Blogs by L.T. Suzuki
Rusty Fischer Interview
5/9/2011 9:59:03 PM
YA Paranormal author Rusty Fischer discusses his latest title as well as the writing life!
LTS: I was introduced to today’s guest blogger by YA author and Twitter pal, Trish Wolfe. She was raving about a great new story she had just finished reading and because I trust her taste in books, I decided to check it out.
The novel is a YA paranormal called ‘Zombies Don’t Cry’ and the author is the talented Rusty Fischer!
I’d like to begin by having you share a little information about yourself with our readers. I know you were a high school teacher, but what else would you like to share with our readers?
RF: I am married to my beautiful wife, Martha, who was also a teacher. (She likes zombies slightly less than I do, but that’s okay; I love her anyway.) When I left teaching to write for an educational company, even though I was still writing on behalf of kids, I felt like I was abandoning a commitment I’d made to myself to make the world a better place by working with kids. I still wanted to teach, but I knew I’d be a better writer than I was a teacher. So I committed to writing for kids instead, and that’s why young adults, in general, and writing YA, in particular, is so important to me.
LTS: Has writing stories always been a part of your life and becoming a published author a life long dream?
RF: Yes to both! I began writing when I was around nine years old and have been writing ever since. I absolutely grew up wanting to be a writer, and was told over and over to do something more “realistic” and “reasonable.” Even by my English professors in college. I understand now what they meant; writing for a living is very, very hard. But even though I’m still working on writing for myself as a living, I consider being a published author validation of this goal that I’m working toward.
LTS: I recently received an ARC of ‘Zombies Don’t Cry’ and my 13-year-old daughter dove right in. She spent one afternoon hidden away in her bedroom reading the story. As my daughter is a prolific reader and she recently started co-writing ‘The Dream Merchant Saga’ YA fantasy series with me, I asked her what she thought of the book and if she’d recommend it to others.
My daughter loved it! She said it was a laugh-out-loud funny, entertaining read that she thoroughly enjoyed! She also said she’d recommend it to her friends.
So tell me, what was the inspiration behind this story and can you tell us a little bit about your protagonist, Maddy Swift?
RF: Maddy is a tomboy who just doesn’t know it yet! While she’s desperate for a boyfriend, she doesn’t really need anybody’s help to be the heroine of her own story. She’s kind of a misfit trying desperately to fit in and only does when she finally becomes… a zombie.
That was really my inspiration for writing Maddy; I wanted to create a lovable underdog who triumphed over one of the worst things that could ever happen to her. Maddy is strong, funny, bemused, inspiring and, above all, sweet. She always gets in trouble because she sees the best in people, not the worst; even the “bad” zombies take her by surprise!
LTS: Without giving away too much, can you reveal what’s in store for the readers when they crack open ‘Zombies Don’t Cry’?
RF: I would recommend they forget everything they think they know about zombies. I worked very hard to create a world, a new world, where zombies are thinking, feeling, living creatures who just happen to be… dead. Zombies Don’t Cry is a unique world that’s very grounded in things readers can feel comfortable with: high school, locker rooms, fall dances, shop class, Home Ec. It’s equal parts mystery, romance and Saturday night SyFy movie! (How’s that???)
LTS: Very good! Now, the road to publication is difficult at the best of times. Was it difficult for you to land an agent? Do you have any advice you’d like to share with the author struggling to find representation?
RF: I don’t want to sound cocky, but I can typically land an agent through a very businesslike approach to the querying process. Again, I work as a full-time freelance ghostwriter most of each day. That often entails writing query letters and book proposals for my clients, who often seek publication. So I’ve made a pretty strong study of the best, most efficient and effective ways to reach agents.
The problem with finding an agent is that this is just the first part of the battle. Just as you have to match your style of writing, genre and story line with the right agent, they have to then turn around and find the same “fit” with a publisher. That’s a lot of variables that have to go right for traditional publication to happen!
LTS: So my advice to writers seeking agency representation is to treat writing like a business and come to them with a marketable product. That doesn’t mean it has to be vampires or werewolves, or dystopian or faeries. In fact, just the other day one of the publishers I follow on Twitter was venting about every submission being a vampire, zombie or werewolf story!!! You can find success going in the opposite direction of everybody else, but the idea still needs to be marketable and you still need to be willing to promote. Be businesslike in all you do, particularly when finding an agent.
Learn how to write a very effective query letter by studying the advice of published writers you really expect. Oftentimes agents themselves will have pages and pages of resources to help you submit to them; read them, use them and follow them.
Speaking of “following,” if there is an agent you particularly admire or respect or you like the types of books they rep, follow them on Facebook or Twitter; get to know them – and what they’re looking for – BEFORE you submit, not after.
LTS: Excellent advice, Rusty! Can you share that moment when your agent told you he/she sold your story to Medallion Press?
RF: I wish I could. I actually found Medallion myself. I had an agent for Zombies Don’t Cry, back when it was called Have a Nice Afterlife. She worked tirelessly with me to write what we both thought was a great zombie book, but at the time the big New York publishers just weren’t as excited about it as we thought they’d be. Part of it was that they were getting feedback on how zombie books weren’t selling so well and it was clear that while they were going to be popular, they weren’t hitting on that whole Twilight/vampire level just yet, either.
Part of it was probably me; my writing style is not for everybody. So my agent and I parted ways and I started looking beyond the typical big shot New York publishers to find a home for Zombies Don’t Cry. While searching for independent YA publishers who would allow writers to submit without an agent, I ran across Medallion, submitted it to them and they were very willing and open to give me a shot; I’m so glad they did!!
LTS: I’m curious about your writing style. Are you one of those disciplined writers who must dedicate a certain time each day to producing so many words, or are you more relaxed and tend to write when it strikes your fancy?
RF: I am disciplined in the sense that I do something YA related EVERY day. That might be writing a blog post for my YA blog, or whipping up a cute, free zombie poem for an upcoming holiday that I can then post and promote, or even just taking my spiral notebook to the movies with me to outline my next zombie short story or book. When I am writing a book, I am disciplined in the sense that I will commit to writing 1,000-words per day while writing that book. Before that, I don’t have word count specific goals, nor do I have them after. But “in a book,” yes, I’m very disciplined.
I used to race ahead and really blow past my 1,000-words per day, but now I try to stick to that because I find that, creatively, if I can control myself and hold off on writing 4, 5 or 6,000-words per day, I come back the next day fresher and more open to the fun and whimsy that I enjoy so much about using in YA. So for me, discipline works both ways; I have to be disciplined to write a certain amount, but also disciplined in not writing too much.
LTS: Still on the subject of writing styles, are you a plotter or pantser? The readers would like to know if you tend to plot out your story line in great detail or if your writing is more organic with the characters and events unfolding as you write.
RF: I am comfortably, almost proudly, both. I plot heavily and outline for days; keeping a spiral bound notebook next to me and jotting down ideas, crossing things out, moving things around, sometimes even starting over. When I “know” the story from beginning to end, then I start writing. BUT… I absolutely give myself permission to veer off track as long as I keep to the central storyline. I trust myself to take things in the right direction and, quite frequently, my story ends up somewhere I never imagined – and usually much better than I’d first outlined.
Where I do the most work is when I’m world building. So, for instance, creating the Zerkers, the Council of Elders, the zombie laws, the copper-tipped stakes and such that are so central to Zombies Don’t Cry; that stuff was all very carefully crafted. And yet, toward the very end and right before the big dance climax, when I was having the girls sew up their dresses, I thought up the grave dirt “rule” and tucked that in there and it was a really nice “find.” So, that’s the long answer; the short answer is that while I’m all for plotting, I think writers have to be open and receptive to the “flying by the seat of your pants” method as well.
LTS: Some authors meditate, others need to fuel up on coffee or listen to music. Do you have any rituals, ones that can be shared with the readers, that you must do before you hunker down for a writing session?
RF: I used to light a candle every time I sat down to write; but then whenever I’d leave the house I’d wonder if I’d blown the candle out (always figuring that I hadn’t!), so I stopped doing that because halfway to wherever I was going I always wanted to turn around and go back to check!
I do admit to listening to Christmas music while I write. Not the Bing Crosby/Ella Fitzgerald kind I listen to during the actual holidays, but the more background, smooth jazz, New Age, Wyndham Hill type music I can listen to all year round. Other than that, I have no real rituals. (I know, I’m a pretty boring writer!)
LTS: At one time or another, most writers hit the wall and their work stalls because of the dreaded writer’s block. What do you do to get around or over this mental wall to resume writing?
RF: To me, writing is a business. In my “day job” as a professional freelance ghostwriter, people are paying me to help them write books and articles for them. I can’t afford to have writer’s block or I don’t get paid and my family suffers. I consider my own, private, YA or other fiction writing a business as well.
I consider my books being published a business arrangement between myself and the publisher. I am eager to prove myself and do more than just write a book, but also sell it. It may sound mercenary, but I don’t spend hours, days, weeks, months and even years of my life creating characters, scenarios, worlds, plots and emotions just to read them myself and chuckle, fret or cry. I want to share them with as many people as possible, and so if I do feel blocked or anxious or uncertain or even bored with a project, I will set it aside, go take a walk, go see a movie, have dinner with my wife, even do a Netflix night of really bad 80s horror movies and, like magic, the next day I’m ready to go. Blocks are mental walls and sometimes you just have to get tired of sitting on the other side, roll up your sleeves and climb over.
LTS: Who is your favourite author and how has he/she inspired you to write or influenced your writing style or choice of genre?
RF: I would have to say Stephen King. Although he doesn’t write YA per se, many of his characters are, in fact, young adults and I would hazard a guess that many of his favorite characters are kids/tweens/young adults (Stand by Me, Carrie, etc.). I would love to read a Stephen King YA book because his dialogue, his parentheticals, his asides, his intricate and almost flawless sense of characterization have always been an inspiration to me as to how writing should be done. Or, at least, horror writing. I just don’t think you can get scared or anxious or worked up or fearful or worried about a sequence of events if you don’t first care about the characters; with Stephen King, I would say that characters come first, plot second.
LTS: What is the most profound discovery you’ve made in terms of your writing and how it has touched the lives of others?
RF: I would say that before ZDC came out, I was uncertain whether people would take it in the spirit it was intended; if folks would really “like” Maddy and notice all the small details that went into her characterization and maturing throughout the story. But based on reviews and feedback and positivity and support I’ve received, they really have. That has given me the confidence to trust my own writing, my own storytelling ability and the fact that people will buy into and agree to live in the worlds you create if you take them seriously and paint them an accurate picture. I wasn’t really sure of that until this book came out.
LTS: What is the most important lesson you’ve learned on the road to publication?
RF: I would have to say to edit carefully. I know that’s not a really “sexy” or inspirational answer but it’s vitally important just the same. I tend to race through a story at a breakneck pace, writing in the early a.m. whenever I can grab a few minutes during the day and late into the night if the spirit moves me. Along the way I often gloss over things like eye color, what people are wearing in a certain scene, even what they drive. It sounds pretty crazy to think an author could forget what kind of car his main character drives (!!!!), but I’ve done it a few times and it’s always a pretty glaring mistake when an editor picks it up; I would hate to have a reader be really enjoying the story and then see a stupid mistake like that and then instantly be transported back to the real world; that’s the opposite of what I want to happen, actually. So be careful; keep a chart, if necessary. What I do now is find a picture of each character in the book and paste it into a Word document that I keep on my desktop while I’m writing. It’s great for reminding me; “Oh yeah, Haley has blue eyes and blond hair and is wearing the maroon top…” That kind of stuff is just as important as the “big picture” plot and characterization issues.
LTS: What are you reading now, and how did this particular book make it onto your to-read list?
RF: That’s an easy one: Harry Potter! I actually missed the whole Harry Potter phase when the books were actually coming out, though I’ve managed to see all the movies, so I’m rushing to catch up before the second part of the last movie comes out this summer. Unfortunately, I’m only on his third year and not sure I’ll be able to make it!!!
LTS: What do you foresee in your future over the next five years and do you hope to branch out from YA into other genres? And my daughter wants to know if your fans expect a sequel to ‘Zombies Don’t Cry’ in the near future?
RF: I am actually very happy to write in YA and kind of have this five-year plan to gently, slowly and purposefully “roll out” a variety of YA supernatural romances containing my three favorite types of monsters: zombies, natch, then vampires and, finally, werewolves. (Okay, with a few ghouls and demons thrown in for good measure!)
As I’m seeing with the rollout of Zombies Don’t Cry, which was released in early April, not everyone loves zombies as much as I do. This was actually pretty surprising to me. Although I’d heard smatterings of that kind of talk from agents and other publishers before finding a home at Medallion, I just thought it was all doom and gloom but, actually, nearly every time I do a guest post or someone posts a review and I read the comments, 9 to 1 the comments say something like, “Zombies aren’t my thing” or “I’ve never read a zombie book before.” Obviously, I’m hoping to reverse that trend but, just the same, it’s good to remember that not everybody is as hot on what you write as you are. It’s not discouraging, per se, but it just reconfirms the fact for me that it takes years to build an author presence online, not just months.
Finally, a few people have asked about a sequel for Zombies Don’t Cry. I would love to do one! And, in fact, I’m outlining one as we speak. In the meantime, Medallion actually asked me to a feature they specialize in called “One More Moment” where authors write an additional chapter AFTER the end of their book; so readers can get a taste of what happens after the end of ZDC when that is posted sometime soon…
LTS: Thank you so much for taking the time to discuss your novel and sharing in your writing life, Rusty! I’ll catch you on Twitter, but in the meantime, I’ll break the news to my daughter she’ll have to wait for the sequel.
Follow Rusty on Twitter: .Ruswriteszombie
Where to buy the book: http://amzn.to/lk4wor
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