An interview with Peter Clines
I’ve been given the chance to once again interview author Peter Clines about his newest book -14- that just hit stores and e-stores a few weeks ago. After reading and reviewing -14- and realizing this book was by far one of my favorite summer reads this year I reached out to Peter and he agreed to do this interview. I hope you folks enjoy and go pick up a few of his amazing books.
Your newest book is simply titled -14- . Can you explain it a bit for some of those who haven’t read the synopsis of the book yet?
14 is about a guy named Nate who moves into an old apartment building and notices a few odd things about his new home. Nothing major or earth-shattering, just a couple odd things that are easy to brush off. One of them is an apartment on the second floor that has several padlocks on the door—apartment #14. But as he gets to know his neighbors, he starts to realize that almost every room in the building has something odd about it. And well… anything past that would be giving things away.
It’s been a tough sell at times because it is so mystery-heavy, and anything you get told takes away from that bit of dramatic impact in the story. I was up at Crypticon in Seattle over Memorial Day weekend with a few advance copies, and the way I sold it to people there was “How would you explain LOST to someone without giving anything away?” And they’d usually grin and say “People crash on an island and stuff happens.” So that’s how I’m explaining 14 (and hoping most other people explain it for as long as possible). This guy, Nate, moves into an old apartment building and stuff happens.
What was your inspiration for writing -14-?
A couple things. It was one of those lucky moments where a bunch of ideas were in my head and they all happened to fall together to make a story.
A good chunk of it was the building I first lived in when I moved to Los Angeles. It was really old and brick and had paint that would peel off the walls in big sheets. It also struck me how odd it was that I didn’t know any of my neighbors, even after I’d lived there for almost a year. Which is really odd when you think of, say, a college dorm. It’s the exact same living arrangement but you know everyone, you hang out together, and sometimes crash in each others’ rooms (for various reasons). It got me wondering why things were so different in an apartment building. The tenants eventually bonded over the big Griffith Park fire in 2007, the one that threatened the Observatory. A bunch of us ended up on the roof, just watching the fires and drinking all night. And we all started talking and got to know each other. And suddenly we were this little community with shared interests and hobbies and we were trading DVDs and sharing meals.
True story—it turned out one of my downstairs neighbors, Hunter, was one of the founding members of the sci-fi band Gwar. He was Techno-Destructor. I got to wear his claw once. We hung out a couple of times and played games. He’s very cool, and his kid’s a big superhero fan.
Anyway, when I moved out, my girlfriend and I joked about leaving a note for the next person who moved in to find. And that got me thinking about the kind of things you could find that other tenantsleft behind. Maybe deliberate or accidental. I mean, who really knows what happened in their apartment before they moved in?
And part of it was Nate. I’ve seen lots of characters in lots of books who have great jobs and careers, or who live on the fringes or even are total anarchists. When the plot of their given book gets going, they can take long vacations or tell their secretary they’re out for the day or do whatever. But it seems rare to have a character who’s just trapped in a job and can’t do something else, no matter how common it is in real life. They don’t make enough money to really live, but they also can’t afford to quit. I’ve been there, and I think a lot of other people have, too, so it struck me as an interesting type of character that people would be able to relate to.
-14- was a definitely different book in all the best ways, any chance for a sequel to it or is this a stand alone project?
For the moment it’s just a stand-alone thing, although I have had a few random ideas for “what happens next.” Maybe somewhere down the line I’ll have some big interlocking universe like Stephen King and we’ll see some of these characters again. For now I think we can let them rest, though. Seriously, they deserve some time off.
With you having written five different books, what has been your best experience with them and, which book is your personal favorite?
Probably one of the best experiences was The Junkie Quatrain, the interlocking short stories/ novella I did for Audible.com last year. It was a short deadline at a time when my girlfriend and I were tight, financially speaking. So I threw myself into it and I kept thinking about Robert Louis Stevenson writing Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde to pay the rent, or old stories from Ray Bradbury about writing stories for grocery money. It was a bit stressful, but it also made me feel really close to all the giants that started out the same way. Not that I’m a giant. I get some joy just from being in that same low position they once were.
Past that, it’s really tough to pick a favorite. There are things I’m exceptionally proud of in each book. There’s things in each book where I look back and sigh and kick myself for not realizing I should’ve done this instead of that. I would have to say my favorite book is “the next one,” because I’m still amazed that I get to keep doing this.
We all have favorite authors, my list isn’t a short one but you are definitely on it sir, so who are your favorite authors?
