Archive for the 'Interviews with Other Authors' Category

June 11, 2013

CRYPTICON 2013

Me (left) and Tim Long (right) at Crypticon 2013, where we had some laughs, talked shop for about three days straight, and met some great writers and fans.

Timothy W. Long, author of the AMONG THE LIVING zombie series and other books, is an awesome guy. A fellow Permuted Press author, he’s funny, hardworking and ambitious, not to mention a hell of a lot of fun to hang out with at horror cons. I was happy to interview him for the blog.

Craig: What have you contributed to the genre? What’s your best known work? Tell us about it!

Tim: I’ve written 4 zombie novels and I’ve tried very hard to make each one unique. AMONG THE LIVING is my biggest seller. The book revolves around the first couple of days of a zombie outbreak in Seattle and focuses on characters and character development over the zombies in the book. One of the main characters, Kate, is a young woman who was abused growing up. Now she is a serial killer that lures men to hotel rooms before dispatching them. When zombies invade she is allowed to get away with murder and she loves it. The other characters in the book are almost as entertaining. One is a drug dealer that would rather barricade his house and smoke pot while ignoring the threat right outside his door. This lifestyle does NOT last long. This was my first book and still my favorite. The sequel, AMONG THE DEAD, was recently released and I am following it up with a third and final book called AMONG THE ASHES.

Craig: As writer, do you prefer fast or slow zombies, and living or undead? Building on these basic themes, what do you consider to be your own trademark or unique innovation as an author?

Tim: I’ve done both and enjoyed writing about both. I appreciate the simplicity of the slow shamblers, the mass of undead closing in and the horror knowing that there is nothing that can be done to prevent your demise. On the other hand I also feel like slow zombies can be about at threatening as an elderly person on a bender. If someone has the stamina they can do enough running and climbing to get away.

One of the most horrifying things about the fast zombies, as in 28 Days Later, is just how fast they can chase you down. I do NOT want to run from those guys. I’d be out of breath in 15 seconds, and then eaten in about 30 more.

Craig: What makes zombies so interesting to write about?

Tim: I don’t really write about zombies. I use them as a plot device to tell character based stories. Zombies have been around for ages and they make a great vehicle to explore themes like the collapse of civilization–about how we treat others, be they whole of mind and body, or a shambling corpse-like thing with a sudden bulls eye on their forehead. They are also great for satire because you suddenly have this living corpse to work with as sort of the “straight man” in a comedy routine. I explored this in my book THE ZOMBIE WILSON DIARIES. A man stuck alone on a deserted island with only a walking corpse to fill in as his “Friday”. It’s a riff on Castaway but his volleyball has teeth. I like to say that the book is the most fun you can have with a corpse in a coconut bra.

But there is also a lot of variety in zombies. In my book BEYOND THE BARRIERS, there is an Ex-Special Forces soldier named Erik Tragger that decides to just run to the hills when the zombie apocalypse happens. When he returns to civilization he finds cities ruled by the dead. A loner, he has to come to grips with trusting people again. This book is action packed and features slow zombies. But it also has ghouls, people that have consumed the flesh of zombies and changed. They are smarter than the average Z and they are even able to sort of herd the hordes as well as direct them to do battle. For those that like the lone soldier against the zombie trope, this is the book for them.

Craig: Which writers do you particularly admire, and what did each teach you about the craft or profession of writing?

Tim: I think Jonathan Maberry is one of the greatest guys around. He is always willing to drop what he is doing an help new writers out. I met him at Horrorrealm in 2010 and he passed on what to me has become my favorite piece of writing advice. We writers are here to help each other out – it’s not a competition. I recently had a friend and fellow writer say to me. “Tim, you probably don’t realize how many people you help out in the genre.” I hope he’s right because that’s my goal. Now go buy Maberry’s Dead of Night. This book should be required reading for zombie fans.

AMONG THE LIVING by Timothy W. LongAs a self-professed fantasy nerd, I have been reading Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time books since 1990 and sadly, finished the last one in January. I have learned more about world building from Jordan than any other writer. He also had a unique way of pulling off character traits and sticking to them over the course of 4 million words.

I’ve been reading Stephen King for over 30 years and with very few exceptions, I’ve read just about everything he has put out. King is the master of creating characters you love or love to hate. He gets in their head and by the end of one of his books you swear they were a long lost friend, assuming they actually survive until the end of the book. I also learned that it’s okay to off main characters.

“kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings” – Stephen King

Craig: What’s the last book in the genre that you particularly enjoyed?

Tim: While not strictly a post-apocalyptic novel, the newest David Wong book This Book Has Spiders was a very funny and also very competent zombie book. This is the sequel to John Dies at the End and it was just a terrific read. It had a lot of heart and made me laugh out loud, in public, many times.

Craig: What is your favorite zombie metaphor in fiction or film?

Tim: My favorite is the zombies that I see go to work every day. I take a commuter train to and from work so I see real life zombies on a daily basis. Bleary-eyed folks wait outside staring at the ground and then shuffle onto the train, take out phones, and stare at them without saying a word to anyone around them. I added a scene to my newest book, AMONG THE DEAD, with a zombie attack on the very same train. I tried to imagine how horrifying it would be if some survivors were stuck on the second floor of a moving train while a zombie attack happened below. There would be nowhere to go as the virus spread. Trapped, surrounded by the press of humanity as the biters get closer and closer. Scary!

Craig: What’s your favorite zombie movie?

Tim: Shaun of the Dead. I have seen this movie so many times I can quote lines. Not only is this a very funny movie with great leads in Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, it’s also a traditional zombie movie that hits all of the tropes we have come to know in love.

Craig: Which of the following appeals to you most about the genre—zombies, survival horror, apocalypse—and why?

Tim: I like the speculation that comes into play regarding the end of the world. Much like Science Fiction, this genre is all about “what if?” I’m fascinated with survival horror as well because it’s much more realistic (to me) than a ghost story. It seems like we could have an apocalyptic situation on our hands any day, if you believe the media, and it’s a lot of fun to speculate and consider what to do if the world really does go to hell. I seriously doubt it will ever happen but you can say the same thing about warp drives in Star Trek.

BEYOND THE BARRIERS by Timothy W. LongCraig: Which is your favorite type of story—apocalyptic (we’re seeing the collapse), or post-apocalyptic (the collapse has already happened)—and why?

Tim: I really like both quite a bit. When I wrote my novel AMONG THE LIVING I set it during the first two days of a zombie outbreak in Seattle. I did this mainly because I couldn’t find books that dealt with this aspect. Most books, and movies, for that matter, cover the outbreak in a short amount of time so they can get on to the juicy bits.

I’m also a big fan of post-apoc due to Stephen King’s The Stand which I have read at least half a dozen times over the year. He does such an amazing job of setting up the entire end of the world and then following the characters on an immense journey across a shattered America. I don’t know that any book or series has ever had the depth and epic feel since.

I’ve also written in a time frame set months after the zombie apocalypse. My book BEYOND THE BARRIERS finds a survivor leaving his mountain hide out after months to find the world greatly changed.

Craig: What is your approach to writing? How do you complete a novel?

Tim: I have a very set schedule for writing and I devote about 2 hours a day to the craft. I’m lucky to have a commute that allows me to compose while I take a train into and out of Seattle every day. When I’m close to finishing a book or hard at work on edits, I can easily spend 4 hours a day and most of my weekends on the final parts of a project.

I mentioned craft because I’m a firm believer that writing is indeed a craft that gets better the more you use it. I don’t talk about or think about writing. I write. There’s no mystical muse that pops up and sprinkles pixie dust on writers to get inspiration flowing. In fact the best writing advice I have ever seen is this: just write!

As far as completing a book, well it’s one of the greatest feelings in the world to write those final words “The End” and then sit back and look at your word count. Seeing a book to completion is a labor of love and it requires a disciplined approach to writing. You have to have the end in mind and constantly work towards that finale.

Craig: What are the key elements to a great story, and how do you approach them?

Tim: Great characters make great stories and that’s what I shoot for when I write. I try very hard to make them realistic and to give them traits that we can all identify with. For instance, in my book Among the Living, one of the main characters is spending the first day of the zombie apocalypse mourning the loss of his young son the year before. I felt that it added gravity to the character and made them sympathetic but not just because they were about to be caught up in a bad situation. I do think it’s important to give characters back stories and to have a goal or path in mind for their journey through the book.

AMONG THE DEAD by Timothy W. LongI also think that great action scenes need to unfold like movie scenes. I try very hard to do this by hitting all of the senses when I write. It’s not just about describing the various shades of blood on clothing. I also want the reader to feel like they are there by describing sounds and smells.

