Saturday, May 31, 2008

HELLFIRE CANYON a Kansas Notable Book

I haven't been in my office at school for a few days because I bought a terrific old Victorian house on Constitution Street in Emporia and have been busy hauling a zillion pounds of books and tools and guitar amplifiers into it from the places they've been stored for the past couple of years. When I did go into today (Saturdays are quiet and I can get some work done), I found a letter waiting for me from Christie P. Brandau, the state librarian of Kansas.

Hellfire Canyon has been named a 2008 Kansas notable book.

"The Kansas Notable Books list was created to recognize the literary richness of our state," Brandau wrote. "It is a project of the Kansas Center for the Book at the State Library of Kansas. The annual selection of fifteen books reflecting Kansas cultural heritage features high quality titles with wide public appeal that are either written by a Kansas resident or about a Kansas-related topic. A committee considered the universe of eligible books published in 2007 and met over the course of several months to evaluate and discuss titles. The culmination of the commitee's work was a recommended list presented to the State Librarian for final decision.

"As a Notable Book author you are invited to participate in several events, including a reception at the State Library this summer at which the award will be presented by Governor Kathleen Sebelius (date to be announced), and a reception on Friday, September 26, 2008, in Lawrence on the eve of the River City Reading Festival."

Hellfire Canyon also won the Spur Award for best original paperback from the Western Writers of America. I'll received that award next month at the WWA Convention in Scottsdale, Ariz. My editor, Gary Goldstein, will also accept the award on behalf of Kensington Books.

I'm heading for the Writing the Rockies workshop at Western State College in Gunnison, Colo., in a few days, to give the keynote address. Then, I'm picking Gary up at the airport in Denver and we're going to road trip it to Scottsdale. Along the way, we're going to discuss a sequel to Hellfire Canyon, which might be called Canyon Diablo.

My association with Gary goes all the way back to The Sixth Rider, which was published by Doubleday in 1991 and won the Best First Novel award from WWA. Although that book was acquired by Greg Tobin, Gary was the line editor.

Monday, May 19, 2008


Jeremy Jones reviewed my new book in last Sunday's Spartanburg (S.C.) Herald-Journal. Here, in part, is what he had to say:

Once a year, Max McCoy writes a novel in which he takes an iconic figure and peels back the layers of myth and legend to reveal a decidedly more interesting human being underneath.

"I, Quantrill," released this past week by Signet, is his 17th and, perhaps, his best book yet.

Over the past two decades, McCoy has had Jesse James tell his story through Mark Twain; he has sent an anxious Wild Bill Hickok to his first gunfight; and he has launched Indiana Jones' quest for the crystal skull.

McCoy is the author of historical Westerns, thrillers and four original Indiana Jones adventures. Earlier this spring, the Western Writers of America awarded "Hellfire Canyon," the Spur Award for best paperback original novel... McCoy has a way of clarifying complex subjects without oversimplifying them. His novels are thick with plot, alive with strong characterization, and rich with historic detail.

He goes on to quote Johnny D. Boggs:

"Max McCoy has a love for language," said South Carolina novelist Johnny D. Boggs, author of "The Hart Brand" and the Spur Award-winning "Doubtful Canon." "There's a rhythm to his sentences, great word choices, a wonderful cadence, superb imagery. His stories often flow like the lyrics to a good song. I'll often find myself reading his sentences two or three times because I admire them, and I'm trying to figure out how he does it."

Who can argue with that?

McCoy's decision to use a reviled (or revered) historic figure as a first-person narrator immediately engorges "I, Quantrill" with tension by putting the reader inside Quantrill's head and building a level of intimacy between reader and narrator that is both exciting and disturbing.

"Max McCoy is one of the top writers at work today in the Western field," Boggs said. "Max does sound historical research, and he puts his own twist in his novels. He has this knack for bringing historical figures to vibrant life, whether it's Wild Bill Hickok or Jesse James. He shows them for what they were: humane yet savage."

You can read the review in its entirety here.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

"... but the movie'd make swillions!"

The following review came out in the June 29, 2007, issue of DIVER and it's by Phil Nuytten, the magazine's senior editor and the guy who invented the Newtsuit. Being busy with life, I missed the review. Also, it was three years since the release of The Moon Pool, so I really wasn't looking for it. But, I stumbled across the review yesterday on the Web, so here it is.

