Conversations with RF: A conduit to Mid-World

If you had told me 5 years ago that Stephen King and the Dark Tower books would make me tons of new friends, I would have laughed at you.  I mean, his books are awesome, but are they are really that awesome to bring a nerd like me out of her shell, causing her to spend tons of time talking about this somewhat niche topic online, and finding her bee people in the process?Well, that’s apparently a silly questions.  The answer is of course!  Thanks to the internet and some chance searches on Facebook, I am now part of several groups of people that do not tire from talking about the niche topic and have (in part) inspired me to start this blog.  And in the process, I have even met some famous folk…Famous folk like RF..

.man in black

No, not that RF, silly…I would be lucky to survive that meeting, wouldn’t I?

No, none other than this RF.  None other than the lovely Robin Furth herself!  Robin Furth is the writer of Dark Tower: Concordance and is also the writer of the Dark Tower comics, which are a spin off to King’s novels of the same name.  Ms. Furth is also Stephen King’s research assistant.  In other words, she is the eyes and ears to Mid-World and all its intricacies and probably knows more about Dark Tower, Mid-World and all the characters than even the master himself.

Robin-Furth 2

And I was fortunate enough to be able to speak to Ms. Furth and gain a little insight to the world that has held me captive for so many years.  Here is my interview below.  RF is Robin Furth.  COFG is Crazy Obsessed Fan Girl.  That’s me, in case you were confused.


 

COFG:  Can you tell us a little about yourself?  This can be anything (personal, professional, etc).

RF:  I was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and spent most of my childhood in Upper Darby, a township which lies a few miles outside of the city.  However my summers were spent at my grandparents’ house in Surry, Maine, which is about an hour’s drive from Bangor where Stephen King’s famous house is located.   I think my love affair with Stephen King’s work began the summer I read Salem’s Lot and realized that the Lot was located only a couple of hours drive from where my grandparents lived.  Boy did I give myself the shivers!

salem's lot

After I graduated from the University of Pennsylvania I won a scholarship to do a Masters Degree in English Literature at the University of York in England.  While there I met and fell in love with my husband, the British poet Mark Rutter.  Mark and I stayed in York for about three years but then we decided to move back to Maine.  We both enrolled at the University of Maine at Orono (Steve King’s Alma Matter). Mark was a grad student in Creative Writing and I was a candidate for a state teaching certificate.

UMS_school_images-UM3_03

Until the late 1990’s we supported ourselves by teaching, but then both decided that it was time for a change and enrolled in UMO’s individualized PhD program.  At the time I was writing a vampire novel and decided to focus my studies on supernatural fiction.  Luckily for me, one of my advisers was Burt Hatlen–one of Steve King’s undergraduate advisers and one of his close friends.  Hence when Steve decided he needed to find an assistant to do some occasional work and wanted to hire a starving grad student, Burt recommended me.  I am in Burt’s debt, since that recommendation completely transformed my life.

burt hatlen

COFG:  How did you come to read Stephen King and then write about him, write the comics and so forth?

RF: As I mentioned before, I’ve been a King fan since I read ’Salem’s Lot when I was about fourteen, but my first taste of the King universe was when I saw Carrie, when I was about eleven. (My mom wanted to see it and so she took me and my two older sisters to see it at the cinema.) I was probably a little young for the film, but I LOVED it.  I was amazed that other people were interested in psi powers, and that people actually wrote books about such things. I felt a tremendous sense of relief and joy at such an amazing discovery. My feeling was, “WOW, I’m not alone!” After that, my childhood dream was to work for Stephen King. I didn’t think it would ever come true.

carriehand1

I started working for Steve King back in 2000—the year after his terrible accident.  By that time Steve had already published On Writing and needed somebody to sort through the thousands of responses he’d received for the On Writing story competition.  He wanted to help out a UMO grad student so he contacted Burt Hatlen, as I said earlier.  Burt knew that I was a writer, that I loved fantasy, horror, and sci-fi, and that I was a fan of Steve’s work, so he recommended me for the job. That original project lasted about a month. I did some of my work from home, some from the King office, but most of my contact with Steve at that point was through email.  (Most of my interactions were actually with Steve’s assistant, the wonderful Marsha DeFilippo).

At the end of that assignment I went into the office to pick up my final paycheck and met Steve King himself. I was really tongue-tied, but Steve was very relaxed and kind and asked me if I wanted more work.  He was about to return to the Dark Tower series and needed someone to create an index of characters and places.  (He wanted to be able to double-check for plot and character continuity—no small job for such a large body of work.)

Anyway, when Steve asked whether I was interested in the job I said yes.  (Of course!)  In the end, not only did I create a huge dictionary of characters and places and plot twists, but I recorded Mid-World games, Mid-World languages, Mid-World diseases, and pretty much everything else I could think of. I drew a door labeled THE AUTHOR which was supposed to help Steve reenter Mid-World. I placed the door at the front of the manuscript then I bound the whole thing in black and taped a key to the front. (The key was so Steve King could open the door.) I wasn’t certain how Steve would react to my wild enthusiasm, but he liked it enough to ask whether I wanted to continue working with his manuscripts.  After that, I received draft chapters as Steve wrote them so that I could continue building my Dark Tower Concordance. I’ve been lucky enough to live in Mid-World ever since.

3 doors

The collaboration between Stephen King and Marvel Comics really began when Joe Quesada, Marvel’s Editor-in-Chief, mentioned at a comic book convention that he really wanted to work with Stephen King.  Word eventually made it back to the King office and Chuck Verrill (Steve’s editor and agent) contacted Marvel.  After many discussions everyone decided that the best book to adapt would be Wizard and Glass, since it tells the story of Roland’s adventures in Hambry, when he and his friends are fourteen years old.

Roland and David

I was there at the original meeting between Steve, Chuck Verrill, and Marvel.  (Well, I wasn’t there in body.  I was there via phone link.)  I’d spent so long in the Dark Tower universe that Steve thought it would be a good idea to have me on board for the Marvel project.  I’d never worked in comics before but I loved graphic novels and illustrated books so was excited about the whole thing.  I also wanted to see Roland and his friends take on that extra dimension—to have faces and bodies which moved through space.  As you can imagine, my initial learning curve was INCREDIBLY steep.

Susan Delgado

But luckily for me, I was working with a terrific team of extremely experienced comic book folks.  Peter David, Jae Lee, Richard Isanove, Ralph Macchio, and all the other editors and artists who have worked on the series, have been great. I’ve learned a tremendous amount from all of them.

COFG:  What is your favorite Stephen King work, if any?
sparrows
Boy, that’s a tough one! Dark Tower is probably my absolute favorite, but I love many of Steve King’s works. The Dark Half would have to be high on the list, as would Salem’s Lot, The Shining, Bag of Bones, Insomnia, The Talisman (co-written with the wonderful Peter Straub) . . .  the list goes on!
wolf and jack

COFG:  And lastly, I consider the comics to be a great addition to the King universe.  I love the artwork and the additional story lines I am getting and consider them to be icing on the cake.  However, there are a few fans who would disagree with me, as they are purists and do not feel the comics are in step with the books.  What is your response, if any, to that?

RF: As a writer, I think you have to resign yourself to the fact that you can never please everyone. All you can do is your best. Many Dark Tower fans have images of the books in their heads and will never feel comfortable with a comic book adaptation or a film adaptation.

There are even DT fans who hate King’s ending to the series, but that’s the experience of being a writer. Ultimately, you have to try your best to remain true to yourself and to the imaginative world you are part of.  Adapting a novel to comic book form is a bit like altering a novel and making it into a film.  Everything has to be visual, and you have to tell your reader everything you can via action.

gunslinger

Hence, my real goal has been to stay true to Steve’s vision—a vision recounted over the course of the seven (now eight) books of the series.(Plus “Little Sisters of Eluria.”  We can’t forget that one!)  I’ve tried hard to remember the face of my father, say thankya.  All stories and story cycles go through Steve and his agent Chuck Verrill, so not only is he the original author of the books but he’s also the final editor of the comics!

little sisters

I must add that this project has not been as straightforward an endeavor as it might seem when you read the comics, especially since both Stephen King and Marvel comics wanted the comics to add more to the books, not just recount the same tale.  (When I deliver straightforward adaptations, they are returned to me with the comment, “add more new stuff!”) I decided early on that the person I want to please most, and that ultimately I must please, is Stephen King himself, since the Dark Tower universe is his baby.

As you know, the story covered by the first seven comics is Steve’s story—the one he told in Wizard and Glassand I’m very proud of that piece of work. (I’m proud of all the Dark Tower comics, but that was the first.)

roland and susan 2

My job was to adapt that novel to a new format, which meant cutting some scenes and adapting others.  (Occasionally I ended up adding and adapting bits from other Dark Tower books, such as the scene in issue #1 when Roland and his friends attend a falconry class.)  When we first started this project, I wondered how on earth any artist would be able to take the pressure of creating faces and bodies for Stephen King’s beloved characters, but all of the artists involved have created spectacularly beautiful work—visuals that really live and breathe.

Roland and tet 1


And this world will continue to live and breathe for a long, long time, thanks to the efforts of Ms. Furth and her team.  Again, I feel fortunate to have made so many new friends who continue to educate me on my favorite fantasy series of all time.  And again, I thank Ms. Furth for taking the time to speak to little old me.  Thank ya big big, and long days and please nights!


The works of Robin Furth and her team are available in bookstores, comic book shops, Amazon.com and are also available in digital format on sites such as comixology.com.  I highly recommend them, as they add an entire new dimension to The Dark Tower experience.

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