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Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Space Opera, Comics, and Professional Storytelling – The Henry Vogel Interview

Prelude to Interview… (the following events are probably fictitious)
Henry Vogel

Bruce: Hey! Social media guy!
Social Media Guy: *Gulp* Um, me?
Bruce: *Sighs with the weariness of 1,000 disappointed editors* Yes, you.
Social Media Guy: *Crouches Gollum-like over his keyboard* Mine. My very own…my…
Bruce: Is that a coffee pot on your desk?
Social Media Guy: It is!
Bruce: For God’s sake, why?
Social Media Guy: The kitchen was too far away.
Bruce: *Grumble, mutter* Embrace sanity *grumble, mutter* We just released Henry Vogel’s new book. I need you to interview him.
Social Media Guy: *Blink, blink, blink* I don’t understand. Is Henry Vogel a new A.I.?
Bruce: No! He’s a person!
Social Media Guy: But, I don’t really do person things. Plus, I’ve never interviewed anyone.
Bruce: Well, this is a golden opportunity for you to learn by doing. Make it happen, Internet gremlin!
Social Media Guy: *Stares into the middle distance with naked terror on his face* Yeah, um, okay.

Interview(the following events are probably real)

Rampant Loon Press: Ladies, gentlemen, artificial superintelligences, genius-level gorillas, and all others, welcome! We’re here today with Henry Vogel, author of the Scout series, the Matt & Michelle series, the Captain Nancy Martin books, and the Recognition Trilogy. Hi, Henry. Thanks for being here today.

Henry Vogel: I’m happy to be here and hope the AIs and the gorillas enjoy the interview. I’m not disregarding the humans, but those others represent a new market for us. I want to make sure they know I’m happy they’re checking out my work.

Rampant Loon Press: Before we start talking about your new book, The Recognition Revelation, I’d like to talk a little bit about your writing history. According to your website, you used to write comic books. Can you tell us a little about that?

Henry Vogel: There’s a lot to tell but the short version is David Willis, a friend from college, and I decided to create and publish a comic book. This was a long time ago—1982—but I already had some minor publishing experience (another long story) and an idea for a superhero team. David had a couple of thousand dollars he wasn’t doing anything with and lots of ideas for improving the superhero team. The first issue of The Southern Knights came out in August of ’82 (and, due to a different long story, was actually called The Crusaders). Over the next eight years, I wrote 35 more issues of the Knights, a four-issue mini-series concentrating on Dragon, the most popular member of the team, and a dozen issues of a different book titled X-Thieves (short for Xtraterrestrial Time-Traveling Thieves).

Rampant Loon Press: Can people still find any your comics for sale?

Henry Vogel: Issues and collected volumes turn up on eBay and on Amazon fairly regularly. It’s possible people might run across copies in a comic book store but that’s going to be hit and miss. PDF versions of the books are available from distributed by Heroic Publishing.

Rampant Loon Press: I understand the format for writing comics is more like a TV or film script. Did you find the transition to writing novels challenging?

Henry Vogel: These days scripts are much more detailed. Back when I was writing there were two approaches to comics, full script and plot first (also known of as the Marvel way). I used the plot-first method, meaning I wrote a description of the action without any dialogue. The idea was to give the artist everything he needed to draw the book without worrying about most of the dialogue. The artist mailed completed art to me in batches of six to eight pages. While he began drawing the next batch of pages, I wrote the script for the pages I had in hand.

Essentially, I developed a ‘plot’ part of my brain and a separate ‘dialogue’ part, then drew upon them at different times in the creative process. When I started writing novels, I had to draw on both parts at the same time. It slowed down my writing because I found myself changing mindsets every time I shifted from description to dialogue and back again. It was a real relief when the two parts finally merged.

Rampant Loon Press: Were you able to carry over any lessons you learned about writing from comics to novels?

Henry Vogel: Absolutely. Stories require the same elements regardless of the medium. A comic book still requires characterization and a novel still requires conflict. If I’m being perfectly honest, I actually carried over the lessons I learned running role-playing games to my comic book writing. And all those lessons fed into my oral storytelling performances, which then fed into novel writing. TL;DR version—any stories you tell, regardless of medium, will help you tell your next story.

Rampant Loon Press: You mentioned oral storytelling performances. Some people might think you mean a reading, but it's something quite different. Could you tell us a bit more about what it is and how you get involved in it?

Henry Vogel:  Yet another question with a long answer! Fortunately, the "what" part is easy enough to answer.

A storyteller doesn't read from a book nor does the storyteller recite stories word for word. Storytellers learn what we call the "bones" of a story, what writers might call the story structure. During a performance, the storyteller extemporaneously layers muscles, tendons, and skin over the bones so they present an entire story. Each performance of a story is unique because the storyteller is always making stuff up on the fly. And sometimes inspiration hits and the story gets a new element or a new twist. That's what makes storytelling so much fun--different storytellers tell the same story in wildly different ways and with very different events.

My own involvement in storytelling dates back to when my son was four (he's twenty-one, now). For some reason, he decided stories before bedtime should be done with the lights off. I hated using a reading light so started making up stories for him, almost always featuring him in the stories. One of those stories--which didn't have him in at all--became a favorite of his. I told it to him many times, as well as to his friends during sleepovers. A few years later, I told it to his second-grade class when it was my turn to read stories to the class. The kids absolutely loved it. I developed a real connection with the kids because there wasn't a book forming a barrier between us. I kept making up stories and telling them to my son's classes. By the time he was in the fourth grade, I decided I wanted to try performing professionally. I joined the North Carolina Storytelling Guild and, a few months later, landed an invitation to a storytelling festival. That was twelve years ago and I've been telling stories ever since.

A few years ago, I even put together an illustrated children's book featuring three of my more popular stories. It's called I'm in Charge! & Other Stories and is available on Amazon as an ebook and a paperback. The title story is the one I told to my son's second-grade class.

Rampant Loon Press: Looking at your catalog of available books, you seem to prefer writing series over standalone novels. Do you find you get too many ideas to fit into one novel?

Henry Vogel: I usually set out to write a single book rather than a series. After I spend a few months with the characters, though, I discover they’ve got more stories to tell. The Recognition series is the exception. I knew it was going to be a trilogy before I began writing The Recognition Run. What I didn’t know was how the point of view characters would shift through the three books nor how complicated the overarching plot would become.

Rampant Loon Press: Your newest book, The Recognition Revelation, is the conclusion to a trilogy. Can you tell us a little bit about the first two books?

Henry Vogel: I originally conceived The Recognition Run as my response to the movie Jupiter Ascending, a hot mess of a space opera from the Wachowskis. I liked the setting but felt the movie should have dealt with Jupiter laying claim to her title—including making that less bureaucratic and more action-oriented—and left the rest of the action and political maneuvering for a later movie. I took that approach, writing the story of Jeanine, a woman living in an interstellar kingdom who discovers her previously unknown noble heritage and learns that heritage also comes with a rival noble house. She must find a way to survive her rival’s attempts to kill her long enough to claim her title through a Recognition ceremony.

In The Recognition Rejection, Jeanine finds herself dealing with (spoiler!) the fallout from her surprising Recognition ceremony from the first book. Lesser nobles, discontented with her Recognition, kidnap her and her unexpected visitor—the head of the rival house from the first book. A supporting character from the first book, Jana, becomes a new point of view character when she searches for clues to Jeanine’s whereabouts. What Jana learns forms the basis for The Recognition Revelation.

Rampant Loon Press: The world is wide open when you first start a series. When you’re closing it down, though, you need to tie up loose ends. Did you find that there were loose ends you’d forgotten about?

Henry Vogel: Always. It’s astounding how many loose ends and continuity errors I find the first time I read my first draft from beginning to end. From changing a country’s name from one chapter to the next to discovering I’ve written contradictory background details to rediscovering entire subplots I forgot about or that didn’t work out in the book. Sometimes I’ll leave those subplots in the book under the theory that real humans make and abandon plans all the time so imaginary ones should, too. In those cases, I make sure I reference the subplot later in the book so readers will understand it was just an unfulfilled plan and not something I simply forgot about. Of course, it is something I forgot about and then fixed in the rewrite.

Rampant Loon Press: What would you say was the hardest part of finishing this trilogy? What was the best part?

Henry Vogel: Far and away the hardest part was coming up with an ending that resolved everything. I ran through three different potential resolutions while writing the book and ended up throwing all three out and going with a fourth one. Every time I decided the current resolution wouldn’t work, I stopped writing until I came up with a new way to end things. In the end, I pulled the final resolution from a line of throw-away dialogue early in the book. Apparently, my subconscious knew what it was doing even if I didn’t.

The best part was finishing a series that shifted so radically in the telling. For example, Jana, the main character in The Recognition Revelation was a supporting character in The Recognition Run. Meanwhile, Jeanine moved from the original main character to more of a supporting character by the end. We don’t even discover the real problem until the second half of The Recognition Rejection, which made this a more complex plot than I usually write. I juggled a lot of balls writing this series and am pleased how it all came out.

Rampant Loon Press: So, without too many spoilers, what can readers expect in this installment?

Henry Vogel: Three women facing a tight deadline while fighting a star kingdom with the fate of mankind hanging in the balance.

Rampant Loon Press: Do you think you’re done with these characters now or is there room for more stories?

Henry Vogel: I think I’m done with them. They might have different ideas, though.

Rampant Loon Press: So, last question, what’s next for you?

Henry Vogel: I’m writing a new Scout book titled Hart of Adventure. It ties to the four existing books in that Gavin Hart, the main character eventually becomes a friend and mentor to David Rice, the Scout in the first four books. It’s set decades before David’s birth. Unlike the complex plotting of the Recognition series, this is a straight-forward adventure story featuring a lost Terran colony, an abandoned alien city, a barbarian army led by a powerful Warlord, and, since it’s a planetary romance, a princess.

Rampant Loon Press: Henry, thanks for being here with us today.

Henry Vogel: It was my pleasure.

Rampant Loon Press: Henry’s book, The Recognition Revelation, came out on April 1, 2018, and is available on Amazon for Kindle and in Print.

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