Interview: Supernatural: Jeff Mariotte

Today, we talk with Jeff Mariotte, author of Supernatural tie-in novel Witch’s Canyon and numerous other books:

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IFP: Can you tell us how you started out as a writer?

JM: I’ve always written, since I was very young, and getting a bit more serious about it in my teens. In college, I won a literary award for a short story and published an article in a music magazine. After that stuff happened, I eventually got work at a bookstore where I met a lot of writers and publishing professionals, and learned a bit about how the business works.

While managing a bookstore, I wrote a short story that sold to a prestigious science fiction anthology called Full Spectrum, becoming my first pro fiction sale. When the regional chain closed all its stores in my part of the state, I was hired as a writer by a comic book publisher – a job that eventually morphed into a marketing and then an editing position. But while there, I started writing comic books. When my friend Christoper Golden was asked to write a novel based on the Gen13 comic book – which Chris and I had both written – he asked me to collaborate with him. Gen13: Netherwar became my first novel. Later, he introduced me to the Buffy editor, who asked me to write a Buffy book and then let me pitch some Angel novels, and my career was more or less underway. At this point, I’ve published forty novels, more than a hundred comic books, and a handful or two of short stories.

IFP: Tell us about some of the original projects that you have done, including your latest, Cold Black Hearts.

JM: My first original novels were the Witch Season books, a quartet of young adult horror/dark fantasy books that Simon & Schuster brought out. My first adult novel, The Slab, was closer to what I’ve been doing since – a kind of supernatural thriller that combines elements of mystery and thriller fiction with horror fiction. Most recently, I’ve written a very loose trilogy of supernatural thrillers set along the US/Mexico border: Missing White Girl in Arizona, River Runs Red in Texas, and Cold Black Hearts in New Mexico. They’ve been favorably received, and I think they’re pretty scary and suspenseful. When I say it’s a loose trilogy, I’m not kidding – there are no continuing characters or story lines from one book to the next, so it’s absolutely not necessary to read them in order, or to read all three. They’re linked by location and some common themes, and in Cold Black Hearts, there are some subtle references letting the reader know that they are all taking place in the same universe.

IFP: Can you tell us about some of your comic book work, including Barack Obama: The First 100 Days? How did you get into doing that?

JM: As I said, I’ve been writing comics even longer than novels, and that’s how I broke into the novel thing in the first place. Before Barack Obama, I was best known for a horror/Western series called Desperadoes, an original creation that’s been around since 1997. Other original works include Hazard, Countdown, graphic novel Zombie Cop, and a miniseries called Garrison coming out next year from DC Comics/WildStorm.

The three Obama bio-comics I wrote were the idea of the publisher, IDW Publishing. I was that company’s first editor-in-chief, after I left my previous DC Comics job and before I became a full-time freelance writer, so I knew most of the people there and they knew I was interested in politics. The original plan was to do a comic book on Obama and one on John McCain (and this was before Obama had the nomination wrapped up, but they were fairly confident he would win). They were published as single issues and back-to-back in a single volume. They were strictly biographical, without any political viewpoint or editorializing.

They were an immediate hit. The author of the McCain comic and I were on CNN and Fox News and covered by just about every newspaper and magazine in the country. Sales-wise, the Obama one took off in a huge way, going into a fifth printing, while the McCain one, after the immediate launch, just kind of sat there. Once Obama won the election, mine kept selling, and the publisher decided to do two more books. Barack Obama: The Road to the White House tells the story of the campaign and transition, while the third one describes the events of Obama’s first hundred days in office. Again, they’re impartial and unbiased – kind of a first draft of history, written as it was unfolding.

IFP: Can you tell us about how you got into writing tie-in novels? How did you become involved in writing Supernatural tie-in fiction?

JM: My first novel, as I mentioned, was a comic book tie-in. That, and the introduction from Chris, got me into the Buffy/Angel program at Simon & Schuster, where I eventually wrote one Buffy novelization, co-wrote two nonfiction series companions, and wrote or co-wrote eleven Angel novels and a Buffy/Angel crossover trilogy. So, that was pretty much my trial by fire in the tie-in world. The Supernatural book came about, I think, because the licensed publishing was being handled by the department at DC Comics that does that (because of the WB connection – DC is part of the Warner media empire), and I had written a Superman novel for them, and when Supernatural came up they thought of me.

