AP –Hi Bob, and thanks for joining us here at All Pulp HQ.I know you’ve got a fine military background and have done lots of writing in the pulp action field.Let’s get started with your telling us a little about yourself, background history, education etc.Where do you call home these days?
RK –I was born an Army Brat, but became a Charter Air Force Brat about six months later. At the time I was five my family settled in the St. Louis area. But, after college and the military, I ended up living here in Kansas City, Missouri for the past thrity-five years.
I got started loving adventures stories, and their heroes, even before I reached the Show-Me state. I listened to the radio versions of the Lone Ranger, Sgt. Preston, and Sky King in the evenings. Plus Big John & Sparky and Space Patrol on Saturday morning. The first movie I can remember seeing is Disney’s live-action Robin Hood staring Richard Todd. And the heroes weren’t all human. The first comic I really remember is my sister’s copy of Uncle Scrooge #1. Still love those Ducks! My family read to me things like Kipling’s The Jungle Books and Just So Stories and Swiss Family Robinson, and so much else.
I hold degrees in old fashioned paper drafting and Communication Studies.
About 1979 I got involved with Mystery Forum, a mystery book review group trying to get newspaper syndication. When that didn’t work out we produced a TV version on the Kansas City Public Access cable channel. Later some of us started the show Entertainment Spectrum that ran over 500 episodes. Until about 1997 all my creative energy and time went into those productions. When that dried up I got back into writing via Tom & Ginger Johnson’s Fading Shadows publications.
My wife and I are empty nesters who just celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary. We have two grown children, but no grandchildren, yet. Just a grand-cat.
AP –Before anything else, let me thank you for your service to your country.Tell us, when and how did you first get the writing bug?
RK –Like a large number of college gads of the late 1960’s I joined the Army at Draft-Point. (In fact I used my very negative experiences with my local Draft Board as the background for a Green Hornet story I have pending at Moonstone.) I don’t like to make all that much of my service. After all, in twenty-four years of full and part-time duty, I never spent a day in a combat zone. You (Ron Fortier) only did three years, but that included a tour in Viet Nam. At about the same time I spent a year twiddling my thumbs in Korea.
I’ve always leaned toward the creative side of things. Back in grade school I used old drop cloths and planks to turn the backyard swing set into a two level spaceship.
The ideas came easy. Getting the material on paper was a huge struggle. I tend to tweak and rearrange. Only since word processing came along have I been really comfortable writing. (And I just restructured that last paragraph.;^} )
AP – Now some AP investigating has turned up an interesting fact.You have an alias. Who exactly is Erwin K. Roberts and how did he appear on the scene.
RK –Just imagine: You are twelve years old. You live in a town that is composed of over 85% rabid Democratic Party families. You don’t fit in too well because you don’t like what “everybody” likes. And your name is George W. Bush.
Well, that’s sort of what happened to me. My given name is Robert Kennedy. And I was about twelve when JFK started running for the Presidency. Even then I was thinking about writing. Comic books, mostly. I decided I needed a pen-name. Erwin was my grandfather’s first name. So Erwin K. Roberts appeared. (Later, when RFK died I didn’t want to be seen as exploiting his name.)
I’ve used Erwin’s name on some letters-of-comment, in print for fact and fiction, and on cable TV here in the Kansas City area. The one place I was not allowed to use it was in Starlog. They had a no pen-name policy so I was credited as R. Erwin Kennedy.
When our family needed a second phone line I had it put under Erwin’s name. And he began to get credit card offers and other junk mail.
The second of my two “cousins” is Major A. D. Venture. The Major hosted the Action Theater movie show on the very short lived WBE-TV network.
AP – What was the first fiction you ever had published and where?
RK- Like most comics fans I had my own pantheon of super-hero creations. I wrote a couple of origin stories and shopped them to a fanzine or three. No luck there. I even entered a barely half decent Captain Atom script in the Charlton contest that Roy Thomas won.
I went to college at what is now called the University of Central Missouri. There was an off-campus magazine that wanted to break up all the very serious civil rights, Viet Nam, and students’ rights material. The editor liked the origin story of a super martial artist I’d written. He decided to run it as a serial. The first part appeared in about spring 1967. Then the magazine changed editors between issues and I never even got my copy of the manuscript back.
AP –In your career, you’ve created multiple pulp style heroes.Who are they and where did they appear?
RK –I picked up some hero pulps in high school and college. The Phantom Detective, The Masked Rider, a couple of Doc Savage digests early on. Then I began to buy first The Shadow, then The Spider and Captain Future at conventions. Plus the paperbacks featuring Doc, Secret Agent X, Operator 5, and The Phantom Detective. My own characters began to reflect those influences.
The Voice grew out of this. I first called him the Veil for the sniper’s veil combat mask he sometimes wears. He sort of floated around my head only partly formed. Then one day I sat in front of a desk with a nameplate. The name was very similar to that of an existing character. Suddenly things fell into place. That’s the instant the Voice became the son of a retired pulp hero. After I came up with his vocal implant that gives him Twilight Zone sounding speech I renamed him The Voice.
In 1979 my wife was pregnant with our second child. Most nights she went to bed very early. I used the late evenings to write the Voice novel “Plutonium Nightmare.” This was the time of the second wave of “let’s clone Mack Bolan” paperbacks. I wanted to break into that market. Didn’t happen. In 2003 the story was serialized in three issues of Fading Shadows’ “Double Danger Tales.” A few years back I self-published the book with a cover I created using Lightwave 3D.
Before this century I only wrote one short story of the Voice. Grand Opening – Under Fire first appeared in “Mystery Forum Magazine” in 1992. A slightly different version was in Double Danger Tales #57 in 2002.You can read the story at: http://www.planetarystories.com/VoiceGrand.htm
Two more Voice shorts appeared in Double Danger Tales before the title folded. One can be read at: http://www.planetarystories.com/voice.htm Recently new stories of the Voice have begun appearing in Pro Se’s “Masked Gun Mystery.” All together I’ve written nearly 100,000 words about him.
My other pulpish series is called The Journey of Freedom’s Spirit & Samuel. I’d been thinking about the old Quality Comics character Uncle Sam. Back around 1940 he was even more powerful than the Superman of that day. But the only non-white WASP characters were the Japanese villains. I decided there needed to be an inclusive series. Where every race/color/creed played a part.
I used the name of the man first referred to as Uncle Sam: Samuel Wilson. Then I decided that my Samuel -Adams- Wilson would just happen to look like a hardhat version of Uncle Sam. I gave him all white hair and van dyke beard. He generally wears blue jeans, with a red and white checked shirt, and a stars and stripes hard hat. And travels the country with a Bald Eagle. He is not a “crime fighter,” or even an adventure seeker. But he will not turn away when people need help.
The events of September 11th, 2001, catalyzed my ideas into final form. But Samuel does not go after the terrorists. He races to Ground Zero to be a part of the rescue effort. When he moves on from that his adventures really begin.
The Johnsons accepted the first two stories of the series, but only managed to publish one. Samuel appeared in Double Danger Tales #58, January 2003.
From that story came Argus – the Blue Eagle, a masked horseman from around 1860. The spirit of Argus now roams a region of southern California. His most recently recorded adventure can be found at: http://www.planetarystories.com/talons.htm
AP –It’s obvious with characters like the Voice and the others, you were heavily influenced by the pulps?Were you a pulp fan before you started reading and when did you first discover pulps?
RK –I think I covered the hero/character pulps above. But I read a lot of Burroughs and some other adventure writers and a ton of science fiction, plus many mysteries series, growing up. Being the type of person who reads copyright pages I understood that much/most of what I read first appeared in magazines.
Early comic fanzines would sometimes mention the pulps. And the first convention I went to, an S-F con with some comics, I was offered a copy of Captain Hazard #1 for the huge sum of five dollars. I opted instead for Ed April’s first volume of Buck Rogers strip reprints.
AP –What is it about writing pulps that appeals to you?
RK –While the pulps, as newsstand magazines, have vanished, the breakneck story telling of the pulps never does. It just finds other venues. Certain movies, TV shows, comics, and books are the pulp’s successors. How many out there read Clive Cussler? Or love Indiana Jones? While some of Indy’s roots are in movie serials, he is definitely very pulp.
Those are the kind of stories I like to watch and read. And they are generally the kind I want to write. Stories with heroes of one kind, or another. A hero doesn’t have to look like Jim Anthony. Or even Bruce Willis. Sometimes a hero doesn’t even realize he is a hero. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t. When my first child was born heroes were in very short supply. In film real heroes seemed limited to John Wayne and James Bond movies. Was I ever glad that things like Star Wars, the Dukes of Hazard, Knight Rider, and Duck Tales came along to entertain my kids. I like to hope that my adventure stories entertain. And just maybe help keep the idea ofthe hero in front of folks. If pulp can be said to have a mission, that’s it.
AP –Have you ever written established pulp characters and where did these stories appear?
RK –Earlier in this century I joined an on-line role playing game set in December 1939. For that I played MLJ Comics’ Bob Phantom. The only super-hero ever named Bob. I wrote him more pulp than costumed hero. That was the first time I wrote about somebody else’s character. That game gave me connections that helped get me on with Airship-27. (And got me the gig of writing up Bob Phantom’s history for the Mighty Crusader’s website.)
