Slayer Lit

Slayer Lit Interview

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JOHN PASSARELLA
Conducted by Shiai Mata

John Passarella

"I wanted to address these varied relationships and be true to them."

It's kind of hard to believe that John Passarella has only written one Buffy novel and two Angel books. His works have such a 'comfort level' with the characters, you'd almost believe he's written for them dozens of times. Of course, it's almost a bit difficult to fathom how such a nice guy can cook up such frighteningly spooky supernatural tales as the WITHER books and KINDRED SPIRIT!

Before we jump into Jack's interview, I'd just like to point out that I think anyone who aspires to be a published author ought to read what he has to say very closely... his advice amounts to a tutorial on many of the things writers ought to consider and focus on.

Now then, on with the interview... !

SLAYERLIT: Hello Jack, and welcome to SlayerLit. Before we get started, I'd just like to thank you for all of the support you've shown us over the years.

JOHN PASSARELLA: You're welcome. I've enjoyed my time at SlayerLit. I'm not just a writer, I'm a fan, so I'm interested in a lot of the same thing the other SlayerLit folks (SlayerLitters?) are. For example, I'm following along with the Season 8 Buffy and Season 6 Angel comic books.

SL: Let's start at the beginning. How did you first become a professional writer?
JP: Officially, with the movie rights sale of WITHER to Columbia Pictures. We sold the book rights a week or two later, after all the press the movie sale received. But I had been writing steadily since the age of 12. And before that, I was drawing stories in typing paper tablets. That was probably my first tie-in stage. I would draw existing Star Trek stories, then create my own.

SL: Who were the writers who inspired you when you were young?
JP: John D. MacDonald and Harlan Ellison. Later Stephen King. Those three authors created works that make me want to be a writer. I couldn't wait for the next Travis McGee novel. And back then, without the Internet as a constant source of information, I had no idea when they would be out. I would walk into a bookstore and go through the new books, looking for the authors I read.

SL: And let me ask the obvious follow-up: Which authors excite you the most today?
JP: I'm more of a hunt and peck reader these days. I read various genres, including computer-related books. I always pick up F. Paul Wilson's latest book in hardbound. I was a huge fan of the first 10 or so Anita Blake novels by Laurell K. Hamilton. Also, I've been catching up on Harlan Coben's thrillers since he became one of my web design clients. My reading pace has slowed considerably in the last couple years, mainly due to the web design business. I only read twenty books last year. I'd love to average at least twice that number.

SL: You sort of defied the odds by being a commercial success with your very first published novel, WITHER (1999). It won the Bram Stoker Award, was optioned as a motion picture from Columbia Studios, and has established itself as a genuine franchise with two successful full-length sequels and two 'novelettes'. What was it like having a big hit your first time at bat?
JP: Just to clarify, we sold the movie rights to WITHER, not an option. Options renew or expire or turn into rights sales. Columbia owns the rights for good, unless they decide to sell them to another studio or production company. That's an important distinction because nothing can happen with a movie version of WITHER unless Columbia revives it or agrees to sell the rights.

Back to your question, though: it was vastly rewarding, on many levels. I had been writing for twenty-five years without a sale. Since I rarely wrote short stories, I would spend a good chunk of a year writing a novel (on a typewriter) and then send it out for months on end waiting for a response (back in the days when your only copy was a smudged, white-out blemished carbon copy) and, inevitably, getting a form rejection slip. I'd have to retype pages that were too damaged in the round trip, then send it out and wait another four to six months. But I never gave up writing. Even after twenty-five years. Something I always tell aspiring writers is that you have to write first because you love to write, that has to sustain you for the long haul. When WITHER sold, it was first a movie rights sale, then a book sale. That was kind of unusual back then. Now it's more common for agents to shop novels in Hollywood the same time they are looking for a publisher. (Different agents, obviously.) A movie sale definitely raises the visibility and viability of a book property.

I was working at a printing company when WITHER sold. When my employers found out, they quickly secured the cover printing. I was literally able to watch my novel come off the presses. I saw each stage of production. I got some copies of the cover before it was embossed. I even got to keep one of the embossing plates. When I started that job, I imagined how cool it would be to have them printing my first book cover. Then that actually happened, about twelve years AFTER I started working there. I never thought I'd have to wait that long!

About a year after the publication of WITHER, I was in Denver at the HWA Banquet when they announced WITHER won the Bram Stoker Award for Best First Novel (one for me and one for my co-author). That night had a surreal quality about it. After I received the award and gave my speech, I think I was in a state of shock. Everything afterward seemed to blur. The best part of receiving that award, for me, was validation from my fellow professional writers, since the writers vote for the Stokers. After twenty-five years of knocking on the door, I felt as if I had finally arrived.

I dedicated the award to my mother-in-law, who had been hugely supportive of my writing. She was the best P.R. person a writer (and son-in-law) could ask for. When she was battling cancer, I was in the "pre-production" stages on BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER: GHOUL TROUBLE and I dedicated it to her. She saw the manuscript and read the dedication, but she died before GHOUL TROUBLE's publication date.

SL: What a lot of readers might not know is that WITHER was a co-authored work, and that “J.G. Passarella” was the alias for John Passarella and Joseph Gangemi (later the author of INAMORATA). How is it the two of you came together to work on the book, and how was it that you carried on the sequels by yourself?
JP: Joe and I became friends at Between Books, an independent genre bookstore still in business today. Joe was working there at the time. I had known Greg Schauer, the owner, since about 1980. Over the years, I had talked to him about writing. Joe was a writer (at the time he was the youngest person to have ever attended the Clarion Workshop) and Greg hired him to help out in the store. Greg introduced us. Joe and I would talk about writing and our frustrations getting published. We decided to collaborate and WITHER was the result. (Joe actually introduced me to my wife. He was dating her younger sister at the time, so he knew both of us and thought we might be a good match.) Anyway, by the time WITHER sold, Joe was interested in writing mainstream novels and he thought a genre work might pigeonhole him, so he planned to use a pseudonym on the book. Pocket Books requested that we use one author name, so we took Joe's initials and my last name. Since I planned to continue with genre writing, I was thinking in terms of having the book filed under my last name. Of course, it helped that we both had the same first initial.

SL: Critics heaped a lot of praise on WITHER, and the reviewer for the San Francisco Examiner & Chronicle made a point of positively comparing your to Buffy the Vampire Slayer. That caught the eye of Lisa Clancy, the editor of the Buffy and Angel books at Simon & Schuster (which had also published WITHER). Can you tell us what happened after that?
JP: That's not quite the sequence of events. First, I was a huge BUFFY fan. When WITHER came out, I was still new at the professional publishing game. It was only when that review compared WITHER to BUFFY that I thought, "Hey, I should write a Buffy book!" But I wasn't quite sure how to make that happen. On the spur of the moment, I asked Yvonne Navarro (at the Stoker Banquet in Hollywood, 1999) who the editor of the Buffy books was and I think I even asked her what you had to do to get such an assignment. She gave me Lisa's name and told me the details. I contacted Lisa and mentioned my fan status and also mentioned that particular review. Lisa was very receptive. She told me to submit a sample chapter with all the regulars (to show I could capture their voices) and a complete 10 to 12 page outline.

SL: Your Buffy book, GHOUL TROUBLE, was set during Season 3 of BtVS... did you ask for that time period, or is that when S&S wanted the story set?
JP: Lisa Clancy told me that periodically she picked a stable zone in the continuity and asked for books in that period. It just so happened that I was submitting my story while season 3 was the current stable zone. Much later, I believe authors were told to pick their own favorite periods.

SL: Briefly, there are two parallel stories in GHOUL TROUBLE: The first features Solitaire, a mysterious vampire who can somehow walk in sunlight without dying, and who has come to Sunnydale to fight and kill Buffy, while the other focuses on Vyxn, an all-female metal band made up of ghouls, who supernaturally entice men to do their bidding, and then eat them! I especially liked the fact that they took a shine to Willow, and wanted her to join the band... after she killed and ate Xander, that is. I think both plots feature really strong, unique antagonists for Buffy. How is it that you came up with both Solitaire and Vyxn?
JP: My very first thought for a plot for the book was "what if a band ate their groupies?" During the third season, the Bronze was still a prominent feature of the show, so I would have the band come to the Bronze and perform. Simultaneously, I think I had the idea of this bad-ass "gunslinger" type of villain coming to town to prove himself the best fighter. To be the best, you gotta beat the best, so naturally he came gunning for Buffy. The playing card "calling cards" were just an idea I had, as if he was working himself up from the weakest to the strongest card in the deck. Early on, I think I was excited about writing two particular scenes: Solitaire beating the hell out of Angel, and having Xander wade through the disgusting contents of the Dumpster. That book was a lot of fun to write. To say I "chortled with glee" on more than one occasion while writing GHOUL TROUBLE would not be overstating the case.

SL: As a sidebar, I believe the first time you and I ever communicated was when you wrote to good-naturedly chide me for having complained, in my otherwise positive review of the book, that I thought the title was too much of a bad pun. Well, I haven't changed my mind about that yet, but I'd like to give you this opportunity, if you wish, to formally suggest an alternative title more to my liking. LOL
JP: I'm not quite sure if that's the first time we "virtually" met, but I do recall your taking exception to the title. I'm not a big pun guy, usually. I think the longer the build up to the pun, the more I groan at the end. Maybe GHOUL TROUBLE was a side effect of reading a lot of Xanth novels. I remember coming up with GHOUL TROUBLE as a working title. When I submitted the manuscript to Lisa Clancy I hadn't come up with another title yet. I asked if she had any ideas. She said she liked GHOUL TROUBLE, so we went with it. Looking back now? Alternate titles might be: DECEPTIONS, SIRENS or SIREN SONG, or COUNTDOWN.

SL: I like them all! Interestingly... or, more precisely, disappointingly... after your strong BtVS debut with GHOUL TROUBLE, you never wrote another Buffy novel again. Is there any particular reason for that?
JP: After or during the writing of GHOUL TROUBLE, Lisa Clancy was still getting the Angel books off the ground. I think only a few had come out, if that. She thought my writing would be a good fit for the Angel books. I remember she asked if I wanted to do a book featuring Doyle or Wesley, Rogue Demon Hunter. All I knew of Wesley was how he had been portrayed on Buffy. I had no clue where they were going with the Rogue Demon Hunter angle, so I chose Doyle. I think the books were just about ready to move to the next point in continuity. AVATAR (my first Angel book) was the seventh Angel book. A lot of Doyle fans enjoyed it. Anyway, I think I drifted away to pursue my own writing. I had been submitting vastly detailed outlines for my own novels and being told to keep working on them and fine tuning them. Eventually, I wrote the entire manuscript for WITHER'S RAIN without even telling my editor.

Later, I approached Lisa about doing another Buffy novel, finding out which period she was looking for, etc. I pitched an idea that was too close to something in one of the published books I had NOT read. No, I haven't read them all, unfortunately. Still later, I came up with an idea I was hashing out with her. I'm not really sure what happened, but eventually Lisa left and I was out of touch with the department. A new editor called me at home and left a message, telling me she had an opening for June for an Angel novel and wanted to know if I was interested. As a writer, that was one of the coolest things that has happened to me: an editor calling me and asking me to write something. I was flattered, said I would love to and wrote the manuscript for MONOLITH in about 45 days -- part of it on my knees while suffering from sciatica for the first time! Structurally, MONOLITH is my best tie-in. I had the fewest editorial notes out of all of them.

When I approached the new Buffy editorial team again, I found out they were going to the Choose Your Own Destiny format. Growing up, I had never read choose your own adventure books. Either I missed that publishing fad or I was oblivious to it. The problem was, I felt I had no affinity for that type of novel, so once again I drifted away from a Buffy project.

I had a similar experience with ALIAS. Simon & Schuster took over the media tie-in novels for ALIAS and I was contacted about that by part of the same editorial group. I was a huge ALIAS fan, especially the first couple years. I received some scripts before the APO phase of the show even aired (which was ultra cool to an uber-fan) and I bought a couple ALIAS guide books and DVD sets and was getting prepared to write an ALIAS novel. I took too long coming up with a story because shortly after that, it was announced that ALIAS was being cancelled. From experience, I knew the novels would dry up as well.

SL: Jeff Mariotte, who's written more Angel novels than anyone, has said he approached his stories more as crime noir tales. Did you see them in that light as well, or did you instead view the stories as supernatural in character first, and noirish second?
JP: Jeff is a friend of mine. I even talked him into a signing at Between Books while he was in the Philadelphia area on vacation with his family. And I had signed copies of WITHER at Mysterious Galaxy out in San Diego during my 1999 Stoker trip to Hollywood. Back on point, I approached the ANGEL novels as supernatural stories, as you can probably tell by the subject matter of my two ANGEL novels. I thought the BUFFY and ANGEL novels were good fits with my own supernatural writing. All along, I thought fans of either show would probably like my own books, especially after getting that San Fran Chronicle comparison to Buffy. In hindsight, though, AVATAR does have elements of detecting and crime solving.

SL: Your first Angel book, AVATAR, plunged him into a world that was completely foreign to him... the Internet. While it's fun seeing Angel react to something that he hadn't really understood before, I also got the sense that perhaps your story was also meant to offer a bit of a morality play about the potential pitfalls of the world wide web. After all, this could really be a parallel to a lot of the online stalking stories one hears about. Am I drawing the right conclusion?
JP: Yes, that was the real-world parallel for the story. I read an article that talked about how easy the Internet makes it for stalkers to find victims. There seems to be a target niche out there for every predator's predilection. My sons recently started online gaming, so I tell them that no matter what somebody out there says about themselves they don't know if it's true, that they need to guard their personal information, and to be wary of anyone asking personal questions.

SL: The Yunk'sh demon can assume the form of whomever the person viewing it wants to see the most, and Angel sees Buffy. Were you asked to stick Buffy in the story in some way?
JP: Not at all, but I thought it would be fun to have Buffy make a cameo in my Angel book. Something else I did in AVATAR was give some of the victims the names of the employees of Between Books, including the owner. It was a tip of the hat to them, thanking them for their support. They got a kick out of it. They put a sign on the shelf in front of the book saying, "We all die in Angel: Avatar!" And, in a Harlan Ellison type of moment, I had spent a day in the store writing part of the novel on my laptop computer.

SL: Three years after AVATAR, you came back with MONOLITH. The Angel-verse had changed quite a bit since your first book, and now you had to incorporate almost a half-dozen new characters into the “Fang Gang,” including Connor, who was not very popular with many fans. Indeed, Connor was very much at the heart of the story, and sympathetically so. Did you enjoy writing him, and did you come away with a better understanding perhaps of how the character could be better served by both authors and screenwriters?
JP: That's a tough question. First of all, you're right, writing for Angel had become much more challenging in those three years, with so many more series regulars voices to write. In thinking back, I may have been told that they had just done a Wesley story and somebody else was doing a Gunn story. The details are sketchy, but I think I wanted to do an Angel-centric story anyway, and Connor was a big piece of Angel's life at the time. I was told I had to set it pre-Beast arrival, so it would come into play before the bigger falling out over Cordelia. Thus, the story seemed to gravitate around the Angel and Connor relationship. As a writer, I always try to see the world from the point of view of the character I'm writing about. Even characters we consider to be the villains. They have their own justifications or rationalizations for what they do. In tackling Angel and Connor, I wanted to see the argument from both sides. In any story, your characters need to have an arc and the arc is harder in media tie-ins because you have to reset the relationship clock, put the toys back the way you found them. I thought what I could do was find some common ground (even if it was collapsing beneath them) for the two of them. Despite knowing their troubles aren't over, there can be a moment of accord and mutual respect.

