Derrick Ferguson: Who is Percival Constantine?
Percival Constantine: I was born in Illinois and lived in the northwest suburbs of Chicago until shortly before my 25th birthday. While growing up, I subsisted on a pretty consistent diet of superhero comics, action movies, TV shows and video games, which I have to thank for warping my mind into its current state.
DF: Where do you currently reside and what do you do for a living?
PC: Currently I live in Japan’s Kagoshima prefecture. Don’t feel bad if you’ve never heard of it, most people outside of Japan haven’t. The claim to fame of this place is that it’s home to Shinmoe-Dake, which was used for the exterior shots of Blofeld’s volcano base in “You Only Live Twice”. At the moment, I teach English lessons in several elementary schools, but that will hopefully change in the near-future as I’ve been speaking with some local colleges about job prospects. I also write and edit, and I do the occasional comic book lettering job, all while pursuing my masters degree online. I’ve also started doing some cover design and book formatting, since apparently I’m not busy enough.
DF: How does it happen that a nice boy from the Midwestern U.S. finds himself teaching English in Japan?
PC: I always had an interest in Japanese culture, probably first caused by shows like “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” and “Power Rangers” that I watched while growing up, plus dubbed anime like “Dragonball Z” and video games like “Final Fantasy VII”. But what really cinched it was when I was in college, I became really interested in live-action Japanese movies—films by guys like Akira Kurosawa, Takashi Miike, Seijin Suzuki, Takeshi Kitano, Kinji Fukusaku, and others, plus the novels of Haruki Murakami. Around this same time, I discovered the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Program, which invites people from native speaking countries to work in Japan as assistant language teachers in Japanese public schools for 1-5 years. I applied for the program, hoping to end up in a bustling metropolis like Tokyo or Osaka, but instead I got sent out to Kagoshima. At first I didn’t like it, and the plan was to return to the States after my first-year contract was up, but one year turned into three, then three into five, and now I’m in my sixth year in Kagoshima.
DF: Tell us as much about your background as you’re legally able to.
PC: Well, if it’s only stuff I’m legally able to discuss, that’s going to be a short story. As a kid, I fell in love with the “X-Men” animated series, and that led me to collecting comics—first X-Men, then later Avengers, and more and more titles, primarily Marvel. When I was around 10 years old, I had a few teachers who had us write stories as assignments, and I would write superhero stories, some of them featuring characters I was a fan of, some of them featuring my friends and I becoming superheroes. And that’s really what led to my desire to be a writer.
DF: What is your philosophy of writing?
PC: Don’t bore yourself or your readers. I’m very much from the school of thought of guys like Elmore Leonard, where it’s focused on characters and dialogue over description. My favorite rule from Leonard’s Ten Rules of Writing is “avoid the parts readers tend to skip.” And not boring yourself also applies to what you’re writing in addition to how you write it. Write what you enjoy, regardless of whether it’s popular or marketable, and to hell with anyone who tells you otherwise.
DF: You actually intended to be a comic book writer and not a novelist. True?
PC: Absolutely true. Ever since I started writing, the goal was always to become a comic book writer. Outside of the stuff I created as a kid, my first serious attempts at writing my own original characters and ideas were written as comic book scripts, not novels. Many of them later became novels, but comics were always my first love.
But being a poor college student when I started writing meant my options for paying artists page rates were limited. I hooked up with a number of different artists for a number of different projects, but something always got in the way. Sometimes it was as simple as the artist getting offered a paying job, which naturally is fine—if you get offered a project for money as opposed to royalty sharing, then you should take that project. But what became really frustrating were the artists who would just plain stop answering emails. After about two or three instances where that happened, I decided to focus instead on prose.
I would still love to do more comics work, particularly for Marvel or DC. Those are the characters I grew up with, so getting the chance to write them professionally would be a dream come true. Don’t get me wrong, I also love doing my own thing, but it would be a lot of fun to work on my favorite characters.
DF: You enjoyed an extensive and successful career in writing DC and Marvel fan fiction. What are the benefits of writing fan fiction and what are the drawbacks?
PC: The biggest benefit is, provided you hook up with a constructive community, it’s one of the best training grounds you could ask for. It’s a lot easier to jump into a world and characters you grew up with and know inside and out than it is to come up with your own from scratch. I would not be the writer I am today if I didn’t spend my teenage and college years writing fanfic, that much I can guarantee. In that time, I learned a lot about characterization, description, dialogue, plot, and even editing. It also gave me confidence to eventually move beyond into original fiction.
The drawback is, of course, you won’t be able to make any money off it, nor do you own these characters you’re writing about. Fanfic is still frowned upon by a lot of people as a waste of time and energy. Of course, if you’re willing to put in the effort, you can take a story that began life as fanfic and turn it into something that’s all your own creation. I did that with my second novel, Chasing The Dragon, and it’s been done by other writers as well.
DF: You’ve done work for professional comic book companies as a letterer, haven’t you?
PC: I have. When I was initially putting together Love & Bullets as a comic book, I had found an artist, but a letterer was still out of reach, until the day I found the Ninja Lettering website. I followed their tutorials for using Adobe Illustrator to letter comics, did a number of practice pages, and then began lettering the first issue of Love & Bullets. To my surprise, I actually really enjoyed lettering, and so I began seeking out work. I lettered a number of submissions that were never picked up, and also did work for a few independent companies, most notably AC Comics. While lettering stories for their Femforce anthology comic, I developed a very good relationship with Mark and Stephanie Heike, the editors on that comic. That relationship led to my first published work-for-hire in the form of a finishing off the final two parts of a three-part story featuring their character of Threeta.
I still keep an eye on the various job boards for letterers, and if there’s something that catches my interest (and I have an opening in my schedule), then I’ll apply for it. I would like to do more of it, though.
DF: You’ve also tried your hand at screenwriting and film directing, correct?
PC: Also true. Screenwriting and comic writing are very closely related in a lot of ways, so I found it pretty easy to switch between the two, and movies were and still are a huge influence on me. During my undergraduate years, my minor was in mass media with a heavy focus on film studies and it was during that period that I did some directing work on some short student films. Only one was ever completed, and that was a short film called Russian Roulette, based on a short story written by a friend of mine named Anastasia Peters.
She had asked me to critique the story and I thought it was incredible and while reading it, I kept picturing it playing out as a film and so I asked her if she’d let me adapt it. I had several friends who were skilled in different areas of film, so we came up with a script and shot the film in three days.
The masters degree I’m pursuing involves a screenwriting concentration, and I’d love to write and/or direct another project at some point in the future. It’s just a matter of finding the right idea for a script and all the necessary elements to translate the script into a movie.
DF: Your output is diverse. You’ve written Fantasy, Espionage Thrillers, Science Fiction, Pulp Action/Adventures. Is the diversity to keep your readers from getting bored or you?
PC: More to keep me from getting bored. The nice thing about New Pulp is that we’re not restricted by genre. We don’t have to stick to Horror or Crime or Sci-Fi or Fantasy. We can play in all these different areas, sometimes all at once. If I get the inkling to write a Horror novel, I can just do it. If I want to write a Western, I can just do it. It’s a nice way to keep me from getting bored, but it’s also a great way to challenge myself. Recently, I wrote a Western story, and it was the first time I ever wrote a Western. It was just an idea that came to me one day, it coincided nicely with an anthology that was in the works, so I pitched it and was given the greenlight to write it. Even if I didn’t get the greenlight, I probably would have written it anyway and figured out something else to do with it.
DF: Tell us about The Infernum series.
Infernum began life as a film project, initially titled Codename: Black Widow, if I recall correctly. It was the brainchild of a very good friend of mine, Kyle Shire, who wanted to direct it as a student film. He came up with a basic outline and asked me if I’d be willing to write a screenplay, and of course I was more than happy to do that. The film never happened, but Kyle gave me his blessing to write it as a novel.
Infernum is an organization of assassins run by a mysterious and charming power broker known as Dante. In Codename: Black Widow, which later became Love & Bullets, the main character is named Angela Lockhart, a former operative of a government organization called the Agency. After the death of her husband, she goes rogue and gets recruited by Dante as an assassin, the deal between them being that Dante will use his resources to help her find her husband’s killer.
Love & Bullets was followed up by Outlaw Blues, which involves a lot of the same characters, but in different roles. The protagonist in Outlaw Blues is a retired hitman named Carl Flint, who gets brought out of retirement by Dante for one final job. It ties into Love & Bullets in several ways, but is also its own story—whereas Love & Bullets was more of an espionage spy vs. spy novel, Outlaw Blues is more of an urban western.
I do have plans for future books. I’ve been kicking around ideas for the next book, tentatively titled Gentleman Rogue, for a while, but have had other projects I wanted to focus on first.
DF: I’m a big fan of The Myth Hunter, Elisa Hill. Tell us about her.
Elisa Hill is my attempt to try my hand at a more pulpy adventure story. I came up with the character a while ago, initially as a pitch for the now-defunct original fiction website, Frontier. In initial form, Elisa was a vampire hunter, but that morphed over time into what she is now. Initially I tried to do it as a comic, but when that fell through, I decided to try it as a novel.
The basic premise is that all the various mythologies of the world are rooted in fact. Pursuing these legends are people called myth hunters. Some are mercenaries, some are knowledge-seekers, some are treasure hunters. Elisa is the daughter of two myth hunters and she initially became one of the rogue myth hunters, working with a mercenary named Lucas Davalos. But after the death of her parents, she came back to their way of thinking, attempting to continue their research with the help of their good friend and her mentor, a retired myth hunter named Max Finch.
In the first book, The Myth Hunter, Elisa and Max pursue the myth of the lost continent of Lemuria, while also trying to avoid the reach of the mysterious Order and a vicious mercenary named Seth. During the course of that book, Elisa ran into Asami, a kitsune or Japanese fox spirit, who can change between fox and human forms and possesses some degree of magical abilities.
The sequel, Dragon Kings of the Orient, has Asami seeking out Elisa’s help to protect the Dragon Kings of China from Sun Wukong, the Monkey King, a powerful demigod who sought revenge on the Dragon Kings for imprisoning him. The lives of the Dragon Kings are tied to the oceans of Asia, and so if they die, that could mean chaos for the continent. Of course, things aren’t what they seem.
There’s been another addition to the Myth Hunter series in the form of “The Wild Hunt,” a short story featured in the PulpWork Christmas Special 2013, which is now available in digital and print formats. “The Wild Hunt” has Asami traveling to Hokkaido in Japan where she runs across a yuki-onna, or snow woman. But there’s something else, something far larger at play.
DF: What are your future plans for Elisa Hill?
PC: Elisa will be back. Dragon Kings of the Orient ended on something of a cliffhanger, and that will lead into the third book. The ending of “The Wild Hunt” also hints at something else coming down the road for Elisa and her allies. At some point in the future, I’d also like to invite other writers to contribute stories about Elisa and her allies and put out an anthology of those stories, but I haven’t put that into action just yet.
Also sometime in the near-future, probably before I have the chance to write the third book, Elisa will be appearing in another story written by someone other than me and featuring her teaming up with one ofthe biggest New Pulp characters! So keep an eye out for that.
DF: You’ve got a new novel out. Tell us about SOULQUEST.
PC: SoulQuest, like almost everything I’ve done, began life as a comic book pitch. It never went anywhere and some time later, I pitched it as a serial for the Revenance original fiction site. The first chapter was posted, but Revenance went down shortly after that. I had already written several pages and continued it for a bit, but ultimately got distracted by other projects.
Then last year, I was struggling with a project for NaNoWriMo and I started looking through abandoned manuscripts (of which I have more than a few). One of those was SoulQuest. I began jotting down notes and found myself quickly sucked back into that world.
SoulQuest is basically my love letter to the Final Fantasy series, in particular Final Fantasy VII, which is my all-time favorite video game. The book focuses on Zarim, who is a pirate along with Ekala, Zarim’s lover and a consummate thief, and Swul, a hard-drinking exile of the faerie kingdom. From the airship Excalibur, they live the lives of mercenaries, traveling wherever the money is. But when the legendary Soulstones surface, they’re tasked with locating them. Also pursuing the Soulstones is Lord Vortai, a powerful sorcerer who basically controls the empire. With the Soulstones, Vortai could have the power to remake the world as he sees fit.
It’s part fantasy, part science fiction, part steampunk, with a lot of action thrown in. This book was me really pushing myself out of my comfort zone, especially after a very long dry spell when I came close to quitting writing altogether. And it’s out now in print and for Kindle.
DF: Is SOULQUEST going to be a series? And if so, what can we expect in future books?
PC: I had considered making it into a series, but for now, it’s just this one book. Given what happens in this book, I think a follow-up where the stakes are the same or even higher would be very difficult to pull off. I might consider revisiting the characters in short stories set at different points in their lives, because it is a big, ensemble cast, and there’s a lot that can be done with the different characters. But there are other projects that I really want to work on at the moment, and so I’d like to focus on those.
DF: What’s A Day In The Life of Percival Constantine like?
PC: My work schedule is kind of all over the place, so if it’s a day when I have classes, then I’ll usually get up around 6 and drive anywhere from 40-90 minutes to which of the eleven elementary schools I teach at. If I have free periods during the day, I have my laptop with me and I’ll work on whatever projects are on my docket, be it formatting, editing, lettering, studying, or writing. If I have a day off from work, I might be recording or editing episodes for the two podcasts I’m part of, working on the aforementioned projects I have to work on, or just relaxing in front of the TV or reading comics or books.
Derrick Ferguson: Anything else we should know?
Percival Constantine: I’m a writer for WhatCulture and a contributor and regional partner at JapanTourist. As mentioned, I also produce two podcasts. One is The Exploding Typewriter, a podcast that features me and a member of the New Pulp community discussing whatever aspect of pulp that creator wants to talk about. To date, I’ve done interviews with Tommy Hancock, Ron Fortier, Barry Reese, Derrick Ferguson, Jim Beard, and Richard Lee Byers, with other interviews planned. It’s great fun talking with these various guys and getting their insight on the world of New Pulp.
The other podcast is called The Geek Screen, and I co-host that with one of my good friends from Chicago, Juan Bracich. We talk about geeky movies and TV shows, focusing on a different film or show each episode as the main portion and also touching on different news and whatever other tangents we might find ourselves on.
Other than that, please pick up a copy of SoulQuest and the PulpWork Christmas Special 2013. Those and all my other books are available at various places all over the net, and if you head over to my website, PercivalConstantine.com, you can find out where you can buy all those books and in what formats.
And also, thank you for the interview! It’s always a good time when you and I get to sit down and chat a little.
Writer, Editor, Letterer