Friday, July 31, 2009

Pulp Fest, Day One

Simply put, it's been a huge success and a lot of fun so far.

This photo was taken fairly early in the day. I'm sharing a table with Ed Hulse, member of the Pulp Fest committee and also pulp fiction collector extraordinare, raconteur, and all around great person. Ed is sitting to the right of me. To the left is Otto Penzler, whose current book is the Black Lizard Big Book of Pulps, an enormous compilation of hard boiled detective mystery pulps from the Golden Age of the pulps. Otto will be the guest of honor tomorrow night. So sitting between these two men has left me awestruck. I have met almost every person I have ever chatted with online through the various pulp fiction online chat groups - everyone seems to be here - and they have all made me feel like part of the family.

The dealers are selling pulps which consist of practically every single pulp title you could ever want. Like more than one person has mentioned today, there's no where else in the country where you are going to find such an abundant supply of Black Mask Detective magazines for sale. This is a pulp that is hard to find and so much prized by collectors and readers alike that to find one on eBay is news....I found more than a few dealers who had several dozen for sale. Granted, they are pricey - starting at $100 and up for the less sought after issues - but they are here. There are Weird Tales galore, Planet Stories, Dime Detectives, and I saw a copy of The Octopus for sale on the table behind me. And if you know valuable those are...well, if you do, then you're probably here.

The turn out so far has been tremendous. All of the dealers are walking to the elevators with smiles on their faces. And this is only Friday - Saturday is the busy day. We may just have to leave early on Sunday, one said, because we may run out of inventory. One can only hope. Don't know if that's an exaggeration, but it's safe to say that turn out has been great.

I attended a panel, as did at least another 100 people, entitled The State of the Hobby, on which several eminent collectors discussed what they have found to be the ongoing trends of collecting pulps nowadays and how it compares to the past trends. One interesting thing noted was that 20 or 30 years ago, the big pulps that every one wanted were the hero pulps, such as The Shadow and Doc Savage. The general fiction pulps, such as Adventure and Short Stories, weren't in big demand and were very reasonably priced. Which is ironic, because the latter generally consisted of very, very good fiction. And while the hero pulps are still popular, they have been heavily reprinted into new, glossy softcovers over the past few decades and it's pretty easy to get a hold of reading copies. Adventure and Short Stories are not reprinted as much but they are prized by collectors because of the quality of the fiction.

The panel also talked briefly about how eBay has affected the pulp collector and what to look out for when purchasing pulps. Ed pointed out that this is an excellent topic for a future convention panel - lots of time could be spent on this topic alone.

Another panel continued the celebration of the 75th anniversary of the "Hero Pulp Explosion," and discussed the adventures of Jimmy Christopher, better known as Operator #5 hero and his creator, Frederick C Davis. Included in the panel were Davis's son, Rick Davis, and his granddaughter, Karen Cunningham. So I'm not the only granddaughter-pulp fiction-geek out there.

Enough for now. More tomorrow night if I can tear myself away!

For those of you who don't know, Pulp Fest is currently going on at the Ramada Plaza in Columbus, Ohio, starting today (Friday) and continuing until Sunday, August 2. The doors open at 10 a.m. If you haven't registered yet, you can still do at the door and pay the daily entrance fee which is $15. For more info, go to the Pulp Fest website.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Women of the West Series Playing Now

Heading off to Pulp Fest tomorrow, and it's not too late for any of you in the Midwest to trek on over to Columbus, Ohio to check it out from Friday to Sunday. Rather, you don't even have to be in the Midwest - just jump on a plane and be there.

In the meantime, while I chill out for a few minutes here after packing, I wanted to tell you about a fantastic series being run by Cullen Gallagher (owner of The Pulp Serenade blog) and Jenny Jediny on the website Not Coming to a Theater Near You. It's a series on Women of the West, and every day will be a discussion on a particular film in which women were either featured as actors or worked behind the camera.

