Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Table Talk - Researching the Voices in our Heads

This week, Barry, Bobby and Mike discuss working on obscure characters, particularly for the upcoming Pulp Obscura anthology line and then toss out their bucket list anthology dreams for everyone to share.

Question (Barry): With Pulp Obscura getting a lot of attention lately, let's talk about a related issue. How do you tackle the process of writing a pre-existing character, especially one that doesn't have a lot of back-story to draw upon?

Bobby: Research. Lots and lots of research. Okay, maybe not lots because I still have other things to write too. heh. When I agree to work on a pre-existing character, I usually receive a series bible from the publisher or editor. I use the bible as well as try to read a few of the original stories, especially on characters I’m not familiar with so I can get a feel for the character’s dialogue and characterizations. From there it’s just a matter of making notes that I can easily access then I start writing.

Mike: I just make it all up as I go along. Just kidding. Like Bobby, I read as much as I can get my hands on, then once I have a fair grip on the character, I try to imagine the motivations and thoughts going on in the creator's mind as they made the character. I feel that if I can get a good handle on how the original author handled the character, I'll have a far better chance of making something that seems authentic to the audience. With some of the Pulp Obscura characters, where there's very little reference material, I'll be trying to research the original author and see if I can get into the character's mind that way. Thankfully, one of the Pulp Obscura characters is from the mind of an author I'm already pretty familiar with, so that should make it a bit easier.

Barry: It sounds like we’re all on the same page here. I start out by reading everything there is and trying to get a handle on not only who the character is but how his stories are structured. If I’m writing a character for the first time, I want to be in the mindset of the author – his style, the tone of his writing, even the way he describes things. It’s not that I want to deliberately do a pastiche but for my first run on a character, I try to stay very faithful and not inject too much of my personal quirks into the story. I save that for later stories, lol.

Bobby: When doing anthologies, especially of more obscure characters like those featured in Pulp Obscura, all of the writers are basically drawing from the same, very small well so there is always the possibility of multiple writers doing similarly themed plots. I usually look for a plot or situation that is just outside the norm for the character for those stories. For example, my story for the upcoming The Avenger anthology, I had Richard Benson alone in a forest setting, which is not the type of environment where we often see the character.

Do you approach your plot and story any differently in these instances? What do you do to make your story stand out?

Mike: I just do what I always do, try to tell a story I'd dig reading. There have been a few instances where things have similar bits and pieces with others, but I think even if you and I tried to write the same story, it would still carry the uniqueness of our individual voices.

Barry: Yeah, I don’t worry about what other writers might be doing. If it’s for something like The Avenger anthology, I try to hit all the cool notes that I see in the character: I want someone who reads it to get kind of a greatest hits package in terms of the story. I broke down my Avenger story into certain key elements that I wanted to include: a strong mystery that somehow tied into the Avenger’s past and an affirmation of the fact that the members of Justice Inc. had formed a new kind of family with each other. Then I came up with a plot that would accomplish those goals.

Now if I were brought in to write a second Avenger story, I might try to do something unusual with the character but for a one-shot kind of deal, I’m trying to write the coolest ‘classic’ Avenger story that I can.

Bobby: That’s interesting. I agree that even if the three of us were to write a story based on the same basic plot we’d still get three distinct stories. That is one of the beauties of working on anthologies.

Mike: While we're on the subject of anthologies, if you could do an anthology of any character, who would it be and which two or three writers would you think to ask first?

Bobby: Wow! Now that’s a tough one. Top of my list would probably be Buck Rogers. I’d love to write the character at least once. Aside from that, I think Marvel’s Fantastic Four is a property that needs a good prose treatment. There are a lot of fantastic writers out there that I think would be great for this type of anthology. Of course, you two would get an invite as would Van Allen Plexico and Sean Taylor, who would be a perfect fit for either of the two properties I mentioned.

Barry: I kind of just went through this with The Rook – I set out to find guys to write stories featuring the character and ended up with great list of creators (including the two of you! Mutual admiration society here…). Beyond that, I’d love to see a Shadow anthology someday – a lot of the familiar New Pulp names would be guys I’d immediately think of, though I have a desire to see what somebody like Mike Baron would do with the character.

Mike: For me it's easy: John Carter of Mars and I'd invite Ron Marz and Aaron Shaps to participate right off the bat, knowing they both love the mythos as much as I do. Then, I'd obviously invite the two of you and Van Allen Plexico. Burroughs created such a rich environment for storytelling, I'd bet you could mine it for decades and not come close to exhausting the potential there.

Over the past decade, Barry Reese has written for publishers as diverse as Marvel Comics, Moonstone Books and West End Games. Primarily known for his pulp fiction creations The Rook and Lazarus Gray, Barry has also penned stories featuring The Green Hornet, The Avenger and Ki-Gor. He won the Best Author Award at the 2011 Pulp Ark Conference.

From his secret lair in the wilds of Bethlehem, Georgia, Bobby Nash writes novels, short stories, novellas, comic books, and graphic novels. Visit him at

Born with an excessively overactive imagination, Mike Bullock has parlayed that into a successful career writing comics and prose fiction. Bullock has written more Phantom comic book stories than any other US author and won the Angouleme Discovery Prize in 2007 for his creator owned series "Lions, Tigers and Bears".


  1. Mike,

    You clearly don't come to Pulp Empire enough:

  2. Nick,
    Why didn't you send over a press release? We coulda run this on the site weeks ago.

    Send one now and we'll run it. And, I'll get to doing a pitch. And, inviting Aaron Shaps to do the same.


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