A Word with Peter Clines

I attended San Diego Comic Con in 2013 when my wife and I were on a big college graduation trip for me. We maxed out credit cards to get there (which we are STILL paying off) but our California vacation was worth it to me. I got to do Hollywood and VidCon and all the big theme parks, but Comic Con was the real reason I wanted to go.
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Now, this was before I knew to bring all my comics to get signed by the who’s who of the industry, or else I would have never left the lines for whoever was featured that year. Instead, I went to panels (and waited in those lines, sometimes to no avail) and walked around the exhibition floor. I also cosplayed as Nightcrawler, but that’s neither here nor there. It was a massive place, and overwhelming for my first convention, but I still made time to hunt down Peter Clines because of a little series called Ex-Heroes.
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I discovered Ex-Patriots on an endcap at my local bookstore, the back cover boasting it as “Avengers meets the Walking Dead“. Well, with a hook like that, how could I  pass it up? Further exploration uncovered that I had missed the first book, the series’ namesake Ex-Heroes, so I had to buy that one before reading Ex-Patriots. Since then I’ve read all five of his books in that series, as well as his other science fiction works 14, The Fold, and “Dead Men Can’t Complain”.
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His newest book, Paradox Bound, hits shelves this week and I was fortunate enough to obtain an advanced reader copy from Crown Publishing. I was able to get in contact with Peter Clines and ask him a few questions about his career, his influences, and the array of books he has written.
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What first sparked your love of Science Fiction? What were your biggest influences?
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Star Wars, pretty much unquestionably. Before that there was the Six Million Dollar Man, reruns of Star Trek and Land of the Lostand maybe a few superhero cartoons (all of which I loved), but Star Wars took sci-fi to a whole new level. And then I discovered the original Marvel comics and those first Han Solo books… Everything about it appealed to me. It was pretty much my gateway drug. Some of the first stuff I ever seriouslywrote was really awful Star Wars fan fic. I had a godawful Boba Fett story when I was eleven or twelve that actually lifted some elements from a Doctor Who episode (my other childhood love)
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And now thats out there. Everyone knows eleven-year old me was a hack. It started early.
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How did you break out in Hollywood and how did that work transition into becoming a career author?
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Well, in all fairness, I never really broke out as a writer in Hollywood. I had a good career as a prop guy, and while I was doing that I got invites to pitch at Deep Space Nine and Voyager. I tried writing spec scripts for a few shows I worked on, but nothing ever came of themalthough one of the producers, Javier Grillo-Marxuach, got in touch with me on Twitter a while back because he found one of my scripts in his office and liked it. I had a few feature scripts optioned for tiny amounts. By some standards, all of thats a phenomenal amount of screenwriting success. In reality, though…
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But working in Hollywood exposed me to the nuts and bolts of a lot of storytelling, and a lot of storytelling styles. It was always interesting to see what did and didnt work, and figuring out why. When I stopped working as a crewperson, I did a few stints as a script reader for contests, so I was reading four or five scripts a day for months at a time. And it was the same thingwhen you get all this input, you start to see patterns, trends, and recurring mistakes.
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So when I finally decided to sit down and start working on books again, I felt a lot better-prepared to dodge some of the obvious mistakes.
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Your big breakout series has been Ex-Heroes. Were you afraid of people hating on  your “bandwagon writing” after the successful wave of superhero and zombie properties recently?
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It wasnt really jumping on the bandwagon. Ex-Heroes first came out in early 2010 through a small press. I was part of the bandwagon, one of the folks there in the beginning before it really crested. Thats what got me noticed by Crown Publishing/ Broadway Paperbacks. They picked up the series and let me expand it, but we never really hid where it came from.
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I admit, I did worry a bit that it would get perceived that way, because of the vast jump in exposure— that a lot of folks would see the books for the first time and assume they were new. But I think that honesty from the folks at Crown helped keep such responses to a really bare minimum. I think it maybe came up in two or three Amazon reviews.
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Which I dont read, of course.
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What about your original characters? How do you create such great original content with the oversaturation of powers and heroes in the media?
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I came up with the basic ideas for most of the characters back when I was nine or ten, trying to make up my own superheroes. The Dragon. Cerberus. Zzzap. Gorgon. Banzai. Back then Stealth was a man and went by Night Stalker (very original, I know). Banzai was male, too.
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The thing is, though, the good superhero characters are never about their powers or their costumes (although those things are very important). They’re just about being people. Look at the new Ms. Marvel— the book isnt a success because shes got stretching/elastic powers. Its a success because Kamala Khan is a fantastic character. Her powers are secondary.
