Zombies and Heroes and Paradoxes, Oh My! A Chat with Author Peter Clines

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By: Scott Muller

I recently had the immense pleasure to talk to Peter Clines, author of the Ex-Heroes series and other novels such as 14, The Fold, and Paradox Bound, which released on September 26. During the course of the interview, we discussed a wealth of topics from his life and his works to pop culture and advice he has for those who want to get into the business of fiction writing.

You can learn more about Peter Clines and his work by checking out his website or following him on Twitter.

By the way, our talk might have some minor spoilers for some of Peter’s books, so if there’s a book of his you don’t want spoiled, you’ve been warned!

So, for the first question, I’m gonna crib your style for a bit and we’re going to use the “Now” and “Then” format you use in the Ex-Heroes series. First, we’re going to go back to “Then.” Can you give us a brief backstory for Peter Clines, the author?


No. I cannot. (Laughs) Brief backstory is I grew up in Maine. I basically was a very little kid just as Stephen King sort of hit it big and become a name. Stephen King’s career and my life are almost exactly parallel. So, actually because of him, I kinda grew up thinking Maine was a weird creepy place, and I completely loved it, but, and I know this sounds super-pretentious, but I’ve always wanted to tell stories. When I was a little kid, I had the old Kenner Star Wars Death Star and, basically, I had this progressive diorama, where I had it loaded with figures and every day I would move, I would basically do stop motion, like, “Okay, these guys are going to move a little bit this way and this person going to do this, this person is going to do this this,” and my mom would come in to tuck me into bed and I would tell her all the things that I’d changed and what this person was doing and how that’s happening and what’s going on here. And then, I guess I was like maybe 8 or 9 and at one point was digging in the closet, and my mom had this old Smith Corona typewriter. It was one of these gigantic electric things, like when you turn it on and the transformer inside of it starts shaking the whole desk and you could probably punch holes in sheet metal with the keys because they were so powerful and so strong. That was the big switch for me because in third grade I took my first serious attempt at a story, scribbling something on the yellow line paper, but once I’d found the typewriter, now this was a real. Now it’s official because it’s coming out typewritten and pretty much from that point it’s just been non-stop.

Through most of my teen years I tried submitting to Marvel Comics, but when I was in college I started looking more at short stories and novels. Obviously, I’ve written short stories and novels before but they’re all crap and college has started taking me a little more seriously and then there was the, “after college” novel and the, “I’m moving to California” novel and then, like everyone in California, I basically detoured and was working on screenplays for a bunch of years. I remember I worked on an old sci-fi show called The Chronicle and during the show, I bought a new computer from Gateway. Back then, that was a big thing, like Gateway will deliver your whole computer to you. We are just part of an organization that stands out and I had to transfer everything over from my old computer to the new one.

While I was doing it, I realized that I had that, “move to California novel” still sitting on my old computer and I’ve done like 250 pages of it and then I never touched it again. So right there I said, “You know what? I’m going to go back and I’m going to finish this,” and I did. Then I worked on another book after that and then I put that book down because I got this idea for this whole thing about super heroes fighting zombies and I just kept going.

In 2010, I decided to write fiction full time and I highly recommend nobody do it that way unless they have a really, really big bank account because there are about three years in which I was just miserable.

I looked up on IMDb that you were a prop master in Hollywood for about 15 years and that you worked on Veronica Mars. Did anything you do during that time affect your writing at all? Did you meet anyone who gave you any advice? Any experiences that stand out?


Absolutely. One of the cool things is that because I did a lot of television and a couple of movies, I got to meet a lot of different directors and that was good in two different ways: one, you get to see a lot. The best way to think of it is the screenwriter is the guy who writes the story and the director is the guy who tells the story.

So, if you think of it like, anybody can sit down and start reading Harry Potter to you, but who they are and how they read it is going to make it a very different experience and I’m sure we can all think of someone who will read Harry Potter and make it the most boring book on Earth. And we can think of people who can read it and they’re going to make it more exciting than the movie and that is basically what the director does. The director’s interpreting that screenplay and telling the story and by the nature of this, I got to see hundreds of directors and how they interpreted different stories and there were some that were bad and there were some who were just amazing. There were some who would pull out little nuances, little details, or realize if we did this like this, it will be even more interesting.

So, right off the bat, getting to see a lot of directors, especially the ones who realize what you don’t need to tell the whole story. I think all of us, as storytellers, have a bad habit of assuming more is better and the truth is that really, if you can skim out a lot of stuff, it is so much better to have a leaner, tighter, faster machine. That’s what I got out of that. I also got to meet some writers and while I was doing that, I was actually pitching scripts. I had a bit of luck with screenplays.
I actually pitched scripts pretty regularly at Deep Space Nine, at Voyager, a couple shows I worked on. At one point, we were looking at things and some of the writers or producers behind these shows recognized that I knew how to tell a story. There were a lot of people who realized, “Holy crap! You actually have some idea of what you are doing here!” I’m still actually friends with a bunch of people who worked on these shows, who I got in touch with, ages back.

