Saturday, May 12, 2012

Open the Storm Gates: Don Gates Talks Challenger Storm

Don Gates says about himself: "Pulp hack. Whatever I'm doing at this moment, I'd rather be writing." I think that sums him up pretty well, so let's just jump into the interview, shall we?

Tell us a bit about your latest work.

Challenger Storm: The Isle of Blood was published in November by Airship 27 Productions, and it's my first book.  It introduces my character Clifton "Challenger" Storm and his world and allies.  Essentially, Storm is a jack-of-all-trades adventurer in the mold of guys like Doc Savage, Captain Hazzard, and Thunder Jim Wade: he travels the world fighting bad-guys and helping the good-guys and all that classic fun pulp stuff.  The book details his origin in a flashback/framing device that helps set up future story elements, but also tells the story of how Storm and his allies are drawn into the quest to rescue the kidnapped daughter of a wealthy aviation tycoon.  Once on the case, it becomes more evident that there is more going on than a simple kidnapping.  The team eventually takes on the forces of the Villalobos Brothers -- guerrilla warlords on the tiny island of La Isla de Sangre who have come into possession of a super-weapon that could allow them to take over the country and could possibly help spread their rule.

One of the things I'm most excited about, and that surely has helped generate a lot of buzz about the book, is that the cover and interior art was done by legendary comic artist and illustrator Michael Wm. Kaluta, and his work on the book recently snapped up both Interior and Cover Art awards from The Pulp Factory.  For about as long as I can remember, Kaluta has been my favorite artist and the chance to work with him was literally a dream come true.  He made my characters and situations look much better than what I saw in my head as I was writing the book!

What are the themes and subjects you tend to revisit in your work?

Since I've only had the one book published, I wouldn't say that it's something I revisit, but the general motivation and theme behind Storm's actions (and perhaps this filters down into some of the other creations I'd like to work on) is redemption.  Challenger Storm is not like a lot of pulp heroes who simply go out and fight the bad guys simply because they can.  For Storm, it's a way of making up for the way he spent the first part of his life: a spoiled rich-kid who cared absolutely nothing for anyone or anything that couldn't help him get ahead.  He was on his way to being a ruthless member of the idle-rich when he experienced a one-two punch: first his loving parents, who were good and philanthropic with their fortunes, died while he was away.  Then as he was returning to attend to their funeral Storm became the lone-survivor of a plane crash in a remote area of the mountains.  Storm was sickened with grief for those around him and realized that he was still alive for a reason.  So he threw himself into using his skills and his money to better the world around him, and thus ended up becoming a heroic, larger-than-life character.  A lot of that stemmed from some thinking I was doing about "survivor's guilt": when a lone survivor questions why he or she alone was spared from a tragedy, and what that might do to someone.

What would be your dream project?

A dream project...  Well, I can scratch working with Michael Kaluta off the list of dream projects now, hahaha.  As far as dream writing projects go, I feel like I'm fulfilling a dream just telling my own stories... but if there was one character I'd LOVE to write, it'd be The Shadow.  I'm a huge Shadow fan, and to be one of his "Maxwell Grants" would be a dream-come-true for me.  I'd be intimidated as hell to try it though... I'd hate to screw it up by writing a lousy story.  A character like that is legendary, and you don't want to add bad stuff to a legend.

If you have any former project to do over to make it better, which one would it be, and what would you do?

So far I've only got one book published and out there (and I can't wait until I can no longer say that), but if I had the chance, would I do things differently in The Isle of Blood?  Yes, I think so.  Not major changes to the story or anything, just technique.  There's quite a few bits that I'm not satisfied with in the final book, things I didn't notice until after it was published, and I'd want to smooth out those spots a bit to make it easier to read.

What inspires you to write?

I get ideas from watching documentaries, reading news stories online, and general brainstorming.  The second Challenger Storm novel came about basically through my love of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea... I'd always wanted to do a "submarine" story, and that blossomed from that urge.  The idea for the next Storm novel that I'll be doing came from listening to a piece of music that a Facebook friend of mine composed: it's a piece based on a classic and public domain sci-fi/horror story, and when I heard it I instantly was inspired to play in that particular playground.  I also get ideas while reading, and even while playing video games sometimes.  In general, though, the urge to create pulp can often be enough inspiration for me.

What writers have influenced your style and technique?

I suppose that any author I've ever read has influenced me in some way.  I don't know if there's any particular technique or stylistic choice that I've ever consciously emulated, but I can say that there's probably a lot more of, say, William Gibson's style in my work as opposed to J.R.R. Tolkien's.  My style is still growing a bit, I think: I compare some of the way I write now opposed to the way I wrote Isle of Blood and think I've improved.  Hopefully, hahahahah.

Where would you rank writing on the "Is it an art or it is a science continuum?" Why?

Hmm... well, I think I'd have to say it's an art.  Calling writing a science would indicate that anybody can do it by just following a formula, and I guess maybe to some extent that'd be true, but would it be any good?

Any other upcoming projects you would like to plug?

Not yet.  My immediate plans are for more Challenger Storm: I'm working on the follow-up to The Isle of Blood, entitled Curse of Poseidon, and after that I'll be working on a third Storm novel... don't want to say much about it but I'm very excited about it, and if I can pull it off it'll be pretty epic.  I've also signed on for a short story in an anthology from Airship 27, but that's a ways off too.  In the meantime, I'm dying to work on some of the other corners of my little pulp-universe... all I need is time, which is often in very short supply.

For more information about Don and Challenger Storm, visit