Thursday, September 26, 2013

A Short Video on the Gun Industry

Those of you who follow this blog know that I have a love affair with guns. Although here in Boston I don't own one, we have a number back home, and I do enjoy handling and shooting firearms whenever I get a chance. I love the history, the engineering, and the simple practice of testing my skill with a precision mechanical instrument.

Unfortunately, a lot of bad and/or deranged folks get their hands on firearms all too easily and cause a lot of mayhem in the world. Ignoring war and professional criminal activity, I think a lot of people die needlessly due to unsafe handling and safekeeping of firearms.

I try to keep this blog as apolitical as possible, and I'm not looking for a gun control debate. Instead, I was sent a link to this short video that discusses the business of the firearms industry, particularly how much of a big business it actually is. Of particular note, I was really surprised at the huge numbers of registered firearms dealers we have in the US. Not all of these folks are running "gun stores", but the numbers were pretty amazing.

Here's the video, from

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Monday, September 23, 2013

Book Review: FARGO by John Benteen

Click the Cover to See it on Amazon
To me, Neal Fargo is a combination of Robert E. Howard's Conan mixed with Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch. Fargo, John Benteen's (aka Ben Haas) eponymous globe-trotting adventurer/mercenary is in his late 30's, a highly-skilled and incredibly lethal fighting man who's already had a lifetime's worth of adventures by the time we meet him arriving in El Paso in the beginning of the book. Like Conan, Fargo is a lone wolf, a man who really trusts no one and nothing except, perhaps, his weapons. He fights for money and because it's what he's best at, and because he's one of those rare breed of men who, unashamedly, needs to be in mortal conflict with man and the elements in order to feel alive. Fargo knows he'll meet a violent end one day, and you know his only hope is that he dies on his feet, surrounded by his enemies.

But at the same time, the world Fargo lives in is one of chaos. The series is set in the era around WW1, a time of change and upheaval, of increasing mechanism in the manner in which men kill each other. Like the men of The Wild Bunch, you get the sense that Fargo is a man born out of an earlier age, symbolized, I feel, by his shock of white hair, evidence of how life has aged him far beyond his relatively young years. He's a man who is, in a way, better fitted to the latter half of the 19th century than the beginning of the 20th. But to Fargo, it is a small matter; he knows men skilled with guns, knives, and their bare fists are still in demand all around the world, and his reputation is such that he can command top dollar.

In this first novel in the series, Fargo is looking for employment along the border with Mexico. He knows the revolution to the south is a perfect place for a man of his skills, but Fargo won't throw in with just anybody. He picks and chooses based on the most profit and the best chance of success, although sometimes those two might be at odds to each other. Fargo is approached by Ted Meredith, a man who owns half of a silver mine three hundred miles south of the border. The mine is under siege by a Mexican bandit lord by the name of Hernandez, and Meredith knows the mine is lost to him, but perhaps they can sneak out with a mule train loaded down with a quarter million dollars' worth of silver coins. Meredith offers Fargo ten percent of whatever they get out of Mexico, and Fargo agrees to take on the assignment.

I don't want to spoil the plot, because there are a number of twists and turns, some predictable, some not so much. There's a lot of fighting, especially gunplay, and this is one of the areas where Benteen/Haas lavishes a lot of strong detail. Fargo is a man who lives and dies not only by his wits but by his weapons, and he carries a small arsenal with him wherever he goes. I was somewhat reminded of that scene in 1999's The Mummy when O'Connell - a fighting man in the same "globe-trotting adventurer" vein as Fargo - throws his duffel on a table and opens it up to reveal a small army's worth of weapons and ammunition. Fargo always brings with him a steamer trunk filled with weapons and ammo. He carries a .38 caliber Colt Army revolver, a Winchester .30-30 rifle, and, his most prized firearm, a custom-made Fox ten-gauge double-barrel hammerless shotgun given to him by none other than Teddy Roosevelt. Fargo rode in the Rough Riders and fought on San Juan Hill, and as payment of sorts for an unnamed favor, Roosevelt gifted Fargo this shotgun. Fargo cut the thirty-inch barrel down to a more portable thirteen inches, and keeps the weapon loaded with double-ought buckshot. There are several times in the book where this shotgun is fired with both barrels, and the blast of shot has the seeming effect of a Napoleonic field cannon loaded with grape, but I'll forgive Haas the embellishment because, frankly, it's just that badass. Fargo also carries with him a razor-edged Batangas knife, better known as a butterfly knife, that sports a ten-inch blade. Fargo is dazzlingly lethal with this knife, and in one epic fight scene, demonstrates his gift of ambidexterity.

The wonderful folks at Piccadilly Publishing are re-releasing all of the Fargo books as ebooks, and this first novel is a steal of a deal in ebook format for $1.99 on Amazon. It is an incredible read, full of high adventure and epic battles, dangerous villains and sultry women. I cannot recommend this book highly enough, and my greatest frustration is that I'll have to wait for the followup volumes to be released (the original paperbacks can be found, but the one I have is rather brittle, and I'd rather just read it as an ebook).

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The COMMANDO: Operation Cannibal Cover is Here!

Although it'll probably be a week or two before I finish the draft of Operation Cannibal, my cover artist Ander Plana has finished the book cover, and I wanted to share it with everyone.

The road to finishing this book has grown longer than I'd anticipated. For one reason or another I've not had the time or motivation necessary to get it completed, but I know I need to get cracking. I've always found that having a finished cover for a project gives me impetus to finish the project itself, so every time I'm in a slump and not feeling like hitting the keyboard, I'm going to pull up the cover on my screen, put a smile on my face, and get typing.

I already have a couple of Beta readers lined up, but if anyone else is interested, shoot me an email and let me know.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Nanok and the Tower of Sorrows - Eighteen Months Later

Click the Cover to View on Amazon
Back in the early spring of 2012, I began working on a pulpy "Sword and Sorcery" short story involving a stereotypical barbarian swordsman duking it out against an evil wizard and his diabolical henchmen.

I'm a fan of not only Robert E. Howard's Conan, but the various "iron-thewed barbarians" that came much later, mostly in the late 60's through the 80's, created by authors who'd grown up reading Conan stories and wanted to pen stories of a similar vein. Of course, as well by this time Tolkien's Lord of the Rings was published, and while Hyboria is about as far from Middle Earth as you can get, I'm sure publishers were desperate to find anything they could slap a "fantasy" label on and throw at readers. As well, after 1974 the Dungeons and Dragons phenomenon began to take off, and in the early 80's Marvel comics also begain publishing Conan comics, and of course, there was the Schwarzenegger Conan movies, which although often reviled by Howard purists, were some of the better 80's fantasy fare, if you ask me.

So, this whole heterogeneous, multimedia soup stock of books, comics, games, artwork, movies, and hell, even barbarian-themed metal music helped me to brew up a short story that eventually became Nanok and the Tower of Sorrows. The premise is pretty simple: Midar, the Wizard King of the city-state of Urgh, hires Nanok - thief and barbarian swordsman of the Iron Wastes - to steal the Sunsword from Draaa'kon the Bleak, evil sorcerer and ruler of a dark citadel known as the Tower of Sorrows. Nanok steals the magical blade, only to be chased by Draaa'kon and his horde of vat-grown mutants. A battle ensues, and Nanok is apparently slain by Draaa'kon's dark magic, but he is saved by the power of the Sunsword. Nanok washes ashore miles away and with the help of a mysterious hermit, Nanok eventually returns to the Tower, and battles his way up through the citadel until he at last confronts Draaa'kon at the top of the Tower, just as the sorcerer conjures his deadliest ally...

Over the last eighteen months, Nanok has sold a whopping 41 copies at $0.99 cents apiece. I've probably given away a couple hundred copies in KDP Select promotions, but compared to my other works, even my other short stories, it seems like I can barely give the story away. In fact, after the first month, I had a three month period of time when I didn't sell a single copy of the story, period. I've sold maybe half a dozen print copies, which is a little surprising, but I don't know how many of those were purchases made because the buyer didn't realize how short the story actually was.

It's hard to pin down where exactly I went wrong with Nanok. My original cover was no gem, but it could have been worse, and sales certainly haven't spiked since I began selling the title with its new cover. I've had almost no returns, so I'm not sure if people are just reading the sample and not liking what they see, or if they even get that far. I've played around with the product description copy several times as well, but there doesn't seem to be anything that really sells the story.

And yet, those folks who read Nanok, seem to like it. There've been ample opportunities to tear it to shreds on Amazon, yet all my reviews are pretty solid. The worst review of the story I received on Goodreads, which said it was okay but "was a little like an SNL skit that went on too long", which I suppose is a fair criticism if the sense of humor in the story doesn't completely align with your own. Poking around the internet, I even found a short but positive review on a German-language Conan forum. I'm using Google to translate this page, but here goes:
This little volume contains just 51 pages and was therefore in one go by. Nanok and the Tower of Sorrows is a barbarian story in the tradition of the 60s and 70s. You get evil magician, disgusting mutants and demons. Everything you need for a good Sword and Sorcery cocktail. This story comes with no frills and are therefore of the first pages of full throttle. Light fare in between, but with a high entertainment potential. Both thumbs up!
I primarily put the failure to sell this story on two factors. The first is the over-saturation of fantasy fiction through KDP, especially short, often campy (and really badly written) fantasy stories. Shortly after I published Nanok I went around Amazon and read a bunch of stuff similar to my story, and the vast majority of it was just awful - not just the plots of the stories themselves, but the writing was often extremely amateurish, and perhaps an even greater sin, the books were usually very badly edited and formatted. I feel like a lot of people dusted off high-school era submissions to various fantasy fiction magazines and simply threw them up on Amazon. Because of this, I felt that people who'd run into one of these turds became gun shy of trying my own story, especially when they got a whiff of the "humorous" aspects of the story.

This, of course, leads to the second problem; the comedy/pastiche nature of the story. Writing comedy is hard - really hard - and trying to hit a broad swath of people's tastes in comedy just right is even harder. What one person finds to be a perfectly entertaining pastiche, another reader will find boorish or even insulting. To write a barbarian sword and sorcery story - a genre of fantasy that's almost a cliche unto itself these days - and then weave in a tone of lighthearted homage comedy and some "Easter Eggs" referencing various movies (there's a Commando reference in there, although many people miss it entirely) means that there's just too many land mines that are going to cause someone to take a hard pass on the story.

One day, I hope to return to Nanok's world and write another story. I actually have one outlined in my head, a story that doesn't involve Nanok at all but instead is a sort of Frankenstein's Monster meets Spartacus. It'll be much more serious, without any of the humorous gimmicks of Nanok. Only time will tell if it'll also sink to the bottom of the lake...

Friday, September 6, 2013

New RoboCop Trailer - I'll Buy That For A Dollar

Yes, it's not Paul Verhoeven. Yes, this means it'll probably take itself a little too seriously. But there are so many cool little moments in this trailer that make me think fondly of the original, that right now I'm willing to cut the film a little bit of slack.

Hydrostatic Shock in Slow-Motion Technicolor

Sorry about the slow posting recently. My end-of-summer schedule has me being pulled in several different directions at once, but I hope to get back to more regular posting sometime soon.

In the meantime, I just watched this over at one of my favorite gun and shooting blogs, The Firearms Blog. A great place for articles on guns, gear, shooting, and all other things involving...well...guns. It's a video of slow-motion shots on various items - mostly liquids and foods - using a FN PS-90 carbine, the civilian version of the P90 Personal Defense Weapon.

Here it is, your moment of Zen.