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From the Vault: The (Fictional) Women In My Life

Rachel-Weisz-rachel-weisz-120258_800_1101I’m mostly known for my male creations — The Rook & Lazarus Gray, for instance — but I’ve spent a good bit of my career writing female leads. Guan-Yin and the Horrors of Skull Island, The Damned Thing, Rabbit Heart and the upcoming 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’ll 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 Rook 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 Rook’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.

Moving At A Glacial Pace

snoopy-writingSo we’re officially in the swing of the New Year… and there should be lots of exciting things coming from Reese Unlimited this year. To be honest, I’m thinking about slowing down my pace. Right now, I’m working on Lazarus Gray Volume 4 — but I have no solid idea when Volume 3 is coming out. The Rook Special Editions are coming — we’ve seen Volume One released but they still have to do 2-5. I’ve written Gravedigger but I’ve heard that it’s got a “before Pulp Ark” released date, which means March or April. I’m supposed to be getting stories in for Tales of The Rook Volume 2 but I’m already hearing from the writers involved that we’re headed towards delays. Tommy Hancock is supposed to be doing Rook Volumes 7-9 but I’m not sure about the time-frame for those, either. And then there’s my idea of doing new editions of Rabbit Heart and The Damned Thing, which would only add to the logjam at Reese Unlimited. If I were doing all this solo (self-publishing), I suppose I could set my own pace — but I’d also have to do all the work! So it’s unlikely you’d actually get these stories any faster. Even if I decided to stop doing print entirely, there would still have to be formatting for eBooks and so forth.

All of this is my long way of saying that I’m sorry that I frequently talk about things here that you won’t be able to buy or read for a year or more. Them’s the breaks. It’s annoying for me, too. Sometimes my stories for Moonstone take years to appear — and I’ve written things for publishers that never, ever saw print.

Good things come to those who wait, right?

Anyway, I don’t want to be writing three years in the future – so I might try very, very hard to take a step back and slow myself down. I could, of course, take on more non-Reese Unlimited work to force me to focus on other things. But more and more, I feel like keeping my best ideas for myself. It’s one thing to work on something like The Avenger, who is a character I truly love and always have. But to work on characters that I have no special attachment to, when the pay is… well, in some cases, there’s really no pay. It’s work. Besides, even if I write the greatest Crimson Mask story *ever*… what does that mean? It’s still just one story over that character’s history and only a few people will ever read it. If I do the greatest Lazarus Gray story ever, maybe that will be the one that vaults the series to greater heights.

Welcome to 2013, folks.

 

From the Vault: Dangerous Curves Ahead

I gave a how-to writing class to a group of high schoolers about a year ago and one of the young men asked me how I wrote female characters. Having written several books starring female protagonists (Guan-Yin and the Horrors of Skull Island, The Damned Thing, Rabbit Heart and the upcoming 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.

The (Fictional) Women of My Life

Scarlett Johansson - Masked Beauty
Scarlett Johansson – Masked Beauty

I’m mostly known for my male creations — The Rook & Lazarus Gray, for instance — but I’ve spent a good bit of my career writing female leads. Guan-Yin and the Horrors of Skull Island, The Damned Thing, Rabbit Heart and the upcoming 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’ll 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.

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.

Given the announcement earlier in this week — that I’m adapting a Liberty Girl graphic novel published by Heroic Publishing into prose format — I’ll once again be spending a lot of time with a heroine. In this case, Liberty Girl isn’t my creation… but she fits the mold of most of my creations. She’s intelligent, brave and always willing to do the right thing.

Dangerous Curves Ahead

I gave a how-to writing class to a group of high schoolers about a year ago and one of the young men asked me how I wrote female characters. Having written several books starring female protagonists  (Guan-Yin and the Horrors of Skull Island, The Damned Thing, Rabbit Heart and the upcoming 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.

New Pulp “Must-Haves”

Over on a Facebook group known as Fantastic Fiction, author PJ Lozito (author of the superb Sting of the Silver Manticore) inquired as to what others considered must-haves for a shelf of New Pulp. I immediately threw out Derrick Ferguson’s Dillon series as a good place to start. Nearly twelve hours later, one person had asked who Dillon was and others had suggested various “classic character revivals” such as Moonstone’s Avenger & Green Hornet volumes and the new Prof. Challenger book.

But no one else had mentioned any of the other New Pulp creations or series.

New Pulp has had problems defining itself for “civilians” for awhile now — non-pulp fans who don’t know Pulp Fiction from the Samuel L. Jackson movie. But it has equal problems with some folks in the classic pulp brigade, who don’t read the new heroes because they prefer the classic ones.

For the record, here’s what I eventually listed as books that should be on a New Pulp fan’s shelf, in addition to Dillon: the Dire Planet series by Joel Jenkins, the Captain Hazzard stuff by Ron Fortier, Hounds of Hell by Fortier and Linzer, Green Lama Unbound by Adam Garcia, Wayne Reinagel’s books, Van Plexico’s Sentinels, PJ’s Silver Manticore, Martin Powell’s Halloween Legion, Chuck Miller’s Black Centipede. I could go on and on, listing YesterYear by Tommy Hancock, Fortune’s Pawn by Nancy Hansen, all the Sovereign City stuff,  etc. but those are the ones that first came to mind and I think they’re all worthy of a look. Those are the books that, to me, are New Pulp ‘classics.’

Revivals of classic pulp heroes is wonderful — I’ve done it and enjoyed it. I’ll continue doing it, as well.

But if any of the New Pulp crowd ever hopes to attain lasting impact with their work, we have to break through. For me, that means getting people to try The Rook, Lazarus Gray, Rabbit Heart, The Damned Thing and Gravedigger.

Favorite Characters

Awhile back, I talked about some of my favorite books that I’d written but I also occasionally get asked about favorite characters. It’s a sticky question, since to some degree, I love all my creations — they’re my “babies,” as it were. But there are definitely ones that have a spot closer to my heart:

1) The Rook — Obviously, Max Davies would be near the top. I’ve written six books about him and he’s my most well-known creation. But I do have a love/hate relationship with him, in that when I do other projects, people always want to come back around to talk about The Rook. I’ve “finished” his series multiple times and always get sucked back in. Still, Max and his family are the backbone of the fictional pulp universe I’ve created and all the other characters exist in his shadow.

2) Lazarus Gray — For  years, I tried to create a viable second “series” to The Rook. I did some good projects along the way but nothing that really felt like I could do this series for years — until Lazarus Gray and his friends in Assistance Unlimited came along. Taking all the things I loved about The Avenger and mixing them up with my own supernatural-tinged style, Lazarus has quickly become one of my all-time favorites. The first seven stories featuring him should be out in September from Pro Se and then a full-length novel, Die Glocke, will follow in 2012.

3) Fiona Chapman — The star of my controversial novel Rabbit Heart, Fiona is the fictional outlet for my most visceral desires. Beautiful, intelligent and deadly, she’s the epitome of the “hot bad-ass girl with a sword” archetype. Though I may never do a sequel to the story, she’ll always be close to my heart.

4) Ascott Keane — Not my original creation but I feel connected to him because he’s appeared in multiple Rook stories and co-starred in Rabbit Heart. Though the original character fought Doctor Satan in the Golden Age of the Pulps, I think I’ve tweaked Ascott enough that I can feel a sense of ownership over him.

5) Violet Cambridge — Violet starred in The Damned Thing and had a cameo in The Rook Volume Six. A tough-as-nails lady P.I. in the late Thirties, Violet is a well-rounded character in my opinion. Her quasi-romance with Rook supporting character Will McKenzie was quite charming, in my opinion. Her novel was one of my most tightly-written works and I think it holds together very, very well.

Honorable mentions: Leonid Kaslov, Guan-Yin and The Furies.