The Ghoul Archipelago

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Zombies and villains and ghouls – oh my! It’s one thing for life as we know it to all come undone. It’s quite another when whoever – or whatever – is left starts calling the shots in a most unpleasant way. After the undead apocalypse,  a warlord, a robber baron and a cult leader struggle against each other for control of the remnants of civilization in Stephen Kozeniewski’s taut horror novel, “The Ghoul Archipelago.”

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: The title alone is a grabber! How did you come up with it?

A:  Why, thank you!  You’re going to laugh but I have had people (educated people, lawyers, for instance) come up to me and say, “Hey, did you ever hear of this guy Solzhenitsyn?  He wrote a book with a name just like yours!”  But, yes, basically the pun seemed like a slam dunk when I came up with the idea of having a nautical zombie adventure.  I hope this does turn into a popular series because I’ve come up with a bunch more Russian lit pun titles: GORE AND PEACE, NOTES FROM THE UNDEAD, THE WIGHT GUARD…

Q: In your opinion, what do you suppose accounts for the longstanding fascination that book lovers and movie goers have with end-of-the-world themes, dystopian societies, and scary undead folks?

A:  That’s a whole bunch of things to address.  The scary undead folks thing I think is a pretty primal fascination.  We’ve always wondered what happens after we die, and the flip side of playing a harp amongst the pink fluffy clouds with Katy Perry is the secret fear that we’re really just rotting bags of bones and nothing more.  I think the obsession with the end of the world and the dystopian future, though, is a function of the fact that every generation thinks that it was the pinnacle of achievement and when they hand it over to those rotten kids everything’s going straight to the sewer.  Actually, I guess I handled both of those complicated sociological issues pretty succinctly.  Go Team Me!

Q: Is the zombie genre playing itself out or do you think it’s going to linger for the foreseeable future?

A:  I think the zombie genre won’t ever be played out for the same reason mob movies won’t ever be played out.  As long as you have a good story to tell, there’s no reason why it will suddenly become bad just because it contains braineating corpses (or mafia thugs.)   Now, that being said, there is an issue with far too many zombie novels being dimestore ripoffs of The Walking Dead, which was itself a dimestore ripoff of Romero’s Holy Trilogy.  People are bored with having the same old “survivors refuse to believe at first then slowly enter the grim world of the apocalypse” story rehashed over and over again with only superficial changes.  The good news is a whole new generation of authors are starting to break the old mold.  Check out almost anything Severed Press has released if you don’t believe me.  (Shameless plug!)

Q: What attracted you as a writer to delve into the world of modern horror?

A:  In two words: Brian Keene.  The dude made me believe that “zombie novelist” was a viable career choice.

Q: Is this your first foray into publishing?

A:  THE GHOUL ARCHIPELAGO is actually my sophomore novel, and it is very different from my debut, BRAINEATER JONES.  I like to describe it this way: GHOUL is 90% horror, 10% humor and BRAINEATER is 90% humor, 10% horror.

Q: Are there limits or taboos in crafting this type of story?

A:  The short answer is no, and that’s part of the joy of writing horror.  I truly, truly, truly appreciate when people tell me things like, “Your novel made me want to vomit.”  I think every horror novelist (of a certain stripe) desires to push the boundaries of what went before.  And horror fans are a jaded type; they demand the ultimate in cutting edge gore.  I did ask my publisher what it meant in my contract that the work was not “defamatory or obscene” considering that this was a hardcore horror novel and he responded “that just means things like scat or child abuse.”  So, I guess there are some limits, legally speaking, but the urge to transgress further and further is integral to writing horror.

Q: What was your favorite scene to write?

A:  Oh, the puppet scene.  Hands down.  I have a morbid and possibly unwholesome fascination with puppets.  I almost never find my own work funny, but writing that scene I was laughing so hard it made me cry.

Q: Editors and publishers typically advise against “head-hopping” – the practice of writing from multiple points of view. What are your thoughts about that?

A:  I think it’s extremely important not to change POV mid-scene or mid-chapter.  That’s just going to give your reader vertigo at best or nausea at worst.  That being said, I think that once you see those three magical asterisks or a page break, then all bets are off.  Head-hopping over the course of a narrative allows you to put together a much more complete story, like providing the reader with overlapping Venn diagrams until they finally see the “truth” in the center.  This is the approach I used in THE GHOUL ARCHIPELAGO, and I even made sure to identify each POV character in the chapter title, a method I shamelessly stole from George R.R. Martin.

Q: How does this interface with the pros and cons of using first and third person narrative to move a story forward?

