Thursday, November 18, 2010

Interview with Peter Straub and Michael Easton about THE GREEN WOMAN

I had a chance to talk with Michael Easton & Peter Straub for about their collaboration for DC Vertigo’s THE GREEN WOMAN. Check out my review of the book here, then scroll down and see what the writing team of this awesome new book had to say about THE GREEN WOMAN.

KEITH HOWELL (KH): How many years have you two known each other?

PETER STRAUB (PS): I can't exactly figure it out, but I'd say probably five or six years.

KH: How did the two of you meet and come to collaborate with each other?

MICHAEL EASTON (ME): One of my Mom's favorite books was "Koko". I remember reading it to her during her chemotherapy treatments. Fourteen years later and a world away I recieved a copy of "Koko" in my mailbox at the ABC studio inscribed to me by Peter Straub. It took about two months for me to get the courage up to contact him and tell him this story.

PS: On a tour of the studio, I dropped off a book for Michael. Not long after, he wrote to thank me and asked if I were willing to look at what he had so far of his graphic novel, SOUL STEALER, done with Christopher Shy. Come on over, I said, or thereabouts, and in a couple of days he was in my house and we were paging through SOUL STEALER. It didn't take long for the two of us to begin contemplating the notion of collaborating on something of our own.

KH: What is the actual working relationship in your writing collaboration?

PS: We drink bourbon at a little joint (now, alas, closed) called O'Neals; we talk about plot and character, with me emitting clouds of vapor and impassioned ranting; exhausted and drunk, I fall asleep sitting up; Michael writes a couple of pages. That was pretty much the way it went.

There was no real design to the collaboration. No "you do this and I'll do that". Or none that I recall. I remember the bourbon. Cheap stuff while we were writing. Good stuff -- Pappy Van Winkle -- when we were done for the night.

KH: Describe a little of the manner in which the project was pitched and developed at VERTIGO.

PS: There hardly was a pitch. Vertigo was eager to work with me, at least Karen Berger and Jonathan Vankin were. As Michael and I progressed, we now and then showed them what we were doing. Berger and Vankin patted our heads and told us to go on playing. In the end, both of them contributed very solid editorial suggestions.

The nice people at Vertigo told us not to hold anything back and we never did. Karen Berger and Jon Vankin were both very nurturing. Nothing would be as it is without their kindness and insight.

KH: Peter has demonstrated in the past an openness to the collaborative process, yet not with a visual artist. Michael has collaborated with visual artists but not with another writer. I've heard, for example, that in THE CATERPILLAR'S QUESTION, Philip Jose Farmer and Piers Anthony actually alternated chapters and effectively challenged the reader to try and figure out who wrote which. In writing THE GREEN WOMAN, what was the actual process that the two of you entered into to tell this story together?

ME: Peter got us into this fine mess with the notion that one of his characters, Franklin Bachelor, who dies in "The Throat", is still alive and it's the conceit of some asshole writer trying to wrap up his book that he's dead. Peter said something that I still have jotted down on a cocktail napkin somewhere; "There isn't a writer born who doesn't turn into a lying piece of shit the second he picks up a pen". That became I think the third line of the book and the genesis of what was to follow.

Michael had most of the good ideas.

KH: Haha. Were there ever points of plot or thematic disagreement or was this one of those stories you were both of one mind about?

PS: I don't remember a single moment of disagreement.

No disagreements. It was just there from the beginning. The character of Franklin Bachelor had been with Peter for years, ready to leap off the pages once again. The only thematic roadblock was creating a proper foil for this powerful life force. We needed Bob Steele. That took some time but was also part of the synchronicity as I know a lot of cops. Some of the best people in my life wear the blue. Great jugglers of demons. That's who Bob Steele became.

KH: Compare solitary writing to writing with a partner. What do you gain from both and what are the difficulties inherent in both processes?

ME: On a personal level It was like being let into the master class at school. Working with Peter Straub you learn to put the right words in the right order. As far as the writing process, every word on the page felt like the culmination of our collaborative effort, that none of it, for better or worse, would have existed without the two of us sitting in the same room during these long sessions of inspired madness.

With a partner, you have to do only half of the work. Alone, you get to be the Absolute Monarch and Ruler of your realm. Both of these are good deals.

KH: Now that you (Straub) have finished your first graphic novel, is this something you might be interested in pursuing again in the future?

PS: If I could work with Michael, sure. With anyone else, not a chance.

KH: THE GREEN WOMAN is dedicated to Michael's OLTL co-star Robert S. Woods. I know he has a reputation in the industry as one of the true "nice" guys, but this is a pretty harsh and graphic foray into the darkest of evils. Which leads me to ask you what about Woods and his relationship to either or both of you led you to honor him this way?

PS: Michael has known Bob Woods much longer than I, but it's safe to say that both of us love him. Robert S. Woods is an extraordinary man, and he runs very deep. You can trust him absolutely; he is true-blue all the way down. Also, Woods is a lot more complex that he seems at first. He never does anything meaningless, something always lies behind his actions. As an actor, he is astonishingly subtle, refined, and elegant. As far as I can see, almost no one has noticed this, because he makes it all look so easy, so natural. Well, Ted Williams made swinging a bat look easy, too.

Woods is "Gary Cooper". Larger than life but that's only half the story. He's a deep man. There's a lot there to begin with and so much more beneath the surface. I think that's what you want in a friend. That's what we wanted for our characters.

Also, and this is pretty amazing, Bob Woods was a Green Beret officer in Vietnam, and he worked with the mountain tribes to fight our common enemy, the ARVN and the guys in the black pajamas. In fact, he and Franklin Bachelor lived with and led the same tribe, the Bru.

KH: John Bolton's artwork creates an emotional atmosphere for every page and tells the story visually in an amazing way. How was the working relationship with Bolton? Did you write the book script style and deliver to him that way or was there a more writer/artist collaborative effort her that allowed John freedom to deliver artistic input that affected elements of how you tell the story?

ME: John's a visionary. We never met him in person but it's as if he had been occupying the barstool next to us the whole time we wrote. Our ghost partner.

We wrote a lengthy script and turned Bolton loose. We wisely got off the stage and let John Bonham have his drum solo.

For the next three years art came rolling in. We wanted something twisted and epic and that's what we got from the very first page. You never have to ask John to push the boundaries with his work because he's already doing it.

We were happy to turn our final product over to masterly John Bolton and wait to see what amazements would return our way. The only problem we ever had with him, and it was very minor, was that he kept making the "Green Woman" figurehead a total babe, with lipstick and pink nipples. Eventually he stopped panting and toned her down, but she's still a babe.

KH: The indulgently evil "Fee" Bandolier is the focus of THE GREEN WOMAN. Yet, his story appeared to end originally at the end of Peter's novel THE THROAT. Was it always a plan to resurrect Fee or did the idea for THE GREEN WOMAN develop later, and if so, what led to the decision?

PS: No, I knew Fee was dead at the end of THE THROAT. Yet...when Michael and I first began to talk about doing a story together, he came back to me, saying that I had maybe been mistaken, that he could probably do a lot of good for me by doing an insane amount of bad out in the world.

KH: The "hero", if one can use that term here, of THE GREEN WOMAN is Bob Steele -- a great name. Can you share some background on your thoughts behind the development of this character, your reference to an old cowboy actor of the same name, and especially...your harsh direction for the character.

PS: When I was a kid, WTMJ in Milwaukee used to run Bob Steele movies in the afternoons, as part of a larger context involving a host, a few clowns, I forget what else. Steele seemed to be completely heroic. In our book, of course, his heroism is largely ironic, as our Steele lives la vida loca, with a vengeance. On the other hand, he really is a good cop, an inspired detective, and so in that way he does possess a real heroism.

Within "The Green Woman", the hard lines between good and evil, hero and villain, are easily breached. The characters of Fielding and Bob are, in many ways, two sides of the same coin.

Both Michael and I agreed that our story could not turn out well for anyone. What it accepts is so absolutely bleak and grim that a happy ending for even our deeply compromised hero would have rung false, would have felt like a betrayal of the book.

KH: Talk a little about "The Green Woman" herself and the role she plays in this story.

PS: The Green Woman was a figurehead on an ill-fated ship called The Black Galleon, on which the officers and crew wound up killing each other. When the ship drifted unto port, its timbers were stripped and used to construct a Belfast pub called The Black Galleon. The figurehead is shipped to America and is installed in a bar (an evil bar) where for more than a century she warps men's minds and schemes to be reunited with the rest of her. Whatever wickedness transpires in our story comes from her teeming mind.

KH: What is "evil"?

ME: Evil comes in many forms and all of them want you. We each have a choice to make.

Evil is what you get when you mistreat a child. Evil is what happens when love turns baffled and angry. Evil is a kind of suffocation. Evil wishes to devour everything that is not itself.

KH: Can evil ever truly die?

PS: Oh, I think evil hangs in there, like roaches and bedbugs. It seems to me that some parts of evil die off to get folded up with the flags and insignia, while other parts move into small towns and start hanging out in the coffee shops, talking to the local teenagers in this really interesting and unexpected way.

KH: What is "good"?

PS: Let me give you a shorthand answer to this question. Tune into ONE LIFE TO LIVE one day and watch Robert S. Woods being "Bo Buchanan." There is simple goodness and complex goodness, and both are moving, but the complex variety lets you learn a hell of a lot more about other people.

Making the right choice.

KH: And I have to say that the "right" choice in this instance was Peter Straub and Michael Easton collaborating on THE GREEN WOMAN. Thank you for your work and your time...and your thoughts.

THE GREEN WOMAN is available right now from DC Vertigo.

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