Derrick Ferguson: Who is H.H. Neville?
H.H. Neville: I am a Seattle native that refuses to leave (except for routine trips to Yokohama), a volleyball-playing fiend and an Earl Grey enthusiast. I run a makeshift book orphanage where books just tend to show up, and I take good care of them. Sometimes I even write words, but am a bit uncomfortable with the term “writer.” I tend to prefer “fictionista.”
DF: What do you do to keep yourself in cheese and crackers?
HHN: I am a web and graphic designer. You have probably received an email with something I’ve done. Or at least your spam folder did. We’re tight like that.
DF: In the interest of full disclosure we should inform the good folks reading this that we’ve known each other for a while. Would you care to elaborate?
HHN: Heh, yes we have. This might seem a little creepier for you than me, but you’ve known me since I was fourteen. That’s when I crawled onto the internet, sheepishly posting fiction to a website that by some stroke of good fortune you stumbled across. You graciously reviewed some fiction on that website. Eventually you got around to something I wrote. You weren’t that impressed. You said it was more a history lesson than a story. You were, of course, right, and to this day (some fourteen years later) I still remember that!
DF: How long have you been writing?
HHN: It will sound rote, or trite, but forever? I remember being in early grade school and folding notebook paper into little books where I wrote stories about sword-fighting foxes that I would then illustrate. I’ve always had a pretty intense imagination, and writing seemed like the best way to relieve some of that pressure.
Seriously writing? Even though I got published once in my preteens, I never really started taking it seriously until a little bit a go. It was just something I did because I enjoyed it. I had no goals other than share things I’d written. Sharing is big for me.
DF: What writers have influenced you?
HHN: Above all else, Lewis Carroll. Without him, I’d have no imagination at all. I warn you that as a book snob, this list will get long: Verne, Frank L. Baum, ERB, Chabon, Raymond Chandler, Dostoevesky, William Gibson, Huxley, Ishiguro, Jacques, Melville, Millhauser, Murakami (Haruki and Ryu), Orwell, Christopher Priest, Salinger, Steinbeck, Wilde, Vonnegut (and all the Beat Generation), and, yeah, give me the hook already!
I’m a literary guy. I read everything from pulps, to alt. lit., YA to classic, and even though I write a lot of superheroes, I tend not to be influenced by too many comic book writers. Almost none, actually (except Japanese dudes like Shirow, Otomo, Tezuka, etc.). I try to take a very literary approach to capes and cowls.
DF: You were very active in what we called the Heroes Community of fan fiction. What would you say was your major contributions during that period?
HHN: Strife and consternation? I don’t know, really. A majority of my works have been wiped away. I think above all else, I challenged the status quo. A lot of the guys who are comic book guys didn’t get a lot of what I was trying to do. I never wanted to tell a story that left a character in a holding pattern; if I couldn’t push the characters to uncomfortable places, I didn’t want to do it.
Beyond that, I’m known for my stylistic prose; it’s dense and florid, and a lot of the times, very abstract. You can thank my love of The Beat Generation for that.
What I’m most proud of though, is as I got older, I tried to turn around and give advice to the younger generation like so many did for me. I loved to help spitball and world build, which I guess makes sense now that I’m doing that with The Generation Project.
DF: Why fan fiction at all? Why not just start out writing your own original superhero characters?
HHN: There’s a real beautiful agility with fan fiction. The people reading your work already have a pretty vast knowledge of the characters, their motivations, physical appearance, what have you. It allows you to work with that; skimp on certain aspects of storytelling that are usually necessary, and focus on the things you want to, either because you enjoy them, or because you want to get better. It’s the quickest way to write (especially when you’re learning), because you can just do it, almost reflexively, and the audience will follow. The readers will also be able to pick out weak spots in your skill sets because they know how things should be. There’s no guesswork.
You can’t do that when every bit of a character and the stories they’re in are new. You’ve got responsibilities as a writer to tell a story as completely as you can, and when readers don’t have that existing knowledge, it requires a lot more maturity and effort.
DF: Tell us about THE GENERATION PROJECT
HHN: The Generation Project is a shared-continuity superhero universe. It will span the website, and print and e-book anthologies and individual novels. All the characters on the website are free for any writer to pick up and write. I have about 200+ characters ready to insert into the continuity (with about fifty bios on the site) currently. Writers are of course allowed to introduce their own.
However, some writers struggle with world-building, which I certainly do not. Anyone who has seen one of my 100+ page character or plot bibles knows this. So, I can take care of that part for them.
Sharing is also really important to me. I like writers to share ideas, concepts, characters. I love co-writing. So this was key to doing The Generation. Sharing can be rough though, so we’ve installed some great tools to make it easier, like the bios, the world bible and a sliding scale timeline where anyone can pick up a character at any time in their life and write a story. That character might get introduced by one writer one week and the next, killed by another writer. Ownership is democratic in the purest sense.
DF: Name your three favorite characters and tell us why they are your favorites.
HHN: That’s like picking favorite kids, man! Which, by the way, if anyone tells you they can’t: they’re lying.
Paper Tiger (Page Turner) easily at the top. She’s somewhat autobiographical. She’s freakishly in love with books. Nothing else really matters to her. She’s got this Marlowe meets Thoroughly Modern Millie demeanor; she’s intelligent yet aloof, totally self-confident, despite glaring flaws her mother loves to point and just really complex. Plus, her powers are only limited by her vast imagination, and making sure she has enough paper to transmute!
The Ouroboros because he’s the kind of self-indulgent I think a lot of us would be if we were hanging out with the world’s greatest Capes. He’s the ultimate self-promoter, and showman and actually won’t help anybody unless there’s either a news reporter or a movie starlet within an earshot. He fancies himself a ladie’s man, even if he’s kind of repulsive. He’s Houdini meets Chaplin and a whole bunch of Snidely Whiplash. Plus, I just love escapists. That’s not a “superpower” per se, but it’s certainly superhuman.
Man From Mars. It’s a shameless ode to Blondie. He’s the quintessential stuck in the 80s guy. I know a lot of people like that; they just won’t let that decade go. He was a fixture at CBGBs and isn’t quite willing to move on. He’s part of the main team after The Generation destroys itself, and he’s clinging to nostalgia like a lot of folks are. He’ll be a good cipher for readers even if his nostalgia has nothing to do with The Generation. His power set is fun. Whatever he eats, he absorbs into his body. It might be a guitar, or lettuce. Who knows. Maybe something useful.
DF: Is it safe to say that superhero prose fiction has arrived and is here to stay?
HHN: Definitely. Superhero prose has always been around. I have countless of them from when I was a kid, but no slight on Greg Cox, Christopher Golden, Dean Wesley Smith and some of those guys, but it just wasn’t gonna happen for them. They weren’t going to make superhero prose a “thing.” They peaked at the wrong time. Now with a new superhero movie every two weeks, they’re part of the “pop creature” as I like to call it. Audiences crave it in all mediums, devour it. They’re not quite the new zombie (or paranormal romance), but as I spend a lot of time in bookstores, I get to see they’re right there in a comfortable third.
You’ve got the stuff by Adam Christopher, Michael Carroll, and a bunch of folks in all arenas, and even now a She-Hulk book that is one part Peter David and another Sex and the City. X-Men novels are coming back. Everybody’s doing them. When the YA shelves are saturated with a trend, it’s big. Fourteen year-olds are the ultimate tastemakers. What they want, everyone does.
It actually made me resist doing this site for a split second. Did I want to devote so much effort to a saturated market? Yeah, because it’s fun, and people are eating it up for that reason.
I think as long as we’re willing to explore what it means to put on that Cape from every angle, it’s a plenty big sandbox. That’s the goal with The Generation. I want to look at these characters from every angle, from every genre. If someone wants to do a romcom, let’s do it; if somebody wants an alt. lit. story about the collateral damage people suffer indulging these heroes, cool and of course, the old school four colour type of story doesn’t hurt either.
DF: Unlike their comic book/graphic novel cousins, superhero prose doesn’t have the benefit of artwork to help tell the story. But what can a writer do in prose that he can’t in a comic book?
HHN: I don’t think it’s a matter of what one can do over the other. I think it just takes a lot of imagination and ingenuity to do things in one over the other. Comic books are awfully kinetic. It takes a lot of work (and a lot of panels) to deliver depth, though. One well written paragraph can handle a forty-eight comic book spread a lot of the times when it comes to earnest character development. Can a novel be kinetic, though? Sure, and a lot of comic books can be deep, too.
I think the greatest advantage to prose is the investment factor: reading prose usually takes a greater investment on the reader’s behalf, so accordingly, writers will likely have to find ways to give that investment a payoff. We often think of that as a gift to the reader, but it is just as much to writer.
One of my biggest pet peeves with superhero prose writers is when they try to emulate comic books. A simple 'Dangeruss punched him, he flew across the room and hit a wall' is really just an action line in a comic script. It doesn’t make good prose. Use the medium for what it is. Color in the lines, don’t just draw ‘em.
DF: So why should people check out THE GENERATION PROJECT?
HHN: I’d say they should check it out if they like superheroes, of all different walks. We’re going to explore them every way we know how, and some we don’t just quite yet. We’re trying some exciting new things within the realm of shared-continuity universes which requires very little effort from writers, but a lot from its editors. We’re dedicated to making that work, and in turn making it a great place for readers and writers to just sit down and do what they love: create and read stories about superheroes.
Another goal of mine is to make this a safe place for all writers of all walks. I’ve got submissions being worked on by screenwriters, English professors, and aspiring writers. People who want so desperately to write a fun superhero story, even if they never have. We’re dedicated to equipping people to have fun both reading and writing. If you’re a screenwriter and hammer out a great screenplay, I’m a prose monster and we’ll work it out. If you’re a solid writer, but not a world builder, just plug in some of the characters from the site. I’m all about massaging something until the writer and reader have a product they can both be proud of.
DF: Where do you see THE GENERATION PROJECT in five years?
HHN: The definitive stop for superhero prose, and I mean that, earnestly. I want to be a force to be reckoned with, getting not just huge numbers of fans, but releases: individual novels, anthologies, continual free content on the website. I want to release YA books where the proceeds go to help Autism research. Perhaps that doesn’t mean we rival those comic book guys with their summer blockbusters, but I want to be at the forefront when people think about great superhero prose.
DF: What’s a typical Day In The Life Of H.H. Neville?
HHN: Wake up. Drink tea. Shower. Drink tea. Design some stuff. Drink tea. Make amazing food. Drink tea. Read. Drink tea. Write. Drink Tea. Sleep. Yeah, sounds about right.
Derrick Ferguson: Anything else we should know?
H.H. Neville: That Derrick Ferguson is a great, great man. Seriously, and not because of this interview. You’ve helped nudge me along to be a real-boy writer so many times, even if you never intended. So, cheers.
Oh, and that The Generation Project would love to have you all, both readers and writers, so come check us out, you hear?
Calling H.H. Neville a real writer–like his genre of choice–would be fiction. At the rare points that he does manage to write, he fashions his work with visceral visuals, razorblade sharp style and shotgun brutality. He draws equal inspiration from Victorian Era literature, classic fables, Japanese pop-violence, steampunk, anime, grindhouse genres, hip-hop, neon-flavored pop culture, fashion-trends and really cool sneakers. He is, if anything a proponent of style over substance. Who needs plot if it’s pretty?