Thursday, December 13, 2018

Interview with Christine Lee Managing Editor at The Crowood Press

To celebrate the publication of AMBUSH AT SKYLINE RANCH, I contacted Crowood Press for an informal question & answer session with Christine Lee, Managing Editor, at The Crowood Press

TM: Thank you for joining me for this on-line conversation! The first thing I want to discuss is the growing popularity of the BHW brand. Specifically, what is the best way for American readers to get these books? Can they order them direct from Crowood?

CL: Yes indeed. At present it’s best to order via the Black Horse Western website CLICK HERE! The books can be bought either as hardcover or as e-book downloads. But we’re currently working with the US distributor IPG to make the BHW series directly available to the US market.

TM: Do you accept PayPal payments from the public?

CL: Unfortunately we can’t accept PayPal because of the currency conversion fees, but payment by card is fine.

TM: I mentioned in an e-mail the fact that many BHW writers, including myself, like to brag about the cover art. The BHW titles offer pulp fiction style covers that are colorful and exciting. What can you tell me about the cover art process?

CL: This is the fun part of my job! We have three artists who regularly send in artwork for us to choose from. They each have very distinctive styles – Michael Thomas’s work is ‘soft focus’ and has a period feel to it; Andre Leonard’s work is reminiscent of movie posters; Dave McAllister’s work is more dark and gritty. And we also have a stock of artwork from Western comic strips of the 1950s and 60s. Each month I go through the books we are publishing and match up titles and covers, taking into consideration the physical appearance of the lead characters and the location of the story.

TM: How many Westerns did Crowood publish last year and what is the projected number next year?

CL: We publish 72 BHW titles a year, i.e. six per month.

TM: Can you tell me your view on e-book sales? Are all BHW eventually published as e-books, too, or only select titles?

CL: All of the more recent BHW titles are available as e-book downloads. We bought the BHW list about three years ago from Robert Hale Publishers, and have been publishing simultaneously in e-book and print ever since. Robert Hale didn’t publish e-books, so we are slowly converting the backlist into e-books as well. However, some of the authors of the older books have retained the e-book rights to their work. So there are one or two which aren’t available from us as e-books.

TM: Crowood also publishes many other titles. What’s an average work week like at Crowood Press?

CL: As well as the BHW list, we publish a vast range of non-fiction titles, mainly leisure-related. To list every topic we cover would take too long, but for example we publish books on gardening, sport, military history, needlework, photography, motoring and horses, to name but a few. This means that our work is very varied. For example, this morning I’m working on Westerns, but this afternoon I’m going to be working on architecture and theatrical wig-making!

TM: Does Crowood have any plans of creating a Mystery Brand in the same vein as the Black Horse Westerns?

CL: We have no plans for creating a parallel mystery series to run alongside the Westerns. This is because when we bought the Robert Hale list, this included their successful crime fiction books.

TM: Many of the BHW authors use a pseudonym which are as colorful as the characters they write about! What are the best ingredients for a successful BHW?

CL: Each BHW generally has one central character (occasionally two), who is usually a man, often with a troubled past – for example a retired gunfighter, a reformed outlaw or a disillusioned Civil War veteran (of either side). Occasionally the central character will be a woman, often a young widow struggling to survive or maybe a schoolteacher tackling a corrupt local official. Danger will ensue, sometimes courted directly by the hero or heroine in a quest for vengeance, or else by being forced to take a stand against the villain(s). There will inevitably be conflict at some point, most usually involving a gunfight, but the hero or heroine will always be triumphant. There may well be some romantic involvement along the way, with the hero and heroine finding happiness and true love at the end of their tribulations, in true old Hollywood fashion.

TM: What’s the best advice you can offer a young writer submitting their first book to Crowood?

CL: The first step would be to have a close look through the BHW website, and in particular at our guidelines for submission, which can be found here: Try to keep your work historically accurate as nothing annoys our readership more than anachronisms. The word count needs to be 35,000 to 45,000 words, so avoid lengthy descriptions, focusing more on a fast-paced plot. The storyline needs to be fast-moving and exciting, but also plausible. And please do go through your book before submitting it to check for consistency and to make sure that your plot works. Above all, do check for spelling and grammar – in the past we have had to reject manuscripts because they have been too sloppily presented.

TM: AMBUSH AT SKYLINE RANCH is my sixth Black Horse Western, but I’m also excited about some of the other titles being released this month. Tell me about the latest releases!

CL: Ambush at Skyline Ranch won’t be available until December, but our October Westerns will be out at the end of September. These include three stirring (but all very different) tales of vengeance from K.S. Stanley, Michael Stewart and Derek Rutherford; Will DuRey has a story in which a ranch hand has to make a tough moral choice when his boss expects him to turn killer; violence and corruption in a small gold mining settlement is the backdrop for John NcNally’s book; and Bill Grant’s hero is a disillusioned and embittered Union Army deserter facing his demons. So look out for The Line Rider, Tanner’s Revenge, Dead Man’s Return, Remarque’s Law, A Gift from Crick and Gold Rush – six fast-paced and exciting tales of the Old West.

TM: Thank you!

CL: My pleasure, Tom!

Thursday, December 6, 2018

The War Chief by Edgar Rice Burroughs

Edgar Rice Burroughs only wrote a few historical novels, and The War Chief is my personal favorite.  This is the tale of Shoz-Dijiji, a white boy raised by the Apaches. Andy McDuff, the infant of Jerry and Annie McDuff, Scotch immigrants, is spared when his parents are slaughtered by the Apaches. A favorite of Cochise, Shoz-Dijiji learns the ways of the Apache, although some Apaches know that he is white and despise him for it. Shoz-Dijiji believes himself to be a full-blooded Apache, which sets up part of the plot. He soon distinguishes himself on the battlefield, as great a warrior as Geronimo. Romance appears in the form of Wichita Billings (a great name for a female character), and while Shoz-Dijiji is feared by white people, he also demonstrates he has a heart. His triumphs and tribulations are rendered by Burroughs in typical form, and the story becomes an epic adventure. Burroughs was no stranger to writing epics. His Tarzan novels are among the greatest adventure stories, and so, too, are his John Carter of Mars novels. The War Chief follows the successful tradition of Zane Grey’s Western romances, but with the Burroughs touch. I enjoyed it, and I pretty much enjoy everything Burroughs wrote. I prefer his Tarzan and John Carter novels over his other work, but The War Chief is quite good. His vivid imagination brings to life the waning days of the Apaches and their dominance over the West.  Burroughs is one of the great storytellers from the last century and his books remain in print for a reason – they’re great. Published in 1917, The War Chief is easy to find for Kindle or print copies.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Murder at an Irish Wedding by Carlene O’Connor

This is part of a series, “An Irish Village Mystery,” and this is the second book in that series. You can read them in order or in whatever sequence you encounter them. Murder at an Irish Wedding is wonderful, well-written mystery. It’s a traditional suspense thriller in the truest way, and I found it engaging and satisfying chapter by chapter. Siobhan O’Sullivan runs a catering service with her siblings, and in the village of Kilbane she is about to assist with a wedding for a celebrity fashion model, except her groom’s best man suddenly shows up murdered. This all happens in the first few chapters, and from then on the plot thickens, and the suspense never lets up. Author Carlene O’Connor skillfully weaves a suspenseful mystery that left me guessing until the end. I thought I had the killer figured out by chapter 7, but I was wrong. Infused with a love for Ireland, and filled with fascinating characters, and authentic details, Murder at an Irish Wedding has easily found its audience, as have all of the books in this series. With a crisp, clean writing style, Murder at an Irish Wedding turned out to fun and relaxing to read as I tried to decipher the mystery. I was fortunate to meet the author in Chicago at the Irish Books Arts and Music festival and she kindly signed my copy for me. Highly recommended for mystery lovers and readers in general.

