Let me introduce author Brian Parker who has generously granted me this interview. Let’s start with a short bio of Brian.
Born and raised as an Army brat, Brian Parker moved all over the country as a child before his father retired from the service and the family settled down in a small Missouri town. After his father’s retirement, they purchased a farm where Brian learned the rewards of a hard day’s work and relished the escapism that books provided someone with bigger dreams.
Brian is currently an Active Duty Army soldier who enjoys spending time with his family in Texas, hiking, obstacle course racing, writing and watching Texas Longhorns football. His wife is also an Active Duty soldier and the pairing brings a unique set of circumstances that keep both of them on their toes. He’s an unashamed Star Wars fan, but prefers to disregard the entire Episode I and II debacle.
Zombie in the Basement is Brian’s first foray into the world of children’s literature. He is the author of GNASH, a zombie apocalypse novel, and his next work, Enduring Armageddon, is anticipated to be released in the late summer/early fall of 2014. Enduring Armageddon is a post-apocalyptic fiction novel set in the United States in the not-too-distant future.
Now for the Q & A:
How did you get into writing? I’ve always dabbled with writing, in fact I have multiple “books” that I’ve started and then stopped on my computer because I lost motivation. Much like 95% of the population I’d always dreamed of writing a book. I dabbled with starting something for years with varying levels of success. As the years passed I thought that my career as a U.S. Army officer and role as a husband and father took up too of my time on a daily basis. I rationalized with myself that I simply didn’t have the time to write seriously.
Then several years ago I happened upon the first book of the Day by Day Armageddon series written by J.L. Bourne . It was a great read and when I finished the book I was floored by what I saw in the “About the Author” section. J.L. was an Active Duty Naval officer. I thought to myself, Wait a minute. If he was able to write around his full-time military career, then why can’t I?
So I put my nose to the grindstone and made a commitment to myself to write. I also told my friends and family that I was going to do it, which turned out to be a double-edged sword. Most were supportive, some were derisive and others were simply unimpressed because they were also “writing a book”.
What genre do you write and have you considered other genres? I primarily write post-apocalyptic fiction, with my first published work GNASH being a zombie apocalypse novel. I actually also wrote a children’s picture book that I just released in early December titled Zombie in the Basement, however if I wasn’t writing in my current genre, it would probably be fantasy. One of the half-started books on my laptop is a fantasy novel that I’m about 60 pages into, so you never know.
What have you published to date? I’ve published GNASH, Zombie in the Basement and the companion book Zombie in the Basement: The Coloring Book! My self-publishing help guide titled Self-Publishing the Hard Way is with a couple of Beta readers right now and I expect it to be released by the end of January 2014.
Do you write under a pseudonym? Nope, no pseudonym. This is me, I’m an Active Duty Army soldier in my real life and I enjoy being an author in the evenings and on the weekends.
If you are self-published, what led to this choice? I’m a realist. I decided to write my books long before I even started researching the publishing industry. But as I began to get closer to the finish line on that first book, I put my nose in the books and hit the web. The blogs are rife with people who’ve been scorned by publishers and agents so I decided right off the bat that I didn’t even want to bother waiting 90-180 days per publisher to be told “no”. I didn’t send my work to anyone and self-published them.
Are your books available as e-books? Any other formats? Yes, both of my currently-released books are available as eBooks as well as paperback and hardcover.
Do you have a favorite book or character (that you’ve written)? It’s a little unconventional, but my favorite character that I’ve written is Kestrel from GNASH. He’s a CIA field operative and is only in the book for about 20 pages, but he’s such a great character that I’ve decided to use him in a follow-on novella (maybe novel, but right now just a novella).
If any of your books were to be made into films, who would you have as the lead actor(s)? I don’t have delusions of grandeur concerning my books getting picked up as a movie, but if I were to suspend reality for a moment, I think Karl Urban would make a good Grayson Donnelly while Katie Holmes would make a great Emory Perry. Clive Owen would make an awesome Kestrel.
Which author(s) would you compare your writing to? I don’t personally compare my writing to others, I have my favorite authors of course, but if you believe the online reviews, I’ve been compared to Dan Brown, Tom Clancy, James Rollins…and even Stephen King.
