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!
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.
Sean Taylor: He’s just a man whose circumstances got beyond his control, beyond his control. I’m Kilroy. Okay, maybe not.
I’ll drop the official bio instead:
Sean Taylor is an award-winning writer of stories. He grew up telling lies, and he got pretty good at it, so now he writes them into full-blown adventures for comic books, graphic novels, magazines, book anthologies and novels. He makes stuff up for money, and he writes it down for fun. He’s a lucky fellow that way.
He’s best known for his work on the best-selling Gene Simmons Dominatrix comic book series from IDW Publishing and Simmons Comics Group. He has also written comics for TV properties such as the top-rated Oxygen Network series The Bad Girls Club. His other forays into fiction include such realms as steampunk, pulp, young adult, fantasy, super heroes, sci-fi, and even samurai frogs on horseback (seriously, don’t laugh). However, his favorite contribution to the world will be as the writer/editor who invented the genre and coined the term “Hookerpunk.”
ST: I’ve been everything from a corporate media strategist to a local newspaper editor, and I’ve written comics and short stories and even a novel thus far, but for the day job at the moment, I edit for several places as a freelancers/contractor to keep the bills paid. It’s a dirty job, as they say, but someone’s got to love it.
DF: How long have you been writing and what have you learned about yourself through your writing?
ST: My first magazine article was in 1991, a marketing article about doing a summer reading display for a bookstores to highlight summer book sales. It was a hit, and I kept doing it. My first short story was publishing in 1995 in O’ Georgia: A Collection of Georgia’s Newest and Most Promising Writers, and I caught the bug and haven’t stopped yet.
What have I learned? Well, I’ve learned how to survive close to the poverty line, that’s for sure. Writing and editing is one of those comes and goes industries, and in an economy as volatile as the U.S. one has been during the years I’ve been a writer and editor, it’s bounced up and down several time. But what I learned from all that is that writing is something I make time to do whether or not it’s paying the bills. It’s more a calling than a career choice.
DF: What Next Big Project are you working on now?
ST: My current projects are a few short stories I have to knock out in order to get to the Next Big Project. I’ve got a Golden Amazon, Phantom Detective, and Secret Agent X story for Moonstone, then a novella for my Spy Candy property at Pro Se. After that, I’ll finally be free to get back on my Armless O’Neil novel for the Pulp Obscura line. That one’s going to be so much fun. I love Armless so hard. He’s more fun to write than just about any characters I know. I’m also in the process of releasing a book of essays on writing and reading, along the lines of the kind of articles I write for my blog. I did mention my blog, right? Bad Girls, Good Guys, and Two-Fisted Action. (www.badgirlsgoodguys.com)
DF: What audience are you trying to reach with your work? Is there an audience for Sean Taylor?
ST: That’s a tough one because I have my hands in so many writing pies. On the one hand, I write a lot, a big whole lot, of New Pulp tales. Then I also can’t quite pull myself away from horror. And I got my start in lit fiction and super-hero prose. Ultimately, I guess, I’m writing for an audience that likes a sense of adventure and wonder to go along with interesting characters. I think somewhere deep inside me is a magical realism writer who likes to paint the edges of my work with extraordinary stuff from time to time.
DF: What is the one book or story of yours you would recommend to somebody to start with who is not familiar with your work? And why that particular book or story?
ST: Ouch. Which child will best show off my Roman nose? Hmmm… I suppose the truest picture of who I am comes through the stories in Show Me A Hero, my collection of super-hero tales from Cyber Age Adventures/iHero Entertainment. But if you want to see the newer me, you’ll need to read The Ruby Files. That one really hits on all cylinders of who I am too. A little bit of lit (that holds on doggedly), and a lot of action and character, with a bit of mischief in taking the truth of history (racism, sexism) and dragging it into the light to try to make a point about today too.
DF: How much room in your head do you allow critics and criticism to occupy?
ST: Just what is needed. You take the good, you take the bad, you take ’em both and then you have… Well, not The Facts of Life, but something you can use to improve. If it doesn’t help me improve my work, then there’s no room for it up in my head.
DF: This has been a good year for Rick Ruby. Tell us the origins of the character.
ST: Good ol’ Rick Ruby came about when I suckerpunched Bobby Nash in The Pulp Factory Yahoo Group list. We had talked about a Richard Diamond anthology very vaguely, and then the idea of taking that idea, tweaking the hell out of it, and making it all ours hit me one day, and suddenly I posted in the group, dragging Bobby into my madness, and like the wonderful partner in crime (and writing) he is, he just ran with it.
Jump forward a few weeks or so, when he and I are in a Golden Corral, putting together a story bible for the character. Between bites of steak and chicken, we talking about bloody murders and bad guys and stealing diamonds and putting meat on Ruby’s back-story. To say that the other patrons looked at us funny would be an understatement.
When we fleshed him out, we knew most of all that even though folks like Spade and Diamond and even Hammer were our starting point, we wanted something different. And that’s where the idea of a white man in two worlds, the black, other side of the tracks, world and rich white uppercrust world of the ’30s, came from. We wanted a man who was a sort of pure-hearted louse because the world didn’t give him any other options.