Cullen writes in his introduction: "For all you Western fans out there, my friend Jenny Jediny and I have organized a feature over at Not Coming to a Theater Near You called "Women of the West." It focuses on the role of women in the Western both on-screen and behind the camera. The series covers films made between 1917 and 1995. For the next three weeks, we will be posting a new review everyday, so be sure to check back often for updates."

So you can get to the reviews by first going to Cullen's great blog, Pulp Serenade, and then linking to the current review from there. Or you can go to today's review of "The Gun Woman by going directly to Not Coming To a Theater Near You. This promises to be a groundbreaking series and one that people will be talking about for a long time to come.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Escape Countdown

Four days left before I take off for Columbus, Ohio for Pulp Fest. While this couldn't come at a worst time for me financially (my computer died yesterday to top all things off), I am really glad I'm going now. Time for some R & R, get away from the house and hopefully clear my head, and see old friends and meet new ones. Also will be taking a pile of Pulp Writer copies with me to sell, and Ed Hulse has generously offered to share his dealer table with me.

Pulp Fest got a great write up in the Columbus Dispatch today, which you can read here.

Off now to decide what to do about my computer woes...

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Fellow Blogger in the Finals for "My America"

Just a short note to brag about a friend of mine, Lana Gramlich, artist and photographer, who notified me yesterday that a photo of hers is a finalist in the WGN channel's "My America" contest. And I'm especially proud because I bought a print of this photo (of a bayou in her state of Louisiana) from Lana a few months back because I loved it so much. Do I have a good eye or what? LOL.

Anyway, check out the photo on Lana's blog The Dreaming Tree here (and also her many other fine photos and artwork, most of which are available for sale) and VOTE for the photo on the link on her blog right below the photo. Us artists/photographers/writers need all the help we can get!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Murder at the Racetrack (and sometimes at a baseball game too)

So tonight I settle down to watch Jason Schmidt, who in 2006 signed a 3-year, $47 million contract with the Dodgers and then almost immediately went on the disabled list after only pitching 6 1/2 games, and stayed on the DL for two years (and does he get paid for that?). I and a lot of people are tuned in to see him make his first pitching start since 2007. He very slowly starts pitching, and eventually after fifteen minutes the first batter gets a triple. The second gets on base. The third batter drives them in. After forty-five minutes we're still in the first inning.

You get the idea.

So to pass the time, I pick up a book I found at Borders the other day, Murder at the Racetrack, a compilation of stories that have two obvious things in common: murder and horseracing. When I first found it, I thought, hm. Horseracing. Something I know something about (there's a story there but I won't tell you right now). I check the list of authors: Lawrence Block, Ken Bruen, Jan Burke, Lorenzo Carcaterra, Max Allan Collins, Thomas H. Cook, Pat Jordan, H.R.F. Keating, John Lescroart, Michael Malone, Michele Martinez, Joyce Carol Oates, Julie Smith, and Scott Wolven. No Dick Francis stories. How refreshing. It's getting more intriguing. Then I see that Otto Penzler is the editor. Sold. Plus the book is only $1. Bad for Penzler. Good for me.

Penzler is the editor of the Black Lizard Big Book of Pulps (I always have to look up that title to make sure I've got it right), co-editor of the Best American Mystery Stories of 2008, The Best American Crime Reporting, the Best American Mystery Stories of the Century, the author of Dangerous Women, and the editor of Murder in the Rough: Original Tales of Bad Shots, Terrible Lies, and Other Deadly Handicaps from Today's Great Writers, which is, you guessed it, a compilation of murder stories on the golf course. And it just goes on and on. Oh, and he will also be the guest of honor at Pulp Fest, coming up in less than two weeks.

I read the first story the other night. "Keller by a Nose," by Lawrence Block. Keller is a hit man who gets an assignment at the track and at the same time is needing to find a way to finance his own little vice: stamp collecting. I love it.

The second story, "The Return of the Thin White Dude," by Ken Bruen, is about an ex-cop with a great nickname of Loot. Loot has a serious gambling problem (I have a feeling there will be more of these types of characters in this book - it just goes with the territory) with an inability to stay away from OTB, which leads him to financial ruin, stealing from the job, a wife leaving him, and eventually to meeting up with a coke-head buddy Lenny who needs a job done. Lenny doesn't really seem to be a very nice friend:

He smiles then, swallows a huge dollop of his drink, the ice clinking against his teeth, freshly capped and gleaming, like a movie star. Set you back three grand. I know; I inquired.
He said,
"October twenty-seventh."
The booze has muddled my head and I don't know what he means, so I go,
"Dunno what you mean."
He's incredulous, then,
"the Sox, Man, we became world champions."
He's fucking with me, big time. I've been a Yankee fan all my life - how could I not? - and I'd almost forgotten how Lenny liked to stick it to people. The Glock is still in my hand and for one glorious moment I considered shooting the fucker.
Wish I had.
He's not finished.
"You guys choked - am I right? - got your ass handed to you."
Like I said, I should have shot him.


Delicious. Enough to make me forget there's a game on TV, even when Manny Ramirez hits the home run that pushes him past Mickey Mantle on the all time HR list.

Baseball, horses, tight writing, Vin Scully speaking silk on the telly. It doesn't get much better than this.

Murder at the Racetrack
Edited by Otto Penzler
Mysterious Press, 2006

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Learning to Hang Loose

It's 5:45 Sunday morning and forgive me for going off-topic for a post here. It's what I do to cope with a cat that throws up - only in the middle of the night I might add. Why can't she do it at least during the day when I'm awake?

Many of you know about my passion for Dodger baseball. I even attended Thursday's game just to see Mr. Ramirez's return (and he thanked me by going 1 for 4). It was awful - the Houston Astro's outfield barely had to lift a finger and what does that tell you? Friday's game was even worse, but I was mercifully spared that spectacle. After Friday, we (meaning everyone within a 50 mile radius of Los Angeles) were ready to throw in the towel.

How spoiled are we? The Dodgers have the best team in baseball and have been in that position almost since the beginning of the year and have never lost 3 games in a row. This has been a spectacular year, to say the least. And they lose two in a row and people start to panic. "We were on our way to the World Series and now they're having a meltdown!!!"

Dodger fans have a reputation of being -- let's use a euphemism here - mercurial - and have the shortest memory of any fan base that I know of. And kill me for saying this, but many times you learn more from the games you lose than the games you win. (I can hear the collective gasp from my Dodger friends right now - don't make me pay for lunch today for that statement!) At least that's what my high school P.E. coach told me, but it may have been just to appease us when we were losing our 10th straight in volleyball. After a while you being to lose track of what you're learning.

Don't panic. Just hang loose like Manny here. Which they did on Saturday and beat the Astros 5-2. Take one day or game at a time and stop thinking about what will happen tomorrow. You can't get to the World Series by not paying attention to today's game.

Now if I could just get that cat of mine to stop waking me at 4 in the morning. Where's the learning lesson there?

P.S. I didn't take the photo - wish I did. Jae Hong of AP took it.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Coming soon: Silver Rush mystery author Ann Parker

It's been almost a week since I've posted anything - a long time for me. Just trying to rejuvinate and plan some good posts for the upcoming week. An interview with writer Ann Parker is coming up which should be fascinating. Ann writes the Silver Rush mystery series based in Leadville Colorado in the 1880s. Her third book in the series, Leaden Skies, was released just a few weeks ago. Besides being a fantastic writer, Ann is a old friend of mine and was a marvelous mentor to me during the time I was extremely discouraged as a writer and was struggling with what to do with Pulp Writer. Although it's my grandfather's memoir, I still had to fill in some of the blanks that he left out and the battle over how personal I wanted to get was overwhelming. I had also been knocked down at few times at my day writing job which made me almost want to crawl under a rock. It's safe to say that if it hadn't been for Ann, Pulp Writer never would have seen the light of day.

And was lucky enough to see The Thin Man at the Long Beach Film Forum last night, along with a wonderful Laurel & Hardy short called Them Thar Hills. These gems are always fun to watch, but seeing on the big screen is really the best way to see these and really appreciate them.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Fascinating Story Behind Big Little Books: An Interview with Lawrence Lowery

Many readers of this blog have read my earlier posts on Big Little Books, due to some of my grandfather's pulp Western stories being reprinted in them. A lot of you are already familiar with these little gems and some of you may have come across them in antique stores or flea markets. If you've ever wondered about these little books and how they came into existence, you're in for a treat.

Below is an interview with Lawrence Lowery, who is considered an expert on the history and collection of Big Little Books and other books similar to them. He is also the head of the Big Little Book Club and editor of of the Big Little Times, a bi-monthly newsletter. He also maintains www.biglittlebooks.com, which receives about 8,000 hits a month.

Larry is 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. He is also the author of several children's books. A complete biography on Larry can be found at www.biglittlebooks.com.

Lowery is the author of Lowery's The Collector's Guide to Big Little Books and Similar Books, which was originally published in 1981. 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. There's more on his new book at the end of the interview.

To give you a very quick primer: Big Little Books are the name given to a certain kind of book that was first published by the Whitman Publishing Company in 1932 and later copied by other companies. They got their name because, although there were numerous variations in outside dimensions and in number of pages, most were 3 5/8" x 4 1/2" x 1 1/2" in size and 432 pages in length. They originally sold for 10 cents. One of the features of these books that people most remember is the interior format: each left page of text was paired with an illustration on the right side page. Although they were most popular during the first decade after their first appearance, they continued to be issued on and off for several more decades. Their Golden Age, however, is considered to be the first six years of their existence.

These books were wildly popular and were quickly put to use to cover any and every comic book hero, radio personality, pulp story and pulp hero, movie star, cartoon character, and true-life legends such as Kit Carson and Buffalo Bill. From Dick Tracy to Buck Rogers, from Tom Mix to Shirley Temple: if you were in the public eye at all in the 1930s, chances are you were featured in one. Many children learned to read during the Great Depression with the aid of Big Little Books.

Without further ado, here is my interview with Larry Lowery:

1. Do we know what was the inspiration behind the first Big Little Books and what made Whitman decide to start the line?

When Western Publishing Company acquired the Whitman Publishing Company due to a printing payment default, a creative man at Whitman, Sam Lowe, stayed after the takeover. Under the new ownership, he enabled Western/Whitman to acquire rights to reproduce comic strips in other formats. When he saw 4” by 4” scraps of paper being wasted after trims of some other books, he got the idea that such scraps could be gathered together to make small books containing comic strip story lines. He wanted the book to look bulky, but remain small so that it could be held in the hand of a young consumer. He had the Whitman Art Department use hard-board material for the front and back covers which were connected with a paper spine. The interior was filled with the waste squares. Black and white drawings and key line text were added to complete three prototypes of 160 pages each. When Lowe was about to depart for New York to sell his concept to five-and-ten-cent stores, his friend Jim Lyle looked at one of the prototypes and said, “You should call it a ‘Big Little Book.’”

2. Were they immediately popular and did other publishers immediately start their own lines?

The first BLB, The Adventures of Dick Tracy, was released just before the Christmas shopping season in 1932. It has a print run of 250,000 copies. Virtually all were sold before Christmas. So the next two books, Little Orphan Annie and Mickey Mouse hit the market place in February of 1933 and sales skyrocketed. Whitman published 24 more titles that year with some printings running to a million copies per title. Other companies looked at the success and in 1934 some entered the field: Saalfield (Little Big Books); Goldsmith (Radio Star Series); World Syndicate (Highlights of History Series); Engel-van Wiseman (Five Star Library). More joined in, in later years.

3. I see where many movie stars like Shirley Temple, Tom Mix and the like had Big Little Books.

Along with the comic strip licensed agreements, Sam Lowe negotiated similar agreements for radio programs, movies, and real life characters (usually movie stars). Western characters predominated – they were on radio and in movies, so Whitman published several of their movies using movie stills. Whitman also had permission to use their names for stories written by freelance writers. Rights to produce Shirley Temple items were owned by Saalfield, the only significant real person owned by the company.

4. Can you tell us a little about how these books were produced? How did the stories come down for assignment, how long did it take, how did the illustrations come about, and did the writer and artist collaborate with each other?

Freelance writers wrote most of the Whitman BLBs. When given strip illustrations, the in-house artists worked independently from the writers – their job was to remove “word balloons” and fill in the created space with appropriate artwork. Writers then tried to write a narrative that matched each illustration. I had the pleasure to meet with several of the authors. One of them, Gaylord DuBois one of the most prolific freelance writers of the time, said, “I was glad to get BLB work – one or two payments a month for payment of thirty-five dollars for each.” For each BLB he was sent a thick handful of clippings from newspaper comic strips. His task was to write a 320 or 432-page book, selecting some continuity of pictures and writing a narrative that matched each one.

Professional authors were paid $250.00 in advance of royalties, which were 1/4¢ per book. At that rate, Author Rachel (Margaret) Sutton (author of the Judy Bolton books) eventually received a little over $2,000.00 for Kay Darcy and the Mystery Hideout, which she wrote under the pen name, Irene Ray.

When books were written for the BLB format and not from strip materials, an illustrator worked with the author.

5. I was surprised to read that she had received that much in royalties. That was a heck of a lot of money in those days. Was this typical?

I know only of payments to authors of Whitman titles. Saalfield might have had a different pay scale for freelance writers.

Whitman also paid professional writers differently than freelance writers (my definition here is that professional writers were people like Margaret Sutton who was famous in her own right).

6. I found it really interesting that many of the writers and illustrators were never given credit, but it sounds like a lot of effort has been made to track down these writers? How did you find these people? Were members of the Big Little club active in finding these people?


When I began researching the history of the BLBs, I found no one who had done anything about them except make lists of titles. Much of the Whitman archives disappeared in the mid-70s, so there was not a lot to work with. Jalaine Tenneson, librarian at Whitman, was very helpful and what little was there gave me a start.

I tracked down Gaylord DuBois and he was very gracious in sharing his memories. By accident I found Rachel Sutton living in Berkeley near the university where I was a professor. She, too, was gracious with her knowledge. Along the way I came across old timers who worked at Whitman in the 30s and 40s. I tried to meet every one of them.

7. How did you get involved in collecting these? Tell us about your collection too.

I was born the year the first BLB was published, so my childhood before the advent of the great hero comics was spent growing up with BLBs. After college when I was drafted into the Korean War, my mother threw out my comics, but kept the 42 BLBs that I had. They were stored in an attic. In 1979 my wife and I attended a book fare in Los Angeles where a woman had a table with 36 BLBs spread out face up. Looking over them brought back memories, however, no title on the table matched the ones I remembered as a kid. I asked the woman how many were published, but she knew nothing interesting about them. I bought them all for $4.00 each, took them home, found mine in the attic, and began to seriously search for others. Being a University Professor, I knew how to research and get around in the world of books. Within a year, I attained all of them, and wrote a book of their history including black and white photos of each cover.

As a hobby, I’ve continued to research details about the books and to continue collecting peripheral/related items. I now have over 1,600 BLBs and related items in my collection.

8. Which ones are considered the most valuable, and why?

There are just a small number of rare titles that command a lot of money. They are oddities and hard to describe. There is a Mickey Mouse the Mail Pilot with a first Mickey Mouse cover on it and the words “Mail Pilot” stamped on the cover. This was probably a prototype and did not have a press run. Three are known to exist. I have a Walt Disney Silly Symphonies translated into Portuguese and signed by Walt – a 1941 item that was part of his ambassadorship to South America at the request of President Roosevelt in an attempt to persuade South America from joining the side of the Germans before the advent of WWII. There is only one of these.

