Thursday, March 28, 2013

So... Why Pulp? - To All The Stories I Never Wrote





I’m tempted to break into singing that Willy Nelson song right now—you know, the one about the lovers who got away? Sometimes it’s like that with writing too. You have projects tucked away here and there, ideas by the boatload on some proverbial back burner, and things that just sound like they’d make great stories if you only had the time… Yeah, the mind of a writer is like an old attic stuffed with artifacts of a lifetime of living in the same home. It’s that closet, room, garage, or shed that never gets cleaned and organized. I don’t know about you, but I have files galore holding the bits and bobs of tales that went dormant into some phantom existence, waiting to be resurrected at a future time, like King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table.

I have to thank writer-extraordinaire and all around Paladin of the Road to Pulpy Adventure, Mr. Derrick Ferguson, for the commentary that seeded this week’s column. ‘D’ as I call him, often asks thought-provoking questions or purveys ideas to the rest of us hacks meant to turn up the burner under the muse. Recently he was warning us all about the perils of putting references in our stories of events and people whose tales haven’t yet been told. It seems some of his regular Dillon fans (And if you’re not a Dillon fan, you should be!) are dying to know all about the ‘Daughters of the Peacock King’ and something about being chased by a ‘15 foot polar bear’. Geez ‘D’—who wouldn’t want to read those tales? Since I’m currently working on a novel based an antique story start, and trying to update it to where the characters have gone today, it got me thinking… Where else have I stranded a perfectly good concept that might have a chance of catching some eyes? Have I missed some signals from readers telling me they’d like to know more about something or someone?

You can make yourself crazy thinking like that. It’s not like I don’t already have dozens of story concepts flashing through my synapses and swirling around in the gray matter as it is. I look at what I have lined up for this year, and I want to cringe, because I’m already behind. I go to bed at night, and try to get some sleep, and the ideas are pounding on the inside of my head, trying to get out. I get up in the morning and they follow me around all day, touching me with cold, clammy fingers, begging from every corner of my consciousness, wanting to be made corporeal on some page. If I am ever to get even half of what I want to write done, I’ll need several more lifetimes to do it in. I can’t work fast enough or devote more hours than I have now without chaining myself to the office chair in total isolation. I make notes, tuck them in files within files, and move on until I need them. Boy, does it bug me that I can’t get to more of it!

It’s rather reassuring to have so much territory of my own to mine, even at this point in what I laughingly call my ‘career’, where now and then I get approached on projects outlined by others. If I ever run out of fresh material, or old stories to revamp, I will certainly dig into those idea files. If I someday find myself staring at a blinking cursor wondering what the heck to put on the page; all that stuff will certainly come in handy. So yeah D, if someone comes to you and asks about that polar bear or the Peacock King’s nubile but deadly offspring, you might want to jot down a couple ideas for the story and shove it somewhere for a rainy day. Those little adventures you mentioned just in passing during some story stuck out in a fan’s mind, and it means you hit a game winning triple and made the sports page. Avid readers tend to move from one book to the next rather rapidly, so when a detail like that stays with them, it’s worth exploring.

Can you tell I’m one of those people who has trouble tossing things out? Maybe it’s my dump-picking, junk shop, yard sale and flea market haunting nature; but I love repurposing things, and that includes in writing. I am reluctant to part with any useful story fodder so I tend to fill up files rather quickly. I’m also a collector of random scenes from books, movies, television and real life that moved me in some way, and I save entire folders of pictures that might spark an idea. I figure if something resonated with me, it will likely do the same with others. No, I don’t plagiarize anything, but will write something with the same basic ‘flavor’ as that which interested me.

They say we’re all writing the same stories over and over again. Well I don’t know who ‘they’ are, but essentially, that’s true. What makes each tale unique is that you put your personal twist into them. So while D’s peacock ladies and polar bears represent common and familiar pulpy menaces, his take on them is going to make them come alive on the page. I’ve no doubt he’ll get to them someday (especially since I outed him even further—evil grin!). I think we all have some ‘tales within the tales’ to tell.

