Sunday, August 30, 2009

A Birthday to Remember

I picked up the other issue of Black Mask magazine I purchased at Pulp Fest today, and lo and behold, there's another Julius Long story ("Crime is Bustin' Out All Over") and, to my delight, another Rex Sackler story by D. L. Champion ("Two-Death Parlay"). Looks to be a good one. In the meantime, here's the cover for the curious, another great one by Rafael De Soto.
This was a great birthday with regards to books. For one, I received in the mail from a very special friend a spectacular edition of 84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff. I've received lots of books in the past as gifts but this one was extra special, and the edition, of Virago Press in the UK, is one I've never seen before. If you appreciate the story of Helene and her correspondence with Frank Doel of Marks & Co, a bookseller in London, then you would love this high quality edition. One should never read a paperback version of this story.

Then with some gift cards I went hog wild at Amazon, buying Pioneer Women by Joanna Stratton, Roughing It by Mark Twain, Love Untamed: Romances of the Old West by JoAnn Chartier, Hearts West: true Stories of Mail Order Brides on the Frontier by Chris Enss, Sons of Texas by Elmer Kelton, and Upstairs Girls: Prostitution in the American West by Michael Rutter. Lots of interesting history and yes, there's a theme: women's lives in the 19th century American West. I'll be reviewing these on the blog as I finish them.

And on Tuesday I'll be on a panel at the local meeting for the California Writers Club. This month we're talking about how writers can take advantage of all of the social networking web sites like Facebook and Twitter, and also how blogs can be a marketing tool.

So lots to do and books to read and blogs to keep up, along with the regular mayhem like a job and a house and life in general. And now there's this thing called a pennant race in the baseball season and my friends are turning up the heat as far as going to more and more Dodger games. Now it's already turning to the postseason and, dare I say it, a World Series? Nah. I don't want to jinx it, so I'm not going to mention it again.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

A Little Bit of Pulp in the City of Orange (No Pun Intended - Really)

I had lunch with my aunt Pat yesterday and we had a wonderful time. Pat is my grandfather's last surviving child and we have grown very close. One of the things we love to do together is go shopping in the city of Orange, which is near Anaheim and Disneyland. And yesterday as a birthday present, Pat gave me this book, which I am thrilled about: The Images of America publication of the history of Orange. I've known about the Images of America books for years now, but for some reason didn't know about this one.

Now I'm fascinated (and in love, I admit) with Orange for several reasons. One is that the old part of the city has maintained its integrity and many of the neighborhoods are full of old Craftsman style homes. Owners really take pride in their homes, down to putting signs outside their houses to celebrate when their houses turn 100 years old. Houses are still pretty expensive, especially in "Old Towne" and I know that owners of these old homes are straightjacketed by city ordinances that forbid any kind of drastic change to the outside of these homes.

Downtown is full of antique stores - in fact, Orange is known for being a mecca for antique lovers. It does get a little crazy on the weekends, especially around the fountain and the roundabout. You really have to watch your step (and your driving) when you get into this part of town on a Saturday.

Anyway, another reason that Orange is special for me is because it's where my grandfather lived for a good portion of the years that he was a pulp writer, and I'm pretty sure that he lived in this house when he wrote Pulp Writer in 1943. It's a wonderful house, one of the biggest on the street. I know it was up for sale a couple of years ago before the real estate market really started to spiral down and it was listed for $1.3 million. Don't know what it sold for, but at that point, probably close to asking price.

If I was going to stay in California for the rest of my years (and there's nothing to keep me here right now save for family and friends...I think California is ruined for the most part) Orange is one of the few places that I would consider living in. Except I found something VERY disturbing today - an inordinate amount of these flags hanging outside of houses. I mean a LOT. There oughta be a law....

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

No Match for Murder, Julius Long and the Fiction Mags Index

This morning I wasn't in the mood to jump into a novel or novelette or even a standard short story. So I picked up "No Match for Murder," by Julius Long, in the September 1943 issue of Black Mask because it looked like something I could read in 5 minutes. You all remember this issue; I've been reviewing stories in it for the past few weeks. I'm almost done with the entire magazine, save for the Erle Stanley Gardner story, "The Gong of Vengeance," which Ed Hulse tells me is the last pulp story Gardner ever wrote. Whether or not that increases the value of the copy, I don't know. I doubt it. But it doesn't matter, because I'm not selling it.

Anyway, getting back to No Match for Murder. It's a pretty mundane story about a defense attorney Jake Manders. The story begins:

Without moving his lips, Jake Manders whispered: "Wipe that guilty look off your face! Do you want to convict yourself?"
His client seemed not to hear his warning. Marion Ward, ash-blond show girl on trial for the murder of her wealthy play-boy husband, seemed hypnotized by the voice of Lew Brice, district attorney, whose every word seemed to bring her a step nearer to the electric chair.

When I first read that, I thought, Ooo, she's got something for the district attorney. Now that would be a good story. Sorry, folks, she doesn't.

Marion apparently claims that her little revolver went off when she dropped it taking it out of her purse and shot her playboy husband. D.A. Brice doesn't think so, however, and claims there is overwhelming proof that the gun in question could never go off accidentally. When Manders gets up to present his closing argument, he walks over to the exhibit table and picks up the gun in question before anyone, including the judge, can object. Manders accidently drops the gun and it goes off.

Manders, of course, had jimmy-rigged the gun with blanks so it would go off, unbeknownst to everyone, including Marion. The story just kind of rolls along from there, in which Manders goes back to Marion's apartment to collect his fee (a tidy one hundred thousand dollars) only to have Marion object. No way is she paying that amount of money. Finally, she relents when Manders tells her why the gun discharged and Manders goes to get her checkbook.

It's a neatly tied up ending, a total of 5 1/2 pages, and with nothing really to say. Julius Long, who, from what I gather, was an experienced pulp writer all through the 30s and 40s writing for magazines such as BM and also Dime Detective and the UK versions of those, probably wrote this in his sleep.

But it did get me interested in him and on the trail to find out more about him. Sleuthing after these lesser known pulp writers is turning into a lot of fun.

By the way, wanted to tell you all about the Fiction Mags Index. I don't know how accurate it is, but it seems to be fairly comprehensive. On the Table of Contents page is a substantial list of other indexes you can find online. And then it breaks down each issue of say, Black Mask, and gives you the stories, the authors, and a scan of the cover. Nice. Here's one cover that I love and I know a lot of my writer friends will too.

A good source, but I need to check with my "experts" to find out how reliable it is. Like most things historical that you read about pulp magazines, check and double check and triple check the "facts" before you repeat them.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Murderer's Row, Edited by Otto Penzler

I've been on a tear for the past few weeks ever since I picked up Murder at the Racetrack, a collection of murder thrillers centered around horseracing and edited by Otto Penzler. I met Otto at Pulp Fest and when I mentioned that I had picked up the horseracing book recently, Otto mentioned that there were several other sports featured in their own books. He said that his favorite books in the series were the boxing and the basketball books. But I couldn't care less about either of those sports. was baseball or nothing for me. And one of the first things I did when I came back from Pulp Fest was to email Otto and ask him to sign a copy of the baseball book and get it in the mail to me. And now's it's here.

Murderer's Row
it's called, an homage to the Murderer's Row of baseball legend. Murderer's Row is the name given to the four players on the New York Yankees team of 1927: Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Tony Lazzeri and Bob Meusel. They were called Murderer's Row for their habit of murdering the other team - in 1927, they scored 975 runs on over 400 hits -- in 154 games.

I've just started on the first story, so I'll have to report on the stories in a blog in the next few days. The contributing authors are Lawrence Block, Max Allan Collins, Michael Connelly, K.C. Constantine, Elmore Leonard, John Lescroart, Laura Lippman, Mike Lupica, Michael Malone, Robert B. Parker, Thomas Perry, Henry Slesar and Troy Soos. Jim Bouton, who pitched for the New York Yankees and was best known for his 1963 year when he posted a 21-7 record, writes a hilarious forward. I did not know that he is also the author of Ball Four.

So while the Dodgers (hopefully) beat the Cubs tonight (it's 2-1 in the bottom of the 6th), I'm going to sit back and read the first story, "Keller's Designated Hitter," while listening to Vin Scully's broadcast as background music. Almost as good as being at the game.

Black Mask September 1943

Some of you have been following the Black Mask stories I've been reading in September 1943 issue. I bought a new printer/scanner/copier about five days ago, and I just got around to scanning the cover. So now you can place the stories with the cover. I think it's a great one. The artist credited is Rafael De Soto.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

If You're Needin' a Little Romance

Anyone interested in the pulps and especially Ranch Romances might want to check out The Tainted Archive and fellow blogger Gary Dobbs' take on a 1944 copy of Ranch Romances he recently purchased. Gary is from Wales and it's always interesting to get his viewpoint on things that us Americans have taken for granted for too long. His observations on the ads in the magazine are great. And read the comments. There is a lot of interest and appreciation out there for the pulps and their history.

"Heads - The Corpse Loses"

Heads - the Corpse Loses
D.L. Champion
Black Mask magazine, September 1943

D. L. Champion wrote 30 stories for Black Mask beginning in 1940 and continuing until 1950. The vast majority of these stories featured private eye Rex Sackler and his assistant Joey Graham. According to A comprehensive Index to Black Mask, 1920-1952, by Edward Hagemann, the first of these stories appeared in July 1940 and there were a total of 26. Hagemann notes in the first story, "Introduces Rex Sackler, ex-cop turned p.i., known as the Parsimonious Prince of Penny Pinchers," narrated by his assistant Joey Graham, total of 26 RS stories and genuinely funny; DLC's debut in BM."

The story I just read, "Heads - the Corpse Loses," proves Hagemann quite correct when it comes to the genuinely funny part. Joey is the long-suffering assistant who continually has to deal with his miserly boss:

Rex Sackler lifted his thin, dark face from the letter he was reading and grunted. He regarded my grinning visage with sour disapproval. He sighed like a sorely tried man.
'Joey,' he said, 'you are a predatory, avaricious miser. I take it that you wear that horrible grin because it is payday. Your lust for a dollar somehow reminds me of a dirty postcard.'
He sighed again like a weary breeze and went back to his letter. I refrained from remarking that Sackler accusing me of frugality was like the Gestapo accusing anyone oat all of an atrocity.

Sackler's continual complaining of having to pay Joey a salary is interrupted by the arrival of a new client, Samuel Shoreham, a tall, gaunt man who wants a certain Ronald Goodman shadowed. Not that he wants a detailed list of Shorham's activities; he wants just to know when Goodman arrives at 946 East 93rd St. Once Goodman arrives at that address, Shoreham is to be notified and the shadowing job is over.

Of course, it falls to Joey to shadow this Mr. Goodman, who proves to be a walker of "the best British upper class tradition. He was an aimless, window-shopping walker who had led me a foot torturing trail for a solid hundred blocks." Joey, painfully shadows Goodman for another day until Goodman enters a building and up an elevator. Joey follows at a safe distance.

I pushed open the office door and walked in. A little fat man was seated at Sackler's desk. Sackler was making the usual sickening spectacle of himself that he always does when he thinks he has a client.
He glared at me when I came in. He said, angrily, "Joey, what are you doing here? You're supposed to be out on a job."
I tossed my hat to the rack, sat down at my desk and said, "I'm doing it."
"Joey, if this is a joke it is in bad taste. We do not break faith with clients once a fee has been agreed upon. You were instructed...."
the plump man at the desk said icily: "Can you postpone this inter-office bickering until my departure, Mr. Sackler? I desire to retain you."
The anger fell from Sackler's face. He turned on the register of an effeminate floorwalker placating a dowager who has been told a plain fact by a salesgirl.
"Of course," he said. "Pardon me, Mr. - er, Mr..."
"Goodman. Ronald Goodman."
Sackler looked swiftly at me and I grinned back. I had tailed Goodman right into our own office.

Goodman, of course, unaware of Shoreham hiring Sackler to shadow him, wants Sackler to find a girl, Vera Housaman and Vera's brother Oscar. They were to have arrived from Vienna, but, upon their arrival into the city had completely disappeared.

Of course, it's not as simple as Vera living at 93rd Street and Shoreham wanting to know when Goodman finds her. Because when Goodman arrives at 93rd Street, Joey and a very curious Rex arrive to see what's up. There they find that yes, a Vera Housamann's name is on the mailbox, but when they go inside to find out what's up with this mysterious woman, they discover a ghastly scene: a dead woman.

She had been neatly and horribly decapitated. And not too long ago either. I put my hand over my eyes, said "Good God!" and turned off the light. I went out into the hall. white faced, Sackler followed me.
"I don't care if you lose a hundred fees," I said. "I'm getting out of here."
for once Sackler did not think of money. "Joey," he said in a dry, strained voice, "I'll be at the front door long before you."
We clattered down the stairway together.

The cops get involved, Sackler and Joey find intriguing clues left behind like footprints on the wall, find out that Goodman was in love with Vera Housamann, and Goodman, convinced that the corpse is not Vera, hires Sackler for five thousand dollars to find the real Vera. All of these are added to the mix and result in a extremely entertaining short story.

I'm trying to find out whether these Rex Sackler stories have ever been reprinted. If they haven't, they certainly should be. I'll be the first one in line to buy a copy of these rich, hilariously narrated tales. I'm also investigating more on D.L. Champion. According to the Thrilling Detective web site, "Author Champion was born in Australia and educated in New York. He served with the British Army in World War I, worked in the merchant marine, and read copy for a slew of magazines, before turning to writing himself. He was also the creator of legless, cantankerous "unofficial" homicide dick Inspector Allhoff and Mexican "detectivo particular" Mariano Mercado." Champion's Inspector Allhoff stories were reprinted in Footprints on a Brain, The Inspector Allhoff Stories which was published by Adventure House in 2001. And some of my pulp expert friends like Walker Martin may know more about Champion.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A Silver Rush Strike: Interview with Mystery Writer Ann Parker

What was a pretty run-of-the-mill Tuesday morning turned into a wonderful afternoon when I opened my email to find that my friend Ann Parker had sent back the interview questions I had sent her a while back. Ann, as some of you probably know, is a wonderful mystery writer. Her Silver Rush mystery series is now three books strong with the third book, Leaden Skies, just being released last month by Poisoned Pen Press.

All of the Leadville books (Silver Lies, published in 2003; Iron Ties, released in 2006, and now Leaden Skies) are set in the city of Leadville, Colorado in the late 1870s and early 1880s, when the town was in the middle of the wild Silver Rush. Ann's great protagonist, Inez Stannert, is a female saloon owner trying to deal with various town characters, murderers, celebrities, millionaires, prostitutes and politicians and businessmen with their own particular agendas.

The book jacket copy for Leaden Skies definitely locked me in:
As part owner of the Silver Queen Saloon, Inez Stannert has often observed the ruination that comes from yielding to temptation.Still, that hasn’t stopped her from taking Reverend Justice Sands as her lover. Nor does it stop her from striking a backroom deal with upscale brothel madam Frisco Flo, a deal that Inez gambles will make her financially independent.

But when the body of Lizzie, one of Flo’s women, is discovered and Inez learns that Flo has another silent business partner whose identity she will not divulge, Inez begins to have second thoughts. In a race to untangle the dealings of the high and the low during Grant’s visit, Inez finds herself facing demons from her past, even as she fights to save her reputation and her life.

Ann and I met while we were both working in the Livermore, California area, and I always like to think that it was somewhat serendipitous that we ended up in the same department as writers, because she was a invaluable mentor to me during my struggles in getting Pulp Writer published. So I'm very happy to present this interview with who is becoming one of the most popular and highly regarded women writing of the West. At the end of the interview is a short list of Ann's upcoming appearances in the southern California area starting this week, and also the link to her website with more upcoming appearances listed.

