Rob Bedford recently conducted an e-mail interview with writer Charlie Huston. Huston has written two hard-boiled novels. His third and most recent novel, Already Dead marks his foray into the umbrella genre of Speculative Fiction. Specifically, Already Dead is Charlie Huston’s spin on the Vampire legend myth with the “fixer” Joe Pitt set as the protagonist. In this interview, Charlie and Rob discuss the novel, Charlie himself and his upcoming Marvel Comics series Moon Knight.
Rob Bedford: Give us a brief summary of Charlie Huston the writer and a brief summary of Already Dead.
Charlie Huston: Charlie Huston wanders the earth lost and alone, bartending when called upon. Loveless until he finds his wife. Spared from bartending, for now, by a fortuitous stumble into the world of writing genre fiction.
Joe Pitt wanders the earth a smartass punk, lost and alone until he’s bitten and left for dead by a Vampyre in the bathroom at CBGB’s. Years later he wanders even more lost and alone, kicking ass and skipping the names. He does jobs, gets paid (blood or money) and smokes a lot of cigarettes.
RB: What made you decide to blend vampires and mysteries – did Joe come first in your mind as a P.I./fixer or as a vampire?
CH: Vampire first. I’d finished writing Caught Stealing and wanted to stay busy, but I also wanted to write a story that allowed me to cut loose. Once you’ve introduced a vampire as your protagonist you have a shitload of freedom. People are either going to go with you or not. The noir aspects just kind of evolved. I envisioned Joe as a fixer from the start, but the real old school P.I. attitude was something I initially resisted. At some point I started seeing the fun of embracing that style fully and running all the way with it.
RB: What vampire novels are you familiar with and consider some of the best?
CH: I’m not very well read in the horror genre at all. I’ve read Dracula, of course and was just blown away. I’d seen several movie versions, but I had no sense of just how modern the style of the book is. The way Stoker moves the story around between the different narrators, using journals and diaries to advance the plot; that felt so contemporary to me. I’ve also read Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend, and, while I wasn’t thinking about it while I was writing, I can see in retrospect the huge impact his vampire mythology had on mine.
RB: I Am Legend is a great one, a very powerful story no matter how you look at it. I can see similarities there, too. Do you think your approach to vampires was helped or hindered by what you’ve read of vampire fiction?
CH: I’ve absorbed vampire stuff through two primary mediums: a lot of movies and a couple books. Now, when you measure the quality of the average vampire movie vs. the two books I’ve mentioned, I’d have to say I’ve been enormously helped by the vampire fiction I’ve read. That said, I now avoid anything vampire. Books, TV, comics, or movies. Until I’m done with Joe Pitt I don’t want to expose myself to other tales of the undead. I don’t do this with all my projects (I read a crapload of comics to try and get some ideas for Moon Knight), but it feels right with Joe. If an idea feels fresh and original to me, I don’t want to open someone else’s book and find out it’s been done to death. I may still use it, but it’ll probably have less energy on the page. I take it on faith that it’s damn hard to come up with anything new in this territory, but I want to pretend.
RB: I read your Web site (http://www.pulpnoir.com), specifically how much of an impact The Lord of the Rings had on you. With the two thrillers published and the Joe Pitt casebooks going on, do you have any plans on branching into other genres or subgenres?
CH: The Lord of the Rings was my door into all genre fiction. When I was little, before I knew how to read, one of my cousins was really into the trilogy. Whenever I saw him he’d tell me a little more of the story and quiz me on who the characters were. I heard the story before I ever read it. It’s a very special memory for me and that experience gave me a taste for the fantastic.
As for other genres, I’m doing a superhero comic for Marvel this year. I don’t have explicit plans for anything else, but fantasy and SF are still my first literary loves. If I had a solid idea I’d love to cross over and do an old school sword and sorcery kind of book or a space opera.
RB: Many of your scenes are very evocative, unfolding almost cinematically, as the image filtered very nicely from the page to my mind. Is this how you write, with the image in your head or do the characters conversations come first?
CH: It’s one from column A and another from column B. Sometimes I have an image or a sequence of action and the dialogue is dictated by the need to get that across. Other times I’ll have a bit of dialogue and I’ll follow it and it will suggest action. Mostly I’m trying to keep things stripped down. I’d love to be a guy who can write beautiful, evocative prose, but that’s not me. I try to play to the style and not let too much language get in the way. If I was a better writer I could maybe dress it up a bit, but as it is, I’d just kill the story if I started waxing poetical.
RB: You’ve already got the second Joe Pitt book coming out later this year (or is it 2007?), how much of his world did you put into the Joe Pitt Bible before writing, or did the details of the world come to you as the books were written?
CH: I’m not certain of the exact date of release for the second casebook, I’m believe it will be very late 2006 or early 2007. I’d probably never have written the bible except my agent felt we needed it to sell the first book. I had the first 100 pages, and he was willing to shop them around, but told me people would be reluctant to buy a partial on something like this. Especially as none of my books had hit the shelves yet. I wrote a 27-page series bible that outlined the style of the series, the mechanics of vampirism in my mythology, the major characters and Clans, and sketched the arc of a 5-6 book series. Many of those details were in my head, but the process of writing the bible solidifies many things for me. That said, I’ve already seen changes in my vision while writing the second book.
RB: A lot of writers will publish sourcebooks about their series. Should the Joe Pitt books perform well, do you ever see publishing the Series Bible as a companion to the books?
CH: It’s such a brief piece of work, I just don’t know that there’d be any value to it. As it is, I’m posting it in bits and pieces at my Web site pulpnoir.com. By the time the second book comes out most of it should be up there. If I ever find a need to expand the bible, I might look into publishing it. But I doubt it.
RB: How many “cases” do you think are in Joe’s book?
CH: Ideally I’ll get to write 5-6 books. My plan is for a terminal series. That’s to say, each book will stand alone, but there will also be a plot that runs through the series. The central question that runs through the books is, what is the Vyrus that makes Vampyres? Joe will pursue that question through the series, and the last book will end in such a fashion as to make it clear there will be no more books.
RB: Having worked a couple of years in Manhattan myself, I think you’ve really captured the feel of NYC very well, which is obvious given your background and time spent in NYC. Will Joe be crossing the Hudson to Jersey or any other locales?
CH: In Already Dead, he cleaves to his home turf in the East Village with a couple brief excursions uptown. In the second book, I have him traveling as far as Harlem. I plan on expanding his horizons throughout the series. He’ll change in each book, the Joe at the end of the series will be very different from the Joe at the beginning, and part of that process will be what he experiences when he goes outside his usual boundaries.
RB: You will be writing a Moon Knight mini-series for Marvel Comics. How different is scripting a comic from writing prose?
CH: The Moon Knight series was originally intended as a six-issue mini, but will now be an ongoing monthly. I’m signed on for the first twelve issues. The first will be out in April. As for differences, I caught a bit of a break just because I already write in a style that’s fairly cinematic and transfers well to comic book scripting. However, in a novel you’re trying to evoke an image, in a comic, it will actually be on the page. The biggest challenge is keeping that in mind, and remembering that it’s a visual medium. You want the art to carry as much of the story as possible. The writer should be fairly invisible. You want a strong story and characters, but if the actual printed words start encroaching on the pictures, you’re not doing your job. Looking at the first six scripts I wrote, I probably did a C+ job as far as being invisible, too many words. I hope to do better with the next six.
RB: Sounds like you “get” comics, which bodes well for the series. Aside from Moench’s run on Moon Knight, what other comics have you enjoyed and what comics have had an impact on you?
CH: I didn’t hit superhero comics till I was about thirteen. I was into them for a few years and was fortunate enough to be reading when Miller was onDaredevil and Claremont was doing X-Men. I also got into Chaykin’s American Flagg, Byrne’s FF, a strange SF book called Sabre (don’t remember the writer or artist), some Veitch, and others I can’t remember. In my twenties someone tuned me onto Moore and Morrison and I read some of their stuff in trade while I was in college. Genius.
RB: I guess Marvel liked what it saw in the first six issues, the extension of the series sounds great. You also landed one of Marvel (and the industry’s for that matter) hottest artists in David Finch. With your cinematic style, did you have an artist like him in mind or were the cards just dealt to you that way?
CH: Finch is the hand they dealt me. How about that for a lock? Bet the house, man. Anyone who hasn’t checked out the preview of his finished pages (http://www.buzzscope.com/reviews.php?id=5387) from issue #1 should do so now. My only regret is that I didn’t know with whom I’d be working with when I wrote the scripts. If I’d had a chance to talk with Finch in advance I might have been able to change my approach a little, go lighter on the panel count. But he’s been great about it and found ways to use the space so he can do the big splash images he excels at. And I really hope folks get a chance to see his pencils. The finished work rocks, but there’s something special in seeing the artist’s hand in the actual lines on the page. I’d never had that experience and it made a huge impression on me.
RB: Are there any other comic characters you would like to work on?
CH: Nothing that jumps to mind. Moon Knight will keep me plenty busy for the moment.
RB: Has the difference in writing a comic script helped you in your prose writing, or vice versa?
CH: Like I was saying, I think I got lucky having a style that translated well to comics. I also use a lot of staccato, brief sentences in my prose that helped when it came to breaking up into panels. Other than that, I think the best thing a writer can do to get better is to write. And writing in different formats and genres is bound to exercise some new muscles and teach you something, even if you aren’t aware of it right away.
RB: Do you ever see Joe Pitt’s story entering a visual storytelling medium, either in comics, TV, or film?
CH: I’d be happy to see that happen. But there’s no plans just now.
2006 Rob H. Bedford