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Buffy The Vampire SlayerPaul Ruditis (buffy & angel writer) - Thecharmedones.com Interview
By Andrea V. Haag
Sunday 24 October 2004, by Webmaster
Paul Ruditis grew up in Philadelphia and graduated from West Chester University with a BA in Theatre Arts (with an emphasis on directing). Afterwards, he was accepted into UCLA’s Professional Screenwriting Program, which brought Paul out to Los Angeles. Once there, accepted a job at Paramount Pictures as a studio page giving tours of the lot, seating the audience for shows like “Frasier,” and doing temp work in various departments. He spent five years at the studio, working his way up the ranks in the Licensing Division. During that time at Paramount, he was writing less and less outside of work, so Paul eventually left his job to pursue writing full time. That was in January of 2000, and he considers himself lucky to have been writing professionally ever since. Paul Ruditis resides in Burbank, but goes home to Philadelphia often.
Interviewed by Andrea V. Haag April 2004 © TheCharmedOnes.com
I had the pleasure of interviewing Paul Ruditis, on his recent co-written Charmed book release, "The Book of Three". The book is the first fully authorized companion to the supernatural thriller television show, ’Charmed’. It features in-depth interviews with the cast and crew, episode guides, character profiles, quotes and color photos.
First off, I wish to thank you in taking the time out in for my interview. I know how busy writers can be when they have schedules to meet.
No problem. I’m always looking for some new way to procrastinate and this is so much more fun than balancing my checkbook.
I see that you have written for several TV series books such as Star Trek :Voyager and Enterprise, Roswell, Sabrina the Teenage Witch and Buffy. I see that you have also written a "Queer as Folks" book. Such a prolific listing of TV shows! Are you an avid TV watcher in general, or are some of these shows your favorites?
I have been watching way too much television all my life. When I was a kid, my family never had to check the TV Guide, they’d just ask me what was on. Now, I have the best gig in the world where part of my job is watching TV. I have two VCRs so I hardly miss anything (but still have problems catching everything on Wednesday night at nine o’clock). It’s just been by chance that all the books I’ve written have been for shows where I’m already a big fan. I can’t imagine what it would be like to work on a show I didn’t know... or didn’t like. You have to get so involved in the show to make the best book that it would just be torture if I didn’t love it to begin with.
What inspired you to become a writer, and especially to write books for young readers?
I’ve always loved to read. I would just devour books when I was growing up. I really feel strongly about getting children and teens to read more. That’s the fun thing about these TV tie-ins. I’ve seen letters from parents saying that their children never read anything until they saw books about their favorite shows. Then that starts them exploring other books and reading more. I remember when I was a teenager I thought that writing might be a fun way to make a living, but I didn’t really get into it until I was in college. When I wrote my first short play and was able to have it performed in front of an audience, I was hooked. To hear people laughing out loud because of something I wrote is an amazing feeling. Of course, with books you don’t get that immediate feedback, but the thrill is still there. The actual desire for writing as a career was twofold. First, I’ve always wanted to entertain people in some form (and I learned in high school that I wasn’t going to be doing that by becoming an actor). And second, I always wanted a job where I could work in my pajamas.
Do you ever get feedback from fans/readers regarding your books? And would you be interested in reading feedback from the readers on your books?
Feedback is a difficult thing, because it’s such a double-edged sword. Sometimes I check out the comments on Amazon or lurk around some sites, but I try to avoid it as much as possible. Hearing good things about your work is always nice (obviously)... and I certainly appreciate constructive criticism. There’s nothing more important to me than continuing to grow as a writer and criticism helps that. But with some fan groups there is often a vocal minority that bypasses constructive and goes straight to vicious. There is nothing worse than the moment before you read a comment about your work because you just don’t know where it’s going to go. That said, there is nothing better than the time I found out that a young reader did a book report on one of my Sabrina books. Bypassing a discussion on the educational value of my books, it’s just something that I find amazing. I remember doing book reports when I was in school... and now someone is doing a book report on my work? That’s crazy.
Several of your books or upcoming releases will be Companion or guides to certain TV shows. Do you like writing, or compiling, these books rather than writing fictions?
Actually, I prefer fiction. I love the creativity involved in developing an original story (or, as original I can be using someone else’s characters and premise). That said, I do enjoy the episode guides too. Having worked in Hollywood for five years, it’s always fun to go back onto studio lots and meet people for interviews and set visits. It’s such an interesting work environment to explore and a bit of a throwback to my theater days in college. I also enjoy digging into the shows, pulling them apart, and examining them. It gives me even more of an appreciation for all the work that goes into making an hour of television. I think it also makes me a better writer to see how other writers approach certain subjects and see the difference in styles. Also, having the chance to speak with writers like Brad Kern, Joss Whedon, and Aaron Sorkin (sorry, I know I’m name dropping) is just something that I wouldn’t give up for the world.
Are these the writers that you admire and try to aspire to become?
Well, I certainly aspire to their paychecks. I do admire each of these writers. They are all incredibly talented. Now, if by “aspire to become” you mean if I’d like to write/produce for television, then certainly that is one of my goals. I should also mention that those were just the three writers off the top of my head. I’ve also been able to interact with other great writers whom I admire, particularly Ron Cowen and Dan Lipman from “Queer as Folk” (and “Sisters”). I didn’t want to leave them out because in addition to being wonderful writers, they were great guys who really welcomed me into their production while I was working on that book. There are definitely other writers that should be mentioned, but this isn’t an Emmy Acceptance Speech, so I won’t blather on any longer.
Paul, in a few months, you have a couple of books coming out called ’Buffy The Watcher’s Guide : Volume 3’ (July 1, 2004) and ’Angel The Casefiles: Volume 2’ (December 1, 2004). Would you consider these to be your favorite TV shows? If not, then why write about these shows?
I don’t really have any specific “favorites,” since I enjoy many shows for different reasons. I do consider “Buffy” and “Angel” among the top of the list. I don’t know what it would be like working on a book for a show I didn’t watch by choice (as opposed to having to watch simply for work). You really have to get so involved in these shows. Of course, the flip side is that it’s hard to remain a “fan” of a show when you have to read ahead in the scripts and talk to people about upcoming episodes before they air. I hate, hate, hate, being spoiled about developing plots.
’The Book of Three’ is not your first collaboration with Diana Gallagher. You and Diana collaborated and wrote ’Angel The Casefiles: Volume 2’, which should be coming out this December. Do you find working with another author who has written in the same genre, easier to work with?
Actually, “The Book of Three” was the first time I worked with Diana as a co-author. “The Casefiles” came about right after we finished “The Book of Three.” I was already aware of Diana as an author from when I was at Paramount and had always enjoyed her work. Personally, I’ve never been a fan of collaboration. I just don’t play well with others. The joy of working with Diana on these projects is that we both had our own specific sections to write and then it all meshed together in the end. I think our writing styles really compliment each other. It is certainly helpful to work with someone already familiar with genre shows because not only does Diana understand the genre, but she also knows the fan base. These books are really for the fans and you have to understand them and know what they want out of the book. Otherwise, why do it?
So, do you research before starting a project like this, to see what fans are most interested in having in a compilation type of book?
Not formally. It all starts with the fact that I’m usually a fan of these shows myself. So I always begin with what I want to see in a book like this. I do lurk about and see what everyone’s talking about in general so I have a fairly good idea of what the fans find interesting about the show. I also keep an eye on what’s out in the market because you want to strike a balance between what you know the fans already like and still give them something totally new. Of course, you can’t always deliver what the fans want so you have to give them the best book you can make within the parameters that are provided.
Ok Paul, you know, I have to ask this...are you a fan of ’Charmed’? Are you a closet watcher, that can’t miss an episode of the lovely Halliwell sisters saving innocents from evil? So who’s your favorite sister?
Of course I’m a fan. Closet watcher? No. I’m out and proud! I think it’s one of the most fun shows on TV. “Charmed” is a perfect “sit back, relax, and enjoy” type of show. As for the sisters, again, I don’t really have “favorites.” If pressed, I’d have to admit that I lean more toward Piper.
I lean towards Piper myself! Can you elaborate why you like Piper more than the other characters on Charmed?
Oh, you just keep wanting to make me pick a favorite, don’t you?
*chuckles* Sure Paul, it’s always interesting to see why people choose a certain character as their favorite. Sometimes it has to do with who’s the oldest or who has the most emotional turmoil and comes out stronger for it. And many times it as to do with fan base and looks.
I think I “lean toward” Piper more because I’m an older sibling with a younger sister (in fact, I dedicated the “Book of Three” to my sister). Personality-wise I think I have the most in common with Piper. And while Orbing is cool and premonitions would be handy, you just can’t beat stopping time and blowing things up.
I do like the idea of blowing things up myself! And using the time freeze would be great during rush hour on the freeway.
I know the work you did for "The Book of Three" was initially set visit/interviews. How was it like visiting the set? Get any good insights?
Visiting the set was a blast. I spent two days there while they were filming “Oh My Goddess” (one day during Part One and one day during Part Two). At first I was concerned, because you figure it’s the last episodes of the season and everyone is going to be exhausted and not really want some strange guy hanging around asking them questions. But the cast and crew were so welcoming. I know it sounds clichéd, but they were really like a family opening their doors to me and welcoming me in. (Sorry... I was wrong. That didn’t sound so much clichéd as it did sappy, but you know what I mean.)
Paul, you have a new Charmed book coming out this July, called "The Brewing Storm". Can you give us a little synopsis on what the book is about?
Gladly. The story evolves as some crazy weather is hitting San Francisco. Naturally, the events are supernatural in origin. The book reunites the Charmed Ones with one of the innocents from their past - Tyler, the young Firestarter from the episode “Lost and Bound.” His powers are unbound and he learns more about his calling as part of a group of “Elemental” magic users. I really enjoyed writing it because I got to give each of the Charmed Ones an Elemental to go off and have a separate little adventure with... and I brought Darryl in on the party too.
I will warn readers that the book does take place slightly out of continuity. Since these books have such a long lead time we sometimes have to tweak a few things because we don’t know where the show is going with certain plots. The overriding edict for the book series is to tell a good story. I just hope the fans will be able enjoy the story without thinking it was written by some schmuck who never watches the show.
What kind of research do you do before writing a new story? Will you go back to certain episode just to review what a character’s emotions or what reactions they’ll have? Is there a favorite character that you like to highlight rather than another?
When I’m writing a book I definitely go back through episodes and scripts. I have a huge script/video library in my office (...and my living room... and my garage) and I can always contact my editor and get a script or an episode if I don’t have it. I’ll go back to episodes for any number of reasons, whether it’s emotional content or just getting the facts straight. Of course, every time I’m watching any show on TV it’s basically research. I would imagine it’s very difficult to write a book about a show that you’re not familiar with. Thankfully, I’m familiar with a lot of shows.
Once again I’m going to have to take the easy out and say that I pretty much enjoy all the characters I’m writing for. I think you have to, because you spend so much time in their heads. An interesting side note is that Darryl has more of a role in “The Brewing Storm” because I had so much fun interviewing Dorian Gregory for “The Book of Three.” As I said, everyone in the cast and crew was really great to speak with, but Dorian had such exuberance for his character and for the show that it even managed to affect how I saw my story develop. Besides, I know the fans love the character. I was really glad when they put him on the cover of the book too.
Have you come across any difficulties or limitations, in which you are able to write on, by the publishers, creators, or Spelling Television, etc., in the storylines and the character backgrounds? Are you given freedom to change or include items, such as powers, recurring characters and characters already killed off in the television show?
Well, obviously there are limits in these books simply because you’re working with someone else’s world, however, there is some wiggle room. You can certainly create some backstory for the main characters so long as it doesn’t contradict what’s established or it isn’t something that would have a major impact on character history. For instance, you can give Piper an old boyfriend, but you probably would have trouble trying to introduce a former fiancé.
