Derrick Ferguson: Who is Michael A. Gonzales?
Michael A. Gonzales: Born on June 23, 1963, I’m a kid from Harlem who has been interested in books, movies and comics since I was a small boy, and knew I had to figure out a way to make those things a part of my life. I grew-up on 151 Street between Broadway and Riverside. My biological father lived in Westchester while my step-dad, a Puerto Rican barber/hustler, lived on 7th Ave and 123rd Street, so I always tell folks I had the best of both worlds.
DF: Where do you live and what do you do for a living?
MG: Currently I live in Baltimore. I write full-time, but I’ve had all kinds of jobs including working as a NYC foot messenger in the early 80s, working at a coffee shop restaurant, a clerk at Tower Records and, my longest job, was working at a NYC homeless shelter for a decade. I started out mopping floors, but a few years later worked in the recreation department with the kids. That was trip, believe me. It was also the height of crack, so the shelter could get wild. It was a family shelter…the first one I worked in was in Brooklyn in the middle of Fort Green Projects while the second was on Catherine Street on the Lower East Side. Needless to say, it was an adventure, but I was writing for various newspapers and magazines during that time as well.
DF: You have an interesting background. Tell us some of it.
MG: Growing-up in NYC in the ‘70s was a great adventure. Our block and building was full of kids, so I had a lot of friends. I was raised by my mom and grandma, but my biological father as well as my stepfather was a big part of my life. My stepfather adopted me, which is why my last name is Gonzales. His name was Carlos. My “real” father was named Lafayette Dixon and he came from down south. For most of my young life I went to private (The Modern School) or Catholic (St. Catherine of Genoa) school and was a kind of shy as a boy. I went to Rice High School for a year, then my mom moved to Baltimore in ‘78. Our NYC neighborhood crew went to the movies together every week, so I saw a lot of films as a boy. Also, my mom was a big reader and film lover. My mom was (is) the coolest and exposed me and baby brother (two years younger) to museums, concerts, Greenwich Village and all kinds of arty stuff. I was also a TV junkie and watched EVERYTHING from “The Brady Bunch” to cartoons to PBS.
DF: How long have you been writing?
MG: My mom said she used to put books and magazines in play pen and I would look at them like I was really reading them. I had a cool German godfather whose family came to NYC when Hitler came into power. Uncle Hans was a writer and one day, out of the blue, asked me to dictate a story to him. My mom had just taken me to see a movie called “The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight”, so I stole the plot for my own story that Uncle Hans typed up. I was eight years old. When I saw the collected pages when I was finished, I was hooked. That same year, Uncle Hans bought me an Olivetti typewriter and that was that. But, many years later, it was my late girlfriend Lesley Pitts who believed in my work and told me she would support me until I finally broke through. I wrote about her in my essay “Love in the Age of Prince.”
Love in the Age of Prince: https://catapult.co/stories/love-in-the-age-of-prince
DF: What have you learned about yourself through your writing?
MG: Besides the fact that I spend too much time living in the past, I’m not sure.
DF: What audience are you trying to reach with your work? IS there an audience for Michael A. Gonzales?
MG: That’s an interesting question, because I’ve been blessed to have written for a wide variety of publications from New York magazine to a ghetto-lit collection edited by Shannon Holmes to various erotica and crime fiction anthologies. I love telling stories, all kinds of stories, and always hoped my stories reached everyone from the b-boys on the corner to the be-boppers in a jazz club, from the around the was girls to the Spellman College grads. Also, while I write from an obvious Black perspective, I hope the stories can be appreciated by folks of all races.
DF: The first thing of yours that I read was “Jaguar and The Jungleland Boogie” in the BLACK PULP anthology. An improbable mash-up of Hip-Hop, New Jack Swing, Blaxploitation and Pulp, after a single reading it became one of my favorite stories in the book. What’s the origin of the story?
MG: Oh, man, thank you. I had started writing that story years before Black Pulp but asking to be a part of that book gave me the courage to finish it. Really, I wanted to write a hood version of Batman and Robin with a little bit of the Shadow mixed in. Growing-up, I loved Batman, the TV show and the comics. As a kid, my favorite Batman artist was the late Marshall Rodgers. In 1978, he and Denny O’Neil did a weird mash-up of comics and fiction called “Death Strikes at Midnight and Three” and I was so inspired by that. Comic Book artists and writers (but mostly artists) are a big influence on me and I channel their work when I’m writing those kinds of stories. Guys like Howard Chaykin, Michael Kaluta, Alex Nino, Berni Wrightson, Jim Steranko and, of course, Jack Kirby.
“Jaguar and the Jungleland Boogie” excerpt http://www.egotripland.com/jaguar-jungleland-boogie-michael-gonzales
DF: How familiar were you with Pulp before you wrote the story?
MG: I’ve been a pulp fan since I was a boy. I used to order old Shadow radio shows on records, I watched Flash Gordon serials on PBS and read Byron Preiss’ Weird Heroes series of paperbacks. I think that was when I first heard the word “pulp,” but I’ve been a fan since childhood.
DF: Having dipped your toes into New Pulp waters, do you plan on diving in again anytime soon?
MG: I hope so. I wrote a second Jaguar story that hasn’t been published. It was done for BLACK PULP II, but I have no idea what is going on with that project. I really like writing pulp stories and, if given the opportunity, I’d love to write some more.
DF: Your musical knowledge is extraordinary and you are perhaps best known for your articles and essays about music. How important has music been in your life?
MG: I’ve been buying records since I was a kid. Growing-up uptown was the best music education because I heard everything: jazz, salsa, soul and pop. I grew-up listening to WABC-AM as well as WWRL and later WBLS. I was a major rock fan too, which got me teased, but I didn’t care. I loved Curtis Mayfield and Isaac Hayes, but also Elton John and Queen. My mom took me to see Little Anthony in Central Park when I was kid. Her friend Chucky played drums with the group and we went backstage after the show. I was about six or seven, but that changed my life. I couldn’t sing or play an instrument, but I knew I wanted to be in music somehow. Later, music critics Lester Bangs, Greg Tate, Nelson George, Barry Michael Cooper and other became my guides.
DF: Your opinion on the current musical landscape?
MG: I’m going to be 55 this year, but I try to stay somewhat current. I don’t listen to as much new rap, but I’m down with guys like Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole. Still, I am very much an old school head…still blasting the Super Fly soundtrack like it came out yesterday.
DF: I’ve read the term “culture writer” applied to you. Does that fit? Exactly what is a “culture writer” anyway?
MG: I stole that tag from my critical writing hero (and now friend) Greg Tate. In the ‘90s, when I was on staff at both Vibe and The Source, I was writing about music, but also books, films and old school NYC life…to me, cultural critic best described my beat. I did stories on Snoop Dogg, Lauryn Hill, Pete Rock and CL Smooth, The O’Jays, Barry White (spent a few days in Europe with him), Curtis Mayfield, Kool Herc and many others. I also co-authored a book about hip-hop called Bring the Noise: A Guide to Rap Music and Hip-Hop Culture, published by Random House in 1991. I wrote it with my buddy Havelock Nelson.
DF: I’ve read a few of your articles where you describe your movie going experiences back in the 1970s/80s and I’m convinced that you and I must have been in some of the same 42end grindhouses at the same time back then. How important have movies been in your life?
MG: Very, though I must admit I didn’t start going to Times Square until I was an adult. Our hood had some great movie houses…the Tapia (which was The Bunny when my mom was a teen and later became The Nova) was my childhood spot. There was also the Roosevelt on 145th and 7th Ave, the RKO Coliseum on 181 Street and Broadway, and The Olympia on 107 Street and Broadway.
DF: How much of an influence do movies have on your writing?
MG: Man, I don’t even know where to begin. The movies I grew-up with, from “Across 110th Street” to “Annie Hall” “The Mack” to “Network”, have perhaps influenced me more than any books. Then, as a teenager I discovered foreign films. I think “The 400 Blows” was the first one I saw and I was hooked. I’ve written a few essays about my love for film and its influence on my work, but “Into the Cinema, Onto the Page” is perhaps my favorite.
Into the Cinema, Onto the Page: https://catapult.co/stories/into-the-cinema
DF: What are you working on now?
MG: Well, I have a new book column I’ve been writing for a site called Catapult. The column is called The Blacklist and it explores out-of-print books by African-American authors. I have a heist novel called Uptown Boys that I’m ready to dust off and try to sell. I also want to revisit a few short stories I have in the can. I have an essay of New York City graffiti coming soon in the Smithsonian Anthology of Hip-Hop and Rap as well as an essay about the Gordon Parks/XXL magazine collaboration A Great Day in Hip-Hop, which will be published in Contact High edited by Vikki Tobak. Also, my essay on the book Hog Butcher, which was adapted into the film “Cornbread, Earl and Me”, will be published later this year in Sticking It To the Man: Revolution and Counterculture in Pulp and Popular Fiction, 1956 to 1980 edited Andrew Nette and Iain McIntyre.
The Blacklist: https://catapult.co/editorial/topics/the-blacklist/stories
DF: What’s a typical Day In The Life of Michael A. Gonzales like?
MG: I need coffee first thing in the morning. Strong Bustello. It used to be coffee and a joint, but now it’s just coffee. I try to write every day. I’ve been blessed to having never had to deal with writer’s block, because, usually if I get stuck on something, I jump to something else. Also, if I get stuck I usually watch a movie, watch cartoons, listen to Miles Davis or the speeches of Malcolm X. Also, reading the Beat poets including old LeRoi Jones also helps.
DF: For anybody wanting to know more about you and your work, where should they start?
MG: My most recent short story a weird semi-gothic joint called “Roses,” that The Root published earlier this year. Fiction wise, I’d love folks to check out my erotica in the Brown Sugar series and other collections. One of my favorite non-fiction pieces that combines music and crime is called How Cool C and Steady B Robbed a Bank, Killed a Cop and Lost Their Souls, about these Philly rappers who became bank robbers and killers. I’ve also published some cool music pieces at Soulhead.com, Complex and Wax Poetics, where I did major articles on Curtis Mayfield, Nina Simone and D’Angelo.
How Cool C and Steady B Robbed a Bank, Killed a Cop and Lost Their Souls : https://medium.com/cuepoint/how-cool-c-and-steady-b-robbed-a-bank-killed-a-cop-and-lost-their-souls-d24d404f120a
Wax Poetics: http://www.waxpoetics.com/author/michael-gonzales
Derrick Ferguson: Anything else we should know?
Michael A. Gonzales: I could go on and on, until the break of dawn. But, this is cool. Thanks for the honor.
Derrick Ferguson: Who is Sean Taylor?
Sean Taylor: He’s just a man whose circumstances got beyond his control, beyond his control. I’m Kilroy. Okay, maybe not.
I’ll drop the official bio instead:
Sean Taylor is an award-winning writer of stories. He grew up telling lies, and he got pretty good at it, so now he writes them into full-blown adventures for comic books, graphic novels, magazines, book anthologies and novels. He makes stuff up for money, and he writes it down for fun. He’s a lucky fellow that way.
He’s best known for his work on the best-selling Gene Simmons Dominatrix comic book series from IDW Publishing and Simmons Comics Group. He has also written comics for TV properties such as the top-rated Oxygen Network series The Bad Girls Club. His other forays into fiction include such realms as steampunk, pulp, young adult, fantasy, super heroes, sci-fi, and even samurai frogs on horseback (seriously, don’t laugh). However, his favorite contribution to the world will be as the writer/editor who invented the genre and coined the term “Hookerpunk.”
DF: What do you do to keep the creditors away?
ST: I’ve been everything from a corporate media strategist to a local newspaper editor, and I’ve written comics and short stories and even a novel thus far, but for the day job at the moment, I edit for several places as a freelancers/contractor to keep the bills paid. It’s a dirty job, as they say, but someone’s got to love it.
DF: How long have you been writing and what have you learned about yourself through your writing?
ST: My first magazine article was in 1991, a marketing article about doing a summer reading display for a bookstores to highlight summer book sales. It was a hit, and I kept doing it. My first short story was publishing in 1995 in O’ Georgia: A Collection of Georgia’s Newest and Most Promising Writers, and I caught the bug and haven’t stopped yet.
What have I learned? Well, I’ve learned how to survive close to the poverty line, that’s for sure. Writing and editing is one of those comes and goes industries, and in an economy as volatile as the U.S. one has been during the years I’ve been a writer and editor, it’s bounced up and down several time. But what I learned from all that is that writing is something I make time to do whether or not it’s paying the bills. It’s more a calling than a career choice.
DF: What Next Big Project are you working on now?
ST: My current projects are a few short stories I have to knock out in order to get to the Next Big Project. I’ve got a Golden Amazon, Phantom Detective, and Secret Agent X story for Moonstone, then a novella for my Spy Candy property at Pro Se. After that, I’ll finally be free to get back on my Armless O’Neil novel for the Pulp Obscura line. That one’s going to be so much fun. I love Armless so hard. He’s more fun to write than just about any characters I know. I’m also in the process of releasing a book of essays on writing and reading, along the lines of the kind of articles I write for my blog. I did mention my blog, right? Bad Girls, Good Guys, and Two-Fisted Action. (www.badgirlsgoodguys.com)
DF: What audience are you trying to reach with your work? Is there an audience for Sean Taylor?
ST: That’s a tough one because I have my hands in so many writing pies. On the one hand, I write a lot, a big whole lot, of New Pulp tales. Then I also can’t quite pull myself away from horror. And I got my start in lit fiction and super-hero prose. Ultimately, I guess, I’m writing for an audience that likes a sense of adventure and wonder to go along with interesting characters. I think somewhere deep inside me is a magical realism writer who likes to paint the edges of my work with extraordinary stuff from time to time.
DF: What is the one book or story of yours you would recommend to somebody to start with who is not familiar with your work? And why that particular book or story?
ST: Ouch. Which child will best show off my Roman nose? Hmmm… I suppose the truest picture of who I am comes through the stories in Show Me A Hero, my collection of super-hero tales from Cyber Age Adventures/iHero Entertainment. But if you want to see the newer me, you’ll need to read The Ruby Files. That one really hits on all cylinders of who I am too. A little bit of lit (that holds on doggedly), and a lot of action and character, with a bit of mischief in taking the truth of history (racism, sexism) and dragging it into the light to try to make a point about today too.
DF: How much room in your head do you allow critics and criticism to occupy?
ST: Just what is needed. You take the good, you take the bad, you take ’em both and then you have… Well, not The Facts of Life, but something you can use to improve. If it doesn’t help me improve my work, then there’s no room for it up in my head.
DF: This has been a good year for Rick Ruby. Tell us the origins of the character.
ST: Good ol’ Rick Ruby came about when I suckerpunched Bobby Nash in The Pulp Factory Yahoo Group list. We had talked about a Richard Diamond anthology very vaguely, and then the idea of taking that idea, tweaking the hell out of it, and making it all ours hit me one day, and suddenly I posted in the group, dragging Bobby into my madness, and like the wonderful partner in crime (and writing) he is, he just ran with it.
Jump forward a few weeks or so, when he and I are in a Golden Corral, putting together a story bible for the character. Between bites of steak and chicken, we talking about bloody murders and bad guys and stealing diamonds and putting meat on Ruby’s back-story. To say that the other patrons looked at us funny would be an understatement.
When we fleshed him out, we knew most of all that even though folks like Spade and Diamond and even Hammer were our starting point, we wanted something different. And that’s where the idea of a white man in two worlds, the black, other side of the tracks, world and rich white uppercrust world of the ’30s, came from. We wanted a man who was a sort of pure-hearted louse because the world didn’t give him any other options.
DF: What else have you got planned for Rick Ruby? Comic books? Graphic Novels? TV show?
ST: At this point we’re just riding the wave with our three (yes, that’s right—THREE) Pulp Factory Awards for The Ruby Files Vol. 2. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have some awesome plans for Rick and his cast. For starters, we’re working on Vol. 3 for a release date early next year, and you’re going to be a big part of that one, which I can’t wait to read. After that, there will be a Rick Ruby novel, and then even further out, we’ll get into Rick’s legacy when I write the adventures of his grandson in something tentatively titled The Ruby Legacy.
I’d love to see comics and TV, but baby steps, Bill Murray, baby steps.
DF: What are your thoughts on where New Pulp is at today?
ST: I just wrote an essay on this for my upcoming book Giddy and Euphoric: Essays on Writing and Reading (And Ray Bradbury). I think New Pulp is in a pretty enviable spot right now. Now that it’s outgrown its source material and can play with style instead of just characters or settings, New Pulp is literally being made and remade every day.
We have the freedom to tell new stories about nostalgic characters and legacy characters we can add to their stories. We have the freedom to create new characters that share their type and tone. And we have the freedom to simply use the style of those stories to create something even more new and original than either of those.
In a lot of ways we New Pulp writers are just laying claim to the summer reading adventure or crime novel and taking them back home to the stuff that influenced them in the first place. Only we doing it with bigger settings, more varied characters, and lots more panache.
DF: Is New Pulp going anywhere? If so, where is it going? If not, why isn’t it?
ST: Man, I really hope so. I think it’s probably becoming more broad in its definition, like I hinted it above. One publisher has even already embraced the term “Genre” rather than “New Pulp” for its catalog, and I think that’s probably a good thing. I have no problem with New Pulp being more a movement than a genre, because it’s about tone and style and influence than it is about a marketing term or creating a new section in the local Barnes & Noble.
DF: In what direction do you think your work is going?
ST: Make that “in what directions” do I think my work is going, because I’m always moving in about three different directions.
I’m pretty sure at this point that my stories are settling into one of two camps: pulpy tales and horror stories. In my pulp stuff I’m starting to move mainly into just novels and will be weaning myself away from the short stories, except in a few, rare cases. As for my horror work, that’s going to always be short stories. There’s very little I enjoy writing more than horror short stories. That’s an art form I’ll never be able to leave behind.
DF: Netflix calls you up and says they’re going to spend fifty million to turn one of your books into a twelve-episode series. They’ll let you pick the book and one director for all twelve episodes. Which book and which director?
ST: As much as I’d love to see a Fishnet Angel series based on my iHero Entertainment/Cyber Age Adventures tales and the Shooting Star Comics comic book, I think at this point, I’d still have to zero on in Rick Ruby. I think an ongoing series with an underlying C-plot (a la Longmire) would be something that could really make Ruby a hit visually. Besides, I like very few things more than a good period piece on TV.
DF: What’s a typical Day in The Life of Sean Taylor like?
ST: As the old saying goes: Shit, Shower, and Shave, only often without all that pesky shaving nonsense. I’m a contract editor by trade right now, so if there’s work in my inbox, I’m off to the Grayson Coffee House to put lots of red marks all over the pages I’ve been sent. If I have that rare day off, I’ll usually be writing at either the coffee house or my home office. Wash, rinse, and repeat, with occasional Netflix, Amazon, or anime binges thrown in for relaxation.
Derrick Ferguson: Anything else we should know?
Sean Taylor: I once had to break a date because I fell down an elevator shaft, and no, she didn’t believe me either. Which was a bummer. She was cute.
I lost a job one because of a pair of thong. Long story, but it involved Cafepress, a requested item for a friend, and a national religious organization. And a friend in my corner who wished he had a baseball bat at the time. But everything’s good now.
I have two new books coming out pretty soon.
One will be a collection of essays about the art and craft of writing and reading— Giddy and Euphoric: Essays on Writing and Reading (And Ray Bradbury). Anyone who follows my work will know how much I love to pontificate about the craft. What can I say? I’m a wordy fellow.
The other will be a collection of horror stories I’ve written, and it’ll be called A Crowd in Babylon and Other Dark Tales. I’m really looking forward to that one too because, like I said earlier, I love horror stories, and done right, I don’t think there’s a much better American art form. It’s the jazz of genre stories, I think.
I’m going to be straight up and honest here. Whenever I hear about a movie or a book being described as “Pulp” or “Grindhouse” or being in the tradition of those genres, I kinda tend to roll my eyes and give out with a little groan. Because usually they end up being a disappointment. They do. Most people who think they know what Grindhouse is actually have no idea. They think it’s just a lot of crazy shit happening and a bunch of wacky characters that it’s happening to. Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez understand Grindhouse. Joe R. Lansdale understands Grindhouse. Robert R. McCammon understands Grindhouse. Mike Baron understands Grindhouse. They speak the language and understand the elements that go into Grindhouse backwards and forwards. And so does Derek Slaton.
SMOOTHEN SILKY: DEMON FIGHTING PIMP is such an entertaining piece of Grindhouse/Pulp Fiction that I hardly know where to being to describe it. First of all, if the title doesn’t grab you then go on back to your Jane Austin and leave this one alone. But if you’re a fan of 1970s/1980s Grindhouse Movies then you’re definitely the audience for this one. You’ll know exactly where Mr. Mason draws his influences from and you’ll go along for the ride.
Smoothen Silky is not just a Pimp. He is The Pimp of All Pimps. And he’s got a holy mission to protect humanity from the demon hordes that would conquer mankind. In Derek Slaton’s universe, demons don’t want to destroy humanity. If they did that then who would they have to torment and exploit? The ambitions of the demons in this universe are much more base and carnal. And then who better to combat them than The Pimp of All Pimps and his A-Team of Ho’s? Most of them have the benefits of higher education since Silky insists on it. He not only has the finest ho’s in the world, they’re also the smartest, easily equal in brain power and skills to Doc Savage’s Iron Crew or Buckaroo Banzai’s Hong Kong Cavaliers. But with way more to offer in other areas. If you know what I mean (nudge nudge wink wink)
Silky works for The Agency, an organization devoted to battling demon incursions and along with veteran agent Rose and rookie agent Kerr he and his A-Team of Ho’s find themselves up against their greatest challenge; to prevent The Princess, a demon Beauty Queen from performing a mystical ritual that will bring back to our dimension The King of The Beach, a Demon King who will plunge the Earth into an unending and eternal Summer Break.
Yes. You read that right. And if after reading that you don’t want to read this book then there’s nothing else I can say.
Well, in fact there is a few more things I can say. Derek Slaton understands that if you want to write a Grindhouse novel then you have to write it in a visual, cinematic style and he certainly does so. It took me a while to get through certain scenes because while I visualized Silky as looking like 1970s Isaac Hayes I kept hearing his dialog in the voice of Katt Williams. I was laughing so hard I kept losing my place and had to go back a page or two to resume reading. That’s how good he is with dialog. Silky, Rose and Kerr all have their own distinctive speech patterns that are easy to follow and never once was I confused as to was talking to whom. Derek Slaton even makes sure that he gives each one of Silky’s Ho’s their moment to shine so that they’re an integral element of the story and not just there for the sexual innuendo (although that certainly don’t hurt.)
He also understands action scenes. I despair at the number of writers who desperately want to write action but have no idea of how to do so. They have to be put together so that a reader can cleanly visualize what is going on and who is hitting/shooting/punching/kicking/whooping ass on or taking it from. Again, Derek Slaton knows how to do this.
Me going on any further would entail me having to describe more about the plot and characters and a lot of the fun of reading SMOOTHEN SILKY: DEMON FIGHTING PIMP derives from you finding it out for yourself who these characters are and how they relate to each other and how they join together to save the world. Reading SMOOTHEN SILKY: DEMON FIGHTING PIMP gave me the same feeling I get when I watch a really good B-Movie and that’s probably the best recommendation I can give it: it’s the best B-Movie I’ve read in quite a while. Enjoy.