Whoosh! Issue 39 - December 1999

AN INTERVIEW WITH KEITH R. A. DECANDIDO
Exclusive to Whoosh!
By Bret Ryan Rudnick
Copyright © 1999 held by author
2720 words



John Lennon's stand-in for the HEY JUDE album cover

Photo by Marina Frants, copyright 1999, used with permission.

Author's Note: Keith R.A. DeCandido is an accomplished author and editor with extensive credits in the fantasy genre. He's also one of the World's Most Patient People, since he waited so long before Whoosh! got its act together to complete this interview. For those who lament the cancellation of Young Hercules, Keith has carried on with character adventures from that show in the books Cheiron's Warriors (out since last September) and The Ares Alliance (which will hit the stands in December). Archway Paperbacks publish both books. If you cannot find them in your local bookshop try http://www.amazon.com or other online sources. Keith is expanding into the Xenaverse with a story for consideration in an Ace Xena anthology and he's working with Josepha Sherman on proposing a book about Xena fandom (collective shudder). On the threshold of Y2K, we did this interview via e-mail. Keith had a number of interesting things to say about himself and his work and his interests.


Editor's Note: You can send e-mail to Keith R.A. DeCandido by clicking here.



Writing Background (01-04)
Editing Others' Work (05-07)
Thoughts On Superheroes (08-10)
Other Work (11-12)
Hercules & Xena (13-15)
Writing Media Tie-In Novels (16-28)
The Direction of the Xena (29-32)
The Internet and Fandom (33-37)
Stories That Remain Yet Untold (38-)
Biography



An Interview With Keith R.A. DeCandido





Writing Background

BRET RUDNICK:
[01] Please tell me about your writing experience. How long have you been writing, and how long professionally?

KEITH R.A. DECANDIDO:
[02] I've been writing since I was capable of the act as a wee tot. I wrote comic strips, plays, bad short stories, etc. in grammar school, all at about the level you'd expect from a ten-year-old. My first professional sale was nonfiction -- I wrote several reviews and articles for Library Journal, The Comics Journal, and Publishers Weekly, starting when I was in college and continuing for many years.

[03] After college, I was a professional editor, first for Library Journal, then as the science fiction editor for Byron Preiss, where I was for five years. I've also coedited a variety of anthologies and short story collections.

[04] My first fiction sale was a Spider-Man short story that John Gregory Betancourt and I wrote for The Ultimate Spider-Man in 1994. My first solo sale was a Silver Surfer story for The Ultimate Silver Surfer, and I've also written in the worlds of the Hulk, Magic: The Gathering, Doctor Who, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Young Hercules, Xena, and Star Trek.



Editing Others' Work

RUDNICK:
[05] I see from your resume that you have extensive editing experience, and you mentioned that in your background. Do you find it difficult, annoying, or otherwise distracting to have to edit the work of others and also write your own? Do you ever worry about losing your own "voice" or imposing it on others you edit?

DECANDIDO:
[06] Not at all. The two skills are related, but different. Writing and editing use different muscles, and I also enjoy exercising both sets of them. But years of editing haven't diluted my voice, and I've spent many years honing the skill of _not_ superimposing that voice on other writers when I edit. (And the writers I've edited can attest to that.)

[07] The skills don't interfere with each other any more or less than, say, a stockbroker who also plays the piano, or a computer programmer who also scuba dives. I'm a writer who also edits.



Thoughts on Superheroes

RUDNICK:
[08] Comics seem to have been a big influence on you as a lad and as you have matured. I suppose YH/Herc/Xena is close to that in many ways, since they deal with people who have extraordinary powers/abilities. Is there any particular aspect of the super-hero genre that appeals to you?

DECANDIDO:
[09] Besides the obvious boy-I-wish-I-could-fly- and-fire-ray-beams aspect, I think what appeals most to me about being a superhero is how it changes your life, and how it affects your day-to-day existence.

[10] One of the things I loved about the Lois & Clark series from a few years ago was little things like Clark Kent flying to the ceiling to change a light bulb rather than use a ladder. I've also always been fascinated by what a world with superheroes is like for an ordinary person. This is something I've dealt with to a large extent in my Marvel Comics-based prose fiction -- and also my Xena short story, which is entirely from the point of view of a guy who has seemingly spent his life being beat up by Xena.



Other Work

RUDNICK:
[11] What other work have you done? What else can we read?

DECANDIDO:
[12] Rather than list them all here, I'll just point you to the complete bibliography on the web page that my wife and I share: http://www.sff.net/people/FrantsDeCandido/bibliog.htm. It's just simpler.



Hercules & Xena

Soon to be Pokemon trading cards

Covers for two of Keith's YOUNG HERC books.

RUDNICK:
[13] How did you become associated with the Herc/Xena world?

DECANDIDO:
[14] When Archway Paperbacks got the license for Young Hercules young adult novels, the editor was looking for people to write them. A colleague of hers was a former colleague of mine, and he recommended me, knowing that I (a) could write well (this colleague edited my Spider-Man novel), (b) could hit deadlines, and (c) was a big fan of the show. I wound up writing about eight one-page proposals, and two of them were accepted.

[15] As for the Xena short story, I've worked with Marty Greenberg, the editor, before, and again he knew I was a fan, so gave me the opportunity to pitch a story.



Writing Media Tie-In Novels

RUDNICK:
[16] What restrictions are placed on you in your storytelling? What process do you have to go through to get "approval" for your ideas?

DECANDIDO:
[17] The process for virtually every media tie-in novel -- whether it's Herc/Xena/YH, Marvel, Star Trek, Star Wars, Buffy, et al -- is the same. You have to come up with the story first and get that approved by both the editor and the licensor. Only then do you actually write the novel, and then that has to be approved also. With YH, I came up with some one-page pitches, then a more detailed outline, then the novel.

[18] There are obvious restrictions. You can't contradict what has happened on the show where possible. The show was still airing when I wrote the [Young Hercules] books, and there is always the risk that the show will do something you had not anticipated. You can't effect major changes to the characters, and the characters and situations have to be consistent with what's been portrayed.

[19] Having said that, Studios USA was very open as to what we could do. The Ares Alliance takes place almost entirely in West Africa, something YH itself never really did. And they were generally open to all sorts of ideas, and willing to push the envelope a hair.

Why coitenly!  Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk!

Young Herc, Young Iolaus, and Young Jason.

RUDNICK:
[20] In going through the approval process for your media tie-ins, do you deal with people from the Studio or from the writing staff of the shows? Do the Studio people you deal with have a clue about what the show is really about or are they mainly "suits"?

DECANDIDO:
[21] Well, as a writer, I deal with the editor. The editor is always the one who deals with the licensors. As to who does the approval, that varies from license to license. The producers of the show approve some licenses, like Babylon 5 and Highlander. Licensing folks in the studio approves others, like Star Trek and Xena/Hercules/Young Hercules. As a general rule, the writing staff doesn't have time to deal with that sort of thing -- they barely have time to produce 22 episodes of a TV show a year -- and the production companies have a person whose only job is to deal with the licensing material.

[22] As to whether or not the person cares about the show, that also varies from license to license. Sometimes you get a "suit" who doesn't give a hoot in hell. Sometimes you get someone who both likes and gets the show. But there is no one answer to that question.

RUDNICK:
[23] How has your vision/interpretation of the character(s) differed from those you "work" for (that is, those who hold the license/ownership of the characters)?

DECANDIDO:
[24] It hasn't yet! I never had any disagreements with the Studios USA licensors as to portrayal of the characters, so obviously I was on the right wavelength with them. One thing I particularly liked was that they made an effort on YH _not_ to do the characters of Hercules, Iolaus, and Jason exactly the way their adult counterparts were on Hercules: The Legendary Journeys.

[25] Ryan Gosling's Hercules is much more immature than -- and also neither as strong nor as skilled as -- Kevin Sorbo's. Dean O'Gorman's Iolaus hasn't yet traveled in the East and is much closer to his thieving roots, so he's really much different from Michael Hurst's, though you can see the person that Iolaus will become in O'Gorman's portrayal. And of course Chris Conrad's Jason is much happier than Jeffrey Thomas's, not having gone through the tragedies and drinking problems that we saw in "Once a Hero."

Oh, man, I hate it when I get the peanut butter and jelly on my hands!

Ares is not a hampy camper -- what's new?

[26] I tried to follow that in the novels. For example, in Cheiron's Warriors, Hercules uses the now-tried- and-true method of using his opponents as weapons -- using someone else's feet to club someone -- for the first time and thinks he may want to try that again.

RUDNICK:
[27] What are the most important elements of a story to "grab you", and what elements would make you rather go to the dentist?

DECANDIDO:
[28] The only way to properly answer that question is to say that a well-executed story will grab me and a poorly executed one won't. I've seen promising ideas that turned into awful novels and vice versa. One of the dumbest movie scripts I ever read was for Men In Black -- but the movie was fantastic. It's all in the execution -- which is a really unhelpful general answer, but it's really the best I can do.



The Direction of the Xena

RUDNICK:
[29] Are you yourself satisfied with the direction the show has taken over several seasons?

DECANDIDO:
[30] Honestly, no. They seem to have grown bored with Greece and the Greek gods, which is just silly -- instead they're doing the globetrotting thing on Hercules and the Judeo-Christian thing on Xena. There are still endless possibilities within the Greek mythlogical setup, but they seem to have abandoned it.

