Monday, July 16, 2012

Boxing Pulps on the Comeback Trail: the Fight Card Series

New Pulp is not just catching on; it's catching fire. There is more exposure to the classic pulps every day, and more authors publishing new pulpesque material. This year I caught wind of a new series resurrecting a long-forgotten pulp genre, and just had to check it out.

The series is called Fight Card. It is a throwback to the boxing pulps of yesteryear, brainstormed by Paul Bishop and Mel Odom. All the novellas in this series are set in the 1950s, which just seems to fit perfect for stories with a hardboiled noir edge. Odom, Bishop, and others are using the "Jack Tunney" house name to write under, in true pulp-writer style. The first e-book in the series I read was Bishop's Felony Fists, which I reviewed on the Two-Fisted Blog. I've read most of the series (on my smart phone during lunch breaks and such) so far, actually, but have not yet found time to review them.

Heartfelt apologies to all for my absenteeism of late. My effort at redemption is below, and will hopefully be a treat for fans of New Pulp: a brief interview with series co-creator Paul Bishop. Bish is a thirty-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department, a blogger, contributor to Fight Fictioneers Magazine, an experienced crime novelist, and, of course, a pulp fan.

HANK: When did you first discover pulp/how did you become a fan of it?

BISH: I discovered the detective pulps in my twenties.  I’d been aware of it before then, but hadn’t sought any out to read.  However, once I got into the Black Mask and other pulp detective tales I was hooked.  From the detective pulps, I moved on to the hero pulps, the aviation pulps, the western pulps and finally to the sports pulps

HANK: What was your introduction to the boxing pulps?

BISH: I began collecting original issues of Fight Fiction Magazine after reading a few of Robert E. Howard’s Sailor Steve Costigan yarns.  Once I focused on fight pulp stories, I began to see how they permeated the sports pulps of the ‘30s, ‘40s, and ‘50s, and I began reading more widely.

HANK: Boxing films were popular in the 1930s, the '50s, and enjoyed a resurgence in the '70s and '80s after the success of Rocky. It doesn't seem that fight fiction ever shared that popularity, except in the pulps of the 1950s. Maybe I'm mistaken, but if not, do you have any theories why that is?

BISH: Like many of the other magazines, the sports pulps died out with the advent of television.  Folks were getting their fight and sport action on the box in their living rooms instead of the pulp pages.  Also, people became disenchanted with the fight game as it became clear how tied into organized crime it all was.  However, while the proliferation of fight fiction was reduced to a trickle, there has always been authors who have told these stories.  Currently, there are a number of fight pulp-style stories being published (mostly in e-book format), with the Fight Card series at the vanguard.

HANK: Share the genesis of Fight Card.

BISH: Surfing, I came across a new fight pulp style e-novelette, Smoker, written by Mel Odom – a prolific writer in the manner of the original pulp writers.  I tracked Mel down via his website and we hit it off immediately.  We had a ton in common including a shared love of the fight pulps.  By the end of our first phone conversation, we had hatched the idea that would become the Fight Card series … 

HANK: I saw a cover image for Smoker on your blog, and have to add that one to my towering To-Be-Read Pile. 

 Describe the series, the stories that are in it... and going to be in it. Has your (and Mel's) vision been well-realized so far?

BISH: The Fight Card series consists of monthly 25,000 word novelettes, designed to be read in one or two sittings.  The stories and stylings are inspired by the fight pulps of the '30s and '40s – such as Fight Stories Magazine – and Robert E. Howard’s two-fisted boxing tales featuring Sailor Steve Costigan.

Currently, each Fight Card story is set in the 1950s, with locations anywhere in the world. PG-13 language and violence.  The main character does not have to be a boxer (reporters etc. are fine), but boxing HAS to be at the heart of the story and its resolution – usually, the BIG fight.  Stakes can be high or low in the big picture, but obviously high for the characters involved.  One of the main characters also has to have a connection to St. Vincent's Asylum For Boys in Chicago (an orphanage), where Father Tim, the fighting priest, teaches the 'sweet science' as a way to become a man. 

We’ve now had seven Fight Card stories published and there are four more completed tales ready for publication and another half-dozen in various stages of being written.  I have been delighted by each and every one of them.  It has been a pleasure to see how the Fight Card team of writers have each taken the simple concept and made it their own – the variety of plots and characters has astounded me.

HANK: Even though each different "Jack Tunney" has his own style, I think they've all nicely captured a distinct pulp flavor in the ones I've read. And they've got the action and characterization to keep your nose buried in the pages. I've never once been tempted to skim, or so disgusted by the stupidity of a protagonist that I set one down and moved on to another book (believe me: this has happened many times with other books--an unfortunate by-product of the ease of publishing during the Digital Age, I guess). 

 I'm curious why, for a series anchored in the 1950s, why the "house name" you chose is a composite of two heavyweight champions from the 1920s. Any rhyme or reason to that?

BISH: There is no specific purpose behind the composite pseudonym.  At the time, I’d just finished reading both a new biography of Gene Tunney and an issue of Jack Dempsey’s Fight Magazine (a ‘30s pulp to which the great champion lent his name) – the pseudonym just clicked.

HANK: I think it has the extra appeal of being an "in joke" for those who know something about boxing history.

Were you (or are you) a boxing fan? How about Mixed Martial Arts?

BISH: I’ve been a casual boxing fan for many years.  Sonny Liston has always been one of my favorite fighters and I have a great retrospective appreciation for Muhammad Ali.

I didn’t take to MMA in the early years of the sport.  However, as I’ve come to understand the technical aspects involved, especially the grappling techniques, I’ve come to appreciate it more and more.  In fact, we’re considering adding a couple of Fight Card:MMA titles next year to bring a contemporary side to the Fight Card series.

HANK: That would be cool. I've had an idea for an MMA story germinating in my mind for years now. I've also read the opening chapter of another writer's work-in-progress which has much promise.

As a fan, I'm almost the opposite of you: I loved MMA in the early years and couldn't get enough of the UFC. It was the kind of thing I had fantasized about, having dabbled in the martial arts enough to be fascinated by the contrast in forms and disciplines. Although the MMA fighters now are very dangerous, tough men, I just don't enjoy the homogenized styles as much.

You're a veteran of the LAPD, and have written many crime novels. In fact, your first Fight Card entry, Felony Fists, was a fusion of the detective and boxing genres. A very entertaining one, I might addno doubt your interest in vintage pop-culture helped you capture the atmosphere of the era. Do you see yourself fusing the genres again in future installments?

BISH: Absolutely!  My follow up to Fight Card: Felony Fists will be a sequel, Fight Card: Swamp Walloper.  The storyline follows my boxer/cop hero, Patrick Flynn, as a murder investigation leads him to New Orleans and a confrontation with a crooked penitentiary warden staging fights to the death between the inmates.

HANK: That's just loaded with potential conflict. I'm salivating, here.

There are a lot of sports fans in the world, but only a portion of them watch boxing, other than super-hyped match-ups (and this portion seems to be losing ground fast to the UFC/MMA fans). I would guess not many of them are avid readers. And vice-versa: not too many avid readers are fight enthusiasts. Then again, pulp fans are only a small portion of the reading population.  And yet it seems you've built a loyal and appreciative following in the short time since introducing this retro-pulp fight series. Is there a magic formula at work somewhere behind the scenes? Do you have any theories for why this series is resonating with readers?

BISH: Fight Card’s team of authors have delivered fast-paced two-fisted action which has resonated with the reviewers.  The characters in the Fight Card novels are everyday ‘Joes,’ with whom the readers can both identify and respect… The advent of e-publishing has given us a way to reach our niche audience, and it is their enthusiastic involvement in blogging, Facebooking, tweeting, and use of other social networking sources that has expanded the audience.  No magic formula other than strong characters, fast paced storytelling, and attention to plotting.

HANK: I'm a relative newcomer to the author business, and so far am still spending most of my time on a "real" job and with family, but I've made an effort to get inside the circle of the New Pulp movement, and so am pleased with the contacts I've been making. Seems like you know everybody I know, though, and then some. Do you consider yourself part of the New Pulp movement?

BISH: I am delighted to be associated and involved with the New Pulp movement.  There is a tremendous amount of unselfish support within the New Pulp community as almost everyone is a fan as well as a professional.  The level of idea sharing and cross-platform support for New Pulp is really unprecedented in my experience, which is both gratifying and very, very, cool.

HANK: In my opinion this is nowhere better exemplified than by you and Mel (Odom) and your Fight Card stable. They seem to have you solidly "in their corner" (pun intended). Kudos!

Do you have plans for any other retro-pulp series, or any other forgotten genre resurrections?

BISH: I’ve been commissioned to write several short stories for various pulp revival anthologies built around existing pulp legacy characters.  Pro Se publisher/writer Tommy Hancock and I will also be editing a series of pulp anthologies under the Pulse Fiction banner for 2013 publication.  These will feature new pulp characters in retro-settings from all pulp genres.

I’m also editing an anthology of new ‘60s spy fiction (back when spying was fun) inspired tales. These stories are being written by the members of C.O.B.R.A.S. (Coalition Of Bloggers wRiting About Spies)– a loose knit group of espionage enthusiasts.

HANK: That all sounds really cool. Looks like you'll be busy, but that's the kind of "busy" I'd take any day!

Finally, here's your chance to talk about Bish's Beat (and any other cool blogs) as well as plug any new books you're sending to the presses.

I do a lot of blogging ( and social networking (Twitter@Bishsbeat).  While I do some promotion on these platforms, I mostly use them as a way of sharing my love of the many eclectic interests (vintage covers, lounge music, ‘60s spies) that strike my fancy.

Next up on my writing schedule is the first book in a new contemporary series, The Interrogators, making use of my extensive experience ‘working in the box’ (aka: the interrogation room), and more Fight Card titles.

HANK: Many thanks, Bish, for taking the time to answer my questions, and best of luck with all your endeavors.

Hank Brown is the Two-Fisted Blogger, as well as mac-daddy of Virtual Pulp Press. His military thriller Hell and Gone has earned accolades from Midwest Book Review, Post-Modern Pulps, authors Jim Morris (War Story, The Devil's Secret Name), Jack Silkstone (the PRIMAL series) and Jack Murphy (Reflexive Fire, the PROMIS series). He has also authored a smattering of new pulp, including his own soon-to-be-released novella for the Fight Card series.


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