I'm delighted to be able to bring you the next instalment in our ongoing interview series here at Smash Dragons. This week I had the amazing opportunity to be able to chat with Nicholas Sansbury Smith, a writer who has taken the thriller and military horror genres by storm in recent years. Nick graciously took time out of his hectic schedule to chat about publishing, his approach to writing, and what's coming up for his fans.
Nick, welcome to Smash Dragons. Why did you start writing? Do you remember the first piece you wrote?
Thanks for having me Matthew! Happy to be here. The first thing I ever wrote was a space opera. I was eight years old and decided it wouldn’t be any good without some illustration. What I created was a thirty page story with some pretty craptastic drawings! That book still sits in my library today and I’ll never forget a quote I would like to share... “The missile exploded and we knew we were done for.” Two pages later. “We parachuted from the plane into the trees and we knew we weren’t done for.”
The rest is history!
Your Extinction Cycle series has had an incredible run so far. Take me through origins of this series. How did you come up with idea for Ghost Team and the Variants?
I’ve always enjoyed books on special ops, and I always wanted to write a zombie story, but I also wanted to write a story based on realistic science that would have the reader asking, is this possible? If you look at the reviews on Amazon you will see just that. Many readers have enjoyed this story, I think, because of the science explaining the Variants. The idea for the monsters came from a lot of bad dreams, books, video games, movies, and interviews I did with my readers. I wanted to create the most terrifying ‘zombie’ I could, full with sucker, popping lips, and snapping joints.
One of the things I adore about your Extinction Cycle series is the perfect balance that you strike between military action and science fiction. How hard is it to find that perfect mix between the two? How much research did you undertake before you started writing Extinction Horizon?
It was pretty difficult, yes. I spent a few weeks researching special forces and Ebola before I started writing the book. Then I worked with a team of active military and veterans on the military themes. For the science I worked with a biomedical engineer and a virologist. Even with all of that research and ‘dream team’ of beta readers and editors, I still made mistakes. I’m not sure the perfect mix exists in fiction. Thankfully there is a thing called hand waving in science fiction. Sometimes the author must use that to explain the unexplainable. I did that a few times in the series, including in book 6. But the plot for Aftermath is top-secret.
What do you think was the secret behind the success of your Extinction Cycle books?
I think I provided a story that was unique enough that it helped the series stand out in a field of the same old stories. The science really helped, too, because like I said earlier, a majority of readers seemed to find it was realistic enough to make the plot feasible.
Tell me about your latest book Hell Divers. What was the reasoning behind traditionally publishing it when you've had such great success self publishing?
I actually struggled with what to do with this one. At one point I was pretty set on self-publishing. In the end I decided to go with Blackstone Publishing because they did such a fantastic job with the Extinction Cycle audiobooks and they had a really good marketing plan for the trilogy. We just hit the USA Today Bestseller list, and I’m thrilled things are going so well!
You're one of a growing number of hybrid authors who traditionally publish and self publish their work . I'm curious, what are the benefits and negatives of this approach? Do you have a preference, or do you make that call depending on the project?
The answer to that is really freaking long and changes on the project, but take a look at this to see this blog post to see if it answers anything for you.
Tell me a random fact about yourself that no one else knows.
I have hobbit feet.
Who would be on your zombie apocalypse team? Why?
My girlfriend’s Pitbull, Ace. Her grandpa, Lester. He has a great tennis swing. And my author friend Anthony Melchiorri. I’d hope he could find a cure for the virus.
Take me through a day of writing with Nicholas Sansbury Smith. Do you have a particular routine, or is each day different to the other?
I usually answer fans and edit in the morning and write in the afternoons and at night. I work 7 days a week, and on the weekends I usually spend my time trying to get ahead on my word count for the next week.
What other projects do you have in the pipeline? I noticed you are contributing a story to the upcoming military horror anthology SNAFU: Black Ops (Cohesion Press). Can you tell us anything about that?
I have several more Extinction Cycle books planned (see Extinction Aftermath cover for next instalment in series), Hell Divers 2/3 and an EMP series that I’m going to self-publish later this year. The story to Black Ops is an Extinction Cycle story featuring two of the main characters. I also have the Kindle World launch of the Extinction Cycle coming up in October. We have a dozen fantastic authors that are contributing stories to the Extinction Cycle world.
You write about some scary shit. I'm curious, what frightens you?
The things I write about frighten me. The Variant sucker faces from the Extinction Cycle came from a nightmare I had a long time ago. Snakes also scare me, and you might see a Variant like form show up in book 6 and 7 of the Extinction Cycle. The Sirens in my Extinction Cycle are probably the creepiest monsters I've created. The most horrifying sound in the world to me are air raid sirens. That's why I gave the beasts in Hell Divers the ability to make noises just like the air raid sirens on the airships.
What's your take on the speculative fiction scene right now? What do we need to do better?
That’s a tough question. I think the answer really depends on whom you ask. For me, it’s not a question of writing better books--it’s a matter of writing unique storylines. One thing I try and always do is use a new theme that’s never been used before, but hell, I have my critics that would say I fail at this. It’s becoming more and more difficult to write a truly original storyline. Editors will tell you that virtually every story has been told and it’s just a matter of how you retell it. My goal is to prove them wrong and I think that other authors/publishers should strive to do the same thing.
Most cherished book in your library?
Signed copy of The Forever War by Joe Haldeman!
Best convention experience?
Best convention? I'd have to say San Diego Comiccon. I loved New York, but the weather in San Diego is amazing. Both are great experiences for science fiction fans. The only downside of San Diego is it's very hard to get into panels. It seemed the lines were way longer than in New York.
Best advice for aspiring writers?
My advice to other writers is always to keep writing. There are so many distractions in this business. Both positive and negative. Focus on being creative and writing the best damn story you can.
Nicholas Sansbury Smith, thanks for stopping by!