Interview with the literary superheroine of modern pulp: Atom Mudman Bezecny (Part 1)

No stranger to the Doc Talos world (author of the Talos story Silver Legacy), and a remarkable maven of modern pulp writing and publishing, Atom Mudman Bezecny is a force in innovative storytelling.

Here is a brief introduction and a list of some of her works:

Atom Mudman Bezecny has been writing for over fifteen years and has no intent of stopping anytime soon. Ever since she was a little girl, she’s wanted to do what her heroes did, and flood libraries with her books. Born and raised in Minnesota, with a degree in English from the University of Morris, she is the author of many books, including The New Adventures of the Flash Avenger, Flint Golden and the Thunderstrike CrisisReturn of the Amazing BulkSo Be It…Desecrator, and others. She currently serves as the editor-in-chief at Odd Tales Productions, an independent publishing house.

Publications:

    Books:

  • Devil Skull Takes London, 2011 (link)
  • Dieselworld, 2013 (link)
  • Words from the Inner Circle, 2014-2016 (link)
  • Much Ado About Kuru, 2016 (as Amos Slimechap Berkley) (link)
  • Tail of the Lizard King / Kaliwood, 2016, Ramble House (link)
  • The Monogram Monograph, 2017 (link)
  • Deus Mega Therion / The Divine Mrs. E, 2017, Odd Tales Productions (link)
  • Jim Anthony vs. Mastermind, 2017, Airship 27 Productions (link)
  • Kinyonga Tales, 2017, Odd Tales Productions (link)
  • Meta-Terrax, 2019, Odd Tales Productions (link)
  • Quinary Infinities, 2019, Odd Tales Productions (link)
  • Gatherings, 2019, Odd Tales Productions (link)
  • The New Adventures of the Flash Avenger, 2020, Odd Tales Productions (link)
  • The Brute: A Speculative Study of Tarzan in Film, 2020, Odd Tales Productions (link)
  • Flint Golden and the Thunderstrike Crisis, 2020, Odd Tales Productions (link)
  • The Return of the Amazing Bulk, Odd Tales Productions (forthcoming)
  • The Bryan Gospels, Odd Tales Productions (forthcoming)

      Short Stories:

        Bloody Mary Series

      Published in Tales of the Shadowmen, Black Coat Press

       Others

It’s a remarkable pleasure to interview Atom here at Forbidden Pulp. So strap yourself in, read on, and be prepared for her fascinating insights into amazing worlds of creativity.

RPS:

You have a long list of books and stories in your bibliography, many published by Odd Tales Productions, where you are the editor-in-chief. Clearly you are an ambitious independent publisher. I have always felt that maverick independents are the real lifeblood of literary culture, free from the controls and strictures of mainstream publishing. You also have a strong mix of activism in your publishing efforts, a serious current running alongside your obvious pleasure in science fiction, horror, and pulp hero stories. You also do very erudite reviews (your recent observations about Kabbalistic influences in the book “The Monster on Hold” by Win Scott Eckert was fascinating, looking more deeply through your review into the intelligence and soul that can invest modern pulp fiction). What are your personal goals for continuing to further this iconoclastic literary path?

ATOM:

I’ve always been drawn by three impulses in life, which all intersect in various ways. The first is the impulse to be a writer. That comes fundamentally from my lifelong love of books–and also the fact that it’s the one medium I’ve ever actually been able to express myself in. The other two impulses are a general desire for justice, and an attraction to the strange and unknown. All of this sounds way more portentous (and pretentious) than it really is. I was bullied a lot as a kid, because I was shy, autistic, and queer, and most of my friends were and are leftists, basically due to the fact that they also tend(ed) to be shy, autistic, and queer. My love of books and writing has helped bring me in touch with a lot of human history, which is often a depressing experience. And that history has never stopped; it continues and its aftereffects continue. Books and movies of course gave me plenty of stories about heroes, both idealized and realistic.

All of that’s added up to a strong desire to try to do the right thing, whatever that may be in the moment. At this point in history, I feel the right thing to do is to stand up for people of color, for queer people, for people with disabilities, and for other marginalized groups. Of course, some of that is self-preservation on my behalf. As a transgender woman, I’ve experienced a lot of crap, added onto what I went through as a kid. It hasn’t been the worst, of course, not by a long shot. That’s part of why I love exploring what is commonly considered strange or obscure. Digging into the weird worlds of pulp and movies has given me a really good life, and there’s not really anything that can take that from me. Movies in particular are my fourth impulse; and maybe, studying world religions, philosophies, and cults is my fifth.

