Friday, February 19, 2016

Forgotten Book Friday: The Rat Bastards series: #4.

The Rat Bastards series: #4. Meat Grinder Hill, by John Mackie, Jove Books, 1984.

I’d never seen any books from this series until I was in Maine and found a small bookstore that carried volume 4. Being a sucker for war series, especially WWII series, I snapped it up, and have finally read it. The story takes place on Guadalcanal as the American forces make a last push to take the island from a starving and undersupplied Japanese army.  Here are my thoughts:

First, John Mackie is a pseudonym of Len Levinson. Here is a link to a blog called “Glorious Trash,” where there is an interview with the author about the series.  Another discussion with Levinson can be found over at the Post Modern Pulp Blog

Though I’ve only read one volume, I think I can make some general deductions about the series, which runs to at least 16 books. What we have is a kind of “Dirty Dozen” tale. The “Recon Platoon” is made up of misfits, criminals, and barroom brawlers. They don’t like to follow orders but they’re tough as hell and good in a fight. There are a number of characters who fit fairly standard molds.  Longtree is descended from Apache warriors and great at stealth. Homer Gladley is a big but not terribly bright farm boy from Nebraska. Frankie La Barbara is a handsome Italian who has a way with the ladies. Then there’s sergeant Butsko, tough as nails and no nonsense. The characters are drawn broadly and behave mostly in expected ways.

I’d firmly place the series in the Men’s Adventure category. There’s a lot of action, a lot of rough talk, and quite a bit of sex, at least in volume 4. Most of the sex comes from Frankie seducing a variety of nurses while recovering from some injuries at the military hospital. The sex is the weakest element of the story and might have better been left out. It’s often a part of the Men’s Adventure package, though,  and I imagine that’s why it’s there. It’s hard for me to tell whether the sex scenes were meant to be funny or erotic. The slang used suggests humor, and I did get some laughs at phrases like: “…touches his fingers lightly against her precious love-starved little gazoo,” or “…pressing her hand against his hairy canary.”

The action sequences were much better done, and we do get to see some of the fear and self-doubt that the characters experience. A particularly nice touch to the book was how the Japanese enemy were  treated with quite a bit of respect. Their hardships, bravery, and loyalty to their leaders was well displayed, which I found somewhat unusual for WWII series, where often the enemy is virtually faceless. I found that this aspect of the story upped my enjoyment.

All in all, I liked “Meat Grinder Hill” fairly well. It was about what I expected.  I may try another volume. I see that most of the series has been released fairly recently for the Kindle and are available on Amazon under the author’s real name. 

Saturday, February 13, 2016

What a Difference a Week (or two) Makes:

Just a week or so ago I was feeling very down about my writing. I’d written nothing for almost two weeks and had tried to work on a story and it just wasn’t flowing. There were, as well, the usual rejections and that sort of thing happening. Either bad or potentially bad news seemed to be attacking on every front.

Then I had a story published, “Woman in Dust,” and got a lot of very positive comments on it. I got potentially good news on an issue that I was particularly concerned about, although I’m not daring to mention it until it is a reality. I picked up a few comments in real life from folks who enjoyed my writing, and the story I was working on finally started to flow, although I’m still fighting with it every step of the way. This week I feel better about things, and am very glad for it.

I have prided myself in the past for writing on even in the face of no external validation. But I realize now that I was fooling myself a bit. Any writer who depends extensively on external validation isn’t going to be in the business for long. But I guess we all need to hear at least occasionally that what we are doing is worthwhile and appreciated.  There’s got to be some kind of payoff for all the hard work, and money has not been that payoff for me.

Monday, February 08, 2016

Woman in Dust

About the only thing I have to say today is that I have a new story up at The Flash Fiction Press. It's called "Woman in Dust." If you have a moment, check it out. It's a quick read. It's here.

As for the Super Bowl, I didn't have anything against either team. I actually like the Carolina Panthers. However, gotta admit I was hoping for a win for Peyton Manning. Although he certainly was not the MVP--the Denver defense was--I was happy to see someone from my adopted home (New Orleans) prove victorious. Plus, I've always had respect for Peyton's skills and for the fact that he seems genuinely like a decent fellow.

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Only Yourself to Blame

Writing is a strange business. I’ve been doing it a long time and really date my life as a writer from the fall of 1988, when I committed myself to getting published. I’ve chocked up some successes, and plenty of failures. I’ve gotten plenty of rejection slips but have had over three hundred pieces published, if you count, books, stories, poems, and nonfiction articles. That’s not counting anything I’ve self published.

There have been years when I’ve done very well—2007, 2009, and plenty of years where I didn’t—2013 through 2015. There was a year, or at least most of a year, when I quit—1997. One thing I’ve realized about writing is that there’s no resting on one’s laurels. You slow down, you lose momentum. You lose momentum, your carefully nurtured career begins to fall apart. In board gaming parlance, you go back a few spaces, even if not quite all the way back to the beginning.

Unfortunately, losses of momentum seem inevitable if you have anything approximating a normal life with spouses and children. People get sick, have crises. Sometimes, one crisis runs into another and another in an almost seamless fashion, leaving little time for the recovering of energies between. And age brings the magic dust of tiredness along with it. Sometimes it gets easier and easier to let the writing slide while you try to keep your head above water against the vagaries of fortune. At least it has been that way for me.

Maybe if I’d had the courage to choose writing as my only career, things might have been different. But I always liked to know where my next meal was coming from. So, I chose an academic career with writing on the side. And when you do have a job that pays the bills, and you come home tired, and the stress of life is beating on you, it becomes a lot easier to say, “screw it, no writing tonight.” You’re still pretty sure you’re not going to starve.  Though maybe you starve in another sense.

Writing, for me, used to be play. I worked hard at my play but it was a helluva lot of fun. There was also an element of gambling that went into every story. Maybe this one would take off. Maybe this one would be the one that broke me through to a bigger audience. Maybe this one would get the nod from one of the biggest magazines, or maybe—even—attract the attention of a film group. Maybe, maybe, maybe.

They say that age brings wisdom. Maybe it just brings cynicism. At this stage of my life, the gambling odds get longer and longer against me. And I never quite reckoned with the truth that one often has to run faster and faster just to stay in one place. The death of Robert Reginald, my editor at Borgo Press, a man who loved my Talera series and supported my writing at every turn, showed me that. He’d issued me contracts for a couple of more books that I could have had out while he was alive. But I just kept thinking, “there’s time.” There wasn’t.  And that has led me to a kind of crisis of faith.

I’ve got to find a reason to keep on keeping on. And I understand pretty clearly that the reason can’t be one that comes from outside of me. In the end, there’s only yourself to blame. For the good or the bad.