December 10, 2011

Miles To Little Ridge

My exposure to Westerns was mainly limited to films and television until Edward A. Grainger. His stories changed my perceptions of what the genre had to offer.  Fueled by superb writing, the continuing adventures of Cash Laramie and Gideon Miles provide the same excitement of the films I’ve enjoyed while confronting all those big things about existence the literary types like to claim as theirs and theirs alone.

I was nervous when I heard other authors were going to be writing tales featuring Grainger’s two heroes. Would it feel...right? Could they pull it off? Would these new stories have the same mix of action and humanity?

Heath Lowrance’s does.

With clear and direct prose, he tells the story of Gideon Miles’ arrival in the town of Little Ridge, Montana where the Marshal tracks down a fugitive who’s raising his daughter on his own following his wife’s death. Despite his claims of innocence, the wanted man is reluctant to leave his fate up to a jury and his daughter in someone else’s care. Miles’job is further complicated by a foe from his past, hellbent on getting revenge for the death of his friend in a robbery.

“Miles to Little Ridge” is a startling testament to Lowrance’s abilities as a writer. He’s captured everything you’ve come to expect from Grainger’s Westerns without resorting to pastiche. It’s well-paced and exciting without sacrificing any of the humanity as it confronts the tricky boundary between duty and justice.

"Miles To Little Ridge" Is Available Now.



December 9, 2011

The Best Black American Novelist Writing Today by Shane Stevens


Curious Shane Stevens fans looking for some of his non-fiction to read might check out The Critical Response to Chester Himes. Included in Charles L. P. Silet's compilation of reviews and essays is a Stevens piece called: "The Best Black America Novelist Writing Today."

Originally published in The Washington Post and Times Herald in 1969, Stevens' essay offers more than just a review of Blind Man With A Pistol. In only a few short pages, Shane uses the publication of Blind Man to discuss the importance of Himes' entire body of work, its relation to the American dilemna of race and his own opinions on the "moral" responsibilities of the novelist. If nothing else, Stevens fans may enjoy the tiny bit of personal reminiscence when Shane recalls living in Harlem, working on his own first novel and discovering the work of Chester Himes.

Regrettably, The Critical Response to Chester Himes is over priced. Amazon's new copy is currently available for $110. However, at least here, it seems to be readily available from a number of libraries.

December 7, 2011

A Rip Through Time Review

A couple of days ago, I learned from David that James Reasoner reviewed the Rip Through Time e-book on his Rough Edges blog. Despite my cool and detached demeanor, it's always nice to see pleasant things about your work. Especially when they come from a talented and seasoned veteran like James.

Read his thoughts here.


December 4, 2011

Claudia Sensi Contugi's The Climb


One of Christopher Pimental's students has her first published story up now at The Flash Fiction Offensive. You should really go check it out. Claudia Sensi Contugi's The Climb is impressive for such a young writer: great dialogue, nice crisp lines, tension and desperation that rises as the character makes a literal ascent, all building to a sharp ending.

December 2, 2011

My Shane Stevens Materials


My Shane Stevens materials: books, articles, letters, reviews, and photographs. Below Black Review #1 is the current draft.

November 30, 2011

Editing


In case you needed another reason to order the e-book:

I'm currently editing Simon Rip's next adventure. (Hopefully, this will be my final one before sending it David.)


November 29, 2011

Grift Magazine Reviews First Shift


Over at Grift Magazine, John reviews Crime Factory: The First Shift. Incredibly stoked to have garnered a mention for my story, The Method.

A Rip Through Time E-Book


A Rip Through Time E-Book is now available from Smashwords:

Description:
Dr. Robert Berlin has created The Baryon Core, a powerful device with the ability to predict the future and retrodict the past by tracking the position and vector of every particle in the universe. Berlin swipes his own creation from The Company and disappears into history. The Company's time-cop Simon Rip and the sexy, brilliant Dr. Serena Ludwig join together to track Berlin and return the device. Their pursuit will take them back to the ice age and forward to the end of time. 

A Rip through Time follows the time-cop's travels in a series of five short stories written by several of today's top pulp writers. Chris F. Holm opens the collection with the fast-paced "The Dame, the Doctor and the Device." Charles A. Gramlich's "Battles, Broadswords, and Bad Girls" and Garnett Elliott's "Chaos in the Stream" breath new life into the time travel story. Bringing the saga to a gripping conclusion in "Darkling in the Eternal Space" is Chad Eagleton, who then takes it a step further with a mesmerizing coda, "The Final Painting of Hawley Exton." And for all the time-traveling enthusiasts, Ron Scheer provides an insightful essay, "Are We Then Yet," which explores the mechanics of time travel in popular fiction.


If that's not enough--in about a week or so, I'll announce a contest where one lucky and astute reader has a chance to win a free copy of the forthcoming Simon Rip novella by yours truly.

November 24, 2011

Smooth Criminals


At his Dead End Follies site, Benoit Lelievre recently posted the details of his Smooth Criminals challenge. It’s pretty simple really: you have a year to read a book within eight categories and write a review of it.

I haven’t been reading as much as I would like recently. Between my own writing, the day job’s stress, and Maria’s health issues, I just haven’t had much time. When I do have time, my patience for reading material is very small: if the book doesn’t grab me in some way by X number of pages then I move on. I’ve put down more books over the last several months than I can count. Hopefully, the challenge will spur me onward toward finishing something.

My choices (so far) are:

Hardboiled Classic:
I, The Jury--I know Thomas Pluck is reading this too. Great minds think alike, I guess. Honestly, mostly, it’s because I tried reading Spillane years ago and hated it. I know that’s a statement that will probably get me beat and I’m sure Max Allan Collins is probably now plotting my death somewhere, but I thought I’d try again. See if I felt the same.

Noir Classic:
Build My Gallows High by Geoffrey Homes--the basis for the Robert Mitchum film Out of The Past. For some reason it’s sat unread on my shelf.

Prison Book:
On The Yard by Malcom Braly--I’ve been wanting to read this for a while. Originally published in 1967, Braly wrote this book while doing time in San Quentin. It’s a classic of “prison lit,” known for it’s sharp dialogue and large cast of characters.

Book Written By A Writer Who Did Time:
You Can’t Win by Jack Black--No, not that Jack Black. This one was a turn of the century thief who wrote only one book, his memoirs. It was William Burroughs’ favorite book and the stylistic inspiration for Junky.

Book With A Psychopath As Protagonist:
Blackburn by Bradley Denton--I read this years ago. I’ve been wanting to read it again to see if I still believe there are only two books worth reading about serial killers: Blackburn and Shane Stevens’ By Reason Of Insanity.

Gothic Novel:
Carmilla by J. Sheridan LeFanu--the vampire classic I can’t believe I've never actually read. This one may be cheating just a little since I think it’s technically considered a novella. If so, blame Ingrid Pitt.

Classic Where The Plot Revolves Around A Crime:
Haven’t decided on this one yet. Maybe the Moonstone by Wilkie Collins?

The Why The Hell Am I Doing This To Myself Book:
Same with this category.

November 17, 2011

Zombie Plague


ZP Pin-up To Whet Your Appetite
Ten years ago, my friends Brian Roe and Skott Kilander created a free print-n-play game called Zombie Plague. People still download it and people still play it. It's gotten a lot of positive feedback in a decade and even been translated into multiple languages.

Yesterday on Facebook, Brian revealed the next step for Zombie Plague with a link to a Kickstarter page for a project "to create a forty-five page Zombie Plague comic that will also include revamped game rules."

For full details, and to pledge, go here.

November 14, 2011

A Rip Through Time: Things To Come


A Rip Through Time will soon be available in e-book format. Besides featuring the original serial, the collection will also include two unpublished extras: an essay by Ron Scheer on time travel in books and film, and a brand new story by me.

The Last Painting of Hawley Exton is a look into the world of Simon Rip through a very different window. When an unnamed narrator finds himself near the village of Blackledge, he dares venture onward to the shadows of Henthorn Forest and the home of Hawley Exton. Hoping to see an infamous painting commissioned by Lord Byron, he has no idea the horrors awaiting him among the rotting timbers of Quaritch Hall or the terrible burden he will be forced to bear.

This first collection will easily be a bargain at 99 cents.

A bargain and a hint of things to come...



November 10, 2011

Shane Stevens & Gil Cates

"The News of the Screen" column in the February 24, 1974, issue of The New York Times discusses Shane Stevens' involvement in the film adaptation of The Me Nobody Knows and reveals another doomed Hollywood project.

Gil Cates
Gil Cates was scheduled to direct Stevens' screenplay of the socially conscious musical. Cates was the well-known director of films like I Never Sang For My Father and Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams. Now, he's probably best known as the producer of the Academy Awards shows, former Dean of the UCLA Film School, and the uncle of Phoebe Cates.

In the column, Cates talks briefly about Me and then mentions his next scheduled project — a film version of Way Uptown In Another World adapted by Shane.

Neither of the duo's projects went anywhere.

In early September, I e-mailed Cates at The Geffen Playhouse where he served as Producing Director. I introduced myself, explained my research and asked if he remembered anything about Shane Stevens.

I received a response back on October 29. Cates apologized for the delay, said he remembered Stevens only dimly. The Me Nobody Knows and Way Uptown In Another World were "projects that just didn't happen." He wished me well and I thought that was that.

A couple of days later, Cates was dead.

He was a stranger to me, but it was still unsettling. He was a busy man who took the time to answer a question about Shane Stevens (a man he probably hadn’t thought about in 40 years) for a random guy in Indiana.

Now, he was dead.

The main enemy I face in constructing a portrait of Shane Stevens remainains the most ruthless — Time.

November 6, 2011

Darkling In The Eternal Space


For over a year Beat To A Pulp has been tantalizing us with chapters from Simon Rip's adventures. This sci-fi serial has everything you could want: a dashing hero, a brilliant scientist, a beautiful woman, travels across time and space, monsters, and some fantastic action-packed writing by Chris F. Holm, Charles Gramlich, and Garnett Elliott.

David Cranmer asked me to contribute the 4th installment. I have to admit that I was a little intimidated stepping into this playground. The writers that came before are some fantastic creators; they're the guys whose work I always try to catch no matter where they're appearing. But I wanted to give it a shot. This sort of fiction was my first love and something I don't get the opportunity to write very much. Plus, anytime you get a chance to work with David on a project, you'd be a fool to refuse. He's a first-class writer, a brilliant editor, and an honorable man. That's a rare combination, not only in this "business", but in life.

I'm pleased with Darkling In The Eternal Space. I hope you will be too.

Feel the wash of chronal energies:
Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV

November 3, 2011

Musings on First Shift

Over at her excellent site, Musings Of An All Purpose Monkey, Elizabeth White talks Crime Factory: The First Shift. Stoked to have made her highlights--especially considering everyone else who graces the pages of Crime Factory's first collection.


October 30, 2011

Arkham City


After playing the first game together, the wife and I were excited to play Batman: Arkham City. She was especially stoked for the sequel since Catwoman is a playable character. So as soon as we could, we pre-ordered it from Game Stop, and I picked it up on my way home from work the day it was released.
In a lot of ways, it’s almost a fantastic game.
Almost, even though it’s gorgeous. The city is beautifully rendered. You could easily spend hours just wandering around and looking at the environment. Sometimes to your detriment. You’ll find yourself getting lost a lot at the beginning of the story, until you learn the landmarks and how to maneuver around the crowded, gothic skyline.
Almost, even though Kevin Conroy returns as Batman and Mark Hamill reprises his role as Joker. Virtually every character from the Batman universe shows up at least once. All are well-acted. The voice-over work is excellent, easily up there as the best I’ve ever heard.
Almost, even though the plot is engaging. It takes off from the first game, but isn’t so tied together that you're lost if you've never played Arkham Asylum. There are a couple of big twists. One will come as no surprise and the other will probably throw you for a loop--“How the hell did I miss that clue?”
Almost, even though it plays well. With a little practice you’ll get the controls down. There are some nice VR training missions to help you fine-tune. Some of the levels are challenging. Occasionally, they're annoying, but not too bad even if I did consider throwing the controller against the wall twice.
No, it’s an almost game.

Almost, because of Catwoman.
Not her costume. I didn’t mind the cheesecake factor. Honestly, I would have been surprised if she wasn’t showing some cleavage. It’s not even her playability as a character. Except for the lack of equipment, she’s more fun than Batman. She’s quicker, more acrobatic, and not as a strong as the Caped Crusader—which means, once you get the combat down, she’s capable of these long chains of attacks that are both fun to do and fun to watch.
What disappoints me about Catwoman is the way’s she treated.
In case you don’t know the premise of the game, a section of Gotham has been walled off and turned into a prison a la Escape From New York and the No Man’s Land storyline for years ago. All prisoners from both Arkham Asylum and Blackgate are dumped into the new Arkham City and left pretty much to their own devices.
I think you can see where this is going.
Every thug and every villain calls her a bitch. Constantly. It’s bitch this and bitch that. When they’re not calling her bitch they’re insinuating that they’re going to rape her. When they’re not calling her a bitch and they’re not insinuating that they’re going to rape her, then they’re calling her a bitch while insinuating that they’re going to rape her.
I know, realism, right?
“But she’s a woman,” you say. “These are all men. They haven’t seen a woman in years. I think they even say that.”
Well, they do, but—
“She kicks their ass though,” you say. “That’s what they’re there for. To call her a bitch and then get kneed in the balls.”
Maybe, but I still call bullshit. If it’s realistic for them to react that way, how come no one insinuates they’re going to anally rape Batman? That does happen in prison, you know, and this is supposed to be realistic, right?
Also, why doesn’t anyone call Batman profane names? Huh? Where’s the asshole, dick, prick, bastard, or son of a bitch when you’re playing the Dark Knight and confronting a group of thugs?
It’s a shame. It really is because it makes everything that wouldn’t have bothered me feel glaringly sexist, further lessens my faith in DC to ever present a female character in a positive light and makes Arkham City an almost game.

October 28, 2011

Dispatches from Mu


Mu is a mythical continent that began as vaguely convincing pseudo-science and morphed into full blown silliness. Depending on how nutty you like your peanut butter, Mu was: the source of Mayan civilization, a colony founded by survivors of Atlantis, home of the Secret Masters, or under control of fascist lizard people who still direct the New World Order and psychically eat your brain.

Mu exists in multi-genre dimensions, rising from the waves as fantasy, science fiction, and ancient occult gobbledygook. The dead civilization ghosts through comics, short stories, novels, cartoons, anime, and music. Even Led Zepplin conjures the mystical spirit of Mu—Robert Plant’s feather symbol is supposedly one of the "sacred glyphs."


Mu is here.

I don't just read crime fiction. I certainly don't just watch cop shows or heist films. I couldn't image resigning myself to one particular genre for my entertainment any more than I could imagine listening to a single style of music. Most of what I write is crime fiction.

But not all of it. 

Like I said in my Spinetingler interview, my style is evolving. Excursions into new territory are how I push myself as a writer. How I ward off complacency. I never want to write by rote. These excursions are now collected under the Dispatches from Mu tab at the top of the page.

In a few weeks you'll understand why.

Now, back to your regularly scheduled murder...

October 17, 2011

The Letter

Patti Abbott sponsored a flash fiction challenge based on the paintings of Reginald Marsh. Every story written earns $5 for charity. For complete details of the challenge go here. For a list of entries go here. For mine, keep reading.
The Letter



Two Girls On Boardwalk

The fighting wasn’t done but they sent home three and a half weeks ago with a ruined leg. He’s spent the last two on the boardwalk with the letter that arrived the day the machinegun nest cut his squad to chunks of meat in some city he can’t even pronounce. Just sitting there with her letter in his front pocket and his gun in his back, watching the children and the girls and the women and men to old to fight walk by. Watching and waiting for her. Sometimes wishing his head would stop hurting, but mostly waiting and wondering if her hair was still dark or if she had finally turned blonde. 

She had talked about it before he shipped out. She was in love with the actress. The one everyone seemed to like but him. Her friend, Whats-her-name, thought they looked alike. He just didn’t see it and he never cared for blondes.

Catching up to her, he touches her back with one hand. The other, the one he thought was on the gun he was going to use on her for leaving him like that, leaving him by letter, isn’t on the gun at all. It’s clutching the letter.


