Before returning to Atom’s thoughts on pulp adventure, literature and the arts, here she is along with her fabulous array of book and magazine covers…a wonderland of adventure and imagination.
Tell me a little about the creation of Odd Tales of Wonder and Odd Tales Productions. We’ve talked a bit about the restrictions and profit-over-art, Mammon-over-revolutionary, sanitized-over-subversive spirit to be found in the publishing mainstream…when did you decide to break free from that and go your own way as an editor and publisher as well as writer?
Odd Tales Productions started out because I realized that there was little stopping me from running my own New Pulp magazine. I wanted to encourage people to come up with pulp scenarios and maybe create serialized universes, in hopes of maybe seeing the rise of a new recurring feature like Doc Savage or other long-lived heroes. But because we were new, we didn’t really attract that sort of crowd. However, the stories we did get to print were all awesome. Odd Tales of Wonder ran for ten issues and we published authors from all different backgrounds.
It was a little intimidating taking on the responsibilities of editing and publishing stories submitted over the Internet, and as any anthology editor will tell you, the road was pretty hard at points. But it was also very fulfilling and made a lot of people happy. Early on, a writer from France named Katherine Avalon took a particular interest in Odd Tales and talked me into letting help edit. Kat has been a great friend, and her bitterly satirical screenplay The Fires of ’16: Reign of Emperor Tromble was one of the first books we ended up publishing.
After the end of the magazine we decided to publish books through Odd Tales Productions, and over the last few years we’ve mostly published our own works. We took on another co-editor, Michael Kobold, who helps mostly behind-the-scenes in helping our novels happen. We’ve been trying various ways to open up submissions again in some ways, but have failed to attract interest; we’re also hoping to reprint a few obscure public domain texts, but the transcription process hasn’t fit into our schedules so far. While Odd Tales has admittedly become a bit more of a selfish enterprise, we’ve also taken this time to develop our “flavor.” Kat and I have built on each other’s works and added to each other’s fictional universes–pretty much all of our work intertwines in some way.
It’s funny because I think a lot of people think the stories we publish through Odd Tales are stories we’ve shopped around and failed to sell. The truth is, the majority of our work over the last few years has been written with Odd Tales specifically in mind. It’s fulfilling to control the design and the publishing process and the marketing, but also we write Odd Tales stories because they fit into what we have built Odd Tales up to be. And while we know that someday we may have to dedicate more of our time to other enterprises, we’re proud of what we’ve created, and hope that our readers enjoy that magic as well.
How do you see your own relationship with the family of writers (as well as artists and filmmakers) who are building and enhancing the legacies of pulp fiction? You are an astute and insightful reviewer, and have brought a new spark to obscure characters from the pulp past. Do you see yourself continuing to do so? And it seems as if you have forged positive relationships with some of the older creators mining those seams of literary gold…I know that some creators within that landscape can get very territorial, form alliances and grudges, and no one argues with quite the intensity of erudite fan vs. erudite fan. It feels like you have adeptly kept your focus on joy and fellowship in the pulp-creation world, which is really splendid. Is there a master plan in your thoughts as your career goes on, or is it more of a wild ride that evolves as you go along?
At the end of the day I try to be an approachable person. I don’t know if I always succeed, but I am always looking to make new friends. I think everyone would rather make a friend than an enemy, haha. The pulp community has been very nice and supportive by and large, and I’m really fortunate to have made a ton of really cool friends among the various fans and writers I’ve met. I think we all really enjoy a sense of community because we’re all generally nerdy people with fairly obscure interests. I thrive on making people happy, and if my books and reviews and discourse and whatnot can do that, I feel like I’m doing the right thing. I’ve considered on several occasions moving into different spheres of writing, but it’s really hard to break away, because there’s always something new to discover.
There are drawbacks–all fandoms like to get in stupid fights or defend bad arguments, or even rally around problematic imagery. This is why I never read the comments on posts about Doctor Who or Star Wars. That sort of drama can cause a lot of eye-rolling, but because it contributes nothing to my life I don’t really want to let it take anything away either. The people I spend the most time and energy with are the ones who are very kind and very flexible, and fortunately I think that’s the majority of the community.
So I don’t know if I can quit pulp. In some ways, I feel like I’ve given up my old dream of making my living selling mainstream fiction, but that’s more due to the inevitable collapse of American capitalism more than anything else. Publishing standards have gotten harsher and royalty checks have gotten smaller; you need to be a Twitter superstar to break out as a writer these days, and you have to be willing to work for peanuts. It’s always a balance of wanting to roll up your sleeves and take the risk vs. wanting to just enjoy making your art even if your audience is very small. I have felt genuine despair over the idea of quitting completely, and so if pulp ever did get too stale for me and starts holding me back, then I might drop it, at least partway. So I guess I’m on the wild ride side of things, haha. Which suits me–I’d rather try to adapt than try to brute force something without accepting change. I’m always looking forward to what happens next, even if I don’t always know what that will be.
