Derrick Ferguson: We’ve been through this before but no doubt there’s a lot of people who will be reading this who don’t know a thing about you so: Who Is Nicole Givens Kurtz? Where do you live and what do you do to keep the bill collectors away?
Nicole Givens Kurtz: I am originally from Knoxville, Tennessee (Go Big ORANGE!), but I currently reside just outside of Winston-Salem, North Carolina. I’m a public-school teacher by day, a writer at night and a mother 24/7.
DF: It’s been a year and four months since I last interviewed you. What have you been doing since then?
NGK: So much has happened in the last year! An anthology I submitted a story to, was named as a Bram® Stoker Finalist in Horror Anthology (Sycorax’s Daughters), I’ve sold a few short stories, and finished a new urban fantasy series that I’m currently shopping around. I’ve also had the pleasure of attending BlackTasticon in June and some other pretty amazing events this year.
DF: I asked you in our last interview if there was an audience for Nicole Kurtz. Have you found your audience yet? Or have they found you?
NGK: Alas, my audience remains a bit elusive. I’m still working on refining my author brand, and also increasing my in-person presence. I write a lot of different types of stories, and for that reason, it may be difficult for me to find an audience that are “Nicole Givens Kurtz” fans, but rather they like specific things I write. For example, I do have “Cybil Lewis” readers, and “Minister Knight” readers, etc.
DF: How is Mocha Memoirs Press doing?
NGK: Mocha Memoirs is going through an overhaul in terms of direction. It’s not entirely new, but we are refining our model. Publishing is always changings and we’re shifting with the sands, too.
Our tagline is Bold. Fearless. Fiction. We want to continue to amplify marginalized voices in speculative fiction. We opened our submissions doors two months ago and are actively seeking novellas and novel-length submissions.
DF: What are you working on now?
NGK: Currently, I’m revising a romance novella for Falstaff Crush, the romance line of Falstaff books. After that, I plan to finish revisions on my second urban fantasy series. There are short stories and short story collections I’m also putting together, including on for Cybil Lewis and my weird western short stories.
DF: Who is Cybil Lewis?
NGK: Cybil Lewis is a private inspector in the future who investigates violations (crimes) for those who are afraid or don’t want to go to the police. She’s like a female Shaft in dystopian Washington, D.C., following her own moral compass, and getting the job done. She’s by far my most personal and favorite character out of all of those that I have created over the last 20 years.
DF: In the year since we’ve talked, has the prominence of female African-American Speculative Fiction writers grown? Diminished? Stayed the same?
NGK: It has exploded in the year since we talked! There are so many African-American Speculative Fictions writers that I struggle to keep up and to read others’ works! There’s just so much and that’s not a complaint! It’s so encouraging that younger African-American girls and boys and read books in speculative fiction with protagonists that look like them. They’re the heroes and heroines, the super powered people in those stories and that is beautiful.
DF: How do you see your role in the community of female AASF writers? IS there a community of female AASF writers? And if not, why isn’t there one?
NGK: There’s a community of AASF writers, but I don’t belong to an “official” one. I have a solid group of AASF authors who support each other, work together to network and share ideas, and push each other to be great. It’s something African Americans have always done, especially black women. We’ve taken care of things when we need to and for the community. Over the years, I have found and been gifted with really intelligent and brilliant AASF who may be further down the road in their career than me, but who reach back and mentor. Linda Addison does this as well as Tananarive Due and others.
DF: Who should we be reading these days? Who are you reading?
NGK: Right now, I’m reading Daniel Jose Older, Tomi Adeyemi’s, Eden Royce, and Sherrilyn Kenyon. Everyone should be reading and supporting independent authors! My currently reading list has independently published authors on them, and honestly, I met some amazing authors at Blacktasticon. If you’re into comics, you should read Robert Jeffery’s Route One, and William Satterwhites’ Stealth. There’s so much good reading being put out by small presses and independently published authors.
DF: How was Blacktasticon 2018? How much fun did you have?
NGK: Blacktasticon 2018 was a warm hug! It was mind-blowing, stimulating, and a huge creative bump for me. I did have to pinch myself several times as I sat on panels with my writing heroes. Sheree Renee Thomas, Linda Addison, John Jennings are the stars of black speculative fiction and I couldn’t believe how generous they were with their time, with their knowledge, and that was what really made the event for me. This community of individuals coming together to talk about speculative fiction through the lenses of Afro-centric beliefs, ideals, and historic context. I learned so much. My soul was fed. No other convention does that in the way that Blackstasticon did.
DF: For someone who hasn’t read any of your work, what should they start with and why?
NGK: For those who haven’t read any of my work, I would start with SILENCED, the first Cybil Lewis novel. It’s such a great story, and it’s a pretty good example of the types of stories I tend to tell. Of course, my writing has changed a lot over the years, but that’s the best representation of my writing style.
DF: Where can people find out more about you and your work?
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.”
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.
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.
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: Revolutionand Counterculture in Pulp and Popular Fiction, 1956 to 1980 edited Andrew Nette and Iain McIntyre.
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.
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.”
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.
