Shells Chats with author Dan Waters

People have said a book can change someone's life by just reading it. Do you find this is the case with books you have read?

Absolutely; I feel the same way about almost any artform--I always think about a line from the Smith's song "Rubber Ring"--"the songs that saved your life". I've felt that way about many, many books over the years, that they not only improved my life and altered its course but literally saved it.
Of course, if you decide at a very early age that you want to write novels, then books will be making changes in your life with pinballing frequency. Maybe it is different for people who aren't serious readers or writers, but I think the potential for a creative work, fiction or otherwise, to blow the dust off someone's soul is always there

How has J.D. Salinger influenced your way of thinking as an author?

There's so much about his work that has really seeped deeply into my consciousness. Much of it is tonal, a particular way of viewing the world. When I first read Catcher in the Rye, and then Franny and Zooey and all the others, I thought--"That's exactly it--that is how I see things, all the phonies and frauds, all the tragedies and injustices, but also all the humor and the tenderness and the love." I guess for many people--especially today, where it seems there is a bit of a backlash against his work, especially by the young--it is considered a somewhat outmoded viewpoint, or an overly adolescent one, but it isn't one that I feel I've outgrown. And actually, I hope I never do outgrow it.
But there's also structural things that I love in his work that are influential as well. I love how that pretty much all of his stories (even the ones that are uncollected; you can probably find them online somewhere or at the library) are linked by the Glass family (even Catcher in the Rye, which at some point in his work is said to have been written by Buddy Glass).

Also, it isn't by accident that my lead character from Generation Dead shares the name Phoebe with Holden's little sister.

Has any of your life experiences dipped into your stories?

Well, I've yet to return from the dead, but life always intrudes and hopefully enriches the writing. I don't think life experience manifests in the stories as events so much, but more in the settings and especially in the characters. Many of the characters end up expressing the emotions and thoughts I carry around with me.

What do you find is the hardest thing in writing a story?

Didn't someone once say "putting the words in the right order'? That statement makes sense to me. Nothing else stands out as being uniformly harder or easier in the writing process; there's an ebb and flow where sometimes I love copyediting, and then I hate it, or maybe I'm having difficulty keeping track of the chronology, or small character details, but none of that ever strikes me in the "Oh man--this sure is hard!" sense. I don't mean to imply that writing a story is easy, because it isn't; I think I'm very fortunate in that I enjoy every moment of the process so much that it doesn't feel like "work" to me.

People sometimes say one of the hardest professions to be is an author. Do you find this to be true? I guess it depends on what people mean by "hard". Writing fiction is, unquestionably, a hard profession to earn a living that will support a family. If they mean "hard" in the sense of taxing, I don't think it is nearly as hard as the large majority of jobs people have. I don't find the act of writing stressful at all--actually, just the opposite, writing destroys my stress. It is certainly nowhere near as stressful as the live I lead in the business world. If "hard" in the sense of challenging, then I would say yes--it is extremely challenging. I think being a professional author is akin to being a professional athlete--not very many people can do it, and very few are so naturally gifted that they get there without hours and hours of work and practice.

What made you want to write about zombies?

I wanted to write about people, young people specifically. Zombies just happened to be the most perfect metaphorical vehicle to tell the stories I wanted to tell. They're endlessly fun and adaptable--mainly because they are us, but dead.

Can you tell us about The Generation Dead Series?

The series concerns teenagers who come back from the dead as zombies, but they aren't zombies whose main goal is to devour your braaaiiiiiins or feast on your entrails. They just want to fit in. But many people in our society do not want the Living Impaired (or, to be even more politically correct, the DIfferently Biotic) to fit in, and will stop at nothing to prevent them from doing so, especially when a zombie and a living girl appear to be developing feelings for each other.

Any upcoming projects you wish to tell us a bit about?

The Generation Dead series is finally being released in electronic editions, and, as the owner of a brand new e-reader, I couldn't be more thrilled. Each knew edition will also contain a brand new Generation Dead short story, which were a lot of fun to write. All three drop on March 22.

What is the one thing you can suggest to new authors based on your experience?

If your motivation for writing has something to do with a love of writing and story, or that you have an unstoppable compulsion to write stories, then in the early going, spend as much time as you can on the work itself rather than on "how to get published". If you are fortunate to get opportunities to spend time, in person or online, with other writers or publishing professionals, use those opportunities to gain insight on how to improve the work. Ask questions about process. Don't worry about the business of publishing until your work is publishable. I guarantee you will be much happier as a writing professional if you primary reward for all your work is the work itself.

If your motivations for wanting to write come out of some other place, then my particular frame of reference is unlikely to provide any useful advice for you, because all I can think to suggest is that you might be happier trying something else.

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