Zombies, apocalypse, and love stories
An interview with prolific author EE Isherwood
In my travels through the world of writing, writers, and the publishing business (mostly in the world of social media but also writer conferences and course instruction), I’ve come across so many different types of authors—different genres, personalities, writing styles, and levels of success. I’ve met several authors (including some editing clients) who can write a book every month or two. As someone who can take a year to five years, or longer, to write a novel, this fascinates me as it is so different from anything I’m personally familiar with. My brain has a hard time even comprehending this approach as it’s not how I operate. But these writers are often the most successful I’ve encountered among independently published authors.
Today’s interview is with Brian King. Under the pen name EE Isherwood, Brian has published more than forty novels in eight years.
If you’re struggling to sit down and write that novel, take some inspiration from this gentleman.
INTRODUCTION: Tell us a little bit about yourself.
BRIAN: I write post-apocalyptic disaster books under the pen name EE Isherwood. I grew up in St. Louis, went to school at Mizzou where I snagged degrees in history and geography, then I stayed and got a master’s degree in geography. I used none of those educational skills as I went directly into IT, where I worked for about twenty years. I then parlayed my technical IT background to begin writing science fiction books in 2014, published on Amazon for the first time in 2015, and I’ve been doing it full-time ever since.
Nothing about my career path has been planned, and it took a long time to find what I wanted, but storytelling has been an undercurrent of my life since I played Dungeons and Dragons as a kid. It took until my forties to figure out I could make money doing what I love, and now I’ve got forty-plus books to my name, with many more planned.
When did you first think to yourself, “I want to be a writer”?
BRIAN: I was sitting at my grandmother’s wake in 2014, who passed at 104 years of age, and I thought it might be nice to write a story with a character like her as a tribute. My first short story was about an elderly woman who has to fight off her caretaker, who had become a zombie. That short story then became chapter one of my first book, and that book became the first of an eight-book zombie saga set in and around my hometown of St. Louis.
What drew you to post-apocalyptic fiction? What writers and books were your greatest influences?
BRIAN: The author most responsible for my interest in self-publishing was Mark Tufo, who is a mainstay in the zombie genre. I read his books back in the early 2000s, and the thing that most stood out for me was that he often mentioned he wasn’t a professional writer. He was an HR guy who wrote books for fun to relieve the stresses of his day. That can-do spirit helped me jump from IT to self-publishing.
Tell us about your journey to your first book being published? How long did it take you to write it? What avenues did you pursue to publication?
BRIAN: I wrote my first book in a month, for National Novel Writing Month back in 2014. I sat on it for about a year while I wrote two follow-on books. At the time, I had a full-time job, was doing okay financially, and had no intention of publishing my stories. However, in 2015, I got let go from my place of employment. I began to edit my books, with the intention of ‘seeing if I could make a few bucks from them.’ Being unemployed is a fantastic motivator.
I self-published because the idea of being in total control of every inch of the process appealed to me. Amazon controlled almost the entire book market, so I went exclusively with them.
Tell us about your most recent book, Neighborhood Watch 4.
BRIAN: Neighborhood Watch: After the EMP is my latest series. The main character is a fifty-something guy who retires from his trucking business, moves to a quiet Florida community near Fort Myers, then gets smacked in the face when an electromagnetic pulse destroys the power grid. He discovers that his neighbors on the quiet cul-de-sac are not prepared for an apocalyptic disaster, and it falls on him to keep them all alive.
Frank has survived through three books by fighting against desperate people, scavenging dwindling food supplies, and trying to not let a group of unruly teenagers drive him nuts, but the fourth book brings a giant storm from the Gulf of Mexico, pitting him and his friends against Mother Nature.
This book was of particular interest to me, because I was writing scenes involving a storm surge at the same time Hurricane Ian was coming ashore. And, in one of those weird writer coincidences, the eye of that storm tracked almost exactly above the fictional location where my story takes place.
What’s your favorite part of the writing process?
BRIAN: My favorite part is what I call the “Chrome Process.” Like any good sports car, you have to polish the shiny parts to make it look good. In my books, after I’m done writing the chapters and I’ve done a first pass through the entire book, I’ll go back in and weave story elements into the narrative, to give the story some depth. One common usage for chrome is when I need to tie an event at the back of the book to something that happened in the opening, so it forces the reader to think back to an event I want them to remember. For instance, a red bow that a girl was wearing in chapter one is now blowing down the road in the last chapter, and the character thinks back to a better time.
As I build a series of books, my chrome will touch on earlier books, not only earlier chapters.
BRIAN: If the writing process is everything from an outline to selling the book, then my least favorite part is selling the book. As a self-published author, you have little to no control over your income for the upcoming months, and this can lead to a lot of stress. There are a billion things that most self-published authors can’t do well, and for me that includes advertising, social media, international translations, audiobooks, and so on. I have partners who do my audiobooks, but it isn’t easy, or cheap, to find similar deals with translations, for instance, or film/TV options, so it is difficult to cover the entire market like one of the big publishing houses.
Do you think of a character first then learn the story? Or do you dream up a story or plot first then develop your lead character?
BRIAN: My number one rule about characters is “Do I think anyone wants to read about this person?” For me, writing is a very commercial endeavor. Yes, I love doing it, but it has to pay the bills for me, too, so while I might personally enjoy writing about an ASCII programmer who only communicates by drawing pictograms, is addicted to Ski soda, and her life’s dream is to be the best hot air balloon pilot in the world, there would be zero interest from most readers since no one could relate. Therefore, I think of a genre trope first (e.g., an EMP in a post-apocalyptic setting) and then think up a character second.
I usually take a few days to do my outlines, plot, story, what have you, and there is no complexity to it. First, I say something like “I want to write a book about an EMP disaster. I think people would enjoy reading about a guy who worked in a blue-collar job, just retired, but now has to deal with the headache of the whole world collapsing around him and clueless neighbors who knock on his door asking for help.” Everyone can relate to clueless neighbors, or the idea of retiring from their job and having a nice, relaxing retirement, so pulling the rug out from a character in those circumstances has almost universal appeal.
Do you start with a theme, or a message or point-of-view you want to get across in your writing?
BRIAN: If my books have themes or messages, it’s purely by accident. I’ve discovered that if you tell a compelling story about relationships between people, themes will naturally develop. When a reader finishes a six-book series and says, “That was an awesome love story,” I sometimes have to scratch my head and reply, “Thanks, but what did you think about the dark-matter teleporting supercollider destroying all of time and space?”
You mentioned that you outline your stories. What’s that process like for you?
BRIAN: My writing outline is a lot like the titles of Friends episodes. Chapter 1 might be titled “The one where Frank goes to the beach.” Chapter 2 might be, “The one where Frank meets a bad guy for the first time.” Then, under each chapter heading, I write four or five main points and each of those points will be 500-800 words of story when it gets written.
After doing a whole outline, and I know where the story needs to go, I might write some chapters and get to a point where X needs to happen for me to get to the next chapter in my lineup. If Chapter 1 is Frank at the beach, I might realize I need a new Chapter 2 called “The one where Frank keeps sand out his shoes,” so the trajectory of the story pushes him to Chapter 3 where he meets a bad guy who dumps tons of sand in his shoes, leading to conflict. Some people figure this out with elaborate outlining, taking months of thought, but I prefer the grab ’n’ go method where I simply start typing and solve plot problems in real-time.
What’s your next project? Do you have a work-in-progress?
BRIAN: I just released Book 4 of Neighborhood Watch on November 14, and I’m planning to release book 5 before the end of the year. If the series continues to sell, I’ll write at least a few more in 2023. I’m trying to up my game by getting more serious about writing, and I want to push for at least ten books next year.
Any advice or tips to aspiring or up-and-coming authors?
BRIAN: From a pure writing perspective, my best advice is to tell new authors to write more books. Get experience world-building, plotting, and understanding your genre. Embrace the fact your first book is going to suck, then write three more. It’s been said that you need to write a million words before you know what you don’t know about writing books. I’ve written forty books, maybe three million words, and I feel like I’m only now starting to get good at it.
Another writing tip is to make sure you’re writing about interesting people with relatable problems. I think about it like this: Go to your friend’s house and pull out their photo album of a trip they took when they were ten. Pick a random picture of a tree, a mountain, or a river and ask them to tell you about it. Yep, blank face. Now, ask them about that picture with them smiling while holding an upside-down ice cream cone over Mom’s perfect hairdo while she looks at boring scenery at the overlook. Odds are, this will elicit a huge, happy story. Readers look for that same experience in a book, no matter the genre.
A third tip, and a huge one, is always listen to your book in text-to-speech before sending it to an editor. You will find so many dialogue errors, unnatural ways of speaking, and almost every typo by doing this.
Last, the biggest business piece of advice I can give to a new author is to pay a professional to do your covers. Dollar for dollar, this has probably made me the most money, and I seldom spend more than three hundred bucks on one.
What is one new thing you are doing this year to try to help sell books?
BRIAN: I mentioned I’m not very adept at social media, but I’ve been trying to branch into some new areas online. One of those is my Patreon page, EE Isherwood, where fans contribute a monthly fee to be able to join “the back room” of my writing process. For me, I give them access to my first drafts of chapters from my next book, and I also give away signed print copies, postcards, and I release my books to them a bit earlier than it goes out on Amazon. Anything to give them perks for supporting me.
It is too early to tell if this will be successful over the long term, but it feels nice to branch into new audiences.
How can readers find your books?
BRIAN: All of my books can be found through links on my website.
Neighborhood Watch 4: After the EMP
The tempest of the EMP is here... but another storm is brewing.
Frank has been able to guide his neighborhood watch along a narrow path between order and chaos, but most of his problems have been caused by people. Now, as the clouds darken over the Gulf of Mexico, Mother Nature is going to take a crack at him.
The arrival of the storm has only one benefit; Frank can travel the empty roads and get things done.
Using his newest off-road vehicle, a Mercedes Unimog 416, he probes North Pointe to find some missing allies. He also discovers new enemies in a troubled trailer park.
But the biggest enemy of all remains time. There aren't enough hours to organize new people, expand his territory, and set up proper defenses. This gives opportunity to a small group of militia-types, who aren't big on the old laws.
Is a hurricane coming? There are no weather reports, TV coverage, or app notifications, so who can say for sure?
As the clock ticks down, and the massive storm comes in, all Frank's preparations are good for almost zilch against the new threat...
This time, the ocean itself will test his community.
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