January 29, 2014

WIN SCOTT ECKERT INTERVIEW

Spy Vibe talks with writer Win Scott Eckert today about working with classic characters from the world of pulp fiction and 1960s cult TV. His publications include Green Hornet, The Avenger, Captain Midnight, The Phantom, Sherlock Holmes, Tales of the Shadowmen, and work with Philip Jose Farmer. His new book is a crossover adventure starring Honey West and T.H.E. Cat. After sharing our interests on-line, Eckert and I finally had a chance to hang out in person last summer at PulpFest. A group of us spent the weekend going to bookstores together, shopping for vintage toys and games (I found him a copy of the Man From U.N.C.L.E. game), attending panels and signings, and staying up late discussing cool stories. We had a blast at PulpFest, and I recommend Spy Vibers check out the event. Columbus is a nice location and you'll meet great people (and see amazing collections of vintage books and magazines!). Now, let's dive into our interview with Win Scott Eckert.


When did you first discover the world of pulps? Were there specific characters or images that drew your attention?

I learned about the pulps, and my favorite pulp hero, Doc Savage, when I first read Philip Jose Farmer’s “pseudo-biography” Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life, at age eight. A family friend gave me the book, along with ten or fifteen Doc Savage paperbacks. I read several of the books on a cross-country trip back home and was instantly hooked.

I was also tantalized by the addendum to Farmer’s book, in which he linked Doc Savage to many other pulp heroes and literary characters in a genealogy he called the Wold Newton Family. I already knew of some of the characters through film and television--particularly Sherlock Holmes and James Bond (of course I did not see the uncut Bond films in theaters until I was a bit older)--but because of Farmer’s influence, I was inspired to seek out the books, and I learned of many new (to me) characters: The Shadow, Travis McGee, The Spider, Dr. Fu-Manchu, G-8, Nero Wolfe, The Scarlet Pimpernel, Sam Spade, Professor Challenger, Philip Marlowe, and so many more. Near the same time, I discovered the pulp tales of Edgar Rice Burroughs, starting with At the Earth’s Core. I devoured the remaining books in the Pellucidar series, and then the Barsoom novels (John Carter of Mars), followed by Tarzan, and finally the Venus series.

I recently had the privilege of editing an updated and definitive edition of Farmer’s Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life, which also happens to be companion to his biography Tarzan Alive. This definitive, hardcover reissue of Doc Savage is now available from Meteor House.


Were you also a fan of comic books, cliffhanger serials, or old-time radio shows growing up? What were some of your faves?

Absolutely, I was already reading superhero comics when I was introduced to Doc Savage. It’s fair to say I wasn’t collecting in any coordinated fashion, just picking up whatever caught my eye on the spinner rack at 7-Eleven. At that age, I leaned more toward DC titles than Marvel, although I had my fair share of issues of Spider-Man and Captain America. But what really captivated my attention was the DC 80-Page Giants, which I was drawn to due to the reprints of DC’s Golden Age material. The GA Batman was my favorite hero, and I absolutely loved the Justice Society of America. I did everything I could to collect the annual JSA team-ups with the Justice League of America, and became an Earth-2 fanatic.


I didn’t really have much exposure of old-time radio as a kid, but I loved old movies from the ’30s and ’40s, particularly Bogie flicks.

Did you collect as a kid? What were some of your treasures? What was it about the designs or stories that fired your imagination?

I collected books, of course--in fact I still have just about every book I acquired as a small kid and a teenager--as well as comics, and Mego superhero figures. I also got deeply into Star Trek in the mid-’70s, and collected countless Trek action figures. I also have some Star Wars figures and toys from the time of the very first movie.

Over the years I hunted in used bookstores all over Colorado, trying to complete my collection of Doc Savage novels. I had 180 out of 182, and finally got the last two (a double-novel published in one volume) after getting on the Internet in 1996. I also collected other paperback reprints of pulps, particularly The Shadow, as well as G-8 and The Spider.

Many of us collected paperback editions of Ian Fleming, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., The Avengers, etc. You have mentioned your love of the U.N.C.L.E. books. Tell us more about how you discovered this genre and about your favorite stories and memorabilia.

As much as I love the pulps of the ’30s and ’40s, I’m also hugely into the ’60s spy craze. I came to it from James Bond, as I mentioned--both the Connery films and also the books. I prefer the characterization of Bond from the original books (and it’s the book Bond who is a member of the Wold Newton Family), but of course the films are also great fun. So it was natural to me to gravitate toward U.N.C.L.E., The Avengers, Danger Man/Secret Agent, The Prisoner, and The Wild Wild West. Given my focus on book collecting, I have full runs of all the tie-in novels for all those series (but not quite all of the Man from U.N.C.L.E. and Girl from U.N.C.L.E. digest magazines--the ’60s versions of the pulps).


