Hunting Monsters final frontI am about to do something they say you should never do. I’m going to reveal the secrets of a magic trick. I’m going to show you how to cleverly adapt one of Shakespeare’s plays into a pulp fiction story– so cleverly, in fact, that no one ever knows it unless you tell them.

“Hunting Monsters Is My Business– The Mordecai Slate Stories,” has been out in paperback and Kindle since November 2014. It’s selling well, and has garnered some terrific reviews, for which I am very grateful. But so far no reviewer and no reader out there seems to have caught on to what is really going on in one of the stories in this collection. The so far unnoticed fact is that one of the tales in the book is actually an adaptation of a Shakesperean play.

In a way it’s not surprising that nobody has caught on to it yet. The connection between the story and the play is hard to see, if you’re not looking for it. Readers of what is generally called pulp fiction (horror, western, fantasy, or space opera) are not expecting too much in the way of classic literature in their stories. So when it comes along it tends to just zing on by without much notice.

Shakespeare has been adapted numerous times and in various ways, especially in the movies. Some of his work has even been translated into the cinematic equivalent of pulp fiction– low budget B movies. For example, MacBeth was redone as a gangster flick (“Joe MacBeth” with Paul Douglas);  Othello became a taut crime drama starring Patrick McGoohan (“All Night Long”); and Hamlet was adapted by Edgar Ulmer as a psychological melodrama (“Strange Illusion”). And there are others. Kurosawa has done period Japanese versions of MacBeth and King Lear. Recently Patrick Stewart starred in a western version of King Lear called “King of Texas.”

So why not a Mordecai Slate story based on a Shakespeare play? Why not, while we’re at it, mix Shakespeare, Slate and zombies all together? The result is one of the strangest concoctions in the Mordecai Slate canon– the novella “Hunting Monsters Is My Business.”

Prospero_and_mirandaOne of my favorites of the Bard’s plays has always been “The Tempest.” The play tells the story of Prospero, a wizard who lives on a deserted island with his daughter Miranda. He is really the Duke of Milan who was deposed by his jealous brother and cast out to sea in a boat. Prospero with the help of a spirit Ariel is developing his magical powers so he can return home and reclaim his rightful place. Along with his a daughter Miranda he also has a deformed servant named Caliban. It’s a complicated story with lot of cross plots involving deception, romance, and most of all magic.

There are a lot of fantastic elements in The Tempest that I thought might be adaptable as one of Mordecai Slate’s monster hunting stories.  I first came up with the idea of Slate searching for a missing friend, a former monster hunting colleague,named Tom Carlson. In the story Slate discovers his friend is most likely being held prisoner by a weird character who lives in a fortress-like house of stone on top of a mountain in Texas. Count Pierre LeCoulte is French/Haitian and similar to Prospero, the wizard in The Tempest, he is an adept in the black arts, in this case the black art of voodoo. He’s been kicked out of Haiti, as Prospero had been exiled from Milan. The difference is that he lives on a mountain top instead of an island at sea.

There’s a gold mine in the bowels of the mountain his house is perched on and the miners digging gold for him are zombies kept under control by LeCoulte’s voodoo and by a mutant named Thorg, my version of Caliban. Like Prospero, LeCoulte has a beautiful daughter, Mireva, who he keeps locked up in his fortress. His main objective is to develop his voodoo powers, amass a gold fortune and like Prospero return home to wreak vengeance on those who plotted against him.

There are other parallels in the story, such as the fact that Caliban’s mother was a witch named Sycorax. In a twisted way she shows up at the end of the story in the form of Lady Taratu, LeCoulte’s late wife. Prospero had Ariel a spirit who helps him perform magic. LeCoulte has his dead wife’s spirit helping him develop his voodoo powers. And in a way you might say that Cha-Qal-Tan, Slate’s Apache Spirit guide, is his version of Ariel. There are probably other corresponding symbols and characters, Sheriff Morgan Jacks and his deputy Mojave might be Antonio and Alonzo, though that might be a stretch.

I included several deliberate references to the play in the story as a hint at what I was doing. For example on p. 208 of the paperback, LeCoulte says he wants to tell Slate a little something about himself. “As the playwright wrote,” LeCoulte says, “What is past is prologue,” a direct quote from the play. On page 189 he refers to life as “a tempete– a tempest, blowing us this way and that.”

And of course the story begin with the epigram, “This thing of darkness/I acknowledge mine,”another quote from the play.

And thusly was “The Tempest” transformed magically into “Hunting Monsters Is My Business.” As you can see the clues are all there. Now that you know how the trick was done, maybe you’ll enjoy the story better. Or maybe not. It’s more like an inside joke, than anything else, but now you’re in on it. If you’re a writer you might want to try this little stunt yourself. But be careful, if you try it. Voodoo is nothing to fool around with.

Bill_Tilghman_1912Lawman Bill Tilghman was one of the legends of the Old West. In 1878 he was asked by Bat Masterson to serve as his deputy in Dodge City, where he earned the respect of Masterson, as well as Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday. In 1889 he moved to the Oklahoma Territory, one of the most lawless areas of the frontier, and became one of the  lawmen known as “The Three Guardsman.” They were credited with 300 arrests, including the elimination of The Wild Bunch. Tilghman single-handedly captured the outlaw Bill Doolan, and is probably most well known for the capture and arrest of the female outlaw duo Cattle Annie and Little Britches. He retired from the law in 1910.

