This has been a long time in coming, this interview with my friend Win Scott Eckert. I’m not sure how long ago I first became familiar with Win’s work, but it’s been several years at the least. He plays in the playground I love, that giant sandbox where everything in popular culture, from gothic heroines to modern masked men, can interact … and he plays in it so well. His recent stories featuring the Green Hornet and The Avenger stand out, and of course he’s learned the art of finding character connections from one of the greatest such sleuths, Philip Jose Farmer, with whom Win co-wrote THE EVIL IN PEMBERLEY HOUSE. Here’s our long chat, with lots of illustrations:
ANTHONY: Win, thanks for taking the time to be interviewed.
WSE: Thank you, Anthony.
ANTHONY: You’re most well-known currently as the lead “banner-carrier,” so to speak, of Philip José Farmer’s Wold Newton Family concept. What was your first exposure to Farmer’s work and how has it influenced your own writing?
WSE: My mind-blowing introduction to Farmer was his “pseudo-biography” Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life, at the tender age of eight. I recently had the pleasure of editing an updated and definitive edition of the book, which is a companion to his Tarzan Alive. Both books follow the Sherlockian tradition, known as “the Game,” of treating their subjects as real people who actually lived (or… still live!). In my new foreword to Doc Savage, I abandon my usual practice of penning forewords and afterwords within the context of the Game (see my pieces in the recent Farmer reissues by Titan Books), and step out from behind the curtain, so to speak. The piece is an unabashed love letter to the book and to Farmer. Which is a roundabout way of answering your question about how it has influenced my own writing. Without Doc Savage, there is no Win Scott Eckert, author–for better or worse.
The definitive, hardcover reissue of Doc Savage is available from Meteor House. It’s a true labor of love, and I hope folks will check it out.
ANTHONY: You had the chance to collaborate with Farmer, completing The Evil in Pemberley House. I know you’ve written in other forums about how that project came to be. I’ve read the book and honestly can’t tell where Farmer ends and you begin, so I’d like to hear a little about the process of completing a novel started by someone else. What challenges did you face and how did you solve them?
WSE: First of all, thank you for commenting that the transition from Farmer to me was seamless. I take that as the highest possible compliment. I had been reading Farmer all my life, and continue to reread his work, so undoubtedly I absorbed some of his stylistic tendencies through osmosis. That said, I was also conscious of many of Phil’s writing patterns and made sure to incorporate them into the prose when it was natural to do so, as I took over writing where he left off.
The process felt straightforward to me. Immerse myself in the chapters he had written. Study the outline for the remainder of the novel and flesh it out, where necessary. Consult the accompanying notes and follow them as closely as possible. Make judicious changes to bring small details in line with what had been published in his other Wold Newton works, particularly in Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life (for the uninitiated, Farmer revealed, in the biography Doc Savage, that the real name of the man upon whom the fictionalized Doc Savage pulp novels was based was Dr. James Clarke Wildman, Jr.; The Evil in Pemberley House introduces us to Doc Wildman’s daughter, Patricia Wildman); in line with this, do not alter Phil’s words, except where absolutely necessary for continuity. This latter point is extremely important to me, and has also guided me when participating in bringing other previously unpublished works by Phil to publication, or when preparing manuscripts for reissue by Titan: do not have the audacity to rewrite Philip José Farmer. He’s a Hugo-award winning author and a science fiction Grand Master!
Once the polished outline was approved by Phil and his wife Bette, I proceeded to write, and sent bundles of chapters to them for their review and comments. The rest, as they say, is history.
The Evil in Pemberley House came out in 2009 and is now out of print although I believe Camelot Books may have a few copies left in stock of both the trade and limited editions. I’m writing a series of follow-up novellas. The first is The Scarlet Jaguarand is “volume II of the memoirs of Pat Wildman,” out now from Meteor House.
ANTHONY: Your short stories all feature classic pulp or adventure fiction characters, which means you constantly get to play “what if X met K…” Given free rein, what are your dream match-ups that you haven’t gotten a chance to write yet?
WSE: I would love to take on The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and The Avengers (Steed and Emma Peel). And of course Farmer’s own pulp hero analogues, Lord Grandrith and Doc Caliban, from his novels A Feast Unknown , Lord of the Trees, and The Mad Goblin. Interestingly, Farmer left a fourth novel featuring Caliban, The Monster on Hold, unfinished.
ANTHONY: And I know I’m not the only one hoping that someone, someday, will finish The Monster On Hold and bring it to print. You’ve written tales of Zorro, the Green Hornet, Sherlock Holmes, Captain Midnight, and the Avenger for various anthologies, as well as a Honey West / T.H.E. Cat novel (co-written with Matthew Baugh). What’s your writing process like for these stories? I understand it all starts with being invited to participate, but how do you proceed from invite to publication?
WSE: The “bible” is key. I come into these projects with a high degree of familiarity with the characters, but sometimes the publisher has a particular take to which the writers need to adhere, and that’s outlined in the bible. This is particularly important when there are several versions of a character to be addressed–or ignored, as the case may be. Adherence to canon, and honoring the character, is paramount (of course, even reasonable people can sometimes disagree on the definition of canon), and Moonstone shares these sensibilities, which is why I enjoy working with them so often on their licensed properties. For example, in the thirteenth Avenger pulp novel, Murder on Wheels, Richard Benson loses the ability to mold his face, and his hair reverts from shock-white to black. Moonstone felt that this removed perhaps the primary interesting feature of the character and mandated in the bible that the stories features the white-haired, white skin Benson with the moldable facial features–a decision I heartily endorsed. But this mandate also causes problems for some writers, like me, who also feel that adhering to canon means adhering to a realistic chronology of a character’s adventures. How to tell a story of Benson later in his career and also have him white-haired? I solved the problem in my first Avenger tale with a reference to the recent reappearance of his powers and white skin and hair. A few other writers also wrestled with this and addressed it in a similar way.
Another example is Honey West. The Moonstone version is an amalgamation of the eleven novels and the television series with Anne Francis, which ran for one season. Both have different supporting characters. The Moonstone bible takes the best of both. But I wanted to take it one step further. To guide writing the novella A Girl and Her Cat (co-written with Matthew Baugh), I worked up a Honey West timeline. This is the sort of exercise which helps me get centered for the writing process. Fortunately, the television series (and the Moonstone comic and stories) can be neatly placed in a gap between the ninth novel, Bombshell, which came out in 1964, and the tenth novel, which came out in 1971. Creating a timeline usually reveals gaps which can be filled in. For instance, in 1971’s Honey on Her Tail, it’s revealed that Honey and Lt. Mark Storm have not seen each other in several years. So we wrote their “goodbye” scene into A Girl and Her Cat. In the 1971 book, Honey has given up her private eye practice and is now a secret agent. While we don’t show that career change in A Girl and Her Cat (Moonstone doesn’t care for Honey’s secret agent phase), we do take Honey along the path of that transition.
By the way, Honey West and T.H.E. Cat: A Girl and Her Cat, is due out from Moonstone in January 2014 in a limited edition hardcover. It’s listed for order in the November 2013 Diamond Previews catalogue. The Diamond Item Code is NOV131140. It can also be ordered from Things From Another World at a nice discount!
ANTHONY: Well, I pre-ordered mine from Midtown Comics in NYC. And for those interested: apparently the Diamond ordering deadline is December 6th, which is just a few days away as I post this interview. So click those links, especially if you’re a fan of 60s spy/crime/thrillers with strong female leads!
Now, You’ve also annually contributed stories to Black Coat Press’ Tales of the Shadowmen series. Those anthologies are themed rather than focusing on a single character, so how do you choose the lead characters for those stories? How involved in character and plot choice are the publishers?
WSE: Fortunately, even though each annual book has a theme, the theme is a suggestion rather than a requirement. So, I rarely feel bound by the theme and instead focus on which French characters interest me. The publisher, Jean-Marc Lofficier, is quite ready to suggest French characters, or characters created by French writers, but is equally willing to give the writers latitude, as long as there is some kind of substantial “French connection.” Jean-Marc has plot approval, of course, to ensure that the tale meets quality standards and comports with the generally understood canon of the characters–but again, he also gives the writers a nice amount of leeway.
I’ve had the opportunity to write several stories about Doc Ardan, Madame Atomos, and the Scarlet Pimpernel, among others.
ANTHONY: Sadly, you’re not in the current Volume 10: Esprit De Corps … But I am! (Sorry to highjack your spotlight for just a second there, but I couldn’t resist. Moving on…. Your Crossovers: A Secret Chronology of the World, Volume 1 and Volume 2, is a pretty exhaustive look at the history of literary interconnectedness that Philip José Farmer really popularized. In your researches, what connection between characters did it surprise you to discover? And are you constantly looking for new connections to make? (For instance, I recently read Jess Faraday’s The Affair of the Porcelain Dog, which has a number of Holmes connections including a lead character named Ira Adler, and Lester Heath’s The Case of the Aluminum Crutch, featuring a teenage detective named “Sherlock” Jones. You can imagine the paths my brain traveled in both cases.) And to piggy-back on that question: new crossover stories, including your own, are constantly appearing. How often, if at all, do you plan on updating Crossovers?
WSE: There are thousands of crossovers noted in the books, and it’s very hard to pick out just a few highlights. Turning the question on its ear, the crossovers that really inspired me, captured my interest, and led me down the OCD path of creating a cohesive Crossover Universe, were those found in the writings of Philip José Farmer (such as the Sherlock Holmes-Lord Greystoke novel The Adventure of the Peerless Peer); the unnamed cameos of Doc Savage and the Amazing Five in Dave’s Stevens’ magnificent The Rocketeer (and The Shadow in the follow-up); Ron Fortier and Jeff Butler’s wonderful four-part comic series Sting of the Green Hornet; Cay Van Ash’s Fu Manchu-Sherlock Holmes novel Ten Years Beyond Baker Street; and David McDaniel’s fantastic Man from U.N.C.L.E. novels, particularly The Dagger Affair and The Rainbow Affair.
I’m sure I’m leaving many on the table, but these are the ones that immediately come to mind.
I’m always keeping an eye out for new crossovers, and taking note of them. That said, it’s a monumental task that tends to displace all other activities, and I’ve put aside the formal documentation of additions to the Crossover Universe for the foreseeable future, in order to focus on writing fiction.
This is a good a place as any to announce that Sean Levin, a fan and expert on both Farmer and crossovers, and a wonderful and talented guy, has taken over formally tracking and documenting crossovers. He’s following my Crossover Universe framework to a “T,” and doing a better job than I could have ever hoped for. So, there will be Crossoversvolumes 3 & 4 in the future, although I don’t have any further details or information to announce right now in that regard. These books are multi-year efforts, so stay tuned!
ANTHONY: Of course! You’ve co-edited three volumes of Green Hornet short stories with Joe Gentile (the third volume was also co-edited with Matthew Baugh), both from Moonstone Books. How do you break apart the editing chores?
WSE: It’s very organic, a lot of back and forth. We had a lot of input into the bible, including settling once and for all on the 1960s television continuity as the setting for our books. On the first book, The Green Hornet Chronicles, Joe solicited writers and I took the first several passes at copyediting. Joe then took final passes; it was his baby, after all. For the second book, The Green Hornet Casefiles, I took the lead on author selection, although of course Joe had a lot of say. On the third book, I just had too much going on and suggested we bring in a trusted third, Matthew Baugh. Again it was organic. Sometimes Matthew took the first pass, and sometimes I did. Joe once more did final passes. I’m very proud of the work we did on those books, both in terms of the quality of writing and the proofing/quality control processes we utilized. In fact, the third book, The Green Hornet: Still at Large, won the 2013 Pulp Ark Award for best anthology.
ANTHONY: Congrats on that! Have you edited or co-edited any other anthologies recently? Are you editing or co-editing any other anthologies in the near future?
WSE: I co-edited, with my good friend Christopher Paul Carey, the recently-released Tales of the Wold Newton Universe, for Titan Books. The book collects, for the first time ever in one volume, SF Grand Master Philip José Farmer‘s Wold Newton short stories, as well as authorized tales by other Farmerian writers.
I should add what a pleasure it was to work with Chris on the book and our introduction, which can be read online at SF Signal; he’s such a talented writer and editor, and I know he’s going places–big places.
I don’t see any editing projects in my future. If another “can’t say no” opportunity like Tales of the Wold Newton Universe comes along, I would have to rethink that answer, but editing anthologies requires a time commitment of Brobdingnagian proportions, and right now I’m focusing on my own writing.
ANTHONY: We’ve established how much fun you have working with all these classic characters. Are you working on a novel or series-recurring character of your own creation? (In other words, what does the near future hold for fans of your writing?)
WSE: Well, I do plan on at least three or four more Pat Wildman novellas. These would bring Pat through the 1970s and into the early 1980s . . . which, not coincidentally, is about when the unfinished Monster on Hold occurs. The Doc Caliban tales take place in a parallel universe to the Doc Wildman / Pat Wildman stories (see my introduction to the Titan Books edition of Lord of the Trees and my chronology in the Titan edition of The Mad Goblin), but nonetheless there is a tight connection between the two universes. The Pat Wildman books, taking place in the Wold Newton Universe, will lead up to the events of The Monster on Hold in the Grandrith/Caliban Universe.
Of course, I should emphasize there are no firm plans–yet–for The Monster on Hold. But I do have a lot mapped out already. So, fingers crossed it will come together. In the meantime, I plan to have fun revealing Pat Wildman’s next adventures, and I have high-level ideas for at least the next two or three.
Matthew Baugh and I are also deep into mapping out a Honey West / T.H.E. Cat follow-up for Moonstone Books. It’s a caper taking place in Europe in the early 1970s and I can tell you it’s going to be quite sexy and fun. I really enjoy the creative jamming back-and-forth Matthew and I have on these books.
I’m writing a Pat Wildman / Kent Lane short story for Meteor House’s The Worlds of Philip Jose Farmer 5. And I’ve been approached for a short story for a licensed character anthology which is going to be super-cool. I can’t discuss that further right now, but I’m really jazzed about it.
I also plan on writing a Sherlock Holmes novella for Meteor House. It flows out of the already-published short story “The Adventure of the Fallen Stone” (Sherlock Holmes: The Crossovers Casebook) and will be called The Dynamics of a Meteor. The time-frame for this one is 1919, and will take place shortly after Farmer’s authorized Doc Savage novel, Escape from Loki: Doc Savage’s First Adventure.
And . . . I’m tacking my first comic book script, a Honey West tale for Moonstone. This one is going to fill in a pretty important piece of Honey’s history, and will be illustrated by the super-talented Silvestre Szilagyi, who has done some of the other Honey comics.
ANTHONY: Well, this conversation has wandered far and wide, and could keep wandering, so I’ll bring it around to my usual final question: What is your favorite book, and what would you say to convince someone who has never read it that they should read it?
WSE: Which brings us full circle back to the beginning of this interview. My favorite book is Philip José Farmer’s Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life. If you love 1930s and ’40s pulp heroes, fictional biographies, and metafictional mashups such as The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Kim Newman’s Anno Dracula novels (and by the way, both Alan Moore and Kim Newman acknowledge their debt to Farmer and the Wold Newton mythos), then this book (and the companion biography, Tarzan Alive) will be right up your literary alley.
ANTHONY: Thanks, Win!
WSE: Thank you very much, Anthony! This was fun.
You can find Win all over the internet: on his own website, on Twitter as @woldnewton, on Facebook, Pinterest, tumblr, Goodreads and Amazon and of course at most of the links embedded in the interview.
Note: If you’re interested in Meteor House, you can find my interview with publisher Mike Croteau HERE. And later this week, I’ll also be posting an interview with Black Coat Press publisher J.M. Lofficier, so be sure to come back for that!