Speaking With…Peter David.

Before we begin, I wanted to remind everyone to send in questions for me to answer here in the web-pages of “What Th--?.” I also want everyone to check out the “What Th--? Hey” Message board as well as link over to MY website, www.marvwolfman.com. And now…

I’ve known Peter for a few decades now, although it can’t possibly be that long. I first met him up at Marvel when he worked with the still-missed Carol Kalish. Peter’s a friend who is not afraid to speak out on what he perceives to be injustices. More often than not I find myself agreeing with his opinions on most everything except, possibly, movies. Peter supplied his own bio which I’ve cut down just a bit.

Peter David is a prolific author who has worked in every conceivable media: Television, film, books (fiction, non-fiction and audio), short stories, and comic books, and acquired followings in all of them.

Peter has had over fifty novels published, including numerous appearances on the New York Times Bestsellers List. His novels include Sir Apropos of Nothing (A “fast, fun, heroic fantasy satire”—Publishers Weekly), Knight Life, Howling Mad, and the Psi-Man adventure series. He is the co-creator and author of the bestselling Star Trek: New Frontier series for Pocket Books, and has also written such Trek novels as Q-Squared, The Siege, Q-in-Law, Vendetta, I, Q (with John deLancie), A Rock and a Hard Place and Imzadi. He produced the three Babylon 5 Centauri Prime novels, and has also had his short fiction published in such collections as Shock Rock, Shock Rock II, and Otherwere, as well as Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine and the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.

Peter’s comic book resume includes an award-winning twelve-year run on The Incredible Hulk, and he has also worked on such varied and popular titles as Supergirl, Young Justice, Soulsearchers and Company, Aquaman, Spider-Man, Spider-Man 2099, X-Factor, Star Trek, Wolverine, The Phantom, Sachs & Violens, and many others. He has also written comic book related novels, such as The Hulk: What Savage Beast, and co-edited The Ultimate Hulk short story collection. Furthermore, his opinion column But I Digress has been running in the industry trade newspaper The Comic Buyers’s Guide for nearly a decade, and in that time has been the paper’s consistently most popular feature and was also collected into a trade paperback edition.

Peter is the co-creator, with popular science fiction icon Bill Mumy (of Lost in Space and Babylon 5 fame) of the Cable Ace Award-nominated science fiction series Space Cases, which ran for two seasons on Nickelodeon. He has written several scripts for the Hugo Award winning TV series Babylon 5, and the sequel series, Crusade. He has also written several films for Full Moon Entertainment and co-produced two of them, including two installments in the popular Trancers series as well as the science fiction western spoof Oblivion, which won the Gold Award at the 1994 Houston International Film Festival for best Theatrical Feature Film, Fantasy/Horror category.

Peter’s awards and citations include: the Haxtur Award 1996 (Spain), Best Comic script; OZCon 1995 award (Australia), Favorite International Writer; Comic Buyers Guide 1995 Fan Awards, Favorite writer; Wizard Fan Award Winner 1993; Golden Duck Award for Young Adult Series (Starfleet Academy), 1994; UK Comic Art Award, 1993; Will Eisner Comic Industry Award, 1993.
Marv speaking - Peter and his wife Kathleen have just had a brand-new baby. Our congratulations, you randy old man. And now, the Q&A:

MARV WOLFMAN: HOW DID YOU BREAK INTO THE BUSINESS?

Peter David: I started writing when I was very young. My dad was a reporter with the (now defunct) Newark Evening News. As a sideline he did movie reviews, and sometimes I’d accompany him to the film (when age appropriate) and then to the office. And he would write his review and I’d sit there and write mine. Once he liked my lead graf better and used it. My college training was to be a journalist, but I wrote fiction on the side, mostly fantasy and science fiction. Certainly it was one of the few genres where there’s still an abundance of paying markets for short fiction. I piled up rejection letters, although every so often there’d be a handwritten “nice try” or something like that, and that was always encouraging. I learned early on that one couldn’t take rejection personally. You need a thick skin because otherwise it can just crush you. My first sale was to Isaac Asimov Science Fiction Magazine. It was some crummy little three hundred word story that ended in a totally wretched pun. But hey, it sold.

Eventually I decided I didn’t want to be a reporter, but I did want to stay in and near publishing. So I tried to get an editorial position in publishing, but wound up in sales, for which I discovered I had a flair. One thing led to another, and eventually I got a job in the sales department at Marvel Comics. Things just kind of snowballed from there.

MW: WHAT DO YOU CONSIDER YOUR MOST SUCCESSFUL WORKS, AND WHY?

PD: Comics? Well, artistically successful, I’d put “The Atlantis Chronicles” up there. And “Future Imperfect” with George Perez, and “The Last Titan” with Dale Keown, which was the last Hulk story. “Supergirl” 1-50, I was very pleased with artistically. I really wanted to reach with that series, to do something probing theology and faith and religion and the power of purity of the heart. Unfortunately too many readers just shrugged it off, but the people who really opened themselves up to it seemed to “get” it and embrace it. Financially? Beyond question, “Spider-Man 2099 #1.” The only book I’ve written to sell over a million copies.

In terms of novels, artistically I’m very pleased with the two “Sir Apropos of Nothing” books, and the revised edition of “Knight Life.” And my editor tells me that the “Knight Life” sequel, “One Knight Only,” is the best thing I’ve ever written. I’ll leave that to others to decide next summer. Financially, the most successful novel I’ve done is the novelization of the Spider-Man movie, but that has as much to do with the massive promotion of the movie as it does with me. More, most likely.

MW: KNOWING WHAT YOU KNOW NOW, WHICH OF YOUR MORE FAMOUS WORKS WOULD YOU REDO IF YOU COULD. WHY AND HOW?

