William Patrick Maynard interview
chronicles: What draws you to classic pulp fiction? What do you find in it that may be missing in contemporary adventure fiction?
Patrick Maynard: I don’t honestly think of it as pulp fiction so much as storytelling. I read Stoker, Conan Doyle, Rohmer, Hammett, and Chandler as a kid and still read them today because of the storytelling. That’s what makes their characters and stories hold up and, in my view, it’s what separates them from most contemporary adventure or genre fiction.
There are people who won’t watch old movies or read something from the Jazz Age or earlier because they can’t relate to it. There are those who read and watch old things and are struck by the fact that people are the same even if technology and attitudes were different. I belong in the second camp.
chronicles: What do you feel about the politically incorrect, by modern standards, elements that may be found in many pulp fiction classics, including the Fu Manchu tales?
Patrick Maynard: People are a product of their times, but Sax Rohmer was far from a typical Edwardian. Many of his characters were born of mixed marriages and are portrayed as exotic and attractive because of their heritage. Rohmer continually broke down cultural barriers with his fiction and yet today he’s often considered a racist.
Most of the ire directed against the Fu Manchu character has to do with the Yellowface portrayals of him in film, radio, and TV and in some of the awful Asian caricatures in the comic strips. If you look at Rohmer’s actual depiction of the character, it’s far from an offensive stereotype of Asians. Fu Manchu is a six foot tall genius who is more noble and better educated than any of the British protagonists. That hardly seems like the work of a man with no respect for Asian culture.
The trouble with political correctness is that it is still censorship. It’s hard for people to resist the temptation to play the Bluenose because condemning others appeals to the ego. The correct are the elite and the problem is everyone else. Which camp would you choose? Do people in the past deserve to be labelled as sexist, racist, and bigoted simply because the people in their time didn’t enjoy all of the freedoms we have today? I’d rather judge people on their own merits rather than condemn them for being less enlightened. You can’t argue with people who won’t listen and sadly, that applies as much to the thought-police of yesterday as it does today.
chronicles: How do you go about adding to the canon – telling a new tale about a character created by another author in a way that will bring something new to the table while doing justice to the original?
Patrick Maynard: You have to start with a story. After that, the approach isn’t particularly different whether you’re working with your own characters or pre-existing ones. The characters need their individual voice, mannerisms, and motivation and their portrayal must be consistent throughout. The same challenge exists for the writer whether they created the characters and situations or are continuing them. The key is doing your research. The exception, I suppose, is with Steampunk where often you write characters from the past using the parlance and mores of the present. That doesn’t really appeal to me so I do try to do my homework and play fair by the characters.
chronicles: What drew you to the character of Fantomas?
Patrick Maynard: Black Coat Press, the publisher of my book, THE TERROR OF FU MANCHU, invited me to contribute to their annual anthology series, TALES OF THE SHADOWMEN and Fantomas was the character from French pulp fiction that I knew best. I wrote a darkly humorous Christmas story based on a suggestion from my eight year old daughter that Fantomas should dress as Santa Claus and give children bombs for presents. That gives you a pretty good idea of our home life.
She knows Fantomas from the old French silent movies. We watch things like that as a family. The story is a sequel to David White’s book, FANTOMAS IN AMERICA which Black Coat Press published in 2006. The Fantomas formula is a combination of horror, humor, and style. That doesn’t really have a parallel in America apart from the two Dr. Phibes movies that Vincent Price made in the early 1970s. I’m a fan of the character, but I don’t have any particular ambition to write for him again. I certainly hope that David does as he brought a wonderful combination of moods and philosophies to his book. If you haven’t read it, you’re really missing something special. I highly recommend it. He’s a brilliant writer who needs to find more time to write.
chronicles: Are we likely to read future Fu Manchu adventures in which Petrie’s possible father, Flinders Petrie, plays a role in some way?
Patrick Maynard: Wold Newtonians delight in things like speculating that Flinders Petrie was Dr. Petrie’s father. I picked that up from Cay Van Ash who dropped the same hint in his two Fu Manchu books in the 1980s. As it stands, I’m not sure if I’ll be writing another Fu Manchu thriller or not. That’s entirely up to the administrators of the Rohmer Literary Estate and their agent.
The next Fu Manchu book is by Richard Sand and is set in contemporary times so you won’t be seeing Nayland Smith or Dr. Petrie in that one. Time will tell. If I’m not fortunate enough to write another Fu Manchu book, I’m sure someone else will pick the characters up at a later date. The concept is too good to leave it languishing in the past and the Estate does want to make money with their property.
chronicles: In your forthcoming book, THE OCCULT CASE BOOK OF SHERLOCK HOLMES, will you write tales that take a cue from the many story-hints dropped by Conan Doyle in the canonical tales, or will you make up entirely new stories? Are we likely to encounter any other notable Victorians, fictional or real?
Patrick Maynard: Considering that most of Conan Doyle’s references to unpublished Holmes cases have been completed by other writers already – some of them with variations by different writers – I’d rather stick with original ideas for my Holmes collection. There will be some real Victorians in the stories, but their identities may be slightly disguised, something Conan Doyle was not above doing as well.
My first taste of writing for Holmes and Watson came with doing a story for GASLIGHT GROTESQUE. That was really the starting point for this project. It’s a chance to expand on what I started with one simple story and weave it into a larger fabric so that’s what’s occupying my free time these days. I hope to have the book in print by the end of the year. We’ll see if I can make the deadline.
chronicles: Are you planning to add to the sagas of any other classic pulp characters, such as John Carter of Mars, Doctor Strange or Solomon Kane, to name a few at random?
Patrick Maynard: I’m not planning on it, but I only set out to write a Fu Manchu book. Once you accomplish one thing, other opportunities present themselves. Some you accept and some you pass on based on your familiarity with the material and the sympathy you feel toward the characters and, to an extent, the original author.
chronicles: Can you tell us any more about the original detective character you are working on?
Patrick Maynard: Well, its early days yet on this project so we could end up with something very different, but the concept we’re starting with is the hardboiled private eye is also a loving husband and father. The pitch I used with the publisher was what if Ward Cleaver and Peter Gunn were the same guy?
chronicles: When developing this new character, how have you allowed your influences to shape, or not shape your own creation?
Patrick Maynard: Everyone is influenced by what they read or watch or listen to, in the case of old radio shows. I’m a huge fan of Hammett, Chandler, and Ross Macdonald and think PETER GUNN was the finest television series ever (with the last two seasons of RICHARD DIAMOND as it’s only real contender) so it’s certainly likely that those influences will show to an extent.. Any time you write, you try different voices and sometimes different narrative styles until you find the one that works best.
chronicles: Will your own character operate in a contemporary or 19th Century setting?
Patrick Maynard: Right now, the plan is to set the story in 1960, but I think it could be done with a contemporary setting. My reluctance to do so is that I don’t want to lose the simplicity of classic detective fiction. I don’t want to do another high-tech forensics team where everyone is twenty-five years old and sexy and can solve the case with a DNA swipe.
chronicles: In your list of influences you mention the giants of the mystery/horror/murder genre but also include Tolkien & C. S. Lewis. Is this just personal insight into your tastes or has the prose of those authors (who are from a very different genre & style) have an impact into your own writing?
Patrick Maynard: It’s probably more an insight into my taste than my influences although it’s hard to recognize every influence you absorb. I enjoy Tolkien and Lewis and Lloyd Alexander’s fantasy stories just as I enjoy Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert E. Howard or Arthur C. Clarke and John le Carre. It doesn’t mean you want to write in their style so much as you appreciate what they did or continue to do (in le Carre’s case).
chronicles: Would you ever consider writing a contemporary crime novel or do you enjoy the period setting too much, and if so why?
Patrick Maynard: I have no objection to contemporary settings, but I do find the current vogue for faceless, interchangeable criminal investigators that look like models, have the hormones of a teenager, and couldn’t solve a single crime without the aid of technology to be unappealing. These stories appear to follow SCOOBY-DOO as their template. The format dominates television and movies and books right now. I don’t enjoy watching or reading them and I certainly don’t want to write about them. You can say one thing for them; however, they are politically correct and they bear all the hallmark of bland, formulaic writing. That’s my very biased take on it, though.
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