Interview with Brian South

What's the story behind your latest book?
I set out to write The Zombie Sheriff Takes Tucson: A Love Story as a book that I'd want to read. I kept telling myself "FUN" as I worked on the novel. When I'd get bogged down at a particular plot point or with an unruly character, I asked myself what I would want to read at that point--where would I want the story to go if I were reading the book?

I wrote this book for people with my sense of humor. It's possible I wrote this book for one single person... But man, did I have fun writing it. There would be times when I would finish a chapter and just start laughing I found it so funny (is that crazy? that's probably crazy.).

The Zombie Sheriff Takes Tucson: A Love Story is a comedy couched in a horror book, set in the old West--the same way The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is a comedy couched in a sci-fi book. They both exist to be funny; the rest is there for support.
How do you start working on a new project?
When I begin a new project, I do one of two things.

1. I vomit all over the page. Words (usually very, very stupid words that make no sense at all; also a couple words that are pretty great) flow through my fingers and create an inscrutable mass of pixels on the screen. This can take minutes, hours, or weeks. After this literary hurling has been completed, the hard part begins. I sift through all the crap that's on the screen before me, deleting, cutting, copying and pasting, and organizing. If I'm lucky, I'm left with a few sentences that contain some semblance of a good idea.

2. I plan the crap out of the project without writing a single word of it. Ideas (usually very, very stupid ideas that make no sense at all; also a couple ideas that are pretty great) flow through my fingers and create an inscrutable mass of pixels on the screen. I plan characters' backstories, their favorite kind of ice cream, I plan where the story begins, where the story is before it begins, where it could end but doesn't, and I plan things that never see the light of the computer screen. This can take minutes, hours, or weeks. After this literary obsessive-compulsiveness has been completed, the hard part begins. I sift through all the crap that's on the screen before me, deleting, cutting, copying and pasting, and organizing. If I'm lucky, I'm left with a few sentences that contain some semblance of a good idea.
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
In 6th grade I was the most prolific writer of my entire 18-person class. I had just finished The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy for the first time, and I had just had the realization that writing could be funny, not just about prairies and bicycles and getting a new dog.

The first piece of writing I can clearly remember came from this genius 6th-grade me, and it was called "Joe and the Outerspace Toilet, The Musical." It was, as best I can recall, the story of Joe and his adventures with an alien toilet that has fallen to Earth. I believe the toilet could sing (hence, "The Musical"), and it spoke with the accent and impeccable wit of an Englishman. The story was two-and-a-half double-spaced pages of pure brilliance.
What has been the biggest marketing challenge for you?
I've always despised "selling" myself in any way. I've felt that if I'm good enough at something, people will naturally want to hear more about it, and if I'm not, they won't. Putting on a song and dance about how wonderful I am feels at best artificial, at worst manipulative. It's the reason I never went into business or participated in all those networking events my college friends went to.

So when it came time to market my book, I ran into some issues. How could I make people want to read my book without feeling like I was saying, "HEY! LOOK AT ME!"?

The answer was surprisingly simple, and convincing. I'm not selling myself. I'm not even selling my book, really. I'm excited about this thing I've created, and I want to share it with people--if only to confirm that I'm not the only one on the planet with this messed-up sense of humor.

So now, when I market my book, I honestly feel that I'm sharing part of myself, not devising some convoluted persona so that people will like me better.

Which is nice.
Describe your desk.
My desk is like the tide. Over time, random projects, papers, bills, books, pads, and electronic devices accumulate, layer upon layer, over my desk, and when I need (or "need") something, I have to dig through those layers until I find what I'm looking for.

This continues until inspiration strikes. When I'm on a creative streak (which, happily, occurs more and more these days), I have to have an absolutely clear workspace. Out goes the tide: I work with a frenzy to file, pay, toss, and otherwise address everything on the desk until I can see the flaking wooden veneer beneath it all.

Then I can work.
Who are your favorite authors?
My favorite authors are the ones who tell the best stories, regardless of genre. I mean it--I'll read anything if it's a good story. I like books that challenge my conceptions, whether it be of genre, of writing, or of life.

To wit, in random order: Douglas Adams, James Joyce, Neil Gaiman, Terry Brooks, Stephen King, Isaac Asimov, William Faulkner, Robert Kirkman, JJ Abrams (yes, I consider him an author), Raymond Chandler, Joan Didion, Cormac McCarthy, JRR Tolkien, Joseph Campbell, Chuck Palahniuk.
What are your five favorite books, and why?
Ulysses, by James Joyce
I am in awe of this book and this man. His goal was to write in every major literary style to date, and he succeeded--while telling a surprisingly realistic and touching story.

Absalom, Absalom, by William Faulkner
This is a book you can't get out of your head. It's a telling, and a retelling, and a telling again of a haunting, twisted story.

The Dark Tower series, by Stephen King
This is not a book series, it's a journey. Readers follow the characters, yes, but there's also a metafictional feeling of following the author as the books unfold in front of not just us, but him. Unforgettable.

The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
A book that speaks to the current generation as insistently as it did to their grandparents.

The Sandman series, by Neil Gaiman
A mercurial work that tells a dream-like story of gods and men. Visually and intellectually beautiful.
What do you read for pleasure?
I obsess. Really, I do. So if there's something I'm into at the moment, I read anything and everything about it. This can include book series (The Dark Tower, The Sandman, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy), authors (Thomas Pynchon, Raymond Chandler, Robert Asprin), or subjects (coffee, practical economics, Vatican conspiracy theories). When I latch onto something, I don't let go until it's a dry husk of nothingness. That sounds gross, but it's accurate.

So, to truly answer this question, the books that give me the most pleasure are those that I can immerse myself in--that I can get lost in. When all I want to do is eat, drink, and breath the book, I know I've found a good one.
Do you remember the first story that deeply affected you, and the impact it had on you?
Hey, you made it to the end of this interview. Nice work. As a reward, I will tell you an embarrassing story about myself.

When I was in 4th grade, I read the Little House on the Prairie series. Yes...Little House on the Prairie is my answer to this question.

Anyway, when I was in 4th grade, I read Little House on the Prairie, and (no spoilers or anything) a certain pet that traveled the whole way out west with the Ingalls family made that really long journey then decided not to make anymore journeys, if you know what I mean.

Well, I started bawling. My mom came in the room, and she had no idea what had happened. She sat down next to me, picked up the book, and read the last couple pages. Then she understood. She told me it would be okay, but she didn't tell me it was just a book.

Because my mom knew--there were no things as "just books." There are stories that impact us, and there are stories that don't. That was the first one that really impacted me.

And yes, I cried over Little House on the Prairie.
Published 2015-02-18.
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