Latest News:
April 29, 2017: Website updated and revised.
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Clock Flower

Also known as a chrysanthemumometer.

Also known as a chrysanthemumometer.

Sunshine Sunflower Deep Sea Green

Now it's impossible for a sunflower to live underwater.

Now it’s impossible for a sunflower to live underwater.

Watching the sunrise from the bottom of the deep blue sea. A sunflower that’s experienced.

New Website Update!

I salute my shiny new website.

I salute my shiny new website.

 

Features a completely current bibliography plus more Mellon lit on the home page you can order with a single click:

www.mellonwritesagain.com

 

Politely Polytheistic Paganism

He doesn't want to make too much of a point about it. He's already got two.

He doesn’t want to make too much of a point about it. He’s already got two.

Burn a raw deer haunch (hide and all) on your backyard grill and maybe he’ll leave you alone. You never know with these Keltic types, though. Green of hue and wild in nature, forever borne where whimsy carries, sometimes kind, more often savage, no different than the wild wind and storms that once blew through trees hewn long ago.

Hell Bent For Stardom: Barbara Stanwyck, Steel True

Determined to reach her goal despite terrible obstacles.

Determined to reach her goal despite terrible obstacles.

While I’ve always been a big Old Hollywood fan from my youth, it’s only comparatively recently that I’ve come to appreciate some of the real greats of the Silver Age. Two male actors who serve as good examples of that are Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy. I was simply too fascinated by Bogart as a kid to really pay any attention to them.

The best female example of this is Barbara Stanwyck. While she was an enduring presence in the pop culture world, probably most familiar to me from the long-running The Big Valley, popular during the antediluvian times of my youth, I didn’t really appreciate her magnificent qualities as an actress. It was only when I recently saw her films that I understood her range and force, from wonderfully timed comic performances in Xmas In Connecticut and The Lady Eve to her emotional, dramatic tours de force in such noir thrillers as Double Indemnity and The Strange Love Of Martha Ivers. I consider Barbara Stanwyck a powerful, emotional actress who was able to project personality and purpose way and above her diminutive, slight frame.

I therefore read Victoria Wilson’s exhaustively researched, lengthy biography of Stanwyck with a great deal of interest and pleasure. Stanwyck had a harrowing childhood, basically abandoned to a large extent at an early age after her mother’s tragic death, forced to live in different strangers’ homes with periodic interventions by her much older sisters, busy with their own lives and children. Like something from a corny old movie or play, she got into show business in emulation of her older sisters, first working as a dancer and then getting a big break with a small part as an actress where she excelled. She worked her way up through persistence, talent, and a hard boiled willingness to do what it took to succeed, to include dispensing sexual favors. Wilson describes in intricate detail how Stanwyck met her first husband, Frank Fay, a wildly successful vaudevillian considered by many to be the man who invented stand up comedy. Fay was the one who brought Stanwyck to Hollywood, figuring he’d conquer films just like he had Broadway. Reality intervened and Fay reacted by crawling into a bottle all while Stanwyck became increasingly more successful, scoring in one film after another, until her star far outshone his. Wilson describes Fay’s fights with Stanwyck, his increasing alcoholism and insane behavior, and, most unforgivable of all, his abuse of their adopted son Dion.

Wilson relates all these distasteful bits along with thumbnail portraits of other people in Stanwyck’s life both personal and professional, some of them highly informative, most notably about Robert Taylor, Stanwyck’s second husband. Rather than take a narrow gauge approach and focus on the personal detail of Stanwyck’s life, Wilson tries to give a broad picture, to show the actress’s life and career in the context of the United States at the turn of the 20th Century as it entered an era of unprecedented change and upheaval. Stanwyck was very much a part of that change, staking out a career for herself in the still young film industry and making a tremendous go of it. She always worked her hardest, gave nothing less than a hundred percent, walked on set knowing all her lines and everybody else’s too, and made a point of knowing everyone on the crew. Her dedication, professionalism, and talent shine through in every film she made, even pedestrian oaters.

I recommend this book highly, but with one caveat. Like I wrote before, it is lengthy, almost nine hundred pages worth and might prove to be a tough slog for someone who’s not really all that interested in so much information. I kind of nodded off myself when the author extensively described the stables Stanwyck had built on a horse farm. Still, if you’re a real old film buff, I think you’ll find that the trek is worth it.

https://www.amazon.com/Life-Barbara-Stanwyck-Steel-True-1907-1940/dp/0684831686/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1491358076&sr=8-1&keywords=barbara+stanwyck+steel+true

Altered Europa Interview

A votre service, mesdames et messieurs.

A votre service, mesdames et messieurs.

In connection with Altered Europa release, my interview with Martin T. Ingham, publisher of Martinus Press, in which I opine on writing and how miserable it is, Waterloo, wormholes, and how much I like kung fu flicks:

http://martiningham.blogspot.com/2017/03/altered-europa-interview-mark-mellon.html

The Frights Of Spring

Within A Budding Martini Grove

Within A Budding Martini Grove

Olives in a dirty martini are often pregnant with meaning.

“Altered Europa” Now Out On Kindle

Now available to be read for a mere $2.99!

