I like books which go outside the norm, they seem to be the ones that stick with me long after I've closed the cover and stacked them on top of the evergrowing pile of other lovingly read books I own. So I was really happy when the lovely Stephanie Lunsford wanted to do another guest spot on my blog, featuring the authors of 'Zombies VS Robots'
So I'll hand the reigns over to her and let you get to know about this book.
[Stephanie Lunsford, Promotional Representative of Monique Happy Editorial Services, interviews Indie Zombie Author Joseph Cautilli and his co-writer/daughter, Marisha Cautilli, authors of Zombies vs Robots, Books 1, 2, & 3.]
Stephanie Lunsford: Welcome, Joseph and Marisha! Please share a bit about your books for the readers.
Joseph Cautilli: Our two books are Zombies vs. Robot: A Cyberpunk Tale of Terror,
and Zombies vs. Robots 2: Out of the Rubble.
The conclusion of the trilogy is Zombies vs. Robots 3: Emma’s Army. I see these stories as basically a family tale during an apocalyptic event. The family - the Callechios - are trapped in their house as human existence is being extinguished.
SL: Would you say that readers could take something from your book and use it if the Zombie Apocalypse were to happen?
JC: I think so; the books take a survivalist flair, establishing how basic things can be accomplished like catching rain water for drinking and solar panels. We cover a lot of basics that people would need to survive any disaster. Indeed, Martin - the father of the household - completed most of his prep for survival of a hurricane - right down to metal hurricane shutters on the house. Indeed, it was his fear of global warming and increased storms that allowed much of the items transferred for zombie survival.
SL: Does it take very long for you two to write the books?
JC: When Marisha and I started writing, it was Feb of 2013. We have pretty much completed all three books in under a year’s time. Approximate total length of the three books is roughly 300k words.
Marisha and I wrote sort of as a team. We constructed the story outline together and we really spent some time thinking about the scenes we wanted. We used a standardized technique for assessing to children’s writing to stimulate her contribution and I kind of took it from there. I would take the paragraphs that she wrote and would build a scene around them. It was a lot of fun and very motivating for both of us, which is why we completed as quickly as we did.
SL: Tell us how the series came to be what they are today. Where did the idea come from for the Zombies verses Robots?
JC: The book was a planned series of three when Marisha and I started on the venture. We were hoping that we could tell the story in three books and were worried that we would lose interest. The book had 22 characters, which made it rather tough. What helped was that the characters all were confined to the same space most of the time and it allowed us to have sufficient time to develop them as individuals and in relationship to each other
Couple of things collided. Marisha was doing writing drills to make sure that she did well on the state test (PSSAs). So she was involved in practicing using curriculum-based measurement techniques. You start with half a sentence, let the child view for one minute and then write for three. You follow this with a three minute edit. She was producing about 50 words. We blew through the standard story starters, so I gave her one I made up about SuperSmash Bros. She took it to town and did a great job, so I thought wow, if we did four of these a day that would produce 200 words - we could do a book. As to the specifics, we had been watching a father-daughter team on Robot Combat league on the sci-fi channel. Marisha actually built a robot when she was younger with her mother - it was one of those Scientific Explorer Robots. I was really interested in the whole zombie idea. It struck me as the core of horror - societal breakdown.
SL: When you were writing, how much research did you have to do for the Robots part of the book?
JC: We did not do a lot of research for the book, as the model we used for the city is our home town of Philadelphia, and we tried to stick to topics we knew. What we did research a lot of was music that we named in the book. My daughter and I are from two different eras with very different taste. She actually likes classical and pop music - I like older punk, grunge, new wave and some of the ‘60s sounds. When we had a part we were going to put a song into, we would go to YouTube and look the song up and watch it.
SL: I know that your daughter was helping you write this book. Does she plan on becoming a writer herself? If yes, what types of books will she like to write?
JC: Marisha has thousands of imaginary lives. At one point she wanted to be a writer - now it is a zookeeper. She actually would like to write, more girl novels. I like to ask her to sit in on the interview and give her insights. She is very bright and a lot of fun!
SL: What are your current projects? You think you could share a little with us?
JC: Currently, I am writing a story with Johnny Andrews called “Red Light Falling”. It is an old fashion cyberpunk detective novel. I think our readers will like it. It has a lot of dark elements and it is more futuristic than our current project. We met online. He friended me on Facebook and told me he was a writer. I thought it was cool and said, “hey, let’s try writing together.” Over a series of messages, we kind of hashed out the plot.
In addition, Marisha and I are writing a book series together about Birthstone Dragons. It is much more on the fantasy line with twelve princesses, twelve dragons, and twelve tigers. Again it is a big project and I hope we can stick with it and complete it over the course of this year. In the story, an evil creature is out to steal the eyes (jewels) of the twelve dragons and it is up to a witch and her psychokinetic friend to stop them.
Finally, we wrote a short story called Linda: A Swimmer’s Dream. This story Marisha really took the lead on. The story is about a girl coming to terms with not always being able to win. It is a more realistic piece and we wanted to send it to American Girl, hoping they would make the character one of their dolls, but so far, we have not been able to find where to submit it.
SL: If you were to write in any other genre, what would it be and why?
JC: Marisha always liked to write a story in Historical fiction. I am kind of the hold back there because I don’t really have a sound grasp of the genre. I think that I like to dream and so I like stories of the future; the closest for me to move to would be fantasy or traditional science fiction. The most important factor when I write is that the characters become real. I like putting believable people into extraordinary situations. When writing, I like the characters to have thoughts, beliefs and emotions even if I disagree with the characters beliefs or thoughts. The idea that they have them makes them more believable.
I was once told to write strong characters and then put them through hell to make the best story. I think that this is true.
SL: If you could give other writers advice, what would you tell them?
JC: The first bit of advice I think is for them to stick with it and write with your child. It takes time and patience with one’s self and the world. I think parent/child projects have been around for centuries: think father and son building a house or fixing a car. I think many people out there remember doing projects like knitting with their mother or helping their father panel a wall. Writing with children builds their confidence to write and feel successful. As a skilled mentor, you are helping to develop your children’s skills.
Second, writing is a long process. Pace yourself and try to write at least two to three paragraphs a day. If you let too much time pass, you will lose touch with the characters.
Third, horror writing, suspense, and thrillers have some tricks to learn to help build tension. For example, in horror writing it is common to build fear by stating what the character has to lose with an action. It is a sense of foreboding. Also, another psychological trick to building tension is to briefly break away from the character at the height of angst, to let the reader stew over the predicament. Tension is important and so you might want to think of it like this - say you have a character walk into the room. If he gets shot immediately, you get shock. You can make it gory and increase shock value, but if you want tension, stretch it out. For example, the character walks into the room. Maybe he is talking to another character. The audience knows the shooter is looking at the character. Now say you add a conversation into the fray. They talk about something trivial or unimportant and occasionally you focus back on the shooter, putting together the gun, taking aim, and then firing. I remember from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory the line, “The suspense is killing me … I hope it lasts.” As a writer, this is what you are trying to do.
Fourth, writers could try to use a reminder checklist when self-editing. This could help increase the level multisensory experience. For example, make a checklist that just says “Characters’ thoughts, feelings, seeing, hearing, smells, and tactile sensation” - forces you to go back over the scenes and make additions. Books have an advantage over movies and television in that they can convey smell and tactile sensations. You can do this by describing and labeling the smells but you can also achieve it by using common smells and relating back to a memory. For example, the smell of a zombie reminding a character of a time coming home from a vacation and opening the refrigerator to find that some meat that he or she bought had spoiled. It is a common enough experience that most readers can draw on. On the same vein, quick images like “the dog nipped at the boy’s heel as the boy walked down the hill,” if common enough, evokes recall and can encourage readers to imagine.
Finally, vary sentence structure and word usage to ensure that you do not produce fatigue or satiation. I read a book a few weeks ago where the author used the pronoun “he” close to 90 times in the first two pages. It really detracted from the work. This is true even with the word zombie - what I tell authors is don’t use the word on every page - call them something else here and there - flesh eaters, ghouls, fiends, etc. Don’t wear the audience out.
SL: If you had to choose, which writer would you consider an inspired influence?
JC: Of course, Stephen King is an inspiration to all horror writers, as is Clive Barker. What I love about Stephen King’s writing is that it is small town. Common folk and believable. They are not perfect. They have faults. They get grumpy but they are human. Really, all writing is about people or people-like beings - so I try to follow this by making the characters human.
SL: When writing about zombies, how did you decide to describe your zombies, how the virus was released, how the characters would work together?
JC: The characters in our books are mostly from the same family and of course some of their friends. They tend to get along most of the time but there are the inevitable clashes and power struggles. When people are fighting for their lives, disagreement is a natural part of the process. Our characters tend to have less because they were more prepared for the crisis - solar panels for example on the roof, and trained as engineers. Martin and Steve owned a robotics company at the beginning, which gave them some of the base material - enough to build the first robot. In traditional sci-fi, the characters tend to be very noble and very optimistic about the future, so some of our characters - again Martin and Steve represent that - of course we add to that Emma, who is the cyberpunk computer hacker, child-against machine, and mix her with Mitchell, the cyberpunk flawed hero who always sees a powerless government and overpowering corporation behind the problems. We add in other characters like Pete, who is the gun-loving physician: The ultimate paradox between killer and healer. So, I think we have an interesting mix of characters and contrasts. In the first book, many are drawn to the character of John Fredicks. He is really a troubled guy and probably has the starring role in one of the best chapters in the book.
As to the zombies, we continued the Romero tradition of zombies that bite. It is important to remember before Romero, most zombie movies were about Haitian zombies. They were brainless and followed people’s commands. We also are tighter to the biopunk tradition in zombie horror that is now emerging, which is to say - Evil Corporation or gov. through experimentation creates some drug that produces the zombies.
Our zombies look pretty standard; the most unique trait would be black lines run through their veins as their blood has turned into a sludgy tar-like substance.
SL: Give us three "Good to Know" facts about you. Be creative. Tell us what else your readers would like to know?
I am a psychologist and this influences how I see the world and how I conceptualize characters and their relations but also how I understand the reader’s reaction. Sometimes, I am right, sometimes I am wrong, but I try.
I write with my daughter. She is gifted and two years ahead but she is an eight year old. She often will laugh and talk about things that most pleasant company adults have been taught not to talk about. For example, in the first book one of the characters is running and gets mud butt, which is sort of when you get seepage into the underwear from the butthole. I think it adds to the writing.
Both of us tend to be very graphic in our presentation. Remember the context of writing is often different from the context of reading. For example, Marisha was working on some anatomy stuff for her cyber school and we kind of made it a joke about ripping out kidneys and spleens. Both of which found their way into the book and are quite gory but when we wrote them, we sort of were laughing.
SL: Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
JC: Marisha and I love readers. Please keep reading and thank you for buying our books. We really love to hear from you. I read all reviews and Marisha loves to read them as well.
SL: Thank you so much for talking to us today, Joseph and Marisha Cautilli!
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