Sunday, January 13, 2013
Elsewhere In The Multiverse Part Four: Lee Houston, Jr.
Lee, thank you for stopping by the Agency to talk space opera and super-heroes with us!
Thanks for inviting me. Nice place you have here.
So what inspired you to create Alpha, Aldous, Conalaric and all the characters who appear in PROJECT: ALPHA?
I found a lot of old school, Julie-Schwartz-style Silver Age DC in the world of Alpha....was that intentional?
Planned? No. Inspired, yes; because my very first comic book was Action Comics #434, circa May 1974, back in the heyday of Schwartz's editorialship at DC.
I thought I saw a lil' Superman in Alpha! What is it about the silver age that is so inspiring to you?
Not many comic book fans may agree with me, but it was definitely a more inspiring period creatively. Heroes and villains were more defined. Multiple issue stories were rare, and good always triumphed over evil in the end, whether it took 8 or 20 pages to do so.
I think that the idea of 'decompression' and 'writing for the trade' has damaged comics--you look at those classic ACTIONs, and you get two complete, compact and plot-filled stories in one issue!
True. When I started reading, comic books were 20 pages for 20 cents! Now it's at least $2.99 to get the same 20 pages, and you don't even get a letters column anymore!
I first started reading them when they were 15 cents!
Then you probably got some of those 52 and 48 page issues for a quarter first run. I've managed to acquire some via back issues over the years. Those, along with the 80 and 100 page giants are collectors items today, because E. Nelson Bridwell chose some great reprints to include in each issue!
Yep! I think I stil have a GREEN LANTERN 25 center, and a JLA one around here somewhere...that's where I was exposed to two of my favorite comic teams for the first time--the JSA and the Doom Patrol.
Oh, those were great series! Especially pre-Flashpoint!
Now when you started creating Alpha, did you have in mind the idea of expanding the universe down the line to create more of a feel like DC and Marvel back then? Are there other heroes floating around we might meet in future installments, for example?
Well, I've certainly considered the idea that two or three novels down the road, Alpha's presence in his new home (which will be established when I write his upcoming second book: Wayward Son) inspires other people to attempt following his career path, but he will be the only super powered one. For now?
What motivated you to place Alpha in the stone age for this first book? Are we going to see him move through time, maybe have adventures in other great epochs of human development?
Who said the first book took place in the stone age on Earth? Seriously, Regardless of what planet Alpha actually hails from, you have to admit that was a great starting point for a superhero. If it's been used before, I can't swear to it off the top of my head.
The only times I can think of it being used is for villains--Vandal Savage in regards to DC, and The Master of The World for Marvel. This is the first time it's been used for a super-hero. I have to admit--I also felt a lot of a Saturday Morning Space Opera vibe in the book, especially when we deal with the Shamballan rebellion in the later half.
Knew about Vandal Savage. That Master is a new one on me, but there definitely hasn't been a superhero starting from that point in time. And when I was growing up, back in the pre-cable days, local stations would spend Saturday afternoons with such great stuff as Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon, and other classics. Of course I've also watched a lot of animation since I've first figured out how to operate a TV set, including all those great shows of my youth like Jonny Quest and Space Ghost.
Why do you think there's such an interest in super-hero prose fiction amongst the New Pulp writers? So many of us--you and I, Van Allen Plexico, Jeff Deischer, and more--have been finding their ways to telling stories about men and women with extraordinary powers serving justice behind a mask....
The only reason(s) I can think of is that we grew up with the medium, loved the great stories, are not too crazy about some of what is being presented as comic books today, and can't land a writing gig with one of the established houses to begin with, so we're going our own way presenting our own tales the way we remember them and how they should be told. Or at least, all of the above is the situation in my case.
Well, I think that's the great thing about super-hero prose fiction--we get to create our own universes and do the things we've always wanted to see done....do you think that the dissatisfaction with this post-Civil Wars/Post-Flashpoint world is what has brought readers to check out these books?
Definitely. I've been with DC since long before the original Crisis on Infinite Earths, but in all honesty, saw no reason for Flashpoint at all; and am reading nowhere near the number of DC titles I used to. But Marvel for me were going down hill long before Civil War, with the mistreatment of Steve Gerber, Jack Kirby, et. al; along with trying to tell me that the Peter Parker I'd been a fan of since Amazing Spiderman #180 was actually the clone when they started all that Scarlet Spdier nonsense. And don't even get me started about One More/Brand New Day!
See, the irony of the Flashpoint mess is that Marv Wolfman wanted to do this same thing after Crisis--and Karen Berger refused to let it happen! She said it'd be 'too confusing' for the fans!
Well, I had no problem with the multiple Earths to begin with, although I feel the JLA and the JSA should have been on the same one from the very beginning, instead of doing it post Crisis. The one problem with comic books that developed over the decades from their Golden Age beginnings was that no one in the publishing world foresaw long term fans, let alone continuity minded ones. The companies thought there would be a turnover in readership every 10-15 years, which is why stories from one decade echoed events from the previous decade(s) from time to time. Whether or not it would have worked if Wolfman won the argument is left for more more experienced theorists than me to ponder.
I've certainly given it some serious thought, although it will easier for Alpha to visit Hugh than vice versa. But to do any team up, you need a more valid reason for the characters to meet than just "Wouldn't it be neat if..." The why, if it happens, still eludes me at this time.
Are they both in the same 'universe' in your mind? The Lee houston-verse?
Oh definitely. Different corners of it, but still part of my "verse".
You've done a lot of editing work, both for PRO SE MAGAZINE and THE FREE CHOICE...has being on the other side of the writing life helped you develop to be a better writer?
I like to think so, but that's ultimately the readers' call.
What do you think is the most important thing for an aspiring writer to do to move from 'aspiring' to 'published'?
Don't be afraid to go back over your first draft and correct any mistakes. I've seen too many stories over the years that could have used a little more polish before being submitted. But the moment they type those last words ("The End"), they think they're done and ready to go on to the next project. The published versions of any of my material are far from what they were at their first drafts. The chapter in Project Alpha where Aldous explains to Alpha what he is capable of had eight rewrites before I was happy with it; because I not only wanted to explain the powers, but also make them believable, as well as present a good chapter instead of just a massive, boring "info dump".
How do you make the more fantastical parts believable? Do you do a lot of research?
I try to research what I can. There were some major acknowledgements at the end of Project Alpha. But any work of (superhero) fiction requires some suspension of disbelief. My (super power) theories may not be practical in real life, but they do sound plausible enough so that the reader will accept the possibilities.
What is, in your mind, the most important thing to take care of to make sure your super-hero feels real and plausible to your readers?
I think the first step is not to make any character too powerful. If there is no problem they can't solve, if there is no villain they can't defeat, then why read that character's adventures to begin with? After all, DC has had to depower Superman a few times over the course of his career. Yet there still has to be challenges to face, whether physical or dramatic. Writers walk a very fine tightrope in regards to superhero characters because of this.
So you're presently working on PROJECT ALPHA BOOK TWO: WAYWARD SON. What can fans look forward to seeing as our hero's saga unfolds?
Actually, I'm honoring my short story commitments to Pro Se first, so work on Book 2 will begin in earnest this Spring. But when I do turn to Wayward Son, Alpha will be trying to figure out his place and purpose in the universe. At best, you can call his debut mission a draw, considering how things turned out. So now Alpha is trying to basically pick up the pieces of his life and wondering "What's next?" But I do want to assure Alpha's fans that the series is currently plotted through Book Five!
Cool! What else would you like to tell people at the Agency about?
Well, besides being the editor for the monthly Pro Se Presents magazine, I am also the writer/creator of another series entitled Hugh Monn: Private Detective. I took all the basic trappings of the private detective genre and placed them on another planet in the far flung future. The second book in that series Catch A Rising Star, is due out later this year from Pro Se, and will be Hugh's first full length adventure.
How does writing long form differ from short form for you?
It takes more time obviously. ;) Personally, I prefer to let the story dictate its course and word length whenever possible. In this case, while I was intentionally trying for longer Hugh centerd stories, Catch A Rising Star kept growing and growing on me, until it reached the point where it became a novel unto itself instead of just the opening story within a second anthology of Hugh Monn tales.
Well, Lee...I want to thank you for taking the time to talk shop with us here at the Nocturne Travel Agency.
No problem. Thanks for inviting me.
Project Alpha can be purchased here.