Wednesday, September 26, 2012


Had an interesting, enjoyable, quasi-weird afternoon yesterday.

It started out with my oldest grandson and I going to see the Clint Eastwood movie, Trouble With The Curve. Liked the movie a lot. It's in the vein of Grand Torino, with Eastwood playing a widower again, this time a grouchy, stubbornly old-school baseball scout suffering from failing eyesight.

 Before his sight problems fail him completely(and reveal him to the ball club's higher-ups just as his contract is coming due), Clint is assigned to assess a hotshot batter who is in contention for a number one draft pick. Through some mildly far-fetched plot mechanisms, his estranged daughter, now a high-powered attorney on the brink of making partner at her law firm, takes leave to accompany him for a few days in order to find out the truth about his condition and to try and patch up their sketchy relationship.
There are few surprises in the predictable storyline (young romance, betrayal, ultimate retribution) but the whole thing is nevertheless quite satisfying and superbly acted (especially by Amy Adams, as Clint's daughter). Our local little theater has a $4 Tuesday matinee—all ages, all movies—so it was sure as hell worth that and good enough so that I don't think I would have squawked too much even at a higher price at a bigger venue.

After the movie, Bill and I drove out to the lake to a bar we frequent called the Sand's Edge. I'm past my drinking prime and Bill is still too young, so we go there for their burger menu. If you don't know about bar burgers … well, I feel sorry for you but I won't go into a long dissertation on what you're missing.

Suffice to say that bar burgers tend to be the best eatin' you're apt to find anywhere you go. We've tried a few different ones off the Sand's Edge menu but the one we currently prefer is the Cowboy Burger—a 1/3 lb patty, topped with cheese, bacon, and a fat onion ring all pressed between two toasted buns. You can get it with barbecue sauce but we both opt out of that. Far as I'm concerned, barbecue sauce in most instances is like ketchup—it's for hiding cooking mistakes, not really for enhancing the flavor.
But I digress …

So the movie and the burgers were great.
Now for the quasi-weird part: Seated at the bar when we got there were six or eight laborer-type guys. Bill and I took seats at one of the little tables off to one side. I'm not sure if the guys were construction workers or railroaders or what. They weren't ranchers, I'm pretty sure of that. This was about four o'clock in the afternoon and it was a little rainy outside, but mostly only a faint mist. Maybe these guys were done for the day, maybe the rain (such as it was) caused them to knock off early. I got the impression they sort of knew one another, but weren't necessarily all from the same crew.
Anyway, back-to-back rerun episodes of Friends were playing on the TV behind the bar and these guys—all of these guys—were intently watching them. There was a bit of conversation here and there, but for the most part they were locked on Ross, Rachel, Joey and the gang. And there was one guy who had a laugh like a cross between Horschack (sic?) from the old Welcome Back Kotter show and a sick mule. First he'd repeat the punch line and then he'd cut loose with "Neeyah … Neeyah … Neyah-ha-ha!" The others would laugh, too, but this guy out-brayed the whole bunch.

It was the damnedest thing I ever saw. These sorta gritty-looking, outdoor-labor types so completely transfixed by Friends— and Donkey Laugh square in their midst honking his ass off.
I'm half tempted to go back again today just to see if that bunch congregates daily. But if they do, then I'd have to listen to "Neeyah … Neeyah … Neeyah-ha-ha!" some more and I don't know if I could take it.
It might even be catching …

Persevere --- WD

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Available Now: THE DAY AFTER YESTERDAY (Joe Hannibal) - Kindle Version

The sixth Joe Hannibal mystery—first published in 2007 as a hardcover book, and out of print for some time now—has just been released as a Kindle-version eBook.
This is the Hannibal adventure that first brought Joe to Nebraska and turned his life upside down when he ended up having to investigate the murder of his two closest friends in the world while they were vacationing in the Cornhusker State. (Spare me the cracks about what anyone would find vacation-worthy in Nebraska.) Subsequently, in several short stories that have followed and last year's GOSHEN HOLE novel, Hannibal has relocated permanently to west central Nebraska (just like his creator) to run a private security patrol around popular Lake McConaughy. I consider this move a revitalization of the whole series, making Hannibal a less stereotypical PI yet leaving him in a position where his nose for trouble and his investigate skills still get him involved in matters of foul play. 
THE DAY AFTER YESTERDAY also marks the introduction of new regulars the series: primarily Abby Bridger, who becomes Joe's main squeeze; her young son Dusty; and William Thunderbringer; former mercenary and double agent for Homeland Security, now a bounty hunter operating for a fugitive recovery outfit out of nearby Denver.
DAY AFTER sets all of this in place and, in the process, entangles Joe in a case involving murder, betrayal, homegrown terrorists, and a plot to call down a devastating missile strike on U.S. soil.
Priced at only $2.99 you can't afford to miss this one.

Also, speaking of GOSHEN HOLE, which was released as an eBook original at the beginning of the year, for those of you who prefer print copies it is now available in that format. You can access it either at or off the "Wayne D. Dundee at Amazon Books" tab on this site.

