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Interview with Keith R.A. DeCandido

To accompany the launch of the new page on this website dedicated to Marvel novels, HERE, Chris Leazer (MarvelMasterworks.com's very own Vice President in Charge of Procrastination) was lucky enough to be able to interview Keith R.A. DeCandido, a former editor of the Marvel novels line, and author of the upcoming Spider-Man: Down These Mean Streets (due out this month), the second book in a brand new line of Marvel novels from Pocket Books.

Keith has an extensive library of works under his belt already, and it's growing all the time. Check out HIS WEBSITE, which includes a full list of his works HERE.

CL: You played a big role in the previous line of Marvel novels. (I still remember a big "cool" factor when I saw The Venom Factor in a bookstore. It seemed so "mainstream".) How much did you do for that previous line? Did you ever think that line would last for as long as it did?

KRAD: I was the Editorial Director of that line of Marvel novels for Byron Preiss Multimedia Company, actually, so basically I was in charge of everything. I hired the novelists, I wrote the contracts, I did the payment requests, I hired the cover artists, I hired the interior artists, I art-directed the covers, I supervised the book design, I trafficked everything to and from Marvel for approval, and to and from Berkley (BPMC's co-publisher on the books, who handled the production and distribution). I had help from a variety of people -- three colleagues and four assistants -- over the years I worked on the program, but basically it was my baby from when we got the contract in 1993 until I left BPMC in 1999. The only books I didn't handle were the last few, the ones that came out in 2000, and even those I was involved in at the early stages.

And I not only thought the line would last for as long as it did, I thought it would last longer. Sadly, some financial shenanigans involving BPMC -- a now defunct company -- killed it prematurely.

CL: Why Spider-Man? Is he a favorite of yours? And what can you tell us about Down These Mean Streets? (Without spoiling too much.) Is this set in "movie continuity", or does the book take place in what could basically be described as "comic continuity"? For example, are Peter and Mary Jane married?

KRAD: DOWN THESE MEAN STREETS takes place in the current comic book continuity, as that's the license that Pocket has acquired. So it'll be fairly consistent with what you've been seeing in the Spidey comics the past few years. So yeah, Peter & MJ are married, and MJ plays a good-sized supporting role in the book.

The novel's about a new designer drug that's been unleashed on New York City called "Triple X" -- a form of ecstasy (commonly called "X") that's been enhanced with gamma radiation. In the Marvel Universe, at least, gamma radiation usually means turning green and getting super powers (e.g., the Hulk, Doc Samson, the Leader, etc.), and that happens to the people who take this drug, too. Spider-Man works with the NYPD to help keep a lid on things -- especially when drug dealers who don't have Triple X start getting pissed at the cut into their business -- and find out who's putting this stuff on the street.

As for why Spider-Man -- he's been my favorite super hero since I was a kid watching him on THE ELECTRIC COMPANY. I've always liked Spider-Man because he's the type of hero that fascinates me more: a person who's given every reason to give up, to stop, to not give a damn, to just let the world go on without him, but he refuses to give in, and always does the right thing, regardless of the personal consequences to him, which are often considerable.

CL: What can you tell us about the new line of Marvel novels? I take it you're not involved editorially, as you were previously. The fact that you're writing one of the first new offerings makes it seem like you were chomping at the bit to get a crack at Spidey again.

KRAD: I was very much so, yes. Pocket picked up the rights and I do most of my tie-in writing for Pocket, so they know my work -- the editors working on these books are the same ones who do the STAR TREK novels -- and like it. I also have more experience than anybody on the planet with super heroes in prose, so naturally they came to me when they picked the license up.....

In fact, I'm already working on the plot for a sequel to DOWN THESE MEAN STREETS.

CL: You seem to write a lot of "media tie-in" novels. What attracts you to these? Is it primarily because you're a fan of many of these universes? Or do publishers approach you, because they trust you with their property? (Or is it secretly because you like to find out what happens in movies before anyone else does?)

KRAD: It's a combination of both. I'm a huge STAR TREK fan, I'm a huge BUFFY fan, I'm a huge FARSCAPE fan, I'm a huge Spider-Man fan, so in each of those cases, I've written for them out of a sheer love for the property. On the other hand, my ANDROMEDA and upcoming STARCRAFT and WARCRAFT novels all came about because editors came to me because of my past work.

I also keep doing it because people keep paying me for it. This is what I do for a living, after all, and one likes to eat and pay rent...

CL: For that matter, how long does it take you to write a book like this? And how long ago did you finish this particular book? When writing novels like this or Star Trek, have you ever been burned by events that took place in the comics or on a television episode that screwed up parts of your book?

KRAD: Answering the last question first: happens all the time. As a veteran tie-in writer, I know that's a risk. Doesn't change whether or not you've written a good book, and I refuse to lose sleep over what's "real" in a fictional construct. To give a classic example, the STAR TREK movie FIRST CONTACT totally blew the Judith & Garfield Reeves-Stevens novel FEDERATION out of the continuity waters, as it were, as that movie contradicted pretty much everything that happened in the novel (regarding the history of the 21st century in general and Zephram Cochrane in particular in the TREK universe). Yet FIRST CONTACT remains a well-regarded movie and FEDERATION remains one of the most beloved TREK novels.

So "burned" is too extreme a word. Sometimes it happens. I shrug and move on.

As for time, I take as long as they give me. If I have six months, I take six months. If I have three weeks, I take three weeks. Sadly, I've had three weeks far more often than I've had six months......

I turned in the first draft of DOWN THESE MEAN STREETS to my editor on 15 March 2005, but that was unusually late. Because of the vagaries of the approvals process, both my novel and Greg Cox's FANTASTIC FOUR: WAR ZONE were very late in the production cycle.

CL: Lately, we've seen lots of authors try their hands at writing comic books. You're obviously familiar with the medium and format. Have you thought about writing comic books again lately? Are there any dream projects that you wish you could work on?

KRAD: I have -- and in fact, I wrote a four-issue STAR TREK comic book in 1999 -- and mostly haven't pursued it aggressively due to lack of time. Having said that, I've had some conversations with two different comic companies about some possible work in the future, so that may change soon....

CL: As someone who's obviously spent a lot of time writing Spider-Man stories, did you ever think you'd get to see such a wonderfully executed Spidey movie on the big screen? Did you even think it was possible?

KRAD: Possible, yes; likely, not so much. But the two Sam Raimi movies succeeded way beyond my wildest expectations. I was very impressed and grateful.

CL: One thing that always impressed me in the previous line of novels was the Chronology that was listed in the backs of the books. That thing just got longer and longer! Towards the end, I think it was around 9 or 10 pages. Was that a labor of love on your part?

KRAD: Absolutely. I was very proud of the way we created our own little "pocket Marvel universe" in the novels, making them all consistent with each other. Even if it was just little things, like Dr. Octopus's appearance in the DOOM'S DAY trilogy picking up from where we left the character in THE OCTOPUS AGENDA.

CL: You're probably most famous for your Star Trek work. What's your favorite Trek crew? What about S.C.E.? Do you enjoy telling a shorter story? Do you find that format easier to work within?

KRAD: Well, my favorite TREK crews are the da Vinci crew from S.C.E. and the I.K.S. Gorkon crew from that series, but that's because I more or less created them....

Regarding S.C.E., I like the format, as it's kind of the best of both worlds between a TV show and a novel -- you have the shorter, punchier stories you get on television, as well as the serialized nature of it with a new one every month, but you still have the greater depth you can achieve in prose.

CL: What's your take on the current state of the Star Trek franchise? Obviously, great new Star Trek books are still coming out every month, so the franchise is far from dead. In fact, now that certain casts and crews seem to have filmed their final scene, it appears that whole new avenues are now free for ST novels to explore. (Titan being the most recent example.)

KRAD: I think the notion of "franchise fatigue" is bull, and the novels prove that every month. It's just a case of finding a TREK that will appeal to the large audience that is necessary for a TV show to survive. TNG had it, and then each subsequent TV show had less of one, to the point where ENTERPRISE was cancelled after four seasons, and it only lasted that long because UPN wasn't overburdened with viable alternatives.

STAR TREK is too important to Paramount for it to lie fallow too long; I'm sure someone will come up with a creative way to revive the franchise on screen, and in the meantime -- just like the last time there was no new TREK on the air or in theatres -- the novels will keep the light on until then, as it were.

CL: Finally, since this is a site devoted to Marvel Masterworks, do you have any thoughts on those particular books? They are, after all, the stories that everything else was built on (and lately, Marvel has added the Golden Age stories from World War II to the line). Some of them hold up surprisingly well, even in this new millenium. Do you have time to read comics these days? Let alone classic reprints like these?

KRAD: I don't have as much time to read comics as I did, but I still do read them assiduously, youbetcha. And I think the MASTERWORKS are wonderful, a noble and grand gesture that keeps the very rich history of the Marvel Universe alive.

Many thanks to Keith for his time! Check out his website, and check out Spider-Man: Down These Mean Streets!

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