I had a pleasure of introducing three successful apocalyptic horror authors at the Miami International Book Fair’s “Striking Terror” panel. Hugh Howey, Tananarive Due and Steven Barnes all had some great advice that I’d like to share. First, some background on the authors.
Howey started as a self-published author and then Wool caught fire and started selling thousands of copies. Now Random House is releasing the novel in the U.K. and Ridley Scott bought the movie rights. He also wrote the Molly Fyde Saga.
Due and Barnes are a husband and wife team, having co-authored Devil’s Wake. Individually, Due won an American Book Award for Essence. Her other novels include Blood Colony, The Living Blood and The Good House. Barnes has publishes 28 novels and has been nominated for Hugo and Nebula awards. He also wrote for Outliers, Twilight Zone and Baywatch. And don’t mess with him, because he’s an accomplished martial artist.
Here are some pearls of wisdom from these authors.
Howey – When I asked him what made sales of Wool really take off, he said it was word of mouth from readers. The novel he ignored in terms of marketing is what did really well. He said the best marketing is the keep writing and releasing stories.
On writing for young adults, keep in mind that they are more mature than you think. Don’t talk down to them. They want to read about mature topics, and aren’t afraid of gore. He made an alternative version of Wool without the handful of four-letter words so young adults can read it.
On the popularity of apocalyptic novels, he said people are afraid of dying alone so they want to see the whole world go with them.
He writes a rough outline of his novels before he starts, and that often includes the final scene so he knows where he is going.
He’s producing a show for BBC now.
Due – She likes to write novels that come from her deepest desires. Her mother showed her creature features and that got her interested in the genre.
She doesn’t like weak characters who fall and get eaten.
On the popularity of apocalyptic novels, kids today are sheltered to the real world, although they are savvy to what’s going on because of the Internet. So when they are forced to confront the world and leave that shelter, it will feel like a zombie attack.
On collaborating with her husband, she admits that they’ve had arguments about their books, but they agreed early on to separate their writing from their married life.
She’s working on a screenplay for My Soul to Keep.
Barnes – He’s got four books coming out in the span of 16 months. The next is Domino Falls (sequel to Devil’s Wake) in February. These novels are his first venture into straight horror, where the dominant emotion is a sense of unease.
In the classic movie Psycho, there’s the murder in the shower and then nothing really happens the rest of the movie. But the murder was so graphic that the viewer doesn’t want to see it again, and that creates the tension. A similar technique can create tension in horror novels.
On the difference between adults and young adults, an adult is someone who takes responsibility for their actions and no longer relies or blames others for them.
In Devil’s Wake, the group of youngsters have banded together to survive a world full of zombies. That forces them to take responsibility and be honest with each other about their issues.
“You can’t afford not to be honest with each other when one wrong step and you can get bitten by a zombie,” Barnes said.
Good writing comes in a state of unconscious competence. Like a martial artist, you perform the technique without thinking about it. When writing, this closes the distance between you and the page. Writer’s block is the confusion between the writing self and the editing self. Separate your writing – not worrying about grammar and spelling in the first draft – from your editing.
If you practice anything for 10,000 hours, you can be an expert.