Lisa Marie Bowman: Lisa Marie Bowman is a writer, a dancer, a dreamer, a film lover, a history nerd, a loyal friend, a thankful sister, a loving daughter, and a pop culture fanatic. For the longest time, I used to tell people that I was “just a sweet little thing with morbid thoughts.” Seeing as how my thoughts are a lot less morbid now than they were 10 years ago, I probably need to revise that description but to be honest; I like the way it sounds.
I also used to tell people that “I can be your dream or I can be your … NIGHTMARE!!!!” but I was just quoting The Perfect Teacher, one of my Lifetime movies.
DF: Where do you live and what do you tell the IRS you do for a living?
LMB: I live in the suburbs of Dallas, Texas. I have a degree in Art History so, of course, I work in office administration. In general, I try to tell the IRS as little as possible.
DF: Tell us as much about your background as you’re legally allowed to.
LMB: I was born in Texas. I’m Italian/Spanish on my mother’s side and Irish on my father’s side. My family moved around a lot so, by the time I was twelve, I had already lived in six different states but I’m pretty much settled into Texas now. I’ve got three older sisters, a boyfriend who I love, a cat that I spoil, and more DVDs and Blu-rays than I really have room for.
DF: How long have you been reviewing movies?
LMB: Forever and ever! Well, I guess it really depends on what you mean by reviewing movies. Even before I ever sat down and wrote my first film review, I was always the person who you would see walking out of a theater, loudly explaining why the movie she had just seen either sucked or was the greatest thing ever. Eventually, I moved from annoying people in theaters to annoying people on the IMDb message boards. (I miss those message boards so much!) And, of course, when I joined twitter in 2009, almost all of my tweets dealt with movies. Well, movies, cats, and some other things that I probably shouldn’t mention but that’s another story…
Anyway, it was in 2010 that I started to seriously review movies. That was when my friend, Arleigh Sandoc, asked me if I would be a part of the entertainment website that is now known as Through the Shattered Lens. Originally, I was brought on to review old grindhouse and exploitation films. In fact, the very first review that I posted on Through the Shattered Lens was of an old blaxploitation film called “Welcome Home, Brother Charles”, which is about an ex-con who magically strangles people with his penis. That review got such a good response that I was like, “Hey, I might have to do this regularly.” Then, a few months later, I published a post entitled “10 Reasons Why I Hated Avatar” and that caused so much controversy that I was pretty much hooked from that moment on.
So, in other words, 8 years
DF: Why do you love movies so much?
LMB: For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved movies. I guess you could argue that, no matter what else was happening in my life, the movies that I loved were always there. It didn’t matter where I was living or what was going on in the real world, I could always sit down and watch one of my favorite movies. Movies provide stability in an occasionally unstable world.
Also, I’m a totally unapologetic history nerd. I’m fascinated with stuff that happened before I was born. I guess that’s one reason why I love old movies. A lot of them – especially the low budget B-movies that tend to get unfairly dismissed by some critics – are about as close as you can get to owning a time machine.
DF: Where so many movie reviewers come off as snarky or determined to prove how smart or how funny they are in their reviews, yours are very relaxed and friendly as if you’re having a conversation with the reader. Is this a style you’ve refined or are your reviews an extension of your personality?
LMB: For the most part, that really is my personality. At the same time, it’s also definitely a style that I’ve worked to refine. There are so many people out there reviewing movies now that, if you don’t have your own unique voice, you’re going to run the risk of just disappearing in the crowd. Myself, I’ve never really been a fan of the bitter (but woke) nerd persona that so many online critics seem to adopt. To them, I would say, “Just tell me what you thought about the movie and save the Devin Faraci imitation for another time.”
DF: What audience are you trying to reach with your reviews? Is there an audience for Lisa Marie Bowman?
LMB: It’s interesting. When I first started writing reviews, another blogger checked out my work and told me that I was making a huge mistake by not specializing in only reviewing one or two genres of film. His opinion was that, instead of trying to review every single movie that I saw, I should just focus on either horror films or sci-fi films or new releases or whatever. He was particularly confused as to why I had recently reviewed “Test Tube Babies” an obscure exploitation film from 1948. His response reminded me of one of my former creative writing teachers who once told me, “You’ve got talent but I get the feeling that you mostly write to amuse yourself.”
But here’s the thing. I have no interest in limiting myself. I appreciate many different genres and therefore, I’m going to review many different genres. I don’t see what the problem is with reviewing a blockbuster one day and then, the next day, reviewing some cheap movie that was shot on an iPhone and uploaded to YouTube. I mean, who says that you can’t watch both “CitizenKane” and “Degrassi Goes Hollywood” in the same night and have a good time doing it? Certainly not me!
The audience I’m trying to reach is made up of people who not only enjoy watching movies but who are also constantly on the search for new movies to discover. The best compliment anyone can give me is to let me know that one of my reviews either inspired them watch a movie for the first time or to take another look at a previously viewed movie. That’s my audience.
(Of course, I’m also hoping to reach people who really love “Degrassi” because seriously, that show is the best!)
Hopefully, there’s an audience for me. I’ve been doing this for 8 years so if there isn’t, I have to wonder about the hits that my sites have been getting. Hopefully, the views are coming from people and not a cat randomly walking across as keyboard.
DF: What are the elements of a good movie review?
LMB: It all comes down to sincerity. Lately, it seems like too many film reviewers are more concerned with making sure that they give “the right” opinion, as opposed to actually reviewing the film. Right now, a lot of critics are more concerned with establishing their woke credentials (or, in the case of some critics, their unwoke credentials) than in actually considering whether a film is good or not. A film can be made with very best of intentions and still not work as entertainment. A film can be made by your favorite director and still not work. A film can totally conform to every single political or cultural belief that you may hold and still not work. Not admitting that doesn’t do anyone any good.
I also think that, sometimes, film critics fall into the trap of reviewing the film that they wish they had seen as opposed to the film that they actually did see. This happens a lot with online film critics. For instance, so many people wanted “The Dark Knight Rises” to be the greatest film ever that they kind of ignored the fact that the actual movie is a bit of unwieldy mess. A more recent example would be 2016’s “Ghostbusters”, which was far more forgettable than a lot of us were willing to admit at the time when it was released. It’s always interesting to compare the way that people talk about a movie like “Ghostbusters” to the way they talked about it after it was first released. Of course, on the other side, you have films that are criticized just because critics don’t want to run the risk of being the only person to admit they liked that film. That happens frequently with the horror genre, though the success of “Get Out” would seem to indicate that maybe critics are finally willing to admit that movies can be both scary and good.
Basically, my number one rule for film reviews: If you didn’t like the film, say you didn’t like it. If you liked it, say you liked it. Be open about your biases. If, for some reason, you have a natural tendency to like movies where Adam Sandler performs open heart surgery, then your readers need to know that before reading your very positive review about the latest movie to feature Adam Sandler performing open heart surgery. What it really comes down to is just being honest about the film and not worrying whether the rest of the world agrees. Those are the reviews that will remain relevant in years to come.
DF: What is it with you and Lifetime movies?
LMB: Heh heh. I just really enjoy them. I always love a good, over-the-top melodrama and the best Lifetime films usually are a bit more self-aware than they’re usually credited with being. That said, I’m a little disappointed in the current direction that Lifetime seems to be heading. I’m not a fan of the celebrity biopics and the overly morbid true crime reenactments. I prefer my Lifetime films to be silly, melodramatic, and preferably Canadian.
DF: Do you have any aspirations of getting into the movie industry yourself? Scriptwriting? Acting? Directing?
LMB: Scriptwriting, maybe. I’m involved in some projects right now but I don’t want to say too much about them until I have something more definite to share. (If Marvel needs someone to write a Black Widow movie, I’ve got a few ideas.)
DF: Okay, you knew this was coming. Your 10 Favorite Directors, Actors, Actresses and Movies. Go.
LMB: This is always the most difficult type of question for me to answer, just because there’s so many movies that I love that it’s really difficult for me to narrow it down to just ten. Here are the ten of my favorite films, listed in alphabetical order. I should note that these are the ten films that popped into my head today. Ask me tomorrow and you might get a totally different list! (I’ve also tried to limit myself to one film per director, though you’ll notice below that I did cheat a little.)
1: ALL ABOUT EVE directed by Joseph Mankiewicz
2: CASINO directed by Martin Scorsese
3: THE GODFATHER TRILOGY directed by Francis Ford Coppola
4: THE THREE MOTHERS TRILOGY directed by Dario Argento
5: IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE directed by Frank Capra
6: LOST IN TRANSLATION directed by Sofia Coppola
7: MULHOLLAND DRIVE directed by David Lynch
8: THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTED directed by Jean Rollin
9: THE RULES OF THE GAME directed by Jean Renoir
10: UPSTREAM COLOR directed by Shane Carruth
As for my top ten directors, the same rules apply. Off the top of my head: Dario Argento, Andrea Arnold, Mario Bava, Sofia Coppola, Ang Lee, David Lynch, Jean Renoir, Jean Rollin, Martin Scorsese, and Joe Wright.
Again, following the same rules, here’s my current top ten actors: James Franco, Donald Glover, Tom Hardy, William Holden, Robert Mitchum, Bill Murray, Gary Oldman, Chris Pratt, Jimmy Stewart, and Denzel Washington.
And, finally, my top ten actresses with the same rules applying: Amy Adams, Vera Farmiga, Greta Gerwig, Audrey Hepburn, Scarlett Johansson, Veronica Lake, Saorise Ronan, Edie Sedgwick, Mia Wasikowska, and Naomi Watts.
DF: Have you ever written any fiction? If so, where can we find it. And if not, why not?
LMB: I have! However, in the past, it’s been stuff that I usually just wrote for myself and a few intimate friends. But, who knows? Maybe I’ll start sharing some of it soon. I also used to write extremely emo poetry that didn’t rhyme. (My pen name was Pandora DeSaad.)
DF: What’s a Typical Day In The Life of Lisa Marie Bowman like?
LMB: When I was in the 5th Grade, our teacher had us do one of those things where we divided our day into three 8-hour blocks and then you had to write down how much time you spent on certain things during the day. So, it was like – 8 hours of school, 8 hours of sleep, and then, because she assumed we’d spend two hours studying and one hour eating dinner every night, that left us with only 5 hours of free time. That not only taught me how little time there is in the day but it also totally freaked me out. So, as a result, I not only try to cram as much as I can into a day but I’ve also trained myself to only need two or three hours of sleep a night. I also start every day with a to-do list. Usually, I save my to-do lists even after I’m finished with them, which I guess is kind of obsessive behavior on my part. Oh well!
So, a typical day for me is: I wake up from my nap, I go to work, I either go shopping or dancing (depending on the day), and then I watch a movie or two and I usually schedule a few reviews to post the next day. On Saturday nights, I usually watch a bad horror or science fiction movie with a group of friends of mine. (Every Christmas, we watch “Santa Claus Conquers The Martians”.) One good thing about becoming an adult is that I no longer feel like I have to go out and do something crazy every single night. I’ve come to appreciate relaxing.
DF: Where can interested parties find your reviews?
LMB: There’s a few places:
Through the Shattered Lens – unobtainium13.com
Horror Critic – horrorcritic.com
SyFy Designs – SyFyDesigns.com
PrimeTime Prepper: The College Career of Zack Morris — primetimepreppie.blogspot.com
Reality TV Chat Blog – realitytvchatblog.wordpress.com
Big Brother Blog – Big-Brother-Blog.com
I also share daily music at Lisa Marie’s Song of the Day (lmsod.wordpress.com) because who doesn’t love music?
Derrick Ferguson: Anything else we should know?
Lisa Marie Bowman: Follow me on twitter at @LisaMarieBowman! Since I start a new project every other day, that’s the best way to keep up.
There’s a wonderful story told about the filming of the classic 1946 Humphrey Bogart/Lauren Bacall murder mystery “The Big Sleep.” The plot of the book was so convoluted that in translating it from print to screen, director Howard Hawks and his screenwriters William Faulkner, Leigh Brackett and Jules Furthman discovered that not only were they not entirely clear as to who the killer of Sean Reagan was, they also had a dead chauffeur on their hands and they couldn’t figure out who killed him. In desperation they contacted the writer of the book, Raymond Chandler to ask him who killed Sean Regan and the chauffeur and Chandler had to admit that he himself didn’t know.
Indeed, there’s a terrific bit of business right in the middle of “The Big Sleep” where Bogart’s Philip Marlowe is called into the Los Angeles D.A.’s office to explain the case to him and by extension to the us, the audience. Because by the time we’ve reached that point of the movie the filmmakers felt that there needed to be some kind of summary of what happened so that audiences back then could take a breath and feel they were up to speed on what the hell this movie was all about.
I feel kinda the same way about Raymond Embrack’s impressively deranged BARRACUDA: A PETER SURF NOVELLA. Halfway through it needs somebody to hold up both hands, yell “Hold everything, please!” and summarize the plot. And trust me, I mean that in a good way. Because in the same way that “The Big Sleep” is now regarded as a classic of the private eye genre, I think that BARRACUDA in its own way is going to become a classic. And Raymond Embrack is a writer to watch.
Peter Surf is a private eye living and working in Blonde City, a California city that seems to be entirely made up of linked beaches each with their own distinctive personality. Blonde City itself is one of the best characters in the story, inhabited by gangs such as The Schoolgirl Mafia who commit thrill killings while hopped up on Hentai-14 and The Beach Mafia whose members worship The Beach Boys to the extent that all of them have the last name of “Smile” in honor of Brian Wilson’s epic project. It’s a city that seems made up out of equal parts of 1950’s, ‘60’s and ‘70’s pop culture with a healthy heaping dose of whatever the hell Raymond Embrack felt like throwing in and believe me, he makes it works. And for me watching him make it work was one of the fun things about reading this story.
Peter Surf himself is…well, the best way to describe him is if you imagined Mike Hammer created by Quentin Tarantino instead of Mickey Spillane. He lives and works out of a converted, arsenal filled service station and he doesn’t so much as do straight up detective work as wreak havoc among his enemies until somebody yells “uncle” and tells him what he wants to know.
And the havoc is profane, sexy and violent and I wouldn’t have it any other way. The story begins with Surf investigating a terrorist group called T-Unit. They’re terrorizing the private eyes of Blonde City. They’re running some out of town and outright killing others. They make the mistake of terrorizing Surf instead of killing him. From then on, Peter Surf becomes a one man wrecking crew on the warpath of T-Unit.
How this is all tied with the DEA, a particularly dangerous man named Gronsky and Blue Mermaid, a type of maryjane so mythical it’s supposed to be able to heal people I would not dream of telling you. Just be advised that by the time you reach the halfway point of BARRACUDA you may be tempted to say, “Hold everything, please!” go back to the beginning and start reading all over again just to make sure you know exactly what is going on.
That’s because Mr. Embrack writes like this was the only book he was ever going to write in his life. There’s an astounding amount of vibrantly alive characters, situations and concepts that other writers would have spread out over a trilogy. BARRACUDA is never boring and never lags due to the constant and unending stream of sheer delightfully WTF plot twists Mr. Embrack throws at us with glee.
The dialog is pure classic P.I. genre porn where everybody talks like a dame or a smartass or a tough guy. And Mr. Embrack allows himself to have fun with his concepts, his prose and the dialog. I like to think that I can tell when a writer had fun writing a story because that fun can’t help but translate into the prose. And if Raymond Embrack has half as much fun writing BARRACUDA: A PETER SURF NOVELLA as I did reading it then he had a big ol’ barrel of fun indeed. Highly recommended reading.
I do gotta point out that this is not for those of you who are PC minded or who object to graphic language, violence and/or sex. But if you want to read a really good crime/P.I. story that reminded me a lot of “Sin City” on crack you can’t do better than BARRACUDA: A PETER SURF NOVELLA.
Having read four of his books now and one of them twice I think it’s safe to say that I’ve become a fan of Raymond Embrack. It’s always such a pleasant surprise to discover a writer who really makes me sit up and pay attention to what he’s doing and Raymond Embrack certainly does that. Why do I like his writing so much? I think it’s because he has that Swing For The Fences quality I always enjoy reading. Each and every one of his books I’ve read so far reads as if he’s afraid he’ll never write another one again and so they’re stuffed with off the wall characters, wild ideas and wilder concepts. Add to that playful dialog married to descriptive passages and labyrinthine plot twists that I do think he gets carried away with at times. But we’ll get into that later on. Right now let’s get into the plot of EL MOROCCO.
It’s the swingin’ hepcat 1960’s and Guy Roman is a hot up-and-coming comic working Atlantic City. He’s not quite big time yet but he’s on his way. Until he gets derailed by New Jersey wiseguy wannabe Jackie Rockafero who blatantly hijacks Guy’s comedy routine as he thinks it would be fun to trade leg-breaking and loan sharking to be a stand-up comic. Naturally Guy takes exception to this. Jackie offers Guy gold or lead. Guy takes lead and winds up left for dead in a filthy A.C. alley alongside the ridiculously gorgeous showgirl Tess Revere who has also pissed off Jackie in a way I would not dare dream of revealing here.
Once he recovers, Guy, along with the brain damaged but still recovering Tess heads to Los Angeles where Jackie has become a comedic megastar. Guy’s intention is to not only take back his act but to make Jackie Rockafero sorry he was ever born. The conflict between them escalates into a major war that before it’s over involves the Hollywood film industry, celebrity gangster Mickey Cohen, crooked gossip columnists, high powered agents who are little more than scam artists and the West Coast Mafia a.k.a. The L.A. Set.
One of the things that makes EL MOROCCO so much fun to read is Raymond Embrack’s affinity for the language, attitudes and feel for the 1960’s. His characters all have a wonderfully smart-ass way of talking and yet he manages to not have them all sound the same. Everybody’s a smart-ass in their own way, if you know what I mean. And the characters and tone of the book are totally authentic to the time period. So those of you who are actively PC should be warned. The people in EL MOROCCO talk, act and think like people who lived in the 1960’s talked, acted and thought and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m actually more comfortable with that than with books that are supposed to be set in the 1930’s, 40’s, ‘50’s or ‘60’s but are peopled with characters from the ‘00’s.
What else can I say to recommend the book? Raymond’s way of writing is one where he’s clearly having fun with language and with words. He obviously enjoys the way he’s telling the story in the language and style and rhythm of the dialog and description. It’s really enjoyable to read his prose as it sings and swings with the patois of 1960’s hipster jive talk.
What’s my only quibble with the book? Remember earlier when I mentioned that Raymond gets carried away with plot twists? The plot twists at the conclusion of EL MOROCCO come so fast and there are so many of them that I felt he was pushing it and I was wondering if he was deliberately trying to see how many plot twists he could throw in there before they collapsed under their own weight. But that’s okay. Above all, I like and admire Raymond Embrack for his sheer audacity and willingness to take the chance of going too far with his bizarre plots and outrageous characters. It’s always more fun to read a writer who isn’t afraid to Go There instead of one that offers up easily digestible prose that is no more exciting to read than recycled oatmeal is fun to eat. He’s an extremely entertaining writer and if you’re going to start reading him, EL MOROCCO is a great place to start.
Derrick Ferguson: Who is Trelina Gonzalez Anderson?
Trelina Gonzalez Anderson: Goodness! What a big question! I guess I could summarize myself with: Wife, mother, photographer, dancer, nerd, coffee addict, pie enthusiast, and weight gain expert, in no particular order.
DF: Where do you live and what do you do?
TGA: I live in the Baltimore area of Maryland in a tiny townhouse that we don’t really fit in anymore. As for what I do, I do lots of stuff. My two most important jobs, and the two that bring me the greatest amount of joy, are wife and mother. I am also a portrait photographer, and sometimes I get up on stage as a belly dancer.
DF: Tell us about your background. What’s your origin story?
TGA: (I really wish I could say that my origin begins with me falling into a vat of some mysterious, glowing, purple liquid, but alas, I’m just a regular girl.)
I was born in Arizona into a military family, so we moved around a lot. I attended 8 different schools, which was difficult, but ultimately gave me a rather wide view of the world around me. I lived in a town with a population under 50, I lived on two different islands in two different oceans, I lived in a huge, sprawling city, I lived in a rural, farming community, I lived on military bases and on the economy, I lived outside of the U.S., and in many regions of the U.S. I don’t consider myself to be super well-traveled, but enough to be open to many different perspectives, and I love hearing people talk about themselves!
DF: You’ve displayed an amazing talent for photography. Have you always been interested in photography?
TGA: Yes, I have! My father was a (hobbyist) photographer, and I think it started there.
DF: What do you love most about being a photographer?
TGA: Oh wow, that’s a tough question because I really love everything about it! There’s math and science to it, which can sometimes be a challenge, there’s art to it, which is fun and exciting, and sometimes so frustrating. I love learning new techniques, new skills, and I LOVE trying new styles!
DF: Do you plan on turning pro?
TGA: Well, I do charge for my services, so I guess I’m already pro. At this point, I’m only working at it part-time, though.
TGA: So, my very best friend, Misha (https://www.facebook.com/makeupbymishac/), has been belly dancing since she was a little girl. Years ago, maybe 20 years or so, she tried to get me to take classes with her, but I was super intimidated by it, so I never did. She would bring it up off and on over the years, but I always declined. Later, a different friend wanted to try belly dance as a way of getting some exercise in a more fun way than just going to the gym. So, I asked Misha and she recommended a teacher that was near where I worked, and somehow, I allowed myself to get talked into attending that class. And then I fell in love. Now Misha and I get to dance together, and my dance sisters are my family.
DF: Much like your husband Russ you’re something of a geek yourself. What are some of your favorite comics? Movies? TV shows?
TGA: HAHA! You know, Russ always tells people that he got me hooked on comics so that he could continue to collect after we were married. (Like I would EVER ask him to stop doing something he loved!) He started me on Wonder Woman, and George Perez, both of whom will always be my very, very favorite.
My favorite movie is “The Princess Bride”, but I enjoy so many movies, especially movies that are now considered to be “classics.” “The Magnificent Seven”, “The Great Escape”, pretty much any Humphrey Bogart (with or without Lauren Bacall), and embarrassingly, I have a soft spot for musicals. (I know, I know.) I REALLY like cheesy, silly “monster” movies like “MegaPython vs. Gatoroid” and “Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus”. Don’t judge me!
As for TV shows, those are far too numerous to list here. As long as there is a good story with not too much whining, I probably can find some joy in it.
DF: Speaking of Russ, what’s it like being married to a writer?
TGA: Well, he disappears into his writing cave at regular intervals, and he’ll be gone for hours, but then, just as we’ve forgotten about him, he’ll magically reappear and devote himself completely to us. So, you know, the usual. He bounces ideas off of me regularly, which is a lot of fun and I love that he shares his art with me.
DF: Do you have any ambitions of being a writer yourself?
TGA: No, but both of our daughters have written stories and books. Daddy is very proud!
DF: What’s a typical Day In The Life of Trelina Gonzalez Anderson like?
TGA: My alarm goes off at 7 a.m. and I immediately hit the snooze button. Assuming that my kids don’t come stampeding into my bedroom, I get up with the next alarm and get my kids up for school. For the next hour, there is organized chaos and frenzy while I get lunches packed, backpacks packed, small breakfast for the girls, make sure everyone is dressed appropriately, teeth and hair brushed, winter wear is all donned, and they are out the door in time to meet the bus.
While the girls are at school, I clean and run errands, work my photography business, practice photography techniques, practice dance, practice guitar (a new endeavor!), and work on my Spanish – something I wasn’t lucky enough to learn while growing up. Occasionally I will have a daytime photo shoot, or if I’m really lucky, I get to meet a friend for lunch or coffee.
Once the girls get home from school, it’s back to organized chaos and noise until bedtime, unless I have an evening photo shoot. I know that doesn’t sound terribly exciting, but truthfully, I love our life.
Derrick Ferguson: Anything else we need to know about you?
Trelina Gonzalez Anderson: I typed all this out with raw, bloody fingers. Beauty is pain, though, right? 🙂
Jilly Paddock; I’m a British woman, no longer young but not yet ancient. There’s a lot of grey in my hair, which used to be black, and my joints ache in wet weather. I’m interested in biology, geology and astronomy – I like to know the names of animals, wildflowers and trees, rocks and gemstones, constellations and stars. I like Pre-Raphaelite artwork, Romantic poetry, folklore and folk music. I’m very practical and have dabbled in a lot of different crafts, including jewelry-making, silversmithing and knitting. I collect studio glass perfume bottles and tarot decks. I’m a cat person, but don’t have any pets at the moment. I have a dark sense of humor.
I used to live in South London near Crystal Palace, which has a park with life-sized dinosaur statues sculpted by Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins. They date from 1854, were the first of their kind in the world and were scientifically accurate at the time. I saw them as a child – how could I not write fantastic stories after that?
DF: Where do you live and what do you do to keep the creditors away?
JP: I live in the UK, in a cathedral city in the Fens in East Anglia. I have a small house packed with books, CDs and other stuff, and I share it with Dave, an editor and book reviewer. I miss the chalk hills and woodlands of South East England, where I grew up. It’s very flat here, with wide open skies. I live on the edge of the city and can drive out to the countryside in a few minutes.
I spent most of my working life in the NHS (National Health Service). I was a Biomedical Scientist, which sounds very grand but is just a posh name for a lab technician. I worked in Microbiology, growing and identifying bacteria, testing for antibiotic resistance and doing blood tests to diagnose all kinds of diseases. I’ve handled all kinds of pathogens, including TB, typhoid, cholera and diphtheria, and also viruses like Hepatitis B and HIV on a daily basis and somehow lived to tell the tale. I took early retirement in 2011 and now survive on my NHS pension. It may sound odd but I still miss the bacteria, the colors of the colonies on the various media, the smells (some Streptococci smell of caramel and other bacteria have very distinct odors like pear drops or geraniums) and the sense of wonder when you find something unexpected or unusual.
DF: How long have you been writing and what have you learned about yourself through your writing?
JP: I started writing when I was eleven, inspired by two schoolfriends to put pen to paper. I’d always lived in imaginary worlds inside my head, but now the three of us wrote stories, shared them and had a lot of fun doing it. Both of my friends are now published writers working in the fantasy, science fiction and horror genres. I kept writing, selling a couple of short stories in the 1990s and trying to get a novel published. It was the first of the Zenith Alpha 4013 series and although several editors liked it, it never made it into print. After I retired I self-published it as an e-book, along with two novellas and a collection of short stuff. Then Pro Se Press picked it up and TO DIE A STRANGER finally came out in paperback in 2014. It was very satisfying to finally hold a real, solid book in my hands after so long.
I suppose I’ve learnt that I can complete a novel, that I can make that journey from first line to ‘The End’ through the twists and turns of the creative process. There are recurring themes in my work; I seem to be obsessed by walled cities, AIs and dragons. There’s probably a deep psychological meaning behind that, but better not to dwell on it!
DF: What audience are you trying to reach with your work? Is there an audience for Jilly Paddock?
JP: I don’t write with any particular audience in mind. I just write for me, using mainly female protagonists. I suppose that my books have a flavor of the science fiction I read in the 70s and 80s. I’m surprised that I have many male fans, as my work isn’t hard science fiction and has a feminist slant. I’ve had several people who’d never dreamt of reading science fiction pick up my books and tell me they enjoyed them, which is very gratifying.
DF: Where do see your writing career five years from now?
JP: Hopefully all of the Anna and Zenni books will be out by then, plus the huge space opera, WARBIRD. I’d like to still be going to conventions, maybe two or three a year. It would be nice to be better known and to sell more books, of course.
DF: What are you working on now?
JP: I’m finishing the fifth Anna and Zenni book, which was inserted into the original chronology so I could play with the characters a bit more. I have other unfinished pieces, notably a fantasy that’s a simple fairytale with a big dose of folksong and a talking horse, LADDER TO THE MOON, which I need to complete and release into the world.
DF: A. Afton Lamont and her partner Jerome are characters you obviously have a lot of affection for. What is the origin story behind your creation of them?
JP: Afton and Jerome came from a small seed – I needed a pair of detectives on a colony world for a short story, which turned into BLIND WITNESS, which is in the LEGENDS OF NEW PULP anthology. A friend had mentioned that most of my male characters were bastards, so I decided to have a nice man as my first-person protagonist. Poor Jerome – as well as being my first likeable man, I made him black and bisexual as well! He isn’t human; he was rescued from a barbaric desert planet by a team of Earth scientists, who then mutilated him with surgery and inflicted our culture on him. He doesn’t quite fit in the society he lives in; as he says of himself, he’s a stranger in a strange land. Afton started out as the classic cynical police detective, belligerent and disliked in the ranks, full of anger and sarcastic quips. We still don’t know much about her past; she was born on Earth and probably spent some time in the military, but how she ended up on a backwater colony world is a mystery.
I do like my characters, some more than others. I spend so much time with their voices in my head that it’s hard not to see them as friends.
DF: TO DIE A STRANGER mixes science fiction with elements of the thriller and detective genres. Mashing up different genres seems to be a trademark of yours. Why do you enjoy blending genres together?
And what’s the secret to mixing different genres together and making them work smoothly with each other?
JP: I didn’t realize that’s what I was doing until my reviewers pointed it out. When I started out, choosing science fiction was a no-brainer – what other genre allows you to write about anything you can imagine? I’d read a lot of thrillers and detective novels as a teenager, so that went into the mix, and it didn’t seem odd to add a little supernatural and magic, mythology and folklore. Real life has traces of all of that, plus a big dollop of coincidence and synchronicity that readers would baulk at if you put it in fiction. I just let the story go where it wants.
I’m not sure I know the secret of mixing genres, as I don’t do it deliberately. Keep your nerve and make it plausible – if you’re confident and believe in the plot your readers will go right along with you.
DF: WITH AMBER TEARS is the sequel to TO DIE A STRANGER. How many more books have you got planned for this series?
JP: It’s planned to be a ten book series. The fourth book, THE BEAUTY OF OUR WEAPONS, is with Pro Se and due out in May/June this year. Book five is unfinished, six to eight are complete but need minor re-writes, nine exists as fragments and ten needs a bit more work. This series is unusual in that I started writing it in 1973 and the books have been lurking on my hard drive since then, constantly being tweaked and altered as the story arc unfolded.
DF: STARCHILD is your latest novel. What’s it about and why should we be reading it?
JP: STARCHILD is the third in the Zenith Alpha 4013 series. Anna and Zenni are now working for Earth Intelligence (EI) and need to prove themselves, so they’re sent to Ile Garoque, a world that severed all contact with Earth two decades ago. The initial plan is to put Anna in the entourage of StarChild, a hugely popular band who’ve been invited to play on the planet, but when Taheera, the lead singer, refuses to go the mission turns into an impersonation of her, using Anna’s acting skills and EI’s technology. Add to that a hostile first contact situation with a group of predatory aliens, an enemy making yet another attempt on Anna’s life, an unexpected romance and being caught up in two weird storms in hyperspace that can destroy unwary spacecraft.
This series is at the lighter end of science fiction, edging towards pulp sci-fi. I think of it as space soap opera; this one has romance stirred into the mix. It has humor and isn’t too gritty, although it does have some swearing and a sex scene, so I wouldn’t recommend it to kids. You should read it because it’s fun and I think most people would enjoy it.
DF: What is the one book or story of yours you would recommend to somebody to start with? And why that book or story?
JP: That would have to be NO EARTHLY SHORE, a novella that’s currently only available as an e-book. It’s another tale of first contact, between the colonists of a world called Calvados and giant telepathic sea slugs, who were assumed to be just dumb animals until they save a girl from drowning and start talking to her. This time the mix includes a marine biologist, another EI agent (although he isn’t revealed as such within the story and he lacks psionic powers) and quilt patterns. It’s a very uplifting feel-good story and seems to appeal to science fiction fans and people who don’t usually read in that genre alike.
DF: Most of your novels and stories are connected. Did you start out to do this on purpose and is it easier to create stories once you have a fully developed universe in place?
JP: Again, this happened by accident. I can’t claim to have invented the universe – it’s a future variant of our own. I’m enough of an optimist to hope that we will go to the stars someday and set up colonies on other worlds. Some of the links between books seemed obvious and logical – the agent that Terrapol sent to help Afton and Jerome in THE SPOOK AND THE SPIRIT IN THE STONE had to be an agent-pair from EI – and some were in-jokes to amuse me and any readers who were paying attention. The world Jerome lives on was discovered by the spacecraft from WARBIRD, so some of the street names are surnames of the crew and Jerome’s cat, Gresham, is named after the ship’s captain, who is also ginger.
I suppose it’s a symptom of my scientific brain to keep things simple – don’t reinvent the wheel – so, if you need a planet, ship or character for the plot, why not use one you already have instead of starting again from the ground up?
DF: What keeps you motivated when you have a creative slump?
JP: There have been times when I’ve stopped writing, when life really got in the way. The stories keep bubbling away in the back of my brain and I have to let them out eventually. I write to empty my head, to get it down on paper so it stops bothering me and I can move on to the next thing. I’ve always found that forcing words out when they aren’t ready doesn’t work well. I don’t like deadlines; that said, I have produced some short stuff very rapidly when necessary.
DF: Drop some much-needed Words of Wisdom on all the young aspiring writers reading this that are thirsting for your knowledge.
JP: Other people have said this, but it’s true – if you want to be a writer, write. Keep writing and finish stuff. Even if you think it’s awful don’t throw it away – keep it and you might be able to use it one day. Read, a lot.
And, if you write on a computer, for pity’s sake keep multiple copies and back-ups of your files!
DF: What writers have influenced you?
JP: So many! I read a lot of classic science fiction and fantasy – Heinlein, Asimov, Clarke, Tolkien, Leiber – they’re buried in the landscape that lurks under my writing style. I adore Cordwainer Smith, who had such a quirky voice, so deceptively simple with strange psychological depths. There are touches of him in STARCHILD, in a chapter title and the notion behind dragon-storms. I like Peter S Beagle, who writes lovely, poetic prose, and Tanith Lee, Louise Cooper, John Wyndham and Iain Banks – too many of those have died recently. The poetry of W B Yeats and John Keats haunts me, and also the song lyrics of Melanie and Leonard Cohen, which have also inspired titles.
DF: How much room in your head do you allow critics or criticism to occupy?
JP: Too much, I guess. One bad review overshadows ten good ones. I wish I could be more like Iris Murdoch, who said “A bad review is even less important than whether it is raining in Patagonia.”
DF: What’s a typical Day In The Life of Jilly Paddock like?
Ooh, I’m dead boring! I have porridge for breakfast and drink lots of tea. I don’t have an office of desk to write at – my computer is next to my armchair and I type with the keyboard on my lap. There’s usually music on in the background, as Dave has a vast and eclectic collection of songs and albums on his computer. I switch between writing, reading and the latest knitting project, and play solitaire to rest the eyes.
In winter I don’t venture out much – one of the joys of being retired is that you don’t have to go out in the rain or snow. About once a fortnight I take my father shopping and out to lunch. He’s 91 now and still lives independently, but he gave up driving last year and needs me to take him to medical appointments and the supermarket. I hope I’m still as fit and mentally alert (and alive!) when I get to that age.
Derrick Ferguson: Anything else we need to know?
Jilly Paddock: In the question about which book I’d recommend as an introduction to my work, I was torn between two, so can I mention the second one here? It’s THE THIRD WORST THING THAT CAN HAPPEN ON MARS and it appeared in PRO SE PRESENTS #19: SUMMER 2013. It’s about the misadventures of Vonnie, a teenage girl who isn’t at all happy when her parents move to Mars. It seems to be a popular story, particularly with youngsters, and will come out soon in a version illustrated by the award-winning fantasy artist, Morgan Fitzsimons. She did the covers for WITH AMBER TEARS and the e-book, THE DRAGON, FLY.