Saturday, February 10, 2007

Archbishop Myers' "Space Vulture"

It's no secret that Archbishop John Myers of Newark is a "Lost" fan, and that the Illinois-born prelate with an affinity for the country life has kept many of his down-home ways since arriving in New Jersey's top ecclesiastical post five and a half years ago.

Even for all that, however, it'd be fair to say that Myers' latest venture boldly goes where no bishop has gone before.

As insiders buzz about his ecclesiastical future, the 65 year-old prelate has been working with Gary K. Wolf, his boyhood best friend and the force behind 1988's live/animated classic Who Framed Roger Rabbit? on a science-fiction novel. The authors -- said to be not just friends, but "friendly competitors" -- are shown above in a 1959 photo taken in their high school library, working on an "an early, early draft," Wolf said.

Titled Space Vulture, the final product is slated for release later this year -- a "six-figure deal" for the book has been struck, and Jeff Diamant of the Star-Ledger has the interviews:

Myers, an avid fan of "Star Trek: Next Generation" and the "Dune" novels by Frank Herbert, began working on the book with Wolf about three years ago.

Its genesis, both men said, was a conversation they had in middle school a half-century ago about a science-fiction book Myers had just read. The book was "Space Hawk."

"I brought 'Space Hawk' to Gary and said, 'Gary, you have to read this, it's like a Western, only it's in outer space,'" Myers said yesterday. "He read it. He enjoyed it, and we started reading science fiction."

The men, who grew up in Earlville, Ill., stayed close while their careers took different directions. Myers became a priest and then a bishop, and Wolf worked as an author. His first "Roger Rabbit" book was adapted in 1988 into a wildly popular Disney movie, "Who Framed Roger Rabbit," which famously combined live characters and animation.

Then, a few years ago, Wolf -- who is a Lutheran -- called Myers to tell him he had just located a copy of "Space Hawk." He found a second copy and sent it to Myers.

Myers recounted, "I read it over and called him, and I said I read it. He said, 'What did you think?' I said, 'I think it's awful. I can't imagine why we ever liked it.' He said, 'That's what I felt too. Why don't both of us work together and do it right?' So that's kind of how it started."

Myers said he would work on the book at night when he didn't have appointments or at his summer residence in Pittstown, in Hunterdon County. The two would tease out themes and devise plots over the phone, and would edit text via e-mail.

Myers tried, he said, to weave moral themes through the text.

"This is not written from specifically a Christian point or view, or a Catholic point of view," he said. "But it's written from the point of view of a believer. There are things in this book that you wouldn't find in most science fiction writing, like prayer. ... Some of the characters, when they're in a tough scrape, pray, which is an act of faith."

There's also a conversion of sorts, for the con man, Jack Edward -- who is named for Myers' father, Jack, and Wolf's father, Edward.

"He was someone who has a conversion through the course of the story from being a selfish man on the take, to wanting to protect a couple of young boys who come into his custody," Myers said.

Still, Wolf said the book is not heavy on religious themes. "If you didn't know it was written by an archbishop, it doesn't beat you over the head. It's just a good moral tale where right faces up against wrong."

Most of the money Myers sees from the book probably will go into the college funds for his nearly three dozen nieces, nephews, grand- nieces and grand- nephews, he said.

And more from the book's announcement release:
In the fast paced story, heroic Intergalactic Marshal Victor Corsaire and cowardly con man Jack Edward join forces with a beautiful and courageous widow and her two young sons to battle Space Vulture, the most villainous marauder in the cosmos.
Wolf and Myers have been close friends since childhood. They grew up together in the small farm town of Earlville, Illinois. Wolf’s father ran the pool hall there. Myers’ father was the town milk man.

“We were in the seventh grade,” recalls Wolf. “We were both big readers, and we both liked science. John came to me with a book he’d discovered. He told me I had to read it because it was science AND it was fiction. It was science fiction. That book was Anthony Gilmore’s pulp classic ‘Space Hawk.’ I read it and loved it just as much as John had. We were hooked. After that, we sought out and read all the science fiction books we could find. I can honestly say that ‘Space Hawk’ changed my life. Without ‘Space Hawk’ there would be no Roger Rabbit.”

“For as far back as I can remember,” adds Archbishop Myers, “reading has been one of my favorite pastimes. I still read voraciously. ‘Space Hawk’ made as much of an impression on me in my early years as it did on Gary. We can both still quote passages from that book verbatim. Nowadays my reading is mainly theology although I do make time for fiction and even science fiction which I still greatly enjoy.”

“One day, almost as a joke” says Wolf, “I told John we ought to collaborate on a science fiction novel of our own, an homage to ‘Space Hawk,’ doing a story as appealing to science fiction readers of today as ‘Space Hawk’ was to us. To my great joy, John said, ‘Let's do it.’”

The two wrote the novel over a five year period collaborating by phone, e-mail, and face-to-face during Wolf’s frequent visits to Newark from his Boston home.

“We had great fun writing ‘Space Vulture’ and it shows,” says Wolf. “It’s just as adventuresome and exciting as ‘Space Hawk.’”

“Collaborating with Gary on ‘Space Vulture’ has been satisfying for me on several levels,” says Archbishop Myers. “It has given me the opportunity to create an exciting, interesting, and morally principled tale in one of my favorite genres. It has also provided the opportunity to renew and deepen one of my oldest and dearest friendships.”
The book that birthed Wolf's Hollywood smash was originally called "Who Censored Roger Rabbit?" Clearly, "Who Censored John Myers?" won't be the title of a sequel.

Mysterium Space Vulturae Luceat.

PHOTOS 1, 3:
Courtesy Gary K. Wolf
PHOTO 2: Star-Ledger File