With The CW pushing back the premiere until October this year, the Supernatural family will be happy to know that they can get their Sam and Dean fix via Rite of Passage by John Passarella, the latest Supernatural novel published by Titan Books, which is currently at your local book store and available at Amazon.
In Rite of Passage, which is set in Season 7 between episodes “Season 7, Time for a Wedding!” and “How to Win Friends and Influence Monsters,” Sam, Dean, and Bobby follow some bizarre death notices to Laurel Hill, NJ. Is this town just unlucky or are evil forces at work (being this is Supernatural, you probably know the answer to that one)?
When my editor first contacted me about reading this book, I was a little nervous. Could a book really compete with a weekly TV show (and the smoldering good looks of the cast)? Would the characters and world they inhabit feel the same? I was pleasantly surprised at how engrossed I was with the story. Sam, Dean and Bobby were the same trio I welcome on my screen every week and the story itself was layered and engrossing, just like a weekly episode. Rite of Passage exceeded my expectation so much that I am definitely checking out Mr. Passarella’s other Supernatural tie-in novel Night Terror.
NoWhiteNoise was able to ask John a few questions about the novel, his writing process, and being a Supernatural fan.
How well versed are you in Supernatural history? Do you feel being a fan (or not being one), influences your writing?
I’ve watched every episode since season one, episode one. I have every season guide Nicholas Knight has written. I own all the season DVD sets, so I’m ready for the day when I decide to do a complete series re-watch. And I recently attended my first Supernatural convention and met a few of the actors. Except when I’m writing a tie-in novel for the show, I don’t study the “verse” beyond watching new episodes when they air and maybe discussing plot points with other members of a mailing list I’m on. Being a fan of the show, I think that gives me two advantages: I get the show, understand the characters, the tone and the history; and, as a fan, I bring a level of excitement to the project that I might not if writing the novel was just a work-for-hire job. Fortunately, I’ve been a fan of every show for which I’ve written a tie-in novel.
What sort of materials are you privy to when you begin the book. Do you get advance information on how the season will go or do you mainly draw from the two episodes the book takes place in between? Are there things that you are told specifically to stay away from (in terms of history from past season or what’s coming up in future episodes)? Do you watch the current season while you are writing?
I’ve had some advance information about what’s coming up. The goal for the tie-ins is to make them as current as possible. For both novels (Night Terror and Rite of Passage) the show has been airing in the season the books are set in. For Rite of Passage, knowing what was coming for Bobby helped me make the decision to give Bobby a bigger role vs. his phone cameos in Night Terror. And I wanted to focus on the “family” dynamics between the Winchester brothers and Bobby and contrast that with other family situations, from equally supportive to murderously dysfunctional. I’ve always thought of my tie-ins as “lost episodes” so the Historian’s Note tells the reader where this “episode” would have taken place. That placement informs the emotional state of the brothers, and the status of the continuity with regard to Sam’s mental wall, Castiel and the Leviathan, as well as Dean’s current state of mind. Knowing what is coming up in the episode set after my book, I can foreshadow a bit of what will happen. In the case of Rite of Passage, I hoped to add a bittersweet quality to the events that occur between the Winchesters and Bobby. Yes, I watch the current season while I’m writing. I’m a fan! However, I have to ignore those events since I’m frozen at an earlier point in the continuity. I kept “How to Win Friends And Influence Monsters” on my DVR until I finished the revisions for Rite of Passage, close to six months, I believe.
How does writing a media tie-in book like Supernatural or Buffy differ from writing your own novel, like Wither. As the heroes for Supernatural (and Buffy and Angel) are already set, do you find yourself more attracted to the bad guys you create?
My books feature my characters, my characters’ voices, my world (or universe) and my rules. So there’s a lot of freedom in that. For a tie-in, I have to capture the voices of the show’s characters, make them behave as they do in the show, mimic the tone of the show and follow not only the rules of the show’s world, but the restrictions given to me by my editors and representatives of the show. Part of the tie-in writer’s credo is that you get to play with the toys, but you have to return them to the toy box in the same condition you found them. So that’s the big difference between a tie-in novel and one of my own novels. I can kill off my characters — and I have. Or I can change them profoundly, physically, emotionally or mentally. The reader of the tie-in novels knows that Sam, Dean and Bobby will survive intact and will stay in the same physical, mental and emotional state they were in at that moment in the continuity. The trick is to get the reader caught up in the suspense of the moment, so they forget that reality of the medium for a while. Since I love the show and the characters, I wouldn’t say that I’m more attracted to the bad guys I create, but I have more freedom there. I can create a “revised” mythology for the supernatural villain, starting with what’s known in folklore or mythology about the creature while putting my own spin on that information. In addition, I need to build a villain complex enough and/or powerful enough to carry an 80,000 word novel. And with characters who populate the town the Winchesters are trying to save, I have the ability to show mirror or skewed images of Sam and Dean’s relationship or the results of choices they might make. As I mentioned above, I wanted to focus on family dynamics in this novel specifically because I knew from the outline stage that the brothers would lose that support system.
How difficult do you think it would be for someone who has never seen Supernatural to pick up the book and understand the action? This being your second Supernatural book, have you ever heard from a fan that they didn’t watch the series, but started after reading your book?
What helps tremendously is that both of my books have followed the monster-of-the-week format. While the greater Leviathan arc is mentioned and provides a high level of anxiety for the Winchesters, a reader unfamiliar with the show really only needs to know that these brothers fight supernatural evil. Two of the earliest reviews for Night Terror were by reviewers who have really enjoyed my novels but haven’t seen the TV show. They both gave high marks to Night Terror. My own novels are supernatural thrillers leavened with character-based humor and these tie-ins fit in well with those other books. Will these non-show-watching readers have some questions? Probably, but I don’t think the questions will ruin the enjoyment of this particular story. I hope these new readers become intrigued enough with the characters and the situations to start watching the show. I don’t know of any particular cases, but I’d love to bring more fans to the world of Supernatural.
Since this is your second Supernatural book, do you find it easier to write from Sam or Dean’s perspective? Has that changed from when you wrote Supernatural: Night Terror.
With Rite of Passage, I was confident that I could write from their perspectives, but I thought I could even before Night Terror. I had doubts way back before my first tie-in novel, Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Ghoul Trouble, so I wrote a sample chapter and passed it around to fans of the show. Two Angel novels followed, and the second one had a much bigger cast of show characters. Of course, with Rite of Passage, I added Bobby’s POV to the mix, which increases the level of difficulty a bit. The main thing for me to consider is where their heads are at in the continuity. Supernatural doesn’t have a reset switch after each episode, so Sam and Dean were in a different place in season seven versus season six. With both books, I created a MS One Note tab for each character, consisting of only their dialogue from several episodes leading up to where Rite of Passage takes place. Every time I started a new scene from Sam’s or Dean’s perspective, I would read through that dialogue to get into their heads, both in terms of hearing their voices and to remind myself where they were emotionally and mentally.
Having written books in the Supernatural, Buffy, and Angel universes, do you ever see yourself pitching a storyline that would combine the three?
I’m probably much too pragmatic to do that. While I love all three shows, opportunities to write for Buffy and Angel are gone. And, even with Supernatural, I wait until I know where the stories are set and what (and who!) I can use in a story. That’s my starting point. Otherwise, I’m more interested in working on my own novels, bringing forward whichever one is simmering the most on a back burner.
***Spoiler Alert!*** All right guys, from here on out, we talk a bit more in-depth about the book and there are spoilers. If that kind of thing doesn’t bother you, keep reading. If it does, bookmark this page and come back to hear what John has to say about the book after you’ve finished it.
The Leviathan play a minor role in this book, but it’s made clear they were the all encompassing trauma for the boys this season. Given Dean’s mental state in season 7, was in hard not to let his paranoia of the Leviathan color ever action he took?
