I once met Dan Jolley when he was on a panel about writing for comic books, and I learned more in that hour from hearing him speak than I had in the years I spent reading on the subject. So it gives me great pleasure to present to you an interview for the Dan Jolley’s Gray Widow’s Walk Blog Tour.
Tell the readers a little bit about yourself.
I was born and raised in a tiny town in northwest Georgia, where I failed utterly to fit in with the whole hunting/fishing/NASCAR/chewing tobacco scene, but (thanks to my father and older brother) fell thoroughly in love with science-fiction and fantasy literature, as well as with the comic books that my brother brought home from college. (He’s eleven years older than I am, and was gone to college by the time I had entered first grade.)
At age nineteen, through a mixture of luck and… well, really just luck, I secured my first-ever professional writing contract. Unfortunately, the company that supplied said contract went out of business before my project could get published, and it wasn’t until about a year and a half later that I actually got paid to write for the first time. Those initial forays were in the comic book industry, where I stayed safely ensconced for about five years. From there, thanks to networking at conventions, I began to branch out, first into licensed-property novels, then into original prose and children’s books, and finally into writing for video games. I’m currently in the midst of a Hollywood thing, but nothing is certain there as yet, so I won’t be going into detail for fear of jinxing it.
Anyway, I moved away from that tiny town, stayed gone for roughly twenty years, and then through a bizarre series of events wound up coming back to it. So now I live in the town where I grew up, and am married to a fantastic woman whom I’ve literally known my entire life. We have cats. They’re mostly decorative.
What are the pros and cons of working in multiple genres?
I’ve often said it was a blessing that I more or less learned to write by writing comics. (Side note: I have a whole series of blog posts on my website, called “How to Write the Way I Write,” that details pretty much everything I know about the nuts and bolts of writing comic book scripts. FYI.)
Comics scripts are incredibly unforgiving. The page count is fixed. The panel count and word count, depending on the artist you’re working with, are tightly controlled, and you have to take the page turns into account, so that you really want anything big or surprising to take place at the beginning of an even-numbered page. I didn’t consider this restrictive when I was first starting out. It was just the way things were done.
Learning to think that way, to be creative inside of concretely-set parameters, definitely prepared me for writing in other media. Screenplays are not as rigid, but they do have an unforgiving format that must be followed. Writing video games presents a whole other set of rigid parameters, but because I was accustomed to that sort of thing, it really wasn’t a big deal when I got asked to write in, and I’m not kidding here, an Excel spreadsheet. (Spreadsheets are incredibly common in video game writing. It makes the lines of text and dialogue easier to import into the game engine.)
Where I realized I could really spread my wings, so to speak, was in writing prose. You start writing a novel, and all of a sudden the rigid page counts go out the window. You want a chapter to be ten pages? Fine. Eight? No problem. Fifteen? Yeah, whatever. It was incredibly liberating.
I love all the different genres and media in which I’ve written over the years, but I think writing prose novels has to come in at the top of my list, because it’s just so freeing. Plus, and this is no slight to the creative teams I’ve worked with, there’s something hugely rewarding about generating something entirely yourself. With a novel, there is no penciler, there is no programmer, there is no animation director who looks at a scene you’ve written and makes a sort of hissing noise and says, “I don’t know, that sounds expensive.” It’s just you and the page and, eventually, you and the editor. If I were stranded on a desert island and could only pick one medium to take with me, it would be novels, hands down. …I’m not sure that metaphor makes any sense. Moving right along!
Tell us about Gray Widow’s Walk.
Gray Widow’s Walk is the first original novel I’ve ever written for an adult audience. I did a trilogy of YA science-fiction/espionage novels back in 2007 and 2008 called Alex Unlimited, and I’ve written and co-written novels based on media properties such as Star Trek and Angel and Iron Man and Transformers — plus I’ve got a Middle Grade urban fantasy series coming out this October from HarperCollins called Five Elements. But Gray Widow’s Walk is the first time I’ve ever been able to take the gloves off, throw out the desired word count, disregard any limitations as far as language or gore or sex, and just tell whatever story I wanted to. Consequently, it’s the prose project that I’m most proud of to date, that turned out most like what I had envisioned, and pretty much represents the high point of my career so far.
Gray Widow’s Walk is the story of Janey Sinclair, a young woman whose life has been a series of cruel, unfair tragedies. At age nine she lost her mother to cancer; at sixteen, her father fell in with a criminal element, and Janey not only saw him executed in front of her eyes, but was also shot herself and left for dead. After recovering (physically) from that, and deciding to live her life with as little human contact as possible, she met a young man, fell in love, and married him, only to lose her new husband in a truly devastating way.
And somewhere in there, in some way that remains a mystery to her, she gained the ability to teleport from one patch of darkness to another.
When the story opens, Janey has already stolen a prototype suit of military body armor, and rather than trying to work out her issues through therapy, she puts on the armor and a mask and decides to correct some of the same kinds of injustices that she’s faced herself. Janey takes to the streets of Atlanta, Georgia and, because the body armor is gray, she’s soon dubbed “the Gray Widow” by the press. (I realized not long ago that the book could be summed up as Daredevil meets Red Sonja. I think the best description of the genre would be “superhero noir.”)
But as Janey soon discovers, her ability ties into a much, much larger picture, and to a conflict on a scale she never imagined. Because there are other people out there who have been similarly affected, and one of them — a bloodthirsty runaway named Simon Grove, with a shapeshifting ability that’s gone horribly, grotesquely wrong — has Janey in his sights.
Gray Widow’s Walk is the first book in the Gray Widow Trilogy, to be followed by Gray Widow’s Web and Gray Widow’s War. And before Janey’s story is finished, she’s going to find herself at the heart of a conflict that will affect the entire planet.
What kind of music do you listen to, and have any songs influenced or inspired your writing.
Music actually plays a pretty big role in my whole creative process. (For the record, I apologize for using a phrase as pretentious as “my creative process.”) Any time I need to come up with an idea, or work out kinks in an existing idea, I like to get in the car and drive around aimlessly while listening to loud, aggressive music. It does something good for my brain waves. Songs with heavy, driving, deliberate beats tend to do the trick. I actually have a play list on my phone that I use for the driving-around thing, and it doubles for when I’m working out at the gym. Let’s see…I’ll give you a sample of the good stuff…
- “Brompton Cocktail” – Avenged Sevenfold
- “Sabotage” – Beastie Boys
- “Turn Down For What” – DJ Snake & Lil Jon
- “Mechanize” – Fear Factory
- “As Heaven Is Wide” – Garbage
- “Black Widow” – In This Moment
- “Wretches and Kings” – Linkin Park
- “Fallout” – Queensrÿche
- “Lovesong” – Snake River Conspiracy
The playlist is about four hours’ worth of material, but I’m always on the lookout for new stuff, so if any of your readers have suggestions, I’d love to hear them.
Where can readers find you online, and where can they find your work?
My website is www.danjolley.com. It’s got my entire body of work catalogued.
My Twitter handle is @_DanJolley
And you can find me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/dan.jolley1.
Also, my Amazon author page is here:
Thanks for having me!