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Tuesday, November 14, 2017

STARK HOUSE DESPERADOS

 
STARK HOUSE DESPERADOS

November is Western Month over Stark House Press. Last year, Stark House offered a trio of tales in a collection of Harry Whittington’s distinctive shoot-‘em-ups. This year, it’s a duo of connected Western noirs from Clifton Adams—The Desperado and A Noose for the Desperado. These were the first two novels to be published by Adams, who would go on to write some chilling hardboiled novels published as Clifton Adams and using the pseudonym, Jonathan Gant—plus one oddball crime novel as Nick Hudson. Adams also wrote a many more Westerns, bylined by his own name, as well as the pseudonyms Clay Randall and Matt Kinkaid.

About half the books he wrote as Clay Randall feature a series character named Amos Flagg. Under his own name, Adams didn’t use repeating characters, with the exception of the two Desperado books. These follow Talbert Tall Cameron as an impulsive teenager who is quick to defend his honor. He gradually morphs into a hard-bitten gunslinger, ready to shoot first whenever the situation demands—which, as far as he is concerned, it frequently does. 

The Desperado begins when blue-bellies kill Tall’s father. This sets off a series of self-justifications as Tall makes one bad choice after another on the way to becoming too quick on the trigger. He quickly alienates his friends and family, and finds himself a wanted outlaw with a bounty on his head. This is Western noir as dark, desolate, and deadly as any crime thriller. The sequel, A Noose for the Desperado, is just as harsh, bringing Tall’s story to its inevitable climax.

In this new Stark House collection of these two novels, Bud Elder, a fellow Oklahoma writer who knows the land and the people who inspired Clifton Adams, provides an informative new introduction. There is something timeless about a good western. Adams wrote these books 65+ years ago, but they are still as downbeat and gritty as they were when Gold Medal published them in the early 1950s.

Stark house is also featuring Clifton Adams’ bleakest crime thriller, Never Say No to a Killer, under their Black Gat imprint. The first of two books written by Adams using his Jonathan Gant pseudonym, Never Say No to a Killer is finally published under the author’s real name. The main character, Roy Surratt, busts out of jail with the help of a mentor crook, and now has plans to run the city. All he has to do is stay clear of the cops. The problem is his ego. Whenever he wants something, he figures he can take it, including the beautiful secretary of his first victim. She outclasses him, but he figures he can charm her into submission. He proceeds to try to lie his way into her bed, and out of every tight situation he gets in. And when lying doesn’t work, there is always the gun…

As self-deluded and sociopathic as they come, Surratt is quite a character—and one of Adams’ finest creations. Author James Reasoner, in his Rough Edges blog, calls Never Say No to a Killer, “a skillfully written book with a very effective air of impending doom. The narrator may be fooling himself, but he’s not fooling us.”

   

MORE WESTERNS FROM CLIFTON ADAMS

 
 
 

 
CLIFTON ADAMS WRITING AS CLAY RANDALL
 
 
 

Saturday, November 11, 2017

SPALDING GETS HIS GROOVE ON

 
SPALDING GETS HIS GROOVE ON

Spur award-winning writer Richard Prosch is a master of short-story and novella length Westerns and crime stories with a vicious twist in the tail. He also writes the adventures of sassy twelve-year old Jo Harper set in 1910, Wyoming, which are a delight for all ages. Richard is currently debuting his new contemporary series character, Dan Spalding, in the short-story Spalding’s Groove and a new novel, Answer Death

Having had the opportunity to preview Spalding’s brand of laidback, but tough enough style, I know Richard’s regular readers and new fans are going to get their thrills on in both tales. I was able to rope Richard into the interrogation corral for a few pointed questions...
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If the Texas Rangers nailed up a wanted poster for Richard Prosch, what information would it contain?

Fierce advocate for the individual, for kids, and for an independent, western way of life increasingly on the wane. I grew up in Nebraska, lived in Wyoming and South Carolina, and was molded by all three—for the better. I’ve enjoyed a professional career in art and writing non-fiction and won some nice awards for my short stories, such as the WWA Spur Award. 

What drove you to become a writer?

I’m an only child, and during my teens I had long uninterrupted periods of time working on the farm. I passed the time spent on mundane tasks by making up scenarios in my head. I dabbled with pen and paper. As a young adult, I typed out mountains of professional nonfiction, but to pull off good fiction takes a kind of maturity I didn’t believe I had. Finally in my mid-40s, my wife kicked me in the butt and made me realize I’m a better person—for myself and everybody else—when I’m regularly writing stories.

Did you choose to start your writing career with short stories and novellas or did those forms of storytelling choose you?