Among collectible items that can be found with perseverance and patience, the first Dick Tracy is prized and expensive. It has just one small printing compared to all the subsequent BLBs. The Laughing Dragon of Oz is expensive. It was written L. Frank Baum’s son, Frank Joslyn Baum. The Oz publishers, Reilly & Lee, sued Whitman and the son because they owned the rights to Oz materials. Whitman stopped presses in the print run, destroyed what they had, and promised to print no more Oz books. No one knows how many copies reached the marketplace. The book is scarce and popular because it is an Oz book.

Popular strip characters always command good prices – any Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon, or Mickey Mouse titles are available, but costly – especially in nice shape. They were usually well read and tattered from usage.


9. Tell us about the club. You said that at one point the club had roughly 1,000 members. Are most of the members those who read these when they were children?

My friend John Stallknecht started the Big Little Book Club in 1981. In that year he had 24 members and published a bimonthly newsletter. He gave up after that year, and I took over running the Club and producing the newsletter. We are now finishing up our 28th year of continuous publication of The Big Little Times.

At its peak, the Club had 1,336 members. I’d estimate that at least 95% of them experienced the books during they childhood. Sadly, the Club is losing about 10 members a month for the past 2 years – and in following up on why, nearly everyone no longer in the Club passed away. We have an elderly membership.


10. There are several online chat groups for collectors and enthusiasts of the pulp fiction magazines. Are there any that are dedicated to the Big Little Books and similar books?

I know of no online chat groups. But I get a lot of mail and inquiries through my website (biglittlebooks.com). It gets over 8,000 hits a month, and I answer every correspondence that I receive.

11. I'm sure that your original Lowery's Guide to the Big Little Book has been a valuable asset to many collectors’ libraries. It is in mine. You have a new book coming out - please tell us about it.

My first book was to put into print the history of the creation and production of these attractive little books. It serves as a reference book for researchers and serious collectors. My new book contains 28 more years of knowledge about the books. The Golden Age of Big Little Books is self-published and spans in great detail the true Big Little Books (1932 to mid-1938 when the books became Better Little Books). All the 470 9” x 12” pages are in full color, each book is shown full size, and a great deal of detail is given for each book. All the competing company books are included, and a complete history of the Western/Whitman relationship is described up to the demise of both the companies in the 1990s. I am proud to say that the book received an award as one of the finest self-published books in 2007.

12. And one final question: which Big Little Book is your favorite?

I have two favorites, each for a different reason.

The first one I ever saw and owned was Mickey Mouse in the Blaggard Castle. Floyd Gottfredson drew and wrote most of the Mickey daily strips and the Blaggard Castle story line is one of his best. That book hooked me on BLBs.

The other book is Nancy and Sluggo. In the year during which I tried to identify all the titles and acquire each to verify them, the last book to complete the collection was Nancy’s. It is not too hard to find today and not very expensive –but it was the toughest one for me to find and holds a special place in my heart because it completed my research quest.


You can order copies of The Golden Age of Big Little Books, 1932-1938, by emailing Larry at his email address (larry@biglittlebooks.com). Larry asks that people make sure their email doesn't look like SPAM, because his email server will discard anything that looks like SPAM. Or people can write to him at Larry Lowery, P.O. Box 1242, Danville, CA 94526. There is also more information at www.biglittlebooks.com.

Questions about Big Little Books can be directed to Larry at his email address or his mailing address.

And one last thing! You can also look forward to finding Big Little Books at Pulp Fest, which will be held at the end of this month. The committee has told me that although pulp magazines will be the main focus of the convention, Big Little Books and their counterparts can also be seen at some dealers' tables.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Pulp Fest Coming Up Soon

Just a quick note before I scamper off.

A reminder to everyone that Pulp Fest is coming up very quickly at the end of this month: July 31 - August 2, to be exact, at the Ramada Plaza Hotel and Convention Center in Columbus, Ohio. I'll be there and I can't wait to see old friends and meet some new ones.

There will be a lot of interesting speakers and seminars, including this one that was just posted by the committee yesterday:

"Ed Hulse, the editor of Blood 'n' Thunder, is busy assembling a panel of
pulp collectors and dealers who will weigh in on the current state of the
hobby. What's happening with pulp prices? Is demand exceeding supply? What
are the hot titles? How has the surge in reprints affected the marketplace?
Which magazines will future collectors be chasing? These and other questions
will be addressed in this fast-paced discussion that will be held on Friday,
July 31, beginning at 7:05 PM."

That alone sounds worth the price of admission (which is only $30 before the convention and $35 at the door - that's for all three days) , let alone the thousands of pulps that will be for sale and the chance to hang out with the hundreds of participants, dealers and authors. Oh, and Otto Penzler, editor of the Black Lizard Big Book of Pulps, will be there too, on Saturday night.

The hotel is still offering the convention rate of $79 per night, but only up until July 18.

Go to the Pulp Fest web site for all the details, including a list of dealers and also who will be speaking.

Hope to see some of you there.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Get Your Excerpts Now: Wild Bunch Wednesdays Starts Tomorrow

All Western fans should take note of Wild Bunch Wednesdays, a group effort spearheaded by several Black Horse Western authors, that starts TOMORROW, July 8. Every Wednesday for the next four week, the Wild Bunch members will be posting excerpts from their books on their blogs. Each week will follow a specific theme - tomorrow's theme is 'the hero.'
The Wild Bunch members are Joanne Walpole, Gary Dobbs, Ray Foster, Ian Parnham and Howard Hopkins. Readers of my blog will remember Joanne as the writer behind the name Terry James and the Western Long Shadows, and Gary as Jack Martin, writer of The Tarnished Star.

Go to Joanne's blog for more information and for links to the other authors' Web sites.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

An Antitode for Boredom: A Buffalo Roundup


For those of you yearning to go on a real life roundup, here's an article in the L.A. Times today about an annual buffalo roundup on Antelope Island - an island in the Great Salt Lake - that takes place from Oct. 31 to Nov. 2.

The buffalo on the island are descendants of a dozen buffalo imported in the late 19th century. Now numbering around 600, the herd are shepherded (this is where you come in) into pens for annual medical tests and vaccinations. Oh, and according to the article, some are culled from the herd and sold at auction. Whether or not they are sold for food isn't mentioned. So you PETA-members might want to sit this one out.

A good many people show up to camp on the island and then volunteer to ride the herd to the pens. The article says that last year, 150 riders rode a herd of 250 buffalo. Buffalo who are nothing like the docile cattle you see in the Western movies. These are 2000-lb onery sons-of-you-know-what. Combine them with a bunch of people who might be novice riders riding rental horses, that sounds like a pretty crazy party to me. But fun, too! Woo-hoo!

Here's a blurb from the article with the basics:

"Each year, the Utah State Parks allows volunteers to help round up more than 600 bison on Antelope Island, the largest island in the Great Salt Lake. There is no limit this year to the number of riders allowed. Registration information will be available at www.stateparks.utah.gov beginning in mid-August.

Dates: The Bison Roundup will be held Oct. 31 to Nov. 2.

Cost: $25 per person to register for the roundup; $9 for park entrance. $13 to camp overnight on Antelope Island.

Horse rental: R&G Horse & Wagon Outfitter at Fielding Garr Ranch rents horses for the Bison Roundup at $250 a day, which also includes a guide and lunch. For reservations, call (801) 726-9514 or (888) 878-8002."

I've done quit a bit of trail riding in my life, much of it with a group called the Tri-Valley Trailblazers in Northern California. (This photo is of me and the group on a High Sierra Trail Ride in 2001.) I love to trail ride, but because I'm used to faster riding, I get a little bored on longer rides. This round-up sounds like my kind of antitode for boredom.

The $250 a day for the horse sounds a little steep to me; if I had my way, I'd probably trailer in my own pony (if I had one). But then, you never know how a horse is going to react when they see and smell a strange animal for the first time.

Hmm....the article doesn't mention the location of the closest hospital...but it does sound like ambulances are at the ready. How comforting!

