Author Interview: Trevor Zaple

DISAPPEARANCE is the type of book that will stay with us for some time. There’s a hard and fast rule for self-pubbs that Zaple clearly abided: when you think you’re finished editing, edit again. And then again and again. Zaple’s fluidity suggests serious self awareness and respect for his readership, and for that we thank and admire him. Here we get an idea of how he managed it.

DLB: How long have you been writing?

TZ: In a solid, organized way, I’d say since I was thirteen. Of course at that point it was all fan fiction – based around the Elder Scrolls mythos and Richard Garriot’s Ultima series – and was universally concerned with characters doing things in the dead of night. Thankfully this was pre-internet and it’s all since been lost. My first actual short story was written when I was seventeen and it was terrible, something about a school shooting since it was 1999 and all. Adolescence, not even once.

DLB: What is your day job?

TZ: I sell computers and computer accessories. Like most of my generation, I have an undergraduate degree and a history of working in the service sector.

DLB: How many books have you completed?

TZ: I have completed three novels, the second of which I am publishing on Halloween. It’s post-apocalypse but it’s the wrong kind of post-apocalypse for the current market, so I’m just putting it out myself. The third book is much different, contemporary fiction, and deals with my take on what the afterlife is actually like. I also have enough shorter pieces to eventually put out a collection.

DLB: What is your writing process? Do you begin with an outline? How well do you know your characters?

TZ: Well everything starts with a still image, or maybe a six-second video, Vine style. I get a picture in my head and sometimes it will crowd everything else out. Other pictures will appear and these will function as guideposts – eventually I have enough of these pictures that writing the book is just connecting each of these particular scenes together. The genesis of Disappearance, for example, is a group of kids coming out into the snow-choked streets of a mostly-abandoned Toronto and filming everything with camcorders (which I suppose should tell you how long I had the idea for). Normally what I do after I get these pictures in order is jot out a one or two page outline of where I think the plot will go. This outline bears little resemblance to the final product. Disappearance was originally supposed to be a sexed-up Lord of the Flies, where only people over 21 vanished. After a while I realized that there were a lot of problems inherent in the plans there and scrapped it in favour of a second outline. A few of the elements were recycled: mostly the idea of the hospital birth, the subway, and the last paragraph of the book.

As for the characters, bear with me here for a moment. When I first start writing, I don’t know much about them. They’re mysterious outlines whose personalities get filled in by their actions and dialogue as the story goes. I get to know them as I write them, and at some point during the story I realize that they’ve become actual people. Just like actual people, they have motivations and feelings, good points and bad. A common complaint I get from readers is that they “didn’t like” particular characters – not that they thought they were bad characters, exactly, but that they weren’t “likeable”. I think that this is an actual problem in modern literature, that we’re being conditioned to think that the protagonists in a book are supposed to be our best friends, that they’re only supposed to have good qualities and we should want to invite them into our homes and curl up and share secrets with them. I need to read – and by extension, write – about real people. Real people are not all good or all bad – none of them. We’re all shades of grey and we’re tempered by a million different factors in our lives. Olivia is my favourite example of this. People have told me that she’s “hysterical” and “a shrew”. Well, she’s emotionally hurt, confused about her relationship with her ex-boyfriend, scared by the situation she’s found herself in, and she’s several months pregnant. Let’s see you maintain a consistently happy frame of mind in the face of all of that.

DLB: What was your inspiration for the book?

TZ: The real kernel of inspiration came from my first year living in Toronto. It’s a beautiful city made up of a quilted patchwork of neighbourhoods, but it’s quite expensive. The service sector doesn’t pay a living wage now and it paid even less back then, so I ended up feeling rather alienated from it even as I was walking through it. I started imagining it as an empty shell, a city of dead-eyed buildings with darkened facades in which anything at all could be lurking. One of the few things my wife and I could afford to do was go to this record shop – She Said Boom, on Roncesvalles – and browse for cheap vinyl records. One of our finds was a copy of the Rolling Stones’ December’s Children (And Everybody’s), and these two factors, the feeling of alienation and the title of the album, were where everything started.

DLB: What sort of research did you do?

TZ: What sort of research can you do for such an unlikely apocalyptic event? That being said, Google is always there if you need to figure out how to steal a car, or look up suitably dark Biblical passages, or walk your way through parts of the city you’ve only really ever stumbled through.

DLB: Is there really a Disappearance?

TZ: Lord I hope not, 95% chance of disappearing is not good odds.

DLB: Any advice for other indie pubs?

TZ: Perseverance is the key. A prolific work ethic wins the day. The best advertisement for a book is another book, and giving away those books to people isn’t a loss of income. Michael Coorlim – a particularly successful self-published author – recently said that the thing to keep in mind is not that you’re selling books, but that you’re selling a brand. You want to cultivate a fan base, who will go and buy all of your books. To do this, write a lot, be active and memorable on the internet (especially social media), and keep an email list going. I’m actually terrible at this last one, but I’m trying to get better at it, because it’s vitally important to the success of indie authors. Talk about your book, but don’t over-talk about it – no one likes to be spammed to. Lastly, learn Twitter, and learn the hashtags that get used by indie authors. Get to know the culture, and it can be quite rewarding.

DLB: What is your dream writing space?

TZ: Well, in actuality I already have it. In the summer I get set up at a table on a deck overlooking a ravine that holds one of the last stretches of Carolinian forest in Canada. Otherwise I’m writing on my laptop, which is perched on my lap as I sit on the couch. There’s nowhere else I’d rather write, to be honest. I don’t need quiet and seclusion, I need chaos and energy. I need to be around my family. Some people think that in order to write effectively you need to be unplugged from the internet, but I can’t imagine writing without having Google nearby.

DLB: Any upcoming news or promo spots?

TZ: Yes! By the time this interview is out my second novel, Prospero’s Half-Life, will be available for purchase. Like Disappearance it’s a post-apocalypse novel, but things are less grim in this one. Slightly less grim, anyway.

Please read more by Trevor at Smashwords, learn more about Trevor on his author site, and like Trevor on Facebook.

Please, PLEASE get a copy of DISAPPEARANCE here. Trevor, this has been a dirty, shitty ride, but we loved every second of it. Thank you so much for giving us this time with you.