Many thanks are due to both Elio García and Iain Cupples (Ran and Mormont on asoiaf.westeros.org) for helping me put this Q&A together. Their help was invaluable, and I would be remiss if I didn’t say that the interview turned out to be this good because of the questions they each submitted. Also, thanks to George and his collaborators for accepting to do this.
Naturally, this one is a monster, so you might want to grab a cup of coffee before sitting down and reading it. I was afraid that it would turn into something of a nuthouse, but the interview is informative, entertaining, and fun.
There’s even some ADwD news pertaining to its release date at the very end. . .
To make things a little easier to follow:
GRRM: George R. R. Martin
MS: Melinda M. Snodgrass
CV: Carrie Vaughn
CS: Caroline Spector
IT: Ian Tregillis
SL: S. L. Farrell
DA: Daniel Abraham
JM: John Jos. Miller
MC: Michael Cassutt
– GRRM and MS: After a hiatus, how much fun is it to be back in the Wild Cards universe, this time with some of the old gang and a couple of new faces? With Inside Straight being the first volume of a new trilogy showcasing a “new generation” of Wild Cards, are the expectations higher than they were before?
GRRM: Wild Cards is always fun. I love the world, I love the characters, and I love working with the gang (well, most of them, most of the time). In its heydey in the late 80s and early 90s, the series was a phenomeon — sales were terrific, we were nominated for a Hugo (for the overall series) and a Nebula (for Walter Jon Williams’ story “Witness” in book one), two regional conventions brought in the entire Wild Cards consortium as GOHs, Wild Cards panels at worldcons were packed and noisy. I think we did some good work too. The fact that we have ardent fans all these years later is proof of that. I don’t think any of us were ready for the series to end when we hit our seven-year hiatus, in between Baen and iBooks. We were all convinced Wild Cards would return one of these years, and now it has. It feels like coming home again. Some of the faces have changed, and there’s an empty chair by the fire, but most of the old gang is back and some new young writers have joined the madness. The first incarnation of Wild Cards ran for seventeen volumes, and outlasted every other shared world anthology series. My hope is that this new series will go twice as long. So, yes, I guess you can say our expectations are high.
MELINDA: Wild Cards has been one of those projects that just haunts you and never completely lets go. I have the added advantage (or curse) of having written a Wild Card spec movie script, and I’m still hoping we’ll place it somewhere after the strike ends. This is such a rich and vibrant world that it feels real to me, and my mind has often gone back to great characters and great moments in the earlier books. Now we’re getting to bring new, fresh minds to the project and how they view our world has been fascinating.
– GRRM and MS: Without giving anything away, what can readers expect from this new trilogy?
MELINDA: Something a little hipper, more glib, and with a good deal more humor laced in among the real world issues that we’re still going to address. I think readers will be pleased.
GRRM: “Who the fuck was Jetboy?” is how the book begins. That’s Daniel’s character Jonathan Hive writing in his blog, and he sets the tone for what we’re trying to do here.
This is ‘Wild Cards, the Next Generation’ – the same world, but with a whole new cast of characters. The old characters are still around (the one who aren’t dead), mind you, but this time the spotlight is on “the kids,” the young aces and jokers who were born into the world transformed by the wild card.
The Marvel and DC universes have traditionally played fast and loose with their timelines, but the Wild Cards chronology has always hewn closer to our own alternative version of “real time.” In Wild Cards, years pass just as they do in the real world, people age and change, children grow up, etc. As a result, many of our original characters are now close to retirement age, and some have been collecting social security for decades.
Also, after twenty-one years and seventeen volumes, the continuity had grown huge, complex, and daunting. There was so much history and backstory that it was hard for even the writers to keep track of it all, let alone the readers. I suppose we could have simplified all this with some sort of bogus “crisis” retrofit, but frankly, that’s a cheat, and I hate it when the comic publishers do it. We’re not abolishing the Wild Cards past, not at all. We’re just turning our attention to the present and the future. It’s been very liberating. If the readers have half as much fun with this as the writers did, they ought to love this book.
– CV, CS, IT and SL: How did you get involved in this new Wild Cards project? Did you have any previous familiarity with the series when you were invited in?
CARRIE: I’m a huge fan of the series from almost the beginning. I have all the books, comics, games, etc. I wrote George fan mail about it in 1993. (He wrote back–I still have his reply.) There is photographic evidence of me wearing a Peregrine costume. I’ve said too much already.
I’d known Daniel Abraham for a couple of years when Deuces Down, which includes a story by him, came out. I cornered him and demanded to know how he’d gotten in. Actually, I begged. Shamelessly. He invited me to Bubonicon, Albuquerque’s SF convention, and introduced me to George and Melinda. Then I begged them. I’m not sure they appreciated being told that Wild Cards was my soap opera in high school and college, but I did anyway. I did that for like three years. Fortunately, by the time the current project got off the ground, my own novels (the Kitty series) were being published, so I could present actual writing credentials. Instead of just coming off as a crazed fan. They invited me to pitch characters and stories, and now here I am.
S. L.: Like most of the WILD CARDS writers, I was recruited by George — he has final say on who plays in the WILD CARDS sandbox. I’ve loved the WILD CARDS books since Day One. I knew George had read some of my own work and had liked it enough to say so, and while he was in my town for a steamboat gathering (the man likes steamboats for some reason), I had the chance to sit down and talk with him. I guess I managed not to scare him off entirely with my appearance and my babbling, and he asked if I’d be interested in writing for WILD CARDS.
Now, I’d tell you that I at first declined, but George continued to insist that he needed me in the WILD CARDS stable, and he cajoled and complimented and bribed me until finally, after an entire three days of relentless and unending efforts to get me to succumb despite my strenuous insistence that I didn’t have time given my own career, he battered down my defenses and literally forced me to agree to be a part of this. But that may not be exactly how George would tell the story. He’d probably tell you that he didn’t even have the whole sentence out of his mouth before I screamed “Yes!”
That would be a lie. After all, George is a fiction writer and lies for a living.
