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Scott Ciencin and Dan Jolley - Authors of Angel: Vengeance
How did you become a writing partnership for Vengeance and the Star Trek book you worked on - and how do you divide up the work?
Dan Jolley: Scott and I met a couple of years ago at the WizardWorld Convention in Chicago, and quickly became friends.
Scott found out that I was interested in getting some prose work published, and soon took on a sort of half-partner, half-mentor role; he's been writing novels for twelve or thirteen years now, so he started showing me the ropes.
Scott Ciencin: Dan’s a terrific visual storyteller with a great ear for dialogue, and I had read and been impressed by his comic book work, so it was a real pleasure to work with him. On Vengeance, my wife Denise (who gets her first by-line in an upcoming Angel short story) and I came up with the idea and Dan added some cool touches and terrific concepts.
I assumed the responsibility for completing and getting approvals on the very detailed chapter-by-chapter we turned in, then we divided up the chapter work and went over each other’s stuff as it came in. As the primary, I had "final cut" on what went to the publisher. When we do a project with Dan’s name first, it’ll be the other way around.
Follow the lead
Scott, tell us about your experiences writing your previous Buffy novel, Sweet Sixteen. Which of the two serie' lead characters do you prefer writing for?
Scott Ciencin: I’ve been a huge admirer of Buffy and Angel since each of their respective starts. Each show has a central metaphor that allows writers to examine serious issues with characters who have depth, warmth, humour and deep emotional resonance.
Sweet Sixteen gave me a wonderful opportunity to give both Buffy and Dawn some very personal conflicts to work through, along with a chance to deal with the topic of toxic parents and how they can be as damning and damaging as the worst of demons, leaving scars that might not show, but would always be felt.
That said, there’s also a ton of fun and some outright goofy stuff in there too, to lighten things up... just like in the show. Lisa Clancy at Pocket [Books] has been a dream to work with. She really got what I was going for right from the beginning and helped me to realise the story to its fullest potential. Micol Ostow at Pocket has been fantastic, as well.
Ditto on how things went with Vengeance. We really went for an Angel-centric story with Vengeance, getting deep inside him and giving him a great inner conflict to resolve along with all the explosive outer dilemmas, and Lisa and Micol were really there for us.
As to choosing between Buffy and Angel, well, for me, that’s nearly impossible because the book lines are very different, each offering incredible opportunities and challenges in storytelling. The action in Angel can be a little easier to plot considering the wide array of locales and situations that are available in LA vs. Sunnydale, but having the tighter, almost stage-like settings with Buffy opens up doors on the character-front. They’re both immensely rewarding.
Dan, given your extensive background in comics, how would you tackle the revival of the currently on hiatus Angel comic book series? Does Angel work well in that medium or is the show more suited to novels?
Dan Jolley: I’ve always felt that comics were a natural extension of the Whedonverse. Given the opportunity, what I would most like to do would be to take a year of the Angel comic book and treat it like its own separate season of the TV show: twelve episodes, like a mid-year replacement season (the way Buffy got started).
I'd do my best to give the comic the same "feel" as the show, from format (a single over-arching story focused on one "big bad," but with self-contained "episodes") to style (strictly cinematic, with no narrative captions, internal monologues, or thought balloons). I'd love the chance to come up with an original villain strong enough to carry a whole season, and to see if I could write action and dialogue on the comic book page that someone could read and say, "Yeah, I could see Cordelia saying that."
Vengeance explores the world of motivational speaking and self-help groups - have either of you had good or bad experiences with these in real life, or was there another reason for choosing this topic?
Scott Ciencin: Neither Dan nor myself has ever been involved with self-help movements or motivational speakers. That just turned out to be the best delivery system for the ideas we wanted to examine in this story.
When my wife Denise and I came up with the original concept for this story, we knew right off that we wanted to explore the overall idea of "perfection" and the terrible price so many people pay in their quest to quick fix themselves: women and men—and particularly teenagers—with eating disorders, disfigurements or permanent physical damage from plastic surgeries gone wrong, low or even no self-esteem, and more.
These people are selling their souls, literally dying every day around us to achieve ideals that are media-driven and from which certain individuals are making fortunes. It is, in a word, demonic. Once we had a connection between the Faust-like promises made by these self-help types and the idea of actual demons being behind it, we were good to go. Then Dan came in and added his usual dazzle and pizzazz to the proceedings.
