I’ve always thought that for the most part, private eye novels/movies end up being one of two kinds of stories. There’s the one where the private eye is hired to do a job and he doggedly pursues that task, relentlessly wading his way through a miasma of liars, gunsels, crooked cops and deceptive dames until arriving at the solution to the mystery. Think “The Maltese Falcon” or “Chinatown” and I think you’ll get what I mean.
Then there’s the other kind of private eye story where the solution to the mystery seems to be almost an afterthought. True, the private eye is hired for a job but in the course of doing the job he encounters a variety of characters that give him insights into aspects of his own life and force him to re-evaluate who he is and why he’s doing what he’s doing. The central mystery of the story is as much about the private eye investigating his own soul and his meditations/examination of the human condition embodied by the cast of characters he interacts with. Think Robert Altman’s “The Long Goodbye” or “Lady In The Lake”
Will Viharo’s LOVE STORIES ARE TOO VIOLENT FOR ME is firmly in that second kind of story. Viharo’s Vic Valentine very much lives in the past. Not just his past but the past of a world that is now a memory for the majority of Americans who barely remember what happened ten years ago. Vic dresses like he’s a member of Sinatra’s Rat Pack. His taste in movies, fashion, music and style is centered in the pop culture of the 1960s. And he likes it that way. Vic Valentine doesn’t mind being a walking anachronism. He just wishes he wasn’t so lonely in enjoying it. Vic is also a private detective. And to be honest, he’s not all that good at being a private eye. His cases mostly involve gathering evidence on cheating spouses. Once upon a time he had aspirations and ambitions in other, more creative fields. But just as in all other aspects of his life, Vic’s refusal to let go of the past led him to being a 1960s style private eye. And it’s during the labyrinthian pursuit of this particular case that I think Vic truly embraces his destiny and becomes a damn good private eye, worthy to stand next to Sam Spade, Philip Marlowe and Easy Rawlins.
Vic is hired by the alcoholic major league baseball player Tommy Dodge to find Tommy’s wife Rose. She just up and left him one day, leaving only a cryptic note. Tommy wants to know where she is and he wants Vic to find her. Vic really isn’t all that interested in taking the case. First of all, the Christmas season is coming up which depresses Vic to no end and second of all, after just fifteen minutes of talking to Tommy, Vic doesn’t like him much and thinks there’s more to the story than Tommy is telling him.
But of course, there is…what private eye story worth the telling doesn’t have more than what the client is telling? And as Vic follows the slim trail Rose left behind in her wake, he puts together clues that leads him to a revelation about Rose that is absolutely shattering to Vic on both the personal and professional levels and forces him to make some really hard decisions. And this is where LOVESTORIES ARE TOO VIOLENT FOR ME really begins to embrace its Film/Pulp Novel roots as Vic has to navigate the darkest of ambiguous moral and psychological waters to arrive at not only the solution to the mystery of why Rose left Tommy but also to resolve the demons of his past.
I have a list of The Best Writers That You’re Not Reading and Will Viharo is on that list. His ranking is none of your business. All you need to know is that if you haven’t read any of his work, you really should. Will Viharo himself is one of the most fascinating and coolest people I’ve ever met via The Internet. Go ahead and Google him or look him up on Facebook. Just the introduction of this novel where he talks about the dedication Christian Slater has had for years in his attempts in adapting this book into a movie is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Will’s history with Hollywood.
I like his prose a lot. It’s fun to read as he throws in a lot of pop culture references to enhance Vic’s personality. But Will is not afraid to spend a lot of wordage to explore Vic’s emotional life as well. Vic Valentine is a private eye who really has no business being a private eye, if you ask me. He feels too much for the job. But paradoxically, that is the quality that leads him to solving this case and making the decisions he does make to resolve it and his life.
LOVE STORIES ARE TOO VIOLENT FOR ME is the Will Viharo novel I always recommend to people who have never read him before. And if you love Pulp then you should be reading him. Will Viharo knows Pulp like a monkey knows coconuts. I’ve read novels by writers who think they know what Pulp is and think it’s just a a bunch of wacky characters doing a bunch of wacky things. Will Viharo knows the psychology, mood and style of what goes into Pulp. Pulp is something Will Viharo didn’t have to learn. It’s in his DNA. And if you want a solid read this summer, do yourself a favor and check out LOVE STORIES ARE TOO VIOLENT FOR ME.
Here’s the thing; I love The Internet. I truly do. Yes, there’s a lot crap out there that gets in the way of the good stuff but the good stuff is there. It just sometimes takes me a while to get around it. Take for instance the webcomic WARBIRDS OF MARS that has been around for a goodish amount of time now. I, however have been woefully ignorant of it until I was made aware of the anthology WARBIRDS OF MARS: STORIES OF THE FIGHT and while it’s a hefty introduction to the situation and principal characters at the heart of the series it is one well worth reading due to the interesting mix of talent involved.
The set-up is fairly easy to get hold of: Invaders from outer space attack The Earth while it’s engaged in World War II. The alien invaders actually aren’t Martians but what the hey, WARBIRDS OF MARS is a great title so let’s not spoil it with minor details. The Martians have chosen this time to invade as for years they’ve had agents on Earth, half-alien/half-human fifth columnists working behind the scenes to make the invasion easier. And with the world powers fragmented and not able to work together it’s not long before many major cities and nations are conquered and under control of the invaders. But there’s still hope: human resistance forces are fighting back with every weapon and resource at their command to take back the planet.
The core characters of WARBIRDS OF MARS: STORIES OF THE FIGHT! are an elite cadre of resistance fighters known as The Martian Killers. The leader is Hunter Noir, a fedora wearing, trenchcoated man of mystery who keeps his face bandaged. Jack Paris is your typical wisecracking, two-fisted pilot/adventurer. Josie Taylor is the team’s femme fatale and Mr. Mask is a human/alien hybrid who has joined the resistance, proving to be a valuable asset to the the team due to his having been trained by a samurai master.
These characters all get plenty of time to strut their stuff both in solo stories and in stories where they work together but WARBIRDS OF MARS: STORIES OF THE FIGHT! also takes the opportunity to show what is going on with other people trying to survive in this hellish brave new world in various locations around the globe and through the eyes of characters both human and alien.
“Hunter Noir” by Scott P. Vaughn leads off the anthology with the origin of the leader of The Martin Killers and how the invasion began. It’s a good origin story with the only bump in it for me is the sudden decision by the protagonist to become a masked man of mystery while being hunted by the enemy and whipping up a costume and new name for himself in no time flat but y’know what? That’s just me. It’s that kind of story and you either go along with it or not. It wasn’t enough to make me stop reading the story and that’s the main thing.
“In The World Today” by Megan E. Vaughn is one of my favorite stories in the anthology as it concerns a small-town movie date and the effects the Martian Invasion has on it. It’s a short slice of small town American life kind of story but it doesn’t skimp on the characterization.
I love the weird western comic book “Desperadoes” written by Jeff Mariotte so it’s no surprise that I loved “Southern Cross” even though it wasn’t set in the Southwestern United States as I might have expected. (Ron Fortier takes care of that part of the country…we’ll get to it soon…be patient) No, Jeff takes us out to the South China Sea for this one as Jack Paris gets involved in Oriental skullduggery.
