Well, aside from writing fiction, I’m a father of five-year-old identical twin boys: the rarest form of human offspring (a very technical term for kids). Only fraternal twins are hereditary; identical twins are a random anomaly. So it came as quite a surprise. In fact, the first thing I did when I found out was Google search the phrase, “The best thing about having twins.” I needed a pep talk.
Actually, it turns out I didn’t. We were blessed with wonderful boys. Raising them has been a special privilege.
Sierra: When did you first start writing and when did you finish your first book?
Reading and writing have been the two things I’ve enjoyed above all else for as long as I can remember. In fact, I’d say that learning how to read is one of my favorite memories. I’ll never forget begging my teacher to let me take my lesson book home to show my parents what I had learned. What I had unlocked. Because that’s how it felt, as though I had broken some kind of seal. One that allowed me access to all the stories in the world.
And I realized I had somewhat of a talent for telling stories early on, as students started looking forward to hearing my stories read aloud in class. My English teachers all encouraged my writing, and I won a poetry contest in 5th grade from a homework assignment that my teacher submitted on my behalf.
I took a brief detour after college when I set out to start my “big career” in advertising. But the urge to tell stories never left, and I soon returned to writing in the evenings and weekends, or whenever the bosses weren’t around. At some point I started submitting my work for publication and, after accruing a massive stack of rejections, finally sold one. Then another. After a while I decided to quit my full time job at the ad agency to work freelance and write a book. That’s how We Are Monsters came about.
Sierra: Tell us a little bit about your first book or the first book in the series.
We Are Monsters is a story about a brilliant, yet troubled psychiatrist named Alex Drexler who is working to create a cure for schizophrenia. At first, the drug he creates shows great promise in alleviating his patient’s symptoms. It appears to return schizophrenics to their former selves. But (as one may expect) something goes wrong. Unforeseen side effects begin to emerge, forcing prior traumas to the surface, setting inner demons free. His medicine may help heal the schizophrenic mind, but it also expands it, and the monsters it releases could be more dangerous than the disease.
Sierra: How did you choose the genre you write in?
I’d say it chose me. Since as early as I can remember, my imagination has always veered into dark places. Which is strange, as I’m generally a cheerful and optimistic person. In fact, most authors of dark fiction are. Conversely, many comedians tend to be somber and depressive. There seems to be some counterbalancing agent at play. Maybe we’re so cheerful because we exorcise our demons, and comedians are depressive because they export all their joy.
Sierra: What was your favorite chapter (or part) to write?
My favorite part was writing, “The End.” I’m not sure anything beats that feeling. My favorite chapter was probably the first chapter, which I actually wrote last. This was my first novel-length work of fiction, and I was intimidated by the scope of the project heading into chapter one. Despite having already written and published several short stories, I found that I had inflated the importance of writing a book so much that it suddenly seemed insurmountable. I had made it a seminal moment in my life, setting the nonexistent stakes unreasonably high. And so I started out tentatively, on shaky knees that were threatening to buckle under the weight of such a heavy load.
Rather than give in to this early desperation, however, I just kept going. I was struggling with the first chapter, so I skipped it, and started writing the second one. This one began to flow better. My word count increased, and I fell into a rhythm as the story started to take form. By the time I finished the first draft, I had a clear idea of the story I was trying to write and was able to return to the beginning and write the first chapter with the confidence that eluded me when I started out.
Sierra: Is anything in your book based on real life experiences or purely all imagination?
We Are Monsters takes a close look at the world of mental illness. This is not only a subject I find fascinating, it’s an issue I personally face, having dealt with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) my whole life, a condition that, for me, produces chronic anxiety, physical tics, negative thought loops, and bouts of depression.
While I conducted a great deal of research to understand the mindset of someone suffering from a psychotic disorder, such as schizophrenia, I was able to pull from my personal experience in dealing with panic attacks and so forth when describing what certain characters were going through.
Nice to turn those delirious nights where you irrationally think you’re going to die into something positive!
Sierra: Is there any particular author or book that influenced you in any way either growing up or as an adult?
While I read broadly, and have been inspired by a spectrum of authors, the biggest influence has been Stephen King, who I was fortunate to meet a few years ago. I literally ran into him at the entrance of a hotel in Atlanta. I was so stunned that, without thinking, I reached out, took his hand and said, “Mr. King.” Equally stunned, he shook it. If I were thinking clearly I would have left it at that. But I wasn’t, so I started to blab, “I’m an aspiring horror writer who has published a few short stories and just started writing my first novel. I owe all my inspiration to you.” More gratuitous praise followed, I’m sure.
He received the praise graciously, untangled himself from my grasp, and started to stroll away before a crowd could form (it was just the two of us). Then he stopped and turned. “Hey,” he said, catching my eye. “Good luck with your work.”
Not story, not book. But work. That was a fine moment.
Sierra: Do you ever experience writers block?
I’ve experienced times when I felt like it was more difficult to write than others, and/or that my writing was not as fluid or precise. I feel like there are ebbs and flows in all things. The best pitcher in the major leagues can throw a no-hitter one day and not find the strike zone the next. That’s why showing up every day whether you feel like it or not is so important. You never know when you’ll have your best stuff.
When I’m blocked for longer than a week or so I find that it’s usually because I’m trying too hard, or because I’ve allowed for my inner critic to become too loud. Trace it back, and the blockage is often caused by fear. The best remedy for that, in my opinion, is to try and express whatever it is you’re trying to say as plainly as possible, without worrying about the outcome or quality of prose. Turn your mind off and open your heart and sooner or later the blockage breaks and the words begin to flow.
Sierra: Is there an author that you would really like to meet?
While I enjoyed meeting Stephen King, as described a couple of questions ago, I prefer to let an author speak through their work. We often paint a picture of what we think a certain person is like, especially someone we idolize, when the reality may be quite different, which can be disappointing. I’d hate to have an unpleasant encounter with an author taint the way I view his or her work.
I think it would be cool to meet Helen Keller, though. Writing can be so hard with all of today’s modern conveniences. I’d love to hear her talk about overcoming obstacles and the power of perseverance.
Sierra: Will you have a new book coming out soon? If so, can you tell us about it?
I have a new short story titled Picking Splinters From a Sex Slave coming out in the anthology, Gutted: Beautiful Horror Stories, alongside two of my idols: Clive Barker and Neil Gaiman. When one of the editors, Doug Murano, announced the story he said, “This is the kind of story that starts book burning parties,” which leads me to believe the story works. I’m honored to be part of this project, and can’t wait for the anthology to come out.
In addition, I am currently working on the second book in a trilogy of dark sci-fi thrillers. The first book is complete and currently in the hands of a literary agent whom I’ve recently signed with. We are putting the final touches on the book and plan to submit it to publishers early next year.
Sierra: If you could go back and do it all over again, is there any aspect of your first novel or getting it published that you would change?
No, to be honest I’m pleased with the way things have gone so far, and feel very fortunate for the opportunities afforded me. I’m happy to have worked with one of the legendary horror editors in the industry, Don D’Auria. I’m blown away by the praise the book has received from authors whom I’ve long admired like Brian Keene, Mercedes M. Yardley, Jonathan Moore, and John F.D. Taff. And I’m thrilled by the generous reviews and kind feedback I’ve received from readers.
While there may be some structural changes I’d make to the book through the lens of additional experience, that would negate the clumsy rawness that comes with a debut novel.
Sierra: Do you have any advice to give to aspiring writers?
First, don’t listen to me, as I don’t know shit. But, if forced, I’d say the following:
Never settle for something that feels safe. Always strive to surprise yourself. Try and make yourself laugh, gross yourself out, make yourself mad. Write stuff you’d never want your parents to read, then send it out. Write what you fear is way too strange or personal to be published and then make it as good as it can be. Know that everyone secretly believes their work sucks but they keep doing it anyway. Rebel against your inner critic.
Sierra: Is there anything you would like to say to your readers and fans?
To anyone who has read, or is considering reading my debut novel, We Are Monsters, I would love to say, “Thank You!” I hope it was, or will be, a great ride.
In addition, I would love to connect with folks through one of the following channels. Don’t worry. I only kill my characters.
Click the rafflecopter link below and enter to win a $25 Amazon gift card from Brian Kirk! You can perform several tasks for entering each day here or at each stop that posts the giveaway link. Best of luck!
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