What can we expect of their new series The Scattered and the Dead? What will become of Awake in the Dark and our beloved Grobs? Do they really love writing? Find out below in my Twenty(ish) Questions with Tim McBain and LT Vargus.
Tim: I like stories, and I’m too anxious to keep a real job where I have to be around other people. Aside from that? I don’t know. Why does anyone do it? It’s exciting when you create things you have a lot of affection for, and I think there must be some desire to communicate involved.
L.T.: I have a nursing degree, so the choice became pretty straightforward: make up awesome stories or wipe some old man’s ass.
Q: The Overused Question: eReader or Paperback?
L.T.: Before I had one, I couldn’t really imagine that I’d like using an eReader, but I read so much more now because of mine.
Tim: I still like books, but I mostly read on a kindle now.
Q: If you could pick the brains of any author, who would it be and why?
L.T.: I’ve got this Game of Thrones theory, and I’d like to look George R.R. Martin dead in the eyes, lay my idea on him, and see if he flinches.
Tim: I don’t think I’d do it. I think it’s best to leave them to the imagination in a lot of ways.
Q: Is writing a full-time affair, or do you fit it in with a ‘day job’?
Tim: Neither of us have real jobs, but we have our thumbs in a few pies. So writing isn’t our sole source of income. I think it was the majority in 2015 for the first time.
L.T.: I put about half of my time into selling handmade clothes on Etsy, and the other half in writing. I’ve been transitioning toward a little more writing and a little less sewing this past year.
Q: Has writing always been something you’ve envisioned yourself doing, or was there a stereotypical childhood dream waiting in the wings such as an astronaut or a fireman?
Tim: Teachers started encouraging me to be a writer when I was six, and that kept on throughout school, but I never really liked stories much until I was about 16. I viewed storytelling through the filter of action movies where evil is vanquished and everything is obvious every step of the way, and I just thought it was a dimwitted, mostly commercial endeavor. I watched the movie Taxi Driver and the first season of the TV show Oz, and I finally realized how enthralling and honest and disturbing stories could be, and that got me interested in it. Before that, I feel like I was pretty directionless. I’m sure I wanted to be a professional athlete when I was really young.
L.T.: I loved books when I was a kid. I was the kind of nerd that would rather stay inside reading than go outside and play sometimes. And I’m sure I thought writing would be cool, but it wasn’t necessarily a goal I had in mind. I can remember wanting to be a paleontologist (after reading Jurassic Park) and an FBI agent (after watching the X-Files).
L.T.: We’ve been pretty aggressive on Twitter in particular. I don’t know how effective it is as a marketing strategy, really, but it’s become a habit to tweet jokes and stuff.
Q: How do you keep motivated to continue writing?
Tim: I get up almost every day at 5:30 or 6 am to write. For some reason that keeps the momentum going for me. When I get in that groove, I wake up already thinking about the next scene, and I have to get up so I won’t forget the sentences in my head. Feeling like I have a jumpstart on the day keeps me feeling good, and I’m much more productive. To me, there’s always passion there, it’s really just a process of finding a routine or something that works for you so discipline can harness that passion. And the more you do it, the easier it gets. The self consciousness fades away a little more every time you write.
L.T.: Motivation is never a problem for me. I can sit and daydream an infinite number of stories and scenes I want to write. But the habit of writing every day still comes and goes. It’s more about discipline than motivation.
Q: Do you outline your stories before sitting down to write, or do you prefer to fly by the seat of your pants?
L.T.: For a while I tried to sort of half-ass the outline part. But I’ve found the more I tighten up the outline, the writing is easier and the story comes out better.
Tim: I jot down notes and have a plan, but it’s mostly in my head. Some people might not count that as outlining, but I always know where I’m going.
L.T.: The thing that is both awesome and infuriating about Tim is that his first drafts tend to be 95% polished and finished. It’s awesome because it’s a lot less work when it comes to editing. It’s infuriating because I feel like a scatterbrained slob when I compare my first drafts with his.
Tim: L.T. seems able to pump out endless concrete details. I get bogged down in that side of things, because I tend to prefer writing dialogue and internal monologues.
Q: You’re novels are forwarded on to an ARC team in preparation for release. How heavily do you rely on the response from the team and is there truly a benefit to using an ARC team?
Tim: We probably wouldn’t be taking writing seriously if it wasn’t for the response we got to Casting Shadows Everywhere. Knowing that people cared that much about something we wrote changed our lives. So we tried to organize that a little bit. At this point, I can’t really imagine releasing a book and just putting it out there without conversing with anyone that’s read it. I’d feel disconnected from all of it.
L.T.: Not only has our ARC team been awesome at finding typos and continuity errors and stuff like that, their reviews help us reach new readers. Any indie author will tell you that reviews are incredibly important. We feel really lucky to have a team willing to read and review for us.