There have been many films made about the lawmen of the Old West and the outlaws they chased, but despite Tilghman’s amazing career he has been mostly overlooked by movie makers. Only three motion pictures have been made about him, one of which he produced, directed and acted in himself. That’s right. After his retirement, he decided to make “The Passing of the Oklahoma Outlaws, (1924)”  a silent film, which he said was an authentic western, not like the Hollywood variety– a true story based on the facts of his life.

The second film about him was “Cattle Annie and Little Britches, (1981)” in which Rod Steiger played Tilghman. I’ve never seen that one, but the other night I was lucky enough to catch the third film that was made about him. In 1999 Sam Elliott produced and starred in “You Know My Name (1999) for the TNT network. It is considered the definitive Bill Tilghman biopic and perhaps Sam Elliott’s greatest role. The film begins near the end of Tilghman’s life, in 1924, at the point where he was filming his movie and ran short of money. He’s offered a job as sheriff in the lawless town of Cromwell, OK, where Prohibition era gangsters were overrunning the place. At the age of 70 with a wife and two kids, whom he left behind in the nearby town of Chandler, he took the job and returned to law enforcement.

The film is fascinating just for the visual images of cowboys and gangsters, horses and automobiles, and the sound of cowboy music mixed with jazz bands. Tilghman’s main antagonist is Wiley Lynn (Arliss Howard), a cocaine-addicted Fed who in fact works for the gangsters. Howard’s performance is way over the top, but definitely is effective in showing the depravity of Cromwell, where prostitutes and drunks parade up and down the main street at all hours of the day and night.


Elliot’s performance is masterful. His granite-hewn face and deep, rumbling voice embody the iron-willed sheriff as no other actor working today could. But while he could be tough as nails facing down men with Tommy guns, there’s a touching scene where he tells his son the time, when he was a boy, he saw Wild Bill Hickock. One legend reflecting on another. For anyone interested in the Old West, this John Kent Harrison-directed film is one not to be missed.

Slate and Tilghman


William Tilghman by Harold Holden

Now, here’s why I bring all this up. While there haven’t been many movies about Tilghman there have been a few novels based on his life, including Matt Braun’s “Outlaw Kingdom,” James Reasoner’s “West of the Big River,” and several others. But in case you think that’s the only fiction that’s ever been written about Tilghman, I hasten to point out that “Samurai Blade,” one of the stories in my “Hunting Monsters Is My Business” collection takes place in Dodge City and features Deputy Sheriff Tilghman as one of the characters.

In this story, Monster Hunter Mordecai Slate is summoned to Dodge by the mother of a soldier shot down in a saloon after he goes berserk while holding a Samurai Sword that was hanging Hunting Monsters final frontover the bar. The spirit of a vengeful Samurai hovers over Dodge. When Slate checks in at the sheriff’s office he finds Bat Masterson out of town and Tilghman behind a desk, looking up at him and asking, “What are you doing here? You know Bat hates your guts.”  In my version, Tilghman has a more pragmatic view of the law than Bat or Wyatt and since the soldier’s death occurred south of the Deadline, he wasn’t too concerned about it. “Things have a way of working themselves out down there,” he tells Slate.

Slate goes about his usual business of wreaking mayhem and uncovering dark secrets. Tilghman shows up at the end aghast at the carnage Slate has wrought, but satisfied that only evil doers have paid the price, he let’s Slate go, saying, “I told you things have a way of working out down here.”

And so that’s the story of how Mordecai Slate met Bill Tilghman. Did it really happen? Who knows?  Legends had a way of bumping into each other in the old days.

writeratworkA week or so ago I spilled coca cola into my computer terminal. It went in through the ventilation holes and totally fried the computer. I got the dreaded BLUE SCREEN. Then it went black. The computer had died. The worst thing about it the first few chapters of the new Mordecai Slate book were gone with the computer. I had violated my number one rule to always, always back everything up. Things around here have been weird and chaotic for various reasons and I just didn’t take the extra step of backing the file up. I thought I had lost it for good. I told myself I could rewrite it, but you never can remember exactly what you wrote the first time.

I just let the computer sit in my office. People said go get a new one or take into the shop and see if they can fix it or retrieve your files. I was too depressed to do anything. But after a few days I just had this feeling that I should try to see if it would come back on its own. I started it up and the first time nothing happened. Same thing for the next few days. After a week suddenly I could hear the fan and the drive moving but nothing on the screen. Another few days later the Gateway logo came on in black and white. But that’s all.

I thought that was as much of a comeback as it was going to make. But today I tried it and lo and behold! It’s back. I am writing this post on it. First thing I did was store the Slate story on a flash drive and print it out. The computer is slow and sluggish but seems to be picking up speed by the hour.

Needless to say I am a happy camper today. I guess the lesson is KEEP THE FAITH, BABY. Gateway made me a believer.

Hunting Monsters final frontI took a look at the sales rankings for Hunting Monsters Is My Business the morning of April 12 and found it in the #3 spot in the top 100 best-selling Kindle e-books in the horror/western category. It will no doubt have moved from that position by the time this blog appears. The rankings change hourly. And while being #3 in itself is good news, it’s still not #1, but that doesn’t really matter. I figure getting into the top 10 is accomplishment enough for a book self-published by an unknown author who has spent relatively little of his own resources in the process.

Total costs for launching the book include a very reasonable artist’s fee for the fantastic cover, and about $90 to Kindle Direct Publishing to format and publish the Kindle version. I wanted them to do it professionally because I could not take the time and bother to format the table of contents with links to each of the individual stories in the book. I formatted and published the paperback version myself. I haven’t paid a single dime beyond that. A couple of hundred dollars total.

I’ve spent no money at all on publicity. Aside from great reviews in Amazing Stories,, and Bill Crider’s Pop Culture Magazine, and brief mentions of its availability here and there on various author websites, there has been little publicity about the book. Even more surprising, after being available for almost five months, there are still NO Amazon Customer reviews. This is an interesting fact, and raises the question: How is the book selling as well as it is?

First of all, let’s be clear. When I say it’s in the Amazon Kindle best seller list at #3 that is not the same thing as saying it’s No. 3 on the New York Times Best Sellers list. The actual number of books bought and sold is very small compared to books on the national best sellers list. Weird westerns like “Hunting Monsters Is My Business” fall into a very small niche in the publishing world. Only a handful of them get published, most of them by small independent publishers.

I’ve published the two Mordecai Slate books under my own Flying W Press logo. I had 30 years experience as a journalist and editor. I helped turn out a weekly journal using what eventually evolved into desk-top publishing, so I think I can  say I brought some professional level skills to the task. I try to make the books as professional-looking as I can.

I don’t know how long “Hunting Monsters” and its companion book “Vampire Siege Sized Coverat Rio Muerto” will continue to be successful. I hope it will be for a long time. But not just because I want to make money. The royalties so far have better than covered my expenses, but I won’t be going out to buy a Range Rover with them. That isn’t the point. It wasn’t the point when I decided to start Flying W Press in the first place. All I wanted to do was see if it was possible for a writer– one person with limited contacts and resources and very few friends in the fiction business–  could write, publish and sell his own material. The answer is he can. And that’s why I’m writing this blog. Not to brag, but to let others like me– men and women with the desire to write and be published– know it can be done.

The publishing world is undergoing a revolution. The rise of small independent presses in general has been a good thing.  A small press is a good place for new writers to start. The editors at these presses are looking for new talent all the time. The majority of them are good people and only want your book to succeed. Some aren’t so good. but that’s another blog. Small presses offer you an opportunity to get exposure and I would advise new writers to start there first to get experience and confidence. But even for the good ones, it’s a tough game. Small publishers can go out of business too easily. One of my books, “Jack Brand” is out of print because the publisher just decided to quit for personal reasons.

Also you pay a price in terms of having to share some of the take with these publishers, and there is always the problem of a conflict of view point regarding your work. Nobody understands your work and what you are trying to do as well as you do. And having to deal with requested editorial changes can be a difficult experience.

In terms of a publishing revolution, the growing number of self-publishers is where the action really is.  If you publish yourself whatever money you make after Amazon takes its 30 percent is all yours. And good or bad, whatever you publish is 100 percent your work and not the result of compromises with editors.

There’s no question that doing it yourself involves a lot of hard work. You have three main jobs– jobs that a publisher would probably give to three of four people– editing, formatting and sales promotion. It isn’t easy, sometimes you want to pull your hair out, but if I can do it, anybody can. However , after you’ve done all the work necessary to turn out a good book, the biggest question of all remains: How do you find readers?

Michael J. Sullivan has written some good blogs on Amazing Stories about self-publishing. One of the things he said recently is very true. When it comes to building a fan base you do it one person at a time. Word of mouth is your best sales tool. The way I see it, just as you write stories one word at a time, so you build your readership one reader at a time. You get the word out through facebook, Twitter and blogging, but its up to the individual readers to pick up the book, read it, and then tell others about it. It takes time but, if you’re persistent and believe in what you’re doing, it happens.

I’m looking at the Amazon Top 100 Best Sellers in Horror/Western again. Know who’s currently at #1 on that list? Cormac McCarthy. His novel “Blood Meridian” was published by Random House. He’s got an agent, an editor and a publicist. I don’t have any of that and today I’m only two places behind him. I don’t have his sales or royalty checks, of course. Not yet anyway. But who knows what can happen now that the book is out there? Thinking about that is one of the joys of self-publishing.


banditqueenI’ve got a new movie review over on Cinema Retro. “Bandit Queen” (1994). No, it’s not a western, as the title might lead you to believe. It’s a film from India by director Shekar Kapur about the legendary Phoolan Devi. She was sold by her father for a cow to a thirty year old man who raped, beat and abused her. She ran away, was captured by bandits, and eventually became a leader of one of the bandit gangs.

She became a legend and even held a seat in Parliament, only to be assassinated by a member of a higher caste. It’s a strong, very hard hitting story. And though it sounds like something from the 19th century, Devi died at age 37 in 2001! You can read the review here.

I’m coming to the conclusion that my original belief that being on facebook, twitter and blogging is for the most part very harmful to a writer. There is no doubt that social media is an indispensable aid to a writer trying to get the word out about his work. I’m sure I have sold more books by promoting them on twitter and facebook than I ever would have without them.

Ranking them in order I’d say twitter is the most effective means of letting people know what you’re doing and which of your works are available. I’ve only been on Twitter a couple of months but I’ve already got over 260 followers and the number grows by two and fours every day. I’m certain that come of my promotional tweets have resulted in immediate book sales.

Facebook is second in effectiveness. Facebook lets you say more than you can in a tweet, but getting “friends” on facebook takes a lot longer than it does to get followers on twitter. tao01-300x300

Last is blogging. It takes time to build an audience for a blog and while I’ve been at it a couple years I can’t say I’m thrilled with the number of views I get on a daily basis. However, you can write longer pieces and print excerpts from your work, as I did earlier today. The blog may not initially attract that many readers but you can link to it on twitter and facebook. So essentially, what you need is to have all three.

Of course, all this takes time. Time away from actual writing. I have to admit my output has slowed down considerably compared to the days I wrote for Ray Gun Revival and swore I would never get on twitter or facebook, or even own a cell phone. I could turn out a 10,000 word story in a couple of days. And I still could if I wasn’t so busy checking my facebook, blog and twitter.

The thing about writing on social media compared to real writing is that you become addicted to the immediate response from followers and friends. You write something and you keep looking to see what somebody has to say about it. When you write for real you’re alone at a keyboard. It’s just you and the blank screen and nobody’s even going to read what you write until god knows when it gets published. You can concentrate, focus, stay on subject. You’re really writing something for yourself, not for immediate gratification or to tickle some of your friends.

It’s a different world for writers now. If you want some success in terms of readersip you have to engage people on the internet. And it’s great knowing the ones you make friends with. But it’s yin and yang. You gain something and you lose something. There isn’t much you can do about it. Except maybe follow an old zen master’s advice. “Walk on!”  And hope for the best.

Hunting Monsters final frontA few weeks ago I mentioned a story I wrote that had been nominated for a Pushcart Award a few years ago. The story is entitled “The Shape of a Cage, and it’s included in “Hunting Monsters Is My Business, The Mordecai Slate Stories”

I thought those who haven’t got the book yet might like to read a portion of it, just to get an idea of the kind of story it is. As usual when writing about Slate it’s a mixture of fantasy and realism, horror and adventure, and as always a contemplation of something beyond the surface level of the story.

This is the opening of the story, and you’ll notice the complete lack of exposition. There’s no info dump. You meet a character called the Beast Man and it isn’t even until the end of the section that you discover who the Beast Man really is. You’re not told anything about how he came to be the Beast Man or what he’s doing in that cage. That all comes later in the story.

Hope you enjoy it.

The Shape of a Cage

            The Beast Man awakened. It was cold, and even though half his body was covered in fur, he shivered. His misshapen teeth—teeth more wolf-like than human—chattered and clicked from the frigid temperature. Daylight was coming. He curled up in a ball at the bottom of his cage, trying to warm himself. They’d rolled the cage out of the small tent where he was put on exhibition during the afternoon and evening, and set it out on the midway. The cage smelt of straw and urine, and his own waste. They hadn’t taken the honey bucket out yet. They would do that before the crowds arrived. They’d take the bucket and throw him some food. Usually bread and some sort of greenish gruel that tasted like spoiled peas. They would throw buckets of water in through the bars to clear off the stench. They’d throw water on him too. It wouldn’t do to have the customers think they weren’t treating one of the carnival’s main attractions humanely. He might be a horrid beast, a vicious monster, but even a creature like that deserved to be cleaned and fed.

“Hey!” a voice yelled. “Wake up!” He felt the stick in the small of his back. The Beast Man rolled over. His savage eyes fell on the short squat figure of a man standing outside the cage. He wore a blue Naval Office’s jacket, a visored cap, white trousers, and he had a stick in one hand and a whip in the other. A pistol was holstered on his hip. It was Captain Carlson.

“Did you hear me?” he yelled. “I said wake up.” He jabbed the beast man several more times with the stick. The hairy creature got to his feet slowly. He stood over six feet tall, with powerful looking shoulders and arms, a deep chest and broad back. He wore a ragged set of overalls over red long johns. Massive amounts of chest hair bulged out of the overalls, and the back of his hands and the top of his bare feet were covered in thick black hair. Thick black fur covered his neck and parts of his face. He snarled at the man, and swiped at the stick with a clawed hand. A growl rumbled up from his chest and he threw himself against the bars and reached through them for Carlson.

“That’s the way,” Carlson said. He jabbed at him some more with the stick. “That’s more like it. The Beast Man. That’s what they pay to see. A savage freak. Something out of a nightmare. When the gates open, Beast Man, I want them to see you at your best.”

The creature growled more savagely than before and lunged, reaching as far as he could through the bars for the throat of the man who tormented him, making the cage rock on its wheels. Carlson jumped back and uncoiled the whip. He cracked it loud and hard and the Beast Man shrank back, holding his arm, crying out like an animal in pain.

“Good!” Carlson said. “That’s what I want. A real performance.” A thin man with a beard walked up to him carrying a fresh honey bucket and a bowl full of gruel. Carlson coiled up the whip and slung it over his shoulder. “Go ahead, Haney,” he told the bearded man. “Open it up and give him his breakfast.” He pulled the pistol from the holster and pointed it at the Beast Man. “Get in the corner, away from the door,” he shouted. The monster stood where he was. Carlson fired a shot and a bullet tore through the roof of the cage. The Beast Man backed away. “Into the corner,” Carson yelled and cocked the hammer. The creature moved further back. A door in the opposite wall of the cage opened. Haney climbed in.

“You keep that gun on him,” he told Carlson. He put the pot and bowl down nervously and picked up the old pot and jumped back out. The door slammed shut and Carlson holstered the revolver.

“Enjoy your breakfast,” he said, “Eat up. You’ve got people to entertain!” He grinned smugly, and walked away.

The beast man watched him walk down past the wagons, tents, and concession stands and climb up the steps of a large yellow wagon that had the words “Captain Carlson’s Carnival of the Fantastic,” written on the side in big red letters.

Daylight was growing brighter. The carnival folk were about, getting ready for the day’s work. He saw the fat lady, the midgets, the lizard boy coming out of their tents on their way to the main chow tent, where most of the carnival attractions ate. He was not allowed to eat there. He was too wild to be set free among the others. Captain Carson told him he needed to be broken first. He needed to see the necessity of “fitting in” before he’d be allowed any kind of personal freedom.

He looked at the green slop in the bowl. Went over to it and knelt down and picked it up. He raised it to his nose and wanted to throw it out through the bars. It wasn’t fit for human consumption. But he knew he needed to down it. He needed the nourishment, meager and disgusting as it was. He needed to keep his strength. Someday he would break out and he would kill Captain Carlson.  He would need to stay strong as possible until then.

He reached inside his shirt and pulled out a small rectangle of silver that hung from his neck by a leather thong. The figure of an eagle in flight was engraved on it. He squeezed his fist around it and held it tight, as if it had some special power that could help him. That might keep him alive just long enough to get his revenge. He seemed to gather some strength from it. After a while, he let go of it and lifted the bowl to his mouth, held his nose, and poured the mush down his throat.

The morning dragged on as it always did. He watched the other carnival attractions walk by his cage on their way from the chow tent to their own tents, where they would prepare for the day’s show. Lorenzo the Malaysian Snake boy, 16 years old with the skin of a reptile walked by and as he got close to the cage, his two foot-long tongue shot out and snatched a fly from the air. Niko the Geek, the man who bit the heads off live chickens, walked past his cage with a hot cup of coffee in his hands. His hands shook and the coffee spilled over the brim as he walked. His hangover was worse than usual today. Felicity, the 500 pound dark-skinned fat woman from Borneo, dressed in a grass skirt, waddled on by. She gave him a lascivious wink and said, “Hya, handsome!” as she waddled by.

And despite the calm demeanor each of them displayed the all had one thing in common. They reeked of fear. He could smell it on them. They were afraid of the man with the whip and the gun. The man who had plucked them out of whatever miserable world he had found them in during the course of his sea-faring travels. He’d found them and lured them with promises of food and shelter for the rest of their lives in some cases. In others, the freaks who could not speak, or had much mobility, like the legless man from Siam, and the girl with no arms and no tongue, it had been a matter of outright kidnapping. They were his prisoners, his chattel. He could do what he wanted with them because there was no one else who cared about these castoffs of society. They were the unwanted, the discarded, the wreckage that could only be viewed by civilized society, when it was locked in a cage.

But then, later, at what he judged from the position of the sun to be ten o’clock, she came and stopped by his cage. The way she did every morning over the four weeks he’d been there. She came from Captain Carlson’s wagon on her way to her own sideshow tent. She stopped and stood there looking in at him, Elois, the Mermaid Girl, with her large green eyes, eyes the color of the sea. She was beautiful. Her small oval face was framed by long yellow hair that seemed made of spun gold. She wore a simple calico dress that, despite its plainness, revealed a delicate, but shapely figure. The gold slippers on her feet gave her the look of a princess. She stood there for a long minute staring up at him.

“I know how you feel,” she said. Her words startled him. It was the first time she had spoken to him. Her voice was as soft and melodious as he imagined it would be. “I know what you must be suffering.” He stepped closer to the bars and grabbed hold of them. “I’m a prisoner too,” she said. “I don’t know if you can understand me,” she said. “But I want you to know that I suffer too.”

He knew she must have suffered a great deal. He had seen the bruises on her arms and shoulders that Captain Carlson had given her. Today there were fresh marks on her wrist, where his fingers had left their impression.

“Every night in my tent I swim in a big tank of water,” she said. “I dive underwater and stay down five minutes, and everyone marvels, and applauds. They think it’s a trick. They come back the next day or evening, and buy another ticket to see if they can figure out how I do it. But it’s not a trick. The water is my home. Not the water in the tank. My home is in the sea.” A tear spilled out of the corner of her eye and glistened on her cheek. “There are many kinds of cages, Beast Man. They come in many shapes. I hate my tank as much as you hate these bars.” She smiled at him sadly. “I want to go back to my home, where my kind live. But I can’t. I have been away too long. I have been on dry land so long, that if I tried to go home, the sea would not accept me. I would drown like any other woman. I am trapped here. Yes, I know how much you are suffering.”

The Beast Man grabbed hold of the bars and stared down at her in silence.

“We all live in one kind of a cage or another,” the girl said.

He reached a hand out through the bars and started to speak but all that came out of his throat was the grunt of an animal. At that moment Captain Carlson came strutting down the midway.

“Elois,” he yelled. “What are you doing here? Haven’t I told you I don’t want you getting near him? He’s very dangerous.”

“I shouldn’t wonder,” the girl said. “The way you keep him locked up.”

“It’s necessary, my love,” the captain said. He put his arm around her shoulders and looked up at the Beast Man. “Eventually he will learn how to behave here in our little world. He will learn the lesson of the whip and the gun. And then, perhaps, we can let him out of his cage.” He turned to her and raised his hand and caressed her cheek with his thick fingers. “Until then, my dear, please, stay away from him.” His fingers moved to her chin, and lifted her face up, and he kissed her. “Now, don’t you have something to do? Didn’t you say you wanted to try a new dive today? Shouldn’t you be practicing it?”

“Yes, Eric,” Elois said. “As you say. I have things to do.” She shot a last short glance up at the Beast Man then walked off to her tent.

Captain Carlson stood with his hands on his hips, smiling up at the Beast Man. “I know what you’re thinking,” he said. “I know what a beast like you has on his mind.” He uncoiled the whip looped over his shoulder and cracked it loud in between the bars. The Beast Man jumped back, growling. “Don’t even think of entertaining a thought like that,” Captain Carlson said, cracking the whip again and again. “Don’t,” he said, “or I will kill you.”

Later Haney pushed his cage back inside his tent. He was new to the carnival, so only a makeshift sign was written on a small sheet of plywood that hung outside on the front of the tent. The words, “Beast Man” were written in black paint.

It was a Saturday and when the noon hour came the gates opened, and the kids and adults from Tucson came straggling in. Captain Carlson stood on a stage not far from the entrance barking the rubes in.

“Come one, come all,” he began. “Welcome to Captain Carlson’s Carnival of the Fantastic. For one thin dime, ladies and gentlemen your eyes will see things they have never seen before. I promise you a host of weird wonders that I have found in my travels all over the world. Freaks of nature from exotic places you never dreamed possible.”  He pointed to a tent to his left. “In yonder tent you will find Lorenzo, the Malaysian Snake Boy, half cobra, half-human. A one-of-a-kind marvel. Further down, see the 500 pound bearded fat lady of Borneo. See Niko the Geek, all the way from Patagonia, who will bite the head off a live chicken right before your very eyes.” He cracked his whip in the air.

“Gathered from the far corners of the world, during my sea journeys to far and dangerous places, these attractions are presented for your amusement and amazement.” He pointed to the farthest tent. “Over there, for example, ladies and gentlemen, in that far tent, a special added attraction, brand new to the carnival. Perhaps the wildest, strangest, most fearsome feature here on the midway.” He cracked the whip again and it sounded like a pistol shot. “Half Man-Half Wolf, this creature has only just recently been captured. He’s still wild, so be careful when you enter his tent. Believe me, if he got free he’d tear each and every one of you limb from limb. He’d tear your gizzard out and eat your liver.”

Half a dozen wide-eyed boys and their equally spellbound fathers, stood gaping up at the Captain. He jumped down from the stage and marched with them to the tent with the makeshift wooden sign, where Haney waited, ready to take the customers’ money.

Haney pulled the tent flap away and the crowd poured inside. Captain Carlson led them right up to the cage that stood on big red wheels against the back wall.

“Ladies and Gentlemen,” Captain Carlson bellowed, “I present for your amusment – the Beast Man!”

They stood in awe of the monster standing at the bars, growling and spitting at them; a savage man-wolf.

Mordecai Slate looked at the crowd standing in front of his cage— the saucer-eyed farm boys, their amazed fathers and their horrified mothers. A little girl cried and a woman screamed. Slate grabbed hold of the bars of his cage and shook them with an angry growl. Mordecai Slate, once the greatest monster hunter of the West, now a newly transformed creature, half-man, half-wolf—something out of a nightmare, now an attraction in a carnival sideshow.

(C) 2014 John M. Whalen

I thought it was time to update the info in the Mordecai Slate Bibliography.

Here is a description of the two volumes in the Mordecai Slate, Monster Hunter series published so far by Flying W Press.

MordecaiVampire Siege at Rio Muerto,” is a full-length novel. Slate is hired to capture a vampire alive and bring him back to Socorro, N.M., to a man seeking vengeance for his ravished daughter. Slate brings Kord Manion across 90 miles of desert but is pursued by Manion’s brother and his gang of Vampire Riders. Slate stops to help a girl in trouble and is wounded. He seeks aid in a near-deserted ghost town called Rio Muerto. The vampire riders surround the town. Can Slate and the rag tag group of losers he finds there survive the “Vampire Siege at Rio Muerto”?

“Hunting Monsters Is My Business, The Mordecai Slate Stories.”  is the complete collection of the Mordecai Slate stories Hunting Monsters final frontthat have appeared in various print and online publications. It also includes the brand new, original novella, “Hunting Monsters Is My Business,” written especially for this volume.

The stories included in the book are:

(1) “The Last Payday of the Killibrew Mine,” which appeared in “Leather Denim and Silver, Legends of the Monster Hunter, Vol. I,” Pill Hill Press, 2011. In this tale we find Slate in Beaver Junction, Alaska, where he is hired to save a Yukon mining town from the vengeful wrath of some Tligit Indians who have risen from the grave. There’s a young girl to be rescued and some dark secrets in a gold mine owner’s past that are uncovered.

(2) “Little China” was published in “How the West Was Wicked,” Pill Hill Press, 2011. Slate is on the West Coast, around Monterey, Calif., in a Chinese fishing village, investigating the death of the son of a Spanish nobleman, who was killed by a mysterious creature from the sea.

(3) “Rancho Diablo,” was published in “The Trigger Reflex, Legends of the Monster Hunter II,” Pill Hill Press, 2011. Slate treks across the Sonoran Desert in pursuit of a werewolf who has fled to a notorious outlaw hideout in the Cabeza Prieta Mountains, near Yuma. There he meets Liz Duval, owner and proprietess of Rancho Diablo.

(4) “The Man Who Had No Soul,” Science Fiction Trails, No. 7, 2011. Slate journeys from West Texas to the Juarez mountains to rescue the daughter of a mad scientist from the clutches of a creature made in the doctor’s laboratory.

(5) “Undead Empire, Gog!” was published in the steampunk anthology, “Conquest Through Determination: Steampunk in All Its Spendour,” Pill Hill Press, 2012. Slate meets up with a time traveler and journey to a far future world ruled by demons and zombies.

(6) “The Shape of a Cage,” in “Use Enough Gun , Legends of the Monster Hunter III,” published by Emby Press. Slate suffers the monster hunter’s worst nightmare and becomes the thing he has always hunted. He journeys into Coyotera country to find help.

(7) Samurai Blade,” published 2011 in Showdown at Midnight by Science Fiction Trails.

(8) “On the Camino Real” published 2013 on my blog.

(9) “Hunting Monsters Is My Business.” First publication. Slate runs into voodoo trouble in the Texas Panhandle.

More to come.

The next volume will be “Return of the Monster Hunter.”


A special treat for all you Mordecai Slate fans out there. Here’s a sneak peek at the opening scene of the next story in the Mordecai Slate series, THE RETURN OF THE MONSTER HUNTER. I’ve been promoting VAMPIRE SIEGE AT RIO MUERTO and HUNTING MONSTERS IS MY BUSINESS pretty vigorously lately, and the results have been good. The books are doing well. But I’m sure readers are wondering when something new is going to come out. Here’s my answer. Hope you enjoy it. 

John M. Whalen’s

The Return of the Monster Hunter

The hard-packed clay rose up ahead in the darkness, crumbling under his step as he climbed to the top of the hill. He didn’t know what he would see when he got to the top, but the sounds of the human screams—men, women, children—mixed with the nightmarish sounds of bestial growling, told him it wouldn’t be pleasant. He didn’t know what he would see, but Mordecai Slate was sure of one thing, he’d probably seen worse.

It was the sound of gunfire that had brought him here. He’d ridden hard toward the sound of the gunshots as soon as he heard them, but after a few minutes of riding the gunfire had stopped. By the time he dismounted Dutch and began the climb to the top of the hill, rifle in hand, the fighting was over. At the top he looked down under the starlight into a crater-like valley. There were two covered wagons below, about a hundred yards away; one of the wagons was on fire. The firelight showed bodies lying on the ground. There were things moving. Dark shapes, shadows.

Slate grabbed the Army binoculars hanging from a strap around his neck and looked closer. As the glasses came into focus he saw the head of something resembling a coyote hovering over the face of a man who lay flat on his back. But it was not like any coyote he’d ever seen. It was larger than normal, and its eyes shone with a strange, yellowish light. The man screamed. The animal’s jaws snapped open and shut, a few inches away from the man’s face. The man stared hopelessly up at the thing. Slate could hear him gibbering. The animal pulled its head back a few inches, peering intently down into the man’s eyes. Slate had never seen anything like it and a shiver ran down his spine as he realized the creature was playing with him. It almost seemed possessed of some kind of demonic intelligence. Slate dropped the glasses and pulled his Colt Carbine up to his eye.  Before he could aim, the animal’s jaws snapped open and closed again and Slate heard the sound of a skull being crushed. The man’s body and arms trembled, then stiffened as the thing on top of him lifted him up by the head and shook him all around.

Slate lowered the rifle. There was no use wasting a bullet. Had he come sooner he might have been able to help these pilgrims, but it appeared to be too late now. He picked up the field glasses again and surveilled the two wagons to make sure there was no one alive down there. Fire enveloped the canvass top of the wagon that was on fire. Two bodies, another man and a woman, lay still on the ground next to it. Slate moved the glasses to the second wagon. Sparks flew from the fire and Slate knew it wouldn’t be long before the second wagon went up. He ran the glasses over it from stem to stern. No sign of life. On the ground near the wagon, a woman and a young boy lay on the ground, their bodies half-devoured by the coyotes.

Slate lowered the glasses again and rolled onto his back and lay there listening to the grisly feast behind him. He tried to figure why two wagons were out here alone in this Godforsaken spot of West Texas in the first place. They must have been part of a larger wagon train and got separated from it. Some of the wagon masters he knew were heartless bastards. If somebody’s wagon broke down, or there was sickness, they wouldn’t think twice about leaving the poor bastards behind. “You’ll catch up with us, next watering hole,” they’d tell them, knowing they would never make it.

The sickening sound of the beasts feeding continued. He didn’t like it. He could go down there and kill those things, but what would be the point? The people were all dead. And killing them might not be so easy. They were not normal coyotes. He had heard the stories the Comanches told about the Kutseena, the Sly Ones—creatures that were like coyotes only they had devils inside them. He’d seen the way the one had tortured his victim by feigning that he was going to bite, then holding back, as if enjoying the man’s fear. He was pretty sure these were the Sly Ones. His Colt 1855 Revolver rifle was loaded with 12 silver bullets. He had a six gun and two extra pre-loaded cylinders for the carbine clipped to his gun belt. But there were at least a dozen of them and if they decided to attack, he wasn’t sure he could get them all before they got to him. And anyway, why should he go down there just to rid the world of these monsters? He was a bounty hunter and there was no bounty on the Sly Ones.

There were many things wandering in the Western night that needed killing– things that most people had no comprehension of. He had killed his fair share of them, but he’d always been paid for his work. He’d never considered himself to be on a mission to eradicate evil. He’d kill if there was money to be made. There was no profit in going down there. And besides he was on his way back to New Mexico. He didn’t have time for distractions. He was riding back to the ruins of Rio Muerto. He’d try to pick up Taos and Marie’s trail there. He had unfinished business. Then he heard a sound that changed everything.

It was a faint cry, and some sniffling, then more crying. There was a little girl, alive in the wagon. He peered up over the rim of the hill and saw that the kutseena had heard the child’s cry too. Three of them were crouched below the wagon growling. Slate’s eyes narrowed and a faint smile twisted his lips.

“All right, you sons of bitches,” he said. “This one’s on the house.”

(C) Copyright John M. Whalen 2015.

If you liked what you just read and haven’t picked up either of the two volumes in the Mordecai Slate Series, why not give them a try? Click on the two titles in the intro above to go to the page to place your order. 

Steampunk, voodoo, science fiction, horror/western. All these genres are included in Hunting Monsters final front“Hunting Monsters Is My Business.” One reviewer called  the book an omnibus– a collection of some previously published stories and the first publication of the novella that bears the book’s name. That’s good as far as it goes. But if your looking for some kind of consistency, or a thematic thread in the book, you could say that these stories are the sort of thing you might have found at your corner news stand back in the 1930s-40s– the golden age of the pulp magazines.

The difference is these stories weren’t written 70 years ago. They were written in the last few years and aren’t true pulp magazine tales, but something I call stories from the “Neo-Pulp Electronic Revolution.” I’ve coined that term to include the kind of writing being done by modern-day pulpsters, most of whom started writing for free ezines on the internet, and have since gone on to independent and small press publishing. This kind of story provides the kind of thrills and excitement you used to get in the pulps combined with the more modern sensitivities and writing styles of today.

Just as you would have found tales of voodoo, racked on the stand alongside a western, a science fiction mag shelved next to a horror magazine, or a Jules Verne-type of adventure story (that nowadays we like to call Steampunk), rubbing elbows with a magazine dedicated to Jungle fiction, so “Hunting Monsters Is My Business,” tries to present a bit of each of several genres, with bounty hunter Mordecai Slate at the center of them. Somehow, he seems to fit in all of them.

When people ask me what kind of hero Mordecai Slate is I tell them he isn’t really a hero at all. If anything he’s a low-down, genre-crossing anti-hero who is probably more evil than the monsters he hunts. He only looks like a hero because the things he hunts are so much worse. But then maybe I’m being too harsh. I’ll let the readers decide that.

So far the book is being very well received. Thanks to all the readers who seem to be enjoying the collection. At least I hope you’re enjoying it. So far there have been no customer reviews added to the the book’s Amazon page. There have been some very good editorial reviews from,, Billcriderspopculture magazine and Ed Gorman’s blog. But it probably doesn’t hurt to have a few positive reviews from satisfied customers to help potential readers decide in favor of trying the book out. If you’re one of them, how about writing a few lines. It’s easy enough to do. Just click on here.

That’s it for now– the latest news from your humble neo-pulpster.







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