VAN ALLEN PLEXICO-PULP ARK AUTHOR OF THE YEAR NOMINEE
& EDITOR OF BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR NOMINEE, VAN ALLEN PLEXICO PRESENTS GIDEON CAIN
1.Van, share a bit of background about yourself if you would.
Sure. I'm originally from Alabama and now live near St Louis. I spent over a decade attending various universities, studying all kinds of History as well as high-falutin' soundin' stuff like National Security Policy and Diplomacy and International Relations. The whole time, though, all I really wanted to do was to write science fiction, comics, and pulp adventure stories. But I knew the odds were very much against me being able to make a decent living doing that--at least, right out of the box. So I worked long, thirteen hour days and then wrote late at night for several years, honing my skills.
Now, when I'm not teaching college courses, I write and edit for a variety of publishers and web sites, including Airship 27, Swarm Press, White Rocket Books (my own small press imprint), RevolutionSF.com, the War Eagle Reader, and others. My fourteenth book came out in late January; it is a collection of weekly columns that a fellow Auburn grad, John Ringer, and I wrote about our alma mater's fortunes over the course of the 2010 football season.
So I do sports commentary in addition to the other stuff I mentioned. Comics commentary, too-- I've instigated and edited two books about Marvel's Avengers comics, called "Assembled!" and "Assembled! 2." Lots of fine writers and big comics fans contributed chapters about every conceivable aspect of the Avengers, and the books have sold pretty well. Profits go to the HERO Initiative charity for retired comics pros.
2.One of the titles in the running for best book starts with VAN ALLEN PLEXICO PRESENTS... Tell us about Gideon Cain as a character and how the concept developed.
Over the holidays at the end of 2008, I raised the suggestion on a comics-related YahooGroup I moderate that some of us should put together an anthology of stories in the vein of Robert E. Howard's "Solomon Kane." Since the membership of that group includes a number of very talented writers, the concept quickly evolved beyond a simple Kane pastiche to something more complex, as various people tossed out ideas. Our "Gideon Cain" character soon gained a very rich and detailed background, a strong set of motivations for what he does, and even a logicial and historically consistent wardrobe and weapons. (His English "mortuary sword" covered in "angelic runes" is particularly fascinating, I think.)
The basic concept behind Cain is that he was an American Puritan who was involved in the Salem Witch Trials. Later discovering that the Biblical demon Azazel was involved in causing the Trials to go the way they did, Cain leaves his home and family behind and sets out to wander the Earth in search of the demon--and send him back to Hell!
Over the course of the seven stories in the book, readers will follow Cain through the American Colonial wilderness and across the pirate-filled ocean, through eerie encounters in European ports and across the deserts of the Middle East—always hot on the trail of the demon.
One appealing aspect of the book is that several of the writers were just starting out in their careers with their Cain stories, so you get a very fresh approach to each one—but two of the co-creators were Kurt Busiek (Marvels; Conan) and Keith R. A. DeCandido (Star Trek; Farscape), certainly old hands at this kind of thing. So you get the best of both those worlds.
3. You've also received a nomination as best pulp author of 2010. How do you feel about that and what do you think a voter should look for in a best author?
I’m absolutely thrilled to be among the nominees. What a fantastic honor.
My feeling is that the “best author” for pulp purposes should be a writer who can produce high-quality fiction regardless of the setting. The writer should be both mechanically competent at the basics of crafting a story and also talented at capturing the reader’s interest and pulling him or her into the story. Writing really is both an art and a craft, and the writer of the year, in any year, in my view, should be someone who can execute both parts of that description skillfully.
Did I accomplish that in 2010? It’s not for me to say! But I would point potential voters to my story in GIDEON CAIN, “The Red Flame of Death,” as well as the sixth volume of my superhero novel series, WORLDMIND—both of which came out in 2010 and both of which I believe represent my work at its best.
4. An area you're known for is super hero pulp. Why do super heroes, usually finding their homes in comics, have a place in the pulp genre?
Prose fiction crafted in the “pulp” style (colorful, fast-moving, and exciting) and incorporating superhero characters is a fast-growing field these days. Even the big boys, like Pyr Books, have published prose superhero anthologies recently, and the old stuff (such as “Wild Cards”) is being reprinted.
I think for most people it’s the combination of several factors. Superheroes are currently migrating to other forms of media, from movies to video games to web sites, so why shouldn’t they also make the leap to novels and anthologies? And, given the Internet and modern small-press publishing, it’s never been easier for creators to reach a very select audience that would appreciate such things.
For me, the major benefit of presenting my superhero story this way is that I can tell a really vast saga on a huge canvas, involving dozens of major characters across the entire galaxy and over a millennium of time—and I can do it all much more quickly and with much more nuance than it could be done in comics, because I’m not dependent on artists having to painstakingly recreate every moment of the entire story visually. Chris Kohler does five full-page illustrations for each of my Sentinels novels, and that works out to around one fantastic picture for every fifty pages of story. It seems to be a really good ratio and readers seem to love it that way.
The idea behind this story is to take every great character and concept I’ve ever come up with (and quite a few from my friend and original co-creator and co-plotter, Bobby Politte), and blend it all into this humongous, Babylon 5-ish ongoing saga that involves everything from street-level fighters to galactic empires and Kirby-style cosmic space-gods. In these novels you’ll find millionaire inventors, alien androids, mutant college students, glory-hog daredevils, corrupt Pentagon officials, barbarian warlords, and planet-nuking starfleets—these books really do have everything you would find in a Marvel comic from, say, 1977 or 1985. If George Perez, John Buscema, or John Byrne once drew it, something very like it is probably in here!
The Sentinels series so far constitutes five novels and one anthology, with a sixth novel coming this summer. That makes for roughly 1750 pages of story, since its beginning in 2006. How many years would it take for a comic book to get that much story content out to its audience? I have no idea, but it makes my head hurt to think about it!
Pick up a copy of the first volume, “When Strikes the Warlord,” in print or on Kindle, and decide for yourself!
5. What might be coming up that could you get back on the Pulp Ark Award list for 2011?
I helped to create a retro-SF “space ranger” character that should be seeing print soon from Airship 27. My long-ish novella starring that character will be in the second volume, but I helped edit the first book as well. I think readers will love this character and devour his adventures.
The climactic installment in the current Sentinels story arc, “Stellarax,” will be out this summer. That one is consuming almost all of my writing time at the moment—big, big things happen in that book, and I think all Sentinels fans will be very happy with it.
And I have a “Sky Ranger” story in the upcoming third volume of the “Lance Star” series, also from Airship 27. Bobby Nash, guardian of all things “Lance,” was kind enough to invite me to have some fun with the guys from Star Field and it was a blast.
All any writer can ask, regarding awards such as PulpArk’s, is that readers and voters will take a look at your work and give it a chance and decide if it merits consideration. We shall see!