It’s been awhile since the original Kickin’ The Willy Bobo Interview with Chuck so I thought it way past time we caught up with what he’s all about and what he’s doing 23 MONTHS LATER…
Derrick Ferguson: Have there been any major changes in your life personally and professionally since we last talked?
Chuck Miller: Nothing major, though I have been a little busier in both areas. I've been branching out and doing some different things, like Sherlock Holmes, and a character called Zero that I've done some stories about for Moonstone. I had a few health issues recently that slowed me down a little, but I'm getting back on track now.
DF: How do you feel your writing has developed since we last talked?
CM: I think it's gotten a little smoother. I'm starting to develop a better sense of what should be left in and what should be cut out. I'm slightly less neurotic about it. Usually. If I'm having a good day.
DF: The universe of The Black Centipede has certainly expanded and grown larger since CREEPING DAWN: RISE OF THE BLACK CENTIPEDE. Was this by design or has the character’s popularity added fuel to your creative fires?
CM: Most of the characters I've been introducing have been around (in my head and notebooks) as long as The Black Centipede has. I came up with them for a comic book I wanted to do back in the 80s and 90s that never got off the ground. Vionna Valis comes from that, as do Jack Christian and Dana Unknown. Jack, Dana and Vionna are the main characters in "The Optimist," a novel I wrote five or six years ago. Nothing much happened with that either, but I decided to use some of the supporting cast in solo short stories, and thus The Black Centipede developed into whatever he is now. I've been planning to rewrite "The Optimist" to bring it in line with the continuity changes I've made. I need to do that because the events in that story are constantly being referred back to in my new stuff. Jack was originally supposed to be the central character in my little universe, but The Centipede has stolen his spot. Still, he is going to be more of a presence in future stories. He is the narrator and central character in The Return of Little Precious, and that story leads into other things.
Aside from that, I knew that The Centipede would need a supporting cast. I came up with Percival Doiley and Stan Bartowski. I have also made William Randolph Hearst and Amelia Earhart into regulars, though that wasn't my original intention. But the character needs to be grounded a little bit, and the supporting characters do that, and they also give him different personalities to play off of. He has a particular kind of relationship with Percy, another kind with Hearst, yet another with Stanley, and so on. There is a lot of potential for humor in all of these interactions, and humor is an essential component. Really, the inspirations for the way most of my characters interact are old sitcoms and comics like Little Lulu. You have characters with well-defined personality quirks, and they play off of one another in ways that are predictable in a good way.
DF: Didn’t I read some time ago that Hollywood was interested in The Black Centipede? Or is that just an unfounded rumor?
CM: I hope it isn't unfounded, but it's difficult to know who is serious about what. I think The Centipede would make a great TV series, something along the lines of "Boardwalk Empire," a period piece with lots of real people showing up.
DF: Tell us about THE BAY PHANTOM
CM: He started out as the subject of a humorous short story I wrote a while back called "The Return of Doctor Piranha." Set in the present day, in my old hometown of Mobile, Alabama, it was about a down-and-out pulp adventure hero from the 1930s. The magazine I wrote it for ended up never being published, so I just posted it online for free and forgot about it for a while. Later on, I started thinking about doing a new series, something totally separate from the world of The Black Centipede, and I remembered The Bay Phantom. So I took him back to the 30s, came up with some backstory, and introduced a cast of supporting characters.
He's a different kind of character from any of my others, and I use him to tell different kinds of stories. He's actually a rather complex character. He is competent and can be ruthless when he has to, but he is also rather naive, and even innocent in a strange way. He has inner conflicts, but he doesn't let them get in the way of what he's doing, though he goes to great lengths to understand or resolve them. We'll see more of him grappling with his "dark side" in the second book, The Feast of the Cannibal Guild. That is still a work in progress, but I'm hoping to finish it up before the end of October, or at least by Thanksgiving, if not Christmas or Groundhog Day. In it, he will be separated from Mirabelle for a while; she is off on a "secret mission" of her own, which is basically the other half of the story. I like the way they work together, but I wanted to see how they would fare as solo acts. Mirabelle is also a complex character, and we'll get into more about her past and what motivates her.
DF: Tell us about VIONNA AND THE VAMPIRES
CM: It started out as a simple little novella in which Vionna Valis and Mary Jane Kelly encounter Professor James Moriarty, who has for many years now been Lord of the Vampires. It seems he was "rescued" by Dracula after he took his plunge off the Reichenbach Falls and turned into a vampire. Vionna and Mary encounter him when he starts bedeviling a young man named Scudder Moran, a descendant of Moriarty's old lieutenant, Colonel Sebastian Moran. With a little help from the ghost of Sherlock Holmes, the girls deal with him. When I decided to make an official novel out of it, I needed a lot more material to fill it out.
Since the main story was complete, I decided to do some background stuff, showing how Moriarty got mixed up with Dracula in the first place. What I came up with was a middle section in which Vionna finds herself transported to London in the year 1888-- a sort of telepathic time-travel dream thing of an uncertain nature, induced by the ghost of Holmes, who has been trapped in Vionna's head. She takes the place of Watson as Holmes is engaged by the still-human Moriarty to track down Jack the Ripper. The Ripper being one of the main villains in The Black Centipede saga, I took the opportunity to fill out a little bit of history there, and it builds on some of the events in Blood of the Centipede.
DF: Do you think you have found an audience or has your audience found you?
CM: A little of both, I guess. But I'm hearing more and more from people I don't know and don't have any connection to, which is good. I do a lot of self-publicizing on social media, and I sometimes sell books one at a time to people I come into contact with. I really need to start getting out to conventions and things.
DF: Where do you see Chuck Miller in five years?
CM: Wealthy beyond the dreams of avarice, more popular than the Beatles, able to bend steel in my bare hands. Either that, or the same place I was five years ago, which is basically right here. But five years older than now.
DF: How do you see the New Pulp community these days? Is it a community?
CM: I think it is. Maybe not as much of one as it seemed to be for a while. Whatever the definition of New Pulp is, it is nebulous enough to accommodate all manner of things, and certain writers and certain kinds of stories which could fit within those boundaries are not identified as such. There are lots of gray areas around the edges, and any number of things could fit in.
That being the case, it isn't as much of a community as, say, Star Wars fans or Batman fans or anything that has a very clear-cut definition. I don't hear the term New Pulp used as often as I used to. But there are still these core people who identify with it, so it is a community, albeit a rather small one. Maybe some sort of big event is needed to draw more people in and generate more interest. I don't know what form it would take, though.
DF: Do you think that New Pulp will ever have respectability?
CM: It might! I mean, it's respectable already, but in terms of gaining a wider audience-- which we'd all like to see-- I think the potential is there. The popularity of the superhero genre is ongoing, and may hold out for a few more years. Since that is closely related to what we're doing, a little door is standing open. The question is, how do we get through it? I don't have an answer for that. I don't know a lot about marketing. It may come down to dumb luck on somebody's part. The right book making its way into the right hands at the right time. I don't know of any way to force that to happen.
We're not really tapping into even the comic book/sci-fi community the way we ought to be, but I don't know what the solution is. That would certainly be the first step, before trying to break into any kind of mainstream recognition. But there are a lot of talented people working in the New Pulp field, and if their work could find its way into the hands of enough people, I think it would really take off. After all, the most popular book series in recent memory is Harry Potter, and those stories could easily fit under the pulp umbrella.
DF: What are you working on now?
CM: I've got several things coming out over the next few months. As I mentioned earlier, the next installment of The Black Centipede and his pals' adventures, The Return of Little Precious, is coming from Pro Se Press. This one stars Doctor Unknown Junior, and it wraps up the Moriarty trilogy. There's also the return of a villain from one of the early Centipede books. That's already done, and it's in the editing stage now. I'm currently working on the second Bay Phantom novel, Feast of the Cannibal Guild, the next Vionna and Mary, Into the Void, and sort of tentatively sketching out the next Black Centipede. I'm also doing things for Pro Se's Single Shot line, including new Centipede and Vionna short stories, and a new character called the Red Dagger. He is a sort of spinoff from Blood of the Centipede. Lancelot Cromwell, the hedonistic actor who played The Black Centipede in the movie decides to become a masked crime-fighter for real. It does not go smoothly.
Derrick Ferguson: Anything else we should know?
Chuck Miller: Well, a couple of "bucket list" projects have been done and are working their way toward publication. One of them is a Sherlock Holmes novel I've done for Airship 27. Sherlock Holmes: The Picture of Innocence is a reworking of The Sign of the Four and A Scandal in Bohemia. It guest stars Arthur Conan Doyle and Oscar Wilde, and was also inspired by The Picture of Dorian Gray.
The other one is something I've been wanting to do for a very long time. My absolute favorite TV show ever is Kolchak: The Night Stalker. I recently had the opportunity to do two Kolchak novelettes for Moonstone Books, and those are set to be released in February of 2016. Penny Dreadful and The Time Stalker are going to be published in a single volume. I don't want to give too much away, but I'll tell you that one of them features the return of a monster from the small screen, while the other deals with Carl Kolchak's encounter with one of the most notorious real-life psychopaths of all time.