May 27, 2013

Bright Lights #12 - Dan Dillard - Giving Up the Ghost

Two things every writer needs to do:

1) Write. This is a no-brainer.

2) Find your own voice. And what I mean by this is, don't write for the market. By the time you've finished your "Barry Popper and the Wizard's rock" story, Vampires are the new game in town. Or, Hunger Games. Write for yourself and to your own strengths, then have some faith that your audience will find you.

My next victim on the blog is Dan Dillard and he embodies these two important traits. A prolific writer, Dan has several books already available, with a new one coming out on June 1st. He also found his own voice, writing in a genre that he loves. And while he writes, he waits for his audience to find following the blood trail...

The Dude abides...

Q - Hi Dan, tell me a little about your newest book.

The new novel is called "Giving Up The Ghost" and it will be available on Amazon ( June 1st...
It's part love story, part paranormal horror, part black comedy. There's this guy, Gerry--an approaching-middle-age do nothing who thinks the whole world is out to get him. He uses drugs and alcohol and women to try and fix thing, but they only make it worse. He had a quality childhood and was raised by loving parents who can't figure out where things went wrong. His elderly parents, Bill and Margo, have tried numerous times to help Gerry get back on track, but it never seems to work.
With one last effort, Gerry seems to be getting his life sorted out. He stays sober for a few days, and lands a few job interviews. Just as he sees some luck coming his way, a series of events drag him back down to his old ways. Bill and Margo decide the only way they'll ever be able to help to haunt him. That's when things get really insane.

Q - What got you started writing horror stories?

I've loved horror to an almost unhealthy level, as long as I can remember...Movies, books, art, radio shows, monster makeup, Halloween...and I've been writing stories as long as I can remember. I only got serious about writing in 2010 and it just seemed natural to write horror.

Q - What is the particular appeal of writing horror? Is it being able to scare your readers or is there something deeper involved?

I think the attraction to horror as entertainment is the ability to survive something terrifying. You know when you open the book or sit down for a film or go to a haunted house that something unexpected and gruesome is going to happen. If you're lucky, it'll be something you've never seen before. But you also know you're going to live through it and most likely come out unscathed. It's a rush. Not quite skydiving, but I think the principle is the same.

Q - I think many genres suffer from the expectation of the audience to hit certain beats in their stories. Are there certain horror story conventions or tropes you try to avoid, or do you just write your story and hope the audience will still be drawn to it?

Oh, I hate convention. I can't stand watching a film or reading a book where everything seems cut and paste and you can guess the end 25% in. I am probably guilty of this on occasion, I mean there's only so many ways to tell a story and only so many words available to do so...but I try not to. Several of my stories have been written with the opposite in mind. Start with what people expect (a vampire for instance) and try and go to the opposite of what folks are used to (this vampire faints at the sight of blood). It can give a sort of "Twilight Zone" feel to my writing and I've been called unfair on an occasion or two, but I'm fine with that.

Q - How do you make the time to write? Do you set a schedule or grab the moments when they come?

I write when I can. I have the luxury and the curse of writing quickly. Giving Up The Ghost's original draft was written in eleven days. Of course it went through several rounds of editing to get it finished, but the main story was there. As long as my train of thought keeps moving forward, I can get several thousand words down in a sitting. I don't write every day, and I should, but I have a regular job and a wife and kids, so until I sell a few hundred thousand copies and can write full time, I'll just have to make time when I can.

Q - Do you have a favorite place to write?

Nope. Although I type everything. I can't write longhand, it's too slow...

Q - What kind of story interests you? Do you read the same stories you like to write?

Good ones. It doesn't really matter as long as the story is good. I read lots of horror, of course, but I also like mysteries and sci-fi and comedy... I don't read romance as it all seems like the same set of unrealistic expectations, but I would if the story was good.

Q - Who are your favorite writers?

It's an eclectic mix of smart asses, much like my friends and family.

Q - Where do your ideas for stories and characters come from generally?

Dreams--mine and my wife's-- people I meet or people I see. I ask a lot of what if questions when I'm alone. Like right now, sitting at my desk I might think, "What if that pencil sharpener was possessed by a demonic spirit, but it could still only act as a pencil sharpener? It would be pissed. It would have a lot to say if it was interviewed. In the end, it was just a demon-possessed pencil sharpener. Maybe it would always break the lead so your pencils would always be dull...."
Okay, that's probably not a good story idea, but that's where many of them come from.
Sometimes people will send me notes and say, "Hey, I had this idea. You should write about it."
Normally, I tell them to write it themselves. All you have to do is write it down. And I don't like taking ideas from others, even if they are freely given. But some of them are pretty good.

Q - By writing twisted and gory tales, horror writers are sometimes considered a little bit twisted themselves lol. Do you think this is fair point?

I think all fiction writers are twisted. I don't think any of them would disagree with me either, unless they're lying to themselves. Absolutely fair point.

Q - When you're writing, how much do you feel you have to adhere to certain limitations based on the genre you're writing in?

I usually write no holds barred, then reel it back in based on where I'm submitting the story. I'll kill kids, animals, old stories have rape, cannibalism, torture, but you know, I don't glorify these things. I just had a story rejected because of subject matter. I'll admit, I expected it when I sent it in, but you have to try. For the most part, I try and create atmosphere and suspense before I go for gross or shocking, but sometimes you need to shock to get the point across. I imagine a lot of writers would disagree with me. I hear it all the time: Find the right words, and you won't have to do this or that... But I also have a short attention span, and wish a lot of writers would just get to the damn point. I don't need descriptive passages to put me to sleep.

Q - Do you use Beta Readers? If so, could you explain what you're looking for from them?

Yes. I dig Beta Readers. Mainly I use them to see if the story works. They can give excellent insight on pacing, continuity, and just to have a fresh set of eyes on the work. It's tough to edit your own work because you know what you were thinking when you wrote it and tend to fill in blanks that others might not see.
I have had Beta Readers actually go through and line edit for me. I didn't ask them to, but they did. It was fantastic.

Q - What do you think are your particular strengths as a writer? Dialog, action, description...what are you most comfortable with?

I'm good with dialogue, bad with action. I tend to rush the action. I hear that all the time. I have a great build up to a particular moment and then when it comes time to wrap things up, my action sequence is kinda staccato and short. Sounds like a bad sexual reference.

Q - You've got several books available through Amazon, what are your thoughts on self-publishing versus traditional publishing?

I think either is fine. Traditional publishing is better if you, as an author, can get that sweet deal where the publisher actually gets your books on shelves and advertises for you. That lets writers focus on writing and not marketing which is probably my single biggest peeve. I hate marketing! But there's something about having complete control that is cool. I'm not getting rich on writing and didn't expect to, but it's fun, and maybe one day, I'll be able to eat and pay the electric bill with it.

Q - What compels you to write, drives you to keep going, even on the days you'd rather just throw in the towel?

No idea. And those days come often. It's a creative energy. I have to be creating something. I write and I play a few different musical instruments, draw, build props for Halloween, do some wood working, cook, dabble in film and animation. If I can't do one or several of those things on a regular basis, I become a very unlikable person and tough to be around.

Q - What is the reaction to those around you, family and close friends, about your writing?

Nothing but support, which has made it that much easier. Although if I only listened to friends and family, I'd feel like a very poor JK Rowling. So I also listen to others. The best comments are when someone you've never met says, "Hey, I read your story, it scared me!"

Q - What are your thoughts on the uses of Social Media (Facebook, Twitter etc) for writers. Has it helped in your development as an author?

Good for networking. I think at one point it was a good place to build a fanbase, but now every writer has multiple Facebook pages and a Twitter account for each book and Goodreads and LinkedIn and Instagram and... and... and... and.... and it has all become saturated with "Check out my book at this link" scrolling non-stop on all of them. So, I'd say for anyone selling a product, it's a good place to network.

