Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Nugget #141 -- Ignorance Ain't Always Bliss

The standards and truths of the time must influence your 
stories if you choose to set them there. You ignore them 
at your peril as a writer, and you risk missing out on the
really important stories that might be waiting to come out. 

Monday, July 16, 2018

#MotivationalMonday -- Caring About Words

Saturday, July 14, 2018

More Summer Shorts -- Tales from a Goth Librarian

Tales From A Goth Librarian
By Kimberly Richardson

Take a fascinating and disturbing walk through this collection of stories the darker side of the Gothic/Steampunk point of view as written by a Goth librarian.

Kimberly Richardson guides you through modern situations and intrigues from a darkly poignant point of view. Her characters will take you back to the Victorian mindset as they deal with desperation, obsession, and despair. In this anthology, Kimberly embraces the Gothic/Steampunk style and adds her unique voice to the genre.

  • Madison de Macabre - Dance if you must.
  • Non Compos Mentis - Can the long needles make you better?
  • Silk - Skin so silky smooth.
  • Dream Guardian - Dreaming in vivid colours and sounds.
  • Multicoloured Souls - You never know who you might meet.
  • Peau - Just what is a book?
  • Sulfur - A tale of elves, demons, centuars, and magic.
  • Purple and Black - Beware the price of a muse.
  • Cover Her with Violets - Every family has dark secrets.
  • Goth Poetry - A unique view into dark thoughts.

Friday, July 13, 2018



Airship 27 Productions is proud to present author Thomas McNulty’s newest full-length novel, “The Adventures of Captain Graves.”

Of all the colorful men who sailed the exotic waters of the South Pacific, none was more legendary Captain Elliot Graves. Rogue, pirate, spy, explorer were all titles used in telling of his adventures aboard his ship, The Reaper’s Scythe. Then in 1944, Captain Graves disappeared without a trace, his ship supposedly sinking off the coast of Australia with all hands lost.

Eight years later, reporter Bill Harrison finds him living in Honolulu and manages to persuade Graves to recount the events of his last and greatest adventure. Now for the first time, the legendary sea captain will reveal what actually happened on a remote South Sea island that changed his life forever.

“I first met Thomas McNulty at the Windy City Pulp show years ago,” reports Airship 27 Productions Managing Editor Ron Fortier. “At that time he was selling his comprehensive biography of Hollywood swashbuckler, Errol Flynn. We became friends and I later learned he is one of the premier western writers in the country today.”

Though successful at writing westerns, McNulty had always wanted to pen an old fashion pulper inspired by the man whose life he had chronicled, Errol Flynn. From that inspiration was born “The Adventures of Captain Graves.” He approached Fortier with the idea and soon the book was in full production.

Now Thomas McNulty spins a fast-paced tale of two-fisted men, beautiful women and lush island paradises where both heaven and hell await. Canadian Ted Hammond provides the gorgeous cover and Ed Catto, a well-known marketing personality, donned his own artist cap to do nine black and white interior pieces, all of which was assembled by award-winning Art Direct Rob Davis.

“The Adventures of Captain Graves” is a classic pulp adventure delivered by a master storyteller.


Now available in paperback and on Kindle from Amazon.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Laughing Between the Gunshots: The Use of Humor in Action Fiction

by Fred Adams, Jr.

In a scene from one of my favorite movies, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, we find Butch and Sundance trapped on a ledge over an impossibly deep gorge with a boiling river below them. Above them, the super posse that has been relentlessly chasing them and now has them cornered. Their death seems imminent.

Sundance, true to his character, wants only as he puts it, "one clear shot." Butch, the thinker says, "We'll jump." Sundance argues with him and finally reveals the reason he doesn't want to jump: he can't swim.

Butch breaks up in guffaws of laughter and says, "Are you crazy? The fall will probably kill you."

The buildup to the scene on the ledge is one that ratchets up the tension in the viewer as we are shown the super posse hired by the railroad to take out Butch and his gang. We see all of Butch and Sundance's crew gunned down, leaving only the two of them, the best in the business, to be hounded and pursued nonstop by the posse. Their old tricks are of no use, and they find themselves cornered on the ledge, faced with Charybdis and Scylla, the archetypal dilemma of Odysseus.

The tension is fierce. It's a nail-biter; we are about to see two loveable rogues killed in cold blood by the machine-like hired guns. Then Butch says, "We'll jump."

The element of surprise kicks in here and the absurdity of leaping to certain death to avoid being killed by gunfire. But it perpetuates the outlaw ethic: they'll never take me alive.

Sundance's argument presents absurd humor, the absurdity of them arguing with each other in the face of death. Then Sundance, embarrassed, reveals that he can't swim. Can't swim? This tough, resourceful, capable hombre can't swim? Here the element of surprise takes over, for both Butch and the audience.

Butch stares, incredulous, at Sundance for a beat or two, completely forgetting about the peril they're in and breaks out in guffaws of laughter. Then he says, "Are you crazy? The fall will probably kill you."

They jump, and the tension level jumps with them as they plummet into the river and is relieved when we see them bobbing in the rocky white water below.

A fundamental narrative technique: tension and release through comic relief.

Let's talk about what I like to call the Thumbscrew Principle of narrative tension.

Everybody familiar with the thumbscrew? Just in case you aren't, it is a medieval torture device that holds a person's thumb inside a casing and a screw is threaded through the outside so that tightening the screw puts excruciating pressure on the thumb. More tension, more discomfort. The torturer must, however, be careful to not put too much pressure on the thumb for too long a time, lest the thumb become numb and the torture become ineffective. So, the standard practice was to periodically loosen the screw, let the blood flow and allow feeling to return to the thumb, then tighten the screw again for even greater discomfort.

There is an analogy to be drawn between the thumbscrew and narrative tension in fiction.

thumbscrew : thumb = narrative tension : reader

Discomfort is the singular similarity between otherwise dissimilar items in the analogy. Let's talk about narrative tension and how the use of comic relief can maximize
its potential.

Narrative tension, simply put, is the degree to which the reader invests emotion in the outcome of specific conflict in a story. Opposing forces, generalized for this discussion as antagonist and protagonist, work against each other, like hands pulling a spring in opposing directions. The further the spring is pulled the greater the tension. The continuous action in the plot ramps up the tension as the story moves toward its climax, which constitutes a release of that tension. Back to the spring pulled taut by opposing sides: One side lets go of the spring, and its returns to rest, zero tension.

That tension caused by opposing forces is a cause for discomfort in the reader, who reads on, seeking relief from it.

The more intense and sustained the conflict, the more pronounced the narrative tension. It is essential to good fiction, but as with all things, too much narrative tension can work against you.

One of my friends says that she couldn't stand to watch the television series 24 which pits the protagonist, agent Jack Bauer against terrorists and their ilk within a real-time 24-hour span divided into episodes. Her reason: the action and the resultant tension were unrelenting and overwhelming, from the start of any given episode to its cliffhanger ending. There was no release of the narrative tension until the season's final episode. The sustained tension wore her out emotionally.

The same thing can happen in novel length fiction if the author is not careful. We can overload the reader with tension and emotionally exhaust him or her.

Novels usually follow a series of ascending and descending action, peaks and valleys, if you will. The sustained action of most novel plots allows for periods of lower tension as the activity shifts back and forth from fighting the bad guys to doing something less stressful.

The private eye may spend an evening out with his girlfriend, or go back to his apartment for a glass of scotch on the rocks while he puts some good jazz on his vintage turntable. He unwinds a little and so does the reader so that the next time the action ramps up the tension, the reader has the emotional energy to handle it.

A good example is the late Robert B. Parker's character Spenser. After a hard day of gumshoeing, he goes to his apartment and cooks a tasty meal (described in detail) for himself and often for his sweetheart Susan Silverman, or he meets his partner, Hawk, at the gym for a hard workout. This gives his head a rest, and ours too for what's to come.

Sometimes, intense subclimaxes push the tension level almost to the breaking point, then let off just enough to give the reader some emotional slack. An example: Now You See Her, one of G. Michael Ledwidge and the ubiquitous James Patterson's collaborative novels; employs one sharp subclimax after another to the point that the reader is exhausted by the main climax of the novel. But each subclimax lets the reader relax just a little bit.

A different approach is to allow relief from the narrative tension through the introduction of humor. In the face of death or other peril, a good laugh breaks the tension and pushes an emotional reset button for the reader.

I would point out that not all writers of action fiction use humor as a release valve. Andrew Vachss' Burke, Lee Child's Jack Reacher, and my supernatural sleuth C.O. Jones aren't much for jokes or humor, but many contemporary writers do embrace humor as a stylistic choice.

One definition of humor calls it "a literary tool that makes audiences laugh, or that intends to induce amusement or laughter. Its purpose is to break the monotony, boredom, and tedium . . ."

Wait a minute.

This is action fiction we're talking about; hard-assed private eyes, gunslinging cowboys, pirates, secret agents, treasure hunters, and other two-fisted action types. There should be no tedium.

Ah, but the definition continues: "and make the audience's nerves relax." The emotional reset button.

Psychologists separate humor into four basic categories: Affiliative Humor, Aggressive Humor, Self-enhancing Humor, and Self-defeating or Self-deprecating Humor.

Literary theorists divide it into four basic categories as well: surprise, incongruity, absurdity, and irony.

In Robert B. Parker's Spenser novel Sixkill, Spenser, Hawk and their new protege Zebulon Sixkill visit Henry Cimoli, owner of the gym where they train. They arrive to find three thugs roughing up the little old man. Cimoli sees them and says, "Spenser, meet my new friends; Moe, Larry, and Fuckface." In the middle of a severe beating, Cimoli's wisecrack catches the reader totally off guard (the element of surprise and incongruity) and uses the aggression model of humor. After all, Freud says all humor is aggression, right?

First, Henry demeans his tormentors by equating them with the Three Stooges, naming the first two Moe and Larry. Second, his epithet for the third brings surprise into play, since the reader is expecting the third man to be called Curly. Third, the incongruity of wisecracking in the face of a beating is totally unexpected.

Parker doubles down by having Spenser reply, "Oh, Fuckface -- I've heard of you." The abrupt laugh, and the incongruity of humor in a violent scene relieve the tension, and hit the reset button before Sixkill demonstrates his prowess by viciously beating down Henry's assailants. Parker could have made the scene one of continuous violence, but the joke relaxes the tension a little before the real violence begins.

In my novel The Town Killers, my cowboys, Durken and McAfee are pursuing a gang of cannibal murderers. In the exchange that follows, McAfee has been shot, and Durken has just dispatched his assailant in a vicious hand-to-hand fight that ends when Durken shoves the head of an arrow through his opponent's throat:

Durken took his flask from his coat, uncapped it and took a drink, then he poured some whiskey down McAfee's throat. "If I'm not back in an hour or so, I'll likely see you in Hell."

McAfee looked up and said, "Speak for yourself."

This intentionally gives the reader a breather between one extremely violent episode and another to follow, which provides the climax of the novel.

I begin The Town Killers with an unsettling anecdote, a stranger who rides into a small town and murders the sheriff by hanging him upside down in a cell and cutting his throat, as he thinks, the better to bleed the meat. The next chapter rough-cuts to cowboys around a campfire where McAfee is trying to explain the working of the Solar System to an uneducated companion:

Smeck looked dubious. "So you're telling me that the world turns around once a day?"

"Yep. Just like the hour hand on a clock," Dinwiddee chimed in. "Ain't that right, McAfee?"

"Well, sort of, but the hour hand goes around two times every day."

"But what's that got to do with a e-clipse?"

"The moon goes around the earth, and once in a while, it gets between the Earth and the sun so the moon's shadow falls on part of the earth." He demonstrated with the chestnut and the potato. "And for a little while, it gets dark. Then since the moon keeps on going along its path, it moves from between the sun and the Eearth and the shadow goes away and we have regular daylight again."

"Hold on a minute," Smeck said. "You're telling me the world turns all day long, and we're riding on it like a pony on a carousel, how come it don't matter what time of day I walk out of the bunkhouse Vulture Peak's always right in front of me?"

McAfee rolled his eyes.

The second example is a longer passage, but the effect is the same; following a disturbingly violent scene, humor dispels the tension and the reader gets to relax for a few pages until the action ramps up the tension once again.

More often than not, the tension breaker is a clever bon mot, often a throwaway line from one character. I recently read Christopher Moore's Moore's pulp detective send-up Noir. Moore, whose novels include such wonderfully insouciant and irreverent books as, the vampire romance Love Bites and its sequel, Bite Me, Fluke, and The Island of the Sequined Love Nun employs one of the most bizarre sense of humor alive in today's fiction. In Noir, the narrator can't locate his girlfriend after a working weekend and is desperately worried for her safety. As he walks up to a friend on the sidewalk, his friend notices the look on his face and says, "Who shit in your tuba?" Apart from the utter absurdity of the premise, the line catches the reader off guard in an otherwise anxiety-filled moment.

I use this technique in the opening vignette of my second Six Gun Terrors novel, Fang and Claw. My cowboys, Durken and McAfee are chasing rustlers. They surprise the outlaws' camp and engage in a shootout. One of them gets away on a horse. The rustler, Bob, is a man whom both cowboys know. He served in the same infantry company with McAfee in the Civil War.

McAfee chases him, Bob fires at him and nicks McAfee's ear. McAfee runs him to ground, and Bob is surprised to recognize his pursuer.

"Clarence? Clarence McAfee? Is that you? Well, I'll be damned."

To which McAfee replies, "That's a foregone conclusion, Bob," before ultimately drawing on him and gunning him down.

Another facet of humor is irony, speech whose actual intent is expressed in words that carry the opposite meaning. Parker himself refers to Spenser as "self-amused." He is a wise guy who uses that humor to disarm tough and dangerous opponents, letting them know that they don't frighten him one bit. In a scene in Parker's novel Playmates, three mobsters come into Spenser's office to scare him away from investigating a college athlete who is shaving points.

They threaten him, and he has a desk drawer open with a pistol in it ready to hand. The reader doesn't know what will happen next, maybe a gunfight, or maybe he'll throw one of the intruders through a third floor window. Mobster Bobby Deegan tells him:

"It can go a couple of ways. One way is we give you a nice fee for deciding that Wayne isn't shaving anything but his gace. The college likes that, Coach likes that, we like it. Nobody doesn't like it." Deegan gave me a big grin.

"And the other way?"

"We put you in the ground," Deegan said. His voice was pleasant.

"Eek," I said.

"Sure, sure," Deehan said. "I know you're tough. We talked to a couple guys we know up here. But think about it. What's worth dying for here?" ...

"How much you willing to give me?" ! said.

Deegan glanced around my office again. "Two bills ," he said.

I shook my head.

"How much you want?" Deegan said.

"Two hundred thirty-eight billion ," I said.

Deegan was silent for a moment, then he grinned slowly.

"Well, like the old joke. we've established what you are, now we're just haggling over price."

"Be a long haggle," I said.

Deegan nodded . "Option two's looking better ," he said.

We sat for a moment quietly while Deegan lit another cigarette.

"So what are you going to do?" Deegan said.

"Hell, Bobby, . don't know. I was trying to figure that out when you came in and distracted me."

"I thought you was trying to get a look at some broad 's ass," Deegan said.

"That too," I said.

Deegan rose. "Okay, pal. You think about it some more, and I'll check back with you. Try not to be too fucking stupid"

"I been trying for years." I said. "Usually it doesn't work out."

Deegan laughed and walked to the door. He opened it and stopped and looked back at me.

"You know we mean it," he said.

"Sure," I said.

Deegan shrugged and started out.

"Leave the door open," I said. "I didn't hear her come back yet."

Spenser's ironic responses are his way of showing even the most dangerous people that he doesn't fear them. The narrative tension advances, but at a slower pace and dissipates with Spenser's throwaway line at the end, suggesting to the mobsters that he is more interested in the secretary down the hall than in their threats.

Occasionally, it is an unexpected action that surprises the other characters and the reader.

John Sanford's novel Escape Clause includes a scene in which investigator Virgil Flowers and fellow investigators Jenkins and Shrake are confronted by a half dozen members of the murderous Simonian family, a pack of burly thugs, who are grief stricken over the killing of their brother and are intent on revenge.

The oldest brother demands action. Virgil does what seems the best thing under the circumstances:

Virgil took out his ID case, pulled out several business cards, shuffled through them, found the one he wanted, handed one to the lead Simonian, and told him to call with questions... As they drove away from the medical examiner's office, Jenkins said to Virgil, "Better you than me...

They got nothing to contribute, but they're gonna call you every fifteen minutes."

"Don't think so," Virgil said.

"I got a hundred dollars that says they call you fifteen times a day. At least fifteen times a day."

"You're on," Virgil said.

Jenkins examined him for a moment then said, "You're too confident."

"Because I gave them one of Shrake's business cards." ...

Jenkins snorted and said to Virgil, "You're my new role model."

Shrake's phone rang and Jenkins started laughing.

The catch in that situation is the sly misdirecting language, misleading not only the detectives but the reader. Virgil tells Simonian to call with questions, but not specifically to call him. Then when Jenkins says, "They'll call you every fifteen minutes," Virgil says, "Don't think so," because he knows they'll be calling Shrake. The setup for the punch line is classic humor, and the extra laugh line when Shrake's phone rings doubles down on it.

In the same fashion, Parker uses the humor of action to open the release valve on narrative tension in a scene in his novel Stardust.

Spenser is visiting a crook named Rojack in his palatial mansion. Rojak is walking Spenser around, showing the place off when they come to the in-house gymnasium where Rojak's bodyguard Randall is working out. Rojak calls for a demonstration by Randall, who begins with a short gymnastic routine on the rings then does an elaborate martial arts kata including a vicious attack on the heavy punching bag, ending, as Spenser tells us:

For the coup de grace, he leaped into the air, scissor-kicked the bag with both feet and went into a backward somersault as he landed on his back, rolling to his feet in one continuous motion. ... Randall was so thrilled by his performance that his face was fluorescent with excitement.

Spenser delivers a characteristic wise crack: "Is he going to do anything else?" I said. "Juggle four steak knives while whistling 'Malaguena'? Something like that?" but the jape doesn't reduce the tension. Instead, it ramps it up further. Randall challenges Spenser to show what he can do on the heavy bag.

Regular readers of Parker know that Spenser is a former heavyweight pro boxer and have seen Spenser and Hawk work their magic in the gym. The glove is down, the testosterone is about to boil over.

I looked at Rojack.

"Be my guest," he said. I think the sound in his voice was mockery.

"Go ahead...big shot," Randall said.

I shrugged, reached under my left shoulder, pulled my gun and put a bullet into the middle of the body bag. The sound of the shot was shockingly loud in the silent gym. The body bag jumped. I put the gun back under my arm, smiled in a friendly way at Rojack and Randall, and walked out.

The narrative question: what will Spenser do? Since he is never one to back down in the face of tough and dangerous people, the reader wonders how Spenser will rise to the challenge.

The Result: Surprise to the max for the bad guys, and a good laugh for the reader.

The tension builds as the reader anticipates a bare knuckle brawl between Spenser and Randall, but Spenser handles the situation, as James Joyce puts it, "like a cleaver deals with meat," and the reset button is pressed. In the same vein as Indiana Jones shooting the Egyptian swordsman in the marketplace brawl, the tension is defused, and the reader begins another emotional climb.

The gunshot is a complete surprise to Rojack and Randall and to the reader.

Then the friendly smile dismisses the formidable threat of the bodyguard like swatting at an annoying insect. The laughter eases the tension for the reader.

Parker reminds the us of the incident later as Spenser tells Hawk, "Remember that big geek Randall, the one who thinks he's tougher than Oliver North? He knows karate." Hawk isn't impressed either. He replies, "Wow. That's good. Fun to watch," using the aggression model to further belittle the bodyguard.

In my novel Wired, '30s private eye Ike Mars and his fiancée Marge return to the fancy restaurant where their waiter had unwittingly tagged the couple as easy marks for a pair of unsuspecting muggers, both of whom end up out cold on the floor of a parking garage.

We marched back to the dining room and to our table, where our slimy waiter was pouring champagne for an older couple who looked like they'd be named van der Snoot in Bringing up Father.

The waiter blinked in surprise but quickly regained his composure. "Did you forget something, sir?"

"As a matter of fact, yes." I turned to Marge. "Shall I?"

She shook her head and said, "I'll take care of it." Then she socked the little rat in the chops, knocking him backward over the old folks' table, where he lay like a tuxedoed parody of the crucifixion.

The van der Snoots stared open mouthed. Marge shook out her aching hand and stuck it in their ice bucket. She smiled at them and said, "Sorry. Enjoy your dinner."

Another element of humor that defuses the tension of an ongoing situation is the recurring gag. In a series novel, the reader often enjoys a sense of anticipation, and inserting the running gag into the action provides the comic relief to ease the tension.

Harking back to Indiana Jones, the joke is "Snakes? Why are there always snakes?" in his getaway airplane. The resourceful, tough adventurer surprises us with an all too human phobia. The humorous incident reveals a chink in the hero's armor in a comic fashion, defusing the tension of pursuit by a tribe of hostile natives. Jones' herpetophobia is then wonderfully recalled in the plot when he is thrown into the Well of Souls, which is essentially one big snake pit, and this humorous quirk suddenly becomes deadly serious.

Janet Evanovich is an absolute master at the technique of the recurring joke. In her Stephanie Plum novels, one running gag of many is the female bounty hunter's bad luck with automobiles. Her cars break down at crucial moments, are stolen, torched, blown up; she wrecks them or someone else runs into them accidentally or intentionally, whether it's her car, or a loaner like Ranger's Porsche (which she drives through a store front in one novel).

Stephanie Plum is cursed when it comes to cars -- with one notable exception: her late Uncle Sandor's hideously ugly two-tone 1956 Buick (portholes and all) which seems impervious to the doom she brings to other vehicles.

Evanovich juxtaposes other running jokes novel to novel with mayhem and murder; the antics of Stephanie comic sidekick Lula, her mother's bourbon bottle stashed in a kitchen cabinet, the adventures of Grandma Masur, who's eighty going on sixteen, and regular trips to Cluck in a Bucket for sustenance. Evanovich weaves these familiar gags almost like touchstones through Stephanie's cases, putting belly laughs cheek by jowl with murder, assault, arson, kidnapping, and other deadly situations. The result is cozy mysteries with a distinct edge. I enjoy reading them.

I mentioned my Hitwolf novels earlier. In the second novel in the series, Hitwolf: the Pack, Maura Jameson, a female anthropologist and expert on lycanthropy has joined the team. On the eve of a potentially deadly operation, John Slate, the team leader initiates a serious discussion with her about her situation:

The morning was grey and cold, the grass white with frost. Maura was crouched by the fire stirring a pot of oatmeal when Slate came out of the shack. "We need to talk."

"Okay, just you and I, not the others?"

"For the moment. You've studied werewolves; so have I, but I've also read a lot about wolf behavior. You?"

"Not as much."

"I'll get to the point. What happens if you're fertile on a full moon and we sense it? Do we try to mate with you? And do we fight each other for the privilege?"

Maura stared at Slate, then chuckled, then laughed out loud, great cathartic guffaws that echoed through the trees and unraveled all the anxiety and tension that had built up over the past three days.

"What?" said Slate. "What's so funny?"

"Courting behavior. The thought of three werewolves lined up, one with a bouquet of roses, one with a heart shaped box of chocolates, and one with a bottle of champagne."

Then Slate laughed too.

"John, I don't think you have to worry on that score. I've been on the pill for years. I couldn't risk getting pregnant on a six-month trek into the jungle or the steppes. Romantic encounters aside, I could have been abducted by natives, raped by bandits—who knows what? There's no fertility to sense. Besides, if I'm using the farkas ostor, I think I can manage a horny werewolf."

Singer stepped out of the shack slapping his crossed arms over his chest. "What's so funny?"

Slate and Maura grinned at each other and Slate said, "You wouldn't believe me if I told you."

Singer warmed his hands over the fire. "So when do we leave for Fairfax?"

"It's two hundred miles, give or take. Maybe in an hour."

"I'll go shake the boys awake."

And the tension begins mounting anew as they go on their mission.

In the most recent adventure of the Hitwolf team, the fuzzy boys extract Charles Beaumont, a captured CIA agent from the clutches of the tinpot dictator of a banana republic. The werewolves have invaded an armed compound in the jungle, and in an orgy of bloody carnage, killed twenty or so people in the m ost vicious ways. One of the team has driven a truck through the front doors of the dictator's mansion. The agent runs into t he mansion's foyer to find his getaway vehicle is being driven by a werewolf who growls, "Get in."

Pursued by gunmen from behind, he gets in the truck, and as they drive across the compound before crashing through the gates, he sees two more werewolves jump into the back. As the truck bumps and jolts its way down a jungle road, Beaumont, whose mind is totally blown by this point, turns to the werewolf who is driving and says, "Uh, you guys are from the Company -- right?"

When you write thrillers, detective novels, adventure stories and other types of action fiction, remember the thumb screw principle: Letting off the tension for a little while makes it all the more effective the next time and the next time, and the next time.


NOTE: This article is based on a presentation Fred Adams, Jr., delivered on 24 June at the In Your Write Mind writer's conference at Seton Hill University.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Nugget #140 -- Sliding Back and Forth

For me, it gets down to character. The characters who 
occupy my stories are always on a sliding scale
—starting somewhere between pure good and
pure bad, and constantly sliding back and
forth toward one or the other.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

[Link] Leisure reading in the U.S. is at an all-time low

by Christopher Ingraham

The share of Americans who read for pleasure on a given day has fallen by more than 30 percent since 2004, according to the latest American Time Use Survey from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In 2004, roughly 28 percent of Americans age 15 and older read for pleasure on a given day. Last year, the figure was about 19 percent.

That steep drop means that aggregate reading time among Americans has fallen, from an average of 23 minutes per person per day in 2004 to 17 minutes per person per day in 2017.

Reading declines are higher among men. The share of men reading for pleasure on any given day fell from 25 percent in 2004 to 15 percent in 2017, a drop of nearly 40 percent. The decline among women was a more modest 29 percent, from 31 percent in 2003 to 22 percent in 2017.

The survey data shows declines in leisure reading across all age levels. Percentage-wise, the likelihood of reading declined the most among Americans ages 35 to 44, with smaller declines for both younger and older age groups.

The American Time Use Survey is based on a nationally representative sample of about 26,000 individuals. Respondents answer questions and fill out detailed time diaries about how they spent the previous day. The large sample size means the survey's time-use estimates are extremely precise relative to traditional phone surveys, which may involve only 1,000 people or fewer.

The findings on reading comport with some other recent data on American reading trends. Numbers from the National Endowment for the Arts show that the share of adults reading at least one novel, short story, poem or play in the prior year fell from 57 percent in 1982 to 43 percent in 2015.

Survey data from the Pew Research Center and Gallup have shown, meanwhile, that the share of adults not reading any book in a given year nearly tripled between 1978 and 2014.

It's tempting to blame the decline on the recent proliferation of computers, cell phones, video games and the like. But the data don't really bear that out. For one, the NEA data show that reading has been on the wane since at least the 1980s, well before the advent of Facebook and Fortnite.

A long-term study of reading trends in the Netherlands points to a different culprit: television. From 1955 to 1995, TV time exploded while weekly reading time declined. “Competition from television turned out to be the most evident cause of the decline in reading,” the authors of that study concluded.

In the United States, the American Time Use Survey shows that while the average reading time fell between 2004 and 2017, the average amount of time watching TV rose.

In 2017, the average American spent more than 2 hours 45 minutes per day watching TV, every day of the year, or nearly 10 times the amount of time they devoted to reading for pleasure.

Read the full article:

Sunday, July 8, 2018

More Summer Shorts: Realms of Imagination

Realms Of Imagination
Edited By Kimberly Richardson

Lose yourself in fourteen stories of urban fantasy where make-believe and myth collide with the modern world. The magical creatures of old didn't disappear. They now live hidden among us. All we have to do is pay attention to the signs and beware their mirth and mischief!

The Stories:

Clean Up In Aisle Seven by Lori Ratti
Black Mary by Allan Gilbreath
The White Rider by M. B. Weston
Favoritism of the Damned by Collie James
The Restless Dead by Gail Z. Martin
Voodoo Children by John G. Hartness
The Spelled Blade by D. B. Jackson
Cornelius Dex by Kimberly B. Richardson
Hall and Goats by John G. Hartness
A Twist of Fate by Missa Dixon
Stolen Thunder by H. David Blalock
Minnow Slough by Kay Woo
Footloose by John G. Hartness
My Ainsel by James Ferris

Saturday, July 7, 2018

[Link] Tabletops and Storytelling

by Andrea Judy

I was really late to the part with tabletop gaming. While I played once or twice in college, it never really clicked until after college when I joined a small group that played together once every two weeks or so.

That group made of only 4 people (3 players and one dungeon master) hooked me and I've been playing regularly ever since. I've even run a few campaigns of my own and have always enjoyed the adventures that can be built through storytelling and dice rolling. But one thing I've really been noticing more and more is how playing tabletop games has taught me a lot about storytelling and what makes a compelling tale.

Let's start by defining what a tabletop game is. A tabletop game (like Dungeons and Dragons) is a game played with a group of players and led by a dungeon master. The dungeon master controls the enemies, and the general plot, but a good DM (Dungeon Master) will work with the players to tell a collabrative story. It requires a lot of imagination and innovation on all parts. The game is played by rolling dice to determine successes or failures. Combat is done in a similar way. You see a flash of Dungeons and Dragons at the very, very beginning of Stranger Things.

So what can you learn about storytelling through a tabletop game? Lots. Here are 5 things I've learned over the years.

Read the full article:

Friday, July 6, 2018


Airship 27 Productions is thrilled to announce the fourth book in their series, “Quatermain : The New Adventures. Writer Wayne Carey offers up his second full length novel in the series with, “The Lightning Bird.”

When the president of the First National Bank of Durban dies mysteriously, consumed by flames, a beautiful Zulu woman named Izula approaches hunter-guide Allan Quatermain with a fantastic tale. She believes the cause of the man’s death, and those of others is the legendary Impundulu, better known as the Lightning Bird. 

Quatermain reluctantly agrees to help her and with the aid of his friend, Sean Finnegan, they launch an expedition eastward to the Grootslang Kloof located in the Soutpansberg Mountains. It is here, the mysterious forest of Thathe, surrounding Lake Fundudzi, that Izula hopes to find the malevolent witch doctor she believes is controlling the Impundulu.

The trail leads them a hidden city now ruled by a sadistic Portuguese trader. To free the enslaved populace and defeat him, Quatermain and his companions will have to confront an evil as old as time itself. Here is H. Rider Haggards’ most famous pulp hero in a brand new, action packed novel that will have pulp fans cheering.

“Wayne Carey’s work is true to the spirit of Haggard’s character in every way,” says Airship 27 Productions’ Managing Editor, Ron Fortier. Carey’s first Quatermain novel, “The Beast Men,” was released earlier this year to critical success. “Even the good people of the Rider Haggard Society applauded Carey’s ability to portray the hero authentically,” adds Fortier. For “The Lightning Bird” artist Clayton Hinkle once again provides the interior illustrations while Graham Hill returns to do the cover. “As long as we have such a talented team in place, our readers can expect to see many new Quatermain African adventures.”


Available from Amazon in both paperback and on Kindle.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

A Matter of Pantsing -- How Do You Outline?

What kind of outlining technique (for those of you who are plotters) do you use to plan out your novel? Note cards? Old-fashioned number and letter outline?

Rory Hayfield-Husbands: Coming up with ideas for each scenario and then discussing it with like minded people.

Anna Grace Carpenter: When I outline (which is not all the time) I use the index card method. Those are then transferred/typed into a doc that serves as my first draft. As I write the chapters that cover each scene I delete the plot points out of the outline until there are none left - just the manuscript. (But, I also use outlines more for sequels or revisions now than the initial first drafts of first books.)

Jonah Mason: The best method I know is to outline the story in a couple of paragraphs, hitting the high spots in a prose way. It's not technically an outline, more of a "treatment," like you might do for a script.

Jeremy Hicks: A mix of methods. I was using a legal pad and note cards today, actually.

Pamela Turner: I use Scrivener's index cards to outline. I use regular index cards, too, but at least with Scrivener, I can read my notes. :-)

Gordon Dymowski: I just use paper (a notebook or legal pad) and pencil - my outlines are usually in bullet point form. (I'm not too pedantic about format - the outline is there for me to organize ideas)

Brian K. Morris: I start out with an elevator pitch for the basic story, add an ending (that I will likely change at least once as I write), then flesh out the story using the Lester Dent Master Plot as my guide before working on the first draft.

Percival Constantine: I don’t have a consistent method. Sometimes I’ll use a mindmapping program to focus, other times I’ll scribble in a notebook, but it usually ends with scene descriptions in Scrivener’s notecards.

James Palmer: I just write them out in Scrivener. I figure out my plot points, then do a scene outline, one chapter per scene.

Janice Elliott: Howard I use a mind map software. It is called Free Mind and it can be found online for free. Because the human brain is not designed to organize our thoughts in a linear fashion as we are taught throughout our schooling, this method improves recall and next steps easier. I can honestly map out an entire book using it.

Bill Craig: I don't normally outline unless it is going to be a lengthy project, and then I used the number and letter method that I learned in school.

Mike Baron: Detailed outline.

Sarah Lucy Beach: Writers Blocks computer program. It allows me to shuffle elements around if necessary.

Alison Marceau: Depends on if I have the story completely mapped out, I've used notebooks to just summarize, maybe write a snippet or dialogue so I don't forget it or that will remind me. Key words and the like.

I'll also do separate notes for research and character details.

GoogleDocs is awesome for all of it.

There are also "writer's guide" apps, too, that help you keep track of the details and outlines and settings. I have them downloaded but haven't used them yet, though.

Neen Edwards: Note 8... I have a lot of saved sticky notes.

Matt Hiebert: Outlines of each chapter.

Ian Totten: First I do a quick outline to get an order for all the important things, then I do a detailed chapter by chapter outline that runs 30-40 pages.

Duane Spurlock: I do about ten bullet points and typically start ignoring them by the time I hit the third or fourth.

The bullet points make a perfectly good plot. It just seems, as I get a little ways into the story, I want to be entertained and surprised by it, just as if I'm reading it, not writing it. I think that helps the spontaneity that we want to come across to the readers as they experience the story.

Derrick Ferguson: I admire writers who have every detail, every twist and turn of the plot/story figured out before they type Word One, but that doesn't work for me. If I know everything about the story then what's the point of me writing it?

I like to leave plenty of wiggle room to surprise myself with the direction that the story and the characters take because I figure that if it surprises me and I'm writing the damn thing then it sure as shootin' will surprise whoever ends up reading it.

Jason Waltman: Note cards are you friends

Mark Bousquet: I've got a journal where I jot down whatever thoughts come to mind about the stories and characters and events. Sometimes I'll write dialogue exchanges. Scenes. Notes to myself about where to keep my focus. I'll create pressure diagrams. Usually I'll end up rewriting and reworking and refining the main story as I work through this, then get to a narrative outline, often broken down into acts or movements.

Josh Duke: Ive found that if I write out an outline I lose the drive to flesh it out.
I take notes, i jot down key dialogue to remind me of a direction or scene- but I just let it grow as it will. Ive found if I do that, I inadvertently end up creating complex connections and story threads I didnt expect to.

Danielle Procter Piper: I know where it begins, I know where it ends, but the journey to the last part often surprises me.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Nugget #139 -- Responsibility to History

 We have a responsibility to research and to history to 
portray our settings (place, time, etc.) as accurately as 
is needed for our stories. That’s the often hard work 
(but still fun for those who enjoy it) of writing—
research. We do that because we value accuracy. 
We want our fiction to be as real as we need 
it to be from story to story.
Milford Plantation, Entrance Gateway, Wedgefield-Rimini Road,
Pinewood, Sumter County, SC HABS SC,43-PINWO.V,1B-1

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Write for Black Mask! Be part of pulp history!

By the fact that you are looking at this website should mean that at a minimum you are familiar with the work of Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Paul Cain and some of the second generation hard-boiled authors like Thompson and Spillane.

No cozy or locked room mysteries are wanted here. Keep the conversation terse and to the point, with concise, hard-hitting prose and you might have the makings of an author that would deserve a place on this site.

Need a starting point for a style guide? Read Shaw’s The Hard-Boiled Omnibus, Nolan’s The Black Mask Boys, Goulart’s The Hardboiled Dicks, or Dziemianowicz, Weinberg and Greenberg’s Hard-Boiled Detectives.

Story Submissions

Have you got a story that’s perfect for the pages of Black Mask? We’re actively looking for new material to publish. But it has to be the type of story that should see print in Black Mask.

What’s Black Mask’s preferred story length?

We don’t have one. We’re in the market for 5,000-word shorts, and if your story is good enough, we’ll entertain novel-length yarns as well. But remember: it has to be the type of story which would be at home amongst the material originally published in Black Mask during the 1920s–50s.

If you have to shoot for an ideal word count, however, try to average 10,000 words.

What is Black Mask’s preferred story setting?

We’d prefer to publisher “period” stories. Alternately, we would consider stories which don’t rely on or reference a certain era. As long as the reader isn’t jarred by encountering a story which doesn’t flow with the rest of the vintage material also appearing in Black Mask.

Does Black Mask’s accept series characters?

Yes! Black Mask has a long history of publishing series characters. However, each installment should stand on its own and not depend on the reader to track down earlier installments in order to enjoy a complete reading experience. Otherwise, your story would be considered a serial, which wouldn’t work, given Black Mask’s protracted publishing schedule.

I’d like to write a new story featuring a classic Black Mask or Dime Detective character. Can I do this?
Perhaps. Get in touch with us and pitch your idea.

I’d like to write nonfiction. Do you accept such material?

Yes, we’re always looking for nonfiction pieces which would fit in with Black Mask. Some general ideas:

  • Hard-boiled fiction book reviews (both old and new)
  • Articles on vintage pulp fiction authors
  • Scholarship on detective pulps in general
  • Interviews with pulp authors

These are just some ideas to consider. We strive to publish at least one of this type of piece in each issue of Black Mask.

See full submission guidelines here:

Sunday, July 1, 2018

[Link] From the Pulps to Modern Blockbusters: A Brief History of Noir & Neo-Noir

by Dustin LaValley

Neo-noir (from the Greek neo, which means new; and the French noir, meaning black) is a contemporary dark fiction subgenre with long roots in publishing and film history. It can be found in many different genres, including drama, fantasy, sci-fi and horror. In recent years, we’ve seen it in feature films (Blade Runner 2049, Road to Perdition), TV (Westworld, Better Call Saul) comic books (Southern Bastards, Kill or Be Killed) and novels (Gone Girl, Penny Dreadful). I spoke with Road to Perdition author Max Allan Collins, comic book writer Christa Faust, and crime author Gary Phillips about the ever-popular subgenre.

“Noir is a term that derives from the French Série Noire publications,” said Collins, referring to an imprint based in Paris that released hardboiled detective thrillers. Collins credits American writers like James M. Cain, Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler and Mickey Spillane with promulgating the genre.

Noir’s roots can be found in the hard-boiled crime fiction of the pulps — cheaply made magazines that saw record sales during the Great Depression and the beginning of World War II.

In the 1920s and ’30s, when readers could go to the newsstand to pick up a copy of a crime pulp, such as Black Mask, they’d discover private detectives with a penchant for alcohol, trench coats and fedoras. They’d find gangsters with pistols, cold eyes and hot tempers. They’d be immersed in shadowy atmospheres, and they’d meet male characters preoccupied with mysterious, seductive women known as femme fatales. Commonly written in first-person, the stories often highlighted the real-world issues of the prohibition years.

Due to a paper shortage during World War II, publishing costs rose and the pulps failed to make a profit. By the end of the war, many publications were closing their doors.

Meanwhile, however, other mediums flourished — especially film. Books like The Postman Always Rings Twice, The Big Sleep and Thieves Like Us were adapted to film noir in the mid to late ’40s. Under budget and time constraints, filmmakers used ingenuity to create a style that produced the core elements of film noir. Collins said, “The ’40s black-and-white crime films that most identify as noir had to do with cost-cutting — using dramatic lighting effects to disguise scant sets — but also are heavily influenced by popular crime writers.”

In addition to financial constraints, filmmakers were limited by the Hays Code of 1930. The code restricted or outright banned perverse terminology as well as sexual acts between unmarried, interracial, or same-sex couples. To get around this, filmmakers implied off-screen scenes of violence and sexual content that would’ve otherwise broken the code. This gave rise to the voiceover narrative in a dim, smoky setting, which became iconic characteristics of film noir.

Read the full article:

Saturday, June 30, 2018


BEN Books proudly announces the release of SHADOWS ON THE HORIZON by award-winning author Bobby Nash. This BEN Books Digest edition is now available on Amazon for your Kindle at and paperback at

Danger on the open plain! Award-Winning Author Bobby Nash brings together two terrifying tales from the world's greatest frontier... The Wild West!

SHADOWS ON THE HORIZON reminds us that the most dangerous monsters to roam the Wild West isn't mystical or supernatural, but man himself. ol' Doc Brand is reminded that no good deed goes unpunished when he helps a wounded stranger and gets more than he bargained for in the process.

RATTLED then reminds us that man is not alone in the wilderness. Nor is man always the most dangerous. Young Jim Bonner is about to come face to face with his worst nightmare. 

Fans of Westworld and Tombstone will feel right at home in this savage land.
BEN Books proudly presents: Shadows on the Horizon by Bobby Nash.



Learn more at

For more on Author Bobby Nash, visit

Bobby's Patrons in the $5 and above subscription tiers received their copies early. It's not to late to join Bobby on Patreon for exclusive access.

Friday, June 29, 2018

More Shorts for Summer: Tales From The Mare Inebrium by Dan L. Hollifield

Welcome Intergalactic Travelers!

Come on in and enjoy the Mare Inebrium. We have a large facility and are sure we have something that will meet your needs and exceed your expectations. In the top floor of our building we have a very fancy restaurant with lovely views of the city spreading out into the far distance. The floors above the main bar contain various restaurants, shops, meeting rooms, and we even offer hotel rooms for the discriminating traveler.

Our main bar is quite large, with room for several hundred patrons at once. The walls are decorated with paintings and mirrors that can shift to show either reflections or discrete views inside one of our many themed bars. Our displays of alien artifacts are scattered about tastefully throughout while the full bar itself is up against the back wall of the main room. Our main bar features literally hundreds of varieties of beverages to meet any tastes no matter how exotic.

If open spaces and large crowds are not to your liking, then please patronize any of our wonderful themed areas. If you prefer with a bit more of an adventurous edge, please join the many Space Rangers and other militaries from around the galaxy in our Red Dog Saloon. If you desire a more private and civilized setting, please join our "gentleman's club" at Piper's and our small ballroom is the perfect place to take in a musical or theatrical performance. For you truly celestial types, deities, writers, artists, and other beings of enormous power, you will enjoy the Pantheon Room.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

RIP: Harlan Ellison, Grand Master of Science Fiction & Fantasy, 1934-2018

by Ryan Britt

“For a brief time I was here, and for a brief time, I mattered.”

Harlan Ellison at the Harlan Ellison Roast. L.A. Press Club July 12, 1986. Los Angeles,
California. Photo by Pip R. Lagenta used under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

Harlan Ellison, author, screenwriter, and grand master of science fiction and fantasy, has passed on June 28th, 2018 at the age of 84. ...

Whether he was shouting love at the heart of the world or screaming because he had no mouth, Harlan Ellison brought noise into not only the field of SFF, but the universe of storytelling itself.

Part runaway, part punk, the education of Harlan Ellison didn’t necessarily predict greatness. He was a dockworker, a gang member, a circus hand, an expelled student, and member of the armed forces all before he was 25 years-old. Crisscrossing from his native Ohio, to New York City, Ellison eventually settled in Los Angeles, where he lived from 1962 until the present day. It was this proximity to Hollywood which involved Ellison in writing for the screen, leading to famous (and infamous) stories sold to the likes of  The Outer Limits, Star Trek, and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.

None of these writing jobs happened without notable kerfuffle, and like a science fiction rock-star, Ellison’s dust-ups with the powers-that-be are almost as famous as his writing. Think the movie The Terminator bears some similarity to a few Harlan Ellison short stories? So did he, and successfully sued and settled with James Cameron over the issue. Historically, Ellison disparaged Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry for the way his famous “City On the Edge of Forever” Trek script had been rewritten without his permission. Though, in the last several years, Ellison seemed to ease-up on his vitriol toward Trekkies and gleefully participated in two different adaptations of the story, one as a new audio play for Skyboat Media, and another, new version of his first “City” script, beautifully illustrated by IDW comics.

Read the full obituary:

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Nugget #138 -- Art, By Its Very Nature

Juan Gris: Deutsch: Stilleben mit Bordeuauxflasche 1919
The trouble with our cast in iron disapproval of the new is that 
it doesn't take into account the constantly changing nature of art. 
Art, by its very nature, is re-interpreted by each successive 
generation, and it's our job as old-timers to adjust, not to 
make sure new readers succumb to our interpretations.