And if you’ve enjoyed Sean’s artwork then why not drop over to where he hangs out on Facebook and let him know?
And if you’ve enjoyed Sean’s artwork then why not drop over to where he hangs out on Facebook and let him know?
Yes, there’s some art for a book I’m not attached to, but felt compelled to create because…
Well, therein lies the tale…
Since coronavirus came to town my world in particular had gotten crazy and uncertain…
But on the upside, my days aren’t nearly as stressful as say coming home to find the place ransacked and picked clean of profits from something you worked pretty hard to get through means you’d rather not discuss…
…It’s criminal what a guy has to go through.
And what makes it worse is that it happens in the last place you’d expect things like this to happen: a quiet suburb just outside of…
Especially when you just settled down there after retiring from your last job in Las Vegas. But as you’ll soon discover, whatever happens in Vegas, could have consequences you never expected.
Which is a set up for Van Allen Plexico’s all the fun you’ll find in this second helping of professional heisters Harper and Salsa as they find themselves putting in work in MIAMI HEI$T.
Heist stories, as I’ve said on numerous occasions, have a special place in my heart. They’re entertaining, tricky to plot and execute, and offer some insight into what motivates people to take what doesn’t belong to them and the extremes they’ll engage in to get the job done. And Van, bless him, chose the 1960s to set these up in where these guys were both brutal and cool thanks to films like the original OCEAN’S 11 and books like the series featuring professional criminal Parker written under the pen name Richard Stark by the late, great Donald Westlake. There’s nostalgia and a wonderfully tech free world to work in carry your action without the fear that one of your crew will be posting up video to social media and blowing the job.
So when we last saw our heroes, John Harper and Saul “Salsa” Salzman have successfully managed to get out of Vegas in one piece and considerably richer than they were going in…
…given they were a team of four at the start of the caper, there were a few hitches.
Well we are now months and miles away from Nevada and deep underground on the sun splashed beaches of Miami where Harper has adopted a new name, bought a new home he’s rarely at in Flagler Beach, and picked up a (presumably) new girlfriend Connie Perrigen – who is aware of what Harper does and has none of the issues expected of grad student, and a new Camaro which has brought him back to said new home after leaving (presumably) new girlfriend down at a South Beach hotel after getting a message sent to his new adopted name letting him know someone, somehow knows exactly who he is, where he lives and what he has
…from that time in Las Vegas.
When Harper gets to his house, he finds that his stash with his money from Vegas is long gone from where he hid it. He checks in with Salsa who got an earlier message from Harper that sent him, not to his stash to check his loot, but to the house of Lois Funderburk, who was the finger for the job in VEGAS HEI$T and is now Salsa’s steady girl. By the time Harper gets to Salsa’s office, he finds out Salsa’s been cleaned out too. Lois, being a practical woman, had the bulk of her cut tied up in legitimate investments or it’s in the bank earning its interest on more faith than Harper and Salsa has for those institutions. As despair and desperation kick in, Salsa brings up a job that Harper passed on earlier tied to a local but solitary spot known as Ruby Island which houses an old estate converted into a casino and a legend that there may be gold hidden away in the grounds.
Gold that came there by way of a Nazi submarine during World War II.
Harper and Salsa have a limited crew of themselves and the ladies and while scouting the job they come across a second crew looking to pull a straightforward robbery run by Big Bob Bigelow, a local planner who is talked into supporting Harper’s effort, but is a little annoyed to find the pay day may not be as nice as his team co-opting the job for their own for the risks they’re taking. Harper himself wasn’t too keen on the job from the beginning, and the number of red flags he’s noticed and ignored haven’t helped any.
But with their Vegas money gone and no idea of who took it and where to find it, Harper and Salsa have to play some long odds and go for broke.
Now, I’ll stop with the summary because I caught myself about to reveal things you shouldn’t know about if you plan to read the book, or details you may be a little fuzzy about if you haven’t bought/read VEGAS HEI$T, which this book leans on heavily to set things up to tell its tale. I want you to check in without spoilers of any sort on my end.
As to how I felt as it played out though?
Yeah, I can share that with you…
Heist stories are solid because most folks think of them as two major acts: everything up to the heist, and the heist itself and everything that follows. You watch the job get planned, you see it executed, you wait for whatever fallout comes of doing what they did and any flagged aberrations that will flip the circumstances in different ways, and you hope all of the above is executed in such a way that you feel you invested your time well. But the thing about heist stories and the folks who occupy them is nothing’s ever according to plan with a nice neat finish. Look at some of the best literary heisters and con artists and in a lot of cases the antihero be it a “gentleman thief like Raffles, or Earle Stanley Gardner’s Lester Leith, or Westlake’s Parker, or TV shows like LEVERAGE and HU$TLE, you’ll find a certain element of chaos that adds to the tension of the story as everything goes off the rails making the crooks we’re rooting for got to work on trying to get everything back under control. The thing is that the bulk of these guys keep their cool and tend not to be reckless as they adjust. And while that’s all well and good, what you almost never see is what happens when your guy pulls off the big job, gets away…
…and it still blows up later.
What MIAMI HEI$T does is take that exact route, if snatches away a successful job with a messy finish in VEGAS and turns this tale into a heist, a caper…
…and a getaway story of sorts. Which is a part of the whole heist genre that gets overlooked as a subcategory a lot. In this case, things don’t just go wrong, but they’re going wrong from the last job which is spilling over into how this job is put together. It’s a nice play of controlled panic and desperation where all concerned are pushed well out of their comfort zone from the folks we met in VEGAS and the new members of the cast who turn up in MIAMI. You get the feeling right away that Harper’s winging this more than he wanted to because he has no safety net, but everyone around him thinks he’s got it together.
It is a beautifully put together character examination of Harper over the rest of the cast where he’s fleshed out a bit and slight divergences from his spiritual father of Westlake’s Parker are starting to show up. Mostly because Parker wouldn’t have gone this route with so many potential holes in the plan. Van also shows some subtle things with Salsa who still wears his feelings on his sleeve, especially where Lois is concerned, Connie may be a keeper, her role in this left me wondering how she and Harper hooked up and exactly what kind of life she had led up to this introduction. There are great character bits, small stuff that puts some weight to Salsa being thought of as a partner more than a convenient associate. Van makes it understandable why Harper works with Salsa and even gives us a sort of Salsa moment from Harper which could very well lead them into their next big job after going to a movie. I also like that I’m personally uncomfortable with Lois being involved as she is. Her use in this book and the way Van plays with her interactions with everyone makes her the same sort of question mark she was in VEGAS but maybe more so given the callouts to the first book. But this is more Harper’s story than anyone else’s and you get inside his head a little with him being more desperate than in control.
The cast is a bigger than the last book as moving parts go, but it was well worth it because, like any good heist story, you’re trying to figure out exactly where the twist is…
…and I’m telling you now, you’ll never see it coming.
…or that other one…
…and definitely not the one…
Well, you get the idea.
Get a neck brace though, you will get whiplash trying to follow all of this after the heist when everything gets WILD!
Plus there’s a lot of loose ends dangling that could (and should) be followed up and at least one guy I’d like to see the crew catch up to on camera as opposed to off. That guy turned out to be slicker than a kitten on skis.
No need for a spoiler alert, that’s the bulk of the cast in this book.
If there’s any complaint it’s that the McGuffin was gotten to pretty easily, but it set up some really nice sequences after the job was done. Also, though it works from a marketing standpoint, you really should pick up VEGAS HEI$T to really appreciate everything that happens this time around. And you can find that definite gem of crime writing at a link like this one: https://www.amazon.com/…/ref=pd_aw_sim…/146-2096148-8091948…
Also, if you’re so inclined by what I said above, check out MIAMI HEI$T. I picked up a copy for my Kindle app right here:
Available in ebook and hard copy. Sadly we don’t get a movie version, but hey never say never…
Now, did I enjoy this one more or less than VEGAS?
Let’s just say I doodled a lot more this time around.
Until next time…
…Be good to yourselves and each other.
As for the doodling inspired by this…?
Told you there were a lot…
WHO’S WHO in NEW PULP is now available at Amazon. Here are 222 bios of the finest New Pulp writers, artists, reviewers, editors and publishers.
Since the days of Homer, people have naturally loved a good story. From the oral traditions of heroic sagas all the way to the traveling minstrels of the Middle Ages and the Penny Dreadfuls and Dime Novels of a burgeoning new continent. People have always enjoyed action adventure yarns. Then in the 1930s they evolved as garishly painted monthly magazines printed on rough, cheap paper and they were christened the Pulps.
Today their heritage continues in both the hundreds of paperbacks that entertain the masses as “populace fare.” There’s nothing high-brow here, just plain old-fashioned entertainment as a new 21st century generation has picked up the mantle to continue those amazing tales. In these pages you will find the 222 Writers, Artists, Editors, & Publishers who together are THE WHO’S WHO Of NEW PULP!
All proceeds from sale of the book to go to the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
Thanks to all who helped make this book possible.
Get your copy from Amazon HERE
I’ve always thought that for the most part, private eye novels/movies end up being one of two kinds of stories. There’s the one where the private eye is hired to do a job and he doggedly pursues that task, relentlessly wading his way through a miasma of liars, gunsels, crooked cops and deceptive dames until arriving at the solution to the mystery. Think “The Maltese Falcon” or “Chinatown” and I think you’ll get what I mean.
