Interview with author Alan Goldsher

I recently interviewed author Alan Goldsher, whose zombie novel PAUL IS UNDEAD has just been released. Most of my interviews are done over email but Alan was willing to do it through a phone call, which I enjoyed quite a bit!

MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA: I just finished reading PAUL IS UNDEAD, being the big Beatles fan that I am. I hear rumors that this has already has the film rights sold. Is that true?

ALAN GOLDSHER: What was bought was an option from Double Feature Films which is owned by Stacey Sher and Michael Shamberg. They produced “Pulp Fiction” and “Erin Brockovitch” – they’ve done a whole bunch of great stuff. When we were shopping around the novel, they read it from top to bottom and fell in love with it.

Right now they’re putting together talent – screenwriter, director, some stars…

I produced a screenplay for it and I’m really happy with it but if they want to go in another direction if someone wants to, I’m sure they’ll find someone to knock it out of the ballpark. That’s it! Cross your fingers.

VENTRELLA: You actually sold the rights before the book was published?

GOLDSHER: That is correct.

VENTRELLA: Wow. You’ve got a good agent.

GOLDHER: Well, you’ve read it – I’m sure you’ll agree that it’s a particularly visual book, wouldn’t you say?

VENTRELLA: I would think so! I assume they’re going to make it sort of as a mockumentary, sort of like how the book was?

GOLDSHER: You know, that’s like the screenplay that I wrote but there is a concern among some that they should shy away from mockumentaries. I feel that you’ve got “Best in Show” and “Spinal Tap” – and those are classics. Zombies with a documentary format I’d like to think that has the potential to reach that audience that will be loyal and stick with it.

But if they want to do a typical three act thing, I’m sure they’ll find someone great to do it.

VENTRELLA: Do you think there will be any sort of issue over the rights to the songs?

GOLDSHER: That’s certainly an issue. The hard part (and the expensive part) would be using their versions of the songs. If we were to do cover versions, it’s significantly more affordable. For “Across the Universe” they paid $23 million dollars to get the rights, and that’s the budget of an entire movie in some cases.

I have one idea that’s pretty cool, but I’m not sure if anyone is going to bite on it… since we’re dealing with an alternate universe, take the existing songs, throw away the melodies, leave the lyrics and get completely different Beatleseque melodies, and get a very Beatles-sounding band…

VENTRELLA: Sort of a Rutles thing?

GOLDSHER: Yeah, except with the original lyrics. The only thing that will be similar will be the sonic aspect of it. You know, make a song from ’62 sound like it was recorded in ’62. I think that would be cool in that (a) it will be different and interesting and (b) it makes the soundtrack a hot item.

VENTRELLA: That’s true. I certainly bought the Rutles albums…

GOLDSHER: So we’ll see. There’s a lot in the air but as is the case with most books translated to screen situations, the writer doesn’t have too much say. Still, they’re open to hearing my ideas but they’re the pros. They’ll make the final decision.

VENTRELLA: So do you think Paul, as a vegetarian, will object to being portrayed as somebody who eats brains?

GOLDSHER: That’s a good question! Do you want to hear the Paul story?

VENTRELLA: Absolutely!

GOLDSHER: I heard this from a London Times reporter maybe three months before the book came out. He told me that he was at the BAFTA awards speaking with Jason Reichtman and who wanders over but Paul McCartney! Paul and Jason have a long mutual admiration society discussion and there’s this reporter – this is the first time he has ever met a Beatle – God knows why he said this, but he said “Have you ever heard of PAUL IS UNDEAD?”

I mean, if I’m meeting a Beatle, I’m not mentioning my book!

But he asked if Paul had ever heard of PAUL IS UNDEAD and Paul said “We put that rubbish to bed in the 60s.”

And the reporter said, “No, not ‘Paul is dead’ but PAUL IS UNDEAD. It’s a book about you guys as zombies.”

And Paul said “Oh. Heh heh heh” and then he walked away.

VENTRELLA: So now he knows of it.

GOLDSHER: He knows it exists. Ringo knows it exists too because a New York Times reporter mentioned it to him in an interview last month, before his 70th birthday. Ringo was very diplomatic as you would expect from Ringo who is just clearly a nice man. “Well, I don’t read any of the books about the Beatles, I’m just glad the records keep going.” I don’t think he’s going to say a bad thing about anyone.

VENTRELLA: Well, he definitely came across in the book as the nicest guy of the four, you’ve got to admit.

GOLDSHER: I’m sure you’ve watched the Anthology set…

VENTRELLA: Oh, of course.

GOLDSHER: He’s just such a nice man. I’ve watched the Anthology about six or seven times all the way through. At the end of it, Ringo gets kind of teary-eyed and says, “The Beatles were about four guys who really loved each other.” That kind of stuck in my head as I was writing the book. Ringo’s just a sweetheart and he was also the last in the band and he always seemed a little put upon because he wasn’t part of the original gang.

That’s part of why I made him a ninja. It’s kind of a huge metaphor for that. Also, often times in horror books – DRACULA, for instance – there is a living, breathing guide to the underworldy beings. So Ringo’s kind of that guide. He makes sure that nothing bad happens to them on this earth.

VENTRELLA: Did you have any problems with the characters being unlikable in that, you know, they murder people and eat their brains?

GOLDSHER: I think since you’re coming in with a preconception since the Beatles are intrinsically likable, since the humor is so silly and the gore is over the top that it’s kind of hard to dislike them.

VENTRELLA: I agree that you can’t take the book seriously in that regard in that it’s kind of a satire… well, it’s not really a satire… I don’t know! How do you describe it?

