Richard K. Morgan is the author of the acclaimed novels 'Altered
Angels', both featuring detective Takeshi Kovacs, and
set in a future where the mind/body division is a technology for
uploading consciousness into a new body when the old one dies.
His latest novel is 'Market
Forces', a savage satire set about
rapacious businessmen who literally kill one another for customers.
I talked to him when he was in San Francisco earlier this year.
But recently I noticed that he'd written the script for a Marvel
Comic, that the movie of 'Market Forces' was moving forward and
that his new novel was done, so I decided to get in touch with
him again. Coming out early next year is 'Woken Furies', a new
Kovacs novel, which, according to his editor over at Victor Gollancz
is his best yet. He kindly consented to update my readers as to
where to look for what he's doing and why he's doing it.
RK: Richard, can you tell us what's happening with the film adaptation
of 'Market Forces'?
I can tell you the film deal has gone through – Warner
Brothers again, though not this time in conjunction with Joel Silver.
The project is in development now with a director/producer whose
names I wasn’t familiar with when they were mentioned to
me. Obviously I’m delighted because Market Forces, though
it started life as a short story, was a screenplay long before
it became a novel.
novel upon which the movie will be based.
RK:Will they be using your screenplay?
RKM: No – to be honest with you, the original screenplay was never
really that good. I cannibalized it while I was writing the novel,
and while the ideas behind it were solid enough, I found myself
constantly dismayed by the poor quality of the writing. I guess
I was a lot younger then – you’re talking a good ten
or eleven years ago, after all. So I destroyed it when I finished
the novel – to borrow a quote from the end of the movie Mad
Max 2, it exists now only in my memories.
RK:I noticed the other day that you had written
a comic for Marvel, Black Widow.
Can you tell me why you did it; I mean did you seek them out or
did they seek you out?
RKM: Very much the latter. Jenny Lee, an editor
at Marvel, had read Altered Carbon and was apparently very taken
with the way I’d
handled the female characters. She liked the fact that they were
good, bad and indifferent human beings independently of their sex,
and she wanted to see if she could get me to import that approach
into a Marvel comics series. She ran a couple of characters by
me, and I fixed on Black Widow immediately.
RK:And tell us about why a novelist would want to write for the comics.
I’ve always had a liking for good comic book art. I’m
not a collector or even a big fan, but I had some of the classic
milestone graphic novels on my shelves – Frank Miller’s
Dark Knight Returns, some Judge Dredd, some Preacher, that kind
of thing – all pretty grim, dark stuff. So when Jenny offered
me the chance to give that kind of treatment to a female Marvel
character, I jumped at the chance. I think both of us (Jenny and
I) were sick of female superheroes who acted as little more than
thinly-disguised wank fantasies for male readers and writers, and
the deal was that this would be something very different. And it’s
always nice to be doing something different.
by Bill Sienkiewicz, script by Richard K. Morgan.
RK: Could you tell the readers a bit about the
process of writing for the comics and how it differs from writing
prose in either short
stories or novels?
RKM: It’s very different. Above all what you notice is the extreme
economy of the process. Any prose you lay down is purely descriptive
of what a given panel is going to show, so it’s a stripped
and strictly communicative form of writing, without a great deal
of polish. By far the bulk of your writerly attention is going
into the dialogue, not least because you’ve got a very limited
amount of space in which to play with and you have to pare it down
to a razor’s edge of delivery. An average comic is twenty
two pages, with about five to seven panels a page – when
you’re used to turning out four hundred page novels, that
seems like an incredibly small scale to work on. But the discipline
required is fascinating to learn, and I’ve been lucky enough,
in Jenny Lee, to have a fine instructor.
RK: Who creates the storyline?
RKM: That’s mine. Obviously, where you’re working with an
existing character, you need to take prior history into account,
but that’s really just a springboard, especially when you’re
taking things in a new direction like this. I put in a six issue
story arc, plus notes on what I wanted to do with the character,
and we took it from there. Then you go back and write it, panel
by panel, page by page, issue by issue. And obviously there are
quite a lot changes once you start doing that, especially when
you’re as new to the whole game as I was. For example,
my sketch of what I thought would be Issue One turned out to
more than enough material for two full issues, so we had to
split it in the middle and still pare it down a bit.
