Saturday, October 16, 2021

Now Available: Cash Laramie and the Sundown Express featuring Calvin Carter

by

Scott D. Parker

Exciting news! The first Calvin Carter team-up has arrived.

With the publication of Cash Laramie and the Sundown Express, Carter steps into a wider western universe, and he does it courtesy of one of my oldest writing friends.

David Cranmer and I emerged on the scene at roughly the same time, around 2008-2009 or so. We would see each other’s comments on the same blogs and we eventually started communicating back and forth. His first major character was Cash Laramie, the Outlaw Marshal, who starred in a series of short stories. Mine was former actor turned railroad detective, Calvin Carter. In fact, Carter’s first adventure was published on David’s Beat to a Pulp webzine.

We’ve discussed teaming up our two characters and, after a decade in development, the end result is finally available.

And it’s thrilling.

I am immensely proud of this work not only for the story itself but also because it’s the first time I’ve published a story with a co-author.

You can find the print or ebook version at Amazon.

So, without any further words from me, I present the description and the Prologue (things folks on my mailing list (sign up at my author website) received over two weeks ago--hint, hint).

Book Description:


Cash Laramie, The Outlaw Marshal, faces his wildest adventure yet when the Sundown Express, billed as the fastest train in the west, is seized by a ruthless gang.

The desperadoes run the train back and forth on the same stretch of open ground, eliminating any chance for lawmen to board and retake the locomotive. They deliver their demands with a corpse: Give us $100,000 before dusk or we will kill more passengers every hour until the ransom is met.

Cash has faced miscreants before and knows he can beat these guys, but how can he get on the Express hurtling down the tracks at seventy miles per hour?

Aboard the train, things are grim. Famed actress Lillie Langtry and the other captives sit frightened, wondering if they’ll be next. But not disguised railroad detective Calvin Carter. He reckons the train’s speed thwarts any chance for a boarding party to save the day, so the former actor makes sure he’s in the marauders’ spotlight, even if it means his final curtain call.

With a rescue plan that feels like a suicide mission, Cash and fellow marshal Gideon Miles must board the speeding train and take down the gang before any more innocent lives are lost.

 

 

1899

WYOMING

  

PROLOGUE

Special Delivery

 

 

 

Ashdale, Wyoming: Mid-morning

 

The sound arrived first. The distinctive rumble of an iron horse roaring over steel rails, carried on the wind to the ears of the people gathered at the Ashdale Station. Sheriff Roy Tanner frowned. Something was wrong. He knew it, and, based on the faces of the others lingering on the platform, they knew it, too.

A train was coming, but it was coming from the wrong direction.

Like many of the citizens of the town, Sheriff Tanner had turned out to watch the inaugural run of the trailblazing-in-design train dubbed the Sundown Express, capable of a speed topping seventy miles an hour. The crowd had stuck around, braving the sweltering August heat, to prattle on over the sight of the mighty locomotive as it sped through their small community, destined for Sioux Falls. Tanner had even taken pity on Edwin Curtis, a swarthy prisoner whose penchant for robbing trains earned him a trial date as soon as the judge returned to Ashdale. Handcuffed together, wrist to wrist, Tanner could tell Curtis also sensed something.

“I thought the paper said the track was gonna be cleared for the Express,” Curtis said.

“That’s right,” the sheriff replied. The lawman reached into a trouser pocket, removed a bandana, and began wiping the sweat from his forehead and neck.

The sound grew louder. From a distance, through the shimmering heat waves rising from the flat land, a dark shape moved.

A handful of people stepped forward to the edge of the platform, curious. Without warning, Curtis stepped forward, too, craning his neck over the heads of the onlookers and yanking on Tanner’s arm, but the lawman didn’t much care. He wanted to see as well. He recognized the distinctive outline of a train approaching. The plume of smoke rose from the stack and caromed into the wind.

Tanner glanced over his shoulder at the ticket clerk. The scrawny, short man frowned and squinted his eyes behind a pair of spectacles, absently scratching his head as he checked the schedule from his seat inside the tiny ticket booth.

“Neville,” Tanner called to the clerk, “what train is this?”

“I don’t know. There can’t be another train due from the east until the Express crosses into Dakota Territory. That’ll be hours from now.”

Curtis hmphed. “Schedule or not, that train’s almost here. And it ain’t slowing down.” He gestured with his chin. “It’s the Express again.”

Tanner gawked at the outlaw. “How do you know?”

“The speed. I ain’t never heard anything move that fast.”

“There ain’t a turnaround for at least a hundred miles,” the sheriff scoffed. “Only way for it to be the Express was if it was going backwards.”

Neville let out a panicked laugh, masking a deepening alarm. “But why would it be coming back here, going in reverse no less?”

Moments later, the caboose rocketed in, its gold-and-red paint confirming Curtis’s assertion, followed quickly by the passenger cars with “Sundown Express” emblazoned on the sides. Unlike its first pass, the train didn’t slow down this time, and, from the open doors of a boxcar, a bundle was tossed through the air. Tanner didn’t need but a glance to recognize the shape as a bound and gagged man.

Startled bystanders bounded across the platform boards in chaos, rushing out of harm’s way. When the body hit the planks, it rolled several times before smashing into the wooden ticket booth and dislodging the shocked clerk from his seat.

As the train steamed onward to Cheyenne, a stunned silence briefly fell in its wake, only to be broken when a few folks began murmuring about what they had just witnessed. Tanner, hardened by the Great Unpleasantness, stood speechless until the moaning of the victim roused him from his stupor.

The discarded man, lying on his back, raised his bloodied head a fraction then lowered it, fixed gray eyes staring upon oblivion.

Needing no prompt, the paling clerk righted himself and backed away from the corpse in an ungainly scramble.

Sheriff Tanner unlocked the handcuff from his wrist and reattached it to a porter’s cart handle. “Stay put,” he told his prisoner.

“I ain’t goin’ nowhere,” Curtis said. He stood rooted in place and gazed west at the rapidly disappearing Sundown Express, something akin to respect showing on his face.

Tanner ran to the wrecked ticket stand and lowered himself to one knee beside the portly man dressed in a brown and tan chalk-stripe suit. There was a wide patch of blood on the victim’s vest, a gut shot, which didn’t bode well. Neither did the taut leather cord tied around his throat. Tanner pressed two fingers to the side of the man’s neck.

“Is he, is he dead?” Neville asked as he steadied himself on what remained of the ticket booth.

The lawman nodded solemnly. He pulled at the leather cord, revealing an envelope tucked inside the man’s vest. It read simply: “For Senator Madison.”

“Is that a message?” Neville said.

“No,” Curtis said, his lips curling over his teeth into a wide grin. “It’s a ransom.”

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Loose Thoughts on The Shining and Pet Sematary

 By Jay Stringer


I type this as I watch the director's cut of Doctor Sleep. I've never seen the theatrical cut, so I have no previous version to compare it to. But the film is wrapping itself around some thoughts I've had for a while. 

Based on the novel of the same name, it acts as both an adaptation of the book, and a sequel to the film version of The Shining. No mean feat, considering the Stanley Kubrick film diverted so far from the novel that Stephen King disowned it. 

I have my own complicated relationship to The Shining. I've long been drawn to stories of addiction, or seem to end up loving works by people who've struggled with it, including my great touchstones of the Replacements, Elmore Leonard, and Tom Waits. In High Fidelity we are asked the question, "did I listen to pop music because I was miserable, or am I miserable because I listen to pop music?" And so King's book, and Kubrick's adaptation, are both things I've circled back to and tried to engage with.

But I always fail. 

I'm going to say something mean about a master here. Forgive me, I'll make up for it soon. (And hell, what's my opinion mean, in relation to him getting out of bed?) I find The Shining hammy. Silly. The moves are obvious. The subtext is text. It's just all a bit cartoony for my tastes. I'm in no place -as nobody else is, either- to judge how King battled his own demons, and he's been very vocal about the dark places he went to. But the book feels too shallow for my tastes, someone not yet really engaging with the problem. 

But -and here's where I start to make up for it- I think King told exactly the same story later, in a much better form. In one of the best forms ever set to page. 


Pet Sematary is a dark book. Nothing, not even hope, makes it out alive. I think it's possibly the best horror novel ever written, and a perfect distillation of the darkest moments of addiction. But more than that, I also read it as a reboot of The Shining. The Overlook Hotel was the practice ground, Danny's bike the training wheels. When King circled back and tackled the dark soil beyond the deadfall, he really told the truth. The sugar coating was ripped away. 

Both stories have main characters who are lying to themselves, their darker impulses spurred on by a pull to a literal bad place, a place that feeds on your mistakes, your fears, and your death. Jack Torrance is very much an alcoholic in The Shining, it's the text, the surface level that we're presented with on every page. Louis Creed doesn't have any great battle with the bottle. His darker self pulls at him from a different direction. And the lies he tells himself are masked in good intentions. He knows he's lying, when he promises not to take that little bundle to that place, and we know he's lying, and the dread comes in waiting for the truth to hit. He just keeps 'drinking.' 

Both books have a child who seems to have some form of second sight, some insight into the darker things, with Danny's shine and Ellie sensing the harm that comes to Church, and the harm about to befall Louis, Jud and Rachel. Both stories have someone racing to try and stop the inevitable - Halloran's race against the weather in The Shining and Rachel's race across country in Pet Sematary- being held back by the dark force throwing obstacles in their way. 

The most terrifying element of Pet Sematary is the way everyone is taken down when things fall apart. From the enabler, Jud, who realises too late that his own good intentions have have helped create a monster, to a family who are ripped apart. There's more hope to The Shining. The hotel burns. Three people make it out alive, and only the addict himself dies. King would return to that world later, of course, in Doctor Sleep, to play around with the legacy and trauma of Jack's fall, but in the book itself there is hope if you want to find it. You can choose to believe the cycle ends. Danny's powers -and his connection to Halloran- help him to survive. Pet Sematary gives you no such room. In fact, it takes a step back at the end, switching perspective to an outsider, a witness to everything that's happening, who almost feels himself pulled into the tragedy simply by being present. In the epilogue we see the cycle continues. The questions remain unanswered. And Ellie's own second sight contributes to the downfall, spurring her mother to head home to stop whatever is happening. 

Do we want hope? Of course we do. I lean towards thinking that's what art is. Moments of hope. Moments of connection. Moments of meaning. But every now and then, we stop to observe a simple truth. And we have to be honest with ourselves -just as the addictive voice tries to lie- about how far down you can fall. The simple, stripped-back, honesty of Pet Sematary is what makes it so chilling. It's also what elevates it, for my money, above The Shining. 

Worse Angels

 


This week, Beau takes a look at Worse Angels, from Laird Barron.




Wednesday, October 13, 2021

That Was Perfect, Do It Again

You finished your book. You even revised it a few times. A beta reader (or ten) gave you notes, so you revised it two more times for good measure. This is no first draft, my friends. You have a novel on your hands. A piece of art. The craftsmanship alone - the use of adverbs even!

You have a lean, mean, story-telling device that you have an intense love/hate relationship with. You know exactly on which page and paragraph the climax begins. You know this thing better than any spouse or friend or child.

So, the next step is to hand this bad boy off. Maybe you're querying an agent. Maybe your agent has waited patiently for you to hand this goddamn thing in so they can start querying editors. Hell, maybe an editor is dying to get this thing in their hands because you're sprinting towards publication.

In all this, though, there's a very easy to make mistake. You might have spotted it above.

You're never fucking done until you're done.

There will be notes. There will be anger and tears. The sick dread of opening that manuscript once again to revise, rejigger, or even discover whole new problems you missed the last time (the 381st time you read through the forsaken text).

The long and short of it: until that book is physically printed, you're not done. Hell, it may not even be done then. See edits done to paperback releases or future editions. The work can always be refined and revisited. For me, it's the most difficult part of writing because you're not necessarily the owner of the decision to stop all revisions. 

Which leads me to the broader point: we, as writers and people really, always have to be open to change. There needs to be a balance between confidence in your skills and the ability to know when you're not quite hitting the mark (honestly, the two should come hand in hand), and while you may have worked harder than you ever have on your book, the idea that it can always be better has to be accepted. This means you take notes, criticism, and comments in stride. You understand that people willing to give that feedback to you are not enemies - they are your biggest allies.

And you grow. 

Writing, like all art, is a craft. Craft is meant to be bettered and to change. What worked for carpenters a thousand years ago may not necessarily work the same way now. There's evolution and nuance. New tools to bring to the metaphorical table and all.

So, think of yourself as a crafts-person. Someone who not only works to produce, but to be a better producer with every iteration of your product.

And then drink on your downtime, because sometimes this shit is hard to accept. 

But also, go revise that project again.

 


 

 

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

A Cloak and Dagger Day

By Scott Adlerberg

Yesterday was a day that had a cloak and dagger theme for me. 

It began with me reading the news story about the married couple, suburbanites named Jonathan and Diane Toebbe, who the FBI arrested for trying to sell tightly guarded submarine propulsion secrets to a foreign government.  It's not yet clear what country they were trying to sell these nuclear secrets to, or what their motivation was, but that they were engaged in spycraft is certain.  The couple have kids and pets and no apparent financial worries. She was a history and English teacher at a progressive private school in Annapolis, he a nuclear engineer with the Navy.  Two well-educated people, and yet for all their brains, their spycraft was terrible.  It seems as though the country they were trying to sell secrets to is one friendly to the US; that country alerted US officials to the overtures from the couple, and after that, the FBI got involved and had no trouble tracking the couple and luring them into actions that led to their capture. On one occasion, in touch with the would-be spymasters, the FBI persuaded the couple to leave sub information at a dead drop in exchange for cryptocurrency payments.  At the drop site in West Virginia, the small digital card the couple put the information on was concealed in a peanut butter sandwich in a plastic bag.  An FBI agent took the sandwich from the drop spot, and the couple was sent $20,000. Eventually, the FBI had enough incriminating stuff on the couple and just swooped in and arrested them at their house, with neighbors watching.  John Le Carre characters these people are not, but they do make for amusing newspaper reading.

In the late morning, as I mentioned on social media, a couple of people messaged me to let me know that someone on Instagram was impersonating me and propositioning people to click a link and buy some junk.  Thanks to the people who let me know and who also informed me that my imposter was using bad grammar, down to not even putting commas in the right places.  Word to all would-be impersonators: learn a little bit about who you are impersonating before you embark on your masquerade.  In this case, the person imitated happens to be a writer, so it's unlikely, no matter how desperate I get in life and even if at some point I'm reduced to trying to sell people garbage online, that I would write my come-ons carelessly and with no attention to grammar. If anything, knowing how important presentation is in a con game, I would choose my words with great care and make sure that the actual writing is impeccable.

Later, after reporting the impersonation to Instagram, I mentioned what had happened to my wife and son, and it occurred to me that if ever I was going to work a social media impersonation scam, I would have my wife or son impersonate me because they would be able to give information about me that few people besides myself know.  So there's an idea perhaps. A family of social media grifters who collectively run impersonation-type scams...

Then, still later, my cloak and dagger theme day continued when I went to the movies in the evening and saw No Time To Die.  So enjoyable to take in a story about a spy with skills. No bumblers putting digital cards in peanut butter sandwiches or impersonators who can't use commas.  Though I wouldn't rate No Time to Die as highly as Casino Royale or Skyfall, among the Daniel Craig Bonds, I liked how it rippled along with good action, moments of absurdity, and a couple of major surprises.  It's a long movie but didn't feel like one, and the ending? Yes, it worked well for me.

Spies, an imposter, and iconic Bond -- a day that was not uninteresting.

Monday, October 11, 2021

Watch out! Paul D. Brazill Bites!



On tap in time for Halloween is a wicked brew of hard-hitting noir and spine-tingling horror. Paul D. Brazill, whose books include LAST YEAR’S MAN, A CASE OF NOIR, GUNS OF BRIXTON, and KILL ME QUICK, is known for his hybrid tales with his writing once compared to Roald Dahl mixed with The Twilight Zone and Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Just right for this time of year.

ROMAN DALTON, WEREWOLF PI

Unafraid to pull us into his weird world of horror and noir, Paul introduces us to a formidable gaggle of characters. Roman Dalton is a former cop now working as a private eye and living as a werewolf. He matches wits with voodoo mobster Ton Ton Philippe who is never without his zombie henchmen and must further investigate Otto Rhino and his creepy Frog minions. There are werewolf bikers, mythical invincible hitmen, Brain Salad murderers, and sultry torch singers. Dalton takes us and his associates through a series of adventures, investigating and fighting the wild and brutal villains of The City. Brazill has done his work as Daltons fellow good guys, partner Ivan Walker and drinking buddy Duffy, are just as developed and intriguing.

Jump into these six short stories and learn all about the supernatural world of Roman Dalton and the evil that lurks in The City.


DRUNK ON THE MOON



When you have a great character, don't keep the fun to yourself. The always innovative Paul D. Brazill hand-picked a collection of the finest crime and horror writers and delivered something totally original and fascinating. Paul kicks off the anthology with our main characters origin story. Inspired by the great Tom Waits, Brazill paints the picture of a dark and dangerous city and the monsters that call it home. Though the tale is dark it is also touched with the authors quick wit. The writers who have a go at Roman include K A Laity with “It’s A Curse” and “Back to Nature” by Jason Michel to name a few. Each contributor stays true to the character but adds a hint of their own flavor, perfect for keeping the material lively.


THE NEON MOON

THE NEON MOON is the second collection of invited noir/ horror short stories based on Paul D. Brazill's character Dalton. Each story is inspired by the intrepid werewolf, yet each author manages a new spin and feel. Brazill joins in with his short story “The Brain Salad Murders” and his friends all donate doozies. Chris Rhatigan gives us “The Birds are Dead”, Matt Hilton provides “Booze and Ooze”, and Ben Lelievre gifts “The Night of the Long Knives.” There are even more writers included and readers will not be disappointed.

If you’re in the mood for screaming and sleuthing look no further than Roman Dalton, Werewolf PI. Cheers to chills and thrills.

Paul D. Brazill was born in England and lives in Poland. His writing has been translated into Italian, Finnish, Polish, German and Slovene. The Spinetingler nominated Brazill is featured atop the Predators and Editors list and has seen his writing published in various magazines and anthologies, including The Mammoth Books of Best British Crime.