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Happy Halloween, 3.5 readers.
This month, we’ve chatted up an absurd amount of zombie fiction writers, haven’t we?
They’re all impressive in their own right, and they all bent over backwards to help me out, so it was virtually impossible to figure out who to assign the coveted Halloween spot to.
Then it hit me. Use it to talk to one of the dudes who got me writing again.
Not to make this about me, but long ago, I gave up on my dream of becoming a writer. Like so many before me, the path toward traditional publishing seemed like it was riddled with one insurmountable wall after another. Spend my time writing only to end up with my work tossed on a rejection heap with countless other writers competing for a highly coveted publishing contract?
Hell, I might as well have cashed out my life savings (all 3.5 dollars of it) and spent it on lotto tickets.
So I moved on and pursued a more realistic profession, but as the years went by, I always second guessed myself.
“What if I’d kept at it? Would I be a writer today?”
Around late 2014 I discovered the Self Publishing Podcast, starring full time indie authors Johnny B. Truant, Sean Platt, and of course, today’s guest, David W. Wright. Together, this trio have their own “story studio,” Sterling and Stone.
They’ve found success as multi-genre authors, with sci-fi epics like The Beam, steam punk adventures like The Dream Engine and TV style serials such as Yesterday’s Gone, just to name a few. They’re so prolific I doubt I could rattle off all their hits in one sitting.
Their self-publishing guide, Write. Publish. Repeat. (The No-Luck-Required Guide to Self-Publishing Success) has become a bible of sorts for the indie community. I picked up a copy and thus far I’ve found the information it provides to be invaluable.
I have a standing appointment with these gents every Wednesday afternoon, during which I pop on their podcast and listen to the boys talk about the craft they love on my commute home.
To be clear, they don’t deal with get rich quick schemes or gimmicks. They’re just three guys who talk about what works and doesn’t work for them. They regularly schedule guests on the cutting edge of self-publishing, and most importantly, they have fun.
Yes, I said fun. You won’t be bored when you listen to SPP. The best way I can describe it is that Johnny, Sean and Dave aren’t the stodgy, tweed coat wearing professors who drone on and on in a boring lecture guaranteed to put you to sleep.
Rather, they’re the cool TAs who stop by your dorm, crack open a beer, joke around with you, and give you the straight scoop on what you need to know.
Will I ever self-publish a book? I have no idea, but listening to these guys helped me decide to pick up my long abandoned dream of a writing career, dust it off, and start working toward it again, and that in and of itself has made me a happier person.
Dave, as one of Sterling and Stone’s preeminent horror fiction writers, welcome to the Bookshelf Battle Blog. I’ve heard you and your compadres say it doesn’t get any worse than your other podcast, Better Off Undead, but I’d challenge that notion since last time I checked, my site only has 3.5 readers.
NOTE: BOLD=BQB; ITALICS=DAVE
Q. Happy Halloween, Dave! Do you have any plans to celebrate? (Redact as necessary.)
A. If by celebrate, you mean hide away from anyone who might knock on my door, then yes, I’ll be celebrating in an undisclosed location.
Q. What’s the deal with zombies? The past month, I’ve interviewed authors from all different backgrounds and they’ve all managed to find their own unique take on the zombie genre. For the layman who thinks, “I don’t get it. All they do is grunt and groan and eat brains!” please explain why fans can’t get enough of the undead.
A. I can only speak to the appeal from my perspective. As long as I can remember, long before I ever saw a zombie movie, I dreamed of hordes of slow-moving people coming after me. Most horror movies, the hero or heroine have some chance to defeat the bad guy, monster, etc… There’s something terrifying about an unyielding, unending force of nature like a horde of zombies.
There’s a cathartic nature to most horror, and I think zombies can be representative of many fears for people, and movies and books are just one way of facing those fears in a safe manner.
I think one of the books that truly gets that fear right is The Girl With All the Gifts. Those zombies will track you down, and just wait outside wherever you’re hiding. They’ve got nothing but time, and they will eventually get you, unless you find a way to fight back.
Q. Z 2134, which you co-authored with Sean, features a dystopian America of the future, one in which zombie plagues have ravaged the world, giving rise to a totalitarian government, not to mention the Darwin Games, a televised survival show in which people have to fight zombies on air. What inspired you to write these stories?
A. Well, I’ve always wanted to write a zombie story. Sean wasn’t as keen on the idea, as he felt like it had all been done, and there was a lot of it at the moment. However, if we could mash up other genres, he was a lot more interested. So we thought, “Wouldn’t it be cool if there was a Hunger Games type story with zombies?” At the time, I’d not even seen The Hunger Games, and had read only the first few chapters. But I knew the idea, and we thought it would be cool to blend it with zombies and add a dose of 1984.
We pitched it to 47North after they’d reached out to us because of Yesterday’s Gone’s success, and they bought the trilogy.
