I’m lucky (or cunning) enough to have lured yet another successful writer over to my blog for an SAT – Successful Author Talk. Today’s guest is Daniel Waters, author of the GENERATION DEAD series which includes GENERATION DEAD, KISS OF LIFE and PASSING STRANGE. If you haven’t read these books, you’re missing out on the freshest (no pun intended) zombie take out there. This series is so popular with my students that I had my arm twisted into adding a few questions to the normal SAT, which Daniel gamely answered. And I have to add – are these not the most gorgeous covers you’ve ever seen?
BBC: There are a lot of parallels between the treatment of “differently biotic” people in Generation Dead and the civil rights movement – zombies sit apart in the lunchroom, Tommy’s act of joining the football team is met with a near riot, the public reaction to a Phoebe (a living girl) dating a zombie. You do a good job of not hitting your point so hard that it’s preachy and turns a teen reader off. Did you purposely write the story to be didactic? Or would you prefer it just be read for fun?
DW: The literature I have always enjoyed most in my life is that which walks a balance between being fun and escapist and being “deep”; literature (or any art, really) that veers off too sharply to either side is unlikely to interest me. I definitely wanted to raise moral questions in the book, but I wanted to do so in a framework that was fun and exciting to read–there’s a lot in the series that is satirical, and I hope that the humor helps with that.
BBC: Even though zombies are the monster of the moment, the Generation Dead series has a very new and fresh take. What was your inspiration for the story?
DW: Zombies came later, believe it or not. The inspiration from the story came directly out of a news magazine show on violence in schools. The show shoed clips of young people hurting each other, with the main purpose being so that the bullies or/attackers could gain some sort of notoriety by posting the clips on YouTube. This led me to think about the dozens of root causes for that type of violence–although most of it was completely senseless, much of the violence in schools is directed against kids who are different in some way. From there my mind just latched onto the idea that if zombies existed, they would be the most bullied kids in the school.
In this way, I’m always a little hesitant to confirm (or deny) when someone latches onto the stories as being representative of a particular plight of a marginalized group, because really I tried to underscore a whole host of reasons why people hate on each other rather than create an allegory around a specific issue.
BBC: Did you envision it as a series initially, or did it grow into one?
DW: I knew from the moment I started it would be a series. I knew the exact beginning and I know the ending–which we haven’t gotten to, yet.
BBC: Are you a Planner or Pantster?
DW: As far as process, I’m a combination of both. I typically start with a core concept, then I will write a chapter or two and work on it for awhile–the first chapter is critical–and from their I’ll write a chapter by chapter outline which usually is around 30 pages or so. But the outline is sort of a roadmap that doesn’t neccessarily have all of the itinerary plotted on it, so I give myself the freedom to go down a side road.
In terms of carving out writing time, I plan way ahead to give myself nice blocks, but I’m also good at “seizing the moment” and writing a page in the doctor’s office or during halftime at my kids’ soccer games.
BBC: How long does it typically take you to write a novel, start to finish?
DW: I usually have a first draft in three or four months, but that is only after the idea has takenroot in my mind. From there, though, it can take anywhere from a month to a year getting it ready for publication.
BBC: Do you work on one project at a time, or are you a multi tasker?
DW: I like to multitask up until the time that a project becomes so exciting to me that it crowds the other ones out of my head.
BBC: Did you have to overcome any fears that first time you sat down to write?
DW: Not really. None of my fears are related to the writing itself (and maybe I’m just blissfully ignorant that way).
BBC: How many trunked books (if any) did you have before you were agented?
DW: The weird thing is that I was actually agented right out of college with my first manuscript, but after a couple failed attempts we parted ways after about a year and then I amassed twelve more currently trunked novels over the next fourteen years until I met my agent. After things didn’t work out I stopped submitting my work for awhile–there were other things going on in my life that made me want to avoid rejection!
BBC: Have you ever quit on an ms, and how did you know it was time?
DW: I don’t know that I have ever quit on one, although I’ve set many aside. Always my thought when doing so is “I am not ready or able to do this idea justice–yet”.
Querying and Agent Hunt Process:
BBC: Who is your agent and how did you get that “Yes!” out of them?
DW: My agent is Al Zuckerman at Writers House. I was referred to him by one of his current clients, who I called after I received an (unagented) offer from a publisher. He loved my first chapter, and the things that he pointed out that I’d done wrong in the next couple chapters were so spot on and insightful that I knew I would learn a tremendous amount working with him.
BBC: How long did you query before landing your agent?
DW: I kind of skipped this step. I went to a workshop taught by industry professionals and workshopped my outline and first fifty pages of Generation Dead, and a few months later I had an offer from one of the editors who was teaching.
BBC: Any advice to aspiring writers out there on conquering query hell?
DW: Worry about the work first. In retrospect, I am so, so glad that I stopped submitting my work after my first experience; I never stopped writing, and for many years I wrote without the added burden and pressure of worrying about the business end of things. When I thought my work was ready, I went out in the world and to a workshop and things happened fairly quickly from there. Worry about the work first, and then when it is ready, try and go out and meet some industry pros who can maybe cut your curve to publication.
On Being Published:
BBC: How did that feel, the first time you saw your book for sale?
DW: It felt like validation.
BBC: How much input do you have on cover art?
DW: Disney has kindly run concepts by me; I’m fortunate in that I’ve loved everything they have done.
BBC: What’s something you learned from the process that surprised you?
DW: That everything I imagined about how awesome being read has come to pass, and more.
Social Networking and Marketing:
BBC: How much of your own marketing do you?
DW: I happily go wherever my publisher sends me, and I keep my own blog www.danielwaters.com and Tommy from the books keeps a blog at www.mysocalledundeath.com. There’s a Disney driven site at www.gendead.com. I’m on Facebook where I post frequently and my Twitter name is WatersDan but I’ve yet to tweet.
BBC: When do you build your platform? After an agent? Or should you be working before?
DW: I don’t know. I’d love to say just worry about the work and don’t worry about a platform unless building it is something you find fun, but then I hear that it is increasingly attractive to publishers if an author helps push the product.
BBC: Do you think social media helps build your readership?
DW: My readership? Maybe. There are many who do it far better than I do and I sometimes wish I had their personality and drive and ability to connect with people directly, which is something I think I struggle with is both real and virtual life. I try to overcome my personality shortfall by offering free content through the character blog; it isn’t by accident that Tommy’s blog has something like 6 times the followers mine does.