Sunday, September 28, 2014

Exclusive interview with S.P. Durnin!

Hey readers,  

An extra-special treat for you today! S.P. Durnin, author of Keep Your Crowbar Handy, has decided to sit down for an interview with us. A devoted fan of the post-apocalyptic genre, I was very eager to get his insights into the book and his process.

Keep Your Crowbar Handy (reviewed here) is the story of Jake, Laurel, and Kat--three badass survivors of a zombie apocalypse which manage to find an underground shelter from the horrors outside. Coming to terms with their feelings for one another, they lead a larger band of survivors to try and make it to a safe zone across the country. What happens, though, when jealousy and other personal problems become more important to you than the horrors coming to eat you?

I hope the United Federation of Charles' readers will enjoy reading his insights as much as I have. Okay, let's get started! 

1. First of all, what separates Keep Your Crowbar Handy from all the other zombie novels out there?

Well, the reader has to understand that zombies are the boogeymen of the current era and, if fate is kind, that won't change anytime soon. They inspire feelings of abject horror in many people who'd prefer never to have been confronted by the concept of a mobile, hungry, decaying corps, and make us itch for heroes to confront them.

That's what I attempted to do with book one of the Crowbar Chronicles. Bring heroes, albeit reluctant ones, to life.

I've taken great pains to use nothing but real locations, spec-speak, survival tips, and whatnot -even going so far as to research the most popular brand of blue hair-dye, for god's sake-,  but I've added some elements to the mix that aren't "the norm" when it comes to the zombie/post-apocalyptic genre. Those elements being: a dash of sci-fi/adventure, a bucket-full of over-the-top humor, and a whole-heaping helping of sexual tension.


1---I'm of the opinion that -as opposed to keeping with good old, everyday, hum-drum, reality- a good book, one that sucks me in and makes me crave more of the story, has a drop of the fantastic within its pages.

That could be anything from (but not limited to) the outbreak of a radioactive plague that turns people into highly-evolved. oversexed mutants, the Vampire Lords coming back from the 48th Dimension to save humankind from an invasion of murderous, super-intelligent parakeets, or a character learning their slightly-nerdy girlfriend by day. is actually a genetically altered, cyber armor-clad superhero who fights off alien invasions by night.

Pushing the boundaries of imagination encourages growth and progress. Consider any smartphone for instance. Thirty years ago? That was Star Trek.

2---I've had long conversations with other practitioners in the Martial Arts, including a good number who actively practice Ninjutsu. As silly as it sounds, ninja actually do exist and -yes- some of them are female. And quite deadly, I've found. I'm not in any way ashamed to admit that I still have some of the bruises. While I've studied Kung Fu for a number of years,  I'd be more than a bit hesitant to -ever again- try what skills I have even in practice bouts against a few of those ladies.

They're just plain scary.

3---The humor or "giggle-bits", as my Beta (reader) Corps dubs them.

I worked those in to balance out the "Oh-shit, Oh-shit, We're-all-going-to-die!!!" elements of the series. Remember the original Evil Dead 2, with Bruce Campbell? Demons escaping the underworld, severed body parts flying willy-nilly, and one-liners not only from the primary focus of the movie, but from the supporting cast as well?

That's a good time, baby.

2. How would you describe your protagonists Jake, Kat, and Laurel to potential readers?

Okay, I'll do Laurel first. (...No pun intended.)

If we think about it for a minute, most of us have known a really attractive girl/woman with self-image issues. Now before the hate mail starts flooding in, don't take my words out of context. I'm not in any way bashing them, or making light of their feelings. Only stating a fact.

That's Laurel. She's got "all the right junk, in all the right places" as the song goes, but -at least when first introduced- isn't interested in pursuing any type of relationship. She's jaded after been burned once before (badly), so she wants to concentrate on running her business and on her music. She's independent, a little repressed, borderline antisocial, and engages in a lot of hobbies (knitting, hitting Ren-fairs, hiking, playing guitar,) to fill a void in her life she doesn't want to admit having, even to herself.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is Kat. In all truth, the phrase "free spirit" doesn't even begin to describe her.

She's a clubber, loves self-defense like it's her job, is into every kind of music from classic punk rock (The Good Stuff) to techno (not so much), and offers no apologies for who she's made herself into. She's confident, knows what she wants -mostly- and just how to get it, and is pretty much fearless to a degree. The fact she acts like a bubble-head to protect herself emotionally (and has a deeply abiding love for all things Hello Kitty) rounds out her personality, and provides her with a snappy little bit of "snark" as well, which is just plain fun to write.

