Monday, November 9, 2009

Blog with Bite Welcomes Teel McClanahan - Author Q&A

This week Blog with Bite is featuring Teel McClanahan. We would like to offer a big thanks to Teel for stopping by and answering all of our questions - and for also offering his new book Cheating, Death for a giveaway. For Contest Click Here.

Welcome Teel!

BWB: So, Zombies? How did you choose this particular subject?

TM: This novel was actually inspired out of some readers' responses to my last novel, Forget What You Can't Remember. In that book I was exploring how different characters reacted to surviving traumatic, life-altering events in unique ways - the most obvious of the traumatic events being a zombie outbreak. I got a lot of feedback from readers who wanted more zombies, more action, and more death. So I decided to tell the story of the zombie outbreak that set the events of that book in motion through a more traditional zombie narrative.

BWB: What do you find is the most challenging part of writing a novel?

TM: It seems to be different with every novel. (This is my 7th.) With Cheating, Death the most difficult was a struggle between writing the story the length it wanted to be and trying to pad it to reach a more traditional book length. I decided to serve the story, and its natural structure and length. It worked out well; there seem to be a lot of people happy to get hold of a shorter book.

BWB: Would you consider your novel classified as urban fantasy, horror or something else entirely? Do you think that it is important to distinguish the genre?

TM: I'm not a fan of strict genre classifications. I tend to include elements from multiple genres within a single story, without regard for specific genre traditions. Cheating, Death is my first attempt to target a single thing; I really wanted to nail 'zombie book' - which is a sub-genre of horror.

BWB: What is the most crazy idea for a book that you have had? Any plans on running with it?

TM: I have an idea for a book without any characters, in which literally no action takes place - I think that qualifies as the most ridiculous. It's a challenge I'm not going to attempt right away, but part of the reason I started my own publishing company is so that when I have a ridiculous idea, I'm free to run with it and see where it takes me. If I ever do write that one, I'll be sure to send you a copy!

BWB: Zombies seem to be really hot right now, even Smallville (WB superman drama) had Lois Lane turn into a zombie, why do you think people are so infatuated with the living dead?

TM: Zombies can represent so many different things, they're one of the most versatile and personal monsters we have available. Our relationship with the dead, our fear of our own mortality and of disease; these are easy. Zombies also represent the 'other' who lives among us, which is giving paranormal romance authors a lot of room to explore social taboos, not to mention a love that lives on in a new form after one party dies. There is so much to explore with zombies, it's fertile ground for telling new stories and retelling old stories in a new way.

BWB: There is a note on Modern Evil (re-quoted on BWB) that the cover for Cheating, Death is deliberately misleading – was the cover designed to represent an iconic view of zombies for recognition purposes, instead of representing the basis of the book or were you just being funny?

TM: As author/artist on one hand and a publisher/marketer on the other, I have a love/hate relationship with book covers. I want a cover that represents what I believe the book is about and which expresses my unique voice, but the book-buying public wants to be able to identify genre at a glance and without ambiguity. For me, this cover was a compromise. The reaching hand and the cemetery are iconic of zombies, so I'm able to catch a browsing reader's eye and communicate zombie instantly - and if that gets them to read the back cover, and if that leads them to Appendix Z, then the stage is set and they're already reading the book. I see marketers misleading people every day, but as an honest person I'd at least like to do it more like a magician than a crook; to entertain with misdirection, rather than to frustrate.

BWB: Anything else in the works right now? If so, when can we expect your next book?

TM: I'm always working on something. It's November, so I'm struggling with NaNoWriMo (more on that below), same as every year. I had a lot of zombie ideas while working on Cheating, Death, so I'm also researching for a trilogy of books set in a world where instead of the Spanish Flu, there was a massive, worldwide zombie outbreak in 1918 - an alternate history that leads to a much different modern world and where a mutation of the zombie infection leads to a powerful new religion. I'll follow the stories wherever they take me, but right now I expect to have an alternate history about the period of the outbreak & the rebuilding of society, a procedural thriller following the investigation of a series of small outbreaks after 50 years without a single zombie problem, and a teen drama about a questing young man learning about a dangerous STD and the intricacies of the zombie-centered religion - all by this time next year, if the research, writing, and re-writing go as expected.

BWB: Complex, yet fascinating. I'll be waiting to read that one. Back to the Cheating, Death. A forgive and forget attitude on adultery, or anyone know a good divorce attorney?

TM: I personally believe in forgiveness, and in people's ability to learn from their mistakes. Melvin and Frances, the main characters in Cheating, Death, find themselves in the midst of a zombie outbreak that forces them to face Melvin's adultery without the aid of attorneys or enough time to forgive & forget. I hope I never face a day half as difficult as they go through in the book.

