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!
This banner says it all:
My gracious host, Scott Sandridge, has requested that I talk about the worldbuilding I did when writing Blue Spirit: A Tipsy Fairy Tale. My first reaction was, “but the world was built for me already, I used Indianapolis as a base!” But when I thought about it awhile, I realized that the world of Blue Spirit is more than the modern time period and urban setting. My “urban fantasy” setting is different than, say, Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files, or Red Tash’s Trollogy.
Since we’re talking worldbuilding, we need to consider what makes my world different. First of all, my main character Skye spans two worlds, and is aware of yet another world. Her “origin story” is as a side character, mostly comic relief, in Sinking Down, the second book in my Road Ghosts Trilogy. In that book, she’s possessed by a demon, and though she “got better”, the healing process left a bit of her soul on its own, separate but linked. Though the demon came from the Shadow world, the twilight realm between ours and the afterlife, Skye’s detached bit of soul has its own properties; it is a spirit being named Minnie, and it resides in what we’d call Faerie.
The Fairy world, like the Shadow world, is overlayed over our own, and meets it more directly in some places, but maps quite differently at times. In one place it might stretch out into a small pocket universe, while over there a single step could carry you great distances in our world. Because of her connection with Minnie, Skye sees into this other world, and often sees the true form of people and creatures that seem ordinary to everyone else.
Because of the crossover with the Fairy realm, there are special, magical places in our world that are enhanced. For example, Holliday Park is a city park with a hilly wooded area riddled with trails, creeks and ponds, and also an enormous group of sculptures and columns made to look like a ruins. In Blue Spirit, these are more than they seem to be. The image of ruins is just a fairy glamour, which hides a wicked Queen’s castle and dungeon. Where several trails meet at a circle of stones is a portal to strange otherworldly places. Unseen by mortals, frogman guards patrol the trails for their Queen.
People aren’t really part of worldbuilding, but creatures and entities impossible in the Indianapolis I live in populate Skye’s worlds. The city’s bus system is ruled by the whimsical yet powerful Transit King, who grants magical favors in exchange for the promise of collecting favors in return at a later date. In his brewpub downtown, Greg Heath concocts alcoholic potions in the form of “special” beers which can enhance Skye’s powers. Homeless teens aren’t what they seem, having been enchanted into half-wolf beings, drafted into the Queen of the Hunt’s pack.
So, from a simple premise of worlds that intersect our own, Indianapolis is transformed from an everyday city into a more mysterious, magical place; fertile ground for Skye’s fantastic adventures to grow.
I know it’s been a loooooong time since I posted here, but I’m planning to rev things back up. For starters, a guest post by the great Chris Garrison will be coming up as well as an interview with Peter Wellmerink, author of the Transport trilogy.
I’m also thinking about doing some “Poor Man’s Guide” articles to things like writing, promotion, convention-going…playing MMO’s….<–brand new addiction right thar, so I might as well make it into something productive. lol!
In the meantime you can catch my Elements of Storytelling column over at the Seventh Star Press blog. Enjoy!
Episode 1: The Literary Menace
The Lit Federation, manipulated by the evil Darth Mainstream, attacks the poor planet of Asimov.
Episode 2: Attack of the PORN.
To save themselves from the Mediocratists, The Sci-Fi Republic strikes the proverbial “deal with the devil” to unleash a massive wave of Porn clones onto the Holonet.
Episode 3: Revenge of the Mainstream
Through a series of manipulations, the evil Darth Mainstream becomes Emperor, and many Genre writers become broke and destitute thanks to a traitor in their midst.
Episode 4: A New Subgenre
As Emperor Mainstream brings his nefarious plans to fruition by building the dreaded Joykiller, a spark of hope arrives in a young Genre writer named Lon Spacewriter when he joins R.A.M (Rebels Against Mediocrity).
Episode 5: Literary Mainstream Fights Back
The Mainstream Empire strikes back against R.A.M., and nearly destroys the sense of wonder in fiction for all time. Lon Spacewriter escapes their clutches via the help of Self-Publishing.
Episode 6: Return of the Space Opera
In a desperate countermove, the surviving rebels unleash Star Wars and Serenity onto the Galactic Holoscreen, igniting a frenzied hunger for all things Space Opera. Emperor Mainstream is destroyed by his own right hand man, who reveals himself to be the nerdy father of Lon Spacewriter, the long-believed-dead H. G. Wells.
Can’t beat a deal like that.
My publisher is having a series of 3 day 99 cent book sales from March 16th – April 10th. My own Four ’til Late (Road Ghosts #1) goes on sale March 31 – April 2nd. Click the banner above to join the Facebook Event to get updates as different books go on sale!
Come one, come all to the SSP Spring Fling! Starting Sunday, March 16th, Seventh Star Press titles will be offered for $0.99! That’s right, folks, just ninety-nine little pennies for the best of the best! Not sure what you need? That’s okay! We have something for everyone!
With the kind assistance of BookBub, BookGorilla, and BookTastik we’re putting the word on the streets. So step right up and take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!
Here’s what’s coming up for sale, so mark your calendars to hit Amazon and pick up all the books you want for a…
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So hop to it!
Forget haunted houses, try a haunted theater! Michael West delivers a ghost story that both holds true to the traditional tropes but simultaneously provides his own unique spin, and delivers a plot twist leaves that your heart pounding.
Professor Geoffrey Burke and his team of Parapsychology students search for evidence to irrefutably prove that the Woodfield Theater is haunted. But they discover more than just ghosts as an ancient demon take notice of one of the professor’s students, Kim. Not only can she see and hear spirits, she also has a special ability that threatens the demon’s power over the souls in the theater.
West breathes depth and life into every character: living, dead, and demonic. You care for what happens to them, unlike in, oh say, the Saw films where you could care less if the heartless morons get torn into itsy bitsy pieces. In Cinema of Shadows, you even feel for some of the antagonists (well, except for the demon, obviously). But more importantly, the ending wasn’t predictable, and characters that I expected would die didn’t.
If you like ghost stories or even just horror stories in general, you’ll love Cinema of Shadows.
Best to read while listening to: anything from Midnight Syndicate, Rob Zombie, Slayer, Tiamat, or Marilyn Manson.
The Elements of Storytelling
Pssst! You’ll find it here: http://fandomfestblog.com/blogs/scott-sandridge
Today my thoughts drifted to a silly little movie called Kickass. I recalled how some folk didn’t like the movie, claiming they were disturbed by how psychotic such young “superhero” kids were. Today I thought, aren’t all superheroes nuts? After all, let’s face it: nobody sane would ever be a superhero.
Yes. Superheroes are insane. Very insane.
Wolverine and the Hulk are classic examples of two individuals with very severe anger management problems. Wolverine has a bad habit of going berserk, and has even attacked his own friends before. And the Hulk, well….
If a person without superpowers acted like that, they’d be in prison. But what would a cop do to Wolverine or the Hulk? Stand in their way and shout stop or I’ll shoot? Hardly.
And what about Daredevil? A blind man fighting crime, how insane is that? And it’s worse. Daredevil is so convinced that everyone he tries to prosecute is guilty that even if he loses the case (and when has he ever won a case? He must be the worst lawyer in all of human history), he will hunt that “criminal” down and beat the shit out of him. Now what do you suppose Daredevil would do if he lost a prosecution case against an 84-year-old woman in a wheelchair? Go beat her up, of course! “She’s not what she seems! It’s all a disguise! And I can prove it! look at all the blood! How can Grandma bleed that much??!!”
And yes, even Spider-man is a loony tune. He goes on and on and on about how with great power comes great responsibility, and yet he’s constantly complaining about having to drop what he’s doing to go save some damsel in distres. ‘Cause gosh darn it! Now he’s late for his date with a girl whose name is synonymous with weed! Narcissist? Closet pot-smoker?
Thor. Talk about a man with a god complex….
And let’s not forget Reed Richards. All his condemning of Dr. Doom is like the pot calling the kettle black. What’s so different about them, really (other than Dr. Doom looks a whole lot cooler)? They’re both mad scientists. They’re both obsessed with their research to the point where they often neglect everyone else around them. Okay, okay, Dr. Doom is a tyrant dictator ruling over a country and probably drowns cute little kittens for fun. But let’s face it, the only reason Richards isn’t drowning those kittens along with him is because the bad PR would hurt his company’s bottom line. And so, he gets his rocks off by beating up on Dr. Doom instead, ’cause being a hero is profitable!
And you know who else profits off beating up poor defenseless “villains”? Batman, that’s who! This guy is obsessed with hunting down mentally deranged people, beating the crap out of them, and dragging them to Arkam Asylum. Why always Arkam Asylum? Surely there’s other asylums in the city, possibly some that are much closer to where he beat the poor crazy guy in the jester costume up, but yet he always takes them to Arkum. It ain’t no coincidence he’s a billionaire “philanthropist” who just so happens to dress up in a bat costume to beat up other crazies in costumes and always, always, drags them kicking and screaming to the exact same asylum. He’s getting kickbacks for it! Duh! Why else do all those insane costumed “criminals” keep breaking out of the place so easily!
And this is why I always root for the supervillains. They might be insane megalomaniacs, and evil to the core, but at least they’re honest about it!