fiveQuestions II: Michael Carroll

Michael Carroll is currently writing regular Dredds in 2000AD and the Megazine, plus DeMarco PI in the Megazine. He is the author of the second Dredd Year One novel The Cold Light of Day. He also co-wrote the award-winning Judge Dredd fan film, Judge Minty.

Away from 2000AD, he’s currently writing Jennifer Blood for Dynamite, and is also the author of the acclaimed nine-book Quantum Prophecy / Super Human series of superhero novels for the Young Adult market. Other novels in his bibliography cover the science fiction, fantasy and romance genres.

1. WHERE DO YOU GET STARTED ON A PROJECT?

That depends on the project itself. A Judge Dredd script usually begins with me bashing ideas into my “Dredd ideas” document. I throw everything I think of in there. Stories rarely come fully-formed to me, so I have to work on them to turn them into stories. With each strong idea I examine it from different angles, twist it around, see what other ideas I can attach to it to make it work. I end up with very long, rambling paragraphs that read like a one-sided conversation with the core idea repeated and refined over and over… Once I have a solid story idea, I’ll usually condense it to a couple of lines and send it to Matt (that’s Matt Smith, the Mighty Tharg, editor of 2000AD). If he likes it, I’ll expand it to a proper synopsis. That can be anything from half a page to three or four pages. That too goes off to Matt for his approval, so for any given story I might write three or four thousand words before I even begin the script.

2. DOES THE PROCESS CHANGE DEPENDING ON THE PROJECT’S END FORMAT, FOR EXAMPLE COMIC VS NOVEL, 5PG VS SERIES, 2000AD VS NEW HEROES?

The process is VERY different! With the comics, I can write a six-page Dredd script in three or four hours. A 22-page Jennifer Blood script will usually take about a day and a half. But they only happen so fast because I put so much work in beforehand!

With the novels, especially the New Heroes series, I’ve known what’s going to happen in each book for years (kind of –  I’ve built a number of different paths to the ending of the novel series, just in case I need to drop a book or add a new one should it be necessary. I stole the idea from J. Michael Stracyzinski who did the same when he was writing Babylon 5 – he had hidden trapdoors all over the place in case an actor left the series (or died!) prematurely). So when the time comes to write that book, all I have to do is flesh out the outline. Said outlines tend to be detailed and as such can get pretty lengthy, though. For the third book, Absolute Power (published in the USA as The Reckoning) my outline was about 45,000 words… Which is pretty hefty considering that the book itself is only about 70,000 words!

The outline acts as a blueprint for the first draft, so once I have it nailed down I start writing. The first draft takes about three weeks. I then set it aside for a week or two before coming back to it armed with a metaphorical red pen. I get pretty ruthless at this stage: hardly a single line will escape unscathed. That draft then become the Official First Draft, and it goes to the editor.

So the main difference – aside from the length of time required – is that comics are a lot more collaborative at the early stage: Matt will sometimes bounce my ideas back with a twist of his own, or he’ll tell me that it’s already been done, or it’s too similar to something else in the pipeline. Because of that, I rarely have to make changes to the scripts themselves.

The novels work the other way around: the editor has zero input into the earliest stages. In fact, he often only has a vague idea what the story is about before he receives the first draft.

3. WHERE AND WHEN DO YOU WRITE? ROB WILLIAMS HAS A HOME OFFICE, KIERON GILLEN WORKS IN THE LOUNGE AND SI SPURRIER PREFERS A BUSY COFFEE SHOP.

I have a home office. It’s packed floor to ceiling with books, comics and graphic novels. I’ve tried to work elsewhere, but I get too easily distracted! Here in my Fortress of Untidiness I can shut myself off from the rest of the world and just write.

My average weekday begins at about 9am. I work straight through until my wife comes home at about 6pm. She goes to bed at 11pm, so I work from then until about 4am. Or later, depending on how busy I am. I often take it easier at weekends, and treat myself to a nice little lie-in until 10am! I write every single day, except when I’m on holidays. And even then, I’ve been known to spend a couple of hours jotting down ideas or polishing text when any normal person would be out in the sun or watching TV.

I try to spend at least an hour a day reading, too – that counts as part of the writing process, and it’s vital. Some writers get so completely caught up in their own work that they never take the time to read anyone else’s. I’ve long believed that a writer who doesn’t read – or who only reads within the same genre in which she or he writes – runs the risk of writing the same story over and over!

4. HOW DO YOU WRITE (LONGHAND, WORD PROCESSOR, FINAL DRAFT, A TEXT EDITOR, ETC)?

I write exclusively on my PC. I use Microsoft Word – I’ve been using it since version 3.0 was released in 1990 or thereabouts. I’ve tried writing longhand, but it’s way too slow. With MS Word, I can easily turn out 700-1000 words in an hour when I get up to full speed (my best was 11,000 words in one day – now, if I could write that much *every* day, I’d be happy!).

5. WHY DO YOU WRITE?

I’ll be honest: I write for the money and the fame! Sadly, there’s not much of the former and none of the latter, but one day, one day… Actually, I don’t care about the fame at all, I just want the money. My goal has always been to earn enough money from my writing that I can afford to not have a real job and just stay home and write. Because I’d write anyway, even if I wasn’t getting paid. I love making up stories and I love entertaining people. There can’t be anything more satisfying for a writer than to receive a letter or e-mail from a parent who says, “My son’s always been a reluctant reader and we’ve never been able to get him interested in books, but when he learned that your books were about superheroes, he decided to give them a try. He loved them! The bad news is that now we have to threaten him with a spinach dinner to get him to *stop* reading.”

Though it might not come across when you meet me in real life, I’m actually quite a shy person, so writing allows me to entertain people from a distance!

Any writer who claims to *only* write “because I must!” or something of that nature isn’t fooling anyone. As the old saying goes, “Art for art’s sake, money for God’s sake.” I make a pretty good living from my writing, thankfully, and that keeps me going. It might all come grinding to a halt at any moment, but that’s true of any job so I’ll stick with this for as long as the readers will have me!

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