Another Conversation with Dan Jolley…

Welcome back to Dan Jolley, comic book writer, game designer, and author of the Gray Widow Trilogy, the second of which, Gray Widow’s Web, released this year. You can read a little about the trilogy in my first interview with Dan, but first, I’ll let him have the floor to talk about the process of creating, especially working within a world once it’s been set up.

Q (Infamous Scribbler): This is a sequel to your first novel, Gray Widow’s Walk. What were some challenges you found in re-visiting the world of the first book? How did you overcome them?

A (Dan Jolley): I wrote the first draft of what would become Gray Widow’s Walk in 1996. After a protracted series of rewrites, shelvings, and further rewrites, the book finally became what I wanted it to be, and Seventh Star Press snapped it up. But that means I had had twenty years to work on the first book, and one year to work on the second. Basically the challenge was to make sure I could do the same work in twelve months that I had done previously in a more or less unlimited time frame. I would *like* to think, though, that over the course of that twenty years, when I was constantly working on other projects and writing prose as well as other media, that I got better as a writer. In fact, at the risk of blowing my own horn, I think Gray Widow’s Web is a better book than Gray Widow’s Walk. If I can keep that curve up, the third book, Gray Widow’s War, will outshine the first two. Fingers crossed!

Q: In your first book, you spoke of drawing on your background in multimedia creation, i.e. videogames and comics. Did you find yourself re-visiting some of those influences for the sequel? Why or why not? And if so, how?

A: The biggest lesson I’ve learned in the entirety of my career is that, in any kind of ongoing storytelling endeavor, whether it’s comic books or TV shows or novel series, the thing that keeps readers coming back, is the characters. Plot is important (I’ve heard people in literary circles say things like, “Plot is to be avoided,” and “Plot is vulgar,” which translates to my ears as “pretentious hogwash”) but it still comes in a distant second to the importance of the characters. So in the second book I’ve been walking that fine line between preserving what made people respond to the characters to begin with and letting those characters grow and develop in ways that made logical and emotional sense.

(I also think writing comic books for decades has allowed me to create some truly kick-ass action scenes.)

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Q: A number of sites I follow continually predict the death of YA, the death of superheroes, the death of the female-led story, and yet all of these genres keep going strong. As someone writing at the nexus of these genres, what are your thoughts?

A: I remember a number of years ago there was a pronouncement made by a Hollywood studio executive, after a movie starring an A-list actress under-performed at the box office. The guy said, and I’m paraphrasing, “Clearly, movies with female protagonists do not perform well, so our studio will no longer produce movies with female leads.” And I was thinking, “What a load of garbage. The movie tanked because it was terrible. It would’ve tanked no matter who was the lead, *because it was terrible*. Maybe try making better movies, instead of excluding half the population?” Essentially, there’s an audience out there for a terrific story. Ultimately it doesn’t matter if it’s YA, or features superheroes, or has a female lead. If it’s a great story, people will respond to it.

Of course, the flip-side of that is that now more than ever, the market is absolutely flooded with books, and the struggle for eyeballs is grueling. So there’s every possibility that you could have a terrific story that just doesn’t get seen. But that’s a function of the marketplace, not of the story’s content.

Q: What was your favorite part of this book (Gray Widow’s Web), and why?

A: Okay, SPOILER ALERT. If you haven’t read Gray Widow’s Walk AND Gray Widow’s Web, please skip to Question 5 immediately. (IS Note: OR…. Go and read them both and then come back! Don’t worry, we’ll wait.)

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When Tim Kapoor finally realizes what the implications of his new Augmentation are as they relate to Janey’s husband Adam—that Tim’s new ability to heal injuries means he could reverse Adam’s gunshot-induced brain damage, restoring him to full mental capacity—I’m pretty proud of that moment. Tim and Janey love each other desperately, but Tim is a genuinely good, compassionate guy, and he has no real choice other than to offer to heal Adam. And once Adam’s healed (which we don’t see yet, of course)…well, Adam and Janey are still legally married, and Adam was the great love of Janey’s life. It’s a horrible place for them to be. Plus it’s a “pure science-fiction” dilemma, since this situation could not be replicated in “real life,” which makes me like it even more.

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END SPOILER

Q: What have you learned since starting the Gray Widow series?

A: I think I’ve figured out some new and improved ways to create creepy, disturbing, in some cases nightmare-inducing antagonists. Simon Grove in Gray Widow’s Walk was truly awful—what with his screwed-up shapeshifting and propensity for sucking people’s blood out through their skin—but I think I can safely say that Aphrodite Lupo in Gray Widow’s Web surpasses him on the creep scale. She’s terrifying, she’s more damage-resistant than a Terminator, and unlike Simon, she has a real gift for picking up disciples. Plus, like every good villain, you can kind of understand where she’s coming from by the time the story’s done. (On a tangentially-related note, I’d love to see her played by Amanda Seyfried.)

Q: Anything to add?

A: If you’re looking for something a good bit less R-rated, I also have a series of Urban Fantasy Middle Grade novels out now called Five Elements. Book 1, The Emerald Tablet, came out last year, and Book 2, The Shadow City, hits stores at the end of this month. And, of course, feel free to bug me on Twitter: @_DanJolley.

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Thanks again to Dan for stopping by! I highly recommend you pick up a copy of both books, and am looking forward to reading the rest of the series!

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