Now available to be read for a mere $2.99!

Altered Europa, the alternative history anthology from Martinus Press, is now available for perusal on Kindle. Those sufficiently familiar with modern technology to actually employ one of these devices (among whose number this alte kokker is sadly not included) can now avail themselves and learn the answers to such riddles as: What if Rome never fell? What if the USSR sent a man to Mars? Most importantly, what if Napoleon had a steam powered ram to attack the Royal Navy? You can only learn the answers to these burning, urgent questions by reading Altered Europa.

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B01NC2SQ0F/ref=pe_1274200_231471170_em_1p_0_ti

“The North Water” by Ian McGuire

Grueling work in a frozen hell for little pay with death always in the offing. Gee, how could anyone resist a prospect like that?

Grueling work in a frozen hell for little pay with death always in the offing. Gee, how could anyone resist a prospect like that?

I looked forward to reading this novel quite a bit due to its subject and the warm critical reviews it received. Although I’m the world’s cruddiest sailor (stir up the water in a bathtub and I’ll get seasick), sagas of grueling sea voyages during the age of sail have always fascinated me. The Hornblower series delighted me as a child and I also got a big kick out of Nordhoff and Hall’s Mutiny On The Bounty. I also read Moby Dick when I was about fifteen and even went through the long, nonfiction section of the novel where Melville described the 19th-Century whaling industry in fascinating detail (to me anyway). More recently, I enjoyed reading Nigel Cliff’s account of Vasco Da Gama’s historic circumnavigation of the African continent.

So with all that nautical lit background, I read McGuire’s North Water with much anticipation. While I think that the work is a solid piece of literature, I do have a few criticisms. Let’s deal with the positive aspects first. McGuire has a deep understanding and knowledge of the historical period about which he writes, mid-19th Century Great Britain. At the same time, he never falls prey to one of the worst temptations a historical novelist must deal with, the proclivity to include entirely too much information about a particular era to the detriment of the novel’s plot. His prose is also solid and he’s a proficient enough writer to show character rather than tell, that is, he lets the characters’ actions bring out their true natures. McGuire also has a gift for generating suspense. He effectively involves the reader in the desperate, repeated dangers faced by ordinary seamen aboard a whaling ship and does a vivid job of portraying the terrifying, body and soul destroying rigors involved in survival in an Arctic environment. McGuire is also plainly aware of the literary traditions that he works within, paying indirect tribute to the previously cited Moby Dick.

At the same time, I must say I thought the author’s treatment of his subject was rather cursory. The novel is pretty short, not much more than two hundred and fifty pages. While that leaves plenty of room to write a taut, effective narrative, it still seems rather puzzling (and dissatisfying) to have an author take on traditional, old fashioned themes (men at sea, the clash between good and evil, the essential nature of human character) and not deal with it at the magisterial, comprehensive, Olympian level of literature employed by such 19th Century masters as Hugo and Dickens. For example, while I think that the author does a good job of tracing the protagonist’s evolution from a defeated, ineffectual sad sack to a tough, determined man of the world, it seems to me that this could have been done more believably and interestingly if McGuire had allowed himself more scope.

A last point of criticism: the dichotomy between the novel’s hero, Patrick Sumner, and its villain, the harpoonist Henry Drax, often seems overly stark. While Sumner is portrayed as weak, fallible, and full of doubt, Drax is shown as always certain, in fact apparently superhuman, much like the line from the Yeats poem: “And the best lack all conviction while the worst are filled with a passionate intensity.” The author does seem to intimate at several times during the course of the novel that Drax is somehow close to immortal, not subject to the regular rules of reality that usually trip up and destroy human beings. Without trying to give anything away to anyone who hasn’t read the novel, the sudden reversal of this tension at the end of the novel was rather jarring to me and detracted from the book’s persuasiveness as a work of fiction.

Despite these criticisms, I still think that The North Water is a well written, literary adventure novel that merits reading. I recommend it to anyone interested in sea literature.

https://www.amazon.com/North-Water-Novel-Ian-McGuire/dp/125011814X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1488826246&sr=8-1&keywords=the+north+water

Ponderosa Antho Now Out On Kindle!

Noted genius, Eufimus T. Broadsnatch, inventor of a four legged, steam driven, gigantic horse.

Noted genius, Eufimus T. Broadsnatch, inventor of a four legged, steam driven, gigantic horse.

Principia Ponderosa, the Weird Western/slipstream anthology from Third Flatiron, is now available on Kindle through Amazon for the very low price of $3.99. The anthology features seventeen stories that combine elements of the Western with other literary genres, including steampunk, fantasy, occult, and horror (my story definitely belongs in the steampunk category). That story is The Great Man’s Iron Horse in which the spirit of the Magnificent Curmudgeon, W.C. Fields, once again fulminates for your amusement. Everyone should purchase the antho for their reading pleasure. You will definitely enjoy it. As for my immediately preceding puffery, let me close with an appropriate Fieldsian quote:

“You can fool some of the people some of the time — and that’s enough to make a decent living.”

Anyone interested in reading the antho may click on the link below:

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01MYEJ89T

The anthology's cover

The anthology’s cover