“The Deadly Triad” by Alex Ness is a nifty little look into what’s going on with the Chinese and Japanese and I greatly appreciated the break from the slam bang adventure of the previous story to take time out to see what was going on elsewhere in the beleaguered world.
Sean Ellis has long been one of my favorite writers who never fails to disappoint and he doesn’t do so with “The Farmboy’s Adventure” which has an ending that I truly did not see coming and when it did I immediately went back to the beginning of the story to see if there were any clues that I had missed. I’m betting you’ll do the same.
“The Bitter Edge” is by Kane Gilmore and is another origin story. This one concerning Mr. Mask, so called because he wears a German gas mask constantly. He’s a lot of fun to read about as I kinda get the idea that Kane’s inspiration for the character was G.I. Joe’s Snake Eyes. But with Mr. Mask being a Martian/Human hybrid training how to be a samurai warrior brings an added dimension to the character that moves the story into an exploration of identity and self-respect that lifts it a notch above just another action/adventure entry.
As promised, Ron Fortier serves up a wild west romp with “The Monsters of Adobe Wells” which takes The Monster Killers way out west to team up with Sioux warrior Charlie Three-Feathers, a character I wouldn’t mind seeing more of if there are future WARBIRDS OF MARS anthology. And again, the changeup in setting provides readers with another aspect of the war against the invaders. The international aspect of this anthology is one of the best things about it and a western story fits in here just fine.
Megan E. Vaughn returns for “The Skull of Lazarus” which is a story that makes me wonder if Megan is a “Thunderbirds” fan as her Lady Doyle and Jerry reminded me strongly of Lady Penelope Creighton and her bodyguard/chauffeur Parker. This is an adventure built for nothing but sheer thrills and like Ron’s Charlie Three-Feathers, I hope to see more of Lady Doyle.
“Red Sky Phoenix: The Rise of Free Russia” is another snapshot from Alex Ness as to what’s going on in yet another part of the world. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to have even more of these prose postcards in future anthologies.
“Human Guile” by Chris Samson is where I finally hit a major bump. I’ve read this story twice and still can’t quite wrap my head around what the story is about. It just seemed to me like there was way too much plot and way too many characters doing things I just didn’t understand why they were doing them. For me, motivation is a Big Deal in my fiction. It’s not necessary for me to like or dislike the characters but I do demand that the writer establish why they’re doing what they’re doing and I simply didn’t get that here.
“Surprise” by Stephen M. Irvin is indeed that as I didn’t expect to find a hard-boiled noir story in here but I as I continued reading more and more into this anthology it soon became apparent to me that this concept could and did support a variety of genre stories very well indeed such as J.H. Ivanov’s “The Road Out of Antioch” and “Shipwrecked” by David Lindblad, both of which are out-and-out horror stories with “The Road Out of Antioch” approaching Lovecraftian proportions of cosmic dread. It’s that good, trust me.
“Refined Elegance” by Scott P. Vaughn takes us home and if I had to make a choice between this one and “Hunter Noir” I’d have to go with this one, much as I liked “Hunter Noir.” It’s told from the point of view of Josie Taylor. The Martian Killers have been doing that for quite a while now, the war appears to have no end in sight and Josie is starting to ask herself and her teammates some hard questions the dangerous missions they routinely go on.
The stories are complimented by strong, solid artwork from Jean Arrow, Adriano Carreon, Mike DeBalfo, Bill Farmer, Matt Goodall, Christian Guldager, Robert Hack, Rob Hicks, John Lucas, Paul Roman Martinez, Nathan Morris, Dan Parsons, Nik Poliwko, Richard Serrao and Jason Worthington that serve the needs of the stories they were drawn for, successfully evoking the mood and tone of the prose.
So should you read WARBIRDS OF MARS: STORIES OF THE FIGHT? I certainly think so. One of my concerns about New Pulp is that it not fall into a rut. Masked avengers of the night and scientific adventurers are cool as hell, no doubt about it. But New Pulp can’t survive on a steady diet of those. Stories such as the ones in WARBIRDS OF MARS: STORIES OF THE FIGHT! that gives us mashups of war stories mixed with science fiction, horror, day in the life, hard-boiled noir and other genres provide a refreshing new dish for the palate of our imagination to taste and savor. It’s a solid package as you get a lot of story and art for your money and time. Enjoy.
Every field of work, every career, every fandom, every anything that catches peoples’ interest and involves creative types producing works comes with its own mysteries. Obscure players and disregarded pieces that get lost to history and end up nearly completely forgotten, except for whispers of ‘Do You remember…?’ and tales of ‘Someone told me about…’
Such are the rumors of Vincent St. Germain and his nearly literal flash in the pan self-named pulp publishing company-St. Germain Publishing. Pro Se Productions announces that after exploring the nearly unknown stories and whispers about this extremely short lived publishing outfit, it has licensed from the owner and potential creator’s estate all characters featured in five apparently and two unpublished magazines.
“As little is known about the man St. Germain as is about his alleged almost momentarily St. Louis, Missouri based magazine publishing concern,” says Tommy Hancock, Editor in Chief of Pro Se Productions. “I have uncovered no written records confirming his existence, except potentially a few pieces of paper held dearly by reclusive collectors of such ephemera. No copies of signatures, of his own handwriting, not even of checks issued by his company. This last matter has led to speculation among the few who still discuss St. Germain that he may not have had many employees beyond what it took to physically publish magazines. In other words, there is a belief that Vincent St. Germain, ‘Vinny’ to a very few apparently, may himself have written every story that his company published, all of them under a variety of pen names. This is further potentially supported, based on lists of the works he published, each story by an author that had not published before or since St. Germain Publishing’s one month rise and fall. It is curious, though, that a Vincent St. Germain died in New Orleans, Louisiana in late 1938. Also, other than supposedly eyewitness encounters with the man, the only possible proof that he ever lived are two images, taken a few years apart apparently, that, based on my own personal deductions, are likely Vincent St. Germain.”
“There is even less available evidence of the five single issues, each one the first of a hopeful magazine within the St. Germain line, that the company allegedly released on the same day in the first week of April 1938. I have been allowed access to information and such surrounding the characters and contents of each magazine, six stories in each issue, all intended to be the first in series within each title. If the magazines ever existed, actual issues are either in the hands of the very protective collectors I mentioned earlier or hiding possibly in someone’s basement in a box thrown in the corner. Fortunately, the creator, if St. Germain, or creators, if multiple writers, made detailed notes and character descriptions and synopses, all supposedly at the direction of St. Germain, another way that he stood out from other Pulp publishers of the era.”
Also, there were allegedly two magazines prepared to debut the month after the first five. Though they were reportedly never published, Pro Se does have access to purported notes and details of these two books, and they will also be a part of this project, meaning that there will be seven anthologies featuring new stories starring these characters alleged to have appeared in St. Germain’s works.
The magazines that were supposedly published included ENDLESS MYSTERY, EVERLASTING TERROR, IMMORTAL ACTION, FOREVER WESTERN, and TIMELESS TALES. UNDYING LOVE and ETERNAL FANTASY were the two unpublished magazines. All these titles indicate that Vincent St. Germain was aware of the folklore associated with his surname and the infamous Comte de St. Germain, possibly a relative.
