Slayer Lit

Slayer Lit Interview

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JEFF MARIOTTE
Conducted by Shiai Mata

Mariotte

If one were to try and define "Jack of all Trades" in the world of literature, it might just be easiest to point to Jeff Mariotte's résumé. In addition to having written some three dozen of so books, he's also authored a number of comic book stories, including the award winning DESPERADOES and GRAVESLINGER. On top of that, he's been a comic editor, and also a bookseller (co-owning the Mysterious Galaxy store in San Diego with his wife, Maryelizabeth Hart, and Terry Gilman). He can speak with authority on horror literature, the Old West, and the fine are of fencing.

And if that's not enough, he's also an incredibly nice and generous guy.

It's always my pleasure to speak with him, and I hope you'll find this interview a pleasure to read we well!

SLAYERLIT: Jeff, welcome to your very own SlayerLit interview! To start off, how about sharing the secret origin of Jeff Mariotte, Writer?

JEFF MARIOTTE: Thanks for interviewing me! I'm thrilled to take part.

There's not much secret about my origin, though. Especially since I basically ran through it all on my blog a couple of days ago... Basically, I have been writing since a very young age, when I used to write my own extremely derivative Hardy Boys type stories. More recently, I wrote short stories throughout high school and college, which was when I won a literary award and had my first piece of nonfiction published, an interview with former Monkee Michael Nesmith in a magazine called Bay Area Music, or BAM.

Eventually, I became a bookseller, largely in order to learn how the publishing biz worked and to meet writers. While managing a bookstore in La Jolla, CA, I sold my first short story, to an anthology called Full Spectrum. My assistant manager at that time was married to superstar comic book artist Jim Lee, who became one of the founders of Image Comics. Needing someone to write the text for some trading cards, he came to me. The store I had been running had closed and we were in the process of putting together Mysterious Galaxy, so some income was sorely needed. I did that job, and then some more writing jobs for him, and was eventually hired to do marketing. But I also wrote some comics there, including some issues of Gen13. When Christopher Golden was asked to write the first Gen13 novel, he asked me to collaborate on it with him, and that became GEN13: NETHERWAR, my first novel.

SL: You were first introduced to the Buffy series when you wrote THE XANDER YEARS, VOL. 2, a novelization of several Xander-centric episodes. How did you come to get that assignment, and did you pitch another original story first?

JM: The aforementioned Chris Golden recommended me to Buffy editor Lisa Clancy. She got in touch and asked me if I'd be interested in writing it. Since at that point I didn't have a solo novel credit, I waited about ten seconds before accepting.

SL: You've done various media tie-in books in the years since, but at the time, this was your first based on a TV show. At the time, did you find adapting the work of others to be creatively confining to you, or was it a good learning process in some way?

JM: It was both. Because it was an adaptation of existing episodes, the goal was to present exactly what was seen on the screen, just expanded a little and with some interstitial material tying the three episodes together. All the dialogue in the episodes had to be in the book, verbatim. That meant reading the scripts and comparing them, line by line, to the shows as broadcast. This was a good way to learn the patterns of speech of the main characters, how they were developed as the show progressed, etc. I think it was a terrific learning experience for someone fated to write more books in that universe.

SL: Instead of immediately going on to your own original Buffy novel, you instead were asked to write one of the early Angel novels instead, CLOSE TO THE GROUND. Did you express an interest in writing Angel?

JM: Yes. I don't actually remember now if it was Lisa's idea for me to pitch Angel, or mine. But I felt a more immediate kinship with Angel than Buffy, since it combined elements of horror with hard-boiled mystery, especially in its early days, and those were two major interests of mine.

SL: I suppose at this point, I should say that I'm going to assume that you were a fan of the BtVS and AtS series before you ever started writing books for them.

JM: I had seen and enjoyed the Buffy movie, but hadn't started watching the TV series at the beginning, and then when I did try to get on board it was difficult because it seemed there was so much backstory I had missed. So I didn't become a regular viewer until after I was offered the first book. Fortunately, I had Chris and Nancy's first WATCHER'S GUIDE--and Chris and Nancy--to help me find my way. By the time AtS started, I had already been watching BtVS and was in on Angel from the get-go.

SL: How is it that you and your wife, Maryelizabeth Hart, came to collaborate with Nancy Holder on the second volume of THE WATCHER'S GUIDE, as well as ANGEL, THE CASEFILES VOL. 1?

JM: An accident of geography. For the second WATCHER'S GUIDE, the idea was to follow an individual episode from conception to airing. That meant being able to run up to the set at short notice, as at first the show producers weren't sure which episode we'd be allowed to observe ("Hush," for instance, was shot around that time, but they didn't want extraneous people on set for such technically tricky scenes). And it would require being available for a spread of several weeks, because there's considerable time elapsed between a story being "broken" in the writers' room and the time the final post-production elements are wrapped up. Chris had written the first GUIDE with Nancy, but he lived in Massachusetts, and couldn't spend that kind of time in California. Nancy lived near us in San Diego, knew we knew the show by then, and asked us if we would take part.

From there, it seemed natural to work together on the first CASEFILES as well.

SL: If I've done the math correctly, you've written or co-written some 11 Angel novels, plus contributed a short story to THE LONGEST NIGHT, making you the most prolific author to work with the character. How would these assignments usually come about; would you pitch an idea to Simon & Schuster, or would the editor ring you up and say, "We've got an idea we'd like you to take a swing at"?

JM: That's not even counting 12 Angel comic books or stories. Almost invariably, it was me throwing ideas at Lisa, although I think there were some occasions when she came to me (or me and Nancy) and said, "I have this slot open--do you have anything?).

SL: Just out of curiosity, why no solo Buffy novels from you? No time, no inclination, or no opportunities?

JM: As I said above, I always felt better matched with Angel and the combination of horror and noir crime stories. The characters were more appealing to me--if I had written Buffy, it would have had to have been while Cordy was on the show, because I love writing her dialogue. So I don't think I ever even pitched a Buffy novel, and if I did it was never accepted.

SL: You teamed up with Nancy Holder again when the two of you wrote the rather ambitious three-part Buffy and Angel team-up, UNSEEN. Was that story always meant to be told over the course of three separate books, or was this a case of a single book being tripled to make something of an epic?

JM: This was one of those times that Lisa came to us and said she wanted to do a crossover. I honestly don't remember whose idea it was to do it as a trilogy, although it might have been mine. Then again, maybe not. By the time we started coming up with the story, though, we knew it would be a trilogy, so the tale was constructed with that in mind, as a three-part epic.

SL: Did you ever offer up a story idea that was rejected?

JM: Yes, at least one. I had one idea that would involved Angel with the ghost of an old cowboy--that one never got off the ground.

SL: You and Nancy (her again!) wrote ENDANGERED SPECIES...a rare instance of an Angel novel being released first in hardcover...which featured as part of the plot springing Faith out of prison (something which Chris Golden had also utilized in his own WISDOM OF WAR the year previous). I bring this up, because your book was released concurrent with Season Four of AtS, and not long before the show had a storyline where Faith is...ta da!...sprung from prison. Were there any hints from Fox that you maybe shouldn't use Faith in certain ways, to avoid any conflict with the show?

JM: Not that I recall. Sorry to go all Alberto Gonzales on you here, it's just that a lot of these things happened a long time, and a lot of books, ago. The main thing in writing tie-in novels is that you have to give the characters a different kind of life for a while, but then you have to leave them as you found them, because you can't change the status quo. If you kill someone, you've got to be able to bring them back. That's more easily done in the Jossverse than, say, CSI: MIAMI or LAS VEGAS. With Faith, the main thing was that by the end of the book, she had to be back in prison, so she was.

SL: Rebecca Moesta tells us that you had a big role in opening the door for her to pitch her Buffy book, LITTLE THINGS, to the editor. Were there any other authors you ever suggested to S&S?

JM: Stephen King. Not really, but now anyone searching King's name online will come across this interview.

SL: Did you know that you have your own IMDB.com entry? All it says is that you're friends with Jodi Riggins...who, I know, you name-checked in your first SUPERNATURAL novel. Do you like to pepper your stories with references to people you know?

JM: The IMDB entry came about because I was vaguely involved with a documentary called ADVENTURES IN DIGITAL COMICS. I was interviewed as part of the background process, but didn't have anything to do with what actually wound up in the film. But they set up the IMDB page then.

To answer the question, yes, I do occasionally drop real people into the books. I suspect that most writers do, just to tip their hats to their friends. In the SUPERNATURAL book, there's also a character named Maria Lima, after a writer friend of mine. One of the most name-heavy was GEN13: NETHERWAR. That was essentially a horror novel disguised as a superhero novel, so Chris and I tossed in a ton of friends from the horror community.

SL: Congratulations on having your latest comic project, GRAVESLINGER, optioned by Spitire Pictures. Do you hope to have some role in working on a script? And is screenwriting something you'd be interested in getting into?

JM: I'd be thrilled to work on a script for it. Nothing much can happen in any regard until the writers' strike is brought to a close (hopefully in a way advantageous to the writers). I was a radio/TV/film major in college, with intentions of pursuing a career in film in some way. As it is, the most my degree has come into play has been in understanding the TV and movie businesses well enough to negotiate my tie-in career.

SL: Can I ask what you're reading for pleasure right now?

JM: At the moment, a first novel, a thriller called PRECIOUS BLOOD by Jonathan Hayes.

SL: What can we look forward to from you next?

JM: As usual, there are a few things in the pike. At the end of October I turned in original horror novel RIVER RUNS RED to my editor at Penguin, the same editor who published MISSING WHITE GIRL. That'll be out in October, 2008. I have a CSI: MIAMI novel coming sometime next year called RIGHT TO DIE. I'm currently working on the third 30 DAYS OF NIGHT novel, ETERNAL UNREST. After that I'll be writing SPIDER-MAN: REQUIEM, and then a third original horror novel for Penguin. There are also a couple of original graphic novels on the way, ZOMBIE COP and FADE TO BLACK, but I'm not sure of the publishing schedule on those. Some other comic stuff in there, too.

SL: You have experience as an author, an editor, and a book retailer. What is the one piece of advice you could give to an aspiring writer?

JM: One piece of advice? If I'm that limited, it'll be boring. If you want to be a writer, you have to write. Write a lot. Write all the time. The only thing that exercises your writing muscles is writing. Reading is good too, but it's not as important as writing.

SL: Anything else you'd like to say to the many tens of SlayerLit visitors out there?

JM: If you like books, buy books. Money's hard to come by, but if you can afford it, shell out for them when they're new. The ANGEL and BUFFY publishing licenses were allowed to lapse when they were because the sales volume of the books had slowed to the extent that continuing those lines just wasn't going to make money for Simon and Schuster. The STAR TREK license, on the other hand, is still going strong forty years after the first series hit. If you want to keep seeing SUPERNATURAL novels come out, for instance, buy 'em new and encourage your friends to do the same, because publishing is a numbers game, and the numbers have to be there.

SL: I'd just like to add that you and Maryelizabeth have been great friends to SlayerLit, and it's been my pleasure to interview you.

JM: Thanks, Shiai. It's not only been a pleasure to be interviewed, but to get to know you in person through our involvement with SlayerLit.

jeffmariotte.com

  • Close to the Ground 2000
  • Hollywood Noir 2001
  • Unseen: The Burning (with Nancy Holder) 2001
  • Unseen: Door to Alternity (with Nancy Holder) 2001
  • Unseen: Long Way Home (with Nancy Holder) 2001
  • Haunted 2002
  • Stranger to the Sun 2002
  • The Longest Night 2002 "A Joyful Noise"
  • Endangered Species (with Nancy Holder) 2003
  • Sanctuary 2003
  • Solitary Man 2003
  • Love and Death 2004