Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Gene Autry Celebrated in Large and Small Towns Alike

Gene Autry's legend lives on, and not just at his museum in Los Angeles. Several festivals and celebrations are held throughout the country during the year. In one town, Gene Autry, Oklahoma, there is a festival in September. Autry bought a ranch there in 1941, when the town was named Berwyn, and the town promptly changed its name to honor its newest and most famous resident. They kept the name even after Autry moved out after World War II broke out and sold the ranch.

Here's a link to a great article in the L.A. Times today about these festivals. Worth looking into.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

My Town Monday - San Pedro

San Pedro is a community at the end of the 110 Freeway in Los Angeles. It is technically part of the City of Los Angeles, but don't ever tell anyone in town that you live in Los Angeles instead of San Pedro. If you do, it's almost a guarantee that you will have a fight on your hands.
It's been six months now since I moved out of San Pedro. And for the first time since I left, I think I can put down into words some of my thoughts on living there. My life there full of turmoil and worry, unemployment and an unsellable house, but also new friendships made, a great romance that came and went, the publication of my grandfather's book and my writings, and some other pretty amazing times. I'm still now trying to sort it all out. My time in San Pedro was a case study in extremes, not unlike the town itself.
It's a tough town, built on the backs of fishermen and longshoremen, many of whom were Italians, Greeks, Slavs and Croatians who settled during the early part of the 20th century. Now, the area east of Gaffey Street is run down, full of houses that have been reduced to crack houses. There are some exquisite Victorians in that area, but you'd never catch me living in one of those. People wander around east of Gaffey Street that you dare not ask for directions. When I took some of these photos, it was an early morning and there was barely a person around, but I took them with my heart in my throat. I had heard too many stories.

Yet, I have never, ever, lived in such a friendly town as San Pedro, where everyone talks to everyone else. I've always said that when you meet a stranger on the street in San Pedro and say hello, you will know that person's life story before you exchange good-byes. When I first starting looking for a house to buy in San Pedro, I was struck by how few houses were available. My friend told me that this was because when people move to San Pedro, they never leave. He was right. Many families in San Pedro are now in the third generation growing up there.

When you drive into San Pedro, you are greeted by an ugly concrete bridge with the words "Welcome to San Pedro" painted in large yellow block type. You turn left and you're on Gaffey Street, full of fast food chain restaurants and motels and closed up storefronts. Keep driving. You continue down Gaffey Street and approach MacArthur Park, you hit a crest in the road and there, in unfathomable beauty, will be the Pacific Ocean, and Catalina a mere 26 miles away. If you keep driving, you will literally drive straight into the ocean. Get out and walk around Point Fermin Park on the cliffs, with the lighthouse that has been used in countless movies and television shows. Don't get too close to the cliffs, because people jump and fall off, on purpose and accidentally, on a regular basis.

Getting back to not saying you live in Los Angeles: the animosity towards the City of Angels bureaucracy goes back decades for various reasons. One reason is the Port of Los Angeles, built in the harbor in the early 20th century, that provides the bread and butter for many of the families in town. Yet that comes with a price - air pollution from the diesel trucks accounts for one of the highest particulate matter concentrations in the country. And because the Port and the City of Los Angeles are so closely tied together, there is pretty much no hope that the little town could ever declare its independence and become its own incorporated town like the towns nearby like Torrance and Hawthorne and Gardena, who have police that actually respond to calls and clean streets and libraries with books.

There are more halfway houses and rehabilitations centers in the San Pedro area than in any other place in the city. That stems from a long honored tradition of the city "dumping" its problems on the little town by the sea. At the same time, there is still a culture of drinking so there are plenty of cocktail lounges for those who want to slip out of their rehab rooms in the middle of the night for a quick one. I always thought that my main worry about my safety in town wasn't the high number of gang members - it was getting hit by a drunk driver while driving through town late at night. One night a few years ago in San Pedro, a policeman was investigating a serious accident - one caused by a drunk driver - when another drunk driver plowed into the patrol car.

I don't miss the gang bangers living in the duplex two doors down. I don't miss hearing an automatic weapon being fired at 5 in the morning at the corner - the first and last time I hope I ever have to get on the floor in my own house to avoid being shot. I don't miss not being able to park my car out front of my house, because the city in its infinite wisdom allowed apartment buildings to be built all over the hill without thinking of the parking ramifications. (But then, you don't want to park in front of my house anyway, because twice drunk drivers have careened down the hill and sideswiped other cars - always leaving the scene of course.) I don't miss having to drive all the way to Torrance to eat at a decent restaurant or shop for clothes because there are no such places in Pedro. (Oh, and by the way, it's pronounced Peedro, not Paydro. Just some advice to keep you safe when you visit.)

But I do miss my neighbors and feeling like I truly live in a small town. I miss the local businesses like the Sandwich Saloon, and the Waffle and Omelet Place where people lined up on Sunday mornings, and the Croatian bakery and the Italian deli. I miss talking to my neighbor Jerry who owns the book store downtown (the oldest book store in Los Angeles, by the way, 100 years old and still going). I miss my neighbors and worry about my good friend Timna who lives across the street and can't work due to disabilities. I miss the cool ocean breezes and hearing the cruise ships horns blowing on Sunday afternoons, telling passengers that it's time to embark. I could smell the ocean from my house and if you walked out into the middle of the street, you can see the ocean - full of cranes in the Port, but still. The Ocean.

I live in a much more sedate area now north of Long Beach called Lakewood, a planned community built in the 1950s for those who worked for the aerospace industry plants nearby. Trees are planted outside of each house and there are parks everywhere. There are so many restaurants and shopping centers that it will take me 5 years to get inside all of them. But I didn't move here out of choice. It was because real estate in San Pedro, like the rest of the city of L.A., is still unrealistically high and rental prices are the same.

Will I ever move back? That's a good question. There are days when I don't think I could handle the noise, the density, the overall craziness. But then I pass someone in my new town on the street and they walk by, head down, without saying good morning, and a little part of me misses San Pedro so much it hurts.

This post of part of the My Town Monday meme. For more information, go to Travis Erwin's blog. Travis is looking for someone to take over the management of the My Town Monday tradition. Please contact him through his blog it if you are interested.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

New Info on the Blood N Thunder Mag

I know that everyone is still reeling from the death of two icons today, Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson, but I wanted to post this information because, judging from the stats I've been getting today on my earlier post, there seems to be a lot of interest in the Blood N Thunder magazine. Here's some new info.

Ed Hulse, editor of Blood N Thunder , sent the following email this afternoon about a ongoing sale on eBay of the current issue. He also gives us a glimpse into what's going to be in the next issue.

"Thanks so much, Laurie, for your kind words about BnT. For those of you who still haven't tried BLOOD 'N' THUNDER, I'm running on eBay a three-day special -- buy the zine now and get free shipping.(Domestic buyers only, unfortunately.) The sale ends Sunday afternoon.

Here's the link: http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=270415519806

The new BnT (Summer issue) is being laid out shortly in the hope that I'll have finished copies back in time for debut at PulpFest next month. It'll include a lengthy, comprehensive survey of THE POPULAR MAGAZINE by yours truly, an overview of pulp-like French fiction of the late 19th and early 20th century, a Will Murray article on Arthur J. Burks, a "Tricks of the Trade" writer's-mag reprint focusing on A. A. Wyn's TEN DETECTIVE ACES, a lengthy article on the 1928 movie serial TARZAN THE MIGHTY and the behind-the-scenes wrangling that predated its production, a report on the recent Windy City con, pulp reviews by Duane Spurlock and Mark Trost, and more.

It's another profusely illustrated, 100-page-plus package of goodies, perfect bound between laminated color covers. Although there are innumerable pulp reprints and collections of newly written stories in the classic pulp style, I think Caz and I are the only two fans regularly publishing article-driven fanzines that cater to pulp fans. I could be wrong about that, though; if so, apologies to the other publishers."

