When Sang-Sun Park’s The Tarot Café came to an end I found myself wondering what to read next. I loved Park’s story and illustrations so much, the way she wove Pamela’s past in with different character’s futures. I was thrilled when I learned that Tokyopop was going to be publishing a novel, The Wild Hunt by Chandra Rooney. It turned out even better than I expected and Ms. Rooney was kind enough to answer some of my burning questions about tackling a well loved manga series.
I’ve done a little bit of research online and it looks like The Wild Hunt is your first published novel. What was the writing experience like for you?
First published work, yes. I had previously published a short story in On Spec magazine, which was nominated for Canada’s Journey Prize. I’d also completed and revised an adult manuscript with my agent before I began writing The Wild Hunt.
One of the best parts of writing as a professional is that you have feedback available when you need it. Until I worked with an editor, I didn’t fully understand the extent of what it is that they do. An editor—like an agent—wants the novel to be the best it can. A really wonderful editor knows how to phrase constructive criticism so that you understand not just what changes need to be made but why making them betters the manuscript. My editor for The Wild Hunt, Jenna Winterberg, was amazing. The novel is so much better because of her.
The main difference in writing The Wild Hunt was that there was an established universe. My writing style had to adapt and conform to a pre-existing tone and conventions.
Do you think that working with Tokyopop, who mainly publish graphic novels and manga, was any different from working with a publishing house whose main focus a traditional novel?
As Jenna has previous traditional editorial experience, the differences come more from the nature of the work than the house. We had to go through a translator to communicate with Park, for example. That delayed the start of the actual writing, because what she had approval on needed to go from English to Korean then back to English.
The only house-related difference I could determine was that TOKYOPOP is a smaller press, so Jenna was also my copy editor. In that situation, more responsibility falls on the author and editor to pay attention to details. If a spelling error slips through or there’s an inconsistency in the text, there won’t be a third party looking over the manuscript before it goes to press. We had an assistant editor, Michelle, who looked over the rough draft, but revised and final drafts had to be done without her.
Did it make things easier going into The Wild Hunt to have a cast of characters already in place that you could play with?
Yes, I would say it’s definitely an advantage. The challenge comes from then finding a way to present those characters to readers who have never met them without boring an established fan. Also, where you can take the characters is governed by the existing dynamics, histories and personalities.
Moving from a visual medium to strictly prose creates an additional challenge. In a comic, images convey the majority of the story. In prose, those visuals have to be drawn with words. That’s part of why the narrative voice for the novel is so ornate—it was done intentionally to try and evoke the beauty of Park’s art.
One of the things that I really enjoyed about The Wild Hunt was the fact that you used the Tarot Café characters as background for your own. It reminded me of the side stories that Park wove through her main storyline as the series progressed. Was it hard to do that, did you ever find yourself wanting to expand on Pamela’s story?
Thank you! Jenna was very good about trying to involve as many characters as we could. We also discussed how Pamela and Ash’s story was mostly covered by the comic series. The novel was intended to complement the comic, not retell it. For that purpose, we chose to write something more like the vignettes that comprised most of the first and second volumes. I wanted to do something between when Aaron came to work at the café and Ash arrived on the scene, because it seemed that timeframe was the most open for side stories.
We knew the majority of Bryn’s story—what our paranormal element was, what made her “different,” and how her conflict would be resolved. What remained was to make all of that relevant to Pamela and her journey. By exploring the parallels between the two women and their situations, Pamela remained an important part of the story. Otherwise, she ran the risk of becoming a talking head—just dispensing information about the Tarot. She’s far too good a character to be reduced to that.
Did you have any other inspirations for your story besides The Tarot Café?
Well, the whole terribly tragic separation of the soul mates is probably the fault of CLAMP’s Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle. Aside from Rurouni Kenshin, that’s probably the manga that’s had the greatest impact on my writing. I confess to listening to the TRC anime soundtrack while writing The Wild Hunt. A lot. Probably more than was healthy.
I don’t tend to read while I’m working on a rough draft, because I want to try to stay true to the world and voice of the writing. However, I was watching Supernatural to try and go to the dark spooky place that is the London of Park’s world. Also, it’s silly, but the TV serial Bryn landed the starring role for is absolutely her world’s version of Torchwood.
Jenna pointed out during revisions that Herne does somewhat resembled a certain pirate…. Unintentional, but I can see that’s definitely there.
How did you get started writing a novel on a popular manga? Were you already a fan?
I was contacted by Jenna via email after she found my blog. Her mail said she was looking to hire writers for various prose projects and she’d noticed that my profile stated I dabbled in the Tarot. After submitting a sample outline and chapter that she felt showed I was capable, TOKYOPOP offered me the project.
Truth be told, I hadn’t even heard of The Tarot Café. While that may shock some readers, I think it proved to be an advantage. As fans, we have preconceptions—and we get very protective and vocal about our feelings for what should happen or who should be together.
That being said, I am immensely grateful to both TOKYOPOP and Park as I became a fan through working on the novel.
Do you have any other favorite mangas?
Ok, favorite favorite Japanese comics:
CLAMP’s Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle and Clover
Nobuhiro Watsuki’s Rurouni Kenshin
Daisuke Moriyama’s Chrono Crusade
Yukiru Sugisaki’s D.N.Angel
Sakura Kinoshita’s The Mythical Detective Loki & The Mythical Detective Loki Ragnarok
Favorite Western comics:
Fred Gallagher’s Megatokyo
Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season Eight
Angel: After the Fall
Warren Ellis & Paul Duffield’s Freakangels
Jamie McKelvie’s Suburban Glamour
Is there another manga series that you like to tackle?
I only get to choose one?
Ok, I pick D.N.Angel by Yukiru Sugisaki. Partially because, like The Tarot Café, I think there’s room to play but mostly because identity is a big theme with my personal writing—largely inspired by what Sugisaki-sensei has done with the magical boy troupe. Plus, the tone of the series is a more comfortable area for me, and I’ve loved the characters since 2000. You have to love what you do, regardless of whether it’s work-for-hire or your own writing.
I have to admit that on a pure fannish wish-fulfillment basis, that I would adore working with CLAMP on something like Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle or Clover, but knowing there would be so many people wanting to read it is a wee bit intimidating.
Besides graphic novels, what else are you reading at the moment?
At the moment I’m writing the rough draft of my second young adult manuscript in an on spec series, so I’m technically not reading anything. [laughs] However, I do have a couple books on the go that I’m slowly making my way through: The World Without Us by Alan Weisman and the Clockwork Phoenix anthology edited by Mike Allen.
Do you plan to write another Tarot Café novel or do you have plans for something else?
I have expressed my eagerness and availability to TOKYOPOP regarding a second volume of The Tarot Café Novel series, but the decision of whether or not that happens isn’t mine to make.
As for plans, THE TALE OF ARIAKE—the adult manuscript—is the first in a proposed three book series that combines Japanese fox lore with Western fae lore in a contemporary North American setting. It’s currently out on submission. Metaphorically I’ve got my fingers crossed, because I need them physically uncrossed to type.
I’m also working on the aforementioned young adult series. It’s speculative—combining science with magic in a far-future setting. Its influences are more the manic adventures of the new Doctor Who series with various manga and anime troupes. While no one gets to time travel, there’s a great deal of running, magic circles, and gasmask wearing monsters that come out of mirrors to kidnap children.
Eventually, I’m going to get around to that steampunk thing that’s simmering in the back of my brain.
Thanks so much Chandra for the chance to pick your brain and the wonderful answers. I'm looking forward to reading your next book!