Then there’s the other kind of private eye story where the solution to the mystery seems to be almost an afterthought. True, the private eye is hired for a job but in the course of doing the job he encounters a variety of characters that give him insights into aspects of his own life and force him to re-evaluate who he is and why he’s doing what he’s doing. The central mystery of the story is as much about the private eye investigating his own soul and his meditations/examination of the human condition embodied by the cast of characters he interacts with. Think Robert Altman’s “The Long Goodbye” or “Lady In The Lake”
Will Viharo’s LOVE STORIES ARE TOO VIOLENT FOR ME is firmly in that second kind of story. Viharo’s Vic Valentine very much lives in the past. Not just his past but the past of a world that is now a memory for the majority of Americans who barely remember what happened ten years ago. Vic dresses like he’s a member of Sinatra’s Rat Pack. His taste in movies, fashion, music and style is centered in the pop culture of the 1960s. And he likes it that way. Vic Valentine doesn’t mind being a walking anachronism. He just wishes he wasn’t so lonely in enjoying it. Vic is also a private detective. And to be honest, he’s not all that good at being a private eye. His cases mostly involve gathering evidence on cheating spouses. Once upon a time he had aspirations and ambitions in other, more creative fields. But just as in all other aspects of his life, Vic’s refusal to let go of the past led him to being a 1960s style private eye. And it’s during the labyrinthian pursuit of this particular case that I think Vic truly embraces his destiny and becomes a damn good private eye, worthy to stand next to Sam Spade, Philip Marlowe and Easy Rawlins.
Vic is hired by the alcoholic major league baseball player Tommy Dodge to find Tommy’s wife Rose. She just up and left him one day, leaving only a cryptic note. Tommy wants to know where she is and he wants Vic to find her. Vic really isn’t all that interested in taking the case. First of all, the Christmas season is coming up which depresses Vic to no end and second of all, after just fifteen minutes of talking to Tommy, Vic doesn’t like him much and thinks there’s more to the story than Tommy is telling him.
But of course, there is…what private eye story worth the telling doesn’t have more than what the client is telling? And as Vic follows the slim trail Rose left behind in her wake, he puts together clues that leads him to a revelation about Rose that is absolutely shattering to Vic on both the personal and professional levels and forces him to make some really hard decisions. And this is where LOVE STORIES ARE TOO VIOLENT FOR ME really begins to embrace its Film/Pulp Novel roots as Vic has to navigate the darkest of ambiguous moral and psychological waters to arrive at not only the solution to the mystery of why Rose left Tommy but also to resolve the demons of his past.
I have a list of The Best Writers That You’re Not Reading and Will Viharo is on that list. His ranking is none of your business. All you need to know is that if you haven’t read any of his work, you really should. Will Viharo himself is one of the most fascinating and coolest people I’ve ever met via The Internet. Go ahead and Google him or look him up on Facebook. Just the introduction of this novel where he talks about the dedication Christian Slater has had for years in his attempts in adapting this book into a movie is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Will’s history with Hollywood.
I like his prose a lot. It’s fun to read as he throws in a lot of pop culture references to enhance Vic’s personality. But Will is not afraid to spend a lot of wordage to explore Vic’s emotional life as well. Vic Valentine is a private eye who really has no business being a private eye, if you ask me. He feels too much for the job. But paradoxically, that is the quality that leads him to solving this case and making the decisions he does make to resolve it and his life.
LOVE STORIES ARE TOO VIOLENT FOR ME is the Will Viharo novel I always recommend to people who have never read him before. And if you love Pulp then you should be reading him. Will Viharo knows Pulp like a monkey knows coconuts. I’ve read novels by writers who think they know what Pulp is and think it’s just a a bunch of wacky characters doing a bunch of wacky things. Will Viharo knows the psychology, mood and style of what goes into Pulp. Pulp is something Will Viharo didn’t have to learn. It’s in his DNA. And if you want a solid read this summer, do yourself a favor and check out LOVE STORIES ARE TOO VIOLENT FOR ME.
Edited by Scott P. Vaughn and Kane Gilmour
Paperback: 476 pages
Publisher: Quickdraw Books (April 25, 2013)
Product Dimensions: 9 x 6 x 1.1 inches
Here’s the thing; I love The Internet. I truly do. Yes, there’s a lot crap out there that gets in the way of the good stuff but the good stuff is there. It just sometimes takes me a while to get around it. Take for instance the webcomic WARBIRDS OF MARS that has been around for a goodish amount of time now. I, however have been woefully ignorant of it until I was made aware of the anthology WARBIRDS OF MARS: STORIES OF THE FIGHT and while it’s a hefty introduction to the situation and principal characters at the heart of the series it is one well worth reading due to the interesting mix of talent involved.
The set-up is fairly easy to get hold of: Invaders from outer space attack The Earth while it’s engaged in World War II. The alien invaders actually aren’t Martians but what the hey, WARBIRDS OF MARS is a great title so let’s not spoil it with minor details. The Martians have chosen this time to invade as for years they’ve had agents on Earth, half-alien/half-human fifth columnists working behind the scenes to make the invasion easier. And with the world powers fragmented and not able to work together it’s not long before many major cities and nations are conquered and under control of the invaders. But there’s still hope: human resistance forces are fighting back with every weapon and resource at their command to take back the planet.
The core characters of WARBIRDS OF MARS: STORIES OF THE FIGHT! are an elite cadre of resistance fighters known as The Martian Killers. The leader is Hunter Noir, a fedora wearing, trenchcoated man of mystery who keeps his face bandaged. Jack Paris is your typical wisecracking, two-fisted pilot/adventurer. Josie Taylor is the team’s femme fatale and Mr. Mask is a human/alien hybrid who has joined the resistance, proving to be a valuable asset to the the team due to his having been trained by a samurai master.
These characters all get plenty of time to strut their stuff both in solo stories and in stories where they work together but WARBIRDS OF MARS: STORIES OF THE FIGHT! also takes the opportunity to show what is going on with other people trying to survive in this hellish brave new world in various locations around the globe and through the eyes of characters both human and alien.
“Hunter Noir” by Scott P. Vaughn leads off the anthology with the origin of the leader of The Martin Killers and how the invasion began. It’s a good origin story with the only bump in it for me is the sudden decision by the protagonist to become a masked man of mystery while being hunted by the enemy and whipping up a costume and new name for himself in no time flat but y’know what? That’s just me. It’s that kind of story and you either go along with it or not. It wasn’t enough to make me stop reading the story and that’s the main thing.
“In The World Today” by Megan E. Vaughn is one of my favorite stories in the anthology as it concerns a small-town movie date and the effects the Martian Invasion has on it. It’s a short slice of small town American life kind of story but it doesn’t skimp on the characterization.
I love the weird western comic book “Desperadoes” written by Jeff Mariotte so it’s no surprise that I loved “Southern Cross” even though it wasn’t set in the Southwestern United States as I might have expected. (Ron Fortier takes care of that part of the country…we’ll get to it soon…be patient) No, Jeff takes us out to the South China Sea for this one as Jack Paris gets involved in Oriental skullduggery.
“The Deadly Triad” by Alex Ness is a nifty little look into what’s going on with the Chinese and Japanese and I greatly appreciated the break from the slam bang adventure of the previous story to take time out to see what was going on elsewhere in the beleaguered world.
Sean Ellis has long been one of my favorite writers who never fails to disappoint and he doesn’t do so with “The Farmboy’s Adventure” which has an ending that I truly did not see coming and when it did I immediately went back to the beginning of the story to see if there were any clues that I had missed. I’m betting you’ll do the same.
“The Bitter Edge” is by Kane Gilmore and is another origin story. This one concerning Mr. Mask, so called because he wears a German gas mask constantly. He’s a lot of fun to read about as I kinda get the idea that Kane’s inspiration for the character was G.I. Joe’s Snake Eyes. But with Mr. Mask being a Martian/Human hybrid training how to be a samurai warrior brings an added dimension to the character that moves the story into an exploration of identity and self-respect that lifts it a notch above just another action/adventure entry.
As promised, Ron Fortier serves up a wild west romp with “The Monsters of Adobe Wells” which takes The Monster Killers way out west to team up with Sioux warrior Charlie Three-Feathers, a character I wouldn’t mind seeing more of if there are future WARBIRDS OF MARS anthology. And again, the changeup in setting provides readers with another aspect of the war against the invaders. The international aspect of this anthology is one of the best things about it and a western story fits in here just fine.
Megan E. Vaughn returns for “The Skull of Lazarus” which is a story that makes me wonder if Megan is a “Thunderbirds” fan as her Lady Doyle and Jerry reminded me strongly of Lady Penelope Creighton and her bodyguard/chauffeur Parker. This is an adventure built for nothing but sheer thrills and like Ron’s Charlie Three-Feathers, I hope to see more of Lady Doyle.
“Red Sky Phoenix: The Rise of Free Russia” is another snapshot from Alex Ness as to what’s going on in yet another part of the world. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to have even more of these prose postcards in future anthologies.
“Human Guile” by Chris Samson is where I finally hit a major bump. I’ve read this story twice and still can’t quite wrap my head around what the story is about. It just seemed to me like there was way too much plot and way too many characters doing things I just didn’t understand why they were doing them. For me, motivation is a Big Deal in my fiction. It’s not necessary for me to like or dislike the characters but I do demand that the writer establish why they’re doing what they’re doing and I simply didn’t get that here.
“Surprise” by Stephen M. Irvin is indeed that as I didn’t expect to find a hard-boiled noir story in here but I as I continued reading more and more into this anthology it soon became apparent to me that this concept could and did support a variety of genre stories very well indeed such as J.H. Ivanov’s “The Road Out of Antioch” and “Shipwrecked” by David Lindblad, both of which are out-and-out horror stories with “The Road Out of Antioch” approaching Lovecraftian proportions of cosmic dread. It’s that good, trust me.
“Refined Elegance” by Scott P. Vaughn takes us home and if I had to make a choice between this one and “Hunter Noir” I’d have to go with this one, much as I liked “Hunter Noir.” It’s told from the point of view of Josie Taylor. The Martian Killers have been doing that for quite a while now, the war appears to have no end in sight and Josie is starting to ask herself and her teammates some hard questions the dangerous missions they routinely go on.
The stories are complimented by strong, solid artwork from Jean Arrow, Adriano Carreon, Mike DeBalfo, Bill Farmer, Matt Goodall, Christian Guldager, Robert Hack, Rob Hicks, John Lucas, Paul Roman Martinez, Nathan Morris, Dan Parsons, Nik Poliwko, Richard Serrao and Jason Worthington that serve the needs of the stories they were drawn for, successfully evoking the mood and tone of the prose.
So should you read WARBIRDS OF MARS: STORIES OF THE FIGHT? I certainly think so. One of my concerns about New Pulp is that it not fall into a rut. Masked avengers of the night and scientific adventurers are cool as hell, no doubt about it. But New Pulp can’t survive on a steady diet of those. Stories such as the ones in WARBIRDS OF MARS: STORIES OF THE FIGHT! that gives us mashups of war stories mixed with science fiction, horror, day in the life, hard-boiled noir and other genres provide a refreshing new dish for the palate of our imagination to taste and savor. It’s a solid package as you get a lot of story and art for your money and time. Enjoy.
Every field of work, every career, every fandom, every anything that catches peoples’ interest and involves creative types producing works comes with its own mysteries. Obscure players and disregarded pieces that get lost to history and end up nearly completely forgotten, except for whispers of ‘Do You remember…?’ and tales of ‘Someone told me about…’
Such are the rumors of Vincent St. Germain and his nearly literal flash in the pan self-named pulp publishing company-St. Germain Publishing. Pro Se Productions announces that after exploring the nearly unknown stories and whispers about this extremely short lived publishing outfit, it has licensed from the owner and potential creator’s estate all characters featured in five apparently and two unpublished magazines.
“As little is known about the man St. Germain as is about his alleged almost momentarily St. Louis, Missouri based magazine publishing concern,” says Tommy Hancock, Editor in Chief of Pro Se Productions. “I have uncovered no written records confirming his existence, except potentially a few pieces of paper held dearly by reclusive collectors of such ephemera. No copies of signatures, of his own handwriting, not even of checks issued by his company. This last matter has led to speculation among the few who still discuss St. Germain that he may not have had many employees beyond what it took to physically publish magazines. In other words, there is a belief that Vincent St. Germain, ‘Vinny’ to a very few apparently, may himself have written every story that his company published, all of them under a variety of pen names. This is further potentially supported, based on lists of the works he published, each story by an author that had not published before or since St. Germain Publishing’s one month rise and fall. It is curious, though, that a Vincent St. Germain died in New Orleans, Louisiana in late 1938. Also, other than supposedly eyewitness encounters with the man, the only possible proof that he ever lived are two images, taken a few years apart apparently, that, based on my own personal deductions, are likely Vincent St. Germain.”
“There is even less available evidence of the five single issues, each one the first of a hopeful magazine within the St. Germain line, that the company allegedly released on the same day in the first week of April 1938. I have been allowed access to information and such surrounding the characters and contents of each magazine, six stories in each issue, all intended to be the first in series within each title. If the magazines ever existed, actual issues are either in the hands of the very protective collectors I mentioned earlier or hiding possibly in someone’s basement in a box thrown in the corner. Fortunately, the creator, if St. Germain, or creators, if multiple writers, made detailed notes and character descriptions and synopses, all supposedly at the direction of St. Germain, another way that he stood out from other Pulp publishers of the era.”
Also, there were allegedly two magazines prepared to debut the month after the first five. Though they were reportedly never published, Pro Se does have access to purported notes and details of these two books, and they will also be a part of this project, meaning that there will be seven anthologies featuring new stories starring these characters alleged to have appeared in St. Germain’s works.
The magazines that were supposedly published included ENDLESS MYSTERY, EVERLASTING TERROR, IMMORTAL ACTION, FOREVER WESTERN, and TIMELESS TALES. UNDYING LOVE and ETERNAL FANTASY were the two unpublished magazines. All these titles indicate that Vincent St. Germain was aware of the folklore associated with his surname and the infamous Comte de St. Germain, possibly a relative.
Based on a few notes left by St. Germain, it was intended that every story in each magazine would continue as a series. This did not occur, however, because there was no second issue of any of the five periodicals, or anything else ever published by St. Germain Publishing. The characters in St. Germain’s magazines at least on the surface resembled types made popular in other Pulp magazines. But, upon closer review, it turns out that Vincent was not only revolutionary in how he chose to do business, but he attempted to be tremendously forward thinking in both style of storytelling and crossing certain boundaries.
This has been,” Hancock states, “more than just a research project for a curious publisher, though. In the weeks I’ve invested in putting together the scarce remains of St. Germain Publishing, I have made progress that I did not expect. Pro Se Productions has licensed the characters believed to be included in St. Germain’s seven magazines from the person who currently owns them. To this end, Pro Se intends to bring all seven magazine titles back initially, each one as a book, an anthology. Each will feature a story for all the characters that reportedly debuted or would have debuted in the original pulps in the order in which they first appeared. The intent is to publish these seven new collections over the next twelve to eighteen months, twelve being the target. Following this ‘re debut’, we would then most definitely do novels, anthologies, digest novels, and even standalone digital short stories of the characters and expand them in their own series, hopefully as St. Germain might have intended.”
Pro Se Productions proudly announces that artist Kristopher Michael Mosby has agreed to provide a cover fore each anthology, each one bearing the title of a St. Germain magazine. Also, 42 writers have signed on to be a part of this project. The writers involved are-
Ron Fortier, Melinda Lafevers, E. W. Farnsworth, Adrian Delgado, Ariel Teague, Joshua Pantalleresco, Troy Osgood, Atom Mudman Bezecny, Andrew Butters, Rich Steeves, Raymond Embrack, HC Playa, Davide Mana, Quenntis Ashby, Paul Brian McCoy, Richard B. Wood, Colin Joss, Mark Bousquet, Derrick Ferguson, Sean Taylor, Neal Litherland, Susan Burdorf, Gary Phillips, Barry Reese, Frank Schildiner, Rob Howell, Gordon Dymowski, Richard C. White, Ernest Russell, Thomas Fortenberry, David Farris, Barbara Doran, Aaron Bittner, David White, Erik Franklin, Mike Hintze, Guy Worthey, Emily Jahnke, Mandi M. Lynch, Derek M. Koch, Aubrey Stephens, and Dewayne Dowers.
Please follow Pro Se’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/ProSeProductions for regular updates on this project as well as Pro Se news at www.prose-press.com. Contact Tommy Hancock at email@example.com for interviews or further information.
By Mike McGee
Originally Written August 2002
This is the first run-through of the “city planning bible” for Frontier’s shared-world imprint. I haven’t done any editing. You’ll notice a lack of things like: “Monkey City: A place where monkeys RULE!!” I want it to come across as much like a real city as possible. As I see it, there aren’t any superheroic/supernatural/science fiction elements in this world until we introduce them in the actual series.
It’s about the size of Chicago. Like Chicago, it’s unofficially divided into halves – here, it’s a matter of the West and East sides. The Union City Bridge – a bridge not unlike the Golden Gate (albeit smaller) – connects them: The West end spills you out into a seedy little neighborhood called with apparent irony Greater Denbrook, and the East leads you to downtown.
Don’t ask me why a city called Denbrook has a bridge called Union City. It makes sense if you think about it, but only then…like a lot of things in Denbrook.
Anyway. Before we get into that. The Union City Bridge stretches over Hopkins River…it’s a sheer hundred-foot drop into some very cold waters. Hopkins feeds into Lake Erie, accessible from Denbrook’s north shore. Cross the lake, you’re into Canada, which is useful info if you’re the kinda guy who does things like flee from the police. Business types use the lake for fishing, off-shore coal mining, things like that…there are some pretty big boats out on the water, though fewer yachts and the like. Denbrook isn’t the kind of city that attracts folks with disposable income, and that water is too frigid and choppy even in summer to be all that much fun. Still, there are sparsely populated beaches here and there – the lake is fine to swim in, though no one trusts the river. That current’s a bitch and toxic dumping made it poison for decades. It’s clean now, but…
Okay, remember the bridge? Cross it headed east, but instead of going downtown, take a left and head back the way you came…this time headed down a downward-slanted street called Hopkins Drive. This’ll lead you into the Barrens. There used to be a lot of industry here in Denbrook, and this is where most of it was located – on the banks of Hopkins River. The burned-out shells of factories, ancient rusting hulks of iron mining machinery…it’s all still here, and picturesque in an urban decay sort of way. But this isn’t why you’re here.
See, you have to drive a mile or two before you come up on the old industrial sites. Between you and them, you have what citizens think of when they think of The Barrens – which is to say, bars, night clubs, strip joints, the whole nine yards. The river runs alongside all of it. People come here to party. During the week, it’s kinda nice; Friday through Sunday, The Barrens are flooded with weekend warriors, a lot of them kids from the suburbs. Every now and then, someone gets drunk, hits their head, and falls into the Hopkins. Sometimes they get pushed.
Motor back up Hopkins Drive and you find yourself on Superior, a great big street that takes you straight through downtown Denbrook. I’ll point out some stuff along the way…
First, to our left, a street branches off Superior at a right angle to The Barrens, Matheson Avenue. Matheson is the gateway to the Warehouse District, which is –you guessed it- composed of warehouses. Most of those have been converted into apartment buildings. This is a fairly high-income area, but the give breaks to young professionals and the like. You find a lot of yuppies, a few bohemians and a scattering of senior citizens who are not pleased by the weekend activity in the slightest.
Head up Superior another three blocks and on your right you’ll spot Denbrook Tower. You can’t miss it. It’s the city’s second tallest building. Built in 1902, it was home to several department stories in its heyday. That heyday was back in the ‘50’s when the subway got put in…see, the Tower was conceived as Denbrook’s hub, and the crisscrossing subway trains that traverse West and East Denbrook are all accessible from a train station in the basement. But more and more folks tended to (a) drive and (b) stick to the suburbs, so the Tower went to seed.
