Catching Up with Indie Author Rick Gualtieri

I’d like to welcome author Rick Gualtieri to the blog! Rick has kindly invested his time in a fun and informative chat featured below where we discuss our new books, writing collectives, writing process, killing favorite characters, the magnum opus and favorite animals. Rick is a veteran of the indie publishing world and a fellow member of Westmarch Publishing. Next week he is releasing the sixth installment in his Tome of Bill series, which makes the undead fun again. The title of the new book is Half a Prayer.

halfaprayerHere is the promotional copy for Half a Prayer:

Terror lurks below and it’s about to surface.

The end of the world is rapidly approaching, but Bill Ryder, gamer, geek, and legendary vampire, finds himself with more pressing matters to worry about – the women in his life. Sidelined from action, he’s forced to reevaluate what he thought were his feelings. Sadly for him, it’s a luxury he can ill afford.

An unstoppable terror from the dawn of time has awoken deep beneath the Earth and is headed his way. To make matter worse, he’s been scorned by those he thought to be his allies. Now he finds himself fighting off enemies from all sides while warring with his emotions. Talk about sucky timing for introspection.

As the world crumbles to pieces around him, Bill must muster his courage, master his powers, and rise to the destiny he’s been trying so long to deny – because if he doesn’t, his love life will be the least of his worries.

And on to the interview! Rick and I both have series novels coming out this January. Mine is the first book in a youth adventure series, The League of the Sphinx: the Purple Scarab. So how about we talk about our newest projects, Rick? Half a Prayer is ready to fly off the presses and your series hero, Bill Ryder, legendary vampire geek, is back, and it looks like he has love life problems to boot. Can you briefly introduce the series and then tell us specifically what Half a Prayer is about?

Rick: Thanks for having me, Richard. It’s a great pleasure being here. I for one am keenly looking forward to hearing about The League of the Sphinx because, quite frankly, it sounds like a wild ride. However, in the interest of not being immediately shown to the door, I’ll try not to be completely rude and answer the question before we get back to your stuff.

The Tome of Bill is the story of Bill Ryder, a programmer with a love of gaming, drinking, and hanging with his friends – mostly to partake of those first two activities. All that changes, however, when he meets Sally, a beautiful blonde who’s way out of his Bill the Vampire Rick Gualtierileague. Needless to say, she quickly becomes the death of him – quite literally. But that’s the thing about having your throat torn out by the undead – it’s less an ending so much as it is a beginning of a whole new “life”. The only problem is that neither side is really prepared to handle the other, resulting in a lot of bloody mayhem.

Half a Prayer is book 6 in the series (my seventh in this universe) and frankly it’s the beginning of the end. The world is about to erupt in a global war between ancient supernatural enemies that will most likely spell the end of mankind. Unfortunately for us, the one guy who has a shot at stopping it – Bill – is too busy crying in his beer over his girlfriend, or lack thereof. Pity for him, the world isn’t about to sit around and wait for him to get over it.

I spent the first four books of this series building up this world and now, much like a kid playing with wooden blocks, I’m having a grand time kicking it all down. But enough about that. You’ve told me a little bit about The League of the Sphinx and it sounds like quite the epic tale. I mean Nazis, magic, and Egyptian curses. That seems like something Indiana Jones would think twice about tackling, yet you’re throwing it all at the feet of a fifteen-year old and his friends to somehow handle. I’m lucky if I could find my way to study hall at that age. What else can you tell us about the start of this adventure?

Richard: That Tome of Bill all sounds awesome with such a unique lead character. As for The League of the Sphinx, well, the original story had the three lead kids at 10-11 years of age, so the final version (15-16 year olds) has vastly more mature protagonists than I had envisioned. The League of the SphinxConsider the three teenagers as highly capable young people (vastly more aware than I was at 15, as well) who grow up quickly in the landscape of World War 2. The events and responsibilities of this story are thrust upon them and they can do nothing else but respond bravely. It is sink or swim, really. Plus they are geniuses, so that helps.

The Purple Scarab is the first adventure in the League of the Sphinx series, set in WW2-era Egypt and England. The three heroes, 15 year old Edmund Peabody, Chander Peabody and Amelia Tripp discover a mysterious ancient Egyptian scarab protected by an ancient Egyptian mummy/princess named Neferu. The seven scarabs, once assembled in one place, have the power to win the war for the side which activates them. The Nazis are also aware of the potential of the seven scarabs, and the series follows the perilous race by both sides in the attempt to win them all. The three kids build wild inventions and battle Germans, spies, Egyptian Gods, curses and much more as the chase builds, and stories involve Winston Churchill, Lawrence of Arabia, T.S. Eliot and other famous historic figures.

The story also functions on a seriously personal level, and each of my lead characters has their own personal demons to confront, and all three have parents in harm’s way because of the war. But first and foremost this is an adventure tale in the tradition of Young Indiana Jones and Percy Jackson.

WestmarchFinal_greenSomething I’d like to ask you is this: we have both joined on as members of Westmarch Publishing (both of the novels we just described are being released under the Westmarch banner), a new (March, 2014) author publishing collective. Westmarch contributors offer each other cover, design, editing, marketing, and other publishing services, taking the place of a publishing house, believing that readers benefit when the indie writer isn’t all alone in the mechanics of the book-making process and owns his or her own creative product. I am running my first indie projects through Westmarch and I’m finding it to be a great model of co-operative support. As a more experienced indie writer, what are your thoughts on Westmarch and how its model functions?

Rick: You’re correct. Half-a-Prayer will be my first title under the Westmarch banner and I’m honored (and maybe a wee bit intimidated too) to be part of such a talented collective. My Westmarch expectations might be a bit different than some others’ – at least for now. I’ve been pretty much fully independent since day 1. As a result, I have an awesome production team that I’ve been working with for the past several books and I’m planning on sticking with them – at least until such time as they get sick of me. For me, Westmarch is all about what I can contribute to help the other members put out the most professional products possible. On the flip side, I’m also there to learn what I can. RickGualtieri_TheMourningWoods_eFINALcleanI’ve been doing this for nearly four years on my own, and I’ve learned a lot, but I’m not quite ready to declare myself an expert at anything. Instead, I prefer to just say I’m a bit less stupid than I was…and I hope to continue getting less stupid.

Cross-marketing is another portion of the Westmarch puzzle that greatly interests me. Individually there are many examples of indie authors rising above the crowd to become major successes. Heck, although I’m far from being a household name (even in my own home), I’ve been lucky enough to have reached more people than I would have ever thought possible. That being said, one voice can be loud, but I’m a firm believer that many voices – each working as part of the greater whole – can have far greater reach.
Speaking of those voices, though, I’d love to hear a bit more of your story, Richard. What is your background in this crazy business and what roads have you walked to get you where you are today?

Richard: My background, gah, what a tangled web. I earned an English degree, farted around for a year and supplemented it with a radio and television broadcasting diploma, worked as a cameraman for the CBC and left then left news to go to film school, then moved back to Los Angeles to be a screenwriter. I worked in bookstores, as a waiter, and taught film production at vocational school while I got an agent and went to pitch meetings at Paramount and the like and never sold anything. I got a job as a script reader at Universal Studios for Storyline Productions (the producers who made Footloose) and after reading mountains of awful screenplays I sure learned a lot about structure and all of the things NOT to do in a screenplay. L.A._Heat_(TV_series)_dvd_coverI ended up writing B-Film screenplays and cable TV shows for about a decade, for companies like USA, TNT, HBO, Fox Kids and Animal Planet. I knew very early on I wanted to be a novelist but didn’t pursue it, and finally, about three years ago, I just ditched everything else and started writing books.

Screenwriting is some kind of monster for a writer for two reasons: it is by its nature communal, with story input from directors and producers and drafts being broken down and discussed in roundtable sessions, and a completed screenplay is an unfinished piece of work, because its purpose is to be interpreted and re-expressed as a motion picture. While the energy of communal writing is great, it is also hard to always be working on other people’s ideas, even if they fit better than the ones you came up with. And an unsold screenplay, while you can publish it to a very limited market, is really just doomed to oblivion. With novels I love the independence of writing my own story the way I want to write it and that the book is a finished product, a tale told the way it unfolded from the subconscious of the storyteller brain. Of course, like just about every other author, no book I write is purely my own hand—we all benefit from the skills of our editors, readers, illustrators and many other sources of input, but they all help improve the communication of our intimately born story. I hope to be a pure hybrid eventually, existing in both the traditionally published and indie spheres, and I have big hopes for the future of Westmarch Publishing. I suppose that’s good, because if Westmarch’s potential didn’t inspire me that would really suck.

I wanted to ask you about your writing process/method, Rick. I am a writer who needs to know how his story will end before I start, so I and my subconscious have a place to work towards. I also outline my traditional narrative novels almost entirely with 3×5 cards on big bulletin boards so I can see the entire structure/skeleton of the piece as I work. To some people this sounds restrictive but I find it freeing, that it actually releases me from worries that impede my creativity. If I know where I am headed then my brain is constantly seeking and making connections in the material while I sleep. I always end up rearranging, adding and deleting scenes, and even removing entire acts or changing the expected ending, but the ending is always in sight, informing everything that I do.Wonderbook-cover I am also working on a four- part short story quadrilogy about murdering monks where for the first time I’ve taken the opposite approach to the material, charging in with just a sense of the overall structure and no scene cards, almost working backwards, and drawing a lot of creative juice from Jeff VanderMeer’s Wonderbook: An Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction. It’s been a blast because I don’t normally operate this way and the nature of the short stories and their weird fiction connectivity lend themselves well to this kind of approach.

What is your writing method and process, and what advice would you give to a first-time novelist sitting down in front of a blank piece of paper (a blank screen these days, I suppose, with that damned blinking cursor)?

Rick: First off let me just say that is freaking awesome about the screenwriting! Quite frankly, I’m a novelist who would probably love to move in that direction. In fact, my novel Bigfoot Hunters started life as a screenplay – my way of addressing the sucky Bigfoot movies that channels like SyFy were airing – before I decided it would work better as a novel.

1940415039Anyway, my writing style is pretty much barely organized chaos. Much like you, I always have an ending in mind, a place to ultimately go. How I get there, though, very much depends on the type of story. For a horror novel, like Bigfoot Hunters, I like to create a simple outline and a flowchart. The outline is for the story, but the flowchart is a living document that I use to determine where all characters are at all times in the story. As much fun as a Friday the 13th might be, movies like that bug me because the bad guys seemingly teleport to wherever the victims are hiding. I want to make sure that if my “monsters” are popping out of a closet, there’s a plausible reason why they’re in that closet to begin with.
All of that changes, however, for stories with a comedic bent like The Tome of Bill series. I find that comedy is best when it develops naturally. Premeditated humor often feels canned to me. Thus, while I know the beginning and the end of a story like that (and major series plot points), most everything else is a mystery to me until I write it. This can sometimes be a terrifying way to write, but more often than not it ends up being very rewarding. Some of my favorite characters in the series didn’t exist until the day I wrote their first scene. The only rule there is that if I write myself into a corner, I need to be clever enough to bring a sledgehammer to knock it down.

As for new writers, quite frankly there’s only one bit of advice that’s worth anything: justscary-lg do it! Stop thinking about writing a book. Stop telling people you’re an aspiring author. Stop waiting for the perfect moment because it doesn’t exist. Put your butt in the chair and make some progress. The mechanics of it can be honed, but they don’t mean anything if you don’t have a story. Even a completely crappy first draft is better than no draft at all.