There’s so many. Ray Bradbury’s been one of my favorites since I was very young. He was just amazing. I wrote him a fan letter in college and was thrilled when he wrote back. I still have the letter, and living in LA I had a few chances to hear him talk. It was really sad for me to have 14 come out the day after he died, and I felt very cheap doing any sort of promotion for it at all.
As a native Mainer and someone who gets lumped into horror, I have to love Stephen King. People can bitch all they like, but he is the 20th century’s Charles Dickens (and possibly the 21st century’s, too). Craig di Louie is another Permuted Press author whose stuff I love so much I have to say I hate him (not really, but it keeps me from gushing all over him). Lee Child’s books are fantastic. Neil Gaiman is brilliant. More people should know about Dan Abnett (I met him a few years back at the San Diego Comic-Con and his table was deserted. I just got to stand there and talk with him for fifteen minutes—he autographed a copy of Ravenor for me). Mira Grant a.k.a. Seanan McGuire. Iain McKinnon. Eloise J. Knapp. I also love the classics—Edgar Rice Burroughs, Harper Lee, Steinbeck, Dumas, Hawthorne (we all hated his stuff in school, but Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote some very, very creepy stories when you look back at them). And there’s great young adult authors (some before there was such a thing as “young adult”) like Lloyd Alexander and Alexander Key and…
Like I said, too many.
At this juncture in your career what has been your biggest challenge as a writer?
Only one? Hmmmm…
I don’t know. It shifts from day to day. Sometimes I put a ton of work into the Facebook fan page, interviews, or other promotional-type stuff. There are days I spend hours doing damage control of one type or another. I don’t think there’s any one thing that’s more challenging than anything else.
Silly as it sounds, the biggest challenge is probably getting outside and talking to people. I’ve got a home office, so I work here, eat here, sleep here… On a regular day I usually see my girlfriend and my cats and that’s about it. But you need to get out and see people and talk to people. That’s the interaction that helps you get a sense of how people talk and react. I’m very lucky to have a lot of friends who I can just go out for coffee with or spend a day playing with little toy soldiers or watching bad SyFy movies.
With your books being popular, and in my opinion easily transferred to a screenplay, have there been any Hollywood types looking at your work that you can speak of?
That I can speak of… no, probably not yet. Not saying there hasn’t been interest, but I think I need to wait on some things before any loud announcements are made.
But even then, that doesn’t mean a movie is a sure thing. There’s no point in cheering or getting excited. It’s fantastic having interested parties who honestly love my stuff, but the nature of film is that you need to hit this sort of critical mass of interest, if that makes sense. Studio heads, producers, actors… a lot of people have to be interested. Unless the one guy who likes your book is Steven Spielberg, JJ Abrams, or James Cameron, it’s still an uphill battle.
For anything you want to see made into a movie, the best thing is for people to be talking about it. Lots of people. If a million people went into work tomorrow talking about how cool 14 is, there’d be a movie in the works by the end of the month. Until then… I’m just very glad some cool people are interested in making things happen.
What is your advice for getting over writers block?
I know this sounds kind of silly but my advice is just keep writing. I think in most cases writer’s block is just fear. It’s this paralyzing worry that the words I put down are going to be wrong or inferior in some way, and then my whole story will be tainted somehow and never live up to the version in my head and –wham—there goes my Nobel Prize for Literature. Odds are those first words will be wrong and inferior, but that’s not the end of it. That’s why we edit and do multiple drafts. Words gets rewritten and edited and sometimes completely cut out of the story. It doesn’t have to be perfect on the first draft, just on the last one.
So if you’re stuck with writer’s block, just start writing. Write anything. Catch up on email, review some books on Amazon or Barnes & Noble. Write up lists of favorite birthday presents you’ve received, beloved pets, favorite television shows, characters, people you’ve slept with, people you wish you’d slept with. Just write. It’s like any sort of exercise, and the longer you go without doing it the harder it is to get going again. So just write and don’t worry about being wordy, because this is all early-draft type stuff that no one’s ever going to see. And eventually you’ll be free enough to steer your writing back to your book or screenplay or short story.
I’ve got a little ranty blog where I talk about writing stuff at least once a week. Not agents or publishing or anything like that. It’s just tips and suggestions and observations about writing and storytelling, culled from my many, many years of screwing things up and doing it all the hard way. I’m also thinking about putting out a Kindle book later this year kind of assembled from/inspired by the blog. The working title is currently The Ed Wood Guide to Storytelling. Just because.
Well there you have it folks, I hope you pick up Peter Clines newest book -14- and also I hope you enjoyed the interview! Until next time keep reading those books and stay tuned for more interviews and news!