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So, if I had to guess, I think thats why most of the Ex-Heroes books appealed to people. Nobodys reading them to see Zzzap light up a room or throw energy boltstheyre reading because he cant go more than five minutes without making geeky pop culture references. We sympathize with Danielles agoraphobia, and we admire St. George as he keeps trying to do the right thing.
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Does one hero hold special importance or precedence over the others for you? Not necessarily your favorite, but a key player that the story could not work without.
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Probably St. George. He tries so hard to be an example, to inspire people. Even the other heroes look up to him. It would be really hard to see this world existing withouhim. Things probably wouldve fallen apart very early on.
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There are currently five books in the series. Is there a definitive end in sight? Or are you just going to continue as long as there are more adventures to be had?
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Id never planned it as a finite series, where book eight or nine wraps up everything or something like that. Its always been one book at a time and then me being thankful to get another one. I think the only time I absolutely, flat-out knew I was going to get another book was from two to three, Ex-Patriots to Ex-Communication.
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So, all that said… My editor and agent and I have talked about another book. Ive got one mostly plotted out, but were playing with some other ideas, too. I dont want to disappoint fans, but theres so many things going on in my head right now, and were trying to get them in an order that works for everyone.
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Which I guess all adds up to… maybe? Probably?
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I’ve been an advocate of adapting your books into films since the beginning, but more and more I am appreciative of the chosen medium. Would you be open to the possibility of adaptation into comics or screen?
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Oh, absolutely. But the sad truth is the Ex books have never quite piqued that level of interest something needs for Hollywood to go after it. Ive had a few nibbles from Hollywood, one solid bite, but even those couldnt make it further up the food chain, so to speak.
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On the comic book side of it… I’ve had some ideas. Ive got a rough outline for sort of a prequel series. One that starts with all of them as heroes but ends with Stealth and the Mighty Dragon standing on top of Hollywood and Highland, discussing the Mount. Essentially, wed see the zombocalypse unfold step by step. I may try pitching that to some folks in the near future.
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Speaking of adaptations, last year I caught wind of a possible television series based on your science fiction novels, namely 14 and The Fold. Where does that stand?
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Yes! Turns out Robert Downey Jr. is a fan of 14, and he optioned the rights for that book, then also struck a deal with WBTV. Theres actually some stuff going on right now that I dont think I can talk about. In another week or so Im either going to be very excited or crying into a bottle all weekend. Let’s leave it at that for now.
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Are you currently expanding the Koturoverse? I really hope there is much more to come.
I want to. Iprobably going to. Part of it is just deciding if things will be part of a straight series or more of a general universe. Look at [Stephen] Kings Dark Tower series. On one hand, its a straight seven book series. But on the other hand, it ties into The StandInsomniaEyes of the DragonSalems Lot… we can see references to the Dark Tower in all of them and more. I think, in the long run, the Koturoverse is going to be more like that. It may be the big story going on in the background, if that makes sense.
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You’ve said that your latest book, Paradox Bound, is not a part of this universe. Do you still explore similar Lovecraftian concepts or are you tapping into new territory?
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Its mostly new territory, and this is much more of a science-fantasy/adventure novel, although there are definitely still some creepy aspects that may border on Lovecraftian. Institutionalized horror, might be a good way to put it. Although when F. Paul Wilson read it, he sent me a little note asking if this was the work of a kinder, gentler” me.
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Past that, if someones a fan of my work, they may catch a few random references to other things here and there. Again, think of that Dark Tower vibe…
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Why is the differentiation between “time travel” and “history travel” stressed so much throughout the novel? Isn’t history reliant on time?
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Well, yes and no. My reasoning was that time is a term we apply to a process— the passage of time. And you can choose to measure time in a number of ways. Minutes, hours, days, weeks, centuries, picoseconds. Its like distance or altitude.
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But we dont talk about traveling in distance or altitude. I don’t say Oh, Ill drive 121.3 miles today,” or I believe Ill go for a long horizontal acceleration.” I say Im going to take the freeway to San Diego.” We talk about the medium were traveling in, not the measurement or the process of moving.
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Plus… it just sounded cool.
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Between classic cars, American history, geography, and even folklore, I imagine you did quite a bit of research for this novel. Is the process tedious? How do you know where to adhere to the truth, bend it for your needs, or break it outright?
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Oh, hells yes. So much research. Cars, maps, railroads, even just general terminology. When did we start having police instead of sheriffs? Technically, at this point in time, would this be whiskey, bourbon, or something else? And its never enough. Every time Id go through the manuscript again I’d hit some new detail and think wait… have I checked this?” Like, at one point Harrys paying for something in the past and I had her pull some nickels from her coin purse. And then I thought, wait a minute… did they have nickels back then?” And it turns out they didnt! Nickels didnt start circulating until after the Civil War. Before then we had half-dimes. And Ray Porter, the audiobook narrator, is a classic car buff and he caught one little mistake that made me kick myself.
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No, I wont tell you what it was.
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Anyway… when it comes to bending it, thats always the tricky part. I think in most cases, its an empathy thing. As a writer, I need to have a good sense of how accepting people will be of a tweak— or a blatant change— and how much is too much. Trying to say the US didnt get into WWII until 1943… thats going to get me called out. Saying how much of the transcontinental railroad had reached Independence, Missouri by 1853… that Ive probably got a little more flexibility with.
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I don’t want to give away too much, but the end of the novel leaves room for additional storytelling. Are you planning on writing more, or do you feel the open-ended conclusion is the most fitting for such a tale?
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kind of like the open-ended aspect of it. Some characters just get one great story, some stories just need one book to tell. Im not saying Ill never revisit these characters again, but I dont see anything in their foreseeable future.
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Then again, it is all about history travel, so maybe well run into them earlier…
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Finally in preparation for this interview, I read “Dead Men Can’t Complain”, an Audible exclusive collection of your short stories. Of the eleven unique chapters, is there one in particular you love or would like to expand upon at some point?
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I love all of them. Its like asking to pick a favorite child. Yeah, sure, itd be Dylan, we all know that, but we cant say it out loud.
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I don’t know. Its a huge swath of stories, covering almost ten years, so they all have little memories attached to them, one way or another. The Hatbox” was my first ever cash sale, and I think that was late 2007. The title for Redneckromancycame to me first and it took a few months to find a story to go with it. Id had the idea for The Apocrypha of Gamma-202” floating in my head for years before the Bless Your Mechanical Heart anthology gave me a chance to write it out (and Jennifer Brozek helped me with the title).
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In the title story, it is set in the future and deals with Ex-Humans. Are the details and hints included in the story meant to provide insight into the Ex-Heroes series and it’s possible plot progression? Or is this just one of many possible outcomes?
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Weird factthat story, Dead Men Cant Complain,” was actually written and published before Ex-HeroesIt was for an anthology called The World is Dead, which was all about stories set long after a zombie apocalypse. The story got accepted, and while I was polishing it for the editor I was gearing up to pitch Ex-Heroes to the same publisher. So I slipped some basic ideas into the story, hoping it might make sort of an interesting hook.
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But anyway, yeah, that plus the fact that Ive been doing all the books one at a time… like you said, itone outcome at best.
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Are you working on more short stories?
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Oh, all the time. I have an ongoing sort of short story series, the Carter and Kraft stories, about two people who explore supernatural cases for the military during World War Two. Ive done X-Files stories. I just found out there may be a Krampus story in my future.
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When I approached Peter at San Diego Comic Con, he had only a handful of books at his table. I approached him and said that I loved the first two books in his series, even though I didn’t have the third book Ex-Communication. I bought it from him on the spot and he signed it. We didn’t get to talk long then, and I doubt he remembers me at all, but in a room full of industry titans, he was one of the very few I sought out. He has been at the top of my favorite authors list for years now and I am so glad to have had the opportunity to speak to him. Also, I wanted to add that he has been a motivating factor in my decision to write my own novel(s). Everyone has a story to tell, and I feel that if he can make history travel, zombies, superheroes and giant sky squids fun to read about, then maybe I can too.
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Special Thanks to Peter Clines, Alex Larned, Audible, Crown Publishing, and of course Comic Crusaders for the opportunity. Paradox Bound and his other books are in bookstores NOW and be sure to check out his social media as well as the blog he writes to encourage budding writers (like me!)
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http://thoth-amon.blogspot.com/ (Writer on Writing)
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P.S. Peter declined to answer a couple of my questions that may give away too much for future novels/plans, which I can’t blame him for, and his busy pre-release schedule didn’t allow for much follow-up about Stephen King’s influence or elaboration on 14 and The Fold. However, He was very gracious and forthright about his packed agenda, so (like a Dead Man) I really can’t complain.
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