I was very lucky to get an interview with one of my favorite new authors, Philip A. McClimon, most notably of the H.E.L.L. series and I have it here to share with all of you! So dig in and enjoy. =D
Rebecca: Hello, Philip! I am so psyched that you are willing to do this interview. As you know, I am a huge fan of yours! Your H.E.L.L. series is phenomenal. How would you describe these books to someone new to the series?
Phil: I would describe the series as character driven stories set in the zombie infested, post apocalyptic future. I know that seems intuitive, but within that description is the emphasis on the characters and what they are dealing with, both as individuals and collectively. The fact that I love zombies means that the Undead is what the characters are dealing with, as opposed to some other set of challenges. But, that also means Zombies take a back seat to the characters. The zombies are definitely still in the car though, so to speak. I have read "run and gun" zombie stories, and enjoyed them on one level. But, if you don't feel something for the characters, then all the zombie guts in the world are not going to make for a compelling story. At the end of the day, I want my readers to enjoy a vicarious adventure through the Deadlands, but I want them to feel that these characters live and breathe and are their friends by the last page, or at least people they have enjoyed getting to know and hanging out with for awhile. Shorter answer, then: Character driven Zombie fest.
Rebecca: What does H.E.L.L. stand for?
Phil: H.E.L.L. stands for HUMAN EXTINCTION LEVEL LOSS. I knew from the beginning that I wanted to tell many stories within a world overrun by zombies. I took inspiration from the movie DEEP IMPACT on this title for my series. In that movie, the government refers to E.L.E (Extinction Level Event) I knew I wanted the zombie plague to be military/government initiated and felt like they would have some abbreviation or code for such an event like that. I have tried before to come up with stuff like this and it has been difficult, but H.E.L.L. almost just sprang into my mind. I have heard other more notable authors say things like, "we don't write the story, we just strip away the excess and the story emerges." In this case, H.E.L.L. just presented itself. I may have even tried to come up with some other things before finally coming to my senses and admitting that it felt right.
Rebecca: Can you tell us in what order we should read the series?
Phil: I don't think it matters, really. I did cause myself a little bit of trouble by writing them out of chronological order, though. In NICOLE'S ODYSSEY, I had set up the core events of how the apocalypse began with the video Nicole's father recorded. When I went to write the prequel story, TEST SUBJECT (which you can get free for signing up for my new release newsletter - shameless plug, sorry) I tried to pay attention to the events that I set up in that video and certain other places in ODYSSEY. One thing you have to understand is, essentially, I am lazy. So, what I should have done is go back and meticulously write down all the references I made in NICOLE'S ODYSSEY to events that happened prior to NICOLE'S ODYSSEY. I did not do that, but wrote TEST SUBJECT from my
memory of what I had written about those events. In writing the books out of order (and in being slightly lazy) I screwed up just a little. In the original release of ODYSSEY for instance, Francis Delroney was a Private in the Army. In TEST SUBJECT he mysteriously was a Seaman in the Navy...oops... God Bless Amazon and the Ebook format. It was easier to change two lines of narrative in ODYSSEY than it was to change whole portions of TEST SUBJECT. New readers won't notice this, but if you have an older version of ODYSSEY than you just may. I like to say that if you have an older copy of ODYSSEY, than it is a "collector's edition." That sounds so much better than "I'm a lazy idiot". I noted in my blog post about this that STAR TREK pulled something similar. In WHERE NO MAN HAS GONE BEFORE, which is the second pilot for the original series, Kirk's middle initial is written on a grave stone as "R". James R. Kirk. Now in the course of the series and character development, his middle initial became "T". James Tiberius Kirk. Roddenberry explained this away by saying that the guy who inscribed Kirk's name on the tombstone and subsequently tried to kill him (and who was his best friend) just forgot his best friend's middle initial, what with the stress of trying to kill him and all... So, again, I am in good company. Roddenberry did it, why can't I?! Anyway, you should suffer no ill effects from reading them in the order published, but chronologically, they are:
(There will be other books in the series, but the next one will follow LIBERATION and refocus back on Nicole, Sam, Walt and the others. Jacob Miller will be there, as well as a guy who "is not your governor" though clearly he has delusions of grandeur with despotic tendencies, which he will act upon with acute violence... and a train... he will ride on a train.)
Steven Brust has a note in his TALOS series about published order vs. chronological order of his books, so I am in good company. I should have mapped out the whole series, then written them in chronological order, but again... I am lazy...slightly...
Rebecca: “H.E.L.L. Substation: The Last Stand of Gary Sykes” was the first book that I read by you and it hooked me right from the start. I think Gary will always be one of my favorite characters in this series. Do you have a favorite character in there somewhere?
Phil: Gary Sykes is my absolute favorite kind of character. Nobody believes in him, he doubts himself, but underneath all of that is the heart of an absolute lion. I love Gary Sykes and...well, I just do. That being said, my absolute favorite character is Nicole Bennett. I think it would have been a slightly more cliched story if a Male lead was the hero. I didn't choose a female lead to avoid cliche, though. This will sound crazy, but Nicole came to me and said, "Have I got a story for you." Then, she wouldn't leave me alone until I wrote it all down. What makes her interesting to me, and hopefully ring true as a character, is that just because she is a girl does not mean she is weak. It doesn't make her perfect either. She is a girl, a character comfortable in her own skin, but who is aware there are certain issues still unresolved in her life. She draws quiet strength from her mother and a certain doggedness and "can do" attitude from her father. She can be vulnerable, flawed, strong, funny, protective, mentoring, and needy. In short, she is the total package as a character. I do like the idea that, as a woman, maybe it would be easy for some to dismiss her and so she also fits into that category that Gary is in, the underestimated, discounted hero with the heart of a lion. All the other characters are drawn to Nicole, gain their strength and hope from her. She is the center of the H.E.L.L. universe. At the same time, she struggles with others looking to her as a leader, doesn't feel that way about herself cause she knows her own flaws too well. She underestimates herself too much, but is THE one you want to be with when it all goes down. She is amazing in my mind and I hope I have transferred some of that to the page. I have had reviews for ODYSSEY from females that will say things like, "finally a male author who gets it" or "how could a guy have written her?" I think at the end of the day, I wrote her as a real person who is a woman, as she introduced herself to me.
As a side note, I would be remiss if I did not say that at least one of my first impressions of Nicole was that she was cut from the same cloth as "Reg" (Regina Belmont) in NIGHT OF THE COMET. I have seen that movie a hundred times or more. It is my go to, feel good movie. It is a post apocalyptic movie, wherein the world has gone to pot as a result of a comet passing the earth. The hero is Reg, and she is a lot like Nicole. Sam, her sister in the movie is awesome, too. Two strong female characters at the end of the world. Great Stuff! So, Nicole is like Regina and has a sidekick named Sam, which can be short for Samantha, which is Regina's sister in NIGHT OF THE COMET... hmmm...
Rebecca: When did your love of zombies start, do you think?
Phil: OMEGA MAN. Charleton Heston. I remember seeing that movie when I was little and thinking how cool would it be to be the last man on earth. Think of all the cool things you could get and do that you can't now. The down side of being the only person left on earth never entered the picture at such a tender age. Then, the idea of having big guns and just blasting the heads off zombies began to really appeal to me. That has to be a real rush. I think, too that I had seen Romero's DAY OF THE DEAD and been freaked out by guts buffet scene. This led, as I got older, to the survival possibilities. To this day, at work or wherever, discussions will invariably pop up like, "You know, this ax handle would make a great zombie weapon. Yeah, but really for close up work with limited numbers, nothing beats an aluminum bat". It is things like this that made me choose the .22 rifle and pistol as a preferred weapon over a shotgun. I love every aspect of surviving in zombieland...except maybe dependable health care and the internet. I think if you knew there was going to be a zombie apocalypse you should probably get your appendix taken out and become a dentist, just as a precautionary measure.
Rebecca: Your books aren't just about zombies, of course. They're about people and their struggle for survival. What else would you like readers to know about your books?
Phil: I would like them to know, and this is something I really hope I can achieve every time, that I will not waste your time as a reader. I say I am slightly lazy and to some degree that is true, but I am absolutely obsessive and passionate about STORY. I will not waste your time. When you read one of my books, know that it is my aim to entertain you, inspire you, give you characters you can believe in and grow to love. When you are done, I hope you can feel like you are satisfied and the time was well spent. I will not write a story or allow a story to get put out that does not move me in some way and that is not structured well. The story must contain elements that will hopefully lift you up and take you away to another place for awhile. If I am not inspired by the characters and story, how can I expect to reach you, the reader in any meaningful way. Now, I don't write artsy literature. I write zombie books and adventure books, but that does not mean there can't be themes and meaning for our lives. You are not going to care about Nicole if you don't think of her as somebody who lives and breathes. I care about what I write, and I care about who I write for. If after reading my book you can say, "yeah, that was good" then my job is done and my life fulfilled. You give me your trust as a reader, and I hope to never let you down.
Rebecca: The H.E.L.L. series isn't your only contribution to the published world. You also wrote a killer book with your friend, Chris Sapp. “Johnny Lonesome” started life as a screenplay, did it not?
Phil: Yes. Chris was writing screenplays before I met him. His claim to fame is THE SILENT THIEF. It is a script he was hired to write and it got made into an independent movie. We have written several screenplays together, JOHNNY LONESOME is not our first script. Our first was a story called BY THE SWORD and we are collaborating now to turn it into a full length ebook. We regularly entered our scripts into The Austin Film Festival where we are multiple second rounder finalists. That is pretty good, but it means we didn't win. We were finalists in the PAGE International Screenplay Competition for a Sci Fi script called SECTOR SIX. A studio is looking at it right now, but we have not heard back from them, so... SECTOR SIX is a great story and barring it getting picked up by the studio, we will turn that into a book, too. If Timothy Olyphant is reading this, I really need him to call me. The role of Drake Noah, Eco Ranger is all his! Writing screenplays is miles different than writing novels. In a screenplay, you cannot write anything that cannot be seen by the camera. So, all those thoughts in the character's head and inner monologues? Take them out. It is a challenging, but fun, way to tell a story.
Rebecca: Wasn't it also a runner-up at a film festival? What was that like?
Phil: Yep, Austin, Texas is actually called by some, the Hollywood of the West. Major Stars and big studios screen their movies at the Austin Film Festival. It is actually called the "writer's festival" though for its emphasis on that aspect of art and film. It is an amazing event and to take a second round slot is actually a pretty big deal considering the caliber of writers who enter that thing. We entered to try to get noticed, and on several occasions actually did garner the attention of various studios, but it is amazingly difficult for a movie to get green lit and made, so the years were passing with nothing happening. Enter Ebooks. I can write what I want and actually see some monetary return for it. No offense to my friend Chris, but I have already made more on my Ebooks than he did for writing that indie script that DID get made into a movie. That might be part of the reason he too is turning his attention to Ebooks. Austin is amazing though, and we may take our chances again sometime.
Rebecca: Are you still writing screenplays? How does that differ from novel writing?
Phil: You can't write anything on the page that can't be filmed by the camera. Too much direction in the non dialogue parts and you start telling the actor how to do his job and that is not cool. In a screenplay, the less words on the page, the better. I have heard, that because of the sheer number of submissions to studios, readers will do the "flip test", meaning they will flip rapidly through the pages and if they do not see a LOT of white space (few words)on the page, they toss it and move on to the next one. There are two elements in a screenplay, like in a book, Narrative and Dialogue, but the narrative parts should be about two lines max and the dialogue about four lines. A novel is about 100,000 words. A screenplay maybe 30,000. A novel should be about 300-400 pages, a screen play about 120. I don't know if it still holds true, but when filming, for budget reasons it is estimated one page is one minute of film time, so 120 pages is two hours which is not as good as 90 pages which is an hour and a half. A three hundred page script probably would not ever see the light of day, unless you are Kevin Costner (About one of the only famous people I would actually ever care to meet and talk with. No offense to other stars and such, but that guy is a real mentor to me in terms of telling story.)
Rebecca: Can you tell us about some future projects that you are working on?
Phil: Currently adapting BY THE SWORD from screenplay to novel. Should be out in a couple of months. Following that, I absolutely MUST turn my attention back to Nicole and her merry band. I have neglected her for too long and she deserves better than that. That too will be a full length novel. There are some things I wanted to do that necessitated writing a couple of H.E.L.L. Novellas rather than full length books (like introduce Jacob Miller) but now I really must give Nicole the attention she deserves. I would like to have a dark Christmas comedy/horror thing done and put out by Christmas, but we shall see. And, I REALLY want to write a series of space opera stories with a FIREFLY type feel. It is one of the real injustices of the universe that FIREFLY is not still on the air in its umpteenth season.
Rebecca: Of all of your written works, which was the hardest to write and why?
Phil: Actually, probably the thing I am working on right now. Although, the work in progress always seems the hardest. William Goldman (PRINCESS BRIDE, MARATHON MAN, ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN, BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID) said "Each time out is just as scary, I wish it weren't so, but there it is" But, BY THE SWORD was a screenplay and now it is going to be a book. We have to create all the backstory and write all the stuff for the book that would never find it's way into the screenplay. It is a lot of fun, but a hard and lengthy process. Fun, though. William Goldman, Kevin Costner, and John Hughes form the triumvirate of my writing Heroes. I would probably throw Shane Black (LETHAL WEAPON, KISS KISS BANG BANG, IRON MAN 3, THE LONG KISS GOODNIGHT) in there as well. As a side note, let me say that the way John Hughes ended PLANES, TRAINS, AND AUTOMOBILES, with John Candy looking at Steve Martin's wife and what that meant to him... wow, I salute you, sir! BREAKFAST CLUB is a bunch of people in a room talking to each other for 90 minutes and it is riveting. The novel MARATHON MAN by William Goldman is a clinic on how to write. Kevin Costner is a maverick who DOES NOT GIVE A DAMNN and will tell the story the way it needs to be told, whether that means a 90 minute movie or a 240 minute movie. Hardly anybody knows Action/Adventure like Shane Black. These are the guys for me. And Lawrence Kasdan (STAR WARS: THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, SILVERADO) is a big hero of mine, too. Gosh, I can't believe I almost forgot Lawrence Kasdan...
Rebecca: I don't want to occupy all of your time with questions, so I'll ask one more and then let you get back to H.E.L.L. If you can say anything to your fans, what would it be?
Phil: THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU. Thank you for joining me on my writing journey and making it OUR journey. "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy." There are worlds yet untold to explore and I want us to explore them together. It is my aim to always make it worth your while and to take care of you, to make your time with me as fun and amazing as I can. I think it is the duty of every writer to honor the trust and time a reader gives them, as a sacred bond between writer and reader.
AND THANK YOU REBECCA for allowing me this time to share my thoughts. It was a lot of fun. I know you have some books you are working on that I am sure will be amazing and I can't wait to read them. YOU ROCK!
So I don't think I have to tell you that I loved this interview (like realllly loved it) and I hope you, wonderful readers, did too. I urge you to check out the following links to:
Philip A. McClimon's Website
Philip on Amazon
Philip on Goodreads
following the link to his website and signing up for his newsletter (which I get, btw, and you should have seen the Christmas letter!); you'll get a downloadable copy FOR FREE! And I feel it's totally worth it. It may be short, but it has the same juicy caliber as the rest of the series. (Down with corrupt scientists, I say!)
On top of this, you can also request an authorgraph! An autograph for your kindle copies of the author's books. I'm on my way to get one now, I bet you want one too. Of course you do, you know you do.
Stay tuned to Sister Sinister Speaks. Tomorrow I'll be posting my review for my personal favorite and newest addition to the H.E.L.L. series, LIBERATION.
Thank you, Philip!