Back to the Future fans rejoice, as Retribution High, the debut novel by Back to the Future co-creator, co-producer, and co-writer Bob Gale, has just been released. Coincidentally released in conjunction with National Bullying Prevention Month, Retribution High tells the story of Mitch Simon and Jordy Hubbard, two high school juniors, who are tormented by a group of students who call themselves “The Syndicate.”
However, these bullies aren’t of the Biff Tannen-type, as Retribution High takes a much darker look at the less savory aspects of high school life. Ultimately Gale’s baddies get their comeuppance, when all Hell breaks loose – both figuratively and literally.
What follows is my exclusive interview with Bob Gale about his novel, its origins, and his writing process.
CG: How did the idea for Retribution High come about?
BG: I was re-watching one of the Sergio Leone/Clint Eastwood spaghetti westerns (all of them are personal favorites) and I started thinking about taking some of those elements and re-imagining them into a contemporary high school environment. Wouldn’t it be cool if “the kid with no name” showed up in high school to straighten things out and even the score. Because “Retribution High” really is a western — we have the peaceful characters oppressed by the rich and powerful bullies, who are like the wealthy ranchers that always want more, and the ineffectual power structure of the school, which is like the sheriff and townspeople who don’t want to deal with anything, and then the mysterious stranger arrives, who seems to be superhuman. And there some comic book influence in it as well, and some Japanese Samurai mythology too.
CG: Was bullying a part of your high school experience growing up?
BG: I had a few dealings with some bullies, but it was all prior to high school — one kid in particular tormented me at summer camp. He actually put a bee in my orange drink and I got stung on the roof of my mouth. At some point or other, I got pushed enough that I gave him a black eye — my George McFly moment — and he left me alone after that. But I was certainly never bullied anything like what Mitch and Jordy go through in the novel. By the time I got to high school, I had a pretty well-developed sense of humor, and I learned if you could make people laugh, you were considered okay. However, there was a group of kids in high school who were like The Syndicate in Retribution High, and a few of the things attributed to them in the novel are based on things they did.
CG: You have a knack for writing and creating memorable teenage characters. Why do you think those years are such fertile ground for creative material?
BG: It’s because there are so many “firsts.” Your first date, your first kiss, your first time behind the wheel, your first experiences without adult supervision, your first drink, your first time getting high…the list goes on and on. And all of these things make indelible impressions, and a lot of them can fall into a moral gray area, which always makes for good stories. Kids do crazy things, things they’d never do once they’re smart enough to realize how crazy they are, and those make for good stories and incidents too. Example: There was an expressway under construction not far from my house, and sometimes late at night after my parents were asleep, I’d sneak out of the house and ride my bike on it. It was great! I incorporated that into the story I wrote in Batman Chronicles #10 called “To See the Batman.”
CG: Can you discuss what led you to the decision to release Retribution High in a “standard” and “explicit” version?
BG: Sure. The novel started out as a screenplay, conceived as an R-Rated movie. I started circulating it, and a lot of people had a very hard time with the party scene that’s in chapter 8 of the Explicit Version. I had wanted to make people really uncomfortable with that scene, and I certainly succeeded — maybe too well. Enough people told me that there was no way that scene could be in a movie that I decided to pull it way back, and I changed it into the version that’s now in chapter 8 of the Standard Version. Well, when I decided to do it as a novel, I couldn’t decide which version of that scene I should use. And then I started thinking about how we shoot alternate takes in movies when profanity is involved, so that we can have a cleaned up version that can run on network television. So I figured, why not do that for the novel and have two versions, and make it clear that one version was pretty extreme? With electronic publishing, and with printing on demand, no one has to worry about carrying a double inventory. To my knowledge, this is the first time anyone has done this, and I’d bet it won’t be the last.
Both the explicit and standard versions of Retribution High are available on Amazon.com in the Kindle Store. Print editions of both versions are forthcoming. Visit www.retributionhigh.com for more information.
Caseen Gaines is the award-winning author of Inside Pee-wee’s Playhouse: The Untold, Unauthorized, and Unpredictable Story of a Pop Phenomenon and A Christmas Story: Behind the Scenes of a Holiday Classic. He is currently working on his third book, a behind-the-scenes look at the Back to the Future trilogy, will be published by Plume in 2015.
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