The Scribbler recently did a call-out for authors looking for a new audience and to share their thoughts with our readers.
James is mutual friends with a previous guest – Bobby Nash of Atlanta – who was a guest last month. We met through Bobby and James was eager to be a guest on the Scribbler and we are happy to have him here this week.
An author of Science Fiction and Pulp Adventure, James has agreed to a Branching Out Interview and is sharing an Excerpt from The Depths of Time.
James Palmer is an award nominated writer of science fiction and pulp adventure. His nonfiction has appeared in various publications including Retrofied, The Internet Review of Science Fiction, Strange Horizons and the book The Joy of Joe: Memories of America’s Moveable Fighting Man from Today’s Grown-Up Kids. His short fiction has appeared in The Expanding Universe volume 5, The Black Bat Returns, Blackthorn: Thunder on Mars, Mars McCoy, Space Ranger Volume 2, and many other anthologies. James is also the author of four books in the Shadow Council Archives universe for Falstaff Books: The Depths of Time, Shadows Over London, The Dream Key and The Map of Time. He also wrote the space opera novels Star Swarm and Ix Incursion. He is the co-creator of the kaiju anthologies Monster Earth, Betrayal on Monster Earth and War for Monster Earth. James wrote an audio adaptation of the late Jerry Pournelle’s classic novel Exiles to Glory for the Atlanta Radio Theater Company, and a comic script for Lucky Comics. A recovering comic book addict, James lives in Northeast Georgia with his wife and daughter, two dogs, and a crap-ton of books, where he doesn’t play nearly enough D&D. For more info on his writing, and to get a free ebook, visit www.jamespalmerbooks.net.
Allan: Thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions, James. Before we talk about books or writing, tell us about yourself, where you live, where you grew up, your family, your two dogs.
James: I grew up in a little unincorporated hole in the wall place called Murrayville, Georgia, between Gainesville and Dahlonega, which was the home of the first U.S. gold rush. I grew up in the 1980s, the last great decade for Saturday morning cartoons, among other things, and I still wax nostalgic about the television, comics, books, and films from that era. My younger brother and I had your typical blue-collar upbringing. Our parents both worked for the Gainesville City Water Department. We played outside until dark, fashioning sticks into swords, laser guns, spaceships, whatever was needed to live our adventures. I now live in Gainesville, which has the dubious honor of being the poultry capital of the world. I tell people it's a drinking town with a chicken problem, but in reality, it has a lot of charm, and has grown a lot since I was a kid. I live with my wife and daughter, who I call Space Princess. She wants to be a cosplayer, and loves Harry Potter and anime. We have a hundred-pound labradoodle named Rocky and a feisty yorkie named Milo who thinks he's a hundred pounds.
Allan: When I visited your website, and as I mentioned in the intro above, you write Pulp Adventure. What can you tell us about this genre? Give us an example of one of your books that fits this category.
James: Pulp, and its modern equivalent New Pulp, come from the magazines of the 30s through the early 50s, so named because they were printed on cheap yellow wood pulp paper. You could get a splinter from reading them if you weren't careful. It's a category that involves a lot of action, explosions, evil masterminds and damsels in distress. There was no deep introspection or character work to be had from most of it, and the only point to any particular story was that it entertained. As another writer friend of myself and Bobby, Barry Reese, likes to say, the point of a Doc Savage story is that if you build a crazy weather-control machine and try to take over the world Doc Savage is going to come and kick your ass.
I cut my writerly teeth on this kind of stuff, writing for publishers like Airship 27 and Pro Se Press, who bring out new pulp the old way. I don't write in that particular style anymore necessarily, but the way pulp was produced still informs the way I write. I write novellas (up to 20 or 30 thousand words) with fast-paced plots and lots of action.
I collected my stories from this time into a volume called Into the Weird https://www.amazon.com/Into-Weird-Collected-Stories-Palmer-ebook/dp/B00KBIXNN2/. It is the best example of the pulp style that I have ever produced, and my final artistic statement on this genre that has taught me--and continues to teach me--so much.
Allan: Please share a childhood memory or anecdote.
James: I don't know exactly what you're going for here. I think my childhood was pretty boring. But I always wanted to create something, starting with films. I wanted to be the next Stephen Spielberg. I never did make any movies, but I eventually found writing as the perfect place for me and my weird creativity. I was the weird kid who still liked cartoons in high school and college, when everyone else had discovered sports or girls. I remember watching the original Twilight Zone, as well as the 1985 reboot (I have that one on DVD. It's astounding), and loving the strange, tragic twists at the end. I wanted to figure out how the hell they did that so that I could do it too. I've been trying ever since.
