Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist interviewed all the Wild Cards contributors from BUSTED FLUSH. Check it out!
Well, we decided to give it another go this year! Along with my fellow partners in crime, Elio García and Iain Cupples (Ran and Mormont on asoiaf.westeros.org), we tried to come up with a set of questions which were not covered in last year’s interview. What we came up with is this 10-way mega Wild Cards Q&A.
With Christmas just around the corner, if you are a fan of comic books and/or tv shows like Heroes, you might want to check out both Inside Straight (Canada, USA, Europe) and Busted Flush (Canada, USA, Europe).
GRRM: George R. R. Martin
MELINDA: Melinda M. Snodgrass
CARRIE: Carrie Vaughn
CAROLINE: Caroline Spector
IAN: Ian Tregillis
SLF: S. L. Farrell
JOHN: John Jos. Miller
VIC: Victor Milán
KEVIN: Kevin Andrew Murphy
BUD: Walton Simons
– Superheroes appear to be more popular now than they have ever been, which should make this latest Wild Cards series hip and accessible to fans inside and outside of the genre. Without giving anything away, how would you describe both INSIDE STRAIGHT and BUSTED FLUSH?
GRRM: Must reading.
VIC: Awesome awesomeness. From Awesometown. Okay, okay. They’re character-driven contemporary thrillers. They happen to involve superheroes. And as always with Wild Cards – the main purpose from the very start – we as writers examine what the consequences would be, to real people and the real world, if a certain minority were granted godlike powers. Like all good stories they’re about choices; like all good SF, they’re about ramifications: change this, what are the possible consequences? And also: what I said before. G4TV should put us on “Attack of the Show.” Seriously.
SLF: INSIDE STRAIGHT and BUSTED FLUSH, like the rest of the WILD CARDS series, attempt to explore the ‘reality’ of what this world might be like if people with extraordinary abilities actually existed. Our ‘heroes’ (generally) don’t wear their underwear outside their pants and don’t use secret identities; they just are. And as in real life, in the WILD CARDS universe, people — including superheroes — get old and tired, or die, or otherwise drop out of sight. INSIDE STRAIGHT and BUSTED FLUSH feature the ‘next generation’ of aces in this world, and how they respond to the changed world their predecessors have left them
KEVIN: INSIDE STRAIGHT? The new generation of Wild Cards tries to figure out what it means to be a hero in the current day–and some of them even get it right. BUSTED FLUSH? The new generation continues, finding Wild Cards even newer to the game, as well as veteran aces. Some win, some lose, and some are waiting for the next hand to be dealt. But the stakes are the fate of the world.
CARRIE: These books are about our world, but we’ve had superheroes for sixty years. In Inside Straight, a new reality TV show “American Hero” is going to pick the next great superhero. Then some of the contestants decide to make a real difference in the world. In Busted Flush, they discover they’ve maybe bitten off more than they can chew…
IAN: INSIDE STRAIGHT asks the question, “Hey, kid. Wanna be a hero?” BUSTED FLUSH asks the question, “Hey, kid. How’s that hero thing working out for ya? Not quite what it looks like on the brochure, is it?” And then the finale of the Committee Triad, SUICIDE KINGS, asks…
JOHN: Wild Cards remains among the best in the superheroes in prose sub-genre: entertaining, unexpected, and from enough divergent points of authorial view that’s there’s something in it for everyone.
– What do you think makes superheroes of interest to readers?
GRRM: Well, it’s not the spandex underwear, I’m pretty sure…
CAROLINE: It’s wish fulfillment at its core. How many nerdy, geeky, or even regular folk want to be exceptional? Almost all superhero origin stories are about transformation from ordinary to extraordinary, whether it’s through the agency of the character themselves (Batman), through an accident (Spiderman, Daredevil), or “outside” forces (X-men, Fantastic Four). The transformative myth is consistent across many cultures. Superheroes are appealing to our modern culture because they are a contemporary take on epic and mythological themes.
CARRIE: At their best, they’re us. They’re our avatars, they’re a way we can dream about having power, dream about saving the world. Most of us are pretty powerless in our world, at least on a grand scale. But we can dream.
IAN: Well, I can’t speak for other people, but one of the things I enjoy most about superhero stories is the guilty pleasure of wish fulfillment. What would it be like to fly, or to be super strong, or super fast, or to go anywhere in an instant? What if I were somebody else? What if my life were exciting and glamorous? Everybody daydreams. To me, superhero stories can be a particularly enjoyable form of daydreaming. Which isn’t to say that superhero tales can’t be dark, or that they can’t tackle meaty issues, too…
VIC: Wish fulfillment is the basis for all enduring stories. *I’d* love to be able to fly and shoot fire out of my palms. I frequently fantasize about this. Don’t you? (Would that solve all my problems? Sadly, no. Therein lie our stories. It’d still be fun, though.)
BUD: The extraordinary should always be interesting. If it’s not, you’re doing something wrong.
JOHN: Superheroes are accessible fantasies set in a world that everyone is familiar with. Almost everyone has dreamed of having powers of some sort, though, admittedly, Wild Cards sometimes takes these superpowers in unexpected directions.
KEVIN: Superheroes are a return to a very old form of storytelling. Cuchullain, who could Hulk-out when in his battle rage. Balder who was invulnerable to everything except mistletoe long before anyone ever heard of Kryptonite. Böðvarr Bjarki and his joker brothers Thorir Houndsfoot and the half-elk Elgefrothi, who even have a cool origin story with the murder of their father and a curse on their mother. Of course, with superheroes the origin is generally science instead of magic, but when you come down to it, being infected by an alien virus, being descended from the Melusine,or having a sorceress turn your dad into a bear and then feeding his heart to your mom? It’s all handwavium to get around the fact that this one character has this cool power that other people don’t.
SLF: I suspect many of us have this secret desire to be ‘special’ — to find that we’d been ‘gifted’ with some ability that makes us stand out from the crowd. That’s a standard daydream fantasy, after all — but unfortunately that’s generally not the case. Most of us aren’t going to be the superstar sports hero, or save a sleeping family from a fire, or save our platoon even though we’re grievously wounded ourselves. Most of us will life far quieter and normal lives… but through the comics, the graphic novels, series like Wild Cards, and movies and tv shows, we at least get to experience some of that feeling vicariously. We can pretend for a few fleeting moments that we’re that superhero, who was once normal like us but was somehow Changed.
MELINDA: I think it depends on if you’re talking about readers who want to imagine and fantasize about having all these neat powers, or whether you are the type of person who realizes that the “powers” are no more meaningful then hair color, whether you can throw a football or carry a tune. Life deals out problems that have to be faced and overcome, or faced and endured. It doesn’t matter if you can fly, or shoot fire from your hands, or read minds etc. etc. It’s about how you live your life, how you care for others. I confess I’m more interested in small personal stories where the powers may or may not apply. I think superhero adventures, particularly in Hollywood, lose sight of the necessity to tell human stories that are relatable. It all becomes about the next big action sequence instead of about the characters.
– How well-received as this new Wild Cards novel/series been thus far? What do long-time fans think of this new story arc?
VIC: I think they’re generally receptive. It’s Wild Cards. There are new faces, on either side of the page, as it were. There are also a lot of the original WC Mafia – and one or two familiar faces. It remains a labor of love: we like the money, sure; we love the conceit and the world and the possibilities. And it is a world. Like any such it offers an infinity of stories.So I think most of our faithful fans will find plenty of crunchy Wild Cards goodness to enjoy here.
JOHN: Some miss some of the old characters, but most, I believe, are still on board.
KEVIN: From what I’ve seen of the reviews so far, quite well. It’s a good time for superheroes and a good time for the new trilogy to come out. Though of course it helps to be working with such a great team of writers. Most seem to like it a lot. There’s some disappointment that not all of the great characters from the past can’t come back, but then again, you have to make room for the new characters, and some of the old characters are dead. Not that this stops my character, Cameo. Though it would get a bit confusing if she were to channel more than one dead ace at a time.
MELINDA: It’s strange, some old time fans seem to think the powers of our new heroes aren’t as cool as the old characters. In truth I think our latest crop of heroes are more interesting both in their backgrounds and their powers.
CAROLINE: I’m not as plugged into the Wild Cards fan scene as some of the other authors. The only place I regularly check is the Captain Comics message board. And there does seem to be a lot of enthusiasm for the new books there.
SLF: From what I’ve heard, most long-time fans are pleased with this continuation of the series (though a few grumble occasionally about old favorites who are no longer around — but hey, that’s life! Check out the WILDS CARDS board at Captaincomics.com [Update: No longer in business] and you’ll see how fans are reacting, for instance. But… the new novels aren’t just about pleasing the old fans; we want, we need to bring new readers into the fold. Just as this new series is starring new aces and jokers, just as George has brought several new (and younger) writers into the mix, we’re looking to augment those long-term fans with a lot of new ones. We’re excited about this new beginning, and we hope thousands of readers will share that same excitement!
CARRIE: I’ve gotten a lot of good feedback. The long-time fans are happy to be back in this world (though they might wish for more appearances from the classic characters).
GRRM: The original Wild Cards series ran a long time — twelve books from Bantam, three from Baen, then two more from iBooks after a seven-year hiatus. We had some hardcore readers who stuck with us all the way, and those, I think, are thrilled to have the series back, although some do miss the original cast of characters. Like many long-running series, however, we lost a certain percentage of readers along the road, for one reason or another. We’re recapturing some of those ‘prodigal readers’ now, I think, and that’s exciting.
– This triad was meant to be a new generation of aces for a new generation of readers. Have you perceived an influx of new interest from fans at signings and conventions?
JOHN: Somewhat, yes, although many of the old stalwarts are still with us.
SLF: I haven’t been to too many conventions since the release of INSIDE STRAIGHT, but the WILD CARD panel at Worldcon in Denver was very well-attended and seemed to have a good mix of old fans and new ones in the audience. If only that Stephen Leigh character hadn’t tried to sneak onto the panel…
VIC: On the basis of limited sample size, there seems to be. I can’t honestly address how many new fans we’re getting overall. Myriad, I hope.
IAN: Tor threw a launch party/mass signing for INSIDE STRAIGHT down in Albuquerque last February, and I have to admit I was pretty taken aback by the attendance. Putting people like George Martin, Carrie Vaughn, Daniel Abraham, and Melinda Snodgrass at a table together is a recipe for long lines. Which, for a newcomer like me, was a fun introduction to the madness. I’ve had that same sense of getting thrown into the deep end when we do Wild Cards panels at conventions. I’ve sat on two or three such panels now, and it’s still a little daunting.
Back when INSIDE STRAIGHT first hit the shelves, I got a funny email from a friend of mine, a guy with whom I’d shared an office (and a thesis advisor) during graduate school. We’d both moved to different parts of the country, but were keeping in touch via sporadic email contact. But I hadn’t told him about how I’d been shanghaied by George and company into this Wild Cards thing. Sean wasn’t familiar with Wild Cards, but after reading some reviews of INSIDE STRAIGHT he decided it was the kind of thing he’d enjoy. So he went down to the store to buy the book, started flipping through it, and probably did a triple-take when he saw my name inside. So that’s at least one new person who came to Wild Cards via INSIDE STRAIGHT…
KEVIN: I was at this last Comicon, so in a word: Yes. Of course only INSIDE STRAIGHT was out at that time, so it was Melinda and Caroline signing and representing Wild Cards at the panel, but I plan to be at the next one and several others.
GRRM: Judging by the ages of the people I see at our panels, I think we’re attracting quite a few newcomers. Precisely how many remains to be seen, but of course we’re hoping the series will build by word of mouth. Also, I’m seeing a steady escalation in the prices of the old out-of-print books on ebay and ABE, which suggests to me that we have new readers who have enjoyed INSIDE STRAIGHT and decided to go back and hunt up the older volumes, thereby driving up the prices. (We do hope to bring the original series back into print as some point, by the way, but of course it all depends on sales).
– What was the spark that generated the idea to come up with this new trilogy? Can you tell us a bit more of the genesis of this latest Wild Cards series, and how it went from an idea to a published work?
MELINDA: It was born out of the idea of a new group of heroes who weren’t so tied to the past. When we brought in the new writers they really sparked the discussion. Daniel Abraham with his irreverent question of who the “f*** was Jetboy?”, Carrie Vaughn with her wonderful idea about American Hero, Ian Tregillis pointing out that the old Cold War fears about the “bomb” had no relevance for this younger generation who hadn’t grown up in the “duck and cover” era.
GRRM: The Committee idea goes way back. Originally it was supposed to be the next triad after the Card Sharks, following hard on the heels of BLACK TRUMP, but Jim Baen decided not to continue with the series, and that was that for seven long years. When Byron Preiss and iBooks finally came forth with a proposal to revive the series, he did not want to commit to a full triad, so instead we tested the waters with two stand-alone titles, DEUCES DOWN and John Miller’s novel DEATH DRAWS FIVE. After which iBooks went bankrupt. Once that mess was straightened up, we found Tor, and an editor and publisher who had always liked the series, and I wanted to go back to the heavily interwoven triads that had characterized Wild Cards at its height, so I dusted off the Committee idea and made it the basis of our proposal.
Of course, this Committee was very different from the one we might have had if we had written these books right after BLACK TRUMP, as planned. For starts, that was before the reality television craze, so there would have been no AMERICAN HERO show. It was Carrie Vaughn who brought that to the party, and Daniel who pitched the whole “who the fuck was Jetboy?” riff.
– Victor Milan’s, one of the original Wild Cards writers, is listed as contributing no less than three stories to BUSTED FLUSH. What can be said in particular concerning his work on the new book?
MELINDA: I think that’s a bit of a misnomer. BUSTED FLUSH is almost a full mosaic novel. Many of the stories ended up being broken up into three and four sections so they would weave together more elegantly. Vic gave each section a very evocative title because they were all part of an arc about Tom Weathers.
GRRM: Vic doesn’t have three stories in BUSTED FLUSH. It’s one story in three parts, but Vic preferred to give each section its own title rather than doing “Part 1, Part 2, etc.” Since the very beginning of the series, all of his Cap’n Trips stories are titled after famous 60s rock songs, and this is a continuation of that motif.
– By the same token, sorry to put you guys in the hot seat, but what would you say each contributor to BUSTED FLUSH brings to the dance. What would be their individual strength, and what makes them so important in the “overall” story arc?
MELINDA: What the earlier Wild Card books lacked were strong, interesting women. I think Carrie Vaughn has done a terrific job addressing that lack with Ana and Kate. Ian Tregillis is one of the most moving and emotional writers I’ve every worked with, S.L. Farrel gives us the power of the idealistic man determined to make a difference. Vic Milan talks about the warping of idealism. John Miller gave us a poignant story about aging and loneliness. Walton Simons gave us the boy who grew up too fast and has to learn to forgive himself. In many ways this is a book about children, and we continue the theme into the third book SUICIDE KINGS.
– As one of the original contributors, what would you say has changed the most since you began working on the Wild Cards novels? How much fun is it to return to a universe which has enjoyed such amazing longevity?
VIC: To answer in reverse order, ’cause the second question’s easier: immense fun! I think that *is* the secret to the universe’s longevity: first and foremost, we have fun with it. We OCs still do; and it offers fun enough to attract hot new writers like Dan’l and Carrie.
As for what’s changed? Well, the world has turned. Earlier characters have left the stage and new ones stepped onto it. Most significantly? There’s now the Net as we know it. The original Wild Cards impulse petered out, ironically, right as the whole online-communication phenomenon was really starting to spread. Only a few of us had email capability, for instance. So all of the collaborative parts – that would be, all of them – involved writers in a lot of places contriving to pass around these massive piles of paper, through mail, package delivery, or personally. And even if most of us lived in New Mexico, as most WC writers still do, it’s not as if we were all next-door neighbors. That, you may well imagine, has changed. (The hand-delivered sheafs o’ manuscript part; we still don’t all live next to each other.)
And what I have to say to that is: thank you God and Tim Berners-Lee and whoever else had any role at all in making it possible to dispense with those damned unwieldy masses of paper. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
– Was there a difference between working on INSIDE STRAIGHT and BUSTED FLUSH writing-wise?
JOHN: Not really.
IAN: Oh, you betcha, as Rustbelt would say. From my perspective, down in the trenches, the two novels were utterly different beasts. It was a strange situation– I wrote most of my contributions for BUSTED FLUSH, the second novel of the new triad, almost a year before I wrote my contribution to INSIDE STRAIGHT, the first novel. Bud Simons and I proposed the storyline that eventually became the first half of “Political Science” (the story we co-wrote for BUSTED FLUSH) for INSIDE STRAIGHT. George and Melinda liked our idea, but as the first pass of the overall plot for INSIDE STRAIGHT came together, it became clear that our storyline just wouldn’t fit into that first novel of the new triad.
George accepted our proposal, but he moved the storyline into BUSTED FLUSH. So Bud and I went to work on a big chunk of BUSTED FLUSH while other folks were writing their pieces of INSIDE STRAIGHT. Once we had the first half of “Political Science” finished, we put it aside for a year because we had to wait for the rest of BUSTED FLUSH to come together before we knew what the second half of the story would be. And that took a long time (or it sure felt like it did, anyway) because in some ways BUSTED FLUSH turned out to be a more complex book than INSIDE STRAIGHT. But, a few months later, as INSIDE STRAIGHT was in the final stages of coming together, it became clear there were a couple of gaps in the book that would best be serviced by additional stories.
John Miller and I both received calls from George a few weeks before it was time to turn the finished manuscript over to our editor at Tor. I wrote “The Tin Man’s Lament” for INSIDE STRAIGHT over a Thanksgiving weekend, and long after almost everybody else had already written their contributions to the book. The good news was that because most of the book was already in place, we knew exactly how the story had to begin and end.
SLF: Not particularly for me. My story was pretty much one continuous thread. I had to work closely with Carrie and Ian since I was heavily using Curveball and (especially) Rusty in my portion of the book, but I had the same situation in INSIDE STRAIGHT. Carrie and Ian vetted all the dialog and reactions of their characters (and I did the same with the other, more minor characters in the story with their creators). I worked — as we all did — closely with George to make sure that all the beats occurred where they were supposed to occur and that everything meshed with the storylines of the other writers. There are essentially three separate plots weaving through BUSTED FLUSH, though; for DB, I only had to concern myself with what was happening in the Middle East.
CAROLINE: The biggest difference was that the stories were much more tightly woven together in BUSTED FLUSH than in INSIDE STRAIGHT. My story, “Could, Woulda, Shoulda” was divided up into three parts and first part was the first non-interstitial story in the book and the last two sections come very late in the book. It was tricky to write.
CARRIE: Busted Flush is the middle volume of a trilogy, and I had a feeling of looking in two directions at once while writing it. Inside Straight was setting things up–we had almost a clean slate and had a lot of directions we could go. With Busted Flush, I had a sense of keeping in mind both what we had done, what we had set up in the first book, and where we were going, what direction we wanted to point toward in order to set up Suicide Kings. It felt more complicated because of that, I think.
– Coming into volume two of a series in which the first volume was paced quite briskly, is it harder to “settle down” and write your own piece without losing some of the edge that made INSIDE STRAIGHT so enjoyable?
KEVIN: Wild Cards has always had this mix, and we’d all been in on the planning foreach volume and the pitching sessions, so it really wasn’t hard to get into gear. I’d already been reading and approving everyone’s scenes for Rosa Loteria for INSIDE STRAIGHT, and then we had the great fun of doing the AMERICAN HERO website. I got to write Rosa and the Maharajah’s confessionals, so really, once we started BUSTED FLUSH, I was champing at the bit to write Cameo’s story. I know she wasn’t in the first book of the new series, but without spoiling anything, I will say that her story springs directly out of it.
BUD: Actually, Ian and I started work on “Political Science” (the first half of it, anyway) about the same time the other writers were working on their stories for INSIDE STRAIGHT, so that wasn’t an issue.
VIC: It’s always challenging writing in the “braided novel” framework. For me at least keeping it edgy isn’t much of a problem (especially given my main character.) Keeping focus and telling my story as well as furthering the overall story’s the tricky part.
– Between Jonathan’s blogging, the ‘American Hero’ setup, and the news reporting of the Egyptian troubles the commentary on the modern media society came thick and fast in INSIDE STRAIGHT. Will this be a theme for the whole three-book arc ? What are your thoughts on how the media shapes society today?
JOHN: Not pleasant.
VIC: Media have always shaped society. The Spanish shock troops of the European conquest of the New World were, top to bottom, massively influenced by what are today usually called “romance” novels, but which most of us SF/F geeks would consider heroic fantasy (and fairly cheesy heroic fantasy at that) such as AMADIS THE GAUL. The media shape society more, and more quickly, today by reason of their increased pervasiveness and speed. That’s not intrinsically a new thing, just more efficient. That said, the speed and pervasiveness of modern media, specifically the Internet, are of such an order that I think we will see some genuinely new things. What those might be are easy to predict, if you don’t mind the near-certainty of being wrong….
BUD: From my perspective, the media is more reactive than proactive. Cultural changes or phenomena happen fast in the internet age, and by the time major media outlets start paying attention to them they’re already assimilated into our culture. Particularly where young people are involved.
SLF: There’s no doubt the media has incredible influence. I don’t know that this is so much of a ‘theme’ within WILD CARDS, though, as much as it’s just that WILD CARDS reflects society as it is — in essence, we hold up our peculiarly warped mirror to the world and write down what we see.
CAROLINE: For better or worse, pop culture is culture in the United States now. There’s a line from a song by The Smiths, “Everyone’s clever nowadays.” I feel that way about the kids growing up in an Internet/Reality TV/iPhone world. They’re all so plugged in, so hip, so interconnected, so damned clever about everything media that they really don’t see how it’s affecting them. People will reveal the most astonishing things to a TV camera or online. They’re all for online anonymity, but then they’ll upload naked pictures of themselves to their cell phone and send it to everyone they know. The intersection between public and private for many people nowadays is completely blurred. Celebrity is all nowadays and it doesn’t matter what you did to get it.
CARRIE: Wild Cards has always had an eye on the real world and the impact the real world has on the stories. I think it would be hard to tell a story involving these issues and not deal with the media. A lot’s been said about the impact of cable and 24 hour news channels, and how they’ve had to almost generate news stories in order to keep viewer interest–endless footage, endless angles, endless talking heads. We’re just saturated with this stuff now. Does anyone else remember the TV series Max Headroom? We’re almost living in that world. I’m not sure the entire current arc will deal with the media. I think what comes out more, and what’s of more interest, is the negotiation between the structured narrative of the media and the messiness of the reality of these situations.
IAN: American Hero and Jonathan Hive’s blog together gave us the perfect tool for holding a mirror up to modern media society. Superheroes in a world of sound bites. The danger of living in a media-driven world is the way it can promote superficiality.
By emphasizing style and appearance over everything else, it discourages a more thoughtful and measured approach to the world. That shift from one mode of thinking to another is a major point of INSIDE STRAIGHT. But I wouldn’t say that commentary on media society is the main theme of the three-book arc. Instead, I’d say the overarching theme is, “Who are you, and what does that mean?” Media society was our tool for exploring that theme in the first book. Daniel Abraham brought that home with the blog interstitials he wrote for INSIDE STRAIGHT; Melinda Snodgrass explores the same theme from a different yet very powerful direction with the interstitials she wrote for BUSTED FLUSH.
KEVIN: Media has always shaped society and society has always shaped media, but it’s really hard to have a story relevant to the present day without some form of commentary or taking modern technology and society into account. Jonathan Hive’s a great character, and I had great fun getting to borrow him for my BUSTED FLUSH story (and kudos to Daniel for creating him), but for as much as he’s a blogger and a child of the modern age, I see him as more of a classic young reporter.
If it were seventy years earlier, he’d be rushing to a phone booth and barking out a story to a frazzled editor rather than frantically texting with his Blackberry, but really, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Instead of running around trying to find a phone booth, now it’s running around trying to find a spot with enough bars for your phone or a café with wifi. Different variables, but the same story.
– The other theme of INSIDE STRAIGHT appeared to be the old classic of how we define true heroism. But how useful do you think examples of ‘heroism’ can be? And who were/are your heroes?
KEVIN: I think the word “heroism” is often overused, or used badly. It’s often confused with lesser bravery or patriotism or even idiocy, and after the last election cycle and the current wars, I’ll admit I’m tired of hearing it, or I should say, I’m tired of hearing it misapplied. If you go back to the oldest stories, the best example I can think of for true heroism is Sheherazade. You have a daughter of privilege who finds that, unlike all the other young women in the land, her name has been kept out of the lottery to wed the mad caliph because her father, the wazir, has rigged it.
Rather than see one more anonymous woman die in her place, Sheherazade rigs it so that her name is on all the lots and she’s the one chosen as the crazy caliph’s bride du jour. That’s heroism. That she spins out the stories night after night and manages to stay her execution is a matter of bravery, cleverness, and luck, but the heroism is something she does right at the start of the tale, and it’s why you’re rooting for her more than you would some other woman who hadn’t rigged the fateful lottery. I should probably have some living heroes, but I’m afraid the most I can say is that there are some people whose individual actions or writings I admire, but they doubtless have some faults or flaws if I bothered to look hard enough.
SLF: I don’t believe in saints. I love the fact that when you look closely at the lives and character of the ‘heroes’ in this world, they are flawed people all. That gives me hope. If someone else can overcome their faults and their foibles, if they can summon up thought a dark and wounded soul the courage and steel to do something heroic, then maybe, maybe, so can I. Maybe so can any of us.
CARRIE: We have so many different examples of heroism right in front of us every day. (I’m an optimist, can you tell?) It helps to define heroism broadly–from firefighters and cops, to the single mom working to put her kid through college, to the Mother Theresas of the world. Anytime anyone does something above and beyond to better the circumstances of other people, in whatever form.
People who work against the status quo to make the world better. It sounds sappy, but my parents are a couple of my heroes. My Dad’s a Vietnam vet, my Mom spent most of the first two years of their marriage and the birth of her first kid (me) alone and trying to make do while he was overseas. Statistically, the odds were against them staying together. But they’ve been married 37 years and are still going strong. And they wholeheartedly supported their two artistic kids while everyone around them thought they were crazy for doing so. They’re very smug now about the fact that both their kids are making a living with their art. (My brother’s a theatrical set designer and technical director at a college. He’s one of my heroes too.)
JOHN: Such examples can’t hurt and might serve to inspire. I’ve never had a lot of personal heroes, though my sympathies often lie with the everyday man and woman as they struggle through life. I have been inspired by various artists along the way, from Roger Zelazny to John Stewart to Tom Seaver to always do the best I can with what I have in whatever field of endeavor I’m working in.
BUD: There are countless acts of heroism that occur across the globe every day, most of which go unmentioned or unnoticed. I think heroism is inspirational to the people affected, or who observed it. I don’t really have any heroes, per se, but I’m grateful to Forrest J. Ackerman because he changed my life in a really positive way.
CAROLINE: There are examples of heroism all around us. It’s just that the people being heroic aren’t wearing spandex and capes. People who take the right, but difficult stands, have been my personal favorites in the heroism department. Margaret Sanger, for example, is a hero of mine.
VIC: This question always makes me go blank as to specifics. Heretics; rebels; rescuers of those in peril. Never politicians, “leaders,” nor those whose job it is to intimidate and kill people to keep the former in power and wealth.
GRRM: With great power comes great responsibility, Stan Lee once wrote. Spidey’s credo articulates the basic premise of every superhero universe, including ours. But Lord Acton wrote that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. The tension between those two truths is where the drama comes in. My own heroes are the dreamers, those men and women who tried to make the world a better place than when they found it, whether in small ways or great ones. Some succeeded, some failed, most had mixed results… but it is the effort that’s heroic, as I see it. Win or lose, I admire those who fight the good fight.
– The events covered in this new trilogy mirror current affairs that have all been in the news recently. Problems in the Middle East, hurricane Katrina, oil shortage and the rise of gaz prices, etc; Was it your intention to have these underlying themes be a part of the new series all along?
JOHN: Pretty much.
SLF: Again, yes in the sense that we want the WILD CARDS world to be recognizably ‘ours’ to a large degree. There are certainly changes in the WC universe, but it’s inhabited by the same people, with the same issues and agendas and problems.
CARRIE: Yes, I believe so. During early brainstorming sessions it was natural to toss around ideas about what these events would look like in the Wild Cards universe. It’s also interesting–we don’t have to imagine what devastating natural disasters would look like, when we have Katrina and the 2004 tsunami to look at. (The idea of how our characters might even prevent something like the tsunami came up.)
KEVIN: Yes, they were all planned, though authors do have a habit of speaking prophecy. I wrote part of the New Orleans hurricane sequence after Katrina but before anyone had ever heard of Ike, and there were some eerie similarities.
MELINDA: We’ve always tried to have Wild Cards reflect the world around us. I wear many hats, in addition to being a writer I also manage a small natural gas and oil company. I could see the up tick in oil prices coming, and it’s also the only leverage the Middle East had in our universe. It seemed the logical move when you’re battling the west so I suggested the use of oil as an economic weapon.
IAN: Back when the Committee Triad was just a glimmer in George’s eye, seven or eight of us got together at a ranch in northern New Mexico for two days of brainstorming. (We refer to this as the infamous”Bear Paw” meeting.) INSIDE STRAIGHT and BUSTED FLUSH in their final forms are very different from what we originally discussed, but making the books topical had always been part of the plan. In fact — on the topic of natural disasters — one of the original storyline ideas had drawn inspiration from the devastating Indian Ocean tsunami rather than Hurricane Katrina.
CAROLINE: My interest in the first book was the intersection between celebrity and privacy. “Metagames” allowed me to set up Bubbles’ struggle with the nature of fame, the responsibility of power, and the desire to do right in the world. I’ve had themes I wanted to explore in both of my stories. George usually has an overarching idea of what he wants the books to be about, and I just try to fit my stuff in with that.
VIC: Yes. On a world-building basis, I admit to having reservations; I think that the irruption of the Wild Cards virus in 1946* would, 50+ years on, have left the world looking a great deal different than ours. Far more than what we portray. That said, I see the practical marketing value inherent in keeping the WC generally similar to the one we live in. Also I got outvoted.
*Full disclosure: I had to look up the damn year on Wikipedia. Couldn’t remember if it was that or ’47.
GRRM: We’ve done all sorts of stories during the long run of the Wild Cards series. We’ve had our supervillains, some of them twice as nasty as anyone you’ll encounter in a funny book (the Astronomer would eat the Joker for breakfast, and Demise would kill him just for wearing that hideous purple suit). As early as our second book, we had our aces fighting off an alien invasion.
We’ve done space opera, murder mysteries, globe-spanning conspiracies, political intrigue, techno-thrillers, what have you. But our best moments and our most memorable stories have always been when we’ve had our characters grapple with the same sort of real, complex problems that beset the world our readers live in. We’ve been doing that since the beginning too, as in Walter Jon Williams’s story “Witness” from the first book, the only shared world story ever nominated for a major award (the Nebula). The Committee triad was always intended to have a strong grounding in reality, even in its original incarnation.
– The conclusion of INSIDE STRAIGHT saw the setting up of The Committee, an official, authorised ‘super-team’ – something the WC universe hasn’t really had since the days of the Four Aces. What prompted you guys to go in this direction, and will there be any echoes of the experiences of the Four Aces’ short career in The Committee’s future?
MELINDA: I want to see a more positive outcome for the Committee. In the era of Obama I don’t want to discourage any person from believing in the power of service. There are pitfalls, but I wouldn’t want to take the position that it is always doomed to failure.
KEVIN: There’ve been plans for The Committee for years. It might have come earlier, but publishing vagaries being what they are, it’s good that it’s here at this juncture. As for echoing the Four Aces…. Well, nothing perfect lasts forever, and is pretty boring to read about if it does. The Committee is going to have trials and tribulations, if just because it wouldn’t be believable or interesting if it didn’t.
BUD: The Committee has been on the drawing boards for a long time. As to the future, even if I knew I wouldn’t say.
JOHN: It was a new direction to take, as noted, and one which could employ many of the plethora of new characters created for the Next Generation. Any comparisons to the relatively short career of the the Four Aces will have to wait until the publication of SUICIDE KINGS.
SLF: Will there be echoes of the Four Aces? Why, you’ll just have to wait and see… 🙂
IAN: I have to admit, I hadn’t thought to draw a comparison between the Committee and the Four Aces. I’ll bet there are some echoes between the two storylines, but probably not in the ways people might expect. Instead of the Four Aces, I think the Committee triad (at least in its initial conception) was influenced more by the legend of Camelot…
CARRIE: I imagine a scene with Jack Braun looking at the Committee, thinking, “Oh my God, it’s starting all over again,” and being appalled. Him telling one of the kids, “Just make sure you get out before they screw you over.” The scene hasn’t happened, but I can’t help but think that must be what Jack is thinking. That it hadn’t really been done before in Wild Cards, and on this scale, was one of the incentives for doing it, I think. Also, it’s a different world than it was in the forties. And third, some of us wanted a little optimism, and wanted our heroes to be able to do some real good in the world.
VIC: From my viewpoint as the resident (actual) anti-authoritarian? Good old fashioned American exceptionalism. The notion that “we” can make everybody nice by force. And by nice, we mean, like us. By internationalizing the Committee through the UN, we bring on board foreigners who act and think acceptably like us. And of course that works out as well as it has in our world. And sadly will apparently continue to, since in US foreign policy, it turns out “change” means, “more of the same, only harder.”
GRRM: For what it’s worth, if we had done the Committee triad back in 1993, as we intended, it would not have grown out of a television series, but rather out of the events in Jerusalem dramatized in BLACK TRUMP, and the founder would have been one of the original members of the Four Aces. Ah, the road not taken…
– Drummer Boy started out as an annoying ass in INSIDE STRAIGHT. This was indubitably planned all along, but how interesting was it to write about the transition Drummer Boy experiences throughout INSIDE STRAIGHT and BUSTED FLUSH, and which turns him into one of the most interesting characters of this new triad?
SLF: Wow. I’m very pleased to hear that you liked DB that well. From the beginning, as you surmise, my character arc for DB was to move him from being an egotistical, self-absorbed ass to a real ‘hero’ with the emotional scars to prove it. That journey began in INSIDE STRAIGHT, and pretty much comes into full fruition in BUSTED FLUSH, where he’s going to receive a cold and harsh jolt of reality and have to make a huge decision.
I really don’t care for black-and-white characters. I like characters with lots of gray. I like characters with flaws, who have to struggle with those flaws, who have to confront their own weaknesses in order to survive. As I said somewhere upstream, I believe there are very few saints in this world — and I don’t find saints particularly interesting. I like heroes who have shadows in their souls. And that what I tried to create with DB.
– Carrie, you’ve written two Kitty novels, worked on two Wild Cards projects, and God knows what else in the last few months. Care to give George a hand with ADwD!?! What’s your secret, other than lack of sleep and going nuts!?!
CARRIE: I’ve actually just finished Kitty #7 as well… It really doesn’t feel like that much when I’m in the middle of working on it all. Remember, that’s almost three years’ worth of projects you’re listing there. It only seems like a lot when looking at it in hindsight. I had a shock this fall when I realized I had something like 8 different short stories coming out in anthologies and magazines this fall, and I thought, “Wow, I really have been busy.” The thing is, the number of projects I finish is nothing compared to the number of projects I have brewing. I’m pretty much always working on something and it hasn’t occurred to me yet to take a break. As for helping George out… right now I’m trying to picture Kitty in Westeros and the results are…well. Maybe I’d better get back to my own projects.
– George has talked about his view of there being ‘architects’ and ‘gardeners’ in writing – roughly, those who plan the story against those who plant the seeds and see what comes up. Which would you say you are? And does a collaborative project like this demand a floor plan?
BUD: I’m much more of a gardener, although I think both aspects are needed. My stories tend to be character-driven and that lends itself to a more organic approach to fiction. Although he gets input from the rest of us, George is ultimately responsible for the floor plan.
KEVIN: I’m sort of a gardener with a trellis. With a project like this, you need to have a plan of basically what’s going to happen and who’s going to do what, but I like to have things spring up organically, especially dialogue between characters. And occasionally characters emerge who weren’t even in the original outline. Miss Partridge, for example, wasn’t in the original outline when I pitched it to George, but once she came on stage and spoke her first line, she definitely belonged.
CARRIE: I’m a little of both. I wish I could outline in more detail, and I usually have a good idea of the broad strokes–and I always know the end before I start. But I also depend a great deal on the ideas and connections that spring up while I’m writing. Writing Wild Cards absolutely demands a floor plan, though. We need at least a basic idea of what everyone’s doing and where everyone is ending up, if we have any hope of tying it all together. The full mosaic novels need this even more.
SLF: By inclination, I’m a gardener. When I write my own novels, I generally have a good thematic idea of what I want to accomplish, a firm opening scene or three, and a general idea where I think the characters should end up. And I have no clue what everything in between might be. I set the characters in motion and basically follow along behind them, sometimes nudging them if they start veering off too sharply, but willing to end up at some other place than what I had in mind as long as it’s a better place from the aspect of ‘story.’
But that’s not generally how it works in the WILD CARDS world — which is why I often have panic attacks when it’s time to pitch a story: because I don’t plan much, because I don’t really know what my character’s going to do, and now I have to come up with a firm “this is what happens in my story.” Luckily, George has been forgiving thus far of my somewhat ‘airy’ and vague pitches. Once the decision has been made as to who’s in a particular book, that’s when the real planning begins, because yes, in a collaboration as tight as these books are, we all have to be architect enough to build a solid portion of the books’ structure and not have it collapse. However, as a group, we do remain open to the occasional wild seed sprouting in the middle of our well-planned garden.
MELINDA: I am very much an architect. Part of that comes from years as a screenwriter, but that is also my natural inclination. And yes, Wild Cards requires careful plotting or it turns into a giant mess.
IAN: Finally, an easy question! I’m definitely more of an “architect” than a “gardener”. Writing is most comfortable to me (and the most fun) when I know the beginning and end, whether it’s the beginning and end of a short scene or the beginning and end of an entire novel. For me, that puts just enough structure on things that I don’t get lost in the weeds, while still leaving enough flexibility for my subconscious to surprise me as I pick my way from A to B. I’ll go out on a limb and say that these Wild Cards novels would have been almost impossible to piece together without having at least a general outline. (Of course, it’s easy for me to speak in vague generalities since I’m not the person who had to piece these books together.)
Since I’m a newcomer, I don’t know how these things were handled in the old days (cough), but I do know we had countless plot discussions during the creation of INSIDE STRAIGHT and BUSTED FLUSH. We’re currently putting the final touches on SUICIDE KINGS, which is the finale of the Committee triad and a full-on mosaic novel. The planning for SUICIDE KINGS involved a full day of discussion, with Ty Franck patiently taking notes, from which George and Melinda assembled a very detailed outline.
That said, the plans and outlines do tend to change a LOT as the books come together. Which leads to rewriting. And more rewriting.
VIC: A guy who builds gardens and grows stuff in ’em? I do both, candidly. Or maybe an orderly gardener (taking for granted you can’t see my yard and mock me for saying that.) After a third of a century as a professional writer, I still struggle to find the proper balance between structure and improvisation. Basically, I find I create most freely when I have a degree of structure; the tricky part is how much/little.
As for a project like WC, oh, hell yes. At least for our “collaborative novels” we need a “floor plan.” No practical way around it. We’re all telling our tales about our people; at the same time we’re also telling a larger tale that incorporates everybody’s people. So we all have to build – or train our “plants” – in a certain common direction. As a tongue-in-cheek Metaphor Police aside, who on Earth actually gardens by randomly planting seeds and seeing what comes up?
JOHN: I’m more of a gardener in the Wild Card world of architects. The Wild card world needs to be rigorously planned, or else it would take forever to finish a volume and it takes pretty long as it is, anyway.
CAROLINE: I think I’m mostly a gardener. My stories are character driven, because that’s what interests me. But you have to have a balance between the two to be successful. That’s my goal, to have a better balance between building and growing.
– How often do you end up having to pore over previous books to confirm a detail for consistency?
MELINDA: We got to write these three books in pretty close proximity so that really wasn’t a problem. Where we had trouble was when we had to remember something from the earlier books. There were more than a few frantic emails flying about saying — “Is this person alive or dead?” “Did so and so go to the Twinkie Dimension with Bloat?”
GRRM: I do a lot of poring over, but that’s why I get the big bucks for being editor. I will say, though, that the process is a lot easier now with our “new generation” of characters than it was along about book fourteen or fifteen, when we were still dealing with the original cast.
After so many volumes, characters like Popinjay, Modular Man, Mr. Nobody, and Cap’n Trips had such long, complex histories that keeping all the details straight required major effort, and a near-encyclopedic knowledge of the books. (Which I had back then, but have since lost, all that Wild Cards trivia having been displaced in my head by Westeros trivia). Curveball, DB, Bugsy, Lohengrin, Noel, and the rest of the new bunch are blank slates by comparison, so keeping track of them is much simpler. Of course, if they hang around as long as the original cast did, the problem will inevitably recur…
– What can fans expect from the third volume? The BUSTED FLUSH finale appears to hint that there might be a lot more in store for this new generation of aces, so are there plans for additional Wild Card novels/series in the near future?
JOHN: I hope so.
GRRM: It’s up to the folks at Tor… which means, bottom line, that it’s up to you guys. Hey, paperback books make great stocking stuffers! Go out and buy a dozen copies of INSIDE STRAIGHT and give ’em to everyone you know, and help convince Tor to do more. We certainly want to do more. We love the world, and the characters, and there are hundreds of great stories yet to tell.
VIC: In SUICIDE KINGS it hits the fan. *Big time.* Fans can confidently expect a senses-shattering conclusion to the three-volume arc. And the resolution of some mysteries of very long standing.
KEVIN: Well, obviously SUICIDE KINGS is coming up next, so that’s definitely on the schedule and being written right now. I’m not doing part of it, but I’m wanting to write some stories with Rosa Loteria, so when the next book comes on the slate, I expect to be pitching her for that.
IAN: What can fans expect from SUICIDE KINGS? Crocodiles! I know from informal conversations that George has ideas brewing for at least two more trilogies and a stand-alone novel or two in the Wild Cards universe. And that’s probably just scratching the surface of his overly-fertile imagination. But I can’t share what I’ve heard. If I did, George would condemn me to a five-year stint as a galley slave on his gilded war-yacht.
MELINDA: I hope we’ll get to continue with the series past this initial three book contract. Of course that’s dependent upon our sales. I think we’ve written some very powerful and evocative stories, and I think there’s more for us to explore.
BUD: No way I’m spilling the beans on the third book. As far as the future volumes, that’s something sales always dictate.
SLF: Buy the books, and there will be more. Don’t, and there won’t. It’s that simple. Then again, WILD CARDS seems to be the zombie series: you can’t kill it.
– Wild Cards has been optioned in the past for television adaption, although as I recall it’s not presently optioned. Is there any development on that front, such as new script development?
MELINDA: Actually I currently hold the option on Wild Cards. I had written a spec screenplay that got quite a bit of attention, but nothing seems to gel. Unfortunately HEROES has really hurt our changes which is too bad because HEROES is pretty darn bad.
– Despite its rocky past season, Heroes still draws millions of viewers. What three reasons would you give to those viewers for why they should pick up Wild Cards?
VIC: 1. We did it first. 2. We did it better. 3. We still do.
JOHN: 1. It was done first. 2. It was done better. 3. I could use the money.
MELINDA: Because we’re good. Seriously, I have an entire rant about Heroes because they made me a promise in the first episodes of the first season that these disparate people would be drawn together to defeat the villain who could steal all their powers. I was waiting for that final exciting moment when they were all drawn together and would pool their powers in interesting and innovative ways.
What we got was lame in the extreme, and left me feeling terribly let down. They also violated a cardinal rule — don’t ask me for an emotional response, and then start the second season and have me discover that the deaths I grieved over didn’t really count. We may end up with too much plot in some of our books, but we will work really hard to give you an emotional experience that is honest and true. And hopefully some kick ass action along the way.
SLF: 1) We were first 2) We’re much better 3) A book in the bathtub is better than a TV in the bathtub
BUD: 1. If you like super-powered characters, check ours out. 2. Jokers. They make such a difference in the Wild Cards universe. 3. We do things that network TV can’t.
KEVIN: Well, going in order, 1. Wild Cards did it first, and will show you things you can’t see on network television–and we’d even give HBO a run for its money, 2. If you like Sylar and Peter, you’ll love Cameo–and she’s been picking up powers years before the Petrelli boys got started, and has an even more interesting way of doing it than Sylar; and 3. We have Jokers. Folk in Heroes get kewl powerz which they sometimes have to learn how to control, but once they figure that out, they can walk down the street without people giving them a second glance. This is a little more difficult when you have eight arms or a tail.
CARRIE: It’s better. (snark) Wild Cards makes more sense. (double snark) If you want characters you can fall in love with, earth shattering events and cliff hangers, and wicked cool superpowers, you want Wild Cards. (seriously, there)
IAN: Heroes strives to tell superhero stories on a sprawling, global canvas. It’s a very ambitious effort. But it’s hampered by a number of factors. One, it has to conform to the realities of television–it’s hard to do superheroes on a budget. (Even one as large as the budget for Heroes.) Two, doing huge stories with such powerful characters requires a tremendous amount of planning ahead in great detail; unfortunately that isn’t always feasible given the realities of television production. Three — and this is just my personal opinion as a viewer — Heroes doesn’t take seriously its promises to the audience. Many of the Heroes story lines were explored in greater depth by Wild Cards years and years ago.
Plus, they were covered without the limitations of a television special effects budget. And we are very aware of the promises we’re making to readers as we put these stories together– we have an obligation not to jerk our readers around, and we take that VERY seriously. There is such a thing as “closure” in the Wild Cards universe; I’m not sure the same can be said about Heroes.
– Working on a project like BUSTED FLUSH provides a lot of exposure many wouldn’t normally get for their solo projects. So here’s a chance to let everyone know what you have in the pipeline!
VIC: A sprawling epic fantasy called THE DINOSAUR LORDS. Which is about, well, what it says: knights riding dinosaurs. And fighting a zombie army; there’s that, too.
SLF: The second book in the Nessantico Cycle, A MAGIC OF NIGHTFALL, will be out in hardcover from DAW Books in March, 2009. The mass market pb edition of A MAGIC OF TWILIGHT, the first volume, will be out in February, 2009. I’ll also have a short story in GAMER FANTASTIC (edited by Kerrie Hughes and the ubiquitous Martin H. Greenberg), which is a July release from DAW.
KEVIN: Well, there are a number of projects I’m working on but can’t talk about just yet. But for short fiction, I have a story coming up in Esther Friesner’s suburban witches anthology, WITCH WAY TO THE MALL? and a sequel in her suburban werewolf anthology STRIP MAULED. And I’m working on more.
BUD: I’m working on a novel and a couple of short stories, but they’re not finished, yet.
CAROLINE: I’ve been working on the final book in this trilogy, SUICIDE KINGS and haven’t had a lot of time to work on my own stuff. But I am almost finished with a novella called, “The Cave.”
JOHN: I am just putting the finishing touches on the next volume in the Green Ronin series of Wild Card gaming books. This one is called ACES AND JOKERS and will contain the biographies of almost 400 aces and jokers (and nats and aliens). Beyond that, I’m working on my novel BLACK TRAIN COMING, set in the coalfields of 1920’s West Virginia, where the bloodsucking capitalists are actually bloodsucking capitalists and all that stands between them and their vampiric domination of the world is a small band of heroes and their allies, a race of immortal dogs.
CARRIE: Kitty and the Dead Man’s Hand and Kitty Raises Hell are coming out back to back in February and March 2009. I’ve finished Kitty #7: Kitty’s House of Horrors, which will probably be out in 2010. I’m working on a young adult novel that’s an alternate history with rock climbing, dragons, and jet fighters (no, really…). I also have lots of short stories in the pipeline (including some Kitty-related). My website is http://www.carrievaughn.com/ for more info.
MELINDA: My current novel THE EDGE OF REASON is on the shelves now, and the second book THE EDGE OF RUIN is due out in the fall of 2009.
IAN: I have a trilogy forthcoming from Tor books, starting in 2009. The Milkweed Triptych is a science-fantasy alternative history yarn complete with superheroes, spies, and demons. I’ve turned in the first book in the series, BITTER SEEDS, and I’m currently elbow-deep in the second volume, THE COLDEST WAR. I’ll start the final volume of the series, NECESSARY EVIL, next spring I’ve also written a television pilot with Melinda Snodgrass, and we’re currently writing a feature-length screenplay together.
GRRM: I’m working on this fantasy series. A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE, it’s called. Four books published, and if I can even finish this fifth one, there will be two more after that.
– Anything you wish to add or share with your fans?
GRRM: You guys rule.
VIC: Thanks. Deep, total thanks, both to my personal fans and to the fans of the Wild Cards universe. Without you we’re all just whistlin’ in the wind. And also working at Mickey D’s. It’s an honor. Please allow us to continue to entertain you. We’ll do our best not to let you down.
CARRIE: Keep reading. Rock on.
SLF: Save our economy — buy books!
KEVIN: Keep reading. If it weren’t for you, we couldn’t keep doing this thing we love.
BUD: Without our fans there are no books. You’re appreciated by all of us.
JOHN: Thanks for your continued support.
CAROLINE: Fans? I have fans? Really? Can I meet them? Hey, where are you going . . .