Monday, April 29, 2024

Book Tour for "The Man on the Buckskin Horse"

It's book tour time!  The illustrated edition of my Sleeping Beauty retelling, The Man on the Buckskin Horse, releases Tuesday!  Here is a link to it on Amazon, where you can get the paperback and Kindle editions.  (Well, the paperback drops on Tuesday, and you can pre-order the Kindle until then.)

I have put together a short online tour for this release, including several interviews, lots of book reviews, and some other types of stops as well.  For website and blog stops, I will update links as things go live.  

Note that the interviews on Monday and Friday are live events that you can join on Instagram and watch as they happen, and even ask questions during!  Those will be archived on Instagram as well, to watch any other time that works for you.

Here is the book tour itinerary:

Monday, April 29

Live interview with @books_with_cordy at 8pm EST on Instagram
Book review by @jillions_of_stories on Instagram

Tuesday, April 30 -- Release Day

Post by the book's illustrator, Skye Hoffert, on her blog Ink Castles
Book review by @thefilmdirectorswife on Instagram
Book review by @ive_seen_a_new_world on Instagram

Wednesday, May 1

Book review by Kilmeny on her blog VT Dorchester
Book review by @giltedgedpages on Instagram
Book review by @thepurplegiraffereads on Instagram

Thursday, May 2

Interview with Suey Nordberg on YouTube
Book review by @elisabethaimeebrown on Instagram

Friday, May 3

Live interview with @eldmountain at 7pm EST on Instagram
Book review by @aliciaandherbooks on Instagram

Don't forget that if you buy a copy of The Man on the Buckskin Horse by May 31, you are eligible to receive a pack of related goodies!  There's more info about that in this post.  

As always, you can order signed paperback copies of my books via this form.  I don't have paperbacks for Buckskin on hand yet, but I should have them soon, and will ship them out as soon as I have them.  All paperbacks ordered directly from me before May 31 will automatically receive the packet of goodies.

Friday, April 19, 2024

Goodies for "The Man on the Buckskin Horse"

When you buy the new illustrated edition of my Sleeping Beauty retelling The Man on the Buckskin Horse between now and May 31, you can receive a packet of related goodies!

All you have to do is buy a copy (paperback or ebook) before the end of May, and then fill out this form.  I will send you one bookmark, two stickers, and one art card of your choice!  All of those feature artwork by Skye Hoffert that are also in the book.

If you haven't read this novella yet, here's what it's about::
As the local midwife and sole medical professional in her Nebraska community, Miss Emma always wants to help. When she learns the Owens family's bitter enemy has hired a gunman to force them from their home, she rushes to the Owens homestead to warn them. But the gunman has arrived sooner than expected. Despite Miss Emma's efforts to protect her friends, her actions only worsen their plight. Now, Rosalind Owens battles a severe infection, and Miss Emma's medical skills aren’t enough to save her. 

Professional gunman Luke Palmer was hired to remove the Owenses from their land, but he now suspects the family has a legal right to stay. As fear and uncertainty grip the Owens family, Palmer offers his aid. Can they trust him, or is his offer a ploy to remove them from their land for good? Amidst these conflicts, Palmer faces his own internal struggle, torn between his wish to forget the past and the urgent need to save an innocent life.

You can pre-order the Kindle edition here right now, and the paperback will be released April 30!

As always, you can order signed paperback copies of my books via this form.  I don't have paperbacks for Buckskin on hand yet, but I should have them right around the release date.

Friday, April 12, 2024

"Paper Bullets" (1941)

This movie is a mess.

It's like they took all the things that would connect up the different parts of the story and chopped them out, assuming the audience would just jump merrily from conclusion to conclusion.  Or something.  

The message of the movie is clear: don't shun the children of criminals for what their parents did, or else they might become criminals themselves.  And I can get behind that message.  In fact, it's a good message, and deserves a coherent story to present it.  Alas, that's exactly what it doesn't get in Paper Bullets (1941), which is also known as Gangs, Inc. because why not give it two titles?  People are already confused.  It's fine.

Also, I suspect that the title cards at the beginning got redone when it was shown on TV in the late 1940s, after Alan Ladd became a big star, because he really just has a small (yet pivotal!) part, but his name is listed at the top in big, bold letters.  Maybe that's when it was retitled too?  The poster to the left is completely and utterly misleading, by the way.  Alan Ladd's character is not a hardened criminal who can kill you by glaring at you.  Though I guess we do see a mugshot of him at one point -- actually, of one of his characters.  He sort-of is playing two characters, though we really only ever see one of them.

Like I said, it's a mess.  Let's dig in and get our hands dirty exploring it, shall we?

The whole thing opens when a little girl named Rita Adams is reunited with her dad, who just got out of prison.  They get to live happily together again for two minutes and forty-two seconds, and then her dad is gunned down at her playground while shielding little Rita behind him.

Rita grows up in an orphanage, where she makes friends with Bob and Mickey.  Bob is a smart guy and Mickey is a tough guy, and Rita is pals with both, though she likes Bob more.  We get one whole scene in the orphanage, which is only there to introduce the guys and show us that Rita has a birthmark behind her left ear because that will be important for exactly two seconds when our story lurches into Rita's adult life -- we know the next person we see is Rita because of that birthmark.

Adult Rita (Joan Woodbury) shares an apartment with her sweet pal Donna (Linda Ware), works at a munitions plant or something, and is dating a rich drunk named Harold DeWitt (Phillip Trent).  Her life is peachy keen for about four minutes, until she gets fired because her employers found out her dad spent time in prison.  Donna says it's fine because the rent is paid, but Rita is NOT fine with this.

While out cruising around with Rita, her drunken boyfriend Harold kills someone in a hit-and-run accident.  Harold's rich daddy's lawyer tells Harold to convince Rita to take the rap for him, even if it means promising to marry Rita.  The lawyer tells Rita that she will get off lightly and not have to do prison time, but hahahaha, not true at all.  She goes to prison.

When Rita gets out of prison twelve seconds after we saw her sentenced, her old friends Bob (John Archer) and Mickey (Jack LaRue) are waiting to pick her up, along with her bestie Donna.  Good old Harold is nowhere to be seen.

Mickey has a bit of juicy news for Rita: Harold's dad, Clarence DeWitt (George Pembroke) paid the lawyer to make sure Rita went to jail so Harold wouldn't have to marry her.  Naturally, this news prompts Rita to embark on a crime spree.  Like every sensible girl who's discovered she was double-crossed by the man who said he'd marry her, she dons a blond wig and starts robbing rich guys, poker games, nightclubs, and brokerage firms.  What else would she do with her time?

Donna never seems to glom onto the fact that Rita is a one-woman crime wave.  The blond bandit in the papers can't be Rita because Rita has dark hair, obviously.  Meanwhile, Rita's orphanage pal Mickey has become kind of a big deal with the New York mob, and he invites Rita and Donna to move to New York.  Donna is a singer, and he promises to find her a place singing in a nightclub.

Everything goes super well in New York.  We're only twenty-six minutes into the film, and Donna is a singing sensation!  Rita has plans to keep busy in the big city too, of course.  Heh heh heh.

Meanwhile, good old Harold's dad, Clarence DeWitt, has started stirring pots and claiming that the New York police are in league with the mob.  The police chief cooks up a great plan to prove this is not true and that it's DeWitt who is in with the mob.  His plan?  Have a sweet policeman wannabe named Jimmy Kelly (Alan Ladd) pretend to be mobster Bill Dugan (also Alan Ladd, but with messy hair) and infiltrate the mob to gather evidence.

This is a fool-proof plan.  Jimmy Kelly has never been trained in how to be a policeman, much less how to pass himself off as a mobster, but since he's identical to Bill Dugan, it'll be fine.  Never mind that Dugan isn't even in prison or some other city -- he's here in New York too, but obviously that won't complicate anything.

(I was really hoping for some split-screen action where Alan Ladd confronts Alan Ladd for impersonating himself, but that clearly was too fancy for this B picture, so all we get is two photographs to compare.  Sigh.)

Because there are only four or five mobsters in all of NYC, Bill/Jimmy works with Mickey to collect bribes.  This gives Alan Ladd some chances to work on his Tough Guy act, as well as practice delivering barbed banter, which is the most fun this movie provides.  I never said the movie had nothing going for it.

We get treated to Leaning Alan Ladd...

...Hat-Tipping Alan Ladd...

...Smiling Alan Ladd...

...and Desk-Perching Alan Ladd!  You can collect them all!

Anyway, old man DeWitt gets a grand jury rolling to investigate a bunch of mobsters.  Rita decides this is her chance to get back at him for sending her to prison.  She takes to the radio, spouting allegations about DeWitt being in league with the mobsters himself.  Then she meets up with the mob bosses and says she can help them take DeWitt down or something, if only they'll let her be a mob boss too.

What mob boss in his right mind is going to turn down an offer like that?  Clearly, this chick is capable of running a big crime organization.  She knows how to talk on the radio, after all.  And she has a Plan for a way to blackmail DeWitt into doing what she wants, which involves some incriminating letters that Mickey stole fifteen minutes earlier in the film.

Rita wants to become a mob boss so she can make lots of money and build a nice playground for underprivileged kids.  I am not even joking.

Meanwhile, Bill/Jimmy and Donna have met up and gotten friendly.  They engage in some cute flirtation in Donna's dressing room, where Donna begs Bill/Jimmy to give up racketeering and get an honest job.  

Bill/Jimmy alllllmost tells Donna he's actually a good guy.

But he doesn't.  Which is probably wise.

This is the best scene of the whole movie, so pardon me if we lingered there a bit.

Bill/Jimmy gets to give the movie its original title: "Paper bullets" are votes.  Now you know.

Some plot happens.  The bad guys discover, accidentally, that Bill/Jimmy is really Jimmy, not Bill at all, through no fault of his own.  Three bad guys take Jimmy on a little ride, resulting in the absolute worst car chase scene in the history of cinema.

The police chief and a pal chase that car around, trying to rescue Bill/Jimmy.  The entire chase scene consists of shots of bored people inside the cars alternated with shots of black cars zooming around at night.

You can't tell which car is which or what is going on.  At all.  And this goes on for a little over two minutes.  Then, one car... goes over a cliff or something?  The only way we know it was the mobster car is that the police chief and his friend jump out of their car and look over the edge.

Since Bill/Jimmy was in that car, we can assume he has died.  That's certainly what Rita and Donna assume.

We, the viewers, are left to assume exactly that for nearly nineteen whole seconds before the police chief reveals, with a chuckle, that it's not true at all, we're just faking Bill/Jimmy's death.  Because of reasons.

Then Rita and Bob (remember Bob from the orphanage?) get married!  Bob is an airplane designer or something?  Totally decent guy.  No idea that his new wife and her best friend Mickey are mobsters.  That is, not until they've been married for a minute and a half, when a guy shows up with an arrest warrant and subpoena for Rita as they leave the Justice of the Peace's office.

There go her plans to build a big playground for underprivileged kids!

Mickey kills somebody for something, we have a bunch of courtroom stuff that drags on for at least three minutes, and then the police spring a surprise witness: Bill/Jimmy!  He's alive!

Donna is super happy to see him!  Mickey is not, and tries to shoot him (because he totally just waltzed into the courtroom packing a gun in a shoulder holster and nobody cared).  But that was just the evidence the police wanted to arrest Mickey too.  The mob bosses, including Rita, are all found guilty and sentenced to prison.  Poor Bob vows he'll wait for her and be faithful to her for as long as it takes for her to get released.  (At the clip this movie travels, that should take about forty seconds, but who's counting?)

I guess Donna got her playground built after all, even though she went to prison, because this is the movie's final shot.  I would totally play in a playground with a creepy sign like this on its gate, wouldn't you?

I spent way too much time taking screencaps of this mess.  I hope you enjoyed them.  At least Alan Ladd is super cute in it, and he gets a fair bit to do, too!

Either this movie is in the public domain, or it's so nonsensical that no one cares to protect it, because you can watch it on YouTube with no problem.  Just in case you like movies that make no sense!  Or you want to see a prototype of Alan Ladd's tough-but-actually-nice-inside characters.

This has been my contribution to the Second Annual Favorite Stars in B Movies Blogathon hosted by Films from Beyond the Time Barrier.

Sunday, April 07, 2024

Forgiveness vs. Vengeance: "Ben-Hur" (1959)

When I was young, Ben-Hur (1959) was one of my top ten favorite movies. As a child, I enjoyed the spectacle of big set pieces like the sea battle and the chariot race, but when I moved into my teens, I began to understand the themes and character arcs more. While it’s slipped down a few notches over the past couple of decades, it’s still one of my absolute favorites, a film I don’t have to be “in the mood” for— I can enjoy it any time. And every time I watch it, I find new nuances, new layers, new depths to the story and the characters. 

Ben-Hur tells the story of a wealthy Jewish man named Judah Ben-Hur, sometimes referred to as “the prince of Hur” because he’s so rich and powerful. Around the year 30 AD, Judah’s childhood best friend, Messala, returns home after years fighting with the Roman army. Now a mighty tribune, he wants Judah to help him quiet the unrest in the area, and help Rome govern Judea peacefully. This would mean informing on any troublemakers Judah might know about. Judah refuses, Messala leaves in a huff, and the next thing you know, he’s framing Judah for attempting to assassinate the Roman governor. 

Judah gets sent to the galleys as a slave without a trial, and his mother and sister are thrown into prison. His wealth is confiscated, his servants tortured for information about his activities, and his entire life is ruined. Or so you’d think. But Judah rises from this defeat to become even more powerful than before, and grinds his former friend Messala into the dust to repay him for what he did to Judah and his family. 

Revenge is obviously a huge theme in Ben-Hur. Messala has revenge on Judah for his refusal to help; and Judah has revenge on Messala for destroying the Hur family. The story could have ended there, Judah triumphant over his enemy, but it goes on to show how focusing on vengeance can hollow a person out, leaving them empty and confused after they have gotten their revenge. With Messala gone, Judah is purposeless, vacant, his soul eaten away by the hatred he’d harbored for so many years. 

Into this void come the words of a young rabbi, someone Judah’s one-time slave Esther has started following. This rabbi, or teacher, is named Jesus, and he teaches that people should forgive those who wrong them, should love their enemies, and should leave vengeance to God. Judah has had his revenge and found it bitter, and the rest of the film deals with the question of whether it’s possible for him to forgive those who did him wrong, even the dead Messala, and to forgive himself for his actions as well. 

The movie is based on a book by General Lew Wallace, who had served under General Ulysses S. Grant during the American Civil War. Wallace wrote Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ in the 1870s, finishing it while he was Governor of New Mexico and submitting it for publication in 1880. He began writing it after having a debate with a friend about Christianity. Wallace realized how little he knew about Christianity or the history of Christ’s life, and began to do research into that time period. It eventually led to his fleshing out a short story he’d previously written about the journey of the Magi. 

By focusing on a fictional character the same age as Christ, from the same area of the country, Wallace was able to impart historical detail to his readers about the world Christ lived in without fictionalizing the Biblical account of His life. I think Wallace’s experiences living in a country trying to knit itself back together after a civil war must have informed his decision to make the story revolve around two former friends who become bitter enemies. The lesson of finding peace through forgiveness would have resonated with the readers of the day, who were struggling with similar issues. In today’s fractured world, its message is equally poignant. 

When I was a kid, I loved Ben-Hur‘s epic excitement. When I got a bit older, I valued its excellent story-telling and character development. But now, it’s the themes of forgiveness versus vengeance that resonate with me. Who knows—in another ten or twenty years, this story might mean even more to me! In the meantime, I think I’ll watch it a few more times.

(This post originally appeared in the March/April 2015 issue of Femnista magazine.)