Obviously, you grew up in Maine, where that other guy, that King guy people talk about grew up. You said he influenced you, but what else influenced you growing up? Books you read? You mentioned Star Wars and comic books…


I was a huge comics fan. It’s funny because I was a comics fan for years. And it wasn’t until much later that I realized how many specific comic creators had influenced me. Because as a little kid, you don’t really think to look at the credits or anything. Bill Mantlo was a gigantic influence. And I never realized it until I got, honestly, until I got much older and started looking back at this stuff and realizing, “Holy crap, he wrote that!”

But yes, I was a huge comic fan. A gigantic Spider-Man fan. I was also a big Star Wars kid. I really lucked out; I think I was probably luckier than most. The town I grew up in in Maine was a tourist town. We were one of those towns; we had three beaches in my hometown, one of them that was a mile from my house. Because of this, we had a little town bookstore that was maybe a mile and a half away from me. And it was open year-round, even in the winter when it was mostly just a newsstand. I could go and I had a constant supply of comic books, magazines, and paperback books. I got to read all the old Han Solo novels, which were some of the very, very, very first extended universe novels.

I was also watching all that weird stuff: Star Wars, Land of the Lost, Six Million Dollar Man, and reading comic books. It all came together in my head and I just started scribbling out all these bizarre, weird stories that so many of them, looking back, were ridiculously derivative. Insanely derivative, but at the time it was the first time I’m flexing these muscles. There was that.

What was your motivation for the Ex-Heroes series? Was this a thing you just hit on at some point, or was it built over the years? Did you just say to yourself one day, “Maybe I’ll do a superhero book. What if I threw zombies in?” Or the other way around?


It’s a two- or maybe three-prong thing. One part was one of the big comic companies, I still remember this, in previews, they’d advertise that they were going to do a superhero-versus-zombies thing, and I got very excited about it. As soon as I heard that, I was checking all this stuff in my head, like, “You could do this, you could do this, you could do this with it, and you could do this.” The book itself came out, the comic, and it was absolutely none of the things I had envisioned.
In fact, really the whole thing just felt like a big — I know it had a lot of fans and it did very well for them in a financial sense, but to me, it really just felt like this massive waste of opportunity. The two other things that happened, and it all worked out well, was, one: my girlfriend and I decided to move in together. For the first time in years, I had larger than a studio apartment, and I had an office. I’m guessing a lot of people can relate to this. I had boxes of stuff I had been lugging around since I first moved out of my parents’ house. I hadn’t opened boxes in decades [laughs]. Well, not decades, but at least a decade. We moved in and I actually had an office. I got to unpack all the stuff and one of things I found was — I need to back up just for a minute. The comic book came out and it wasn’t what I had hoped. I basically, like a lot of people would, I just grabbed a legal pad and jotted down four pages of notes of what I would’ve done. How would I have told the story? I would have addressed this issue, and that issue, and talked about this with that character, and that with this character, and all that stuff.

Then, my girlfriend and I moved in together and one of the things I found was basically bunches of old sketchbooks from when I was 11 or 12. Like I mentioned, I was actually trying to submit to Marvel Comics a lot at the time. It was just at an early enough time when the idea of working in comics was still overall scoffed at by a lot of people, so I was actually getting personal responses from people at Marvel. I was 11-years-old and I got my first rejection letter from Jim Shooter. He wrote me this very nice, professional letter, and explained, “Well, here’s what you need work on,” and not really at any point acting like he was telling an 11-year-old kid, “You don’t have a shot.” You’re 11. You’re not going to get a job.

That’s really cool.


It was just this very nice, professional letter. Anyway, I had all these sketchbooks filled with childhood drawings of different comic book characters I had made up. Characters like the Mighty Dragon, and Cerberus, and Zap, and Banzai. Well, my girlfriend and I moved in together, and I found the sketchbooks. I was starting to have a little luck selling a short stories novel and one of them was to a small publisher called Permuted who specialized in zombie fiction. It struck me that all these basic archetype heroes I had come up with as a kid would slot into that story I wanted to tell. I could go back over those four pages of notes and pull out that big company character and drop in my creation character, and I could pull out that character and put in my character.

I did that and played around with it for a little bit, and I suddenly realized, “Holy crap, this might actually work,” so, because it was a small press, I just got to approach the publisher and say, “I’ve been playing around with this, and I’ve got this, and this, and this. Would you have any interest in looking at this?” He later admitted that he basically had the exact same response you did of, “Superheroes versus zombies? No one’s going to be able to make that work.”

But he told me, “Yes, sure, I’ll look at it if you do it,” because he later confided that a dozen people a week contacted him about wanting to write a zombie book, and then he never, ever heard from them. I’d had two short stories with anthologies through that company. He was like, “Yes, let me know.” I spent that whole summer, the summer of 2008, writing like mad on what would become Ex-Heroes.

This is while I was working on the magazine, so I’m basically doing DVD reviews, and movie reviews, and screenwriter interviews, and all this stuff, and then putting it all down to go back, and dive in, and then trying to write another 3,000 words on this “superheroes fighting zombies” book. I sent it in to him and that was that. He loved it. I remember I came back from a Christmas party two days before Christmas 2008, and found the acceptance letter in my inbox.

That is awesome. I’m glad you stuck with it, and finished it, because there are a lot of book series that you read one and you toss it aside. It takes a lot for me to find a book or series of books and say, “Yes, all right, I’ll stick with this,” because there’s so much available out there.


Yes, I know. That’s for any new author these days. Hell, even for established authors to some extent, it is tough to get noticed, and then to keep a readership. It is very much a full-time job.

I’ve heard, and I even used it in my review of Ex-Heroes, that, “It’s The Walking Dead meets The Avengers.” Do you like that description, or are you like, “Stop saying that!”?


I like it. First off, because I was extremely flattered when Ernie Cline said it. He was the one who said that originally. I was just incredibly flattered at that point that Ernie had actually read my book and liked it that much. I think it’s probably a pretty decent thing in that one of the things I love about the Avengers and the Marvel cinematic universe in general is that it is light-hearted. Even when we’re dealing with nightmarish apocalyptic things or horrible things…

You look at Civil War, you look at The Avengers, you look at even the second Avengers, Age of Ultron, these are obviously big, heavy, movies dealing with awful ramifications. At the same time, they somehow manage this brilliance of being light, and fun, and pulling of that we can have laughing moments in the middle of these gigantic crises. The earth is being invaded, and we are giggling like children because the Hulk just smashed Loki into the floor five times.

That’s probably my favorite scene! [Laughs]


That’s it. Literally, mankind is about to be wiped out, or enslaved. All this is going on. Every time, I saw that in the theater — I think I saw it three times in the theater. Every single time, howls of laughter. The audience went crazy laughing. Every time, in the middle of all this. I’m a believer in that. I’m a believer that you have to have some good, some light-heartedness with some comedy on some level. Something fun with your nightmarish stuff.

One of the things I really wanted was to do a zombie apocalypse, but I didn’t want to do just the, “Oh my God, everything is bleak. These people are being left for dead. We’re going to eat those people. Here comes the military to steal your women and children.” I might be really stupid, but I believe that most people are inherently good, and that overall you would find many more people bending together and trying to help each other that you would striking out on their own with machetes and screaming about how, “No, this is my turnip, you can’t have it.”

One of the best lines in apocalyptic fiction, of the past 10 years, is from Battlestar Galactica. It is simply when Adama basically lies to everybody about Earth. When President Roslin calls him on it, he says “It’s not enough just to survive. You have to have something to survive for.”

That is what a lot of apocalyptic fiction is missing. It is so focused on survival that nothing else matters, but survival that ignores the fact that, what are you surviving for? If at the end of all this, you’re the person who murdered 30 other people over turnips or something, or you abandoned your family, or you had to kill your own child, or something like that. What is the point of surviving?

Based on some of your answers, it seems like you’re keeping up with recent superhero movies. Are you keeping up with any of the zombie shows now? There are three, or four, or five offerings right now that I know of. Is there any zombie stuff that you’re keeping up on these days?


People are always shocked by this, but I’ve never seen The Walking Dead or Fear the Walking Dead. I read the first two volumes of the graphic novel. The comic series bound into graphic novels, and I liked it. I thought it was really cool, but it also, to me at least, it just felt like another zombie story. I don’t mean that in a bad way. I think it’s a very, very well done zombie story. It’s a great heir apparent to George Romero. Robert Kirkman, I think he’s writing a magnificent story. It’s just overall for me, it just wasn’t my thing. Just in the sense of Twilight is also not my thing; The Good Wife is not my thing; Grey’s Anatomy is not my thing. I’m not saying they’re bad–

There’s so much out there. If everything is your thing, you’re in trouble.


Exactly, yes. As silly as sounds the zombie thing I’ve been enjoying the most, and keeping the most up with is the TV show iZombie. I stumbled into it and ended up really, really liking it. It has great characters, which is always good. It also, it has done a lot of clever things with the idea of zombies. With the idea of how zombie nature works I guess. It’s slow going at first because it’s just like another police procedural, but as it goes on, and you know the characters more all the stuff that starts going on just gets better and better as it turns into like this twist, turny story. I’m a big fan of the slow burn. I think there is another thing that is misunderstood. We have all heard the, “Start with action.”

Right.


I think a lot of people misunderstand that. Like, “start with action,” just means start with something happening. It doesn’t have to be ninja attacks, or car chases, or galactic invasions. Just have something happening.

To go back to my Marvel movies, I have actually pointed this out to a bunch of people. Do you remember how Captain America: The Winter Soldier starts? It starts with two guys running laps around the National Lawn. That’s it. It’s a nice, simple, slow scene that we love and it pulls us right in. We obviously know who the guy who is sprinting laps again and again, and we totally empathize with this: the poor schlub who is sweating like mad as he jogs, and he is getting passed again, and again, and again…

You need this stuff. If you have nothing but action, nothing but comedy, things are in monotone. I got to do a panel at San Diego Comic-Con, and we were talking about cross genre stuff. It was me, Charlie Jane Anders, Sarah Kuhn, Pierce Brown, a bunch of us on it. One of the points they tried to make is that, really, anything good that we like, our favorite show, our favorite book, whatever; it’s almost never all one thing. Winter Soldier is probably one of the greatest action movies ever made, but it’s got a ton of comedy in it. It’s got romance in it. It’s got horror in it. The Winter Soldier, we were just saying starts with comic stuff, but it’s also got this whole freaky Manchurian Candidate political thriller vibe going. It has lots different stuff going on. It has this romance between [Captain America] and Emily VanCamp’s character. It just proves that mixing stuff is good.

I’ve interviewed a few authors and artists now, and I always ask this question of them. Do you have a favorite character that you have designed in the Ex-Heroes series or is that too much like asking you to pick a favorite child?


It is totally a favorite child. Yes, we all know our favorite child was Dylan. Let’s be honest, but you can’t say that.

Yes, every character I write, I like on some level or other even if I like them for being so despicable and disgusting. There’s a guy in Ex-Isle, and literally the whole idea of this character was just making most abhorrent, deplorable human being on earth. Yet, in a way, it was kind of fun, just to think like, “How awful can someone be,” and even though it hit a point where even my editor, when originally saw the book he was like, “Okay, can you scale this guy down a bit? This guy is just creepy,” but it is. Every character. I love getting to set things up in the books where Stealth gets to be incredibly smart and pick up on things like a word someone used or something like that. I love when St. George gets to be the noble one. I love Danielle fighting to overcome the fact that she is terrified of being anywhere except inside the Cerberus suit, and God knows I have so much fun with Barry and all of his constant pop culture references.

Absolutely. Yes.


In a way though it has become a nightmare dealing with him. Here is my big pro writer tip: try to not ever drop a date anywhere. Because, unfortunately, in the first two books I really, firmly established when the zombie apocalypse happened, and, so, because of this I cannot use any pop culture references after that point.
I have references like, crap, I can’t reference this show. I can’t reference this movie. I can’t reference this song…

What do you see for the future of the series? Obviously, Ex-Isle is still relatively fresh in the book world, so without spoilers, do you see the series continue in California, branching out more or is this something you’re hoping to put to bed soon?


I have some plans. I know people have asked about, “Oh, you’ve mentioned heroes in other parts of the world.” I have a book plotted out which is basically book six. We’re going to meet a lot of other heroes from around the world. Maybe not all necessarily in the present day; we might be seeing them in the past. We are going to meet some in the present day. Overall, I’m probably going to keep it centered on Los Angeles just because these are the characters we know. If I was going to go somewhere else then I’m essentially just starting the series over.

Good point.


Yes. I think as far as, “Okay, how long will it go?” Truth is, I never planned this. Here’s another pro tip: people always say how much publishers love series. The truth is publishers love things with series potential.

No publisher wants to get a book that ends on a cliffhanger and says, “to be continued.” All that really tells them is that you don’t know how to end a book. It’s really tough, even as an established author to sell something like that. What you can do is write a first book that has a great world with a lot of potential. Really, look at the very first Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Really, if that was the only book, it’s pretty solid.

I, for the most part, write every book under the assumption that no one’s ever want to buy anything else from me again. That’s what I did as I’ve written every Ex-Heroes book except for two to three. From Ex-Patriots to Ex-Communication, I knew I was going to get a third book when I was writing my second book, and so I get to plant a lot more threads and stuff than I normally would.

Really, past that, it’s just, “Well, I’ll leave a couple of hints and stuff, and if it goes well and people get to pick it up, then awesome. If not, I really try and end everyone with if this was the end of the series, would this feel like a satisfying end?” That’s where we are.

If you could take Ex-Heroes, the series and turn it into visual media of some sort, would you see it fitting better as an episodic TV series, like a miniseries like the Mr. Mercedes Stephen King is doing where it’s like, “Okay, we’re doing a 10-episode thing and, it’s over,” or would a movie franchise, or even like a video game? If you could choose one medium, which would you select?


Honestly, if it were completely up to me, I would probably say a nice short-form cable series. Something like the Game of Thrones, or Westworld, or Mr. Mercedes. Having worked in a lot of different mediums, I think that is probably the best format for specific longer storytelling.

I don’t think that sort of stuff works as well for normal television. One of the catches with trying to adapt to anything for regular television is regular TV has its own requirements of where you put act breaks, when the commercials come in, and because of that you actually have to structure stories in a certain way, and that’s why a lot of things that get adapted for television feel weird, because the screenwriter is forced. We’re making it for TV so we have to work in a TV format.

Movies are phenomenal, but movies are limited just by the fact that no one is going to go sit in a theater for five hours for something. I’ve really loved a lot of things like when they split Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows up into two movies and they did it with Hunger Games and they did it with The Hobbit. On one level, I love that idea of doing these big things but I also dislike the whole, “Okay, so now I have to wait a year to see the other half of this?”

Clearly, you have Ex-Heroes as your flagship series, and then you have other novels like 14, and The Fold, and Paradox Bound, which have just come out. Do you find that having a “flagship series” is more of a help or a hindrance when it comes to your other novels? For example, on one side you’ve got George Wendt and he played Norm on Cheers. Every time he does an interview, no matter what he’s plugging, he hears “Norm!” You know he’s going to get that. On the other hand, you have John Heder who was Napoleon Dynamite and he doesn’t mind. I’ve seen him in conventions, and he will act like Napoleon Dynamite until he’s blue in the face. I’m sure you don’t want to sound like, “Oh, I hate having this big series that people know about,” but how does it fall for you? Is it always good or does it have some drawbacks?


I don’t think it has any drawbacks so to speak. I don’t think there’s ever actually a negative. I would say the biggest thing is that I started out in bookstores and not many people knew about it, unfortunately. I did a little mash up that didn’t sell that great. Then I went did the other Ex-Heroes book, and then I did 14, and part of it was that I didn’t want to be typecast, but there are people who are just “the zombie author” or whatever.

I didn’t want to just be that guy who writes zombies and nothing else, so it was very important to me to keep doing other things that I could have another book, another thing. I think that is actually when Random House first approached me I think that was actually one of things they liked was the fact that I had more interest, more desire to do bigger, other things.

Probably the closest I could say to a downside is the fact that the most post-apocalyptic stuff tends to have a very specific audience. A lot of people who read the Ex-Heroes books are not going to read 14 or a Paradox Bound or The Fold, which is a shame because they’re good books, and I love them. It’s just not something they would generally pick up and likewise the other way around that somebody who picks up The Fold is probably not going to look back and go, “Superheroes fighting zombies.”
It’s also the fact that, a lot of zombie stuff has run its course as far as books go. We had a wonderful, big boom from 2008 to like 2012, 2013, but I think at this point zombie books are a lot harder to sell. I think even people with established zombie series like Mira Grant has her established series, I have my series.

I know a couple of other people who have zombie series; it’s just a tougher thing to get off the ground these days or even just to get, “Okay, now here comes book nine,” to get people excited about. In one sense, yes, I don’t think it’s a downside, I think that the only issue would be a crossover thing. That because I’m writing two things that are so different it is tough to get people interested in one and the other.

It’s funny, in my review of Paradox Bound I mention that if you’re thinking you’re just going to get another Ex-Heroes book, you’re mistaken. You do a great job. It’s a good book, but in the Venn diagram of your fans, there are going to be some people that don’t overlap.

So, next, we’ll move on to The Fold, which was an interesting novel. I managed to snag the hard copy of that at Books-A-Million. For those who only know you from the Ex-Heroes series, how would you describe The Fold?


The Fold’s about a guy Mike, a school teacher who has a bunch of interesting abilities and which he’s basically been trying to deny for most of his life. And an old friend of his comes back asking him to help out because Mike’s gifts are basically perfect for investigating. His friend works for DARPA and it turns out DARPA has a teleportation project out in California and so he is basically sending Mike out to find out about it. The catch is that teleportation works but the scientists don’t want to release it and so Mike is going out to find out why.

I read the book and I did enjoy it. Like I said about Ex-Heroes, it’s a good quick read. I always say these types of books are good, “travel reading.” They make a flight go by quickly.


I’m fine with that. Stephen King had a great thing he said at one point that someone was asking about literature and Stephen King was like, “You know, if we are going to say literature is like a really fine perfectly done steak, then I am probably like a good cheeseburger.” And I actually like that analogy. I think you know what cause there is nothing wrong with cheeseburgers and really it’s only snobs who don’t eat cheeseburgers. I am a big fan of steak. I have no problem with a really good steak or paying for a really good steak but at the same time, yes. Sometimes, you just want a cheeseburger and sometimes — it’s a great simple thing and I’m cool with being the simple thing.

I appreciate what you do. I’m sure a lot of people do. Believe me, there are many authors I’m not going to be reaching out to cause their books are just forgettable. I read them and I enjoyed them, but I immediately forget them. They’re perfectly acceptable books, but I forget about them right afterward. With your books, I’m enjoying the book and remembering it, like a good movie. By the time the next one comes out, the next Ex-Heroes book, I’ll probably read the whole series again just to catch up. I appreciate what you do. When I say your books are “summer reading” books or “traveling” books, even though some people say that as an insult, I don’t see that as an insult; it’s a book I want to read to enjoy.


No, not at all. That’s just it, that’s what I want to write. I want people to have fun. Again, everybody cheers when Hulk slams Loki into the ground, everybody.

All right, so at the risk of a minor spoiler for those of you who haven’t read The Fold, potential spoilers are coming. Skip to the next question in the interview. For those who’ve read the book, I’m sure they’d be interested to know…the ending of The Fold definitely left it open for the series to continue. Is that something that’s on the horizon?


Possibly. I’ve been thinking more and more. The ending is also a very strong nod back to my other book, 14. One of the things my editor and I have been talking about is the world of The Fold and 14 and how I want to approach it and I know this one makes some people cringe, but I’d like to create world like Stephen Kings’ Dark Tower, not in a sense of writing seven books over 20 years or something but in the sense that really The Dark Tower weaves through all of his books. All of these books weave in and out and I think that is more of what I would like to do, rather than have absolute direct wham, wham, wham, sequel, sequel, sequel sort of things, but to have books where you realize, “Oh wait this is that character and that’s this character.” It’s not so much a sequel as it is these characters wandering in from another movie.

To fall back on Marvel movies again. Obviously, Captain America: Civil War is not a sequel to Iron Man but Iron Man is in it and we see him and even if we hadn’t seen half the other movies, we’d realize, “Oh, this ties in back to that.”

That’s very Kevin Smith-y. I mean Kevin Smith has his worlds…


Exactly. What is it? The View Askew universe. That’s kind of it. I do have another book planned; I have one or two books planned, one of which I’m working on more right now. I have another book that I’m still plotting out which is going to be the very much the next big step forward in that universe, where some of the characters we have met before will come back but probably not all the ones we’d thought about coming back.

So you’ve got 14, you’ve got The Fold, you’ve got the Ex-Heroes series, and now you have Paradox Bound. Since I’m doing this interview for a site called Nerd HQ, let’s look at our nerd BINGO card. Your books have superheroes covered. Alternate worlds, covered. Zombies, covered. Sci-fi, covered. Time travel, covered. Is there any nerd topic that you want to tackle but you haven’t tackled yet?


Well, there’s space travel, but the truth is I actually had a fairly successful script going on for a while back in the day, that got some attention which was a sci-fi spaceship’s travel story. For books, the book I’m working on right now is a futuristic sci-fi book set on the moon, which was really fun. I’m trying to think of anything else good. I did a giant monster and giant robot stories for two different anthologies, which are actually part of an ongoing short story series I’m doing. I basically have a short story series about these two guys, Carter and Kraft. Essentially, the whole premise is, “What if Indiana Jones was two people?” It’s a big adventurous soldier of fortune guy and a kind of nebbish brainy college professor. The two of them are recruited by the Department of the Navy during World War II to investigate Nazi supernatural occurrences.

If anyone wanted to take a look at those stories, where could they go?


Both of them actually get full distribution. I think you can find them at the bookstore. Or, obviously, at Amazon or anywhere online. I think you probably get them in bookstores.

All right, just like in the Ex-Heroes series, we’re back in the “Now” chapter. Let’s talk about Paradox Bound, your latest novel. For those who haven’t heard about it, yet would you like to give the official overview of what Paradox Bound is all about?


Really quick, from the author’s point of view, Paradox Bound is about this guy, Eli who lives in a little nothing-ever-happens, a nowhere town in Maine. Loosely, very loosely, based off my hometown when I was growing up. Although, it’s not located actually in Maine near my town or anything like that, but it feels like parts of my town. Anyway, Eli grows up in a little nothing town and the only interesting thing that ever happens is that when he’s 8-years-old, he meets this woman, Harry, who’s wearing old colonial clothes and driving a Model A Ford.

Harry is being chased by a man with no face. Then, he basically runs into Harry again when he’s 13 and Harry looks exactly the same. She hasn’t aged, she hasn’t changed, anything. Then he runs into Harry again when he’s 27 and she still looks exactly the same. What essentially happens, is that the faceless man comes after Eli and he basically has to go find Harry and gets caught up in this whole time travel adventure, going through American history. Then he finds out that the stakes are much higher than he thought and there’s much more going on than he thought, both with Harry and her search and with America itself.

Very cool. Is there anything in particular that led you to writing this story? Is there a particular book or movie you read, that led you to write about time travel or is this just something over the years you were thinking about? What popped this idea into your head or watered this seed in your mind?


It’s a couple of things. One of, I’ve always been a fan of time travel. I was a fan of old Doctor Who with Tom Baker and then Peter Davison, back when it was rubber monsters and really thin wood sets and all that. I’ve always loved a good clever time travel story. Early on, there were some novels I read. There’s one of, it’s by Roger Zelazny, called Roadmarks I believe. And Alan Dean Foster has a road trip story called To The Vanishing Point. Of course, Back to the Future. This odd idea of driving as a means of time travel. I’m a huge fan of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere. I’ve read the book countless times. I actually own the old BBC series, when they did it on TV like super cheap. I even love that in the same way, I love Doctor Who. I re-read Neverwhere and it suddenly struck me now, approaching it a little more from like the writerly side. I was like, “How is no one ever done an American version of this story?”

I just kept batting around air in the back of my head and I cannot remember the exact thing that set it off but one day, it suddenly hit me that the American story has never been staying in one place and growing. The American story has been an expansion; it’s spread out. The American story is the road trip.

So, next two questions will maybe contain some spoilers. The first one, like I asked about The Fold, is Paradox Bound a book that could have legs or is it going to be like you said about, The Fold and 14, how it’s kind of in a world that overlaps a little or is this something that could continue?


I think it’s probably just going to be a standalone book. I mean, it obviously, yes, there’s things that could go on past it, but I think really it, this story, is pretty much told. Not saying I will never ever see any of the characters from this book ever again, but it just struck me as, you know. This was the story I wanted to tell with this.

So, throughout this interview you’ve given some tips about writing. Let’s say you were held to one sentence of advice to give someone who’s an aspiring writer. Can you give one sentence of advice to an aspiring writer in high school, let’s say?


Do I get to expound afterward for it?

Actually, that was going to be the follow-up question.


The one sentence advice is: take your time. The expounded version of that is that these days with self-publishing, e-publishing all that, publishing is moving in a much faster way, especially on the smaller levels. And because of that, I think there’s this mindset that writers have to move on a faster level. I see a lot of stuff from people that, honestly, is such a great idea and obviously has cool characters and all that, but really needed another draft where they sit down and spend three or four weeks on this thing going through it line by line, checking spelling, seeing how words fall on the page, making sure things are consistent. I think that’s probably the biggest thing that so many people are pushed to rush. I think we’re seeing a lot of stuff from people that would be better if they just took more time with it.

Nobody wants to be the person who takes four years to write a book, but you also don’t want to be the person who — I see so many times people say, “I wrote my first draft in about three weeks,” or, “I wrote my book in about three weeks and then put it up on Amazon.”

Really, if you look at most of the serious working authors out there and most of them, we’re really honest, it takes like six, seven weeks to do a draft and most of us do three, four, or five drafts at least on a book. Then we sort of set it down and walk away so we can look at it with fresh eyes when we come back to it. I actually have a whole ranting blog of writing advice I mentioned earlier and I talked about almost always I try to do at least five drafts on something.

I generally do at least three drafts before I show it to anybody and five drafts before I will send it to my editor. And even then, we tend to do more work after that. It is just the nature of the piece that even the greatest, fastest book you can write is still going to need more work. I wrote the first draft of 14 in one sitting and I wrote it in about six weeks.
I think rushing the process never works. It’s like trying to say you can bake a cake twice as fast by turning the temperature twice as hot. It’s gotten easier than ever to publish yourself somewhere.

You should try to turn out the best book you can, and if it means you only put out one book every nine months or ten months, then you put out one book every nine or ten months, but there’s also the mindset that’s come out of quantity over quality. There are people who put out these novellas like every two weeks, and they’re making money off it because they have like their 100, 300, 500 diehard fans who will pay two, three bucks a piece for these, every single time.

You look at a lot of these things and honestly, there are tons of issues with them, tons of problems on so many levels, and I say, “Damn, you could like quadruple quintuple your audience just by slowing down and cleaning this up.” So, that’s my biggest piece of advice for everyone: slow down.

Probably the second biggest piece of advice I would give, and this is kind of stupid, but I’m dead serious about it: learn how to spell. There are a lot of people who get very dependent on spell checkers these days. Even if they’re spelling the words correctly, they don’t actually know what the words mean.

I think there was an old line on Doctor Who about the problem with computers is that they’re very sophisticated idiots. All a computer can do is what you tell it to do and that’s it. One of the catches, if you’re going to depend on a computer as your writing partner to do all your spelling and editing and grammar search for you, it can only do what it’s been told to do.
Computers don’t recognize dialect. They don’t recognize idioms. If you’re using the wrong word, they’re only going to recognize that the word is spelled wrong.

Would you recommend letting someone else look at your writing or do you prefer to get it finished and then show it to someone?


I think you get it as far as you can because, honestly, this is a problem I see going both ways. If I know it’s half-assed and I give it to you to edit or to look at, then you’re just going to see something half-assed. There’s no point in you giving criticism on something that’s not the best it can be. Whereas, if I’ve taken it as absolutely far as I can, we know that all of your comments and criticisms have to be towards moving it the distance it needs to go. If I just don’t feel like, “Well, I didn’t want to fill that in and I didn’t want to spell check that and I didn’t quite know what I was doing with this character yet.” Well, then all you’re going to basically say is, “Yes, you don’t know what you’re doing with that character yet, and you need to spell check, and you need to do this.” I’m wasting your time and energy as an editor asking you to tell me the things I already know I have to do.

Some folks, like me, are afraid to get into writing because they’re afraid of failure. It’s like George McFly in Back to the Future. He doesn’t want anyone to look at what’s he’s writing. He loves to write, but he doesn’t anyone to see it. Is there any advice out there for the George McFlys who have good stories in them but are too timid to share them?


