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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.

New Pulp Farewells


So this morning, I get up and check my email — where I immediately see a letter from Tommy Hancock, announcing his resignation from All Pulp. Now, I’ll be honest — I’m amazed that Tommy put this off as long as he did. He’s an incredibly busy guy and All Pulp is one of the many things that he’s done that benefits the New Pulp community a lot more than it benefits him and his own company. It’s a lot of thankless work. Still — seeing him announce that he’s leaving makes me immediately think that All Pulp in general is probably going away. Oh, sure, someone will step up most likely… but my experience tells me that someone who inherits something rarely has the same level of commitment as the person who founded it. I hope I’m wrong. If I had more time, I might step up myself… but I know better!

Thanks for all the work you’ve done on the site, Tommy!

Then I head over to Facebook and see a posting from Ronna Hanna that Wild Cat Books is shutting its doors in a few days. WCB has been publishing pulp stuff since 1997 and was instrumental in kicking off the whole New Pulp craze. More personally, Ron Hanna accepted my story submissions and gave The Rook a home for five volumes, plus all the other stuff I did there (Rabbit Heart, The Damned Thing, Ki-Gor, etc.). WCB had been growing more and more quiet in recent years and I’d pulled most of my own titles so they could be repackaged elsewhere… but I’m still damned sad to see WCB gone for good. They say they’ll continue publishing limited edition works and I hope so – but given heir recent output, I wonder if that’s more wishful thinking than anything else. I hope Ron (and, by extension, WCB) the very best, though — without them, my own writing career would be quite different… and the New Pulp movement might never have gotten off its feet. From WCB eventually came Airship 27, which inspired still more companies and publishers. Ron Hanna has contributed a lot to the pulp field and I hope he’s recognized for his contributions.

On a more positive note, I finished going over the Gravedigger edits I got from Pro Se and sent those back in. We’re steadily moving closer to its release date. I’m currently putting the final touches on the Lazarus Gray Volume Four manuscript, as well. It’s been a fun ride but I’m very close to typing THE END on this storyline, which has spanned books 2-4. I’m happy and sad at the same time, as I always am when I finish a major project.

Head over to All Pulp or the Wild Cat Books facebook group and commend Tommy & Ron for all their hard work, why don’t you? I plan to!


A Mixed Bag of Rambling Thoughts

The cover to The Shadow Year One # 2, from Dynamite Comics. Art by Alex Ross.
The cover to The Shadow Year One # 2, from Dynamite Comics. Art by Alex Ross.

Welcome back to Ye Olde Blog! I have a lot of things rattling around in my brain today so let’s get to it, shall we?

Uploaded episode 22 of The Shadow Fan Podcast this morning — if you’re a fan of The Shadow (and if you’re not, why the hell aren’t you?), you can join me in reviewing “The Devil Master” (September 15, 1941) and the first issue of Dynamite’s The Shadow Year One series. It’ll be a fun 40 minutes, I promise you. It actually ends up being a heavy “Margo Lane” episode because of the major role she plays in both of the featured reviews this week. I like the Margo character but I have mixed feelings about how important she’s become to the overall Shadow mythos.

Ordered Doc Savage: Skull Island by Will Murray yesterday. I’m curious to see this match-up between Doc and Kong. I’ll post a review once I’ve read it.

I’ve started writing the final chapter of Lazarus Gray Volume Four, though there may be a wrap-up chapter or epilogue to follow.

Agreed to take part in a Weird Western anthology that Mechanoid Press is putting out so I’ll be working on that as soon as I’m done with Lazarus Gray and Tales of The Rook 2.

Rabbit Heart & The Damned Thing will both be back in print within three months and both will be coming out from my Reese Unlimited imprint at Pro Se Press. After talking to Ron Hanna of Wild Cat Books, it was decided that my Ki-Gor book for them will also fall out of print. There are not plans to bring it or Guan-Yin back into print so you need to order ’em soon if you want ’em. I do want to make it clear that I wish Wild Cat Books the very best and hope that they’ll get back to printing new books soon. The New Pulp market misses them!



The Times They Are A-Changin’

mellisa_clarke_dark_eyesI informed Ron Hanna of Wild Cat Books today that I wanted him to remove The Damned Thing, Rabbit Heart and Guan-Yin and the Horrors of Skull Island from print. I’ve always been really proud of The Damned Thing & Rabbit Heart but the edits on both books have always been a bit rough and I’m going to be making sure they get a thorough scrubbing before I re-release them. I do plan to keep the cover artwork from the amazing Jason Levesque and he’s given me permission to continue the use of the art in the new editions.The main characters of those two books — Violet Cambridge and Fiona Chapman — are two of my favorite creations and I’m proud to say that the people who have managed to make their way through the books seem to agree that they’re amongst my best works.

