Earlier today I had the opportunity to interview Jeff Mariotte, author over forty novels, including many tie-in novels to shows such as Buffy, Angel, and CSI, and of the upcoming novel Season of the Wolf. Jeff has been a friend of mine for a couple years now, and it was great getting to interview him.
For convenience, J = Jeff Mariotte, and R = Rebecca (Myself)
R: Can you tell us anything about yourself?
J: I’m a working writer, mostly of novels but also comic books/graphic novels, occasional short stories, and even more occasional nonfiction books. I do a little freelance editing, too. I’m also a co-owner of specialty independent bookstore Mysterious Galaxy, with locations in San Diego and Redondo Beach, CA, USA. I’ve worked in various positions in publishing. Since 1980, I haven’t had a job that didn’t revolve around the book business, whether bookselling or publishing or editing or writing.
Beyond that, I’m a husband and the father to two great kids, and I live on the Flying M Word Ranch in rural southeastern AZ with two dogs and a cat and lots and lots of books and toys and comics.
R: You’ve been working in the book industry for quite a while now, between writing, working in a book store, and now owning your own store, Mysterious Galaxy. What has been your favourite part about all of it so far?
J: I think the friendships I’ve made in the business. When I started it was still called a “gentleman’s business”–even though then, as now, there were plenty of women in it–because it was a business in which deals could be made on a handshake, and everybody was kind of in it for love of books. I worked for a great bookstore chain in California, and met booksellers and publishers and authors, and many of those people are still great friends today. My day-to-day connection to the store is almost nonexistent now–I go out for certain special events, but I’m not involved in the everyday operational stuff. But I still get to see friends in the industry, older and newer, from time to time, and it’s still something we all do because we love it.
R: That’s great! Definitely a good reason to be doing it!
J: The best.
R: Definitely. You write in a variety of different genres — horror, tie-in novels, young adult, and different formats too as you mentioned. Do you ever face any issues when trying to switch between these?
J: Not really issues in the sense of problems. I have to kind of switch gears, but that’s not difficult for me. I prefer to work on one thing at a time, when possible, but if it’s not then I’m able to shift around between them without too much trouble. Sometimes it’s nice, because changing over to a different kind of project can give me some space from the one I was working on, which allows my unconscious mind to consider it from a fresh angle
You’re right that I have worked in many different genres. I think that might have been bad for my career, because people who like, for instance, a Buffy or Angel novel wouldn’t necessarily like a horror/western comic or a Star Trek novel or a supernatural thriller. So I gain and lose readers by switching things up a lot. But I love to read in many genres and love to write in them, too.
R: Well, you should write what you love writing, and you do have a fair number of novels in your Buffy/Angel novels, and CSI ones as well… So readers that do enjoy the specific ones do have multiple options to choose from.
J: True. And there are people who will follow me from a CSI to an original thriller to a horror novel or whatever, just because I’m writing it. I appreciate them a great deal.
R: Well, that’s good! Plus, CSI would share some commonalities between the thriller or horror novels I imagine. On that note, are there any themes or elements you try to integrate into a majority of your novels? (For example, I’ve noticed suspense to be fairly common in your books that I’ve read.)
J: Yes, I definitely like to work suspense into everything I write. I sometimes start out a little slow, a little quiet, but with hints that something is out there, then ratchet up the suspense to the point that the reader doesn’t want to put the thing down. I don’t always achieve that but that’s the goal.
I also tend to explore the dark side of things–to look at people doing things that they shouldn’t, or ordinarily wouldn’t. Crime and criminals, murder, terror… And even the “good guys” aren’t perfect; they’re flawed and have secrets and things they’ve done that they’re ashamed of or think are wrong.
So I think those are some common elements in most or all of my novels.
R: Well, in your upcoming novel Season of the Wolf those elements are quite prevalent, especially with the suspense — it’s not a novel readers are going to want to put down.
J: Thanks. That was very much a goal in that one–to crank things up to that point that you have to know what comes next.
R: Also, 2013 looks like it’s going to be a fairly busy year for you; multiple novels and stories coming out, as well as one of your series being revised/reprinted. Can you tell us a little bit about what we can look forward to seeing from you?
J: Some things are still in the works, but here’s what I know about the early part of the year. In February we have Season of the Wolf, coming from the publisher DarkFuse. During the spring, on a schedule that I still don’t know, DarkFuse will be putting out my “border trilogy,” River Runs Red, Missing White Girl, and Cold Black Hearts. These are all supernatural thrillers set at different places along the US/Mexico border (Missing White Girl is about the place I live in, the southeastern Arizona border region). They were originally published in mass market paperbacks by Penguin, but they’ve been revised/ slightly rewritten, and re-edited for the DarkFuse releases, and each book will contain something brand new. In River Runs Red, it’s a new essay about the trilogy and how it came to be written, and in the other two it’s a new short story featuring the book’s main protagonist.
Then in late April there’ll be a new Star Trek novel called The Folded World. It’s about the classic TV Star Trek characters, Kirk and Spock and McCoy, etc., and it comes out just a couple of weeks before the new J.J. Abrams Star Trek movie opens.
I’m working on a short story now for an anthology, with an amazingly cool collaborator, but I’m not sure I’m supposed to talk about that yet, and I don’t know when it comes out.
I have a couple of comic projects in various stages. And there are other things that are sort of “irons in the fire,” but that I don’t know precisely when they’ll happen.
R: That’s definitely good timing for the Star Trek novel.
J: Yes, I’m very fortunate. Most of the Star Trek books being issued this spring/summer are original series books, but I got lucky enough to be in that primo spot.
R: Well, I look forward to hearing more about your short story, and the other projects you’ve got going on when you’re able to talk about them more. And (besides for the amazingly cool collaborator you’re working with now), if you could write a novel with any other author (living or otherwise), which author would it be, and what would you write about?
J: Wow, that’s a great question. Can I pick about 50 authors to do different things with?
Seriously, I would love to write a suspense novel with William Goldman, who is a master of the craft. Reading him is educational; I can only imagine that writing with him would be even more so.
R: You could, if you really wanted to, though that might be a bit much. You can choose multiple authors though.
Okay, then a horror novel with Stephen King. For the same reason–brilliant writer I could learn a lot from, plus I would make more money from it than from all my other books combined. A mystery novel with the late Ross Macdonald, who was a brilliant prose stylist and put together beautiful, intricate plots.
And anything with the late Wallace Stegner, who was one of the most profound influences on my life and my writing.
R: I haven’t actually read anything of Macdonald’s, and only one of Stegner’s, but that’s a great selection! A collaborative work with any of those authors would be a fantastic read, I’m sure. Plus, a novel by “Mariotte and King”, definitely sounds workable.
J: What makes collaborations fun for me is the fact that the end result–ideally–is something neither one could have done alone. Both authors have to bring something–life experience, knowledge, skills, whatever–to the table that the other can’t. So you always learn something, whether it’s something about the craft of writing or about the subject at hand, or both. Any of those writers would have much to teach me.
R: That’s true; a writing project with any one of those authors would be a fantastic learning opportunity. Plus, every author has their own style, so it’s always interesting to see how they blend and form something familiar but new when reading collaborative works
J: That can be one of the hardest things to pull off–blending two distinct styles into something that is it’s own thing.
R: And as previously mentioned, you’re a fairly well-rounded author — which isn’t to say they aren’t — but I’m sure there’s plenty you’d be able to teach them as well.
J: Well, thanks. I could try. If nothing else maybe I could teach them about fixing fences and cutting brush.
R: You’re welcome… And my next question is one you sort of touched upon when mentioning Wallace Stegner. I know this is a question that gets asked all the time, but what was it that inspired you to start writing, and who were some of your biggest inspirations?
J: I literally don’t remember a time that I didn’t write. Obviously, before I could read, but my memory of that is pretty limited. I was probably 7 or 8 when I was reading Hardy Boys novels and writing my own (very bad) little mystery stories featuring brother detectives who were very much like the Hardy Boys. That might have been in part because I was introduced to the Hardy Boys by my own big brother, who I admired. He ended up working in journalism for years, as did my father after he retired from government work, so I guess writing was always in the blood.
More specifically, in terms of the things I wound up writing, in the 5th or 6th grade I got a book from the Scholastic Book Club called Mystery of the Haunted Mine, by Gordon D. Shirreffs. It was a “contemporary western” when it was published in 1962, but also a YA novel, a mystery, and with an element of horror in it. So literally, almost everything I’ve done in my career was contained in this one novel. It had an incredible effect on me. It is even set in Arizona, which is where I wound up moving to when I was able to become a full-time writer.
In general terms, the people I mentioned: King, Goldman, Stegner, Macdonald, have all been hugely influential. And many more as well: Robert E. Howard, Joan Vinge, Robert B. Parker, and on and on.
R: Neat! And Shirreffs’ book sounds like an intriguing mixture, it definitely does touch on almost everything you’ve written.
J: When I realized that it had all those elements, I had to track down a copy, since mine was long gone. I have one now. It’s not a great novel, but it sure was influential.
R: I’m tempted to give it a read, even if it isn’t that great of a novel.And how about your tie-in novels? Was that something that just happened from going to school for TV/Film, or did you always know you wanted to write those?
J: The tie-in novels came about because I was working for a comic book publisher, and had written some comics about a superhero team they published, called Gen13. We made an animated feature film about Gen13, which we sold to Disney. The deal was they were going to release our movie, and shoot a live-action one as well. When news of that hit, Ace Books acquired a license to do Gen13 novels. They asked my friend Christopher Golden (who had also written some Gen13 comics) to write the first one, and he wanted to but was very busy, so asked me to collaborate on it with him. We wrote that book, and I wrote the second Gen13 novel with another friend, Scott Ciencin. Around that time, Chris’s Buffy editor asked him to write a Buffy novel adapting three episodes about Xander. He couldn’t, but recommended me. I did that, and it led to eleven Angel novels and some Buffy/Angel crossover stuff I wrote with Nancy Holder, and a couple of nonfiction books. The tie-in work just kind of grew from that, as I developed a reputation and editors got to know me.
So that wasn’t something I grew up wanting to do. I had read some tie-in novels, but didn’t really know that there was such a thing as a career to be had writing them. I just kind of fell into it.
R: And now that it’s something you’ve fallen into, are the tie-in novels one that you’ve grown to prefer writing? Or ones set in your own worlds that are entirely your own?
J: I really like being able to do both. I love being able to invent my own world (or create a fictional counterpart to what I see as the real world), my own characters, etc. But I’m just enough of a geek to love having the chance (and being paid) to write stories about Spider-Man and Conan and CSI and Star Trek and Zorro and The Shield and Buffy, etc. Not everybody is entrusted with these properties for any reason, and here I am with people asking me to please make up stories about them. It’s an honor and a thrill to contribute my little piece to those wonderful universes.
R: I do imagine that’d be very cool, being asked to write stories about such iconic shows and comic book characters. If you could choose to write an episode for any TV series, which one would it be?
J: Probably “It Takes a Thief,” from the late 60s, with Robert Wagner as master thief Alexander Mundy. The ultimate in cool. Or maybe “The Persuaders,” with Roger Moore and Tony Curtis traveling to exotic locations, solving crimes, punching guys and kissing girls.
R: Can’t say I’ve actually heard of either of those shows, the second one definitely sounds like it would be fun though. Exotic locations and solving crimes for some reason makes me think of a CSI-style show starring Indiana Jones.
J: They’re both before your time (but both available on DVD now). It’s odd, because much of what I write has a supernatural aspect to it, but in TV I much prefer non-supernatural stuff–cop shows like The Shield and The Wire, and shows like the ones mentioned above that have elements of crime/suspense/espionage, along with some humor. In fact, I wrote two tie-in novels for the show Las Vegas, which was basically a combination of humor and drama with a little suspense thrown in.
R: Awesome, I’ll take a look into them and see about finding them on DVD. I just one last question — feel free to be as silly, creative, or whatever with your answer of this one.
If you could be any flavour of ice cream, what flavour would you be?
J: I guess I’d probably be Neapolitan. I’m kind of a basic guy, nothing fancy or overly complicated. But I can’t settle on any one thing, either. I’m a bookseller/writer/publisher/rancher/cowboy. I like putting on a suit and tie or jeans and boots. I write horror and thrillers and science fiction and westerns and other stuff. So I couldn’t be any single flavor. Chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry is probably just about right for me.
R: That works, and definitely does seem fitting! Thank you so much, I appreciate you taking the time to do this!
- Season of the Wolf by Jeffrey J. Mariotte : Review (archeddoorway.com)