Tell us about the Biblical references (Lilith and the Garden of Eden allusions) you have incorporated, and why you wanted to explore them?
Scott Ciencin: The challenge for me was to find a Big Bad worthy of Angel.
The idea of Lilith, mother of all demons, acting as Angel’s shadow in this one, and a creature that very well might be the spirit of the original serpent in Eden whispering in his ear, tempting him with the chance to bring what seems like paradise to Earth, appealing to his pride and the idea that he could fulfill the prophecy concerning his ultimate fate, offered just the kind of wide-screen tableau that would excite me as a reader.
That’s what I want when I see a media tie-in: a story that takes advantage of the unlimited special effects budget, the unlimited potential that novels and comics can offer, that at least tries to tell – borrowing from Marvel Comics here – an Ultimate adventure for the character.
Who wants to be a billionaire?
I see you brought back a potential series regular, billionaire David Nabbitt, for this book. What was our interest in the character, and do you think he should have been explored further on TV?
Dan Jolley: I found myself enjoying writing David almost more than any of the other characters - in part, I guess, because he's such a fish out of water, but he loves it.
He's aware of the underlying supernatural goings-on in the world, and he's had some experience with it, but he's still at the stage of saying, "Oh, wow, look at that!" And I think that's probably the stage I would spend a lot of time in myself, were I in his position.
David represents geekdom really well; he's a sci-fi/fantasy fan who's realised he actually can be a part of the story, and even though it scares him witless, he still finds it supremely cool. On the show I think he's been woefully underused. Sure, his social skills are non-existent, but his heart's in the right place, and he's a very valuable resource, both in giving advice and providing financial support if necessary.
Do you ever worry that younger readers, by reading tie-ins to their favourite shows, aren't discovering enough original fantasy novels? What books would you recommend to a Buffy or Angel fan looking to explore fantasy fiction further?
Scott Ciencin: I doesn’t cause me any concern at all. I’ve been approached by huge number of teachers and school librarians at national events who have been overwhelmingly positive about these tie-ins because they get students reading, and once that process starts, it sets off a major-league chain reaction.
For older teens who enjoy the more lyrical aspects of what Buffy and Angel have to offer, I’d recommend the short story collections of Charles DeLint set in his similar urban-fantasy town of Newford such as Moonlight and Vine. For those looking for more action oriented material, Stephen Dedman’s The Art of Arrow Cutting should really do the trick.
Readers who enjoyed the four episode arc set in the Host’s home dimension would probably love R.A. Salvatore’s DemonWars series, which I’m currently privileged to be bringing to monthly comics for CrossGen beginning in December of this year (more on that later.)
Would either of you like to script Angel, or do you prefer the greater freedom the novels allow?
Dan Jolley: I'd jump at the chance to script an episode of the series. The novels do allow you to tell a bigger story, yes, and often tie-in novels can take on a life of their own, garnering loyal fans who might not even be fans of the source material.
But Angel, the TV show, is the original, the inspiration. I'd love to be able to affect the Angel universe directly.
Scott Ciencin: Like Dan, I’d be all over the opportunity. I started out doing commercials and short films and ended up writing novels because a New York book editor saw a piece I directed and encouraged me to think about the book field, where I could be as cinematic as I pleased but have much more greater creative control than in LA.
That said, I would never stop writing books, but in addition to novels I’m now in comics, which I love. Getting back to TV and the kind of exciting collaborative team setting that Mutant Enemy offers would be incredible.
Can you tell us your future plans? Will you be doing any more Buffy and Angel work?
Dan Jolley: My immediate plans include runs on the comic book series Vampirella, G.I. Joe Frontline, Métal Hurlant, and a crime/noir graphic novel from Moonstone Books; still in the development stages are several projects at DC Comics and one at Humanoids.
Scott Ciencin: As I mentioned earlier, the December 2002 launch of the ongoing R.A. Salvatore’s DemonWars comic book (with artist Ron Wagner and editor Ron Marz) from CrossGen is a major deal for me right now. This is sword-and-sorcery fantasy with character-driven plotlines.
There are central characters who are hated, feared, and sometimes just misunderstood, like in Angel. [It's] a title that really goes for the unexpected [with] an offbeat sensibility and themes that go for broke.
I also just had my first Marvel work published in Captain America: Red, White and Blue, and I have a ton of original projects that I’m putting together, including new stories for Buffy and Angel that recently went out. And, natch, I hope to work with Dan again in the very near future.