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Friday, April 11, 2014



Dashiell Hammett is credited with creating the hardboiled genre, along with Raymond Chandler and Mickey Spillane. Considering the time in which it was published, this novel is about as hardboiled as they come. Even compared to a film maker like Quentin Tarantino, who faces no limitations on how dark and crass a story he can tell (and is applauded when he finds a way to offend somebody in the audience), this story is hardcorps.

Read my review over at Virtual Pulp.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Skinny on the Captain America Sequel



I was not prepared for what happened at the theater. Knowing full well the sequel factor, and having seen a poster for a movie about Cesar Chavez on the way inside (a bad omen if there ever was), I was expecting Hollywood business as usual.

(In fact, it’s kind of surprising Captain America wasn’t turned into “Captain Global Village” long ago, replacing his stars-and-stripes motif with rainbows and olive branches. Well, Marvel did turn him into “Nomad” for a while in the 1970s, but I guess the fans wouldn’t stand for it.)

Read the rest over at Virtual Pulp!

Friday, October 11, 2013

Movin' On Up

Hey Two-Fisted Blogees, I've got news.

The only good thing about unemployment is I've been more productive than I've found possible in quite a while--at least about what matters to me. So after my previous misadventures trying to get Virtual Pulp Press firing on all cylinders, and throwing my hands up for a while...I'm back at it.

I'm moving the Two-Fisted Blog over to a Wordpress-powered site where it is integrated into Virtual Pulp (or vice-versa), and I once again finally have my own domain name.

I will resume posting here again, but the really cool stuff will be over at www.virtualpulp.net. You mos def gotta visit.

Monday, October 7, 2013

The First Fight Card Trailer


Fight Card: Front Page Palooka has it's own book trailer. Spotted some Joe Louis fight footage in the mix. Haven't read this one yet but if it's half as slick as the cover and this trailer, it should be great.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Sank My Foot in the Internet Marketing Quagmire



I just lost my job last week. It didn't come as a surprise, but neither was I prepared for it. I had just updated my resume and was starting a job search when the axe came down.

I've held many different types of jobs in many different places over the years, and like so many others must be, I'm sick of the job-searching/resume tweaking/interviewing/hiring rigamarole. I'm tired of putting on my best face and pretending to be interested in playing the respective corporate politics to be underpaid for work I'm sick of doing.

And despite how much the government and media fudge the numbers, the economy is still the worst it's been since the Great Depression, so you really have to jump through hoops to find a job now.

And I'm not getting any younger.

So the missus gives me a call a couple days ago. One of her former co-workers and a Facebook friend posted a link to a video. The guy had health problems and lost his job recently, but thankfully he discovered this work from home opportunity that grew his business to the point that it was now paying his bills. That's the story I initially heard.

By-the-by, I've been wishing I could get a work-from-home job. If I HAVE to work for somebody else, that's how I'd prefer to do it. Bye-bye working in the Florida heat, sitting in Florida traffic and being at the mercy of out-of-order restrooms, etc. And the closer I am to my computer, the faster I can get back to writing when the work day is done. In theory, anyway.

So anyway, wifey watches the video, and says I should. If we didn't know somebody that vouched for this deal (let's just call him Dreamer Dude for short), the red flags would have trumped my curiosity, desperation and wishful thinking. I've been exposed to scam artists before, and would have assumed this was just another one without personally knowing somebody involved in it.

I watched the video. It's a new company that just started 20 months ago and has made billions for the folks involved and is going to get even bigger yada yada yada. But what really got my attention was the part about their blogging support program.

For those who don't remember the whole saga with Virtual Pulp Press, I got in over my head when I attempted to upgrade the website from 1994 technology. I used Wordpress, watched a ton of tutorials, took advice from different people "in the know,"bought themes and plugins...then pretty much pulled my hair out trying to make the software do what I wanted it to. I had a guy who agreed to help, but he flaked out. I knew what I wanted the site to do was not unreasonable, and experts told me it Wordpress could definitely do it.

In fact, what I wanted was fairly simple: An online store where I could advertise the stuff I sell as an affiliate, with something like this blog incorporated into it. But the plugins that sounded like they should help me accomplish this actually were designed to do something else. There was a language gap with a learning curve that was just taking forever while I was working a full-time job with lots of overtime, travelling a lot and dealing with more than my share of domestic drama.

Finally, while I was transferring my domain name from Go Daddy to Host Gator, calling Host Gator back-and-forth and it wasn't done, wasn't done, wasn't done... the domain name expired and somebody in the former USSR bought it. Not to use it--just because they realize somebody else wants to use it and they don't have the intelligence or imagination to come up with their own ideas, so they're hoping I'll pay them to get it back.

Not gonna happen. I cut my losses.

Well, the guy in this video says his company's marketing gurus and software developers have perfected a selling process that have made all these people all this money yada yada yada. And there's an affiliate program and this program and that program but I could concentrate on selling my own product if that's what I wanted.What got my imagination sparked was his claim that his staff of experts would walk me through setting up a blog custom-tweaked to sell my products, then if I followed their 8-step business plan my stuff would sell like flapjacks. After all, Hoodie Thunkitt and Joe Shit the Rag Man did that and were turning in record profits, blah, blah, blah. This staff of professionals were waiting to hold my hand through the process and I could be completely computer illiterate and still succeed because they were all about helping people as well as making money.

The cost of the program I wanted (the custom blog) was $25 a month (reduced from X amount because they're all about helping people, see). Well, I've blown more than that on advertising and other stuff, with absolutely no effect on book sales for me or anyone else. Not an unreasonable deal, if they delivered on their promises.

I have product to sell, and I've got more time on my hands right now than I have in many years. And this expert help getting my blog set up? That's exactly what I needed months ago when trying to build Virtual Pulp Press into a modern online store. I'd gladly pay $25 a month for the use of that expertise. After all, Dreamer Dude was using this system and his business was taking off, even though the product he's selling is far more specialized and niche, if not obscure.

So I signed up and paid.

This company has probably thousands of videos. Every new page that loaded had another video to watch. I watched a few of them because they all promised some kind of powerful marketing technique if I would only keep watching. I even watched an hour of a live webinar by them (later found out it went on for three hours) also promising some powerful new information. In the case of the webinar, the startling revelation is that people can blog and post video from their smart phones. I forget what the other powerful info was because cumulatively, it accounted for probably about 45 seconds amidst all the hours of video I sat through. Everything else was instructions from the company founders to upgrade to this package and that package for only $100, $500, $1,500, $3,500, etc., which are such bargains because you'd have to pay X more to get this important info anywhere else.

That's where the familiar old bad taste really began setting in. I already paid you, numb nuts, why are you still greasing me so hard? How do I start setting up the blog already?

Well, you need to start off with the 8-step path to success, see. And if you don't go there voluntarily, it will re-route you there when you click on the button to set up your awesome blog. Guess how the 8 steps are presented? More videos, of course.
The first step is to buy into their affiliate program for an additional $19.95 a month. I skipped Step One and started watching the other videos. By the third or fourth one I began skipping ahead to see if there actually was any useful information. Nope. I'll summarize the content of every video:

  • Our stuff is great, and cutting edge, and people are getting rich off it.
  • You're a wussy if you don't follow our instructions.
  • Your next step is to do X.
  • Buy this additional package and we'll tell you how to do X.
  • Go "all in." (Buy everything we ask for money for.)
  • Don't be a wussy.
  • Did we mention how great and cutting edge our system is?
So much for the 8-step path.

With the help of their "badass" customer service reps, I overcame a glitch and got to the blog dashboard, finally.

Hmm. Wordpress. Wordpress blogs are free for anybody. Well, after all, my $25 is for their badass team of experts that will help me customize my blog and maximize its selling psychology, handle SEO and all that, so hope is still alive. On a friggin' resperator and defibulator, with a priest standing in the corner mumbling its last rites, but still alive.

I take a look at the dashboard. Hmm. Looks bare-bones Wordpress to me. Where are all the widgets or whatever to advertise my products? I click on the link to see the blog as a customer would see it.

Well, the ads are already there. There are banners and stuff everywhere--so many that you couldn't squeeze more on the browser display if you wanted. I don't know if all the hype about the marketing psychology is true, but it does look slick. Problem is, every single ad is for THEIR stuff. You know--what I already paid for. Plus the affiliate deal, plus the increasingly expensive (tiered) packages they've been hard-selling me from the beginning.

This can't be right. I just know they don't expect me to pay them $25 a month, spend my time and effort, tapping into my imagination to create blog content... to sell their pyramid scheme. No doubt plenty of folks are content to do that, trying to make money by recruiting human building blocks to fill in the pyramid underneath them. Hey, whatever floats their boat, but that's not what I signed up for and not how the blog deal was pitched.



Where are the widgets to replace their ads with mine? Nowhere I can see. Where is the army of badass programmers and marketing experts who were able and willing to help me customize the blog to sell my product, even if I'm computer illiterate (because they like helping people so much) that I heard about in the first video? Nowhere obvious.

I called customer service. Already irritated with the whole experience so far, I asked the above questions as politely as I could. No problem, says the "badass" representative--she's sending me an email with instructions.

I follow the link in the email, and there is absolutely no information of value to me. Oh, I can change the theme so their blog selling their stuff (that I'm paying for) looks different. I can change the mugshot from the company founder's to mine on their blog selling their stuff. I can do other basic Wordpress stuff like add text and images in the blog section (create content to draw people to their blog to sell their stuff). But it's painfully obvious by now that they expect me to both pay them money and do all the work to pimp their packages to other suckers.

I'm wondering by now if anyone on the pyramid has made a dime of profit or sold a damn thing other than these "badass" packages that hard-sell ever more expensive packages.

BTW, at some point during this process I spoke with Dreamer Dude on the phone. Turns out he's not yet making enough to pay the bills, though he is buying more and more of their packages to get "all in." I took a look at "his" blog to see if he found something I missed. Nope. Looks exactly like "my" blog. He's been blogging faithfully, but even if I was looking for the specific product he's selling, and stumbled across the blog in question, I'd still have no idea I could purchase it through him. I don't want to call him a liar, but I'm extremely skeptical that any of the money he's allegedly made came from sales of his own merchandise.

The refund policy is three days. I called to get my refund the evening of the same day I bought in. Was told I'd get an email with a confirmation number. No such email came. I called back today and was told that they don't do confirmation numbers. By the time I hung up the "badass" sounded close to tears exclaiming, "Don't worry--you'll get your money back!" Makes me wonder how many other irate people have called him for refunds today.

What's the lesson in all this?



Well, first of all, nobody with a slick sales pitch on the web is trying to make an honest buck, or to help you to make one. I kind of knew this already, but hope is a persistent cuss that keeps coming back to life like the villain in a suspense thriller.

Second, the average internet business person will work much harder to scam you out of your money than they'd ever work to produce something worthy of your money.

Hundreds of thousands of gullible people around the world will flock to these kinds of swindlers, even though the swindlers don't have a single original thought and have absolutely nothing to offer the world. They produce nothing; they innovate nothing; they understand nothing but how to use others. Hmm. Sounds a lot like the politicians we're allowing to run our government, doesn't it?

There's a familiar old saying that goes, "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is."

Though certainly accurate, that adage also falls short of the whole truth. If it sounds like a reasonable deal; if it sounds better than the unethical SNAFU we've gotten used to; if it sounds like somebody put reasonable thought and imagination into a system that could feasibly benefit anyone besides the entity asking for your money...it is definitely too good to be true.

Sadly, these dirtbags must know that people are gonna see them for what they are. But as long as there are potentially more who will fall for it, they're gonna drive the hell on.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Fight Card is Going the Distance

I use Grammarly for proofreading because jacked-up grammar is only cool 'til you graduate high school.



Real life keeps getting in the way of my blogging. It occurred to me the other day that there's been a lot of news to blog about, and I missed quite a lot of it.

Thankfully, when it comes to good books, it's never too late...not in the post-publishing-revolution world, anyway. There's no reason why good books ever have to go out of print, now. (I wish the not-so-good ones would, but that's another matter.)

That said, it's time to bring you up to date on Paul Bishop and Mel Odom's Fight Card series. I was fortunate enough to be one of the authors to contribute to the series writing under the "Jack Tunney" house name, and my Fight Card e-book has just recently been released as an Audible recording.

I am in good company. Plenty of talented writers have written one or more retro-boxing pulp to the series, and so far I've enjoyed each one I read. Meanwhile, Fight Card has spawned a couple spinoffs.

The original series is anchored to the 1950s and has been estrogen-free, but now there is Fight Card MMA (Mixed Martial Arts--contemporary) and Fight Card Romance. Below is a sampling of the titles which have been released since I last blogged about Fight Card.

FIGHT CARD: GOLDEN GATE GLOVES
San Francisco 1951
Conall O’Quinn grew up at St. Vincent’s Asylum For Boys, a Chicago orphanage where he learned the sweet science of boxing from Father Tim, the battling priest. After a stint in the Army, Conall finds work on the docks of San Francisco – a place where his fists make him the dock champion.  Soon, however, he gets on the bad side of a union boss and is set up for a dock side brawl designed to knockout his fighting career.  When Conall comes out on top, things go from bad to worse when he is framed for the docks going up in flames. 
Along with Benson, his best friend and trainer, Conall heads for the hills in search of a lost treasure in the vicinity of a mine controlled by the union boss.  However, where Conall goes trouble follows and he is quickly embroiled in a heated grudge match between fist-happy miners and lumberjacks.
Championing the miners in an all out slugfest, Conall is about to find out there is more to fighting than just swinging fists … giant, hammer-fisted lumberjacks, the mine owner’s beautiful daughter, union flunkies, and mob thugs all want a piece of him … and when the opening bell rings, the entire world appears to be against him …

 
FIGHT CARD: BROOKLYN BEATDOWN



Brooklyn – 1954.



Bare knuckler brawler Levi Kimro battles his way through the bloody backroom ghetto bars of Brooklyn in pursuit of his dream of owning his

 own business. It’s a hard and vicious road he walks and it becomes even more complicated when he falls hard for the electrifying Dorothea McBricker.



Dorothea’s brother, Teddy, has fallen under the influence of notorious gangster Duke Williamson – a powerful man who is pressuring Levi to join his stable of fighters or face off against the human killing machine, ‘Deathblow’ Ballantine. A knock-down, drag out, Brooklyn Beatdown is brewing, and Levi will need every ounce of his fighter’s heart if he wants to save not only himself, but the woman he loves …


FIGHT CARD: CAN’T MISS CONTENDER



St. Louis, Missouri, 1958



Billy Flood was the kind of boxer who had ‘can’t miss’ written all over him.  He had the tools and talent to make him a middleweight champion.  But a few wrong turns changed everything.  Now, after a hard three year stretch inside the Missouri State Penitentiary, Billy is determined to get back in the ring and punch his way to the top. But, while other fighters his age have risen through the ranks, Billy is back where he started – fighting palookas, catchers, and tomato cans.


With his past on his heels and his future filled with obstacles, Billy finds himself backed into a corner by false friends and an unscrupulous promoter.  He may get his shot at becoming a contender, but will it cost him his future?  Can’t Miss Contender is another hard punching Fight Card tale ...


 FIGHT CARD: BAREFOOT BONES



Korea, 1951



Mentored in the hollows of hardscrabble Georgia by mysterious loner Old Man Winter, then in a Chicago orphanage by ex-fighter Father Tim Brophy, James ‘Barefoot Bones’ Mason has relied on his fists to make his way. But it’s a long way from St. Vincent’s Asylum For Boys to the battlefields of Korea where Bones’ fists may not be enough.



Entered in an inter-camp boxing tournament by his commanding officer, Bones finds himself in a war within a war.  When a tenuous cease fire is explosively shattered, Bone’s is fighting against the highest odds of all – staying alive. 



Can a skinny kid from the north Georgia mountains survive the hell of Korea and still have the guts to climb back into the ring one more time? The one constant in Bones’ life has been fighting – Lucky for him, he’s good at it.



Kalamazoo, 2013

Ray Kurt was one of the first guys to step into a sanctioned MMA fight – back when you scrapped four times a night and didn’t wrap your hands until you got to the hospital afterward. Now he trains fighters in his Kalamazoo mixed martial arts gym, searching for someone he can take to the top.
Young fighting phenom Tallis Dunbar might just be that someone, but Tallis comes attached to a whole lot of trouble. Detroit mob fixer Andru Harp wants Kurt to turn Tallis into an MMA beast tough enough to take on the Chicago mob’s fearsome fighter, High Voltage – the same man who nearly killed Tallis’ brother a year earlier.
For Detroit and Chicago it’s all about turf, but for Kurt and Tallis their lives and redemption are balanced on a razor’s edge.  Kurt is used to fighting with few rules, but now there is only one – survive …


FIGHT CARD ROMANCE: LADIES NIGHT



Los Angeles, 1954 ... Gangsters, crime, boxing – and romance ...



Jimmy Doherty, a hard-luck orphan from the south side of Chicago, was mentored in the sweet science of boxing by Father Tim Brophy, the Battling Priest of St. Vincent's Asylum for Boys. Jimmy’s fists were good enough to take him to LA where he has begun his rise up the local fight-cards. He has big plans to be a contender and even bigger plans for Lindy – his trainer’s only daughter, who's sweeter than apple pie and harder to resist.



But when Lindy is arrested for killing a boxer with ties to gangster Mickey Cohen, Jimmy is forced to join forces with the arresting detective – who would like to do much more with Lindy than put her in handcuffs – in a desperate search for the real killer.



Love can be murder – in the ring and out ...

I've got some of these books on my Kindle, and will probably post reviews when I read them. This is just a sample, folks. To get a more comprehensive list of the books in the series, go visit the Fight Card website--it's got some cool stuff for readers and fight fans.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Interview With Peter Nealen

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I had originally intended to share this interview on SOFREP's Hot Extract blog. But recently Hot Extract has been downsized and will now be exclusively for videogame reviews. The 2FB still covers books and movies, though, and so I offer this interview with former Recon Marine Peter Nealen, who has authored two paramilitary adventure novels, Task Force Desperate and Hunting In the Shadows, both of which I've reviewed right here. So let's get to it.

HANK: Both your novels, particularly HITS, occur with what seems like a very complex political backdrop. Tell a little about that. Obviously you learned a lot from being in Iraq, but then extrapolated from there into your near-future scenario.
PETE: The series as a whole actually got its start when I wrote down a backstory for a science fiction story (which I might get back to one of these years) in between missions in Iraq in ’07.  The background was based on a growing sense that all of the optimism about the 21st Century back in the late ‘90s, before 9/11, was tragically wrong, and the 21st is going to be far, far worse than the bloodletting of the 20th.  A good chunk of the chaos revolved around a global war with Islamism.
HANK: Wouldn't have guessed that. What was going to be science fiction about the story as originally conceived?
PETE: The original story I was working on was completely separate.  The roots of the American Praetorians series began as a way to map how we got from here to the future interstellar war I was gearing up to write about.  Maybe I'll get back to that someday.
 
Over time, I started thinking that I could tell stories set in that background.  My first attempt at getting into it was going to be an Anabasis-style tale about a Marine Special Operations Team trying to escape from Afghanistan with some Polish GROM guys when everything goes completely to hell.  It was ambitious as hell, and never really went anywhere.
After that, I started on a short about first Marines, then PMC guys defending the US Embassy in Baghdad as Iraq falls apart.  We might see elements of this later…
Finally, in 2011, I got the idea to start sort of a “history repeating itself” story, starting with Bin Laden being convinced the US was a paper tiger after we pulled out of Somalia following the Battle of the Black Sea in October of ’93.  So I went back to East Africa to kick things off.  I did as much research as I could, including picking the brain of an officer I was working with at the time, who had done six months at Camp Lemonier in Djibouti.  How accurate some of the details are, I still don’t know for absolute certain, because getting solid information out of Somalia these days is difficult.  Even those who have worked in intel there warn that a lot of what comes out of all sides is nothing but lies and propaganda.
When it came to Hunting in the Shadows, I drew on a lot of my own experience from being in Iraq, but since it takes place in areas I never got to, I still had to do a lot of research.  I never got to work with the Kurds, so I had to read up on the relationships between the Kurds and their neighbors.  I had to read up on Iranian operations, as well as drawing on some of the whispered information about things like EFPs (Explosively Formed Penetrators) coming from Iran for IEDs while I was there.  I’ve also been keeping some tabs on the place since I started writing for SOFREP, so I’ve been watching its disintegration into sectarian and tribal vendettas for a while now.
The Syrian angle actually came to me partway through writing Hunting.  What’s going on there is largely a contest between Salafi Sunnis and militant Shia, largely centered around AQI on the one side and Iran on the other.  While a great deal of the scenarios in my books are in fact “What if?” scenarios (TFD was “What if the Muslim Brotherhood really solidified their hold on Egypt, and started directly supporting Islamist groups on the Horn in order to seize the strategic position of the Horn of Africa?”), they are based on immediate happenings.  There has already been spillover from the Syrian Civil War into Iraq.  So I posited, “What if Assad fell, and the Salafis took over Syria?  What would Iran do?  What would a weakened, divided Iraqi government do?”  Then I threw my hardass PMC shooters into the mix and let them go at it.
HANK: It makes for a potent mixture, I'd say. While I'm not as up-to-date on the political minutia over there as you veterans of the occupation, it all rang true to me. How about your characters--based on real dudes? Amalgams?
PETE: Some are based on real guys.  Some are amalgams.  Most I won’t name; they’ll probably recognize themselves if they read the book, and that’s enough.  “Larry” is actually somewhat based on one of my favorite authors, Larry Correia.  During an early draft of TFD, I had a character show up who at least physically resembled Larry and shared his love of STI 2011 pistols, so I contacted him and asked him if it was all right with him.  He gave me his thumbs-up, and so now there is “Hardass, former SOF, Contractor Larry.”
HANK: Dontcha' love how some characters just show up? "Hey, where did you come from? Who's writing this thing, anyway?" You met Larry Correia in person, didn't you?

 PETE: Yes, briefly.  He was signing books at the STI booth at SHOT Show in 2011, and I happened to be there as a rep for Force Recon Company, I MEF.  I got him to sign Monster Hunter International and Monster Hunter Vendetta for my wife.  Great guy.
HANK:  I like that. And it just so happens I've recently finished his Monster Hunter International on Audible Audio. It was a fun read and got me to chuckle quite a few times. Sounds like there's at least a physical resemblance between him and his protagonist. And I loved that he was a gun nut. Where else do you find a firearms enthusiast character who's not evil and stupid?

As a writer, I've filed away little experiences from here and there, and drawn from them later on. Some of my scenes, or portions of scenes, were tweaked, adapted or just lifted from stuff I saw happen. I think all writers must do that. So can you point to some specific scenes, sequences or snippets in your two books that came about this way?
PETE: I can’t really point to any specific scene that was drawn directly from my experiences.  A lot of details, yes.  As I try to be quick to point out, the adventures of the Praetorian shooters are way, way more exciting than anything I did overseas.  Though there is an interrogation by one of the Iraqi militiamen in Hunting in the Shadows which was pretty well lifted from a similar interrogation by one of our terps in Iraq.  Some of those guys didn’t mess around.
HANK: I guess that's fairly universal. I know my life has been pretty dull compared to the lives of my characters.

I love that your main character uses an M1A, and from a previous exchange I understand you yourself have one. So talk about why you like this MBR and how you came to like it.
PETE: I’d read up on the SOCOM 16 for a while before I decided to get one, and immediately found I liked it.  I like the action, I like the fact that while it might be heavier than an M4, it packs way more of a wallop than any 5.56 rifle, in a package only slightly larger.  In fact, I’ve seen a few raised eyebrows at the use of full powered battle rifles in CQB in my books, but I have to point out that the SOCOM 16, as well as most of the other 7.62 NATO carbines I describe, are no larger than most M4s.
I also decided on 7.62x51 as the go-to rifle cartridge after seeing firsthand the lack of effectiveness of 5.56x45, as well as many conversations in Humvees and hide sites about what we’d do if we had control over weapon choices.
HANK: Even with the wooden stock, I've always thought the M14 was a better MBR. It's comparable in weight to the M-1 Garand (which its design is partly borrowed from). Are we so much wimpier now than the grunts in WWII and Korea? 

Ahem. 

So many of us are writing about good-guy PMCs these days. Have you had any experience with actual mercs or is Praetorian Security entirely from your imagination?
PETE: I’ve had some small experience with PMCs, and know a lot of good Recon Marines who went on to contracting after getting out.  I’ve found that for the most part the media stereotypes are mistaken; most of these guys aren’t really any different from the guys who are in.  They might have some more leeway in certain things, depending on the company, and might get paid more, but they’ve got a lot less support if something goes wrong.  Most of the ones I know are pretty professional.
That said, Praetorian is in many ways a product of my imagination, and, again, many hours of BSing in the desert about, “Wouldn’t it be awesome if…”  I originally turned to the idea of a PMC instead of actual military because of the increasing restrictions being placed on deployed troops in combat zones.  I wanted these guys to have some more leeway and self-determination.  I figured I could get that with mercs.  And Praetorian is closer to an actual mercenary company than what are today called PMCs.  These guys operate by the principle of, “Whatever gets the mission done,” and don’t give much thought to the kind of legalities that would get someone operating like them shut down pretty fast in today’s environment.  It helps that the future I’ve extrapolated is seeing a breakdown in the (in my opinion, artificial) niceties of international and economic order.  In many places you can already see that breakdown starting today, if you look past the miasma of distraction on TV.
HANK: I knew a guy who'd done merc work, but this was before OIF and the explosion of contract opportunities. My character Sam DeChalk in Hell and Gone is partly based on him. 

While it's impossible to find a real life military or paramilitary unit without flaws, it's nice being a writer because we can make them as altruistic and ethical as we want. Whatever flaws they exhibit have to be approved by us and ultimately we control how much the bad apples and jerkoffs get away with.

What's next up for you?

PETE: While I’ve started some work on the next volume in the American Praetorians series, “Alone and Unafraid,” for the moment I’m kind of taking a break from the series, letting my mind rest a little.  I’m working on a presently unnamed novel (much shorter than either TFD or HITS), in the horror/adventure genre.  I’m serializing it on www.wethearmed.com right now, and hope to finish it up in the next month or two, after which I’ll hit Alone and Unafraid hard and fast.

I’ve also got a nonfiction book in the works, though it is something of a long-term project.  Following an article on SOFREP, “The Cost of Limited War,” I decided to tackle “History, Moral Philosophy, and War.”  It’s a huge project, and is probably going to take several years to complete.

HANK: Thanks, Pete, for taking the time to converse.

Folks, it's gonna be hard to find novels in which the author puts such emphasis on realism and still winds up with an entertaining read, outside of Pete's books. And these are books for thinking men, not the lowest-common-denominator drivel writers in the genre are so often accused of. If you want to feel like you're there in the sandbox with bullets coming uprange, I highly recommend them.

As alluded to above, I will no longer be writing for Hot Extract. I was already reducing my cyber footprint, and the news about HE was an omen, divine confirmation, or however you choose to look at such things. For the immediate future I'll keep blogging right here, and posting Amazon reviews now and then. I may check Facebook every once in a while, or I may stop using it altogether--not sure. While I appreciate all the authors asking for reviews (in a way I guess it validates the existence of this blog?), I simply can't commit to much anymore. The list is pretty bleeding long already. If I can't get to your book, it's not necessarily because I think I won't like it, and certainly nothing personal against the author. 

Okay, bye.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Listen to This! (Two New Two-Fisted Audio Books)



Maybe you've noticed I haven't been blogging much lately. Or tweeting. Or facebooking. Or releasing my next novel. Well, it's not because I've just been chilling out, I promise you.

Because of my own appreciation for recorded books, I decided to have some of my titles produced this way. Hell and Gone was the one I got started on first, and had hoped to get released first. However, due to circumstances beyond my control, it is way, way, way overdue and still isn't even close to finished. I'm pleased to announce, however, that both Tier Zero and my Fight Card novella, Tomato Can Comeback, are now ready for download.

In case you couldn't tell, I love to read books. I just don't have time anymore for much recreational reading. But I do clock several hours at a time on a regular basis staring through a windshield on my way to various places for work. Up until a year or so ago, I took advantage of the recorded books available at the public library. I discovered authors this way I might never have read otherwise (like Wilbur Smith, who has become one of my go-to guys). Because the county I live in is mostly rural, we don't have any huge libraries, so I burned through the adventure fiction available fairly quickly. In my battle against boredom, I opened myself up to genres I probably would never have otherwise. Like romance. Yeah, a lot of it is hard to wade through...makes you feel like you're drowning in pancake syrup or something...but some of it is okay. And historical fiction--that's how I discovered Bernard Cornwall and his Sharpe series (I also checked out his one-off novel Agincourt).

Then along came Audible Audio for the Kindle. I can downloadrecorded books straight to my reader, just like ebooks, and the selection is not too shabby. I can usually find something in a genre that interests me. I've read the first several Ian Fleming 007 adventures this way, more Wilbur Smith of course, one of Len Levinson's RatBastard installments missing from my paperback collection, and Ghosts of Babylon by fellow indie author R.A. Matthis (a good read, BTW, and read by a good voice actor).

Other folks may drive a lot like I do, or do tedious work somewhere with nothing to occupy their mind while they go through the motions, or spend a lot of leisure time sunning themselves at the pool or beach. Maybe they'd like to read a book but can't afford to tie their eyes up for hours at a time.

In self-examination, I noted that after listening to one of Wilbur Smith's adventures, I began buying his books in paper and electronic form. Ka-ching! went my brain. And so I branched out. When Hell and Gone is finally finished, I'll blog it, too.

Now listen up!




Sunday, August 4, 2013

A Western That Cuts Against the Grain

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In the history of the western genre (whether it be film or fiction), there have been a few basic plot skeletons used over and over again. One of these involves war with the natives; another pits lawmen against outlaws; and another features a range war.

Since the New Deal, the range war plot has been used extensively, and almost always cattlemen have been the villains, oppressing small ranchers and farmers on a greed-maddened quest for more grazing land. This theme is ubiquitous in western films, and western novels have mostly followed suit. Critics and theorists mostly agree that creative works with this theme are making a statement against Big Business.

Once in a while, though, there is a western tale using this plot template which marches to a different beat. One decent example is Louis L'Amour's Showdown at the Hogback. Then there is this novel, which shares many superficial aspects...but can't be confused with L'Amour's.

"Curly wolf" is Old West lingo for "bad mamma-jamma," and the title character certainly fits that description. Arizona (sometimes called the Arizona Kid) is an amoral gunfighter who hires out to the highest bidder. In this case, the highest bidder is a junta of crooked politicians and lawmen driving homesteaders (with both small and large ranches) off their claims in order to cash in on a lucrative railroad deal.

From what I've read, the quick-draw wasn't actually used in frontier days. Some historians say it wasn't even developed until the 1950s--a complete Hollywood fabrication. Whatever the truth may be, the quick-draw convention has been absorbed into western mythology. It's hard to find a western that does not incorporate it. This novel is no exception in that regard, but it is exceptional in that it handles all the gun play with a verisimilitude I haven't seen in any other western.

The Arizona Kid is deadly with a rifle, and a crack pistol shot either right or left-handed. He is hired to bully the homesteaders off their claims...or kill them if necessary.

Unfortunately for his employers, he begins to develop a conscience as the job unfolds. And that puts him between the proverbial rock and hard place. There are at least three sub-plots which are captivating in their own right. One is the struggle among the homesteaders to band together and fight, or pull stakes and take their family looking for some place they won't have to face death from "gun sharps" in addition to their battle with the elements, starvation, etc. (Life for frontier farmers and ranchers wasn't easy, even when unmolested by their fellow man.)

For fans of westerns, there is enough familiarity here to make you feel at home. There is also enough unorthodoxy to please those who don't normally dabble in the genre.


Monday, July 29, 2013

Bye-Bye to My Virtual Piece of the Pie

Thanks to a series of events, some of which I will be hard-pressed to forgive GoDaddy and HostGator for, Virtual Pulp Press has been wounded in action. I don't know how long it will be until I can perform the major surgery required. Maybe I never will, which would mean it is not just wounded but in fact dead.

Considering my schedule and all the irons I'm trying to juggle through the fire, my plans for VPP were probably too ambitious--especially given that I've been dealing with third parties who don't deliver on what they promise, after taking my money for that delivery. I think I'll get some of that money back, but certainly not the time or effort that's been converted to waste. Nor will I even get my domain back probably, since some parasite in the Ukraine took it when the ball was dropped. Not that the parasite likely has any similarly-named business--they just know it's important to someone else and therefore want to get paid for having it. Don't hold your breath, Sasha.

I still intend to use VPP as a defacto imprint. Whatever adventure stuff I publish will still bear the logo. And the 2-Fisted Blog will continue as normal, rather than being incorporated into the site. I'll continue to post links for books, movies, etc., here on the blog. Also, the clunky old outdated store is still active on www.virtualpulppress.kayser-watson.net, thanks to James Kayser, an all-around stand-up guy (and vice-prez of the company).

Who knows what the future holds. But for now, the cool online store I envisioned is an uphill battle I'll no longer be fighting.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

420 Friendly Adventure--Spurlock: Sheriff of Purgatory



I'm becoming quite well-acquainted with Jim Morris's work. That's how I know that this novel is off the beaten path for him. At least the beaten path so far. Like Bob Dylan, it is so free-wheeling that I'm inspired to wax poetic:

Spurlock is a shrewd dude who meditates in the nude, to put him in the mood to deal with the rude and the crude, who need adjustment of attitude. He lives in a time when the US is screwed. And he likes wacky tobaccy better than food. Though Morris is hardly a prude, his prose is a far cry from lewd.

I should have been a beatnik. Or a hip-hop gangsta.

Okay, let me expound a bit without putting it into rap lyrics. (Don't worry--there is no infantile rhyming in this book.)

Morris has set this tale in an alternate reality. I'm a bit fuzzy on the historic details that led to the scenario, but the gist of it is: 1. The Ruskies won a war with the USA, and now occupy the continent. 2. The occupational army runs the economy by proxy; and that proxy is the Mafia. And you get the idea that of the two organizations, the Mafia is the more powerful. 3. There was an armed resistance to the invasion. Most of them were assimilated back into the culture, like Spurlock. The "guerrillas" remain in rural areas, operating like a minor-league (and redneck) Mafia. They are murderers, rapists and borderline psychopaths who don't even understand what it is they think they're fighting for. 4. Purgatory is such a backwater that it has been left alone since the war was lost.

Sheriff Spurlock runs his county (and his personal life) with a mixture of streetwise savvy and a Zen-like quest for balance and harmony. He has an agreement with the local guerrilla leader which maintains the status quo, such as it is, with minimal conflict. That status quo is upset when a stuttering Mafia don comes to town with plans to absorb Purgatory into his fiefdom.

Shrewd dude that he is, Spurlock proposes a compromise with the Mafia that should keep everyone happy. But the don loses face during his visit, so Spurlock is screwed, clever compromises notwithstanding.

What follows is a road trip to the Big Apple by Spurlock and a practicing witch. There are some interesting misadventures along the way, then Spurlock locates and attempts to evacuate his estranged children from a New York very much like the one Snake Pliskin had to escape from.



This is an eccentric adventure tale laced with colorful characters, Eastern philosophy and social satire. There are some nice twists and detours along the way.

Personally, I've never experimented with marijuana, drugs or Eastern mysticism. Never had an interest in doing so even though I was born in the heyday of all that flower-power Summer of Love go-go stuff. But those who have lived a far less "straight edge" life than I have will probably feel right at home accompanying Sheriff Spurlock on this quest which is, at its core, pretty dang fun.


Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Assagai by Wilbur Smith



Whether he's on his game or not, Wilbur Smith is a novelist who tells a good adventure story nine times out of ten.

This one begins a few years prior to the outbreak of WWI and features early aviation, espionage, romance, and big game hunting in Africa.

Leon Courtney is a junior officer in the British Army in East Africa, with a lousy commanding officer. He makes a career change early on and finds himself on an epic hunting safari for Teddy Roosevelt and his son, Kermit. Ultimately he finds himself in a dangerous love triangle and some colonial chess-playing between the British and German empires prior to the opening guns of the First World War.

Smith's research is usually solid, but in this work he has some anachronisms--like German purpose-built bombers years before the war even began. (Even well after the war started, and bogged down into trench combat, planes were not used for fighting, but observation. The armies involved considered the military potential of "aeroplanes" dubious at best. Purpose-built combat aircraft didn't start rolling off the assembly lines for a while.)

Where Smith really shines is in his descriptions of Africa. In particular I appreciated his breakdown of the complex ecosystem which provides early warning (and hygiene) for elephants. And though I'm an unashamed carnivore, have enjoyed hunting in my day (and would again if it were feasible with my schedule, etc.), Smith's depictions of hunted animals are so poignant that I often can't help a pang of sadness when the humans prevail. This is true in a lot of his novels.

I couldn't help wondering if this novel is setting up what happens in The Power of the Sword which I read a year or two ago. Anyway, it's a pretty good read.