[G. Wells Taylor was the guy who got me started with self-published books. Years ago I knew such things existed, but I'd never had the incentive to try them out. All that changed when I stumbled across the site manybooks.net and downloaded a copy of Mr. Taylor's book When Graveyards Yawn. In the pages of that book I met "PI in zombietown" character Wildclown; it blew my mind. Since then I've been addicted to the amazing and unfiltered weird that the channel of self-publishing opens up. Today's it's my great joy and pleasure to present to you my interview with the man who started it all...]
All of your books seem to feature the undead in one way or another. What is it that fascinates you about zombies and vampires? Is it simply the horror of imperfect immortality, or is there something more?
Zombies and vampires are fitting tools for exploring the horror of imperfect immortality, as you say; but I also see them as dire warnings against imperfect mortality, since they inhabit negative aspects of our own collective identity. Zombies fly in the face of the democratic ideal of safety in numbers and instead invoke the image of mob rule and soulless conformity. Vampires suggest the hypocrisy of individual superiority mocked by an utter dependence upon and envy for their inferior prey. These uncomfortable contradictions make these monsters so human and therefore, captivating to both readers and writers.
In my experience the journey to becoming a seasoned writer is more tangled and complicated than most readers will ever know, so what’s your story? When was the moment you realized, “I want to tell stories,” and how long did it take your dream to come to fruition?
In the early days, I used to illustrate and write stories for my own entertainment. I did well in art class, and thought painting and illustrating would be my way of figuring out my personal puzzles. However, during my first year of art college, I realized that I had many more than a thousand words to say about each picture I generated; so I began to suspect that I would find commercial or fine art to be lacking for me as a sole means of self-expression.
I dropped out of college to work for a few years before eventually returning to study journalism and English literature in university. In the meantime, I had been writing stories and banking manuscripts.
I did annual submissions to publishing houses with little success, but was not discouraged. I knew my stories did not fit the mold. Imagine pitching Wildclown to a publishing industry that was shifting to a more conservative and risk-averse business model.
I thought of myself as a writer despite the fact that people pointed out I wasn’t making any money at it. I didn’t get the point and kept writing anyway.
I mentioned before that you write fiction that primarily focuses on the undead —a topic which has gotten more than its share of attention in the past few years— and yet your stories put a fresh spin on the established tropes: the World of Change posits the question: what if every living thing became effectively unkillable? In Bent Steeple your villain is a pedophilic vampire. In the Variant Effect a wonder-drug makes certain people begin to crave human flesh. And my question is, what is it that drives you to take these tropes that everyone thinks they know backward and forward and say, “Fellas, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet”?
I yearn for something original when I read books. I want to be surprised and entertained by the experience, so I am obsessed with putting something new into the over-worked and overpopulated genres in which I write. I have to be passionate about a book before I can write it, so discovering something unique is essential to lighting that fire.
If you were given the power to imprint a unique monster of your own creation into the cultural consciousness what would it be?
I think my “skin eaters” from the Variant Effect are leaving a mark on readers. I sure have a lot of fun writing them, and I suspect their back story might be sufficiently believable and unsettling to leave a lasting impression. They give me the creeps.
[Albert here: ya'll can meet the skin eaters for yourselves in Mr. Taylor's books The Variant Effect and The Variant Effect: GreenMourning. They are super creepy. But don't take my word for it. Go. Read.]
Conversely, if you were given the power to completely remove one single work of fiction from the pages of history and the minds of men, what would it be?
That’s a hard one. I’ve got too many favorites to focus on a single work of fiction that doesn’t turn my crank. It is a rare book that I will put down once I’ve started reading it. There is usually something of value in every piece of fiction.
From what I can tell, you’ve started self-publishing your books digitally before it was “cool”. What led you down that path? Were you rejected by the mainstream publishing world, or did you always know you wanted to be a solo act?
Historically, the Canadian government has subsidized Canadian publishers in an effort to mitigate the cultural impact of the much larger American publishing industry. Those subsidies went to Canadian publishers and fiction writers that focused on Canadian stories: culture, immigration and history.
So Canadian genre fiction writers were “solo acts” whether we liked it or not.
That left me sending manuscripts to American publishing slush piles. As you know, just prior to the eBook Revolution there were few traditional publishers who accepted unsolicited manuscripts. So the search was on for an agent. When I read that few literary agents were accepting unsolicited manuscripts, I began to think that my books would end up in an attic to be discovered by a relative long after I was dead. While an imperfect outcome, it would have to do.
However, a friend in IT and now business partner, Richard Van Dyk had assured me over the years that developments in technology would eventually push the old publishing industry model to the wayside, and opportunity would come for independent writers through digital content, electronic reading devices and the Internet. He used the rapidly changing music industry model of the time as an example.
While I had my doubts, I soldiered on and started publishing my work online, then after a few missteps with the under-utilized print-on-demand technology, the eBook came into being. That eBook publishing technology validated independent writers, and allowed me to connect directly to the reader.
Compared to many of the people I know in self-publishing you’re substantially…more mature. Do you feel that your age and experience gives a leg up on your younger competition? Or does the generational gap cause more problems than good?
I think Indie publishing is moving onto a relatively even playing field where talent is free to trump all other factors. Age and experience have just made me more disciplined. I’m better at committing my time and doing the work.
I’m gonna geek out for a minute here and say, that I absolutely LOVE your “P.I. in Zombietown” character Wildclown. Where did the idea for a hardboiled private investigator who happens to dress in full clown regalia come from?
Years ago I was working at a psychiatric hospital in a northern Canadian city that was also home to a doomsday cult. Its members dressed up as zombies and the Grim Reaper. They seemed to do this randomly, appearing Monday morning, Wednesday afternoon or Friday night, at any time of year.
Needless to say, after the initial amusement wore off, they became a little depressing. Imagine strolling down the street on a sunny day and passing a gang of fake zombies chanting about the end of the world. I had at that time developed a voracious appetite for hard-boiled detective fiction, a genre I wanted to try my hand at writing. So one day as I passed the zombie horde, I heard a wisecracking voice inside my head that I soon recognized as Wildclown. Mix in a few late nights, a typewriter and Canadian Club whiskey and you’ve got a P.I. in Zombietown.
The doomsday cult’s costumes may have inspired Wildclown’s need to disguise his true identity. The fact that he chose a gothic clown might have had something to do with my interest in Shakespearean tragedies in which insightful “fools” are always popping up at the worst of times.
Speaking of hard-boiled private investigators, a lot of your leading men tend to be hard-drinking, fast-living, loners. What is it about that kind of character that speaks to you?
I find the hard-boiled perspective an excellent way of viewing our world where the gray area has bled into the black and white. It is a practical mindset soaked in defiance, humor and skepticism. The first-person narrative of Raymond Chandler’s Marlowe or Dashiell Hammett’s Continental Op was an echo of the inner monologue I was already hearing on the long nights I spent writing.
Shoot us some sage words of writing wisdom. What can the rest of us struggling writers do to up our fiction game?
Just do the work and add something to it every day. Take lots of notes and organize them. Be prepared and trust the process. Get someone to edit, and someone to read. If you feel anxious, depressed or grumpy, you should probably be writing.