At the end of the day, you’ve got to write it. Yes, you’re going to get rejected at some point. I’ve had books and stories rejected. I have at this point been a full-time professional writer for coming up on eight years and I still have stuff rejected. I have ideas shot down. It is just the nature of any art that there’s going to be stuff that doesn’t work.

I think pros try to say this but none of us people want to believe it, but most of the early stuff we do is going to suck. Very, very few people sit down and their very first book gets sold for a quarter-million dollars. Everyone likes to think that, “Oh, Ex-Heroes was my first book,” but the truth is, like I was saying, there was the horrible Doctor Who fan fiction and Boba Fett fan fiction that I was writing when I was a little kid. There were all the Marvel Comics scripts. There was a bad high school novel. There was a bad college novel. There was a second bad college novel. Then there was the after-college novel. Then there was the move-to-California novel. Then there was another novel that I started working on before I dumped that and started working on what would eventually be Ex-Heroes. And honestly, I am so glad email became a thing because I would have so many rejection letters piled up by now.

It’s just the nature of the beast that we write, we mess up, we try to get better, and then we write some more, and we try to get better, and I hate to say, one of the…again, I wouldn’t call it downside, but I think it’s one of the tragedies of the self-publishing movement as it exists today, that people aren’t getting rejected. They have no reason to learn to get better.

Right.


And I think you can see that there are a lot of people out there who can’t figure out, “Oh, why am I not able to take off? Why aren’t my books taking off?” Except they’re not learning from any of them. They’re just writing a book, publishing the first draft, writing another book, publishing the first draft, and a third book, publishing the first draft. And at no point that they have that moment of getting smacked down.

I know for a fact, one of the moments for me as a writer was after writing again and again and again and again, I kept getting rejection, I kept getting rejected, “You know, maybe the problem isn’t every single editor in America. Maybe, just maybe, it’s me. I should do something differently.”

I would love to be able to give a nice easy answer and say, “All you have to do is this and it’ll be better,” but the truth is the path to be either successful writer or a good writer or, if you’re really lucky, both, it’s just going to involve a lot of work because that. It seems at first goes nowhere but you will later come to realize is it’s the stuff you had to get out of the way.

I believe that everybody has at least three interesting stories in them. I think an unspoken corollary here is that everybody else also has lots of crap stories in them. I think one of the big things that separates good writers from bad writers is that we actually take the time to get all those crap stories out of the way. You sit down and you pour out 300 pages or something and maybe it doesn’t sell, or maybe if you’re smart you just look at yourself and realize, “Wow, this is garbage,” and you put it aside and that’s it. You put it aside and you sit down and you start again on something else. There are people who can’t handle that, who can’t do it. And I think it’s a tough skill because it’s a brutal unrewarding thing but I think when you do it, that’s how you get better.

That’s very sound advice to hear someone who’s made it says things like that, which hopefully inspires people to get past some roadblocks. You mentioned Stephen King’s On Writing and your blog. Are there any other resources you can recommend?


Let’s see, Ray Bradbury has a great book out called Zen in the Art of Writing. I think part of it is what you’re looking for. Are you looking for nuts and bolts of writing? “Okay, here’s how to do better dialogue. Here’s how to do better character. Here’s how to do better this.” Or are you looking for a little more inspirational, help you get through the day sort of things? Because there are many books of both types out there. Damon Knight had a wonderful short book called Writing Short Fiction, which I think actually has a ton of great advice that can also be applied to novels. Chuck Wendig has a couple of great books out about writing which are sort of an inspirational, because if you’ve ever followed him on Twitter and he’s saying or read any of his blog, it is very much of the, “Then you get that idea. Punch it down on the table, knock it out, make it bleed, make it unconscious. Now go to work on it.”

My blog is very much more of a nuts-and-bolts thing. I think On Writing is a nice combination of nuts and bolts and inspirational. I think Bradbury’s book is very inspirational. Not much a nuts and bolts at all. Chuck’s is kind of 50/50.

There’s a lot out there. The biggest thing and, again this is something I’ve talked about on a ranty blog, one of these things to recognize is writing is an art which means that really 90% of it is subjective of how to do it. There are definitely things you need to learn like we’re saying, “Learn to spell.” That shouldn’t be hard but some people have problems in there. [Laughs]

But the truth is I can tell you day by day how my writing routine, my work routine, how I develop characters, whatever, but none of this will necessarily work for you. Just trying to do what I do is not a guarantee of success. It’s not even a guarantee to help you finish a book. Everyone is going to have their own individual thing.

All right. Good advice for anyone out there who wants to do it. Now as we wrap up some admin stuff, Paradox Bound, folks can get at Books-A-Million, Barnes and Noble, correct?


Everywhere.

Well that about it wraps it up. I hope you enjoyed our time.


It’s been great. Thank you.


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