Allan: You have a large catalogue of work. Congratulations. If you had to, could you pick out a favorite? Or which one was the hardest to write?
James: I think my favorite still has to be The Depths of Time, which I wrote for Falstaff Books. It's the first of a series of four novellas. In the first one, the Victorian explorer Captain Sir Richard Francis Burton goes back in time aboard the Nautilus with Captain Nemo to fight Cthulhu. I'm still very proud of that whole series and how they came out. The second book, Shadows Over London, was included in the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) recommended reading list for the Nebulas, and one of them was nominated for a Pulp Factory Award. They combine H.P. Lovecraft's mythos, real historical figures and famous literary characters in a weird science fantasy steampunk malange. You've got shoggoths, Morlocks, time travel, Professor Moriarty, and even Aleister Crowley and Ian Fleming make an appearance before I'm done. I had a blast writing them, and readers really like them.
Allan: What is James Palmer best known for outside of his writing life?
James: I'm pretty boring. Just ask my wife! I’m a geek dad who loves 80s pop culture and playing D&D with friends. I'm always reading or exploring some new idea. I collect the works of Harlan Ellison, Ray Bradbury, and Robert E. Howard (creator of Conan). I read comics. I watch movies and TV (currently the whole family is big fans of The Rookie and Resident Alien). I'm a trekkie and huge sci-fi nerd from way back.
Allan: Your Goodreads page shows many anthologies you’ve participated in. How did this come about?
James: It seemed like a good idea at the time. Seriously, though, some of them were anthologies that Airship 27 was doing and I wanted to get published. Those are the homes of my first published fiction. Monster Earth, Betrayal on Monster Earth, and the forthcoming War for Monster Earth were anthologies I edited and published under my imprint Mechanoid Press. They were a fun exercise, a way to take an idea that was way too big for one book, and see what a handful of talented, capable writers could do with it. I think they turned out pretty well.
Allan: Anything else you’d like to tell us about?
James: As I said earlier, I have a new anthology coming out soon called War for Monster Earth. It is the third and final volume in this shared world, alternate history kaiju trilogy about a world where the Cold War was fought, not with the threat of nuclear weapons, but giant monsters.
****Watch the trailer for cover reveal HERE.
If anyone would like to learn more about my work, they can join my readers group at www.jamespalmerbooks.net. They'll get a free ebook containing two short stories (one military science fiction, one space opera) just for signing up.
I also have a Patreon (www.patreon.com/jamespalmer) where I share upcoming news, excerpts and full stories and novellas before anyone else gets to see them.
An Excerpt from The Depths of Time.
(Copyright is held by the Author. Used with Permission.)
From Chapter Nine: Hunted
Nemo marched up a corridor and down a familiar set of stairs to the rear of the vessel, where a formidable-looking hatch stood, surrounded by a row of lockers fronted by a long wooden bench bolted to the floor. Four large brass helmets sat on the bench, brightly gleaming in the electric light shining from above.
“This entire region is rich in flounder, halibut, grouper, anchovies and cod,” said Nemo. “We come here often.”
“Are you saying we are going to walk around outside the Nautilus?” said Herbert.
“Precisely,” said Nemo. “My crew will help outfit you.”
As if on command, three blue-garbed men entered the area and opened the lockers, pulling out heavy canvas and oilskin suits and large, heavy-looking boots. Burton hefted one of them and discovered the soles were filled with lead. “To keep from floating away.”
“Yes, Captain Burton,” said Nemo, as he pulled on his own diving suit with practiced ease.
Removing his jacket, Burton allowed Nemo’s men to assist him in shrugging on the thick, heavy suit and watched them as they tightened the complex series of buckles and straps around the arms, ankles, and chest of the rig. Without removing his boots, they helped him push his feet down into the heavy boots, adjusting and tightening more seals.
Burton hoped the ocean water would act to keep him cool, as the suit’s heavy material was stifling hot. He looked around at Challenger and Herbert, who were being similarly outfitted. “Where is Miss Marsh?”
“She might join us later.” Nemo now stood before them fully dressed save for his helmet. He brandished a lethal-looking harpoon gun in his thick-gloved hands. “Now, I have a few more instructions. Please listen carefully. We will not be able to communicate with one another outside through our helmets. The Nautilus will provide exterior lighting for our activities, but it will still be very dark. We will be attached to the Nautilus by air hoses, but please, stay close together.”
Burton, now gloved, was handed a harpoon gun. He stared at it, trying to become familiar with its workings. Though quite proficient in most classes of weaponry, he had never used such a device. It appeared straightforward enough, but he worried about the water being too murky to hit anything with any real accuracy.
Burton watched as Captain Nemo put on his helmet, his attendants lowering it slowly and over his head and twisting it clockwise until it clicked. A helmet went over Burton’s head and was snapped into place. “Remember to breathe normally,” said his attendant.
Nemo looked out at them all through a thick circle of glass. He turned heavily in his boots as one of the attendants opened a sealed hatchway, allowing the captain inside.
“Follow the Captain, please,” the attendant said, his voice muffled by the thick brass of the helmet.
Burton lurched forward, moving slowly in the heavy boots. Normal breathing was difficult, the suit and helmet hot, confining. He tried a Sufi meditation technique, which seemed to help calm his nerves somewhat, at least for the time being.
“What now?” Burton said.
“Air lock,” came Herbert’s muffled reply. “We’re going into a sealed room. Water will be pumped in. When the pressure equals that of the ocean at this depth, an outer door will open, and we will walk where only Captain Nemo has walked before.”
Burton stepped into the small room, and two of Nemo’s crew began fiddling with his helmet. Glancing at Challenger’s suited form through the thick porthole in his helmet, Burton realized they were being fitting with air hoses. Cool, fresh air flowed into Burton’s helmet, relieving some of his claustrophobia.
Once everyone’s air hoses were in place, the attendants scrambled from the room and sealed the hatch behind them. Almost immediately, it began filling with cold ocean water. Burton could feel it move over his boots to the legs of the suit. The sensation was strange, like taking a bath with one’s clothes on and remaining dry, but not unpleasant. It rose over their heads in seconds.
Burton watched Nemo with great attention. The other man’s gaze was fixed on some gauge set into the wall. When the room reached the requisite ocean pressure, Nemo twisted open the outer hatch and opened the door. The pressure was perfectly balanced, keeping them all from being sucked out into the muck surrounding the Nautilus, which had set down on the seabed.
Captain Nemo raised his left arm, motioning them forward, and stepped out, followed by Challenger, then Burton and Herbert. Burton’s lead-booted feet sank heavily into the mire, but he found he was able to move a bit more easily underwater.
The lights of the Nautilus stabbed through the gloom, illuminating a vast kelp forest in the distance. Long vines of the stuff rose up toward the ocean’s surface in neat green rows. Wan shafts of sunlight shown down from high above, revealing the occasional shrimp and several specimens of some strange, feathered starfish undulating through the gloom. Captain Nemo held his harpoon gun in a ready position, and Burton aped his movements, keeping a wary eye out for any fish that might be hiding in the thick cluster of vegetation.
They moved slowly toward the forest, their boots churning up the muck. Burton felt something move frantically beneath his right foot and bent downward just in time to see some sort of ray flapping its wing-like fins in its hurry to get away.
The area teemed with life. Tiny crabs moved sidewise through the depths, and stranger creatures swam through the water. A thing that looked like palm fronds writhed in a shaft of light above him, moving toward some distant bundle of kelp, and Burton was struck by how much animals resembled plants and plants resembled animals down here.
Captain Nemo suddenly changed direction. Instead of going straight into the kelp forest, he veered to the right of its boundary, hoisting his harpoon gun to his shoulder as if taking aim to fire. Burton looked, but could see nothing ahead of Nemo but mud-churned darkness. A hand wrapped itself around Burton’s helmet and pulled him in close. It banged against someone else’s, and he heard a muffled voice say, “Can you hear me?”
“Y-yes,” said Burton. “Challenger? But how?”
“The vibration of our voices is conducted through the contact between our helmets. Do you see where Nemo is headed?”
“You don’t see them?”
“No!” said Burton again, annoyed. “See what?”
Twisting out of Challenger’s grasp, Burton peered into the gloom. As his eyes adjusted to the waning light, short columns of square black stones stood along the bottom, jutting from the muck like rotting teeth. Nemo appeared to be inspecting these, though he kept up his guard.
Challenger’s helmet barked against Burton’s once more.
“I don’t think we’re on a fishing expedition.”
“Nor do I,” Burton agreed. “Someone should tell Herbert.”
“I will,” said Challenger. Burton looked out after Captain Nemo. A second later, Challenger’s helmet struck his once more.
“Where the devil is he?” said Burton. “He couldn’t have gotten far.”
“Let’s follow his air hose.” Challenger pushed away from Burton and moved past the explorer in the direction Nemo had gone. He found Herbert’s air hose and began following it, bobbing up and down as he moved through the thick muck covering the ocean bottom. Burton trailed him, using his free hand to clear the water before him of debris. A tiny seahorse danced in front of him, oblivious to his presence. The explorer gently swatted the tiny creature away and continued.