Are there pieces in your collection that you treasure most? Are you still hunting for cool artifacts?

Well, I do have this super-cool Doc Savage puzzle that was put out at the time of the 1975 Ron Ely film…

It’s hard to narrow it down to a few I treasure most. I have many, many books signed by Philip José Farmer, and a few books from his Estate are irreplaceable, such as his personal copy of the hardcover of the first Doc Savage novel, The Man of Bronze. I’ve been focusing lately on original artwork, and have a couple small pieces from Phil’s Estate, as well as some cover paintings for my own books. I’ve got the Enterprise Bridge Set by Mego, from the ’70s, as well as many of the original 8-inch Mego Star Trek figures. Probably a full run of the Playmates Star Trek action figures from the ’90s. A Man from U.N.C.L.E. lunchbox and board game (as you well know, J). I have the Captain Action Green Hornet and Kato put out by Preying Mantis in the ‘90s, as well as the one Green Hornet novel from the ’60s and the Whitman book--as well as some Big Little Books. And of course the Tarzan action figures that were put out in the ’90s to accompany the TV series Tarzan: The Epic Adventures.

I could go on, my interests are so varied. A large comic book collection, some original pulp magazines, tons of paperbacks and books of characters I love: Sherlock Holmes, Doc Savage, Tarzan, James Bond, Nero Wolfe, Dr. Fu-Manchu, Shell Scott, etc.

How much do you collect or research these days as a way to prepare for an assignment?

I don’t really collect anything for that purpose, but when tackling a new character, I immerse myself in anything and everything written I can get my hands on. For the Honey West / T.H.E. Cat novel, I read the eleven Honey West novels by G. G. Fickling, and watched the entire TV series for each character (both ran one season each). Then I read the first three Honey novels again.


What was your journey from fan and collector to published writer?

My first book was Myths for the Modern Age: Philip José Farmer’s Wold Newton Universe (MonkeyBrain Books, 2005), a collection of “non-fiction” creative mythography essays of Philip José Farmer and others, adding to and expanding upon his Wold Newton Family, which he had established in the biographies Tarzan Alive and Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life. These biographies follow in the footsteps of William S. Baring-Gould’s biography Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street in treating their subjects as real people who actually lived. That’s the conceit of the Wold Newton Family and Universe. Many characters from “fiction” actually lived and some were actually related, being descended from a group of people exposed to the ionization of the Wold Newton meteorite as it fell to the ground on December 13, 1795.

I was lucky enough to graduate to fiction with mashup stories in the Wold Newton vein for the annual anthology series Tales of the Shadowmen.


Can you recall some of the lessons you had to learn when you first began to write?

(Laughing) Oh, I’m still learning, always learning. Self-editing is so important; I was very wordy. Point of view matters. Don’t be boring. Give characters a distinctive voice. You know, the usual.

Did you ever imagine that you would be able to write for many iconic characters? What have been some of your favorite projects so far?

I never did imagine it, really. But looking back on it, I had done research on so many characters--chronologies, articles, and so forth--it was a natural fit. For instance, I’ve put out two 400+ page books detailing crossover stories and collating them into a continuity – the Crossover Universe – that actually makes sense – at least to me and a few other twisted fanatics. Crossovers: A Secret Chronology of the World, Volumes 1 and 2 are the result of twelve-plus years of intensive research.


In terms of fiction, I’ve been privileged to finish Philip José Farmer’s novel about Patricia Wildman, the daughter of the man who was called “Doc Savage” in the pulps (The Evil in Pemberley House, Subterranean Press, 2009) and to continue her adventures (The Scarlet Jaguar, Meteor House, 2013). A high point was coediting three Green Hornet anthologies for Moonstone, in which I also had three tales. I contributed three stories about the pulp hero The Avenger, and had a blast tying them together into a trilogy. In general, I just get an amusement park sort of thrill out of writing authorized adventures of characters I’ve known and loved such as the Hornet, the Avenger, Zorro, and the Phantom!


I appreciate your commitment to stay true to original characters and to write for continuity. That said, are there challenges you face as a writer to make the characters accessible or to deal with dated attitudes about gender, race, etc.?

Sure, it’s always something to keep in mind. I’m a great fan of the character Fu-Manchu and have used a pastiche version of the “Devil Doctor” in quite a few of my stories. His motives are, more often than not, blurred by shades of gray. He definitely has his own code of honor and conduct, which transforms him from a character who could be simplistically seen as unambiguously “evil,” in the manner of Snidely Whiplash, into someone much more complex and interesting.

Similarly, I’ve started to carve out a bit of a niche in writing strong female characters: Violet Holmes, Adelaide Lupin, Pat Wildman, Helen Benson, and Honey West. These are great characters, heroes who happen to be women, fully capable of saving themselves or solving the mystery.

