A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Ya Gotta Ask – Reprise

A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Ya Gotta Ask – Reprise

“You’re the second guy I’ve met within hours who seems to think a gat in the hand means a world by the tail.” – Phillip Marlowe in Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep

(Gat — Prohibition Era term for a gun. Shortened version of Gatling Gun)

Nine years ago this past January, I wrote a post here titled, Ya Gotta Ask. I felt like that one could use a bit of polish and expansion, and it would still be a pretty good post. So, here’s a revised version, as the Monday morning column gets ready to kick off another Summer of Pulp with A (Black) Gat in the Hand.

One of the cool things about Black Gate is that there are a bunch of authors who blog here. These are Writers with a capital ‘W’. I have worked hard to become a pretty good blogger, and I think I’ve succeeded. I’ve got a couple awards to back that up. I’ve published some short stories and non-fiction, as well. But I still think of myself as a lower case ‘w’ writer. I am working towards capitalizing that letter, but as any Writer will tell you, you just gotta keep working at it.

Now, some authors here at Black Gate can (and have) given you advice on how to write a novel, or get a book published: be it here, or on their own blogs or other sites. Follow their advice, make it happen, and then you can be a Writer too (a novel isn’t the defining element: I’m just using it as a benchmark for this essay). I’m going to make a suggestion on how you can become a writer, like me. I know, I know: you’re all atingle.

I’ve got two blogs. Though I rarely use them anymore. A thousand words a week at Black Gate, plus my other writing projects, and social media posting, takes up my writing time.

My more recent one, Almost Holmes, is where I posted mostly about mystery-related fiction and a few other key interests, like Humphrey Bogart. The name is a tip of the deerstalker to Solar Pons. My older blog, Walking Through the Valley, was most other interests: including sports and Christianity.

But anybody can write a blog. A good one is tough to do, and takes consistent effort to get readers, but you can sign up at WordPress or Blogspot and ‘Voila,’ you’re a blogger.


Back around 2000 (twenty-four years ago. Wow!), I couldn’t find a single picture of Ronald Howard, star of a fifties Sherlock Holmes TV series, on the internet. Not one. So, with no qualifications whatsoever, I created a website that became HolmesOnScreen.com. I’m no Alan Barnes, but the Sherlockian community generally knew that I was pretty knowledgeable on the subject.

Eventually I took down that site and built another, SolarPons.com. If you want info relating to the best Sherlock Holmes successor out there, it’s the place to go. It’s also the place that I host three free, online newsletters: one for Holmes, one for Pons, and one for Nero Wolfe.

I saw a gap and decided to fill it. Anybody with time, drive, (note the Oxford Comma – They’ll pry the Oxford Comma from my cold, dead, fingers at the keyboard) and the willingness to delve into the subject matter can do the same. But that “self-starter” approach is what I want to talk about in this post. Nobody is gonna come to you and beg you to write things for them. At least, not in the beginning.


I used to subscribe to Sherlock, a now-defunct British mystery magazine. Email wasn’t what it is these days (not even sure online messaging was much of thing back then). I wrote a letter to editor David Stuart Davies, suggesting he add a column that reviewed mystery-themed websites. He wrote back, basically saying, “Great idea. Why don’t you do that?” So, I became a columnist for Sherlock, writing “Mystery: Caught in the Web.”

I was in every issue for a couple of years, even contributing a feature essay or two. This was pretty cool for a geeky Holmes fan in America, with no specific writing skills or training. When new ownership took over the magazine, David and most of the staff left, including me. But I had created my own writing gig by asserting myself. By – politely – pushing myself into the picture. THIS became characteristic of my writing career: Ya gotta ask.


I don’t brag about my Sherlockian credentials much (well, I don’t think I do), but I believe I’m about as much of an expert on the late John Gardner’s book, The Return of Moriarty, as you’re going to find. In fact, I was such a fan, I wrote John an email, telling him that it would make a great TV series. And suggested I write a pilot and pitch the concept to him. Again, the response was “Go ahead and send it to me.”

Previously, I had bought some books on screenwriting, a copy of Final Draft (screenwriting software) and wrote a meandering, unstructured, way-too-long script about a Civil War naval battle (from which I learned, a great story does not mean it’s a great script). Not exactly a professional. But I went ahead and sent John and his agent a bad two hour pilot, along with a series outline. I didn’t really know what I was doing, but I had knocked, he called out ‘Come in,’ so I let myself in.

They politely passed on my script (though I corresponded with John, a nice guy, until his death. I liked John Gardner). I revised it a few years later and it went from terrible to merely bad. An unfinished third draft resembled something that someone might actually be interested in discussing, maybe, some day. I wrote about that whole project, here at Black Gate.

So, once again, simply pushing myself out there where I had no business being, opened up an opportunity. Sensing a pattern?


I’ve contributed to Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine because I wrote editor Marvin Kaye (Who passed away a few years ago) and asked if he wanted an article on Nero Wolfe from a Holmes perspective. You (hopefully) read a version of that here. That led to another essay or two for SHMM. I became a contributor to a new magazine, because I wrote and asked about sending them some articles.


I had started my Summer Pulp series, A (Black) Gat in the Hand. Matt Moring owns Steeger Books (formerly Altus Press). And he’s got the rights to a TON of old Pulp magazines and stories, including Black Mask, Dime Detective, and Argosy. He was reviving Black Mask, with both reprints, and new material. I emailed him in 2016, asking if he was taking non-fiction essays for the ‘new’ magazine. I mentioned Erle Stanley Gardner’s Cool and Lam (here’s the first of several Cool & Lam posts I’ve written here at Black Gate), and Hugh B. Cave’s Peter Kane, as two things I’d like to write about.

He said he definitely wanted as many non-fiction essays as he could get, and also wrote that “…I’m always on the lookout for new introduction authors as well. In fact, Peter Kane will be in the next batch of Dime Detective library books, so I’d welcome a piece for that.”

I had a Cool and Lam essay in the second issue of the re-launched Black Mask, and I wrote a pretty darn good intro for the Peter Kane collection: even getting a cover mention. You can read it here, for free.

I ran into Matt at the awesome Windy City Pulp Fest a year or two afterwards. He asked if I wanted to write more intros, and I said yes.

I’m still writing intros for Steeger, having done that Cave intro, Dashiell Hammett (twice), Paul Cain’s Fast One, Cass Blue, and continuing to write about Norbert Davis (I’m a HUGE fan). More are on tap, including one for T.T. Flynn’s Mr. Maddox, and a favorite of mine, W.T. Ballard’s Hollywood troubleshooter, Bill Lennox. You can find links to those intros, below. You might just read the first new Max Latin short story in over  half a century, by yours truly. We’ll see.

But once again, I pushed myself into the picture to create an opportunity. They weren’t knocking on my door. I was out banging on theirs. And if somebody tells you “No” so be it. You’re where you were before you asked. Don’t be a jerk, and maybe you will linger on in their memory (in a good way!) And something might come of it some day.

But there might be a fit, and you might get an opportunity. And if you take advantage of it, good things might continue to happen. Maybe you’ll write a NYT best-selling novel right out of the gate. But don’t bet on it. Hone your craft and build up a body of work. Get better at writing. I’ve established a credible reputation in the Pulp world, with my Black Gate series, and my Steeger intros. I can send links to those books, showing what I’ve got out there.


You’re reading this post right now (and if you’re not, err…never mind) because, as a long-time Black Gate fan, I thought I could pitch a monthly Holmes column. Black Gate is more than just fantasy and sci-fi, but I knew I was stretching it a bit. But hey – Ya gotta ask!

With some helpful advice from my buddy William Patrick Maynard (who is a Writer), I wrote what I thought was a pretty good pitch. And Grand Poobah John O’Neill replied, “How about every Monday morning?” And this past March marked ten years of weekly posts from me (with a break here and there).


Just this past weekend, I won (a part) of my third Robert E. Howard Foundation Award,, for the terrific book, Hither Came Conan. A few years before, I asked about every Robert E. Howard friend or associate I had, to contribute to a Black Gate series, Discovering Robert E. Howard. It was great thanks to their efforts. A few years later, I reached out to a broader group (I knew more folks by now), and we wrote an essay on every original Conan story by REH. Man, folks came up with some terrific stuff.

So good, that my buddy at Rogue Blades Entertainment, Jason Waltz, took it, combined it with Howard Andrew Jones’ and Bill Ward’s terrific blog series on the same stories, added even more new, original essays, and published THE definitive guide to Howard’s actual Conan. I co-edited the book (available online) and contributed seven essays. And that all came about because, back with Discovering Robert E Howard, I asked some folks to take some time out of their busy days, and write an essay for Black Gate. For free… And many did. And as good as it was, it incubated something even bigger and better.

I like that concept so much, I started on the groundwork for two non-Howard versions, but real life (including a global Pandemic) intruded. I am still kicking around a Hither Came Conan-type series, for Solomon Kane. Some friends are definitely interested in contributing. We shall see. Maybe I’ll ask folks…


I tried to get an essay in the program for this summer’s Pulp Fest, in Pittsburgh. I had gone to it back when it used to be here in Columbus. I attended it in Pittsburgh last Summer, and I’m headed back again this year. So, I asked if I could contribute. Seems I came into the picture too late, but I tried. I know the folks running it, and I’ll try a couple months earlier, next year. And maybe I’ll have a piece in the program. That’s how you do it.


I’m working on short stories, and a novel, for a character currently under copyright. But there’s hope I could end up being considered to write for it. Because I broached the subject from my end.

I’m certainly not as good as the creator, but I’m going to make my stuff as good as I can, and I’m going to pitch myself the same way I did for Sherlock and The Moriarty Chronicles, and SH Mystery Magazine, and Steeger Books, and Black Gate, and…

And IF it happens and I’m good enough, I’m going to move from writer to Writer. And even Author!


So, if you have an idea, or you see something out there that you think you might have a role in, do something about it. Had I not emailed David Stuart Davies, I wouldn’t be writing for Black Gate.

And I fully expect that in the future, I will be doing something that I can attribute to having written a thousand words a week for Black Gate for what I hope will yet be a long time.

You gotta ask. Or suggest. Or even tell. Because for most of us writers, they’re not going to come to you.


Prior Posts in A (Black) Gat in the Hand – 2024 Series (1)

Will Murray on Dashiell Hammett’s Elusive Glass Key

Prior Posts in A (Black) Gat in the Hand – 2023 Series (15)

Back Down those Mean Streets in 2023
Will Murray on Hammett Didn’t Write “The Diamond Wager”
Dashiell Hammett – ZigZags of Treachery
Ten Pulp Things I Think I Think
Evan Lewis on Cleve Adams
T,T, Flynn’s Mike & Trixie (The ‘Lost Intro’)
John Bullard on REH’s Rough and Ready Clowns of the West – Part I (Breckenridge Elkins)
John Bullard on REH’s Rough and Ready Clowns of the West – Part II
William Patrick Murray on Supernatural Westerns, and Crossing Genres
Erle Stanley Gardner’s ‘Getting Away With Murder (And ‘A Black (Gat)’ turns 100!)
James Reasoner on Robert E. Howard’s Trail Towns of the old West
Frank Schildiner on Solomon Kane
Paul Bishop on The Fists of Robert E. Howard
John Lawrence’s Cass Blue
Dave Hardy on REH’s El Borak

Prior posts in A (Black) Gat in the Hand – 2022 Series (16)
Asimov – Sci Fi Meets the Police Procedural
The Adventures of Christopher London
Weird Menace from Robert E. Howard
Spicy Adventures from Robert E. Howard
Thrilling Adventures from Robert E. Howard
Norbert Davis’ “The Gin Monkey”
Tracer Bullet
Shovel’s Painful Predicament
Back Porch Pulp #1
Wally Conger on ‘The Hollywood Troubleshooter Saga’
Arsenic and Old Lace
David Dodge
Glen Cook’s Garrett, PI
John Leslie’s Key West Private Eye
Back Porch Pulp #2
Norbert Davis’ Max Latin

Prior posts in A (Black) Gat in the Hand – 2021 Series (7 )

The Forgotten Black Masker – Norbert Davis
A (Black) Gat in the Hand is Back!
Black Mask – March, 1932
Three Gun Terry Mack & Carroll John Daly
Bounty Hunters & Bail Bondsmen
Norbert Davis in Black Mask – Volume 1

Prior posts in A (Black) Gat in the Hand – 2020 Series (21)
Hardboiled May on TCM
Some Hardboiled streaming options
Johnny O’Clock (Dick Powell)
Hardboiled June on TCM
Bullets or Ballots (Humphrey Bogart)
Phililp Marlowe – Private Eye (Powers Boothe)
Cool and Lam
All Through the Night (Bogart)
Dick Powell as Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar
Hardboiled July on TCM
YTJD – The Emily Braddock Matter (John Lund)
Richard Diamond – The Betty Moran Case (Dick Powell)
Bold Venture (Bogart & Bacall)
Hardboiled August on TCM
Norbert Davis – ‘Have one on the House’
with Steven H Silver: C.M. Kornbluth’s Pulp
Norbert Davis – ‘Don’t You Cry for Me’
Talking About Philip Marlowe
Steven H Silver Asks you to Name This Movie
Cajun Hardboiled – Dave Robicheaux
More Cool & Lam from Hard Case Crime

A (Black) Gat in the Hand – 2019 Series (15)
Back Deck Pulp Returns
A (Black) Gat in the Hand Returns
Will Murray on Doc Savage
Hugh B. Cave’s Peter Kane
Paul Bishop on Lance Spearman
A Man Called Spade
Hard Boiled Holmes
Duane Spurlock on T.T. Flynn
Andrew Salmon on Montreal Noir
Frank Schildiner on The Bad Guys of Pulp
Steve Scott on John D. MacDonald’s ‘Park Falkner’
William Patrick Murray on The Spider
John D. MacDonald & Mickey Spillane
Norbert Davis goes West(ern)
Bill Crider on The Brass Cupcake

A (Black) Gat in the Hand – 2018 Series (32)
George Harmon Coxe
Raoul Whitfield
Some Hard Boiled Anthologies
Frederick Nebel’s Donahue
Thomas Walsh
Black Mask – January, 1935
Norbert Davis’ Ben Shaley
D.L. Champion’s Rex Sackler
Dime Detective – August, 1939
Back Deck Pulp #1
W.T. Ballard’s Bill Lennox
Erle Stanley Gardner’s The Phantom Crook (Ed Jenkins)
Day Keene
Black Mask – October, 1933
Back Deck Pulp #2
Black Mask – Spring, 2017
Erle Stanley Gardner’s ‘The Shrieking Skeleton’
Frank Schildiner’s ‘Max Allen Collins & The Hard Boiled Hero’
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: William Campbell Gault
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: More Cool & Lam From Hard Case Crime
MORE Cool & Lam!!!!
Thomas Parker’s ‘They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?’
Joe Bonadonna’s ‘Hardboiled Film Noir’ (Part One)
Joe Bonadonna’s ‘Hardboiled Film Noir’ (Part Two)
William Patrick Maynard’s ‘The Yellow Peril’
Andrew P Salmon’s ‘Frederick C. Davis’
Rory Gallagher’s ‘Continental Op’
Back Deck Pulp #3
Back Deck Pulp #4
Back Deck Pulp #5
Joe ‘Cap’ Shaw on Writing
Back Deck Pulp #6
The Black Mask Dinner

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Bob Byrne’s ‘A (Black) Gat in the Hand’ made its Black Gate debut in 2018 and has returned every summer since.

His ‘The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes’ column ran every Monday morning at Black Gate from March, 2014 through March, 2017. And he irregularly posts on Rex Stout’s gargantuan detective in ‘Nero Wolfe’s Brownstone.’ He is a member of the Praed Street Irregulars, founded www.SolarPons.com (the only website dedicated to the ‘Sherlock Holmes of Praed Street’).

He organized Black Gate’s award-nominated ‘Discovering Robert E. Howard’ series, as well as the award-winning ‘Hither Came Conan’ series. Which is now part of THE Definitive guide to Conan. He also organized 2023’s ‘Talking Tolkien.’

He has contributed stories to The MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories – Parts III, IV, V, VI, XXI, and XXXIII.

He has written introductions for Steeger Books, and appeared in several magazines, including Black Mask, Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine, The Strand Magazine, and Sherlock Magazine.

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Thomas Parker

Ha! I have the very same Bogart cardboard cut-out – mine is on the bookcase with my movie books.

Looking forward to a two-fisted 2024 Black Gat in the Hand!

Last edited 7 days ago by Thomas Parker
Thomas Parker

I’ve been getting into Gardner’s Perry Mason novels over the last couple of years, and finding them an interesting contrast with the Raymond Burr TV show, which I’ve always loved. I’ve been thinking about a piece contrasting them; I’ll let you know if the idea reaches critical mass.

K. Jespersen

(Brace for impact, Mr. O’Niell– a laser target is painting your busy inbox.)

This is definitely one of those sound recommendations that takes a lot of lot of guts to start following. Getting to see the instances where it was met with positive results is both helpful and encouraging. Many kudos on the success developed from it!

This article also demonstrates what seems to be the more successful model these days, that of developing bodies of work over time. There’s still this idea (fantasy?) that Writers sit down and create novel after novel out of whole cloth, and eventually one opens the publishing door. But far more often, what seems to work is just continuing to build an oeuvre small piece by small piece over a long time, and eventually it becomes extensive enough that someone says, “This should be a book/movie/boxed set.” Writing, singing, painting, producing videos, that’s how it works, today. You’ve generated success two ways, and it’s very cool. From the outside, you definitely qualify as a Writer and Author, Mr. Byrne.

Last edited 7 days ago by K. Jespersen

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