The Miracle Menace & Object of Power!

I have a couple of different Topics of Interest in this entry…I know I should blog more often, but I usually wait until I have a backlog of innerestin’ stuff so I don’t have to resort to posting pictures of my lunch or my cat sleeping. Oh, well…here’s one on account of our cat Liddy…Image

First up—A review of Will Murray’s The Miracle Menace, the latest book in his The Wild Adventures of Doc Savage series.

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As some of you may be aware, I have some experience with writing Doc Savage, at least insofar as crafting comic book stories. When it comes to prose and emulating the pulp story-telling style of Lester (Kenneth Robeson) Dent, Will Murray is the undisputed master. Starting in the early 1990s, Will continued the Doc Savage novel series and after a 20 year hiatus, picked it up again with the WILD adventures of Doc Savage.

The adjective is well-deserved. The Miracle Menace is by turns weird, suspenseful, action-packed and most definitely wild. Set in 1937, Doc and his crew get involved with a mysterious man who claims to be Christopher Columbus. He shows up in La Plata, Missouri  of all places (hometown of Doc creator Lester Dent) already embroiled with colorful characters like stage magician Gulliver Greene, Spook Davis and Ivan Cass.

The enigma swirls around a dark island in the Great Lakes, a sinister brotherhood of telepaths and old Victorian manor house that sometimes is there and sometimes isn’t. Christopher Columbus is only one of the mysteries Doc and team contend with in this novel.

It wouldn’t be a Doc Savage adventure without a great villain, and The Miracle Menace definitely provides that…in fact, the villain is one from Doc’s past who is quite possibly second only to John Sunlight as the adversary who gave him the most trouble.

The Miracle Menace is a truly enjoyable book in the classic pulp mode. It feels totally authentic, which isn’t surprising. Long ago, Will Murray found the “Kenneth Robeson” voice,  and he’s been writing Doc Savage with it ever since.

The cover is another beautiful painting by Joe DeVito, the successor to James Bama. In fact, he showcases Bama’s dapper version of Ham Brooks and the book itself is Leonard Leone, the former Bantam Books art director who actually posed for Ham. I also liked Joe DeVito’s design of the “superfirer” in Doc’s hand with the extended “ram’s horn” magazine which  has never been properly depicted.

Overall, The Miracle Menace is excellent and should please Doc Savage purists as well as intrigue new readers. Will Murray presents the cast of familiar, beloved characters in the setting in which they work best—wild shennangians, SF elements, mystery and lots of fistfights.

Check out all of The Wild Adventures of Doc Savage series here: http://www.adventuresinbronze.com/

As for the second Topic of Interest:

The Justice Machine: Object of Power graphic novel has finally found a publisher, courtesy of Darren Davis and Bluewater Productions.

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This book has had a rather twisty and turny path over the last couple of years, partly due to the vagaries of the direct market and partly due to publisher incompetence.  Since the art for the book was completed over a year ago, the whole thing became a study in frustration.

Five or so years ago, after Justice Machine art was featured in The Everything Guide to Writing Graphic Novels, I was queried by several parties about reviving The Machine. Since it seemed like events were pushing us to reintroduce the team in one form or another, we decided a compilation volume was the best way to go.

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The sales and critical response to High Gear Edition Volume One was very encouraging…and within a year, I was working with Moonstone Books to create the first new Justice Machine material in nearly 20 years. The initial plan was for a three-issue miniseries and a “Reintroductory” special.

The series was originally scheduled for fall of 2011–the 30th anniversary of The Justice Machine’s debut– but due to financial issues, the project was delayed multiple times. Then finally, the agreement with Moonstone expired altogether. So, The Justice Machine floated around in limbo for a bit.

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Granted, if I’d wanted to surrender all control of the Justice Machine property or sell it outright (as the Dynamite Books publisher wanted me to), Object of Power would have probably been out by now. But after my experiences with Moonstone, I have zero interest in letting a third party have any kind of control over one of my intellectual properties.

There’s no need for it nowadays unless that third party can offer something that you can’t do yourself. Simple enough criteria, but you’d be surprised how few publishers have those kind of basic resources nowadays. Fortunately, Bluewater Productions does.

Here’s a link to the official press release on Bluewater’s site: http://www.bluewaterprod.com/news/Justicemachineann.php

I wanted more than just a publisher who would put out The Justice Machine: Object of Power graphic novel and leave it at that. The Justice Machine has a great deal of untapped potential, particularly with the all-important secondary rights of movie and TV development. At this point, there are very few comic book super-teams with the cachet of The Justice Machine who aren’t owned by major corporations.

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Working with Bluewater, I’ll be building the foundation of a Justice Machine franchise. We’ll be making the earlier issues available in various formats and we’ll create other media tie-ins. We’re also serious about new Justice Machine comic projects, either in graphic novel or mini-series form.

To indulge in a little sappiness—I love the Justice Machine. I’ve owned and developed them since 1991, when I purchased the rights from Mike Gustovich. Twice I’ve turned down offers to license and/or sell the Machine. Therefore, whatever form future Justice Machine projects may take, I can assure all and sundry that the core concepts and characters will remain intact.

No pointless reboots, no arbitrary resets and no changing things for the sake of it when a new creative team comes in…mainly because I’ll always be guiding The Justice Machine.

Sooo…gear up.

Official Justice Machine site: justicemachine.com

Justice Machine Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CpX8veNwDew

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Writing The Detectives

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Although it’s not widely known (and why should it be?), my first foray into establishing myself as a “serious” writer was with a hard-boiled detective novel.

Through the spring and summer of 1978, I was laid up with a broken leg. I lived in Central Florida at the time, so having my left leg encased in about 20 pounds of plaster-of-Paris from ankle to upper thigh in 95 degree heat (with about that much in humidity) didn’t make me want to exert myself overmuch. Not to mention, I was zonked out on pain-killers.

So…to pass the time I read, and what I read primarily were detective novels. It was kind of a switch of genres for me. Although I was pretty much an omnivore as reader, I preferred SF and heroic fantasy, although I loved Donald Hamilton’s Matt Helm series and Edward S. Aaron’s Sam Durrell secret agent books when I was younger.

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I was no stranger to detective and mystery fiction, since both of my parents read everything from Erle Stanley Gardner to Rex Stout to Richard Prather (when I was a kid, I was forbidden to touch my dad’s collection of Shell Scott and Mike Shayne novels, so I had to sneak-skim them).

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Of course, detective TV series were a staple of my household while growing up: Perry Mason, Mannix and later, my particular favorite, The Outsider, starring Darren McGavin. I’d also seen all of the hardboiled noir classics: Murder My Sweet, The Big Sleep, The Maltese Falcon and a lot of lesser known films too, like Pitfall and Dead Reckoning.

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Since I was convalescing at my parent’s home, I picked up a couple of books at random, just to pass the time. The first was a Raymond Chandler anthology, Trouble Is My Business. After reading Chandler’s very entertaining foreword, I was hooked.

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Once I completed the entirety of Chandler’s novels, there was Hammett, then MacDonald…both Ross and John…as many of their books as I could find. I did more than read them–I studied them…the different techniques, the pacing, the balance between plot and character development. After a couple of months of reading a book a day and intense study, I decided to try my writin’ hand at the detective genre.

I knew I didn’t want to go the standard route of the tough guy PI in a seedy office in LA…even though that trope had been handled in a fresh way by Timothy Harris in his excellent Kyd For Hire, which came out as a paperback that same summer.

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Being an avid fan of John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee series, I decided to make Florida my milieu…but not the tourist Mecca Florida of beach-bunnies and lavish hotels.

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No, my setting was the “real” Florida…I went far inland from West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale into the central section of the state…cattle and citrus country. It was a Dark Continent of blazing heat, phosphate mines, swamps, and nigh-endless tracts of rattlesnake-infested palmetto scrub—also known as Cracker Country.

As the old axiom goes, “write what you know” and I knew central Florida…as much as I wished I didn’t.

There’s a bit of dialogue spoken by Pat Hingle’s Judge Fenton character in Hang ‘Em High that adequately sums up the character of Cracker Country: “A happy hunting ground filled with bushwhackers, horse thieves, whiskey peddlers, counterfeiters, hide peelers, marauders – they’d kill you for a hat band.”

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He was talking about the Indian Nations of Oklahoma in the 1889, but by substituting drug smugglers, cattle rustlers, pot growers, Klansmen and outlaw bikers, the judge’s description fit the central Florida of my own experience pretty much to a T.

It was–and still is–a place of cultural extremes—just a few miles inland from a major metropolitan area like Tampa Bay, you’ll be rolling through little towns that haven’t changed since the surrender at Appomattox…for that matter, a lot of people in those little towns refused to acknowledge the surrender.

(For years, I thought this license plate was issued by the state since so many vehicles sported ’em)

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For my detective hero, I went in another direction, too—not a professional PI, but a man who knew the dark heart of the region and struggled to keep it from corrupting him. He became involved in cases because of his reputation as a man who could hold his own and deal with scum on their own terms if necessary.

To teach myself the craft, I wrote five short stories, one of them of novella length. I had no intention of placing them since I viewed them as learning exercises.

Once I felt I had mastered the form sufficiently, I wrote a novel featuring my detective hero and his milieu—in fact, it was my first full-length work. With this manuscript, I managed to secure an agent with the prestigious Connie Clausen literary agency in NYC and I thought my future as a detective novelist was assured.

Uh-uh.

It was my first—but unfortunately not my last—lesson about literary agents. Just because a writer is repped by a well known agent, a sale to a publisher doesn’t necessarily follow.

So, while my agent shopped that manuscript around, she urged me to write a second book about the same character, thinking it might help to sell the whole thing as a series.

