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May 01 2016

Writing Superheroes: Scott Pavelle

She Who Must Be Obeyed says you should pay attention. Read on and find out more…

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According to Wikipedia, ‘a superhero is a type of heroic character possessing extraordinary talents, supernatural phenomena, or superhuman powers and is dedicated to a moral goal or protecting the public.’ Sounds like a writer to me!

Join me as another one of these unsung superheroes invites into their personal ‘batcave’.

If you were to write the ‘origin’s episode’ of your writing what would be the most important scenes? What did your early efforts look like? Are they still around to be used as bribes and blackmail material?

Telling the “Roland Vs. the Giant” chapter out-loud to an audience. I became an accomplished professional storyteller before moving on to publish things in writing. The story about Roland is an all-time classic I first started telling early in my career. If memory serves, I actually started from the version in Bullfinch’s mythology before adapting it to make it my own. The story is usually titled “Roland and Ferragus” or “Roland and Ferragut”. I changed the giant’s name for this book for a number of reasons, including potential confusion with another character named “Fierabras”.

And yes, the original version is still around. I have it recorded on CD’s no less!

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All super heroes have their mild-mannered secret identity, what is yours? I promise we won’t tell.

The nebbishy Clark Kent guy in the back of the library doing research for high-powered types who will no doubt take all the credit. Or maybe the caterer whose kitchen is always breaking down at the worst possible time.

 

Who are your partners in crime? What are their superpowers?

My partner in crime is my partner in everything else: She Who Must Be Obeyed. In fact, if you speak that phrase into my cell phone it knows who to dial. “You Sexy Beast You” calls the same number.

Her superpower? Uhhhhm… What rating do you have on this blog?

 

Where do you get your superpowers from?

She Who Must Be Obeyed is occasionally kind enough to share.

 

Where is your secret lair and what does it look like?

Uhhhhm… What rating do you have on this blog? It does have lots of books and Internet access in addition to all the rest. And two swords under the bed. Another in the closet. Knives don’t really count, I guess, but there is a large iron pipe that rotates being here and there, depending on mood and the whim of SWMBO. It belongs on my side of the lair but I don’t always get a say in the matter.

 

What kind of training do you do to keep your superpowers in world saving form? How do you insure they are used only for good?

Get out in public and tell a few stories. Bore my beloved with others. Read up on all the rest of the stories in the Carolingian Cycle just to keep dreaming about which ones I ought to get to next.

SWMBO says I should mention the bevy of librarians who get Christmas cookies each year, but those are honestly meant as gifts, not bribes.

 

Granted, you probably don’t get to wear your superhero costume a lot, but if you did, what would it look like?

16th Century plate armor. Probably from the Augsburg school and looking a lot like one of Peffenhauser’s beauties.

 

What is your kryptonite? What are the biggest challenges faced in your writing?

Football season. And the eternal problem of actually getting the darned thing done.

 

What was the supervillain that threatened to stop your latest project and how did you vanquish it?

The small world version of Donald Trump. Vanquish? I believe said villain has now been found sliced, diced, and scattered among a great many lands.

 

What important lessons have you learned along the way?

She Who Must Be Obeyed is… Actually, this is a question that deserves some genuine thought because I’ve learned a lot of oddball things from writing this book, from a lot of different angles. Most recently I’ve learned that we think of books in genres, and this one defies any ready categories.

The short description is easy. It is a modern adaptation/retelling of some classic parts of the Charlemagne cycle. The main characters are all the ones you’d expect: Charles himself, Roland and Oliver, the wise Duke Naymon, the evil giants and Saracens, the not-so-helpless maidens in need of rescue, etc. But the sources I’m using are Early English Text Society (EETS) versions of books first written in the 1400’s. And those early English books were themselves translations/retellings of French books written by hand in the 1100’s. And those French books were a scribe’s version of oral tales that had been in circulation for hundreds of years before that, in many different versions and forms. And those oral versions were set in a pseudo-historical setting occupied by Charles himself, Roland, and other men who actually lived and did great deeds.

So what do we have? Are the original oral stories an attempt at “history”, “historical fiction”, outright fantasy, or social critique and satire dressed up in fool’s motley? The answer I’ve come to is “all of the above.” With the same holding true for each step in the chain. I’ve spent a ridiculous amount of time and skull-sweat trying to plumb the minds of each author who went before me in that line, to penetrate what he was trying to say with his version, and to preserve that along with my own take as I struggled to give the same old story a new kind of life.

The biggest lesson I’ve learned is probably that every one of those earlier authors went through the exact same process and tried to do the exact same thing. We are divided by countries, seas, continents, languages, and many, many centuries of time but I have discovered that they were every bit as smart as I am and cared every bit as much. It creates an odd kind of kinship that sort of echoes the feeling you get as you read the book itself. “I’m really enjoying this, and in just the same way as my great-to-the-Nth grandparents did back a thousand years ago! How cool is that?”

 

What have been the best/most memorable experiences along the way?

Discovering just how broad the Carolingian Cycle really was. It stretches from serious social commentary all the way to laugh-out-loud comic books. And when you think about it from the point of view of a performer, that almost makes sense. Audiences knew the characters and scenes so well that setting your narrative in “Charlemagne Land” allowed you to shortcut a whole series of descriptions that probably wouldn’t work as well anyway.

 

If you did this again what would you do differently and what would you not change?

This is a tough one. I feel like I’m still learning the background, and the more I learn the more it informs my ability to tell each story. But if I’d waited to know the whole cycle before starting in, I probably would never have started. So there’s not much I would do differently… Maybe approach the project with a better work ethic?

 

What is the best (writing or otherwise) advice you have ever gotten and why.

The best advice I ever got had nothing to do with writing. About a month before my wedding my soon-to-be-wife and I had the sort of fight that I now know to be typical. At the time, though, it seemed to be world-shatteringly important. My Dad took me aside and said, “If you want to be married you need to take a longer point of view. Is this a fight that’s worth the cost it will take to win? Sometimes they are, and sometimes they aren’t. You’ve always got to ask yourself which one you’ve got.”

You know the famous list of Seven Cardinal Virtues? I personally think the most important one is missing: a sense of perspective.

The best writing advice I ever got was two-fold. First, if you don’t get started it will never get done. Just spit the darned thing out and then worry about fixing it later. Second, somewhere around the 30%-40% mark there’s a hump when the thing stops being fun and starts being work. That’s when 90% of the Great American Novels get killed. If you choose to be a part of that statistic, do it on purpose and not because of some sneaky emotional ‘hump’ that other writers routinely overcome.

 

Tell us about you new book and why we need to drop everything and get it now.

Charlemagne and the Admiral of Spain is:

  1. The original snack food for the mind, a pure comic book adventure for your inner 12-year-old that will leave you grinning and wanting more.
  2. The exact same story that delighted your ancestors a thousand years ago. How often do you get to really walk in their footsteps and feel like you truly understand what they thought and felt?
  3. A fascinating collection of social commentaries, religious critiques, and moral assumptions that will upset a lot of what you assumed about both Renaissance England’s attitudes (Caxton’s version from the late 1400’s) and the high Middle Ages (the older sources from the 1100’s).
  4. Part of a massive and extended literary tradition you know a lot less about than you might think. Approaching this project as a storyteller rather than an “expert” yields different results that will intrigue and surprise even the best scholars in the field.
  5. A perfect example of the casual ignorance and “everyone knows” assumptions that modern people still indulge in despite the fact that we have finally learned to treat it as an intellectual sin. Among other things, the view of other religions in this story is so utterly confused and factually wrong that it makes you start to wonder how much you actually understand in today’s world, versus the amount you’ve been told and simply accept. Heck, even the title does that. “Admiral” is an obvious mistake for the title “Emir”. The fact that even so great a writer as William Caxton would let that slip by kind of says something, doesn’t it? I left the mistake in place for just that reason.
  6. A rollicking good adventure you can share with friends and family.

All of that in one little, easy to read book. Who shouldn’t run out and buy it?

But here’s an even better reason if you need one: She Who Must Be Obeyed says you should. I have learned to heed her advice. You should do the same.

 

What’s in store for you in the future? Do you have any other big projects on the horizon?

I’m involved in a massive study of certain wild mushrooms (boletes) across the Northeast this coming summer. That’s certainly a big project. Writing-wise, I’m torn between a few. If people really love the Admiral of Spain I have two potential follow-ups: a large novel from the heavy and serious side of the cycle where Charlemagne comes off as a bullying overlord (The Four Sons of Aimon) and a collection of backstories and smaller pieces from this same light adventure side of the cycle that should mesh well into a single narrative. There’s the story of how Charlemagne came to power with Duke Naymon at his side; how Roland came to be born; how Roland and Oliver grew up together, were divided, and then reunited in Charlemagne’s court; the fights against the Saracen King Agolant (a different master villain than Balan); and a few others. Yes, I’m pretty sure I could put those together..

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If you’d like to receive a free ARC of Scott’s book in exchange for a free Amazon review, please send an e-mail to kate@katepavelle.com, include “Charlemagne ARC” in the subject line, and indicate you preferred format (PDF, ePub, or mobi). The arcs will go out by the end May, and the book will come out on June 30th. You’ll have ample time to read and review. Thank you so much!

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

3 comments

  1. JerryT

    Scott Pavelle is not listed as an author on amazon.com. If his books are not available on amazon where are they?

    1. Maria Grace

      His first book is coming out in June. If you’d like to review and ARC, there is an email at the end of the interview to request it. Thanks Jerry!

    2. Scott Pavelle

      What she said. This will be the first book and we’re in the process of picking people to do ARC’s. The only published things I have (aside from legal work and a lot of mushroom- and football-related pieces) are short stories published in various anthologies under my own name and anonymously. Happily, one got translated into a Spanish-language school primer (“The Artist’s Tale”), which allows me bragging rights for being “published in more than one language!”

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