Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like
Today I have the pleasure of sitting down with post-apocalypse dystopian author, Alex Vorkov, to talk about his new novel, Awkward Stage. This is Vorkov’s first novel, so please check it out at Amazon and read an excerpt by clicking on the cover above.
1. Congratulations on your new novel, Awkward Stage. It looks like a Young Adult, dystopian, horrorfest with underworld neofascist zombie overtones. Am I close? (And by the way, I notice that customers who viewed Awkward Stage on Amazon also viewed Murder in White Lace: A Bridal Shop Mystery. Compare and contrast, if you would.)
You are not that close, but it was a lovely try! Awkward Stage is a young adult novel for adults. It has all the profanity and graphic violence sadly missing from The Fault in Our Stars. Let’s call it AYA (Adult Young Adult) fiction.
It’s actually a very-near-future (like, tomorrow perhaps) post-apocalyptic story that is told on a character level. The epic stuff is the backdrop. I want readers to taste the dirt and smell the death up close.
The hero, Josie, is an unwanted child and a social misfit whose loner lifestyle has, oddly, prepared her for an existence of scavenging and doing everything for herself in the wasteland formerly known as Baltimore. The villain, Zane, is a wealthy young psychopath who views the end of the world as a glorious opportunity to make himself into a god-king. Definitely neo-fascist. Alas, no zombies.
Murder in White Lace: A Bridal Shop Mystery probably has fewer heads on spikes and more murder suspects. I see nothing wrong with reading that and Awkward Stage, since both Karen Sue Walker and I surely aim to entertain readers.
2. This book is self-published on Amazon KDP. I’m curious: did you ever submit it to traditional publishers? Or, like me, have you decided that traditional publishers want to keep pumping out Harry Potter books until we take up torches and pitchforks and force them to change?
I shopped it a bit here and there, but my heart wasn’t in it. I’m not sure publishers put all that much into promoting books anymore, so I’d rather take my chances on my own and, to some degree, control my own destiny.
That said, if anyone wants to give me a blockbuster publishing contract, I’m listening.
3. Are you aware that your last name looks a little like a pair of vampire fangs — “vorkov”? That’s scary. But cool.
Fate practically demands that I write a vampire novel someday, doesn’t it? Are we still in the middle of Twilight backlash, or is the time right to drop a new vampire tale on people? I’m game. Expect more blood and less teen angst (not that there’s anything wrong with it).
4. Oh, now I get it! Your Amazon bio says, “Alex Vorkov, a vampire, has passed for human for over ten years working as a copywriter and editor.” What’s it like for a vampire working in an American office setting? They let you work nights?
Advances in sunblock have improved the lives of blood-drinkers everywhere. SPF 5000 should do the trick. Though, as a writer yourself, you know that copywriters don’t get offices with windows. I’m well protected from natural light by austere cubicle walls. #meaningfulexistence.
5. I think a pretty good book could come out of that scenario. Have you ever thought of writing an autobiography? Or a spec sitcom script?
Ooh, I could write about how often co-workers use the word “that” in their reports when it’s so obviously extraneous most of the time. And how I shake my head almost imperceptibly just before I make the edit. There really should be more autobiographies from people who work in office buildings.
6. Tell us how the novel came about. Was it an idea in your head for a long time? Or did you throw it together after an absinthe toot?
True story: I was brushing my teeth and the opening line just appeared in my head. I grabbed my laptop and wrote the first five pages of what would eventually become Awkward Stage. When I figured out that the story should be about four characters whose survival stories drive them inexorably closer, I went back to the beginning, to the day the apocalypse began, to show how people’s different experiences and backgrounds in the “normal” world would continue to affect their lives and actions after the fall of mankind. For example, the wealthy psychopath, even in a world where money is meaningless, still has advantages the other characters don’t.
7. You seem like the kind of writer who was probably obsessed with monsters, horror, scary stuff in general as a kid. What are some of your influences?
I was born loving anything to do with weird creatures, ghosts, vampires, and aliens. When other kids were reading “Boy’s Life” magazine, I was reading Salem’s Lot and Carrie. I do want to emphasize, though, that Awkward Stage is not a supernatural horror novel. It’s more along the lines of Lord of the Flies. Dark human nature stuff. No zombies!
8. You give us a couple of dynamic female protagonists in Awkward Stage, Josie and Shawnika. What was your approach to writing female characters as a male … vampire?
That’s a hard question to answer. I don’t have a formal approach to writing female characters, because that would ring false in the text and perhaps be condescending to women. When I write fiction, I’m like an actor playing a character, only I’m writing out the thoughts and actions. Toward the beginning of the story (chronologically), Josie, the hero, is shy and avoids people. To her mom, she’s an afterthought. Her older sister is far more popular. How would a young girl with her nature and her experience react to stimuli? It’s a sort of empathic writing style.
Shawnika, she’s a super-intelligent girl who is stuck in an environment where people don’t see it. She just transferred to a shitty school full of crime and gangs, and adults there are paying attention to other things. As a black girl experiencing prejudice in a white, male dominated culture, she has lofty dreams of becoming a civil rights leader and maybe a lawyer, but meanwhile she’s pinned down with immediate problems like keeping her kid brother out of trouble and defending herself in a dangerous school. Now blow up the world and kill six billion people. Given what I described about her, how does she react? That’s my approach.
9. I love the tag line in the Amazon blurb: “Awkward Stage … they’re not cute anymore.” Were they cute at one time? Really?
Well, you and I know that children are little monsters, but the average human out there thinks they’re cute until about age 6. After that, it just gets worse and worse. You remember middle school, don’t you?
10. What The Hell has over 2400 followers, about eight of whom actually buy things. This is your opportunity to make your case that they should buy Awkward Stage for $3.99 at Amazon. Go!
On a story level, there’s no walking away for anyone in Awkward Stage. It’s fight or die, and the stakes grow ever higher with each chapter. I believe in a show-don’t-tell storytelling style and didn’t have to edit out boring exposition because it was never there to start with.
People complain female characters in books are one-dimensional or are merely props on the male characters’ stage. My novel is centered on female characters and the complexities they’d face in extraordinary circumstances.
Also, can you find Waldo? He’s not in my book, because that would be copyright infringement.
Thanks for visiting, Alex. And I wish you great things with Awkward Stage and your career as a vampire/copywriter/editor/novelist.