Cure for Hellatus – Roads not Taken

For you youngin’s out there, way in the days before videogames became something you could enjoy for free on your phone, we had to find substitutes for a lot of now common genres.  FPS?  You had to get your friends and some lazer-tag guns, BB guns, or rocks and run around in the yard.  RPGs?  Hide something of your smaller sibling’s and send them on fetch quests.  Make the object anime related if you were hungering for Japanese style.  RTS?  Attempt to train ants until you grow too frustrated and fry them with a magnifying glass (thus transitioning from Starcraft to Sim City).  However if you wanted an old school adventure game, you had to read.  Yes back in the ancient days of papyrus we kids had what was called “adventure books”.  They would tell a story (or dozen) where you, the reader would make choices, then turn to spots in the book based upon said choices.  i.e. “The monster approaches.  –If you want to shoot it, turn to page 93.  –If you want to run away, turn to page 102.”  Of course quite a few of these had no right answer with all paths leading to death, thus helping children grasp the futility and oblivion that is life.  The simplicity of these books certainly explains why text adventures were some of the earliest video games since they were little more than direct transcriptions of those book styles.

Heh… Supernatural would make a good adventure game, wouldn’t it?  They could even have some excuse for the really insane puzzles (since mystical things don’t have to always obey logic) though I’d like to see this genre adopt a multi-layered style of solving.  Perhaps where you could make it through the entire game using simple solutions & common sense for a basic ending, but then figuring out really esoteric solutions allows one to unlock crazier endings… (seems like a perfect fit for Misha Collins doesn’t it?)

Where was I?

Oh right!  So until we get that SPN:Adventures game, we have Roads not Taken, a choose your own adventure book set with our beloved Sam & Dean.  As you can guess, the show fits in quite well with this style and genre.  It is an entertaining bit of interactive fiction, and thin enough you could probably get through one “read-through” in an afternoon (especially if you choose wrong and get S&D killed).  Fascinated by how this book ended up coming about, I reached out to the author who consented to an interview.

Winchester Family Business: Are you a big fan of Supernatural?

Tim Waggoner: I’ve been watching Supernatural since the first episode aired, and I’ve really enjoyed it. As much as I love all the monster-hunting, the brothers’ relationship – and their relationship with other characters like Castiel, Bobby, etc. – is what I love the most.

WFB: Which one is your favorite season?

TW: That’s a hard question to answer. Season Five’s fight to prevent the Apocalypse might be my favorite season arc, while Season 7’s rise of Castiel as the new God was a great storyline. I also enjoyed watching Bobby fight against becoming a vengeful ghost in that season.

WFB: So which is your favorite episode?

TW: There are so many I like! “The French Mistake,” where Balthazar sends the brothers into our world, where they’re only characters in a TV show was a lot of metafictional fun.

WFB: Yeah that and The Real Ghostbusters (where they go to the convention) are two of my favorite metafictional stories.  So who is your favorite non Winchester or Castiel character?

TW: Jim Beaver’s portrayal of Bobby is awesome, and I love Mark Sheppard’s Crowley. Felicia Day’s Charlie is a wonderful counterpoint to the brothers, and Julian Richings is the best Death ever! Ty Olsson’s Benny was a great character, and I wish the show would bring him back.

WFB: Other than SPN, do you enjoy any other intellectual properties?

TW: Lots! I don’t have as much time to watch TV as I used to when I was younger. Kolchak the Nightstalker was my favorite dark fantasy/horror series when I was growing up. I love both the British and American versions of Being Human. I enjoy Grimm and Sleepy Hollow as well. And like a lot of viewers, I have a love/hate relationship with The Walking Dead. For science fiction, I’ve enjoyed every iteration of Star Trek, as well as Stargate: SG1 and Stargate: Atlantis. I enjoyed Fringe a lot, too. But my favorite SF series of all time is Doctor Who. I was a big fan of comics growing up, but I don’t have much time to read them today. I try to keep up with comics news online, though.

WFB: I think you’ll find similar choices among a lot of our readers.  What’s your favorite intellectual property to write a tie-in book for besides SPN?

