IAMTW President Jonathan Maberry talks to New York Times bestselling author and comic writer, Delilah S. Dawson
TIED-IN: What was the first media tie-in work you remember reading?
DELILAH DAWSON: Back in 1983, I had the Star Wars Read Along book, The Ewoks Join the Fight. I remember lying on my belly in the basement with my stuffed animals, listening to it again and again even though I could read perfectly well myself. When it was time to turn the page, Artoo beeped. It was magical.
Did you write fan fiction?
Really? That’s kind of bizarre.
I didn’t know fan fiction existed until I started writing YA and heard about some kerfuffles in the Harry Potter world. But I also didn’t write my first book until I was thirty-one, so I definitely came to storytelling late.
What was your first media tie-in gig? How did you get the job?
Back in 2013, when I only had two books out, I was commissioned to write a story for this brand-new thing called Kindle Worlds. The property? Valiant’s Shadowman. That story, Follow Me Boy, was my introduction to writing tie-in fiction—and the often crazy deadlines that come with it.
How did you get the job?
I got the gig thanks to a recommendation by my pal, NYT best-selling author Kevin Maurer, whom I’d recently met at a literary conference.
Talk about your experience working with that license.
It was definitely different.
In what way?
I never spoke directly to any editors at Valiant; my contact was at Amazon. Kindle Worlds was an entirely new entity, and we were all learning super-fast, so I had to revise several times based on new information.
Would you call it a positive or negative experience?
It was an overall positive experience—I love the story, and I’m glad I did it. I just wish Follow Me Boy was still available for purchase. At the time, I was disappointed that Valiant didn’t hit me up for more work, but now I understand that even if a writer knows a property like the back of their hand, writing comics is an entirely different animal from writing prose.
Have the licensors allow you to take any creative risks your media tie-in projects?
Only the ones where my editors have been on board with!
In order to develop a good reputation for writing tie-in projects, you have to know the world, nail the voices, and take direction to keep the project in line with the editors’ vision. You can’t go off brand, off script, or change major themes that the fan base will hate. But I do take minor risks, like making Phasma’s home society a cooperative polyamorous one, having Scully shut down a skeevy thing Mulder said in The X-Files Case Files, adding gender-flipped commercials to my Rick and Morty Pickle Rick comic, or writing my Hellboy story for An Assortment of Horrors in first person. I also have a running personal gag of showing cat butts in my comics—so far, I’ve snuck one into Adventure Time, Labyrinth, and X-Files.
Which project are you most proud of?
All of it!
Phasma hit the New York Times best seller list, which was a big deal for me and definitely on my author bucket list. But the email for The Perfect Weapon, my first Star Wars tie-in, was one of the most emotional moments of my life.
So these were all important to you?
Most of the tie-ins I’ve written are what I would consider dream jobs, and getting to be part of something that has meant so much to me is a huge deal.
Which media tie-in project was way outside of your normal style?
I got to help script a Disney’s Descendants graphic novel recently, and that was different—and the least violent thing I’ve ever written! But I loved it, because I love the Descendants movies and really connect with the way the characters represent moving beyond childhood trauma and discovering who you were meant to be.
What are you writing now?
Right now, I’m working on a new middle grade Spider-Man comic for IDW and Marvel.
That collaboration has been making news. Can you give us the inside scoop?
I can’t say much about it yet, but I can say that the artist is the amazing Fico Ossio and that we get to see Peter Parker, Miles Morales, and Gwen Stacy all together in one story.
That’s pretty freaking exciting. How’d you get that gig?
The project actually came through a fun chain of events. IDW needed someone to write Rose Tico stories for Star Wars Adventures and Star Wars Forces of Destiny, and at the time, I was the only woman who had read the script of The Last Jedi and could also write comics. That gig went well, so I got to write The X-Files Case Files. And then came the invite for Spider-Man. I instantly connected with the specs and whipped up a pitch overnight!
How have the fans been treating you?
The fans have been 99.99% amazing. I’ve mostly interacted with Star Warsfans at conventions and on Twitter and Instagram, and aside from some nastiness around the character of Rose Tico on Twitter, people have been utterly lovely. I had my first X-Files signing at SDCC, and it was fantastic, getting to sit at the IDW booth with JJ Lendl, Joe Harris, and Denton Tipton. I also had this great moment where I found Ian McGinty, the artist of the Adventure Times comics I wrote (#66-69), and I got to hang out at his booth and sign for a little while. I only write for properties I really love, so I’m right there with the fans when it comes to getting excited about this stuff.
Will you be at any upcoming conventions?
I’ll be at MegaCon Tampa Bay September 21-23, New York Comic Con October 4-7, and Hal-Con October 26-28. And hopefully more next year!
Talk about the writing you do outside of media tie-in.
My latest book is Kill the Farm Boy, which is the first book I co-wrote with my buddy Kevin Hearne in our Tales of Pell series; it’s fantasy satire that’s been compared to Terry Pratchett and The Princess Bride.
This October I wrap up the Weird Western Shadow series I write as Lila Bowen with the fourth and final book, Treason of Hawks, and I also have a new creator-owned comic out in October with BOOM! Studios—Sparrowhawk. It’s basically Alice in Wonderland meets Fight Club, and the art by Matias Basla is incredible. I’ve written Romance (the Blud series), YA (Hit and Strike), Horror (Servants of the Storm), and an all ages comic called Ladycastle about what would happen if strange women lyin’ in ponds distributin’ swords really *was* a great system of government.
What’s the most fun thing about writing media tie-in stories?
Getting to be part of worlds I love. Star Wars is more real to me than actual history, and getting to contribute to canon is a huge honor. I love connecting with other people who love the same stuff.
And I get excited when my kids read stories I’ve written about characters they love and say they’re proud of me.
What’s on your media tie-in wish-list?
More Star Wars, always!
And I’m really enjoying writing more tie in comics, so Transformers would be on my wish list. Stranger Things and Firefly would be fun, too.