Month: November 2013

From the Vault: Just Write, Stupid

snoopy_writingPeople often ask me for advice about writing. I’ve even given talks about writing to would-be writers. But I don’t think people really like what I have to tell them. You see, a lot of them are members of “writer’s groups” where they swap stories, critique them and go into re-writes. I don’t really believe in those because they’re an example of why a lot of people never manage to finish that novel they’ve been working on for twenty years: they spend too much time talking about writing and not enough time writing. I once infuriated a room full of folks by saying that nothing was scarier to me than somebody with an English degree and a passel full of “How-To” writing guides.

Because that English degree person is probably never going to write a damned thing. They’re going to spin their wheels, talking about this and pondering that, instead of sitting down at the keyboard and pounding the keys.

Look, I’m not the world’s greatest wordsmith. But I write. I write a lot. I don’t sit around on my ass and say “Boy, I’d love to write a book.” I wrote a book. And then I wrote another one.

There’s no “one way” to do it, either. If you like to do 80 page outlines and that works for you, do it. If you like to have a swig of beer, unbutton your pants and then start writing without any clue where you’re going with the story, do it! Never ever, ever, let someone tell you that you’re doing it wrong. Hell, if you’re in a writer’s group and it helps you (ACTUALLY WRITING), then do it. It doesn’t work for me and I can count on one hand the number of folks I’ve met that it did work for, but hell, there are exceptions to every rule.

And by all means, DON’T FEAR WRITING CRAP. Even if you write the worst novel of all time, you’ve still written a novel. That puts you way ahead of all the Charlies and Nancys who spend their lives saying, “I always wanted to write a book!” Besides, you won’t be the first person to write crap and you won’t be the last. Enjoy the fact that you completed a project and then get to work on the next one, so you can move up to mediocre the next time around 🙂

But my main advice to wanna be writers is this:

1. READ. A lot. Look at how things are written and dissect them. Think to yourself, “I like how writer x does that… HOW does he do that?” and try to learn from it.

2. WRITE. A lot. You get better the more you write. You really do. But don’t navel-gaze so much. Finish a damned project and then do some revision but then MOVE ON. Keep going forward. It will never be perfect. Accept that.

3. NETWORK. You need to meet other writers and make friends with them. You never know who might help you someday. How did I become a professional writer? Because a friend of mine worked for Marvel Comics and recommended me for a job. I didn’t submit anything to them — Marvel emailed me, on the basis of my friend’s recommendation. It went from there.

So… here’s my suggestion for today. Stop reading this blog. Stop flipping through that Stephen King book on writing. Stop over-analyzing the act of creation.

And then go CREATE.

The Rook’s Archfoe – The Warlike Manchu!

In classic pulp hero tradition, most of The Rook’s enemies don’t make return appearances. But The Warlike Manchu is the exception to the rule — in fact, he appeared in each of The Rook’s first five volumes! Obviously inspired by Sax Rohmer’s classic Fu Manchu, The Warlike Manchu does not consider himself a villain at all. He’s out to rule the world with an iron hand because that’s how humanity needs to be governed, lest our baser natures get the best of us. The Warlike Manchu was one of Max Davies’ tutors during his time preparing for his role as The Rook but when he learned of the Manchu’s connections to organized crime, Max refused the offer to rule at the Manchu’s side.

Aided by a group of assassins dubbed The Ten Fingers, The Warlike Manchu controls every manner of vice in Asia and eyes expanding his empire to the West. Though Chinese by birth, my take on The Warlike Manchu incorporates elements of various Asian mythologies to play up The Warlike Manchu as the ultimate “yellow menace” from the old pulps. He hates the Japanese but is willing to use their trappings and folklore to his own advantage, for instance.

The Rook and The Warlike Manchu have become the most bitter of enemies, clashing again and again. The highlights of their feud include:

“The Abomination” – The Rook Volume One. In this story set in 1939, The Warlike Manchu re-enters The Rook’s life for the first time since they parted ways in 1922. Allied with an Egyptian necromancer named Ibis, The Manchu revives an ancient entity of pure destruction known as The Abomination. The Rook foils their plans for world domination but The Manchu escapes.

“Blitzkrieg” – The Rook Volume Two. Set in 1940, The Warlike Manchu returns with a new pupil, a German named Hans Merkel, who has adopted the guise of the Japanese god of death, Shinigami. Merkel is The Rook’s true opposite number — like Max, he is haunted by the spirit of his dead father but in Merkel’s case, he slew his own father and enslaved his spirit. In this story, The Warlike Manchu kidnaps Max’s son, forcing The Rook to unite with the Manchu’s daughter in an attempt to stop the madman. Shinigami is killed and The Manchu’s immortality formula fails, reducing him to dust.

Death lasts only about two years, however, as The Warlike Manchu is revived in 1942’s “The Resurrection Gambit” from Volume Three. In this story, The Manchu embarks on a quest to find the Philosopher’s Stone, a search that leads both he and The Rook on a global chase. In the end, The Manchu escapes once more, swearing revenge on his most hated of enemies.

In 1943, The Warlike Manchu and The Rook are forced into an uneasy alliance, as both men seek to foil the plans of the Nazi vampire Baron Randolph Gustav. It’s clear that The Manchu respects Max greatly and would still seek an alliance between the two — but he also has come to believe that The Rook’s opposition to his plans has renewed the spark of life in his wretched heart. This is chronicled in Volume Four’s “Dead of Night.”

1944 finds The Warlike Manchu teaming with Doctor Satan and Moriarty in “A Plague of Wicked Men,” one of the first adventures of The Claws of the Rook. The Manchu is apparently killed when the island he’s on sinks beneath the waves. This story is depicted in Volume Five.

Once again, death seemed incapable of stopping The Warlike Manchu. At some point, he returned to bedevil Max Davies and his family — but his final defeat seems to have stuck. In 1967, William Davies (Max’s son) battled and defeated The Warlike Manchu, killing him while battling for possession of a magical Mayan tablet (“The Four Rooks, The Rook Volume Four).

No details about The Manchu’s activities between 1944 and 1967 are known — and given how many times he cheated death before, it’s conceivable that he has at least one more resurrection in store, even post ’67.

In addition to The Warlike Manchu’s appearances in The Rook’s series, The Ten Fingers have been name-dropped in both Gravedigger and Lazarus Gray, as The Manchu’s forces have infiltrated Sovereign City in the Thirties. The Warlike Manchu himself has yet to clash with either of those heroes in any published adventures, though you never know what the future may hold.

Happy Thanksgiving!

legion_of_heroes_smallHappy Thanksgiving from all the heroes at Reese Unlimited!

Thanks to my wonderful wife and son — and to all my family and friends who have supported me over the years.

And thanks to YOU for keeping up with my blog and my writing career. Without you, my faithful readers, I’d have nothing to talk about!

Have a great day, folks!

 

From the Vault: The Claws of The Rook – The Secret Origin

claws_front_smallAfter I’d finished the fourth volume in the Rook series, it occurred to me that I’d introduced quite a few supporting characters that were worthy of stories in their own right: Leonid Kaslov, Catalyst, Revenant, Rachel Winters, Frankenstein’s Monster, etc. I decided it would make perfect sense to throw some of those characters together and create a spinoff project from The Rook Chronicles. I decided to leave out Kaslov and focus on the other four heroes I just mentioned, allowing The Rook to serve as their funding agent. I wanted to do the pulp equivalent of the old Batman and the Outsiders series: Batman brought together heroes to serve as his private strike force, handling things he didn’t have the time to do.

This strike force would be known as The Claws of The Rook, or simply “The Claws.”

The Claws of the Rook were meant to be introduced in their own volume, which would be set in-between volumes 4 and 5 of The Rook. The Rook would appear in a major fashion in the first story, then fade into the background, to be used as needed. The first story (“The Diabolical Mr. Dee”) was written and I think it turned out fairly well, though I was obviously still finding my footing with the series.

Then came “A Plague of Wicked Men.”

I forget who came up with the idea of teaming the various Wild Cat Books heroes into one story but I know that Don Lee, Wayne Skiver, the Carney brothers, Ron Hanna and I were all involved in the plotting of the story, which would pit the heroes against a grouping of evil villains. Ron and Wayne wanted to kick the story off by killing an established pulp hero and they chose to make Captain Hazzard the sacrifice. I was worried about how this would look, since Hazzard was very closely identified with the editor-in-chief of one of Wild Cat’s major rivals but I wasn’t really the mover and shaker in the plotting. A scene (by Wayne) was written in which Hazzard was killed and I know Don Lee wrote a scene where the villains first came together.

Then, as is common in these sorts of things, the writers began flaking out. One person had legal issues, another had concerns about the plot, etc. The project seemed dead.

Then I asked if I could take the plot and twist it into a Claws of The Rook plot, rewriting the scenes already completed and tweaking it all into something that I felt I could handle on my own. Everyone seemed fine with that and Wayne was gracious enough to allow me to keep his character Prof. Stone in the story. I threw in the Black Bat, Ascott Keane and Ki-Gor to make it even bigger. The story turned out fairly well, though it struggled a bit under its own weight. There were elements of the original plot that I was asked to keep that I would have preferred to jettison but I worked with what I had.

There were now two Claws tales…

And then the decision was made to scuttle the Claws spinoff. Sales on the most recent volume of The Rook had been weaker than expected and it was decided to not dilute the brand at this point.

So what to do? I didn’t want to just shelve those stories but at the same time I was feeling burned out on The Rook and didn’t really feel like doing a solo Rook collection, either.

It was decided to take the two Claws stories and put them into The Rook Volume Five. A couple more Claws/Rook stories were added to flesh out the volume and voila, we had a book.

But it wasn’t a very good book, in my opinion. It suffered from the fact that you had a book entitled The Rook that spent a lot of time with the Rook not in it — I was fleshing out characters for their own series, remember, so I had deliberately tried to push The Rook into the background of those stories.

It was published, people seemed to regard it as weaker than its predecessors but still good.

Here’s where all the individual members of the team first appeared:

  • Catalyst (Nathaniel Caine) first appeared in “Catalyst” in The Rook Volume Three. The story is set in 1942.
  • Esper (Rachel Winters, later Rachel Caine) first appeared in “Catalyst” in The Rook Volume Three. As stated before, the story is set in ’42.
  • Revenant (Sally Pence) first appeared in “Death From the Jungle” in The Rook Volume Four. The story is set in 1943.
  • Vincent (aka Frankenstein’s Monster) first appeared in “Satan’s Trial” in The Rook Volume Four. This story occurs in late 1943, after “Death From the Jungle.”

The group comes together as The Claws of the Rook in 1944, operating out of a two-story house on Peachtree Street nicknamed The Aerie. The group’s meeting room was in the finished basement and there was an extensive library and armory on the second floor. The team first appeared together in “The Diabolical Mr. Dee” before teaming up with several other pulp heroes in “A Plague of Wicked Men.” Both of those adventures were set in ’44. In 1946, they took part in the missions dubbed “The Devil’s Spear” and “The Ivory Machine.” During the latter story, their ranks swelled with the additions of The Black Terror and his partner Tim, Miss Masque, and The Flame. All of those stories were recorded in The Rook Volume Five.

Nothing is known about the majority of the members past ’46, though in one possible future (“The Four Rooks,” The Rook Volume Four), we see that Catalyst is still alive into the 21st Century, having outlived his wife. Given that everything shown in the series post 2006 is just a potential future, it’s not carved in stone that this is anyone’s ultimate fate, however.

I sometimes miss these characters but I’m uncertain if anybody would really want to see them revived. If I do, I’m not certain that the public domain heroes like The Black Terror and Miss Masque will remain with the group — I’d suspect that they’ll become secondary members, who might pop up if needed. I’d probably keep the focus on the main four (plus The Rook).

What do you guys say? Anybody want to see these heroes return?

From the Vault: Dangerous Curves Ahead

Emma Watson hotI gave a how-to writing class to a group of high schoolers about two years ago and one of the young men asked me how I wrote female characters. Having written several books starring female protagonists (The Damned Thing, Rabbit Heart and Gravedigger all come to mind), I immediately had a response. I said that you should always start thinking of your characters as people first and gender later. I told him that there is no one “type” of woman out there… there are women who cry at the drop of a hat but then there are women who are tough as nails. There are women who love to shop and wear pink… there are also women who love mixed martial arts and who can drink any man under the table. There are even women who love to wear pink, cry at the drop of a hat, are still tough as nails, love mixed martial arts *and* can drink any man under the table.

Women are people first. The same goes for different races or anything, really.

I also told him that if he were still worried, to look at the women around him — his friends, his family, his sisters. Think about how multifaceted those women are and then incorporate that into his work.

When I was creating Gravedigger, I thought of ways to make her different from my other characters — but not once did I think of her gender as being a personality trait. She’s a much harder-edged character than Lazarus Gray, because of her life experiences. Yes, she’s a beautiful woman… yes, she could be a mother someday. But she’s a human being first. I don’t need to worry about writing “women” because I know how to write “people.” I mean, I am one!

Yes, sometimes you should incorporate differences into female characters but again, if you know more than a handful of women, you’ll know how different they all can be — some poke fun at men, some don’t. Some like to smoke, drink and swear. Some don’t. Some women would never have sex with a man outside of a committed relationship. Some women see nothing wrong with ‘Friends with Benefits.’

Never assume that a woman — or a man, for that matter — can’t act one way just because of their gender. We have certain societal norms, yes, but the degrees to which we all fall inside or outside of them vary tremendously.

When it comes to sexualizing your characters, you have to know your character, your story and your audience. With my heroines, all of them are beautiful, yes — but this is adventure fiction. The women are beautiful and the men are handsome. I never try to objectify my female characters any more than I do the male ones — in other words, I do objectify them in the sense that they’re attractive and this is mentioned… but they’re far more than that. Pulp is escapism and part of the appeal is that our heroes (male & female) are larger-than-life. They’re gorgeous, they’re brave and they’re heroic. They’re idealized. Even in Rabbit Heart, which is highly charged with sex and violence, I don’t think I treat the women in the story any different than I do the males — some of them are very emotionally unstable, some are promiscuous and some are just downright nasty… but that’s true of both genders in the story. And Fiona Grace, though driven by powerful needs, is still an idealized heroine who rises above it all. Yes, Fiona’s outfit on the cover is risque — but if you read the story, you’ll know there’s a major reason why it’s shown that way. The story deals with archetypes and the way society views them — and Fiona is forced to play that part, to a degree.

So keep the focus on the *person* and not the gender… in the long run, it’ll pay off for you!

From the Vault: My Introduction to New Pulp (Guest Blog by Mark Beaulieu)

rook_v1_cover_cropped_smallI’ll be spending most of this week with my family so we’ll be showcasing some of my favorite “From the Vault” posts. If you’ve read them before, it’ll be a good time for you to go back and refresh your memory about some of our more popular (and controversial) topics. If they’re new to you, all the better!

Unfortunately, there will be no New Pulp Best Sellers List because of the holiday season. It will resume next week! Sorry for the delay.

To kick off this week’s programming, here’s a repeat performance of Mark Beaulieu’s guest blog from awhile back. I hope you enjoy it!

———————————————

Today we’re turning the blog over to Mark Beaulieu, whom I’ve known since our shared days at Marvel Volume One (MV1), a huge fanfiction project that now seems to have existed in some long-ago semi-mythical era where talented writers argued over rules and regulations of a completely fictitious fanfiction “company”… and worked together to weave a tapestry of epic excitement.

Or something like that.

Anyway, Mark is a longtime friend and I was thrilled when he asked if he could contribute a guest blog post to my site — and I was even more humbled when I read the words that follow. Without further ado, here’s Mark Beaulieu:

I remember where I was when I read the first volume of The Rook. There was construction going on at the University of Hartford while I was teaching a summer course. I couldn’t go to the normal cafeteria for lunch so I’d lug over to the Hawk’s Nest (a cafeteria in the student dorms). I’d read The Rook while eating lunch and eating Buffalo chicken wraps.

Mmmmm….sorry I’ll get back on track.

I was blown away by Barry’s writing style. I had read some of his fan fiction, but this was much better. He had really grown as a writer. The Rook was a well-developed character that engaged in high action stories with supernatural baddies. And I’m a sucker for Nazi villains. I blame the old Captain America comics I read as a kid and of course the great Raiders of the Lost Ark movie (easily one of the best movies ever made). After reading this book, I looked for more like it. I got the next few Rook books and The Damned Thing. I enjoyed them all.

Barry’s books led me to look at other titles. In particular, How the West was Weird volumes 1 and 2. I absolutely love the second volume of that series. The first volume is good, but the second is much stronger, in my opinion. This introduced me to the work of Derrick Ferguson and Ron Fortier. The Sebastian Red stories in those two volumes are absolutely fantastic. Ron’s story in the second volume is also great. I knew Tony Wilson and Mark Bousquet before seeing their stories in the second volume, but Tony’s story is my favorite one in the anthology. It’s a Jonah Hex type story and it’s excellent. Mark’s story is part of a much bigger story arc and works on its own, but the later stories really add to that universe.

Now I’ve started copy editing for Pro Se Productions and I’m really enjoying that. I wouldn’t be editing for anyone if it wasn’t for Barry’s Rook books. This may bother Van Allen Plexico, but I was reading his books in a vacuum. I didn’t realize he was part of a larger movement. I really enjoyed Van’s Sentinel books and I’ll buy and read anything Van writes, but I was buying those as a friend and didn’t pay attention to any discussion of new pulp. Sorry Van. I also read Mark Bousquet’s stuff and I owe him for being a major supporter of my writing (what little I’ve done) but again I was reading his stuff in a vacuum. I feel strongly that I owe it to friends to buy their stuff if I like it and I’ve always enjoyed Mark’s and Van’s books. Heck, Dreamer’s Syndrome hit every button I could ask for as a reader. I couldn’t believe how good that book was when I read it. There aren’t many books I enjoyed more than that. However, I was reading these without understanding there was a larger world of small press books. It was really Barry’s The Rook that opened my eyes to the larger world of new pulp.

And I think my life is better for it.

Mark Beaulieu is the writer/creator of the upcoming Ulysses King anthology from Pro Se.

The Bone Queen (Marvel Heroic RPG Stats)

bone_queenTHE BONE QUEEN
aka Renata
Created by Andrea Judy

Affiliations: Solo D10 Buddy D8 Team D6

Distinctions: D4 (+1PP) or D8
Devotee of Mene, Goddess of Death
Enemy of The Pulptress
Grim Avenger

Power Sets:

Servant of Death
Enhanced Reflexes D8
Enhanced Strength D8
Superhuman Stamina D10
Undead Creation & Control D10
SFX: Second Wind. Before you make an action including a SERVANT OF DEATH power, you may move your STRESS TYPE die to the doom pool and step up the SERVANT OF DEATH power by +1 for this action.
Limit: Growing Dread. Count 1s and 2s on dice as opportunities when using a SERVANT OF DEATH power.
Limit: Grinding Bones Between Her Teeth. Renata’s powers begin to wane unless she eats human bones. If she goes without sustenance for over 72 hours, add a D10 die to the opposing roll when you or others try to recover your STRESS TYPE.

Undead Warriors – Solo D6, Buddy D8, Team D10; Distinctions – Shambling Undead, Scary!, Bound to The Bone Queen’s Will; Superhuman Durability D10, Superhuman Stamina D10, Superhuman Strength D10; Menace Master D10 or 2D8 or 3D6

Mistress of the Blade
Sword D8
SFX: Dangerous. Add D6 to dice pool for an attack action and step back highest die in pool by -1. Step up STRESS TYPE inflicted by +1.
Limit: Gear. Shutdown the Power Set and gain 1PP. Take an action vs. doom pool to recover.

Specialties:
Combat Master D10 or 2D8 or 3D6
Covert Expert D8 or 2D6
Menace Master D10 or 2D8 or 3D6
Mystic Expert D8 or 2D6

From the back cover of the first novel: From the Pages of THE PULPTRESS Comes A Villain Like No Other-THE BONE QUEEN by Andrea Judy. All of humanity shares one inescapable experience, one inevitable fate. They all die. And in death, one woman finds her destiny. To be a Villain, to stand toe to toe with the ultimate heroine, The Pulptress. But first, evil had to rise from somewhere dark. Renata, a devotee of Mene, Goddess of Death, is on a singular mission during the era of the Black Death: to kill the Necromancer who is bringing the dead back as chiffoniers, rag and bone men. With a small band of men who have survived the Plague, Renata must find who is attempting to steal away the power of death and destroy them once and for all. Chiffoniers dog them every step of the way. And when death itself finally comes for Renata, everything changes. Once hunted, she becomes the hunter, tracking down the necromancer at any cost to herself and those around her. THE BONE QUEEN by Andrea Judy reveals the origin of its title character, first featured in THE PULPTRESS from Pro Se Productions. Proving as popular as her foe, The Bone Queen now stands at the center of Judy’s first digest novel. From devotee to deliverer of death, follow Renata as she discovers her true purpose lies in what comes after life. May The Gods Help Us All.