Meet the Blade Brigade: Holly West

This week I introduce you to some of the friends who helped with Blade of Dishonor. Part 2 of the trilogy, Devils and Dragons, is free on Kindle until the 16th. You can get Part 1: The War Comes Home for 99 cents here, and Part 3: The Shadow Shogun for $1.99 here. That’s a dollar savings off the omnibus edition (which collects all all 3 novellas for $3.99). And yes, it is available in Trade Paperback from bookstores and e-tailers. If you buy the trade on Amazon, you can get the Kindle version for 99 cents through the matchbook program.

But enough of that… meet Blade Brigadier Holly West!


Holly invited me to a writing circle comprised of herself, Josh Stallings, and Neliza Drew. Holly is the author of MISTRESS OF FORTUNE, a historical mystery set in 1600’s London, which will be published by Carina Press in February 2014. But you can pre-order it now. She is also a great friend and one hell of a writer.

Her husband Mick West is a hell of a swordsman… if you notice, he and Holly are properly holding a traditionally made katana in their photos. If I could feel pity, it would be for the ninja facing these two warriors…
mick west

Two-Ton Tommy and his criminal cohorts

I’m not a fan of Gatsby parties and all that, really. But when my favorite pub celebrated its 80th anniversary with a ’30s themed party, I spiffed myself up into my best and joined friends in joining the Cloverleaf Tavern‘s octogennial festivities. The Cloverleaf was opened by George Dorchak, Jr in 1933, after the repeal of Prohibition. It holds the first liquor license in the town of Caldwell, New Jersey, best known to outsiders as the town Tony Soprano lived in. 

I found the ‘Leaf when my Uncle Paul said he heard they had a good burger, back in ’98 or so. The burger was memorable enough that when I began dating my wife Firecracker, I took her there for a burger and a hefewiezen. And a romance was born. (Between us and the Cloverleaf). Now we are both Triple PhDs in their beer loyalty programs, which means every draft we order comes in that bucket in my hand they call a stein:

tommy fedora

They had a hand-typed menu that evening with 80 cent sliders and pigskins- pulled pork topped potato wedges- plus $8 Clo-Vermontster burgers (a maple infused burger with maple bacon, which was a tad odd, but tasty) chicken in a basket, fish ‘n chips, and five 80-cent brews: Ballantine, Schmidt’s, Piel’s, Carling Black Label and Pabst, I think… we didn’t get that far! My stein’s full of Sierra Nevada Northern Hemisphere IPA, great stuff. They also had a cigar roller on the patio, and I partook of a mild one. I haven’t smoked in years, but it felt right. Here are some photos of my friends Kim, Gabi, Mike and Dave hamming it up in their duds.





PS, my criminal nickname is a tip of the fedora to showboat boxer Two-Ton Tony Galento. One of these days I’ll write about him:


Comic Fusion Superhero Weekend

This Sunday I joined Duane Swierczynski, author of the Charlie Hardy novels, The Wheelman, and several comics including Birds of Prey, at the Comic Fusion Superhero Weekend benefit for SAFE in Hunterdon, organized by Amber Love.

Amber is a cosplayer, podcaster, interviewer, and writer, and she interviewed me on her Vodka O’Clock podcast a while back. She is an unstoppable force for charity and this weekend was no exception. SAFE in Hunterdon offers help and services to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, and Comic Fusion was overflowing with raffle donations of original comic art, books, prints, and goodies to support the cause.

Comic Fusion is a cool comics store in Flemington, lots of goodies and friendly proprietors. I’ll be making a visit again soon.

The cosplayers come out to draw the crowd and march to City Hall for a photo shoot. It was a blast, and here are some photos from the event.





my kind of driver

my kind of driver

Dessert First!


Sparky & Cowboy, c.1962, Danny Lyon

I love me some rockabilly. I grew up with boxes of 45s from the ’50s, my mom’s and my uncle’s,  with everything from silly novelty records like “The Old Philosopher,” rhythm and blues like Fats Domino and the Jive Bombers, to Hank and bluegrass, and the true kings of rock ‘n roll, Little Richard and Chuck Berry. My uncle Paul also ran a few taverns, and when they dumped the hit singles for the latest batch, he’d bring home a trunkful of everything from KISS, Creedence, to ’80s one hit wonders.

On the other hand, I didn’t hear the Beatles until I was in high school, which is perhaps why I don’t buy into the worship. Great band; they changed history, yes. But it was more as a function of marketing, if you ask me. Same with Elvis. Love the guy, especially his early Sun Records work. But they stood on the shoulders of giants, and we must never forget that. Both of them found early success covering the R&B records that few would play, due to fears of mixing the races. They became their own men sometime afterward, when success allowed it.

Her expression inspired a character. c.1963 Danny Lyon

So, it was with great relish that I wrote a story for an upcoming anthology entitled “Hoods, Hot Rods & Hellcats,” that my friend Chad Eagleton is putting together. I dug deep for this one, through old family stories and ’50s hot rod history, World War 2 realities and human frailty. It’s a long one, at least it is before Chad edits it, and I look forward to sharing it. I could title it “birth of a hellcat,” but for now, it’s called “Red Hot,” after this gem by Billy Lee Riley:

My Voyage to Italy

I just got back from a short vacation in Italy. The Firecracker and I were visiting friends in Napoli, home of the Camorra crime syndicate and the world’s greatest pizza. We took day trips to Pompeii, Rome and Capri and tried to smuggle home a water buffalo so we could make our own mozzarella di bufala, but customs wouldn’t allow it. We stayed in the suburb of Pozzuoli, where Sophia Loren was born and where St. Paul first arrived in Italy. I haven’t read or seen Gomorrah yet, but we were not robbed, molested or frightened. It’s a nice town with a lot of character and I suggest you visit.