To make a long story short, although we came close, it never happened. Ironically enough, Raven House, Harlequin’s then-fledgling mystery imprint made an offer but my agent turned it down because it was too low (shoulda looked at that as a sign of things to come). A couple of years later, she quit the literary agency to practice law.

By that time, I had already moved on to the more immediate concerns of simply making a living. My two detective novels and five short stories were consigned to a box.

Fast-forward a lotta years and a whole lotta published work, including over 50 books, most of them SF/action-adventure novels.

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I became a fan of the TV series Justified. It’s a tough, adult and intelligent show with its own unique vision. As far as I’m concerned, it’s the closest thing to a television version of the old Fawcett/Gold Medal paperback originals to have been produced in decades. The last, in my opinion, was The Rockford Files. 

One reason I like Justified so much is that there’s an air of authenticity to it, particularly with the hillbilly crime syndicates that US Deputy Marshal Raylan Givens is often forced to deal with in his stomping grounds of eastern Kentucky.

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I  easily recognized that type, but by the same token, the cackling, sociopathic criminal cretins I knew in Central Florida made the Crowders, the Bennetts and the Dewey Crowes seem like the senior faculty of Cambridge University.

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Anyway, watching Justified reminded me of my own hard-boiled detective hero contending with his own po’ white trash villainy. So, I pulled out the box of manuscripts and went through the short stories…and to my surprise, with all of these years of hindsight, I concluded the novella didn’t suck.

Obviously, the story required revision, particularly adding technology like cell phones and so forth and also fixing up some plotting flaws that my 20-something year old self didn’t catch. Fortunately, I was able to rely on a great editor this time around.

I also changed the detective hero’s name to Bonaparte “Bone” Mizell, inspired by a real Cracker cowboy whose exploits in the early 20th century Florida cattle trade had become local folklore.

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In fact, the famed Frederic Remington was so impressed by the tall tales of Bone, he painted his portrait, calling it “A Cracker Cowboy”.

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Rag Baby, the first Bone Mizell Mystery is an 18,000 thousand word ebook available for Kindle for the exceptionally reasonable price of .99 cents. The cover is designed by Melissa Martin Ellis, who is not only a best-selling author in her own right, but she’s also a professional graphic designer…not to mention she’s the great editor I referenced earlier.

Here’s the Rag Baby description and the link:

SEX, BLACKMAIL  AND MURDER IN THE DARK HEART OF THE SUNSHINE STATE!

Bonaparte “Bone” Mizell, formerly of the DEA, has a problem on his hands; Dale Bristline, his 400 lb. client with a beautiful ex-stripper wife needs help dealing with a blackmailer — Brandy’s first husband has returned from the dead and is making outrageous demands…and she mustn’t be told about it.

When drug-dealer turned sex club owner Bristline needs some help dealing with the blackmailer, cash-strapped Bone accepts the case…and he quickly learns that behind the sunshine and laid-back lifestyle is a dangerous jungle, where sex is big business and jealousy can lead to murder. Bone deals with bikers turned bodyguards, scorned strippers and a lovely Latina sheriff, all out to get him – in one way or another.

As a DEA agent, Bone was used to hitting all the wrong places at just the wrong time. Now a cast of bizarre characters and a storm of violence traps him in a mystery that will take all of his resourcefulness to solve – and survive!

:You can also read a sample for free at the same link.

http://tinyurl.com/RAGBABY

Depending on various factors—not the least of which is time—I’m planning on more Bone Mizell Mysteries. 

Let me know what you think!

Nosferatu Rises Again–Digitally!

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“If there was ever in the world a warranted and proven history, it is that of vampires–the evidence is all embracing.” —Jean Jacque Rousseau

In the lexicon of vampire characters, there are surprisingly few who have transcended the works in which they originally appeared to become icons. Only two names are genuinely recognizable and both are archetypes: Count Dracula and Nosferatu. That shouldn’t be surprising since the two characters started out as one in the same.

 Although modeled on Dracula in behavior, Baron Graf Orlock, the Nosferatu (which means plague-bringer in Greek…the word is only mentioned once in the novel Dracula as a generic term for vampires), was much more monstrous in appearance.

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The Count Dracula of Bram Stoker’s book was far removed from the debonair nobleman as portrayed by Bela Lugosi, but he was still recognizably human, apparently even cooking meals for Jonathan Harker.

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In stark contrast, Orlock was an inhuman monster and became the direct template for another vampire type. Dracula and Orlock provided the pattern for almost all portrayals of the undead in the 20th century. In fact, Orlock might even be a tad more influential.

The concept that sunlight destroys a vampire first appeared in the film, Nosferatu, Eine Symphonie des Garuens ( A Symphony of Shudders) and that was picked up by the  generations of writers and film-makers who followed. n the original novel, Dracula’s supernatural powers are limited by daylight, but the sun is not deadly to him. Orlock was a completely nocturnal creature.

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The director of Nosferatu, Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau, wanted to film Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel, but he didn’t want to pay Stoker’s widow for the privilege. Hoping to avoid charges of copyright infringement, he changed all the character and place names: Harker became Hutter, Count Dracula became Baron Orlock, London became Bremen and so on.

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Unfortunately for Murnau, his changes weren’t enough to satisfy or fool Mrs. Stoker. She won a judgment against Murnau in international court. All copies of the film were ordered destroyed, but the master prints remained intact.

Although more polished productions dealing with vampires were made around the same time (such as Carl Dreyer’s Vampyr), Nosferatu still had a uniquely primal quality that was never duplicated. It continues to have, as one reviewer put it, to evoke “a chilly draft from doomsday.”

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The film lay largely forgotten until new prints were struck from the master in the early 1960s but its rediscovery lay primarily with film students and children.

If you were a child in the 1960s, you were surrounded by monsters and monster imagery—Shock Theater, Creature Feature, monster comic books, magazines like Famous Monsters of Filmland, Monster World, Castle of Frankenstein as well as TV shows such as The Munsters and Dark Shadows.

When I first came across a picture of Orlock in the back pages of Famous Monsters  I had no idea he was linked to Dracula…all I knew was that he didn’t look like any other picture of cinematic vampires I’d come across.

I think it was in this issue:

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As portrayed by German actor Max Schreck, Orlock remains one of the most frightening visuals in horror movie history. I was revolted, yet fascinated. There was nothing of the European nobleman about him.

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It wasn’t until much later when I saw the complete film that I realized Graf Orlock was characterized as a folkloric vampire…a hellish creature not remotely human or romanticized in any way. He slept in soil infected with the bubonic plague. Death, disease and horror followed in his wake. Rats were his servants.

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Despite his iconic appearance, the Nosferatu version of the vampire wasn’t popular with most film-makers of the time. In pop culture, the most terrifying quality of the vampire became their appearance of humanity except for pale skin and maybe a pair of extended canines. An opera cloak was optional.

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An Orlock-like vampire didn’t appear on screen again until the late 70s, in a made-for-TV adaptation of Stephen King’s ‘Salem’s Lot. Remaking Barlow, the master vampire, into an Orlock lookalike (or was he indeed Orlock?) was a divergence from the book, but it made the scene where he first appeared the most memorable of the entire production.

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Around the same time came Nosferatu: The Vampyre, starring Klaus Kinski in the title role.

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Although patterned on the original silent version, the film used the names of the characters in Stoker’s novel.

By the early 1990s, with the world-wide popularity of Anne Rice’s Lestat novels, vampires had been recast as tortured Byronic heroes. They were no longer corpses bloated with the blood of innocents who lived in filth, but elegant, misunderstood predators who often gnashed their fangs in angst before they fed on their latest victim.

At that point in time, I was the editor and main idea-man of Millennium Publications. I knew that the company should produce a vampire comic of some sort.

Millennium was enjoying a great deal of success with our comic series based Doc Savage, The Wild Wild West and HP Lovecraft.

Innovation Comics had a hit with their adaptation of The Vampire Lestat and Millennium was adapting Anne Rice’s The Mummy Or Ramses the Damned, but I had no interest in creating a comic about vampires who attended dinner parties or dressed like leather fetishists from Goth clubs.

Nor did I want to revisit Dracula, primarily since Marvel had pretty much covered everything that possibly could be covered with the Count in their long-running Tomb of Dracula and Dracula Lives titles. Once you present Dracula fighting Spider-Man and The X-Men, you know you’ve gone about as far as you should.

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Then I remembered Orlock.

Since Orlock had always been viewed as little more than Dracula with a name change, I decided to create a story that established once and for all that they were two separate and distinct characters.

 I also wanted to make Orlock something more than a just another bloodsucker. I saw him as a monstrous entity that did not suffer from the same weaknesses as others of his kind—he did not shrink from crucifixes or Holy Water or even silver bullets.

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My vision of Graf Orlock was that of a creature of ancient evil who perpetuated himself over the centuries, gaining greater sustenance from man’s cruelty to his own kind than from mere blood. He may have supped on blood, but he feasted on hatred.

When Orlock passes on his undead curse, the physical body changes little but the soul is corrupted.

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I retained Orlock’s connection to plague-bearing rats and also gave him an ongoing adversary in the person of Sir William Longsword, but Longsword was not a stand-in for Dr. Van Helsing.

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Millennium published the four-issue Nosferatu: Plague of Terror miniseries during 1991-2, using a two-color process to achieve a specific spooky mood.

By going in this direction, the Nosferatu miniseries became one of the most profitable titles the company had ever produced. It was also critically acclaimed…which is always nice. It was even included in J. Gordon Melton’s reference work, The Vampire Gallery.

Now, over 20 years after I first conceived Nosferatu: Plague of Terror, vampires are still popular, although they’ve changed to meet the cultural expectations of a new generation.

The current rule of thumb seems to be that vampires are not inherently evil, they’re just misunderstood victims of circumstance who have no choice but to perform dark deeds in order to survive—much like the angst-riddled boyfriends of dewy-eyed teenaged girls.