And just one more reminder from me - and this will be the last post today - that Pulp Fest is coming up very soon - July 31 - August 2 in Columbus Ohio. The convention is being held at the Ramada Plaza Hotel and Convention Center and the hotel is offering a special rate of $79 per night for those attending Pulp Fest. There will be three days jammed with the top pulp collections in the country selling inventory, and in addition some very interesting programming is on the schedule. Otto Penzler, editor of the beautiful and much praised Black Lizard Big Book of Pulps, will be interviewed on Saturday night by none other than Ed Hulse.

Farrah Fawcett 1947-2009

I never was that impressed with Farrah when she was a Charlie's Angel. In fact, I was always slightly irritated with her because her poster was in my ex-husband's room when we were first dating. From then on, she represented an ideal that I could never aspire to.

Then I saw Extremities and later on television The Burning Bed. And I began to admire her - not for her acting skill, but her bravery in taking on risk-taking roles and her determination to push the stereotypes out of the way. I was more than irritated when I read her obit in the New York Times today that kept mentioning that, as far as they were concerned, she was unsuccessful in overcoming the sex symbol stereotype. Excuse me. The aforesaid movies, along with her other roles, like in The Apostle, helped earn her a reputation as a serious and talented actress.

The documentary that she made in the last years of her life was another testimony of her character. I could barely watch the scene in which she sat with her doctors as they told her there was no hope. She managed to hold it together, but the devastation in the room was more than evident.

She took risks. She never gave up. And for that I will always view her as a success.

The New Look of Blood N Thunder Magazine

A few weeks ago I received my copy of Blood 'N' Thunder magazine, and I was stunned by its new look. Whereas before the quarterly was running 36 pages and then most recently at 28 pages, it now comes in at 106. You read that right. It's also got a new cover design. It also runs three times a year now instead of four. And it's cover price has almost doubled: from $6 to $11.95. But, believe me, the increase in price is worth it.

For those of you not familiar with Blood 'N' Thunder, this is a magazine devoted to the pulp fiction magazine with articles for those interested in either collecting the mags or scholarly research or both (I have a feeling most of us readers into both categories). I think it's safe to say that it's one of the very few periodicals out there devoted to the pulps on a regular basis. The quality and regular appearance of fanzines can be spotty and many suffer from lack of vision and a dedicated staff to keep them going. Not this one.

Editor Ed Hulse explains in the Editorial Comments that the new and expanded Blood 'N' Thunder was a long time coming. The magazine had not been economicaly viable in the past few years, and the page count had even been reduced from 36 to 32 and then to 28 pages. Then, the current recession almost pushed the magazine over a cliff and Hulse admits that the staff was close to letting go of their grip and letting it fall. But instead, they decided instead to change strategies. The old printer - who had always been cooperative but couldn't help the magazine save any more costs - was let go and the mag switched to a Print On Demand printer. The number of issues was cut down to three a year instead of four, and the number of pages increased. Brilliant. Like I've always said, economic recessions can be the perfect time for change and rejuvination.

And, as usual, the articles don't fail to interest and educate me. I have a hard time picking up any magazine nowadays and actually reading it due to my lack of time - I'd rather spend my time reading books. But when you've got articles on the Gangster Pulps of the Prohibition Era, a comprehensive history on a Walt Coburn story that ended up as the B-movie Western The Return of Wild Bill, a Tricks of the Trade regular column that reprints some of the old how-to-write pulps articles for pulp writers, and a portfolio of Norman Saunders, on of the great pulp cover artists, written by his son David...well, you get the idea.

Thumbs up to Chris Kalb, Art Director, for the design and professional appearance of the mag. Not that it didn't look good before, but it looks great now.

Hulse is also the author of the Blood N Thunder Guide to Collecting Pulps, which I wrote about several months ago. Another must if you're interested in collecting pulps or just expanding your knowledge.

If you're interested in picking up an issue of Blood N Thunder for $11.95, or an annual subscription that runs $30, contact Ed Hulse at bnteditor@yahoo.com. They accept PayPal, by the way. There is a shipping charge if you order individual issues of $2.50 for domestic addresses (probably a bit more for international).