A:  I’ve now published two novels, one in first person and one in third.  First is very limiting because you almost have to be constantly using deus ex machinas to ensure that the viewpoint character, and consequently the reader, receives all the information necessary to the plot.  It’s a whole lot of “Ooh, look, I found a letter” and “Ah, here’s a character who will tell me what I didn’t know!”  Third person allows for a different level of dramatic tension – say, the reader can know what the villain is doing but the hero doesn’t.  Still, the limitations of first person are offset by the lived-in feeling of actually occupying someone’s headspace.  There’s an intimacy to first person that can’t be achieved with any other form of writing.

Q:  Which do you suppose is a greater challenge – for a male to write strong female characters or a female writer to capture the mindset and motivations of a strong man?

A:  Three of the viewpoint characters in GHOUL are strong females.  I think I found it easiest to write for LtCol West, because I know what it’s like to be a genuinely competent officer but maybe a little too sensitive for the military.  Writing for Eve I also drew on my own experience, because I’ve more than once felt the frustration of being the only intelligent person propping up a foolhardy boss.  Butch was the biggest stretch for me, because I’ve never really had to fight to survive relying only on my charisma.  I think the key to writing any character well is getting to the emotional core of that person, and since we’re all people, we’re all capable of it, regardless of gender.  But I won’t deny it’s harder for me to write females than males.  Did I just dodge the actual question like a crooked Southern politician?  No comment.

Q: Writing has been described as a solitary craft where you spend a lot of time inside your own head. How, then, does one become part of the author community and interact with kindred spirits?

A:  Based on the voluminous correspondence of Lovecraft, for instance, I think the practice of authors reaching out to one another from behind their desk is nothing new, although the internet is making it far easier.  I talk to other authors literally daily on Facebook.  Less so on Twitter, though there are some semi-famous authors who I’m pleased to have a “sometimes he tweets me back” relationship with.  The community has been incredibly welcoming and I think there’s a certain expectation that peers have to take care of one another and the old guard always has to “pay it forward” to the next generation.  That’s definitely been my experience so far.

Q: Share with us your experience publishing through an independent press, as well as what governed that decision for you.

A:  Oh, Severed is one of, if not the world’s premiere zombie horror press.  I jumped at the opportunity to sign with them.  Gary Lucas and his crew have been quick, responsive, and extremely professional.  I got to work closely with them on my editing and cover design.  And they were lightning fast in turnaround on everything.  Plus: how many people can say their publisher is in Tasmania?

Q: In today’s Internet age, authors are required to do more and more self-promotion to get the word out. What resources and venues have you found to be the most helpful in terms of generating a buzz for your work?

A:  Well, buzz and sales are different, so right off the bat I’ll say for sales, BookBub.  But for buzz it’s been blogs like this one.  Most of my reviews at this point are from bloggers, and a number of readers have told me that they only picked up my book to review because they saw it on a blog they liked.

Q: Does every author who’s not JK Rowling suffer from impostor syndrome?

A:  I certainly do.  I’m in constant fear that some bouncer is going to eye me suspiciously one day and shout, “You’re not a real author!” and toss me out of the velvet rope.  Every author I know has confided the same concern to me.  Of course, it’s not like I know authors on every step of the professional ladder.  It’s mostly just beginners.  Overall I get the impression that everyone’s afraid if they don’t have the sales of E.L. James and the critical acclaim of Jonathan Franzen then they’re not a real author.  It’s probably partly the media’s fault, but it could also be something inherent in the psyche of a writer.

Q: What would readers be the most surprised to learn about you?

A:  I have nine tattoos but I’ve been under the needle thirteen times.  (Tantalizing, right?)

Q: So what’s next on your plate?

A:  You know what?  Since you asked me, I’m going to make the big public announcement right here on From the Authors.  I just signed a contract with Permuted Press for my third novel, tentatively titled EVERY KINGDOM DIVIDED.  As a post-apocalyptic sci-fi political satire, it’s a bit of a departure for me, but I’m very excited about breaking some new ground and hopefully finding some new fans.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you?

A:  I’m active on Facebook (www.facebook.com/kozauthor), Twitter (www.twitter.com/outfortune), and my blog (www.manuscriptsburn.blogspot.com).

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A:  Thanks so much for having me!

 

A Bloody Mess in the Wild, Wild West

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Outlaws, soldiers gone mad and the aftermath of the Civil War encompass the pages of Justin Bienvenue’s horror novel, A Bloody Mess in the Wild, Wild West. Following the Civil War, a corrupt tycoon has taken over one ghost town that must reclaim its peaceful status and survive the struggles of a powerful man with abilities beyond these citizens’ imaginations.

Interviewer: Christy Campbell

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What can you tell us about your latest work?

