Wednesday, January 30, 2013

My Take: THE LAST STAND starring Arnold Schwarzenneger

"I'll be back … "
I can't write in dialect, of course, but we all remember when Arnold famously said this in the first TERMINATOR movie. Right? Well, in that film he came back, as promised. And he kept coming back in, in a whole string of action-packed movies that made him one of the most popular stars of the 80s and 90s.

Then he took a wrong turn into politics and an even worse turn in an adulterous affair that ruined his marriage and made him look like a complete jackass.
Hopefully (not to mention thankfully), he has now put that foolishness behind him and guess what?
He's back.
And THE LAST STAND is damn near the perfect vehicle for him to make his full-fledged return (as opposed to the teaser cameos he did in the recent EXPENDABLES movies).

Here, once again, is the ass-kicking, English language-butchering, wise-cracking, nearly invincible Arnold we remember so fondly. He's a little older, a little crustier, and a little thicker through the middle (but still with massive arms). In fact, when the action kicks in you could say he packs the biggest guns in the movie, and mean it in more ways than one.
The plot, loaded with improbabilities and strained logic (incidentals that don't really matter in a film like this), has to do with a highly dangerous, filthy rich drug lord who escapes Federal custody in Las Vegas and makes a daring run for the border in a super-modified Corvette that can reach insane speeds and outrun anything (even a pursuit helicopter) the Feds send after it. And it doesn't hurt that Cortez, the drug lord, has a whole force of motorized thugs running interference for him.
At the finish line is the sleepy little town of Sommerton Junction, where Cortez is intending to break across the border and where an advance team of thugs are preparing a mobile assault bridge spanning a narrow ravine that will allow him to do this.
One problem: Ray Owens, a disgraced and guilt-ridden former LAPD cop (as played by Schwarzenegger) is the sheriff of Sommerton and he doesn't intend to just let Cortez blow through his town without trying to stop him.

The acting is quite good for a film of this type, with some very interesting quirks given to several of the characterizations. There is lots of bloody action, much of it grimly and intentionally humorous in the various creative ways the hordes of bad guys meet their ends. Yet in one death scene (one of Arnold's deputies) there is also some surprisingly deep emotion.
But the over-the-top action — and seeing Arnold back in the thick of it — is the big selling point here.
THE LAST STAND delivers quite nicely, thank you.
Go knowing what to expect and you won't be disappointed.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Guest Blogger: Hank Brown, author of TIER ZERO

Hank Brown is an author of --- and spokesman for, as you will see in the following --- tough, gritty, action-packed thrillers like we've been seeing too few of lately. His just-released TIER ZERO (sequel to his popular HELL AND GONE) is evidence that the trend is swinging back. Here's what Hank has to say on why that should be welcome, and maybe even necessary:

By Henry (Hank) Brown

To hear people talk, whether at the United Nations or the Miss Universe Pageant, everybody wants world peace. Maybe most of us really do—I haven’t conducted that poll. But with the exception of the My Dinner With Andre fans out there, nobody finds peace very entertaining.
Let’s face it: peace is boring! When you watch a movie or read a book, you’ll tune out if you go too long without some form of conflict. It’s conflict that keeps us turning pages. It’s confrontation, and tension, and anticipation of the showdown that inspires us to hold our bladders until the next commercial break.
As any would-be creative writing teacher will quickly tell you, there are many forms of conflict. You can find a lot of these in the movie Rocky III: Internal; external; physical; emotional; psychological. The conflict pickings are a little slimmer in Gerry. What’s that? You’ve never heard of Gus Van Sant’s cinematic masterpiece, Gerry? Yeah, there’s a reason for that.
Here’s a rule you can apply generally to fiction: the more literary a novel is, the more internal and psychological the conflict. In chick-lit, for instance, the conflict may never get much more intense than a protagonist forced to choose between visiting her dying mother with Alzheimer’s, commiserating with her recently-divorced BFF, or taking her present romantic relationship to the next level.
The more that critics turn their noses up at a given genre, the more overt the conflict. Take bodice-rippers and Harlequin romances: the conflict is either romantic or sexual…or both, but there’s nothing subtle about it. They are the embarrassing crazy aunt of the publishing world. No, make that the embarrassing crazy cash cow. On the other side of the chromosome fence are the male counterparts: westerns; military fiction; heroic fantasy; hard-boiled…all of which either became extinct, or changed so drastically that they might as well be extinct.
Untold millions of men turned to videogames or sports and gave up reading altogether in the 1990s. And it shows—peruse any social network for more than a minute and you’ll find that most males of Generation X and younger are incapable of writing, or comprehending, a coherent sentence. Punctuation? Conjugation? Spelling? Forget it. Vocabulary is shrinking. Contestants on Jeopardy look like geniuses because they are not intimidated by words with more than two syllables. Reading is for weirdoes. Why look up a something in the dictionary when you can just wait for the movie to come out? In fact, reading a book quietly is suspicious behavior (but I’m sure it can be treated with therapy and medication).
No doubt traditional publishers would claim they were just “putting out the trash.” Okay: to be honest, some of it was trash. Maybe even some of the stuff I loved, and remember fondly. But some of it was well-written, tightly plotted, thought-provoking, and defied formulaic constraints. Is it still to be looked down upon because it’s escapist in nature?
Hey, I need to escape, and on a regular basis.
Every bean counter in traditional publishing should be forced to watch Sullivan’s Travels at least once. In that Depression-era classic, a self-important film director who fancies himself a champion of the downtrodden masses learns via misadventure that the downtrodden masses don’t need to go to the movies to experience suffering. Nor do they want to. There’s more than enough suffering in real everyday life, thank you very much. At least for those of us who are not film directors or publishing moguls.
At roughly the same time I became a published author, I became a sort of crusader, as well. A knight-errant on a quest to restore the glory days of the forgotten genres listed above. An armchair Indiana Jones—that’s me: Henry Brown and the Lost Audience. I spanned the globe (or at least the Web), cherry-picking what few literary nuggets there were that could help us relive the glory days. When my searches proved fruitless, I turned to my private library, blew the dust off some of my old fond memories and gave them what publicity I could. I began adding one-liners to some of my own promotional copy like: “men’s adventure is coming back!” Lo and behold, some of my fellow revivalists began espousing variations on that theme.
I wanted to overcome the stigma associated with labels such as “men’s adventure” and “men’s fiction.” When people heard those terms, they conjured  images of alcoholic hack writers banging out uninspired, poorly-written, chauvinistic pap full of pointless violence and purple-prose graphic sex. Or is it purple-prose graphic violence and pointless sex? No matter. The point is, there were some guys riding Don Pendleton’s coat tails who fit that description, more or less, and everyone writing men’s adventure suffered guilt by association.
I came up with an alternate name for the umbrella all those resurrected genres could fit under: dude-lit. My intention was that the term would become household, used for fiction rife with overt, physical conflict, but well-written and devoid of those stigmatic stereotypes.
I began using the term. So did maybe a couple other uppity new authors I met and conversed with. I routinely checked Bing and Google to track how the term was catching on. That’s how I learned “dude-lit” had been coopted. Evidently it is now being used to describe fiction with male characters in which the conflict may never get much more intense than a protagonist forced to choose between visiting his dying mother with Alzheimer’s, commiserating with his recently-divorced BFF, or taking his present romantic relationship to the next level. Chick-lit that pees standing up, in other words.
I should have trademarked it.
So “men’s adventure” it is, and to blazes with the stigma.
My new novel, Tier Zero, is full of overt, physical conflict—chases, martial arts, firefights—but there’s a helping of internal conflict too. There’s even a dash of sexual tension, to give the reader that warm, squishy feeling in between dollops of brutal violence. In that respect it’s a lot like my other published fiction.
But my books and I are far from alone. Take just the “military fiction” piece of the current men’s adventure pie:  there are great reads out there coming from Jack Silkstone, Jack Murphy, D.R. Tharp, Peter Nealen, Jack Badelaire…look these guys up, and see if one of their books tickles your fancy.  Their heroes are warriors with a sense of justice. Their villains are drug lords, terrorists, pirates, shadowy power brokers…the all-too-real individuals who dwell on the earth, preying on those without the ability to defend against them. The stakes are high, always. It goes with the literary territory.
The authors named above are not hacks. They take pride in their work, get the details right, and respect the intelligence of their readers. Even the big online stores are taking notice that men’s adventure is back; and readers are loving it.
True peace is a goal deserving of universality; but that doesn’t make it reality. Peace has to be won, then protected, or what you wind up with is not peace at all—just something labeled as such. It’s an age-old truth, and it makes for great fiction.
Reality sucks. There are too many wrongs and injustices to document, and society’s solutions to them are usually inept at best. At the core of most decent men is the hope that one man, or group of men, could act to change some aspect of the world for the better. Men’s adventure is an expression of that.
With that in mind, I predict there will always be a demand for such books, as long as there are men who know how to read.
Henry Brown is the author of Hell and Gone and Tier Zero, as well as virtual proprietor of Virtual Pulp Press, and the Two-Fisted Blogger.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Available Now: TO HELL IN A FAST CAR, edited by John L. French