I'll be seeing Ed at Pulp Fest at the end of next month (July 31-Aug 2 in Columbus, Ohio), and I look forward to meeting him and getting the summer issue of Blood N Thunder.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Book Review: The Tarnished Star

The Tarnished Star, by Jack Martin. Robert Hale, London. 2009.

Black Horse Westerns are not well known in the United States, but it’s strictly a geographic problem. These small, lean hardbacks are the house imprint of Hale Publishing of London and are mostly available only in the United Kingdom. Eventually they are seen in the U.S., but the distribution is still very limited. This is a shame, because the BHW gang, of which I am affiliated with through their online group, are a fine group of very talented writers.

Which brings me to the book The Tarnished Star, written by Gary Dobbs under the pseudonym Jack Martin. Dobbs is no stranger to fiction writing, having already published several short stories in online forums such as Beat to a Pulp and print periodicals , which has earned him a reputation as a fine writer.

The plot is a simple, classic Western one: Sherriff Cole Masters is at odds with a rancher and his worthless son who is accused of murdering a prostitute. Masters is pushed into circumstances in which he ends up not the lawman in pursuit, but the criminal being pursued.

The Tarnished Star will not disappoint those who want a quick read that is lean, suspenseful and is true to the standard Western conventions. All of these qualities total up to a solid Western that is appealing and suitable for anyone’s taste.

But that doesn’t mean that it’s a run-of-the-mill yarn for one important reason: Dobbs’ skill as a writer. For those who like to read the works of new and talented writers, this is the book for you.

Dobbs’ experience as a noir thriller writer is of benefit in The Tarnished Star. He writing has almost a minimalist quality, resulting in a style that is spare and yet nuanced. Dobbs wisely keeps his storyline within a time frame of only a few days and fills his scenes with finely detailed scenes, rich characters and believable dialogue – the latter being one of the hardest skills for a writer of Westerns to master. The result is a book that you can get lost in with scenes filled with strong tension. One feels as if time has stopped, and I could not help but think of the movie High Noon throughout the story.

It’s been a long time since I’ve read a Western that I couldn’t put down – come to think of it, I think the last time was when reading another Black Horse Western, Winter’s War by Matthew Mayo, and a few short stories like A Man Called Horse. The Tarnished Star is now on that list.

I could have used more physical description of the characters, but it’s a minor complaint when considering the entire book and how well it came out. One can only hope that more Cole Masters stories will appear in the BHW line and, more importantly, that Dobbs keeps writing.

The Tarnished Star can be purchased through Amazon.com, Amazon.com.uk, and The Book Depository. (The latter does not charge for shipping to any destination in the world.)

For more information on Gary Dobbs, you can go to his blog, The Tainted Archive.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Memoir Writing: Creative License Doesn't Always Apply

Happy Father's Day to all you dads out there, and to those of you who are lucky enough to still have your dads around.

More to follow later today, including Sunday in the Garden, Week Two, and also a review of The Tarnished Star, just released and currently one of the best-selling Westerns in the United Kingdom.

In the meantime, there is a very interesting article in the L.A. Times this morning on memoir writing and the perilous nature of writing about other people in our lives without their knowledge, and the ethics of this practice and whether it is invading their privacy.

When I was writing the prologue and epilogue for Pulp Writer, I struggled with this quite a bit. As it was, because I love my family and want to remain friends with them, I chose to be very careful as to what I disclosed about them and their histories. We are talking about other human beings here, who will have to live with what is said about them in print for the rest of their lives. In the end, I included only those facts that they knew were going in and with their permission. It made for a bland memoir in some respects. But now, at the end of the day, I can sleep at night.

But, with that said, I'm always tempted to pen certain passages for my next memoir about certain very interesting friends and neighbors that would make them delightful additions to any memoir. I have one girlfriend who has certain characteristics and idiosyncracies that would make her an unforgettable addition to anybody's book. Would I betray her by writing about her in a book? No way. But if she gave me permission? You bet.

I went to a book signing a few months ago at which a writer was presenting his memoir of buying a fixer-upper home in Tuscany (no, not that book) and his trials and tribulations with his neighbors, a relationship that eventually became more cordial. But I got the impression that he patronizes them in his book. In addition, he presented a video as part of this presentation in which he shows clips of his neighbors. I was shocked to learn that not only did he not ask their permission to include them in the video, he did not let them know of their role in his book. "We did not print the book in Italian," he said with a smirk. I left the presentation shortly after that. It just hit me wrong.

