Friday, October 31, 2014

ME, POPSICLES, & DRACULA - The Summer of 1958

It seems like I might have done a post of this story at some point in the past, but I'm darned if I can remember where. Maybe it was part of an interview. At any rate, I can't find it in the post history of this blog so, it being Halloween and all, I thought I would go ahead and share it here. If you've read it before and I'm being redundant, my apologies; if it's new to you, I think you might enjoy and maybe get a chuckle from it.  –WD- 

In 1958, when I was ten years old, Hammer Films of England, in the early stages of what would become their signature series of movies re-telling most of the horror lore from the old Universal pictures of the 30s (Frankenstein, The Mummy, Invisible Man, etc.), released their version of Bram Stoker's classic tale, DRACULA. So as not to be confused with Universal's famous earlier version starring Bela Lugosi, in the US Hammer called their version Horror of Dracula. It was a lavish, full-color production starring Christopher Lee as the bloodsucking count and Peter Cushing as his nemesis, Van Helsing. It was quite faithful to Stoker's tale and, to take full advantage of its color feature, it incorporated plenty of bright red blood and dripping fangs to an extent never before seen.
One evening, two of my older cousins invited me along to see Horror of Dracula and The Monolith Monsters at a local drive-in showing. By that point, even at my young age, I had seen dozens of horror movies (although the term "horror" wasn't in vogue yet back then – the TV Guide called them melodramas) on late night presentations shown via the syndicated Shock Theater program, and was never affected by them … But, for whatever reason, I'd never seen Dracula or anything with vampires.
To cut to the chase --- Horror of Dracula, in all its moodiness and gory, bloody color, scared the living crap out of me. The Monolith Monsters (more of a science fiction thing, done in black and white, with a meteorite that crashed to earth and then its shattered remains began rising up into huge columns that eventually toppled and destroyed everything in their path as the rubble crept across the land) didn't bother me one whit.
Then came Dracula … I sat through it without saying anything (although I likely closed my eyes a few times, sitting in the back seat by myself) because there was NO WAY I was going to let my cousins know I was crapping my pants. Nor, after returning home, did I say anything to my parents or anybody else. I was a BIG BOY, see, and couldn't be acting like a sissy.
To make matters worse, where we were living at the time (due to my dad's "hobby" of frequently switching jobs and moving from one rented house to another) was this huge old gray, unpainted monstrosity of a house out in the country that had once been a rural inn. It had no running water or indoor plumbing. The pump was outside and all water for washing, bathing, doing dishes, drinking, etc., had to be pumped and brought inside in buckets. Guess who's job it was to pump a fresh pail of water last thing every night and bring in to be ready for drinking and making coffee in the morning? What was more, the outhouse was across a gravel driveway and then back in some bushes and trees alongside an old shed that we called "the garage".

Up to that point, I'd never been bothered by the dark. Heck, I even enjoyed it. Late in the evening, playing tag or hide-and-go-seek with neighbor kids from down the road, catching lightning bugs, etc. --- I never gave a thought to how late it got.
But after that damn Dracula movie, a trip outside after dark to the pump or – worst of all – to the outhouse, became a dreaded prospect. I just knew that bloodsucking bastard or one of his minions was lurking out there somewhere, waiting for me.
So, because I couldn't let on how much going out after dark suddenly bothered me --- so as not to appear a sissy or fraidy-cat (things that were very serious concerns back in those days) --- I had to figure out some way to overcome my fear. It occurred to me that, in the big climax of the movie, the way Van Helsing had overcome Dracula at the height of their fight was to grab two large candlesticks and hold them up as a sign of the Holy cross. This drove Drac back and forced him into the sunlight, where he ultimately crumbled and died.
So there was my answer. The sign of the cross.
Why it never occurred to me to have my mother buy me a small, simple cross to carry around in my pocket or maybe wear on a chain around my neck, I can't say. Other than to lay it on the impression made by Van Helsing grabbing those candle sticks and holding them up with such a dramatic flourish … My solution, then? My version of that?

