Wednesday, January 11, 2012
Table Talk: A Column About Nothing...
Question (Barry): What's the greatest experience you've had as a professional writer? The worst?
Bobby: Great question. There are a lot of good moments out there to choose from. The first time I was paid by a publisher, the first comic book, the first fan mail, the first convention appearance as a guest, the first... well, fill in the blank. For me, however, it is probably the experience of opening the box with the comp copies of my first novel when UPS dropped them on my doorstep one warm August evening. You couldn’t wipe the smile off my face for a couple of weeks after that. Although I was technically a professional writer by the point, having written comics for a few years, this meant that I was now officially a novelist. It was a great feeling.
Second to that, I’d say that being accepted by other professionals as a peer, and in many cases as a friend and colleague. I wonder what the younger me would say if he knew that I would one day be friends with writers and actors whose work I admired when I was younger? I bet he’d be surprised.
My worst experience is probably when I have to deal with publishers that decide not to pay me for the work I did for them. There are many different reasons for this to occur, but none of them are very palatable after all of the effort I put forth to honor the contract I signed. Sadly, this is an all too common occurrence in publishing so I’ve had to be a bit more selective about the writing assignments I take on. Thankfully, the number of good publishers that honor their commitments had far outnumbered the bad.
Barry: Yeah, my answers will be much the same. So many wonderful things have happened to me in my career – being invited as a guest to Dragon*Con, winning the Best Author Award at Pulp Ark, working for Marvel Comics… but probably the coolest thing is getting to know people whose work I admired and having them accept me as one of their peers. I used to read Ron Fortier’s Green Hornet comics back in the Nineties… and I was a big Mike Bullock fan long before I “met” him as a professional. So to know these guys on a first-name basis and have them actually say they’re fans of my work, that’s amazing.
And having Fred Hembeck draw The Rook…! Or to get to work with Will Meugniot, Anthony Castrillo or Frank Brunner -- those are things that I never would have dreamed would actually happen.
The worst… yeah, it’s probably the business side of things. I had a major roleplaying game publisher that didn’t want to live up to their contract (in fact, they changed their phone numbers and address without alerting me or other freelancers!). I had to spend the better part of a year fighting to get them to pay me the money they’d promised. It wasn’t a pleasant experience.
Mike: The greatest for me was a letter I received from a Navy vet who had just returned from a long tour in the Gulf. He had shipped out when his oldest child was about one and his wife was pregnant with their second. By the time he returned, his children were preschoolers who had never really met him. He wanted nothing more than to get home to his wife and kids, but when he got there, he was a stranger in his own home. Feeling dejected, he went out to the one place he always found escape when he was feeling down: the local comic shop. While there, he came across Lions, Tigers and Bears. He bought it and took it home. Within a few hours, the kids wanted to know what it was and were asking him to read it to them. Soon after, he and his kids bonded while sharing their enjoyment of Lions, Tigers and Bears. He wrote me to say thanks for giving him his family back.
I can't imagine anything ever topping that.
When it comes to the worst, all I can really say is: no comment.
Question (Mike): If you could live the life of one character you've created, who would it be, why them and what's the first thing you'd do if you were transformed into them tomorrow?
Bobby: An interesting question. Not something I’ve ever really thought about before. I guess I’d probably have to say Lance Star since he seems to have some of the most wonderful adventures, gets to travel the globe, and works with a team of fantastic pilot/adventurers who always watch his back. If I woke up tomorrow and was transformed in Lance Star I would probably gas up the ol’ plane, grab my girl, Betty, and we’d fly off toward some peaceful spot and just enjoy the freedom that comes from being a Sky Ranger.
Of course, the more likely scenario is that I’ll become R.O. from Life In The Faster Lane. Since he’s based on my dad that’s probably a more accurate vision of my future.
Barry: Y’know, I’m not really sure I’d want to jump into the shoes of any of my characters. Even the happier ones have significant tragedies in their backstories, usually. But if I had to pick… I think it would probably be The Rook. He’s got a beautiful wife and a family so it wouldn’t be a solitary existence – and he gets to globetrot enough that I’d see the world.
The first thing I’d do as Max Davies? Probably go and make out with Evelyn. After that – I’d invite Will McKenzie to go on an adventure to South America with me. I’ve heard there’s a set of beautiful vampire twins that are preying on unsuspecting men….
A close second would be Lazarus Gray, though. He’s got a great set of friends and has interesting adventures.
Mike: For me, it would be Cody from My Machine. Who wouldn't want to own their own giant robot and discover they're the heir to a command of an interstellar army of giant robots? The first thing I'd do would be to travel to a safe distance from the event horizon of Rapha 9, the black hole at the center of the galaxy, and watch as it sucked in solar winds from the Rapha 8. I bet that would be an amazingly breathtaking spectacle.
Bobby: Barry, you mentioned how tragic your characters backstories are. This got me wondering about character creation and why we as writers like to put our darling characters through hell. Let’s take the characters we picked to jump into for a day. Is that tragedy there from the beginning or do you layer it in as you go along? Also, how do you balance the tragedy with happiness?
Barry: Well, I think from a dramatic standpoint, you have to have some element of tragedy to give your hero an emotional base. With guys like The Rook and Lazarus Gray, I’d say that I actually start with the tragedy and then build the character from there. With both of those characters, I began by thinking of a powerful starting point and then wondered what kind of person would develop from that.
As for the balancing act, I think that’s a really important thing. If you do nothing but lay on darkness upon darkness, people get burned out and stop caring. You have to show them relaxing, smiling, enjoying life from time to time… so that when the violence comes, you’re concerned because you’ve begun to think of them as people.
Bobby: I agree with that, Barry. I like to show my characters having lighter, more human moments. One of my favorite bits in my second Lance Star: Sky Ranger story was a sequence where Lance and Buck are talking while watching planes take off. It works on several levels for me. Not only does it help move the plot along, but it shows the relationship not only between these two men, but some of the other characters as well. Then I have a body fall out of the belly of one of the planes. Ha!
Mike: A wise editor once told me no matter what story you're telling, if it doesn't have an emotional component, it's just meaningless words on a page.