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Debut Author Interview: Peter Clines, Author of EX-HEROES and EX-PATRIOTS

Categories: Author Interviews, Chuck Sambuchino's Guide to Literary Agents Blog, Fantasy Agents, What's New.

Author Peter Clines’ debut, EX-HEROES, came out in February 2013 in a reissue from Broadway Books (after it was published by a small print-on-demand press), and was praised by Wired.com. Ernest Cline, author of Ready Player One, said of it: “It’s The Avengers meets ‘The Walking Dead’ with a large order of epic served on the side.” Clines’s second novel, EX-PATRIOTS, was reissued much the same in April 2013 to similar praise. The third book in the series is EX-COMMUNICATION (July 9, 2013).

His work is a mix of fantasy, science fiction and horror. Clines has published several pieces of short fiction and numerous articles on the film and television industry. He lives in Southern California.

(What a James Cameron movie can teach writers about how to start a story strong.)

 

 

peter-clines-author-writer      peter-clines-ex-heroes

 

 

What is the book’s genre/category?

It probably treads a line between horror and sci-fi or fantasy, depending on how someone wanted to classify superheroes.

Please describe what the story/book is about.

A group of superheroes help survivors of a zombie apocalypse in Los Angeles.

Where do you write from?

I’m in Los Angeles. I’ve been writing for years, but my career never took off until I moved to LA.

Briefly, what led up to this book?

I was working full time for a magazine called Creative Screenwriting. I’d do interviews, reviews, articles on studio or box office trends, that sort of thing. I also did some work for a few websites like Cinema Blend. I’d had a few short stories published in anthologies and journals, mostly zombie and Lovecraftian stuff. And I’d tried writing a few novels that got some interest but no sales. Same with a couple screenplays I wrote. I got meetings, sold an option or two, but nothing ever happened.

(Adapt your book into a movie script — here’s how.)

What was the time frame for writing this book?

I scribbled down a few loose ideas for the story back in 2006, if memory serves. It wasn’t until early 2008 that I started poking at it with any real enthusiasm. I think it was around April or so that I bounced the idea off Jacob Kier at Permuted Press and he showed some interest. Then I really threw myself into it and started working on it in all my free time. I think I did six or seven drafts (of varying severity) before I submitted it, and that was in September. I got an acceptance letter and an offer a few days before Christmas.

Then, almost exactly four years later, I signed a deal to take the whole Ex series to the Broadway division of Random House. Which meant a bunch of new copyediting and changes for different house styles. And at that point it was tempting to tweak a few things, since the first book hadn’t been written with a series in mind. But I bit my tongue. Or fingers, as it were. It felt like a cheat to go back and claim “this is how I always intended it.”

How did you find your agent (and who is your agent)?

This will be a little disheartening for some folks, I know, but I didn’t do anything. I’d put out four novels with Permuted and just submitted a fifth when I was contacted by David Fugate. He’d read my books and really liked them. Even though he didn’t usually represent fiction he thought the Ex-Heroes series could go a lot farther and appeal to a larger audience. So he hunted me down, found my ranty blog, and asked me to get in touch with him.

And the ugly truth is, I told him no the first time we talked. And the second. I didn’t have anything against him, or against agents or big publishers. I just had a comfortable little niche and I didn’t think he’d be able to do anything that would make it worth getting out of it. So he finally asked if he could just get my blessing to talk to a few editors and see if he could find any interest and do anything with it. And he did a lot. An honestly amazing amount. I signed with him a few months later and we signed the Broadway deal a month or two after that.

 

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What were your 1-2 biggest learning experience(s) or surprise(s) throughout the publishing process?

I didn’t find that much surprising, really. I’d been studying the industry for almost twenty years at that point, on and off. I’d heard the horror stories and the cautionary tales, so I wasn’t going into anything with blinders on. Really, the biggest surprise was how understanding and willing to work with me everyone’s been. I think all my time in the film industry and journalism prepared me to deal with this much more on a nuts-and-bolts, business level, which is very different from the artistic level. I think the folks I’ve been dealing with have appreciated that, and it makes it easier for us to work together.

Looking back, what did you do right that helped you break in?

I think the biggest thing was that I didn’t put the books out there until they were ready to be seen. Really ready. These days there’s such a huge rush to get your writing out there as soon as possible, and there are lots of systems in place to let you. I could write something in the morning and have it for sale on Amazon that night. And because of this rush and these systems, a lot of people put stuff out there before it’s ready, or before they’re ready. No one expects to win Olympic gold their first time in a gym, but lots of people seem to think their first attempt at a first draft should be a mass success and acknowledged by a major publisher.

I spent years learning how to write and how to tell a story, and I think I’m fortunate that during a lot of that time there weren’t any of these quick, easy avenues. When the idea for Ex-Heroes hit I wanted to tell the best story I could, and I spent the time to make sure it was. I rewrote and edited the hell out of it before I submitted it, and then I took full advantage of the editing from Permuted Press. The same with Ex-Patriots, 14, and my Robinson Crusoe mashup. And I’d like to think that work shows.

On that note, what would you have done differently if you could do it again?

That’s a tough one. I’d never, ever say I did everything right, but I also know the only reason I’m here is because of the mistakes and “learning experiences” I had before.

If I had to pick something… kind of like I just mentioned, there’s a few things I submitted to agents and editors that I wish I hadn’t. They just weren’t ready, and I wasn’t skilled enough at the time to realize they weren’t ready. It was a waste of everyone’s time. But, again, it all led here.

(Just starting out as a writer? See a collection of great writing advice for beginners.)

Did you have a platform in place? On this topic, what are you doing the build a platform and gain readership?

I’ve got a Facebook fan page that I try to visit once or twice a day, a G+ profile I check out once or twice a week, and the previously-mentioned ranty blog—cleverly named Writer on Writing (I spent about two minutes coming up with that one…), although I try to keep that promotion-clear and make it more about offering practical advice. I’ve never been a hard-sell guy, and I think most people appreciate that. These days it’s so easy to go overboard with self-promotion, and even easier for people to ignore you when you do. I think, in the long run, I’ve been better served being the laid-back geek than the aggressive marketer who bombards people on Facebook or with emails.

Best piece(s) of advice for writers trying to break in?

Aside from taking your time? This is going to sound pedantic, I know, but learn to spell. By which I mean learn how to spell, not learn how to use a spellchecker. Learn how to spell words. Learn what the words actually mean. This is grade-school stuff, yeah, but when I wrote for Creative Screenwriting and interviewed contest directors, the number one complaint they’d have about submissions was spelling and grammar. I think one of the big reasons self-publishing still hasn’t managed to shake off its stigma is because of spelling and grammar. Nothing will convince a reader I don’t know what I’m doing faster than misspelling or misusing a word. And the sad tooth is that spill-chick pogroms want peck up on wards that or smelled write butt oozed incorrigibly. Like that. Spell check programs are idiots, and if I’m going to depend on an idiot to be my writing partner and know the basics for me… well…

Something personal about you people may be surprised to know?

I’m such a complete and unabashed geek I don’t think there’s much I could say that would actually surprise people.

Well, nothing I’d be willing to have in print..

Favorite movie?

Only one? Damn, that’s a tough call. I love old Bogart movies like Casablanca and The Maltese Falcon, but all the Marvel movies have been pretty amazing so far. And the original Star Wars trilogy was a huge part of my childhood, of course. I honestly don’t know. You’d have to narrow it down a bit more.

Website(s)?

There’s the Facebook fan page, like I said, and the Writer on Writing blog. It’s just advice on writing. Not publishing or agents or marketing or finding your happy place—just writing. Characters, structure, dialogue, pacing, subtext… stuff like that. A few years back I was looking around and amazed how few sites offered any help with the basics. And a lot of the ones that did were would-be gurus offering really inane rules and guidelines rather than just, well, explaining things. So Writer on Writing grew out of a column I tried pitching two or three times to Creative Screenwriting that never got picked up. Now I just go there and rant about all the mistakes I made starting out and ones I see folks making again and again.

 

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One Response to Debut Author Interview: Peter Clines, Author of EX-HEROES and EX-PATRIOTS

  1. DanielJayBerg says:

    Thank you for sharing your down-to-earth advice and reflections. The book series sounds like a neat mashup idea, too.

    The quick succession of release dates seems to be the result of you putting in the work ahead of time. To what extent is such a back-to-back(-to-back) sequence the result of the author’s preparation or the publisher’s preference for marketing and sales?

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