When you love a show like NCIS: Los Angeles as much as I do, forty-four minutes of action on the small screen is just never enough. It’s frustrating when there are a lot of loose ends that can’t be explained due to time restrictions or when the episodes are really exciting and you don’t want to see them end. Fanfics have filled in the gap most of the time for me but I have also turned to television tie-in novels when I just can’t seem to get enough of my favorite television show as well. Novels for shows like Star Trek, Dr. Who and Torchwood (just to name a few) have gratefully kept my unquenchable search for new episodes and stories at bay. I have always enjoyed seeing my favorite character come to life on the pages of a book and this summer I was very excited to hear that NCIS:LA was also going to have its first full length novel written by Jerome Preisler entitled Extremis. Although I was concerned that an outsider would be able to do the show justice, I was pleased with the results after turning the last page. It definitely stood up to this fan’s demanding standards.
Writing a tie-in novel has got to be a thankless job. The book is targeted mainly for die-hard fans and if you can’t get the characters and the feel of the show just right, you’re sure to hear about it immediately from those same discriminatory fans. For the most part, I really enjoyed the novel. It has the energy, humor, bromance and tension that I have come to expect from a really great episode of NCIS:LA. Recently I had a chance to speak with Jerome Preisler to get a little bit of insight on what it takes to write a full length novel based on the show. I asked him how he was able to capture the structure of the show so well, along with the timing of the scenes despite the fact he had never seen a single episode leading up to this assignment.
When I was offered the gig, I checked out a bunch of episodes online, decided I really liked the show, could do some interesting stuff working in its universe, and went for it. After that I immersed myself in past episodes, characters’ backstories, and so on. As you kind of suggest, NCIS: Los Angeles has a very distinct pacing and style, as well as strong, well-defined characters- and a great cast. I think the cast in many ways makes the show because they’re all so perfect in their roles. They gave me a lot to work with.
Out of all the regular characters, his portrayal of Deeks was the most accurate and true to character. You can tell Preisler enjoyed writing for our favorite detective and it showed on the pages of Extremis.
Nothing’s about writing’s ever easy, but Deeks was fun. Again, I think it’s a combination of the character being very strong, and Eric Christian Olsen bringing a ton of dimension to his part. And humor, of course. I enjoy injecting humor in my fiction wherever and whenever possible… and Deeks gave me plenty of openings for funny stuff. Don’t hold me to this, but I think I saw an episode where he was moving plants around the office for some reason or another and kind of getting on people’s nerves. That gave me the idea for the stink therapy… not to spoil anything for those who haven’t read the book.
We’re always looking for worthy opponents for the team to take on and memorable bad guys we love to hate. This new group of foreign terrorists, along with some home grown baddies, were definitely enjoyable additions to the plot and Preisler made sure there was nothing stereotypical about their portrayal.
I like colorful bad guys. Great villains tend to be extreme by their very nature, which is why they often steal the show… the Joker in Batman movies is one among many, many examples. I spend a great deal of time thinking about my antagonists- everything from their names to their personal backstories. Also, I try to be aware of my strengths as a writer, and characterization is a strong point for me, a favorite tool in my kit.
For Preisler plotting comes a bit harder. He never works from a detailed outline but knows going into a book how things are going to start and finish up. I wondered how much research had to go into this storyline because of the World War II and Navy connection.
A lot and very little. A lot, because I’d already done a tremendous amount of research into the World War II aspects of the story a couple of years back, while writing a narrative nonfiction called CODE NAME CAESAR. I won’t say too much about it so as not to give away any surprises in EXTREMIS, but the plot largely sprang from what I learned doing that book. A little, because, even with all that, I added quite a few fictional elements and needed to do more research to see if those elements could work within an established historical context. It never ends.
I was also surprised at how much legend was added to some of the characters and in particular to Hetty’s backstory. Preisler had worked with licensed properties in the past and knew how far he could go within established continuity lines and how to avoid problems with the showrunners.
Hetty’s a gas- a totally wild, larger-than-life character. When I wrote certain things into her backstory, I wondered how the showrunners would react. To back up a second, I’ll usually write whatever I want when doing a tie-in, mindful that the show’s producers might flag certain things as having to be tweaked or cut from the story altogether. I did go a little further with Hetty than usual, and had some real trepidations, because I really liked what I’d done. Happily, when CBS sent the reviewed manuscript back to my editor, the comments she received specifically mentioned how happy they were with the biographical material I’d put in. Huge sigh of relief.
Although I will always love the exquisite high you get from reading a really good fanfic, there’s also a place on my bookshelf for a well-written tie-in novel as well. I could definitely picture an episode of NCIS:LA playing out on the screen as I was reading this book. The characters were spot on, although at times I had some problems with Callen’s dialogue (somehow I can’t see G using the word ‘obfuscate’ as he is speeding along the 101 with Sam) and Kensi calling Deeks by his first name was a little jarring too. But there were some really funny moments with Eric and Nell, not to mention the infamous Sam and Callen bromance scenes and of course, the hilarious stink experiment which is the typical kind of Deeks’ shenanigans we have come to know and love. If you are having withdrawal pains waiting for the new season to start, I would immediately recommend adding this book to your reading list. A big thank you goes out to Jerome Preisler for taking the time out to answer my questions and I hope that he finds the time to write another NCIS:LA novel for us decimating fans real soon!
Let me know what you think of television tie-in novels and if you read Extremis yet in the comment section below. Would you give it a thumbs up or down?
If you can’t get enough NCIS:LA fiction, check out our latest What We Did on Our Summer Vacation fanfic by Hannah, a new contributor to wikiDeeks. Welcome Hannah!