Today we sit down with author and blogger Jack Strange. Jack is from the U.K. and has a very colorful background. I hope you enjoy meeting Jack as he share his work, inspiration and a bit about himself in this edition of 20 Questions.
Q1) When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
I realized in my mid-teens I wanted to be a writer. I used to read voraciously in those days. I still do, but the pace has slackened a little with age and maturity.
My heroes were – and still are – authors such as Richard Matheson, Theodore Sturgeon, Kurt Vonnegut, Robert Heinlein – you get the drift.
I wrote my first novel aged 18. I co-authored it with a friend. It never got published, thank God! It had its moments but it wasn’t very good. I didn’t have enough life experience to write a novel; now I sometimes feel I have too much!
Q2) How long does it typically take you to write a book?
It varies. ‘Celebrity Chef Zombie Apocalypse’ only took three months to write, but that was a little bit special. Once I’d had the central idea for it, the story formed very quickly in my head, and after that it was just a matter of writing it down. Most of my novels take six months or so to write.
If readers of your blog are wondering where they can find all my other novels, the others have never been published. But I wrote an awful lot of novels before Celebrity Chef Zombie Apocalypse got published.
By the way, I’m currently writing a sequel, the working title of which is ‘Zomcats!’
Q3) What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?
It’s pretty much the same as anybody else’s, but with writing thrown in. I’m hoping to give up the day job before long!
Monday to Friday I write early in the morning from 6.00a.m. to 9.00 a.m. Then I begin writing again at 5.00 p.m. and go on as long as I can, which is never longer than until 9.00 p.m.
Saturdays and Sundays I usually fit in a few hours depending on what my wife wants to do. When she’s out at the hairdresser, that’s a good time for me to write!
Q4) What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I don’t write the scenes in my novels in the order in which you read them.
I usually write the opening scene first, which is what you’d expect, but then I write different scenes from all over the novel. Often I’ll write the end well before my narrative has got anywhere near the ending.
My other quirk is that when I’m writing in the evenings I like to have a beer for inspiration, or sometimes a glass of red wine.
Q5) How are your books published? (traditional, indie, etc.)
I have a traditional publishing deal with a small indie publishing outfit called Kensington Gore Publishing.
Q6) Where do you get your ideas for your books?
Ideas can come from anywhere – a real-life incident, a TV programme, or just thinking about something.
With ‘Celebrity Chef Zombie Apocalypse’, I was thinking one day that zombies always behave in a really stupid way.
They eat anyone they can get their hands on, or turn them into zombies by biting them.
Logically, that should mean that if the zombies succeeded in taking over the planet, then sooner or later there would be no people around, only zombies, and the zombies wouldn’t have anything to eat. They’d have guaranteed their own extinction.
Then I thought: what if you had intelligent zombies? What would they do? They wouldn’t want to eat everyone, or turn the population of the entire world into zombies, because they’d know that if they did, there’d be nothing left for them to eat except each other. They’d probably work out that their best course of action would be to enslave people and farm them for the table.
Then, after I’d come up with that idea, it occurred to me that the ideal cross-section of people to have as zombies would be a group that were involved in the food industry. I settled on chefs because I could see how I could have a lot of fun with that idea – I could describe how they enjoyed cooking people in elaborate ways before eating them. I don’t think that’s been done in zombie literature before.
A few years ago I was watching a documentary about the mafia and it contained information about a very unpleasant thing a Mafia enforcer had done to one of his victims. That became the genesis of another of my novels.
Q7) If you don’t mind sharing, when did you write your first book and how old were you?
I wrote a book of short stories when I was only 14. I recommend that you avoid it if you ever come across it!
Q8) What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
I love socialising and being with people. Maybe that’s as well, because writing is a very solitary activity. If you’re having a party, invite me along, because I’m a party animal!
I love reading of course.
I like to keep fit. I make sure I do a few pull-ups every week and a few other exercises to maintain my strength and conditioning.
I enjoy trekking in mountainous areas. Until fairly recently, I did Judo. I’ll be making a comeback to that sport soon.
Q9) What is your favorite book?
It would have to be ‘It Happened in Boston’ by Russell H Greenan. Don’t get me started on talking about it, you won’t be able to stop me!
I’ll limit myself to saying just one thing.
Greenan can write about anything – anything at all – and make it compelling.
Q10) What do your family and friends think of your writing?
They think it’s great. They love it and they’ve said very flattering things about it. And they love the fact that I’m now a published author.
Q11) What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books?
They don’t always go the way you plan them to go. Some of your characters go off at tangents you never expect them to choose.
It used to throw me when that happened; now I’m quite cool about it.
I understand these days that writing a novel isn’t about writing a story that you pre-ordain; the story takes shape as you write it.
Q12) What do you hate most about the writing process?
The length of time it takes to write a novel-length piece of work. Temperamentally, I’m probably better-suited to writing short stories, but I happen to like writing novels.
Q13) How many books have you written? Which is your favorite?
I must have written ten at least.
The current one (‘Celebrity Chef Zombie Apocalypse’) is my favorite, although I have a feeling that’s about to change as I get deeper into ‘Zomcats!’ territory.
Q14) Do you have any suggestions to help us become better writers? If so, what are they?
I have so many!
I was going to save them all for my own blog, but since you ask, here’s the most important of them:
Writing is like speaking. When you speak to me, I don’t make notes and come up with an answer. I just answer, and the response comes to me without thinking about it at a conscious level.
Writing should be the same. You should get into a flow and just write. Access your subconscious mind. That way you’ll come up with something visceral that will engage the reader. That’s all there is to it.
Q15) Do you get feedback from your readers much? How and what kinds of things do they say?
My readers are very kind – they say they like my work a lot!
More specifically, they say that it’s like Gulliver’s Travels meets Animal Farm; and that I’ve taken Zombie novels to another level. One of them has been kind enough to write a review which is on my website.
You can download it as a PDF on www.jack-strange.co.uk.
Q16) What is your preferred reading audience?
Adults with a sense of humor who don’t mind the odd bit of gore, and who enjoy seeing the political class being lampooned.
Humor and horror have always been bedfellows, haven’t they?
Q17) What do you think makes a good story?
I’ll give you my textbook answer:
A story has to have a beginning, middle, and a satisfying end which leaves no loose threads dangling to annoy the reader.
The beginning must plunge the character(s) into a challenge or problematic situation; the middle must describe the way they deal with it; and the end tells you what happens when they get the better of it (or get screwed by it, like they often do in Jim Thompson’s novels).
Q18) As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?
I always wanted to be a writer but somewhere along the way I got diverted, and became a lawyer instead. Still, it’s given me some great material for my novels!
Q19) Where can we find your books?
Only on Amazon. Here are the links:
Q20) Will you give us an excerpt from one of your favorite works?
Do you mean works of my own? Sure I will.
I’ll let you have a short excerpt from the beginning of ‘Zomcats!’, the sequel to ‘Celebrity Chef Zombie Apocalypse’. Please bear in mind that this is a first draft and I haven’t polished it yet:
Please be aware before you read it that I’m very even-handed in my satire. when politicians act in ridiculous ways, I go after them for it, no matter what part of the political spectrum they represent.
The American President was standing on an elevated wooden platform that was so huge it resembled the deck of a massive cruise liner. Along its length there was a bandstand, a stage, an al fresco restaurant, and a catering kitchen.
The platform had been erected exactly in the middle of a wall that was forty foot high and nineteen hundred miles long. It was missing one concrete block. Two workers, both of them undocumented immigrants (the American term for what the British would call ‘illegal immigrants’), held the missing block aloft and the President applied some mortar to the gap it was meant to occupy, and the illegal, sorry, undocumented immigrants carefully positioned it and tamped it into place.
The President turned around. In the distance, he noticed a black car travelling rapidly along the desert road generating clouds of dust in its wake.
On the ground far below, there was a huge crowd of cheering admirers. He grinned at them. He was wearing a grey suit and a shirt and tie, and a red baseball cap with the words ‘The doughnut’ written across the front of it. He removed his baseball cap and waved it in the air at the crowd. The crowd was so big that most of the people in it couldn’t see him, but they were able to watch him on the giant LED screens which were strategically positioned at either end of the wooden platform, and they applauded loudly.
Still grinning, President Doughnut spoke to his aide from the corner of his mouth, a gentle Texan breeze disturbing the carefully positioned and glued-down strands of his comb-over.
“See that, Tyler?” He said, his words almost drowned out in the tumultuous noise being generated by the wild applause, “I reckon that’s good enough to guarantee me a second term, maybe even a third.”
Tyler looked closely at the people below. Many of them were wearing military fatigues, some looked like survivalists, and a small number were dressed in white gowns and pointed white hats which resembled the dunce’s hats which were, in less enlightened times, forced upon the heads of errant schoolchildren. Here and there a fiery cross could be seen burning amongst the throng of Doughnut’s ecstatic admirers.
“I’m not so sure sir,” said the aide. “I’m not convinced that this represents a true cross-section of the American voting demographic.”
About Jack Strange:
I’ve had a very chequered (Americans would probably say checkered) career like all the best writers.
Its included working in a morgue, digging holes for a living, shifting heavy things onto trucks and off them again, selling advertising space, writing press-releases, and being a Solicitor of the Supreme Court (in America you’d call that being a lawyer). I’ve done other stuff too.
I’ve indulged in my fair share of recreational drugs, purely for research purposes you understand, to enable me to write accurately about the experiences of people who take them.
Trouble has found me from time-to-time, I won’t pretend it hasn’t. Those experiences – let’s be honest here – those physical confrontations – have been very helpful to me when it comes to writing about fear and fronting up to fear.
As far as sports goes, I was an amateur boxer for a while and I fought for Kent University against Oxford University. (I won that match in the second round by a TKO if you’re wondering; I lost another bout against a far more experienced fighter than me in much the same way); I’ve also done a lot of Judo in my time. I like to keep fit. I can still do pullups from a dead hang up to touching my throat to the bar with no bounce or momentum, even though I’m not in the first flush of youth. I love trekking in mountainous areas.
My first dark, comedic horror novel, “Celebrity Chef Zombie apocalypse” is to be published May 28th 2016 by Kensington Gore Publishers. It’s a tale of true love, zombies, sex, cooking, cannibalism, depraved sex, and chasseur sauce.
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