GOLDSHER: We had all kinds of discussions before we started the book deal about the legalities of it. There’s some law – if it’s satire or parody, you’d know this better than I would – if it’s very obviously satire then you’re cool as long as you don’t libel anybody.


GOLDSHER: We were very very careful. We didn’t say anything out-and-out bad like “This guy’s an asshole” or “This guy’s a dick.” Instead it was “Here’s what he knows in this alternate universe.” There’s no way you can believe it, it’s very obviously a parody.

I also tried very hard to tell it with as much love as possible. I really do love the Beatles! I love the band and I hope that comes across.


GOLDSHER: And I’d like to think that if they do read it – If Paul or Ringo or Yoko or anybody associated with the group or who was mentioned in the book reads it that they will realize we’re just having fun, and that’s just a gory, disgusting love letter.

VENTRELLA: Did you ever say to yourself “Oh, this reference is too obscure.” I certainly caught things that an average reader would not… such as John’s first girlfriend, that kind of stuff…

GOLDSHER: I wanted to include as many obscure facts as I could for people like you, who would read it. To me, it made it feel very insider for all the Beatles nerds to take Thelma Pickles’ name and laugh at it since it’s so ridiculous. The whole thing about Jimmy Nichols – those are the kinds that keep Beatles fans from looking at me and thinking “Wow, he’s just trying to wreck the Beatles name and he doesn’t really care about the group.”

I care about the group! I did research for things like when I named their instruments. I was very careful. “This was the instrument Paul was using in ’64 so here’s what he would throw against the wall.” Little nerd stuff like that. Many fans know that stuff right off the top of their heads. I have some incredible nerdy friends. Yeah, I wanted there to be this stuff so people like me wouldn’t get offended.

VENTRELLA: It’s nice when you can make that kind of insider joke and someone else will get it. I was in a band in Boston and playing in a club and a bunch of German sailors were in the audience who were cheering and yelling. My friend Matt then shouted out “Mach Shau!” and maybe three people got it… but it was nice to know someone did.

GOLDSHER: Yeah, if one person gets it, it’s cool. But we are nerds together.

VENTRELLA: Are you working on a sequel now for the solo years?

GOLDSHER: Well, not for the solo years. It’s called POPPERMOST OVER AMERICA will take place immediately after PAUL IS DEAD ends.

VENTRELLA: So you’ll be a zombie in the sequel?

GOLDSHER: No, I actually don’t get turned into a zombie! Put down “Spoiler Alert!” They kidnap me and take me along on their Poppermost Over America tour, where they will continue their quest to take over the world. And depending on what the legal department of whatever publisher I end up going with will say, I’ll put current musicians in there and contemporary figures who will try to stop the Beatles from taking over.

VENTRELLA: Have you read any other similar books? Have you read PAPERBACK WRITER by Mark Shipper?

GOLDSHER: I did not. A number of people have pointed out to me that the book exists, but I didn’t know about it.

VENTRELLA: It’s nothing like yours other than the fact that it’s a fake Beatles history.

GOLDSHER: Is it fun? Is it a good book?

VENTRELLA: Oh, it’s hilarious! It rewrites the history and is full of insider jokes, but it’s been out of print for years.

GOLDSHER: When was it written?

VENTRELLA: Probably in the early 80s, I’m guessing (EDIT: Turns out it was in 1977.)

GOLDSHER: I should probably seek it out so I am knowledgeable in case anyone else ever asks me about it.

VENTRELLA: It’s only because yours are the only two I know of that are fake Beatles histories. Other than that, there’s no relationship. He just changed history and made it funnier.

GOLDSHER: There’s a mythology about the Beatles, so it’s kind of easy to take these events and twist them because they’re already fun to start with!

VENTRELLA: Well, PAPERBACK WRITER came before the Rutles so it’s kind of the Rutles except they didn’t change the names.

Let’s talk about some of your other books. Was JAM your first novel?

GOLDSHER: JAM was the first, and that was almost an experiment to see if I could write a novel. It turned out pretty OK and people seemed to like it. I wrote it in ’96 and finished in ’97. Any writer who has written a number of books knows that it’s embarrassing to reflect on your first novel.

VENTRELLA: Well, I’ll agree with you there; I’d like to go back and rewrite mine. JAM is another music novel though, right?

GOLDSHER: It’s semi-autobiographical. I kind of put my own life in every book. At the beginning of PAUL IS UNDEAD, I discuss how I fell in love with McCartney’s music. That’s the absolute truth. I didn’t know who the Beatles were until I heard “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey.”

VENTRELLA: I’m a little bit older than you, I guess. I got into them after “Let It Be” which was probably one of their weakest. At the time, I was still 12 years old or something, I was into the Monkees. Then I heard “Let It Be” and went “Hey, these guys are better than the Monkees!”

GOLDSHER: The first Beatles music I remember having was a 45 of “Hey Jude.” I had the close-and-play record player, and I brought it outside on a hot and sunny day and it melted! I don’t know how much it would be worth now, but it sure would be nice to have it…

Then I got the red and blue greatest hits album, and kind of worked my way backwards.

VENTRELLA: I remember my friend finally got the White Album and back then we didn’t know anything about it. He came to me with a list of songs on the album, and I thought he had made them up. “Oh, really? You expect me to believe there’s a song called ‘The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill’?”

GOLDSHER: (laughs) “There’s a song called ‘Piggies.”?

VENTRELLA: “‘Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except For Me And My Monkey’?” Yeah, sure.”

GOLDSHER: How many animal songs on that record?

VENTRELLA: That’s true! I should count them. Back to your books though… you wrote some chick lit books?

GOLDSHER: I was working with a literary agent who said “You have an interesting ability to write in different voices and for an exercise, why don’t you write a chicklit book?” This was around 2004 and the chicklit market was happening at that point and he thought it could be something I could be part of. So I took JAM and took that basic outline and rewrote it with a female protagonist. And then on the second draft through, I threw all that out the window and it became its own entity.

I found a place for it with a publisher in the UK called Little Black Dress. For God knows what reason, they signed me to a three book deal. All three came out and they’ve done pretty well. Up until PAUL IS UNDEAD they were my bestselling books.

I’m working on a new one now called NO ORDINARY GIRL which is a paranormal chicklit book. It’s about a girl who has superpowers. It’s kind of a metaphor for – you know that these books are geared toward a very tight demographic? 21 to 29 women… the metaphor is that women have a certain part of them that they’re not happy with: “Oh, my ass is too big, I’ve got this mole on my face…” and this woman says, “Oh, I’ve got these superpowers.” So it’s about how she comes to terms with something she’s had since birth.

VENTRELLA: You started off writing nonfiction though, correct?

GOLDSHER: The first actual book I wrote was fiction. Then I wrote the book about jazz drummer Art Blakey. I was also doing magazine work at the time.

In a perfect world, I’d write whatever I want! Like right now, I’m jonesing to write a book about Miles Davis. My agent and I are trying to pitch the concept around, because (a) I love Miles Davis and (b) the Miles Davis books that are out there now – some of which are very, very good – are for jazz nerds like me. I’d like to write something that’s a little more populist. I think that would be a cool thing for the jazz canon. My first love was jazz.

VENTRELLA: You were a ghostwriter for quite a few people as well.

GOLDSHER: It’s exciting when it comes along.

VENTRELLA: How do you get those kinds of jobs? How do they seek you out?

GOLDSHER: It starts out with literary agents. The first project I did with a celebrity was Bernie Mac in 2000. He was working on his first book and this agent that I knew reached out and said “Would you be interested in ghostwriting the book and the proposal?”

“Absolutely,” I said. Bernie Mac is a funny, funny man and this was right before he was on the cusp of stardom. He’s from Chicago, and I’m from Chicago, and we hung out and had a great old time. We sold the book and then he ended up going with a ghostwriter who had a little more experience, which is one of the catch-22s about the entertainment industry: You can’t get the gig unless you have more experience and you can’t get more experience unless you get the gig.

That was a great notch in my belt, so in 2007, when I was working with another literary agent and another ghostwriting thing came up, I was ready and was attractive to potential clients.

The ghostwriting project I am proudest out was a book I did with a woman named Sarah Reinestsen. Sarah was the first female above-the-knee amputee to complete the Iron Man triathalon in Hawaii, and she is an absolute inspiration. She has a great joy and was very honest about relaying painful facts. The most painful one was that her father abused her. Her leg was amputated when she was seven, and her father physically and verbally abused her to the point where one consistent punishment for a while was threatening to take away her prosthetic leg if she wouldn’t wash the dishes or something. But she impressed me and it really shows in the book.

I did Robert Englund’s book which was a nice project. Robert was a sweet sweet man and if you were going to say there was a weakness about the project it was that he was too nice! He wouldn’t dish anything. I mean, you get Mackenzie Phillips coming out and saying “Oh, I slept with my dad” and the book is an immediate sensation and sells a lot of copies. With Robert, he talks about how much he loves this person and that person. That doesn’t really translate into sales. I don’t think he has a problem with that, though. He’s proud of the book as it is.

VENTRELLA: I assume as a ghostwriter you get paid a set amount as opposed to a percentage of the book sales.

GOLDSHER: Depends on your negotiations. David Ritz, one of the best pop culture ghostwriters out there, I guarantee gets a percentage of the books because he’s one of those guys whose name brings cache to the table.

VENTRELLA: Are you planning on going to any Beatles conventions to promote PAUL IS UNDEAD?

GOLDSHER: Maybe next year if the book is still doing well, and that’s not out of realm of possibility. PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES is still doing well after a year. I will be at the Chicago Comic Con on the weekend of August 20, and then I’ll be at the Comic Con in New York on a panel on October 10.

VENTRELLA: I was going to be on a panel there as well until I realized it conflicted with another convention I had already committed to that exact same weekend.

GOLDSHER: I’m looking forward to it. I think that’s the best place to reach the people who would obviously like the book.

VENTRELLA: Most writers I know who have books on the bestseller lists still have jobs, too. It’s always amazing to me how (with a few exceptions) this is not as profitable an occupation as many people think.

GOLDSHER: I’m doing OK! We make the rent, and my wife and I are trying to start a family. I think there are two things that really help me are (1) I take rejection really well! How do we make this work? How can we get this off the ground? And (2) I have a legitimate interest in writing about all kinds of stuff in all kinds of different platforms and formats.

For instance, my agent hooked me up with a gentleman who had written a 175,000 word novel. That’s a long novel! There was a book buried in there and I had to dig it out. That was a bunch of work, just as if I had worked for a month anywhere else.

So I have all kinds of projects like that, like the superheroine book and a couple other mash-ups in the coffer – I’m doing one called FRANKENSTEIN HAS LEFT THE BUILDING, which is a retelling of the Frankenstein story with Elvis as the creature.

VENTRELLA: That’s the key, I think. The writers who do make a living at it are writing constantly, and they write all kinds of different things. Jonathan Maberry comes to mind; I notice that he gave you a quote for your book cover … He did the same for me, actually!

GOLDSHER: Jonathan’s a nice guy and I would love his career. He’s done wonders for himself. He’s a hustler and that’s also part of the business. And he’s like me in that he takes rejection really well. It seems like he comes up with an idea a day. He’s writing comic books and all sorts of stuff. Total admiration for Jonathan.

(Here we got into a prolonged discussion about bass guitars since both of us play bass. The conversation continued on after the tape ran out!)

Interview with Janice Gable Bashman

MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA: I’m pleased to be interviewing Janice Gable Bashman today. Janice is co-author (with Jonathan Maberry) of WANTED UNDEAD OR ALIVE: VAMPIRE HUNTERS AND OTHER KICK-ASS ENEMIES OF EVIL (Citadel Press, August 2010). She has written for many leading publications, including NOVEL & SHORT STORY WRITER’S MARKET, WILD RIVER REVIEW, THE WRITER, INDUSTRY TODAY, and FOOD & DRINK QUARTERLY. Janice is a member of the ITW (International Thriller Writers) and the Horror Writer’s Association, as well as a contributing editor of the ITW’s newsletter the BIG THRILL. Her writing won multiple awards at the 2007 Philadelphia Writer’s Conference.

Your book WANTED UNDEAD OR ALIVE is due out shortly. Tell us about the book!

JANICE GABLE BASHMAN: WANTED UNDEAD OR ALIVE deals with monsters of all kinds (supernatural, fictional, or real) and the people/beings/forces that fight them. It’s a pop culture book for fans of the genre. We interviewed tons of people for the book — FBI profilers, authors, screenwriters, comic writers, actors, directors, producers, criminal experts, psychologists, and others — as well as luminaries like film-maker John Carpenter, author Peter Straub, and the legendary Stan Lee. The book also has over forty illustrations from fantastic artists.

Here’s what some of the experts have to say about the book:

“WANTED UNDEAD OR ALIVE is a fascinating, far-ranging analysis of the nature of evil and those who rise to fight it … in real life, in pop culture, in literature and in legend. A must read for those who want to dive deep into the reasons for why we are fascinated by monsters … and love those who make it their business to take them down.” — Rachel Caine, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the Morganville Vampires series, Weather Warden series, and Outcast Season series

“WANTED UNDEAD OR ALIVE is a riveting chronicle of all things that drop fangs in the dead of night. All aficionados MUST have this in their library!” — LA Banks, New York Times best-selling author of the Vampire Huntress Legend series

“Jonathan Maberry and Janice Gable Bashman probe into pop culture’s Heart of Darkness, and what they find is both fascinating and thought-provoking.” — Charlaine Harris, creator of TRUE BLOOD and the Sookie Stackhouse novels

VENTRELLA: How did your writing styles work together?

BASHMAN: Jonathan Maberry and I each wrote individual chapters and reviewed and edited the other’s work. Other chapters were a collaborative effort. Prior to writing anything, we had to decide who was best to write each chapter. Although writing the book was research and interview intensive, we each brought our own skill sets and knowledge of the subject matter to the project; therefore, some chapters were better suited for one of us than the other.

When writing or co-writing a book, voice is important. The challenge with two authors is finding one voice that both authors can write and that fits the tone of the book. At first it takes a bit of trial and error (and writing and rewriting) to get there, but the end result is, if you do your job right, a voice from two writers that sounds like it’s from one.

VENTRELLA: Do you have any similar books planned?

BASHMAN: WANTED UNDEAD OR ALIVE is a companion to VAMPIRE UNIVERSE by Jonathan Maberry (2006) and THEY BITE by Jonathan Maberry and David F. Kramer (2009). I’m finishing up a proposal for my next non-fiction book; it’s still under wraps so I can’t share the details at this time. I can say that dozens of key players are already on board for the project and it’s sure to be a fun one.

VENTRELLA: You primarily have written nonfiction. How does that differ from writing fiction?

BASHMAN: Writing fiction and non-fiction differ and yet are the same. By that I mean that both forms of writing have a story to tell. In fiction, the story comes from your imagination (and research); in non-fiction, the story is derived from fact. Whether I’m interviewing an author for the NOVEL & SHORT STORY WRITER’S MARKET or THE BIG THRILL or interviewing a CEO of a major corporation for a trade magazine, the process is the same. I gather my facts and tell a story — the story of the person or organization I’m interviewing.

I’ve received many e-mails from authors and others I’ve interviewed thanking me for giving them such an interesting interview, one where the questions differ from those they’ve been asked so many times before. I make it my business to thoroughly research my subject before I construct an interview and find a way to take that interview to a deeper and more personal level, to get to the heart of the person and talk to them about what really matters.

But, in the end, it’s all about story. Finding the story and crafting it in a way that’s exciting for the reader. That’s my job as a writer whether I’m writing fiction or non-fiction.

VENTRELLA: How did you get started in the business?

BASHMAN: About four years ago, I decided to take a swing at publishing some articles after I became involved with a writing group. I learned to craft a query, sent out a few ideas to some local publications, and sold my first article. In the years prior, I had published my master’s thesis and a few book reviews, so I did have some, albeit minimal, publishing credentials. Once that first article was published, I began sending out more queries to both local and national markets, and the sales began rolling in. I’ve written dozens of interviews and profiles for numerous publications, but I’ve also written features, book reviews, and now a non-fiction book.

VENTRELLA: How do you pitch a nonfiction book or article?

BASHMAN: Pitching a non-fiction book is different than pitching an article, so let’s tackle a book first. To pitch a non-fiction book, the writer must write a non-fiction book proposal. The book proposal contains detailed information about the editorial format, the book contents, the author’s marketing and promotion intentions, who will buy the book, media contacts, and more. A sample chapter or two is also submitted with the book proposal. The author must then pitch the book to an agent, via a query letter, in order to find an agent to represent him in selling the book. Some publishers may accept proposals directly from an author, but most do not. So, unlike fiction, the entire book does not have to be completed before pitching to an agent or editor.