Funny that some of the one star reviewers say it’s a “direct ripoff” of The Hunger Games, which I have to laugh at given that the only thing we ripped off was that it was a) a game and b) how The Hunger Games did the opening part where everyone had to make a mad dash toward the loot (which is as far as I got in the series). Anything similar beyond that, if there actually is, is pure coincidence. Fortunately, enough people liked the series for what it was to make it a bestseller at Amazon.
I think that mash-up of Z 2134 was sort of a dual-edged sword, though. While it earned us a lot of new readers, I think that people who thought we merely ripped off The Hunger Games, probably didn’t go on to give our other books a chance. They probably thought we were mash-up hacks churning out derivative stuff, which is a shame, because I feel that our other books are original and genre defying in many aspects.
Sean and Johnny are currently writing the first book in a zombie series that I’m super excited about, which seems to have an original sorta twist to it. Perhaps Sean and I will write in that world, since I’m still itching to do a proper real zombie story.
Q. One thing I’ve noticed about science fiction/zombie lore is that authors have a tendency to forecast a future of doom and gloom. I can’t say as I blame them though, given that every day there’s a new story on the news that rattles my faith in humanity. Do you think a book where people are actually happy and the world has come together in a peaceful, harmonious future would ever be viable (or dare I say, realistic?)
A. As much as I’d love to believe otherwise, it all comes down to a few things that seem immutable: there are limited resources on this planet, and people are clannish by nature. Therefore, there will always be struggle.
Q. Let’s talk SPP. You guys do a fair amount of busting on one another, all in good fun of course. Still, I have to say I envy the partnership you’ve formed. I’ve worked on a number of group projects in my life and to date, I’ve never walked away from the experience without holding back the desire to strangle my partners (who probably felt the same way about me.) Do you guys realize what you have and more importantly, when the microphone’s off, do you tell each other? It’d make me happy if the three of you would break out in a chorus of Bette Midler’s Wind Beneath My Wings one day, in celebration of a rare collaboration that actually works.
A. I don’t think we talk too much about it. We’re usually busy talking about the work that needs to be done to fulfill our dreams. When we met in Austin in Sept. 2014, though, it was the first time all three of us were together, and we had a long heart-to-heart-to-heart talk, and it felt good to get to know Johnny (I’d already known Sean) in person. We’re like family, except we get along more often than most families.
Q. Dave, as mentioned on your site, “Sean is the Tigger to your (Dave’s) Eeyore.” I’d even go so far as to say that Sean is the Professor X to your Magneto. In other words, Sean’s an optimist while you’re a pessimist.
Is that why you two work so well together? One of you holds out hope, the other can see problems coming at twenty paces, and together you equal each other out?
A. Good analogy. I think we’re a good mix, though I’m sure we’d be better off if I were a bit less pessimistic and a bit more hopeful. I think pessimism can be good as a protective shield, but there are times it costs you in potential.
Q. Not to bore you with my problems, but a maniacal alien dictator from an unnamed world despises reality television to the point where he’s demanded that I write a novel so finely crafted that it causes the public to abandon shows where cameras follow around vapid celebrities and focus their attention entirely on scripted media.
But I don’t want to bother you with that. You’ve been in self-publishing for a long time now. Is there one nugget of advice, something that you wish someone had told you early on when you were getting started that you could pass on to me?
A. Work through the doubt, and write a lot. Growing up, I tended to abandon projects the moment they got a bit too intimidating. I’m still prone to self-doubt and lots of rewriting before I’m happy, and I blow deadlines, but I am still always moving forward toward a goal — something I didn’t do before I had Sean as a partner.
Q. Self-publishers are often vocal about their fears, which is understandable. Amazon might change their terms. Tech companies they depend on might go out of business. Traditional publishers might find a way to flip the proverbial poker table over and take their chips back.
But lets forget all that and be positive for a moment. Let’s be Seans and not Daves. As an expert in the field, do you foresee any major, positive developments coming in the future that will make self-publishers jump for joy?
A. I’m hoping for a universal e-book format which would allow people to migrate their collections across readers without having to jump through hoops. I’d love to be able to buy at any store and read on whatever reader I prefer, without having to go through proprietary apps.
While companies may be resistant to this, I think in the long run it will help the companies sell more e-books.
Q. Dave. Seriously. Thank you for all that you do. When The History of Self-Publishing is written, there should be twenty chapters dedicated to you, Sean and Johnny. The floor is yours. If there are any last minute words of wisdom you’d like to share with my 3.5 readers, please feel free to do so.
A. Thank you for having me. I’m not sure if this is wisdom, but I’ll share one thing. I started putting comic strips on the web in 1999. I was clueless to how bad I was. I think a lot of artists early on come in one of two flavors — they think they’re awesome or they think they’re shit. The truth is probably somewhere in between. Had I realized how bad I was, I’m sure I would’ve quit. Instead, I thought I was better than I was, but knew I wasn’t as good as I wanted to be, so I pushed through, always trying to get better, until I had a semi-successful comic which I could be proud of. So, I’d say don’t beat yourself up early on, but don’t ignore the areas you need to improve, and just always keep creating.