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Thrills, Chills, and General Silliness (with Weldon Burge)

L.L. Soares & Laura Cooney on Their Novella GREEN TSUNAMI

Husband and wife team, Bram Stoker Winner L.L. Soares and Laura Cooney, having written some truly incredible and entertaining horror fiction over the years. L.L.'s stories have appeared in a number of Smart Rhino anthologies ("Sawbones" in ZIPPERED FLESH, "Seeds" in ZIPPERED FLESH 2, "Sometimes the Good Witch Sings to Me" in SOMEONE WICKED, and "What the Blender Saw" in INSIDIOUS ASSASSINS). Smart Rhino also had the pleasure of publishing their SF/horror novella GREEN TSUNAMI. The two of them took some time out of their busy schedules for a few interview questions.

Most of your writing tends toward horror, but GREEN TSUNAMI definitely has a science fiction flavor as well. What sparked the idea for the novella?

LL: Well, a lot of it had to do with the initial concept. Our first short story collection, IN SICKNESS, had just come out from Skullvines Press (which featured solo stories by both of us, and a novella called "In Sickness," which we wrote together). A couple of writers we knew were starting their own small press, and they wanted another collaborative novella from us. The only stipulations were that: 1) it had to involve the end of the world, and 2) it had to be told in correspondence format between a husband and wife (letters, emails, etc.). At this point, apocalyptic fiction had just started to really get big, but we didn’t want to do anything that had been done before. No zombies or cannibals or stuff like that. In fact, the entire idea of the end of the world can instantly bring to mind ruins and barren spaces and death. And we wanted to do something the complete opposite of that. Where, instead of death and desolation, there was going to be life. It just wasn’t necessarily going to be human life. Not as we know it.

And that’s how the science fiction flavor evolved. There are also elements of bizarro fiction in there, since both Laura and I are big fans of surrealism, and the idea of a constantly evolving, mutating landscape seemed to tap right into that. Unfortunately, once the novella was completed, the small press that asked for it closed up shop. Here we had a novella we really thought came out great, but the place that had requested it was gone. That’s when Smart Rhino swooped in and came to the rescue. Which we’re both grateful for.

Laura: People usually associate apocalyptic stuff with science fiction, but once the whole zombie apocalypse thing took off, it became a major subgenre within horror as well. I’ve always loved stories about the end of the world.

Whether I’m reading or writing fiction, the characters are always the most important thing to me. I’ve never been a genre snob. There’s that hierarchy bullshit in fiction where literary fiction is supposedly at the top, followed by mystery and crime fiction, then science fiction. Horror and romance are usually lumped at the bottom. I think it’s narrowed-minded to limit yourself to just one or two fiction genres. There’s great stuff in every genre. I’m interested in how characters react in stressful or heightened situations and how characters interact with each other and the conflicts that come out of that. That’s the stuff that makes great fiction and that defies genre.

GREEN TSUNAMI is written entirely using email correspondence between a husband and a wife separated by a global catastrophe. The husband witnesses all the destruction and mutation of everything, including buildings and inanimate things, all around him, and his goal is to find and rescue his wife. She is apparently trapped in an office building. Did L.L. assume the role of the husband and Laura the wife during the writing process? And in what ways did you collaborate when writing the novella? Any surprises along the way?

LL: Since the correspondence aspect was already decided on, we considered toying around with the gender roles, and have me write the woman’s parts and Laura write the man’s, but it wasn’t coming together. So we just went with Laura writing Joy’s parts, and me writing Aaron’s. And we wrote it just like it appears in the novella. I’d send her an email, and she’d respond. And then if there were things in her response that I had questions about, I’d ask, and it evolved from there. We wouldn’t discuss things beforehand (until we got closer to the ending I had in mind). I think once we touched upon the whole Davey thing (their son), that’s when it all clicked and we knew we were going in the right direction. No big surprises after that, but a lot of little surprises along the way.

Laura: Writing a novel in the form of letters, emails, diary entries, texts and such, is a great way to get into the minds of the characters. Exchanging letters or emails is a wonderful way to explore the dynamics of a relationship, which makes it especially interesting when the characters are husband and wife. I’ve never liked stories where the husband and wife have a “perfect” relationship. They never argue or have different perspectives, never have resentments or guilt feelings. These aren’t people, these are poinsettias, or ferns or maybe even a coral reef, but they’re not human beings. The characters in GREEN TSUNAMI are facing the worst situation of their lives and they have to do it alone and not knowing if they will ever see one another again. That’s an incredibly stressful situation, so part of the story is: How do they deal with this stress?

LL and I share a similar mindset, which makes it pretty easy for us to collaborate on stories together. Neither of us is afraid to show the ugly or unpleasant aspects of human beings. Some people didn’t like the character of the wife, and that’s usually when I tell them that LL wrote that part. (Just kidding.) I think Joy is very honest and real and that’s what I like about her. Aaron isn’t quite so prickly; I think he’s kinder. I’ve seen that dynamic in a number of marriages. Davey is a whole other thing, to put it mildly. I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for the evil child character. Maybe it goes back to the first time I saw "The Bad Seed" on TV as a kid. I really loved Patty McCormack’s character and thought she was hilarious. Like LL said, once we came up with the evil child, we were off and running.

What is your most vexing problem when writing a short story for an anthology? What advice would you give another writer in that regard?

LL: I guess if it’s a themed anthology, the most vexing thing can be coming up with an idea that fits the theme but that is completely different from anything else any of the other writers is going to come up with. You don’t want to go with any obvious choices. You want your story to stand out and be different. But, for example the most recent anthology of yours I contributed to, INSIDIOUS ASSASSINS, I started with the title “What the Blender Saw,” and then worked backward from there. The title struck me as something that would stand out, and it perfectly fits what is going on in the story. You know, it’s funny. I’ve contributed to several Smart Rhino anthologies, and I think every single story I’ve written for you has involved a hit man or an assassin of some kind. I didn’t plan that at all, it just sort of bloomed on its own. But, aside from trying to come up with something that fits but is original, you just have to block out everything else and just write what comes to you.

Laura: You also have to consider what sort of overall tone the editor is looking for in the anthology. In horror, there’s always that ongoing debate about quiet horror vs. extreme horror. I’m not sure why there’s a debate. There’s more than enough room for both. In an anthology, the editor wants a cohesive tone, even if the anthology itself is not themed. While you have to keep these things in mind, you should always retain your own voice and be true to your vision as a writer. Everything you can think of has probably already been written; what makes it distinct is your unique voice and point of view. It would be great if a reader was able to read something you wrote and know it’s you without reading the byline.

Thanks, L.L. and Laura!

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