Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Chuck Unleashed


Hello there.  Am I speaking to Mr. Dixon or to , um Linus Oakes?  For the record, WHO THE HELL IS LINUS?
I had this silly idea that I’d expand my publication line by writing under a pseudonym. I figured that the zombie survival genre was so popular that it was worth the risk of publishing under a name other than my own. But Linus Oakes is a dud. I really underestimated the value of my name when it comes to selling books. I was suffering from whatever the opposite of hubris is.

I always avoided pen names and pseudonyms online since I figured I'd need those to spam people I hate or go on por... umm exotic photography sites.  Do people in the present care what you call yourself?  I mean, it is the internet afterall.
I don’t think the majority of the readers of my prose stuff know or care who I am. But that core fan base of comic readers (where I’m best known) provide a launch point for new books. Without that, Linus barely got noticed on Amazon. 

I heard you had a Zombie novel brewing, why am I not reading it?
That’s between you and your god.

But the book is called Gomers.   It’s straight up zombie survival with my usual touches of bleak humor. Two geeks work out a survival plan involving forting up in one of those massive home improvement stores. But things go awry when the place is already occupied by an Afghan war vet and his K-9.

Are there stories in that setting of Zombies that are still untold?
It’s a malleable genre. I think the combinations of zombies and….whatever is endless.

So why, in general, do you self publish?  I understand fully why a schlep like me does, everyone hates me and my work, but you?  Dude, people buy your stuff...
They do but my stuff. So why do I need gatekeepers? Why do I have to ask for permission to write? The whole e-book thing is an emancipation. It’s the perfect outlet for my prolific nature.

What happens in the world when publishers disappear and there are a bajillion authors and books, with shitty standards?
I don’t think publishers will ever vanish. But the world of publishing is changing. It’s like the music business, fracturing into niches and small press and mini press and self press. Garage band literature.

If books can be self published and money can be made, why the hell do so few comics make money except for by the publishers?
There is NO money to be made self-publishing comics. Comics are too expensive to produce and the audience for them is tiny. And, trust me, most titles from major publishers bleed money. The overall audience is shrinking.

Do you, later in life, than the guy who started in comics in the 80s find that prose is a better vehicle for your ideas?  Why or why not?
I’m a comic book writer through and through. It’s in my DNA. But being able to work without pitching and re-pitching and waiting on editors who never get back to me is pure gold. Yeah, I’d rather be writing comics. But the prose stuff is very rewarding too.

Do you still visit comic shops for comics, (rather than appearances and special events?)
Never. My next day in a comic shop is Free Comic Book Day. After that it may be six months or more before I do a store appearance. There’s nothing there for me. I don’t follow new comics.

There are fewer biases against comic writers and artists now, compared to the past, yes?  If so, how soon before we see them as rock stars or movie stars?
That’s never going to happen. Comic creators come and go. Very few have lasting popularity while people will still pay to see the Rolling Stones after over fifty years in music their his last charted single more than thirty years ago. Nobody would cross the street to meet most comic creators even when they’re at the height of their popularity.

Many of your fans appreciate your clear love for action movies/books, and history, and military aspects of your stories.  How did you become so apt for such things, did you serve in the military? How far do your related hobbies take you?
I’ve never been in uniform and never in anything but a bunch of schoolyard fights. But I think my intense study of comics as a kid taught me something about breaking down action so that it’s fluid and believable.

Lots of reading of Edgar Rice Burroughs. Man, that guy could block out an action scene. And later on the writer Ben Haas who wrote some terrific westerns under the name John Benteen. He could make even complex action scenes clear and vivid and exciting.

As far as guns go, my dad was a gunsmith. I grew up around firearms and shoot myself. So I’m conversant with how guns work. 

Your toy soldier collection evokes lovely memories with me, since I had wars and events with my own.  I'd build buildings, land commandos, and rescue the hostages, then blow up shit either with airstrikes, or offshore shelling.  Do you build panoramas now, or do just collect?

I mostly spend time painting the bins of plastic soldiers I already have. I concentrate on Victorian colonial conflicts but lately have done a lot of armies for the Russian Civil War. Once upon a time I built buildings and fortifications. There’s just no room to display them.

You have a weekend with five comics writers or artists from the past. You can talk about any comics subject, or anything regarding art, or sequential work, (i.e. film included). What five do you invite, why, and what is your most desired subject of conversation?

I’ve found that comic creators aren’t really great company. Especially the writers who are a suspicious bunch. I’d probably opt to hang out with my buddies and we’d talk about the same bullshit we always talk about. I won’t name them here so that all of them can assume they’d be among the five. But the REAL five know who they are.

I remember years ago when a bunch of us went out for dinner after Chicago con. Some wannabes (who became big names in comics) tagged along but there wasn’t room at the “big” table for them. Afterwards, one of them said to me, “Boy, we all wanted to be at your table to hear the amazing stuff you guys were talking about.” I had to break it to him that spent most of the time talking about mortgages.

I've been truly torn by the election cycle of this year.  Many complain about the sort of choices we are offered.  Why do you think the election cycle of 2016 has been so massively imbecilic, or do you, and is there a solution?
I don’t think it’s any more imbecilic than the politicians of the past fifty years have been. We’re seeing the whole establishment system being lanced like a boil. The corruption, stupidity and sense of entitlement are on display for all to see. The voting public is getting a view of how the sausage is made.  I think it’s healthy and I think it’s good. But, if the establishment gets their way, and we get another corporate sponsored chump in the White House, I can see the public turning away from the entire political process. That’s dangerous. I prefer chaos and uncertainty over cynicism and acceptance.

As many know who read what I write, and what I pay attention to, you are a person I hold in enormous esteem, and am grateful to call you a friend.  You are someone who has moved me deeply by some very kind personal acts.  And you own most of my work, including the poetry.  

Yet, there are folks who in the recent past used very charged biased words about you or in reference to you.  Is it just a small industry shorthand, is it jealousy based, or are people really convinced that differing political opinions equals, you evil, me good?
It’s not even political. It’s cliques. It’s groupthink. Not only must you hold the same political view to play the game, you need to like the same music, movies and food. It’s no longer professional or based on merit. It’s become childishly personal and based on whims. I don’t go along with it. I choose not to participate.

What is your definition for a fun week or weekend away from the computer/ typewriter?  How often do you get away from work for purely fun events?
I’m so immersed during the week that weekends are for catching up on chores for the most part. While not ‘fun’, it’s something to take my mind off the work for a while. But, being a freelancer I can take advantage by doing things on weekdays like the shooting range or bike trail. Less crowds.

With your knowledge of history and military events, what period of time, or specific battle or war would you love to see in depth, in book form, or well made movie, that has largely been ignored?
That’s a good one! So many to choose from. They don’t really make those kinds of movies anymore. By that I mean straight-up war movies. But I love stories of sieges and the siege of Rhodes would make an incredible movie. 1522. The Knights of St John holding the massive fortifications on the Isle of Rhodes against the Ottomans under Suleiman. It’s a hell of a story. There’s a great novel called The Shadow of God, by Anthony Goodman, that details the entire campaign. Really brings it to life.
Did you ever turn down a job in the comics industry that you now regret?  How do you recover, as a professional, from bad choices or, good choices at the moment, that turned out to be bad by virtue of outside forces?
Time heals all careers. I’ve never made a decision I regretted. But I’ve made a few that I still wonder about, what would have happened if I’d taken the other road? What if I’d accept the offer to become Batman group editor at DC Comics? What if I’d accepted Frank Darabont’s invitation to come out to LA and be shown around? What if I’d taken that assignment to write a movie about Vikings for Dolph Lundgren?

I know some rather big named writers who have told me that they cannot read fiction from others due to the constraints of time and work.  They read but it is in the form of research and news articles. Do you find time to read for pleasure?  If so, what do you most often find yourself reading?
Thanks to the Kindle I’ve been able to immerse myself in men’s adventure novels from the 70s. I used to read piles of them but I’m going back now to re-introduce myself to the genre. John Benteen. The Destroyer. Charles Whiting. All the lowbrow classics and ripping yarns. For serious reading it’s often audiobooks while I’m driving. Though, when I’m deep into the guts of a novel I can’t concentrate on someone else’s writing. As for non-fiction, I cherrypick through dozens of history books at a time. Oddly, for sheer escape, I’ve been reading biographies of film stars of the past. Just finished a Buster Keaton book. I read bios of Burt Lancaster and Bob Hope recently too.

With prose, do you use the same mental gifts and skills as you do when writing sequentially, ala comics?
I think it’s an entirely different part of my brain. Honestly. At first it felt like I was riding someone else’s bike. It’s crazy because I am a writer and I’ve read so many novels and short stories. I’m a compulsive reader. But moving to the opposite side of the counter was hard for me. I had to get over my self-consciousness and just tell the damn story! With comics, for me, it’s like getting behind the wheel of my truck and taking off. But prose is coming easier and I’m starting to enjoy the whole process.

I am aware from our chats that you met and spoke with Walter Gibson.  You could well be thought of as a current day version of him I think.  Did you learn a great deal from him, or were you already on your present path towards your world now?
I was 19 and clueless and nowhere NEAR getting on the path I’m on now, I couldn’t even find the on-ramp. But I learned a lot by talking to him. The guy was entirely ego-free and willing to share about how he approached writing. Though it was a talent and a passion, it was also a job. I was an obnoxious kid and asked blunt questions and he answered them all. I don’t think I’m a current day version of any of the writers I admire. I just  have an itch I need to scratch and fortunately can make a living at.

What creates a writer?  Are you born to be one?  Do you have environmental factors that guide you to that place?  While watching movies as a kid were you awestruck in rapt attention, or were you scratching your then beardless chin thinking, they wouldn't have done that?... You write, do you know why you do?
I’ve been told that writing comes from some alienating experience early in youth, and event or circumstances that distances one from what’s going on some ways. Some kind of element that turns one from a participant to an observer. That may not be true of every writer but it’s certainly true of a lot of writers. Victor Hugo and Rudyard Kipling come to mind. And I believe that it’s true of me. I spent a LOT of time in the hospital as a kid from the age of five weeks until I was seven. I spent long periods of time separated from my family. That absolutely had an effect on me. It made me look at the world from the perspective of an outlier, a bit of a sense that I was never totally at home even in my home.

As for movies, when I was a kid I LIVED at the local movie theater whenever I could get there. I’d stay all day and into the evening. Science has proven that an absorbing movie activates the same areas of our brains as dreaming. These days, it takes an extraordinary movie to draw me in to that degree. But as child, I was in another world at the movies.

And I can identify the day I decided I wanted to be a writer. It was 3rd grade and we were asked to choose a photograph cut from magazine and write a story about it. I asked if I could have more than one picture and came back the next day with a story that used four photographs to tell a story about a little boy on a farm. I got big laughs from the teacher and the kids in class, intentional laughs. That was it for me.

As a writer and history dude, do you often find that you wish that you'd been born earlier, later or in a specific era?  Which ones if so?
Oh, hell no. As much dental surgery as I’ve been through, I’m happy right where and when I am.

What is the best environment for you to write in? Loud music, quiet house, no humans present?
Anywhere. Anytime. When I got to CrossGen there was no office for me. The only computer available was one of two community PCs set up for the artists to use. I wrote my first dozen or so scripts there surrounded by all the noise and tumult of a great big space full of comic book artists. They used to come and whisper and point. “He’s writing.” I was like a zoo animal.

What is your favorite food?
Anything my wife cooks. The woman is astounding. I can see literally nothing to eat in the fridge and she comes up with some delicious creation that’s also good for me.

BONUS Question:  We all have bad experiences in the world, and hopefully we are able to grow from them.  What bad experience do you give the most credit for making you a better writer or person today?
An epically bitter divorce when I was younger. It was the ice cold bath of reality I needed to get my ass moving. It also led to my current marriage which has been the making of me.

No comments: