Supernatural: Season 7 might be over, but you’re going to be able to get one more little taste of the adventures of Sam and Dean in Leviathanland next week, when the official tie-in Supernatural: Rite of Passage hits bookstores. Written by veteran tie-in writer John Passarella, the book may actually be totally Leviathan free (except for a few references), but it does take place before a pretty important moment in the season, involving father-figure Bobby. You know the one. To find out more – and preview a first look at the entire Prologue to the novel – we chatted with Passarella about writing tie-ins, his take on Sam and Dean, and what kind of monster they’ll be fighting in the book:
MTV Geek: Rite of Passage is your second Supernatural novel… What draws you to that universe?
John Passarella: I’ve been a fan of the show since season one, episode one. All the tie-in novels I’ve written have been for shows I love, including Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel and now Supernatural. The UK editor for my first Supernatural novel, Night Terror, initially contacted me after viewing my writing credentials at passarella.com. I had tie-in experience and I wrote supernatural thrillers. She asked if I was interested in submitting a proposal for a Supernatural novel. Naturally, I was. So she told me the proposal steps, several three-line pitches, outline, etc. When the contract was renewed for Supernatural books taking place in season seven, my US editor asked if I’d like to submit a proposal for a second novel. Rite of Passage was the result.
Geek: Give us a little rundown of the plot here, if you can.
JP: The story takes place in season seven, before the episode “How To Win Friends And Influence Monsters” which marked a big turning point in the show. The Winchesters learn of a town experiencing a series of too-weird-to-be-natural accidents. Basically Laurel Hill, New Jersey is experiencing Murphy’s Law on steroids. And it’s getting worse. Because of their background, the brothers know a supernatural force is at work. As the scale of the accidents escalates with ever-increasing body counts, the Winchesters have to find the cause of the mayhem and stop it before it destroys the town.
Geek: Since this is essentially set between episodes in Season 7, how does that affect the emotional arc of the characters for you? Meaning, they have a very clear path they’re going on over the course of 22 episodes, so how much of a change can Sam, Dean, and Bobby really go through over the course of a novel?
JP: This is an issue for most tie-in writers. We can’t really change the characters or the course of the show, especially when the novel takes place between one episode and the next. Many tie-in writers I know refer to this as getting to play with the toys in the toy box, but having to return them the way we found them. We show the characters as they are in that point in the continuity. They may see outside characters experience situations similar to their own and see how those characters handle their choices. Usually, they reaffirm what they have already shown. Or question their own choices-to-date again.
Because of the tragedy that follows Rite of Passage in the show continuity, I chose to emphasize the bond between the brothers and Bobby by looking at various family dynamics within the book, from supportive to murderously dysfunctional. So there’s a bit of foreshadowing, and a moment for the Winchesters to appreciate what they have, because tragedy will strike soon. Having watched season seven, the reader knows this, so that adds a bittersweet quality to those moments in the novel.
Geek: I know the Leviathans were off limits… Anything else you wanted to bring in, and couldn’t? Or was everything else fair game?
JP: Castiel, along with the angels and demons scenarios were off limits as well. Not being privy to the writers room, I would have a hard time writing something within the season-long arc anyway. With the instruction to write a monster-of-the-week type story, I don’t have the pressure off trying to echo the big arc in a satisfying way without the benefit of moving things forward. Back in the day, The X-Files had their ever-growing-mythos episodes and the mutant-of-the-week episodes. As much as you enjoyed the growing mythos, at least for a while, sometimes it was just as enjoyable to settle down with a mutant-of-the-week episode and not have to mentally catalog everything that had been revealed about the big mythos. So that’s the way I’ve approached Night Terror and Rite of Passage.
Geek: More general question: what do you think licensed properties, like Supernatural (and Buffy [and others]) place are in the horror writing industry? In comics, I know there’s a certain reticence sometimes, but I’ve also seen some very good work there – is it the same for prose?
JP: From hardcore fans of the licensed properties, there is a lot of support for the tie-ins, whether novels or comic books. (I’m reading the Buffy and Angel comic books myself, and I’ve read a bunch of tie-in novels for multiple properties.) Tie-ins are another way to enjoy a universe and a set of characters they love. Much like anything else, the quality runs the gamut. I can’t speak for the horror writing community as a whole, but I’m sure there are many who disparage the books for one reason or another. Maybe they think they take away shelf space from original novels on bookstore shelves. Or they believe tie-ins don’t warrant serious consideration on their own merit, since the authors “borrow” the universe and characters rather than create those elements themselves.
But, speaking as a tie-in writer, these books present challenges of their own. To fall into the “good” range, you have to match the voices of the show’s characters and the tone of the show. I want my tie-ins to feel like “lost episodes” of the show. The readers of these books know the show well, and they know when you strike false notes with dialogue or the behavior of the characters. In addition, you have to write a compelling story even when the readers know you can’t advance the characters’ emotional arcs or change the course of the continuity.
Finally, the deadlines are much tighter than they would be for an original novel. I had about two months to write each of my Supernatural novels, and that meant I had to write seven days a week, without a day off, writing until I reached my word count every single day, even if that meant drinking coffee at 2am or staying awake night after night well past 4:00am.
Despite those deadlines, I try my best to deliver the best tie-in novel I can. The fans who support these books deserve a good story. And I want to be able to look back myself and say, “Yes, that was a good Supernatural story. I’m proud of that.” Partly due to the lack of recognition for tie-in novels, Lee Goldberg and Max Allan Collins started The International Association of Media Tie-In Writers (IAMTW.org). And, yes, I am a member.
Geek: We’re running the prologue on the site (hey, it’s probably right below!), what can you set up for us?
JP: The prologue introduces Tora, the “big bad” of the novel. We witness how his supernatural power operates, how he creates and escalates fatal accidents. (Reports of these same accidents will bring the Winchesters and Bobby Singer to Laurel Hill to investigate.) Finally, the prologue hints at Tora’s bigger, more destructive plans for the town.
And hey, here’s that prologue now! Enjoy:
With the dying gusts of a damaging series of thunderstorms, Tora entered Laurel Hill, New Jersey—not as a consequence of the meteorological destruction, rather, the storms served to herald his arrival and the devastation that would follow. Yet nothing about his appearance would alarm the citizens of the bustling suburban town. That was by design. Contrary to his nature, he had purposefully chosen a civilized appearance and calm demeanor for what amounted to a brief period of reconnaissance. A study in black, he wore a bowler hat low over his deeply furrowed brow, a double-breasted suit and black shoes. The exposed narrow wedge of a white dress shirt provided the only relief from this cloak of darkness, his ruddy complexion the only touch of color.
Though he walked with a stout wooden cane, its handle and pointed tip bound in iron, nothing in his gait suggested the cane’s purpose was supportive in nature, so that a casual observer might conclude the cane and bowler were sartorial affectations. For now, it served his purpose to foster these misconceptions. Only later would they realize that affectation had been disguise; as Biblical idiom would have it, he was a wolf in sheep’s clothing. He needed some uncontested time to take his measure of Laurel Hill, so he would endure an uncharacteristic bout of patience.
Ahead, on Bedford Drive, something intriguing caught his eye. The perfect opportunity to indulge his natural tendencies. As a sadistic smile spread across his face, he acknowledged to himself that patience was easier in small doses.
Joe Sedenko finished securing the last ridge cap on the Sloney roof and stood with the nail gun held loosely in his right hand, trailing the air hose which snaked across the roof, over the edge and down to the rumbling compressor two stories below. On one knee next to a vent pipe, Greg Beechum applied sealant to the nail heads around the flashing for extra leak protection. Near the edge of the roof, tossing the last bits of trash over the side in the general direction of the roll-off Dumpster in the driveway below, stood Mike Mackiewicz.
After two full days, they were nearly done on the roofing job. They’d spent the first day removing the old, damaged asphalt composite shingles, removing and replacing sections of rotted sheeting, and then laying down new tarpaper before calling it a day. That was the messy and dangerous part of the process, with all the debris and tripping hazards. The second day was more methodical and cosmetic, shooting all the new shingles, staggering the seams, cutting a few around vent pipes. So, naturally, Joe frowned when he spotted the gleaming titanium flat bar on the eave of the roof beside Mike. The tool was invaluable for extracting nails on day one, but not so much on day two, which involved the roofing coiler firing nail after nail through the new shingles and tar paper into the sheeting. Joe assumed Mike had taken it out of his tool belt during clean up, but he should have known better than to leave a hefty metal object so close to the edge of the roof. That was all Sedenko Roofing needed, for the flat bar to fall off the roof and crack open Mrs. Sloney’s skull when she came out to check on their progress or brought a pitcher of iced tea to the base of the ladder.
At that moment, Mike took a sideways step toward the flat bar, seemingly oblivious to its presence.
“Yo, Mike!” Joe called. “Watch out.”
“What?” Mike glanced down, left and right, then located the flat bar. “How’d that get there?”
He took another step, bending over from the waist to pick up the tool. Joe nodded and started to look away, but froze when one of the starter shingles slid out from under Mike’s planted foot. Mike fell sideways, hit the roof hard and rolled off the edge, his hand haplessly flailing at the gutter before he vanished from site. At the sound of the heavy thud below, Joe stood frozen in shock. The nail gun slipped from his numb fingers, struck the shingles below the ridge cap line with a much softer impact, and skittered down the sloped roof as if pulled by the air hose.?
“What the hell, Joe?” Greg said, looking from Joe to the retreating nail gun. “Where’s Mike?”
Greg placed the blue metal caulking gun, loaded with a tube of black tar, above the vent pipe and scrambled down the roof to catch the roofing coiler before it fell over the edge. The air hose whipped back and forth, flicking the roofing gun away from Greg’s grasping hand time after time, leading him all the way down to the eave.
While Joe had been helpless to stop his longtime friend from plummeting to the driveway below, something about the wriggling air hose galvanized his legs. He scampered down the roof, intent on catching up to Greg before he suffered Mike’s fate. Out of the corner of his eye, he glimpsed a blue object jarred into motion, but his mind failed to register what was happening as the object slid away from the silver flashing at the base of the vent pipe. He was too intent on catching Greg, already dangerously close to the edge of the roof.
With one last swipe, Greg snatched the roofing gun as it flipped over the gutter.
“That was close!”?
The air hose pulled taut, overbalancing him. ?
Greg pitched forward as Joe lunged to catch the back of his belt. ?
Joe missed by a hair’s breadth, then fought for balance—swaying forward far enough to witness Greg’s head slam against the edge of the roll-off with a sickening crunch, before he reared back to avert his own fall. The “easy day” had turned doubly fatal in a heartbeat. Trembling, he took a careful step away from the brink.
His foot came down on something hard and mobile, his weight shifting as the blue caulking gun shot out from beneath the rubber sole of his work boot. Falling forward, his legs swept out behind him over the eave of the roof and his momentum carried him the rest of the way. He caught the gutter in one hand and swung wildly toward the side of the house. But his momentary relief transformed into a fresh spike of fear as the flimsy metal creaked and rusted screws popped loose. An instant later he was spinning backward, his view flashing from sky to tree to lawn to cracked sidewalk before everything went dark.
Washing dishes after her stop-at-home lunch, Michelle Sloney glimpsed something dark sail past the kitchen window and wondered absently if it was a large bird, maybe one of those god-awful turkey vultures that perched atop homes near the woods as if lamenting the infrequency of road kill. But when it landed in the yard, she saw it was one of the new roofing shingles. Probably damaged, meant for the long construction Dumpster occupying her driveway, maybe it had glided away, across the lawn.
Though the quick movement in front of the window had startled her, pulling her attention from the task at hand, she could have sworn she had heard a thud near the Dumpster and couldn’t imagine what Sedenko’s crew might have tossed off the nearly restored roof. She stood there for a few moments, soapy water dripping from her hands, as a grim possibility dawned on her. But, no, she would have heard yelling, sounds of alarm, when all she heard was—
Another impact made her flinch.
The second impact seemed impossibly loud, perhaps because she had been listening for a reaction from the roofers after the first. She wiped her sopping hands with a dishtowel as she hurried to the front door. Stepping outside, she called, “Mr. Sedenko, I thought I heard…”
She froze under the small portico, not believing her eyes.
Sedenko appeared to be performing an awkward back flip off the roof.
His face swept beneath his body and slammed into the sidewalk that ran along the side of the house to the driveway. Under the full weight of his falling body, his neck snapped and Michelle knew without a moment’s doubt that he’d died instantly. The damaged gutter creaked in the slight breeze and a section of the downspout clanked to the ground.
“Oh, my God!” she whispered.
Hands to her mouth, Michelle stumbled forward as if trapped in a horrible dream, her gaze traveling past Sedenko’s body, to a second broken body beside the long Dumpster— Greg something—with blood pooling around a disfigured skull, and a third body a few feet from Greg’s. Mike. She remembered his name was Mike. It looked like another broken neck. She looked to her new roof, almost expecting a murderous fourth workman to return her gaze. What else could cause three experienced roofers to fall to their deaths, one after the other? Somebody must have shoved them from the roof. But nobody was there, and she had only ever seen three of them working together on the roof. ?
She backed away from the bodies, retreating to her door, her breathing shallow, on the verge of panic. She glanced distractedly toward the curb where the Sedenko Roofing van was parked. Beyond the red maple that overhung her driveway was a tall, broad-chested man in a bowler hat and black suit walking as if he hadn’t a care in the world, practically twirling his cane. He must have seen something.
“Call 911!” Michelle shouted. “These men are dead!”
He glanced at her with an inquisitive smile and cupped a hand behind his ear, as if he couldn’t hear her.
She looked from him to the three dead men sprawled across her property in plain sight.
“Oh, never mind!”
Hurrying, she grabbed her front door and flung it open. The edge of the door struck her in the face, below her right eye. Only when she pressed her hand to her face did she realize she had been crying, probably since the moment Sedenko fell. She glanced at her palm, wondering if she would find blood there, and experienced a measure of relief that she hadn’t lacerated her face, immediately followed by guilt for fretting over a possible flesh wound when three men had just died.
She ran across the kitchen to grab the wall phone— quicker than locating her cell phone in her voluminous pocketbook—but the heel of her shoe skidded across a patch of wet tile and she fell hard on her rear, belatedly cursing her clumsiness. As she grabbed the counter to pull herself upright, her hand closed over the knife she had used to slice carrots for her salad but had neglected to wash afterward. The sharp blade bit into her fingers, drawing blood.
After another string of muttered curses, Michelle took several deep breaths to calm herself before climbing gingerly to her feet and carefully lifting the cordless receiver off the base with her uninjured hand. She dialed 911 with exaggerated care, wrapping the damp towel around her bleeding fingers to slow the flow of blood as she waited for the emergency operator to pick up
She looked out of the kitchen window, scanning right to left and back again, but saw no sign of the tall man in the black suit.
Tora hadn’t intended for the homeowner to notice him. When not actively engaged in wielding his destructive power, he could fade from human perception—a shadow at the periphery of their vision, a sound too muffled to identify— but this cloaking ability required conscious effort on his part and he hadn’t bothered. Nevertheless, he was surprised she called to him for assistance as, clearly, all three men were beyond the need for medical intervention. But he knew shock and fear made people irrational, which often worked to his advantage.
Feigning ignorance or incompetence or some combination thereof, he continued on his way, assuming he would be forgotten by the middle-aged woman as she suffered an inevitable series of painful accidents—though none as devastating as the trifecta experienced by the roofers. Subtlety was not in his nature and while the roofers’ deaths were not a grand gesture, they were a definitive statement declaring his arrival.
Less than two blocks away, he noticed a man standing on a ladder propped against a thick tree branch wielding a chainsaw to cut away a damaged fork of the branch that overhung the roof of his garage. Spinning the ironbound handle of his cane in his palm, he smiled and watched as the man leaned away from the ladder, shifting his center of gravity. Another possibility.
With an efficient slicing motion, the man on the ladder severed the damaged section. As it fell, the healthy part of the branch sprang upward, depriving the top of the ladder of its support. The ladder pitched forward and the man’s engaged arms swept down, driving the saw’s chain through his jeans and grinding into the meat of his thigh before he could release it.
Roaring in pain, he fell across the aluminum ladder, splitting his nose across one of the rungs. He rolled onto his back, both hands clutching at the raw wound in his leg. Blood gushed out, squirting between the man’s fingers, dying his jeans and his lawn crimson. The chainsaw had sliced into the femoral artery. If the blow to his head hadn’t already made him woozy, the rapid loss of blood would have done the job.
In his final moments, the dying man saw a dark figure through the mask of blood from his mashed nose and reached out with a trembling hand, his mouth working but his voice no more than a fading whisper. Then, without so much as a last gasp, his arm fell back, his unblinking eyes staring at nothing.
Tapping the handle of his cane against his palm, Tora looked across the lawn at the blood-spattered and idle chainsaw, silent now thanks to the safety feature known as a dead man’s switch.
Sometimes, he thought, they make it too easy.
Dark energy had begun to buzz inside him, like a fire he would stoke as his plans developed.
He strode toward the heart of the town.
Supernatural: Rite of Passage hits bookstores everywhere on August 14th from Titan Books.