Friday, November 30, 2018

Route 14

My dive often began in darkness, and when the temperature was well below zero. The windshield is a pane of ice. My breath makes cold fog that swirls in front of me. I check the temperature gauge and flip on the heater. The fan whines and cold air circulates inside the frozen Nissan interior. My gloved hands are already numb. I let the car warm-up for fifteen minutes. By then, the ice on the windshield has just begun to dissipate. I get a peak outside at the frozen, dark world that is my home.

Illinois is not a friendly state in the winter. It is cold and forbidding, hostile and unloving. I long for spring, and a drive in sunlight, trees swaying in a warm breeze along route 14 which I have been driving across daily for the better part of two decades. Route 14 is a dismal stretch of asphalt that curls from the prairie in McHenry County down through the Fox River Valley and into Chicago. Route 14 is a microcosm for America. It should never be viewed as anything except a microcosm because it represents everything that is good and kind and true about the United States; and it represents the ugly destructive beast that is also part of our national character.

In the winter, Route 14 is an arctic zone; mounds of plowed, gritty snow shoved into heaps in parking lots and at intersections. The color is predominantly gray. For two years I have been snapping photographs and taking notes about Route 14 in my effort to understand this highway. Chicagoland is the crossroads of the Midwest, just as St. Louis is the gateway to the West. The suburban sprawl that intercuts the prairie and former marshlands is home to over four million people. The nature of those four million people is open for debate. For some, this would appear to be four million unhappy, poorly educated people often living hand to mouth. For others, this would appear to be four million generally prosperous people making a go of it. The truth lies somewhere in between opposing viewpoints.
I am always aware of the sky. It covers us with a blanket of moody colors; sometimes bright and sometimes hard and slashing with an oppressive tone. I am also acutely aware of the numerous empty storefronts, the lingering result of America’s economic crisis. Where once we bemoaned the proliferation of unsightly strip-malls alongside our highways, now we bemoan their inability to support the fractured constructs of commerce and industry. In 1818, the population of Illinois was approximately 35,000. Today, the city of Crystal lake boats a population edging on 40,000. The land here with trail that once lead to Fort Dearborn had been a rolling expanse of swampy marsh, oak savanna and various conifer. Many of the marshes had an odor, leading the Indians to call this “land of the skunk;” or according to some historians, Chicago is derived from the Indian word “chicagoua” which is the name of a garlic plant. Vile smells have always been a part of Chicago’s history, most notably with the infamous cattle slaughterhouses and stockyards. Today, the most prominent odors emanate from City Hall for the last sixty-plus years.

From a topographical perspective, Crystal Lake is part of the upper prairie that is still rich, productive farmland stretching all the way west to the Mississippi River. But heading east, you exit the prairie and enter the Fox River Valley, where every resident suffers the identical daily goal of getting out of the Fox River Valley. Of course, getting out of Illinois is also a goal. As of December 2017, and consistent four years running (pun intended), record numbers of people have left Illinois where high taxes, corrupt legislators, and high crime have become routine. The Chicago Tribune reported on December 29th, 2017 that in 2017 Illinois lost a net 33,703 residents, “dropping the state to the 6th largest, below Pennsylvania.” Staying is unappealing.
Residents in Lake County and McHenry County that work in Kane County or Cook County, their daily goal is crossing the Fox River. Getting out of the Fox River Valley is the solitary goal of morning commuters. Traffic bottlenecks in Fox River Grove. The Fox River is 202 miles long, and this winding, unpleasant bridge section is wall to wall automobiles at 6:00 AM. The small bridge and heavy traffic create all the congestion one could hope for.
Once I cross the river I still have to navigate the ghost prairie highway, where the poor condition of the asphalt serves as another blatant reminder that the Illinois Department of Transportation pockets more toll money that it will ever use to improve Illinois roadways. Of course, that topic is off limits with politicians and never investigated by journalists. Crossing the river itself offers but a glimpse of river life; a boater’s summer paradise of riverside bar-hopping and alcoholic excursions. The Fox River is, however, unappealing in every way, a polluted waterway where anglers cook and eat their catch at their own risk. Decades of industrial waste have been poured into this river which nurtures a sturdy if not radioactive breed of catfish that will, according to legend, rot your intestines faster than exposure to plutonium.
Seven Angels Crossing in Fox River Grove lies in the shadow of Bettendorf Castle. It was here, on October 25, 1995, that a school bus was struck by a Metra Union Pacific train, killing seven students. The crash occurred at the intersection of Algonquin Road and US Highway 14. There is a small memorial for the children near the site. The cause was attributed to both a judgment failure by the driver, and the insufficient warning light design of the track system. This is a generic summation on my part of a complicated and tragic set of circumstances. The phrase “Seven Angels Crossing” is of colloquial origin and I have never seen a print reference for it. It is, quite simply, the name locals use when referring to the site of this tragedy.
Bettendorf Castle, located at 418 Concord Avenue in Fox River Grove, overlooks this part of Northwest Highway. The castle rests on a bluff and is obscured by spindly trees and unkempt scrub. Built by Theodore Bettendorf, he wanted to build a version of the Vianden Castle in Luxembourg, and he began the structure in earnest after the first World War. By the early 1950s, the structure included turrets, a drawbridge, towers and even a moat. He took him over thirty-six years to complete the castle which now stands as a point of contention for agitated neighbors who consistently protest the location as a venue for weddings of other public gatherings. The McHenry County Historical Society have at least acknowledged the castle’s cultural importance with a plaque. I have never met the current owners, but I am impressed by their ongoing efforts at restoration and in making the castle accessible to the public.

Driving toward Barrington is fraught with peril during winter. The cold wind helps the snow pile up and ice easily forms along the parched and cracked highway. This is often white-knuckle driving. Fools and drunkards have died along here, as evidenced by the roadside crosses. Everybody is in a hurry to make time and get to work. Safety precautions are thrown to the dogs. I have lost track of the number of mangled cars I have seen and accidents I have witnessed.
At the outskirts of Barrington, I arrive at another desultory stretch of banks, car washes, fast food restaurants and pharmacies. If you blink, you’ll miss the sign just before the McDonald’s restaurant that announces Langendorf Park. There is no park worth mentioning, just an innocuous building, but there was a park here in 1934 when Lester Joseph Gillis, better known as Baby Face Nelson, engaged in a furious gunfight with FBI agents Herman Hollis (the agent believed to be responsible for the shot that killed John Dillinger just weeks earlier), and agent Sam Cowley. Hollis and Cowley were killed, and Nelson was mortally injured, dying later in a safe house on Walnut Street in Wilmette. Nelson’s body was left wrapped in a blanket in front of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Skokie. Today, this gunfight is known as “The Battle of Barrington,” and photos taken at the scene in 1934 show a wooded area that bears no resemblance to the conglomeration of buildings that occupy the space. The Barrington Park District building sits on the site, and there is a plaque on a boulder at the base of the flagpole. A nearby golf course is the only hint that this was once a sparsely populated area. Scant yards away, the dumpster behind the McDonald’s restaurant offers its aroma of decaying food complemented by the ever present buzzing of flies.

The next goal is to put Barrington behind me and that means crossing Lake-Cook Road. I pass Lake Barrington without a glance; an unattractive pond swarming with bird feces. This last bit before Palatine is white knuckle driving in the winter. Palatine is an old neighborhood, pleasant and traditional, and overcrowded. The neighborhoods are tranquil in the summer, with manicured lawns and carefully tended shrubbery where the occasional burst of red or yellow flowers adds a homespun feeling to the streets, like someplace you might see in a Norman Rockwell painting. I pass Rugport, an iconic business that has survived longer than most restaurants.
Arlington International Racecourse opened in 1927 and remains a pre-eminent horse racing venue. From here on route 14 slips into a long stretch of quaint homes and old money, where the only movement you’ll see on a summer’s day is some frumpy old gal walking a poodle on a pink leash with bells. Here, at last the Arlington Racecourse elicits memories of betting on the horses and drinking beer from tall glass steins, watching the gold digging dames in their tight dresses and clacking heels wriggle it for the crewcut money-men, and giving off an aura of desperation.

This was my exit point. Exits are like endings in stories; that place where the story concludes and another one begins.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

The Adventures of Captain Graves - Available Now!

