Thursday 31 December 2009

2009, a writing year

And now the end is here
And so I face the final curtain
My friend I'll say it clear
Something do-dah, dum-de highway...

With the year about to become history it's time for some reflection, I guess, on the stuff what I wrote in 2009. I had two novels out this year. Riders of the Barren Plains came out in July and gathered a few positive comments, which was warming as I didn't think the book was very good, but perhaps with hindsight I was a bit hard on it. It told the action tale I set out to write, so I couldn't ask for much more. On the other hand The Treasure of Saint Woody came out to deafening silence. I don't know anyone who has even read it, so it might be gathering quiet approval or it might have missed the mark entirely. But the publisher reckoned I should enter it for a Spur Award and even though I thought my epic tale of pig rustlers might not be literate enough for the judges I've given it a whirl. I've written my acceptance speech and it starts, 'WTF...'

Early in 2010 Sharpshooter McClure comes out, although I actually wrote it in 2008. I still think it's a fairly decent story. It has some good action scenes and the plot twist at the halfway point was one that I agonized over a lot. Even if I didn't quite go the whole hog as I'd intended to on first draft, I think that makes it a slightly different tale, for me anyhow, with a good balance of character and good-natured plotting.

Of the novels I wrote in 2009, Railroad to Redemption is out in August. I thought this decent when I'd finished it, but then shortly afterwards I received the galleys to Riders of the Barren Plains and I realized that both stories had a similiar plotting point as well as some similiarities in structure. It might have been nice if that'd occurred to me while writing, but I guess it's hard to be completely original every time. Bleached Bones in the Dust will be out around next Xmas or perhaps into 2011. I've found no reason yet not to like that one, although that's mainly because I can't for the life of me remember what it was about. I also sent The Miracle of Santa Maria to Avalon early in the summer, but I have heard nothing yet. I have an idea for a follow-up book so if they accept Maria, I'll get writing that up, otherwise I won't.

On work-in-progress I have the usual collection of half-written efforts sitting all over the place at various stages of abject failure. The nearest to coming out of redrafting hell is The Prairie Man. I wrote this under the title of The Redemption Trail, but it was only when writing the final line of the third draft that a character said the words 'The Prairie Man' and suddenly the story came into focus and stopped being a tale of redemption and became a tale about The Prairie Man. Hopefully when I've neatened things up some more it'll make sense.

Less developed is The Secret of Devil's Canyon. I've written only the first draft of that and in the end the secret turned out to be really dull and it wasn't even found in Devil's Canyon. Also the murderer turned out not to be the man I thought did it, the dead person turned out to be someone else too, the hero changed half way through, the bad guy disappeared half way and a new one appeared then he got forgotten about and the sidekick turned out to be the evil genius behind all the events even though he wasn't about when everything happened. Oh and the leading lady changed her name at some stage and became someone else, which was doubly confusing as she was living under an alias anyway, except her secret alias was accidentally the name she'd started with. So that one's going well.

Also on the going well front is Devine! featuring the return of the cuddly lawman Marshal Jake T. Devine. This one had several false starts this year and in the end I just banged down words to complete a first draft that on reflection is as unpublishable as anything I've ever written. Devine solves a mystery that I didn't know the answer to until the final chapter by the simple process of killing off everyone in the cast until the one left standing did it. So on the way he kills all the bad guys, kills the person he was supposed to be rescuing, kills the hero, kills the sidekick, shoots up a horse, the mayor, the state governor, two monks, three nuns and a passing saloon owner who only came in to give him someone to talk to. I think in hindsight this might be a bit too cynical and violent for anyone to read, including myself, so I'll let it sit for a few months then set about reworking out its excesses.

Even less developed is the long delayed Bermuda Bi-angle a non-western that's stalled twice. First at 10,000 words because I had no idea what on earth I was writing and then the second time at 30,000 words because I couldn't decide if it was a romantic comedy, an action thriller, or a cosy murder mystery. I still don't know the answer, but after putting it aside for a while I don't care any more so I'll just write to amuse myself and get to an ending then worry later about how I can get it into a state that can get rejected.

Anyway, that's my writing year. Happy Hogmanay, everyone!

Wednesday 30 December 2009

The Story with No Name - Part 22

The guest blogger today is Jim Griffin with part #22 of the Story with No Name:

Parts 1-16

Parts 17-21

“Hold up a bit, you three,” Vic Sawtell called before the trio could enter the bowels of the ruined ship. He and Choo How had chased Bourbon and the Apaches only a short distance, before they disappeared into a maze of dunes. “You’ll have plenty of time to explore that wreck. Right now, we’ve got other worries.”

“Like what?” Lola demanded.

“Bourbon and his Indians, for one. They’re not gonna go far from this ship, knowin’ we’re still here. They’ll be back, and we’d better be ready for them,” Sawtell warned.

“Victor’s telling it straight,” Choo How agreed.

“Sawtell’s right,” Arnside concurred. “This ship ain’t goin’ anywhere. What’s your thoughts, Vic?”

“First, this.”

Sawtell raised his Winchester and sent several shots just over the camels’ heads. The ungainly animals ran squalling into the desert.

“What’d you do that for?” Roden cried, still bound hand and foot.

“I’d rather walk forty miles than get on the back of one of those stinkin’ beasts again,” Sawtell replied. “Besides, if things go our way, Bourbon will provide us horses. And I’ve still got mine.”

Sawtell whistled, and his chestnut appeared from behind a dune. The gelding trotted up to Sawtell and nuzzled his hand.

“I’ll get you some water in a minute, Rojo,” Sawtell told the horse.

“You mind untying me and Hassan first?” Roden pleaded.


Sawtell and Arnside cut the two men’s bonds, then gave them short drinks from their canteens. The entire group huddled in the scant shade of the ship’s skeleton.

Arnside dug in his pocket and removed the Ranger badge he’d picked up before leaving Bartlett’s corpse.

“What’s that?” Choo How asked.

“A Texas Ranger badge that was stuck in my chest. Can’t figure it. I’’ve never been a Ranger, and neither was Silas, Roden, or anyone else tied in with this,” Arnside replied.

“I’ll take that,” Sawtell said. The blonde outlaw plucked the badge from Arnside’s hand and pinned it to his shirt.

“What’s the meanin’ of that?” Roden demanded.

“My kid brother Joe was a Ranger. This was his badge. Joe was workin’ undercover, investigatin’ a smugglin’ ring led by Bourbon down in Galveston. Somehow they figured out who he was. Joe was strung up by his wrists, slit open from crotch to breastbone, and he was left hangin’ there with his belly ripped open and his guts pulled out and danglin’ like sausages hangin’ at a butcher’s. He must’ve hung there sufferin’ for hours before he died. I vowed to track down Bourbon for that. The badge stuck in your chest was a message to me, not you, Walt. Sorry I left it there when I cut you loose, but I couldn’t pull it out without givin’ myself away. I knew once you found Deuce’s horse you’d catch up to me.”

“You didn’t actually join the Rangers?” Arnside questioned.

“I wear the badge, and I draw pay from Austin every month,” Sawtell shrugged.

“What about the treasure?” Gabe asked.

“What treasure? I’ll believe that when I see it,” Sawtell retorted. He spat in the dust. “I’m not interested in gold in any event. I just want to see Bourbon dead, and with this badge I can do it legally. None of you will believe this, but I actually like workin’ on the side of the law. I’m figurin’ on makin’ the Rangers my new career.”

Lola snuggled against Sawtell’s side. She slipped her hand inside his jeans, to begin massaging his crotch.

“Vic, what about me and you?”

Sawtell pushed her away.

“Lola, you’ve had me and every other man here, plus some that aren’t, and you still haven’t decided which one you want. Take your pick, darlin’, but whoever you choose, it ain’t gonna be me.”

“Mebbe it’ll be him she’ll want.”

Zack Roden pointed to where Emilio Escobar Bourbon had reappeared on the horizon.

Next week's instalment will be written by Paul Dellinger...

Tuesday 29 December 2009

The Story with No Name - Parts 17-21

I'll be posting the latest instalment of the Story with No Name tomorrow and so for ease of reading for new readers below are sections 17-21:

Part 1-16

Part 17 - Peter Avarillo

The town of Bannon was quiet under the heat of the midday sun when Walt Arnside rode along the main street.

He was stiff and tired from the journey that had been punctuated with nights of fitful sleep.

All he wanted was to fill his aching belly and find a soft bed where he hoped to sleep without being plagued by the nightmares of his desert experience.

He had howled as the blood flowed back into his right hand causing painful spasms. Pain that was replaced by anger as he fought the knots that bound his left hand to the stake. Anger that was not spent when, with a rasping roar, he sent the Texas Ranger badge flying through the air to plop, in a spray of sand, close to Silas Bartlett’s feet.

And then more pain as blood rushed through his starved ankles into his feet. Rolling, cursing as each spasm surged up his legs.

Only when his body settled did he try to stand and staggered over to the remains of Silas Bartlett where he plucked the lance free. He paid no attention as the corpse crumpled to the ground. Instead he concentrated on plunging the tip into the sand to clean it. But even then his imagination played with his anger as each time the tip hit the sand so it was stabbing into the body of Zack Roden. Into the body of Silas Bartlett. And into that of a man named Bourbon.

Until exhaustion and tears of frustration drove him to his knees.

Slowly, sanity came back to him and with it an absolute priority. Using the lance as a support he pulled himself back to his feet, then hacked at the cactus. Holding the mashed flesh above his mouth squeezing precious drops of water onto his tongue. Groaning as the water moisted his tongue, mouth and throat.

It was nearly dusk by the time he felt strong enough to crawl to where Deuce Harmon’s body still lay stiff in death. Painfully, stretching taut burned skin he had stripped the clothes from the corpse and dressed himself before laying back in the sand waiting for his strength to return.

He stared long and hard at the mass of tracks that pointed south west and knew that he was in no fit state to go off in pursuit. He had to be stronger and better equipped before he could even think of going on the vengeance trail.

The galleon, even if it existed, was no longer the goal. He wished that he had never heard of the damned boat. Wished that he had not stopped that train nor heeded Silas Bartlett’s call. For from that point on he had been shot at, gutshot and left for dead and, been staked out to die in the desert. He had put his life on the line for people that he had looked upon as friends and each had turned out to be an enemy. Nor could he be certain where Lola stood in all this.

Where to go? Matlock would not be safe and he had no wish to head back to Lola’s cabin. Bannon seemed to beckon as the safest haven where he could work out what to do next.

Slowly, he climbed to his feet and crested a dune. He stopped dead, his mouth gaping as he saw Harmon’s horse tethered to a cactus. Looking cautiously around him he approached the animal.

“What the hell?” he croaked, sure that the animal had run off after Sawtell had emptied the saddle. Then allowed himself to grin. “Thanks, Sawtell. I do have a fighting chance – now.”

