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.
I know what you’re thinking; “Damn, Derrick…this thing came out back in 2015 and you’re just now getting around to reading and reviewing it?” Well, I did read it back in 2015 and fully intended to write up a review of it back then as I am an avid fan of the work of Joel Jenkins and Percival Constantine. But as so many of my editors/collaborators know, I’m so easily distracted by bright shiny objects. But thanks to Christofer Nigro (who I’ve since also become a fan of) I revisited this book and ta-da…here at last is the review. I hope it’s worth the wait.
“Black-Hearted Killers: A Monica Killingsworth Story” by Joel Jenkins. Monica Killingsworth is one of Joel’s favorite characters. I can tell because of my firm belief that if a writer is truly having fun writing a story/novel then that fun can’t help but be translated to their prose. He’s written several stories about Monica, all of which I recommend. The story itself is in Full Tilt Boogie Action Movie In Prose Mode from start to finish. The only drawback I can point to here is that for somebody like me who has read other Monica Killingsworth stories and so am familiar with the character and her background so that I was able to fill in the gaps from memory. But for somebody who is coming to the character cold they might be a bit bewildered by exactly who these people are and what’s going on. But if all you’re looking for is plenty of shootouts, wiseass dialog and eccentric characters, you should give this one a try. I especially liked how the ending turned out to be a real surprise.
“The Damsel of Disaster” by Christofer Nigro. Christofer does a good job of setting up the scene, letting us know where and when we are. I like that he sets the story in Buffalo as it’s a good reminder than organized crime was operating everywhere and not just in New York City and Chicago. But I do question as to why one mob boss would bring along his daughter and the other one would bring along his girlfriend to a sit-down where they are going to discuss things that are best not discussed with potential witnesses in the room. He’s got good characters and a solid plot but everything feels compressed and rushed and just shoved into too small a space for events to happen organically. Too many moments in the story feel like they happen just because Christofer wanted them to happen and not because they came from the interaction of the characters and the decisions that they make. But overall, it’s a well-paced story that doesn’t slow down for a bit and it does the job it’s supposed to do; tell a hard and brutal story about hard and brutal people and on that level, it succeeds.
“Tragic Like A Torch Song” by Shannon Muir. If I had to categorize the stories so far, I’d say the first one is 1980s Action Movie while the second is 1930s Warner Bros Gangster. This one is firmly in the arena of Film Noir. I could easily visualize this story in nourish black & white while reading it. Torch singer Hazel Atwood agrees to do some amateur detective work for her manager Frank who thinks his wife is cheating on him. The manager is skeptical but Hazel’s father used to be a P.I. and she persuades him that since she knows Hazel, Frank’s wife won’t be suspicious if she does her snooping around. When Frank turns up dead shortly afterwards, everybody is not only suspicious, they’re suspects as well. But Frank’s murder isn’t the only mystery to be solved. There’s also the secret of Hazel’s parentage that gets coiled up in Frank’s murder and she needs to unravel the both of them. Out of all the stories in the book, this is the one you’ve got to pay the most attention to because the solution to both mysteries is both tricky and convoluted. I’m not ashamed to admit that I had to read the ending twice to make sure I understood how and why everybody and everything was connected.
“Shikata Ga Nai” by Percival Constantine. Know what I miss? Private eyes who keep a bottle of booze in their lower right-hand desk drawer, a loaded .38 revolver in the pocket of their trench coat and who solve their cases with experience and knowledge of human nature along with sheer brainpower instead of computers and DNA results. Private investigator Kyoko Nakamura is just such a private eye. In a relatively short story, Kyoko comes to life and Percival uses the location of Osaka, Japan almost as another character in the story. The missing person case Kyoko accepts at first appears to be a fairly easy one. But that’s before the Yakuza gets involved and soon Kyoko has a hired killer stalking her. This isn’t a twisty, convoluted mystery where you have to really work to make sense of what is going on but it is an excellent introduction to the character of Kyoko Nakamura and her world (Note to Christofer Nigro: go read this story for the dialog. THIS is how people in this kind of story talk)
Even though it was published in 2015, this could be the perfect time for THE DAME DID IT to be discovered and find an audience as we’re seeing strong women characters in prose, TV and movies stepping into the spotlight in all manner of fresh, new and exciting ways. A book of stories, all with female protagonists kicking ass and taking names may have been ahead of it’s time in 2015 but in 2018 it’s right on time. Enjoy.