Now we come to Jake.

The best description I can give him is: self-defacing Anime fan and ex-combat journalist turned ghost-writer. Here's a fellow who's been shot, shot at, beat up, blown up, and stabbed in the back (in the most literal sense of the word), who's not exactly happy-go-lucky, but tries to make the best of the mess his life's become. His "ride" he got via mail-order (unassembled in a box), his best friend is far more suave than he ever hopes to be, and his conscience is always piping up with (sometimes questionable) unwanted opinions which cause him to space out at inopportune moments.

Drop individuals like that into the Inevitable Zombie Apocalypse, and then you can sit back to enjoy the cringe-worthy high-jinks.

3. The romantic relationships and sexual tension between your leads plays as much role in your story as the zombie attack. How did that come about?

I've taken some flack over the relationship factors/sexual situations in Keep Your Crowbar Handy, but to that I pose this question: What good is living, if you have nothing to live FOR? So yeah. I put some provocative stuff in there.

Happily and unashamedly.

That's because (speaking by way of painful and sphincter-tightening life experience) I've found if you survive facing the violent end of your existence on this little ball of rock hurtling through the universe at 67,000 mph (or thirty kilometers per second), you are going to feel a pronounced urge to take time out and appreciate the touch of another human being who cares for you. That could be your husband, wife, boyfriend, girlfriend, or 'friend-with-benefits', what have you. Your libido is going to temporarily ramp up into overdrive. Perhaps not that very minute, but shortly -once you realize you've narrowly dodged an untimely audience with the Grim Reaper- you'll have a few "R-rated" urges.

I'm not just "whistling Dixie" here.

After speaking with those who's lives tend to be far more dangerous by degrees than your average person's -police officers, firefighters, along with some of the brave men and women currently in the Armed Forces (Who Deserve Our Admiration and Respect for putting their bodies in harms way to protect our cake-eating, civilian asses), I can tell you it's not just me. This is a common reaction and has noting to do with being a "Play-ah" or a "Ho".

It's primal.

It's your back-brain screaming "Holy shit! I'm still alive!!" in your ear.

4. Jake is a former SAS operative, laid­-back geek, military editor, All ­Round Nice Guy, and fabulous lover. How did he come about in your head?

Let me tackle these in order.

I created Jake by putting someone who's a mix of awkward charm and currently unstylish values together with just a smidgen of grit. While he's seen parts of the world most of us only fantasize about -which is why he's able to hold his own (perhaps not willingly, but still)  when the situation calls for some "rough-and-tumble"- Jake has the heart of a dork. Thankfully, when he spent time as a civilian consultant for a regiment of Britain's Special Air Service, he received a little combat training, but he's not G.I. Joe and he knows it.

The "laid-back" vibe readers will get isn't simple indifference on his part -which they'll learn as the story progresses-, but psychological fatigue. His family is gone, his friends are all dead (with the exceptions of his aging neighbor Gertrude Jennings, his landlord George Foster, and one Allen Ryker: auto mechanic, skydiving enthusiast and unrepentant "man-ho"), and he's -for lack of a better term- weary. He's alone. Stuck in emotional inertia and tired of The Game. Jake just want's to be left to hang out with Allen, write, consume some Guinness and Jameson Irish Whiskey on the weekends, and enjoy what time he feels he has left.

"All-around nice guy" has become a insult in modern society, the reason for which I honestly can't understand to save my life. Jake's beliefs and actions stem from how he was raised, prior to his father's passing. He has strong opinions towards mental defectives who abuse children, any crap-sucking, bottom-feeders who hit or rape women, and bigoted zealots who blow up buildings (thereby killing thousands of innocent people) for religious reasons. He acknowledges the world is a cruel, screwed-up place, and he's just one guy who's slightly above average in the fist-to-cuffs department, but there is just some shit he just won't put up with. Even if it is the Apocalypse. "Fabulous lover" is perhaps an overstated description in Jake's case.

Give me a moment here to explain why.

After I took a long-long look at supposed romantically-based relationships in today's world, I found many of them to be utterly lacking of anything even remotely resembling real affection. I hate to say it, but if you're hoping to miraculously find "The One" in a club or a bar? Yeah, good luck with the safari. That animal (much of the time) doesn't exist there any more than say... unicorns do. The term "meat-market" has been bandied around to describe those places for longer than I've been alive, so it's lost a lot of shock value, but it's still an accurate term.

I wanted to create a character that understands the human drive to "Go forth and multiply!", maybe even felt the urge pull strongly at him upon occasion (with the aid of a boat-hook), but really only wants to find his "One" if he can. Jake's never been successful in relationships for some pretty tragic reasons, however. So, when he manages to really connect with someone on both mental and emotional levels, he's understandably going to exhibit some amorous enthusiasm while in private settings.

5. What experiences from your own life did you draw from to create Keep Your Crowbar Handy?

Crap. I dread questions like that.

Not not because I lack source material, but because the answer makes me sound like a lunatic who's been marked for death by one deity or another. I'll come across with a few things that I can discuss without having to worry about late-night visits from law enforcement though.

1---At twenty-three, I had a knee replacement, thanks to a very close encounter with a four-hundred pound wild boar in South Texas. The surgeon who performed the procedure can kiss my butt, because he informed me after the fact I'd have a pronounced limp for the rest of my natural life.

Didn't happen.

Once I learned how to walk again, I rehabbed my knee by learning (and then teaching) beginner snowboarding after relocating to Montana, and I'm still at one-hundred percent today. (My right knee is now noticeably stronger than my left, to my physical therapists surprise.) Being mauled by that stupid swine convinced me a zombie apocalypse is the only reason I'd ever go back to that area of the country, and I realized the same idea could be applied to the misfit survivors in Keep Your Crowbar Handy.

**Note** That event is likely why I have a slow-smoker grill  (one that looks like a horizontal, black barrel with a smoke stack on the end), and have developed an affinity for pulled pork sammiches.

2---Years ago, I caught a bullet in the back. Lucky for me (can't you just feel the sarcasm?) it rebounded off my third rib, fractured it, spun upwards, and lodged into the underside of my scapula where it remains to this day. It aches when it's cold outside, but no other issues so far.

**Note** I'll tell you this for free: Anybody who tries to say "Gettin' shot ain't nothin" is either an idiot trying to impress someone, or a goddamn liar.

It hurts like hell. I have no desire to ever again experience that level of pain.

Seriously. Ever. In life.

3---Most folks over twenty have been in a relationship that's ended badly (anyone who hasn't should count their blessings), but only a few have actually put said event into a novel, revealing play-by-play information about the way it all unfolded .

I did.

**Note** A word of caution here, just in case you make the poor choice of ending it while out for dinner with your soon-to-be Ex: Merlot stains absolutely do not come out of a tan shirt. Neither does mustard, as it turns out...

Don't judge. It could have gone worse.

6. Will you describe your two female leads to the women in your audience and what you like about them?

Oh boy. This might very well go over like a fart in a spacesuit, but I'm not willing to just make something up here to cover my literary style so here we go.

To get an accurate picture of Laurel St.Clair  in your minds eye, think "hot-tempered, red-headed bombshell". Wavy hair, green eyes, a dusting of freckles, and the woman has some lung-power under that hand-knitted sweater, to be sure. This is my fault. Being an Irishman, I have a genetic predisposition for buxom gingers of the female persuasion with a little attitude.

Kat doesn't resemble Laurel in the slightest. She's of Japanese/Native American decent, and is athletically slim in kick-ass, Kung Fu movie heroine kind of way. But she has a wicked smile. Oh. Yeah. She dyes her hair "Smurfy-blue". This might encourage the reader think she's a little immature, but she really just enjoys playing the vapid vixen. Kat's intellect is rather frightening. While the two ladies are virtually polar opposites -both in looks and personalities, they undeniably share one definitive quality.

Neither could be considered "The Waif."

Nearly everyone has run across such a character in real life, which in modern times is more than a little surprising. Many men still find the "Help! Save me (insert random male here), you big, strong man, you!!" personality to be attractive, but I for one do not. While still single, way back when a tough, little dragon named Lockheed prowled the hallowed halls of Xavier Mansion, I quickly realized that I had zero desire to spend my life with someone of that mindset.

After putting a lot of thought into surviving a zombie apocalypse (shocking, I know), I realized quickly that -as in real life- that I'd want an equal. A companion. A partner. Someone who could take care of herself -or me if the occasion demanded it- in dangerous situations, and not just a pretty face I'd spend a large chunk of my time saving. Sure enough, one day when I least expected it, such a long-awaited woman found me.

