Friday, February 28, 2014

Peace at Any Price by Chap O’Keefe

Veteran western writer Chap O’Keefe, (AKA Keith Chapman) was kind enough to share with me his latest e-book, now available on Amazon. I’m glad he did because Peace at Any Price is an intelligent and finely wrought western adventure. Told in the traditional pulp style with chapter titles (and loads of suspense, that builds slowly), the tale begins one black night at the Double H ranch where Jim Hunter and Matt Harrison are worried about raiders. Things take a turn for the worse straight-up when their hand, Walter Burridge, is murdered and their ranch burned. Jim, having spotted one of the culprits, a hook-nosed man, vowed not to forget the glimpse he had of Hook-Nose. Although they had managed to save the house from burning to the ground, they hadn’t been able to save old Walt, their loyal friend. Reconnoitering in Brownsville, Matt decides to enlist in the War Between the States, and on the Union side. Jim is crushed, and he soon meets Lena-Marie Baptiste, a saloon gal who will play a vital role in the coming chapters. After the war, Jim’s difficulties send him packing. This a character-driven story, superbly realized, and highly entertaining. O’Keefe is obviously skilled at creating sympathetic characters, and Jim Hunter is someone that readers will relate to. There’s plenty of action along the way, and enough surprises in the plot to keep you turning the pages. I want to mention here that while this western might be referred to as a “traditional western,” that doesn’t mean you’ll guess what happens, and I guarantee you’ll be satisfied by the outcome. The plentiful action and fascinating characters had me whipping through the book like a man in a hurricane – which reminds me – the story is near epic and does indeed involve a hurricane. Chap O’Keefe is a hell of a writer, and I admire both his talent as a wordsmith and his voluminous imagination. Peace at Any Price is recommended for fans of westerns, but of greater importance, it’s recommended for readers that love a great story told well. The book includes an Afterword, an essay titled “The Heart of a Western,” which I enjoyed as much as the novel. Peace at Any Price is available on Amazon and I recommend you download it and saddle up with some great fiction. I’ll be reviewing additional books by Chap O’Keefe in the coming months.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Rugged Men Magazine, March 1959

Just for fun let’s go back to 1959 when this issue of Rugged Men could be yours for 35 cents. Eisenhower was about to retire and Jack Kennedy and Richard Nixon were on the verge of a historic presidential campaign. Hollywood lost Errol Flynn, George Reeves, Lou Costello, Mario Lanza, Ethel Barrymore and Cecil B. DeMille. Some of the top films that year were Ben Hur, North by Northwest, Rio Bravo, and Operation Petticoat. Best selling novels included Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak, Exodus by Leon Uris, Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov and Hawaii by James Michener. None of these authors appear in Rugged Men Magazine, but Lou Cameron does.

Red-Headed Hero From Hell by Lou Cameron is a feature article about Tom Cochrane, Earl of Dundonald, and his adventures at sea in the 1700s. There is nothing special about the article, except Cameron’s stylistic flourishes are sometimes fun to read: “Surrounded by dense clouds of yellow smoke; the hellish figures charged! The terrified Spaniards fled – one would be crazy to do battle with devils!” Obviously, there’s no way Cameron could have known such details based upon actual historical records, but Rugged Men readers required rugged prose. All of the articles make for good examples of a magazine style that is long vanished, but fun to peak at today.

Fire Ants Ate Me Alive by T. Marshward as told to Roland W. Wilkes is exactly what it sounds like. A sensationalistic piece of first person prose that I thought was a real hoot. The opening lines here are a classic hook: “Five thousand feet below me, Mexico’s Sierra Madre del sur mountains were a gentle-grey-green, flattened to mere ripples by my altitude. Easing back on the stick, I flew my twin-engined, modified Navion into the morning sun. I was taking a well-earned vacation from the California rocket laboratory where I worked as a missile engineer. It had been a night and day grind for me for more than six months, since Sputnik 1 went up. I needed a rest – but quick.” Later, after crash-landing in a remote area, our studly narrator finds himself eaten alive by fire ants. This excruciating ordeal concludes with: “Since I got the artificial feet and stainless steel hands, at least I’ve been able to get a night watchman job. I never go out in the daylight. Children scream when they see my face. Even the adults can’t look at it.” Now that’s what I call a rugged man!

The Harlots Wanted My Blood by John M. O’Brian is such a great title. It turned out to be a good story, too, not far removed from Mickey Spillane’s “let’s kill commies” type of prose. Set in the St. Pauli red-light district of Hamburg, Germany, my favorite line in this hardboiled story was “The Pauli broads make the Piccadilly commandos look like sorority sisters.” Here’s a tale about some AWOL pals, a chum with purple hair, and tough broads with guns. I Cried Like a Child by William Dahn is a Korean war story, masculine and tough as an iron tank. I Have the World’s Ghastliest Job by Jack T. O’Halleran is life through the eyes of a morgue attendant. Let’s just say it ain’t pretty. The Bloodiest Day of the West  by Ephriam Anderson is about the Mountain Meadows massacre in Utah, told in testosterone enriched prose.

The Man Who Really Was Dracula by Winthrop Evanston gets down and dirty with details about Baron Karl Von Allendorf, a nobleman who died in 1532 and who nurtured a taste for human blood. Too Many Tons of Terror by William R. Dennison is about a zookeeper who finds himself in trouble on a safari; and I Saved 3000 Freedom Fighters by Gyula Istvan is another war story. The Racket In Phony Sex Research by Allan J. Dickinger (now I wonder if that’s his real name?) is preceded by a full page advertisement for a mail-order sex manual. The article purports to warn people about phony men – presumably rugged men – conducting surveys about sex. We all know what they really want. The Dagger at America’s Throat by Fred Lovett is about those teenage harems in Omaha that you’ve all heard about. The country’s gone to hell, that’s for sure.

Finally, this edition of Rugged Men features pin-up model Marlyn Maher posing in a photo-feature called Fire and Ice. She’s hot, she’s cold, she’s cute, she pouts and she’s half naked. I also enjoyed some of the advertisements you see reproduced here. Best of all is the cover. I don’t know who the artist is, and the cover has nothing whatsoever to do with the articles and stories, but I like it so much I’m using it as inspiration for a story I’m writing.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Interview with Author Robert Lory

Photo and art copyright © Josh Lory

Robert Lory’s many books include The Eyes of Bolsk, The Thirteen Bracelets, Master of the Etrax, Masters of the Lamp and The Veiled World, among others. His nine Dracula novels, commencing with Dracula Returns (1973), remain popular with fans of supernatural fiction. I had the privilege of connecting with Robert via e-mail and he kindly consented to this on-line interview.
Tom McNulty: Your Dracula books are all now highly prized collector’s items. With that said, what makes Dracula such an appealing character?

Robert Lory: There are several aspects to the Dracula I wrote about, some of them conflicting. First off, there's the potential turn-off that he's far from "likable" -- he would never walk off stage with the Congeniality Award. Second, there's the abject terror his name alone, and certainly his presence, can conjure. Third, his past is one of dark mystery. How did he become this near-immortal, blood-needing, bat-morphing creature? In this sense, and fourth to my mind, he's as much a victim as he is a predator. Somewhere, at some time in the far distant past, something or someone put this soul-twisting curse upon him. Why? What did he do, if anything, to deserve it. Finally, I never thought of him as "evil." Like most creatures, his actions -- though extreme -- are based on the need to survive.

TM: Are there any writers that had an influence on you? I’m especially interested in learning about the books you read that might have influenced you as a young reader?

RL: Conan Doyle and Sax Rohmer (the Fu Manchu series) definitely make the early-years list. Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler showed me how to do noir and anti-heroes.  Max Shulman and Thorne Smith were great at crafting over-the-top humor and sharp-edged dialogue. In science fiction/fantasy, the standout is Jack Vance's Cugel the Clever, who directly influenced the personality and exploits of my Hamper the However (Master of the Etrax).

TM: I was going to ask this question last, but I decided I can’t wait because this is the question I believe all of your fans want answered, so here goes – Do you have any new books in the pipeline?

 RL: I basically retired my fiction keyboard in the early 1980s due to the demands of my full-time work. However, in a recent move (from Texas to Florida), a three-quarters-completed fantasy manuscript unearthed itself. Now and again, I stare at it speculatively.

TM: In Masters of the Lamp and The Veiled World you have Shamryke Odell as a secret agent type who becomes an outlaw. I’ve always liked these books. Can you tell me how this character developed?
RL: Sham literally came off the typewriter ribbon, In the beginning there was no outline, no plot, nothing except the need for my brain to keep up with my fingers. Some writers talk of being "inspired." I think that's too lofty a word. Writing, to me, is a process. Sometimes (and they're great!) the process takes over.

TM: In The Thirteen Bracelets you present an apocalyptic vision of America with parts of the east coast controlled by gangs. Then you have the south separated by race. Some of the motifs and themes are quite timely, even today. Did you consciously include social issues as part of your outline process?

RL: Bracelets never had an outline. What happened was, I sent the first 40 pages to Fred Pohl, who was then editing Ace Books, and asked him if he wanted to see the finished product. He said yes -- but would I include an underground battle and an insane computer?  I really enjoyed shaping both elements. As to the social issues aspect, it seemed to me at the time everybody imaginable was out on the street brandishing graphically challenged signs that were protesting almost everything imaginable. Bracelets was sort of my catharsis.
 TM: Tell me about your writing process. How important is it to create an outline first, and where and when does writing turn into an act of discovery? Or does it? Do your characters surprise you sometimes?

RL: I rarely did outlines. When I first started the Dracula books, the publisher wanted to see them, so I obliged. After the third book, when it was obvious I never followed them, the requirement was dropped. I like your words "act of discovery." That's what the writing process was pretty much all about for me. Other than a general feel for where a book might (and I emphasize the word "might") be headed, I was constantly surprised by what my characters did and said -- even to the extent of a brand new character suddenly showing up at precisely (for my protagonist) the wrong time.

TM: in Master of the Etrax you have an unlikely hero with Hamper the However and his switch-blade peg-leg. I think it’s a fun book, rather charming in a way. And the characters are fantastic. How did this book come about?
RL: Much of my first book, The Eyes of Bolsk, took place on Trovo, and when Lester Del Rey asked me to contribute to the first issue of Worlds of Fantasy, I decided to use the same locale for a quest-based story.  I mentioned earlier my admiration of Jack Vance's Cugel, and I wanted to try my hand at a similarly amoral hero. The However job-title came from my observation that, at high-level corporate meetings, the most unpopular guy in the room is the guy who points out potential flaws in whatever plan is being debated. Since this was Hamper's constitutionally consecrated function, he became the monarch's immediate choice when a particularly nasty assignment came up. As for his name, I wanted something that went well with "the However." And I already had a great example in Cugel the Clever. Ergo, Hamper. I enjoyed writing the story so much, it was a natural for me to expand it to book-length.

TM: When writing, how do you decide which story fits better with a first person narrative or a third person narrative?
RL: It usually boiled down to who was pushing the action and how much back story had to be told -- and who would have to tell it. Sham Odell was, to me, an obvious first-person. Hamper was a third-person, primarily because the format of his story is akin to an odyssey, which demands there be a "teller." When Lyle Engel first thought about the Dracula series, he was thinking first-person. In fact, the back cover of the first printing has Harmon recalling Drac's resurrection in the first person.  That slipped through, because Lyle agreed with me there was no way Harmon -- or any one character -- could know everyone else's back story.

TM: I thought the Dracula series was fantastic, which I’m sure you’ve heard before. Do you think any single book stands out as memorable, or do you think of them as one long storyline?

RL: I can't say I had a favorite, unless it was whichever one I was working on at the moment. While I knew I would be adding more of Dracula's past to each book in the series, my main decision before starting each was to craft a worthy opponent and an appropriate (and different, if possible) setting.
TM: Sometimes your character names seem like puns – Hari Denver and Hamper the However. You obviously have an incredible imagination. How does a writer nurture his imagination and keep the ideas fresh?

RL: My short answer is Beefeaters gin.  My longer answer may sound trite, but as a writer yourself, I think your experience will find it to be of little surprise. Some people don't notice a lot of what's going on in the world around them. They're oblivious to much of the present, more of the past, and all of the future.  Alternative outcomes rarely come to minds that are mostly devoid of a sense of humor. Most steadily published writers I know are polar opposites. Not only do they ask What? -- they also ask What If? Where do these traits come from? We could get into a lot of psychological babble here, but my vote would go to the "right" combination of experiences early in life. By the way, Hari is the name of an Indian friend who worked out of Hong Kong in the '70s.

With special thanks to Robert Lory