By Derek Gunn
Ethan Reid has the honour of being the premier release for the new Simon451 imprint from Simon & Schuster that will be launching in 2014. While I am sure this comes with a lot of pressure, it says a lot for the author to be given this slot and it says quite a bit of Simon & Shuster as well launching a new imprint, concentrating on speculative fiction, fantasy, and apocalyptic fiction in the current market.
Luckily they’ve picked a winner with this one. Unsurprisingly, they are already closed for submissions as they wade through all the manuscripts their call generated. Simon451 will publish in multiple electronic and printed formats, with a focus on digital-first publishing and e-book originals. I’m not too clear as to the time frame for the printed format version but the e-book comes out around the time you will be reading this.
One thing that immediately comes to your attention is the formatting. I’ll get to the writing in a minute—be patient. This book was designed as an e-book, rather than the usual design as paperback and “fit” it into an e-book as an afterthought. The result is a much more gratifying e-book experience. A small point but I have read so many badly formatted e-books that it was a joy to read this one.
Of course, the writing helped a bit too. The prose is snappy, the characters immediately likable and the pace burns through the text so quickly that my poor Kindle is still smoking. This is not another zombie novel, though it can be enjoyed as such. There is more at work here. Not content with throwing an unknown global catastrophe at our heroes, the author uses earthquakes, falling meteors, et cetera as merely a first course. After the initial disaster, strange creatures begin to pull themselves from the darkness to hunt the living.
These creatures are not just mindless zombies though. They reason, they run in packs, and they are all too hard to kill. Throw all that at our hero and then place them in a foreign city with limited language ability and you begin to get the idea of what our heroes have to go through. Of course, don’t expect all the humans to be helpful either. As society crumbles, man’s rules deteriorate and danger lurks everywhere.
We are never told exactly what is going on either. And that’s a good thing. How often would you meet someone who would have all the answers in such a situation? What the characters do find out is well thought out and reasonable, but no one really knows what is going on for certain. It is this sense of confusion that has you, the reader, staying up late to try to piece it all together. I see from Ethan’s comments below that he is writing the third book, so using my amazing math skills that must mean that book 2 is ready. I’m ready for it now—do I have to wait?
The setting for the story is Paris, France. I have been to Paris, so it was great to revisit the city in this story. The author knows his city, pulling well known landmarks and lesser known side streets, and tunnels, into a coherent setting. The fact that it isn’t another U.S. city allowed the story to breathe new life. Different cultures and language introduce a deeper element from the first few pages. Weapons are not so easily found, and maps become one of your most prized possessions. In fact, finding routes through the city plays a hugely important part in the story.
Reid was kind to take some time out to answer a few questions.
Can you give us an understanding of how your writing process works? Do you have a ritual, do you plan out every detail, or do you see where the story leads?
I’m very methodical. I craft the entire narrative before writing. I start with one paragraph, like an elevator pitch, with plot, character and theme, and extend that to a page. One page turns to five, fifteen, and then I separate those into chapters. At that point I usually pause to graph the hero’s journey (based on Campbell’s THE HERO WITH A THOUSAND FACES) in a large circle on a wall in my office. When I feel like that’s close enough, I hop back into the manuscript and make sure each chapter creates a situation, complicates it, and resolves it. Each also needs to advance character, plot, and give an insight into theme. I need to know the entire plot—from the main character’s ordeal to apotheosis—before I can start writing. Resurrection, too. And of course, the end. I’m all about endings. I’m constantly thinking of ways to make them better.
Can you give us some insight into the Simon 451 process, how you got into it and your experiences to date?
It came down to my über agent, Barbara Poelle, finding the novel a perfect home. We had been shopping the manuscript for some time when she approached me about trying to sell it as an e-original. I was doubtful at first but my editor at Simon451, Sarah Knight, is superb. I’ve had great Simon & Schuster editors throughout the process, from copyeditor to proofreader. I can’t rave enough about the staff (and I couldn’t have asked for a better cover). Plus there’s the excitement of being a part of something new. The debut kickoff for the imprint is happening at the NY Comic Con this October. And I’m in great hands with my publicist at Simon & Schuster. Terrific team they’ve got going.
The book certainly has an undercurrent of being lost in an unfamiliar city with language issues underpinning the sense of our protagonist’s struggle to cope with the unknown, both in what is happening and what to do about it. Is this why you set it in Paris instead of America or do you just like Paris?
I hold a great affinity for Paris. We have family living in the Latin Quarter and have been lucky enough to spend quite a bit of time there. To me, the idea of being lost in a foreign land while chaos erupts about you creates natural drama, heightened by the fear of struggling to understand, and be understood. Part of the main struggle of genre fiction writing—horror in particular—is creating a willing suspension of disbelief in the reader. I hoped that having Jeanie go through these terrifying events in Paris heightened her struggle, and of her friends, to stay alive but in an organic way. I work hard to keep a sense of realism, rather than the speculative in my prose. As funny as a line as that is to say, given the subject matter.
What are your thoughts on e-books? Do they help or hinder the modern author?
It depends on quite a few factors. Over the years I’ve watched fellow writers grow frustrated with the traditional publishing world and decide to put their novels out electronically. For some, it’s the right call. There are some wonderful e-books out there. Others would have benefited with the expertise of an editorial staff like Simon451’s. Another interesting aspect of the imprint is their ability to publish e-originals into print at a snap of their fingers. I won’t get into specifics, but they can put THE UNDYING out in hard cover, trade paperback, et cetera, whenever they choose to. Things are changing quickly and it’s wonderful to watch.
I loved the sense of building horror in the story. It would be bad enough to have a cataclysmic event as described in the first section but you don’t stop there, you throw more and more challenges onto our poor characters. Did the book start out as a supernatural thriller, a cataclysmic end-of-the-world story, or did you plan the whole evil thing from the start?
All at once, I guess. Just before beginning THE UNDYING, I spoke with an agent who had read my first two novels and thought I was close to hitting it out of the ballpark, but thought I needed a more linear narrative. That led me to the thriller format of a start and go, one straight harrowing line. While there have been some great apocalyptic novels over the years, many of them start decades after the event. I wanted to write the event. One that affects the world, and a preamble for a larger story. For years I’ve also wanted my own monster. That’s where the moribund come in.
If you were given one paragraph to convince people to buy your novel what would it say?
Well it’s been said THE UNDYING is a novel for fans of apocalyptic thrillers who like THE PASSAGE and THE WALKING DEAD. I wanted to take a young woman who has been to hell and back, and then put her in an all-new hell. That’s a large part of Jeanie’s journey. Self-discovery and power. Really finding her on-switch. And if you like the story, it’s also been said the novel “screams for a sequel.”
Do you get pleasure from killing off our favourite characters or are you just naturally mean?
Ha! Well, we all die in the end, right? Why not pull a few heartstrings along the way? Frankly, some characters are much harder to let go of than others. But you never know. It’s the land of the moribund—some of the dead can always come back. ButI can’t say I haven’t felt a certain tug for a few of them, as they find their end.
In between research and writing do you have any time to read? Who do you enjoy most?
There’s not enough time. In between the writing, I read the most. Recently I enjoyed Andrew Pyper’s THE DEMONOLOGIST tremendously. And Nic Pizzolatto’s GALVESTON. Before that, I consumed Stephen King’s THE WIND THROUGH THE KEYHOLE. My book pile is always growing. And like everyone else I’m waiting for George R. R. Martin’s next in the Game of Thronesline. I’m not usually drawn to dragon fiction, but Martin’s got me hooked with Drogon.
I’ll be appearing at the New York Comic Con in October on a panel titled Coffee Talk with Dragons and Monsters. As far as publishing, I don’t think it’s proper for me to say anything yet, but I’ll have some great news soon. Otherwise, I’ll leave it by saying I am currently writing the third novel in THE UNDYING series. Pulling the noose ever tighter on the whole ravenous endgame.
This is a great book. The writing oozes confidence, the characters jump off the pages and worm their way into your affections. A point of warning, no one is safe in this book so be prepared for a few shocks. It comes out on October 7 and is very reasonable priced so there is really no excuse not to give it a go. You won’t be sorry.
Ethan Reid received his BA in English with Writing Emphasis from the University of Washington and his MFA from the University of Southern California’s MPW Program, where he studied under author S.L. Stebel, Oscar-nominated screenwriter Sy Gomberg, and Oscar-winning screenwriter Frank Tarloff. Born in Spokane, Washington, Ethan is a member of the Horror Writers Association, the International Thriller Writers and the Pacific Northwest Writers Association. Ethan currently lives in Seattle, with his wife and son.
To learn more about Ethan, please visit his website.