Tell me more about your latest book “So Be It…Desecrator”. You’ve promoted it as a work of dark erotica. Your encapsulation of the book sounds very intense…
There cometh for every breathing soul a time when they must tread upon the sacred—urinate upon it—for the sacred is too often a mask for the profane. And the appropriation of divine nature calls for the rise of a dark and ruthless Avenger… ~Lutum Hominus, 13th Century Monk
FBI agent Rico Benz is saddled with transporting a mysterious amorphous entity which can travel through dimensions–typical luck for him. When things go awry, ripping him from his home and family, he is reborn in a new form. With his new shapeshifting abilities, Rico must fight his way off of an alternate Earth, where a sinister alien force has all but destroyed humanity…
So Be It…Desecrator is my way of exploring rebellion and meaningful resistance. It’s also a hardcore porn where alternate versions of the Avenger, The Shadow, and the Domino Lady all fuck each other. It owes a lot to Philip Farmer’s A Feast Unknown, but I really tried to make this much more than “Feast Unknown with the Avenger.” This is not only in the nature of the plot, which is original, but also in that the title character, the Desecrator/Rico Benz, is sort of a 21st Century reimagining of Richard Henry Benson rather than a pastiche. Whereas Benson’s paralyzed facial muscles allow him to change his visage to disguise himself, Rico Benz is changed in a much deeper way, so that his whole body is capable of shapeshifting–the event that transformed him also takes him a ruined version of the Earth where the evil Frogs (so named for their amphibian appearance) have taken over. He meets survivors of the Frog invasion, and has sexual encounters with them for various reasons.
He soon learns his shapeshifting makes him very powerful, because being able to change the shape and structure of his body can really let him do anything. Like a lot of my superpowered protagonists, Rico struggles with how to use his great power responsibly. The loss of his family has unhinged him, but through crossing through various taboos, he finds a way to accept what he has become, and use his power for good, becoming a Desecrator of that which evil calls holy. By being transformed into a fluid being, he is freed from social constraints as well as physical restrictions, and he must decide what sort of defiance and Desecration is good and what is evil or banally self-indulgent.
It was fun reimagining one of my favorite pulp heroes for the modern day, on top of writing a large stable of pulp characters in a war-wracked setting, where they’ve all become desperate, or worse, in their struggle to survive and protect what remains of their world. This isn’t an attempt to be grimdark and do bitter versions of characters just for the sake of bitterness. I love the characters and the brightness they tend to represent a bit too much for that. But because this book is a little wilder and a little darker and a little more disturbing than my others, I’ve found a way to work non-spoiler trigger warnings into the book. For people who say that deflates a book which is all about encroaching on taboos, they really don’t understand what I’m trying to do. Respecting PTSD is a rebellion against a status quo which doesn’t respect people with trauma. That’s really the best way I can encapsulate the philosophy of this book. It’s about finding what really deserves to be rebelled against, and challenging common conceptions of such.
You took part in the Doc Talos fantic contest this past summer, and created “Silver Legacy”, a story that adeptly balanced the intense adult themes of the Talos stories with a keen sense of family legacy and the presence of a deep moral core within the characters, even when struggling with a paradigm of violence and desire. You are also planning a Lord Grersoun tale for the Talos world, which is wonderfully exciting. Tell me a little more about your other creations that have featured either history or pastiche of The Man of Bronze.
Doc Savage haunts a lot of my work in one way or another–I like nodding to his world in various ways, like making Lo Lar from The Feathered Octopus a member of the Order of the Madonna from my novella The Divine Mrs. E (which is my fanficish exploration of the hydra-headed universe of the Emmanuelle film “series”). But in particular, readers of my books Return of the Amazing Bulk and Flint Golden and the Thunderstrike Crisis can pick up strong hints of Doc-themed story threads.
I leave the sorting out of those clues to the readers, and may they enjoy the hunt. Flint Golden, along with my books The New Adventures of the Flash Avenger and The Brute!, is part of my ongoing Hero Saga series, and the character of Flint Golden will be a main one all throughout those adventures. So that series in particular will have much Savagery to it. Besides that, I hope at some point to write a literary novel, tentatively titled The Mushroom, which will be strongly inspired by the ghosts of both Doc Savage and Tarzan. It will incorporate a spectral version of my weirdo theory that Richard Wilder, the filmmaker-turned-maniac from J.G. Ballard’s High-Rise, was actually Doc’s grandson.
Thanks for coming on to the Forbidden Pulp blog, Atom! Talking with you, it’s impossible to not be excited about the future of pulp fiction here in the 21st Century. And on a personal note, I’m thrilled to have joined you in exploring your multiverse of creations with the upcoming prequel to your Flint Golden and the Thunderstrike Crisis! Your energy and boundless creativity is an absolute inspiration.
Here’s a sneak peek at the cover of The Wife of the Summer Sun: A Flint and Siobhan Golden Story…coming soon from Odd Tales Productions!
And to explore more of Atom’s works, here are links to her Odd Tales of Wonder site, and her Patreon.