Thursday, January 24, 2013

Interview : Jeff Mariotte

Interview : Jeff Mariotte

You have an extensive history in the book/publishing business. Tell us about that.

I do indeed. After college I worked doing maintenance for a shopping mall in San Jose, CA, for three years, during which I made friends with the folks at the great Books Inc. store there. Books Inc. is a great store—it’s a regional chain, based in California (though at one time more widespread, when I was there they had stores in California and Arizona). But it was always privately owned, and each store was given a lot of latitude, so it was essentially a linked collection of independent bookstores, with some of the buying power of a chain. It was a great place to work, and the Books Inc. stores spawned some of the best booksellers in the business. I became paperback buyer there, then was offered the job of manager at the La Jolla store.

The southern CA and AZ stores were called Hunter’s Books, and the flagship store for them was in Beverly Hills. I moved there, and met another group of great booksellers. Because the big store was on Rodeo Drive, it was a regular haunt of movie and TV stars and other celebrities (not that our store in La Jolla didn’t get our share). At the La Jolla store I met folks like Charlotte Rampling, Phoebe Cates, Sally Struthers, and others. We sold the complete Robert B. Parker Spenser book series to Burt Reynolds, who wanted to produce a TV series or movie with himself as Spenser. We hosted signings with legendary authors like Ray Bradbury, James Ellroy, Harlan Ellison, James Lee Burke, Clive Barker, Dan Simmons, Douglas Adams, Robert McCammon, the aforementioned Bob Parker, Wallace Stegner, and many, many more, as well as artistic luminaries like Leroy Neiman and Barry Moser.

But the authors I gravitated to were the genre authors. We became the place to go in the San Diego area for sf, fantasy, horror, and hardboiled crime fiction, and I got to know most of the authors and publishers in the business.

It was also there that I sold my first pro short story, to a science fiction anthology released by Bantam called Full Spectrum.

But one day the rise of the chain stores meant Hunter’s was going to close its doors. Books Inc. kept some of its Bay Area stores open and focused its efforts there, and it’s once again a thriving business. But those of us who worked at the Hunter’s stores were out of jobs. Fortunately, by this time I had met and married the lovely Maryelizabeth Hart, and she had another friend, Terry Gilman, who had been thinking about opening a store. So we put our heads and talents together and Mysterious Galaxy was born, specializing in the genres we love best (or books of Martians, Murder, Magic, and Mayhem, as our slogan says). The first MG store, in San Diego, has been open for 20 years this year, and a couple of years ago we opened the second, in Redondo Beach, CA.

Also during that period of unemployment, comic artist Jim Lee, whose wife was my assistant manager at Hunter’s, asked me to write the text on some trading cards featuring his WildStorm Productions characters the WildC.A.T.s. I did that, and it led to more writing, and eventually to a full-time gig as VP of Marketing. We built the company up from a smallish indie to a major powerhouse, then Jim sold it to DC Comics, and I became a senior editor for DC for several years. Eventually I left there to be the first editor-in-chief for upstart IDW Publishing, which has also become a big player in the business.

During all that time I was still writing. At WildStorm I created the comic book that most people still know me for, a horror/Western saga called Desperadoes. My first novel, a collaboration with the great Christopher Golden, was a horror-superhero tale about Gen13, comic book characters we had both written in comics. Chris introduced me to his Buffy the Vampire Slayer editor, which resulted in some Buffy books and a bunch of Angel novels and comics. At IDW, I worked with Steve Niles, editing his comics including the 30 Days of Night series, and I eventually wrote three 30 Days of Night novels with Steve and one solo.

So it always comes back to horror, sooner or later. These days I do some freelance editing, and the day job is still editing but of a different sort. Since 1980, though, I haven’t had a job that didn’t involve books and words and sentences. It’s been a good run.

Okay, interview over...

Sorry. I’ll be brief from now on.

I understand there’s some connection between your new novel, Season of the Wolf, and those IDW days.

That’s right. Steve’s 30 Days of Night sold to the movies and did very well as a comic, and then some of his other books were either optioned or bought outright. He covered a lot of familiar horror tropes: vampires, Frankenstein’s monster, zombies, etc. Reasonably enough, IDW was interested in selling other things, especially company-owned projects. I came up with a werewolf concept I called Wolf Weather. We got an artist to do some illustrations, but it never went anywhere and we never did an actual comic.

Almost ten years later, though, the concept wouldn’t leave me alone. I asked IDW for permission to revisit it, since I had originally done the work on company time, and they graciously complied. I sat down and wrote it as a novel, which DarkFuse agreed to publish.

Season of the Wolf has much in common with Wolf Weather, but it’s far from the same thing. The basic similarities are these: both stories are set in a small Colorado mountain town under attack by wolves. Climate change has altered the mountain environment such that the wolves, ordinarily wary of humans, have been forced into a kind of collision course with them. Some of the characters are similar.

But the differences are at least as pronounced. In Wolf Weather, the wolves were werewolves. In Season of the Wolf, they’re not (they’re also not quite the wolf next door...they’re special, but they’re not werewolves). There are plot twists, including some human goings-on, that were not in the original. And, of course, we’re a decade further along in our understanding of climate change and what effects it has.

Who’s going to like Season of the Wolf?

I’d like to think everybody will. But realistically, the goal was to make it scary and fast-paced, with a few surprises along the way. By the end I don’t think you’ll look at anyone (including the wolves) the way you did at the beginning. A reviewer on Goodreads said “I could hear echoes of Steven King and Dean Koontz while reading Season of the Wolf and, for this genre, there's no better praise than that.” So I guess if you like those little-known, cult authors, you’ll like Season of the Wolf.

You’ve got some other books coming from DarkFuse, right?

They’re resissuing some books that Penguin put out a few years ago: River Runs Red, Missing White Girl, and Cold Black Hearts. These are what I call my Border Trilogy, though they are linked only by setting and theme, not by continuing characters or storylines. They’re all set at different spots on the US/Mexico border, in Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico, and deal to greater or lesser degrees with border themes. For the DarkFuse editions, they’ve been slightly rewritten, re-edited, and each one has new content, in two cases new short stories featuring the book’s protagonist.

What’s the publication schedule?

Season of the Wolf is on sale February 26, in trade paperback and e-book. The others will be out sometime in the first quarter of 2013, but I’m not absolutely certain on the dates yet.

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