Greg Cox is the New York Times bestselling author of The Dark Knight Rises novelization. He has also written successful novelizations and tie-ins for Star Trek, Countdown, Infinite Crisis and many more. Cox is a consulting editor for Tor Books and was nominated in 2008 for the Best Speculative Adapted Scribe Award for 52: The Novel.
I had the opportunity to speak with Greg about writing novelizations, media tie-ins and who would win in a fight between Superman and Batman…
Nick Sharps: Why might someone read the novelization of Man of Steel instead of just seeing the movie?
Greg Cox: Ideally, of course, one would want to read the book and see the movie, maybe multiple times! But if you enjoyed the movie, the book gives you a chance to experience the story in a different way — and perhaps get a little more background on some of the scenes and characters, as well as some bits and dialogue from the original script that didn’t make it into the final cut of the film.
NS: What does writing movie novelizations entail? Do you work from a script? Do you get to see the movie in advance? Do you speak with the director?
GC: You almost never get to see the movie in advance. (I’ve heard rumors that this has actually happened once or twice in the history of publishing, but never on any of the movie novelizations I’ve written or edited.) You’re usually working with an early version of the script, plus whatever photos and pre-production artwork is available. I’ve also been known to scour the internet for every image and bit of news I can find.
I’m usually a step removed from the actual filmmakers, but I’ve occasionally been in touch with a screenwriter or had a brief meeting or conference call with a director or producer. In general, though, I try not to abuse the privilege because they’re busy filming the movie at the same time that I’m writing the book!
NS: You’ve written tie-ins for quite a few fictional franchises. Do you have a favorite?
GC: Honestly, I really love the variety. Doing tie-ins has given me the opportunity to write science fiction, horror, superhero action, murder mysteries, spy thrillers, kids’ books, a caper comedy, and even an historical romance about Harry Houdini. No westerns or sword-or-sorcery yet, but that’s probably only a matter of time.
NS: What are some of the different challenges between adapting a movie, comic, or television show?
GC: Good question. With a movie, you’re trying to flesh out a two-hour movie into a three-hundred page novel, while trying to describe a film you haven’t actually seen yet. With a TV series, you already know what the show looks and sounds like, but it can be a challenge to stay consistent with an ongoing series, especially if it’s at all serialized. (You live in fear of a new episode contradicting the novel you’re writing at the moment!) With comic books, the main challenge is to manage years of often complicated continuity in such a way that the casual reader can enjoy the book without having read the last seventeen years of X-MEN or JLA!
GC: Well, I couldn’t complete with the soundtrack and special effects, so I tried to get more into the heads of the characters and focus on what they were thinking and feeling at any given moment. I was always trying to milk the emotion of every scene, while also trying to capture the action and spectacle in prose.
Pretty much the first thing I do before I actually start writing a novelization is go through the script and figure out who the point-of-view character should be in each scene. Should I tell this part from Clark’s POV, or Lois’s, or maybe even Zod’s? Nine times out of ten, I choose the character who is under the most stress, emotionally or physically.
NS: Who and what influences your writing?
GC: I’ve also been a professional science fiction editor for over twenty years now, and I’ve learned a lot by working closely with other writers and studying their various styles and techniques. I also like to think that being an editor myself make me more receptive to feedback from my own editors!
NS: Since you’ve written for both franchises I must ask the age-old geek question: who wins in a fight between Superman and Batman?
GC: Don’t be silly. Everyone know superhero fights always end with them teaming up to beat the real bad guy!
NS: If Man of Steel: The Official Movie Novelization was an ice cream flavor, which would it be?
GC: Rocky Road. Rich and intense, with lots of different textures, a bit of crunchy realism, some genuinely sweet and gooey bits, and oh-so-satisfying all together!
NS: What’s next for you? You’ve brought your own spin to such beloved franchises as Star Trek, Leverage, Underworld, and more. Have you ever considered breaking out of tie-in fiction?
GC: All the time. My New Year’s resolution every year is to find time to get some original writing done, but in the meantime I’m having fun and find it hard to say no when I have a chance to write Superman or Star Trek or whatever. Trust me, this is a very good problem to have!