C. Courtney Joyner is an award winning author of comics, screenplays, and novels as well as producing over 25 movies. He was kind enough to take time out of his day to answer 5 Questions.
It has been said that to be a good writer, you have to be a good reader. With that in mind, please answer the following questions.
None of these questions is easy – they’re all deceptively complicated, especially when we look back at all our writing influences, so I might have gone off the rails a bit with the answers…
But, at least, they’re pretty complete!
-What book got you interested in reading?
Very tough, because there was the reading I was doing for school, and then, for myself, comic books, Famous Monsters of Filmland. Anything connected to the movies, especially horror, and comics. We lived in Philadelphia, and every Sunday my father would get the Bulletin, and the comic section was huge, and printed across the pages, not jammed together in miniature. All that great stuff from King Features. I was fascinated by The Phantom, but especially Prince Valiant. There was Hal Foster’s stunning artwork, but also the writing, which was quite dense for a comic strip.
Remember Archie Goodwin’s stories in BLAZING COMBAT? Lots to read, those descriptions, to compliment the art. Stuff that had a message that was surely going over my head at the time, but the Warren magazines also lit a fuse, I think. His work in CREEPY and EERIE, too (no VAMPIRELLA – yet!); words married to images.
When I was in the 7th grade, we were assigned TREASURE ISLAND, and it really took my head off. Stevenson broke some sort of a chain in my mind, that the “iconic works of literature” – as we were told – had to be stuffy, and without energy; I wanted everything to be written by Stan Lee, but TREASURE ISLAND opened my eyes to all the other wonders, thank God. After that, there wasn’t a paperback spinning rack safe from my grubby, little hands.
-Do you have a favorite genre to read?
I’ve always been drawn to adventure fiction, whether it was Edgar Rice Burroughs or Donald Hamilton or Alistair MacLean; I know that’s a pretty wide swatch, but what could be better than a double-dose of John Carter, and then FEAR IS THE KEY?
The classics pull me to them, in all genres, and by “classics” I don’t always – usually – mean something written a century ago. I’ve always loved Elmore Leonard, whether it was out west – I still feel that HOMBRE and VALDEZ IS COMING are two of the finest westerns ever written by anyone – and the crime fiction sure doesn’t need my endorsement. An incredible string of tough classics, with such great use of language. BANDITS, 52 PICK-UP, HIGH NOON IN DETROIT – and that’s just the tip – amazing stuff. My first trip down the detective dark streets was Ross MacDonald’s THE BARBAROUS COAST. He led me to Chandler, of course, with LADY IN THE LAKE being my favorite. Jim Thompson’s THE KILLER INSIDE ME knocks me out every time I turn a page. Now? I think Lee Child is terrific, and Ludlum’s first BOURNE books don’t get nearly the credit they deserve.
There are even some movie and TV tie-ins I could point to, that have been dog-eared over the years, just re-reading a chapter or two. It’s not a precise answer, because I love having a stack of stuff to grab from, new and old, to lose myself in, depending on how I’m feeling, and what genre’s working me that night.
And horror? So much washes through the mind, but some people just read horror fiction by the truckload, and I’m not one of those folks. Still finding my dosage with the movies. But DRACULA remains the fiction template for me – the first person horror narrative, done in Stoker’s inventive style. A great example of its period – like Conan Doyle, the original book seems frozen in time – but what single work of genre fiction has inspired so much, and for so long? Plus, one day, I just had to sit down and find out what Christopher Lee had really been talking (complaining) about for all those years.
But no book has ever frightened me as much as Shirley Jackson’s THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE. I dearly love the Robert Wise film, but Jackson’s words will stay with me to the grave – which I think was her intention!
-Is there a book you have read more than one time?
Many, many. In fact, I’m certainly at fault for going back to older stuff, rather than grabbing something new from the bookstore or Amazon. One of the times when I really immerse myself, it’s when I’m about to start a project, and if it’s a western, I always go back to Leonard’s VALDEZ IS COMING. It just hits me, and gets my mind, and sense of language in the western mode. At least I think it does – could just be an excuse to re-read one of my favorites. Also, to have at hand, Frank O’Roarke’s MULE FOR THE MARQUESA, which became THE PROFESSIONALS. When I was tackling NEMO RISING, of course, Jules Verne was everywhere, but so was Burroughs. And also, I was so impressed with Joe Landsdale’s TARZAN novel, in the way he captured the word-rhythms, and Burroughs’ style with action, which was of another time. That was important to me, to be able to hit those grace notes on the page, that remind the reader of the time the story takes place, but still propel the action along at a modern pace. A real balancing act. Very, very hard to do, but J.L. did it with his Tarzan – which is a wonderful rainy-Saturday read – and was a great help to me as a superb example of working with another author’s characters, respecting their origins, and still making them your own. I also re-read Nicholas Meyer’s SEVEN PERCENT SOLLUTION and WEST END HORROR, which are also amazing examples, but staying away from LEAGUE like the plague, so I wouldn’t be influenced by something so close to what I was attempting. With all this literary inspiration, I still wanted to make my own mistakes.
I did get to tell J.L. my feelings about Tarzan, for a few minutes, at a writer’s convention, and he was quite kind, and very modest about my praise, but I carried that book around like a security blanket the whole time I was working on NEMO.
-What got you interested in writing?
The movies. One zillion percent. I’m quite new to the world of fiction, with a hell of a lot to learn, but movies, and my experience of writing those films, is what brought me to this point. I always wanted to be a screenwriter/director, have done both, and then I found my way to a different shore with fiction.
-Was there a book of yours that was difficult to write? Which one was it and what made it so difficult?
All three were tough, each for a different reason. I’ve done a fair amount of film journalism – lots of articles, and written a few movie books – and had some short stories published in collections – but I’ve only written three novels. And they were all three contracted for, they weren’t spec manuscripts that I had in a drawer, so when I started writing novel-length fiction, I really was starting at ground zero.
All three – SHOTGUN, SHOTGUN: BLEEDING GROUND and NEMO RISING, besides being period pieces, are also trying to create echoes of another form. The SHOTGUNS are – I hope – a reflection of my love of Euro-westerns, and I’ve tried to create that feeling on the page, even to a style of writing action and violence that I hope is cinematic. NEMO RISING was even more to the point, since I’d written the project first as a spec TV pilot over fifteen years ago, and that script was what the editors at Tor read, and what I used as my outline. And it was amazingly difficult working that way – beyond not being used to it – but I found new ways to work through the story, new avenues that I hadn’t explored in the script because I’d tried to keep everything compact, and moving like lightning. Well, I discovered I could do that with the book – God knows I tried – but it was a real process getting there, probably because I thought working from a script would be easy, and for me, it was the opposite. The script was a sign post, and I followed it all over the place, until finding the right way to lay out this fantasy-adventure, with this huge canvas, but I had to explore when I was writing it, and that took time, because I’m sure I was making rookie mistakes.
So, NEMO RISING.
And, I have no idea how the sequels are going to go!