Saturday, December 28, 2013

Another Look: THE PROFESSIONALS (1966 movie)


THE PROFESSIONALS is a tight, tough, Western actioner, written and directed by Richard Brooks, released in 1966. It falls in that sweet spot occupied by certain films of that era that still exhibited elements of "the way they used to make 'em" along with revisionist, more permissive "adult" touches that gained ground steadily through the late Sixties and into the Seventies.
In accordance with the title, Lee Marvin leads a four-man, hand-picked team of professionals hired to raid a rebel camp across the border in turn-of-the-century Mexico to rescue the kidnapped wife of a wealthy American rancher. The other team members are: Robert Ryan, playing a horse wrangler; Woody Strode as a scout and Apache-trained tracker; and Burt Lancaster as an explosives expert. Marvin is an ex military man and weapons specialist. The veteran cast is rounded out by Ralph Bellamy as the rancher; Claudia Cardinale as his voluptuous wife; and Jack Palance as Garza, the rebel leader responsible for her kidnapping.
My recollection from previous viewings of this film, including when it first came out, was that Lee Marvin had the dominant role by a considerable margin. This was likely influenced by the fact that the peak of his career came in close conjunction with THE PROFESSIONALS, which hit a year after Marvin's Academy Award-winning performance in CAT BALLOU and just ahead of THE DIRTY DOZEN. A recent re-viewing, however, has caused me to realize that Lancaster's role (his name rightfully also leading in the credits) actually has greater depth and more screen time than Marvin's (although the latter is still featured very prominently).
It is also a fact that the two stars did not get along well during the filming, mainly due to Marvin's heavy drinking and unpreparedness when it came time to go before the camera. Director Brooks (who had previously directed Lancaster in his Academy Award-winning role as THE BIRDMAN OF ALCATRAZ) would say afterward that his greatest challenge in making the movie was to "keep Burt from grabbing Marvin by his drunken ass and throwing him off that mountain".
Nevertheless, none of these behind-the-scenes problems show up on the screen. What the viewer gets there, as I said at the outset, is just a terrific Western adventure filled with explosive (literally) action, romance (at times a bit on the saucy side), suspense, and even a nifty surprise or two.
Strictly for males to take note of: Claudia Cardinale is her usual sultry, sensational self in this. But there is a second female featured here --- an otherwise seldom-seen actress named Marie Gomez playing a rebelista known as Sergeant Si Si ("she never says no") Chiquita --- who manages to, er, outdistance even the curvaceous Claudia in some key scenes.
If you haven't seen this one in a while --- or for some reason have never seen it --- it is worth a re-viewing and definitely worth checking out for the first time.

P.S.   My buddy James Reasoner probably knows the answer to this, but I've got a question to toss out for general comment: It seems evident to me that John Benteen's popular FARGO character (which debuted in print about three years after this film) must have been influenced, visually for sure, by Marvin's character … Ex Rough Rider, multi-skilled in weapons and fighting, premature bone white hair, battered old campaign hat, etc. The early Fargo paperbacks certainly conveyed this and the Piccadilly reprints are continuing … Did Benteen ever acknowledge this influence/inspiration?

Friday, December 20, 2013

Another Look: THE LOST WORLD (1960 film version)


The term "guilty pleasure" tends to get overused but, nonetheless, it properly suits my feelings toward this film. I've long been a sucker for certain cheesy sci-fi/horror flicks of this ilk. Hell, I even like some of current crop they run on the Sci-Fi Channel. I'm not sure why a few of them click for me yet others get deservedly shrugged off as mere junk. I hate to admit to such a shallow level of character and maturity, but I have a sneaky hunch that if one of the female stars is appealing enough, then my "junk tolerance" drops considerably.

I suspect the latter --- in the form of a young Jill St. John in tight-fitting pink safari slacks --- plays a part in me liking this 1960 version of THE LOST WORLD. Otherwise, the plot is hoaky, the acting is so-so (at best), and the special effects aren't all that special. This was only two years after Ray Harryhausen's spectacular Dyanimation effects for THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD, so the ol' "glue some scary-looking fins on Komodo dragons and crocodiles" trick for creating the illusion of dinosaurs really suffered by comparison.
But there was those pink safari pants … I don't know if they count as special effects or not. But inasmuch as I was twelve at the time of this movie's release --- and on the brink of busting wide open with all kinds of raging hormones --- I suspect they seemed pretty special to me. In fact, upon viewing THE LOST WORLD again the other night, some fifty-odd years later, I still – er – noticed them.

Shortcomings aside, the film still has a lot of energy and top level production values in departments such as cinematography and vivid DeLuxe color. And in addition to the aforementioned Miss St. John, the cast includes mostly veteran actors such as Michael Rennie, Fernando Lamas, David Hedison, and Academy Award-winning (and multiple nominee) Claude Rains (as Challenger) who chews up the scenery with such great relish you wonder how they kept enough vegetation on the set for the jungle shots.
The whole works was based on the novel of the same name by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (yeah, the Sherlock Holmes guy), and was the first of several books and stories he wrote featuring renowned explorer Professor Challenger. This film version was helmed by producer/director Irwin Allen, during his early sci-fi phase that would also include films such as VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA and FIVE WEEKS IN A BALLOON before shifting to a string of TV series (Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea, Land Of The Giants, etc.) and then culminating in epic disaster blockbusters like THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE and THE TOWERING INFERNO.

Upon sitting through it again, I found that THE LOST WORLD was still a lot of fun. And that's really all this kind of movie is supposed to be.
It also brought back a recollection that had totally slipped my mind of something that occurred when I first saw THE LOST WORLD in a tiny, drafty movie house in Genoa, Illinois… For the first and only time in all my years of movie-watching in theaters, there was a scene that caused the audience to break out in applause right in the middle of the film. The scene? It is near the big climax, just before the volcano explodes. The native tribe that inhabits the "lost" Amazon plateau where the explorers have ventured, is chasing them due to their transgressions. They are fleeing through underground caverns on a high ledge above a river of lava. One of the explorers pauses to torch some dry scrub brush growing along the ledge --- the fire quickly flares back and drives the pursuing native witch doctor and his crew off the ledge and into the lava. Can't say as I can see where it is such a high point of excitement upon watching again (and, in fact, in this age of political correctness run amok, there possibly would those in the audience who would boo such shabby treatment of the indigenous people). But, at the time, it sure revved the motors of that particular movie audience.
Maybe that's part of the implanted impression that makes THE LOST WORLD a guilty pleasure for me still today.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Interview: Stephen Mertz (author of THE CASTRO DIRECTIVE)


Stephen Mertz is a veteran popular author best known for his mainstream thrillers and novels of suspense, including several titles in the popular Mack Bolan, Executioner and MIA Hunter series. Additionally, his work includes darkly paranormal titles such as Night Wind and Devil Creek, hardboiled noir (Blood Red Sun), as well as historical speculative thrillers like Blood Red Sun and his latest — The Castro Directive. .

