Author Interview Special Edition – Trent Zelazny, American Writer

I have only met Trent recently through a mutual friend of Martin Reaves.  Martin has done an interview with me and mentioned Trent Zelazny.  So I did a little investigating and found this Trent Zelazny, only to be amazed by what I found.

Trent is son of Roger Zelazny.  For me this was a bit of a big deal, as I enjoyed the Amber Chronicles.  What was more amazing, to me, was the sheer fact that Trent had lived through the loss of his girlfriend, which Trent will talk about more later.

I sent Trent my standard questions, but with the proviso that I could ask him some tougher questions (of which you will see later).  trent was very open about his past and did not knock back any of my questions, answering them overnight.

I will add to this before I let Trent have a go.  There are some great authors out there talking about Trent and how good he is.  To drop just two names here – Neil Gaiman and Joe R. Lansdale.

A little warning as well.  This post is over 3,500 words long, but more than worth the effort.

Who would you like to collaborate with (being living or dead) and why?

Not especially. That doesn’t mean I’d turn down the opportunity if it came up, but I’ve done collaborations before, and have found I just don’t work well that way.  In an ideal world, there are plenty of authors, living and dead, I’d be thrilled to work with, but knowing what I know of myself, chances are it wouldn’t really work out in the end.

What would be the best piece of advice you would offer a new author?

Read a lot, write a lot, but remember to have a life outside of that.  Don’t spend every second of your life buried in books and writing projects.  Go out and do things, meet people, constantly develop new experiences, whatever those are, and when you’’e done having this or that experience, get back to reading and writing a lot.

Is routine important to you?

Yes and no.  That is to say, I have a routine, but it’s a pretty loose one.  I make a point of sitting at my computer for at least an hour a day.  If the writing isn’t going well, then I look over stuff, do a bit of editing.  If that isn’t working well either, I still make myself sit there, to keep in the habit.  If the writing goes well, and it often does, I keep going until I’m either all written out, or have somewhere else I need to be.

What genre would you like to write a book in (that you haven’t yet)?

I’d love to write a straight drama.  I guess I’m getting closer and closer to that.  I don’t decide ahead of time what kind of book I’m going to write; I just let it come to me.  Some are pretty action-packed, some are pretty mellow, but almost all of them are dark.  I like the idea of writing a straight drama, but I guess, in a sense, I’ve kind of already done that, so maybe a better answer is that I’d like to write something that completely deviates from the kinds of stories I typically write.  Commercial or not doesn’t matter, but something drastically different from my norm would be cool.

Do you listen to music during all processes of writing?  Do you listen music you know or new music when writing?

I almost never listen to music when writing.  I love music, but I’m too ADD for that.  My stories, however—especially the longer ones—develop a soundtrack, and music is found in almost every story I’ve written.  Just like when you first meet a person, an easy subject to bring up is music.  It’s a quick thing you can learn about someone. Oh, they like rock and roll, or classical, or whatever.  My characters, as I’m meeting them, usually tell me early on what kind of music they like, and when they do I put together a play list of that type of music on my iPod, and listen to it when I go for walks, or drive around.  It helps keep me in the mindset of the character.  So I listen to music I’m familiar with and music I’m not familiar with.  The protagonist dictates that.  I appreciated old country music but never really listened to it until Carson Halliday in Too Late to Call Texas told me he was big on the stuff.  I must have played that play list a thousand times, and discovered a real love for a lot of that music.  The one I’m working on now, the main character likes oldies, especially Doo-wop.  Far less of a challenge for me, as that whole era and genre is some of my favorite music ever.  But now I’m listening to it through my character’s ears, and that’s helped open a new level and appreciation for it.

Have you read a romance novel?  Do you think you could write one?

I read The Heiress by Jude Deveraux years and years ago, mostly out of curiosity.  I don’t remember much about it, other than thinking this wasn’t the kind of book I would be reading many of.  As far as writing a straight romance novel, I suppose I probably could, though it would take a lot of time and energy and focus I don’t have, and, in the end, it likely wouldn’t be any good.

What sport did you play as a younger person?  Were you good at it?

