BLACK HISTORY MONTH SPOTLIGHT INTERVIEW: DERRICK FERGUSON

Q: When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer and what does it mean to you to be a black writer in this society?

A: I honestly can’t remember when I didn’t want to be a writer. Way back in the 6th grade I wrote Edgar Rice Burroughs inspired stories using my classmates as the main characters. I wrote a “chapter” on both sides of a sheet of loose-leaf paper which then got passed around the classroom. Once it was done and I’d gotten feedback on it, I’d write up the next “chapter.” I’ve worked many jobs but I’ve always identified as a writer and I just knew in my spirit that’s what I put on this Earth to do.

What it means to me to me to be a black writer in this society? Mostly that I get to tell stories with black characters having experiences and adventures you don’t usually get to read about. My father was a big James Bond fan and I remember asked him why there wasn’t a black James Bond and he said; “I guess you’ll have to come up with one and write about him.” So that’s been my M.O. when it comes to writing. There are certain archetype characters that I always wondered why we didn’t have black characters representing those archetypes. Apparently, I’m not the only black writer who felt that way. This is an extraordinarily exciting time for Black Speculative Fiction, Sword & Soul and all the related fields as now we have a plethora of black heroes and heroines in all genres being written by remarkably talented black writers.

Q: Do you write full time, or do you have another full-time job? What is your educational background?

A: I retired some time ago. I’ve experienced two pulmonary embolisms. One in the 1980s, the other in the late 90s. After the second one my doctor recommended that I take it easy and Praise God I had not only the financial security to retire early but an understanding spouse who agreed with the doctor and said I should stay home and write my heart out if that’s what I wanted to do. When people ask me what’s the most important thing that a writer should have and I always say; “An understanding spouse.” My wife has a significant role in whatever success I have as it’s she who provides the environment I need to be creative.

My educational background is undistinguished. I graduated from what used to be known as The New York School of Printing but is now The School of Graphic Communications Arts. I went to that school for the journalism/writing classes but got some good training in learning how to run various printing presses which meant that right after I graduated, I stepped right into a job operating a Heidelberg press. I have taken some college courses but never regularly attended college. While I have a tremendous amount of respect for learning and for teachers, I don’t have pleasant memories of my time being a student in the NY Board of Education. The ironic thing is that I ended up working for them for eighteen years.

Q: How do you best meet the challenge of juggling your day job (if applicable) and/or your family, against your writing career?

A: Well, I don’t have a 9 to 5 so I don’t have to worry about that. As for family, it’s just my wife and me so I have extraordinarily huge chunks of time to myself in which to read, write and watch more movies than is probably good for me.

Q: What genre(s) do you write in, is there a favorite and which do you feel have had the most important impact on the black community? Traditionally, in mainstream media, blacks have been vastly marginalized in Speculative Fiction and fiction in general, how do you see that changing and what impact will your work have on making those changes?

A: So far, I’ve written in the Western, Horror, Weird Western, Classic Pulp and New Pulp genres. Strangely enough, given my lifelong love of Science Fiction I’ve yet to write a straight-up Science Fiction story or novel. Oh, I’ve had what might be charitably be called science fiction elements in some of my Dillon novels. But there’s also espionage, action/adventure, cliffhanger pulp adventure…it’s a whole hodgepodge of stuff thrown in there. 

I see a whole lot changing for People of Color in Speculative Fiction as far as TV and Mainstream Movies and Comic Books/Graphic Novels are concerned. But that’s because the technology is there so that creatives can bypass the gatekeepers who for decades have filtered their work, diluted it or just kept it out of view. Once upon a time you used to have to mortgage your house if you wanted to produce your own comic book or self-publish or make a movie.

Now? Filmmakers are shooting entire movies on their smart phone, editing on their laptops and uploading them to YouTube. You can write a book and publish it yourself thanks to Lulu or KDP. You no longer need an agent or a publishing house. The opportunity is out there. The realm of Speculative Fiction belongs to POC now and it’s wonderful because we’re now telling stories that affirm that we shall go forward to the future. That in itself is a powerful message.

What impact will my work have? I truly have no idea. That’s a question best answered by those who are still reading my stuff fifty years from now when I’ve taken my leave and either lying on a cloud playing a harp or shoveling coal in an infernal furnace.

Q: Who are some of the major writing influences who most inspired you?

A: There are a whole LOT of writers who have influenced me but I’ll give you the dirty dozen. These are the guys who I read and studied fanatically: Lester Dent. Edgar Rice Burroughs. Charles Saunders. Michael Moorcock. Ishmael Reed. George C. Chesbro. Robert R. McCammon. Stephen Barnes. Chester Himes. Stan Lee. Mike Resnick. Larry McMurtry.

Q: Do you listen to music when you’re creating? If so, what type?

A: That all depends on what kind of mood I’m in. Sometimes I don’t want to do anything but listen to the characters talking, the explosions going off and the screamed of the damned. My imagination has a pretty good sound system. But if I’m writing a Weird Western, I’ll usually have on Ennio Morricone and Gangstagrass. In fact, if I’m writing any Western, I’ll usually have Morricone playing. If I’m writing a Dillon adventure there’s Motown and 70’s/80’s music going on.

Q: How long does it usually take you to complete work on a book?

A: That depends on the book. I knocked out “Search For The Beast” in two months flat. First draft to final. “The Madness of Frankenstein” took me something like eight years. A typical Dillon adventure can take me anywhere from three to nine months to write.

I’m not one of those writers who has a set schedule to finish every book within a certain time period. Each book has its own life. Some take longer to write than others, that’s all. The only real rule I have is that I only do three drafts and no more. Unless I’m asked by an editor to do another draft. “The Thousand-Eyed Fear” was five drafts but that was because I was working with somebody’s else’s concepts and characters and I had to make the changes he asked for.

Q: What does your writing schedule look like and how many hours a day do you write?

A: I don’t have a firm hard schedule that I keep to. Which is probably why I haven’t written as many books as I should have. I do get some writing in during the day but that’s mostly rewriting and editing what I did the day before. I like writing at night the best. I’ve written as little as two hours in a day and as many as eight. If the story is flowing and the words are coming fast and furious, I don’t like to stop and luckily, I’m able to do that.

Q: What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?

A: I would seem to have gotten the reputation of writing action well. Readers have also said to me that they enjoy my writing so much because when they’re reading it, the prose plays out as a movie in their head. Which means I’ve done my job because that’s how my novels and stories play out in my own head. I just look and listen to what’s playing on my Mental Movie Screen and put that down on paper.

Q: How many books have you written?

A: I’ve written 8 novels, 4 collections and have stories in 19 anthologies.

Q: As a black author, do you feel a personal responsibility to the black community to create content which not only entertains, but also uplifts and educates?

A: If I had a dollar for every time somebody said to me; “You should be writing something educational for our youth” I’d never have to write another word as long as I live.

I’m a big believer in that you have to write or sing or draw or act or whatever what you are hardwired to do. I am not hardwired to uplift or educate and there are tons of black writers out there who are qualified to do that much better than I could ever aspire to do. What I am hardwired to do and what I can do extremely well is tell entertaining stories that hopeful make you forget the burdens of your day for a few hours and I’m more than happy to be able to do that. I take pride in my ability to entertain and entertain well.

Q: Is there any particular book that you’ve written that you’re most passionate about?

A: Probably “Brooklyn Beatdown” because if you had told me prior to writing that book that I would write a hardboiled pulp boxing story set in 1950s Brooklyn I’d have laughed myself into a hernia. But I surprised myself by doing so. Mainly because I drew upon much of my memories of growing up in Brooklyn during the 1970s. Believe it or not, there was still a lot of the 1950s in the way black people talked, acted and thought during the 1970s and I tapped into that. It’s not one of my best-known books but I am proud of the fact that everybody who has read it loves it and there are several professional writers (including Mike Baron who co-created and wrote the comic book “Nexus” and created/wrote “The Badger”) who are big fans of the book.

I’m also quite passionate about “Dillon and The Legend of The Golden Bell.” Even though “Dillon and The Voice of Odin” is the first book in the series, I almost rather that people read “Legend of The Golden Bell” first.

Q: What type of research do you conduct and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?

A: Again, it all depends on what type of book I’m doing. I’m hideously bad at doing research and I’ll make up a fact before looking one up. But when it comes to stuff like weapons and military tactics I have to buckle down and do my proper research because I’ll get a ton of email on that. Readers who are into guns and automatic weapons apparently read action adventure novels just to see if you get the specifications correct and nothing else. And Western fans are like that as well. When I write stories about Bass Reeves that are set in an actual historical period, I do have to stop being lazy and get it right because Western fans will be sure and let you know when you’ve got something wrong, be it a date or the wrong type of saddle or spurs. They know their stuff.

When I’m in the middle of writing the first draft of a novel or story if I hit a point where I need to do research I’ll just make a note of what I have to look up in [     ] and do it later in second draft. But I allow nothing to stop the momentum of that first draft as there’s nothing more important than getting the story down. I can fix everything else later.

Q: What are some of the best resources you’ve found for research?

A: My friends on The Internet, believe it or not. There’s a valuable resource of experts in Facebook Groups that I take advantage of. If I need an answer to a question, I throw it out in one of my Facebook Groups and get back more answers than I know what to do with. And if they can’t help me then usually a half hour on Google will provide me with whatever I need.

Q: What have you found to be the best marketing practices for your books to the black community?

A: As soon as I find out, I’ll let you know.

Q: What does literary success look like to you?

A: Pretty much what I’m doing now. I write whatever I want when I want with no pressure at all. If I had to rely on my writing for my livelihood, I seriously doubt I’d be as laid back about my career as I am now. But thankfully since I don’t have to worry about that I can write the books and stories that I want to write and have fun doing so. I spent many years busting my ass at jobs I didn’t particularly like or enjoy and I’ll be damned if I’ll waste my time writing about characters and subjects that don’t interest me or don’t engage me intellectually and emotionally.

Q: What legacy do you want your work to represent and resonate in the black community and the world?

A: Again, that’s something that’s best left up to the future. if my books are still being read fifty years from now, ask those reading them what my legacy will me. I like to joke with Patricia that twenty years after I’m dead I’ll be “discovered” which is what seems to happen to a depressingly large number of black writers. I’m okay with providing entertainment now and not worried about “legacy” and all that goes with it. It’s not that I don’t care about a legacy but I’m very much a Here & Now kind of person and would rather concern myself with the impact my work is making on people today.

Q: What are some of the upcoming projects you’re working on?

A: I just finished another Bass Reeves story for the 4th Volume of Airship 27’s Bass Reeves-Frontier Marshal anthology series. So far I’ve had stories in three of the four volumes which I’m extremely proud of. I’m currently working on a collection of my Sebastian Red stories. They’re Weird Westerns featuring a supernatural gunslinger roaming an alternate Wild West I like to describe as a mash-up of Sergio Leone and Michael Moorcock.

Q: How can the readers learn more about your work and follow your career?

A: Ferguson Ink: https://fergusonink.com/ is more or less the hub of my online activities so I would advise anybody interested in me and my work to start there.

The Ferguson Theater: https://derricklferguson.com/ is where I indulge my love of movies. At last count I’ve got something like 400 movie reviews there. If you’re a movie fan then I strongly advise you to check it out.

Dillon: https://my-dillon.com/ is devoted to my best known and most successful character. Before you dive into reading any of the Dillon novels you might want to poke around here first.

Usimi Dero: https://www.facebook.com/groups/usimidero/ is my Facebook hangout group I administrate. It’s just a spot where I hang out with a bunch of wildly talented and creative people where we talk about movies, pop culture, writing, comic books, television, New Pulp, Classic Pulp, Science Fiction, mass entertainment, things of that nature.

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