Happy Saint Patrick's Day from One and A Quarter Irishmen!An Interview with acclaimed author Thomas McNulty
I first met “The Last Outlaw,” Tom McNulty, and his lovely wife Jan back in 2011, I think it was. We were at the Windy City Pulp and Paperback Convention here in Lombard, IL. We were already Facebook Friends, and we hit it off even more in person. They are two of the kindest and warmest people you could ever hope to meet, and we have so much in common, too. I traded one of my books for Tom’s The Life and Times of Errol Flynn, which is, IMHO, the best biography of that great movie star of Hollywood’s Golden Age that I have ever read. Tom and Jan had a table, you see, and were selling autographed copies of his books. So after trading books with him, I bought his fantastic Werewolves: A Study of Lycanthropes in Film, Folklore and Literature. Thus, I became a fan at once, and have read almost everything he’s written, and look forward to reading more, especially his westerns. Novels such as his Trail of the Burned Man, Coffin for an Outlaw, and Wind Rider are all excellent, and highly recommended to everyone, especially to those who enjoy a fantastic story set in the Old West. Tom is prolific, diverse, and a master of prose, character and setting. And now we share a publisher, Airship 27 Productions, since he’s entered the world of New Pulp. He’ll tell you all about that and his other work in the wonderful interview, and at the end of it I provide not links to his website and Amazon page, but links to the reviews I wrote for his books and posted right here, on my blog. So sit back, relax, pour two-fingers of rotgut, make sure your guns are clean and well-oiled, and enjoy.
So who are some of your influences and inspirations?
I grew up in the 60s reading comic books. I’ll always have a soft spot for the classic Silver Age titles followed by the Marvel titles. Jerry Seigel, Curt Swan, Neal Adams, Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Gene Colan, John Buscema, and so many others. Back then, publishers like Whitman or Grosset & Dunlap had multiple titles and series available for young readers. I thrived on The Hardy Boys and Superman comic books. Troy Nesbit, whose real name was Frank Folsom, had a series of six books out from Whitman that had a strong influence. Those books today are known to collectors as the “Wilderness Mystery Series.” I was lucky to grow up in a household that promoted literacy. That changed my life.
How and why did you decide to start writing?
I wrote my first stories in the mid-60s. They were mostly one page things influenced by Universal’s horror films or by The Twilight Zone TV show. I still have some of these and they make me laugh. I started writing “nature poetry” in High School which was all laced with sugar. I was a “peacenik” back then. That was the early 70s. Writing was a natural extension of becoming an avid reader. Here’s fun bit of trivia, I sent Alfred Hitchcock a story proposal when I was about eleven years old. It was about these kids that discover and old pirate ship in a cave and gangsters are after the treasure chest. His secretary sent me a kind-hearted rejection letter with an autographed photo. The funny part is that years later, and unrelated to Hitchcock, I saw a film called The Goonies that had a similar plot. I console myself with the fact that even as a kid I had a marketable idea.
What genres and/or literary style do enjoy writing in the most?
I love adventure stories. Any fiction I write needs to have an adventuresome slant to it. I am obviously quite fond of Westerns and I am a huge Zane Grey fan. He’s out of favor these days and his work is considered dated. Well, it is dated, but there is so much to his fiction that amazes me. Take a look at Wanderer of the Wasteland. That is one damn amazing epic novel, dated or not, and he tackled some heavy themes. I am also fond of the personal essay, and I post those on my blog now and again.
Tell us about your latest published book, short story or novella.
I am thrilled and humbled that Ron Fortier at Airship 27 Books found merit in my sea adventure story called The Adventures of Captain Graves. That’s the best I can do as a writer at this point in my life. I love sea stories and this one had been percolating for some time. Ron sent me an email and called it “a damn good read.” That’s high praise from a man that knows literature. This will be the one piece of fiction I’ve written to date that I believe has some merit. Of course, I’m my own worse critic like most writers. I love the Westerns, and I believe that my Westerns are entertaining, but The Adventures of Captain Graves is special. Elliot Graves is a man with secret, and I hope readers find the story as fun to read as it was to write. I think the book will be out later this year.
Besides the “entertainment factor,” what do you strive for in your writing?
I strive for clarity. I want the writing to be smooth. I don’t consider myself an expert at anything, but I know what I like. I don’t want to confuse the reader with jumbled prose.
Would you say that your stories are more plot-driven or character-driven?
My stories are all character driven. My characters should all be complicated people, such as US Marshal Maxfield Knight. He survived Shiloh, but it left a mark on him. I’ve written three books with him as the central character, and more are in progress. I’ve outlined his life and I know what he’s in for. He first appeared in Showdown at Snakebite Creek, then in Gunfight at Crippled Horse and most recently in The Gunsmoke Serenade. The one I’m writing now will also leave a mark on him. He’s angry, compassionate and trustworthy, but also a man to fear. He is plagued by nightmares. In the end, he will remain a man intent on doing the right thing.
What can you tell us about your latest work(s) in progress?
I have several Westerns lined up, and a detective novel. I’m also writing some short stories. I have a Wyatt Earp short story, a Sherlock Holmes short story, and a few others. I’m always busy.
What are some literary goals you’d like to achieve?
I have outlined several additional Westerns and some other books, and I need to finish them. I’m not short of ideas, I’m short on time. With my far-too hectic lifestyle it’s often a challenge to find quality time for myself, but somehow I’ve managed to get things done. Now I want to do more. I’ll be pushing myself a little harder. I need to promote this stuff more, too. I don’t do enough of that. I have at least six books on Kindle now.
What genre of fiction have you not yet written for, but plan to in the future?
Science fiction. I have outlined and begun drafting a science fiction novel, and I am working on several short stories. I love science fiction. I’m preparing a list for my blog of my all-time favorite science fiction novels.
Name a few of your favorite literary characters and tell us why they are your favorites?
Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle, James Bond by Ian Fleming, and Tarzan by Edgar Rice Burroughs. There are so many more. Growing up in the 60s I was exposed to the best of everything, and I dove deeply into the ocean of literature that was in front of me. I don’t regret a moment of it. Of course, Superman is my favorite comic book character and always will be. For me the top ones are Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, Captain America, and Iron Man. I still read Superman and Batman comics. These are all characters that inspire us to be better people, to stand against tyranny, and to push aside the darkness and seek the light. I just realized I forgot to mention Doc Savage and The Shadow. I guess this list could get long.
What are some of your all-time favorite films and TV shows?
The Adventures of Robin Hood starring Errol Flynn is my number one favorite film. That movie represents what a film entertainment should be. The cast, music, cinematography, script and overall production are fantastic. Other films I rate highly are Casablanca with Bogart, all three of Karloff’s Frankenstein films, The Searchers with John Wayne, and so many more. My number one favorite television show is Gunsmoke, especially the first ten years. No finer western series was ever made. Great films and great television programs are equally as inspiring as literature and music. The last 100 years of our culture has been a real renaissance period.
Tell us about your writing habits, such as: Do you outline extensively? Do you create your characters first, or your plot? Do you listen to music while writing, and if so, what kind?
I outline, but loosely at times. For example, I create the title followed by the character names. Then I write the first paragraph followed by the last paragraph. I like to know where my characters are going. I make notes on the sections in between, and as I write based on that, I discover what happens as I go along. If a scene I know will happen later in the book is nagging me, I jump ahead and write it. Music is always present. As I’m writing this I’m listening to “Blue & Lonesome” by The Rolling Stones.
What else can you tell us about yourself and your reading habits?
Since the mid-1970s I read at least one book a week, so I hit no less than 52 a year, although I usually average at about 65 books a year. I stockpile books. I haunt bookshops and antique shops and e-bay and Amazon. I’m always on the hunt. My blog, “Dispatches From the Last Outlaw” covers a lot of this. I write my blog posts in advance, and I usually have about 40 posts already written. That way I can pick and choose, or insert something new that I enjoyed. I cover some diverse territory on my blog. I refuse to discriminate against any author or genre, and negative comments are screened and deleted. We live in a world of haters. I’m not a hater. I’m glad to be here doing all of this. This week I’m tracking down the latest from R. L. Stine, I just bought Neil Gaiman’s latest, and I have your book, too!
Tom’s website, “Dispatches from the Last Outlaw” — (where you can find all sorts of articles and book reviews, including Tom's reviews of my books!)
Tom’s Amazon Author page:
Reviews of Tom’s books on my blogsite: