August 22, 2005

GCC: Three Questions with Robin Epstein and Renee Kaplan

I married an ex-comic book geek. Actually, he's a little wobbley on the EX part. He still has boxes and boxes of the things, each in a protective plasticene sleeve, and whenever we get together with the Wilsons, he and Kevin dive deep into huge debates about who drew the X-Men best, and when did it or has it or will it jump the shark, and when did it UN-jump, and how the Jane to Phoenix transmogrification storyline was historically and cannonically one of the BEST in the long history of comic book transmogrifications, and eventually there will come a moment where NO ONE ELSE at the table can follow the conversation, not even a little bit --- I mean --- Scott and Kevin may as well be speaking SWAHILI, there is no way to decipher meaning, because we SIMPLY DO NOT KNOW ENOUGH ABOUT WOLVERINE'S BACKSTORY. And we never, never will.

This is a man who walked out of Batman Begins and said, with NO IRONY, "That movie violated the true spirit of the real batman less than any Batman movie ever made."

And you know what? I have had my moments. In Chicago, I once an entire weekend squatting in the stairwell of grad student housing drinking milk-and-grand-marnier hot toddies while I read every issue of DOOM PATROL that Grant Morrison wrote. BECAUSE COME ON. You have to love a guy that replaces the hackneyed BROTHERHOOD OF EVIL with a band of villians called THE BROTHERHOOD OF DADA. Also, Crazy Jane's pre-doomed almost-love with Metal Man was astonishingly lovely---when she could be one person long enough to feel it....

Yeah, um...did anyone but Scott and Kevin Wilson follow that? Didn't think so. Perhaps I should look at the beam of geek in my own eye before I begin picking at Scott's nice motes.

ANYWAY. I have graphic novels on the brain because it's a GCC day. and I am terribly interested in the book (yes that's singular) and the writers (yes that's plural) I'm introducing today, for three reasons.

1) The book uses some elements of a graphic novel, and yet it's by double X chromosome types. Not to be sexist here, but (my Grant Morrison hero Worship aside) that's usually so much more of a GUY thing.
2) It's a successful NOVEL collaboration----two writers, one novel. That doesn't happen much in novels, Perri O'Shaughnessy aside.
3) NEITHER in spite of NOR because of points one and two, it sounds like an entertaining book with a smart, appealing heroine. And let me tell you, I just finished Jodi Picault's My Sister Keeper last night. Or should I say, it finished me. AT 11:30 I found myself turning the last page, and then I lay on the floor sobbing, turned inside out, not sure if I wanted to kill Jodi Picault or BE her because, okay, it's a gorgeous book with a huge heart, gorgeously written, gorgeously realized, but OH MY LORD, it's a book you should take with Prozac. You should literally get a blisterpack of Prozac attached to the inside flap, especially if you are a mother, and you know what? TODAY I WANT TO READ SOMETHING FUNNY AND SMART WITH PICTURES, OKAY? This looks like PERFECT escapist fiction, and I want to escape. I'm buying this book today while I am out cocktail dress shopping:

Shaking her Assets
It was a day like any other in Gotham, until...

In the interest of cost-cutting, editorial work at the high-end housewares tome The Byzantium Catalog has been "redistributed," thereby relieving Rachel Chambers of her duties. Meanwhile, the evil "other woman" relieves Rachel of her boyfriend of two years. But all is not lost. A business idea that starts off as a joke between Rachel and her friend Ben starts to take off. And suddenly her misadventures take on a life of their own when the art director at her temp job turns her into a comic-book superhero. Suddenly Rachel is taking the New York social scene by storm---remorselessly tossing aside losers and nay-sayers in her never-ending quest for Success. And her man-eating alter-ego has got her believing that she just might be able to pull this off in real life...though maybe without the cone-shaped bra...

Here's the thing that's especially appealing to me--I've read about four reviews of this book that I found googling around and they've all been positive reviews, saying things like it's fun and entertaining and etc, so yay and all, but more to the point, each one of them comments AT LENGTH on the smart, savvy double smart likable smartness of the protagonist. I AM READY FOR THAT, okay? HERE ME, OH WRITER'S OF CHICK-LIT. I am READY for a smart, savvy heroine. And I am not alone. There's this trend in comic women's fiction to go for the laugh at the expense of character, and too many times I have gone to get me something delightful to escape-read with, and then suddenly, on page 39, I'll realize I've wasted half an hour of my life reading about a character who is TSTL (too stupid to live), a character that I feel certain DARWIN will take care of fifteen pages after I close the book as she gambols in front of a truck at a moment when her inevitable Future-Super-Boyfriend takes his eyes off of her and pops into Starbucks for a latte. I get the strong and pleased feeling that that ain't going to happen in the capable hands of this pair of writers.

SO, I better shut up now and let them talk. Meet Robin Epstein and Renee Kaplan:

JJ: How does the partnership process work?

