Shells Chats with author Stephen North
What's your background with writing?
I remember writing my first story in 6th grade or 7th grade. I was reading C.S. Forester's historical British Navy stories featuring Horatio Hornblower, and I wrote a story about a British ship trying to capture a Spanish ship called the Manila Galleon. Looking back now, I realize that I had no idea that 'Manila' referred to Manila in the Phillippines.
A few years later when I was sixteen or seventeen, I wrote a fantasy short story that involved a love triangle, betrayal and revenge. At that time I was heavily influenced by Tolkien's 'The Silmarillion.' I sent that one away to a Fantasy Magazine and received my first rejection. Well, okay, my first literary rejection. Was told that, "Your prose is too high flown for our readership." About this time, I also wrote a hundred and twenty pages of a fantasy novel related to the short story, and began bouncing ideas for stories with a friend for a post apocalyptic novel. All that remains of that early collaboration are two character names in the novel 'Dead Tide.' Perhaps that is for the best.
Who are your inspirations/influences?
These are the main writers: J.R.R. Tolkien; Ray Bradbury; Edgar Rice Burroughs; Johnathan Swift; Keith Laumer; Ursula Le Guin; Roald Dahl; Robert B. Parker; Stephen King; Wilbur Smith; Larry Niven; Bernard Cornwell; Richard Monaco; Harold Lamb; and Poul Anderson. What saddens me is that only six of those people are still alive. So far, I've only met one of them, and that was on the phone (Keith Laumer).
Believe it or not, quite a few musicians have influenced or inspired me also: Harold Budd; John Barry, Mark Morgan; Altus; Diatonis; Machine Love; and Numina.
As authors, we tend to put our emotions into our writings, do you ever feel at times drained from writing one of your stories because of the emotional impact it may have?
Some of my characters have a bigger dose of me in them than others. The feeling of loss when they die or fail does affect me too. Gave me a strange feeling, the first time someone told me I killed a character that they liked. Stephen King and Eric S. Brown are guilty of doing this to me on a frequent basis.
What do you feel is your biggest accomplishment as a writer?
Helping inspire or encourage other people to write.
You were a lead writer for an online game, how do you feel that may have helped your writing?
I was given a huge palette, some basic instruction and cut loose. Writing design documents, storylines, dialogues and creating characters for a role-playing game was a wonderful way to develop my skills as a writer, or at least take them in a different direction. I was so fired up it consumed four years of my life. Without a doubt that time inspired at least four stories that never would have been written otherwise. One, called 'Drifter' is almost finished now. Another added benefit was making a lot of friends all over the world.
One other thing that might be of interest to writers is the dialogue writing end of Computer Role Playing Games (CPRGs). You have to write them with an eye toward what type of character the Player chooses to be, and often they aren't consistent. Does the player want to negoiate or threaten? You are writing two-sided dialogues that cover as many options as possible to not only increase playability but also enjoyment. A kind Player might convince someone to tell them something vital, whereas a cruel one might scare that person into silence, or the reverse. A dark side of me emerged when I was writing these dialogues. I was stunned, and actually had to ask the other team members: "How dark do we want this game to be?" Overall, I'd recommend the experience if you have the time.
Your brother Ron tragically was killed in a helicopter crash, my condolences, how has he influenced your writing?
Ron wrote me a letter from the Philippines a month or so before he died. He asked if I was still writing. He was proud of me back when I had accomplished nothing as a writer. Just a couple unpublished stories. Unfortunately, I gave up on every dream I'd ever had when he died. The desire to write was gone. Ten or more years passed before I finally realized how disappointed and angry he'd be with me. Realizing that gave me the determination to finish at least one book before I was forty (or dead). I did it and dedicated that first book (Beneath the Mask) to him.
Do you often do research for your fiction writing?
Yes! Research is essential to build believability. For example, I read up on everything from bunker suits to typical life saving skills for firefighters for the character Adam Mills in Dead Tide. Research can save you from embarrassing gaffes. I ask a lot of questions. For example: A fisherman friend of mine was a big help recently when I needed information about the tides and conditions around the Skyway Bridge.
You seem to mix genres in some of your books, what advice would you give to a writer who wants to attempt to mix two different genres and are there any genres you would advise not to mix?
Just have the passion and drive to see your story through like any other story. Have fun while writing. There may be genres that shouldn't be mixed, but so far I have an open mind.
Can you tell us a little bit about "Dead Tide and Dead Rising?"
Both books are written in present tense, and each chapter presents a single character's viewpoint. The story is centered in the Tampa Bay area of Florida, specifically St. Petersburg and Pinellas Park. The opening scene is from the viewpoint of a tough, but troubled soldier named Jacobs who leads his squad into a small shopping center infested with zombies. The story unfolds in each successive chapter through the eyes of ten or more viewpoint characters as the outbreak spreads and envelopes the St. Petersburg/Pinellas Park metropolis that covers a small peninsula jutting out from Florida's West Coast. Less than a week passes in these first two books. Witness first-hand the best and worst in humanity as a terrible merciless horde of the dead descends over the world.
Where can we find "Dead Tide and Dead Rising "?
Thank you so much for asking! Amazon.com and three bookstores. Joseph Beth Bookstore in Pittsburgh,Pa and in St. Petersburg, Florida at Haslams and Parkside Books.
How was it working with Eric S. Brown on "Barren Earth?"
Eric is a down-to-earth, all-around good guy. He was open-minded on almost every aspect of how the book would be written (except the tense-which wasn't a problem), and doesn't suffer from an ego. He does like to work with a time table, so come prepared to work, but writing isn't work anyway, right? He also was and still is active in promoting the book. At the end, I knew I made a good friend, and that there would be a sequel someday.
Would you consider working with another author based on co-writing writing experience you have had above?
Absolutely! I was inspired to write things I would never have come up with on my own. I learned to pick up the pace, and working with someone else does put an end to slacking and making excuses not to write. Like all relationships, it does require commitment, and an open mind.
Where can we find "Barren Earth?"
It is available at Amazon.com
Who was responsible for the cover/book designs of your books?
I never found out who designed the cover for my self-published book 'Beneath the Mask.' Dan Galli designed the covers of 'Dead Tide' and 'Dead Tide Rising.' 'Barren Earth' was done by Jodi Lee.
How was it to work with the Library of the Living Dead Press Publishers?
So wonderful that I plan to continue the relationship as long as Doc will have me.
Do you have any stories from book signings/radio interviews/etc.?
I've been to five book signings and done three radio/podcast interviews. The Funky Werepig was by far the most bizarre interview. Those guys changed the way I'll look at moon pies forever. I took the best that R. Scott McCoy could throw and I'm still standing. Book signings are a great chance to network with fans and especially other authors. As for stories related to book signings---What can I say? The best stuff we'd probably have to discuss off the record. The things I've seen with these eyes...
What projects do you have planned for the future?
Very excited about 'Drifter!' I'm roughly a week or two away from getting to take a week's vacation to finish it.
Any events or book signings for the future?
Odds are, I will be at Horror Realm in Pittsburgh next year. I'm also on the hunt for conventions closer to home in Florida.
Any advice you would like to give to new writers who may not know how to approach the publishing world?
I think the biggest stumbling block for an aspiring writer is worrying about where they publish their book before the book is finished. That is a sure way to get sidetracked. I wish I had self-published my first novel a lot sooner than I did. I won't call the time I spent trying to get a publisher or agent a waste of time, but I think getting your name out there is important.
Where can people know more about you?
I am on Goodreads, and I have a blog called The Wonderful Happy World of Fungus and Mold.
I'm more active on Facebook right now. Hope to have a website of my own in the next couple months.
Posted by Shells W