After leaving his horse in the livery, Walt strode across the hardpan to the cafe opposite. He felt a tad rich after he had discovered just over fifteen dollars in notes and loose change in Harmon’s denims. At least he could pay for his immediate needs.

Part 18 - Cap'n Bob Napier

Arnside washed the trail dust from his hands and face at a watering trough, beat the dirt from his clothes with his hat, and strode into Molly's Cafe with hunger tearing at his belly like cats in a sack.

"I'll have whatever's ready," he told the plump, smiling waitress, "and a pitcher of water, please."

She took one look at his red, chapped skin and peelings lips and hustled off, returning moments later with a large blue ewer and a tin tumbler. Walt filled the tumbler with shaking hands, drank deeply, and sighed.

"Appears like you haven't drunk nothin' in a month of Sundays, mister."

"Feels like it, too, darling. Are you Molly?"

"She's the owner, cook, and my ma. I'm Gretchen. I'll fetch that food now. I hope stew's okay."

Before Walt could answer she scurried away and was back in two shakes with a large bowl of steaming mulligan, napkin and utensils, and basket of bread.

"Anything interesting happen in these parts?" he asked around a mouthful of stew.

The juice burned the roof of his mouth but after what he'd been through a little heat was like an old friend.

"Interesting? Our marshal got his head busted and had to get shipped off to a home for the feeble-minded, our undertaker had a bunch of fingers broke, and an old prospector was in earlier swearin' he saw The Magi riding across the desert. Says it means the Second Coming is nigh and we'd all best prepare our souls."

Walt grinned at the girl's recitation and tucked back into his meal. When he finished he left a half dollar on the table, twice what the meal cost, and strode out to find a quiet saloon. A whiskey would satisfy right handsome about now, he allowed.

He took three steps down the boardwalk when the import of the girl's story slammed him like the board that sent Marshal Stryker to the drool academy. He ran back into Molly's and grabbed Gretchen by her shoulders.

"That sourdough, where can I find him?"


"Tell me!"

"Stop it, you're hurting me."

Walt loosened his grip. "Sorry, Gretchen. I need to find that prospector, right away."

She thought for a moment, tongue out. "He has a shack behind the saddle shop. If he ain't there try The Silver Palace saloon."

Arnside raced off.

He found the shack where Gretchen said it would be, but no one answered his knock. Should have tried the saloon first, he chided himself.

Walt stood at the bat wings of The Silver Palace and scanned the room before entering. Wouldn't pay to have some of Zack Roden's men inside. His glance fell on a table at the center of the room where a shabby old cuss was regaling the room with a story, much to their amusement.

"I tell ya', I seen 'em with my own eyes. Long-legged critters with necks long as stovepipes and backs like anthills, just a-lumbering across the sands like they owned the desert. I seen a picture once of the three magi when they come calling on baby Jesus and they was riding the same critters. If that don't prove it, I don't know what does."

"Sure, Gabe, sure. Have another drink. Maybe you'll tell us about seeing the Noah's Ark next."

The crowd burst out laughing. Gabe jumped to his feet and pushed through the men having a laugh at his expense. He nearly plowed Walt Arnside down as he crashed out of the saloon.

"Whoa, there, old timer. What the rush?"

"Dang-blasted fools. Wouldn't know the truth if it crawled up their dumb asses."

Walt laid a comforting arm on old Gabe's shoulder. "Why not tell me your story? I'm the believing kind."

"Can't talk on a dry throat, pardner. Let's mosey up the street and find a joint where we can dip a bill in peace."

With a bottle between them and each man holding a full shot glass, Gabe proposed a toast.

"Here's how."

"Now, about the magi. . ." Arnside prompted.

"Yesterday, I was coming back from digging in the Mohawk Mountains when I seen a passel of riders out in the Yuma Desert. Makes no sense. Nothin' there but sand and snakes. No water for a hundred miles. Even the A-patch go 'round it."

Gabe refilled his glass and continued. "They was maybe six or seven on horses, but the others were ridin' those Bible animals like I seen in the picture. Four of them, they was."

"Was one a woman?"

"Too far to tell, even with my spyglass."

"Any Indians?"

"Nope. Like I said, the A-patch got more sense than to go out there."

"Can you tell me how to find this place, Gabe?"

"Sure. Might as well. The world'll end soon enough anyway."

Armed with a detailed description of how to find the last place Roden, Lola and the others had been spotted--assuming Bourbon allowed them to live--Arnside stepped from the saloon and aimed himself toward the stable.

"You!" a voice cried. "You do this!"

He turned to see Choo How pointing at Walt with his bandaged hand. Behind the Chinaman, a crowd began to grow.

Part 19 - Richard Prosch

“You make this happen, Walt Arnside!” Again, Choo How drunkenly shook his injured hand, its dirty bandage all but unraveling. “You owe me something for it!” he slurred, tipping slightly toward the dusty street.

Walt grimaced at the memory of his visit to Choo How’s mortuary. He and the renegade sheriff Stryker had been looking for Bartlett’s map and Stryker broke the kid’s fingers. How long ago had it been? How many weeks? Walt carefully weighed the crowd, then shot a glance toward Gabe. The old prospector’s eyes sparkled in the sun, and Walt pinched the bridge of his nose, smiling at the little undertaker’s daring. That injured hand, plenty healed up by now, had earned Choo How many a sympathetic drink.

