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Interview: Mary Margaret Park (Author)

While gamers can easily attest to the horrors of licensed video games, it’s important to note that the door swings both ways. Taking a video game property and turning it into something more is never easy, be it through cinema or literature. Fans are almost never pleased, and it’s quite the fine line between remaining true to the original game premise and making the experience user-friendly for newcomers. Sometimes, things work out. Most often, however, the situation takes a Street Fighter-esque nosedive into licensing oblivion.

Mary Margaret Park is very much aware of what lies ahead of her. As the author of the upcoming novelization of Road Avenger, she’s been tasked with taking the Data East laser disc classic and fleshing it out in narrative form. Given her experience and background as a prolific poetry and short story writer, Park seems like just the person for such a job.

Excited at this upcoming epic, Sega-16 stood behind her and tapped her shoulder until she stopped writing and agreed to talk to us!

Sega-16: How did this whole scenario come about? Whose idea was it to base a novel on an old laser disc game?

Mary Margaret Park: It all began when my best friend and collaborator Sekrett Scilensce (Ss) approached me to sing backup vocals on some video game (VG OST) based music. I was excited because we both love VG OST’s, be it obscure chip music or early video game CD soundtracks.

We soon released an acoustic piano duet of J Walk’s Road Avenger theme via YouTube. Due to its positive reception, we followed up with a digital album featuring six versions of the theme.

I’d already jotted down some ideas for a short story expanding on the universe and the music’s momentum had me excited about moving forward; Ss and I were talking one night and I said, “Hey, I want to write a Road Avenger novel.”

He said, “Okay. I’ll call Tokyo next week, let’s do it.”

I’d written stories based on video game universes (i.e. Devil’z Hide) and people seemed to genuinely enjoy them. It was the combination of those short stories and related music projects that led to the Road Avenger novelization.

Sega-16: Do you play video games? How acquainted are you with the Genesis and the Sega CD?

Mary Margaret Park: I like playing video games, mostly shooters like Medal of Honor: Allied Assault. I also like the arcade version of Double Dragon (DD) and the NES port of Ninja Gaiden. I hope to be the whipping-girl from DD, laying the smack-down on people like Andrzej Bartkowiak for leaving Hell out of the Doom movie.

I’m familiar with SEGA’s consoles including the Dreamcast but honestly, have probably played more of their arcade racing games and the Star Wars Trilogy Arcade.

I love playing Tekken also.

Sega-16: How much research did you have to do to prepare? Did you get to play the Sega CD version?

Mary Margaret Park: I was already familiar with the theme song and had watched the Road Avenger videos on YouTube. I wanted to play it on an emulator but changed my mind when deciding to pursue the novel.

At that point, it was time to take the Road Avenger to some places he hadn’t been.

I also brushed up by studying terrains, principles of physics, and sociological relationships between economy and related Human behaviors to diversify non-fiction in with the fiction.

Sega-16: The original game was developed by Data East, a defunct Japanese company, and the Sega CD version was handled by a group called Wolf Team. Did anyone involved from either one ever get in touch with you?

Mary Margaret Park: Not that we are aware of concerning Data East but, there were multiple calls to Tokyo, San Francisco, and New York. One of them led us to a guy who was an animator now working at TOEI in Japan. His English wasn’t very good, and our Japanese was worse, so we really didn’t get very far in that regard, but he seemed excited and interested in what we were doing.

We ended up running circles when SEGA of America was uncooperative about obtaining archival data from the SEGA CD port.

Sega-16: Tell us a bit about how you approach this project. What’s your routine like?

Mary Margaret Park: I write every day, usually for six or seven hours, others maybe only two hours. Stories have a way of writing themselves once the characters take over. I might come up with a cool chase scene or a scenario between the Road Avenger and S.C.U.M. but in the end, it’s the characters that decide what happens.

The death of the Road Avenger’s wife is not a McGuffin. For example: Blake’s (a.k.a. the Road Avenger) friend Hal, a C.S.M.F. officer is affected on multiple tiers by everything ranging from Blake’s wife’s death to society’s dismantling. The politics behind this perpetuates the hardships that the characters face from day to day.

Sega-16: How faithful to the game will the book be? Road Avenger isn’t exactly high brow literature in terms of plot, but have you found any problems expanding the story into a full novel?

Mary Margaret Park: I’ve stayed true to the premise of the video game. The rest of the story came to light as I wrote. Blake and the cast of characters are acting and behaving within the story’s context. It’s a crazy world not unlike ours; society has broken down and is heading for chaos. The Road Avenger’s story unfolds amidst all of that. Like morphing the tale of Snow White to the depths of A Wrinkle in Time – you’d see how the kingdom was affected as a whole.

In the Road Avenger, it’s not a bunch of cardboard characters chasing each other off of the road, I’m showing how they think, how they feel, their lives, their frustrations, and the ultimate effect that corruption has on them along with society. It’s a vast, complex universe, and writing about it is exhilarating. The backdrop of how the Road Avenger loses his wife might be a bit predictable to a newcomer, but that’s what happened. The story mushrooms out from there, so I don’t think anyone will be disappointed.

Sega-16: The game was essentially a one-shot deal, and we never did get a sequel. Should the book prove successful, would you be willing to pen another one?

Mary Margaret Park: Yes

Sega-16: Is the book aimed at an adult audience?

Mary Margaret Park: Yes, I think ages ten and up with discretion is fine, but it is more geared for adult readers in regard to some of the issues that the novel tackles; kids are smart though, and I think everyone wants multidimensional characters that live, breathe, and face difficult choices. It would definitely be an “R” rated film.

Sega-16: When can we expect to see it hit store shelves?

Mary Margaret Park: For now that is TBA.

Sega-16: Are there any other video game properties you’d like to see in novel form?

Mary Margaret Park: Yes, Double Dragon or Ninja Gaiden, novelized in epic form without blatantly hokey or overplayed references. Dragon’s Lair has already had a book but I think a new novel could be fun. A Silent Hill novel that doesn’t turn toward extensive “slasher” noir would also be good and lastly, though it may seem bizarre, a take on Missile Command revolving around a politician’s yes or no answer to a corporatist’s ambitions which has to unfold within a ten-day period. Think more psychological and suspenseful rather than reflective; allowing for the caveats of revisionist history along with what’s really happened around us to be morphed in such a way that it innovates the now overdone manner in which storyteller’s often try to spoon feed what’s better served mysterious.

 

Our thanks to Ms. Park for taking the time for this interview. For more information on her work, please visit her website. Be sure to also check out the official Road Avenger novel website as well.

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