Conversation with Greg Rucka (part 2 of 5)

Greg Rucka once again took time from his busy writing / book touring schedule to submit himself for interrogation from your humble website proprietor about our favorite faceless hero.

Sitting outside a hotel room, typing on a borrowed laptop, Greg answered questions via instant messenger about how he got into the profession of writing, his literary influences, his work on Batman(Question!)/Huntress: Cry For Blood, the unpublished Detective Comics backup story and more.

Eric Newsom: Before we get started, I want to say that I have been totally blanking on the book I know your wife from. I kept thinking Outsiders, but that wasn’t the one from which I know her best. Then halfway through the week, I remembered Hopeless Savages! Please pass on to her that HS is the only book I’ve ever given out to my non-comic reading pals for which I’ve gotten 100% positive feedback.

Greg Rucka: I absolutely will — she’ll be delighted to hear it!

EN: So last time we talked as readers. This week, we’re shifting gears to talk about you as a writer. Let’s start with another big opening question: When and why did you first start writing? That is, writing for the sake of writing and telling stories?

GR: Oh, man. It’s a long answer, honestly.

GR: The quick version is that I was reading early, in a family of readers, and my mother was a journalist. So I grew up in a household with words, and a household that wrote. Meaning, it wasn’t a mystifying process.

EN: Newspaper journalism?

GR: She did newspaper work before my sister and I were born. Growing up, she did a lot of political action work, newsletters, etc. So I would hear the electric typewriter going. Rat-a-tat rat-a-tat-rat-a-tat…she’s amazingly fast, and it was like a machine gun. So I don’t remember an actual moment when I sat down and said “I’m gonna write a story.” But I know that, around fourth or fifth grade, I did end up writing one for school, and that one won an award. And I got to miss a half-day of school to go to the awards ceremony. Kids four and five years older than me, mostly. So I thought, hey, this is cool.

By the time I got to high school, it was just something I did. I used to sit in the back of my English class and work on this novel I was writing in my notebook. And I was still doing that in college. Starting writing with friends, shared universe things, like that. Spent my Autumn break during my junior year locked in my dorm room working on this obscenely long novel I’d been writing.

When it was done, it came in at a 250K words, and about, maybe, charitably, 3000 of those words were good ones. But that was the process, and you have to learn it by doing. And throughout college — I went to Vassar college, in Poughkeepsie, NY — I kept trying to take writing courses.

EN: They say that’s what college is for, for English majors. Get out all the bad words while you’re still young.

GR: There’s something to that. There was a writer my mom knew — she was taking courses from him back home — who she’d showed some of my stuff to. He’d been very encouraging, and, God bless him, he read all 250,000 of those words. Then he sat me down and gave me notes.

And, like I was saying, I was still trying to take writing courses, but, of course, I couldn’t get into any of them. So by the time my senior year rolled around, I figured I’d be doing an academic thesis. Vassar English majors had to do a senior thesis. I was all prepared to do a thesis on “The American Private Investigator as a Means of Social Commentary: From Chandler to Parker.” And, of course, I’d submitted for the creative class, again, but had fully expected to get bounced. Instead, I got in.

At Vassar, the creative course for seniors was Senior Composition. Instead of a thesis, you’d produce a body of work over the whole year. So, first meeting, the prof — Frank Bergon — asks if we’ve written anything over the summer, etc. And of course, I charge in where fools fear to tread and give him this sci-fi piece of tripe I’d written. The following week, he’s meeting with each of us during office hours. And I show up for my 15 minutes, and, again, like Bob Irvine, he’d actually read it, and he had notes.

And he, very kindly, tore me a new one.

EN: Ha!

GR: He just shredded me to pieces. I went back to my room and had a real crisis. I was in tears, I was terrified. Because he’d basically called me on the carpet for cheating. Not literally, not plagiarism, but for being, as he put it, “emotionally dishonest.” And he told me that if I wanted to write anything that anyone gave a rat’s ass about, I had to start writing about real emotions. And he didn’t care what the genre was. But he wasn’t going to read cliches. So I was in a tailspin, because I hadn’t thought that was what I’d been doing at all. I remember being, literally, so worked up I called my Dad. Other side of the country, I call him at work, and I’m nearly hysterical. And my Pop says, well, is he right? And of course he was. So that was my primary education, as far as I’m concerned.

