1. Tell me about your book Bad Apple and where you got your inspiration for it?
Bad Apple is the first book of my new YA fantasy series, The Warner Grimoire, and will be released on May 1st, 2013, exclusively to Amazon Kindle. Bad Apple follows the story of a teenage boy who drowns, and following his near-death experience discovers he is a wizard. Not long after his adopted father is kidnapped, and the journey to rescue him leads Simon on a collision course with a xenophobic warlock named Silas Darrow (think Magneto from the X-men) who wants to recruit Simon to his cult of worshippers and together destroy the non-magical world.
The inspiration. This is a long (and probably silly) answer. The Warner Grimoire began the day I lost my job, back in 2009. I was sitting up, sad and such, wondering what I was going to doing next. I had been working at Volition, Inc (a video game studio under THQ’s banner), with aspirations of one day moving up out of QA into a creative position. After a few really awesome, promising years, it had just ended. The Recession. I was crushed. So there I was, thinking, “Well, what do I do now?” To distract myself I started listening to some old music from high school. It was late, and I was more than willing to let my mind drift, when suddenly I had this image in my mind of this place, deep in the forest. I’m sure I was half asleep. It made sense along with the music, which was thoroughly moody. It was in this half-sleep/half-trance state that I first glimpsed the world of Simon Warner. Now, I did fall asleep for a bit, but when I awoke, it was just past midnight (I swear), and I sat up with a jolt and started writing down everything I could remember, as fast as I could: a boy, the woods, magic. And it all began to unroll from there. I had my answer. I knew what I was going to do next.
2. Who has had the most influence in your life? What lessons did this person teach you?
Artistically, I would have to say Neil Gaiman. American Gods was a watershed moment for me, both creatively, and imaginatively. Personally though, I have to say my mother. She’s disabled, but is tough as nails. Every day growing up she taught me strength and determination.
3. How would you like to be remembered?
I’ve always envisioned being remembered through some sort of quirky, global treasure hunt where the kid who wins does so because of the life lessons he learned along the way.
4. If you could interview anyone from your life, living or dead, but not a celebrity, who would it be and why?
I would have like to have met my paternal grandfather. He fought in D-Day on the beaches of Normandy and was left for dead when a grenade exploded right in front of him. Toughness runs in my father’s family, and my grandfather was no different. He survived and stole a German motorcycle and rode to camp. They had already sent off the list of soldiers lost in action. They had to send a retraction. That’s somebody you want to get to know.
5. Do you have a writing process? If so describe it.
Oh man. You know, I’ve tried a ton of different approaches to having a “process.” At first I thought everything needed to be pen and paper. Later, journals, and then I tried a hybrid of digital and “analog.” In the end, I realized two things: first, it’s silly to think there’s a “right” way, and second, the most important part is to just write your brains out. For me, that means typing with the brakes off. Most of the time, you just have to be fearless.
6. What is usually your first thought in the morning?
I am a terrible sleeper, have been as long as I can remember. Most morning I am startled awake by this god-awful, ear-piercing alarm, otherwise I’d sleep the day away. So most of the time my first thought is “Gah!” followed by, “Oh god feed the cats Feed them before they attack.”
7. You’re given one million pounds/dollars/euros, what would you spend it on?
I would set up my own production company and bring all the amazing talent I know under one banner. From there, we would form a Creative Army and put ourselves right at the forefront of innovation. Books, comics, movies, everything. Video games. I’ve been blessed to know a lot of talented people, and we could do something amazing if we had the resources to band together under our own banner.
8. Are you mostly a clean or messy person?
I have organized pockets of chaos. My office is overflowing with books, magazines, piles of just about everything. The walls are covered in art prints, portraits, old newspaper clippings, even a sign I painted when I was a kid. It’s a system only I really get. It’s crazy. The rest of the house looks like a furniture store though, all clean and organized. The kitchen is highly organized, like any good alchemy lab.
9. If someone came up to you and wanted to tell you about an idea or a book they were writing, what would you do? Or what advice would you give?
I would invite them to share a meal with me and have a real discussion, time permitting. If time is short I pass them my contact info. Everybody has a unique story, a different voice from my own, and you never know where you’re next idea might come from. As far as practical advice, I would tell them what my mentor in college told me: stop talking about writing, and write!
10. What is the most demeaning/demoralising thing ever said about you as a writer?
There was a point last year when I had some real interest from an agency in The Warner Grimoire series. The head of the agency (who shall remain nameless), loved the pitch and wanted a partial. Great, right? Well, we went back and forth for eight months, when finally the agency head handed me off to the YA agent. At this point, representation seemed like it was really going to happen. It all came to an ignominious end, though, a few weeks later. I was waiting to hear back on a full submission to the agent, and when the response came, it was one word: “No.” That was it. No explanation, nothing. Now, I know agents are super busy, so I didn’t expect much, but a single word response? It was harsh. I’d heard plenty of others talk about turns such as this, but after spending almost a year in this courtship, for it to end so abruptly, well, it kind of broke my spirit for a while. I licked my wounds longer than I’d like to admit, but out of that pain came some amazing work. Maybe I’ll publish it someday.
11. Who would play you in a film about your life?
Can we get Norman Reedus? The Walking Dead just wrapped for the season. I think he’s got the right mix of gruff and facial hair.
12. What are the most important attributes to staying sane as a writer?
Compartmentalizing. When you’re writing, there needs to be nothing in your world except your work. Not even you. It must be all within the world of your story. Then, when you’re out in the Outside World, you need to be taking breaks. You need to get out of your story from time to time, freshen the idea reservoir. It needs to be tucked away in a mental cauldron, bubbling and mixing while you’re out experiencing the world.
13. Do you research your novels?
I research characters, settings, imagery. Definitely imagery. The Warner Grimoire is full of all kinds of imagery, both big and small. Again, it’s a puzzle to be solved.
14. Are you jealous of other writers?
I celebrate the success of other writers. I know plenty, and whenever I see them succeed, I see them progressing on their own path of fulfilment. The only time jealousy would even enter the picture is if I see them come up with an absolutely brilliant idea. It’s totally a, “Why didn’t I think of that?!?!” reaction.
15. Do you believe in love at first sight? Have you ever experienced it?
I met my wife 11 years ago at the movies through a mutual friend. From the moment our eyes met, I knew she was the one. The feeling was overwhelming, and mutual, and today we are happily married. So, yes.
16. What’s your favourite book and why?
This is a rotating spot. Once upon a time, it was Doctor De Soto, but I was four. That quickly was replaced by The Monster at the End of This Book, which held the honor for many years. These days, it has to be my signed copy of Me Talk Pretty One Day, by David Sedaris. There’s an essay in there that really gave me a lot of strength at a time when I needed it.
17. What do you like most about being a writer?
The freedom to ask weird questions. “It’s for a book, I swear!” Saying “I’m a writer” has a great way of opening doors for you. It goes back to finding ideas. Anybody you meet, anybody, will open up and give you a great idea as soon as you those magic words. “I’m a writer,” tells people, “I love stories. What’s yours?” and the next thing you now, you’ve shared something with them, and them with you.
18. How do you overcome writers block?
Writer’s block, in my mind, means I’ve gone down the wrong path with my story. It’s like a literal roadblock, so I back up and look for the intersection where I went wrong and delete everything past that point. Then, I start again. If it kills a darling, so be it. It goes back to being fearless.
19. What three things would you save from a fire at your house? (assume that all your family get out safe.)
a. My wedding album.
b. My laptop.
c. A box of photos from my childhood.
20. How did you come up with the title for your latest book?
Actually, the title for the longest time was American Magic: The Book of Light, but in the end I realized it just didn’t work. American Magic is a great title, but just not right for this book. I plan to repurpose it someday.
21. What are your current projects?
Working on the second book of The Warner Grimoire, titled Revenant Moon. A second collection of short stories (the first collection is available on Amazon). There’s also an unannounced project way back in the pipeline that I’m not free to talk about yet, but involves some of that amazing talent I mentioned.
22. Do you recall how your interest in writing occurred?
In 3rd grade there was this young writer’s competition. My first story, The Warriors of Death, didn’t win. In fact I think it got me a parent-teacher conference for my trouble.
23. If you couldn’t be an author, what career would you chose?
I’ve always thought about teaching. Alternatively, I would like to run a curiosity shop with my wife.
24. What’s your favourite love story? (movie or book)
Beauty and the Beast, Disney, 1991.
25. If you could go back in time and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?
“Don’t try to do that backflip on the trampoline.”
26. If you woke up as (name any famous personality) what would be the first thing you’d do?
If I woke up as Kevin Smith (director of Clerks) I would hop on his Twitter and tell my legion of loyal followers to buy The Warner Grimoire.
14-year-old Simon Warner isn't having a very good October. To start with, he drowned, and then the real trouble started. Next thing he knows, he's back among the living, and face-to-face with an ghoulish-looking man who kidnaps his adopted father. Enter Nathan Tamerlane, a bonafide wizard, and soon Simon is deep in the hidden world of the supernatural, walking among the Freemancers: a secret society of wizards, and the stewards of all magic on Earth. Soon the truth is revealed: Simon's birth parents are wicked sorcerers who betrayed the Freemancers years ago before going into hiding. Making matters worse, a cruel and xenophobic warlock named Silas Darrow is gathering his followers (some would say worshipers) to lead an assault on the non-magical world. Now, if Simon ever wants to see his adopted father again, he's going to have to join Darrow's cult. Easier said than done. All it takes is one moment of weakness, and a powerful evil will infest Simon's soul forever.
(in his own words)
I'm a refugee from wild world of video game testing, currently a project manager passing my days in the wild (and very flat) plains of Central Illinois. Once upon a time I was the editor for Grassroots Literary Magazine at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, where I earned my Bachelors of Arts in Creative Writing. Today I help make sure software ships on time, and at night I'm busy making things up and writing them down.
In my spare time (what is that again?) I like to read and cook and play with my cats and maintain my blog at www.clayheld.com. When the weather is right, I go storm spotting. Illinois is good like that.