How did you choose the title / cover of your books? How important do you think title/cover is to the book? I’ll answer the second half of the question first: Monumental! The old saying that you can’t judge a book by its cover may be true, but it’s certainly not heeded by the majority of book buyers. There are lots of books published each year that are simply amazing but no one ever knows about them because their cover artwork stinks. The reverse can be said about bad writing with good covers that produce more sales than they rightfully should. The cover of your book is the first thing a potential reader will see and in all likelihood may be the deciding factor whether the book is picked up at the store or clicked on during an internet search.
The second half is a little more ambiguous. First off, I don’t pick a title until I’m at least halfway through the book. Secondly, I’ll probably change it a couple of times as I go along! The one thing I do is to do an internet search with the name I’ve chosen and see what comes up. Obviously it’s best to have something unique, but sometimes it’s unavoidable because there’s literally so much work out there nowadays.
What are you working on at the moment? Are you planning on another book? I mentioned it earlier, but my self-publishing booklet titled Self-Publishing the Hard Way should be out next month. When I was researching self-publishing before I’d actually done it, I read through a few books and every one of them seemed very preachy and self-righteous to me. I’d forgotten about that until I published my kids’ book and had a ton of problems with the formatting of the pictures for the hardcover. That prompted me to write the guide initially, but I expanded it way beyond that and the picture book is actually only a couple of pages in the guide. The rest is written more like a conversation that two writers may have over a beer discussing what worked for them and what didn’t.
I’m also about 3/4 of the way through my second novel Enduring Armageddon. It’s a post-apocalyptic fiction novel set in the Midwest in the near future. I’m writing it in the first person and that’s actually proved a lot harder than I thought it would. I’m used to the third person and it’s a great mental exercise to switch gears and write in that format.
Do you manage to write every day? Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? I write after my kids go to sleep. I used to write every day, but now I split my time between writing and promoting. I’d rather just write, but that just can’t happen. I think everyone suffers from writer’s block. Maybe some less severe than others, but I’ve never been at a point where I literally had no idea what would happen next.
Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it? I’m definitely not an outliner. I’m often surprised at the end of the chapter what actually happened to my characters!
Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names, and what do you think makes them believable? I try to write about everyday people. I hate reading a story where the characters know everything and nothing seems to be a challenge for them. My characters make mistakes, bumble along and hopefully survive their errors.
Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed? I do a lot of editing. Of course my first draft method is to simply write. I put words onto the page and won’t revisit them until the editing, unless of course I decide to drastically change something and need to insert or delete earlier on.
How much research do you do? Tons. I always have Google open when I write. I think my attention to detail may be borderline obsessive, but I can’t stand it when there’s an error in a book when I’m reading it, so why would I produce something like that?
What point of view do you usually write in: first person or third person? Like I mentioned before, usually third person, but I’m trying first person this go round.
Do you write any poetry, non-fiction, or short stories? I’ve got two or three short stories written across multiple genres (fantasy and science fiction). I should go back and revisit them, clean ‘em up a little and submit to an anthology sometime.
Do you have pieces you’ve written that you think should never see the light of day? Of course. I have things saved that I wrote in High School… I know you don’t believe me, but I transferred 3.5” to hard drive, then to cloud over the years, yes it’s silly, but even if they’re horrible, I poured my heart into them at the time.
Have you had any rejections from publishing houses? If so, how do you deal with them? I did actually submit GNASH to a few publishers several months after I self-published and was rejected because it had been previously published, even though their submission guidelines had clearly stated that they were willing to consider works that had been self-published and they obviously weren’t. Maybe I’m risk-adverse and that’s why I didn’t submit it to a traditional publisher to begin with. Time will tell…
Do you enter competitions? Not really.
Do you have an agent? Do you believe they are vital to an author’s success? No I don’t have an agent, but I believe that they certainly have a place in the industry. I’m not qualified to make a statement about how vital they are prior to getting an offer from a publisher, but I would say that they are very important to someone once they get an offer from a traditional publisher. They speak the language, the normal writer doesn’t.
How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or for yourself as a ‘brand’? What types of marketing have you found to be the most successful? When I first published, I spent about two hours a night promoting myself. I quickly realized that it wasn’t sustainable and I’ve reigned it in quite a bit, maybe 10-15 minutes a day. I definitely view my Facebook page as the “public face” for my author’s brand. As such, I keep it strictly rated PG. I know other authors who post pictures of half-naked women and have thousands of likes on their author’s page, but how many of those people are there for the literature versus the pictures? Another reason why I keep my “public face” squeaky-clean is because like it or not, I’m an ambassador for the United States Army. Most people in today’s society will never interact with a member of the military, so I am very aware of what I say and my actions. I don’t censor myself because of it, but I am definitely more selective about things.
What your favorite / least favorite aspect of your writing life? Has anything about your writing surprised you? What’s surprised me is the popularity of my work in such a short period of time. As an indie, I set a lifetime sales goal for myself of 50 books and I blew that away in the first two weeks on the market. I’m just riding this train to see where it’s going.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers? Two things: First, keep at it. There will be roadblocks, trust me. Your time will be taken away from you and you will lose motivation at points. It took me 2.5 years to write my first book (I deployed to Iraq in the middle of writing it and got very little done for that year). Set a goal for yourself of a weekly word count or hours spent writing, daily goals are too ambitious.
Second: The odds are astronomically against you “making it big” so practice expectation management early on. Yes, less than one-half of one percent of people alive today have every published a book so it is a major accomplishment, but the number who actually make any more money than a couple hundred dollars extra per month are rare. You should think long and hard before you make any choices that require you to spend any money on publishing or advertising, it’s likely that you won’t earn it back. You can have a nice little bump to your income, but you should write to tell a good story, not to make money.
If you could invite three people from any era to dinner, who would you choose and why? What would you serve your guests or where would you dine? Ernest Hemingway. We’d drink whiskey together. That’s about it….
Do you have a favorite phrase or quote? “It is what it is.” Oftentimes, you can’t change things, so accept them and move on to affect the things that you can control.
Are you involved in anything else writing-related other than actual writing or marketing of your writing? I write a lot of Army “stuff” every day. Way too much in fact…but it is what it is!
Do you have any hobbies? I like to run, hike and do obstacle course races. I also like wrestling with my kids.
Are there any writing-related websites and/or books that you find useful? Not really. I’ve tried Goodreads and Shelfari, but I don’t really like either of those sites. I don’t know if it’s because I’m new to the groups or what, but I’ve found that people very rarely respond to questions posted there. I’ve had a lot more success with artists/writers groups on Facebook.
Are you on any forums or networking sites? I’m on LinkedIn, first for the military and secondly for my aspiring writing career.
What do you think the future holds for writers? Technology will continue to evolve, but I don’t think that the paper book will go away in my lifetime, especially with the resurgence of “retro” things. Some people just prefer to hold a paper book, feel the weight of it, not worry if the battery is charged, smell the paper and above all to get lost in a world of imagination.
Where can readers find out more about you and your writing? My primary means of interacting with readers is my Facebook site (www.facebook.com/BrianParkerAuthor). I also have a blog where I post UNEDITED versions of my works in progress to give readers a glimpse of where the stories are going, but I don’t post nearly as often as I should (www.BrianParkerAuthor.com).
Is there anything else you’d like to mention? Do your research about everything! One person’s opinion is just that, but 10 people’s opinions may begin to give you a decent picture of the truth.
If you’d like to check out Brian’s work a short synopsis of each follows:
An ancient fundamentalist organization chooses to lash out against its enemies by conducting several simultaneous attacks across the globe. One of these assaults unleashes a deadly virus within the Pentagon, which sets off a chain reaction of events that the United States may not overcome.
When the virus mutates beyond anything the terrorists had expected, the nation’s capital is plunged into a violent zombie outbreak that threatens to infect everyone in the region. A desperate, misguided attempt by a new political power to stop the potential global epidemic backfires as the undead survive the brutal pre-emptive strike and continue to wreak havoc on the human population when they reemerge from the bowels of the ruined city.
Grayson Donnelly, a former Army officer who is stranded in the Midwest during the outbreak, is forced to fight for his life and for the survival of his adopted community while his fiancée Emory is trapped in the Washington, D.C. quarantine zone. She struggles to come to terms with her own survival while living in a government-operated refugee camp just outside of the city.
Both Grayson and Emory must learn to adapt and do whatever is necessary in order to survive in a nation that is nearing anarchy as the terrorists’ heinous scheme takes on a life of its own.