They chose me. Fiction and nonfiction both, I’ve always loved the short form and those are the writers I read. Our grade-school library had those great Random House Alfred Hitchcock hardcover anthologies, and I practically owned them. I especially like Harlan Ellison because of the way he can move between short stories and personal essays. So those are the forms I started with.

Your character of twelve year old Jo Harper is one of my favorites. Where did she come from and what was your goal in developing her stories?

Dean Wesley Smith says writing is perhaps the only art people—for some reason—don’t think you need to practice. He thinks you must practice writing, and I agree. The Jo Harper series developed when my son was nine or ten years old and I told him stories about old Nebraska my grandpa’s aunt told me when I was a kid. She was in her 80s and 90s at the time. So, Jo’s stories let me practice writing fiction—more or less under the radar—while also locking in some of those family yarns for my son.

You moved effortlessly between the Western and crime genres. Do you prefer one over the other or is your genre decision based on what fits a given story? 

You phrased that well, Paul. It’s what fits a given story. All good fiction is driven by a good, often extreme, conflict. Crime, violence, the use of force, it’s all grist for the mill and most of the good westerns are good crime stories in their own right. 

Who are the western and crime genre authors who have influenced you?  

Tough one because I’m probably equally influenced by SF and nonfiction writers too. But in westerns, the top spots are—hands down—Ben Haas, Steve Frazee, and Elmore Leonard. In crime it’s Robert B. Parker, John D. MacDonald, and so many short story writers I can’t count them. David Edgerley Gates who does both genres so well is a favorite. Also Ed Hoch who wrote something like 900 short stories. 

A cool highlight of your new Dan Spalding stories is Spalding’s Groove, the record store Dan inherited from his brother. Did you grab the idea from the muse of inspiration or do you have a history with record stores, their diversity of stock, and their edge of slightly seedy desperation?

That’s a perfectly apt description of my favorite place! I’ve always loved record stores—nearly as much as book stores. Any new town I come to, I look for a book store, a record store, or an antique shop that might have books and records both. I also grew up at a great time, with anything and everything on vinyl and a mom who enjoyed listening to records. It’s something I do know something about, and I want to explore that with the Spalding series.

Did the character of Dan Spalding come to you fully ready for action or did he develop on the page?

Pretty much ready for action. I have a variety of friends my age in law enforcement and we tend to talk a lot about the culture, which leads to music. Spalding isn’t based on any particular person in real life, but more of an amalgam of these guys. Spalding is eventually able to live his dream of being surrounded by music, but he’s still got that warrior Sheepdog ethos inside.

Do you read mostly fiction or nonfiction or an even mix?

An even mix, though more nonfiction lately. I train in Karate and with society being what it is lately, I’m interested in essays on conflict and defense by writers like Rory Miller and Marc MacYoung.

Who are your current favorite authors in the Western and Crime genres?

I try to read everything Paul Bishop puts out—grin. In truth, your Lie Catchers broke new ground for me. Good stuff!  To the question, for westerns I go to Pete Brandvold and Wayne Dundee. For crime it’s Lee Goldberg, Brendan Dubois, a few others.

Where do you stand on indy vs. legacy/traditional publishing?

I’ve always thought of myself as a hybrid writer. I like the opportunities a good publisher can offer, but I value the control and experience of indy work. I think with the time frame inherent to traditional publishing, the only way to make a living as a writer is by going solo with part or most of your output.

Is there a specific book or author you find yourself recommending over and over?

John D. MacDonald. More than anybody else, he was able to combine personal observation with his characters so it didn’t feel forced or pedantic. He was a master at rich characterization and capturing the time and place of a scene. And what an output!

Is there a book you’ve returned to again and again?

Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine, which I first read as a teenager. It’s brilliant! Simple and complex. Deliberately nostalgic, yet sneakily timeless. Depending on your mindset, you can read it as a series of short stories, or a novel. I try to touch base with it every year.

What is the last book you read?

My last book was a re-read of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain, but the last new book I read was Double Wide by Leo W. Banks.

What is the last book you bought?

Beyond the Picket Fence by Mark MacYoung

What was the last novel to make you laugh?

Man, that’s hard because I don’t laugh easily. Probably Cat’s Cradle by Vonnegut.

What was the last novel to make you cry?

Easy one. Dandelion Wine and the story of The Happiness Machine. 

What’s next for Dan Spalding and Richard Prosch?

I’m working on the next Spalding novel, Flip Side, and a new western novel based on my short story in the new Best of the West anthology from Sundown Press. We’re also releasing my three John Coburn e-book novellas in a print collection next month, so that will be fun.
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Thx to Richard for his answers and for the many great stories in his short-story collections, novellas, and novels...And for all of his great stories yet to come...
    

Sunday, November 5, 2017

WESTERN MUSINGS

WESTERN MUSINGS

On his Western Musings blog, Western fan and aficionado Mark Hatmaker posted the following praise for 52 Weeks • 52 Western Novels...Scott and I appreciate his comments...
52 WEEKS
• 
52 WESTERN NOVELS

“There is a power and beauty to a good ol’ fashioned Western that is hard to find in any other genre.” 
~ Scott Harris

“There is blazing six-gun action on every one of the following pages. Hopefully, you will be reminded of some old friends and intrigued and excited by some new discoveries.”
~Paul Bishop

The quoted salvos from the co-authors’ introductions to this book sum up what you will find within. The full title of the book is 52 Weeks 52 Western Novels: six-Gun Favorites and New Discoveries and that about nails it.
Hardcore Western fans, and I am wagering all genre fans in general, love a good recommendation, love a new list. We love the finger that points to a what is, hopefully, a brand-new piece of reading gold.

Often such “Best Of…” lists, no matter the genre, are mighty familiar. There are acknowledged classics to be touted and so often the heft of the list is taken up by works the devout reader has already consumed, and we are left with hopes of finding fresh titles lurking way down the list.

Here, there is a refreshingly different approach. Lonesome Dove is not listed. Not because of any perceived antipathy to Mr. McMurtry, but rather the authors seem to be saying, “We all know Lonesome Dove is brilliant, right? But how many times can we read it? What else is there?”

This approach allows the list and recommendations to breathe with fresh choices, with picks that often fall by the way side. Here, the hardcore Western fan will mostly be confronted with, “Hmm, I’d forgotten about that one” or, “Wait a minute, I never heard of this title” that sends you scrambling to the mighty Amazon or the used book store of choice.

I will not spoil what the authors have done by giving away their picks, they did the work, allow them to reap the rewards. I will add that the book’s design makes this one not only a pleasure to read, but one to browse merely for the art.

With that said, the volume is an easy no-brainer pick for all hardcore Western fans.




Tuesday, October 3, 2017

STARK REALITIES


STARK REALITIES
STARK HOUSE PRESS
PUBLISHER
GREG SHEPARD

Stark House Press is renowned for breathing new life into great books by great writers—writers who have slipped out of the mainstream into the murky depths of the noir and hardboiled underworld. United by their mesmerizing plotting, scorching prose, and flawed characters, every reprint from Stark House is beautifully packaged with incisive and informed introductions from some of the most knowledgeable noirmeisters and hardboiled mavens in the genre.

Books by writing giants such as Harry Whittington, Frank Kane, Carter Brown, Cleve Adams, Peter Rabe, Fletcher Flora, Malcolm Braly, W. R. Burnett, Arnold Hano, Dan J. Marlowe, and too many others to name, have been brought back from the edge of obscurity by the guiding hand of Stark House Press’ unassuming editor, Greg Shepard.

Operating in the shadows, Greg has been quietly feeding the desperate needs of mainlining noir, hardboiled, and even Western junkies for far too long without due recognition. Having been a regular reader of Stark House Press’ fantastic output, I’m  delighted Greg agreed to be interviewed and share his thoughts about the books and authors Stark House continues to feature.
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If a scheming femme fatale falsely accused you of murder and you were on the run, what information would the police’s APB contain?

Born in 1952 in Ft. Collins, Colorado. Grew up in Northern California. Spent childhood in the Sacramento area, Marin County and Pacifica. At various times, I’ve been a painter, graphic designer, rock music critic, clerk, book buyer, publisher’s sales rep, book distributor, tenant relations coordinator. Currently, publisher of Stark House Press in Eureka, California. I married Cindy Brown in 2013, have two sons—Justin and Cole— by previous marriages, and a house full of books, movies, music, animals and art.

What are your first memories of reading?

I was a sucker for Dr. Seuss when I was a kid—still am. Once a week, my mom would take us to the library so we could stock up. From Seuss, I graduated to animal stories in grade school, and then to science fiction, horror, and mysteries. In my very early teens, my grandmother (bless her) gave me a pile of Edgar Rice Burroughs books—the old Ace editions—and I was off and running into adventure-fantasy land. You might say I trace my reading arc from Cubby in Wonderland to Mysterious Island to Pellucidar to The Big Sleep. Something like that.

When did you first begin to read widely in the noir and hardboiled fields?

I read a lot of Phyllis A. Whitney’s young adult mysteries when I was entering my teens, but didn’t start reading Chandler, Hammett, or Cain until I was in my late teens and early 20s. Mostly, I read a lot of science fiction. Then in the mid-1980s, I discovered Maxim Jakubowski’s UK Black Box Thrillers, and read them all from beginning to end. From there, it was a just a matter of time before I started tracking down every single Gold Medal book I could find. Around this time Black Lizard started up, and I was able to read the Jim Thompson books I hadn’t been able to find. It was a good time to discover noir.

Can you tell us a little about the history of Stark House Press?

The publishing company came from a suggestion made by my dad, Bill Shepard. He had been a newspaper writer and magazine editor most of his life. He thought it would be interesting to start a publishing company. My brother Mark is a graphic design artist, my mom, Joanne, a proofreader, and my ex-wife handled the cover art. I was in charge of acquisitions. I started with Storm Constantine, but quickly moved to mysteries when the rest of the family dropped out.

Why did you decided to start Stark House Press?

I had always wanted to be a publisher myself, even as far back as high school. My fantasy then was to reprint everything by all my favorite authors. Which is sort of what I’m doing today. I can’t speak for my dad, who is no longer with us, but I imagine he wanted to start a new business just to see if we could succeed with it. He had quite the entrepreneurial spirit, no doubt about it. For me, it’s an outgrowth of being a book collector, and wanting to spread the gospel, one reprint at a time.

Is there a story behind the Stark House name?

I originally suggested Dark House, but when I looked into it, there were just too many publishers at the time with the word dark in their name. I thought stark sounded cool without being specific to any one genre, and suggested it to the group. It stuck. Many California book buyers knew me from the time when I was a sales rep for a fellow named J. Ben Stark, who imported British paperbacks. They thought I had named the business after him. But it was one of those weird coincidences. The family liked Stark House, and it became the name we settled on.

What do you look for when deciding on a new Stark House Press title?

I started by tracking down the rights to all my favorite authors, like Elisabeth Sanxay Holding, Peter Rabe, Gil Brewer, W. R. Burnett and Harry Whittington. At this point, I keep myself open to new authors who submit something I get caught up in myself; or classics on my fantasy wish list; or authors who are offered to me, like Carter Brown.

Are there any authors who you would like to publish, but for haven’t been able to pin down?

I’d love to reprint David Goodis’ Somebody’s Done For. The lawyers who control the estate shot down my offer. I tried to work a deal to reprint Build My Gallows High by Geoffrey Homes, but the family wanted more than I could spend. There are some books for which I haven’t been able to track down the estate, such as A. H. Z. Carr’s Finding Maubee, and other authors, like Davis Karp, I simply haven’t succeeded in tracking down yet. Ed Gorman tried to put me together with the Robert Bloch estate, but they never got back to us. It was a pet project of Ed’s, and I’m sorry we couldn’t make it happen before he passed away. 

Do you have any personal favorites among your Stark House Press titles?

The Box by Peter Rabe prompted me to read the rest of his books, so it was the first book of his I reprinted. I love that book! Such a treasure. Same with Pure Sweet Hell by Douglas Sanderson, and Something in the Shadows by Vin Packer. I love A. S. Fleischman’s Far East thrillers, and almost anything by Holding and Brewer—even the weird late-period books.

Any particular acquisition coups among the books you have published?

Considering the netherworld of small press publishing—and the even more confining world of retro noir reprinting—my coups have been small, personal ones. Like finding Peter Rabe’s agent via Ed Gorman; or tracking down Elisabeth Sanxay Holding’s grandson, who controls her estate. Probably the trickiest two estates to locate, though, turned out to be James McKimmey’s and Lionel White’s. A lot of online investigative work went into those two.

How do you match the writer of an introduction to a particular book?

For awhile, it seemed like Rick Ollerman and David Wilson were writing most of our introductions. They have their favorites, and I would always go to them first when the author was someone like Peter Rabe, W. R. Burnett, Harry Whittington or Charles Williams. But lately, I have been searching out new voices, or authors I know to be fans. For example, Bill Crider was generous enough to provide the intro for the upcoming Richard Wormser book. The suggestion to approach Bill actually came from the owner of the literary agency that controls the Wormser estate. He knew Bill was a fan. When I was trying to find someone to introduce our recent Basil Heatter book, I was up against it. No one I knew had read him. Finally, Steve Lewis, the man behind Mystery*File, was kind enough to provide some thoughts after I sent him the books to read. There really isn’t a formula for matching introduction to book. Sometimes it’s a case of finding out a modern author is a fan of someone we’re reprinting, then asking them if they’d like to contribute.

Why do you feel it is important to keep these writers and their books available?

Good question. I could come up with all sorts of intellectualized reasons, but the fact is, I think books by these authors are as readable today as they were when they were written. The trappings of a story may have changed—in the 50s, everyone, it seemed, drank a lot, smoked a lot, and only paid two bits for a decent diner meal—but the essential conflicts remain the same. Particularly as regards characters who chase after money and sex and come to a bad end. That story is timeless. And when you think of authors like Rabe or Brewer, you ask yourself, why shouldn’t they still be in print? They’re so damn good.

How have advances in the technical side of publishing been advantageous to Stark House Press?

Personal computers made desktop publishing possible in the first place. The Internet made it possible to connect easily with the rest of the world. Print on demand certainly made it a whole lot cheaper to keep books in print, to reprint them cheaply and quickly. Honestly, if I had wanted to get into the publishing industry even 30 years ago, I probably would have had to move to New York. Now, I get to live on the California coast in the redwoods, and publish books as well. Practically any technical advance you can think of in the world of publishing has been advantageous to Stark House.

How has Stark House adjusted to the ebook market and is there an average split between the ebook sales and the sales of a trade paperback for individual titles?

I’m retro enough I still prefer printed books, so was very late to get into the ebook game. And I still don’t have all our books available in electronic format. Most of our books sell more than twice as much in paperback as a result. There are occasional titles like Red Hot Typewriter, our John D. MacDonald bio, which sells a lot better in ebook, and some of the new authors we’ve published have also done very well in the medium. Getting more ebooks out is a work in progress for me.

How important is your website and mailing list to the success of Stark House Press?

I get very little feedback on the website. We don’t get a lot of orders directly from it. However, I like to think the hits we get are from customers who then look for the book elsewhere. The folks on the mailing list get a physical catalog, but it’s not the best way of scaring up business—not anymore. I’m just a holdover to the good-old-days when publishers put out paper catalogs to promote their books. I still have a stack of old Ace Books catalogs I kept from the 60s and 70s, more for the sake of nostalgia than anything else. But lately, since making all our books available through Ingram [*a book distribution service], we have started to reach more bookstores, which has made a far bigger difference than the website. Also the Stark House Crime Club, which guarantees its members will receive each new book we publish. That’s worked very well.

How important are Amazon reviews for Stark House Press titles?

I tend to think they’re very important. I know I buy stuff based on Amazon reviews. I’ve even started quoting Amazon and GoodReads reviews on the back of our books. There are a lot of intelligent and articulate readers out there writing some very discerning comments on the books they read and the music they listen to. I don’t have any numbers to justify my view that Amazon reviews sell books, but I figure if it works for me, it probably works for a lot of other readers. And, for better or worse, Amazon still accounts for a big chunk of our sales.

Black Gat Books is a relatively new imprint for Stark House Press. What makes a book qualify for the Black Gat imprint as opposed to a traditional Stark House publication?

Sometimes you have a single book by an author you love and want to reprint. Or you want to try out an author to see if there is any interest. Or you want to single out a book on its own because it deserves it. I happen to love the 4.25” x 7” mass market book size. I’m also a big fan of standalone novels—not much of a series reader—so I like to find books that stand on their own. I’m reminded again of the Black Lizard books. Cool little books that speak for themselves. There should be more of them on the market today. Black Gat fills that need.

What can we look for in the next few months from Stark House Press and Black Gat Books?

Some authors new to the list like Floyd Mahannah, Richard Wormser and Bill S. Ballinger. Some old favorites like Holding, Rabe and Brewer. Rick and I are working on a Stark House Anthology, which may see the light of day next year. We’ve got another collection of classic supernatural stories edited by Jonathan E. Lewis called Strange Island Stories coming in the Spring. Another Carter Brown 3-fer, the next three Al Wheeler novels. A new mystery by Michael Scott Cain called Damon Runyon’s Boys. Another new thriller from Rick Ollerman, which has yet to be titled. Lots of stuff.

What are your future goals for Stark House Press and Black Gat books?

Personally, I would love to add classic science fiction reprints to Stark House, and diversify a bit more. We’ve started adding some noir westerns to the list. I’d like to add more adventure, fantasy and turn-of-the-century material as well. There’s only one of me, so it remains to be seen what I can accomplish. The noir and hardboiled books are the main focus, though, and will remain so for the time being. There’s still plenty of great material crying out for reprint. 
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Thx to Greg Shepard for taking time to answer so many questions. CLICK HERE to check out the latest Stark House Press publications, and both upcoming and backlist titles...