Friday, December 25, 2020

Remembering Guy N. Smith


 

I awakened on Christmas Eve morning to the announcement that Guy N. Smith had passed away. I felt as if I’d been knocked off a ladder and was falling into a deep abyss. I admired Guy’s incredible creative talent, and when I finally met him on September 1st 2019 at his home in England, I learned what so many others have said – Guy N. Smith was a real gentleman. I have been fortunate to meet many celebrities, authors and actors alike, but Guy was the embodiment of courtesy, empathy and sincerity. I cannot think of many popular American authors who comes close to Guy’s generosity and friendliness.

I had written Guy a fan letter once, and this was his reply: “What a magnificent fan letter!  I have received many over the last 40 years but yours is my Number One!  It has been filed in the GNS Collection for posterity.  I cannot thank you enough… Yes, it would certainly be marvelous if we could meet sometime.”

 

We finally did meet, and in trying to do Guy justice, I think the best I can offer during this emotional time, is a look back at what turned out to be the final Guy N. Smith convention which he held annually at his home. I have adapted here some sections from my forthcoming book, and I sincerely hope it properly conveys the magic and excitement of that wonderful day when I shook the hand of a creative genius:

 

I arranged a taxi in Ludlow to drive us to Clun and Craven Arms where author Guy N. Smith would sponsor an annual meeting of his fans at his countryside home. Accompanied by my wife and sister-in-law, our driver, Alex, gave us a tour of the Shropshire countryside that afforded great views of the Long Mynd, and a winding stretch of road the locals refer to as the “Fiddler’s Elbow.” The Long Mynd is rich, green farmland; steep and rising 1,700 feet above sea level, its trails have become popular with hikers. This area between and surrounding Clun and Craven Arms is idyllic, apparently often treacherous in the winter, but nonetheless breathtaking with its rugged beauty. 

The historic Wain House in the Shropshire countryside.

We arrived at the Wain House a bit early and Guy met us outside. “Are you from the States?” he asked, poking his head over the car to get a look at us. I introduced myself and my traveling companions, and GNS ushered us into his home. Here at long last I was shaking the hand of a literary master; a man responsible for creating an astonishing collection of supernatural tales, suspense thrillers, countryside lifestyle books, and a classic Western. He had published over 120 novels, 400 short stories and articles on various topics, and each year at his home he released new books first to the fans. This year he released The Charnel Caves and the 6th Sabat novel, The Return. I would buy ten books that day as I plundered his backstock. In those first moments when we chatted, Guy shared with me his love of the old Buck Jones magazines which he had subscribed to for many years. One of the original cover paintings hangs on his wall; one of his treasured possessions. The artist was Bosch Panlava and the cover was for Cowboy Picture Library # 278 from September, 1958, a digest sized comic book featuring Buck Jones. Guy was unpretentious, and a true gentleman. He made us feel immediately at home. His wife Jean was equally as kind, as were all of his friends and fans who began arriving in groups. It wasn’t long before the Wain House was brimming with excitement. GNS provided a catered lunch to all attendees, and this was a veritable feast. There were sandwiches and cakes and various tasty desserts.

Behind us is the original painting by Bosch Panlava, one of Guy's favorite possessions.

Many of Guy’s fans are regular attendees; this includes Shane Agnew, author of the Guy N. Smith Illustrated Bibliography, the best bibliographic work on a single author I’ve ever seen. Shane’s book is a must-have for the literati. Chris Hall provided the cover, another fine gentleman who offers a great book blog called “Dlsreviews.”  Writer David Owain Hughes, whose collection Brain Damaged would set me on the edge of my seat; and Richard Ayre whose novel Minstrel’s Bargain is the first in a series of excellent supernatural thrillers. 

 

Guy told me they’d lived at the Wain House over forty years, and I could see why. The isolated location and surrounding countryside is magnificent. Guy had landscaped a portion of his property to include a pond, and he had at times leased the property for hunting. He also mentioned that his late mother haunted the place. He told me a story about burying his late brother’s ashes on his property, which had been misunderstood by a neighbor as having been the body itself. Guy had to explain he had buried the ashes, not the body, and so it is that the spirit of Guy’s brother is a presence at the Wain House.

 

While GNS is best known as a “horror writer,” his oeuvre includes much more; stories for young readers, thrillers and police procedurals, and several years writing for The Countryman’s Weekly. In fact, his output of countryside living articles and books is exemplary. Of this work I include Gamekeeping and Shooting for Amateurs (1976), Midland Gun Company: A Short History (2016), and Managing and Shooting Under Ten Acres (2017) as ideal representations. Guy Smith is much more than a horror writer, and yet the spooky tales have made him famous. Guy’s solitary Western, The Pony Riders, published in 1997 by Pinnacle, is widely considered a Western classic and among Guy’s best novels. 

