bag·man (băg’mәn) n., pl. –men (mĭn). 1. Slang.

dishonest official; a person who collects, carries, or distributes illegal payoff money.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

The Pulp Master Plot for Adding Themes and Devices, or Weird Things Writers Do

           I love Westerns. I have yet to write a serious one, but c’mon, what could be more pulp? Science Fiction, Hard Boiled Crime, The Weird Tale, The Pulp Hero, Adventure, and the Western have always been the big six pulp genres for me, even if the Smithsonian did only let the first three in.
Painting by Walter Baumhoffer
As a writer, you can learn a lot from Westerns. While their simplicity, limitations, and cultural references will probably keep the genre reeling in and out of popularity forever, you’re dealing with a very established world. Because the myth of the gunslinger has become legend there are different versions of that world, but the boundaries of the story are stiff as far as time, place, and even character. In other words, you need to be a great plotter, or have one hell of an original idea, if you want to write a story that doesn’t have more clichés and holes in it than you could drive a covered wagon through.
So, Sunday morning, the movie From Hell to Texas pops up on my TV. Not a bad Western, and with a very pulp opening so it gets my attention. Now, Romance as a genre is something I’ve never mastered, but I’m well-aware that back in the day it stirred some surprising controversy among Western fans, including the readers of Wild West Weekly. Some boys just wanted to see cowboys kiss their horses and that was that. But, Ranch Romances were the best-selling magazines on the rack, and movies had to appeal to everybody, women and men. I could somehow sense the romance had been forced into this story. Now, the fact that this movie had held me through ten minutes of that romance suddenly inspired me. 
Could I decipher a method to insert a romance into a story—OR, EVEN BETTER—could I chart out A PLOT DESIGNED TO ADD ALMOST ANY THEME INTO A STORY, AND STILL HOLD THE READERS ATTENTION? In theory, this could be used with clues in a mystery, the introduction of new upcoming characters and settings, a growing character flaw, or a hundred other plot points. You name it!
So, I began to section out the plot of the movie, deciphering 1) which parts were action or plot revelations, 2) Character development, and 3) Romance. From Hell to Texas is a 135-minute movie, but you can think of minutes as pages or any other unit. It’s the timing I’m looking at.
135-minute movie
First 20 min:
Action, cause, result
20-30 min:
Character development w/ hints at Romance

30-35 min:
Decision made by hero.

35-55 min:
Action, cause, result

55-60 min.

60-75 min: tension builds as pieces line up.

75-80 min:
(representing hope for the future/what’s at stake)

80-90 min.

90-95 min: wrap up.

What this tells me is that a third of the story is OVER before we even think about romance, or whatever other plot theme you may be looking to insert into your story. It’s struck on, but only while defining our characters in order to tell the rest of the story.
If this was a three-act play, Romance wouldn’t come up again until the second act—and, boy is it fast—almost forced in some Westerns because “getting the girl” is considered part of the prize. But, even as Romance comes up again it’s more thought than action because tension is building in the background, and we’re led back into the action.
Later, we get five minutes of romance—used to represent hope for a future goal and everything that’s at stake—before the big finale, and maybe another five minutes in the plot wrap-up.
Break it up into three acts. Romance at end of first act. Romance at end of second act. The beginning of the third act builds plot and tension, and Romance stands out like a hostage in the middle before the final conflict. When it all ends there’s just enough Romance left to hint at some in the future, and our story is over.
Some of you may recognize this as the norm, some of you may not, and some may say I’m overthinking it. So why do this? Because, while I believe a story should structure itself, sometimes when you’re hammering one out, it’s nice to know where to put things. If you look at enough things like this, sometimes they might just fall into the right place. I’m intrigued especially by how this timeline might be used with subplots and with clues in mysteries. I also have a feeling you might see me using it in the future regardless of genre. I may not map it out, but I’ll definitely give it some thought. Like a lot of writing, this stuff becomes subconscious. “Give it some thought, but don’t think about it.”
So, yeah, this is one of those weird things writers do. Me at least. Now if I could just get them to pay me by the hour for all this thought.  

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Bags Unlimited Interviews The Bagman's Writer!

The good people at Bags Unlimited, makers of plastic bags for all your collecting needs, were kind enough to ask me a few questions like "Why pulp?"

And, some others with answers involving a Weird Tale in progress, a soon to be released Phantom Detective book, The Bagman, and, of course, James Cagney. Check it out, just click the link.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017


Volume IV

Airship 27 Productions thrilled to announce the release of our latest volume of Mystery Men (& Women) Volume # 4.  As in previous editions, the volume offers up another quartet of new, original pulp heroes by today’s finest pulp writers.

Ron Fortier, Managing Editor of Airship 27 Productions reminds fans of the series’ beginnings. “After a few years of publishing new adventures of the classic pulp heroes from the 30s and 40s, many of our writers started asking if they could offer up tales of their own, new creations. We thought it was a great idea and a natural evolution of what we were doing.”

In this new volume, you’ll find “A Waltz in Scarlet.” From the pages of the Shadow Legion, comes the Ferryman; a blind man who sees through the eyes of ghosts. Created by Thomas Deja. “Cult of the Stranger.” The popular Eel and Adder, aided by another mystery man ally, must take on a gang of modern Thuggees lose in the city. Created by Joel Jenkins. “The Cult of Kali Kill,” is another rousing adventure starring Chicago’s most unique avenger, the bumbling hero the Bagman as invented by B.C. Bell. And rounding out the book is “The Grey Mantis Strike,” wherein a masked martial artist races the clock to save a group of kidnapped children. Created by C. William Russette.

“We couldn’t be any happier with this volume’s action packed stories,” says Fortier. “Then add interiors by Rob Davis and a beautiful evocative cover of the Ferryman by Zacharay Brunner, and we think Mystery Men (& Women) Vol 4 is sure to delight our loyal readers.”

Four thrill-a-minute tales of suspense, mystery and action that keep the true spirit of the classic pulps alive!!


Available now in paperback from Amazon and soon on Kindle.

This book contains the pen-pulp-ultimate Bagman story!  An Indian Princess, stolen jewels, the Chicago Outfit, horses, a band of homicidal maniacs, machine-gun fire in the streets, and the fate of a nation hang in the balance! No Additives, No Artificial Ingredients, 100% Pulp Adventure Action!

Thursday, March 30, 2017


I first read about Captain Midnight in Jim Steranko’s The Steranko History of Comics, where it was revealed to me that in a team-up between the Captain and Spy Smasher, Captain Midnight got the better end of the deal. But for decades, I was unable to learn more about the character. As the years passed, I discovered the radio show on vinyl albums, comics, then the Dark Horse comic series, but at the time there was little to quench the thirst of my curiosity.

A bit later, I read Richard Lupoff’s classic history of the comics, All in Color for a Dime, which had a nice chapter about Captain Midnight and the numerous comic/radio show spinoffs of the era, but still offered none of what I wanted, which was the stories. So, still in my youth, I held out for one hope. Lupoff’s book had mentioned that there was a Captain Midnight TV series, and if I was up late enough, it might come on TV in reruns sometime.

It never happened, and I forgot all about it, until years later when YouTube appeared on this thing we didn’t used to have called “the net.” So, one day, I see Captain Midnight in my feed, and I was pumped.

“After all these years! Finally, here it is, Captain Midnight! Oh, what sort of horrible world did we live in where these adventures had been kept from me? Seriously, I had been looking out for forty years, and had never seen an adventure. Why, oh why, had they had they kept me away from Captain Midnight? Surely, there was nothing there that could be bad for a boy, why would parents and teachers try to keep my away from Captain Midnight?" 
Then I saw this episode:

Even by the seventies we knew nuclear waste was bad.
And, yes, I think if we had come home to watch our heroes standing in nuclear fallout, we might have freaked out a little.

Friday, March 24, 2017

The Juggernaut Rolls On

Hey, Gang! I'm back, and so's the blog!

Guess it's pretty obvious I wanted to keep that ad for Tales of The Bagman Volume Three up for awhile, eh? Don't forget it's also available in audio, so you can listen to adventure while you're adventuring.

Fellow Chicago Writer, Joe Bonadonna, was kind enough to recently interview me, and today you can go read it live at Black Gate, Adventures in Fantasy Literature. While you're there, check out the other articles because there are some great ones.

I'm going to try a more scattershot approach with the blog here, meaning, it might be a bit more hit-and-run. There will still be essays and the occasional review, but I'll also be posting more links, quick thoughts, and fun stuff about everything from Mystery, Crime, Horror, Science and Pulp Fiction, to Comics, to Pop Culture, and if you're not careful maybe even some of that literature stuff.

So, in the words of Papillon, "Hey, you bastards! I'm still here!" And, I'll be back