SL: Unlike GHOUL TROUBLE and AVATAR, MONOLITH seems much less plot-driven; the menace almost seems secondary. Instead, so much of the books emotional focus is on the relationship between Angel and Connor. Was this something you were going for right from the start, or did this sort of organically grow as you were writing the story?
JP: I had the advantage of the show being further along in the continuity than the novel. The blackout of the sun episode made me realize it was now okay to bring the horror out into the open and not let it be something that only the "fang gang" sees or knows about. For most of the book, we're waiting for the MONOLITH to open to reveal the greater threat. I do have the early escapee demons running around. In a way, there is a calm-before-the-storm aspect to the early chapters of the book and I think that let me explore the relationships of the characters. As a tie-in writer, I try to bring a familiar feel to the novels for fans of the show. By that time period in Angel, the relationships between Angel and Connor and Connor and Cordy and Angel and Cordy and Gunn and Fred and Wesley, etc. had become layered and complicated. I wanted to address these varied relationships and be true to them, rather than trying to ignore them, which would have felt false. Most of the characters in that novel have an arc and I was proud of that fact. Yes, there's lots of action, but there's some growth there as well. The MONOLITH of the title was also a metaphor for the obstacles separating Angel from Connor, but that can apply to many of the other characters as well. In brief, I think a lot of it was organic, as a result of where the characters were, emotionally, in the series timeline.

SL: Let me ask a question that seems almost silly: Were you a big fan of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER and ANGEL THE SERIES before you began writing their books?
JP: Short answer: Yes. I still miss those shows! Because of the type of writer I am, I think I would need to be a fan first before I wrote a media tie-in novel. I would need that enthusiasm for the characters and the world. Now, if I was asked to write a novelization of a movie that wasn't even out yet (i.e., not a known franchise), I would want to be a fan of the concept or the screenplay. If it was in the SF, fantasy or horror genre, I would already have some built-in enthusiasm for it.

SL: Having worked with both Buffy and Angel, are there any other media tie-in properties you'd be interested in taking a stab at?
JP: In the past, I wrote some spec scripts for Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and pitched ideas to one of the producers before they shut the door on freelancers. I mentioned earlier that I considered writing an ALIAS tie-in novel. Today? It seems as if every show I start to enjoy gets cancelled! I would have loved to do an X-Files novel. Supernatural would be a good fit for my sensibilities (Jeff Mariotte has already written one of those!) Others... ? The Dead Zone, The 4400, Battlestar Galactica (but it's ending), Torchwood (the BBC series), Heroes, and Moonlight. With so many shows being off the air during the writers' strike, I'm probably forgetting a bunch.

SL: And have I mentioned that I'd love to see a Wendy “Wither” Ward/Willow "Buffy" Rosenberg team-up sometime?
JP: Too many legal teams involved for that to happen! I have thought about introducing another Wiccan protagonist through a Wendy story who I could then spin off, because anything (beyond novels) related to Wendy Ward and the WITHER characters is tied up with Columbia. I had to go through weeks of gyrations to get contract amendments and permissions (from Columbia Pictures and Pocket Books) to allow me to find a graphic novel publisher for WITHER. A start-up company expressed some interest, so I got the rights cleared. I haven't signed a contract yet for the graphic novel, but it's good to know I can move on it if the opportunity presents itself with that company or any other.

SL: What sort of process do you follow when writing? Do you do a detailed outline first, and then work from that? Do you prefer to work at a particular time of the day? Do you like to have people critique what you've written as the book progresses, or would you rather wait until the whole draft is done before asking other to pick it apart?
JP: I'm not one of those writers who writes 4 or 8 pages per day every day, no matter how long it takes to complete those page counts. When writing a novel, my pace tends to pick up the deeper I go into the story, mimicking the pace of the narrative. I'll start out aiming for 4 to 5 pages per day. Anything over 5 is good. But during the last hundred pages or so, I begin to write 17, 25, even 35 pages in a day. That also parallels the way I'll read thrillers. Slow at first, then as tension and story momentum builds, I'll read bigger chunks. By the last third of the book, it's hard to put it down. That's the goal anyway. I get frustrated with books that lack narrative drive. For the media tie-in novels, I was forced to write complete outlines, anywhere from 10 to 15 pages single spaced. There is a lot of value in that because you don't run into roadblocks during the writing process. The novel doesn't die simply because you don't know where it's going. You don't necessarily need to be a slave to the outline if better ideas strike you along the way, especially with your own novels. With the tie-ins, I tried to stay true to the outlines as much as possible because they had been approved by S&S and by Fox.

For my own novels, I tend to be a little more lax in the outline phase. I construct my novels with a classic three act structure (this applies to screenplay writing as well) and I try to know the turning points of the novel. How I describe it is knowing how/when things go bad, and then how they go from bad to worse. In my younger years, I would start writing a novel from a basic idea. I knew that if I got past page 90 (my 90-page-rule) I would finish the novel. If I got stuck around page 90, the novel was doomed. Later, after learning more about story structure, I began to realize that I was confident of my first "act" and that I had a general idea of what would happen in the third and final act, but it was the second act that was tripping me up. Plot-wise, it was a situation of you can't get from here (act 1) to there (act 3), so the novel would languish. Now, I'm usually confident enough that if I know where the act tent poles are, I'll be able to complete the story. I'll think of scenes and decide if they go before or after this or that act. It's like starting with the skeleton, and adding back the organs, muscles and tissue.

Outlines have gotten a bad name as anti-creative or anti-intuitive, but they have a lot of value. I know many aspiring writers who have been working on their first novel for years and haven't finished it, or who don't know where to go with the story. Rarely, if ever, do any of them have an outline. As strange as it might seem, I actually enjoyed writing the outlines for GHOUL TROUBLE, AVATAR and MONOLITH. I pulled lines of dialogue I thought of in the outlining process (who says outlines aren't creative?) and put them right into the finished manuscript. Rather than investing four months of writing only to find out you've painted yourself into a narrative corner, outlines point out fast where you have problems. And problems in the outline stage are a lot easier to solve. Rewrite a couple pages rather than tossing out a couple HUNDRED pages of a manuscript.

I wrote about 95% of KINDRED SPIRIT after midnight. Mostly because the house is quiet then. (With three kids and their friends in the house during the day, it's hard for me to concentrate on writing or plotting!) Since KINDRED SPIRIT is a paranormal ghost-murder-mystery-possession story, working after midnight seemed perfectly natural. I'm a night owl and tend to work best and the most at night. Now that I'm responsible for getting the kids off to school early in the morning, I can't indulge my night owl tendencies. When I was working a full-time day job, I would write a little bit during every lunch hour and then in the evening. The more of your time that is committed to other things, the more structured you have to be about your writing time.

As far as critiques, I definitely wait until I've finished the first draft before getting any reader opinions. I don't even tell anyone too much of what the novel is about until I'm done. I learned the hard way that you can talk the energy out of a story, or have the energy sucked out of the story by a less than enthusiastic response. If someone asks what the novel I'm working on is about, I will talk in very general terms, that it's a ghost-story-murder-mystery, for example, and leave it at that. I liken writing a novel to running a creative marathon. You need to protect and conserve your creative energy for a long time to finish a novel. Talking about it, at least for me, diffuses the energy.

SL: And do you think you have any “bad habits” as a writer you'd like to change?
JP: I know I should outline my own novels as much as I had to outline my media tie-in novels. Instead, I often cheat and just focus on knowing the three act structure. When I write is another bad habit. My writing periods were very structured when I had a full-time job. When I started writing full time, there was almost too much freedom. Knowing you can write any time often translates into not writing at all! You start doing this chore or that chore and before you know it, the day is gone. Now I have a different problem. I've been growing my web business (AuthorPromo.com) and since it's a home business it eats into my time all hours of the day. It's the job you never leave! I've also been doing some part-time contract work and that takes a chunk out of my day. Between both of those, my writing tends to get put on the back burner a lot. When I had much more time to write, we were dealing with my son's medical problems. Now that he's doing better, I'm trying to adjust to my attention being pulled in many directions. One of my 2008 resolutions is to write more.

SL: As a writer who has done media tie-in work, have you given any thought to perhaps pursuing some film or television work? Or for that matter, how about comic books? That seems to be working out well for that washed-up Whedon guy.
JP: I mentioned the WITHER graphic novel possibility above. I have expressed my interest in writing the script for that. I also want to write a spec TV pilot script for my most recently completed novel, SHIMMER. There was some brief, intense interest in SHIMMER, first as a movie franchise, then as a TV series, but the former flamed out and the latter got sidetracked. Regardless, I don't think we need to worry about Joss Whedon riding off into the sunset!

