Bully for Bully Pulpit, The Destroyer Series’ Book 151! An Interview with RJ Carter and Devin Murphy

It’s no secret that I have a soft spot for Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir’s The Destroyer series. Heck, if you’ve read my book CLEAN EXIT, you know my newest protagonist, Ajax Clean, is kind of a Remo Williams and Chiun fanboy himself. 
There’s a reason for that actually. I always kind of wished that Ajax Clean was a cleaner for the secret government agency that Remo worked for…an agency called CURE. In fact, I always thought it would be neat if Ajax Clean was, in fact, a long lost nephew of Chiun (albeit a highly Americanized nephew to the Master of Sinanju’s chagrin). But alas, the series exists in two different worlds, so I had to simply make Ajax a fan of the book series. Which is perfectly fine with me because The Destroyer series deserves all the fans it can get. 
This declaration was unequivocally reaffirmed with the newest edition to the series (#151), Bully Pulpit written by RJ Carter. It’s the first book of the series published after the passing of my friend, hero, and mentor Warren Murphy and I have to tell you, I know Mr. Murphy would have been very proud of it. It is without a doubt, a shining example of what the series is all about and completely recaptures the tone and feel of the classic books of the 70s that started it all. 
Book 1 of the series
I interviewed Mr. Murphy a couple of years ago and gave a brief overview of what the series is all about, so I don’t want to beat a dead horse. You can check out that early interview here if you’d like to know more about the series in general. In the meantime, here’s my review of the book for your consideration:
With the passing of Warren Murphy last year, I was concerned about the future of the series. After reading Bully Pulpit, I now know I shouldn’t have worried. RJ Carter has given us an exquisite tale of Sinanju’s finest reminiscent of the early Destroyer series. It flows with the same ease and grace as the classic tales, and quite frankly, as I read it, I had trouble differentiating between Carter’s words and those Murphy and Sapir might have penned. Mr. Carter just did an amazing job mirroring the style of those early tales. Furthermore, the book’s length, which is relatively short by today’s standards, was PERFECT for that nostalgic feel of the men’s adventure novel’s of yesteryear. A length I wish would make a hearty return, I might add, because it would afford us more time to read more stories of our favorite action heroes.

As for the story itself, I could not have been more satisfied. The stakes have rarely ever been higher. Familiar faces add a twinge of nostalgia and dread to the experience…as well as vast amounts of excitement as my suspicions were confirmed at the book’s dramatic climax. Homage was paid to one of my all time favorite Destroyer books. Remo and Chuin’s chemistry is fantastic as well and once again brings that sense of ‘haha! They’re so funny’ and near teary-eyed (don’t tell Chuin I said this!!!) ‘Awwww, they really do care for one another’ sense of emotions.

Let me put it this way…someone once commented on one of my reviews, noting that I only leave 5-star reviews. That should in no way diminish the rating, as I only take the time to review books I feel compelled to give 5-stars to. So the fact that I’m leaving this review here should tell you just how much I enjoyed it…and frankly, can’t wait for #152.

Well, despite Mr. Murphy’s passing, the franchise is in the extremely capable hands of his son, Devin Murphy, who is working hard at continuing publication of the series. Recently, he reached out to author RJ Carter to write the next book and voila, BULLY PULPIT came into existence. Recently, had the opportunity to talk with both Devin and RJ about this book and The Destroyer series in general. Here’s what they had to say:

We’ll start with Devin Murphy:

1) As I’ve already mentioned in this blog post, literature and fans of men’s adventure fiction suffered a major loss last year with the passing of your father, Warren Murphy. Warren was an amazing and prolific writer of numerous books and stories, but he’s probably best known by the two characters he created with Richard Sapir: Remo Williams and Chiun. With his passing, you’ve pretty much been left in charge of the property. With the most recent Destroyer novel being released just last week (#151, BULLY PULPIT by RJ Carter), I guess most people can assume that we haven’t heard the last of ‘Team Sinanju’.

Can you fill us in on the current plans for the series? How often can we expect a new book out? Feel free to share whatever you can about the future of The Destroyer series.
Hi, Kent, and thanks for having me! Thank you also for your kind words about Warren.
Many people have reached out to express their condolences and their memories of Warren, which I’ve found quite touching. But a lot of people also expressed concern about the future of the Destroyer, and whether the series would continue. I hope that Bully Pulpit helps to answer that question: yes, the series will continue! The months since Warren’s passing have been emotional, but my commitment to the series is stronger than ever — preserving the Destroyer helps Warren’s memory live on. 
The current plans for the series are pretty simple, actually: first, the books have to be good. No Destroyer is better than a bad Destroyer. Second, they have to be released quickly. 
To the first point, RJ is a good writer — his sense of humor is a great fit for the Destroyer, and he’s adept at learning the series. Bully Pulpit is a good book, and I have high hopes for RJ’s future books. 
To the second point, we’ll be able to release books faster now — the minor contractual hurdles we faced before the release of #151 have now been removed. 
As far as a schedule goes, I think that two new books in the Destroyer series over the next year is a reasonable goal. (There will also be a new Legacy, and several newly-republished books by Warren). Eventually, I’d love a more regimented release schedule — “we’ll have a new book every X number of months” — but that’ll be easier to develop once RJ and I work together a little longer.

2) What do you think makes this series so enduring and endearing? Fans of this series are diehard. Why do you think it appeals to them so much? While we’re on the subject, you’re not just one of the creators’ sons, you’re also a fan as well. What appeals to you most about the series?

Even though the Destroyer is an action series, it touches on a number of universal themes that resonate with readers. One dynamic in the books is the father/son relationship of Chiun and Remo — and that relationship, in turn, touches on even larger ideas of family and love. I know that sounds weird in the context of an action series, but consider Remo, an orphan who never knew his family. He eventually comes think of Chiun like a father, and so he doesn’t want to let him down. Remo is specific to the Destroyer, but his feelings are universal: sons don’t want to disappoint their fathers. Meanwhile, as Chiun starts to see Remo as a son, he takes great pride in Remo’s achievements. Like many fathers, though, he doesn’t always express these feelings of pride, because he wants Remo to continue to grow and to improve.
Even though these themes aren’t frequently addressed head-on in the books, they’re still present below the surface, making the books a little deeper and more thoughtful than they initially appear. Readers know that there’s more emotional heft in the relationship between Chiun and Remo than in a simple “mentor/mentee” relationship, and it’s definitely been part of the reason for the books’ enduring appeal.
This armchair psychology overlooks what is perhaps most important about the books: they’re good books. They’re interesting, 
tightly plotted, contextually believable, and, of course, they’re very funny. The books’ humor has stayed well-preserved, too. That’s a rarity for books that satirize current events, and it makes the series more accessible: you don’t need to know the specific events that were satirized in a specific book in order to find that book funny and exciting.

3) In the later years, the series saw a number of books written by various other authors. Some have been hits. Some have been misses. From what I’ve seen, there’s never really been a book that was received with lukewarm reception. Fans either love it or they hate it. What do you think is the underlying cause of a book that has hit its mark well in the series, or failed miserably? Why do you think it’s been rare to see a book that is average in the eyes of fans?

I think the main reason for a Destroyer to be viewed poorly is when the author doesn’t fully understand the characters. Facts are important; fans are going to be suspicious if they see a blue-eyed Remo. But the real ‘kiss of death’ is when incorrect details run counter to the characters’ fundamental identities. If Remo isn’t wearing chinos, fans will notice. If that’s the only issue, though, it’s not enough to “break” a book. However, if Remo eats fast food and drinks beer, then he’s going against his Sinanju training, which would be an unforgivable error. 
Any one book in the series may not explore a character’s personality in detail. But after looking at the series as a whole, a detailed picture of each character emerges. So for a writer to make huge mistakes means that, at best, he hasn’t read enough of the books; at worst, it means the writer doesn’t care about the books. In that case, fans are right to balk.

4) Having just finished reading BULLY PULPIT, I was absolutely amazed at how similar the book was to the ‘good ol’ days’ of the earlier Destroyer series. RJ Carter really did an amazing job tapping into the tone and feel of those early stories. Having collaborated on two (and currently working on my third) books with Jeremy Robinson, I know how difficult it can be to really match another author’s tone, style, and voice. How much instruction was RJ given when he began writing Bully Pulpit? How did the collaboration process work?
I’m glad you said that Bully Pulpit felt like one of the early books in the series — that was intentional. 
One thing that I liked the most about the first fifty-couple Destroyer books was that they were short. They were easy to read quickly, and they had a more streamlined structure because they didn’t have room for tons of different subplots: in other words, they were all meat, no filler. As time passed and the “publishing world” changed, though, short books became less common, so the Destroyer books got longer.
The reason publishers wanted longer books didn’t have to do with reader tastes — it had to do with production costs. There are many good reasons to make books longer, but the cost of paper is not one of them.
I don’t think a longer Destroyer is necessarily a better one. I missed being able to read a Destroyer in a day, so I wanted to use this book as a way to start getting the series ‘back to basics.’
In preparation for Bully Pulpit, RJ read a lot of the books — remember what I said about writers needing to know the characters? — and asked a lot of questions. I’m glad for Donna Courtois (author of “Number Two”) and Dale Barkman, whose encyclopedic knowledge was very helpful. RJ and I also talked extensively about the structure — how many chapters, where the “bad guy” is revealed, and so on — of his book and of the Destroyer in general. 
I’ve liked RJ’s style and tone ever since I read his story in More Blood, but we did try to ensure the style was in keeping with other books. A lot of little things are important: for instance, “curse words” occur surprisingly infrequently in the early books, so their use should be minimized; contractions (can’t, won’t) should not appear frequently in the narrative, and so on.

5) Finally, Devin, I’m curious…and I know a lot of fans may be curious as well…of all the Destroyer books your father had a personal hand in writing, which is your favorite? Why is it your favorite? And do you have a favorite non-Destroyer book your dad wrote? If so, what is it and why?

As a kid, I always liked Summit Chase (book #8), where Remo loses his memory on assignment. I still like the book, even though the idea of the “amnesiac hero” has been used many times. (It was probably less widespread when the book was originally published). One of the reasons I liked it was that it was one of the few books to feature Chiun in combat. It was only within the past few years that I learned that #8 was written solely by Warren — no wonder the writing style seemed so familiar to me!
To pick a favorite book (or books) in the series is a tall order, but if I had to pick one, it would be Book #20, Assassin’s Playoff. Not only is it nail-bitingly tense, it has the fan-favorite villain Nuihc — plus, we finally get to see Sinanju. It’s a great book. There’s also Acid Rock, #13, which has some of the funniest scenes of any of the early books. Fool’s Gold, #52, is also laugh-out-loud funny — and also a pretty accurate portrayal of a lot of people who work in Hollywood. Finally, books #128 (The End of the Beginning) and #129 (Father to Son) are a retelling and expansion of book #1. They’re a good place for new readers to start, and they’re two of the best-written books in the series.
It’s even harder for me to pick a favorite non-Destroyer book by Warren. The Trace series (recently released as e-books and in paperback) is funny and extremely clever; it’s easy to see why it won so many awards. For a more serious read, look no further than Warren’s final book, Bloodline: it’s nothing short of a masterpiece, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.
I do have plans to republish many of Warren’s out-of-print books. Many people have asked about the Razoni and Jackson series, which I hope to re-release this year, along with a few other titles. When we have more details, we’ll post them on DestroyerBooks.com — 2016 is going to be a big year!
Thanks again for having me, Kent — and if anybody has burning questions about Warren or about the Destroyer, or even just wants to say hi, they’re always welcome to contact me.
And thank you, Devin, for the great responses. I can honestly say, I couldn’t be more pleased with your plans for the future of the Destroyer series! I can’t wait to read the next book!

Now, let’s talk to the author of BULLY PULPIT, R.J. Carter:

1) So RJ, I just finished BULLY PULPIT, and I’ve got to say, “Kudos to you, man! Outstanding job!” I can honestly say that with you writing this book, I know the series is definitely in good hands. It’s obvious that you’re a fan of the series with the loving way you constructed the story. I’m curious…do you remember your first encounter with The Destroyer series? Tell us a little about that experience. What drew you to the series?

Thank you! I had a blast writing it, and it’s encouraging and comforting to know that the fan reception has been (so far) mostly positive. (I’ll do my best to learn from the negative reviews – and if I can’t, I’ll discuss it with Master Chiun.)

My first experience with The Destroyer was when I was an editor with The-Trades.com. I was doing reviews of movies, books, and stuff, and a friend asked if I was getting the new Destroyer books for review. I wasn’t, and hadn’t read any, but he encouraged me to try it. So I reached out to Tor for review copies. The “Tor Four” were my first exposure to the series.

Those reviews caught the attention of Gerald Welch, who asked if he could send along review copies of a series he was working on, The Last Witness – and, eventually, Legacy. Through Jerry, I found The Destroyer fan group online, and I worked with them on one of their fan-fiction contests, assisting with the judging of submissions. That was fun enough that I decided I wanted to try it myself, with the end product of that effort being “Fool’s Paradise” which ultimately made it into the MORE BLOOD anthology.

2) There are lots of writers out there who would practically sell their souls for a chance to play in Remo and Chiun’s sandbox. You are one of the lucky few given that privilege. Can you tell us a little bit about how you came to be the newest author of this fantastic series?  

Confession time: “Fool’s Paradise” was written without any exposure to any of the classic Remo villains, Mr. Gordons and Friend, so I had nothing more than a Wikipedia entry off of which to go. But I thought it would be fun to draw parallels between Remo’s world and the world of a nameless, nocturnal vigilante with pointy ear-like things on his trademarked mask.

That was the story that got noticed by Devin Murphy, who asked if I’d be interested in trying out a novel-length Destroyer. So now things had gotten serious. I had to really bone up on The Destroyer. I had several ideas in my head for how to cause damage – apparently most adventure writers have a little terrorist in them looking for a safer and legal outlet. I started with CREATED, THE DESTROYER and moved on to CHINESE PUZZLE, FUNNY MONEY, BRAIN DRAIN, UNION BUST, MUGGER BLOOD, ASSASSINS PLAY-OFF – and, of course, DOCTOR QUAKE, because I wanted to make sure that the elements of BULLY PULPIT weren’t going to be a retread of things that had gone before.

3) I don’t want to give away any spoilers in this latest book, but I absolutely LOVED the tie-in to previous, early volumes. As a matter of fact, I’ve got to tell you, that early book is one of my all-time favorites…so I was very pleased with what you did with it. Can you tell us a little about how you came up with the story?

I’d had a novel in the works literally since 1995 that involved the plot and scientific principles involved in BULLY PULPIT. In fact, the character who gets killed in Chapter One was initially going to be the hero of the piece. But I was never able to get good traction with that. When the opportunity came along to write THE DESTROYER, it became much easier to adapt that plot to Remo’s world, dropping poor Jake in a puddle of blood and letting the Mossad agent hook up with Remo instead.

And it all came from reading Margaret Cheney’s TESLA: MAN OUT OF TIME and Victor Ostrovsky’s BY WAY OF DECEPTION.

4) What other books have you written? Tell us a little about them if you’d like. Any projects you’re currently working on you’d like my readers to know about?

My first book was a children’s book. Again, it was one that sat around on a couple of notecards that I had shoved into the inner pocket of one of my coats before moving across the country. I found the notes about ten years later and began to seriously turn it into a book. ALICE’S JOURNEY BEYOND THE MOON began as a title in one of Neil Gaiman’s SANDMAN issues, and he even name checked the book after Telos had published it. It was very much styled after Martin Gardner’s THE ANNOTATED ALICE, and was presented as a third Alice story by Lewis Carroll, with annotations to the side about why Carroll would have written this passage, what was going on that might have inspired him, what he was parodying, and what Alice Liddell was up to at the time. So it was a children’s story, wrapped up in real biographical information, wrapped up in a complete and total lie that it was a “found footage” manuscript.

