Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Lesser Evil Interview

Today, we're doing something new and fun at Review Me Twice!  We were able to get an interview with the writer of The Lesser Evil, Shane Smith.  Now, don't judge, this is the first time either Alex or I have given any sort of interview.  Hopefully, we've answered some of the major questions here, but if you have more, feel free to email the author at shane@shanewsmith.com.

1. What gave you the idea for this novel?

I first started writing this story in 1999, almost immediately after watching The Phantom Menace for the first time. I felt there was something missing from that movie, and from a lot of contemporary science fiction offered to my generation... something really important that had been lost somewhere along the way.

In the years that followed, I tapped into the sensibilities of a lot of classic science-fiction to produce The Lesser Evil. It's part (original) Star Wars, part Dune, part Foundation. By referencing cliches in each chapter name, I'm trying to draw attention to this old-school philosophy, harken back to a day when characters and ideas trumped the visual spectacle of the genre.

2. Why did you decide to draw in black and white?

It was mostly a pragmatic decision. I'd done some dabbling in colour comics before, but they were prohibitively expensive to print, and consequently riskier for publishers. I figured my chances would be better if I could put together a decent-looking black-and-white work. And quite early on, I decided not to go with greyscale, because I really liked the stark black-and-white aesthetic in books like Sin City.

3. Do you have an interest in politics?

A mild interest. I keep abreast of the major events and policies (mostly in Australia, where I live, but I keep half an eye on the US as well, especially around election time). But my interest is mostly that of a voter, rather than a professional one.

I love reading and writing dramatised political machinations in fiction, though. Dune is one of my favourite books (but I'm sure you figured that out already - its fingerprints are all over The Lesser Evil).

4. Why did you choose a graphic novel format as opposed to a traditional format?

Actually, The Lesser Evil spent almost a decade as a novel before I made the switch to graphic fiction. I'd tried, without success, to get the novel published many times; each rejection inspired another complete rewrite. In the end, I decided to think outside the box, do something drastic. I'd done some dabbling in comics while at university, so I thought "why not?"

Somehow – don’t ask me how – the new format allowed me to see issues in my book that I just hadn’t been able to see in my endless prose revisions. Subplots and characters were cut with gleeful abandon, and the subtext of the story burst into the foreground. It became a profoundly better story almost immediately, and was snapped up by a publisher almost instantly when completed.

I really enjoy working in comics, but I love writing prose too. Hopefully, my writing career will have plenty of both.

5. Have you ever written a traditional novel? If yes, what are the differences while writing?

I've written several. None of them are of publishable quality, but the bare bones are there, ready to be worked on. Two of them (The Lesser Evil, and its sequel Peaceful Tomorrows) ended up being converted into graphic novels. The ultimate fate of a third novel, Triumviratus, of which I am currently finishing a first draft, is currently unknown.

Prose writing is a very different process from graphic noveling. The bulk of the work when making a graphic novel is producing the art - it's simply the nature of the beast. It's a different kind of thinking, and in a lot of ways, is a lot more mechanical. For me, it's a kind of relaxing slow burn for the brain, where prose writing is a really intensive, all-consuming process. So, there's that difference.

Also, you can say anything in prose. You can get into your characters' heads and describe how they're feeling, and outline their suspicions and plans. In visual fiction (graphic novels, movies, etc), you don't have that luxury. You have to be able to show everything. It's a different kind of thinking, and it's often hard to find the right way to express what you want to express. The Lesser Evil graphic novel uses diaries and letters to get this stuff across, and I'll readily admit that it's little more than a storytelling device, not entirely unlike a voiceover in movies.

6. Who is your favorite Character in "The Lesser Evil"? Why?

Ross Tillman is the character most like me, the one I empathise with most strongly. His genetic fate seems to be following his father into a well-paid but ultimately meaningless office job, and his struggle against that incredible inertia is one that directly parallels my own life. His story has always resonated with me on a deeply personal level, and was a profoundly cathartic one to write; he'll always be special to me because of that.

But for absolute favourite, I'm going to say Stanley Myres. He's the one that changes the most over the course of the story. His pursuit of redemption for the life he has led, and the mess he has caused, is one that I find really interesting, and it's the character arc I was most proud of writing.

7. What's your next project that we have to look forward to?

There's a few, actually.

Peaceful Tomorrows, the sequel to The Lesser Evil, is being released in its entirety in April of this year, published by ZetaBella. I'm very excited about this one. My pre-publication proofreaders have indicated that they enjoyed Peaceful Tomorrows more than The Lesser Evil; hopefully, that becomes the prevailing opinion out in the real world, too.

I'm currently working on another story told in the same universe as The Lesser Evil and Peaceful Tomorrows, entitled The Game. I expect it will be completed sometime in early 2014 and will (hopefully) be published in that year.

I have also recently collaborated with a friend on a comic miniseries entitled James Flamestar, exploring the inestimable power of music to change the world. It was a lot of fun to produce, and we are currently seeking publication for it.

Finally, I've nearly completed a first draft of a fantasy novel entitled Triumviratus. Even now, the urge to convert it to a monthly comic format is nearly overwhelming, so that's an option I'll be exploring. If I go down that path, I'd really like to collaborate with an artist on this one... but we'll see what happens.

8. Ok, we HAVE to ask this question.  What's your favorite book?

Oh no; my favourite book. You might as well ask me to choose between my children! There are some books that will never, ever be removed from my collection, and I just cannot place one above another:
* Sherlock Holmes (all books) - Arthur Conan Doyle
* Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man - James Joyce
* Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
* The Foundation (books 1-3) - Isaac Asimov
* Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens
* The complete Shakespeare
* Tom Sawyer - Mark Twain

And just so you don't think I'm a complete literary snob:
* Y: The Last Man - Brian K Vaughan
* Game of Thrones (first book was my fave) - GRR Martin

Thanks so much to Shane Smith for answering all of our questions!  And, we'll see everyone on Friday for our review of The Lesser Evil Pt. 1!

[To avoid confusion, I've put Shane's answers in green. If anyone has a difficult time reading them, please give us feedback!]

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