Interview with Resident Evil: Retribution Author John Shirley

residentevilmoviebookA few weeks ago, the 5th film installment of the Resident Evil franchise opened in theaters plus the Resident Evil 6 video game will be released on October 2, 2012.  For fans who can’t get enough of Resident Evil, a book adaptation of Resident Evil: Retribution has also been released through Titan Books written by cyberpunk/sci-fi author John Shirley.  The book will showcase Alice and her team as they fight the powerful Umbrella Corporation and the deadly T-virus that has taken over the world.  We had the opportunity to ask the prolific writer a few questions where we discuss his favorite authors, recommended readings, and Milla Jovovich.

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RTNDR:  Before Titan Books had approached you to work on the Resident Evil: Retribution novelization, were you familiar with the franchise? Was there anything specific in the Resident Evil world, such as the characters or maybe the mix of horror and science fiction, that drew you to this project?

John Shirley:  I like writing novelizations, now and then, it’s fun to do, not terribly difficult for me since I have written scripts (eg, THE CROW) so I grasp pretty well what the scriptwriter intends visually. Certainly, horror novelizations are fun. And the novelization job gave me an excuse to watch all the Resident Evil movies, in preparation, which, in turn, gave me an excuse to watch the beautiful, scantily clad Milla Jovovich for hour after hour. Milla of course plays the main hero in Resident Evil, Alice. So how can I complain about that gig?

RTNDR:  You’ve also written both the Doom and Constantine film novelizations, so we were wondering, what is your process or how did you go about writing movie novelizations? Do you get a script of the movie beforehand or maybe even get to preview the film? Also, is there a lot of interaction between you and the film company?

John Shirley:  I get a script yes, but these days they are very close with their DVD previews because they don’t want them to be leaked on the internet … not that I would ever do that. As a scriptwriter myself, I’m not a fan of movie piracy . . .

They send me the shooting script and *usually* it’s the true shooting script, the final-final, but I remember with Doom they changed it anyway when I was well into the novelization so I had to rewrite it. But that’s all part of the business. And some interaction with the film company may be part of novelizing, but usually there is an intermediary at the publisher. They forward any questions I may have. I try to familiarize myself with the franchise, so I don’t have too many questions. Nowadays there are “wikis” that give a lot of information, so I rely on the fans who organize those too. They’re usually accurate. But in the case of Doom I had played all the games and related games already; in the case of Constantine I was aware of the John Constantine (Hellblazer) comics. The movie diverged from the comics but the character was pretty close in a lot of ways. Of course, Keanu Reaves’ character was American, not British as the original John Constantine was. I later wrote a couple of John Constantine: Hellblazer novels for Pocket Books. You can still find them on Amazon … and those I based purely on the comic books. It’s the British John Constantine. So I’ve “novelized” two separate versions of the character John Constantine. And in one of the books I explain (somewhat humorously) the discrepancy between them, in an indirect way.

I work from the script by visualizing scenes and then turning them into prose, but also — especially with an action-oriented story like Resident Evil — I have to flesh it out, create some new characters, get into new point of views, find ways to explore the back stories of the main characters without contradicting what we know about them. It can be tricky. I always work to flesh the story out “organically”, so it’s all of a piece and natural and creatively done, rather than “padding” it. That is, I do my very best to write the novel so everything is entertaining and creative, and not just something to fill out the book.

I sometimes order related book material — eg, I ordered a big book about Resident Evil, a sort of guidebook, to use as a source, but I had to be clear on the way the Resident Evil movies differ from the game Resident Evils. Fans of the games seem to really like the movies — but they’re aware that they’re not completely consistent in all their character histories, arc and so on with the games. It’s as if the games and films take place in parallel but separate universes. So I had to keep all that in mind …

RTNDR:  We’ve read that you had played the Bioshock games before writing Bioshock: Rapture, did you dive into any other games for any of your other novels set in video game universes such as the aforementioned Doom, Borderlands: The Fallen, plus the upcoming Borderlands: Unconquered? Would you ever consider writing a script for a video game?

John Shirley:  As I mentioned, I played Doom, and I certainly played Borderlands before writing Borderlands: The Fallen and Borderlands: Unconquered. I used the experience of playing Borderlands in writing the novels. I drew on it heavily — as well as consulting the company. I didn’t apply much info from the Resident Evil games to the movie novelization as I didn’t want to confuse the two because, as I said, they diverge a bit.

