Every writer eventually needs to find the balance between "alone" time to write and everything else. What's your balance formula and how did you find it?
That’s hard, sometimes. I write full-time now, and although I work at home I find myself taking a break to do the laundry, run to the grocery store, or deal with other household essentials. I try to time those breaks for when I need to step away from the actual writing process. Although I’m not at my keyboard, I am thinking about my writing, and this break enables me to process my work and hit the keys at a fast clip when I return from my errands.
Writing is my job and I treat it like one. I’m dressed and on the computer early in the morning, and I work as long as possible throughout the day, expecting that towards mid-afternoon my work will be interrupted by family obligations. I also grab fifteen minutes here and fifteen minutes there to write or research whenever I can, but I try to plan ahead and leave the writing-related tasks that can be completed in a short period for those times.
But before you reached that full-time point, how did you manage that balance?
Finding that balance while holding down a day job and attending to family needs proved to be difficult. Writing time was squeezed in during lunch at work, on the weekends before my family woke or early mornings before work, and a half hour here or an hour there when I had some down time. I’d jot down ideas or entire paragraphs before bed, when stopped at a traffic light, while shopping for food, etc. As soon as I could grab a few minutes I’d write as much as I could. I’d write instead of watching TV or checking the computer.
I made writing a priority, so whenever I had a few minutes, that’s what I’d do. It’s amazing how many minutes of writing can be squeezed out of the day when we make it a priority.
Collaborating with another author, as you did for Wanted Undead or Alive: Vampire Hunters and Other Kick-Ass Enemies of Evil must have presented some challenges. Can you describe what those challenges were and tell us about the ways you surmounted them?
When co-writing a book, it’s important that the material sounds like one writer wrote it, and finding that all-important voice is the key to success. It takes a bit of trial and error (and writing and rewriting) to get there, but the end result is, if you do your job right, a voice from two writers that sounds like it’s from one.
Of course, it’s also important that you implicitly trust your writing partner to write the best material possible and complete it on time. My co-author, NEW YORK TIMES best-selling author Jonathan Maberry, and I each wrote individual chapters and reviewed and edited each others’ work. Other chapters were a collaborative effort. And, for any collaboration, it’s important that both partners are equally invested in the end result.
Can you describe the nuts and bolts—how you both made it work-- of that collaboration?
I can honestly say that I didn’t find any aspect of writing the book with Jonathan difficult. It’s important to have an open line of communication with your writing partner and a willingness to view things from your partner’s perspective. Otherwise, you run into the potential to butt heads on some matters. We both came into this project with the attitude that we’re writing a book together and we’re going to do what needs to be done to write the best possible book we can. When both partners have the same goal in mind and both share an excitement for the subject matter, it makes it pretty easy to co-author a book.
What was researching for Undead or Alive like? Did you spend a lot of time in a library or a cemetery?
A cemetery....that would have been fun. Wanted Undead or Alive was research and interview intensive, so it all began with information gathering. We interviewed tons of people for the book (via phone and e-mail) —FBI profilers, authors, screenwriters, comic writers, actors, directors, producers, criminal experts, psychologists, and others—as well as luminaries like film-maker John Carpenter, author Peter Straub, and the legendary Stan Lee. The book also has over fifty illustrations from fantastic artists. Once all of that information was in hand, the writing process began, and I had to switch from the researcher/information gatherer to the writer.
Were there any people you would have liked to have interviewed but it didn’t work out for whatever reason?
Although we interviewed a ton of people for the book there were so many others we would have loved to include, but a book can only be so long, so we had to limit our choices. We were so excited when everyone we approached was willing to share their thoughts on good and evil. People like NY Times bestsellers like Charlaine Harris, L.A. Banks, Brian Lumley, Rachel Caine and others. Although Jonathan and I wrote the book, we couldn’t have done it without the people we interviewed who so graciously gave of their time and their insight to make the book the success that it is.
Of all the things you could have done with yourself, why write?
I write because it’s something I have to do. Writing takes me to new places, teaches me new things, and exposes me to situations that I might not otherwise encounter. It gives me a means to express myself and a way to connect with all the many readers who I might not otherwise have an opportunity to connect with.
Okay, but WHY do you have to do it? What makes being an author so important? Were you a kid who said “I must write” or did it come later?
I always wanted to write, but it took me a very long time to actually do so. One of my favorite memories is of going to the library on Saturday mornings, checking out a huge stack of books, coming home and spreading them across the floor, deciding what order to read them, and then digging in to those pages that magically transformed me to another world. Along with my love of reading came my desire to write. I’d hold a pencil in my hand and imagine what it could create (as an extension of me). Imagined the power it held. Thought of all the authors I read. I was enamored with their abilities to create wonderful stories from words, from their imaginations. To me, that was the ultimate achievement. It was something I only dreamed of doing, something I aspired to accomplish.
Although I wrote character sketches and short stories while in school, I didn’t write much until about five years ago. And I haven’t stopped since. My published credits include many articles, short stories, and a non-fiction book.
What are you working on right now?
I just finished writing a young adult paranormal thriller that draws on some of the concepts of Wanted Undead or Alive and gives them a modern spin. I also will begin working on a graphic novel and a requested novella. I’m managing editor of The Big Thrill, the International Thriller Writers’ newsletter and ezine, so that’s an ongoing job. I have several short stories coming out in anthologies later this year along with three interviews in the 2012 Novel & Short Story Writer's Market and a lead cover story in The Writer.
I see the young adult paranormal label in bookstores now, and it’s selling well. Is it really horror with a new name or different?
That’s a difficult question to tackle since the definitions for both are somewhat fluid and ever-changing as the genres evolve. Young adult paranormal fiction often contains elements from other genres, including horror, and horror can contain young adult paranormal elements. So, there’s a huge cross-over in genres and in the sub-genres.
For example, in young adult paranormal romance, humans and other types of beings— ghosts, vampires, werewolves, shape-shifters, etc.—fall in love. Some of these creatures have evolved from monsters into sympathetic characters, e.g. the vampires in Stephanie Meyer’s The Twilight Series. At times, these same creatures are the heroes. In horror, creatures tend to be scary and a threat to the heroes. But not always. So what defines horror? What defines the young adult paranormal genre? That is the ongoing question.
Janice Gable Bashman is co-author (w/NEW YORK TIMES bestseller Jonathan Maberry) of WANTED UNDEAD OR ALIVE(Citadel Press 2010), nominated for a 2010 Bram Stoker Award, and Managing Editor of the BIG THRILL (International Thriller Writers’ newsletter and ezine). Her short fiction has been published in various anthologies. She has written for NOVEL & SHORT STORY WRITER’S MARKET, THE WRITER, WILD RIVER REVIEW, and many other publications. She is an active member of the International Thriller Writers, the Horror Writers Association, and Mystery Writers of America.
My favorite comic book character, Captain America, is the perfect superhero because he's not so super. He doesn't fly, he's not impervious to harm, although his body can regenerate when damaged, and while he's a lot stronger than any other normal man, he's not Spidey-strong. He's just a tough scrapper, a formerly scrawny guy from the East Side of New York (or Brooklyn, as he says in the movie) who does good because it's simply the right thing to do. And when he gets his chance to serve his country after being labeled 4F five times, to fight a clearly defined and very evil foe, he takes it without batting an eye. He doesn't like anyone getting pushed around, let alone himself.
Looking a lot like the "Hey, Skinny!" weakling in the Charles Atlas comic book ads, he knows a lot about getting beat up, but he never quits, even after losing his parents, not getting the girls, and constantly being bullied because he's small. That speaks volumes to the American spirit that won World War II after getting knocked down hard in Hawaii. With all this patriotic symbolism, and the many pitfalls inherent in handling it today, it's very gratifying to see how well Joe Johnston and the writers of Captain America: The First Avenger guietly acknowledge its power by underemphasizing it, keeping their story simple, the dialog chipper and in period, and the characters determined. There's an old time serial movie mood that permeates every scene, and honey-gold tones to color it nostalgic. There are clear cut heroes and villains to root for and hiss at, and they're simple but believable within the comic book context. This movie gets the job done as well as Cap does, without inane, loud clashing robots, and pandering to the popcorn rows.
Steve Rogers (Chris Evans, the Human Torch in the Fantastic Four movies) takes it on the chin mentally every time he gets denied enlistment in the army. He's sickly, fragile, and determined to show that's only his body, not his spirit. He gets his chance when Dr. Erskine (Stanley Tucci) offers him super strength, strong stamina, and a chance to finally knock some Nazi heads together. Colonel Phillips--the surly Tommy Lee Jones and his patented army role go together like bread and butter--deadpans his disagreement with the doctor's choice for volunteer, but Rogers shows his ingenuity and bravery, making the Colonel give up by saying "he's still skinny." But not for long.
The doctor's process of chemicals and Vita-Rays transform Rogers into a brawny hunk. The transformation is startling because the CGI is seemless. Shrinking Evans' real body into the smaller Roger's one is uncanny because it's believable. The initial plan of using a smaller person with Evans' head superimposed didn't work well because the body movements between Evan's and his stand-in didn't match up. The downsizing tweak left space in the scene that needed to be filled, so you can imagine the complexity of getting it right. A spy kills Erskine, leaving Rogers the only super-soldier the army's going to get. So they put his newly endowed powers to good use: by selling war bonds. A clever set up for the eventual costume and the name 'Captain America' evolve naturally from his touring for the war bond effort.
When his best friend, Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) goes missing in action, Rogers breaks ranks, with the help of Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper doing a mean Howard Hughes riff) and Carter (Hayley Atwill), to go after the power-mad Red Skull (Hugo Weaving) and his HYDRA minions, whose advanced weaponry and technology stump even Stark. In possession of the Cosmic Cube, the Red Skull has unlimited power at his disposal to accomplish his plan of world conquest.
Although the movie begins in the 1940s, it ties into The Avengers movie being released next year. You can catch a glimpse of it if you wait for the credits to end. I strongly recommend every congressman watch this movie. It might help them remember what they seem to have forgotten about the American spirit and getting the job done.
Okay, I get it. If I write one page a day, in a year I’ll have a novel. My problem is I have no idea what to write about.
You’re sitting on a mother lode of ideas. You just haven’t mined them yet.
A good story, no matter what the genre, is about conflict. It’s about developing your main character(s) so that the reader likes (and hopefully can relate) to them, and then placing obstacles in the way of obtaining their goals. The story is not so much about the challenges as it is how the main character(s) confront these challenges by overcoming their weaknesses and expanding on their strengths. The story is not about the conclusion. It’s about the journey to that concluding page, and what the main character(s) learn about themselves on the way.
Think of how boring The Lord of the Rings would have been if Bilbo had decided to keep the ring for himself rather than give it to Frodo to return to Mount Doom. Or if Ralphie’s mother had acquiesced in the opening scene of A Christmas Story and agreed to buy him an official Red Ryder carbine action 200-shot air model range rifle. Or if Shelby from Steel Magnolias did not have a medical condition that endangered her life during pregnancy.
Such stories come from within us. There’s no one reading this blog who hasn’t experienced some type of conflict, whether it’s as simple as a troubled romance, as life altering as death or illness or surviving combat, as traumatic as disloyalty or loss of honor, or as frustrating (or comical, depending on the situation) as a dysfunctional family. Tap into those emotions and build your story around them. Will it be painful or uncomfortable to bear your soul like this? Probably. But if you can be honest to your emotions and successfully weave them into your novel, you’ll relate to your readers. That’s what writing is all about. So if I may use an old clichéd phrase, write what you know.
Write what you know? You write about zombies and vampires. What do you know about them?
Good question. I asked the same thing years ago of Brian Keene, author of The Rising, the novel that launched a new wave of zombie apocalypse stories. The Rising is about Jim Thurmond who lives on the West Coast. As civilization crashes around him, Jim gets a phone call from his young son on the East Coast asking his father to come rescue him; he sets out on foot across a zombie-infested country in a desperate journey to save his son. Prior to writing the novel, Brian had received a phone call from his ten-year-old son whom he had not seen since infancy and who wanted to meet. He made the trip, all the while wondering what their meeting would be like. Brian later wrote about that emotional turmoil in The Rising, and then added some zombies.
Brian’s advice helped me to find my focus for The Vampire Hunters. At its essence, the story is about the war on terror and how those fighting it deal with the reality that for every terrorist brought down, ten others take his place. My main characters embody the three primary outlooks of any long-term struggle: Drake Matthews, the gung-ho commander who’s in the fight for the long haul no matter how long it takes; Alison Monroe, who follows Drake willingly but who, at some point, wants to put down her weapons lead a normal life; and Jim DelMarco, the young kid drafted into the conflict who does not want to be there, but who fights anyway. The trilogy deals with how each of these characters handles the stresses of combat, and how their experiences prepare them for the final battle. Then I substituted vampires for terrorists.
So write what you know, but don’t be afraid to embellish a bit.
A final note: One thing that every publisher and agent has told me is not to write your own iteration of the latest blockbuster. The DaVinci Code and Twilight were overnight phenomenons because they were new and distinctly unique, which is why they sparked the public’s imagination. After each of these novels went to the best seller list, publishing houses and literary agencies were inundated with knock-offs, most of which were not very good, and many pushed the bounds of copyright infringement. Sure, some of them got published. But rarely did any of these enjoy the success of the original works. Your goal should not be to write the next Harry Potter. Your goal should be to write a novel so unique that five years from now other writers will want to imitate you.
As Shuichi's father says, "One brings forth one's own uzumaki!" in this dark glimpse into Lovecraftian terror and looming doom. Uzumaki is director Higuchinsky's cinematic distillation of in-need-of-therapy Jungi Ito's three volume, manga-sized descent into madness and chaos. The town of Kurozu-cho is beset by spirals, spinning the lives and minds of the townspeople, and changing them in ghastly ways. Higuchinsky captures the grotesque and arabesque images of Ito's manga by using tightly framed, sharply angled views, tinted green to accentuate the weirdness. There's a panoply of bread and butter cinematography used to contrast against the spiral terror: tracking shots, panning shots, close-ups, and hazy, ghostly faces appear and fade. CGI spirals twirling in unexpected places on the screen also appear throughout the movie.
The story begins as flashback, told by Kirie (Eriko Hatsune), a young girl who sees the effects of the curse descending on her small, isolated town by the water. A gust of wind scatters leaves around her, startling her into remembering. Or is she forgetting? The mesmerizing vortex is never-ending, and perhaps Higuchinsky is telling us Kirie is caught in a larger one of time, folding over and over on itself in repetition, trapping her and her town by its endless looping.
Shuichi (Fhi Fan), Kirie's morose, since-childhood, boyfriend tells her of his fears the town is beset by a curse of spirals. His father (Ren Ohsugi), consumed with thoughts of them, becomes an early victim. Kirie sees him filming a snail. He ignores her. He begins to ignore everything except the spiral pattern he seeks out. He steals the hair salon's spiraling sign and devours spiral noodles. A startling transformation, before a more physically terminal one, shows him exerting his own uzumaki by impossibly spiraling his eyes after seeking the pattern is no longer satisfying.
More victims follow as Kirie's classmates succumb to physical transformations with some turning into slimy human snails, another girl vainly sports a new hairdo of enormous black spirals imbued with their own life, and a boy committing suicide splatters at the foot of the school's spiral staircase. Someone remarks how happy his broken, blood-smeared face looks in death.
Spiraling out of control deaths escalate: first perplexed by Shuichi's father's enfatuation with spirals, Kirie's own father (Taro Suwa), a pottery maker, becomes enthralled with the swirling clay to his detriment; Shuichi's mother (Keiko Takahashi) collapses at the funeral for his father when she sees his face spiraling in the sky against swirling curls of smoke rising from the crematorium. She goes mad and cuts off her hair and fingertips to eliminate looking at anything resembling a spiral; an unwanted suitor for Kirie fatally wraps himself around a moving car's wheel; and even Shuichi finally succumbs to the twisting madness permeating the sky, the ground, and eventually everyone. Even the tunnel leading into the town becomes useless, twisting on itself so no one can leave or enter.
A news reporter hunts down tantalizing clues for the curse involving serpents, mirrors, and Dragonfly Pond, the possible source of the growing otherworldliness. These hints at the cause for the bedevilment descending on the town ultimately tease but never explain. Various elements from the trilogy are here, but the final revelation of the curse, and its more visually gruesome encounters such as Umbilical Cord ( in volume 2) and The Scar (volume 1) are missing in this evocative Lovecraftian horror. That's a shame. Uzumaki captures the manga mood of Ito's spiral horrors so well, to see these additional terrors onscreen would have been like tasting the rich icing on a moist red velvet cake touched with cinnamon: sickeningly sweet but damn satisfying.