Ben Rhodes, Fanboy Comics Senior Contributor: Your first novel, Ex-Heroes, is scheduled for release on February 26th. For those who aren’t familiar with the novel, how would you describe it?
Peter Clines: Ex-Heroes is a pretty standard after-the-zombie-apocalypse novel where a few thousand survivors are holed up in Los Angeles, trying to keep some semblance of an existence. The big twist is that some of them are superheroes. Super-strong, energy-shooting, flying, real-life superheroes. And, they’re still trying to do their job, to be positive symbols, and keep people safe. Which is good, because there’s . . . well, other stuff in Los Angeles. Including some heroes who didn’t survive the zombie apocalypse.
BR: The universe you’ve crafted is so unique. What led you to combine genres like this?
PC: I don’t know if it’s all that unique. There have been zombies in superhero comics for decades now. If memory serves, when John Byrne took over the Superman books in the mid-‘80s, he had Superman and the Phantom Stranger team up against the walking dead. Marvel had their Tales of the Zombie back in the ‘70s, and I think they’ve rebooted that character since the modern zombie craze took off.
I saw one recent attempt—a fairly popular miniseries that was all about, well, very talkative zombies wearing superhero costumes—and it really gnawed at me, because I just felt like said comic publisher had a chance to tell a really great story and did something that was kind of lame, in my opinion. And, I freely acknowledge that I’m in the minority there, which I’m sure a bunch of sales reports will prove. So, I started writing the story I thought should’ve been told.
BR: I loved the notion of using a movie studio as a zombie fortification. Can you tell us why you chose to use this unconventional zombie defense?
PC: I worked in the film industry for about fifteen years as a prop master (pitching screenplays on the side), and then wrote about it for a couple years afterwards. So, part of it was that film studios are a setting I’m very familiar with. They’re also kind of unique as campus-type setups go. A film studio’s a large complex that’s always walled or fenced off to keep people out. They’re also amazingly self-contained. Most of them have offices, workshops, cafeterias, restaurants, motor pools, security forces, even small hospitals. They also hold a certain mystique for a lot of people. I like the idea of taking this place so many people want to get into and making it a place everyone was forced to be in.
BR: There were several interesting superheroes that weren’t quite like any that I have seen. How were you able to come up with all these unique heroes?
PC: I actually made up most of them between the ages of nine and fourteen. I loved comics so much when I was a little kid, and I was always drawing superheroes and writing bad comic book outlines. I sent some really awful “submissions” to Marvel back then, and I still have some of the very polite rejection letters from Jim Shooter and Tom DeFalco. I found one of those old sketchbooks while I was playing around with the basic idea for Ex-Heroes, and it really made the whole thing gel for me.
I think the secret to unique heroes is the characters, not their powers or abilities. When people get overly obsessed with making the superpower-ability part unique, that’s when you end up with, oh, mutant translators and mutant inventors. I mean, if you look at the characters in Ex-Heroes, they’re all pretty standard archetypes. The strong, indestructible guy. The urban ninja. The energy guy. The armored hero. What makes them all stand out is their personalities, the character behind the superpowers and abilities. The best superheroes would all still be interesting without their powers.
BR: I really liked the pacing of this book. Actually, I often had difficulty putting it down. Let’s pretend that was a question.
PC: We could pretend you ate the book while eating at IHOP and got syrup on the cover. That’s why you couldn’t put it down. It’s a very funny scene. Like something out of Airplane. You’ll be remembered forever because of it.
Seriously, pacing is important to me. My first two drafts of anything are usually very heavy, and then I cut the hell out of them. I love character moments, but I’m also a big believer in things happening. It doesn’t mean non-stop action or exposition, but I think a writer needs to give readers a real reason to keep turning pages, and that reason needs to be better than the most exquisitely-described cappuccino ever. Character is everything, but the minute your plot stops moving forward, even if it’s just inching forward, you’re dead in the water. Books are like sharks that way.
BR: What was your motivation to strike out on your own and become a writer?
PC: I know this sounds kind of cliché, but I don’t think there’s ever been a point that I didn’t want to be a writer. I remember setting up elaborate scenes with my Star Wars figures and Micronauts when I was a kid, changing them a little bit every day, and explaining to my mom what every character was doing. I wrote my first “novel” in third grade, Lizard Men from the Center of the Earth. Once I found my mom’s old Smith-Corona—this monstrous electric typewriter that weighed about fifteen pounds—I was hooked. Other kids went out for little league, I sat on the back porch and churned out . . . well, a lot of crap, really. But, I was getting all my mistakes out of the way early.
Anyway, being a writer was always this side thing. Something I’d do someday. I was still in the industry, but I was also doing small articles for a screenwriting magazine. My then-current film job came to an end, and my boss told me they were going to get someone else for the next project—we’d had some disagreements, but it ended very politely and with no hard feelings. And, while I was trying to figure out who to send my resume off to, my girlfriend suggested I just start writing full time. So, I sold off all my film equipment and used the money to support myself until my article-writing hit the point it could just barely cover my rent.
BR: Since we are Fanboy Comics, what are you geeking out over right now?
PC: Oh, you know. Tons of stuff. I just saw that LEGO is doing a new wave of Lord of the Rings sets (LEGO Sauroman!!), which is very cool and almost makes up for them canceling the Monster Hunters line. I’m eagerly awaiting the return of Doctor Who, and looking forward to the 50th anniversary celebrations. Iron Man 3 is just a few months away, and I’ve got some reservations about the story, but I trust and love Shane Black (in a very manly way). And, I’m a Warhammer 40K junkie, so I got myself a Stompa as a congratulations-to-myself gift for the Ex-Heroes release, but I have no idea when I’m going to have time to put it together.
Is that geek enough for you . . . ?
BR: What question were you hoping that I had asked?
PC: No one ever asks about the chimpanzee. Which is good, I guess, because it’s kind of a long story, and it’s more fun when I can act out some parts. Hit me up at a convention, probably after I’d had a drink or two.
BR: Finally, where can our readers find out about Ex-Heroes?
PC: Random House is being incredibly supportive, so right now there’s tons of stuff on their site, Barnes&Noble, and Amazon. You can also find me on Facebook, where I’ve got a half-a--ed fan page with a picture of me trying to look very authorly. I try to drop in there once or twice a day to say hi to folks, answer non-spoilerish questions, and post little updates or geeky stuff. I’m hoping to get a real website together sometime in the next month or three.