Interview With Stephen D. Sullivan
(June 2011)

The author of the Elektra Junior Novel talks about adaptating the movie for a younger audience and explains why the screenplay was one of the best he's read.

Kuljit Mithra: Just wanted to first say thanks for this interview. I'm sure there are a lot of people who are unaware that this Elektra book exists. How did you become involved with the project?

Stephen D. Sullivan: I'd done a number of books for an editor who was working at that publisher and had recently completed the junior novels for the movies Thunderbirds and Fantastic 4. Elektra came up because of those, and I was happy to take it.

Mithra: At first, it would seem this is an odd choice as a "junior novel", because you usually don't associate Elektra with younger readers... so was there any hesitation on your part to write it?

Sullivan: I wasn't worried. While I wouldn't exactly call Frank Miller's original comics "kid stories," they did appear in newsstand comic books. I knew the material from the comics, so I felt pretty confident about adapting it. Mostly, doing adaptations for kids means toning down the sex and violence -- but you can still keep the action level high. Actually, I was thrilled to get the assignment. I've loved the character since she first appeared. I only wish DD had been in the film!

Mithra: Was the Elektra/Abby relationship something that your editor wanted to focus on more? I think this would appeal to younger readers.

Sullivan: Generally, the editors want you to keep things pretty close to the movie, since it's an adaptation, after all, not a spin-off. They didn't say anything specific about Abby or the relationship that I recall. I did try to make sure that people who hadn't seen the Daredevil movie or read any of the comics could follow the story. I always try to make adaptations self contained.

Mithra: You've mentioned that you were a fan of DD... any favourite creators, arcs, etc.?

Sullivan: I started reading Daredevil when Gerry Conway was writing and Gene Colan drawing -- around the time DD and Black Widow were a couple -- and then I back collected the whole series to number one. I followed it and Amazing Spider-Man for at least 150 issues. I loved Frank Miller's work on the series, but also love the stuff that Stan Lee and Gene did. The Mike Murdock stories were especially wacky and fun. And Gene, the ultimate DD artist (no offense, Frank) never looked better than when Bill Everett was inking him. So, I was actually already there when Frank and Elektra arrived.

Mithra: I'm guessing you had an outline of the story and maybe a screenplay to work with... did you know who any of the actors would be, to help with character descriptions?

Sullivan: I think I knew that Jennifer Garner would be Elektra, because she'd been in the DD movie, but I don't remember knowing anyone else. It's been a couple of years since I've watched the film (or read my own book, for that matter), so I'm not sure I could name anyone else in the cast.

Mostly, I described the characters from what I knew in the comics and the information supplied in the screenplay. You never want to describe too much because 1) that limits the imagination of the reader, and 2) you never know when the movie may suddenly change in unpredictable ways. A character scheduled to be played by Jackie Chan today might turn into Denzel Washington or Jim Carrey tomorrow.

Mithra: How difficult was it for you to condense the story down, and also make it "younger reader" friendly? Obviously you can't describe the violence in too much detail.

Sullivan: I really like writing action scenes, but, yeah, you always have to keep in mind the age of the readership. Kids who read are smart kids, though, so you don't want to dumb the screenplay down too much. Even in my more-adult work, I try to stick with direct descriptions and active sentences. Those elements make good page turning for any readership level. For kids you just focus on action rather than violence.

Condensing the story can be trickier. On my first pass, I usually leave everything except age-inappropriate stuff in, just to see what the fit will be. (I do breakdowns beforehand, so I don't run too long.) If the first pass runs long, and often it does, I try to go back and trim out things that are sidelights to the main action.

It's a tricky job, I suppose, but I really enjoy it.

Mithra: Were there any chapters that were difficult to write, in terms of dealing with the violence or any changes that FOX/publishers requested?

Sullivan: The only chapters that were a bit tricky were the ones that involved time-shifting perceptions. That was something that came out much more in the screenplay than the final film, and the trick was to try not to confuse or lose the readers. I think I was successful at that, though you might have a better perspective, as a reader, than I do.

I don't remember there being a lot of changes required. I tend to write clean manuscripts, and I also try to have a good master plan for writing when I go in. When I did Iron Man, for instance, I only had one page of notes (fixes) for the whole book. I try to be both good at what I do and easy to work with.

Of course, it's been long enough since I looked at the book that I suppose the publishers might have ripped out whole chapters. (Kidding.)

Mithra: What did you think of the movie? There were a lot of good scenes in the book that could have been included.

Sullivan: I thought the screenplay was the coolest one I'd read up 'til then, and I remember there being a lot in it that just didn't make it into the movie: the time-shifting that I mentioned, for one thing. I think a lot of those scenes made it into the final of the book (though, as I said, it's been a while since I read it). There was a whole section of the screenplay where (as I remember) Elektra ran a fight through her mind until she was killed. Then, she backed out and, when the real fight came, avoided her mistakes.

I loved that; it really took me off guard when I first read it -- but I don't remember it being in the movie. There were some other scenes like that, too, that I thought would be great cinema, but never quite made it onto the screen. There was one moment where a villain was balancing on the edge of a sword, or a very thin wire, or something similar -- like out of a kung fu movie -- that I don't think made it, either.

I put all that stuff into the novelization, and I think most made it through to the final, though, as I said, it's been years since I looked at it. Maybe they took all that out "in post."

I was sad that the film didn't turn out as cool as the screenplay, and always hoped they'd do a better, expanded director's cut. I don't think they ever did. Did they?

[Editor's note: There was a director's cut that added a few minutes of footage. Some of the scenes that Sullivan describes are in the deleted scenes section of the DVD.]

Mithra: And finally, what are you currently writing and are any more comic adaptations in your future?

Sullivan: I really like doing comics adaptations (and comics) and would love to do more in the future. Sadly, the (now long ago) writer's strike dried up the adaptation pipeline for me, and once the strike was over the editors I was working with were gone. I'm available, if anyone's looking, but searching for work can consume as much time as actually writing books and stories, so...

Lately, I've been spending my time writing my own stuff. I've published at least one new story every month since last August, and hope to keep that up for a whole year. Mostly, that's taken the form of e-books, though I have contributed to a number of anthologies in the last year, too. I've got a steampunk story, "Automata Futura," coming out in Hot & Steamy this June (Daw 2011) and an SF/Fantasy story called "Time War: Second Front" in Carnage & Consequences this August (Walkabout Publishing).

Also, later this summer, I'll be releasing the first book in my Frost Harrow series of modern Gothic horror novels (like Dark Shadows, for adults): Scream Lover. It'll be available in both e-book and print form. I'm very excited about that. There should be at least one more Frost Harrow book released this year, with more to come in 2012.

People wanting to keep track of what I'm up to can follow me on Twitter or Facebook, and I also put out a free, monthly newsletter. You can sign up and find other info at www.stephensullivan.com.

I also have an Amazon author page here:
http://www.amazon.com/Stephen-D.-Sullivan/e/B001HMMIYG/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_pop_1

And a Smashword author page here:
http://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/stephendsullivan

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(c) Kuljit Mithra & Stephen D. Sullivan 2011
Daredevil:The Man Without Fear
http://www.manwithoutfear.com
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