So let’s jump right in, Jim, when did you start writing? How old were you?
Since I compulsively can’t resist the smart-alecky answer, I started writing in first grade. That’s probably a big surprise for all the kids out there nowadays who don’t learn to read or write until high school (if then) because they’re too busy learning to plant trees, so they don’t know like we did by age six that the round one is O and the one on Superman’s chest is S. As for fiction writing, I always credit Sr. Eileen’s fourth grade English class. She used to give us lists of spelling words to memorize every week. Other teachers made you use each word in a sentence, but she had the brilliant idea to make us incorporate all the words into a weekly story. It forced us -- or at least me -- to be more creative since we had to come up with whole stories. I became a writer wannabe in Sr. Eileen’s class.
What was your first inspiration to write? Was it a certain book or a certain author’s work? Or was it something you just felt you could do as well as anyone else?
Who knows where the weird drive to write comes from? My parents probably deserve the most credit or, if you hate my work, blame. They sacrificed to put us all through Catholic school, so I never would have been in that particular fourth grade class without them. Most important, they were both readers. My dad was a long-haul truck driver, so when he was home his hours were often like Dracula’s. He’d sit up all night at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee and a book. My mom was always busy all day doing the stuff you don’t appreciate as a kid (how did that clean underwear magically appear in that drawer every day while we were at school?), but after supper, after she got finished mopping up after six ungrateful kids, she’d read the paper front page to back and then move on to a couple of chapters in a book. She also read to me as a kid, which I’m sure helped enormously. I don’t know about most writers, but the greatest influence for me was probably the gift of parents who read and valued reading.
What are some of your favorite fictional characters and how did they hone your interests?
I wrote The Destroyer series for a number of years, which I started reading in sixth grade. You’ve got to love the main characters Remo and Chiun. I was always a huge fan of Harold Smith, their boss, which is why Smith features so prominently in so many of my books. As for early inspiration, I read all the Hardy Boys books by third grade. I remember, because I had to move on to Nancy Drew, which were basically the same books but with skirts (although who knows what Chet Morton paraded around in when Frank and Joe weren’t looking?). The Hardy Boys were all ghostwritten and put out pretty much by the literary equivalent of a Third World sweatshop, but they were quick reads with simple plots and they must have taught me something about structure, characters and plotting.
I’m a big fan of your Destroyer work, as I’ve followed that series since I believe it was 1970, if I remember correctly. I still have first editions of most of the early books my father would buy. I actually lost my first edition of ‘Created the Destroyer’ and had to replace it with a later edition. When did you become aware of that series and how did you become a co-writer on it?
The Destroyer was big with truck drivers. I know this because I got lots of mail over the years from truck drivers who used to find them in racks at truck stops. I don’t know if that’s where my dad initially found them, but he was the one who brought them home and got me started reading them.
When I decided I wanted to write, I wrote a note to Dick Sapir and asked if I could take a shot at writing a Destroyer. I was eighteen or nineteen at the time, and Dick actually called my house. My dad was so thrilled that he came to my job at the supermarket to tell me. Dick and I talked a few times and I’m not sure if he thought my ideas stunk or not because, sadly, he died before we worked something out. I think it was a decade or more before the writing job opened up. It was my brother-in-law who works in magazine publishing who put the call in to the publisher at the time and got that ball rolling.
How many years were you co-writing ‘Destroyer’ novels with Warren Murphy?
I wrote 21 of the books for Gold Eagle. I’m credited in the front, although not on the covers. I’m told that the series kind of hit the skids after I left. I didn’t read any of the books after my last one for Gold Eagle, so I can’t say that from my own experience. I am aware of some of the plot and character choices, and they weren’t where I or any of the other ghostwriters would have gone with the series. When the contract was up with Gold Eagle, Warren brought it to Tor. That’s when I came back as coauthor. We did four books together over the course of a year or two. I’m proud of all of them.
How many ‘Destroyer’ novels have you co-written?
I had my hand in a total of 26 novels in the regular series. Also the companion guide, The Assassin’s Handbook 2. I’ve got some unpublished Destroyer material lying around as well. I kept writing up material because I never thought the series would end. That’s because I never planned on the interesting approach Tor was going to take with promotion and distribution: namely “throw nothing at the wall and make sure that none of it sticks.” It was pretty much over when I kept getting notes from fans complaining that the brand-new books couldn’t be found anywhere around the country. But by then I already had plots and partial books written up in anticipation of continuing the series. I recently converted an unpublished Destroyer novella into the fourth novel in one of my own series (more on that below). I suppose I’ll do that more as I go along.
Now recently you started your own series entitled ‘The Red Menace’, tell us a little bit about it?
