Authors and Editors in Conversation
Sean McDonald: How surreal has it been to watch your debut novel, Hemlock Grove, become a TV series? How closely does it track what you imagined when you were writing?
Brian McGreevy: There has been no shortage of interesting or disconcerting moments; for instance, standing in a physical location that had previously existed exclusively in your head is a bit of a reality collapse. It is also inevitable that the actor you cast for a part will have certain insights that you can’t—even if it’s a character you’ve been thinking about for five years—because this is an intelligent, sensitive person whose sole job is to think about it, and also because someone who is a closer approximation to the character’s age, sex, and physicality by nature will have a perspective that the author can’t.
Sean McDonald: You are both a series creator and head writer for the show. What exactly does that mean? How involved were you with the production? And dare I ask who this shadowy Lee Shipman character is?
Brian McGreevy: I was in charge of the writing, but, apart from the casting process, had little involvement with production; I would say the execution and stylistic stamp of the series were at the hands of Mr. Roth. Lee is my writing (so, frequently, drinking) partner; all of the film work we do is in collaboration. He is much quieter than I am, and quietly working on a novel of his own that I’m sure will make my work look like Sunday School curriculum.
Sean McDonald: Has the series—and especially the collaboration with so many other people—taught you anything about the characters, the world of Hemlock Grove?
Brian McGreevy: Only insofar as the experience has taught me things about life, which invariably inflected my perspective on the work. But I consider fiction and film discrete media and went into the adaptation with the mindset that I was starting a new project rather than continuing an existing one.
Sean McDonald: The book is thick with literary, mythological, and historical references. Did you try to carry this into the screenplay and the finished series—and if so, how?
Brian McGreevy: A good deal carried over, with some added, most notably in the script for Roman’s vision quest sequence when he is comatose. The number of Jungian references/motifs in the novel was already so unsubtle that it seemed the only logical progression was to give the good doctor himself a cameo.
Sean McDonald: How do the novel and the series interact in your mind? What would a fan of the series find in the novel to surprise and delight, and vice versa?
Brian McGreevy: As stated, I consider the two discrete media; however, whether the two do or do not interact is up to the audience. The ideal sequence, I suppose, with any adaptation is to read the source material first through your own subjective lens and then engage with a given interpretation—but in an ideal world, generally people read more.
Sean McDonald: You are something of a werewolf and vampire aficionado, sometimes an outspoken one—aside from Twilight, True Blood, and Mad Men, are there pop culture versions of them that you like? As a book and series, how is Hemlock Grove different from those? And at this point, just how sick of werewolves and vampires are you?
Brian McGreevy: The crucial distinction is that these archetypes in Hemlock Grove are less part of a given pop cultural mode and entirely metaphysical constructs for an ongoing morality play in my own head. I don’t know if it’s possible for me to get tired of them.
Sean McDonald is executive editor and director of paperback publishing at FSG.