Memory Lane: The Back Porch

Image result for images of screened-in porches

I do miss our old back porch. It wasn’t as fancy as the one in this picture. It was raised on cinderblocks with a crawlspace full of spiders underneath, and it had a nice glider on it, ideal for playing chess.

We played a lot of Monopoly on that porch, seated on the woven grass mat on the floor: perfect for a rainy summer day. In the summer I could leave my lizards out there. Or just lie down on the mat and read Rick Brant. And no trouble with mosquitoes, thanks to the screen.

Ah, paradise! I’m old enough to realize that paradise usually consists of simple things that don’t cost a lot. And if we had a porch now, a porch like our old porch, I could sit outside and write even if it was raining.

I remember my parents, aunts, and uncles all sitting on that porch, talking, laughing, smoking, just enjoying each other’s company.

I hope we have a porch in Heaven.

You’re all invited, if we do. Monopoly, anyone?

Idiot: New Nancy Drew Will Be ‘Diverse’

Vintage Nancy Drew–soon to be demolished by CBS

CBS is planning a new TV series, this one dedicated to making a shambles of the iconic girl detective of kid-lit, Nancy Drew.

According to one of the idiots running CBS, the new Nancy Drew–instead of being a gifted 16-year-old with quick wits, steady nerves, and her own roadster–will be a New York cop in her thirties. Oh, boy. But wait, there’s more!

Whatever else she winds up being, the new Nancy Drew will not be white. Blithered the idiot, “She is diverse.” ( )

Now what the dickens kind of English is that? An individual human being cannot be “diverse.” It’s impossible–unless this unhappy person is able to be several ethnicities at once, change colors like an octopus, and speak every other sentence in a different language. It’d be a great novelty, but it would also wear off fast.

Nancy Drew came along in the 1930s and has been delighting young readers–and some old ones!–ever since. So why can’t they leave her alone?

Because they can’t leave anything alone.

What next? The Hardy Boys as a pair of aging homosexuals? How about Rick Brant the pill-head? Or Tarzan played by Linda Hunt as a Chinese midget living in a gated retirement community in Marlboro, New Jersey?

Will no one defend Nancy Drew from the culture-killers at CBS?

Aging Your Characters

As my Bell Mountain books go on, I find myself forced to acknowledge the fact that my characters are getting older. It just snuck up on me. I remember when the kid who starred in Lassie had to leave the show because he was growing a mustache and talking like Steve Reeves.

Well, I’m stuck with it now, and my two original protagonists, Jack and Ellayne, are just going to have to keep on getting older until they grow up (if the series runs that long). I missed my chance to dodge the issue.

What are my options now?

1. Stay with all the original characters and let them age naturally–at the risk of losing a big part of my small audience. I could let them grow up physically while remaining completely immature, but I don’t think my publisher would like it.

2. Replace these kids with other young protagonists as needed. Yeah, that would work. Only I’m attached to my original characters and would hate to part with them. But yes, new kids are going to have to come along.

I missed my chance to go with characters who never age, no matter how many books wind up being in the series. There are a few ways of doing that.

In his “Rick Brant Science Adventure” series that ran for some 20 years, J.G. Blaine (aka Hal Goodwin) simply ignored the whole issue. Rick, Scotty, and Barbie remain teenagers throughout the entire series. In fact, none of the regular characters ages at all. And readers didn’t seem to mind. Same with the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew, come to think of it–teens forever.

When Agatha Christie first introduced Hercule Poirot to the reading public in 1920, in The Mysterious Affair at Styles, she presented him as a retiring police detective whose best days were behind him–a man of about 60. Little did she dream that she’d be writing about him for the next 50 years! She is said to have calculated that Poirot must have been some 130 years old when he finally died. While she was writing about him, she had to ignore the age issue. Again, the readers didn’t seem to mind.