Popsicle sticks.
Yeah, you read right --- Popsicle sticks.
Popsicles were a common and popular treat around our house back then. So, once I'd seized on my combat/survival plan, I immediately began gathering up and saving empty Popsicle sticks after the frozen goodness had been eaten off of them.
From then on, I ALWAYS had two or three Popsicle sticks in my pocket. And I had a pile of spares in a drawer in my room. I used to walk around practicing how fast I could whip out a pair and hold them up in the form of a cross. I got so good I could have out-drawn Wild Bill Hickock in his prime. It darn near got to the point where I looked forward to visiting the outhouse after dark, daring that pussy count to make a try for me … darn near, but not quite; not really.
Nevertheless, my Popsicle sticks got me through that summer. I never told anybody my secret. But I was always ready. At some point, I don't recall exactly when, my fears and my habit of carrying the sticks in my pocket ended. A passing phase, like so many we go through when we are young.
Yet today, however, you can still find Popsicles in my freezer. For my grandkids … Or, just maybe, in case that creepy ol' bloodsucker comes lurking around again.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

In Time for Halloween: THE NAKED AND THE UNDEAD - A Novel of Hardboiled Horror

Just in time for Halloween, the busy hands at Bil-Em-Ri Media have regained the rights to this novel that I wrote some time back and had published under the title NIGHT SPOOR. The title was mine but, in retrospect, I think it was a lousy one that played a big part in the book's resounding thud clear down to the bottom of the sales barrel. The previous publisher (whom I won't name, not for lack of gratitude but so as not to embarrass them) did a very nice job with the cover and promotion, so I can't blame them. Still, for whatever reason, NIGHT SPOOR not only never took off, it barely even wiggled its wings in the nest.
But we authors (at least this one) are a stubborn bunch. The things we write are like our little offspring that we trot out into the world and push for them to do well. To others they may appear homely, ungainly, buck-toothed little gremlins, but they are ours, damn it, so we keep pushing and believing ("Look, everybody in the marching band is out of step except my kid!").
For me, so it is with THE NAKED AND THE UNDEAD (aka NIGHT SPOOR). Darn it, I still think it's a pretty decent tale and I believe there is a reading audience for it, out there somewhere. So, with a title change, a couple minor revisions to the content, and a jazzed-up cover, I am once again nudging the offspring to the edge of the nest and hoping this time that it flaps its wings a little stronger than before …

Story-wise, THE NAKED AND THE UNDEAD is a hardboiled crime fiction approach to horror lore. This method has been done before, of course, but my first exposure to it --- and, admittedly, a primary inspiration for me to eventually try my hand at it --- was Jeff Rice's initial novel, THE NIGHT STALKER. I read the book long before I ever saw the famous TV movie and all that it has since spawned.
Basically, my tale is that of a cynical hit man hired to kill a vampire. He doesn't for a minute believe in nonsense like vampires, but for the right price he'll kill anybody he's hired to go after and, for a little extra, even do it in a prescribed manner ("Hell, I'll snap 'em to death with a rubber band, if that's the way you want it"). Wrapped around this premise are various subplots and a cast of other characters --- on both the Good and Evil sides --- who provide some unexpected twists and motives along the way. Giving it all added impetus is the realization soon arrived at by the hit man that his target really is a vampire and that there is evil loose in the world far greater than anything he represents!

As far as the title, it is, of course, a play on Mailer's famous THE NAKED AND THE DEAD. I originally came up with my variation at a time when I was contemplating --- since I couldn't seem to be able to sell anything anywhere else --- trying my hand at a book for the porn novel market that was going pretty strong back then. Hustler, for one, had a line going that incorporated all sorts of other genres (everything from pirates to the science fiction) as long as the tales were heavy on graphic sex. Since writing private eye fiction was my ultimate goal, THE NAKED AND THE UNDEAD was originally planned as having a cynical PI (Mike Rex, I believe I named him) hired to hunt down a vampire. Much later, when the concept again rolled to the front of my consciousness, I'd already established a pretty solid PI in Joe Hannibal, so I brought in the hit man angle instead. And, although the resulting book contains plenty of sex and sensuality, it is not of the overtly graphic nature I first contemplated for the Hustler-type market.

Anyway, THE NAKED AND THE UNDEAD is now available via Amazon Kindle at the bargain price of only $0.99. It is fitting for the Halloween mood and beyond --- an exciting, suspenseful, romantic (yes, romantic) tale of things that go bump in the night and unlikely forces aligned to bump back. I call it "a novel of hardboiled horror" because everything I write has a hardboiled edge to it.
I hope you give it a try.
I think you'll like it.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014


On this date forty-eight years ago, the best thing ever to happen to this ol' country boy took place when a beautiful brown-eyed young lady named Pamela Daum said those magic words – "I do" – and became my wife.

Although we would have the marriage blessed in a Catholic Church a few years later, our initial union came as the result of a simple ceremony performed by a judge. We eloped, you see, probably the first serious act of rebellion Pam ever did against her parents, thanks to the influence of impetuous me.

Needless to say, there was a definite chill between me and my brand new in-laws for a while, but eventually I became the favored son-in-law. I'd like to think I earned most of this but, truth to tell, part of it was also due to the fact that the other son-in-laws who came along to marry Pam's sisters proved to be a parade of duds who just kept making me look better by comparison.

The day of that first marriage, the judge scheduled to perform the ceremony forgot the appointment and failed to show up at the courthouse. What was more, I couldn't remember his name. So I had to go to the cop shop next door and start doing cold calls to the list of local judges in hopes of finding the right one; I scored on the third call and he came right over. I always figured he must have been home engrossed in a college football game on TV (it was a Saturday) because, when he did show up, he rattled off the words and the pronouncement in mighty quick order and then took off again. Which was fine with me --- all I wanted was to get started on the honeymoon (you know the main thing on my mind).

With the dodging parents part and the absent-minded judge and all, you might think there were some bad omens in there that should have warned Pam and me we were off on an ill-fated venture. If there were, we failed to pay any attention and blew right past 'em. I never regretted being married or who I was married to for one second; I'm pretty sure Pam never did either.

We had 41 years, 3 months, and 13 days together before she died in my arms in 2008. I could dwell on the sadness of having her gone now --- and, believe me, I am aware of that empty feeling every minute of every day --- but on this day I will instead think about the blessing of having had her for as long as I did.
And why shouldn't I … it was the best thing that ever happened to me.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Available Now: FUGITIVE TRAIL by Wayne D. Dundee

Fresh off the virtual printing presses of Bil-Em-Ri Media, my latest Western just went live on Amazon's Kindle program. A print version will follow in the hopefully not too distant future.

FUGITIVE TRAIL is a stand-alone tale (at least that's the way I see it right now, although it ends in such a way that the main character - one Eli Cole - could go on to further adventures if something comes to mind later on).

Here's the cover blurb that I hope stirs readers' interest:

A hardened, battle weary Civil War vet returns home after the fighting … to an unfaithful wife and a trumped-up murder charge!
The choice between facing a hangman's noose or going on the run as an outlaw isn't a hard one for Eli Cole to make. But when a grieving, vengeful father offers a huge personal bounty—not for Cole's capture, but for proof of his death—the swarm of manhunters and mercenaries this stirs up dramatically increases the odds against staying alive on the fugitive trail. 
Complicating matters further for Cole is the group of fellow fugitives he falls in with. Keeping himself alive is tough enough, keeping the others out of harm's way, too, only adds to it. But rage, righteous indignation, and a blazing gun can go a long way toward bucking the odds …

It's over 35,000 words action, raw emotions, and memorable characters --- all bargain-priced at only $0.99! 
Hope you give it a try. I think you'll like it.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Noteworthy Reads: The CUTLER Series created by John Benteen