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Book Review: Long Shadows by Terry James


Long Shadows
by Terry James
Robert Hale; London. 2009

Readers of my blog know that I'm a big fan of Black Horse Westerns, an imprint of the Robert Hale publishing house in London. They offer page-turning, action-packed stories and are written by a group of talented writers. Now, Long Shadows, written by Terry James (a pseudonym of Joanne Walpole) is another reason for U.S. readers to start reading these little gems. Long Shadows is one of the freshest and most compelling Westerns I have read in a long time.

Our heroine, Ros West, returns home with a problem. Rather, more than one problem. She is suffering from memory loss due to a traumatic accident, and cannot seem to figure out why people want her dead. She has a protector in the name of Jake Rudd, a previous lover who still loves Ros. Unfortunately, Ros doesn't remember Jake and isn't about to re-live old times with him. Jake, in the meantime, has his hands full with local businessman Emmett Swain, who wants what he feels is deserving to him, which includes the West land.

The story simmers with tension, partly because of James' skill with point of view, but the unfolding mystery is what keeps the story moving so quickly and powerfully. The sexual tension between Jake and Ros don't hurt either. I loved James' willingness to stretch the boundaries of the traditional Western by including romance and mystery in a way that make the story new and fun and unforgettable.

Long Shadows can be purchased either through amazon.com, amazon.com.uk, and the book depository.

For more information on Joanne Walpole, go to her blog. You can also read an excerpt of Long Shadows there.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Movie Review: Public Enemies


I ventured out today and saw Public Enemies, the new film directed by Michael Mann and starring Johnny Depp. When I first heard about this movie via a billboard with Depp's face prominently advertised as the star who would be portraying John Dillinger, I winced. Bad idea, I thought. Depp was just too good looking to play someone as inherently sleazy as John Dillinger. Yes, Dillinger was handsome, but in a rugged, dangerous kind of way. Hollywood tends to glorify and sanitize famous criminals, especially those from the 1930s, and putting Depp in that role just seemed to magnify that even more.

Dillinger was a folk hero during the early 1930s because of his occupation of robbing banks, banks being a popular target of public resentment during the Great Depression. Depp plays this public Dillinger very well, and with Mann's sticking to historical details, Depp does all the things that made Dillinger famous and admired by the public: the chummy pose with the prosecutor after his capture, the adacious escape from the county jail with a fake gun, the taking of bank money but leaving the poor man's money on the counter. Depp's Dillinger is a slick fashionista with beautifully cut coats and fedoras and an eye for the best restaurants. His goons even look like they belong on Wall Street.

Mann is at his best here. He is a stickler for details and it pays off. He also creates a fine balance between the hunter and the hunted: Christian Bale's Melvin Purvis is a able but flawed G-man who is understandly afraid of his bully boss J Edgar Hoover. The shoot out scenes are, from what I remember, pretty close to the truth (except for the beginning scene which I understand never happened).

I have to confess that I loved Depp playing Dillinger. Like in most of Depp's movies, I could not get enough of him. I just wish that Mann had stepped away from the action of the movie long enough to give us more of Depp-playing-Dillinger on screen and add more backstory: Dillinger's weaknesses, his vulnerabilities, what made him the sociopath he was. Alas, that does not happen.

If we had seen more of Dillinger and got to see how he really operated, then maybe we would have been able to better remember that this Dillinger guy was nothing but a murderous, amoral sleazebag who just happened to be handsome, smart, and with a lot of self confidence.

Some facts are left out, such as the fact that he underwent plastic surgery near the end of his life in an attempt to change his looks to avoid capture. Some other scenes left me thinking, "Oh, come on." But for the most part I thought those abberations were minor and weren't enough for me, a purist when it comes to history, to walk out.

I liked the movie. It's beautifully shot and magnificently acted. Go see it for the sake of seeing a good, stylish film directed by one of the best. I like movies that stay closer to the truth even more, but I'll take this one and maybe even see it again.