I write for me first and if I’m not writing realistic and compelling characters then I feel like I am cheating my self out of a good story.

Craig: What are you working on? What can we expect next from you?

Tim: I’m working on an Urban Fantasy series, my first real break from writing post-apocalyptic fiction in 3 years. I’m also working on the final book in the Among the Living series. Book three, the finale, will bring to close my trilogy that takes place in Seattle. Over the course of some 325k words we will see the first week of a zombie apocalypse in great detail. I think the ending is going to surprise people. As dark as the books have been I have a big surprise in store. Watch for it in 2014.

Craig: Tim, thanks for dropping by!

January 24, 2013

jason hornsbyI recently had the pleasure of interviewing Jason Hornsby, author of EVERY SIGH, THE END and ELEVEN TWENTY-THREE from Permuted Press, about his work, including his latest novel, DESERT BLEEDS RED.

Craig: Welcome to the blog, Jason! Tell us about yourself and your work.

Jason: My name is Jason S. Hornsby – not a pen name, which I get asked sometimes because my name sounds fake, apparently. I am originally from Lakeland, Florida and wrote my zombie novel EVERY SIGH, THE END not long after finishing my degree at the University of South Florida. In July 2008 I moved to Beijing, where I finished up my second book ELEVEN TWENTY-THREE, and where I would live for over three years. Since moving to Asia, I’ve traveled quite a bit, and many of the things I’ve encountered along the way have ended up in my writing. For the past year, my wife and I have lived in Seremban, Malaysia, where we plan to stay now that she’s pregnant with our first child. My first two novels were first-person nightmare narratives rife with zombies, government conspiracies, time travel, paranoia, numerology, and social commentary. With my newest novel DESERT BLEEDS RED, I’m trying a completely new approach, and taking a stab at different genres. I can’t even describe how excited I am. I think readers will enjoy it.

Craig: What makes zombies so interesting to write about?

every sigh the end by jason hornsbyJason: Of all the horror subgenres, I feel that zombies are the most malleable for originality and social comment. They can serve as a reflection of humanity and existence, but also make great antagonists that no one has a problem seeing die in various grisly ways. However, I feel that in recent years, the zombie angle has become rather stale in fiction due to saturation of the market. There are still a lot of great undead books out there though, and every once in a while, someone approaches the subject in a totally fresh and original way. Just as with vampires and monsters and slashers, the quality comes in waves, I think.

Craig: Which writers do you particularly admire, and what did each teach you about the craft or profession of writing?

Jason: When I was younger I was obsessed with Bret Easton Ellis, who taught me to just go balls to the wall with whatever I was writing about, and not to flinch when describing human beings at their most fragile and unbecoming. In the past few years, I have come to adore Cormac McCarthy, whose lyrical prose and absolutely gorgeous descriptions of both the natural world and the violence within it have inspired some of the epic style of my newest novel DESERT BLEEDS RED. My editor Natalie Ballard has gotten me reading William T. Vollmann, and he’s quite good and we share some style in our writing. Aside from them, I’m also an admirer of Michael Crichton, who always did his research, the travel writer J. Maarten Troost, the mystery writer John Burdett, and of course the Greats like Ernest Hemingway, Joan Didion, Phillip K. Dick, and Kurt Vonnegut.

Craig: What’s the last book in the genre that you particularly enjoyed?

Jason: In the past few months, I’ve read Peter Clines’ lycanthropic take on Robinson Crusoe and absolutely adored it. I’m also a fan of Thom Brannon, Kim Paffenroth, and David Snell. I look forward to reading your novels sometime in the future, Craig, but it’s kind of difficult getting Permuted titles in Malaysia, unfortunately. Next time I’m home though I will definitely pick up some new Permuted titles! I would also like to read the sequel to JOHN DIES AT THE END sometime when I have the chance.

Craig: What are the key elements to a great story, and how do you approach them?

Jason: This is a great question, and I’ve been contemplating the answer for a good while now. I suppose for me, the most important element, the foundation of the story, is the characters themselves. I’m a huge fan of well-executed characterization, and every novel I write begins with characters first, and the story follows later. Just as important as your characters though is the story idea, the mechanism which puts your characters into motion. Originality is always important to me, as well as keeping the unfolding plot unpredictable or at least satisfying when the predicted events occur. Sometimes it’s okay that we guessed what was going to happen in a novel, as long as the author handles it with panache and style. Another major component of a successful story is the craft that goes into the narration, the nuts and bolts of the page, so to speak. I mull over word choice, syntax, paragraph length, the aesthetics of the page, the whole Russian formalism approach, with everything I write. That may be why my novels typically take years to complete, and drive me to the brink of insanity while writing them. But oh, what great insanity it is.

Craig: Your books have great action but are funny at the same time. What is your approach to humor and what do you think it adds to your work?

eleven twenty-three by jason hornsbyJason: As dark as my novels can be, in real life I’m a pretty fun-loving and happy-go-lucky guy. Not many things are more enjoyable to me than sitting around with friends, pounding beers and cracking filthy jokes and ragging on one another. I suppose some of these late nights with mates find their way into my writing, as well as my own brand of dark humor. Dialogue is one of my great pleasures in writing, and I try to use the words exchanged between characters to offset some of the more twisted and upsetting developments in the story. I enjoy putting people we all know and hang out with in extreme situations and seeing how they react. Sometimes their reactions turn out funny, as in life.

Craig: What makes a great character?

Jason: As I mentioned, a great character is someone the reader knows from their own life. A great character is someone you don’t necessarily love or agree with, but whom you at least understand and show some sympathy toward. A great character is flawed but not hopeless, an asshole perhaps but not a monster (unless the character is in fact a monster), and a person whom we see just a little bit of ourselves in. People have asked me if I base my protagonists on myself. I usually have more in common with the supporting cast than with the lead, truthfully. To me, basing the main character too much on the author him/herself is a mistake, and runs the risk of alienating readers. Readers these days are more jaded than ever, and if they suspect an author is using their narrator as a soapbox, it turns them off quickly.

Craig: What are you working on? What can we expect next from you?

Jason: DESERT BLEEDS RED is just a few pages short of being finished, and I’ve been working on it for the past three years. It is a bizarre and frightening retelling of the King Solomon legend, complete with demons, prophets, and the Queen of Sheba – all set in the wastelands of China. In the novel, a young expat named Logan Solomon has surrounded himself with evil men and demons masquerading as humans. When his wife is abducted by a mysterious doppelganger and taken deep into the bowels of China, Solomon sets off after her, with two demons and a jaded young clairvoyant in tow. This is the most ambitious and complex work I’ve ever done, and contains what I consider my finest writing. The book is chock full of demons, hellfire, the grittiest landscapes you could ever imagine, philosophical musings, intense but often hilarious dialogue, mortal peril at every turn, prostitutes with glowing red eyes, secret government installations, thugs who vomit locusts, geysers of blood, and even serves as a travelogue of sorts to all the most nightmarish hole-in-the-wall locales in China. It is the closest thing I will ever write to magic realism, but set in a world few people know about. Not to count my chickens here, but I do believe it’s going to knock a lot of dicks in the dirt.

Craig: I look forward to reading it, Jason! Thanks for coming to the blog today!

Jason: Thank you for having me, and hope we can do another con together in 2013!

December 4, 2012

Mark TufoI recently had the pleasure of interviewing Mark Tufo, a leading voice in a new generation of authors who have found huge success in self publishing. He’s also a great guy. His ZOMBIE FALLOUT series reads like ZOMBIELAND in print–a great zombie story while at the same time being very funny. Here’s the interview:

Craig: Welcome to the blog!

Mark: First off I wanted to say thank you. As a huge fan of your work it is an honor to be asked to be on your blog!

Craig: Tell us about yourself and your work.

Mark: My name is Mark Tufo and I’m mostly known for my ZOMBIE FALLOUT series but I’m also trying my hand at some sci-fi and paranormal fiction.

Craig: What makes zombies so interesting to write about?

Mark: I think that zombies strike a chord deep in the human psyche. Of all the fictional monsters one could encounter this ranks as one of the worst, mostly because of the wide scale apocalyptic destruction they wreak. Vampires, werewolves and insert monster here are scary in their own right but they are usually only relegated to towns cut off from the rest of society for whatever reason. Zombies are everywhere, there is no safe haven, fighting zombies is a continual test for survival, and I enjoy that frenetic pace that this entails while writing.

