Saturday, September 17, 2011

Interview with Kyle B. Stiff

Heavy Metal Thunder (Heavy Metal Thunder, #1)What is Heavy Metal Thunder about?
Heavy Metal Thunder is a “choose your own adventure” book on steroids. You read it as if you were the main character, a jetpack infantryman named Cromulus, and make choices whenever the narrative reaches a branch. If it sounds nerdy… it is. Depending on what level of nerdiness the reader is comfortable with, you can even pick skills and distribute stat points that can help define Cromulus as a unique individual. And the story is not like the simple “choose your own adventure” stories of long ago; it’s on another level completely. Heavy Metal Thunder takes place in the future, when alien invaders come and lay claim to the earth – which wasn’t hard at all for them, because humanity had achieved a level of cultural weakness such that we were practically bent over and unsure how to fight back. Humanity had been obeying rules and living in debt for so long that nobody cared who was in charge. Greedy corporations, corrupt governments, and hostile aliens all wanted the same things, after all.
Then came the “human fanatics” of the Black Lance Legion. With reverse-engineered alien technology and a new culture that enshrined living one’s life well rather than just surviving, they sparked a guerilla war all across the solar system in a last ditch effort to reawaken humanity’s fighting spirit. The main character, Cromulus, is a jetpack infantryman separated from his unit. He finds out that the Invaders are tracking down his ship and could possibly wipe out the human resistance. Cromulus has to make a perilous journey through the solar system, where he encounters humans who know nothing about the Legion and are living lives of quiet desperation while they wait for the Invaders to kill or enslave them. They tend to see Cromulus as either a raving lunatic or a victim to take advantage of, and Cromulus has to make difficult choices when dealing with these lost souls…

What is it like writing a choose-your-own adventure story?
It’s really not as hard as some people think! I’d already written some “normal” books in another series, so I was used to the idea of keeping my notes straight, organizing my thoughts, keeping a big project fun, et cetera. So making all the branching storylines in Heavy Metal Thunder just added another layer of organization on top of the creative process. It was fun to not have one single identity for the main character; instead, I wrote him as a sort of unbalanced ticking time-bomb who was adamant about reaching the end of his journey, but could flip either way in terms of helping people out or walking all over them. That way he could be controlled by the reader, but still have a personality rather than be a total blank slate, which is a recurring problem in most “choose your own adventure” books.

Where did you get the idea for your book?

I had the idea for the series right after I had a botched spinal tap. I was leaking spinal fluid and was so dizzy that I couldn’t get out of bed for days. I could barely even read, so I spent a lot of time in my own head… even more than usual. I saw an image of black-armored soldiers flying on jetpacks in the darkness of space. I saw them fighting with hand-to-hand weapons, flying and colliding, both ancient and futuristic. I saw black ships and the red glint of laser fire reflected off shields. The idea for the entire series grew out of that simple image.

How did you come up with the title?
Apparently I stole it! When I was playing around with the overall tone of the series, I decided that a lot of the soldiers (especially the fanatics) would listen to heavy metal music while fighting. See, the human culture that was destroyed by the Invaders was all about being clever, cute, self-aware, and all-around postmodern… rather than being genuine, strong, having depth, and being free of acute self-awareness. Heavy metal music was all that the soldiers of the Black Lance Legion had that could help bolster their resolve. So the title Heavy Metal Thunder came to me; I thought it sounded “tough” so I kept it. Eventually I did a little paranoid research and found out that the term came from a Steppenwolf song which may be the first song that refers to “heavy metal”… depending on who you ask. Other bands have referenced the phrase “heavy metal thunder”, and even a game released only in Japan also has the same name. I thought about changing the title, then I just decided that 1) the title references the very roots of heavy metal music, a type of music that I believe is the best improvement on pure silence that humanity has ever created, 2) the title has cropped up enough that it’s now a part of a tradition, and 3) it’s pretty much the title that was “given” to me by the Muse, and it would be ungrateful of me to change it.

Who designed the cover?
I did! Back in the day, I used to write books for Lulu dot com and I spent a lot of time on the covers. In retrospect, I think they were all pretty terrible. They were overdone, had too many textures, too many things going on, and they were so cluttered they ended up looking like old Image comic book covers. I didn’t want to repeat the same mistake with Heavy Metal Thunder, so I found a free picture of some space dust, played with the colors a little bit, pulled out a couple of simple “graphic design” tricks that any monkey can do, and that was that. I’m no visual artist, so I decided to go simple. Someday I hope to scrape enough money together that I can pay an actual visual artist to go all-out and create a cover that can do Heavy Metal Thunder justice.

Do you have to travel a lot for your book?
No, only in my own head. I’m still just a servant, a slave who makes money by giving time and energy to companies I don’t care about in exchange for just enough money to survive. I have to write in my spare time. Not many people have heard of Heavy Metal Thunder yet, though I hope that will soon change since so many people remember “choose your own adventure” books fondly. Plus, I’ve been writing for so long and with so little to show for it that in some sense it would be just as absurd to quit writing as it would be to continue.

When did you write your first book and how old were you?
Oh man, I’ve been writing since I was tiny. I used to draw pictures of stick figures, then I would put random letters on the page and ask my mom to read what I’d just written. As soon as I could write actual sentences, I started putting together violent stories about vigilante on criminals. My teachers were always disturbed; I could never understand how they missed the wholesome message behind a normal dude who picks up a baseball bat or a gun and just makes a bloodbath out of the kind of creeps that we all live in fear of anyway! I remember once I tried to write a “choose your own adventure” book about Indiana Jones, but I never finished it because it was too disturbing writing so many death scenes for Indy. There’s no telling how old I was because I’ve always had a broken sense of how time actually works.

If your book was a movie, who would you pick to play the main characters?
Wow, what a question! Though he was too old at the time, probably only Alejandro Jodorowsky as he appeared in El Topo could play as Cromulus. Both Cromulus and the protagonist of El Topo go through a spiritual journey through Hell where they both see and commit all these different atrocities. I think a young Kyle MacLachlin would play an excellent John Christian; whoever plays John Christian would have to look shy and sensitive, but also have a hateful psychotic streak just under the surface. Captain Numitor, who is cool as ice and a supreme gentleman, would have to be played by Gary Oldman. The beastly yet warm-hearted Ron Perlman could play Commander Uther, leader of the fanatical unit that Cromulus eventually joins. Cromulus’s rival-turn-friend Marcus would have to be played by rapper Krizz Kaliko; I’d love to see that guy drop twenty Invaders with a machinegun while sassing Cromulus. Sybel, the strange fanatic and dream interpreter who “draws names from the void” would have to be played by Cillian Murphy, since they both have soft ways but piercing eyes. A young Fairuza Balk could play as the spitfire Reika. As for my favorite characters, Cletus and Buford, I think you’d have to go to the Deep South and just look for two badass rednecks who love to scream and brawl and cast them on the spot. And when he finally makes his appearance, I think a bearded Hugo Weaving could play the legendary Admiral Franks, leader of the Black Lance Legion.

Do you plan on writing sequels?
Most definitely! Heavy Metal Thunder is actually the first in a twelve book series. It follows the life of the protagonist, Cromulus, who begins his career as a jetpack infantryman, then goes on to lead his own unit, then becomes an elite special forces bad-butt, then becomes captain of his own ship… and I don’t want to say where he goes after that. I also have two prequel books planned; they’ll be about Cromulus before he became a human fanatic. The prequel books will take place when the Invaders first arrived and, since humanity was living in a completely “postmodern” state of cultural weakness, instead of learning “skills” in order to survive, Cromulus will have a large selection of “weaknesses” that will help him crawl through life without making any scenes. The entire span of the series will take Cromulus from childhood and his young adult life as a spineless weakling all the way to something old and “godlike”.

How long did it take you to complete Heavy Metal Thunder?
Only two or three months, tops. The place where I was working went out of business and I got on unemployment for a while. Every day I woke up, wasted time on the internet for an hour, then wrote and wrote until I was exhausted and passed out. That was around the time when I became completely nocturnal and it was great, just a really magical time in my life. I wrote a bunch of other books, too. For anyone out there who wants to be a fulltime writer and really live the dream, my suggestion is to be born rich so that you won’t have to live a hellish existence of stirring giant vats of chili, or doing data entry in a cubicle alongside hundreds of other angry cubicles, or cleaning up endless piles of dog poop and vomit… and then writing for less than an hour every night after you’ve managed to peel yourself off the couch because you’re exhausted, which is the way things have often gone for me. Whatever you do, don’t be born as a working-class nobody. It’s the biggest mistake you can make as a writer.

What is your favorite book?While I’m usually not a big fan of flowery prose, the book that’s hit me the hardest is Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian. He makes the American Wild West feel like the Apocalypse, where every soul is forced to go on an endless Grail Quest through Hell. I’ve never understood people who can “do well” at life with a straight face; to me, life has always seemed like running a gauntlet with drunken freaks on either side swinging chains and bats, and all the while I’m clutching a resume and trying to keep it from getting creased or smudged with my own blood. Blood Meridian does a great job of portraying the world like that – the way I see it.

About Kyle B. Stiff:Kyle B. Stiff has always wanted to tell stories for a living… but the world needs menial servants, not entertainers. For a few minutes (in internet time) he reviewed video games for a living, and most of those reviews can still be found online. He is engaged to an amazing lady named Rufus Archer whose beauty and wisdom mark her as a descendant of the ancient Atlanteans! He currently has yet another job coming up and he has so much riding on it that, all things considered, he is grateful for it. 

His Website: http://www.heavymetalthunderseries.wordpress.com/ and, for anyone who’s a fan of full-on insanity, http://www.kylebstiff.wordpress.com/. The second one is not for the faint of fizzle.

Social Media sites: http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1843713535

Links to where his book is available:

Smashwords

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