Lobster & Canary starts 2014 with a special treat: a two-part interview with Mike Carey. I had the honor of meeting Mike when he was the keynoter and Guest of Honor at the 2011 Toronto SpecFic Colloquium. You can read more about Mike here, here and here. The second half of the interview will run in next Sunday's edition.
Many writers are famously lone wolves, but you collaborate with many
others, often over many years (thinking of, for instance, your
long-standing partnership with Peter Gross, and your work with Linda
Carey & Louise Carey). What makes collaboration work in
your experience, when is it the optimal way forward and when not?
Carey: I think the enormous blessing that
comes with collaboration is that it inevitably pulls you away from
your own centre of gravity as a writer. When you’re working in a
single genre area and writing a lot of different works that share the
same DNA, it’s very easy to plagiarise yourself without even
meaning to. You just mine the same seam of inspiration repeatedly,
and your work converges on a single flavour or feel.
But when you collaborate, you’ve
immediately got somebody else’s comfort zone to accommodate
yourself to. A lot of things have to be done by negotiation –
which means they take a terrifyingly long time – but you
come out in a different place. You find yourself trying out different
things and taking chances that you wouldn’t normally take. I don’t
think I could have written The Girl With All the Gifts without having
done the two collaborations with Lin and Lou first.
But notwithstanding all that, I’d
say collaboration only works – and is only worth the trouble –
when it’s a real meeting of minds. I was working on a comic book
series a few years ago where I was essentially co-writing. But
because of other commitments, I was having to let the other writer do
all the conceptual heavy lifting. It was a pretty bleak experience
for both of us, and I think it would have come out better if I hadn’t
been involved at all.
Comics, of course, are always a
collaboration, which is one of the reasons why they’re such a
wonderful school for learning the craft of writing. You get a lot of
rough edges knocked off you very quickly, because you get exposed to
a lot of different people’s ideas of good practice.
Question Two: You are
also more versatile than many writers, working in media ranging from
comic books to novels, and including screenplays and less-definable
forms. How do you select the medium (or does it select you) for
a given project? What remains the same within your craft, what
differs as you tell stories across various platforms?
Carey: Wow. That’s a tough question to
answer – or at least, to answer without falling into tautology.
Because on one level, what remains the same is you – your
perception and your take on the story. If you’re doing the job
right, everything else should be up for grabs. The last thing in the
world you want to do is to come up with a scene-for-scene faithful
translation of the story from one medium into another.
I was lucky enough when I was first
getting established as a writer to be offered a lot of adaptation
work. I adapted the Fantastic Four movie into comic book form, and
also did comic book adaptations of two novels – Neil Gaiman’s
Neverwhere and Ender’s Shadow. I felt like I learned a lot from
that. When you’re adapting, you really have to dismantle the story
and examine all the moving parts closely, then decide what structure
would best express them in the new medium. With Neverwhere,
we decided to use a first person narrator – Richard Mayhew – and
we radically recast Richard and Door’s first meeting with
Islington. Both of those things, it seemed to me, made the story
work more smoothly and organically in the comic book medium. An
omniscient narrator is perfect (if slightly obvious) example of a
convention that’s invisible in prose but often really marked
and awkward in comics.
But to come back to the first part
of your question, I believe that any story can be made to work in any
medium – although it will often have one medium to which it feels
really “native”. For example, Star Trek Next Generation
functions perfectly well in movies and novelisations, but the TV
episodes feel like the ur and genuine statement of those characters
and that situation.
The trick, always, is to find the
way through – to make the medium serve the story. I hated the
movie version of The Road because I felt that in spite of wonderful
acting and often imaginative direction it really failed to do that.
When you read the novel, the unrelenting bleakness of the situation
is leavened by the sublime beauty of McCarthy’s prose, so you’re
constantly in a suspension between despair and some other emotional
state I can’t quite name. The movie didn’t find or even look for
an audio-visual equivalent of that experience.
Question Three: I am a
particular fan of Felix Castor, the freelance exorcist and anti-hero
of the series you began with The Devil You Know. Felix
is a most worthy addition to the tradition of occult detectives that
goes back to, among others, Blackwood's John Silence, Hodgson's
Thomas Carnacki, and Wellman's John Thunstone. More
recent cousins would include Preston & Child's Agent Pendergast,
Butcher's Harry Dresden, Stross's Bob Howard, Selene in the
Underworld series, Anton Gorodetsky in the Night Watch
trilogy, Buffy, Mulder & Scully in The X Files, more
distantly Tyador Borlu in Mieville's The City & The City.
How do you see Felix within this tradition? How do you explain
the reading public's apparently boundless fascination with all things
Carey: I’m delighted to see you put Castor in that distinguished
company. I think what I was trying to do with that series, more than
anything else, was to create a supernatural crime fusion that was
true to the spirit of both of those traditions. In other words, I
wanted the supernatural elements to feel genuinely chilling and
numinous, and I wanted the mystery elements to work as a mystery –
with no supernatural “get-outs” or breaches of logic.
In terms of style, I took my cue
from Raymond Chandler. I was trying to make Castor feel like the
exorcist half-brother of Philip Marlowe or Sam Spade. I don’t know
how far I succeeded in that, but that was the blueprint – an
exorcist who walks the mean streets and does what he has to do for a
moderate daily fee plus expenses.
The other aim was to create a
supernatural taxonomy that makes sense and is consistent. We’ve
got ghosts, zombies, were-creatures and demons, but there’s only
one mechanism at work in all these different manifestations – so
you only have to believe one impossible thing before breakfast, and
everything else flows from that one thing. Obviously many
supernatural stories work without any explicit explanation at all,
and that’s fine. But I felt like I’d be missing a trick in the
Castor novels if I didn’t make the ultimate mystery be: why is this
[Second half of the interview next week.]