A conversation with Luke Walker

I'm super excited to post an interview with my friend, Luke Walker, a horror writer I've known for about eight years now. Luke is a fantastically talented writer who I knew had something special when we first met. He's just released his latest, DIE LAUGHING, which has about the scariest cover I think I've ever seen. We decided to keep this interview more conversational - all that was missing was the face-to-face interaction, and, of course, the drinks. One day soon, right, Luke?

Without further ado...

Do you remember how we “met”? 

Yep. Over on Absolute Write, I posted a short story for critique, one originally titled THE MOTHER. This was around '06-'07. You really liked it and let me know. A couple of years later, that story and you liking it came up in conversation on AW. Inspired by what you said, I went back to it and spent a while rewriting and tidying the story into an improved version. Eventually, it became ECHIDNA and was published in Volume 4 of POSTSCRIPTS TO DARKNESS. So I owe that one to you reading a so-so draft, seeing something decent in there and telling me.

While that was going on, I read your first book and what I strongly suspected was confirmed: you knew exactly what you were talking about when it comes to writing.

That’s how I remember it too. I don’t know if I told you this, but you were the first writer I ever made contact with on AW, or anywhere, for that matter. I remember being really, really moved by your story. It was like, “Here’s someone who writes what I write. I so want to be his friend because I know he gets it.” Haha. Seriously, though, I was inspired by how hard you worked, and by your sheer talent, which was totally evident. I couldn’t imagine that story NOT ending up somewhere.

So why do you write dark stuff? What drives you to that place?


Thanks. All of that means a lot.

As for writing dark stuff, I honestly don't know. I'm not sure if any writer of horror or the supernatural really knows. It's what I've been reading since I was a kid; it's the films I've watched; it's where my head goes. Horror fiction is a chance to show the absolute best and worst of people. In horror, we see the darkness inside us that most people want to pretend belongs only to the Hannibal Lectors of the real world, and not (potentially) in everyone. At the same time, we see bravery, sacrifice, love and going into death (and beyond) to do what we all hope we would do in a life-threatening situation: the right thing.

Real life can be a nasty, vicious experience with no justification for the shit it puts us through. At least in horror fiction, we can blame the monsters. At least there, we have an evil to fight against. Even if we all we get is our heads torn off for our trouble.

I’m smiling because I completely understand. I write to fend off my demons. If I can imagine the worst, and write about it, it’s like a way of protecting myself from it actually happening, if that makes any sense. Plus, killing people on the page is a great way to relieve stress.

Let’s talk a bit about the writing process. My biggest struggle with writing these days is finding the energy. How do you manage to write books and short stories between a full-time job, a wife, and a LIFE?


Killing fictional people is always fun. Although I try not to publicise that.

As for the time issue, it can be very hard. Having a supportive and understanding wife is, without question, the most helpful part of it. Without her, I'd be a dribbling mess in the corner. Other than that, I treat writing as a second job. I'm at my desk at set times (or as close to it as I can if one of the cats has thrown up and it needs cleaning) and I work for generally the same length of time each session. I take Friday nights off as well as another night in the week. Weekends, I'll do a few hours on either day or both if my wife and I aren't up to anything. Getting the words down isn't a problem most of the time although rejections and waiting to hear back about submissions can take it out of any writer. Then you've got the social media part of it because nobody is going to know about me unless I make myself available on my blog or Twitter. Saying that, the writing has to come first.

Basically, I see it as if I want anyone to read my stuff, then I have to get it done. Nobody else is going to do it for me.

As I suspected, you are very disciplined! But I think you have to be. I think, to finish a work of fiction, you have to be equals parts methodical and creative.

You mentioned social media. Not a days goes by when I don't fantasize about quitting Facebook or Twitter,  but I know I can't, because it's the easiest way to connect with readers. How much do you enjoy the social media part of being a writer? 


For the most part, it's cool. It's very nice to occasionally hear from people who've read something of mine and enjoyed it. (Hint: if anyone else wants to say so, feel free. I'm powered by ego). I find Twitter generally more useful that Facebook for mentioning book related stuff although it's easy on both to get lost in the noise of thousands of others all doing the same.

Social media's a tool as much as anything. Yes, you can overdo it and stress about being on one forum and not another, but that's a bad move. I try to be the sort of person that readers want to talk to about books or anything, really. I know there are more sites out there, but Twitter, a bit of Facebook and my blog are more than enough for me. Like I said, writing has to come ahead of socialising online.

It's important to prioritize writing, isn't it? I always say there's no better way to promote your book than to write and put out the next one.

That being said, tell me about DIE LAUGHING. It's got just about the most scary, kick ass cover I've seen in a long time.


DIE LAUGHING was one of those 'I wonder if doing this would be a good idea' things. I had a few short stories I hadn't subbed anywhere, a few older ones I was fond of, and ideas for others. About six months ago, I wondered if tidying up the ones already written and putting them with brand new stories would make a good collection. This was around the same time my first two books went out of print so it seemed like a good way of keeping my name out there as well as getting stories I was proud of to an audience.

As for the title, I originally thought about TIME GENTLEMAN, PLEASE which is the name of the penultimate story. I saw a cover online which fit that, but then I saw my clown. The collection immediately became DIE LAUGHING which is also the name of my blog. After that, it was rewrites, edits, getting feedback from a few writer friends, more edits and polishing and so on. I'm very happy with the finished result.

Click here to purchase

It’s a good feeling when you’re pleased with your own work, isn’t it? I’ve written three books, and one of them, I hated. It seemed to turn out okay, my editor was happy, and it got decent reviews, but I personally never felt that good about the story. I always felt I could have written it better, had I had more time.

How much does external validation mean to you as a writer? Does it mean more to you to write something you’re really proud of, or does it mean more to you that people like it?


I've written loads of stuff I hated. A first draft of a novel last year sucked the big one, and the second wasn't much better. Still working myself up for draft three.

Knowing others liked something I wrote (story or book) is great. People might think that getting a bad review is the worst part; it's not at all. Getting nothing is the worst. I would much rather hear someone didn't like one of my pieces rather than hear nothing about it. At least they took the time to read it. At least they paid for it haha.

Primarily, I write stuff I want to read and I write for my wife since she's obviously the first person to read it. She's not the biggest horror fan in the world but if I can affect her with the characters, if I can make her want to keep reading to see what happens to them, then I'm on to a winner.

Who was the first writer to really get under your skin? You know, the one writer whose book you read, and it changed you somehow, and so you had to go and read everything else he or she has ever written?

Tough one. I've always loved reading and there have been plenty of books that had an impact on me. A few books I read as a kid really fired my imagination but if we're talking the one that probably helped turn me into the writer I am, it's Stephen King's It. I read it when I was eleven (the same age as the characters) and I lived it with them. I still do when re-reading it.

I'd read stuff by King before that; It was the one that changed things, though.

Same. Reading IT was the most incredible experience for me as well. Seven main characters that were all so richly drawn. Just as you said, if you can believe in the characters, you'll believe anything that happens to them, which was why that book was terrifying.

This is a bit of a jump, but what are your thoughts on the current state of publishing? Do you feel differently about it - about getting published, about staying published - than you did when we first met eight years ago? Biggest challenges? Lessons you've learned?


The biggest lesson is that while writing is obviously an artform creatively speaking, publishing isn't. It's a business. It doesn't care how long you've spent working on a book or how much you've put into it. It cares whether or not that book is any good and will sell. If not, then it's back to the end of the line for you and your book. Tough, but that's how it is.

I thought I always knew that and maybe I did. I don't think I really appreciated it until a few years ago, though.

As for how I feel about publishing, not much has changed. I still want the same out of it as I did when I subbed my first book (all the way back in 1999) - get stuff accepted, have it sell in quantities enough for me to earn enough to live on, and then repeat. Probably a wild and crazy idea, I know.

Self-publishing now being easier than it ever has been has changed things for a lot of people (for good and bad). Same with ebooks. My opinion is pretty straightforward: whatever the medium and whatever the method of publication, the quality of the writing and the story is what matters. If both are as high as can be, then it's all good.

Thanks for that. It’s a good reminder for me too to stay focused on the writing, which is really the only part of the process we have 100% control over. The most fun I ever had writing happened before I was published – the only pressure I felt back then was from myself. I’d like to get that feeling back (I’m working on it!).

So, as we wrap this up: What’s next for you?


Last year, I wrote the first drafts of a new novel and a novella. Both were awful. I've read through them, made a lot of notes and I've recently begun outlining a new version of the novella although it's become a full length novel. I'm aiming for a sort of DIE HARD meets JACOB'S LADDER thing.

After that, I'll go back to the novel (a post apocalyptic murder mystery) and see if I can whip it into shape. Normally, I'd have started work on it already but the stories and edits for DIE LAUGHING took up the last six months.

And of course, there are submissions to make, publishers to research, emails to wait for. And wait. And wait.

That's the writer's life.

The writer's life, indeed! Thanks, Luke! I wish you mega success, always.


Luke Walker has been writing horror and fantasy fiction for most of his life. His short story collection, Die Laughing, is now available, and his novella Mirror Of The Nameless is published by DarkFuse. Several of his short stories have been published online and in print. He is currently at work on a new novel and novella.

Luke welcomes comments at his blog which can be read at www.lukewalkerwriter.com. His Twitter page is @lukewalkerbooks and he is on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/LukeWalkerWriter.

He is thirty-seven and lives in England with his wife and two cats. He's now had enough of writing about himself in the third person and is going for a lay down.

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Presenting... THE BUTCHER mass market paperback cover!

Woo hoo!

The paperback will be out February 24, 2015!  Pre-orders are a great way to start the new year!

Speaking of which, HAPPY NEW YEAR! *throws confetti*

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A really amazing thing happened over the weekend

I snapped this pic last Saturday, November 1st:

37.5 weeks pregnant

And this happened on Sunday, November 2nd:

It's a boy! Welcome to the word, Maddox John.

There are no words to describe it really, except to say that yes, it's all I dreamed it would be.

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Baby brain, fast cars, and Halloween

I'm on the last lap of my pregnancy (less than three weeks to go, unless the baby decides to come early), and am pretty much running on fumes these days. I'm trying desperately to finish the first draft of my current book, and I honestly thought that I could write at the pace I usually do... but I totally underestimated how tired you can get just from SITTING and THINKING while in your third trimester. Like, wow. Six-hour writing shifts now feel like twelve-hour writing shifts, because frankly, my back can't take it, and neither can my brain, which seriously feels like it's shrinking the closer I get to my due date.

The biggest challenge of being pregnant while writing is that it's really fucking hard to kill people. Chelsea Cain told me last summer that she wrote her first thriller, HEARTSICK, while pregnant, and that the experience was great for her (and if you've read her books, then you know how dark and gory her stuff is). She told me to use all the hormones I was plagued with and channel them into my work, and while I've been trying to do that, it's not quite working out for me the way it did for her. I do have these crazy, vivid, violent dreams at night, but for some reason, it's not translating to the writing. I haven't killed or tortured nearly as many people in this book as in the first three, and as a writer of psychological thrillers, that sucks donkey balls.

The problem is, I get emotional now. I get weepy. A few weeks ago, driving home from a doctor's appointment, I cried listening to Tracy Chapman's "Fast Cars" on the radio. I've heard that song like a million times over the last two decades, but for some reason, I found myself carefully listening to the lyrics, and then I started crying. "Don't go with him, girl!" I said out loud as I stopped at a red light, my hands clinging to the steering wheel. "Don't be seduced by the fast car! He doesn't have a job! You have your whole life ahead of you!" It was pathetic, and so not me, and I hate that I get weepy over stupid shit, and that I don't feel at all like myself right now.


I want murderous Jenny back, the girl who'll gleefully chop your hand off with a cleaver and not think twice about it. But I don't know where that girl is. And like I said, that sucks donkey balls.

I was challenged by a friend the other day to cartoon myself... and this is what I came up with! Because a cleaver looks good on everybody.

At this point I've figured out that I'll probably have to go back and murder people in rewrites, and that's okay. All good writing is rewriting (and I forget who said that, because remember, my brain is shrinking).

Speaking of the new book, I should have exciting news to share soon, so stay tuned!

Also, it's Halloween! GO SCARE SOMEONE! (Because God knows I can't do it.)

Throwback Halloween pic. Me at age 9. Because clowns are scary.

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Tids and bits

A couple of cool things happened this week:

CBS Local (all 24 CBS markets!) did a roundup of "Dark and Twisted Thrillers for Fans of GONE GIRL", and THE BUTCHER was one of the six they selected!



and...

My post on the Insecure Writer's Support Group went live today! I talk about writer's conferences and why they intimidate me.

Happy Wednesday!

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Nothing like the first time

The most fun I ever had writing a book was before I was published. And I'm not referring to CREEP, which was my debut novel. I'm talking about the book I wrote before CREEP. The really, really bad one. The trunk novel.

I started writing it in July 2007. I finished it in October 2007. It was over 400 pages long and something like 128,000 words. It was completely shitty. Everything about it was shitty. Even the title was shitty. It was about a guy who buys an old house and discovers it's haunted, and oh, guess what, the whole neighborhood's haunted, too.

I made every mistake a newbie novelist makes. Characters were waking up from dreams constantly. I head-hopped. I switched between past and present tense, sometimes in the same paragraph. I used terrible, unnecessary dialogue tags. ("Stop," he croaked. "Make me," she purred). There were long chapters where absolutely nothing happened. 

But oh, was it ever fun to write.