But in the late ’80’s, some billionaire industrialist or other bought the place, gutted it, and more or less turned it into a seven-story shopping mall. Thirty stories of offices above that mall are still mostly unoccupied, but the shopping center thrives. The train station and the two floors above it are both underground, which means the stuff on the fourth floor is actually at street-level. Anyway, you’ll find a lot of chain retail/restaurants on the lower floors, and swankier stuff the higher up you go.
Drive up Superior another block, and you’ll see the main branch of the Denbrook Public Library. I know, you’re like, what the hell? But check it out: We’re talking one gorgeous, ornate building constructed in 1905, connected to a 1999-era glass-and-steel monster by means of an underground passageway. Kinda really fucking huge for a library, don’tcha think? The ’99 leviathan was built out of necessity: Denbrook’s collection is among the largest in the country, probably on the planet. If you can’t find what you’re looking for here…friends, it don’t exist. The newer stuff you’ll find the new building. The old stuff…some of it quite old indeed…you’ll find in a variety of collections scattered throughout the other one. You want a library card.
Six blocks up, we come to Cathedral Street, on our left. The Cathedral of Saint Paul the Apostle, built in 1855, jumps out and says hi. Look past it a block or so, and you’ll see a glass-and-street enclosure that looks a bit like a hothouse: This is City Center. Every bit as appropriate as calling a slum Greater Denbrook. Basically, City Center is yet another big shopping mall, built in 1987. But when the Tower re-opened a month later, that was effectively the end of City Center as a profit-making entity. City Center does a brisk lunch trade, but that’s about it. Its four stories contain about eight businesses, and all of them struggle. City Center cost about fifty mil to erect. This is what’s known as a white elephant.
So who goes there for lunch? Folks who don’t wanna walk all the way down to the Tower. .. i.e., folks who work here, in the business district. The side streets from E. 10th to E. 22nd are all banks, office buildings, corporate headquarters, etc., etc., ad infinitum. Scattered in there you’ll find a few pizza shops, a bar or two, but for the most part…Corporate America.
From E. 23rd to E. 26th, we’re in the Theatre District. Like the Tower, the Theatre District is yet another tale of resurrection: Denbrook’s grand old movie palaces were the rage for decades, but fell into disrepair in the ’60’s and ’70’s. The last of them – a third-run movie house by then – closed its doors in 1983, as a result of roughly 875 firecode violations. But in the late ’80’s, all of the old places were bought up, renovated to a state approaching their original magnificence, and were re-opened as playhouses (and one opera house) in the early ’90’s.
On E. 28th, you find Howard Phillips University. Huge. A college with a host of controversies, it’s really the only game in town for those who’d like to obtain a four-year degree. The campus occupies four blocks and has a student-operated radio station – WHPC, at 88.3 FM. Its student paper is the Vanguard.
Hop on the shoreway and let’s buzz through the East Side real quick …
Coming off E. 55th, you’ll notice a ghetto that looks a little more like Beirut. If we were gonna slow down a minute, you’d notice that no one seems to be on the street. That’s because this whole area of town was bought out by corporate interests. Eminent domain, though I can’t imagine the residents were really all that sad to go.
You run out of East Denbrook at E. 185th. Out past here, you’ve got Denbrook Heights, a suburban community that gets richer and more lily-white the farther you get from the city. If you’d left East Denbrook and gone northeast instead, you’d have found yourself in Ruckerville, a pretty dilapidated community that’s high-crime, low-income. Neither Ruckerville nor Denbrook Heights are part of the city proper, but a lot of Denbrook’s workers commute from these areas.
Cross through downtown Denbrook, back over the Union City Bridge, and now here we are, back in Greater Denbrook. Denbrook’s west side is more blue-collar, homier, and (as far as its East Siders are concerned) totally devoid of culture. Greater Denbrook’s homes date back, most of them, to the early 1900’s, and this whole section of town has the Historical Preservation Society all over it like white on rice. Brave yuppies have moved here for the architecture and because Greater Denbrook is cheaper than the Warehouse District, and the neighborhood is a sometimes uneasy mix of races and incomes, of newcomers and those raised here. The wealthy tend to head to the suburbs when they have kids…but not all of them. This can be a rough place to live, but it’s more welcoming.
But let’s back up for a minute. If you leave the Union City Bridge headed west and keep driving straight down Superior, you’ll take in Greater Denbrook in its entire splendor; but instead, let’s turn left and head down W.25th. This is a long block of pawn shops, secondhand stores and mom-and-pop retail. It terminates at the W. 25th Market, a lovely old brown brick building erected in 1911. On the street, there’s an open-air fruit and vegetable market. Head inside, and you’ll find various meat-market stands. The yuppies get a real kick out of how quaint it all is; the longtime residents have shopped here for generations.
Head past the Market, make another left, and trundle downhill over a few small, rundown bridges with no names. The main street is Violin Road; somehow that became the name of the whole place. This little community – just a few miles around, and still a part of the city – was once populated by folks who made their trades in the factories and mines. Now there’s nothing left but the bars … at least four on every block. The current population is a mix of old-timers who barely get by and young bohemian types who’ve come in from other communities. Wild dogs roam the overgrown park at night, and homeless people and runaways live under those bridges.
Turn around and head west. The neighborhoods between W. 25th and W. 117th are mostly unremarkable: Largely poor, all pretty much the same. At W. 117th, we enter Blackwood – not quite another town, not exactly an official part of Denbrook proper. Middle-class, mostly white but increasingly integrated, Blackwood does curiously have its own police force…a police force that is notoriously unfriendly to “outsiders.” But in fairness, Blackwood is a safe place to raise families, and quiet; a slightly more urban alternative to a truly suburban community. And it doesn’t completely lack for excitement.
Downtown Blackwood is a haven for Blackwood’s youth culture scene, mostly an odd combination of kids into hip-hop and the kind of kids who look like the ones who shot up Columbine. Both types congregate at Ground Zero, a large coffee shop. There’s also a smallish venue for (mostly local) music: The Arcade. The Arcade’s second floor is a concert hall; its ground floor (accessible through a back door) is a goth dance club called the Mausoleum. A ton of smaller clubs and bars dot the landscape, as well as an occult bookstore or two.
Head further west. The paved streets will lead you out of Blackwood, but take a right at Hiassen Road. This isn’t a shortcut – this is the scenic route. Hiassen runs downhill into the Valley: Several miles of forest. Officially, the Valley is a public park, but there’s no real question about it – you’re in the woods. By day, there are hikers and picnickers and bicyclists; by night, you can be arrested if you’re seen wandering around outside of a moving vehicle. But even in Blackwood, that’s not much of a concern … you aren’t too likely to encounter a cop down here. Your headlights are reflected back at you from animal eyes in the trees: There’s a gigantic deer population, despite the seasonal efforts to hunt them down to a more manageable level, and an unusually high number of owls make the Valley their home.
It takes about ten minutes to get from one end of the Valley to the other. The road leads uphill to Bankcreek Lane, and now you’re 1n Westfall. Like Blackwood, Westfall is a semi-urban area, but this is definitely a suburb. This part of Westfall is also youth-oriented, and not much different from the place we left previous to our journey through the woods, albeit a bit more … dirty.
Beyond Westfall, the cushier suburbs – but you don’t want to live there. Not really. Not when you’ve got the city…
Since his arrival on the fantasy adventure scene back in the 70s, Charles Saunders has been recognized as one of the most successful African American writers in the field today. His action/adventure hero Imaro has been featured in a half dozen novels all of which went on to inspire generations of young black authors.
In 2011 Saunders wrote “Damballa” the first ever black pulp hero for Airship 27 Productions. Operating out of Harlem in the 1930s, Damballa employs unique African magic to battle gangsters and crooked politicians. Two years later Saunders introduced the Jungle Witch Luluma in his short story “Mtimu” which appeared in the Pro Se Production’s bestselling anthology, “Black Pulp.” At the start of the tale, the beautiful Luluma is a servant of a villainous hunter but by the story’s end she realizes his true nature and regains her independence thanks to the hero, Mtimu. Atypical of Saunders talent, she is a powerful character worthy of her own series.
Now Airship 27 Productions is proud to announce their creation of two new on-going book series, “Charles Saunders presents Damballa” and “Charles Saunders presents Luluma.” Managing Editor Ron Fortier elaborates. “In recent years, Charles Saunders has been extremely busy working on a truly unique black fantasy saga. So much so that it became impossible for him to devote any time to his other creations. When we suggested the possibilities of continuing both Damballa and Luluma with other writers, he was very excited about the concept and gave us his approval. Have no fear, he will be overseeing each series as they progress.”
Writing the first ever Lulama novel will be writer/publisher Milton Davis of MVmedia LLC. “I’ve known Charles Saunders for eleven years and had the privilege to work with him on a number of projects. I’m excited to have the opportunity to develop a novel based on one of his characters. It’s a dream come true.”
While Pulp Factory Award winning writer Derrick Ferguson will write the all new Damaballa adventure. “One the things that has always overwhelmed me in my New Pulp career is that I have gotten to meet with so many professionals whose work I have enjoyed and to my utter astonishment and joy I have found myself embraced and welcomed as a fellow professional.
“To say that I am honored to be given the opportunity to write a character created by Charles Saunders with his blessing is truly an understatement. Charles Saunders is one of the reasons I am writing today and to be working with him is an opportunity I never would have dreamed could have taken place. I pray that I do justice to the magnificent character of Damballa.”
At present there is no specific time set for the release of these new books. “Our plan is to move forward with full length novels first,” Fortier continues. “Later, if there is an interest, we may also produce anthologies featuring both Damballa and Lulama. We’ll leave that up to our network of pulp writers and the response of our readers. We see some truly amazing possibilities in the future for both characters and are greatly indebted to Charles’s faith in us.”
AIRSHIP 27 PRODUCTIONS – PULP FICTION FOR A NEW GENERATION!