My initial guidelines were to only mention the Leviathan in passing. That helped place the book into the continuity. By the time I received my revision notes, the season was over and the arc had played out. I was instructed to make the Leviathan anxiety a bigger part of the story. Part of the 4,000 words I added in revision dealt specifically with Leviathan concerns. I think the Leviathan anxiety colors the Winchester world for a long while in season seven, but after the anxiety is acknowledged in the book, Dean and the others become convinced that something else is at work in Laurel Hill, so for those few days, at least, they focus on Tora.
The fight for humanity plays a big role in this novel. Sam fights against visions of Lucifer to keep his loved ones (and the world safe), Ryan fights his Oni leanings as much as he can because he loves Sumiko. In contrast, Jesse and Dalton have no substantial family relationship and are quick to want to be Tora’s sons, with no regard for their humanity. How important was human aspect in defining good and evil in Rite of Passage?
In the Supernatural universe, the evil is almost always supernatural in nature, sometimes abetted by humans. I wanted to examine the role of family dynamics for the reasons I mention above. Because of the supernatural forces at play, there’s a bit of nature versus nurture going on in Rite of Passage. Ryan has the benefit of a healthy relationship with his girlfriend, and while his father has been neutral and emotionally absent most of Ryan’s life, at least he’s not malicious or demeaning in his treatment of his son. I believe love and support make a difference, so Ryan’s fate is the open question. Without giving too much away, Ryan fights what is happening to him every step of the way. There are times when he has no control, when his hand is forced, and there are times where he makes the right choices despite everything that is happening. Jesse and Dalton are both adrift and find something to embrace, something that makes them feel empowered and wanted, with awful consequences. Sam’s intentions are good and he wants to help as much as he can, but he knows he has an affliction that could endanger those important to him. Dean knows Sam is struggling with his visions but he stays as supportive as he can be under the circumstances. Sam’s battle continues beyond Rite of Passage, so that’s something I can’t resolve in the book itself, though it is resolved later in the season.
Roy has an interesting message for Bobby. Were you aware of the journey Bobby’s character would be taking on screen in season 7 and did that influence their relationship?
Yes, definitely. At least until the events of Rite of Passage, Roy represents the road not taken for Bobby. And, in a way, a cautionary tale.
With the current mass murders in the US (in the theater in Aurora, CO and the temple in Oak Creek, WI), do you worry about how some fans may feel about supernatural mass killings in public places like the mall or the theater?
First of all, my thoughts and prayers go out to the victims and their families. Both situations were tragic real-life horrors. Even as I write this, I’m seeing reports in the news about a shooting spree with multiple fatalities at Texas A&M University. I outlined those two scenes you mentioned back in December 2011. I finished writing them before March 1 of this year. Any horror author faces the possibility of a fictional scene resembling a real-life tragedy at some point. My novels are supernatural thrillers and the threats are usually fantastical in nature. With Supernatural: Night Terror, this is more evident because nobody in real life will ever encounter Nazi zombies or giant spiders or velociraptors, so there’s a separation between horror on the page and horror in the real world. With Rite of Passage, the agent of the horror is completely fantastical (horns, a third eye, a magical club, etc.) with supernatural abilities, but the destruction he causes manifests as real-world tragedies, so that separation is not as apparent. Even so, I never minimize the loss of life, even fictional life. The separation between fictional horror and real horror was brought home to me in 2001 when my then-seven-year-old son was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor and given less than nine months to live. Even though you know it’s not real, if the violence in a book bothers you, you can set it aside. Real-world horror, personal horror, never completely goes away. Despite the dire early prognosis, my son has had four brain operations and radiation therapy and is doing well, entering college in the fall. Because of what happened to him, my family started a charity walkathon that raised over $120,000 for the American Brain Tumor Association and the Children’s Cancer Foundation. We wanted something good to come out of what had been a horrible situation. As I said, personal horror never completely goes away, but sometimes something good can come out of it.
You can read an excerpt of the novel (and buy your copy) at Amazon or at your local bookstore. For more information on John Passarella, including his other novels, make sure to check out his website here.