Friday, July 25, 2014




I’ve been an on-again-off-again wrestling fan since I was a teenager. There was a period in the ’60s when my father and I watched the WWWF on TV every week. Those were the days of Bruno Sammartino and Bobo Brazil and Killer Kowalski, when no one but the hillbillies wore anything but wrestling tights. I picked it up again in the late ’80s and early to mid-’90s, the days of Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage and Rowdy Roddy Piper. By the end of this period, many of the wrestlers had wacky costumes and there were gimmicks galore. The WWWF had turned into the WWF, and there was more of a circus atmosphere, and it had taken another step away from any pretense of reality.

Even today, when I run across a card on TV (it’s the WWE now), more often than not I stop channel hopping to see what’s going on. I don’t know much about anybody but the Undertaker, but I still enjoy the whole soap opera, the turns to and from the dark side, the magnitude of the mythology they’ve built. And that some things never change – for instance, the referees are as clueless as ever.

Shortly before the turn of the century, I saw a call for submissions for an anthology of wrestling-related horror stories. I kicked out a story called Push Comes to Shove, which involved a jobber – a guy who’s there solely to lose to a current or upcoming superstar – running across a new wrestler who was making stuff a little more real than it should have been. By the time I got around to sending the story in, the market was already closed. I tried to place it a couple more times, but, as is customary with my writing, it was a little too much this and not enough that for most markets, and I packed it away in my electronic trunk.

Not long after, my local Sisters in Crime chapter put out a call for stories for a book of members’ work. I dusted off Push Comes to Shove and discovered it consisted of four thousand words of good story and a thousand of darlings to be killed. I made the cuts and the editors liked what was left. The book came out in 2000, published by Ugly Town, the Los Angeles small press that later published my third and fourth Joe Portugal novels.

One day, I came back from some mystery convention or other and discovered an email from Otto Penzler, the overall editor of the Best American Mystery Stories series. He’d included Push Comes to Shove in the first cut of the 2001 edition, and that year’s editor selected it for the book. This was none other than Lawrence Block, one of my favorite crime fiction authors. So, not long afterward, there I was on the bookstore shelves, in a volume with Joyce Carol Oates.

That was it for a while, and then I ran into Paul Bishop at an event for Stark Raving Press, a new electronic publishing company for whom we were both writing novellas. We’d worked together in the local Mystery Writers of America chapter some years earlier, but I hadn’t seen him in quite a while. He told me about Fight Card, with its preponderance of boxing novellas, but with mixed martial arts and luchadors on the way. Wheels spun in my head, but only for a moment, and I blurted out, “I’ve got this wrestling story, blah, blah, blah, what if I expanded it into a novella?”

Paul said send him the story, and I did, and he liked it, and expansion began. I had the luxury of filling in more of the unnamed protagonist’s backstory, his life with his girlfriend, his training, what he did during the long hours between matches at TV tapings. I added an ex-wrestler uncle and a stint in Iraq and a dash of PTSD. I added some dimension to the bad guy. I was able to make my hero more proactive and less simply carried along by events. The whole thing took a week of writing time…it was one of those stories that, to use the old cliché, wrote itself, as if it had always wanted to grow and flourish.

I decided to shorten the title to simply The Push, then further cut it to Push. It seemed to work better with both the length and with the Fight Card gestalt – plus the longer title remains forever reserved for the short story that got the first (and still, let’s face it, the only) recognition any of my work has received.

One reason I'm fond of this tale is its protagonist is very different from the urban neurotics who usually populate my work. He’s smart enough, but he’s basically a simple guy with a simple life and a simple loyalty to those he loves. Just a guy faced with a big problem while trying to do his job.

When I wrote Push Comes to Shove, I thought Thumper’s costume and persona might be a little over the top, but subsequent developments in the WWF proved me wrong. And though they’ve dialed back on the weirdness a little since then, I like to think  Thumper’s Central States Wrestling career would have made him a natural fit for later WWWF/WWF/WWE greatness, if only…but that would be telling.


You’re a jobber. You make your living by losing in the wrestling ring. You’re a good wrestler, but promoters don’t think you have what it takes to become a superstar. Then Thumper shows up. Big and strong, with a bunny-rabbit gimmick and fans eating out of his hand. His finishing move is called The Thump, and most guys don’t get up from it on their own.

One night, Thumper puts his opponent in the hospital. Not a big deal. Sure, the outcome of a wrestling match is fake. But the bumps in the ring can be all too real. Sometimes you get hurt. Part of the territory.

Then it happens again. Only this time, the guy who got ‘thumped’ is tossed into a car like a sack of potatoes. Lou Boone, the promoter who runs Central States Wrestling with an iron fist, knows you saw something and offers you a push if you keep your mouth shut.
A push. Every jobber’s dream. To get to win some matches, to get to be on the big cards in the big arenas. You want it more than anything. You begin thinking you imagined the sack-of-potatoes guy – until it happens again.
Now, you have to choose between wrestling fame and doing the right thing. Before this is over, someone else will be dead. And you don’t want it to be you…
Based on the short story Push Comes to Shove, selected by Lawrence Block for the Best American Mystery Stories series.

Thursday, July 10, 2014


Fight Card is excited to publish the collection you now hold in your hands – our second Fight Card charity anthology – Fight Card Presents: Battling Mahoney and Other Stories. This time we’ve upped the ante from ten rounds of two-fisted fight fiction to a full fifteen rounds – with 100% of the proceeds going to help the family of western writing legend, the late Jory Sherman – a mentor and friend to so many in the literary community.
Writers helping writers as part of the Fight Card publishing collective.
Battling Mahoney and Other Stories is filled with action delivered by many of Fight Card’s top contributors. Legendary pulp writer Len Levinson provides the title story – featuring characters from his popular The Sergeant series of WWII thrillers.  Willis Gordon sets the mood with his extensive essay, On Boxing, and Fight Card favorite James Hopwood (Fight Card: King of the Outback and Fight Card: Rumble in the Jungle) gives us a Hollywood Hits tale featuring Abbott & Costello along with The Brown Bomber himself, Joe Louis.
Robert E. Howard scholar Mark Finn (Fight Card: The Adventures of Sailor Tom Sharkey) gives us another top notch ‘weird boxing’ tale, featuring Sailor Tom Sharkey & the Electric Gorilla. Bowie V. Ibarra returns to the Fight Card team with his prose singing The Song of the Cornerman, while Michael Zimmerman gives us one of the hardest hitting stories in the collection, The Broken Man
New writers climbing into the ring with Fight Card include Nik Morton (Cowboy in the Ring), Marc Cameron (Rock, Paper, Scissors), Marcia Ward (Bloodied Leather), Clay More (Heat of Battle), and Chuck Tyrell (Fight Day in Diablo). 
We are also thrilled to include stories from Loren D. Estleman and James Reasoner, both writers who are held in the highest regard by their peers and readers.
This new anthology also sports another beautiful cover from Fight Card’s resident artist/illustrator, the brilliant and talented Carl Yonder (Pirate Eye). 
It’s all happening in Fight Card Presents: Battling Mahoney and Other Stories
So, keep calm and keep your guard up...

Wednesday, July 9, 2014



Our latest Fight Card entry has just hit the virtual bookshelves…Bridgeport Brawler is from Dave White writing as Jack Tunney. The cover is by our man down under, David Foster, and the ad banners are generously provided by Bobby Nash…


Chicago, 1953…Patrick ‘The Hammer’ White – the Bridgeport Brawler – is on top of the world. He is the current heavyweight champion confidently getting ready to defend his crown. All the training from father Tim at St Vincent’s orphanage has come full circle, and Pat isn’t figuring on being toppled from the championship mountain anytime soon.

Having seen his shares of ups-and-downs, Pat believes the ‘downs’ are behind him.  However, he has forgotten boxing’s dark side. When mob boss Carmen Amello squeezes Pat’s trainer into forcing the champ to take a dive, the ‘downs’ come back with a vengeance.

In the aftermath of disaster, with only bad choices in front of him, the Bridgeport Brawler is going to have to dig deep if he is ever going to hammer his way back to the top…

Bridgeport Brawler is another two-fisted Fight Card tale …

In other news, our second Fight Card charity anthology, Battling Mahoney and Other Stories, is coming together nicely for an August publication.  This time out its 15 rounds of fight fiction to aid the family of the late Jory Sherman.

Fight Card team member Jeremy L.C. Jones has arranged for Fight Card to be the focus of a college marketing project turning four marketing hungry whiz kids loose on trying to find ways to expand Fight Card’s sales and audience.  Jeremy and I had our first meeting with the group today and I am excited to see their progress over the next few weeks.

I have been in touch with those of you who have not seen your books arrive in paperback yet.  As you know, we are making every effort to put the finishing touches on the files and covers needed for you to upload on CreateSpace. 

Next month, a wrestling tale – Fight Card: Push – From Nathan Walpow writing as Jack Tunney…

Until then…Keep Punching




For me, the chance to write for Fight Card was an honor. I am a big fan and have read most Fight Card books in the series. I have been writing seriously for a few years in the new pulp field – mostly around the 10,000 word mark, so tackling 25,000 words was something new.  However, I was excited by the challenge. I based the main character in Bridgeport Brawler on my pops, who I lost a few years back.

Growing up I was always in front of the television with my dad and my uncle Chili. Inevitably, there was wrestling or boxing on the screen. Obviously, back in the day, there wasn’t pay per view. However, with my uncle living right next door, we were either over there or at our house when an event took place. Admittedly, I didn’t have the grasp of the names and stuff back then – I just enjoyed watching the stuff with pops and my uncle. 

Names like Dick the Bruiser, Crusher Creel, and Pepper Gomez were in many family conversations, as well as Ali and Frazer and George Foreman. My dad had taken martial arts as a kid as well as boxed. So, growing up he would spend time teaching me different techniques. 

I later got into the martial arts and loved it. Life moves us in different ways, but even after getting married and having kids, I still loved heading over to my uncle’s and watching fights with him and Pops. The names had changed, but the joy of watching with the two of them never did. 

There was wagering, always friendly – well usually. But they were both intense fans and, as such, there was always a charge in the air whenever they sat in front of the TV to watch boxing. This, of course, didn’t make my mom or aunt happy, so they usually used those nights to not be around the house.

When I got out of high school, I took up martial arts pretty intensely and even competed in a few matches. Pops was always there to watch. He was also always eager to spar with me for practice. 

Now this may seem like bragging, but it really isn’t. I got pretty good at martial arts, and while my dad had not been involved in the sport or boxing for some 20 years, I still couldn’t touch him half the time. More times than not it was me ending up on my backside. 

Pops was just a natural. Growing up in the city, he was in more than his fair share of brawls. I always heard the stories. And, after all the years of sparing and him teaching me – as he called it – I have no doubt he could have turned pro and done decently in the ring, if not great.

The Bridgeport Brawler puts my Pops in to that scenario. He is the inspiration for the main character, and my uncle is featured as well. They are both gone now, and sorely missed. This book was a chance for me to relive some of the memories. 


Living in Lemont, Illinoise, Dave White is married to his lovely wife Karen with whom he has two kids named Brandon and Allison, and a dog named Snickers.  He dabbled in writing in his twenties when he was into Stephen King, but never pursuded it.  Discovering pulp about six years ago, Dave found his passion for writing renewed.  He had his first prose story published in 2012.  In 2013, he added an Avenger tale from Moonstone.  He hopes to add many notches to his belt in the future.

Chicago, 1953…Patrick ‘The Hammer’ White – the Bridgeport Brawler – is on top of the world. He is the current heavyweight champion confidently getting ready to defend his crown. All the training from father Tim at St Vincent’s orphanage has come full circle, and Pat isn’t figuring on being toppled from the championship mountain anytime soon.

Having seen his shares of ups-and-downs, Pat believes the ‘downs’ are behind him.  However, he has forgotten boxing’s dark side. When mob boss Carmen Amello squeezes Pat’s trainer into forcing the champ to take a dive, the ‘downs’ come back with a vengeance.

In the aftermath of disaster, with only bad choices in front of him, the Bridgeport Brawler is going to have to dig deep if he is ever going to hammer his way back to the top…

Bridgeport Brawler is another two-fisted Fight Card tale …




Chicago, 1953…Patrick ‘The Hammer’ White – the Bridgeport Brawler – is on top of the world. He is the current heavyweight champion confidently getting ready to defend his crown. All the training from father Tim at St Vincent’s orphanage has come full circle, and Pat isn’t figuring on being toppled from the championship mountain anytime soon.

Having seen his shares of ups-and-downs, Pat believes the ‘downs’ are behind him.  However, he has forgotten boxing’s dark side. When mob boss Carmen Amello squeezes Pat’s trainer into forcing the champ to take a dive, the ‘downs’ come back with a vengeance.

In the aftermath of disaster, with only bad choices in front of him, the Bridgeport Brawler is going to have to dig deep if he is ever going to hammer his way back to the top…

Bridgeport Brawler is another two-fisted Fight Card tale …


Tuesday, June 24, 2014


Chicago, 1953…Patrick ‘The Hammer’ White – the Bridgeport Brawler – is on top of the world. He is the current heavyweight champion confidently getting ready to defend his crown. All the training from father Tim at St Vincent’s orphanage has come full circle, and Pat isn’t figuring on being toppled from the championship mountain anytime soon.
Having seen his shares of ups-and-downs, Pat believes the ‘downs’ are behind him.  However, he has forgotten boxing’s dark side. When mob boss Carmen Amello squeezes Pat’s trainer into forcing the champ to take a dive, the ‘downs’ come back with a vengeance.
In the aftermath of disaster, with only bad choices in front of him, the Bridgeport Brawler is going to have to dig deep if he is ever going to hammer his way back to the top…
Bridgeport Brawler is another two-fisted Fight Card tale…

Monday, June 23, 2014



FELONY FISTS ~ LAPD cop Patrick ‘Felony’ Flynn has a new assignment – Take down gangster Mickey Cohen’s heavyweight contender punch by punch...

SWAMP WALLOPER ~ Patrick ‘Felony’ Flynn and his LAPD cop partner, Tombstone Jones, are up to their necks in alligators as they punch their way through the New Orleans boxing underground to catch a sadistic killer...

THE CHICAGO PUNCH ~ Crime reporter Nick Lassiter is renowned for his two-fisted prose. Now, chasing a story of a good boxer gone bad, Nick is about to find himself on the receiving end of the Chicago punch…

Wednesday, June 11, 2014


This month's Fight Card release, The Adventures of Sailor Tom Sharkey (Mark Finn writing as Jack Tunney) is making its debut in time for the Robert E. Howard Days gathering in Cross Plains, TX.  This is most appropriate as author Mark Finn is a recognized Howard scholar and Sailor Tom Sharkey is the spiritual cousin of Howard's character, Sailor Steve Costigan.
The 'weird boxing' tales in the collection are complemented by a fantastic cover from Carl Yonder.
The Best Weird, Historical, Humorous, Boxing Stories You'll Ever Read!
He was one of the greatest heavyweight boxers to enter the legendary squared circle during the Golden Age of Boxing. Standing a mere 5’ 8”, Sailor Tom Sharkey was one of boxing’s most feared opponents…Gentleman Jim Corbett, Bob Fitzsimmons, Kid McCoy, and Jim Jeffries all agreed he was their fiercest opponent and gave them their toughest fights. A colorful boxer both in the ring and out, he retired in 1904 after several legendary and controversial failed attempts to win the championship belt.
That’s the story you know – But it’s not the end of Sharkey’s story – not by a long shot…In the tradition of Robert E. Howard’s humorous Sailor Steve Costigan boxing tales, this action-packed collection of rowdy, bawdy, burlesque, tall Texas tall feature Sailor Tom Sharkey’s adventures after he hung up his professional gloves. 
Thrill to Sharkey’s brush with Hollywood’s “It” Girl, Clara Bow…Get chills as Sharkey and Kid McCoy faces down a maniacal bandit…Feel the heat as Sharkey rides the rails with Jim Jeffries and the Vaudeville Carnival into a clashes with a mad scientists and mummified menaces…Watch as Sharkey plays Santa Claus to a bunch of Tammany Hall orphans and end up with a tiger by the tail – literally – and much more!
These are the Untold Tales of the Wildest Tale-Teller of Boxing’s Golden Age!
Any mentions in your blogs or on your social networking sites are always appreciated.
Coming up on the Fight Card schedule we have Bridgeport Brawler from Dave White, Push from Nathan Walpow, Guns of November from Joseph Grant, Fight River from Tommy Hancock, Bareknuckle Barbarian from Teel James Glenn, Job Girl from Jason Chirevas, a second Sherlock Holmes tale from Andrew Salmon, and a currently untitled entry from Tim Tresslar.
Also, our second Fight Card Presents charity anthology will debut in August...
Till next month...Keep punching...




There are perhaps two dozen well-known boxing stories of substance, ranging from Jack London’s A Piece of Steak, and Fifty Grand by Ernest Hemingway, to more popular fare, such as sports writer Damon Runyan’s Bred for Battle and P.G. Wodehouse’s The Debut of Battling Billson. More recent stories by Rick Bass’ The Legend of Pig-Eye and Thom Jones’ Sonny Liston Was a Friend of Mine would surely be included, as well. Anyone wishing to expand the list to include novels would have some classic fare to choose from: Harold Robbins’ A Stone for Danny Fisher instantly springs to mind, along with the excellent book, The Bruiser by actual boxer-turned-author Jim Tully. There are a lot of boxing stories out there, along with boxing fans who are writers of one stripe or another; from Alexandre Dumas to Arthur Conan Doyle, from Norman Mailer to Joyce Carol Oates, it’s easy to find books waxing rhapsodic about the Sweet Science as literature, as metaphor, or as simply a cracking good read.
And yet, there is one name always missing from the Table of Contents pages of the Best Boxing Stories of Forever and All Time (Until We Make Another Book Just Like This One) and that’s Robert E. Howard. Most people know him, if at all, as the creator of Conan the Barbarian. They may know that he was a Texan, who wrote a bunch of pulp fiction stories in Cross Plains, Texas in the 1920s and 1930s for magazines like the legendary Weird Tales. If they know anything else, it’s that he died young, at the age of 30, by his own hand.
They almost never know he wrote over sixty boxing stories from 1926 to 1936, including some poetry, which were his bread and butter during his early writing career.  Most of the stories centered on Sailor Steve Costigan, a ham and egg fighter sailing on the merchant marine Sea Girl. He – and some of his other, later fictional brothers – spent their days in the ports of call in the Asiatic Seas. They scrapped to survive, for the honor of a beautiful girl, or for a fellow sailor in trouble. Full of humor, incredible boxing sequences, and double and triple crosses, all told from the point of view of Sailor Steve himself, one of the most unreliable narrators to ever grace the page. Howard also wrote some serious boxing stories, such as the novella The Iron Man, but his meat and potatoes were found in these bawdy burlesque boxing stories.
Howard was a lifelong boxing enthusiast. He read about it, he wrote about it – hell, he nearly lived it. Himself an amateur boxer, Howard participated in a number of both gloved and bare-knuckle matches with the local roughnecks in his home town of Cross Plains.  He wrote about these fights, and traveled far and wide to see local and regional matches and exhibitions. Howard even wrote a number of unfinished essays to gather his thoughts on boxing into one place.  These thoughts, these ideas of Howard, while unfinished and unpublished in his lifetime, ended up elsewhere, hidden deep in his fiction as a primary motivating influence.
When I first encountered Howard’s boxing stories, I knew none of this. I was just a fan of the Texas author’s work. I’d read Conan, of course, and his other hero-kings, Bran Mak Morn, and King Kull. I was familiar with some of his other heroic writings, but I’d never seen any of his boxing stories before. The book was The Incredible Adventures of Dennis Dorgan. On the cover was a stereotypical evil oriental – a Fu Manchu villain straight from Central Casting. This was modern-day fare by way of the 1920’s. Intrigued, I bought the book and took it home.
The first story I read wasn’t the first story in the book. Instead, I skipped right over to The Destiny Gorilla, a title I maintain to this day is technically perfect for so many reasons. As soon as I started reading the story, I knew I was in uncharted waters. Gone was the florid, compact language of Howard’s dark fantasy stories. This was light, wide-open, riddled with dialect and malapropisms, and really funny dialogue. I started laughing, and I laughed all the way through the story.
I was still laughing when my roommate and fellow Howard fan came home. He put up with me for about fifteen minutes, and then demanded to know what I was doing. I gave him the book, and within two pages, he was laughing, too. We spent the rest of the evening wondering out loud why we’d never seen any of this before now.  That night, we both became lifelong fans of Howard’s boxing stories. And we weren’t even reading the best of his boxing work.
Years later, when I starting looking seriously at studying and writing about Robert E. Howard, I joined what was then ground zero for such folks, REHUPA – an amateur press association that stands for the Robert E. Howard United Press Association.
When I joined, I expected to be the only person interested in the boxing stories. I was wrong. There were two others: Leo Grin and Chris Gruber. Both had come to the boxing material, just as I had, and come to the same conclusion as me – why didn’t more people know about this? In fact, we all joined with the idea of cracking open the boxing stories and showing these other Howard fans what was what.
We banded together, and right from the start, we began elevating each other’s work. There were conversations, revelations, shared was heady stuff. We were the outcasts among the outcasts, writing with something to prove. We knew this stuff was great. We just had to show other people.
One of the areas of interest we shared was in sifting through Howard’s work to find his influences. His unpublished essays and stories were invaluable in this area. Chris Gruber’s essay, Atavists, All?, was a lightning rod pointing to Howard’s utilization of the kind of throw-back boxer he admired, first mentioned in the unpublished essay Men of Iron, was the model for every single Howard character in his heroic fiction canon.
While pouring through the names of boxers in Men of Iron, Leo wrote a huge essay about Joe Grimm, who was prominently mentioned in essay. I became enamored with another real-life golden age boxer listed alongside of Grimm – Sailor Tom Sharkey.  I don’t know what it was about the name, or maybe it was the story Howard included in the essay about Sharkey being knocked out of the ring on his head, and getting up to finish the fight, that intrigued me, but something took hold, and I began to research Tom Sharkey in earnest.
There was very little online about Sharkey, the most substantial piece being a biographical sketch by boxing expert Tracey Callis, alongside of his ring record. I had some boxing reference books in my personal library already, including a great encyclopedia from The Ring, the Bible of boxing, and a magazine Howard read regularly in his day. Inside was an amazing picture of Tom Sharkey, after a fight, standing straight and tall, like he was having a mug shot taken. He was battered, crunched, and bruised, but everything I could see in his curiously shaped head and face and thick-as-a-bull neck made me proclaim, “Tom Sharkey, hell, that’s Sailor Steve Costigan!”
And thus began my quest. I chased down every scrap of information I could find about Sharkey. He was one of the most feared and respected boxers in the Golden Age of the sport – just after the reign of John L. Sullivan.
Sharkey trod the squared circle with the likes of Gentleman Jim Corbett, Bob Fitzsimmons, and – perhaps his greatest nemesis – Jim Jeffries. These were some of the biggest, hardest hitting fighters of all time. And they all said Sailor Tom Sharkey gave them their toughest fights.
Standing only 5’8” or 5’9” depending on who you ask, Sharkey had a 46” chest and thick, muscled arms he honed from his years at sea in the merchant marine, and later, the U.S. Navy. Born in Dundalk, Ireland, in 1874, he ran away at the age of 12, and managed to make it all the way to America as a sailor by the time he was 17. He traded briefly as a blacksmith before signing on to a hitch in the Navy. When he arrived in San Francisco, two years later, he was ready to begin his fighting career in earnest.
Because of his size, and his Irish accent, no one took him very seriously at first. Even then, there was a frequently debunked myth that all sailors were decent brawlers, but against an actual student of boxing, stood little chance. Sharkey wasn’t the best public speaker, and he looked like a dub – his chest, for example, was festooned with a tattoo of a four-masted schooner and the motto, Never Give Up the Ship. He was Popeye twenty years before E.C. Segar created Thimble Theater.
Sharkey’s initial matches were literally intended to be good sport for better boxers and nothing else. But Sharkey surprised them all when he charged the local champions and kept them on the run for eight straight rounds. He could absorb massive amounts of punishment, and his punch was devastating. Early opponents learned this the hard way after waking up on the canvas, wondering what hit them. Sharkey quickly rose through the ranks to become a contender in San Francisco. He had his eye set on the heavyweight championship.
His professional career was as controversial as it was colorful and storied. Sharkey wasn’t so much a fighter as he was a force of nature.  His preferred method of boxing was to come out swinging and not stop until his opponent was down. He didn’t mind taking a few punches in order to get in close with those tree trunk arms and that fireplug torso and whale away on the other guy’s ribcage – and if a couple of kidney punches landed, too, well, no hard feelings, eh?
Not quite. Fouls, low blows, and other controversies dogged Sharkey and made other opponents wary of stepping into the ring with the Irish scrapper. His reputation notwithstanding, Sharkey tried several times to wrest the belt from champions, only to end in bitter defeat. One of his most bizarre fights was against lanky Bob Fitzsimmons, another blacksmith-turned-boxer whose punch was legendary, despite his unassuming appearance.
The match, refereed by none other than Wild West lawman Wyatt Earp, was awarded to Fitzsimmons because of a low blow thrown by Sharkey that Earp observed. The incident actually ended up on court, with Sharkey alleging Fitzsimmons faked the injury because he knew Sharkey would beat him. The judge abided by the decision, and Sharkey never got a rematch with Fitz.
But the most storied battles of Sharkey’s career were his two brutal fights with Jim Jeffries. The second fight, in particular, is the stuff of legend. It was the first boxing match filmed and shown in movie theaters. The Klieg lights used to illuminate the ring were so bright and intense that it singed both men’s scalps. Sharkey fought Jeffries to a standstill in 25 grueling rounds that nearly did both boxers in. Sharkey fought the last four rounds with three broken ribs. He was certain he’d beat Jeffries, but the referee didn’t agree. Afterwards, even on the mend, Sharkey threatened to throw the ref into the Atlantic Ocean if he ever caught up with him.
Sharkey’s post boxing career was just as colorful, and involved him opening clubs, getting embroiled in Tammany Hall politics in New York City, betting large sums of money on the horses, getting married twice, widowed once, and divorced once, and later, in his fifties, going on the Vaudeville Circuit with former nemesis Jim Jeffries and recounting their famous fights for the crowds.
Sharkey loved to spin yarns, and some of those he told people over the years were colorful and, um, hard to prove, such as the notion he was shipwrecked four times in the Merchant Marine. Over the years, sports writers, reporters, and fellow boxers had amusing Tom Sharkey stories to tell. Most are affectionate in their good humor. Some are just downright funny. 
These anecdotes and snippets were all published during the time Robert E. Howard was reading about boxing. I was certain I’d found the framework upon which he built Sailor Steve Costigan. These findings and essays made their way into various books, introductions, and lectures.
By this time, I’d corresponded with most of the people who had written anything about Tom Sharkey, including the author of the first real biography of the man, I Fought Them All: the Life and Ring Battles of Prizefighting Legend Tom Sharkey, Greg Lewis. To a person, they were all happy to share in their research and enthusiasm for this colorful fighter. 
At this point, I’d been engaged in this pursuit, on and off, for five or six years. As my file on Tom Sharkey grew ever larger, and my parallel study of Howard’s boxing went ever deeper, I felt an urge to write some funny boxing stories of my own start to take hold in my brain.
This was folly, of course, and I’ll tell you why. It has been scientifically proven over the years that one cannot copy the writing style of Robert E. Howard. It just can’t be done, and we know this, because it was tried...a lot...with terrible, terrible results.
Howard’s writing style was literary lighting in a bottle. It was alchemy. Mercurial. It can be imitated, to some degree, but it can never be duplicated. The reason for this is simple – no one writes from the head space from which Howard wrote. His work was very personal, and unless you have the exact same set of interests, pressures, and irritants, you’ll never make pearls the way Howard made them.
Add to that the fact that doing a Sailor Steve Costigan story involved writing funny, and you’ll see the task is nigh-impossible. Writing in someone else’s humor style is even harder than writing in someone else’s literary style, and if you tried to do a Sailor Steve Costigan story, you’d have to do both. I’m no fool. Whatever marginal cache I had as a Howardist would be shattered if I tried to write something in the style of Robert E. Howard, a practice I’d publically pooh-poohed many times.
No, if I was going to do a humorous boxing story, it would have to be original. My own thing. I knew I could write about the fights, and I was pretty sure I could make it funny in my particular way, but I was floundering as to what this boxer would look like, and how he’d actually be different from Sailor Steve.
The inspiration came to me during a writer’s retreat in 2007. My former writing group and publishing consortium, Clockwork Storybook, got together at Naulakha, Rudyard Kipling's house in Dummerston, Vermont, and we spent a week in seclusion, writing and critiquing, just like the old days.
Literally three days before we were set to meet up, it occurred to me there was no better unreliable narrator than Tom Sharkey himself. He went around the world, did all of these amazing things, and like any old campaigner worth his salt, wasn’t going to let the truth get in the way of a good story.
There were a lot of “blank spaces” on Tom Sharkey’s map – periods of time no one can account for, including the years he spent with a traveling carnival, recreating (and sometimes rehashing, at the age of fifty, no less) his fights with Jim Jeffries.
I wrote the first Tom Sharkey story – what would become Sailor Tom Sharkey and the Introduction Window (the original title was An Excerpt from the Unexpurgated Adventures of Sailor Tom Sharkey) – right before I left for Vermont.
I planned to read it for the guys, and get their notes. During the retreat, I wrote another story based on a writing challenge we all set for ourselves. This one, The Final Adventure of Sailor Tom Sharkey, has since been renamed Sailor Tom Sharkey and the Real McCoy. It has also been edited and rewritten somewhat to strip out most of the challenge conditions of the exercise. I kept the cow skull, though, which worked out quite well.
When I read the group my first Tom Sharkey story, it was with very little preamble. I just told them this was something I’d been working up to for a while. To my complete surprise and pleasure, they loved it. Most of the comments were along the lines of, “I can’t tell if this is good writing from you or not, because it sounds just like you.” The second story, written a few days into the retreat, met with similar notes and a caution to be careful not to have them all sound alike. “I mean, how often can you write about a big dumb sailor who doesn’t ever get what’s going on around him?” one of them quipped. Oh, ye of little faith.
Other Tom Sharkey stories began to suggest themselves, and I dutifully noted them down when inspiration struck. The hardest part of writing Tom Sharkey is avoiding “Costigan Creep,” when certain key phrases and things find their way, in quantity, into the stories. Do it once and it’s a nice little Easter egg nod to fans in the know. Do it twice, or thrice, and then it becomes second-rate Robert E. Howard. More than once I’ve had to pull myself back, all in service to the story.
I should also mention that over the span of several years and several stories, my fictitious Sailor Tom Sharkey has taken on a life of his own, one that is suggested by the real fighter, but has in the retelling become someone else altogether.
I’ve based many of these stories on real events in Sharkey’s life, but these are in no way intended to represent real people or real events, and none of the stories in this collection are intended to supplant the real Tom Sharkey’s biography in any way. If you want the details of the man behind the legends, see Greg Lewis’ book, mentioned above.
In between writing other things, I’d occasionally let one fly, and when finished, I sent each one far and wide, looking for a home. They were, not surprisingly, hard to place. There is not, nor has there ever been, a sub-genre of the literature section labeled “humorous historical weird boxing stories.” An oversight, no doubt.
My submissions, to editors of big and little stature, all came back rejected. Those that added any commentary frequently told me they liked the story, but had no idea what to do with it. I wasn’t surprised. These have been a hard sell.
And yet, every time I write a new Tom Sharkey story, and read it at conventions or other personal appearances, I get laughs and interest. “When are you going to collect these?” “Where can I read more?”
Thank heaven for Fight Card. Now, at last, you can.
I’m grateful to Paul Bishop for giving me the chance to publish this collection under the aegis of what has become a respected line of quality fight fiction, and ground zero for fans of this kind of literature. If you are such a fan (and why wouldn’t you be?) and you have not read Robert E. Howard’s boxing stories, you really need to.  You’re missing out on one of the most memorable and critically underrated achievements from one of the world’s greatest pulp fiction writers.  If you’re already one of us, then I hope you’ll enjoy these stories in the spirit in which I wrote them.