A Conversation with Z. Rider

Z. RIDER grew up in New Hampshire and lives in the mountains of northeast Tennessee, where she spends most of her time in a windowless basement basking in the glow of computer screens, except when she’s out on the deck swing reading a book, or running off to catch a concert somewhere. Suckers is her first horror novel. Her second, Man Made Murder, will be released October 13, 2015.


SUCKERS

When Dan Ferry becomes consumed with the need to drink human blood, his best friend comes to his aid. As the parasite that’s the root of this addiction spreads, the two struggle to survive an increasingly panicked world while hoping “smarter minds” will figure out a solution — without killing the infected in the process.

Find the book HERE.


Lori Hettler: The countdown to release day is coming up fast! I can’t imagine how exciting and nerve-racking this must be for you … So how have you been preparing yourself for February 17th?

Z. RIDER: Lots and lots of rum milkshakes.

Actually, I’ve been getting ready for the release for so long (I started in July … maybe late June?) that a lot of pieces have already been put into place, and it’s just a matter of ticking off boxes, doing the grunt work. Grunt work is nice because it keeps you busy; you don’t worry about stuff so much when you’re busy. I’m kind of glad the traditional launch is a thing of the past — I don’t have to get dressed and go out in public on the day. That takes so much stress out of it.


Let’s talk about the birth of the book. Back in August/September, you ran a very successful Kickstarter campaign for Suckers. Honestly, how much nail biting and anxiety did you experience throughout the process?

I’m not much of a nail-biter really. I try to do my best putting things together. I get input from whomever isn’t sick of me yet, then I put my plans into action, hope for the best, and take notes on how it turns out so I can do better next time. By the time I put something into play, I’m actually working on The Next Thing, so it doesn’t leave me with a lot of time or energy for anxiety. (Which is probably why I’m working on The Next Thing: I don’t like worrying.) When the Kickstarter kicked off, I was neck-deep in finishing the edits that came in from my first readers so I could get the manuscript off to the editor. I was too busy to worry!


I see someone pledged $1500 for the reward where you agree to do a reading in her hometown and take her to dinner at some point this year. I’m dying to know: was the pledger someone you knew? Is it bad form to ask that?

It is someone I know. (Hi, Mom!) My family really went to bat for me with the Kickstarter, and they accounted for about a third of the backers. I expected something from my mom because I timed the Kickstarter to run over my birthday, and I emailed her the day before it went live and said, “If you haven’t gotten me something yet, I’d really appreciate it if you gave me the gift of backing this thing that’s really important to me. And if you’ve already gotten me something, don’t worry about it.” I definitely did not expect the amount of her backing — that’s waaaay out of range of what I usually get for my birthday. Like I said, a number of other family members kicked in, too, and having the support of family has meant so much to me.

The other really neat thing about the Kickstarter was the backing that came in from total strangers, from as far away as Singapore. Every time someone I didn’t know popped up, I was like, “Wow, really? You’re going to take a chance on me? I love you.”

I received some really great messages from these backers after they received their packages and read the book. I would definitely do a Kickstarter again — perhaps as a pre-order, for people to get exclusive hardcover editions again, though I also have an idea for a game I’d like to Kickstart. The game ties into a novel I’m working on. If I can figure out the rules satisfactorily enough, I’ll probably put something together and see if I can get it Kickstarted after the book comes out. I like trying creative new things.


Congratulations on the amazing cover design. It’s one of my favorites and matches the feel of the book so perfectly. How many covers did you have to go through before landing on this one?

Damon Za designed the cover — he and his team are amazing. When I commissioned it, they sent three drafts initially, one that I tossed right away because it was too typical, and two versions of what wound up as the final cover. I worked with them to make some minor tweaks, but really, they’d pretty much nailed it in the first round. It’s so perfect, and so eyecatching, and so much better than any concept I’d have come up with on my own. And then an illustrator, Nate Olson, did the inside cover, the drawing of the creature, and I can’t tell you how neat it was to see someone bring that to life, as it were. So cool to see it progress from a basic sketch to the final product.


In Suckers, you took the traditional vampire horror story and turned it on its head by introducing vampirism as more of an “infection” spread through the bites or “stings” of these winged slug-like creatures. What influenced their creation?

I wanted to do a vampire novel that wasn’t about your typical vampires, and I had to come up with a way to do that, so my brain just skittered around going, “What about?” and after a day or so (with NaNoWriMo bearing down on me), I said, “Yeah, that’s fine. Let’s go with it.” To me, the creatures were … I mean, I love them, but they were a means to an end. They were the hook to hang the story I really wanted to tell on.


The novel’s protagonist, Dan, becomes the first victim of these creatures; the first to get bit and experience the infection as it starts to take hold. There is one scene in Suckers where the infection has taken complete control of him and he’s violently ill in a hotel room, which brought back memories of the first Poltergeist movie, where the father was in his bedroom vomiting up the worm from the tequila bottle. Mere coincidence?

I saw the first Poltergeist movie in the theater (and I shouldn’t have; I couldn’t sleep for days afterward. I was about eight at the time.) … and that’s the last time I saw it, so I don’t even (consciously) remember the worm in that. I just needed a way to, you know, get things out of Dan, and there are only so many orifices … I should watch Poltergeist again.


The “infection” that’s transmitted by these creatures creates an unnatural hunger for blood. One that, should it not be quenched, would actually drive the infected to attack other people. Your characters handled the horrors of what was happening to, and around, them in some creative ways. Dan’s best friend initially offers to be his blood donor. When the hunger isn’t sated by his blood alone, they put ads out in the paper for additional donors. And they avoided the hospitals at all costs. If you were Dan, how would you have reacted once the infection from the Sucker’s bite began to take hold?