The John Benteen byline has long been one of my favorites, specifically relating to the Fargo series of paperback originals from back in the 60s and 70s. Benteen's other popular series from that period was Sundance and, while I read a number of those, too, and enjoyed them well enough, for some reason I never warmed to them nearly as much as the Fargo books. While I have no conclusive evidence of this, the fact that Benteen eventually allowed other writers to take over the Sundance series while he kept doing the Fargos almost exclusively (with the exception of three out of twenty-odd titles) suggests that he had a stronger affinity for Fargo as well. Maybe this is merely what I want to believe due to my own tendency to favor Fargo over Sundance --- comes right down to it, I have no way of knowing how much say Benteen actually had in the matter with Belmont Tower, his publisher. 
I guess most people know that John Benteen was one of the pseudonyms of prolific writer Ben Haas, who also did books under his own name. On their own fine blogs and elsewhere, both James Reasoner and Randy Johnson have done some pretty extensive coverage of Haas/Benteen so maybe they will weigh in and tell me where/if I am going wrong in the foregoing … and perhaps also in what follows.

The main gist of this post is to touch on another action/adventure series Haas wrote under the Benteen byline --- one I had not read or heard about before, until Piccadilly recently re-issued them as eBooks. As indicated above, the series was titled Cutler and was centered on one John Cutler, a typically tough, rugged individual very much in the mold of various other action/adventure protagonists as written by Benteen and others.
The set-up for Cutler is that he is a former lawman turned hunter/trapper who is on the vengeance trail for his wife's killer. This is a basic framework that has been used, with a few refinements here and there, over and over and over again in the Western genre. But here's the interesting twist that Haas/Benteen uses for this series --- the killer Cutler is obsessed with running down is not a human but rather a rogue silverback grizzly.
The bear has a stump for one of its hind legs thanks to a trap that Cutler set but did not check on as promptly as he should have, that's what turned the beast into a rogue who's first victim was Cutler's unsuspecting wife. This adds a haunting layer of guilt to the revenge Cutler is after.
Being a rogue, the grizzly roams wide and wild over vast mountainous stretches of Colorado and Wyoming, sticking to no particular territory. Cutler responds to reports from wherever the bear has been sighted, never quite succeeding in catching up with him but also never giving up. He finances his way by hiring out to track and kill other rogue predators who are causing trouble in areas he is near or passing through.
I found the whole concept quite intriguing and well done.

Unfortunately, Haas wrote only two books in this series, THE WOLF-PACK and THE GUN-HAWKS, both in 1972. He then switched to create and write four books in the Rancho Bravo series, as by Thorne Douglas. Whether he would have gone back to do any more Cutlers we'll never know, because Ben Haas died unexpectedly in 1977.
Starting in 1978, Belmont Tower hired another writer, H.V. Elkin, to pick up the Cutler series. He wrote four titles. I haven't read any of those yet, though I plan to check out at least one or two at some point. With no disrespect to Mr. Elkin, I simply don't feel the urgency for that as I did to dive into the Benteen titles when I found out about them. 

Haas/Benteen have brought me many hours of enjoyment over the years. It was great to discover these added titles.
If you haven't discovered Cutler yet --- not to mention (which almost seems unthinkable) Fargo or Sundance --- I heartily recommend you check this out. 

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Aailable Now: THE GUNS OF NOVEMBER (Fight Card Books) by Joseph Grant writing as Jack Tunney

Fight Card Books continues slugging out a new title every month and each one is as exciting and entertaining as those that have come before. And while tough, gritty boxing conflicts are always at the core of the tales, the surrounding storylines and subplots are increasingly imaginative and well crafted.
In this latest entry --- THE GUNS OF NOVEMBER, with author Joseph Grant (who previously did THE LAST ROUND OF ARCHIE MANNIS for FC) at work behind the Jack Tunney byline --- we are given a whole new slant on the 1963 assassination of President John Kennedy.

Here, I'll let the cover blurb set it up the rest of the way:

November, 1963...Sent to Dallas by Attorney General Robert Kennedy to investigate the disappearance of a boxer connected to a major Civil Rights violation, FBI Special Agent Jim Gregory finds himself desperately trading punches with those plotting to change the course of history. Kidnapped, beaten, tied up, and blindfolded, young boxer Jimmy Lee Williams knows his situation is dire. Nicknamed Guns for the relentless firing power of his fists, Williams isn’t going to go down without a fight. However, this is no typical 15-rounder...and the clock is ticking toward disaster. Mixing with a disparate group of Cuban exiles, the Mafia, the FBI, the CIA, and corrupt Dallas Police, Gregory’s search for Williams takes him into the heart of the JFK conspiracy. In the Carousel Club, owner Jack Ruby – Gregory's old Chicago boxing opponent – introduces the undercover FBI agent to his many shady contacts, including a young, ex-Marine and Communist defector named Oswald…a man with unusual intelligence and connections to both the FBI and the CIA. With disaster looming, the latest Fight Card novel, Guns of November, is a two-fisted take on the tragic events you thought you knew, but never imagined...

This is one you're not going to want to miss!
I recommend you check it out.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Available Now: DEVIL'S LEDGER by Richard Prosch

Well, I got good news and more good news.
DEVIL'S LEDGER marks not only the return of author Prosch's popular John Coburn (aka The Peregrine) character, but it is his first appearance in a novella-length work. Previously, The Peregrine has made acclaimed short story appearances in DEVIL'S NEST (2011) and more recently in ONE AGAINST THE GUN HORDE (April, 2014).
What's more, since the cover of LEDGER announces it as "Book 1" of an ongoing series, we have some assurance there are more to come. In fact, I happen to have it straight from the horse's mouth (and I don't mean the one Coburn rides) that the next adventure is already being written.

The events of DEVIL'S LEDGER all stem from a legendary volume called The Judas Book, a volume, accumulated over a span of time, detailing all the corrupt dealings and dirty secrets of the territory. The kind of information that men would kill for --- either to keep quiet, or to use as leverage. When Bandy Murphy, Coburn's old pal and former cell mate, shows up claiming to be in possession of the book, such men are hard on his heels and Coburn can't help but be drawn into trying to save both Bandy's hide and the Judas Book.
As usual, one of the big positives here is Prosch's distinct writing style and his use of common, everyday, "real"-seeming folks pulled into extraordinary events. In this tale, I particularly liked the early banter that takes place between Coburn, Bandy, and an old codger named Hutch Gunnar. It is funny, entertaining, and subtly character-establishing for purposes that become important later on. This is certainly not the end of colorful, interesting characters (some who turn out not to be what they first may seem) that the reader will meet, however; nor of the plot twists and turns that will ensue.
Coburn comes across as a little more mature this time around, somewhat comfortably settled into the lore that has built up around his Peregrine persona. Yet he remains ever-cautious and prepared, his anger maybe a bit slower to burn --- but, once the fuse has been ignited, as explosive and dangerous as ever.
This represents some of the best work being done in Western fiction today, and I predict readers will be looking forward to more of Prosch and the Peregrine!
Strongly recommended.

Also of note:
SHOOTING THE MOON, Richard's fourth book in his YA series featuring feisty young Jo Harper and her turn-of-the-century adventures in and around Willowby, Wyoming, has also just been released and it's another corker. Like me, I expect most readers of this blog probably do not read a lot of YA fiction. I've blogged about the highly entertaining books in this series before, and once again recommend them as an exception you really ought to consider making.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Another Look: ORCA (1977 film, starring Richard Harris)

