Interview by Angie Taylor
Welcome, Nerys Wheatley, to BOD’s author spotlight! I’m excited to get to know you a little.
Thank you, I’m excited to be here! I’ve been a member of the wonderful BOD Facebook group for over a year now and being in the spotlight is quite an honor!
To jump right in, can you tell us how you became interested in writing and how long you’ve been a writer?
I’ve always loved reading and I’ve been writing for fun ever since I can remember. I’d wanted to write a novel ever since my teens, but because of my tendency to start things and not finish, I never thought I’d actually do it. I have a file full of stories with beginnings, but no middles or ends. Writing a whole book seemed like such a mammoth task! Then I came across an article online about yeti erotica. I swear I wasn’t actually looking for yeti erotica, but I saw the title and couldn’t believe it was actually a thing! It turned out to be about self-publishing which I wasn’t really aware of. Yes, I was embarrassingly late into it! After some research, I decided to write a short romance novella as kind of a test run, to see if I could do it. It didn’t exactly set the Amazon charts on fire, but it did infect me with the serious writing bug. After that, I wrote four full-length romance novels in the space of about nine months and then started on zombies. Because zombies are clearly the natural next step after romance!
Ha ha! Too funny. Yes. Your reasoning about zombies and romance makes perfect sense. What kind of stories do you like to write and what is the process you go through to produce them? Are you a planner or a panster?
I like to write anything! I think everything I write has certain things in common, like moving along at a good pace and humor and strong characters, but I enjoy writing all genres. My process is stupidly haphazard and I keep thinking I would like to be more organized about it, but so far that hasn’t happened! I usually start off with the lead characters and a vague idea for a plot, then I just write and more comes to me as I go along. So I start off pantsing and as I get into the story I do tend to plan a bit more. I often write scenes out of order and fit them together later, a bit like a jigsaw puzzle. That’s especially true when I write romances as they tend to be less plot-heavy and are more about the development of the relationship. With sci-fi, I write more in chronological order, although not completely. I often don’t get a sense of how the plot all fits together until I’ve written more than half the book, then I start to get a better idea of where I’m going. It’s a very undisciplined way of writing and I often wonder how it works, but somehow it always comes together. Then I start the next book and wonder how on earth I did it the last time!
Your writing process sounds very similar to mine. I wish I were more organized too. But, oh well. What’s your perfect scenario for creativity? For example, do you need music playing to be able to write or total silence, etc.?
I need total silence. I’m very easily distracted, even by background noise, so music would be a disaster! I’d enjoy the music, but the writing would go out the window. I mostly just sit in bed or on the sofa, laptop on my lap, and type. Sometimes I brainstorm ideas with a pencil and paper since a computer screen doesn’t seem to be helpful when I’m trying to solve a plot problem. My perfect scenario would be sitting in my well-appointed study on my country estate with its panoramic countryside and ocean views, but before anything like that can happen I need to sell about a gazillion more books!
Now tell us a little bit about Mutation. Where did you come up with the storyline? Were there any famous authors or stories that influenced the creativity of Mutation?
I wanted to do something completely different after four romance novels, and because I’ve been a sci-fi fan all my life I wanted to write sci-fi. But I had decided I was definitely NOT going to write zombies because so many others had. Then the day after making that decision, while in the shower, a thought came to me – what if there was a cure for being a zombie? By the time I got out the shower I had the character of Alex, the opening scene, and the beginnings of a plot firmly in my head, so then I had to write it. I’d been reading a lot of zombie books ever since I came across the Slow Burn series by Bobby Adair, so that whole genre was in my consciousness, but nothing really influenced me directly. Mutation doesn’t have much in common with others in the zombie genre other than people being infected and craving human flesh.
Oh, fun. I love hearing about how it came to you. And I really enjoyed that Mutation was told from the POV of a character who could relate to the infected. It allowed for some fantastic empathetic scenes and situations. Can you tell us why you decided to have your main character be a virus Survivor and how that decision helped your plot?
That Alex is a Survivor was actually the first idea I had so it wasn’t so much a decision as the reason for the whole series. That’s really what Mutation is about, on a human level. It also dictated that my ‘zombies’, or ‘eaters’ as they’re called, aren’t typical in that they are not dead. Because you can’t cure death. Then I had to consider how society would treat people who had come through the cure and been changed as a result, and my conclusion was it wouldn’t be well. That enabled me to bring more depth to the story, and also the character of Micah came out of that.
I’m a sucker for a romantic sub-plot in my stories and there isn’t any substantive sub-plot in Mutation until the end. So, I was pleasantly surprised how engaged I was in the character and relationship development of Alex and Micah. Why did you decide to have your main sub-plot be about bridging the gap between two people who normally wouldn’t have gotten along?
It may seem strange that I don’t have a romantic subplot since I started out in romance, but I’m actually the opposite in that I don’t look for romance in sci-fi. Weird, I know! It’s also difficult to get a decent romance into the five days of more or less non-stop action over which Mutation takes place. I don’t remember making a conscious decision to have Alex and Micah at odds, but once I had their characters it just happened naturally. As any writer knows, once characters exist they tend to do their own thing! Really, the focus of the book is the relationship between these two men who hate each other, even though there’s all this other stuff going on around them as well. For me, the human element is what gives that depth and emotional involvement in a story. I need that to feel engaged when I read, so I try to have that in my books. I have a habit of writing from the characters perspectives looking at the plot, rather than the plot’s perspective as it affects the characters if that makes any sense. It also brought in much of the humor. Alex and Micah do bicker quite a lot!
On that same note, I found Alex and Micah’s relationship especially pertinent in light of historical and recent law enforcement/civilian clashings in the US. Was this sub-plot significance intentional or did it just happen?
I wrote Mutation a year and a half ago and so it wasn’t meant to have any specifically contemporary relevance. It was intentional, however, that what happens to the Survivors of the virus is very similar to racism, and indeed all other kinds of prejudice and the inclusion of the term ‘white-eye’ was meant to be the Survivor equivalent of the n-word. This fear that produces that kind of hatred was the initial basis for Alex and Micah’s relationship, and sadly that is always relevant since people don’t seem to be able to get away from the need to form into cliques and find someone else to hate. I didn’t set out to have any kind of message, but if anyone gets the ‘we’re all human and we’re all the same’ vibe, I don’t mind at all.
What can you tell us about how Alex and Micah’s friendship and mission to stand up for what is right continues in the Twenty Five Percent series?
Well, without giving away any spoilers, in book two, which is called Downfall, they learn more about who is responsible for the outbreak and why, get out of the city to where things are not going well as the hordes of eaters sweep through the countryside, and meet some interesting, sometimes strange, sometimes dangerous, new people. And their friendship continues to develop. You really see more of how much they have come to rely on each other. And you’ll be pleased to hear there is a bit more romance!
And in book three, Vengeance, all hell pretty much breaks loose!
What’s up next for you as a writer? What are you currently working on?
There will be a fourth Twenty-Five Percent book, probably next year, but I’m currently writing a sci-fi novel with the working title of “Perhaps She’ll Die”. It’s set around six hundred years in the future where three struggling private investigators agree to look after a mysterious box for a few hours. This turns out to be a BIG mistake. There will be loads of humor and action and suspense. And giant spiders.
Sounds exciting. Keep all of us at BOD updated. Now tell us some fun or random things about you outside of being an author. Do you have any weird habits or fun hobbies we should know about?
Does a pathological fear of spiders (and yet not wanting to kill them) count as a weird habit? Or a fun hobby? I go through hobbies the way other people go through… well, hobbies, probably. They come… they go. Along with a friend I run the official Mr. Mister Facebook page on behalf of the band. That’s pretty random!
What’s your favorite book series/author that’s been made into a movie/movie series?
That probably has to be Lord of the Rings. I first read the books when I was eight or nine and when I saw the films it was like someone had looked into my head and put what was there onto the screen!
If you were given one day to be anyone, go anywhere, and do anything, how would you spend it?
I would love to be a rock star playing to an arena filled with screaming fans! I’m way too self-conscious to ever be able to do anything like that in real life, but if I could be someone else, that’s what I’d choose. To perform to tens of thousands of adoring fans for a couple of hours must be such an incredible rush! This is going to sound strange, but I think writers get to experience that just a little bit whenever we read a good review for one of our books. That knowledge that something we’ve created has brought enjoyment to someone is a wonderful feeling. It lasts for about ten seconds before we are wracked with self-doubt again, but while it’s there it’s amazing!
Well, thank you so much, Nerys Wheatley, for spending time with us, letting us get to know you, and for sharing your talents with all of us at BOD!
Thank you for having me!
ABOUT NERYS WHEATLEY
Nerys Wheatley has an underabundance of excitement in her life and an overabundance of imagination which is constantly making up stuff in her head. She writes fast moving, action packed science fiction because she has to let the stories out somehow. She was born in the UK, which makes her spelling just that bit more thrilling. Her greatest wish is to wake up one day to find the remaining boxes from when she moved house two years ago have magically unpacked themselves. It hasn’t happened yet, but she’s not giving up hope.
Mutation on Goodreads