Fight Fiction: a History Part I

A novelist, screenwriter, television personality and half the creative genius behind the Fight Card series, Paul Bishop recently finished a 35 year career with the Los Angeles Police Department where he was twice honored as Detective Of The Year.  He continues to work privately as a deception expert and as a specialist in the investigation of sex crimes.  His books include the western Diamondback: Shroud Of Vengenace, two novels (Hot Pursuit / Deep Water) featuring LAPD officers Calico Jack Walker and Tina Tamiko, the thrillers Penalty Shot and Suspicious Minds, a short story collection (Running Wylde), and five novels in his L.A.P.D. Detective Fey Croaker series (Croaker: Kill Me Again, Croaker: Grave Sins, Croaker: Tequila Mockingbird, Croaker: Chalk Whispers, and Croaker: Pattern of Behavior).  His latest novel, Fight Card: Felony Fists (written as Jack Tunney), is a fast action boxing tale inspired by the fight pulps of the ‘40s and ‘50s. His novels are currently available as e-books.


Cultural influences, tough economic times, and the hope and appeal offered by fight fiction …


Paul Bishop


The fight fiction genre has become an integral part of our cultural history – especially when economic times have been as tough as the character’s in a fight fiction tale.

Even before the explosion of fight fiction stories in the pulps of the ‘30s and ‘40s, Jack London was penning fight stories for the masses, such as his classics A Piece of Steak and The Abysmal Brute, among others.  Feeding the need of the everyman to rise above his daily struggle for survival through vicarious fight entertainment, London’s fight tales were devoured.

London learned to box by sparring with his friend Jim Whitaker, and his love of the sport never waned.  Wherever his wanderings took him, London always had a pair of boxing gloves, always ready to mix it up with any challenger.  Most often, however, London’s regular sparring partner was his wife, Charmian Kittredge, with whom he routinely sparred.

Even on the Snark, travelling to the Solomons Islands, or on the Tymeric from Sydney, Australia, to Ecuador, or the Dirgo from Baltimore to Seattle in 1912, Jack and Charmain would put on their bathing suits and square off for an hour of sparring before throwing buckets of salt water on one another.  Because he couldn’t strike back against Charmain as he would against another man, London developed an almost impenetrable defense, making him more than a challenge for any man he toed the line against.

London hated bullfighting and hunting, considering them without any sporting interest.  However, the specific mano-a-mano science of boxing fascinated him.  He always tried to attend professional fights as a reporter in order to secure a ringside seat.

In 1905, he wrote one of his most highly regarded fight stories,  The Game, which was serialized in Metropolitan Magazine. The story caused a clamor when critics claimed a fighter could not be killed by hitting his head on the canvas. London’s reply was a claim to have seen it happen in the West Oakland Athletic Club.

Eventually, lightweight champion of the world, Jimmy Britt, settled things in the San Francisco Examiner when he was quoted as saying, “With … nothing more to guarantee me that he knows The Game than his description of his fictional prize-fight, I would, if he were part of our world, propose or accept him as referee of my impending battle with Nelson.”

During the height of the pulp era on the ‘30s and ‘40s, Robert E. Howard was another writer who banged out fight stories while also engaging in the pugilistic arts. Even though as a child he was bookish and intellectual, in his teen years he took up bodybuilding before eventually entering the ring as an amateur boxer.

Best known as the creator of Conan The Barbarian, Solomon Kane, and other sword and sorcery characters, Howard had a lifelong interest in boxing, attending fights and avidly following the careers of his favorite fighters.  He also claimed to considered his fictional fight tales – especially The Iron Man, and the adventures of Sailor Steve Costigan, the lovable, hard-fisted, and innocent semipro pugilist who regularly squared-off against dastardly villains in exotic ports of call – as among the best of his works.

Howard’s boxing tales and hundreds of other two-fisted stories flourished in the fight pulps such as Fight Stories Magazine and Knockout Magazine, helping a generation of readers to fight through the Great Depression and the tough years to follow.

During the ‘50s, the printed tales of fight fiction gave way to a wider appreciation of live bouts.  Television brought those fights into American living rooms for all to see.  However, as the public became jaded by the scandal of fight fixing and the real life encroachment of organized crime into the fight game, a new realism in fight fiction wrapped its hands with tape and pulled on battered leather gloves illegally loaded with lead.

Published in 1958, The Professional written by W. C. Heinz cast a harsh reflection of the seedy circus-like atmosphere of boxing with its assorted hangers-on, crooked promoters, and jaded journalists.  With his lean sentences, rough-and-ready dialogue, dry wit, and you-are-there style, Heinz brilliantly used the cynical eyes of fictional sports writer Frank Hughes to recount the trials of middleweight Eddie Brown and his crusty trainer, Doc Carroll, as Brown prepares for a championship fight.

Heinz’ novel is still as revered today as it was when Hemingway – himself an amateur pugilist and teller of fight stories such as Fifty Grand and A Matter of Colour  – declared it “the only good novel about a fighter I’ve read and an excellent novel in its own right.”

Like the fight fiction novels to be published in the ‘40s and 50’s. movies of those eras also reflected the public’s growing disenchantment with boxing in the ‘50s.  Humphrey Bogart’s last screen appearance in 1956’s The Harder They Fall – based on Budd Schulberg’s 1947 novel – dramatizes a thinly disguised account of the real life boxing scandal involving champion Primo Carnera.  Bogart’s character, Eddie Willis, was based on the career of boxing writer and event promoter Harold Conrad.  The book and film pulled no punches, showing brutal and brutish fight scenes coupled with the cynical and humiliating treatment of fighters by those surrounding them – which further reflected the middle class workers’ own feelings of punitive treatment by upper management.

Finally, in 1969, the noir edge of fight stories was capped with the publication of Fat City.  Written by Leonard Gardner, Fat City, set in the small-time boxing circuit of Stockton, California in the late ‘50s, became an acclaimed film from director John Houston in 1972.  As in The Professional and The Harder They Fall, the message of Fat City was a harsh metaphor for the impossibility of a public striving to get ahead while surrounded by forces determined to derail you at every turn.

What Is a Fight Card Romance?

Honored by her college for literary excellence, author Carol Malone has played make-believe all her life and started writing romantic tales in high school. Raised with four older brothers, sports was the center of her family’s life. To this day, she still bleeds Dodger Blue. Carol writes pulse-pounding, noir sports stories with a passionate twist, inviting fans to jump in a front row seat and cheer for the underdog.


In the world of new pulp writing, this question is turning heads …

Ladies Night

Carol Malone


Before I can tell you about Fight Card Romance, I need to explain a little about the traditional Fight Card.

In 2012, a dear friend of mine, mentor and author Paul Bishop, and his pal, Mel Odom, created Fight Card – a series of 25,000 word novellas inspired by the pulse-pounding fight pulps so popular from the ‘30s to the ‘50s.  In the 1920s, boxing as a sport began coming into its own – attracting the minorities, the Irish, the Italians, the Jews, and later the Blacks and Latin boxers – all trying to prove their metal in the toughest arena of all –the boxing ring, man-to-man.  Fictional boxing stories filled the pulps of the era with two-fisted action devoured by a rapt public. The Fight Card series was a return to this style of writing, bringing new fight stories to modern readers.

Paul and Mel established a list of writers guidelines for the Fight Card series.   Originally, all the stories were to be set in the 1950’s – though this was quickly waived to include other decades.  The stories could be set anywhere in the world (and have – from the Australian Outback, to South Africa and Ireland), and a PG-13 level was established for language, violence and sex.

The main character in the stories did not have to be a professional fighter – they could be a reporters, sailors, fight manager, soldiers, or – in the case of my novel, Ladies Night – the boxer’s lady-love. However, the biggest rule was the stories must have boxing at its heart and resolution – usually the big fight conclusion. This didn’t mean ever story had to be about the championship of the world.  The characters don’t have to be contenders, and most aren’t, but all of them are facing extremely high personal stakes, if not certain destruction, if they don’t man-up.

The boxer in each story was to have a connection to St. Vincent’s Asylum for Boys, an orphanage in Chicago. Under the big-hearted, tough-love, dished out generously by the much beloved Fighting Priest, Father Tim – also known as Tornado Tim Brophy, a Golden Gloves champion himself as a youth – each boy under his care grows up believing he’s something special. Although cursed by some nuns and loved by others, the good sisters of the orphanage pray for Father Tim who manages to keep his ruffians in check by teaching them the sweet science of boxing. Boys who come to him with no food in their bellies, no love in their hearts, and no hope for a future, find Father Tim filling up those holes.

