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Q&A with Terence Taylor

I’ve got a real treat for you all today. Good friend and stellar author Terence Taylor has stopped in to chat a bit about his Vampire Testament series, his experiences in publishing, and his latest project QUITTING CHRISTMAS.

A little background: Terence is a novelist and a television writer whose work has appeared on PBS, Nickelodeon, and Disney. I met him back in 2004 when we both signed copies of the original DARK DREAMS anthology at Zane’s (yes, that Zane) bookstore in Maryland. Right away Terence was a stand out, the warmest and most energetic guy in the room. He gave accounts of his experiences in TV (as a 24 year old self-professed comic book geek he had me hooked the minute he mentioned writing an episode of the Spider-Man cartoon series) and gave a memorable reading of his short story “Plaything” (my personal favorite from the collection).

His work appeared in the DARK DREAMS sequels and you can currently find the first two novels in his Vampire Testament series (BITE MARKS and BLOOD PRESSURE) where ever books are sold. Folks, I can’t recommend these novels enough. There’s a reason why they’re both enjoying a 5-star average rating over on Amazon. Terence Taylor is the kind of writer readers often wish they’d stumble upon. And he’s the kind of writer I want to be when I grow up.

Without further adieu, the man himself:

LRG: Terence, thanks for taking time out to answer some questions. What are you working on now?

TT: Something wildly atypical, but very personal…it’s a satiric social comedy about a wildly varied group of bohemian friends in Park Slope, called “Quitting Christmas”, about a guy who lost his life partner ten years ago on Christmas and decides he can’t face the holiday with all its relentless cheerfulness again that year.  He announces to all his friends by drunken e-mail that he’s quitting Christmas — they have to deal with his absence from their holidays as they realize that the only thing that’s kept them in one piece for the last ten years was holding him together.  So as he sets off on a journey of self-discovery and healing, they all have to face feelings they’ve suppressed about his lover’s loss, their friend, as well.

It started out as a highly fictionalized story about the emotions behind losing my partner of six years 17 years ago, but grew into something bigger as I passed the halfway point.  He died a day after Christmas, and for most of a decade after that I was a basket case every year from October, when he started fading, through the end of the year.  I was working on the third novel of the Vampire Testaments, which is set twenty years in the future, and extremely dark.  When the anniversary depression came up this year, instead of sinking into it, I decided I was finally ready to tell my story, even if through a fictional character’s eyes.  I started writing everything I was feeling and going through as I worked out my setting, characters and their histories.  I plowed through the first two hundred pages in two months.

It slowed down by the time I’d written enough to hit my mid-novel crisis.  I see now on my third novel that it’s an inevitable stage when you’ve written enough to realize that what you’ve done so far may not be what you started out to write.  I went through an almost paralytic month of organizing my notes and completed pages, fully outlining and re-evaluating the whole thing before I decided it was still the book I started, but that I’d taken on a bit more than I intended to at first.  I’m back on track now, but more realistic about what it will take to finish.  I had this crazy idea that it was a fast book I could knock out over the holidays — it’s turned out to be a massively therapeutic experience, as I’ve had to put everything I’ve learned about dealing with the loss of a loved one at a major holiday down in a way that makes sense, tells the story, and in the end, reinforces for me all the things I need to remember each year at that time.

It’s been a trip — it’s my first “non-genre” novel, and I feel like I’m working without the safety net of those conventions to save me.  In a horror, sci-fi or fantasy novel there are certain marks you know you have to hit, certain plot points you know you have to write if you’re stuck on a chapter that’s more subtle, or needs work.  There’s someplace to go.  Of course, after I’d been writing it for a few months I read reviews of other books that reminded me I’m still in a genre — it’s just not paranormal.  It’s both the “getting over grief” and “Bah humbug, wait I love Christmas after all” genres…so who knows, maybe I’ll wake up in a year to find myself transformed into a black gay Nicolas Sparks…I could do worse.  I am looking forward to getting back to book three of the Testaments, though, and finishing that story.  So I haven’t abandoned horror.

LRG: The Vampire Testament novels span several decades, from the recent past to the very near future. If you look at a similar time frame, how have you seen your writing evolve, and where do you see it going?

TT: I suppose my last answer says something about that…the biggest difference in my fiction writing in the last decade is that I consider myself a storyteller now, rather than a wordsmith — the language of my work is tighter, leaner, smoother, and says more with less.  When I wrote scripts I used to tell the story as cleanly as possible, and describe everything clearly enough to be built, cast, propped and shot from my script, essentially so that anyone reading it could see it in their heads.  I kept some of my work habits from then when I moved into fiction, but used to be more concerned with the right words, the proper phrasing.  It’s only now as I answer this that I realize that all I’ve done is apply the priorities I applied in scriptwriting to my fiction — tell the story well, make the characters convincing, and give the readers what they need to see it in their heads, with as few words in the way as possible.

As I move forward I want to get better at that — I like writing that involves me, sucks me into a world so deeply that when I’m done I feel I’ve been someplace else.  If anything, that’s the direction I see my work going in, getting better at that, and expanding the kind of story I write.  I’d like to do more social satire, and there’s an epic fantasy novel I’m planning to write after the third Testament novel.  If I‘ve learned anything else in the last two years of seeing my first novels come out, it is that you have to keep moving forward.  Once a book is out, it’s done — you have to be on to the next book by then, well into it.

LRG: Many of us writers have big ideas of what our careers should be, but those ideas sometimes clash with what the publishing industry really is. What’s been your biggest reality check during your time in the industry? And, on the flip side, have there been any major positives that were totally unexpected?

TT: Don’t write to get rich, that’s the first thing I always say to any aspiring writer.  Love it or drop it.  If the actual act of writing isn’t payment enough, move on.  There are so many other things I learned since “Bit Marks” came out…the biggest is that there’s only so much you can do to sell your novel, and if you make promotion a full time job, you lose track of the real job — writing.  I spent last year freaking out over sales and trying to jump through flaming hoops of PR to the books, and got half the third novel done.

There were lucky accidents that benefited me — like a friend loaning Whoopi Goldberg her copy of the first book, and having her love it enough to mention it in People magazine.  But there was also the almost empty reading for the second book at Hue-Man, and other experiences that just wake you up that the road ahead will not be smooth, downhill, or dry of tears.  Friends get tired of cheerleading and stop showing up, book readers don’t come out to readings until you have a following, and it gets exhausting trying to cover all the bases of social media.  There is only so much I have to say to Facebook or Twitter.

Publishing your first book changes everything and nothing.  It’s rare that a first book will sell so many copies that the author can sit back and write on that dime for the rest of their lives.  By the same token, you’re not the same writer you were once you’ve gone through the process of completing, selling and publishing your first novel.  It’s like dating.  Once you get a good one under your belt, you can’t wait to get out there and do it again.  It’s addictive, and if you’re a “real writer”, that is, someone compelled to tell stories and keep telling them, that first taste of exposure will only encourage you to continue.

The only way to keep my writing going in the direction I want it to go, which would be one day actually supporting me, is to write my ass off.  The more I write, the better it gets, and the better the chance that one day I may write something that sends everyone back to see what I wrote before.  The worst thing that happened after the first book came out is that I didn’t write a bestseller that got me rich so I could lay back and relax.  Nonetheless, it was still a damn good book that thousands have enjoyed, with a second that maintained the same level of storytelling — if not better, because I learned lessons the first time.  The best thing that happened is that I wrote a book that a major publisher printed and got into bookstores and airports across the country, and they paid me to write the second within a year.  Doing that proved more to me about what I can and can’t do than anything else on the journey.  I said after the first book was done that I wasn’t a novelist yet — I was a guy who had written a novel.  Writing the second and working on my third, I now feel that I am a novelist because I can repeat the process and produce new books.

I returned to New York in 2001 to finish the first novel, after decades of picking at it.  Coming out of the last ten years with two novels done and published — that feels good.  I mean, I came back to Brooklyn with a goal that I exceeded…I can’t complain.  I can only hope the future keeps bringing pleasant surprises.

LRG: What’s your take on all the recent buzz surrounding eBooks and independent publishing? Would you ever consider going indie?

TT: It makes me wonder what word on the street was when Gutenberg invented the printing press and started turning out bibles like popcorn…  People committed to the past always fear progress.  It’s the reason there’s so much conflict in the world today.  The old guard is desperately trying to hold on across the board as the world grows beyond them.

Leslie “L.A.” Banks talked to me after the fun “Beyond Blacula” group reading (which I promise to get up online soon) about a YA novels series she was working on and thinking of releasing as an e-book on her own.  She asked me what I thought, and I said, you go girl, because she’s a best-selling author with a loyal readership who could totally do well with that, and get all the dang money instead of a 10-15% royalty on sales that are hard to track.  Zane used her success to start her own publishing house, for her own books and those of other writers she can promote.  Why not go straight to e-readers?

I’ve had a free serial novella up on my site for months, quite a fun one, but have no comments or sign that anyone’s reading it.  For me to put a new novel of mine up online and hope for the sales I got for the first book through St. Martin’s is certainly possible, but it takes a lot of work to fan the flames of demand.  I think Leslie and other popular authors could so ace online sales or e-books, as Zane could, and am amazed some of them aren’t dropping out of the existing system to do so.  I think James Patterson may be releasing a new book only electronically…maybe someone else.  The modern age allows almost anyone to find a way into print — what we forget is that all writers are not created equal, and that some shouldn’t be in print yet.  The system of agents and publishers did filter that flow, albeit to their own advantage.

All of that said, I have many stories I’d love to do online, in various forms — audio plays, short films animated and live-action — and have a site registered for that.  I see this as an age of change in all media — publishing, film and television — and all because of digital media and web access.  Anyone can do almost anything today and have it seen, and I’m still amazed that so few seem to be getting that and taking advantage of it — though they may be and we just aren’t hearing about them yet.  I think in the next ten years we’re going to see a massive paradigm shift after the dust settles, in all entertainment media except maybe live shows.  This is a rare time when people with talent and tech skills can get in there, do what they do and get it out there.  So I certainly see releasing a novel independently as an e-book or vook, but I also like the network of distribution and major reviews a major publisher can command, so I wouldn’t cut that option off entirely, either.

I’ll keep writing novels and sending them to my agent, trying to get others to publish them and pay me, but I also intend to explore new media options.  I’ve worked in TV for years and can shoot and edit, and while I’ve lost interest in most broadcast media in the age of “reality” bull and complex competition game shows that pit contestants in assorted fields against each other until one’s left standing, I find myself more attracted to the possibilities of digital media and what you can do at home.  So as I continue telling stories, I think how I tell them will expand beyond printed fiction, and I’d rather control my own content by airing shorts on a website and soliciting others’ work than try to get a series on TV.

LRG: If you fell asleep Rip Van Winkle style, and woke up in the distant future where no one knew what a book was, what 3 pieces of literature would you want to have in your knapsack to show the people what they’ve been missing?

TT: Sounds very Eloi, a planet of the blond, beautiful and dumb with libraries of crumbling books and spinning talking disks.  Hm.  George Orwell’s 1984, one of my favorites, because it addresses the reader directly right up front, pulls you in, and encompasses a full range of human emotions, good and bad.  The same applies to Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, which changed my life when I read it at 26, the age of the protagonist, and got it like a mind bullet from his brain to mine.  And a copy of something magical and optimistic — The Wizard of Oz, or Alice in Wonderland…you’d have to balance the Orwell and Ellison.

Terence, wow, what a great interview. Thanks so much for stopping by. And that epic fantasy you plan to write when you’ve finished The Vampire Testament…can’t wait, man. Hell, can I volunteer to be a beta-reader? (Yeah, I put you on the spot in public…LOL!!)

To all you readers out there, remember to check out BITE MARKS and BLOOD PRESSURE. Terence’s vampires DO NOT SPARKLE, and that’s how it should be.

Later, gang. 😉

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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