Ex-Isle, the 5th book in Peter Clines’s Ex-Heroes series, just came out, and Peter kindly answered a few of my questions, and more! Also, courtesy of the publisher, we have one copy to give away to one lucky US winner!
Can you give us a teaser for Ex-Isle? What can fans of the series expect?
Ahhhhhh… I really want to, but the truth is I hate giving things away. Even little things. I really think most stories are best experienced cold, so nothing’s been robbed of its dramatic impact. I’m like JJ Abrams that way. Just without the money or the prestige or the Star Wars contract.
I can say that our heroes get split up on different missions, so we won’t see some as much as others. We’re going to see some of the repercussions of events in the last book, and also the results from a few seeds that were planted way back when. And, as always, there’s a reason the title can be read two different ways.
For those that haven’t read the series, will you tell us a little about the “world” you created?
The Ex-Heroes series is set in a world where superheroes exist. Some people developed superpowers or superhuman abilities in a variety of different ways, and many of them decided to use their powers for the greater good. And then a zombie apocalypse happened, and the heroes failed to save the world.
When the series begins, it’s been a year since society collapsed and the surviving heroes and surviving citizens of Los Angeles are trying to rebuild some kind of society in a film studio that they’ve converted into a fortress, the Mount.
And then things get a little crazy.
What are a few of your favorite characters to write, and what have you enjoyed most about writing the series?
It’s a little cliché to say, I know, but they’re all my favorite in one way or another. I think if a writer doesn’t enjoy writing the characters in some way or another, it’s going to show on the page. We’ve all seen the characters or chapters where it just feels like the writer’s struggling to get through this section, that they don’t want to write it. And if that’s the case, if I don’t like writing it, why would anyone want to read it?
Barry—Zzzap—is always fun, because he’s as much of a geek as I am. I love St. George as the boy scout and Stealth as the all-too-practical Sherlock Holmes type. There’s a new character in Ex-Isle, Mitchel (with one L) and I decided early on he was going to be abhorrent. Just the worst human being ever. And in a horrible sort of way… he was fun to write. At one point I just got a little too into it, coming up with more and more ways to make him bad, and my editor said, “Okay, maaaaybe we’re going too far now. Everyone’s going to get it—he’s awful.”
As far as overall… I’ve enjoyed writing a series with zombies and superheroes that’s overall hopeful and positive. It’s so easy for these things to go dark and bleak, to just be about gore and have everyone become antiheroes. I like the idea of people trying to bring the world back rather than sinking into despair.
What kind of research have you done for the books, and Ex-Isle in particular?
I’ve had to do research on a bunch of things over the years. Some of it is books and online articles, teaching myself about quantum physics or odd historical factoids. A lot of my stories are set in southern California, so sometimes it’s just me walking around places and observing little details. And I have a lot of friends with a wide range of knowledge. Military vets from pretty much every branch of the service. Doctors, biochemists, electrical engineers, coders, and lots of folks from the film industry, who all tend to have a broad range of knowledge in their field. And then I ignore some of the stuff they tell me just so I can make the story more fun.
I did a fair amount of Ex-Isle research, yeah, but it’s hard to talk about it without giving some bigger things away.
What is your writing process like?
Messy. Really, really messy.
Usually while I’m working on one book I’m making notes to myself for another one. Snippets of dialogue. Plot points. Story points. Little character details. This eventually gets organized into more or less of an outline.
Once I dive into my first draft, I just try to get it done. I’ll skip over things that are causing problems or I still need to research. It’s kind of freeing, I think, to just admit your first draft is going to be crap, because it lets you move through it a lot faster. And then once I have a draft, it’s a lot easier to wade in and start fixing things. I try to do at least three drafts before I send it to beta readers, and then one or two more before I show it to my editor. And I’m fortunate to have a really good editor who pushes me on stuff. If he thinks I’ve gone the easy way with something, he’ll nudge me (sometimes shove me…) to try harder and challenge myself.
For you, what makes a good story? Is there anything that will make you put a book down, unfinished?
Characters make the story, every time. If a story has characters that I like, identify with, and believe in, then I’m going to believe in almost anything that happens to them. If Phoebe feels like a real person to me, I have to believe in what she finds in the basement because she found it and she’s real. I try to make sure my characters are always grounded somehow, that they have elements that just feel natural and understandable.
Now… put a book down, meaning one I’m writing or one I’m reading? If it’s writing, it’s really rare for me to hit that point anymore, because I’m not going in quite as wild and unprepared as I used to. I’ll get frustrated sometimes, or have to tear out some things and start again, but I don’t think I’ve given up on a book that I actually started in eight or nine years.
As far as books I’m reading… I try really hard to finish everything I read. I think there’s always something to get out of a book, even if it’s “Never, ever do this…” But sometimes, yeah, I just can’t take it. And it’s usually because of characters. I actually put a book down about two weeks ago—the first one I haven’t finished in about a year. The dialogue almost never rang true, and the characters did a lot of nonsense things in the name of forwarding the plot. I think I had fifty pages left, but I just couldn’t handle it.
What are you currently reading?
Let’s see… I’m just diving into Experimental Film by Gemma Files. Recently I’ve finished The Darwin Elevator by Jason Hough, which I’ve been meaning to read for ages, and The Voodoo Killings by Kristi Charish, which was an advanced copy. They’re both fantastic, highly recommended. I also just reread Brian Daley’s Han Solo books, the trilogy that came out back in the late seventies. I haven’t read them since I was ten or eleven, so that was fun. I really need to pick up the other books in Cheri Priest’s Borden Dispatches series, because I loved the first one.
What’s next for you? Is there anything else you’d like to share?
I’m just starting another draft on my new book, which is a creepy time-travel road trip sort of thing. I think that’s due on my editor’s desk on April 1st, if memory serves. After that… I’ve got a few ideas I’ll be bouncing off him.
The spectacular fifth adventure in the genre-busting Ex-Heroes series
The heroes are overjoyed when they discover another group of survivors, living on a man-made island in the middle of the Pacific ocean. But there’s something very, very wrong with this isolated community and its mysterious leader—a secret that could put every survivor in the world at risk.