His work has been well received critically. Booklist called Night Wind a “fast-paced...a white-knuckle read” and Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine labeled Mertz “an action specialist." Writing peers have also praised his work — Edgar-winning bestseller Joe R. Lansdale says Steve "writes a hard-edged thriller for those who like their tales straight and sharp and full of dark surprise"; and another Edgar-winner, Max Allan Collins, says "Stephen Mertz is one of my favorite novelists … a wonderful writer."

Steve is also a popular lecturer on the craft of writing and has appeared as a guest speaker before writer’s groups and at universities.

Recently, Steve agreed to an in-depth interview with yours truly. He's a pro's pro and I think you will enjoy this exchange:


WD:  Although we've known each other and have stayed in touch, on and off, for over thirty years, it occurs to me I know little or nothing about you, family-wise. Does your creativity (writing; music) run in the family? Did you get support/encouragement from anyone in particular as you were developing these talents? Marriage? Children?

SM: Born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin though I’ve now been a westerner for most of my adult life. Normal middle-class upbringing in a small, loving family. Mom and Dad, bless them, encouraged and never discouraged my creativity. Marriage and children? Well, a couple of ex-wives in the slipstream of life but no kids. Happily domesticated these days with the same woman for nine years, so I’m settled down at last. Life is good.


WD:  You have called yourself a born writer and said you started "scribbling stories" when you were about 13, and never stopped. What do you remember about those very early stories? Were they genre-related, traceable in any way to your later work? 

SM:  Oh, sure. In fact my first novel, not published for another fifteen years, was actually dreamed up during a Geometry class that I was flunking in high school.


WD:  Speaking of influences --- All good writers start out as avid readers. Can you name some of your favorite writers, past and/or present? Were there any who influenced your own work at any stage along the way?

SM:  Well it all starts with Hemingway, doesn’t it? Where would any of us be without Papa? After that, I dunno, the usual suspects. Steinbeck. Hammett. Of course before that I’d begun with the Hardy Boys and Tom Swift, and by eighth grade I’d discovered Mike Shayne and Mike Hammer. The hardboiled tough guy private eyes constituted much of my extracurricular reading during high school. Spillane was king but I read ‘em all. Yes, there were influences. But when I first turned pro and broke in writing those Mack Bolan novels, one of the main reasons I signed on was to concentrate on refining my prose while maintaining a degree of anonymity. A learn-while-you-earn kind of deal. I revised those early Executioner novels quite a bit (which in itself is a rarity in writing of that sort), and by the end of my tenure on that series I’d pretty much consciously pruned from my writing the sound of any writers who I felt had a discernible stylistic influence on me. Of course with the Bolan books I was being paid to write like someone else but by the time I started in on my work, I’d found my own voice.



WD:  As a young man, you served a hitch in the Army and attended college. I'm not sure in what order. First of all, please accept my sincere gratitude for your service to our country, especially during that turbulent time, which – by my reckoning – would have been the 1960s. It was a time when military service and the mood in much of the country, especially on college campuses, were not always compatible. Can you tell us about any of your experiences during that time?

SM:  I’m like the guy in Little Big Man; I managed to survive in both worlds. I graduated from high school the summer that I Can’t Get No Satisfaction and Like a Rolling Stone were crackling the atmosphere from every car radio in America, and I heeded the rebel yell. Tried a semester of college but that didn’t take. You want to be a lawyer? Go to college. Same if you want to be a doctor or an accountant. But you’re 18 and you want to be a writer? Hit the road, jack. Travel as much as you can. Keep your eyes, ears and heart open and never stop reading and writing. At least, that’s how I did it. Headed out as a roadie for a rock band that never went anywhere except one trip to NYC where I lingered on the fringes of the hipster Village scene. Cold water walkup on McDougal. Nights digging Nico & The Velvet Underground at Andy Warhol’s Exploding Plastic Inevitable. Headed south on enough train fare to get me as far as Atlanta, where I drove a delivery truck for a florist. Talk about your range of human emotions for a writer-in-training to observe! One minute you’re delivering flowers to a joyous wedding party, the next stop is a funeral service where they’re crying buckets. Eventually the draft board caught up with me in Tallahassee where I was sitting in on lectures and drinking too much beer. Campus life suited me just fine except for that business of taking classes and studying for tests. So for the next two years I wore OD green and rocketed to the rank of Specialist 5th Class, but with no “what did you do in the war, daddy” stories to share. In His wisdom, Uncle Sam sent me to Germany to push papers and keep an eye on them durn Ruskies. Probably would have sent me to Vietnam if it had been World War II. Had me an apartment off-base, an Italian girlfriend and got to travel around Europe and the England. The Army treated okay.


WD:  You've said that you broke away from the 9 to 5 grind about 40 years ago and never looked back. What type of work did you do during that 9 to 5 grind period? Since then, you have traveled extensively – always writing – and have worked at various other jobs along the way. Can you expand a bit on that also?

SM:  After the Army? Hell, everything from janitor to office clerk to the summer I managed a resort. But I was the world’s worst employee. A day gig for me existed only to make money so I could write. In retrospect, though, I now realize that I was watching, listening, learning and retaining in every one of those jobs. It’s all grist for the mill. You pay attention to the little stuff. I worked one winter as a janitor for a service that would go into teen beer bars in this college town. We’d hit them about 3 AM after the place had been emptied and everyone had gone home. Now, every night of the week these dumps were jam packed with college guys trying to pick up college girls and vice versa. Dim lights, loud music, the place is jumping. Loose change dropping left and right but in an atmosphere like that while you’re hustling a hottie, who’s going to say, “Excuse me, I dropped a quarter” and get down on your knees in the dark to look for it? But throw on the fluorescents for us hungry janitors and, man, you wouldn’t believe the loose change you could pick up. I found fifty bucks one night in three bars, and we were a four-man crew! So anyway, I knew the perks of being a janitor and one day in some way, into a book it goes.


WD:  In addition to your writing, you are an accomplished musician. Tell us more about that, please. What instruments do you play, favorite artists, etc? You wrote a wonderful book titled HANK & MUDDY a few years back (one of my favorites from you) and now I understand that you've recently finished a work about Jimi Hendrix. I assume these stemmed, to some degree, from your own interest in music? Care to tell us a little about the Jimi Hendrix book? Is it, like HANK & MUDDY, a fictionalized account of some event in Hendrix's life, or is it more biographical?



SM: A little of both. The book is set in London in 1970 during the final 48 hours of Jimi’s life, which have always been shrouded in mystery amid suggestions of foul play. At a deeper level the novel is about those two tracks of American youth culture that ran parallel to each other during the turbulent times you speak of. Half were safe and sound, getting high and listening to Jimi Hendrix, the other half was trying to stay alive in a deadly combat zone, getting high and listening to Jimi Hendrix. Dichotomies like that trigger my imagination, and they’re everywhere. My music novels stem from a lifelong love of music, everything from jazz to rock and classical too. I worked for a spell as a DJ in country radio. Worked for seven years on the road as a rock musician. Vocals and harp (blues lingo for amplified harmonica). Never recorded professionally. Played the beer bar circuit, college towns, ski resorts, cowboy bars, biker bars, after hours dives. Writing eventually pushed that aside. Better working conditions and you only travel when you want to. Thank you for the kind words about Hank & Muddy. Writers are always supposed to say they’re latest book is their best, and maybe that’s true, but Hank & Muddy is my personal favorite of the ones published thus far.


WD:  For years you were associated with paperback adventure series like Cody's Army and Mark Stone: MIA Hunter, for which you turned out many highly entertaining titles. Recently, however, you've slowed down the pace and are turning out stand-alones like the aforementioned HANK & MUDDY, thrillers like DRAGON GAMES, THE KOREAN INTERCEPT, BLOOD RED SUN, and THE CASTRO DIRECTIVE (just released in print format). Can you comment on the contrast between the two types of books, as far as research, writing discipline, personal satisfaction, etc.?

SM: I intend my series novels to constitute strong examples of stories crafted to meet the expectations of readers who know what they want. I take pride in delivering those goods in a series like the Mark Stone books. That’s the sort of writing that can be fresh and dynamic when judged on its own merits. But I always liked the way some of my favorite old movie directors like John Ford or Hitchcock could make intense little movies like Liberty Valance or Psycho, and then turn around and paint their pictures on a larger canvas, so to speak, with films like She Wore a Yellow Ribbon or North By Northwest. Yet all of their work bears their distinctive motifs and style. That’s the difference. My stand-alone novels present stories on a bigger canvas. 


Also, you've done a number of collaborations with writers like Don Pendleton, Bill Crider, and Joe Lansdale. That must be a whole different writing dynamic. Comment on that also, please.

SM: I’ve always been proud of the apprenticeship that my friendship with Don Pendleton afforded me. In the other cases, some top notch friends, who happen to be top notch writers, have helped me out at times by pitching in as series co-writers when deadlines collided with reality and I needed someone to bail me out with a first draft. The three MIA Hunter novels that Joe R. Lansdale and I did have stirred considerable interest over the years, and there’s anticipation for the three-in-one collection of them scheduled for publication by Subterranean Press in 2014.


WD:  Some of your MIA Hunter books have recently been re-issued and are getting a good response as eBooks. Is it true this is stirring an interest in you to perhaps write some more adventures for Mark Stone and his crew? I'm sure a lot of readers would love to have confirmation of that. Additionally, what are your feelings about the whole eBook movement?

SM:  This is probably the most exciting, uncertain time to be a writer since the birth of paperbacks, and I’m lovin’ it. The writer’s task is to communicate. Ebooks means more readers. How can that be anything but a good thing? There is a new, unpublished MIA Hunter in the pipeline, but Crossroad Press still has a ways to go in reissuing the original series so we’ll see. As a reader, I’m old school. I prefer old-fashioned real books. But so-called “legacy publishing” needed a big time kick in the ass and here it is, folks. As a writer, I’m just happy that people read and enjoy my books and whatever delivery system works best for them is just fine with me.


WD:  Any firm plans for what we can expect next from Stephen Mertz on the writing front?

SM:  There’s always something in development but I won’t jinx it by talking about that before it’s done. Right now I’m all about getting the word out about The Castro Directive and the MIA Hunter series. They’re great books, folks, and they’re cheap!  There, that oughta do it for the sales pitch.


WD:  There was a time when you and I didn't hit it off. I was young and a little too cocky for my own good back then, and you called me on it. But then our mutual friend Mike Avallone intervened and got us patched up. I always found it a bit ironic that the peacemaker role was played by Avo --- who was, shall we say, a bit pugnacious in his later years and always seemed to be firing off letters to raise hell with somebody about something (God, can you imagine what a terror he would be if still alive in this age of Tweets and e-mail). You got to know Avo better than me over the years and he even dedicated his last book to you. Recognizing there may be some folks reading this who, sadly, won't be familiar with the Avallone byline --- got any good Avo stories you want to share? (I've got a couple of my own, but will hold that for another time.)

SM: Hmm. Truth is I don’t remember us ever buttin’ heads! Drawing a total blank, and I don’t care to remember. Interviews notwithstanding, I’m about the present and the future.

My Avallone story concerns an actual short story that I wrote for and about him. I adored Mike. He was the first professional writer I ever knew. I wrote him a fan letter after he made the cover of a Writers Digest in 1970. He was burning up the paperback racks in those days. I’d been reading him since high school and the Army. I really liked his stuff. As a young fella who wanted to write, I didn’t know anything about all the flaws people say they find in his work these days. I just knew that when I picked up an Ed Noon novel or anything with Avallone’s name on the cover, I couldn’t stop reading. So I wrote him a fan letter. We became and remained good friends until his death almost 30 years later. Mike always called me his “loyal Boswell,” and in fact dedicated two of his Ed Noon books to me.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t long after we made contact that his markets started drying up. By the late 70s, Mike was in a very dark place. Mike said they (the editors and agents) blacklisted him. They said he was difficult to work with. Mike was a real character with personality coming out of his ears. He was a link to the past (he’d actually met Chandler) and I wasn’t the only young newbie writer of my generation that he encouraged early on. Then, to see him sliding into this angry, dark, bitter place mentally and emotionally….he  started blaming people. He picked fights and sometimes blamed writers for his misfortunes who were friends of mine and who I knew to be good people. So I finally decide I’ve got to let Mike see that he’s maybe pushing too hard. That he should reassess, reboot, whatever. I’d suggested this in a variety of ways during our regular phone conversations but this time I went full bore and wrote a story called “The King of Horror,” about a troubled writer named Rigley Balbo who was quite obviously Michael Avallone. It was published by Dutton and later Signet in a collection called Murder Is My Business, edited by Max Allan Collins and Mickey Spillane. The story was pretty harsh. It’s a cautionary tale for all writers, but also an open letter specifically to Mike, meant to wake him and shake him. So I held my breath, waiting for his reaction.

Well, he loved it. In fact, he said it was such a great story and so faithfully written in his voice, people would think Stephen Mertz was a pen-name for Michael Avallone! That was the irrepressible Avo. For years after that he often wrote Rigley Balbo as his return address on the letters he sent me, and he once referred to that story as my love letter to him…and he was right.


WD:  Thank you, Steve, for your time.

SM:  Thank you, Wayne, for your interest.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Available Now: MEAN CHRISTMAS NIGHT

Here's a Christmas short story to get you in the holiday spirit. It just went live on Amazon Kindle.

Don't let your guard down, though, and be expecting some White Christmas frivolity or a Dr. Seuss rhyme fest ... This is me, remember? So you ought to know there's going to be a healthy dose of nastiness that's sure to earn somebody a big fat lump of coal in their stocking.
As the sales copy says:
"St. Gregory's was a poor parish in a decaying part of the city.
Nevertheless, Father Maynard maintained the strength of his faith and the conviction that there were still good people in his flock who needed and wanted the word of the Lord in their lives.
But then came the night—the Holiest of nights—when three vicious punks showed up to test the very limits of the priest's faith and convictions … until Father Maynard discovered that an unlikely Savior may reemerge when needed the most."
 
If you're interested in seeing how it all plays out (and I naturally hope you are) then I urge you to check this out. It's a quick read and one I think you'll enjoy.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Now Available: TRAILS OF THE WILD: Seven Tales of the Old West





Just released from David Cranmer's Beat To A Pulp Press, here is a fine and diverse collection of stories set in the Old West. There is humor, danger, drama, romance, and plenty of action.

The writers are seasoned veterans all. They include: James Reasoner, Patti Abbott, Evan Lewis, Kieran Shay, Matthew Pizzolato, Chuck Tyrell, and some guy named Dundee. It's a terrific lineup and I'm proud to be part of it.

My story is actually novella-length and is the third I've done featuring the popular Cash Laramie character as originally created by David Cranmer writing under his pseudonym Edward A. Grainger. It's called "The Empty Badge" and once again I put ol' Cash through some mighty tough paces. Following is a sample that I hope will whet your appetite and make you want to read more:


Edward A. Grainger's
Adventures of Cash Laramie & Gideon Miles

The Empty Badge

as written by Wayne D. Dundee

  
/prologue/

The rain and darkness made it difficult for Cash to spot the sentry. In fact, he was almost on the verge of concluding that, because of the storm, the gang had perhaps decided not to bother posting a lookout in the belief that no one was likely to be closing in on them under these conditions.
If they figured that, then they weren't reckoning on the tenacity of U.S. Deputy Marshal Cash Laramie.
At that moment, a rolling flicker of lightning coming quick on the heels of a low growl of thunder, reflected for the briefest second off the shift of a rifle barrel in some underbrush only a dozen or so yards ahead of where Cash knelt. 
Cash backhanded rainwater away from his face and smiled grimly. With the lookout's position fixed firmly in his bearings now, he began to edge forward and slightly to the right. He moved in a low crouch, the barrel of his own Winchester Yellowboy pressed tight to his body, under the fall of his dull charcoal-colored slicker, so no sudden lightning pop could reflect off it and betray him in the same manner as the sentry had allowed. 
The sound of his movement was effectively muffled by the steady hiss of the falling rain and the low moan of the wind, not to mention the intermittent thunder. Even without these aids, however, Cash was highly skilled—thanks to the training he had gotten during his formative years being raised by a band of Arapaho—in the art of silently stalking prey.
As even the most fleeting memory of those years often did, tonight it caused Cash to reach involuntarily with his free hand and gently touch the arrowhead that hung around his neck on a leather thong. The arrowhead had been a gift from his dying Arapaho mother and he was never without it. Touching the simple talisman, no matter if done without conscious thought or awareness, somehow soothed and seemed to provide a measure of reassurance in the face of any situation.
Cash cautiously circled around to the rear of the lookout's position and then moved up behind him. Since making the costly mistake that gave away his position, the man had remained very still. But it was too late.
Gripping his Winchester in both hands—one near the end of the barrel, the other just behind the cocking lever—Cash leaned in close enough to smell the unwashed sourness of the man, even through the dousing rain. Bracing himself, he raised the Winchester up above the man's head and then lunged suddenly forward, sweeping the rifle down over the sentry's face and jerking back hard against his throat. Cash felt the windpipe collapse, heard the crunch of the larynx. The victim struggled briefly, one foot kicking in and out, hands clawing at the rifle, trying to pry it away. But it was all in vain. Soon his body sagged limp and still. Dead.
Cash let the body slip to the ground and dropped into a motionless crouch, listening intently, eyes slitted against the brilliance of the lighting pops while scanning to make out as much as he could in those brief moments of illumination.
Satisfied the brief struggle had not been heard and was not generating any response, Cash rose up and stepped forward over the fallen body. He didn't know which member of the Driscoll gang he had just killed, but it really didn't matter. Unless, of course, it was Everett Driscoll himself. The elimination of their leader would have devastated the other gang members and made the rest of Cash's job a lot easier … but that was too much to hope for. No way Everett was even-handed enough to assign himself sentry duty, especially not on a night like this.
Cash stepped out of the underbrush, out into the open and the rain again, and began making his way upslope toward the mouth of the shallow cave where the remaining four members of the gang were holed up for the night. He allowed himself neither remorse nor regret over the one he'd killed. Leaving the man alive—even unconscious and restrained, if he'd taken the time—was too much of a risk to have that close behind him while he went to deal with the others. Furthermore, there wasn't a member of the gang who hadn't proven many times over to be evil and bloodthirsty enough to deserve killing.
At the top of the slope, Cash paused to one side of the cave's narrow opening. Off to his left, where he had determined some time earlier the horses were staked, he heard one of the animals chuff. From inside the cave came so much ragged snoring it was a marvel any of those present could sleep a wink. And overhead, thunder growled regularly.
Cash smiled his grim smile again. Christ, with so much other noise drowning out his approach, it almost seemed like he could have thrown caution to the wind and marched in tooting a bugle and beating a drum … But approaching a potentially dangerous situation with caution was too ingrained in Cash, too much a part of him, to ever change. It was what had kept him alive this long in a profession where anything less could be permanently career and life ending. 
Timing it not to be backlit by a burst of lightning while he was framed in the opening, Cash glided ghostlike into the cave and immediately flattened himself against the rocky wall amidst a pool of dense shadows. The interior was predominantly dark and shadow-filled, but the softly glowing coals of a nearly dead fire gave off a faint reddish light.
As Cash's eyes adjusted, he could gradually make out the four shapes of as many sleeping men. In the confined space, their snores were even louder. But outside the storm was rapidly intensifying, the accelerated claps of thunder and increasing howl of the wind doing their share to maintain command over the sounds of the night. Cash knew the gang members were weary, having ridden long and hard to try and stay ahead of him. So he expected their slumber to remain deep. But at the same time he wanted to make sure he took advantage while that was still the case.
Again moving ghostlike, Cash advanced on the glowing coals and picked up a pair of medium-sized branches from the nearby pile of firewood. He laid these carefully across the coals and then stepped back, pausing to make certain his movement hadn't disturbed anyone. When he was confident it hadn't, he moved again, this time to seize up three rifles and one discarded gun belt he spotted lying outside the bedrolls of the sleeping gang members. He knew there was bound to be more weapons inside the bedrolls, but getting rid of these would be a start. He carried the confiscated guns over to the cave opening and flung them out into the stormy night.
Then he stayed there, standing just within the cave's entrance, giving him the widest vantage point over both the interior and the sleeping men. When the time was right, he wanted everything and everybody well lighted and well within his range of vision. Quietly, he pulled four sets of handcuffs from a slicker pocket and let them dangle from his free hand, making sure the chains were not tangled.
The freshly-applied branches started to hiss and then crackle and then the first tiny flames started to lick up out of the coals. Cash waited with the patience of an Arapaho hunter.
Behind him, outside, the storm continued to grow stronger. Pitchforks of lightning stabbed the boiling sky, thunder crashed almost constantly, and the rain came down harder, blowing against his back and skimming across the hinges of his jaw. Rivulets of rainwater were now gushing down from the rim of the high, rocky cliff into whose face the cave opening was notched.
Cash flipped up the slicker's collar and continued to wait. The branches were starting to burn stronger and the interior of the cave was growing brighter. Another minute or two and the time would be right to roust this pack of rattlers, shoot any of them who weren't smart enough to see he had control over the situation, and then—
Without warning, a fat section of rock and mud and gravel tore away with a great growling, sucking sound from the cliff face directly above the cave opening where Cash stood. It tumbled down and partially into the notch right on top of him. Cash had no chance to react. He heard the strange noise and felt the crushing weight all in the same instant. The top of his head exploded with pain as a heavy rock within the falling mass slammed against his skull and when he opened his mouth to cry out it immediately filled with mud and gravel. Then his ears filled, too, and the only sound he could hear after that was the scream coming from inside him …