CAROLINE: I was acquainted with Wild Cards for a long time because I had friends — Howard Waldrop and Bud Simons — who had written for it. I also knew George, though not nearly as well as I knew Howard and Bud.
I was at Conestoga in Tulsa a couple of years ago (George was GoH.) and after hanging with him and a bunch of folk from Austin that weekend, he emailed me and asked if I wanted to audition for Wild Cards. I was surprised and delighted to have been asked.
Oh, and I think I’m the only person portrayed as a character in Wild Cards who later became a writer for the series. (I was one of Fortunato’s hos. Bud killed me off horribly in Jokers Wild. What are friends for?)
IAN: I knew of Wild Cards from back in the late 80s, when I was a kid blowing my hard-earned lawn-mowing money on books. I’d go to the store to buy anything I could find by Roger Zelazny or James P. Blaylock, and there’d be all these Wild Cards books taking up shelf space… Which I suppose is ironic, since Zelazny was one of the original Wild Cards authors. I first met the man most people think is George R. R. Martin in a dimly-lit Santa Fe restaurant in October, 2005. I remember little of the evening; Melinda Snodgrass spiked my drink. Three days later, I woke in the cargo hold of a Dutch tramp steamer bound for Surabaya. I spent the next 87 days cowering from the captain’s whip when I wasn’t scrubbing the feet of sweaty, jowled Turkmen. On the 88th day I heard the dreaded click-thump, click-thump of George’s artificial leg when he emerged from his gilded stateroom for the first time in three months. (The real GeorgeR. R. Martin walks on a stone leg carved from the tomb of Ramses II.) He loomed over me, adjusted his bejewelled eyepatch, and said, “You got spirit, kid.” Then he proceeded to explain the new Wild Cards project while the albino raven on his shoulder screeched obscenities at me. And so here I am.
– GRRM, MS, MC and JM: What has it been like collaborating with several authors who are new (or nearly new, in Daniel’s case) to writing in the Wild Cards setting?
GRRM: New writers and new characters help keep a series fresh. Every new player sees the world a little differently, and when a new character steps on stage and begins to interact with the existing cast, sparks fly and doorways open, and that’s half the fun of a project like this. Mind you, it’s not an easy task for a new writer. You’re like a musician sitting down to jam with a band that’s been playing together for decades. Talent alone is not enough; you also need to play well with others. That being said, I think this time around we drew all aces with our new contributors. Their energy and enthusiasm even helped to fire up us old timers.
MICHAEL: From a contributor’s perspective (as opposed to editor’s), there was no difference. I’m not sure I’d even know what a “new” writer would do differently — except write a longer-than-needed first draft.
JOHN: My stories, particularly the one in the first book, are more self-contained than many of the others. Still, there’s nothing like an infusion of fresh blood to get all systems up and humming.
MELINDA: The new writers have been wonderful. First, they are in fact younger than many of the original generation, and they bring a fresh outlook to the project. And they are all stunningly talented. They are also a little more wry and a little more cynical then we were, and I think that will add to the energy of the books.
– Are the nine of you going to be collaborating on the forthcoming sequels to Inside Straight, or will there be new additions to the Wild Cards roster?
CARRIE: Yes and yes. Many of us are in Busted Flush, along with some otherfamiliar names. It seems to be going like much of the earlier series did: you’ll find familiar as well as new names in each volume.
DANIEL: That’s up to George. I sat out the second book in part because I was planning to be busy writing scripts for a six-issue Wild Cards comic book. As it worked out, I might have been able to do both, but it’s not like you can be sure of those things going in. I’ll pitch my idea for the third book, and we’ll see if he takes me up on it or not.
More generally speaking, I hope there will be more folks folded into the project. I think there are some very talented wtiters out there who could have something interesting to say in this world.
IAN: First-generation Wild Cards author Bud Simons and I are collaborating on a joint story for Busted Flush. We’re putting the final (I hope!) touches on it now.
MICHAEL: It all depends on where I see an opportunity to tell a story within the larger narrative.
JOHN: I believe the second book is more or less the same line-up. I’m sure there’ll be more additions as the series proceeds.
CAROLINE: I think everyone from Inside Straight is currently working on the next book, Busted Flush. (With the addition of Bud Simons and Kevin A. Murphy to the roster. It’s a very full book.) As for adding new writers, I’m thinking that’s a George question. Who else are you going to suck…er, uhm, ask to join?
S. L.: Oh, there are several other writers who are part of the Consortium, and there is never a guarantee that you’ll have a story in any one particular book. You almost certainly will see ‘new’ writers in future books. Here’s how it works, in a nutshell. The overall arc of the book is hammered out, a process where anyone who wants to participate has a voice — that’s sometimes done in person: in the old days, that might have been at a convention, but there was a get-together in New Mexico where much of the arc of the current three books under contract was drafted (I wasn’t there *sniff*). Then the arc was further refined by e-mail input from those who couldn’t be at the meeting — most of our communication is through group e-mail.
Eventually, George puts out a call for ‘pitches’ for the book. Any writer who wants to be in that book writes up a one or two page outline of the story he or she would like to write: which character will be the protagonist, what other characters of other writers you’re going to use in addition to your own, and how your story is going to tie into the overall plot of the book. Writers are best advised, when they’re putting together their pitches, to be talking to the other writers because the better your pitch weaves into other stories being pitched, the better your chances of making the cut.
Because there will be a cut. George can only take so many stories in any one volume, and he always gets more pitches than he can accept. George decides which stories are going to best work together and lets everyone know whether they’re in or out. Since there are, I don’t know, maybe thirty people who have ‘shares’ in the Consortium, there could conceivably be thirty pitches on any one book — I don’t think George has ever received a pitch from everyone who could pitch, though: sometimes a writer just doesn’t have an idea for a particular volume, or your characters just don’t seem to fit, or you’re working on another deadline and just don’t have time, or life is simply too busy right now…
You can see from the above process, though, why WILD CARDS is “By Invitation Only.” A writer coming in ‘cold’ or unsolicited would have no knowledge of the current book-in-progress (always one or maybe even two ahead of the one that’s currently in print) and thus wouldn’t be able to tie their story into the plot.
