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An Interview with Dan Leissner, Writer of Drums of the Lost Gods

by Mike Haberfelner

October 2010

Dan Leissner on (re)Search my Trash


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Your new book is called Drums of the Lost Gods. In a few words, what is it about?


By way of a trailer I couldn’t do better than recite the back cover blurb for the book:

Drums of the Lost Gods is a thrilling cliffhanger, set in South America, in the turbulent 1930s. An ill-assorted band of adventurers follows a nameless river into the sacred mountains and steaming jungles of a Lost World, in search of ancient civilizations and vanished cities of gold.

An uneasy alliance of mercenaries and hoodlums trades shots with river pirates and ferocious cannibals and then turns on each other, their ambitions perverted by lust and greed. Soldiers-of-fortune spar with Amazon warrior women, while hapless missionaries try to teach the natives how to play cricket. A debutante duels to the death with a gangster’s moll. Warriors of antiquity wage war against a robot army from outer space!”


A few words about your main characters, and which were your favourites?


The characters are all the usual suspects:

The scholarly Professor Angus Mackenzie, who for all his prodigious intellect, is really a babe in the woods, an innocent. It’s his expedition, but if it has a genuine figurehead then it’s Nate “The Nail” O’Dwyer, the ruthless American gang lord, a man with a singular talent for violence. His reluctant companion – and a particular favourite of mine – is “Trixie” Marlowe, an exotic dancer with yearnings to be a movie star, the Platinum Blonde with a heart of gold: hard and yellow. Her arch rival – and the doughty heroine of the piece – is the much admired Celia Cavendish, an English Rose, the wealthy socialite and tennis champion; escorted by Jeremy Whittering-Smythe, born with a silver spoon in his mouth, the boy with everything, a handsome profile and an Oxford rowing blue. Meanwhile, the main contender for Nate’s title is the bullet-headed Prussian, Colonel Gustav von Seyfritz, a proud and bitter veteran of World War One and now a fanatical Nazi. His nemesis is the wily Frenchman, Armand Dubois, a mysterious soldier-of-fortune. Bringing up the rear are the “goons”: Mack and Lefty, Nate’s bodyguards, his “torpedoes”; and Braun and Gruber, the Colonel’s loyal henchmen. What unites this motley crew are boredom, a thirst for excitement and adventure - and a lust for gold.


What can you tell us about the titular Lost Gods, which actually sound pretty Lovecraftian?


I was looking for something that had a classical ring to it, classical pulp. Something ancient and mythical. Although it has none of the intellectual pretensions of Lovecraft. Anything but!


While your last book Cool Cat was an obvious hommage to exploitation literature and movies from the 1970's, Drums of the Lost Gods seems to go further back in time to the pulp literature and serials of the 1930's and 40's. What can you tell us about your fascination with that era?


The 1930s is one of the most compelling eras in history – socially/politically/culturally – the Golden Age of Hollywood; the Great Depression; the rise of Fascism, all building inexorably to a World War. And it was perhaps the last great age of adventure: there were still lost worlds left to explore.


Some of the books and serials that have inspired Drums of the Lost Gods?


The big banner headline on the front cover is Spicy Pulps. My inspiration was the “Spicy” and “Shudder” pulps. With their lurid attractions, their heady mix of sex (or “spice”) and violence, they were the exploitation of their day. That and the hard-boiled detective stories by the likes of Carroll John Daly; and of course the tales of Robert E. Howard. And the classic movie serials: Flash Gordon and all the various Jungle Girls.


Any other sources of inspiration?


Well, of course, Spielberg’s Indiana Jones movies. And all those that rode in on that bandwagon, good and bad. I enjoyed them all.


What prompted you to write Drums of the Lost Gods in the first place?


It was just something that I’ve always wanted to do, to write my own vintage pulp story. I wanted to be a real pulp writer.


Drums of the Lost Gods reads like it was amazing fun to write (which is infectuous, by the way). What can you tell us about the writing process of the book?


Writing it was great fun. But I’m a painfully slow writer. I can’t write so many words a day or for so many hours a day. It takes time to percolate in my subconscious before it comes out. I’m a huge admirer of those old pulp writers, who could churn out stories and books at an incredible rate (of course they had to, they were being paid by the word). I wish I could be like them.


I don't think you'll be offended when I say realism is not one of the key concerns of your book. So, did you do any research concerning some actual facts of the tale you're telling at all?


Realism? What’s that? Maybe Drums of the Lost Gods and Cool Cat take place in an alternate universe, an alternate 1930s and 1970s. In the way that Godard used the real Paris to represent another galaxy, in Alphaville (I’m not comparing myself to Godard!). I didn’t do any specific research for the book, it all came from my general knowledge of the period and the rest is fantasy – but the story of the missionaries trying to teach the natives how to play cricket is based on a true incident.


Your writing style is very visual, almost cinematic. So if your book was made into a movie, how would you like it done, stylistically and special effects-wise?


Description and detail create a real unreal world. The detail makes it believable, however unreal it may be. And I like to break it down into scenes and shots, with cinematic cutting from one to another, that gives it pace. If Drums of the Lost Gods was made into a movie (in my dreams!) I suppose it would have to be in black-and-white. As for the special effects – no CGI!


The dream cast of Drums of the Lost Gods - the movie, no matter how impossible?


Ah, if only ... Trixie is obviously Jean Harlow, she couldn’t be anyone else (“Marlowe”/”Harlow” - get it?). I pictured a young Myrna Loy as Celia, she would have that tough coolness. Nate would be played by one of the leading heavies, someone like Wallace Beery. There were many young male actors, juvenile leads, who could have played Jeremy – the “I say, anyone for tennis?” type so popular in the drama of those times. And any number of reliable character actors to play stereotypical Prussians, Frenchmen and eccentric scientists.


How would you compare Drums of the Lost Gods to your previous novel Cool Cat?


Cool Cat has one central character around which its entire universe revolves. Drums of the Lost Gods, on the other hand, is an ensemble piece. Drums of the Lost Gods reminds me of something that a famous thriller/adventure story writer once said: “I create a set of characters and then I think of different ways of killing them off”. Both Cool Cat and Drums of the Lost Gods contain an element of sci-fi and/or the supernatural. Once you take the story out of the strict confines of the real world, anything is possible, you can make anything happen. And as with Cool Cat, with Drums of the Lost Gods I didn’t want to do a modern take; I wrote it as if I was back in time, as if I was writing it in 1933. I wanted it to be a genuine 1930s pulp adventure.


Both Drums of the Lost Gods and Cool Cat are loving hommages to vintage pulp novels and the like. Have you ever considered writing anything more "serious"?


Absolutely not! I just want to have fun. My one and only serious project has been the biography of the actress and face of the 60s and 70s, Imogen Hassall – Tuesday’s Child: The Life and Death of Imogen Hassall, also published by Midnight Marquee. That was an intense experience and quite enough for me.


A few words about your publisher Midnight Marquee and the Spicy Pulp series Drums of the Lost Gods was published in?


Spicy Pulps isn’t actually a series (although it could be if I wrote a sequel to Drums of the Lost Gods or another vintage pulp story). As for Midnight Marquee, I can’t praise them enough. They’ve stood by me and were willing to publish my books when others either ignored me or rejected me. Fiction is new for them, they mainly publish great books about movies - visit their website -


Feeling lucky ?
Want to search for books by
Dan Leissner
yourself ?

The links below
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just there !!!

Any future projects you'd like to talk about?


At the moment I’m writing a sequel to Cool Cat, in which Cat goes on the road with a rock band who are in league with the Devil. And I have vague ideas for another 1930s pulp adventure, which may be a straight sequel to Drums of the Lost Gods.


Your favourite writers outside of the pulp-genre?


Ray Bradbury was my god when I was in my teens. If you want to get serious, then To Kill A Mockingbird is, in my humble opinion, the greatest book ever written. Closely followed by The Great Gatsby. On a lighter note, I’ve been re-reading the James Bond books lately – I’ve always preferred the Bond of the books to the movies.


Anything else you are dying to mention and I have just forgotten to ask?


I’d just like to mention the superb front cover artwork for Drums of the Lost Gods, which was done by a friend of mine, Jeff Duke (who also did the cover for Cool Cat); and the spectacular job that Midnight Marquee made of designing the full cover spread – after all, it’s the cover that sells the book! And now, I’ve droned on long enough. Many thanks for the great review and the chance to do this interview, much appreciated.


Thanks for the interview!


© by Mike Haberfelner

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Robots and rats,
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Tales to Chill
Your Bones to

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a collection of short stories and mini-plays
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