I’m delighted to welcome British author J. S. Strange (otherwise known as Jack) for a return visit to my blog. Jack writes zombie apocalypse novels featuring a feisty young woman called Winter Smith. You can read my review of his first novel, Winter Smith: London’s Burning, which he self-published in 2015, as well as an excerpt from when Jack featured as my guest storyteller last year.
He’s due to to publish the second book in the series, Winter Smith: The Secrets of France, on August 17. Meanwhile, there’s a Goodreads Giveaway to enter for a chance to win a copy of the first book.
Jack, what age did you start writing stories/novels?
I started writing from a young age. I was always writing stories, whether it be brand new ones usually involving all of my cats, or stories adapting existing films and plots. I used to love sitting there drawing and writing, because I found it so much fun. When I was about sixteen, I started writing one book, and I finished it. I wrote it by hand. But then at seventeen I started writing the Winter Smith series.
Have you ever scared yourself with your vivid imagination?
Sometimes I’ve managed to spook myself out with my own thoughts. I’ve grown up on horror, so I’m always picturing horror scenes. It’s easy to imagine something going wrong, and there’s been a few cases where I’ve freaked myself out by convincing myself there is someone in the house with me, or I’ve heard a ghost.
What inspired you to write a zombie apocalypse novel?
It was the first thing I thought I could really tackle and enjoy doing. I’ve watched a lot of zombie films, and always loved them, and I find zombies really thrilling. I’ve heard people say they’re cliché, and it’s a shame to see people rule out zombie novels and films as just another zombie story. I get what they mean. A lot of the books I read never explained where the dead came from, whilst others were just blood and gore and nothing else. I also found that a lot of characters in these zombie books and films weren’t very interesting, and didn’t seem to have anything to them. So I thought, because there’s a whole world of zombies already there, I can have something to base my stories off, but I want to change it as much as possible. I want a zombie novel that has the zombies we recognise, but I wanted characters with personality and depth. I wanted more problems and flaws to these characters than just surviving and avoiding being bitten. I wanted to explain where the dead came from and why. In London’s Burning, I kept a lot of original zombie elements, because I think you need that. You need people to have something to latch onto and recognise. But in The Secrets of France, my next book, I’ve explained where the zombie virus came from, and I’ve also introduced a new breed of zombie.
Why did you choose to have a female as your main character in Winter Smith: London’s Burning and Winter Smith: The Secrets of France and how easy did you find it to write from her point of view?
I’ve always found females empowering, interesting and easy to get along with. I grew up with a lot of female leads, and I love nothing more than a kick ass female doing her thing. I grew up with Lara Croft, and I always found her appealing, because I loved the adventure and I love that it was led by her. She had so much depth and a great backstory. I also really love female led bands and pop stars, because they always seem to have an edge, and it’s great to see them doing their thing. So I just decided that in the process to change the zombie genre, I wanted it female led, as most of the ones I’ve seen or read or heard about are dominated by a muscly man, normally with a fighting background, fighting his way through the dead. I wanted a female character who was young, fresh and flawed, but could handle herself well. Saying that though, I never really went out intending to have a female lead for the sake of a female lead. Winter Smith came to me before the idea, so it was natural to include her as the main protagonist. I didn’t find it too hard to write from her point of view. Most of my friends are female, so I based some traits on some of them, very loosely. I hate stereotypes, and know humans are very complex, so I just tried to avoid making her too ‘girly’, and I tried to forget I was a young man writing as a seventeen year old female. I did read recently, however, that many male authors are now writing under female pen names, especially when writing female leads. Maybe I should have done that with the Winter Smith series. Who knows what would have happened?
Who is your favourite character in the novel and why?
I think my favourite character is Violet Black. She’s quite a flawed young girl, but she’s ballsy and has a lot to say, and knows how to stick up for herself. I love writing her, and I love making her witty and trying to make the reader laugh. I think you either love Violet or you hate her.
What’s your rationale behind choosing Gay and Lesbian Fiction as one of your two book categories for Kindle Direct Publishing, when there are no gay relationships in book one?
There are very subtle hints at sexuality in London’s Burning. I’m a gay author, and it took me a while to discover who I was and who I liked. When I was sixteen/seventeen, I mostly knew I liked guys, but there would be days where I would feel conflicted, and thought I liked girls, too. So writing sixteen/seventeen year olds, I had that in mind. So Winter Smith is trying to work out who she likes and who she is. I plan to explore the LGBT themes a bit more in books two and onwards. They’re not key parts of the story, at least not yet, but they’re there. I also chose the gay and lesbian genre because I’m a gay author, so I thought it might be good to try and fit in that category, in case people are looking for works written by authors in the LGBT community. I also thought that maybe, amongst all the erotica and romance novels, a zombie novel would stick out as well.
Do you intend to stick with this genre after you’ve finished the Winter Smith series?
I plan to write another two or three Winter Smith novels. There will definitely be a third, and more than likely a fourth, but I think the fourth might be the last one. I don’t plan to stick with the zombie genre. I think I need a break from that. As I mentioned earlier, people tend to write off the zombie genre as nothing new. But whenever I have tried to write something fun, it always has dark twists to it. I think I’d like to move into thriller writing, and I probably will stick to the horror genre, too, as that’s my favourite genre, and most of my ideas have horror to them. But I’d like to write some young adult novels, as well as possibly an erotic novel in the future. I want to try everything last least once. I need to find what works for me. Right now, horror and thriller seems to be the right thing for me. We’ll see!
How do you organise your writing time?
I don’t! I struggle. I need a place in the quiet to write, where I can’t be disturbed. But when you live in a house with TV’s playing programmes and hoovers going off, and people asking me questions, I find it really hard. I tend to write whenever I can. Sometimes it’ll be a chapter, other times it’ll be a page, then I’ll manage to find ten minutes. Sometimes, if I’m really lucky, I can write from morning until afternoon, but that’s very rare! I’m hoping it improves when I figure my life out and get my own space!
Are you a plotter or a pantser?
A bit of both! I had the whole plot written out for London’s Burning, but with The Secrets of France, I kept writing until every kink was ironed out and I knew where I was going, and how to get from book two to book three. With other works, I have the plot loosely planned out, remember the key points, and just write.
Why did you decide to self publish rather than publish traditionally?
I tried! Believe me, I tried. I submitted Winter to literally every publisher I could find. I still submit it now. Every rejection letter I got through was disheartening, mixed with happiness that I’d even had a reply. I know this is my first work, I’m young, and hopefully there’s plenty of opportunity for work to be published in the future. I think I knew I wanted to get Winter Smith out there, and I wanted people to read the story, so I self published. I’m quite good at marketing, to a certain extent, and I enjoy promoting myself and my work, so I wasn’t too worried about self publishing. I do think, though, that Winter Smith will be the only books I self publish. I hope that my next work over the next few years will get picked up. But maybe four or five years down the line, I’ll find nobody wants me, and I’ll be back at the self publishing game.
What interests do you have apart from writing?
I run a videography and website design company, as my background is in television programme editing. I enjoy film making, and I hope one day to write a short film, feature film or a television series. As I grow up, though, I realise that a lot of this work is very much about who you know, and coming from a small town, I know nobody, so whether or not that happens is another question. I also run a clothing company, because I like being creative and being able to design something.
Where do you see yourself in ten years from now?
Hopefully with my own successful business that I can live off, and earn decent money from. As well as that, I hope to be traditionally published. It’s one thing I think about daily, and wish to happen.