Finally, as a little teaser, let me additionally mention that this year marks the 30th anniversary of Joe Hannibal's first appearance in print (Fall 1982 – Spiderweb Magazine – "The Fancy Case"). That makes him one of the longest-running, still active PIs currently on the scene. And, before the year is done, there will be a new Hannibal novel (BLADE OF THE TIGER) and a short story collection featuring a half dozen of his best adventures, including one original and the first-ever reprint of "The Fancy Case".
Like I've mentioned before: Whatever else, Joe and I are a couple of durable old bastards.

That's why I always say …

Persevere — WD

Monday, September 24, 2012

Available Now: THE GUNS OF VEDAUWOO (Edward A. Grainger's Cash laramie/Gideon Miles series) as written by Wayne D. Dundee

Funny, sometimes, how a writer pulls together bits and pieces of different things floating around in the Imagination part of his brain and forms them into a story or novel. At least that's the way it works for me. Sometimes the pieces are there right when I reach for them, other times they are more elusive. And then there are times when one or two of those floating pieces will clunk together more or less on their own and make enough noise to sort of demand some attention be paid them.

That's how it was with THE GUNS OF VEDAUWOO. I had enjoyed using Edward A. Grainger's popular Cash Laramie character for the short novel, MANHUNTER'S MOUNTAIN, which came out earlier this year, and knew I wanted to do another. But I didn't quite have a "hook" or storyline to wrap something around.
At the same time, the notion of using the historical events surrounding the Ghost Dance movement (late 1880s) had been rattling around for a long time in that empty space between my ears as the possible basis for a good yarn. Yet I still hadn't thought of connecting them to a Cash story.
But then, a few months back, my pal Richard Prosch—over on his Meridian Bridge blog—posted some photos and a short article about the Vedauwoo Rocks in eastern Wyoming, between Cheyenne and Laramie. Both the photos and the name immediately intrigued me and I instantly knew there was a story there—or, at least, there sure as hell ought to be. THE GUNS OF VEDAUWOO! The title leaped to mind. I had no idea what it meant or what it would involve, but I knew it was darn well going to be my title.
Then the floating pieces started to pull together. A Cash Laramie adventure … Vedauwoo was practically right in Cash's back yard. Upon doing some reading and research about Vedauwoo I learned it was considered a very spiritual place by Indian tribes, including the Arapaho (the tribe Cash had grown up with). Ah, and the Ghost Dance was a very spiritual movement … I learned that an offshoot of the largely peaceful Ghost Dance movement was something a little more aggressive called the Ghost Shirt belief, having followers who thought they possessed garments that could "turn away the white man's bullets" … Bullets came from guns … and so on and so on, until I had a rough mental sketch of how THE GUNS OF VEDAUWOO was going to take shape.

Only three things remained to be taken care of before I forged ahead. First, I contacted Richard Prosch to make sure I wouldn't be infringing on anything he might already have cooking if I used Vedauwoo as a setting for my tale. He told me to go for it. Then I checked with David Cranmer (who handles all of Edward A. Grainger's behind-the scenes affairs) to make sure he was okay with me doing another Cash Laramie. He told me to go for it. And, finally, I had to make a trip to Vedauwoo to get my own feel and sense of the place in order to try and do a decent job of capturing and presenting it to my readers.
The jury is still out on how well I succeeded with that.
I hope readers give THE GUNS OF VEDAUWOO a try; if they do, I think they'll like it.

In the meantime, as always …

Persevere — WD

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Noteworthy Reads: PRACTICE TO DECEIVE by J.R. Lindermuth

This fifth and latest entry in the "Sticks" Hetrick series by my friend John Lindermuth measures up once again to the high standard readers have come to expect. And John has even ups the ante by moving much of the action away from familiar Swatara County, PA, and involving Sticks in one of his most complex cases, this time aboard an ocean liner cruising the Caribbean. An series of stateroom thefts and the knowledge of Hetrick's police background by certain fellow passengers—some of whom are theft victims reluctant to deal with the shipboard authorities—combine to draw Sticks into the investigation.
Meanwhile, back in Swatara Creek, the police force over which Sticks had once been chief and has remained attached on a special consultant basis, is dealing with their own tense investigation into a series of bizarre assaults on several of the community's young women.
It isn't long before murder gets added to the mix in both cases.
Lindermuth's skilled writing talent cuts smoothly back and forth between the two distinctly different settings and the two disparate investigations. There is some crossover in that some of Hetrick's suspects turn out to have Pennsylvania connections so he uses his hometown resources to attain some deeper background. Otherwise—and I don't want to give too much away here—it is a refreshing change that the two cases do not end up intertwined, as is often the case in these kind of set-ups.
Coverups and deceptions from the past—aided by some convenient coincidences in the present—play important factors in solving both cases. There is plenty of suspense, some nifty twists, and a couple of hair-raising close calls before everything is satisfactorily wrapped up. Lindermuth presents a large cast of characters, but paints them so deftly (with just the right amount of color and depth) and keeps the pace moving at such a brisk clip there is never any problem keeping up with who's who.
Well done. Recommended.
The only trouble is, especially since this a transition mark in the series inasmuch as Sticks will be pursuing new duties with the Swatara County prosecutor's off upon returning home, I am bummed at the thought of having to wait another year or so for the next entry. Get to writing, John!

Sunday, September 16, 2012


I was interviewed on the local radio earlier this week. One of the hosts commented frequently on my deep, "buttery" voice. Later, when he announced some upcoming events where I would be appearing live and signing and signing some books, I warned listeners that the rich voice didn't necessarily transfer visually --- if anybody ever had a "face made for radio", it's me.
Anyway, anybody interested in having a listen to the interview, you can do so by clicking on the link below. The main discussion is on Segment #2.
Midwest Opinions - 930 KOGA - Ogallala, NE

Persevere --- WD

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Another Look: GUNGA DIN (1939)

Watched this great film for the umpteenth time again yesterday on TCM.
It's another standout from that magical year 1939 (which also saw the release of such lasting favorites as Gone With The Wind, The Wizard of Oz, Stagecoach, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Young Mr. Lincoln, and on and on).

Gunga Din is, of course, based on the famous poem by Rudyard Kipling. The movie was directed by George Stevens, penned by a team of writers including Ben Hecht, and given a rousing musical score by Alfred Newman. The stars are Victor McLaglen, Cary Grant, and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. as, respectively, MacChesney, Cutter, and Ballantine, three sergeants in England's Royal Engineers occupying India in the 1880s. They are a rowdy, brawling, undisciplined lot but nevertheless the right men for a dangerous mission such as the one that arrives when contact is lost with the British outpost of Tantrapur. The three are assigned to lead a detail to find out what has gone wrong. Included in the ranks of those accompanying them is Gunga Din (played by Sam Jaffee) a lowly water-carrier who longs to one day become a soldier of the Queen.

The source of the trouble in Tantrapur, it is discovered, is an uprising of Thuggees, a murderous cult that has been suppressed for many years. Overcoming this Thuggee threat is the central plot element for the remainder of the movie. In the course of things, there is plenty of action mixed with a good deal of humor and banter between the three stars. Despite being a huge fan of McLaglen (who does his usual fine job here), I have to admit it is Grant who steals the show as the brash, somewhat goofy Cutter, always entangled in some kind of scheme, usually for hidden treasure or gold. It is this obsession, in fact, that leads him (with the aid of Gunga Din) to a fabulous golden temple that also just happens to be the headquarters for the Thuggees.
The climax is a rip-snorting battle between British troops and the Thuggee horde, coming when a planned ambush of the British is thwarted by a badly wounded Gunga Din climbing to the top of the golden tower and sounding an alarm with a bugle (one he has been practicing with secretly as part of his hope to join the Queen's ranks), thus warning the troopers to take defensive action before the trap is sprung. When he dies as a result of his wounds, Din is posthumously named an honorary corporal to the regiment and the colonel reads the following (the closing lines of Kipling's poem) at his graveside:

                       "So I'll meet 'im later on
                        At the place where 'e is gone –
                        Where it's always Double Drill and no canteen;
                        'E'll be squattin' on the coals
                        Givin' drink to poor damned souls,
                        And I'll get a drink in Hell from Gunga Din!
                        Yes, Din! Din! Din!
                        You Lazaroushian-leather Gunga Din!
                        Though I've belted you and flayed you,
                        By the livin' Gawd that made you,
                        You're a better man than I am, Gunga Din!"

I'll admit that every time I watch that scene—and even a little bit now, re-typing the words—I get a lump in my throat.
Gunga Din is that kind of movie; for the most part high-spirited adventure with plenty of rollicking laughs, but also with sweep and spectacle and a measure of heart and genuine emotion.

The basic storyline was used for a 1962 remake called Sergeants 3, a Rat Pack vehicle starring Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Peter Lawford in the title roles. As with most Rat Pack ventures, it was a tongue-in-cheek affair set in the Old West, substituting the U.S. Cavalry and a cult-like American Indian tribe in place of the British troops and the Thuggees. Sammy Davis Jr. starred as the Gunga Din-like character. I actually saw this film in a theater before ever catching the original on TV, and thought it was pretty good. I've seen it again recently and, while it has it moments and is a rather interesting spin on things, it doesn't really hold up that well.
Gunga Din, however, hangs together just fine. It's long (especially for the period), coming in at just under two hours. But it never flags and I can pretty much guarantee you'll come away feeling that a couple hours in the company of MacChesney, Cutter, Ballantine, and Din was time very well spent.

Persevere --- WD

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Noteworthy Reads: BLUFF CITY BRAWLER by Heath Lowrance

This latest entry in the Fight Card series is another pulpy, action-packed winner.
Presented under the "house name" byline of Jack Tunney, the actual writer behind the words this time around is Heath Lowrance who does a fine job of conveying a strong sense of time and place and telling a tale that propels the reader along right from the opening passages.
The protagonist here is one Tom Riley, another product of St. Vincent's Asylum For Boys and its "battling priest", Father Tim. As the story opens, Riley is a talented but too-cocky (a trait that not even Father Tim could break him of) boxer making a name for  himself in Detroit. His cockiness is ultimately a trait that lands him in trouble with the Detroit mob—not through the usual means involving gambling and rigged fights, though, but as a result of his mouth causing a barroom conflict with a high-ranking mob soldier named Wheels Meyer whom Riley ends up accidentally killing.
Riley has no choice but to go on the lam. He ends up in Memphis, the Bluff City, where he adopts a new name and a quiet, low-key lifestyle. He stays out of the boxing ring but nevertheless takes a grunt job at a local gym where he can at least be close to the action.
The reach of the Detroit mob is long, however, and the thirst for vengeance by its boss, Kardinsky, is deep.
It's just a matter of time before Riley's past catches up with him in the Bluff City. When it does, Riley realizes the only way he can put it behind him once and for all is to stand his ground and use his fists to fight his way clear.

It should be noted that Heath Lowrance also writes in the straight crime and Western genres. I haven't yet red his crime novels (The Bastard Hand, Dig Ten Graves, and the just-released City of Heretics) but they're all getting high praise and I plan to get to them soon.
On the Western front, he authored last year's Miles To Little Ridge in the popular Cash Laramie series. He's also responsible for his own Western series featuring the mysterious protagonist 'Hawthorne' who has appeared so far in the titles That Damned Coyote Hill and The Long Black Train. All of these I have read and, along with Bluff City Brawler, highly recommend.
Mr. Lowrance is clearly a writer to keep your eye on.

Persevere --- WD

Tuesday, September 4, 2012


A couple or so months ago, David Cranmer told the story on his blog (Education of a Pulp Writer – about briefly encountering a wild bear during a camping trip. He then asked if anyone else had any bear-encounter stories and I responded that, while I'd never run across one in the wild, I had wrestled one once upon a time when I was young and obviously lacking in good sense. It got a couple follow-up comments and I figured that was that.

Now, after my recent interview with writer/mixed martial arts competitor/strongman contestant Thomas Pluck, the subject popped up again when Zak Mucha commented on a Facebook posting about the interview that Thomas and I looked like a couple guys who could and would wrestle a carnival bear for the right cause.

So what the heck … I'm going to share my bear-wrestling story.
The year was either 1976 or '77. I wasn't yet 30. I had recently made 2nd Shift foreman at the factory where I worked. So, having not yet gotten softened up by a desk job, I was still in pretty good shape. 6'1", about 260-265, strong upper body and even fairly agile for a big guy. Hardly slim and trim, but still carrying it pretty good—managing to keep my shoulders wider than my ass, as they say.
The Cherryvale Shopping Mall, just outside of nearby Rockford, where I lived, was the second largest indoor mall in the state at that time and at its center there was a large sunken arena where they held various publicity events throughout the year. The area all around the arena was open so crowds could gather and observe whatever was taking place; above, on the second level, more people could stand at surrounding railings and look down. In other words, it was sort of like a scaled-down coliseum.
One such event they decided to hold (I don't remember to promote what) was a 3-day appearance by Victor the Wrestling Bear. Victor was an Alaskan brown bear, although actually more black in color, owned and trained by a former pro wrestler and alligator wrangler named Tuffy Truesdale. They toured the country putting on their show at fairs, other malls, grand openings, etc., and every so often showed up on AWA Wrestling where Victor would raise hell with one of the popular bad guys of the moment who was wreaking havoc on the babyfaces. At Cheryvale, they put on two or three shows a day during which Victor would roughhouse with Tuffy a little bit, then do some tricks like riding a bike and bouncing some balls, drink copious amounts of soda pop from a bottle, etc. And then, for the big finale, Victor would wrestle volunteers from the audience—five matches per show.

So wouldn't you know, in a classic open-yap/insert-foot moment, I mentioned at work one night that it might be fun to mix it up with a bear like that, have something to tell the grandkids. Boom, just like that I was locked in. Too many people heard me say it, word spread too fast—I had to back up what I'd said.
Due to a misunderstanding, the first time I went to wrestle Victor I found out I wasn't on the schedule, they had me down for the following day. So that gave me the opportunity to watch a set of matches and I thought I saw something worthwhile. What I saw was that, when each match started, Victor would stand upright on his hind legs and come aggressively toward his opponent making a guttural noise that really wasn't a growl or roar, but more like bleating sound. Didn't matter, it was still intimidating as hell inasmuch as ol' Vic was advertised at the time as being nearly seven tall when standing up like that and weighing in at close to 700 pounds. Anyway, what each opponent would do was try to lock up with the bear and then proceed to get driven backward until they were taken to the mat. After that, Victor would lower down to his natural four-footed stance and just walk all over the guys, smothering them, hardly ever giving any of them a chance to get back up.
Aha! What I would do, I decided, would be not to try and immediately lock up with ol' Victor but rather dance around behind him and then make my move from there. That'd show him.
So the next day arrived and there I was in line for my turn in the arena. I was third for the afternoon show. It was a Sunday afternoon, the place was packed, there were easily 500 people gathered high and low for the show and it felt like it must have been a hundred degrees in the midst of it all.
The guy who went ahead of me was a college wrestler and he was ready to rock and roll with that bear. He had on a singlet, headgear, the whole works. He was taking all of this serious as hell and he did a pretty good job out there—for a while. He dropped and rolled and bridged, managed a few nice escapes. But after a couple minutes he ended flattened just like everybody else.
Then it was my turn. The "referee" gave a few simple instructions: The bear had a muzzle on so he couldn't nip you. You, in turn, were not to gouge his eyes, pull his ears or tail. "That might annoy Victor," the ref said, "but it for sure will piss off Tuffy, and that wouldn't be a good idea." Tuffy was right there on the perimeter, coaching Victor. He wasn't real tall, but he was barrel-chested with powerful arms and lots of agility as demonstrated when he did his roughhousing-with-Victor part of the show—not somebody you'd want to mess with.
Vic and I went to our opposite "corners". When the referee slapped the mat (in place of a ring bell) we went at each other. I can honestly say that the only time I felt nervous about the whole thing was for those few seconds waiting for the mat-slap. I looked around at all those people and then across at Victor and I remember thinking: What the hell am I doing here? But, in addition to my wife (who had been questioning my sanity regularly during the days leading up to this), I knew there were a handful of co-workers watching from somewhere in the crowd so I sure as hell couldn't back out now.
As soon as the ref's hand hit the mat, Victor was up on his hind legs, rising to his imposing seven feet, and came straight for me, making that strange bleating sound. I moved to meet him and, as we got close, I attempted my idea of scooting around behind him. Maybe somebody else had thought of that before me, because Vic seemed ready for it. He reached out and hooked me with a thick arm as I tried to slip past him, made a sweeping motion with the arm, and very handily dumped me on my ass right in the middle of the mat. When I put my hands down to break my fall, I jammed my right thumb and felt the ball joint slide out of place. It hurt for a second but I really didn't have time to worry much about it. I had a bigger problem—about 700 pounds bigger—to deal with.
Victor swarmed over me for a little bit after he had me down, but I managed to roll out and get away from him and then—at last—made it around behind him.
Right where I wanted to be.
What I quickly discovered, though, was that when dealing with a critter that big, it really doesn't make a hell of a lot of difference which side you're coming at him from. He was too high and wide to get my arms around or try to put any kind of nelson lock on. And, even if I hadn't been warned against it, pulling his ears or tail or yanking on his fur simply didn't seem like a smart idea.
So for a few seconds we did what must have been a comical-looking kind of dance, him switching first to his left and then to his right, me hopping opposite of whichever way he turned to try and keep behind him … Seeing the futility in this and seriously beginning to run low on gas, I ended up in front of him once again and this time when he knocked me down and swarmed over me I was pretty much done. I was sweating profusely by then and sucking wind big-time so when I finally quit struggling and just sort of collapsed under him, Victor calmly began licking the sweat off the side of my face (the muzzle holding his jaws shut, but clearly not so tight he couldn't still get his tongue out). I hadn't noticed him do that with anybody else and for a moment there I feared he might be taking a romantic interest in me. I was hoping like hell I could catch a second wind if it came to that when Tuffy and the referee started pulling us apart.
My wife had timed it and said I lasted to just under two minutes. To me, it seemed more like two hours. I stumbled out of the arena and made it to where she was waiting, still sweating like a pig and feeling exhausted to the point of fearing I was going to get the dry heaves. People were clapping me on the shoulder and congratulating me and another match was starting to get underway but all I wanted was to get the hell out of there and get some fresh air. And, for the first time, I got the chance to take a good look at my thumb. The ball joint was dislocated, rolled part way up onto the back of my hand and starting to swell. And, now that I had time to think about it, it hurt more than a little bit.
Pam had taken some pictures with an old Polaroid, but unfortunately it had a weak battery so the shots that came out were so dim they were barely discernable. The clearest of the bunch was one where Victor was yanking me toward him so that I was bent at the waist with my shirt pulled up to my shoulders and about six inches of bright white plumber's crack showing above my drooping beltline. Real proud showpiece for the grandkids. We also got a signed photo from Tuffy before the match started that said something like "Wayne – Take it easy on Victor". Both that photo and the snapshot of my prominently displayed posterior have been lost to the mists of time and many subsequent moves of household goods.
Out in the parking lot, as Pam and I were getting into our car (an old Plymouth beater with a full-width front seat) I put my injured hand down on the seat between us to get myself situated behind the wheel just as she was sliding in from the opposite side. She inadvertently plopped her fanny right on my hand! Amazingly, the act of jerking the hand back out from under her caused the dislocated thumb joint to slide back into place. The soreness was gone almost immediately and in a matter of minutes most of the swelling had gone down, too. By the time we got home the darn thing was fine.

So there's my bear-wrestling tale. In the 1980s, various animal rights groups effectively stopped public bear wrestling. Tuffy and Victor returned to Florida where Victor became pretty much just another display animal in a cage and Tuffy went back to wrangling gators. They've both since passed away. You can Google "Victor the Wrestling Bear" and find a handful of articles, some pictures, and even a few old videos of Victor in action.
But I don't need videos … or pictures either, for that matter.
I saw ol' Vic in action. First hand. And I remember it just fine.

Persevere — WD

Monday, September 3, 2012

Interview: Q&A with THOMAS PLUCK

If you aren't already familiar with the byline of Thomas Pluck, you should be.
What's more, I predict everyone soon will be—because I think there definitely are some big things ahead for this young (from my perspective, darn near everybody's "young") writer out of Nutley, New Jersey.
Thomas is the author of several tough, well-received short stories ("hardboiled thrillers, unflinching fiction with heart," as he himself puts it) that have appeared over recent years in publications such as Beat To A Pulp, Crimespree Magazine, Spinetingler, Hardboiled, Shotgun Honey, Plots With Guns, etc. His story "Black-Eyed Susan", appearing first at Powder Burn Flash and again in Beat To A Pulp: Hardboiled, was a Bullet Award winner.
Thomas has also edited and/or co-edited the noteworthy anthologies The Lost Children (2011) and Lost Children:The Protectors (2012, just released Sept. 1), both of which are charity collections with all benefits going to PROTECT

(The National Association to Protect Children) and Children 1st.
He is working on two upcoming novels.
I am grateful that he agreed to the following interview.

WD: You come from a blue collar background, your father a construction worker, your mother a hairdresser. You yourself have worked construction, been a short order cook, worked in a pharmacy, and currently do computer work. Care to expound on that a bit more for our readers?

TP: I think writers, especially crime writers, sometimes go out of the way to make their life and career seem exciting. I don’t think I’ve led a boring life, but the parts that made me a writer aren’t very exciting. As a cook, cashier and laborer, you get to observe people almost like a naturalist with a hidden camera. You’re part of the scenery, once you take on that role. At least in city life. So those jobs did more than put me through school, they let me see people, almost as an outside observer. I found it fascinating, and I had to share it.

WD: You've told me that you've always had an active imagination and first began writing as a child. At what age was that, and what were the kinds of things you first wrote?

TP: I’ve always had a thing for revenge stories, looking back. My first book- and it was a book, my second grade teacher sewed up pages of good thick paper and bound them for us to take home- was called Komodo and Dragon’s Adventure. In it, two komodo dragons take out a poacher who is hunting on their island, by rigging a complicated trap to catapult his Jeep into quicksand. And I mention it, because I think as a writer, your voice doesn’t really change much once you find it. It’s a simple revenge story where a makeshift family of critters- there’s an Iguana named Iggy, and a few other ragtag reptiles- bands together to fight evil. It wasn’t going to win a Newberry award or survive a second reading, but I had to laugh when I thought about it again, because compared to “Black-Eyed Susan,” the story than won the Bullet award, the structure and underlying theme are the same.

WD: All writers tend to be avid readers. I assume the same is true of you. What type of books or stories did you read early on, and what is your reading diet these days?

TP: I started reading nonfiction, devouring information, but I always liked Encyclopedia Brown and later on, Agatha Christie. Not for the puzzles, but for the enjoyment of justice being done. I found Dashiell Hammett from there, the Continental Op. The Op remains one of my favorite characters, because he remained an enigma in some ways. Once I devoured all of those stories, I found modern hardboiled, like Lawrence Block and Andrew Vachss, and then the more lyrical James Lee Burke. I wish I’d found Hardboiled Magazine, back then! I love crime stories because they reveal a hidden world beneath the civilized veneer, but read outside of the genre a lot. I try to force myself to read something outside of crime, every other book, so I don’t get myopic. Stuff like William Gibson, who started with cyberpunk, the noir of science fiction, and has moved toward excellent depictions of how technology and corporate worship affect us. I’ve always liked fringe science fiction, or “speculative fiction,” as some call it, ever since I read Harlan Ellison. Who began as a crime writer- he joined a NYC street gang to write a crime novel called Web of the City, but he never let any one genre constrain his imagination, and I respect that. You want to read a book, read Ellison’s collection Angry Candy, with his Edgar winner “Soft Monkey.” He’s hard-boiled SF, and writes raw, from the heart.

WD: You've told me that two of your favorite current writers are Andrew Vachss and James Lee Burke. Any others—past or present—you'd care to mention? Are there any writers or particular works you've read that you feel have had an influence on your own writing?

TP: Those two icons are like the Gods of Anger and Sadness, respectively. When I think of Vachss’s Burke, I see an angry man staring out over the moral wasteland of New York’s metropolis, beaming hate at those who abuse power, and fury for those who ignore it, or worse, buy into it. He beams a light into sub-basements, illuminating the rotten foundation of a civilization that tolerates the abuse of the only true innocents, our children. And he does it with stories that grip on a visceral level. It’s cliché to say he writes “stripped to the bone,” and it’s incorrect. He doesn’t. There’s plenty of art there, but it’s like the blues. It says it straight, with no apology, and if you don’t get it, you never will.
James Lee Burke is almost the opposite. He writes beautiful prose—he’s up there with Cormac McCarthy—and crafts believable romantic characters in a brutal, cynical world. His characters are angry about injustice as well, but they work within the law. And to me, that’s romantic, believing that in the end, the system works. But he makes you believe it, and that’s part of his power. He has a great sadness and disappointment when the system and the frail humans who run it don’t live up to the romantic ideals that America was founded upon, tempered with the belief that if we persevere, it someday will. I’m somewhere in between. I’m not sure we’ll ever overcome corruption, but we carry the fire and hand it to the next generation.

WD: You read like a very natural storyteller. Have you ever taken or attended any writing courses?

TP: Thanks, Wayne. That’s a great compliment. I took a creative writing class for one semester in college, and one for poetry. Poetry helped more, it taught me to write from the heart and not try to write like how you think a writer sounds. I think that’s the biggest hurdle, trusting your own voice. The second hurdle is not falling in love with it, so you can “kill your darlings,” as the saying goes. Great example? Joe Lansdale. He’s another literary idol of mine. When he writes, it feels like you’re sitting across a campfire or next to him at a bar, listening to a tall tale. Your own work has that same comfortable feel to it, speaking of natural storytellers. So does Lawrence Block, another favorite of mine.

WD: Much of your work up until now has been short, often flash-type fiction so this question probably wouldn't apply to that. But now that you're branching into novels and longer works, do you plot or outline extensively? Or are you a seat-of-the-pantser?

