Capturing Creator James Ninness in a Candid Way

Probably the best decision I’ve made since I started writing again, was writing for Outright Geekery.  It’s given me a sense of self and growth that I didn’t even know was missing, until I did. That creative growth is imperative for those that need it. It feeds our soul and quiets the chaos of the world.
My second best decision has been this interview series with the creators behind John Carpenter’s Tales of Science Fiction. Each time I put out one more of their interviews I see the same love of their team, respect for one another and just this energy for the project that is infectious.
James Ninness is the second last in this group and one I need to thank personally as his answers really tie together the underlying theme I felt while exploring the series. Below he really shows a love for writing which even non-writers can connect with and feel through his words.

I just watched to your interview on SYFY WIRE and have been listening to John Carpenter’s music while I write interview questions for the creative team for your newly released John Carpenter’s Tales of Science Fiction. I feel like I could be in one of his movies as I listen so it seemed perfect. What was your earliest memory of John’s work?

Ooh… Good question. It’s probably Big Trouble in Little China. I remember watching that with my dad when I was six or seven. Rain, Lightning, and Thunder blew my little mind. It may also be the moment I became a lifelong Kurt Russell fan. The whole thing set a high bar for future films. Great action, touches of myth and mysticism, magnetic characters, and a wonderful balance of scares (for a kid) and laughs. I found Halloween and The Thing not long after that, and I’ve been a John Carpenter fan ever since.

I’ve perused a lot of your work and the one thing that is consistent, regardless of genre or project is your passion. It leaps off the page and pulls you into it. At what point in your life did you realize that writing had to be your future?

Well, first of all, thanks! Glad you’re enjoying it so far. That’s great to hear.
Not to get too personal, but I actually started writing in therapy. A counselor had me try writing as a way to deal with some of the issues I was dealing with as a young kid. I found it a lovely way to vent. Sometimes I’d write journal entries about my experiences and other times I’d write fictional scenarios bouncing around my head. After a time I let a few people read some of that stuff and they seemed to relate to it. Writing worked for me in two ways: (1) I felt less alone when other people “got” what I was putting to paper, and (2) it served as a healthy way to handle the complex emotions and thoughts I was dealing with.
It hasn’t changed, really. I still write to vent, explore, or just flesh out the feelings and emotions I’m contemplating. That’s probably why a lot of the stuff I write ends with more questions than answers.
Anyway, after I showed more and more of what had become an enjoyable hobby for me, I knew I’d be writing for the rest of my life. Sometimes people pay me for it. Sometimes they don’t. I’ll keep writing either way.

What was the first story you ever told?

Yikes, I’m not really sure… My friend Brett Simmons and I used to make movies with his VHS camcorder when we were kids. I bet I wrote a few things before that, but those “films” are the earliest things coming to mind at the moment. We did usually just made films based on our favorite IPs: X-Men, Batman, and Indiana Jones among others. The first original one was called “Dream Maker,” and revolved around a government experiment that allowed a young boy’s nightmares to be “printed” to life. We were pretty proud of that one. And the good news is that both Brett and I are still telling stories; he directs films now.

What has it been like to work with an industry legend on multiple occasions now?

It’s been wonderful. I’m from San Diego, but I went to school in Long Beach and have lived in Orange County now for about three years. I’ve met a handful of celebrities and creators I look up to and it’s not always great… John and Sandy, however, are a dream.
When we first started talking about working together on Tales for a Halloween Night Vol. 1 they invited the artist, Brett (same Brett mentioned above), the letterer, Ben, and I up to their house for dinner. I don’t think any of us knew what to expect and we’d all felt disillusioned after meeting a few of our heroes in the past. This was different. John was kind, funny, and relaxed, while Sandy was warm, inviting, and never stopped smiling. About an hour into the dinner it stopped feeling like we were eating with a couple we’d all looked up to most of our lives, and more like a meal with lifelong friends.
Working with them is no different. They know what they’re doing and they know what they want. They’re clear with direction and happy to answer any questions one might have. And, like most editors, they expect quality work, on time, and kindness.
I love working with John and Sandy, and will continue to do so until they get sick of me.

