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Retirement. Publishers, thank you for the many years of reading pleasure you gave me, but all good things must come to an end. Due to failing eyesight I am forced to retire. I can no longer review your books, and any that you send will be donated to the local library, unread. Do not send any more. I can only read for a couple hours every day, and this does not allow me to finish a book in reasonable time. I will be devoting time to my own books from now on, and reading on a personal level. Books that interest me. I prefer paperbacks and hardbacks, not eBooks. My eyesight has been failing the last few years, and I cannot handle hundreds of review books any more. My books are still available for review. Anyone interested in reviewing any of them, they are found in the Link to Tom’s Books On Amazon. Contact me for pdf copies at

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Interview With Author Michael Howard

Michael Howard is no stranger to us, as he was a subscriber to our old FADING SHADOWS magazines along with ECHOES. I had long known he was a fan of the old pulps, but recently was surprised to see a brand new Jimmie Dale novel available from him and beat a path to that book as quick as I could. Although most of pulp fandom should know this author, I thought it was time we introduced him to the rest of our friends. So please make welcome author and friend, Michael Howard.

Tom: Michael, thank you for sitting down with me for this interview. First, how about telling PULP DEN followers a little about yourself, your family, and where you live?

Michael: Hey, Tom. Thanks for having me here. I live in Michigan where I’ve been a Field Agent (popularly known as a Probation Officer) for the Corrections Department for more than thirty years now. I’m married with two daughters and five grand-cats.

Tom: From reading your two novels, it is easy to tell you are an experienced writer. Both novels grab the reader straight away, and holds on throughout the story. In fact, I think they are some of the best-written new pulp stories I’ve read in a long time. How did you get your start, and what is your writing background?

Michael: I’ve been an Olympic class day dreamer all my life but it wasn’t until I reached my twenties that I decided I needed to get some of these characters I’d been inventing for my own amusement down on paper. I wrote about three-quarters of MANHATTAN MASQUERADE and then realized I didn’t have an ending. I’d piled so many dangers onto my heroes that I couldn’t see how they’d survive!  So the manuscript went back into a shoebox for a few decades.  Flash-forward about twenty years and my two intelligent and creative daughters were writing fan fiction stories. It looked like fun and it seemed like a good way to get in some parent-child bonding so I tried it too. Of course in fan fiction there’s no such thing as copyright infringement so I decided to combine the Disney Channel cartoon character Kim Possible (a member of the Wold Newton universe according to Win Eckert), with the TV series ''Gilmore girls'' and the Cthulhu Mythos together into an admittedly rather unconventional novel. I know it sounds like a food-poisoning-induced nightmare but I wrote it as a straightforward save-the-world adventure story rather than a parody. I called it UNDERCOVER and it turned out to be a pretty popular work. The story actually won a few awards and got fan notices from countries all over the world. And once you get people praising you in online reviews you’re hooked for life. I started thinking about what my follow up story would be and then remembered MANHATTAN MASQUERADE. That two-decade pause allowed me to come up with a suitable ending and I finally got it done.

Tom: I know that Gray Seal creator Frank L. Packard must have been a big influence on you, but who else would you add to the writers you read and would like to pattern your writing after?

Michael:  Actually, I’m just a recent fan of Packard’s work. I first learned about him and the Gray Seal many years ago through Robert Sampson’s YESTERDAY’S FACES book series. The Jimmie Dale books sounded interesting but so did all of the dozens of other pulp and proto pulp series Sampson wrote about, so my reading Packard didn't come until many years later. No, the influences for MANHATTAN MASQUERADE were Walter Gibson and Lester Dent. I love both of them and wanted to tell stories that feel like their work. As Saul Bellow said, “A writer is a reader moved to emulation.” But with my own set of sensibilities. Because of my love of history I didn't want to just have a generic Great Depression backdrop for my cast to pose in front of. My novels may feature larger-than-life protagonists of a type you rarely find outside of pulp magazines, but they are still very much historical fiction, firmly set in a specific time and place, with "real" people on the fringes of the action - and sometimes right there on center stage with my heroes.

Tom: Tell the readers about Frank L. Packard, and why you wrote this new novel, ALIAS THE GRAY SEAL, following his five published books in the series.

Michael: To put it succinctly, Packard's Gray Seal was the first superhero. The character has borrowings from Edwardian Age heroes (or anti-heroes) like A. J. Raffles, the Scarlet Pimpernel, and Arsene Lupin, but Packard broke new ground by combining them into the first masked hero to battle crime in the big city. That concept not only directly influenced 1930s figures like the Shadow and the Green Hornet, it also played a huge role in the comic book explosion that followed. Even today, on television and in multimillion-dollar Hollywood epics, writers are still using the basic (super) heroic template that a forgotten Canadian author pioneered way back in 1914.  

Anyway, a year or so ago I saw the first Gray Seal book was available through Project Gutenberg and I thought, okay, I'll take a chance on it. Now understand I am a voracious reader, finishing two books a week on average, but I like variety. Typically I follow a fiction book with non-fiction, a mystery with a western, and so on. I never read two books in a row featuring the same characters. But with Jimmie Dale I did just that, plowing through all five novels rapid-fire. I liked Dale a lot. He's heroic, surprisingly compassionate, gifted - both physically and mentally - yet completely human. But as for the Tocsin, the mysterious woman of a thousand faces who commands the actions of the Gray Seal in a never-ending war on the underworld, I think I fell in love with her even faster than Jimmie did. She's an incredible character who I had to know everything about. Her real identity and how she did all those amazing things. Packard's five Gray Seal books answered many of those questions but not all. And as Toni Morrison said, “If there's a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it.” So I started on JIMMIE DALE, ALIAS THE GRAY SEAL.

Tom: I always love a good ending, and this is explained at the very beginning of your new Jimmie Dale novel, he and The Tocsin are finally married. Throughout the series, she was finding crime and crooks for him to uncover. And they were falling in love early on. When he discovered her identity I thought it would change, but the stories continued on as usual. True, in your current novel, the story begins in 1920, I think, then they start looking back to 1912, when the current story takes place. So your novel is something of a “look back” yarn, and is a fantastic read. I think my question is, if you write more stories of The Gray Seal, will they be after marriage, or prior to their marriage?

Michael: Definitely both. While it's true the basic structure of the series continues on through the five book series that Packard wrote, the relationship between Jimmie and the Tocsin itself alters drastically. At the start he is a clueless Harry Vincent recruited by an oh-so mysterious Shadow-like faceless figure whose orders he has to obey. But by Book Five they've become (nearly) equal partners, bantering and teasing each other very much like Nick and Nora from the Thin Man movies. Both those stages have their own charms and attractions for me.

Tom: Your novel, MANHATTAN MASQUERADE, was set in a similar period as the Jimmie Dale yarns, but had some very interesting characters never seen before; some spies, some private detectives, and some true pulp heroes and heroines. The readers will want to know more about them and this story, so please fill them in without giving too much away.

Michael: The main hero of MANHATTAN MASQUERADE is Galen Slaughter. Of course the name is an homage to Doc Savage but it was actually a line in Robert Sampson's Shadow study, THE NIGHT MASTER, that lead to Slaughter's creation. Speaking of The Shadow's intelligence activities in World War One, Sampson notes that a skillful secret agent would no doubt find it very difficult to ever completely cut his ties with his own government. Well - ping! - a light bulb went off in my head over that line. Publicly, Galen Slaughter is known as a World War One veteran who survived years of trench fighting with the Foreign Legion and then distinguished himself as a fighter pilot. Secretly however, he was at different times during that war reluctantly recruited by the French, British, and eventually the American Intelligence Departments (Codename: Peacemaker) for undercover missions that even G-8 might have blanched at. To completely quit the espionage business he had to exile himself from America for a full decade. When circumstances finally forced him back to the U. S. he discovered a lifelong friend had left the New York Police Department and started his own investigative business. That's the Greater Gotham Detective Agency, which Slaughter eventually joins ("flying spy turns private eye"). But, as the events of MANHATTAN MASQUERADE show, Slaughter was not able to permanently escape the morally grey world of the intelligence operative.

Tom: At the end of MANHATTAN MASQUERADE, you hint at some very intriguing plot threads that really fascinated me. As topnotch as the first story was, this one sounds just as exciting, if not more so. When can we expect this one to be in print?

Michael: MANHATTAN MASQUERADE is a completely self-contained novel. Our heroes discover a plot that threatens New York City and (spoiler alert) ultimately overcome it. But yes, at book's end the reader is introduced to certain developments that will play out in future installments of the series. Actually they will affect Slaughter's life all the way through to the end of the Second World War (some twelve years into his future at this point) but the two books that follow MANHATTAN MASQUERADE will bring a kind of a resolution to the situation.

Tom: What do you find to be the most exciting part of the creating process to either novels or short stories?

Michael:  Okay, last quote I'm going to inflict on you, I promise, but it's one of my absolute favorites. Dorothy Parker said, ''I hate writing, but I love having written.'' Writing is hard work for me and I'm very slow at it. But, looking back on the finished product, novel or short story, is immensely satisfying. And having your work out there for the public is a form of immortality - one in which you don't even have to lead a good or moral life!

Tom: Are you working on anything right now, perhaps a sequel (I hope) to either The Gray Seal or Manhattan Masquerade?

Michael: I have plans for both but the very next thing I'm going to put out is a complete reprinting of the Gray Seal series in an annotated and illustrated edition. He is important enough - and entertaining enough - to warrant that kind of treatment. There will be a detailed chronology of the series as well, because I can't let Rick Lai have all the fun that goes with trying to somehow wrestle a half-million word series of books written over twenty plus years into a coherent and feasible time line.

Tom: Besides family and writing, tell us about any hobbies or community services you may be involved in, and any other activity you would like to mention.

Michael: Old books, old movies, old radio shows - is a pattern starting to form here? Oh, and old music too. I'm not sure if any readers have picked up on this but in my novels I like to use songs from the time period the stories are set in as chapter titles. And if I'm not at my day job, sleeping, or reliving the past in some manner, I'm usually working at a local animal shelter. Just because.

Tom: What advice would you give other aspiring authors hoping to break into the writing field today?

Michael:  I'm the very last person to give out that kind of advice. The only thing I could share with beginning authors is my collection of rejection notices from various New Pulp publishers!

Tom: Where can fans find – and buy - your stories, and do you keep copies on hand for autographs? Please include website and Blogs.

Michael:  My published books are on Amazon. Naturally. And my Kim Possible/Gilmore girls/H. P. Lovecraft concoction is over on the Fan website. The concept of autograph requests hasn't come up yet so I'll leave that for the (far) future. I don't have a blog of my own but do run two Facebook pages. One is devoted to my own writings while the other is for Frank Packard and the Gray Seal. The latter attempts to redress the sad and inexplicable neglect for that important author and character by offering relevant quotes, reviews, links, and even photos. I invite all of your readers/followers to come check it out.

Tom:  And finally, I have heard rumors of discovered new material of Frank L. Packard. Would you care to elaborate on that?

Michael: Yes, it may sound unbelievable but some seventy-five years after Packard’s death there really are Jimmie Dale stories that have never been published before. I've seen the original manuscripts, held them in my own two hands. And someday, somehow, copyright deities willing, they are going to be released in an unexpurgated format. Del Rey Conan not Lancer!

Tom: Michael, thanks for sitting down with me for this Interview on PULP DEN. Following is a list of Links to Michael’s books and other important Pages.
Links to Manhattan Masquerade:

Jimmie Dale, Alias the Gray Seal:

My Facebook Author Page:

A Facebook page about Packard and the Gray Seal:

And finally a link to a free story of mine that I mention in the interview:


  1. Thanks, Melissa. Now I need to post Links to it on FB.

  2. Great Interview! I've read the Gray Seal stories available on kindle/nook, and quite enjoyed them!

  3. Glen, if you get a chance, read Michael's new Gray Seal novel, and his Manhattan Masquerade, they're both great novels. And I'm excited about the unpublished manuscripts discovered of Packard's.

  4. By the way, Glen, did you win a copy of the Tales of Masks & Mayhem? Marie never told me who the five winners of PDF copies were, only who one the paperback. I'm guessing you were one of the five that received a PDF copy, right?