For Airship-27 I’ve written two stories of Jim Anthony. One appeared in the anthology Jim Anthony – Super Detective vol.1 The second will probably be in vol. 3. I’m also working with artist Pedro Cruz on the first ever Jim Anthony comic strip. Stories starring the Moon Man and the Masked Rider are also in the hopper at Airship-27.To fill what I humorously call my free time I’ve written the first ever solo story of the Masked Rider’s partner, Blue Hawk. Read it at: http://www.planetarystories.com/bluehawk.htm – And I put George Chance on a case before he ever became the Green Ghost.
AP – What else do you have coming out in the future?
RK –What’s got me on pins and needles waiting is “Dr. Watson’s American Adventure.” This short novel is due out in the near future from Airship-27. There the good doctor shares the action with Theodore Roosevelt.
AP –You recently became the editor of an e-pulp mag originally conceived by pulp fan supreme, Shelby Vick.Tell us about this gig and where can fans find it on-line?
RK – That’s overstating it a bit. I recently became an Assistant Editor to Shelby and longtime editor, anthologist, and writer Jerry Page. Those two were running the on-line pulps Planetary Stories and Wonderlust when I came across the site. http://www.planetarystories.com
Planetary Stories is a recreation, or homage, or something, to the old time space opera pulps like Startling Stories and Thrilling Wonder Stories. Wonderlust is a home for fantasy of all kinds.Planetary had a feature called Pulp Spirit. For it they ran a single story of some other pulpgenre. About the time I happened by stories for Wonderlust were getting scarce. Who knows why. So they decided to make Wonderlust a department of Planetary and launch Pulp Spirit as a new e-zine title covering any other kind of genre fiction. So long as there some action to it.
I offered them the Voice’s origin story that had appeared in Double Danger Tales. They liked it. Long story short, (no pun extended) various stories of mine have been in every issue of Pulp Spirit except #2. And I’ve appeared on Planetary once. Some stories were from deep in the Culture Vault(tm). And some I’d written with other venues in mind. Others have been shameless self-promotion. Like the self-contained excerpt from “Dr. Watson’s American Adventure.” ( http://www.planetarystories.com/watson.htm )
Anyway, Shelby and Jerry asked me to help out with proofing, checking how the HTML looks on different platforms and browsers, and giving my opinion on some of the stories. (BTW, Wonderlust now is sometimes a full blown magazine again, if enough good stories come in.)
AP –Have you any plans for attending any pulp cons next year?
RK –I’m signed up for Pulp-Ark. That’s a relatively easy drive. (Major Venture might just pop up there, too.) Depending on what gets into print, I’m looking at Kansas City’s Planet Comicon. Especially if Pedro Cruz’s & my Jim Anthony strip is out. Rob Davis usually makes that show, too. And, I’m open to suggestions.
AP –Last question.What major writing goal have you set for yourself in the coming year.Feel free to promote anything else you might have in the works as well.
RK –Goal? To finish things! I’ve got four projects I want to finish up.
In 2010 I completed two stories involving the Voice for Pro Se Productions. One of them had been gathering electronic dust for most of a decade. I currently have no unfinished Voice stories. But if you’ve read the Voice’s origin in Pulp Spirit you know there are three to five more tall tales to be spun to his nurse while he convalesces. One of those stories will feature a haunted house and an elderly Ravenwood. (Plot originally intended for Charlton Bulleye, just like Mr. Jigsaw was.) Another story will finally present the very first idea I ever had for the character that evolved into the Voice. It involves something halfway between a Burroughs planet adventure and flat out sword and sorcery. And a disbelieving Voice caught up in the action.Those stories will sit at the back of the cue.
For Airship-27 I need to get going on a 30,000 word story to fill out a Moon Man anthology. I’ve outlined the story a lot more thoroughly than I generally do. Some key scenes are done. Now I need to fill in the blanks. About 24,000 words to go.
Next I need to complete what has become something of a Frankin-Novel. Meaning built out of parts. Actually, it’s sort of a villain pulp. Various heroes all take on the same organization. “Sons Of Thor” features stories of 2nd Lieutenant Richard Curtis Van Loan fighting in the skies of World War One and as the Phantom Detective. Jim Anthony spans the 48 states to prevent germ warfare. Plus Jim and the Phantom join with the Black Bat for the rousing finale. All the stories have guest stars including a British pulp hero never before seen on this side of the pond. One set of guest stars were very real: The Men of Bronze. “Sons of Thor” looks like it will have about 75,000 words. That’s less than 10K to go.
Finally comes my 21st century series The Journey of Freedom’s Spirit & Samuel.With the finished third story I’ll have 60,000 words. Then I’ll try shopping it around to some of the new pulp publishers.Stuffed in the cracks should be something for the three new issues of Pulp Spirit.
AP –Thanks ever for your time.It was great getting to know you better and continued success in all your future pulp projects.
RK – Thanks. This was a bit different. For almost thirty years I’ve been on the other side of the interviews.