Saga of Pandora Zwieback author Steven A. Roman answers your burning questions (there’s an ointment for that, y’know.) about the history of our resident Goth adventuress…
Pandora Zwieback? What kind of name is THAT? And where’d she come from?
Pan started out as a non-supernatural, pregnant teen runaway in a screenplay I began writing after graduating college. “Pandora” because the character would still have hope in herself by the end of the movie; “Zwieback” because I opened the dictionary at the back in search of a word I could use as a last name—and there it was! A hard, crunchy cookie you give to teething babies—a potential running gag if ever I heard one. I also just liked the way “Pandora Zwieback” sounded, and so a legend was born.
(As for how you pronounce her last name, it’s ZWY-BACK. Yes, “Zwee-back” is also a correct pronunciation, but I prefer the Y-sound version.)
From the screenplay (which I never finished) the name was transferred to a comic-strip science-whiz character in 1995 (except the strip got rejected by the magazine publisher to whom it was pitched), and then to a teen Goth in 1998 for Heartstopper, the original title for the book series you’re now reading. The unusual quality of Pan’s name has made her instantly recognizable, even to folks who’ve never read her adventures—not to mention the people I’ve met whose last name really is Zwieback!
“Heartstopper”? Seriously? Where do you GET these crazy names from?!
Er…uh… dictionaries, mostly…
Heartstopper was the title of a comic-book series that I wrote in 1994–1995 for publisher Millennium Comics. It starred Sebastienne “Annie” Mazarin—who eventually became Pan’s mentor for the novels—and was one more entry in a ’90s comics subgenre that infamously came to be known as “the bad girl era.”
“Bad girl” comics starred heroines who had a lot of attitude but very little clothing—a bikini and thigh-high boots with stiletto heels were the basic uniform. Vampirella, Catwoman, Lady Death, Shi, Flare, Witchblade—the list was endless. But the one thing they had in common was that they sold insane amounts of copies. Because fanboys DO luv their scantily clad fantasy women…
So after collaborating with a very talented artist named Uriel Caton—an artist of such titles as Eternity’s Ex-Mutants and DC Comics’ JSA Annual #1—Annie was born to take advantage of those booming sales figures. Unfortunately, only two issues were published before the series was cancelled, tossing Annie into limbo for a couple of years.
Okay, but what happened with the BOOKS? That’s why I’m here, you know.
Okay, okay. In the Heartstopper book proposal, Annie was the main character, and Pan was the sidekick/companion—basically, a supernatural version of the British TV series Doctor Who. (I’m a biiig fan.)
After reading the pitch, Parachute Press (the company owned by author R. L. Stein that produces Goosebumps and his many other book series) almost bought the publishing rights to the series based on three factors: my writing sample, which eventually became chapters 2, 4, and 5 of Blood Feud; the character designs by Uriel (who came up with Pan’s look, and gave Annie a wardrobe makeover from her comics days); and the title (they thought it had a nice, potential Goosebumpsy name-recognition vibe). But then they decided not to buy it and handed back the proposal. After that I stuck the project in a drawer, where it sat for eight years.
What got it out of that drawer?
Well, in 2005, after some nudging from friends in the book industry, I dusted off the proposal and shopped it around. I saw how the Young Adult market had changed after the arrival of Harry Potter, and thought Pan might fit right in with the new generation of “dark urban-fantasy” readers.
Heartstopper just needed an overhaul—like dropping that title, for one thing, since it referred specifically to Annie. And Pan became the lead after some Young Adult editors and agents I spoke with took a look at the material and said, “Hey, if it’s a YA book, shouldn’t the teenage girl be the main character?” Oops. So I took their advice and got to work refining what existed and adding to it. And that’s how Blood Feud reached its final form, and Pan finally found publishing immortality.
But really, shouldn’t you be asking what kind of name “Sebastienne Mazarin” is?
Okay, so with a smart-alecky teen fighting vampires in the first two novels, you must be a big fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, right?
Nope. Never watched the show, never bothered with the movie, never read the comics or books. Have a bunch of friends who were fans, but every time they’d start telling me about an episode they’d just watched I’d cut them off—didn’t wanna know about it, didn’t wanna give people ammunition for saying I must’ve ripped something off from the show.
Of course, I know people will make that comparison anyway because Buffy has become a pop-culture shorthand reference for almost anything that’s dark urban fantasy in a contemporary setting (like Jim Butcher’s “Dresden Files” book series being described by one reviewer as “Buffy meets Raymond Chandler,” or my Lorelei comic-book character being called “Buffy the Vampire Slayer meets Angel”). But, hey, if people wanna label Pan as “Buffyesque”—and it helps to sell books—then that’s okay with me.
If you wanna know what HAS influenced me, though, check out this essay.
Have you ever read Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake books? How about Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight Saga? Do you watch True Blood or The Vampire Diaries?
No to all. I know what they are (I mean, who doesn’t?!), but vampire/paranormal romance has never interested me. But anything that gets people to read—and enjoy it—is okay with me!
The Pandora books have romance, but not of the vampiric kind. That’s where Javier Maldonado comes in—he’s not a vampire, he’s just a kid from the Bronx who loves Yankees baseball…and comes to love our Ms. Zwieback—a New York Mets fan. (Oh, the tension!)
The novels are more like character-driven action movies—after all, Blood Feud has Annie fighting with a fallen angel, and a vampire strike team attacking a church! It’s my background in comic-book writing, y’unnerstand.
But Pan’s adventures aren’t about vampires exclusively—they’re just the antagonists in the first two books. There are plenty of other kinds of monsters for Pan and Annie to fight, as you’ll see.
All right, so what’s YOUR story?
Well… bestselling author of X-Men: The Chaos Engine Trilogy, which were three original novels about the Marvel Comics superhero team. (Over a quarter million copies sold! It’s my biggest literary claim to fame so far.) Writer/creator of Lorelei, a comic—now a graphic novel series—about a succubus who fights evil. (My biggest comics claim to fame so far.) Author of Final Destination: Dead Man’s Hand, an original novel spun off from the movie franchise. Comic and short story writer. Fiction editor for ten years.
You can check out the full professional bio here.
Long-suffering fan of the New York Mets (well, where’d you think Pan gets it from?). Luvs me the White Castle jalapeño cheeseburgers.
Top 10 favorite horror movies (in no particular order): The Relic, The Howling, Dog Soldiers, The Night Stalker, Jaws, Army of Darkness, Captain Kronos—Vampire Hunter, Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman, The Masque of the Red Death, and Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. I also think Crank, Crank 2: High Voltage, and Punisher: War Zone are cinematic masterpieces of unrepentant insanity and should not be missed. No, really.
I like reading F. Paul Wilson’s “Repairman Jack” series of supernatural pulp novels, and most of Stephen King’s work (you want a scary but character-driven book? Check out The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon). I also like the works of Ray Bradbury, Harlan Ellison, and H. P. Lovecraft. I think Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange, King’s ’Salem’s Lot, and Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes should be required reading. (Yeah, I know Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 is usually on a list like this—and you should definitely read that, too—but I prefer his dark fantasy stuff.)
If I sent you my manuscript for a novel or comic or short story, would you read it and give me feedback?
NO. So don’t bother sending it. Sorry, but I’ve got enough to keep me busy already. But good luck with your writing.