Changing things is certainly allowed so long as you provide a reason and, most importantly, everything goes back to normal by the end of the story. If you want Phoebe to suddenly shoot lighting bolts out of her hands, that’s fine as long as you explain why it’s never happened before and then take the power away since you know she’s not going to be doing it on the show.
As for bringing back characters - either dead or still alive - that’s really looked at on a case-by-case basis. I was able to bring back Tyler for “The Brewing Storm” because when I pitched the story we were much closer to the episode he appeared in. If I wanted to bring back an innocent from the first season, I would have to made a good case for why the fans would care to read about him/her because the book probably wouldn’t be out for another year, which brings us almost seven years after the episode that character appeared in. The same holds true for recurring characters. As for reviving from the dead... that is something that is usually kept to a minimum. You never know if the show will bring that same person back from the dead, then it just becomes redundant.
How do you come up and develop a potential plot? Do you take something that you have come across when you go out or is it something that comes to you when you are relaxed and watching another show and you think, "what if ?"
I’m always intrigued when writers talk about the “process” of writing. I really don’t give it that much thought (and I’m sure that shows from time to time). For me, ideas come from everywhere. Oftentimes, I will spark to an idea while I’m just sitting back watching an episode for enjoyment. I imagine there is a “what if” factor involved. That was certainly the case when I wrote the “Roswell” book “Dreamwalk.” That came from the idea of “What if Isabel was trapped in someone’s dream?” Then I developed the idea by wondering who the dreamer was, why Isabel would be visiting the dream, and how she would be trapped. The story grew from there.
As for “The Brewing Storm,” I took that one from an idea for a book that was already in my “idea file” (which is basically what it sounds like; a file full of story ideas I’d like to pursue in the future). It wasn’t a “Charmed” idea at all, but when I looked at it in relation to the series I saw that it could work if I made these people innocents in need of protection. From there, it was just a matter of tying each of the Charmed Ones to a specific innocent and linking their stories.
In developing a plot, the most important element for me is the ending. I know a lot of writers that say never to get locked into an ending, just see where the story takes you. I’m completely the opposite. Once I have a basic idea, I immediately want to know how it ends. I think this comes from my theater training, because the final image in a play is usually the most memorable part of the show. It’s the last thing the audience sees before the lights come up. Once I know how the story ends, it’s just a matter of putting together the elements that get me to that ending. That’s not to say that the ending couldn’t change along the way. I wouldn’t constrain myself that much. But, for me, it has been rare for an ending to work out differently from my original take on it.
Since you’ve written other TV genre books, which is your favorite or easiest to write?
First, I have to say I love the fantasy genre. It’s just so much fun to play with. It’s also a nice challenge because every world has its own set of rules. The vampires on “Buffy” are different from the vampires on “Charmed” are different from that freaky vampire creature on “Buck Rogers” that gave me nightmares as a child (and lets not...not even get into the difference between Vulcans and Vulcanologists - okay, let’s count how many got the reference... oh look, everyone). On the occasions I’ve written “straight” fiction with no fantasy or science fiction elements, I’ve felt like something was missing. I kept wanting to blow things up or turn someone into a kumquat.
Of all the shows I’ve written books for “Sabrina, The Teenage Witch” was the most fun and the easiest - and not because it was skewed for a younger audience. Oftentimes, it’s more difficult to write for younger readers without writing “down” to them. For one reason or another, Sabrina was the series that I was most involved with professionally (as a writer and when I was at Paramount), so by the time I was writing the last book I wrote for that series, my fingers were just zipping over the keyboard. I was so familiar with the show that I already knew how each character would react or what they would say in almost any given situation. Hopefully, I’ll continue to do more “Charmed” books and I’ll become just as intimately familiar with that world as well. (Fingers crossed).
Paul, have you tried your hand in writing TV scripts for shows such as ’Charmed’ or Enterprise? How about any original TV scripts?
Yes, I’ve tried to put together some TV spec (sample) scripts, but other work keeps getting in the way. Ultimately, I’d love to write for television, but I keep getting distracted from that goal by shiny objects.
Have you been consigned to write more Charmed books in the future?
Nothing formal at the moment, but something is in discussion.