Tuesday, May 12, 2015

A FIGHTER’S TRAIL TO THE ALASKAN GOLD RUSH

A FIGHTER’S TRAIL TO THE ALASKAN GOLD RUSH

This week Duane Spurlock gives us his take on writing the latest Fight Card release, Fighting Alaska…1900 Alaska…Gold, greed, and gamblers – a dangerous combination in a gold rush boomtown. Itinerant boxer Jean St. Vrain has a lifetime of rootless wandering behind him and ten years of knuckle-busting boxing, bar bouncing, and disillusionment. He wants to call quits to the fight game, but he needs a way out. Joining a mob of desperate men heading for the Alaskan gold fields, Jean is caught between crooked judges, crooked businessmen, a soiled dove, and infamous gunman Wyatt Earp and his cronies. With his future looking as harsh as the Alaskan landscape, Jean has one chance left – fight again.

DUANE SPURLOCK

Fighting Alaska came to be written thanks to several influences, which I can boil down to four: magazine articles, North Western pulp fiction, histories of the American Wild West, and movies.

First and simplest: Esquire introduced me to boxing.

Oh, I knew boxing was there – fights were broadcast on TV, and I recall the topics of Cassius Clay changing his name to Muhammad Ali and then his refusing to support the Vietnam War being loudly discussed whenever the aunts and uncles gathered during the period otherwise known as The Summer of Love. But our family was a baseball family. My father would come home Saturday afternoons for a late lunch so he could watch some of the Major League Baseball Game of the Week broadcast before returning to work. 

During the evenings, he would sit in the dark on the picnic table and smoke half a cigar while listening to a game – usually the Braves, sometimes the Cardinals – on a transistor radio. After the game he would save the second half of his cigar in a tray on top of the water heater for a future game. He encouraged me to play baseball starting in the coach-pitch leagues at school starting in the summer before fifth grade. My interest in the game has continued since then.

But boxing was just something outside my ken. The closest thing to boxing I encountered was watching the weekend broadcasts of Nashville wrestling – the names and dynamics weren’t so different from the entertainment I got from reading comic books or watching Tarzan movies (which typically followed the wrestling matches).

Until I opened the Super Sports issue of Esquire, dated October 1974.

It was in a slithery stack of glossy magazines – Sports Afield, Field & Stream, Boys’ Life – at the barber shop. It was a three-chair shop, but I’d only ever seen two chairs used, one by the owner, one by whomever was his employee at the time. I’d finally outgrown the mandatory buzz cut and had been allowed to grow my hair long enough to comb it with a part. Clearly this was an auspicious sign for expanding my sporting horizons beyond the baseball diamond. 

Among essays on baseball, basketball, and football, the Super Sports issue carried only a two-page spread devoted to boxing, and fewer than a dozen words, but the two photographs by Pierre Houles represented more than two thousand verbs, nouns, or adjectives: under a hyperbolic headline on page 144, Actual Size!, was a photo of George Foreman’s left fist facing a photo of Muhammad Ali’s right fist on page 145. Both were wrapped in tape. I’m sure my eyes popped like tree galls. I was flabbergasted, gob smacked, floored. Each of those clenched hands was bigger than my head!

Such was my introduction to boxing.

Like most of the rest of the country, I was swept along in the mass popularity of boxing launched by the success of the 1976 Olympic boxing team and its remarkable lineup of Sugar Ray Leonard, Leon and Michael Spinks, Howard Davis, Jr., Leo Randolph, Charles Mooney and John Tate. Even after that boom dwindled as those fighters rolled through their professional careers, I sought out and read about boxing by writers like A.J. Liebling and Hugh Fullerton – the latter better known for his investigation of the 1919 Black Sox scandal. 

These pursuits eventually led me to an article in the February 1998 issue of Vanity Fair, The Outlaw Champ by Nick Tosches, which he expanded into my favorite nonfiction book on boxing, The Devil and Sonny Liston (also published later under Tosches’ original title, Night Train).

Second influence: The Wild West.

I’ve been a reader of westerns since I discovered a copy of Zane Grey’s The Lone Star Ranger at the local library. I shared a name with its protagonist – Buck Duane – and with a last name like Spurlock, I seemed destined to be interested in cowboys. Western fiction eventually led me to North Western fiction – a subgenre exploited by Jack London, James Oliver Curwood, Jules Verne, Frederick Faust (Max Brand), Ryerson Johnson, James Hendryx, Rex Beach and others. These authors anchored the plots for most of their writing in this field with the Yukon and Alaska gold rush. The extremes of the natural world in this setting – the terrible cold, snow and ice, the rugged geography serving as a barrier between the gold and men’s desire to possess it – required the writers to push their characters to the limits of their physical and mental endurance. In cases, to survive, characters had to exceed those limits. 

Hemingway’s grace under pressure rarely appears in these North Western narratives. Characters go to the brink and jump into the abyss. This quality is part of what makes North Western stories appealing to me – men and women must survive in what can only be described as an alien landscape…Alien, yet still located on Earth…and these people willingly put themselves into this struggle against Nature and against human nature.

My interest in the Wild West, and thence to North Western fiction, led to the third influence on Fighting Alaska: historical studies.

I’ve read a lot of books on Wild West history, and my stories are usually informed by some element of my reading. The University of Nebraska’s Bison Books imprint is a favorite resource for me.

One of the most popular topics for historians and readers in this period is, not surprisingly, the gunfight at the OK Corral. A remarkable number of novels and movies have used this event as a dramatic focus in their narratives. The people involved were all, in one fashion or another, fascinating. As a result, I’ve read a lot of books about Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday.

The mainstream knowledge about Earp focuses on Tombstone and its famous gunfight. But Wyatt Earp had quite a career and life beyond that 1881 shootout. And his time in Alaska during its gold rush aligns well with my interest in North West fiction and its natural (for me, at least) extension to North West history. The historical record of actual people’s experiences in the Yukon and Klondike are, in many cases, far more dramatic and violent than the fictional narratives. For example, the audacity of federal judge Arthur Noyes’ using the law to jump mining claims in Nome, Alaska, sounds more like melodrama than truth. But the North West at that time was just a colder version of the wide-open Wild West towns pictured in many, many films.

Which brings me to the fourth influence on Fighting Alaska: movies.

The obvious Hollywood productions aren’t on this list – Raging Bull, Rocky, and so forth. Instead, the movies that stuck in my mind for years and that colored Fighting Alaska in some fashion were lesser-known works that still deserve viewing: Emperor of the North (1973) and Hard Times (1975). Both films feature excellent character actors famous for their tough-guy roles – Lee Marvin, Ernest Borgnine and Keith Carradine in the former, and Charles Bronson and James Coburn in the latter. 

Charles Bronson’s character in Hard Times, Chaney, is a reluctant, but effective, bare-knuckles fighter who certainly influenced the character of Jean St. Vrain in Fighting Alaska. But instead of Bronson, it was a grizzled Randolph Scott I pictured in my mind’s eye as the physical model for St. Vrain – the rough-featured Scott of those western films he made with Budd Boetticher in the late 1950s.

All these ingredients simmered in my head until the idea for Fighting Alaska bubbled up – a tale about a boxer in the North Western gold rush who meets Wyatt Earp. The Fight Card crew certainly has my thanks for providing an outlet for these characters and situations.
 

Monday, May 11, 2015

COMING SOON ~ FIGHT CARD: FIGHTING ALASKA

COMING SOON ~ FIGHT CARD: FIGHTING ALASKA

DUANE SPURLOCK WRITING AS JACK TUNNEY

COVER: CARL YONDER

FIGHT CARD: FIGHTING ALASKA

1900 Alaska…Gold, greed, and gamblers – a dangerous combination in a gold rush boomtown. Itinerant boxer Jean St. Vrain has a lifetime of rootless wandering behind him and ten years of knuckle-busting boxing, bar bouncing, and disillusionment. He wants to call quits to the fight game, but he needs a way out. Joining a mob of desperate men heading for the Alaskan gold fields, Jean is caught between crooked judges, crooked businessmen, a soiled dove, and infamous gunman Wyatt Earp and his cronies. With his future looking as harsh as the Alaskan landscape, Jean has one chance left – fight again.

Monday, April 6, 2015

FISTS OF IRON: ROUND 4

FISTS OF IRON: ROUND 4

The REH Foundation Press is proud to present Fists of Iron: Round 4, the final volume of a four-volume series presenting the Collected Boxing Fiction of Robert E. Howard

This volume features the collected Kid Allison stories and measures in at 347 pages (plus introductory material). It is printed in hardback with dust jacket, with the first printing limited to 200 copies, each individually numbered. Cover art by Tom Gianni and introduction by Mark Finn. 

FISTS OF IRON: ROUND 4

CONTENTS

Intro: “A Boy and His Dog” by Mark Finn

KID ALLISON

The Man with the Mystery Mitts
Kid Galahad
College Socks
The Wild Cat and the Star
Fighting Nerves (Kid Allison version)
 
MIKE DORGAN AND BILL MCGLORY
 
The House of Peril
One Shanghai Night
The Tomb of the Dragon

OTHER TALES

The Sign of the Snake
The Fighting Fury
Fighting Nerves (Jim O’Donnel version)
Fists of the Desert
Fists of the Revolution

MISCELLANEA

The Jinx
Fistic Psychology
The Drawing Card
Untitled fragment (“Huh,” I was so . . .)
A Tough Nut to Crack (Allison version)
A Tough Nut to Crack (Clarney version)
One Shanghai Night – synopsis
Untitled notes (Knute Hansen)
The Lord of the Ring, (part 4), by Patrice Louinet

I JUST RECEIVED MY COPY AND AM DELIGHTED TO HAVE THE COMPLETE SERIES OF THESE BEAUTIFUL TOMES …

Saturday, March 7, 2015

THE TRADITION CONTINUES!

THE TRADITION CONTINUES!

FIGHT CARD: SHERLOCK HOLMES...

E-BOOK

 
PAPERBACK
 

 
 

Thursday, March 5, 2015

NOW AVAILABLE IN PAPERBACK!

NOW AVAILABLE IN PAPERBACK

FIGHT CARD SHERLOCK HOLMES: BLOOD TO THE BONE

AUTHOR: ANDREW SALMON
COVER: MIKE FYLES
BOOK DESIGN: DAVID FOSTER

FIGHT CARD SHERLOCK HOLMES: BLOOD TO THE BONE

Deptford, England, 1888 … Richard Stokes – one half of a tag-team carnival boxing duo – has vanished, leaving his loving wife, pugilist Eby Stokes, homeless and penniless with only questions and no answers. A mutual friend asks Holmes to look into the disappearance.

Watson believes the matter to be a common case of abandonment, and Holmes’ interest merely an excuse to try his hand in the boxing booths of a visiting circus. However, when they are almost killed, Holmes and Watson’s only remaining clue to Stokes disappearance harkens back to a boxing club disbanded in shame more than sixty years earlier. 

Why did Stokes abandon his wife? What possible significance could the long extinct Pugilistic Club have in the matter? Who is behind the fire that almost took the lives of Holmes and Watson?

Joining forces with Eby Stokes, Holmes and Watson are determined to find the answers. The kaleidoscope lights of the carnival hide many secrets, including a threat to the foundation of the British Empire.

The game's afoot and, this time, it's a matter of life and death in and out of the ring…



 

Monday, March 2, 2015

BSB REVIEW FIGHT CARD SHERLOCK HOLMES II

BSB REVIEW FIGHT CARD SHERLOCK HOLMES II

THE REVERED BAKER STREET BABES BLOG HAS ALSO GIVEN FIGHT CARD SHERLOCK HOLMES: BLOOD TO THE BONE A RAVE REVIEW ...


While Work Capitol was full of links to the Canon, Blood to the Bone refers more frequently to historical events of the 1880s, ending with a fictionalized explanation for one of the most famous photographs in history (which I will not name, as it would spoil the effect). I enjoyed the historical links and references very much, and loved the solution of the story, which reads almost like an action film – the images conjured up by Salmon’s words are that vivid.

But what sticks most about this story is the lady fighter who is written as a much more complex character than Doyle usually wrote his female characters. She is strong and vulnerable, loving and vengeful, independent and a team player, and she gets an ending very deserving of her character...

FOR THE FULL REVIEW CLICK HERE