Talking with Ti
with Ti Mikkel
Q&A with Bud Simons
TI: Hello Bud! Thank you so much for taking the time to talk today. I usually start off with a question about everyone’s Wild Cards origin story, but this time I think it’s best we begin with prehistoric reptilians. I read that you were obsessed with dinosaurs as a kid, so tell us—what is your favorite dinosaur?
BUD: Tyrannosaurus Rex.
TI: Good man. Back to your origin story. Lew Shiner recruited you for the series and put you in touch with George, and you’ve said before that George was skeptical at first about your participation. He allowed you to come up with character ideas to pitch, though, is that correct? I’ve heard that can be a particularly grueling process.
BUD: Although I’d met George several times, I had far less of a track record as a writer than most of the other contributors. I’d had one short story published, as well as two comic book assignments for DC. So I had to prove to him I could do the work. Luckily, that worked out. Creating characters is tricky, because there are so many out there in the existing comic book world. Doing something original is difficult.
TI: But out of that came one of my favorite characters—Demise, aka James Spector. He’s not a “good” guy by any stretch, but somehow I end up rooting for him. I know we don’t know one another well, but what does that say about me as a person? You can lie if need be.
BUD: I never saw Demise as a true villain. He’s an everyday person who had an awful experience that left him in constant pain. It’s not like he had a plan to take over the world. He just wants to ease his pain as much as possible and get by. Circumstance put him on the run and his only marketable skill is killing people, so that’s what he does. In spite of it all, he still maintains a sense of humor. He’s a homicidal everyman. I suspect you and other readers relate to that, at least a bit.
TI: You’ve been part of the Wild Cards universe from ACES HIGH through TEXAS HOLD ‘EM and have created quite a few other characters (Charles Dutton, Jayewardene, Little Fat Boy, Mr. Nobody). But you’ve also written for other author’s characters—specifically George’s character Jay Ackroyd. Are there any others you’ve taken on? What sort of challenges does writing someone else’s character present?
BUD: I’ve done a couple of stories that included the Amazing Bubbles. Caroline and I talk regularly, so I feel like I have a good handle on her character. My first two Demise stories featured Lew Shiner’s character, the Astronomer. Lew lived in Austin back then. Communication is the key to getting things right. That, and understanding which existing characters best fit into the story you want to tell.
TI: If you could have dinner with any of your characters, who would it be?
BUD: Probably Jerry, we could talk about movies till the cows came home. Plus, he’s rich, so I’d make him pay.
TI: Let’s move onto questions about the craft itself. What are your top tips for aspiring writers?
BUD: Write what you love is a cliché, but it’s accurate. If you don’t have a passion for your characters and story, neither will the reader. Accept that writing isn’t always an enjoyable process, it’s hard work, at least for me, so a writer needs to be able to get something onto the page even when it’s difficult. Also, don’t be deterred by criticism, but don’t ignore it, either. You can learn a lot from a good critic.
TI: Do you research when writing?
BUD: Absolutely. For me, research if often the most enjoyable aspect of the process. The more I know, the more confident I’ll be when I get down to writing. It can be a bit of a rabbit-hole, of course.
TI: How about your writing schedule. Do you write seven days a week? Do you prefer the morning or evening?
BUD: I only write on a daily basis if I’m up against a deadline. Usually it’s a few times a week, sometimes less. I used to do my best work in the morning, but that’s moved back to late afternoon or even nighttime.
TI: How do you deal with writer’s block?
BUD: That depends on whether or not I have a deadline. If that’s the case you just have to push through somehow. Absent a deadline, there’s a million ways to procrastinate, and I’ve mastered quite a few. I suspect I’m not alone in that department. Having some other creative outlet is helpful as well. Keeps the juices flowing, even if it’s not in the most productive way. I’m actually not sure I’ve ever had classic writer’s block, just difficulty in getting a story right in my head, or periodic bouts of laziness.
TI: What’s on your nightstand right now?
BUD: I actually don’t have a nightstand. I have piles of books I intend to read in several places in my bedroom. Some in the queue are Knaves Over Queens(no surprise there,) Marilyn the Last Takeby Peter Harry Brown and Patte B. Barham, and Twelve Days of Terror by Richard G Fernicola.
TI: Your character Jerry Strauss is a fanatical movie buff. Any similarities to your creation and your own self in this sense? What’s your favorite movie?
BUD: Absolutely, with Jerry I’m channeling my inner movie lover. My favorite film is the 1933 King Kong.
TI: I love the 1933 King Kong! The massive gate that kept Kong out in the movie was set on fire and pulled down during burning of the Atlanta Depot scene in Gone with the Wind (another favorite of mine, and it’s turning 80 this year).
BUD: Kong is a singular film. The incredible matte paintings give it a look unlike anything else. Willis O’Brien was a master animator.
TI: Who is your favorite author?
BUD: That’s tough, because the writers you prefer can change as you grow older. I’ll stick with Bradbury and Tolkien, though.
TI: I know that you grew up in Austin mowing lawns to pay for your ever-expanding comic book collection, but tell us a little bit more about your childhood.
BUD: I’m the third of four children. I went to Catholic school for the first six years of my education, which left an impression. Our neighborhood was full of kids, so we were constantly playing and getting into trouble. Every summer my family visited relatives in Baton Rouge and on the Mississippi Coast. I enjoyed reading, as I suspect most writers do. Early on I read comic books, Famous Monsters of Filmland, and later fantasy and science fiction. I loved going to movies. If my memory is correct, the first three I saw were Earth vs. The Flying Saucers, The Giant Claw, and the 7th Voyage of Sinbad.
TI: Earth vs. The Flying Saucers came out the same year as Forbidden Planet, which is George’s favorite.
BUD: I didn’t get to see Forbidden Planet until it showed up on TV several years later. I loved it though. It’s the most visually impressive of the 50s science fiction films.
TI: How about your parents. What did your they do for a living? I know they introduced you to comic books to keep you and your siblings entertained during road trips, but did they encourage your own writing habits?
BUD: My father had a decades long career at what was then the Texas Employment Commission (I think it’s the Texas Workforce Commission now.) My mom spent her time taking care of the four of us kids, which was no small thing. My parents were supportive of us all, so naturally they were happy with most anything I showed an interest in. I have to give special thanks to my paternal grandmother, though. She knew J. Frank Dobie and was thrilled I wanted to be a writer. She bought me my first electric typewriter back in the day.
TI: I love that. So you knew when you were a kid that writing was the job you wanted? Or did you think about a career in paleontology?
BUD: I sort of fell into writing. Many of the most interesting people I knew when I was in college were writers and I wanted to hang out with them. So I decided to try my hand at it by participating in Turkey City. As a kid, paleontology and archaeology were both very appealing to me. Later on, I wanted to be the next Ray Harryhausen, but plenty of kids who grew up on his films had that idea. I got as far as sculpting models, but didn’t have the skill to make a poseable figure. Still, it was fun to dream.
TI: For anyone who doesn’t know, Ray Harryhausen was a designer, visual effects creator, writer, and producer behind films including: Mighty Joe Young (1949), The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958), Jason and the Argonauts(1963), and Clash of the Titans(1981). I read that Ray’s collection will actually be showcased in its entirety at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in 2020. Is it safe to assume you’ll be there?
BUD: I wish, but it’s unlikely. I don’t really get to travel much. If I did, though, the UK is high on my list, so it’s not entirely impossible.
TI: You and a few other Wild Cards authors call Austin home. In my mind’s eye, you all gather once a week for a card game. Do you see one another often, or just at conventions?
BUD: We have a weekly Saturday breakfast that several of us Wild Carders attend. Caroline Spector and Brad Denton are regulars, and Howard Waldrop shows up periodically.
TI: Do you meet at a restaurant, or does someone cook?
BUD: A restaurant. We’ve changed eateries several times over the years.
TI: Any interesting projects in the pipeline?
BUD: Yes, but unfortunately, nothing I can talk about.
TI: Rats…but when you can talk about it, I’ll be the first person you E-Mail, right?
TI: Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me, Bud. It’s been a treat getting to know you.