Here’s an earlier post about my meeting with Teel James Glenn — author, stuntman, martial artist and all-around awesome individual. Teel agreed to an interview with “Chamber of the Bizarre.”
Here’s the abridged version of his bio:
Winner of the 2012 Pulp Ark ‘Best Author of the Year.’ Epic ebook award finalist. P&E winner “Best Steampunk Short”, finalist “Best Fantasy short, Collection” Author of bestselling Exceptionals Series, The Maxi/Moxie Series, The Dr. Shadows Series, The Bob Howard Series and others.
Q: Could you talk a little bit about your background?
A: I was born in Brooklyn though I’ve traveled the world for forty years as a stuntman, fight choreographer, swordmaster, jouster, book illustrator, storyteller, bodyguard, carnival barker and actor. One of the things I’m proudest of is having studied under Errol Flynn’s last stunt doubles and continue to teach swordwork in New York.
I have had short stories published in Weird Tales, Mad, Black Belt, Fantasy Tales, Pulp Empire, Sixgun Western, Fantasy World Geographic, Silver Blade Quarterly, Another Realm, AfterburnSF, Blazing Adventures and scores of other publications.
I have over two score books currently on the market including a collection of poetry “Hymns for the Battlecrow,” the thriller “Manchurian Shadows” (part of the Dr.Shadows series), a fantasy “Queen Morganna and the Renfairies” and the mystery, “Murder Most Faire.”
I was the Winner of the 2012 Pulp Ark ‘Best Author of the Year.’ Epic ebook award finalist. P&E winner “Best Steampunk Short”, a P&E finalist for “Best Fantasy short, Collection, Steampunk short story, Horror Short story and for thriller and mystery novels.”
On stage I’ve performed at 55 Renaissance Faires and on screen I have been in several dozen genre films and TV series including Citizen Toxie (as fight choreographer and Toxie’s double), Spenser for Hire, Lord of the Strings, Spiderbabe, and all the New York soap operas but am known most widely as Vega in the World Wide Web series “Street Fighter: the later years.” Needless to say all my sword swinging and fight skills on stage and screen go into my written work.
Q: Do you see any parallels between staging a fight for a movie and writing a story?
A: The difference between staging a movie fight and writing one are minor. By that I mean the content is the same, the story you are telling is the same and the research into fight style/context is essentially the same.
D’Artagnan is fighting Rochfort. As a choreographer/writer I chose the appropriate weapons and fighting styles for the two.
I know D’Artagnan is going to win and his character is fair and open, eager and that he is a very skilled fighter but inexperienced in the actual deadly combat. Rochfort, by contrast, is both an experienced and accomplished killer — ruthless and single-minded in a duel.
If I were doing it “live,” I would have to take into account the skill of the two actors (and if on film — whether I needed to have doubles for them or not) and their own approaches to the internal life of their respective characters; i.e. would D or R do this or not?
A case of three heads (or more if doubles were used) to explore all the elements to tell an exciting story (and keep the actors safe).
If I am writing the fight I’m SOL for help, completely on my own!
I have to create the conflict from scratch — but with the advantage that my “performers” could do exactly what their characters would be able to do with no limitations on skill or health.
I am not limited by anything but my imagination and have the advantage of being able explore the inner monologue — delve into the fears of the young boy while still showing his cocky nature or if I chose I could allow the reader to see his actions through the cold appraising eyes of a master assassin.
In both the “live” and written versions of the fight I have to take into account the physical limitations of the characters and apply “cause and effect” — or as I like to call it, the “ouch factor” — to the scene. This is the idea that all violence has consequences so a hero (or villain) has to show the effects of stress/exhaustion/injuries for a realistic amount of time in the context of the story. It can be slight and just “mentioned,” or an important plot point, but it has to be acknowledged.
The last difference between “live” and writing fights is the biggest; on film some idiot film editor can screw the whole thing up. On the page I take either all the blame or all the credit. I and live with that!
A: I think I was hard wired to love the pulps, but I was drawn to them because they were good.
I not being facetious about them being good — but I’ll get back to that in a bit.
The books I read and enjoyed most before I discovered pulps were series books; The Hardy Boys, Tom Swift Junior, The Three Investigators etc.
I was 11 when Bantam started reprinting the Doc Savage series by Kenneth Robeson (Lester Dent). I read the first, “The Man of Bronze,” and I was hooked. I started reading them two a day!
The bold stroke characters and outlandish science fiction plots were a thrill drug to me. And a gateway drug as well to other pulp characters and writers.
The Shadow, R.E. Howard’s Conan, Edgar Rice Burroughs, H. Ridder Haggard, Ray Bradbury, Dashiell Hammett, even Alexander Dumas!
Now I come back to that “they were good.”
It is a simple statement, but I’ve had some people be taken aback with that. “It is not literature,” they say. “It’s just junk writing.”
While it is true that much of it was formulaic or even crude, by Sturgeon’s law ninety five percent of almost any field or writing is “lesser” work.
Dent started out that way but by the late ‘30s was a master storyteller. So was Burroughs (almost from the gate), and Hammett and many others.
Even the crude stuff was exciting by definition — you just didn’t find dull in the pages of pulps. Most of all they were fun escapism.
I am not one who ascribes to the literary theory that for something to be important it must be depressing or negative. Far from it.
I don’t believe in guilty pleasures either. If you like something stand up and say so. And I like pulp!
Q: What lasting impact do you think the pulps had on our culture?
A: Considering that comic book movies are so very big these days and comic book superheroes are the ‘children’ of the pulps, I’d say that their influence was wide and deep.
Add to that the fact that many early paperback lines were reprinted almost entirely from the pulps (and reprinted again in the sixties paperback explosion) and the fact that many pulp writers went into television writing —creating and writing shows in the ‘golden age of TV” — and I think you’ll agree that pulp influence is all-pervasive!
Q: What do you consider to be essential reading among the classic pulps?
A: It is hard to say which specific story or book is essential — since there were so many genres and types of pulp (the mistake that most make is thinking it all one and the same). So I’ll mention essential writers:
Lester Dent’s Doc Savage stories were formulae but he was a damn fine storyteller and can teach any writer about pacing and character and narrative “hooks.” Read one of his early ’33 or ’34 stories and then jump to the mid-forties to see how he honed and refined his technique.
Any Dashiell Hammett short story — particularly his Continental Op stories — are exercises in precise word usage and detailed observation. I vote for “The Gutting of Couffignal” as the most fast paced adventure/mystery he wrote. And, of course, “The Maltese Falcon” is a masterpiece.
Either the first Tarzan novel,”Tarzan of the Apes,” or any of the Burroughs Mars books show E.R.B. at his best.
Jonston McCully’s Zorro was born in the pulps as a one off-(like Tarzan) but eventually took twenty years to come back in a long series of novellas and short stories; all are fun, light fare and worth the read.
The same is true of Simon Templar, The Saint, whose early pulp tales have more in common with Sam Spade than Roger Moore.
There are so many good writers that came out of the pulps; Earle Stanley Gardener’s Perry Mason came from the pulps as did his Bertha Cool tales.
And of course Ray Bradbury, John D. Macdonald, Raymond Chandler and more all came from the pulps.
I can’t leave this list without mentioning two writers and their creations that have not made it far from the pulps at all, yet both were seminal in the formation of the image of the American Private Eye; John Carol Daly’s Race Williams — the grandfather of Hardboiled and Robert Leslie Bellem’s Dan Turner, Hollywood detective.
Williams’ stories were the tales that Hammett learned from and set the tone of the brutal, cynical P.I. against the world.
Dan Turner’s tales were witty, smart and funny detective mysteries, peppered with Bellem’s own outrageous invented colloquialisms. In his world guns ‘barked’ or spat lead and were called gats or Roscoes. No one looked, they “glimmed” with their peepers. And the dames — oh the dames! You get the idea…
Q: What do you consider to be some of the best-staged fight scenes in movies?
A: There are so many good fight scenes in films (though , sadly far more bad) and in such a variety of weapons and styles that to single out a few is hard. Also, there are other factors than pure “technique” — editing, acting and how well the fight serves the story — also count.
Then there are some topnotch conflicts that have all those elements:
In my book “Them’s Fightin’ Words” (a revised version of which is due out in May 2014) I list a baker’s dozen of both western and eastern sword movies so Ill only briefly mention two here.
By far the cleanest sword fight — and certainly one of the most exciting — is the Tyrone Power vs. Basil Rathbone final duel in the 1940 “Mark of Zorro.” The ending is still shocking even by today’s standards.
The most “realistic” swashbuckling sword fights can be found in the 1974/74 Three and Four Musketeers Films which stared Michael York as D’Artagnon and Christopher Lee as Rochfort (their final fight in # 4 in the church is amazing!).
For fisticuffs you can’t beat the two end fights from a pair of Rod Taylor films from the 1970s. “Darker Than Amber,” stars Taylor as John D. MacDonald’s Travis Magee and has a brawl in a ship stateroom with William Smith. The fight is so realistic that Smith broke Taylor’s nose and Taylor fractured two of Smith’s ribs!
The other fight is at the end of “Dark of the Sun,” an African mercenary film and is so savage that it defies description.
For a modern, realistic martial arts fight you can’t beat the kitchen fight from Bourne Supremacy. The two fighters use found objects in a no holds barred contest that is well shot to maintain the “geography” of the fight.
Also the final fight in the Walter Hill/Charles Bronson depression era bare knuckles boxing film is a great example of minimalist realistic violence, most notable for having no musical soundtrack at all. It realize on only the sounds of the blows and grunts of pain from the combatants.
Jackie Chan’s non-Hollywood films have at least one fight scene that is landmark of brilliance so I won’t even try to pick one out. Unlike other films from Hong Kong, the wire in Jackie’s films is subtle to nonexistent which elevates his stuff way above his contemporaries.
And, last but not least–Bruce Lee is still awesome!
Q: What do you consider to be the elements of a good fight scene?
A: The elements that make a good scene are exactly the same as those of a good fight: dramatic conflict, intelligent character choices (i.e. they behave consistently) and a dramatic or surprising conclusion.
All this, of course, in the service of advancing the overall plot and character development of the story.
Q: What advice would you give somebody starting out as a writer?
A: Just that you can never be sure what is coming so never give up — any dream can be achieved with enough time, work and a little luck. Writers write. You have to do that, every day — even if it is only ten words — to keep the blood flowing.