by Sandy Auden
Well, yeah, okay, it is, but…
If you think that's all there is to it, think again.
It's really quite a serious undertaking that requires thought, planning and hard work. And to prove it, here's Nicholas Knight taking us behind the scenes on the season three Supernatural Official Companion…
Step One – What the hell is going to fill all these blank pages?
The first thing you need to do with any book is decide what you're going to put in it, but it's not entirely the author's choice and you have to follow the established rules:
"The contents need to follow the same pattern as the first two companions," says Knight. "Then each section has word limits and the book has a specific overall page count, so I have to work within those constraints. The licensor has to approve all the imagery used in the book, so I can't just take a screen capture of a cool shot, for example, and throw it in, but that's probably for the best.
"However, Season Three is a shorter season (due to the writer's strike) so there are less episode sections, which allowed me to extend the character and 'Supernatural Reaction' sections, and add a couple new sections, namely 'Scary Stuff' and 'Not Seen on TV'."
Step Two – Somebody talk to me!
"I watch the entire season a few times before jumping into the interviews. Pretty much all the crew I spoke with before (plus many more) are back for this book, along with [series creator] Eric Kripke [and the Winchester boys] Jared Padalecki, and Jensen Ackles, of course. I interviewed representatives of Inkworks (trading cards), CineQuest.com (minibusts), Power Star Collectibles, and the official Supernatural Magazine, as well as Rebecca Dessertine, co-writer of the second Supernatural prequel comic book mini-series, Rising Son, and Keith R. A. DeCandido, author of the tie-in novel Bone Key.
"The guest stars I was lucky enough to talk to were Jim Beaver (Bobby Singer), A.J. Buckley (Ghostfacer Ed Zeddmore), Sterling K. Brown (Gordon Walker), Katie Cassidy (Ruby), Lauren Cohan (Bela), Richard Speight Jr. (Trickster), Travis Wester (Ghostfacer Harry Spangler), Charles Whitfield (Agent Henricksen), Brittany Ishibashi (Ghostfacer Maggie Zeddmore), Michael Massee (Kubrick), Sandra McCoy (Crossroads Demon), Matthew Humphreys (Dixon in 'Fresh Blood'), Peter Macon (Isaac in 'The Magnificent Seven'), Mercedes McNab (Lucy in 'Fresh Blood'), and Marissa Ramirez (Tammi in 'Malleus Maleficarum')."
And you don't just get to sit on your ass at home, kicking back in your jim-jams and interviewing people on the phone. Sometimes, you have to venture (blinking) into the sunlight…
"I had to travel to the production office in Hollywood, which was a lot of fun. I had some meetings in Eric Kripke's office and hung out in the writer's room most of the time. And there was an earthquake while I was there too! I also visited the studio in Vancouver, but I live thirty minutes away, so I don't really think of that as travelling…although the sets are so realistic that it's always like venturing into a parallel Supernatural universe."
Hanging out in prime locations means you get to soak up the local colour too. "Sometimes I learn fun trivia, like that the Hollywood office has a Tiki Bar in it and that Eric Kripke drinks Diet Cherry Coke. Often I'll see or hear things that will inspire questions I wouldn't have thought to ask otherwise.
"This time around, I got to sit in the VFX trailer and see the various steps of the VFX process, including one sequence of Dean getting hit by the car in 'Mystery Spot' that didn't make it into the final cut."
And the biggest benefit of being there? "Overall I find that people are most comfortable talking about their work when they're in their work environment."
This is usually a one-shot opportunity to get the quotes you need from cast and crew who are busy on other tasks so you need to make the most of the time you get. "I usually ask for twenty to thirty minutes, but often run to forty minutes, even an hour, if the interviewee can spare the time. Eric Kripke is a special case in that I pick his brains for three hours over two or more interviews.
"I prioritize my questions to make sure I get what I need before I run out of time. For example, if I'm speaking with a guest star, I'll ask them questions about their episode first before questions like, 'What's it like working with Jared and Jensen?' Especially since everyone always says how wonderful the boys are anyway."
So what are the boys like to interview? "They're wonderful! Seriously, they're warm and welcoming with no apparent egos, and interviewing them just feels like chatting with friends about our favourite TV show."
Step Three – Oh my god, where do I start?
You've done the travelling, you've interrogated absolutely everyone, you've got hours and hours of recorded conversations, a sheaf of pages covering research into scary creatures and trivia, and a head swimming with sixteen episodes of Supernatural stories. What next?
"I transcribed all the interviews, which took me about three times as long, for an average of two hours per person. Then I wrote synopses of all the episodes, chose my favourite snatches of dialogue, researched and wrote the 'Closer Look At' sections, etc.
"The longest part of the writing process is definitely transcribing the interviews, but the hardest graft comes with the synopses. I always want to tell every last interesting detail about each episode, and wind up having to revise the synopses several times before they're short enough to meet the required word count.
"Figuring out which quotes to use where is not as easy as it may seem either. I regularly move quotes around between various sections of the book, and rearrange the order of quotes within sections. In the end, I just go with my instincts of what works best for a particular section or for the book as a whole.
"The toughest thing is cutting quotes because I always end up with more material than I can use, but I want to share everything with the fans! I've learned that I'm always going to end up cutting out quotes that I find interesting, so I spent less time agonizing over the cuts this time -- I just chose the ones that worked together the best, cut the rest and moved on."
There is the occasional cherry on the icing though. "The most fun I had writing this companion was creating the original things, like the Christmas cards from the Trickster and Agent Henriksen."
Step Four – Phew!
After gathering behind-the-scenes photos from the interviewees, the process is almost complete. It's sent off to the publisher, who puts in even more work on their end and sends proof copies back to the author, at which point the chosen photos need to be captioned. And then it's published!
"Even though this is the third book, it was still a big thrill to hold the printed book in my hands. My editors, the layout people at Titan Books and everyone else involved did an amazing job. Maybe it's just because it's all shiny and new, but in many ways I think it's my favourite of the companions so far. There are a lot of pieces that go into making it whole, so when it all comes together in the end, it's very satisfying indeed."
So when you pick up your copy of Supernatural: The Official Companion, Season Three (out now from Titan Books) remember how much hard work and fun has gone into its pages.
Sandy Auden is currently working as an enthusiastic interviewer/reviewer for SFX magazine; a tireless news hound for Starburst magazine; and a diligent interviewer/reviewer for Interzone magazine and SF Site. She spends her spare time lying down with a cold flannel on her forehead. For background information, visit www.sandyauden.co.uk.
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