Positing Characters Against the Questions in Life
PM: And that comes from your background in TV editing, right? You did film, too?
TM: I did both. I never cut film, but they would transfer film to computer, and I would cut on computer and they would go back and conform the film. So I lived in both worlds. But I also just have a lifetime of film in me. I’ve seen a ga-gillion movies. It’s all in my head, tumbling around like a rolodex.
PM: It also gives us a vocabulary to talk about comics with, one that makes a lot of sense when talking about panel layouts, etc.
TM: Absolutely. It really transfers one-to-one. I’ve seen some fun articles about that, by the way. (See, for example, “Watchmen and its relationship to film techniques” by Neil Dorsett, The Comics Chronicles, 05 September 1999, and “Tintinopolis” by Kristin Thompson and David Bordwell, David Bordwell’s website on Cinema, 30 July 2010.)
PM: Echo is being adapted into a film by Lloyd Levin (producer on Boogie Nights, Watchmen, and the Hellboy films). Where does that project stand right now?
TM: He just signed screenwriter Kerry Williamson. So we have a great screenwriter and Lloyd’s building the core team. That’s how these things get started. One producer or director starts building a core team, like a platoon, and they push it through all the obstacles. It’s going very well. Lloyd’s dedicated to it, he’s very serious about the project, and I have faith in him.
PM: How much involvement do you have, or hope to have, or is written into your contract?
TM: The contract says I’ll have significant involvement, but I’m not naïve; it’s not my world. I’d like to be part of the seminal work, and then I hope they will go off and trump all that and make it so much better. I’m a firm believer in group dynamics, that a band that works together well is going to produce something better than the individuals can manage alone. I work alone because I never found a band or a creative partner, but I’ve always envied team-ups. So I’m looking forward to what Lloyd’s band comes up with.
And to be honest, a lot of the times, when I was doing Echo, I realized, Okay, I’m just sketching these plots out like a storyboard. Because there are a limited number of pages and everything in here can be fleshed out so much better when there’s time and space for it. And sometimes the film people just come up with cool ideas because they think in 3D.
Iron Man, for instance. The movie visuals are so much better than the comic. For instance, one of the things they came up with in that movie, because they’re thinking 3D, was the vent check. When the camera tilts from feet to head for Tony’s first fitting and all these vents are going in and out…how cool is that? I’ve never seen that in the comic. Nobody in the comic world ever thought of that because they were thinking 2-D, like he goes left to right, or up and down. So that kind of new thinking can add so much to the story. I don’t need a vent check in Echo, but I’m sure they’ll think of something.
PM: It seems that as an independent creator you’d have a lot of control over your stake in a film.
TM: Not unless you work on a smaller set, like Miller and Rodriguez did. But this is going to be a big-budget movie. I’ll be lucky if I get to even visit the set. Maybe I’ll get a discount on the DVD. That would be swell.
PM: Tambi showing up in Echo made a big stir, yet it made so much sense when she appeared. Does part of the impulse to create a “Terryverse” at all come from the fact that you draw the characters as well as write them? There’s a visual consistency that helps hold everything together.
TM: That’s interesting to posit those two against each other. I don’t know which comes first, the look or the idea, because it all develops at once for me. That’s how cartooning works. When I got to the point in Echo where we needed somebody like Tambi, it made sense to me, so I went with it. It’s fun when those ideas hit you. That’s what you hope for in the creative process. And I went with it because I place a lot of value on creating reappearing characters that people want to spend time with. Authors who leave behind a trail of miscellany, it can be hard to be loyal to them because it’s hit and miss. There’s always one or two magic things you wish they would have lingered on. My favorite reads growing up were series: Sherlock Holmes, James Bond, Tin Tin and Peanuts. It’s like kids loving Harry Potter. The world would be less magical if JKR had stopped at book one.
When I came to the crossover opportunity, I realized I could follow Heinlein’s lead and build my own fictional world where all the stories connect. Wherever my series occur, it’s all one world. So, the new series, Rachel Rising…same world.
II. Rachel Rising, Batrat and Black Metal
PM: One of the constants in your work is that your characters struggle so much with not-knowing: moral predicaments, their own desires, or huge forces they have trouble fathoming like in Echo. Is that something you think about explicitly in your storytelling? Will it be part of Rachel Rising, which features a woman who rises from the dead?
TM: I suppose most all fiction posits characters against the questions in life, whether in the details or the big picture. Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, small minds discuss people.” So it is with fiction. You may think you’re writing or reading about people but, hopefully, it’s about much more.
PM: In announcing Rachel Rising on your blog, you mentioned that horror stories—“the scary kind…that gives you a chill on a hot night”—were your “first love” as a storyteller. You’ve refined “horror” to “supernatural” in describing Rachel Rising. What about the genre, besides that chill, appeals to you?
TM: It just comes natural to me. I have a twisted Walter Mitty skew on everything, I suppose. I reflect on what happened, and what could have happened, and how we barely got away with it. Most people aren’t living in fear of the leading causes of death. I think they’re most afraid they’re going to do something wrong and get caught.
We don’t typically dream of having emphysema, we dream of being chased. That is the root of the horror in our lives. And for some reason, we can’t keep from reading about it. Looking for answers maybe. Or tips. Hitchcock knew this. People didn’t like to talk to him at parties, but they watched his stories. Couldn’t help themselves.
PM: There’s so much spirituality in your work, and in a book about a character who comes back from the dead—well, I imagine the topic will come into play?
TM: When you talk about death, sooner or later the subject of spirit comes up. Unless you work in the death industry; then it’s all logistics and lab work. But most people wonder about the point of it all and what might be waiting for them on the other side of a flat line. It’s the stuff dreams are made of, and nightmares. How can I not write about it?
PM: Can you take me through the process and timeline of going from the germ of the idea for Rachel Rising to the solicitations? How long has it taken, how did it come about?
TM: It came about by a process of elimination, because I had several stories in mind, and I thought, What do I want to work on? And, What does the public want to read these days? I was looking at my options like this, going back and forth because it’s a big gamble to risk my livelihood on a new series. What if nobody likes it?
Then I got a good piece of advice from somebody on Twitter who said, Write about what keeps you up at night. It’s a cliché, but it’s true. Things work out better if you’re writing about something you feel very passionate about. That was certainly the case with SiP and Echo. So I put my worldly concerns aside and thought about what stirred my heart most. The answer was Rachel’s story.
Then I wondered where to begin with Rachel, because I’d always pictured scenes in the middle of the story. I don’t think linear. I think of key scenes first, then work like a detective to figure out how they got to that point and what they did after. With Rachel, it seemed best to start with her death. Just kill your main character on page one and get it over with. The rest is uphill from there, right?