And Bergon would give us reading assignments, mostly short stories. The rule was, learn how to write a short story. It’s a good rule, because I really do believe that if you can write a good short story, you can write just about anything. Except poetry. But if you can write a short that makes the reader feel something, has a beginning, a middle, and an end, and you can do it consistently, you’ll know how to write. If, in fact, it can be taught. Problem with poetry is that a good poem is a good short missing 99% of the words.

So that year, that was a HUGE learning year. I fell in love with Stephen Crane and Hemingway, I saw what it was about them that made them brilliant. I fell in love with Nadine Gordimer and Tim O’Brien and Cynthia Ozick, all these incredible authors.And I learned how to write a short story. And how to write one well. So I wrote and I wrote and I wrote and I sweated and I bled and I was honest about EVERYTHING.

[Greg and I go off-topic and start talking about Tim O’Brien. A summary: Tim O’Brien is the proverbial bee’s knees. Few other “war” writers compare.]

EN: Are there writers that you’d call “influences”? Or is it more that these authors provided the sort of background for your writing education?

GR: Oh, there are definite influences. Hemingway and Crane, obviously. O’Brien, but I could never write like him — his style is so uniquely his. Douglas Adams, actually. Chandler. I’m sure there are a dozen others that are escaping me at the moment. The biggest problem in being a writer is that you’re influenced by everything you read, one way or another.

EN: Chandler and Adams are sitting on the shelf in front of me. Alongside Hammett, Vonnegut and P.G. Wodehouse.

GR: Hammett, Vonnegut, as well. Not so much Wodehouse. If I was at home, I’d be staring at my shelves and kicking myself for not remember that author, or that one, or that one. And there are writers I LOVE, but I’m unaware of what influence they may have on me, too.

Anyway, to wrap up the narrative (said the writer)…I sweated and bled and made myself miserable and wrote and wrote and wrote and was brutally, savagely honest about everything. I wrote meaningful stories about the time I had to kill a turtle to put it out of its misery. And the time I was playing with at little .22 pistol when I was 13 and visiting Jerusalem and about how when the gun went off, all the kids playing below me in the courtyard ran in terror. I wrote about my high school friend who wanted to kill himself because everything sucked, but was saved by his love for his muscle car. And all of it was very, very sincere. And very, very young. But I learned how to do it. And I learned how to make it matter. And then I went to grad school at USC in their MFA program and discovered that almost every instructor I had didn’t give a damn about any of that.

I also discovered that I knew more, at that point, about things like POV and theme and characterization and economy than most of them. So I found four other peers who were serious about their writing, and we would get together twice a week and workshop our stuff like nuts. And 18 months later I had an MFA, and we were moving to Oregon so Jen could start grad school.

My thesis advisor gave me an A on my Master’s, which was my first Kodiak novel. And then he said, “I want to send this to a friend of mine who used to be an editor at Walker, but is now an agent…and he’ll tell you why it’ll never sell.” With an offer like that, how could I say no? Three months later, the agent called and said he wanted to represent the book. He took it out, and EVERYONE HATED IT. Instead of just little rejection slips that say, “thanks but no” we were getting two-page long, single-spaced, “I hated this novel, allow me to tell you why…” letters.

So I knew I was onto something.

At this time, Jen had started grad school in Eugene at the U of O, and I was taking any job I could so we could survive. And at night I’d write 3000 words. Every. Day. And it was hard, and it wasn’t much fun. We were so poor we were gaining weight, if that makes sense. We couldn’t afford to eat well. And I’d gone from temp job to temp job, I’d painted houses for an asshole racist anti-Semite (which was a LOT of fun, what with being Jewish and all)…I washed dishes, I ran messages. After 9 months of looking, I finally got a job teaching at a business college in town, Trend College, kind of like a DeVry or ITT place, like that. I taught…job finding skills…resume writing…and interview techniques. Seriously.

I had the job for maybe five months, then went to work one day and discovered the doors were chained shut. The place had gone out of business. Jen was on summer break, we were going to head to San Diego for the con, and I panicked. And she said that we’d take the vacation anyway, and deal with it when we got back. So we went away for two weeks, came back, and I had a temp job at a software company writing their manuals and beta testing their games.

