Okay, maybe I'm crazy, or just a 12-year-old boy at heart, or both, but that cover by Robert Gibson Jones is just great! Riding in a sling under the neck of a giant bat while fighting spaceships with a smoking raygun! I mean, what could possibly be cooler? I don't know which story in this issue of FANTASTIC ADVENTURES it goes with, if any of them. Milton Lesser, who went on to become Stephen Marlowe, of course, is the only author in it I've heard of. The others are a mixture of house-names and writers I'm not familiar with. I'll bet I'd have a good time reading it anyway. Or I could just look at the cover and imagine my own story to go with it.
Today I reached a million words written for the year, for the 13th year in a row. Superstitious? Who, me? But I think there's a good chance I'll try for that mark again next year, and hey, if you're gonna write a million words a year for 14 straight years, you might as well go for 15, am I right?
Well, that's one of the oddest Western pulp covers I've run across. I'm not sure I actually like it, but it's certainly eye-catching. The artwork is by Stanley Borack, who did the covers for a bunch of men's adventure magazines. Inside this issue of WESTERN NOVEL AND SHORT STORIES are stories by Elmore Leonard, Noel Loomis, S. Omar Barker, Edwin Booth, John H. Latham, and William Vance, which is a fairly strong line-up of writers.
I enjoyed the first Kingi Bwana novella, “The Slave Runner”,
quite a bit, but Gordon MacCreagh’s second novella in the series, “The Ebony
Juju” (originally published in the July 13, 1930 issue of ADVENTURE) is even
This yarn finds the American hunter and freelance trouble-shooter named King
being asked by an official of the British government to investigate rumors of
gun-smuggling and a possible native uprising around Lake Victoria in Africa.
King, not wanting to get wrapped up in all the red tape of working for the
government, refuses. But he plans to head in that direction anyway, since he’s
on the trail of a fortune in ivory that’s supposed to be buried somewhere in
Wouldn’t you know it, the bad guys, fearing King’s possible involvement, decide
to kill him to eliminate that potential threat to their scheme. (Doc Savage’s
enemies made this same mistake, over and over again.) The attempted
assassination fails, of course, but now they’ve gotten King actually interested
in what’s going on in the area. He discovers that the natives (and yes, they’re
very restless) are being stirred up by a large idol carved of ebony that can
move and talk when it’s possessed by the spirits. (Didn’t I see this same plot
in at least one Tarzan movie?)
Eventually King figures out everything that’s going on and foils the villains.
You knew he would. Along the way, though, there are a couple of very
suspenseful scenes and a lot of fine, authentic writing about Africa. These
Kingi Bwana stories are starting to remind me of Robert E. Howard’s El Borak
yarns in the way they’re structured, which makes me wonder if Howard read them.
We know he was a fan of ADVENTURE. The locations are different, of course, and
MacCreagh’s work lacks the breakneck pace and action of Howard’s stories.
MacCreagh’s stories move along more deliberately and seem more concerned with
creating tense scenes, which they do quite well. But there’s the same element
of the “Great Game”, the political and espionage manueverings between England
and Russia as they try to solidify their power in what they consider a
backwards part of the world.
I’m only two novellas in, but I’m really enjoying this series so far. In this
story, we learn that King is a Westerner, having grown up in Dakota Territory,
and if they had made a Kingi Bwana movie back in the Thirties, Randolph Scott
would have been perfect for the part. I’m glad I have the entire series and
will continue reading and reporting on it here.
James Woods and Oliver Platt are con men. Louis Gossett Jr. is a boxer involved in the game they're running. Bruce Dern is the mark. Heather Graham is young and beautiful. Punches are thrown, blood is spilled, and plot twists abound. I vaguely remember when DIGGSTOWN came out, but we never watched it and I couldn't tell you why. I like boxing movies and I like con game movies, and this is a pretty entertaining combination of the two genres, with a little Southern small town Americana thrown in. The supporting cast includes Randall "Tex" Cobb, who I've always liked. So I enjoyed DIGGSTOWN quite a bit and am glad we finally watched it.
Reading ON A SILVER DESERT, the biography of Ernest Haycox
by his son Ernest Haycox Jr., prompted me to read this book as well. ERNEST
HAYCOX AND THE WESTERN by Richard W. Etulain is a fairly new book, released
earlier this year, although much of it is drawn from Etulain’s 1966 doctoral
dissertation. It’s not a biography, although there’s necessarily some
information in it about Haycox’s life, and not exactly a critical examination
of Haycox’s work, either, but more of a book about Haycox’s work and career, how he approached the writing of
his stories and novels and how he handled the life of a professional author of
Western fiction in the first half of the 20th Century.
This is just the sort of book I really enjoy. I never tire of reading about
what, how, and why writers write what they do. Etulain devotes a lengthy
chapter to Haycox’s time as a Western pulpster, from 1924 to 1930. After that,
although Haycox still wrote some for the pulps, he had broken in to the slicks
and sold most of his work to COLLIER’S. As a pulp fan, this part of the book is
probably the most interesting to me, but the later chapters about Haycox’s work
for the slicks, the movies based on his stories, and his efforts late in life
to break away from traditional Westerns and write major historical novels, are
all well written and well worth reading.
Having read these two books, I’m in the odd position of having almost read more
about Haycox and his work than I’ve
actually read of his novels and stories. I’m exaggerating, of course, but
because, as I’ve mentioned before, I was never much of a fan of his books, I’ve
barely scratched the surface of what he produced. I have quite a few volumes on
his work on my shelves, though, and plan to read something else by him soon.
Due to a schedule bottleneck largely of my own making, I wound up with just three weeks to write an 80,000 word historical novel. That would have been a pretty fast pace even back in my younger days, and now it's a lot more than I normally do. But I felt like I had to give it a try. So just a few minutes ago, I sent the manuscript to my editor in New York. 82,522 words written in 19 straight days. Not something I'd want to do again any time soon. But I think the book turned out to be pretty good, and that's the most important thing. I'll be starting the next one tomorrow.
It's not just the number of words Robert Leslie Bellem wrote that's impressive, although that has to be considerable, it's the sheer number of stories. For example, for every 90,000 word novel I write, Bellem had to come up with ten or twelve workable short story plots to equal the same wordage. That's insane. I can't even imagine how many hundreds and hundreds of plots he created. (And sure, he probably repeated himself some, but still . . .) What prompts this is the fact that Bellem wrote every story in this issue of HOLLYWOOD DETECTIVE, four Dan Turner yarns under his own name and a non-series story as Jerome Severs Perry. And this is hardly the only issue of a pulp written entirely by Bellem. The guy was a wonder. At least he didn't do the cover for this issue, but whoever did turned out a good one.
Good ol' LARIAT STORY. For two thin dimes, you got covers like this one by Norman Saunders, stories by authors such as Les Savage Jr., H.A. DeRosso, John Jo Carpenter (John Reese), Will C. Brown (really C.S. Boyles, the other author from Cross Plains), Rollin Brown, W.F. Bragg, and Ben Frank. (Well, I'm not much of a Ben Frank fan, but I like everything else I've read by those other guys.) Plus story titles like "Gun-Witch From Wyoming". I think the readers got their money's worth.
I always enjoy reading about writers, and that inspired me
to pick up a copy of ON A SILVER DESERT: THE LIFE OF ERNEST HAYCOX, a biography
by the Western author’s son Ernest Haycox Jr. I’ve never been a big fan of
Haycox’s work, although it’s grown on me in recent years. I’ve found that I
really enjoy his early pulp novellas, more so than his later novels, which he
regarded as more serious and ambitious. But you know me—give me a bunch of
ridin’ and shootin’ and fightin’, and I’m happy.
Although I’m more interested in Haycox’s work as a writer, Haycox Jr. does a
fine job with the family history and in painting a vivid picture of his
father’s personal life to go along with the professional. I learned a lot about
Haycox and his career that I didn’t know, and perhaps most importantly, this
biography makes me want to read more of his work.
The one thing in the book I’d take issue with is a comment in the foreword by
Ronald L. Davis which mentions that the Western Writers of America referred to
their annual awards as the Erny (after Haycox) until they changed it to the
Spur Award. I don’t believe this is right at all. I seem to remember reading
that there was some discussion among WWA’s membership (at the time, many of
them were founders of the organization) about calling the award the Erny, but
that never got off the ground and it’s always been the Spur (and not the Golden
Spur, another common mistake that people keep repeating).
One quibble in a lengthy book admittedly is pretty minor, so I don’t hesitate
to give a high recommendation to ON A SILVER DESERT. (The title comes from an
early Haycox novel, THE SILVER DESERT, which I’ve read and enjoyed.) For anyone
interested in the history of Western fiction or in the life of a professional
writer in the first half of the 20th Century, it’s well worth