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by Sandy Auden

One of the most intriguing and obsessed characters in the Supernatural TV series (and played to perfection by actor Jeffrey Dean Morgan), John Winchester's back history is being revealed in a new book. Author Alex Irvine talks about delving into the character's dark and difficult past in John Winchester's Journal.

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April 2009
Keeping A Supernatural Journal

Supernatural: John Winchester's Journal When his wife was murdered in a house fire in 1983, John Winchester left his life as a car mechanic and took up hunting the demon who killed her. Taking his two young sons with him, he embarked on a path of revenge that was to shape the lives of his family for decades to come…

One of the most intriguing and obsessed characters in the Supernatural TV series (and played to perfection by actor Jeffrey Dean Morgan), John Winchester's back history is being revealed in a new book. Author Alex Irvine talks about delving into the character's dark and difficult past in John Winchester's Journal.

How close did you get your version to the Journal seen on TV?
In most of the places where the Journal reproduces passages seen in the show, it's identical content-wise. There were design and layout issues with reproducing the look of the prop journal throughout the book, but the reader will see lots of familiar images and passages of text.

A number of the prop journal pages are also collages of images, which is one thing when you've got an art department putting it together page by page and something else entirely when you're creating a trade book.

The Journal is profusely illustrated in its book form. All of the good stuff is by Dan Panosian, who illustrated The Supernatural Book of Monsters, Demons, Spirits, and Ghouls, and all of the other stuff was done by yours truly -- which now means that I am technically a professional book illustrator, a fact which makes me feel like I got away with something. Some of it was supposed to look like it was scrawled into the journal by a guy with a Sharpie who wasn't an artist. If ever there was an illustration job that was made for me, that's it.

Apart from the TV series, what other sources did you use to flesh out John Winchester's past?
The Supernatural comics are part of it, since [series creator] Eric Kripke and I talked at the beginning of the process about how to finesse some of the differences between the two stories. The show took priority, of course, but there were some interesting moments from the comics that I would have hated to ignore. So I didn't!

What did you enjoy the most about putting the book together?
One of the things that TV and film have a hard time doing is getting inside a character's head. The viewer can infer a lot about feelings and emotions from what an actor does and how a scene is shot, of course, but the real inner workings of the mind are tough to get at in film. So I saw the Journal as -- at least in part -- a complementary work to the show that would let fans inside John's head for the first time and really explore what has made him tick over the twenty-plus years between [John's wife] Mary's death and the show's pilot. He's a very rich character, and as a father myself, I got to project all kinds of my anxieties onto him, which was pretty fulfilling.

And what was the most difficult part of writing it?
Striking a balance between making the book a comprehensible narrative and making it believable as a journal written by a man for himself, with no thought of an audience. That's why a lot of the entries aren't dated and why there are random bits of information and speculation, drawings, lists, and so forth stuck in without explanation. I wanted there to be a lot for fans of the show to explore in the Journal, but I also wanted it to work as a story on its own terms, not necessarily depending on a deep knowledge of the show for narrative coherence. In the end it's a story about a guy wrestling with the conflict between his ideals of fatherhood and other self-imposed ideals -- in this case having to do with the need for revenge.

Did any bit of info send you on a huge chase to confirm it?
Sometimes -- and I've done this in other books too -- I would get researching an interesting bit of occult lore and then look up and find that I'd spent a whole day trying to find out, for example, if there really was an interesting coincidence between Samuel Colt and, say, Davy Crockett, which would mean that John could indulge in all kinds of speculation about the magical Colt and the Alamo, et cetera. I guess what I'm saying is yeah, I did go on some huge chases, but they were mostly self-inflicted.

How much of the book did you create and how much was already established?
There were a number of events established by existing show canon, so those were signposts along the way, but as far as the words and images? The prop journal only amounts to a dozen or so pages, maybe twenty, and the book is about 50,000 words with a couple of hundred illustrations. So the vast majority of it was me working through John's character and telling the kind of stories that I thought it would fit for him to tell about the kinds of things that he would find compelling.

What guidelines (self imposed or externally applied) did you follow when creating authentic John Winchester events?
There weren't really any that were externally applied, at least not once Eric and I got the initial shape of the project sorted out. What I tried to do throughout was present events that seemed true to the character as we know him from the show, but also shed more light on the twenty-two years of hardship that made him the way he is. (Well, was.) I was also working from some of the stuff that I wrote in the monster book, and reincorporating that into the overall story of John's life.

Did anyone from the show review the contents of the Journal?
I was talking with people from the show throughout the process. Eric and I had a couple of long conversations at the beginning, and he and I touched base fairly often after that. I also spent a lot of time emailing back and forth with [writers] Rebecca Dessertine and Cathryn Humphris. They've all seen the final book and had embarrassingly nice things to say about it.

How did you arrive at the right narrative tone for John Winchester?
I started with his character as it's presented in the show to get a sense of how he speaks and acts. A second point of departure was the existing pages from the prop journal and the web site. From those two beginnings, I tried to develop him as someone who is fairly uncomfortable with the written word but who starts to depend on it as a way to let out all of the tensions and anxieties that he can't talk to the boys about and can't necessarily exorcise by killing monsters.

What insights into John Winchester's psyche do you think the book gives?
One reason why I wanted to do this book was that when Eric and I were first talking, I said I wanted the Journal to be the record of a man teetering on the brink of madness, and sometimes falling off -- and we were completely on the same page. That's what I wanted the book to convey: how terribly hard it was for John to do what he thinks is right to avenge Mary while at the same time being a decent father to the boys. It's just not possible, and he knows it, but he keeps trying to do it anyway and it tears him apart. That's what makes him an interesting character to me.

And how do you think it enhances the viewer's experience?
For the viewer of the show, the Journal will offer a lot of texture and back story, as well as lots of fun and spooky incidents from the life of a really interesting character. Want to see a complete exorcism ritual? Got it. How about John's reaction to everything from space shuttle disasters to the idea that angels might exist? It's in there. The show is a great ride, and I hope the Journal lets the show's audience sit back and savor in book form some of their favorite things from the episodes.

Supernatural: John Winchester's Journal is out now from publishers William Morrow.

Copyright © 2009 Sandy Auden

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

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