Q & A
How do you research your books?
How much research I do depends on the book. For The Dominant Blonde, I made a few calls and interviewed some search and rescue divers, and reread my old diving manuals (I used to dive, and was certified in advanced, deep and night diving.) For Does She or Doesn’t She, which was all about fantasy, I pretty much just made everything up. On the Couch was the first time I did a considerable amount of research before I began writing, mainly because it was so much fun hanging out with cops instead of sitting at home, typing away.
I’ve discovered you have to be careful what you research on the internet, though, because ever since looking up some of the kinky stuff for this new book, I get a lot of strange emails with subject lines like Make Your Girl Happy Tonite and frogspawn special cream results guaranteed!
Do you write comic books as well as novels?
I do. And even though it’s suddenly become cool for serious writers like Michael Chabon to write comics, I am proud to report that I did it before it was cool, and will probably continue long after all coolness is past.
I used to work as a comic book editor (at Vertigo, the mature imprint of DC comics) and I’ve written two coffee table books about comics as well as one graphic novel (a dark fantasy/romance set in four different time periods) and some single-issue stories.
It’s funny, I think a lot of comics readers look at romance and chick-lit and assume they wouldn’t enjoy it, and vice versa. But I’d bet money that anyone who loves Laura Kinsale and Judith Ivory’s intelligent, richly layered stories would fall for Alan Moore’s classic run on Swamp Thing and Neil Gaiman’s award-winning Sandman series. And then there’s Terry Moore, who does great chick-lit from the male point of view in his Strangers in Paradise series.
Since comics have traditionally had a predominantly male audience and romance novels have had a mainly female audience, is your approach to writing comics and romance very different?
I think my comics writing has always informed by romance writing, and vice versa. For example, I always approach love scenes as if they were fight scenes: Whoever starts out on top, metaphorically, rarely winds up that way.
I think that when I’m fresh from writing a comic, I tend to be more visually oriented, which is why I like to go back and forth between writing scripts and writing prose. But I don’t really think about whether I’m writing for men or women. I just try to write the kind of books I’d like to read.
What exactly did you do on Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman series?
All the things assistant editors do: Log in artwork received, balloon pages and send them out for lettering, send lettered pages out for inking and coloring, check to make sure that the castrated male member in the Orpheus issue is colored so dark that it doesn’t look like what it is, nag the penciler for pages, nag the writer for pages, nag the cover artist for even a scrawled sketch on a paper napkin so as to know what to expect, nag accounting for paychecks. And write the letter column.
Do you write, or draw, or both?
I write. Like most comic book writers, I am capable of three doodles, in case someone requests a doodle at a signing, but that’s about all I can do.
How is writing prose novels different than writing graphic novels?
Well, first of all, writing graphic novels (or comics, which are to graphic novels what short stories are to prose novels) is more like writing a screenplay. At least, that’s the way I was taught to write comics – as a full script, with descriptions of characters and suggestions for panel sizes and angles of shots. There are other methods, but I’m not as familiar with them.
I’m not sure if this is true of screenplay writers, but for me, writing a comic script requires a certain mindset. It’s not a good idea to start off thinking, How can I cram all my brilliant insights and observations into such a tiny space? It’s also not a good idea to give so much specific detail that your artist begins to fantasize about stuffing erasers down your mouth. In general, I think comics writing has a lot in common with poetry; you want to use as few words as possible.
What’s your advice to writers trying to get published?
Keep reading, and write what you enjoy reading. Focus on the story first, and make sure that everything you do is in service of the story. I think I wasted a lot of time – and paper – trying to write beautifully and brilliantly.