Wednesday, September 1, 2010

What's It's Like to Write An Adult Book Teens Embrace + Giveaway

Paul Nemeth was born in 1970 in Wheatridge, Colorado and raised in neighboring Arvada. The son of two music teachers and youngest of four siblings, Paul learned to read by age three and spent much of his childhood writing stories to entertain himself and his family. A professional musician by trade, Paul maintains a busy schedule playing and teaching bass and lead guitar throughout the San Francisco Bay Area, where he now resides with his wife Tara and son John.

I recently had the opportunity to learn more about Paul and his latest book, Cataclysm Children...

Tell us about your path to publication.
A few years ago, I saw a call for submissions on Craigslist for a horror anthology. I wrote and submitted a short story titled Tom Skinner. Rather quickly, I got word that it had been accepted.

About a year later the anthology, now titled Don’t Turn The Lights On, had been accepted for publication by a small press called StoneGarden Publishing. During this time, I’d been writing and honing Cataclysm Children, my first full-length novel. After polite rejections from a few agents (one in particular told me to drop it: “your first book basically teaches you how to write your second”) I thought I’d submit it to Stonegarden, having learned about them through the anthology’s publication, and then take the agent’s advice and move on. I submitted Cataclysm to them, pitching it as “Fight Club“ meets “The Kite Runner“-and got the offer for publication a few weeks later.

Cataclysm ChildrenYou're a professional musician by trade. How do you combine both your love of music and writing?
By writing a book about music! Researching the book gave me an opportunity to learn about a genre I wasn’t really familiar with, and it also allowed me to incorporate some of my own experiences on the bandstand into Cataclysm.

The two disciplines, to me, have a great deal in common. To develop skill at both, you have to do them every day, and as a writer, it’s imperative to read works by other authors, much like as a musician, it’s important to listen to other artists. To be honest, when I’m writing, most of my sense of timing, pacing, and the “shape” a story takes comes from my experience and training as a musician, and, to me, there are also concepts from song arrangement and improvisation that carry over as well.

In regards to promoting the book, I’ve had a natural edge because I’m used to being onstage and am pretty fearless when it comes to speaking in front of groups of people, which is something (I’m told) some authors have trouble with.

What was the inspiration behind Cataclysm Children?
Lords of Chaos: The Bloody Rise of the Satanic Metal Underground New EditionTen years ago, I was browsing in a bookstore in San Francisco when I came across a book called Lords of Chaos: The Bloody Rise of the Satanic Metal Underground New Edition by Michael Moynihan and Didrik Soderlind, a true-life account of a series of Norwegian church burnings that took place in the early 1990's. The arsons and associated crimes (including murder) were traced back to a self-styled network of local “black” (Satanic) heavy-metal musicians, the most notorious being Varg ‘Count Grischnackh’ Vikernes. Their relationship was characterized by a series of one-upsmanships over who was more ‘extreme’, which finally led to Aarseth’s murder, which Vikernes was convicted of in 1994.

My love affair with music started in the early 1980’s with bands like Iron Maiden and Judas Priest, that were occasionally (and sometimes deliberately) mislabeled as being “Satanic”, and the subject of Satanism in rock music has always fascinated me. It’s not a new phenomenon: the concept of “the devil in music” goes back to the Renaissance. The concept of Vikernes and Aarseth forming an underground society around music, and forming their own code of conduct and creating a “battle hymn” to go along with it was something that immediately fueled my imagination, The next logical question was “could this happen in America, and what would drive a teen to this depth of violence?” The answers in the Norwegian case are ambiguous, but, sadly, a similar scenario in America would almost certainly involve bullying.

There are many books that tackle bullying and school violence. What made you want to dive into the market?
Originally, I hadn’t intended to write a book about bullying. I’d made it through a couple drafts of the novel, and it was obvious something was missing. I’d created kind of an esoteric story about Ian Andrews, an aging musician who is haunted by his past decisions, but I realized the real voice of the story is his nephew, Danny, who is being pushed to the breaking point, and one of the circumstances daunting him is persistent, sadistic bullying by his peers.

For this aspect of the story, I went back to a source we’re all way too familiar with: the shootings at Columbine High School. Cataclysm is set in a Colorado town called Hadley, which is loosely based on Arvada, where I grew up, which is also in Jefferson County, the same school district as Columbine. I attended Jeffco public schools from kindergarten through 12th grade, and both my parents were schoolteachers in that same district.

No Easy Answers: The Truth Behind Death at ColumbineThe main resource I used for this aspect of the book was a book entitled No Easy Answers: The Truth Behind Death at Columbine by Brooks Brown and Rob Merritt. Their book affected me because the alleged circumstances at Columbine before the shootings mirrored conditions that I remembered from my own high school experience ten years earlier. My initial reaction reading it was, “Not only is this stuff still going on-it’s far worse now.”

My main memories of junior high and parts of grade school involve fear: fear of being singled out, fear of being ostracized, and yes, fear of physical attack, a fear nobody attending school should ever be subjected to. If, as a kid, an accomplished, confident adult role model had confided in me that they’d been attacked and ostracized as a youth, that they truly understood what I was going through and had gone on to achieve success, that would have been heaven-sent. That was the genesis of Ian and Danny's story…and I guess that’s what I hoped to accomplish by writing the book.

The book has been hailed as a "must-read for both parents and young adults." Why do you think this is a great book for parents to read with their teenagers?
Again, the irony is that I hadn’t set out to create a YA or youth-oriented novel; however, this may work in the book’s favor, giving it a ring of truth it might not have had otherwise. I purposely didn’t pull any punches, making the language and action as authentic as possible. I was very conscious about not making Cataclysm exploitative or sensationalistic, but at the end of the day, at-risk youth don’t say “heck” or “darn”, and it would have been dishonest to have them do so. Teens are anxious to see themselves as grown-up, to consume more ’adult’ entertainment and to have ’adult’ experiences; I feel that I’ve created an ’adult’ book that teens will embrace, which may be more effective than writing a ’teen’ book that parents may not necessarily be drawn to.

One day, when I was in my early teens, I asked my mother, a schoolteacher, “Do you ever see a kid in one of your classes and get a premonition that they’ll do something terrible someday?” Her immediate answer was, “Yes…it’s when I see a smart kid who’s getting abused.” The seeds of Cataclysm Children were sown at that moment-and I hope that its legacy will be many more discussions and discoveries between teens and their parents.

Any reason for teenagers and parents to talk to each other is a good one. To me, one of the most disturbing aspects of the Phoebe Prince suicide and upcoming court case was just how unaware ALL the parents involved seemed to be about their kids’ lives away from home, and how powerless the parents seemed over their kids’ actions. I’m comforted to say that, no matter how ‘old’ or out-of-touch my own parents seemed when I was a teen, if I’d been afraid something terrible was going to happen to me or one of my classmates, I could have gone to them without hesitation, and I hope my son, when he’s a teenager, will feel the same way about my wife and myself.

For information about Paul's writing and other projects, please visit

Alex Van Helsing: Vampire RisingToday, I'm giving away another novel teens will embrace--Alex Van Helsing: Vampire Rising (hardcover!)

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The contest will run through midnight on Friday, September 10, 2010!

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