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Michael Avallone's LUST IS NO LADY (Review & Commentary)





Ever have something, or maybe just a fragment of something, get caught inside your head where it sort of rattles around for years, maybe decades? It never really comes to the fore as something important enough so that you have to deal with it, but neither does it completely go away.
For a writer, like me, these loose bits of memory or observation or whatever they are, often turn up in a story as a character trait or maybe even a full-blown character, perhaps a descriptive passage, and once in a while even the basis for a plot or at least a title.
Sometimes these vague things never really amount to anything … just faint bits of something from the past that float to your awareness every now and then, and then float away again.

For a long time, the opening passages of LUST IS NO LADY fell somewhere in one of those categories for me. I remembered reading about a detective getting caught out in some remote place where a small, low-flying airplane dropped a load of bricks as it swooped overhead, smashing the hell out of his car and nearly killing him. This would have been back in the middle '60s and the story was the featured fiction piece in one of the many men's magazines available back then. I don't mean a skin rag, I mean the kind of men's magazine that had adult jokes and cartoons and plenty of cheesecake, to be sure, but also articles and tough-guy fiction geared toward men and male interests. I wasn't exactly yet a man at that point, but I nevertheless had some shared interests.
I don't remember the name of the magazine and for the longest time I couldn't remember the title of the story, its byline, or the name of the detective in it.
Many years later, while reading the descriptive blurbs for a list of hardboiled paperbacks, I came across mention of the plane-dropping-bricks scene and found out it was from LUST IS NO LADY, one of Mike Avallone's Ed Noon books. By that point I had become very familiar with the Avallone byline. Not through just his Ed Noon books and stories, but also through his various TV and movie tie-ins and a few of his "adult" novels. In fact --- and somewhat surprisingly, considering my fondness for and focus on all things PI or private eye-like --- it wasn't until THE FEBRUARY DOLL MURDERS that Noon earned a spot on my radar. Prior to that, what already had the Avallone byline on my radar were works like STATION SIX-SAHARA, THE DOCTOR'S WIFE, and the MAN (and GIRL) FROM U.N.C.L.E. tie-ins. After that, it was my happy task to search for the prior thirteen Noon books I'd missed and keep an eye out for the new ones yet to come … along with the rest of Avo's output. Still, it took me until only recently to track down LUST --- currently having been re-issued as an eBook.



LUST IS NO LADY (aka THE BRUTAL KOOK), is one of the stronger entries in the Noon series. Just incidentally, it marks the end of what might be called Noon's "more traditional detective mystery" period. After that, starting with the aforementioned FEBRUARY DOLL MURDERS, Noon became more of a globe-trotting quasi-superspy (reporting directly to the President of the United States for certain cases), clearly influenced by the James Bond/spy craze that was casting a shadow over everything in those days. The plots and characters got progressively wilder --- not necessarily less entertaining, mind you, but nevertheless a departure from the direction of the series as it started a decade-plus earlier.
Not that LUST (nor most of the Noon books, for that matter) is lacking in wild plot twists or distinctive characters either. Start with being air-bombed by bricks out in the wilds of remote Wyoming; mix in a nude deaf mute Indian maiden found staked out in the desert and left for vulture bait; add in a blind old Indian man (the maid's father) tortured to death and his corpse found hanging by the neck; season with a hidden stash of gold, a cast of men and women (all quite lovely, just incidentally) living secretly in a ghost town-like camp, and top off the whole works with a psychotic dwarf. Propel it all along in Avallone's energetic, somewhat quirky --- yet always compelling, in the sense of making you want to keep turning the pages --- writing style, and you have a corker of a tale. The mystery of the lost gold is solved in a basic, but still rather clever manner, and the final denouement where the psycho dwarf "gets his" is quite satisfactory. A bit of a change of pace for Noon, as far as setting, though still satisfying as a tried-and-true PI yarn.

Added Personal Note:  Starting in the late 1980s, and on until his death in 1999 --- via numerous letters and phone calls, and during one memorable 3-day stretch at a Bouchercon (Philly, I think it was) --- I got to know Mike Avallone fairly well. I'll always cherish the friendship.
Most of this was at a time after he had quit selling very well and was on the outs with a lot of people. This stemmed, he steadfastly maintained, from his being black-listed due to having had the audacity to loudly and publicly question royalty statements from one of the more powerful publishing houses. I'm in no position to comment first-hand on the matter, since it all took place before my arrival on the scene, but I've come to believe that Mike's claims were legitimate. "But nobody would stand up with me," he often said. "Not only that, none of 'em would even hold my coat while I fought the fight."
Which, of course, did nothing to stop Mike from continuing the fight and airing his grievances to anybody who'd listen --- friend and foe alike. Much of this he did via the U.S. mail, firing off scores of letters to anybody and everybody. (All of this was long before e-mail or Twitter, of course --- and, lord, wouldn't he have been a holy terror if he'd had those at his disposal in his lifetime?).
I got a ton of Avo-grams. After our meeting at the Bouchercon he always called me "Big Bear", never anything else. While the letters I got were always friendly (except for the times he would chew me out for not writing back often enough), they still often contained a rant or two about somebody or something that had him currently pissed off.
He'd also phone me once in a while, referring to this in follow-up letters as "ameche time" or "when we last talked on the ameche" … i.e. in reference to Don Ameche who starred in a movie about the life of Alexander Graham Bell.
Avo was an original. "The Fastest Typewriter in the East" he called himself, and lived up to it. This, along with his unique slant on looking at things (like "ameche time") and using that same kind of quirky perspective and trivia references in his writing, made for some passages that came out as, shall we say, less than literary gems. Yet at all times he was damned readable and, like I said before, always kept the story moving and kept you wanting to turn to the next page.
No matter what else, I have little doubt that writing peers in my age bracket read plenty of Avallone and I suspect we all learned a trick or two from him. It saddens and angers me now that there are some who only see fit to acknowledge his name by digging up "Avallone-isms" and poking fun at them.
He sure as hell deserves more respect than that.

The fastest typewriter in the east doesn't clatter any more. The silence leaves us all less entertained.
I miss Avo.
Damn it, I wish I would have written back and called back more often when I had the chance.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Now Available: MANHUNTER'S MOUNTAIN (print version)

http://www.amazon.com/Manhunters-Mountain-Wayne-D-Dundee/dp/0983377588/ref=sr_1_1_bnp_1_pap?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1383869328&sr=1-1&keywords=manhunter%27s+mountain




MANHUNTER'S MOUNTAIN was the first novella-length work to feature David Cranmer's popular Cash Laramie character, which he wrote as Edward A. Grainger in a series of short stories featured in David's own Beat To A Pulp and in other eMagazines. It was my honor to be asked by David to be the author of this venture. As a result, MM turned out to be one of the most popular titles to appear with my byline attached and, on a personal note, one of my proudest efforts.

All of which adds to my pleasure at seeing it now available in print format.

For those who prefer reading print/paper over electronic media and may not have given MANHUNTER'S MOUNTAIN a try previously, I hope you do so now. I don't think you'll be disappointed.

I am told by David that he is planning more print follow-ups soon, which I hope will also include my second Cash novella, THE GUNS OF VEDAUWOO.

The third, by the way—entitled THE EMPTY BADGE—will be featured in a print collection called TRAILS OF THE WILD just now becoming available.
More on that soon.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

H.E.R.O. Corps. / Protect.org


I've written here and elsewhere many times about the critically important work being done in recent years on behalf of abused/exploited children by Protect.org (see link as per the listing to the right of this text). That work continues with increasing intensity and ever-increasing importance.
Now those efforts have been enhanced by Protect's association with the H.E.R.O. Corps. --- a group of truly heroic veterans dedicated to a new war: the war on abusers and exploiters of the most vulnerable in our society. You can learn more about this by checking out the video and the organization's home page as per the links below.
In the video, you will here one of the vets sum it up beautifully when he says (and I'm paraphrasing a bit): "We spend time fighting enemies overseas … when there are bad people right here in our own country doing unspeakable things to our children … why would we NOT want to fight that just as hard?"
When you hear him say those words … well, why would you NOT want to be supportive of such a cause? I hope you check out these links and then support these worthwhile causes however you can.



http://protect.org/hero


Monday, October 21, 2013

Interview: Les Williams (author of WHEELS OF JUSTICE)

http://www.amazon.com/Wheels-Justice-Other-Stories-ebook/dp/B00G09CREM/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1382358375&sr=1-3&keywords=wheels+of+justice



I got to know Les Williams through Becca Vickery's Western Trail Blazer publishing, when I noticed that several of his "Dime Novel" titles for WTB were set in Nebraska and then learned that he also lived in Nebraska. I figured, heck, there aren't that many people in the cornhusker state, let alone fellow writers. So I made contact and we've been communicating and swapping stories ever since.
I've enjoyed his Western yarns and have had the privilege of "previewing" some of his contemporary crime stories, so I was delighted that he has taken some of the latter and collected them into the just-released WHEELS OF JUSTICE.
If you like your crime/mystery stories fast-paced and not too hard or not too soft, but just right - and with some neat twists thrown in here and there - then you'll want to check out this collection (follow link).
In the meantime, I think you'll enjoy getting to know more about Les Williams, the man behind the byline, in the following Q&A:


WD:  Les, you didn't begin writing seriously until you'd retired from the NCRS in 2006 and then took a creative writing course, after which you say you "discovered my passion for writing". You published your first story a mere two years later, in 2008. That story reads so polished that I can't help but wonder if you must not have done some amount of "tinkering" with writing during the years you were still working?

LW: I “wrote” sports commentary via emails to a few co-workers. I never seriously entertained writing for an audience until taking a week-long creative writing course in North Carolina. Writing themes and reports was not my strong suit. Neither was spelling. Thank goodness for spell checker.

WD: I've always felt that a writing course is valuable for teaching the mechanics of writing such as formatting, outlining, writing a query letter, etc., but it's not going to take an individual very far if there isn't already some kind of instinctive writer already "inside" said individual. Since you experienced success getting published shortly after your writing course, do you care comment on that?

LW: I may have had the writing instinct inside but did not know it. A large part of the polished look and success of my first published short story (Under Nebraska Skies) goes to Regina Williams (no relation), the editor/publisher of The Storyteller magazine. For a fee, she would critique stories. This was before electronic submissions. When I received my manuscript back I was hard pressed to find the black ink amongst all the red. After passing the manuscript back and forth several times, we were both finally satisfied. It was Regina that suggested I send out Nebraska Skies to other publishers as a gauge to see how much she had helped me. It was picked up by Wanderings, a local web based publisher and initially released in a very small booklet. It has since been published in The Storyteller magazine and as an eBook short by Western Trail Blazer. 

WD:  You started out writing Westerns and have said that you were a big Western fan growing up --- books, movies, TV shows, etc. What were some of your favorites in those different formats and what among them, if any, do you feel might have influenced your own writing in the genre?

LW: Starting with TV westerns, a few of my favorites were, and not necessarily in this order- Gunsmoke, Have Gun Will Travel, High Chaparral, Bonanza, Lone Ranger, and Rawhide. As for books, I was a big fan of Louis L’Amour, having read every book or short story he wrote. Some more than once. For movies, like the TV westerns, I’ll name a few, otherwise the list would be long. These are also not necessarily in order of top favorites. The Long Riders, The Gray Fox, The Searchers, Hondo, Silverado, The Man from Snowy River, Quigley Down Under, and True Grit. My favorite was not a movie but a mini-series --- Lonesome Dove. I can’t say any of these really influenced my western writing. I was only hoping I could tell a good story that would captivate the imagination of the reader.

WD: You've recently switched to writing contemporary crime stories. Why make the switch? Will you continue writing in both genres? Contrast your thoughts/feelings as far as writing in one vs. the other.

LW: Phyllis always told me I was limiting my reading by only reading westerns. Since I’ve always like mysteries, I began reading mystery and crime novels. For now, I’ll probably write more crime stories than westerns. With having said that, I have a few western story ideas in the back of my mind that hopefully someday I’ll do something with. I believe you told me that you found writing a western is easier than crime writing. For me it’s the opposite. I find I don’t have to do quite as much research for a crime story as a western. I look at a western as being similar to a crime story. Often there is robbery, or a murder to solve. Instead of doing so in the present day or back in the 1930s or 40s, you’re doing it in the Old West. 

WD:  In your early work you wrote in the more standard past tense. In your more recent work you write in the present tense. What brought about that change, and do you expect to continue that way?

