Friday, July 18, 2014

Giants among us

I was recently hunting down more vintage paperbacks (not an unusual thing for me) and musing on how great it would have been to rub shoulders with the men and women of the classic pulp age (also not unusual). I'd leave Chandler in the bar and go talk ink ribbons and broken underwood keys with the likes of William Ard, Harry Whittington, Day Keene, Margaret Millar, William P. McGivern, Lionel White, W.R. Burnett, Dorothy B. Hughes. The list goes on.

Then a thought struck me - modern day giants walk among us. Writers who have been publishing for decades and came up in an age when those paperback heroes were beginning their rides off into the sunset. They crossed paths, met and mingled, learned tricks of the trade from the originals. There are links to this black and white world who still write, still pump out words by the thousands. I don't want to make them feel too long in the tooth, but I felt like I was spending too much of my adulation and appreciation on writers who were dead and gone. Yes, the words live on, but how many of these pulp hacks ever got the recognition they deserved in their day? Maybe some, probably not enough.

It would be a shame to let the next generation suffer the same fate. So I say reach out and praise these prolific links to the past, these masters of their craft, and do it today before it's too late. (And before their books go for triple digits on ebay)

Right now - today, people! - you can find authors like Bill Crider still slinging out the pages. Crider already has a back catalog as long as both my arms and a leg, but he still churns them out with every word in exactly the right place. He may have started on an IBM selectric rather than an Underwood (but who knows? maybe?) but let's take time now to appreciate the output.

And what of Bill Pronzini? His nameless detective series is, I believe, now the longest running series in crime fiction history. And he's still going! He's not a museum piece. I picked up a signed copy of Femme just last year.

Ed Gorman continues to educate us in the classics through his excellent anthologies and blogging, but let's acknowledge his place alongside the greats. Again, still crankin' them out. Not a fossil, a vibrant and entertaining writer we could all learn a thing or two from, I'd bet.

I've been catching up on my Max Allan Collins lately. What better example of a writer who bridges the gap between the old school and today. The man was best buddies with Mickey Freakin' Spillane for cripes sake. And hot damn he's one of my favorite authors, and his stuff from the 1970s is just as good as his stuff from today. In my fantasy world we'd get to be friends like him and Spillane and he'd let me take over Quarry after he's gone. Hey, I said it was a fantasy. I'd take Nolan too if Quarry is too personal. We're both Iowa boys so maybe? Ok, you're right. I'll stop.

Lawrence Block. Holy crap, Lawrence Block. The man uses social media as prolifically as a high schooler but you can still pick up copies of his early output that is 100% pure pulp goodness. Find me a darker shade of noir than Mona (AKA Grifter's Game) and that was first published in 1961! And there he is, still kicking, still typing, still going strong and teaching the young punks how to do it.

Robert Randisi, Wayne Dundee, James Reasoner. These are links to our past and guys who probably don't really love being portrayed as old as I'm making them sound. My point is, these are writers who were slinging ink before there was any debate over ebook vs. print. These are guys who haven't been triple platinum sellers for the most part. But they kept on writing. Tradesmen. No, craftsmen. Constantly working, constantly honing their art, never giving up in the face of a changing publishing world.

These are today's pulp wordsmiths. They write because it's who they are to the core. They won't last forever and someday another up and comer will lament never being able to know these artisans of wordcraft. But we don't have to let it be that way. They're out there, and thanks to social media, they are often only a click away. It might not be the same as sharing a stool at the bar with Gil Brewer or Chester Himes, but it's better than missing out.

Make them feel appreciated. I know I wouldn't be here without them, and many others I forgot or don't know yet. There are giants still out there. And we are standing in their shadow.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Killing Dan Malmon

So to get the full story, you need to go here and read Dan O'Shea's blog. Then come on back and enjoy this story where a perfectly nice man I've never met, yet truly like, gets way worse treatment than he deserves. Or maybe it's exactly what he deserves. Until I meet him in person, the jury's out.

(for Dan & Dan)

Before the phrase, “He’s a cop,” left Rudy’s mouth, a bullet left his gun. Dan heard the start of the sentence, then the bang drowned everything else and the pain blotted out the rest of his senses.
Gut shot. Shit. Detective Dan Malmon had never seen one of these end well.
Another of the uptown crew, a large man in a tight black t-shirt, ran into the room, gun drawn. He looked at Rudy, smoking 9mm in his hand, then down at the floor and Dan clutching at his stomach, hissing short breaths between clenched teeth.
“Rudy?” the man asked, looking for an explanation.
“He’s a cop,” Rudy said again.
“How do you know?”
“Saw his badge.”
The burly man stepped forward to where Dan was trying to sit up. Some part of his diaphragm muscle was torn and he couldn’t bend in the middle any more. Probably the least of his worries. 
“Check his pockets, G.”
The big man, G, moved his gun to his left hand and frisked Dan’s pockets with his right. He came out with a wallet, flipped it open and saw the badge.
“Told you so,” Rudy said. “So what now?” 
G said, “We kill him.”
Rudy seemed offended at the statement. “I already did.” 
“He ain’t dead. He’s moving.”
Dan tried again for a sit-up, but collapsed to the cement floor with a stifled cry of pain.
“He’ll be dead soon,” Rudy said.
“Says you.”
“Says the fuckin’ bullet in his liver.”
“That ain’t no way to kill a guy.”
Dan feared a demonstration on proper technique was imminent. He rolled to his right. From his vantage point on the floor he could see the pistol taped to the underside of the small table. Only ten feet away. Ten agonizing feet to crawl.
“Don’t tell me how to kill a guy,” Rudy said, his chest puffing out with bravado.
“Apparently I need to,” G said. He lifted his gun arm and fired a shot into Dan’s back. The detective smacked the floor face first, blood seeping from his mouth.
G turned to Rudy with a satisfied look on his face. “That’s how you do it, mother fu–”
Dan groaned from the pain of his missing teeth, not the bullet in his back. There was a knife-edge sharpness in his ribs and he was finding it hard to breathe, but the impact of his front teeth on the concrete created a more immediate pain.
Rudy laughed out loud. “Some expert you are.”
“He’s wearing a vest.”
“He’s not wearing no vest, G.”
Rudy stepped over to Dan, hooked a finger through the bullet hole in the back of his shirt and pulled, tearing a wide rip and exposing bare flesh, not Kevlar. 
Dan inched closer to the table, his broken teeth crunching under his palm as he reached for a firm enough grip to drag his body forward.
Rudy, standing over the wounded man, said, “You gotta put one in his head, dude.”
He lowered his gun, fired a shot that entered Dan’s skull just behind his right ear. G wiggled a finger in his own ear, the sound of the repeated gunshots making everything temporarily muted.
Rudy did a wild west finger spin of his gun and slid it, barrel first, into his back pocket, closest he had to a holster. “Now that’s a dead cop.”
Dan’s hand slapped the floor as he reached for more inches in his drive toward the underside of the table and the gun waiting there. Both Rudy and G turned and looked at the bloody man on the floor with a mixture of awe and fear.
Blood poured from Dan’s skull. The bullet had run a clean path behind his ear and come out near his cheek bone. He was totally deaf in that ear and his face hurt like hell where the bullet had blasted its way out, but he was still alive and only five feet from his prize.
Breathing became harder, his progress slower, but the two men intent on killing him were stunned into curious onlooking for a long moment. They watched as Detective Malmon pulled himself along the blood-slick floor, unaware of the pistol at the end of his journey.
“I shot him in the fucking head, man.” Rudy said just above a whisper.
“You put it too low.”
“The fuck I did.”
G pointed to the crawling man before them. “You gonna fuckin’ argue with me?”
Dan reached the table leg. He grasped at it, unable to get a grip. His hands were painted in blood. He pushed up with his left arm, a half hearted one-hand pushup. Years of academy training and daily workouts paying off in what could be his last moments.
“We gotta finish this punk,” G said.
“I got it,” Rudy said.
“No. You already fucked it up twice. I got this one.”
Dan put a hand on the pistol handle, tried to grasp it, but his fingers weren’t strong enough to pull it free.
“I said I got it.” Rudy marched toward Dan, grabbed him by the shoulder and flipped him over on his back to see the face of the unkillable man. In turning Dan, the torque ripped the tape from the bottom of the table, putting the pistol in firing position in the cop’s hand. Rudy’s eyes widened as Dan fired.
One shot. No question about it. Blood and brain told the tale.
Too weak to sit up, Dan tilted his head forward. G stared into the gaping hole below his eye.
“That,” Dan said, spilling blood from his mouth, “is how you do it.”
He fired again, dropping G with a single shot to the heart. Dan slumped to the floor, spent. He coughed twice, blood spraying, then relaxed, wondering if he’d pass out before he drowned on the blood in his own lungs.