In the Vagabond Bards anthology I introduced a couple of characters I liked so much, I couldn’t let them go, so they are getting a series of their own. The fact that the only person to comment on them didn’t like one of the spinoff characters at first, and then the cavalier grew on him, tells me I chose well. Even in the Keener Eye stories, my foray into PI fiction, the fact that red haired and voluptuous flower child throwback Gwen has been described as irritating makes her memorable. Since she was written to be annoying but loyal, I did something right. Gwen is a contrast foil for Kate Keener; who is all about staying calm, figuring things out, and using what she knows to get by rather than panicking and needing to be rescued. The high wizard Kendahl, who appears in several of my Terran World books, seems to strike a chord with some readers, though he’s never been the star of any tale (yet). I’ve answered several inquiries about him. With the reactions I got to the fierce and vicious people-eating weremon in Fortune’s Pawn, I know I have to expound upon on them as well. Kendahl certainly needs his own book someday (he figures prominently in the one I am currently writing) and I have to tell the origin of those four legged sentient half human beasts with the paralytic saliva.

Yeah, there’s things I can return to.

When I look back at some of the stuff I wrote previously, I often cringe at the style. I’ve definitely improved as a writer. That doesn’t stop me from reusing what is worth salvaging within those long-ignored pages. If there’s an audience for it, I’ll write it. So if someone says to me, “Gee, I really would like to read more about drakkar, or snowbeasts, or how dragons went from collie size desert hunters to the scourge of the continent,” I’m going to note that. I’ll get around to explaining the great magickal war between evil sorcerer Gruhneholm and his less ruthless but more organized peers over whether he should be allowed to use magick to modify the code of life. I’ll certainly need to explain what all that ‘Light World/Dark World’ stuff means. I’ve still got plenty of places to go with most of my original material. I’m sure more avenues will occur to me as I go along.

I’m never going to have the time, energy, or incentive to write it all. My mind moves on far too quickly for that, and situations inside and outside of writing will influence what I can accomplish. There are ideas that I will look back fondly upon, and then move on. There are others I will run away from faster than a 15 foot polar bear just because I just don’t want to deal with them. It’s rather comforting to know that the pool of unwritten work is still plenty deep and wide. Any time I need to dip into it, I can.

So can you.


Wednesday, March 13, 2013

So Why Pulp? - When Do Things Get TOO Real?





A few days ago, I was slogging my way through Facebook’s news wall—which if you know anything about Facebook, is loaded with posts by people and pages you’ve liked or joined. So I was looking at a bunch of input from family, friends, peers, and groups I enjoy. Most times I’ll hit ‘LIKE’ to show interest and support, now and then I will make a small comment, but I also just surf to see what’s being bandied about. I do read any linked articles that catch my eye, and my writer’s bump of curiosity and wonder is always looking for something to scavenge as story fodder. Well, I saw a very gruesome picture of a dead tarantula with ‘things’ growing out of it, and while my first reaction was, “Ewwww!”, that wicked little muse said, “Check that out! There’s a story in there!” So I did.

You can see the article and the amazing video that accompanies it here: http://io9.com/5918948/fungal-infection-causes-tarantula-to-grow-antlers. Be warned that it is graphic, so if the sight of dead and dying creepy crawlies being attacked and taken over by fungus is going to upset you, then you might want to skip it. The real surprise for me was that this fungus is not uncommon in some environments and that it has strains that specialize in certain bugs. Plus it takes over the simple brain of the creatures to make them move to more favorable sites for spore dispersal. There is so little we know about the real world around us, it never fails to fascinate me as to what life and death struggles are going on right under our noses.

Now, while my gag factor over such things was working against me, my writer antennae were fully extended and my brain was humming along double time. What if that was a human being and not a tarantula or an insect, and we picked this fungus up on another planet? Say that there were at least months involved in the growing inside the body stage—you could wipe out an entire space colony and when the first responders get there, they could bring back the spores and start a pandemic situation at home. This thing could be sentient, and the mind control it exerts makes the infected seek out other humans. It could go after our food supplies, or become a weapon of mass destruction. It could be the revenge of a mad scientist or sorcerer—do you see the possibilities? When something strikes you as disturbing, there’s a good bet it will affect others similarly. And that makes for great for pulp writing!

As purveyors of speculative fiction, we have to go to unsavory places and poke into dark recesses that others dread to plumb. There is no end to the amount of horrific scenes a writer’s mind can dream up. For instance, as a fantasy writer, I work with plenty of mythological beings and creatures, and a great number of occult scenarios. It’s stuff that makes me want to sit down at the keyboard half a day and get lost in imaginary lands. To get beyond the ‘woo-woo’ factor of all that, I like to throw in a bit of science and realism; hence my excitement over finding yet another atrocious natural monster that eats big spiders. Yeah, realism and fantasy can go together, just like oil and vinegar in a salad dressing. It’s all in how you blend it.

Take for instance, the book I’m currently working on. It has the usual quasi-medieval setting with a heaping helping of magic, set in my own little universe, so I know the rules and limitations well. It has been said there are too many stories about dragons in fantasy, but they are a mythical critter I happen to adore. So this book features dragons prominently, as crafty but non-sentient predators on a large scale; and yep, they fly and breathe fire. One of the things that I love about writing dragons is that overwhelming sense of dread they bring, just because these are basically winged dinosaurs of very large proportions which can easily roast everything in their paths and carry off large beasts. To make them believable, I have given my dragons limitations too, and on a more beastly level, some motivation for being the scourge of the skies. Big animals must hunt big prey, and hunt often; so the ability to fly allows them to cover large distances. Having young to feed who can’t fly yet makes an adult dragon seek out even greater sources of food over a long range. Flaming is both a hunting device and a method of self-protection. So while we’re talking a creature of imagination, some of the aspects are grounded in reality.

Fire breathing as an attack mechanism is what I had to focus on for one particularly hard-to-write scene. That sent me searching the internet for even more ways to add some realism to what I was trying to describe, since dragons are a bit hard to study in the wild these days. I had it set up where soldiers in two outpost guard towers connected by a high bridge over a pass are attacked at night by an enraged dragon. I wanted to pin down for the reader not just the blow-by-blow details of the scene, but the actual feeling of being there. That means adding emotions and sensory material to the description, so that you’re not just reading it, but hearing, smelling, seeing, touching, even tasting what the characters are going through. It’s hard to describe an inferno in the midst of a battle if you’ve never experienced either, but I find that by adding little bits and pieces of information from other sources, I can give a good idea of what that was like. So, I had to get over my ‘creep factor’ again and go Google some stuff like, ‘What do burning human bodies smell like?’ and I looked for pictures of burnt corpses. Oh yes, I found my info, because on the internet, anything goes; and it was disturbing with a capital D! Yet, I got the bare bones of the scene down satisfactorily, and then I saved and shut the file and went on to some editing to get my mind off what I had seen, read about, and wrote.

I’ll admit, that information haunted me for the rest of the day, and made getting to sleep rather difficult that night. I’ve had to go back over that scene a few more times in this rough draft stage, adding to and refining what I have. I’m satisfied with it now, and it feels to me as if what I got across is more than a bunch of interesting little details about dragons and fighting them.

Any genre fiction requires some suspension of disbelief. Whether you’re writing a classic western shoot out, a gangland hit, face sucking aliens, or people turned into cyborgs in some lab; the more human sensory material you can work in, the better. If the huge monsters are fighting each other mere yards from where your character is crouching in hiding, let’s feel that sense of terror. If the zombies are gnawing on your family, or the bullets just ripped open your partner, we need to be there with you. Get realism in there—even with very few words—and you’ll make it riveting.

Now when is realism too real? When the story becomes more about shock and awe than it is entertainment. There is a fine line that has to be drawn somewhere, so that the splatter comes to a halt and we can see a way to something uplifting at the end. That’s absolutely vital in pulp, which is by definition, heroic fiction. Somebody has got to face the evil down and win this thing for the rest of us. That’s generally going to be the main character, albeit sometimes reluctantly and with plenty of outside help. However you write it, keep your eye on the fact that you are moving toward a positive conclusion of sorts, even when things look their darkest. Don’t paint yourself in a corner by getting so caught up in the violence and the gore, you forget to give your character some weapon, insight, help, or motivation that no one else has. Having limits on both the abilities of the bad dudes as well as the good guys makes for a far more interesting read than Superhero meets Super-villain and they duke it out forever. That would be a yawner.

