Joining me today is Jeff Deischer, author of The Adventures of the Man of Bronze: A Definitive Chronology, and creator of the Doc Savage pastiche character, Doc Brazen. As Jeff notes in the article to follow, Doc Savage has inspired a great many pastiches, but to my mind, there are few that capture the magic of the original pulps, much less succeed in applying more modern writing techniques to update an iconic character to the present.
Doc Brazen achieves this with style.
Reading the first novel of Brazen’s adventures, I was struck by Jeff’s clear love for the Doc Savage canon of pulps (a love evidenced also by the rich texture and depth of his Chronology), and a unique ability to apply his own vision to the mythos. Millennium Bug, or Doc Brazen #1, receives my highest recommendation — and links to further explore and purchase the book, as well as The Adventures of the Man of Bronze, are at the bottom of this post, following Jeff’s article.
And now, please enjoy, as Jeff Deischer talks about his creation.
WHAT’S IN A NAME?
By Jeff Deischer
It’s probably safe to say that those of you who recognize my name do so because of my book about the Doc Savage series, The Adventures of the Man of Bronze: a Definitive Chronology. We’re here to talk about my Doc Savage pastiche, Doc Brazen, but let me begin by telling you that TAotMoB is “a” definitive chronology, and not “the” definitive chronology because others have written their own that are just as valid as mine – using their own rules. Using my rules, which were established by Philip Jose Farmer, the first to write a Doc Savage chronology, I consider mine to be definitive. Rick Lai’s is equally valid, under his own set of rules. He often uses the geopolitical backdrop of stories to place them, ignoring Farmer’s it-has-to-occur-before-it-can-be-published maxim, which is a legitimate take on any series, in my opinion. Will Murray simply places the stories at about the time they were written, largely ignoring any other evidence.
With that out of the way, we can proceed to how Millennium Bug, the first Doc Brazen novel, came about. I’ve been a more or less lifelong fan of the Man of Bronze, having discovered him when I was 11 in 1972-73. As a teenaged would-be writer, I had numerous story ideas for Doc – none of which were the plot to Millennium Bug.
The idea for Millennium Bug started in 2003. It was intended as an online serial, and involved the character under another name with a different plot, but with the same mystery villain. The idea was to bring Doc Savage into the twenty-first century. I didn’t get very far, and abandoned the story for reasons lost to the mists of time.
Over the years, a number of people have urged me to write a Doc Savage pastiche. I’ve written two fan fiction Man of Bronze novels, shared with friends and close fans. I’ve resisted turning them into pastiches because everyone’s doing it. There are more pastiche/fan fiction characters with the appellation “Doc” than any other! I didn’t want to do what everyone else was doing. So, setting aside the question of quality, how would mine be any different?
It wasn’t until 2018 that I recalled my original millennium Doc Savage pastiche idea – and realized that this would make mine different.
My other concern, just as big as the first, was, can a true pulp adventure really work in the present? Technology is so different now, more immediate. You could stick characters on a train for days back in the golden age of pulp, isolated. Can’t happen now. People use planes for long distance travel. Characters could be trapped without any hope of rescue – not nowadays, with cell phones and GPS. So this presented its own unique challenge.
So I’d resisted any attempt to write a pulp in modern times. But I thought if I were going to try it, it should be with a project that I was in love with – so Doc Brazen it was. Doc Savage is the character I know best and love the most. And coming up with the “Doc Brazen” name in 2018 sealed the deal for me. So obvious – yet never used.
As an adult writer, I had a new crop of story ideas for Doc by 2018, one of which became the plot for Millennium Bug. The premise that a criminal mastermind could find a way to reverse what Doc does to criminals to make them reform and become citizens in good standing would be the perfect thing to get an aged Doc Brazen to come out of retirement. Maybe the only thing.
This was a separate plot from my original new millennium idea, which involved the internet, but it was a logical way to bring the ultimate enemy to Doc. I hesitate to say more because I don’t want to spoil any surprises. I will say that some readers guessed his or her identity, which of course is the way good stories should be – as long as they don’t do so too early. They didn’t. But the clues are there, from the very first chapter. The mystery is not so much who he or she is, but who he or she really is! As you know, a multitude of Doc Savage villains pretended to be someone else, and the trick was to figure out who they really were. It’s fine to know the Blue Carbuncle is out to destroy River City, but unless you figure out his secret identity, it might be hard to stop him.