I suppose my tastes were fixed by an early exposure to Christopher Lee and Bram Stoker’s original novel, but I’ve never been a proponent of humanizing supernatural monsters. Seems to me that it dilutes the whole purpose, but then again, I’ve never understood why incarcerated serial killers are inundated by marriage proposals, either.

Nosferatu: Plague of Terror is my homage to monsters who really are monsters—my small protest against vampires who hang out at The Gap and go by the starkly undramatic names of “Bill.”

But more than anything Nosferatu: Plague of Terror suggests that you don’t have to be a vampire to be a monster.

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The complete Nosferatu: Plague of Terror miniseries is now available as two ebooks for Kindle…we divided the four-issues into two volumes. Books one and two feature artwork by Rik (Captain America) Levins, Richard (New Warriors) Pace, Frank (Nightstalkers) Turner.

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The art has been digitally (and beautifully!) enhanced by Millennial Concept Studios. Both books have the great Kindle features like panel zoom and crisp resolution.

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Nosferatu:Plague of Terror is the first of many graphic novel ebooks with digitally enhanced artwork produced by Millennial Concepts. After Nosferatu: Plague of Terror Book Two, Mr. Holmes & Dr. Watson: Their Strangest Cases will be next…

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…followed by Death Hawk: The Soulworm Saga, The Miskatonic Project: Whisperer In Darkness and many others—including (ta-dah) The COMPLETE Justice Machine…including the never-before published Object of Power miniseries!

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It’s been an ongoing frustration that we’ve had all of these graphic novel and comic assets but finding a viable way to make available them as ebooks—not as downloadable PDFs—hasn’t been easy.

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all conversion program…but now that hurdle has been cleared, so there is lots more to come.

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Order Nosferatu: Plague of Terror Book One here–http://tinyurl.com/kgukn8b

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Order Nosferatu: Plague of Terror Book Two here–http://tinyurl.com/k26f36s

OUTLANDERS GENESIS–Part Three!

Another “note” Eva passed onto me from somebody at Gold Eagle with editorial aspirations was a suggestion to change the code-name for the so-called alien organization from “Archon Directorate” to “Argon Directorate.”

In Gnostic lore, Archons are otherworldly entities who act as jailers for the human spirit to prevent a full communion with the divine…the Demiurge.

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Substituting the name of an inert gas was so dumb, Eva didn’t even bother to respond to whoever made the suggestion.

To be fair, not all of the suggestions that came my way were dumb. For example, the character of Domi was originally conceived as a tattooed half-feral wild child from the Outlands. Eva’s idea was to make Domi an albino, like the character of Jak Lauren in Deathlands. I resisted the suggestion for awhile, then ended up liking the visual.

The prototype for Domi reappeared in Cryptozoica as the Maori girl Mouzi…depicted here by the awesome Jeff Slemons.

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You can order the Cryptozoica TPB or ebook here: http://tinyurl.com/ct3tfnz

(Yeah, that’s a plug. My blog. I’m allowed.)

Just for the sake of being thorough, I’ll state that the prototypes for Brigid, Kane and Grant had appeared years before as The Miskatonic Project in the H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu comic series. Here, depicted by the inimitable Darryl Banks, they were named Fleur Averoigne, Justin Sabbath and Augustus Grant. Yeah, that’s right…Grant.

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Due to my background as a comics creator, I crafted many elements in Outlanders based on their visual impact.  Known in the days of radio drama as “shiny things for the mind”, it was a way to provide the imagination of the listener with strong imagery. A good example are the Lone Ranger’s “shiny” accoutrements—mask, white hat, silver bullets, white stallion, Indian companion, so forth and so on.

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So for Outlanders, I came up with the black Magistrate armor with the red-tinted visor and bright red badge, as well as the Sin Eater firearms which slid out of forearm holsters–a tip o’ the Stetson to The Wild, Wild West, where the whole thing began.

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There were props like the Mnemosyne, vehicles like the Deathbirds and the Sandcats and of course, the creepy Barons/Imperators, their creepier hybrid servants and of course…the last “Archon” himself–Balam.

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From the actual storytelling standpoint, I knew from the outset I wanted to go in the opposite direction of most Gold Eagle series, which were told in a stand-alone, very episodic formula. In Deathlands, I found the formula particularly stultifying—most of the plots were small and simplistic (some less charitable observers might say simple-minded) and the books almost always ended where they began. Very often characters were defined by catch-phrases like “By the Three Kennedys” and “Hot Pipe!”

Just as an aside…as far as I’m concerned, when you give characters catch-phrases that they trot out on cue, you’re not writing books…you’re writing a cartoon (“Ay Caramba!” “Jinkies!” ) or a comic strip (“Leapin’ Lizards!”).

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Anyway… I chose the serial story arc approach and planned subplots that ran from book to book. I also decided early on that Outlanders would be global in scope and the threats the main characters faced would frequently be world-threatening and grounded in some scientific theory, from quantum physics to genetics.

