Writing Godzilla At Random
Marc Cerasini is the New York Times best-selling author of O.J. Simpson: American Hero, American Tragedy. To kaiju fans everywhere, however, he holds the more imortant distinction of being the first American writer to pen the return of the King of the Monsters in Random House’s 1996 best-selling novel, “Godzilla Returns.” His second kaiju extravaganza, “Godzilla 2000” was released by Random House in November 1997. Having had his first taste of Godzilla at age seven, Marc has been an avid fan of the kaiju genre for many years. He is also a huge supporter of Japanese sci-fi fandom in America, as any of the fans who have had the pleasure of meeting him at past conventions will attest to. Toho’s monsters couldn’t be in more capable and experienced hands. KAIJU-FAN caught up with Marc at both the G-CON Marketplace and at G-CON ‘97: New York, where he was more than happy to discuss his various Godzilla projects for Random House between sitting in on panel discussions and mingling with fans.
JOHN ROBERTO: Why did Random House decide to produce a series of Godzilla books?
MARC CERASINI: The editor of the series, Alice Alfonsi, was a licensing person at Random House and she was really hot to pick up new licenses. When the Trendmasters (Godzilla) toy line came out, I said to Alice, “Godzilla is hot, the biggest selling toy right now. Why don’t you see if the license is available?” And she said, “Sure, I could look into licensing.” But she didn’t know how to proceed, so I told her about Henry “Hank” Saperstein. She found his address through another colleague and the rest is history. She went after it and was happy with the deal they made. Toho was happy, everybody was happy.
JR: What were negotiations with Toho like?
MC: Well, I didn’t have a lot to do with that. Basically, Alice asked me for input, we talked about the license and I sort of said that I didn’t think Godzilla would be worth much without at least some of the other monsters to fight. She then said that we could not get all the monsters, but I told her to see what shecould do. She went back to Hank who is a very nice guy. Hank helped her immensely through the whole thing and dealing with Toho as the middle man. She met with him and they closed the deal.
JR: What other Toho monsters does Random House have the rights to use?
MC: Originally, I think they were supposed to have Ghidora and Mothra. There are certain monsters they were never going to get, like King Kong, because Ted Turner owns him, and Frankenstein because, for some reason or other, Toho is afraid to bring up their Frankensteins. Supposedly, the deal originally read that anything Trendmasters makes into a toy, they (Random House) could get the rights for, but I think that deal fell through. So Toho now has a list of certain monsters they won’t allow Random House to use. I have to say, “Well, can I have this monster and this monster,” and they say, “Put it in the proposal and we’ll tell you.”
JR: Before the book project began, had you seen any of the Godzilla series films after Godzilla vs. Biollante?
MC: I remember seeing the CNN story about the “anti-Americanism” in (Godzilla vs.) King Ghidora and I was intrigued. So, I got a bootlegged copy of that film — yeah, I’m afraid I did. Then a friend of mine got a laser disc player and I watched a whole bunch of them. Now, of course, they’re pretty readily available and Toho has actually sent me a few, which was nice of them.
JR: What is the process for selecting the writers and artists for the Random House books?
MC: Umm, that’s a good question. Well of course, the editor wants to use authors that have written other books. Fortunately for me, I was able to do it because I’ve done a bunch of other books. I think she was looking for fans. Unfortunately, there just doesn’t seem to be that many fans who want to write a book, so they got me and this other guy, Scott Ciencin. He’s less of a fan than I am, but he’s very interested. He knew there were other movies that were released in the U.S., but he hadn’t really seen any of them, so he had to play catch-up. He’s a much more successful writer than I am, so he gets to write the younger adult ones and I get to write the more adult ones. I was chosen, I think, because I’ve written a New York Times best-seller, I had written a bunch of children’s books before that, and I said I’ll work for cheap.
JR: How were you approached to write Godzilla Returns and Godzilla Saves America?
MC: Well, like I said, I was approached at the initial (proposal) when acquiring the licensing; it was a hot license which was being neglected. So, I think that Godzilla Returns was actually my reward for working so hard and trying to guide the editor to get the license. They asked me to prepare a couple pages as a pitch describing what I would do and I gave it to Alice. Toho liked it, approved it, so I got the job. If Toho wouldn’t have approved it, I would have been out in the cold.
JR: Was the original draft version of Godzilla Returns any different from the final version?
