A name that conjures up images of terrors unimaginable.
Feared. Hated. Hunted. Cursed. Worshipped. Damned.
Once again pursuing his horrifying dream of creating a new race of humans and of mastering the secrets of Life and Death, Dr. Frankenstein seeks to not only to dominate Science but Sorcery as well.
THE MADNESS OF FRANKENSTEIN
It will infect and infest the souls of all who come into contact with Frankenstein. Pray it does not take hold of you.
THE MADNESS OF FRANKENSTEIN is now available as an Ebook from Amazon for just $0.99!
Friday, October 31, 2014
Monday, October 6, 2014
Derrick Ferguson: Who is Frank Byrns?
Frank Byrns: Let's find out together!
DF: Where do you live and what do you do the keep the repo men from your door?
FB: I live in Maryland, just about halfway between Washington and Baltimore. We move frequently to keep the repo men from our door. (The first sentence of this answer won't help in that regard.) Or, alternately, I work in the exciting world of third party logistics.
DF: Tell us something about your background.
FB: I grew up in a small town in North Carolina, went to school at Wake Forest University (Go Deacs!), lived in Arizona for a bit as the husband of an itinerant grad student, then settled down in the DMV region almost fifteen years ago. I worked for a while in retail management for a series of professional sports teams, then worked almost ten years for the Smithsonian Institution.
DF: How long have you been writing?
FB: All my life, I guess? I have a whole stack of Robin Hood stories I wrote in second grade, and some GI Joe stories from third grade that are only slightly worse. But I've been writing seriously (as in occasionally for money) for the last ten years or so.
DF: What’s your philosophy of writing?
FB: I like to show and not tell, but even more importantly, I like to say and not tell. But those are the same things, you're thinking, and you might be right. I like for the characters to say things, rather than the narrator to tell things. I think one of my strongest suits as a writer is that I write pretty good dialogue, and you can reveal a lot of character through dialogue. If it's done right -- done wrong, it can be pretty terrible. So it's a balancing act, without turning into Basil Exposition. I like it when characters say one thing but mean another, and that's all pretty clear to the reader. That's the sweet spot.
I've written stories that are all dialogue, without even so much as a single dialogue tag, and I think they turned out pretty well. (And on the subject of dialogue tags: it's SAID. Always SAID. SAID, SAID, SAID. Nothing else. Let the words the character says tell you how they said them.)
I'm also not a big fan of a lot of flowery description or language. The language gets in the way of the story, and the description gets in the way of the reader's imagination. But I could read James Lee Burke describe the way a swamp smells for five pages, so I dunno. Your mileage may vary.
DF: What audience are your trying to reach with your work? Is there an audience out there for Frank Byrns?
FB: I have to hope so, right? Otherwise, why bother?
I do write a lot of stuff that lands in a weird gray area; they are superhero stories enjoyed by people who don't always like superhero stories, and at the same time, people that like traditional superhero stories may not like my stuff because of the tone and the pace and the occasional lack of action (sometimes I write thrilling stories about a conversation between two people sitting on a roof, things like that). I've tried forcing some action scenes into stories, but they feel exactly that -- forced. So I take them right back out.
I don't know -- I guess people who prefer the human side of superhuman. Something like that.
I write stories with supervillains that worry that their kids are turning out just like them. (Don't we all?) Parents who are afraid to let their superhero children out into the world alone. (Aren't we all?) Parents who still love their supervillain children, even after everything. (Don't we all?) I'm sensing a trend here....
DF: Before we get into ADONIS MORGAN: NOBODY SPECIAL, let’s talk a bit about the superhero prose genre and your place in it. The most obvious question being: why write superhero prose stories?
FB: I started writing superhero prose superhero stories a little over ten years ago, and when I did, I didn't know if there was anyone else out there doing the same thing. I naturally assumed that there were -- I'm not that original -- but I didn't know them or how to find them. Kurt Busiek's work on Marvels and Astro City was a big influence that I was reading at the time. I thought those books somehow made superheroes more real and more wondrous at the same time by making a crucial distinction: instead of showing us what it would be like it superheroes lived in our world, what would it be like if we lived in theirs? They weren't realistic, obviously, but the human emotion in the stories was real, and that really appealed to me as a reader, and eventually, as a writer.
Gradually, I stumbled across other folks doing the same thing -- Frank Fradella and Sean Taylor and Tom Waltz at iHero / Cyber Age Adventures, Matt Hiebert at Superhero Fiction, and later, Nick Ahlhelm at Metahuman Press. Then, of course, I threw my own hat in the ring by publishing A Thousand Faces: the Quarterly Journal of Superhuman Fiction. I started that in 2007, and it ran for 14 issues before I shut it down. I tried to publish the kinds of superhero stories I like to read, things a little more thoughtful and a little less actionful. Through that experience, I met a lot of other superhero writers who have also become friends: T Mike McCurley, Hg, Andrew Salmon, Josh Reynolds, Van Allen Plexico, Rob Rogers, Ian Healy -- a lot of names that will sound familiar to fans of the New Pulp movement. It's been interesting to see superhero fiction get folded under this much larger tent of late -- I'm excited to see where it goes from here.
