The man in the hat. You see him at conventions everywhere. There he is on Facebook. There he is again on PRO SE PRODUCTION'S ever expanding website. Who is this mysterious figure who runs one of the largest pulp cartels in the world? He is an unapologetic pusher of pulp – that dangerously addictive concoction of explosive action and imagination with the ability to immediately whisk mainliners away from their mundane existence.
Like the man in the hat himself, you see pulp addicts everywhere – victims of the El Chapo of Pulp – normally efficient, healthy, individuals turned into hollow-eyed, drooping, flesh bags from too much late night pulp, caffeine, and adrenaline. They sit in their figurative work cubicles, pushing mountains of figurative paperwork from inbox to out, counting the hours until they can get their next pulp fix.
But now, the man in the hat is in custody and under the bright lights of the interrogation room – subject to rubber hoses, and guys who only believe in bad cop/worse cop. It’s time to get some answers…
Every interrogation starts with a few personal history questions – easy stuff to get a suspect talking. What can you tell us about Tommy Hancock before he became a pulp dealer?
That’s one of the nicest things I’ve been called since starting down this winding dark alley of Pulp. Although I have to say my favorite title, other than The Man in the Hat, was once being called, The Pulp Provocateur – a complicated word, but one dripping with all kinds of interesting connotations.
It’s hard to say what I was doing before pulp became my focus. In a way, pulp has always been my focus. I have always been a writer of pulp fiction, even before I knew what it was. However, somewhere along the line, I picked up a Master’s Degree in History. Then there was a period of time when I thought I’d like to be a teacher, but after a six month bout of substituting, I figured out how wrong the idea was. I also did some hard time as a college instructor and working in the mental health field – yes, working! I was a juvenile officer for several years, and worked in Juvenile Court in Arkansas in a variety of positions.
Program development was another thing, as was marketing for a bit. Eventually, time doing child abuse investigations and suicidal and homicidal emergency assessments led to working as an attorney’s investigator, for which I am still officially on retainer. But now, The Hat and I have finally found the destination we took all those curves and twists to find. Currently, I work full time as Editor in Chief for Pro Se Productions.
Somewhere in the midst of all those tangents, I met my wife Lisa, an angel who didn’t mind her knights being somewhat tarnished, and who has managed to put up with me for just short of nineteen years. She has given me my miracle, Braeden (17), my gift, Alex (15), and my princess, Kailee (9).
When did you first get hooked on pulp?
That’s sort of like asking Elvis when he first felt the urge to gyrate. In my recollection, pulp has always been a part of who I am. Now, that probably needs some clarification. I don’t see pulp as just being the stories that appeared on pulp paper when published in the early 20th Century. I see pulp as being a style of writing – of entertainment – encompassing several key points. The most important of those points, for me, is it’s genre entertainment filled to the brim with action and adventure coupled with clearly defined heroes and villains. If you look at pulp that way, then I’ve always been a fan. I enjoyed watching and reading westerns since I started turning pages at age four, saw Star Wars the night it debuted in 1977, stayed up late to watch detective movies and TV shows like Hawaii Five-0, Columbo, and even stranger fare like Manimal and Salvage One (yeah, the last one will test some memories)…
Of course, there was also the Good Times Picture Show. This was an Arkansas produced program for the Public Education channel. Produced by a gentleman named Ray (his last name escapes me), Good Times Picture Show broadcasted every Saturday with what was essentially a matinee just like theaters used to show from the 1920s until sometime in the 1950s. It featured a serial, a cartoon, newsreels, and a main feature, and all of them from the Golden Age period, which has fascinated me for my entire life. The Good Times Picture Show exposed me to Captain Marvel on screen, and to the Mesquiteers. I saw Randy Rides Alone with John Wayne via the Good Times Picture Show, and so many other truly fantastic pulp-type adventures.
And we can’t forget a real first love of mine – old time radio. My grandfather had given me a white box radio with a light up dial. I used to have to plug it in and hide it under my blanket because at 9:30 – a good 30 minutes past my bedtime – a college radio station in a nearby town broadcasted audio dramas. Monday nights was Star Wars, but the other nights had shows no one my age (8) or even ten years older had ever heard of. Shows like, The Six Shooter, Fibber McGee and Molly, The Adventures of Harry Lime, or my favorite at the time, Nightbeat. I was fascinated by these gems from a past era and spent a lot of time as a kid and teenager doing my best to hunt down episodes of OTR shows. Fortunately, that quest has become easier as the years have gone by.
However, if you’re asking about my early exposure to actual pulp, it happened at age nine in an Alco in Batesville, Arkansas. On the same spinner rack where, a few short months earlier, I had bought a G.I. Joe comic with my own money for the first time, I found a book someone must have stuck on the rack instead of walking it back to the shelf. It was one of those large Doc Savage omnibus reprints, which made the rounds in the early 80s. Needless to say, it went home with me and I was hooked. After Doc came The Shadow and then a voracious reading of anything similar I could get my hands on.
Was it a sudden epiphany leading you to start Pro Se, or was it a deliberately planned conspiracy to make the world a better place through pulp?
Actually, the whole thing was more about me hearing Opportunity knock with the right password. In my time in juvenile court, I ended up working with an attorney who, in similar and different ways, had the same interest I did in creating great stuff people would enjoy and maybe making a little money from the effort.
The attorney, Fuller Bumpers by name – yes, yes, it’s a real name – had been a writer in Hollywood and an actor. He had worked with everyone from Judge Judy to Robert DeNiro, but had returned to Arkansas to hang out a shingle and raise a family. Still interested in being creative, Fuller had established Pro Se Productions and was looking for a specific focus. I came on board as we got to know each other, first moving in the direction of original audio drama. We produced a few things, ranging from public domain boys’ adventure stuff from the early 20th Century to our own original ideas. But about the same time, I found myself published in the New Pulp world for the first time.
Derrick Ferguson, one of my best friends thanks to the wonders of technology, and one of the tops in New Pulp writing, pointed out there was a company taking submissions for pulp short stories written by modern types. This led me to Ron Fortier and Rob Davis at Airship 27 Productions. At the time the company was – and still is – making a huge mark on what we now call New Pulp. I wrote Ron and Rob a Virgil Earp story for an anthology. It was published, and the writer’s die was cast for me.
Being an inquisitive investigator – okay, nosy – I began looking into publishing as a possible direction for Pro Se. I quickly found myself knee deep in the growing corner of genre fiction we called New Pulp. What I found had wonderful possibilities – if the right people came together in just the right way and had the patience to work at a singular goal for years, there could be something great for all involved.
Readers who never knew they enjoyed the sort of stuff many of us want to write would discover New Pulp. Authors who would never see the light of day via traditional publishing houses, and who should have seen the light of many days would get published. Even already well established writers who wanted to cut loose and write descriptive, over the top pulp, could have a place to do it. I took all of those inspirations, rolled it around in the rather discombobulated mass in my head I refer to as a brain, and laid it all out for Fuller – resulting in the concept of Pro Se Productions being born in 2010.
What was your initial vision/goal for Pro Se and how has it grown into the insidious pulp empire it is today?
Insidious? Now, I’m not so sure…well, okay, maybe…
The initial vision for Pro Se is still the path we’re beating today. Without going into minutia, Pro Se is built on three five year plans, with a short prologue phase.
The prologue phase began in 2010, when Pro Se first entered the New Pulp field with a line of magazines – Masked Gun Mystery, Peculiar Adventures, and Fantasy and Fear. All three were very much styled after classic pulp magazines. Using that model, we built a decent stable of writers interested in continuing to work for Pro Se. We made connections while continuing to research and explore the direction Pro Se needed to go in order to become something special.
In 2011, we began publishing novels and anthologies as we kicked off our first five year plan, which takes us to the end of next year. This phase continued our initial intent of building a great catalog filled with writers from New York Times Bestsellers to brand new writers who readers just had to experience.
In achieving this early goal, we’ve also helped define New Pulp more clearly, but also opened up was previously a niche interest to hordes of new fans and possibilities. Embracing the fact New Pulp and genre fiction are terms related to the sort of literature people want to write and read has gone a long way to establish Pro Se and broaden the horizons of the market for other independent writers and publishers inspired by pulp.
As the power behind one of the largest modern pulp cartels, what happens during a typical day of pushing pulp?
It’s a lot of hiding the bodies and intentionally forgetting where you put them.
Actually, this thing I call a job is a whole lot of fun for me. By nature, I am a person who needs to be busy. I like to have dozens of plates loaded with armed bombs spinning all at once, which is what daily work with Pro Se has become. To boil it down just to a few things in a list is nearly impossible – which is why I’m willing to try.
Daily work for a pulp pusher? The best part is working closely with the fantastic individuals who make up Pro Se’s staff , always giving of themselves and their time –because nobody, including me, is getting rich doing this stuff. I have a terrific Director of Corporate Operations who is directly responsible for our editors. However, I still spend a lot of time interacting with our great editing staff and work directly with the fantastic artists responsible for the covers of our books. I also have a truly awesome Submissions Editor who I stay in touch with as new works come to us looking for a home at Pro Se.
I am constantly in contact with our writers, both those who have been with us since the start, and those who are coming on board now. I am actively recruiting when needed while also conducting research and marketing. One of the biggest aspects of what I do daily is always looking for the next way to expand, the next way to promote, how to improve what we are doing to make the company operate better and expose more Pro Se creators to more readers, making this effort more profitable and beneficial for all.
Amongst all the chaos, I work with the talented formatters who make our books look good and make sure the books get published. I handle all the interactions with vendors and other companies with whom we may be involved. Basically, I do a lot of talking, of pushing and pulling, and putting a shine on already sparkling work.
