Just in time for Christmas, Santa brings you another in our series of World’s Collider interviews. This time it’s Trent Zelazny’s turn, the exciting writer currently blazing his own trail through the publishing world. You could do a lot worse for last minute Christmas gifts than to snag a copy of one of his books, or maybe two.
Elise Hattersley once again takes on the questioning duties. She asks Trent about his latest release, Destination Unknown, his writing process and which TV character he’d take to the apocalypse.
Trent, compared to the vast majority of writers, your prose is always meticulously polished. Is that something that comes naturally, or something you work towards?
I guess it comes naturally. I don’t do much revision, as far as prose. I love language, imagery, and I work at the pace that the piece demands. I sometimes fantasize about writing ten thousand words a day, but that’s just not feasible. Some pieces blaze along and some drag. I try to let them dictate that.
Is there a specific work you’d recommend to someone looking to get into your oeuvre?
Hmm, good question. I’m not sure what would best represent my work. I’ve actually been a bit surprised at how much people seem to like To Sleep Gently. It was fun to write, and it’s a full-length novel, still only in ebook but there will be a print version at some point this year, I think. Given the response (and maybe it is a bit more commercial, even if just a little), I guess I would suggest that one. It also has my favorite cover to date, designed and created by the amazingly brilliant Sascha Rybinski.
What is your process like, as a general rule?
On good days it starts pretty much right when I wake up. I get some coffee, look over what I did the day before, and continue on. I make a point of putting in at least an hour every day. If it’s going well, I continue on until I’m either all written out or have somewhere else I need to be. I think mornings usually work best for me because I’m still in that hypnagogic state between wakefulness and sleep. And I’m far more patient when I’m not yet awake.
You’re a bit of a nomad. Do you have any specific requirements to be able to write? Perhaps a specific set of paraphernalia you need to arrange your writing corner?
Books. Usually I have a few personal favorite books around, as well as any books that may have helped inspire the story, or simply books that I’m currently reading. I also keep a legal pad nearby for any notes I might need to make, but I don’t use it very often.
You’ve written a pretty impressive array of books, to date. Which is your favourite, and why?
I don’t know if I really have a favorite. I like and dislike them all to varying degrees. I guess, overall, I’d probably go with Fractal Despondency. I wrote it and Shadowboxer back to back. Each took less than two weeks. Fractal Despondency is probably my most autobiographical piece to date. My fiancée died tragically in April 2010, and I wrote both of those novellas, I think, in August or September. I have a soft spot for Shadowboxer, but I think Fractal is a much stronger piece.
You’ve been published extensively both in electronic and paper formats. Which is your favourite, and why?
I like paper myself. I sold my first short story when I was twenty (ack!). That was fifteen years ago, and ebooks weren’t really common, if they were around at all. I always dreamed of seeing my name in or on an actual book. I also grew up surrounded by thousands of books. It’s one of my favorite smells in the world. On the other hand, from what I’ve seen and experienced in the market, for my titles, anyway, the ebooks seem to sell better. I have nothing against ebooks whatsoever, but I think I’ll always prefer a paperback.
Which would you suggest aspiring writers cut their teeth on?
As far as electronic or paper? Shoot for both. If you’re gonna self-publish, which is becoming more and more the norm, try setting up a Kindle, at least as a test run. The most noted thing I’ve written so far, if indeed it was noted, was a novella that my agent said she couldn’t do anything with. So I put it on Kindle and two months later it was picked up by a small press for paperback.
It’s been said that, rather than adhere to the established genres available to you, you’ve begun to carve out your own. Was that always the plan or did it happen organically?
No, it was never a plan. For a long time I wanted to write horror. I liked science fiction and fantasy but had a deeper connection with the horror stuff. I was submitting stuff, much of it rejected, some accepted, and an editor wrote in his rejection something to the effect of, “Have you ever tried writing crime/noir? Something tells me you might have a knack for it.” Of course I didn’t believe that. Then a couple years later I fell in love with film noir, which in turn switched me on to old pulp paperbacks. Jim Thompson, David Goodis, Cornell Woolrich. My heart soared. This was what I wanted to be doing. I loved the scary thing but was more interested in human monsters, rather than supernatural ones. But everything swirled together, and I kind of just write my thing now. On one hand it’s good, because the stories tend to stand out, but on the other hand, even if something is clearly a specific genre to me, sometimes others don’t see it, and don’t wanna buy/publish something when they aren’t certain of the genre. I have a novel I love. To me it’s clearly a western noir set in the seventies. So far, no luck.
Is that also your favourite genre to read, then?
Yeah, overall. I try to read a little bit of everything, fiction and non-fiction. I still love a good horror story, and there’s still plenty of good SF and fantasy. I’m a big fan of Dickens and Flannery O’Connor, and I love Anna Quindlen’s prose. Her book One True Thing really moved me. I just read Water for Elephants and thought it was great. I read just enough philosophy to keep me screwed up, especially Sartre and Kierkegaard. And I read a fair amount of psychology. But yeah, overall I’d say crime is my favorite. Recently read a really cool book called Death Match, by Jason Ridler. Gritty and original. Richard Stark, aka Donald Westlake, Lawrence Block, Joe Lansdale, Tom Piccirilli, Jason Starr, James Cain. There’s a whole list of them.
Your interests range across quite the eclectic array of subjects; basketball, martial arts, music, film… The list goes on. Is that how writing started out for you – as a random interest?
No. I wanted to write ever since I was little. As a youngster I had that dream taken away for a while. But slowly, over time, it came crawling back. Passions may lay dormant a while, but they don’t ever die.
You started off as a professional drummer. Do you have plans of bowing out of the writing game at some point, and doing something else? And what might that something else be?
I think I’ll always write, for better or worse, and chances are I’ll always try to publish the things I think are good. I’m too old, white, short and out of shape to be a basketball player, which is probably the other thing I’d wanna do. I played drums for years, got to sort of live the dream, you know? Over time I found I hated the music scene, and almost everyone involved in it, on every level. If I do bow out at some point, it would probably be because it was no longer doing anything for me, or because I’m dead.
What about writing for a different medium – TV, for example, or film? Is that something that appeals to you?
I’ve done a bit of work in Hollywood. Pretty much projects that made the rounds, then went tits up. I’m still involved there a little bit. Working on something right now, actually, but I’m not at this time allowed to discuss it. The thing that has been on my mind for a while now is stage plays. I’d love to write a stage play. I have an idea for one that I think would work well. I hope I get to try it out at some point.
Your latest work, Destination Unknown, has just come out in paperback. Can you tell us a little about it?
It’s about a couple whose marriage is pretty much over. Driving, an incident occurs on a mountain road, and the two of them become the targets of a deranged psychopath. As the couple falls apart, they have to figure out how to stick together. It is far from the most recent thing I’ve written. It was the first full-length piece I ever sold, but it was delayed a little over two years. I’m glad it’s finally been released.
You’ve occasionally worked on collaborative projects – like World’s Collider, for example! Is there anyone you’d really like to work with in the future?
Honestly, I’m typically not too good with collaborations. I’ve done a few that have been great, but overall I’ve found it doesn’t usually work, which saddens me. There are several people I’d love to try melding brains with. I guess if there was anyone I could work with, I’d probably want it to be Joe Lansdale. He’s one of my biggest influences and inspirations. And he’s prolific as hell, which is great when you’re a big fan of somebody.
And last but not least, say you were being sent into World’s Collider’s reality, and you could take only three things along. What would they be?
My Steve Nash jersey for luck. My Zippo lighter. And Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory.