Kickin’ The Willy Bobo With…BERTRAM GIBBS

Derrick Ferguson: It’s been three long years since we did this last so we have to do this obligatory bit of business for the people that came in late. So here we go: Who Is Bertram Gibbs?

Bertram Gibbs: Husband, father, writer, brutally sarcastic curmudgeon, cinema, television, and comic book historian, purveyor of true crime stories, collector of oddities. 

DF: Where do you live and what do you tell the IRS it is that you do for your cheese and crackers? 

BG: While I am always saying/reminding people I’m from the Bronx, New York, I live in Lynn, Massachusetts.  I do issue the warning that I have constructed an electrified moat around my home (oft referred to as ‘The Psychedelic Shack’) and is guarded by a bevy of attack gerbils.  That’s on top of my rescue pup and three cats. Regarding the felines, one is a spastic germaphobe, one constantly retreats to the basement to work on her thermo-nuclear device, and the last one sits calmly, staring and plotting the demise of us all.

DF: One of the things that intrigued me about you right from the start is your background so yes, I’m gonna make you tell the folks at home about it. Proceed.

BG: OH, C’MON!!!

My rapier wit, my brutal sarcasm (re-mentioned in case the readers skipped over the first part), my near-encyclopedic knowledge of films, my love of comic books, and my cinematic writing style which lets the readers ‘see’ the story they’re reading.  But originally, we crossed paths when I was writing for Curtis Fernlund’s Justice League fan fiction site where he was great and righteous enough to publish a novel I wrote (that DC/Warner wouldn’t) in monthly installments (The Return of BWAH-HAH-HA, for those who came in late).  It was a team-up story with a lot of cameos from the DC heroes’ roster.  I decided to let Plastic Man, The Blue Beetle (Ted Kord) and Booster Gold go after Lex Luthor, using their combined powers of annoyance.  This was done in the 80s period where super heroism was mixed with outlandish comedy.  I tried to do all the characters justice and threw a few comedic moments that the DC writers didn’t come up with.

DF: How long have you been writing?

BG: YEESH!  If you want photographic proof of when I started, there’s a pic of me at 4 years old, frowning in front of a typewriter (I’ve aged of course, but the frowning rictus remains the same).  If you asked Ma, she would say it was about the time I learned to read on my own; which was at 3.  Ma had read me comics since I was aware enough to question the bubbles above the superheroes.  One day, after a bedtime story, I complained (yeah; I’ve been doing that since birth) that I didn’t like the story.  She said, ‘So, go write one!’  Been writing ever since.

Ma was my biggest fan and harshest critic.  I would sit in my room, writing in longhand, finish the dozen or so pages and pass it to her for review.  She would sit in her chair, a cup of tea on the ever-present folding TV tray next to her chair, going over page after page until she was done.  One of two things would happen: Ma would either tell me she liked it, commenting on the plot, the story structure, the characters, then give a few tips on how I could improve it.  Or, she would lock eyes with me, take a sip of tea, then tear the sheets of paper in half, then in haves again, telling me why the story didn’t work, if it seemed like I used a known character or one from something else I wrote, or if it was crap to begin with, then proceed in telling me why she felt it was crap.  All the while smiling under her dark eyes and speaking in her soft Lauren Bacall voice.  Which could also go full New York with a Jewish twang.

True, the latter could be ego-blitzing, but living in a sarcastic environment, where the digs flew like a flock of insane geese, it thickened my skin.  And helped me deal with rejection.

Quick Ma story showing her caustic remarks weren’t just meant for the family: She had to go through a parents/teacher’s night and each one (there were eight in total) said that I was attentive, had my homework down, always willing to help out, polite, always had my hand raised with an answer, and things like that.  Ma got bored of hearing the stings of praise by the third teacher.  The last one said basically the same thing as the others, except she added, ‘When Bertram was born, they broke the mold!’  Ma said in her dangerous monotone, ‘And to make sure there were no duplicates, we backed a truck over the pieces.’

DF: In the three years since we last did this, have you found an audience for Bertram Gibbs or have they found you?

BG: A little bit of each.  I’ve been passing my stories around to different people; professionals and John Q Public.  The civilians really like them; so did some of the professionals, but not enough to publish them because they did not fit into a particular literary niche.  And because my stories read like a film instead of a book, the few professionals who responded felt they were off-putting because I did not adhere to a particular format.

Between the end of last year all the way into the Spring, a filmmaker asked to do a film adaptation of The First Thing We Do.  Because I lack the talent to do screenwriting, the gent happily took on that task.  What came from that was very disconcerting.

He had merged one or two characters, changed the gender on one, removed key murders, altered the motivation of the villain, as well as the ending, and because the story revolves around my two NYPD Homicide detectives, Desmond Fine and Frank Costa, versus them being equals, he tried to make one the older, senior detective and the other the newbie on the force.  That caused a bit of a back and forth brouhaha between us because I explained – repeatedly – that a pairing of that type was an overused film trope that went back to Kirk Douglas’ ‘The Detective’. 

Then it occurred to me that even if he changed the characters and the events from the book for a film, it did not change what I wrote in any way.  I decided to allow him to make whatever changes he wanted to (within reason) because if/when the film came out, it would turn people towards the book.  The readers would see what as written versus what they saw and determine which was done better.

End result: he couldn’t get the funding to get the production off the ground.  That equally saddened and overjoyed me.  Sure, I was disappointed, but felt that if the book was in the right hands, and the time was right, a film would be made based on my story and characters one day.

DF: The world has changed in extraordinary ways in the past three years. How has it affected your writing? Has it affected it at all?

BG: If anything, the dark paranoia and tenuous nature of the world; especially 2020, has spurred my imagination.  Part of my work has more of a cynical edge, and part has more humanity running through it.  Many I know are going through anger issues, anxiety attacks and increasing bouts of worry and depression.  But they are what they are and even as bad or horrific as they are – in my mind – they’re only temporary.  We have gone through troubling times and have gotten over them.  WW1, WW2, the Korean, Vietnam and Iraq wars. The assassination of both Kennedys, King, Malcom.  9-11. The Oklahoma bombing.  Waco. School shootings, mass murders. The murders of Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Breonna Taylor, Trayvon Martin, George Floyd, and others. And on.  And on.  Ad infinitum.  I am old enough to remember them all.  That said, I am fully aware of the social and political unrest that appears on the news every other minute, but throughout it all, I am hopeful.  We, as humanity, have come out of each one a little more cynical, but – for the most part – on the better side.  Maybe not as complete as we’d like it, but they’re stages in our being.  It’s an understanding that we, as a society, are broken.  And we’ve known this all along, but now and once again we have to face the shattered pieces and fix it.

Which is why I write.  I create worlds where this; our reality, doesn’t exist.  And if it does, it does in a somewhat different way.  Despite the dark, weird and otherworldliness of my stories, there’s a degree of hope at the end.  And if there isn’t, the ‘bad guy’ gets their due.  Either way, I like to see my stories as a distraction to our day to day.  Something to take your mind away, if only for a few minutes.  To give you a moment of peace so you’re not dwelling on what’s going on around you.

DF: Whenever I recommend your work to anybody I always tell them to start with THE FIRST THING WE DO… is that fair of me?

Some months back, I would have said yes, but these days, no.  To clarify that answer, I have to tell you a story, and we all know that stories are a part of life.

When I first met my publisher, the company published ‘Reflections From the Abyss’.  Because of my aversion to sequels and feeling that if you can tell a story the way you want it, it should be a one-and-done.  That is how I wrote ‘Reflections’.  The publisher demanded a follow-up story and because the book had a finite ending, there was no logical way to create a ‘next chapter’.  But the requests continued and my imagination led me to think in a cinematic way.  Like in films, you could do a prequel; a story that happened before the story.  So, using my detectives, Desmond Fine and Frank Costa, I came up with an earlier case that became ‘The First Thing We Do’.  After that was published, the kinks in the fabric started to show.

Seeing that how I ended ‘First’ did not refer chronologically to how ‘Reflections’ began, I knew I had to write a bridging piece that tied both works together.  That story is called ‘The Cup of Their Deservings’.  At the same time, the publisher began to make very drastic changes in how their author’s work was to be published (marketing, the cost of book covers – which had to be from their house artist -, editing, the actual publishing, and how the nut fell into the author’s lap).  While I debated each point, a friend – who is a big fan of my detectives – pushed me to write another book with Fine and Costa.  Again, ‘Reflections’ had such a finite ending, it really couldn’t be done without stretching the reality I created.  In short, ‘Reflections From the Abyss’, while being published first, is actually the third in the series, and ‘The First Thing We Do’, is the first story while ‘The Cup of Their Deservings’ is the second.  I can send you a stack of 8 x 10 colored glossy photographs with circles and arrows and paragraphs on the back if you’re confused by this point. 

Then thanks to my watching the ‘Forensic Files’ show, I figured out how to do a follow-up story to ‘Reflections’ and keep the reality, well, real.

Suddenly, the head of the publishing company became ill and subsequently passed away.  The person who took over started sending a battery of emails, reassuring the authors that their work would not go unattended.  They were followed by more emails that invited the authors to submit more work, requesting said authors to invite new and unpublished authors to join, and adding a new price structure that seemed legit if you were willing to hock your mother’s respirator to get your work published through them. 

Warning: When a publisher sends you an email filled with spelling and grammatical errors, moonwalk the hell out of there.

So, I did a test:  I sent a copy of the bridging story that was purposefully quite graphic in violence, profane past the point of shock value and purposely filled with spelling and continuity errors.  I expected that these glaring points would be mentioned and a request for a rewrite would follow.  What I received was a contract to publish it, filled with said new and improved pricing structures and detailed sections on what they would not do to push the book; which was just about everything.  I requested the full rights of ‘Reflection’ and ‘First’ and ended my relationship with the publisher.

So, because both books are out of print, you may find them online somewhere, but will have to pay a hefty price for them.  But no worries; as the Joker said, ‘It’s all part of the plan’.

DF: Tell us about NO WORD OF A LIE.

‘No Word of A Lie’ is Stage One in my nefarious plot for world domination.  The book has 14 short (and in some cases, not-so-short) stories covering different genres.  Science fiction, modern fantasy, satire, straight drama, realistic horror, comedic; all stories that I feel everyone will enjoy.  Taken from the Amazon site:

‘A man dies and finds Heaven is not as perfect as advertised.  Two friends and how a long-hidden secret change everything.  What goes on in a self-help group.  A man who is stalked by himself.  A 40s private eye works to solve the case of an impossible murder in modern-day Hollywood.  A serial killer is forced to take a hard look at his misdeeds.  The ultimate workout program.  A man finds out how far he will go to change his life.

These stories and more.

As you turn each page, you’ll find No Word of A Lie.’

At this point, the book is only available in Kindle format.  Maybe as time moves forward, I will include a paperback edition.  But, as it stands now, you have a collection that is a little over 500 pages for $3.04 a pop, so versus adding a luggage rack to lug the thing around in to your cart, I think you’re getting a pretty decent bargain. 

DF: What other pots you got boiling on the stove?

BG: Now that I am publishing my work through Amazon, I intend to re-publish my crime thrillers in book order.  In a short time, you’ll have a slightly revamped and updated ‘The First Thing We Do’, ‘The Cup of Their Deservings’, ‘Reflection From the Abyss’ and the other dozen or so books I’ve written that follow.

I will also be publishing another mystery, outside of the Fine and Costa pieces, called ‘Split Decisions’, and my irreverent take on the superhero genre, called ‘The Collector’.  There’s also a second book of shorts in the making.

DF: What’s A Typical Day In The Life of Bertram Gibbs like?

BG: Since the fun of COVID-19, I’ve been working from home.  I get up around 5:15, have my coffee and alternate between watching the news and a show I have on DVR (presently, it’s the first season of Star Trek: Discovery).  Then around 6:20, I do a moderate workout with weights, then assist my wife in getting ready for her day at the office (she does not work remotely).  Then I begin my job in credit and collections.  Insert 16-ounce mugs of coffee through the day.  Because I have my work laptop on the same long desk as the home computer, I roll in my chair from computer to computer, office-working on one while writing or noodling on a story on the other.  So, if a camera was filming me, it would be like watching a tennis match with me rolling from one end of the desk to the other.  I tend to do my stories on weekdays so I can devote my time to hanging out with my wife in the evenings and weekends.  Of course, there will be moments when my brain returns to a story and I go to add a line or page or two.  My wife is my inspiration; my muse, and she thankfully understands when I get that glazed look in my eyes (outside of my generally glazed look) and skips to the office to go back to a story.  Or begin a new one.

Wash, rinse, repeat.

I’m hoping, as all writers do, that No Word of A Lie is a springboard to being able to write fulltime.  A bum can dream.  Writing is the best thing I do.  Legally, anywho . . .

Derrick Ferguson: Anything else we should or need to know?

Bertram Gibbs: There are probably some odds and sods I could add, but they’d probably bore you to tears (I know it does me).  So, I will leave it to your readers to ask whatever question they feel the need to ask.  I will respond, but will warn you to expect a modicum of sarcasm in my answers.  As Ma has said, my level of sarcasm could power a third-world country.

NO WORD OF A LIE is now available on Amazon. All you got to do is bounce over to HERE

And Bertram is a really entertaining guy to hang out with. Why not slide on over to his Facebook page and make friends?