Fast cars and faster women...Murderers and victims...Serial killers and guns for hire...
Cops on the edge...Crooks on the prowl... Innocents who have had enough...
Fools risking it all. They're all on a road that's been paved with the best - and worst - intentions. There's no stopping, there's no turning back and there's no hope at journey's end.

Featuring the talents of: Michael A. Black, James Chambers, Joy M. Copeland,
Wayne D. Dundee, John L. French, James Grady, C. J. Henderson, Ted Hertel Jr., R. Allen Leider, C. Ellett Logan, Robert J. Mendenhall, Quintin Peterson, KT Pinto, Alan Simon, B. K. Stevens, Patrick Thomas, and Robert E. Waters.

Here is a collection of seventeen exciting, edgy, fast-paced stories of crime and consequences featuring the talents of the writers listed above --- including, I'm proud to say, yours truly.
John French, a fine writer who not only contributes a story to the lineup but also did the editing for this anthology, provides an introduction that says better than I can what you're in store if you take this ride with us:

We’ve all been there. Barreling down the highway of life at 90 miles an hour in a car with no brakes. There’s disaster waiting at the end of the trip but there’s nothing we can do about it but drive and be damned.
Of course there’s someone riding shotgun. It could be the girl or guy who’s no good for us but we can’t or don’t want to see that. Their surface is all we can see and that, along with the memories of hot nights and sweaty sheets, is why we’re driving headlong toward the biggest mistake of our lives. It could be a chance acquaintance with a can’t miss get-rich-quick scheme. It’s probably too good to be true, but the payoff is such that you can’t take the chance of missing out on it. It could just be your best friend who got you behind the wheel with “Hey, you know what would be fun?”
Or you could be driving alone, accompanied only by the ghost of a lover, a friend, a relative or a treasure you once had. Someone took them from you and now you’re looking for payback. You probably won’t survive the trip but neither will anyone else.
Whatever the reason, you’re on what might be the last journey of your life and Hell or worse is waiting for you at the end.
Enjoy the ride.

Come on, hop aboard. There's always room for one more. What're you waiting for?