Based on a few notes left by St. Germain, it was intended that every story in each magazine would continue as a series. This did not occur, however, because there was no second issue of any of the five periodicals, or anything else ever published by St. Germain Publishing. The characters in St. Germain’s magazines at least on the surface resembled types made popular in other Pulp magazines. But, upon closer review, it turns out that Vincent was not only revolutionary in how he chose to do business, but he attempted to be tremendously forward thinking in both style of storytelling and crossing certain boundaries.
This has been,” Hancock states, “more than just a research project for a curious publisher, though. In the weeks I’ve invested in putting together the scarce remains of St. Germain Publishing, I have made progress that I did not expect. Pro Se Productions has licensed the characters believed to be included in St. Germain’s seven magazines from the person who currently owns them. To this end, Pro Se intends to bring all seven magazine titles back initially, each one as a book, an anthology. Each will feature a story for all the characters that reportedly debuted or would have debuted in the original pulps in the order in which they first appeared. The intent is to publish these seven new collections over the next twelve to eighteen months, twelve being the target. Following this ‘re debut’, we would then most definitely do novels, anthologies, digest novels, and even standalone digital short stories of the characters and expand them in their own series, hopefully as St. Germain might have intended.”
Pro Se Productions proudly announces that artist Kristopher Michael Mosby has agreed to provide a cover fore each anthology, each one bearing the title of a St. Germain magazine. Also, 42 writers have signed on to be a part of this project. The writers involved are-
Ron Fortier, Melinda Lafevers, E. W. Farnsworth, Adrian Delgado, Ariel Teague, Joshua Pantalleresco, Troy Osgood, Atom Mudman Bezecny, Andrew Butters, Rich Steeves, Raymond Embrack, HC Playa, Davide Mana, Quenntis Ashby, Paul Brian McCoy, Richard B. Wood, Colin Joss, Mark Bousquet, Derrick Ferguson, Sean Taylor, Neal Litherland, Susan Burdorf, Gary Phillips, Barry Reese, Frank Schildiner, Rob Howell, Gordon Dymowski, Richard C. White, Ernest Russell, Thomas Fortenberry, David Farris, Barbara Doran, Aaron Bittner, David White, Erik Franklin, Mike Hintze, Guy Worthey, Emily Jahnke, Mandi M. Lynch, Derek M. Koch, Aubrey Stephens, and Dewayne Dowers.
This is the first run-through of the “city planning bible” for Frontier’s shared-world imprint. I haven’t done any editing. You’ll notice a lack of things like: “Monkey City: A place where monkeys RULE!!” I want it to come across as much like a real city as possible. As I see it, there aren’t any superheroic/supernatural/science fiction elements in this world until we introduce them in the actual series.
It’s about the size of Chicago. Like Chicago, it’s unofficially divided into halves – here, it’s a matter of the West and East sides. The Union City Bridge – a bridge not unlike the Golden Gate (albeit smaller) – connects them: The West end spills you out into a seedy little neighborhood called with apparent irony Greater Denbrook, and the East leads you to downtown.
Don’t ask me why a city called Denbrook has a bridge called Union City. It makes sense if you think about it, but only then…like a lot of things in Denbrook.
Anyway. Before we get into that. The Union City Bridge stretches over Hopkins River…it’s a sheer hundred-foot drop into some very cold waters. Hopkins feeds into Lake Erie, accessible from Denbrook’s north shore. Cross the lake, you’re into Canada, which is useful info if you’re the kinda guy who does things like flee from the police. Business types use the lake for fishing, off-shore coal mining, things like that…there are some pretty big boats out on the water, though fewer yachts and the like. Denbrook isn’t the kind of city that attracts folks with disposable income, and that water is too frigid and choppy even in summer to be all that much fun. Still, there are sparsely populated beaches here and there – the lake is fine to swim in, though no one trusts the river. That current’s a bitch and toxic dumping made it poison for decades. It’s clean now, but…
Okay, remember the bridge? Cross it headed east, but instead of going downtown, take a left and head back the way you came…this time headed down a downward-slanted street called Hopkins Drive. This’ll lead you into the Barrens. There used to be a lot of industry here in Denbrook, and this is where most of it was located – on the banks of Hopkins River. The burned-out shells of factories, ancient rusting hulks of iron mining machinery…it’s all still here, and picturesque in an urban decay sort of way. But this isn’t why you’re here.
See, you have to drive a mile or two before you come up on the old industrial sites. Between you and them, you have what citizens think of when they think of The Barrens – which is to say, bars, night clubs, strip joints, the whole nine yards. The river runs alongside all of it. People come here to party. During the week, it’s kinda nice; Friday through Sunday, The Barrens are flooded with weekend warriors, a lot of them kids from the suburbs. Every now and then, someone gets drunk, hits their head, and falls into the Hopkins. Sometimes they get pushed.
Motor back up Hopkins Drive and you find yourself on Superior, a great big street that takes you straight through downtown Denbrook. I’ll point out some stuff along the way…
First, to our left, a street branches off Superior at a right angle to The Barrens, Matheson Avenue. Matheson is the gateway to the Warehouse District, which is –you guessed it- composed of warehouses. Most of those have been converted into apartment buildings. This is a fairly high-income area, but the give breaks to young professionals and the like. You find a lot of yuppies, a few bohemians and a scattering of senior citizens who are not pleased by the weekend activity in the slightest.
Head up Superior another three blocks and on your right you’ll spot Denbrook Tower. You can’t miss it. It’s the city’s second tallest building. Built in 1902, it was home to several department stories in its heyday. That heyday was back in the ‘50’s when the subway got put in…see, the Tower was conceived as Denbrook’s hub, and the crisscrossing subway trains that traverse West and East Denbrook are all accessible from a train station in the basement. But more and more folks tended to (a) drive and (b) stick to the suburbs, so the Tower went to seed.
But in the late ’80’s, some billionaire industrialist or other bought the place, gutted it, and more or less turned it into a seven-story shopping mall. Thirty stories of offices above that mall are still mostly unoccupied, but the shopping center thrives. The train station and the two floors above it are both underground, which means the stuff on the fourth floor is actually at street-level. Anyway, you’ll find a lot of chain retail/restaurants on the lower floors, and swankier stuff the higher up you go.
Drive up Superior another block, and you’ll see the main branch of the Denbrook Public Library. I know, you’re like, what the hell? But check it out: We’re talking one gorgeous, ornate building constructed in 1905, connected to a 1999-era glass-and-steel monster by means of an underground passageway. Kinda really fucking huge for a library, don’tcha think? The ’99 leviathan was built out of necessity: Denbrook’s collection is among the largest in the country, probably on the planet. If you can’t find what you’re looking for here…friends, it don’t exist. The newer stuff you’ll find the new building. The old stuff…some of it quite old indeed…you’ll find in a variety of collections scattered throughout the other one. You want a library card.
Six blocks up, we come to Cathedral Street, on our left. The Cathedral of Saint Paul the Apostle, built in 1855, jumps out and says hi. Look past it a block or so, and you’ll see a glass-and-street enclosure that looks a bit like a hothouse: This is City Center. Every bit as appropriate as calling a slum Greater Denbrook. Basically, City Center is yet another big shopping mall, built in 1987. But when the Tower re-opened a month later, that was effectively the end of City Center as a profit-making entity. City Center does a brisk lunch trade, but that’s about it. Its four stories contain about eight businesses, and all of them struggle. City Center cost about fifty mil to erect. This is what’s known as a white elephant.
So who goes there for lunch? Folks who don’t wanna walk all the way down to the Tower. .. i.e., folks who work here, in the business district. The side streets from E. 10th to E. 22nd are all banks, office buildings, corporate headquarters, etc., etc., ad infinitum. Scattered in there you’ll find a few pizza shops, a bar or two, but for the most part…Corporate America.
From E. 23rd to E. 26th, we’re in the Theatre District. Like the Tower, the Theatre District is yet another tale of resurrection: Denbrook’s grand old movie palaces were the rage for decades, but fell into disrepair in the ’60’s and ’70’s. The last of them – a third-run movie house by then – closed its doors in 1983, as a result of roughly 875 firecode violations. But in the late ’80’s, all of the old places were bought up, renovated to a state approaching their original magnificence, and were re-opened as playhouses (and one opera house) in the early ’90’s.
On E. 28th, you find Howard Phillips University. Huge. A college with a host of controversies, it’s really the only game in town for those who’d like to obtain a four-year degree. The campus occupies four blocks and has a student-operated radio station – WHPC, at 88.3 FM. Its student paper is the Vanguard.
Hop on the shoreway and let’s buzz through the East Side real quick …
Coming off E. 55th, you’ll notice a ghetto that looks a little more like Beirut. If we were gonna slow down a minute, you’d notice that no one seems to be on the street. That’s because this whole area of town was bought out by corporate interests. Eminent domain, though I can’t imagine the residents were really all that sad to go.
You run out of East Denbrook at E. 185th. Out past here, you’ve got Denbrook Heights, a suburban community that gets richer and more lily-white the farther you get from the city. If you’d left East Denbrook and gone northeast instead, you’d have found yourself in Ruckerville, a pretty dilapidated community that’s high-crime, low-income. Neither Ruckerville nor Denbrook Heights are part of the city proper, but a lot of Denbrook’s workers commute from these areas.
Cross through downtown Denbrook, back over the Union City Bridge, and now here we are, back in Greater Denbrook. Denbrook’s west side is more blue-collar, homier, and (as far as its East Siders are concerned) totally devoid of culture. Greater Denbrook’s homes date back, most of them, to the early 1900’s, and this whole section of town has the Historical Preservation Society all over it like white on rice. Brave yuppies have moved here for the architecture and because Greater Denbrook is cheaper than the Warehouse District, and the neighborhood is a sometimes uneasy mix of races and incomes, of newcomers and those raised here. The wealthy tend to head to the suburbs when they have kids…but not all of them. This can be a rough place to live, but it’s more welcoming.
But let’s back up for a minute. If you leave the Union City Bridge headed west and keep driving straight down Superior, you’ll take in Greater Denbrook in its entire splendor; but instead, let’s turn left and head down W.25th. This is a long block of pawn shops, secondhand stores and mom-and-pop retail. It terminates at the W. 25th Market, a lovely old brown brick building erected in 1911. On the street, there’s an open-air fruit and vegetable market. Head inside, and you’ll find various meat-market stands. The yuppies get a real kick out of how quaint it all is; the longtime residents have shopped here for generations.
Head past the Market, make another left, and trundle downhill over a few small, rundown bridges with no names. The main street is Violin Road; somehow that became the name of the whole place. This little community – just a few miles around, and still a part of the city – was once populated by folks who made their trades in the factories and mines. Now there’s nothing left but the bars … at least four on every block. The current population is a mix of old-timers who barely get by and young bohemian types who’ve come in from other communities. Wild dogs roam the overgrown park at night, and homeless people and runaways live under those bridges.
Turn around and head west. The neighborhoods between W. 25th and W. 117th are mostly unremarkable: Largely poor, all pretty much the same. At W. 117th, we enter Blackwood – not quite another town, not exactly an official part of Denbrook proper. Middle-class, mostly white but increasingly integrated, Blackwood does curiously have its own police force…a police force that is notoriously unfriendly to “outsiders.” But in fairness, Blackwood is a safe place to raise families, and quiet; a slightly more urban alternative to a truly suburban community. And it doesn’t completely lack for excitement.
Downtown Blackwood is a haven for Blackwood’s youth culture scene, mostly an odd combination of kids into hip-hop and the kind of kids who look like the ones who shot up Columbine. Both types congregate at Ground Zero, a large coffee shop. There’s also a smallish venue for (mostly local) music: The Arcade. The Arcade’s second floor is a concert hall; its ground floor (accessible through a back door) is a goth dance club called the Mausoleum. A ton of smaller clubs and bars dot the landscape, as well as an occult bookstore or two.
Head further west. The paved streets will lead you out of Blackwood, but take a right at Hiassen Road. This isn’t a shortcut – this is the scenic route. Hiassen runs downhill into the Valley: Several miles of forest. Officially, the Valley is a public park, but there’s no real question about it – you’re in the woods. By day, there are hikers and picnickers and bicyclists; by night, you can be arrested if you’re seen wandering around outside of a moving vehicle. But even in Blackwood, that’s not much of a concern … you aren’t too likely to encounter a cop down here. Your headlights are reflected back at you from animal eyes in the trees: There’s a gigantic deer population, despite the seasonal efforts to hunt them down to a more manageable level, and an unusually high number of owls make the Valley their home.
It takes about ten minutes to get from one end of the Valley to the other. The road leads uphill to Bankcreek Lane, and now you’re 1n Westfall. Like Blackwood, Westfall is a semi-urban area, but this is definitely a suburb. This part of Westfall is also youth-oriented, and not much different from the place we left previous to our journey through the woods, albeit a bit more … dirty.
Beyond Westfall, the cushier suburbs – but you don’t want to live there. Not really. Not when you’ve got the city…
Since his arrival on the fantasy adventure scene back in the 70s, Charles Saunders has been recognized as one of the most successful African American writers in the field today. His action/adventure hero Imaro has been featured in a half dozen novels all of which went on to inspire generations of young black authors.
In 2011 Saunders wrote “Damballa” the first ever black pulp hero for Airship 27 Productions. Operating out of Harlem in the 1930s, Damballa employs unique African magic to battle gangsters and crooked politicians. Two years later Saunders introduced the Jungle Witch Luluma in his short story “Mtimu” which appeared in the Pro Se Production’s bestselling anthology, “Black Pulp.” At the start of the tale, the beautiful Luluma is a servant of a villainous hunter but by the story’s end she realizes his true nature and regains her independence thanks to the hero, Mtimu. Atypical of Saunders talent, she is a powerful character worthy of her own series.
Now Airship 27 Productions is proud to announce their creation of two new on-going book series, “Charles Saunders presents Damballa” and “Charles Saunders presents Luluma.” Managing Editor Ron Fortier elaborates. “In recent years, Charles Saunders has been extremely busy working on a truly unique black fantasy saga. So much so that it became impossible for him to devote any time to his other creations. When we suggested the possibilities of continuing both Damballa and Luluma with other writers, he was very excited about the concept and gave us his approval. Have no fear, he will be overseeing each series as they progress.”
Writing the first ever Lulama novel will be writer/publisher Milton Davis of MVmedia LLC. “I’ve known Charles Saunders for eleven years and had the privilege to work with him on a number of projects. I’m excited to have the opportunity to develop a novel based on one of his characters. It’s a dream come true.”
While Pulp Factory Award winning writer Derrick Ferguson will write the all new Damaballa adventure. “One the things that has always overwhelmed me in my New Pulp career is that I have gotten to meet with so many professionals whose work I have enjoyed and to my utter astonishment and joy I have found myself embraced and welcomed as a fellow professional.
“To say that I am honored to be given the opportunity to write a character created by Charles Saunders with his blessing is truly an understatement. Charles Saunders is one of the reasons I am writing today and to be working with him is an opportunity I never would have dreamed could have taken place. I pray that I do justice to the magnificent character of Damballa.”
At present there is no specific time set for the release of these new books. “Our plan is to move forward with full length novels first,” Fortier continues. “Later, if there is an interest, we may also produce anthologies featuring both Damballa and Lulama. We’ll leave that up to our network of pulp writers and the response of our readers. We see some truly amazing possibilities in the future for both characters and are greatly indebted to Charles’s faith in us.”
AIRSHIP 27 PRODUCTIONS – PULP FICTION FOR A NEW GENERATION!
John Linwood Grant: I’m an old soul, which isn’t a spiritual statement – I only started submitting short stories at the age of 58. My timing may have been a little off, as I suppose I should have tried this slightly earlier. I’m large, bearded, covered in discarded dog hair, and pretty easy going. I grew up next to sheer chalk cliffs and the cold North Sea, and although I have traveled around Europe and North Africa, I’ve basically lived in Yorkshire all my life; I’m rooted to this Northern land of ours. I currently live on the edge of Yorkshire Dales, with dogs – and occasionally a family.
DF: Where do you live and what do you do to keep the bill collectors away?
JLG: I would like to say that the dogs keep the bill collectors away, but unfortunately, they’re far too friendly. So, I survive through a complicated blend of writing/editing income and various small annuities (I have agoraphobia and a panic disorder, which I presume I was given to add some excitement to my life).
DF: What’s your philosophy of writing? Do you even have a philosophy of writing?
JLG: I’m not sure I do – or if I have one, it’s too deeply buried for shallow minds like mine. Maybe I’m trying to present, and empathize with, different aspects of humanity, in its various glories and failings. People are The Thing, and I’m old enough to have met a lot of people. I suppose you might call my writing humanist – some of it I produce to ask questions about ourselves. I’ve made many mistakes in my life, and believe in exploring purpose and redemption – but let’s face it, other stories are only there to entertain.
DF: What keeps you motivated to write?
JLG: The cost of dog food, and a lack of Impostor Syndrome. I write reasonably well, which is the sort of thing you’re probably not supposed to say, and I enjoy doing it. There are always days when I can’t quite grasp what I’m trying to convey, but there’s always something else at the back of my mind which makes me think, “Hey, that would make a great story.” Usually seven or eight somethings at once. Occasionally I accept that it’s not a topic or theme I myself should be writing. Maybe I don’t have enough insight there; maybe there are other writers who are better placed to express the concepts. I hang back on some ideas, and go full steam on others. If I was sitting in an ancient market square, I would just make up stories for anyone who wanted to hear them.
DF: How would you describe your style of writing?
JLG: I suspect I write weird fiction which isn’t quite fancy enough to be in vogue; horror fiction which isn’t gross enough for horror fans, and adventure which isn’t wild enough for many of the pulp fans. You could say my writing is very character-based, often with limited descriptive elements – I try to capture the ‘feel’ of people and situations at a glance. The tilt of a hat on someone’s head is more important than listing the hat’s material, size, manufacturer and all that stuff.
I love strong imagery and use of language – and playing with those- but don’t go for the unnecessarily thesaurus-hugging nature of some ‘literary’ fiction. The well-placed short word is usually better than the uncommon archaism you have to look up. Oh, and I love pithy and unexpected dialogue. And semi-colons.
DF: Have you found an audience yet? if so, how did you do it? If not, why haven’t you?
JLG: I’ve found several audiences, which reflects my utter failure to plough ahead in only one genre. I reached a lot of people by the simple ploy of putting two or three short stories up on Smashwords for free, and then using them as teasers and seed-fiction. They gave a hint of my style, what people might expect of me, and went down well. After that I went straight for paying markets, being a Yorkshireman. I also started greydogtales.com, a website which was theoretically a promotional platform, but which filled up with nonsense, articles on weird, horror and detective fiction, and lots about dogs. I got bored of talking about me and my work, and just went mad on it, which is probably why the site’s so popular.
My online series “Lurchers for Beginners”, which I did because I love lurchers, became a huge hit entirely by accident (if it helps, a lurcher is a British thing, a very fast dog which is a deliberate cross between a sighthound and a working dog, with a long history over here). It’s fun – and occasionally informative – stuff about the dogs. Much to my surprise, some of the dog people also bought my books, and they’ve been great supporters. To make a site work for you, it either has to be a useful resource or a work of genuine enthusiasm. Greydogtales is both – on a good day.
I also have, inexplicably, a lot of fans who just follow the folklorish Weird Wolds stuff, two thirds of which is based around a mad village called St Botolph-in-the-Wolds. I describe it as Enid Blyton meets H P Lovecraft, with a lot of added very British Girls’ Own fun – Mr Bubbles, the slightly psychotic pony who fights evil; J Linseed Grant, the miserly writer, and a troop of feral Girl Guides who go on metal polish and lemonade fueled rampages. I even got a mention from Ellen Datlow for one of the more serious Weird Wolds stories, which was unexpected.
DF: You definitely have a love for Horror, Weird Fiction, Dark Fantasy, Gothic Horror and related genres. Where does that love come from?
JLG: I grew up in a large converted farmhouse full of ominous furniture, in a village too small to have a church or a pub. I was an avid and precocious reader. I devoured books by Ray Bradbury, Robert Bloch, William Hope Hodgson, Conan Doyle, H P Lovecraft, Saki, and loads of other writers from an early age, and just loved it all. I also wolfed down every EC comic I could find, and the darker folklore stories. I think it all embedded itself, whether I wanted it to or not. I’m not a great one for hack’n’slash horror – I prefer the ominous intrusion of the strange into the real – that shadow in the wrong place on the wall, the woman who says something you don’t understand when you buy the morning paper. Minutiae which form a whole.
DF: What do you say are the main differences in how Brits and American writers view Horror/Weird Fiction?
JLG: Nowadays, I’m not so sure. The lines are blurred. I find it interesting that one of the big yearly events in Britland is Fantasycon, which is in fact a pleasing blend of fantasy and weird/horror fiction enthusiasts. I sometimes get the feeling that Americans see horror as a more specific field, whilst weird is a niche, quite literary zone (in the best sense), and fantasy is something else altogether. The UK can have a wry, nuanced style which I don’t think always travels well, but when it does, it makes a real mark. I’m probably not a good person to ask, because almost all of my work has been published from North America, not Britland. I have no idea why. Maybe Statesiders find my work ‘quaint’ or ‘different’ which is fine if it sells books. Those dog bowls, as I’ve said, don’t fill themselves.
DF: Tell us about OCCULT DETECTIVES QUARTERLY
JLG: We would need a small novel to cover that one. The late Sam Gafford and I co-founded the magazine in 2016, as a mad venture covering the sort of stories we liked, and pretty much everything has gone wrong along the way, though every issue has been well received. It’s again a niche market, hugely popular with its fans and woefully unnoticed by the larger world. The magazine is also not exactly pulp, not necessarily high literature, not quite pure horror, and yet we take all of those if the story’s strong. So you might find a good old-fashioned supernatural mystery right next to a piece of powerful weird fiction, followed by a rip-roaring occult adventure. There must be a mystery, and there must be someone who looks into it, whether that be out of choice, role, or dread circumstance. The lead character might be a world-weary PI, a disturbed young onlooker, a bemused cop, a dubious mystic, an occult expert, or an amateur sleuth – any of those and more.
We’ve been blessed with some very loyal fans, as I say, and some great artists and writers, who have been hugely supportive despite every disaster (our first publisher folded, and then Sam died, for starters). We’re relaunching it this Autumn/Winter from the UK as OCCULT DETECTIVE MAGAZINE, which is still ODQ in all but name and will be our sixth issue – ‘Quarterly’ sounded ambitious, though you never know. Dave Brzeski, a Brit editor and enthusiast who was a vital part of ODQ, is my co-conspirator in keeping the tradition going.
DF: You edit and you write. Which one is harder?
JLG: I find editing interesting but exhausting. Every so often it does bring great pleasure – an exciting project; a completely new writer discovered; a fabulous take on a theme. I prefer Open Calls, to seek out a diversity of contributors and give opportunities to fresh voices, but those do add to the workload. “Hell’s Empire” the anthology I completed earlier this year, was a surprising joy, because the writers were so inventive and co-operative. It’s a terrific and unusual book, though I say it myself.
I’m a writer first, and so it can be hard to be an editor – I see potential in so many stories that aren’t really market-ready, and I often want to do something to help get them across the finishing line. There isn’t usually the time, unfortunately.
Writing itself, on the other hand, is what I do, and there’s a good feeling which comes from every story I finish to my own satisfaction, whether or not anyone else wants it.
DF: Tell us about your upcoming projects. What should be looking for from you?
JLG: I’m pushed in a lot of directions. At the moment I’m finishing edits on a two-volume anthology for Belanger Books – “Sherlock Holmes and the Occult Detectives”. I’m tempted to try another project with my very talented friend writer and artist Alan M Clark – we’ve worked very closely over the last couple of years, and combined two separate novels of ours into the interleaved novel “13 Miller’s Court”, concerning the last recorded victim of Jack the Ripper. It’s not necessarily the take you’d expect, and is very much about the impact on the lives of the woman involved, with little interest in the murderer himself. It also involves Mr Edwin Dry, the lethal Deptford Assassin, who has gained a lot of followers in his own right.
I have an almost finished Tales of the Last Edwardian novel kicking around – murder, madness and the supernatural in the early 1900s. Then a collection of my directly weird fiction is doing the rounds (I might just publish it myself if I get bored). I ought to put out a collection of my 1920s Mamma Lucy hoodoo tales, and maybe a full book of St Botolph’s stuff, which people nag me for. I’ll no doubt write some more Holmes stories, and I want to add to my weird portfolio. It all sounds too complicated and like hard work when I say it.
DF: What is the one novel or story that you would recommend to someone who doesn’t know a thing about you or your work that they should start with?
JLG: If you like strange, cosmic horror type stuff, then “Messages” in Cthulhusattva, from Martian Migraine. If you prefer disquieting contemporary fiction, then “Records of the Dead”, in the recent Haverhill anthology ‘The Twisted Book of Shadows’. My collection “A Persistence of Geraniums and Other Worrying Tales”, from IFD Publishing, is probably the best introduction to my general style, though, and it introduces a number of recurring characters.
DF: Drop some Words of Wisdom on all the aspiring young writers reading this who are thirsting for your knowledge.
JLG: Ha-ha. Perhaps the thing I notice most is that a lot of submitted work simply isn’t ready for consumption, as I mentioned earlier. You can’t see it, and your friends won’t tell you. Develop the ability to sit outside yourself, and read everything you produce as if someone else did it. Read other books and stories a lot, and compare your work to what you read – on the broadest level. Not “Is mine as good as that one by so and so?” but “Is mine actually good enough for the marketplace?” That may sound harsh, but it’s useful. Read outside your own genre to observe craft in action.
Much of what you write will be too long, whether it’s a short story or a novel. Writers indulge themselves. They fall in love with their own ideas, and the pleasure of words and phrases, but some of those just don’t need to be there. I have a terrible habit of drifting into the lives of secondary and tertiary characters, which fascinates me, but sometimes the readers don’t care. They want the story. There are exceptions where the style of delivery is as important as what the story tells, but trimming is frequently in order.
Also, assume lots of things will go wrong in your search to get published. If you start out that way, you get hurt less. Agents will have too much on to give you attention, even if you genuinely deserve it. Editors will not get what you were trying to achieve, or won’t be able to find a slot for you because of other factors. Publishers will merge, go bust, or realize that however much they love your work, their Marketing Department can’t see a way of making money out of you. You will get screwed over on at least one contract, at some point. Once you know these things, they become less personal, and just part of the way things are for many thousands of other writers.
These really apply, of course, if you are deliberately writing to sell and be read by others. I have no beef with those who write purely to express themselves, to get something from their head out onto paper (or screen). You can always write only for yourself, and let the rest of the world do its own thing.
DF: What’s a typical Day In The Life of John Linwood Grant like?
JLG: Extremely badly planned, and constantly interrupted by two large lurchers (the dogs). I spend a lot of time mending the awful plumbing in our house and trying to keep the dogs out of the fridge. In between, I write.
Derrick Ferguson: Anything else we should know?
John Linwood Grant: Nothing I’ve said is necessarily true. I make stuff up for a living.
Seems like it was just last month that I was shoveling snow off the sidewalk in front of the house and Patricia and I were popping the cork on a bottle of bubbly to celebrate New Year’s Eve. I honestly think this must be a symptom of getting older as just about everybody around my age says that it seems as if time is speeding up. All I know is that years ain’t lasting as long as they used to so I better stop being lazy and get busy.
How have you been? This is another one of my updates which are supposed to be a regular thing but usually end up being in the nature of me doing it when I look at the date of my last post and go, “Holy shit…has it been that long?” So here I am to catch up to date on what’s going with me and what you should be on the lookout for as far as my work goes. So let’s dive in, shall we?
Hopefully by now you should have your copy of STRAIGHT OUTTA DEADWOOD, the Weird Western anthology edited by David Boop. The story I have in there; “The Relay Station at Wrigley’s Pass” was one that I originally had written for my collection of Sebastian Red stories; “The Trail of Sebastian Red” which will collect the following stories:
“Of All The Plagues A Love Bears”
“The Tale of The Baron’s Tribute”
“Storms of Blood and Snow”
“Sorrowful Are The Souls That Sleep With Gold”
“The Cost of Employment” by Brent Lambert
“The Bloodstained Trail”
Most of those stories have appeared in the “How The West Was Weird” anthology and most of you guys reading this have read them. I wanted to have at least two or three new stories in the book to make it worth getting for those who already have all the “How The West Was Weird” volumes. Brent Lambert was good enough to offer to write a story as he’s a huge Sebastian Red fan and a marvelously talented writer so I’d have been worse than foolish to not take him up on it. The downside is that it’s taken me so long to get this book together the brother has probably forgotten he wrote it. But never fear, I’ll make sure I do the right thing.
So anyway, I had “The Relay Station at Wrigley’s Pass” all done and was in the process of finishing up “The Bloodstained Trail” which is definitely going to be the longest Sebastian Red story to date. At least until I get around to writing “The Seven Guns of Sebastian Red” which is going to be a “Magnificent Seven” homage. Don’t ask when I’m gonna do that one. I’m trying not to lie to you guys. David Boop contacted me and asked me would I like to contribute something to the anthology and I jumped at the chance. I actually had to cut the story down considerably due to word count restrictions and that took me about a week.
So now my dilemma is this: should I go with the stories I have ready and publish “The Trail of Sebastian Red” or write another story in place of the one I gave David Boop?
By now I hope you’ve discovered SUPERHERO CINEPHILES, the podcast I’m co-hosting with Perry Constantine. If not, look to the right and you’ll see a link there in the sidebar that will take you there. We’re going to be talking about, dissecting and debating about our favorite superhero movies. So far we’ve tackled “Superman: The Movie” 1989’s “Batman” Wes Craven’s “Swamp Thing” from 1982 and “X-Men” is coming up soon.
Already I’ve got people asking me via email and on Skype; “Why aren’t you guys doing the MCU or the DCEU movies?” There’s a simple answer to that: we didn’t want to. At least not right away. You can find hundreds of podcasts about the current wave of superhero movies and eventually Perry and I will get to them. But we wanted to have some fun with revisiting old favorites that essentially laid the foundation for the superhero movies we’re enjoying now.
As for myself, I’ve been having more fun than I thought I would have and that’s a good thing. For awhile now I’ve had the urge to get back into podcasting but I had no idea what I wanted to talk about or what my podcast should be. It was a blessing that Perry came along at this time so that I could ease back into podcasting and exercise that particular set of creative muscles. I’m still thinking about doing my own podcast and my wife Patricia and I have talked about doing one together as well. I’ll keep you posted on that as well.
But in the meantime, I’ve been doing some 20-30-minute audio posts on my Patreon. I’ve done three so far and there will be more to come. There’s no real structure to any of ‘em. They’re just thoughts I have about my stories and my work. Just some insights into how I think about what I do. If you’re interested, again, just look to the right. And the three serials over at Patreon are still going strong; “Dillon and The Island of Dr. Mamuwalde” “Shadows Over Cymande” and “One Night In Denbrook”
Speaking of Dillon, there just might be a new Dillon Christmas story this year. It’s an idea I had last year but it involves another character belonging to another writer and I had to get his permission to use him. We’ll see. I’m also thinking of giving the Dillon website a whole new facelift and update. There’s information there that badly needs updating and the best time to do it is when I’m in the mood. And right now I’m in the mood. So there.
What else? Oh, I’m also working on a new Bass Reeves story for the latest volume in Airship 27’s BASS REEVES-FRONTIER MARSHAL anthology series. I missed Vol. III but Ron was good enough to invite me back for Vol. IV so be on the lookout for that.
I guess that’s it for now. All my contact information is over on the right if you want to get in touch with me as well as links to everything I do online so feel free to check out everything else I’m doing. As always, I thank you with all my heart for your kind attention and support. It sustains me in more ways than you can imagine. Until next time, watch some good scary movies and be good to yourself and others. Take Care and God Bless.
Derrick Ferguson: We haven’t done one of these in years so we have to get the obligatory introductory stuff outta the way: Who is Mark Bousquet and why are you being interviewed here?
Mark Bousquet: I was tempted to go back and grab whatever I wrote for an introduction to the last time we did that and just paste it here, but I suppose that would be cheating, eh? Who I am is a writer. Why I’m being interviewed here is because I’m a published writer.
As we do this interview in mid-2019, I’ve recently relaunched my Gunfighter Gothic series in six new shiny editions, and just released THE MASKS OF SATURDAY MORNING, which is the first Spooky Lemon Mystery.
DF: Where do you live and what do you do to keep yourself in cheese and crackers?
MB: I’m as Assistant Teaching Professor at Syracuse University, teaching writing. Not the fun writing that we’re gonna talk about in this interview, but the obligatory writing classes that students are forced to take. I try to make it fun and try to open up the student’s eyes as to what “writing” is: it’s not just the 5-paragraph research or opinion essays they likely got burned out on in high school. I try to give them assignments that have them create visual projects like comic books or infographics and “beyond writing” projects like podcasts and documentaries, where writing is a tool to get you to the end product.
I’ve recently moved to Scranton, Pennsylvania, so I’ll be looking at a 2-hour commute to and from work this fall. That sounds rough, but the nice thing about teaching college is that I’ll be able to work from home 2 or 3 days each week.
DF: How’s Darwin doing these days? What is he up to?
MB: Darwin is still going strong. He’s 12 and a half years old now, and while he can be an old man inside, he’s still his old energetic puppy dog self when we’re outside. Moving to a new city means everything is new to him and he loves little more than going someplace new. We’ve got a nice public park that we walk in most mornings that always gets his day started right.
DF: You’re still writing but it seems as if your output has decreased. Why is that?
MB: A combination of factors. My current job is way more intensive than my previous jobs, so there’s less time to write, and I found that when I made time to sit down, the stories just weren’t flowing like they used to. Some of that was because the job was leaving my brain extra tired, but it was also because I didn’t know who I was as a writer, anymore. I got myself into trouble by creating series instead of stand-alone stories and so even in creating something new, I was adding another brick onto my back, committing me to writing some future project. I needed to take some time to clear the decks and while that’s an ongoing process, I feel good about putting an editing shine to the Gunfighter Gothic books.
I’ll write more Gunfighter Gothic stories but it’s also good, as is. I haven’t left anyone hanging. I need to do the same for ADVENTURES OF THE FIVE and STUFFED ANIMALS FORHIRE, two kids’ series that each have 2 books published but need to have a third to close those stories off.
DF: In what direction do you see your writing career going?
MB: A greater balance between writing things that I’ll publish through Space Buggy Press and submissions to outside presses. I like having the control over a project that Space Buggy affords me, but I also like to be challenged by trying to write for different editors and publications.
DF: You wrote some of the best movie reviews I’ve ever read. Why did you stop? And are you ever going to start writing them again?
MB: Thank you, that’s very kind of you to say! I stopped because it was taking up too much of my writing time. When I was really cranking out the reviews, I was living in a new city, with only a few friends, no social life to speak of, and no car. I spent most of my time between walking Darwin and working. I didn’t have cable. I was doing Netflix by mail. So I had enough time to write creatively and write reviews and do some travel writing, but as the workload increased, as I bought a car, and entered into a fantastic relationship, there just wasn’t the time to produce the same amount of words. Something had to give and it was writing reviews. I don’t think I’ll ever go back to writing them full-time, but I still love talking about movies and TV shows.
DF: Speaking of movies, what are some of your favorite movies you’ve seen in 2019 so far?
MB: With the move, I haven’t watched as many movies this year as I normally do and I don’t have any lesser-known gems to herald. In fact, looking at the Top 50 films of 2019 through mid-July, I’ve only seen seven of them: “Avengers: Endgame” (loved it), “Captain Marvel” (liked it), “John Wick 3” (liked it), “Shazam” (blah), “Godzilla: King of Monsters” (loved it), “Alita: Battle Angel” (awful), and “Fighting with My Family” (pleasant enough).
I have spent more time reading for fun this year than I have in recent years. I’ve just worked through a run of Robert Parker (Pale Kings and Princes), Ace Atkins (The Redeemers), Clive Cussler (The Chase), Ace Atkins writing as Robert Parker (Lullaby), and I’m currently reading Jo Nesbo’s The Devil’s Star.
These were not random choices. Between February and a week or so ago, I binged all 20 seasons of “Midsomer Murders”, which is the kind of detective show that’s cozy instead of hard-boiled. I got the idea that I wanted to write a cozy mystery set in Middle Earth but as I started to develop that idea, I realized that I already had a main cozy character in Spooky Lemon. I also had a novel finished that had been sitting on my computer for years. When I started self-publishing, I let too many books out too quickly but in recent years, I’ve held on to them too long, tinkering endlessly with them.
I decided to get Spooky out and work on that as my cozy and then take that other character and keep it in a fantasy setting, but write it more like a crime novel than a cozy mystery. I devoured the Robert Parker Spenser books as a teenager, so I started there and reread Pale Kings and Princes (I chose it for the simple fact that it was the oldest Spenser book my local library had on the shelves). Then I read Ace Atkins’ The Redeemers because I knew he’d written a bunch of Spenser novels. Then I took The Chase off of my shelf to read Clive Cussler’s historical pulp before coming to Lullaby, to see how Atkins adapted his style to Parker’s Spenser universe. And now I’m reading Nesbo, for a touch of non-American crime.
I noticed several things that have helped inform me about my current WIP. For instance, in the Spenser novels, the focus is always on Spenser. Atkins doesn’t put that weight on Quinn Colson, and in Redeemers, he spends nearly as much time with the bad guys as he does his main character. Cussler spends the bulk of his time with Isaac Bell, but isn’t afraid to leave him out of chapters and spend time with the bad guys and (to a lesser extent) secondary characters. Atkins’ Spenser book is written in the Parker mold — in other words, it’s not Ace Atkins’ take on Spenser, it’s Atkins channeling Parker’s take.
Who to spend time with is a critical decision because it will inform what kind of crime book you’re writing. In the Colson and Bell stories, there is no mystery, at all. We know who the bad guys are. And the main characters quickly figure out who the bad guys are, too. They might not have all the pieces to the puzzle, but they can see what the puzzle is gonna look like when it’s finished. They aren’t mysteries, at all. They’re pursuits. (With a healthy dash of subplots about the protagonists’ personal lives thrown in, too.) With the Spenser stories, there is a mystery to solve, but the emphasis isn’t on solving the crime nearly as much as it is simply hanging out with Spenser and Hawk and Susan. There’s a case to solve, but I’m always amazed how much time is devoted to following Spenser doing ordinary things: making dinner, sitting in his car on a stakeout, talking with Susan, driving around Boston.
The treatment of the protagonists’ masculinity was also telling. Spenser is completely comfortable with who he is. Colson knows who he is, but isn’t entirely comfortable with it. Isaac Bell is almost comically old school masculine. Nesbo’s Harry Hole is an emotional and physical wreck.
The same goes for the style of prose: Parker is quick and light. Cussler drowns in historical detail. Nesbo is as much literary as he is case-focused. Atkins sits somewhere in the middle, writing a contemporary western inside William Faulkner’s South.
With all this swirling in my head, I sat down to bring my character to life. All I really had was an idea for an opening scene. I knew how the scene would start (“A number of years ago, a green-skinned man walked out of the Wilds to stand before the King.”) and I knew how it would end (“The green man said, ‘I want to be a cop.'”). But that was it. I didn’t know what else would happen and I didn’t know what kind of story he would be in, but I kinda thought I wanted to do a “fantasy western.” But I wasn’t sure.
So I sat down and churned out 2,500 words to find out. I lost the character’s cozy first name (Aldous) and gained a more western name (Bridger). I came up with a basic plot. I gave him deputies and a witch for a pathologist. I built him a world to work in that’s more Scandinavian than Deadwood. I think I know that I want to write a crime story that’s more mystery than pursuit, but I also want to spend time away from the main character.
But that’s what the first draft is for, ain’t it?
DF: What are you working on now?
MB: The Sheriff Bridger Skunk fantasy crime book is where I’m living at the laptop most, but I’m also plotting out the second Spooky Lemon mystery in journals and working through the details of the long-promised World War II book, BLACK RHINOS.
DF: Can we expect to see more of AMERICAN HERCULES?
MB: Yes, but not as the stand-alone episodes that I published last time. I’ll finish off the modern spin on Hercules’ labors as individual episodes, but I’ll just release them all in one collection instead of dropping them one at a time.
DF: Do you have any more children’s books planned?
MB: I’ve been trying to write the follow-up to THE BEAR AT THE TOP OF THE STAIRS for a good two years and can’t seem to settle on a story that I like, so that’s back-burnered at the moment. I would like to get one kids book out in time for Christmas, but whether it will be the sequel to BEAR or an ADVENTURES OF THE FIVE book or STUFFED ANIMALS FORHIRE book, I can’t say. I’m hoping one of those stories grabs me and demands to be written.
DF: What can we expect to see from Mark Bousquet in 2019?
MB: I don’t know if I’ll have another novel published this year, but I’ll be writing like mad behind the scenes.
I’d like to do more travel writing, too, but even working on 4 – 6 hours of sleep a night, there’s only so much time in the day.
DF: What’s a typical Day In The Life of Mark Bousquet like?
MB: I used to be the kind of writer who did his best work between midnight and 4 AM, but now my best work seems to come in the 6 AM to Whenever I Take Darwin For a Walk AM or late afternoon. So, it’s usually get up around 6, write, go for a hike with Darwin, breakfast, work stuff, lunch work stuff, errands, reading or writing, dinner, reading or writing, and spend as much time with the partner as possible.
That’ll change once the fall semester starts up again, but for now, I’ve got time to write and I’m taking advantage of it.
Derrick Ferguson: Anything else we need to know?
Mark Bousquet: ‘ve got a website at themarkbousquet.com where people can sign up for my free newsletters: one for my kids work and another for my genre work. Signing up for each of them gets people a free digital novel as thanks.