Dabel Brothers’ David Lawrence Talks Patricia Briggs’ Cry Wolf

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Jul 1 2009 at 12:26pm

Posted in General News,Interviews

Fans of Patricia Briggs’ Mercy Thompson: Homecoming series are already chomping at the bit to read Cry Wolf, an adaptation of her best-selling novel. I got the chance to speak with David Lawrence, the writer of the Mercy Thompson: Homecoming and Cry Wolf comics (and managing editor for Dabel Brothers Publishing), to get the inside scoop on what it’s like to work with a famous author, what Cry Wolf is all about, and what’s coming up from Dabel Brothers! Hi David, thanks for taking some time out of your schedule to talk with me.

David Lawrence: Schedule? I have a schedule? Why doesn’t somebody tell me these things? Ha! What’s the basic premise to Patricia Briggs’ Cry Wolf?

DL: Oh boy, this is going to be a long answer.

In Patty’s universe, the werewolves live in a very hierarchical culture. At the top of any pack is the Alpha, who is the most dominant. Every wolf in the pack has a rank, with the least dominant down at the bottom. At the top of all the packs in North America is the Marrok, who is sort of the king of the werewolves. It’s a little more complicated with the females, who take the rank of their mates, though again the most dominant females tend to find their ways to the most dominant males.

The one exception is an Omega wolf. Omegas are very rare and have a special ability to sort of calm troubles and help keep peace in the pack, but they stand outside the order and neither follow nor command. Sort of like a shaman or medicine man in a Native American culture.

Cry Wolf is the first novel in Patty’s Alpha and Omega series. The series takes its name from Charles Cornick, an Alpha, who is the son of the Marrok and is his right-hand man. Anna Latham is the Omega. She was turned into a werewolf against her will under orders of the rogue leader of a Chicago wolf pack.

Charles has rescued Anna and brings her to Montana, where his father’s pack is based. Not far from where the pack is based there is a string of mysterious killings in the wilderness that appear to be the work of a werewolf. This is a dangerous thing, especially so close to the Marrok’s territory. The Marrok sends Charles and Anna to investigate. How would you characterize this comics series? Is it a romance? An adventure story? A traditional fantasy?

DL: It’s a little bit of them all, though I don’t really consider Patty’s work to be “traditional” fantasy. It’s grounded in a well-thought-out reality and there a lot of logical rules that apply. No magic wands or anything. A lot of people call the genre urban fantasy. We’re out in the wilds of Montana in this one, but I think the label still fits. Should readers have read Patricia Briggs’ previous works, or is Cry Wolf a stand-alone story?

DL: I guess if you’ve read some of Patty’s other books it adds some texture to the story. It would probably help to have read the novella Alpha and Omega, which begins the story of Charles and Anna. And the events in Cry Wolf take place in the aftermath of the first Mercy Thompson novel, Moon Called, with some ongoing repercussions. How many issues are in the miniseries?

DL: Another simple question with an oddly complicated answer. I’ve noticed in some reviews of Dresden Files Storm Front, our approach to this has confused some folks, or more likely we just didn’t explain it very well.

It’s eight issues, but we run them in two separate volumes. So the fifth issue is actually Cry Wolf Volume 2 #1, not Cry Wolf #5.

We do that for the purpose of the graphic novel collections, since those releases consist of four issues. I’ll adjust the storytelling a bit so it makes sense dramatically. I’ll go for a big climax at the end of the fourth issue to give the sense that we’re gaining steam and building towards something. I’ve heard that Cry Wolf in the same “universe” as the Mercedes Thompson series–do any characters from Mercy’s stories turn up here?

DL: The Marrok, Bran Cornick, is a major figure in the lives of both Mercy and Anna. His son Sam is one of Mercy’s competing romantic interests, along with Adam Hauptman, and he appears here. The funeral for a character in the first Mercy Thompson novel takes place early in Cry Wolf. So there is definitely overlap. You also wrote the Mercy Thompson: Homecoming comics series. How is Anna different than Mercy as a heroine?

DL: One of the obvious differences is that Anna is a werewolf and Mercy is not. Being a coyote shapeshifter is entirely a different thing. Although [Mercy] was raised by foster parents in the Marrok’s pack, she stands completely apart from their social hierarchy. Mercy is also probably more the traditional heroine than Anna. She’s tough, wisecracking, independent. She owns her own business. She’s very much in charge of her own life. Sometimes her hardheadedness gets her in trouble, but she knows who she is and what she’s all about.

Anna is a bit of a lost soul. Transformed against her will, trapped in a very dysfunctional wolf pack where she was badly abused for several years, completely cut off from her family for all that time and still has very little idea of what it is to be a werewolf. But they have some things in common. Both have old-fashioned hearts of gold and go out of their way to help others. There’s a lot more to Anna than initially meets the eye. What was the process like, adapting Patricia Briggs’ novels?

DL: This is actually my first time adapting one of Patty’s novels. Mercy Thompson: Homecoming was an original story. Patty would send me notes, actually more like a rough draft of a short story, and I would turn those into a script. This is actually a lot easier, because I have the whole story in front of me at the start. Patty is sort of a seat-of-the-pants type of writer. I had no idea in Homecoming what exactly would happen from one issue to the next till I got the next set of notes.

Patty reads it all, but she also has a set of thematic consultants who look them over. They are sort of there to make sure we get details right. Patty’s got a very hectic schedule and sometimes little stuff gets past her.

A good story is a good story, but you do have to adapt it to the medium you are in. Obviously, in comics, getting strong visuals are the key. I always strive to have a catchy opening, whether it’s a big action scene of just something intriguing. One of my favorite moments in Homecoming, for example, is the second-issue splash page, which is a full-page close-up of Stefan the vampire smiling sweetly. Creepy and sucks you right in.
You also have to eliminate of minimize stuff that isn’t visual.

For instance, the telephone. Nothing, absolutely nothing, is tougher to work with than long scenes on the telephone. That said, in the first issue of Cry Wolf I have literally a four-page scene of Charles and his father on the telephone. There was just no getting around it, so I had to make it work. Inserted a couple of big panels showing what they were discussing, gave Anna some business to do during the call. Had to dig deep into my bag of tricks, though. Damn Alexander Graham Bell, anyway. What was your working relationship like with Ms. Briggs?

DL: I like working with Patty. Mostly it’s via email, but we’ve talked a couple of times and she’s very nice. It’s generous of her to allow me to play in her sandbox. And I didn’t always play nice. On Homecoming I twisted stuff around, added stuff, took stuff out, re-sequenced things. It was the same story but it looked a lot different probably from the way Patty imagined it.

Writers are all control freaks, but she was quite open minded about ceding a certain amount of control to the comic book guy. On a lot of projects I don’t really get to interact with the author, so this is nice. Is this a faithful adaptation of the book, or have you made some changes?

DL: It’s pretty faithful, but there are always changes. When you are taking 176 pages to tell the story, you get to hem a lot closer than if you only have 88, or than if you are making a two-hour-long movie.

Cry Wolf was a little tricky because it picks up right after Alpha and Omega, so about a chapter is spent dealing with those events and getting Charles and Anna from Chicago to Montana. But we’re not adapting Alpha and Omega, and it really wouldn’t have made sense to try to squeeze it in here. They are two very separate stories. So I kind of skim past much of the early part of the book. Still, I have to weave in some of the back story from the novella for the reader to make sense of who Charles and Anna are and how they got to this point. It’s an interesting set of challenges.

Sometimes, too, you actually add stuff. I’m working on the script for issue #2 right now, and for my opening I’ve taken a scene that occurs offstage in the book, a werewolf attack that sets a lot of events in motion, and put it onstage here to start things off with a bang. What was your level of knowledge about Patricia Briggs’ work before you started working on the comics?

DL: I read Moon Called when I first got involved with the Homecoming project. Sometimes it’s a plus not to be too well versed in a character or series when you come in to adapt it. When you’re already a fan, you can lose objectivity about the best way to tell a story.

And oddly, I don’t actually read a lot of fiction. Read a lot of science fiction when I was young, but that was a long time ago. I read mostly history now, believe it or not. For your own sake, don’t ask me a question about Abraham Lincoln. We’ll be here all night. As if, with my long-winded answers, we haven’t already. Will Dabel Brothers continue to adapt other stories in this series, like Alpha and Omega or Hunting Ground?

DL: It certainly seems likely, but as always it depends upon the response. If we sell a ton of copies it’s pretty much a no-brainer. So if you want to see more of Charles and Anna, buy plenty of copies and nag all your friends. As Dabel Brothers Publishing’s managing editor, you must have your fingers in a lot of different projects. What’s coming up that you’re excited about?

DL: I’m excited about everything. Dresden Files is a great book. Storm Front was a lot of fun, and I’m looking forward to the next one. Homecoming is winding up and the graphic novel will be on the shelves this summer. We’ve got some new Dean Koontz stuff coming up, and though I’m not deeply involved with that, his projects always have a lot of fans. And of course, Wheel of Time is ongoing. There’s so much there that we’ll probably still be adapting those long after I personally have become recycled paper. Do you have any other writing projects in the works?

DL: There’s a couple of things we are still negotiating that I hope to be working on, but that sort of stuff is always hush-hush till it’s announced.

Of course, like any writer, I’d like to do some originals in addition to the adaptations. I have a great Robin Hood story mapped out that I’ve wanted to do for a long time, for example. Anybody listening? Robin Hood. Great. Call me. Thanks again, David!

DL: My pleasure Elisabeth. We’ll have to do this again some time. After your ears stop bleeding from listening to me.

  • Gordon M.

    I’m really enjoying these in-depth interviews. Keep it up, guys!