Hi Josh! Thank you for agreeing to an interview. I know you're busy with the upcoming release of your new novel. Can you tell me (and readers) a bit about your newest novel?
Julie: It didn't take you very long to write Victim Zero. Did it help that you have been consistently developing your post-apocalyptic world in your Living With The Dead series?
Josh: Absolutely. Several beta readers told me independently that this was the novel I should have written a long time ago, and my response to them was the same: I couldn't have done it before now. LWtD began as writing practice for me, and without years of using it for that purpose and sharpening my skills this novel would have been impossible. It also helps that I've been mostly off work for the last few months. The sense of focus on writing combined with a powerful need to make this book a success has given me a drive that I've never felt before.
Julie: Does Victim Zero include real life friends and family as in LWTD?
Josh: Other than vague references, no. This book is focused on other characters, ones totally out of my imagination.
Julie: Your mother had a prominent role in the first parts of LWTD. She also seems to have a large impact on your writing ( she has an awesome sense of humor if your Facebook page is any indicator). Would you say she is your biggest fan?
Josh: It's more accurate to say Mom is my first and best critic. She is uncompromisingly honest in her assessment of my work. Many of the ideas that eventually make their way into my stories, she has a hand in. A few were even hers to begin with. She has been supportive but realistic with my writing career from day one, and more than any other person aside from myself, she has shaped my career.
Julie: Okay, I've covered my reasons for my zombie obsession – what about you? Why zombies?
Josh: As a teenager I was just like anyone else; I wanted to be the action hero. The ability to guiltlessly blow the heads off bad guys appealed to me. As I grew up the genre began to appeal to me on a broader spectrum. I liked survival stories. I liked the idea of planning out how to do it. As an adult I began to see the human stories told in contrast against that backdrop, which is what I've aimed to do with my work. I like the idea pioneered by George Romero, that zombies are only a set piece to tell the stories of characters, of people. To see how they cope and change and break and heal again. Zombie stories give you an infinite number of opportunities as a writer.
Julie: You have a unique take on zombies in your LWTD series (novels and blogs). Were you tired of the same old zombies?
Josh: It wasn't any kind of pretentious decision on my part, like I wasn't coming down on the genre and saying 'I can do this better and differently'. I just knew there were things I always wanted to read about in those kinds of stories but never seemed to find. So when I decided to write, I wrote about the stuff I'd been pondering for years and ended up telling the zombie story I'd always wanted to read.
Julie: Quick – Favorite zombie movie? Book? Mayo or Miracle Whip?
Josh: As for the movies, that's tough. There are so many eras and types. But if there is one I keep coming back to over and over again as a film and as a wonderfully told story, it's 28 Days Later. Though Shaun of the Dead might be tied with it. As for books, I'm a big fan of James Cook's Surviving The Dead series. Jim is a friend of mine and soon-to-be collaborator, and his books kept me reading nonstop for a few days. Though I'd be an ass not to mention The Walking Dead comics, which are my favorite written zombie works. (Julie's note: Josh did not answer Mayo or Miracle Whip. It shall remain a mystery!)
Julie: All of your novels are self published. Do you have a reason for choosing to self publish?
Josh: I have many. One, it's easier. I don't have to wait years to get a response from an agent, I don't have to worry about some random person's whim deciding if my book is good enough. I like cutting out that middle man and letting the readers decide for themselves. I'm not absolutely opposed to traditional publishing, but given the royalty rates I make now and the creative freedom I have, it would take a better offer than the two I've turned down to turn my books over to anyone.
Julie: What advice do you have to aspiring authors? What about those that want to try self publishing?
Josh: To anyone who wants to tell a story, which is most people: write. You might only have a small kernel of an idea, and that's cool. Just write. Work on it. Build your abilities and hone your skills. Don't talk about doing it for years like I did until you finally break down and start typing. Do it now. You'll suck at it, but you'll get better every day. Be critical of your work but remember always to be honest as well. Because if you keep writing and trying to improve, your work will get better.
As for anyone wanting to try self-publishing: do it. The beautiful thing about it is that you have nothing to lose. You either make money or you don't, but you hold the rights to your work. You can always submit that work later if you choose.
Julie: Do you plan to eventually pitch to an agent and possibly line up a publisher or are you happy with the self publishing avenues available today?
Josh: I have no plans to do that. Pretty much ever. I've had two publishing companies approach me about the rights to Living With the Dead and I turned them both down. Agents can be great things, and I might seek one out down the road if I ever have the sort of popularity that requires someone to manage my works, but I doubt it. I'll never seek out a publishing deal other than to negotiate foreign editions or audiobooks, because other than a ludicrously thick stack of money, traditional publishers have nothing positive to offer me and they come with a boatload of headaches. There are a few, like the Amazon imprints, that seem progressive and flexible. I'd give them much more thought than any of the Big Six, but I still lean heavily toward doing it myself.
Julie: There have been some amazing stories of authors selling millions of copies through self publishing. Sometimes these authors receive huge publishing deals. Recently an author negotiated sale of print rights, but kept digital rights. What would you do in such a situation?
Josh: It would depend on the situation, or course, but generally I would want to hold onto my digital rights if at all possible. If not, I would require a truly stupid sum of money to give them up, and some sort of ironclad agreement that those rights revert to me in a set time frame. A huge problem with digital rights is that most contracts tie them to print rights. Which means a publisher can keep the hugely profitable electronic rights by printing a few thousand copies of your book every few years even if they don't plan to sell those copies. That might sound paranoid; it isn't. That's the most commonly used tactic in the industry today to hold onto electronic rights publishers would otherwise lose. So for me, I'd turn down any offer that didn't come with absolute guarantees that my rights would be returned to me at a given point.
Julie: Thanks again for taking the time to answer questions. Is there anything else you would like to share about yourself, your books, or maybe even zombie survival tips?
Josh: I really, really love pickles. It's frankly a little scary.
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BREAKING NEWS: Joshua Guess is a fan of both mayo AND Miracle Whip. It all depends on the sandwich.