The Red Menace is actually Patrick “Podge” Becket, a wealthy American patriot who travels the globe secretly battling the nation’s enemies. I thought it might be interesting to write a character who is a sort of bridge between the old pulp fiction heroes like Doc Savage and the Shadow and the newer men’s adventure heroes like Remo Williams and Mack Bolan. A lot of the older guys tended to wear masks while the newer guys didn’t. So Podge spends most of the books unmasked, investigating stuff in James Bond mode before having to don the mask and cloak. He’s aided by his friend, genius inventor Dr. Thaddeus Wainwright, who is devoted to keeping Podge alive even though he hates the fact that Podge keeps putting his life at risk. Dr. Wainwright is long-lived and patterned somewhat after my paternal grandmother who, when she got old, didn’t give a crap what she said to or about anyone. It’s a liberating way to live, but the rest of us can’t do it because we’d get punched too often. Wainwright can get away with it.
How different from your previous works is ‘The Red Menace’ in style and approach?
I’d written a novella for inclusion in a third Destroyer companion guide. It was pretty long for a novella, maybe 200 pages. It was called Shattered Records and was basically a “lost” Remo and Chiun adventure that took place in the 1970s. The idea was a good one, and I thought when it came time to write my fourth Red Menace novel that I’d dust off that novella, rewrite it a little, and basically take a vacation. Fat chance. It was only when I started rewriting that novella that I realized how different The Red Menace is from The Destroyer. That’s good, actually. The Destroyer can exist over there, The Executioner somewhere else, and The Red Menace can carve out its own little niche over here. I still use humor and satire in my Menace books, but it’s less broad and exists in a world that’s a little more real. But then things happen that change the real world into something different from what we know. For instance, although the series takes place back in 1972, in the first book there’s an event that might have changed the world greatly and for the better had it taken place in the real world. I’m sort of rewriting history as I go along. And wiping out bad guys.
Is ‘The Red Menace’ set completely in the cold war era? I see part of the first book takes place in 1958 and another part in 1972.
The 1958 stuff in the first book is just to establish the age where the hero came from and was most at home. We flash forward pretty quickly to 1972 and have stayed there since book #1, Red and Buried. Each book takes place not long after the preceding one, so we started in something like August of 1972 but by book #4, A Red Letter Day, have only gotten up to autumn of the same year. I can see using flashbacks as I go along, because there must be stories of baddies or events from the past having an impact on events in the Seventies, but for the most part the series has and will for the foreseeable future be rooted in the early 1970s.
You also have another series out there already called the ‘Crag Banyon Mysteries’ Tell us a little bit about those books?
Ah, Crag Banyon. If I had a heart and I weren’t a cold, calculating robot created by the combined efforts of Dow Chemical and the Rand Corporation, of all my work thus far Banyon would be nearest and dearest to my human heart. The first Banyon was supposed to be a quickie little lark. I’d written up a short story many years ago that I thought was a good idea but was poorly executed. It was about a newspaperman who goes to Santa’s workshop and uncovers a murder plot. I found it a couple of months before Christmas two years ago, and while the writing was terrible I thought the story was pretty solid. So I sat down and chucked the whole thing, but kept the same basic story structure. My reporter didn’t work as a character so I made him a typical P.I. Banyon’s got all the same problems every private eye always has in fiction, but in his world there can be monsters and demons and Santa Claus. I was very happy with the first one, which I thought would be a one-off, but I couldn’t leave the world I’d created alone. I’m now up to four Crag Banyon Mysteries and I love every one of them.
Between these two series of yours you seem to have a lot on your plate, what new editions can we expect to see forthcoming from those series and when?
We should have the newest Banyon out soon. That one is titled Sea No Evil. Banyon has two types of clients he won’t take: no ghosts, no gods. He reluctantly breaks the latter rule in this one. After that, I’ve got to start working on the fifth Red Menace. I’ve got an idea I’ve been massaging in my head, which I’ll have to turn into an outline soon. Only when I have an outline can I write the book, so I’m going to have to hurry up and get cracking. I also have another idea for Menace #6 as well as four or five more Banyons. I’ve got two full-length novels written up that are different from my usual stuff, and I’ll have to rewrite them one of these days. At some point I’ve got to maybe work on that screenplay I’ve been thinking about for the past five years. It’s a great premise so I want to get that done someday. There isn’t enough time.
Is there anything else you’d like to add or plug about your writing? Any upcoming projects or even a push for ones that were released already that you feel people may have missed out on?
I’d encourage folks to just read the Amazon excerpts. That “look inside” function is a great help to readers. They’ll tell you pretty much if the Menace and Banyon are for you. But, hey, what’s $2.99? Forgo that gallon of generic ice cream and download a copy of Royal Flush, the Banyon mystery that was released in January. It’s great fun, and so far I’m very happy that no one online has blabbed the big shocking surprise.
Do you have a web site that has information about your upcoming projects or a twitter or facebook page that you want readers to know about?
The Web site is www.jamesmullaney.com. I’m on Facebook here https://www.facebook.com/JamesMullaneyAuthor
and Twitter here https://twitter.com/JamesMullaney . I’m probably a million other places online. How can anyone but Skynet and Colonel Sanders keep track of all this stuff anymore?
Jim, thank you very much for taking this time to join us here at ‘Ralph’s Rants does Interviews’. It was great hearing from you and learning just a bit about your writing and your projects.
Thanks for the chance. Anything that keeps me from working is A-okay with me.