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?

Kickin’ The Willy Bobo With…MARK BOUSQUET

Derrick Ferguson: We haven’t done one of these in years so we have to get the obligatory introductory stuff outta the way: Who is Mark Bousquet and why are you being interviewed here?

Mark Bousquet:  I was tempted to go back and grab whatever I wrote for an introduction to the last time we did that and just paste it here, but I suppose that would be cheating, eh? Who I am is a writer. Why I’m being interviewed here is because I’m a published writer.

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As we do this interview in mid-2019, I’ve recently relaunched my Gunfighter Gothic series in six new shiny editions, and just released THE MASKS OF SATURDAY MORNING, which is the first Spooky Lemon Mystery.

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DF: Where do you live and what do you do to keep yourself in cheese and crackers?

MB: I’m as Assistant Teaching Professor at Syracuse University, teaching writing. Not the fun writing that we’re gonna talk about in this interview, but the obligatory writing classes that students are forced to take. I try to make it fun and try to open up the student’s eyes as to what “writing” is: it’s not just the 5-paragraph research or opinion essays they likely got burned out on in high school. I try to give them assignments that have them create visual projects like comic books or infographics and “beyond writing” projects like podcasts and documentaries, where writing is a tool to get you to the end product.

I’ve recently moved to Scranton, Pennsylvania, so I’ll be looking at a 2-hour commute to and from work this fall. That sounds rough, but the nice thing about teaching college is that I’ll be able to work from home 2 or 3 days each week.

DF: How’s Darwin doing these days? What is he up to?

MB: Darwin is still going strong. He’s 12 and a half years old now, and while he can be an old man inside, he’s still his old energetic puppy dog self when we’re outside. Moving to a new city means everything is new to him and he loves little more than going someplace new. We’ve got a nice public park that we walk in most mornings that always gets his day started right.

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DF: You’re still writing but it seems as if your output has decreased. Why is that?

MB: A combination of factors. My current job is way more intensive than my previous jobs, so there’s less time to write, and I found that when I made time to sit down, the stories just weren’t flowing like they used to. Some of that was because the job was leaving my brain extra tired, but it was also because I didn’t know who I was as a writer, anymore. I got myself into trouble by creating series instead of stand-alone stories and so even in creating something new, I was adding another brick onto my back, committing me to writing some future project. I needed to take some time to clear the decks and while that’s an ongoing process, I feel good about putting an editing shine to the Gunfighter Gothic books.

I’ll write more Gunfighter Gothic stories but it’s also good, as is. I haven’t left anyone hanging. I need to do the same for ADVENTURES OF THE FIVE and STUFFED ANIMALS FOR HIRE, two kids’ series that each have 2 books published but need to have a third to close those stories off.

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DF: In what direction do you see your writing career going?

MB:  A greater balance between writing things that I’ll publish through Space Buggy Press and submissions to outside presses. I like having the control over a project that Space Buggy affords me, but I also like to be challenged by trying to write for different editors and publications.

DF: You wrote some of the best movie reviews I’ve ever read. Why did you stop? And are you ever going to start writing them again?

MB: Thank you, that’s very kind of you to say! I stopped because it was taking up too much of my writing time. When I was really cranking out the reviews, I was living in a new city, with only a few friends, no social life to speak of, and no car. I spent most of my time between walking Darwin and working. I didn’t have cable. I was doing Netflix by mail. So I had enough time to write creatively and write reviews and do some travel writing, but as the workload increased, as I bought a car, and entered into a fantastic relationship, there just wasn’t the time to produce the same amount of words. Something had to give and it was writing reviews. I don’t think I’ll ever go back to writing them full-time, but I still love talking about movies and TV shows.

DF: Speaking of movies, what are some of your favorite movies you’ve seen in 2019 so far?

MB:  With the move, I haven’t watched as many movies this year as I normally do and I don’t have any lesser-known gems to herald. In fact, looking at the Top 50 films of 2019 through mid-July, I’ve only seen seven of them: “Avengers: Endgame” (loved it), “Captain Marvel” (liked it), “John Wick 3” (liked it), “Shazam” (blah), “Godzilla: King of Monsters” (loved it), “Alita: Battle Angel” (awful), and “Fighting with My Family” (pleasant enough).

I have spent more time reading for fun this year than I have in recent years. I’ve just worked through a run of Robert Parker (Pale Kings and Princes), Ace Atkins (The Redeemers), Clive Cussler (The Chase), Ace Atkins writing as Robert Parker (Lullaby), and I’m currently reading Jo Nesbo’s The Devil’s Star.

These were not random choices. Between February and a week or so ago, I binged all 20 seasons of “Midsomer Murders”, which is the kind of detective show that’s cozy instead of hard-boiled. I got the idea that I wanted to write a cozy mystery set in Middle Earth but as I started to develop that idea, I realized that I already had a main cozy character in Spooky Lemon. I also had a novel finished that had been sitting on my computer for years. When I started self-publishing, I let too many books out too quickly but in recent years, I’ve held on to them too long, tinkering endlessly with them.

I decided to get Spooky out and work on that as my cozy and then take that other character and keep it in a fantasy setting, but write it more like a crime novel than a cozy mystery. I devoured the Robert Parker Spenser books as a teenager, so I started there and reread Pale Kings and Princes (I chose it for the simple fact that it was the oldest Spenser book my local library had on the shelves). Then I read Ace Atkins’ The Redeemers because I knew he’d written a bunch of Spenser novels. Then I took The Chase off of my shelf to read Clive Cussler’s historical pulp before coming to Lullaby, to see how Atkins adapted his style to Parker’s Spenser universe. And now I’m reading Nesbo, for a touch of non-American crime.

I noticed several things that have helped inform me about my current WIP. For instance, in the Spenser novels, the focus is always on Spenser. Atkins doesn’t put that weight on Quinn Colson, and in Redeemers, he spends nearly as much time with the bad guys as he does his main character. Cussler spends the bulk of his time with Isaac Bell, but isn’t afraid to leave him out of chapters and spend time with the bad guys and (to a lesser extent) secondary characters. Atkins’ Spenser book is written in the Parker mold — in other words, it’s not Ace Atkins’ take on Spenser, it’s Atkins channeling Parker’s take.

Who to spend time with is a critical decision because it will inform what kind of crime book you’re writing. In the Colson and Bell stories, there is no mystery, at all. We know who the bad guys are. And the main characters quickly figure out who the bad guys are, too. They might not have all the pieces to the puzzle, but they can see what the puzzle is gonna look like when it’s finished. They aren’t mysteries, at all. They’re pursuits. (With a healthy dash of subplots about the protagonists’ personal lives thrown in, too.) With the Spenser stories, there is a mystery to solve, but the emphasis isn’t on solving the crime nearly as much as it is simply hanging out with Spenser and Hawk and Susan. There’s a case to solve, but I’m always amazed how much time is devoted to following Spenser doing ordinary things: making dinner, sitting in his car on a stakeout, talking with Susan, driving around Boston.

The treatment of the protagonists’ masculinity was also telling. Spenser is completely comfortable with who he is. Colson knows who he is, but isn’t entirely comfortable with it. Isaac Bell is almost comically old school masculine. Nesbo’s Harry Hole is an emotional and physical wreck.

The same goes for the style of prose: Parker is quick and light. Cussler drowns in historical detail. Nesbo is as much literary as he is case-focused. Atkins sits somewhere in the middle, writing a contemporary western inside William Faulkner’s South.

With all this swirling in my head, I sat down to bring my character to life. All I really had was an idea for an opening scene. I knew how the scene would start (“A number of years ago, a green-skinned man walked out of the Wilds to stand before the King.”) and I knew how it would end (“The green man said, ‘I want to be a cop.'”). But that was it. I didn’t know what else would happen and I didn’t know what kind of story he would be in, but I kinda thought I wanted to do a “fantasy western.” But I wasn’t sure.

So I sat down and churned out 2,500 words to find out. I lost the character’s cozy first name (Aldous) and gained a more western name (Bridger). I came up with a basic plot. I gave him deputies and a witch for a pathologist. I built him a world to work in that’s more Scandinavian than Deadwood. I think I know that I want to write a crime story that’s more mystery than pursuit, but I also want to spend time away from the main character.

I think.

But that’s what the first draft is for, ain’t it?

DF: What are you working on now?

MB: The Sheriff Bridger Skunk fantasy crime book is where I’m living at the laptop most, but I’m also plotting out the second Spooky Lemon mystery in journals and working through the details of the long-promised World War II book, BLACK RHINOS.

DF: Can we expect to see more of AMERICAN HERCULES?

MB: Yes, but not as the stand-alone episodes that I published last time. I’ll finish off the modern spin on Hercules’ labors as individual episodes, but I’ll just release them all in one collection instead of dropping them one at a time.

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DF: Do you have any more children’s books planned?

MB:  I’ve been trying to write the follow-up to THE BEAR AT THE TOP OF THE STAIRS for a good two years and can’t seem to settle on a story that I like, so that’s back-burnered at the moment. I would like to get one kids book out in time for Christmas, but whether it will be the sequel to BEAR or an ADVENTURES OF THE FIVE book or STUFFED ANIMALS FOR HIRE book, I can’t say. I’m hoping one of those stories grabs me and demands to be written.

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DF: What can we expect to see from Mark Bousquet in 2019?

MB: I don’t know if I’ll have another novel published this year, but I’ll be writing like mad behind the scenes.

I’d like to do more travel writing, too, but even working on 4 – 6 hours of sleep a night, there’s only so much time in the day.

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DF: What’s a typical Day In The Life of Mark Bousquet like?

MB: I used to be the kind of writer who did his best work between midnight and 4 AM, but now my best work seems to come in the 6 AM to Whenever I Take Darwin For a Walk AM or late afternoon. So, it’s usually get up around 6, write, go for a hike with Darwin, breakfast, work stuff, lunch work stuff, errands, reading or writing, dinner, reading or writing, and spend as much time with the partner as possible.

That’ll change once the fall semester starts up again, but for now, I’ve got time to write and I’m taking advantage of it.

Derrick Ferguson: Anything else we need to know?

Mark Bousquet: ‘ve got a website at themarkbousquet.com where people can sign up for my free newsletters: one for my kids work and another for my genre work. Signing up for each of them gets people a free digital novel as thanks.

I think that covers it! Thanks, Derrick!

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