OH: Did your ideas on form and structure develop over the last ten years, or were they already pretty much in place?
JHF: I grew up with really fucked up influences. The narrative things I was really into fall into two very strict categories. Federico Fellini's La Dolce Vita, and John McTiernan's Die Hard. I think those are probably the two greatest films ever made, and everyting I do comes from them. I love big-ballsting genre storytelling, but I also love the infinite point of view, subjective storytelling of the European masters as well. That stuff drives me more than anything. Tumor is literally Ingmar Bergman's Wild Strawberries mixed with the 50's film noir DOA. Just slap the two of them together, and you get Tumor. [laughs] It's not brain surgery.
I get bored very easily telling straight stories. It's not fun for me to tell a story with a linear plot...no that's not true...character theme, tone, mood all those things dictate structure. So finding how to tell the story is what drives the story. Something like Elk's Run, which has such a simple plot, it's very bare bones, but that's the thing. It's just a day's events, but it's told from everyone's point of view, so you get the operatic scope out of something that's actually a small story. It literally is just a bunch of people in a town going crazy. You know how when you're in a car wreck, you feel like the world seems to go in slow motion? I think comics give us the opportunity to do that, to have a packaged version of that experience, of that feeling of your head being disconnected and you're a third person watching your life pass before your eyes.
That's what drives me, and look...it's to my detriment, because people just want people to punch each other. Getting books like I do get approved, even now, ten years in, just convincing people that I know what I'm doing, is still equally hard. The fact is, if I wanted to do boring work, I can go work elsewhere. I love what I do because I love challenging myself and challenging readers, and challenging what you can do as a writer. Like what's actually possible. And I see that in other guys. I spent all day yesterday with Mike Costa who's writing Blackhawks. He's doing stuff in his books, both in GI Joe: Cobra and in Blackhawks, that are so subtle, and so smart, and so bold, and you just don't see it. And he's better at sleight-of-hand than I am. I'm a little broader and my stuff reads a little stranger.
Roman Polanski, child molesting aside, is probably my favorite filmmaker. What he does represents to me the apex of filmmaking. You can tell these stories that, no matter how outlandish the setting, you can always tell intimate stories. Intimacy is what actually gets people excited. Intimacy is what drives stories. If it's just big action and supervillains and people punching each other, you're really just reading it because you remember liking it, not because you actually like it. I'm more interested in people actually liking what I'm doing. There's plenty of stuff where you go back and read stuff from thirty years ago, and it's terrible. Or twenty years ago, or ten years ago. The books just don't age well. And that's because they're sort of writing for the moment, and not for the ages, and that's the problem with serialized fiction.
As a writer, your job when you're pitching...it's a funny thing. If I pitch you Echoes, it sounds very compelling, and I know because I do it. When someone comes up to my table when I'm doing a signing, I'm pitching that book to them, and the one-liner is very compelling, but the book is so much better. I've come to realize that that's the job. What the job actually is is convincing people on the broadest version of what you do, and convincing them enough that they then let you do what you want to do. And it's sad; it's not cool. I assume there's some point, I'm hoping around now for me, where you just get to do what you want. But for the most part, it's a lot of sleight-of hand. It's "ok, I'm going to give you this, this is what you asked for" but in fact what you deliver is so much more. It's so much more delicate and so much more nuanced. The slugline is very important, because it's what gets people in the door. But a good concept doesn't mean anything if you can't execute it.
OH: How long did it take you to find that balance between concept and execution?
JHF: Clearly, it's been in the last few years, since my career's picked up. I think it's got more to do with volume than quality. After Elk's Run and the Speakeasy stuff, I was just crushed. It really hurt me. I'm incredibly passionate and committed to everything I do. I have obsessive compulsive disorder, and it's directly related to whatever it is that I do. There's literally nothing in my life that I don't do obsessively. I started smoking when I was twelve years old, and I smoked a pack a day, everyday for twelve years, until I quit. And when I quit, I quit. I quit drinking, and now I never drink. I'm an on-or-off guy. So when I write a book, I commit. It sounds ridiculous, because I'm writing a vampire book, but I love these characters. I think about them way too much, and I'm living with them. What probably changed the most is not having a job anymore. Being able to make a living writing, with the aid of my wonderful, sweet caring wife, gave me the free time to get better at what I do, and getting smarter about it. Also, I'd really recommend having a kid. If you want something to focus you like a lazer, it's knowing that if you don't work, your kid starves to death. That really lights a fire under your ass!