Derrick Ferguson: Who is Thomas Deja?
Thomas Deja: You know who I am, you....
Oh. For the readers.
I’m a lifelong New York resident, author, and podcast celebrity.
That sounds really arrogant, doesn’t it?
DF: Where do you live and what do you do?
TD: For the last 23 years, I have resided in Ridgewood, on the Brooklyn/Queens border. This seems to be my destiny, as I’ve lived in Highland Park, Brooklyn and Woodhaven, Queens--both on the border--during my youth. As for what I do, these days it’s mainly struggle for existence.
DF: For those folks who don’t know you, give us a brief history of your background.
TD: Born in Brooklyn. Moved with my mother after her divorce to Queens. Went to Hunter College in the 80's and studied Media--and oddly enough, only just recently got the degree I earned there. Was a freelance consultant and temp during the 90‘s. Have been writing since I was eleven, and a professional one (i.e. have been given a check for the privlege of publishing same) for almost twenty-five years off and on. And now...novelist.
DF:One question I get asked all the time is where and how did we meet. What’s your version?
TD: Here’s how I remember it.
When I was writing Daredevil for Bill K’Tepi’s MARVEL: YEAR TWO site, I received a fan letter from you praising me for the references I made to Stu Hart’s Dungeon and Derek Flint. We conversed through email back and forth and somehow discovered that a) we shared a lot of commonalities and b) we were a matter of miles from each other. One of us gave the other a phone number, and we started talking, which led to me inviting you to the Horror Writers Association of New York’s private screening of Hellboy--where we sat with F. Paul Wilson, who I did not know you were a major fan of--and our friendship has grown since then.
DF: How long have you been writing?
TD: At the risk of being a cliché, almost my whole life. I used to attach a bunch of looseleaf paper sandwiched between construction paper together with brass fasteners and write ‘books’ which invariably featured different imitations of giant monsters beating each other into paste, although I also recall a series featuring a masked detective called ‘The Curlew’ and one that pitted Frankenstein’s Monster against The Creature of The Black Lagoon.
As far as professionally, I began placing pieces in the seminal Brooklyn-based satire-and-stuff ‘zine Inside Joke in the very late 80‘s. This led to my placing about three dozen stories in various small press magazines like After Hours, Rictus and Not One Of Us, and, after some bumps along the way, where I am now.
DF: What do you love most about writing?
TD: I had a friend once who would tell anyone who met me that I was ‘so bardic’...and I guess that’s true. I write because I am compelled to tell stories, and publishing them in little booklets and online sites for cash means you’re not just a crazy person boring those around you with tales of the folks in your head. And when I connect with people, let them feel what I felt when I let those voices out, that’s the greatest feeling.
DF: What’s your philosophy of writing?
TD: I once interviewed Ben Manilla, a local morning DJ, for my college newspaper, and he told me there’s only one reason to be a writer--because when you look in the mirror and ask yourself ‘what do you want to be when you grow up,' you can think of no other thing to be.'
There are two other things I hold very dear to me regarding writing. One is that if you write to move yourself, you will move others. All too often, I read novels that come off as nothing more than script treatments that we’ve been asked to pay for, stories that are written because they feature what will sell, not what they’re passionate about. Those stories end up having no soul. You need to put something of yourself in what you write to truly make a connection with your reader, and I try my best to do so every day.
The other thing is that the ability to write is a muscle; you have to build it up, you have to maintain it, and if you don’t, you lose it. You have to write every day, you have to constantly seek out new stories to tell in your head. If you start recycling other tales, or telling other people’s stories under your name...well, you’ve misplaced your drive.
DF: You used to work for FANGORIA magazine. What did you do for them and how was it working for them?
TD: Considering that I ended up working for them by accident, quite a lot. I started working there as the writer of their Episode Guides for The X-Files--the guy they originally assigned flaked out on them on the day my friend, and Fangoria editor, Michael Gingold and I were having lunch, and I said ‘I’ll do it’--but I also ended up doing book and movie reviews, author profiles and even briefly edited their online literary magazine for a while.
I had my disagreements with the magazine at times, and there were some hairy moments (some X-Files fans were so scary I wrote a story, ‘Baron Wyvern Wants Your Love,' as an act of catharsis), but for most of the almost twenty years and three owners I was with them they were great employers. There was a stretch of about ten years where I didn’t have something in the magazine proper. It was only until that growing belief that paying freelancers was optional that I had to stop working for them. Trust me, if it wasn’t for that, I’d still be cranking out book reviews.
DF: You were involved in writing Marvel and DC fan fiction for many years. Why fan fiction?
TD: Because I went through something traumatic in 2000, and I couldn’t write the horror fiction I was known for at the time. When Bill K’Tepi, who coordinated a pair of PBeM games I participated in, decided to start DC: YEAR ONE (and later MARVEL: YEAR ONE), he asked me to take on Green Lantern in one and Daredevil in the other, and I’m glad I did. Those years when I did fanfic kept those writing muscles supple during that time when my muse had crawled into a closet and cried herself into a coma. It also helped that I received some positive reinforcement, particularly due to my lesser known series such as THE SWORDSMAN and BIRDS OF PREY, that kept me from abandoning my craft thoroughly in the midst of my angst.
Plus it led me to contacts that led to my return to original fiction several years down the line...including yourself. If it wasn’t for my years in the Fanfic mines, I wouldn’t have created Don Cuevo--who began as a character in BIRDS OF PREY--or ONYX REVOLVER, which led to the creation of The Chimera Falls Universe.
DF: Tell us about The Shadow Legion. Who are they and why do they exist?
TD: The Shadow Legion grew out of my frustration with super-hero comics as a whole, comics in general, and DC’s ‘New 52‘ specifically. It was the news of DC’s total line-wide reboot, and the anger than it engendered in me, that prompted me to write up a fanfiction proposal where I renovated a number of DC characters suggested to me by my friends. When I finished the proposal, however, I discovered that the characters had strayed so far from those characters’ original conception I might as well make them original characters...which led to me sending the proposal out to some of my writer friends, which led to Ron Fortier of Airship 27 to name those characters 'The Shadow Legion’ and offered to publish their adventures.
As for what the Legion are in the context of NEW ROADS TO HELL....they’re a quartet of mystery men who find themselves charged with the protection of Nocturne, The City That Lives By Night. As readers will learn, Nocturne is something of a nexus for supernatural activity, and something is growing within its city limits that has attracted the likes of Black Talon and Dreamcatcher to its shores.
DF:Tell us about NEW ROADS TO HELL.
TD: NEW ROADS TO HELL is the first book in the Shadow Legion trilogy. My hope is that the trilogy, and the ancillary CASEBOOKS, will provide a history of the heroic history of Nocturne before we hit the present day. It formally brings all four of our heroes together, provides origins for two of them, and debuts what many of the people who read the book so far feel is its breakout character...namely, the Girl With The Talent For Murder, Rose Red. And when she decides that triggering a race war is just what’s needed to give her control of Nocturne’s underworld, well....
DF: You’ve created an entire original superhero universe. How did you do it and what advice would you give to aspiring godlings who want to create their own universe?
TD: I did it by starting small. People forget that Marvel and (especially) DC didn’t start out with a universe; their individual comics started weaving in and out of each other naturally until they became a coherent shared world. That’s what later attempts at creating a universe like Dark Horse’s Comics Greatest World failed--they forced it, presenting their universe as fully formed.
Advice? Know what you want going in and grow it slowly. I knew the kind of stories I wanted to tell, I knew the characters I needed, I knew the events I wanted in the initial trilogy and I started building my own world from there. I also planted seeds that could potentially lead to more of this universe, but I’m not going to feel compelled to elucidate them until a story comes along. A lot of the coolness of the Marvel Universe was the way Stan, Jack and Steve hinted at a greater tapestry without requiring us to learn everything. That’s the sort of feel I want to capture in The Shadow Legion and its ancillary stories.
DF: Prose superhero stories is a genre that is growing in popularity. To what do you attribute this to?
TD: I think Prose Superhero Fiction is growing in popularity for the same reason New Pulp Fiction and Superhero Movies are popular--there’s a large base of readers who have a taste for action-oriented, colorful, over-the-top adventure with a strong moral center who are no longer being serviced by superhero comics. They still want to read about dashing heroes and dastardly villains in crazy costumes without having one tear the head off another one. Hell, they want to escape from the tough times we’re living through, and if they can’t get it through Marvel or DC, they’ll get it through Van Allen Plaxico’s Sentinels, or Lee Houston Jr.’s Alpha, or my own stuff.
I just hope those readers enjoy my admittedly blood-splattered baby and want to see it grow in future collections and novels.
DF: Tell us about your future plans for The Shadow Legion.
TD: Well, the next thing you’ll see is ‘A Waltz In Scarlet,' a novella featuring The Ferryman and Dreamcatcher that’ll appear in Airship 27‘s Mystery Men And Women V. 4. When we last see Ferryman, he’s...a little disconnected from his humanity, and in the story we see what happens when his abilities bring him into contact with his human emotions. Plus, there’s a big ol’ scary new menace.
That novella will be collected in The Shadow Legion Casebook V. 1. If NEW ROADS TO HELL is a graphic novel collecting a major Shadow Legion storyline, the Casebooks (there’ll be one appearing between each novel) represent one of those plastic bags of comics you’d find in Walmart with random issues of each Legionnaire’s solo series. I already have three of the novellas, featuring Ferryman, Black Talon and Nightbreaker, in the can, so the collection may come out sooner than later.
After the first Casebook will be the second novel, which takes place in 1966. If New Roads were Nightbreaker’s and Ferryman’s story, then the next novel will focus on Black Talon and his relationship with Dreamcatcher. There were some things revealed about the price the Talon pays for his powers, and we’re going to explore how that shakes out, and why his ‘patrons’ in the Circle of Life are so approving of his choice of mate. I hope that, just as New Roads was reflective of the Golden Age of Comics, the new novel will reflect the Silver Age, as a more science-fictiony menace rises to wage war on humanity and the Legion and its new allies.
DF: Any other projects you’ve got in the works you can tell us about?
TD: I think I can safely say that my pair of Western Heroes--the frontier exorcist Don Cuevo and the steampunk scientist Doc Thunder--will make appearances soon through Pulpwork Press’ third volume of How The West Was Weird and this year’s Christmas Annual respectively. There’s a novella for Monster Earth 2. There’s some stuff I can’t talk about just yet--including another novel that’s in the Chimera Falls Universe, but has a more science-fiction-y bent to it. So yeah, I’ll be pretty busy.
Derrick Ferguson: Anything else we need to know?
Thomas Deja: If you buy my book, I’ll be your friend. You buy enough of them, we’ll have cake.
Hard to believe I’m still single, huh?