RK: How different is the collaborative process between a writer, an
artist and the editors for a particular series from the process
of writing a novel and turning it in to an editor at a publisher?
there’s a lot more to-ing and fro-ing, certainly. When
you write a novel, it’s a bit like becoming a hermit. You
disappear for a year, and when you come back you’ve got your
finished product, which you turn in and hope your editor likes.
With a comic, you put in the draft, which is usually a couple of
days’ work, then you wait to see how the art turns out. Sometimes,
the artist has ideas about how to depict something that may short
circuit your original plan and so you’ll have to cut or amend
dialogue, sometimes the editor will make logistical suggestions
that require changes. At one point Jenny Lee asked me to cut a
fight sequence by about fifty percent because it was just taking
up too much of the comic and so the balance of the thing was out.
I think in writing a comic, as with screenwriting, it’s important
to see what you’re writing as no more than a blueprint for
the finished product. And you can’t get too precious with
a blueprint. It’s a collaborative process of which you’re
a part – not the kind of control freak obsession that writing
a novel requires.
RK: Do you have other comic projects plans?
RKM: Not as yet. To be honest, there’s far more of the obsessive
control freak in me than the collaborative professional. Right
now it’s fine because on artwork I’ve been lucky enough
to get comics legend and dark art meister Bill Sienkiewicz and
another guy, Goran Parlov, who’s got a firm grasp of where
we’re going with the tone of this thing. These guys, plus
the enthusiasms and tastes that I share with Jenny Lee have ensured
that writing Black Widow is turning out to be a great experience.
But whether that could be duplicated with a different team of people
is by no means certain – and I don’t want to give up
more time from my novel-writing unless I can be guaranteed the
same ride I’m getting now with Jenny, Bill and Goran.
RK: How's the pay?
it’s work for hire, which means a different order of
magnitude to the kind of money I’ve been getting for movie
advances and foreign rights deals. But it’s still a decent
wage for the work, and to be honest this was never really about
the money anyway.
| "..this was never really about
the money anyway."
RK: When 'Altered Carbon' was optioned by Joel Silver, producer of
The Matrix movies, you were able to devote yourself to full-time
writing. Has that project gone alone any further?
RKM: Hard to say. The option was renewed in May
for another eighteen months, so there’s still enthusiasm out there for making
the movie, and that’s always good to know. I understand there’s
been a change of writer for this draft of the script, but aside
from that, I’ve heard nothing more.
RK: Finally, Simon Spanton over at Gollancz tells
me that you've just turned in 'Woken Furies'. Is it a new Takieshi
RKM: It is indeed!
RK: What can you tell us about writing this novel, having written the
first two then diverted to 'Market Forces'?
RKM: I think it was good to get away from Kovacs
and his world for a while – but it’s good to be back!
Writing Market Forces, apart from allowing me to get a furious
political critique out
of my system, gave me the chance to step back and assess the Kovacs
series at a distance. That in turn helped me decide what I wanted
to do with it next.
RK: What can you tell us about the novel itself -- without giving away
any more than we'll read on the dust jacket?
Furies is set on Harlan’s World, and deals with the
ghosts of Kovacs’ past as well as carrying forward a number
of the other peripheral themes in the first two books. In some
ways it’s a return to the noir staples of Altered Carbon,
it’s largely urban in focus and the military context is consigned
to the back seat again. But at the same time, Woken Furies is a
far more intensely personal character novel than Altered Carbon
was. The mysteries that Kovacs has to deal with and the solutions
he finds are bound up tightly with the more existential questions
of who he thinks he is and what implications that has for his actions.
The sex and violence are still there in force, but they cast far
longer, grimmer shadows this time. Guess I’m getting old,
K. Morgan's next novel.
RK: And having finished this novel, can you give us a clue what novel
RKM: Well, not much of clue because I’ve only just started writing
it and I’ve yet to see where it’ll go myself! The next
book won’t be Kovacs, it’s another near (or at least
nearER) future novel, though not a political allegory in the way
Market Forces was. There’ll be a number of themes, including
genetics and the nature/nurture debate and it will be, like all
my stuff, fast moving, violent and character driven. Watch this
RK: Are there any magazines that you see as key reading or influential?
RKM: Not really – I’ve got a subscription to a British political
magazine called Prospect, which is quite informative, I buy the
Guardian more or less daily, and I read the New York Review of
Books from time to time. But in the end these just form part of
a spectrum of data that sits and stews in my head and sometimes
coughs up an idea. In general, I’d say it’s vital,
not just as a writer but as a functioning member of society, to
be well informed politically, but how you go about that is pretty
much an individual thing. Key approach: if your news sources are
telling you that everything’s hunky dory and under control – then
change them, because they’re lying to you. Oh yeah, and avoid
the Economist like the plague – fucking free-market Moonies.
RK: Are there any websites you see that have a corresponding power?
that I can think of off-hand. I spend some time at occupationwatch.org which documents what’s really going on in Iraq and provides
a useful counterbalance to the general fading of interest in the
western media as we’re assured by our leaders that the fighting
is over, the democratic transition is achieved and all is now well
(Yeah, right.). I also find Michael
Moore’s site informative,
and I’m at a loss to understand the sudden reversal of enthusiasm
for him in left-liberal quarters. Maybe as leftists, we’re
not meant to approve of him now he’s rich and successful?
Go figure. But in general I think if you surf the web with a careful
eye and an idea of what you want information about, you’re
better off making your own connections. As with print media, it’s
an individual thing and you have to find your own answers.
| "...a useful counterbalance..."
RK: How do you feel about the state of web publishing now, and what
do you see as its potential for the future?
RKM: I don’t really know enough about it to have an intelligent
opinion – but off the top of my head I’d say the potential
for the future is immense. It always is with media technology.
RK: How do you see the market for fiction shaping up over the next
couple of years?
to be in pretty rude health, at least on this side of the Atlantic.
There’s also a general loosening of boundaries
that I like – increasing numbers of mainstream novelists
wandering into genre territory – David Mitchell’s Cloud
Atlas is at least one third science fiction, Margaret Atwood’s
Oryx and Crake is a hundred percent (albeit not very good) SF.
And then on the other side of the coin you’ve got obvious
genre writers like China Mieville (Iron
Council), Ian MacDonald
of Gods) and Paul McAuley (White Devils) having their books
marketed as mainstream. It’s a good time to be writing, no
doubt about it.
"...increasing numbers of mainstream novelists
wandering into genre territory – David Mitchell’s Cloud
Atlas is at least one third science fiction."
RK: We've been hearing a lot of horror stories
about the decline of reading.
Do you buy them?
RKM: No. Again, I can’t answer for the US, but book sales are
up in the UK. We appear to be reading (or at least buying the books
to read) more than ever. Only a couple of weeks ago, I was in Madrid
and I heard the Spanish minister of culture there citing book readership
figures in the UK as something for contemporary Spanish culture
to aspire to. Nice to hear that in fact – usually the only
things the British are famous for in Spain are appalling cuisine,
football hooliganism and loud and offensive drunkenness.
RK: Is the increasing market for graphic novels going to have an impact
on the market for pure fiction?
RKM: Well possibly, but not, I think, the negative
influence that everyone assumes. I’m reading far more graphic novels these days than
I was a couple of years ago, but I haven’t noticed a corresponding
drop in the amount of prose fiction I read. It’s a different
form, so it’s unlikely to act as a substitute. And it doesn’t
take long to read a graphic novel, so it’s not that you’re
displacing valuable time from reading other things. Hopefully,
what will happen is that there’ll be some cross-fertilisation
and people who habitually read comics will start to pick up novels
by authors who work in both fields (like me!). You can see this
already happening with the huge success Neil Gaiman (Sandman) has
had with his prose fiction in recent years. And of course we’ve
also got to hope that some of the snobbery from literary quarters
about the comics will start to burn off under the realization of
how much really very good stuff there is out there in the graphic
RK: How about the market for video game scripts versus movie scripts
increasingly the lines are blurring between big budget action movies
and video games (and action-driven
comicbooks), but I think
that’s a self-contained thing. They’re forms with an
awful lot in common, and I think their impact on prose fiction
is going to be limited. Not that the same people won’t consume
them all – they probably will. But those people won’t
generally substitute one form for the other. I loved the Sin City
graphic novels, and I’ll probably go and see the movie, I
loved the Max Payne games and if they ever make a Max Payne movie,
I’ll probably see that too – but none of this is going
to stop me reading Arundhati Roy or Anne Michaels. It’s not
a zero sum game.
loved the Max Payne games..."
RK: Could you talk about the challenges of writing for media that are
RKM: Er – not really, because I don’t.
RK: For example, when you write for movies you now can take into account
the fact that at some point, there will be a DVD, with both a commentary
track and a media that can be halted, skipped and viewed asynchronously.
Video games take this a step further
RKM: Yeah, you can take all that into account.
But, in my humble opinion, if you did, you’d be spiking your own creative guns. For
example, I’ve been approached by a number of quite big name
game companies about the possibilities of a Takeshi Kovacs game,
and in a way that’s quite flattering (as well as potentially
very lucrative). Maybe it’ll even happen at some point. But
if I sit down to write a book and allow myself to think that there
might be a video game of it one day, allow myself to worry about
that and write accordingly, then it’s going to distort what
I really want to put on the page. You stop being a (creative) writer,
and become a prose prostitute, a sort of give-the-people-what-they-want
word technician. And where’s the point in that? The whole
deal with being a writer is that you write what you want, what
you feel and then you hope that it’s a valid act of communication
and that it’ll connect with other people. If you’re
lucky it will. But as soon as you start actively thinking about
cross-marketing and product placement, you’ve reduced that
act of communication to a street walker’s come-on. It may
pay well, but it’s not something you’re going to feel
especially proud of. And I think sooner or later that knowledge,
that cynicism, will eat into your writing and in the end it’ll
kill whatever it was that drove you to be a writer in the first
RK: Websites and blogs also allow for new forms of fiction, to wit,
Alistair Langston's 'Aspects
of a Psychopath'. The writer started
a blog, which purported to be the exploits of a serial killer,
spelled out in gruesome detail. Eventually, it was developed into
a novella from Telos UK. You've just started your own website.
What brought you to this point?
RKM: Really, the website was just a point of contact – it became
apparent by the time Broken Angels came out that a lot of people
were trying to get in touch with me with everything from simple
well-wishing and enthusiasm about my work to actual proposals for
things like a Kovacs platform game or foreign rights for Altered
Carbon. The website seemed like an obvious solution to this – it
makes me visible to anyone who wants to find me, maybe answers
some of their more basic curiosities about what makes me tick,
and offers a coms channel should they want to talk to me. Anyone
who hits the contact button on the site will hear back from me
at some point, even if it’s simply to say thanks for the
RK: Are you reading or watching anything that my readers should be
reading or watching?
I’m just back from a month and a half trekking in Peru
and Bolivia so my recent intake of current books and movies has
been severely limited. I spent most of my dead time out there catching
up on books I’ve wanted to read for years – in this
case Arundhati Roy’s God of Small Things and Yann
Martel’s Life of Pi, both of which were excellent.
Since I got back, well, let’s see, there was this quiet little
movie called The
Station Agent that I saw a few days ago. It has the same flavour
you find in work from indie US moviemakers like Jim Jarmusch and
and it’s superb. I’ve also just read Marjane Satrapi’s
new graphic novel Persepolis 2, which is great stuff and
a real kick in the head to all those who don’t like to take the
comicbook form seriously. And I’m now just getting into Pete
which is purely brilliant so far – well
worth a look. Oh yeah, and just before I left I got to see Fahrenheit
911, which should be required viewing for any citizen of the
US or the UK – I’m a pretty cynical bastard, but I confess
it shocked even me, the evidence and footage of corruption Moore
was able to dig up. I mean, you couldn’t make that shit up.
I’m now just getting into Pete Dexter’s Train,
which is purely brilliant so far – well worth a look."
RK: Is there anything on the horizon that we should
be looking forward to, beyond your own work?
RKM: Again, I’m not really up to speed here – I’d
like to say I’m looking forward to the Sin City movie, but
I think I’ll reserve judgment until it’s out. I find
it hard to believe that a mainstream Hollywood movie will be permitted
the extremes of Miller’s original graphic novels –or
their brutally grim endings. Still, we live in hope.
RK: Any final words or warnings?
RKM: Uh – vote
Kerry, I guess, if you’re
not going to already. Please. Thank you.
RK: Let me send you the thanks of my readers along with my own. This
is greatly appreciated!