After my novella The Red Queen was published on BooksToGoNow, I came across another author on the BooksToGoNow Facebook page, a hub for the publisher's staff, writers and their fans. Dan O'Brien is a psychology grad student, radio show host, magazine editor and author from California (he has a lot of proverbial hats), who like myself writes on a wide and eclectic variety of subjects. Unlike myself, he trains extensively in martial arts, but I do have a cane so I think it could be a close contest.
I put some questions to him, author to author, to get his perspective on the writing process and the industry as it stands today:
1) The old stand-by question put to writers is 'where do you get your ideas?'. Do you find that stories or concepts come to you, or are you the kind of writer who goes seeking them out? Have you got any specific technique when searching for inspiration, or do you have too many ideas to put down on paper already?
It really depends on the story. Sometimes I will have a vivid dream, or nightmare, that becomes the foundation of a story. One of my novels, The Path of the Fallen, which is launching next month, was crated because of a tremendous dream I had. I find that inspiration strikes me when I jogging or in the shower. My muse is truly fickle.
2) Do specific things influence your writing, be it genre conventions, particular topics, or favourite authors of your own? Do you see yourself filling a particular niche, or do you find the story takes you into all sorts of different realms?
I write in too many genres to really consider myself tied to any particular mode or method of writing. Most of my influences come from reading philosophy or crazy random happenstance (extra points if you know that is from).
3) Self-publishing and e-books have had a significant impact on the writing industry. What do you think will be the ultimate fate of print books and traditional publishing houses, and do you have a preference as both a writer and a consumer of books and stories? Do you think the ease of access provided by self-publishers like Smashwords and digital publishers like BooksToGoNow makes things easier for authors, or does it only increase the competition?
Self-publishing is truly a double-edged sword. It puts an author's destiny in their own hands, but only if you are prepared for the challenge. What we have been seeing is a great divide between indie authors and traditionally published authors, as well as other aspects of publishing picking sides and denigrating one side or the other. In the end, books that engage readers and are marketed far and wide will be those that get read. I think the landscape will continue to balloon making it more difficult to break apart from the mold.
Speaking of self-publishing, Dan has a new novel in the pipeline that he hopes to support as an unconventional Kickstarter Project. Often used to pre-fund software or technology innovations, Kickstarter is an interesting twist on avenues modern writers are using to support themselves and their work. Rather than being at the mercy of publishing monoliths, their art has ironically come full circle back to the days of patronage, only this time the patronage is democratised across the world, not merely in the hands of a handful of wealthy merchants and aristocrats. The rewards for supporting such a project, aside from the warm glow of helping an author get his material out there, range from a special thanks in the book to signed copies and even a character named after you. It's a powerful tool for enthusing your fans and helping them feel a deeper connection to your project, and helping you pay the bills at the same time.
I'll be looking at Kickstarter Projects more later, but for now thanks to Dan and see if you can help him get his project further along the road to completion.
Have You Ever Seen the Rain?
There was a cabin deep in the woods. Inside that cabin sat a young man at a table. He was the very description of an average man: brown hair, brown eyes. He smoked a cigarette like it was the greatest thing ever, as if he were enjoying a fine wine or admiring a fine painting.
He is William, or Wills; perhaps even Captain as he had people call him on occasion. Will coughed hard, the sputtering, wet variety that usually signals a not-so-good-for-the-well-being chain of events recently transpired.
Moving in closer, it is easy to see that the scene is not hopeful. It is the other kind: the kind that starts and ends with obscene action. Leaning forward, he looked deep into the fire.
Light crossed his face, revealing heavy lines of sleeplessness that are dwarfed by the caked blood and dirt that hide his youthful features. A dark stain has begun to spread across his gray shirt. But young William’s story begins earlier in the town of River’s Bend.
Riders on the Storm
The town of River’s Bend was silent. The streets were empty, but a dull rumbling in the distance electrified the air. Tall, ugly buildings – built and never repaired years ago – waited patiently as the sun passed overhead, straining through cloud cover.