DF: When did your love of superheroes begin? And what is it about superheroes that speak to all of us?
FB: I can't remember a time when I didn't love superheroes. I read tons of comics as a kid -- my favorite was GI Joe, but that got me into other stuff, Captain America and The Avengers, specifically. I watched Superfriends and the old Adam West Batman, all of the usual touchstones. I went away from superheroes for a while in high school through college, but got back into it with Astro City. I love that book. That, and Bendis' run on Daredevil are what got me back into comics.
I think the chance to put on a mask and be someone else for a while really appeals to a lot of people. To live outside the law -- on either side of it, really, when you get down to it -- and not have to rely on anyone else than your own awesome ability? To be able to fly? Men have dreamed about flying since the first time they saw a bird. How could that not speak to every one of us?
DF: The main drawback of superhero prose is that you don’t have an artist assisting in the storytelling. Is that a drawback for you? Or have you found a way to make that work in your favor?
FB: Nope -- not a drawback to me at all. You have to approach it like writing any other story. You're not writing a comic book without pictures, you're writing a story about superheroes. Comic books are not a genre, they're a medium, but the two (superheroes and comics) are so endlessly conflated, it's very hard to separate. A great mystery story wouldn't work better as a comic book; some probably would, but some work better as movies, too.
Here's what I mean: I looooooooove the movie Unbreakable. I still claim it to be the best superhero movie ever made. But I think it would be hard to tell that story in a comic format. But certain kinds of superhero stories only really work as comics. I can't imagine a Grant Morrison comic as a novel. Those DC novels they produced in the past few years -- Infinity Crisis, 52, etc. -- adapting their big event comics? I didn't think they were very good.
When I was working with Pro Se Press on the cover design for Nobody Special, it was really hard for me. I don't think about the Adonis stories visually at all. I had names for some of the bad guys -- had to call them something -- but costumes? Nothing. I barely know what Adonis looks like, and I've been writing these stories off and on for ten years. Some of them I don't even know what their powers are. I know that's a weird way to approach a superhero story, but that's how I'm wired, I guess.
DF: Tell us about ADONIS MORGAN: NOBODY SPECIAL.
FB: Nobody Special is a collection of five stories featuring the guy who has turned out to be my most popular character, Adonis Morgan. He's a guy who used to be a superhero, but to use his own phrase, "it didn't take." Something happened a few years ago that caused him to hang up the cape and mask and the whole bit -- but just exactly what happened is up in the air. (Either I don't know or I ain't saying, your mileage may vary.) But at any rate, he just can't quite shake his past.
So five stories, one set in each of the past five years. There's "Hollywood Ending", the first Adonis story I wrote over ten years ago (it's a reprint, but it's sort of the origin story, so I thought I should include it here), with Adonis working in LA as a movie stuntman and actor. The second one, "Red Carpet Blues", picks up about a year later, and he's working as a limo driver. The third, "April Fools", excerpts the Adonis segments from a mosaic novella I wrote a few years back called "Friday". Adonis is driving a cab in this one, as he is in the fourth story, "Walking After Midnight", set a year or so later. The fifth and final story in this book, "A Foregone Conclusion", is one I'm very proud of, and might be my favorite of anything I've ever written. In this one, Adonis gets hired on as part of a protection detail for a political candidate's wife.
Adonis is a guy who says he's done playing the hero, who says he just wants to keep his head down and out of the way, who says he just wants to be left alone. But somehow, he just can't stop himself from doing the right thing. Someone once described him as an extraordinary man trying to live an ordinary life, and I really like that. Kinda the opposite of most of us, I guess.
He's a guy who doesn't talk much, and when pressed, favors cryptic non-answers. Which can prove difficult for me from time to time, since as I mentioned, I really like to reveal character through dialogue. I try to reveal his character through the avoidance of dialogue, I guess? It can be tricky, but I think it works.
"Walking After Midnight", the fourth story in the book, has a POV that shifts through several characters, none of whom are Adonis. He's just this figure, lurking in the edge of their lives. He gets a little dialogue with some of them, but the story's not about him. But at the same time, it's all about him.
I tried something a little different in "A Foregone Conclusion" -- it's a first person narrative, told from Adonis' point of view. I was a bit worried it would be a bit jarring coming along after the other four third person narratives, but I think it works.
DF: What was the inspiration for the character of Adonis Morgan?
FB: He sort of emerged fully formed from this stew of ideas and influences swirling around in my head for years. I've always liked the idea of people who peaked early in life, and things would never be that good again, but still have to play out the string, so to speak. I also like playing with the idea that just because you were born to do something (call it destiny, genetics, whatever you'd like) doesn't mean you want to or have to or are even any good at it. What if you don't want to be whatever it is that the universe demands you become?
So if you are super strong and super fast and bulletproof, does that necessarily mean you're a superhero? And even if you've got all those things, what if you try it and you're no good at it? Or you hate it? And if you have enough of a moral compass that you don't become a supervillain, what then?
DF: Will we be seeing more of Adonis Morgan?
