Sandy Bazinet (writing as S.S. Bazinet) and Zachry Wheeler both embrace the “what if” potential of speculative fiction. Sandy has published ten books since 2012, between four paranormal fantasy series and two standalone books (one self-help and one picture book for children). Since the publication of Zachry’s debut novel Transient in 2016, he has released two books in his new Max and the Multiverse series. He’s also been busy acquiring a screenwriting credit for Transient which is in development as a major motion picture. (This update focuses on each author’s newest work, but links to their first interviews regarding earlier books are included at the bottom of each section.)
S.S. Bazinet’s newest series, The Madonna Diaries, begins with Dying Takes it Out of You (2015) which follows a gifted artist, Dory, who fights a disease slowly stripping him of his humanity. Brother’s Blood (2016) is the fourth book in The Vampire Reclamation Project. What happens when vampire blood mixes with angelic blood? This book continues Arel’s journey as he seeks to overcome the darkness of his curse and find true fulfillment. A Vampire in Heaven (2016) is book two in Sandy’s Sentenced to Heaven series about the misadventure’s of Alan who is forced to enter heaven after being thrown out of hell and banned from every world in the cosmos.
What sparked the story idea for The Madonna Diaries: Dying Takes It Out of You?
I liked the idea of trying a new genre—and again, inspiration took over. A character named Dory showed up and a dystopian story unfolded. The strange part was I started writing the story from a third person point of view (POV). Then, without meaning to, I began writing from a first person POV. I tried to go back to third person, but as writers know our characters often dictate the how and why of a story. As I continued to write, I realized how rewarding the first person POV can be. I connected more intimately with what my character was feeling. He took me into the depths of his heart as an artist.
You released ten books in a span of four years. How did you keep on track to reach your goals?
My secret is I’m in love with the process of writing. But I didn’t always feel that way. For years, I wanted to write, and I’d start a story, but I was too analytical. The stories never went anywhere. It was only after I surrendered to a sense of just having fun that the inspiration kicked in. Now, writing is almost effortless. However, I do believe in editing and making sure the story is told in the best way possible. I’ve learned that inspiration and learning the “nuts and bolts” of writing are both extremely important. That’s where an organization like SouthWest Writers (SWW) comes in. I’ve learned so much by attending their meetings and workshops.
Book five of The Vampire Reclamation Project (Tainted Blood) is set to release in 2018. After so many books, do the characters still surprise you as their stories unfold?
Yes, the characters are always changing and growing. My main guy, Arel, started off as a recluse. That quickly changed. The stories are full of his interactions with people he considers his new family. Now in book five Arel thinks he’s ready for a relationship. Yikes! As I write the current story, I feel like a concerned mother who’s wishing Arel didn’t have to trip over every landmine in the road. But that’s kind of his nature. Thankfully, his friends and angelic buddies are always there to help him find his way.
Do you have a message or a theme that recurs in your writing?
When I look at all my stories, the overall theme seems to revolve around flawed characters and their journeys back to their authentic selves. For example, Alan from the Sentenced to Heaven series starts off feeling completely justified in being egocentric. When he finds out he has the capacity to care about others, he’s appalled. For Alan, caring really hurts! But once his Grinch heart opens, he’s stuck with the condition. His only option is to go forward. So like it or not, my characters are forced to expand their capacity to relate to others and themselves in a more meaningful, heartfelt way.
Your newest book in the Sentenced to Heaven series, A Vampire in Heaven, takes a lighter look at the supernatural. Tell us about the book and how it came together (and are you having fun writing this series)?
First of all, I don’t decide what to write about. A story, like a baby in a basket, simply shows up on the doorstep of my mind. That’s how I started writing the Sentenced to Heaven series. I opened some mental door and there was Alan, a rebellious soul who was such a one-of-a-kind rascal that not even hell would have him. Luckily, Raphael, an angel who ran a part of heaven, took Alan in when nobody else would have him. But for Alan the thought of living forever in heaven was the worst of punishments. Again, the story is told from a first person POV. And yes, I love writing about Alan’s adventures. He’s very funny. He’s always fighting the system, but he’s learning how to care about others along the way. He’s also made friends. They include some of heaven’s pet population. A dog name Nippy sees Alan’s good side and becomes a trusted companion. I’m currently working on the third book in the series.
How has your writing style changed since you wrote your first novel?
Hopefully I’m better able to create an emotional atmosphere the reader can relate to. I was very pleased by a recent review of The Madonna Diaries: Dying Takes It Out of You. The reviewer said, “Wow, from the get-go, this story grabs you by the throat.” Another person called it a “beautiful, heart grabbing book!”
What writing projects are you working on now?
I’m in the final editing stages of book five of The Vampire Reclamation Project. Hopefully, book three of the Sentenced to Heaven series will come out in 2018. But I’m most excited about a new romance series I’m writing! It’s called Open Wide My Heart, and I can’t help but spend most of my days working on book one. If all goes well, it might come out around Valentine’s Day 2018.
After Zachry Wheeler gave readers “a re-imagination of vampire lore through the lens of science fiction” in his first novel Transient (2016), he offers us a humorous look at a teenage gamer’s dull life turned bizarre in Max and the Multiverse (2017). Book two in the series, Max and the Snoodlecock (2017), continues the misadventures of Max and his band of quirky space jockeys.
What is a Snoodlecock, and how did you come up with the name? And while you’re at it, define multiverse.
Ha! I get that question a lot these days. Without giving too much away, a snoodlecock is a colorful bird-like creature. Max, the protagonist, described it as a “disco chicken.” The name arose from several tedious brainstorming sessions. I wanted it to be unique, funny, weird, and compelling all at the same time. That’s why I dedicated this book to my wife: For Evelyn, who suffered through every dumb name before snoodlecock.
The multiverse is another name for parallel universes, the theory that our universe is one of an infinite number of concurrent universes with infinite variations.
What sparked the story idea for Max and the Multiverse?
Whenever a story revolves around parallel universes, there is always a reason to interact with them, often in the form of a mission (think Stargate and Doctor Who). But, I got this nutty idea of someone being forced to interact with the multiverse, some random nobody who bumbles through new realities against their will. The story sprung from there.
Tell us about your main protagonist and his sidekick Ross.
From the first book’s cover blurb: “Max is a teenage gamer with an exceptionally dull life. That is, until a bizarre accident leaves him with the ability to shift between parallel universes, but only when he falls asleep. Every time he wakes, he confronts a distressing new reality, be it talking cats or 80s pop culture.” That sums him up pretty well. Ross is his orange tabby cat, more of an indifferent prick than trusty sidekick. He speaks with a British accent and berates Max every chance he gets.
Transient is dark and serious; your Max series is the opposite. Does writing humor come naturally to you? What’s the hardest thing about weaving humor into a story?
I feel comfortable writing on both sides of the spectrum, but I enjoy humor more. It comes naturally to a point because I have always loved stand-up comedy. The structure of a good joke has always fascinated me, so I spent a lot of time studying it. The hardest aspect of writing humor is maintaining subtlety. I’ve seen authors go for a big punchline, only to botch the delivery and leave the reader confused. You need to trust your readers to derive the humor from the narrative. Don’t just tell them a joke.
In your last interview for SWW, you said the most difficult aspect of world building for Transient was the creation of a believable sociopolitical environment. What about world building for Max?
The world building for Max is sooooo much easier than Transient. Writing a story inside the multiverse gives me the freedom to do anything. I can throw the protagonist into any “what if” scenario because the multiverse validates it at a conceptual baseline. The humor comes from how he handles the shift.
What is the best compliment you’ve received as an author?
Douglas Adams has been my favorite author since childhood. I even dedicated Max and the Multiverse to his memory. One of my readers, also a big Adams’ fan, told me he loved Max more than The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I nearly cried.
Looking back to the beginning of your writing career, what do you know now that you wish you’d known then?
I wish I had known that writing is the easy part. Ninety percent of authorship has little to do with writing. It’s editing, publishing, networking, marketing, all that tedious stuff. It’s much like leveling up in gaming. Once you grind it out, then the game begins.
If time and money weren’t a concern (or if you possessed a magic ring), what skill would you like to learn or acquire?
One of my longstanding dreams is to be an astrophysicist. I have been a space junkie for as long as I can remember. If I could wave a magic wand, I would join the ranks of Carl Sagan and Neil deGrasse Tyson.
What do beginning writers misunderstand about telling a story?
Many think that world building is a step, not a process. One of the hallmarks of poor writing is info-loading the beginning of a story. Skilled writers know how to dole out info during the narrative, usually near its relevance.
Do you have a favorite how-to writing book you’d like to recommend?
Stephen King’s On Writing. That one book gave me more practical knowledge and insight than every other book, blog, and article combined.
What writing projects are you working on now?
Now that Max and the Snoodlecock is out, and with the Transient movie in development, I’m switching all of my focus to the Transient sequel. I have the entire series mapped out, just need to hunker down and get to work.
KL Wagoner (writing as Cate Macabe) is the author of This New Mountain: a memoir of AJ Jackson, private investigator, repossessor, and grandmother. She has a new speculative fiction blog at klwagoner.com and writes about memoir at ThisNewMountain.com.