Araminta Star Matthews and Stan Swanson have co-written Return of the Loving Dead, which was recently released. The concept of co-authoring a book fascinated me. They were kind enough to answer a few questions about writing to help us understand their process, current projects, the challenges of co-authoring, and more. Both Stan and Araminta offer great advice for unpublished and new authors.
Are you a panster or a plotter? How do you approach a new idea?
Araminta: I love this question because I think it’s really going to surprise people that Stan and I can work so well together given that I’m a panster and he’s a plotter. I believe that stories are best when they twist in directions that surprise us, so I typically only start with a basic premise and a goal or hopeful outcome in mind. Stan usually wants a clear outline before we start. It makes for interesting writing companions, but we both tend to agree that we write really well together.
Stan: As Araminta explained, we have very different styles when plotting a book. Although I have written an outline, it never feels right to me. My outlines are very in-depth. I usually know what a character is going to do in the last chapter before I begin putting the very first words on paper. My outline, however, is not written in stone. Sometimes my characters surprise me and do things I didn’t intend them to do. That’s when the fun begins.
What are your top three nuggets of wisdom you would like to share with unpublished writers?
Araminta: Stan’s publishing house, Dark Moon Books, was actually my first publisher, so I think we should both answer this one for sure. It is through our relationship with my first book that we developed a friendship and a writing collaboration. Having said that, I have three critical nuggets for unpublished writers. 1.) Get formal training. It doesn’t matter if you go to college and graduate school for it like I did, or if you take a night class or what. It is vital that you develop the ability to hear criticism and revise your work based on a truly editorial suggestion. You will never survive in this business if you take criticism personally. The number one thing training provides you is the opportunity to toughen your skin. Do it. 2.) Finish your work before you submit it. This advice was actually given to me by an author friend whose work I’d reviewed, and he was absolutely right. Believe it or not, those Hollywood movies that suggest writers just pitch ideas to publishers and get huge advance-royalty checks are all fiction. Publishers are rarely interested in works-in-progress from unpublished writers and they are not likely to pay you anything in advance for an unfinished product. Finish and hire an editor before you even send it out, or risk burning bridges you haven’t even crossed yet. 3.) Plan to do your own marketing at first. One thing they don’t really tell you is that the burden of marketing is primarily in the domain of the writer—especially for newly published writers. You need to get comfortable now telling people that you write, performing public readings, selling your book at conventions or venues, and self-promoting on social media. Many writers I know are shy and introverted. I’m an introvert, too. As such, this self-promotion part can be very difficult, but it’s necessary.
Stan: 1) Find time to write every day. And, you’re right, I don’t always follow my own advice. The more you write, the better you become at your craft. I have hundreds of pages of fiction (everything from short stories to novels) that will never be published or even read by anyone other than myself. But it is all part of the writer’s education. 2) Don’t get discouraged if you find it hard to get published or even have publishers or agents respond to your queries. Just keep putting one foot (or one word) in front of the other and keep on going. Writers can’t expect to sit down, write their first short story or book and expect the world to come pounding on their door. It takes a real commitment. Writing isn’t a hobby, it is a profession. 3) Read! Reading is part of a writer’s education. Reading books you like (or even books you do not like) needs to be part of your learning process.
What is the biggest challenge of co-authoring a book? What’s the biggest reward?
Araminta: The biggest challenge for me would be working with a pre-established outline. One of the ways we overcome this is by having Stan write the basic “shell” of our chapter and I go in and color it, a bit like an inker and a colorist in the world of comic books. He starts with about 2,000 words for his chapter and I finish it with 4,000, so we end up pretty even. The biggest reward would have to be the final product. I know I bring a different perspective to Stan’s work, just as he does to mine. It is a mutually beneficial improvement to each of our writing styles. My style tends to be deeply descriptive and full of showing language and drawn-out tension, whereas Stan’s style tends to be Spartan and abrupt. I slow things down and he speeds things up. It makes for really balanced story-telling.
Stan: The biggest challenge is being on a similar schedule. It’s nice that once you have finished a chapter that you can send it on to your writing partner and have them respond within a few days. It keeps the story fresh and rolling along. Araminta and I finished the first draft of Return of the Loving Dead in about six months I believe. Of course, the editing and “fixing” things took much longer.
Do you have other stories in the works? Are they individual projects?
Araminta: Oh, yes, but I’m not as prolific as Stan. I spend my days as an instructional designer and professor, so I’m often busy teaching and developing web-based instructional objects. In my evenings, I work on supernatural fiction. I’ve got one novel in the works near completion, I’m toying with a sequel to Blind Hunger, and Stan and I are already digging into the second book in the Horror High School Series.
Stan: I have several things in the works. Return of the Loving Dead is my eighth book if you include novellas. Wind Up Hearts was published recently by Curiosity Quills and my middle grade adventure fantasy, The Misadventures of Hobart Hucklebuck, will be published in August. (I am also working on the second book in that series.) Also in the works are two steampunk YA novels (perhaps my favorite genre) and a book of dark poetry. I am very eclectic with my genres which is probably why it is difficult to market myself as an author.
If someone wrote a book about your life, who would star as you?
Araminta: Probably Ellen Page. She’s the kind of fierce, feminist, left-of-center individual that could reflect my personality pretty easily. People often tell me I’m intimidating because I’m eclectic, an unapologetic feminist, and I know myself thoroughly. I get the sense that Ellen Page is similar in that respect. Of course, she’d have to dye her hair red for the part because my first identity is always “redhead.”
Stan: I think I would sort of take Robert Duvall, Stephen King and Bob Dylan and mush them all together. It might explain my love of writing and music at the same time. Plus I think Duvall is one of the greatest character actors of all time and could take on almost any role and make it work.
Return of the Loving Dead by Araminta Star Matthews and Stan Swanson
Genre: young-adult, paranormal horror
Publisher: Curiosity Quills Press
Date of Publication: 8th May, 2014
Being in love with a zombie bites, but that won’t stop true love. Horror High School: Return of the Loving Dead is like no zombie book you’ve ever read. Meet Amber Vanderkamp, senior at Stephen E. King High School. Amber is poised for class valedictorian when she graduates this year and has her sights set on the New York Center for the Performing Arts for college. Everything is wonderful in Amber’s world. She always gets the lead in her high school’s plays and is counting on the lead role in the school’s upcoming production of Romeo and Juliet to get a college scholarship for theater That is until her well-ordered world is thrown into chaos when her boyfriend, Zach Williams, dies and comes back as a zombie. But she simply can’t turn her back on the love of her life, can she? How does she deal with the pressure? And will she remain committed to the boy she once considered her soul mate and future husband? Especially when her mother (with secrets of her own) is encouraging her to wait and experience more of the world. And her flighty best friend, Jasmine, is acting even more peculiar ever since Zach has become a member of the undead club. Add in the class bullies, Caleb and Darla, who seem to be doing everything in their power to ruin Amber’s life and Zach’s existence, and all of the elements are present for a page-turning romp through a world where zombies, or “living impaired loved ones,” are a part of everyday life.
- Link to Araminta’s Author Promo shot: http://static.curiosityquills.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/Araminta2-180×300.jpg
- Link to Stan’s Author Promo shot: http://static.curiosityquills.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/stan-swanson-300×300.jpg
- Link to book cover: http://horrorhighschool.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/HHS-final-x-200×300.jpg
- Link to promo video for book trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=VZSTtkbpnRM
- Link to book’s website: http://horrorhighschool.com/
About the Authors:
Araminta Star Matthews is an author, educator, and instructional designer in Central Maine. Born a ginger to a pair of geek parents (one, a lover of all things Stephen King, the other a tabletop gamer and Tolkein-fan), Araminta has always been a bit of an odd duck. Her books typically feature strong, young women who are brilliant, clever, funny, and weird. Her books include Blind Hunger, Write of the Living Dead, Before Black Mask, Before Weird Tales, and The Warehouse. Her notable shorter works include “Bark of the Covenant,” in One Night Stands, “The All-Consuming Hunger of Love” in Dark Moon Digest, “Under My Skin” in Zombies Need Love, Too, and “Every Time a Bell Rings,” in Slices of Flesh. She lives in Central Maine with her miraculous dogs, Devo the whippet and Crivens the Jack-Chi, and her partner, Abner Goodwin.
Stan Swanson is a Bram Stoker award finalist and author of eight books including Forever Zombie (a collection of short stories), Write of the Living Dead (a highly-praised writing guide written with Araminta Star Matthews and Rachel Lee) and Return of the Scream Queen (co-authored with Michael McCarty and Linnea Quigley). He is also editor/publisher for Dark Moon Books and Dark Moon Digest. Upcoming titles include Horror High School: Return of the Loving Dead (the first book in a young adult horror series co-written with Araminta Star Matthews), Dead Sparrows (a collection of apocalyptic poetry) and The Methlands (a horror novel co-written with award-winning author Joe McKinney).