I just read a Tweet by a writer whose profile includes the fact that one of his stories was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. The Pushcart is an award given to small press publishers every year for stories deemed to have some literary merit. And it pushcartreminded me that I had a story nominated for a Pushcart once, and  being the shy modest guy I am I never mentioned it to anyone. But that was then and this is now. Now I realize in this day of total self promotion you cannot pass up any opportunity to let the world know everything about you that’s worth knowing. And so here’s the tale of the story that was nominated for a Pushcart but didn’t win.

It was 2013 and Miles Boothe, editor/publisher of Emby Press nominated my short story, “The Shape of a Cage” for one of those Pushcarts. “Cage” is the story of monster hunter Mordecai Slate’s battle to retain his identity after he’s bitten by a werewolf, and for a while, turned into something halfway between human and wolf. It’s also the story about cages. Slate finds himself trapped  in a cage in a traveling carnival. The surface level of the story focuses on how he can escape his imprisonment and get rid of the half of him that’s a wolf.

UEG-lite-207x300Through other characters, however, he learns there are all kinds of cages people can find themselves trapped in. Slate gets help from an Apache medicine man and a girl who does a mermaid act in the carnival. The girl claims she once swam with mermaids in the sea but is now trapped on dry land by the owner of the carnival. An Apache medicine man is trapped by the government on a barren reservation from which there is no escape. The two of them, separately, try to help Slate escape from the cage that his own body has become.

The story first appeared in Emby Press’s Use Enough Gun, Legends of the Monster Hunter III. It’s a Jim Dandy collection of stories about monster hunters in different eras and locales that includes stories by Joshua Reynolds, Rob Pegler, Hunting Monsters final frontMarc Sorondo and about nineteen others. It’s also now included in Flying W Press’s Hunting Monsters Is My Business, which is a complete collection of the Mordecai Slate tales written so far.

You may think it’s a little late to be mentioning this now, and kind of pointless, especially since I didn’t get an award. But I just want to say it is really encouraging to a writer when someone recognizes the value of what you’re writing, that what you are trying to do is more than just produce slice and dice horror/action fiction. When that someone is your editor it means a lot. So, even though there was no prize, I just want to say thanks to Miles for nominating it. As they say, winning isn’t everything. But from now on, don’t forget, folks, “Here he is, Pushcart-nominated author, John M. Whalen! Let’s hear it for him!”

 

 

ghost papers“Shiver When the Cold Wind Blows,” a short story, will be included in the new anthology “The Ghost Papers” announced Feb. 15 by Emby Press. This is an eerie tale based on an urban legend about the ghosts of school children killed in a school bus accident. Not like anything I’ve done before. There are 20 other fine stories by some talented writers included in the book as well.

It occurs to me that this story is probably the only story I’ve written that takes place in contemporary times. All of my other published work is set either in the past (the Old West of Mordecai Slate set 100-150 years ago), the ancient prehistoric past (the Tragon and Yusef stories), or hundreds of years in the future (Jack Brand and the This Raygun for Hire series).

It’s kind of weird that I don’t think of myself as a speculative fiction writer. Using the usual definitions I guess that’s where I belong. But definitions are just a way of pigeonholing writers, or any other practitioner of the creative arts. Don’t let the labels fool you. Writers write about life and people. That’s the basic raw material in any story, regardless of genre. The setting, the genre, the background are just props for getting at what the writer wants to say.

But it felt good to write a story about these times and people today. Hope I can write more stories like “Shiver When the Cold Wind Blows.” Watch for it later this Spring. 

Just took a look at some trailers for upcoming movies. Gaagghhh!

MAN FROM UNCLE looks pathetic. This makes Army Hammer’s performance in LONE RANGER look like Shakespeare.

BIG GAME with Sam Jackson as a tough version of Obama. Probably a twist on MOST DANGEROUS GAME.

HIT MAN: AGENT 47– comic book stuff. I couldn’t watch any more of the trailers.

Hopalong Cassidy Mural in Cambridge, Ohio

Hopalong Cassidy Mural in Cambridge, Ohio

I’ll stick with GET TV and Me TV and COZI. This am COZI showed SECRETS OF THE WASTELAND– a Hopalong Cassidy flick that (the secret revealed here for the first time) was partly the inspiration for the Jack Brand story called “The Secret Treasure of Dar-Zul.” In Hoppy’s movie Chinese archeologists exccavating Indian cliff dwellings in Arizona need his help. Pretty cool story. Great location photography.