If that means that I'll never write any tell-alls, I guess I'll be okay with that.
Maybe I'll have to switch to novels.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Larry Lowery, Big Little Book Expert, to be Interviewed

Any of you who have been involved in the collection and/or study of Big Little Books, Little Big Books, and similar books from the 1930s have probably heard of Larry Lowery. Lowery is the author of Lowery's The Collector's Guide to Big Little Books and Similar Books, which was originally published in 1981. I was delighted to receive an email from Larry about a week ago saying that he had found the web site for Pulp Writer and also this companion blog. (At least five of my grandfather's stories were re-published as Little Big Books, published by the Saalfield Company, in the 1930s, including Desert Justice, a Sonny Tabor story, shown here).

Larry tells me that he has written and published a new book on Big Little Books, called The Golden Age of Big Little Books, 1932-1938. He says it is a massive book, 470 pages, with each cover reproduced in full cover and actual size.

Larry is considered an expert, if not the foremost scholar and collector of the Big Little Books. He is also the founder of the Big Little Book Club, which had around 1,300 members up until about a few years ago. The Club is made up of many people who enjoyed reading the books when they were children; sadly, many of these folks are leaving us, so club membership has been declining somewhat. Larry is also editor of of the Big Little Times, a bi-monthly newsletter.

And if that wasn't enough, Larry is also a Professor Emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley, and is an award-winning math and science teacher. He was also a Principal Investigator for several math and science programs at the Lawrence Hall of Science at Berkeley. He remains active, making presentations around the world on math and science education.

I'm very happy that Larry has agreed to be interviewed for this blog. Once he returns from being out of the country, I will be pouncing on him with a list of questions.

More information about Larry and Big Little Books, and the Big Little Book Club can be found at biglittlebooks.com.

The Old Corral - a Great B-Westerns Web Site

I just discovered this great site, The Old Corral, that is dedicated to the heroes of the old B-Westerns from the period 1929-1954. The introduction says "No A Westerns, no TV Westerns, and no spaghetti Westerns." As of May, 2009, this site has been live for 11 years. The actual URL is www.b-westerns.com - easy to remember.

This site has a long list of heroes - like Johnny Mack Brown here - in the sidebar. All you need to do is click on each name and you will get a biography and photos. It also has information on singers and musician groups, heroines and leading ladies, villains, Indians, stunt men and even a link to "The Republic Stable of Bad Guys." There are also links to many of the old stars official Web sites.

Boy, you just can't go wrong with this site. What a treasure chest. Hats off to Chuck Anderson, "The Old Corral Webmaster."

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Sunday in the Secret Garden, Week One

I have subjected many of you to the torture of not knowing when I will go off on one of my self-indulgent rants and post photos from my garden. But isn't "self-indulgent rant" part of the definition of a blog anyway? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. It can be both. And even when it is a self-indulgent rant, sometimes that can be of service to some readers who find a commonality with your subject.

With that said, I'm going to try to limit my rants to once a week on Sundays. Other days of the week will be dedicated to things that might be of interest to many of my readers, such as book reviews, news, interviews, and so forth.

So those of you who need a garden, dog, and the occasional cat fix, or if you yearn for your own secret garden, you can rest assured that you can find it here Sunday mornings along with your Sunday paper and Meet the Press.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Tarnished Star - Available Now through Amazon US

Anybody who keeps up with the Western genre lately knows that a much-anticipated novel, The Tarnished Star by Jack Martin, aka Gary Dobbs at The Tainted Archive, has been set for release the end of this month. Well, I guess Black Horse Westerns couldn't wait to get it's fastest-selling publication ever out on the market, because it's out now. It's now available in the U.S. on Amazon.com. I ordered mine several months ago through The Book Depository, a U.K. outfit (which doesn't charge for shipping from the UK) and they notified me a few days ago that it was on its way.

The first review of The Tarnished Star can be found here.