The publication with Telos opened the door to play in another sandbox they had. Prior to the BBC reviving Doctor Who, Telos had the license for the Doctor Who novels. When the BBC decided they wanted the license back, Telos created two other time traveling adventurers within the pages of the Doctor Who novel THE CABINET OF LIGHT by Daniel Mahoney. British copyright laws being what they are, this meant that Telos continued to own these characters, even though they were created in a Doctor Who novel. That spawned off TIME HUNTER – the time traveling adventures of Honore Lechasseur and Emily Blandish. I had a nut of an idea for something different with the series, and collaborated with my longtime friend Troy Riser on – I think it was the tenth book in the series – THE SIDEWAYS DOOR. It was the next-to-last book of the series, so I jokingly claim that we killed the franchise, but it was cool to hear Doctor Who actress Tracy Childs do the audio reading of it.

And then finally I returned to the children’s market. I had been carrying another idea around for a Christmas story involving a young would-be knight in King Arthur’s time. A KNIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS was basically inspired by having come up with a play on words (something I do far too much of – I don’t think I’ll ever get away with the idea for DESTROYED, THE CREATOR, but we’ll see), and I made the story fit the theme. (I had done a similar Christmas short story once that was published in Akkadian Magazine online called NICHOLAS’ CAGE, which was decidedly not a children’s story.)  I prevailed on Troy again to do the illustrations, on spec, and had the book published through Bookmason.

5) What are some of your own favorite books? Favorite authors? Influences?

Well, right up front, my influences for The Destroyer are Murphy, Sapir and Mullaney. When I’m sitting down post-structure to write the actual narrative, I’ll always be reading or re-reading one of the novels, because it puts me into the voice I need. If I have one writing talent at all, it’s one of being a chameleon. I was reading Carroll’s works when writing Alice, and I was reading Gaiman’s work when I wrote the (unpublished) novella TRAVELING DREAMWARD, which was a fictional / fantasy biography of Winsor McCay. (When I read Shakespeare, my thoughts start to fall into iambic pentameter, which gets really annoying!)

I did a ton of Young Adult reviews for The-Trades, and still do for CriticalBlast.com. Through that, I’ve developed a list of authors who, if I receive their work, immediately go to the top of my “have to read” stack. Brandon Mull (FABLEHAVEN), Scott Westerfeld (UGLIES, ZEROES), Neal Shusterman (UNWIND, SKINJACKER trilogy). And just so you don’t think it’s a huge sausage fest on my library shelf, I also have read all of Cassandra Clare’s MORTAL INSTRUMENTS and Suzanne Collins’ HUNGER GAMES, and I absolutely love delving into a brick of any of Ellen Hopkins poetry novels, with IDENTICAL probably being my favorite.

6) Finally, if Bully Pulpit is the first Destroyer novel a person ever reads, what do you hope they’ll get out of the experience?

Well, I first hope that it will have them seek out older Destroyer books. I want every book that I write to be a “gateway drug” to the series. I have layered goals when I put a Destroyer adventure together (like the one I’m working on now): it needs to be new reader accessible, but I also want it to dovetail into past Destroyer adventures, even if it’s just an Easter egg for the longtime fans. I hope that any reader, new or experienced, will have fun and hit the end wanting the next one.

Okay, readers, fans, and friends…if you like my stuff, you owe it to go out there and pick up a copy of BULLY PULPIT and every other Destroyer novel you can find. Trust me, they’re so much fun. As Devin said, most are very quick reads and you’ll just have a wonderful time exploring the world of Sinanju, the Sun Source of all Martial Arts. 🙂
Oh, by the way, besides BULLY PULPIT, I recently read an older book I hadn’t read before that has quickly shot up to my all time favorite. It is called MURDER WARD, and I swear, it’s one of the funniest books I ever read! So Merry Feast of the Pig, everyone and go get yourself some great books!

Recent Comments

  • Donna
    March 7, 2016 - 12:18 am · Reply

    Excellent interview, Mr. Holloway! And thanks to Devin and RJ for their praise of James Mullaney's Destroyer books. Too few people know that Jim went on to write two solo series, The Crag Banyon Mysteries and The Red Menace. Here's a link to Jim's Author page on Amazon.

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