No matter how far-fetched the setting and characters, a good grounding in reality is really imperative. We might be writing larger-than-life champions in bizarre and exotic places, but we’re selling those stories to human beings just like us. If Boromir takes fifteen orc arrows and still comes up swinging his sword, he’d better be established as Gondorian super race because no regular human being is going to get up after even one broadhead hits a vital spot. If Luke Skywalker’s ship goes offline in deep space and there’s no life support system functioning, he’s going to asphyxiate and crumple up like an empty potato chip bag, unless he has some inhuman ability to put his body into a hibernation stasis that can resist the pressure changes as well as the lack of oxygen. There are limits to how bad you can make things and have them remain believable, which keeps the reader tuned in. Yet, within those limits, you can play around a lot with your readers’ minds, keeping everyone enthralled by detailing how it would feel to fly into the upper atmosphere and beyond, wearing nothing more than a glorified union suit and cape.

So yeah, get real; and go beyond that too. Let ideas take you places no human has been able to travel to. That’s the stuff the best pulp stories are made of. But don’t skip looking around at this world for inspiration. As with the tarantula fungus, even nature can be bizarre as heck at times. Just don’t forget that your reader experiences your story in a very human brain. While it can conceptualize all sorts of possibilities, the mind’s understanding of reality is anchored in what the outer sensory organs tell it. No matter how eccentric your idea is, get some of that tactile detail in there as well. Your stories will sing, and your readers will sing your praises.

There’s no such thing as ‘too realistic’ in fiction as long as you recall that you’re telling a story, not making a list of ways to kill or maim. So now, get real, and go write some riveting scenes!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Diesel Pulp's EPulp Showcase


Do you need more gritty, hard-boiled noir in your life?  Do you feel the urge to drag on your beaten coat, tip your fedora to just the right angle, and slum it in a smoky speakeasy?  Do the grimy streets of another age call to you from deep within your blood?  If so, read on.

Featuring works by Grant Gardiner, John Picha, Bard Constantine, and Jack Philpott, the writers of Dieselpunks.org would like to present the very first Dieselpunk ePulp Showcase.
These four tales embody the spirit of another age and are absolutely free to download.

For young hoods, the Aether Age streets of mob-plagued Chicago present a world of opportunity. And Mack and Mickey are headed straight for the top in "That Sort of World: a Tale of the Aether Age" by Grant Gardiner.
It's class-warfare in Citadel City as Pandora Driver and her Car of Tomorrow deliver rough justice to the elites and a douche named the Gooch in "Who are the People in your Neighborhood?" by John Picha.
"The Wise Man Says" by Bard Constantine introduces Mick Trubble: a hard drinking, chain smoking charmer who bites off more than he can chew... then chews like hell. The Troubleshooter takes the grit and slang of a hardboiled detective and drops it in a dystopian setting that mixes Fedoras, trench coats, flying cars and android policemen.
Our last tale is set in the World of MaƱana by Jack Philpott…
The dirty streets of Roanoketown were his home and his only family, until he met HER.  Now he'll follow HER into hell, tamahaak held high, and fight as a proud Indian against the Anglo Oppressors.  He'll wager his life to be a true "Friend of the Spirits."

Download them from Dieselpunks.org for free, or pick them up at your favourite online bookstore

Dieselpunks.org



Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Powell Bookends THE SPIDER

The Spider™ Argosy Communications. Artwork © Dan Brereton

New Pulp Author Martin Powell shared the following news on his Facebook page.

Well, now it's official. Moonstone is now packaging a special volume devoted exclusively to my own adventures of Norvell Page's mad and monstrous crimefighter -- THE SPIDER. This is exciting, but also a bit bittersweet as it's my swan song for this character. I'm going to miss him.

The collection will feature both re-presented comics and prose as well as all-new stories and art, never before published.

The contents are:

"City of the Melting Dead" illustrated prose with art by Tom Floyd
"City that Couldn't Sleep" illustrated prose with art by Pablo Marcos
"Death Siege of the Frankenstein Legion" comic with art by Pablo Marcos
"Blood Reign of the Thunder King" comic with art by Hannibal King
"City of the Bleeding Snow" comic with art by Tom Floyd
"The Spider vs. The Werewolf" comic with art by Jay Piscopo

Soon as I know the publishing date, I'll announce it here on Facebook.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

UNDERCOVER REVIEW - JOHN CARTER AND THE GODS OF HOLLYWOOD


JOHN CARTER AND THE GODS OF HOLLYWOOD
By Michael D. Sellers
Universal Media
348 pages
Review by Ron Fortier

Every now and then I’ll read a book and then find myself debating whether to review it here and share my thoughts with all of you.  I do my best to keep these reviews dedicated to pulp “fiction” but regular followers know I have dealt with non-fiction titles in the past; especially those I felt had a strong connection to pulp literature.  That this book is all about the movie version of “A Princess of Mars,” by the greatest pulp writer of them all, Edgar Rice Burroughs, qualifies it above and beyond my parameters for this review column.

No, the reason I was having doubts about reviewing this book are my own personal feelings of animosity towards many of the people who were a part of one of the most disastrous Hollywood marketing fiascos of all time.  It is book that details catastrophic incompetence among so many high ranking Disney executives one is left marveling how such a great movie as “John Carter,” ever got made in the first place.  It also turns the spotlight on the heroes of this epic calamity; the few with the courage of their convictions and the daring audacity to see it finished.  All this despite the selfish individuals determined to see them fail to the point of spreading lies to their cronies; unscrupulous movie critics eager for any scrap of negativity to enhance their own lackluster careers.

Let me give you an analogy that sets the stage for the drama in Seller’s cautionary tale.  Imagine having bought tickets to a baseball game that you’ve been eager to see for a long, long time.  Then prior to the game, the officials announce that your beloved team has lost…but they are still going to go ahead with the contest anyway.  Impossible, you say?  That could never happen; the game hasn’t even been played yet.  That’s impossible, you cry.  Then comes the day of the game and sure enough, no matter how brilliantly your team performed on the field, the umpires would consistently rule in favor of the other side as the outcome was pre-determined and they were only playing their part.

Now replace our favorite team with a movie based on one of the most cherished fantasy adventures of all time.  The players on your team are director Andrew Staton and his cast and crew; all set to deliver an amazing, inspired film version that will soar way beyond your wildest imagination.  The officials are the Disney studio heads who, rather than going out of their way to DO THEIR JOBS and promote the movie, do the exact opposite and through a series of unbelievable guffaws, fail in every single aspect and allow the word to get out to the media that the movie is a flop….before it is even released.

The umpires who played along are the cowardly critics who, rather than judge the actual film on its merits, preferred to follow along like the sheep they are and add their own unsubstantiated vitriol.  By the end, “John Carter,” was convicted of a crime it never committed and sentences to wear a badge of shame totally unmerited.  Or so these malicious executives hoped.  

One of my favorite chapters in the book comes towards the end, “What Would Walt Disney Think?”  Sellers wonders just how far the Disney Corporation has strayed from the goals and dreams of its founders, Walt and Roy Disney.  In looking at how the company is now run by slick business types who have no clue how to dream, it is a sad indictment on not only Disney but all of Hollywood.

And then there is the finale wherein the author, having clearly demonstrated that the men and women behind this sabotage of a wonderful movie, excused themselves of any wrong doing by claiming they were motivated solely in creating profit for their company.  That being the case, he then in wonderful movie accounting practice, shows how producing sequels would clearly add coins to the coffers in an almost risk-free scenario.  In other words, NOT doing more John Carter movies is illogical and should be pursued adamantly if these executives truly want to make money.

I saw “John Carter,” twice in the theater, bought the Blu-ray the day it was released and have watched it a dozen times since.  Each time I watch it I see new things in it that make me laugh and cry. It is a great movie, filled with wonder, adventure and romance!  Because of that, “John Carter and the Gods of Hollywood,” is the most frightening horror book I’ve ever read. That there exist people in this world who make a living destroying the dreams of others, whether intentional or not, is both scary and despicable.  But don’t take my word for it, read the book and then add your voice to the thousands across the globe demanding sequels.  In the end, we will not be denied!