Friday, January 11, 2013


Because booksellers have the need to categorize titles under some heading or genre, HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPION OF NOTHING will most likely be slotted as crime fiction. Not that that's all bad, or even inaccurate—but the shame of it is that this novel by Zak Mucha, is so much more. It deserves to reach the widest audience possible, to be read and savored by readers beyond any single genre.
Above all, this work is a character study of an individual (narrator Johnny) and, in the process, a spot-on portrait of the not-quite-hopeless, living-paycheck-to-paycheck, stubbornly-plodding-after-that-carrot-at-the-end-of-the-stick life led by blue collar/middle class workers all across our country.
I know that life, I know these people. So does Mucha. And in a smooth, never-a-word-wasted style, he captures it all beautifully, perfectly; showing the best and the worst sides of it.
In the introduction, he writes: "This book is about people who know they won't leave a mark on the world and can feel their little bit of comfort and protection being threatened … To protect our own self-definitions, we are sometimes willing to salt the earth we stand on."
To make his own self-defined mark on the world (simply to have a "cushion" of money to provide him some added creature comforts or to allow him to miss a day's work without fear of falling behind in meeting his meager bills), Johnny (along with a handful of co-workers at the furniture moving company which serves as the backdrop for much of the story) resorts to the crime of stealing prime furnishings from select homes and delivering them to a fence for re-sale and profit. This provides his cushion for a while, but ultimately—when he is caught—it also provides the salt to contaminate his earth.
Down deep, however, there is more to Johnny, too much more than to allow himself to go down and stay down without at least one more attempt to build that cushion, to make his mark. In the closing paragraphs, Mucha writes: "From that point on, I told myself, everything would be simple—all I had to do for the rest of my life was what I had promised to do. A goal I would chip away at, bit by bit, until I had earned a new start … Apologies held no currency. They didn't mean a thing and never would. I would have to earn everything."
"Earn" is the key word there. That's all any blue collar worker really wants—a fair shot to earn their way, to make their mark with the work that they do. It is left unclear whether or not Johnny succeeds with his fresh start. But, by the close of the book, Mucha has done such a masterful job of portraying this character, making him seem so real—good points and flaws alike—that most readers will be cheering for him.
And I, for one, will be cheering for more of the Mucha  byline.
He's that good.
Strongly recommended.

PERSONAL NOTE: The foregoing is from my Amazon review of this fine work. As someone who has lived my life --- and damn proudly, I might add --- in a blue collar, this book really spoke to me. The blue collar life and the outlooks of those who inhabit it are so seldom presented accurately.
In HEAVYWEIGHT, Johnny relates how his father would come home from his job on a construction crew often injured. He would immediately ask his wife to bring him a six pack of beer. If he was able to dull his pain before the sixer was gone, then he figured he was okay to go back to work without having to go to a doctor.
This is the kind of stoic logic I grew up with and saw in my fathers and uncles.
The closing passages, where Johnny talks about having to "earn" his new life made me think of my father. He related everything to work, doing a job, earning his worth. In the closing days of his life, he looked at me one evening when it was just me and him in his hospital room and said: "I tried as hard as I know how, but I just couldn't get under it."
It took me a while to understand what he meant by that. But finally I realized he was talking about dying. He knew he didn't have long and, like I said, he related everything to work. In his prime he was a strong bull of a man and what he was saying was that if Death had been a job and he could could have gotten "under it" --- lifted it off him, in other words --- then he could have beaten the sonofabitch and finished the job of his life on his terms.
My dad spent practically every day of his adult life literally wearing a blue work shirt. When I hear the term "blue collar" it angers me that the term is too seldom spoken with the prestige it deserves.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Guest Blogger: Ed Lynskey, author of SMOKING ON MOUNT RUSHMORE

Ed Lynskey is a prolific writer of fiction, poetry, essays, and critical reviews. Most of his fiction has been in the crime genre, although he's also dabbled in science fiction and speculative fiction. His most recent work is a collection of short stories entitled Smoking On Mount Rushmore. Here's Ed to tell you more about it:

For more than a decade, I worked primarily writing in the short fiction form. It was fun as well as educational for me.
Scores of e-zines published my short stories. Since then, many of them have disappeared from cyberspace along with my stories in them. I also appeared in the print venues, which gradually have also cut way back due the ease and cheapness of electronic publishing.
Back in the autumn, while my wife and I were shopping at Safeway on the produce aisle by the bananas kiosk, it occurred to me why not select the best of my short stories, brush them up, and publish them as an eBook? The more I thought about, the better I liked the idea.
That’s how Smoking on Mount Rushmore came to be.
Actually, the original title was taken from a short story titled “Striptease on Mount Rushmore” that I’d published in anthology. But my second thoughts figured such a title would match it to the erotica and porn listings by Google and other search engines. I’ve been told there’s good money to be made in those industries, but my short stories don’t really have much, if anything, to do with them.
So, I retitled my short story collection as Smoking which can be taken to have several meanings. I like it better.
Smoking on Mount Rushmore contains 16 stories I culled out from the bunch, making it almost a novel-length collection. I didn’t include any speculative fiction. Those stories will go in their own collection if I can ever get around to assembling it. The stories in Smoking on Mount Rushmore vary in tone from softboiled to hardboiled, so there’s something for everybody to read and enjoy.
My first novels to appear were the P.I. Frank Johnson books. I’d written dozens of short stories featuring him as the hardboiled protagonist. Some of those stories are gathered in a collection titled Out of Town a Few Days. His seventh novel, After the Big Noise, should appear sometime next year. I currently don’t have any immediate plans or any outlines to use and go on any further with the series. Don’t get me wrong. Frank and I are still on good terms, and we still like each other. So, as the old cliché goes, never say never. I hope we can get together again for more adventures.


Saturday, January 5, 2013


This is a fascinating, insightful biography that succeeds on many levels.
First and foremost, it is a loving tribute to author/poet Todd Moore by his son Theron. Secondly, it is a deeply introspective study of Todd's work (and an introduction to same, with several fine examples, to anyone previously unfamiliar). But, ultimately, it is also a biography of Earl Moore—Todd's father, Theron's grandfather (whom he never met).
Theron's own stated intent with this book is for it to serve as a snapshot of the Todd family's life during the down-and-out years (1947 – 1961) they lived in the Clifton Hotel, a sad, once-elegant dive populated by railroad laborers, drifters, con artists, derelicts, hookers, and a few flat-out outlaws
 … People down on their luck, many of them never to rise back up.
It was this setting, combined with the colorful stories told by his father, that planted the seed in Todd to one day become a co-founder of what has grown to be called the "outlaw poetry" movement. (Todd also wrote some fine, lean prose fiction as well as several highly-regarded essays.)
Earl Moore's failure at his own ongoing attempts to write a novel or screenplay was eventually what drove him to the drink and depression that brought the family to the Clifton after Earl lost his job with the railroad due to drinking on the job. Earl could mesmerize listeners with the entertaining stories he liked to tell. But he never could seem to capture that magic on paper, at least not to his satisfaction.

One of the strongest scenes in the book relates how Todd once watched his father destroy a manuscript hedd been working on and refining for a long time, tearing page after page from its binder and feeding them one by one into the flames of the burn barrel out behind the Clifton. One can almost feel the resolve this must have forged in Todd, the steel underpinnings that helped him persevere and one day succeed with his own writing.
Although I don't recall ever hearing about the Clinton Hotel or his father from him, I formed a fairly close friendship with Todd Moore in the mid 1980s/early 90s, when we both lived in northern Illinois. We often traded manuscripts and critiqued each other's work. I saw the beginning stages of the outlaw poetry movement and read many of the early segments that eventually would form his epic DILLINGER. I marveled at the power of his poetry back then. Even more so since.
This book by Theron does a great job of capturing—and adding to—the depth of that power.
Highly recommended.

The foregoing is the Amazon review I wrote for this book a day or two ago. In addition, for the sake of this blog entry, I want to include a couple examples of the type of poetry my old friend Todd wrote. Just using the term "outlaw poetry" doesn't really cover it or convey its impact.
We'll start with this quickie:
i like a
a bullet
Then a bit longer example:
The way
i write
is strictly
fuck you
no cap
ital letters
no punc
the words
or all
up like bro
ken glass
pop cans
& used
the ameri
can sen
tence is
either a
or a
& i'm
to watch
That's outlaw poetry.
That was Todd.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Guest Blogger: Richard Prosch, author of HOLT COUNTY LAW

Richard Prosch's new western novella, HOLT COUNTY LAW, is now available on Amazon. I've previously written here about Richard, what a fine writer I think he is and how much I enjoy his work, most of it set in Nebraska, past and present. HOLT COUNTY LAW, coming hard on the heels of last year's "Branham's Due", builds the momentum in an exciting new series featuring Holt County deputy, Whit Branham. A third entry, "Buffalo Wolves" has already been announced for the near future.
To tell you more about this series and its back story, here is Richard himself:

That Ain’t the Way I Hear’d It
Guest Blog Post by Richard Prosch
When I uploaded my new short story, “Branham’s Due,” Amazon threw a curveball at me in the form of a question: Is this part of a series?
It’s the introduction of a character I spent a lot of time with this summer, a man I want to spend more time learning about. He’s the Irish deputy sheriff, Whit Branham. But my left ring finger hesitated over the W key. I didn’t type Whit…
I typed Holt County, instead.
It’s the setting of the book and the first stop west of my boyhood home in Knox County, Nebraska, a place noteworthy for its outlaw trails, its vigilante justice and for being the home of Moses Kinkaid who, in 1904, initiated the Kinkaid Act. I played my single most memorable game of high-school football there (twice!) against the fighting Irish of O’Neill St. Mary’s. And it was the first place we stopped for gas when, newly married, Gina and I left home for Laramie, Wyoming.
So Holt County is a special place, but that brings up problems of its own.
How do you incorporate real life into genre western fiction? How do you stay faithful to history in a made up story? Writers have been offering up their own answers to that for more than a century.  Some guys, like Johnny D. Boggs (Northfield) or Richard S. Wheeler (Snowbound) make it look deceptively simple. Lesser talents make it easy to see where a history text was plugged in.
That write and paste trap can be hard to avoid. We all want to show off what we know. In reading a book about the early Nebraska frontier, I fell in love with a popular saying from the time, that “eating green apples with buffalo jerky makes for dreams of Indians.” I couldn’t find a good place for it in the context of “Branham’s Law,” so I dropped it into the novella I was writing.  Eventually, I pulled it from Holt County Law too. It just didn’t fit.
Another trap is to forget that real records exist of those times.  Careless disregard for the facts can lead to contradictions your readers won’t stand for. In thinking about Holt County stories, I don’t want anyone to think Whit Branham actually existed. I don’t want people to think things happened the way I say they did.
I just want to convey the sense that they could have happened that way. 
Here’s a spoiler (so if you don’t want to know, stop reading now!) :
Holt County Law opens with the killing of Sheriff Bernard “Barney” Kearns. It’s a fact that Kearns was killed by a gunman (or gunmen) in or around O’Neill’s Arcada Hotel in March, 1881.  His is the first entry in a list of respected Nebraska lawmen who have lost their lives in the line of duty at the Officer Down Memorial Page web site.
There are several different stories as to exactly what happened between William Reed and Barney Kearns. As I wrote above, some postulate more than one killer. Some hint at an accomplice. Others suggest a woman might have been involved.
Tell your favorite version to any grizzled fellar who was there, and like Mr. Old Timer on radio’s Fibber McGee and Molly, he’d reply “That ain’t the way I hear’d it.”
In dramatizing the events at the hotel, I didn’t write what happened. I wrote what might have happened.  It’s the way I hear’d it in my head while doing my best to juggle the facts and not cast aspersions on real life good guys like Kearns or his deputies (another trap!).
But enough long winded introspection!
The novella is available for Kindle now, and I hope you’ll check it out.  At Amazon, it will be part of the “Holt County” series, a universe of characters and events that might have existed in old Nebraska.