After luck of that sort, how could I not put the same strength, the same force of personality, the same qualities I myself revere, into many of the female characters I pull from my melon? Not doing so would cheapen everything I find attractive about the fairer sex, and my Better Half as well.

7. Our heroes start a good bit better off than most zombie protagonists with a house-sized bomb shelter. Do you think that offers an alternative dynamic to most zombie stories? Do you think more stories should change up the formula like that?

I think these people would've had little chance at survival, if it weren't for "proper previous planning" on the part of one very abrasive and foresighted individual.

Yeah, I know. This busts the norm too. Usually, it's the main character who's got a safe packed full of assorted firearms and blocks of C-4 tucked away in his basement, for just such an occasion. That privilege is reserved for another member of the group within the pages of Keep Your Crowbar Handy though. It allows me to spread the Apocalyptic skill set around, so I don't end up writing about a super-capable "Bond-like" uber-character while neglecting others.

Now, should more novels start that way?

Honestly, I can't settle on a definitive answer to that. I suppose it depends on the type of story its creator is attempting to tell. If it's just the lone survivor, then no. In that case, you might end up with a rewrite of I Am Legend.  If the author is going for a more diverse feel however, puling in multiple characters who have specific abilities, that would compensate for the weaknesses of others? I that case it would make sense to have some kind of temporary hideaway or haven. I've seen tons of novels that are about characters trying to get to such a final destination, but few profiling any seeking escape from a ready-made locale.

8. Who is your favorite character after the leads?

While I'm sure lots of readers will yell "Foster!" in a calliope of violence-titillated voices, one of my favorites is Rae.

Maybe it's pesky external genitalia influencing my thought process, but her whole  "looks like a sexy-librarian, but can maintenance a Humvee and put an M4 carbine together from its component parts" works for me.

Rae's not perfect though. She's blunt, intolerant of other people's shortcomings, and has an inflated opinion when it comes to her own intelligence.  Yes, she has multiple Bachelor degrees (correspondence courses are wonderful things) and in real-life would closely resemble Jill Wagner, but that by no means makes her perfect. Regardless of how physically and  intellectually appealing she may seem, Rae has virtually no people skills to speak of. That makes coming up with her dialogue a real hoot, let me tell you.

9. What's the most interesting reaction you've gotten to your story so far?

I've received a good number of what you'd call "e-threats" from people who've read the first novel in my odd little "zombieverse"TM , become heavily invested in the characters, and are screaming for more. When one actually threatened to come to my home and (quote/unquote) "whip my ass" if I didn't come across with the next novel soon, I knew I'd done something right.

(To be honest, it's so far beyond flattering to know you've created a story that means so much to so many. I don't know how to express my feelings about it . Little compares, that's for sure.)

10. What can we expect from you in the future?

Oh, there's a lot more on the way in the story of Jake, Kat, Laurel, and the rest of their merry companions. Keep Your Crowbar Handy is only the beginning.

Anyone who's read the Permuted Press release of Book One in knows the survivors have one hell of a journey still ahead of them, and (sorry to tell you this people) absolutely no one is safe. This particular tale is back-dropped against the Inevitable Zombie Apocalypse, which means "Folks is gonna get ate"! I've already turned Book Two (Rotting to the Core) over for the editorial birthing process, and I'm currently hip-deep in the third (working title: Assuming Room Temperature) so events within the story are about to speed up in a big way.

The dead aren't going anywhere, and our survivors are still desperately trying not to kill each-other over various, annoying personality quirks. Then to top it all off -as if flesh-eating ghouls weren't bad enough-, there are some really unpleasant people roaming around the rubble of mankind's now-wrecked civilization.

As to what's next, after the Crowbar Chronicles are complete?

A while back the muse hit me hard enough to knock me to my damn knees, so I know where this particular apocalypse it headed. I'm outlining two -possibly three- novels set in the same universe, but the survivors in the Keep Your Crowbar Handy series won't a part of them. Though people enjoy spending time with the crew of the Screamin' Mimi, I've always said the story of these characters will be a finite one. No loose ends, no "lost years", no "The Further Tales Of-" books, nada. That's because normal people only have so much fight in them before they're to weary to continue the struggle.

Besides, another adventure has already begun bouncing around in my mind like a white-hot hedgehog and, judging from the way it's set my cortex simmering, the dead will be staggering on for a very long time to come.

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