Mike Chinn, editor of The Alchemy Press Book of Pulp Heroes 2, shares his thoughts on “Pulp” fiction.
What or who inspires your writing? What sort of story did you write when you began your writing career? And – if possible – of all of your published work which are your favourites?
That’s quite hard to answer, since I dabble in (and mix up) so many different genres. My earliest influences were Edgar Rice Burroughs and Michael Moorcock, and when I write fantasy (which I seem to be doing less and less), I tend to fall back on them. Ramsey Campbell and Joel Lane are major influences on my horror work and although I’ve never consciously imitated either, I will occasionally try for a Campbell or Lane flavour (and most likely fail miserably)
I’ve been writing since I was very young – when I wasn’t drawing my own comics – but the first half-serious work I did, in my mid-teens, were a couple of “books” of spy fiction (I put on covers and everything) somewhat in the style of Alistair MacLean. Then I discovered fantasy fiction, and wound up writing Burroughs-style sword & planet stories, with a touch of Moorcock’s angst. Ten years later, they formed the basis for a trilogy of short stories that were published by Stephen Jones in the British Fantasy Society’s Dark Horizons magazine: my first “sale”.
Favourites are very difficult. I scripted around twenty of DC Thompson’s Starblazer digest-sized comics; and of those, four covered three generations of the d’Annemarc family – hereditary rulers of Anglerre. Not only did I really cut loose with the Moorcock channelling (with a soupçon of HP Lovecraft in the last issue), but they were drawn by brilliant Argentinean artist Quiqué Alcatena. I am quite pleased with them. And of course there are my Damian Paladin stories – collected in The Paladin Mandates (The Alchemy Press).
Some say Pulp is a genre or sub-genre, others a style; which side do you come down on?
It seems to be a weird hybrid of both – at least in most people’s minds. I suspect when you say the word “Pulp”, the majority are going to think of masked vigilante fiction – such as The Shadow and Doc Savage (which of all their contemporaries are the ones who still have a place in the general consciousness: mention The Spider, The Bat, The Griffon, The Green Lama, G8 or Dusty Ayers and you’re most likely going to get back a blank look). That type of fiction can certainly be classed as genre (or sub-genre) and directly led to comic book superheroes, but in their heyday Pulps published a bewildering variety of fiction: crime, Westerns, erotic, romance, war, sports; Zeppelin stories, engineering stories; tales of an exotic Orient and Africa which never existed outside their authors’ imaginations. The hard-boiled fiction of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler began in the Pulps, as did HP Lovecraft’s strange fantasies, Rafael Sabatini’s Captain Blood stories, and Robert E Howard’s hot-blooded tales of Conan, Kull, El Borak and Solomon Kane. Many are forgotten – perhaps rightly so – but it’s staggering to think how much printed mass-entertainment was produced during the Pulp Era.
Pulp Heroes 2 is the second “pulp” anthology you’ve edited for The Alchemy Press? What was the inspiration for the series?
I wanted to recreate some of the feeling of the original Pulp fiction magazines, with a variety of styles (even poking some gentle, affectionate fun). I didn’t want all masked men or crime – and I’m proud to say the contributors rose to the occasion. Somehow, in one volume, we managed to cover sports, science fiction, heroic fantasy, superhero and pirate fiction (admittedly, sometimes jumbled up; but since I didn’t want slavish imitations of old tropes and writing styles, that was perfect).
Did you enjoy the selecting and editing process, and would you do a third volume?
I enjoyed it very much. I have found that working on others’ writing – editing it so that it’s the very best I think it can be – has had a knock-on effect with my own fiction: seeing my errors and short-comings mirrored in someone else’s work. It has (I hope) helped me improve both as a writer and an editor. And I would definitely do a third volume – more, if the quality of submissions is maintained.
If you were writing a story for Pulp Heroes, what type of pulp hero (or villain) would you write about?
Well, I’ve already written plenty of fiction around a two-fisted ghost hunter, and the masked vigilante is already well-covered by all the submissions I receive (something like two to one against any other type of Pulp character). I think I’d go for something reminiscent of the ITV adventures of the 1960s: The Champions, The Prisoner, The Avengers. Set around 1965/6, off-beat (without being self-consciously weird), and very British.
Heroes in comics, films or text? What is your preference?
I can’t say I really have one. All three media have their strengths and weaknesses and will tell any one story in a different manner. Both films and comics are more immediate, obviously visual, and able to tell a story quickly, with a minimum of dialogue. Text and comics allow us to eavesdrop on characters’ most intimate thoughts; a film would need to resort to voice over (and that can be disastrous). Text and film can generate mood better than comics, which must rely on the artwork for such effects (too much dialogue or narrative can inhibit a comic’s flow). I’ve enjoyed most of the present batch of superhero movies, since technology has finally reached a point where what we see on the comic page can be reproduced quite spectacularly on the big screen (although the CGI technicians often seem to want to play with the entire toy cupboard in one go, creating visuals that are as confusing as they are stunning). A text story would struggle to achieve that sense of visual awe. I just take each on their own merits, and accept them as such.
What are you currently working on? And outside writing, what else occupies your time?
I’m editing/rewriting a second Damian Paladin book: Walkers in Shadow. I don’t have a publisher lined up – so once it’s in shape (or as near to in shape as I’m happy with), it’ll be time to start hawking it round, fingers, toes and eyes crossed. A Steampunk Sherlock Holmes novel, Vallis Timoris (based on The Valley of Fear) is with the publishers, so I expect the edits and demands for a re-write for that will be coming at me soon.
Trying to keep off Facebook keeps me busy. I have piles of unread books that I really should start on (when I gave up full-time work in 2012 I had this strange idea that I’d have plenty of time to read and write – didn’t quite work out that way). Plus there’s a cage of guinea pigs who’ve got it into their heads that I’m at their constant beck and call.
And after seeing the artwork on display at this year’s World Fantasy Convention in Brighton, I wondered if it wasn’t time I started drawing again.