Rebecca Donner talks "Burnout" at Minx

Of the new books coming out from DC Comics' young adult Minx line this summer, "Burnout" is surely the hottest, featuring fiery teenage relationships and forests ablaze. Illustrated by Inaki Miranda, the book follows Danni, a high schooler who relocates with her mother to a small town in America's lumber country. Compounding the drama, Danni starts to fall in love with the son of her mother's fiance, and things escalate further when Danni learns her new flame is sabotaging the lumber industry in the name of the Environment.

"Burnout" comes from New York-based writer Rebecca Donner, author of the novel "Sunset Terrace," which earned high praise from publications including Publisher's Weekly and the Baltimore Sun. Also the writer of numerous short stories, plays and film scripts, Donner spoke to CBR News about working in the comics for the first time, how a single fiery image inspired "Burnout," and what her future plans are for working in the graphic novel medium.

The tagline for "Burnout" is "A love story." When you came up with the idea, did you envision that romantic aspect being at the center?

Definitely. The teenage guy and girl in question know they'll soon be stepbrother and stepsister, so they're star-crossed lovers in this quasi-incest situation -- call it a modern twist on the Montagues and the Capulets.

How did story develop? What inspired you?

I had an image in my head of a mountain burning, gorgeous flames leaping into the night sky, the beauty and the terror of it. The story basically took off from there. The image became the culminating moment in "Burnout," and from the very first page the narrative works toward this image.

Much of "Burnout's" focus is on eco-terrorism. Is that a subject you've always been interested in? What made that so compelling for you?

I've had a longstanding fascination with political activism, especially when the line between conviction and extremism is difficult to discern. Around the time I was thinking about burning mountains, I came across an article about two young women in Seattle who protested the genetic engineering of poplar trees, and who are now facing decades in prison for their peripheral involvement in setting fire to a laboratory. Of course, under the Bush administration, acts of vandalism have been redefined as acts of terrorism, and the people involved with such acts are now known as eco-terrorists. In "Burnout," I explore some of the ironies and contradictions inherent in this issue.

Danni is a high schooler caught up in her first romance. What about that age makes for such good stories?

You're just so raw. You feel it all--injury, lust, love, envy--with such intensity, which of course is the stuff of storytelling.

With Danni, you use her dreams throughout the story. Is that an element you typically like to explore in fiction?

Actually, until now I've steered clear of using dreams in my fiction, mainly because they're hard to do convincingly--dreams can come off as so... device-y. When I was writing "Burnout," though, I kept on returning to these images of swirling water, of being submerged, of falling, of burning, and I realized I was imagining Danni's dreams. So I wrote them in, I just had to. Her dreams ended up functioning as harbingers of things to come in the narrative.

You've written prose, screenplays and plays - how much of a change was working in comics? Did your experience with movies and theatre help the visual aspect of scripting "Burnout"?

Sure, writing screenplays and plays and editing films made me think about narrative in visual terms and developed my sense of rhythm and pacing. So it wasn't terribly difficult to make the transition to writing a graphic novel. When I was scripting "Burnout," I had to visualize each panel, describe all of the pictorial elements in it, as well as know when to linger on a moment and when to move forward, when to progress from panel to panel with a jump cut and when to incorporate a smooth transition.

It also helped to have an amazing illustrator, Inaki Miranda, and a fantastic editor, Shelly Bond.

How did you make the connection with Minx?

I submitted a short pitch to Shelly, along with a copy of my novel "Sunset Terrace." Then I waited for months, and had basically given up when I got a phone call from Shelly. When she introduced herself, I almost fell over. I mean it -- I actually tripped, I was so excited.

Do you think you'll keep working in comics? Any plans for future projects?

Oh, most definitely. I've got two projects brewing, both wildly different from "Burnout." I love this medium--there are so many imaginative possibilities.

Now discuss this story in CBR's Minx forum.

Tags: dc comics, inaki miranda, minx, burnout, rebecca donner

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