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Interview: Steven Long Mitchell & Craig W. Van Sickle, Authors of ‘The Pretender’ Series

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Steven Long Mitchell and Craig W. Van Sickle are the Emmy Award-nominated Writers and Executive Producers of Tin Man, the highest rated miniseries in the history of the Syfy Channel, and Co-Creator/Executive Producers of the hit cult classic TV show The Pretender.

Along with their first two novels in the Pretender series, Rebirth and Saving Luke, they have written, produced and/or directed over 200 hours of entertainment programing, including feature films and TV movies, and have worked on series as varied as 24, NCIS, Medical Investigation, Alien Nation, Murder She Wrote and many more.

SteveLongMitchellSteven Long Mitchell:Born and raised in New Orleans, Louisiana by a family so dysfunctional it would have driven Tennessee Williams to drink even more, Steven spent a childhood in a world of secrets and lies, studying the most bizarre examples of human nature imaginable, all the while wondering how he fit into the world he found himself in.

Realizing he didn’t, he decided to create a world of his own and has the last 30 years of his life studying and writing about the human condition to finally do so.

Steven resides in the Los Angeles area with seven females; one wife, three daughters, two dogs – is there any wonder why he has such little hair? To commiserate with the increasingly follicle-less Steven, please contact him through his website http://www.thepretenderlives.com/authors/contact/or follow him on twitter @pretendersteve

CraigVanSickleCraig W. Van Sickle

Craig Van Sickle was born in Indianapolis (which explains why his company is named 500 Miles) and wrote his first story in 7th grade and knew from that time forward exactly what he wanted to be when he ‘grew up’. He later graduated from Indiana University and moved to Los Angeles in 1979.

Along with partner Steven Long Mitchell, Craig spent years doing standup and improv comedy. Once convinced stand ups make about as much money as yodelers he turned his attention full time to writing.   The comedy and yodeling communities are thankful to this day.

He has two children and lives with his wife in Los Angeles.

Thanks guys for giving me the opportunity to talk to you about The Pretender book series. Before we get into the book itself, tell us about what it’s like being creators/directors of popular TV shows…even being Emmy nominees.

Craig: It’s an honor to be able to do what: a) you’ve always dreamed of doing, b) worked hard to be able to do it, and most importantly, c) get so much back from your audience, who really have shared poignant stories about how your work has affected their lives positively. As for the awards, they are fun, but ultimately pale in comparison.

Steve: Growing up, I was one of those kids who stared at the TV 24/7 and could barely muster a mumble when my parents told me I was wasting my life. I questioned what I could possibly become if all I did was watch the boob tube. I feel vindicated.

It has been a great ride, and yet a humbling one. As Craig mentioned, knowing a story that came from your heart had an effect on the heart of another is very humanizing and nothing else we have ever done compares to the Pretender.

The Pretender has literally touched the lives and hearts of tens of millions of people around the world. We get thousands of letters from fans of the show and even more from fans of the novels that tell us they are not only addicted to the continuing page-turning thrill ride, but they have found their lives enriched by an emotional connection to the thematic underpinning on which it is built. They tell us that the magical feeling they felt as children has been restored, and that has empowered them to believe again that they could be anyone or anything they wanted to be. They mention how the strength of Miss Parker empowered their daughter, wife, or mother to overcome obstacles as diverse as cancer, insecurity, depression – even thoughts of suicide. How disjointed families who that have absolutely nothing in common found one thing they could all relate to and that was the Pretender. That regardless of their circumstances what they connected to, with regards to Jarod, restored their belief that they could overcome anything. That the Pretender restored the feelings of hope and wonder they felt as children, a thrilling tale that transported them back to a world where all things are possible and that life is a gift.

No award could ever compete with that.

It’s been 18 years since NBC first aired The Pretender. I have done some research and I keep seeing the same thing pop up online…long-time fans have been waiting for a continuation of the series. After all this time, what finally motivated you two to writing Rebirth?

Steve:  The Pretender has always been the most passionate project of our careers. We have so many more stories to tell, questions to answer, and secrets to reveal that when the opportunity fell into our laps that would allow us to reboot and expand upon the origin story of Jarod, we were overjoyed.

Craig:  Mainly getting the rights back and feeling like it was time to try and take our creative passion and bring it into a new millennium for the fans. These characters have remained vital in our creative souls and apparently to many others as well. It just seemed more than right to plunge back in.

What exactly is a pretender?

Steve: A Pretender is a genius with the ability to become anyone he wants to be. Over night he can absorb a hundred books on medicine and the next day perform flawless surgery. Or a dozen flight manuals or virtual cockpit tutorials and don a uniform and seamlessly slip into the pilots seat of a 747 and, without blinking an eye, fly off with hundreds on board.

Craig: At its bare roots, a Pretender is a high functioning, fearless sociopath. We added the heart and genius to Jarod, but yes, there really are Pretenders among us, LOL.

Jarod, the pretender, has been raised at The Centre. Can you explain a little bit about The Centre and what kind of place this is and what happens there?

Craig: It is the ultimate clandestine research facility/think tank, where everything from genetics to global politics, to money market manipulation, you name it; they are into it.   Even many long-term Centre higher-ups aren’t privy to every detail of the scope of their endeavors.

Steve: Think of it as Haliburton on steroids- Dick Cheney’s private island of misfit toys – only a bit more sinister.

Tell us about the main character, Jarod, and his role as the pretender and how he ended up at The Centre.

Steve: Jarod was a child prodigy identified and stolen by the Centre when he was 3 years old. Over a lifetime he was molded by them to become a human simulator used for scientific investigations of everything from terrorist scenarios, shuttle launches, assassination attempts, etc., all for sinister purposes.

Jarod can be anyone he wants to be but he doesn’t know who he really is. That search for identity, family and love is his driving force.

Craig: The Centre has tentacles all over the world constantly searching for exceptional human beings, raw materials in their eyes, to bend, mold and exploit for their bottom line and for clients who pay top dollar for, in Jarod’s case, simulations that are so precise they can then exploit the results for profit and/or power.

Miss Parker is a beautiful and yet an evil character who is about the same age as Jarod. What is her connection with The Centre and Jarod?

Steve: Miss Parker’s father runs the Centre, making her the little princess of this castle of intrigue, secrets, and lies. She will do anything for a glimpse of Daddy’s affection and is a very beautiful and complicated character. There is only one person who knows all her emotional secrets; the Pretender she is hell bent on hunting down and returning to captivity.   One she has a love/ hate relationship with – with a secret emphasis on love.

Craig: Miss P’s grandfather founded The Centre. The Centre was her home away from home; her playground, as it were. As a child, she discovered the boy Jarod and not one to be deterred, found a way to get close to him – this human specimen if you will. Then one day, they shared their first kiss together. In an upcoming spin-off series of YA books we will delve into the pre-teen, tween, and young adult life of Miss Parker as never before.

Tell me why you chose cheap cigarettes (Pall Mall) for Miss Parker to smoke?

Craig: She may be sexy, she may dress to the hilt, but there’s a scrounging street fighter underneath that hottie exterior. Pall Malls seemed about right.

Steve: Just like Jarod, every character within the Pretender Universe is a dichotomy and none more so than Miss P. She can do or have anything thing she wants and the choices she makes are all designed to reflect that. She only wears the highest end clothing, or lingerie from specific designers. She will only drink one thing and one thing only- the same brand of bourbon shared by her father, and smoke one kind of cigarette. She does everything for a reason that speaks to her inner, emotional turmoil. All of her choices are tiny pieces, that when combined, make up the mosaic of an amazing character.

One of my favorite characters in this series so far is Chaz. Give us a little insight on this character and what inspired his personality?

Steve: Chaz is an outrageous presence that happens to be a transgender character. She is one of the first people Jarod gets involved with on the outside after 30 years of being isolated from the world. She was designed as a person he could encounter and become friends with to demonstrate that Jarod has no preconceived notions about human beings. That he sees them all equally, through the same untainted eyes of a child, and has none of the judgment of people that most of us share because of how we are raised.

Craig: Chaz, like Jarod, but different, is a misunderstood outcast in the world and we felt it would be an interesting character to have Jarod bounce off of. Interestingly, it’s an area we explored on the series as well to great success.

I mentioned in my review of Rebirth, I honestly do not recall watching this series on TV. So The Pretender was brand new for me. There are tons of people out there that know and love Jarod’s character. With that, I want to address some of the lower rated reviews on Amazon. Most of the reviews are four and five stars (well deserved I’d say) however there are a few one and two star ratings from fans who loved the TV series and say that they expected something new, expected closure and that there was a “huge timeline shift.” What would you say to these fans based on their expectations mentioned above?

Steve: No one likes their work to be viewed in negative terms but unfortunately when doing what we are doing we can’t live up to everyone’s varied expectations. We could have just answered all the questions and wrapped up the original story in one book – but we have a great deal more to tell. So we chose to write the novels in a way that would reboot the origin story of Jarod in ways that we could make the renewed Pretender equally accessible to as many new fans as possible. We also wanted to reengage the original fans in a way that would answer their questions and do it while creating a brand new thrill ride.

Craig: The Pretender would not be what it is if we simply stood still and didn’t progress the franchise. I would add that Jarod is still Jarod, Miss Parker still Miss Parker and Sydney, Sydney. This is a new world we’re now in, with the characters the fans still love. The other point is, the feedback we got previous to writing any books, was that they the fans wanted more of The Pretender. Closure is the antithesis of that. That said, we will be giving closure on certain character aspects and storylines, but overwhelmingly, the fans want the story to continue and progress. Answers are coming as well as new questions, so please hang in there, we’ll always try to give the readers a great ride.

I hear that one of your fans designed the cover images for the books. Tells us about this artist and some of the other stuff your fans are doing to take part in the rebirth of The Pretender.

Steve: We are soon to unveil a section in our website called the G.I.F.T. (Global Integrated Fandom Think-Tank). It is a playground we are building for the fans to came and be as involved with the Pretender community in any way they want. Yes, a fan designed the covers of the novels, there are fans in the novels, there are fans writing fan fiction, there are fans building out sections of the website, there are fans building interactive maps that show where Jarod has been and where he is going.   There are tons of very talented fans who are passionate about this ongoing saga and we are inviting them not only to read or watch it – but to become a living part of it.

Come visit us at http://www.thepretenderlives.com and become part of this global fandom phenomenon.

Right now, there are two books out, Rebirth & Saving Luke. How many books are planned for The Pretender series and what is next?

Craig: For the immediate future we have two spin off books coming out, the aforementioned Miss P. YA series and another one in the crime thriller genre with some interesting ties to Jarod.

Steve: We’ll also have a graphic novel out as well focusing on the secrets, lies, and dark history of the Centre. On The Pretender front, there will be more and we’ll do our best to not keep everyone waiting too long.

Is there anything else you would like to add that we did not cover in this interview?

Craig: In addition to the books, web site, fan fiction, etc., we are constantly looking for the next evolution of The Pretender on TV and film. The gears grind slowly as the fans know, but we’re working on many Pretender fronts for the future.

Steve: Yes. The fans have always been loyal to the Pretender and we will always be loyal to them.

Oh and here’s a deal we’d like to make. (Actually, I’m making it so please don’t tell Craig!) If Rebirth isn’t the best book you have ever read about Pretenders – if it doesn’t touch your heart and make you feel something special, send it back – but, if it is and does – sign your name on it and give it to a friend to enjoy and ask them to do the same and keep passing it forward.

In closing, I want to say that I am excited to have had the chance to experience Jarod for myself. I love The Pretender series and hope that you don’t hate me for not having watched the TV show. I could have been in diapers at that time, you never know…so don’t judge me ok! Where can fans, both new and old, find out more about The Pretender and also include links so we can stalk you on social media?

Steve: Steve can be reached via email at http://www.thepretenderlives.com/authors/contact/or centreinsider@thepretenderlives.com, TwitterFaceBook (and we answer all of our email and social media personally).

Craig: http://www.thepretenderlives.com/authors/contact/, Twitter , FaceBook  and for myself, Craig W. Van Sickle.

Thank you SO VERY MUCH for taking the time to chat with me. I will be excited to hear when book three will be ready to roll out.

Craig: Thanks Savannah Mae for your time and great reviews. Catch the show when you can and spread the word as you’ve done so generously about all things Pretender. Really appreciate your efforts. Take care.

teve: Thank you Savannah for your support – ‘the Savannah Mae seal of approval’ means the world to us.

 
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