Undead Authors: An Interview with Peter Clines

1 06 2011

Peter Clines is the Author of the Superhero vs. Zombie novel Ex-Heroes (My Review) and its upcoming sequel Ex-Patriots. Ex-Heroes was recently released by Audible Frontiers as part of promotion with Permuted Press, and Ex-Patriots will be released as part of the second wave. His other works include Robinson Crusoe(The Eerie Adventures of a Lycanthrope). Mr. Clines was kind enough to take some time to answer a few questions.



Bob: First off, as a lover of audiobooks and zombie fiction, this relationship between Permuted Press and Audible Frontiers has been a highlight of my year. I know that former alum J. L. Bourne, and the late, great Z. A. Recht both had audiobook versions of there work, and now even more audio exposure for Permuted has to be a good thing. What is your take on audiobooks in general, and in the relationship between Audible.com and Permuted Press?

Peter:In general, I think audiobooks are great.  Anything that gets people to read more (and, in all fairness, gets authors paid so they can keep writing) is a good thing.  So thumbs up there.   And points to Audible.com for really taking audiobooks to the next level.  It’s a brilliant business model, one of those things that’s so obvious I think everybody kicks themselves for not thinking of it first.

Of course, I’m thrilled about the partnership between Permuted and Audible.com.  It’s just going to get the books and the brand out to an even larger audience.  Permuted’s becoming a very big small press, if that makes sense, and I think I’m lucky to be caught up in that.  I’m also flattered that Audible.com picked me as one of the four authors for the next wave of releases.   So I’ll have two audiobooks from them less than two months apart.

I should also take a quick moment and add that Audible.com approached me about writing some bonus material for the July releases.  The four Permuted novels being released that month (starting with Ex-Patriots) each comes with a bonus short story.  All four stories connect and overlap in what I’ve been calling The Junkie Quatrain.  They stand alone, but if you read more of them you start to get a better view of the post-apocalyptic world they’re set in and a better understanding of different events. 

Bob: You really have created a unique vision in your novel Ex-Heroes, combining Super Heroes with Zombies, receiving praise from people such as Nathan Fillion, Mira Grant and now this lowly audiobook blogger. What was your inspiration for Ex-Heroes? How hard was it to get people to take the concept seriously?

Peter: I’d disagree that it’s unique.  Really, people have been pairing superheroes against zombies for decades.  If memory serves, Superman fought the undead back in the ’80s in one of the first John Byrne issues of Action Comics.  I think what makes it stand out was that I didn’t use the overly-gritty, overly-dramatic take on superheroes that’s become so prevalent in comics.  I just tried to make them the kind of heroes I grew up on, the ones that were a bit more fun and… well, heroic.

Which (to actually answer your question) is kind of what inspired it.  A few years back one of the big two comic companies announced a limited series where superheroes would deal with a Romero-style uprising and I was thrilled.  I thought it was going to be awesome.  Instead, it was superheroes as zombies.  And not even heroes, really.  It was cannibalistic ghouls wearing superhero costumes.  Rather that heroic survival, it was just dark and gritty taken to the extreme.  And not even good dark and gritty.  It was clumsy and wordy and just… boring.  In my opinion, anyway.  So, like a lot of people do, I sketched out some very rough ideas of how I would’ve done it.  Right around the same time I came across some old sketchbooks I’d been lugging around for years.  There were tons of (very bad) pictures of all the (very silly) superheroes I’d made up as a kid, and it got me thinking that, if they were polished up a bit, a lot of them would slot very easily into the story I thought should’ve been told.  I started typing one night and wrote "The Luckiest Girl In The World."  And it all kind of expanded from there.

As for getting to people to take it seriously, that’s yet another bit of serendipity.  I’d sold two short stories to Permuted Press for different anthologies and hung out for their Thursday night chatroom sessions.  One night it was just me and Jacob Kier, the publisher, and as we talked it came out that he also thought the previously-mentioned comic series was a wasted opportunity and that he’d love to see it done right.  So when I was about 20-30,000 words into the book that would be Ex-Heroes I approached him, reminded him of the conversation, and asked if he’d be interested in looking at it.  He said sure, I delivered it a few months later, and he accepted it a month after that.  Three days before Christmas 2008, if memory serves.

Bob: Super Heroes, in my opinion, are the epitome of American Icons. How hard was it to come up with plausible and diverse hero characters that didn’t come off as ripoffs of existing Icons?

Peter: It’s always a bit of a challenge because there’s only so many plausible powers out there and there are so many heroes already.  I think if you try to make the superhero side completely original you end up with that sort of X-Men/mutant silliness back in the early ’90s where everyone had to have a completely unique power and we ended up with mutant translators and mutant inventors.  So on the surface, yeah, my character Stealth is a lot like Batman, Zzzap is like the Human Torch (or maybe X-Ray from the U-Foes (geek reference)), Gorgon is like Rogue, and so on.  It’s almost impossible to get away from.

The trick, like any piece of writing, is the character side of it.  If they come across as real people with their own quirks and personalities, it doesn’t matter if they’ve got the same power as someone else.  No one’s ever going to confuse Charlie from Firestarter with the Human Torch or the Green Knight with Wolverine, even though they’ve got pretty much the exact same powers, because they all have very different personalities.  Mack Bolan is not James Bond, and neither of them is Chuck Bartowski. 

Probably a great example of this is St. George.  I’ve seen a ton of people in reviews refer to him as "the Superman" of the book.  Which I find interesting because from a powers point of view he’s nothing like Superman.  He’s far, far weaker (as is pointed out, Spider-Man could kick St. George’s ass), he can barely fly, and he’s not so much invulnerable as very tough.  The parallel everyone sees is in the type of person they both are, not the powers they have.

Bob: For me, oftentimes action sequences in books can become muddled and hard to visualize, let alone follow. Yet your action scenes were crisp, and highly visual. What is your process when writing action scenes?

Peter: I’m a big believer that less is more when it comes to action.  If it takes me thirty seconds to read something that would only take one second to happen, I feel it really starts to slow the pace.  Once a writer’s done that four or five times on the same page, the story is draggggging.  So action is where I always try to cut and tighten when I’m editing.  I have this unwritten rule, though, that Stealth is the only person who gets long action scenes because she’s moving so fast and doing so much that I wouldn’t be able to write them otherwise.  So, from a cinematic point of view, she’s the one character in bullet-time.

I also try not to overcomplicate stuff with a lot of weapons or martial arts terminology that the average person isn’t going to know and doesn’t need to know.  They’re going to be forming their own mental picture of what’s happening, and if I intrude on that image too much it gets disruptive and knocks them out of the story.  I can tell you this guy delivers a stunning ushiro geri to that guy… or I can just say he back-kicks the guy in the stomach.  That sort of technical stuff is great in small doses, but if there’s too much of it all it does is make the reader stumble.  That’s just slowing the pace again.

Bob:  If you could choose, what superpowers would you like? I would like two answers, the first would be a power that would make you a true crime fighting hero, and the second, one that was basically useless, but would be really cool to have.

Peter: Hmmmm.  Good question.  I think if I was actually going to fight crime the only possible options would be either invulnerability or super-speed (so the bad guys either can’t hurt me or can’t hit me).  Without those you’re pretty screwed.  Between the two, I’d probably go with super-speed.  I always liked the Flash.

If it was just for me, it’d probably be something like Spider-Man’s agility.  Or time travel.  Because time travel is cool.  Especially if you’ve got a fez.

Bob: If I could somehow sneak into your house and take a picture of your bookshelf, what books are given the highest place of honor and what may I be shocked to find?

Peter: You’d find they’re alphabetized, which is pretty shocking to anyone who knows me and my girlfriend.  We’re disorganized on so many other levels…

There’s a bunch of Stephen King and piles of Ray Bradbury.  Fair amounts of Neil Gaiman, Dan Abnett, and Lee Child.  There are a lot of graphic novels and sci-fi by people like Asimov, Clarke, and Hogan.  I’ve got a lot of older Anne Rice stuff, before her books started feeling so repetitive.  I don’t know about shocking, but it might be surprising how much classic and children’s literature I have.  I love Dumas, Hawthorne,  Arthur Conan Doyle, and Edgar Rice Burroughs (John Carter rules!). East of Eden is spectacular, and so is To Kill a Mockingbird.  I think you’ve got to know the past to appreciate the present, and it never hurts a writer to have a broader base than their chosen genre.

Some of the kid stuff is books I’ve kept since I was little (like the Prydain series by Lloyd Alexander or the Great Brain books by John D. Fitzgerald) and some of it’s things I’ve found again.  A few years back my girlfriend found two of my favorite childhood books for me– The Forgotten Door and Stranger from the Depths.  I think it’s important to keep hold of that primal sense of wonder and excitement and fear.  You look at people like Bradbury or King and it’s pretty apparent there’s a large part of them that’s still a little kid.

Bob: Without giving too much away, what should we expect from Ex-Patriots, the sequel to Ex-Heroes?

Well, more of the same, on one level.  Everyone who made it out of the first book will be there, and now that they’re established I get to do a bit more with them.  There’s going to be lots of zombies (some of them famous).  There’s also going to be a few new super-characters.  One of them we’ll meet briefly is the Driver, another escapee from my childhood sketchbooks.  I thought it would be funny and a bit sad if someone had a superpower that was completely useless after the apocalypse.

There’s also going to be a large Army presence, and our heroes are going to be away from the Mount for a while because of it.  I was frustrated by the way the military almost always gets portrayed in zombie stories.  Either they’ve gone mad or they’re deserters.  Or both.  The general impression is that, one way or another, the military is the worst group to be associated with in a crisis, which is kind of unfair.  So I wanted to show the soldiers as solid and dependable and heroic.  Which isn’t to say there won’t be issues when the Army and civilian survivors find each other, but none of those issues are coming out of incompetence or a "Muahh-hah-hah, now we’ll take all your food, fuel, and women back to our base and abandon you to the zombies" sort of thing.

And I got to set up a lot of stuff for a third book, too.  But we’ll talk about that later…

You can purchase the Audiobook Version of Ex-Heroes by Peter Clines at AUDIBLE.COM.





2 responses

2 06 2011

ExHeroes is on audible??? That’s like extra awesome frosting on a cake of awesomeness.

2 06 2011

Great interview. Can’t wait for Ex-Patriots!
And the third book.
And the movie.
(There *better* be a movie in the works.)

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