Stephen Romano

How did you become a writer? I don’t think you really become a writer. Not if you’re the real thing. Sure you can learn how to put words together. Sure, you can learn to write things down. But being the real thing means you’re an artist with some sort of drive to create stuff. That drive is the magic X-factor that differentiates a true professional from some weekend warrior. Drive to create is something that finds you when you are very young, and it matures as you grow better at communicating through words and/or (in my case) other forms of art. That drive not only is the key tool of being any sort of creative person, but it also sustains you through the day-to-day life of a writer which can be lonely and desperate and full of struggle and heartbreak . . . but also great success and reward, if you’re talented, fortunate and (above all) persistent.  (A lot of very untalented people got very fortunate because they were persistent.) So the short answer is that I’ve always been a writer, since I was old enough to understand my ability to bring something—anything—out of the abyss. If what you are asking is how did I break into the business . . . well, see above. Drive is everything. I got my first stuff published and my first screenplays sold by being a DIY guy, then by working with small publishers on labor-of-love projects . . . then graduating to the big leagues, by introducing myself to film directors in Hollywood, editors and agents in New York and seeing if they liked what I had to offer. They liked me and so here I am. In every case, drive is what will sustain you. It will make you finish that all-important first novel when you are very young and move on to the next one, without being published right off. It will give you the perspective to spend months—maybe even years—creating something you feel is great, and allow you to set it on the back-burner while other projects percolate. It will make you brave enough to promote your own work. It will scorch you with the desire to be better every day, and that desire will translate into very good writing eventually, if the muse that chose you was even halfway worth a shit.  That’s what I believe anyway. As writing creatures, all any of us have are our own beliefs about this stuff. But none of this is an exact science—there are exceptions to every rule, of course. And bear in mind that us high-minded professionals with such lofty ideals—every single goddamn one of us—could be totally wrong about everything we know. 

Name your writing influences (writers, books, teachers, etc.). As far as actual teachers go . . . well, let’s just say that academics who are also writers have never really impressed me. I think you have to be motivated to learn this stuff for yourself, even in a scholastic environment. Read, read, READ. My favorite scribe of all time is William Kotzwinkle. Look his stuff up. He is a genius and a master. Reading him automatically makes you a better writer, no matter what genre you work in. He wrote my favorite book of all time, which is THE FAN MAN. Also NIGHT BOOK, JACK IN THE BOX (made into a lousy movie called BOOK OF LOVE), FATA MORGANA, and THE BEAR WENT OVER THE MOUNTAIN. He also wrote one of the NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET sequels. Number 4. The one that Renny Harlan directed. I also like Don Winslow a lot. Stephen King was an early influence. Chuck Palahniuk. Early Frank Miller. And I get into films a lot, too, being a screenwriter as well as a print author. I like a really bad movies. (See above.) STARCRASH is one of my all-time favorites. Being a fan of schlock in film has the effect of keeping a serious fellow like me grounded and less pretentious about his art. I have less patience for bad writing, though—that’s a whole other ballgame. I can feel my brain rot when I realize I’m reading a really ineptly-written book. And that happens a lot. One thing any decent writer does is osmosis—meaning that when you read the good stuff, it rubs off and you go into “Really Great Writer Mode.” Stephen King says in his remarkable book ON WRITING—which I love and think should be required reading for anyone who is doing or wants to do this stuff for a living—that we can learn as much from bad writing as we can from the good stuff. And I agree with him totally. It’s just that there’s only so many hours in the day. Watching a bad movie takes less than 2 of those hours. Reading a really bad book takes days. You turn into a snobby schoolteacher correcting term papers. “Ugh, this guy can’t fabricate a metaphor to save his miserable SOUL!” Who needs that?  Then again, the older you get, the less patience you tend to have with anything—even the guys you really like! That may just be the curse of a magician, knowing how all the tricks are done. I generally despise a lot of mainstream “thriller” guys—most of them are just awful prose stylists.  But I was VERY surprised by the fairly recent bestseller GONE GIRL. Just my speed, actually. Thought it was really well-written. A little hard to swallow, plot-wise, and all . . . but style and worldview are important to me. It’s what hooks you in the first paragraph. GONE GIRL had me at the bottom of the first page with it’s voice and point-of-view. This type of thing can be very difficult to master, or even define. Lots of people go their own way with it. But, getting back to trashy paperbacks again, you know you’re probably in heaps of trouble when you open a novel called SQUIRM and it starts off with “The night was sultry.”