The review isn't all gravy. Nuytten calls MP an "obvious piece of pulp fiction" (ouch!) and takes exception to some of technical stuff. Still, it's a good, honest review. And he seems to like it. Besides, who could argue with Phil Nuytten?

First, the hype from the publisher:

“Time is running out for Jolene. She’s trapped, naked, waiting only for her worst nightmares to become reality. Her captor is keeping her alive for twenty-eight days, hidden in an underwater city 400 feet below the surface. Then she will die horribly – like the others….”

The question is: why are we reviewing a piece of obvious pulp fiction in DIVER Magazine? And the answer is that this particular piece of trash is actually a pretty good read. Book reviews of this type often start out with some version of “It’s a crackin’ good yarn” – from the same cliché pool as “It was a dark and stormy night…” This review of Max McCoy’s techno-suspense thriller ‘The Moon Pool’ is no exception, except that it would be more accurate to say that “It’s a crackin’ weird yarn”.

‘Moon Pool’ takes its hat off and waves it at the Thomas Harris international best-seller “Silence of the Lambs” for premise and character types. It hallucinates in somewhat the manner of Carlos Castenada’s efforts and has bits reminiscent of Carl Hiassen or Elmore Leonard’s Florida-based master-trashies. It combines some off the wall humor with genuine cave-diving expertise, leading some to conjecture that author McCoy might have been influenced, or even partially corrupted by Cavin’-Maven Wes Skiles! (Ah, the wonderful pomposity of multiple literary references!)

Max McCoy is the award-winning author of nine books prior to ‘Moon Pool’. He’s a skilled, professional writer with a good handle on craft as well as style. There are a lot of ingredients in the Moon Pool omelette, but he deals with them in a deft manner. The long and short of it that this novel is well written. As I said, the guy is a pro. Like any good artist or composer, he knows exactly where to leave spaces that the readers can color in for themselves. Consider this piece of dialogue as the giant cavern’s topside supervisor talks to the French pilot of a mini-submersible called ‘Water Baby’:


“Welcome to the good earth,” McAfee said in French. “It is December fourteenth, the time is sixteen forty Zulu, and the temperature is always seventeen degrees. It’s wet here, but it never rains. We thought you might like to start with an orientation tour of Mineral City first. You can begin your descent as soon as our divers have released the cable and completed their visual check. In the meantime, is there anything you require?”

McAfee listened for a moment.

"But of course. Red or white?"

No biggie, but a good example. There’s also a dash of Robert Heinlein, or perhaps it’s more Appleton’s ‘Tom Swift’ in a couple of the story’s props: items that don’t actually exist (or no longer exist). The author thinks that these imaginary things could, or should, exist because the underlying principles are known and used today. Unfortunately, McCoy has left out a couple of critical limitations in the principle description. But, hey, Jules Verne did exactly the same thing in his description of Captain Nemo’s undersea rifles – after all, this stuff is fiction, not an owner’s manual! (Remember this when you come to the ‘super-cavitating metal dart or the “Birns and Sawyer” quartz lighting.) In fact, Moon Pool is technically pretty darn accurate, without showcasing the author’s technical knowledge at the expense of the story. One major techno-glitch involves the submersible ‘Water Baby’ being required to hold 200 PSI internally. Sure, there are radial ‘piston’ seal hatches with mechanical breech locks that will tolerate even higher pressure differentials from either side – but they are complicated, expensive and, worst of all, heavy. In practice, they are not used on the type of submersible that McCoy describes. Conventional submersible hatches and, in particular, standard view-ports will not tolerate the pressure differentials he needs for the storyline. At least it would be unlikely. Most unlikely.

McCoy knows that the standard sub design is a problem and, I’ll be darned if he doesn’t use it as a plot device! The pressure diff is critical to the story’s whirlwind ending: will it hold? Or will it ‘blow up good’ and atomize the hero and the shapely young thing that he has just untied from the railroad tracks? We thought our guy’d had it for sure a couple of times, but the author plucked him out of harm’s way with a couple of artful dodges, but this time… well, odds are that he and the naked lady ( yep, she’s nekkid as a new-born chick!) who he’s in the midst of salvaging, have truly had the biscuit! I mean, com’on. There’s no way they’re going to get out of this one… how can they?

Read the book.

P.S. If someone doesn’t make this puppy into a movie, they’re missing a bet. Think ‘Sea Hunt’, ‘American Pyscho’ and ‘Survivor’ mixing it up in ‘The Cave’ – whilst a bevy of nekkid, red-headed beauties arranged in Busby Berkeley synchronized-swimming- style circles look on. (True, they’re dead – but that makes the nudity kinda “art”, right?) The book may be a good read, but the movie’d make swillions!

I don't know exactly what a swillion is, but I'd like to find out. Now, go buy a subscription to DIVER!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

I, QUANTRILL Kindle edition

My new novel was released this week as an Amazon Kindle Edition. What's Kindle? Well, its a wireless digital delivery system that uses an electronic reader. It uses the same technology as your cell phone, so you don't need to find a WiFi hotspot -- you just need to be in range of a cell tower. And, Amazon promises, at no added fee beyond the purchase price. Here's the description from Amazon:

Three years ago, we set out to design and build an entirely new class of device—a convenient, portable reading device with the ability to wirelessly download books, blogs, magazines, and newspapers. The result is Amazon Kindle. We designed Kindle to provide an exceptional reading experience. Thanks to electronic paper, a revolutionary new display technology, reading Kindle’s screen is as sharp and natural as reading ink on paper—and nothing like the strain and glare of a computer screen. Kindle is also easy on the fingertips. It never becomes hot and is designed for ambidextrous use so both "lefties" and "righties" can read comfortably at any angle for long periods of time.

We wanted Kindle to be completely mobile and simple to use for everyone, so we made it wireless. No PC and no syncing needed. Using the same 3G network as advanced cell phones, we deliver your content using our own wireless delivery system, Amazon Whispernet. Unlike WiFi, you’ll never need to locate a hotspot. There are no confusing service plans, yearly contracts, or monthly wireless bills—we take care of the hassles so you can just read.

So, you might ask, what do I think of Kindle? I don't know. It costs $400 bucks. I'm a little reluctant to part with four bills to see if this little device is all its promised to be -- you could buy a cheap laptop for that. So, if you have $403.79 burning a hole in your pocket ($399 for the Kindle, free shipping, and $4.79 for I, QUANTRILL) buy the gizmo and let me know. Tell me if you liked the novel and post a review on Amazon. And if you don't have that kind of disposable change, you could just spend $5.99 for my novel, which requires no batteries and you can slip in your back pocket without fear of sitting and breaking it.

Monday, May 5, 2008

The Dark Side

Not long after I left The Joplin Globe to come to Emporia State as journalist-in-residence, my editor Ed Simpson also left. Simpson, who had been editor-in-chief of the small Missouri newspaper for eight years, had taken a job as chief of staff for newly-elected Ohio Attorney General Marc Dann. Simpson wrote his farewell Globe column Dec. 31, 2006. Like all good newsmen, Ed has a well-developed sense of irony, and in that Parthian editorial shot he mused:

Going to the dark side is not an easy thing. I found it only mildly amusing when some newsroom wag immediately started a pool on when I would be indicted. Six months is the top slot so far, but at least one optimist chose eight months.

“Indicted or convicted?” I asked.

“Indicted,” the wag replied. “The odds on conviction are difficult to calculate.”

Indeed, it is ever so.

Indeed. Ed Simpson resigned recently, in the midst of an ever-widening sexual harassment investigation sparked by a series of stories in the Columbus Dispatch that has fellow Ohio Democrats clamoring for Dann's impeachment. The Associated Press today described "an atmosphere in Dann's office rife with inappropriate staff-subordinate relationships, heavy drinking and harassing and threatening behavior by a supervisor."

On Friday, Dann also admitted to an extramarital affair with a subordinate -- but stubbornly hangs onto the job.

Dann's wife, Alyssa Lenhoff, is director of the journalism program at Youngstown State University. Lenhoff won several awards for investigative reporting at the Tribune Chronicle in Warren, Ohio. Lenhoff's former partner at the Tribune, Ed Simpson, was Dann's chief of staff until he resigned under fire on May 2, 2008.

On Friday, an internal investigation confirmed most of the seedy details and more -- including heavy drinking among top aides and younger female staffers, profanity, inappropriate sexual activity, misuse of state vehicles and on-the-job threats involving the Mafia.

The above quote from Ed's last column was used by The Turner Report, a Joplin blog. Appropriately so. But there is more to Ed than