My list of favorite movies is about twenty-five 8.5×11″ pages long, and it’s a mixture of indie trash, professional trash, classics, hidden gems, and weird, forgotten oddities. One cannot explore the lost city of R’lyeh in real life, but looking at movies like Age of Insects (1991) or Severed Ties (1992) comes close to it. I think it’s natural for people marginalized in society to have an interest in what is overlooked, because it reminds us of ourselves.

As for the religious stuff, I’m an atheist, but I’ve explored a number of different religions for myself over the years. While I always try to be respectful of living religions, I tend to view a lot of religious belief as being in the same realm as mythology, and so studying it has been helpful for my occult/fantasy fiction. Every so often I do have problems with religion, or at least some of its practitioners, but in the end I really understand the world best through the stories we tell and the way in which we tell them. I want to explore how that all comes together, not just to help understand myself and my position in the world better, but to relate to other people, living and dead, and grow with them. I try to make my stories a journey not just in that they’re entertaining (which admittedly I don’t always succeed at) but also in that I’m taking readers somewhere. That’s the feeling I love most in reading books, is feeling myself change as a person and ending up in a different part of myself.

RPS:

You describe finding an analogous experience to the exploration of Lovecraft’s R’lyeh in the watching of uniquely visionary films, and I have no doubt that kind of journey for the mind extends into your reading as well. For it to become even more deeply integrated into your life through writing makes very elegant sense. I also find much inspiration in classical works of film and literature, but have always been also drawn powerfully to pulp fiction. As an overlooked and often derided form of literature and film, it nevertheless often opens a door into the unique mythologizing of life that you describe. I see in your writings a strong drive to revisit heroes of pulp and other subterranean literature…what are some examples of characters that have inspired you to make the leap from reader to writer? 

ATOM:

There are so many! My first stories were comics I wrote and drew when I was four, based on adventures I had in my head. They starred a character named Spaceman Buzz (later just “Spaceman”), and they were inspired by Star Wars, Silver Age Superman, and the Buzz Lightyear of Star Command animated series. I used to be a huge DC Comics nerd, and still am, deep down, though I don’t really mesh well with the current incarnations of the characters in any of the media. I think that Golden and Silver Age comics were the first stepping stone into pulps, because they helped shake me from the conception that a lot of children have, that old stuff is boring or cliche. That led to a Victorian fiction obsession where I binged the works of Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, and Bram Stoker, among others. And this ended up coinciding with reading Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill’s The League of Extraordinary GentlemenLeague led me to Philip José Farmer’s Wold Newton Universe, and my world was blown wide open.

By that point in my life I had heard about Doc Savage and The Shadow, because I knew they were influences on Superman and Batman, and of course I’d heard of Tarzan and many of the Victorian characters who are members of the Wold Newton Family. But now I knew there were many, many more. It was great to learn about the histories and adventures of a lot of these major pulp characters through the passionate words of such a dedicated fanbase, and thanks to those fans, I’ve become an avid reader of Tarzan, Doc Savage, The Avenger, and The Shadow over the last fifteen years.

But over the course of time, I’ve become even more fascinated by the characters which have fallen into the shadows, from all throughout history. Some of these characters are where the most interesting things are being done; all of this stuff thrives on crossovers, but I don’t mean here that these characters have just been used to tell cool stories or patch intriguing holes in the web of fiction. That’s just one fun aspect of it. It’s also the fact that some of these characters possessed the power to change one’s conception of fiction. Take for example Charles Dibdin’s 18th Century Robinsonade Hannah Hewit, which I first learned about through a mention in League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (and Jess Nevins’ excellent annotations for such). This book was written years before Frankenstein, and yet featured the main character creating a synthetic humanoid. The robot of the story is crude by modern standards, and is clearly based on the automata which historical alchemists were rumored to build, but the fact remains that this story about a woman stranded on a desert island is also an overlooked early piece of science fiction. I told one of my professors about it and they were so shocked that they refused to accept the book’s existence! (Jokingly. They later read it, and seemed to enjoy it, especially the automaton chapters.)

I’ve learned that a lot of this obscure stuff, whether by coincidence or deliberate homage, borrows things or shares commonalities with a lot of other obscure stories. For example, it’s immensely curious to me that Mischa Auer played a phony psychic named “Swami Yomurda” in two different movies: 1932’s Sinister Hands and 1933’s Sucker Money. Both were produced by Willis Kent, but that these two otherwise unrelated thrillers can be seen as being in the same universe in a time when film franchises were in their infancy is so weird to me.

On top of that, there’s something thrilling about finding a character who deserves to have more adventures told, especially when they’re in the public domain. In the 1950 British film Highly Dangerous we meet Frances Gray, an entomologist who is caught up in a spy plot and forced to become a spy herself. There’s a scene where she’s tortured with truth serum and starts rambling about different bugs, and her interrogators are so baffled that they start becoming afraid of her. She also fantasizes about being an adventure hero like the ones on the radio serials she listens to with her niece. She’s a deeply charming and pulpy character who really ought to have more stories to her name–and it’s my intent to give her such. I love using these types of characters in my fiction, but when I do, I can’t help but feel like a vulture, haha. I wonder sometimes if maybe I’m just taking advantage of the fact that this is material that no other writer is likely to touch, and I can do with it what I will. I always try to respect the original subject matter, but as Alan Moore did in League, I have sometimes modified characters to suit particular contexts.

I had published a few stories prior to 2015, specifically my online story Dieselworld and its prequel Words from the Inner Circle, which explore the Multiverse that all my stories are set in. But 2015 was really my breaking point for crossing over into crossover stories. I blame two influences: Win Scott Eckert and Sean Lee Levin’s amazing four-volume Crossovers series, and the 11th volume of Black Coat Press’ Tales of the Shadowmen, which contains Rick Lai’s story “Shadows Reborn.” That story showed me that the sky’s the limit as far as bringing different universes together, so on a whim I wrote a Doctor Omega story, “Revelation of the Yeti,” and sent it to Jean-Marc Lofficier. I didn’t expect it to be accepted, but it was.

And I just went from there, finding more and more books and movies that I wanted to homage. My writing is my excuse to show off my “research”: the characters I’ve found who I think deserve attention, and those background tapestries that don’t fall evenly into the worlds of big characters like Doc Savage or Sherlock Holmes. Though I have found ways to bring both the grand and the obscure together. And I have a lot of fun pairing things that are “highbrow” with that which is “lowbrow.”

RPS:

The juxtaposition of highbrow and lowbrow that you mention is a concept I find particularly alluring. Some authors do it in a facile way (how many Marvel comics had titles lifted from Shakespeare or other erudite sources, for instance?) but there is a deeper way to approach a literary alchemy of that kind…with a goal of elevating “lowbrow” themes by exploring them with the same techniques used by the most sophisticated authors. Psychology, nuanced emotion, deep intellect…those can be incredibly fulfilling elements to bring to the world of pulp fiction. But there is also a purity of intent to entertain in “trashy literature” which is an integral part of its allure. Do you find you are able to find a balance, in which the delights of the lowbrow remain, while the visionary qualities and insights of the highbrow are added?

ATOM:

A lot of times when I blend highbrow and lowbrow topics (or what are considered such), I do it for the purposes of humor. There’s something profoundly funny to me about taking something high and lofty and putting it in the world of something that people look down on. I think part of this comes from the comedy I tend to watch–I’m mostly thinking of Mystery Science Theater 3000 right now. MST3K is great at blending ivory-tower references with crude humor or flippant pop culture nods. It’s a great way to burst the bubble of the material held sacred by academia’s elites. Exclusionary practices should be thoroughly mocked.

But as you say, sometimes it’s possible to elevate the lowbrow into something greater. When I used to review trash movies I tried to pry out some sort of social or political meaning from it, even if it seemed to defy that analysis. The sexploitation movies of the early ’60s, for example, the films of Doris Wishman and others, are often extremely misogynistic in a very performatory way. Are they legitimate expressions of and/or appeals to patriarchy? Probably. But they also make a joke of sexism by driving it so hard. And there’s a humor to them that’s as subtle as anything in a Godard or Fellini film, that helps send the impression that there’s something less definite at play. So in some ways, using these movies or their aura for stories is really about bringing out the great idiosyncratic qualities they naturally possess.

I think what it really boils down to is the fact that highbrow and lowbrow are separated only by degrees of age, popularity, fanbase type, and budget. You can see great art in something written by a hack or shot with friends for five dollars, and you can bring “great art” down to earth and turn it into something crude. People respect older works, but if they’re obscure or liked only by weirdos, then suddenly that age counts against it. And “The Literary Canon” is really not much more than books which people in different eras happened to really, really like. In the end, there are just stories, and how people react to them.

To be continued!

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