Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Throwing Down the Words - An Interview with Justin Macumber - Part One

Plan D: I know you as one of the voices behind the writing podcast The Dead Robots' Society, so it makes sense that you're a writer. But for those who haven't listened to The Dead Robots' Society (and if any of you haven't, you really should!), can you tell us who is Justin Macumber?

Justin Macumber: Wow, that's a big question. How existential should I get? Personally, I'm most importantly a husband, a son, and a brother to a family that I adore. Family is important to me, though I'm terrible at showing it. But, I don't think that's what you meant though. More professionally I'm a writer and a podcaster. I started the Dead Robots' Society about four-and-a-half years ago to communicate with other aspiring writers and establish a network with publishing professionals. We've been finalists for the Parsec Awards twice, and it's been our pleasure to talk with authors, publishers, podcasters, and agents. Through the show I've met a lot of cool, interesting people, and I've learned a great deal about what the publishing industry is really like. Now with the release of my first novel, Haywire, through Gryphonwood Press, I get to experience it first hand. It's been an interesting ride thus far, and I don't see it getting less interesting in the days ahead.

On a less serious note, I'm also a hardcore gamer, a Trekkie, a hair metal fan, and I cried at the end of Lost.

D: What led you to writing?

J: A desire to create worlds. When I was a young kid I fell in with some people who were playing Dungeons & Dragons, and since we didn't have money to buy officially-made and -sold adventures, we had to make our own. It didn't take long for me to fall in love with creating stories and locations for my friends to explore. Over time, I made dozens and dozens of campaigns, stretching my young mind to its limits. After that, I met a guy who wrote and drew his own little homemade comic book, and being a fan of comics myself I thought that would be interesting to do. I was a terrible artist, but the stories and dialogue came naturally to me. Then I wandered into writing longer prose, dabbling in fantasy, horror, and later science fiction. The person you see today is the end result of all those disparate styles, stories, and genres. I'm a mess, really.

D: Is Haywire your first novel?

J: It's the first novel I've had published, but as with most successful authors, it's not the first novel I've written. Back when I was in an online writing club many many years ago I wrote approximately three novels worth of stories. Looking back on them, I'm rather embarrassed by the flowery language and indulgent style, but that's just something we all have to work through to find our real voice. Someone (I don't remember who, sadly) once said that a writer's first million words are what they have to get out of their system to become a real writer. I believe that. After leaving the club, I wrote a novel entirely of my own creation, and while trying to find an agent for it, I wrote half of the follow-up novel before I decided that I shouldn't spend time on a sequel if the first book hadn't found a home, which it never did. So, between those books and previous writing, I was able to work through those million words and get to a place where I could write a book truly worth publishing. Luckily Gryphonwood Press felt the same way.

D: How did you connect with Gryphonwood Press?

J: Back in December of 2010 we had author Jeremy Robinson on the podcast as a guest, and while talking to him about his experience with self-publishing and small presses he mentioned a guy he knew by the name of David Wood who wrote novels in a similar style to his own (action adventure) and who was also the founder of a small press called Gryphonwood Press. He recommended we have David on, which we later did. David and I kept in contact after the interview, and when I suddenly found myself on the hunt once again for a publisher, he was the first person I thought of. So, I reached out, he said he'd take a look, and less than a year later here we are.

D: There are a handful of short stories with your name on them. What's the difference in your approach to writing a novel versus writing a short story? Is one more difficult than the other? Is one more fun?

J: There's certainly a difference in approach. With a short story, your goal is to tell as simple a story as possible in the least amount of words necessary while still creating interesting characters and a compelling plot. It's all about economy and impact. But, with a novel, you have more room to add plot threads that weave around the central story, you can add more depth to the world and the characters, and the pacing can have more variation in it. You still don't want to waste time or words though. Words tell the story, but they can also get in the way of the story if you're not careful. Is one more difficult or fun than the other? Not really. Just different. Short stories are more immediately satisfying, but novels give more a sense of accomplishment.

D: What influences your writing?

J: Influences are a funny thing. So often we're influenced by people and stories and events, yet we don't even know it. In the past, I've had people ask me if something or other influenced a story I wrote, and while my immediate reaction was to say no, upon further reflection I often discovered it had. Years ago I wrote a short story series called The Ties That Bind: A Tale of the Breaking Dawn, and while writing it I didn't think about how much the TV show Firefly was influencing it, but once I was done and had some distance, the influence was glaringly apparent. Now I try to be much more cognizant of my influences and inspirations.

But specifically what influences me? Stephen King, for one. If I could model my career after anyone, it would be him. Not only is he an amazing writer, but his imagination has no boundaries, and he can jump from genre to genre like no one else alive. His "Dark Tower" saga is my favorite literary work of all time, and one day I can only dream to try and match it. Joss Whedon is one of those people who has talent leaking from his pores, and his ability to create characters and stories that seem so real and yet extraordinary is something I try my best to emulate. Between Firefly and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I'm a life-long fan. Robert Heinlein's humanistic approach to sci-fi is something I love and try to bring to my own writing. Kevin Smith's irreverence and ear for dialogue inspires me. Scott Sigler's unrelenting energy and enthusiasm for writing is also inspiring. Since I'm also a gamer, I find myself falling for games with rich characters and compelling stories like Mass Effect, Uncharted, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Silent Hill, Halo, and Gears of War. I'm also a fan of comic books, so titles like Iron Man, Witchblade, and X-Men are woven tightly into the DNA of my writing.

I would be remiss if I didn't also mention music. When I write I'm constantly listening to music, and I make sure that the music I'm listening to matches the theme and emotion of the story I'm crafting at that moment. While writing Haywire, I listened to the soundtracks for movies like Star Wars, Transformers, Serenity, Pirates of the Caribbean, and The Dark Knight, as well as the music for games like Halo, Metal Gear Solid and Medal of Honor. Without music like that I'm not sure how successful I'd be at capturing the spirit of adventure needed for a story like Haywire.

D: As a collector of film scores myself, I could totally shift gears here and drive this interview into Movie Music Land, but I'll try to keep us on the Writing Path by asking how you "match" your music listening to your writing. Do you assemble playlists for specific pieces of writing? (I typically "assign" a particular film score album to specific writing pieces, which then serves to not only inspire my writing, but also helps as part of my "ritual" of writing - when I heard the score from Land of the Dead, for example, I know it's time to work on whatever story I've "attached" that music to in my head.)

J: This is a topic I could easily spiral off into for hours and hours. It's sick, really, how much music I listen to and how much it impacts me as a writer. When it comes to the music I choose, that's dictated by two things. First and foremost, the genre. I can't listen to the Lord of the Rings scores while writing sci-fi, nor could I listen to the Conan the Barbarian score while writing horror. It just wouldn't work. Second is the mood I need to create. Using Haywire as an example, I often found myself listening to Steve Jablonsky's scores for the Transformers movies and the Gears of War games. His probably isn't a name you've heard of often, but I really adore his work on those two properties. They have a darkness to them that works in those moments when you need your characters to hurt, to bleed, but there's also a sense of triumph that lifts you up and drives you to keep fighting. But, when it came to the chapters where I was focusing on two space pirate characters, I usually listened to Hans Zimmer's Pirates of the Caribbean scores. For yet another character, a federal agent type, one of his character bits was that he liked jazz, so in his chapters I often played Miles Davis and John Coltrane. AND, for those scenes when I really needed to squeeze every last bit of raw emotion and heartbreak out of myself that I could, I played music from a guy named Kerry Muzzey. Very few people I know have ever heard of him, but his music . . . it's some of them most delicate, ethereal music I've ever heard. Go give a listen to his score for a short film called Hole In The Paper Sky. If you don't have tears in your eyes at the end of it, you're just not human.

Lately I've been working on a horror novel, and as you might imagine that's a harder musical style to find unless you just like listening to noise. My go-to music there has been the scores for the Silent Hill games, as well as the scores to the movies The Descent, The Exorcism of Emily Rose, and a lesser known movie called The Shrine.

If we had longer I'd give you a ten page list of great music to write to. And don't even get me started on "trailer music" by groups like Two Steps From Hell . . .

D: I could talk film scores with you for days-and-days-and-pages-and-pages . . . but we really need to get back to writing! (But I will say this - if you're looking for horror film scores and want to stick with Steve Jablonsky, he did compose the scores for the two recent Texas Chainsaw Massacre films and the Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street remakes . . . just sayin' . . . ! Anyway . . . )

J: There are a lot of great scores and albums I've left out, so maybe this is something I could talk about on my blog. I'm always trying to find something worth posting, and this might be good.

You can find Justin online at his website at Moment's From a Writer's Life (http://www.justinmacumber.com/). You can hear him on the following podcasts: The Dead Robots' Society, Fit-2-Write and The Hollywood Outsider.

His short stories and books, including Haywire, can be found at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Friday, March 23, 2012

My Excited Wife

Brenda has spent the past day or so humming and singing along to the soundtrack from The Hunger Games. We haven't seen the movie yet (we'll be doing that this weekend), and we're both excited for it. Especially Bren. *

It's kind of cute, actually.

Brenda likes good movies; don't get me wrong. But there's a reason why I have too many DVDs to fit in the 12-plus DVD folders I have crammed onto the bookshelf next to the one folder Bren has set aside for "her" movies. Where I typically weigh my movie watching and book reading at around 60/40, she's much more of a reader than I am. She's burned through more books on her Kindle than I have, and not just because she's been a Kindle user longer than me.

And she's read The Hunger Games. More than once. (She's making up for me since I've not made time to read the books myself . . . )

Normally I'm the one that gets giddy over going to the movies, but my wife has been absolutely adorable this week over the idea of going to Cinetopia this weekend to see the film.

(* I'm sure I'll pick up the film's score as well . . . once it's released. Why didn't it get released the same time as the soundtrack?)

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Throwing Down the Words - An Interview with Nic Brown

Plan D: What have you been working on since we last spoke with you?

Nic: First off I’ll say thanks for having me back! Since we last spoke I’ve been working on quite a few projects. Currently I have an audio book in production through Amazon’s Audible.com service. It’s an audio edition of Blood Sacrifice: Werewolf for Hire. I know that’s my second book, but it is a free-standing story of its own and I think it makes for better listening. The samples I’ve had a chance to check out have been great so I’m super excited about this.

Also, I’m working on a number of short story projects. I just finished a short that tells what happens to Sam and Tabitha while Michael is in Kentucky in Blood Curse: Werewolf for Hire. I just completed the first draft so it doesn’t have a name yet even. I hope to do a few more related to Werewolf for Hire while I’m working on my third book.

Then there is my upcoming A Grave St. Patrick’s Day which comes out on March 16th as an e-book through MuseItUp Publishing.

D: What can you tell us about A Grave St. Patrick's Day?

N: It’s a fun little story set in the same world as the Werewolf for Hire series, but it features a completely different set of characters and situations. In a nut shell, it’s a story featuring leprechauns, zombies and one average guy who finds out that you really do have to be careful what you wish for!

D: Why the switch from werewolves to leprechauns?

N: I love werewolves, don’t get me wrong, but the world of the supernatural is a pretty big place so I like to stretch my legs a little. Plus, other than a series of b-movies, the leprechaun seems to have been somewhat overlooked in the world of horror. And leprechauns are a good way to introduce my new protagonist, Stuart Boling, and the readers of course, to the world of magic as I see it.

D: And I have to ask because you're tackling a subject near and dear to my heart - why zombies?

N: Zombies are now a mainstream monster. Everyone seems to know what they are and have their own favorites (fast, slow, heavily decayed, slightly grey, etc…). You would think that means I’d want to stay away from them, but honestly it makes them more interesting for me. The reason is because there are so many different types of zombies, so many different things you can do with them. They are a great type of monster and they also have one edge - they can be anyone. Anyone you know, anyone you love, it doesn’t matter what their relationship with you was before, after they change, you’re just meat on a stick. That makes them tragic on a number of levels, but the real tragedy comes from the living who have to deal with the horror of their loved ones or friends coming for them. Or, even on a more basic level, what about child zombies? You don’t even have to know the child to feel the pain of having to destroy a child zombie. It goes against our instincts to kill children.

D: Why now?

N: Because now’s when I thought of the story!

D: Let's talk about a different monster, this time one near and dear to your heart. The first time you were at Plan D, you mentioned a book you and your wife are working on looking at the history of werewolves in cinema. How's this coming along?

N: That’s actually at an interesting place right now. We’ve got a couple of sample chapters put together and an outline of the rest of the chapters, but we’re kind of on hold at the moment waiting to hear back from a couple of publishers who’ve shown interest in the project. I think it will be a great book though because there aren’t many books like it out there now and the ones that are out there tend to focus more on the legends and lore, not the movies. We’re just doing films with the exception of a chapter to talk about the different ‘werewolf histories’ from different parts of the world.

I’m also pretty excited because we’re lining up a few celebrity ‘guest stars’ to write some side bars and maybe a full on intro for the book. I can’t say much about who they are right now, but if it all works out there will be some pretty cool werewolf movie people lending a word or two to the book.

