Thursday, April 14, 2011

Interview with John Passarella (Part 1 of 2)

I'm blessed this month to publish an interview with Bram Stoker Award willing novelist John Passarella. John and I met via KindleKorner, a Yahoo! group for Kindle (and other e-book) lovers. Someone on the list reviewed an Angel TV tie-in book he'd written, and I bought and loved it. I've since bought one of his original works, Shimmer, and I've got his other books on my wish list. (So many books, so little time!)

I follow him on Twitter (@JohnPassarella), and he mentioned he was writing another TV tie-in for Supernatural. The book is available for pre-order (Supernatural: Night Terror), and I asked him if he'd be willing to tell us about the differences between writing original fiction and work-for-hire. He gave me some great answers, too much for one blog post, so I'm splitting it between this week and next. Enjoy! And buy his stuff. He's a good writer, and he assures me I'll enjoy Night Terror even though I've never seen Supernatural.

Which do you like better, original or media tie-in?

I prefer the freedom and creativity of writing my own original novels and stories. I have complete control. I can go wherever the story and the characters take me. At the same time, writing media tie-in novels for shows I love is a lot of fun. They bring me even closer to the show, because I study the show on a different level when I'm planning to write a novel about it. And it's a way for me to put these characters in situations I dream up. For me, the ultimate goal in writing tie-ins is to write a novel that fans of the show experience as a "missing episode" or adventure with their favorite characters. I want the story to feel a part of their universe and I want the characters voices and actions to feel right.

How did you get started writing TV show tie-ins?

After my first novel (WITHER, co-authored with Joseph Gangemi) came out, the San Francisco Examiner & Chronicle review said, "hits the groove that makes TV's Buffy the Vampire Slayer such a kick." The Buffy TV series was in it's second year or so and I was a huge fan. That review made me think that maybe I could write a Buffy novel, but I didn't know if I could capture the characters' voices. That was still an unknown for me, something I hadn't tried yet. I contacted Lisa Clancy, who was editing the books. Told her I loved the show, mentioned that review of WITHER and asked if I could write one of the novels. She told me to write a 10 to 12 page outline of the complete book and a sample chapter featuring the main cast. That sample chapter would prove to both of us whether or not I could capture their voices. That sample chapter basically became the first chapter in Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Ghoul Trouble. During the process of writing that book, Lisa asked if I'd like to do an Angel novel (Angel was early in season one), that she thought I'd be a good fit for that show. Of course, I agreed. The result was Angel: Avatar. A few years later, I wrote Angel: Monolith. In September 2011, Night Terror, my original novel based on the TV show Supernatural is due out. That one will be my first outside of the Whedonverse, but it's a good fit for me since my own novels are supernatural thrillers. 

Is it something you’d recommend for a new author trying to make a name for him or herself?

If the opportunity is there for a new author, sure. In some ways, writing a tie-in is easier than a completely original novel. There is no world-building needed -- the world has already been built for you. Same for the main characters. Their history and their voice is established. You come up with ancillary characters only. But in some ways, it's harder to write an original tie-in novel. Not every writer can capture the voices of an established show/world. And, as with all tie-in novels, the toy box metaphor is in effect. You get to play with the toys, but you have to put them back in the toy box the way you found them. A reset switch. That means you can't make changes to the characters' lives or the course of the canonical arc even when the novels aren't themselves canon. And yet, within those parameters, you have to come up with an interesting and exciting story. It's harder to write emotional arcs that resonate in a media tie-in novel when the characters themselves aren't allowed to change. In your own original novel, anything can happen and emotional arcs are much easier to write. Also, in tie-in novels, the author is not the final authority. You have to abide by rules, set the story in a certain time-frame, perhaps not use certain characters or situations you would have enjoyed exploring, and make any requested changes.

Do you find it limiting to be working with someone else’s character? Or does it free you to concentrate on plot since you don’t have to go quite as much character development?

As I mentioned above, you don't need to work on character development the way you would in your own novel, but you do need to master the voices of those characters. If they don't act right or sound right, the fans will let you know. And there are some constraints in the plot because you have to set the story in a certain time-frame within the show's moving arc. Finally, you have to set things back the way they were, no major character changes allowed. If you can work within those constraints, you can have a lot of fun playing in the world, especially if you are a fan yourself. I don't think I would want to write a media tie-in novel for a show I didn't care about as a viewer. I need that enthusiasm to really enjoy the experience. And, hopefully, if I'm having fun in that world, the reader will have fun as well.

Come back next week where John will tell us how he schedules writing around his job as web designer. He'll also tell us how writing media tie-ins has helped promote his original works.

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