Hello, John. Thanks for allowing us to interview you at the release of your latest novel “Supernatural: Rite of Passage” and the willingness of us fans of “Supernatural.” Thanks again for your kindness. We send a big hello from Italy and good luck for all your future work. The interview questions were drafted by us, Supernatural Legend (www.theotherlife.net/supernatural) and The Winchester Family Business (www.thewinchesterfamilybusiness.com).
So, John, first of all, tell us briefly about your career as a writer!
My first novel, the co-authored WITHER, sold first to Columbia Pictures, in manuscript form, before it was purchased for print by Pocket Books. WITHER won the Horror Writers Association’s Bram Stoker Award for First Novel in 2000. My first tie-in novel was “Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Ghoul Trouble.” I approached the Buffy tie-in editor after a San Francisco Chronicle reviewer wrote that WITHER “hits the groove that makes TV’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer such a kick.” Since then, I’ve published four original novels plus four more tie-in novels with the August 2012 release of “Supernatural: Rite of Passage.”
“Supernatural: Rite Of Passage” is your second novel based on “Supernatural.” What can you tell to introduce it to readers that don’t know the show, and what they should expect different from the first novel?
“Supernatural: Rite of Passage” is set in the seventh season of the show, before the events of “How to Win Friends And Influence Monsters.” During the pitching and outlining process, I try to keep the storyline as current as possible with the airing shows. In this case, I was told to set it before that episode, so in my mind it takes place between episodes nine and ten. At its heart, the show (and the book) is about two brothers fighting supernatural evil. That’s what I tell fans of my other books who may not watch the TV show. The “Supernatural” universe fits in so well with my other books, all supernatural thrillers, that I believe they would enjoy the tie-ins as well. A few earlier reviewers of “Night Terror” had not watched the show but really enjoyed the book. I think that will hold true for “Rite of Passage.” What’s different about “Rite of Passage” versus “Night Terror”? First of all, the events in “Night Terror” take place a year earlier, in season six. “Rite of Passage” takes place during season seven, in a bigger town, and the menace is much more of a point of view character. The terror in “Rite of Passage” is more grounded in reality (although it has a supernatural origin) whereas “Night Terror” had fantastical elements, e.g., a headless horseman, a giant tarantula and Nazi zombies.
Is there some link between “Supernatural: Night Terror” and this second novel? What are the differences between the two?
No specific links between the two. The only recurring characters are the regulars from the TV show. Both books are standalone “Supernatural” monster stories, with “Night Terror” taking place in season six and “Rite of Passage” happening in season seven.
Did you know about “Supernatural” when you started to write the first novel or you had to do research before start?
I’m a fan of the show. I’ve been watching since the first episode and never miss an episode. When the Titan Books editor approached me about submitting a proposal for a “Supernatural” tie-in novel, I couldn’t have been happier. When I’m trying to come up with ideas for a book, I research mythology and folklore, looking for monsters the show hasn’t used that have the potential to oppose the Winchesters for the entire length of a novel.
Are you a “Supernatural” fan? Did you see the season 7 finale? What do you think about it and what would you like to see in the Season 8?
Yes, I am a fan, since episode one, as mentioned above. I saw the season 7 finale, but long after I had turned in “Rite of Passage” manuscript. I have no insider knowledge about where the show is headed, but my prediction was that Dean would be back from purgatory early in season eight. (I’ve since read that is how it will happen, although we’ll get flashbacks to Dean’s time in purgatory.) I thought the Leviathan threat would be wrapped up at the end of the season, but it has not, at least not completely. Aside from those loose ends, I expect Dean’s stay in (and escape from…?) purgatory may result in more threats being unleashed. But that’s pure speculation on my part.
By now, you work in this area for a long time, can you tell us about the positive and the negative side behind the idea, writing and publishing a novel, especially if based on a tv-show?
The hardest things about writing tie-in novels are the tight deadlines. Deadlines for the outline, first draft and revision. They are tight and unforgiving. For example, I normally take four to six months to write a draft of an original novel. For a tie-in novel, that time-frame is reduced to two months. So I write seven days per week, to reach my daily word goal and I stay up as late as it takes, often until 4:30am. I don’t take a single day off until the first draft is complete. The best thing about writing the tie-ins is that, being a fan of the show, I love creating stories in that universe, coming up with scenarios and dialogue for the Winchesters. I’ve been fortunate because all my tie-in novels have been for shows I love.
Your first novel based on a tv show was “Buffy, The Vampire Slayer” and now you’re working on “Supernatural”. Is there some other tv show you’d like to write about? What about “Charmed” (they dedicated it so many novels at the time)?
I watched “Charmed,” but never thought about writing a tie-in novel for the show. I don’t know if they are still producing them. I am a fan of several SyFy channel shows that would be fun to write about. My favorite genre shows tend to have real menace laced with character-based humor to relieve the suspense.
Do you know someone of “Supernatural” Cast or crew? What do you think about them?
No, I have never met anyone in the cast or crew of the show. I’m on the east coast of the US, in southern New Jersey and I haven’t been out to the west coast in over ten years. Maybe I’ll bump into some of them at a convention one of these days.
As a “Supernatural” fan, what do you think they did wrong in the show and what they should had developed?
As a writer, I don’t like to find fault with other writers. Creating over twenty episodes of a show each year is a huge challenge. I also recognize that not every episode can advance the broader season arc. (Non-big-network channels and premium cable shows are able to stay focused on the bigger arcs because their seasons are 10 to 13 episodes.) And, of course, having gaps in the arc progression gives openings for standalone tie-in novels! As a genre TV fan, I’m very forgiving. I watched “The X-Files” all the way to the end, long after most fans had abandoned the show.
What do you think about “Supernatural” fans and what about the fansites dedicated to a tv show or to a novel?
“Supernatural” fans are very supportive of the show and the causes of the cast and crew. I relied on “Supernatural” fans who follow me on Twitter to get through some of those long nights writing “Rite of Passage.” I would need to figuratively step away from my desk and I would chat with fans online before resuming work on the book. I love that fans have so much passion that they create fansites for shows. Back in the mid-1990s, when I was first experimenting with Website design, I created my own “X-Files” fansite. It was very small scale, to be sure, but the World Wide Web was fairly new to most people back then.
What inspired you to start writing media tie-in novels for “Buffy, The Vampire Slayer” and “Angel” after the success of your co-authored novel WITHER?
I mentioned the “San Francisco Chronicle” reviewer quote earlier in this interview. I had read various tie-in novels for years, “Star Trek” and “Star Wars” among them, but I hadn’t thought about writing my own until I saw that quote. My thought was that it would be a lot of fun to write my own tie-in for “Buffy.” WITHER is a supernatural thriller with some humor. Writing in the Buffy-verse seemed to fit in with what I had already done in WITHER. That goes for my “Angel” and “Supernatural” tie-ins. For me, being a fan of the show comes first. I might have a hard time writing a tie-in novel for a show that I didn’t watch or didn’t like.
A lot of the fan reviews for “Night Terror” commend you on how well you handled the characterizations of Sam and Dean. When writing these tie-in novels, how important is capturing the essence of the original characters? Does that take priority over story or are they equally as important?
In my view, if you can’t capture the characters’ voices and the tone of the show, you fail the first test and probably shouldn’t continue. When the “Buffy” tie-in editor told me that I needed to write an outline and a sample chapter featuring all of the show’s regular characters, that was the test for me, as much as it was for the editor. I told myself that if I couldn’t make the characters sound right, I wouldn’t even submit my proposal. After writing the “Buffy” sample chapter, I had my wife and friends who were fans of the show read it and tell me if they thought I captured their voices. Only after getting that consensus did I submit the proposal. I want readers of my “Supernatural” books to slip into the story and picture in their mind’s eye the events of the book happening as if they were watching them onscreen. If Sam or Dean or Bobby doesn’t sound or act right, that mental process will fall apart. I’ve written enough tie-ins now (five, with the release of “Rite of Passage”) that I have confidence I can capture the voices of the show. That lets me focus on the story and how the events of the story affect the show characters, given what they have gone through after six and a half seasons.
What sort of continuity research needs to go into these tie-in novels? Do you find having encyclopedic knowledge of the show you’re writing about is a requirement? Have you had any fans raise continuity issues?
Since I’m a fan of the show and I’ve seen every episode, I know what Sam and Dean have gone through to get where they are at the point where the novel takes place, mid-season seven for “Rite of Passage.” I need to know what monsters have been used until that point, so I can find something new for my story. I have three editors and someone on the show who review my outline and the resulting manuscript. With all of those eyes looking at the details, I’m confident that if I forget something or make a continuity mistake, one or more of those people will let me know and I can course-correct.
What do you find most appealing about writing for the “Supernatural” universe?
As I mentioned earlier, I’m a fan first, so it’s fun to play in the “Supernatural” universe. My wife and sons are also fans, so they are thrilled that I get to write these books. Specifically, the mix of true horror with a little humor to relieve the suspense appeals to me. My favorite genre shows have all had this combination of horror/suspense laced with humor. My love for “Supernatural” really jumped to the next level with the apocalypse arc that culminated in season five.
Have you read the other novels published for “Buffy, The Vampire Slayer,” “Angel” and “Supernatural”? If so, which ones are your favorites?
Yes, I have read tie-ins for all three shows, and a few others besides. The most I’ve read in any universe is probably “Star Trek.” I’m a big fan of Peter David’s tie-ins. I’ve read a bunch of the” Buffy” books, some of my favorites were penned by Nancy Holder and Christopher Golden, and I’ve read several “Angel” novels. I haven’t read many tie-ins lately, but the first “Supernatural” tie-in I read was “The Unholy Cause,” as that one seemed to strike a chord with the most fans. I figured Joe Schreiber set the bar for Titan Books’ “Supernatural” novels, so my goal was to make “Night Terror” as good as his book. Of course, I hope readers will enjoy “Rite of Passage” as much as “Night Terror.”
Supernatural Legend links
Twitter exchanges with the author: http://www.theotherlife.net/supernatural/sito/press/twitter_fb/john_passarella.jpg
Section on our website & Italian Translation: http://www.theotherlife.net/supernatural/interviste_attori.htm
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A big thanks to Giuseppe at Supernatural Legend who arranged the interview and let us be a part of it! “Supernatural: Rite of Passage” is available on Amazon.com on August 16. You can pre-order it below: