Monday, November 24, 2008

IRON-clad Praise

IAMTW member Stephen Sullivan's IRON MAN: THE JUNIOR NOVEL got a rave review from Bookgasm:

This summer's IRON MAN was, in my opinion, one of the best comic book movies made — certainly my current favorite, replacing the reigning champ of SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE after 29 years. The beauty of the film — besides pitch-perfect acting and characterizations, seemingly effortless special effects, and the tight package in which it is all wrapped up — is the simplicity of the story: a man brought down by his own ego finding redemption through service to the world. The subtlety of his unfolding salvation provides the adult viewing experience that drew all those hundreds of millions dollars to the box office. For the young 'uns, it was the coolness of a guy who's been knocked down by bullies, but gets back up to fight back and win.

And that's how it plays in IRON MAN: THE JUNIOR NOVEL by Stephen Sullivan, featuring eight pages of photos from the film. Sullivan is faithful to the screenplay, while downplaying many of the too-grown-up motivations that might confuse his younger readers. It is, as I say, a good story and difficult to ruin, and Sullivan brings the right tone and style to keep things moving at a brisk pace that should keep even the kids who have seen the movie enthralled.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The "Ghost" Writer

The Ann Arbor News recently published a feature on IAMTW Member Steve Piziks and his new "Ghost Whisperer" novel THE PLAGUE ROOM. The author discovered that there were some advantages to this tie-in assignment compared to the others he has done...
Piziks is no stranger to writing novels based on TV series, such as "Star Trek" Voyager" and "Battlestar Galactica" (the current series). He's also written movie novelizations of 2003's "Identity" and 2004's "The Exorcist: The Beginning."

One of the challenges he ran into when writing this book was learning that "Ghost Whisperer" doesn't have the fan following those other shows have. If Piziks needed to fact-check something quickly, he didn't find any fan sites on the Internet with detailed plot summaries of each episode, as he did with "Voyager" and "Galactica." Instead, he had the DVDs of the series, particularly the first season which is when his novels occur, to fall back on. However, since "Ghost Whisperer" is set in the present, it made writing it easier.

"I didn't have to explain any science. I didn't have to figure out why some bit of futuristic technology couldn't solve the conflict. And the cast of 'Ghost Whisperer' is much, much smaller.

Melinda, her husband, Jim (played by David Conrad in the TV series), and Andrea (Aisha Tyler) were the only characters I had to get 'right,'" said Piziks. "There was less continuity to worry about, since I was working with the first season. All the other characters I created myself, which meant they could do whatever I wanted them to do."

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Worlds within worlds

In the four-month period between the end of July and the end of October of this year, I had four novels released.

One was an original supernatural thriller called River Runs Red, a terrifying story that builds on real-life occult researches conducted by the U.S. government, combining them with the experiences of three people in El Paso, Texas who had a bizarre and terrible encounter in a cave twenty years ago, with lasting consequences. Finally, it’s a story about gods, monsters, and a possible apocalypse. It was released in late September, and it’s gathering good reviews, and I am, I think, justifiably proud of it.

The other three are tie-in novels. The first, published in July, is 30 Days of Night: Eternal Damnation. It’s hard-hitting, straight ahead horror, based on the best-selling vampire comic book 30 Days of Night, which became a movie last year. The original creators of the comic, Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith, are friends, and when I had a day job as an editor, I edited the comic. So when Steve got the chance to write three novels based on his creation, he asked me to be his collaborator.

CSI: Miami: Right to Die came out in August. This one is based on the most-watched dramatic TV series in the world, the popular spin-off to mega-hit CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. I also have a history with CSI: Miami—I wrote the first graphic novel based on the show, and even went to the set to present copies to the cast, an event filmed by Access Hollywood (which cut me out of all the aired footage, although the book made it on). As it turns out, this is the final CSI: Miami novel, as Pocket Books dropped the license.

And finally, right around Halloween, came the one I’m really here to talk about: Spider-Man: Requiem.

One of the true joys of writing tie-in fiction—a pleasure authors who only pen original fiction (and especially those who look down their noses at tie-ins as being a lesser breed) never know—is being able to immerse oneself in beloved characters and their worlds. Spider-Man falls into that category for me. I’ve been reading his comics since the ‘70s (and have read back into the earlier stories, from the ‘60s). He’s a global icon, star of TV shows and movies and many other novels. But like most comic book fans, to me none of that other stuff is what really matters. It’s the comics.

Spider-Man wasn’t like Bruce Wayne, wealthy and handsome, with a glamorous babe on each arm. He wasn’t like Superman, invulnerable to almost everything (and I’ve written a novel about him, too—DC Universe: Trail of Time). At the beginning he was Peter Parker, a nerdy high school kid who lived with his aunt, who was haunted by his failure to prevent his uncle’s murder, who wasn’t rich or particularly popular with women. As he grew up, he became a little more skilled with the opposite sex, until he had an almost Archie-Betty-Veronica-ish triangle going with Gwen Stacey and Mary Jane Watson.

Stuff happened. There have been decades of stories, and changes made. The Green Goblin murdered Gwen Stacey. Peter married Mary Jane. More stuff happened.

I have not consistently read Spidey through the years, but when I was offered the job of writing a novel about him, I went back and did some catching up. And the comics were nearly as good as I remembered—some better, some worse, as different creative teams and editors dictated the events of his life over time. But while I was writing, there happened to be what I considered a terrible editorial decision. Peter made a deal with the devil—a deal that I thought the character, as developed over many years, would never agree to—with the result that he would not be married to MJ anymore, and would have no memory of the years they were together. It was a way of pushing the reset button, of extricating future creative teams from what was considered confining continuity, and perhaps of making the Spider-Man in the comics conform more to the one in the huge hit movies, who was not married.

But breaking up Peter and MJ? Sacrilege.

So in Spider-Man: Requiem (which, since it’s what I tend to write most often, is also a supernatural horror story in the form of a Spidey story), Peter and Mary Jane are still married, together, absolutely madly in love. It’s set in the Marvel Universe, but before the events that tore them apart. And it’s clear, in the novel, that nothing—no deal with the devil, no editorial fiat—will sever that bond.

A tie-in writer can’t change continuity. But he can—carefully—comment on that continuity, and can sometimes set a book in a time period that is more suited to his ideal version of the character.

Most importantly, he can play in the glorious sandboxes that formed his imagination, in the worlds he loves. And be paid for it. What could be better?

Other beloved universes I’ve been able to write in recently include Conan the Barbarian’s Hyborian Age, and the worlds of Zorro and the Phantom. I just had a story accepted for an anthology about a particular horror-writer’s universe that I can’t talk about yet. All these things are labors of love. And yet, I make a living at it.

If there’s a better way to make a living, I don’t know what it is.