And since we’re being cantankerous here, let me pass some of that back to you, Richard. What are some of your pet peeves with regards to writing? What really drives you nuts – either in your own work or when you’re reading a novel? Personally, as a diehard Star Trek nerd, continuity drives me nuts. I once read a horror novel in which characters that were killed in one chapter showed up in later chapters completely unharmed. It took all of my self-restraint to not throw the book against the wall (that and I was reading it on my wife’s kindle). How about you?

Richard: What drives me nuts? Continuity is a big one as you mentioned. I’d say another pet peeve I have is detectives who don’t do any detecting. I’ll read a mystery book with a detective as the lead and the character never actually does or reveals much on their own—everything is handed to them by others or through coincidence, and they act as little more than a witty-mouthed cipher. Argh. blade_runner_21(Harrison Ford once complained that he struggled with Bladerunner because his detective did very little real detecting–though I love the movie still)  I also dislike endless “smart” dialog that really goes nowhere and does nothing to move the story forward.

Also, a bit of advice. In writing a book or screenplay with a traditional narrative structure, get the goods on the table early. Get the story going and then keep it up. In all of the hundreds of screenplays I read at Universal not one script that started poorly ever got better. Not one. Lots of scripts and manuscripts started out great and then fell apart, but not one ever stumbled out of the gate and recovered. It is advice I should have taken in the first 60 pages of my own first Romulus Buckle book which starts too slowly. An experienced writer friend read the manuscript and told me to cut out the first 120 pages. I removed 60 and thought I had it licked. I didn’t. I should have removed all 120 pages.
How about this one, Rick? Have you ever killed a character whom you liked so much it actually hurt you emotionally to do it? I haven’t yet, but it’s coming up.

Rick: Nah. I am one stone cold, heartless S.O.B. When I’m having a bad day, I write horrific death scenes to blow off steam…only to delete them later (mostly). Seriously, though, I have bumped off characters I was fond of. I mean I created them, dragged them through Hell and back, so we have history. It stings a bit to say goodbye, but at the end of the day they exist only in the mind and that knowledge keeps me from beating myself up too badly. It’s the perfect crime! Besides, in the genres I frequent, death can be a very subjective concept.

n435450That being said, there are few things more awesome than getting blasted by a loyal reader because you killed, maimed, or otherwise incapacitated a character that they’ve grown to love. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying their emotional trauma is awesome. The awesome part is that I’ve managed to touch them in a way in which the characters feel real to them. There are few higher compliments a writer can receive.

Okay, all of this talk of death is depressing me (not really). Let’s lighten the mood a bit before we run out of page space. You are a Praying Mantis of sorts, except that instead of mating you can write only one book in your life before you die. Without giving any spoilers for anything you’ve done, what are you putting to pen as your magnum opus / swansong? Oh wait, that was about death too. Oh well, answer it anyway.

Richard: That’s awesome—I totally agree that if readers are suffering when characters suffer, then you’ve brought the reader into your world lock, stock and barrel so it’s a shared experience, and you’ve done your job well! As for my one-book-before I-die manuscript, I have a project I’ve been working on for over ten years, one which I wrote a screenplay for first. I can’t say much about it for fear of jinxing the whole trilogy-mess, but it is set in World War 2 era Russia. I traveled to many of the locations in Russia in 2007 and also interviewed some veterans of the Great Patriotic War who were involved. The first book in the trilogy goes out to publishers this summer, and we’ll see where it will end up. I don’t think I’ll ever manage anything as sweeping in scope or depth of research as this project again, nor perhaps as dear to my heart.

What about you? Do you have a one-book-before-I-die-must-write magnum opus in the wings, or elsewhere? Also, with so many authors plugging their wares on social media now and clogging up Twitter and with Facebook choking off small business exposure, what would be the brief advice you might offer an indie writer with a new book looking at ways to promote him/herself?

