Those are lyrics from “Dream Away” The theme song to TIME BANDITS, one of my favorite movies of all time and they occurred to me because of the conversation I had this morning over breakfast with Ron Fortier and Rob Davis.
Oh, we talked of many things. Of family, of our craft, of movies…and if you ever invite Rob Davis to your house, please watch YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN with him, okay? I’ll let him tell you why.
But then we started talking about the art and craft of storytelling. And I told Ron and Rob my theory that if aliens ever did visit us it would be because they would be fascinated by the fact that we humans are a Race of Storytellers.
Think about it. You come home at the end of a long hard day from work or school or whatever. You sit down to dinner with your family and you say to them; “Tell me about your day.”
And then they tell you a story.
Because it is now a story because they have had time to think about it, to process it through their emotional and intellectual matrixes. It isn’t events as it actually happened.
It is A STORY.
And if there is any gift that we have as The Human Race is that we know how to tell A STORY.
Which is what a lot of today was about. I had breakfast with Ron and Rob and we told stories. Then we went to the venue and met up with Tommy Hancock and Aubrey Stephens and we told more stories. Then I met Gordon Dymowski and even more stories were shared. Gordon and I had a really good conversation about how much the subconscious plays in the creative process. Don’t sleep on this guy. I learned a LOT speaking to him in just fifteen minutes than I do in three hours with other folks.
We’re having a good time and I hope you are as well. Tonight, it’s dinner at Fuddruckers, the New Pulp Awards and then the drinking and whoring.
Wait…scratch that last part.
And here’s a picture of Aubry Stephens along with a link to the video of Blues Traveler singing “Hook” for no other reason than every time I see Aubry, this song plays in my Personal Soundtrack:
Whenever I’ve talked about trips I’ve taken in the past (especially to Florida) you’ve usually heard me talk about driving down there. And driving is usually how I do travel. I’ve driven down to Florida and back to Brooklyn at least a dozen times. Which has led some people to think that I don’t like to fly or am scared to fly. Actually, I’m not. I’ve flown many times in the past. Flying’s cool. I just prefer driving because I like to take my time to get to where I’m going and I like to run on my own schedule. I start taking planes and bam! everything is out of my hands. I gotta be here at this time and I gotta do this and I gotta do that. All of a sudden, it’s as if all the fun has gone out of travelling because now it’s more about meeting schedules that others have set for me rather than me just jumping in my car and going wherever I please and doing whatever I want.
So why did I jump on a plane and come to Chicago for the 2019 Windy City Pulp & Paper Convention?
Simple. I thought it would be fun and there were people here I hadn’t seen in awhile and I wanted to see again.
Such as Ron Fortier and Rob Davis, the Captain and Chief Engineer of Airship 27. I haven’t seen these cats since the first Pulp Ark many moons ago and it was high time I hung out with them again.
And I never pass up a chance to harass Tommy Hancock. I’ve been doing it for twenty years. Why should I stop now?
And doubtless there are many more people I will resume an acquaintance with here and those I will meet for the first time. And that’s really what it’s about, isn’t it? Or at least it should be. It most certainly is for me. Making connections. Meeting new people. Renewing friendships with fellow writers, colleagues and enthusiasts of Pulp, be it Classic or New. Talking about the things we love in Pulp and how we can make it better and how we can expand the audience and share it with the world.
I’ll be here in Chicago at the Windy City Pulp & Paper Convention this weekend so get used to seeing these dispatches for the next couple of days. Like those war correspondents you see in those old Black & White WWII movies who went out on the front lines during the day and then at night filed stories about what they had heard and seen? Yeah, this will be kinda like that. You guys know how I be.
Tommy and I have already talked about major Dillon and Fortune McCall stuff. Ron and Tommy are going to be making major announcements tomorrow as Friday is the actual day this shindig starts. We just got here early because there’s a whole LOT of stuff that has to go on behind the scenes before the jump-off jumps off. I may even do a Facebook Live from the floor of the convention. Anything to show you guys how much fun we’re having.
We haven’t even really gotten started yet and we’re already having a ball.
