I owe a lot to Gay Degani and Flash Fiction Chronicles. After all, if it wasn't for either, my essay "Hint Fiction: When Flash Fiction Becomes Just Too Flashy" probably never would have seen the light of day. But it did, and ... well, you know the rest. Anyway, Gay was kind enough to ask me a few questions about writing and self-publishing and my new collection over at FFC, so take a look.
The Dishonored Dead just recently came out, and as my friend Nate Southard recently had a zombie novel come out, we thought it would be fun to interview each other about our books. Below is my interview with him. You can check out his interview with me over at his website.
RS: So tell us a little bit about Scavengers.
NS: Gladly. Scavengers tells the story of five men from Millwood, a small Indiana town that survived a zombie outbreak through equal parts isolation and dumb luck, who are sent to the neighboring town of Rundberg in search of much-needed supplies. Of course, the last anyone saw of Rundberg, it had been overrun with the walking dead. It’s probably a suicide mission, but desperate times and all that ...
I originally told this story in my 2005 graphic novel A Trip to Rundberg, but I wanted to expand and improve it. I think I pulled that off.
RS: What is it about zombies that interests you? Is there a certain fascination with them? And is there anything about Scavengers that is different from most zombie stories?
NS: For me, zombies represent a certain level of hopelessness in horror that I find especially chilling. Once the dead stop staying dead, there’s no return to normalcy. You can fake it for a while, sure, but sooner or later reality will crash through. You don’t see that sort of finality with some of your other genre touchstones.
On more of a guilty pleasure angle, they make excellent fodder. You could have told Die Hard with zombies and had a body count in the hundreds. No one would have batted an eye. I think it’s important not to fall back on that, though. It’s a lowest common denominator type of story, and I know I don’t want to read one of those.
As for what makes Scavengers different? At first, I just wanted to tell a small town catastrophe piece. I grew up in rural Indiana, and sometimes imagining having to escape impossible odds is the most fun you could have. I was a little tired of urban zombie stories.
I also wanted to toy with the idea that mankind deserves to survive. So many of these body muncher stories have that big reveal of “We are the monsters!” I Am Legend. Night of the Living Dead. Mankind is the real enemy. I wanted humans to deserve survival. A disaster didn’t drive these people apart. Instead, it pushed them together. I like that.
And don’t worry. I know I Am Legend is a vampire story.
RS: Well, at least not the Will Smith remake; those were like a vampire/zombie hybrid.
Anyway, Scavengers is being released by Creeping Hemlock’s zombie imprint Print is Dead. What came first — your expansion into novel form or did they contact you first and from there you came up with the idea? Also, what was it like adapting the novel from an already published graphic novel? (For some reason I’m put to mind of Max Allan Collins writing the novelization to the screenplay based on his graphic novel of Road to Perdition, though I know this is completely different.)
NS: Oh, the adaptation came first. I’d been toying with the idea for a little while, and then Night Shade released a call for zombie novels. I decided to go for it, but I made the decision about three weeks before deadline. In that space of time, I busted out two or three drafts, sending large chunks at a time to my pre-readers. Months later, I gave it another rewrite, this time giving it the time it deserved. A few months later, Creeping Hemlock announced their submissions call, and I jumped on immediately.
I had a lot of fun adapting it. The graphic novel moves so fast, it’s probably more of a short story than a novel. With the adaptation, I was able to not only expand the story of this desperate mission, but I could look back into the characters’ lives to see what they’d been up to at the time of the outbreak. It made for a great writing experience. Then again, I rewrite like I’m addicted to it. I could probably write this story seven different ways and still be happy.
RS: Any plan to write any more zombie novels or short stories?
NS: I wouldn’t say I have plans, but I can’t see myself never working with them again. There are still plenty of fun stories I can tell with the Scavengers characters, not to mention all the possible takes on zombies. Once I’ve got a zombie story that needs telling, I’m sure I'll jump right back in.
RS: Any favorite zombie novels or graphic novels or movies you care to mention?
NS: The Walking Dead is pretty amazing. It has its ups and downs, but Robert Kirkman never devolves into bad writing.
As for novels, I’d have to go with Simon Clark’s Blood Crazy. It’s a different twist on zombies, and it’s pretty epic. The best part is that it never explains why these events (which walk the line between horrific and bizarre) are happening. They don’t matter as much as the terror of the new world.
RS: Man, it’s been years since I read Blood Crazy but I remember loving it. And I’ve only read the first volume of The Walking Dead so far, but I really enjoyed it, too. Thanks for answering some questions, Nate, and good luck with Scavengers!
Bill Nelson reviews The Dishonored Dead and interviews me at his website We Zombie! Here's the first paragraph of the review:
What happens when you reverse the roles of humans and zombies, add an upside down government along with mother earth’s hidden energy? You get a remarkably inventive, fresh story line with a plot that keeps on surprising you at every turn. Robert Swartwood’s eBook, The Dishonored Dead, kept me on edge and turning pages the entire way through – just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, Swartwood introduces a new twist that blows your mind. I spend a lot of time reading books in the zombie genre, and I’m always amazed when I run across a totally new idea that extends the realm of the genre.
In the interview, I talk pretty in-depth about the novel, like how it came about and how it almost never was and the challenges of keeping the dialogue consistent throughout the book (i.e. replacing "living" with "existing").
Also, over the weekend I spent about an hour coming up with this website where you can now read "In the Land of the Blind" -- the story which was the inspiration for The Dishonored Dead -- free.
Bob Thurber -- whose story "Shipwrecked" was a reader favorite in the Hint Fiction anthology -- has a new novel out and I asked him a few questions about it.
RS: So what is Paperboy: A Dysfunctional Novel about (and how does the "dysfunctional" play in)?
BT: Paperboy is an odd little book, dysfunctional in content, themes, and form. The 262 pages contain 157 short chapters, each one narrated by Jack Fisher, a 14 year old paperboy. His gritty coming-of-age story takes place during the summer of 1969, the year of the first moon landing.
Many of the chapters could stand alone as vignettes or short self-contained fictions, which makes them easy for the reader to digest. And makes for an easy read, which is a good thing considering some of the things that Jack reveals about himself and his family. As one reviewer said, “These vignettes build upon, echo, reflect, and shatter each other.” Overall, they create the illusion of a complete novel while resisting to be “a novel in fragments.” The good news is, I’m told, it’s a page turner.
RS: This is your debut novel, but is it your true first novel? If not, how many other novels have you written before this?
BT: Yes. It’s my true first novel. Paperboy was drafted in 2002, though it’s been reworked quite a bit since then.
RS: Your story in the Hint Fiction anthology -- "Shipwrecked" -- was a favorite of many readers. Have you written any hint fiction stories since then?
BT: Sure. Dozens of them. So I’m well prepared for your next Hint Fiction anthology. And thank you again for making me a part of that neat little book.
RS: What else are you working on?
BT: Right now I’m finishing up another novel titled “April Fish,” which my agent is eagerly waiting for. And then I’ll get to work on another project that I've been outlining for about three decades.
To learn more about Paperboy: A Dysfunctional Novel, click here.
Thriller writer and Hint Fiction contributor Blake Crouch is one of those doing quite well in self-publishing his e-books. He co-authored Serial and Draculas with Joe Konrath (as well as F. Paul Wilson and Jeff Strand), and has released his thrillers Desert Places and Locked Doors (which were originally published by St. Martin's Press) as e-books. Now his latest e-book, Run, is available.
Picture this: A landscape of American genocide...
5 D A Y S A G O
A rash of bizarre murders swept the country…
Senseless. Brutal. Seemingly unconnected.
A cop walked into a nursing home and unloaded his weapons on elderly and staff alike.
A mass of school shootings.
Prison riots of unprecedented brutality.
Mind-boggling acts of violence in every state.
4 D A Y S A G O
The murders increased ten-fold…
3 D A Y S A G O
The President addressed the nation and begged for calm and peace…
2 D A Y S A G O
The killers began to mobilize…
Y E S T E R D A Y
All the power went out…
T O N I G H T
They’re reading the names of those to be killed on the Emergency Broadcast System. You are listening over the battery-powered radio on your kitchen table, and they’ve just read yours.
Your name is Jack Colclough. You have a wife, a daughter, and a young son. You live in Albuquerque, New Mexico. People are coming to your house to kill you and your family. You don’t know why, but you don’t have time to think about that any more.
You only have time to….
R U N
* * * *
There's an interesting story behind this e-book and so I asked Blake a few questions and here are his answers.
RS: The last we talked, you had signed with a new agent who was shopping your new novel around -- the one you're now self-publishing. With all the success you've recently had with your e-books, what is it about major publishers that appeals to you?
BC: I guess it’s that old ingrained dream that dies hard ... a major publisher releasing your book and doing everything right. When publishers do it right, there is no better way to reach the masses and break out. And they certainly have the ability to do that when they set their mind to it. I’m still holding out for that scenario, only my definition of “holding out” no longer entails sitting on my best work while it’s on submission.
RS: How long was this new novel being shopped around before you decided to make it available yourself? Were there any offers? How does your agent feel about you self-publishing this new novel while he's still shopping it around?
BC: About four months. We got very close with a couple of dream editors that might have produced the dream scenario above, but it’s just a brutal market out there right now. My agent was behind my decision. We consulted and he knows what I’ve been doing on the e-book front, saw it as a smart move.
RS: What do you think major publishers need to do to hold on to their authors? As the Authors Guild recently showed, the current 25% royalty on e-books is a major loss for authors, a major gain for publishers. Do you think that royalty will ever near 50%?
BC: Stop being so goddamn greedy. Unless you’re receiving a massive advance, the 25% royalty rate, in light of the fact that e-books are fast becoming the preferred way to read, is a slap in the face and hugely unfair. Authors are the content provider.
RS: What kind of advance and terms would a publisher need to offer you to sway you to sign away your e-rights?
BC: (smiles) You think I’m going to bid against myself in public, Rob?
RS: Run's original title was American Genocide. Usually titles are changed because of publishers' marketing departments and a variety of other reasons, but as you are publishing this yourself you have final approval on everything, including the title. What made you decide to change it?
BC: I always had a suspicion that American Genocide was a bit of a downer for a title. I shared this with my agent and he suggested The Run ... I looked at the product description again and realized that it flowed right into the perfect title ... Run.
P.S. Another great novel with the title Run is by Douglas E. Winter, a thriller about gunrunning in Washington, D.C. and New York published originally by Knopf. The book has since gone out of print, but if you do happen to find it, definitely check it out.