The rumbling intensified.
It was the sound of an engine.
A brown-top Chevy Nova screamed into motion. Tires squealing, it wheeled around a building and smashed through the front of an adjacent, abandoned shop. Bodies flooded behind the car in a mass of ragged, wild arms and snarling, mangled faces: zombies.
“Run, you fucking deadheads. Z-Day, baby,” spoke a man who looked as though he were an unkempt replica of a giant.
“Just drive the fucking car,” spoke the smaller man.
“But today is Z-Day…”
“Every day is Z-Day,” scolded the smaller man with a grim smile.
Long lines of paint tagged the side of the beaten car. Upon further inspection, it was most definitely blood. Streamers waved atop the vehicle.
Correction: those are human arms.
In any case, they used to be human arms. Stiff and fading flesh revealed them as the arms of the zombie army, deceased. The car swerved – as if on cue – and took out a long line of running zombies. They were smashed underneath heavy, angry-looking tires.
Looking in through a dusty window, two men sat in lawn chairs admiring the scene below. Kenny was large and wide-shouldered with a lopsided grin and heavy blue eyes; a buzz cut framed his massive head.
Beside him was Dan; the brown hair at his shoulders was pulled back. Wearing a light beard splotched gray in places, his icy eyes watched the scene without emotion.
“I love it when they run in front. Crunching them underneath is the best part.”
Dan watched with little interest. The automatic rifle in his hands was held with the precision of a man waiting for monsters to leap out from the darkness. This – to some extent – was simply an effective posture.
“Bring them down 8th, past the parking structure. That should give me enough time.”
“To grab some supplies. The gun store and then past the lush palace...”
Kenny snickered. “What are you, a child? Just drag those dead fucks around the bend, and then we are out of here,” continued Dan with irritation.
A chainsaw lay next to Kenny. Just to the other side of it was a heavy shotgun that had a belt of shells perched on top of it.
Dan carried two handguns at his waist, a long, black sheath along his back, and a variety of knives tucked neatly into sheaths. Hanging the assault rifle around his neck, he grabbed a riot shotgun and its bandolier of shells.
“You want me to keep watch?”
“Is that a rhetorical question?”
Kenny snickered again.
“Un-fucking-believable. We are up to our balls in deadheads running around here like they own the place, and you are still cracking up like an idiot kid,” admonished Dan.
Kenny looked slightly forlorn as he concentrated on the street below, moving the remote in his hand with a deft movement. “Sorry, boss.”
“Knock that boss shit off. Just do what I said and meet me in front of Crazy Mike’s.”
“Repeat what I said.”
“You heard me, numbnuts, repeat what I said.”
“Watch. Kill. Meet at Mike’s,” replied Kenny with a smile.
The door to the roof closed as Dan departed. Kenny continued to look down at the street below, a wicked smile on his face.
Dan emerged from the front of the building and put on a pair of reflective sunglasses. Holding the assault shotgun in a ready position, he walked down the street carefully.
The streets were empty, but an eerie type of desolation that marks the end of the world hung in the air. He rounded the side of the street, carefully leveling the shotgun to knock down whatever would come his way.
Ignoring the sidewalks, he walked in the road. A single zombie ran out. Arms flailing, flesh and blood drooled from its open maw.
A shotgun blast caught it across the face, ripping its feet from the ground and sending it spinning backwards. The sound echoed in the empty town off the brilliant spray-painted murals littered across many buildings.
Dan bent down to inspect the zombie.
There was no face.
Open, dead flesh oozed a thousand putrid colors. Standing with a grimace, he surveyed the rest of the street: nothing.
Moving forward, he walked briskly to a building with an amber-colored window. He pushed open a dull silver door at the front of the store. A chime echoed in the store, accented by a throaty groan.
A zombie stood behind the counter.
Dan approached it.
Letting the shotgun fall beside his leg, he took off his glasses. The zombie had its mouth wired shut, and dark, trucker sunglasses covered its eyes. The mesh hat on his head was a bit odd, nearly falling off the slowly decaying scalp of the zombie.
Bob the Liquor Store Zombie groaned hungrily.
“Any suggestions? The boys can be quite specific sometimes.”
Bob the Liquor Store Zombie lunged forward slightly, but heavy silver bolts held its hands firmly to the counter.
“We talked about this aggression, Bob. Once upon a time I might have been able to help you, but therapy is long behind me.”
Bob groaned again, though this time because Dan leaned on the counter. His heavily-covered arms hid tattoos and a lifetime of scars.
“The whiskey still next to the cooler?”
This one seemed more sedate, almost as if it were giving up.
“Right, in the back.”
With a smile he smacked the table and moved deeper into the darkened store; light from outside flashed in uneven beams of sunlight. Turning around halfway down an aisle, Dan waved his shotgun. “Now don’t be going anywhere, Bob. I have eyes everywhere.”
Dan rolled his shoulders as if shivering and flicked his hands like spirit fingers. Moving along the rows and rows of liquor, he passed massive gaps here and there where the effects of five years of consumption had taken its toll. The back wall once held frozen beverages, but now only empty rows of racks that had long since been plundered or destroyed.
“Now what was it that he had wanted? JD I believe...”
Reaching forward, Dan grabbed four handles of Jack Daniel’s. As he turned, it was the groan – not the sight of Bob – that startled him. Swinging the whiskey hard, the amber liquid smashed against the side of Bob’s head, stunning it for a moment. That moment was sufficient for the shotgun to find its way in the center of Bob’s face, and then it was Bob’s face no longer.
Looking down at what had once been Bob the Liquor Store Zombie, Dan grimaced. “Now that is a damn foolish thing to do there, Bob. We had a nice thing going...”
He stood over the zombie, his chest heaving – slowly at first and then building. The warm whiskey covered the floor, saturating both Dan’s heavy boots and Bob’s twice dead body. “We had a good thing going...”
Dan bounced the shotgun against his leg steadily, his eyes steeling. “You motherfuckers. You motherfuckers...”
His voice was barely a whisper.
Leveling the shotgun at Bob, he shot again. The blast lifted the body from the ground, igniting some of the whiskey in a soft flame. He did it again – this time in the chest – nearly ripping Bob in two. He stood and watched Bob come slowly apart. It was the crackle of the radio that drew away his maniacal stare.
“Boss?” It was Kenny. Dan continued to stare at Bob the Liquor Store Zombie. “You alright there, boss?”
Licking his lips, Dan’s voice croaked.
“I thought I told you to knock that boss shit off.”
“I heard shots...”
“It’s nothing. I will tell you at Mike's. Get off the fucking radio.”
The crackle disappeared.
Stepping over Bob, Dan reloaded carefully – leaving behind the mess. He moved past the counter and saw the dark streaks and silver bolts that had held Bob moments before. Dan ignored the problem and pushed open the door.
He felt the sunshine on his skin again. The sun was high in the sky, but there was nothing happy about the day. “Fucking deadheads. Never do what they are supposed to. Gotta tell them a thousand times...”
Walking down the street, he held the shotgun tightly in his grip. A big heavy sign announced a bright purple building as Crazy Mike’s. It should come as no great surprise that a redneck town like River’s Bend would have a mammoth gun depot the size of most department stores. The “open” sign was smeared with a bloody hand. The glass door was caked with brains and various zombie remains that had found its way onto the storefront over the years.
As Dan walked to the door, he saw his reflection in the glass. “Old man,” he whispered. His long hair was scraggly, and the gray in his beard seemed to grow each day.
The world had not been kind.
Hitting his chest with a fist, he shook his head.
“Can’t beat time. Can’t beat time...”
Walking through the open door of the ammo store, he turned towards the counter. As one might expect, there was another zombie. This one had on a bright orange hunting vest with a red flannel beneath it. Big, black-rimmed glasses hung from its sagging, dying face.
And again, the jaw was wired shut.
“Bob, how’s business, you old ball-buster?” exclaimed Dan with enthusiasm.
It looked as though Bob the Gun Store Zombie once had gray hair, as there were remnants on its diseased scalp.
With a big smile, he laughed.
“Just kidding, you old bastard. Just here for the essentials, ya know.” He turned as if to move and then stopped, looking back at Bob. “Have you talked to Bob lately?”
Waving a hand in dismissal, Dan continued. “Of course not. How silly of me. Well, I have some bad news.”
Dan paused for the drama of it all.
“Bob is dead.”
Dan liked to think that Bob the Liquor Store Zombie and Bob the Gun Store Zombie were brothers. Not blood brothers, but by marriage. “I realize that you guys had not been speaking...”
Dan looked at Bob with genuine sorrow. “I remember, you don’t want to talk about that. I will be on my way, just wanted to give you the bad news.”
Moving farther into the store – past an overturned, stuffed black bear – Dan opened his backpack and began to deposit various boxes of shells.
A screech erupted from outside the depot.
It was the sound of brakes and tires.
Returning to the front of the store, Dan paused in front of Bob. They stared at each for a moment until the horn blared again, jarring Dan’s attention. Stepping out into the open air, he looked at the heavy steel of a Ford Bronco. Apocalypse Please was scrawled in heavy red letters across the side. A wood chipper was placed in the back, and a heavy steel snow plow was attached to the front. There were two severed heads where the headlights should be. Their wide open mouths and empty eye sockets expelled heavy, blue floodlights.
“You get what we need?” called Kenny.
Dan threw the backpack into the Bronco and grabbed the edge of the door, opening it without a word.
Kenny sat back into the seat and gripped the wheel. “What’s up, boss?”
“Had to kill Bob.”
“Bob the Liquor Bob, or Bob the Gun Store Bob?”
Kenny turned over the Bronco, and the diesel engine roared to life. The interior was littered with various wrappers and empty shells. The Bronco was definitely Kenny’s area.
“That’s a bummer. You get the JD?”
“What the fuck? No JD. That’s...”
“Bring it down a notch there, Jolly Green. We still have some at the house.”
“We can go right back,” protested Kenny, pointing back toward the liquor store.
“No, go home. Fuck this town for today.”
“Seriously, we have enough to last until tomorrow morning. For fuck’s sake man, just drive the fucking Bronco.”
“Whatever, dude. Let’s blow this bullshit.”
The Bronco launched into motion, burning tires and then rocketing forward. It barreled through the open streets. “We have to figure out something else to bolt down those deadheads with. They can pull out of the bolts we have been using.”
“Why even bother?” offered Kenny.
“I don’t particularly want to suck zombie dick, so we are going to continue to bolt them to the counter.”
The Bronco bounced along, the heavy tread of the tires almost making them seem to bounce. “Wait, check it out, check it out.”
A single zombie walked into their vision. Once she might have been an attractive woman, but now she was little more than a scabby cadaver. “Check it, Frogger with zombies, man.”
“We don’t have time for this.”
“Fine, make it quick.”
Kenny smiled boyishly and slammed on the accelerator. The Bronco exploded forward, nearly lifting off the ground. Racing down the street, he turned the Bronco sideways, careening into the zombie and crushing it underneath the Bronco’s thick wheels.
“Is that fun, or is that fun?”
“You had fun, I can smell it.” Pulling forward slightly, Kenny leaned out the window and looked back at the blood stain across the asphalt. “Can’t hardly tell what the fuck that is, much less that it was some middle-aged zombie bitch.”
The Bronco pulled forward again, roaring and then subsiding as they drove into the distance. As the sun drifted down slightly, the calmness of the town felt ominous, foreboding.
Until then, your moment of zen is this extract from Dan O'Brien's End of the World Playlist:
You can find more from Dan O'Brien at the Dan O'Brien Project.