Greg Rucka is a person who I have wanted to interview for a very long time. And thanks to some help from folks (you know who you are!) it finally came to pass. Last year saw the release of Rucka’s latest installment in his Queen & Country universe–the prose novel, The Last Run. Rucka is an intelligent, as well as fun, fellow (who else would offer both a media-focused bio and a fan-focused bio) and, of course, a talented as hell writer. In addition to delving into The Last Run (partially described as “For nearly a decade Tara Chace has been Britain’s top covert agent. But Chace is past her expiration date. Her body hurts. Her nerves are scrambled. She’s ready for a desk job, the quiet role of mentor to a new generation of special operations officers. But before her replacement can be chosen, there’s one last job for Queen and country . . . and it may be the last thing she does. Ever.”), Rucka was kind enough to discuss his new three-book deal with Mulholland Books (he is currently doing research for the deal’s first book, Alpha). Given Rucka’s busy schedule, I appreciated his willingness to break his normal policy and grant me an email interview.
Tim O’Shea: Your fiction is imbued with a strong world view/grasp of current geopolitics. What are some of the non-mainstream/unique news sources you consult on a regular basis?
Greg Rucka: Yeesh, that’s not the easiest thing to answer, actually. I don’t really have RSS feeds set up or anything like that. A lot of what gets me going tends to be mainstream news, honestly, in particular NPR, and then I tend to chase things down from there. But there are some more…esoteric sites I tend to visit. Stratfor (www.stratfor.com) is one. I visit the Janes Resource Group relatively frequently, and I have a subscription to Highbeam Research, which I’ve found invaluable over the years.
I also try to read newspapers, be they online or in print. One of the things I love about my Kindle is the ability to get foreign (meaning non-US) papers delivered to it. I read the Guardian and the Independent when I can, and Le Monde. I try to make certain that my sources don’t all come from the US, as you can tell; I find the US media tends to miss a lot of what are – to me – important stories that the rest of Europe, in particular, pursue.
O’Shea: This question does not pertain to The Last Run, per se, but I wonder if you could talk about the moment in the development of Tara Chace that you realized you wanted to make her a single parent?
Rucka: That was actually something that came about in conversation with my editor at Oni Press, James Lucas Jones. I’d finished A Gentleman’s Game, and was talking with him about what I was planning next, and one of the things I knew was that Chace was pregnant. And not to give enormous spoilers for those who care about such things, but the fact that she was pregnant, that the father was who he was, and that she was in a place where an abortion seemed not only logical, but perhaps even inevitable. And I mentioned this to James and was talking about the emotional cost of that decision, in particular because of what had happened to the father, and he came back to me with “she should keep the baby.”
That set me back on my heels, because I had considered it, but only for a moment, then discarded the idea. He forced me to think about it again, and as I did, I realized that there was no way she could give up the child; it was just entirely out of her character. So then I found myself wondering how in the world Chace would make that work, remaining in the Special Section as a mother, and the more I looked, the more I realized not only was it the right decision for the character, it was a great decision for the story.
O’Shea: Your James Lucas Jones anecdote is enlightening, and prompts me to ask another question. When embarking on a project–be it in prose or in comics–how important is it to you to be paired with an editor that respects and understands your work, while still being able to challenge you?
Rucka: The author/editor relationship is a very crucial one for me, personally. I know writers who pretty much want to be left alone to do their thing, but for myself, for the way I work, I need a sounding board; not necessarily someone who will direct me as much as someone who will listen to me, help me talk out my ideas. A lot of where I begin tends to be rather… amorphous, and I take great pleasure in working out the actual beats of a story as part of the process. A great collaborator – whether it be an editor or artist – is always worth his or her weight in gold to me.
O’Shea: What’s the most enjoyable aspect of writing and adding layers of nuances to a long-established Rucka character like Paul Crocker? To the other extreme, what’s the biggest appeal for you to adding new characters like Caleb Lewis?
Rucka: One of the delights in writing the Q&C novels has always been the opportunity to expand and elaborate on what’s already been presented in the comics. I think the reader learns more about Crocker, for instance, in the first 50 pages of A Gentleman’s Game than they’ve had opportunity to learn in the 30-odd issues that lead up to that first novel. Comics require an economy of space and storytelling that pretty much forbade doing that kind of exploration (and I’m talking specifically about the Q&C comics, their style). The nice thing about a novel is I’m pretty much the only arbiter of how much and when and what, so I can take the time to reveal things that, otherwise, would remain hidden.
Caleb is an interesting question, as well, because he serves a very definite purpose in the novel, but at the same time his story is very much in parallel with the one being told about Crocker and Chace; or, more precisely, his story is in contrast. And again, in a novel, there’s more time, more room to introduce a new character, to talk about their history, and to invest their point-of-view.