You might say that there was really only one opponent who was worthy of facing Doc, or at least getting him to come out of retirement, and I took up the challenge of using this super criminal. Others have done so, and in my opinion, failed. That’s the ultimate reason I decided to use him or her – to do it right. And if I never got the opportunity to pen an authentic tale of Doc Savage, I’d have done the next best thing, a novel of the ultimate pulp hero (despite his new name) pitted against the ultimate evil – and done it in a way no one else had done it. It was therefore natural to pair the separate concepts of the secret mastermind’s return to the plot of a criminal undoing Doc’s work. The two characters are literally moral opposites. The two plots or parts fit well together thematically. They also worked well together plot wise, which is just as important. Ideas aren’t worth much if the execution (plot) fails.
So Millennium Bug is a frenetic chase from beginning to end, told in authentic Thirties pulp style. It is a multi-layered mystery as well, so I can’t say too much about any of the clues or revelations in it. All I can tell you is, pay close attention to what the bad guys do, and if you are a Doc Savage fan, you will be able to deduce the identity of the criminal mastermind – though perhaps not the cover identity he or she is using in Millennium Bug. As I stated, this is a very layered mystery. I expect – and hope – readers will guess wrong at least once as to the cover identity of the super criminal.
Lester Dent produced a famous 4-part outline that was published as part of an article to help novice writers sell a short story. Jim Steranko, in his History of Comics, incorrectly stated that he used it to write his Doc Savage adventures. This isn’t true, Dent created the outline for short stories of about 6000-10000 words. I used it for my third novel, The Stone Death, a Doc Savage adventure based on a premise by Harold Davis, one of Dent’s ghost writers. It appeared on the internet beginning in 1999 (now long since removed), and let me tell you, making it fit 40,000 words was a struggle! So in 2010, I revised it to write my second Doc Savage fan fiction novel, Doomsday (its origin would take an entire article itself!), adding two new sections (based on Dent’s sections), and I found that it worked quite well for a novel-length story. I also found it easier because I’d grown a lot as a writer in the decade since I wrote The Stone Death. I now use the six-part outline for all golden age pulp novels I write, including Millennium Bug. It really helps with pacing, and it spurs my creativity to “fill in the blanks” in the outline.
In my opinion, Doc Brazen could not function (as a character) without aides, so I rounded up a new bunch. He did not need any experts as Doc Savage’s aides had been (mostly, I think, to give them something to do). The Man of Bronze didn’t really need the help, in my opinion …. So the original three aides were a Mayan warrior, a cat burglar who was immune to the decriminalization process, and a computer expert – the one field about which neither Doc knew anything about. Each represented a facet of Doc’s life – his heritage, his life’s work, and a new science (he was a master of all the old ones). I based their initial personalities on three archetypes I’ve used in a number of books in a number of genres, tweaking them in each case to fit the milieu. They’ve been criminals, fighting monks, superheroes, space cowboys, sword and sorcery adventurers, and golden age pulp adventurers, always partners who, despite their differences, had each other’s backs, no matter how contentious their relationships might get.
In 2018, when I looked through my old notes – I’d read something a couple of months earlier that reminded me of the old millennium idea, causing me to review the original concept – I realized that these three wouldn’t really get along in any substantial or interesting way, and a lot of what I loved about the Doc Savage series was Monk and Ham. So I decided to make Oz (short for “monkey” in Nahuatl, the primary dialect of the Aztecs) the child of the Monk Mayfair-pastiche Buddy Banks, and give him a straight man – a straight-laced and straightforward man.
So the personalities of the three original aides changed drastically from their original conception.
Oz is very much like Monk – impetuous and powerful. Rather than trying to duplicate the bickering of the original pair, I decided to make Noble (a nickname derived from his Aztec name) a true straight man – he would be Oz’s best friend and conscience, as well as his cousin. This personality led to his name, which I’d struggled to create. Noble’s father is not revealed (and if you figure it out, don’t tell anyone and spoil their guessing game), but Noble and Oz are both young Aztec men who lived in Coronado alongside Doc Brazen and his wife in the small Central American nation where Doc retired to in 1949. Oz’s mother and Noble’s mother are related, being cousins. A couple of readers have told me they figured out who Noble’s parents are. That’s fine with me. It means I did a good job with the clues. I also pulled off the greatest literary sleight of hand in this book that I’ve ever written with regards to Noble’s parentage. I don’t know if I’ll ever reveal it in the series, officially, and I probably won’t tell you who isn’t Noble’s father.
The cat burglar was retained in the form of Robert Lafitte (Lafitte was a famous pirate and in French, the final “T” is not pronounced, so his personal name could be (incorrectly) sounded out as “robber”; there are numerous such Easter eggs in the novel. For example, Ann Sinai is an anagram of Anais Ninn, the French author and diarist (the French locale is a clue to the mastermind’s identity), Prevost is the name of an early computer thinker, and Coronado was Lester Dent’s first choice for the name of the Central American nation that was published as Hidalgo in the Doc Savage series. I learned this, among many fascinating tidbits, when I went to the Dent archive in 1998 at the University of Missouri-Columbia). I previously told you that the personalities of the three original aides changed drastically: Originally, Lafitte was going to have the Oz personality – saying and doing whatever he wanted, and Oz was going to be the serious character – who I split off into Noble. He had another name, “Puck”, short for Puksi’ik’al, Nahuatl for “heart”, and be Buddy Banks’ grandson, related to Doc through marriage.
Henry Prevost is the computer expert, working at the famous Brazen Institute, located on Storm Island where Ulysses Brazen was born near the beginning of the twentieth century. Prevost is a desk jockey who craves excitement he’s never experienced. It was important that each aide be distinct, in personality (motive) as well as profession. His background is tied to the original Doc Savage canon, and will be revealed extensively in the series at some point. I thought it was important that each new aide have a built-in connection to Doc, as all of Doc Savage’s aides had to him.
Prevost’s motivation is contrasted by the presence of Norma “Thunderbird” Crale, a stunt flyer – a daredevil like the 1920s barnstormers. Her grandmother was involved in one of Doc Brazen’s adventures during the 1930s at the South Pole. I thought it was important that there be a female in the group, since there is no Pat Savage analog present – Lucrezia “Lucy” Brazen, Doc Brazen’s cousin, disappeared in the Amazon in the early 1960s. A mystery I’ll address at some point in the series. The impetus for Thunderbird Crale specifically came from an idea I’d had to write the 1930s pulp adventures of her grandmother – in the vein of the adventures of Irene Adler from Sherlock Holmes’ being written at the time.
I do have a number of sequels in mind. It’s a matter of writing them. I have numerous series in numerous genres in progress, and I’m focusing on superheroes right now, with eight distinct universes and over half my bibliography consisting of superhero books. But some day, I’d like to return to Doc Brazen, and reveal what happened to all of his original aides, among other things. One, the last surviving member of the original group, will make a cameo appearance in one of the upcoming novels. Other possible volumes: Dead Wrong (deceased killers who come back to life), Net Prophet (the original internet premise), Acid Test (the return of a criminal), Infernal Machine (sequel to two 1930s adventures), Black Balled (featuring the cameo by one of Doc Brazen’s original aides), World Piece (an international peace movement), Element of Surprise (an unknown substance related to a 1930s adventure), Golden Opportunity (a South American mystery), Train of Thought (psychic research), Master Mind (Doc Brazen’s Institute secrets are revealed to the public by a criminal), Wild West (an adventure set in Wyoming, revealing the background of Henry Prevost). I also have about a dozen more ideas that are less developed. These listed ones are stories I could plot and write.
Lastly, I like the H. Swenson “mod” or “pop art” look of Doc Savage’s “science detective” phase, though not particularly for a Doc Savage book, having grown up on the ultra-realistic James Bama covers. So I went for that look designing the cover to Millennium Bug.
Oh, and there really is a reason this is set in 1999, and not 2019, other than the double entendre title.
Millennium Bug, Doc Brazen #1, available from Amazon here.
The Adventures of the Man of Bronze: A Definitive Chronology, available from Amazon here.