Edgar Rice Burroughs tried to explain why his characters never seemed to age, not wanting anyone to remark that ERB’s need for money seemed to be as evergreen as Tarzan. So David Innes didn’t age because there was no means of telling time in Pellucidar, at the earth’s core. It would be hard to get around the treetops in a walker, so Tarzan didn’t age, either, and neither did his wife, Jane–the result of secret immortality pills invented by the Leopard Men. And John Carter of Virginia and Barsoon was just plain immortal: always was, no telling how or why.

I think I could have gotten away with not aging any of the Bell Mountain cast and crew, provided I’d stuck with it from the beginning. But it’s a decision the writer of a series has to make from the git-go.

Once the kids in your story start growing up, you really mustn’t try to make them stop.

When TV Personalities Spout Gibberish

Remember, back in 2011, there was a spate of TV reporters, live and on the air, uncontrollably spouting gibberish? ( ) The most famous victim of this mysterious affliction, was Judge Judy, who aborted a taping session because all that would come out of her mouth was nonsense. Judge Judy was immediately taken to a hospital and thoroughly examined. Doctors were unable to find any cause for what had happened to her.

There’s video, all over the internet, of this happening to reporters in and out of the studio–all of it at roughly the same time. Various explanations came and went. Reporter was having a mini-stroke; about to have a stroke; a mild epileptic seizure; some rare kind of migraine. None of these stuck. A few commenters suggested that someone was doing this on purpose, using experimental technology to interfere with the victim’s ability to function mentally. That didn’t stick, either.

So yesterday I found myself reading a novel in which the members of a scientific team working on a top-secret missile project, one by one become unable to talk anything but gibberish. Naturally I thought of that spate of on-air gibbering in 2011.

The book was written in 1957: The Electronic Mind Reader, a Rick Brant Science Adventure by John G. Blaine, the pen name for Hal Goodwin.

Goodwin, who during his career worked for just about every government agency you can think of, was on the cutting edge of his era’s technology. His Rick Brant books are full of insights into the electronics wizardry of the time–which was a lot more sophisticated than you might think.

The point is, Hal Goodwin was very well-informed and knew what he was talking about. In 1957 he described something that we didn’t see until 2011. I haven’t finished the book yet, so I don’t know how the bad guys made this happen–but what was Goodwin on to? I’m sure he wouldn’t have used his books to leak official secrets. But was there someone in 1957 who had found a way to foul up your brain by remote control? Imagine a hand-held device–something that maybe looks like a video camera–that gets pointed at you and suddenly you can’t express a coherent thought anymore. Would that be scary, or what?

Check out the link above, and watch the videos. Watch what happens to those poor reporters as they try to speak.


Three Cheers for ‘The Golden Skull’

Today I’d like to direct your attention to something really excellent, something from a better time–my favorite Rick Brant “science adventure,” The Golden Skull.

I used to read this book a lot when I was a kid. It was especially potent on a rainy summer afternoon. We had a grass rug on our back porch. I remember the subtle aroma of it, undetectable until you lay down on it to read on a rainy day. Aah…

Hal Goodwin, under the pen name of John Blaine, wrote The Golden Skull in 1954. In this outing, teenage pilot and electronics wiz kid Rick Brant and his friends go to the Philippines in search of a golden skull. Their interest is purely archeological, but the bad guys in the story want to grab the legendary artifact and sell it.

Certain writers today try to imitate these books, and other books of this class. It always seems to come off un-authentic. Maybe those writers aren’t old enough to remember the better world those books came from.

One of the things that made the Rick Brant series so wonderful–it started in 1947 with The Rocket’s Shadow–was that Hal Goodwin really knew what he was talking about. In his time, he worked for just about every government agency you could name, including NASA, and traveled all over the world. He was also an electronics expert, and intimately acquainted with the cutting-edge technology of his time.

He must have had a soft spot for the Philippines. The Golden Skull takes you there–inside the old walled city that’s inside the modern city of Manila, to the unique rice paddies terraced into the mountainsides of North Luzon… He was also great when it came to depicting Jersey shore towns that had seen better days.

Anyhow, this was a really cool book for me when I was twelve years old, and I think I like it even better now. Okay, so the prose is not Chaucer, or even F. Scott Fitzgerald. I don’t care. If you think I’d trade one Rick Brant book for the whole collected works of J.D. Salinger, Tom Wolfe, Toni Morrison or any quantity at all of College Perfessor Fiction, you’ve got another think coming.

You can get The Golden Skull via Alibris,, etc. It won’t cost you an arm and a leg; and the next time this summer that it rains on the weekend, you’ll be glad you have this book.

‘The Wailing Octopus’ Rocks

This is another “Rick Brant Electronic Adventure” by Hal Goodwin (writing as John Blaine), this one from 1956.

I love these books! For one thing, Hal Goodwin really knew what he was talking about. He worked for just about every government agency you could think of, and he visited all those exotic locales he wrote about. He was very much in the technological forefront of his time: without the electronics he knew and described, the hi-tech we take for granted in our own lives would never have come into existence.

But more than that, these books are out-and-out fun. Goodwin kept the series going for some 25 years, and yet Rick and Scotty and the other characters never age, never change. Sick and tired of getting recorded messages on the phone from your local cops, telling you there’s freezing rain outside and you’d better not drive? Had it up to here with judges and politicians redefining every aspect of human life?

Open one of these books and retreat back into a time of sense and sanity.

Today’s “Young Adult” fiction focuses on peer pressure, stupid school, and sex. Rick and Scotty are too busy solving crimes and having adventures in way-out places to bother with any of that. In this outing, they go down to the Caribbean for a little treasure-hunting, only to get caught in an undeclared war between the U.S. Navy and some very shady and desperate characters.

When this was written, scuba diving was cutting-edge new, Jacques Cousteau had yet to become a household name, and underwater adventure was a new thing for readers. Sea Hunt wouldn’t come along till  a few years later. Even so, you can learn quite a bit about scuba diving as you read this book. I learned something extremely alarming about scuba tanks, and am resolved to give them a wide berth in the future.

You can get this book via, used, not very expensive: this year it was one of my Christmas presents. In fact, I asked for it. And I’m glad I did.

Bring Back Rick Brant!

My anniversary present yesterday was Stairway to Danger (1952), a “Rick Brant Electronic Adventure” by Hal Goodwin writing as John Blaine.

This series was once the best of young readers’ fiction, from 1947 to 1968–24 books in all. Probably most of you have never heard of them. Well, it’s time you made their acquaintance.

In addition to writing really cool books, Hal Goodwin traveled to just about every place on the globe, serving with a variety of government agencies–the Civil Defense Administration, NASA, the U.S. Information Agency, and NOAA, to name a few. He was in on the major scientific breakthroughs of the era. Stairway to Danger, for instance, introduced Hal’s readers to cybernetics and transistors–not exactly household words in 1952!

Goodwin actually went to all the places he wrote about, and participated in all the science that he wrote about–so his Rick Brant books have a ring of authenticity you can’t find anywhere else.

Of course, they show their age, in that Rick, a teenager, lives in a stable family headed by a father whom he loves and respects. Imagine that! As big a fan as I am, I can’t say I’ve found any overtly religious content in these books. But I can’t imagine them doing a Christian reader any harm. And I can easily imagine today’s immoralists really hating them, which is probably a good reason to like them.

Hal Goodwin soon realized that these books gave him a format in which he could tell pretty much any kind of story he liked. So he let his imagination rip, and Rick and his friends wound up doing archeology in the back country of the Philippines, finding a lost city in the Himalayas, fighting a sinister case of barratry at the Jersey shore… (Oops, the computer has no idea what “barratry” is, so I’d better tell you: it’s insurance fraud on the high seas, and it can get nasty sometimes.)

You can get these books used and not very expensive via various online outlets, including and alibris.  Do yourself a favor, and pick one up today.