O’Shea: Right as The Last Run was released in late October, news broke (as you noted at your blog) “Hamid Karzai admitting he took bags of cash from the Iranian government”, which given the plot of The Last Run, made you look like a current affairs psychic of sorts.
Rucka: I have a habit of doing this kind of thing. I wish it’d serve me better, honestly; if I could predict stocks the way I seem to predict world affairs in my novels, I’d be a very wealth man, I think.
But it’s all about paying attention, and, I think, applying some common sense to the news one reads/hears/sees. I’m constantly amazed by the naivete the news media feigns, and the gross indignation they love to cloak themselves in. Just pay attention. The fact is, real life is infinitely more bizarre, more unbelievable, than the most outlandish fictions.
O’Shea: Throughout much of your writing career, you have utilized Gerard “Jerry” Hennelly as your “endless font of information”–how did you first meet Hennelly?
Rucka: Jerry and I met via the FBI, actually. I was researching my novel Keeper, and had called the Bureau office in Eugene, Oregon, with a research question about personal protection. By dumb luck, the agent who fielded the call knew Jerry, and put us in touch. Jerry and I talked on the phone, and I was able to prove to him that I wasn’t an idiot out to make bodyguards look bad, and things went from there. I’ve known him coming on 15 years now, and he’s one of my best friends, and always a resource for whatever it is I seem to be writing at any given moment. He’s worked as a PSA, has served in the Army, has worked as a police officer, a security contractor, and entrepreneur. He knows some very scary things. And he is, above all, an excellent teacher. One of the nicest compliments I’ve ever received was from Jerry, while working on Critical Space, when he told me he’d have hired me to work a protection detail with him. That was high praise.
O’Shea: I ran across a 2008 PressPassTV interview, where you acknowledged that you become depressed if you go too long without writing. How stressful is it for you to go on vacation, do you have to write some even on vacation, just to maintain good mental health?
Rucka: In all brutal sincerity, I think I’ve taken one vacation in my adult life, meaning one period of time where I went somewhere, away, without means or method to record anything ‘story’ and was able to actually stick to my guns about it. There have been times when I’ve not written, and have made myself very, very depressed as a result, and like an idiot not realized WHY it was I was depressed. But to actually, actively not write takes effort, in all sincerity. I know that sounds both strange and a little precious, but it’s very much the case for me; writing is an illness, but I get sicker if I don’t do it.
O’Shea: How stressful is it for your family that your writing makes it near impossible for you take a genuine vacation? Or does it help that your wife, Jen Van Meter, is a successful writer as well and understands your personal creative process?
Rucka: Ehh… I honestly don’t know how stressful it is for them, but I imagine it’s rather unpleasant, unfortunately. It’s something I’m trying to become much better about, being able to set the work down and walk away from it when need be. Our kids are each of an age where what we do still seems somewhat magical, even if it’s mundane – there’s no mystery in it to them, because it’s what we do, and something they’ve grown up with us doing. Our eldest has been privy to more than one business-related conversation, either about work or about story, and he’s actually developed some pretty good instincts at this point!
O’Shea: What kind of research have you been doing for your new book (part of your new three-book deal with Mulholland), Alpha?
Rucka: Hrm…this is a harder one to answer, because I’m not sure how much I want to give away. I’ve been doing a lot of research into Special Forces training, and into the people who receive that kind of training – what they can truly do, what they’re trained to do, what that life is like. It’s not an easy world to penetrate, for good reason, and a lot of what is available in the public domain is, I think, misinformation.
I’ve also been researching theme park design and animal training and handling.
Make of that what you will.
O’Shea: I ranked your’s and Matthew Southworth‘s Stumptown as #6 in my top 10 comics of 2010. Is there any chance you’d consider exploring the Stumptown universe in prose, or is it a project solely suited for comics?
Rucka: I can see myself writing a Stumptown novel at some point, I suppose, but – for my purposes – I’ve always envisioned the series as much more a television show than anything else (outside of a comic series, of course). It’s not a the top of my to-do list at the moment; I’ve got three novels in the new series to write, and I’d love to actually sit down and pen the sequel to A Fistful of Rain at some point, as well. And that’s not including other, less defined ideas that are bouncing about my brain.
O’Shea: Creatively what’s on the horizon for 2011?
Rucka: Hopefully, Matthew and I will get ahead on the Stumptown work and resume releasing issues before the middle of the year, but we’ll have to see how that goes. Finishing Alpha and working on the second novel is also in the works.
There are two other projects, very specifically, that I’ve been looking at, but I can’t talk about them yet. One, hopefully, will be in television, and the other will be in comics. And there’s actually a new series planned for 2012, if you can wait that long.