- Where did your writing journey begin?
I think it has two distinct, yet, important starts. The first of which was when I was 15, and instead of doing my schoolwork, I began hand-writing a fantasy trilogy in a notebook. It was terrible, and hacky, and had no paragraphs or proper punctuation, and I still love it to this day. That’s when I realized I genuinely enjoyed writing. That was something I wanted to do.
The second was more than twenty years later, on February 29th, 2016. That was the day, during my lunch hour at work, that I decided to make an actual go of a writing career. To apply myself to the craft more than ever, and try to get my long-gestating manuscript for ‘Catching Hell’ published. The rest is history, as they say.
- You mention on your website you have entered into flash fiction – what does that mean?
Flash fiction is how I started getting published and learning a lot about how the system works. I began writing for a site called 101words.org, a site that specializes in (shock!) stories with only 101 words. No more, and no less. I submitted some pieces to it over time and learned a lot about word use, punchy writing, and working with an editor, something I’d never really done before that point.
Flash fiction is just super-short stories. Sometimes it’s a set length, or even just a Tweet or quick website post. Even Reddit has a sub called 2-sentence horror that I think would also apply. It’s just about refining and distilling words to get the most out of them, and I think that’s a skill every writer needs to know a bit about.
- How do you come up with fresh ideas for each book you’ve written?
A lot of it comes from the inspirations I’ve had over the years. Movies, TV, books I’ve read. All the usual places. Anime in the 90s was a really big influence for me. Japan at the time was creating stories and characters I felt were so far advanced from what western culture was offering at the time. ‘Neon Genesis Evangelion’, in particular, rocked my world.
The main influence though is music. It’s a realization I’ve really come around to only recently. That high-school writing experience, writing ‘Catching Hell’ in my 30s, and the stuff I’m working on now, so much of it was fueled by just walking or hiking or working a somewhat mindless job (at the time) and listening to things that move me. I’ve used it to great effect lately and watched my fingers fly. Editing as well. If I’m editing, it’s a safe bet some classic British Trip-Hop is playing in my ears.
4. Your books Death Dresses Poorly and Between Conversations are very different from each other, what made you write about urban fantasy and then a collection of short stories?
A great question and the honest answer is that they both came from very different places. What the casual viewer doesn’t see is that between those two releases was actually another two books, my ‘Catching Hell’ epic ‘duology’ Journey and ‘Destination’. They were both released in 2018, putting a cap on what had been a very crazy publishing year for me. My writing career begins and ends with those two science-fantasy novels.
However, the mid-last year their publisher sold their imprint to another, and I wasn’t completely sold on the new direction. I opted to pull my books and go back to working with my ‘Death Dresses Poorly’ publisher, Fluky Fiction. Now the re-mastered version of Journey will be out later this month, which is amazing and I’m so thankful for them.
‘DDP’ was my palate cleanser after I spent years writing and editing ‘Catching Hell’. By the time I was done I was so tired of living in that world that I needed something totally different, and ‘DDP’ was the result. I needed something in a totally different direction, and so I smashed that out, beginning to end plus editing, in six weeks.
Now, ‘Between Conversations’, which I wrote at the tail-end of 2019, was something I put together with the full intention of self-publishing. A passion project that explored these strange side characters and meetings in the same world as ‘Catching Hell’ (what I call the ‘Ryuujin’ world). So it was a mix of genres I wanted to try, stories I wanted to tell, and a way to get back into that world without jumping right back into a full epic again.
- How did you come up with the idea of the concept of Death and Ethan’s journey in Death Dresses Poorly?
The story got an honest, stereotypical beginning: writing from a real-life experience. Anyone who picks it up needs to know that the entire first chapter is almost word for word a real experience I had years ago. The only difference is that my mom isn’t a dead drug addict, but is actually a wonderful woman I love very much. But the meeting between Ethan and the ‘Man in Black, the conversation, the place, and the strangeness of his appearance, was all real. And it was so strange that I couldn’t help but remember it.
The rest of the story was very much inspired by writers like Neil Gaiman, Douglas Adams, and more than a little Chuck Palahniuk. Surreal, fantastical, dark, comedic fiction. A true reflection of me as a person, reacting and speaking honestly.
- When you imagined the environment in Death Dresses Poorly, how did you make it so consistent? It felt so vivid.
And I thank you for saying so. I can’t say it was altogether intentional, but a lot of it came from trying to write places and characters that I could really embody, make them talk to each other, and keep it very claustrophobic. Most of the book takes place in close quarters, and when it breaks out of that structure and tries to go more grandiose, it makes it feel that much bigger. That’s the hope anyway.
I think a lot of it needs to be credited to honesty, though. I have never shied away from the fact that the two main characters in it are me, just different versions at different points in my life. They speak, act, and feel the way I would in the moments they face, and I want that honesty to come through. I wanted that to bring a realness to them that is sometimes missed, and that transcends into the places they encounter.
- Would you say that other writers have influenced your writing style at all?
Oh for sure. I mentioned the ‘DDP’ influences above, but Gaiman in particular needs to be reinforced. His ability to make clear, vivid worlds with real people doing real things in fantastical situations is undeniably a huge influence on ‘DDP’. His novelette ‘The Ocean’ and the ‘End of the Lane’ in particular.
For ‘Between Conversations’ and ‘Catching Hell’, and just about anything I write in that world, the two largest ones are Stephen King’s ‘Dark Tower’ series and their sense of scale and realistic characters mixed with the fantastical, and Shannara author Terry Brooks, who I came to later in life, and his expert blending of science and magic, and uncanny ability to tell the same adventure story over and over again, and somehow still make it work.
One thing I always like to let people know about me though is that, although in my younger years I was a voracious reader, these days I read very, very little. As in, maybe two or three books a year, if that. I’m a busy guy, and if I have time to read, then I have time to write, and I’d rather do that. I don’t buy into Stephen King’s idea that good writers are good readers. From what I’ve seen it doesn’t hold up.
- If you had to pin down your favourite novel that you’ve written, which would it be?
They’re all so different, and each of them has such strange stories about how they came to be, so it’s difficult. Only because it just keeps coming back, whether it’s the strange publication journey, or how it came to be made, or how when I was looking for an entrance into the audiobook world it was the only true answer, I can’t deny that ‘Death Dresses Poorly’ has more legs than I’d ever thought it would, and I am constantly thankful and in awe of that fact.
9. What advice would you give budding writers?
My advice is always the same, and I will sing it from the mountaintops whenever I get a chance: Do. Not. Set. Goals! Don’t set a daily writing goal, or a weekly, or a yearly! Don’t set a publication goal. Don’t set a sales goal. Set nothing! Write when you want to write, and only when you feel it works for you. Ignore things like NaNoWriMo (my most hated of challenges) and write honestly. Words forced are so often words wasted. During the pandemic, until only recently, I had barely written anything. I spent a year with just under 5000 words written, and I wasn’t particularly happy with those, either! I wasn’t mentally in a place I felt would make something I was proud of, so I just didn’t do it.
It’s not always a popular opinion, but I’ll defend it to the last. If you write better with them, then do it! But if you are on the fence, new to the writing world, or have just stuck with them because that’s what so many authors do, I’m here to be the voice of dissension. Write 10 words a day if that’s all you feel you want to. Or write 10,000. But do not say you have a minimum or maximum, and do not ever feel upset that you didn’t reach some arbitrary, pointless number. You’ll be a better writer for it.
- What’s next for you?
I have no idea. Like I just said, I have no plan, and yet I have a million plans! For something concrete, I can tell you that ‘Catching Hell Part 1: Journey’ will be re-released on May 25th. My first go-around with this book was educational but problematic. Now it’s getting the release it always deserved with Fluky Fiction, and that makes me excited. I’m so proud of that story and the path it’s taken. And of course, all things going well, Part 2: Destination will follow afterward at some point.
Creatively, I have some irons in the fire. I have a paranormal fantasy I may finish one day but has been on the back burner so long it’s gone ice cold. I also have been inspired to jump back into the Ryuujin world again and have made great progress on the proper follow-up to ‘Catching Hell’ and ‘Between Conversations’. I hit the right musical notes and suddenly my brain was back there. That’s what I’m talking about: let the story lead the way!
And finally, since I had so much fun creating and narrating the ‘DDP’ audiobook, I’d love to tackle ‘Between Conversations’ next, so I’ve started the pre-production on that. So many fun characters and stories for me to inhabit! And on that note, I’ve also begun offering my voice talents to other authors who would like me to tell their stories, so I’m open to that as well. I can’t write at home, so I may as well talk into a microphone for you!