Tom Sniegoski Stops to Chat

Earlier this month I reviewed the first half of the Fallen series by Tom Sniegoski. I e-mailed him the day that review was posted asking if he had time for an interview. Now, after our schedules settled down and we had a chance to breathe in our respective lives, we had the opportunity to sit down and talk on the phone.

Sniegoski has been all over the industry. He got his start doing comic books, his first love. “I was able to learn how to do comic book writing, which is basically scripting,” he said. He described the process as broken down, panel by panel. It was like writing the directions in a movie script, describing to the artist what the scene will look like. It’s mechanical and has a serious methodology to it. “A novel is much more organic. It flows outside of you and you see it inside your head.” With novel writing, the description of the scene is less conversational than with comic book writing. “I could tell the artist I don’t know how the scene looks like but maybe the monster looks like the smoke monster from Lost, and they get it.” There’s more give and take when writing for comics while with a novel it’s just you conveying 100% what the reader is supposed to be experiencing on the page. Novels are done with words and comic books are a visual medium.

Tom (there I called you Tom, happy?) said that he didn’t differentiate too much between writing for adults and writing for kids. Writing Fallen and Remy Chandler contains very little difference other than the mindset. “Maybe I don’t swear as much in my YA novels.” He didn’t think it was necessary to make conscious efforts to alter the story telling when switching the audience. A good story is a good story no matter what the age group is. The age of the character is part of the story, where a character is in life. “I only really thought about it for Billy Hooten Owl Boy.” It was a middle grade book, so he had to be more careful with the subject matter. It was the first time he had to be conscious of the age of he reader. He had to keep his descriptions to a minimum.

“Who do you think about as your target audience when you write?” I asked. Tom admitted he has a tendency to write for boys. He’s all about monsters, fighting, violence, and doesn’t really go towards sensitive or emotional moments. “I’m always trying to satisfy my inner 10 year old boy,” he said with a laugh. “Then I try to mature it and make it more palatable for a female or someone older.” It’s obvious that he leans more towards a masculine vibe of writing, which I find to be refreshing after countless romances and fantasies for young girls. Boys don’t get enough representation in the YA section, but Tom seems to be doing something about it, or trying to at least.

Tom told me that while writing for comic books is a blast, the stuff he’s written for YA is just intensely satisfying. Writing comic books doesn’t feel like work compared to writing a novel. It’s more serious, draining, and time consuming. He’s written more than just the Fallen series for YA. He’s also written The Sleeper Code and The Sleeper Agenda, which are throwbacks to a Bourne Identity style of story telling. There is also Legacy, about superheroes. What he likes the best about YA is that there aren’t any limitations to what can be written. His friends often feel sorry for him when he produces YA work, but he talks them out of their disdain and convinces them that it’s not all romance and vampire stories. “There’s really great stuff being published in YA.”

“Why make The Fallen series YA?” I inquired, curious about the birth of this series. Tom told me that he started writing Kiss Before the Apocalypse and he had four or five chapters as samples. At the time, he was working with an editor at Simon & Schuster. This was when he was working on The Monster Book (a compendium of monsters from the television show Buffy). Lisa Clancy asked if Tom had been working on any new fiction. When Tom showed her the early chapters of Kiss, she loved it. She couldn’t buy it, though. She only dealt with YA, so it was brutal for her to pass up on something with such interesting subject matter. Tom got to thinking, why not write for YA? Even though Kiss Before the Apocalypse came first, The Fallen was completed first. He enjoyed the challenge of taking concepts and ideas and applying them to a new story.

When talking about where the inspiration comes from, Tom described it as a germ that spreads and gets bigger. It grows, collecting other aspects of story and characters. Once it reaches a certain point, it might require research or the research will give you the spark or missing piece. A lot of the time it’s just a pretty good idea. It’s not formed yet. Tom thoroughly enjoys the research, it’s where he finds the details that can make or break the story. “I found biblical writings about a sect that believes Lucifer would one day be forgiven.” That detail helped to create The Fallen.

The success of The Fallen series has always been high, we saw this when ABC decided to adapt a film version of the series. I always wonder how the writer feels after a film has been released based on their work. Tom claimed to have liked it. “The written work is always going to be there. Did I agree 100% with what they did? No. But with what they managed to pull off, I found it really entertaining.” He was not as entertained with the films that followed. He felt that they went too far away with what was originally supposed to happen in the books. Lucifer wasn’t supposed to be a bad guy. Because of the research that revealed the idea of Lucifer’s possible redemption, The Fallen and Aaron were born. “Maybe they were afraid of receiving scorn from religious communities that disagreed with that belief.”

“I noticed that you thank in your acknowledgements people that share names with your characters, or at least you did in The Fallen and Leviathan. Did you do that on purpose? Did they inspire you to create those characters?” Tom’s reaction to this question was not what I was expecting. “It was actually a running joke that I’ve had for a long time with my friend Tom Stanley. I have killed him in half my books. He’s a high school buddy of mine and I have killed him in horrible and embarrassing ways.” Any one that Tom is particularly close with, he kills off in one of his books. They are immortalized in fiction. Who doesn’t want to die horribly in a book that’s going to be around for at least a couple of years?

When Tom was young, he was torn between drawing and writing. “I love comics so much that I dabbled in drawing. But in high school, I had a creative writing class. I started to really focus on writing stuff. It captivated me. I felt that I could write better than I could draw.” He started laughing and bemoaned his drawing talent. He could sketch out a quick scene, but he could never draw an entire issue of a comic. “It would be hysterical and horrible.”

I then pointed out Mulder’s approval of Tom’s website. Mulder being the yellow lab featured in pictures of Tom taken for his novels. I had intended this question to be a funny segue into the incorporation of dogs into his work and Mulder’s influence on his life. I then found out that Mulder passed away shortly before this interview. And thus I felt like a butt. “Life goes on. He was my muse for 13 years. I’m missing the routine, though. He was a gigantic presence in my life and in work.” Now, I love dogs. I will literally stop whatever I’m doing to bend down and scratch a puppy’s ears just because. I sympathized with Tom, knowing how attached he must have been and imagining how I would have handled the situation. I would have been wrecked.

Tom’s newest novel will be his fourth Remy Chandler, 100 Words for Hate. It’s not going to be turned in until late summer. He just finished his second original Bone. Bone Tall Tales will come out in July or August. Sometime in the fall will be the release of the Bone novels. The first one will be called Quest for the Spark. It picks up where Jeff Smith left off. It’s the next phase in the story, introducing new and old characters. “There will be 20-25 nice drawings by Jeff.” Tom said, happily. The third book will be written by late summer/early fall. Tom met Jeff at conventions and he was so nice, Tom felt guilty that he hadn’t jumped on the Bone books when they first came out. He finally picked them up and practically inhaled the words and images off the page.

Tom is currently reading Horns by Joe Hill, which is about a guy who wakes up one morning with horns on his head. He decides to use his new demonic powers to take revenge for a heinous wrong (because what else will you do with demonic powers?) and Skulduggery Pleasant which is about a skeleton that helps a 12 year old Irish girl to solve murder mysteries. I went to the website when he told me about it, and was entertained by the Dick Tracy-esque skeleton. He also reads a lot of urban fantasy and authors that write similar stories to his own. “I want to see what other people are doing. I don’t want to seem like I’m copying anyone. I also read an hour before bed– it helps me to wind down.”

Tom would like his readers to be on the lookout for the new Bone books. Also, if the Fallen books continue the way they’re going, there is a possibility for there to be more! There’s no green light yet, but there has been talk on the subject. If they continue to like what they see, then his editors will want more of the Fallen series. Tom has considered continuing the story years ago. If you pay careful attention, then you can see the clues and hints towards a continuation. The next bind-up will be released in July. The fourth book has been out of print for years. People who have read the first through third books can’t finish because Simon & Schuster let the fourth go out of print. You could only get it through rare book dealers that wanted a hundred dollars for it. “After many years of putting up with the angry e-mails, I was relieved when they announced the bind-ups.

Check out Tom Sniegoski’s web site! You can find his books at Borders, Barnes & Noble, or Amazon.com.

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