Burton’s feet, already unsure in the uneven sand, went out from under him, and he scrambled to find his footing again. He missed the gentle slope, clumsy in the heavy boots. Burton wrenched his left knee as he went down hard, face first, into the dank muck.
“Bismillah!” he swore, his voice echoing inside the helmet. With considerable effort, he brought himself to his knees and looked around. He could see Captain Nemo ahead inspecting the strange ruins, but saw no sign of Challenger or Herbert, only the black lengths of their air hoses snaking into the gloom to Burton’s right.
Burton attempted to use the harpoon gun as a kind of crutch to help push himself to his feet once more, but it went off in his hand with a muffled hiss, sending the harpoon into the kelp forest. Propping his weight against the weapon, Burton was, at last, able to right himself, and looked around to get his bearings. He had indeed fallen down a slight precipice that Challenger had seen and navigated without calamity. “So kind of him to warn me,” Burton thought, as he moved in the general direction the zoologist had gone in search of their companion.
He found Herbert near a strangely glowing obelisk that rose more than ten feet out of the ocean floor. It was encrusted with some phosphorescent sea life. But that isn’t what so entranced the young inventor. Dancing there before him, undulating slowly in the water, floated some bizarre apparition. The blue glow coming off the obelisk gave it a ghostly appearance. Blue-green hair stood out from its head. Its white, diaphanous garments writhed in the water, hinting at a nakedness underneath. It’s face ensorcelled Burton. The apparition bore Isabel’s likeness!
“Isabel,” Burton murmured, lifting a heavy boot to take his first lumbering step closer. A powerful arm shot out of the dark, slapping into his chest. Burton’s helmet clanked with another impact.
“No,” said Challenger. “She is not what she appears.”
Burton twisted his torso to his right. Beside him, Challenger was already taking aim at the wraith with his harpoon gun.
“No!” Burton screamed. “Isabel.” Then his rational mind took hold. It couldn’t be Isabel. It was impossible for anyone to be down here without the survival gear they wore, let alone his beloved Isabel.
Herbert was reaching for her now, getting closer. She placed her long-fingered hands around his helmet, grasping it tightly. Burton and Challenger watched as she twisted it counterclockwise to loosen it.
“Herbert!” Burton cried, feeling useless.
Challenger’s harpoon hissed, the missile surging through the water toward the underwater apparition. It hit close to the wraith’s right shoulder, shredding her sparse garments before vanishing into the distance. She glanced in their direction, anger marring her otherwise perfect face—Isabel’s face.
Then it changed. What had once been a beautiful woman became hideous and fish-like. Its hands stretched into webbed talons, the flowing garments transmogrified into dark green scales. Only its hair remained, sea-green and writhing around its head like a halo of snakes.
It lunged at poor Herbert now, gripping his shoulders and shaking him as the poor fellow reached for his harpoon gun, which had fallen to the sea floor. Challenger bounded toward them, his long strides not getting him far due to his lead-filled boots. Burton took off after him, waving his arms in an attempt to get Nemo’s attention.
Challenger had taken his harpoon gun’s barrel in his hands to use it like a cudgel against the thing that tore at Herbert’s suit, rending the thick fabric and allowing water to get in. It was obvious to Burton that neither he nor Challenger could reach him in time.
Something flashed past Burton from the rear, almost knocking him down. The way it propelled itself through the water reminded him of a fish or dolphin, but its proportions were definitely those of a human. It collided with the vengeful wraith, knocking her off Herbert just as Challenger reached him. The big scientist hauled Herbert off the sea floor almost without effort and touched their helmets together as they watched the strange melee unfold.
The fish-things grappled with each other, spun around, before Herbert’s rescuer kicked the apparition in the chest, sending it sprawling away into the gloom. It did not return.
The other being turned and looked at Herbert and Challenger as Burton arrived next to them, panting and sweating inside his diving helmet. Nemo waited standing just off to Burton’s left, harpoon gun held down at his side.
The creature looked at each of them in turn, her big-lipped mouth opening and closing, expelling bubbles as she did so. Her scaly, pale green skin was unclothed. Her naked breasts bobbed like pale globes in the water. Burton recognized something strangely familiar about her.
“Miss Marsh?” he muttered.
She kicked hard, rising up and over them, swimming with great speed back toward the Nautilus.
Thank you, James, for being our featured guest this week. Wishing you continued success with your writing.
For you devoted readers wishing to discover more about James and his stories, please follow these links:
Amazon Author Page: www.amazon.com/James-Palmer/e/B004QVULIK/r)