Kind of a grandiose title, right? And Milton would probably be the first one to knock me upside my head for bestowing that title upon him but I can’t help it. Whenever I think of Sword and Soul I first think of Charles Saunders, that remarkably talented founder of the genre and the man who I consider to be The Godfather of Sword and Soul. At its simplest Sword and Soul is African inspired Heroic Fantasy/Sword & Sorcery . That’s the thumbnail version. For a more in depth and comprehensive overview of the genre I point you in the direction of an article written by Balogun Ojetade who is himself no stranger to the genre:
And Milton Davis is the second name I think of when it comes to Sword and Sword because he’s had considerable influence in revitalizing and reinvigorating the genre, spreading knowledge of it and inspiring a whole generation of brand new writers who have embraced Sword and Soul with a burning passion, elevating and evolving it in exciting and fascinating new directions. That’s why I call him The Godson of Sword and Soul.
“Okay, Derrick,” you say. “I’m sufficiently intrigued to want to know more. But where do I begin? Who should I be reading? What books and writers do I start with?”
I’m glad you asked because Milton Davis has been good enough to compile a list of Sword and Soul books that you can start with. And here it is:
IMARO by Charles Saunders
DOSSOUYE by Charles Saunders
MEJI by Milton Davis
GRIOTS Edited by Milton Davis and Charles Saunders
GRIOTS: SISTERS OF THE SPEAR Edited by Charles Saunders and Milton Davis
ONCE UPON A TIME IN AFRICA by Balogun Ojetade
THE CONSTANT TOWER by Carole McDonnell
ABENGONI: FIRST CALLING by Charles Saunders
SONGS OF THE SUNYA: TALES FROM THE SANDS OF TIME by Mansa Myrie
CHANGA’S SAFARI by Milton Davis
WHEN NIGHT FALLS by Gerald L. Coleman
Many of these I have read myself and heartily recommend and as for those I haven’t read, I trust Milton’s recommendation as to their quality and entertainment value so don’t be wary of diving in and discovering the magic and majesty of Sword and Soul for yourself. Enjoy!
From the mean streets and crime-ridden boroughs of the modern metropolis to the dusty western wastelands where the only thing more precious than a bullet is a drop of water to soothe a parched throat, Derrick Ferguson takes the reader on journeys as visceral and vivid as a waking dream. Herein find eight stories, written for cash on the barrel to put food on the table. Sail the Seven Seas with Sinbad the Sailor, run headlong into gunfights against overwhelming odds with lawman Bass Reeves, battle against super-villains, and get hard-boiled with two-fisted detective action. Pick your poison. And make it a double.
“The Undercover Puzzle”
“The Knobloch Collection Assignment”
“Sinbad and The Voyage to The Land of The Frozen Sun”
“The Ruckerville Arraignment”
“Unto You Is Born…Rayge!”
“A Town Named Affliction”
“The Bixbee Breakout”
Derrick Ferguson: It’s been something like 42 months since we last talked like this so we’ve got to do the obligatory thing where you tell the folks reading this something about you and what you’re all about. So, who is Percival Constantine and what are you all about?
Percival Constantine: I’m a professional author and university lecturer originally from Chicago, but I’ve been living in southern Japan for almost ten years. Basically, I’m a huge geek. Growing up, I was a massive fan of superhero comics, video games, and movies, and those interests haven’t abated now that I’m in my mid-thirties. I started writing comic book fanfiction when I was in high school and I published my first novel, Fallen, in 2007. Since then, I’ve been continuously writing and have produced over twenty novels, plus several short stories collected in various anthologies. My writing has been spread across many different genres, such as science fiction, fantasy, horror, mystery, and action/adventure.
DF: You’ve been writing professionally for quite a few years now. Have you found your audience? Or have they found you?
PC: A little bit of both. When I first began publishing, I didn’t know what I was doing and I had no idea how to find an audience, so I’d just throw stuff out there and hope it stuck. Nothing ever really did. Over time, I learned about the importance of self-promotion and began doing things like paid advertising through avenues such as Facebook, Amazon, and different book recommendation email lists. That helped me find an audience for my work. In the process, as I was able to advertise my work to more people, it led to my books ending up in search results for related books, so it helped other readers find me.
DF: What’s the secret to good writing? Have you cracked the uncrackable code?
PC: I don’t think anyone will ever crack that code because the definition of good writing depends so much on the reader. I think as writers, the only thing we can really do is write books that we’re interested in writing. Readers are savvy and they can smell a phony a mile away. If you’re writing a book that you’re not interested in, readers will pick up on that and it will turn them off.
DF: What keeps you motivated to keep writing?
PC: My entire life has been devoted to storytelling. I devoured it as a fan, I studied it as a student, and I write and teach it as a professional. To me it’s as natural as breathing. I’ve had moments when I was frustrated and swore, double-swore, and triple-swore that I would give up writing. But I always ended up coming back. I’ve got stories I want to tell and that’s what motivates me to keep going even when readers aren’t buying.
DF: How much room in your head do you allow for critics and criticism?
PC: As much as is needed. My approach to criticism is to consider the source. Sometimes you’ll get criticism from people who simply aren’t part of your audience—and that’s fine, not everyone will be part of your audience. That kind of criticism I’ll consider, but I won’t stress myself out over it. Other times, you might get criticism for not doing something you never set out to do in the first place. I’m not going to worry about that kind of critique at all.
The most important criticism that I’ll consider is criticism that comes from people who are my intended audience. Those are the comments I’ll think about and it will make me take another look at my work. But sometimes, even after considering those critiques, I might still choose to go my own way.
I think the writer who ignores all criticism is too egotistical and the writer who takes all criticism personally is too sensitive. It comes down to something Stephen King said in On Writing: “You can’t please all of the people all of the time. You can’t even please all of the people some of the time. You just have to settle for pleasing some of the people some of the time.”
DF: What are your thoughts on where New Pulp is at today?
PC: To be honest, I don’t give a whole lot of thought to New Pulp these days. It’s something that kicked off with a lot of fanfare, but I think too many people who identify with New Pulp are more hobbyists than serious about creating a professional movement. And if they just want to be hobbyists, that’s fine. But I see far too many frustrated at a lack of momentum, yet those same people aren’t doing much to help change the landscape.
DF: Is New Pulp going anywhere? If so, where is it going? If not, why isn’t it?
PC: I don’t think so. I think it will remain a niche field for hobbyists and I doubt you’ll see a whole lot of momentum, and this ties into my previous answer. There’s a wealth of information out there for how people can take advantage of the new indie market. We have more tools than ever before—access to affordable advertising, access to wonderful cover designers, access to the kind of market research that publishers would have killed for twenty years ago.
And yet, the people in New Pulp aren’t taking advantage of these things. If you look at the successes in indie publishing, a few commonalities start to emerge: they produce books quickly, they get genre-appropriate covers, they pay attention to the genres that are hungry for books, they target the right categories on Amazon, they take advantage of advertising and mailing lists, etc. How many people in New Pulp are doing these things? I know I do it and I’ve seen my success grow as a result. But too many people are tied to the romantic notion of being an artist who doesn’t worry about the business side.
Problem is unless you’ve got someone to handle that business side for you, you aren’t going to make any money.
It’s a bit tragic, I think, because I see so many immensely talented New Pulp writers who should be killing it. I’ve read these books and they’re very good. But they aren’t getting the right covers, they aren’t targeting the right categories, they aren’t advertising or reaching out to readers with mailing lists, their production schedules are inconsistent and have far too much of a gap between releases, etc.
And yet the readership is hungry for New Pulp, they just don’t know it’s called New Pulp. Space opera came from pulp. Urban fantasy came from pulp. Superheroes came from pulp. Romance came from pulp. Horror came from pulp. Westerns came from pulp.
These genres are big right now and there are authors who are producing books in those genres and making a lot of money selling those books. But none of them are part of the New Pulp crowd.
And the difference between us and them? It’s not the quality of the writing. It’s not luck. It’s because those other authors are treating it like a business. A New Pulp writer thinks, “I want my western to have an illustrated cover just like the westerns during the pulp era had and I want readers to find me.” A successful genre author thinks, “What westerns are selling well? What do those books have in common? What do those covers have in common? How can I get my book in front of those readers? How can I get those readers onto my mailing list?”
If New Pulp writers want to be more than hobbyists, then they have to start asking these questions of themselves.
DF: Who is Luther Cross?
PC: Luther Cross is a character that came to me a long time ago. I was in the midst of writing the second novel in the Infernum series, Outlaw Blues, when tragedy struck. My computer crashed. For some reason I can’t remember, I had to wait several months before I’d be able to use software computer on the failing hard drive. So instead, I got the hard drive replaced and rather than keep writing from memory, I thought about doing something else. I’d just started binge-watching Supernatural at the point and it made me want to write something in the same vein. I was also a big fan of John Constantine from the Hellblazer comics as well as Warren Ellis’ Hellstorm: Prince of Lies comic book from the early 90s, so all those went into my conception, as well as a bunch of other stuff.
Luther Cross is a cambion—half-human, half-demon. He was raised and trained by a secret society called the Sons of Solomon in the hopes that he would use his abilities against the forces of darkness. As an adult, he works as a paranormal investigator in Chicago. Also, somewhat uniquely in the world of urban fantasy, he’s a black man whereas most protagonists are white. That wasn’t really a conscious decision on my part, when I first visualized the character, for some reason I just pictured Idris Elba with glowing red eyes (though I’ve come to believe that if a live-action version were ever made, DB Woodside would make the perfect Luther).
I never finished that first novel, but the character stuck with me. Years later, Tommy Hancock of Pro Se Press came to me about Pro Se’s Single Shot Signatures line and asked me if I wanted to contribute. I pitched him a few ideas, including Luther, and he liked that one the best. Jeff Hayes designed a wonderful cover and I started writing 10,000-word short stories starring Luther. Some setbacks pushed back the publication schedule and eventually, Tommy had to make the decision to scale the line back. I’d already been planning to do some novels with Luther, which Tommy was fine with and we had talked about doing some cross-promotion. But when the scale-back came, Luther’s series was one of the victims. That actually did work out for me though, because I was able to then focus solely on the novels. And so far, those books have been doing very well for me.
DF: Have you always been a fan of urban fantasy?
PC: Yes, but I didn’t always know it was called urban fantasy. Growing up, I became a big fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and then the spinoff Angel, plus short-lived series like The Crow: Stairway to Heaven and Brimstone. I became a fan of horror movies in college and that led me to comics like Hellblazer and Hellstorm, plus later on I watched TV shows like Supernatural and Constantine. So I’d always liked the genre, but it wasn’t until I became active in publishing that I learned it was called urban fantasy.
DF: One of the things I enjoyed most on reading your Luther Cross books is the cosmology involved that Luther operates in. I’m especially tickled by the notion that the hierarchies of Heaven and Hell are no more than celestial bureaucracies. Did you draw upon established religious doctrines for your conceptions of Heaven and Hell?
PC: I’ve looked at various sources when describing them, but I haven’t relied too heavily on any one source. When angels were introduced in Supernatural, one of the things that I really liked was that the angels were portrayed as haughty, self-righteous assholes. And it made sense. It also got me thinking a lot about the nature of both. The whole notion of 100% good or 100% evil is something that I don’t really agree with and seems very simplistic.
So that got me thinking: what is the difference between Heaven and Hell? What is the difference between angels and demons? They had to be two sides of the same coin, but it couldn’t just be good vs. evil. I needed more there.
Then it hit me: angels were made to obey. They follow orders. Lucifer was banished because he refused to follow orders, because he was prideful. So that meant Heaven was a place where rules matter more than anything else and it became a simple calculation—not good vs. evil, but order vs. chaos. And that’s when everything clicked.
DF: What are your plans for Luther Cross as a character and as a franchise?
PC: I’m currently writing the fifth book. I won’t reveal the title here because it might spoil the ending of the fourth book, Devil’s Conflict (which came out this past August). But I have at least six books in the series planned and I also have ideas for a potential spin-off series. As long as fans are still reading and I can still come up with ideas, Luther will continue on.
That’s what I have control over. Absolutely I would love to see Luther translated into other mediums. Nothing would please me more than to see a Luther Cross series on TV or a Luther Cross movie. I’d totally be willing to write a Luther Cross comic book. I’d love a Luther Cross video game. But those things are beyond my control at the moment.
DF: Tell us about Vanguard.
PC: Vanguard was my first attempt at publishing my own original superhero series. The concept is that the world experienced a strange phenomenon in which a small percentage of humanity was granted superhuman abilities, called specials. In the face of these new challenges, the US government in secret gathered together a team of these specials in order to deal with superhuman threats. It was influenced by my love of superhero comics, especially the X-Men and the Avengers.
My original idea was to reproduce a structure similar to many of the comics I loved growing up, where I’d write it as a serial with each installment featuring a self-contained story, but with subplots stretching out across the length of the series.
The serial approach didn’t work so well and I abandoned it about halfway through and just released season compilations. The series lasted for a total of five books (or seasons), which was my initial plan going in. I do have ideas for further books and the books that are currently out there go through periods when they experience a bump in sales. At some point, if both time and sales are preferable, I would like to return to that world.
DF: Are we going to see more adventures of Elisa Hill, The Myth Hunter?
PC: The final book ended with Elisa’s death, but there’s always the possibility for resurrection, and I’ve thought about doing more books in that world. At the moment though, there aren’t any plans. Unfortunately, the sales on The Myth Hunter books were never very strong, so it’s hard to justify it at this time when I’ve got other books that are selling far better. But I still love that character and that world and would love to return to it at some point.
DF: Are we going to see the Infernum series return?
PC: No, no plans whatsoever. That series definitely performed the poorest of all the ones I’ve written so far. I didn’t leave open a lot of doors for future installments, either, so even if interest were there, I’m not even sure where I would go with it.
DF: What’s a Typical Day In The Life of Percival Constantine like?
PC: I wake up around 6-7 am, shower and have my morning coffee, then I check email and do some writing. I try to shoot for 2,000 words every day, but some days are better than others and some days I just don’t do it at all. I teach at a few different locations, so my schedule every day is a little bit different, some days I’m working until evening, other days I have the afternoon off. When I get home, that’s just my decompression time. I have dinner and then either play video games, read comics or books, or watch a movie or some TV. Nothing very exciting.
Derrick Ferguson: Since it’s been three years and eight months since I last interviewed you we have to refresh people’s memories. Who is Raymond Embrack? Where do you live and what do you do to keep the bill collectors away?
Raymond Embrack: A member of Usimi Dero. Los Angeles. Haven’t kept them away yet. Have taken up day trading as my new art form.
DF: Any major changes in your life since we last talked?
RE: Retired from close to doing 20 in L.A. County. Soon to move back to Washington DC.
DF: Last time I interviewed you I asked you if there was an audience for Raymond Embrack. Have they found you or have you found them?
RE: The weirdness has been out there long enough an audience is actually finding me, almost a following today. Mostly younger, a mix of exiles and hipsters. Who thought I would wind up the Jeff Goldblum of nobodies?
DF: How do you feel you’ve grown and developed as a writer in the past three years?
RE: Since Kindle Create I do all parts of production, plus design my covers.
DF: How has your attitude about your work in particular and writing in general changed or modified?
RE: I ended the intent to make book sales. I cut half my book catalog, now only write my desert island catalog of only Surf product. Turns out I only like writing Surf.
DF: Update us on Peter Surf. First off, for the folks who don’t know who Peter Surf is, tell us about him.
RE: Peter Surf is my private eye series private eye since 1996. His name comes from the music in Pulp Fiction. First published 2000. Operates in west coast Blonde City, the city Trump would build with Madonna. Surf is in part composed of Derek Flint, Hunter S. Thompson, John Shaft, Chris Rock. He runs a dojo to meet women, invents martial arts like Aztec Karate. He specializes in unusual dangerous and difficult cases, never does missing persons cases because most PI novels are missing persons cases.
DF: Where is Peter Surf going as a character and what are your future plans for him?
RE: Perfecting the swagger this began with.
DF: What else are you working on now?
RE: Nothing. For now less writing, more reality.
DF: What is the one book of yours you would recommend to someone to start with? And why that book?
RE: Pick the description you find hottest, work your way to the coolest. Or vice versa.
DF: What keeps you motivated to continue to write?
RE: My aspiration to build a series of at least 20 dope Peter Surf units, a collection of WTF? to one day gaze upon with chill self-gratification.
DF: Drop some much needed Words of Wisdom on all the young aspiring writers reading this that are thirsting for knowledge.
RE: Only write what you love most. Be your own favorite writer.
DF: What’s a typical Day In The Life of Raymond Embrack like?
RE: Day trading from a desktop, earning more, losing less, learning by doing, writing my own textbook as I go. Each person has to write their own textbook. Night, that’s another question….
SUBMISSIONS OPEN FOR FIRST IN NEW ANNUAL ANTHOLOGY TO DEBUT IN 2019- ‘NEW PULP UNITED VOLUME ONE’ TO BENEFIT CREATORS IN NEED
Pro Se Productions, a publisher of Genre Fiction, is also a publisher and a leading figure in one aspect of what is considered The New Pulp Movement. This movement focuses on fiction that is inspired and in the style of Pulp Fiction published in the early 20th Century, influenced by Pulp of the past, but written by modern writers with an eye toward the future. New Pulp exists outside this movement, obviously, and many recognize all aspects of this style of fiction as a community. This feeling has been so prevalent in the past that it has led to creators coming together to produce benefit books in memory of other creators or, in the case of Pro Se’s Editor in Chief, Tommy Hancock, to assist during hard times.
“LEGENDS OF NEW PULP FICTION,” says Hancock, “was a project put together by Jaime Ramos and Ron Fortier and Rob Davis of Airship 27 Productions. Over 100 creators threw their talents into the mix to put together the biggest volume of modern Pulp ever to help me after I was diagnosed with a rare form of Congestive Heart Failure. It was the single biggest outpouring of support I have seen in a long time in publishing, especially within New Pulp. And I will personally be forever grateful for it.”
New Pulp Author Sean Taylor noted this very thing recently in
a post on social media, expressing concern about growing divides between writers today, due to politics and different world views. In this post, Taylor made a call to return to the sense of community that existed when collections were done for Hancock or when Pro Se produced “WHEN THE SHADOW SEES THE SUN”, a collection of essays about creatives and depression in honor of Logan Masterson, a writer who lost his battle with depression. Taylor’s post caused many creators to think, including Hancock.
“We don’t expect,” says Hancock, “to replicate LEGENDS or any other collections with what Pro Se plans to do, but the course of discussion Sean started this past week demands that we do something, at least it demands it of me. That’s why Pro Se Productions is now taking submissions for what will hopefully be the first of a yearly collection entitled NEW PULP UNITED! All proceeds from this collection will go into a fund that is aimed at supporting New Pulp creators when there are medical issues or emergency situations beyond normal limitations. A committee will be formed that will oversee the distribution of funds. A website and Facebook page will be established prior to the release of the first volume with more details concerning how a creator may request funds.
“Any creator, be they writer, artist, or editor that wants to contribute can submit a story,” explains Hancock, “to NEW PULP UNITED! With all money made going into the NPU fund, no royalties will be paid and Pro Se will absorb costs that we usually cover with royalties as well. Length of individual stories does not matter, only that the tales are some sort of largely unpublished Genre Fiction with an aim at adventure, action, thrills, and/or suspense. Previously published tales will be considered, but the collection should be more new material than anything else. Also, artists wishing to contribute can provide spot illustrations for stories. Editors wanting to help can also participate. All anyone who wants to be a part of this has to do is email me at email@example.com. Writers need to send me a few lines about what they intend to write and/or submit, and if the story is good and meets Pro Se’s standards, it’s in.”
NEW PULP UNITED! Is currently slated for publication in March 2019, and if subsequent volumes occur, they will be published in March of each year. This collection WILL ONLY go to print if the number of stories reaches a minimum of 30,000 words. There is no maximum limit. For a story to appear in the first collection, writers MUST email Hancock to show intent to participate and the final work needs to be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org no later than November 1, 2018.
Hancock says, “I know people will immediately have questions about how the money will be distributed, how it will be determined who is considered a New Pulp creator, and such things. To that end, all sales figures and earnings on this collection and subsequent volumes will be made public. As to who qualifies as a New Pulp writer, that will in part be up to the Committee to determine and guidelines will be set up to oversee that, although the intent here is to help, not to create a bureaucratic, complicated process. Right now, the focus has to be on seeing if the first collection even makes. If it doesn’t, it does not necessarily mean that there is a divide in the community. It may also indicate, though, that maybe there isn’t a community at all. Either way, Pro Se wants to help its creators and those outside our company who are why New Pulp exists today. This is a small way, but it is our way.”
For more information on this submissions call, please contact Hancock at email@example.com.
To learn more about Pro Se Productions, go to www.prose-press.com. Like Pro Se on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ProSeProductions
Michael A. Gonzales: Born on June 23, 1963, I’m a kid from Harlem who has been interested in books, movies and comics since I was a small boy, and knew I had to figure out a way to make those things a part of my life. I grew-up on 151 Street between Broadway and Riverside. My biological father lived in Westchester while my step-dad, a Puerto Rican barber/hustler, lived on 7th Ave and 123rd Street, so I always tell folks I had the best of both worlds.
DF: Where do you live and what do you do for a living?
MG: Currently I live in Baltimore. I write full-time, but I’ve had all kinds of jobs including working as a NYC foot messenger in the early 80s, working at a coffee shop restaurant, a clerk at Tower Records and, my longest job, was working at a NYC homeless shelter for a decade. I started out mopping floors, but a few years later worked in the recreation department with the kids. That was trip, believe me. It was also the height of crack, so the shelter could get wild. It was a family shelter…the first one I worked in was in Brooklyn in the middle of Fort Green Projects while the second was on Catherine Street on the Lower East Side. Needless to say, it was an adventure, but I was writing for various newspapers and magazines during that time as well.
DF: You have an interesting background. Tell us some of it.
MG: Growing-up in NYC in the ‘70s was a great adventure. Our block and building was full of kids, so I had a lot of friends. I was raised by my mom and grandma, but my biological father as well as my stepfather was a big part of my life. My stepfather adopted me, which is why my last name is Gonzales. His name was Carlos. My “real” father was named Lafayette Dixon and he came from down south. For most of my young life I went to private (The Modern School) or Catholic (St. Catherine of Genoa) school and was a kind of shy as a boy. I went to Rice High School for a year, then my mom moved to Baltimore in ‘78. Our NYC neighborhood crew went to the movies together every week, so I saw a lot of films as a boy. Also, my mom was a big reader and film lover. My mom was (is) the coolest and exposed me and baby brother (two years younger) to museums, concerts, Greenwich Village and all kinds of arty stuff. I was also a TV junkie and watched EVERYTHING from “The Brady Bunch” to cartoons to PBS.
DF: How long have you been writing?
MG: My mom said she used to put books and magazines in play pen and I would look at them like I was really reading them. I had a cool German godfather whose family came to NYC when Hitler came into power. Uncle Hans was a writer and one day, out of the blue, asked me to dictate a story to him. My mom had just taken me to see a movie called “The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight”, so I stole the plot for my own story that Uncle Hans typed up. I was eight years old. When I saw the collected pages when I was finished, I was hooked. That same year, Uncle Hans bought me an Olivetti typewriter and that was that. But, many years later, it was my late girlfriend Lesley Pitts who believed in my work and told me she would support me until I finally broke through. I wrote about her in my essay “Love in the Age of Prince.”
Love in the Age of Prince: https://catapult.co/stories/love-in-the-age-of-prince
DF: What have you learned about yourself through your writing?
MG: Besides the fact that I spend too much time living in the past, I’m not sure.
DF: What audience are you trying to reach with your work? IS there an audience for Michael A. Gonzales?
MG: That’s an interesting question, because I’ve been blessed to have written for a wide variety of publications from New York magazine to a ghetto-lit collection edited by Shannon Holmes to various erotica and crime fiction anthologies. I love telling stories, all kinds of stories, and always hoped my stories reached everyone from the b-boys on the corner to the be-boppers in a jazz club, from the around the was girls to the Spellman College grads. Also, while I write from an obvious Black perspective, I hope the stories can be appreciated by folks of all races.
DF: The first thing of yours that I read was “Jaguar and The Jungleland Boogie” in the BLACK PULP anthology. An improbable mash-up of Hip-Hop, New Jack Swing, Blaxploitation and Pulp, after a single reading it became one of my favorite stories in the book. What’s the origin of the story?
MG: Oh, man, thank you. I had started writing that story years before Black Pulp but asking to be a part of that book gave me the courage to finish it. Really, I wanted to write a hood version of Batman and Robin with a little bit of the Shadow mixed in. Growing-up, I loved Batman, the TV show and the comics. As a kid, my favorite Batman artist was the late Marshall Rodgers. In 1978, he and Denny O’Neil did a weird mash-up of comics and fiction called “Death Strikes at Midnight and Three” and I was so inspired by that. Comic Book artists and writers (but mostly artists) are a big influence on me and I channel their work when I’m writing those kinds of stories. Guys like Howard Chaykin, Michael Kaluta, Alex Nino, Berni Wrightson, Jim Steranko and, of course, Jack Kirby.
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.