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Neverwhens, Where History and Fantasy Collide: Of Lambs and Lizardmen

Neverwhens, Where History and Fantasy Collide: Of Lambs and Lizardmen

For the Killing of Kings-small Upon the Flight of the Queen-small When the Goddess Wakes-small

The Ring-Sworn Trilogy by Howard Andrew Jones: For the Killing of Kings (Feb 2019), Upon the Flight of the Queen
(November 2019) and the forthcoming When the Goddess Wakes (April 2021)

A bit of prologue and some full disclosure to the Gentle Reader

The purpose of this column has been looking at the challenges of historicity vs. fantasy in the process of world-building; well at least when the fantasy in question is trying to be either realistic or set in our world or a near-neighbor. From contrasting the visual departure of Jackson’s LotR films as a more effective means of showing the vast sweep of Middle Earth’s history, to critiquing the swordplay of the Witcher TV show, to interviewing authors who play in both the worlds of Historical Fiction and Fantasy,  I’ve come to realize we have a pretty clear continuum:

  1. Historical Fiction – just what it says. Whether it’s set in the Paleolithic or WWII, it’s a story set in our own past, with the ostensible goal of painting a portrait of that time and place.
  2. Historical Fiction with Elements of “Magical Realism” – really more of a technique of “literature” but the story is more or less as above but there may be hints or some unexplained and unexplainable element.
  3. Historical Fantasy – this is a specialty for folks like last month’s interviewee Scott Oden. Our historical past, only elements of magic, monsters, etc., exist, something like a “secret history.” A lot of traditional sword & sorcery exists here, but so does the fantastical work of writers like Judith Tarr or G. Willow Wilson.
  4. Low Fantasy in a Secondary World – the world I NOT ours, and may not even be based on any clear cognate of our civilizations, but it’s “realistic” in the sense that it’s technology and structure follows our historical models. Magic and monsters exist, but farming gets done with an iron plow and three-field rotation, people ride horses and camels (or something like them), etc. A lot, if not most, of fantasy fits this model and fantasy.
  5. High Fantasy – Magic is powerful and sweeping, there are non-human races who can do magical things, the gods may be capable of manifesting themselves or their will, etc. A lot of epic fantasy fits into this mode.

We can quibble on where those lines are (Tolkien is High Fantasy, but is Martin?), and maybe there are further subdivisions (for example, Urban Fantasy overlays the last two), but the definitions work for this column because the further you go from #1 on the continuum, the less important “historicity” becomes. 

Which brings me to my guest….

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Hither Came Conan: Scott Oden on “The Devil In Iron”

Hither Came Conan: Scott Oden on “The Devil In Iron”

Boris Vallejo for 'Conan the Wanderer'
Boris Vallejo for ‘Conan the Wanderer’

There is a weird synchronicity at work, here, Gentle Readers.  Between the time when Bob Byrne solicited a few of us for this series and him handing out our story assignments, I wrote a Conan novella for Marvel (currently being serialized in the pages of the renewed Savage Sword of Conan, over a span of twelve issues).  Specifically, it is a sequel to Robert E. Howard’s “The Devil in Iron”.  Then, a few days later, I received my randomly selected story assignment from the good Mr. Byrne.  My story?  “The Devil in Iron.”  Thus, the gods have spoken . . .

“The Devil in Iron” marked Howard’s return to the Hyborian Age after an absence of about six months.  Written in the autumn of 1933, it employs a technique common to pulp-era writers in that Howard cannibalized plot elements of his own previous stories – the eerie resurrected villain á la “Black Colossus” (also used in The Hour of the Dragon); the greenish stone ruins from “Xuthal of the Dusk” (AKA, “The Slithering Shadow”); the sentient iron statues from “Iron Shadows in the Moonlight”; and even stylistic echoes from “Queen of the Black Coast.”