You’ve been revered and sometimes reviled as putting a new addictive product on the street called New Pulp. Considering the never ending argument between purists and progressives, what is your reaction to the term and how do you define it?
Well, I always answer this sort of question with a disclaimer. I am not the guy who invented New Pulp, not anywhere close. Nor am I the pioneer who ventured into these waters first. In my opinion, New Pulp started almost immediately after the classic pulp magazines ceased publication. Writers from those venues moved on to paperbacks, TV, radio, movies, and took the style they’d developed with them. Also, fans of the classic pulp stories began writing their own stuff – putting it out there in every possible form from self-produced fanzines to actually submitting their own characters to publishing houses, magazines, and more.
As for where New Pulp is today, I fully believe the first spark came when Joe Gentile started Moonstone Books. Focused on great pulpy tales and even licensed characters like Kolchak and The Phantom, Joe really brought the style of what I call New Pulp to comic books, and then to prose collections. Not long after Moonstone, other companies popped up, like Ron Hanna’s Wild Cat Books, who began publishing new characters by great authors, most notably Barry Reese and the aforementioned Ron Fortier. Then Ron went off on his own to form Airship 27, and other companies popped such as Pulpwork Press (which has a great collection of authors, including Derrick Ferguson), and White Rocket Books, manned by Van Allen Plexico. Then Pro Se came into the mix. So, I didn’t create or start New Pulp in any way. I just got to be involved in taking New Pulp to the next level and beyond.
As for how I define New Pulp, I see it as a style of writing owing a lot to the classic pulp stories written in the early 20th Century. It is typically fast paced and plot oriented, with over the top larger than life characters. But New Pulp is also about the language, how the story is written. New Pulp is heavy with description, even purple to a point as long as it’s done right and not to bruise like some illegal fight club match. New Pulp is creative with its manipulation and even mangling of words, sentences, grammar, and presentation of all the things that make a story.
A number of your authors regularly appear at the top of many pulp fans Most Wanted lists. How does that make you feel as you imitate Sisyphus pushing pulp up the mountain again and again toward a successful tipping point?
I am just glad to be able to be the guy who can say he knew many of the best future writers of genre fiction when. To be in at the start, or to have a hand in great careers like Nancy Hansen’s, Nikki Nelson-Hicks’, Logan L. Masterson’s, Nick Piers’, Chuck Miller’s, J. H. Fleming’s, Frank Schildiner’s, and so many others, that’s my passion in this.
To also be known as a publisher and a publishing house which allows writers to write what they want – what other venues won’t let them write – is icing on the cake. Making money is great, but I have found there are writers who will write just to get the tales they want to tell out to people who want to read them – a list of people who have always wanted to write to names which have dotted best seller lists for years.
I catch a lot of flak from some because I am hesitant to say I am only in this for the money. Don’t get me wrong. This is now my full paying job and I want it to stay that way. I want all our writers to one day be able to do nothing but wordsmithing to put food on the table. But the real drive in this for me, the real reason I hammer away at what sometimes seems a series of impenetrable titanium walls, is to see creators get to tell their stories, to watch as readers uncover new worlds and find themselves in new dimensions. To be able to say that happens and the Pro Se logo is attached to it, there’s the payoff.
What is the future of Pro Se – where do you see the imprint in five years from now, ten years from now?
Following our second and third five year plans, that’s really about all I can say…or they’ll have to kill me. And not a specific them, but rather the shadowy, ubiquitous them…
Thankfully, Pro Se has built a broad foundation, which gives us a lot of opportunity to grow and go even further. What those who watch will see in the next little bit will be a focusing of sorts, less of a narrowing, more of a targeting on certain aspects. Business practices that work, authors who have an impact, stories and concepts that both entice readers to return, and risk taking to bring in even more fans. We’ve made a strong move into licensed concepts and will continue to do so. Pro Se has also opened up a new door by entering into an agreement with Radio Archives to produce audio books of our catalog. Essentially, we are taking all the pieces that have worked so far and focusing on how to make them work even better.
What can we look forward to from Pro Se in the immediate future?
That answer might require a whole other grilling session. To get into what we have coming up – with Pro Se having the potential to produce anywhere from four to ten titles a month – would be a laundry list of wonderful fiction. It could turn into me being put on a hit list if I left someone off who was totally deserving of being mentioned. Let’s just say, the books coming from Pro Se between now and the end of the year literally relate to every genre one can probably imagine and a couple we’ve invented…
And finally…Tommy? Tommy? Drat! Sound the alarm, the King of Pulp has just escaped down a tunnel hidden under his chair…
ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER: Novelist, screenwriter, and television personality, Paul Bishop spent 35 years with the Los Angeles Police Department where he was twice honored as Detective of the Year. He continues to work privately as a deception and interrogation expert. His fifteen novels include five in his LAPD Homicide Detective Fey Croaker series. His latest novel, Lie Catchers, begins a new series featuring top LAPD interrogators Ray Pagan and Calamity Jane Randall.