When and where do you write? My routine when the throttle comes down hard is like most writing creatures. You gotta have a routine or it usually doesn’t work out well.  I get up, get the sleep out of my head, check emails, crank the music up loud, then work at my Mac until a certain amount of words are done. For me the average is anywhere from 4-7 thousand words a day, because I’m super devoted to my craft and get really caught up in it. Though some days I’ll produce much less. I never write for less than 1 hour or produce less than 1 thousand words, though. Short stories are almost always written in one sitting. I’ve been known to write an entire novel in 18 days, a whole screenplay in less than a week. I knocked out a film novelization in 8 days. Last year I actually developed a physical condition called coccydynia—which is an aberration of the lower tailbone—from sitting too much and working too hard. I topped my own perverted record last year and wrote three novels in a row. I literally busted my ass writing! So I’m trying to slow down some these days. Take more of a breather between projects. Because I also am a pro illustrator and screenwriter, I have other obsessions. But writing is my main muse.

What are you working on now? I just finished a book-length novella for Amazon Kindle, which is a prequel to the best-selling WAYWARD PINES series by Blake Crouch. It's about a homeless private detective who stumbles on some very weird stuff in Texas. WAYWARD PINES is being made into a Fox TV show that will be out next year, but you can read my new book on in just a few weeks---October 15th, 2013. It's a cool project I like a lot.  I also just took a gig doing tie-in novels for a major television series, which will be announced soon. (Guys like me tend to get work like that because we produce really fast.) And I have several original projects in the works, too. I took a much-needed breather from writing earlier this year to do some cool illustration work for B-Movie legend Charles Band, which is really fun and therapeutic. Charlie did the PUPPETMASTER films and about every sleazy video movie you ever saw if you were kid in the 1980s. I’m always on some crazy project. Really don’t know what the fuck to do with myself when I’m not working, actually. So I collect weird stuff, like old super-8 movies.

Have you ever suffered from writer’s block? Not sure what that means, really. I think “writer’s block” may be just a euphemism for “being scared” or “being lazy.” Harlan Ellison once said he couldn’t bring himself to write for more than a year, because (and I’m paraphrasing) he just couldn’t bring himself to work. I think that might be a perfect example of just being a little bit terrified to . . .well you know, just get in there and see what happens. But I don’t know Harlan personally, so that may be a terrible example. When it’s time to work, I work—no matter what. It might be shit, but I gotta do something. Don Winslow calls it an addiction, and, yes, that is exactly what it is. But I did once get really, really indecisive in the middle of writing a novel, which might have a different classification. I don’t generally plot things in advance—or if I do, I always end up throwing away the outline once I get started. I just take off where the muse wants me to go and see what comes. A lot of guys like work this way, like William Gibson and Joe Lansdale. I find the spontaneity of just making it up as you go usually brings great things . . . but on this one damn book, which was really dark and personal and full of bad people doing bad things to each other . . . I came to one crucial juncture and had no IDEA what was going to happen. No idea at all. Aggravating. (I solved the problem by having a minor character come back from the dead and kill someone important.) But that’s what editors are for. (The lousy bums.) Seriously, though . . . always listen to your editor. ALWAYS. They are almost always right, even when you want to rip their heads off.  (Line editing is different, though . . . dammit . . . grumble . . .)

What’s your advice to new writers? As far as actually writing a book goes . . . this might sound like I’m passing the buck, but Stephen King has a formula in ON WRITING that is super clean and logical and totally works. When I was first taking myself to school as a student of writing (which is all any of us are, even now), I absorbed his formula of first draft, second draft and so forth and it still guides me through the process. Once the book is “finished,” listen to your first readers, listen to your agent, listen to your editor. They’re all smarter than you. It’s a process, and though you are the commander, none of this happens in a vacuum. As for the rest, SEE ABOVE. And in case my points are not clear . . . let me say it a slightly different way (because we are all egomaniacs who love to blabber and repeat ourselves): Do not get in this business to look cool or make a lot of money. Do not do it to spite your ex-boyfriend or to “Show those fools who called me mad.” Don’t do it because you’ve tried lots of other things and failed at all of them. And DO NOT DO IT if you are not an artist—if you don’t comprehend the overriding desire to create something. This is a tough job with a specific skill requirement . . . and the competition out there is stiff. The true believers and hard workers blow away the weekend warriors and daydreamers every single time. So sit down and just do it. DO THE WORK. Don’t hide behind “writer’s block.” Don’t be intimidated by the empty page. Write what you feel . . . and the muse will come to you. It’s just that easy. And also just that hard. 

Bio: I am an author, illustrator and screenwriter. My novels are published by IDW, Simon and Schuster and Little Brown and Company. My screenplays include work for major Hollywood producers and a Showtime original series entitled MASTERS OF HORROR. My recent ultraviolent action thriller novel RESURRECTION EXPRESS is now available in paperback from Pocket Books. That novel is now officially in development as a motion picture from the producers of PLATOON and the billion dollar RUSH HOUR film franchise. Can't announce who that is just yet, as the ink just dried on the contracts . . . but stay tuned RIGHT HERE for all the dirt: www.stephenromanoshockfestival.com.