the fort basement lurks evil-- The Sisters-- bringing Plague to the fugitives, poisoning minds and souls, and thirsting for blood. When Hawthorne is led to the fort in pursuit of a thieving murderer, he must also fight the Sisters. And, when ugly ties to his own shadowy past are revealed, the mysterious gunslinger is pushed to his very limits... and into darkness."