Monday, January 25, 2010

Crime Factory Strikes Back

Keith Rawson, Cameron Ashley, and Liam Jose have united forces to bring back Crime Factory, and issue #1 hit the web early early this morning. 108 pages of fiction, essays, reviews, and quotes from favorite authors like David Goodis, Charlie Huston, Ken Bruen, Jason Starr, and more. The lineup for this debut issue is astonishing, and it makes a strong impression with big promises for the future. And judging from the quality of this first issue, big things are definitely on the horizon for Crime Factory. I'm still going through this first issue and I'm already anticipating Crime Factory #2.

Among the authors included in the first issue: Patti Abbott, Cameron Ashley, Frank Bill, Ken Bruen, Jimmy Callaway, Hilary Davidson, Peter Dragovich, Gordon Harries, Liam Jose, Adrian McKinty, Nerd of Noir, Scott Phillips, Keith Rawson, Kieran Shea, Steve Weddle, and Dave White.

All I can say is, "Damn." You don't mess with a crew like that.

Click here for the issue!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Sunday's Book Score

Topping off a great weekend of movies, visiting friends from out of town, tacos and pulled pork, one of my local bookstores obtained a bunch of vintage paperback novels (crime, western, and sci-fi). Unfortunately, they just piled them on the floor and left them under tables to get kicked around, so I rescued a bunch of them today. One of my friends also gave me a couple books as a belated xmas present. Some new authors, some old favorites, a nice mixture. Now, the eternal problem–where to start!

Here's the total score:

Victor Canning, The Limbo Line, Berkley Medallion 1963

Gerald Kersh, Night and the City, Dell 1941 (a mapback edition!)

H.P. Lovecraft, The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, Del Ray 1970

H.P. Lovecraft, The Lurking Fear and Other Stories, Ballantine 1971

E.B. Mann, The Whistler, Pocket Books 1954 (includes the stories "The Whistler," "Outlaw Rule," and "Doctored Guns")

Wade Miller, Calamity Fair, Signet 1951

Vin Packer, Whisper His Sin, Gold Medal 1954

Richard Sale, Home is the Hangman, Popular Library 1943 (includes the story "Beam to Brazil")

Harry Whittington, Cross the Red Creek, Avon 1964

Harry Whittington, Drygulch Town/Prairie Raiders, Ace 1963 (an Ace double!)

Thursday, January 21, 2010

"The Avenger #27: The Purple Zombie" by Kenneth Robeson (Ron Goulart) (Warner Paperback Library, 1974)

In the 1970s, iconic pulp character the Avenger was resurrected once again, with Warner Paperback Library reprinting the original stories as well as commissioning a new series to be written by Ron Goulart (author of the invaluable Cheap Thrills, a beautifully illustrated history of the pulps) under the original house-name “Kenneth Robeson.” The third of these new novels (#27 in the Warner series) was The Purple Zombie (1974), a fun and fast-paced adventure admirably done in the original pulp style.

As the story opens, it is the early 1940s, and Hollywood B-movie starlet Heather Blair is in the middle of shooting a zombie movie when her Uncle Denny knocks at her door—a dead Uncle Denny who is, without a doubt, a real zombie. Cole Wilson, one of the Avenger’s associates at Justice, Inc., happens to be visiting the film’s director at the time and begins to investigate the case. He discovers that Uncle Denny’s body was not the only one stolen from the crypt—also missing is Dr. David Franklin Sheehan, who was working on a radio-controlled bomb when he passed away. The Avenger and the rest of Justice, Inc. join Cole in a frantic pursuit to stop a fiendish German spy ring from reincarnating Dr. Sheehan and gaining access to the top-secret plans.

Goulart speeds through the plot like a fast-burning fuse. The Purple Zombie is inventive entertainment, and even when you can predict the twists (of course someone is going to stop the evil assassin from shooting the Avenger!) you aren’t dissatisfied or disappointed because the story is always moving forward. Goulart’s light touch is what is noteworthy about the book: a subtle sense of humor, swift action, and single sentence paragraphs that leap down the page as fast as the Avenger’s bullets. And nearly every chapter has at least one attraction to command our attention. A brief list would include: panther wrestling; autograph hounds; vintage airplane chases; old abandoned Western movie sets; gala Hollywood premieres; mad scientists; belts with hidden knives and radio transmitters; juice shacks; hearse chases through cemeteries; and, of course, zombies. All that, and more, in just 141 pages.

A few quotes, starting with the first two sentences of the book:

“The dead man went for a walk. That was what spoiled things and led to all the trouble.”

“There was a great whomping sound. A ball of intense orange and black grew suddenly in the gray morning. The green Spad was no longer there. Fragments of the ship, and of the man who’d been flying it, were scattering through the air like a puzzle coming apart.”

“All at once an odd, silvery pistol appeared in the Avenger’s hand. It made a whispering, coughing sound.”

Cover art by George Gross.

"The Chill" by Jason Starr and Mick Bertilorenzi (Vertigo Crime, 2010)

2010 is off to a great start for Jason Starr, who just came off a very successful 2009 with the one-two punch of Fake I.D. in May and Panic Attack in August (review coming soon), as well as news that Bret Easton Ellis was adapting The Follower into a series for HBO and Lionsgate TV. Part of DC Comics’ Vertigo Crime line of graphic novels, The Chill pairs Starr with artist Mick Bertilorenzi, a union of perfectly matched styles. Starr’s sensibility—edgy, hardboiled, darkly funny—finds visual expression through Bertilorenzi’s artwork, as equally adept at capturing action-packed violence as it is subtler, pensive moments that bring characters’ inner tensions to the surface with their furrowed brows and clenched teeth. The latent horror always present in Starr’s work is much more pronounced in The Chill, and it naturally complements his usual interests in psychology, sexual mores, social satire, and the rich and varied landscape of New York City.

Before we get to the city, however, Starr takes us first to County Clare, Ireland. It’s the summer of 1967, and two young lovers—Martin and Arlana—are out for a stroll in the countryside. As they lay down and begin to embrace each other, something unexpected happens—an intense chill overtakes Martin, who is completely frozen. It’s a hell of a way for Arlana to realize that her family heritage isn’t quite so normal.

Cut to present day New York City. The dismembered, frozen bodies of young men are turning up all across the city. The police are baffled not only by the bizarre, brutal crimes, but also the lack of evidence: plenty of people saw the victims going off with a strange woman prior to their deaths, but no two witnesses can agree on what they saw. But then a mysterious rogue cop from Boston shows up who knows a thing or two about Irish mythology and “The Chill,” and it’s up to him to put a stop to an age-old, flesh-hungry curse.

Back-alley passions, decapitation, unholy demons, sleazy bars, and a citywide dragnet, plus more spears, sex and psychopaths than should be collected between two covers (but thankfully are). Bertilorenzi’s images drip with blood (even the shadows seem gory they are so dense), and Starr’s dialogue is as sharp and funny as ever. That, in a nutshell, is The Chill. And what a wonderfully demented nutshell it is. Fans of Starr’s work won’t want to miss this one.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Richard Sale on Words and Writing

More stories from the front line, courtesy of pulpster Richard Sale. It is anecdotes like these that make pulp veterans sound as much like action heroes as the characters they wrote about.

"Up in the morning and hit the typewriter. I wrote a story a day. Three thousand words, five thousand words. Sometimes it carried over into the next day if you were doing novelettes–that would be 12,000 words. You might spend more time for the top magazines–Argosy, Adventure, Blue Book–but for the others you really rattled them off. First draft was the last draft, straight out of the typewriter and send it off. You had to keep them coming all the time otherwise you'd starve."

-Richard Sale, in Danger Is My Business by Lee Server (San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1993).

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Arthur J. Burks on Words and Writing

Legendary pulpster Arthur J. Burks penned a series of articles on writing for the pulp market in the 1930s for Writer’s Digest magazine, several of which were reprinted in John Locke’s Pulp Fictioneers: Adventures in the Storytelling Business (Adventure House, 2004). A prolific wordsmith (at least 4000 words per day, according to a New Yorker article entitled “Burks of the Pulps,” quoted on Duane Swierczynski’s Secret Dead Blog), Burks’ series of articles become increasingly dispirited as the decade wears on. The pressures of the market, and the mental and physical exhaustion of writing millions of words, certainly took their toll.

For my “On Words and Writing” series, I will feature some of Burks’ most insightful passages on both the life of a pulp writer during the 1930s, as well as his advice to writers (much of which is still applicable today). This first quote comes from “Quantity Production” (Writer’s Digest, June 1937). You can read the whole article either in Pulp Fictioneers, or online over at Pulp Rack. I think a lot of people can relate to Burks’ compulsion to write.

When I am not writing, or thinking about a story, there is no living with me. I pace the floor. My family gets out of my way or gets stepped on. My children get kicked across the room. My wife gets her head bitten off if she smiles and says: “How are you, darling?” If the telephone rings I bite the ear off the caller when I say hello. If the door slams I pull my hair and shriek. Traffic outside my window drives me nuts. Everything is wrong, nothing goes right. I hear every sound and it rasps my nerves like a rusty file drawn over a rusty rasp. Absence of sound is even more maddening. I hate my food and my drink. I hate everybody including myself. I won't do anything anybody wants me to do. I can't stay inside, I won't go out. I'm utterly and completely impossible, and the fact that this is so makes me worse than ever…

But when I'm writing, ah, there's the difference! I like to write, I have to write, or go mad. And the more I want to write the faster words tumble over themselves to get onto paper. I'm happy. I'm as interested in the outcome of my story as I dimly hope my readers will be—though right then I don't think about readers or editors or anybody else, except the matter of getting my story on paper. It burns inside me, trying to get out, and I'm happy when it's streaking across the pages at top speed. Editors say I'm careless: I'm not. I'm sold on my story to the exclusion of all else. My fingers won't keep up with my mind—and typographical errors therefore seem to prove to editors that they're right in calling me careless.

My fingers are simply not fast enough, because two of mine do the work of ten. I go do fast, am so burned up with my story that my brain goes right on while I'm changing paper in the machine, as a result of which I have to read back and put in the two or three words at the top-left of the page that I kept on writing in my head and didn't get down on paper.

Do I make myself clear?

-Arthur J. Burks, “Quantity Production” (Writer’s Digest, June 1937)
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