My latest work is a western horror called A Bloody, Bloody Mess In The Wild, Wild West. It is a book about struggles and life during western times, the Civil War and, of course, the undead. It focuses on the Mexican outlaw Javier “Bones” Jones and his wish to wreak havoc upon the small town of Toomswood. When the town has had enough of his business in their town, they wish to take him out; however he has gained new abilities and suddenly getting him out of town will mean a lot more than just asking him nicely.

What was the inspiration behind wanting to write this?

I was watching a few horror films on zombies and a few days after that I was watching some of those spaghetti westerns starring Clint Eastwood. I believe the movies were Dawn of the Dead or one of those weird, gory zombie flicks and the Clint Eastwood movies were A Fistful of Dollars and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Well upon watching them I thought writing a western would be a great idea. I then thought back to the previous days of watching zombie movies when suddenly the title popped into my head. I realized my brain didn’t need to be sold on it anymore –  I was in! I have always enjoyed westerns and when the thought came into mind that I could actually write one I knew right then and there that this was happening.

How does your book compare to other books written in its particular genre?

I would say they are definitely similar for sure. I didn’t really realize how much of the Western Horror genre was out there until I glanced at some of the books. They have a very good fan base and my concept for the book is a common one in genre but I have found that everyone has their own creative unique spin to it. I have found a few fellow authors of the genre such as Tim Curran, who is highly regarded, Joe R. Lansdale and Eric S. Brown who all have multiple book within the genre and all look very enticing. I think the book shares certain qualities for sure although I also like to think my book gives a small detail to the real hardships of The Civil War and the western times compared to most. However, I know my book doesn’t come close to works of Tim Curran and other such profound western horror writers.

How do you think potential readers will perceive the book?

So far it has been perceived very well. Some have stated it’s got plenty of action and they enjoy being put in that western atmosphere and others have stated it comes off as a manuscript for a horror movie. I realize some will love it and others won’t care for it and either way I am happy with the outcome. I just hope that if they didn’t enjoy it they at least took something from it.

What’s one unique element or quality you put into the book that people would be interested in knowing?

The historical accuracy of certain aspects during The Wild West era. I wasn’t going to just write a book about The Wild West and throw in horror; I wanted to also portray real life events or accurate things during it as well. This includes such things as the right weapons (when certain revolvers came out), the language, certain Civil War accounts and timeframes. Overall, I wanted to give it a good ol’ western feel with real historical events and elements as well.

What is your take on the self-publishing/Indie industry?

My take on the industry is that it is just like the traditional publishing industry although people tend to treat it as less. I believe that Indie publishing is clearly on the rise and that the authors who self-publish work just as hard as those who take the traditional route. Given the spike it has taken, I think more people are going down the Indie route as either a shortcut or they want to do the work themselves and retain control of their work. I do believe for the most part that it is a growing trend in the publishing world and I think it’s a good thing.

How has being a self-published author helped in your writing and what have been some of the downfalls?

It’s helped in the sense that I don’t have people giving me a deadline as to when I need to get the book done. Also there are no certain set of rules or word counts that I need to follow or reach. I believe this helps me by giving me the freedom to set my own rules and pace and this way I can write at the pace I wish and not have to worry about reaching a deadline. The downfall is, of course, not getting the proper processes that follow the finishing of a book such as editing, formatting and proofreading. Traditionally the company tends to have all those on hand whereas a self-published author has to find someone to do it for you – sometimes one person to do it all – but mainly individuals to help assist you in each department. For the most part I have been lucky in finding the proper help but it certainly makes it a challenge when you have to look and find the right person to look over your work.

What do you believe is a benefit in being self-published that traditional publishing doesn’t offer?

Freedom, self-esteem and satisfaction. The freedom in being able to work as you please without having to worry about certain things you’d otherwise worry about with a traditional publisher as I stated above. The feeling that you did all the work yourself and the outcome gives you complete satisfaction. There’s nothing better than working your hardest on something and feeling good in the end knowing you accomplished it.

Was it always your plan to have your book self-published or did you look into traditional ones as well?

For my second book, yes. I went with a bad traditional publishing company with my first book. I believe they were even a vanity press in some degree. Anyway, I had a very bad experience with them so I decided that for my second book it would be best to go down the self-publishing direction. I definitely think it was the right choice and it has been a lot better. I have since gotten out of my contract with that company and also re-published the first book as self-published as well. I am not completely turned off on the idea of traditional publishers in the future but I just feel right now that I like the Indie side of publishing.

What’s one thing you want readers to take from reading your work?

I want them to enjoy what they are reading and I want them take to something with them after reading that will stick with them. I want them to remember something from the book that they find themselves looking back on and either referencing it with something or just thinking “that was a good scene.” Overall I want them to experience the book as if they themselves were a part of it.

 

A Bloody Mess in the Wild, Wild West is available on Amazon in Kindle and paperback formats.