Running With Wild Cats

Rook Volume 5Let’s travel back in time, to the long-ago era that was 2007. By this time, I had been writing professionally for a few years, having worked for Marvel Comics on their Encyclopedia series and the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe. Inspired by Ron Forter & Gordon Linzner’s The Hounds of Hell I had even begun self-publishing some New Pulp stories. Already I had released a couple of Rook novellas (Lucifer’s Cage and Kingdom of Blood), as well as Conquerors of Shadow, which was my love letter to Edgar Rice Burroughs.

I wanted more.

Self-publishing gives you tremendous freedom but it also takes away from what I really like to do — which is write. I’m fine with giving up a measure of control over the finished product if somebody else will handle all the formatting and editing that I really don’t want to do.

So I began to consider looking for a publisher. The obvious choice was the folks who had published The Hounds of Hell — not only had that book inspired me in the first place but at the time I didn’t know of anyone else who was publishing that sort of pulp fiction. Keep in mind that this predated Pro Se Press and so many of the others. So I wrote to the two Rons (Hanna and Fortier, who were working together at Wild Cat Books) and pitched them on my Rook series. Perhaps they could re-publish the first two novellas and I could add several new shorts to round out the package? They were agreeable and we were set.

Only about a week or two later, I got an email saying that the Rons had decided to part ways. I’m not going to go into the whys of that, though I’ve heard a good bit from both sides. What’s important for our purposes is that I was given a choice — I could go with Ron Fortier and his writers or I could stay with Ron Hanna, who planned to continue publishing New Pulp. Fortier was planning to start up his own company (this would become Airship 27) but initially had no idea how quick or how slow this might end up being. It ended up not being all that long but I didn’t know that at the time. I elected to stay with Hanna because he could get my book into print the fastest.

The first volume of The Rook came out and we were all happy about it. My buddy Storn Cook did the cover and it looked aces. Following on that, I ended up writing a lot for Wild Cat Books over the next few years — the first five volumes of The Rook series, Guan-Yin and the Horrors of Skull Island, The Damned Thing, Rabbit Heart, Savage Tales of Ki-Gor, etc.

Wild Cat was publishing other things, as well, but I think it’s safe to say that I had become their primary source for new books. I’m not tooting my own horn there because sales weren’t great — I’m simply speaking about the quantity of things I was producing.

WCB was wonderful in giving me tons of freedom. Too much freedom, in fact! They did little in the way of editing and hardly ever said “No,” which is a dangerous thing to give to creative types. Left to my own devices, I sometimes went off on weird tangents. I need an editor to occasionally say, “Um… Hmm. No.” So these were good and bad times — good in the sense that I was writing like a madman and having fun. Bad because some of the finished product was not particularly professional and I was making… well, nothing. Ron occasionally sent me money if I inquired about it but the sales he reported were miniscule. I’m not saying he was lying but I do think he’d agree that his business sense is not the best — he’s a fan of pulp and loves helping produce it but he’s not an entrepreneur in the money-making sense. With the eBook sales, I knew many people who claimed to be buying and reading my stuff but the sales indicated that this was not the case. There was also the issue of promotion — WCB generally released the books and that was it. I tried to push them myself, of course, but I wanted to have someone help me with the marketing.

Eventually, I decided to branch out. I wrote for other companies and once Pro Se Press came along, I took my creations over there and licensed them to Pro Se. I left my back catalog at Wild Cat Books out of respect for Ron Hanna as I didn’t want to gut the majority of their line. For awhile, I produced new Rook material for Pro Se, while the old books were still with WCB. I finally decided to remove my books entirely from WCB because sales at Pro Se were pretty good… and yet I was making nothing from the older books at WCB. That was strange to me — again, I’m sure that Ron was very honest with me about the sales figures but my thought was that if the new stuff I’m writing is selling this well, maybe new editions of the old stuff (with new packaging and editing) would, as well. So Pro Se began rolling out new editions of The Rook and Conquerors of Shadow (now called The Family Grace) — and soon they’ll do the same with Rabbit Heart and The Damned Thing.

Sales are much better on the new editions of The Rook. Go figure!

Ron was understanding when I began to ask him to pull my books from circulation. He did it quickly and efficiently and never complained. I told him honestly that I appreciated all the support he’d given me and for allowing me the opportunity to break into New Pulp. I felt then and do now that Wild Cat Books does not get the respect it deserves. With so many people producing New Pulp now, we need to remember companies like WCB who kept this alive when few others did. I salute Ron Hanna for being a true fan of classic pulp and for believing in the viability of New Pulp. I nominated him for both a Munsey Award and for the Lifetime Achievement Award (Pulp Ark) and was proud to do so.

A couple of days ago I was posting away on Facebook and put the following: Reading “Live and Let Die” by Ian Fleming and struggling to figure out how I should feel about this one. It’s undeniably a rip-snorting adventure but the casual racism of the book makes me feel all skeevy. I’m trying to remember the era in which it was written but I frequently wince as a great paragraph stumbles over something decidedly non-pc.

What I meant by this (and assume was obvious in the post itself) is that I’m really enjoying the book… but that when I run across things like Chapter 5 being entitled “Ni**** Heaven”, it gives me pause. I really like Ian Fleming, actually, but it’s still weird when you see an entire race being described in huge generalities. That’s all I meant. I’m enjoying the book but it makes me feel all skeevy. A classic conflict between intellect and emotion, as my wife pointed out — my intellect reminds me that it’s a product of its time, my emotion says “Ew!”

Ron Hanna took some issue with my post, saying I’ve been reading a lot of “Classics” recently: “Robinson Crusoe”, and stuff by Jules Verne and Mark Twain… If the “non-pc” aspects turn you off, despite realizing the times in which they were written, then maybe you should get over it… “Huckleberry Finn” was BANNED for many years, in many schools, yet it’s a CLASSIC… and since you are a Librarian, I would think that you would have a more open mind about stuff like that, Barry…

I explained that I thought Ron needed to get off his high horse! I didn’t think my status update was close-minded at all but whatever. Ron then asked me if I was to write a story set in the 1930s, how would I handle it. I responded by saying that I figured Ron would know since he’d published my stuff for years. Seriously, he published The Rook Volumes 1-5 — shouldn’t he be very familiar with what I would do with stories set in that era?

And this is how he answered that: LOL… Very true! And since I couldn’t afford to pay you what you truly deserved, I totally understand your taking your work elsewhere… I never had a problem with that… But when you talk about “High-Horses”? Well, you list yourself as “Pulp Author Extraordinaire” and have your own “Imprint” and you ARE a “Professional” writer… Yet you still work at a Library… so when will you finally make a LIVING off your writing? Not trying to be harsh… I guess I just get upset when people have to blow their own horns so much that they run out of breath… I’ve always wished you nothing but the best, and I hope that one day, you CAN become a TRUE “Professional” writer when you can devote ALL your time to writing fiction… FWIW… I’m a “Published” writer as well, but I know I’ll never make a living at it… I hope you can… Really, I do…

Well, now.

That was rather hurtful, I felt. Implying that I was blowing my horn so much that I was running out of breath… that I wasn’t a true professional because I also have a day job… and then taking a swipe at my humorous (I thought) “Pulp Author Extraordinaire” tag on my blog. Not cool. I decided to not feed the furor any further and simply thanked him for the concern.

Would I love to be living in a mansion and writing all day long? You betcha. But I’ve had so many dreams come true… seeing my name listed in Marvel’s solicitations and on their website, writing my childhood hero The Avenger, having dozens of books with my name on the cover, having people who tell me that they love my characters and my stories… All of that is worth more than money.

I appreciate all that Wild Cat Books has done for me. Without that company and without Ron Hanna, I would not be where I am today. If he’d blown me off when I’d first approached him, I might have never created Lazarus Gray or Fiona Chapman or Charity Grace. I owe him and genuinely wish him the best. I think it’s clear that he harbors some sort of resentment or jealousy towards not only me but others in the New Pulp field. I’d love to see WCB rise like a phoenix and become a true force in New Pulp again — hopefully that will happen.

I really do hope so.

10 thoughts on “Running With Wild Cats

  1. Trust me, Barry, there are a LOT of writers in the world that are not entirely supported by the sales of their books. For every Stephen King, there are tens of thousands who toil all their lives with little or no brand name recognition. All it takes is the right person praising your books to go from being semi-professional to well-paid. But first you have to write the books, which is something you and I and many others MUST do until that time. We’re paying our dues for the future rewards!! The secret is to enjoy what you are doing until that day. Best of luck, buddy!!!

  2. There’s a fine line isn’t there? I mean, I have no problem with most of the classic “Yellow Peril” stuff, because it never occurred to me that Fu Manchu & others were supposed to represent the entire Asian race. Granted, most of the problems stemmed from the attitudes of the oh-so-white-and-proud -of-it heroes, but I could still manage to ignore it.
    On the other hand, when I tried to read Edgar Wallace’s African adventure novels–‘Sanders of the River’ etc.–they were SO appallingly racist that I just couldn’t.

    At the moment, I’m reading a book by Nick Marsh–‘The Express Diaries’–which is set in 1925, on the Orient Express & in various European countries on its route. Nick has done such an excellent job of capturing the period characters & their various voices. One such, Colonel Neville “Never” Goodenough, is a typical ex-military man of the period. He’s jingoistic & racist & simply considers the British to be superior to all other people. He handles the character so well, though, that I found myself growing to really like him. Despite his bigotry & biases, he was in all other respects a good & admirable man. He was portrayed as not being entirely close-minded, which helped of course. It’s just that foreigners had to work somewhat harder at gaining his respect. This “shades of grey” approach is how I like to see the issues handled. I think it’s too trite to portray characters as being generally evil, because they have some serious faults of character, and/or judgement. In a way, this allows me to cope with the bigotry in earlier writing, in that all I have to ignore is the lack of a contrary viewpoint to that of the hero & accept that the hero, while being a force for good, is not always right..

    • Too true, Dave. When I began writing Khan Dynasty, I read all the Yellow Menace characters, including Fu Manchu and others, to understand the archtype of villain. It wasn’t until I began reading the real history of China, trying to repel England’s trade of opium with the Orient, and the consequences every time they rebelled, that I saw that Fu Manchu, at least in his own country, might have been considered the hero! It changed the direction of my entire story.

  3. Dave,
    You’re definitely right. I love The Shadow series and occasionally you’ll see Joe Cardona or somebody refer to another character as a “chink” or something to that effect. Definitely not cool but you get the clear impression that Cardona is simply using the term that would have been used then — there’s no real malice to it, it’s simply the way it was. But then there are books where the racism is either just so prevalent or seemingly malicious that it’s harder to forgive. I generally put Ian Fleming into the former category but there’s just a lot more of it in Live and Let Die.

  4. I’ve never been racist in any way. It always struck me as totally illogical from a very young age, but…. I grew up referring to a Chinese takeaway as a “Chinkie” & when I was very young, I used the word “jew” to refer to a person who was tight with money long before I ever became aware of what a Jew actually was. It was casual racism, without actually being aware that it was such.

  5. The comparison of Twain to Fleming is pretty ridiculous for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that Twain was combatting racial prejudice. Yes, he used the n-word a lot, but whether you were for or against slavery, the n-word was still used back then.

    Fleming, on the other hand, was not only quite racist and misogynistic, but also pretty much biased against anything that wasn’t British. That doesn’t mean he wasn’t a good writer, nor does it mean the Bond books should be banned or that I don’t find them entertaining (I find them very entertaining), but let’s not kid ourselves here. Fleming was pretty regressive, even by the standards of the 50s and 60s. To try and deny that is just as bad as trying to ban those books in my mind.

  6. Barry, your FB thread was about how modern readers deal emotionally with racism in historical works. Ron hijacked it to show his ass; he changed the topic to the directions he wanted, so that he could have the argument he wanted. Ron’s been bottling up this hostility toward you for pulling out of WCB, and for some reason he chose that thread to blow his top. As for the hints he dropped about his opinion that “Professional” writers don’t have additional employment elsewhere…that’s just pathetic jealousy rearing it’s ugly head. He is ALWAYS going on about how poor he is. That’s some real purism right there! He’s willing to ‘starve’ for his ideals. FYI Ron, “Professional” means PAID. I’m not surprised you don’t consider Barry professional since you never PAID him. BR is too nice to say it – but if anybody here ever considered doing business with Ronald Hannah of Wild Cat Books, you shouldn’t. Let’s just say he needs those pennies more than you do…

  7. Hi, Barry. I completely agree with your post in regards to the racist elements that turn up in all manner of classic fiction (pulp and otherwise) and how it makes your skin crawl to read that these days. Maybe it’s because that today you realize the great offense that one-time common language causes to various groups.

    A few months back, I was trying to make such a case regarding sexism. My point was that sexism *is* offense and *is* continuing today in the way women are portrayed on comic book and New Pulp covers. At the time, you seemed to take my post as a direct affront.

    See: “The pulps and modern-day stereotyping”

    Just as racism was common back then, sexism still is today. And just as you find it difficult to read, I have the same issue with many of the modern-day covers. Maybe having two daughters has helped me realize the problem. Hopefully you, too, will come to realize this.

    Cheers, and keep up your writing and “The Shadow Fan” podcast.

    • Thanks for you comments, William. The cover that offended you was done by artist Ed Mironiuk and he specifically wanted to homage/parody the sleazy pulp covers of the past. Perhaps he succeeded too well in your eyes.

      I’m proud of my reputation for writing strong female characters and would encourage you to look at the majority of my work.

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