We realized fairly quickly that we were being blown away by the quiet guy in the corner. Over and over again we saw people strolling way from his table clutching a brand new copy of “The Apocalypse Shift.” We weren’t surprised when he basically sold out on the first day.
We were in awe.
And a lot of us were sorely disappointed we hadn’t nabbed a copy earlier! I ended up buying my copy from Amazon.com, and I hope to have him autograph it in the future. For my thoughts on his very funny book, check out my review here.
The last few weeks, I have been enjoying The Tales of the Apocalypse Shift Blog. I have been laughing quite a bit and enjoying the general insanity. Derek is very clever in his writing and he brings a freshness to the genre with his sense of humor and tendency toward the ick.
If you haven’t read his works, make sure you swing by his blog and read from the first post on. You will get a great taste of The Hill and The Apocalypse Shift.
Recently, Derek was kind enough to answer some of my questions. I hope you enjoy this interview with this up and coming author.
Rhiannon: Your writing is hilarious. Did you always intend to write comedy?
Derek: No, that was purely by accident. When I first decided to seriously take up writing, I tried for pure horror. Mostly, I was emulating Stephen King. But as time went on I started trying other genres, going into fantasy and science fiction. Those weren’t really comedic, either. Eventually I noticed that people were laughing when they read my stuff, and I had no clue that I’d gone in that direction. I think that was just me finding my voice. Even my serious stuff now has a snarky tone at times.
Rhiannon: Do people consider you funny in real life?
Derek: I think so. It usually takes me a while to come out of my shell with people, so I think a lot of people don’t see that until they know me better. My humor in everyday life tends to be goofy, absurd, and a little bit surreal. I often joke that if I haven’t made someone say “I’m confused” today, then I’m not doing my job.
Rhiannon: What inspired you to write comedy with a horror twist? Or is that horror with a comedy twist?
Derek: With most things I would say I do horror with the comedy twist, but I think in The Apocalypse Shift the comedy comes first. I just think that the mundane world is far more bizarre than most people are willing to admit, and all the things we consider bizarre are just a part of life. The comedy, I think, just comes naturally when these two things, the mundane and the bizarre, meet. If you really did work in a convenience store and had monsters come in on a regular basis, it would become boring a lot quicker than most people think. Writing these meetings in a humorous way just feels truthful to me.
Rhiannon: What are your influences?
Derek: As I’ve already said, Stephen King is a big one for me. He was the first “adult” author I ever picked up, and I wouldn’t be a writer without his influence. Also, as I think anyone who has read The Apocalypse Shift can probably see, the films and shows of Joss Whedon and Kevin Smith have affected me quite a bit. In terms of books, I would also say Neil Gaiman has touched me. He basically tells stories about stories, and something about that has influenced me in a way I can’t quite describe. A lot of people in reviews have said that The Apocalypse Shift reminds them of the work of Terry Pratchet and Simon R. Green, but I haven’t read much by either of them. If there’s a comedic writer that I would say has some influence on my work, then I would point more in the direction of Douglas Adams.
Rhiannon: How did you come up with the OneStop and the Apocalypse Shift?
Derek: I came up with the OneStop by working there. Really, the whole concept for the Apocalypse Shift universe comes from a year I spent working at a 7-11 in a rough neighborhood right after I left college. I worked the graveyard shift, and the clientele there was just crazy, every walk of human life you could possibly imagine, and usually the job was really rough. I still consider it to this day to be the worst job I’ve ever had, but after enough time I began to look back at it with new eyes. I mean, it may have been bad, but at least it was interesting. Eventually I just came to the conclusion that things like vampires, werewolves, and zombies could have come into that place and it wouldn’t have been any different than it already was. The idea kind of grew organically from there.
Rhiannon: Are your characters based on anyone you know in real life?
Derek: Some. I often find that some of the best details are the ones you just can’t make up. Gloria from The Apocalypse Shift is a good example. She is based on a real coworker I had at the convenience store. The reason Gloria originally worked as both a clerk and a stripper is not to make her sexy or to make some statement. It’s because that’s what the original did. Also, when you read the first Apocalypse Shift story “The All-Night, One-Stop Apocalypse Shop,” you’ll see several other characters based on real customers. Darla the transvestite werewolf was based on a real person, as was the guy who tried selling stolen goods like still-beating virgin hearts to Caleb. Obviously the real people were more mundane, but, really, not by much.
Rhiannon: Did you have fun integrating classic horror characters into the story? I really loved the cameos by The Count and Pennywise.
Derek: I’m sort of a pop-culture sponge. I soak it all up, and I can’t help squeezing a little out once in while. Obviously I have to tread carefully with copyright. It’s very important than any such appearance can be classified as parody or satire. So I can’t have those sorts of cameos in anything more serious. But I like to show what a lot of these characters might be like in an environment like the Hill, where they’re no longer in their original context. Instead they’re in a place where anything and everything is strange, so strange is now normal. An evil character no longer seems so evil, and a good character might now be seen in a less than positive light.
Rhiannon: Your dialog is very snappy and develops the characters beautifully. Do you have to work hard on dialog? Do you read it aloud to check the flow, etc?
Derek: For me, dialogue is the easiest thing to write. The rules change when you go from writing descriptions and character buildings and such to writing dialogue. It’s no longer about writing concisely and choosing which words to use where, but writing with a more natural flow. The characters can ramble a bit, because that’s what real people do. They don’t use proper grammar all the time (although that changes from character to character). The only thing that sometimes gets difficult for me is making sure that each character has a separate voice, that they each have their own individual dialogue tics. I keep track of some of these things. Some characters won’t swear, others swear mildly, and some will do it profusely. Some pepper their language with “dude” and “like.” I even keep track of which characters say “pop” instead of “soda.” That’s something I’m still working to get the hang of, their individual voices.
Rhiannon: Your world building is very good. It is very believable. Did you spend a lot of time working out the fine details?
Derek: Not at first. This is something that has built up over time. When I originally wrote the first Apocalypse Shift stories, I paid little attention to that. The world building originally came out purely as ways to get the jokes in. I would make a joke, then find that it led naturally to the next joke. Eventually, all these little jokey incidents in the past that the characters kept mentioning would build up and become an actual history. As all these things started building up, I had to start paying closer attention to them. I had to find reasons why one thing, introduced as a joke, didn’t contradict something else, also a joke. The answer that reconciled the two things would, of course, come out as a joke. And then that joke became a part of the history and world as well. It all started very organically and became structured by accident.
Rhiannon: Do you plot your novels, or do you just wing it?
Derek: Most of the time I’m all about winging it. I find that writing is funnest when I’m not only surprising the reader but also myself. But with the Apocalypse Shift universe, I’ve had to start plotting a little more. I have a very specific direction that I want each of the main characters to go in, and I have plans for the AS world in general. I still to keep all those plot points loose, though. I want the new things I write to jive with what has come before, but I don’t want to be too rigid. I think that my best stuff is written when some tiny detail I’ve written, something that was never supposed to be important, suddenly makes all the difference. So while I know where the AS stories and world are going, I’m keeping it as open as possible on how they’re getting there.
Rhiannon: How long did it take you to write the novel?
Derek: Depending on how you consider it, you could say that the novel took me a couple years or a couple months. I’d previously written several AS stories and often thought about writing a novel in the universe. I wrote the first chapter in, I think, 2006, but I got distracted and went on to other things. That’s the thing about how I write, I’m usually very herky-jerky, stopping and starting things again and again. Most of what would become the second chapter was written a while later when I toyed with turning the idea into a comic. In 2008 I came back to the idea again, this time finishing up several more chapters. When I finally made the big push to write the rest of it, I wrote the remaining thirty-plus chapters in under two months. This tends to be the way I write almost anything longer than a short story, in bursts.
Rhiannon: I have been reading the new Tales of the Apolcaypse Shift online. I know the stories will be released by the Library of the Horror Press in the near future. One of the stories was a prequel of sorts to your novel. Why did you decide to not publish this story first and go with the one you did?
Derek: I actually did publish “The All-Night, One-Stop Apocalypse Shop” first. It was the first thing I ever wrote with this universe and these characters. I also wrote one other story, “The Power Pastry,” long before I wrote the novel. “The Power Pastry” was picked up for publication first, appearing in a small Austin-based zine called Space Squid. The editor loved the story, and since he was also the co-editor of the science fiction website Revolution SF, he was happy to also take “The All-Night…” for the site. But I knew that most people reading the novel wouldn’t have read either of the stories yet, so The Apocalypse Shift was designed specifically as another introduction to the world. The reason I went with the particular story I did for the novel, though, was that the basic premise I’d used for the stories wouldn’t quite hold a novel-length adventure. The stories took place only at the OneStop Mart, and I knew if I tried that with the novel it would severely restrict the action and plot. So I forced the characters out of the store, giving me the opportunity to expand on the world by a lot.
Rhiannon: I really enjoyed “The Part-Timer” story included in the Tales of the Apocalypse Shift. Did you consider turning it into a novel, too?
Derek: No, “The Part-Timer” was always intended as a novella. If I had my way, this would be the format I would work in most most often. A novella gives enough time and space to develop the world and characters, but is still short enough that my short attention span brain doesn’t get bored. That’s what has been so great about writing stories exclusively for the blog and upcoming collection. I don’t have to smoosh a story to fit in with an editor’s needs for his or her publication. The stories can be exactly as long I feel they need to be.
Rhiannon: How did you end up being published by the Library of Horror?
Derek: It actually started with Permuted Press. I was extremely lucky and honored to have “The All-Night, One-Stop Apocalypse Shop” chosen to be in one of their anthologies, a sort of “years best” collection they were planning. From there I started hanging out on their forums, and it was there I saw a call for submissions for Library of the Living Dead’s Zombology II. I sent something in, a story called “Ashes to Ashes, Pixie Dust to Pixie Dust.” I liked the piece but hadn’t found anyone that wanted to publish it. It was just sort of an oddball story. But Dr. Pus liked it, and from there I found he really liked the bizarre mishmashes I liked writing the best. I had just finished writing The Apocalypse Shift right around the time Doc was creating the Library of Horror imprint, and I asked if he would like to take a look. I was afraid he wouldn’t be interested in something that emphasized the comedy right along with the horror, but he loved it.
Rhiannon: You sold out of your novels at Horror Realm in one day! How did you do it?
Derek: Honestly, I’m not sure. I think my attitude had a little to do with it. I was so happy to be there, and I was honored to be among so many other great authors. I tried to keep a smile on my face at all times, which wasn’t to hard under the circumstances. I also think my tagline had something to do with it. Any time someone asked me what the book was about, I would tell them it was what happened if you mixed Clerks with Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Several people picked it up based on that description alone, I think.
Rhiannon: What other promotional events have you done?
Derek: Unfortunately, I haven’t had a chance to get out and do many. That’s too bad, because based on Horror Realm that might be a strong suit for me. But I’m kind of limited as far as conventions or places to sign around my home town. I’m hoping to make it to a con or two in the spring and summer, though.
Rhiannon: How do you promote your book?
Derek: I’m still experimenting and trying to find ways that work for me. I try to be out there as much as possible, keeping the visibility of both me and my book as high as I can. The Tales From the Apocalypse Shift blog is also something I’ve been trying, but although the blog’s audience does seem to be growing, the jury is still out on how effectively it sells copies of the novel. I think we’ll get a better gauge of the blog’s effectiveness when the TFtAS collection comes out.
Rhiannon: What is the best advice you have for new writers?
Derek: I think one piece of advice that would cover a lot of different problems would be “Don’t be a dick.” The writing community is tinier than you believe when you’re starting out. That whole “six degrees of separation” thing is smaller in the writing world, especially among genre writers. You’re probably connected to any other person in genre publishing by only two or three people. And these people all talk to each other. Be polite, courteous, and professional, and you’ll get a reputation as the kind of person others want to work with. Be a prima donna or start flame wars or just in general act like a jerk, and that will be remembered even more. A writer’s work can improve over time, getting better and eventually be worthy of better publication credits, but that won’t help you at all if you’ve created an image of yourself as being a pain in the butt. So instead get out there and be nice. Be helpful. Make friends. If the quality of your writing is good, a good reputation will make your path much easier.
Rhiannon: What is the biggest lesson you have learned out of the whole process of not only writing, but being published?
Derek: I think it’s patience. When I first started writing I honestly thought I would see my stories getting published right away, that at most I would have a year or two before I could be writing books major publishers would want. But obviously I wasn’t that good yet. No one ever is. Even in the stories you hear about wunderkind writers who made their first major publications in their teens, these people had still been practicing this for years. You won’t be good overnight, but with lots of effort and time you will get better. I’ve taken ten years just to get to the place I am now, and I still feel I have a long way to go. But I think I have more reasonable expectations as to where I’m going and how I’m going to get there.
Rhiannon: What are your writing career goals?
Derek: I think when I started out I thought I could be another Stephen King, selling lots of copies and becoming a name everyone knew. Over time I realized that would never happen, of course, so I adjusted it so I would be happy if I could just make enough money off it to quit my day job and write full time. Even that has begun to evolve as I’ve decided to go back to school and hope to have another career alongside writing. Now I’m really just trying to keep an open mind. Wherever my writing career goes is where its going to go. I’m going to keep doing it, and hopefully people pick up what I write and enjoy it.
Rhiannon: What do you have on your plate for 2010?
Derek: Writing wise, 2010 is already going to be a good year for me and its barely even started. I have two books already slated to come out. The first is going to be Machina from M-Brane SF. This is going to be a collection of stories, mostly fantasy and sci-fi, loosely centered around the theme of machines. The centerpiece of the book is going to be my story “Dea Ex Machina,” which is going to be adapted as, of all things, an opera. That book will be out in April. Not long after that you can expect to see All Hell’s A-Buying Froztees: Tales From the Apocalypse Shift, Vol. 1 from Library of Horror Press. This is going to collect all the side stories from the Apocalypse Shift universe that have appeared on the blog, plus one novellette that won’t be appearing on there. For anyone interested in the history of the AS universe and who want some clues as to where it is all going, you’re going to want to check the novellette out, although it’s not really as comedic as the other stories. I’m also in the very early stages of work on Apocalypse Shift 2. I actually plan for five novels in the series as it stands now, and readers can expect to see a bigger plot arc start to develop, although I already planted clues in the novel and stories. And at the end of the year, actually in January 2011, the aforementioned opera, titled Machine, will be debuting in California. And all these plans are just what I know about at the moment. New opportunities can arise at any time, and I plan on taking advantage of them.
One last note…Go buy this guy’s book. Seriously, it’s awesome and so much fun. I want to read more about the Apocalypse Shift, so please support his endeavor to bring the funny to horror.