You have a new book coming out with Honey West and T.H.E. Cat. When that kind of project is launched, what is the process of mining the source materials and making decisions about story and character parameters?

Moonstone decided they wanted their version to be a mixture of the eleven novels and the television series with Anne Francis, which ran for one season. These both have different supporting characters, and the Moonstone bible takes the best of both versions. But since I always try to approach projects with a Wold-Newtonish “it’s really real, Honey was a real person” perspective, 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 type of thing 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 is not a fan of Honey’s secret agent phase), we do take Honey along the path of that transition.


You have mentioned that this new book will include some crossovers and will appeal to U.N.C.L.E. fans. Can you tell us more?

I do enjoy creating pastiche versions of characters, but of course, respecting copyright, no characters can be named without authorization. It would be pretty cool if Honey West and Thomas Hewitt Edward Cat ran into an U.N.C.L.E. agent or two, though, wouldn’t it?

Interestingly, David McDaniel, who wrote the best of the Man from U.N.C.L.E. tie-in novels, had Napoleon and Illya appearing at T.H.E. Cat’s Casa del Gato club in San Francisco. This was in the unfortunately never-published twenty-fourth U.N.C.L.E. novel, The Final Affair. Of course, Cat was not named in the book, but with hints, we readers could tell who it was. McDaniel’s The Rainbow Affair (novel #13) had a subplot about THRUSH attempting to recruit Dr. Fu-Manchu, who, again, was not named. I always wondered how that plot thread was resolved.

The Rainbow Affair takes place in May 1967. A Girl and Her Cat takes place in June 1967.


You have written for many well-known characters. Are there other properties that you would love to work on in the future?

I’d love to write an authorized Man from U.N.C.L.E. novel. Likewise The Wild Wild West. Philip José Farmer’s Doc Caliban and Lord Grandrith--now there’s a property I’m dying to have a crack at, and perhaps his World of Tiers, someday. There are others, of course, such as Doc Savage, Tarzan, Fu-Manchu, and James Bond, but other writers have these well in hand.

Pulp stories that take place in the past seem to offer a satisfying cocktail of inventiveness, innocence, empathy, and mystery. Do you think pulps endure because our modern culture lacks some of these qualities?

Yes, the world was much larger then. You could believe in hidden cities in as-yet unexplored parts of Africa. A hero had to survive on his or her wits, and perhaps a few neat gadgets which don’t seem quite so impressive in our modern world.

Many pulps and classic genre work has been reissued or released. Do you have beloved characters, stories, or shows that still wait for official release?

It makes me crazy that we don’t have authorized DVD releases of the 1960s Green Hornet series, and of T.H.E Cat. As far as books and pulps go… I can remember hunting, without success, week after week and month after month, for the next Bantam reprint of Doc Savage, or trying to find the Warner reprints of the Avenger novels. So much pulp material is being reprinted now, and much of it digitally (The Spider, G-8, Operator #5, etc.), we are truly in a golden age of access right now.

Thanks, Win! It's fun to hear about your work and to chat about some of our favorite classics.

Thank you, Jason, it’s been a pleasure!


Spy Vibers can now pick up A Girl and Her Cat from Moonstone here. Amazon page for release here. You can learn more about Win Scott Eckert at his website and Amazon author page. Above photo: with Win Scott Eckert at PulpFest, courtesy of Chris Carey. Related posts: Win Scott Eckert Fu Manchu panelWilliam Patrick Maynard (Fu Manchu), Richard Sala, Katharine BoydFor Your Shelf Only interviews:  Jon GilbertRaymond BensonJeremy DunsPeter LorenzDavid FosterRob MallowsRoger LangleyCraig ArthurFleming ShortMatt Sherman, and Alan Stephenson




Recent Ian Fleming posts on Spy Vibe: Ian Fleming LettersErno Goldfinger, Ian Fleming Music Series links: Noel CowardWhispering Jack SmithHawaiian GuitarJoe Fingers Carr, new Ian Fleming CatalogJon Gilbert interview, Double 007 Designs, Bond audio book reissues, discovery of one of Ian Fleming's WWII Commandos, James Bond book covers, Ian Fleming's Playboy interview for Kindle, Spy Vibe's discovery of a rare Ian Fleming serialization, rare View to a Kill, Fleming's Royal gold typewriter, Ian Fleming's memorial address, Spy Vibe's Ian Fleming image archive.

4 comments:

  1. Great interview! And it was a kick meeting Jason at PulpFest last year.

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  2. thanks, john! while i was putting this together, i kept thinking about how fun it was to drive w you and your family :)

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  3. Win was right--this is an ultra-cool site! Kudos, Jason.

    Great interview, Win. Love those covers!

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  4. Enjoyed the interview, Win evidently is passionate about his craft and interest, as this site is about the spy and pulp genre. Good work, and thanks.

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