DON PENDLETON: GODFATHER OF THE MODERN ACTION ADVENTURE NOVEL
PART 1 (OF 2)
THE EXECUTIONER RETURNS
Forty-five years ago, author Don Pendleton's War Against the Mafia, the first novel in what would become the international best-selling The Executioner: Mack Bolan series, was published. The novel hit a nerve with the reading public, bridging the gulf between the hard-hitting pulp magazines of a prior generation and the paperback original format of a more modern – yet still story hungry – audience.
Earlier in December, 2014, Don Pendleton’s widow, Linda Pendleton, masterminded the first e-book release (via Open Road Media) of the original thirty-seven titles in The Executioner: Mack Bolan series. Originally published from 1969 to 1980, these books are the beating heart of The Executioner canon, which spawned uncountable imitators in the men’s action adventure genre.
As a series, The Executioner moved from the pen of one man, Don Pendleton, to numerous other scribes for a total of over 425 titles and spawned numerous spinoff series published under the Gold Eagle banner – an imprint of Harlequin Publishing, perhaps better known for their strong presence in the romance genre.
Reflecting on his creation in 1973, Don Pendleton – now universally acknowledged as the father of the modern action/adventure novel – stated, "…styling of the Mack Bolan stories requires a structure for carrying fast-paced hard-hitting action sequences. The writing is punchy, declarative, stirringly graphic. The reach is toward the reader’s belly, designed to evoke visceral response and rousing empathy. This is heroic fiction."
In her blog, Drops of Ink Upon the Page, Linda Pendleton explains, “Don wrote the first novel in the series, War Against the Mafia, out of his desire to express his discomfort with the reaction of many Americans to our soldiers who were dying for our country in the jungles of Vietnam and those coming home to outrageous verbal and physical abuse. So Mack Bolan became Don's symbolic statement. He also became every soldier's voice. Don created a heroic character in Bolan, a true hero who was dedicated to justice. The enemy that Bolan had to fight was no longer on the battlefields of Vietnam but right here on American soil, and that enemy was the Mafia.”
As his guiding principal of writing stories with strong values and an underlying theme of a higher morality, Pendleton explained, "My biggest job throughout writing the series was to keep faith with Bolan–that what he is doing is right. I wanted an enemy beyond redemption–an enemy that all civilized procedures had failed to put down. The Mafia was ready-made. They embodied all the evils of mankind."
Since 1980, under the auspices of Gold Eagle, The Executioner moved on from fighting the mafia to a new enemy – terrorism. Including several spinoff series – Phoenix Force, Able Team, Stony Man, Mack Bolan, and The Executioner – close to 1,000 books have been published, based on Don Pendleton's original Mack Bolan character.
Recently, The Executioner series has been back in the news. Gold Eagle, which published the monthly adventures of The Executioner and its numerous spinoff series, was closed down due to a publishing merger. However, there was also good news – very good news. In August of 2014, it was announced that Hollywood screenwriter and producer, Shane Salerno had acquired the film rights and a film franchise is planned. And soon after, Warner Brothers announced Bradley Cooper to star. The movie is currently fast-tracked for production.
The movie news, coupled with the e-book release of Pendleton’s first thirty-seven Executioner novels featuring Mack Bolan, assure the enduring hero will be with us for a long time to come.
Through the wonders of Facebook, I recently was able to talk with Linda Pendleton about her efforts to get the e-books released, the upcoming movie, and Don Pendleton’s legacy.
First, please tell us a little about Don himself both as an individual and as the author behind the books.
Don Pendleton was, like Mack Bolan, a man who could command himself. He was a true gentleman, compassionate and caring, a wonderful and near-perfect blend of the warrior/lover. Don considered life to be a joyous adventure and lived life with enthusiasm and excitement right up to the moment he died. I believe his enthusiasm and excitement for life came across in his writing. A self-educated man, he received his GED while still in the Navy at the end of World War II. That was the extent of his formal education. He was an avid reader from childhood. Even during the War, and later when he returned to duty during the Korean Conflict, he read every chance he had. He once stated, "I have served many long and lonely years aboard ship in war zones, and the only thing that kept me sane during all that enforced loneliness was my access to a good library in which I read, literally, every book on the shelves, even textbooks, and which gave me access to other worlds no other way open to me."
I was fascinated with Don Pendleton, the man, from the first moment I met him, and soon became fascinated with the writer. Out of the hidden crevices of his mind would come multidimensional characters, and as with every writer, bits and pieces of him would come forward to find their place on the written page. I often marveled at his intelligence and his ability to read and absorb so much, whether it be a newspaper article or a scientific journal. He loved people and loved to study them, and often his fictional characters would be composites of persons he had met.
As a writer yourself, did you have any input into the original series or other books Don wrote?
Don and I met and married not long after he had finished writing The Executioner, but we did adapt and script the graphic comic together, War Against the Mafia. Shortly following his death, I adapted and scripted the second graphic comic, Death Squad. I enjoyed working with Mack Bolan.
In 1987, we co-wrote our nonfiction book, To Dance With Angels, and it was published in 1990. We followed that with Whispers From the Soul: The Divine Dance of Consciousness. About that same time, we collaborated on our crime novel, Roulette, the Search for the Sunrise Killer. We enjoyed writing together. I had been married for twenty-five years to a
I had little input into Don's Joe Copp, Private Eye or Ashton Ford Psychic Detective series except to read each chapter as it came off the printer, and then to answer his question when he reached about page 75, "Do I have a story?" followed by my question at page 175, "Okay who's the bad guy. It looks like it could be one of several." Then he'd tell me, "I don't know yet." We had a lot of fun with writing.
His last Joe Copp novel, Copp in Shock, was a different story, though. It was the sixth book of his Donald I. Fine hardcover publishing contract. He had finished the fifth book and it was about time to start the last book, when, in February, 1991, Don suffered a heart attack. The clot buster he was given resulted in a serious brain hemorrhage. He nearly died, spent weeks in the hospital and had extensive physical and occupational therapy. Two months after he came home, we started writing Copp in Shock. He had already fired his speech therapist as our therapy methods were much better. He was still suffering from dyslexia, peripheral vision loss, and short-term memory problems. I sat at the computer and he told me what to write, often a guessing game to find the right word or phrase. We laughed a lot. By chapter five, he was ready to take over at the computer. I would record each chapter so he could listen to it before starting the next chapter. I was amazed how Don knew all the details needed to wrap up the book, a couple that I had forgotten. You just never know how the brain works. I know his recovery amazed his speech therapist. He took her a copy of several chapters he'd written and she couldn't believe how fast he had recovered. Not only did our humor help his healing, but our determination, and Don's love of writing.
END OF PART 1