[31] I also think the producers lost sight of the fact that Herc and Xena are, at their heart, formula shows. This doesn't mean that characters can't change and grow and learn from their mistakes, but there's a certain core concept that the viewers came to expect. Both shows messed with that last year -- mostly in relation to the sidekicks -- and it didn't work. To their credit, the show's creative people also realized this, as witness the fact that both Iolaus and Gabrielle are more or less back in their usual spots. Also to their credit, they didn't just hit the reset button -- both Gabrielle and Iolaus have been affected by what they went through.

[32] Still, the wimpification of Gabrielle and the substitution of the jester as Herc's sidekick just did not work on any level for me.



The Internet and Fandom

RUDNICK:
[33] What do you think about the Internet phenomenon?

[34] I was reading that in 1995, about 20% of people in the USA had Internet access. Today, that number has increased to 50% and is rising dramatically.

[35] Do you view the Internet as the greatest thing since sliced bread, a giant refrigerator door on which the homepages of millions are posted, or something in between?

DECANDIDO:
[36] Yes. Right now what the Internet is is a great way for people to communicate with each other. How they communicate varies from person to person and from day to day. And who knows how it will change in the next year, five years, ten years? But it's a wonderful way for people to communicate, whether through the promotional value of a web page, through e-mail, or through the open discourse of a bulletin board or chatroom.

[37] And frankly, I've always found sliced bread to be overrated...



Stories That Remain Yet Untold

RUDNICK:
[38] What is your greatest sense of accomplishment in the story/stories you tell? What are your personal triumphs or tragedies in the process? What stories remain yet untold that you'd like to do?

DECANDIDO:
[39] Not much you ask....

[40] Each story has a different "point" to it. Ultimately, it all boils down to wanting to see a particular situation and how it would play out. Cheiron's Warriors partly derived from a desire to see Jason in a situation where he had to negotiate with a hostile envoy to stop a war. The Ares Alliance is my attempt to have the Greek gods interacting with another pantheon -- in this case the Yoruban gods of West Africa -- and also to put Hercules and Ares in a position where they have to work together, as much as that revolts both of them. My Xena short story stemmed from a mischievous desire to play up the fact that all the soldiers Xena beats up look alike.

[41] My Star Trek comic book Perchance To Dream, which is also coming out in December, stemmed partly from a desire to see Worf actually act like a competent security chief, something he never did in seven years on TNG, and also to deal with the fact that Jean-Luc Picard has three other personalities running around in his head. My Doctor Who short story derived from a long-held desire to see the Doctor gallivanting around my hometown of New York City. And so on.

[42] There are tons of stories I'd like to do. I had a bunch more YH ideas, but Archway isn't going to be doing books beyond the fourth one by Danny Fingeroth that's coming out in February. I have several proposals for other novels floating around. And I have some original work I really want to do.

[43] There are tons of stories yet to be told. I suspect I won't run out of them until ten minutes after I'm dead.

[44] Also, just 'cause I wanna:

Favorite episode: Probably A DAY IN THE LIFE, though honestly my favorite Xena episodes are Hercules episodes: Armageddon Now, and the Golden Hind trilogy of Encounter, When A Man Loves A Woman, and Judgement Day.
Favorite line: Autolycus: "I paid for an hour!" THE QUEST
First episode seen: SINS OF THE PAST. I started when the show did.
Least favorite episode: In Sickness And In Hell (the only Xena episode I've never been able to finish watching), though I also can't stand to watch any of the episodes after Gabrielle got turned into a gibbering imbecile in the latter portion of the fourth season (from India through IDES OF MARCH).



Biography

Bret Rudnick Bret Rudnick
Whoosh! Staff
IAXS Executive Committee
"You can never have too much money or too many Amazons"
When he's not working for a big Science/Engineering company that (amongst other things) designs, builds, launches, and operates exploratory spacecraft, Bret writes fantasy novels and short stories. Bret is a man of many skills, having also previously been an Olympic-qualified archer, a drummer in the Butch Grinder Band, a news reader for Public Television Station KVCR, and a Deputy Sheriff for the County of San Bernardino, California. He also collects Japanese swords, armor, and art. He and his dog hunt down stray Bacchae in New England.
Favorite episode: HOOVES AND HARLOTS (10/110), WARRIOR...PRINCESS...TRAMP (30/206), and THE QUEST (37/213)
Favorite line: Xena: "What's this?" Gabrielle: "I'm... an amazon princess?" Xena (rolls eyes): "Great." HOOVES AND HARLOTS, 10/110; Xena after being goosed by Joxer: "Are you suicidal?" WARRIOR...PRINCESS...TRAMP, 30/206; Joxer: "Ha. Ha." A COMEDY OF EROS (46/222); Autolycus: "I'm not just leering at scantily clad women, you know, I'm working!" THE QUEST (37/213)
First episode seen: CRADLE OF HOPE (04/104)
Least favorite episode: IN SICKNESS AND IN HELL (72/404)

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