1. How did you come to start the Silver Rush series? What gave you the inspiration?

I was inspired to start writing the series by none other than my Uncle Walt, my father’s brother! At a family reunion in 1997, Uncle Walt, while summarizing our genealogical family history, mentioned that my Granny Parker had been raised in Leadville. My first reaction was: WHAT?? Granny (who had died back in the 1980s) had never mentioned Leadville to me, although she’d often talked about what it was like being a young woman in Denver. I had no idea she’d ever lived anywhere else. So, I asked Uncle Walt, “What the heck is Leadville?”

He gave me a brief, but enthusiastic overview of Leadville and its history, ending up with: “Ann, I know you’ve been thinking of writing a novel. I think you should research Leadville and set a story there.”

Well, I was intrigued by what my uncle had said, so I started doing a little research. It wasn’t long before I was hooked on Leadville’s history. Too, this initial exploratory research phase coincided with the dot-com boom, right where I was living. What I read about the silver rush resonated with what was going on around me at the time: Everyone was throwing caution to the wind in hopes of “getting rich quick.” History was repeating itself—different place, different era, but similar dynamics. I found the parallels between times present and past fascinating.

2. You didn't draw the town of Leadville out of a hat. Apparently you have some extensive family history entrenched in that town. Tell us more about that.

I’m still searching out my granny’s past. She came from a working-class family, and there just isn’t that much information to glean. I know she was the oldest daughter of a blacksmith, Lawrence Stannert (who himself apparently came from a fairly long line of blacksmiths; at least, as far back as I could trace: three generations or so). He came out from Pennsylvania to Leadville, probably, I'm guessing, to better his lot. Soon thereafter, he brought his wife Mary and young daughter Inez Stannert (yes, I gave my protagonist Granny’s name with the family's blessings). From city directories of Leadville, I can see he worked at the Arkansas Valley Smelter as a farrier, then worked at a smaller blacksmithing operation in town, then went back to the smelter. I know that Granny didn’t graduate from high school - something she always regretted. Education must have been very important to her: She raised three children who became an engineer, a doctor, and a legal secretary.

3. How much research do you do for each book? As in months? Do you find research gets a little easier with each book or not?

It’s hard for me to even guesstimate, as I do my research in bits and pieces as I have the time. A few hours here or there, sometimes in stretches as long as a couple of days (when I go to Colorado specifically to research whatever book I’m working on). Generally, as time goes on, the “flavor” of the research changes. I usually am focusing on different topics for each book (long-term repercussions of the Civil War for Iron Ties, for instance, vs. the “politics of the day” for Leaden Skies), so I always have something new to run down and thrash through. But I think I've become a little more savvy with each book. For instance, I more quickly ask for help from an ever-growing list of contacts and experts when I get stuck on something, and, if searching out the answer to a very specific question becomes a big “time sink,” I’m now more likely to search out a “write-around” solution … This is fiction, after all, and if the answer isn’t forthcoming, well, the writing must get done.

4. I know sometimes in the past I've gotten frantic emails from you a couple of times asking if I know of any experts on obscure subjects, such as women's divorce rights in Colorado, or how many miles a horse could travel on a winter day carrying a specific number of pounds. I know mystery writers can be sticklers for detail.

So true, so true. That’s why, whenever I travel or get out and around on the internet, I’m not shy about letting people know if there’s something I’m having trouble finding out about. The devil, as they say, is in the details.

5. Who are some of your mystery gurus, and what did you read early on? When did you start writing mysteries, did you just jump in and write the first Silver Rush book, or were there other projects before then?

Well, I read all over the map. As a kid, I liked the Sherlock Holmes stories (I wasn’t a big Nancy Drew fan). I read a lot of sci-fi/fantasy, and loved Ursula LeGuin (Wizard of Earthsea, anyone?), as well as “spy/thriller” types of books and general fiction. Mysteries were just part of the stack I would regularly carry home from the library. I’ve always been a “hired gun” as a writer -- I’ve worked 30+ years now as a tech writer/science writer/corporate communications specialist/anything-to-do-with-words type of person. So, when I turned to writing fiction in my late 40s, I had plenty of well-used writing tools in my toolbox. When I became fascinated by Leadville, I took a course in “How to Write a Mystery” by local mystery author Penny Warner and jumped right in with Silver Lies.

6. Why mysteries?

Mysteries provide a built-in structure: There must be a plot (obviously), there’s a crime, a villain, clues, suspects, story and character arcs, a resolution, etc. etc. It’s like having a building framed and ready to go. I add paint and landscape/decorate as I wish!

7. What is it about the 19th century that you find the most fascinating to write about?

I find I’m often drawn to historical events that “resonate” with the current times in which I’m writing. I was researching the silver rush boom times for Silver Lies while the craziness was going on all around me in California. The behavior I witnessed matched what I was reading about regarding Leadville a century and a half ago! In Leaden Skies, I became fascinated by politics (gee, I wonder why… ).

8. In the first Silver Rush mystery, Silver Lies, Inez Stannert deals with having a son that has been sent back east to live with relatives, rather than with his saloon-running mother, and Inez's pain over that situation runs through the book. Was there something in your research that led you to add this sub-plot? How prevelant was this in the pioneering days?

It apparently was not uncommon for young children to stay “back East” with relatives while the parents headed into more unsettled territory. Once things calmed down (if they did), then sometimes the parents would bring the children out, in one way or another. For instance, writer/artist Mary Hallock Foote (the women which Wallace Stegner used for inspiration for Angle of Repose) and her mining engineer husband Arthur Foote often left their children with Eastern relatives when his job took him off into “frontier” territory.

9. Tell us about your writing day. You have a full time job and a family. Plus you do extensive marketing for your books that are currently out. So give us some tips on how to manage it all!

Everyone does the writing gig differently, and I would not recommend my (non)schedule. I don’t write every day. Nor every week. I thrash around with my research for a while, get a flash of insight as to the start of the book, write the opening scene, write the synopsis for the editor’s review, get the okay to proceed, and charge forward. Then, life usually interrupts at some level, and rather than charge, I lurch along for a while. Something usually pops up that drives the fiction-writing to the top of my to-do list (usually it’s a deadline-related thing) and I am “propelled by panic” to pick up the pace and race to the end.

How to manage it all? My tip: Do what works for you. If that’s writing a bit every day or on the weekends, do that. If it’s more a “NaNoWriMo” thing (rough draft all at once), do that. There’s no right or wrong way.

10. You have been a science writer for many years, including being a feature article writer for our former employer's monthly magazine. Those articles were not easy to research nor write, and yet you did it, month after month, AND wrote your first two books while working there. Did you ever find the demands of scientific and/or journalism writing conflicted with the creative free-thinking that fiction writers depend on? How did you manage to turn on off in order to do the other?

Actually, I find it a relief to turn from one form of writing to another. Must have to do with the way my brain is wired: I double-majored at Berkeley in Physics and English Literature, way back when, and it was the same for me at that time. And, I love to research - whether the topic is particle physics or women’s rights (circa 1880), the research techniques and the thrill of the hunt are the same!

11. You were a tremendous help to me when I was struggling with Pulp Writer. Do you have any words of wisdom for new writers who might want to break into writing mysteries?

Persist. Don’t give up. Find other writers who are supportive and encouraging.
The mystery community is, in general, very welcoming and supportive of those just starting out. I’d suggest checking out Sisters in Crime, particularly the on-line “Guppies” (for pre-published/just-getting-started writers) chapter. You can read more about it here: . Note: Guppies (and SinC) welcome both women AND men!

12. And finally, in a homage to one of my favorite blog The Tainted Archive and its interviews, my final question: If you were stranded on a desert island, what would be your one mystery of choice to have, and what mystery movie?

My mystery book of choice would be the next one I have to write! (Having uninterrupted time to do so sounds heavenly.) Of course, that means I’d need a computer that can withstand beach sand.
I think I’d pass on the mystery movie so I could focus on the writing I have to do…
Onward with Book #4!

Here's Ann's schedule for the next week:

Thursday, August 20, 7 p.m.
Burbank Buena Vista Branch Library
300 North Buena Vista Street
Burbank, California

Friday, August 21, 7 p.m.
Mysterious Galaxy Books
7051 Clairemont Mesa Blvd.
San Diego, California

Saturday, August 22, noon
Mysteries to Die For
2940 Thousand Oaks Boulevard
Thousand Oaks, California

Saturday, August 22, 3 p.m.
Mystery Bookstore
1036-C Broxton Avenue
Los Angeles, California

Sunday, August 23, 12:30 p.m.
Book 'Em Mysteries
1118 Mission Street
South Pasadena, California

And for more information on Ann,all of her books, and a complete list of appearances scheduled, go here. And if you're a history buff, check out her Links page - it's fantastic!

Thank you, Ann. And may there be many more Lead-full mysteries in your future!

Monday, August 17, 2009

BBC 100 books most people should read - how many have you read?

The BBC believes most people will have read only 6 of the 100 books on the list below. I've italicised and bolded the 38 I've read and would like to tag Kimberly Marlowe Hartnett, Howard Hopkins, David Cranmer, Ann Parker and Dave Lewis to copy and paste the list onto their blogs, identify which ones they've read and tag 5 other victims.

1 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
2 The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien
3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
4 Harry Potter series - JK Rowling
5 To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
6 The Bible
7 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
8 Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell
9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman
10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens
11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott
12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy
13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare (not the whole book!)
15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier
16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien
17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulk
18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger
19 The Time Traveler’s Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
20 Middlemarch - George Eliot
21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell
22 The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald
23 Bleak House - Charles Dickens
24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams
27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll
30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Graham
31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens
33 Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis
34 Emma-Jane Austen
35 Persuasion - Jane Austen
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - CS Lewis
37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres
39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
40 Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne
41 Animal Farm - George Orwell
42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney - John Irving
45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
46 Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery
47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy
48 The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood
49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding
50 Atonement - Ian McEwan
51 Life of Pi - Yann Martel
52 Dune - Frank Herbert
53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen
55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens (started it...)
58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night - Mark Haddon
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
65 Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac
67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
68 Bridget Jones’s Diary - Helen Fielding
69 Midnight’s Children - Salman Rushdie
70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville
71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens
72 Dracula - Bram Stoker
73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson
75 Ulysses - James Joyce
76 The Inferno – Dante
77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal - Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray
80 Possession - AS Byatt
81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens
82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker
84 The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro
85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte’s Web - EB White
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
90 The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton
91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
94 Watership Down - Richard Adams
95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
97 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas
98 Hamlet - William Shakespeare
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl
100 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Scanners to Buy and Letters to Write About