LW: Honestly, I was unaware of this.  Depending on the story or time period, I may continue with this. My guess would be that early on, writing westerns, I thought in the past tense. With contemporary fiction, the action is more in the “here and now.” 

WD:  I know that your charming wife Phyllis is pretty involved in your writing --- first reader, editing, storyline suggestions, etc. Care to expand on that for our readers?

LW: I’ll let Phyllis answer this one. Phyllis: Les is the one that spends an incredible amount of “seat” time, working on his stories. I read a wider range of books, and from that perspective, come up with additional story ideas, plot lines, and ideas to help Les out. I’m his first reader (a pretty critical one), but we still work well together. The final product, however, is always what Les feels works for him.

WD:  I know that you have always been an avid reader and I assume you continue to be. Do you read in all genres, or stick mostly to Westerns and mystery/crime? Do you have any all-time favorite books or authors?

LW: Lately I’ve been reading crime/mystery stories. I enjoy these who-done-its and this is the genre I’m currently writing in. My favorites in the crime field are/ were Robert B. Parker, Robert Crais, Tony Hillerman, Craig Johnson, William Kent Kruger, and John Sandford to name a few. I’ve enjoyed the westerns of a number of our contemporary western authors. There are many out there so I will only name a few, and again in no particular order. Frank Roderus, Robert J Randisi, who, as you know, also writes crime and westerns; as does Ed Gorman. Jory Sherman is another western author I not only enjoy but admire. There's also Dusty Richards, and David P Fisher, who writes excellent western shorts. My favorite western novel is Lonesome Dove.

WD: Finally, your work so far has been short stories. Is there a novel on the horizon or perhaps already in the works?

LW: There is. It has been and continues to be a work in progress. There are two reasons for this. First, life sometimes just seems to get in the way. Secondly, I’ve been concentrating my efforts on Wheels of Justice. This is a collection of fourteen crime stories published by Mockingbird Lane Press and is now available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Next up I’ll begin working on a second collection of short crime fiction. When that project is completed, I will resume working on the novel, which at this point is about ¾  through the first rough draft. The novel will feature three protagonists. John Walking Horse, a Lakota, Sean Hagarty, an Irish descendant, and Jackie Kwon, an Asian American woman. These three characters are also at the heart of my second story collection.



Friday, October 18, 2013

Another Look: THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE (1962 film)


Been years since I saw this movie and was pleasantly surprised after a recent DVR viewing at how well it holds up. It remains very powerful and actually quite chilling in a couple key scenes, even when you know what's coming.


I should make it clear that I have never read the 1959 novel by Richard Condon upon which this film is based, nor have I seen the 2004 remake starring Denzel Washington. So my remarks here are based strictly on the 1962 film version --- considered a "classic" by many --- starring Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey, Janet Leigh, and Angela Lansbury (cast very much against the Bednobs & Broomsticks/ Murder, She Wrote character types she will likely always be best remembered for – despite her performance here receiving an Academy Award nomination).

The basic plot of MC is centered on the son of a prominent right-wing political family being brainwashed (along with the rest of his platoon) after getting captured by enemy forces during the Korean War. Their brief period of captivity takes place in Manchuria at the hands of a joint Soviet/Communist Chinese team of interrogation/mind control experts. The politico son, Lt. Raymond Shaw, is conditioned to become a "sleeper" agent upon being released and returned to the States. Shaw and the other men of the platoon are further brainwashed to believe that Shaw heroically "saved" the platoon (except for two members he actually killed in cold blood to demonstrate the success of his conditioning). Subsequently, back Stateside, Shaw is recommended for and awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Shaw's mother-in-law, the driving force behind the political career of her otherwise inept husband, Senator Iselan (Shaw's stepfather), utilizes the CMH to reflect positively on Iselan in order to aid in his climb up the political ladder to the point of him becoming his party's candidate to run for vice president in the upcoming election.
Ultimately, Shaw's "sleeper" role is revealed to be that of an assassin assigned to kill the presidential candidate at a key moment during the convention and thereby elevate Iselan to the slot of new presidential candidate with tremendous emotional momentum behind him.


It is only when the nightmares of Capt. Marco, Shaw's commanding officer during the capture/brainwashing, finally break through and begin revealing the truth of what really happened back in Korea, instead of Shaw's platoon-saving "bravery", that Shaw begins to fall under scrutiny. Military Intelligence forms a counter team, headed by Marco, to try and figure out the complete plan set in motion by the brainwashers and then stop it before it's fully executed (no pun intended).
Everything comes right down to the last-second climax in as tense and suspenseful three or four final minutes as you're likely to find in any movie. And the opening sequence, as we are watching a demonstration of the brainwashing's "success" and the camera is cutting back and forth between the Soviet and Chinese captors who are present in reality and the Ladies Garden Club members who are merely an illusion as seen by the captives, is hardly less memorable.

Sinatra plays Marco, Harvey is Lt. Shaw, and Lansbury is Mrs. Iselan (Shaw's mother). None of them has ever  been better. The rest of cast is fine, too. And while it's never a chore to simply watch Janet Leigh on screen (and her performance here is slick and professional as always), the role she is given seems unnecessary and ill-fitted to the rest of the movie. Her whole introductory scene (where she meets Sinatra on a train) is awkward and extremely odd, then a romance between the two is established, then Janet sort of fades away in the last quarter of the film.

A final matter worth mentioning (at least I think so) is a fight scene that takes place between Sinatra and Henry Silva. In my humble opinion, it marks the first karate fight in American film. There are those who insist that distinction goes to Spencer Tracy in Bad Day At Black Rock, where he plays a one-armed war vet who dispatches baddie Earnest Borgnine with some Oriental fighting skills. To me, however, they seem more ju-jitsu than karate (with the exception of one or two chops, one to the back of the neck). At any rate, the Sinatra/Silva fight is much longer and better staged and certainly has a lot more chopping, kicking, flipping, and furniture smashing.

All and all, this is a very good movie. If you haven't seen it in a while, it deserves another look; if you've never seen it, keep an eye peeled and check it out if you get the chance. You won't be sorry.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Interview: Michael A. Black (author of DARK HAVEN and SLEEPING DRAGONS)



Mike Black has been a friend of mine for twenty-five years.
He recently retired from the Matteson, Illinois, PD, after thirty years of service. As a police officer, he has received multiple commendations and decorations, including the Cook County Medal of Merit awarded to him in 2010.
During that time, he also found time to author over twenty novels and 100-plus short stories. Now that he has retired from a full-time gig in "the real world", readers can only expect (and look forward to) an increased output.
As evidence of this, he has had two novels --- DARK HAVEN and SLEEPING DRAGONS --- just released. To learn more about the man behind the byline, in his own words, I urge you to check out the following Q&A that I recently conducted with Mike:


WD:  You worked for over thirty years as a police officer in various capacities. Care to recap or comment on some of the more memorable experiences from that career?

MB:  I was a Military Policeman in the army and developed an appreciation for police work during my service time. I subsequently went into civilian law enforcement with the hope that I could help people. I know that probably sounds na├»ve and idealistic, but that’s what motivated me the most. I was very fortunate to come through a lot of situations that were both dirty and dangerous. I arrested a lot of bad guys, got in a ton of physical confrontations, was shot at a few times, and worked with some great men and women. But the most satisfying times I look back on are the ones when I was able to help someone, even if it was just being there for them in their time of need at something as simple as a traffic accident. There were serious things as well. I remember talking a despondent guy out of committing suicide one lonely Christmas, and wrestling with a 300 pound mental patient holding a razor blade in a small washroom of a half-way house. I remember catching a car-load of armed robbers after we’d shot out the tires, and almost getting dumped over a second story banister fighting with this big ex-con who didn’t want to go back to jail.

WD:  I believe all or most of your police career was spent with the Matteson force, a southern suburb of Chicago. Like most people who live outside the Chicago sprawl, I have a hard time differentiating between the city proper and its numerous suburbs --- to me, it's all "Chicago". But I expect it's quite a different matter for residents, perhaps especially for police officers. Can you comment on the accuracy of that perception --- the difference between being a suburban cop vs. a Chicago one?

MB:  My buddy, Dave Case, is a lieutenant in the 18th District in Chicago and we meet once a week to talk about writing and police work. The city of Chicago is so immense that it offers a much greater variety of neighborhoods and activities for a police officer. It also depends a lot of the area in Chicago where a cop works. My buddy started out working in the 2nd District, which had a lot of public housing projects. Those areas contained some of the worst crime in the city. I had to go up there a few times to arrest people on warrants and it was like another world. On the other hand, due to the much smaller size of my department, I got the opportunity to work a variety of assignments. A lot of the criminals we dealt with were from the city so we got there on numerous occasions. Plus, both Chicago proper and the outlying suburbs are all within the same county, so we deal with the same court system and jail.

WD:  I've often referred to you as someone who worked harder at the craft of writing than anyone I've ever known. While working a full time job with the police, writing at every spare moment, and training/fighting as a kick boxer, you also made time to earn a BA in English from Northern Illinois University and a MFA in Fiction Writing from Columbia College Chicago. I've always maintained that writing courses are certainly valuable for teaching mechanics and discipline, but unless someone already has a writer "inside" them, it's unlikely the courses alone will turn them into one. Your thoughts on that?

MB:  You’ve made it sound much more impressive than it was. I managed to get my English degree way before I became a cop. I went into the military after that, and then came back and became a cop. The martial arts have been part of my life since I was eleven years old. I never fought as a pro, but used to spar with my buddy, Mike McNamara, who was a world-class, professional, champion kickboxer. Keeping in shape was a necessity for me as a cop. And going back to school for my masters was more the result of trying to get on a permanent night shift schedule so I could avoid an intolerable boss. (I owe it all to him.) I certainly agree that you have to have the desire to learn and work if you want to develop as a writer. A lot of people think it’s simple, but nothing could be farther from the truth. I doubt that it can be taught unless the person has the accompanying desire and drive to write and rewrite.

WD:  Speaking of your kick boxing background, you also made that part of the back story for your PI character, Ron Shade. Inasmuch as Shade made his debut in the pages of Hardboiled back when I was still its editor/publisher, I have a certain affinity for him (and, as is well known, for PIs in general). But we haven't seen much of Shade lately. Any plans for him to be showing up again in the future?

MB:  That’s right, you published my first short story in Hardboiled and gave me my start. For that, I’ll always be grateful. You’ll never know what a thrill it was for me to meet you and later get accepted into Hardboiled. Even before we met, I was a big fan of your work and thought Joe Hannibal was one of the best PIs in the business. Shade has kind of been in limbo for a while now. I have released Dead Ringer, the fourth Shade novel that I wrote with Julie Hyzy, as an e-book through Crossroad Press, and Windy City Knights was released as an audio book by Books in Motion. I hope to get the rest of the backlist novels available as e-books soon. I also started a new Shade novel, but had to put it on the back burner for the moment.

WD:  While you've been giving Shade a rest, your other writing in the meantime has become very diverse --- the Doc Atlas adventures; the Leal and Hart police procedurals; the Thin Man/Nick and Nora Charles-inspired mysteries featuring Vince and Laura Pope; a pair of books written with actor/comedian Richard Belzer; and several stand-alones. Do you enjoy this diversity? Is there any of these series or characters you enjoy writing more than the others?

MB:  My first two novels featured Ron Shade, then I purposely wrote a stand-alone (The Heist) so I wouldn’t feel locked in to writing about one set of characters. I do enjoy the diversity of writing different characters and different novels. Sometimes I get an idea that I want to explore that wouldn’t be right for Shade. The Doc Atlas stories, as well as the ones about Vince and Laura, are set in the 1940s. Leal and Hart are contemporary, but they’re cops and thus wouldn’t get along with Shade very well. I like writing about all of them. I’d be hard pressed to pick a favorite.

WD:  You've done a fair amount of co-writing with other authors --- Ray Lovato, Julie Hyzy, and the aforementioned Mr. Belzer. Do you enjoy that? Do you expect to be doing more in the future?

MB:  I’m certainly available if the Belz wants to do another one. He’s a joy to work with, as are Ray and Julie. Writing with someone else has its own set of challenges, and sometimes it can be a bit tricky. The chemistry has to be right for both the authors and the project and you have to be able to communicate on a special level with the other writer. I love a challenge, though, and I’m always open to new projects if they sound interesting.




WD:  Finally, I know that, in addition to DARK HAVEN, you've written another just-released novel (SLEEPING DRAGONS) in the immensely popular Mack Bolan/Executioner series. I assume you're probably a Bolan fan from way back. How satisfying was that experience? I believe you are committed to at least one more --- do you see yourself doing more beyond that?

MB:  Yeah, I do remember being a fan of the Executioner back in the day. I remember being in the barracks at Fort Polk, Louisiana during basic training and seeing some guy reading one of the novels. I asked him if I could read it when he’d finished and he gave it to me. I can’t remember the title, but it was one of the more pleasant memories of that time period. The series has been going strong all this time and has morphed and changed into what you could term the American James Bond series. When the opportunity arose for me to write an Executioner novel I jumped at the chance. I was honored to be a part of it and wanted to show my respect for Don Pendleton and the characters he created. I vowed to make it my best effort. The publisher (Harlequin) liked Sleeping Dragons so much they offered me a contract for three more novels in the series. I’m currently working on the third one in that contract. I hope to do more.

WD:  Thanks for your time and for all the enjoyment from your writing, Mike. If there's anything I failed to cover but you would like to comment on, please feel free to add something further if you wish.

MB: I think you’ve covered it all, and then some, big guy. But let me once again say thanks for giving me my start in writing fiction, and I’m looking forward to reading the next Hannibal novel.