Saturday, March 22, 2008

Jack M. Bickham

TOR Hardcover
I've been in a sentimental mood recently; the past year or so. I've been reading, and rereading in some cases, a good deal of fiction from my youth. Most of it is from the late-Eighties and early-Nineties. A few of the writers I've revisited had an impact on what I thought--particularly in my youth--about politics, life, and the world. And it's fun to revisit my younger, more naïve, and somewhat different self. It's also terrific that most of what I read then still holds up pretty well now.

I've shared a few of the writers on this blog--guys like J.C. Pollock and Harry Arnston--but there have been others I haven't. And the one at the top of my list is Jack M. Bickham. Mr. Bickham wrote with a stripped-down simplicity that didn't erode the essentials, but added to them--his Brad Smith novels had as much meaning as any novel I've ever read, but they also told a terrific and exhilarating story.

Jack Bickham published something like 75 novels and I've enjoyed all that I've read, but the work he produced in the last ten years of his life was special. In 1989 he published the first novel to feature aging tennis pro and sometime spy Brad Smith. It's title: Tie Breaker. He wrote five more before the series came to an end with The Davis Cup Conspiracy, and there isn't a month that goes by that I don't at least think about one of these novels; a situation, a phrase, a philosophical ideal, or maybe just the permeating sadness of an aging athlete. Damn I love those novels.

And it doesn't end there. Jack Bickham wrote a handful of stand alone novels that still sit on my bookshelf. Day Seven is part science fiction, and all thriller. It's a Space Shuttle story that involves Mars, hijackers, and adventure that could keep an action junkie satisfied for days. Ariel is another one. It's about artificial intelligence, human error, and responsibility. The Regensburg Legacy is an action story that has enough twists and turns to keep the most jaded reader wondering what's happening, and why.

If there was one writer I could magically bring back into print it would be Mr. Bickham. I would start with his amazing Brad Smith novels and move on down the list until I hit a little ACE Double Mystery he wrote in the 1950s called Dally with a Deadly Doll. And the cool thing, or maybe sad, depending on ones viewpoint, is I would read them all again. And you should to. If you haven't read Jack Bickham find a copy of something he wrote and read it.

A Note.
Jack Bickham published under various pseudonyms including John Miles, Jeff Clinton, and Arthur Williams. And I'm sure many others. He published in several genres; western, mystery, thriller, and others. At least two of his novels were made into feature films including The Apple Dumpling Gang, and Baker's Hawk. And while I enjoy his later work the most, I haven't ran into a Bickham novel I didn't like.

Other Posts about Jack Bickham:

1.  Visual Pulp: The Ace Double Titles of Jack Bickham
2.  THE USELESS GUN by Jack M. Bickham
3.  Jack M. Bickham's Black Bat Mystery Titles


Talitha Doll said...

Thanks for your wonderful post about Jack M. Bickham. I am working on a post about my favourite books about writing (to appear this weekend) and will link to this piece for background info about him. Your blog looks very interesting and I look forward to exploring it some more.
Best wishes, Talitha The Do’s and Don’ts of Novel Writing
NOW! DON’T: Use character names that sound the same Am I THAT Different?
NOW! Is it about me? Letters From iWorld
NOW! To: The Scribes of the Land of Wise

Anonymous said...

I studied under Jack Bickham back in the mid-70's at the University of Oklahoma, and he had an impact on me that continues to this day. While he had a very practical approach to the craft of writing (is it going to sell?), he encouraged writing for enjoyment's sake. You can't excel at something you don't have a passion about. He was a great teacher, and I've read many of his books repeatedly!

kitkate :) said...

Hi. I'm also doing a review on Jack M. Bickham's Writing and Selling Your Novel. Indeed, he's a great writer. His style of writing is very different from other books I've read. He discusses things lightly so lessons are grasped easily but he makes sure that it will leave one's thoughts drifting, imagining of what to write. :)

Continue making reviews...
Hm... have you tried reading Michael Crichton books? He's my favorite.
Maybe when I find time, I'll create my own blog site too and do some reviews..hope you also pay some visits... :)

More power!

Anonymous said...

I bought a copy of 'Baker's Hawk' in French many years ago as my first attempt at reading a full story in that language - it was graded as a children's book so I thought it would be a suitable starter. What I wasn't prepared for was the quality of the writing, its authenticity and the strength of the storyline, which remain with me 30 years later. It was obvious that in that genre, Bickham was head and shoulders above his competition.

Unknown said...

I'm glad I found your blog. I am a fledgling writer wannabe. I have all of Jacks reference books. I am blown away with what he teaches. One could not guess that there is so much to learn about writing fiction. And Jack knows all the little tricks. Be sure to read every one of his "How to write" books and you will be a better writer.

good luck, Ron

Anonymous said...

My favorite Jack Bickham book was "All the Days were Summer." It was in the same genre as Baker's Hawk or I Still Dream About Columbus. All were "coming of age" books and I loved them all. (Dinah, Blow Your Horn was another good one.)

Anonymous said...

I am now reading Jack's 'Writing the Short Story', and out of the other fiction books I've purchased,it's the one of the few which actually explain the creative process step-by-step. Am halfway through my first short story using his'Map' method. It's awesome :D

Anonymous said...

Jack's 'How to write the short story' is one of the few books on fiction writing which I've read so far that actually takes you through a step-by-step process,insteading of just explaining tips in the various elements of fiction. PLowing through my first story with his 'Map' method,which is awesome :)

Kendra said...

Thank you for sharing your thought and insights into Jack's writing. Jack is/was my grandpa (Papa) and it is always interesting to hear other people's thoughts on him as a teacher and author.

Ben Boulden said...


It is wonderful to hear from you. Your grandfather was a fantastic writer whose work is as interesting, and entertaining today as it was when it was written.