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The “Other” Hero of The Rook Chronicles

To celebrate the arrival of this awesome image at left — drawn by George Sellas — I figured we’d spend a few minutes talking about the ‘other’ hero of The Rook Chronicles. Will McKenzie is introduced in the second Rook 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 was 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 Rook Volume One).

1939 – Max and Evelyn become parents to a son that they name William, after their good friend (“Abominations,” The Rook 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 Rook and The Domino Lady to confront the organization known as Bloodwerks (“Bloodwerks, The Rook Volume Two).

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.

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 Rook 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.

A Big Day!

wish+me+luckSmall update today as I’ll be quite busy. Hopefully I’ll have good news to share soon – in the meantime, please send positive vibes my way!

If you’re waiting for the new Lazarus Gray volume, stay tuned – an announcement will be forthcoming!

And later in 2014… Gravedigger Volume Two! The Rook Volume Three Special Edition! The Damned Thing! Pulse Fiction! Box Thirteen! Lazarus Gray Volume Five!

And the ever-popular A Whole Lot More!

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: 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 Rook 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!

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: How Far Is Too Far?

mellisa-clarke-2I 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 ripped a rapist’s penis off in The Rook Volume Six, for instance! And my novel Rabbit Heart (recently returned to print via Pro Se Press) 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 Rook v. 6) 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 Rook, there’s a certain feeling to the world that lets me know the basic parameters, even if I sometimes bump against the guard rails.

Lots o’ Stuff

lg01_lazarus_solo_with_text_smallWelcome back to Ye Olde Blog!

Sometime in the next 24-48 hours, the new Pro Se Press edition of Rabbit Heart should go live. The cover is by Jason Levesque and the graphic design on the book is by the amazing Sean Ali. When I wrote this book back in 2010, it was meant to exorcise some demons I had rattling around in my soul but along the way, it became something more. It’s not only the most person of my works but I’ve found that in the eyes of many, it’s my best. I’m not sure I’d say that myself as I’m very proud of my various pulp adventure novels and I think The Damned Thing is a Damned Fine Novel but I can understand why Rabbit Heart resonates as it does with a segment of the audience. It’s violent, it’s nasty, it’s filthy, it’s full of degradation… but I also think people recognize a certain Truth to the story and its characters. If you’ve never read it before, I hope you’ll give it a shot… and if you have read it before, this one will be completely reformatted and edited so the experience of enjoying it again should be all the better.

For folks who enjoy The Shadow Fan’s Podcast, I’m aiming to record an episode on Friday of this week. I’m currently reading a really, really good Shadow novel and I plan to review it on the next podcast.

I continue to work hard on the newest Lazarus Gray story. This one is the third short I’m planning for the fifth volume of the series. Book one contained multiple short stories but with books 2-4 I did two novellas in each one, all of which eventually formed a grand story that spans all three books. The fifth volume will contain five short stories as I sort-of return to the way the first book was laid out. I say “sort-of” because this one has elements introduced in the first story that pop up again in later ones, until they take center stage in the last tale. So it’s five separate stories, all tied together by a steadily growing subplot.

Anyway, once I’m finished with this current story, I’ll be working on a Sherlock Holmes novella for Pro Se… then I have several things waiting for me on the other side of Holmes: completing the last two Lazarus stories for Volume Five; Working on a Phantom Detective project; and writing the big crossover novel that will bring together Gravedigger, Lazarus Gray and The Rook.

I either need more time in the day or a clone of myself to get  it all done…

This Saturday will see the Georgia Literary Festival take place in Milledgeville, Georgia. I’ve been co-chairing the Planning Committee for what feels like the last ten years so I’m anxious to have it over and done with. I will enjoy seeing some of my New Pulp buddies at the event but I’m not sure how much time I’ll have to hang out with them since I’ll be running around all day, frantic and worried about this or that. Give me strength!

I hope to get the colored Chris Batista cover from Tom Smith soon — Batista did an amazing job on the crossover book’s cover & I’ll definitely share when I’ve gotten the finished piece.

Our art today is by George Sellas!

Halloween Treats – No Tricks!

vampirella_2_cover_by_paulrenaud-d2zjprzHappy Halloween, folks!

In a totally self-serving entry, I’m going to post links today to my scariest works. A couple of them are currently out of print, with new editions on the way from Pro Se Productions. I do apologize for that but you’ll still be able to scare up copies from second-hand vendors.

Anyway, let’s see what terrifying Barry Reese books you could be reading right now:

Rabbit Heart – Probably my most infamous work, this one features more blood and sex than you can shake a machete yet. I went all out on this one, in a story that really kicks off when our heroine dies. It’s that kind of tale. A new edition should be out any day now.

The Damned Thing – All Pulp once reviewed this and called it a masterpiece. I’m not sure it’s that good but there will be a new edition coming next year and I do think that I successfully crafted a terrifying homage to The Maltese Falcon. Everything from zombies to Aleister Crowley to the world premiere of Gone With the Wind factors into this one.