I have worked on video games and PC games in the past. I did some work on Bloodrayne 2, some work on a Sega game called Mr Bones, and a couple of others…but I’d love to help develop a game from the start, get more involved in writing the arc. There are games out there with some very good writing, like Half Life, and The Darkness. I have a concept for a combination RPG and casino/poker game with supernatural stuff happening in it I’d like to develop … or I could work on someone else’s idea quite happily. It’s obviously a place where a writer can be pretty damn creative …

RTNDR:  You are well known and critically acclaimed as a cyberpunk, horror, and science fiction writer – are there any new genres that you would like to take a stab at and try writing in?

John Shirley:  I write crime stories sometimes … I wrote a suspense novel, out years ago, called The Brigade, that a lot of people in the field remember, and another one called Spider Moon … I had a story collection called New Noir … and a lot of the stories in my new collection In Extremis: The Most Extreme Stories of John Shirley are basically noir crime stories. But they’re deeply embedded in the underworld, or in the criminal mind, rather than being detective stories. I’d love to write a new crime novel — or try my hand at a true mystery, something along the lines of James Lee Burke in terms of tone and character depth … I’d like to write a real haunted house novel … I have a concept for one … and I’d have a blast writing a heroic fantasy, like Elric or Conan … I can practically feel the bloody sword in my hand right now.

RTNDR:  Who was your favorite author and what was your favorite book when you first started writing. Is it the same author and book now? If not, why?

John Shirley:  When I first started writing, it was probably Harlan Ellison more than anyone else. He was also a teacher of mine at the Clarion Writing Workshop and he influenced me on several levels. I was also entranced by Jack Vance and Richard Matheson and Ray Bradbury and Michael Moorcock. I read a lot of literary people too, modern writers like Faulkner, and detective writers, like Dashiell Hammett, John D. MacDonald and Richard Stark, or the more sophisticated espionage writers like John LeCarre and Len Deighton. I probably incorporated writing “moves” from all of them. I can switch gears pretty easily and when I do I suppose I might draw on one or the other influence I suppose, but over the years I’ve developed my own style. My own experience in the real world helps too.

Nowadays I tend to read historical fiction, like Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin books, and Bernard Cornwell’s stuff, as I like their finely stirred, well-researched mix of the real world and exciting narrative–but the majority of my reading is nonfiction, especially biography and history, because it helps my fiction writing, and my understanding of life. Any biography is research for me in some way even if  not directly.

RTNDR:  For the readers not familiar with your work, we wholly suggest picking up your wonderfully inventive and graphic A Song Called Youth trilogy –  can you recommend some of your other favorite works for fans that have only recently discovered you?

John Shirley:  My newest novel is Everything is Broken, from Prime Books — a near future combo of disaster novel, crime novel, coming of age story, political allegory, and, in a sense, it’s almost a western. It sure has its “show down” in it, guns and all. It’s all pretty seamless, I think, and it’s getting an enthusiastic response from people but beware, it’s very dark — however the end won’t let you down. For horror fans and fans of really (and I mean really truly) shocking fiction, there’s In Extremis but I do not recommend it for people under 18. It’s pretty disturbing. But if that’s what you like … My horror novel Demons is still in print, too — and it’s pretty twisted itself. For good urban fantasy, there’s my novel Bleak History. It has a real following. And I’ve just written my first graphic novel, The Crow: Death and Rebirth, for IDW … about a new incarnation of The Crow set in Tokyo (and to some extent in Japanese Buddhist Hell) … fans of The Crow should enjoy it … The first of the five issues are now out, and it’ll be a complete graphic novel later. I’d love to write more comics.

RTNDR:  You are the true definition of a prolific writer – having more than 30 novels and 10 short story collections published, plus actively writing screenplays, tv scripts, and music lyrics. After all these accomplishments, is there still an achievement, a goal, or a dream job that you’d like to attain?

John Shirley:  I’d like to write a good script based on one of my novels — like A Song Called Youth or Demons (and Demons almost became a movie — the Weinstein company optioned it twice, had a director and writer attached … but then the recession hit) … and  most of all I’d like to create a television series. I’ve come scarily close to creating one — I’ve sold pilot scripts before, they just didn’t make the jump into production. But that’s coming close and I know if I can do that much, I can get a pilot into production. Bleak History came close to being a television series in Britain — and it may yet. I have a new science-fiction adventure pilot, both dramatic and crazily whimsical, called Intruder Town, which is just now about to be submitted around Hollywood. I’d like to write some episodes, have some say on who is cast and who the staff is, then sit back and watch some talented people make it come alive …

—Retrenders would like to give big thanks to John Shirley for his time and wonderful answers!

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For more info on the book and author check out the links below:

Paperback:  Resident Evil:  Retribution

Author:  John Shirley

Publisher:  Titan Books

MSRP:  $7.99USD

Available:  September 18, 2012

For project updates and news, go to:  Dark Echo and also head to John’s blog for his rants and opinions – John Shirley Blog.

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