IFP: You’ve written one Supernatural novel, Witch’s Canyon, so far. Can you tell us how you came to write about a timed curse in the Grand Canyon? What was your inspiration?

JM: I was still new to Arizona when I wrote it – I’ve lived here for five years this week, in fact, as I’m answering this – and still kind of exploring my new home state. I pitched an idea that takes place in a different part of the state, a bit closer to home, and the editor I was working with suggested that I use some landmark that they’d never actually be able to get away with showing on TV, because it’s not filmed on location and it’s complicated to shoot inside national parks anyway. So, I said, “How about the Grand Canyon?”and he said, “Go for it.”

As for the murder cycle that hits this small Canyon-area town every forty years…I don’t remember precisely what the inspiration for that was. It just seemed like an intriguing idea to use to screw with Los Bros Winchester.

IFP: What is your favourite genre? To read? To write for?

JM: I love horror, thrillers, and mysteries. That’s most of what I read for pleasure – that, and the occasional Western, and some mainstream stuff. And sword & sorcery/fantasy stuff. Okay, I guess I’m a promiscuous reader, come to think of it. And I like to write the same stuff, although mostly I like to mix it up in slightly unusual ways, as with horror/Western comics and supernatural thriller novels.

IFP: Do you have any future Supernatural projects in the works?

JM: No capital-S Supernatural, no. HarperCollins dropped the license after three books (theoretically, I would have been asked to write book four, but it didn’t happen so I don’t know that theory would have become fact). Now, apparently, it’s been picked up by the UK publisher Titan, but they haven’t approached me and I haven’t approached them.

IFP: You write in other series, as well, including upcoming works in the universes of 30 Days of Night and CSI. Can you tell us what drew you to writing for these? They seem very different.

JM: These both grew out of my time as E-I-C at IDW Publishing. IDW’s first big hit was the comic book 30 Days of Night, which became a feature film and a bestselling comic. When Pocket Books acquired the rights to publish some novels based on the comic, the editor that writer Steve Niles was working with was one I had also worked with (originally, in fact, on a novelization of Eric Kripke’s Boogeyman). Steve was in huge demand at the time (as he is now) as a comic writer, fiction writer, screenwriter, etc., and so he asked me to come on board and co-write the novels with him. We did three that way, and this fall, my first solo 30 Days of Night novel, called Light of Day, will be released.

IDW also used to publish comic books based on the various CSI shows. As editor, I got to know the licensing people at CBS, and they came to trust my CSI judgment to some extent. I also wrote a CSI graphic novel and the first CSI: Miami graphic novel (which got me invited to the set and filmed for Access Hollywood – look for me on the cutting room floor!), but that’s another story.

Anyway, I was asked to write a CSI: Miami novel, which came out last year and ended the CSI: Miami novel program (which has happened to me before – who remembers Las Vegas novels?). In between, I wrote a CSI DVD game, and then the novel CSI: Brass in Pocket, which comes out at the end of August. I’m currently working on CSI: Blood Quantum.

IFP: What do you think of the Apocalypse storyline for seasons four and five of Supernatural?

JM: I haven’t seen it. When writing tie-in work, I have to be very immersed in the world of a show, watching every episode I can get my hands on, studying up on whatever I can – so, when I’m finished writing in a particular universe, I have to back away from it for a while. I’ll catch up on DVD one of these days, but I stopped watching weekly episodes when I knew I wasn’t doing any more books.

IFP: What has been your favorite scene in the show?

JM: No opinion. There have been a lot of great moments, particularly just dialogue moments between Sam and Dean, that I’ve loved, but I don’t have a favourite.

IFP: Who is your favourite character in the show? To write for?

JM: The main cast is all terrific, but somehow I relate most to Sam, so I’d have to say him. But writing either brother is kind of only half-satisfying – you have to have them together to really get the full experience.

IFP: Do you have a favourite film or television series (or both)?

JM: I don’t really tend to rank favourites. I have the movies and TV shows I love and watch regularly, and those I don’t. Some of my top movies would be Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Marathon Man, The Searchers, The Graduate, Manhattan, Apocalypse Now…series-wise, I love James Bond movies (the original Sean Connerys, and Casino Royale (but not Quantum of Solace or most of those other guys in the middle), some of the Indiana Jones movies, and more – but mostly individual entries, not as a whole series.

In TV, I have recently loved The Wire and The Shield, both sadly finished now. I’m watching The Office, The Daily Show, Leverage…random other things.

IFP: Do you have a favourite filmmaker or author (or both)?

JM: Same as above, more or less. Some filmmakers who rarely go wrong, in my book, include John Schlesinger, John Ford and Steven Spielberg. Authors at the top of my list would include Wallace Stegner, Graham Greene, Stephen King, William Goldman, James Lee Burke, Ross Macdonald, Robert E. Howard…it’s a long list.

IFP: What artistic accomplishment are you the most proud of in your career so far?

JM: Probably the border trilogy of supernatural thrillers. Of those, I’m especially fond of River Runs Red, but most other people seem to prefer Missing White Girl or Cold Black Hearts. Go figure. I’m proud that Desperadoes has gone on so long and continues to strike a chord with people. I’m proud that the Barack Obama comics brought people into comic book shops who had never been before, and brought comic book fans into politics, and I feel like I contributed to the world in a way that I don’t when I’m writing horror and suspense stuff.

IFP: If you could be a Lovecraft/Mythos monster (or character), which one would you be? Why?

JM: I’m a big fan of giant squid, so I’d probably have to go with Cthulhu for his squid-like attributes. But Nyarlathotep has a cooler name, so either one…

IFP: Do you have a favourite Lovecraft/Mythos story? If so, which one is it?

JM: The first Lovecraft I read was “At the Mountains of Madness”, and I think that’s still my favourite because it introduced me to that whole cosmology, to Lovecraft’s world. I had been reading mostly sword & sorcery fiction up to that point, so it also did a lot to re-direct my attention to horror. I read a lot of Lovecraft right after that, and spread out to Robert E. Howard’s horror stuff, because I had already been reading his s&s, then people like Bloch, Derleth, Machen, and on and on. That one story really was a catalyst for much of what my career has been about.

I made the final Angel novel, Love and Death (I told you I was a license-killer) into a Mythos novel. On a semi-related note, I also got to write a trilogy of novels set in Robert E. Howard’s Hyborian Age – not Mythos works, but still associational, and fun.

IFP: Please tell us about your upcoming projects.

JM: I think I’ve mentioned everything that’s on the immediate horizon. Cold Black Hearts came out earlier this summer. In August, there’s CSI: Brass in Pocket, then 30 Days of Night: Light of Day in late September. At the same time, there’s a short story in an anthology called Hellbound Hearts, based on Clive Barker’s Hellraiser mythos. Comic book series Garrison launches sometime early in 2010. Beyond that, there’s a bunch of stuff in the works, most of which I can’t really talk about yet – some more fantasy, some more horror, originals as well as tie-ins.

IFP: What is your dream project?

JM: One of the many good things about writing for a living is that I get to do my dream work every day. Tie-i-wise, I’ve been able to write about Spider-Man and Superman and Jonah Hex and the Phantom Stranger. I’ve been able to write the only licensed fiction, a comic book miniseries, based on The Shield. I’ve written Conan.

With original books, every project is a dream – by the time something goes from concept to proposal to reality, it’s a lot of work, so it had better be something the writer is totally committed to. So, I’ve had plenty of dream projects already – and more on the way.

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Bio: Jeff Mariotte is the award-winning author of more than forty novels, including the border horror trilogy: Missing White Girl, River Runs Red, and Cold Black Hearts, (all as Jeffrey J. Mariotte), The Slab, the Witch Season teen horror quartet, and others. The most recent installment of his long-running horror/western comic book series Desperadoes was named the Best Western Comic Book of the year by True West magazine. He’s a co-owner of specialty bookstore Mysterious Galaxy in San Diego, and lives in southeastern Arizona on the Flying M Ranch. For more information, please visit www.jeffmariotte.com. You can also find him at: http://jeff_mariotte.typepad.com/my_weblog/; http://facebook.com/jeff.mariotte; and http://www.myspace.com/jeffmariotte.
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IFPInterview: Supernatural: Jeff Mariotte