Craig: Which writers do you particularly admire, and what did each teach you about the craft or profession of writing?

Mark: This blog isn’t big enough for me to list all the authors that I admire or have been influenced by. Stephen King was my first foray into horror and I will always be indebted to him for that. Another author that got me to love science fiction is John Christopher and The White Mountains series. Then I look to those that I consider pioneers in this indie movement J.A. Konrath, he proved that it can be done and it can be done successfully and also you Craig you’ve shown that small to medium presses can give authors a credible platform to launch their books from. It’s folks like you that have given me confidence in this field and for that I am eternally thankful.

Craig: What’s the last book in the genre that you particularly enjoyed?

Mark: I get asked this a lot from readers because they always want to know what zombie books they should read and I always tell them that there is a very high degree of probability that they have read WAY more books in the genre than I have. With that in mind the last book I read about zombies was Armand Rosamilia’s The Miami Spy Games, besides being a hell of a nice guy he’s writing a great series.

Craig: What are the key elements to a great story, and how do you approach them?

ZOMBIE FALLOUT by Mark TufoMark:
Memorable characters I believe is the key element. If you don’t care what happens to any of the people you’re reading about then it isn’t going to matter one bit what you think of the story, it will fall flat.

Craig: Your books have great action but are very funny at the same time. What is your approach to humor and what do you think it adds to your work?

Mark: When I first started writing the Zombie Fallout Series I did not intend to add as much humor into it, that was just a by-product of Michael Talbot, my lead character. I’ve had a lot of readers that love the banter in the dialog because it helps break up some of the under lying and ever present tension and danger. My goal was never to get schticky with it, I don’t want it to be cheesy I want it to fit within the confines of the characters I have created.

Craig: Michael Talbot is a great character in that he is heroic while being very flawed and human. What was your thought process in developing him?

Mark: I’ve read more books than I care to remember that the lead always comes off as super human or Rambo, doesn’t care what he or she kills and is never affected by what goes on around them. I never found them to be believable. To be human, is to be flawed, is to feel pain and loss, concern and worry. I wanted Mike to be the every man, I asked myself the question, ‘How would I act if zombies were at my door?’ and I went from there.

Craig: What are you working on? What can we expect next from you?

Mark: ZOMBIE FALLOUT 6 was just released on October 1st, currently I am writing a 4 part series, THE BOOK OF RILEY, it’s a zombie book through the eyes of an American Bulldog and currently I’m penning my 2nd go around with the paranormal genre entitled CALLIS ROSE. ZOMBIE FALLOUT is in a developmental deal for television production so I’ve been in contact with the producers as they turn the books into scripts (not an easy process). So busy but loving it.

Craig:
Good stuff! Thanks for joining us today, Mark!

Mark: Thank you for the opportunity to be on your blog. You rock man!

April 18, 2012

Minister FaustMinister Faust (Malcolm Azania), an artist, author and activist living in Canada, is the author of THE ALCHEMISTS OF KUSH, which I reviewed here, and other works of speculative fiction. I enjoyed the opportunity to interview him about his work and ideas.

Craig: Let me start off by saying THE ALCHEMISTS OF KUSH is a hell of a beautiful book. Please describe the story briefly, and what the story behind the story is–what compelled you to write it?

Minister Faust: Thanks for the kind words. TAOK is the story of two Sudanese “lost boys.” Both lost their fathers to war’s violence, and both got separated from their mothers because of war’s fallout. Each boy encounters a mystic mentor who gives them the means for self-transformation, which in turn leads to the ability to change the world. One of those boys lives in Kush, the NE African district of modern Edmonton. The other is Hru, son of Usir and Aset, otherwise known as the Egyptian falcon god Horus, who lived 7,000 years ago along the Nile.

I’m fascinated by what’s usually called “the hero’s journey” in the Joseph Campbell sense, and by stories of initiation, particularly those that examine the relationship between mentors and their charges, especially if those examine the ways in which wounded men and boys can heal themselves through that mentor-apprentice relationship (Robert Bly’s Iron John was a great inspiration, as was Walter Mosley’s Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned).

For years I’d been wanting to write a story the combined the above concerns with a revisionist version of the foundational Egyptian myth, but I didn’t know how to connect them. But I’d also been fascinated with the real-life mystic society called the Nation of Gods and Earths. I love allegory, and found their culture remarkable, once I made that connection, everything fit together easily.

Craig: Why did you choose particular structure and plot for the story?

Minister Faust: Making structural choices for a book is like choosing gender for your child: it’s going to have a massive effect on the shape and experience. Whereas my previous books had dwelt in single temporal settings, for this one, I needed to represent an ancient experience and a modern one. I’d long been impressed by the structure of Ursula LeGuin’s The Dispossessed, in which the protagonist’s life is split into two stories that alternate chapters (one childhood to adulthood departure, and the other the moment of departure onwards). I thought I could write two stories that paralleled each other in events and characters (mostly), with the modern story an allegory for the founding of the Nation of Gods and Earths. The result is a three-way allegory. I’m sure someone has done that somewhere, but I’ve never come across it, myself.

Craig: How does the Book of the Golden Falcon relate to the struggles people experience today?

Minister Faust: The Book of the Golden Falcon is the scripture of the Alchemists, the Africentric mystics who are at the heart of the modern-day story. Like any scripture, it’s poetical and brief; the ancient story (The Book of Then) works as a revisionist version of it, fully and viscerally exploring what the Alchemists know only as lines to be memorized.

Craig: The book deals with the concept of spiritual alchemy–transforming from a person oppressed by forces in their environment they can’t control to one in charge of their life. The two boys in the story face a difficult spiritual journey over the book’s dual story arcs. How do you define an Alchemist? What are the challenges in practicing Alchemy, and what are the rewards?

Minister Faust: You’re completely correct in your definition of spiritual or personal alchemy. It’s the transformation of base materials into pristine ones. Some people are naturally upbeat, dedicated, kind, and energetic… but even they can become self-destructively self-sacrificing, because any strength can be a weakness. The alchemy in the book is a system intended to help people identify where they’re harming themselves and others, so they can stop harming. That alchemy also synthesizes a community and sets out a series of values so that people can actively build hope, joy, and justice through their own creativity. Those are the reward: happier people in a supportive, industrious community. The main challenge in practicing alchemy, which one character realizes and expresses in her own exegesis, is the danger of self-satisfaction, the egotism of assuming one is better than others. She realizes that every accusation you might direct at others, you need to direct at yourself first (and broaden it to scan for similar problems) to make sure you’re not pointing out the mote in your neighbor’s eye while ignoring the asteroid in your own. But more than serving as a check against hypocrisy (which might simply be a way of claiming the spiritual high ground), doing so gives you the chance to gain compassion. After all, if it turns out that you’re angry at someone for something you’re doing, you have a chance to understand why both you and he are that way, which can connect you. And if you change your behavior towards him, he may sense your compassion and accept your foray towards connection.

Craig: The Alchemist movement portrayed in the book was inspired by the history of the Nation of Gods and Earths movement in the 1960s, as you point out, but the Alchemist philosophy is strongly realized as an independent concept based on Egyptian mythology. How did you conceptualize the Alchemist philosophy? I had a hard time believing it wasn’t already a real thing. Has the book spawned any interest in practicing Alchemy in real life as a discipline?

Minister Faust: Because the book is an allegory, much of the Alchemy is a direct parallel to the NGE teachings of Supreme Mathematics and Supreme Alphabet, which are consistent with various traditions of numerology and letter-codes. Adherents use the number and letter codes to reflect upon their own experiences and the world. In my allegory, I assigned Africentric (especially Egyptian or Kemetic) meanings, as well as (as it is in the NGE system) scientific references. I love world-building in my novels, and so developing a vocabulary and history are among the most fun things I can do. As to whether someone wants to practice Alchemy as it is in the book, for me to write the book and really believe in the world, I actually did practice it in the conceptual phase, during 2007 in particular. Others have told me they feel it could be of use to them. Of course, the credit should go to where it belongs—to the NGE and their historical sources, too.

Craig: Your writing has a breathless enthusiasm to it, an overwhelming charm that sweeps the reader along and never gets tired. How do you maintain that energy for so many pages?

Minister Faust:
Thank you! That’s an excellent compliment to receive. I’d attribute what you’re describing to three things. First, I read the brilliant writing book Don’t Murder Your Mystery by former mystery/detective editor Chris Roerden; her book is something like twenty-four lessons with examples of how to write mystery fiction by eliminating common mistakes and replacing them with entertaining construction. I bought it because I was working for a video game company at the time on an unannounced (and later cancelled) thriller title that was going to contain aspects of detective fiction. The book was the best lesson in writing I’d ever received, and I studied creative writing at university (the only worthwhile instruction was from my fellow students) and had already published two books through Random House. So Roerden’s work made me re-examine everything I was doing, and I’d say that all writers could benefit from studying the construction of, and reading, detective fiction (I’d particularly recommend Walter Mosley’s work and A. Lee Martinez’s SF-noir-satire The Automatic Detective). Second, I’d just read Jeff VanderMeer’s terrific SFF noir book Finch, and VanderMeer was experimenting in it with sentence fragments. I’d already been using fragments in my writing, but I was fascinated by how often VanderMeer could use them without over-using them. Third, from Mosley, I used in media res as often as I could, opening scenes in the middle of action, especially with dialogue. I found that was the best way to eliminate the “build-up sag” that was a problem in my unpublished manuscripts (which I plan to excise so I can publish them).

Craig: A trademark of your fiction is incredible characters. They jump out of the page as real people–when I was done with the book, it was strange, I missed the characters more than the story itself. What is your process for developing such great characters?

Minister Faust: If I create characters completely out of thin air, it could take me more than a hundred pages of writing before I feel as I understand them, and that’s too much waste or potential for time-consuming revision. I tend to draw upon people I know: friends, former students, acquaintances, and even foes. Nobody is a clone—characters are more likely composites of several people I know. Of course, I can still do character-creation exercises if I need or want to, but the result is usually less satisfying for me. Since I’m an allegorical writer generally, it suits my temperament more to use composites, anyway.

Craig: In the glossary for the book, you define justice as “equality of rights and treatment, proportionate compensation for labor and punishment for crime, and compassion and relief for sufferers.” That’s a beautiful definition. You’ve spent years fighting for social justice. What do you feel is wrong with our institutions that they cannot provide social justice, why should people personally dedicated their time and effort to it, and where can they start?

THE ALCHEMISTS OF KUSH by Minister FaustMinister Faust: Some our institutions work fairly well: education and health care in Alberta, generally, are successful programs for most of the people who access them (it’s worthwhile noting that post-secondary education is so expensive that it’s no longer universal, and universal health care in this country doesn’t include dental or eye care for adults, and those are gaping wounds in our system). However, as Malcolm X taught with his famous parable “The Chicken and the Duck Egg”–Google it–many institutions are designed to block freedom and prevent people from using their own power. The economic system follows the ”Matthew Effect” that many people know from the line in the Billie Holiday song: “Them that’s got will get/Them that’s not will lose.” It’s far easier to start a business (or buy one) if you’re already rich, or if your spouse has a high-paying job, or if you’ve got an inheritance of money or identity-privilege (which varies depending upon your society). I’d argue that, especially for those of us raised on the Left, it’s vital to recognize that inside a plutocracy, all people raised to fear and despise money and those who have it will forever remain at the mercy of those who possess, know how to make, and do not fear and despise money. Left-libertarians need to study how to create ethical businesses—social enterprises and co-ops. The world runs on money. To create the world we want to live in, we need to start now. Don’t wait for the “Red Rapture,” because it’s not coming. Instead, win small victories everywhere you can, and roll them into bigger ones. If you’re waiting for a collapse to come so you can make a better world, you need to draw a lesson from the Weimar Republic.

Craig: The Savage Lands described in the book, to me, include cycles of despair, crime and addiction that come with poverty, which the individual can overcome using Alchemy or other positive discipline, and movements can overcome by fighting for social justice. The novel implies various relationships with race. How do you see race in terms of its relationship to both the problem and the solution?

Minister Faust: It’s become fashionable for some people to declare that race is a social construct, meaning that it’s a fantasy. But, uh, then isn’t culture a social construct? And aren’t cultures real? “Race” isn’t “real” in the way that matter is real, but it’s as real as any caste or culture. At its least harmful, it’s a way of grouping people according to ancestry and physical characteristics, and it needn’t be an obstacle to anybody… anymore than saying that some people speak Romance languages is an attack on them. Of course, some people don’t know that “race” is a fluid concept, which the powerful change in order to play divide and rule; some don’t understand that “race” can’t predict intelligence, emotional disposition, education, artistry, industry, tastes, or any other acquired aspect, and most other innate aspects, of human beings. Generally, I say that anyone who is the target of racial discrimination might find organisational value in grouping together racially to fight that discrimination; that being said, it’s much easier to organise on the basis of culture or language, which are stronger ties.

Craig: In 1990, you confronted a group of Nazi skinheads that had been attacking people in the community, and talked them down. Could you describe the incident, and what you told them?

Minister Faust: They harassed and hurt many young punkers, and also blinded (in one eye) elderly retired broadcaster Keith Rutherford. Daniel Sims was implicated in that attack. Months before, I once showed up at a shopping mall because I was told in advance that he (who’d I never heard of at the time) and some other skinheads were going to cause trouble, but fortunately nothing happened. The night you’re asking about was in the fall of 1990, an unusually warm October night, if I recall. Some anti-racist skinheads (SHARPs: skinheads against race prejudice) and punkers asked me to join them on an anti-fascist postering drive. Along the way, they told me we’d poster outside the skinhead “base” which was a house near Kush (just as the area was beginning to become a Horn-of-Africa district). The group selected several spokespeople for when we arrived, and eventually that group asked me to be the sole speaker. When we got to the house, three skinheads came onto the front porch, and one was carrying either a rifle or a shotgun. Another warned us that if we stepped foot on their property, they’d shoot us. I answered that if that was the deal, since we had no intention of stepping foot on their property, they’d effectively just told us that they planned to do absolutely nothing. (I still marvel at my youthful bluster and completely irrational lack of fear… what can I say? Too many superhero comics, I guess). I then (no kidding) proceeded to explain to them how their racist philosophy was false and that they should be fighting in the class struggle (it was slightly more dramatic than that). At some point the police showed up and threatened to arrest us, the protesters. A news crew also showed up. To be honest, the event really was pretty exciting, but I for whatever reasons I can’t bring myself to dramatize the experience properly.

February 13, 2012

THE LAST MAILMAN by Kevin BurkeCraig: Welcome to the blog! First question: What have you contributed to the genre? What’s your best known work? Tell us about it.
Kevin:
I wrote THE LAST MAILMAN: NEITHER RAIN, NOR SLEET, NOR ZOMBIES! It’s set a few years after the zombie apocalypse when things have settled down and a new world has been established. One guy keeps heading out into the abandoned parts of the country to rescue people. Usually he doesn’t find anyone and just ends up bringing back mementos, which earns him the Mailman nickname. The book is unfortunately titled, in that most people assume the story is about the postal service or is a Kevin Costner rip-off but that could not be further from what my novel actually is. The misleading title is my mistake that I have to live with!

Craig: What type of storytelling in the genre do you consider your niche?
Kevin:
Hard to say I have a niche when I’ve only completed one zombie novel so far. I wrote it as if an action movie was being filmed in my head. When I watch a movie, I don’t care what kind of gun Ah-nald is using. Maybe some people do, but I don’t. In that regard, I went for action and comedy first, details a distant second. I think this makes my style more mainstream accessible. It’s an action-comedy that doesn’t take itself too seriously and it just happens to have zombies in it. I’ve had a great many people tell me they’re not into zombies but they loved my book.

Craig: As a writer, do you prefer fast or slow zombies, and living or undead? Building on these basic themes, what do you consider to be your own trademark or unique innovation as an author?
Kevin:
My brother and I watch a lot of zombie movies and we employ the loosest definition possible. If you lose control of your own humanity and seek only to harm others, then that’s a zombie. Slow, fast, living or dead, I have no preference. The part that scares me is the loss of humanity and the terror of your own friends and family suddenly wanting to kill or eat you. My book was written as a tribute to all things zombie so I had to go with the classic Romero undead shamblers… for the most part. I did build my own universe and make some twists or perhaps innovations, but it would give too much away if I said what they were.

Craig: What makes zombies so interesting to write about?
Kevin:
Zombies are game-changers. Vampires have their secret societies and their sexiness or whatever and they still maintain some semblance of humanity. Other monsters or aliens are so inhuman that we can’t relate to them. Zombies are so human and inhuman at the same time, that you blink and it’s oh crap, they just destroyed our whole society. Everyone who doesn’t have the guts to kill a monster that looks exactly like their mother is contributing to the end of the world. And then you get eaten and join the other side. So not only are you failing, but you’re also contributing to the problem and it gets exponentially worse and worse. To me that’s a lot scarier than an alien laser beam that just kills everyone and is done.

Craig: Which writers do you particularly admire, and what did each teach you about the craft or profession of writing?
Kevin:
I didn’t read many horror authors before I wrote my own so I can’t say anyone influenced me too much in that regard. My favorite kind of books are character-driven. I am so thoroughly impressed by anyone who can write a book that really has no plot at all and is just about someone’s life. How do you just invent a life? It seems like a massive undertaking to me. John Irving’s THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP and Wally Lamb’s SHE’S COME UNDONE are two of my favorites. I also recently found a 99 cent gem on the Kindle, AN EPITAPH FOR COYOTE by a guy named Bryan Dennis. One of the most moving things I’ve ever read. I hope he makes it big. Anyway, I guess what I’ve learned from those books is that the most important thing is character. The reader has to care about the people in the story. If you can develop a character deeply enough, you don’t even need a plot. People will just want to spend time with that person you created no matter what they’re doing.

Craig: What’s the last book in the genre that you particularly enjoyed?
Kevin:
I’m almost done with DOWN THE ROAD by Bowie Ibarra. It’s really good, if a bit bleak. My brother told me that LAST MAILMAN is, like, the only story where the government had its act together and everything was relatively okay. DOWN THE ROAD is like the anti-MAILMAN where everything goes absolutely wrong and everyone is a selfish bastard. It will be interesting to see which worldview plays itself out when the zombies actually come. I’m probably wrong, sad to say!

Craig: Which of the following appeals to you most about the genre—zombies, survival horror, apocalypse—and why?
Kevin:
I like it all. Zombies are the only creatures that scare me. The apocalypse is fun because you get to create a whole new world from scratch, but the survival part is my absolute favorite part of storytelling. I don’t mean, like, wouldn’t it be cool to be a survivalist…I’m talking about taking a group of characters and killing them off one by one. I like guessing who is going to die and who is going to live within every story. From the movie PREDATOR to sports tournaments, I just love the idea of dwindling from a large pool down to one left standing in the end.

Craig: Which is your favorite type of story—apocalyptic (we’re seeing the collapse), or post-apocalyptic (the collapse has already happened)—and why?
Kevin:
You can find stories in both and I’m going to try. LAST MAILMAN’s universe is post-apocalyptic and I enjoy that, but I have ideas for outbreak stories too.

Craig: What is your approach to writing? How do you complete a novel?
Kevin:
Oh, I have the worst system imaginable. I write everything off the top of my head and have no notes. If I think of something and forget it later, too bad, it couldn’t have been that good. The really good, tent pole ideas will stick with me and make themselves unforgettable. Like I said, I’m into characters so I never want to pigeonhole myself into a spot where people are doing things just to advance a preconceived plot. It doesn’t ring true. I need space to breathe and I let my characters tell me what they want to do and where they want to go. It’s an organic style, though a potentially sloppy one sometimes.

Craig: Thanks for joining us, Kevin!
Kevin:
Thanks!

January 30, 2012

brian eastonI recently enjoyed interviewing Brian Easton, author of AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A WEREWOLF HUNTER and HEART OF SCARS, both of which were finalists in the 2003 and 2008 Independent Publisher Book Awards. Learn more at www.hauntedjack.com.

Craig: What have you contributed to the genre? What’s your best known work? Tell us about it!
Brian: I wrote AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A WEREWOLF HUNTER and its sequel HEART OF SCARS, both published by Permuted Press. The novels follow the life of Sylvester James and chronicle the events that turn a misguided orphan into a borderline psychotic anti-hero. Exploring the effects of relentless pain and hatred on a man’s psyche is what sets these books apart from your average werewolf fare. They deal with the concept of redemption through violence, and if that sounds too cerebral or dull, don’t worry there’s enough crowbar brutality and dead grit to make you feel dark and dirty.

Craig:
What type of storytelling in the genre do you consider your niche?
Brian: As much as I love monsters, I’ve always had a vision for the guy the other side of the balances—the monster hunter. I like my monsters as bad-guys, and my heroes as the lesser of two evils. I’ve contributed to the Legends of the Monster Hunter series, and their editor Miles Boothe has graciously dubbed me the Godfather of Monster Hunters. I’ll take that.

Craig: Which writers do you particularly admire, and what did each teach you about the craft or profession of writing?
Brian: Of course I’m a huge fan of old school masters like Lovecraft, Blackwood and Derleth, but when it comes to contemporary authors Cormac McCarthy tops the list. He may not be considered an author of the genre (Unless you count BLOOD MERIDIAN or THE ROAD) but his poetic way of describing the ghastly is much like presenting a severed head on a bone-china tray.

Stephen King’s DANSE MACABRE explained why it was OK—and sometimes preferable—to leave questions unanswered. In fact, whenever someone asks me why I write horror I usually fall back on King’s answer from the book: “Because there’s something wrong with me.”

Craig: What is your approach to writing? How do you complete a novel?
Brian: I’ve been writing for 35 years and in that time I’ve come to realize what they say about the best laid plans is true, especially when it comes to plotting a novel. I don’t mean to suggest I sit down and just start writing (although that is what happens sometimes) but following an outline I’ve prepared in advance just doesn’t work well for me. I generally have to spend awhile collecting ideas, filling my coffers so to speak for the journey. Once I feel that I’ve harvested enough information for what I want to do and have a basic map of where I want to go, only then do I write page one. After that I usually find the thing takes on a mind of its own and sort of tells me how to proceed.

autobiography of a werewolf hunter by brian eastonCraig: Our approach sounds almost identical. What kind of feedback have you gotten? What is the best review you ever received on Amazon, and why did you like it?
Brian: I can’t single out one specific review, but I always enjoy reading the ones who appreciate the less obvious elements my stories. I’m as up for mayhem and bloodletting as anyone, but I love it when a reader chimes in who sees through the veil of grime and grue and picks up what I’m really laying down.

Craig: Without naming names or quoting, what is the worst review you ever received on Amazon, and if you could respond to it, what would you say?
Brian: The worst reviews I’ve received have come from people who have admittedly never finished the books. They may say they couldn’t make it through because it was too boring, or were so disappointed they just put it down halfway through. My automatic response to these people would be to grow an attention span, but realistically I’d say: “No one’s fit to judge a book unless they’ve actually read it.”

Craig: Amen to that. Let’s talk about craft for a bit. What are the key elements to a great story, and how do you approach them?
Brian: To me it’s mostly about character development. If you can flesh out your characters then you know exactly how they’re going to act and react as the story progresses. I’m also a firm believer in evoking a visceral reaction from your audience. In horror especially it’s easy to go for the gross out, but you don’t need a bucket of guts or rotting limbs in a hefty bag if you can make a scene relatable to the reader. Case and point: I remember watching PREDATOR for the first time and they’d just shown a gut-pile from one of the characters. No one in the audience reacted. Then, in one of the next scenes another character was dry shaving with a disposable razor and bore down with it until blood ran down his cheek…the audience gasped.

Craig: What makes a great character?
Brian: A character should be complicated, but not to the extent he becomes cumbersome. Most readers aren’t interested in every nook and cranny of your hero’s psyche, but they can also spot the one-dimensional cardboard type a mile off. Striking the right balance is the real trick. For my money, a character should be realistic enough to feel like I may have met him before, or at least have some familiar traits. It all comes back to being relatable. I can’t really appreciate a fearless mini-gun-wielding super hero because I don’t know anyone like that, but make him a habitually late screw up with a bum knee and a porn addiction, and yeah, I may know that guy.

heart of scars by brian eastonCraig: Which of the following appeals to you most about the genre—monsters, survival horror, apocalypse—and why?
Brian: Definitely survival horror because it actually happens in every day. People get trapped in car wrecks and live off ditch water and Tic-Tacs for three weeks, or get their arm caught between rocks while mountain climbing. You’ll find a daily dose of survival horror from every media outlet, and while zombies and apocalypse go together like tweens and TWILIGHT these days, I’ve never seen a real zombie and I certainly haven’t witnessed the end of the world, (No thanks to Harold Camping) Once again my watchword is: relatable.

Craig: What are you working on? What can we expect next from you?
Brian: Since last January I’ve been working on the third book in my AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A WEREWOLF HUNTER series, entitled THE LINEAGE. I hope to finish out the series with this one, and then move on to a prequel surrounding the life and times of Michael Winterfox, mentor to AOAWH’s main character.

Craig: Sounds awesome. Thanks for joining us, Brian!
Brian: Thanks for the opportunity.

January 23, 2012

Kim PaffenrothI had recently had the opportunity to interview Kim Paffenroth, author of the DYING TO LIVE series from Permuted Press.

Craig: What have you contributed to the genre? What’s your best known work? Tell us about it.
Kim: My first zombie novel, DYING TO LIVE, remains my best selling one. I don’t know what it’s “contributed” exactly, but people seem to respond to it for a couple reasons: it’s about a regular guy (and some other regular people) and I think the very ordinariness of the hero appealed to people and they identified with him. And the pauses in the action, when the survivors consider and discuss what’s happened, makes it a more thoughtful experience, and not just action and violence.

Craig: As writer, do you prefer fast or slow zombies, and living or undead? Building on these basic themes, what do you consider to be your own trademark or unique innovation as an author?
Kim: I started fooling around with smart zombies, and found I like that perspective. It raises more moral issues for the living survivors, if the zombies are not just animalistic and out of control – if they seem to have (or be returning to) some sense of humanity and reason. It also makes it possible to write from the zombie point of view, which I’ve found interesting.

Craig: What makes zombies so interesting to write about?
Kim: They’re just so ordinary, so they invite people to reflect on our human nature and how flawed and prone to degeneration it is.

dying to live by kim paffenrothCraig: What’s your favorite zombie movie?
Kim: It remains the original DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978). It blew me away when I saw it as a teen and it’s held up to the more serious scrutiny I’ve given it now as a scholar.

Craig: Which is your favorite type of story—apocalyptic (we’re seeing the collapse), or post-apocalyptic (the collapse has already happened)—and why?
Kim: Definitely post-apocalyptic. I like considering how people would adapt, what institutions or rituals or even practical matters they’d develop for the new situation. It’s a more interesting scenario to me than just the collapse of civilization, as that kind of unfolds pretty much the same way each time.

Craig: What is your approach to writing? How do you complete a novel?
Kim: I outline a lot more than I used to. I’m still flexible, but I need quite a few specifics of what people are going to be doing in a given chapter, before I can proceed.

dying to live life sentence by kim paffenrothCraig: What is the best review you ever received on Amazon, and why did you like it?
Kim: When someone “gets” it, in the sense that they’ve understood the subtext, and it has enhanced the experience for them. That is a very good feeling to an author.

Craig: What are the key elements to a great story, and how do you approach them?
Kim: It’s all character for me. I spend a lot of time, especially at the beginning, setting up who these people are, what matters to them, what motivates them, what weaknesses they have. The action kind of takes care of itself, if the people matter to me and I’ve explained why/how they should matter to the reader.

dying to live last rites by kim paffenrothCraig: What makes a great character?
Kim: Someone with great flaws and great strengths, but in both categories – someone with whom people can identify, put themselves in his/her place and feel how the actions are inevitable, in a way, and meaningful.

Craig: What are you working on? What can we expect next from you?
Kim: I’m working on a weird tale of obsession in a post-apocalyptic world, in which the one character is overwhelmed with what has happened, and seeks some kind of futile revenge against the zombies. At the same time, the zombies are evolving some strange organization among themselves, in which some are smarter than others and lead the dumb ones around, with very strange and inexplicable motives.

January 19, 2012

roads less traveled by c delaneyCraig: Welcome to the blog, C. Dulaney!
C: It’s great to be here, and thanks for having me.

Craig: What have you contributed to the genre? What’s your best known work? Tell us about it.
C: Now, is this where I’m supposed to pimp my work? ‘Cause I’ve never been very good at that. Truth be known, I can’t stand talking about myself. Call it humble or backwards hillbilly. And yes, I catch a lot of flak from my friends over it. “You must promote your work!” So, Craig, here goes:

The answer to both questions would have to be the first novel in my ROADS LESS TRAVELED trilogy, The Plan. Simply put, it’s a zombie tale revolving around a group of friends who make their stand in the mountains of West Virginia. Minus the “West Virginia” part, sounds like your average run-of-the-mill zombie novel, huh? It actually started out that way, until I quickly became bored after having written two pages. So I scrapped it and started over.

The finished product turned out to be the result of seeing too many zombie movies and reading too many zombie books that was the “same old thing,” and so far from reality it was ridiculous. Before starting over, I had just finished a particular zombie novel that shall remain nameless and decided, “Okay, I’m sick and tired of the same old shit,” pardon the language. And so I started beating the keyboard again, this time writing a story that was as real as I could possibly make it. What would REAL people do, how would REAL people react? That was the driving force behind THE PLAN.

Sure, there’s loads of zombie action in it. Can’t have a walking dead story without the walking dead, right? But they’re more of the backdrop. The characters push and hurl the story forward, because let’s face it: without good characters, you don’t have squat.

Craig: As a writer, do you prefer fast or slow zombies, and living or undead? Building on these basic themes, what do you consider to be your own trademark or unique innovation as an author?

C: Well, in the beginning I thought I preferred slow zombies. And that worked for me in THE PLAN, and would have worked just fine in the following two books of the trilogy. The problem became ME. About a third of the way into Book Two, MURPHY’S LAW, I started to get bored. I figured if I was getting bored, then the reader would too. Enter fast zombies. But I took a step back and said to myself, “Self, how can you insert fast zombies to pick up the pace, yet make it realistic and believable?” I can’t tell you how that worked out, but I can say that Book Two is finished, edited, and with Permuted Press right now (TBR). So I guess the answer to your question would be both, as long as the faster variety is something that makes sense. They are dead, after all. Fast or slow, corpses can only do so much.

I keep throwing the word “realistic” around, so I guess you could say that’s my trademark. I can’t say it’s unique, because several of my fellow PP writers incorporate the same thing in their work. Maybe another trademark would be bringing local and regional flavor into my novels. West Virginians have a certain way about them. Speech, behaviors, etc. Write what you know, yes? I only know one way to talk, one way to think, and that’s Mountaineer. So it bleeds heavily into my work. But really, isn’t that the way for all of us?

Oh, and there’s a big fat dose of humor in my work. Horror scares the hell out of me, so I try to make it funny when I can…

Craig: What’s the last book in the genre that you particularly enjoyed?
C: THE UNDEAD SITUATION by Eloise Knapp.

When I found out that PP had signed two more female writers, I was excited. We’re definitely a minority in the genre, so I couldn’t wait to get my hands on their books. I didn’t have the opportunity to go to ZBC this year, so I didn’t get to meet Elly. But if I had, this is what I’d have told her: Well done! Oh yeah, and the folks leaving negative reviews don’t know what they’re talking about, or else they just didn’t get it. (That comment will most likely earn me some nasty reviews, but shit happens. Might as well say it as to think it.) Safe to say, I’m looking forward to the sequel.

Since I indirectly mentioned her, another “Well Done!” needs to go out to Jessica Meigs. You did good, girl, you did good. Also looking forward to more work from her.

I also feel driven to add that right before reading those two books, I finally sat down and read Z.A. Recht’s PLAGUE OF THE DEAD. I’d been meaning to for a long time, but repeatedly put it off. Why? I’m not really sure. It wasn’t because I was afraid of being let down; it was nothing like that. I won’t even begin to speculate; you don’t have all day to listen to me ramble on. I’m not even sure I have the words to describe how I felt once I’d finished reading. I closed the book, rested it on my lap, and said “Damn…”

R.I.P. Z.A. You are sorely missed.

Craig: What’s your favorite zombie movie?
C: DAWN OF THE DEAD. The remake and the original.

Craig: Which of the following appeals to you most about the genre ? zombies, survival horror, apocalypse ? and why?
C: Good question. I’d have to say apocalypse, because it fascinates me to what lengths some people will go in order to survive.

Craig: Which is your favorite type of story ?apocalyptic (we’re seeing the collapse), or post-apocalyptic (the collapse has already happened) ? and why?
C: Even though it’s been done a lot, I really enjoy apocalyptic. While you don’t have as many options as you would in post-apocalyptic stories, for some reason I love seeing the initial collapse, right when the shit hits the fan. How do people react? How do governments react? How fast does the “thing” (zombie virus or not), spread? How hard does it hit? Does it come in like a lion and go out like a lamb, or vice versa? How I feel about it makes me think of Roscoe P. Coltrane, “I love it I love it!” then that funny noise he makes, which I’m not sure how to spell.

Craig: What is your approach to writing? How do you complete a novel?
C: I guess you could say I’m a situational writer? Even if it’s just a one-word idea. “What would happen if?” and then write a story around it.

I learned early on that I can’t write with an outline. Sure, I’ll jot notes down along the way. But if I do an outline, I end up absolutely sticking to it, which leaves no room at all for imaginative detours. I blame the OCD. So what I do is, once I have an idea, I spend some time thinking about it. What are my main objectives? What points do I want to make? What are the key action sequences? So on and so forth. Once those are ironed out in my head, I sit down and just start typing. I aim for at least 1,000 words a day, then the next day I re-read what I wrote the day before, fix anything that needs fixing, and continue. I guess you could say that by the time I’m finished with a manuscript, it’s a first and second draft all rolled into one, because I spend so much time re-reading and editing along the way. Then I let it “simmer.” Don’t look at it, don’t think about it, for 3-4 weeks. This way, when I hit it again for a 3rd draft, I’ve got slightly fresher eyes. I usually only end up having three or four drafts of a manuscript. Again, I blame the OCD. Then I send it out to my first-readers.

Craig: Without naming names or quoting, what is the worst review you ever received on Amazon, and if you could respond to it, what would you say?
C: Someone once said THE PLAN was hurried, unrealistic, and immature. I’m paraphrasing, of course. Now, Craig, I’m all for criticism and constructive feedback, whether it’s good or bad, it doesn’t matter. It’s the only way we learn, the only way we can grow as writers. If we don’t know what mistakes we’re making, how do we correct them? That’s something I always try to stress, and something that’s been stressed to me many times. But that particular review, when read in full, made me want to reply with a sailor’s mouth (which I am repeatedly accused of having). So best I don’t say anything at all.

Craig: What makes a great character?
C: A great character is real, real, real. Whether they’re fleshed out or not, a main character or a secondary, they must be how we see ourselves. If you can do that, and do it well, then the rest will work itself out.

Craig: What are you working on? What can we expect next from you?
C: I just finished the last book of the trilogy, SHADES OF GRAY. I’ll get to work on the third draft sometime after Christmas. The workings of my next novel are floating around in my head, but before I jump into that, I believe I’ll finish the series I started for Dark Tomorrow, Thom Brannan and Rob Pegler’s site. Either way, I’ll be taking a mini-break after the final revisions for SHADES OF GRAY. This trilogy has been the last three years of my life, and finally ending it was pretty rough. Ole Dulaney needs a bit of down time before hitting the keyboard again.

Craig: Thanks for joining us, and best of luck with the launch of your trilogy with Permuted Press!

January 16, 2012

jaron lee knuth author of AFTER LIFEI recently enjoyed sitting down with Jaron Lee Knuth, author of AFTER LIFE and other books.

Craig: Welcome, Jaron! What have you contributed to the genre? What’s your best known work? Tell us about it.
Jaron: My first novel was a love story, set during the zombie apocalypse, entitled AFTER LIFE. It follows the two main characters as they face the extreme measures they must take in order to ensure their own survival, and adapt to the changing world. I wanted to deal with both the emotional fallout of their relationship and the end-of-the-world scenario that is happening just outside their door.

Craig: What type of storytelling in the genre do you consider your niche?
Jaron
: I really like character-driven stories, yet I love the action, horror, and gore that goes with zombie and post-apocalyptic writing in general. Speaking of zombie literature specifically, one of my main goals was to tell a “classic” tale. Sometimes I have a hard time getting into zombie stories written by authors that stray too far away from my comfort zone, all in the name of “adding their own spin” to the mythos. While uniqueness is a admiral trait, I tend to want something very specific from my zombie stories, and if they are suddenly able to climb walls like a spider, speak intelligently, breathe fire, or whatever random twist you may find, it doesn’t scratch that very specific itch that I have. I write the book I want to read.

Craig: What makes zombies so interesting to write about?
Jaron:
Obviously, every story is different, but for me zombies represent so many things, in such a beautifully metaphoric way, that they become powerful symbols of my own fears of death, mob mentality, gluttony, mindlessness, and amoral murder. Yet, beyond those fears is an enemy that is conquerable. Perhaps it’s an unrealistic fantasy, but there is a certain satisfaction in the idea that no matter how bad it gets, I might have a chance of surviving this kind of apocalypse. Nuclear fallout doesn’t leave me with the same hopefulness.

Craig: As writer, do you prefer fast or slow zombies, and living or undead? Building on these basic themes, what do you consider to be your own trademark or unique innovation as an author?
Jaron:
I need to give two answers. Fast, living zombies scare me more. First, the speed just makes them more of a threat, and the fact that they are still living creates a moral conundrum that would make me hesitate for far too long before pulling the trigger (or swinging the machete as it were.) Slow, undead zombies are just more fun. It feels much more easy to survive, and the idea that they “aren’t the same person we knew” makes it much easier to cave in their skulls.

My own take on the monsters is a simple one. I never understood the combination of “viral infection through biting” and “hunger for flesh” at the same time. Do they want to eat you, or do they want to enlist you in their undead army? Can it be both? In AFTER LIFE the zombies hunger only for the flesh of the living, and anyone who dies becomes a zombie, whether they are shot by another human, or killed when a zombie bites into their neck. And the zombies start out fast, if the corpse is fresh, slowing as the corpse decays. I wanted to keep the mythology simple, yet unexplained. Most likely supernatural, without any real answers.

Craig: Which writers do you particularly admire, and what did each teach you about the craft or profession of writing?
Jaron:
My personal list of influential authors is huge, and continues to grow with every book I read. J.D. Salinger taught me at a young age that novels could speak directly to me. F. Scott Fitzgerald and George Orwell taught me about symbolism, and the meaning behind (and in between) the words. Stephen King taught me the glory of unpretentious, blue-collar fiction, written for entertainment. Douglas Coupland taught me not to shy away from the mediocre things, and that even the smallest, dullest item can have a powerful meaning in someone’s life. Bret Easton Ellis taught me to stop writing such long sentences, and keep it concise. Brian Michael Bendis taught me to write dialogue realistically, with stops and starts that reflect a character’s own indecisiveness. Mark Millar taught not to shy away from big ideas. Even the authors I don’t admire, or that I actively despise, have taught me what not to do. If I don’t try and learn something from their writing, than reading really would be a waste of time.

Craig: What’s the last book in the genre that you particularly enjoyed?
Jaron:
One of the reasons I wrote AFTER LIFE was because I had started so many novels that I couldn’t finish because of unconventional mythology that was too far away from what I was looking for. But the few zombie novels I’ve read and enjoyed are probably quite obvious. I really liked WORLD WAR Z, CELL and I’m not sure I will ever read enough of THE WALKING DEAD comic series. In the post-apocalypse genre, I liked THE ROAD and perhaps less conventional: ARIEL.

Craig: Which of the following appeals to you most about the genre—zombies, survival horror, apocalypse—and why?
Jaron:
I think the survival aspect of the genre has always been the most appealing, and that stems from my childhood. I was raised in the eighties, during the Reagan administration, with the Russian superpower looming over me at all times, and the threat of nuclear war just around the corner. My father had a large stockpile of weapons (for “hunting”) and I was raised on movies like RED DAWN, MAD MAX and THE DAY AFTER. I would daydream about exiting my fallout shelter and finding a barren wasteland to roam around, scavenging for food with a gas mask strapped to my face and my trusty dog sidekick to alert me to danger. It may have been a twisted fantasy for a child, but it was one that appealed to a boy that possibly needed to believe that outcome was possible, when during dinner the nightly news was telling him that total annihilation was perhaps more of a realistic endgame.

after life by jaron lee knuthCraig: What is your approach to writing? How do you complete a novel?
Jaron:
My approach is complete obsessiveness. I drown myself in my work. When I have gotten past the outlining stage and actually start the writing process, I write full-time, every day, until the first draft is complete. I usually take a break after that, (no less than a week) and step away from the words to let myself recuperate. The second and third draft are hammered out after that, then submitted to my editor. We try to work together during that process, going through the entire novel, line-by-line. I’m lucky enough to trust her viewpoint completely and she truly makes my words shine. It’s possibly one of my favorite parts of writing, because the story gets all of it’s rough edges smoothed out, and I finally start to see something I can be proud of. Up to that point is a self-destructive, self-loathing spiral of contempt for every word I write, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Craig: What are the key elements to a great story, and how do you approach them?
Jaron:
I’ve read interviews with so many authors who say something completely different, but I have to admit that when I’m writing, I always start with the plot. Once I have a complete idea (three acts, and I have to know how it will end) I move onto the pacing. I want my story to flow right. I start as close to the end as possible, and I don’t linger after the climax. Once I have this, I get to my favorite part: The characters. No story is worth while if it isn’t filled with characters you care about. Characters that you can relate to, yet show you something you’ve never seen before. Characters that make you feel safe, yet surprise you at the same time.

Craig: What are you working on? What can we expect next from you?
Jaron:
I just published my fourth novel LEVEL ZERO, a dystopian cyberpunk adventure targeted at young adults, yet the story has been warmly received by readers of all ages. Every new book I write has been completely different from the last, and I’m having fun exploring different genres. I’m still in the early development process of my next novel, but I’m always tempted to return to the post-apocalyptic genre. I’m sure I have a lot more to say about the wastelands…

Craig: Thanks for joining us today, Jaron!
Jaron:
Thanks Craig! Those were really enjoyable questions.

January 9, 2012

Jessica MeigsI recently enjoyed interviewing Jessica Meigs, author of THE BECOMING. Check it out below, and then you can learn more about Jessica and her fiction at www.becomingzombies.com.

Craig: Welcome, Jessica! What have you contributed to the genre? What’s your best known work? Tell us about it.
Jessica: Right now, my first (and only) published work is through Permuted Press. It’s titled THE BECOMING, and it’s just been recently released. It follows a man named Ethan Bennett and his best friend Cade Alton as they try to survive their entire world falling apart around them. Along the way, they pick up several fellow survivors who all bring something to the table to help ensure their survival. There’s loss, suffering, emotional outbursts, lots of violence, zombies, humor, some seriously important information being withheld, and even the beginnings of a little bit of a love story. So there’s something for everybody in it!

Craig: As writer, do you prefer fast or slow zombies, and living or undead? Building on these basic themes, what do you consider to be your own trademark or unique innovation as an author?
Jessica: I’d definitely throw my preference in with fast zombies. I mean, think about it: slow zombies are far easier to get away from, but fast ones? A human can only run so far so fast before getting winded. Zombies. Never. Get. Tired. Just the thought is chilling.

As for living or undead, can I vote for both? In my novel, I include both: people who are infected and homicidal (a la 28 DAYS LATER) who, if killed by anything other than a headshot, turn into the undead type we’re all familiar with. The undead tend to be slower than the infected, but they’re both equally deadly. I think I’d consider this my trademark; it’s what I decided to bring to the table when trying to figure out a way to make things more difficult for my characters.

Craig: What makes zombies so interesting to write about?
Jessica: I think, at least for me personally, zombies are interesting to write about because they’re a great vehicle to show an audience virtually anything you want to show them. I mean, look at all the different themes underlying just zombie movies specifically: there’s statements about science, humanity, consumerism, racism, cultural taboos…you name it, they’re there.

Craig: What’s the last book in the genre that you particularly enjoyed?
Jessica: While I loved Jonathan Maberry’s new book DEAD OF NIGHT, the one I’ve enjoyed so much that I’ve re-read it at least half a dozen times since its release is actually a tie between FEED and DEADLINE by Mira Grant. Those books are amazing, and I’m just dying to find out what happens in the third part of the trilogy—I don’t think I’m going to make it until May/June!

Speaking of Maberry, though, he’s definitely one of the Kings of Zombie Lit. The man knows how to tell a compelling story, and he does it masterfully, both in the aforementioned DEAD OF NIGHT and in his Joe Ledger series, ROT & RUIN, and DUST & DECAY.

Craig: What’s your favorite zombie movie?
Jessica: Oh man, that’s a toughie. If I could choose only one zombie movie, I think I’d pick Zack Snyder’s DAWN OF THE DEAD. I know, it’s a little bit of a sacrilege picking a remake as a favorite, but at the same time, it’s special to me for two reasons: 1. It introduced me to the idea of zombies that run. And that’s been essentially instrumental to the development of my own story. And 2. It really got me into zombies again after a very long absence from the genre. So obviously, in a way, I owe that movie a lot.

Craig: Which of the following appeals to you most about the genre—zombies, survival horror, apocalypse—and why?
Jessica: Definitely the survival horror. It’s fascinating watching, reading, and writing about people attempting to live in a world like that. It’s only during times of duress that a person’s true character emerges; and whether good or bad, it’s always interesting to watch. Extended periods of high stress can break a person mentally, and that’s—as terrible as it is of me to say—fun to write. (In fact, throughout my entire trilogy—especially in the second and more significantly the third book—readers will get to see a character progressively cracking up as events transpire.) I can’t really get that effect when I’m writing a story that focuses more on the zombies than on the survivors. I think this is why my stories are so character-centric. And it’s what appeals to readers, because they have someone they can empathize with—and I think this is what accounts for the popularity of shows like THE WALKING DEAD, which is very much character-driven.

Craig:
Which is your favorite type of story—apocalyptic (we’re seeing the collapse) or post-apocalyptic (the collapse has already happened)—and why?
Jessica: I think between the two, my absolute favorite is post-apocalyptic, but it really depends on how far past the actual collapse the story has gone. I love reading stories where the world in general has already just barely collapsed, and characters are still struggling to get the hang of the new way of life and the absence of things that made their lives comfortable before the apocalyptic event—such as electricity, ease of communication over long distances (such as telephones, smartphones, etc.), lack of internet, lack of running water, lack of easily obtained food. It can really make the struggle for survival far more interesting than the actual collapse.

Craig: What is your approach to writing? How do you complete a novel?
Jessica: One word at a time.

THE BECOMING by Jessica MeigsIn all seriousness, I used to be a total pantser—I’d just write whatever came to mind as it came to mind, with no real idea of where the heck I was going. Now, though, especially with this trilogy, I’ve discovered the joys and wonders of at least having a basic outline with the major events I’m aiming for jotted down. I also have set minimum word counts to reach every day—I have to hit my minimums, which is usually around 2,000 words, and everything after that is just a lovely bonus. Once the draft is done, I let it sit for a while before I go through and rewrite, then I do one more pass for editing, and then I turn it over to my beta readers to let them nitpick it apart. So there’s definitely a method to my madness, though anyone who actually saw me writing would think it was total chaos and that I’d lost my mind!

Craig: What are the key elements to a great story, and how do you approach them?
Jessica: I think there’s definitely a certain set of requirements for a good story: 1. a good idea, 2. a good set of well-developed, realistic characters, and 3. an ability to actually tell the story and do it justice. There’s a surprisingly large flood of zombie books on the market now, but so very few of them stand out because they’re not bringing something new to the table or aren’t bringing something old with a new twist to it. Either that, or they’re bringing something great to the table, but they spend so much time on the zombies or the plot that the characters are as interesting and distinguishable from one another as cardboard. It’s incredibly frustrating, and it’s part of why I wrote my trilogy: I read a really horrible zombie book that sounded fascinating from the blurb, and while I did manage to finish it because it was fairly like a train wreck, I just couldn’t believe it’d been published. The characters were incredibly flat and behaved so unrealistically for their ages, the idea—while interesting in theory—wasn’t done justice to, and the zombies weren’t threatening so much as eye-rollingly awful.

I think, as a writer and as a fan of the zombie genre, I felt it was my job to bring readers something that was better than that book and the others like it on the market today. I strove to make my characters realistic—though at times, not necessarily likable—and tried to get some diversity in there. Every character has their motivations for pretty much everything they do, whether it be survival, protecting someone close to them, or even revenge. My characters are fairly complex and flawed people, living in a world equally complex and flawed, and I spent hours writing and jiggling things around to make them so. Prime example: Remy Angellette. I have an entire novella sitting on my computer hard drive right now that details exactly what happened to her when the virus broke out and how she got to where she is when the rest of the characters find her in the first book. I have several novellas like that; most were written out for my own information, but who knows? Maybe they’ll see the light of day sometime.

Craig: What are you working on? What can we expect next from you?
Jessica: Right now, I’m awaiting the publication of the second and third parts of The Becoming trilogy with Permuted Press, THE BECOMING: GROUND ZERO and THE BECOMING: REVELATIONS. As for active writing projects, I’m currently working on a zombie horror project that takes place in 1868 tentatively called THE DEADENING (though I like that title enough that it will likely stick), and I’m tinkering with the outlining and moderate drafting of a possible fourth book in The Becoming trilogy (yes, I’m going to be the next Douglas Adams with a four-book trilogy). I’m also revising one of those aforementioned novellas that I’m considering self-publishing when I’m able to as a means of promotion for the second book in the trilogy. I have a massive list of ideas that demand to be written, and one day, hopefully, I’ll actually get to them all!

Craig: Thanks for joining us, Jessica!
Jessica: Thanks for the opportunity!