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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).
For the latest Pulp news, check out Tom’s blog here.
Rhonda Hopkins is a self-published author from Texas with two decades of experience working within the Family Court system. She writes often quite dark stories featuring zombies. She also has a non-fiction book in the pipeline which will be a guide for people encountering the Family Court for the first time.
I began our conversation by asking her about life in her native Texas. For me “Texas” invokes memories of old cowboy films, vast cattle ranches, rodeos and Dallas – both the TV series and the city with its glass and steel towers. I wondered how accurate was that image.
“That’s a great question and one I’ve never been asked before. Texas is amazing. We have just about everything here. Large cities, small towns, and wide-open spaces. We have a large variety of trees, my favorite being pecan. We had several in our yard when I was a child and l loved climbing them. I’d sit on a large branch, lean back against the trunk, and read for hours.
My grandmother and other relatives always had ranch animals, cows, horses, donkeys, mules, chickens, etc. So, I had the pleasure of having that experience. We still have cows and chickens. And of course, we have wildlife that come into the back – coyotes, foxes, raccoons, possums, and more. I actually posted about a run in I had with a raccoon previously.
As for rodeos – I grew up going to those.
My uncle is a champion bareback rider.
We live in a small town in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, so I feel like I have the best of both worlds. Big cities with everything you could want available and a small-town atmosphere where you know all your neighbors and have an active community.
We have canyons, an ocean, rivers, lakes, and mountains. I feel very fortunate to have been born and raised in Texas and can’t imagine living anywhere else. I have traveled to many other wonderful states in the U.S. and would love to visit them again, but Texas is home.”
I ask her about her years working in the Family Court system. She has a section of her website devoted to providing information for prospective users of the service, but I wonder to what extent her experience feeds into her fiction.
“I’ve worked within the Family Court system for nearly twenty years. The first nine and a half were at Child Protective Services where I dealt with child abuse and neglect. I was an investigator for most of those and a supervisor for the rest. I then did investigations/custody evaluations for the Family Courts. I met the most evil people and the most wonderful during those twenty years. There were funny, horrific, scary, and amazing experiences. All of that, I use in my writing. Most of my fiction is dark, but the best part to me is finding the light within the darkness. I try my best to show the hope and human spirit and endurance within my books.
I also have a new non-fiction book coming out soon, NAVIGATING FAMILY COURT: IN THE BEST INTEREST OF YOUR CHILD. It will offer an insight into what to expect if one has to go through custody litigation and how best to prepare yourself and your children. Co-parenting tips are also included. I’m very happy that I can use my experience to help others through a really difficult time. I’ll have a new website just for that topic once it’s released and I’ll transfer all my former blog posts there, so people will have access to the articles about domestic violence, child custody, and substance abuse.”
On her website she offers her books free of charge to serving members of the defense forces. She got the idea from Anna Erishkigal, a fellow author who writes epic fantasies Rhonda describes as amazing. “I think it’s important that we give back to those that sacrifice so much for our freedoms,” she adds.
I ask what drew her to write about zombies and what she would you say to someone like me, who has never read that genre and has no inclination to do so, to make me change my mind.
“I was asked to participate in LET’S SCARE CANCER TO DEATH, a charity anthology. The proceeds go to The V Foundation For Cancer Research. The theme was zombies. I love watching and reading about zombies, but never intended to write about them. But, when the offer to participate came up, the short story just sort of appeared fully formed. That short story was supposed to be the extent of my zombie work. But, I fell in love with the characters and their stories of survival. More characters came to me and they all seem to be begging me to tell their stories. So, a series was born. My first full-length novel DEAD OF WINTER should be out at the end of August or so.
While the SURVIVAL series has blood and guts – it’s zombies after all – that’s not the focus or even the main theme. I care, and I want my readers to care, more about the survivors and their stories, their perseverance and ability to overcome such a horrific apocalyptic event.
I don’t think zombies would even be the biggest threat in that world. I think it would be other humans.
So my books show the good and the bad of humanity and how my survivors cope with it all – the light within the darkness.”
Previous writers who have featured here have embraced controversial subjects in their writing – the Holocaust, FGM and the grooming of underage girls for sex. When I ask if she thinks it’s wise for writers to tackle such subjects she says that writers should write whatever touches their hearts.
Some writers have a special space for writing, or a time of day reserved for the activity. Rhonda has
a desk and an area set up, “but mainly I write from my big comfy chair on my laptop. But, I’ve been known to write just about anywhere or anytime the muse strikes.”
Currently writing is her only creative activity, but she wishes she could paint.
“My aunt is an amazing artist, but my stick figures don’t even look like stick figures. 😊 She is teaching me to crochet though, so we’ll see how that goes. I love cooking and baking. I especially enjoy baking special things for my nieces and nephews – like the Christmas Tree cake I made this past holiday. I did make ceramics a long time ago when my mom was into it. I might have to try that out again. Although, I’ve been thinking about trying pottery recently.”
I wonder if she uses professional help with preparing her work for publication.
“I use beta readers for the first read through, then a professional editor. I want my work to appeal to readers and be as well developed as possible.
As an indie, I strive to be professional and hire editors and cover designers.”
Her favourite author is Dean Koontz.
“I read many different genres and there are many authors I consider must reads, both traditionally and indie published. However, Dean Koontz is my favorite author. I’ve been reading him since I was about twelve and I believe I have read just about everything he’s ever written. I would hope I could manage to speak if I were having dinner with him – I’m such a fan girl. LOL He’s a magnificent writer, with a wonderful imagination. I’d love to be able to string words together like he can. After just a few sentences, I’m completely immersed in the story and even forget I’m reading. I don’t think that can be taught, but if it could, I’d hope he’d share that ability with me.”
I thank her for the frankness of her answers and she surprises me with an offer – a free copy of SURVIVAL for one of my followers. Here’s how to qualify to receive it: simply be the first to tell me, in a comment, what is Rhonda’s favourite tree.