John Shirley isn’t new to the writing biz: He’s a master of cyberpunk, science fiction, and horror. But those genres aren’t exclusive from one another — they share common traits, and writers often stir elements from them together, like paints from different pots. It’s not much different from the blending of science fiction and fantasy, for example.
But what do those genres — and novel, short story, and screenplay writing, in this case — have to do with video games? Well, a lot. Video game narratives are a form of fiction, but they draw from any genre you can name, including the ones Shirley does best. He’s no stranger to the medium, either. He’s adapted into print the first-person shooter series Borderlands in The Fallen and Unconquered and BioShock in Rapture, and now he’s turned to Resident Evil. Only this time, it’s a book based on a film based on a game franchise: Resident Evil: Retribution(from Titan Books).
Fortunately, Shirley has all the right experience and know-how to make it work — from penning screenplays (such as the first one for The Crow) to writing his own novels (like City Come A-Walkin’ and Dracula In Love), short stories (like the Bram Stoker Award and International Horror Guild Award-winning collection Black Butterflies), movie novelizations (Constantine and Doom, etc.), and more. So how does he juggle it all?
Misprinted Pages: This isn’t your first foray into sci-fi and horror — you’re something of an expert by now. How is the writing process and creative investment of penning a novelization based on an existing property (like Resident Evil) different from inventing your own original story?
John Shirley: Well, of course, in my own “just John Shirley” fiction — like A Song Called Youth, or Demons, or Everything Is Broken — I have to make up the plot entirely on my own. There might occasionally be some plot point suggestions from an editor, but it’s rare. And I don’t have to take the suggestion. With a novelization, I have to incorporate the entire script into the novel, and that means someone else’s plot. I can add additional plot points — like “B story,” as they say in television writing — [or] subplots, but nothing can contradict the script, the backstory of the script, or the “world” of the franchise. So it’s a sort of dance one does.