DF: What else have you got planned for Rick Ruby? Comic books? Graphic Novels? TV show?
ST: At this point we’re just riding the wave with our three (yes, that’s right—THREE) Pulp Factory Awards for The Ruby Files Vol. 2. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have some awesome plans for Rick and his cast. For starters, we’re working on Vol. 3 for a release date early next year, and you’re going to be a big part of that one, which I can’t wait to read. After that, there will be a Rick Ruby novel, and then even further out, we’ll get into Rick’s legacy when I write the adventures of his grandson in something tentatively titled The Ruby Legacy.
I’d love to see comics and TV, but baby steps, Bill Murray, baby steps.
DF: What are your thoughts on where New Pulp is at today?
ST: I just wrote an essay on this for my upcoming book Giddy and Euphoric: Essays on Writing and Reading (And Ray Bradbury). I think New Pulp is in a pretty enviable spot right now. Now that it’s outgrown its source material and can play with style instead of just characters or settings, New Pulp is literally being made and remade every day.
We have the freedom to tell new stories about nostalgic characters and legacy characters we can add to their stories. We have the freedom to create new characters that share their type and tone. And we have the freedom to simply use the style of those stories to create something even more new and original than either of those.
In a lot of ways we New Pulp writers are just laying claim to the summer reading adventure or crime novel and taking them back home to the stuff that influenced them in the first place. Only we doing it with bigger settings, more varied characters, and lots more panache.
DF: Is New Pulp going anywhere? If so, where is it going? If not, why isn’t it?
ST: Man, I really hope so. I think it’s probably becoming more broad in its definition, like I hinted it above. One publisher has even already embraced the term “Genre” rather than “New Pulp” for its catalog, and I think that’s probably a good thing. I have no problem with New Pulp being more a movement than a genre, because it’s about tone and style and influence than it is about a marketing term or creating a new section in the local Barnes & Noble.
DF: In what direction do you think your work is going?
ST: Make that “in what directions” do I think my work is going, because I’m always moving in about three different directions.
I’m pretty sure at this point that my stories are settling into one of two camps: pulpy tales and horror stories. In my pulp stuff I’m starting to move mainly into just novels and will be weaning myself away from the short stories, except in a few, rare cases. As for my horror work, that’s going to always be short stories. There’s very little I enjoy writing more than horror short stories. That’s an art form I’ll never be able to leave behind.
DF: Netflix calls you up and says they’re going to spend fifty million to turn one of your books into a twelve-episode series. They’ll let you pick the book and one director for all twelve episodes. Which book and which director?
ST: As much as I’d love to see a Fishnet Angel series based on my iHero Entertainment/Cyber Age Adventures tales and the Shooting Star Comics comic book, I think at this point, I’d still have to zero on in Rick Ruby. I think an ongoing series with an underlying C-plot (a la Longmire) would be something that could really make Ruby a hit visually. Besides, I like very few things more than a good period piece on TV.
DF: What’s a typical Day in The Life of Sean Taylor like?
ST: As the old saying goes: Shit, Shower, and Shave, only often without all that pesky shaving nonsense. I’m a contract editor by trade right now, so if there’s work in my inbox, I’m off to the Grayson Coffee House to put lots of red marks all over the pages I’ve been sent. If I have that rare day off, I’ll usually be writing at either the coffee house or my home office. Wash, rinse, and repeat, with occasional Netflix, Amazon, or anime binges thrown in for relaxation.
Derrick Ferguson: Anything else we should know?
Sean Taylor: I once had to break a date because I fell down an elevator shaft, and no, she didn’t believe me either. Which was a bummer. She was cute.
I lost a job one because of a pair of thong. Long story, but it involved Cafepress, a requested item for a friend, and a national religious organization. And a friend in my corner who wished he had a baseball bat at the time. But everything’s good now.
I have two new books coming out pretty soon.
One will be a collection of essays about the art and craft of writing and reading— Giddy and Euphoric: Essays on Writing and Reading (And Ray Bradbury). Anyone who follows my work will know how much I love to pontificate about the craft. What can I say? I’m a wordy fellow.
The other will be a collection of horror stories I’ve written, and it’ll be called A Crowd in Babylon and Other Dark Tales. I’m really looking forward to that one too because, like I said earlier, I love horror stories, and done right, I don’t think there’s a much better American art form. It’s the jazz of genre stories, I think.
If you’re among those who saw BLACK PANTHER and loved it…
…and if you didn’t love it I’m not sure we can still be friends. But I digress…
…you’re probably salivating and looking forward to more adventures of King T’Challa and wondering how you’re going to fill your entertainment hours with more of the same. You desperately crave for more fantastic tales of black heroes and heroines to feed your stimulated imagination now that your creative juices are flowing and your soul seeks to enrich itself with legends and stories of heroes and heroines who can stand shoulder to shoulder with T’Challa, Princess Shuri, Nakia, Okoye and M’Baku.
Look no more.
There’s a legion of staggeringly creative black writers and artists that have been working like gubmint mules for years producing just those kinds of stories. Some of their names you know. Charles Saunders. Milton Davis. Balogun Ojetade. Gerald L. Coleman. Valjeanne Jeffers. Jeff Carroll. Nicole Givens Kurtz. Toi Thomas. Alicia MCalla. Thaddeus Howze. Brian W. Parker. Ronald T. Jones. Mshindo Kuumba. Jarvis Sheffield.
Some names you don’t. But that’s okay. There’s two places you should start to learn the names you’re not familiar with.
So now you don’t have to wait. Because there is more wonder and adventure out there than I think you didn’t know existed. And I envy you the discovery. Wakanda is not just a country. It is not just a warrior spirit and code. It is not just a technology. Although it embraces and celebrates all of these.
Wakanda is also a family of imagination. Because we can dream our future into reality.
And in this…we are all this day and forevermore citizens of Wakanda.
“Wakanda will no longer watch from the shadows. We cannot. We must not. We will work to be an example of how we, as brothers and sisters on this earth, should treat each other. Now, more than ever, the illusions of division threaten our very existence. We all know the truth: more connects us than separates us. But in times of crisis the wise build bridges, while the foolish build barriers. We must find a way to look after one another, as if we were one single tribe.”
You know that old wheeze about as soon as a person comes into of a lot of money it changes them? I subscribe to a different theory. I think that acquiring a lot of money just makes you more of what you already are. If you were a generous, giving person before you became rich, chances are you’ll do more charity work with that money and help to make somebody’s world a little bit brighter. If you were an asshole before you became rich then the odds are that now that you have an AmEx Centurion card, you’re a raging asshole.
What has all this got to do with Mark Bosuquet’s superhero novel; USED TO BE: THE KID RAPSCALLION STORY? Because most of the characters in his novel follow this principal, I think. Their superpowers just make them more of what they already are. Take our POV character, Jason Kitmore aka Kid Rapscallion. Orphaned at an early age and adopted by the superhero Rapscallion to be his sidekick he’s sexually abused (and not by whom you’re thinking of either) and he takes designer drugs to enhance his physical abilities in order to be a proper superhero. Is it any wonder as an adult, out on his own and no longer just a sidekick he becomes hooked on cocaine and kinky sex? As I got deeper into the novel and more of Jason’s personality was explored and revealed I realized what Mark was doing. In the hands of a lesser writer he would have let Jason off the hook and skewed us into feeling sorry for Jason, leading us to think that Jason never had a chance in life. But I don’t think that such is the case. I think that Jason Kitmore would have been a mightily screwed up individual without the sexual abuse, the drugs or the superpowers. Such is the strength of the voice of that character.
And that is what pulled me through USED TO BE: THE KID RAPSCALLION STORY. The voices of the characters who are all so strong and so individual that I was actually hearing them in my head (that doesn’t happen nearly as much as it should when I’m reading a book these days) with their own inflections and distinctive speech patterns. And since the book takes us inside Mark’s superhero community and shows us the people behind the costumes and superpowers it’s important that we know who’s talking as soon as they speak. And there was never a point where I had to go back and re-read a paragraph because I was confused as to who was saying what to whom.
Sure, this being a modern-day superhero novel there is an abundance of profanity, sex and drug use. But Mark isn’t using it to shock. And most certainly if you’ve been reading comic books for the past twenty years then I don’t think there’s anything here that you already haven’t seen. And to be honest, he explores certain aspects of superpower enhanced sex I’ve always wondered about (oh, come on…like you haven’t thought what the sex life of Bouncing Boy and Duo Damsel or Mr. Fantastic and The Invisible Woman must be like) Especially the relationship between Kid Rapscallion and Duplication Girl which is…unique, to put it mildly.
Mark goes ahead and takes the risk of telling his story in the present tense and he jumps back and forth in time. I say risk because if you’re not willing to invest the time and let the story unfold the way it has to in order to get to where it and you has to go, then you’re going to get frustrated. And you shouldn’t. The disconnected chronology is the prose equivalent of how most people tell a story verbally. They jump around. They forget important points and have to go back to fill in those points. They emphasize and polish up their own behavior while misrepresenting the motives and behavior of others. Mark uses the technique quite well to build suspense at key points of the narrative, especially when the 9/11 terrorist attack happens and catches the superhero community totally by surprise and everybody scrambles around trying to cover their own asses.
Should you read USED TO BE: THE KID RAPSCALLION STORY? If you’ve read Mark Bosuquet’s other works then I don’t have to give you the hard sell. You know his talents as a writer and you know that he delivers a solid piece of entertainment every time he steps up. If you’ve never read anything by Mark before I’d actually recommend you try “The Haunting of Kraken Moor” first but that’s because it’s my favorite thing he’s written so far. And I think it’s a good way to ease you into Mark’s style and his approach to storytelling. But hey, if you’re a superhero fan (and aren’t all of us superhero fans by now?) then you certainly won’t be wasting your time or your money with USED TO BE: THE KID RAPSCALLION STORY.