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An Interview with Araminta Star Matthews, Rachel Lee and Stan Swanson

Authors of Write of the Living Dead

 

When did you decide to write this book and why?

STAN: I had written a couple of nonfiction books and some horror fiction in the past and then began publishing horror under my Dark Moon Books imprint. Araminta Matthews began working as an editor for Dark Moon soon thereafter. With our background as writers, my experience in publishing and Araminta’s teaching background, it seemed like a fun and worthy experiment. I am not sure if Araminta or I originally mentioned the concept, but it seemed a natural thing to do. Do you remember that, Mina?

ARAMINTA: I believe that Stan and I were joking about how busy we were reading stories we were considering for publication in the next issue of Dark Moon Digest.

STAN: And you had just finished your first novel, Blind Hunger, right?

ARAMINTA: Yes, but quit interrupting me or I’ll send my legions of the undead in your direction.

(Stan looks behind him at the closed door. He seems convinced that this is possible.)

ARAMINTA: Anyway, we jokingly discussed the need for a writing manual that would appeal to horror writers, and I pitched the idea for a writing manual with an undead theme. Stan coined the name instantly. After a few days, though, the idea began to blossom as having real possibilities for the group of adult diploma students I was working with as they groaned about the textbook I had selected for the class. It was then I realized this could have implications for students and I was sold on the idea.

STAN: (After another quick look towards the door...) And that’s when Mina mentioned Rachel.

ARAMINTA: Rachel was an old college friend of mine whom I knew was very near a PhD in English and would really complement our two writing styles. The three of us simply took flight.

STAN: Although I had never met Rachel, I trusted Mina’s instinct on this and we ended up being the perfect team for this. I have to admit it was difficult writing “long-distance,” but it was all worth it in the end as I consider Write of the Living Dead is one of my proudest achievements as an author.

Rachel Lee enters the room. She was either returning from fighting off Araminta’s horde of the undead on the street outside or trying to find a place in line at the local Starbucks.

 

Q: Is Write of the Living Dead your first published work?

RACHEL: I've published research about the Romantic poet-artist William Blake, but Write of the Living Dead is my first print publication. It’s been quite a journey. I believe Mina and Stan have done quite a bit of writing though.

STAN: First, I have to say that although Rachel might not have the publishing portfolio that we have, she was invaluable in creating this book. Her input was just as valuable as Mina had originally promised and her sense of humor fit in well. Humor was important in creating this book. It’s what makes it stand out from everything else in the genre. Now what was the question?

ARAMINTA: Well, since I remember what the question was, no, this is not my first published work. I have several short stories strewn across myriad publications. My first novel, Blind Hunger was published in 2011 with Dark Moon Books. I have a story, "Every Time a Bell Rings" in Slices of Flesh, a powerhouse of horror flash fiction, and several stories in Dark Moon Digest. My previous work was primarily creative nonfiction or literary fiction.

STAN: Oh, so that was the question. Okay. I have written and published two nonfiction books (Inspiration for Songwriters and The Songwriter’s Journal), two fantasy novels aimed at middle grade/young adult readers (The Misadventures of Hobart Hucklebuck and Dragontooth: The Prequel), a collection of zombie short stories (Forever Zombie) and several short fiction pieces.

 

Q: This book seems to be written with a very dark (albeit humorous) slant. Is it only aimed at horror writers?

ARAMINTA: Yes and no. Primarily, this is aimed at any writer who wants to learn more about the craft. We use a horror-theme as a kind of scaffolding—a common place or foundation which hopefully disarms or engages hesitant readers—to build up concepts around writing style, voice, method, and usage. We address several genres of writing in order to appeal to any person who might have to write something someday somewhere.

STAN: Can you tell that Mina teaches? But that is a great answer. Of course, what else am I going to say about her when she’s threatening me with her minions of the undead? All I have is a skeleton prop left over from Army of Darkness. But, horror authors and enthusiasts will certainly enjoy the book (and understand many of the subtle references which others may not recognize), but the book is aimed at writers of all genres, all writing levels and any age group. I believe it has very broad appeal.