As for Guan-Yin, I have no plans to return that one to print — it was always the least popular of my works, garnering some pretty terrible reviews over the years. To be honest, I don’t they were entirely unwarranted, either. So Guan-Yin will probably be gathering dust for the time being. I do hope, however, to put Rabbit Heart & The Damned Thing on the fast-track to publication. I’m not sure if these will be out again in print or if I’ll go with eBook only. I’m also not sure if they will appear via my Reese Unlimited imprint or if I’ll self-publish them, which is something that Mat Nastos keeps urging me to do, lol. really don’t want to get into self-publishing but once these things are edited, I want them back out there for sale ASAP and I’m not sure I want to wait for the Pro Se publication schedule to open up for that to happen.

This does mean if you don’t want to wait for the new editions and you want to get those books on the cheap, you better buy them right this second. They’ll be joining most of The Rook series as out-of-print soon, which means online vendors will be selling them for hundreds of dollars.

Or you could always buy them straight from me, courtesy of the Merchandise link at the top of the blog.

Moving on!

A new episode of Ubergeeks (# 45) went live today — check it out! Cari & I hit up the Orson Scott Card controversy and discuss our Top 5 Movie Quotes.

I was the guest on this week’s edition of Ralph’s Rants, where I was interviewed by the irrepressible Ralph Angelo. I think our discussion went pretty well so check it out!

From what I’ve heard, Gravedigger is still on track for a late March release — which means Lazarus Gray Volume 3 should be arriving in April. I really, really think you guys are going to like these books!

Our lovely model today is one of the primary visual inspirations I had for Charity Grace, aka Gravedigger. Dark & lovely… and very, very deadly. Gravedigger will feature a stunning cover by George Sellas and six interior pieces by legendary artist Will Meugniot!

New Pulp Recommendation of the Week: The Hounds of Hell

hounds_of_hellWelcome to a new Friday feature! Every Friday, I’m going to be focusing on a New Pulp book that I think all of you should give a look at. Sometimes, they’ll be brand-new releases, sometimes they’ll be a little older — but all will fall into the nebulous category of “New Pulp,” meaning you won’t see me recommending any Shadow novels here — not unless somebody starts writing new ones! These recommendations won’t be in the form of a straight review. I’ll be doing overviews of the books, explaining why I think it’s worth your time to look into it, which is slightly different.

This week we’re focusing on The Hounds of Hell by Ron Fortier and Gordon Linzner. Originally published by Wild Cat Books in 2005, this title was later reprinted by Airship 27 in 2008. Here’s how the publisher describes the title:

When Pulp Worlds Collide! The Moon Man and Doctor Satan, hero and villain of their own pulp magazines, meet here for the first time ever in the cross-over that will leave you spellbound and begging for more. Illustrated by Rob Davis and Bradley Walton, with an eye-popping wrap-around cover by Tom Floyd. This edition also includes 2 short stories by Ron Fortier: “Lady Arcane – Mistress of Magic” and “Angel In His Sights” as bonus pieces in this pulp fiction masterpiece.

Pulp fiction masterpiece? That’s strong words — but in this case, they’re well deserved. The Hounds of Hell was the first “New Pulp” book I read. I’d grown up on the classics, of course, and I was reading lots of stuff that could be described as pulpy back in 2006… but when I stumbled upon The Hounds of Hell, I was blown away. This was straight-on pulp that called itself that. It featured two classic pulp characters (The Moon Man & Doctor Satan) in a crossover clash. It was pure cool. I had already been working on my first pulp novel (Conquerors of Shadow, reprinted by Pro Se in The Family Grace) but this was the book that cemented in my mind that I could do more of this… I could do the kind of pulp that I really loved, the masked vigilante stuff. Without this book, I wouldn’t have kept writing my own pulp stories — so you wouldn’t have seen The Rook or Lazarus Gray. Now, that may not be a good thing if you don’t like my work but it’s true nonetheless! The impact on my own work can be seen in the way I’ve used The Moon Man (in The Rook Volume One), Ascott Keane (in The Rook and Rabbit Heart) and Doctor Satan (in The Rook and, soon, Lazarus Gray).

Anyway, what Ron and Gordon do here is take two different characters and throw them together in a really fun way, emphasizing each supporting cast to the fullest. The villains are dastardly and the heroes are inspirational. It’s all that good pulp should be! The interior art Rob Davis is perfectly suited to the story and was a great reminder of the days when pulps contained interior art. Again, this is one reason why I usually insist on having art in my books!

Obviously, considering how much this work has inspired me, I’d heartily recommend it to anyone looking for a good time. Is it High Art? Well, no. It’s a fun romp, full of escapist pleasure. Embrace it.