“Last night I dreamed that Victoria Ransom’s corpse floated to the surface of the South China Sea, her mouth clotted with kelp, her eyes shining like two silver coins. She was emotionless and unrepentant; a trinket the sea had given back for some beachcomber to find on a fog-shrouded morn. Her sheer nightgown clung to her obscenely, outlining every once delectable curve.”

In 1936 Captain Elliot Graves took his schooner, The Reaper’s Scythe, to the South China Sea. With a contract to obtain marine specimens for New York’s Natural History Museum, and a reputation for trouble, Graves and his crew are caught up in a treasure hunt on the island of Sumtoa that will test their mettle and pit them against a dangerous adversary. This whirlwind adventure is available now on Amazon!

Here's what people are saying about the book-

PETER BRANDVOLD, Best-Selling Western author: "…a terrific old-fashioned pulp novel by Thomas McNulty, which reads just like something I might have found in Argosy or one of the other great adventure pulps of yesteryear. A real page-turner with good-lookin' wimmen and a great two-fisted hero. Highly recommended! …It’s better than the old pulps! Great premise, terrific two-fisted action!...

ROB COSTELLO, Amazon Reviewer: "Beautiful women, rugged men, tall ships, and treasures. McNulty paints a tale of intrigue and adventure in the South Seas. Modern pulp fiction doesn't get much better than this. I had a hard time putting this one down."

JOHN, Amazon Reviewer: "Tom McNulty has once again proven himself a master of this high-octane action writing."

Story by Thomas McNulty
Cover Art by Ted Hammond
Interior Illustrations by Ed Catto

                                        Click HERE to Order on Amazon!
Courtesy of Ed Catto

Friday, November 23, 2018

Art Matters by Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman advertised this via social media to sell autographed copies so I naturally ordered two. Featuring four prose poems in essay form, Gaiman extrapolates the importance of art: “The world always seems brighter when you’ve just made something that wasn’t there before.” Illustrated by Chris Riddell, this is a great book to read out loud to a young person. This book can easily be a starting point for a discussion on creativity and I’m sure elementary school-age children will react excitedly to the ideas presented here. Adults will like it, too, and maybe even some of them will stop hating because of it. Books can do that, and that’s the whole point. Gaiman suggests it’s okay to make mistakes, too, because we can learn from mistakes as well. Neil Gaiman is the rare breed of author who reaches out to a wider audience with musings and practical advice like this little book. Highly recommended that you add this to your home library and use it often with children as a read-out-loud shared experience. In Gaiman’s own words: “Be bold. Be rebellious. Choose art. It matters.”

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Some Look Better Dead by Hank Janson

As always, three cheers for cover artist Reginald Heade. I shall be accused of being a male chauvinist by the feminist crowd who disdain such public displays of sexuality in a male dominant society, but I don’t care because the cover is awesome. First published in 1950, author Hank Janson was really Stephen Frances and the Hank Janson pseudonym is legendary in the UK. Like Sexton Blake, that UK detective and James Bond style adventurer, the Hank Janson stories are not as well known here in the States. I think they’re fantastic, and I have bought many of the reprint editions by Telos which reproduce the lovely Reginald Heade covers. Some Look Better Dead is one of the better Hank Janson tales, saucy but grim. Hank Janson is also the main character, a reporter for the Chicago Chronicle, and when attending a fashion show he gets tangled up in a web of sexual obsession, deceit and embezzlement. With an introduction by Steve Holland, the Telos reprint series of the Janson novels is a great alternative for readers who like hardboiled fiction in the style of Mickey Spillane. Holland is also the author of a non-fiction account The Trials of Hank Janson which covers the obscenity trial of author Stephen Frances in 1954. The Trials of Hank Janson makes for riveting reading. The Hank Janson novels are short, and I think Some Look Better Dead barely hits 40k words. That’s okay, it’s a brisk ride. The stark sexuality (without being too explicit), hard-boiled patter, and tough guy attitude lend a nice tone to Some Look Better Dead. Spice up your Holiday with one of the Telos Hank Janson reprints.