Yes, this is another new release announcement and also the announcement of a new series. But first, let’s travel back in time.
About twelve years ago, I sold several short stories to a magazine that billed itself as a successor to the men’s adventure magazines of the 1960s. Most of those stories were historicals featuring more or less scantily clad damsels in distress, while one was a take on the spicy pulps of the 1930s featuring The Silencer. All but one of those stories have been republished in e-book form since then.
At the time, I didn’t know much about the actual men’s adventure mags of the 1950s and 1960s beyond having seen a few cover scans on the internet. The editor of the mag in question helpfully sent me some scans of the interiors of actual men’s adventure mags. What is more, I also came across this art book which collects hundreds of covers of vintage men’s adventure magazines and also offers an overview about the genre, it’s development, prominent themes and subjects and what sort of content might be found inside. So I promptly bought the book.
The art book also included some statements by artists, models and writers who had worked on these magazines. And one of the writers said that quite often, the covers were painted before there was even a single word of content. And afterwards, a writer would be commissioned to write a story to match the cover. And considering some of the really lurid illustrations on those covers – rugged men being attacked by all sorts of likely and unlikely wildlife, while buxom maidens were being tortured and menaced by evil Nazis, evil Communists, evil biker gangs and evil beatniks (the last one doesn’t quite fit) – coming up with a story to match must have been quite a challenge.
Now I have never been able to resist a writing challenge, so I decided to set myself the same challenge as those men’s adventure magazine writers of old, namely to write a story to match the cover of one of those magazines. So I opened the art book at random, picked one of the covers shown and decided to write a story based on it.
Of course, a men’s adventure tale also needed a suitably manly and rugged hero and so I came up with “Two-Fisted” Todd Donovan, a freelance troubleshooter who travels around the globe to solve other people’s problems, provided the price is right. That was a vague enough description to allow for pretty much any kind of adventure from dealing with lethal wildlife via rescuing young women from dastardly villains to tangling with biker gangs and those really, really dangerous beatniks. And of course, it also had series potential.
So now I had my hero and an image to serve as inspiration, so I started writing. The story stalled out at about three-quarters through. So I set it aside. Then life and work got in the way and the magazine changed direction to become a sexy horror mag, depriving Two-Fisted Todd of his intended market. Eventually, self-publishing became a thing, making previously unviable stories suddenly viable again. And through it all, Todd was biding his time in some tropical paradise, a cool drink in his hand, waiting for another job.
Eventually, I started doing the July short story challenges and one of the things I used for inspiration was the art book of men’s adventure magazine covers, because both the lurid covers and ridiculous headlines made for excellent inspiration. And so several of the stories in Bug-Eyed Monsters and the Women Who Love Them as well as the story “Mock Duck” in Operation: Rubber Ducky were inspired by either headlines or illustrations in vintage men’s adventure mags that I found in that book.
Because the art book was such a gold mine of inspiration, I used it again for the 2017 July short story challenge. Only that this time, I didn’t even open it. I looked at the cover – a lurid illustration of a man and a woman tied up with scorpions crawling all over them – and thought, “Actually, that’s a great image. Why don’t I write a story for that one?”
Of course, I still needed a plot – beyond two people getting tied up and menaced by scorpions – and a hero to go with it. And this is where Todd Donovan suddenly emerged from the depths of my subconscious, cleared his throat and said, “That looks like a job for me.”
And since one of my rules for the July short story challenge is “Go along with whatever pops up, no matter how weird” I sent Todd on a quest to locate a missing scientist (who of course turns out to be a very attractive woman who also isn’t willing to take any macho crap neither from Todd nor the villain) only to find trouble in the form of a murderous druglord and his pit full of scorpions. I also decided to keep the story a period piece set in the mid 1960s.
With the July challenge stories, I normally try to keep research to a minimum. However, this story required some research beyond googling what coca plants actually look like. For starters, a pit full of deadly scorpions required a sufficiently lethal species of scorpion that made sense in the context and setting, since lethal scorpions that live in African or Asian deserts are not really suitable for a story that is set in a Latin American jungle. Finally, I did find a suitable species of scorpion, namely Tityus serrulatus, the Brazilian yellow scorpion, which even looks a little bit like the scorpions on the cover I used as inspiration. And since I had a pit full of lethal scorpions, I also needed to research what happens and what to do when someone gets stung.
That’s one of the benefits of writing. You learn all sorts of obscure facts when researching stories, which is why it baffles me when certain authors, usually of the literary persuasion, insist that they never do research, such as this dude who portrayed cellphones and e-mail as common in a novel set in the early 1990s and also relocated a town from Serbia to Croatia, which is kind of a massive faux pas, especially when the Balkan wars are one of the subjects of the novel.
Te next challenge was finding the right kind of cover for the story. Now the striking cover art of vintage men’s adventure magazines is largely impossible to recreate in the modern era without access to custom illustration. The look of men’s adventure paperbacks such as The Executioner or The Destroyer is also difficult to recreate in the modern era.
In the end, I combined influences from vintage paperbacks and German pulp magazines and found a stock photo of a young lady lying in the grass in clothes that fit both the description in the story and that also looked suitably vintage (too modern clothing and make-up is a curse when browsing stock photos). Of course, there were no scorpions, so I had to photoshop some in. Next came the typography, inspired by looking at the kind of fonts used on actual vintage magazines and paperbacks of the era, and finally some photoshopped grit for that beat up paperback look.
Finally, do you remember that first Two-Fisted Todd story, the one I started and never finished? Well, in the wake of editing, proofing and publishing, I dug up that story again as well and found that what I’d written way back when still held up pretty well. What is more, I finished the story. It’s currently going through editing, so there will be at least one more Two-Fisted Todd adventure in the very near future. And then, who knows? After all, I have a big book full of artwork to serve as a potential inspiration for more adventures for Todd Donovan, freelance troubleshooter.
And for those of you who are not into retro pulp stuff, I also have more In Love and War stories coming up very soon (again, currently in editing) as well as at least one more Helen Shepherd Mystery as well as Murder in the Family 2 and After the End 2: More Stories of Life After the Apocalypse.
But for now, buckle up and follow Two-Fisted Todd Donovan into the jungle, as he faces…
The Crawling Death
1966. Freelance troubleshooter Todd Donovan is hired to locate Dr. Pat Turner, a biologist who has gone missing in the South American jungle. It seems like an easy job at first, but then Todd finds himself staring into the barrel of a gun.
Captured and taken to the jungle compound of the drug lord Durango, Todd finally meets up with Dr. Turner, who turns out to be not just a beautiful woman, but also Durango’s prisoner.
Durango is not the sort of man to leave potential witnesses alive. And so Todd and Dr. Pat Turner are soon facing a painful end in Durango’s pit of crawling death…
This is a short adventure story of approx. 5500 words or 20 pages in the style of the men’s adventure pulps of the 1960s.
Length: 5500 words
List price: 0.99 USD, EUR or GBP
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