Lou Pendergrast: Welcome Steven Booth. I would like to congratulate you on an awesome second book to The Hungry series. I loved it!
Steven Booth: Thank you. Harry and I are pretty happy with it.
LP: What were you looking to do with this second book that was different than the debut?
SB: To be honest, I wanted to write a better book. The Hungry was my first published novel, and I know that a lot of the success of the first novel was Harry’s style and sense of humor. With The Hungry 2, I had a successful book under my belt, and a much better idea of how to pull together a novel. I really think The Hungry 2 is a better-written, more sophisticated novel. So I think I achieved my goal.
LP: I have a bone to pick with you. Why did you bring Sheriff Penny Miller, a heroine that has captured many hearts around the world, into this world?
SB: Why? How could we not? Penny is awesome. Really, Penny became Penny and not Fred because, while we were writing the short story, Jailbreak, which became the first two chapters of The Hungry, Harry and I thought it would be funny if we did a reveal that the Sheriff was a woman. And she wasn’t a redhead then. I pictured her as a blond with shoulder length hair and about 15 years older. But even though she was tough in Jailbreak, I really didn’t know how flat-out kick-ass she was until chapter 4 of The Hungry. When she took on that biker gang in a wedding dress and uniform boots with nothing but a shotgun and her ex-husband to back her up, well, that’s when I fell for her. (Don’t tell my wife!)
LP: I love the addition of another badass femme fatale, Rat. Why and how did she come into the mix?
SB: Well, we couldn’t have Penny’s foil be a man. It just wouldn’t work with the way we built up the Penny Miller universe. The only way he could withstand Penny’s withering wit was if he were a real gentleman—a real man—and not one of the macho, posturing, blustering buffoons that surround Penny most of the time. And to be honest, we didn’t need another love interest—even a remote possibility of one—when we were still trying to feel out what was going on with Penny and Scratch. So we came up with Rat. She’s tough, she’s almost Penny’s equal, and Penny couldn’t dismiss her for having a Y-chromosome. Actually, Rat has a lot of potential that we never had a chance to explore in The Hungry 2. She’s a desert warrior, an outstanding combat leader, and one tough chick (I’m going to get a lot of email for that one, I think.). But her encounter with Penny derailed her opportunity to really shine. Penny is just too strong of a character for Rat to upstage her. Personally, I’m looking forward to seeing what Rat does in The Hungry 3. I’m sure that it will surprise you.
LP: Are there going to be more books in The Hungry series?
SB: Yes. We know there is going to be a Hungry 3 for sure. Actually, I am supposed to have the synopsis written up for Harry’s review by the time The Hungry 2 releases. We already know the basic premise, several of the twists and turns, and a lot more about what is really going on than we did while writing the first two books. We think we can have The Hungry 3 out early next year, but if we can get it out before winter shopping season, I’m all for that. Whether there is a Hungry 4 remains to be seen—mainly because we don’t know who’s going to survive the next book. It’ll be interesting to see where we leave the third one.
LP: What are you writing now or plan to write that does not involve the undead?
SB: Do vampires count as undead? I have a short story about vampires already written that I’m going to include in a collection of vampire stories that are loosely related, kind of like Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles. I’ve already started the second story, a novella, but between writing The Hungry series and running two businesses (I’m the publisher at Genius Book Publishing and also the CEO of Genius Book Services, where I help authors self-publish), it’s always a challenge to find time to write. I’ve also got an intrigue/thriller novel in mind—based very loosely on the 1982 movie Blue Thunder, which I’ve seen almost as many times as I’ve seen Star Wars. Blue Thunder had so much potential, but they wound up making it commercial instead. I plan to rectify that. And then I have a sci-fi novel about how humans achieve faster-than-light technology. I’ve already written about four chapters of that, but they predate The Hungry, and I’ve learned the value of humor since then, so I’ll probably have to scrap what I’ve got and start over. And don’t even get me started on the fantasy that I began my writing career with. It’s a mess. There is so much baggage left over from before I knew how to write that I don’t think it’s salvageable. But I’ve got all my notes, and it’ll be there when (if) I need it.
LP: The setting of The Penny Miller series is the unforgiving American desert. Why? Do you love this environment?
SB: We wanted to write a Western story with zombies. You know, cowboys, horses, big hats, six-shooters. What we wound up with was much better. The setting was the southern foothills of the Ruby Mountains in Nevada. Harry likes to write about Dry Wells, Nevada (another fictional town), though there is a Wells, Nevada in the north-east part of the state, near where all the action takes place. I enjoy writing about the desert because, quite honestly, I like the city with all its infrastructure and people. The desert scares me—which is why it’s so perfect for a zombie novel. I write about the desert for the same reason I write about post-apocalyptic situations. If the world fell apart right now, I would be totally screwed. I depend on the infrastructure that modern life has provided. I write stories about the loss of that infrastructure because I want to know how to deal with and survive the apocalypse.
LP: Would you name writers and books that have left a mark with you in the journey of writing and publishing?
SB: David Gerrold—Chess With a Dragon and When HARLIE Was One come to mind, but there are so many that he wrote that I love that I can’t name them all. Gerrold is the guy who wrote the Star Trek episode, “The Trouble With Tribbles.” His books taught me a lot about what it means to be sentient and what it means to be human—and what it means to fight against impossible odds and make the other guy pay for messing with you.
Steven Brust—The Jhereg series, but also To Reign in Hell and Cowboy Feng’s Space Bar and Grille. The Jhereg novels are private eye stories set in a fantasy universe. They taught me that you can tell a hardboiled story with your character in a cape carrying a sword, instead of just wearing a fedora and carrying a Browning GP-35.
Steven Saylor—The Roma Sub Rosa series. These are mysteries set in ancient Rome during the Republic and Empire. If you haven’t guessed, I like mysteries with a twist. I’m still learning how to tell mystery stories, but I hope to be able to pull one off some day.
Gregory McDonald—The Fletch and Flynn series. Great mysteries, outstandingly funny, really well written. Much of my descriptive style is supposed to be like McDonald’s, and I think I carry it off.
Patrick O’Brien—The Jack Aubrey series. They are techno-thrillers set in the time of the Napoleonic wars. How can you get any better than that?
Robert Lynn Asprin—Phule’s Company. That book, as much as anything else, taught me how to be a leader and a boss. I’ve always been a fan of Bob Asprin, especially from the M.Y.T.H. Inc. series with Phil Foglio. But I’ve read Phule’s Company so many times that I had to cover it in leather to keep it from falling apart in my pocket.
LP: Do you have a specific time of day that you do your writing? And where do you look for ideas?
SB: I’m a night person. My brain wakes up at about 4pm, and I’m able to function until 2am or later. So I write at night, while my wife sleeps on the other side of the room. I can’t write at my work desk. It would make writing too much like work. As for where I look for ideas, the only answer I can give you is, everywhere. I came up with the idea for my sci-fi novel from a sign posted on an empty office building. I also get frustrated at the world a lot, and I like to write about wrongs that need righting. But I’m not above asking for ideas from other people.
LP: Genius Book Publishing. What is the story behind it and what are its future plans?
SB: It’s all Harry’s fault! In winter 2010, I had to quit my job to take care of a sick family member, and e-books were just becoming popular. Harry knew I am technical, so he asked me to build him an e-book and a video trailer for one of his books. Then Harry found me some more clients and gave me more work. About this same time we were writing Jailbreak together. By the time the middle of 2011 rolled around, my marketing business (GOS Multimedia) became Genius Book Services, editing and building books and creating cover art for self-publishing authors. At the same time, The Hungry was just about ready to be published. Harry and I talked about just going the regular self-publishing route, but when I realized that some of my Book Services clients were selling books that I built up to 500 times a day (I’m not making that up), and I only got paid once, I realized that the real money was in publishing, not custom services like I had been doing. So I created Genius Book Publishing. We will have eight titles by the end of 2012, and more in the line up for 2013. As for our future plans, what I can tell you is this. Many small presses are happy when they sell 100 copies of a book for the life of the book. I have publisher friends whose best sellers sold 20 books in a month. I got spoiled with The Hungry. I want to sell at least 10,000 copies of each title, either in e-book form or print. I want to do that not just for the money (which would be nice), but because I don’t see any reason why a small publisher has to have small aspirations.
LP: This would make a great mini-series or film and could be a great companion the Walking Dead series. Any plans of starting up a project to get The Hungry adapted to screen?
SB: We’d love for there to be a movie or something like it. Harry and I have discussed this idea more than a few times, and we are waiting to see what kind of a response The Hungry 2 gets before we start shopping it around. We really want Gillian Shure, the lovely young lady on the cover of the two Hungry books, to play Penny. That would be great!
LP: You seem to have a grip on social networking. You can network well through Twitter and Facebook with fans, readers, and reviewers, and in the world in general made many friends.
In this modern cyber era we live in how important do you find this part of the writers’ world?
SB: Social Media Sells Books! Put it on a bumper sticker, tattoo it to the inside of your eyelids, just don’t forget it. It is the reality of marketing books today. The reality is, publishers (including self-publishers) who sell through Amazon cannot get demographic information about who is buying their books. When books were sold primarily in bookstores, a publisher could look at the demographics of the neighborhood of the store that sold the book, and learn something about who wants to read their books. Now, the same thing can’t be done. So social media is the only way to actually learn something about readers. A smart publisher—which I hope to be one day when I grow up—would research each of the people who like them on Facebook or follow them on Twitter and get a demographic view of who it is that reads their books. On the other hand, knowing where someone lives may no longer be important. It may be the space they occupy in the social media world that is important now. I just don’t know for sure.
LP: There are negatives that come from social networking. It has accelerated the number of critics out there and it has become a very opinionated world. There can be times that many people see it as harmful to writers. For example, purposely damning or being critical to writers or their works. Could this be a possible obstacle in the publishing world?
SB: I don’t know if this is the common term for the phenomenon, but we call people who leave bad reviews to harm an author or publisher “Trolls.” Trolls, as far as we can tell, are unsuccessful authors or their friends, or perhaps successful authors who aren’t as successful as the authors they are taking down. I’ve seen trolls affect authors big and small, with one book or 100, best sellers and newbies. They let the power and anonymity of the Internet go to their head. They forget that saying, “if you can’t think of anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” Some believe that they are doing a service, warning unsuspecting readers away from the jagged rocks of bad writing, but for the most part, they are just envious of others, and can’t stand the way it feels. They should get a life. Or a girlfiend.
LP: I think many novels now are more successful through hearing about them through the Twitter or Facebook vine. There is no longer a need for a grand publishing house or Oprah to put the word out. Readers are becoming more clever and tech savvy and are making sense out of the froth and finding the real quality via the web. It is no longer just up to the publisher but back to the story and marketing. Do you think this is the way forward in times where society is short of money? For example, offering free ebooks, £1 ebooks, or £3 books versus selling a hardback for £20?
SB: I’m an economist (really, I have the diploma to prove it), and so I look at things from many different angles. Yes, readers are strapped for cash, just like authors and publishers. Does that mean that readers should take pity on authors and publishers and make donations to them by paying too much for books? Hell, no! But at the same time, authors and publishers have to pay rent, buy groceries, and pay the electric bill (you know, so that they can power their computers to keep writing), too. Free books are bad for everyone. They devalue the work of the authors, and they give no standard for quality to guide the reader. Free books teach readers that they shouldn’t have to pay for content—something that the Internet has done an excellent job of as well. My view has always been, if the book has a high entertainment value, it should cost more than books that don’t. So if you have a book that you believe is really entertaining, raise the price. And if people agree that the book is as entertaining as you say it is, they’ll pay that. If they don’t agree, then they’ll return it and leave bad reviews and then more people won’t buy the book. However, artificially propping up the price of books to protect your profits—by collusion if necessary—is wrong all the way around. I think in the case of books, a free market works just fine.
LP: If there is to be a zombie outbreak and you are taken to a safe haven, which books of fiction would you take with you?
SB: The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio. It’s 100 stories (10 nights, 10 stories per night), written in the time of the black plague of 1348 about a group of wealthy young people who hide from the plague and sit around telling each other stories to pass the time. It’s funny, raunchy as hell, and a really great read. I think I would take the Patrick O’Brien Jack Aubrey books too. There’s 20 of them and they’re worth reading more than once. I would also bring a CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics, just in case we get thrown into the dark ages and everyone forgets technology. Or, you know, get transported back in time. Read The Cross-Time Engineer by Leo Frankowski. You’ll see what I mean.
LP: It has been great to chat with you. Thanks for taking the time out for this. We all appreciate your stories. Until the next time, thanks Steven Booth.
SB: My pleasure. Thanks for having me.
Check out my review of the new novel The Hungry 2 >> HERE
Meet Sheriff Penny Miller of Flat Rock, Nevada. Miller is the kind of woman who will do whatever it takes to protect those she is sworn to serve, even when that includes a murderous biker, her wimpy ex-husband, a unit of incompetent National Guardsmen, and the scientist responsible for releasing the undead upon an unsuspecting world.
“THE HUNGRY is a zombie thriller loaded with sex and smarts. A real nail-biter that brings a new weapon to bear in apocalyptic fiction: Hope. Highly recommended.”
—Jonathan Maberry, NYT Times bestselling author of Dust & Decay and Dead of Night
“If you’re craving an apocalyptic horror novel that’s not just wall-to-wall action but balls-to-the-wall intense, Steven W. Booth and Harry Shannon have cooked up a real treat for you. I would say The Hungry will leave you totally satisfied, but that’s not true: Readers will be howling for more more more MORE just like the hordes of insatiable zombies rampaging through this book.”
—Steve Hockensmith, author of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls
“You don’t know what gut-churning page-flipping horror really is until you read this one. The Hungry combines the storytelling power of the big commercial thriller with many new twists on standard zombie fiction. A real winner.”
—Ed Gorman, author of The Dark Fantastic and Cage of Night
“From the opening line, I loved it. I loved how complete it felt. It had so many great elements working for it – the small town setting; the two powerful main characters, as different as they could be, nearly every word between them charged with sexual tension; the satisfying stalemate as neither one gets exactly what they want, but rather what they need. A great story, and for a zombie fan like me, it pressed all the right buttons.”
—From the Introduction by Joe McKinney, author of Dead City and Flesh Eaters