Pulpmeister Barry Reese creator of The Rook, Lazarus Grey, and many other pulp heroes is firmly ensconced in the Bish’s Beat interrogation room. A couple of police goons armed with heavy phone books and saps aren’t going to let him leave until he spills the good stuff ... So, let’s get on and twist the thumbscrews ...
Tell us about your background prior to jumping into pulp.
I was born and raised in Milledgeville, Georgia, a town that’s mostly famous for two things – having been the capital of Georgia before the Civil War and for once being home to the largest insane asylum in the world. I’ve also been a professional librarian since 1995 and I’m very happily married with a wonderful son.
What characters do you enjoy reading, and what authors have influenced you?
Pulp-wise, I’m a big fan of The Shadow, Seekay, The Avenger, Conan, Tarzan, John Carter and lots of others. My favorite authors are Walter Gibson, Robert E. Howard, HP Lovecraft, Paul Ernst and Edgar Rice Burroughs.
What intrigued you about the action adventure/hero pulps enough to move from comics and chose it for the genre for your creative output?
I grew up being surrounded by the paperback reprints of Doc Savage, Tarzan, Conan, etc. so they were always there in the back of my mind. When I decided that I wanted to work in prose, I immediately thought back to those stories as the kind that would be the most fun to write.
Conquerors of Shadow: The Adventures of Eobard Grace was your first novel. What were the inspirations behind it?
It was meant to be my love letter to Edgar Rice Burroughs and the whole planetary romance genre. I wanted to tell that kind of story and it’s actually the only time in my career where I deliberately set out to write a pastiche. I tried to copy as much of ERB’s writing style as possible.
The Rook has been your signature character. How did he come into being?
After doing Conquerors, I wanted to do something with my all-time favorite pulp genre: the hero pulps! So I created The Rook and gave him all the elements that I’d loved about so many different characters. He was only meant to be used in that first story and then I was going to move on, but the character was popular enough with readers that he kept coming back again and again.
He was purposely designed to be reminiscent of many iconic heroes but he’s evolved over time, particularly with the way time passes in the series and the way he’s become a father.
Following on the success of The Rook, you created Lazarus Gray. How do the two characters differ in the writing process?
From a writing standpoint, I don’t think the process is very different. It’s mainly a matter of the ways the characters themselves approach situations differently. Usually, I’ll reread some of my older work with the character before jumping back in if I’ve been away for awhile, just to remind myself of their mindset and motivations.
Rabbit Heart is a standalone novel that veers away from traditional pulp fare into a storyline for more mature readers. What was your motivation in doing something so different?
I’ve always stayed in the “PG-13” range with most of my pulp work and while I like that for the most part, occasionally I get an itch to take things to the extreme. That’s where Rabbit Heart came from. I wanted to go all out and do a real horror story, with all the blood and sex I could muster. It was very different but I’m extremely proud of it.
Aside from creating and writing your own characters, you’ve also written stories featuring previously established pulp characters, such as The Avenger and The Green Hornet. Do you approach these iconic characters differently than you do your own?
I do, actually! It’s very important to me to pay the proper respect to the characters and create a story that will resonate with not just new readers, but especially with those who have a deep affinity for them. It’s not simply enough to tell “another” Green Hornet story… I want to tell one that’s so good it feels like canon to all GH fans.
If that sounds like I put a lot of pressure on myself, that’s true. It’s much harder for me to write one of those iconic heroes because I want my story to stand up next to those written by giants.
You’ve recently partnered with Pro-Se, the leading publisher in the world of New Pulp. What does this mean for Barry Reese and his characters?
It gives the characters a steady home and a publisher who realizes the importance of pushing not just individual books but the universe as a whole. I think it also helps create a stronger band identity for all of the characters and helps them stand out more.
How do you see the state of New Pulp today and moving into the future?
I think we’re in a real exciting time for New Pulp, but I think we’re all wondering what will be that “breakout” series or novel that really lifts the tide for everyone. It’s going to be interesting to see if that happens within the confines of the New Pulp label or it means abandoning that and going a bit more generic in order to reach a larger audience.
What advice do you have for writers looking to break into the world of New Pulp?
Very few people are Stephen King. Most writers are not making a lot of money. Go into it because you love to write and write what you love. If financial success and fame comes along, that’s wonderful – but don’t let that be the thing you’re chasing.
Thanks, Barry. It’s time to take off the handcuffs, turn out the bright lights, and chain you back to your battered typewriter so you can get back to work.