An experimental dark fiction writer, Zoe has written several novels and novellas that fuse fantasy, sci-fi, horror, crime fiction, black comedy and musicals.
Born in Denison Texas, Zoe is a high school dropout and a GED graduate. Despite these depressingly low qualifications, she has worked as a computer technician, a webmaster, an internet help desk operator, a video producer, a movie theater projectionist, an amusement park ride operator, a telemarketer, a dishwasher, and a wrestling federation commissioner. She briefly attempted to serve in the Army before injuring herself in basic training. (Instead of “Hu-ah!” it was more like “Hu-OW!”)
Retired due to poor health, she lives in Milan Italy with her husband Luciano and her dog and cat.
Time to chat with Zoe!
What is your latest book?
Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, a spin-off story following several characters from the Peter the Wolf series. At the end of Peter’s fourth book, Thicker Than Blood, he chose to leave Dallas to give Alice room to heal without him. She’s come to terms with his abuse and with the torture she suffered after Peter’s mother kidnapped her and made her into a werewolf. But in the years after his absence, she’s also had to deal with problems of her own. The new book picks up three years after Peter turned himself over to the FBI, and it follows Alice through her problems with school bullies, exposure of her lycanthrope curse to a young child she’s babysitting, her budding exploits playing high school football on the boy’s team, and the arrival of a new werewolf who seems to be part of the same bloodline as Alice and Peter.
I wrote Alice’s story intending for it to stand alone. So if new readers wanted to get into Alice’s series without reading Peter’s, they wouldn’t feel lost. I looked for beta readers who had read Peter’s series, and those who hadn’t, and both agreed it had enough information to fill in the blanks without getting carried away with info-dumps.
Is your recent book part of a series?
Yes, the Alice the Wolf series has five books, and all five books were written long before I started editing the first for publication. Initially I planned the books around being one book for each of the four werewolf enemies Alice makes, but one of the four wolves turned out to be way more complex than I could contain in one book. The fourth book exploded out to a whopping 210K word count, forcing me to split it into two books. Even then, that last book is going to be a bit thicker than the first four.
What are the special challenges in writing a series?
Finding a place to stop. The two words I dislike the most are The End, because I’m always curious and what to know what happens next to the characters.
What else have you written?
A little of everything. I’ve self-published over 40 ebooks since 2009 in a variety of genres. My eventual goal is to become one of the most prolific authors of my generation.
How often do your characters surprise you by doing or saying something totally unexpected?
Every single day. I used to try and dictate dialogue and action to my characters, only to have to spend way too much time making massive rewrites when they complained, “That’s not what I’d do!” Now I just let them decide their own stories, and as a result, they rarely do anything close to what I’d expect.
After working for a very long time on a novel, many authors get to a point where they lose their objectivity and feel unable to judge their own work. Has this ever happened to you? If so, what have you done about it?
Somewhere between 60 to 80% through a book, I get into a self-loathing phase. Suddenly, everything I write is crap, I’m a hack, I’m a fraud, and why am I still doing this when I could be doing something less stressful and lonely with my time?
But then I remind myself that even great writers have these feelings around the same point in writing new books. So I suck it up, ignore the mean-spirited voices in my head, and get back to writing.
Over the years, many well-known authors have stated that they wished they’d written their characters or their plots differently. Have you ever had similar regrets?
No, and this is something I notice during my random spot inspections. I like to go back and reread my older titles to look for typos or lines that need tweaking. Stories are never truly done, I think. But even going back to my oldest work, I never think “I wish that story had gone a different route.” I think it’s because I do a lot of revisions before release, usually four or five. So once I put out a story, it’s already set down the way I want it. There may have been other directions the story could have taken, but this is the path I chose, and if anyone disagrees with me, well that’s what fan-fiction is for.
How much research was involved in writing your book? How did you go about it?
This depends a lot on the story. Sometimes I just need to do research on the story location to make sure what I’m writing fits the city or town I’ve chosen. But for instance I wrote a book about Jinn, The Sole Survivor’s Club, and that required roughly six months of studying the jinn in Persian myths and Biblical and Islamic texts. I didn’t just want to make up a western interpretation of genies who grant wishes and live in lamps, so I had to spend a lot of time learning about the marid, ifrit, ghul, and sila races. Once I had a clearer idea of how their societies worked, I was able to worry about the characters possessed by the jinn, their reasons for tormenting certain humans, and how the humans found a way to free themselves.
How would you define your style of writing?
Hack pantster. When I first started writing, I tried doing outlines. But I never got more than a quarter of the way into any new story before I was veering so far off the outlines that they weren’t helpful. Rather than worry about rewriting the outlines, I gave up on plotting everything out. Now I just know the general areas where I want to start and end a book, and everything in between is a journey of surprising discoveries.
Do you miss spending time with your characters when you finish writing them?
Yes, very much so, which is why I end up writing so many sequels. Even after I’m sure one book is the last, I get the urge to keep exploring. This is why Alice got her own series after Peter’s ended, because there were too many unanswered questions that I couldn’t leave alone.
A lot of authors are frustrated by readers who don’t understand how important reviews are? What would you say to a reader who doesn’t think his or her review matters?
I’m torn about this topic. I do think reviews are important, and I sometimes ask readers to post reviews for my books. But despite having something like 95% positive reviews, it hasn’t done much to improve my sales. Sometimes I wonder if there’s a certain number of reviews one has to reach before they begin to have a cumulative effect on sales, but if that’s the case, I still have yet to reach that point.
But mostly, I want to say to readers that all writers would like to know how they felt after finishing a book, and that even their shortest reviews let other readers know what to expect. I know writing reviews is a pain in the butt. I often struggle to write reviews for all the books I read, too. But if you make the effort to write an honest review, your thoughts will be appreciated by both the authors and the other readers.
Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? If so, how do you get around it?
I do, but I don’t really obsess over it the way I used to. If the words aren’t flowing well in a story, I just pick up someone else’s book and read until a solution occurs to me.
What genre have you never written in that you’d like to try?
I’m struggling to think of anything, but at this point, I’ve written in horror, fantasy, dark fantasy, sci-fi, and contemporary lit. There are genre fusions I might like to attempt in the future, but no one genre that I feel I need to write in. I think that’s the joy of having written so many books in so many genres. I worry less about what market I’m aiming for, and more about how the characters and story will appeal to me as a reader.
Where do you live now? If you had to move to another city/state/country, where might that be?
I live in Milan, and I love it here. But if I could move anywhere and afford to stay, I’d go to Amsterdam. There’s an amazing kind of calm that permeates the city, and they have a vast number of bookstores and art museums that I could never get tired of exploring. I’ve been to Amsterdam three times over the years, and I never left without wishing I could just move into an apartment and stay there forever.
Trains, planes, automobiles, or boats?
Walking! Heh, I guess I prefer trains, as they tend to be the least bumpy form of transportation I’ve ever been on. I may be biased against planes because I’ve rarely taken a plane ride that turbulence didn’t turn into a terrifying roller coaster. Boats are out of the question because I’m terrified of any body of water where I can’t see the shoreline, and I dislike cars because I was the passenger in no less than six automobile collisions. But if any destination is close enough to walk, I prefer to trust my own two feet.
What’s your favorite comfort food? Least favorite food?
Pizza. Doesn’t matter what toppings you put on it. I just love pizza. My least favorite food is liver. I never understand how anyone can enjoy that gamy flavor and nasty texture.
What’s the coolest surprise you’ve ever had?
I think it was convincing a new reader to try my sci-fi story, The Life and Death of a Sex Doll, and having them write to me the next day to ask if they could buy all of my books directly from me. At the time I had 36 titles out, and after I quoted them a discounted price, they paid me something like $20 over what I’d quoted them. I’ve since had other fans buy all my books in one go after reading the first, but that first time, it was definitely a pleasant shock.
What simple pleasure makes you smile?
I like watching people. Maybe it’s a side effect of being a writer, but whenever I go outside, I’m always looking at everyone around me and wondering what their life is like.
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