The Blue Grotto, Capri

Vesuvius from Pompei

The prostitutes in Pompei had picture menus.

 Pompei is enormous and daunting and impossible to capture the scale of from the ground. It was amazing, and walking there all day whet the appetite for…

Pizza at Cipster in Pozzuoli.

 Local pizza joint in Pozzuoli run by a guy named Mario, they make a great pizza. I liked the one at Acqua e Farina as well.

Movie poster – a comedy about the “Malavita” or mob life

 Napoli has a reputation of being a rough criminal hell hole but we ran into no trouble. Cars get broken into a lot and the Camorra crime syndicate skims everywhere with a street tax, but you get that in Chicago too. Pozzuoli is where Sophia Loren was born. It has a sulphur smell from a vent of Vesuvius nearby but it was a charming tough locale that I enjoyed… but I didn’t have to drive!

 Random Capri photo. This guy is in a film by Michelangelo Antonioni, he just doesn’t know it yet.

The Green Grotto, Capri

The Love Hole, Capri

Looking down on the peons from Capri

 The Coliseum is amazing and enormous, even when crammed with tourists. We rebuild stadiums every 15 years. This one is 2000 years old and show me a bad seat.

One of the Four Fountains of Rome

The extent of the ruins in the Roman Forums

Detail of the Trevi Fountain. 

 The Trevi fountain at night is a madhouse. We dined at a lovely restaurant called That’s Amore, and despite the name, Italians eat there and the food is excellent. The best mozzarella di bufala of the trip, and I had an excellent linguini with tuna, capers, tomatoes. The pizza in Rome sucks compared to Napoli.

 The Pantheon was retooled by the Catholic church and they hold mass there. One day Athena will strike down the interlopers and Pluto will swallow them in the Underworld.

 The Fabricius bridge was built in A.D. 62 and still stands over the revolting green waters of the Tiber.

Trajan had a little winky.

An attempt at capturing the extent of Pompei

A white dog in Pompei. They are wild but friendly. I let one sniff my hand, pet his bony back and he licked my hand, for the salt I am sure. They look hungry. They manage to funnel thousands of tourists through here and protect things just enough. It is more important to let the world see the past than to protect it. Compared to American sacred sites they do a much better job of making you feel welcome instead of an escaped prisoner.

Italy was fine to travel to. The trains ran on time from Rome. In Pozzuoli, they were like New York in the ’70s, without Snake Plissken to save you. Okay, not that bad, but very old, slow, noisy. The airport was excellent in both Rome and Napoli and takes a big dump on Charles de Gaulle in Paris, where we nearly missed our flight due to their disorder. When the Italians are more organized than you, you have a problem, France. How do you tell when a French airport worker is on strike? They aren’t smoking. The French people are very friendly and helpful, however. My short visit to Paris years ago was delightful, and a smile and a little bon jour (or bon giorno in Italy) gets you a long way.

I can’t wait to go back. I want to visit the north, Venice, and the south, Calabria and Bari where my family came from. But if I don’t, Napoli is close enough. I’ve been to my grandfather’s house in Bray, Ireland. In Italy I would just look at the little town of Acri and wonder where they might have lived.

© 2011 Thomas Pluck


I saw two eclipses recently. One was Twilight: Eclipse, which Firecracker had to see “because she saw the other ones.” I said she was just a glutton for punishment. I saw Scary Movie 3, and had no desire to see the rest. And while I did enjoy Hellraiser, I managed to avoid most of the sequels. You know, fool me once, shame on, shame on you. Fool me you can’t get fooled again.

As expected, the Twilight movie is pretty awful. A vampire whose hair and eyebrows make him look like he’s a twitchy bomb technician, and a shirtless heartthrob who turns into a wolf when he backflips are both fighting over a third supernatural being, a girl born without a personality. I can forgive a lot of stupid if a movie doesn’t take itself too seriously, or has some fun action scenes, but sadly this movie is as serious as cancer and about as fun to watch.

Fact: Vampires are make of petrified wood and can be broken if you’re emo enough when you hit them.

But hey, it’s teen twaddle, meant to teach girls to save their virginity for a weird stalker who wants to alienate her from her friends and family, so what’s the harm.

The real eclipse worth seeing happened last night at 3 AM, and I set my alarm to wake up and see it. The temperature was below freezing, and I went outside to take shaky photos of a blood red moon eclipsed by the earth’s shadow. According to science, this occurring on the winter solstice is truly a sign of the end times, because a black dude is President, and old white people are rising up in a wrinkly, zombie apocalypse. Except shooting them in the brain is illegal, and they can only be stopped with tax breaks for millionaires.

I have a better pic on Firecracker’s camera but I left it at home. Oops. I’ll add it here later. I like this one, it’s all arty, like green Aurora borealis.

© 2010 Tommy Salami