TP: I’ve only just learned that I’m an outliner. See, short stories and flash are easy to concoct in your head. It all fits in there. So I thought I was a pantser, when this idea I’d been turning around like a pig on a spit for days, weeks, years, came out in a rush on the page. The first time I sat down to write a long short story, I learned how wrong I was. I had to gut it, go back, write some more, double back again, until I got it right. That story is “Garbage Man,” which will be in Beat to a Pulp: Superhero, in a few months. Now I think it out first. Sometimes I write notes out, and keep them next to me. I’m a daydream writer, really. My sister still teases me about how when I was a kid, I’d walk home from school in a daze, imagining laser tanks and thugs with machine guns ravaging the town. And I still work best after a good walk around the neighborhood and into the park. I wrote my first novel without a net, and I’m still fixing it. The next one I know what happens, and I just need to fill it in. That’s the way for me.

WD: I've been retired for a few years now so my writing schedule (and my output) have expanded considerably. From all the years I wrote while working a full-time job, however, I know how hard it is to fit in writing time. Do you have any kind of "typical" writing schedule?

TP: I write first thing in the morning until I need to start work, and again at lunch hour, and at night either when I get home or after dinner for a few hours. I write pretty slowly, by my estimation. I still edit too much on the fly. A buddy of mine, Matt McBride, wrote his first novel during 35 second breaks on the assembly line. After I heard that, I stopped making excuses. It’s a great read, too. Frank Sinatra in a Blender. Also love that title.

WD: I know how important it is to have the support of a soul mate. Tell us a little bit about your lovely wife Sarah, whom I know has been involved in the Lost Children anthologies and seems strongly at your side.

TP: She’s the love of my life and my best friend. Great, snappy sense of humor and a no-bullshit attitude. She’s a graphic designer, and created the striking covers for both anthologies. She supports my writing, but it’s too dark for her taste. She’s my dose of reality, which every writer needs.

WD: You have two series characters—Denny the Dent and Jay Desmarteaux—who have appeared in a number of short stories and are scheduled to be making novel-length appearances soon. Care to expound on them a bit, maybe give us a hint what lies in store for their futures?

TP: Denny the Dent is my hardboiled “pulp” hero. 350 pounds of muscle, he’s a black ex-con who works as a junk scrapper in Newark, New Jersey. The big quiet guy who everyone assumes is dumb, it’s compounded by the dent in his skull, received when the incompetent doctor pulled him out. He grew up hard, with just his mama to teach him what was right, and he metes out his twisted form of justice to the cruel and powerful. His novel pits him against an abductor of children, overzealous police, and two neighborhood groups who both think they’re doing the right thing, and only making it worse. It’s a lot for a simple, honest man to contend with. Denny is up to the task.
Jay Desmarteaux stood up to the town bully as a kid, and took the rap for the bully’s murder. In prison, he becomes the protégé of an old school outlaw, and uses his skills to pay back the people who put him in jail. Jay is more of a country boy outlaw, a bareknuckle fighter who’d be running moonshine and poaching gators in another time. He’s a drifter who lives hand to mouth, working as muscle or a thief for whatever criminal enterprise will have him, because it’s all he knows. He hates bullies, and often finds himself at cross purposes with his employers, and leaves a blazing trail of burned bridges in his wake. You’ll get a taste of Jay in a Needle: A Magazine of Noir’s summer 2012 issue, Hills of Fire: Bareknuckle Yarns of Appalachia, and in Feeding Kate, a great little book that a group of mystery authors are publishing to pay for a friend’s surgery.

WD: I know you enjoy eating, and "sampling" a variety of adult beverages; and that you are involved in mixed martial arts and strongman training—tell us some more about that side of Thomas Pluck, the non-writer side.

TP: Well, they say write what you know, and I wanted to write about hard-drinking brawlers, so I went and paid a bareknuckle fighter to punch me in the face. Joking aside, I never learned to fight as a kid. I was a big old nerd, and I’m still about as clumsy as a blind mule on rollerskates, so I signed up with the toughest, most street-worthy trainer I could find, a guy named Phil Dunlap who was trained in Burma, fought bareknuckle for ten years, and now runs Advanced Fighting Systems. Phil’s one of those no-BS guys. If you train for defense, you put gloves on and you get punched in the face. Boards don’t hit back. I sparred with a 6’4” cop who boxed in the Marines one of my first times in the ring, and he bent my nose for me. But I kept coming. After that, writing is easy. Six years later, I wouldn’t say I’m any good as a fighter, but I know my limitations. And to quote Dirty Harry, that’s something you need to know.
Strongman training is just lifting for strength, not looks. I’m nowhere near actual strongman weights yet. I can deadlift 555lbs, and strongmen start in the 700 range. I’ll get there. Why? No reason. It’s good exercise, I’m good at it, and it burns off the calories from burgers and beer, my two big vices. I don’t think there’s anything more quintessentially American than driving your self-defining car to a diner or roadstand to eat a greasy, delicious meal like a cheeseburger, barbecue or a hotdog with someone you love. If we didn’t invent it, we perfected it. It makes me feel like it’s the first stop on an endless road to adventure.

WD: You've said you have "a visceral and seething rage" for abuse of power and the bullying/abuse of those weaker and more vulnerable. Hence your unflagging support of PROTECT, and the work you are doing for that good cause. Any particular background experience or occurrence—beyond the natural response we all should have toward such abuses—that makes this feeling so strong in you?

TP: Personal and second-hand experience, and witnessing the long-term damage. I agree with Andrew Vachss, that the ultimate crime-fighting initiative is to protect our children. Part of me is cynical, but another is romantic, like James Lee Burke. And the work of Alice Miller  (rest in peace) gives me hope. In her country, Sweden, in 1978, they passed a law banning the corporal punishment of children. At the time, 70% of people were against the law. In 1997, one generation later, only 10% are against it. She changed how her country treats its children. And it’s important—as the one thing in common with nearly all violent, habitual criminals is neglect and physical abuse as a child—when you can get them to own up to it. Love of the parent is so inherent in us that we’ll blame ourselves. “I was a bad kid. I deserved it. It didn’t do me any harm.” Things are getting better. In the turn of the 20th century, a large percentage of the population believed in pre-emptively beating infants so they wouldn’t grow up bad. This led to a century of unfathomable violence. No one would defend that practice anymore, and violence worldwide is actually going down, despite what the 24-hour news media will tell you. There will always be a market for crime fiction, there will always be bad men, but things are slowly getting better, thanks to the hard work of people like Alice Miller and the good folks at PROTECT.

WD: Finally, anything else you'd like to include or mention that my questioning didn't touch upon?

TP: PROTECT has taught me something else, that we should concentrate on what we agree upon, rather than our differences. Especially in America, where the news media would have us rant and rave like fans of two opposing teams. PROTECT has members from both extremes of the political spectrum, and everywhere in between. Getting along. Working together for an important cause, and making great strides. They’re a pretty damn good example for all of us.
And thank you, Wayne, for the opportunity to talk with you. Like I briefly mentioned earlier, I wish I’d discovered Hardboiled Magazine back in ’85, because it’s a pleasure to know you.

WD: Thank you for your time, Thomas.

I urge everyone reading this to check out the Lost Children anthologies. You'll be supporting a very worthwhile cause and at the same time you'll be treating yourself to some excellent, provocative stories by some of the most exciting writers working today.
If you want to know more about PROTECT and find out how you can be even more supportive with a modestly-priced membership, go to .

And by all means keep an eye out for anything and everything by this Pluck guy. You can learn more about him and get free access to several of his fine stories at  > .

Persevere — WD

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Noteworthy Reads: OMEGA BLUE by Mel Odom

Looking for a lightning-paced thriller featuring paramilitary elite cops, an international network of bad guys committing the most heinous of crimes, a dose of science fiction, and so much action your darting eyes can barely keep up?

Well, then look no further than OMEGA BLUE.
In addition to all of the foregoing, there are also moments of humanity and characterization that give a surprising depth to the story even as it hurls you along at its breakneck pace.

Set in the mid 2030s, the tale centers around one Slade Wilson, head honcho over Omega Blue, a 6-person elite crime-fighting force in this case going up against "organ jackals" who mercilessly harvest organs from homeless, disenfranchised victims and sell them on the Red Market. In addition to the jackal organization itself—complete with soldiers outfitted with exo-skeletons that make them damn near invincible—corrupt political powers and a rogue mob boss are also at work trying to stop Slade and his team.
But stopping Omega Blue ain't easy, not at any level and not from any quarter.

Slade Wilson is a great hardboiled hero, a sort of Dirty Harry for the future—complete with his very own backup team of specialists and an imaginative array of crime-fighting gadgets.
The seasoned writing skill of Mel Odom is on a par with—or better—than many of the "big names" in the thriller game today. And an extra bit of good news is that he has at least one more Omega Blue adventure waiting in the wings.
So gobble this one as soon as you can and then it's a pretty safe bet you'll be keeping a sharp eye out for more to come.
Highly recommended.
Looking for a lightning-paced thriller featuring paramilitary elite cops, an international network of bad guys committing the most heinous of crimes, a dose of science fiction, and so much action your darting eyes can barely keep up?

Well, then look no further than OMEGA BLUE.
In addition to all of the foregoing, there are also moments of humanity and characterization that give a surprising depth to the story even as it hurls you along at its breakneck pace.

Set in the mid 2030s, the tale centers around one Slade Wilson, head honcho over Omega Blue, a 6-person elite crime-fighting force in this case going up against "organ jackals" who mercilessly harvest organs from homeless, disenfranchised victims and sell them on the Red Market. In addition to the jackal organization itself—complete with soldiers outfitted with exo-skeletons that make them damn near invincible—corrupt political powers and a rogue mob boss are also at work trying to stop Slade and his team.
But stopping Omega Blue ain't easy, not at any level and not from any quarter.

Slade Wilson is a great hardboiled hero, a sort of Dirty Harry for the future—complete with his very own backup team of specialists and an imaginative array of crime-fighting gadgets.
The seasoned writing skill of Mel Odom is on a par with—or better—than many of the "big names" in the thriller game today. And an extra bit of good news is that he has at least one more Omega Blue adventure waiting in the wings.
So gobble this one as soon as you can and then it's a pretty safe bet you'll be keeping a sharp eye out for more to come.
Highly recommended.