Tim: Those were designed by the wonderful and talented L.T. Vargus.
Q: Where did the idea of The Awake in the Dark Series spur from, and has it been something that’s been floating around in your mind for a while?
Tim: I passed out at my desk a few times when I was a kid. I only really remember waking up, my vision fading in through yellow static, and I had this strong sense that I had gone somewhere else and come back. Turns out it’s just some kind of blood pressure-related thing. But I always had the idea of turning it into a story.
L.T.: Even though Casting Shadows Everywhere was written first, we talked about versions of this story for years before that. It really turned out a lot different than we planned it then.
Q: The protagonist of The Awake in the Dark Series, Jeff Grobnagger, is a bit of a loner, yet completely lovable. He makes light of difficult situations by maintaining his humorous side which can become quite dark at times. Do you consider yourself a similar personality?
Tim: I pretty much see Grobnagger as an exaggerated version of one side of my personality.
Q: I may be a little biased, however I genuinely believe Grobnagger would do well on the big screen. Do you have an idea of which actor would fit the role of our beloved loner?
L.T.: The person we talk most about casting is Glenn. There are so many actors that could do their own hilarious version of Glenn with his flip flops and his frosted tips.
Tim: Yeah, we’ve never really talked about an actor for Grobnagger very seriously. I think he’d be a tough role to cast.
Q: When can we expect Grobnagger’s final chapter?
Tim: We’re editing right now with the plan to release probably in June 2016.
Q: Overall, what message are you trying to convey in the Awake in the Dark series?
Tim: I feel like to explicitly say it here would almost be spoiling the last book. The ultimate message is made pretty clear. I’d say the question we’re asking is: can someone who has fully invested their identity in ironic detachment find meaning in life?
L.T.: It’s hard to give hints about characters, but it has story lines taking place up to nine years apart from one another. All of those story lines will slowly but surely intertwine.
Q: Was it hard to move onto a new world with a brand new protagonist after such a long affair with Grobnagger?
Tim: It was a lot easier than I thought. Actually, we started writing the first The Scattered and the Dead book before the last Grobnagger, and it was surprisingly easy to jump back and forth between the two. It probably helped that Decker, the first protagonist in TSATD, is the most Grobnagger-esque of them all.
Tim: I’m more motivated by that aspect of writing than any other. The strength of a book is that you can get into a character’s head the way you can’t in a movie. I get the sense that the amount of reflection we have in our books is a turnoff for some readers, but I also think other people really like our books for just that reason.
Q: The next release in this new series is a seven hundred page novel. What has been the biggest difference between writing something of this length in comparison to your standard two hundred page novels?
L.T.: With different points of view, it’s almost like six or seven novels stuck together. For that reason, writing it wasn’t that different.
Tim: The biggest difference has been editing. The Grobnagger books can be read in a day, for editing purposes. This one takes several days to go through, and it’s harder to keep the whole thing in your head at once. Plus there are a lot more moving parts with the constantly shifting point of view.
Q: The first installment of The Scattered and the Dead is a letter one character writes to another. Did you always intend that this would be the reader’s introduction to this new story?
Tim: It was written as part of the bigger story, but even as I wrote it, I kept thinking about making it a standalone. We kept waffling back and forth about leaving it in or not.
L.T.: I wasn’t sure about the idea of having a letter, which is first person, intermingled with all the third person POVs. But as soon as I read the full Decker letter, I felt like it had to be it’s own book. Not because of the first person/third person issue, but because it did such a good job of setting up this world.
Q: Has The Scattered and the Dead been well received so far by your advanced readers?
Tim: We’ve only had one person cry within the first five pages and contemplate giving up on it.
L.T.: It’s been interesting to see what people make of it. I feel like everyone has had their own unique interpretation of Decker’s story. The ending is a little ambiguous, but I didn’t expect such a wide range of reactions. But everybody has been pretty positive, even if this isn’t their favorite genre.
Q: I’m personally excited about the prospect of the dead in this new series. Are you a fan of a good zombie tale?
L.T.: Oh lord, yes. Dawn of the Dead, Shaun of the Dead, Return of the Living Dead, Re-Animator, Fido. There probably aren’t many zombie movies we haven’t watched.
Tim: I will say that even though there are zombies in this, and there are storylines where zombies play a huge role, I don’t necessarily think of it as a Zombie story. We wanted to tip our caps at every kind of post-apocalyptic story, so there’s a little bit of everything.
Q: With the release of the teaser to this new series, when can we expect to delve further into this new adventure?
Tim: It will come out somewhere between mid-March and early April.
If I could recommend you try out a new author (or two) this year, I would suggest Tim McBain and LT Vargus. You won't be disappointed.