Today we talk with author Dan Jolley about his newest release Gray Widow's Walk, comics and the importance of flossing!
Dan: Well, professionally, the biggest, most successful project I’ve ever been associated with came out -- the parkour vs. zombies video game Dying Light -- so now I can actually say my words have been read (or heard, rather) by millions and millions of people. That’s one big triumph. The next one came a bit later, when I got two novel series greenlit: a Middle Grade urban fantasy series from HarperCollins called Five Elements (debuting October 18, 2016), and the one we’re talking about today, the Gray Widow Trilogy from Seventh Star Press.
Personally, the biggest change for me was a bad one. My wife’s mother lived with us, and we lost her last year to cancer. Since I work from home, I was the one who spent the most time with her, and she and I were super close. I won the mother-in-law MegaMillions jackpot with her. So losing her turned our lives upside down. It’s not the kind of thing you ever “get over,” but we’re getting better. Granny, as everyone called her, will most likely be the subject of her own book sometime in the next few years.
Sharon: Sorry about your loss…it is wonderful that you have the ability to give her a story like that.
Dan: She SO deserves it.
Sharon: When/how did the idea for Gray Widow’s Walk form? Why did you set it in Atlanta?
Dan: Believe it or not, I first got the idea back in 1987. I was watching an episode of The Equalizer, and William Atherton played this terrifying contract killer called Alpha. At one point, Alpha put on this costume: he dressed as a Catholic priest and painted his face, one half solid white and the other half solid black. Something about that image really resonated with me, and I got the idea of creating a superhero character called “The Priest.” (Forgive me, I was sixteen.)
Over the course of many years, I tried to do something with the character, first in comics, and then in prose form. I actually finished the first draft of the novel in 1996, and by then the character had changed so much there was basically nothing left of the original “Priest” concept. The book had also become a sort of science-fiction/horror amalgam, though it still maintained a lot of superhero tropes. I showed it to a few literary agents, but the overwhelming response was, “Superhero fiction? No one’s looking for this! What are you thinking?” People also questioned why I had set it in Atlanta; that was simply because I’m from Georgia, and at the time there wasn’t much fiction located in the city.
Sharon: We should call you Dan “trend-setter” Jolley!
Dan: HA! Riiiight. J
So anyway, the book went on the shelf.
Many more years later, I met Stephen Zimmer, and he told me he’d be willing to give the book a read. So I hauled it out, dusted it off...and realized it didn’t work. I mean, it was hopelessly dated, for one thing, but also I just wasn’t satisfied with the story anymore. I gave it a good bit of thought, and the solution finally smacked me over the head: the main character needed to be a woman. This required another, not-insubstantial re-write, but I was happy to do it, because it felt really really right and I knew I was onto something good.
I finally showed the book to Stephen, and he said, “Yup, that works! Let’s publish it!”
Sharon: Tell us about the heroine of Gray Widow’s Walk, Janey Sinclair?
Dan: At one point in the book, Janey describes herself as a “weird loner.” She’s never felt as if she fit in anywhere; for one thing, her father was a stage magician, and she spent a lot of time traveling with him when she was a girl, which prevented her from making long-lasting friends or putting down roots. For another, she is what I refer to as aggressively multi-ethnic—her background, which she details in the story, includes German, Seminole, African-American, and Filipino, and because of that, she’s often felt as if there’s not really a place where she truly fits in. (I have a niece and nephew who are both African-American, adopted into a white family, and I’ve seen some of the societal friction that can cause.)
By the time she reaches adulthood, Janey has grown accustomed to a solitary way of living her life, and since she makes a living as a painter (fine art, not houses), she sees nothing wrong with her hermit-like habits.
Two things disrupt that solitary life, though: first, she meets and falls in love with a young man, marries him, and then loses him in a devastating way. Second, out of the blue one night, she develops the ability to teleport from one patch of darkness to another. The amount of anger she’s been building up suddenly has a very effective outlet. Janey steals a suit of military body armor, takes to the streets of Atlanta, and starts dealing out the kind of justice she wishes could have prevailed in her own life. Of course, once the public becomes aware of her, things get much, much more complicated, on a scale she’s not really prepared for.
Sharon: If you acquired the ability to teleport would you use it for good (superhero stuff) or for evil (robbing banks) or would you be a shade of GRAY?
Dan: I’d like to think I’d use it for good…but I’m afraid it’d be pure human nature to use it, not for evil, exactly, but for selfish purposes. That’s actually one of the central concepts of my comic book series, Bloodhound — that most people, if they gained superhuman abilities, would not only use them selfishly, but that the public would never even be aware of them. Money would just go missing from a bank, or someone would just fall over dead, and there’d be no way to know who did it or how. There wouldn’t be anyone in a shiny purple-and-gold costume flying around goading the police. It’d just be a mystery.
Who knows, maybe Bloodhound and Gray Widow will cross over at some point?
Sharon: Was it easy to come up with your main character’s superhero name? What were some other names you thought about?
Dan: Coming up with original superhero names is incredibly difficult, because if they haven’t been used already in comic books, they’ve been used already in games like World of Warcraft. I mentioned that the character was originally called “The Priest.” That was on-the-nose and terrible. I finally changed his name to “The Redeemer,” and for a while the book was called “Redeemer’s Law.” But “Redeemer” is already a comic book character.
It got slightly easier when I changed the protagonist from male to female, but even then I ran through a ton of possibilities, and discovered that I either didn’t like the names, or that they had, of course, already been used somewhere. Finally, my wife Tracy suggested that I make Janey’s body armor some color other than black, and use that in her name; one color change and some Google searches later, I discovered that there had never been a character called “The Gray Widow.” Stephen King has some monsters in one of his books called “Gray Widowers,” but those are actual spider-like creatures, so I think I’m okay.
Sharon: You did some things on your wife’s “honey-do” list to thank her for helping?
Dan: She gets a kick out of helping me come up with stuff, and her good-idea-to-bad-idea ratio is a lot more favorable than mine. At one point, Shawn deLoache and I were working on another project and got kind of stuck on a plot point, and Shawn said, “Why don’t you go ask Tracy, and we’ll reconvene tomorrow?”
Sharon: Before publishing Gray Widow’s Walk, your first adult novel, you were writing comic books. Do you have any upcoming comic projects you can talk about?
Dan: I’m actually working on a series of YA graphic novels now, published by Dark Horse Comics, called LARP! I’m co-writing with Shawn deLoache, and all the art’s done by Marlin Shoop. The first volume is available now, and we’re close to done with the second.
LARP! is about a kid named Pete Ford who’s always been a short, shlubby nerd. But an unexpected growth spurt coinciding with a move to a new school across the country gives him the opportunity to join the cool crowd for the first time ever. The problem is, there’s a fantastic Live-Action Role-Playing club in the new town, and Pete’s faced with a dilemma: to geek or not to geek?
The Flock: *chants* Geek, Geek, Geek!
Sharon: What was your last dream about?
Dan: I had one last night that started out at a sort of modern art gallery showing, and turned into something about a paramilitary group hunting bloodthirsty aliens that had disguised themselves as human. I think. That might have been it. I don’t usually remember my dreams all that well, and the parts I do remember don’t often make much sense.
Sharon: you could totally write a SyFy movie with that
Dan: Yeah, except now that I think about it, that’s basically the plot of that new SyFy series Hunters. Coming up with ideas is easy. Coming with good ideas, that haven’t been done to death? That’s really freaking hard.
Sharon: Do you have a talent that most people don’t know about?
Dan: Not a good one. I sort of see individual letters instead of whole words, and because of that I have a tendency to read words and names backward just as easily as I read them forward. It also makes me insanely good at word-scramble puzzles, and I spot names that are anagrams of other names pretty much instantly. Like, when Kurt Busiek’s beyond-excellent comic book series “Astro City” came out, I saw that a character’s name was Asa Martin, and instantly thought, “Oh, that’s ‘Samaritan’ rearranged.” Talk about a marketable skill!
Sharon: Find a word scramble tournament in Vegas…let me know so I can place my bets ;)
Dan: I’ll keep an eye out for that. J
Sharon: What is your favorite position to sleep in and how many pillow do you use?
Dan: I have to sleep half-curled on my side. If I’m on my back, my throat sort of falls closed or something, and I heave out some truly earth-shaking snores. Tracy’s good about nudging me if I wind up on my back, though, and when nudged, I’m good about rolling back over onto my side. As far as pillows, it’s a normal one between my knees, and one I got from a chiropractor under my giant head.
Sharon: What is the nerdiest thing you own?
Dan: This guy: Adam Warlock, from Marvel Comics. I’ve had him since around 1990. That’s the Soul Stone embedded in his forehead, too -- one of the Infinity Stones that are playing such a major role in the Marvel movies.
Sharon: Wow, he’s cool…doesn’t Vision have the same thing in his head?
Dan: As I understand it, if I’m not snarling up my Marvel lore too much, the one in the Vision’s forehead is the Mind Stone. Different color, different powers, etc.
Sharon: javelin or shot put?
Dan: Javelin! I can pretend they’re Zeus’s lightning bolts!
Sharon: you are such a nerd! <G>
Dan: Proud and card-carrying!
Sharon: air guitar or air drums?
Dan: Air drums. You get more exercise that way.
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Sharon: flossing or no flossing?
Dan: RELIGIOUS flossing.
Sharon: Whoa! Bad experience from not flossing?
Dan: I read somewhere that not flossing can actually lead to a whole host of health issues, including heart problems. My family already has enough of a history with bad hearts, so I don’t want to chance it.
Sharon: American Ninja Warrior or Dancing with the Stars?
Dan: American Ninja Warrior. I question that other show’s definition of “star.”
Sharon: salt water or fresh water? Fresh water!
Dan: Much less chance of getting eaten!
Sharon: LOL! Good thinking….
Sharon: Thanks for stopping by. You want a moon pie?
Dan: You bet I do!
Gray Widow's Walk
by Dan Jolley
April 19, 2016
“The only thing in this world you can truly control is yourself.”
Janey Sinclair’s ability to teleport has always been a mystery to her. She tried for years to ignore it, but when tragedy shatters her life, Janey’s anger consumes her. She hones her fighting skills, steals a prototype suit of military body armor, and takes to the streets of Atlanta, venting her rage as the masked vigilante dubbed “the Gray Widow” by the press.
But Janey’s power, and her willingness to use it, plunges her into a conflict on a much grander scale than she had anticipated.
Soon she encounters Simon Grove, a bloodthirsty runaway with a shapeshifting ability gone horribly wrong…
Garrison Vessler, an ex-FBI agent and current private defense contractor, who holds some of the answers Janey’s been searching for…
And Tim Kapoor, the first person in years with a chance of breaking through Janey’s emotional shell—if she’ll let him.
But as Janey’s vigilantism gains worldwide attention, and her showdown with Simon Grove draws ever closer, the reason for her augmented abilities—hers and all the others like her—begins to reveal itself. Because, high above the Earth, other eyes are watching. And they have far-reaching plans…
Gray Widow’s Walk is book one of the Gray Widow Trilogy, to be followed by Gray Widow’s Web and Gray Widow’s War.
About the author:
Dan Jolley started writing professionally at age nineteen. Beginning in comic books, he has since branched out into original novels, licensed-property novels, children’s books, and video games. His twenty-five-year career includes the YA sci-fi/espionage trilogy Alex Unlimited; the award-winning comic book mini-series Obergeist; the Eisner Award-nominated comic book mini-series JSA: The Liberty Files; and the Transformers video games War for Cybertron and Fall of Cybertron. Dan was co-writer of the world-wide-bestselling zombie/parkour game Dying Light, and lead writer of the Oculus Rift game Chronos. Dan lives somewhere in the northwest Georgia foothills with his wife Tracy and a handful of largely inert cats. Gray Widow’s Walk is his first adult novel.