Rick: That sounds pretty awesome, Richard – doubly so since you have firsthand experience at the locations involved. That always adds an extra layer of realism to a story. poptart-lgMe, I have this epic Science Fiction story that’s been in my head ever since I was a teen. It’s kind of reminiscent of the far-reaching cosmic stories from Marvel and DC…the fate of the universe and all that jazz, but we’ll see. I have plenty of other stories to tell before I’m ready to tackle that one.

As for social media, there’s only one bit of advice I can give for Facebook, Twitter, or anyplace else – cover your bases, but make sure you’re your own person. Find a way to stand out (in a good way). A millions voices all shouting the same thing (usually “Buy my book!”) quickly becomes nothing more than white noise.

What about you, any quick tidbits of wisdom you’d impart upon the next generation of writers? Any mistakes you’d do your damnedest to help them avoid?

Richard: Good advice, Rick. I think sincerity is something that truly separates a person from the crowd. Engage people without being a snake-oil salesman. People will respond to your book and then your work has to stand on its own merits. And if that book sucks, learn from it and write another better one. If the book is a hit, learn from it and write another better one. My advice would be stick to your own guns and write your own story, the one that comes from your guts. Lots of people are writing to pure formula and I think in the long run you have a better chance of producing something that people will notice, something that might rise to the surface, if it is different from the other stuff. Don’t set out to simply write a bestseller in the bestselling category – that is an awful, empty exercise. If you have a tale that speaks to you and falls inside those parameters, well, great. But don’t force it. Don’t let other people tell you how to write your book, but be ready to learn. Write the book that you’d like to read, not what you think other people would want to read. Go down swinging you own sword, not somebody else’s.

Okay, time for a few quirky questions, Rick: 1) What is your favorite local restaurant? 2) If you could be an animal what would it be, and 3) If you could inscribe your headstone with a line from one of your novels, what would it be?

Rick: Ugh, I live in chain restaurant hell. However, I used to live in Hoboken and loved eating at Margarita’s this small Italian place in the middle of Washington Street. I really miss that place.

For my beast-mode, I have always favored Alligators for some reason. Don’t ask me why. I just do. Maybe it’s because they’re the closest things we have around today to the dinosaurs – monstrous throwbacks to an earlier age – and I’ve always dug dinosaurs. Also, they look cool.

My all-time favorite line from my books is: “I’ve known Francois for a very long time and he has always been, as you so eloquently put it, a dick.” From The Mourning Woods. That one always cracks me up. So I’d go with that for my headstone. Forget meaningful or deep. I’ll always be happy with a good chuckle.

All that said, it’s been awesome being here and I really appreciate you having me, Richard. Why don’t you bring us home with a few tidbits of your own? 1) If you could pick one superpower to have, what would it be and why? 2) You can have either money or love, but not both. Choose wisely and tell us about it. 3) The characters in your most recent book have all come alive and shown up at your doorstep. How do they react to you?

Richard: Hey, Rick—this has been great and I super appreciate you taking the time to drop in and chat. Tidbits? Here you go, but I’ll send up a preemptive boring flare.

My superpower would be super speed like the Flash, so I could visit my family all over the States and Canada more often. Love. It’s always love. The money would be great, but life would be empty without love. If my characters showed up on my doorstep? I’m afraid they would find me somewhat bookish and disappointing since they are such people of action, but they would be gracious about it.

THANKS AGAIN to Rick Gualtieri for dropping in and engaging in the conversation! And remember to grab Half a Prayer and all of the books in the Tome of Bill series for great fun with the undead!

Author Bio and Contact Information

rick-photoRick Gualtieri lives alone in a dark, evil place called New Jersey with only his wife, three kids, and countless pets to both keep him company and constantly plot against him. When he’s not busy monkey-clicking out words, he can typically be found jealously guarding his collection of vintage Transformers from all who would seek to defile them – Defilers Beware!