Four years ago,  The Winchester Family Business interviewed Mr. Passarella prior to the release of his second Supernatural novel Rite of Passage.  With his new book Cold Fire hitting the market, we asked him to return for a new interview with us. 

Books Coldfire

Nate Winchester:
Mr. Passarella, I'm sure what our readers first want to know is this: As a tie-in author, do you get any preview knowledge about where the season you're [using for your story] is going, or do you have to watch it one week at a time like the rest of us?


John Passarella: Sometimes, but not usually. For instance, I knew about Bobby's passing and had the choice to set Rite of Passage before or after that moment in the timeline. I wanted to feature him, so I decided to set the novel prior to his death.

NW: I like the "historian's note" in these books which place them in the show's timeline.  Do you pick out where you think these novels will best fit or is there some other method?

JP: As noted above, sometimes I have some guidance and discretion. Generally, since the books come out much later than the episodes air on TV, the goal is to set them as close to the current (airing) timeline as possible. Book production lags, so the books still come out long after the season in question has ended.

NW: Some of us have noted that there has been a bit of a gap between the release of the last Supernatural tie-in book and this latest one. Do you know why that was?

JP: Titan Books has been producing the novels on three-book contracts. As far as my tie-ins, Night Terror was the last book in one contract. Rite of Passage was the first in the next contract. Then there was the gap before Titan signed a new contract for an additional three books. Cold Fire is the first book in this new contract. As to why there was such a big gap between the last contract and this one, I’m not privy to that information.

  

NW:
With Cold Fire you've now written three Supernatural tie-ins (tying Keith R. A. DeCandido for most Supernatural books written).  Between it, Night Terror, and Rite of Passage, which one is your personal favorite?


JP: Night Terror was a blast to write and it was my return to tie-ins after a long absence, so that remains my favorite.

NW: How do you pick where in the USA your book(s) will take place?

JP: That's totally up to me, somewhat based on my initial four to five pitches. If I needed mountains for some mountain-spawned menace, I'd obviously pick a location close to mountains, or large bodies of water if the monster needed that, etc.

NW: Have you visited/been to any of those towns?

JP: I use fictional towns, sometimes based around real towns. Rite of Passage takes place in New Jersey (where I live), so I based Laurel Hill on a combination of Cherry Hill and Mt. Laurel.

NW: Where do you get the ideas for the monsters?  Do you have books at home you consult or just search the web for weird stuff?

JP: I have some books on folklore, mythology, and compare that to internet search results. Often tidbits of info will have slight variations, so I try to give a new spin to a "known" monster based on what might have been misinterpreted or misunderstood at the time these myths and legends were handed down. One of the rules, so to speak, of Supernatural is that the monsters have to be Google-able, so as a tie-in author I can't create a new monster from scratch. It has to be based on actual lore.

NW: Is there much oversight from the powers-that-be on the monsters and lore you use?  Is there any kind of approval process you go through?

JP: The way it works is, Titan Books contacts me to see if I’m interested. If so, I come back to them with four or five thee-line pitches. Even though they are only three sentences long, I need to have an idea how I would expand those three sentences into 6 to 10 page complete outlines which then need to get turned into 80,000 word manuscripts. (For the sake of comparison, a TV script for the show is about 55 pages long. My manuscript needs to be about 350 pages long. With that in mind, I need to have a lot of material in the back of my mind when I come up with those brief pitches.) So, first there is the pitch review process. Warner Brothers will approve one or more of the pitches (I hope!) and unless they approve more than one, I take the chosen pitch and turn that into an outline. Then I wait for outline approval. They may come back with notes and an approval or they may request a revised outline before the approval. Once the outline is approved, I sign the contact and write the first draft of the manuscript. Once this is done, I wait for the approval for that. Since the outline has been approved by this stage, I stick close to that as much as possible so I don’t throw them any curveballs. Again, they’ll come back with notes on revising the manuscript, which I submit for the final approval. So, the choice of monsters/lore is up to me, but they pick which of the monsters gets the green light.

NW: I haven't counted to be sure, but it seems like in this book you keep the perspectives pretty balanced with one chapter being Dean's view then the next Sam's, then Castiel's, random civilian, back to Dean, etc.  Who do you most enjoy writing for?

JP: I enjoy finding the humor in things for Dean's perspective. Everything can't always be pitch black in horror. You need to pull back, lighten things up, then dive deep into the abyss again for it to stay fresh. Castiel would have been a lot of fun to write back when his tone was lighter and he lacked pop cultural awareness. Sam is usually steadfast -- at least when he has a soul.

