Q&A with Peter Clines
Q. You grew up in Stephen King territory in Maine, yes? Did that make you into a zombie fan at an early age?
A. Well, I was at the southern edges of Mr. King’s fallout zone. It’s a little town called Cape Neddick, a little tourist place on the coast, and someone told me once that the population was ten times bigger in the summer than in the winter. And to be honest, I was terrified of everything as a kid. Land of the Lost gave me nightmares. Heck, there was an episode of Fantasy Island that gave me nightmares. I was right there when King’s career really exploded, but his books terrified me. I finally worked up my courage to read one of his short stories, “The Boogeyman,” when I was twelve or so, and to this day I can’t sleep with the closet door open. The original Ghost Rider comics were my first tentative steps into horror, and even some of those freaked me out. My love of the genre really blossomed in college.
Q. Have you always wanted to be a writer?
A. Well, to quote George Carlin, not in the womb, but right after that . . . yeah. I can remember making scenes with my Star Wars figures and adjusting them all each night as their story progressed. In third grade I hand-wrote a “novel” that I called Lizard Men from the Center of the Earth, which was about . . . well, guess. Once I discovered my mom’s old Smith-Corona typewriter it was all over. I spent all my free time writing comic books and some truly awful Boba Fett fan fiction before there was such a term. I even made some early attempts at novels. One of the great tragedies of American literature is that our garage flooded in high school and all of that was destroyed. (It’s not really a tragedy . . .)
Q. It sounds like you were—no offense—kind of a comic geek when you were a kid?
A. When I was a kid, yeah. And a teenager. And a college student. To be honest, writing comic books was my big goal when I was little. My first rejection letters are from Jim Shooter—then Marvel’s editor in chief—because I would send him some of those (in retrospect) really God-awful stories every other month. With cover art. This is back when I was maybe ten or eleven. He was amazingly polite to a stupid kid. On one level, Ex-Heroes was my chance to finally write the kind of heroes I grew up with.
Q. Do you have a favorite superhero?
A. I’m a long-time Spider-Man fan. I started collecting The Amazing Spider-Man when I was about nine or ten and kept with it for years. I’ve got one of those big longboxes just filled with issues. I finally got so frustrated, though, with Marvel’s big “Civil War” promotion, and especially how they resolved it. When Spider-Man made a deal with the devil to erase half his life, including his wife and best friend . . . well, I was done.
Q. It sounds like you’re not really interested in comics now, though. What do you think about mainstream comics these days?
A. Tough question. I am a bit disillusioned with the big two comic publishers. To be clear, I don’t think there’s a problem with using the medium of comics to tell more dramatic, adult-themed stories. The Sandman, The Walking Dead, Unknown Soldier—these are all fantastic stories by great writers. My problem is when this sort of storytelling gets pushed onto characters like Spider-Man or Superman or Captain America, because “dramatic” becomes shorthand for “really messed up.” I think it detracts from these classic characters to push them into molds they weren’t meant to fill, and those stories tend to just come across as pointless melodrama. Characters have six-page soliloquies about the nature of heroism rather than just doing something heroic. I’ve seen people try to do “realistic” stories with the Hulk . . . a character who got his powers by standing next to a nuclear bomb when it went off. These elements can be a nice polish on a story, but there’s also a point where they have no business being used. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the industry has been struggling so much since this type of storytelling became the norm.
Q. When you moved to California you ended up working in the film industry for almost fifteen years. What kind of work did you do there?
A. I was a property master—the person who deals with hand props—on a lot of television shows and movies. I worked on a lot of cult things like one of the Beastmaster movies, Veronica Mars, and a bunch of lesser-known stuff. I’m actually the murderer in Psycho Beach Party for most of the movie. I prop-mastered Helen Mirren’s directorial debut, and she told me I looked like the type of person who should be sitting on the porch of a southern plantation writing novels.Also, I was writing scripts on the side. People looked at some of my feature scripts and television episodes, and I made the final round in a bunch of screenplay contests. All this industry experience led to a job writing articles for Creative Screenwriting magazine, which I did for several years. I interviewed George Romero, Kevin Smith, Sylvester Stallone, Orci & Kurtzman, and dozens and dozens of other writers and directors.