Today folks for your reading pleasure I would like to present an interview with Sean Cummings, Canadian super nerd and author of Shade Fright and Unseen World.
Sean Cummings is a comic book geek of the highest order and self-described nerd. He’s been writing since 1978 (as a means of liberating his “inner nerd”) He’s a huge fan of the television series Being Human and believes that if urban fantasy happened in the real world, Being Human is as close to real as you can get. His interests include speculative and science fiction, the borg, cats with extra toes, east Indian cuisine and quality sci-fi movies/television.
He lives in Saskatoon, Canada
GNOH – Hello Sean how are things with you?
Sean – Not bad at all – summer is just around the corner and I can wear white socks with sandals again! Yay!
GNOH – Could you please tell the readers a bit about yourself?
Sean – Well, I’m forty-three. I’ve been writing since, well, forever. I live in Saskatoon Saskatchewan (say that three times fast when you’re three sheets to the wind…) and I write urban fantasy with a twist: all my stuff takes place in Canada with the exception of my book UNSEEN WORLD. It originally took place in Canada but I had to Americanize it to find a publisher. I’m a comic book fan, superhero junkie and all around nerd.
GNOH – Is it true Canadians are afraid if the dark? (that was for my good friend and Canadian The Man Eating Bookworm)
Sean – Afraid of the dark? Hmmm – given that in large swaths of the country that we have more than fourteen hours a day of darkness for about 7 months out of the year, I’m mildly surprised that we’re not terrified of the sun! The great Canadian winter is a cold, bleak and miserable experience where you go to work in the dark and you come home in the dark. We have maybe a sixty day “light” cycle where I live in Saskatchewan, but hey, we’re getting a Target store, so we’re not entirely living on the frontiers of humanity. J
GNOH – What first inspired you to put pen to paper?
Sean – My grade five teacher, Ms. Leslie Flowers. She always encouraged her students to pursue creative writing and had sticker contests in her class. I actually contacted her last year and sent her a nice letter thanking her for inspiring me to write and she actually wrote back! It was fantastic! We used to make granola in class and she’d read fantastic books like “My side of the Mountain” and “Jacob Two-Two meets The Hooded Fang.” I think I was privileged to have that kind of firm belief that everyone has a story in them from such an early age and I was so very touched that she wrote back and thanked me.
GNOH – What lessons have you learned over the years about writing & publishing?
Sean – Oh dear … where do I start? Well, I’ve learned that writing is a craft that takes years and years of work and it must always be pushed to the limit if you’re going to get better at it. I’ve learned that the publishing business is an arbitrary thing and that one person’s junk is another person’s masterpiece. I think I picked the worst time in human history to become a published author what with the global economic downturn and new technologies that are reshaping the business of publishing. It’s really rather daunting when you think about it because the existence of the Internet allows would-be authors to make instant contact with a publisher or agent. When I started writing with the goal of getting published more than two decades ago, you had to send a query letter along with a self-addressed stamped envelope and it would take up to a year to hear back from someone – assuming they responded at all. Everything has changed and nobody knows what the industry is going to look like in ten year’s time.
I’ve learned more than anything that a solid literary agent is a bloody godsend because they make you a better writer. They see the things that you cannot. They push you to write better, to tell a better story, to sew together the relationship between your characters and the plot. I thought getting published was hard – wrong! Getting a good agent is even harder. Trust me on that.
GNOH –Your books are published by Snow Books, is there are reason you went with them as a publisher?
Sean – I went with them because they have a very good reputation and are an award winning publisher. I went with them because I was shocked and amazed that someone actually thought my work was worth putting in a bookstore.
GNOH – Shade Fright and Funeral Pallor both have very distinctive covers, how much say did you have in the design of them?
Sean – I had a little bit of say, but ultimately it’s the publisher’s call on that one. The covers are far different that nearly all the book covers in urban fantasy featuring a strong female protagonist. I quite like them, but there’s been mixed reaction to departing from the formula all the other publishers are using for those kinds of books.
GNOH – How would you describe your books, would you say they are Urban Fantasy? I personally hate that term, as it conjures up thoughts of really bad writing?
Sean – I think urban fantasy is what I write but with a more eclectic twist. Certainly the genre is overwhelmingly dominated by similar books with strong romantic elements and a great deal of erotica. The buying market is hugely female and I suspect they want to read books that resonate with them. For me, it’s urban fantasy because what I write takes place in the city or its outskirts and involves magic and mayhem and established fantasy archetypes. Is there bad writing out there? Yes – but then I’ve had bad reviews, so again, it’s a purely arbitrary market – one person’s junk is another person’s masterpiece. What I’ve tried to do with my books is to use Canada as the setting because there isn’t a lot out there where Canada is the backdrop. I’d write urban fantasy set in Australia if I lived there – but Canada is home and I write about fantastical stuff that happens in my back yard. I’m quite proud of this fact, too, because urban fantasy is really very heavily dominated by U.S. locales.
GNOH – What do you think sets your books apart from other books of a similar vein?
