Author John LeMay Interview
Author: Benjamin Chaffins
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Author John LeMay has published several books over the years. His books are entertaining informative reads and you can find his books on Amazon for a very reasonable price.
I wanted to speak with John about his books and to get some insight from him about the publishing process, how stressful it was typing these books up, and to put some information out there for those who are unfamiliar with his work.
Benjamin Chaffins: What was your introduction to the Godzilla/kaiju genre? How did you become a fan?
John LeMay: My parents thought I would like Godzilla, and I believe my first introduction to the monster was that old Imperial figure that was everywhere back then, the six inch one. Then they wanted to find one of the movies for me to see, but all they could find was GODZILLA 1985, which probably wasn’t the best movie for a four year old. I seem to remember I liked it but it scared me, and therefore still kinda scares me to this day in a way (I really like it though, one of my favorites). I believe next they either rented the Starmaker VHS of GODZILLA VS. GIGAN or bought it for me, and that one was perfect for my age range. I loved it, and one by one I discovered the rest (this was in the early VHS days of the 1990s, and my family didn’t have cable so I had to depend on Blockbuster video and the VHS section at K-Mart, Wal-Mart, etc. to find the films).
Ben: What made you decide to start writing books about the franchise?
John LeMay: I had broken into the publishing world doing history books for Arcadia, the History Press, and a small UFO-centric press from Texas between 2008-2015.
I saw a great guidebook on Spaghetti Westerns from Kamera Books and wanted to do a title for them on Daikaiju Eiga. I just assumed they’d want it, so I wrote a guide and review book on the subject and kind of tailored it to their standards, then I sent it off and never heard back. Either they didn’t want it or it got lost in the mail. I decided since it was already written I might as well just self-publish it via Amazon/KDP (then Createspace). So I expanded it quite a bit and changed it up so it wasn’t so much like one of the Kamera books and pulled the trigger. It sold well enough to warrant, another, and then another.
Ben: You’ve written a ton of books on the Kaiju genre, what was the publishing process like for your first book? How difficult was it?
John LeMay: If you look at the first edition of The Big Book of Japanese Giant Monster Movies, it’s an embarrassment in terms of the layout. It was just a matter of learning what you can and can’t do via Microsoft Word. The second and third editions have much nicer, more nuanced layouts. Edition 2 used the Japanese titles (written in Japanese) for the footer, and Edition 3 has kind of a retro vibe to it and has been edited by Ted Johnson. But publishing the book itself was very easy the first time around. In fact, the whole Amazon/KDP thing seems too easy and too good to be true, so they’ll probably screw it all up one day!
Ben: Speaking of The Big Book Of Japanese Giant Monster Movies, could you summarize what the book is about for those unfamiliar with it?
John LeMay: So that one is just your basic Japanese kaiju guidebook, even of the non-giant variety, so movies like THE H-MAN, etc. are also included. Actually, as its evolved into its third edition, it’s almost more of a tokusatsu movie guidebook since I include films like SUBMERSION OF JAPAN, CONFLAGRATION, and SAMURAI PIRATE (AKA THE LOST WORLD OF SINBAD). A brief synopsis is included for each entry, a cast and crew list, and then a production background with some commentary thrown in. There’s two volumes in that series, split between the Showa and Heisei eras.
Ben: When writing that first book, how difficult was it searching for accurate information?
John LeMay: The first one was so basic it wasn’t too challenging, as it was initially intended as an introduction for beginners, but with trivia at the end of each section for more knowledgeable fans. Now the Lost Films books are pretty difficult when it comes to digging up accurate information. There’s either a scarcity of information to begin with, or there are multiple accounts and stories that conflict with each other. For instance, Jun Fukuda might say something about EBIRAH, HORROR OF THE DEEP that totally disagrees with what Teruyoshi Nakano said about it. In the cases that there’s two conflicting stories I don’t over complicate it. I present both stories and give the sources for the information. I don’t like it when authors withhold information from readers. So even if two sources aren’t in agreement, I like to include them all so that all the details are out there for the reader — probably because that’s what I would want as a reader.
Ben: Outside of writing kaiju books, have you contributed other publications outside of this genre?
John LeMay: Yes, I wrote an article about Peter Seller’s unmade Pink Panther movie, ROMANCE OF THE PINK PANTHER, for Cinema Retro. I think I’ve covered some non-Japanese monster stuff in Mad Scientist and Xenorama, too. I also wrote a humorous guidebook about some of the worse, lesser-know Spaghetti Westerns. It’s called Deadly Spaghetti: The Goodest, the Baddest and the Ugliest Italian Westerns Ever Made (and yes, the title is grammatically incorrect on purpose).
Ben: In total, how many books have you produced over the years?
John LeMay: Sometime this year I will hit book #20, believe it or not. I think technically I’m already at 20, because I started doing these picture books that are basically throwbacks to the old monster library books of the 1970s. They’re only 44 pages each and are light on information, that’s why I don’t count them. I even warned people on Facebook that they are basically just novelty items produced for fun. The books I speak of include Giant Apes of the Movies, Dinosauruses of the Movies, and Monster Insects of the Movies.
Ben: Could you explain what this latest book is about?
John LeMay: Ah, Writing Japanese Monsters. That was a book I didn’t intend on writing, it just sort of happened. In The Lost Films, in Appendix II, I have a section where I charted significant changes in the development of films that were completed, like Gigan showing up in a draft of GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA (1974), that sort of thing. But my entries were getting way too long, and I just ended up making them chapters for what I thought would be the 2nd Edition of Lost Films. I think it was when I was researching TERROR OF MECHAGODZILLA (1975) and ATRAGON (1963) I realized that I wasn’t really writing about lost films per se, but was writing about the development of completed films. I had also been collecting bios on people like Shinichi Sekizawa and Niisan Takahashi to include as sidebars in Lost Films 2. I finally figured out the developmental process and the screenwriters could fill a book all its own, and so Writing Japanese Monsters was born.
Ben: Interesting. You actually referred an article a friend of mine published on Godzilla-Movies.com, that being the Ed Godziszewski interview on GODZILLA VS. BIOLLANTE. Was there any particular reason why?
John LeMay: It was just a particularly good, info rich piece. Ed was supposed to do a commentary track for GODZILLA VS. BIOLLANTE, so he did a lot of research on the film. I thought the bit about the NG Godzilla suit was interesting too, which was something I had never heard before.
Ben: Have you contributed to G-Fan?
John LeMay: Yes, my first article appeared in issue #75 and from then on I contributed infrequently. By about 2014 I steadily had articles in it, but not every issue. Now I have one or two articles in every issue.
Ben: What has been the reception for each of your books as of late?
John LeMay: The Lost Films and Kong Unmade have had overwhelmingly positive reviews, whereas The Big Book of Japanese Giant Monster Movies review books are more down the middle. I’ll occasionally get negative reviews on those, but the lost films stuff is 100% positive so far. Terror of the Lost Tokusatsu Films was also well received by those who purchased it, but that one doesn’t have “Gujiller” in it, so it doesn’t sell as many copies by comparison. I haven’t gotten any feedback on the newest one yet outside of test readers, those being Mike Bogue, Neil Riebe, Allen Debus and J.D. Lees. On the note of J.D., full disclosure, if you subscribe to G-Fan you’ve already been reading beta-chapters from Writing in the form of all those “Secret History of” articles that I do (one of them got a Rondo nomination for best article of the year too, which kinda surprised me).
Ben: Got anything else in the pipework?
John LeMay: I think I’m about done with Japanese monster books for a while except one. I’m doing a book that compares the different cuts of the movies like the old articles from G-Fan and Kaiju-Fan long ago, but this one will cover everything. Even obscure stuff, like the German version of LEGEND OF DINOSAURS, etc. But lots more genre books. The next one should be out this summer and I’m tentatively calling it Jaws Unmade and The Children of Jaws. It’s about unmade JAWS sequels, unmade sequels to JAWS ripoffs, and JAWS ripoffs in general. Due to quarantine boredom I also started The Lost Films Fanzine which should be available by the time that people are reading this. The first issue leans a little heavy on Japanese movies, but the second issue forwards is more diverse. The fanzine will cover a little bit of everything, lost James Bond and Tarzan films, unmade comic book movies, you name it.
Ben: Have you ever considered writing up anything on Ultraman or Super Sentai?
John LeMay: That’s funny; my friend Kyle Byrd asked me that yesterday! I want to, but Super Sentai, Ultraman, Kamen Rider… there’s just too much! What I really want is for someone else to write about it and then I’ll buy their book haha. But, I do cover some unmade Ultraman stuff in my books. The second edition of Lost Films has a brand new appendix devoted just to lost TV concepts and lost Ultraman episodes. (I’m finally just now watching Kamen Rider and Super Sentai on TokuShoutsu… not all of it, just an odd episode here and there when I can.)
Ben: Finally, do you have any advice for those who would want to write their own book someday?
John LeMay: If it’s a guide/review book just do it! I enjoy reading different people’s takes on the genre and knowing why they do or don’t like a certain film. It’s part of fandom. But if you want to do something special, try to find an angle that nobody else has explored yet. Like Super Sentai and TV Tokusatsu, nobody has really done that yet.
Ben: Thank you for this interview, John. Look forward to other publications that you will produce.
John LeMay: Thanks, Ben!