GNS is to my way of thinking the embodiment of what a writer should be. His various interests, devotion to the countryside lifestyle, dedication to his craft, friendliness and generosity with his fans have distinguished him from all others. Of his novels, I offer five as the scariest books written, and I list them for readers to examine at their own risk: The Slime Beast (1975), The Sucking Pit (1975), Doomflight (1981) The Wood (1985) and The Island (1988). 

 

We congregated on the patio, basking in the warm sunlight and chatting about books. Outside the fence-line the swelling hills near the Welsh border shone with a rich texture. An easy, warm breeze nudged us along and the afternoon was peaceful; I had arrived at last, I thought, at a moment where I have met great men, and I took it all in with an unquenchable thirst perhaps only the literati will understand. 

 

David Owain Hughes was telling me about a fascinating character he created, a detective who believes he’s living in another era; and Richard Ayre and I talked about another writer we admired, the late James Herbert, whose books such as The Magic Cottage (1986) and The Secret of Crickley Hall (2006) were favorites. 

 

At mid-afternoon, Guy stood at the doorway on the porch and talked about his new book, Sabat 6: The Return which is dedicated to his friend Karen Anderson. The first Sabat novel, The Graveyard Vultures, appeared in 1982 and introduced Mark Sabat, an investigator at war with the forces of evil. This series was immensely successful and GNS followed up with The Blood Merchants (1982), Cannibal Cult (1982), The Druid Connection (1983), and Wistman’s Wood (2018). This sixth entry is a sequel to The Reaper (2018), a stand-alone about a detective. I wasn’t surprised that Guy had fused the two narratives. The Reaper was clearly intended to be followed by a sequel, and in true form, Guy left open the possibility for yet another sequel. 

Guy and his friend Karen Anderson.

Guy’s second release that day was The Charnel Caves, the ninth of his famous Crabs series, and without question a series of tales that evoke the wild pulp fiction of yesteryear and the B-movie drive-in horror films of our recent past. With the release of two eagerly anticipated sequels, GNS had given his fans exactly what they wanted, and there was not one among us who didn’t savor the thought of sitting down at midnight with the windows shuttered against the approaching autumn to read a classic creepy tale by GNS.

Guy with Shane Agnew (left) and  other fans.

Guy told me about his love for the tales of Sherlock Holmes, and in fact just a few weeks before his passing his stories about his Holmes inspired character, Raymond Odell, was published by the Sinister Horror Company. 

 

With Karen Anderson at his side, Guy told a story about a pendulum which was passed around so that we could all examine it. Guy and Karen shared a chilling experience some years back, and the pendulum, which had been given to GNS by a “white witch,” and as Guy explained “...there was nothing magical about it, it worked on your own body, or not, as the case may be. A simple enough operation, dangle it over something, hold it still and ask it a question. If it revolves in a clockwise direction then the answer is positive, anti-clockwise it rejects whatever with a positive ‘no.’ If it doesn’t move, then either it is not responding, or else your own body electrics do not accept it...”

 

Guy began using the pendulum for various purposes, but his first encounter with the supernatural occurred while using the pendulum in the nearby village of Knighton. Karen, then eighteen, had reported that something scary was occupying her bedroom. “Some friends in Knighton were somewhat concerned as they believed that “something” was occupying Karen’s bedroom. At times the room went icy cold and the light flickered and threatened to extinguish. Nothing materialized, though.”

Guy spent a great deal of time signing books for his fans.

Guy agreed to investigate, and he immediately reported the room was “creepy cold.” He dangled the pendulum and it began to move. He experienced a tingling in his fingers as he held the pendulum. The lights flickered and the air became colder. Karen fled the room in terror. The lights began flickering, an event which was compounded by a decreasing temperature before the things settled down. Whatever spirit or supernatural presence that had been there had suddenly departed. Guy could not explain the event, but concluded by saying, “I cannot explain the events of that evening except that I had clearly made contact with something.” Although it was a warm, bright afternoon in Shropshire, the tale as told by Guy sent a shiver down my spine. 

 

Later, upstairs while perusing the titles he had for sale, I noted Guy’s love for Western fiction. I spied titles by Clarence Mulford, Joe Millard, Nelson Nye, G. J. Morgan, Zane Grey, Jonas Ward and William Colt MacDonald. He is also a fan of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories. Guy’s home, his lifestyle, and his career remain an inspiration.

Treasures beyond compare!

I was loath to depart, but we had arranged a taxi for our return, and at the appointed time I spoke with Guy who said, “Tom, now that we’ve met, you’re always welcome. I do hope to see you again.” We shook hands and I said goodbye to the other attendees. Off we went in our taxi, wheeling across the Fiddler’s Elbow, the sun bright on the fields. How I wish now that I had lingered at the Wain House just a bit longer…

Dinner that evening was at the Unicorn Pub at 66 Corve Street, a favored location in Ludlow. It was a short walk from the Whitfield House, and as we had been warned, the pub was crowded. I drank two pints of Butty Batch and lifted my glass in salute to Guy N. Smith….