Each story is written to be e-published via Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing platform under the shared pseudonym of Jack Tunney for cohesiveness. I wrote Ladies Night under the name of Jill Tunney.  Paperback editions follow on the heels of the e-books, this time under the individual author’s own name.

My husband Tim and I are part of a monthly writer’s group mentored by Paul.  When he asked my husband, Tim – an end-of-the-world sci-fi writer – if he wanted to take a shot at writing a Fight Card story, Tim declined. He’s not into sports – but I am. Raised with four older brothers, sports was an obsession. When I was in high school, I started reading and writing romance, and have since then written numerous manuscripts. So, I decided to take a dare and without Paul’s knowledge began pecking out my own Fight Card tale. I didn’t start out to necessarily write a romance, but the main characters dictated their story, I simply jotted it down. A year later, voilà – Ladies Night.

In Ladies Night, Jimmy Doherty is dropped at Father’s Tim’s doorstep, all alone in the world after tragedy takes his pa in WWII, his ma to her grief, and his only other living relative, Aunt Alice, to heart failure. Angry with God, furious with his own grief and fear of abandonment, what Jimmy craves most is a family of his own. Through an uncanny ability to recognize boxing talent, Father Tim knows Jimmy’s heart beats boxing, and gives him a shot at being a contender. Since all orphans must leave the orphanage at the age of eighteen, Father Tim wisely puts Jimmy on a train to L.A. to box for an old friend.

Jimmy meets Pops Dominic, his new manager and trainer – and Pops’ beautiful daughter, Lindy, who’s sweeter than apple pie. Jimmy can’t resist Lindy’s charms. She offers him acceptance, fierce loyalty, and love. Sneaking off to marrying Lindy raises Pops’ blood pressure, but having Lindy in his corner gives Jimmy what he hasn’t had in his life for nine years – a family.

When Lindy is arrested for murdering a boxer with ties to a gangster, Jimmy is forced to join forces with the arresting detective – who would like to do much more with Lindy than put her in handcuffs – in a desperate search for the real killer. Ladies Night – boxing, suspense and romance – proves love can be murder – in and out of the ring.

When Paul found out what I was doing, he couldn’t have been more supportive.  He had already created the Fight Card spin-off series, Fight Card MMA, and had a crazy notion to widen Fight Card’s readership even further with a Fight Card Romance brand.  Ladies Night became the flagship title for Fight Card Romance, and I couldn’t be more thrilled.

Find out more about Fight Card Romance and other Fight Card brands here:

Fighting Irish vs Irish Writer

Gerard Brennan is the author of the novels, Wee Rockets and Fireproof, the novella, The Point, co-editor of Requiems for the Departed, a collection of crime fiction based on Irish myths, and the short story collections, Possession, Obsession and a Decompression Engine and Other Stories, and Nothing But Time. He lives in Dundrum, Northern Ireland.


The author of Fight Card MMA: Welcome To The Octagon, gives us his take on writers and fighters …


 Gerard Brennan

So, the Irish – even us Northerners, whatever the religious flavour – are often the subject of stereotypes. Is that fair? Frankly, I don’t give a feck. Maybe that’s because I’m too busy drinking, fighting and writing.

Am I joking?

Nah, just exaggerating a little. Don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story, right? That’s a bit of an Irish tradition too.

I write. That’s a fact. You can find my stuff online or on bookshelves in some very select places. And yes, I do enjoy my booze, but I’m considered a light drinker in many circles. I don’t drink much for an Irish guy sums it up. My fighting is done in the form of sparring at a small local boxing club. I’m no pro, obviously. I’m don’t even consider myself good enough to be an amateur boxer. But I hold my own at our wee club and I know what it feels like to take a punch. Not bad for a guy in his thirties.

Actually, I learned what it was like to take a punch a long time ago. I wasn’t a troublemaker (honest), but I must have grown up with a face that people liked to punch. In school, playgrounds, and later in pubs, I’ve been in my unfair share of scuffles. For a short time in my teens, I lifted weights and walked with my chest puffed out, but I was always vaguely aware I might not have been properly equipped for a street fight, should I find myself in another one. I got into martial arts in my twenties and eventually became an instructor. Even opened my own kung fu club for a short time.

I met lots of great people with interesting stories and backgrounds while I studied and taught kung fu. Also met some not-so-great people who had ideas above their station, but let’s keep this civil. Those years gave me a great insight into fight psychology. Rich material for a writer.

There are many reasons to learn a martial art – self defence being at the core – but for some it’s simply about the urge to fight and finding an appropriate outlet that is legally and socially acceptable.

During my time as a martial artist, I also became a bullshit artist, or in politer terms, a writer. I hang those labels on myself with a lot more confidence now than I did in my twenties. Back then I would tell you, I do a bit of kung fu and/or I like to write. The titles, martial artist and writer, in my opinion, had to be earned. Now, either I’m more laidback about most things or I believe I’ve done my time, but these titles are just words to me now. And, words have become my stock and trade. I can call myself a writer because I can prove that I can write.

Fighting is different.

If you can fight, there’s no point telling me about it. Especially not on internet forums. Even if somebody calls you out, what’s going to happen, really? Premeditated assault? Probably not a good idea. But there are ways to prove yourself, if that’s your thing. Should you go to a bar and pick on some guy? NO! Don’t even think that, you looper. Just keep your prowess to yourself, and feel safe in the knowledge you can rely on it if you ever have to.

Or compete.

Shut up and fight. But don’t do something stupid that’ll get you arrested. Simple, right?

The only real way for a fighter to test their mettle these days is through combat competition. And I have nothing but respect for any man or woman who steps into a ring, a cage or an octagon. Fighters, of any style, are cool in my book.

What’s my point? I’m a writer, not a fighter, I guess. And I’ve no desire to be a fighter. At some point in my life, before I turn forty, I might step into a ring just for the experience. It’ll be some sort of white collar boxing event, I’d imagine, but I’ll train for it like I’m stepping up to a pro. I’ll go in prepared to crack some ribs or get my bell rung by an unseen right hook, then I’ll recover, laugh about it, write about it, daydream about it, and go back to light sparring at the club until I’m too old to raise my gloves. If that takes the form of boxing, Muay Thai or MMA, so be it. But I’ll have an interest in scrapping for a long time to come.

Which is why I was delighted to pen a novella as Jack Tunney in the new Fight Card MMA series. An old-school writing style applied to a modern sport and publishing model. An opportunity to exercise my writing muscles and draw on some of my low-level fighting experience. And an Irish setting? Writing Welcome to the Octagon was a no-brainer. Making it about an underground scrapper with greater aspirations was my most obvious move. I resisted playing on the booze stereotype, though. Gotta keep the readers on their toes. My protagonist has sworn off alcohol to become a better competitor.

Will this blend of experience and whimsy prove to be a knockout?

Read it and let me know – What have you got to lose? It’s only writing. About fighting. Nobody needs to worry about getting knocked out, except for the characters.

Find out more about Fight Card MMA and other Fight Card brands here:

Against the Ropes

Terrence P. McCauley is an award-winning writer of crime fiction. His latest novel, Slow Burn is currently available from Noir Nation Books. His first book, Prohibition, published by Airship 27, is a full-length novel set in the colorful, exciting world of 1930 New York City. Terry Quinn is an ex-boxer turned mob enforcer who must use his brains instead of his brawn to figure out who is trying to undermine his boss’s criminal empire and why. Quinn’s boxing career is also featured in a prequel, Fight Card: Against The Ropes.  A proud native of The Bronx, NY, he is currently working on his next work of fiction.

 Writing a prequel to a successful first novel can pin a writer against the ropes of his storyline …


Terrence McCauley

I love boxing. Always have – warts and all.

I can’t explain why I love it, exactly. It’s not that I ever had any talent for the sport. Oh, I’ve taken and thrown a few punches in my time, but that’s not boxing. I lack a depth of vision that always made sports difficult for me. I could never shag a fly ball properly or gauge the distance between me and a football. And I can’t really tell how far away a fist – gloved or not – might be from my face, which made my ability to take a punch come in mighty handy over the years. I was never what you might call a roughneck, but in the course of my life, I had my share of scrapes.

How many?

Let’s just say I’ve had enough scrapes to appreciate the skill and commitment it takes to climb into a ring and duke it out over twelve three-minute rounds against another trained professional. To dedicate endless hours to training and pushing yourself to the limit knowing that you’re ultimately going to get hit. And, despite all that, you still step between the ropes anyway.

MMA has its merits, don’t get me wrong. It’s faster than boxing, often more brutal and tends to have more blood. It usually makes for great television. But I think boxing has an added gallantry to it that I think MMA lacks.

In boxing, you can’t use your legs or elbows. Head butts are illegal, and so are takedowns. In the ring, unlike the cage, all you have is your fists, your skill and your will against your opponent. I admire that kind of courage. And in today’s mixed up world, I admire that kind of clarity.

Why did I write Against The Ropes? The short answer is because Paul Bishop let me. I’ve been a fan of the Fight Card series from the beginning and had wanted to try my hand at writing for the series. I’d already covered Terry Quinn’s boxing career in passing in my other book Prohibition, which was written several years before the Fight Card series began. But since Quinn’s days in the ring play such an important role in which the character has become at the beginning of Prohibition, I’d always dreamed of being able to tell the story of the end of his career in more detail.

When Airship 27 gave Prohibiton the green light for publication, I thought Fight Card would be the perfect vehicle to tell Quinn’s story.  And, much to my surprise and delight, Paul agreed. The result is Against The Ropes.

But what makes the Terry Quinn character so special in the first place? Why devote one book to him, much less two – not to mention all the short stories I’ve written about him? He’s an ex-heavyweight contender who becomes an enforcer for the mob in 1920s New York. Hardly an original idea. Half of the henchmen in pulpdom and noirdom have boxing backgrounds, if not more.

While that’s certainly true, I worked hard to make sure Quinn was different than those other characters. Enforcers of pulp fiction are usually portrayed as brutes, guys who were too quick with their fists and too slow with their brains. They’re usually easy pickings for the hero of the story. Or they’re punch-drunk has-beens past their prime and looking for some kind of redemption. One last shot at glory.

In Quinn, I wanted to create a different kind of character who was certainly recognizable, but had more going for him than the reader might expect. Sure, he’s a big, tough, mean, violent guy. That’s what makes him interesting to the reader. But Quinn also has something he doesn’t value very highly: a brain. He thinks of himself as just a pug while everyone around him sees him as much more than that. I wanted to create a character who didn’t fit the traditional mold of a thug; one who was tough but not cocky. Who followed orders, but wasn’t ambitious. Who was loyal and had his loyalty reciprocated by Archie Doyle, the man who runs the criminal empire of Prohibition and plays a huge role in Against The Ropes as well.

I could’ve written Quinn differently. I could’ve made him a war veteran or an ex-cop or just another product of the mean streets of New York City. I made Quinn a boxer because boxers have a capable, professional toughness that writers like, but rarely capture accurately. I wanted a tough guy an audience would be surprised they were cheering for. A character that wouldn’t give me the luxury of easy plot devices that some crime novelists have employed in their stories. You know: the one where the hero walks into a room, gets hit over the head and wakes up tied to a chair. Quinn’s not the kind of character who’s going to let anyone get that close to him. He doesn’t make those kinds of mistakes. He sizes up every situation at his own pace, decides on a course of action and sees it though. He’s not afraid because he’s learned not to be.

Is he a hero? I don’t know. He’s a protagonist, that’s for sure. Is he a good guy? That’s for you to decide. Is he a bad guy? He’s done bad things and even the worst thing: murder. But does that make him a villain? You tell me.

Quinn is a character that I know the audience might not admire, but he’s a character who I certainly hope you’ll want to read about. He does bad things for mostly the right reasons, even when those reasons are criminal reasons. He’s black and white in a Technicolor world. He views the world with narrow parameters and lives his life accordingly.

To Quinn, life outside the boxing ring isn’t much different than life in general. He honed his skills through training and sacrifice. He adapted those skills for each specific opponent he faced. He climbed between the ropes and took whatever they threw at him. And he hit back.

Just like all of us do in our own lives. Every single day.

Find out more about Fight Card here: