Sunday, March 26, 2017

Daredevil TV Series

Wilson Fisk: The city and its future...seeing Hell's Kitchen to its fullest potential is very important to me.

Matt Murdock: I feel the same way.

The Daredevil TV Series (2015-present) has a popularity rating of 64 on IMDb, up 32, though I don’t know since when, but I’ve added to its growing appeal. I liked this show about Marvel’s much-underrated superhero. I found it dark, gritty, violent, flawed, and oddly unsettling, perhaps because I didn’t know what was going to happen next. I was on tenterhooks through Season 1. Besides, I've always been partial to Daredevil, as I'm to Batman, the Hulk, and Wolverine.

Going back, I liked the 2003 namesake film a lot because it lived up to my comic-book image of The Man Without Fear (unlike Tobey Maguire who didn't as Peter Parker in Spider-Man). Ben Affleck was perfect as Matt Murdock blind lawyer by day and vigilante by night. For many years, I hoped there would be a sequel. There was none. And now the TV series has compensated for the gap.

British actor Charlie Cox steps convincingly into Affleck’s shoes and raises hell in Hell’s Kitchen, the dark side of Manhattan in New York City. He is not infallible. He makes mistakes and gets walloped a few times, including by arch enemy Wilson Fisk, the Kingpin, who clobbers him like Bane smashes Batman in The Dark Knight Rises (2012). And like Batman, the caped crusader of Gotham City, he falls only to rise stronger, wiser, and more determined.

A little wisdom is what Daredevil picks up after his often impulsive and bloody fights with local thugs, junkies, kidnappers, and extortionists. With every episode he learns more about the masterminds behind his battles—the Russian mafia, Japanese crime syndicate Yakuza, Chinese gangsters, and finally Fisk/Kingpin himself—who want to carve up Hell’s Kitchen between them. And slowly, he also learns to be one step ahead of his ruthless enemies.

A television series provides more reel for longer stories. Daredevil gives us more than the heroics of the vigilante. It also offers us a peek into the back stories of the familiar characters—Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox), his buddy and law partner Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson), their first client-turned-secretary Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll), famous crime reporter Ben Urich (Vondie Curtis-Hall), and Wilson Fisk (Vincent D'Onofrio)—which adds to the twists and the suspense.

Daredevil is stark and realistic with a degree of brutality not common in superhero movies. Murdock and Fisk, while representing good and evil, share a tragic childhood, their lives haunted by demons of the past—prompting Hell’s Kitchen’s supervillain to say they’re not very different from each other. Although, they have their own reasons for making the seedy neighbourhood a better place.

As Daredevil, Cox is as good as Affleck, while, as Kingpin, D'Onofrio is several heads above Michael Clarke Duncan in the movie version. What works in his favour is his depiction of the bald Kingpin as a businessman who is both vicious and vulnerable. He reeks of evil and yet doesn’t necessarily seem like one, if that makes any sense.

Finally, what I found appealing about Daredevil is the music, the opening theme and the background score that plays during critical moments in every episode, heightening the thrill and tension of watching a series that deserves wider recognition.

Next up is Season 2 on Netflix, followed by Season 3 in 2018. This is because, in 2017, Netflix plans to release Marvel’s The Defenders comprising Charlie Cox as Daredevil, Krysten Ritter as Jessica Jones, Mike Colter as Luke Cage, and Finn Jones as Iron Fist. The last three superheroes also have their standalone series.

Have you seen the Daredevil TV series?

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Blaze! Red Rock Rampage by Ben Boulden, 2017

Review & Interview

“I have no predilection about dropping you where you stand,” J.D. said. “Put the man down, gently as you would your breakfast egg, then raise your hands as high as God allows.”

© Rough Edges Press
I picked up Red Rock Rampage—No.15 in the Blaze! Adult Western Series—for three reasons. One, it's written by writer-blogger Ben Boulden whose reviews I read with much interest. Two, it's a western and packed with action, romance, and adventure. And three, it recounts the daring exploits of a husband-and-wife team of gunfighters I’d never heard of.

Red Rock Rampage is a fine debut by Ben. I read the book in three sittings, which I seldom do now. And I look forward to read more in the series, both by him and other writers.

A few pages into the book and I found myself riding at a distance behind bounty hunters J.D. and his beautiful wife Kate on their journey to Small Basin. Utah. The couple is on the trail of a gang of robbers who have been holding up trains in Arizona. They have been hired by a railway company whose northern route has been the target of the marauders.

If J.D. and Kate thought it would be a simple case of track and nab, they were mistaken. Small Basin turns out to be as hostile as an inhospitable desert under a ruthless sun. The settlement and the surrounding area are ruled by a renegade Mormon patriarch called Levi Skousen and his hired gunmen, and crooked Sheriff Allred who wants them to keep riding. The town is inhabited by a bunch of unfriendly polygamists and dirt farmers.

But our bounty hunters have no plans to vamoose now that they have tracked down their prey. And that’s when their troubles begin.

Skousen has kidnapped two young girls with the intention of adding them to his harem of twenty wives. One of the girls belongs to a poor Mexican settlement, the other has a thing for the outlaw’s estranged son. Suddenly, J.D. and Kate are forced to alter their plan and rescue the damsels with help from a priest who can shoot.

Red Rock Rampage, published by Rough Edges Press, is 115 pages of twists and turns, surprises and ambushes, and humour and excitement all the way. It’s a realistic portrayal of the Old West’s only husband-and-wife gunfighters whose derring-do and skill with guns does not hide their vulnerability. They find themselves in a tight corner more than once. When J.D. is caught and beaten up badly, Kate knows what she must do. The woman’s got guts. At one point I found myself thinking, “Come on, you should’ve seen it coming.” That they don’t adds to the reality of the plot, the descriptions, and the well-drawn characters.

I liked the book a lot, as much for Ben Boulden’s narrative style and relentless pace as for J.D. and Kate’s passion for each other and for adventure. They share a telepathic bond from the beginning. It lent a nice touch to this unusual western tale.


'I genuinely enjoy telling myself stories'

Photo by Kara Boulden

Ben Boulden, a trained accountant by profession, writes a column and regularly reviews mystery, crime, and thrillers for Mystery Scene Magazine. His essays, ‘Reading Ed Gorman’ and ‘Easy to Read: A Story of Rick Ollerman’ have been published in the Stark House Press editions of The Autumn Dead/The Night Remembers by Ed Gorman and Truth Always Kills by Rick Ollerman, respectively. He also regularly reviews books and interviews authors at his blog Gravetapping. Ben lives in Salt Lake City, Utah, with his wife and daughter.

He spoke to the 3Cs about his debut novel in an email interview, which is split into three parts: the book, the characters and setting, and the author.


Ben, why did you choose to make your writing debut with the Blaze! Adult Western Series? Why not a standalone western?
A really good question. A year ago I was interviewing Stephen Mertz, creator of Blaze!, for my blog Gravetapping and when everything was complete—questions asked and answered, formatted and posted—Steve asked if I would like to try writing a Blaze! novel. No guarantee of publication, but I unhesitatingly said, “Yes” and everything worked out. Pure blind luck aided by the kindness of Steve Mertz.

What made you pick the title Red Rock Rampage? How did you hit upon the idea?
The title was the last thing I came up with. The story was mostly complete, still lovingly titled “Untitled Blaze”, when Red Rock Rampage sprang into my head. It fit the setting, the painted rock badlands of Southern Utah, and the genre; rampaging desperados, outlaws. I especially liked the smooth alliteration.

The idea for the story arrived in a hurry. I knew I wanted it in Utah, where I’ve lived most of my life, and I narrowed it down to Southern Utah because of the beautiful, desolate setting. It was, and probably still is, wilder than Northern Utah; fewer people and less law. And, of course, it was and still is a hotbed of plural marriage. So

I took what I knew about the setting—it is called Utah’s Dixie because someone in Salt Lake City decided its arid landscape was perfect for growing cotton. It wasn’t. There was either too little water, or too much water (in the form of flash floods) and as far as I know there was never a successful crop. So I created a villain who, not satisfied with his failure as a cotton grower, found other means to gain wealth. The rest of the story bloomed from there.

You are more than familiar with western fiction. And yet, did you have to do any research for your book?

I  did some research for RRR. Mostly about the early Mormon pioneers sent from Salt Lake City to the Southwestern corner of current day Utah to grow cotton. My wife and I lived in a small college town in the area several years ago while I studied for my master’s degree and that, mixed with many trips to Canyonlands National Park (in Southeastern Utah) as a child with my parents, gave me a grasp to imagine the setting.

Were you influenced by other western fiction authors while writing Red Rock Rampage?
I don’t think it shows, but my major influence was Ed Gorman’s work. The way he develops characters, especially women, in his Western novels amazes me. Gentle, intelligent, long suffering, horny, angry, and everything else that makes a person a person.

I also followed two pieces of advice that came to me second hand, both heavily paraphrased. Ed Gorman wrote, on more than one occasion, that he owed his career to Max Allan Collins who told him to write a novel like every chapter was a short story to keep from becoming overwhelmed. And Stephen Mertz told me that Don Pendleton always said you should write, no matter what you’re writing, like it is a serious and important work.

In spite of consistent action, the narrative has an even and unhurried pace. Did you plan it that way or did it flow as you wrote?
I wanted the narrative to have a nice fluid pace, but to say I planned it from scene-to-scene (beyond hoping it worked) wouldn’t be accurate. Although I worked heavily to keep it tight and unhurried throughout the writing and then rewriting processes. I’m glad it worked. And I’m glad you told me since I still have doubts about it late at night.

Is there any part of the story or character that you wish you’d written differently?

Maybe  one. A gunny named Jackson Rockwell, who was originally intended to be the fictional brother of the Mormon gunfighter Orrin Porter Rockwell, who, as the story developed took a smaller role than I originally planned. I think the story would have benefited from developing JR’s character more as I had originally intended. Instead he became more of a stock villain with a mean streak and a desire to make his name by gunning down J.D.


Both J.D. and Kate are very likeable and, in a certain way, vulnerable too. What were your thoughts as you wrote about the husband-wife gunfighters?

J.D. and Kate were the best part of writing Red Rock Rampage. I fell in a kind of literary puppy-love with Kate. Tough, smart, kind, beautiful. And I genuinely liked J.D. Although, based on the beatings I put J.D. through there may have been some jealousy at work (I hope I’m kidding). I liked the give and take between the two, and my favorite scenes are where both are present.

I couldn’t help noticing that Kate and J.D. seem to have the perfect marriage, which I felt was a great selling point. Of course, I’m basing my opinion on just this one Blaze! novel. Is that how they are in the rest of the series?

It is, I think. I’ve only read a couple of the other books in the series. I’m actually reading Stephen Mertz’s The Christmas Journey right now. But J.D. and Kate have something of a dream relationship. They have their moments, mostly when J.D. is, or isn’t, doing something Kate feels strongly about. Steve really deserves some kudos for creating this pair.

Kate is brave and determined, and more than capable of taking care of herself. I, for one, thought she stole the show. Would that be a fair assessment?

Very  fair assessment. Kate’s character really spoke to me. As I was writing the story her role, both as the ethical guide and tough as nails get things done kind of person, developed beyond what I had originally intended. In a sense, RRR is more her novel than J.D.’s.

How did you come to create Brother Skousen as the evil and lustful Mormon patriarch who terrorises young women?

He was the first villain I created for the story. In a sense, and I don’t mean this to be demeaning or derogatory to early-Mormon history, he is a composite character of the stereotypical Mormon leader. Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, etc. who practiced polygamy for a stated reason—to take care of the older women without a man (Sister Mary in the story)—but actually seemed to have an abundance of attractive 17 year old wives who, I’m sure, had a line of young male suitors. But, Skousen is a true scoundrel and many of the early Mormon leaders did some amazing things, like create the infrastructure for the American West to be settled and develop the way it did.

How easy or difficult was it to capture the descriptions of the settlement of Small Basin, Utah, and the surrounding area?

It was really fun and fairly easy. It all came out of my imagination based on my experiences in the Southern Utah landscape. The canyons with painted rock, red dirt, the Fremont Indian ruins, many still awaiting discovery, all captured my imagination as a boy and it still does today. I hope I was able to describe the wonder of the place, even a little.


Ben, can you briefly take us through your journey as a writer and an author?

I've been writing fiction since my early teens and over the past six or seven years I gave up the idea of seriously pursuing publication. I had a few very small successes placing short stories in tiny literary magazines (circulation less than ten, probably) in the early-2000s, but my writing plateaued. Each story had the same flaws as the one before. Not developed quite right, out of sync narrative, underdeveloped characters, etc.

So I started reviewing novels and short stories, first for a website, then my own blog and finally for Mystery Scene Magazine, to see if critically reading the work of successful writers would help my own writing. And it did, but not exactly the way I expected. I learned a bunch about structure, and even more about style, but the knowledge was still a little hazy. Then I started writing individual scenes, not for publication, but rather for my own amusement, about anything that caught my fancy. A mother mourning a child, a firefight, cowboys finding a flashlight. This more than anything improved my fiction writing, but I was still an unbeliever.

Then, an amazing thing happened, which I talked about in a question above, Stephen Mertz—creator of Blaze!—asked if I would be interested in writing a Blaze! novel. And I did. And Rough Edges Press published it. My writing life, I hesitate to call it a career, has been one filled with mostly work and a few lucky breaks. The first was Ed Gorman’s unflagging support of my critical writing and his help getting me a chance to write for Mystery Scene and then Steve Mertz’s simple question. I owe them both more than I can say.

How would you describe the experience of writing, and especially writing a book?

Hard, but satisfying. I genuinely enjoy telling myself stories, but the daily grind of working all day, then coming home and writing is difficult. The self-doubt is hard, too. Never knowing if something is good, or even readable, as I write and rewrite. But as satisfying as anything I’ve ever done when I type “the end” after the last paragraph. And then as I started revisions, actually enjoying the story.

Where, when, and how often do you write?

I have a weekly goal of 2,500 to 3,000 words. I often don’t make it, but I try. I have a tiny office in the house, cold in the winter and hot in the summer, where I do part of my writing. I also write at the kitchen table, which is where I am now. I travel some for work, and I write in hotel rooms at night when I’m away.

I may write for fifteen minutes or two or three hours, depending on my schedule. On weekends I write in the morning, and during the week I write in the evening. It all depends, but it would be nice if I could find a rhythm with a defined schedule. 5–7 AM, or something. I think it would increase my productivity, but I haven’t been able to make it happen yet.

How long did it take you to write Red Rock Rampage? Can you take us through the process from the time you conceived of the story idea?

I started planning the story—doing a little research—and basically stalling the actual writing in mid-April, 2016 and I turned the final draft into the editor the first week of August. So, from that first idea to the finished product was about 3-1/2 months. The first few chapters went like wildfire and there were a few spots in the story where I found myself lost in those murky middle portions. I knew where I wanted to go, but my map disappeared. When that happened I stopped writing for a few days, once for nearly a week, and thought about the story, what made sense, what J.D. and Kate would be inclined to do. And I always figured a way forward. And it always felt natural to me. Something that much of my earlier writing didn’t have.

What can your readers expect after your brilliant debut—more in the Blaze! series or something else, perhaps?

I’m working, rather slowly, on another Blaze! novel now. It’s been slow for a few reasons. My work schedule has been unusual the last few months and I have been able to gain a rhythm on the story. But I like the story, and I’m hoping to have it finished in a few months. I just finished a hardboiled crime short story that I like a bunch. I’m not sure what is going to happen with it, but it felt great writing “the end” a few nights ago.

Once I finish my next Blaze! novel I may try something of my own. I have a few ideas percolating, mostly western and crime. We’ll see. But I’m excited that things are looking bright (in a very small way) for me.

Who are some of your favourite genre authors? Which books have influenced your writing?

I’ve already mentioned Ed Gorman. He is probably one of the most underrated writers of his generation. His works tends to be dark, which may be a reason it hasn’t caught on like I think it should, but he is well worth reading. Especially is mystery and western fiction.

Ron Faust is another favorite. No one writes better, more meaningful, or even beautiful prose than Faust did. He didn’t write enough, only 15 novels over four decades, but if you ever find anything with his name on its cover, buy it, steal it, or do whatever you have to do to get it home.

What were your thoughts when you first held Red Rock Rampage in your hand?

Woohoo! Then disbelief. Then woohoo! Then, man, I hope a few people like it.

Finally, Ben, what is your advice to people like me who aspire to publish someday?

Keep at it. I had given up, writing snippets of fiction here and there for my own amusement, but an amazing thing happened. I wrote a book, it was published. And I’m nothing special. Maybe lucky, but not special. So keep writing and something will come.

Thank you, Ben.

Friday, March 10, 2017

The Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline B. Cooney

The Face on the Milk Carton—such an unusual title. I had no hesitation in picking up the paperback from a neat row of secondhand books at Smoker’s Corner, the half-a-century old bookstall in South Mumbai. I like a surprise catch. I rarely misjudge it.

Until then, I didn’t know about prolific American author Caroline B. Cooney who wrote the 1990 award-winning novel—the first in her Janie Johnson series. It was adapted into a film for television.

As you can see from the cover, The Face on the Milk Carton is about the mystery of a missing child called Janie Johnson. I plan to read the book soon even though it is for young adults and I don’t really like reading about missing children. I am just curious.

The back of the book says, “No one ever really paid close attention to the faces of the missing children on the milk cartons. But as Janie Johnson glanced at the face of the ordinary little girl with her hair in tight pigtails, wearing a dress with a narrow white collar—a three-year-old who had been kidnapped twelve years before from a shopping mall in New Jersey—she felt overcome with shock. She recognized that little girl—it was she. How could it possibly be true? Janie can't believe that her loving parents kidnapped her, but as she begins to piece things together, nothing makes sense. Something is terribly wrong. Are Mr. and Mrs. Johnson really Janie's parents? And if not, who is Janie Johnson, and what really happened?

© Caroline B. Cooney
Caroline B. Cooney—author of more than 90 suspense, mystery, horror, and romance novels for teenagers—got the story idea from the poster of a missing three-year-old child at La Guardia Airport. The little girl had been missing for fifteen years.

“No one can recognize a child fifteen years later from her three-year-old picture. It’s hopeless. The mother and father will never find her. I got on my plane, weepy from thinking about those parents, and thought—actually, there is one person who might recognize the photo. The little girl herself. Right away, I thought: what a great idea for a book. You recognize yourself on a missing child poster,” the author writes on her website

This does sound like a good read.

Starting 1979, Caroline B. Cooney has written over sixty standalone novels and several more in her Janie Johnson series, The Vampire's Promise trilogy, Losing Christina series and Time Travelers Quartet. Her books have won several awards and figure on many book lists. 

Have you read Caroline B. Cooney’s novels?

Sunday, March 05, 2017

Drabble: A story in 100 words

© Prashant C. Trikannad
James Green, alias Sudden, stabled his hoss to ride shotgun with me on the Churchgate-Bhayandar stagecoach. The Bombay outlaw waren't much of a talker 'cause he usually let his six-guns do most of the talkin', tho' he told me how he urned the infamous moniker of Sudden. "I'm jus fast with 'em guns, seh, but I ain't no outlaw," he drawled. Then he quietly pulled his jacket aside and showed me a silver badge — Deputy Marshal. I wus shore glad he rode alongside 'cause he quickly disarmed a han'ful of unruly compadres who hopped the coach at Bandra.