On Zombies, Pressed Ties, and Other Matters: An Interview

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Editor Felicia Sullivan (who is known for specializing in editing works of indie zombie horror) asked me for an interview about writing and The Zombie Bible. I am not sure whether the results were humorous, profound, or some combination of the above, but it was a memorable interview, and I thought you might enjoy it:

1. Have you always wanted to be a writer, or did you just kind of fall into it?

Stant Litore. Always. Which means I did just kind of fall into it. I just fell into it when I was small and young and not nearly tall enough or strong enough to put on a suit and a tie and climb my way out of that deep pit of the Imagination and go find another, more respectable vocation. Something like law or accounting, something that would have led me to a lifetime of neatly pressed ties and abysmal misery. That didn’t happen. I didn’t make it out of the pit. So here I am. Writing. And answering interview questions. And then writing some more.

VenusflytrapPictured: The Venus fly-trap of the Imagination.

2. What’s your process? Do you have a set writing schedule, or do you wing it?

Stant Litore. I write nearly every day, and I aim for 1,000 words minimum. The when and the where is up for grabs, as long as it happens. I try to take a quick walk whenever I can, as that’s when the story actually gets created — the rush of ideas, scenes, moments of love and hope and morbid death. When I do sit down with pen and paper or with my laptop, I throw on headphones and listen to something moody and symphonic. And I write.

The music is the key. I trained myself for years, in a war against writer’s block. Now the moment the headphones go on, I am in fiction world. (Thank you, Pavlov.)

PavlovPictured: This is Pavlov.
This is not me.
I feel I should clarify that.

3. What is your favorite genre to read? To write?

Stant Litore. I will read anything that is a great story and that has something useful or beautiful or impressive to say. I read a lot of science fiction, fantasy, history, and science, and books about theology and what people think, why they think, and whether they think. I read a lot of books about love. And death. Definitely a lot of love and death.

holbein_danse_macabreGene Wolfe, my favorite novelist, noted that “literature” is often
assumed to be about love and death, while “mere popular fiction”
is alleged to be about sex and violence. He then takes that distinction apart:
“One reader’s sex, alas, is another’s love; and one’s violence, another’s death.”

I am writing horror right now, which really means that I am writing fantasies set in the distant past in which truly awful things happen and in which various people, some of them awful, and some of them very not-awful, try to survive that.

4. What was the first book you wrote, and how successful was it?

Stant Litore. That depends on whether you mean the first book I wrote or the first book I published. The first book I wrote was tremendously successful and well-reviewed by its single reader (me). And I still love it. It had castles in it. And battles. And a thrilling race to the death on horseback. And also a very large pumpkin pie, as I recall.

The first book I published was Death Has Come Up into Our Windows, in which an Old Testament prophet struggles to keep his wife, his city, and his faith safe against the overwhelming dead. This book sold 6,000 copies in December 2011, and I was (and am) quite proud of that. Readers either love it (enthusiastically) or loathe it (enthusiastically). It is that kind of book.

DHCWFirst novel. On the left, the cover of the 2011 edition.


5. How do you spend your time when you are not writing? Do you have any interesting hobbies?

Stant Litore. What is this “time” you speak of?

In all seriousness, most of my time that isn’t spent at work or writing is spent with my wife and two daughters, one of them disabled and requiring a lot of care. But also, they are all very bouncy and exciting people (including my wife, who will probably see this interview at some point and demand, “Bouncy???”), and I really enjoy spending time with them. Once my girls are in bed, I am probably writing. Or reading. Or taking a walk. Or maybe watching A Game of Thrones.

I did have hobbies at one time. I distinctly remember having hobbies. I now have children.

Toddler2Steampunk Toddler.

ChildrenAlso, there are now two. (Pictured: Inara and River.)

I like to play chess, or read up on my history, or teach a class at my local church. When the children are a little older, I look forward to traveling with them.

I am actually passionate about dead languages. So chances are, if I am indulging in free time, you will find me translating something with an almost-fever glow on my face. Because I love language. It is our oldest tool, and one that we improve upon and change very quickly, adapting it to different needs, and we don’t even know we’re doing it. It’s remarkable. I like to page through dictionaries of Greek or Hebrew or Latin with the same delighted awe with which a gardener traces his hand along the leaves of a fruitfully-growing, healthy plant. Language is beautiful.

ConjugationThinking…thinking…was that another ablative absolute?

6. Does your family support your writing dreams/career/goals?

Stant Litore. Enthusiastically, much to my surprise and delight. My wife has been incredibly supportive and is probably the #1 reason I have time and sanity to write. Also, there is so much of her in my novels. My children, too. My three-year-old likes to grab one of my novels off the shelf and page through it, intoning solemnly, “ZOM-bie book. ZOM-bie. ZOM-bie.”

No, I did not teach her that.

ToddlerMy daughter River. And zombies.

7. How many books have you written, and which one is your absolute favorite?

Stant Litore. The first three books in The Zombie Bible have been released, the fourth is with my editor, and a separate novella called The Dark Need will be coming out this September. There are also a lot of other unfinished manuscripts chained up and moaning like wakeful corpses in the basement, but we don’t talk about them.

I love (and have a healthy respect for) each of the novels I’ve written. I think my favorite is What Our Eyes Have Witnessed. A lot of what I personally believe or hope about our world is in that book, and there is a story of love and loss that moves my heart more than any other I’ve written. My favorite scene, however, is in Strangers in the Land, and it is the scene in which Devora chooses her husband.

My second favorite scene is also toward the end of that book, and is considerably bloodier.

8. Do you read reviews of your books? How do they affect you, whether positive or negative?

Stant Litore. I do. I do read every review. As a rule, I don’t respond, though I’ve seen some writers do that. I have two goals when I publish a book, and the first is to make readers cry. I mean that literally. I want to know that a story that really moved me or shocked me or overjoyed me or terrified me had that effect on others, too. I want to know that I got to share it — not the words on the page but that experience, the lives and the struggle and the courage and the love and the panache of those characters. I want to know that. So I read reviews, and am grateful to find that yes, people are moved. Or shocked. Or terrified, or grieving, or happy, whatever the story calls for. If you did not like the book and you write a review, I am not offended. I am not writing the books for everyone; only oxygen and water are equally of use and equally pleasing to all people. For everything else, there’s taste.

I did receive one review that did offend me. It has only happened once. The reader got most of the details of the plot incorrect, gave away a huge plot spoiler in the review (and I mean, a really huge spoiler), mistook my use of a Hebrew name as a “silly mispronouncement” of an English name, and you know, I think that is the only thing that has ever really offended me. I write about the horrors that come lurching out of our past. Not everyone in our past was born with names in good American English. Deal with it.

Other than that one time, I have really enjoyed reading reviews, even the “negative” ones. A review is an incredible gift. It’s a gift of a reader’s time and attention, in a world that is fast-paced, a world that limits your supply of time and attention. It is a blessing to receive that kind of gift from a stranger. Whether they liked the book or not, they read it, they spent time with my characters, they spent time with me, even if I didn’t know they were doing it until I read their review. There are no words for how cool that is.

9. You know the next question always is: Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

Stant Litore. Your novel needs to tell the truth and take no prisoners. You’ll hear all the other advice from other writers, agents, and editors. Advice about discipline and perseverance. Advice about plotting and pacing and character. So I won’t repeat it here. What I will say is find out who your characters really are, let them show you, and find the truth your novel has to tell. Nothing matters more than that. Do not compromise or take shortcuts. Do not chicken out under pressure and write the easier path for your story. If that means you find out two thirds the way through that a near-complete rewrite would give you a story nine times as powerful, you do it. If you won’t have the courage to let your story dig deep into the heart, you’re wasting your time.

10. Tell us your plan for riding out the zombie apocalypse.

I am still forming my plan for the zombie apocalypse; surviving such a thing is unlikely. But I am definitely sharpening my hand-and-a-half bastard sword and eyeing canned goods. I think I will take my battered old pocket Bible and a yellow-paged old Herodotus, knowing that I won’t be able to carry much so I had better go with books that have been with me a long time and have a lot of stories in them. Besides fighting off my suddenly homicidal and reeking neighbors, my greatest worry will be medicine for my daughter. I suppose that in the event of a zombie apocalypse I will need to begin raiding pharmacies; I and half of the rest of the population. Still, I would not like to be the person who gets between me and my daughter’s medicine.

I’m not an optimist (nor a pessimist — I just set the goal and I get it done). I don’t think “the war will be over by Christmas.” People who believe that get eaten. I keep my eye on the prize and I don’t give up. And that is probably the only thing I will have going for me, if the dead do rise and begin dining on entrails. Wish me luck.

Click here to check out Stant Litore’s The Zombie Bible.

Learn more about Felicia Sullivan, the interviewer, here.

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