What a day! Not only do we have episode 2 of Telltale’s The Walking Dead out, we also have the action-packed conclusion to the Fall of the Governor! To mark the occasion we had a talk with co-author and super nice guy Jay Bonansinga!
TheWalkingDead.com: Let’s start with the question we have to ask all first-time interviewees: How familiar were you with the comics before taking on the novels?
Jay Bonansinga: Having worked with Robert now on four books over the course of almost four years, I feel I’ve known the comics my entire life—like I came out of the womb a Walking Dead expert. But when I first heard about the possibility of getting this gig I had only read one or two issues. I was familiar with the comics, but at the time I realized I didn’t have the time to become obsessed with them. So I was familiar with the comic book and its history, and a little familiar with the show being developed at the time, but it was so speculative at that time. The show hadn’t premiered yet and I was just hopping aboard a roller coaster without knowing whether it was the Matterhorn or the Log Ride [laughs].
TWD.com: How is the general story-breaking process with Robert?
Bonansinga: Well, for the first four books, the way we worked was Robert would generate an outline, and since the first four books (which were originally meant to be a trilogy but the last one got enormous and broken into two books) was a continuous episodic series of books, Robert and I got into a groove. And at the beginning of each book, he would give me an 8-10 page outline and I would wait for that before I started anything because that was sort of the Rosetta Stone. And it was written in very simple paragraphs, just story, not even plot not even detail, just story, it was sort of the arc. He knew who he wanted to die and when, who he wanted to survive, but that was pretty much it. And then I just sort of turned it into prose, I basically detailed the whole thing into a 100,000 word book. And after we got to trust each other Robert pretty much left me alone. It’s just been a great process.
TWD.com: Speaking of process, what’s your specific writing process?
Bonansinga: When I was a romantic punk living in a college dorm, I wrote at night and drank heavily [laughs]. But over the years, as I got more professional about it, I flipped it. Now I work best in the morning right after I get up, and I just last through my minimum page count first thing every morning. Often before I even have breakfast, I have to work as soon as I get up. It may have something to do, not to be woo-woo about it, with the subconscious. I just feel really good at that time of day, but as the day wears on your mind gets filled with the noise of your day and it’s less pristine. It’s harder to be creative. So yeah, that’s my process. I work in the morning, I have a minimum page count, and that makes for an optimum level of anxiety [laughs]. I have to get 5 pages or 2,500 words each day.
TWD.com: When you’re starting this story you already have an endpoint of where the Governor is when he’s introduced in the comics. We see in the novels that he’s introduced as this decent, intelligent guy, who ends up with these severe psychological issues. Was it fun to kind of map out the unraveling of this character?
Bonansinga: He had issues, I will agree with that. I think that was the whole modus operandi of the series. It was always in Robert’s mind that the unraveling of the Governor was a big arc that would work as a companion piece to other mediums that The Walking Dead is being explored in. He wanted to really dig down into the granular action and reaction that the Governor went through that brought him to Woodbury and created him—created this strange and scary individual—and then how did his undoing come about and why did that happen. That’s the thing about Robert Kirkman, you know? I’ve said this in interviews again and again: he doesn’t make a big deal out of it, but he has this uncanny almost freakishly intuitive sense of story. The reason I keep saying that—I sound like a broken record—is because it fascinates me as a prose author. He’ll give me these outlines and then at the end of the process, when everything’s done and the book’s in production or it’s even come out, I’ll sometimes go back and look and do the math and there’s an equivalent number of pages for each page of his outline. And I never try to do that. I just let it flow. But in the end, it’s like this geometric continuity and symmetry. It drives me crazy, it’s just fascinating.
TWD.com: In Part One of the Fall of the Governor, we see another perspective on the Rick/Michonne/Glenn introduction to the Governor. How is it dealing with the comic mythology and getting to tell another version of those events?
Bonansinga: It was very, very cool, and it was eerie. It was almost like they walked into the book from some other place, some other dimension. They walk into this book, and they’re completely different because we’re seeing them through this different lens. And, if I’m not mistaken, when they first appear, they’re sort of glimpsed by one of the supporting characters in the book from a distance, and it’s sort of like they’re ghostly, and you don’t know anything about them—which is really what Robert wanted to do. We wanted to make them mysterious even though the reader is likely going to know what their motivation is, where they’re heading, what their arc is. But we still had a lot of fun painting them through the point of view of Lilly and the Governor where they were a threat and, well, kinda fucking annoying [laughs].
TWD.com: Well there are a lot of people who never read the comic but came from the show and the novel is the first they learn about these events [in Woodbury].
Bonansinga: Absolutely. That’s what’s so fun! I go to conventions, I go to Comic Con, and I see predominantly comic book people, but everybody’s sort of fascinated by the whole interplay between mediums. The video game has its sort of niche, its turf, and its own characters like Clementine, and they’re fascinating and they work in that medium beautifully. But there’s this strange Kirkman Calculus with all these same timelines and same mythologies being reshuffled and reimagined in all these different mediums. That’s another thing that’s become a hobby of mine, trying to figure out if this has ever been done before. I’ve yet been able to think of a writer who created a mythology that was this meticulously spread out across so many mediums. I really can’t come up with one. When I started working on this job, when I explain it to friends and colleagues, I say I’m sort of like the authors George Lucas hired to write serious novels set in the Star Wars mythology but sort of set them loose. I’m kind of like that. Not exactly, but it’s close.
TWD.com: Yeah, Star Wars would probably be the most likely comparison where different parts of the universe are spread over different mediums. I think we’ll only be seeing more of this trend in the next 5-10 years.
Bonansinga: Yeah, that’s true. It’s sort of like the new digital way of thinking of a story and fleshing it out.
TWD.com: Speaking of different mediums, the first half of Season 4 dealt with the Governor’s backstory and we see variations on the novel characters. Did you happen to catch those episodes?
Bonansinga: Oh my god, are you kidding? I fell off my sofa. I ran around the block naked screaming for joy when I started seeing it all showing up in the show. And it also got passed through some sort of trippy lens. The family from Rise of the Governor was brought back in a different incarnation but it was sort of a similar story arc. The first time I noticed it was in Season 3 when the Governor and Rick have a sit down for the first time and all of the sudden David Morrissey launches into this kind of touching and powerful reminiscence about the death of his wife in a car wreck. He talks about how the hospital first contacted him late at night and I was like, “Stuff from the novel is seeping into the show!” That was the first time I noticed it. Even his name, Blake, came from the novel.
TWD.com: It’s all kind of there. The character names have shifted a little bit, but you can definitely see the bones of it, which is what the show does. So, what can readers expect in the part 2 of The Fall of the Governor?
Bonansinga: What I’m going to say is going to sound like such a huge cliché, all authors say the same thing, but I think if a reader has been following the development of these characters and these books, they’ll trust me [when I say] that this final one is so densely filled with action. It so reminds me of the third Lord of the Rings book. It’s so filled with action and it takes its time. It doesn’t throw a bunch of shit at you. It’s just so densely filled with actions and reactions. Things are now unraveling at a rapid pace so now this last book has some of the most intense firefight stuff I’ve ever written. In fact, I enlisted a friend, Master Sergeant Alan Baker, an active duty soldier who’s done four tours in Afghanistan, and he took the manuscript and did a complete gun and ballistic and battle-protocol pass on it to make sure everything was kosher. So what I’m saying is, no one’s going to be surprised if The Governor goes out with a bang. Literally.
TWD.com: Without spoiling anything, can we assume we’ll be seeing some new comic book characters in this book?
Bonansinga: Well, because it’s the dénouement where everything is paying off now, there’s not that many new characters because there’s a lot to take care of, but yes there are some new characters. [BIG GIANT SUPER SECRET REMOVED]
TWD.com: What’s next for you now that the Governor novels are wrapped up?
Bonansinga: I have my own books that are going to be coming out over the next few years. One of them is a horror novel I’m really excited about. But I don’t know, I’ve probably gone through some kind of arc myself working with Kirkman for four years. It has probably warped my novel writing permanently [laughs]. In a good way, though.
Big thanks to Jay for taking some time out to talk with us! The Fall of the Governor Part Two is out RIGHT NOW!!!