 

Q: What do you think makes this book different from the dozens of other books on writing that are available?

RACHEL: Write of the Living Dead is meant for all kind of writers working on all kinds of writing. This might be an oversimplification, but books about writing tend to be divided between fiction and nonfiction. Books about academic or business writing, for example, don't usually discuss writing fiction or poetry or memoirs. In reality, though, these different types of writing have quite a bit in common: they all emerge out of a creative process of thinking, imagining, and, well, writing. Whether you're a poet or an academic, all writers need to develop good writing habits, which include thinking about writing as a process, being mindful of readers' needs and expectations, and working with a sense of purpose towards a goal whether it's to scare your readers or convince them that the best zombie flick is 28 Days Later.

STAN: First, I hope that Rachel is not implying that 28 Days Later is the best zombie flick ever. It’s technically not even a zombie movie.

RACHEL: I didn’t say that, Stan, I only posed the question. Besides, it depends on your definition of what a zombie is.

STAN: Precisely. You have to die first and then come back to be a zombie. Just ask George Romero.

RACHEL: We don’t even know George Romero?

STAN: Well, we don’t have to let our readers know that, do we?

RACHEL: Careful, Stan. I still have a cup of hot coffee in my hand.

STAN: Ummm... Mina? What do you think?

ARAMINTA: Well, I’m not going to get into this whole zombie definition controversy, but our book  is entertaining as well as educational. As one of our fans recently told us, "It's rare to find a writing guide that's written so cleverly that you can read it like a novel." Write of the Living Dead uses a series of imaginary authors for each chapter section—many of these authors are rooted in real human history or mythology—to educate the audience about a particular writing style or method. Each chapter is like a writing lesson told as a short story. It's engaging like a novel while simultaneously offering useful tools and tips for writers. We also spent a lot of time on research, offering several pages of additional resources in the list of works we consulted or referenced.

STAN: Yep. I don’t think there is really anything else out there like this. It lays a solid foundation for teaching many different writing genres while maintaining a light and humorous approach to what some might consider an arduous and daunting task.

 

Q: There has been talk of this being used as a textbook in high school, adult ed and college courses? Can you speak to that?

STAN: We have already had some great feedback from teachers and professors (as well as potential students) who feel this would be a great way for aspiring writers to learn their craft whether they write fiction, poetry or just need to finish off that essay sitting on the back of their desk. But I think Mina and Rachel, since they are both educators, are in better position to speak to this question.

RACHEL: Even though it "reads like a novel" (or really, a collection of short stories starring your favorite monsters from history, literature, and film), you don't have to read the chapters in order. Each chapter in Write of the Living Dead is about a different genre of writing, which makes it easy for educators to pick and choose the chapters which will support their pedagogical goals. With each chapter, we also included writing exercises and prompts, which would be easy to adapt to fit a range of educational settings and writing assignments.

ARAMINTA: I agree. This book was written by two educators well-versed in learning theory, and two accomplished writers well-versed in writing style and content for engaging audience. To that end, this book can work for young writers to adult writers with a grade equivalent of about 5 or 6 in most instances. It was written with Middle Graders in mind, so language is clean and accessible, while also targeting adults with a love of classic horror films. It is an ideal shelf book for horror authors, but it is also an ideal textbook for students who are disengaged from writing/reading courses. Even students who dislike horror will find this appealing or memorable, thus reinforcing their own education.

STAN: I find it interesting that Mina says it was written with middle graders in mind. I was simply writing at my normal level of expertise.

Rachel and Araminta look at each other, but say nothing.

 

Q: Will Write of the Living Dead be updated?

ARAMINTA: Writing lives/thrives/sings in the world of revision. And we invite readers to write to us with recommendations for updates, and corrections if they spot any errors or important omissions.

