“In a land where violence rules with absolute authority, Ryan Cawdor and his wayfarer survivalists roam the strange, nascent 22nd century, living by their own creed of honor as they continue their search for a sanctuary they can call home.”
That’s how publisher Gold Eagle Books describes the Deathlands series of violent science-fiction adventures that features heavily armored big rigs, or “war wags.”
“We’re a secret hit,” says former trucker Nick Pollotta of Waukegan, Ill., who under the pseudonym James Axler has written most of the Deathlands novels since Gemini Rising in 1999. “The series has been out for 20 years, and it still sells phenomenally well.”
Each Deathlands title sells 180,000 copies in paperback plus audio editions, and fervent fans, including many truckers, haunt the dozens of websites devoted to the series. “I listen to the tapes because they make the day go by so fast,” says Roger Barker of Pensacola, Fla., who drives for Woerner Turf of Elberta, Ala.
“It is the most riveting audiobook series I have ever listened to,” says Ellie Bays of Geronimo, Okla., whose husband, Mike, drives for J.B. Hunt. “It keeps you on the edge of your seat.”
Pollotta finds writing less suspenseful than trucking. “I ran an old Fleetwood hauling pressurized gas in Jersey for about five years. Had to do a suicide run once through a lightning storm with me hauling enough liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen to send my butt to the moon. Now I just write about it.”
Pollotta also writes the Bureau 13 series for Wildside Press, which is sort of a humorous X-Files, but the Deathlands books get most of the attention. Pollotta credits their accuracy of detail. He prides himself on researching, say, the effect black-powder cannons have on Abrams tanks (none) and the taste of C4 plastic explosive (“old rancid cheese”). Also popular, he says, is their “Western-movie morality.”
“Bad guys always get what they deserve in my books,” Pollotta says.