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Interview with Stefan Petrucha

Posted on May 6, 2004 by Flames

How did you get into gaming?

Roundabouts 1975-76, my senior year of high school, someone introduced me and my friends to the original three box set of Dungeons and Dragons, with all the funny dice, and I was hooked. I’d already graduated from Risk to Diplomacy and some of the Midway war board games (Wooden Ships and Iron Men was a fave), but that was my first encounter with RPGs. The funny dice, the freedom to play a character, or design your own fantasy world, had me hooked. In college I wound up playing in a three year campaign.

What has been your most challenging work in the RPG industry?

Dark Ages: Assamite. When I got the gig from White Wolf I knew very little about the DA game, and much less about Islam, Byzantium and the Crusades, all of which figured directly into the story. So, at first I spent a lot of time surrounded by books, which I enjoyed immensely. Then, as I began writing it, a terrible bout of pneumonia hit. I had temperatures spiking up to 104, 105, for days. In some ways, oddly, enough, the quasi-hallucinatory state helped me embed myself in the faux reality, if not exactly in English grammar.

Where do you get your inspiration? How do you keep your ideas fresh?

I go on the assumption that if it’s really, really interesting to me, it’ll also be really interesting to someone else. Also, I find a lot of writers seem to abdicate the plotting, being satisfied with standard beginning/middle/end stuff that makes Hollywood films so predictable. So I try to do some extra work on that level, use recurring themes, relate that to the characters and the story and so on. One way to keep things fresh is to keep my nose in the old stuff, the great literature, the things that always seem fresh no matter how many times you read them – then try to emulate those qualities.

Do you consider Horror a genre or a mood? why?

I think, at base, a horror film/book/story is one that tries to elicit the response that its name implies – a horrific reaction, just like a comedy, by definition, tries to elicit laughs. Obviously, it’s considered a genre, just by virtue of the fact that you can walk into a book or video store,
go to the horror section and find a number of things under the heading that have that much in common – they try to horrify you.

Can a mood, on its own, elicit a horrific response? I don’t think so. When I think mood, I think ambiance – dark castle, candles lights and cobwebs, that sort of thing. Now, a creepy, or tense mood can make it easier to elicit a horrific reaction, but it can’t do it on its own. You also need plot moments that build tension, reach a crescendo, then explode. So I think pacing seems even more key to the horror genre than mood, but even that’s just one element.

But, ultimately, I think horror is neither genre nor mood – it’s a moment, that explosion.

What makes for a good Horror story?

A gnawing, inevitable sense that you can easily be painfully destroyed, or so deeply changed for the bad that you may as well be painfully destroyed. There’s so much more than that, though, obviously, but I think that deeply animal sense of being surrounded, hackles raised, ready to fight, but unable to, or hopelessly outgunned, that brings about the best horror. In that sense, the final scene of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is a horror scene.

You’ve worked on Novels, Short Stories, Comics, Movies and more…do you have a favorite?

Not really – each has their advantages. I do find that with prose the non-collaborative aspect has a big aesthetic advantage. Once I’m done writing it, and the editor edits it, it goes to the reader, so there’s less distance. It’s a complete entity, so to speak, unlike a comic script or a screenplay. That’s’ very satisfying.

The novella, “The Grass is Always Greener” from Haunting the Dead for Orpheus has received rave reviews from fans. What can you tell us about it?

I was thinking that the basic idea behind a horror story is that the main character is trying to stay alive, so why not reverse that? Work with someone who wants to die – a suicidal type. Suicides seek release, but that release really isn’t always possible in the world of Orpheus, is it? So you have this situation where someone encounters ‘the other side’ only to discover it’s not what they’d obsessively hoped for. Hence the title. I also think I made some major strides with my style on this. It was written mostly in the months following the death of my mother from breast cancer, and it was a terrific rest from all that emotional heartache – I don’t know if that had anything to do with the way it came out, but I suspect it did. I’m very pleased with it, and of course happy that it’s going over so well.

If you could continue the story, what would you do with it?

That’s a good question. Shutty is a great character, and I’m sure she has a lot more stories in her. I can’t really talk too much about that here without giving away what happens in the first story, but if I ever get the chance, I’d love to work with her again.

What differences and/or challenges do you face when taking an RPG Character and writing them in a comic book format (Assamite: The Sleep of Reason)?

The biggest difference is that someone else is drawing the pictures, that a key aspect is out of my control, and no longer part of the reader’s imagination. It’s a collaborative medium, so you have to partner well, writer and artist trying to play to each other’s strengths, that sort of thing. That said, there’s a terrific dynamic to be gained by the visuals. Most fight scenes, for instance, will always play best in a movie or film, second best in a comic book, and least best in prose. It’s also, in a way, much easier to out and out surprise someone with a BOO! moment in film or comics, than it is in a novel. Reading the words slows down the process, makes it more cerebral, whereas you apprehend the picture and WHAM! Of course, in a way, you can wind up being less subtle by relying on the pictures too much.

What was your inspiration for the Hunter: the Reckoning story “The Treatment of Dr. Eberhardt”?

At base root, by definition, a vampire is dead, unchanging, a sort of desiccated echo of life’s desires. So, with Eberhardt, I was thinking what if someone became a vampire during their mid-life crisis? He’d get stuck in that peculiar fear and longing, not even realizing it. When he tries to return to his former life, the way most mid-life crises end, he wouldn’t be able to, leaving destruction as the only salvation. So what do you do? Where do you turn? It was also a lot of fun to establish a foil for that character, a seemingly innocent child, to conjure and play off those desires. I don’t want to give too much away here, for those who haven’t read the story, though.

What’s next for you?

In June, I have two projects coming out – a novella called The Tunnel at the End of the Light. It’s the second in the exciting Doctor Who spin-off series from Telos Publishing that follows the time-warping adventures of the ambivalent HonorĂ© Lechausseur and the enthusiastic amnesiac Emily Blandish in post-war London.

Then there’s the Lance Barnes: Post Nuke Dick trade paperback from Moonstone, collecting the original Marvel mini-series I did with artist Barry Crain back in the 90’s. I’ve also done a screenplay for Lance which has been optioned by director Rick Friedberg of Spy Hard fame – and he’s currently seeking a budget for it.

Lastly, I’m trucking around a new novel, a sort of paranormal coming of age story that tries to deconstruct the whole genre while delivering a page-turning story. I’m particularly excited about that, and trucking it around to sundry publishers.

For more information on Stefan Petrucha, visit his website at http://www.petrucha.com.

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