BWB: Do you find that your characters drive you, or are you in the driver seat with your characters?

TM: I see myself as more of a navigator. My characters typically drive the story (and drive me crazy, sometimes), but I know where we're all supposed to be headed and I'm there to give them directions when they get lost. A good story is one that takes you for a ride, and I truly believe the journey is at least as important as the destination - if my characters didn't have enough life in them to take the lead, sometimes, I think my stories would fall pretty flat.

BWB: Dawn of the Dead 1978 or 2004?

TM: May I say Shaun of the Dead? No? Okay, okay, if you insist, I'll admit that I had a lot more fun watching the remake. In a question of fast vs. slow zombies, I'll say slow zombies every time - I believe that once zombies get fast, you could substitute rabid animals and get the same story, and once zombies get intelligent (talking, using tools, falling in love) you're leaning pretty hard on vampires. Fast, smart, and immortal? That's not zombies. It may be fun to watch, but it's a whole other thing. Speaking of which: If you get a chance, I recommend The Revenant - a zombie buddy flick... that acknowledges they aren't strictly zombies.

BWB: The writing and publishing of Cheating, Death was a very past faced process. With everyone involved in NaNoWriMo ( what advice can you give to struggling authors gunning for a 30 day deadline?

TM: I've been doing NaNoWriMo for eight years, now, and I've "won" four times. I've also written an entire book (well, the first draft) over a Labor Day Weekend (google the 3-Day Novel Contest), which is a different sort of a challenge. The best advice I can give is to stick with it; don't give up, even if it seems hopeless. The first year I participated, after setting aside my first two attempts, I ended up writing an entire novel in 8 long, inspiring days. After a year of rewrites, those 8 days had become the basis of my first full novel, Lost and Not Found.

They don't roll it out much any more, but one of the old slogans was "Don't get it right, get it written." For first drafts and for first-time writers, I think that's excellent advice. If your draft takes a ridiculous turn, just follow it, see where it takes you - at the least, you'll learn something new about your characters so that when you go back and take the ridiculous bit out (some other month!), you'll have a better idea about what to replace it with. The goal of NaNoWriMo isn't to write the Great American Novel, or even something publishable on your first attempt, it's to stop making excuses and write!

I've had so many other things going on (with Cheating, Death coming out being a big one), I'm actually about 10k words behind right now. I've been doing something I recommend that you never do, which is to jump from story to story thinking the next one will be better. That's a sure road to failure - I'm the only one I know it ever worked for, and it only worked the once. It's time to really dig in and get writing, though. And if I have a good first draft by November 30th, you can expect to see it in print early next year.

BWB: If you happened to see a zombie, grab the video camera or run for your life?

TM: How close is it? Just the one, or a horde of zombies? Am I alone? If they're fast zombies, all bets are off, and I'm in the car headed to the hills before the rest of the world knows what's going on. I've had to spend a fair amount of time thinking about this, you see... But: I have an iPhone 3GS in my pocket, so if I have time, I'll shoot a quick video and it'll be posting to YouTube from my pocket while I'm bludgeoning the thing to death with whatever's handy. If there's another person nearby, I can probably get them to shoot video while I kill it. Then we head for the hills.

Thanks for the interview Teel you definitely had me laughing the whole time!  If you enjoyed our chat and would like to find out more about Teel McClanahan, here are a few links to help you on your way:

Teel on Goodreads
Purchase Cheating, Death @
Purchase eBooks @ Smashwords


brizmus said...

What an awesome interview! He sounds so funny. I'd never heard of any of his other books, but I'm no officially interested. I would also be interested if he wrote one like he wants with no action at all.
Sometimes actionless books can be good.
I actually have a friend that won that 3-day novel contest that he's talking about (or maybe he won a novel in a day contest; I can't remember). I'd be interested to know if he published what he wrote.

Teel said...

With a few pages added to the ending and some editing (of course, editing!), the book I wrote in 3 days became the 3rd book in my Untrue Tales... series. [link] You can get it (and most of my books) as free eBooks straight from my site, if you want to give them a try. (Of course, you're welcome to buy them, too!)

If you want a taste of an actionless book, Forget What You Can't Remember is almost entirely dialog. (This is partially because I constantly had the podcast audiobook version in mind, as I was writing it.) If you look at it from the right frame of mind (& understand the ending), even the action that did occur on the page didn't occur. But I think I need to think for a while on the other idea; there's no room for telling a story through dialog if there aren't any characters.

Oh, and I did finally get some traction on an idea for NaNoWriMo, and I just need to figure out how to catch up from 10+ days behind, now. It's actually a book without any overt fantastic elements, nothing paranormal or supernatural or high-tech/scifi - I'm excited to see how I do with such an unusual setting!