There is a short-list of people with whom I will always take the opportunity to sit down and shoot the breeze about writing. Alan Baxter is pretty damn high on that list, despite the fact that we very rarely agree and this occasionally results in me taking on crazy-ass projects to prove a point. He’s also the first guy I turn to when I need someone to talk to new writers about putting together action scenes, and his Write the Fight Write workshop at last year’s GenreCon was basically packed to the rafters, and the wait-list of people wanting to get a spot was basically long enough that we could have run another packed workshop without breaking a sweat.
You can find out more about Alan at his AlanBaxterOnline.com, and he’s frequently on the twitters @AlanBaxter, but for now I’ve grabbed the opportunity to ask him a few questions about the writing, the zombie apocalypse, and the Alex Caine trilogy which will hit stores in paperback for the first first time this week.
SO, THIS WRITING GIG: WHAT FIRST ATTRACTED YOU TO SCRIBBLING STORIES AS A CAREER?
An inability to successfully work for anyone else is a large part of it. Plus that strange ego-driven need to have people read the stories I have inside me while simultaneously stressing that I’m a complete imposter and why would people want to read anything I wrote anyway? It’s a strange compulsion, but I’m utterly incapable of ignoring it. So I don’t.
TELL US SOMETHING NO-ONE ELSE KNOWS ABOUT THE ALEX CAINE BOOKS
In the first draft, Alex Caine was called Adam Crane, but then I decided that was a bit 1950s pulp fiction or something, so I changed it.
WHAT MADE YOU START WRITING THIS SERIES? WHAT KEPT YOU GOING UNTIL YOU FINALLY TYPED THE END?
I decided it was time to write a story where the protagonist was a career martial artist, rather than just someone who also knew how to fight. I also had this plot tumbling around my brainmeats where I wanted to play with the epic fantasy quest trope in a modern urban fantasy/horror setting. The two things came together and I couldn’t stop.
WHAT IS THE WORST BUSINESS ADVICE YOU’VE EVER BEEN GIVEN AS A WRITER?
“Write every day.” I fucking hate that bullshit advice. I dislike most “rules” of writing, they’re potential advice at best. The only rule is that you write – when, where, how often, etc. is all negotiable. But I think the “rule” that writers have to write every day is possibly the most destructive piece of advice out there, particularly for new writers.
I’m not sure that qualifies as business advice necessarily, but it’s a big bugbear for me. I was also once advised to make sure whatever I wrote included a vampire love story, because “apparently people love that shit”. That person is not someone with whom I associate any longer, your honour.
WHAT IS THE KEY TO YOUR SUCCESS AS A WRITER, THUS FAR?
Bloody-minded determination in the face of overwhelming odds and fucking hard work. There’s a certain level of natural talent among writers, but it’s a craft and artform that can be learned. So there are amazingly talented people who fade away and really ordinary writers who stick around. The only differing criteria between them is that the ones who see any kind of success are the ones who work their arses off and just never quit. It’s important to continually learn, constantly strive to improve, always be better than you were yesterday, and never, ever give up. Ever. And also, read a lot.
TELL US ABOUT THE THREE BOOKS YOU THINK EVERYONE WILL READ (WE WILL THROW THINGS AT YOU IF YOU SUGGEST YOUR OWN BOOKS).
Holy crap, that’s a hell of a question.
1. The Great and Secret Show by Clive Barker. It’s my favourite book and an amazing example of dark fantasy, horror, epic quest, beautiful prose, compelling characters, and all that. It’s outstanding.
2. The Sandman Cycle of graphic novels by Neil Gaiman. An incredible study in the corruption of mythology and tropes to create epic, new storytelling. Despite everything else he’s done, I still think it’s his best work. (Sorry, Neil!)
3. Earthsea by Ursula K Le Guin (the whole set of six books, really, but especially the first. Amazing storytelling, incredible writing, wonderful characters, all in something like 250 or 300 pages. I think it’s up there with any other “classic” of literature and will endure.
WHAT’S NEXT FOR ALAN BAXTER?
All kinds of stuff on the horizon. Most immediately is the release of the Alex Caine Trilogy with their awesome new covers, happening right now. I’ve also sold a monster thriller novel called Primordial, co-written with David Wood, to Cohesion Press. That’ll be published in early 2017, I think. I’ve got another standalone novel out on submission with my agent. I’ve just finished another standalone novel that will be going out to beta readers any day now. And I’ve got a novella and a handful of short stories all sold and awaiting publication over the next few months or a year or so. The Bibliography page on my website has a Forthcoming section where people can keep track of all that stuff. And I’m busily working on new stuff in the meantime, of course. Remember that thing about working your arse off? Oh, and I’m Guest of Honour at Conflux in Canberra in October, so come and see me there!
FINALLY, FINISH THIS SENTENCE: WHEN THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE COMES, I WILL…
…hide in a cellar with loads of canned food and booze and books and videogames (and a generator, I guess) and wait for the zombies to eat all the available brains, and then slowly rot away to bones. I mean honestly, has no-one ever considered this as a zombie scenario possibility? They’re walking dead, right? Once they run out of people to eat, they’ll just wander aimlessly around and slowly rot down to nothing but piles of harmless bones and that’ll be the end of it. If we hide out for long enough with enough stuff in storage, it’s simply a waiting game. That’s fighting smart, not hard. (And imagine all the reading and writing we could do while we waited.)