Lutzke: Tell us a about your new book series, Dark Vanishings and what readers can expect to get themselves into while following the series.
Padavona: Dark Vanishings is a post-apocalyptic horror/adventure series, set up in a series of episodes. The first three episodes will be released on a monthly basis, allowing people to experience the story much the way they do a popular series on HBO.
Without giving too much away, the story begins with a girl awakening to find everyone in her town has disappeared. No killer virus, no zombies risen, no mass alien abduction. The lights still work, all of the town’s houses and businesses still appear intact, yet she lives in a ghost town. The same story plays out across the United States, and eventually our characters find out they aren’t completely alone. And that’s when the fun starts.
The Sterling and Stone crew have shown that the episodic series is a great way of releasing novels, and their readers love their episodes. Not everyone wants to consume a 900-page epic in one sitting. By lowering the price of each book and keeping the page count to somewhere around 150 to 200 pages, not only do you allow readers to tackle a more manageable page count, but you also give them something new to look forward to every month.
Padavona: It’s difficult to say, as I write sans-outline. The series will take a minimum of four episodes to complete, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it takes five or six. It’s completely possible that the story will take on a life of its own and keep going, and that’s great, because it’s a fun adventure to get lost in both as a writer and as a reader. But we’ll have to see.
I’m almost finished with the first draft of the third episode, and I can tell you that plenty of story remains to be told.
Padavona: I actually fought hard to differentiate Dark Vanishings from The Stand. Ultimately, every post-apocalyptic horror story is going to be compared to The Stand, because it’s the best of breed, and King wrote a thought-provoking masterpiece. Dark Vanishings does have a single bad guy trying to make life miserable for everyone else, but he is nothing like Randall Flagg, and I think by the end of episode one people will realize the antagonist will have dangerous opposition. I threw out the rule which states that only the evil dude can summon secret powers. In many ways, Dark Vanishings feel to me like a mash-up of fantasy, post-apocalyptic horror, and action.
When I read post-apocalyptic novels, I often garner the most fun from watching the characters interact with familiar locations. I asked myself where I might live or hang out if the world disappeared and I had my choice of any location. My characters have some fun along the way, such as one guy who decides to move into one of the world’s most famous amusement parks. Because I can tell you if everyone disappears tomorrow, I’m moving into Disney World. There is an upside to this much freedom.
This is quite unlike The Stand, where after the virus, everyone is fleeing fly-covered corpses.
But eventually, the characters of Dark Vanishings must deal with evil, too, and figure out how to survive after the electricity stops functioning.
Padavona: Ideally, I would write daily after breakfast. I work rotating shifts with NOAA, so I have to write whenever my schedule allows me to. I write almost every day for about ninety minutes, often at odd times so I can meet my family and career obligations.
I never outline. I prefer writing from the seat of my pants, generating the story as it pops into my head. That process can make facing the blank page more intimidating. However, this style of story generation often surprises me in exciting ways. For instance, the character “Ricky” appeared out of nowhere in the first draft of Dark Vanishings episode 1, and he was so over-the-top that I couldn’t get enough of him. Ricky, a trash talking redneck from…wait for it…the Baltimore suburbs, became a star character instantly. I can’t wait to see what he does next. Don’t ask me how I came up with the idea for Ricky. I have no idea, but I sure am glad I did.
Stylistically, I learned the basic mechanics of writing in college and high school creative writing courses, and refined it greatly with Stephen King’s On Writing. I improve my skills by writing and reading, writing and reading, day after day. My favorite horror story teller is King, but I greatly appreciate the poetic prose of Dean Koontz and the sheer brilliance of Clive Barker. Yet the greatest lesson is in reading widely, and so I read many authors and genres, everything from John Steinbeck to J.K. Rowling.
Padavona: Life experience always works its way into my writing. I think it does for any honest writer. When I wrote Storberry, the interplay between Tom and Jen rang true for me because I remember what it felt like to be a teenager with a crush on someone. I also grew up in a broken home amid a messy divorce, and I know what it’s like to sense there is no way out, and how complex parent-child relationships can be.
The characters of Dark Vanishings are shaped by a diversity of experiences. Viper, the bounty hunter, watched as his mother was abused during his youth. Blake’s status as an adopted child is hidden from him, and he finds out the truth just as his world begins to fall apart around him. Jacob was a tortured soul in high school, and in the post-apocalyptic silence, he loses his tenuous grip on sanity.
Padavona: My father left my mother and I when I was four years old. For the next 38 years, my father and I struggled to make our relationship work. Ultimately, cancer took his life before we connected the way a father and his son should. We loved each other, and I still love my father and think of him every day. But we never became a proper family.
My father was an avid reader, and he enjoyed horror quite a bit. I mailed a fair amount of King novels to him for gifts, as well as the Thomas Harris novels. So writing is in many ways my way of paying homage to him as a person. I’m not a musician or singer. I can barely carry a tune, singing along in the car to Tool and The Smiths. But I am a storyteller, always have been, and I believe he was somewhat of a storyteller, too, through his lyrics.
Writing is my way of telling him, if he is somewhere where he can read my books, that he made me proud, and everything is okay between us. We are family in death, even if we never fully came together in life. I hope to see him again someday, and hopefully they let me bring my Kindle with me.
Padavona: I’ve learned it is crucial to surround myself with well-read, intelligent critics. I run almost everything I write past my father-in-law, a former English department chair who could have made a living as a line or development editor if he was so interested.
Maintaining a thick skin and taking his and others’ advice to heart has made me a much better writer. I love Storberry – its characters and plot still move me. But Dark Vanishings is huge step up for me in terms of prose and storytelling.
Another lesson I’ve learned is to minimize passive voice. In other words, she ran rather than she was running, he saw her running rather than he could see her running. But I state this with a big, fat asterisk. I am of the opinion some editors and writers take these rules too far. King advocates against the use of passive voice in On Writing, yet he regularly peppers his own prose with passive voice.
My feeling is overly-optimized, cleaned prose sounds robotic. I include a small bit of passive voice in my own prose because I believe it simply sounds better to the ear in given passages and it adds variety.
Padavona: The second Dark Vanishings episode is due out in the third week of June with the third episode to be released in late July. Forthcoming episodes will be released in the autumn and winter until the story concludes. The second draft is in the hands of the editors as I write this, and as of this morning, I estimate the first draft of the third episode is about 40% complete.
Lutzke: Outside of Dark Vanishings, what else can we expect from Dan Padavona this year?
Padavona: I have no less than three stories on the backburner, including an idea for a possible Storberry sequel. I can’t make any promises until Dark Vanishings concludes, but I really love old school, scary vampire stories, and I see myself revisiting the genre often. Though there is no shortage of vampire books, very few authors write true vampire horror. Most vampire novels are love stories disguised as horror.
I have a ripper of a slasher story in the works, too.
Padavona: Family and friends are our most precious blessings. They are the heaven in heaven and hell. Let your loved ones know how important they are to you. Tell them you love them, and don’t assume tomorrow will wait for you.
Book one of Dark Vanishings can be found here on Amazon.
Check out Dan Padavona's site here and give his author page a like over on Facebook.