And those of you who are looking for good ways to market your book, check out The Tainted Archive and the many ways that Gary has found to publicize The Tarnished Star. It's paid off, because it was one of the best-selling Westerns in the U.K. even before publication, a few months back.

Good luck to Gary and many thanks to someone who has tirelessly championed the Western genre for the benefit of all of us.

Friday, June 12, 2009

A Little Bit of Four Play

Hey, I'll get it when I can.
I've been duly memed by Gary Dobbs at the Tainted Archive and as I love to talk about myself, I'm more than willing to respond.

Four movies you can see over and over

Dr. Strangelove
Howard's End
Bull Durham
Glen Gary Glen Ross

Four places you have lived

North Hollywood (now Valley Village)

Four favorite TV shows

The Office
The Sopranos
Hotel Inspector
30 Rock

Four places you have been on vacation

Costa Rica
Drive across the United States (and back)

Four favorite foods

John's Charbroiled Burgers, Livermore, CA
Ice cream

Four web sites you visit daily

Type Like the Wind
Medieval Woman
The Tainted Archive
Education of a Pulp Writer

Four places you would rather be

Bisbee, Arizona
Dodger Stadium (Really. It's beautiful.)

Four things you hope to do before you die

Write another book
Move to England
Gallop a horse through Monument Valley
Go to a World Series Game

Four novels you wish you were reading for the first time

Lonesome Dove
The Boys of Summer
Born Standing Up (Steve Martin)

Tag four people you wish to respond

Type Like the Wind
Lamour Project
Lisamarie's Mom
Howard Hopkins

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Review: The Rough Guide to Westerns by Paul Simpson

The Rough Guide to Westerns
Paul Simpson
Rough Guides (Penguin), 2006

You have to say this about Paul Simpson: he's brave. Or, as they used to say, "he ain't no yellow-bellied coward." In The Rough Guide to Westerns, Simpson has compiled a short, pretty much "rough" manual and history of the Western movie. This one is a little different, though, from ones that have come before.

To back-track a little, the Rough Guides is a Penguin imprint that is well known for its travel books. They have sinced branched out with books on music, popular culture, and reference guides. They have a whole line of Rough Guides to movies, including horror, gangster, sci-fi, chick flicks, american independent film (as opposed to French? Italian?) and comedy. So that's where the Rough Guide to the Westerns rides in. It's an odd-shape, square and smaller than your typical hardback or even softcover. So it's easy to carry and pack in your saddle bag if you so wish.

Simpson warns us in the Introduction: "This book exists for one simple reason: to increase your enjoyment of the Western." Meaning that this book is not meant to give you a comprehensive, basic, or even rudimentary course in the Western film. This book is for those who are itching to look at the Western through a different set of eyes.

Simpson starts with the basic chapters that begin most Western film guides: "Once Upon a Time in the West: The Origins." For this topic, he lists the following movies with a short descriptive critique: The Robin Hood of El Dorado (1936), Wagon Master 1950), Arrowhead (1953), Escape from Fort Bravo (1953) and Apache (1954).

I have to admit that I was so taken aback by these choices picked to conclude a section on "The Origin of the Western" that I had to go back and read the Introduction not once, but twice, to figure out Simpson's methodology in picking these movies. And I couldn't find an explanation.

The same goes for the second chapter, "The Trail: The History of the Western," in which he discusses each decade, ending the section with a handful of movies to watch that he thinks are good represenations for that decade. For the 1950s, in his narrative, he mentions Broken Arrow, The Gunfighter, High Noon, Shane, the seven Mann/Stewart Westerns, Man Without a Star and The Searchers. Then he lists the following movies as ones to watch to obtain a more "nuanced" view of the 1950s: Calamity Jane, Hondo, The Man From Laramie, Run of the Arrow, The Big Country, Sheriff of Fractured Jaw, Terror in a Texas Town, Ride Lonesome, and The Wonderful Country.

For the 1960s, which we all know was the decade in which the Western blinked, he lists: The Misfits (which I will not watch again due to the horrifying filmage at the end of capturing Mustangs), One-Eyed Jacks, Major Dundee, Rio Conchos, Hombre, The Professionals, 100 Rifles, and The Stranger's Gundown.