They just opened another new multiplex theater near my house and I was looking forward to spending afternoons watching movies there. But so far, there’s nothing that justifies the cost of a ticket. Not when I know they’ll be on BLURAY in a few months or premium cable.  The home theater experience is generally better anyway.

By the way the picture above was taken in Cambridge, Ohio where they celebrate William Boyd’s birthday every year. It’s a gigantic mural on the side of a four story building. The Hoppy Reunion I attended in 2009 was fun. I met Ed Byrnes (Cookie, Lend Me Your Comb) from 77 Sunset Strip; Martin Cove (Sweep the leg) from Karate Kid. Bo Hopkins from The Wild Bunch (I’ll hold em till hell freezes over or you say different.) Surprised to find jazz pianist Monte Alexander in attendance. He’s a huge fan of westerns and a pretty good piano player too.

Now if they would hold a Hoppy festival at that multiplex I might buy a ticket.

There’s a terrific new review of HUNTING MONSTERS IS MY BUSINESS today in Amazing Stories Magazine.

Hunting Monsters final frontAmazing Stories Reviewer Ricky L. Brown makes some insightful observations, including one on the enigmatic nature of the Mordecai Slate character.

“For young future writers who think a defined character backstory is essential to character development,” he says, “they will discover otherwise by reading Hunting Monsters. This is a perfect example of how creative storytelling can establish character while leaving a bit of mystery untold.”

There’s lot’s more in the review, but why not read it for yourself.

 

There has been a novel, eight short stories (some of them long enough to be called novelettes) and a novella featuring monster hunter Mordecai Slate. Throughout the series Slate’s primary motivation for hunting down and killing the creatures that lurk in the night and haunt our nightmares has been the bounty money that someone is usually willing to pay to get rid of them. If there is more to it than that, Slate has never been willing to reveal it. He’s pretty tight lipped about his past. One thing we know he is not principally motivated by hate or revenge.

Hunting Monsters final frontIn HUNTING MONSTERS IS MY BUSINESS, The Mordecai Slate Stories, some insight may be found by looking at Slate through the eyes of another character. In this story, the wife of an old friend of Slate’s has called on him for help, after her husband suddenly disappeared. Her call comes at a time when Slate is, perhaps for the first time in his life, psychologically vulnerable, due to certain incidents that occurred in VAMPIRE SIEGE AT RIO MUERTO.

After serving Slate a home cooked meal, Libby Carlson asks Slate if he knows why he’s chosen his particular profession. Slate jokes that it’s a dirty job but–

“You don’t know why you risk your life tracking down and killing things that would freeze the hearts of most men, do you?” Libby Carlson said. She shook her head and smiled. “You may not know the reason, but I do. It came to me one night talking to Tom. He was telling me the story of how the two of you were tracking down some god awful-sounding creature up in Oregon. Something half-human, half bear-like.. It was terrorizing a small village of settlers. A widow hired the two of you to hunt it down.”

“I remember,” Slate said. “Tom saved my life that day.”

“He told me about that. But what stuck with me was the way he described the look on the widow’s face when you brought the carcass into the settlement. He said it was a look that said, bad as everything is in this dark world, there is still some justice in it. There are still some people who make justice happen. I could tell from the way he talked about it, what that meant to him. That was the reason he did what he did, even if he didn’t know it. To see that look.” Her eyes glistened. “I reckon it’s the same with you, even if you don’t know it.”

“HUNTING MONSTERS IS MY BUSINESS” is available from Flying W Press through Amazon.com. Click here to get your copy in Kindle or paperback.

Today I’m happy to be part of a blogathon sponsored by FiftyWesterns.com celebrating the birth of one of America’s greatest western actors, Randolph Scott. Over the next few days (Jan. 23-Jan. 25, each of the blogs will focus on one of Scott’s films. You can read the other blogs at this link. My blog today discusses what I consider to be Scott’s greatest film, and perhaps one of the greatest westerns ever made: “Comanche Station.”

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A man on horseback leads a pack mule through mountainous terrain and has a rendezvous with a party of Comanches, seemingly to do some trading. The man unfolds a blanket with some goods wrapped in it. When he throws a Springfield rifle into the pile, the Comanche chief offer a horse in exchange, but the man refuses. Through sign language he indicates what he really is looking for. The Comanche brings out a white woman they’ve been holding prisoner and the deal is settled.

The man, Jefferson Cody (Randolph Scott), puts the woman (Nancy Gates) on the pack mule and tells her to ride away with him before they change their minds. In the next scene the woman tells Cody her name is Nancy Lowe and she asks how he knew where to find her. He didn’t know, he says. He’d heard the Comanches had a white woman prisoner and he went on his own to find out about it. She asks why, and all he says is that it seemed like a good idea. He tells her he’ll take her home to her husband in Lordsburg.  At this point “Comanche Station” (1960) seems like a standard western adventure about a man rescuing a woman from Indians. But as we’ll soon learn there’s nothing standard about this film, or it’s central character.

The ‘Ranown’ Cycle

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“Comanche Station” is the last of five films Randolph Scott and director Budd Boetticher made at Columbia for producer Joe Brown. “Comanche Station”, “Ride Lonesome,” (1959) and “The Tall T” (1957) were the best of what has become known as “The Ranown Cycle, and all three were scripted by Burt Kennedy. All three re-use story elements and even bits of dialog from each other, and from the first film that Scott and Boetticher and Kennedy worked on together, “Seven Men From Now” (1956).

All of these films tell the story of a man alone, a man with a painful past, usually a past that involves the loss of someone that he loved, and whose loss he feels he could have prevented and now feels responsible for. By the time they made “Comanche Station” these ideas had been refined and polished to the point where all the parts come together seamlessly to create nothing less than a western masterpiece.

As in “Ride Lonesome,” and “Seven Men from Now,” Boetticher and Kennedy keep the viewer guessing at first about what is really going on and what is actually motivating the hero. After the rescue scene, Cody and Mrs. Lowe camp for the night and she asks him if he had a wife would it matter to him if she’d been captured by Indians. “Not if I loved her,” Cody says. It’s a key line of dialogue that hints at the kind of man Cody is and why he rescued her in the first place.

The Turning Point

After the campfire scene, Boetticher’s cinematographer Charles Lawton dazzles us with a gorgeous daylight shot of Cody and Mrs. Lowe riding on a desert landscape with the beautiful, snow-capped Sierra Nevada Mountains pf Lone Pine, California, in the background. They ride past the camera, and Scott, looking into the distance ahead says, “Comanche Station.” Somehow those words seem to signal that we’ve reached a turning point and that we’re about to leave the familiar world behind and enter into the realm of something mythic and heroic.

It is here at the station that the story quickly changes. Three men ride in hell-bent for leather, chased by a Comanche war party. After a quick skirmish in which Cody and the three men fight the Indians off, Cody gets a closer look at one of the men and it’s obvious they know each other and aren’t happy about running into each other again. The men are Ben Lane (Claude Akins), Frank (Skip Homeier) and Dobie (Richard Rust). We learn later that Lane and Cody had trouble in the past that resulted in a court martial for Lane. Now Cody thinks he and his partners are running from the Indians because they’re scalphunters.

But a more serious complication arrives when Lane reveals that Mrs. Lane’s husband is offering $5,000 for her return. “Might have known you’d beat me to it, Cody,” Lane says. His words shock Nancy Lowe who suddenly thinks Cody lied about why he’d rescued her. “You’re one of those Comancheros,” she says. She tells him she’d rather take the stage to Lordsburg when it arrives rather than ride with him. “I’ll be sure my husband pays you your bounty money,” she tells him.

comanche 5

The conflict deepens when Ben threatens to take the woman from Cody and collect the reward himself. A showdown is imminent but when the station manager arrives nearly dead and tells them the Comanches are closing in, Cody and Lane and his two sidekicks decide for now it would be safer for all of them to make the journey to Lordsburg together.

Focus Is On Relationships of the Characters

Tensions build along the way, when Lane tells Dobie that the only way they can get the $5,000 reward is to kill Cody. But if they do that they’ll have to kill the woman too, otherwise she’d be a witness to murder. Mrs. Lowe’s husband made a mistake, Ben says,  offering $5,000 for her return dead or alive.

There are only five characters in this film, but nevertheless, it’s a complex story. And the main reason for the complexity is because this film, like the other Boetticher-Scott-Kennedy films, focuses on the interrelations between the characters. In all the films it’s the relationships that matter the most. It’s how the characters feel about each other and, perhaps more importantly, what they they think of themselves that is always the main subtext of the story.

Mrs. Lowe worries how her husband will feel about her when she gets home, and is encouraged when Cody tells her it wouldn’t matter if he loved her. She sees Cody as a hero, her savior until she learns there’s a bounty on her. She suspects Cody of ulterior motives and her opinion of him changes.

Claude_Akins_and_Randolph_Scott_in_Comanche_Station

When Cody first sees Lane he thinks he’s a scalphunter. Later he learns he isn’t and when the chance arises, Ben actually saves Cody from being killed by a Comanche. When Cody asks why, he says, “I couldn’t enjoy that $5,000 if I did you that way.” Like Cody, Lane has certain lines he won’t cross. Both men begin to have a begrudging respect for one another, which strangely deepens as the story moves forward. In a way the two men are mirrors of each other.

Dobie on the other hand looks up to Lane as a father figure, but when he  learns what Lane plans to do to Cody and the woman he decides he can no longer ride with him. In all these scenes we see the characters all evaluating each other, with their relationships changing the more they learn about each other.

The need for each of them to maintain a sense of pride is another important element. In one key scene between Frank and Dobie, Dobie talks about his father and he tells Frank: “Pa always believed it was important to amount to something.” That’s important to Dobie who has to admit it was funny that his pa never amounted to anything.

A Man Must Have Stature.

These ideas echo through almost all of Budd Boetticher’s work. Going back to “The Bullfighter and the Lady,” (1951) perhaps the best movie about bullfighting ever made, Boetticher, who was an afficianado and amateur toreador himself, has Gilbert Roland explain to Robert Stack how important it is that a man have “stature,” if he is to consider himself a man.

 

comanche 4

Of the five people in “Comanche Station” Jefferson Cody is the only one with any real stature. Despite Mrs. Lowe’s misgivings, despite Ben Lane’s taunts, Cody never bothers to explain himself. He knows who he is and obviously feels no need to provide explanations to others. It isn’t until 52 minutes into this 73-minute movie that we finally learn what motivates Cody. Dobie tells Mrs. Lowe Cody’s story and it’s not what she, or we, thought at all.

Only Randolph Scott, at age 62 when this film was released, could have played Cody. The deep lines in his weathered face, the tall, thin ,still hard-looking body, his erect posture and dignified bearing perfectly embodied the character in the story. His every word, his every gesture are just right. He’s the embodiment of Boetticher’s Man of Stature, and gives a performance that may be the best in his long career. Indeed, he would make only one more film after this, Sam Peckinpah’s classic “Ride the High Country” (1962), in which he plays a man who temporarily loses his stature but in the end gains it back.

r-scott-blogathon-badge2In case you haven’t seen “Comanche Station” I won’t tell you how it all comes out. To paraphrase a line that Cody uses in the film, let’s just say Boetticher, Scott, and Kennedy had a way with a story. To my mind, despite its low budget, its cast of mostly B-movie character actors, it’s arguably one of the greatest westerns ever made. Boetticher’s direction is masterful and Scott’s presence is surely as majestic as the Lone Pine  locations where it was filmed. If you’ve never seen it, grab the next opportunity it comes your way. You won’t be sorry.

Footnote

I was so impressed with this film that I used the basic plot as the first chapter for my spacewestern novel “Jack Brand.” The book is currently out of print but still available on Amazon from used book dealers. Some day soon, I’m going to republish it myself.

 

 

 

Some writers complain they can’t even give books away. I can’t make that complaint. The response to the Samurai Blade free Kindle offer has been spectacular. It is very encouraging to learn that there are so many people who somehow found out about the offer and were interested enough to pick one up. The book has been #1 in the Western Horror Free Kindle list and is currently #13 in literature and fiction. The ranking in literature is really a surprise since there is so much competition in that category.

I’m sure there were some who did it out of curiosity and others who will grab a free book no matter what it is. But I have to think there are those who might have heard of the Mordecai Slate stories (and in particular “Hunting Monsters Is My Business” the collection Samura Blade was taken from) and have been wondering if it was worth reading. Whatever the reason, thanks for taking the time to check it out. If you like this little sample I hope you’ll get “”Hunting Monsters is My Business.”  It’s got a lot more thrills, chills and human drama of a kind you haven’t read in this kind of fiction before.

If you haven’t picked up your copy yet, the free offer expires at midnight tonight, so you still have a chance to get it.

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Sales of “Hunting Monsters is My Business” and “Vampire Siege at Rio Muerto” have been very good. Better than I expected. But there are still plenty of you readers out there who haven’t decided whether you should spend your money on it. So to help you decide whether you’d like it or not, I’m going to give away free copies of the stand alone Kindle version of “Samurai Blade,” one of the stories in the “Hunting Monsters Is My Business” collection.

This story was initially issued as a single a couple of years ago for .99 cents. It concerns Monster Hunter Mordecai Slate’s journey to Dodge City, Kansas, at the request of the mother of young trooper from Ft. Dodge, who was killed in a rather bizarre barroom incident involving a samurai sword.

One of the characters in the story is Sheriff Bill Tilghman, and the other is something not of this world that is somehow connected to the mysterious katana that decorates the wall of the Blue Canary saloon.

It’s a good representative of the kind of stories you’ll find in “Hunting Monsters Is My Business.” The story will be free for three days, beginning Jan. 19.

 

 

Hunting Monsters final front

I’m a couple of days late, but better late than never. Jan. 9 marked what would have been actor Lee Van Cleef’s 90th birthday. Van Cleef, as many readers and reviewers have pointed out bears a striking resemblance to the man pictured in the book cover above. It’s no coincidence.

When I first began writing the Mordecai Slate stories for Miles Boothe’s Legends of the Monster Hunter series, I started out knowing I wanted a protagonist who could be called neither good nor bad. He’d be a bounty hunter but one who happened to specialize in outlaws of the supernatural variety. He had to appear rough enough to handle the kinds of evil he’d be up against, but also smart and clever enough to be able to think his way through situations, keeping his mind focused on what was most important to him– the bounty money being offered.

return-of-sabata

As soon as I began “The Last Payday of the Killibrew Mine,” the first of his adventures, when Slate rides into the Alaskan town of Beaver Junction, I saw Lee Van Cleef’s gaunt and wolfish figure sitting on a buckskin horse. I knew he was Mordecai Slate. He’s been the inspiration for the character ever since.

The practice of using western film heroes as inspiration for new fiction is nothing new, especially in Europe. When I was in Germany about 10 years ago, I was amazed at all the western pulp magazines available on racks in stores and on the streets that had newly drawn pictures of Clint Eastwood, Jason Robards Jr., Jack Elam and other stars of mostly Italian westerns on their covers. For a time westerns were more popular in Europe than they are in the U.S. Maybe they still are.

I gave cover artist Laura Givens pictures of Van Cleef to use as a starting point for the character’s appearance and she came up with an excellent rendition, that also somehow suggests the features of another western character from the past, Richard Boone as Paladin, from Have Gun Will Travel.

So, while it’s a little late, I want to wish Lee Van Cleef, wherever he is, a belated happy birthday. Let me celebrate the occasion by raising a glass of tequila and quoting these words from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

“But you know the pity is when I’m paid, I always follow my job through. You know that.”

 

Hunting Monsters final front

 

It’s very interesting to watch the hourly sales reports Amazon provides for self-published e-books. It’s in the form of a graph. Red lines indicate regular sales, blue lines indicate Kindle Unlimited sales. The KU program allows readers to buy all the books they want if they’re willing to pay a monthly fee. I was skeptical about the KU program at first but I can see benefits to it now. For one things its putting more books into readers hands. From what I’ve observed, the hitch is that the initial sale doesn’t register in the book’s sales ranking. And apparently there are no royalties paid initially either. The KU reader must read 10 percent of the book before it affects ranking or accrues royalties.

I had misgivings about that 10 percent qualification under Kindle Unlimited. I thought perhaps readers might just download the book and forget about them. Worse case would be if they read only a few pages and didn’t go any farther, indicating they don’t like it. But it appears so far that once someone starts reading the Mordecai Slate stories, they keep on reading, hopefully all the way to the end. 

To illustrate how it works, for example, there were some KU sales of Vampire Siege at Rio Muerto over the last few days. They showed as Blue lines on the graph. There was no change in the sales ranking, and no royalty paid. Today those blue lines turned red and the book shot up from # 44 to # 9 in Amazon’s Top 100 Best Selling Kindles in the Horror Western category and royalties were posted. The readers of those books evidently reached the 10 percent mark. Similarly there are a bunch of blue lines for Hunting Monsters Is My Business. I expect those will turn red and the ranking will go up as well when those readers reach the 10 percent mark. The book is currently # 25 in the top 100 Best Horror/Western e-books.

One thing that keeps a book on the top selling list is word of mouth. Satisfied readers tell others to read the book. If you’ve read Hunting Monsters Is My Business, one of the best ways to get the word out is to post a review on Amazon. That really helps potential readers decide if they want to read it or not. If you feel so inclined, I encourage you to do so.

And if there are other indie authors out there publishing through Kindle Direct I’d like to hear what you’re experience has been. Drop a line here or on facebook.

 

 

 

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