Thursday, January 9, 2014

Kickin' The Willy Bobo With: TOMMY HANCOCK

Derrick Ferguson: Who is Tommy Hancock?

Tommy Hancock: It might be easier to answer with who I’m not, but we’ll leave that for another interview.  I am a father of three kids I dearly love (Braeden, Alex, and Kailee), husband to Lisa, who is overdue for her mental evaluation because she is still putting up with me, and an avid idea guy.  By that I mean I have ideas for stories and projects and events and…and…well, stuff all the time.   I’ve always been that way and it’s driven me into a whole lot of interesting directions.  Probably defined me more than anything else has, that urge to create, to get ideas out. It’s definitely shown me my strengths and weaknesses.

DF: Where do you reside and what do you do for a living?

TH: I live in Melbourne, Arkansas, a little town north of Batesville, Arkansas, which is a slightly bigger town about 90 miles north of Little Rock.

I am currently an investigator for an Attorney.  Not necessarily Pulp material, but sometimes it gets really interesting. And definitely inspires stories.

DF: Tell us something about your background.

TH: Grew up that kid who wrote his first story in third grade and used his friends as the heroes.  Never stopped writing after that.  By eighth grade, turned the stories into a script that we used to talk our English Teacher, Mrs. Sifford, into letting us act out.  Moved into theater that way, into audio drama from there, and somewhere along the way I collected comics, old time radio, books, and Pulps.  My parents and little sister didn’t really understand how I was a part of the foursome they called a family because my interests didn’t fit any of theirs.  So, I sort of got on a kick of searching out similar minds.  Took a while, but found a whole passle of ‘em in 1997 in the world of Fan Fiction.  From there, while I built a pretty neat family of my own, worked on my own original stuff until Pro Se happened.

DF: What are your influences?

TH: As eclectic as my interests. I am a huge Mystery/Detective fan and a writing influence is most definitely Robert B. Parker.  But I draw a lot from Hammett, from L’amour, Stuart Kaminsky, Steven J. Cannell (his television work), and a handful of Pulp types as well. 

Also, my writing is heavily influenced by my love of old TV and radio shows.  There’s something about the economy of 23 minute shows that I love and has given me the ability to tell a story in short form tightly and succinctly.

I also have three major influences, believe it or not, that are musical in nature.  The body of works of Jimmy Buffett, Johnny Cash, and Meatloaf hugely impact my storytelling.  All three have different ways to tell a story, but they share one things-the almost cinematic way the stories they tell unfold.

DF: Which do you like better: writing, editing or publishing?

TH: That’s a hard question to ask simply because, to be honest, they’re the same for me.  Not that that they are the same activity, but what I derive from each is the same.  The concept of contributing to new stories, to being part of a creative process, to putting even just a little bit of me into a tale…I can do that as an author, editor, and publisher.  So, really, they’re all equal with me.

I’ve got a huge focus now on all aspects of creating, not just putting words on the page.  I am a major part of the storytelling process in publishing and even as an editor.  Also, my creativity has taken on a life of its own, evolving through conventions, events, and such.  I’ve learned that I am as much a part of the story as the stories we publish and I write.  So, being in panels, joining in discussions about writing and such, and coming up with special events is a new thing creatively for me in the writing sense.  Although, to be honest, I’ve always made room for the creative stuff I wanted to do.

DF: What is your philosophy of writing?

TH: It’s pretty simple.  Have the idea first.  Don’t write until You have the idea.  And even then, don’t write until the idea has You.  I am not a believer in the concept that stories go where they want to once the writing process starts.  The writer is the driver at that point.  But I firmly feel like while the idea is still just that, an abstract construct teasing one’s mind, then that is the moment where anything can happen.  And when it does, when the idea has you enough, then You write.  And You write until it’s done, even if that takes five years and you do other stories in between.  I have several ideas in progress and some that are just pieces…that I will write, that will end up in something I do.  Because the ideas had me before I started writing them down.

DF: What writing projects are you working on now?

TH: A lot that I’m really behind on.  One of the curses of doing a ton of things is that other things get left behind.  But that’s part of growing and I’ve tackled the ‘No, this can wait’ philosophy that anyone who is overwhelmed sort of slides into.   I’m working at this moment on a few things, including The Rook Volume 7, ‘Nomorrow (the follow up to my first novel, Yesteryear), The Adventures of Nicholas Saint, all for Pro Se.  Then I’m working on a Fight Card novella as well as a comic book and a couple of other things I can’t reveal for Moonstone.  I also have a two book deal with Dark Oak Press, one being a hard-boiled detective novel, which I am working on currently. 

DF: What’s the best thing you’ve written so far?

TH: Either “Lucky”, a story based on the Nightbeat radio show for a collection this past year from Radio Archives or my first published story, “Crossing Contention”, a western short featuring Virgil Earp, a story published by Airship 27.

DF: Where did your love affair with Pulp begin?

TH: Standing in an Kmart looking up at a spinner rack that had books on it and pulling a Doc Savage omnibus off of it.   Started like blazes right then and didn’t stop.

DF: What’s the best advice you can give an aspiring writer who wants to venture into the wild and wooly world of New Pulp?

TH: Read. Read what it is You think You want to write.  Then, when You decide to write for a Publisher, read what they publish.  That is a must, as far as I’m concerned.  A question I always ask new writers who approach Pro Se is ‘What of ours have You read?’

DF: How has New Pulp grown from where it was to where it is now?

TH: I think the readership has grown, although not where any of us want it to be.  I also think, and this may irritate a few people, that New Pulp has sort of reached its capacity in the way most companies have approached it.  We feed a niche and that niche has plenty to eat with Pro Se and other companies out there, not to mention what is out that really is New Pulp even though it doesn’t call itself such.  If Pro Se and others want to continue on, want to leave a mark outside our little circle, then we have to consider different ways of doing that without compromising what we want to produce.

Part of that means, at least for Pro Se, using the wide brush that I’ve always painted what Pulp is with.  To appeal to readers who wouldn’t think to pick up a book that someone says is a super hero book or a mystery book, to find writers, artists, and stories that fit what we do, but also to widen the reach of our work, New Pulp has to push beyond itself.

DF: What is the fascination that we as writers and readers have for the Classic Pulp Heroes?

TH: I can tell you what it is for me.  It’s to make sure their stories go on.  When I love a character, the two words I hate the most are ‘The End’.  So I enjoy reading new stories of established characters, even bad ones, because at least I know the story goes on. They keep on living.

DF: Tell us The Secret Origin of Pro Se.

TH: Well, one secret that isn’t really is I didn’t start Pro Se.  I have a partner, Fuller Bumpers, who worked as a writer and actor in LA for several years, who came back to Arkansas to be a lawyer and have a family, but couldn’t beat the bug of wanting to create.  Fuller brought me on board as we got to know each other in our regular jobs and he found out I was a creative like him.  We started out looking at audio drama and that was fun, but not where either of our hearts really were.  So, with my learning about the New Pulp Movement (not yet named such at that point), we decided to push in that direction and resurrected the Pulp magazine, then moved on to books and the rest is what Pro Se is today.

DF: Why have your own publishing house?

TH: That’s a question that probably should be harder to answer than it is.  Because I wanted to.  I wanted to have books I’d want to read and although some companies were doing what I liked, I knew the only way I’d really get books that I’d love to have on my shelf was to have a hand in producing them.

DF: What can we expect from Pro Se in 2014?

TH: A lot. I’m pretty well known for teases, you know, hinting at what’s coming…so that’s what I’ll do in response to this. A new imprint that takes a rather unique look at Genre Fiction... Women of Fantasy (and that's all I’m allowed to say at this point)... a Crossover that will shake one Universe at home in Pro Se to its foundations...a New Pulp Novel by a Classic Pulp Author...Another new imprint that will definitely pull back the steamy underbelly of Pulp and show how raw it can be…and the launch of something that no one else in our corner of publishing is doing that we think it is high time for. And that isn’t all…have to leave people wanting more.

DF: Where do you see Pro Se five years from now?

TH: I don’t really have a clear concept of where Pro Se will be in five years.  I have a plan, one that I’ve sort of kept close to the vest.  In five years, we’ll be in the third phase of it and all I can say is, if it goes anywhere near like I plan, then Pro Se will be a little bit of everywhere.

DF: What’s a Typical Day In The Life of Tommy Hancock like?
TH: Very busy.  Literally a juggling act.  I get up, I pulp, I take care of the family, go to work, Pulp when I can get the time there, come home, do the family thing, then Pulp more.  

Although that is pretty much a day in day out sort of thing, I’ve been fortunate.  I’ve had people say, “wow, to be so focused on Pro Se and Pulp, that’s gotta be a lot of work and lonely.” It is a lot of work, but the instant it feels like work to me, I’ll walk away.  And as far as being alone, not in the least.  I’ve got a great staff at Pro Se.  Morgan Minor is the best wingwoman ever.  And then I have a circle of friends, sort of my own little Algonquin Round Table, that figuratively and at least digitally literally surround me and keep me going.  So, I’m good with a Pulp filled daily routine.

Derrick Ferguson: Anything else we need to know?

Tommy Hancock: That’s about it. Thanks for the opportunity

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Derrick Ferguson Enters THE CRYPT OF DRACULA

Paperback: 230 pages
Publisher: Quickdraw Books (May 27, 2013)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0984954821
ISBN-13: 978-0984954827
Product Dimensions: 0.5 x 4.9 x 7.9 inches

In the forward to his homage to those classic Hammer Dracula movies THE CRYPT OF DRACULA, Kane Gilmour relates his glee at watching Universal and Hammer horror movies on late night TV during the 1970’s. While reading this I nodded my head in agreement because like him, I also grooved on those self-same movies back in the day. I lived for Saturday afternoons and nights when those movies were usually aired. He clearly sets for forth his mandate in his forward: he’s not out to re-invent the vampire novel or Dracula as a character. He just wants to present a simple, familiar Dracula yarn that hopefully will invoke the spirit of classic Hammer horror. Well, that he does. Maybe a little too well, for my taste. But we’ll get to that after the obligatory plot summary;

Master stonemason Andreas Wagner accepts a commission to work on restoring an old castle high up in the Carpathian Mountains. Wagner eagerly accepts the commission as he sees it as a way for him and his beautiful wife, Anneli to start life over. Their young daughter has died from a strange malady and since then, Anneli hasn’t uttered a word.

Upon arriving at the castle, Wagner finds things are a little odd, to say the least and the eccentric Count Dracula who owns the castle has a strange set of instructions for the way he wants the work to be carried out. Wagner also notes that the man keeps some really weird hours and has a servant who is never around but must be watching Wagner constantly as he appears to be able to anticipate Wagner’s every need.

You know how this goes…at first everything is sweet potato pie. But then the weirdness starts. Wagner is almost killed by falling masonry. Strange, gorgeous looking women in smoky flowing nightgowns roam the halls of the castle at night. The villagers seem to know something but they ain’t saying what. There’s a mysterious old man who sits in the corner of the tavern drinking, watching everything and biding his time. Despite his growing misgivings, Wagner stays on the job as he’s arraigned for his wife to join him, along with his best friend/assistant Fritz and Fritz’s lusty, busty girlfriend Gretchen. And once they arrive at the castle, that’s when the crazy really gets cranked up.

While reading THE CRYPT OF DRACULA I couldn’t help but feel that next to his keyboard Mr. Gilmour had a checklist of elements that had to go into a Dracula story: Crumbling Old Castle? Check. Vampire Brides of Dracula? Check. Half-Mad Faithful Servant Totally Dedicated To Dracula? Check. Cowering, Fearful Villagers? Double Check. Aged Fearless Vampire Killer? Triple Check. If you have even a passing familiarity with Hammer’s Dracula movies then there’s nothing here that’s much going to surprise you. Which is what Mr. Gilmour tells you right upfront. He’s not trying to startle his readers with innovation or re-invention. His purpose is to tell as simple and straightforward a Hammer inspired Dracula story as possible.

And in doing so, It's my thinking that maybe he bent over a little too backwards to color inside the lines. There’s plenty of wiggle room he has in this story to really bust loose and indeed, there were several spots in the story where I wondered if he reined himself in, dedicated to his self-imposed mandate to present the familiar.

As a result there isn’t anything in this story that’s going to take you by surprise if you decide to read it. The characterization is just enough so that we recognize the roles these characters are going to play in the story. Dracula himself is off screen for much of the story and he’s very much in the style of Christopher Lee’s Dracula, who spoke very little and in a couple of them didn’t speak at all. But when he shows up, believe me, he makes his presence felt.

So should you read THE CRYPT OF DRACULA? If you’re looking for a prose version of a Hammer horror movie then you’ve come to the right place. Mr. Gilmour’s prose is lush and lavish and he works damn hard at evoking the right atmosphere and mood for this type of story. The language, violence and sex is PG-13 level so you don’t have to worry about being offended or shocked. It’s an undemanding, casual read and should be approached in that spirit. I’d like to see Mr. Gilmour write another Dracula novel but this time allow himself the room just amp up the crazy, splurge with the sex and gore and really go nuts. 

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Kickin' The Willy Bobo With: MILTON DAVIS

Derrick Ferguson: Who is Milton Davis?

Milton Davis: I’m a part-time speculative fiction writer and publisher. I write speculative fiction about African Americans and people of African Descent. I’m the author of seven novels and editor or four anthologies.

DF: Where do you live and what is your profession? Besides being a writer, that is.

MD: I live in Metro Atlanta with my wife and two children. I’m a research and development chemist.

DF: When did your love of science fiction, heroic fantasy and speculative fiction begin?

MD: I began reading science fiction and fantasy in college at the urging of one of my English instructors. She thought I was wasting my time majoring in Chemistry and should be pursing and English degree. I guess she decided to share science fiction with me because of my major. Once I read it I was hooked.

DF: How long have you been writing?

MD: Off and on, about thirty years. I took writing classes soon after college and went through the submission rejection cycle for a while. Then the children came and I stopped writing for a long time. I resumed about eight years ago as a self-publisher.

DF: What’s your philosophy of writing?

MD: I think writing should be fun. I’m not one to deal with deep issues, at least not intentionally, because that’s not what I like to read. My only constant is Black main characters. As a reader I was well aware of the absence of such characters in speculative fiction and I seek to rectify that in my own way. I also like the good guys to win.

DF: What writers have influenced you?

The two biggest influences on my writing are James Baldwin and Frank Herbert. James Baldwin’s “Giovanni’s Room” was the first fiction novel I ever read. I was 16 and home sick for a week. My sister, a big reader of fiction by Black writers, dropped a pile of her books for me to read. It was the first book I read and I was fascinated on his eloquent and economic style.

Frank Herbert’s “Dune” was the first book I read that involved serious world building. I was stunned at how someone could make a fictional world seem so real. Dune is the blueprint I use for every world that I build.

DF: What is MVMedia and what are its goals?

MD: MVMedia is my publishing company. Its goals are to develop speculative fiction novels that highlights African American and African descent characters and to develop this material into other media forms such as graphic novels, animation, movies and video series.

DF: For the few who don’t know, tell us what Sword and Soul is.

MD: Sword and Soul is heroic or epic fantasy based on African culture, traditions, history and spirituality. It was created by Charles R. Saunders in the late seventies with the release of Imaro, the first sword and sorcery character of color. The phrase ‘Sword and Soul’ was coined when Charles was asked to describe his form of writing.

DF: As a genre, Sword and Soul has grown tremendously in the past few years. To what do you attribute the growth of the genre?

MD: I think a number of factors. Charles R. Saunders, the creator of Sword and Soul, has built on his cult following over the past few years by releasing new Imaro and Dossouye books. I believe the release of my books and the Griots Sword and Soul anthology has contributed as well. But most of all I think it’s due to the power of social networking. Information spreads so much faster these days and we have been able to build a network of writers and readers interested in what’s happening.

DF: Tell us about MEJI.

MD: MEJI is a duology about twin brothers Ndoro and Obaseki. They are born to a royal family then separated because their birth is considered an abomination by the father’s people. The novels follow both brothers as they grow into their unique abilities and discover there is a reason for their birth.

MEJI was my first novel. I consider it my homage to my African roots. I tried to convey the diversity of the Continent and its people while delivering an exciting tale.

DF: Tell us about CHANGA’S SAFARI.

MD: CHANGA’S SAFARI is a historical fiction action adventure series. Changa Diop is the son of a deposed Kongo ngolo (king) who was forced to flee home at a very young age. The series begins with Changa as a successful Swahili merchant determined to build enough wealth to raise a mercenary army then return home to claim his father’s kingdom. His adventures are told through a series of kitabus (books), novellas that take the reader throughout the Spice Trade World and the African continent during the 15th century.  The series will consist of four books. The first two books are complete; books three and four will be released in 2014.

DF: Tell us about WOMAN OF THE WOODS.

MD: With WOMAN OF THE WOODS I return to the Meji universe. It’s my first book with a woman main character so I was a little nervous about how it would be received. Sadatina is the child of a Shosa, women warriors trained to fight demons that are threatening her people, the Adamu. Sadatina eventually grows up to be a warrior herself, aided by two female lions she raised from birth. It’s an exciting story that follows Sadatina from birth and expands the world of Meji. 

DF: You’ve recently written a children’s book: AMBER AND THE HIDDEN CITY. Why a children’s book and will you be writing more?

MD: Amber came from my interactions with readers at conventions. I was constantly asked by parents if I was going to write books for children and young adults. Many of them told me how their children were reading books like Harry Potter and wishing there were books like that with Black main characters. So I came up with Amber to help fill that void. My wife, a teacher, was also a major reason Amber was completed. She would light a fire under me whenever I got distracted. Amber will be a trilogy so there will be more. I have ideas for a few more YA books as well.

DF: You’re also a mover and shaker in the field of Steamfunk. Tell us about this genre.

MD: Steamfunk is subgenre of Steampunk. We incorporate the trappings of steampunk, such as steam-based technology and other concepts such as aether but our main characters are people of African descent. We also incorporated the history and culture of people of African descent during the time period which most Steampunk focuses on, the 19th century.

DF: You and Balogun Ojetade have formed quite the extraordinary partnership. How did this come about and where is it going?

MD: I met Balogun when searching for a source for indigenous African martial arts. Little did I know he was a renaissance man; writer, director, rapper and fight choreographer. Balogun and I have a similar vision when it comes to speculative fiction, which is why we work together often. We both have our separate endeavors, but we do come together often to work on projects.

I believe we’ll be working together for a long time. It’s our goal to move forward into speculative fiction movies and animation.

DF: You’ve been very vocal in promoting Black Speculative Fiction. What do you see as the major obstacle to Black Speculative Fiction being accepted by the larger reading public?

MD: Exposure. The last few years have proved to me that there is a demand for what we produce. The challenge is making people aware of it. Because I don’t have the funds to support widespread marketing my efforts have been more localized and more focused.

DF: Should writers of Black Speculative Fiction be seeking acceptance by the larger reading public?

MD: The reality of writing is that you won’t please everyone. Any writer pursuing any form of writing should realize that. The goal, in my opinion, is to find YOUR audience. As you write and promote your work the readers who like what you do will come forward. That’s the best you can hope for. And if you happen to be that lucky writer where your work appeals to the larger reading public, all the better. No one can predict that.

DF: You are seen (at least by me) as a major inspiration to those who are working and writing in the related fields of Black Speculative Fiction, Sword and Soul and Steamfunk. But how do you see yourself at this stage of your career?

MD: I’m still learning and hopefully growing as a writer, but I’m comfortable where I am right now. I’ve accomplished everything I wanted to accomplish in my first 5 years doing this, and I’m looking forward to the next five years. I’m inspired by the folks that have supported my work over the years and I hope I stay in their good favor in the future.

DF: How important is it to you, personally, that Black people be represented in the fields of speculative fiction and heroic fantasy?

MD: It is vitally important. Entertainment is such a large part of our life these days. The images that we are exposed to on a daily basis have an effect on what we think of ourselves and the world. For so long we have been flooded with negative images about us and our history. Some people seek inspiration from fiction, so it is essential that they find positive images if fiction as well as real life. So I personally believe that we have to be represented and we have to be represented well.

Derrick Ferguson: What’s A Day In The Life of Milton Davis like? Anything else we should know?

Milton Davis: It’s rather routine. Wake up, write, go to work, come home, write, repeat. Not much else to share unless we want to put folks to sleep. I’d like to thank everyone who has taken the chance to read my work and especially thank those who continue. If you keep reading I’ll keep writing. Thank you Derrick for the interview.

Kickin' The Willy Bobo With...BERTRAM GIBBS

DF: Who is Bertram Gibbs? Bertram Gibbs: Husband, father, film, comic book, television, Broadway collector and enthusiast. Researcher of ...