How Far Is Too Far?

I keep most of my New Pulp writing in the PG-13 range but I’ve been known to cross “the line” on occasion… some of you may remember when Sun Koh mutilated a rapist in an old Peregrine story, for instance. And my novel Rabbit Heart is basically a study in excess! Whenever I thought that I might be pushing the envelope too far in that book, I went ahead and tore it open.

But when is it *really* too far?

I’ve kept hardcore sex and violence out of Lazarus Gray, for instance, but there’s an element of subjectivity there, as with all artistic endeavors. When I wrote The Damned Thing, there was a scene early on that involved oral sex. To be honest, I’d forgotten about it by the time it saw print — it was just a brief character moment and believe it or not, not every scene sticks in the mind of the person who wrote it (I write a lot of scenes…). So when it came out, I had a reader who went on and on about that scene and how much it disturbed them. I didn’t even remember what they were talking about! See, for them, that was shocking and extremely memorable. For me, it was no big deal. So you never know how folks will respond.

But there are times when even I know that I might be going into territory that would be best left undisturbed. I’ve mentioned before that I started writing a sequel to Rabbit Heart — it was going to be titled Starstruck. In fact, I wrote about 12,000 words on it, meaning it’s about 20% complete. But even as I was writing the opening scenes of Starstruck, I knew that this probably couldn’t see print. Despite how far I’d gone with Rabbit Heart, I went a lot further into the disturbing territory with just the first 12,000 words on Starstruck. There is at least one scene in there that I think would be hard for people to get out of their heads when they thought of me… and I’m not quite sure I want to go there.

Nobody’s read Starstruck – not even people who’ve really begged & pleaded! I’ve thought about finishing it but it’s so dark and if I didn’t publish it, what would be the point? I’ve considered completing it and then sticking it in a box with a note to say that it could be published after I was dead & gone but then I’d miss the perverse pleasure of seeing people freak out!

On the other hand, I don’t want to tone the story down, either. If I’m going to write disgusting smut then by God, I’m going to write disgusting smut!

Anyway, I think that I’ll continue staying on the PG-13 path for most of my New Pulp work – I often try to craft stories that will appeal to adolescent boys the way that classic pulp did me when I was that age. A little titillation is fine but I try not to veer too far into adult territory. Of course, sometimes the characters demand their course of action (like Sun Koh did in that Peregrine story) and often what I consider PG-13 isn’t what someone else would. In fact, I had one lady tell me she’d never let her 15 year old son read my books because they contained too many “demonic” elements.

In the end, the work puts whatever restrictions on itself that feel appropriate. When I’m writing The Peregrine, there’s a certain feeling to the world that lets me know the basic parameters, even if I sometimes bump against the guard rails.

From the Vault: Sex In the Pulps

mellisa_clark_unmaskedYep. Today we’re talking about S-E-X and, by extension, loving relationships.

In the classic hero pulps, there wasn’t a whole lot of sex. You’d have the occasional lurid cover, with some scantily clad woman (usually with stockings showing) in distress while our hero moved to protect her but for the most part, guys like Doc Savage, The Shadow and The Avenger were not very interested in knocking boots. Doc occasionally in later years would display a kind of boyish interest in the fairer sex and The Avenger’s love for his wife was constantly being referenced but even in the first book where you see The Avenger alongside his wife and daughter, you didn’t exactly get the image that they were passionate lovers. They were partners, friends and spouses, yes, but there was no sign of “heat” in the relationship.

There were some exceptions, of course. Jim Anthony was basically Doc Savage with a sex drive but by today’s standards, he was still a bit tame. In fact, the idea of Anthony was racier than the truth — he liked to lounge around at home in a speedo while working in the lab. Hell, what guy doesn’t? And then there was The Spider, who was very clearly a passionate lover of Nita Van Sloane. But most of the romance that was depicted between them were of steamy kisses and verbal flirtations.

The fantasy pulps (like Conan) got a lot of mileage out of ladies whipping one another and there was no doubt that Conan and others got into lusty embraces. But I’m focusing on the hero pulps because those were my favorites and that’s where most of the New Pulp writings out today fall into place.

So…

Now we’re in the age of New Pulp. Writers are now bringing in more modern ideas about race, gender relations, etc. into their pulp-inspired writings.

But we still don’t have much in the way of S-E-X. I’m not saying we *need* it, I’m just surprised there’s not more variety out there.

When I wrote Rabbit Heart, I deliberately made it dirty. Foul language, lots of explicit sex and gory violence. It was my Anti-Pulp pulp book. When I did The Damned Thing, I didn’t go quite as far but it was still a pulp novel, only with explicit oral sex scenes and rape. The reviews I got for Rabbit Heart all made direct mention of the dirty stuff because I think it’s hard to discuss the novel without it — and it was out of place in the pulp world. The Damned Thing, though, got high praise but few people mentioned the sexy stuff — maybe after Rabbit Heart, they weren’t as surprised?

We have guys and gals in the pulp field who can cover all sorts of things and do it well. I’d like to see more variety in relationships on display in New Pulp stories. No, we don’t have to go into the boudoir with the Moon Man and his long-suffering girlfriend, but if a writer could do it well, why not? Hell, just some acknowledgement that these heroes are human beings and are sexual creatures would be welcome sometimes, just for the sake of something different.

The number of unfeeling automatons I’ve met in real life are relatively few in number… so why do I see so many in pulp? Look, I have one hero (Lazarus Gray) who kind of fits that bill, too — but in his series, there’s also plenty of sexual beings who surround him. Hell, I make it quite clear in Die Glocke that Lazarus had a “steamy” romance with the daughter of the local museum curator so even he’s not as stoic as he first appears.

Yes, I enjoy pulp that features heroic figures, over-the-top villains and happy endings. I make no apologies for that. But I also like to have my heroes fall in love, make babies and grow old.

I had The Peregrine fall in love, get married, become a father, etc. His wife is his partner and his lover, equal in both regards.

I did this because I think of Max Davies as a man — and most men want those things.They want love, they want sex, they want a family.

So, New Pulp writers, don’t be afraid to bring the sexy back!

Audio Version of The Damned Thing Is Here!


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Award winning author Barry Reese’s hard-boiled supernatural detective thriller, THE DAMNED THING, features one of his most unique characters. The book introducing Violet Cambridge is now available as a top quality audio book produced by Radio Archives!

The toughest detective in 1939 Atlanta is a woman by the name of Violet Cambridge. And she knows her job like she knows herself. All the shadows and alleys, the light and the dark. But when the search for a missing sister and the brutal murder of her partner take her into territory unfamiliar, Violet finds herself on the road to Hell in search of The Damned Thing. Noted for pushing the boundaries of Genre Fiction, Reese takes the classic tropes of the Private Eye tale and gives them his own imaginative, bizarre twists and turns in THE DAMNED THING. Fans of Reese’s work will recognize characters and themes that run through Reese’s work and new readers will find intrigue, mystery, action, and terror on every page. From machine guns to magic spells, from mobsters to monsters, Violet Cambridge will face them all in the unholy quest for THE DAMNED THING. 

Featuring a provocative cover by Adam Shaw and an intense performance by Ferdie V. Luthy, THE DAMNED THING is available now at Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/The-Damned-Thing/dp/B01IIPZLMK/ref=tmm_aud_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1468867518&sr=8-12

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How Far Is Too Far?

Psst-Masked-GirlI keep most of my New Pulp writing in the PG-13 range but I’ve been known to cross “the line” on occasion… some of you may remember when Sun Koh mutilated a rapist in an old Peregrine story, for instance. And my novel Rabbit Heart is basically a study in excess! Whenever I thought that I might be pushing the envelope too far in that book, I went ahead and tore it open.

But when is it *really* too far?

I’ve kept hardcore sex and violence out of Lazarus Gray, for instance, but there’s an element of subjectivity there, as with all artistic endeavors. When I wrote The Damned Thing, there was a scene early on that involved oral sex. To be honest, I’d forgotten about it by the time it saw print — it was just a brief character moment and believe it or not, not every scene sticks in the mind of the person who wrote it (I write a lot of scenes…). So when it came out, I had a reader who went on and on about that scene and how much it disturbed them. I didn’t even remember what they were talking about! See, for them, that was shocking and extremely memorable. For me, it was no big deal. So you never know how folks will respond.

But there are times when even I know that I might be going into territory that would be best left undisturbed. I’ve mentioned before that I started writing a sequel to Rabbit Heart — it was going to be titled Starstruck. In fact, I wrote about 12,000 words on it, meaning it’s about 20% complete. But even as I was writing the opening scenes of Starstruck, I knew that this probably couldn’t see print. Despite how far I’d gone with Rabbit Heart, I went a lot further into the disturbing territory with just the first 12,000 words on Starstruck. There is at least one scene in there that I think would be hard for people to get out of their heads when they thought of me… and I’m not quite sure I want to go there.

Nobody’s read Starstruck – not even people who’ve really begged & pleaded! I’ve thought about finishing it but it’s so dark and if I didn’t publish it, what would be the point? I’ve considered completing it and then sticking it in a box with a note to say that it could be published after I was dead & gone but then I’d miss the perverse pleasure of seeing people freak out!

On the other hand, I don’t want to tone the story down, either. If I’m going to write disgusting smut then by God, I’m going to write disgusting smut!

Anyway, I think that I’ll continue staying on the PG-13 path for most of my New Pulp work – I often try to craft stories that will appeal to adolescent boys the way that classic pulp did me when I was that age. A little titillation is fine but I try not to veer too far into adult territory. Of course, sometimes the characters demand their course of action (like Sun Koh did in that Peregrine story) and often what I consider PG-13 isn’t what someone else would. In fact, I had one lady tell me she’d never let her 15 year old son read my books because they contained too many “demonic” elements.

In the end, the work puts whatever restrictions on itself that feel appropriate. When I’m writing The Peregrine, there’s a certain feeling to the world that lets me know the basic parameters, even if I sometimes bump against the guard rails.

The “Other” Hero of The Peregrine Chronicles

Today I figured we’d spend a few minutes talking about the ‘other’ hero of The Peregrine Chronicles. Will McKenzie is introduced in the second Peregrine story and soon becomes not only best friend to our hero Max Davies but also a frequent companion on his adventures.

Some of the highlights include:

1937 – Will arrives in Atlanta and is introduced to Max by the mysterious Benson, a man who has risen above tragedy in his own life to become a hero in the employ of the government. The youngest police chief in the nation, Will has movie-star good looks and a fierce attraction both both the ladies and to danger. As we’ll see, the combination of those two interests is a particular problem for him! In his debut appearance, Will heads off into the Atlanta underground to help foil a vampire uprising “Kingdom of Blood”, The Peregrine Omnibus Volume One).

1939 – Max and Evelyn become parents to a son that they name William, after their good friend (“Abominations,” The Peregrine Omnibus Volume One). Later in the year, Will and an ex-girlfriend named Violet Cambridge become embroiled in a horrific adventure surrounding a cursed object, an ancient cult and Aleister Crowley (The Damned Thing).

1940 – Will travels to Berlin with The Peregrine and The Domino Lady to confront the organization known as Bloodwerks (“Bloodwerks, The Peregrine Omnibus Volume One).

1941 – Kidnapped by a Nazi agent known as The Iron Maiden, Will is able to not only escape her clutches but convince her that she’s fighting on the wrong side. Kirsten Bauer and Will are soon married (“The Iron Maiden,” The Peregrine Volume One).

Later in the Forties, we learn that Will and Kirsten are struggling to have a child. As of this writing, we don’t know if they ever succeeded or not. Will is actually in most of The Peregrine stories after his introduction but the above are some of the best. If you’re a big fan of Will, I’d definitely suggest you seek out “Kingdom of Blood” and The Damned Thing, both of which feature him very prominently.

The (Fictional) Women of My Life

Rachel-Weisz-rachel-weisz-120258_800_1101I’m mostly known for my male creations — The Peregrine & Lazarus Gray, for instance — but I’ve spent a good bit of my career writing female leads. The Damned Thing, Rabbit Heart and Gravedigger all feature strong female characters. I’m proud of those books, especially since the pulp field is still so testosterone-heavy. New Pulp does have The Pulptress, Elisa Hill and Callie but those are still just a drop in the bucket.

I’ve tried to add to the diversity of characters within the field while not making too big of a deal about it. The Lazarus Gray series not only features Samantha Grace as a major part of the storyline but I also have Eun Jiwon, a member of the team who is both homosexual and Korean. In Gravedigger, we have Li Yuchun, a Chinese American, and Mitchell, a British hero of African descent. I’m not doing this to make any kind of point, really — I simply want to reflect the real world, which the original pulps didn’t always do.

But I’m proudest of my female heroes. I think they’re all very well-rounded individuals, worthy of standing toe-to-toe with the classic heroes of yore. They’re not defined by their gender, either. I treat them as people first — they just happen to be women. Guan-Yin is brave and daring, driven by a need to prove herself and to find out what happened to her missing father. Fiona Grace (Rabbit Heart) is part of a deadly game played by immortals, forced into an archetypal role that she simultaneously embraces and fights against. Violet Cambridge (The Damned Thing) is a tough-as-nails woman in a gritty noir adventure, caught up in the mystery of who’s killed both her husband and her partner. Charity Grace (Gravedigger) is given three years to redeem her soul, after a lifetime of sin. On the Claws of The Peregrine team, we have Revenant and Esper, both of whom are just as essential to the group’s success as the male members. And, of course, I could never forget Evelyn Davies, The Peregrine’s wife and frequent adventuring partner.

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.

The projects I have on tap for the next months are mostly male-dominated but I plan to return to Gravedigger very soon… and I promise to continue treating them with respect.

The image accompanying this post is of Rachel Weisz, the lovely and talented actress who’s performance as Evelyn Carnahan in The Mummy inspired my own character, Evelyn Davies.

From the Vault: Dangerous Curves Ahead

Emma Watson hotI gave a how-to writing class to a group of high schoolers about four 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!