So you can see the land mines that Simpson has laid for himself with this book. Or rather, has laid for us. If you can appreciate his sense of humor and his irreverent tone, you may enjoy this book and even learn something. Or you can throw the book against the wall. It's up to you.

Simpson does justice to odd-balls subjects with sidebars. One is "The Worst Westerns" (now, remember, y'all, this is his book). I was suprised to see only 5 listed. None of which I have seen, I'm thankful to say, except I'm intrigued by the title "Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter" and may have to find that one on Netflix. He also discusses "Joe McCarthy's Westerns", "Acid Westerns," and Blaxploitation.

Simpson then lists his 50 classic Westerns. I will not be baited into telling you which ones they are, because I don't want a bloodbath to ensue in my Comments section. We all know how these lists come down. I will tell you that I thought his picks were suprisingly unsurprising, considering the rest of the book.

Some interesting chapters in the back are "The Stock Company: Western Archetypes," and "Iconic Locations," and "Westerns Around the World." He deals with many subjects that aren't standard cinema-book fare, and with the respect they deserve, such as the Sand Creek Massacre. For someone like me, who was eternally traumatized by that anti-government 1970 bloodbath called Soldier Blue, I appreciated the coverage. It doesn't come along in every book about Western movies.

So it's not boring. It's fun, sometimes aggravating as hell, and certainly is a conversation starter. Next time you're looking for a good Saturday night barroom brawl, tuck this book in your back pocket.

Saturday, June 6, 2009


Have been sick for over a week now which is why the blog has been quiet of late. Some people can forge on when they are under the weather, but I'm one of those that falls apart and can't really do anything constructive until I'm feeling better physically. This has been a horrific chest cold resulting in my inability to talk at all for a few days now. I'm sure my dogs are happy about this, because now whenever they start baying at people walking by, I am forced to throw pillows at them instead of yelling at them to be quiet.

A couple of notes:
I'll be speaking again for the California Writer's Club, Long Beach branch, on Tuesday, August 4. I'll be speaking about my grandfather's memoir Pulp Writer, how I found his memoir, and the history of pulp fiction. This is good timing, because it will be right after I return from Pulp Fest, and should be full of interesting stories and anecdotes about interesting pulp authors.

I'm very proud to announce that I will be interviewing Ann Parker, author of the Silver Rush Mystery series, and the interview will be on my blog sometime within the next month. The Silver Rush Mystery series is centered around Inez Stannert, a fiesty, brilliant woman who runs a saloon in the town of Leadville, Colorado in the Silver Rush period of the 1880s. The first two books in the series, Silver Lies and Iron Ties, have been published to great acclaim. The third book, Leaden Skies, will be out in July.

And finally, I was very happy to learn last week that one of my photos, the apricot rose on the right side of my blog, was accepted by a microstock photography site, BigStockPhoto, to be sold on their site. This is my first time working with a microstock site and I really don't know my way around yet, but from what I know they can be discerning in deciding what they will accept. Which made me feel pretty good, even when I'm sick.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Book Review: Frontier Medicine by David Dary

Frontier Medicine
From the Atlantic to the Pacific: 1492-1942
David Dary
Knopf; 2008

Frontier Medicine is a fascinating overview of the progression of the practice of medicine over the almost-500 years since Christopher Columbus landed on the continent. He begins with Indian medicine and the white man’s early settlement in the colonies. He then moves forward chronologically in his chapters that discuss several topics, such as fur traders and trappers, the Lewis and Merriweather expedition, the Civil War, and then the rush of westward migration afterwards. He also covers the concept of “Going West for Your Health,” midwifery, patent medicines, and even quacks.

That’s a lot of territory to cover, so to speak. And I have to admit that I began this book with some trepidation, knowing how overviews can end up superficially addressing their subjects and leaving the reader feeling like she has been rushed towards the exit door. Dary even admits in his forward that covering such a wide expanse of such a huge topic wasn’t his original idea; he began the project intending to only cover medicine in the American West during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. But I am fascinated with the topic, which I guess is hereditary: my grandfather’s novel Doc Dillahay was centered around a young man training to be a doctor in frontier Arizona.

But I was not disappointed and in fact I could not put Frontier Medicine down. Yes it is an overview, and those of you who write Western novels and want extensive information on frontier treatment methods will probably only get your curiosity partly satisfied. But you could do a lot worse.

Dary writes an outstanding narrative that gives you ample detail on the treatments used and also on how little physicians had in the form of supplies, training and knowledge. Add inclement weather, hostile Indians and the occasional rattlesnake and you see how much anyone who attempted to practice medicine on the frontier had to deal with. Many couldn’t handle it and quit and went back to the East Coast.

The concept of a full-time medical doctor - one who strictly and exclusively dedicated their work to helping and saving the sick – is a relatively new concept. Up until the end of the nineteenth century, doctors were scattered about, most of them making a living in other fields including doctoring. Anyone who practiced medicine was pretty much anyone who was called upon to help another person. As a result, the inter-dependence between the Native Americans and the various groups of emigrants when it came to treating each other is striking, but not all that surprising.

Dary writes matter-of-factly, almost perfunctorily, and he occasionally covers the careers, lives and deaths of a litany of various physicians and medical pioneers, sometimes so much that you think you’re reading the County Records. But it’s a small price to pay for such a good book. Besides, you can get a lot of ideas if you’re looking for interesting characters for your next novel. There is also a Glossary of “Old Medical Terms and Slang” and an impressive bibliography.

Dary ends the book with a discussion of his grandfather, Dr. Gilbert Dary, and his work as a general practitioner in a small town in Kansas at the turn of the century. This endeared me to Dary, as my great-grandfather followed an almost identical path. Dr. Dary ended up practicing in Hartford, Kansas after 1919 until his death in 1938. My great-grandfather, Dr. John H. Powers, practiced in Little River and then practiced at a hospital in McPherson until he died in 1933. They may have known each other. Dary’s narrative on his grandfather isn’t self-indulgent in any way; rather, it’s a good example of what turn of the century doctors had to cope with on the cusp of both a new era in America and in medicine.

Dary has already written several books on the history of the West: Cowboy Culture, The Santa Fe Trail, The Oregon Trail, Red Blood and Black Ink, among others. When I picked up this book at the Autry Museum (one of my favoite haunts when researching for Pulp Writer) a few weeks ago, I noticed another one of his books on the shelf: Entrepreneurs of the Old West. I chose this book, but now I’m kicking myself for not buying the Entrepreneur book as well. Oh well, I guess that means I'll just have to go back up to the Autry again - soon.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Support Wild West Monday 3

Writers of the Western genre know that the Western is alive and well. Yet the major book "superstores" like Borders and Barnes and Noble continually fail to stock anything on their Western shelves except the bare bones: series by Louis L'Amour for example. Today is Wild West Monday 3, in which supporters of the Western genre show their outrage over the lack of Westerns in stores by contacting their local stores and asking why don't they carry them. Go to The Tainted Archive for more information on this worthy effort and to sign a petition.

The following is a letter I just fired off to Borders:

Dear Sir or Madam:

I recently went into a local Borders store and was extremely distressed by the lack of selection in your Westerns section. For a company that claims to have more than 190,000 titles to choose from, why is it that only five shelves are devoted to this genre, with the majority of titles by Louis L'Amour? Surely you must know that a large amount of classic Westerns were published pre-L'Amour - yet I cannot find them. In addition, there are a huge amount of current titles, such as those printed by the Black Horse Westerns imprint of Robert Hale Publishing that would add more depth to your inventory and give your readers more choices. These are written by a number of talented writers and are enormously popular.

If Westerns are not selling in your stores overall, it is not because of a lack of interest. Current films and television series, such as Deadwood, prove that there is an intense interest in stories set in the West. Perhaps Westerns are not selling in your stores because there aren't enough variety to choose from.

I will not be purchasing anything in any of your stores until Borders increases its Western inventory. In addition, I will be posting the text of this email on my blog for others to read.

Laurie Powers