Well, it looks like I'm going to have to break down and buy a scanner. Not something I wanted to do at this particular moment in time, but it wasn't until I didn't have a working scanner that I realized how much I depended on it. I'm only telling you this because that's why I haven't been back with another Black Mask short story summary. I didn't want to do one on the current story I'm reading - "Heads - the Corpse Loses" by D.L. Champion, until I could give you a decent picture of the magazine cover. I will tell you that the story is terrific. Champion is known for his "Corpse" stories, and this is one of his Rex Sackler/Joey Graham private eye series - hard boiled and very funny.

I'm also working on an article for Blood N Thunder magazine, based on the letters my grandfather received from the editors of Wild West Weekly while he was writing for them from 1928 to 1943. The letters, written by Ronald Oliphant up until 1939. My grandfather and Oliphant became very friendly, and my uncle, Thomas Ronald Powers, was named for the editor. These letters provide a window into the pulp industry from which you can see the extraordinary stress that both the editors and writers were under to produce a staggering amount of words. Here's one of the letters. By this time, it appears that the relationship between the two men had become strained due to my grandfather's constant tardiness in getting his stories in. But you can hardly blame him, judging from what was asked of him.

Anyway, it's a great project to work on and I'm indebted to Ed Hulse, editor of Blood N Thunder, for giving me the opportunity to do it. I do have to say that it's also good to have a deadline. This time I have no excuses.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Finding (Or Losing) Time to Read

"Sometime late last year -- I don't remember when, exactly -- I noticed I was having trouble sitting down to read. That's a problem if you do what I do, but it's an even bigger problem if you're the kind of person I am."

Thus begins a marvelous essay that was printed in the Los Angeles Times last Sunday by David Ulin, book editor for the times. The essay is called "The Lost Art of Reading," and I recommend everyone who cares enough about the subject to read it.

It's a topic that I've been wanting to write about for several weeks. I find myself reading less and less nowadays. Now, I know why I'm reading less and less. That's a no-brainer. It's everything that fills up most of our days: work, driving, errands, keeping up a house and, in my case, a very large yard, walking dogs, keeping up with emails, facebook, and after that, trying to have some kind of social life. Time was when I could read for at least a couple of hours every day: one hour in the morning when I get up; another hour at night. Now I do spend the mornings reading, but many times it's the newspaper, which may or may not be a satisfying experience. As far as the evenings go, forget it. I'm lucky if I get 15 minutes in before I fall asleep.

But what disturbs me is that when I look at the distractions I listed above, I'm having a hard time deciding whether or not I want to give up any of these for reading. Now that's scary. I have to have a house because of having two large dogs and actually I prefer a house to a condo. So doing away with yard maintenance isn't an option. Also I don't want to give up my garden. Work, my dogs, my social life, emails, are all necessities. I have sworn off Facebook on occasion, but I find myself sneaking back into the kitchen to take a quick look ("Has anyone commented on my post?"). And that in and of itself can be distracting. And addicting.

I think the turning point for me was when I bought my first house back in 2002. I immediately was swept up in house painting, gardening, refurbishing, whatever. Add to that the fact that the only houses I could afford were located in an area 45 miles away from work. Overnight my commute went from 30 minutes a day to 3 hours. I had entered that twilight zone of home ownership: where people go when they want to own a home, where they spend 20-30 years of their lives getting up at 4 a.m. to get on the freeway and not getting home until 9 p.m., and spending your entire weekends sleeping off the commute and working....around the house.

Well, I got out of that, and now I'm renting. I work from home, so I only have a commute one day a week. I have someone come and cut my lawns now every two weeks. And I still don't have time to read.

I was reading another blog recently, Gary Dobb's fine blog The Tainted Archive, in which this subject was discussed. A lot of people commented that they read on the trains to work. But that isn't an option for people in the Los Angeles area, because of our very limited mass transit operations.

I'd like to hear other people's feedback on this. And don't forget to read Ulin's essay in the Times.

Black Horse Westerns in True West and Adopting Wild Mustangs

Just started a new story this morning from the September 1943 issue of Black Mask: "Heads, the Corpse Loses," by D.L. Champion. Hopefully it won't take me a week to read it like the last story did. Not that the last story was slow; there just isn't enough hours in the day.

Also wanted to point out to everyone about the new issue of True West magazine. There is a two-page spread in this issue (August) about some of my favorite writers: those of the Black Horse Western variety. The article discusses Robert Hale company in London publishes more Black Horse Westerns per year than Leisure Books here in the U.S. It's a good piece and worth buying the magazine for.

I haven't had a chance to look at the rest of the magazine for reasons pointed out in the first paragraph above, but one ad did catch my eye: the upcoming schedule for adopting Mustangs, sponsored by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. There are several during the next month in Ithaca, NY (New York and wild Mustangs: there's a combination I'd never thought I'd be seeing), Kansas, Wyoming, Idaho, Indiana and if my state abbreviation knowledge is correct, MS = Mississippi. Go to for more info. I'd like to go to one of these some day to check it out, although I have reservations. I'd probably come home with one or two, and loading them into my Hyundai Tucson would be a problem.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Black Mask Story: "I'd Thought I'd Die" by Frederick C. Davis

Black Mask Story of the Week
From the September 1943 issue:
"I'd Thought I'd Die" by Frederick C. Davis.

Unfortunately I'm still having scanner issues, so here's a cover from another Black Mask that may have been from the same year.

According to the Comprehensive Index to Black Mask 1920-1951 (Edward Hagemann), this is the first of two Peter Trapp stories writen by Frederick C. Davis for Black Mask. Peter Trapp is manager pro tem of the Wright Detective Agency.

Even before his current dilemma begins, Trapp is walking a highwire: the previous owner of the Wright Detective Agency had fired him due to "an unfortunate misunderstanding." But Worthington had died, and his brother Webster had rehired Trapp, not only as an employee but as the new pro tem manager of the agency.

The story opens with Trapp writing a letter to Webster explaining why he never showed up after being summoned to Webster's office. Trapp, we find out, was on his way to see his boss when a Dr. Andrew Danvers showed up at his door with a large envelope; Trapp's current client, Lois Kirby, had asked that the doctor deliver the package to Trapp. Trapp, though, is in such a hurry to make sure that he isn't late for the appointment with his employer that he asks the kind doctor to wait until he gets back. Danvers agrees and Trapp leaves. Except that after Trapp has hit the street, he hears a large crash eminating from his office. He returns to find Danvers unconcious after being beaten; Trapp, while investigating why Danvers had been assaulted in his office, gets the same treatment from the unknown assailant. Trapp awakens shortly afterward on the floor, greeted by Lois Kirby's shapely legs and the fact that the envelope that Danvers delivered is gone.

Ths begins a long, convoluted story of Trapp's new assignment: to determine once and for all whether Mr. Flood, businessman, cuckolded husband (although we don't know that yet) is most certainly dead. Several people have a vested interest in the status of Mr. Flood, the least of which is his wife/widow. Another person is Mr. Wright's client, Elaine Weldon and her husband Donald, because Elaine is Mr. Flood's daughter. Then we have Mr. Entry, who has a legitimate power of attorney for Mr. Flood. Mr. Entry stands to lose a large sum of money should Mr. Flood be declared officially dead, because that power of attorney becomes null and void at the point of the grantor's death. If he is not declared dead, then Mr. Flood can still conclude a transaction that Mr. Flood began for a chain of restaurants and Mr. Entry stands to gain a large sum of money that he has surreptitiously pocket from the deal. Mr. Wright, however, knows this, and wants Trapp to reassure him that Mr. Flood is indeed, truly dead. His daughter, for one thing, stands to gain a substantial interest in Mr. Flood's estate should he be declared dead.

One can only wish that the story was as simple as that. But a devastating fire at a local nightclub, one that claimed several hundred fires. Every single body has been claimed and identified, with the exception of one. This is where Miss Kirby comes in, because it's suspected that her boyfriend, Jimmy Cobbs, went to the nightclub that night, but Miss Kirby is positive he wasn't there and only wants him to come back to her so she can marry him before he leaves for the military.

But....Mr. Flood and his wife also attended the nightclub that night. And, we learn, that the last body left has just been identified as that of a Robert Lewis. Wright, however, is determined to prove that Mr. Lewis has been wrongly identified, so Trapp is left with the task of getting the body exhumed. Trying to find Mr. Lewis' brother in order to serve the Order to Exhume, Trapp does not find any trace of him or of the deceased Mr. Lewis himself, Trapp discovers that these men have actually no records -there are no draft records, no social security numbers, no addresses - these men had never existed.

Tired yet? Imagine how Trapp feels. And we're only about half-way through.

I'll stop there, only because I don't know how much you readers want me to divulge and besides it's past my bedtime. I'm wondering whether any of these Davis Black Mask stories have been reprinted or included in any anthologies. It definitely would be worth looking into.

The author:

Frederick C. Davis (1902-1977) wrote 16 stories for Black Mask, but he is best known for the first twenty Operator 5 stories that were printed as the Operator 5 magazine by Popular Publications.

However, his pulp writing career had a number of other credits as well. The list included the famous Moon Man series for Ten Detective Aces, a number of long running characters in Dime Detective as well as other Popular Publications magazines as well. He would later move on to hardback fiction.

The Vintage Library web site says, "Mr. Davis brought a unique style to the Operator 5 series. These stories had strong plots, plenty of action, consistent dialog, and loose ends always seemed to come to closure by the stories end. Mr. Davis often used factual information as the basis for his stories and often provided detailed footnotes. It has been reported that with careful research, one could even find the original newspaper headlines that had influenced Operator 5 stories.

....Ultimately, the frantic pace of a novel/invasion every month got to Frederick Davis and he resigned from the Operator 5 series, but continued his pulp writing career for Popular Publications."

Movie credits for Frederick C. Davis according to
Lady in the Death House (1944, from story "Meet the Executioner")
Who is Hope Schuyler (1942, "Hearses Don't Hurry")
Double Alibi (1940, "The Devil is Yellow")

I'll have more about Frederick C. Davis when his granddaughter Karen has a few moments to write a short biography for us - hopefully in the next few weeks.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Tarnished Star Now Available in the U.S.