STAN: Exactly. We plan on keeping the book current, editing and adding to it as needed. This is essential in a rapidly changing environment, particularly as far as classroom use might go.

 

Q: What is your background and credentials for writing a book of this type?

RACHEL: I've taught and tutored academic writing at the college level for nearly a decade (yikes!). I also train and mentor writing instructors who are designing their own college-level argumentative writing classes. I'm also (still) a student; I have an MA in English and am currently working on my PhD (also in English). As a graduate student, I've had to do a lot of writing, which often does not come easily. Even though I have done well with my academic writing (winning several awards over the course of my college career), I am intimately acquainted with the dark struggles which often accompany the exquisite joys of writing.

ARAMINTA: I have what I would call a terminal degree in creative writing. I have been a college writing professor in Central Maine for five years. I have a teaching certificate for English at the adult education level, and have taught diploma English courses for adults for five years, as well. I have spent my career split between writing and educating others about writing, focusing my professional development both on craft and educational theories. During this time, I have tailored my ability to deliver knowledge about writing to others, read countless textbooks, refined my own processes, and still managed to get a few publications out on the side.

STAN: As mentioned above I have written several books, two on them nonfiction books about songwriting which have been well-received. I have also been a reporter and editor for several local papers, newsletters and magazines over the years. But the bottom line is that I know how hard it can be to write which makes a book like ours that much more useful in the real world. It may sound self-serving, but if I didn’t own this book, I would have it on my bookshelf just the same.

 

Q: What are your future writing plans and do you have a book in the works?

RACHEL: Well, I have a dissertation to finish, so let’s get this interview over with!

STAN: Not to mention that there might be zombies outside...

Araminta and Rachel roll their eyes.

ARAMINTA: I have contracted a few short stories. I'll have a work appearing in the anthology Trans-Kin, as well as an anthology tentatively entitled Zombies Need Love, Too. My serialized paraquel to Blind Hunger, "The Warehouse," appears in four successive issues of Dark Moon Digest. I also have two collaborative book projects in the works: one with coauthor Stan Swanson, and another with an up-and-coming writer, Max Booth III. I'm also wrapping up a YA, supernatural thriller for middle graders tentatively entitled The Mysterious Woman of Gale House.

STAN: I am also currently co-writing. Mina mentioned our next project which is a young adult zombie novel. And, coincidentally, I am writing a book with Mr. Booth as well. With any luck I will finish book two of my The Misadventures of Hobart Hucklebuck fantasy adventure this year as well as a young adult steampunk novel. I also have another nonfiction book in the works aimed at horror writers specifically.

 

Q: Other than writing, what do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

ARAMINTA: Spare time, you say? Is there such a thing? When I'm not writing, I'm generally teaching or developing instruction. I also have a few freelance writing gigs unrelated to fiction, and I am a career development facilitator. When I'm not working—mind you, working includes writing; make no mistake—I tend to have a million-and-one projects going. I invent things. I craft (particularly fiber and paper arts). I read. And, I must admit, I play MMORPG's with geektastic enthusiasm. I'm also a devotee of BBC science fiction series.

RACHEL: I read all sorts of things, from true crime, dark fiction, and horror to literary classics to popular fiction. I also enjoy cooking (and eating), gardening, and camping in an old VW camper-van. I love history and old technology, and very much enjoy old-fashioned modes of transportation, like long walks in rural settings, or even more modern conveyances such as bicycles and trains. I wish I was the creative type, but my "creations" don't usually come out so well. (Not on the level of Victor Frankenstein, of course, but still.)

STAN: I spend most of my time with my publishing company and writing, but also enjoy music (I am a singer/songwriter, or, at least was in the past). I enjoy a good book, a good movie and love video games. I also spend a lot of time avoiding Mina’s undead legions and Rachel’s hot coffee. Oh, and plugging Write of the Living Dead, of course.

 

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