Thursday, September 1, 2011
Interview with 'Supernatural' writer John Passarella--and Contest!
UPDATE #2: The contest is officially closed! Thanks to everyone for participating.
UPDATE: We are now running a contest where you can win a free signed copy of the book! Read after the interview for details.
I am very honored today to welcome horror author John Passarella to the blog to discuss his latest novel Night Terror (due out September 13th from Titan Books) based on the hit TV show Supernatural--now nearing its seventh season.
I have been a huge fan of Supernatural since the very beginning. While I've not been very excited by the more "cute" comedic direction the show's taken in recent years, I can still watch episodes like "Devil's Trap" and be reminded of this show's potential to be a great gritty drama. I've seen the amazing Animated Series, read the comics, and collected the novels--I even starred in Supernatural: Bone Key...okay, it was a cameo, but it still counts :p
Having said all of that, I'm a starstruck fanboy today, talking to a man who's written in this fictional universe. But enough of my drooling! On with the interview. Warning: Some spoilers for Supernatural Season Six ahead.
Greg Mitchell: Welcome, John! Thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to pick your brain for a bit. We’ll start off with an easy one. Tell us a bit about yourself.
John Passarella: I’m an author of supernatural thrillers. My co-authored first novel, Wither, won the Bram Stoker Award for Best First Novel and the movie rights were purchased by Columbia Pictures. Since then I’ve written two standalone sequels to Wither, Wither’s Rain and Wither’s Legacy, a paranormal thriller, Kindred Spirit, and Shimmer, another supernatural thriller. I’ve written three media tie-in novels, Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Ghoul Trouble, Angel: Avatar and Angel: Monolith. Supernatural: Night Terror (September 13, 2011) will be my ninth published novel, and fourth original media tie-in. In addition to writing, I’m the owner of AuthorPromo.com, a website design company with several New York Times bestselling authors as clients, including Harlan Coben, Nicholas Sparks and Michael Palmer.
GM: You wrote a Supernatural novel! How awesome! What’s Supernatural: Night Terror all about?
JP: Here’s the semi-official description, subject to change: Alerted to strange happenings in Clayton Falls, Colorado, Bobby sends the boys to check it out. A speeding car with no driver, a homeless man pursued by a massive Gila monster, a little boy chased by uprooted trees — it all sounds like the stuff of nightmares. The Winchesters fight to survive a series of terrifying nighttimes, realizing that sometimes the nightmares don’t go away — even when you’re awake...
GM: Where does it fit in Season Six? Are we talking Soulless Sam, here?
JP: Night Terror takes place after Sam’s soul restoration, between the episodes “Frontierland” and “My Heart Will Go On.”
GM: Does Night Terror have any connection (other than the obvious) to the other two Supernatural novels that have recently been released?
JP: One Year Gone is about the year Sam and Dean were separated. I believe Coyote Kiss, the novel that precedes mine takes place during Soulless Sam time. Actually, I think somebody said Night Terror is the first novel with Sam’s soul restored.
GM: How much did you know about Supernatural going into this project? Were you already a fan?
JP: Yes, big fan. I’d been watching since year one, episode one.
GM: Wow, that's great. I think that can really make the difference. Which season has been your favorite?
JP: I enjoyed the build-up of the apocalypse arc and resolution. Hard to beat the apocalypse for suspense value and ultimate stakes. However, I’ve enjoyed all the seasons to various degrees. With Kripke out as showrunner and not knowing how they would follow-up the averted apocalypse, I had concerns for season six, but it turned out well and the ending was certainly a surprise twist.
GM: What were some of the challenges of coming into this series?
JP: With any tie-in novel, the first concern is getting the voices right. The people who read these books are fans of the show. They notice when the voices or the characters don’t ring true. So job one is make sure that feels right. Since I had been a day-one fan, I knew the characters well, but writing them is another level of involvement and understanding. My editor gave me production scripts weeks before the episodes aired, so I was able to stay in tune with current situations and relationships in the show. Finally, I had to pitch four to five ideas initially, so I spent a week or two coming up with original ideas, something the show hadn’t used, and then hope the powers that be would like at least one of them enough to give me the green light to submit an outline. My guidelines were season six and monster story. No angels/demon arc. The show had passed that. Fortunately, most of my own novels deal with monsters and supernatural suspense so Supernatural is a good fit for me.
GM: How much did you know about Season Six’s outcome when you came on board to write the book?
JP: I was anywhere from five to six weeks ahead of the air dates as far as the scripts I had on hand. But I had to finish the first draft and the novel while there were still about three episodes left in the season. So I had no idea how the season would wrap up. As I was writing the novel, I put in references to upcoming (now long past!) episodes and kept pushing my story as late in the season six timeline as I could. Even though Castiel isn’t in my story, it takes place before the Winchesters’ suspect his involvement with Crowley. At that point in the season, their focus changes drastically so my between-episodes story would have been burdened with subplot that I couldn’t really address in a meaningful way.
GM: Did you see the finale? What did you think about the wrap-up for this year’s storyline?
JP: Yes, of course, I’ve seen it. I never miss a week. It’s appointment television for my wife, sons and me! Honestly, I thought Castiel was a goner. I didn’t see the twist coming. So I was pleasantly surprised. I have no idea where the show will go from here. Castiel is my oldest son’s favorite character in the show and I have the impression from outside news tidbits that he will appear less frequently next season.
GM: Any thoughts on where you, personally, would like to see Season Seven go?
JP: I like to be surprised. I thought reading the scripts ahead of time would kind of spoil the show for me, but my reactions just moved to the printed word rather than the television screen. What I mean is, I would be totally absorbed in the script and experience the emotions there first. Also, by reading the scripts, I absorbed more of the nuances of the show, what the writers intended. Unless you watch the episodes repeatedly, you miss a line here or there, don’t catch a look or an inference. In the script, all that stuff is there, unfiltered and uninterrupted.
GM: Wow, that's got to be really cool. A personal complaint about Supernatural is its limitations. We all know it’s on a very tight budget—affording little opportunity for really amazing creature effects or big scale action sequences. Plus, the scope has grown so big over the years—perhaps too big, given the budget—that Sam and Dean feel left out of the action so many times, such as the Civil War in Heaven. For the last few years, the big mythology stuff—first with the Demon War in Season Three, then with the angels trying to stop the seals from being broken in Season Four, to hunting Lucifer in Season Five—has largely occurred “off camera”. However, in a novel, is there a real opportunity to go “all out”, since you don’t have those budgetary constraints, and show some of these larger than life aspects of the SPN world, or do you feel that it’s the responsibility of a tie-in novel to not stray too far from what you’d be able to see in any given episode?
JP: I think that limitation applies to most genre shows. They don’t have summer franchise movie budgets to work with, so the superheroes stop being so super on a weekly basis, and the monsters stay in the shadows more than we’d like. Someone with the show called me and basically told me to take advantage of the “no censors” and “no budget constraints” aspects of the novel realm. So that’s what I did. There is a level of destruction and creature “effects” and gore in the novel which would not be possible on the show or would be left to the shadows or to the viewer’s imagination. Obviously a book leaves everything to the reader’s imagination, but when you’re watching a show (as opposed to reading a book) you want to see what you’re supposed to see and you sometimes feel cheated when it’s not there or doesn’t live up to your expectations or involve cutting edge CGI. As far as viewers being left out of the angel civil war, I came to understand during the season that without Sam and Dean in those situations, they may not have resonated with viewers. The Winchesters humanize the situations for us. Godlike beings battling amongst themselves might have been entertaining for a short while, but without the human scale, it may have left viewers uninvolved and unmoved. Season six helped bring things back to a human scale, but also gave us some resolution to the civil war in heaven.
GM: How hard is it to break into the media tie-in business? Is it harder than getting an original novel published?
JP: My first tie-in novel was Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Ghoul Trouble. I approached the editor about writing a Buffy book, but I already had a Wither book credit. And one reviewer helpfully compared Wither to Buffy, so I thought that was a natural calling card. I had to submit an outline and sample chapter before I got the job. While writing that, the editor invited me to do an Angel novel. Angel: Avatar was the result. A subsequent editor contacted me about writing another Angel novel and Angel: Monolith was the result. The Titan Books editor was looking for fresh blood for the Supernatural books and she found my website on the web and invited me to pitch. Having the professional credit got my foot in the door, then having a good working relationship with the editor kept me in the game. Then my track record came into play for the last two tie-ins. The Wither movie rights sold before the book sale, which is unusual. I don’t think my writing career path is a blueprint somebody can follow in a straightforward way.
GM: Speaking of original novels, tell us about Wither. Is that series finished, or are their more Wendy Ward adventures waiting to be told?
JP: I’ve continued the Wither/Wendy Ward mythology in a series of (sometimes long) short stories, most available in eBook form. The most recent – and longest – is “Blood Alone” in an anthology called The Stories In Between. I’m planning another story that will go in a fiction collection later this year. All the Wendy Ward stories and my other short fiction will be available first in eBook form, then possibly in trade paperback. I may write another Wendy Ward story, but I’m undecided at the moment. With that last story, I provided a resolution of sorts for Wendy. If I think of a novel-length story to tell with her, I will write it. E-publishing has made some things possible that were mostly impossible before. With the fiction collection coming and some other novels on the backburner, I’ll have time to let ideas for Wendy percolate.
GM: I agree about the interesting market changes thanks to the advent of eBooks. What’s up next for you? Any more Supernatural novels on the horizon?
JP: I’d love to do another Supernatural novel. Sales of the current batch will determine if the license is renewed. So any readers out there who like them should support them. Spread the word. Buy some as gifts for friends, fans of the show who may not know they exist or donate copies to your local library. But, short term, I want to write one last original story for the fiction collection. Then possibly a sequel to Shimmer: I wrote 12,000 words of it during NaNoWriMo before stopping to write Night Terror. And I have some other novel ideas I’d like to begin.
GM: With your obvious knowledge and passion for the show, I think it's safe to say we could use someone like you writing more Supernatural novels! Now, final question: I know you wrote Buffy, that other famous television monster hunter of recent memory. In the interest of total frivolity, be honest--if Buffy and the Winchester Brothers were bound by some demonic force to have a fight to the death, who would win? Or would there just be lots of witty banter?
JP: That’s a tough one. Without the demonic force controlling them, I think they’d really get along. Definitely kindred spirits. If the duel came down solely to hand-to-hand combat, I’d have to give the edge to Buffy, as she has the whole “Chosen One” supernatural strength, agility, etc. advantage. If weapons were allowed, the Winchesters are resourceful enough to turn the fight in their favor, but it would probably come down to a coin flip.
GM: Thank you for sitting down and hanging out with us.
JP: Thanks, Greg!
GM: And thanks to everyone for stopping by to read! Now go pre-order your copy of Night Terror today and look for it in stores September 13th!
The giveaway is now closed! Head over to the winner announcement!