The Adventures of Gravedigger Volume One – She has three years to redeem her soul… and she’s willing to kill anybody who stands in her way! Part of the Sovereign City Project, this one features Lazarus Gray, The Headless Horseman and features a scene where our heroine has to crawl out of her grave. Oooh! Seriously, though, it’s good.

The Adventures of Lazarus Gray Volume Two: Die Glocke — This book won the 2013 Pulp Ark Awards for Best Novel, Best Cover and Best Interior Art! Just look at the cover and you know you’re in for some fun (and spooky) times: mummies! Yes, mummies. There’s also a gorilla who smokes cigars in this one.

Hope you find a book that you can huddle up under a blanket with!

Our art today is by Paul Renaud and features the lovely (but deadly!) Vampirella!

Another Author Q & A

EmmaWatson-HarryCrowder03Every now and then I let some of the questions I’m asked pile up so I can answer them all at once. The first set of questions were answered here.

Here’s the latest batch! And if you want to play along, just send me a question by replying here or through Facebook!

Will we ever see a Leonid Kaslov novel?

This is probably the most common question I get asked. From the moment my “Russian Doc Savage” appeared in the The Rook Volume Two (“Kaslov’s Fire”), people have wanted more. I did use him in several later stories in The Rook but I’ve never come up with a plot that was worthy of spinning the character off into his own adventures. Originally I had planned to do him as his own thing — in fact, much of “Kaslov’s Fire” was meant to be a Kaslov novel. When I hit a wall with it, I decided to fold it into a Rook story I was working on. In the end, it became one of the best Rook stories I’ve ever written and definitely one of the most popular.

Never say never… but I’m not sure I’ll ever get around to doing a Kaslov solo adventure. Sorry.

Do you plan to do any sword & sorcery stories?

I did a couple, actually. Both featured a Viking warrior named Grimmarr and they were published in Tales of the Norse Gods. It was an anthology issued by Wild Cat Books. The first one was really good — the second I wrote in two days when the editor said they were one story short for the book and couldn’t I help them out… It’s not bad for having been written in 48 hours! The character (and his sword) have since been mentioned in various Rook stories and he gets another shout-out in Lazarus Gray Volume Five that I’m writing right now.

No plans on more s&s in the near future, though.

What are you favorite Rook covers?

Hmm. Tough one! I really like Storn Cook’s cover for the Wild Cat edition of volume one, Norm Breyfogle’s vampire cover for Wild Cat’s volume four edition… and the George Sellas covers for the volume two and three special editions are amazing! Those four are probably my favorites.

How are you so prolific?

I type really fast.

Well, that’s not the only reason — though it helps! I’ve always been a quick writer. I don’t obsess over plot details (as many of you have pointed out! lol)  as I get an idea and just GO. I believe in the pulp mindset: You write. You write a lot. You finish a story. You move on to the next story. Don’t bug me about small details because I don’t have time for them, I have another story to write.

Just keep going. Always.

What comic book characters would you like to translate to prose?

I got this question after doing a Shadowman story for Kindle Worlds. I have a few from various publishers that I’d consider:

DC – Batman, Challengers of the Unknown, Doom Patrol, Kamandi

Marvel – Moon Knight, Agents of Atlas, Captain America (wartime adventure)

Valiant – Eternal Warrior, X-O Manowar, Ninjak, Doctor Mirage

I think those are the main ones.

Have you ever tried to get the license to write XXX?

I removed the character’s name because it’s never a good idea to talk about such things in public. All I’ll say is: Yes.

On a podcast interview you said that you wrote two endings to The Damned Thing. Will we ever see the other ending?

Probably not. When writing the novel, I was torn between two endings — one that was “happier” and one that was “oh my god, you just ripped my heart out, you soulless bastard!”. I talked over both of them with my wife and she helped me pick one. I think it was the right one and nobody’s ever come up to me and said they loved everything but the ending, so it seems to have worked out.

For the record, what you got was the “happier” ending.

Keep those questions coming!

Liberty Girl!

2013-09-27 17.43.18A new week begins!

After taking last week off from The Shadow Fan’s Podcast, I’ll be recording Episode 51 later this week. I’ll be reviewing a novel from 1939 and the 2nd annual from Dynamite’s ongoing comic book series. Look for it to be uploaded over the next few days.

It looks like the next book from me to be released will be Liberty Girl. This was an unusual project for me as I took a graphic novel and converted it into prose — I also added a brand-new short story to the mix. This kicks off a line for Pro Se Press where they deal with prose versions of characters from Heroic Publishing. I know Eternity Smith and Flare are both lined up for future books, as well as more Liberty Girl. The art today is from Jeff Hayes and will be the cover to the Liberty Girl book — it’s GORGEOUS, don’t you agree? Anyway, if you like traditional superhero action, I think you’ll enjoy the stories I’ve written with this character.

After that, a new edition of Rabbit Heart will be coming from Pro Se Press. I’m excited to have this one back in print as it’s my most popular work with a small but very vocal segment of fans. With hardcore sex and violence, it’s not like any of my other work (though The Damned Thing is close) and if you think you know my writing… you might pick this one up and see that I’m capable of more than pulp adventure.

Have a good day, folks!