I hate to go to the doctor, but after I bit my husband, he’d probably make me go to the doctor. The doctor’d probably send me back home after they couldn’t figure it out, if, like Dan, I were one of the early cases. Or they’d send me to a psychiatrist. So who knows what would happen, but it’s highly unlikely I would have tried to solve the problem the way they did. By the end of it, one of us (my husband or I) would probably wind up dead. I’m not … I’m not much of a survivor. My world starts falling apart when the Internet slows down.


Suckers is the first book published under your very own Dark Ride Publishing. What went into the decision to self-publish versus pitching your book to other small presses? Will Dark Ride Publishing take on books by other authors in the future?

I’ve published erotica through a small press, and the experience was very positive — I worked with some great people — but it was also very much like walking behind a tall picket fence. You see the process in the gaps; you can’t really reach out and touch it. I found that frustrating. I like to be elbow-deep in everything. (I like to keep busy!)

So, last May, I was at the RT Booklovers convention, and for whatever ridiculous reason, right there in the middle of a romance convention I pulled Suckers up on my laptop — I’d written the first draft in 2007 and piddled around with it here and there since — and started working on it, furiously. I skipped panels. I missed my publisher’s breakfast. I stayed up till four a.m. one night after hitting the French Quarter with friends. I was, all of a sudden, writing this horror novel again. And I figured once it was done, I’d start looking for a home for it. I even started researching horror publishers and agents, trying to decide whether I was going to go small press or shoot for a big imprint.

But then I got this idea for a mainstream novel. It was more than just an idea, really: I could see it all, not just the story but the cover and how I’d market it and how and where I’d get it out there. It was so real I could touch it. But I hadn’t even started working on that book yet, and there I was with a novel nearly finished — why not turn that vision toward *that* novel and use it as a test run? Then it turned into more than a test run; it turned into the start of something. Someday maybe I’ll write that mainstream novel … or maybe not. I have a lot of Dark Ride projects in the queue now, and I’m just as excited about those. (True confession: I’ve been working out how to turn the mainstream novel into a horror novel. I think it’s doable, but I haven’t scheduled it for drafting yet. I have to get other projects out of the way first.)

I don’t know if Dark Ride will take on books from other authors. On one hand, I’d really like to; it would give me the chance to help get more of the kind of books I want to read out into the world. On the other hand, it’s a lot of work and responsibility — acquisitions, coordinating of teams, the legal and accounting aspects, and so on. And the commitment! When you contract someone’s book, you’re saying you’re going to be there for it for X number of years. If you fail, it’s not just you failing anymore; it’s not just your dream down the tubes. So, right this second, I’m not entertaining thoughts of opening it up. I’d want to be in a stable enough position to do right by everyone before I even considered that. I have no interest in doing digital-only or digital-first publishing. I’d want to do print. I’d want to do bookstores. I’d want to do advances. I’d want to know I could finance those things before I even thought of fooling around with someone else’s dreams.

So, maybe someday … maybe not. In the meantime, I’m happy enough running experiments on my own books and helping other authors by sharing what I’ve been learning. I’m a good cheerleader.


While checking out the website, I couldn’t help noticing you’re already preparing to release your sophomore novel, Man Made Murder. What can you tell us about it?

Yes! I sent the final draft to the editor (I’m using Simon Marshall-Jones of Spectral Press for this one.) just before Christmas. It’s the first in a trilogy, and it’s vampires and rock bands again, but a very different kind of story. It’s faster-paced than Suckers, more thriller-like. The story alternates between Carl Delacroix, a young man on the hunt for his sister’s killer, and Dean Thibodeaux, a guitarist in a rock band whose life takes a turn for the undead when he tries to buy weed off a biker. It takes place in 1978. I love that post-Vietnam time period, so that was a plus, but I also chose it in order to leave room for a second trilogy if the first does well. It’ll be a few months before I start work on the second book in the trilogy; in the meantime — as a palate cleanser — I’m working on one that takes place in a traveling funhouse. No vampires! No musicians!


What’s your favorite —

Horror Novel: Oh, that’s tough. I think it changes with my mood. Today I’m going to say Rick Yancey’s Curse of the Wendigo, which is book two in his Monstrumologist series. I love the relationship between young Will Henry and Pellinore Warthrop, the monstrumologist in question. Yancey can make me laugh out loud on one page and peek through my fingers on the next.

Musician or Band: This one’s even tougher! It’s not even possible. I’m just going to throw out a band I love at random: Snakearm, who used to be called Restavrant. It’s two guys — Troy Murrah and Tyler Whiteside — with a beat-up Sears guitar and a junk drum kit, and my God do they make you want to stomp and move.

Place to hide when you want to be left alone: My number one choice would be a hotel room, but since I’d go broke running to one of those every time I wanted to be left alone, I usually hide in my office in the basement, and I snarl at anyone who comes down the stairs.

Place to hang out: An empty hotel room … I’m terrible. I just want to be alone in a clean, anonymous place. I also love small, dark clubs with small stages and great sound. One of my favorite places that fits that bill is the 40 Watt in Athens, Georgia. It’s about a three-and-a-half hour drive, and it’s worth it. I’ve never experienced a bad concert there.

Place to browse for books: I get overwhelmed at book stores — I love them, but I’m lost. I stand there going, “WHAT DO I EVEN LIKE TO READ OMG?” The same with libraries. Most of the books that wind up on my to-read pile get there through friends and groups on Goodreads, book reviews on the ’net … and through The Tournament of Books (put on each March by The Mourning News) — my favorite “sporting” event ever.


Interview originally published on 1/31/15