A year after I wrote The Crow: City of Angels, I was asked to write an original novel using the concept of James O’Barr’s The Crow. Though I was wearying of writing work-for-hire material, I agreed. I was simpatico toward the concept, which gave me total freedom in terms of characters and setting, something that nearly all other licensed properties did not.
Clash by Night, which appeared as a large trade paperback, explored the right-wing militia underbelly of the United States while using a female lead character and telling a tragic love story, and I was pleased with the result. For better or worse, it turned out to be a Chet Williamson novel. Ed Bryant said in Locus: “The passion in Clash by Night is furnace-hot, of a degree that is virtually Biblical…Chet Williamson knows what he’s doing…the heart is engaged. Lock and load, readers — and keep that box of tissues handy. With its risky juggling of passion and politics, indignation and melodrama, longing and loss, Clash by Night stands perfectly well on its own. And it doesn’t matter if you don’t know the Crow from the Owl and the Pussycat, or a Raven from a Writing Desk.”
The novel was collected, along with original Crow novels by David Bischoff and Poppy Z. Brite, in the hardcover anthology, The Crow: A Murder of Crows.
I said goodbye to The Crow with a short story published in The Crow: Shattered Lives and Broken Dreams. It was called “The Blood-Red Sea,” a pacifistic Crow tale in which the protagonist, the ancient poet Homer, ultimately decides not to use violence against those who wronged him. It’s in my short story collection, Figures in Rain.
The Crow: City of Angels was the sequel to the original blockbuster starring Brandon Lee. This time around, Vincent Perez was the murder victim who returns from the dead to “make the wrong things right,” which basically consists of killing everyone who had anything to do with his death and, in this go-round, the death of his child as well. I was contracted to write a novelization of David S. Goyer’s screenplay, which was a powerful and moving piece of work. Unfortunately the film itself left most of the good stuff on the cutting room floor, if it was ever filmed at all.
I had only three weeks in which to write the novel, but for some reason I was possessed by the material and the themes of love and loss which are so much a part of my own original work, so much so that I finished the book in a white-hot two weeks, embellishing and expanding on Goyer’s fine work, filling out the backstory of the various characters, and just having a helluva lot of fun.
I used epigrams for all 24 chapters, including many quotations from James Thomson’s epic poem, “The City of Dreadful Night,” and many more from classical literature about crows. In the short time I had I put an enormous amount of energy and thought into the novel, and was hugely disappointed when I saw the film the night it opened across the country. The novel, though out of print, is available on the Collector’s Series DVD.
Andrew Vachss’ Cross was a six-issue graphic novel that I scripted from Andrew’s and Jim Colbert’s story of the same name. Geoffrey Darrow did the extraordinary covers. It was an intense and raw story about a group of mercenaries working together in the jungle of the city, and I hope my script did it justice. I also adapted another Vachss story for Dark Horse’s Hard Looks.
My friendship with Andrew Vachss has been one of the highlights of my writing life. I consider him a brilliant, fire-breathing writer, and his lifelong concern with children’s rights makes him one of the last true American heroes. I strongly encourage everyone to join Protect: National Organization to Protect Children. And visit Andrew’s website, The Zero — you’ll find it a fascinating journey…
Murder in Cormyr was the second original novel I wrote for TSR, based on their fantasy gaming world. This was a mystery in which a sedentary wizard does the brainwork while his assistant does the footwork (Nero Wolfe & Archie, anyone?). I used the old gag of supernatural fakery to cover up an all too natural series of murders. It was published in hardcover and a year later in paperback, and the target audience of Forgotten Realms gamers seemed to enjoy it.
I’d never played D&D, so I had to pore through the manuals for research for both this novel and Mordenheim, but never had to shake a pair of 27-sided dice…
My only other foray into TSR writing was a short story, “The Vanished Ones,” reprising the character of Ivan Dragonov, a werewolf I wrote about in Mordenheim. The story appeared in 1994’s Tales of Ravenloft.
Certainly one of the strangest writing projects I’ve ever done, this was a work-for-hire novel adapted from a computer game, which was pretty hot stuff (no pun intended) at the time, since it was voiced by Dennis Hopper and Grace Jones, among others. The game, which I played through before I started, was goofy fun, and dealt with a near future world in which society is divided along religious lines, and Hell is an actual place to which malefactors are condemned for going against the established religious state. All of it, of course, is virtual, and our heroes are two government agents who get on the bad side of the church and have to bring down the system to save themselves.
It was as nutty a story as it sounds, and I got a lot of help in the cybervein from my son Colin, who, though still in high school, was a staff writer for PC Gamer magazine. I namechecked him and a number of his friends in the book, and dedicated it to him as well. The folks at Prima and Take 2, the game company, were a joy to work with, and the book was featured in an article in Entertainment Weekly.
I was contracted to do another novel based on a horror board game called Atmosfear — clever, eh? — that included a videotape (talk about obsolete media…), and was supposed to take the world by storm. It didn’t, and the novel was never written, other than an unpublished 60 page novella. Believe me, it was just as well…
This is probably my favorite novel of those I’ve written so far, as it’s closest to the concerns of my own life. When I’m asked to describe it, I usually refer to it as a ecoterrorist time-travel fantasy thriller romance, which indicates the dangers of genre labeling. Let’s just call it a novel about how the turbulent sixties affected those who grew up during that time. As one reviewer said, “It’s a thriller, it’s a time travel novel, it’s a look at how we romanticize the past, and it’s an examination of how hard it is to stay true to your youthful ideals.” Bingo.
Charles De Lint in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction called it “a hard speculative exploration of the impact those incendiary times had upon some of us who lived through them,” while Time Tunnel‘s T. Liam McDonald said, “it is a piercing look at idealism unhinged, of the world-shattering power of love, hate, and zealous belief…one of the most unusual and moving books in a long time.” And The New York Review of Science Fiction called it “a wonderful and dreadful evocation of the way in which history and politics haunt us all…”
My friend Rick Huck painted the dust jacket cover, and I own the original. It’s a depiction of the building in which I lived in college, with a bookstore on the first floor, just as shown here.
Through editor Brian Thomsen, I was commissioned to do two work-for-hire novels set in the TSR gaming worlds. The first of these was Mordenheim, TSR’s avatar of Frankenstein. I got to create my own plot, set in what was actually a mildly disguised universe of 1930s-40s Universal horror movies, and had a blast doing it. While certainly not the most serious thing I’ve ever written, I took it seriously and did the best job I could while playing in someone else’s world and by their rules.
I’ve always loved the classic horror monsters, and getting to write my own version using these archetypes was like getting a paid vacation…
In 1994 I landed an assignment to write a 4-issue arc of Dark Horse’s Aliens series, and decided to somehow link the aliens to the arts. Music of the Spears 1-4 was the result. I came up with a plot in which a contemporary composer uses the screams of the aliens in his classical compositions, but is frustrated by not being able to find just the right tones, so he steals a little alien egg and hatches his own. Then the fun really starts.
I took the job very seriously and did layouts with (very) rough sketches for penciller Tim Hamilton. Tim Bradstreet did the inking and the fantastic covers. Yvonne Navarro wrote a novelization of my graphic novel script, and the comics themselves were reprinted (but with only one of the great covers) in Dark Horse’s Aliens Omnibus Volume 4 in 2008.
Thrillers was the first of a series in which an editor would choose four authors to write a certain number of words of suspense fiction. Richard Chizmar edited this volume, which I shared with Rex Miller, Nancy A. Collins, and Ardath Mayhar. My contribution was a short story, “Watching the Burning,” and a novella, “Dusty Death.”
I always love the chance to write at novella length, and had a great and twisty time writing about a murder that comes back to haunt the protagonist. The short story was a real quirky, psychological work, more of a character study than a crime story, the crime being one of omission…