My friend Gary Dobb's first Western, The Tarnished Star, (written under the pseudonym Jack Martin) is now available in the US at Amazon here in the US. This is great news, because when it was first released it was only available on Amazon UK and The Book Depository. Both of which are fine to purchase books from, but they are in the UK and you do have to deal with that issue of geography and the time it takes to get the book in your hot little hands. And believe me, you don't want to miss this one.

Some of you might recall that I reviewed this book a few months ago. To get to that review, go here.

Black Mask Story #1 (A Prelude).

Sunday night, I opened up one of the two Black Mask magazines I bought at Pulp Fest. This particular issue, September 1943, features an Ed Jenkins novelette, "The Gong of Vengeance," by Erle Stanley Gardner, and it's one of the reasons I bought this issue. But when I was contemplating the purchase, I checked out the Table of Contents and was delighted to find that one of the stories was by Frederick C. Davis (1902-1977), whose work was honored with a panel at Pulp Fest and was represented at the convention by his son and his granddaughter, Karen Cunningham. Karen and I had a couple of very interesting conversations and found out that our grandfathers had a few things in common besides the pulps: they had both grown up in the Kansas/Missouri area and both of their fathers had been physicians.

Frederick C. Davis was a prolific writer who is famous to many pulp enthusiasts for writing the "Operator #5" stories featuring Jimmy Christopher, "America's Secret Service Ace." Davis wrote these stories until 1935, at which time another writer picked them up.

Anyway, this Davis story is entitled "I Thought I'd Die," and it is a Peter Trapp novelette. I emailed Karen and asked her if she knew anything about this character and she didn't. She did some quick research on google and found the "Comprehensive Index to Black Mask, 1920-1951, which showed that her grandfather had written 13 stories for the magazine, two of which were Peter Trapp stories. So while the editors may have hoped that Davis would write more about this character, there were only two in the final output.

I'm not done with the story yet, but will give you a review later in the week with a short bio of Davis. Promise. And Karen told me that she will be happy to give me more information on her grandfather in a few weeks once she takes care of a few mundane chores like writing a master's thesis. I really don't know why she thinks that would be more important than my blog.

And I'm sorry to say that my scanner died somewhere between last week and this morning, so I can't show you a photo of the cover of this issue. (First my computer died a few weeks ago to the tune of about $400, and now my scanner. And my refrigerator is making funny noises now. Is Mercury in retrograde??) To appease you Black Mask fanatics, here's another one with a rather famous story featured on the front.

Monday, August 3, 2009

California Writer's Club talk, August 4

Just a short note for now to let you all know that I'll be speaking at the California Writer's Club, Long Beach branch, tomorrow night, at 6 p.m. It will be at the Los Altos branch of the Long Beach library, just off of Bellflower and Britton. I'll be talking about my grandfather's book, Pulp Writer, and also give a short history of pulp fiction. And now that I'm reinforced with all this good information I got at Pulp Fest, I'll have loads of new stories to tell. Hope I can fit it all in an hour - I was running over time before, so it will be even harder now. I'll also put out my display of pulps (a small pile but growing and now more respectable with two Black Masks) and will have Pulp Writer for sale there as well.

Speaking of Black Mask, I was mulling over the idea of reading the stories in these and then reporting on the stories as I go on this blog. Plus any anecdotes of the writers, IF I can find information. Some of the stories may be under pseudonyms, so I may not get far with that. But then other names should be easy to track, because as we know many well-known writers wrote for Black Mask. I know one of these issues has an Erle Stanley Gardner in it, for example. If this is something that appeals to you, let me know with a comment - it will encourage me to get started. By the way, the Black Mask shown here is NOT the one I bought. If it was, I wouldn't be having to go to work today.

I'm not exactly sold on my blog's new format. I did really like the last format with the photo on top, but I always wanted to have that photo be a pulp cover or an photo from an old Western movie. But pulp covers didn't fit the template, and it was very hard to find old Western photos that would fit into the template that Blogger provides - they always came up only filling in half of the template with the other half white. Plus the photos I would use would end up very large, so you readers were forced to scroll down just to get to the first post. If you all have any ideas, let me know. One thing I do like about this template is that you get to the first post right away so you can start reading my wonderful prose immediately.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Pulp Fest, Day Two

On my way out the door to catch my plane - it's an ungodly hour and I really wonder why I booked it this way but I did and that's the way it goes. Will be home by 3ish California time. Just wanted to post a few photos from yesterday at Pulp Fest and to report that yesterday turnout was just as great as Friday if not better. Partly that may have been due to a local Columbus TV station covering the con on their morning news yesterday. Whatever it was, there were more people than the con had anticipated, with lots of new people to the hobby coming in, which is what we all wanted.
Otto Penzler, shown here, spoke Saturday night and reported that he has two books coming out: the first is a Black Lizard Big Book of Vampire Stories, coming out this fall, and next year, the one I've been waiting for, a Black Lizard book of Black Mask Stories. Which brings me to report that I am no longer a Black Mask virgin: I bought two copies yesterday, both early 1940s. With those purchases, I guess I have gone over to the realm of being an official collector, not one who has in the past just read Wild West Weeklies for research purposes. I have gone over to the dark side now....