As another major departure from Deathlands, I wanted big villains—not necessarily in stature, but in their goals. My favorite bad guy remains Sindri who made his debut in the fifth novel, Parallax Red. A dwarf and a genius with, as Brigid said “ambitions to challenge God”, Sindri was my homage to The Wild, Wild West’s Dr. Miguelito Loveless, so memorably portrayed by actor Michael Dunn.

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Sindri, with his unrequited love (or lust) for Brigid and his obsession with getting the best of Kane,  returned in five more books over the years.

A lot of what became canon in Outlanders was planned while writing the first book. Much more of it grew organically in the next couple of years worth of novels.

Months before Exile to Hell was published, I asked the then-executive editor what the promotional plans for Outlanders were. I was informed such plans were basically non-existent. There would be some in-house advertising (poor reproductions of the cover of the first book printed in the backs in other Gold Eagle series books), but that was about it.

He also opined that he expected Outlanders to last no longer than all the other series Gold Eagle had launched in the previous seven or eight years—a maximum of four books.

The editor went on to complain that Harlequin viewed Gold Eagle as a red-headed stepchild and was not going to give the imprint a promotional or advertising budget beyond the absolute bare minimum. He said variations of this so often over the years, it became a refrain.

During that same period, when I suggested Gold Eagle might consider taking a booth at that year’s (1997) San Diego Comic Book Convention to show off their wares, the suggestion was met with a patronizing laugh: “That’s not our audience!”

Oh, excuse me…you publish books about a vigilante who inspired the wildly popular Marvel Comics character The Punisher, and a post-apocalyptic series full of insane sexual perverts, gun porn and biologically impossible “muties”…but people who read comic books are “not our audience.”

I should note that both of those stances—the no promotional budget refrain and the dismissal of my SDCC suggestion—had severely toxic repercussions a decade later.

By the time Exile to Hell was published in the spring of 97, I was working on the fourth book, Omega Path, half-assuming it would be the last one. Before I turned it in, I was offered a contract for another four books in the Outlanders series. Eva told me that it was safe to assume Gold Eagle finally had a hit… and went it on from there for roughly the next dozen years.

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I wish I could say those were happy years but once Eva Kovacs left (or more accurately, was forced out), the tenor sharply changed—and definitely not for the better. I’ll most likely blog in more detail about some of those years, but here the focus has been on the genesis of the Outlanders series—a series created and guided by a single writer for many years, a series that was not promoted nor advertised by the publisher in any meaningful way, a series that was in most respects a complete departure from anything Gold Eagle had ever produced before.

Yet it has been consecutively published for sixteen years and at one point was touted by Gold Eagle as having sold over a million copies. By most standards, all of that makes Outlanders the most successful mass-market paperback original series published in the last 25 years.

Yeah, I know…in the scheme of things, creating a mass-market paperback original series that has run as long as Outlanders isn’t likely to get me featured in any historical retrospectives.

But when you consider that almost none of the MMP series that have been published over the last 40 years are still around and when you also consider the truly horrific state of the publishing industry since 2008, then “by Mark Ellis, creator of the best-selling Outlanders series” is not a credential I’ll allow anyone to diminish, ignore or to appropriate.

There’s an attitude I’ve seen among Gold Eagle readers—and even among some Gold Eagle writers—that these series sort of self-generate and no single vision is responsible for their creation.That may be true of some series…Deathlands was created by one writer and developed by another…and certainly Gold Eagle’s Rogue Angel was creation by committee.

But it’s not true of Outlanders and despite the best ego-fuelled efforts of some revisionists to pretend otherwise (mainly by deliberate omission), it never will be.

So now we come full circle back to Hopalong Cassidy’s rhetorical question: “That’d be showin’ off…and we don’t do that, do we?”

Actually, we shouldn’t have to do it. But all too often, just to establish a minimum set of bona-fides, we’re forced into it.

More’s the shame.

OLCAST

OUTLANDERS GENESIS–Part Two!

The Deathlandesque elements the executive editor wanted me to include in Aftermath were superficial trappings. In Deathlands, the characters traveled around via a so-called “mat-trans”, a very obvious imitation of Star Trek’s transporter. These mat-trans machines were almost always located in abandoned government facilities known as redoubts, so the devices allowed only redoubt-to-redoubt travel.

transporter

I had come up with a method for the Aftermath characters to travel around Earth (first conceived for the Major Arcana prospectus) called the Interphaser–a small portable device that interacted with junction points of the Earth’s geomagnetic grid, also known as “ley lines.”

ley

But the Gold Eagle copy editors had never heard of “ley lines” and apparently hadn’t learned how to work internet search engines…although to be fair, in early 1996, Google had yet to become accepted as a research tool. As it was, I had introduced the concept of ley lines into one of my Deathlands novels (Demons of Eden) only to see the name changed to “lea” lines…whatever the hell those are.

DEMONS

Also in the Deathlands series, the very loose power structure of the country was controlled by “barons”…they were unaffiliated scumbags who were usually characterized as sexual deviates or just outright insane. Why a Medieval title of European nobility would take root in a post-apocalyptic America was never explained, but then very little of the backstory of Deathlands ever made much sense.

It was a hodgepodge, composed of snippets randomly taken from spaghetti westerns and Grade D 1950s SF movies with no real rhyme nor reason. Biologically impossible giant mosquitoes, giant ticks and giant crabs ran rancid over the landscape.

attack_crab

 

At any rate, in Aftermath, I named the group who held the reins of power the “Imperators”, but the executive editor thought it was too high-falutin’ a word for a James Axler book and wanted me to change it to the good old tried-and-true barons…even though in Aftermath, the nine Imperators were brilliant, genetically-engineered hybrids, not pedophiles or psychotics.

imperator

I suggested Aftermath be set a century after Deathlands but not craft it as a “Next Generation” type of sequel but just placed in the same fictional universe. My suggestion to link the two series was greenlit once I pointed out that we could build a franchise, much like the Executioner/Mack Bolan/Stony Man linked series.

Although I had already begun writing the first book in the Aftermath series, I went back and did a little judicious rewriting and tweaking of the earlier chapters, changing interphaser to mat-trans and Imperators to barons and so forth and so on.

I think I was about halfway through the first book (tentatively titled Nightmare Alley) when Eva, the Gold Eagle editor called to tell me that the title of the series had been changed to Outlanders.

I was never crazy about Aftermath but I was less so about Outlanders. Not only did I think it was a “soft” title, I also objected on the grounds that it had been used before—specifically the long-running manga series of the same name as well as Diana Gabaldon’s popular Outlander time-travel romance series.

OLMANGAOutlander - Diana Gabaldon

I suggested Outrunners (which at least hinted at action) and even Outworlders but I was overruled. Due to my journalism background, I knew it was futile to spend time battling with editors when deadlines loomed, so after lodging my protests and alternate titles, I concentrated on completing the inaugural novel.

Because it was the first novel in a new series, the story was very long and complex. I think the first draft came in at something like 130,000 words, but I was basically creating a new world, even if it was now retro-hooked in with the Deathlands series.

That became a tedious juggling act—trying to balance the more ridiculous aspects of Deathlands with the more reasoned approach I was taking with Outlanders. My approach was simple—if you’re writing science-fiction, you need to have some real science mixed in with the fiction, just like if you’re writing historical fiction, you need to have some real history scattered among the fiction.

I had also decided to return an earlier tradition of action-adventure writing by showcasing heroes who actually were heroic…as well as intelligent and thoughtful and who even had senses of humor.

With the two leads, Kane and Grant, I was inspired by Bob Culp and Bill Cosby’s relationship on a favorite childhood TV show, I Spy and  Lonesome Dove’s Gus and Call—seasoned and genuinely tough men who had no need to posture with their 50 caliber penis extenders or model their fake chest hair.

CULPWOODROW

I also flew astray from the Gold Eagle nest to an extent with the creation of Brigid Baptiste…a brilliant, beautiful and capable woman with an eidetic memory.

brigid

She didn’t stay behind pushing buttons on a computer console, nor was she the sexual plaything of either of the two male leads but the full, respected partner of Kane and Grant. With Brigid’s addition (her character was inspired by X-Files’ Dana Scully and of course, my brilliant and beautiful wife, Melissa), the core triad of characters was complete.

I whittled the word count of the first manuscript down to more manageable length, turned it in and then focused on my third Deathlands novel, Nightmare Passage.

nightmare passage

I was still working on that book when Eva informed me that the title of the first Outlanders novel had been changed to Exile to Hell, apparently to echo the title of the first Deathlands novel, Pilgrimage to Hell. I was okay with that…I was particularly pleased with the cover proof she sent me shortly thereafter, featuring the beautiful artwork of Mike Herring.

Exile

Then Eva told me something that not only perplexed me but foreshadowed the editorial attitude I had to deal with over the next couple of years.

Eva informed me that a copy editor—she didn’t name names but I’m 99 percent positive I knew who it was—opined that Exile to Hell was too complicated with too many science-fiction elements, Brigid Baptiste was too strong for a female character in a men’s adventure series and that overall, it wasn’t written in “the Axler style.”

Such a superficial assessment did more than annoy me…it enraged me.

I’d worked exceptionally hard on Exile to Hell. In retrospect, I worked harder on that one book than any of the other 49. I busted my ass on it and for the major criticism to be contained within a casual “not in the Axler style” was ignorant, insensitive, inconsiderate and downright insulting (hey, how’s that for an exercise in alliteration?).

So, I climbed on my high horse and wrote a short response that went thusly: “Inasmuch as the writer who created the alleged “Axler style” is no longer writing as James Axler and inasmuch as I have written four books as James Axler  and am currently contracted out for four more, if there is such a thing as an “Axler style” I’m the writer who will establish said style.”

Melissa talked me out of signing off with a “So, kiss my ass.”

Now I wish she hadn’t.

Part Three of this Exciting Saga Coming Soon!

(yes, I’m still being arch)

OUTLANDERS GENESIS–Part One!

When was I around seven or eight, the local UHF station aired old westerns every Saturday morning. I’ve always remembered a scene from a Hopalong Cassidy movie wherein Hoppy (as he was called by his pals) and a kid watched a scruffy ne’er-do-well braggart demonstrate his skill with a gun or a lariat.

At one point, the kid said something along the lines of, “Hoppy, you can do all those things better than that clown! Why doncha go make him eat crow?”

To which Hoppy sagely replied, “Well, that’d be showin’ off…and we don’t do that, do we?”

HOPPY&KID

Back then, no we didn’t. I was raised to believe that modesty was a virtue and boastfulness to be in bad taste. I carried that childhood conditioning into adulthood…and therefore, never became much of a self-promoter or a networker or a glad-hander.

Up until a few years ago, I figured my work and credentials spoke for themselves. I assumed I didn’t have to beat drums or shoot off fireworks or squeeze myself into a Power Girl costume and stumble around hotel lobbies in order to draw attention to myself.

Apparently I was waaaaay off base. And that brings me around to the topic of today’s blog entry:

OLLOGO

I’m not talking about the details of the series itself…you can read about those  here http://tinyurl.com/d5mbup5

I’m laying out some bottom-line facts about the genesis of the series and my part in it. And my part in it is—

I created the OUTLANDERS series.

OLCAST

Just me, nobody else. All of the concepts, all of the characters (like Grant, Brigid Baptiste and Kane pictured here by artist Mike Herring) came right out of m’ brain and into the novel series that has been consecutively published for sixteen years…which makes the OUTLANDERS series the most successful mass market paperback original series published in the last 25 years.

So for the first time, here’s how it all came about—

In 1990, I’d scripted a very well-received comic miniseries based on the popular TV show The Wild Wild West.

WWW

In 1995, the owners of said TV show were shopping around the literary rights to various book publishers. One of those publishers happened to be Harlequin…or rather, the Gold Eagle imprint. The executive editor was very interested in the property.

If I’m recalling correctly, Will Murray who was then writing The Destroyer series suggested that the editor contact me about writing the prose version. The editor did, I sent him copies of the WWW comic series (“The Night Of the Iron Tyrants”), after which he told me I had the gig.

Unfortunately, the Harlequin higher-ups shot down the idea, not wanting to pay a licensing fee and also the marketing department felt that the WWW was “old”…which for a series set in the 1870s seemed like a classic “Captain Obvious” comment.

Anyhow, Gold Eagle still wanted to put out another paperback series. From what I was told later, they’d tried and failed with over a dozen of them in the previous six or seven years like this one from 1991…

Warkeep

But nothing clicked.

To keep me on the hook, I was contracted out to write a couple of Don Pendleton’s The Executioner novels.

BOLAN2

While discussions and so forth about the kind of new series Gold Eagle should publish went back and forth in the Harlequin offices, Laurence James who had been writing the Deathlands series since the mid-80s announced he was leaving.

Deathlands was conceived and created by British author Christopher Lowder as way for Gold Eagle to cash in on the post-apocalyptic fever then running hot through popular culture, triggered by the Max Max films and Red Dawn.

Accounts vary as to whether Mr. James took over the writing of the first DL book at the halfway or three-quarters point…regardless, with the second book he became the sole writer of the series under the house pseudonym of “James Axler.”

So, in spring of 1995, once he told the Gold Eagle editor he was leaving Deathlands, I was asked to take over, with at least a three book commitment. I was the first writer to work on Deathlands other than Laurence James since the early Lowder days.

STONEFACE

Within a week of turning in the Deathlands manuscript of what would be published as Stoneface (I believe it was in August of 1995), the Gold Eagle editor asked me to create a new series…although it would carry the “James Axler” byline, he hastened to sweeten the deal by telling me I would get “created by” credit in the indicia of all the books and also be one of the first Gold Eagle writers in years to have a royalty arrangement…ironically, it turned out that I was the last writer to have a royalty arrangement with Gold Eagle.

Anyway…the series went through a couple of different developmental stages…the first version, called Major Arcana was set in contemporary times and contained elements very similar to Stargate SG-1…which wouldn’t make its Showtime debut for nearly two more years. Still and all, the basic templates of the main OUTLANDERS characters as well as the format was there.

MAJORARCANA

The second prospectus was entitled Aftermath and had a post-apocalyptic setting…that version was the one that I developed fully. At this point in the process I dealt mainly with a lovely editor named Eva Kovacs. While I was writing the first book, she reported to me that executive editor wanted to see more “Deathlands-ish” elements.

Rather than come up with some of the same stuff in Deathlands but with different names, I suggested we tie the two series in…set Aftermath a century or so after DL and since the James Axler name was going on it, why not?

Part Two of this Exciting Saga Coming Soon!

(yes, I’m being arch)