The process of writing a non-fiction book proposal is helpful beyond obtaining a sale. It helps the author flesh out and refine his ideas and really get a good handle on the book. And when it comes time to write, the author is ready to go.

Pitching an article is a different beast. To pitch a non-fiction article the writer must send a query to an editor telling that editor about the proposed article and why it’s a good fit for his publication. This is done prior to writing the article. It does help sometimes, depending on the type of article you wish to write, to have one or two quotes from “experts” in your pitch to support your proposal. For an interview or profile I have not found this necessary, but I would recommend using expert quotes for a feature article. It shows the editor that you not only have the knowledge to write the article but that you also have access to the experts who can support the material.

My experience has shown that once I’ve worked successfully with an editor, it is easier to pitch new ideas to him and have them accepted for publication, as long as the ideas are good, obviously, and fit the publication’s needs. I’ve also had editors contact me on numerous occasions asking if I would be interested in writing a particular piece for their publications. When that happens, it certainly makes life easier because I bypass the query process. If and when that happens, it’s important to remember that it’s okay to turn down an assignment if your schedule will not allow you to complete the piece on time to meet the editor’s deadline. Always, always, always meet your deadlines.

VENTRELLA: Giving a pitch to a fiction editor or agent is a skill few have. How do you manage it? What advice do you have?

BASHMAN: The hook is all important. A query letter must hook the agent or editor in the first sentence just like the first sentence of a book must hook the reader. The writer must give the agent a reason to continue reading the query letter and to request sample chapters. It may seem like a simple thing, especially after writing and editing a manuscript, but it’s not. Crafting a good query letter takes time, but it’s important for the writer to take the time to do it right. How awful would it be for a great manuscript to sit forever in a drawer because an author didn’t take the time to learn how to write a good query and therefore couldn’t get an agent or editor to read the manuscript?

My advice is simple. It takes practice. Write and rewrite your query until it sounds like something that would make you request pages if you were an agent. Run your query past a few colleagues, post it on a writer’s critique board such as Backspace or Absolute Write Water Cooler, or if you’re really brave post it online for either the Query Shark or Evil Editor to critique. But before you even get that far, read through Miss Snark’s blog achieves where you’ll find hundreds of query critiques to study as examples. Publishers Marketplace is also a good resource. Take a look at the deals page and you can easily see how authors/agents have summed-up a book’s hook in one sentence. Find books in your genre and read the back cover copy, see how the wording hooks the readers and find a way to do the same for your book.

The more a writer studies and writes queries the easier it gets, but it takes time and practice. Don’t expect perfection right out of the gate. Work on the query, study your sentence structure, word choices, etc. until you get it right. Put the same hard work into the query that you put into your book. And if you query and don’t receive requests for pages, you either need to rethink/rewrite your query letter or ensure you queried the agents/editors who are interested in your type of book. One or the other wasn’t on target.

VENTRELLA: What advice can you give an aspiring writer?

BASHMAN: Remember that you’re writing because you love to write, because you have something to say that is meaningful. Be persistent. Push through the tough times; they will come. Relish the rewards of your work. And remember that publishing is a business, so try not to take rejection too personally. A rejection may not be a reflection on your work but may simply show that what you wrote is not the right piece for the marketplace at that particular time.

VENTRELLA: What’s the worst thing you have seen writers do that ruin their potential careers?

BASHMAN: I cringe every time I see a writer bash an agent or an editor in a social media setting such as Twitter or Facebook because the agent or editor rejected that writer’s work. Agents and editors receive and respond to hundreds of queries a week and often read them on their own time outside of business hours. They are searching for that next great book to represent, the book they love, and the book they believe readers will love too. They’re in the publishing business because they love books, and believe me, they want to find the next great book just as much as the writer wants to write it.

Rejection is part of the business, and a writer’s response to that rejection should be kept private or shared with a few select friends. It’s okay to feel disappointed, hurt or upset, but publically airing those feelings and lashing out at agent or editor either online or via e-mail is awful. First of all, it’s cruel. It’s done out of anger and feelings of rejection — that the writer’s work isn’t good enough, which may or may not be true. Second, agents and editors know one another, so when a writer bashes an agent or editor, that writer is labeled as trouble based on their online or e-mail rant. The writer may have written a great manuscript, but who wants to work with a difficult author, especially one just starting out in the business?

VENTRELLA: How do you manage promotion for your work? What things do you have planned?

BASHMAN: Promotion takes a lot of time, but it’s a necessary part of business. Today, authors are expected to do most, if not all, of their own promotion. It’s important to have a game plan and follow-through with it. A writer can write a great book, but if no one buys it the book is considered a failure.

For WANTED UNDEAD OR ALIVE, we’ll be posting expanded interviews on our websites with some of the people we interviewed for the book, we’ll reach out to readers through social media, we’ll attend upcoming comic, horror, and other events, we’ll participate in speaking engagements at local libraries and other organizations, we’ll attend book fairs, hold book signings, and a whole slew of other things to get our book out there and to bring it to the attention of readers.

VENTRELLA: How important is it for a writer to post on Twitter and Facebook and keep a blog? And what can a writer do to make his or her blog different and noticeable?

BASHMAN: It’s extremely important for a writer to connect with as many potential readers as possible. The internet has given authors a powerful arsenal of tools to connect with readers through social media, blogs, Yahoo! groups, websites, etc., and authors need to recognize those opportunities and use them. I recently spoke about building your buzz to drive up sales at the Backspace Writers Conference, and I’ll be speaking about it again to the Brandywine Valley Writers Group in September. I embrace these social media and online opportunities and have found them instrumental in helping propel my writing career forward. I’m on Twitter , Facebook, LibraryThing, Shelfari, LinkedIn, and a bunch of Yahoo! groups. I also follow and comment on numerous blogs and post to my own blog, usually about the writing business.