MELINDA: I think we’re pretty much set for this triad. It would be hard to bring in a totally new writer for the full mosaic, but if the books do well and we get a second triad we’ll be adding to the roster. I spoke to one potential writer at World Fantasy and I think fans will be blown away if he joins the stable.
GRRM: It’s rare for any two Wild Cards books to have exactly the same lineup. At present we have thirty members in the Wild Cards consortium, but only eight or nine story slots in any volume (fewer for the full-on mosaics). Busted Flush will feature stories by many of the writers who were in Inside Straight, but not all of them; on the flip side, it will have contributions from several authors who were not in the first book. And the lineup for the concluding mosaic,Suicide Kings, remains to be determined.
– DA, CV, MC, CS, JM, IT, and SL: This is the first Wild Cards book in a while to be told in the ‘traditional’ format of shorts from various contributors with an overall story arc. What were the challenges of the linking process? How closely did you have to work with George as editor on these sections, and how free were you to express your own creativity? How much does the writing process differ between your own projects in which you have full control and a shared universe where what you are producing must be part of a larger “whole?”
IAN: It’s extremely challenging, but also very rewarding when the final product comes together. The trick is figuring out a story that explores and illuminates a character — since character is the heart of story –while simultaneously furthering the overall storyline of the book. That takes a lot of back-and-forth, not just with George and Melinda as editors, but also with the other writers as they put their own sections together. There’s definitely an element of negotiation to this process that isn’t present in a solo project. That may sound creatively restrictive, but if anything, I think it inspires us to greater creativity when we have to hash out thorny plot and character issues. Overcoming challenges makes for better work overall.
S. L.: Oh, the writing process is very different. For one, you’re not telling the whole tale, and the further back in the book you are, the more you’re relying on other writers to advance your storyline — and meanwhile the person writing the interstitial material (in the case of Inside Straight, that’s Daniel) has to provide the ‘glue’ and bridging material to hold all the stories together. In the format of Inside Straight, the stories are the bricks that create the entire novel, and the interstitial is the mortar holding the bricks together. When you write on your own, you’re providing all the bricks and all the mortar and building a structure that’s entirely your own conception. In WILD CARDS, the structure is more a group vision, and you provide your single brick — though the metaphor falls apart there… because the character(s) you provide to the mix will appear in everyone else’s work, too. So your ‘brick’ is composed of elements from everyone else’s brick, too.
You have to constantly be aware of what the other writers are doing. You’re not just using your own characters. Your story will also feature characters who belong to other writers (some of whom may not even be writing a story for the book), you need to send your drafts to the ‘owners’ of the characters so they can vet the dialog and actions of their people. The chronology and timing of events has to coordinated with everyone else; if The Great & Powerful Candelabra loses one of her eight silver arms during a fight scene in your story, then everyone afterward has to know and adjust their description. The rewrites can be extensive and ruthless; George has to see all the drafts, read ’em, then send out revision notes not only regarding the story itself, but ensure that it ties tightly into everyone else’s story.
It’s very much collaboration. When I write a story for a theme anthology, for instance, my story stands alone. I can pluck it out of the anthology and it’s perfectly readable out of that context. The character arc is fully self-contained, the plot is complete, the theme is complete. That’s very much not the case in WILD CARDS — someone reading only my story would be missing all the ‘backstory’ that’s necessary to understand it, and my story doesn’t end the tale of the book. My story doesn’t stand on its own… and it shouldn’t, not if I’m doing the job right as a collaborator. I’m taking up the threads of the entire book, using my character to weave the pattern for a while, then handing off the fabric to the next person.
CAROLINE: Ah, starting with the easy questions, I see. I’ve done work-for-hire, so I’m used to working within the constraints of someone else’s world. I think the person who had the most work to do linking-wise was Daniel Abraham. He did the interstitial for Inside Straight. And of course, George is responsible for making sure all the stories hang together properly.
My experience of being “creatively free” Wild Cards-wise was that George gave me plenty of rope to hang myself. Then when he got my first draft he wrote me an email that basically said: “I liked the story, except for everything that happened in it.” Sigh. I loved my scene with Dragon Girl and Bubbles. Maybe George will let me post it on the website . . .
For me, the process of working with collaborators isn’t much different from the process of working on my own. Someone once said, “Writing is like masturbation. It’s best done alone.” You always write alone. At least I do. (Make of that what you will.)
The difference in writing for Wild Card versus writing for yourself is in trying to make sure that your story helps the other writers’ stories where you can. And hoping they’ll return the favor.
CARRIE: I will confess, I’m a bit of a control freak and there have been a couple of times where I’ve wanted to tell George, “Look, just give me the whole thing, I’ll do it.” It’s hard letting go of a favorite scene because it doesn’t fit the rest of the book. But I think one of the real strengths of the series is the many voices that come together to tell the stories. And it’s also kind of nice being responsible for a small chunk of a novel rather than the whole thing. Plotting an entire novel is one of my weak spots, and writing for Wild Cards lets me dodge that bullet.
We get a lot of input from George. It’s his job, with Melinda’s help, to look over the first drafts of stories as they come in, then decide how they all work together, and what needs changing so that they all work together. This can be something as minor as two authors depicting the same character in a different way, or as major as two people writing stories that have thesame characters being in two places at once. The revision notes have usually run along the lines of, “You need to make these changes so that your story will lead into so-and-so’s story, and follow up on so-and-so’sstory.” Lots of emails go back and forth between George, Melinda, and the other writers most closely involved in each individual story. (We all getto approve other writer’s uses of our characters.)
In some ways, it’s like being a journalist. You’re given a task–report on x, y, and z in the overall storyline. But it’s all of us working together that determines the storyline, and someone’s good idea can change the whole outline. Within the overall framework, there’s quite a bit of room for creativity, especially in terms of characterization. Over the course of the series that’s where some of the great future storylines have come from. George can back me up on this, but if I remember right, Jay “Popinjay”Ackroyd started out as a minor character who gained a life of his own and took over in later books, because he was so much fun. I think we already have a couple of characters who were supposed to be minor, but are in the process of taking over. (I’m thinking of especially of Ian’s character Rusty.)
JOHN: Wild Card stories take a lot more longer to produce than solo stories, especially the ones that are closely integrated with the other stories, both to get the details shared between stories right and to help advance the over-all plot properly. E-mail makes the challenge of the linking process a lot easier, and cheaper, than in the old days of long distance phone calls.
MICHAEL: I worked quite closely with George — the process was, in my experience, much like writing for television. A larger set of story points exist…. you look at the characters and propose a guest star and an episode… the editor or producer makes suggestions or criticism, you revise, then write. Then re-write. Then re-write a bit more. The process is nothing like writing a story or novel of your own.
DANIEL: Well, speaking as the guy who had the interstitial, I didn’t have a story the same way the other folks did. My job was to put in the context. It’s kind of like looking at diamonds on something dark. They were the diamonds, and I was the black cloth. It wasn’t like writing a normal story, but it was the gig I signed up for, so I had a lot of fun with it. The shape of it changed a lot from our first rough sketch after people’s actual stories came in and got shuffled around.
The editing or the collaborative process — whichever name you want to call it by — is always a negotiation. I have things I want to do, George has things he wants me to do. When we disagree, I’m always welcome to explain my view and objections, and George will push back.
Of course at the end of the day, he’s the editor and can kick me out of the book if I’m too hard to work with.
– Generally speaking, the “gritty”, “realistic” superhero comic has been the dominant kind of superhero comic in the U.S. these days. It’s interesting to look back and realize that the publication of the first Wild Cards book more or less coincides with the wrap up of Alan Moore’s and Dave Gibbons’s seminal Watchmen. Is there any connection there between these two important works that some might say helped to redefine (for better or worse) the kinds of stories that could be told with four-color supers?
CARRIE: Don’t forget Miller’s Dark Knight. I think it’s fascinating that these all developed basically in parallel. Clearly an idea whose time had come. Wild Cards had even more freedom, because it was prose, and not tied to alot of the comic book conventions. By setting it in the real world the creators had to take a good long look at conventions like costumes and superhero teams, and realize that these are very nearly unworkable in real life. Moore’s and Miller’s works subverted a lot of superhero conventions, but Wild Cards made superheroes realistic to the extreme by placing the stories in our world with our history. Then there’s all the sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll. How much of that had we seen in comics?
S. L.: Maybe it was just the time. I don’t think there was much, if any, direct connection. WILD CARDS was an attempt to do collaborative work in a new and exciting way, to play with the idea of the ‘superhero’ and make it work within the framework of the ‘real’ world. WILD CARDS was long underway before I was aware of Watchmen.
JOHN: Much like when it’s time to build railroads, people will build railroads, when it’s time to write realistic superhero stories, people will write realistic superhero stories. Back in the mid-1980s I think that the traditional comic book story had gone about as far as it could. Readers – some of them, anyway – were ready for a different take on superheroes, stories that dealt with more mature issues in a more sophisticated manner. Naturally, when someone like Moore does it, and does it well, there will be numerous imitators, some who will do it as well, some of whom will do it not so well. When everyone is doing it, a lot of them will be doing it not so well.
CAROLINE: I think it’s more of a coincidence of timing than anything else. There are always seismic shifts occurring in art and culture. It’s a chicken-egg thing. Sometimes there’s just something in the air. It was about the same time that grittier, more realistic superheroes appeared that cyberpunk was becoming a big deal in SF. I would argue that the late 80s were a time when the dark underbelly of Reagan’s Amurika was seeping into popular culture in general.
MELINDA: I think this was just “in the ether” In fact we were working on the first Wild Card book while Moore and Gibbons were writing Watchmen. Remember, we went head to head with them for the Hugo at the New Orleans Worldcon. I do think the “gritty” comic has now become the cliche, and so many of us are discussing how to find the new trope for the genre. I think what Joss Whedon did with Buffy and Firefly offers some clues and books like Demo — humor and more human sized stories. Not that we have managed to pull back on the scope for this triad. Far from it.
DANIEL: I was graduating high school and heading off to college when Watchmen and Dark Knight Returns and Wild Cards all came out. I think there was something in the water of the late 80s that begged for a new mythology. I don’t think “gritty” was actually the appeal, though. And, as I’ve said to George, in the first Wild Cards book, we had a tantric master sodomize a corpse back to life, which isn’t actually strictly speaking realistic. I think the real power of all three of those works was that they had a moral complexity that as a teenager I was hungry for. It was Reagan’s America back then, and however nostalgic we may be for it now, there was a simplicity and artificiality that made it a great petrie dish for what George and Frank Miller and Alan Moore were doing.
That said, I think we may have overshot as a culture. I think we’ve embraced dark and gritty so totally sometimes that it’s become just another pollyanna. Saving the world from alien supervillains or beating whores to death are weirdly similar in that they present a simple, unnuanced world. Go back and read those first works again, and you’ll see that wasn’t what made them powerful.
– Could you tell us a bit about the process you used to create the Aces you’re contributing to the book? Is it just finding a neat power that hasn’t been done before and then making a character to suit that, or is it the other way around?
S. L.: Yeah, to some extent, to create a character for WILD CARDS you need to come up with some ‘power’ (or some twist on one) that hasn’t been done before. That’s getting tougher as the series goes on, believe me…
But I think you can approach it from either direction: come up with a power and create a character that fits it, or have an idea for a character and create a power that complements their personality. Drummer Boy came from character first. My son’s a drummer (though I hasten to add that his personality is notlike DB’s….). He is obsessed with drumming and percussion; it’s his passion. So I wondered: in the WILD CARD universe, if someone like this were infected with the virus, how might that passion be reflected? From that question, DB arose: a person who is his own self-contained drum set. Mind you, DB considers himself more a joker than an ace…
You’ll see ‘Gardener,’ another character of mine, in Inside Straight, though not in my story (you see, it really is collaboration). When I was pitching characters to George, I was also planting a garden. “Y’know, it’d be nice if I could just get these seeds to spring up immediately…” Voila! A new power… and then I had to create a character who seemed to fit that power. DB was ‘character first, power second’ while Gardener was ‘power first, character second.’
You may see another character, Barbara Baden, aka The Translator, in future books. She springs from a trip to France, where I really wished I could speak French…
CARRIE: George and Melinda said early on that they wanted powerful women aces,since that was something the series had been lacking. So that’s what I focused on. In coming up with powers for wild carders, you realize pretty quickly that there’s very little that hasn’t been done. The trick is finding a twist or an interesting angle. Wild Cards, with its jokers, offers a new dimension to the whole thing in coupling powers with sometimes massive physical alterations. I didn’t go that route, though other writers did.
Telekinetic earthmoving has been done in the comics, but Wild Cards had never used it, so I latched on to it. I also wanted to write a character with a different background and ethnicity than me. That’s how Ana Cortez, aka Earth Witch, came about.
It took a lot of back and forth with George to pin down Curveball’s power. I knew I wanted her to make things go “boom,” but we did lots of tweaking to find something that would be new and interesting–not just throwing things that explode, but being able to control their trajectory in flight as well. I was a little chagrined to realize just a couple of months ago that Curveball’s power is a variation of the X-Men’s Gambit’s power. But again, it’s not something that’s been done in Wild Cards, and having that power in the hands of a spunky 19 year old softball player is newish and fun.
CAROLINE:: I’m embarrassed to admit I don’t remember exactly how I created Bubbles. I think Warren (my husband) and I were sitting around and I was angsting about creating a character. He said, “Oh, hell, I can come up with loads of superheroes.” And then he did.
I couldn’t let him outdo me, so I wrote down several character ideas, not caring if they sucked or not. Bubbles was the one who really sang to me. I pitched her and three other characters to George. He liked all but one, so I think I did okay.
Oh, and George was very clear that he wanted characters with physical rather than mental powers for the new books. That made things a lot easier, actually.
MICHAEL:: To me, the creation of an SF or fantasy story starts with the idea. For WILD CARDS, I always start with a power, then search for the best character to possess it.
JOHN: I think the story comes first. You think of a particular story you want to write that needs particular characters to serve it, and then you see what powers will fit that character. The powers don’t make the characters.
IAN: For me, it’s difficult to devise an interesting power that hasn’t already been done or isn’t similar to something else. Since I cling to character as the heart of a good story, I tend to start there. Once I have a sense of a character’s wants and needs, his or her background and personality, a power tends to suggest itself. What kind of Ace do you become if you’re a lonely, pimply, klutzy kid from the Iron Range?
DANIEL: I started with a power and then thought about the kind of person I wanted to write about. I didn’t see a big connection between power and personality, though. If Jonathan Hive had some other ace power, he’d still be the same character to me, we just wouldn’t call him Bugsy.
MELINDA: All the powers have been used multiple times by the comics and by us. We can find interesting and creative ways for our characters to use those powers, but I think how you make a memorable character is not through the powers, but through the person. I created Double Helix aka Noel Matthews because I was looking at how a super patriot — crown and country and all that — would view himself. How he would view these new, young aces? Would he admire them or think they were naive? The power was suggested to me one day when I was listening to Mozart’s The Magic Flute. You’ll just have to wait for the book to see what that means.
– Cover art is always important to some degree, but in a genre like superhero stories, where striking and iconic visuals have been so significant, do you feel it’s crucial? Do you feel the art has captured your Aces as you intended them? What input did you have?
S. L.: As far as I know, George is really the only one who has had significant input into the book covers. Covers can be incredibly important to a book’s sales and I really think you want and need striking cover art (and I feel we have that for Inside Straight), but I will say that I don’t personally think the cover depictions of the characters matter all that much. This isn’t a graphic novel or superhero comic where the visual component is on every page; it’s fiction, and the readers will supply their own images of the characters based on the descriptions in the book — and those are as valid as anything on a cover.
JOHN: I don’t think we’ve been particularly well-served by our cover art to date, with a few exceptions. Tim Truman had a nice run although I guess some thought his work too “comic-booky” (I wouldn’t agree), and there have been some other nice ones. I don’t know if the cover art is crucial. I think it can help, but the cover art for the first series didn’t particularly add anything of significance, and those books sold very well. I can honestly say that the cover for the first Tor book is perhaps the finest we’ve ever had.
MELINDA: I think we have a fantastic artist working on the new Wild Card covers. George can speak to this better than I, since the cover features his character Lohengrin, but it seems like we are being heeded. I also think it was a good move on the part of Tor to go to less “comic” book style covers and more straight paintings.
GRRM: Michael Komarck painted the cover for Inside Straight, and it’s our hope that he will do the rest of the books as well. I agree with those who said this is the best cover we’ve ever had on a Wild Cards book (and we’ve had some great ones, like the six spectacular Brian Bolland covers that appeared on the old British editions). Komarck is a digital artist, and he’s done some amazing Ice & Fire work in the past. He’s been a joy to work with, as has Tor’s art director, Irene Gallo.
– Do you find that working on Wild Cards benefits your solo work? What do you take away from working on a such a shared universe book?
IAN: Yes. Wrestling with the creative challenges I mentioned earlier has made me more flexible– my ability to study a problem from different angles, and to dream up multiple solutions, is stronger now. And it’s been a blast watching how the others put their own stories together.
MICHAEL: I can’t see any specific benefit — or any detriment — to my solo work, since the processes are so different. It’s fun to see how other writers deal with your characters — and how they react to your uses of theirs.
S. L.: You can’t help but learn while working with such an incredibly talented and diverse group of writers. Seeing how other people handle scenes and characters, having to match dialog for characters whose voices you didn’t create, brainstorming with other writers and watching how they develop ideas, getting revision notes from an editor who happens to be an excellent writer himself… I tell you, this is the world’s best writing course.
You walk away from the experience a better writer. You don’t have a choice. Not if you have any imagination at all.
One aspect I think we all come away with is a highly refined knowledge of how to handle multiple viewpoints within a novel — in WILD CARDS, the novels are all (by nature of the beast) written in multiple viewpoints and we’ve seen how that can enrich a story. When we write ‘solo’ we can still use multiple viewpoint and voices, even though we create them all on our own. I know that’s something I’ve taken and used in my own fiction.
JOHN: It opened some doors and of course gave me an opportunity to hone my skills by working with a good group of intelligent writers as well as an editor who demanded the best and sweated out every detail. You can learn a lot about teamwork by working for wild card (not a skill that writers necessarily have), but I’ve played in a lot more baseball games than I’ve written books (or even stories) so it was not a skill foreign to me from the beginning.
MELINDA: Only in so far as I am constantly reminded of the power and necessity of plot and structure. Without those clearly defined a Wild Card book can spin out of control.
DANIEL: I think any writing project that makes you check your ego at the door is a Good Thing, leading caps and all. The beauty of the Wild Cards universe is that we have to do things differently than we would if it was just our own private project, and as a writer, seeing that there’s more than one way to do it keeps the rest of my thinking flexible.
CARRIE: Ask me again in a year. It’ll be interesting to see what kind of crossover there is between audiences (taking the question from a purely commercial standpoint). Artistically, I’ve been working on a series of werewolf novels, and it’s great fun for me to be able to work on a side project like this. It keeps my writing muscles flexible. But I keep thinking I should try to do something with the Werewolves, the Jokertown gang that shows up in earlier books.
CAROLINE: I haven’t been working much on my own stuff since I started with Wild Cards. (I’m lazy and a slow writer — an awesome combination for getting work done.) However, it’s been a revelation working with George as an editor. He has such a strong editorial vision and is extremely good at telling you what he wants. Also, if you’re really in disagreement about something he’s asked you to do, if you argue your point in a convincing manner, he’s willing to listen and often will change his mind in your favor.
GRRM: The interwoven POV structure of A Song of Ice and Fire is modeled on the format that we originally developed for the Wild Cards mosaic novels, so in that sense Wild Cards has had a huge impact on my solo work. My earlier novels never had more than one or two POV characters, but the mosaics convinced me that a multiple-viewpoint structure could work, and work well.
– GRRM and MS: The alternate history aspect of the series appeals to many readers, with appearances by Marilyn Monroe, Winston Churchill and of course General Zappa. Is this something you plan to build on?
GRRM: The alternate world stuff is a lot of fun, though it can sometimes be a challenge to new readers. Our copyeditor on Inside Straight, for instance, was convinced that our references to the Brooklyn Dodgers were a mistake and helpfully informed us that the Dodgers had moved to Los Angeles in 1957. In the Wild Cards universe, of course, Walter O’Malley drew a black queen and turned to sludge, and the Brooklyn Dodgers are still playing at Ebbets Field. Sports, politics, movies… our universe differs in all sorts of ways from the real world. Some of the changes are huge, some very minor, but they all have their impact, and help give our world its unique flavor. Yes, that’s something we’ll continue to play with… until the editor’s head explodes from trying to keep track of all of this, anyway.
– The series has enjoyed amazing longevity: In fact, this latest book is being published shortly before its 21st birthday. Why do you think that is? Is it due to the setting, the themes, or is it just so much fun to write?
CARRIE: All of the above? The setting is great–very familiar, and it’s loads of fun seeing the subtle changes between our world and the WC world (like Fidel Castro playing pro baseball). I always loved it for the characters. They’re very intense and powerful and flawed, which made them seem so real. The world wasn’t all sunshine and daisies, and being heroic wasn’t always enough. And they are loads of fun to write. Except maybe by the third revision…
DANIEL: I think it’s because publishers keep buying it. Part of that is George’s success, part of it is the enduring power of the superhero mythology and its critics.
S. L.: Hey, WILD CARDS can finally drink legally!
I can answer as a writer. These books are an incredible amount of work to produce, as we’ve already talked about. More work than writing solo, honestly. But… if you’re a writer, writing is what you enjoy doing. Many of these writers are my friends, I also know them all as writers and admire the talent each of them possesses. Where else can I work with a bunch of gifted people who I’d want to hang around with anyway, have an incredible amount of fun putting together plots and twists and characters and tossing around ideas, then get to write stories in this neat universe we’ve all had a hand in putting together — from the newest writer in the group to those who have been there from the beginning — and finally hand those stories to the fans and readers of the series. Wow…
Writing is generally a lonely business — it’s usually just you and the computer screen and your imagination. There’s nothing wrong with that; heck, it’s the way I like it, most of the time. But in WILD CARDS, I get to share the experience of writing with good friends, and hopefully along the way create something that’s greater than the sum of its component parts. That’s entirely rare, and entirely precious.
– Recently, it was announced that RPG publisher Green Ronin had acquired the license to publish a Wild Cards campaign setting. This isn’t the first time that Wild Cards has attracted the attention of game publishers (Steve Jackson Games produced two sourcebooks). What do you think is the particular appeal of Wild Cards to gamers?
S. L.: Considering the origin of WILD CARDS, it’s a return to the roots…
MELINDA: Well, it grew out of a gaming obsession with the NM crowd. Also, it’s a great format for episodic adventures. Which is why cop shows work — you have a bad guy and a problem to solve each week that has some real weight.
JOHN: It’s a vivid and exciting universe peopled by all sorts of strange characters, yet it is also as familiar as your own neighborhood (if you live in a odd neighborhood).
CAROLINE: I think the appeal of the Wild Cards universe for gamers is that it isn’t restrictive. Anyone can get a wild card, and the Wild Card characters aren’t restrained by well, anything. There’s also a lot of dark wish-fulfillment in Wild Cards. I think that’s a pretty powerful combination for role-playing.
CARRIE: The appeal of gaming has always been to take the story one step further. You’re not just reading about it, you’re BEING it, at least for a little while. It’s a natural impulse with a world as rich as Wild Cards. And superheroes. Who doesn’t want to be superheroes? Hey, anyone want to put together a Wild Cards themed City of Heroes team? Just kidding, I have no time for that…
– DA: You’ve mentioned that the Wild Cards comic you’re working on have will have a “new punk” sensibility. Could you say a bit more about what you mean by that, and in particular what it means for the Wild Cards stories you’re writing or have written?
DANIEL: I’m a skeptic about the virtues of “dark and gritty.” I think that there was a time when that was revolutionary and exciting and really really interesting, but that time was 1987. Since then, it’s been done. Done well, done poorly, remade, replayed, and flogged to death. In this context, “darker and grittier” isn’t revolutionary or exciting or interesting; it’s desperate and tapped out.
What I want to do with the comic book — and with the novels and short stories for that matter — is move away from the impulse that equates bleakness with realism and try for some actual realism and complexity, only with superpowers. The six-issue arc that I’m working on right now has fights and deaths and Croyd Crenson and all that kind of good stuff, but it’s at heart a story about survivor’s guilt. If I get another shot after this one, I’d like to do a comedy in the Wild Cards universe. Maybe a few very small, personal stories that don’t require the grand epic sweep. Brian Wood put out a series called Demo that I think is really great work along these lines. I would love to see the Wild Cards universe have room for a story about the boy with X-ray vision going to his first day of fifth grade at a new school or telepathic girl coming home for her first Thanksgiving after moving away to college.
Humane is the new gritty. I think we should go there.
– It’s been asked before, but there were plotlines left hanging at the end of the ‘Black Trump’ cycle, such as Zoe’s determination to punish those she’d felt had failed the Wild Carders. With the intervening gap, they’re probably (literally) history, but will they be referred to, or are they something best forgotten?
MELINDA: I really think we want as fresh a start as possible, but there are a few threads that we are going to resolve.
S. L.: In life, and in WILD CARDS, not all questions can be answered, and — as in life — sometimes a story comes into view for a time, fades, and we never see the ending… or we may find the thread taken up again when we least expect it.
CARRIE: We made a concerted effort to start with new storylines so a reader could pick up the series and not need the twenty years of preceding history to keep up with it. There will of course be moments and Easter eggs for the old school fans. But for the most part, the stories are new.
GRRM: Any project as large and long-lived as Wild Cards will inevitably generate a lot of loose ends and “untold stories.” Most of those are tied to a specific character. Despite the collaborative nature of these series, it is rare for one writer to attempt a definitive or seminal narrative about a character created by another (though there have been exceptions to that), so the question of whether the “untold stories” will ever be told hinges on whether the original writer cares to tell them. Zoe, for instance, was created and written by Sage Walker, and if Sage decides to write another Zoe story for us, I’m sure she’ll pick up that loose end you mention. If not… well, the other writers have their own characters, and other priorities. Similarly, only Pat Cadigan can tell us what ever became of Water Lily, only Walter Jon Williams truly knows if Modular Man and Patchwork lived happily ever after, only Melinda can decide what might happen if Jube decides to hold Tachyon to that Network contract he made him sign, etc.
Sadly, at least two wonderful “untold tales” of the Sleeper were lost when Roger Zelazny passed away. I know that Roger had always intended to bring back Croyd’s boyhood friend Joey Sarzanno, and tell the story of the crystallized woman that Croyd kept in his closet. but he never had the chance, and now he never will. Croyd will continue to be a part of Wild Cards — Roger deliberately crafted the character so he would be easy for the other writers to use, and always delighted in seeing what we did with him — but it would take an unusual amount of hubris for any of us to attempt to write either of those two stories, and it is not something I would encourage. They were Roger’s stories. No one else could do ’em justice.
– Most importantly, where’s Croyd?
MELINDA: Croyd is doing just fine.
JOHN: Probably sleeping somewhere.
CARRIE: Asleep in one of his NYC hidey holes. That’s only a guess, though.
IAN: You know, now that you point it out, there was this odd fellow on the tramp steamer…
CAROLINE: Well, I have an idea… but George will have to decide if he likes it.
S. L.: While out hiking on a trip to the Pacific Northwest a few years ago, Croyd finally succumbed to the need to sleep, and woke to find himself transformed into an extraordinarily fast-growing Redwood sapling. He’s currently about fifty foot tall and providing cover and shade in the middle of a forest, but is having troubling dreams about chainsaws and logging chains.
DANIEL: In the comic book.
– Working on a project such as Inside Straight provides a lot of exposure, it goes without saying. Here’s your chance to tell SFF fans a little more about your own writing endeavors. What do you have in the pipeline?
MICHAEL: I’m working on an SF novel with a major feature film writer, along with the usual sort of TV projects, none of them sufficiently advanced to justify publishing titles or premises.
CARRIE: KITTY AND THE SILVER BULLET, due in January! This is the fourth book in my series about a werewolf named Kitty who starts a talk radio advice show. I’m contracted for #5-7, which I’m working on like gangbusters. Should keep me out of trouble. I also have the usual batch of short storiescoming up in places like Realms of Fantasy. I’m generally running around like a headless chicken. It’s fun.
DANIEL: Well, I’ve just turned in the last book of the Long Price Quartet.
That’s a four-volume epic fantasy series that, in retrospect, I’m actually pretty fond of. It’s gotten some excellent critical attention, and the folks who’ve read the last book tell me it worked out well. That’s published through Tor here in the states and Orbit in the UK. I’ve also got a collaborative novel with George and Gardner Dozois called Hunter’s Run. And I think late next year my first pseudonym, M. L. N. Hanover, will be publishing its first novel. We’re all very proud of little MLN, and we hope it does well.
S. L.: My most recent completed project was a Celtic fantasy series known as the “Cloudmages” books: Holder of Lightning, Mage of Clouds, and Heir of Stone. The Cloudmages books were a generational saga as well, so it had quite a wide scope. I’ve been very pleased with the critical reception and fan response to that series. However, I’m really excited about my current work-in progress: the Nessantico Cycle. Here, I’m exploring a world where magic, religion, and science are colliding explosively. The first book in the cycle will be out in February ’08, and is entitled A Magic of Twilight. — hey, you should really pick it up! I’m currently in the midst of finishing up A Magic of Nightfall, the second book… when George isn’t nagging me for a WILD CARDS story.
You can check out my stuff at http://www.farrellworlds.com/
IAN: I’ve just sold a three-book series to Patrick Nielsen-Hayden at Tor. The Milkweed Triptych is a science-fantasy alternative history of the twentieth century, and my first novel sale. Also, Melinda Snodgrass and I recently finished the screenplay for a spec television pilot. It’s been a ton of fun putting that together…
CAROLINE: I’m working on a couple of novels at the moment, but I need to commit to one of them. For one I have to do hellish amounts of research and the other only purgatory amounts of research. So it’s difficult to decide . . . And my agent is shopping The Green Hours, my 1897-absinthe-abuse /dead-babies-in-jars book. So editors, if this sounds like your cup of frothy cappuccino, call him!
JOHN: I’m writing that aforementioned Wild Card RPG for Green Ronin Press. It will be suitable for gamers as well as those looking for a concordance of the wild card universe, with detailed biographies, time-lines, and just about all things you might ever want to look up about wild card (What’s the name of Dr. Tachyon’s chauffeur?). Although I haven’t seen any of the art as of yet, based on other volumes Green Ronin has done I’m sure that the illustrations will be fabulous. Look for it in the spring. After that’s done, it’s back to working on my novel BLACK TRAIN COMING, about coal miners and vampires in 1920’s West Virginia.
MELINDA: I have a new novel THE EDGE OF REASON coming out from Tor books in May of 2008. I’ve written a spec television pilot with Ian Tregillis and when the strike finally ends our manager will start to show it around town.
– GRRM and MS: If each of you could select two authors that have yet to collaborate with you in the Wild Cards shared universe, who would you choose and why?
GRRM: Back around 1987 or so, when Wild Cards was new and we only had a couple of books out, I was approached at a convention by a skinny young British writer, all in black, who had an idea he wanted to pitch me for the series, a character who lived in dreams. I thanked him but told him we had all the writers we needed. The neophyte, of course, was Neil Gaiman, and the character was Morpheus. Obviously I’d like to have a do-over on that one. I love what Kurt Busiek has been doing with Astro City, so he’d probably be my other choice… though I don’t know if he’s ever written prose. Tough to pick just two, however. There are a number of SF and fantasy writers who love comic books and superheroes and might make great additions to Wild Cards… and maybe you’ll be seeing some of them, should the series continue past this current triad. I keep a little list.
MELINDA: Terry Pratchett because he would bring humor and a very humanistic outlook to the series. Neal Gaiman because of his wild creativity. And I’ll add one more — Lois McMaster Bujold because she handles emotional themes so beautifully and also has a wry sense of humor.
– GRRM: With Inside Straight about to be released and two upcoming Wild Cards volumes, as well as the Warriors and Songs of the Dying Earth anthologies looming on the horizon, it appears that you’ll be as much an editor as you’ll be an author in the foreseeable future. Although they’re both facets of the same craft, do you approach editing differently than you do writing? When writing, you always strive to bring the best out of yourself. How do you bring the best out of other people, which is the constant challenge of a great editor?
GRRM: That depends in large part on what you’re editing. The demands of the job vary hugely with the particular parameters of the project. Magazines, books, and anthologies all have their own unique challenges… and shared world anthologies like Wild Cards are in some ways the most difficult and demanding of all.
With a project like Warriors, the editor’s task is to recruit a strong lineup of writers and to get good stories out of them. When a story comes in that’s flawed or substandard, the editor needs to try and find a way to fix whatever problems he has found, to make the story as good as it can be, to help the writer achieve whatever he set out to do. The best editors — like Gardner Dozois, my partner on Warriors and Songs of the Dying Earth — have a real gift for doing that.
All of that is necessary in Wild Cards as well, but the mosaic editor also has to worry about continuity, consistency, chronology, tone, the way the individual story advances the overplot, whether or not the story also works as a chapter in the ongoing novel, etc. Sometimes you get a story or a scene that reads fine in isolation, yet somehow undercuts, duplicates, or contradicts something another writer has done elsewhere in the book. In those cases, it doesn’t matter how good the sequence is, it still needs to be changed.
The mosaic editor also has to function as a referee whenever two writers disagree. Wild Cards has never had to suffer through the feuds and pissing contests that plagued some other shared worlds, I’m pleased to say, but there have been moments. Buy me a beer at a con and I may tell you about the time one writer wanted his character to pull down the pants of another writer’s character and smear mayonnaise across his ass. (That scene didn’t make the book, needless to say). The interaction between writers and characters is one of the things that makes Wild Cards so much fun, but it is not always easy. Writers tend to be as protective of their characters as parents are of their children, so every interaction is fraught with peril, as we’ve learned (oftimes the hard way) over the years.
It’s a lot of work, and can be very frustrating… but even so, I love it. I’ve been a professional editor almost as long as I’ve been a professional writer. The first book I ever sold was an anthology — New Voices In Science Fiction, a book of original stories from the writers nominated for the very first John W. Campbell Award, back in 1973. I edited six Campbell Awards books (only five were very published) before the series ran its course, seventeen volumes of Wild Cards prior to Inside Straight, along with various “one off” anthologies. I will always be a writer, first and foremost, but I enjoy editing anthologies as well, and hope to do more of them in the future.
– Anything you wish to add?
SLF: The Wild Cards series is a blast, and there’s nothing like it out there — where else can you find such a talented pool of writers tightly collaborating to create works that weave together into a novelistic whole, where strange and wonderful characters move through all the stories. The WILD CARDS books are truly unique. I think we’ve taken the idea of a “shared universe” and elevated it to a new level, creating a body of works that is literally unparalleled. All of us who are involved in the WILD CARDS world are tremendously excited about Inside Straight and the books to come, and are looking forward to seeing the series continue for a long, long time.
CARRIE: I have discovered that it’s possible to be an officially published Wild Cards author and still write Wild Cards fan fiction. No, you probably shouldn’t ask.
DANIEL:: “Pleasure is by no means an infallible critical guide, but it is the least fallible.” — W. H. Auden
IAN: George, when do these chains come off?
GRRM: Why, never, Ian. You belong to us forever now. Mwahahahaha…
Interview by Patrick
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