Does that shellshock wear off?

Not really.
The John Carpenter brand is global and respected. Whenever I’m talking to someone at a convention or a comic book shop about working with them, the enthusiasm is palpable. It’s impossible not to remember how much people love John and Sandy’s work, which is a good thing, as it pushes me to try and be a worthy brand ambassador in the writing.

What was your favorite part to write in John Carpenter’s Tales of Science Fiction?

Issue #3. Easy. It’s the big payoff. We give the audience the final pieces to the puzzle without explaining what the puzzle means. There’s a bigger story being told in Vault, but it’s between the lines. There are clues (the poem, the interaction of the ship with it’s target, and the strange fungus to name a few), but it’ll take someone putting those pieces together to understand the meaning of the book. Thankfully none of that is necessary to enjoy the story, I think, but we wanted to give sleuths a little something to dig into and extrapolate on. Issue #3 was when I got to let those threads come together, and that was really fun to write.

Vault is 1 of 3 parts, do you have any plans to continue down the science fiction/ horror genre?

I hope so! I’m a big fan of both horror and science fiction. I’d be a happy dead man if my entire life was telling stories that lived between those worlds. Each of those genres have their own sets of rules and stereotypes and I think they crossover in really interesting ways. And from a world building perspective, the horror/science fiction blend allows for some fun cultural criticism. So yeah, I’d love to keep going. I’ve got plenty more to criticize.

 I understand you’d like to be able to write something your children can read. Do you have any ideas as to what you’d like to write next?

I have a few comic books I’m pitching around at the moment. Two science fiction books and a fantasy mini-series. Hopefully I’ll be able to give some good news on those soon…
The book for kids is another project I’d really like to get off the ground, and quickly. I remember reading Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark series when I was a kid, with that amazing art from Stephen Gammell — they terrified me. I’d like to do something like that, but with a more traditional, folklore-style twist. Maybe a series of comics that scares kids but offers some sort of advice or lesson in the end. That’d be fun. We’ll see.

I read your blog and then was left with a question about Chronicles of a Full-Time Father. Do you think you could’ve written John Carpenter’s Tales of Science Fiction during that period or were you completely immersed in parenting at that point?

Ha! Oh, man… That was the greatest mistake I’ve ever made. I was trying to get my writing career off of the ground and worked as a freelancer and stay-at-home dad while my wife worked. Some funny stuff happened (as it does with kids), so I started blogging about it. That blog got way more popular than I thought it would, but the audience was not what I was really looking for… I wanted to write science fiction and horror, but ended up with a large fan base of stay-at-home mothers and a few dads. When I would put out a project, like Macabre Rising, none of them cared. I was writing scary stuff, but the parenting shorts were paying the bills. It’s not what they came to read from me. They wanted more funny stories about parenting. Eventually I stopped regularly blogging about parenthood and collected those blogs as a book, which did pretty well. I’d love to have kept doing it, but it was a bit confusing for folks from a branding perspective. Who knows, maybe I’ll have a chance to write more about that stuff later. Maybe with a pen name? Lord knows I’ve got plenty more stories to tell there.

How does what’s going on in your life impact what you are writing- if at all?

It does. It always does. I work as a Senior Copywriter for a marketing firm in Orange County. A lot of that is writing to help reinforce a brand or sell a product. So, when I write creatively for myself, it’s because I’m trying to say something. I’m only ever trying to say something as a reaction to something else I’ve observed or experienced. For example, my latest piece in Tales for a Halloween Night Vol.3 is a direct response to folks on social media, specifically well-intentioned people who end up making problems worse than they need to be. And, like Vault, I’ve tried to do it in a way that isn’t preachy, but fun. That’s the point, right? I mean, why write at all if you have nothing to say?

What is the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome as a writer?