In order for a writer to make his blog noticeable, the writer must provide content that is engaging and relevant to the blog readers. In order to achieve that, the writer must identify his blog audience—who are they and why they are there. Also, what does the writer want to talk about? How can the writer make that interesting for his readers? If the writer’s target audience is other writers, for example, how can a blog post on writing draw in potential readers, agents, editors, etc.? Find ways to target new audiences while maintaining the readers you already have? Study those blogs you admire and see what they are doing and how they are doing it. Learn by example. Then try your twist on it and see if it works. If it doesn’t draw the response you desire, tweak your approach and try again. There’s no sure-fire formula for success. Just do what you do and do your best.

VENTRELLA: What projects do you have upcoming?

BASHMAN: In addition to the upcoming non-fiction book project I mentioned earlier, I continue to write for various publications. I’ll also be shopping a young adult novel shortly.

Me and Janice

Interview with Agent Lori Perkins

MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA: Lori Perkins is the Editorial Director of Ravenous Romance, a new publisher of romance ebooks and audiobooks. She has been a literary agent for 20 years, and is currently President of L. Perkins Agency, which has foreign agents in 11 countries and working relationships with Hollywood agents. She was the agent for HOW TO MAKE LOVE LIKE A PORN STAR: A CAUTIONARY TALE by Jenna Jameson, which made the New York Times best-seller list for 7 weeks. She was also the agent for J.K. ROWLING: THE WIZARD BEHIND HARRY POTTER by Marc Shapiro, which was on the N.Y. Times Children’s best-seller list.

As an author herself, she has produced four books: THE CHEAPSKATE’S GUIDE TO ENTERTAINMENT; THE INSIDER’S GUIDE TO GETTING A LITERARY AGENT and THE EVERYTHING FAMILY GUIDE TO WASHINGTON D.C. and THE EVERYTHING FAMILY GUIDE TO NEW YORK. She has also written numerous articles on publishing for Writer’s Digest and Publisher’s Weekly.

As an editor, she has edited thirteen erotica anthologies. when she is not teaching at N.Y.U.’s Center for Publishing. And somehow she found time to be interviewed by me.

Lori, how did you decide to start Ravenous Romance, and has it been as successful as you hoped?

LORI PERKINS: As an agent, I sell the stuff that other agents won’t handle — SF/Fantasy, pop culture and erotica. So after 9/11 I became the literary agent for the porn industry — I am Jenna Jameson and Vivid’s literary agent. But I also wondered what had happened in the erotica world that I had read as a younger woman, and I was surprised to find that the erotica market was becoming more and more female-centric. I took on Cecelia Tan — who writes SF/Fantasy erotica, as well as baseball books (another passion of mine) — and started selling erotica anthologies. I started reading all these wonderful writers with excellent writing chops who made their living writing short stories, and groomed a few of them into novelists for this burgeoning erotic romance and chick lit market.

At that time, I met Holly Schmidt and Allan Penn, who were nonfiction packagers doing a lot of sex books. They wanted to start a romance publisher, and I suggested that there were enough romance publishers out there, but erotic romance was young and growing. When they examined the market, they came back and said, yes, let’s do all ebooks, and that’s how was born.

VENTRELLA: What is currently selling at, and what are you looking for?

PERKINS: We’ve made a name for ourselves by crossing genres. Our most popular category is M/M romance, which means gay male romance. We’ve taken popular romance classics and rewritten them in contemporary settings — AN OFFICER AND HIS GENTLE MAN, PRETTY MAN, SLEEPLESS IN SAN FRANCISCO. We will be doing the same thing for lesbian F/F fiction now, so we are looking for someone to write THE PRINCESS’S BRIDE and MUST LOVE CATS. You get the idea.

Our paranormal romance is selling really well. We have seven vampire series, and the zombie fiction does well. HUNGRY FOR YOUR LOVE, our zombie romance anthology, is one of our best-sellers, as is our gay zombie romance, FOR LOVE OF THE DEAD by Hal Bodner. And our kinky stuff does well too, such as our THREESOMES anthology. We currently have a call out on the RR blog, for stories for a paranormal threesomes anthology, THREE’S A CHARM, and an historical threesome anthology, ONCE UPON A THREESOME. We have two more big anthologies coming up soon — FANGBANGERS, which is romance with anything with fangs and claws, and APOCALYPSE TODAY: LOVE AMONG THE RUINS, which is end-of-the-world romance.

VENTRELLA: Do you see e-books being the wave of the future?

PERKINS: Ebooks is the future of the mass market. There will always be collectors and bibliophiles, but when it comes to books as entertainment, you can’t beat an ebook.

VENTRELLA: Do you think there is any stigma attached to books that are primarily sold as ebooks?

PERKINS: Only if they are self-published. We published 150 titles this year and sold reprint rights to a third of them to major houses.

VENTRELLA: Given that it is relatively inexpensive to produce ebooks, is there a worry that some will assume that the standards are lower for publication?

PERKINS: It is not much less expensive to “publish” an ebook. We pay an advance against royalties; we hire an editor, a copy editor, a cover designer; the book has to be converted into eformats from Word, and then it needs to be uploaded to the various Estores that sell it. Plus we need an office and an accounting department. I sell subrights. All Estores (Amazon, B&N, Fictionwise, Audible, etc.) take a huge portion of the sale price of the book (just like a bookstore and a distributor in print). The only part of the ebook system (with a real pubisher) that is less expensive is the cost of printing, shipping and storage, and that is returned to the author in the higher than print royalties — most epublishers pay between 25% and 35% royalties.

VENTRELLA: What will usually get a submission rejected for Ravenous Romance?

PERKINS: All erotic romance must have a happy ending or a happy-for-now ending. We might ask you to change it, and if you won’t, we won’t publish it. And then just plain bad writing will get you turned down — alternating perspectives, passive voice, etc.

VENTRELLA: Have you ever liked an author’s style and voice but rejected a story based on other grounds?

PERKINS: I am an editor who can fix things, so I can usually walk an author through a rewrite.

VENTRELLA: Audiobooks also seem to be growing tremendously. How are the ones with Ravenous Romance produced?

PERKINS: Erotic romance audiobooks do very well, because there aren’t many of them (they are still quite expensive to produce, since they must be done in a studio).

VENTRELLA: Do you think eventually the book publishers will change their pricing to accommodate a new economy model?

PERKINS: I think ebooks should be affordable, and that if they are too high they will encourage pirating. I think the print world needs to get rid of “reserve against returns”, which is an antiquated system that makes the publisher and the author a lender to the book seller. I think books are entertainment, and they must learn to complete with DVDs and games and music, all of which needs to be affordable. So a new blockbuster book should be $20, an ebook $10 and a mass market/backlist $5, IMHO.

VENTRELLA: What is your background? In other words, how did you get to become a literary agent?

PERKINS: I was journalist. I was the publisher of a neighborhood newspaper in Upper Manhattan with a degree in journalism from NYU. I became an agent becuse I wanted to sell both fiction and nonficiton, but I have always been an editorial agent (I fix the books before they go out and I often come up with ideas for my authors). I’ve also written four books and edited 15 anthologies. And I teach writing/editing at NYU.

VENTRELLA: As a literary agent, what do you see as the biggest mistake new authors make?

PERKINS: They are too eager to get published. They don’t work on their craft. They have fantasies about the marketplace that are no longer real.

VENTRELLA: How do you deal with receiving work that you think is well written but to which you don’t think the market wants?

PERKINS: I’ll tell them just that and tell them what’s selling, and if they want to rework something, fine. Otherwise put it in the trunk and get me something commercial.

VENTRELLA: What’s the best way for a new writer to find a literary agent who likes their genre and style of writing?

PERKINS: Get WRITER’S DIGEST’S GUIDE TO LITERARY AGENTS or Jeff Herman’s and go through the book with a marker, making a list of all the agents who sell what you’ve written. Then email the top five, wait a week, and go on to the next five, etc. You can also join Publisher’s Lunch and look up agent sales for the past three months to see who has sold something that sounds like what you are writing. Then send a query letter that starts: “I read on Publisher’s Lunch that you recently sold a….”

VENTRELLA: And finally, who are your favorite authors? Who do you like to read, and why?

PERKINS: My three favorite books are 1984, ALICE IN WONDERLAND and DRACULA, and I would say GONE WITH THE WIND is my fourth. I love Stephen King (am reading UNDER THE DOME now). I especially loved SALEM’S LOT because it was DRACULA set in America and he deftly portrayed the death of a small town. I think MISERY is his finest book — brilliantly crafted. I also love Peter Straub, who has mastered the art of telling a story like the peeling of an onion. He always amazes me.

Interview with Award Winning Author Jonathan Maberry

JONATHAN MABERRY is the multiple Bram Stoker Award-winning author of novels (PATIENT ZERO, GHOST ROAD BLUES, etc.), nonfiction books (ZOMBIE CSU, THE CRYPTOPEDIA, etc.), comics (BLACK PANTHER, PUNISHER: NAKED KILL and WOLVERINE: GHOSTS), and over 1100 magazine articles.  Jonathan is the co-creator (with Laura Schrock) of ON THE SLAB, an entertainment news show for ABC Disney / Stage 9, to be released on the Internet in 2009. Jonathan is a Contributing Editor for The Big Thrill (the newsletter of the International Thriller Writers), and is a member of SFWA, MWA and HWA.

Visit his website at or on Facebook and MySpace

Jonathan Maberry author photo 2009

MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA: Jonathan, thank you for being the first to submit to the interrogation, which I promise will be free from “enhanced techniques.”   To begin, can you discuss how and why you made the transition from non-fiction to fiction?

JONATHAN MABERRY:  I was doing research for a vampire folklore book –VAMPIRE UNIVERSE (Citadel Press, 2006) and realized that popular fiction rarely mines the richness of folklore for source material.  Most takes on vampires are variations of Dracula, and Bram Stoker was by no means a folklorist.  His vampires different considerably from most European vampires, and even from Transylvanian vampires.  There are hundreds of different kinds of vampires in world myth and few of them every appear in fiction.

I thought how interesting it would be to read a novel in which the characters realize they’re up against vampires but everything they try fails because all they know about vampires comes from novels and movies.  The more I thought about how much fun a book like that would be, the more I wanted to see if I could write it myself.  My only previous attempts at fiction had been a couple of shorts stories way back when that sold to magazines that pay only in contributor copies.  But…I decided to give it a shot anyway.

When I set about it, I was consciously writing the kind of book I wanted to read.  I had no expectations of it actually selling.  After I had the book roughed out I realized that it was a much larger story than I thought and it would have to be a trilogy.  That really stacked things against me because until then there had been no horror trilogies.

I went through the process of scouting for an agent, got the book into her hands, and she was able to place it –and the two other as-yet-unwritten books—with a major house.  That book, GHOST ROAD BLUES, was published as a paperback original by Pinnacle Books in 2006 and went on to win the Bram Stoker Award for Best First Novel and was in the running against Stephen King and Tom Piccirilli for Novel of the Year.  As you can imagine that was a pretty strong dose of validation.

And, just writing the book gave me the bug.  Now I’m totally hooked on writing fiction and am work (simultaneously) on my 8th and 9th novels, one for St. Martins Griffin and one for Simon & Schuster.

Ghost Road Blues

VENTRELLA: You have also not limited yourself in your writing, having produced novels, short stories, plays, and comic book scripts.  Do you advise a starting writer to concentrate in one area first?

MABERRY:  Always start with your strength.  I started with magazine feature writing about martial arts.  I’ve been practicing jujutsu since I was a kid, so when I pitched my first article at age twenty I was able to speak with some authority.  From there I went to how-to pieces, and later I wrote martial arts textbooks while teaching Martial Arts History, Jujutsu and Women’s Self-Defense at Temple University.  Once I had myself established as a writer I went outside my comfort zone and started pitching on what I liked.

This doesn’t always apply to fiction, though.  If I was just starting out now, with no writing credentials, I’d probably tackle a novel in the genre that I read most.  Knowledge of your favorite genre –its history, its greatest works, its best writers—creates a comfort zone that lends authority, confidence and passion to your own work.

VENTRELLA: What’s the biggest mistake you made when starting out?  What’s the best piece of advice you got?

MABERRY:  I made two whoppers.  The first was believing that I was skilled enough to represent my own books.  That came back to bite me on the ass when I published with a small press owned by a lawyer.  Looking back, that had red flags all over it, and I got bent over a barrel.  Then I wised up and got an agent.  She looks after the legal end of things, and she does a hell of a lot better job of it than I ever did.

The other mistake was believing that old propaganda that creative people are bad at business.  Once I got burned by the small press shark, I made sure that I learned everything I could about the writing business.  I found that learning the business side of things was just a matter of research, and writers are good at research.  It also helped me identify the kinds of people I needed to work with —agents, accountants, etc— and learning how the business works.  One of the first things you learn is that publishing IS a business, and everything that occurs within it is part of business.  Art is the product, not the method.

VENTRELLA: Your latest series involves Joe Ledger, who works for a top-secret government agency and who has all sorts of advanced training.  While it is true that you have a martial arts background yourself, what sort of research did you do to get into the mind of your character?

MABERRY:  I talk to pros in the field.  Like most writers I love research.  I’m a knowledge junkie.  I want to know how things work, how people do their jobs, and so on.  To get into the head of Joe Ledger I spoke with SWAT operatives and people currently or formerly in Special Ops.  Always ask the pros.  Find out what makes them tick, what drives them…and find out what they know about their job that Joe Average doesn’t know.

Because of that research I have a strong fanbase among present and former soldiers, cops and agents.

VENTRELLA: Do you think it is better for starting writers to, as they say, “write what you know” and create a main character with the writer’s experience and background?

MABERRY:  At first, sure.  If you build on your strengths you imbue the character with passion, confidence, and reality.  But don’t discount the value of paying attention to people around you.  I draw on a lot of people I know, or have known, when creating characters.  Rarely is a character made completely from whole-cloth…most have elements of real people.

VENTRELLA: What’s the best way to grab the attention of an agent?  What’s the biggest mistake you can make?

MABERRY:  Start with things in motion.  Don’t lead up to it (that’s a page waster and an interest-killer).  I like to jump in and make the characters scramble to catch up to something big and nasty already rolling.

VENTRELLA: Do you have a favorite of your own work?  Which, and why?

MABERRY:  So far it’s a tie between PATIENT ZERO and the second in the series, THE DRAGON FACTORY.  I delivered that a couple of months ago and my editors tell me that it’s better than the first…and they loved the first.Patient Zero SMP

In truth, though, I’m always in love with whatever I’m currently writing.

VENTRELLA: PATIENT ZERO also has the unusual (to me) technique of being written both in the first person and third person, depending on the chapter and the main character’s point of view.  How did you decide to adopt this technique and is it being used in the sequels?

MABERRY:  It’s a thriller, which means it’s a race against the clock.  In most thrillers that have a political or military angle the hero seldom gets to meet the bad guy behind everything.  I wanted Joe Ledger to tell his own story, but I wanted the reader to get to know the villains in the piece and learn who they are and why they do what they do.  So I switch from first to third.  A few other writers do this effectively.  John Connolly, Robert Crais, and others.  It works well if you stay on top of it and make sure the voice of the first person sections is different than the voice of the third person sections.

VENTRELLA: Just because I want to know:  The “zombies” in “Patient Zero” were not supernatural in the traditional sense of the word; will the Ledger novels continue in this vein?

MABERRY:  First off…zombies in most fiction aren’t supernatural.  In Night of the Living Dead it’s suggested that radiation from a returning space probe caused them to rise.  In many other stories they rise as a result of toxic spills, a mishandled bioweapon, or a mutation of some naturally occurring pathogen.  My take is that the pathogen is deliberately re-engineered to make a doomsday weapon for reasons that will benefit the villain, a pharmaceutical mogul named Sebastian Gault, who intends to profit from the panic and the resulting rush to create and distribute treatments or cures.

The other books in the series focus on different bio-threats.  In THE DRAGON FACTORY, a cabal of scientists are using cutting-edge genetic science to create pathogens for ethnic cleansing and to further the Nazi master race program.  In the third book, THE KING OF PLAGUES, a scientist discovers that the Tenth Plague of Egypt –the death of the firstborn from the story of Moses—was actually a pathogen; he recovers it and attempts to weaponize it so he can sell it to terrorists.

I have little faith in the sensible use of extreme science.  I like science, but research, profit and morality seldom occur all at once in the same people.  To me, that’s far more frightening than zombies!


%d bloggers like this: