Q&A: 'Deathlands' writer Mark Ellis
We recently chatted with Mark Ellis -- a veteran action/adventure writer who along with other writers worked the classic 80's post-apocalyptic paperback series 'Deathlands' under the pen name James Axler. He chatted with us about his work on this and other franchises.
Geeksagogo: What in your opinion is the appeal of the Deathlands series?
Ellis: It's a very simple, A to B premise...no laws, no taxes, no constraints. If you don't like it, you can kill it and no one will arrest you. If you do like it, you can kill it and eat it. DL novels don't challenge the reader as a general rule, featuring protagonists who slug, shoot or stab their way out of trouble instead of anything remotely like thinking it through. It's a very easy series to understand since almost all of the books are self-contained, each one ending where it began. It's a very popular series in penitentiaries, I understand.
Geeksagogo: How did you conceive the idea for Outlanders?
Ellis: Outlanders was originally conceived as a contemporary, paramilitary SF/action adventure series, similar to what Stargate SG-1 evolved into, although I came up with it over a year before Stargate SG-1 aired. When the publisher wanted to stick the "James Axler" house name on it, they also wanted it to be a post-apocalyptic setting. I suggested tying it into DL, a century later...an idea I later regretted.
Geeksagogo: What is the current status of each series?
Ellis: After being consecutively published for many years, the print editions of both Outlanders and DL were cancelled in 2015...the entire Gold Eagle imprint was killed when HarperCollins bought Harlequin. However, the company that produced the Gold Eagle audio books licensed DL and continues to make new audio book versions. The characters and concepts of Outlanders continue in PARALLAX PRIME, the first book of which picks up about four years after the last "official" entry in the series, Warlord of the Pit.
Geeksagogo: Are there any particular books or films that influenced you?
Ellis: My influences are all over the place to one degree or another, whether they're films or books. Most--if not all--creators are compilations of their influences. My latest book, KNIGHTWATCH: INVICTUS X is influenced by all the comic books I ever read in my life as well as the Marvel Studios movies.
Geeksagogo: Do you have any advice for writers pursuing their own apocalyptic stories?
Ellis: Do some research on what the world would be like after a specific apocalypse. For example, don't write about a 20 year long nuclear winter and then show survivors growing their own crops. A realistic "after the apocalypse" setting would be very grim and horrific, not Lord of The Rings only with guns and mutants.
Geeksagogo: When did you start writing and where did you begin? What else have you worked on?
Ellis: If you mean when did I start writing professionally--i.e., getting paid-- that's about 40 years ago. Like a lot of writers, I began in journalism. I've worked on many, many things from comics to screenplays to radio plays. Doc Savage, The Green Hornet, The Wild Wild West are a few of the licensed properties I've worked on. My own comic book properties include Death Hawk, The Justice Machine, Star Rangers, Miskatonic Project and Nosferatu: Plague of Terror. I've written over fifty books at this point, including Mack Bolan The Executioner, Deathlands and Outlanders as well as a non-fiction book I co-wrote with my wife Melissa, The Everything Guide To Writing Graphic Novels.