Sunday, March 21, 2021

An Interview With Mark Justice: Author Of Death's Head!

Mark Justice's latest novel is Death's Head:  The Eye Of Samedi.  I was lucky enough to read an advance copy, and you can find a quote from me on the back cover.  I caught up with Mark over the weekend and conducted a short interview.

1) What attracted you to writing pulp fiction?

I grew up reading it. My first comics were The Phantom and Flash Gordon.  I got them the day I was born, and I loved reading them over and over again.  Our newspaper carried both The Phantom and Flash Gordon daily strips, so I read those, too.  I fell in love with the quick pace, the outlandish premises--which seem entirely real--like dinosaurs roaming with The Phantom and fighting pirates.  It's terrific fun.  I also admired some of the pulp writers and how much output they had.  Walter Gibson wrote a book a month for like 20 years.  That is staggering.  I kind of wanted to see if I could do something like that, so I set a goal to write Death's Head in a month.  And I did.

2) Wow!  That is really fast!  I read a book called The Pulp Jungle once, by a former pulp writer, and I was astounded by how quickly the pulp writers wrote, so you are right in line with them.  The setting of Death's Head is in the pulp heyday of the early 20th Century.  What led you to set it during that time?

Death's Head is my homage to The Phantom, which takes place in the 1930s, so I wanted to create a little of that feel.  It's a good time because it's on the tail end of a sense of mystery about the world.  The Phantom I grew up with was high adventure.  Setting Death's Head in Haiti and Cauchemar--the fictitious island I created for the story--allowed me to capture a sense of that high adventure and jungle setting while making it my own.

3) You also make good use of the culture in Haiti in the book.  What interested you in Haitian mythology?

I grew up watching movies like I Walked With A Zombie and White Zombie, so there was a lot of voodoo and zombies, which I absolutely love.  That fascination with the crossover of religion and the supernatural still fascinates me.  When I knew I was going to incorporate these elements into DH, I wanted to make sure I had it right and that I wrote about voodoo and Haiti respectfully.  I spent weeks researching voodoo, Haitian history and mythology, zombies, as much as I could.  As any writer will tell you, the research is done so you know what you're writing, but it shouldn't feel like research, you know?  I really wanted to show proper reverence for the Loa and the whole spiritual realm, so besides research, I listened to an awful lot of voodoo music, which I found utterly captivating.

4) The mythological aspect of the book is one of my favorite aspects of the book.  I also enjoyed the use of radio technology, creating a mix of ancient and modern, perfect for conflict in a pulp storyline.  The book also is a mix of high adventure and humor.  How did you balance the two approaches?

I think it came down with trying to make sure everything was period correct, first and foremost, for as much of the actual objects and history as possible.  The weapons, radio, the type of ammo belts they wore, the events with U.S. involvement in the 1920s and up through 1934 when we left.  All of that was researched to be accurate as possible.  The Devil is in the details, as they say, so if you have the details correct, you establish that sense of reality, or at least plausibility.  Once that is established, you can let your imagination run wild because the foundation is grounded in something real. As far as humor goes, my original intent was to make the book very comic booky. Some of the first lines I had DH speaking were utterly campy.  Then, well, Doctor Sardon. He's just such an over-the-top villain.  He's actually my favorite character.  The more I wrote and thought, the darker and more serious the story came, with the horror elements becoming prominent.  When I researched the Loa, I found that they each have their own personalities.  There are dozens of Loa.  Samedi is death personified, but he's also very lewd and funny, loves telling broad jokes.  I knew then that I could keep some of that humor I originally had and bring it through Samedi, and what was great was that it was also very respectful of him as an entity.  I tried to write him as authentically as I could.  He's just a funny kind of spirit, which worked out great for me.

5) It certainly did.  It seems like it could be the start of a series.  What's next for Death's Head?  And Mark Justice?

It was my intention all along to make it a series.  Whether it's a short series, like three or four books, or an ongoing thing that I could still be writing in twenty years, is still wide open.  I do know that Doctor Sardon has big plans, and DH is going to find himself in more adventures on a larger scale.  With a villainous organization like the one he's against, you can't just finish the story in one fell swoop now, can you?  And Mark Justice ... I'm writing the next book in my Season's Change cozy mystery series.  I hope to have that out by summer.  I'm also doing novel adaptations of my three movies I made with my movie production company, Cyclops Movies.  I thought, hey, I have tons of absolutely brilliant dialogue sitting around doing nothing.  How about novelizing my movie scripts?  Why not?  Haha!  90% of the books are already written, so it's just a matter of tossing in some goofy narrative and bringing it together.  So I will have those three out this year.  Lastly, I have a Gothic horror anthology I'm hoping will be out by Christmas.  A series of connected short stories that all form a larger story arc.  I'd started this idea ages ago and never did anything with it, so I'm kicking myself in the butt and getting in my DONE pile this year.  For 2022, I have a sci-fi/horror novel planned and either another movie with Cyclops Movies or perhaps the 2nd book in my Gauge Black trilogy.  Grim, violent, splatter western.  That's about as far out as I can realistically plan, but I am also working on a large fantasy book--perhaps a trilogy--don't all fantasy novels have to be trilogies?  This one is a monster. It will take me a few years of planning and researching before I feel remotely like tackling it.  It'll be my Dune.  Haha!

If you still need something new to read after reading Mark's new book, then be sure to check out his other books.  And, of course, don't forget my latest, Edna's Employment Agency.

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