Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Feature: Interview with Rob Rogers

Every Tuesday, I'll have a feature article posted.

Ed Note: In the coming weeks, I'll be having more interviews including Melanie and Steve Rasnic Tem, Jeffrey Ford, Richard Dansky, and SF Signal.

Rob Rogers is the author of the novel Devil's Cape published under the Wizards of the Coast Discoveries imprint and will be released on April 1, 2008. This is his first novel.

First off, can you tell us anything about yourself? Who is Rob Rogers? Is that your superhero name or your secret identity?

Rob Rogers is my un-secret identity, I guess. No pseudonyms here. I'm a mild-mannered writer and project manager who lives in Texas. In my day job, I work in corporate communications for a major technology company.

Devil's Cape your first work that's going to be published? Have you tried your hand at other writing markets like comics perhaps?

Devil's Cape is my first published novel and really the first fiction I've had published outside of school publications. I've written a lot of corporate communications that have been published by companies I've worked for--educational content, marketing copy, benefits information, that kind of thing. But as far as writing that really keys into who and what I am, this is the first. Way, way back in the day, a friend and I self-published a comic book using his father's Xerox machine, but the less said about that, the better.

How did you go about having
Devil's Cape published? Did you make a deal with Mephisto? Or perhaps this is just a parallel Earth you're living in...

I could crack wise, I guess, but I feel very fortunate about the whole thing. Several years ago, Wizards of the Coast had an open call for submissions for what eventually became its Discoveries line of fiction. Essentially, Wizards was looking for original speculative fiction, a step away from its previous fiction, which was tied to its various intellectual properties. Per the guidelines, I submitted three chapters and an outline. Those chapters don't exactly parallel the chapters of the final manuscript--for one thing, the chapters I submitted were a lot longer, as I eventually broke the book up into smaller chunks--but they essentially introduced the main characters of the book and gave me a chance to show what I intended to do with them.

I got my submission in just under the wire. In fact, I nearly missed the deadline. I had a last-minute rush to the post office by the airport the night before submissions were due, only to make a wrong turn and arrive after it was closed. I then sped to a FedEx office, only to find out that FedEx couldn't deliver to post office boxes, when I had no street address. I ended up having my submission printed at a Kinko's in Renton (where Wizards is located) and delivered via courier the next day after I found some kind soul in the book department who shared the correct delivery information with me.

Months went by without me hearing anything, and then I finally got an e-mail telling me that Wizards was interested in seeing the rest of the novel. Now here joy and panic set in simultaneously. On the positive side, Wizards was interested in my manuscript! On the negative side, the original call for submissions indicated that you were supposed to have your full manuscript ready within 10 days of being contacted (in other words, you were supposed to have a complete manuscript ready either before or shortly after your initial submission of three chapters). I work full-time and have two children and hadn't written anything beyond those initial three chapters. I begged for (and got) an extension of a few weeks, but I essentially wrote the rest of the book in the course of a month, while still working full-time.

(I don't recommend this. It was mentally and physically exhausting and I missed a lot of vital family time. But it did the trick.)

I got the completed submission in on time (again, just under the wire, by courier) and then, as before, waited months before hearing anything. I e-mailed Wizards a couple of times to check in, but didn't hear back. I was pretty crestfallen.

Then I got an e-mail from Phil Athans at Wizards, asking if I'd sold the book elsewhere and, if not, if I'd like Wizards to consider it. "Sure," I said. "That would be great." I eventually learned that the person who had initially contacted me and liked my submission had left the company. Phil had come across my submission in a box in the other man's office. He nearly pitched it, but decided to give it a once over instead, and I guess it managed to win him over. Lucky, lucky me. A few revisions later, and now I'm looking at publication in less than three months.

Another funny thing is that someone (probably the courier) had stamped "Paid in Full" on my manuscript submission. For a while there, Phil thought that that was the title of my book.

Can you tell us more about
Devil's Cape and who do you think should rush to the bookstore and pre-order it (don't give them a chance to say no to buying your book! It's only going to be a matter of when!)?

My goal for writing Devil's Cape was to write the kind of story I would enjoy reading. It's got superhero battles, atmosphere, carefully developed characters, and heroics. It's got carnival-themed bad guys, a pirate background, and characters carrying on the legacies of those who went before them. I tried to balance action with character scenes that make the people you're reading about feel deep and multi-layered. The city of Devil's Cape is definitely a character in itself, founded by a pirate centuries ago and still retaining a pirate mentality. I have trouble tooting my own horn, so I guess I'll just say that I succeeded in writing a book that I would enjoy reading. I hope you'll enjoy it, too. A recent review in Hellnotes says "Devil's Cape reads like a Disney World ride or a great burger"--I don't think I could ask for more than that.

Do you think superhero fiction is a genre (or should it have such labels)? Have you read other novels that tackle superhero stories like
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon or Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman?

I'd call it a sub-genre. I have not yet read The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, nor Soon I Will Be Invincible, but those are both on my "to read soon" list, along with Perry Moore's Hero and Jennifer Estep's Karma Girl. Most of my superhero reading background comes from decades of comic book reading, although my strongest influences in writing Devil's Cape were from other genres. For me, the book was a matter of taking my own fiction writing style and molding it to the characters and the superhero "sub-genre." Yes, it's a superhero book, but it's foremost a book about people.

If it's a sub-genre, under what genre in your opinion should it belong to? To fantasy? To science-fiction? To speculative fiction? Or just fiction in general?

Didn't you notice me subtly side-stepping that question?

It's kind of a gray area, actually. I guess I'd call it a sub-genre to Fantasy/Science Fiction, and if you say that Fantasy/Science Fiction is really two genres, not one, then I'm stuck in a corner, but at least I'm in the same boat with most bookstores.

At any rate, Devil's Cape contains both fantasy and science fiction elements. Of the three primary hero characters, Argonaut has a mythological background, Bedlam a mystical one, and Doctor Camelot a sci-fi background.

Any favorite authors or works that you think have influenced you?

Sure. My strongest influences probably include James Lee Burke, Dick Francis, Rex Stout, Robert Crais, Katherine Dunn, and Stephen King.

How about comic writers? Who are some of your favorites?

A quick list includes Joe Casey, Greg Rucka (who was kind enough to lend a quote for my book!), James Robinson, Kurt Busiek (Astro City is wonderful!), Gail Simone, Jeph Loeb (particularly Batman: The Long Halloween and the other collaborations with Tim Sale), Alan Moore, Geoff Johns, and Paul Levitz.

Classic comics that had an impact on me include Paul Levitz's run on Legion of Super Heroes (especially The Great Darkness Saga), Walt Simonson's run on Thor, Alan Moore's Swamp Thing and The Watchmen, John Byrne's Fantastic Four, Mark Wolfman and George Perez's New Teen Titans, Frank Miller's Daredevil, Mike W. Barr and Brian Bolland's Camelot 3000, Roy Thomas's All-Star Squadron, Cary Bates's Captain Atom, John Ostrander's Suicide Squad, Don McGregor and Gene Colan's Nathaniel Dusk, and William Messner-Loebs's Jonny Quest.

Do you have plans for future writing projects?

I'm currently working on a sequel to Devil's Cape.

Cool! Are you pitching it to Wizards of the Coast as well or just concentrating on the writing for now?

I hope that Wizards will publish the sequel, too. Mostly I just need to get farther along in the process.

On to the geeky segment, who's your favorite superhero? What's your favorite special power?

Definitely the Flash, although depending on the day you ask me, I might mean Barry Allen, Wally West, or Jay Garrick. The super-speed appeals to me a lot, but if I could have any special power, it would probably be teleportation. No more fighting traffic? Being able to hang out with friends in other states on a whim? Popping in at Disney World anytime I want (I'd still buy a ticket, of course)? Where do I sign?

What do you think of the terms graphic novel?

I guess I'm so used to seeing the term "graphic novel" that I don't think about it very much. Pretty often, though, it's a misnomer. A collection of six consecutive comic books (or so) can form a novel, but that's not always the case. Don't get me wrong--I love graphic novels and often pick up storylines I missed or want to read again in a bound format. But frequently the books are more collections of individual comic book stories (often good ones, mind you) rather than actual novels, with clear beginnings, rising action, climaxes, etc. It's a structural thing.

How about manga?

I admire manga, but mostly from a distance. It's not something I'm very knowledgeable about or that I've taken the time to explore in detail yet.

Do you think your novel would adapt well to comics and if so, who'd you want (publisher/writer/artist/whatever) to adapt it?

Sure! I'd love to see Devil's Cape adapted for comics and I think it would work very well there, although some of the structure would need to change to fit in the pacing of a comic book. As far as writers go, I'd of course love to write it myself, but if I were to choose someone else, I'd go with Joe Casey.

Naming an artist goes into wish fulfillment territory, but I'd love to see someone with a real flair for atmosphere and for making regular people's faces consistent and distinct. Someone like Tim Sale (yeah, like I said, wish fulfillment, but I absolutely love Batman: The Long Halloween), Gene Colan, Tony Harris, or whoever is doing the Dresden Files comic book adaptation.

What kind of role-playing games do you play? Do you think it encourages your creativity in terms of writing or is it more of a hindrance? Any other geeky hobbies you want to talk about?

I have played a number of role-playing games in the past, including Dungeons & Dragons, of course. Most of my most recent gaming (and by recent I mean in the past 20 years) has been with the Hero System, particularly Champions. As far as writing goes, it's kind of a mixed bag. I tend to be a gamemaster fairly frequently, and the work that goes in to GMing seems to draw from the same well as writing. If I do a lot of prep work for a game, I'm less likely to have the impulse to write, and vice versa. Before I wrote Devil's Cape, I became involved in a couple of very creative communities of play by e-mail (PBeM) superhero role-playing games that involved a lot of really good writing. The process of playing in/writing for those games helped sell me on the viability of superhero fiction and was a big part in my decision to focus on that area when I pitched the book to Wizards of the Coast.

As far as other geeky hobbies go, I have also recently started playing Magic: The Gathering again. I had played for several years back shortly after it debuted, then eventually had drifted away. It was actually my book that brought me back, at least indirectly. I had the opportunity to meet my editors in person at the Wizards headquarters in Renton, Washington, and they gave me a tour of the building. Walking around and seeing all the cool stuff at Wizards gave me the itch to play again. Once I started playing, I was hooked again. I'm going to try to wean myself a bit, though--I need that time for writing!

The Hero System is cool. (Ever tried Mutants & Masterminds?) How do you think GMing differs from the actual writing of a novel?

I haven't tried Mutants & Masterminds, but have heard good things about it. GMing and novel writing are two pretty different pursuits. Putting aside the size of the audience, you've just got so much more interaction and so many interruptions while GMing. A novel is a much more polished experience, but GMing really draws people in.

GMing online is a bit more of an experience like writing a novel than GMing in person is. Instead of shortcuts like props and maps and odd voices, you rely more on creating a scene with actual text. My GMing in general has petered out lately, and the drive to GM online has particularly died off, despite a great group of players and a story I was excited about. I think that that goes back to what I said earlier about drawing from the same well. I get caught up in the world of my book to the extent that I just can't afford to devote the time and energy to writing long e-mail posts for a game.

No comments: