Thursday, September 29, 2011

Writer Charles Skaggs

Born in Youngstown, Ohio, Charles Skaggs began reading comic books at the age of five and has never stopped since. After growing up in Medina, Ohio, he graduated from the University of Central Florida in Orlando and joined the amateur press association TITANTALK, which was devoted to characters from DC Comics’ various Teen Titans series. Charles’ involvement with the APA introduced him to his future wife Lori and several lifelong friends, including future editor Michael McCalister.

In 1999, his first professional short story, “Doctors Three,” was published by Pocket Books as part of the STAR TREK: STRANGE NEW WORLDS II anthology, edited by Dean Wesley Smith. This story was selected as one of “The Top Ten Dr. McCoy Stories You May Have Missed” by Star Trek Communicator magazine and was featured in Voyages of Imagination: The Star Trek Fiction Companion by Jeff Ayers.

Charles’ recent work includes writing several GENERATOR REX stories for CARTOON NETWORK ACTION PACK from DC Comics and writing for the Daily Planet newspaper included with the SMALLVILLE complete series DVD collection set from Warner Home Video. When not obsessing over the television series Doctor Who, he also writes the blog DAMN GOOD COFFEE...AND HOT!, which can be found online at http://charlesskaggs.blogspot.com.

What is the current project you are working on?

Something I’m pitching to DC Comics that I can’t go into specific details about yet, unfortunately.  All I can say is, it’s a complete reimagining of one of my all-time favorite characters and I’m really hoping it gets approved.

What inspired you to become a writer?

I just seemed to have an aptitude for it.  I took a number of English and creative writing courses in high school and college, but didn’t view it as a true passion until I joined TitanTalk, an amateur press association of fans devoted to DC Comics’ various Teen Titans characters.  In TitanTalk, I was surrounded by a number of very creative and enthusiastic fans that encouraged me to write all types of stories.
 

What is the best thing about being a writer?

The best thing for me is being able to make my own contribution to a property that’s been established or creating something from the ground up.  I love coming up with characters and trying to figure out what makes them tick and what they need to do to move the story along.
 

What is the worst thing about being one?

The worst thing is probably time.  If you’re serious about writing, you obviously need to devote time in your day to actually do that writing.  If it’s not time that could be spent with your family and friends, then it’s time you could be spending on yourself.  This gets even trickier when specific deadlines are involved, but a true professional finds a way to make the deadlines a priority and still keep up with daily life.


What is the estimated number of projects you have worked on?

I’ve done countless amateur projects over the years but in terms of being professionally published, I’ve written one short story, four newspaper articles and four comic books with hopefully more to come.  I know there should be more, so if anyone has any openings for paying writing gigs…

What advice would you give to someone who wants to become a writer?

Two very simple things – READ and WRITE as much as you can.  Read novels, short stories, movie and TV scripts, comic books, whatever you can get your hands on with a plot and study them like crazy.  Take note of how the story is structured and how each character’s dialogue flows.

 

Also, if you’re not working on a specific project, I recommend writing some form of journal on a regular basis.  One of the reasons I started my blog DAMN Good Coffee…and HOT! about a year ago was to keep myself in the constant flow of writing.  The more you write, the more you’ll evolve as a writer.  Oh, and dialogue can be a bit rough even for established writers, so try reading your character’s dialogue out loud and if it doesn’t sound natural to you or someone else listening, then it probably isn’t.

What do you like to do besides writing?

As you might have guessed, I’m very big on comic books and currently read around forty titles from various publishers per month.  I’m also a big fan of film and television and as anyone who knows me can verify, I have a very unhealthy obsession with the TV series Doctor Who.  I read novels ranging from science fiction to espionage to fantasy and I’m a pretty avid (and perhaps also masochistic) follower of the Cleveland Indians, the Cleveland Browns, the Ohio State Buckeyes, the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Columbus Blue Jackets.  Thankfully, I can share some of these with my wife, which makes life a lot easier.


Who is your favorite author?

I’d have to say Douglas Adams, writer of the Hitchhiker’s and Dirk Gently books, who was my first big inspiration as a writer with his brilliant sense of humor and imagination.  My other favorites would have to include Neil Gaiman, Grant Morrison, Warren Ellis, Peter David, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Sir Ian Fleming, Joss Whedon and Steven Moffat.


What are some of your favorite books?

With Douglas Adams as my favorite author, it should be no surprise that The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is my all-time favorite book.  I’ve read it at least four times now and still find it as entertaining as ever.  Some of my other favorites are Peter David’s Imzadi, Neil Gaiman’s Stardust, H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels, and Jim Butcher’s first Dresden Files novel Storm Front.

Who is your favorite filmmaker?

Hmmm…Good question.  If we’re talking an overall body of work, I think right now it’s probably Quentin Tarantino.  Like many people, I was first introduced to his work with Pulp Fiction, but Reservoir Dogs, Kill Bill Vols. 1 & 2, and Inglorious Basterds are just incredibly distinctive, entertaining movies.  I’d also rank Christopher Nolan right up there, along with David Lynch, Tim Burton, Steven Spielberg, Sergio Leone, and David Fincher.

How would you describe your education?

Pretty standard.  I grew up in the small town of Medina, Ohio, where I received a solid education during a time when you didn’t have to worry about guns or gangs.  Then I did two years of college, majoring in business, until my family and I moved down to Florida where I received my Bachelor’s.  I could’ve gone for an English degree instead, but I knew that if I didn’t want to scrape by making minimum wage month after month, I needed a degree far more appealing to the real world.

What are some of your favorite American films? Foreign films? Television shows?

Apart from the films I listed above, my all-time favorite movies are Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, Superman (1978), Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, the original Indiana Jones trilogy, Die Hard, the Back to the Future trilogy, and more.  As for foreign films, I’d say Sergio Leone’s The Man With No Name trilogy starring Clint Eastwood, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and The Seven Samurai.

 

TV shows…Well, there’s Doctor Who, Doctor Who and oh, yeah…Doctor Who.  Okay, maybe you could throw Twin Peaks, The Prisoner, Babylon 5, the BBC version of Life On Mars, Northern Exposure, the first five seasons of Lost, the first two seasons of the Battlestar Galactica remake, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Firefly, the first five seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the BBC version of Being Human, the first five seasons of The X-Files, and the first five seasons of Mystery Science Theater 3000 in there as well.

Why is Doctor Who so cool?

Apart from bow ties, fezzes and Stetsons you mean?  In my opinion, Doctor Who is cool because it’s structured in such a way that you can go anywhere you want, any time you want, and tell any kind of story imaginable.  And apart from some of Steven Moffat’s recent episodes, anyone unfamiliar with the series could potentially jump on during any given story, start watching and not feel completely lost.  But I think Craig Ferguson, host of CBS’ The Late, Late Show, summed the series up best when he described it as “intellect and romance triumphing over brute force and cynicism.”  Even with all the death and destruction that goes on in certain stories, it’s still pure optimism and adventure wrapped up in a dimensionally-transcendental blue box that can travel anywhere you’d like.  If that’s not cool, I don’t know what is.

 

What are your thoughts on the big reveals in episodes seven and eight of season 6 of Doctor Who?

I absolutely loved “A Good Man Goes to War,” but felt “Let’s Kill Hitler” was a bit rushed and needed more time to breathe even though it was still enjoyable.   With everything we know at this point about Madame Kovarian and River Song/Melody Pond, and a lot was dumped on us in “Let’s Kill Hitler,” I’m wondering if Melody’s genetic material is the key to the overall Big Bad story masterplan that Steven Moffat appears to be crafting since he took over as showrunner.  We still don’t know who that sinister voice was that took over the TARDIS in “The Pandorica Opens” and said “Silence will fall” and I find it very intriguing that the Anglican Marines appear to use an Omega for their identifying symbol.  So as an old-school Whovian, I have a theory that Madame Kovarian wants to bring back Omega from the antimatter universe (which, presumably, he still resides in after “Arc of Infinity”) and has used Melody’s timey-wimey Time Lord DNA as the genetic basis for Omega’s resurrection.  It’s just a theory, mind you, so we’ll see how right I actually am.

Let's say you could write an episode of Doctor Who. What would the plot be?

Hmmm, I’d love to say but I’m keeping that secret for now in case I somehow manage to write for IDW’s Doctor Who ongoing series or a Big Finish audio adventure someday.  Just know that it’ll be very timey-wimey with a good amount of nods to the series’ history.

Who is your favorite Doctor and companion?

Although my earliest exposure to Doctor Who was a few Tom Baker stories, I’m a diehard Peter Davison fan.  All of them are just brilliant in their own ways, but I rank David Tennant, Matt Smith, Tom Baker, Patrick Troughton and Paul McGann among my favorites.

 

As for companions, you almost have to say that Sarah Jane was the definitive companion.  Although somewhat limited during her time with the Doctor by the writing, Sarah Jane was allowed to evolve and find an entirely new generation of fans.  Other personal favorites include Jamie, Ace, Leela, Peri, Martha, Captain Jack, Charley Pollard and Lucie Miller from the Big Finish audios, and of course, The Brigadier.


How would you describe the writing "scene" where you live?

I don’t really think there is one, or if there is, I’m not part of it.  There are a good amount of writers here in Columbus, but apart from seeing one another at conventions or the occasional party, I think it’s mostly social network interaction via Facebook and Twitter.  Everyone seems very friendly toward one another, which is great unless they’re secretly talking about me behind my back…


How has social media changed the publishing?

I’d have to say it’s opened up the ability to access writers, artists and editors like never before.  Living in central Ohio, I would usually get the chance to talk with comics creators only at conventions unless I happened to know one or two personally.  But with Facebook and Twitter, there are so many more opportunities for interaction.  You get to know professionals better, for good or bad, and as long as you don’t come off like a complete jerk, they can get to know you better as well.  It also gives creators and companies direct contact with their core audience, which only helps spread awareness.


What is your thought process like when you're writing?

It sometimes depends on the type of story I’m writing, but I tend to think very cinematically.  I picture scenes in my head as if I was watching them up on the screen, which helps when you’re writing comics and need to describe to an artist how characters are positioned.  I generally have music that relates to the story’s tone playing while I write, almost like a soundtrack playing during my “movie” that helps keep me focused on the setting.


You could have any super power. What would it be?

Super-speed.  The ability to move, think and react at accelerated speed is one of the most underrated in comics and with the amount of the things I typically do in a given day, is practically a must.

If you could have any first edition comic book, which would it be and why?

Action Comics #1, the first appearance of Superman.  This comic defined everything else that came after it and as someone who was also adopted by a kind and loving couple and raised to always do the right thing, Superman became such an identifiable part of my life.

What's your favorite quote and why?

I’m partial to the Ferris Bueller’s Day Off quote “Life moves pretty fast…If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”  Yeah, it’s a bit trite, but so many people are wrapped up in their daily existence that they often don’t appreciate the things going on around them.  I used to be one of those people, focused solely on my hobbies and interests that I never bothered with the outside world.  It took a life-changing event to get me to refocus my priorities and start making the most of the precious little time we all have.

What is your opinion on movie remakes and sequels?

I’d prefer to see something original instead of going back and remaking everything, but sometimes it’s justified.  Take the Coen brothers recent remake of True Grit for example, which resulted in a superior film to the 1969 version starring John Wayne.  Sequels, meanwhile, make sense as long as the quality is comparable to the original and especially on the rare occasion when the sequel actually surpasses the original.  The Empire Strikes Back is better than Star Wars, The Dark Knight is better than Batman Begins, and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is light-years better than Star Trek: The Motion Picture. 

What is your opinion on book to movie adaptations?

Yes, there have been a number of films where the film version doesn’t come close to the novels on which they were based, but there are times when the film versions improve upon the books.  Anyone who’s sat down and read J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy and then watched the Peter Jackson films should know that Jackson did a masterful job reworking Tolkien’s saga and making it flow.  Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is another good example, where director David Yates took what I feel was one of the worst Harry Potter books, stripped out J.K. Rowling’s indulgent excess, and crafted it into one of the best Harry Potter films.  This is just my opinion, but each of Rowling’s last four books could easily lose 100 to 150 pages and become much better novels.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

To anyone who gets frustrated trying to break in as a writer or something creative, don’t give up on your dreams.  Yes, everyday life may take over and unexpected things may happen that sidetrack you, but as long as you have talent and the right bit of luck at the right time, things will work out eventually.  I was exactly where you are for more years than I care to remember, so if it can happen for me, I firmly believe it can happen for anyone.