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A Date with . . . Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson is a retired Military Cop from Seymour, Texas. As well as moving around quite a bit as the son of a cowboy, his military service took him to Korea, France and Vietnam but he loves his home town:

“ I was born in Seymour, but spent twenty years in the military. My dad was a cowboy and cook, so we moved to other places during my early years. In fact most of my early education was in schools in Wichita Falls, Texas. After retiring from the military service we moved back to Seymour because our parents were in bad health, and we stayed after they passed away. Seymour is a small ranch and farm community,with a population under three thousand. However, we have two museums here. The Baylor County Historical Museum, and the Whiteside Museum of Natural History. Seymour is in the Permian Basin (think oil) where a dig site has been providing Permian reptile fossils for well over a hundred years. In fact, we have a 300 million year-old amphibian named after our town, the Semouria. The Whiteside Museum of Natural History has a huge display of animals from mammals to dinosaurs and reptiles. Schools from around Texas and Oklahoma bring students here on field trips, and many do return engagements. Students love to visit the museum, as do adults.”


Tom is passionate about pulp fiction (the real stuff, not the eponymous movie). I wanted to know what attracted him to the genre?

“First I became a collector of the old pulp magazines, and was fascinated by the yarns written in the 1930s & ’40s, and even the earlier stuff by Johnston McCulley. It was really a time for heroes, and Johnston McCulley and a few others started the costumed/masked crime fighters long before Superman and Batman tackled crime in comic books. The explosion actually happened after the Wall Street crash of 1929.

The public was tired of gangsters in suits and expensive automobiles while the rest of humanity stood in lines at the soup kitchens.

They wanted heroes and the Dime magazines gave them those heroes. While living in Wichita Falls, Texas I had access to the movie theaters in the 1940s and thrilled to the Saturday Matinee serials. These were stories right out of the pulp magazines, and I loved those old serials. As an adult I started collecting the serials- I’m now at 100 and counting, and this led to collecting and reading the hero pulps. As a writer of SF, I wanted to write new stories of the old pulp heroes, and have enjoyed some success in that genre. I don’t think I will ever tire of the hero stories. And you’re right, the movie, Pulp Fiction has nothing to do with real pulp fiction.”

Tom regularly collaborates with Altus Press, he explains how the partnership began:

ALTUS PRESS is owned by a very nice gentleman in Massachusetts named Matt Moring. My wife and I started the publishing imprint of FADING SHADOWS in 1982. We started publishing a hobby magazine that year, plus in 1995 added genre magazines and published new writers from around the world.

In 2002 I had a stroke and we had to slow down, so in 2004, 22 years after starting our imprint, we ended the FADING SHADOWS imprint.

Around 2005 Matt Moring contacted me wanting stories from the pulps to reprint. I began supplying ALTUS PRESS with the material Matt needed, plus he hired me to write Forwards and Introductions to his books. When he learned that I had researched many of the old pulp series, he asked me to let him print them, so he began publishing a lot of my work from the FADING SHADOWS period. At 78, I’m pretty well retired now, but I’ve recently written another Forward to ALTUS PRESS upcoming book, THE DOMINO LADY

Tom began writing whilst in the military:

I was a reader from an early age. Comic books at age 7, and the classic novel like Tom Sawyer by age 11. So I’ve always loved to read. My dad wanted me to follow in his footsteps and become a cowboy. But I hated ranch and farm life. At age 16 we moved back to a ranch where Ihad to work after school and on weekends. I decided that wasn’t a life I wanted, and when I turned 18 I joined the Army and left ranch life for good.
In the early 1960s I was a desk sergeant for the MPs in France. While my units were on patrol I would create plots and characters and write little scenes of action. I guess I was bitten by the bug, so to speak. But I didn’t do anything with my interest until after a touring the jungles of Vietnam. When I returned home in 1970, I sat down and wrote two novels that would become the first two stories in the JUR series. I wrote them in long hand and pencil. Paid a typist to put the first one in manuscript format, and made copies which I mailed off to SF publishers.
Just as quickly I started receiving rejection slips. I needed to learn the trade. So I stuffed the manuscripts in a drawer and started writing articles and columns for newspapers and magazines. And when we started the FADING SHADOWS imprint after I retired from the military, my wife and I got into editing and grammar.

While researching the Mike Shayne magazine the publisher put me in contact with James Reasoner, the current Shayne author at the time, and James heard about my SF stories and wanted to read them. I sent him the first story and he made some good suggestions which I took to heart. I rewrote the first novel, and in 2002 submitted it to a publisher.

The publisher wrote back accepting the novel and asked for more.

I wasn’t doing anything at the time so sent the second novel to them, then the third. That began my real writing.
But you asked me about the military, didn’t you? My career field was law enforcement, but my training was infantry. I spent a couple tours in Korea, the first on the DMZ under fire in 1959-60. A wonderful three year tour in France, and a tour in Vietnam 1969-70. I spent most of the 1960s overseas. When in the States I had a hard time getting out of Texas. I think I was stationed at every military post in Texas. I joined the Army on November 24, 1958, and retired February 1, 1979. I still feel the military was a better option for me than ranch life. Twenty years in the military, and twenty years in publishing. I don’t regret any of it.

Looking at the covers of Tom’s books (some of which are reproduced here) it’s obvious that he does his best to imitate the style of the 1940s pulps he loves so much. How much of that is down to him?

I do most of it myself, though sometimes I use one of our old FADING SHADOWS artists to illustrate and a designer to set up the cover. I first look for a pulp cover that’s in the public domain, and if I can design the title, I’ll do it myself. I want something that will catch the eye of the reader. I don’t really care for modern book covers.

Tom is married to his editor – and he has encountered every self-publisher’s worst nightmare (not that the two are in any way connected!).

Ginger, my wife, does a good job editing my books. I will go over the manuscript several times until I’m happy with it, but then I turn it over to Ginger and she catches the things I don’t see. I do have too many files, though.

Once, when we uploaded a manuscript for print and eBook we uploaded an unedited file instead of the final version.

One of my readers saw the problem and let me know. I had to pull the book and upload the file again. Unfortunately, I had ordered 26 copies of the paperback for book signing, and that was a waste of money since the book was full of errors.

Some people regard pulp fiction as the bottom of the literary barrel, both from the presumed quality of the writing and from the subject matter and the culture it promotes. How does Tom respond to such criticism?

I’ve heard this a lot. And some of it is true. Pulp was formula, and the writers were trying to make a living at a penny a word during the Depression. There was little plot, little characterization, but lots of action. Lester Dent, the author of Doc Savage (as Kenneth Robeson)struggled to move from pulp to the slicks because he thought Doc Savage was junk and he would never be recognized as a real writer. But if we compare the sales of Doc Savage to the sales of Hemingway, Doc Savage probably sold ten times more books than Hemingway, and today Doc Savage is more popular than Hemingway. Unfortunately, Lester Dent died in 1958, so he never knew how popular Doc Savage would be. Some great writers wrote pulp fiction. They had to if they wanted to feed their family.

I was unaware of Tom’s age when I asked him the standard question about fitting writing in around working for a living.

With my retirement and what my books bring in I make good money. Besides, at 78 I’m too old to work (LOL). I’ve always heard never quit your day job to become a writer. But we are well off and have no worries about finances. If I never sold another book, it would not hurt our income in the least.

Not surprisingly, Tom’s favorite authors include a few who write ‘pulp’:

There are so many writers I admire. Past writers would be Edgar Rice Burroughs (remember Tarzan?) Robert E. Howard (Conan). I have spent time with many of the pulp writers. Today’s writers I would have to say K.G. (Gail) McAbee, who can write anything and it’s going to be good! And a dozen others, but if I mentioned a few and left out others I would get in trouble, so I will leave it at this. LOL

Asked to reveal something unexpected about himself, Tom confesses that

I am addicted to coconut. I love coconut pies and coconut cakes. I am as bad about coconut as some are about chocolate (LOL).

I really enjoyed my conversation with such an engaging gentleman – I hope you did too. Connect with Tom on Facebook, at Amazon and via

For the latest Pulp news, check out Tom’s blog here.


Dan Alatorre’s WORD WEAVER Writing Contest for November 2017 – let the NEW games begin!

Dan’s contests are always worth entering, if only for the critique which is provided for each the first 50 entries this time around.

Source: Dan Alatorre’s WORD WEAVER Writing Contest for November 2017 – let the NEW games begin!

“Writers not helping each other? Rubbish.”

This is why I’m excited about being part of this ‘scary story’ project.

My story is based on real events that took place in the North Atlantic in December 1835, involving an Irish ship en-route from Nova Scotia to Limerick.

Source: “Writers not helping each other? Rubbish.”

Quality: #atozchallenge

One of the many engineering projects I worked on in the 1980s was aimed at increasing the quality of the synthetic fibre the company produced. There were two benefits claimed for improved quality:

  • We could reach more discerning – and, therefore, more lucrative – markets for our product, and
  • By reducing the quantity of product that was rejected, we could significantly increase productivity.

Later, whilst working for another organisation, I was part of a team introducing a concept called Total Quality Management (TQM).

TQM is a philosophy based on the work of an American, Professor W.E.Deeming. An engineer and statistician, Deeming was instrumental in creating the Japanese post WWII industrial ‘miracle’. As producers in the USA and Europe found themselves unable to compete with Japanese quality in the 1980s, they began to adopt the same underlying principles. Soon they were incorporated into national and international standards. The International Standards Organisation, for example, defines TQM as: “A management approach of an organisation centred on quality, based on the participation of all its members and aiming at long term success through customer satisfaction and benefits to all members of the organisation and society.” (ISO 8402:1994)

Implementation involves every member of the organisation in thinking about how to improve the way they carry out their individual functions, and seeking ways to continue improving. A great deal of effort is put into training so as to ensure every member of the team develops his or her full potential.

Quality Principles for Creatives

How might these principles be adopted by creative people, especially writers? After all, we mostly work alone. We can still aspire to continuously improve in everything we do. Great artists regularly produce sketches and studies in preparation for a significant painting. A writer will produce several drafts of a novel before showing it to a trusted beta reader. Jeffrey Archer is on record as producing at least ten drafts of every one of his novels, all in longhand. Only then is the book released to an editor who will suggest further improvements.

But a book is more than the content. There are many other factors that contribute to the quality of the finished article, including cover and formatting. It is at this stage that the work ceases to become the product of a single individual and is handed over to a team that might include an agent and publisher as well as editor and cover designer. All members of the team need to have in mind the single goal of “success through customer satisfaction”. In this case, of course, the customer is the reader.

What steps do you take to ensure reader satisfaction? How easy do you find it to work with others – beta readers, cover designer, editor – to achieve that aim?

Getting Your Book Into Print.

I have posted previously about my experience using CreateSpace. I thought it might be useful for people to see a guide to what other options are available for getting your book into print. If you haven’t considered doing so, it is worth remembering that thirty-six percent of book buyers read only print books. That’s according to a 2015 survey conducted by the Codex Groups and quoted in this New York Times article. It is a significant chunk of the market that you are unable to reach if you limit yourself to digital.DSCI1318

CreateSpace, and the other businesses I’ll be reviewing below, use a process called Print on Demand (POD). This allows printing and binding of paper covered books in very small quantities as and when an order is received. It means that neither you, the retailer nor the distributor needs to maintain a stock of your books. In stead, the placing of an order by a customer on-line triggers the printing of the book he or she has ordered.

Bricks and Mortar

In theory the same should apply to bricks and mortar stores, because CreateSpace and the others offer distribution via major book distribution networks in the USA, UK/Europe and Australia. I have, however, found little evidence that the major book retailers are interested in accessing self-published books via these channels. All the more reason to welcome the prospect of Amazon entering this section of the market.

“thirty-six percent of book buyers read only print books”

Let’s begin with Lulu, one of the longest established companies in the business. A look at their website demonstrates that the publishing process there has many points of similarity with CreateSpace. As with CreateSpace, there are no upfront costs unless you choose to avail of additional services, like cover design, for example. When it comes to distribution, however, the author compensation is significantly less than with CreateSpace. These screen grabs illustrate what I mean, using identical examples in the respective royalty calculators.2016-02-102016-02-10 (1)

Both offer a range of cover templates you can adapt if you do not wish to pay for a cover taylored to your book’s theme. Each has a comprehensive guide to help you through the process. Both allow you to proof the finished article and make changes before going live. CreateSpace offers a range of paid-for support services such as editing, cover and interior design/formatting and marketing.

Other Providers

If Lulu and CreateSpace are the market leaders, what other companies might an aspiring author consider? And what might make you think twice about using them?

Feedaread is a provider that has commercial links to Random House. It claims to be part funded by the UK Arts Council. There is no charge for the basic publishing service. For distribution they require a one-off charge of £88 UK, $140 US, $A175, Australia and €125 Europe. Typical royalties quoted on their site for books sold through worldwide distribution is around 20%. Books sold on their own website receive between 30% and 60%.

They offer a limited range of cover design templates. The site also claims that it provides “free feedback every 4 months for our top ten highest selling authors opening chapters from Random House and Orion”

IngramSpark is a service provided by one of the world’s major book distributors. There is a small set-up fee which includes free e-book creation at the same time. In addition, distribution is charged at an annual cost per title. They quote 45% to 70% royalty, less printing costs. Their royalty calculator is confusing since it requires you to set a wholesale discount. I haven’t tried it but the cover creation process looks difficult in comparison with the others. You enter your book’s details into an on-line form and they e-mail you a template with which to create your cover.

One key advantage of using IngramSpark is the distribution they offer. Their claim: “More readers will have access to your books through IngramSpark than with any other platform.”

Bookbaby is a full service publishing platform that includes e-book and POD with editing, cover design, distribution and promotion for an all-in fee of $1655 which includes the supply of 100 ‘free’ copies of your book. This looks expensive, but bear in mind that purchasing e2016-02-10 (3)diting, design and promotion services separately is not cheap. Typical royalties at Bookbaby are around 20% (see the screen grab)

To sum up, if I was to make a recommendation it would be CreateSpace, closely followed by Lulu and IngramSpark. Don’t be afraid of print. It does require time and care, but missing out on such a large section of the potential market for your work would be foolish.

Primer, Undercoat, Gloss.

No painter/decorator worth his salt would apply gloss paint to a door without first treating it with primer and undercoat. And, before any of that, a good sanding down is in order.

So why do some writers think the ‘gloss’ of proof reading is all they need before publishing?

Eamon did an excellent job on my latest novel, Transgression. This is why:

Don’t be Scared of Print

If you are someone who feels daunted by what you see as the difficulty of uploading a book to Amazon’s CreateSpace for print publication, don’t be. I’ve just done it for the second time and it was a lot easier than the first. Here’s why.

The first time was back in the summer of 2014 and I am certain that some of the features that made it easier this time around were not present then. Like the step where, having uploaded your interior text you wait for 24 hours to receive an e-mail with a link to the converted text as it will appear in print. You can page through to see if it is formatted exactly the way you want it. This file is ‘read only’ but you can save it to your hard drive as an editable file and make the changes you want. Then, when you go back into the CreateSpace process you can upload this file as your new interior. You can repeat this step as many times as you need. I did it twice.

Virtual proof

Last time around, when the process was completed I had to purchase a printed proof copy, which took about a month to arrive, before approving the file for publication. Now an on-line proofing step has been provided. You simply download a virtual copy of your book, complete with cover, that you can page through for a final check of formatting. It is a good idea, at this stage, to do a final read through, checking for typos missed during earlier editing sessions – believe me, there will be some! CreateSpace offers you the option of downloading a pdf version of your interior file to make this easier.

If, at this stage, you find things you need to change you can go back to that file you saved in the earlier step, make the changes and return to the step where you upload the revised file. All this means that there are plenty of opportunities for getting your book exactly the way you want it, without having to wait for a printed proof.

Cover design

It’s not just the process for uploading and correcting the interior file that has got better. Cover design, too, is a lot less bothersome than I remember from the first time I did it. Of course, you can use a professional design service, and Amazon have an extensive list of associates whose services you can purchase. However, if you choose to use a template from the CreateSpace library, the variety of designs available is much more extensive than I remember from 2014. For those templates that include space for an image, you still have the option of uploading your own, or you can choose from a large selection of images also available in the CreateSpace library.

Once you have chosen a template, the process takes you step by step through the insertion of title, sub-title, author and two sets of back cover text (this is where you insert your carefully crafted blurb to make your book irresistible to readers!). Each step can be omitted should you so choose. For example, a novel does not generally have a sub-title. Many front covers do, however, have a key phrase or two to tell readers what to expect. It might be something like “from the award winning author of (your last book)”, or a succinct expression of the challenge facing your protagonists. Don’t waste the opportunity to use the sub-title panel for that important purpose.

The value of editing

It is well worth spending time getting all of this right. But it is also vital that your text is fully edited and corrected before you commit it to print or digital publication.

Note: I provide above a link to the editing service I used for Transgression. I found it’s proprietor, Eamon O’Cleireigh, to be a valuable partner in the process of improving my book. There are, of course, many other providers of such services and you would be well advised to shop around in order to find someone who suits your particular needs.