Another classic character returns to new life in 'BEHOLD 'THE NIGHT WIND'', a full length novel by Christopher Yates! Recently Christopher sat down with All Pulp to discuss himself, the novel, and his interest in tales Heroic and Pulpy!
ALL PULP: First, tell our readers a bit about yourself? Personally and Professionally?
CHRISTOPHER YATES: I’m a husband, dad, and nephew. I’m most proud of my “husband” and “dad” titles, but the “nephew” label is a good gig. When the U.S. government gets sued in a court (employment or immigration related matters usually) I argue to a federal judge and jury on behalf of my Uncle, Sam.
AP: Behold 'The Night Wind' is your first full length novel featuring this character. Give us a brief overview of what the book is about.
CY: Behold ‘The Night Wind’ is a heroic adventure tale set in United States history. In the fall of 1920 membership in the KKK is at an all-time high, with some particularly nasty sects (as if the rest of them are fluffy kittens) headquartered in Indiana and Eastern Ohio. Al Capone is a low-ranking foot soldier in the mafia, en route from the east coast to Chicago and just presented with his raison d’être – exploitation and control of the black market in alcohol. Of course, in 1920 alcohol is only available through the black market, because the Anti-Saloon League, and their publishing arm, the American Issue Publishing Co. (headquartered in central Ohio), successfully spear-head the passage of the Constitutional Amendment that imposes prohibition. Both the Governor and sitting Senator from Ohio are their parties’ nominees for President of the United States. Senator Warren Harding is conducting his campaign from the front porch of his home in central Ohio. National celebrities, and crowds in the thousands pour into Harding’s hometown in the last few months leading up to the November 1920 election. Speak-easies in central Ohio are being burnt to the ground, and Mr. Capone is diverted from his trip to Chicago to restore the flow of alcohol. The KKK sees fit to substitute the flow of alcohol with the flow of mafia blood by hunting and killing any and all purveyors of hooch. The United States Secret Service finds this developing conflict to be somewhat problematic in their efforts to ensure the personal safety of both Presidential nominees and the voting public. Enter Bingham Harvard alias, The Night Wind, his wife, a former police detective, and their valet. Just after assigning a private detective and friend the mission of discovering the identities of Bing’s natural parents, the Harvard’s are enlisted to discover and stop the arsons, infiltrate the KKK, and beat the stuffing out of any and all Mafioso so as to accelerate Capone’s retreat from the forming battle lines (and away from the Presidential campaign).
AP: The Night Wind is a character from the early 1900s. Can you share a bit of his history, what he's all about, etc.?
CY: The Night Wind first appeared in the novel Alias, the Night Wind, from the May 10, 1913 issue of The Cavalier. We’re introduced to Bingham Harvard, foster son of a wealthy New York City bank president, who is framed by a NYC police officer of stealing substantial sums from his foster father’s bank. Befriended by another (a female) police officer, shadowed by her personal valet, Mr. Harvard proceeds to pound the tobacco juice out of anyone attempting to apprehend him until the frame-up is exposed and his reputation restored. He earns the alias, the Night Wind, from the NYC police for his strength, speed, and elusiveness. In all of the successive titles, The Return of “The Night Wind,” The Night Wind’s Promise, and Lady of the Night Wind, the Harvards (Bing + the befriending officer whom he quickly weds…and her valet) fend off extortionists and con-men who threaten them and their family. The series is akin to Charles Bronson’s Deathwish movies…without the violence or steady pacing. A fantastic wrinkle in this now commonplace plot device is that the leading man, Bingham, is exceedingly, physically strong. In Alias he snaps and dislocates limbs of up to five armed police officers…at once. The cover of the first installment of the Alias serial sports artwork by Martin Justice portraying Bingham throwing a police officer over his head. In The Night Wind’s Promise, the title refers to Bingham’s commitment to his wife not to tear apart bad guys with his bare hands. In Lady of the Night Wind, Bingham’s wife is so fearful of the villain’s fate at Bing’s hands that she won’t even tell her husband that she’s the target of physical threats and extortion.
AP: As a writer, what appeals to you about continuing the tales of an established character over creating your own character?
CY: One thing I had to admit to myself and the publisher, Wildside Press, was that Behold ‘The Night Wind’ would not gain traction by the fact that the Night Wind was an established character. To be sure, the Night Wind got lead story and occasional cover art in dozens of pulp magazines churned out by the biggest fiction magazine publisher of the day, Munsey’s. Four novels spawned from those magazine series, and even Hollywood scored a hit movie adapting the first title, Alias, the Night Wind. But all of that happened over 90 years ago. There isn’t a living soul on the planet that read a Night Wind story upon its original release, or viewed the movie in a theatre. At the time I dusted off the Night Wind, not one of the titles had seen reprint. Consequently, I agreed to locate and re-edit, and my publisher agreed to bankroll the re-release of the original four novels to perhaps re-establish Bing in the public consciousness.
What I really enjoyed about picking up the reigns from Mr. Dey’s series was that he had created – knowingly, or unknowingly, I’m not sure – an exceedingly diverse, fantastic and quirky cast, and either failed to, or wasn’t given the opportunity – again I’m not sure which, if either – to add even one more dimension, or exploit their diversity, elements of fantasy, or quirkiness. For example, Bingham had five times the strength of a normal man, but all he did was knock about a few cops and instill a fear amongst his own loved ones that he might one day erupt in a streak of destruction and violence. That “eruption” never happened. The reader was told that Bingham was a foster child – a condition rendering him more mysterious and suspect than it might have today. But we’re never told anything about his true parentage, or heritage, let alone the source of his unusual physical prowess. In an era when women don’t yet have the right to vote, let alone find even fictional portrayal as an empowered, strong willed hero, Mrs. Harvard is given top billing in her own series/novel – Lady of the Night Wind, also earning a beautiful portrait/cover art by Charles David Williams in the Oct. 5, 1918 issue of All-Story Weekly. She’s a wealthy heiress who shuns her heritage and shelter in the Blue Hills of Kentucky to take on a false name and become an armed police detective in 1900’s New York City. Mrs. Bingham Harvard also has an inexplicable penchant for mechanical devices of injury and capture. She’s chaperoned by her family’s valet, of African origin, who, without explanation, abandons his own family and comfort to tag along with his otherwise full grown, independent charge.
Given these templates – a guy with untested super-strength and no back-story, a woman who prefers bullets to bonbons, and an older black man with an overactive paternal instinct – I’ve got a lot of room to exercise my own creativity. Who knows, if Mr. Dey hadn’t given the world the cast of the Night Wind, I might have made them up myself.
AP: The Night Wind is at best an obscure hero from the past. What challenges does that present to you as an author and why does he specifically appeal to you?
CY: I guess I blew enough hot air in my last answer to cover most of this one. The challenge I gave myself in picking-up a 90 year-old story line was to add the few missing elements of the archetypal “hero,” or even “superhero,” that Mr. Dey and his era hadn’t quite birthed. Bingham was the wealthy man about town with the desire, money, and unusual physical strength to right wrongs. What he lacked was the altruism to right wrongs for folks in need other than himself and his own loved ones. What he needed was a means of discovering those people in need and perhaps some willing, capable aids. I saw the Night Wind saga as a means of evolving a one-dimensional albeit unusual cast of characters from playing private parlor tricks to becoming crime fighting adventurers.
AP: With this being aimed at a modern readership, why do you think Behold 'The Night Wind' will appeal to today's readers?
CY: Although I struggled mightily to maintain many elements of the original series, among other modifications, I ramped-up the pacing 100x. For today’s readers I’ve added to this fifth, stand alone, Night Wind novel compelling subplots, one or two more dimensions to the characterization, more characters, more and bigger guns, and a body count that approaches – but does not exceed – the best of The Spider series.
Having edited the re-released original four Night Wind titles, I had the means to keep a religious adherence to grammar and spelling. That said, the vernacular saddled on Julius, the African American valet, had to go. It was almost as if some 19th century, white Columbia Law School graduate, turned fiction author, took a pot shot at poor black Kentucky dialect. I stomached his dialogue through the four re-releases because A) It’s how Mr. Dey wrote it, and B) I chose not to whitewash obvious racial stereotypes of that era. I wasn’t going to confuse “re-release” with “re-write,” or fail to let new readers know which was which. However, Behold ‘The Night Wind’ is not a re-release. For continuity sake, I couldn’t just re-introduce a character whose few monologues were linguistically inaccurate with dramatically new and improved diction. Because Julius’ words read as if they were a really poor imitation of a stereotype, almost as if the speaker was making it up has he went along, that’s exactly how I chose to explain the change.
Also, I hope I succeeded in sustaining the original period atmosphere. I put in hours of historical research just to ensure, for example, that the referenced weaponry was contemporary and properly identified.
Today’s readers will not abide slow narrative pacing. Thank you gaming industry, rapid-cut filming and special effects. Most, if not all of the four original Night Wind installments moved at the pace of a salted slug. We all have fond memories of Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, or Wells’, The Invisible Man. Both represent very early commercially successful efforts at science fiction mystery. However, today’s reader is profoundly irked to discover after reading a couple hundred pages that the climax, or hook, is merely that the guy has a split personality, or is invisible. Behold ‘The Night Wind’ doesn’t hold its punches like Jekyll and Hyde or The Invisible Man. You learn very early that Bing can pulp a man’s body just by pushing him to solid ground. The Night Wind’s super strength isn’t the hook. There is a lot going on in Behold ‘The Night Wind’ that the modern reader will abide:
1) Solving the mystery of Bing’s parentage,
2) Finding out if the heroes can avoid an all-out blood bath between the mafia and the KKK that would engulf and scandalize the 1920 Presidential election,
3) Discovering the master mind of the saloon arsons,
4) Answering the question of how many booby traps can be crammed into one house and which ones will cut a person in half like a mousetrap made with razor wire,
5) Determining what happens to a living human body when you paste it with hot coal tar and cover it with goose down, and last but not least:
6) Asking what’s with the valet’s grammar?
AP: What other projects are you currently working on?
CY: Although I outlined a sixth Night Wind novel just after completing the first draft of the fifth installment, I’m not yet feeling the same level of motivation to actually flesh-out that outline. If I learned anything from this experience, it’s that “I’m going to write a novel” is way, way too easy to say. I’m not prepared to say it again, just yet.
I am piecing together a reference book that I hope to market one day. From the moment I caught the superhero prose bug, I’ve created and maintained an index of my own collection. At 1,348 titles and counting, it includes superhero fiction from the pulp era (e.g. The Shadow, Doc Savage, The Spider, Green Lama, etc.), novelizations of other superhero media (e.g. comic books, movie screenplays, t.v. screenplays, etc.), and of course, original superhero fiction (e.g. Wild Cards novel series, etc.). An individual entry includes the usual data – title, author, publisher and date of release – but heaps on loads of extras. For example, I document the provenance of the content of all my books through all other media. A given novelization of a Green Hornet television episode might have been born a radio script, adapted to a comic book story, turned into a television script, and then novelized. The novel may be a prequel to a story line that continues as a short story in a published Green Hornet anthology. If I had to assign a “working title,” I’d dub this work in progress The Encyclopedia of Superhero Prose Fiction.
AP: Thanks for your time, Chris!
Behold 'The Night Wind' is available from Borgo Press at Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/Behold-Night-Wind-Christopher-Yates/dp/1479400270/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1376864950&sr=8-1&keywords=behold+the+night+wind