D: Last time I asked you about werewolf movies, and this time, with A Grave St. Patrick’s Day coming soon, I have to ask - which one of the Leprechaun films is your favorite?

N: I like the original Leprechaun from 1993. It’s not a great film, but it’s fun to watch and Jennifer Aniston couldn’t act her way out of a paper bag in it. The SyFy channel is doing one of their infamous original movies with a Leprechaun theme this week. I don’t know what it’s called but I’m expecting a Leprechaun/Shark/Dinosaur hybrid that they’ll call “Lepresauruspusagator” or something to that effect.

D: When can readers expect to see A Grave St. Patrick’s Day?

N: The easiest place is to visit the website for MuseItUp Publishing. They’re my publisher for this and they’ve been great to work with so I’d rather people pick it up directly from them than from Amazon (although it should be available there as well).

(Here’s the link for A Grave St. Patrick’s Day on MuseItUp - http://museituppublishing.com/bookstore2/index.php?page=shop.product_details&flypage=flypage.tpl&product_id=285&category_id=157&option=com_virtuemart&Itemid=1)

Blood Curse: Werewolf for Hire and Blood Sacrifice: A Werewolf for Hire novel are available for order and purchase via Amazon and other online retailers. Both books are also available in e-format. Nic Brown can be heard nearly every week on The B-Movie Cast and online at his own website B Movie Man.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

A preview of things to come some day . . .

This past Monday, I was accidentally off from work. I say "accidentally" because I lost track of what I was doing schedule-wise (Brenda originally had an infusion treatment scheduled that day, and I managed to forget to remove my Day Off request at work when it was bumped up two weeks). I didn't like "wasting" the time off, but I didn't argue (too much) when I was told to go home.

After a quick stop at the grocery store and just barely half an hour of Skyrim, I spent the rest of the day doing what I've long dreamt I would be able to do all day. I wrote.

And it was good.

Most of my writing as of late has been on my laptop wherever I happened to be at the time. And that works. But there was something REALLY nice about sitting behind my desktop computer, listening to music sans headphones or earbuds, stealing occasional glances out the window of the dining room-turned-work space, and basically living the dream for the day. It reminded me of one of the reasons I'm pursuing writing the way that I am, and it's something I'm going to remember when I'm tempted to give more than half-an-hour or so to something like Skyrim.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Of phlegm, weight and writing

It's been a bit longer than I anticipated since my last post, and right off the bat, I want to thank everyone for the outpouring of support from you all.

My own fitness plans have been sidelined a bit with a bout of sickness here at home. Bren managed to collect every cold within a 25-mile radius of her workplace, put it all in a bottle, took the mixture home, bathed in it like she was in a hot tub, and then, after it had properly marinated her entire being, she gave it to me. She's a bit further along in her recover timeline, and I'm kicking and screaming as whatever foul force that has taken control of my throat, nose and lungs drags me into coughing fits of doom and sticky gloom.

This was (of course!) after a bout of food poisoning that introduced me to the worst pain I've ever experienced in my life. (I suddenly understand now why characters in zombie movies that are succumbing to a zombie infection often grab their stomach and moan.) The food poisoning passed . . . after using up time off from work that left me with no time to take off to nurse this head cold.

The DayQuil is leaving with me some very foggy glasses ad headphones through which to experience the world, which made my writing VERY interesting yesterday afternoon. Normally I don't go back and reread what I just wrote until I've had some proper distance from the words, but today over lunch, I revisited yesterday's output. Wow.

I'll get back to my writing in a moment, but to sum up my fitness track right now, it's nonexistent. Once I knock the head cold, I'll be making a way to get to the gym three days a week and important part of my schedule. It has to happen, YOU HEAR THAT HEAD COLD!

Writing-wise, I'm in the middle of two short stories. I'm slowly learning I really struggle with working on one piece at a time, and for now, I don't think that's a bad thing. The stories I sold last year were start-and-stop projects; the stories that haven't found a home were not. When I settle into a longer fiction piece, this may change, but for now, I'm okay with that.

If past experiences have taught me anything, this means I should have two short stories first-draft-completed by the end of this month (sooner if I ever move out of medicine-head-land). I also have a longer non-fiction-ish piece that still needs some love massaged into it.

Thanks again for all the support. It means the world to me, and I'll certainly keep this interested updated re: my fitness goals here at Plan D.