She turns. “Hello. Can I help you?” Whats-her-name doesn’t realize and keeps walking, keeps talking for two, three, and four clicks of heels on boardwalk board. He realizes then she's not a Rican or a tanned Jew. She's Italian. Isn't she? She's So-and-so, right?

He starts to speak, but nothing comes. “Are you okay? You alright mister?” She asks. He thinks this isn’t her. Is it?

It's not. Just the same, he wants to tell her that she shouldn't have left like that. When she did, it's like she robbed him of some sort of protection and that's why everyone got cut down. He wants to give her the letter back, give it back like it'll make everything go away. But he can't he just clutches his pocket, the pocket with the letter, and his lips move like a fish trying to breathe on land.

Again, she asks, “You okay?”

He wants to tell her no, that he’s not. Not okay. Nothign will move though. Nothign but his leg. It shakes and when it shakes, his head starts hurting again and he just stands there until So-and-so grabs her arm. "Come on Martha," she says. "Let's go.

And they do while he shuffles back to his place and sits down in his spot. Wasn’t her was it? No, her hair is black. Black like dead eyes,

He sits even though the sun is at just that certain height. The bright bullet pierces his eye and his brain hurts. He doesn’t mind. That he understands. That’s something. Something more than a letter he doesn’t remember is his or not.

Sometimes, during the two weeks on the boardwalk, when the light is really bright and the sun is at just that certain height, it sends a single ray like a sniper’s bullet straight through his eye and he has a waking nightmare that her hair is red. Red with blood and pulpy with brains. He closes his eyes then and the dark inside his skull is all smoke and blood.

He’s closing his eyes when she walks by. Almost misses her. Barely catches her when the smoke and blood finally clears, the machinegun cools and quiets, and he returns, again, from that day. If she hadn’t turned and looked over her shoulder, he might not have caught sight of her. But he does.

She’s carrying a red bag and wearing a white bathing suit. High-heeling it down the boardwalk with Whats-her-name who’s in yellow and looking like a Rican or a tanned Jew.

She is blonde.

He stands quickly. Wants to run, but can’t. Moves down the walk, each creak feeling like the bones in his ruined leg are shattering, but he moves, catching sight of her and Whats-her-name over shoulders and around backs.

Memories of her flood his mind. Intimate, but distant. Almost like something he read. Something that used to be his. Something he doesn’t have any more. Does he? He can't remember.

October 13, 2011

All The Pissing

I'm finally setting down to read George R.R. Martin's A Dance With Dragons, the fifth book in his seven part (please, let it only be seven) A Song of Ice and Fire series.

I write mostly crime fiction, but fantasy was my first love. As a kid I devoured fantasy novels, reading the good stuff (Fritz Leiber, Michael Moorcock) and the shit (the Dragonlance series and R.A. Salvatore's Drizzt Do'Urden books). I played a lot of Dungeons & Dragons. I made maps of make-believe worlds and played amateur linguist.

I grew out of fantasy. Discovering Andrew Vachss and Shane Stevens helped, but it was also because as I matured I realized that 99% of the fantasy genre is utter and complete shit. Just badly-written Tokien rehash after rehash. Very little of it is imaginative. And there's a subtext to "high fantasy" that I find repellant, much like the vast majority of "military SF". Whenever I thought I had found a new savior for the genre, they always disappointed me.

Like Robert Jordan.

I remember reading the first three books in the Wheel of Time series and being excited. Here we go, I thought, here's something a little different. Here's something that's got some character focus! Holy hell, there's female point of view characters and they're not just hot chicks in chainmail bikinis! And there's no elves or dwarves or goblins! This is awesome!

Then it started...

The number of planned books lept growing and growing and growing. From 3 to 5 to 10 to whatever the hell it is now even though Jordan is dead. Next came the fantasy writer bloat--800 pages and wait for it...nothing happens. That's right, you just read 800 pages and you could count all the plot events on one hand. (Only if you're generous with your definition of "plot events.") Oh, and those female points of view you were excited about? Yeah, well, turns out the female characters are all the same and will spend the remainder of the series acting like 16 year old girls fighting over the same cute boy.

I stopped reading those books years ago. At this point, I don't really care whether Rand Al-Thor goes crazy or which woman he hooks up with. I don't care who's writing it now. Even if Tor hired a group of necromancers to summon Jordan's spirit from beyond the grave to finish the series himself, I wouldn't care. I told myself when I turned my back on Jordan that I wouldn't pick up another series. (Why is it always a series? Why can't fantasy authors write a single novel with a self-contained narrative?)

Then came Martin...

Everyone kept telling me I needed to read this Game of Thrones series. I don't want to, I told them. No, no, they said, it's so good. It's fantasy for adults! It's character driven! It's exciting, well-plotted and it's only supposed to be like three books and two of them are out already!

I thought about it...Well, fantasy for adults, huh? Only three books? And I do like Martin. His Wild Cards series was pretty cool and Beauty & The Beast was one of my favorite television shows. Why the hell not?

They were right.

There's a lot to like in the first three books. Good writing. Engaging characters. Strong women. Lots of schemes and machinations instead of a single big, epic quest to drop some item in some cave/chasm/volcano. Multiple view points connected to a larger, single plot arc that left you excited to see how everything would come crashing together. War protrayed as hellish and terrible without any of the whitewash most fantasy writers give it. And, thank god, none of that annoying info dumping: Yes, I know you really want to see our intrepid heroes reach the Castle of Nevermore, but instead I will give you 50 pages of landscape descriptions and 75 pages of history lessons on the line of Tramaldian Kings...

I was excited reading those books. I was! This was a genre I used to love and here was someone doing it right. It doesn't get any better than that.

Until Martin started doing what every other fantasy writer does...

Book I came out in 1996. Book II came out in 1998. Book III came out in 2000. A two year gap between books is a little longer than I'd like, but still not too annoying. Besides, there's only supposed to be three books--scratch that--now it's seven books. Because you know, the story just can't be told in three, and so Book IV comes after a five year wait.

I remember thinking, Are you serious? Five years? There are people who could write ten novels in five years...Well, maybe it's just a really badass and complex book? You know, it'll be where the shit hits the fan and just so fucking awesome you won't care you waited five years and had to re-read the previous books to remember who's who in the constantly growing number of POV characters.

Nope.

With Book IV, Martin shifts to a different part of the world and spends most of the book focusing on a whole new series of POV characters. Even after five years you'll still have to wait to see what happens to all the people you've grown attached to over the course of the series...and you'll have to wait for anything to really, you know, actually happen.

I tried to tell myself that, well, five years between books will mean the next one should come pretty quick and we'll get back to the people we know and we'll get some plot events that will move things forward.

Nope.

At least not so far.

Instead: six years between books four and five have gotten me a travelogue, info dumping, description after description of food, at least one POV chapter from a character I don't remember anything about, and lots of inner thoughts with very little dialogue or action. Oh, and pissing. Let's not forget the pissing. There are lots and lots of descriptions of people pissing. It seems like when people aren't eating, they're pissing, which is just the icing on the cake, isn't it? A six year wait for multiple paragraphs of people pissing.

Woot!

You know, watching the first season of the HBO adaptation I was wondering how they were going to adapt the later novels in the series, the 800 pagers. Returning to Westeros and reading the new book answered my question--easily. I mean, what's four actual plot points in a 12 episode season? Plus, it's HBO, so maybe if we're lucky we'll get to see all that pissing.

October 7, 2011

The Cool Dead

Back in September, I mentioned Warren Miller's 1959 novel, The Cool World. It's long out of print, but my university library dug their 1st Edition copy from the vaults. I got it a couple weeks ago and it's a surprisingly beautiful copy: light-blue hardback, title written in hep-cool-kat font, spine's sharp and switchblade straight.

Been considering writing an essay connecting Miller's The Cool World with Shane Steven's Go Down Dead. Both novels share a similiar premise and structure. Both novels are written by white authors about the "black experience" in Harlem. But more importantly to me, each book is social commentary hidden in crime fiction's bloody clothing.


Still from 1964 film version. Never released on DVD.
 Nearly finished with Cool and it hasn't disappointed. It's an engaging book with excellent pacing. Miller manages to switch between plot-chapter and memory-chapter without bogging the narrative. He's an excellent prose stylist. Writing Cool from the point of view of a young and poorly education gang member, he crafts a language that feels "real" and "street" and "urban," but still approachable and understandable and shockingly poetic.

If Cool trumps Dead, it's the prose...

I've already filed a request for another novel by Miller: The Siege of Harlem.




October 6, 2011

Especially From Me.

I've been quiet lately.

It's due to a lot of things: work has been one stressful thing after another, issues with Maria's sighted eye continue, and a few short days ago it was my birthday. I try not to do anything on my birthday.

One of the biggest reasons for going dark and the radio silence is I've been working on finishing up a project. (No, it's not the Shane Stevens book--though I have made a find recently that, assuming all the pieces fall into line, should prove to be quite the spotlight on our secretive author.) I haven't discussed the project yet and I'm still not quite ready for it. I want to get just a little bit closer to completion before the big reveal.

I will say, it's something you probably didn't see coming.

Especially from me.


October 1, 2011

My Dark Pages

Over at Dead End Follies, you can check out My Dark Pages where I talk about discovering Andrew Vachss and Shane Stevens.

Big thanks to Benoit for having me.











September 27, 2011

September Updates



The first issue of Pulp Modern is now available. I've very excited about this. Everything I've seen Alec Cizak attach his name to has been nothing less than stunning. Plus, my friend Brian Roe contributed the interior artwork.

Waste no time and ORDER NOW!
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
_______________
 
Patti Abbott is hosting another flash fiction challenge. For details and to throw your hat in the ring, head over to her blog. If you've never participated in one of her challenges or even just taken the time to read the entries, you're missing out. Her prompts and challenges have coaxed some of the best fiction I've ever read online from a such a disparate group of writers.
 
If that's not enough to convince you, for every entry Patti will donate $5 to  Union Settlement
 
_______________
 

September 17, 2011

Preparing


It's early here. I'm drinking coffee and going over my notes for my phone conversation with Barnaby Conrad. Hopefully, he remembers Shane Stevens and can shine some more insight on the most secretive man in crime fiction.

I'm not holding my breath, however.

Sometimes, inspite of everything I've found, I feel like I'm on a fool's quest.

September 10, 2011

Shane Stevens' The Warriors...?

I'm still working on my Shane Stevens piece...though I guess I should call it a book now. I dug up some more letters and found a couple more people who actually knew him. Also happened to come across a few interesting tidbits about things he wrote that never went anywhere. One of them, I thought I would actually share:

It appears that long before the project went to Walter Hill, Shane Stevens was hired to adapt Sol Yurick's The Warriors into a screenplay. Yurick's novel was written in 1965. Hill's film version was released in 1979. But Hollywood was trying to make a film version as far back as 1969.

From The Movie Call Sheet column of The Los Angeles Times, April 25, 1969:



American International has signed Shane Stevens to work on the screenplay of "The Warriors," based on the book by Sol Yurick. Robert Fresco and Denis Sanders will produce with Sanders scheduled to direct.


How different would the movie have been with a screenplay by Shane Stevens and direction by Denis Sanders?

September 9, 2011

Warren Miller's The Cool World

I've been reading a number of historical pieces of criticism on white authors who wrote about "black" characters and the "black experience." Warren Miller's name appears frequently, usually mentioned in the same line as Shane Stevens.

I'm unfamiliar with Miller's name or his work. Google has turned up little and his Wikipedia entry, like Stevens', is fascinating in its brevity:

Warren Miller (1921–1966) was an American writer. Although he gained some notoriety for his books dealing with issues of race, as in The Cool World and The Siege of Harlem, and for his more political books such as Looking for The General and Flush Times, because of his early death due to lung cancer and his outspoken political views he has remained relatively unknown.

 
From what I can tell, everything of Miller's is out of print. I've put in requests at our university library and they're pulling 1st edition copies of The Cool World and The Siege of Harlem for me to read. In the meantime, is there anyone out there who's familiar with Miller and his work? Or is he as forgotten and mysterious as Shane Stevens?


September 3, 2011

Crime Factory: The First Shift Available For Pre-Order


I'm in a print anthology with a lot of other badass writers. It's official release isn't until later this month, but Crime Factory: The First Shift is available for pre-order from both Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Neither of the entries includes a list of contributors yet, but I can assure you that you won't be disappointed.



I'm not going to bash Amazon, because I order things from there, but if you're feeling really motivated and want to be helpful you could even go into your local bookstore and order a copy. It's far more beneficial than you can imagine. Or you could go to your local library's webpage and fill out an order request.


Whatever you decide to do, I hope you check it out.

August 30, 2011

Closed on Account of the Plague

Probably won't hear much from me anywhere this week. This is the start of classes at the university and, typically, one of our busiest times of year. To complicate things even more, I currently have what I'm hoping is just a summer cold.

I usually don't get sick. I really don't. Despite presisting with smoking cigarettes, I stay in decent health and keep in good shape. The problem is: when I do get sick, it knocks me on my ass.

I'm hoping to kick this thing before the weekend, but, either way, don't think I'm going to be communicating very much the rest of the week. There are a couple of people that I owe e-mails. I haven't forgotten you, honestly.

August 26, 2011

Fright Night

Last Saturday, we went to see Fright Night.

Normally I try to avoid remakes, especially if I like the original but the trailer sold me on giving this one a chance. The new version actually looked promising, like an interesting remake that didn’t seem hell-bent on murdering another pleasant memory from my youth.

Okay, well, that’s not entirely true. It was the trailer…and David Tennant. I’m a huge Doctor Who fan. Tennant is easily my favorite Doctor of the current run. Besides being my favorite Doctor, he’s one of Maria’s biggest crushes. So it was win-win.

I was surprised how much the new film retains the premise of the original. Briefly:

Charley Brewster, a high school kid, watches his neighbor out the window. Brewster learns the neighbor is a vampire responsible for a recent rash of disappearances. No one believes Brewster so he tries to enlist the aid of someone he thinks knows about vampires and can help his battle against the undead. Complications ensue when the vampire catches on to Brewster’s meddling and we build toward a horrific confrontation.

Both then and now, it’s basically a retooling of Rear Window. Unlike Distubria, it’s a clever one. The original Fright Night was funny with bits of straight-up humor and some wonderful moments of dark comedy. The comedic bits were nicely balanced against some spooky and genuinely tense moments with special effects that still hold up pretty okay. If there is a problem at all with the original film, it’s the horribly dated clothes and hair.

The important thing about the original Fright Night is that it came along in the middle of the first slasher/gore porn boom and offered a more fulfilling alternative to hockey masks and jiggling breasts hacked off by meat cleavers. Watching the film, it was clear that this was a movie that understood the horror genre in all its permutations. Fright Night knew succinctly what it was trying to do with its nods and allusions and, truthfully, it’s role as a throwback film focusing more on tension than chainsaws.

In the original, Peter Vincent was once the star of a number of Hammer style films, playing a fearless vampire hunter a la Peter Cushing. Now he’s the host of a late night horror show called Fright Night. (I believe a nod to Larry Vincent and his horror program produced by KTLA). His ratings have dropped and he’s about to be fired. No one wants him or his style of film anymore.

Or so he’s been told.

Through the course of the film, Vincent learns he still has a purpose. In a way, his character is a reflection of the movie itself, representing a level of self awareness that I believe contributed to the film's success.

Well, the horror film has come full circle again. This new version of Fright Night arrives in the midst of another torture porn explosion and, like the original, offers a successful and fulfilling alternative.

This new version of Fright Night is fast paced. Thanks to a very smart script by Marti Noxon (Buffy, Prison Break, Point Pleasant, Mad Men, Gray’s Anatomy) we start in right away with no wasted movements. Characters are introduced, we learn the neighbor is a vampire and we’re off for 120 minutes that doesn’t feel like anywhere near 2 hours.

Sure, lots of films have good pacing. However, a couple things really impressed me about Fright Night and its pacing. First, character is not sacrificed. Noxon manages to keep things rolling, but doesn't turn everyone in to cardboard cutouts. These people have personalities and identities. They’re not just there to move through the action sequences and offer a one-liner now and then. Noxon understands that part of fright, a genuine sense of terror and fear for a character, can only come through knowing and caring about that character. Sure, bits and pieces feel a little teenyboppery (Charley and Amy and Evil Ed’s relationship) and there's a later unnecessary explanation for Vincent's vampire knowledge that never really goes anywhere, but it all works. When everything is said and done, I know far more about these characters, all of them—even the vampire, than their counterparts in the original.

Not only does the film keep a quick pace without sacrificing character, but it retains the same beats and a lot of the same scenes and nuances of the original despite being a much "faster" film. You’ll love all these scenes and nods when you see them. This isn’t a mindless reshoot like Gus Van Sant’s pointless Psycho remake. The scenes are there out of respect for the material and the fans, but are tweaked to good effect.

I think a good example is the club scene.

Near the climax in the original film, the vampire is chasing Charley and his girlfriend through town. They take shelter in a dance club thinking the crowd will offer them safety.

It doesn’t.

Jerry follows. He hunts and seduces Charley’s girlfriend in the smoky, throbbing interior.

The scene is meant to be tense and a little sexy, but I always found it jarring and a little silly. The club is unexpected and out of place. The town you’ve seen up to that point in the original film doesn’t seem like it would have a dance club at all, let alone a huge, happening hot-spot.

This same scene is far more successful in the new film. Their arrival in the club is more natural and makes sense as a progression of the scene before it. It’s still not quite sexy, but it’s tense and it’s as clever as the rest of the changes and the updates.

The action in this modern version moves the story from an undisclosed suburb to Las Vegas (the original novelization by horror team Skipp & Spector names the town as Rancho Corvallis). Whether conscious or not, the move to Sin City is a nice nod to The Nightstalker. It also allows for a wonderful twist on Charley’s neighborhood. Our protagonist now lives in one of those tract housing subdivisions that Malvina Reynolds sang about. It’s modern and it’s anonymous.

It’s also unfinished and literally in the middle of the desert with nothing else around.

Anonymity and seclusion are horror’s chocolate and peanut butter.

Peter Vincent has gotten a tweak too. He’s no longer a former B-movie actor reduced to hosting a show on the local public access channel—which is for the best. I doubt if a younger audience would even know what he was supposed to be. Instead Vincent is now a big-name Las Vegas illusionist whose stage show features his “mock” battles against “vampires.” This Vincent is one part Criss Angel (tattoos and leather pants) and one part David Copperfield (a massive collection of occult/mystical artifacts). And it works.

Thanks to David Tennant. He just shines in the film. He’s everything he needs to be when he needs to be it: over the top, a little cheesy, drunk and vulgar, sad, cowardly and then brave.

I’ve never been a huge Colin Farrell fan, but he handles his role as the vampire neighbor well. He manages to walk a nice line between sexy and sleazy. His Jerry Dandridge is that douchebag you know in real life and you hate because every woman falls for his bullshit, time and time again. Farrell does give his douchebag an chilling undercurrent of menace.

Anton Yelchin is good as Charley. He’s likeable and relatable.He manages to play the geek and the popular kid believably. When Charley has no choice but to face the monster next door, he plays it with a nice sense of determine resignation.

The lovely Sandra Vergara plays Vincent’s assistant/girlfriend Ginger and she’s a dream. Her and Tennant have great chemistry together. Their scenes were some of the funniest of the entire picture.

Christopher Mintz-Plasse is this new film’s Evil Ed. I have to admit I was a little disappointed in transforming Evil Ed from socially awkward kid who likes weird shit to…well, the same role that Mintz-Plasse will be playing for the rest of his life—McLovin. He is funny, though.

The main women characters don’t have much to work with. Toni Collette stars as Charley’s mom and she’s there mostly for exposition and to stress the broad appeal of Jerry’s sexiness. The unfortunately named Imogen Poots is passable as Amy. Any young actress between 16 and 22 could have played that part and it wouldn’t have mattered—which may be purposeful. There’s a subtext to this film, that’s all about pussy: what a man will do for it and how he will protect it...and even find it scary.

Really, however those are all just minor quips though. This new version of Fright Night was excellent. Easily the best horror film I’ve seen in a long time.


August 16, 2011

Shane Stevens Update


Work continues on my Shane Stevens biographical investigation. It's currently at 40+ k and includes twenty photographs. I've recently come across some new sources of information that I've been looking into. I know a few people, some fellow Shane Stevens fans, are a little frustrated by the delay. I can, however, assure you no one wants to see this finished and circulating more than I do.

Shane wrapped himself in a lot of shadows and I'm still learning to see in the dark.

August 13, 2011

Riddick

A transport ship crashes on a distant planet after being struck by debris from a comet’s tail. Most of the people onboard die. Only one crewman survives, a woman named Carolyn Fry who panics during the landing and almost kills everyone. A few passengers crawl out of the wreckage: a runaway, a holy man and his charges, an antiquities dealer, and two settlers.

Then there’s the bounty hunter. A man named Johns, a merc with a drug habit he feeds by shooting spikes of morphine into his eyeballs.

Most of the cargo is destroyed. However, the most important cargo? The most valuable and dangerous piece is missing.

Riddick.

Riddick is Johns’ prisoner. He’s an escaped convict, a murderer with a large bounty on his head. Johns tells the survivors that Riddick is a human predator who can see in the dark and he’s capable of anything. Like skull-fucking you in your sleep.

Luckily, Johns recaptures Riddick before anyone needs a nap.

While Johns is tracking Riddick, the others survey the ship and realize it’s mostly beyond salvaging. They know then that if anyone is going to get off this desolate planet, they need to find some outpost of civilization. For that, they all need to work together.

All of them—even Riddick.

After trekking across the barren landscape and through a massive bone-yard of some now extinct species, the group finds a geological research outpost abandoned to the harsh glare of the planet’s three suns. There’s water there and even a ship. The ship is in good shape. It’s missing fuel cells, but those can be taken from their own transport. It seems like a boon, a godsend.

But still, there are no people. None.

The group investigates further and makes a chilling discovery: there’s a life-form living below ground, at home in the dark and hungry for human flesh.

It seems simple enough to avoid them on a planet with three suns. Too bad there’s a solar eclipse coming....

Last night we watched Pitch Black again. I hadn’t seen the film in a long time and had forgotten how much I loved it. It’s such a great movie--a gritty sci-fi flick, a cool horror-thriller with elements of crime fiction and it does everything so well.

It establishes a dark mood and feel in frame one with Vin Diesel’s opening voice-over, “They say most of your brain shuts down in cryosleep. All but the primitive side... the animal side. No wonder I'm still awake.” It’s shot beautifully and simply with different light filters and uses only a minimum of computer effects. The cast is great with Vin Diesel, Cole Hauser, Radha Mitchell, the lovely Claudia Black, and Keith David. There are nonstop bits of quotable dialogue and it’s incredibly tense and suspenseful and scary without going the cheap buckets of gore route.

It’s a shame the sequel is so awful.

I remember being excited when I first heard they were making a sequel to Pitch Black. The world created in the first film is a dark and dirty future of cramped, poorly lit ships and massive dark prisons. It’s a Blade Runner future, an Alien future, an Escape From New York future. A human-centric universe with all those human centric problems that people want desperately to escape from, signing up to be settlers on distant and hardscrabble worlds but none of them have money so they travel the lonely ghostlanes.

Riddick is a character from crime fiction. He’s a very human monster. Abandoned at birth and tossed in a dumpster, you know he grew up hard and growing up hard removed him from any connection to the human race. He exists apart and not among.

The first film establishes this. It establishes this through dialogue:

“And then you get sent to a prison where they tell you you'll never see daylight again. So you dig up a doctor, pay him twenty menthol Kools to do a surgical shine job on your eyes …”

“You think someone could spend half their life in a slam with a horse bit in their mouth and not believe? You think he could start out in some … liquor store trash bin with an umbilical cord wrapped around his neck and not believe in God? You got it all wrong, holy man. I absolutely believe in God … and I absolutely hate the fucker”

Johns: Doctors decide who lives and dies on the battlefield. It's called Triage.
Riddick: Kept calling it murder when I did it.

The only survivor Riddick doesn’t fuck with is “Jack.” Everyone else he talks shit to. Everyone else he intimidates. But not Jack.

You see, Jack is a runaway. A girl pretending to be a boy. (I think you can read between the lines here and see Jack's life, can't you?). And only Riddick knows it straight off. This creates a connection--Riddick sees himself. Sees another abandoned one.

But that doesn’t automatically bring a full, human connection. Near the end of the film Riddick is fully prepared to abandon the survivors to the planet of monsters. It’s only when Fry says she’ll die for them that he agrees to go back and help.

Riddick goes back not because his heart grew three sizes that day, but because he’s intrigued. He’s never seen this before. What he’s experienced of humanity is not this.  It’s not selfless. It’s not caring. It’s not love. It’s just you and your own survival.

He wants to know, I think, how this is going to play out.

I dug the film and I had these visions of what the sequel would be like. I do that with things that speak to me, with things I like. I imagine being a part of this created world and what I would do with it, how I would contribute...

Their ship lands in some planet-wide megaopolis. A massive, futuristic urban hell. Riddick abandons the girl named Jack, leaving her in the care of hoodoo holy man. He thinks that maybe this way, she won’t have to become like him.

Jump forward a few years. Riddick lives in the alleways and the tunnels and trash-strewn streets lit with neon and slick with blood. The girl Jack comes to find him. She needs his help. He agrees, because he’s intrigued. Maybe she helps save his life from some bounty hunters and he goes with her because he owes her a debt?

Jack takes him to a group of other cast-offs, a hidden undercity of forgotten people, the abandoned people--people like Riddick that no one wanted, not even their mothers. This group is in danger.
Complications ensue...
Finally, Riddick agrees to help them because he realizes he’s found his tribe. His people. His family of choice.

With the sequel I thought I’d get Andrew Vachss in space with a little bit of Hollywood badass thrown-in. Instead, I got Conan in space with a whole lot of lazy and generic fantasy trappings.

I remember being confused at first--This is the sequel to Pitch Black, right?

Yeah.

Then why is it generic fantasy in a shitty space-opera wrapper? Why are their generic fantasy names like Necromongers? Why are there Elementals and weird super alien powers? Why is Riddick suddenly the last Cimmerian Furyian destined to be a king?

Why is the only decent bit of dialogue, “Did you know you grind your teeth in your sleep... sexy.”?

And why is the rest awful fantasy dialogue that you'd expect from a Syfy Pictures Original:

“Consider this: if you fall here, now, you will never rise. But if you choose another way, the Necromonger way, you will die in due time, and rise again in the Underverse.”

“He's not a man. He's the Holy Half-Dead who has seen the Underverse and returned with powers you can't imagine.”

Did I miss something? Did we all watch the same movie?

Yeah.

These are the same guys doing this film, right? I mean, the people behind the first one. It's not the guys responsible for Highlander II: The Shitting The Quickening, is it?

Yeah, same guys. No, not the Highlander II guys.

Damn!

Well, I remember telling myself, at least I have the first film. 


The first film and my imagination.

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