TW: I wrote a Nightmare on Elm Street tie-in some years back called Protege. That was a lot of fun. I got to write a Doctor Who story for an anthology called Destination Prague, which was both an honor and a treat. I’m doing a Grimm tie-in right now called The Killing Time, and I’m having a blast writing it!

WFB: Which tie-in book are you most proud of?

TW: It’s hard to pick just one. But if I had to, I might say my novel Defender: Hyperswarm, based on the Defender video game. The publisher wanted a sequel to the video game, and I had to create not only the storyline, but I had to create a solar-system-wide civilization, as well as create why and how the evil aliens – the Manti – can live in hyperspace. I also had to come up with backgrounds for all the characters in the video game, especially the hero, Mei Kyoto. It was also the first SF adventure I’d ever written, so it took me way outside my comfort zone. It was a lot of work, but a hell of a lot of fun.

WFB: Are there any intellectual properties you’re not currently writing for that you would like to?

TW: Kolchak the Nightstalker! But only to satisfy the eternal ten-year-old inside me. I’d love to do more Doctor Who, but it’s extremely rare that non-Brits get to write Who tie-ins. I’d love to a do a Sleepy Hollow novel. After my Nightmare on Elm Street novel, I pitched the publisher a Jason X novel where scientists send Jason X back in time to battle earlier versions of himself. Unfortunately, the publisher stopped publishing that line of tie-ins, so I never got to write that book. Too bad, because it would’ve been a ton of fun to do.

WFB: Funny, because I know Kripke listed Kolchak as an inspiration for SPN.  Maybe you could do a meta, semi-crossover book where the boys run into an old hunter nicknamed the Nightstalker…  Anyway, which of your original works are you most proud of?

TW: Again, a hard question to answer. Maybe my novel The Harmony Society, because it was the first time I wrote a book that was truly a product of my deepest imagination – a book no one but me could write. My forthcoming novel The Way of All Flesh is my take on the zombie story – featuring a zombie who doesn’t know he’s a zombie, and a serial killer who resents the zombie plague for being a better “murderer” than he ever could. I had a lot of fun playing with the zombie apocalypse scenario and trying to put my own unique spin on it. Advance reviews have been good, but I can’t wait to see what readers think!

WFB: That sounds interesting.  Any chance you might end up writing a SPN:Tribes tie-in?

TW: Anything’s possible! If I find out a publisher is starting to bring out Tribes tie-ins, I’ll start bugging them to let me write one.

WFB: Moving on to the book itself; it’s been awhile since I’ve seen a choose-your-own-adventure book, much less one that tied into an intellectual property. How did this idea come about? Was it your own or did the company offer the job and you volunteered?

TW: Eclipse Editions had already contracted a pair of authors to write a Supernatural interactive novel, but for whatever reasons, those authors bowed out. The person at the WB who oversees tie-ins thought I did a good job on my previous Supernatural book, Carved in Flesh, so he suggested me to Insight as a replacement. I wrote an outline, submitted it, got approved, and wrote the book.

WFB: I enjoyed and found it fascinating how you took the gimmick of choose-your-own-adventure and wove it into the story structure and plot itself. How did you come up with that? Did you have it in mind from the beginning or while you started work on the project?

TW: Insight wanted three or four separate stories featuring the Winchesters, but I decided to make those stories tie together into a novel before I began drafting the novel. It just seemed like a natural approach, since the series has episodes that tie in to an overall arc for a particular season. I also thought readers might not realize at first that the stories are connected, so it would be fun for them to notice the connections as they progress through the book.

WFB: Of course your book won a lot of goodwill from me by the first story taking place in Kentucky (where I was born & raised). How do you select the locations for this or your other SPN novel? Are darts or a ouija board involved?

TW: I live in Southwestern Ohio, so I often set stories in and around my part of the state. Since I knew I’d have the Winchesters end up in Ohio in the final story in The Roads Not Taken, I picked states contiguous to Ohio as settings for the other stories.

WFB: Did you have any input on Zachary Baldus’ illustrations? Which one was your favorite?

TW: I had no input whatsoever on the illustrations, but I thought Zachary did a great job. My favorite is his illustration of the two T-shirts the brothers put on at the end of the first story, “Here, Kitty, Kitty.” I included the shirt with “Bikini Inspector” on it because the publisher released a generic summary of the novel on Amazon before I’d written it, and the summary said readers could help the brothers choose their cover stories, including pretending to be a bikini inspector. A friend of mine read the summary, but when I told him it had nothing to do with my novel, he joked that he was disappointed that neither of the brothers would get to be a bikini inspector. So I put those T-shirts in for him, and I thought it was hilarious when Zachary decided to illustrate them.

WFB: I would like to see the costume department put those shirts on the boys in one scene just as a friendly nod to the book.  So far both of your stories are appropriately epic – covering schemes and scenes that are all but impossible for anyone to make on a genre show budget. But say the show picks you to be a writer for an episode, and they let you choose. What would you pick? Monster of the Week or arc episode? Given the confines of budget and shooting schedules, give us a quick idea of the episode you’d write.

TW: Monster of the Week would be fun, since I could create my own monster or bring in some monster from folklore that Sam and Dean haven’t dealt with yet. I like to play with genre conventions and do something different and unexpected, like having an angel and a demon who are in love and work together, or vampires who become allergic to human blood and are kidnapping doctors and scientists in order to force them to find a cure. I might do something like that.

After that we got into spoiler discussions, which I actually advise against reading as uncovering a lot of the secrets in the story is a bit part of the fun.  I’d rank it objectively at about a…

out of 5.  Though the execution and cleverness of some of the twists and turns makes it for me, personally, a 5 out of 5.  If you’re looking for lots of feels and brotherly drama… take a shell or two off (as some of the strongest feels come from bad choices in the book).  No really, if you can’t even stand the hypothetical mishap happening to the boys, then you might need to avoid this as some of the bad choices might break you.  If, however, you’re looking to let some of the drama slide and just have a good old-fashioned adventure, I highly recommend this.

Now if we can just get that Supernatural adventure game…

(cross posted @ http://thewinchesterfamilybusiness.com/)

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WARNING: THE FOLLOWING BITS OF THE INTERVIEW DO CONTAIN SPOILERS

WFB: This book ended on a cliffhanger. Can you clue us in on whether there will be any followup?

TW: I didn’t mean for it to end on a cliffhanger. I do usually leave it open whether or not the “bad guy” or evil force in a novel might return to create further mischief, so maybe that’s what you’re referring to. As far as I know, there’s not going to be any follow-up.

WFB: Ah, well when the bad guy escaped with his pet project in tow (a project that could easily be half a season in opposing), I wondered if we might see whether the creature is released or not.

TW: I figure the bad guy will hold onto his new creature in case he needs to use it again. He probably will use it, since he went to all the trouble of creating it in the first place!

WFB: Now I’ve noticed that between this & “Carved in Flesh” you seem to have a preference for the demigod type of monster in SPN.  What draws you to this monster?

TW: That’s more of a coincidence, really. I came up with those ideas almost two years apart. At first, I didn’t want to use a god in The Roads Not Taken, but the idea I had worked so well for the plot that I just had to use it. But since gods have more power, they can create bigger, more complex problems that work better in a novel. Besides, Sam and Dean are badasses! They need a major threat to give them any kind of a challenge, right?

WFB: No argument here.  You also invent a new monster in this story. Did you have a name in mind for it? (given that “jefferson starships” is taken?)

TW: I hadn’t really thought of a name for the monster. I thought of it more as a force of nature than something with a conscious identity. If “Predator” wasn’t already taken, that would work well. Some variation on “Hunter,” maybe, to serve as a counterpoint to Sam and Dean’s profession.

WFB: Given a recent addition to nerd culture, perhaps we could call it a “jaeger“? 😉

TW: That name will work great, just as long as Guillermo Del Toro doesn’t sue me!

WFB: Anything else you want to add?

TW: Thanks so much for the interview! It was a lot of fun!

WFB: Thanks for your time, Tim.

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