SL: You also help promote other authors professionally. What sort of advice do you give a new author as to how to better get their work out before the reading public... or, for that matter, in the hands of editors?
JP: When I started out writing and for many years afterward, I was isolated. I didn't know writers. My parents knew nothing of publishing. Some teachers were encouraging, but their advice was not much more than, stick with it. There was no Internet or Web out there to lean on as a resource and networking tool. All I knew of publishing was what I gleaned from Writer's Digest and Writer magazines and the Writer's Market I would buy every other year. I encourage aspiring writers to find writing groups near them, especially groups that have guest speakers, to join writers organizations (HWA, SFWA, etc.), to attend conventions, not only to network but to attend as many panels as they can to absorb the knowledge and advice all those professional writers and editors are doling out each hour of the con day. There are many Web markets out there that didn't exist when I started. You can get some exposure and start acquiring publishing credits and work your way up the chain to the pro markets.

I'm a huge proponent of writers having Websites, which is the main reason I started AuthorPromo.com. It's the cheapest way (by far!) to advertise 24/7 to a worldwide audience, to get your message out, who you are, what you write, what you've had published, what's coming soon, what awards you've won or been nominated for, to show story and chapter excerpts, interviews, articles, podcasts, links to your books at online booksellers, etc. It's now commonplace for people to look up everything and anyone on the Internet. Google has become a verb. It's now more surprising to find out an author or a business does NOT have a Website.

I'm a big fan of agents, as long as you have a good agent. Personally, I prefer to keep the business side of writing separate from the creative side. That way, I keep my interactions with my editor focused on the story, not about the late advance payment or royalties or rights language. A good agent usually get you a better deal and easily earn their 15%. A respected agent will get your book into the hands of an editor rather than into a mountainous slush pile. I advise aspiring writers (when they are really ready to become pro writers) to look for an agent that handles the types of novels they want to write, to find out if those agents are looking for new clients or not. Agents often know what kinds of stories particular editors want. That said, if you are searching for an agent, you can also submit to publishers who accept unsolicited manuscripts. If you get a nibble, it might be a lot easier to interest an agent and close a better deal. But if you submit on your own, make sure you know what the publisher wants to see. Three chapters and an outline means three chapters and an outline. Don't send a hundred pages (since you never got around to writing an outline) and hope for the best. Editors get so many manuscripts you don't want to give them a reason to reject yours out of hand.

SL: What's on your reading list these days?
JP: I usually have over 150 books in my To Be Read pile at any given time. It's a mix of horror, science fiction, fantasy, thrillers, and non-fiction. I'm currently reading ORYX AND CRAKE by Margaret Atwood, as well as the ADOBE ILLUSTRATOR CS3 BIBLE. I may not read as many books per year as I'd like but I'm always reading something. There isn't a day in my life that I'm not in the middle of a book. That's another great habit for aspiring writers: read a lot!

SL: I'd like to talk about something very near and dear to your heart... Matthew's Miles. What can you tell us about that?
JP: It's nearly impossible to talk about Matthew's Miles without talking about Matthew, my oldest child. He was diagnosed with an inoperable brain stem tumor in January 2001, at the age of seven. We were told he had nine months to live. Since he was born in September, we were basically being told he wouldn't live to be eight years old. A second opinion told us that he had more like six months, that nine months was overly optimistic. Those were horrible days for us. Instead of living day by day, we were surviving hour by hour. Just get through the next hour, then the next, and the next, and try not to fall apart. Growing up with nine siblings (natural and step), the worst medical crises I witnessed were a few broken bones. Once, I had a mild concussion after I fell off my bike. Nothing in my life prepared me for this devastating news. My wife and I were emotional wrecks, but we had to keep our emotions under control because Matthew was too young to be told the full truth. We only told him that he had a lump in his head (they advised us not to use scary medical terms like tumor) and, whenever we were around him, we tried not to look as upset as we felt. Complicating matters, my wife had been late in her pregnancy with Emma (my youngest child) when Matthew was diagnosed. During the night between the CT scan and the morning of his confirming MRI, Andrea's water broke and she had to leave to deliver Emma at a nearby hospital. During this desperate time, my family was suddenly separated by two hospitals. Emma was the first child of mine whose birth I couldn't witness. Instead, Andrea's sister stayed with her, while I stayed with Matthew.

The initial diagnosis was that Matthew had the most aggressive type of brain tumor in the worse possible location. We took him to Children's Hospital in Philadelphia, then to Johns Hopkins in Baltimore to get second and third opinions. Some of his symptoms were atypical of the aggressive tumor. The neurosurgeons at Hopkins thought a biopsy and partial resection would be worthwhile. Until then, we were told that surgery would just delay the inevitable, wouldn't change the course of treatment, and that we shouldn't put him through the ordeal. I asked the doctors at Hopkins if the biopsy results would provide different options for treatment depending on the results. They assured us that they would. So Matthew had the seven-hour brain surgery in February, less than a month after his diagnosis. The biopsy results showed that he had the least aggressive type of tumor. They thought it might go away just due to the amount (almost 50%) that they were able to remove. With a lot of the pressure removed from his brain, Matthew got better and we became hopeful that, as the doctor said at the time, "Matthew could go on to live many happy years."

During this lull, after we had recovered emotionally, my wife wanted to celebrate Matthew's birthday (and continued birthdays; he's 14 now) by creating a walkathon (you can read about it at MatthewsMiles.org) to raise money for pediatric brain tumor research. In five years, we've raised over $96,000, split between the American Brain Tumor Association and the Children's Cancer Foundation. But Matthew's trials weren't over.

Beginning in 2005, Matthew started having deficits. Loss of strength in his right hand (again), his fingers curled up into a ball. And he lost so much strength in his right leg that he couldn't walk. Beginning about mid 2005, Matthew's neurosurgeon at Hopkins begin draining the cyst which had accompanied the tumor. The cyst was actually the bigger problem. The fluid build-up put pressure on his brain while the tumor itself hadn't grown much. Matthew had his second brain surgery to drain it, then a third surgery to drain it again and insert a reservoir that they could drain with a needle through his scalp. He needed a fourth surgery (third in less than seven months) to reposition the reservoir. At this point, his doctor was convinced that the cyst was filling too fast and that more drastic measures were called for, so he convinced us to have Matthew undergo six weeks of radiation therapy. That was another ordeal. We were worried about the side effects then and continue to worry about long-term side-effects. But after four brain surgeries and six weeks of radiation, Matthew is doing well. All last school year he spend in a wheelchair. But he began this school year without the wheelchair and hasn't used it since. He still needs physical therapy to improve his gait, and his right hand will never be 100%, but we're confident he's in good shape and better spirits now. He'll have an MRI in March, so wish us luck.

SL: Most certainly, all of the luck in the world to Matthew, and to your family!
Getting back to your work again, let me ask... you've focused quite a bit on the supernatural in your work. Is there another genre you'd like to indulge in sometime?
JP: I started out writing science fiction and science fantasy and pure fantasy. I happened to sell a horror novel (WITHER) first, so I've continued to work in that field. My next novel (not counting SHIMMER, which is supernatural) will either be a near future story or a post-apocalyptic fantasy, though I'm leaning toward the latter. The former I might pursue as a television series. I love suspense, so whatever genre I choose next, I will always try to find the suspenseful elements within it.

SL: And what can we expect next from your pen?
JP: I'm not sure what will happen with SHIMMER, my most recently completed novel. As I mentioned just above, I'm at a bit of a crossroads with what novel I will work on next. But I do feel I need a change of pace. I've been writing some short stories. I wrote the Wendy Ward eNovelettes. I have a couple anthology submissions out there. I'm hoping 2008 sees me back on track with a novel project, but I'm also interested in getting a spec TV script finished in the next few months.

SL: And where can people find out more about John Passarella, the man and his works?
JP: I can't talk the talk without walking the walk: People can check out www.passarella.com for information on my writing, and authorpromo.com to learn more about my web design business.

SL: Jack, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us. It's always a pleasure.
JP: You're welcome. Thanks for your interest in my writing! And I hope SlayerLit is around for many more years! Maybe we can expand it to include Dollhouse media tie-in novels when the time comes.

SL: You write one, Jack, and it's in!

Autographed copies of GHOUL TROUBLE, AVATAR and MONOLITH... all of which are currently out of print... are available for sale at Jack's website, Passarella.com.