Howard sent the story off to Farnsworth Wright at Weird Tales, who accepted it for publication on December 14, 1933.  It appeared in the August 1934 issue.  The story was lurid enough to take top billing, with Margaret Brundage providing one of her signature covers – this one depicting a rather anemic-looking Conan against a black background, struggling in the grips of a giant serpent while a gauzily-clad woman swooned at his feet.  Hugh Rankin illustrated the story itself.

It is a fairly straightforward tale, if a bit formulaic.  According to both Patrice Louinet and Howard Andrew Jones, who are scholars of Howard and his sources, it’s one of the few stories of the Conan canon that displays the clear and overt influence author Harold Lamb had over Howard.

Lamb wrote primarily for Adventure, his tales of Cossacks and crusaders fitting nicely with the works of Talbot Mundy, Rafael Sabatini, Arthur Gilchrist Brodeur and Farnham Bishop, and Arthur D. Howden-Smith.  These were Robert Howard’s inspirations – writers of what we’d call today pure historical fiction.  REH wrote what he knew he could sell, or what he believed had a good chance of selling; though he’d rather have spent his days writing the kinds of tales he loved from Adventure, it was proving a difficult market to break into. But, he knew by adding a splash of the Weird to the same rollicking adventure yarns, Weird Tales’ editor Farnsworth Wright would more than likely buy it.

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Joe Bonadonna’s ‘Hardboiled Film Noir’ (Part One)

A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Joe Bonadonna’s ‘Hardboiled Film Noir’ (Part One)

I reached out to some friends to help me with A (Black) Gat in the Hand, as I certainly can’t cover everything and do it all justice. Our latest guest is author and fellow Black Gater, Joe Bonadonna. And Joe delivered an in-depth look at hardboiled adaptations on the silver screen. In fact, he covered so much ground, it’s gonna be a two-parter! So, let’s dig in! 


Hardboiled Film Noir: From Printed Page to Moving Pictures (Part One)

“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

Prologue

Bonadonna_HardboiledAnthologyCrime does not discriminate. From city streets and slums to quiet suburbia, from the mansions of the rich to the boardrooms of the powerful, crime is alive and well. It can be found in dance halls, beer halls and gambling halls . . . speakeasies, seedy gin joints, smoke-filled pool halls, dive hotels, and wharf-side saloons. Crime exists everywhere, and writers and filmmakers have been telling stories about crime since Gutenberg invented the printing press.

This article deals mainly with American pulp fiction, novels and films, and a few theatrical plays, too. I’m going to give a little background history on the source material for these films and on some of the writers who penned the original stories upon which they were based.

Long ago, long before television came along, the film industry turned to books, magazine stories, theatrical plays, and radio shows for their source material, as well as original screenplays. Movie moguls bought the rights to numerous best-selling novels, mined the pages of pulp magazines, comic books, and even newspaper comic strips.

Many films made during this period were Saturday matinee serials such as Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers, Superman, Batman, Captain Marvel, and The Shadow. Dick Tracy was actually given a series of stand-alone films, and of course we had Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan.

Most of these serials were the “comic book” films about pulp fiction superheroes, caped crusaders, masked avengers, and magical crime fighters. Many others films, however, were turned into “programmers,” as they were sometimes called: B-pictures with low budgets, made by up-and-coming directors, and featuring actors who had not yet attained A-list status.

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Erle Stanley Gardner’s “The Shrieking Skeleton”

A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Erle Stanley Gardner’s “The Shrieking Skeleton”

Gat_GardnerSkeletonEven the best-selling Erle Stanley Gardner struggled to break into the better markets early in his career. Of these early days, Gardner said, “I wrote the worst stories that ever hit New York City. I have the word of an editor for that, and he hadn’t seen the worst stories because the worst ones I wrote under a pen name.”

Gardner sold his first two stories to Breezy Stories and they were published in 1921. Then we have this bit of fun…

In 1923, under the name of Charles M. Green, he submitted a novelette, “The Shrieking Skeleton” to The Black Mask (‘The’ was dropped for the May, 1927 issue). Gardner said that “It was a major opus as far as I was concerned, and looking back on it, I guess it must have been a dilly.” George Sutton was the editor at this time. While Joseph ‘Cap’ Shaw is given credit for making Black Mask the leading institution of the hardboiled school, Sutton published the first detective stories of Carroll John Daly and Dashiell Hammett and was at the helm when Race Williams and The Continental Op debuted. He played a big part in the development of the genre.

Upon receipt of the story, somebody thought it was so bad, they sent it on to circulation editor Phil Cody (who would succeed Sutton as editor). They told him it was to be the lead story and they wanted a publicity campaign to promote it. Oh, those scamps!

Cody blew his top and sent it back to the editorial department. He wrote that the story gave him a pain in his neck and it was pretty near the last word in childishness. The characters talked like dictionaries and the so-called plot had whiskers on it like unto Spanish moss hanging from a live oak in a Louisiana bayou (???). He foresaw the end from the beginning and the story was puerile, trite, obvious and unnatural. He begged that the story not be used.

The joke having succeeded, the story was sent back to Gardner with the usual rejection slip (which Gardner was receiving by the dozens). The slip stated that just because the story was returned, it did not necessarily imply that there was any lack of literary merit, it simply did not fit in the schedule. Gardner (who later became good friends with Cody) knows this because Cody’s note was inadvertently included with the returned manuscript.

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Black Mask — Spring, 2017

A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Black Mask — Spring, 2017

BlackMask_Spring2017“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)

In the Fall of 2016, Altus Press revived the legendary Black Mask magazine, reprinting stories from the old pulps with a mix of new hardboiled tales; including a cover story from my talented friend Paul Bishop. Altus also relaunched two other classic pulps: Argosy (which only lasted one issue) and Famous Fantastic Mysteries (just two issues). However, the fifth issue of Black Mask will be out this Fall (with an essay from yours truly).

Today in A (Black) Gat in the Hand, we’re going to look at each of the entries in the second issue of the new Black Mask, from the Spring of 2017. And this issue starts big!

Carroll John Daly’s “Murder for a Stuffed Shirt” is a previously unpublished tale!

Carroll John Daly was the biggest star at Black Mask in the twenties and thirties. Putting Race Williams on the cover guaranteed increased sales. When he fell out of favor at Black Mask, Daly took Williams to Dime Detective, where he also created Vee Brown (I have a tough time buying into Brown, a hardboiled special DA operative and also a wealthy composer of hit sentimental songs. I wrote about Daly’s creation of the hardboiled genre with “Three Gun Terry Mack” here.

But this issue of Black Mask contains a never-before-seen Daly story, uncovered by his grandson. It feels very much like a pre-hardboiled piece and not one person is shot! It’s different than any other Daly story I’ve read and I liked it.

“Mr. Detective is Annoyed” by William Robert Cox originally appeared in the March, 1938 issue of Captain Satan. Cox had over 130 stories published in the pulps under his own name, plus more using various pseudonyms. He wrote eighty novels, many westerns and was the creator of Cemetery Jones and the Maverick Kid.

The story is one of four to feature Donny Jordine, who doesn’t like to sit around and wait for the machinery of justice to creak along. He makes things happen on his own. “Mr Detective is Annoyed” isn’t a bad story, but it didn’t leave me wanting more Jordine.

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Back Deck Pulp #2

A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Back Deck Pulp #2

“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 Chandlers’ The Big SleepGat_NebelCardigan

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

Over on Facebook, I frequently post tidbits related to my research for this column. There’s usually a picture included, and all of this happens on my back deck. So, I call it Back Deck Pulp! Well, there’s a lot of stuff coming out of Back Deck Pulp. So, last month, I collected a bunch of those FB posts and Back Deck Pulp #1 appeared here at Black Gate. Well, there have been a LOT more of them, so here’s Back Deck Pulp #2. I’ve already got #3 ready to go! Friend me on Facebook and see the posts as they go up. This is a collection of posts over time, so it doesn’t necessarily flow perfectly. Live with it…

FREDERICK NEBEL – CARDIGAN

And it’s another Office Desk Pulp. Last week, A (Black) Gat in the Hand was about Donahue of the Interstate Agency. That series was written by Frederick Nebel for Black Mask.

Nebel is one of my favorite pulpsters and I’m a huge fan of his Cardigan of the Cosmos Agency stories.

Cardigan appeared 44 times in Dime Detective – more than any other character.

Altus Press has issued the whole series in four volumes. And only $4.99 per ebook! With a great intro by Will Murray. I’ll be doing a post on this series. Highly recommended!

HORACE MCCOY

This Saturday’s back deck pulpster is Horace McCoy, best known for They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?

A WW I pilot, he wrote a series of air adventures featuring Jerry Frost of The Texas Air Rangers. The group, known as Hell’s Stepsons, were a Texas Rangers special ops aerial team. And Frost was hard boiled.

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Black Mask — October, 1933

A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Black Mask — October, 1933

BlackMask_October1933

“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)

October of 1933 featured yet another solid issue of Black Mask under Joseph ‘Cap’ Shaw’s direction. The cover art was by J.W. Schlaiker, who had about fifty covers from 1929 to 1934. I don’t know why he abruptly stopped drawing for Black Mask. He served in France during World War I and was the War Department artist during World War II. He did portraits of Eisenhower, MacArthur and Patton.

With “Murder in the Open,” Race Williams made his forty-second appearance in Black Mask, dating back to June 1, 1923. For several years, Williams on the cover had guaranteed increased sales, but Carroll John Daly would be gone from Black Mask in just over a year and he was already regularly appearing in Dime Detective.

Daly was the first author to write in what became the hardboiled style with “Three Gun Terry” (which, of course, you read about here…) in the May 15, 1923 issue of Black Mask. Williams would follow in “Knights of the Open Palm in June, with Dashiell Hammett introducing his famous Continental Op in “Arson Plus” in October of that year. Daly’s writing style was far less polished and developed than Hammett’s, though I feel that it did improve over the years.

W(illiam) T(odhunter) Ballard was Nero Wolfe creator Rex Stout’s first cousin (which would explain why they shared such an unusual middle name). Ballard, who went on to become a very successful western author, wrote extensively for the detective pulps in the thirties and forties. He explained that he was struggling to sell to the lesser pulps when he saw The Maltese Falcon starring Ricardo Cortez. Hammett’s terse prose spoke to him and he bought an issue of Black Mask. He stayed up all night, wrote a story and sold it to the magazine. He would go on to a long career in the pulps and as a novelist.

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Day Keene

A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Day Keene

Gat_KeeneGander“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)

“The Bloody Tide” appeared in the June, 1950 issue of Dime Detective. John D. MacDonald (my favorite writer) also appeared that month. Both men had stories in the May issue as well, with JDM scoring the cover.

The story opens with Charlie White being released from a Florida prison after serving three years for smuggling. He’s given some advice by another inmate on Death Row to go straight and stay on the outside. Get back to working on the water, even if it’s a menial job. Wouldn’t be much of a story if that’s how things go, though, would it?

White’s lover (not his wife) is waiting outside for him and drives him to a secluded beach cabin. He’s going to get back into that fast life again. While he was in jail, $1,000 had been deposited monthly into his bank account, presumably by the ‘big man,’ who he felt had cast him to the wolves.

‘The Devil came up behind me and pushed. To hell with Beth [his wife]. To hell with everything, I thought. To hell with trying to kill Senor Peso. In his way the guy had played square with me. Why should I try to goose into his grave an egg who laid so many golden pesos?’