Q - Have you ever suffered from writer's block? If so, any quick cure advice?

Not really... but I juggle several stories at once which might help that. If I only had one project going, I'm sure I would hit a wall. I'd say the best thing to do is step away from it and take a break. Then, if you still can't come back after a day or a week, start writing something completely different. Even if it's awful, it will spark ideas. Deadlines and gunpoint help as well, I've been told.

Q - How important is it for a writer to also be a reader?

Well, Stephen King says you can't write if you don't read, but what does he know?

Q - Library or Bookstore?

I like both, although I generally read e-books. Gasp!? I know.

Q - Do you listen to music when you write? If so, what do you listen to?

No, and only because my first love is music. It's too distracting and I get too into the music and lose everything else in the world.

Q - How do you choose your next story?

They choose me.

Q - Do you have any advice for newbie writers? Those who are yet to start on their journey?

Write. It's no great mystery. If you have an idea, write it down. No one started out great, they had to work at it. Forget about the rules, just write. You can edit it later and learn along the way. It takes courage to put your ideas out there, but the thing is, if you don't, something great might be lost on the rest of us. I think it was Kevin Smith who said something like: It's free to encourage someone to create. But when you discourage an artist, you could be costing the world the next great song, great book, film, sculpture, painting, dance.... Think about that. Of course, he also said, "The real money is in dick and fart jokes." and that's why I pay attention to everything the man utters.

And finally - You're going to be stranded on a desert island (for a wee while) but I'm going to allow you to take 1 book, 1 piece of music, 1 movie, a bowl of your favorite dessert and 1 person you'd like to share the island with for a while (alive, dead, fictional or matters not) What are your choices...and if you want to elaborate...tell me WHY?

A blank notebook so I might write.
Just one piece of music? There's too many to choose from. I'm hard core into Jack White and the Raconteurs right now, but I'm not sure that's really Island music... Maybe some Bob Marley.
A bowl of vanilla ice cream with crinkled potato chips-don't judge me.
My wife. She's my best friend, and if I ever go to a beach and don't take her, there are violent consequences.

Violent consequences...sounds like another good story in the making! lol.

My thanks to Dan for stopping by the blog. Follow Dan, and check out his books here:

May 11, 2013

Gina West's Not-so-Hostile Takeover (Part 2)

Gina West: Questionatrix and goofball

Read the first part of the interview here: PART ONE

...and now, the conclusion...

18. I know you love comics. How have they influenced your writing?

Look out…here comes the boring…

Comic books are deceptively complicated. Okay, perhaps not every story, but to create a story in around 26 pages takes a lot of work. The writer has to write as if this is your first ever issue of the comic you’ve just picked up while not boring the guy who’s been following it for a thousand years. Much like a television writer, they have to write to beats so that they end in a way that will make you pick up the next one. They also have to write to the strengths of the artists they work with. And it all has to fit into a picture or a speech bubble. I’d liken individual comic books to the chapters of a story, a long ongoing story, except in each chapter you have to introduce your main character over again and the chapter has to be a stand-alone story while being part of a longer arc.

Comics taught me about creating characters and story arcs. They also fueled my creativity, because comics have to constantly evolve to keep the audience coming back. Some comics have run non-stop for more than thirty years, sometimes with the same continuity, characters and history, so how do you keep that fresh? Comic book writers are amazing at that. No idea is off limits, and no, they don’t all work. There are probably as many bad ideas as good. The good ones though are incredible: Chris Claremont and John Byrne’s Dark Phoenix Saga in Uncanny X-Men, Frank Miller on Daredevil (Born Again) or Batman (Dark Knight Returns & Year One), Brian Michael Bendis on Alias, Warren Ellis’ Extremis story arc in Iron Man, Joss Whedon on Astonishing X-Men, Alan Moore’s Watchmen, Neil Gaiman’s Sandman or Grant Morrison’s All-Star Superman. These stories are the backbone of the superhero movies that have taken over the box office. They’re also mature, nuanced, intelligent, thoughtful and thought-provoking, using fantasy or men in spandex to tell more complicated stories than you might at first suspect.

Or the short answer: they’ve influenced me a lot! Lol.

19. What other genres would you like to try and maybe dabble in just to test your writer’s mettle?

I’m open to writing in any genres or cross-pollinating genres. Romance is probably what appeals to me least, but even then I’ve thought about putting together a romantic story to see if I could do it. I like flexing different writing muscles.

20. How do you respond to negative comments/feedback?

Honestly, I try to figure out if the negative feedback is warranted, and, if it is, I take it on board as something to look at and improve on. If I don’t feel it’s warranted, I’ll do my best to ignore it, but from time to time the negative breaks through and causes self-doubt. That’s when it’s good to have people around who understand that and can help point you back in the right (write) direction. Thanks, Tweeps!

21. In your interviews, you often ask about “writing what you know.” Speaking for myself, I have a fairly limited knowledge base. How do you expand your knowledge?

It depends how you look at that statement. We all have our own life experiences and it’s possible to use those to inform your story or characters. It might be something small like having been on a ship or something bigger like having worked as a doctor or lawyer. We can all add those little experiences to our writing.

Now, I’m ALWAYS trying to learn things. I read a lot of articles, news and science features, online. I try to read books as often as I can, and I talk to people. On Twitter, if you engage in conversation with me, I’m likely to ask questions if something interesting comes up. I’m nosy, yes, but I ask to learn interesting things that I maybe know nothing about. And there’s usually nothing more fun than talking to someone who’s excited about something. That enthusiasm is hard to fake.

22. What are your strengths and weaknesses in your writing?

Grammar and head-hopping have been mentioned to me once or twice as weaknesses. Strengths? I’d say dialog, character and hopefully an interesting idea.

23. What has been most difficult about writing for you? What has been easiest?

Writing is enjoyable when you’re “in the zone”. It’s easy and it fuels itself. The difficult part is if you don’t have the time or you get bogged down. Every line becomes a challenge.
One of the new challenges is marketing. Deciding to let others read my stories means I have to tell them about it. Apologies to those who hear me tell them about it seven million times a week. 

24. What’s next in the Spartan’s repertoire?

My current WIP is called Persephone and is a follow up to Monsters. It’s taking a while to get where I want to be with it. In the meantime, I wrote a YA Urban Fantasy story based around a place called Dynamo City. It’s filled with interesting characters and hopefully an engaging story which, if successful, will be ongoing. No trilogy here. There’s enough material to write about twenty books, if there’s any kind of demand for it.

25. Why did you self-publish? Did you try other routes?

I genuinely wrote Monsters for me first. It was an idea I wanted to write. A few years ago, I heard about the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award and I thought I’d give it a try. I’d never seriously considered being a writer “for real” but I started thinking it didn’t sound like a bad idea. NaNoWriMo got on my radar and I competed and completed Monsters during that mad November. The following January, I entered the ABNA competition and didn’t get past the pitch phase. I’d never pitched before, and I was already learning all these new things about writing. I wanted more. I wanted Monsters as a book to hold in my hand. Finishing it was a huge deal for me since it was the first full length novel I’d ever completed. I decided to go through Createspace and make it into a book. Then others wanted it…and then it was an ebook…and I’ve just kept going like that.

I didn’t know enough about the publishing world, and I’m still not sure I’m writing what is being snapped up just yet, but I’m definitely gearing myself more in the direction of an agent and a publishing deal. The Dynamo City stuff will be self-pubbed. Persephone I intend to query and see if I can generate some interest in it. Persephone will be my first real attempt to follow the traditional route.

26. What promotion techniques have helped you the most?

That’s very difficult to say. I’d like to say the work sells itself, but it doesn’t. I’d also like to say my wit and charm go a long way but I’m not sure they do either. The two biggest assets for an Indie writer or someone who self-publishes are word of mouth and reviews. If someone reads your book and tells others about it, it generates sales. If someone reads your book and gives you a good review, it generates sales. It’s really that simple.

27. Why social media?

The internet has opened up a world market from your computer, and the best way to tap into that is through social media. Carrying on the thought from above, if someone on Twitter or Facebook reads your books and tells all their friends, suddenly your audience size has increased exponentially. There’s a lot of give and take if you want to create genuine connections. I will happily support those who offer support in return and I’ve been fortunate to bump into some really supportive people. I find myself getting excited for any successes amongst my social media connections, because I look at it as a sign that it’s possible to succeed doing it the way I’m doing it. Plus, some of these people are just genuinely decent and talented and deserve a crack at the big time.

28. Top genre to read. Top genre to watch. Top genre to write.

To read? Comic books are still a lot of fun. Either those or thriller/suspense type stories.

To watch? Sci-fi or fantasy. Done right, those are sometimes just so spectacular.
To write? I’m all over the place but anything with strong characters is what I’ll be found chipping away at.

29. What is the reaction of those around you - family and close friends - about your writing?

My family are always very supportive. Since many of them stumbled onto Facebook and Twitter they’ve been able to be vocal about my writing, and that’s always appreciated. Close friends too have been very supportive. My friend Andrew helped me all the way through Monsters, and I still maintain to this day it wouldn’t have gotten finished without his input. I don’t have a big family or a lot of friends but they’re all in my corner.

Now I begin the nosy questions:

30. And the Spartan’s favorite question: You're stranded on a desert island. You’ve got one book, one piece of music, one movie, a bowl of your favorite dessert and one person you'd like to share the island with for a while. What are your choices?

Book: To Kill a Mockingbird is my favorite book but I think I’d choose something a little longer and more fantastical…Dragons of Autumn Twilight. Unless the new Song of Fire and Ice book is out…then definitely that one. Lol

Music: Holst - The Planets. A truly brilliant classical music suite to cover every mood.

Movie: The original Star Wars (A New Hope) before Lucas messed with it. I used to watch that movie all the time. A lot of fun.

Dessert: Mint Choc Chip Ice Cream. Yermy!

Person: Wilson the Volleyball.

31. If you knew you only had 48 hours left to live, what is the first thing you would do?

Quit my job.

32. Why the helmet?

Gus was a nickname from childhood and Spartacus was a cool movie. Trying to come up with a cool Twitter handle that hadn’t been used was difficult, so I tried Spartagus and it stuck. The helmet came along with the Sparta bit. It was then fun to play with that persona.

33. What do you wish you had time to do?

Write more and travel more. I’ve been to some cool places but I’d love to go see some more.

34. Hobbies? Collections?

My biggest hobby over the last twenty years has been comic books. My collection takes up way too much space, and it’s not even that big compared to other collectors. Right now, I have over 5000 comics taking up a lot of space in the dungeon. I get into collecting mode really easy. If I was a serial killer, I’d get caught because someone would find a shelf full of heads or something. I’m just saying I collect things. Lol. I also have a coin collection and you could say a movie collection.

35. What would you like to learn to do?

I enjoy learning a lot of stuff. I’d like to learn to write better, though. Lol.

So there you have it, ladies and gents – what makes the Spartan tick. Thanks, Gareth, for letting me stop by and ask you a gazillion questions. Be expecting a volleyball for Christmas, by the way. You need to be prepared in case that deserted island scenario happens. ;-) she gone? *sneaks out of darkened room* Whew! :)

All joking aside, my thanks to Gina for suggesting and then setting up this interview. It was a lot of fun.

Gina is writer of romance and erotica. Her first novel, Twilah, is complete and awaiting publication. Her second is being edited as we speak. She's super-sweet and a touch sarcastic and I would highly recommend you follow her on Twitter:

And don't forget to check out her website -