Thursday, June 2, 2011

Guest Author: Henry Brown

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times...

Props to Mr. Dickens, but I'm actually referring to my first couple years in the a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne Division.

I'm not gonna go into the worst times, but some of the best times were, when I had a weekend pass from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, driving to the Crosscreek Mall in Fayetteville and hanging out for hours there at the bookstore/news stand just inside the entrance. Another favorite haunt was Ed McKay's Used Books set back off Yadkin Road. (Some time after Desert Storm it became a brightly lit, carefully manicured chain-type business, but I loved it when it was a hole-in-the-wall mom-and-pop shop.) What a smorgasboard of entertainment those were! Seems like, whatever kind of mood I was in, they had a novel or magazine that would fit it. It was like heaven just browsing through the bookshelves, pulling something down when the cover or title grabbed me, and thumbing through the pages. They had science fiction, fantasy, detective, western, espionage, and, of course, tons of military fiction. I also browsed comic books, graphic novels and magazines of diverse varieties. I didn't buy everything that interested me, but I bought more than I had time to read.

Window-shopping in those bookstores was a comforting ritual for me. It reminded me that there was a universe full of potential adventure out there. My love-hate relationship with the military wouldn't end for about a decade, but when book browsing at the Crosscreek Mall or Ed McKay's I already knew that I would not be a 30-year man (as I once assumed). What I wanted, more than anything, was to be involved in building part of that universe of potential adventure.

Window shopping at bookstores today is more depressing than comforting, to me. Sure, I've matured some, maybe my attention span has atrophied in the Digital Age, and I'm probably more picky now than back in the day...but there's just doggone little fiction that appeals to me anymore. Even the jacket blurbs seem to come off the same assembly-line, and fail to hold my interest.

I've identified at least part of the problem: Fiction, and perhaps publishing in general, has become female-dominated.

Now wait a minute--hold on. Drop your torches and pitchforks. I'm not bashing women, or romances, or chick-lit. I think it's great that women have plenty of reading choices. In fact, since the female population exceeds the male, it's only fair that more than half of all fiction is targeted towards women. But though men make up less than half the population, that doesn't make us non-existent. Judging by what's been published for almost two decades, you'd think we were all either illiterate or androgynous.

That's the way I see it. I'm a man's man. (I hope that old-fashioned description hasn't evolved in definition while I wasn't looking.) I prefer a big ol' greasy hamburger to a caviar dish, and my taste in books has been very similar. Sure, I enjoy Caesar salad now, too, and some of those fancy meals I can't pronounce, but sometimes I just gotta have red meat. I ain't gonna find it on the tofu-laden shelves of the local chain store--unless it's a reprint of something published long ago.

Some attribute this shortage of men's fiction to the fact that the reading male population has dwindled away to a fringe minority. Some, however, suspect that the cause and effect have been confused: Men read sparingly because not much being offered appeals to us any more. Of course there's factors like shrinking attention spans, tightening schedules, and creeping illiteracy, too.

There are exceptions to every generality, but the differences in male and female cognition are scientifically recognized and widely (I think) accepted. Maybe you’ve heard that old axiom about relationships: men offer love to receive sex; women offer sex to receive love. There’s some truth to that, on some level. It’s not too far of a leap from there to discern the differences in what women and men like to read: Men want action; women want emotion. Men want to score the winning touchdown; women want to study the patterns of refracted light on the frost covering the window in the dining room, remembering how the light reflected off something in their mother’s jewelry box much the same way 20 years ago... Push that out to the fringes and you have the mid-list “trash” fiction--for women, it’s bodice-rippers; for men, it’s action-adventure.

Genres such as military thrillers, paramilitary adventure, some war novels, post-apocalyptic adventure, westerns, and certain old-school sci-fi and sword & sorcery are placed under the "fiction for men" umbrella. Certainly there are women who read in these genres, just as there are men who read romances or watch soap operas; but in general, "fiction for men" is a pretty apt description. Of course, that genre heading has some negative connotations--in the past, men's fiction...particularly much of the paramilitary adventure from the '80s...was poorly written, formulaic, sexed-up, sometimes bigoted, and often just plain stupid. Unfortunately, every author writing in a genre under the "fiction for men" umbrella suffered guilt by association. That's why I've begun referring to male-oriented fiction (which is NOT poorly written, formulaic, sexed-up, sometimes bigoted, and often just plain stupid) as "dude-lit." Ha! Touche`!

I'm a man and like to do man stuff, read about man stuff, and write from the male perspective (though sometimes I broaden my horizons just a tad--as in Radical Times). So the indie author revolution is very exciting for me. There are great challenges for indie authors (like marketing), but there are also great opportunities. I have decided that the literary anarchy being visited upon us gives me a chance to spearhead a revival in dude-lit. I'm not the first or the only one writing it/reading it/reviewing it, and who knows if the revival will be successful or who will get the credit if it is...but I'm at least part of it...fighting for it.

My novel, Hell and Gone, is a military thriller about a team of Special-Operations veterans-turned-PMCs (Private Military Contractors) on a desperate mission to wrestle an atomic weapon away from a terrorist group. It's sort of a throwback to some of the military adventure fiction from the 1980s...but actually throws back even further, to the commando tales penned by authors like Alistair MacLean. It's available in e-book or paperback in all the major online bookstores (or you can have your local brick-and-mortar bookstore order it). The best place to get a feel for it is my website ( where there are links to buy, too, in whatever format you prefer. It's received a couple 4-star reviews, but all the rest have been 5-star. And yes, even female readers like it.

Virtual Pulp: Tales of High Adventure; Low Adventure, and Misadventure  is a throwback to the pulp adventure magazines of yesteryear, where authors like Robert E. Howard, Dashiell Hammett and Edgar Rice Borroughs got their start, and what inspired many of the first comic book heroes. It's approximately novel-length, but this first issue includes 5 different adventures in genres including fantasy, historical, a post-apocalyptic aviation adventure, and a fantasy satire with a retro-sci fi flavor. It has a page on my website, and a fan page on Facebook, too. It's available for all e-readers and in paperback.

In August 2010 I joined the blogosphere. Two fisted Blogger ( is where I review books and movies, and occasionally comment on sports, etc.

I haven't had much time to write, lately, but I've had some time to think, and I'll be making some changes in the near future. One of them underway now is my scrapping the idea of Virtual Pulp as a pulp periodical anthology. There will likely never be a Virtual Pulp #2. Instead, I'll be publishing my pulp tales as stand-alone titles for $0.99 apiece, under the Virtual Pulp imprint--similar to how Detective Comics became DC some 70 years ago.

Now the reader need not buy a "package deal." If they only like one of the genres I'm writing in, then they can read just those stories and not bother with the rest. Certain characters will appear in multiple titles, with their own continuity. For instance: The Bloodstained Defile should be available as a 99-cent ebook on Kindle within the next few days (Nook, Kobo and other formats to follow soon). Within a week or so The Gryphon of Tirshal, another heroic fantasy tale of the Honor Triad, should also be available as a 99-cent ebook, with more to follow. My post-apocalyptic aviation hero Rebble Rauser will also probably appear in more 99-cent adventures. I also have a couple of WWII series in mind as well as some sci-fi, westerns, and hard-boiled detective. Trouble is, I have a lot more ideas than I do time to flesh them out. It's just possible I may be bringing other authors on board to showcase their pulp fiction as well.

Not only will I be writing adventure, but living one, to some extent, in months and years to come. Feel free to look me up on Facebook and/or visit my blog or Hell and Gone website. I would love to hear from fellow lovers of literary adventure!



Evie said...

Fantastic guest post, Hank! I had a great time reading about your times in military and your window-shopping trips (I still do love that! I always say that I could grab a sleeping bag and camp out at Chapters! all I need is access to tons of books.. and perhaps some Starbucks coffee wouldn't hurt!)
"paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne Division" sounds so cool! Is that you on the picture? Bad-ass! :)

You know, I think I'm with you on this one.. The majority of writers these days are women and I kind of miss reading good manly novels! I haven't read all that many of them, but from my experience I can say I definitely prefer books written by men and from male character's perspective! There's just something less whiny and more kick-ass about those novels!

Thanks for the great guest post!

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