Confidence. It is really easy to see your flaws as a writer. From a misplaced comma to a general feeling of worthlessness. I’m not sure those feelings will ever really go away. I write something because I think it’s a solid idea and by the time I’m done I’m usually sure it’ll be hated by everyone who reads it. Many of the writers I look up to have been open about feeling the same way, so it’s less about “defeating” self-worth, and more about coping with it. I try my best to write stories that mean something to me, and hope that someone out there will read it, identify with it, and cherish it with the same emotional connection. You could write something and get 100 stellar reviews, but the one you remember is the review that tells everyone how bad your work is. That’s the nature of the beast. The trick is to try and pay attention to the people who enjoy what you’re doing and keep writing for both them and yourself.

I’d like to focus on your current work now. How did you decide on Andres Esparza for your art?

I met Andres through Axur Eneas, the artist on “So Happy,” our contribution to Tales for a Halloween Night Vol. 2. Sandy and I spent a very long time reviewing submissions and scouting artists at shows, but it wasn’t until we got a look at Andres’ stuff that we both agreed: he was the guy. Andres and Sergio (colors) have worked together for a while now, and you can see why. They have an incredible relationship that allows them to produce quality, detailed work. The mood of the book, the look of the book, the tone — all of that is because of Andres and Sergio. They’re amazing. I’m so blessed to be working with them.
*Note: I’d also like to throw out some thanks to our letterer, Janice Chiang, who brings everything together with her talent and experience. I love this team.

The style of the artwork is very well matched to both Carpenter’s style and your own, was there a method you all used to effectively achieve this?

I did a lot of research before I started scripting. When the team was put together, the first thing we all did was review those notes. Everything in the book, from the interior of Vault to the suits the astronauts where, is based on existing, theoretical science. It was important for us to ground the series in “what could be.” If you saw the film Minority Report you may know what I’m talking about. At the time, that film did a really phenomenal job of giving the audience a view of technology evolved a few steps from where we were currently — that’s what we wanted for Vault. And I think that’s what you mean with the parallel to John Carpenter: he’s a master of building worlds that feel real, lived in, and just around the corner. We tried very hard to echo that tone throughout Vault. Andres, Sergio, and I went back and forth a lot to iron out all of those visual details before they started on pages. They nailed it.

Can you set readers up with a bit of background on what we’re walking into in Part 1? (ie. Timeline, character background)

Sure. Here’s the elevator pitch: A group of moon-bound miners and military scientists stumble across a large, obviously alien spaceship headed towards Earth with words in written in English across the hull. These characters decide to investigate and everyone lives happily ever after.
Just kidding.
A lot has happened on that ship before our team arrives. They have to figure out what the ship is, where it’s going, and how to stay alive before a literal timer hits zero. Spoiler: It gets messy.

I’m not sure if it’s a favorite of yours however the movie Event Horizon came to mind while I was reading. It had that ominous vibe where you’re wondering if the ship is alive. Is there anything you can tell me about that?

Ha! There are very direct nods to three of my favorite science fiction flicks in Vault: Alien, Sunshine, and yes, Event Horizon. Those are intentional and done out of respect. Fans of those films will, hopefully, pick up on those nods and giggle a bit. The good news is that, by its end, Vault is wholly unique, I think. I wanted to give a little bow to my favorites and acknowledge the inspiration without ripping them off, and I think we did that, though I can certainly understand the parallels some people have drawn.
As far as the ship being alive… Well, you’ll have to wait and see.

The end of Part 1 leaves us with a killer cliff-hanger, perfectly getting you right into the read and then it’s over. What, if anything, can you tell readers about the next installment of Vault?

I don’t want to give anything away, but I’ll say this: Vault #2 will reveal more about the true enemy/enemies inside Vault, and it may not be what people think.

I’d like to take a moment and thank you for all of your answers, The Vault has me hooked and I cannot wait to read more of your work across the board.

Thank you! I’m so glad you’re enjoying it. Hopefully we stick the landing for you.

interview with James NinnessOriginally published on Outright Geekery

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *