Nov 212014
Originally appearing as a serial in Western Story in October and November of 1924 under the pseudonym John Frederick, this is more of a historical novel than a traditional Western. It seems to be Faust's attempt to cash in on the popularity of Johnston McCulley's character Zorro, who had been appearing in the pulps for several years previously. Set in Spanish California in 1817, the novel
Aug 252014
THE WESTWARD TIDE is a new series by Wayne D. Dundee and Mel Odom, writing under the pseudonym Jack Tyree, and as you'd expect from those two authors, it's top-quality entertainment. TRAIL JUSTICE by Dundee launches the series, which is the story of a wagon train from Missouri bound for Oregon in 1848. Wagon trains have long been fertile ground for authors of Westerns and historical novels.
Aug 162014
The green hell that is the Netherlands East Indies in 1859 is a dangerous place—but soldier of fortune Patrick "Blackie" Boyle is a dangerous man. Trapped between Malay fanatics on one side and Dayak headhunters on the other, menaced by sinister sorcery and entranced by a beautiful jungle queen, Blackie will need all his formidable skill as a fighting man to survive!  RED SHADOWS, GREEN HELL
Jul 042014
Can I tout one of my own books as a Forgotten Book? It's not as mercenary as it sounds, as I'll explain below. But since this is the Fourth of July, I thought it might be appropriate to talk about PATRIOTS, a series of historical novels I wrote for Book Creations Inc. set during the days just before the Revolutionary War, under the pseudonym Adam Rutledge. SONS OF LIBERTY is the first book in
Jun 232014
Slaves Of The Empire #3: Brotan The Breeder, by Dael Forest August, 1978  Ballantine Books Stephen Frances (aka “Dael Forest”) delivers another melodrama set during the Roman Empire, once again picking up immediately after the previous volume. It seems more and more that the Slaves Of The Empire series is really just one very long book split into five separate volumes. No attempt is made by
Jun 162014
For more than thirty years, bestselling authors James Reasoner and Livia J. Washburn have chronicled the story of America in their award-winning historical novels. THE HEALER'S ROAD is one of their greatest sagas, the sweeping story of a family dedicated to the practice of medicine and caught up in the violence and heartbreak of America's bloodiest war.  Thomas Black rose from poverty,
May 212014
Empires clash in the Florida swamps in 1816 as England, Spain, and the young United States vie for this rich territory at the southern end of the continent. The native Seminole people make this a four-cornered war as they struggle to claim this land as their home. Caught in the middle of this bloody conflict is frontiersman Pete Privett, who tangles with a beautiful spy, deadly outlaws and
Jan 082014
You might know Bryon Quertermous (AKA my arch-nemesis) from his shameless self-promotion and whining on social media. But he recently took over the editing reigns at Exhibit A Books, the crime fiction imprint of Angry Robot Books. So now, we have to be nice to him.

The two of us recently got together for a little pow-wow via Google docs (hence all of the typing references) and discussed Exhibit A, publishing, and, of course, Bryon's favorite subject: himself.

What follows is part one of the (mostly) unedited transcript of this monumental event.
HW: Ok, first question: Quertermous is a weird last name. Where’s it from?
BQ: My father.
HW: Elaborate, please.
BQ: I've heard a variety of different stories, but the most realistic of them seems to be that it's French from my Louisiana relatives. Though I'm not entirely sure someone didn't just make it up.
HW: I can already see I’m a better typist than you are.
BQ: Brilliance comes at a cost, and in my case the cost is proper typing skills. Do you use the proper setting for your hands and everything?
HW: Why, yes I do. Thanks for noticing.
BQ: My paralyzing wrist pain and elbow cramps are reminders of how awesome I am. You don't get to experience that.
HW: True. Ok, let’s get on with the “interview.”
BQ: No. My turn for a question. Tell me about your name. Holly West sounds fake. Elaborate.
HW: My birth name is Holly O’Neill. My husband’s name is Mick West. I married him so that I could have a cooler name (and he married me for the greencard). Win-win!
BQ: Sounds like true love. Holly O'Neill sounds like a 90s sitcom name.
HW: Actually, O’Neill is still my legal name. I’ve been married 15 years and I still haven’t gotten around to changing it. Which should give you an idea of how lazy I am.
BQ: Oh, I already had a pretty good idea of how lazy you were. So in the interest of conflict of interest and such we should probably mention that at one point I was employed as an editor by your publisher [Carina Press], though we never worked together. Thank god.
HW: Yes, I don’t even believe in God and I’m still thanking him for that.
BQ: You certainly weren't the reason I left, but it certainly hastened my interest in outside opportunities.
HW: Speaking of outside opportunities, you’re the new editor at Exhibit A Books. I have to say, after weeks of your shameless teasing on social media, the announcement wasn’t a total let down. Are you enjoying your new job?
BQ: The readers of this interview won't see it, but as the interview has gone on, my typing has gotten better and yours has gotten much worse. Is it drinking time already?
HW: I noticed that too, but no, just coffee (so far).
BQ: So yes, Exhibit A. I was hoping that all the build-up I got carried away with on social media wouldn't dampen the announcement, but everyone seemed to be duly surprised that a real publisher found it in their best interest to hire me. What was your first thought when you heard the news?
HW: I’m at a loss for a snarky response for once. I was surprised but also very happy for you. It seemed like a great opportunity and probably a good fit. Time will tell about that, eh?
BQ: Eh, indeed. To be honest I was a little worried I wasn't the right fit based on their initial wave of releases that seemed to be geared toward thrillers, which is not my strong suit, and less toward what I saw as the Angry Robot brand I was a big fan of. But after being assured I could mold the list in my image, just as the previous editor had done, I was sold. I also felt more comfortable when I went to the UK to meet everyone in person and realized they're just as twisted as I am.
I also have to say, that once I went back and read the early books from Exhibit A, they were less glossy and vapid than I thought thrillers generally are so my prejudice was cracked.
HW: You see BQ, your prejudice will be your undoing. And I like the line “I could mold the list in my image.” I always knew you had a God complex.
But about that list. We’ve talked about it and you don’t seem to be into historicals (which I find tremendously insulting, of course). Exhibit A has a few historicals out there. Has that come to an end with your editorship?
BQ: It's funny you mention that because when I was sitting with Marc Gascoine, the publisher of Angry Robot and Exhibit A, we were talking about this and I mentioned I wasn't a fan of historical fiction. Our larger publishing overlord, Osprey, has a long history of publishing just the sort of thing I wasn't interested in so Marc pushed me to find out if I really didn't like historical or if I was just mouthing off stupidly. It turns out, I kind of do like historicals if they're gritty and weird and not of the standard historical templates. I'm a huge fan of steam punk and diesel punk and stuff like that so there will certainly be more historicals in the pipeline as we go along.
What I would really like to see is some Civil War era crime fiction.
HW: That brings me to my next question. Your dream manuscript just flew into your inbox (by carrier pigeon). Tell me about it.
BQ: Wait, no, it's my turn for a question dammit. With your tattoos and cursing and drinking and whatnot, you seem like the least likely candidate to write historicals I'd imagine. Where did that come from and will you ever write a contemporary crime novel?
HW: 1) Yes. I will write a contemporary crime novel. 2) I’d been interested in 17th century London since I was a teenager. I’d always wanted to write about it, so I did. But I think one of the reasons I had so much trouble selling MISTRESS OF FORTUNE is that it just didn’t fit into what you call the standard historical template. My heroine is gritty and sometimes not very likeable. There’s a twist at the end that shows just how gritty she is. But the message I kept getting was that I needed to make her more likeable. I needed to make her more sympathetic. She’s not a bitch but she’s also not very nice in some respects. Girl does what she needs to to get by, you know? But agents were looking for a more charming protagonist. More Jane Austen-like, I guess.
BQ: That sounds like just the sort of book I'd like to read if you hadn't written it. Do you believe in all of the fortuneteller hocum that's in the book?
HW: Not at all, and neither does Isabel Wilde, my protagonist. She’s a charleton. I believe in science, BQ. I thought we covered that at Bouchercon.
BQ: So back to my dream acquisition. That's a hard one and people have been asking me about it A LOT lately and I'm always at a loss for an answer. I'm intrigued more by voice than anything else, but I like dark voices and quirky voices and goofy voices. I think I'm less a fan of gimmicky post-modern stuff than I was initially, but just a good story told well. Also, one of the nice things about being a smaller publisher is I don't have to wait for my dream submission. I have the luxury of taking manuscripts with potential and working with them and helping the author in a way they might not get with a bigger house and I think that's more rewarding than publishing a perfect manuscript that lands on my lap. (Though I wouldn't mind one or two of those a year to keep the budget in tact.)
HW: Ha, suddenly I’m at a loss for words.
BQ: I do that to people quite a bit. I come off all snarky and mean and it's easy to respond to that and then I hit in with some genuine emotion and it always throws people off.
I think I'll leave it on this touchy-feely note. Join us next week for part two of the chat, when we discuss digital publishing, Bryon's plans for Exhibit A, and decide once and for all who has better typing skills. - H
Jul 102013

Young mountain man Shooter York had been trapping with his cousin George Monk and returned to find his beloved Tennessee home in turmoil as the US Army enforced the Indian Removal Act in 1833.

Shooter hadn't agreed with the proposed action, but it hit even closer to home than he realized when a friend of his got caught up in the middle of it. Moon Bear was accused of killing an Army transport crew and of taking rifles.

After helping the Army find Moon Bear, Shooter learned that his friend was looking for his son, who was following Calling Owl, a renegade leader conducting raids on helpless settlers. Shooter and George had no choice but to free Moon Bear and take up the hunt. But with the US Army on their heels and riding into the teeth of dangerous renegades, Tennessee seemed more crowded than ever.

(As you can tell from the cover, this book is connected to the Rancho Diablo series, but since it's a prequel, you don't have to have read any of the others before this one.)

Jun 032013

Slaves Of The Empire #2: Haesel The Slave, by Dael Forest
August, 1978  Ballantine Books

This second volume of the Slaves Of The Empire series seems to bear out my theory that the five volumes were planned as (or at least written as) one long book. The story picks up immediately after the preceding installment, with no attempt at filling in readers who might’ve missed the previous volume. Author Dael Forest (aka Stephen Frances) whittles down his sprawling cast this time out, allowing the reader to better appreicate the story. And also he slightly increases the lurid quotient, something apparent from the first pages, which open on an orgy our main protagonist Hadrian attends.

As we’ll recall Hadrian has been hired to build a new town, which he does with the assistance of his co-planner, the slave Haesel, who has a long-simmering sort of thing for Hadrian, and vice versa. But now at this orgy Hadrian also is asked to head up a new Games, so he must figure out how to get animals and prisoners and gladiators for the event; he tasks his chief slave Cornutus with this, so there’s yet another new character to contend with. Meanwhile Haesel’s brothers and sisters still are slaves, except for studly Saelig, who remember had a fling with Hadrian’s wife Areta.

Saelig was whipped very harshly at Areta’s command in the climax of the previous volume, and we discover that Areta is bereft and has gone down to Baiae to mope. Saelig meanwhile has made a full recovery and has forgiven her. So moved by the slave’s obvious love for his wife, Hadrian gives Saelig his freedom. He offers to do so for Haesel as well, but she’s vehemently opposed to the idea; for reasons unexplained, she is determined to remain Hadrian’s slave until he feels that she has rightfully won her freedom. She doesn’t want a free handout, and this rightfully puzzles Hadrian, given how outspoken the girl has been about the unjustness of her slavery.

Meanwhile Haesel’s sister Mertice still pines away for Alexander, despite that he’s given her to the lusty object of his affections, Melanos. As sick as we readers are of seeing Mertice moping around, Melanos orders her chief of slaves to fondle the girl on a daily basis! Melanos herself has some fun; while at the Baths in a nicely-elaborated scene, she runs into Plautus, a young soldier of high family who has just returned to Rome after years away. Frances here really brings to life the decadent atmosphere of the Roman Baths, and the new couple rush back to Melanos’s place to have sex.

Frances does a better job sensationalizing his otherwise tepid soap opera: the long-simmer relationship between Hadrian and Haesel catches a little fire when Haesel gets bitten by a snake on her thigh and Hadrian does the ol’ “suck out the poison” routine. He also has Saelig, now a free man, making obvious moves on Areta. The most lurid sequence though would have to be the very long scene at the Ampitheater (which Frances confusingly refers to as “the Forum”), all of it pretty much taken straight out of Daniel Manix’s Those About To Die, with virgins being raped, prisoners being gutted, and charioteers crashing spectacularly.

I’m still having trouble putting together when this all takes place. The Emperor briefly appears during the Games sequence, but he is not named and we are just informed that he’s old and that there are factions of highborn and soldiers aligning against him. At first I thought a clue might be found in the name of the town Hadrian is building, Trebula, but a cursory Googling reveals that there were three such towns in Italy during the Roman era, and all of them predate the Empire. At any rate the Slaves Of The Empire series definitely takes place after the days of Nero, mentioned here as “long dead.”

The lurid quotient continues apace as Frances dives straight into a chapter-long recounting of a Bona Dea ceremony, as Melanos and her fellow female worshippers strip down, anoit themselves with oil, and get themselves nice and randy so they can set themselves loose on some lucky men of their choosing. In Melanos’s case it is Platus, Frances having built up the anticipation between the two, Melanos abstaining from sex until the night of Bona Dea, and Platus grinning and bearing it.

Platus meanwhile serves to bring more action to the tale, at least indirectly; plotting against the Emperor with others, he maneuvers an assassination attempt which is quickly uncovered, and we learn in passing that Platus has been tortured to death! Oh well, so long Platus. Melanos however finds herself knocked up after that night of Bona Dea passion, so she politely informs Hadrian that she’ll no longer be having casual sex with him. So too does another high-born Roman gal Hadrian has a relationship with, so that within a short span of time Hadrian finds himself without any friends-with-benefits.

This leads to the culmination of the Hadrian-Haesel situation, at least. Growing increasingly short-tempered due to his lack of sex, Hadrian finds himself snapping at others and even checking out the female slaves. Plus Haesel has become more and more distant ever since he sucked the poison out of her thigh, and it gets to the point where Hadrian can’t take it anymore and orders Haesel to remove her tunic in his presence. He’s going to make her his sex-slave whether she likes it or not, even giving her a place of her own and calling on her every once in a while – there will no longer be any need for her to actually work.

But Haesel again turns the tables, going into “slave mode” and telling Hadrian she will do whatever he orders, when Hadrian can easily see that she is against the whole thing. But it all finally leads up to the two having sex, at long last – the trick being that Hadrian breaks down and tells Haesel he can’t order her to love him, he can’t make her do what it is against her nature to do, she can only do what she wants to do, and this it turns out is all Haesel has been waiting to hear.

And with this long-simmer relationship coming at long last to boil, the book abruptly ends. It would probably be smart to go immediately into the third volume, but the placid nature of this series sort of dulls the reader’s senses, so it’s best to take some time between installments. But overall Haesel The Slave was at least more entertaining and sordid than its predecessor, which makes me hope that future volumes will continue the trend.