Wednesday, June 13, 2012

TABLE TALK - TALES OF THE ROOK


After a few weeks off, the guys (Barry Reese, Bobby Nash and Mike Bullock) return to the table to discuss their involvement in Pro Se/Reese Unlimited's most recent release Tales of the Rook.

Question: What did you enjoy most about the idea of working on Tales of the Rook, and how did that expectation match up with the final product?

Barry: I imagine my answer will be a bit different since I put the anthology together but here goes... There were a few reasons that I wanted to open up The Rook universe to other authors but foremost among them was just to see how different writers would interpret the character. I've written six story collections of the character to this point and I thought it would be fun to see how others viewed him as a hero and what different spins might be possible on the character and his allies. The quality of the stories that I got surpassed my wildest dreams -- and each writer brought something new to The Rook while still retaining the core of what I created. Honestly -- and I know I'm biased here -- I think it's one of the strongest New Pulp anthologies that anybody has published to this point.

Bobby: There is a sense of pride anytime I’m asked to write a story for an established character that I didn’t create. When Barry asked if I would be interested in penning a Rook tale I was honored that he was willing to trust me with his character. There was also a small tug of terror because there’s a real possibility he’ll absolutely hate what I’m doing to his character. Ah, it’s amazing we creative types remain sane, isn’t it?

Having read some of The Rook stories, I was familiar with the character and the type of situations that Barry puts the character into so using that as my base, along with the ubër-handy Rook timeline he provided, I decided where I wanted to place my story. Being an Atlanta-based writer, I decided to follow the old role of writing what you know and set my story during the Rook’s years in Atlanta. When writing established characters I like to put them in situations outside of what readers are normally used to seeing them in and use that to kick start my story. And what better story than to have an arsonist threaten to burn down parts of Atlanta, a city that does not appreciate fire?

I was blown away by the final product. When I saw George Sellas’ illustration for my tale I was even more excited. The icing on the cake, however, was hearing both Barry and Pro Se Publisher, Tommy Hancock, say nice things about my story on the PULPED! Podcast. There’s nothing quite as exciting as hearing that someone likes my work. It’s even more exciting when the creator of the character likes it. Writing for Tales of The Rook was a lot of fun. I’m honored to be a part of it.

Mike: For me it was the same feeling I got when I was about eight and a friend who had a really awesome toy walked over and asked me if I wanted to play with it. I didn’t take much time to process it, I just grabbed The Rook and started playing. I anticipated it to be a lot of fun, but sadly don’t think the final story I turned in lived up to my own anticipation of that fun.

Don’t get me wrong, I had a blast writing it and feel incredibly honored to have played with the Rook, but feel like I could have delivered a more enjoyable story. Hopefully, the chance arises again and I can swing the bat with a bit more power and finesse.

And, like Bobby, seeing the art from George was a big thrill. I love what he delivered for Onyx Raven.

Question: We’ve each written for characters that we’ve created as well as characters that were not originally our creations. Do you approach stories for pre-existing characters differently than you would your own?

Barry: Well, if it’s a character that’s been written and defined by others, I definitely do my homework first and try to get the character’s “voice” right. If it’s not my own character, then I want to do something that’s new and different but it has to retain the core sensibility that the creator gave to it. So my state of mind is very different – I can take wilder chances with my own work, whereas I want to be mindful of the character’s pre-existing legacy with other people’s creations.

Bobby: My approach to writing pre-existing characters is to research them, read up as much as possible, then try to form a story that will honor the character(s) but I also want to tell stories that haven’t been told with them many times before. In an anthology, especially, I want my story to stand out. For the Rook it was an all-out action story. For The Green Hornet, it was sending The Black Beauty into a death trap to show off Kato’s driving skills. I try to tell the best story for that character as possible.

Mike: I think I approach every story I write differently, so obviously the answer is yes. But, to be more specific, when dealing with characters I didn’t create, I try to wrap my mind around what makes the character cool and exciting first, then find ways to spotlight those things in a story. There’s also the distinct difference in world/environment/cast building that you needn’t do with an established character. For instance, with the Onyx Raven story I penned for Tales of the Rook, I didn’t need to unpack who the Rook’s love interest was, or where Max Davies lived, or what he drove, or what haunts him. Barry had already done all that for me. With Death Angel or Dr Dusk or Xander, I’ve had to create all those things myself.

When it comes to working on my own characters, there’s a lot more ‘work’ involved in building up the background so that the character comes to life in relation to their context.

Question: For those who may not have written established characters, or are curious about the differences in this area, what are some of the pros and cons to writing an existing character?

Barry: The pro and the con is that there’s backstory and characterization established by others. It can be easy to look at past stories, find a springboard for an idea and go forth – but you’re also bound by it. You can’t suddenly reveal that The Green Hornet and Kato are madly in love with one another, even if you think you’ve got a great story with it. So you’re playing within the rules set by someone else – it gives you direction, which is good, but it also restrains you a little.

Bobby: The pro is that there is a fan base already in place for established characters. When I say I wrote The Green Hornet, for example, there are many that know exactly who that character is, even though they may not have read the books or seen the TV series. When I told my Dad I was writing Green Hornet, his response was, “That was that TV show with Bruce Lee, right?”

The con is that your story options are somewhat limited. Has this story been told before? Will the owner of the property allow this story to be told? Things like that. At the end of the story I have to leave the characters in pretty much the same shape I found them. On the flipside, however, the constraints can make the writers come up with more interesting ways to tell certain types of stories.

Mike: There’s a definite trade-off. With my own characters, I’m in complete control and with that comes a freedom to take the story anywhere it leads me. When working with someone else’s characters, you must work within the confines of their rules, what they’ve already established and at the end of the day, what they’ll allow. There were things I wanted to do with Phantom that King Features wouldn’t sign off on, so I did those things in Savage Beauty instead, such as dealing with human trafficking and sex slavery. Like Barry said, you may have a great idea, or at least what you think is a great idea, for an established character, but the owner won’t allow it.

On the flipside, taking those ideas and creating your own characters to run with them is the sort of thing that brought us Watchmen…

3 comments:

  1. Glad to see you guys back at it. I was honored to be able to do some edits on what I think is a great character, and I can't sing enough praises to the job everyone did on the book. Mike I enjoyed Xander and hope to hell your universe frees up soon to read more. I was really impresses with Tommy Hancock's use of Doctor Death who I have read some on, and basically keeping "The Rook" from the field of play. I have made no bones about people knowing how much I enjoy Barry's character, so looking forward to more...DW

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  2. Thanks, DW! Glad you liked it. If this column has taught me anything, it's that none of us are ever happy with our final products...

    If all goes well, I'll have time to really expand the New Pulp universe I've been creating later this summer.

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