Stefan Petrucha, Author of Dead Mann Walking, Exclusive Interview

Stefan Petrucha is the author of a diverse range of books (Dead Mann Walking, Ripper etc), comics (The X-Files, Kolchak Tales, and Nancy Drew!) and the funny and successful Papercutz series of parodies of popular movies including Harry Potter and the Hunger Games. He recently answered some questions for OBS about his work and his incredibly busy 2012!

If you hadn’t been a phenomenally successful writer, what would you have been doing?

Writing unsuccessfully! While I’d no doubt be doing something else to earn my keep (and I’ve been a technical writer, education writer and so on, and I currently teach a writing class) I enjoy the writing process so much, I can’t imagine ever giving it up completely.

What is it about monsters – Jack, The Ripper, Frankenstein, vampires, werewolves – that attracts you as a writer? (in historical settings to boot?)

I wouldn’t say monsters per se, but I’m definitely attracted to the edges of reality in one way or another. I think it’s because monsters, the paranormal, even genre itself, are a way of concentrating certain tropes about the human experience, that I find fun and interesting. At its worst, genre can be simplistic and dull, but at its best I think its similar to the concentrated language you find in poetry. Naturally, I try for the best.

As for the historical work, we think we’re all that in the 21st century, and I certainly like to think gains have been made, but I’m always struck but how little the human species has changed, how the best and worst of what we are seems to go all the way back to the beginning. I like reading about that, and I like pointing it out to anyone who’ll listen.

How do you approach the research involved in your novels in historical time periods?

I surround myself, try to immerse myself as much as possible. My goal is to make the period feel alive for me, so I can try to do the same for the reader.

For Ripper, for instance, I had scores of books on Saucy Jack, 1895 New York, Roosevelt, and so on. I actually have a map from the period to which I added all the story locations. Even checked train and ferry schedules at the time – though that may have been going a bit too far… I find the hunt for odd bits of data fun.

You’ve done two novels where Jack the Ripper is a main theme/character. Can you tell us brought about each novel why you included this character in them?

For Shadow of Frankenstein, I wanted to recreate the early Universal monster-team feeling, as in Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman, or House of Frankenstein. I’d recently worked on a screenplay with a friend based on evidence that Jack the Ripper had come to America after White Chapel. Since Frankenstein is so much about the body, dead and alive, it seemed like a natural, or maybe, unnatural, combination. Jack cuts ‘em up, and Frankenstein sews ‘em back together.

For Ripper, Philomel approached me with an existing idea for a period mystery, but in their version (among many other differences with the final version), it turned out that the killer wasn’t Jack. Already steeped in the Ripper in New York theories, that struck me as a sort of cheat, and with editor Michael Green’s blessing, went for the real thing.

Can you tell us a little about how your parody series of books came about? You’ve written parodies of some of the most popular fantasy books – including Harry Potter and the Percy Jackson series and your upcoming The Hunger Pains – that have been recently published.

I’ve been writing parodies since the fifth grade – my first was a spoof of the Dark Shadows feature film, House of Shady Darkness which I actually shot at Lyndhurst Estate in Tarrytown, where they filmed the original.

In college, I was a sort of crazed AV kid bitten by a radioactive spider or somesuch, and did a series of videos in which I spoofed everything from Charlie’s Angels to Night of the Living Dead to The Prisoner, Lord of the Rings and Star Trek and Star Wars.

So, it’s in my bones.

Specifically, Papercutz editor, and ol’ pal, Jim Salicrup asked me to do a parody of the Wimpy Kid series as a zombie mash-up, which he titled Diary of a Stinky Dead Kid, for their Tales from the Crypt series. With great art by Rick Parker, it was such a success, I suggested the Slices series. Having read all these books to my daughters at least once, I had a lot of material to pull from.

What makes something perfect for parody?

Popularity – something that’s grown so big, for whatever reason, that in a way it’s surpassed its own quality and been subsumed into the fad experience. So in a way, we’re not parodying the works themselves, but the over-the-top reaction to them.

And to be clear, I love JK Rowling and Suzanne Collins, for instance. I don’t see parody as inherently disrespectful, more a mode of critiquing. And hey, nothing’s perfect.

How did you find yourself writing a Nancy Drew graphic novel?

Again, ‘twas the hand of ol’ pal Jim Salicrup. I’ve known him since childhood, worked with him on The X-Files comics back when he was with Topps. When Nancy Drew came up, he gave me a call, and of course I said yes.

What was the most unexpected thing about writing such an iconic character?

The concern with a long-standing, dearly loved and historically important character like Nancy is that so much has been done with her, it might be difficult to come up with new ideas. The surprise that I (and co-writer Sarah Kinney) found has been that the best way to make it work anew isn’t by making big changes to the character, but by trying to understand what made her work in the first place, and focus on putting her in interesting situations where she can do her thing.

The other big surprise was that this was the first time she’d been done in comics.

You’ve also written for The X-Files comics – what was it like stepping into the world of The X-Files, something that has become such a big part of our (TV) culture?

It was great. I’m a huge paranormal fan, created a comic series way back in the early nineties called Meta-4 with art by Ian Gibson that dealt with similar themes in a super-hero context.

Shortly after the first episode of The X-Files aired, I called, yes, that’s right, ol’ pal Jim Salicrup, and suggested he get the comics rights. When he did, I proceeded to beg to be allowed to write it. I’m terribly proud of the results (with great art by Charlie “Walking Dead” Adlard and wild covers by Miran Kim) and was thrilled to be at least a small part of the show’s rise.

You’ve written for Nancy Drew, The X-Files, Kolchak Tales and Tales from the Crypt – is there any other series that you would like to write or give the comic treatment to?

Dark Shadows! Dark Shadows! Dark Shadows!

Though I have mixed feelings about the upcoming Burton/Depp film, DS is the only thing media-wise, for which I still possess an unconditional love.

It’s probably all the monsters…

Can you tell your fans what they can expect from you this year?

Ripper is now out and doing very well – physically it’s a great-looking book, the sort of thing I’d rather own than e-read. The trailer is pretty terrific as well. Buy it, read it, tell your friends.

Past that, June will see the first issue of Power Rangers Super Samurai, from Papercutz, with great art by Paulo Henrique and edited, yep, by ol’ pal, Jim Salicrup. It’s been a LOT of fun to script and I’m hoping the fans will be pleased.

September will see the second novel in my zombie detective series, Dead Mann Running, from Ace/Roc books. I was extremely happy with it when I finished it, and it’s the first time I’ve ever had a fiction editor barely ask me to change a word. Reaction to the first book, Dead Mann Walking, was great – sales in the zombie-ridden market, not so much. So, fingers crossed the series will take off.

And right now, I’m working on the sequel to Ripper, a second book with Paranormal State star Ryan Buell, both for release in 2013.

Whew! I get winded just naming it all.

Thanks for taking the time out to answer our questions, Stefan! Alright guys, what are you looking forward to the most? I have a copy of Dead Mann Walking to get to and I am determined to restrain myself and read that first before jumping into the second one!