NW: Is he also your favorite of the three main boys?

JP: Dean, for the reasons mentioned above, but there's a great balance in the relationship of the brothers. Obviously they work better together. 

NW: [Is there] Any secondary cast you haven't written but always wanted to examine?

JP: I had always wanted to write Castiel during his pop culture naivete (he's my eldest son's favorite character), but he was kind of off-limits during the angel/demon storylines. As a tie-in author, you can't really advance the big arcs, so that's not really a surprise. The monster-of-the-week stories can stand alone.

NW: I notice these novels tend to always come from the latest or second latest season.  If they allowed you to go back further into the past, which season of Supernatural would you most want to write a "lost story" from?

JP: It would have been cool to do something set during the first five years, the Kripke years but, again, the big arc stuff woudd have probably been off limits back then as well.

NW: How involved are you with the fan communities/opinions?  Do the reactions of fandom to events and characters in the show ever influence your writing in any way? (Example: I notice you sort of used Claire some in this book and the general reaction to her return was divisive.  Did that affect any of the parts of the book about her?)

JP: I’ll read online recaps of episodes and some of the comments, maybe post a comment of my own, but I’m not a regular on any forums. WB suggested I add Castiel after they selected a pitch (he had been mainly off limits to me previously) and originally I added a subplot for him involving the Mark. But it kept him away from the brothers, so they wanted me to have him more involved with the case. My original subplot gets a brief mention at the police stations, and I go from there. Based on the timeline placement, something with Claire seemed like the most natural emotional arc for Castiel. One of my other pitches actually could have given Castiel a juicy part of the story, though I didn’t initially include him in that one either because of the perceived off-limits aspects of his character. It was only in hindsight that I thought, Ooh, that one would have been a prime candidate for Castiel involvement.

NW: I notice your other tie-in works include Grimm and Buffy/Angel so you definitely seem to have a type of TV you like.  Which two shows (doesn't matter if you've written for them) would you love to write a comic-book-style crossover for?

JP: I've watched genre shows since I was a kid and that hasn't really changed. I tend to give most genre shows a try, and I usually  stick with them long after the masses have jumped ship. In my pre-teen years, I drew stories set in the worlds of Star Trek, Planet of the Apes, various comic book superheroes, even creating some of my own. I was a one-man graphic novel producing machine before I switched to writing stories. I'd probably have a hard time picking from the current crop.

NW: Any of your non-media tie-in work you want to take a moment to promote to our readers?  Are there any links/twitter/social media links you can be found at?

JP: My last original (non tie-in) novel was Shimmer, but I'm hoping to write a fourth novel in the Wither/Wendy Ward books, and I have some other projects planned as well.  I’m on Twitter at @JohnPassarella, my Facebook page is http://www.facebook.com/jpassarella and my author website is http://www.passarella.com

NW: What's your favorite (or top 3 if you can't pick) episode of Supernatural

JP: I'm a big fan of the meta episodes. Not sure if that's just for the change of pace, or because I appreciate the extra effort and cleverness that goes into making them.

NW: Other than "Bloodlines" what's your least favorite episode of Supernatural?

JP: I don't like to dwell on the negatives... and they tend to be unmemorable! Looking through a wider lens, I was a bit disappointed with the conclusion of the Leviathan arc.

NW: Finally for fun, you have 30 seconds to pitch an episode for the show that must be done in 45 minutes and on a TV budget.  Go!

JP: That’s funny, because one of my first conversations with WB was them telling me to use the freedom of the books, to use my unlimited budget and lack of TV censors to write what they couldn’t do on the show because of those constraints. On the flip side, I sometimes joke that there’s a small percentage of fans/readers who would be happy if I locked Sam and Dean in the bunker for the entire novel so there were no other characters to come between them or take up any scenes. But going back to that 80,000 word/350+ page count that’s required, you have to remember that as a tie-in author, I can’t advance the character arcs (or the big-bad arcs) beyond where they are in that brief section of timeline mentioned in the historian’s note. Within those constraints, I try to stay true to the characters as they are in that portion of the timeline while telling an interesting and suspenseful story.

NW:
 Thank you for your time, John. 

You can pick up Cold Fire from Amazon by using the button at the bottom of this page.
Be sure to check out Nate's 4* review of the book at the link at the beginning of the interview!