MC: Yeah, there were a lot of differences. Toho actually gave me about 25 pages of line-by-line corrections. They made me change a lot of the Japanese names because they said they sounded unnatural, which I guess they did. How would I know? They made me take a little of the violence out, I mean which is understandable because it is a young adult book, technically. However, they let me keep in the helicopter scene, which surprised the heck out of me because I have that guy get vaporized by a helicopter propeller. But they left that in because Godzilla didn’t do it.
JR: How does Random House plan to continue their Godzilla series? Are there any future projects that you can talk about?
MC: Well, I can specifically talk about the four other Godzilla books that I’m allowed to write. The next one is called Godzilla 2000. It will be out in October and it stars Godzilla, Ghidora, Mothra, Rodan, Kamakiras (a swarm of them) and Varan, or Baran, if you want to be technical about it. I included Varan because I think it’s a neglected monster, and I wanted to explain how he’s able to fly, since nobody ever did. That’s if Toho lets me use that explanation; if not, then he won’t fly, but so far they’ve approved everything.
JR: The narrative of Godzilla Returns reflects a strong command of military technology; did you need to do much research?
MC: Yes, I had to do some research, but less than a lot of people would have to do because I have read and spent most of the 80s interviewing every famous techno-thriller (author) there is: Larry Bond, Ralph Peters, Ed Rigero, Richard Herman. I interviewed all these techno-thriller authors to write a book called The Tom Clancey Companion with Tom Clancey, so I was sort of into this stuff anyway. I think most Godzilla fans are into military mecha to a certain extent, although I think I’m a little more fanatical than most I know. In Godzilla 2000, I’m going to put into the story an A-10, which is a plane that smashes tanks. I’m going to have an A-10 attack a swarm of Kamakiras. It’s just sort of a visual thing.
JR: What else can you tell us about Godzilla 2000?
MC: Well, I told you a little about some of the monsters, but for the most part, it’s a millennium-type story where the world seems to end. A lot of it is based on a Nostradamus quote about May 20, 2000. The King of the Sky will appear and, of course, there is a swarm of asteroids coming toward Earth. Maybe it’s the same swarm that destroyed the dinosaurs 65 million ago. We have high-tech, so we use a space shuttle to blow it up and divert the swarm. But the King of the Sky turns out not to be the swarm, but King Ghidora, who is in the middle of this swarm. So Ghidora comes to Earth and wreaks havoc. A lot of it is sort of taken from the third book, Godzilla Saves America: Ghidora initially comes down in Europe, smashes some of Paris and then moves over to New York where the final
confrontation with Godzilla takes place. The publisher liked it, so that may do it. The editor-in-chief of Random House would not let the Statue of Liberty be destroyed in Godzilla Saves America, so maybe I’ll get to destroy it here.
JR: What’s next after Godzilla 2000?
MC: The next one after that is Godzilla At World’s End. This one’s a lot different. It’s got some H.P. Lovecraft in it, some Jules Verne, sort of like Journey to the Center of the Earth, some Edgar Rice Burroughs. The story involves an original, intelligent race on Earth that’s been in hibernation since the Ice Age. They wake up to discover this vermin that has overrun the planet, which is man, so they unleash an army of monsters to wipe out mankind. All the monsters in this one will be the created ones, like Gigan, Hedorah, Biollante — the ones that were genetically or artifically created in some form or other. The monsters will be created to deal with man’s abuse of the Earth. For example, Hedorah will be created to deal with pollution, and so on. I have to come up with the different origins for the monsters, I can’t use the Toho ones. There’s also a high-tech zeppelin in this book. In the story, it was originally intended as a publicity stunt, but it turns out to be the world’s last hope. The big finale of Godzilla At World’s End will be Godzilla squaring off against Biollante in Antartica. The next book after that will involve all the robot kaiju, like MechaGodzilla and maybe Mecha King Ghidora. I don’t have the idea fully developed yet. I got the idea for Godzilla At World’s End in the middle of writing Godzilla 2000, so I’ll probably get the idea for this one while writing Godzilla At World’s End. There will be a small amount of overlapping from book to book. Nothing major, just maybe the main character from one book walking on in the next book and so on. In this way, I’m trying to create a coherent Godzilla universe, kind of the way they did with the original films.
JR: Was there any violence in Godzilla 2000 that had to be removed?
MC: They took some small bits of violence out. In one instance, I had a guy exposed to Godzilla’s blood and he originally died, a pretty horrible death, too. But Toho said, “We don’t approve,” so now he just gets sick. But I’ve been able to keep a majority of what I’ve written. Sometimes you have to write to the edge so that some of the better stuff gets in.
JR: What can you tell us about The Official Godzilla Compendium that you wrote with G-Fan publisher and editor, J.D. Lees?
MC: It’s a fun, pop-culture sort of look at Godzilla — not just the movies, but a lot of other neat stuff. It’s a lot different than it started out to be. It was originally going to be entirely written by J.D. with me doing the sidebars. It ended up with J.D. doing the original 80% of the writing, me doing about 20% and all sorts of other people doing these different sidebars.
JR: Who were some of the other writers contributing to The Official Godzilla Compendium?
MC: We had Kenneth Carpenter, a famous paleontologist writing a sidebar about the “evolution” of Godzilla from a paleontologist’s point of view. It’s how you would analyze Godzilla based on his bone structure, the real-life dinosaurs he would be based on and so forth. It will be sort of the scientific genus of Godzilla. Kenneth is a fan, too, and attributes his interest in paleontology to Godzilla. Then, there’s Randall Osbourne, a child psychologist and he’ll be doing a sidebar on using Godzilla as a parenting tool. John Pierce, a sci-fi scholar, is writing about Godzilla and the atomic age, basically all the 1950s culture surrounding Godzilla’s origin and how our perceptions about nukes evolved. I spoke to Robert Biondi about tentatively doing something about the voice actors for the films. Basically, the book is like an issue of a fanzine, just a lot thicker. That’s probably why they got a fanzine guy to write it.
JR: How well are the Random House Godzilla books selling?
MC: Surprisingly well. I think it surprised a lot of people at Random House who didn’t initially believe in the project, although I have to say the editor always did. But their numbers were quite good. I think Godzilla Returns, the first printing, has pretty much sold through and they’re going to do a second printing. Godzilla on Monster Island, the little kiddie book, sold rather well, too. The other one, Godzilla vs. Megalon and Smog Monster, did well, too, but less well because it was maybe a little too complex a story for young readers. They all did well — the 3D book, Scott’s book — they all did well.
JR: With the TriStar Godzilla film released were there any plans for Random House to release official books for the movie?
MC: Well, those were actually separate licenses. Sony has wisely thought of the way that the Batman movies are separate from the Batman comic license. It’s the same thing. Random House has what’s called the “classic” Godzilla license, which is like the classic Star Wars license. It’s the original films. The Tri-Star/Sony license is a totally different property and I think Random House was probably interested in trying to acquire it. But there are other publishers trying to get that property.
JR: What other books have you written besides the Godzilla books that our readers may not be familiar with?
MC: Everybody is familiar with the O.J. Simpson book I wrote. That was the New York Times best-seller, and it helps to be a best- selling author when you want to write Godzilla novels. I
wrote a book called The Tom Clancey Companion with Tom Clancey, Marty Greenberg and Larry Bond, and I’ve written a lot of children’s books. I wrote Ace Ventura novels. I was supposed to write a mass novel, but that was cancelled. I wrote a book about the UniBomber, but that was cancelled, too. You’ll never see it, but it suddenly got very controversial. And let’s see, my very first book was a book about Robert E. Howard, the guy that wrote Conan the Barbarian, and they just made a movie about his life, which was great. That book is still in print. It’s still selling and I’m contractually obligated to update it in the near future. And I have some other books I’m doing. Right now, I’m doing an online serial soap opera, which is sought of like (Beverley Hills) 90210 meets Cthulhu, and I’m doing another project I can’t talk about because I signed a confidentiality agreement. I don’t know why they just came up to me and said, “do Godzilla online.” They originally wanted to do one a month, but now it’s one every three months. They say they get a lot of hits and they liked it.
JR: Anything else that you would like to say to the readers of KAIJU-FAN?
MC: This is like a dream come true for me to write Godzilla novels. I’m not kidding. I remember when I was a kid, Famous Monsters of Filmland had published a storybook of the original Godzilla movie. A couple friends and I actually made a radio show out of it. We taped the Godzilla music off the T.V. and put it on the radio. I was just always fascinated with (Godzilla). We made a fake mock-up Life magazine and put pictures of Godzilla in it. I was obsessed with Godzilla from the age of like, ten. That’s it.