Released two years following the phenomenal box office hit JAWS, this film was undeniably inspired by that success. In fact, according to movie lore, it was set into motion almost immediately after JAWS hit the theaters when executive producer Dino de Laurentiis called his co-producer Luciano Vincenzoni and ordered him to "find a fish that is tougher and more terrible than the great white!"
From that, the film that was to become ORCA was born. It probably shouldn't have come as any surprise, then, that when the movie got released, it was immediately panned by both critics and audiences alike as a JAWS rip-off. Subsequently, it did lousy at the box office.
Only part of that was deserved. Strictly from the standpoint of let's-jump-aboard-a-popular-concept-and-make-some-money-with-our-own-killer-fish- movie, it surely was, as already acknowledged, inspired by JAWS. Beyond that, however, ORCA has its own story to tell and in many ways stands as its own movie. Heck, you could even make the case that it owes as much to MOBY DICK as to JAWS. In a role-reversal sort of way, instead of the human Ahab obsessed with hunting down and dispatching Moby Dick, here you have a vengeful killer whale obsessed with singling out and dispatching the fishing captain who killed the whale's mate.
That's the central theme of ORCA: A shark-hunting sea captain (played by Richard Harris) decides to switch tactics and try instead for a killer whale. In the attempt, his harpoon misses the bull whale (except for slicing a tell-tale notch in its dorsal fin, the sight of which will become a forboding occurrence throughout the rest of the film) and instead hits the bull's mate. As the wounded cow is being winched aboard Harris's ship, she gives premature birth to a calf. Both mother and infant die. Watching from nearby waters—and focused primarily on Harris, who fired the deadly harpoon—is the bull. We have been told earlier, in a presentation by Charlotte Rampling, playing a scientist specializing in killer whales, that the creatures are highly intelligent, they mate for life, and are known to possess a human-like capacity for seeking revenge against anyone or anything who have done them harm.

So there's the rest of the set-up. When Harris docks his ship for repairs in the harbor of a small fishing village, the vengeful bull killer whale follows. First, to the great concern of the local fishermen, all the fish in surrounding waters flee. Then boats—all but Harris's—start being damaged. Then various buildings and businesses on piling all along the harbor are wrecked and damaged, including a huge fire that breaks out when a gas line breaks and is ignited by a fallen lantern. The house Harris is renting is knocked off its pilings and his sister, sliding partially into the water during the chaos, has her leg chomped off by the attacking whale … Yet Harris's boat remains untouched. The message is clear: The whale wants Harris to face him out on the open sea. The fishermen of the village want the same thing—or, at least, they want Harris gone from their village and want him to take his vengeful stalker with him.
Aided by the only remaining member of his original crew, the scientist (Rampling, who is inexplicably drawn romantically to him), and a somewhat mystical Indian (Will Sampson) who knows whale lore and volunteers for this epic battle, the captain sets out to sea to meet the challenge put before him. The whale leads, Harris and crew follows … all the way up to the ice packs of the northern seas where the climax and ultimate final confrontation takes place.
There are many moments in the first two thirds of the film that strain credibility. But they are done with enough energy and excitement to carry them off pretty well. The final third bogs down and plays out so slowly that illogical factors pile up and almost sink the whole show (no pun intended). Whatever the film suffered in the way of negative reviews, etc., is, in my opinion, earned here more so than from any of the rip-off accusations. Nevertheless, according to Wikipedia, in recent years ORCA has earned a cult following of sorts in the natural horror subgenre (whatever the hell that is).

On the plus side, by anybody's standards, the film has top notch production values throughout. The score, the cinematography, the direction (by old pro Michael Anderson) are solid. Same for the acting, for which not a great deal of range is required. Richard Harris's tough, knocked-around Irish mug is perfect for the captain who is pushed to the point of declaring: "I'm coming for you, you vengeful sonofabitch!" And Charlotte Rampling's ever-sultry presence manages to steam up the screen even though she is not called upon to do much more than spout scientific facts and alternately discourage and then encourage Harris as far as what he has to do.
I wish they'd taken time to strengthen the ending. Still, I came away with the feeling that the makers of ORCA (despite the harried middle-of-the-night phone call that launched it) tried hard to do something bigger and better than just copycatting a previous mega-hit. And they scored in a number of areas.
Worth your time if you can catch it on cable or purchase it out of a DVD bargain bin.
Recommended, with reservations.