R&R: When we started working together, we really didn't know how we'd swing
co-writing a novel. We experimented with a number of options and
quickly ruled out the "every other word" method. But ultimately what we did,
was come up with a detailed outline for the book. We discussed
the characters, their traits, styles and backgrounds and we got on the same
page in terms of knowing how they'd react in any situation. Then once we
had the outline, we actually did split up chapters, odds and evens, and
when each chapter was finished, we'd e-mail it to the other person who'd
edit it then send it back to the original author. Any differences in
opinion thereafter we'd discuss together at a favorite cafe over tea and
giant cookies.

JJ: I love the idea of having elements of a graphic novel in the book---how did
that come about?

R&R: As we were developing the book's characters, one of the main male
characters--Zach--turned out to be a graphic artist whose passion was comic
strip art. For us that seemed like a unique opportunity to bring a character
to life in a really vivid and original way. In fact, we bring multiple
characters to life, since Zach's comic strips depict the greatly exaggerated
adventures of our heroine's alter ego, Marilyn Manizer.Besides, when people
get a little tired of reading they can still stick around and look at the

JJ: Who did you dedicate the book to and why?

R&R: You're the first person to ask a question that we actually gave a lot of
thought. The answer is that we dedicated the book to no one in particular,
but thanked--and continue to thank--all the people, friends, colleagues,
collaborators and strangers who have contributed to the book's life. So the
book is really dedicated to them: to all those people who have shown such
encouragement, enthusiasm and kindness as we wrote, launched and tried to
raise our baby. Without all of that, all those positive support, this book
would not be here on our--and your!--shelf today.

Posted by joshilyn at August 22, 2005 8:35 AM

I was so mad at the end of "My Sister's Keeper". My sister-in-laws and I have an informal book/share and we all were crying and angry and Jodi. But I guess that is the sign of an incredible writer.

Posted by: Jo at August 22, 2005 11:27 AM

josh, I have a friend who writes graphic novels on the side. He is currently writing/bringing out his deceased wife's project "Omaha, the Cat
Dancer" which is apparently BIG NEWS in comic-dom. They are re-issuing all the old material in a new compilation and he is finishing a story she began. He is also doing a re-issue of his own, "Kings In Disguise", and turning a play he wrote about the same characters into a graphic novel. It's very interesting to listen to him discuss it and how he works with the artist and publisher. Just wanted to brag on him a little, since he is part of the Comic World......

Posted by: peggy spence at August 22, 2005 12:20 PM

I read an article where Picoult said her 12 year old son chose to read this book of hers, for the first time, and wouldn't speak to her for twenty four hours. The problem with following a thread to its honest conclusion. Aie.

Neil Gaiman, oddly, is both a friend of the "Omaha, the Cat-Dancer" couple AND a co-author (Good Omens, with Terry Pratchett.) What are the odds. A nice blog, too --

Posted by: rams at August 22, 2005 7:43 PM

Uh, I have two boxes full of comic books, beautifully preserved in neoprene sleeves, in the basement. One of my deep, dark secrets...

Thanks, as always, for the heads up, Joshilyn. This sounds like my kind of book.

Posted by: Edgy Mama at August 22, 2005 8:57 PM

For the record, Bill Sienkiewicz was the best ever X-Men/New Mutants artist! Always nice to hear about strong and smart female lead characters in graphic novels. Thanks for the heads up. Great site.

Posted by: ginger at August 23, 2005 4:01 PM

This is on a completely unrelated topic, but I had to express my excitement to you -

I have no money. (No I'm not excited about that, quite depressed actually) So I can't buy your novel, (sadness!) BUT! The local library in my teeny town had a copy of your book! (so happy!) But it was checked out (so sad!) - but they do reservations, so I put my name on a reserve list (HAPPY!) and then went home without it (sadness!). The library just called me to say the book is in and I can go pick it up tonight! (Ecstatic!)

I can't wait to read it! I just had to share.... aren't you pleased with my apparent neuroses?

I can't wait for work to end today - lalala lalala

Posted by: Karry at August 23, 2005 4:17 PM

Jodi Picoult. She is to me what Haven Kimmel is to you. I am sure you understand the magnitude of that statement. My Sister's Keeper wrecked me for any other books for a bit. I threw it down and yelled at the poor helpless novel before moving on. In other words, I loved it.

Posted by: Heather at August 23, 2005 5:40 PM

Being married to aforementioned Kevin, I actually follwed most of this! I guess long-term exposure to geekdom can't help but be an influence...that's what I'd blame it on if I were you, Jos! :)
He's turning my kids against me, too. Owen can talk about the X-Men all day long at FOUR YEARS OLD! Help! I need a weekend at a spa to detox...or a cruise! Yeah, that's it! A cruise from LONDON! Sigh...I'm only slightly jealous of your life. *grin*

Posted by: Amy at August 23, 2005 7:00 PM