Soccer was the sport I was good at.  Basketball was the sport that I loved.  I really, really sucked at basketball, though.  In fact, I still really suck at it.

When you are coming up with an idea, do you look at the market for trends?  Or do you write for you?

I study market trends but never for what I’m writing.  I always write first and foremost for myself, and next for whoever chooses to read it.  I’d much rather tell the story inside me that—at the time, anyway—represents the truth, than try to mash Twilight with Water for Elephants with Jersey Shore.

When you start a new story, do you have a title for it?  Does that trigger the story?

Each one is different.  Sometimes I have a title and it spawns the story.  Sometimes the title emerges from the story, and sometimes I have a full manuscript with no title at all, and hope a friend or an editor can come up with something good.  Fractal Despondency didn’t have a title until about ten minutes before it went online in its initial ebook-only release, while Too Late to Call Texas came and opened the whole story right up before a single word had been written.

What themes are being overused?

Vampires and zombies.

Are movies of books ruining the book?

No, I don’t think so.  The book is still the book, sitting on the shelf with the same words in it.  The drawback about movies into books is really only when an author has managed to write a mega-hit, Harry Potter or Twilight or The Hunger Games all being good examples.  What we’ve started with in these cases are books that suddenly get people, especially kids, really excited about reading.  It doesn’t really matter if the book is any good or not, because more people are suddenly reading again.  Kids stay up until midnight at bookstores, waiting in long lines, so they can obtain the newest adventure that both captures their imagination and also requires them to use their brains.

Economically it makes sense to turn these blockbuster books into blockbuster movies, but the drawback is that then people start saying to themselves, Well, why spend all that time reading it, when I can see the movie and get it over with in two hours?

I read Winter’s Bone a couple of years ago and only just saw the movie.  The movie was great, pretty faithful, from what I recall, very dark but also very moving.  It took nothing away from the magic created in Woodrell’s novel, which I very much enjoyed.

Do you see ebooks threatening traditional publishing?

Yes, but I don’t think traditional books will ever really go away.  I have a Kindle and I use it a lot, but probably somewhere between sixty and seventy percent of what I read is still paper bound.  There is something about holding an actual book that is just awesome, while with my Kindle I can carry around hundreds and hundreds of books in one little device.  I don’t want either to go away, but I do think that traditional publishing as we’ve known it is crumbling and crumbling fast.  A shame in a lot of ways, but also is what it is. Mp3 players have pretty much replaced how we all listen to music, but there are still avid vinyl collectors, and albums are still released on vinyl (though at insanely high prices).

Do you prefer to read established authors or debut authors? How do you choose which ones to read?

It all depends.  There are authors I read and reread, and then new books that sound interesting.  I try not to limit what I read, though my favorite local bookstore probably thinks I read about 98% mysteries.  I’m currently reading four different books on art, one “pulp” novel, one “literary” novel, and a book on 20th century US history.  Though I just finished an apocalyptic book by a new author, and a horror novella by an author I’d never read before, and I thought they were both fantastic.

Can I get an autographed book? (lol)

If you buy it. (grin)

Do you have a group of people that you show a new story to? How much impact can they have on the whole story?

No groups of people.  Usually I pick one, two at the most, preferably not actual writers, to look over my work.  The problem with having other writers look at your work is they have a writer’s mind, which sounds good in theory, but their writer’s mind is their writer’s mind, and it simply can’t be helped that they want you to write the story the way they would write it.  That’s a simplified version, of course.  Lee Howard, a fantastic writer, helped me last minute by looking over a short story I wrote for Cemetery Dance with which I had a deadline that boiled down practically to hours.  But typically I find it more helpful to have friends who are readers and who have natural (or schooled) editing skills.  My mother is to be my reader for my new one.  It’ll be a first for both of us.  She’s good with those things I mentioned but, as there is a lot of art in this one, my mother has a degree in Art History and it is still a passion of hers today, and in the case of this book, that will be a very big help.

Do you set yourself a word limit for each book?

Never.  I just start writing and see where it goes.  The story ends when it ends.  If invited to an anthology, I keep the editor’s word limit in mind, but if the story needs to keep going, then it apparently isn’t the story for that anthology.

Do you have a target each day?

I make myself write for an hour every day.  I have a loose target of 1,500 words.  Sometimes I reach it, sometimes I go way past it, and some days I don’t even come close.

Do you write constantly or have breaks between books?

I always have something going on.  When I completed Fractal Despondency I started writing Shadowboxer either later that same day or the very next day (can’t exactly recall; I was drinking a lot at that time).

Do you have characters running around your head?  Do they dictate events and their histories to you?

Yes, absolutely.  I’m not a plot writer.  Plot seems inescapable but I’m a character writer.  I get to know them, and let them take me on their journey.

After so many books, how do you keep them unique?

I honestly don’t know how unique my books are from one to another.  Most of them have recurring themes.  A few of my titles are almost interchangeable.  But I like to try new things.  Too Late to Call Texas, for example, while not a western, very much has a western feel to it.  The one I’m working on now involves a lot of art and art history.  But if you took the one I’m working on now and held it next to Too Late to Call Texas and next to Butterfly Potion, you’d see a lot of similarities, even if in certain ways they are vastly different.  Too Late to Call Texas is packed with violence, Butterfly Potion less so, my new one even less, but they all deal with similar subject matters.

Do you read other people’s writing?

I used to and I still say yes more than I should.  Much as I love to, I honestly just don’t have the time I once did.  Also, I’ve come across more and more people I’ve never met in person, who’ve never read my work or even know what kind of stuff I write, asking if I’ll read and blurb their new high fantasy novel, for example, and in more than a few cases it’s been beyond obvious that all they really want is the blessing-slash-curse of my last name on it.  If my name is worth anything anywhere, it’s certainly not going to be in fantasy or science fiction.  That would’ve been my father.  Me, it won’t help a bit.

Has being Roger Zelazny’s son made it harder for you to be published?

Yes.  A lot of people seem to think it helps, but I can tell you first-hand this is not true.  Years ago, before I published anything worth anything, I was at a convention and introduced to a writer who went off, saying, “Oh, well, I don’t have a name like Zelazny to get me in the door. I don’t have the name Zelazny to bring me followers.”  Basically, the guy, whose name I won’t mention, but some know who he is, just pissed me off, and I spent the remainder of the convention having nothing to do with him.  What I wanted to say, and what I would say with certainty these days, is, “I don’t have that either.”

Here’s how it breaks down, in my experience.  Editors are harder on you.  They want something either on par with my father’s work, or replicating my father’s work.  Typically, whether or not it is a good story, it is rejected.  Some editors have tried to work with me, but they’ve tried to make the work more “Zelazny” and that gets frustrating.  So you then go through this whole emotional and professional dilemma, wondering what it is you’re doing wrong.  This doesn’t really happen anymore, but it did for years and years and still comes up from time to time, just in a mutated form.  After all of this has been temporarily put to rest and you write something that is completely your own, and is good, or at least good enough for someone to want it for publication, you then get comments from people like, “You’re lucky you got that last name,” which not only belittles all the work I put into the story, book, what have you, but is also incredibly ignorant.  This doesn’t happen as much as it used to, but it still happens.

I had lunch with my agent just yesterday, and she told me about a very recent conversation she’d had with an editor in London, who, during discussions of various things, said, “I feel really sorry for Trent Zelazny.”  When my agent asked why, the editor apparently said, “He’s such a damn good writer, but his name has got him trapped,” or something to the effect.

Too late to make a long story short, yes, being Roger Zelazny’s son has made it harder.

Did you consider publishing under a different name?

I have actually published both short stories and full-length novels under different names.  I have four or five pseudonyms running around out there.  The good and the bad thing is, the stuff I started putting out under my own name is the stuff that got attention.  Does this have anything to do with my last name?  Could be, but at the same time, if the name was going to help me, as I’ve somehow managed to earn the respect of many authors and reviewers and such, I’d be selling more than handfuls of books.  So, again, I don’t think the last name helps.

Are they just waiting for you to write your version of Amber?

I think a lot of people are, but the folks capable of separating and seeing people as individuals never bring that kind of thing up.  I have people who like my work for the work.  Some of them haven’t even initially heard of my father.  If someone picks up one of my books because they wanna see what Roger’s son is doing, that’s more than fine, but they shouldn’t be expecting Amber or Jack of Shadows or anything else, otherwise they are going to be very disappointed.  Conversely, if I did write something like that, I’d forever be having people say I don’t live up to what my father did.  For this I’m very thankful my interests went in a different direction.

Have you read Amber and what do you think of them?

I’ve read the whole series multiple times. I love them.  Especially the first five.

Would you write a new Amber story if it came to you?

I would write it, but more than likely I wouldn’t ever try to publish it.  That’s my father’s world, not mine.  Also, he didn’t want anyone else doing Amber stuff, and I think that would include his kids.

Roger passed away when you were 18, do you think you would have collaborated with him?

I think we would have, on something, just for kicks, if nothing else.  Likely it would have been a stand-alone of some kind.  No idea what genre, but I think we would’ve tried it, just for fun.

You lost your girlfriend two years ago.  How did you overcome that?

I’m still working on that.  We were engaged off and on, so sometimes it comes out as girlfriend and sometimes it comes out as fiancée.  They’re both correct.  I guess the main effects from it have faded, but it isn’t something one just gets over, especially considering how she died, and what state of mind I was in when it happened.  I’d been struggling with an increasingly bad drinking problem when it happened.  Some people who saw me before she died and thought it was bad, they’re lucky they didn’t see me after she died.  Two months after her death I tried to join her.  That whole episode is a blur and I’d rather not get into specifics, but whatever those specifics are, or were, the outcome is, I’m still here.  It’s not always pretty.  It very often isn’t, but it wasn’t my time, and there have been many wonderful things I’ve found, and many wonderful people I’ve met since.  Wouldn’t have had these moments or met these people if I was six feet under.

What is the major impact that it has had on you personally? And as a writer?

I care less what people think of me.  This doesn’t mean I don’t care, and things people say and do can very much affect me, but I was always overly sensitive.  I’m also much more aware of people’s actions and thought processes.  I’m not a mind reader or anything, but my bullshit-orometer is tuned in much better than it once was.

As for writing, it changed virtually everything.  It heightened my awareness of almost everything, especially the crap going on inside my self.  My writing became a lot more introspective (and seemingly less commercial) as more and more I’ve used words to try and make sense of things, from my fiancée’s suicide to why I do the things I do and why others do what they do.  Trent the person and Trent the writer are two very different people with the same goal, but what that goal is, what the actual core of that goal is, has still got a lot of “I dunno” in it.

You mentioned drinking.  How did you overcome that?

A lot of hard work and with a lot of support from family and friends.  Yes, folks, this included rehab.  I remember the moment when the decision became clear.  I was drunk and sprawled on the floor of a house that had no furniture and no heat (this was in October) and I was staring up at the rotating ceiling, and it came clear to me.  Did I want to spend the rest of my life this way and die?  Did I simply want to die?  Or did I want to crawl out of this horrible mess and try to give life one more shot?  I think it was two days later that I was in rehab, where they actually found out pretty quickly that drinking was not at all the main issue.  I wasn’t put into one of the substance abuse groups.  I was put into one of the emotional groups, more for people with PTSD, suicidal ideation, etc.  The drinking was a horrid way of coping with stuff, but I never really thought about drinking again, not since I entered rehab, and only a handful of times since.  Maybe I could have a drink and be fine, but I’m not about to risk everything in the world to find that out, especially when it doesn’t even interest me.

Has writing helped or hindered the healing process?

It’s been a big help.  Like I said, it helps a lot in trying to make sense of things.  Some people do it with music, or with poetry or journaling or painting or acting or athleticism or whatever.  For me, it’s prose fiction.  I often say I have a human therapist, and I also have a keyboard therapist.

(Here’s one my wife has just given me so I’m testing it on you.  How lucky are you now?) If you owned a boat, what would you call it?

Hmm… Probably “Plain Jane”, after the old Bobby Darin song.

Trent’s website is:

His twitter is:  @TrentZelazny

2 thoughts on “Author Interview Special Edition – Trent Zelazny, American Writer

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