PD: “Knight Life,” but I already redid it. I just felt that I’d improved as a writer and could bring a lot more to the story now. Which I did.

MW: DO YOU CONSIDER YOUR AUDIENCE WHEN YOU CREATE A STORY?

PD: First and foremost, it has to please and interest me. Beyond that, I’m aware of who certain stories are aimed at, and sometimes I’ll put in stuff or bits of business that I think specific fans will get a kick out of. But on a wider basis, it’s just a matter of trying to tell the best stories I can.What are your goals when you sit down to write a story? (ie. How much preparation have you done before you sit down?

MW: HOW DO YOU BEGIN THE PROCESS? DO YOU SIMPLY JOT DOWN YOUR THOUGHTS DO YOU START WITH THE CHARACTER OR PLOT?


PD: Depends on the story. When it’s a novel, I work out an outline by hand and then type it up. When it’s comics, I’m working off a six month overview that I do up. First and foremost is characterization. If you don’t care about the characters, then (Michael Crichton notwithstanding) it doesn’t matter how ingenious the plot is. So I focus on the people first, and then develop (hopefully) interesting things to happen to them.

MW: HOW DO YOU RECOGNIZE WHEN A STORY ISN’T WORKING AND WHAT DO YOU DO TO FIX THE PROBLEMS

PD: Set it aside and work on something else, then come back to it with new insight. Writing a story is like writing a piece of music. If notes are coming out wrong, if harmonies aren’t meshing, it’s a matter of figuring what notes to use.

MW: WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A FIRST DRAFT AND FUTURE DRAFTS?

PD: I don’t write a lot of second drafts. I write first drafts and then edit them heavily. That’s in comic books and novels. In movies and TV, future drafts have to incorporate the endless array of notes from various executives. In such cases, the struggle is to maintain the core and spine of your story while incorporating the commentary of others.

MW: HOW DO YOU GO ABOUT CREATING A CHARACTER?

PD: One of (or a combination of) three ways: 1) I use an aspect of myself; 2) I use someone I know; 3) I develop a character to suit the specific needs of a story and then endeavor to develop some interesting quirks so they won’t seem terribly limited.

MW: WHAT MAKES A STORY?

PD: A story is about change. It’s about having a protagonist (or antagonist) in some sort of dramatic conflict which ultimately results in a change in the person himself, or how he views the world. If there’s no change, then you don’t really have a story. You have more of an anecdote. Unless you’re going for irony, and the whole point of the story is that your hero is unable to change. That’s why, for instance, the women in James Bond films are so important. Bond himself doesn’t change all that much. But the women do. Granted, it’s always the same change: They can’t stand James Bond, but ultimately they wind up in bed with him. But at least it’s * something *. There’s a variety of ways to describe what your story is about, depending upon the way that makes it most accessible to interested readers. Take the current run on “Captain Marvel,” for instance. It can be explained from a plot point of view (“Captain Marvel overreaches with his cosmic awareness and goes nuts”) or from a thematic point of view (“If with great power there comes great responsibility, then with too much power does there come too much responsibility?”) or a subtext point of view (“Captain Marvel does what he does in order to please the memory of his father.”) Ideally, the main elements—the spine—of the story all pertain to those aspects.

MW: HOW DO YOU PITCH AN IDEA TO AN EDITOR/STORY-EDITOR/PRODUCER?

PD: I write down a punchy presentation and then memorize it.

MW: HOW DO NEW WRITERS GET THE ATTENTION OF STORY EDITORS, PRODUCERS, ETC.

PD: By having new and novel ideas that are both similar to what’s gone before, but different enough that they provide an interesting spin. That and having a good agent.

MW: WHAT ARE YOUR GOALS AND WHAT ARE YOU TRYING TO DO WHEN WRITING IN OTHER PEOPLE’S UNIVERSES?

PD: My goals are generally to try and tell stories that work within those universes while distilling the characters and situations through my own particular creative prism. The trick is that you have to create the illusion of a character arc, because you can’t have any of the principles change in any truly substantive way.

MW: WHEN YOU ARE IN CHARGE AND OTHER WRITERS EVER WRITE YOUR CHARACTERS (NOVELIZATIONS, TV SHOWS, COMICS, ETC.) WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING FOR AS THE EDITOR AS WELL AS THE CREATOR?

MW: I had to do that a good deal when Bill Mumy and I were doing “Space Cases” for Nickelodeon. In that case, you find yourself doing something that’s equally creative and damage control. You have to deal with writers who are trying to grasp not only character nuances, but the realities of the world you’ve created. So in that case, when a writer submitted a script that had our ship, the Christa, shooting at someone, we had to completely rework the story because the ship is established as not having weapons.

MW: HOW DO YOU DEFINE YOUR RELATIONSHIP UP FRONT WITH YOUR EDITOR/STORY-EDITOR/PRODUCER/THE WRITERS WHO WORK UNDER YOU?

PD: That it’s my job to make them, and the show, look as good as possible. During “Space Cases” there were scripts that required my doing such massive rewrites that technically I could have put my name on them. I never did.

MW: WHAT IS YOUR GENERAL ADVICE TO WRITERS AND WOULD-BE WRITERS?

PD: Don’t quit your day job.

That’s it. I want to thank Peter for taking the time to answer these questions. I most recently saw Peter at the LA Creation Con and then later at a party at Harlan and Susan Ellison’s sprawling house. When I last saw him he was deeply engaged in conversation with Ed Asner and he wasn’t doing Mary Tyler Moore impersonations, either. Peter is a long-time supporter of the CBLDF and has donated much of his own money to the cause of helping comic book shops fight for their 1st amendment rights.

That’s it for now. See you all in seven.

-Marv Wolfman

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