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[GUEST INTERVIEW] Mike Resnick Talks About His Long-Running LUCIFER JONES Stories

Mike Resnick is one of the most prolific and versatile writers of any genre. He has been nominated for more Hugos (37) than any other author in the history of speculative fiction.

Carl Slaughter wanted to know why Mike Resnick’s favorite character is Lucifer Jones.

CARL SLAUGHTER: What is the inspiration for the Lucifer Jones character and his name?

MIKE RESNICK: One night, in the early 1980s, a friend asked me to record the movie She, based on the H. Rider Haggard novel and starring Ursula Andress. Ordinarily I’d just start the recorder and come back when it was done, but at the time I had a Beta recorder, Beta tapes were 2 hours long, and the movie was almost two hours, which means I had to watch it and edit out the commercials or it wouldn’t fit on the tape. Carol came into the room maybe 20 minutes later, sure I was watching a Marx Brothers festival or similar because I was laughing so hard. But I was simply laughing at how totally inept it was…and I remember musing, “If they’re that funny by accident, what could I do if I was trying to be that funny on purpose?”

And that night I plotted out Adventures, which was set in Africa in the 1920s. Who went all over Africa in that era? A preacher. What’s funny about a man trying to bring God to the natives of Africa? Nothing. So he became a con man. And what better name for a phony minister than Lucifer?

CS: Describe Lucifer Jones’ personality, philosophy, and MO.

MR: Lucifer is totally amoral, though in most of his episodes that is very close to being indistinguishable from immoral. He has convinced himself that all he’s trying to do is raise money to build his tabernacle, but after 19 years of his odyssey (the first book begins in 1922 and the fifth ends in 1941) he had made and lost several fortunes without having broken ground or laying a single stone. His MO differs with each real and imagined challenge, his religion is a little something he and the Lord worked out between themselves on a Sunday afternoon back in Moline, Illinois, and his language is a cross between that of Trader Horn and Pogo Possum.

CS: What type of characters does he meet and what type of interaction does he have with them?

MR: Most the characters are parodies of pulp heroes and villains, most of the women are either gorgeous beyond belief or ugly beyond imagining. In almost every case, he is using whoever he has met in the hope of personal gain, or being used by the character for the character’s own gain.

A few characters recur through the books: Erich von Horst, a con man’s con man and Lucifer’s personal nemesis; Capturin’ Clyde Calhoun, the hunter and circus owner who brings ’em back alive (not intact, but alive); and a few others who have similar disregard for morality and the law.

CS: How and why and by whom does he get exiled from each continent and what could possibly unite an entire continent against one person?

MR: At the end of almost every chapter of every book he is either thrown out of a country, or forced to flee for his life or freedom. By the last chapter in each book, the presiding judge of that country is willing to exile him to a neighboring country, only to find that the ten or twelve closest nations (from the book’s previous chapters) won’t have him back under any circumstances, and he is sent to another continent with orders never to return to the continent he is leaving.

CS: What tropes does the series parody, spoof, and satire?

MR: Among those in Adventures: naked white goddesses, The Elephants’ Graveyard, slavery and slave auctions, Mutiny on the Bounty, lost races, and Tarzan. Among those in Exploits: Charlie Chan. Fu Manchu, the Great Wall of China, Mr. Moto, Lost Horizon, the Thugees and their secret rituals, and the Dragon Lady. Among those in Encounters: Frankenstein, The Prisoner of Zenda, Atlantis, ghosts, Sherlock Holmes, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, the Loch Ness Monster, the Reeperbahn, and bull-fighting. Among those in Hazards: The Island of Dr. Moreau, Green Mansions, the lost continent of Mu, Mardi Gras, banana republic wars, and Machu Pichu. Among those in Voyages: Easter Island, Charlie Chan (again), Robinson Crusoe, King Kong, Treasure Island, Moby Dick, and Borneo headhunters.

CS: Do you take any prisoners or is everyone and everything in the history of print and screen fiction targeted without mercy?

MR: Only fact and fiction between 1922 and (thus far) 1941. Mostly.

CS: How do you inject the humor element into the stories?

MR: Half of it comes from taking well-known incidents or fictional characters like Tarzan or Fu Manchu, and have them behave in ways the reader will never anticipate, and half of it comes from Lucifer’s misuse of the language (he narrates every episode).

CS: Which actor would star in a screen adaptation?

MR: I learned long ago never to guess at who Hollywood will choose to play any role. It depends on availability, money, and half a dozen things that have nothing to do with whether or not an actor fits the role.

CS: What exactly is the difference between an adventure, an exploit, encounter, and a hazard?

MR: There is no difference in Lucifer Jones’ mind. He just needed a different title for each continent. Yesterday, I signed the contract for
Voyages, his misadventures island-hopping across the Pacific to Australia, the one continent that hasn’t banned him.

CS: Where will Lucifer Jones go after he gets exiled from every continent on Earth? The deep blue sea, where presumably he will meet Captain Nemo? Other planets, other galaxies? Alternate universes? Time travel?

MR: Much as I love him, he’s only got one book left, at the end of which he’ll be thrown off the continent of Australia. I would think there will be a brief afterward explaining that he’s now an old man, he finally built his tabernacle in Moline, Illinois, his comptroller is Erich von Horst, and the guy who cares for his pets is Capturin’ Clyde Calhoun.

CS: How many stories are there for each continent?

MR: 12 for Africa, 10 for Asia, 11 for Europe, 12 for South America, and 9 for the Pacific islands. I should note that he’s already been barred from North America before the first book begins (though he thinks he may still be allowed in Arizona and New Hampshire).

CS: Describe what it’s like to write a Lucifer Jones story.

MR: The only thing more fun than plotting it is actually writing it, finding the very funniest way to put the very funniest words in Lucifer’s mouth.
And of course it’s great sport to make fun of the greatest creations of pulp and adventure fiction. (Example: Tarzan is a British lord, as in the Burroughs books…but he’s living with a tribe of apes to hide from his British creditors – and he has actually brought Fabian Socialism to the anthropoids.)

CS: How is it different than writing drama or writing about other characters?

MR: With every other form of fiction, you strive to make it believable. With humor, and especially with this kind of parody, to try to vary it from amusing to hilarious. It’s not easy, but it’s soul-satisfying, as least to this writer.

CS: Why is this your favorite series?

MR: Because the most fun I have sitting at the keyboard is when I’m writing Lucifer Jones stories.

Carl Slaughter wrote many reviews for Tangent before moving to Diabolical Plots as a reviewer and later an interviewer. He conducted 50 plus interviews for Diabolical Plots. For the past 14 years, he has traveled the globe teaching ESL (English as a Second Language) in 6 countries on 3 continents. Carl has traveled to 18 countries and counting. (He’s tired.) In college, Carl studied journalism, broadcasting, advertising, English, speech, and history. For several years, he was a stringer for the Associated Press. His essay on Chinese culture was published in Beijing Review. His essay on Korean culture was published in The Korea Times, as was his expose on the Korean ESL industry. His travel/education reports about Thailand occasionally appear on the Ajarn website. Carl subscribes to the Mike Resnick philosophy of fiction: It’s all about the characters. Check out Carl’s Diabolical Plots interviews, his Facebook photos with his students of all ages from around the world, and a short Youtube video of Carl with some VERY excited Thai kindergarteners.

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