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: The Phantom Crook, Ed Jenkins (Erle Stanley Gardner)

A (Black) Gat in the Hand: The Phantom Crook, Ed Jenkins (Erle Stanley Gardner)

Gat_GardnerPic“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)

Erle Stanley Gardner is well-remembered as the creator of Perry Mason, star of over eighty novels, radio and tv. The famed defense attorney (portrayed by Raymond Burr) started out as something of a hardboiled PI in the first ten or so novels before settling into ‘lawyer mode.’

And Gardner also wrote thirty novels featuring Bertha Cool and Donald Lam (who you know ALL about from reading this post and this post here at Black Gate!). Gardner was the definition of a prolific pulpster, writing over one million words a year for over a decade: while working as a lawyer!

After many rejections, Gardner finally made the pages of Black Mask (under the name of Charles M. Green). in the December 15, 1923 issue of Black Mask with “The Shrieking Skeleton.” His seventh story to make the magazine was “Beyond the Law” and it featured Ed Jenkins, ‘The Phantom Crook.’

Jenkins appeared seventy-two times from 1925 to 1943 and made Gardner one of the Black Mask mainstays, alongside Dashiell Hammett, Carroll John Daly and Raoul Whitfield. He brought Jenkins back in the sixties for the short novel The Blonde in Lower Six in Argosy, which was owned by his old friend, Harry Steeger.

Jenkins almost didn’t make it to print. In early drafts, Jenkins committed a cold-blooded murder. Assistant editor Harry C. North wrote to Gardner that heroizing such a man wasn’t the sort of thing that he felt the magazine should be publishing. The author responded accordingly.

“Hell’s Kettle” was the second of a linked trilogy and appeared in the June, 1930 issue of Black Mask. “The Crime Crusher” was included in the May issue and “Big Shot” wrapped things up in July. The June issue also included the fourth and final installment of what became Dashiell Hammet’s novel, The Glass Key, as well as Carroll John Day’s “Tainted Power,” which featured Race Williams and The Flame.

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Black Mask — May, 1934

A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Black Mask — May, 1934

BlackMask_May1934

“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)

Last week, we looked at an article on writing from famed Black Mask editor, Joseph ‘Cap’ Shaw, which appeared in the May, 1934 issue of Writer’s Digest. What? You didn’t read that post? Well, click on over, do it, and then come back here and continue! Yeesh..

Done? Okay, let’s continue.

May, 1934 featured yet another solid issue of Black Mask under Shaw’s direction. The cover art was by J.W. Schlaiker, who had about fifty covers from 1929 to 1934. I don’t know why he abruptly stopped drawing for Black Mask. He served in France during World War I and was the War Department artist during World War II. He did portraits of Eisenhower, MacArthur and Patton.

Carroll John Daly carried the cover with Race Williams’ “Six Have Died,” which became part of the novel, Murder in the East. There were two more stories in this serial, which featured  The Flame. There would be one more story (“The Eyes Have It”) in November, and then Race Williams was no more in Black Mask. Williams would appear twenty-one times in Dime Detective but his successful career was in decline by May of 1934.

George Harmon Coxe’s Flashgun Casey was the subject our the very first post in this column. The hardboiled newspaper photographer was in the midst of appearing in seven consecutive issues; this story being “Two Man Job.” I like Casey, who was replaced by the more genteel Kent Murdoch.

From 1927 to 1934, Horace McCoy wrote thirteen stories about Captain Jerry Frost, leader of a group of Air Texas Rangers nicknamed ‘Hell’s Stepsons.’ They were basically a special ops team and Frost was a hardboiled problem solver. “Flight at Sunrise” was the second-to-last Frost story. I don’t believe that McCoy’s air tales have every been collected.

Of all the pulpsters, none may have had greater pretensions to greatness than McCoy. He’s best remembered for his novel, They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?, which became a successful film after his death. McCoy was a member of ‘The Fictioneers,’ which was an informal social club consisting of southern California pulpsters, including, at various times, Raymond Chandler, Norbert Davis, William Campbell Gault and W.T Ballard.

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