"Chubbles" talks to Ex-Heroes author Peter Clines
Chubbles: I'd like to welcome Peter Clines, author of the critically acclaimed 'Ex-Heroes' which was released earlier this year. So Peter, tell us a little bit about your background and how you became a writer.
Peter Clines: Thanks for having me, Louis. It's an honor to be chosen for Oprah's House book club, and I...
(...what? The what? Ahhh, well...)
I know this sounds like some crap, artsy response, but I can't remember a time when I didn't want to be a writer. When I was a little kid back in Maine I would act out elaborate stories with my Star Wars figures or Micronauts. I started reading when I was really young, and my mom got me tons of books and comics, which just encouraged more stories from me. I think I was about ten when I discovered this gigantic Smith-Corona electric typewriter in the back of the hall closet and that was that. I started writing stories about Boba Fett before the term fanfic had been invented.
When I grew up I ended up out in California working in the film industry, but I was also doing articles here and there and selling a few short stories. About four years ago the job I had finished up, like they do. I started thinking about my next job and my lovely lady pointed out that I always got lots of writing assignments when I was on hiatus, and it was what I really wanted to do anyway, so maybe I should give it a try. So, I took the plunge and here I am today.
Ch: As you know Ex-Heroes was the first selection for the recently formed Outhouse Book Club however some of our members had trouble tracking down the book. I was curious as to why the book is so hard to find, seems order only. Is it a small press thing and does this Permuted Press only do this style of book since they have the slogan "Enjoy the Apocalypse"?
PC: Thanks again for choosing the book. I hope everyone likes it. Or is at least mildly entertained...
As far as finding it, that's more of a distributor question--way out of my league. Based on my very limited (and probably flat out wrong) knowledge, though, I think it's not so much a small press thing as a big store thing. Lots of stores have very rigid requirements about returns, payments, and order sizes which are really tough for small presses to meet. I know Borders bought almost a thousand copies, and I had great fun seeing it on the shelves there and having people send me photos of it from across the country.
Permuted Press had already been around for many years when I first discovered them (I was subbing stories to one of their anthologies). It's run by a great guy named Jacob Kier who just likes horror, especially end-of-the-world type horror. Permuted has put out werewolf apocalypse books, Lovecraftian stuff, some very dark sci-fi, but it's mostly know for zombie novels like Dying To Live, Empire and the Morningstar series. Oh, and Ex-Heroes.
Ch: On the Nook, it is published through the Pub It program (which is a way for independent publishers and writers to publish things for the nook without a wider distributor). How was that process? Are you seeing a bigger percentage of sales on that device versus the Kindle as a result? Was that your decision or your publisher/agent?
PC: Yeah, again, none of that was me. I wish I could be more helpful, but I freely admit I'm a bit of a caveman when it comes to some of this stuff. I get emails from the publisher saying "You're on iBooks, you're on the Nook, you're in the top 100 on three different Kindle lists," and I generally say "Ummmm... good, right?"
Well, I'm not that bad, but you get my point. I'm actually very lucky Permuted's a large enough small press (if that makes sense) that authors don't need to be involved with stuff like that, because if it was up to me I'd still be trying to crack open a Kindle with a rock...
Ch: 'Ex-Heroes', how would you best describe what it's about?
PC: Story-wise, Ex-Heroes is about a group of superheroes in Los Angeles after a zombie apocalypse has come and gone. They were people who wanted to use their powers and skills to save the world and well... they failed. When the book begins, it's been almost a year since society collapsed. The heroes have converted a film studio into a fortress and they're trying to protect all the survivors they could find from the millions of undead that are wandering around the city. But there are some other survivors on the other side of the city and they don't have the same lofty goals and ideals as our heroes do.
On a deeper level, if I can sound all artsy again, it kind of came out of my frustration with a lot of what I'm seeing in comics these days. Everything's about gigantic moral decisions or ethical struggles that stretch over multiple issues or dark, gritty, realistic stories. Yeah, we all love Peter Parker struggling to pay his rent and all that stuff, but it's not really why any of us pick up an issue of Amazing Spider-Man. We just want to see Spidey web up some muggers, stop Doc Ock from robbing the museum, and maybe get Doc Connors turned back to human so he doesn't hurt his family. The dark stuff is powerful in small doses, but when it's all you've got it just gets boring and melodramatic. I mean, how many times can Gray's Anatomy have "the most powerful episode of the year" before you just start tuning it out?
When I say this, by the way, I'm not talking about some of the great stuff like Josh Dysart's Unknown Soldier or Robert Kirkman's The Walking Dead. These are people who decided to use the medium of comics to tell very mature, honestly powerful stories. And I think that's fantastic. What I object to is when classic superhero characters like Spider-Man or Captain America or, heck, Power Pack get forced through this dark, gritty filter. I think there's a lot of people who just want a superhero story. They just want to read about people acting heroically, using their amazing powers for good, and they want to have fun doing it. So that's what I tried to do.
Ch: Why did you decide on referring to the zombies as Ex's? Was it a play on the fact that we also have Ex-Heroes in the book that you decided to also refer to the zombies as such?
PC: It's a little of both. I knew, at heart, I wanted my zombies to be classic, George Romero-type shamblers, because I'm one of those guys who thinks the idea of fast zombies is crap. Simon Pegg had a great line once in an interview about how death is a disability, not a superpower.
So, I knew I wanted them to be slow, but I also knew I needed something to set them apart from the hundreds of other takes out there. I think I was watching television and it struck me how some people will come up with the weirdest way of saying things to avoid using common terms. That's where the term "ex-humanity" came from, because I could see them using that rather than "zombies" on the news or in press conferences. So they're usually called exes, but a lot of people in the book just call them zombies, too. And then, like you said, I realized that would also let me toss around the term "ex-heroes," which would make a fine title.
Ch: Zzzap was my favorite of the heroes, he had such an awesome power set and he gave the best line of the book from Aliens "I say we take off and nuke the entire site from orbit. It's the only way to be sure." Where did you get the inspiration for the heroes in your book?
PC: I've been a huge comics fan for most of my life. When I was little I read the Star Wars comics, Shogun Warriors, ROM, Micronauts, the original Ghost Rider (well, the Johnny Blaze version), and so many more. I still have hundreds of issues of Amazing Spider-Man and Incredible Hulk. And like most comic fans, I eventually tried making up my own heroes and stories. I think I must've sent Marvel comics a dozen "submissions" before I was old enough to drive. They were all politely rejected, needless to say.
My girlfriend and I were moving right around the time I started mulling on the idea that would become Ex-Heroes and I found a bunch of these old childhood sketchbooks. The Dragon, Zzzap, even Cairax-- they were all in there. They needed some polish and revamping, but it struck me that, at the core, most of these heroes I made up in fifth grade would be solid characters. They really are pretty simple, common superpowers and abilities. Like most good storytelling, it comes down to interesting characters.
Fun fact--almost all of the heroes were male when I made them up back then. At the age of ten, I'm ashamed to say, I didn't see the point or possibility of female superheroes. So Stealth, Cerberus, and Banzai were all men in those old sketches.
Ch: I recall you saying that you were a fan of comic books. Have you considered releasing a comic series based in the universe you created here? With the success of books like 'The Walking Dead' and Marvel Zombies, there is certainly a market for this type of story within comic fandom.
PC: Well, flat out, I don't think I've got a prayer of competing with The Walking Dead, so that's done. I wanted to do comics for so long, but I've also come to learn how much work's really involved in making them. Also, there's that caveman aspect I mentioned above. Personally, I'd have no idea how to release a comic on my own. So that becomes weighing the pros and cons of spending the time to learn how to do that correctly... or spending that time to work on Ex-Patriots. Maybe if someone in the know with the right resources wanted to adapt it, we'd see something.
I've got to admit, though... I wonder how well a comic version would really go over? Part of the thrill of books is we get to be the artist and the colorist and the cinemtographer (if you picture books in 35mm). The way you picture Gorgon or Stealth or Cerberus may not be anything like how I picture them, and that's kind of the joy of it. It's personalized. I wonder if a comic would annoy more people than anything else? "What? Gorgon's goggles don't look like that!"
No, it's probably better if they just hire me to write Spider-Man and we leave it at that...
Ch: I found it really interesting and unique how you described how the infection works. How many different iterations on the infection did you go through before settling on that explanation?
PC: None, believe it or not. When I sat down and seriously started the book I hadn't even thought about where the ex-virus came from or how it worked. It was the ex-virus, it turns people into zombies. What more do you need, right? I did eventually realize I'd need to explain it to some degree, and the analogy to the Komodo Dragon popped right into my mind. I read a lot, so there's a ton of useless knowledge rattling around in my head. Every now and then some of it turns out to be useful.
Thing is, right after the book sold I got to interview George Romero for a magazine article. I was doing some background research and discovered he'd apparently used the exact same analogy about the Komodo to explain why zombie bites are so lethal in his stories. I was horrified. But then I talked to a few friends who were die-hard Romero fans and it turns out most of them had never heard it, so I figured I was off the hook.
Ch: What other books and/or authors are you reading now or would recommend for someone who really enjoyed 'Ex-Heroes'?
PC: Well, obnoxiously, I would first recommend The Eerie Adventures of the Lycanthrope Robinson Crusoe, which I co-wrote with Daniel Defoe and H.P.Lovecraft (although between you and me, they were both dead weight on the project and barely did any work). It just came out last month from Permuted and it's a dark take on the classic. Not a comic mash-up, like there's been a lot of recently, but a serious attempt at an early 18th century horror story, if that makes sense.
Past that, there's so much good stuff out there these days. If you like the superhero aspect of it, Mur Lafferty has a fun book called Playing for Keeps which does some neat things with the idea of superpowers. Permuted Press puts out tons of great zombie stuff. Personally, I try to read everything I can in a bunch of different genres. I love Dan Abnett, Lee Child, and Mark Frost. Plus the classics like Burroughs and Doyle and Dickens.
This is a horrible question for me because I will go on for ages and ages with it.
Ch: Give us a little teaser on your new book 'Ex-Patriots' and why anyone who liked 'Ex-Heroes' should run out and grab it as soon as it comes out.
PC: Ex-Patriots begins about nine months after Ex-Heroes ended. The Mount is expanding, they've got all these new people, and of course that's creating some new internal problems. The big thing, though, is that they've been found. It turns out there's an Army base out in Arizona that didn't get overrun, and they've reached out to the heroes to come "rejoin America." And there's a few secrets out there, too, of course. There's going to be a lot of characters from the first book, several new ones, and a few new superpowered characters as well.
A lot of the inspiration for this came out of a mild frustration with always seeing the military portrayed the same way in movies and stories. They're always borderline psychos out to kill the men, steal the women, and set up their own little empire. I wanted to see a more believable take on how the Army would respond to a crisis. The catch being, of course, that I know just enough about life in the military to know that I don't know that much about life in the military. Fortunately I've got friends and family members who are helping out and answering my inane questions so that all comes across as very authentic. Well, as authentic as it can in a world where a guy can fly, throw cars, and breathe fire.
I signed the contract with Permuted at the start of the month. If all goes according to plan, Ex-Patriots should be out next year.
Peter Clines grew up in the Stephen King fallout zone of Maine and--inspired by comic books, Star Wars, and Saturday morning cartoons--started writing at the age of eight with his first epic novel, "Lizard Men from the Center of the Earth."
He made his first writing sale at age seventeen to a local newspaper, and at the age of nineteen he completed his quadruple-PhD studies in English literature, archaeology, quantum physics, and interpretive dance. In 2008, while surfing Hawaii's Keauwaula Beach, he thought up a viable way to maintain cold fusion that would also solve world hunger, but forgot all about it when he ran into actress Yvonne Strahvorski back on the beach and she offered to buy him a drink. He was the inspiration for both the epic poem Beowulf and the motion picture Raiders of the Lost Ark, and is single-handedly responsible for repelling the Martian Invasion of 1938 that occurred in Grovers Mills, New Jersey. Eleven sonnets he wrote to impress a girl in high school were all later found and attributed to Shakespeare. He is the author of numerous short stories, EX-HEROES, and an as-yet-undiscovered Dead Sea Scroll.
There is compelling evidence that he is, in fact, the Lindbergh baby
Ex-Heroes is available now as an e-book and can also be ordered online at Amazon (you may be able to find it at Borders in-store as well). Please pick up a copy (it's a great book) and join us for the Outhouse Book Club on Oct. 29th here at the Outhouse to join the discussion.
Written or Contributed by: Chubbles