I’d called my agent when we’d gotten back and told him that I wanted him to go out with the new novel. I’d been rewriting it over and over for months at that point on his direction, and I was fed up, and I was desperate. So I’m at work, and my boss comes in — this is before cell phones were de rigeur — and says my wife is on the line. And Jen tells me to get my ass home, because we’re getting offers on the book. This was, perhaps, two weeks after we’d returned from the vacation. So I go home, and my agent of the time tells me that we’ve received a guarantee minimum bid from Bantam should the book go to auction…and that he’s getting nibbles from Knopf and St. Martin’s and a couple others. It was a Friday, I think. And my agent had said the window would close at the end of business Monday.

So I’m terribly excited (and terribly, terribly poor), and the thought of a bidding war over my novel is something I quite like. And my agent says, Bantam also has a pre-emptive offer. They’ll guarantee two novels for X amount apiece. X being the minimum bid they were willing to make if the book went to auction. And I asked him what he thought we should do, and he said to take the pre-emp. I asked why, and he said that, while going to auction could conceivably result in us getting 750K for the novel, unless the novel then earned that money back, my career was as good as over. Take the pre-emp, he said. Two books, guaranteed, that’s a career.

Best advice he ever gave me.

I was 24 when the novel sold, I was 26 when it came out, and I’ve been lucky enough to make a living writing ever since. Here endeth that story.

EN: What was the time difference between completed thesis and published novel?

GR: Little under two years, I think. Oh, wait, published? No, that would’ve been almost five. No, wait, I tell a lie. Three years.

EN: But bought within the first two?

GR: Well, I finished USC, I was 22, I think. Sold the novel at 24. Novel was published roughly when I was 26. It took substantial revision, because, again, I was still (and I hasten to add, still am) learning.

August 28th saw Patriot Acts published; that’s my 13th novel. God knows how many comics I’ve written at this point.

EN: Congratulations, by the way!

GR: Thank yew!

EN: So is the moral of the story for young writers to stick with it and good things will happen, or is there a certain amount of unpredictable serendipity that has to take place too?

GR: The best advice I can ever give is always the same advice: Commit. That’s the ONLY thing you can entirely control, your commitment to your craft. You cannot control talent, you cannot control market, you cannot control publishers or agents or readers. But you can commit to the writing, and if you do that, and you find a way to stick to it, then you’re doing what is required to be a writer.

And committing means reading as well as writing. It does not mean substituting movies for novels.

EN: What about substituting comic books?

GR: No. Novels and short stories. Comics don’t teach word craft the same way. They teach structure and they teach dialogue and they teach character and they teach plot. But they do not teach the fundamental tool–how to use words to their best effect. Because if you want to write comics, you have to be able to communicate your desire for the story or the page or the panel succinctly and well. Learn how to write a story, then worry about writing comics.

My opinion, of course.

EN: Good advice.

GR: Flip side, however…comics are a brilliant way to learn how to read.

EN: Want to clarify that a bit for the readers at home?

GR: I think comics are a wonderful gateway drug for readers. They’re compelling as hell, they’re serial, so you keep coming back. And some of them are as well-done, as moving, and as skillfully created as any short-story. And you have to read well to write well. It all folds in on itself!

A very, very long answer to your question, wasn’t it? Now you know better than to ask me how I got started writing.

EN: Haha. Well, now it’s all there for posterity.

GR: I think my new answer to that question is going to be: “I took a pill.”

EN: Or you can just point them toward the URL of this interview.

GR: Well, yeah, that’ll work, too.

EN: You’ve worked in both mediums, novels and comics. Do you prefer one to the other, or are there aspects of working in each that appeal to you?

GR: I don’t actually prefer one to the other, but that’s because they each provide very separate things. I’m a big fan of recognizing the strengths of different mediums. Comics are not novels are not movies are not poetry. Each does certain things brilliantly, others, not so well. Novels are great for details. You can spend all the time and energy you want on an intricate, layered story, and the medium is well-suited for it. Comics thrive on economy and time. No medium can play with time the way a comic book can.

The best examples in my own work would be to compare the Queen & Country comics with the Q&C novels. They’re the same characters, same world, but very, very different stories. Or, I should say, type of story.

EN: How does your process differ in constructing, say, a Q&C comic story arc versus writing a Q&C novel?

GR: I’d say that novels take longer to prepare for, because they are, almost by definition, longer projects. Even a multi-issue storyline requires less planning and research overall than a novel does. Writing a comic is very much like writing a short story. That’s, for me, the best analogue. But it’s a disingenuous one, because, again, it doesn’t recognize the differences in the mediums.

EN: We should, I guess, get onto the subject of the specific comic series, Batman/Huntress, but one more process question: Have you ever, like the world saw pictures of Stan Lee doing last week, written a comic script standing outside and working on your tan?

GR: Uh…no?

EN: I suppose in Portland, you’d get rained on.

GR: I’ve written a comic script sitting on a deck overlooking an ocean at night, does that count? Despite Harlan Ellison, I don’t think of writing as a spectator sport.

EN: That’s a more exciting place than I’ve ever written a comic script, so certainly.

GR: Well, there you go.

EN: Okay, so what was the impetus for writing Batman/Huntress: Cry For Blood?

GR: I wanted to (re)tell the Huntress origin story in a way that, to me, was more plausible, and explained the connection to both Gotham crime, and to the bat mythology. For lack of a better phrase, I wanted to make it more “realistic.” (Which is, incidentally, a very dangerous word to use when talking about a world where people can fly and, as Denny used to say, the Batmobile never gets stuck in traffic.)

EN: At what point in the creation of the story did you come up with the notion to have the Question play a role?

GR: From the start. I’d written a short story for Batman Chronicles with Huntress and Question, and that had been the germ of the idea. That Charlie saw in Helena a lot of himself before he took a bullet to the head. And thus saw, for Helena, a trajectory where she was going to end up taking a bullet to the head. He wanted to prevent that.

EN: So was that story written independently of the mini, or was it intended as a sort of prologue?

GR: I don’t honestly remember the timeline. I suspect it was independent. I talked quite a lot to Denny about Q and Huntress, and wanting to really give Huntress something more to her than just, I have crossbows and Batman doesn’t like me.

EN: Speaking of Denny, what is it like to work on characters whom your editor has previously made his mark on?

GR: Daunting. But Denny was always, always extraordinarily generous. And he was always quick to point out that the characters weren’t his, they were DCs. I do know that, when he told me he thought I wrote Charlie very well, I burst buttons with pride. That was a big deal, because I really wanted to honor what he had done.

EN: The Vic Sage we see in CFB is older and wiser than last we saw him, but still seems, to me at least, very much a logical extension of the character that Denny developed. How did you decide on that aspect of maturing the character?

GR: Well, it seemed to me that Denny had finished Charlie’s story, in a way, and that time had to have passed. The evolution from student to teacher seemed a logical one to me — it seemed like the kind of thing that Richard would have encouraged. So Charlie was still the same man, but far more “at peace” with himself and his world than he had been previously.

That very last Q story, where he rushes back to Hub City and finds that Myra has moved on…that one read to me as the epilogue to that part of Charlie’s life.

EN: I think that’s a good reading of that story. It seemed that way to me too, and in some ways, it seems it was Denny putting the epilogue on the Question part of his writing career too.

GR: I think he was, in many ways. It’d have been very different if I’d asked him to write the Question and he was still working with the character. But I think he trusted me, and he felt he’d said what he had wanted to say with Charlie. I was, honestly, very, very honored that he allowed me to use Charlie at all.

EN: It took me a few reads to notice that Vic appears even before the Huntress does, standing under the sign for Moldoff St. I hate to say it, but it’s sort of reminiscent of Rorschach carrying the sign through the blood on the first page of Watchmen, a little foreshadowing of the Q’s later appearance. You get the feeling that he’s been watching Helena for awhile, since, I guess, the Batman Chronicles story.

GR: That was exactly what I wanted; that he’d been watching and waiting. Wondering when she was going to end up so deep in it that he’d need to step in and lend a hand. And, of course, answering his curiosity about her — was she really as much like him as he thought? Was she worth it? Could she change?

EN: She winds up getting in pretty deep. I really like this section with she and Nightwing and Batman on the roof in issue two.

GR: Yeah, well…that was the point of it. She had to end up in it so deep that it was going to take a Herculean effort to get her out of it.

EN: There are numerous sources of tension here, between everyone. And as I was reading the whole to-do about the Sasha scene on your blog the other day, I thought of this page where Nightwing comes after her full force.

GR: You’re talking about when Nightwing loses it on Huntress after she shoots Batman?

EN: Yeah.

GR: Yeah, that was something that Devin Grayson and I had talked about, actually. That the trigger there was the injury to Batman. Going back to what we talked about much earlier, but that seemed very honest to me. You just shot my dad! All bets are off!

EN: It’s a very strong piece of characterization all around, I think. I like her immediate reaction of pleading the accident. She knows what her reputation is as a sort-of loose cannon, and I think she probably knows Dick well enough to know what his reaction will be.

GR: I wanted it all to be a logical progression of horrible accidents, if that makes sense? In its own way, I wanted that scene to have the same sense of inevitability that, ideally, one gets at the end of the series. And Rick Burchett…I mean, damn! He’s just SO good, and he’s so good not only at storytelling, but at characterization and acting…you know what everyone’s feeling just by looking at them. If I’d been a better writer then, I’d have rewritten a lot of what I’d wrote for the scripts once I’d seen his art, because his art was so eloquent.

EN: And then she plunges into the bay, and look who’s there to fish her out — the same guy that was once fished out in similar circumstances by Shiva.

GR: Yeah, again, quite intentional. And I really do think that, to Charlie, returning the favor Shiva did him by attempting to “save” Huntress, that’s the right thing to do. That’s balance. Passing on the lesson, for lack of a better phrase.

EN: That figurative mirror that you set up between Vic and Helena is set up so well that it makes a round story, but it also makes the ending seem more tragic.

GR: Well…thing is, I think Charlie’s being naive about Huntress. I think he saw more of himself in her than was there, for lack of a better phrase. Because, y’know, at the end, while her stripes have changed…they haven’t changed in the way he was hoping at all.

EN: What are her real options in the end? What is the solution that he and Batman are hoping she’ll come up with?

GR: Oh, man, I don’t know. Part of the goal was to create a situation that was unsolvable. A situation where Huntress felt she was boxed and had, really, only one move left to make. But in the “Bat” universe, you know, she’s committed the cardinal sin at the end; she’s facilitated a murder.

Remember, we’re talking about a story I wrote a LONG time ago, now, and details get fuzzy — and I’m using my wife’s laptop, so I don’t have my scripts handy. I will say that, to Batman, “What else could I do?” wouldn’t have washed. He was, at that point, very much Mr. Intolerance.

EN: She’s caught in that proverbial rock and a hard place, yeah, but I think that’s why your sympathies remain with her at the end. Even in the act of getting her father killed, as a reader, I think I wind up siding more with her than with Batman, or even Vic.

GR: That was part of the goal. It’s her story more than anyone else’s.

You know, originally, it was entitled Question/Huntress: Cry for Blood. But Marketing said no one would buy that, so we had to stick Batman in the title.

EN: I was going to ask about that. I think Batman only appears in half the issues.

GR: Yeah, we actually fought about that. But in the end, it was either Batman’s in the title, or we don’t do the project. Seriously, it came down to that during the proposal stage. I think there was even an argument about trying to put Batman into more of the story.

EN: I’m glad you won that argument. I don’t think it would have worked as well.

GR: Yeah, it would’ve turned out very bad.

EN: It’s good that he plays a role as supervisor / father figure, but stays mostly in the background. None of the impetus for Helena to grow or change comes from him, it all comes from herself, and that’s much more effective.

GR: There was also the fact that, for me, Batman was very one note about Huntress at that point. And I wanted to change the note, slightly, I wanted him to have a beat where he said, okay, here’s the rope. Either make a knot or hang yourself, it’s yours. But I’m watching. Rather than him simply standing and passing imperious judgment as he had been doing to her for so long.

So, let me give you two details/behind the scenes bits for your amusement.

EN: Shoot.

GR: The first is that the double-page spread in, I think, issue 3, with Helena and Richard doing tai chi…that was all Burchett’s idea. I called him and said that I didn’t have any idea how to do this sequence, and his solution was what you see. And the butterfly, of course, is a brilliant touch.

EN: That’s a great spread. I love the butterfly that…yeah, that alights on Dragon’s hand.

GR: The second is that the original cover for the TPB was not the one they went with, for reasons which we’ve already discussed, i.e., Batman. The original cover was a take on one of the Godfather III posters. Helena, as Huntress, seated on a throne-like chair, half swathed in shadow. Bounced because Batman wasn’t in the image. I have that piece on the wall in my office. One of my favorite pieces by Rick.

EN: Man. I was thinking that the only reason though, to have more Batman in the book, would be because Burchett draws the character so well. How’d you get him to work on the project?

GR: Oh, that’s a story in and of itself. Denny introduced me to Rick at one of the first SD cons I ever went to as a pro. And Rick and I had dinner with Denny and Marifran, and spent the whole meal just talking character. From that point it was all about “what can we do together?”

Then Rick drew the NML issue with Batman and Gordon in the garden, Legends of the Dark Knight 125, I think, though I may be wrong about the number…and that was it, we were on the same page from then on out. I used to call him every week there for a while, and we kept trying to find work to do to gether. Once Denny left and Schreck took over, that pretty much ended.

I think Burchett’s one of the finest in the industry, frankly. Hands down one of the best, but apparently, I’m in the minority on that.

EN: I’ll pick up virtually anything that he works on. There are some panels and faces that are so crisp and clear in CFB that they’re reminiscent of Alex Toth, which is the best compliment I know how to pay an artist. And I’m struck by the angles in the scene where she discovers the reporter’s body. Things are slightly off-kilter and it really adds to the mood of that discovery.

GR: He is a master storyteller. There’s really only a handful of artists with his skill working today. But his style, for some reason, seems to be putting certain editors off — and so he was having real trouble getting work for a while, there. But I really like what he’s been doing over on She-Hulk, and I heard that he and Chris Mills are doing another Gravedigger story together, which makes me very excited.

I’d love to try to get him to do a Question story with Renee.

EN: I’d love to buy that. And man, news of new Gravedigger is fantastic.

GR: I know Mills is doing it, but I’m unsure if Rick’s drawing it or not.

EN: Here’s hoping.

GR: Ditto

EN: So two more last notes on details I really liked in CFB: I love that, especially after their meeting in the rain where she called Vic out on the zen cliche of the man dreaming he’s a butterfly, she winds up in Dragon’s cabin with butterfly bandages on her face.

GR: Heh. Yeah, that was — again — Rick’s touch.

EN: The other detail in CFB…When Vic and Helena return to her apartment, Vic doesn’t seem intimidated or even surprised by the presence of Batman. He spends the duration of this father-daughter reconciliation smirking in the background. …I think this scene really captures that sort of maturation of Vic’s curiosity. You can tell he’s very interested in that interaction.

GR: And it drives Batman nuts, which is another bonus.

EN: So I’m not sure what you can tell me, if anything, about the follow-up to CFB that you and Burchett were planning for…I believe the back of Detective Comics. But…what can you tell me, if anything?

GR: I don’t recollect all the details at this point. I know that I got swamped, and I fell behind so that I wasn’t able to get the script done in a timely fashion. I wrote the first part — 8 pages — and Rick drew it, and as far as I know, it’s still sitting in Matt Idelson’s office today. The idea was that, as Charlie had tried to help Helena, Helena would try to help Charlie — and that Charlie would have to return to Hub.

EN: Dan DiDio told me he knew what drawer it was sitting in, but that he doubted it would ever be published.

GR: He did? I swear to God, I have to finish that story.

EN: Yeah, that was this summer.

GR: OH brain storm!!!! Oh oh oh oh oh…oh, got an idea…

EN: Do it. You’ve got a multi-verse to play with now!

GR: …Heh. Have to see if it’ll fly, but I think I know where we could do it.

I don’t even remember the plot precisely — I think it was that Tot contacted Charlie and told him that something had happened with Myra. It was going to be very soap opera in some ways; Helena the new girl meets Myra the old girl kinda thing. And it was going to, ideally, resolve a lot of the unresolved stuff that Jackie’s death had left behind.

EN: Well, maybe you shouldn’t give too much away, just in case….

GR: Oh, no fear. Things always change in the writing. And the writer I was then and the writer I am now are so different, I couldn’t write the story the same way if I tried. Though I still think Jackie’s death was never adequately dealt with.

EN: Especially since, if I remember right, that was the book that had the pages printed backwards at the most anti-climactic moment possible.

GR: Oh yes. It was so ‘effed up, in fact, I remember literally having to ask Denny if Jackie was actually dead dead dead or not. And Denny needed a couple minutes before he could remember.

EN: The first time I read them, I went through at least three times trying to make sense of it before I noticed the page numbers.

GR: Bad sign when you can’t remember if the little girl died or not. Worse sign if the writer can’t remember.

EN: You might not remember this, but when that specific issue of CFB came out, there was a dork shitstorm over the fact that you had Barbara Gordon call Robin “Tim.”

GR: I have vague memories. There were dork shitstorms over half of what I did back then. Come to think of it, there’re shitstorms over half of what I do today, it seems.

EN: But I was the one weirdo that e-mailed you to point out that Jackie was dead, but that it would be great if you could ret-con that. I always thought it would be fun to see that surrogate father-daughter situation played out.

GR: That was you?!?

EN: That was me.

GR: Denny and I were BOTH so embarrassed by that. Like I said, it was bad that I’d missed it. It was infinitely worse that he, the EDITOR and WRITER, had missed it. I think he regretted doing it, actually. But I don’t know for sure.

EN: I bet I was the only one in the whole readership who noticed.

GR: Oh, no. You were just the only one to write about it.

EN: I think it would especially be interesting, in light of what I know now about your sister, to see your take on that relationship.

GR: I don’t know. It’s not easy to write young kids, especially developmentally disabled ones.

EN: Maybe that’s why a majority of them ring frustratingly false.

GR: Yeah, I think so. I think part of the logic in killing her off was that Denny was beginning to see her as a prop more than a character, and he didn’t want that.

EN: I can see that too. Her second appearance after the regular series, she was basically a kidnap victim.

GR: A lot of what I wanted to accomplish in the 52 issue where Charlie was so delirious was to try and put some more light on that. She just wasn’t much of a character. But it bothered me something awful that Charlie couldn’t save her. I hated that.

[We get sidetracked again as I send Greg links to Q? sketches by Burchett and Chris Samnee. He’s happy to see a Montoya sketch in the gallery.]

EN: I think you’ll be surprised. Most of the folks on the forum, though there are a few vocal detractors, have it on their pull-list. And after all, Renee won some Wizard fan award, right?

GR: She did?

EN: Best female character, I think.

GR: See, you have to understand, Eric, I have a writer’s uncanny ability to find any negative comment made about work I’ve done, and the same ability to miss anything positive about the same. It’s a gift, really. A precious, precious gift. It is also why I no longer type words like “Renee Montoya” into Google.

Side note about Renee, and something I’m proud of, frankly. I like that, the moment she put on the mask in 52, she became as snarky as Charlie ever was. The mask let the sense of humor out. I’m fond of that. It was entirely unintentional. She just started saying things that made me laugh.

EN: Once you get to know the characters do they, as they say, start to write themselves?

GR: Hmm. Yes. But no. There’s…there’s a misconception, I think, that writers simply channel for characters when they say things like “just wrote themselves.” But I know that, for instance, when I’m writing someone who is supposed to be very smart, I can surprise myself with how smart they’re being. And sometimes a character becomes so well-defined in the mind that it does feel like they’re speaking, rather than letting you write.

Renee and Charlie both did that a lot to me. I rarely had to rewrite their dialogue. Atticus and Chace, and Crocker are the same. The interplay between Charlie and Renee specifically — the repartee just kinda happened.

[I send Greg the link to the Wizard fan awards.]

GR: Wow. That’s kinda cool. I wonder if DiDio will ever send me that trophy? That’s actually very, very cool. Who’d ever have thought that Renee Montoya would be the favorite female hero amongst Wizard readers, of all people?

EN: It was a good mix. Another thing in your favor that you might be too close to notice is that I have never, in all my visiting seedy corners of Newsarama, seen anyone say, “The Question was written out of character,” or “The story with Renee and the Question is bad.” Moreover, it’s just been, “They killed off the Question.”

GR: Yeah, that I have noticed. People can be furious that Charlie died, but we didn’t cheat when we killed him. We gave him a good story, and we made it hurt, and we made it matter. I suppose that’s the best thing one can ask for. One of the first things — and hardest things — I had to learn about being a published writer was that I was never going to write anything everybody would like.

EN: I think that people sort of appreciate that aspect of it too. I talked with a few other fans about how it was appropriate for him to go out in such a human way.

GR: Yeah, that was very intentional. Absolutely — Charlie had to die as a man, for lack of a better phrase. He couldn’t throw himself on a time bomb or save the multiverse. He had to go out looking for another answer.

“boob shadow”? I’ve got to lurk your forums more, man.

EN: You should see the search results that are bringing people to the site! “Dan+DiDio+address+die”


EN: “how to tell if someone is smoking crack” — And I have no idea why some of these are coming there.

This incarnation of the site has been pretty fun though. I’ve had a Question “fansite” up since I was 14.

GR: Since you were 14?!? How old ARE you?

EN: Twenty-five.

GR: You realize I’m 12 years older than you? Good lord, I feel old.

EN: Yeah, well, you published a book a year younger than I am now, so that makes me feel old too. We’re even.

GR: Ah, yes, but I believe you have a “Dr.” in front of your name, or shall very soon, correct?

EN: I’ve still got at least 4 years on that.

EN: I’ve only just wrapped up the Master’s. But one day!

[Greg sends me some preview art from multiple issues of the Crime Bible. EDIT: Which he says I can pass along to you guys! Check them out:]

Crime Bible #1 page by Tom Mandrake

Crime Bible #1 – Art by Tom Mandrake

Crime Bible #2 page by Jesus Saiz

Crime Bible #2 page by Jesus Saiz

GR: CB writes fast, because it’s all very clear in my head. They’re taking about a day and a half. The text pieces are harder, they’re taking about three, four hours a go, because I want the style to be right. The piece for CB 2, for instance, I wanted to have appropriate misspellings.

EN: Do you do your writing at home?

GR: Yeah, I work at home, either out of my office in the basement, or in the garage.

I’m going to have to sign off in a minute or so, I just realized. I need to call my better half and wish her a good night and such.

GR: I think we covered most of the CFB stuff?

EN: Yeah, don’t get in trouble on my account. I’ve exhausted the questions I had prepared. Tell your wife how much I loved Hopeless Savages.

GR: I will absolutely do so.

EN: And thanks again for the conversation!

GR: Have a good night, Eric!

GR: Great talking to you!

EN: G’night!

GR: Ciao!

Continue the conversation with part 3!

7 Responses to “Conversation with Greg Rucka (part 2 of 5)”

  1. The Question | Vic Sage | Renee Montoya » interviews » Conversation with Greg Rucka (part I of 5) says:

    […] ¬†Continue reading pt. II! Spread the good word: These icons link to social bookmarking sites where readers can share and discover new web pages. […]

  2. Rob says:

    These interviews are fantastic! Much thanks to you and Greg. Any chance you could make a notification on the News site when the next parts are up? I’ve the RSS feed in my reader now. Great site, great interviews, great everything. Long live the Question.

  3. Journalista - the news weblog of The Comics Journal » Blog Archive » Oct. 5, 2007: Rollerskate combat and fanservice says:

    […] Eric Newsom presents the second installment of a five-part interview with writer Greg Rucka, again discussing […]

  4. Rob S. says:

    Still really enjoying this interview. Any idea when part 3 will be ready?

    (different Rob)

  5. Scott Mateo says:

    I wonder – does the Huntress – or DCU at large even know Vic’s dead? I’d love to see Greg write Helena addressing Vic’s death.

  6. Scott Mateo says:

    I wonder – does the Huntress – or DCU at large even know Vic’s dead? I’d love to see Greg write Helena addressing Vic’s death.

  7. The Question | Vic Sage | Renee Montoya » news » Just posted: new discussion with Greg Rucka says:

    […] For those who missed them the first time, here are part one and part two. […]

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