Sean – Again – the setting, but also the fact that in my Valerie Stevens books, my heroine isn’t boinking the supernatural. She has a boyfriend who drives a dump truck. For her, it’s a job. She’s driven by following the clues as opposed to falling into bed with every were-thing, vampire or shape shifter that you can shake a stick at. In UNSEEN WORLD, I have a superhero of sorts who is battling the supernatural – but he’s a hero with a twist. Marshall Conrad is an everyman – he’s a middle aged guy who throws his slippers at the TV and complains about big government. He’s a hermit who lives with a cat. He slams evil not for truth, justice and the American way, but because he is plagued by premonitions of chaos and terror if he doesn’t. He’s a great character and I’d really like to write more books about him.
GNOH- Humour plays a big part in your novels; do you find it hard to maintain a balance between the humour and the narrative of the story?
Sean – I think that humour is an important part of any book where you’re dealing with the unreal because humour acts as a grounding agent – it helps us deal with the unimaginable. In my Valerie Stevens books, I use humour to offset the very serious nature of my protagonist because without it, she’d be flat and dry and uninteresting. In UNSEEN WORLD, humour is a reflection of my protagonist’s very nature – he is the ultimate cynic whose sarcastic look on life in many ways mirrors my own. There’s a great deal of me in Marshall Conrad.
GNOH – Your books are all set in Canada, do you think it’s important to set a novel in place that people know. I read somewhere that Graham Masterton, thinks that by setting a genre novel in a real place, helps to ground the fantastical elements if the story. Would you agree with this?
Sean – whether it’s New York or New Germany Nova Scotia, urban fantasy has to take place in everybody’s back yard because we’re asking the reader to believe that the fantastic is happening right under his/her nose. As well, in 100% of the urban fantasy novels out there, the human world is the target – we need protecting because the darkness is coming into our world and it wants us for some nefarious reason.
GNOH – You like to play around with genre tropes, for example you have a zombie with a law degree, is this something you purposely set out to do, or did you just fall into it?
Sean – I’m trying to write differently in a genre that is buried with similar tropes. That said, a zombie with a law degree presents opportunity to create a character who is larger than life and I want all my supporting cast to be as different from what’s out there as possible. Yes, it’s purposeful because without having, say, a love interest who simply drives a dump truck and loves his woman unconditionally, then what I write would be exactly the same as everything else that is out there.
GNOH – Unseen world has an overweight superhero coming to grips with his powers, not exactly a prime candidate for the hero of a novel, what gave you the idea to use him as the protagonist?
Sean – Actually, Marshall Conrad is fit as a fiddle – his cat is overweight to the point of Marshall having to take his cat for walks around his building, the cat of course absolutely must wear a flaming pink harness to add to Marshall’s misery. As for Marshall coming to grips with his powers – well, I think that was central to the point of the novel because he now faces unspeakable evil on a supernatural scale and as a result, he must explore his abilities. He needs power on a similar scale if he’s to win the day.
GNOH – Funeral Pallor and Shade Fright feature Valerie Stevens, who has Sight Beyond Sight and can see the supernatural world that coexists with our own. Did you base Valarie on anyone in particular?
Sean – Valerie was a happy accident and is a great character. Truth be told, she’s based on Marge Gunderson in the brilliant Cohen brothers movie FARGO. Her boyfriend Dave is based on Marge’s duck-carving husband who is always there, always supportive. Valerie is an uncomplicated character who is not plagued with self doubt – she sees her powers as part of the job and has a strong desire to see justice done. She works the case based on the evidence. In SHADE FRIGHT she is coming to grips with the fact that she has a higher calling. In FUNERAL PALLOR she has embraced her calling and throws herself entirely into finding and defeating evil.
GNOH – Can we expect any further adventures of Valarie?
Sean – I’m putting Valerie on a hiatus right now, mostly because the market is flooded with similar books and I don’t want to write something that will get lost in a crowded market.
GNOH – You currently working on Tim Reaper, can you tell us anything about it?
Sean – TIM REAPER is a blast to write. The first draft is complete and I’m doing the second draft before firing it off to my agent, Jenny Savill. Reaper is a spin-off from FUNERAL PALLOR. He’s a death spirit in human form, kicked out of his order for starting the Spanish Flu Pandemic that killed 5% of the population of earth in 1918. He’s a bit of a scumbag with a heart of gold and he has a habit of whacking serial killers because they represent the ultimate in human evil. The plot is simple and really very dark – there’s a serial killer on the loose and the victims are angels. The Church hires Reaper to find the killer and put an end to something that threatens to bring on the end of days. He’s amoral – he has a penchant for hookers and he likes kitties. He’s sort of Mike Hammer in a supernatural world.
GNOH – How do you go about writing? Are you a meticulous planner or do you sit down to write and see where you end up?
Sean – I’d like to say I am meticulous, but I’m not. I try to put together something resembling an outline, but what usually happens is that I depart from the outline because the story takes on a life of its own. I really envy authors like Thomas Emson who is meticulous beyond anyone I can think of. He plots out his books using post-it notes – brilliant!!
GNOH – What do you need to write? Do you have any rituals you go through? Do you need absolute silence or do you have something on the background to stimulate your thoughts?
Sean – Yeah, I need a helluva lot of silence. I also need a deadline – I just spent the better part of 2010 completing revision after revision on a Young Adult novel called POLTERGEEKS for my agent. She established some pretty solid deadlines and it forced me to hammer out a far better story than the one I’d sent her in January of last year. I think that I also need to not be thinking about my day job as it can be a significant distraction. I aspire to write full-time – that’s sort of my dream right now.
GNOH – Do you have any advice for upcoming authors?
Sean – Yes. Put yourself out the universe and don’t think so darned much about whether your query is any good. Learn the business of publishing because then you’ll better understand why you’re being rejected. Always be writing. Always. Even when you are querying, keep on writing – it’s a craft. You have to constantly hone that craft. Always be experimenting and write something that is different than everything else out there.
GNOH – Exactly how much of a nerd / geek fan boy are you?
Sean – I’m pretty nerdy. I have the old Batman serial from the 1940’s on DVD. I still collect comic books. I aspire to go to Comic-Con in San Diego one day. I want to organize a zombie walk in Saskatoon. Geeky stuff is central to my existence. Without it, I wouldn’t be able to write a darned thing.
GNOH – What are your top five genre shows?
1) Doctor Who
3) Star Trek in all its incarnations
4) Journeyman – Brilliant but cancelled.
5) Threshold – Brilliant but cancelled.
GNOH –What do you think of the latest series of Dr Who? Is Matt up to the task of being the Dr? Personally I think he is right up there with Tom Baker as one of the greats. He finally brings otherworldliness to the show that has been lacking in the reboot?
Sean – Matt Smith is absolutely brilliant as the Doctor. He had HUGE shoes to fill after David Tennant left the show, a man who absolutely OWNED that role. But Matt Smith brings a frantic pace to the character. His acting range betrays his young age and he gives the character of the Doctor a new layer of complexity. He’s my favourite Doctor now, after Tom Baker.
GNOH – Is there anything that annoys you about the reboot. I hate that the sonic screwdriver is now the get out of jail card, and I hate how the Tardis now seems to be reliable, in getting the Dr exactly where and when he needs to be.
Sean – Sonic screwdriver is definitely overused. He needs to lose it for a season and have it fall into someone else’s hands – someone who can end time as we know it because they have gained possession of it. The same thing goes with the Tardis. The Doctor needs to lose those things that have defined him for fifty years – just for one season. To force him to further think outside the box. To make him invent a new time machine or screwdriver. That’s what I’d love to see.
GNOH – Amy Pond or Peri, who would you like to take for a ride in your Tardis?
Sean – Amy Pond hand’s down. She’s feisty, fierce and tough as nails – a great character.
GNOH – What does the future hold for you?
Sean – right now I’m hoping my agent sells POLTERGEEKS as I’d really like to develop a series of books based on my teenage witch and her nerdy best friend Marcus. I want to get TIM REAPER off to my agent and then complete the second draft of THE NORTH – my Young Adult zombie apocalypse novel that really pushes the boundaries of what a writer can or cannot get away with in a Young Adult book.
GNOH – Thanks a lot Sean for coming over for a chat with a fellow geek, it’s been a blast.
Thanks so much for having me – great questions!
Sean’s Books can be purchased on the high street, and at all the usual online stores.
And i highly recommend that you check them out.
Someone is murdering the good people of Greenfield, and there’s talk of a serial killer on the loose. Finding him should be an easy job for a guy with super-powers; too bad he keeps falling out of the sky. If Marshall Conrad has any hope of ending the killing spree, he’ll need a little help from a morbidly obese shop keeper (who just happens to be a witch) and a hard-drinking senior citizen with a penchant for lifting heavy objects… like automobiles. Corrupt cops, ogres, thirty-six-year-old Siamese cats, and of course, the netherworld. All in a day’s work when you’re trying to save your city from a simmering evil that’s about to be unleashed.
There’s a nest of rotting husks in an old Calgary warehouse and they’ve got a hankering for human flesh, but that’s the least of Valerie Stevens’ problems. While necromancers are a dime a dozen, these mindless killing machines all share one thing in common: they’re former occupants of every funeral home in the city.
The evidence points to the zombie Caroline, especially now that she’s been experiencing short term memory loss and an inability to account for her whereabouts. If Valerie plans to clear her best friend’s name, she’ll have to move fast: someone has dispatched a zombie assassin and Caroline’s only hope may rest with a pair of middle-aged head-bangers with a few secrets of their own
‘I fell into this job quite by accident, when I discovered that I possessed the ability to see the preternatural world. There are a handful of people with similar abilities, and part of my job is to locate them, since Government Central and Infrastructure Canada like to keep track of these things. Don’t ask me why’. There’s a malevolent force in town, and it’s quite literally Valerie Steven’s job to determine who’s behind it and why they want to destroy the world, starting with Calgary. She’ll have help, in the form of her best friend (now more or less a zombie, unfortunately), a powerful dwarf troll, and th ghost of former Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King (but he goes by ‘Bill’ these days). But that’s not all – Valerie has some tricks up her sleeve and, she hopes, luck on her side. Oh, and her boyfriend, Dave. He drives a dump truck.