…and so it went a little more than a year ago, and now Guy is gone. Grief is the more difficult of life’s challenges. With Guy’s passing I had lost three friends this year. Rather than focus on what I’ve lost, however, I prefer to salute my good fortune in having known Guy N. Smith. I will on this Christmas Day, raise my glass in salute to a remarkable gentleman. May your kind soul and erstwhile spirit be at peace, Guy, and cheers!

Adapted and revised from the forthcoming memoir:

The Idle Hills of Summer: Traveling Through England, Scotland and Wales, 

text and photographs copyright © 2020 by Thomas McNulty

 

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Killer, Come Back to Me by Ray Bradbury

 


Published by Hard Case Crime, this book celebrates Ray Bradbury’s centennial. This book collects 20 of Ray Bradbury’s crime stories, some of which have rarely been reprinted. Bradbury’s crime stories are not easy to come by. Originally published in the pulp magazines, these 20 stories offer a range of stylistic approaches to their subject matter. This is a good collection, but far from the best. These stories represent Bradbury’s developing talent as a narrative stylist. I enjoyed re-reading those stories I’ve read before, and I enjoyed getting acquainted with a few I was unfamiliar with. As a collector, I generally buy any new collections or reprints that have notable distinction from other editions. Hard Case Crime puts out high quality hardbacks and paperbacks, and this made a really fine addition to my collection. The cover artwork is by Paul Mann. Bradbury’s narrative powers are on full display, and as far as I’m concerned, returning to Ray Bradbury’s work is always a cause for celebration. This is a “Must Have” for your home library. Here are the stories you’ll find in Killer, Come Back to Me by Ray Bradbury: 

 

A Touch 0f Petulance
The Screaming Woman
The Trunk Lady

“I’m Not So Dumb” 
Killer, Come Back to Me! 
Dead Men Rise Up Never 
Where Everything Ends

Corpse Carnival
And So Died Riabouchinska
Yesterday I Lived! 
The Town Where No One Got Off 
The Whole Town’s Sleeping 
At Midnight, In the Month of June

The Smiling People
The Fruit at the Bottom of the Bowl 
The Small Assassin 
Marionettes, Inc. 
Punishment Without Crime 
Some Live Like Lazarus 
The Utterly Perfect Murder

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Superman: The Golden Age Volume 5


 At a time when DC Comics is in flux, as their recent layoffs and staff purges reminded us, the importance of getting comic books in the hands of young readers takes on added importance. Like it or not, this is the age of digital readers, and many comic book companies are going the digital route. That’s fine as long as it gets people reading. This fifth volume of DC’s Golden Age reprints issues from 1942 to 1943. I’ve said before, this historic reprinting is the preferred full color format and includes cover art, which in this case is by Jack Burnley and is adapted from the cover of Superman # 19. The great Jerry Siegel wrote all of the stories included here. Other artists at this time are Joe Shuster, John Sikela, and Fred Ray. These stories take place during World War II, and yes, the Japanese and Germans are presented as stereotypes that might make some politically correct people today feel a tad uncomfortable. Too bad for them. That’s no reason to ignore or condemn this book. DC editors wisely and correctly include this statement on the indicia page: “The comics in this volume were produced in a time when racism played larger role in society and popular culture both consciously and unconsciously. They are unaltered in this collection, with the understanding that they are presented as historical documents.” DC has handled these paperback reprints exactly the right way. Other comic book companies should note the quality of this paperback format and take heed. The stories themselves are entertaining, with the typical plots demonstrating Superman’s strength and ingenuity. They are wholesome in that regard, and the word balloons are crammed with dialogue. I sincerely hope that DC Comics executive continue these incredible collections. Kudos!   

Friday, October 23, 2020

Conan the Barbarian – Marvel Epic Collection

 

As I’ve mentioned before in relation to the DC Comics trade paperback full color reprints of Golden Age and Silver Age classic comics, these reprints are of great cultural value, and because of the dramatic changes in comic book distribution, it’s vital that these collections continue, and equally as vital for the publishers to find a way to get them into the hands of young readers.

 

Today, I’m highlighting and promoting Marvel’s full color Conan the Barbarian trade paperback which reprints Conan the Barbarian 1 thru 13, and a Conan story from Chamber of Darkness # 4. This is the first volume of many reprinting the classic Marvel Conan tales.

 

Roy Thomas was the writer and Barry Windsor Smith provided the stunning artwork. Created by the great Robert E. Howard for the pulp magazine market in the 1930s, Conan is an iconic fictional character. These are among the best comic book stories ever published. Let’s also not forget, when these comics were published in 1970, comic books were easy to find. They could be found on spinner racks in pharmacies, bookstores, tobacco shops, airport and bus terminals, corner newsstands, etc. Those days are gone. There are no bookstores where I live. There are few bookstores left. Comic books remain popular, but they are NOT getting into the hands of young readers.

 

Such a trade paperback offers an incredible reading experience. I’m thrilled to see these collections being published, and I want to encourage you to add these to your home library. Tell your kids about them. Let them read them. Ask them what their favorite stories are, and why. 

 

Both Marvel and DC Comics are demonstrating a commitment to reprinting in this format the classic material from their vast libraries, but they won’t continue unless the sales are good. Buy them. Buy the Marvel Epic Collection of Conan the Barbarian. Find a comic book shop and ask them to order some of the other classic Marvel collections, such as the Fantastic Four by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Share them. Nuff said!

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Tabernacle by Marc Cavella



This is reportedly the first novel by author Marc Cavella and it’s engaging, witty and fun. Using a first-person narrative that perfectly captures the southern colloquial speech pattern, Cavella’s tale take some wild turns, and some subtle turns, too. The plot starts out simple – a salesman is assigned a task that will take all of his skill, charm, and dubious talent to get his commission. That’s where the fun begins. The speech patterns took me some time to adjust to, but once I did I was engrossed by the vivid cast of characters. Cavella has fun with these characters, and they come across realistically, albeit sometimes as an infuriating presence. There’s more than a bit of satire here as well, and as I’ve mentioned elsewhere, satire works best when the author recognizes that satire is a form of social commentary. Cavella gets it, and his perceptions are spot on. The plot twists, which I won’t describe, were exhausting, but that’s because the author was really indulging himself. I enjoyed Tabernacle, and I’d like to see a follow-up where the author uses an altogether different stylistic approach. The writing is sharp, the dialogue “real life,” and overall, a solid read. Recommended!

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Hiawatha and the Peacemaker by Robbie Robertson

 


Singer and songwriter from the legendary musical group The Band teamed up with artist David Shannon for this retelling of the Hiawatha legend. Young readers are the target audience but readers of any age could and should enjoy this vibrant, wonderful book. In this telling, the Mohawk Hiawatha has lost his family in battle and wants revenge until he meets a Peacemaker who wants to unite the tribe. A journey of discovery ensues that transforms Hiawatha and eventually unites the five nations. The book includes a CD featuring an original song by Robertson. A great story with great artwork make this a fine book for any family to share with their children, and its message of hope is always relevant. The facts, myths and legends surrounding Hiawatha have long fascinated me, initially from having seen the nearly forgotten but once acclaimed Hiawatha Pageant created by Carl Parlasca in Elgin, Illinois in the 1960s. The Hiawatha Pageant was inspired by and utilized the text of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s 1855 poem, The Song of Hiawatha. Both the Hiawatha Pageant and Longfellow’s poem combined facts with large doses of fiction, but both also handled the material with dignity, if not reverence. Robbie Robertson’s Hiawatha and the Peacemaker is a welcome and exciting addition to the literature of Hiawatha. This book can easily be utilized as a teaching tool for young readers. Adding it to your home library is sure to inspire discussion, an interest in history, all while firing up your children’s imagination. Recommended!

Thursday, October 8, 2020

John Wayne: The Genuine Article

 


The text of this book was written by Michael Goldman and includes a foreword by President Jimmy Carter and a preface by Ethan Wayne. I purchased this from the official John Wayne Stock & Supply Company website, and the book is autographed by Ethan Wayne. What a treasure this is! Offering a rare and fascinating look at both Duke’s private life as well as his films, the photographs and ephemera reproduced here is astonishing. The book even includes several fold-in envelopes and mini-posters reproducing everything from film posters to private letters. I learned more about John Wayne from reading this book than I ever did from reading a biography. The John Wayne private vault of memorabilia has been opened, and it’s all covered here. And the book is heavy! You’ll learn John Wayne’s shirt size, see letters he wrote, see letters famous celebrities and politicians sent him, learn about his personal habits such as spending time on his beloved ship or hunting, and much more. The amount of material held by the Duke’s estate is mind-boggling. As of today, this book is still listed as available on the website, and I want to encourage every Duke fan to support its publication. John Wayne: The Genuine Article by Michael Goldman is a true collector’s item, and one film fans will be glad they purchased. Highly recommended!

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

To Hell and Back by Audie Murphy

I recently re-read Audie Murphy’s 1949 autobiography, followed by a screening of the Blue ray. The current book edition includes a foreword by journalist Tom Brokaw who recounts the story where Murphy was besieged by reporters after being accused of taking shots at a dog trainer he had a dispute with. When asked if he’d really shot at the man, Murphy’s laconic response was, “If I had, do you think I would have missed?”

It’s a well-known fact that To Hell and Back was co-written/ghost-written by Murphy’s friend, David McClure although his name doesn’t appear on the book. A great effort was put out by both Murphy and McClure. They traveled to Europe together and visited the battle locations so that both men could accurately describe the events as Murphy experienced them. The resulting book is something of a collaborative masterpiece, frankly, both in its style and tone. To Hell and Back was an immediate best-seller and was competing with Irwin Shaw’s fictional classic, The Young Lions, published the year before. Shaw’s book was published when war books and memoirs were all the rage, as was Norman Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead. The point is, To Hell and Back has joined the pantheon of classic World War II literature.

Murphy and McClure chose a present tense narrative that gives To Hell and Back its haunting, surreal tone. The opening sentences create the somber mood that won’t let up: “On a hill just inland from the invasion beaches of Sicily, a soldier sits on a rock. His helmet is off; and the hot sunshine glints through his coppery hair. With the sleeve of his shirt he wipes the sweat from his face; then with chin in palm he leans forward in thought.”

This technique is at odds with most first-person accounts, but that’s also why the book is memorable. The images and actions described therein are presented without apology. Murphy’s factual rendering is jarring, uncomfortable, blunt and uncompromising. Murphy never brags. This is the way it was. The dogface soldiers, as they were called, dreamed about home, suffered from gonorrhea, killed the enemy, and often died. The dialogue between the soldiers is a lesson in colloquialisms and slang. The banter is unheroic and lacking in poetry, just as it was. 

Audie Murphy killed the enemy without remorse. What sentiment he displays is reserved for his fellow soldiers, especially those who died in front of him, and it’s obvious he mourned for them long after the war ended. Keeping in mind that he was a teenager when these events took place, World War II toughened him in ways that left a lasting impression.

To Hell and Back is a masterpiece because of its honesty, surreal imagery and raw emotion. The film version is another matter. Murphy reportedly recommended Tony Curtis, but Universal Studios executives prevailed, and history was made when Murphy consented to play himself on screen. I read a report that Murphy said he wanted to be as fine an actor as he was a soldier. In every account I’ve read, Murphy devoted incredible effort to his acting career, working tirelessly to be good, and he was. By the time he was cast as himself, he had already made fifteen films, mostly Westerns of which several, such as Duel at Silver Creek, Tumbleweed and Ride Clear of Diablo remain highly regarded genre films. 

The Film version of To Hell and Back was one of 1955s top-grossing films. Watching it again recently, I was struck by the pedestrian direction, sub-standard pacing (until the end when it picks up) and obvious studio sets. It’s a good film, but not a great film. Murphy, of course, is excellent, and his supporting cast are excellent as well. Of these actors I knew Paul Picerni whom I once interviewed for a magazine. This is what Paul said about Audie Murphy in 1999, long after Murphy was gone: “Audie Murphy is the consummate American hero. He’s my hero. I loved Audie Murphy, and I am just thrilled that I had the opportunity to work with Audie...He was a real individual, a real man, and I loved Audie. He was very quiet, and you couldn’t force yourself upon Audie. I felt that I was a good friend of his, but I never forced myself with him. You had to let him come to you.”

These comments by Paul Picerni, and other memories he shared with me, brought out a singular emotion. I am not being fanciful when I say that Paul Picerni had a shine in his eyes and a smile on his face when he talked about Audie Murphy. Picerni wasn’t alone. Other actors I interviewed expressed an identical sentiment. Audie Murphy was special, one of a kind. 

Paul Picerni (far right) is one of several actors who told me
 about their admiration for Audie Murphy.

Screenwriter and film director Burt Kennedy told me: “He was just a hell of a guy.” Regarding Murphy’s acting talent, Kennedy said: “I thought he was quite believable. There again, when he had good material, like the two things he did with (John) Huston, as a matter of fact, The Red Badge of Courage and The Unforgiven, he was excellent.” Kennedy also once said to me in an unrelated conversation when Murphy’s name somehow came up, “Audie was my hero. I think he was everyone’s hero.”

John Agar told me, rather humorously, “Audie was a straight shooter.”

Along with Paul Picerni, Jack Elam provided me the most emotional response in recalling Audie Murphy. Elam’s voice rose with emotion as the memories came rushing back: “Audie and I became very good friends. I am a tremendous admirer of Audie Murphy. He was a greatly underrated actor, and he was a very interesting guy. I think our friendship was cemented one day on The Gun Runners. We shot it down on the California coast, and when there was a break in the shooting, Audie said, ‘I want to show you my boat.’ We had about an hour with nothing to do. There was only about a five-minute drive over to the harbor where he had a big boat, and he took me on board. Audie said, ‘Look at that sloop coming in the harbor alongside the buoys!’ I looked but I couldn’t see a f*****g thing! I said, ‘Sure! You’re just kidding me!’ He said, ‘No, look! It’s a sloop! It’s got a flag tied to it!’ I said, ‘No way!’ Well, sure enough, in about five minutes that boat began to loom and it came right toward us. So I said, ‘Well, s**t! That’s why you’re such a f*****g hero! You can see better than anybody else!’ Well, he fell down and laughed for about five minutes. From then on we were very good friends.”

Jack Elam wasn’t quite done: “But he was a true hero, I have to tell you. I loved to gamble and he loved to gamble, and he was a real fanatic for poker, the horses or dice, so that’s what we did on the set. When we were on location we had a poker game every g*****n night. He had a dynamite temper if you did something wrong. I’d seen him flare up three or four times when he thought there was an injustice around him, and believe me, he was like a coiled rattlesnake when he flared up, but never unreasonably. It was always inline; if he didn’t like some smart-ass on the set who was getting smart with a gal, or something like that.’”

Audie Murphy was a natural in the many Western films he made, and his devoted fans still pay tribute to him with fan pages in social media, or personal websites. Remarkably, there has not been a concentrated effort by Universal Studios to restore and release most of these now classic films. Certain titles, such as Posse from Hell and Six Black Horses are only available in unrestored versions on DVD from third party creators. Murphy is one of numerous neglected stars whose popularity has never diminished, yet who remains ignored by the studios who act clueless as to the cultural importance of film restoration. Such an effort, if coordinated properly, could be profitable for Universal Studios whose executives we can only hope will awake from their slumber and embrace Audie Murphy’s contribution to film history and their studio’s legacy.

 

Excerpted from a forthcoming collection

Copyright © 2020 by Thomas McNulty

Sunday, September 27, 2020

The King James Bible

 

The King James Bible was published in 1611 and remains the single best-selling book of all time. I prefer the KJB above all other versions of the Bible. I have three copies in my home, including a large-print version because I’ve reached that tender age where large print is helpful. Of all the books I have read and studied, The King James Bible is undoubtedly responsible for raising literacy levels because it was once the primary volume families and educators used to teach children how to read. My first copy was the 1960s World Publishing Company edition with the words of Christ printed in red. I still own that copy, although I mostly refer to the large-print edition these days. I have long been fascinated by the King James Bible and it’s not unusual for me to consult certain sections. The language is beautiful, and I remain confused why certain groups felt the need to change the structure. No matter, the KJB remains in print and is widely available. In these troubled times, I cannot think of a better book to recommend. The King James Bible is the starting point for discussions on the teachings of Jesus Christ. As I mentioned in other posts, I am in favor of educating ourselves through literacy, and this blog does indeed cover all types of books, but this is the one to start with. Frankly, I don’t believe enough people have read it from cover to cover. Find yourself a copy today and read it. Peace my friends.


Monday, May 11, 2020

Seven Men from Now - the Paperback

Burt Kennedy wrote the original screenplay for director Budd Boetticher’s 1956 Western, but he didn’t write the novelization for Berkley paperbacks.  This fact was confirmed to me in a series of conversations I had with Kennedy commencing in 1997, and there is an on-line Kennedy interview with a writer named Sean Axmaker where this fact is also confirmed. So who wrote the paperback version for one the greatest Western films? I have no idea. The book is quite good and deviates from the film version in only slight ways. Of the film itself, I’ll abstain from analysis which is constant enough for google users cribbing thesis paper material. I will say it’s one of my top ten favorite Western films. As for the paperback shown here, it is commonly found on e-bay at affordable prices. As I mentioned, the book is quite good and obviously handled by a professional who understood Westerns. The prose is terse and masculine. The book makes a nice collector’s item for fans of Western Americana, no matter who wrote it. Much of the dialogue is verbatim from the film, yet there are small differences, which isn’t unusual in film novelizations. I have no doubt that the author’s identity is known to someone, and perhaps one day I’ll learn who it was. I won’t air my speculation because there’s no sense to it. All that matters is that the book is pretty good, and the film is much better. The interior advertisement proclaims, “A great novel becomes a great motion picture.” In fact, the screenplay was written first but Berkley was clearly attempting to capitalize on the film’s popularity. I watched Seven Men from Now again recently, and the film never loses its appeal. Randolph Scott is excellent as always. Kennedy was a straight-shooter and fine writer. His screenplays are worth studying, and interestingly enough, they are written in a manner that breaks nearly all of the so-called “rules of screenwriting” that are sold and marketed incessantly these days by one organization or another. Great writers always break the rules, and they forge their own path.

Saturday, May 2, 2020

Seven Contemporary Novels

I love the novella form. There was a time when short novels (under 65k words) were highly regarded by most publishing firms. This anthology of seven short novels was originally published in 1969, and I encountered this second edition in 1976. It includes a “Topics for Paper and Discussion” at the conclusion of each novel. Those discussion topics can serve as an example on how to properly critique a novel. The seven short novels included are all masterpieces of contemporary American fiction. 

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
The Ballad of the Sad Café by Carson McCullers
Goodbye, Columbus by Philip Roth
Noon Wine by Katherine Anne Porter
Seize the Day by Saul Bellow
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
The Violent Bear It Away by Flannery O’Connor

Numerous of these, such as The Ballad of the Sad Café and Noon Wine, had a profound and lasting impression on me when I first read them. When I look at these novels now, I think to myself, “This is what writers do.” I am happier for the experience. It is also important to note that several of these books have been banned by one radical, disaffected group or another. Screw them. This is great literature. Those seeking reading recommendations are encouraged to start here.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Tales from the Graveyard by Guy N. Smith


The cover blurb on this new release from GNS is no exaggeration. Unspeakable horrors do indeed lurk in this nifty collection of short fiction published by Sinister Horror Company. The stories are short-shorts, really Flash Fiction, but well-done, and laced with macabre scenes. There are twelve shorts included, all reprints from the fanzine “Graveyard Rendezvous.” Some of these read like story notes or ideas for a later draft, and some feel complete and well-rounded. All of them share the distinction of benefitting from Guy’s wild imagination. Some of these tales are truly chilling, such as “Mr. Strange’s Christmas Dream,” and “The Executioner.” There are some throwaway ideas here that GNS might have (or still could) develop into a longer work, such as “Cannibal Island.” Another tale, “Hounds from Hell,” is a capsule of themes and ideas common to Guy’s work; and “The Ghouls” was my favorite, a body snatching story that might easily be expanded into a novella. Let’s hope that happens. As these stories were dashed off for a long-running fanzine, readers should expect brevity coupled with suspense. Nobody does it better than GNS. This book is a quick, fun read, and beautifully produced by the Sinister Horror Company, my new top favorite Indie publisher. They offer a tight but quality catalogue of titles.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Ride the Devil’s Herd by John Boessenecker

This incredible book provides the first comprehensive and understandable analysis of the Cowboy gang that terrorized the Arizona territory in the early 1880s, resulting in the famed gunfight at the OK Corral. Ride the Devil’s Herd is not necessarily a full-length biography of Wyatt Earp and his brothers, although they are clearly central characters in the narrative. Author John Boessenecker’s meticulous research and practical writing style manages to present a complex cast of characters and keep the conflicts and motivations crisp and clear. Frankly, this is an amazing accomplishment, and it’s to his credit that he pulls it off. Ride the Devil’s Herd also gives us what I believe is the best representation of Wyatt Earp and his brothers who are too often portrayed as being nothing more than opportunists and gamblers. Under John Boessenecker’s objective view, we see the Earp brothers as they really were, fully justified in their actions on that fateful day when they walked down the street side by side with Doc Holliday. When I was reading Boessenecker’s account of that now famous gunfight, I actually blurted out loud, “Finally! Someone that gets it!” This is not to say that he paints the Earps as saints, but he makes it clear that at heart they were not truly bad men, unlike such players as the Clantons and the McLaury brothers. That gang of “Cowboys” as they were called, were immoral, thieving opportunists and murderers. There were many more of them than those few that participated in the Tombstone gunfight, and Mr. Boessenecker describes these personalities at length, tying events together and clarifying their connections. The author’s enthusiasm for his subject is infectious. His joy is evident in his summations and descriptions. Boessenecker avoids using the phrase “Earp’s vendetta ride” as it’s been called when discussing the aftermath of the Tombstone gunfight. All the same, his account is chilling. At the conclusion, it was clear to me that Wyatt Earp was a far more complex man than he is generally portrayed, and his actions and those of his brothers on that fateful day in Tombstone will remain a fascinating highlight of American Western history. I have read and collect many books related to Wyatt Earp, but this one is now my favorite. Highly recommended!

Monday, March 23, 2020

Plague Time!


PLAGUE TIME
Copyright © 2020 by Thomas McNulty

Flash Fiction to cheer you all up (He said sarcastically)

Richard and Pamela sat near the bay window and watched the sun-soaked July street. Richard held his cell phone and thumbed through Facebook while Pamela sipped her tea and idly gazed down the street at a smudge of blue on the curb. Crows flitted about near the rumpled pile of blue. The tea was very good this morning, she thought. 
Richard paused, set his phone on the tea table and plucked a colorful sugar cookie from the silver platter. He munched the cookie, keeping his mouth closed to muffle the smacking sounds. The cookies were quite good. He dabbed his mouth with a dainty napkin. Suddenly, he coughed twice. Pamela stared at him a moment.
“Martial law has been extended.” He said. “This might well last until early September.”
“Yes, I read on the newsfeed the Kardashians are having their butts set in plaster and then painted as part of an art exhibit once martial law is lifted.”
“Lots of bathroom mirror photos with that group.” Richard said.
“I counted seventy-five complainers on Facebook this morning.”
“You’d think people would find better things to do with their time.”
“I’m afraid this plague is the best thing to happen.” Pamela was stoic as her gaze once again drifted down the street to the smudge of blue. “You’ll remember, of course, the Harrington boy.”
“Of course. He was a fine little boy. Billy, wasn’t it?”
“Yes, little Billy. Well, the crows are at him today. The debris retrieval units haven’t picked him up yet.”
“We can report that.” Richard said, suddenly feeling indignant. “You mustn’t stare out the window if the streets aren’t clean. That won’t do you any good.” Richard coughed again, holding his palm to his mouth.
“Have some tea.” Pamela said.
“Perhaps in a moment. I was reading about another celebrity singing on Facebook. They sing in their bathrooms. It’s supposed to make lower income families feel better.”
“Do you think it works?”
Richard coughed and finally reached for the tea. He took a sip from the cup and smacked his lips. “I’m sorry. What was that, dear?”
“The singing celebrity. Does it make lower income people feel better?”
“I can’t imagine how it could. The celebrity mask allocation is in the higher percentage. They have catered nurses and physicians.”
Pamela glanced out the window again. “The Harrington’s didn’t qualify. The father lost his job six months ago.”
Richard paused and looked out the bay window. “It’s warm today. Little Billy was the last Harrington wasn’t he?”
“Yes, I’m sad to say he was. He dropped right there, and now the crows are at him.”
“That won’t do at all.”
Pamela was thoughtful a moment. “If he had made it to our door we couldn’t have let him in.”
“Oh, no.” Richard said quickly. “Our mask allocation wouldn’t accommodate a third person. Remember, the pack must survive. The government says that means making hard choices.”
“Let’s not think about it any longer.” Pamela said.
Pamela shifted in her chair and looked in another direction. It was a lovely day. Richard coughed again as she watched a light breeze ruffle the maple tree branches. Nothing else happened except the street and the empty homes and green yards all looked beautiful. The pack must survive, indeed. 
An hour later, Richard was coughing in fits and starts. That’s unfortunate, Pamela thought. The tea would help a little but he was coughing too much. They didn’t talk about it, and Richard remained fixated on Facebook. 
The day stretched into incremental moments of inactivity and memories. It was nice to think about how it was, Pamela thought. It won’t be that way again, but it was still nice. Richard’s coughing was too much. His face was red. The poor man. She waited another hour, thinking about the past. Then she rose, and stepped across the room to the maple cabinet where Richard kept the old Webley .38 revolver. Richard had taught her how to use it all those years ago during the first plague. The weight of the gun in her hand was reassuring.
She shot Richard in the back of the head. He slumped over and twitched. After the gunshot’s echo subsided, she was thinking what a terrible mess she had to clean up. Fortunately, they’d been allocated extra bleach and antiseptic wipes. The extra food they’d hoarded would come in handy now, as well. She cleaned the carpet first. She enjoyed sitting near the bay window and she wanted to keep that area clean.
It took the remainder of the day to wrap his body in the tarpaulin, but Pamela was in good shape, and she paced herself properly. No sense getting emotional. Once the body was wrapped, she pulled Richard by his ankles to the side door and deposited him near the trash bin which was scheduled for debris retrieval in three days. She reminded herself to send an email asking that they pick up the Harrington boy as well. It just wouldn’t do to have all of these bodies lying around. 
Pamela felt emboldened. She had important things to do now that she benefitted from a double allocation. It was twilight and the trees along the street looked so lovely in the fading light. She picked up Richard’s cell phone and began scrolling through the latest gossip, feeling that she would honor his memory in this way. There were always lots of cheeky things to look at on Facebook. She would be fine, she thought, really fine, but maybe a little sad. 
An hour later, she coughed.

**

Copyright © 2020 by Thomas McNulty
Keep smiling you lovelies!

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Masquerade for Murder by Spillane and Collins

Once again Max Allan Collins proves his incredible talent with another entry in Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer series. Often working from a sparse outline, Collins has crafted a remarkable series that not only pays tribute to Spillane, but advances the tough guy world he so brilliantly embodied. Masquerade for Murder is a hardboiled lunch, served up with a cold beer in a tall, chilled glass. It’s perfect. The characterizations are spot-on, the suspense is like a delicate soufflé, ripe with tension but delightful for readers to experience. There’s a solid mystery that needs solving, and while I suspected a few things, I was pleasantly surprised that I hadn’t figured it all out. That’s okay, that’s Mike Hammer’s job anyway, and he does so with the usual tough guy attitude. The story takes place in the late 1980s, and Hammer might be older, but he’s still a contender as several bad guys quickly find out. I’m quite the fan of both Spillane and Collins and I never get tired of these “collaborations.” Collins is a bit nostalgic this time around, or should I say that Hammer is a bit nostalgic. The New York of post-war America is gone, but Mike Hammer is still a rough and tumble tiger roaming the mean streets of Manhattan. Velda is here, too, older but still sexy. A few other kittens show up, but you’ll have to read the book to find out what happens. Masquerade for Murder is a great, fun book, and it arrived as if by a providential hand to brighten my day. Highly recommended!