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Thirty-six questions. Six answers. One random number generator. Welcome to Robot Roulette, where creators roll the virtual dice and answer our questions about their lives, careers, interests and more.
Today we welcome writer Fred Van Lente, who you know from his work on Archer & Armstrong, Action Philosophers, Comic Book Comics, Herc and Incredible Hercules, Marvel Zombies and many more, including upcoming runs on G.I. Joe and Brain Boy.
Now let’s get to it …
2. What was the last good book (not comics) that you read?
The Black Count, by Tom Reiss, about the father of Alexander Dumas of Three Musketeers fame (with whom he shares a name) who was half Haitian, half French nobility. He was one of Napoleon’s generals and lead a really amazing, swashbuckling life that inspired a lot of his son’s stories. Really just mesmerizing stuff about both the French and Haitian Revolutions, Napoleon’s Egypt campaign, etc. I’m a huge Dumas nut, so it was catnip for me.
5. If you were given the opportunity to spend 48 hours with absolutely anyone, living or dead, who would you spend it with and what would you do?
I don’t know. Though I fake a good game, I’m basically an introvert and don’t do well around strangers.
I’d rather do the opposite and go back in time and kind of linger in the background as a wallflower in historical hot spots, like the American Revolution, a period I’ve always been fascinated by. It’s been fun to work with it in me and Ryan Dunlavey’s next project, Action Presidents.
But I wouldn’t talk to anybody. I’d hang around the back of Independence Hall like a time-traveling stalker. Preferably ensconced in some kind of force field that would protect me from musket fire and smallpox. And feelings.
13. Where did you grow up? Tell us something about where you grew up that we may not know.
I grew up in a small, pretty wealthy town outside Cleveland called Chagrin Falls. Yes, really, that’s the name — Chagrin Falls. Supposedly it’s a mispronunciation of the Indian name of the local river but I suspect the town might have just been founded by depressives.
Chagrin Falls’ primary claim to international fame both in comics and otherwise is that it is the hometown and current residence of the JD Salinger of the funny pages, Bill (Calvin & Hobbes) Watterson. If you’ve seen the back of one of the first big collections, the Essential I think it is, and seen Giant Calvin destroying the town with the gazebo, you’ve seen downtown Chagrin Falls.
There’s a blue and white bookstore in the picture, that’s Fireside Books. Local legend has it that Watterson slips signed C&H books on the shelves there from time to time. I went back to Ohio last Christmas for the first time in a long time and stopped by to see if I could find any signed books there because Jeff Parker had tweeted that his daughter wanted to write Watterson a fan letter and that might be the closest she’ll ever get to direct contact. I couldn’t find any, though.
I had avoided Fireside Books up until 2012 because it was the last job I had in Ohio before I moved to New York City with the comics-creating buds I met at Syracuse University, like Steve (High Moon) Ellis and the aforementioned Mr. Dunlavey. I was an assistant manager and got fired because the boss discovered I closed up shop about fifteen minutes early one day because we hadn’t had any customers in hours and I was bored out of my mind and it was the middle of August and that’s the sort of thing I did when I was 21.
And now I write the books! Ha! Take that, small-town bookstore owner whose name I can’t remember! (Jim? I think maybe it’s Jim.)
18. What’s the last thing you ate and drank before answering these questions?
A glass of red wine and a really amazing roasted rabbit at Red Gravy, a great Italian place run by a friend of my wife’s (she taught his kids) over on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn.
22. What’s your morning routine like?
I stagger out of bed and into my office, which is next door to my bedroom.
I check Twitter mentions, email and Facebook notifications, in that order. Facebook has mostly become endless requests to like things I’ve never heard of and attend events I can’t go to, so I spend less than a few seconds on it a day.
I read any interesting articles that come up on my Twitter feed. Over the past five or so years I’ve become a pathetically insatiable political news junkie.
If my wife hasn’t already I go downstairs and make coffee and breakfast and feed our cats.
The first sip of hot coffee tends to coincide with me getting dressed. Then I spend the next hour checking Twitter and reading various articles.
About this time I tell myself you need to do some goddamn work, you lazy bastard.
After 30 to 120 minutes more of goofing around online, I finally succeed in wrestling my attention span to to floor and forcing it to focus on whatever it is that I’m actually supposed to be writing that day.
I should point out this is a pretty similar routine to what I did when I worked in an office (except Twitter hadn’t been invented yet).
I got fired from a lot of those jobs too.
32. Is there a particular song, band or style of music you listen to when you work?
While I personally am musically incompetent, I am blessed with a wife who is always trying out new bands and styles and I pick them up from her. So I’ve got thousands and thousands of songs from across the spectrum.
I make an iTunes playlist for each major project I’m working on and only play that playlist when I’m working on that project. It’s a super-efficient way to calibrate your brain and focus on one particular piece, particularly when you juggle as many different stories as I do. It can even tear me away from Twitter if I put on before I start working. I would recommend this technique to absolutely everybody, it really works.