FB: I'm sure. I don't do a lot of recurring characters in my stories; the main character from one story may float through the margins of another story, but there are only a few I've returned to over the years. I never planned to go back to Adonis after "Hollywood Ending"; that one ends in a pretty dark place for him. The last line of the story is "Now what?" and I liked that. But the question demanded to be answered, I guess.
I wrote another one a year or so later called "Barflies" (not included in Nobody Special but available online in a few places) that was originally supposed to be about a bar where metahumans hung out in their off hours. There are a few blink and you'll miss them cameos in there from other stories, and at some point, I needed a cabbie. And the first thought in my head was that that is the now what? for Adonis. One of my writerly friends, T. Mike McCurley (read Firedrake, it's great!!!) emailed me after reading and said that it was good to see Adonis again after "Hollywood Ending", and that he had been afraid Adonis had been lost forever. That really stuck with me, and I thought that maybe I was on to something. Before long, he started popping up in other story ideas.
I've got an Adonis novel I've been working on off and on for a while (he's driving a cab in a small North Carolina beach town as a massive hurricane bears down on the island); I've got a couple of other stories percolating in various stages.
You'll see him again soon, I'm sure.
DF: What’s a typical Day In The Life of Frank Byrns like?
FB: Working the pay job, coaching sports after school with the kids, homework / dinner / bed, maybe say hi to my wife before I try and steal some time to write before I fall asleep? Lather, rinse, repeat. Exciting stuff, I know....
Derrick Ferguson: Anything else we should know?
Frank Byrns: God help anyone who's read this far, so I'll just wrap it with the news that Adonis Morgan: Nobody Special is available in print and ebook format at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, and wherever fine books are sold! Ask for it by name!
#1: "Those motherfuckers had a Gatling gun and more bullets than China had rice."
#2: "Peace! Freedom! And a few less fat bastards eating all the pie!"
#3: “Would it be all right if I show the children the whoring bed?”
#4: “Now listen to me you benighted muckers. We're going to teach you soldiering. The world's noblest profession. When we're done with you, you'll be able to slaughter your enemies like civilized men.”
#5: “You can push them out of a plane, you can march them off a cliff, you can send them off to die on some God-forsaken rock, but for some reason, you can't slap them. Now apologize to that boy immediately.”
#6: “She wasn’t just tall. She was great big. She was honey blonde with the mark of The Valkyrie and her mouth was curved in a moist, lush grin because my eyes swept over her so fast. Her body seemed to want to explode and only the tailored suit kept it confined.”
#7: "You couldn't fool your mother on the foolingest day of your life even if you had an electrified fooling machine."
#8: “You're a funny guy Sully, I like you. That's why I'm going to kill you last.”
#9: “I don't think I'd like to be God. Not that I'm turning down any offers, mind you. But there are six billion people on this planet and I still feel alone. Imagine being One God.”
#10: “Even if he does have a little bacon on the side, that doesn’t make him Eggs Benedict Arnold.”
Thursday, October 2, 2014
It’s been a while since the original Kickin’ The Willy Bobo Interview with Joel so I thought it about time we caught up with what he’s all about and what he’s doing 15 MONTHS LATER..
Derrick Ferguson: Have there been any major changes in your life since we last talked?
Joel Jenkins: Most of the major changes are family oriented. I've got one twin daughter going to the University of Washington now, and another heading out for an 18 month mission in San Antonio with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. And I've got a son who is now driving not just my car but the cost of my auto insurance to astronomical levels.
DF: Tell us about SKULL CRUSHER
JJ: Skull Crusher is a continuation of a short story I wrote a couple of decades ago, and which was published in Pulp and Dagger. This short fantasy story featured Prince Strommand Greattrix, a great warrior who is seduced, drugged, and captured so that he cannot bring his great sky ship, The Skull Crusher, into play to defend against the surprise attack against his city and family.
The short story ended with Greattrix plunging off the side of the enemy's sky ship. The novel includes this short story and follows Greattrix as he swears an oath of sobriety and celibacy until he can gain vengeance and retake his realm.
Strommand is a very powerful warrior, but he also has a high estimation of himself and a weakness for women. Besides all the sword fights and bloodshed, writing the story was an interesting journey. I was curious to see if Strommand could keep his baser instincts in check or if he would again succumb to the folly that had caused the downfall of his kingdom and the death of his clan.
DF: How do you feel your writing has developed since we last talked?
JJ: I think I've been letting the stories go to some darker and grittier places than I have in the past. I'm tackling protagonists with greater flaws and letting them suffer the consequences of their poor decisions.
DF: Do you think that you have found an audience? Or has your audience found you?
JJ: It's more like a cult following than an audience. Maybe I'll hit critical mass after I write another 18 books, or so, and I'll gain enough readers to call them an audience.
DF: Have any of your attitudes about your work or your style of writing changed complete or modified in any way?
JJ: Yes, I've been able to nearly double my productivity by keeping a tighter focus, and having a brief outline to guide me through the day's writing (and by day, I mean 2 hours each morning before my work day begins). As a consequence, I've got two Barclay Salvage space opera novels written for release in 2015. I've also finished 72,000 words of Sly Gantlet/Dillon team up stories for release in 2015 with Derrick Ferguson's much anticipated “Dead Beat in Khusra”.
DF: Hollywood calls and says that they’re going to give you 500 million dollars and the director of your choice to adapt one of your books into a movie. What book do you choose and what director?
JJ: I would see if it can be done on a lesser budget. The expectations of a big budget movie are so outrageous that they're almost impossible to fulfill. Maybe I could get John Woo to film a Monica Killingsworth film. That would be cool.
DF: Recommend a movie, a book and a TV show.
JJ: I happen to be of the opinion that the PulpWork Press stable of authors include some of the best in the world. I'd recommend trying The Vril Agenda by Josh Reynolds and Derrick Ferguson or Dragon Kings of the Orient by Percival Constantine.
The last movie I saw was The Expendables 3 and you couldn't wipe the grin off my face. It was everything I loved about 80's movies, just with a few more lines and creases in the faces.
As far as TV, any recommendations I might proffer would be 3 to 5 years out of date, since I don't even have an active TV feed coming into my house. I enjoy watching a handful of series, but since I detest wasting time on commercials I wait until they are on DVD, pick them up and watch them at my own leisure.
DF: What are you working on now?
JJ: I just started a Damage Inc. story called “The Madagascar Hole”. With this and the previously published novellas “On Wings of Darkness”, and the infamous “Sun Stealer”, I should have enough to publish a Damage Inc. collection next year.
For those not familiar with Max Damage he is my take on Doc Savage...if Doc Savage had a flaw for every magnificent ability. Max Damage is incredibly strong and heals quickly, but his metabolism is so fast he has to eat like a horse. He has amazing eyesight, but bright light blinds him, so he must wear sunglasses any time he is in the daylight. He has a photographic memory, but he is dyslexic. With his cohorts, the genetically engineered Minnie Zhinov, and the diminutive accountant Seth Armstrong, they encounter all kinds of strange doings--mostly on account of Max's dead father and his vast and shady business dealings.
Derrick Ferguson: Anything else we should know?
Joel Jenkins: Check Amazon later this month (October 2014) for The Coming of Crow, which features the Native American supernatural investigator and gunfighter Lone Crow. Anyone who thinks that a mélange of Western and Horror sounds interesting, might enjoy this collection of stories.
Sunday, September 14, 2014
You may recall that back in April of this year I wrote an article in which I gave three examples of New Pulp in today’s popular media. My hope was to show that the Pulp tradition never really went away and is alive and well. It’s just that the tropes of Pulp have been conscripted by Action Adventure, Horror, Science Fiction and many other genres. But there’s New Pulp aplenty all around. You just have to look for it:
CONGO: This is one of the most spectacular examples of New Pulp. And when I say spectacular I’m talking about the sheer audacity of the story which is primarily a jungle adventure with a diverse and eccentric band of explorers looking for The Lost City of Zinj and the diamond mines located there. It’s a strictly 1930’s plot successfully transplanted to the 1990’s and enhanced with modern day technology.
The movie is directed by Frank Marshall, who frequently collaborated with Steven Spielberg and written by John Patrick Shanley. It’s based on the novel by Michael Crichton but take it from me, the movie is way better than the novel. Which is the case with most of Crichton’s novels. Probably because Crichton really wasn’t interested in characterization. Crichton was more interested in the technology and the effects of science going wrong. But CONGO is the stuff of Saturday afternoon cliffhangers than most of his other stuff and that’s what Marshall and Shanley wisely decided to focus on. ‘Cause trust me, this movie moves. There’s enough fights, captures, escapes, close shaves with death and breathtaking action to give Lester Dent on his best day a run for his money.
That’s not to say they throw out the technology entirely. One of Our Heroes is Dr. Peter Elliott (Dylan Walsh) a primatologist who has taught a gorilla named Amy how to speak using sign language. Her sign language is translated into digital speech by means of a special backpack and glove. Peter decides to return her to Africa and is funded in this endeavor by Herkermer Homolka (Tim Curry) a shady character who has led unsuccessful expeditions to Zinj in the past and thinks that Amy may be the key to this one being successful.
Also joining the expedition is Dr. Karen Ross (Laura Linney) a communications expert who needs to get to the Congo to find her fiancé (Bruce Campbell) who was looking for a rare blue diamond that can only be found near volcanos. Guess where the Lost City of Zinj just happens to be in the neighborhood of?
Along with The Great White Hunter Munro Kelly (Ernie Hudson and yes, I do know he’s black. But that’s how he always introduces himself and it leads to one of the movie’s funniest lines later on) and his team, they set off to find the Lost City of Zinj which is guarded by killer gorillas.
There’s no adequate way I can tell you just how much sheer fun CONGO is. Just let me say that if you don’t want to see a movie where Laura Linney is blasting away with a laser at killer gorillas while fleeing from an exploding volcano, then this obviously isn’t the movie for you. But for those of you who want to check it out, it’s available for instant streaming on Netflix.
DIRK PITT: Described by his creator, Clive Cussler as a modern day homage to Doc Savage, I’ve always admired Cussler’s unashamed love of Classic Pulp and his enthusiasm for it. A good case could be made that Cussler was writing New Pulp long before the title was ever coined. He’s certainly the most successful at it and the character of Dirk Pitt is by now as well-known as Doc Savage and James Bond, another fictional grandfather of Pitt’s.
So far there have been 22 Dirk Pitt novels written with more to come, especially since Cussler’s son Dirk has co-written the last six with his father and most likely will eventually take over the series entirely.
When it comes to branding Dirk Pitt as New Pulp one has only to check out a few of the novels to see that he comes by that legitimately. Despite working as marine engineer for the National Underwater and Marine Agency, in every novel Pitt finds himself battling megalomaniacal supervillains with world conquering schemes that would wring gasps of envy from Fu Manchu or Ernst Stavro Blofeld. In the course of his adventures Pitt has recovered Captain Nemo’s ‘Nautilus’, raised the ‘Titanic’, discovers the existence of a secret base on the moon, finds Atlantis, stops a plot by a race of genetic supermen to destroy civilization and create a Nazi empire… need I go on?
Dirk Pitt hasn’t had much success outside of the novels. He’s been in two movies so far. He was played by Richard Jordan in 1980’s RAISE THE TITANIC! which you should avoid as if it were Ebola.
But 2005’s SAHARA with Matthew McConaughey as Pitt and Steve Zahn as his sidekick Al Giordino is way better and even though Cussler was very unhappy with the movie I found it a lot of fun. Only thing I can complain about it is that McConaughey and Penelope Cruz have zero chemistry together on screen.
THE SIMPSONS Episode #150: “RAGING ABE SIMPSON AND HIS GRUMBLING GRANDSON IN ‘THE CURSE OF THE FLYING HELLFISH’”
Written by Jonathan Collier and directed by Jeffrey Lynch this is not only an hilarious SIMPSONS episode but an outstanding pulp action adventure story as well. Don’t believe me? When was the last time you saw an episode of an animated show where the plot hinged on Nazi art treasures and a tontine?
We find out in this episode that Abraham J. Simpson was the commanding officer of “The Flying Hellfish”, a gung-ho infantry squad in WWII whose members included the fathers of Chief Clancy Wiggum, Seymour Skinner and Barney Gumble. The laziest and most cowardly member of the squad is Corporal Montgomery Burns.
During the final days of WWII, The Flying Hellfish take a German castle and discover it’s full of priceless artwork. Through quick talking, Burns convinces the others to enter into a tontine. Upon the death of the others, the treasure, now called The Hellfish Bonanza goes to the last survivor.
Burns and Abe Simpson are the last two survivors and Burns hires Fernando Vidal, the world’s most devious assassin to kill Abe. Naturally pissed off by this, Abe, with the help of his grandson Bartholomew J. Simpson determines to go get the Hellfire Bonanza before Burns gets his hands on it.
From start to finish this is a delightful episode that plays out like a miniature summer action movie. And it’s downright touching how Bart and Abe bond together while on this wild treasure hunt and see Bart gain a new found respect for his grandfather who he had previously only thought to be a nutty old coot.
That’s three more examples of New Pulp for you and I hope you enjoyed them. If any more occur to me, you’ll be the first to know. Peace!
Tuesday, September 9, 2014
Derrick Ferguson: Who is Don Gates?
Don Gates: Don Gates is a 40 year-old guy who has spent way too much time in his own little world and now it’s finally spilling out of his head onto paper. I’m married to the sweetest and gutsiest girl I’ve ever known and we have some crazy pets and a fairly quiet, happy life together. I’m a geek from the old-school who grew up in the 80’s and has a head full of movie quotes and useless trivia. I’m a casual gamer and former casual musician (I once played the bass, although probably not that good).
DF: Where do you live and what do you do to keep the bill collectors away?
DG: In 2012 we relocated from Florida, where I was born and lived all my life, to Canada to be near my Mom after my Dad passed away. I am a dual-citizen of both the US and Canada. My day job is doing network tech-support for a Canadian cell-phone provider: I’m lucky enough to work from home, so I usually spend my workday in my pajamas. It’s not always as nice as it sounds though: cabin fever can be a bitch sometimes, and sitting at home around all of my distractions can make the workday feel like it’s dragging on. The job isn’t the most creatively-rewarding but I usually end my day feeling good that I’ve been able to help somebody fix their problems, so that’s something.
DF: Tell us something about your background
DG: Born in 1974. Dad was a cop who got injured on the job and retired early, Mom was a stay-at-home housewife. I was an only child, so I was probably spoiled. I was (and am) an introvert so I spent lots of time reading or drawing or daydreaming.
DF: How long have you been writing?
DG: I had been creating for years – superheroes and sci-fi tales – but was always limited to my own headspace for that stuff. I’d be pushing carts at Pic N Save or working in the electronics department at Toys R Us or whatever menial job I had at the time but I’d constantly be coming up with stuff in my head. I never thought any of those ideas could be turned into anything worth writing, so I’d never develop them to the point of committing them to paper.
