This interview is with Jaron Lee Knuth, the indie author of After Life, Demigod, and Fixing Sam. There are your usual questions about his zombie book (After Life), but Jaron also shared some thought-provoking ideas on self-publishing. Enjoy!
Zomblog: Your zombies came off as viral, but I felt like they occasionally hit a supernatural note. If you had to define your undead, how would they be classified? (Infection/viral, supernatural, totally unexplained, etc).
Jaron: In the long run, I suppose I’d have to choose the “totally unexplained” classification. Only one real theory is entertained in the book, but it’s offered by a high school science teacher, and her theory has some pretty large holes in it. I made a conscious decision when I started the story to never fully reveal the cause of the rising dead. I made that decision because I wanted to focus on something other than the science fiction of animated corpses. I didn’t want my characters to be obsessed with finding that answer. They have deeper issues they need to deal with.
I really wanted to write a very traditional zombie story. I wanted to keep it simple. While I love some of the more unique twists on the genre — and zombies themselves — I really wanted to tell a story that could encapsulate what I have always loved about these stories: Everyday people in a world without the comforts we’ve all grown accustomed to, trying to survive against a seemingly endless enemy. I didn’t want to stray from that just for the sake of being “unique,” but — without spoilers — I do hope I offered something people haven’t seen before when it comes to the dead.
Zomblog: Alex and Morgan are super geeky; definitely not your average zombie novel heroes. I got the vibe that you were writing for a certain demographic…like the gamer/anime-loving/otaku types out there. Am I totally off track here, or are your nerdy references and main characters intentional?
Jaron: It was very intentional. Since After Life was my first novel, I wanted to write from a place that I understood. A lot of Alex’s issues with his own geek traits are thoughts and emotions that I have battled with personally. The story at one point was going to be aimed at a younger audience. I even considered writing for the young adult market, but I quickly realized the issues I wanted to deal with were a bit more mature than that genre could afford me. It might be impossible to truly foresee what kind of reaction a particular audience might have, but I assumed the demographic you’re describing would be a fantastic target market for a zombie book. If I love zombies, then it’s a safe bet other geeks are going to love zombies.
Zomblog: Are any of your characters based on people you know, or are they totally fabricated?
Jaron: The relationship of Alex and Morgan came from a very deep, personal experience, which allowed me to write from a very emotional place, but both characters are different than anyone in my life. Real people are complex, and act against their “defined” characteristics all the time, but this isn’t something that’s accepted kindly in the world of fiction. I think a key to writing something real, and that I’m close to, without just writing some sort of non-fiction literature, is to take traits of people I know and accentuate them to a degree that I can explore them even deeper. The trick is to accentuate the traits without turning them into a simple caricature.
Zomblog: Now for a total change of pace…the dead have risen and walk the earth! What is your zombie apocalypse plan?
Jaron: Go somewhere extremely humid. I’ve heard theories about traveling north, because the cold would freeze the zombies, but after researching the effect of weather on corpses for the book, I realized that corpses last a lot longer in the cold. Louisiana could kill off the zombie population just by waiting for the summer.
Zomblog: Let’s move onto self-publishing. What has your experience with self-publishing been like? Did you handle setting the book up yourself, or did you have any help?
Jaron: I did all the set-up myself, as far as designing the cover, layout, etc. Thankfully, those are areas I’ve always been interested in, so I had some experience with it even before starting this novel.
Self-publishing has been nothing but amazing. Being an indie author is something I wear like a badge of honor. I encourage any writers I talk with to look into self-publishing, because there really is no drawback, especially for an up-and-coming writer. It’s a good venue even for those that eventually want the attention of a big publisher. While many publishing houses aren’t willing to risk any kind of money on someone unproven as a writer, self-publishing makes it much easier to prove your book has an audience. It even proved it to me! Which helped motivate my next books.
Zomblog: The grammar, phrasing, and other more technical aspects of your book were much better than many indie books I’ve read before. Did you work with an editor or have anyone proofread?
Jaron: If nothing else, that is probably the greatest compliment I could receive. Grammar, spelling, and punctuation errors are one of the things that ruins self-publishing for many readers. They’ve grown distrusting of these books, as they lack the polish they can trust from a publishing house. After Life is currently on its ninth edition, and I’d be lying if I didn’t say the first edition was so full of errors it’s embarrassing. Thankfully, my fans have had no qualms pointing out every mistake to me. Even after the help of an editor, my readers have been the greatest source of finding errors that I have had.
Zomblog: Are you satisfied with your success as a self-published author?
Jaron: Yes and no. It still shocks me the number of books I sell each month, and just knowing that many people have even glanced at my words is humbling and thrilling at the same time. Do I want more readers? Of course. I hope those numbers never stop growing, only because that means even more people are hearing my stories and meeting my characters.
Zomblog: I read some of your reviews on Amazon and had to ask…how did you feel when you got the 1 star review by Bradford in January? Can you see his point of view or did you find it absurd?
Jaron: I love hearing from readers, good or bad. That particular review was interesting. I try to take away whatever I can from reviewers, especially ones with constructive criticism. Unfortunately, that particular reviewer seemed to have an issues with the main character, and his issues were more based on opinion than something inherently wrong with the story. No one character will connect with everyone. He was looking for someone tough as nails, that could cut through zombies like a hot knife through butter, but that isn’t the story I wanted to tell. My characters are weakened by society, with faults that glow brighter than their strengths, because that’s what interests me. I would hope that my novel’s synopsis would show someone looking for a John Wayne character that my book isn’t what they’re searching for. I would never try to please everyone. The silver lining is, the reviewer referenced the end of the story, so he was at least entertained enough to finish the book.
Zomblog: What advice do you have to indie authors out there?
Jaron: Write the book you want to read. There is someone else who wants to read that book, too.
Zomblog: What other novels have you written?
Jaron: My second novel was entitled: Fixing Sam. It was a break from the genre writing I’m used to, and an attempt to tell a story about depression and the entertainment industry, without giving it a Hollywood ending.
My second novel was entitled: Demigod, which just came out last December. It’s more of a return to genre stories, and is perhaps the most ambitious story I’ve written yet. It follows the life of a modern man who develops such powerful mental abilities that he starts to rival a god.
Zomblog: Last question…Anything in the works currently?
Jaron: There’s always something “in the works” or I go a bit crazy. Unfortunately, nothing I can talk about yet, though.