Richard: What exactly is the storyline of "Man O' War"?
C.J.: Great question. Think the American Revolution moved forward to roughly 25, maybe 30 years in our future. The Martian colony stands in for the Americas, the Moon and the Asteroid Belt become Europe and the Earth takes the role of Great Britain. The colonies are being exploited for their resources, treated like second class citizens. They're also fed up with being lied to, with leading lives of virtual slavery so that king-like politicians can keep living the high life while the colonists (and the citizens of a vastly over-populated Earth as well) continue to lead lives of desperate futility. When Earth finally pushes too hard, the camel's back breaks and bang, there goes that shot heard round the solar system.
Richard: Who are the main characters and what are they like?
C.J.: The main character, the driving force that everything and everyone revolves around is career diplomat Benton Hawkes. He is it, especially where the upcoming comic is concerned. In the initial books, he was the catalyst for everything that happened. I would hate to ruin the story for anyone inspired to go back and get the novels "Man O'War" and "Law of War," so I'll simply say that if it wasn't for his enemies trying to ruin him, nothing would have ever happened. Hawkes is your basic line-in-the-sand kind of fellow. Leave him alone and he'll leave you alone. But, cross him, and brother, do you have trouble.
As for the other characters, it's hard to say who else will move forward into the comic series this early in the game. Bill and I both have our favorites. For me, I would be heartbroken if Curly Thorner, a wild man of an asteroid miner (with a more than passing love for one of the Three Stooges) was left out of the upcoming events, but only time will tell.
Novels give one a greater range than comics in that you can simply keep writing until you get in every last thing you want to say. Comics are a much tighter discipline. Twenty-two pages, that's it. That's your limit. Novels much more like movies, where as comics more closely resemble episodic television. I've worked with a lot of people who can't grasp these concepts (simple as they are). Luckily for our collaboration, Bill is way ahead of the curve in such matters. In fact, being your typical arrogant know-it-all writer, it pains me to admit that while doing the novels, he was the one who had to keep reminding me that we were working toward having the work translated into other mediums and thus had to write them accordingly.
Richard: Why does the title "Man O' War" suit the comic?
C.J.: Because Hawkes, the central character, is a Man O'War. Not a lover of war, but like the old battleships from which the label comes, he is always prepared for war. Also, his wars never end because he is always fighting internal wars. As a diplomat, he has to restrain his first instincts which are usually to give some jerk a swift kick. He's a very private person living in a fish bowl of public interest. So, back to the title, I feel it's an appropriate choice because it keeps our focus on Hawkes, not Mars or the revolution, or anything else but what the story is about ... this man of war.
Richard: Will the stories be more character driven or action orientated?
C.J.: Bill and I share an enthusiasm for both. Action without character is trite, it's the stuff of cartoons made to sell toys. It's the episodic TV of the sixties, static, boring. On the other hand, character without action is just badly made masterpiece theater retreads. You have to have a balance of both. Now, like Mr. Moore taught the world of comics in his brilliant run on "Swamp Thing," you don't have to follow the idiot rule of action every eight pages. You can have entire issues of character and plot development and your audience will stay with you, as long as you pay off with some action eventually.
Richard: Can you identify with any of the characters personally?
C.J.: Hawkes. Absolutely. He is much like my Jack Hagee private eye character in that line-in-the-sand thing I mentioned before. And, that's me. Hawkes and I are both easy going guys if we're left alone. But, we don't like being pushed. Now, most people are that way, but most people when pushed don't push back, especially when it's not in their best interests. I can be irrational about things like that when my principles are involved. I've dearly wished I could learn to "play the game," as they say. But, as Ralph Kramden used to say on "The Honeymooners," "I gotta bigggggg mouth." And, you know, sometimes it gets me in trouble.
Richard: Have you met William Shatner if so what do you think of him?
C.J.: He is a prince among men. And yes, I know how it sounds saying good things about the boss, but I don't care. First off, he likes my work, so I have to like him for that. Second, I was a Shatner fan long before I ever got to meet and work with him. Then, I get to do both those things, and unlike so many people you meet, he turns out to be one of the greatest guys ever.
Bill Shatner is easy to work with, and yet as hard-working and demanding of those working with him as they come. He wants the best, and he works hard to get it. Unlike some personalities I've worked with that take credit they don't deserve, Bill's in the odd position of never getting the credit he does deserve. He does not just slap his name on projects. He is in there every minute, and trust me, if something isn't going the way he wants it, you'd better have a good reason. He'll listen to others, and go in a completely different direction if you can make your case, but if you can't, then you'd better listen up, because he can always make his.
He's also a joy to be around as a human being. He's funny, articulate, and believe men, all you guys out there who always thought he'd be fun to hang out with, you have no idea. Yes, at a business dinner he'll be at the end of the table where the producers and money people are. Hell, that's his job. But he makes sure the food is just as good at both ends and when he gets done with making sure the deal is going to happen (so that all the low-lifes like me at the other end of the table are going to get paid), then he's sharing his time with everyone. He genuinely seems to remember what the struggle is all about, what it's like to be one of the low-lifes that the big shots don't care about, and he makes sure we know there's someone on our side.
I hate to go on and on, but he is the absolute finest person I've ever come in contact with in the big leagues. Warm, friendly, talented, dedicated and, believe me, generous to a fault. He doesn't suffer fools in his presence, but he'll send you a postcard from Africa even when there's no advantage in doing so. He's just a stand-up guy, a man in all the best ways the word is understood, and I am happy I got to know him.
Richard: Why do you enjoy writing?
C.J.: Wow---hard one. Do I enjoy writing? You have to understand. Writing isn't something I decided to experiment with in college, or something about which I said one day, "that looks like a quick way to make a buck." I've been writing stories down for over 40 years now. I started as a kid, wrote them by the dozens. Sometimes one a day for weeks on end. I'm not saying they were good, but they were a necessity, I was driven to do it.
I do enjoy the process at times. Like a baker who gets a whiff of a first class loaf of bread coming out of the oven. yes, he's been baking all his life, and one loaf smells like another, and yet, once in a while, the aroma comes forth that reminds one of why they started baking in the first place, and the eyes moisten.
Often it's such a struggle to find the right word, to convince oneself that it's time to stop polishing, and so on, that the fight to get the words down on paper can make one a bit crazed. But, when you get an email from someone who loved your new novel, or who just found the Batman comics you wrote and wants to discuss your take on the Joker, or who found a way to connect with their kids because of a story you wrote, then ... well then you can feel pretty good.
So, that's probably where my greatest enjoyment comes from. Like grandma, when she serves Thanksgiving dinner, but just stands there waiting for everyone else to start eating. It's the "ahhhhs" of delight that we enjoy more than anything else.
Richard: Where did the pen name Robert Morgan come from?
C.J.: When I first wrote the Jack Hagee PI novels and the Teddy London supernatural detective novels, the publisher insisted I come up with a pseudonym for the London books. They felt the readers would be confused and get upset if they bought one because they would be expecting the other. This means they felt the people buying the books were so stupid they couldn't tell the names apart, or that they would be so closed-minded as to not be able to consider reading something new from the same author. It would be like Marvel telling Stan Lee, "hey, you can put your name of Spider-Man, but use something else on The Avengers."
Richard: Who are Jack Hagee and Teddy London?
C.J.: Those are the two series that allowed me to become a full-timer writer. Both have had novels and short story collections. Hagee has had several graphic novels, and London has had characters get their own collections and comics. The London series is the one that Bill read that made him want to work with me.
Richard: Which novels have you helped Shatner with?
C.J.: Only the two Mars novels, Man O'War and Law of War.
Richard: What do you have planned for the future?
C.J.: At present, besides overseeing the new releases of both the Hagee and London series (each of which will have new novels), I'm working on building a number of new series through short stories. I've also just turned in the first novel in the Piers Knight series I'm doing for Tor. He's a curate in the Brooklyn Museum. He has no magical powers, but he does know how to utilize magical devices, and where can you find more mystical artifacts than in a museum?
Richard: How do you spend any free time you manage to get?
C.J.: Well, camping, reading, getting together with buddies for old movie night ... playing a campaign of Call of Cthulhu ... hey, I'm an old geek. What'dya expect?
Richard: How can someone contact you?
C.J.: www.cjhenderson.com ... it's got free short stories to read, a list of the conventions I'll be at if you want to see me in person, or the CONTACT US button that allows anyone to send an email.
Richard: Any final words of wisdom?
C.J.: The main phrase I have for people that might pass for wisdom is that "every second of every day, every body does exactly what they want."
If you can get this through your thick skull (it takes us all a while [it certainly did for me]), life instantly gets better. Maybe not easier, but better.
Oh, yeah, and also, buy my books, and watch Boston Legal. Entertainment is good.