In 2007 I began to come up with my own pulp characters, ones that I felt I actually could expand upon and maybe even start writing and maybe – just maybe – get published. I tossed my ideas around with a few online friends who gave me some invaluable feedback, and I went from there.
DF: What's your philosophy of writing?
DG: I don’t know if I really have one. I try to entertain but to also make the characters human and believable, if not relatable. The best reading experiences to me are always the ones where you can see the main characters as whole people, and so I try to do that a little bit without making them so complex that it bogs the story down. This is pulp, after all, so it’s gotta move fast.
I also don’t have an exact plan of attack when I write: I try to outline everything but I usually end up with a beginning, an end, and a few points between and then flesh it out and connect the dots. I have yet to write a rough draft or a second draft or whatever. I usually write and edit as I go, and let the story evolve while making sure to hit those specific points along the way. I guess I’m a plotter and a pantser… a pants-plotter?
DF: What audience are you trying to reach with your work? Is there an audience for Don Gates?
DG: I want to reach anybody that wants to read an adventure. I’m sure that when it comes to my Challenger Storm stuff, part of me wants to reach the Doc Savage pastiche fans, although I really don’t think of Storm as a pastiche. He’s influenced by Doc Savage a bit, yes, but I’m certainly not trying to write Doc stories with the names of the cast changed or anything. (Not that there’s anything wrong with pastiches, mind you, they just aren’t what I want to do.)
Is there an audience for Don Gates? I hope so. So far I haven’t gotten fan comments from strangers who say “I love your stuff!” or anything, but I can tell there’s a few people out there who do like what I’m doing. I kinda hope there will be an audience one day, actual “Don Gates fans”. That’d be cool.
DF: Why New Pulp?
DG: because it’s so damned fun! Ever since I was introduced to The Shadow when I was twelve years-old or so I’ve had pulp on the brain, because it’s just pure excitement. Adventure in far off lands, devious villains, heroes of action, beautiful dames… there’s such a feeling of glamour and romance to it (not the “lovey dovey” kind of romance but that great “lost golden era” kind). It’s nice that in this day and age there’s a place to escape to where dreams could come true, where there were still places on the map that were blank and unexplored.
And New Pulp as a concept is terrific because it throws in “post-pulp” influences and sensibilities and opens up new grounds for pulp to tread. It keeps it from getting stale but also keeps the familiar and comfortable tropes. Before “New Pulp” became a phrase, I liked to think of it as “pulp remixed."
DF: What writers have influenced you?
DG: I’m pretty sure that anyone that I’ve ever read and enjoyed has influenced me in one way or the other. My first big reading experience was Jules Verne’s 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA, I’m pretty sure that stayed with me. William Gibson in his prime (the “Sprawl Trilogy” that began with NEUROMANCER) was very important to me, and I loved his prose: “J.G. Ballard meets Raymond Chandler in cyberspace”. I love Lovecraft and periodically go on Lovecraft reading-binges. And I love the greats from the hero pulps: Walter Gibson for his genius, Lester Dent for his inventiveness, and Norvell Page for his visceral energy.
Probably the biggest influence on my writing has probably been Dave Stevens’ THE ROCKETEER. That comic changed my life and showed me that you can create “new old adventures”. I read a magazine article about the series when I was thirteen and before I was finished reading it I knew that I couldn’t rest until I’d tracked down every Rocketeer appearance I could find. It even influenced me in ways I didn’t realize until after I’d been writing a while: the similarity of the name Clifton Storm to Cliff Secord was entirely subconscious, for example. That’d be a crossover I’d love to write, though. A dream project.
DF: What's your career plan as a writer?
DG: There’s supposed to be a plan?!
Seriously, I don’t know if I have one. I want to write stuff that I’ll enjoy writing and to write as much as I can crank out… which isn’t really that much. I’m a pretty slow writer which is something I need to work on. And should my path somehow take me to “the big leagues” then I’d be cool with that. (REALLY cool, actually)
DF: Do you think it's desirable for us as New Pulp Writers to chase Mainstream audiences or is that just a dream always out of reach?
DG: No, I don’t think it’s out of reach. The other day Annie and I were at Wal-Mart and we came across a display stand filled with those “Hard Case Crime” novels. She hadn’t seen them before and was kinda surprised to see all these books with pulpy covers and big name writers. She said something like “I can see this as a sign; maybe pulp is coming back into mainstream popularity.” This was only a day or so before the news of the Bradley Cooper EXECUTIONER movie and the Shane Black DESTROYER movie news, so maybe she’s right. And that’d be fine with all of us, I’m sure.
DF: Who is Challenger Storm?
DG: Clifton “Challenger” Storm is a guy of incredible potential, a hero who does what he does not only because it’s the right thing to do but because of a burning need for redemption. He was brought up wealthy (because all pulp heroes like him need a big bank account), but while his parents were philanthropic with their wealth he was arrogant, cruel and cold and extremely self-centered and spoiled. At around age nineteen his parents died in a car accident, and while he was returning home to take over their fortunes the passenger plane he was travelling in crashed in the mountains during a freak blizzard. Although the accident left him with three long scars on the left side of his face, he was otherwise unharmed while everyone else aboard the plane was killed. He was left alone to survive in the mountains and he experienced an epiphany, the same kind of soul-searching I imagine a lot of sole survivors go through: “Why was I left alive? Why me?” etc.
The answer comes to him that he’s still around to become the opposite of who he was, to help build the world instead of bleeding it. He throws away his old ways and leaps into a rabid self-improvement regimen to try and become as skilled as he can both mentally and physically. After graduating college at the top of his class and with numerous extracurricular activity achievements, he disappears and travels the world, learning as much martial and esoteric skills as he can manage. When he returns home to the US, he sets up the Miami Aerodrome Research and Development Laboratories (MARDL for short), a collective think-tank of designers, scientists, engineers… All are like-minded individuals who want to make the world a better place through science and technology.
MARDL also has a “troubleshooting” arm, a ragtag group of adventurers and thrill-seekers who join Storm on his missions against the human predators of the world. If someone needs aid and they can’t get it elsewhere, Storm and his troubleshooters will help.
Storm is not as infallible as guys like The Shadow or Doc Savage. When creating him, I always used the mantra “He’s not Doc Savage, but he’s trying to be.” Storm screws up, he gets emotional, he feels guilt or second guesses himself, he has self-doubt. He may know arcane martial arts, can design and build revolutionary aircraft & equipment, and runs a gigantic utopian-minded organization, but he’s also messy and has no idea how many people are on his payroll. His secretary, Marie, is indispensable to him and MARDL because she helps keep everything in check.
DF: Tell us about THE ISLE OF BLOOD.
DG: THE ISLE OF BLOOD is the first Challenger Storm novel and winner of the 2012 Pulp Factory Awards for Best Cover Art and Best Interior Art, both of which were handled by the legendary comic artist and illustrator Michael Wm. Kaluta.
In the novel Storm and his team are asked for help by an aviation tycoon whose daughter, a teacher on the tiny impoverished island-nation of La Isla de Sangre, has been kidnapped by a vicious group of guerilla warlords known as the Villalobos Brothers. They’re holding his daughter ransom, but soon after the team begins the rescue mission they discover there’s more to the story than they thought. Meanwhile, the Villalobos Brothers begin to unleash a mysterious super-weapon called “the Goddess of Death” upon their enemies and start to set their sights on taking over the island itself.
There’s also a framing device in the book in the form of a mysterious secret agent on his way to Florida to meet Storm to offer him the chance to work for his agency, the Eye, in exchange for government sanctioning of MARDL’s vigilante activities. During the “intermission” chapters we see the agent learning about Storm’s past, and through these scenes the reader also experiences Storm’s “origin”.
The print edition of the book is out of print right now, but there are plans for a newly edited and tweaked edition: while I fix some bugs inside the book, Michael Kaluta is doing some cover touch ups that have been bugging him (what exactly they are, I couldn’t say because that cover is terrific).
DF: Tell us about THE CURSE OF POSEIDON.
DG: THE CURSE OF POSEIDON is the second Storm novel. Ships and their crews are mysteriously disappearing without a trace in the Aegean Sea near Greece, the victims of a rumored “curse” of the ancient sea-god Poseidon. Meanwhile, freak tsunamis are striking coastal villages and weird black-armored beings are spotted at the scene afterward. Storm becomes embroiled in these events through one of his troubleshooters, Diana St. Clair (who Storm has an unrequited crush on). Diana’s ex-lover – a former MARDL scientist – is among those missing aboard the disappearing ships. Storm and his team join the hunt and eventually confront a villain who can use water itself as a weapon and can make mindless slaves out of free men.
The cover and interiors are again supplied by Michael Kaluta, who has done some astounding artwork once more. The response to the art – especially the cover – has been extraordinary.
DF: Okay, so let's get to the question that I'm sure you get asked many times and here's your chance to have it in print so that when you're asked in the future you can just refer them to this interview: How did you get Michael Kaluta do to the covers and interior illustrations for your Challenger Storm novels?
DG: By reading aloud from the Necronomicon while standing in an ancient and powerful magic circle of stones, pledging my eternal soul to the Outer Gods in exchange for Kaluta’s participation.
Actually, what happened was this:
I’ve been a huge fanboy of Kaluta’s art since I discovered his work on The Shadow (through the very same issue of COMICS SCENE magazine that introduced me to the Rocketeer and Doc Savage, I may add… it was a landmark moment for me, and I still have the issue). For years my wife heard me go on and on about his artwork, and eventually she did what I didn’t have the balls to do: she sent him an email to tell him how much of a fan I was, etc. Michael is a very personable guy and he and Annie struck up a friendly email acquaintanceship. She eventually mentioned to him that I had written a New Pulp novel and jokingly asked if he wanted to do the artwork for it. To our surprise, he said something to the effect of “let me see what I can do”. Next thing you know, he signed on and soon he and I were trading emails and shooting the breeze about classic warplanes and art nouveau illustrators.
I’m still not sure exactly what made Michael agree to do the artwork. Perhaps it’s because he has an affinity for the subject matter, or maybe it gave him an excuse to draw classic airplanes (an interest that I didn’t know we shared until he started working on THE ISLE OF BLOOD). One thing’s for certain: he has never “phoned the artwork in”. He has approached every illustration and cover with a thorough, professional attitude and has never settled for anything that he feels is sub-par. Mike is a true craftsman. It may sound biased, but some of his work on Challenger Storm is some of my favorite Kaluta art ever.
And it’s also very cool that one of my idols is now someone I can call a friend. I owe it all to my wife, who I’m sure has voodoo powers now because she was able to somehow bring this all to pass.
DF: You've got prestigious names such as Ron Fortier and Michael Kaluta attached to your books. How does that make you feel?
DG: Bluntly, I’m living the dream. I grew up reading Ron’s terrific work in THE GREEN HORNET and looking at Michael’s awesome and intricate artwork, so to have these guys participating in my project is an incredible feeling. I’m honored to be working with them, and I’m standing on the shoulders of giants.
DF: How many Challenger Storm novels do you have planned?
DG: Approximately 14. Now, it sounds like I’ve got an awesome lineup in the works, but some of these are fleshed out into plot germs while others are just a line or two in a notepad file that I want to expand upon further.
After THE CURSE OF POSEIDON comes WHITE HELL, currently “in production”. Anyone who has read the epilogue in CURSE… can probably tell where WHITE HELL will be going. After that I definitely know the next 2 books I want to do but beyond those I’ll need to do more expanding of my plot ideas. I also have some ideas of where the world of Challenger Storm will be headed into the modern era. There’s a heroic legacy brewing slowly here…
Keep in mind too that I’m a super-slow writer and have other projects going at the same time, so whether I ever hit my goals or not depends on how well I can beat my procrastination and laziness.
DF: What's a Day in the Life of Don Gates like?
DG: I get up about an hour before my workday starts and begin drinking my requisite dosage of coffee. I work my shift, the length of which can vary, and when I’m done I usually relax with the Missus and the dogs & cats and watch something on TV. If any writing is gonna get done, I either need to force myself to do it during this time or wait until I have no distractions whatsoever. I usually end my night watching Japanese tokusatsu shows for a while in bed before going to sleep and probably getting less shut-eye than I should be.
DF: Recommend a movie, a book and a TV show.
DG: Oh damn… see, I suck at this kind of thing because I’m really behind and I’m constantly catching up. We started watching BREAKING BAD a night or two after the series finale. Okay, I’ll try to recommend stuff that isn’t the norm and that folks might’ve missed.
For a movie, I’d recommend BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW. It’s a very oddly-paced sci fi film from Canada involving an esoteric clinic and institute gone wrong. There are psychics, sinister New Age stuff gone awry, and a weird ALTERED STATES-esque sequence in which something comes back from the “other side” with an acid tripper who took it too far. It looks and feels like it was made in the 80’s, and not the fun-time 80’s either but a weird technophobic underbelly of the era instead. I’d probably throw it in the same loony bin that VIDEODROME came from.
For a recommended book, I’d say to check out THE ARCANUM by Thomas Wheeler. It brings together Harry Houdini, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, HP Lovecraft, and Marie Laveau in an epic fictional crossover. Folk who enjoyed Paul Malmont’s fictionalized pulp writers’ adventures will probably dig this. It was a lot of fun.
And for a TV show, folks who’ve never seen THE PRISONER should watch it (and stay away from the AMC remake). Hell, folks who’ve already seen it a million times should watch it again. It’s not just entertainment, it’s thought-provoking televisual art.
Derrick Ferguson: What can we look forward to from you in 2015?
DG: Hopefully a lot more than what I’ve been able to crank out so far. I’ve got a short story in Airship 27’s upcoming 2nd volume of TALES OF THE HANGING MONKEY, which was a blast to write and led me to creating a heroine who’ll probably show up again elsewhere. I’ve also just completed a short story for another publisher that’s unlike anything I’ve written yet. Not only is it a modern-day story, it’s also in a genre that doesn’t really have a lot of prose material out there. Beyond that I’ve got another short story slot in one of Airship 27’s future volumes of MYSTERY MEN & WOMEN, a tale featuring a character I’ve wanted to do for a long time and only recently was able to flesh out. And another short story slot in an anthology I can’t talk about yet: very top secret right now.
Apart from all this short story stuff (which is proving to be really fun and liberating), I’d also like to get around to finishing the Challenger Storm web serial I started on my blog a long time ago: that’s been really neglected. I’m still cooking up Storm #3, WHITE HELL while making sure it hits the right notes it needs to hit. There’s also a dream novel I’m working on that focuses on a favorite public domain superhero of mine. And I’d love to go ahead with plans of the “Storm legacy” novel, where we catch up with his grandchildren as they find their own way into adventure.
Yikes, that’s a lot. As long as I can kick myself in the butt hard enough, I can deliver on all of that. Wish me luck: I’ll need it! And thanks for this interview: it’s been fun!