HAVE YOU WRITTEN IN ANY OTHER GENRES BESIDES YA DYSTOPIAN? WHAT DREW YOU TO THIS GENRE?
I actually got serious about writing in 2005, focusing on literary YA (think John Green, Sioban Dowd) and children’s picture books. Over 40 books and dozens of close calls later (including several shortlists and turned-down offers), I was becoming increasingly frustrated with traditional publishing and its crappy terms. This was in 2008 — Project Gutenberg and iUniverse days, and independent publishing was still in its infancy. By 2010, though self-publishing was still heavily stigmatized, I knew we were witnessing an important shift in the publishing paradigm, and I decided to go all-in as an independent. Being a longtime fan of both Stephen King and science fiction, I switched gears and began to write speculative fiction. In six months spanning 2011-2012, I published 17 short stories in two collections and began work on my epic cyberpunk thriller series, GAMELAND.
HOW DID YOU GET YOUR START AS AN AUTHOR?
Creative writing is something I’ve always done. I majored in both creative studies and biology in college, but then went into research as a grad student. My uncle, James Howe, is a famous children’s book author (Bunnicula, anyone?), and he encouraged me to keep writing, even as I was toiling away in biotech.
HOW DO YOU OVERCOME WRITER'S BLOCK?
I’m one of those who don’t subscribe to the idea of writer’s block. While I do experience episodes where writing is harder, where the words don’t flow and focus is difficult, I’ve never not been able to write. Part of it may stem from the idea that I view writing as both a vocation and a passion, so I’ve developed the discipline and tools to help me keep moving forward in some way. Plus, I have so many ideas I want to turn into books that I’m never at a loss for something to work on.
DO YOU PREFER EBOOKS, PAPERBACKS OR HARDCOVER?
I have two Kindles and read a lot on them, especially at night in bed, but I still prefer print. I’m too old and my brain is too hardwired to let it completely go.
WHAT BOOKS HAVE INFLUENCED YOUR WRITING?
Anne Lamont’s Bird by Bird. S.I. Hayakawa’s Language and Thought in Action. Stephen King’s On Writing. In fact, pretty much all of King’s early fiction has been a huge influence on my writing style today.
WHAT IS THE FIRST SCIENCE FICTION BOOK YOU REMEMBER READING?
Where the Wild Things Are.
WHEN YOU GO TO SEE A MOVIE, DO YOU TRY TO READ THE BOOK FIRST?
No, but many times I will have read it as I’m a voracious reader. Either way, I usually find myself analyzing the film to see what works and what doesn’t and, if I’ve read it, comparing it to what worked or didn’t in the book. Film influences much of my written work. I’m very visual, and much of my writing is richly endowed in visual cues.
DO YOU BUY A BOOK BY THE COVER?
By the cover alone, rarely. But I am heavily influenced by covers. They say you shouldn’t judge a book this way, but in a world where a book competes against so many others, the cover must draw me in before I even get to the blurb.
WHAT IS YOUR MOTTO?
I don’t know. What’s a motto with you?
WHAT TALENT WOULD YOU MOST LIKE TO HAVE?
The ability to woo women with just the sound of my voice. And duck calling. It’s a toss up.
WHAT ARE YOUR PET PEEVES?
I have many pets (three cats, three dogs, one rabbit, three sheep, and about 25 chickens), but no peeves.
YOUR FAVORITE GADGET?
My camera. Someday I’ll learn how to use it.
WHAT’S THE BIGGEST LIE YOU’VE EVER TOLD?
When I was in the service in Germany, I often pulled driver duty (taking the battalion executive officer wherever he needed to go). Once, after dropping him off at the Frankfurt airport, I took the van on a joy ride. The roads were icy and I hit a house, cracked the stucco. I told the motor pool it happened at the airport. I was young at the time and stupid. Now I’m just stupid.
HAVE YOU EVER BEEN IN TROUBLE WITH THE AUTHORITIES?
Yes, but the records were sealed. And I’m not allowed to enter Venezuela.
IF WE HAD A CUSTOM THAT ALLOWED US TO EAT OUR CHILDREN, WHAT KIND OF SAUCE WOULD YOU USE?
Um, not sure. Sriracha? Is this a trick question? Because I had nothing to do with that.
IF YOU HAD A SUPER POWER, WHAT WOULD IT BE? AND IF YOU HAD TO GIVE IT UP TO SAVE NEW JERSY, HOW WOULD YOU EXPLAIN TO NEW JERSEY THEY WERE GOING TO DIE?
First of all, New Jersey? Really? Give me some real incentive. Okay, okay. A superpower…. I think it would be the ability to digitize my thoughts much more efficiently (I never learned to type, though my two fingers can peck at speeds approaching hypersonic).
IF YOU COULD BE ANY FAMOUS PERSON FOR A DAY, HOW MANY PAPPARAZZI WOULD YOU KILL?
Did you ask if I’d off Justin Bieber? The answer is yes.
HAVE YOU SEEN MY SHOES?
No, they’re not visible from your window.
BONUS QUESTION: WHY DO VILLAINS PREFER LONG HAIR CATS INSTEAD OF HAIRLESS CATS? HAIRLESS CATS ARE MUCH MORE EVIL LOOKING. SEEMS LIKE A MISSED OPPORTUNITY.
This is a common misunderstanding. Most people underestimate the threat of pet fur allergens.
IF YOU GAVE ONE OF YOUR CHARACTERS AN OPPORTUNITY TO SPEAK FOR THEMSELVES, WHAT WOULD THEY SAY?
Get me the hell out of this @&%$ing book!
HOW IMPORTANT ARE NAMES TO YOU IN THIS BOOK? DID YOU CHOOSE THEM BASED ON SOUND OR MEANING?
I’m very sensitive to the way names sound, so I do try to give my characters names which convey a certain feel and look.
WHERE DID YOUR TOMORROW SPRING FROM? IN OTHER WORDS, HOW DID YOU COME UP WITH THE CRAZY WORLD?
My training and work experience in biotech, as well as my penchant for high tech (and residence in Silicon Valley), heavily inform my writing. As a concerned citizen and parent of two small children, I’m very sensitive to the effects we and our technology are having on the world, on society, on globalization, on climate… My worlds tend to be near future, where the worst I see around me today is extrapolated to such an extreme that people must either confront it head on or adapt to it. Main themes in my GAMELAND series include global warming, the growing influence of corporations on politics, and the ubiquity of computers in every aspect of our lives.
HOW DID YOU COME UP WITH THE IDEA FOR THIS STORY?
In 2008, I was lucky enough to get an advance reader copy of The Hunger Games before it came out and knew it was going to be big. I was intrigued by the idea of a game where, if you lose, you die (King’s The Running Man has always been one of my favorite books). I wanted to combine the themes I mentioned above into a game setting which put my young adults into a live-or-die situation.
JUST HOW FAR IN THE FUTURE IS YOUR TOMORROW?
Mid-twenty-first century, roughly twenty-five to thirty years from now. Just enough time for today’s problems to really get whacked.
WHERE DID YOUR MAIN CHARACTER COME FROM? IS SHE BASED ON A REAL PERSON?
Jessie Daniels is a mix of several people I know and people I imagined. She’s misunderstood, strives to do right and has tremendous potential, but her own flaws become her greatest enemy from achieving them.
DID YOU DO ANY SPECIFIC OR UNUSUAL RESEARCH FOR THIS BOOK?
The setting of the series takes place on Long Island. I grew up in New York, but upstate. I spent a lot of time online looking at Google Maps and Google Earth to get familiar enough with the geography before I was convinced it would work (I needed a large island).
IS THERE A PARTICULAR AREA OF SCIENCE OR SCIENTIFIC PRINCIPLE THAT IS A PLOT FOCUS?
My GAMELAND series focuses on reanimation, but pulls from molecular biology, genetics, cybernetics and computer sciences to explain it. At the heart of it all is the idea of natural cell death (called apoptosis) and the identification of proteins which can arrest the process at the tissue and organismal levels. Cybernetics is used to control the undead, originally created to be soldiers. Profit drives their use in computer gaming.
DID YOU HAVE TO CONDUCT ANY EXPERIMENTS FOR THIS BOOK?
No. And on a separate but unrelated note, cats do not have nine lives.
QUOTE A CHARACTER, ANY CHARACTER.
“Every time someone disses a fairy, another zombie gets its wings.” Reggie Casey, from Book One: Deep Into the Game.
GIVE US THE WEATHER FORECAST FOR YOUR TOMORROW.
Hot. It’s always hot. Like 95F hot. And humid. And when it rains, it pours.
WHO SHOULD NOT READ YOUR BOOK?
Anyone not fluent in English. And anyone under the age of 15.
ARE ANY OF THE MAIN CHARACTERS FROM THE LGBT (LESBIAN, GAY, BISEXUAL, AND TRANSGENDER) COMMUNITY.
GIVE YOUR BOOK THE BECHDEL TEST
1. IT HAS TO HAVE AT LEAST TWO (NAMED) WOMEN IN IT: It does.
2. WHO TALK TO EACH OTHER: They do.
3. ABOUT SOMETHING BESIDES A MAN: Do male zombies count? Okay, then they also talk about computers, gaming, and hacking. And, in one scene, ice cream and shoes.
WHAT SORT OF BODY COUNT ARE WE TALKING HERE?
As a direct result of the characters plight, about a dozen. That’s not counting those who were already dead.
PICK ONE OF YOUR CHARACTERS AND APPLY THE SIX DEGREES OF KEVIN BACON. GO!
Jessie likes bacon. Booyah!
YOUR TOMORROW GETS MADE INTO A MOVIE. WHO DO YOU TAKE TO THE PREMIERE AND WHO DO YOU SIT BY?
Well, I was going to say Philip Seymour Hoffman (I always envisioned him as the defrocked scientist who tried to stop the government’s plot to create controlled infecteds), but that’s no longer a viable option. Yet, anyway. (BTW, Phil was a high school pal of mine and his death was a very personal blow to me).
DO YOU WANT YOUR TOMORROW TO MAKE IT BIG, AS IN JK ROWLINGS-BIG? WHY OR WHY NOT?
Naw. I’d be satisfied with George R. R. Martin big.
YOU CAST YOUR CHARACTERS FOR A MOVIE. WHO MAKES IT?
Please, not James Franco. Or Lindsey Lohan.
YOUR MAIN CHARACTER VS BATMAN, WHO WOULD WIN?
Batman, hands down.
IF THERE IS TEOTWAWKI IN YOUR TOMORROW, WHAT CAUSED IT
MONSTERS & ZOMBIES
THE SUN (to some degree; global warming is a major undercurrent)
ECOLOGICAL CATASTROPHE (coastal flooding as a result of sea level rise)
IF YOUR MC WAS IN A PRESENT-DAY HIGH SCHOOL SHE WOULD BE A
IF YOUR BOOK WERE RATED LIKE A ROMANCE NOVEL, THE HEAT LEVEL WOULD BE