Barry Reese is a man with a prodigious habit for writing. A librarian by day, he churns out thousands of words a night, bringing to life pulp characters like The Rook and Lazarus Gray. He got his big break writing for “the Official Handbook for Marvel Universe,” then began creating his own stories. For his pulp short stories and gory, monster horror novel “Rabbit Heart,” Barry was awarded the 2011 Pulp Ark Award for Best Author. This year, he took home the Pulp Ark Award for Best Short Story and received his first–but certainly not last–nomination for Georgia Author of the Year. He’s also a co-creator on the “Pulped!” podcast and the Ubergeeks podcast.
In this interview with Barry Reese, which originally appeared in the pages of The 11th Hour magazine, writer Rachel Helie digs a little deeper into the pulp tradition and its revival.
Rachel: In working in pulp, which is considered a cult genre, what did you find distinguishes it from traditional literary models?
Barry: Well, on the New Pulp website, they have a definition of pulp that says it’s “…fast-paced, plot-oriented storytelling of a linear nature with clearly defined, larger than life protagonists and antagonists, creative descriptions, clever use of turns of phrase and other aspects of writing that add to the intensity and pacing of the story.” That’s a pretty good way of describing it. Pulp is about momentum and excitement – the stories barrel along at a brisk pace and feature larger than life heroes, villains and settings. That’s very different in many other literary genres.
R: Is there a formula to the creation of pulp characters and plots that does not apply to the traditional modes of character development?
B: Well, Lester Dent (the creator of Doc Savage) actually did have a formula – you can Google it and find his detailed instructions on how to write a pulp story. But few authors use that model – just as with any other field, we want to feel like we’re doing something unique rather than use a true formula. But for most pulp characters and plots, you want to create something that gets your blood pumping. Indiana Jones, Dirk Pitt, Jason Bourne… those are contemporary creations that spring from the well of pulp. Larger than life, action-oriented characters
R: Is there an atypical process to the creation of pulp characters and plots that distinguishes it from your comic writing?
B: Not really. In both mediums, I work the same way in terms of creation. Obviously, comics will ultimately be a visual medium so you kind of think that way, ensuring that you’ll end up with scenes and characters that are exciting to look at.
R: What do you think are the key points in creating a believable three-dimensional character in pulp and comic writing?
B: You have to be able to get into the heads of your characters and understand what makes them tick. Just like real people, they have their good and bad sides, too, so you have to be able to relate that on to a reader. I’ve created lots of different types of characters over the years and the most popular are the ones who have many sides to them. I always try to figure out what strengths they have and where their weaknesses lie.
R: What would you say was your best work, or where you feel that you most expressed your creative ideal as a writer in each genre?
B: From a comics side of things, I have an 8-page Rook short that will run in November’s “All-Star Pulp Comics # 1” and I think it turned out really well. In prose, I’d say that “The Damned Thing,” “The Adventures of Lazarus Gray” and “The Rook Volume Six” were my best.
Rachel Helie is a freelance writer and journalist, aspiring novelist, sometimes ghostwriter, and regular contributor to The 11th Hour. At eight years of age she stepped into the wardrobe and never quite made it back out.