Walt stepped forward quickly then, telegraphed a wide right and swung in with a left. In the space of a breath, the undertaker blocked the punch and sent a hard jab to Walt’s ribs –with the injured hand. The crowd gasped as the bandage fell away. Walt clutched his middle, but the spasms that wracked his shoulders were laughter as Choo gazed at his naked fingers, then slowly at the crowd, his deception revealed.

“Looks like the game is up, Choo How!” he said as Gabe helped him to his feet. “But I’ll make it up to you,” he turned to the prospector, “to both of you.”

Walt knocked the dust from his britches and pitched his offer. “Ride with me into the desert, and if what I suspect is true, we’ll all be rich men come Friday.”

“Why trust you, Arnside?” asked Choo, all signs of his previous anebriation gone. “Especially after you betray me again?”

“The Chinaman can’t go with you,” came a voice from the glowering crowd. “We’re gonna be busy stringin’ him up.”

“Show him how we treat con men ‘round these parts!”

“Yeah!” Shouts went up, the gang surged immediately forward, and then with a thundering pistol crash —came just as quickly to a silent stand still.

With an easy lope Vic Sawtell emerged from the shadow of an alley on his chestnut gelding, the pearl handled .45 still smoking in his slim, gloved hand. The blonde outlaw led three horses behind him. “We ain’t got time for this, boys.” He smiled down at Walt. “And they ain’t riding with you. You all are riding with me.”

Arnside grinned. “What’s the story Sawtell?”

“Story? The story has no name, Arnside. We’re just gettin’ on with life…and death.”

“It’s wages for a job,” said Choo.

“And maybe…revenge?” said Walt. “As I recall, Bartlett was killed before you were paid. That’s gotta make you mad. Especially since you don’t believe in the boat. Or the gold.”

Sawtell spit a stream of tobacco into the dirt. “Yeah, I been studyin’ on what Bartlett owed me. Back pay for, shoot I don’t know…three, four…” Choo held up his palm and Sawtell nodded. “Five jobs he owed me for.”

“He was in debt to me and Choo How too,” said Gabe. “We all got us a stake in that boat o’ gold.”

“Whatever it turns out to be,” said Sawtell, “part of it’s mine. You still got that map memorized, Choo How?”

“I do indeed, Victor. I do indeed.”

Walt noted the undertaker’s forced Asian accent had vanished. “Old Silas had more friends…or should I say employees, than I imagined,” he said.

“Let’s just say the man had a secret society of his own,” said Sawtell.

“I just hope there’s enough for all of us,” said Choo How as he swung into the saddle.

“I just hope we find it before the rapture,” said Gabe.

Twenty miles to the northwest, a brief windstorm blew itself out as Lola Metivier awoke for the final time atop the camel she’d come to think of as her last real connection to Walt Arnside and the life she’d led before all this began.

Zack Roden rode his mount beside her, bobbing along, apparently still asleep. Bourbon and his Apache thugs had been riding them in circles. Time no longer had any meaning. Nothing did. The blowing, stinging sand was the cloud stuff of bad dreams.

A towering structure of shimmering gold danced directly in front of them just out of reach.

Lola’s eyes shut tight, and she drifted through a red haze. When she again looked ahead the air had cleared and a monstrosity of burnt timber and jumbled iron rigging lunged from the desert floor to hover against the backdrop of a sea blue sky.

“Damn me to hell,” whispered Roden, “there really is a boat.”

Again Lola took in the broken keel and charred capstan. “That’s as may be, but there sure as hell aint any gold.”

And before she could see any more, rough Apache hands drug her to the ground.

Part 20 - Evan Lewis

Lola lay on the ground, wrists straining against a strip of rawhide. Beside her, likewise bound, were her erstwhile lover Zack Roden and the camel driver Hassan.

Scowling down at them were six fierce-eyed Apaches armed with spears and buffalo rifles.

“Where,” Lola said, her tongue caked with sand, “where is your master?”

One of the warriors spoke a few guttural words. The others laughed.

“I demand,” she said, striving for a ring of command, “that we see Mr. Bourbon at once!”

An Apache grasped her leg, ran a hand up to her thigh as if judging horseflesh. He spoke, and the others nodded agreement.

“You demand it, do you?” The voice, accented with hints of both French and Spanish, came from outside the ring of Indians. Two warriors stood aside, allowing Esteban Escobar Bourbon to enter. His black hair and beard were flecked with sand, and the feather protruding from his broad-brimmed hat was wilted.

Lola felt the heat of Bourbon’s dark, glittering eyes upon her. So, she thought, he was a man like any other. “A gentleman should always cater to a lady’s demands.”

Bourbon bent, wrapped strong fingers about her arm and pulled her to her feet. “I have a fascinating tale to tell. Perhaps you would care to hear it.”

Through the swirling sands, Lola again saw the huge, charred skeleton of the ship rising up out of the desert.

“My grandfather,” Bourbon said, “was a famous man. Doubtless you have heard of him. His name was Jean Lafitte.”

“I have heard,” Lola said, “that he was also quite handsome.”

Bourbon smiled. “My grandfather captured many prizes, but richest of all was the Spanish galleon Contessa, captured with great damage to his own ship off the coast of Venezuela. He assigned one of his most trusted lieutenants, a man named Eastman, to captain a prize crew and follow him Cartagena, where he then had his headquarters. Instead, the rogue fled with the treasure south along the coast of South America. Lafitte’s ship was too damaged for immediate pursuit, but he was a man who never let betrayal go unavenged. He charged one of his own sons with punishing Eastman and reclaiming the treasure.”

Lola listened with interest. But as they neared the remains of the ship, she noticed piles of something white and gleaming at the base of each of the frame’s great ribs. It looked like ivory. Was this the treasure?

“The man Lafitte sent,” Bourbon said, “was my father. He followed Eastman clear around the tip of South America, and up the other side. The voyage took many years, and along the way the crew took wives and had children - such as myself” He thumped his chest. “But eventually they ran Eastman to earth, here, in this very desert.”

“But how did this ship come to be here, in the desert?”

“That is a tale for another time. Suffice it to say that Eastman and his followers paid dearly for their perfidy.”

“And you recovered the treasure. The ivory.”

Bourbon eyed her strangely. “The treasure, I am sad to say, has so far eluded us. But one day we shall find it. In the meantime, we have made certain no one beats us to it.”

Grunts and curses announced the approach of men from behind. Lola stared as Roden and Hassan were dragged past and thrown to the earth at the foot of two of the remaining ribs. Their bonds were cut and quickly retied, so that each was bound with his back to the blackened timber.

Bourbon led Lola steadily closer, until the mystery of the “ivory” was revealed. This was no treasure at all, but lengths of bone and skulls bleached white by the sun.

“Many have sought the treasure,” Bourbon said, “but none have returned.”

Lola pressed her body against Bourbon. “You would not do the same to me.”

“Not just yet,” Bourbon said, leering down at her.

The six Apaches, finished with Roden and Hassan, now formed a ring around them.

Lola felt faint. Then Bourbon’s broad-brimmed hat leapt from his head, and she heard the bark of a rifle shot.

Over a rise of sand came four figures on charging camels. Two of them she knew, and one brought a glad cry to her lips.


Part 21 - Jack Martin

'They're scattering,' Arnside yelled, whooping and hollering. It wasn't like Apaches but they had turned tail and were running.

'Guess they know what's good for them,' Sawtell screamed with joy and let of a shot towards the retreating Indians. One of them threw his arms up and with a scream pitched forward into sand.

'I'm enjoying this,' Gabe yelled, holding onto his camel for grim death. He was jostled about on the beast and several times he always lost his grip but each time he managed to keep his balance.

'There's Lola.' Arnside yelled.

'We separate,' Choo How yelled. ' Sawtell and me we chase off the Indians. Don't need to kill them just make sure they run far enough away.'

'Sounds good to me,' Sawtell said and set off another shot but hit nothing. 'Just as long as I get my share of what's coming.'

'That's a certainty.' Arnside said and sped his own camel forward as the two men set off in pursuit of the fleeing Indians.

Below standing before the ship Lola felt Bourbon's grip loosen and then she was thrown to the ground, face down so that she didn't see which way Bourbon had run and when she managed to turn around she saw that he had vanished. She lay there, eyes directed at the magnificent wreck that was the ship. She was still staring when she felt an arm lifting her to her feet.

'Lola,' Arnside said and looked at her, his eyes never once leaving her face.

'The ship.' Lola said, dreamily as if her words had been uttered deep within a trance. 'There's the ship, Walt. It's real.'

Arnside nodded and only now did he look at the wreck before them. It sat there, as if it had been deposited in the desert. Its timbers were impossibly aged and most of its rigging had snapped so that planks of splintered wood, like dead fingers, reached for the sky. There was a gaping hole in the hull, looking almost like a rictus mouth, and through which could be seen the darkness within the nautical tomb.

'I say we go take us a look see.' Gabe had joined them and he stood looking at the ancient wreck.

'Shall we untie them?' Arnside asked, pointed back to Rodan and Hassen. Both men were rolling about in the sand, their hands still bound behind their backs and their feet tied together.

'Yes.' Lola said but she seemed to be answering some inner thoughts rather than Arnside's question. She walked towards the ship as if led by some ethereal force. Gabe followed just behind her and seemed to be in a somnolent state himself.

'Sorry fellas.' Arnside said and set off after them. Together the three of them entered the fractured hull of the ship.

Monday 28 December 2009

My three most annoying books of 2009

These are the three books that annoyed me the most this year. There were others that I started reading, found I didn’t enjoy, and stopped, but these are the ones that I had high hopes for and so I kept ploughing on, then wished I hadn't.

3. Best Served Cold by Joe Abercrombie

If I'd had a blog last year, the author's first trilogy would have been on my list of best books of 2008. His First Law series burst on to the scene from nowhere and proved there was still life left in Sword and Sorcery. The tale was a slight one and did nothing new, but the characters were excellent. Angst ridden barbarians and sympathetic torturers filled an action-packed story that was told with wit and a nice turn of phrase: 'Say one thing for Logen Ninefingers, say he's a c***' has already gone to the top of my list of the greatest lines in literature.

Surely it could only get better, I thought, and yet it didn’t. Having created memorable characters who are on the face of it unpleasant but who have hidden depths, this story attempts to repeat the trick, but instead it forgets the hidden depths element. Everyone is repellent, the story is dreary, nothing matters much, and the wit is missing. I struggled with this one and only goodwill from the earlier books kept me going to an ending that had me rustling through the blank pages at the end wondering if that was it.

2. Iron Angel by Alan Campbell

This was the sequel to Scar Night, which despite this book I'd still rate as a classic novel. Scar Night was set in a city dangling over the bottomless pit of Hell. The story was fast-paced, contained numerous throwaway events that were highly original, had many fascinating characters and was written with a glorious gothic feel.

The sequel did one thing right: it continued the invention by taking the story in an unexpected direction. The bad thing was I had no interest in that direction to the extent that every element I'd enjoyed in the first book was ignored and every element I hadn't enjoyed was developed. Most of the book is set in Hell, and I felt I was in it trying to read through hundreds of pages describing odd things happening to characters' immortal souls, none of which I understood and in which anyone can transform into anything for no reason I could see. The whole story leads up to the ultimate battle to end all ultimate battles in which the soulless minions of Hell gather together somewhere or other to fight a really big robot with manic staring eyes for the eternal control of civilization as we know it, time, space, heaven, hell, every alternate reality, infinity and all the bits that lay beyond. It takes about two pages and I had no idea who won.

1. The Scarpetta Factor by Patricia Cornwell

This book set the bar too high on the annoying scale for me not to mention it, even if it was my own fault for reading something that was on the bestseller list. I loved the early Scarpetta books in the 90s, but gave up on them when the author became too famous to waste time on writing and listening to an editor. But the books kept on coming out and so I was tempted back. Big mistake. My other two choices for annoying books above were written by excellent writers and it's just that these two books weren't to my taste. I can happily accept that other readers will enjoy the stories and I'll certainly try any future books they write. I can't say that for this one. It's just bad. Period.

Oh and the movie version of Scarpetta provisionally entitled Scarpetta, the smuggest bint in the world is getting closer with Angelina Jolie on board so even more people will be tempted to read what has become a terribly written series filled with the most unpleasant set of main characters imaginable, who solve confusing and dull crimes in the most uninvolving way possible in their spare time when they are not living their depressing celebrity-obsessed perfect lives in what, as far as I can gather, is a bizarre psycho-analytical exercise by the author to create a wish fulfillment alter-ego, despite the fact that the perfect creature she's created in Scarpetta has you rooting for the bad guy to blast her away.

Wednesday 23 December 2009

Bah, hum...

I hate Xmas so much I can't even get up the enthusiasm to go: Bah, Humbug.

All that wishing people you can't stand Merry Xmas, rabid shoppers buying enough toilet roll for a year-long siege, Xmas cards with Xmasy things like Shrek on the cover from people whose addresses got lost 20 years ago, tacky Xmas tinsel that drops tinsel bits everywhere, tacky Xmas trees that drop spiky bits everywhere, tacky Xmas baubles that if you look at them break into thousands of shards of razor-like glass, tacky Xmas lights that don't work and only light up while you're electrocuting yourself, tacky Xmas everything that destroys a religious and pagan ceremony for a retail stunt to save an economy that's been mortgaged off by politicians, who probably pay for their whole Xmas on expensives, to some bunch of cockney rhyming slang bankers who are so important we have to shut every hospital and school in the country just to pay for their bonuses so they can lose the country another fifty trillion pounds next year, and then there's Santa, I mean why is that meant to be a great idea with kids being taught that some fat bloke will give them presents if they sit on his knee when for the rest of the year they tell them to avoid fat blokes who want to give them presents if they sit on his knee and so people lie to their kids and don't tell them the presents really come from their parents who are going into debt to buy them tacky rubbish that won't have batteries and that'll break before everyone's finished getting paper-cuts opening their presents, and they'll have more fun with the box the over-priced present came in anyway, and then there's the expensive sales where everything is trebled in price just so it can be halved to give you a bargain, the guilt trips, the annoying friends and relatives who won't go away even after you've thrown their coats out the door, gone to bed, turned out all the lights, and got a taxi-driver to drag them out the house, and there's all the excuses you have to dream up to avoid parties and you just know someone is going to compare notes and find out you haven't emigrated and so the week you spent hiding on the bathroom floor to avoid people was wasted, the inane drivel on the tv that was recorded in sweltering June where everyone pretends it's all right to be rubbish because it's Xmas and even that program about grumpy people being grumpy about Xmas is a repeat, which can't be said for that old biddy on the screen interrupting the 25th showing of a Harry Potter film, which are all rubbish, to drone on about the Commonwealth, which now consists of a small potting shed in the Pitcairn Islands, and about all the worthy flunkies in grace and favour housing she gave awards to in the year for doing something of no use to anyone better than anyone else, all those cakes and mince pies that get scoffed by late November so you have to buy more, the cheap booze that gets drunk by late October so you have to buy more, the disgusting liqueurs made out of cream, coffee, 100% proof vodka and aniseed flavoured sage and onion stuffing that nobody in their right mind would ever drink because they make you go blind and they taste disgusting, but it's Xmas so you trough your way through them along with the skip-size tins of teeth-rotting sweets and biscuits that you'd never feel inclined to eat at any other time of year but because it's Xmas you have to finish every rancid, sugar-coated morsel to stop it all going mouldy in the month you have to wait for the dustbin men to begin spilling your rubbish everywhere again on the way to the landfill sites the size of a small country that are all adding to the greenhouse effect, except global warming is all a myth anyhow because all those politicians and tree-huggers who jetted around the world trying to save the planet thought it was more important to organize another big get together some time next year despite the increasing danger that Bono will write a song about it, and then there's the monster-sized tubs of nuts, I love nuts but not in eighteen kilogram buckets that are six months past their sell by date and have the big slogan on them that they might contain nuts, and they make me feel like I'm turning into a nut when I've finished even though you can't buy real nuts any more, they have to be covered in salt and roasted, whatever happened to simple brazil nuts where you could have hours of fun trapping your fingers trying to snap off a bit and then break your teeth nibbling on something brown that smelt vaguely off, is that another health and safety thing where we can't be trusted to make our own nuts any more or did Brazil pave over all their rain-forests and kill off their nuts, and then there's Xmas carols with their message of peace and goodwill to all Mankind, well I hate Mankind, we're ruining the planet so war and badwill might just kill us all off and let someone else have a go who might make a better fist of it, and rotten Xmas songs with dreadful X-factor warblers and Cliff Richard and Noddy Holder's bad miming telling us what the day is as if we didn't know and Wizard wanting it to be Xmas every day so they can get even more royalties for their terrible song, and I hate turkey, it's the most pointless meat ever invented, if only it tasted like chicken it'd be fine but it tastes of nothing and you chew for hours and still it does nothing for you but give you heartburn and it always comes in ten-ton sizes and the alternative of goose is too expensive and duck is too fatty and the butcher didn't listen this year and so we ended up buying a pork loin that's slightly bigger than a hog on steriods and it'll take until next Xmas to defrost, so you end up eating something you don't like because it's Xmas such as brussel sprouts that smell like old socks and cabbage that ends up being boiled for three days beforehand and smells like old socks filled with brussel sprouts, and don't get me started on kids, oh look at their faces, aren't they happy, I don't want to see kids happy, I don't want to see kids, period, but it's Xmas and that excuses everything, but nothing but nothing can excuse Noel Edmonds appearing on my tv and It's a Wonderful Life sucks too, it's the most depressing movie ever made, and that weepy theatre luvvie Richard Attenborough is not Santa and neither is that smug sitcom actor Tim Allen and why isn't The Great Escape on again this year, apparently everyone knows that The Great Escape is the most seasonally relevant film ever made and so it's on every Xmas except for the simple fact that The Great Escape is never on at Xmas, and the only thing to look forward to is another Dr Who special except the specials are always rubbish, and then there's the weather, Heather the Weather retired yesterday so it's anyone's guess what the weather will be as the new weather forecaster looks about fifteen and anyway according to the BBC London is the only place in the world that gets weather, or news for that matter, but it's snowing now and I hate snow, slushy stuff making me fall over and get cold, and nobody ever clears away snow outside their doors any more except me because people fall over and sue them so they ignore the snow leading to even more people falling over, and other people are off work so you can't get stuff done and you just know you'll get a burst pipe or a yellow icicle will fall out of the sky and spear the cat and you can't get anyone to do anything about it, and then there's charities wanting money for something whiney probably involving kids and giving them happy faces for us to look at, and it gets dark about two hours before it gets light, and the one and only good thing about it all is that it's the only time of the year when you don't feel guilty about having a pint of whiskey in the morning, except afterwards you're an alcoholic, you're skint, you're fat, you're cheesed off, and you need a holiday and then just when you think you might have the joy of normality another great big fat pointless holiday comes along seven days later where you have to wish people you can't stand a happy Hogmanay, and rabid shoppers are buying enough toilet roll to build a fortress...

Merry Christmas, one and all!

Monday 21 December 2009

My three favourite books of 2009.

The following are the three novels I've read in 2009 that I enjoyed the most, although none of them were actually published this year.

3. The Chosen by Ricardo Pinto

This book surprised me as it contained pretty much everything I usually don’t like in fiction, and yet somehow I still enjoyed it. The story is set in a version of ancient China in which slavery is the norm and the ruling elite are brutal in the extreme. The slightest error by a slave leads to mutilation, and to even look at the elite is punishable by death. But life is no better for the elite as every aspect of their lives is controlled by stifling protocol and ridiculous conventions. A young member of the elite is called to the main city to take part in the election of a new emperor and... and, well, that's it. There is no story beyond that.

Instead hundreds of pages are devoted to describing a bizarre society in massive detail while absolutely nothing happens. Strangely I enjoyed this as the writer was confident enough to just write what he wanted to write rather than fitting in with the usual plot conventions. So the hero is passive and suffers only minor angst as hundreds are slaughtered. He doesn't feel so aggrieved by the suffering that he raises a rebel army or any of the ways I expected the story to develop. Oh, and the hero is gay, which is a bit daring for the notoriously backward fantasy genre.

2. The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch

I finally got round to reading this, and then almost wished I hadn't. The first hundred pages are terrible and I was about five minutes away from giving up when there was a gladiator fight with sharks, a scene that was so unusual I gave it another few pages to grab my attention, and it did. The story is set in a version of medieval Venice. The hero is a thief who steals from the rich and keeps it. But then a bigger, better and stronger thief comes along to challenge him. They lock horns, but then their battle for supremacy becomes personal...

The story is a convoluted one with some classic plot twists that I'll freely admit I didn’t see coming. The writing is in some ways the opposite of my number 3 choice as description is usually kept to the minimum and yet the city is as much a main character as the people. The only downside is that it appears the author is set to write many, many books in this series and diminishing returns nearly always set in when that happens.

1. Fevre Dream by George RR Martin

I've enjoyed Martin's books since his early science fiction novels in the 1970s and yet somehow this book, written in 1982, passed me by. It doesn't appear to have much acclaim or popularity although it's as accomplished as his more famous works. The story is set in the 1850s on the Mississippi. A steamboat captain is down on his luck when an offer that's just too good to miss comes his way. A mysterious man builds him the finest boat on the river and all he has to do in return is never annoy his odd friends and never try to rouse him in daylight...

Part antibellum western, part horror tale, the story is a lot of fun in which Martin displays his ability to write perfect scenes with just the right amount of description, plot movement, character development and tension. Oddly for Martin it's also short!

Next week, the three books that annoyed me the most in 2009.

Monday 14 December 2009

A Fistful of Legends - An Extra Special Offer

On Jan 31, 2010 Express Westerns will publish a second anthology of western short stories A Fistful of Legends. To help celebrate Christmas and Hogmanay, we are pleased to announce that for a limited time you can buy a copy of the book at a special discounted price. Order before Jan 11, 2010 and you can buy A Fistful of Legends with FREE POSTAGE.

Even better, the book will be shipped to you as soon as you've paid.

This is a one-off, never to be repeated offer, after which you'll have to wait until Jan 31 to buy a copy and then pay the full retail price plus postage.

The retail price is $15.95, so US readers can buy at that price. UK readers can also buy at $15.95 if you know how to pay in dollars, otherwise you'll have to pay in pounds, which with the pound now trading at about one thousand pounds to the Zimbabwean cent, will be £10.50. Sadly we can't offer completely free postage to anyone outside the US and UK, but a discount will be applied (so for instance the total cost for most of mainland Europe will be $18, Japan will be $20).

In addition, if you haven't already got a copy of Express Westerns' first anthology Where Legends Ride, for the duration of this offer you can buy a bundle of the two books with free postage. That's a total of 35 action-packed western stories! Where Legends Ride retails at $13.95, so you can get both for $29.90 or £19.50.

To take advantage of this offer please contact me at with AFOL in the subject line and we can arrange for you to pay to my paypal account. Or if you prefer contact Dave through his blog at Davy Crockett's Almanack as he is also running this promotion.

So what are you waiting for? Saddle up for action and adventure ... and grab yourself A Fistful of Legends!

Saturday 12 December 2009

A Fistful of Legends

Express Westerns' latest anthology of western short stories A Fistful of Legends will be available to buy from and all on-line retailers on 31 January 2010. The ISBN is 978-0-557-19954-9 and the price will be $15.95 (about £10 or 17.50 Euros)

The book has been edited by Nik Morton and co-edited by Charles Whipple. It features an introduction by James Reasoner along with a front and back page cover illustration designed by Jennifer Smith-Mayo based on an original painting by David McAllister. I am confident this is a western title all western fans (and anyone who enjoys a good yarn) will want to buy. The 21 stories in this bumper size book are :

DEAD MAN TALKING by Derek Rutherford
BILLY by Lance Howard
HALF A PIG by Matthew P Mayo
BLOODHOUND by C. Courtney Joyner
BIG ENOUGH by Chuck Tyrell
ON THE RUN by Alfred Wallon
THE GIMP by Jack Martin
VISITORS by Ross Morton
THE NIGHTHAWK by Michael D George
DARKE JUSTICE by Peter Avarillo
CRIB GIRLS by Kit Churchill
MAN OF IRON by Chuck Tyrell

Acclaim for our authors in Express Westerns' first anthology Where Legends Ride:

From Meridian Bridge:
One of the very best tales is ‘Bubbles,’ by Ross Morton. Within a handful of pages Morton presents three-dimensional characters that live and breathe and wander through the years like real people, and we’re treated to a heartfelt overview of a friendship that spans the decades.
Gillian F. Taylor too offers more than a routine reworking of old formulas in ‘Easier Than Working’ as bank robbers Irish and Tomcat Billy come across a homesteader family in need. More than just a pair of good-hearted rogues, these two express a real range of emotion in their creator’s hands.

From Ron Fortier, Pulp Fiction Review:
‘The Prodigal’ by Chuck Tyrell is a poignant, classic cowboy tale of right and wrong with a dedicated marshal having to hunt down his own son. Likewise ‘The Man Who Tracked a River’ by Derek Rutherford offered up a story of guilt and redemption that was steeped in the dust of the badlands. ‘Desert Surrender’ by Kit Churchill is a raw, grim adventure that had me turning the pages fast. These are all classic western gems. ‘Once Upon A Time In Mirage’ by I.J. Parnham and ‘Snows of Montana’ by the editor Matthew P. Mayo read like saddle-tramp sagas inspired by O’Henry, their twisty ends fun.

From Pog’s Literary Reviews
Not only do Lance Howard’s westerns contain enough action and traditional shoot ‘em up for the most discriminating western novel reader, but they craft vivid characters and explore the vast panorama of human experience and emotion with situations relevant and immediate for a modern audience’ll find gunslingers and crooked lawmen right alongside battered wives and homeless outcasts...a western writer for the non-western reader and horse opera lover alike!

Now Express Westerns is back.

Discover what it’s like to ride with damaged men and sinister night stalkers, tragic doves, plucky homemakers and gun-toting belles. Experience for yourself the harsh reality of birth and death, love and hate, revenge, retribution and robbery. You'll find it all here, penned by a whole posse-full of Western writers old and new.

So what are you waiting for? Saddle up for action and adventure ... and grab yourself A Fistful of Legends!

Available from The Express Westerns store as from 31 January 2010. Where Legends Ride, currently available.

Wednesday 2 December 2009

The Story With No Name - Part #18

Bob Napier has supplied the latest section at: The Cap'n's Blog

The first 16 parts are here

Part 17 - Peter Avarillo

Tuesday 1 December 2009

Robert Holdstock

I read the sad news today that Robert Holdstock passed away over the weekend. He was a versatile and stylish writer whose novels covered a broad scope in science-fiction originally and later fantasy. I particularly enjoyed his early works such as Earthwind, Where Time Winds Blow and Eye Amongst the Blind. He though gained lasting fame for Mythago Wood, a rich story that has many levels and which has become one of the most analysed fantasy books ever written.

Holdstock died of an E.Coli infection. He was 61.