I had no expectations going into it. I wasn't worried about deadlines. I wasn't worried about anybody reading it. I wasn't even thinking about getting published - I knew next to nothing about the publishing industry. All I had was an idea and a lot of time (nothing much was happening in my life at all during that period), and my only goal was to prove to myself that I could commit to finishing a novel-length story. In the past, I had started countless novels that I'd never come close to finishing. I wanted to finish this one. And so I wrote, every day, without fear or judgement. Without panic. Without thinking, even a little bit, about where it might end up.

I haven't written that way since. It's a luxury I'm pretty sure I'll never have again. Why? Because I want more. I expect more. And people expect more from me. Which is not a complaint, it's just the way it is.

It will never be like it was the first time.

Mind you, is anything ever like it was the first time?

Life has been CRAZY lately. Sometimes I just stop and look around, and I can't believe everything that's changed in the past two and half years. Since early 2012, I've been on fifteen trips, moved three times, gotten divorced, gotten married, lost two cats, gained one cat, and had major surgery. Somewhere in there I released two books (FREAK and THE BUTCHER), and now I'm working on the next one.

And now this is happening:

This was a month ago. I'm bigger now. And way more tired.

I'm due the third week of November with our first (and probably only) child. It was a complete surprise, totally unplanned, and now life is about to get even crazier! I can't wait.

And somehow, between now and then, I hope to finish the book I'm working on. And then, at some point, I hope to write another. I have no idea how I'll do that with a baby in the house, but I'm sure I'll figure it out. And then I'll write another. And then another. Because, you know, that's what writers do. Life is a constantly shifting balancing act.

But it's filled with things that make me so happy. I'm very, very blessed.

I can't pretend, though, on the days when I'm writing and life feels extra swirly, that I don't miss how it felt the first time. When there was zero pressure, no deadlines, and no crazy life made crazier by hormones and pregnancy fatigue... when I had nothing but time. When it didn't matter if the book was shitty.

Yeah... those were the days.

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Thoughts on book promotion, tours, and the non-writing stuff that writers have to do

It's been almost a month since THE BUTCHER was released, and little by little, life is returning to some semblance of normal.

I've engaged in a lot of discussion recently with other authors about book promotion. Across the board, it's all something we have to do, and the general consensus is, nobody exactly loves it. Some of us don't mind it, and some of us downright hate it, but nobody really loves it, and the main reason is because it takes a lot of time away from doing what we really love to do, which is write books.

Thoughts on social media:

Like most published authors, I have a professional website, I'm on Facebook (both a regular account and an author page), I tweet, I Instagram, I'm on LinkedIn, and I have this blog. To keep up with all of it is time-consuming, and I know I don't keep up with any of it nearly as well as I should.

So when I get to talking with other writers (which I had the pleasure of doing at last month's ThrillerFest), the big question we always ask each other is, "What are you doing that's working?"

My good friend Hilary Davidson wrote an article not long ago for the National Post (a national Canadian newspaper) called "Sorry, but social media won't sell your book." She said:

"When I talk about social media, I emphasize the social part. It’s about connecting, not selling."

And I wholeheartedly agree. Nobody likes being barked at, either in person or online, and that's exactly what it feels like when an author tweets about their book twenty times a day, and constantly posts links and quotes to it on Facebook. When you do this, you turn into a marketing bot, and it's boring. And annoying. And people tune you out. And eventually they hide you, or unfollow you. You know why? Because they already know you wrote a book. You're telling the same people the same thing over and over again. So in terms of increasing sales, that doesn't really work.

A big-name author I recently met in New York said that while he has over 150,000 "likes" on his Facebook page, those "likes" don't actually translate to sales. A hundred people may "like" and comment on any one of his Facebook posts promoting his new book, but those same hundred people won't necessarily buy that new book.

So what does work? Using social media to actually socialize with other people. Social media works best when you talk about yourself, and things people can relate to, and when you feel accessible and real to others. The majority of retweets I get are not from the tweets where I talk about my books, but when I tweet interesting articles I've come across online. When I talk about movies, TV shows, or other people's books, I usually end up engaging in interesting discussions, and inevitably, I "meet" new people and gain new followers. And it's these NEW followers who could become new book buyers, which of course, helps my sales.

In fact, my biggest crop of new followers happened after I tweeted something that had ZERO to do with writing. And this tweet, with the hashtag #WorstSummerJob, actually ended up on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon (it's the last one Jimmy reads, but they're all funny!):




Thoughts on book tours:

It was interesting to learn that a lot of bestselling authors no longer go on book tours. I was part of a panel at ThrillerFest last month called "Going Out or Going Online?", which debated whether book tours or social media was better at selling books. The general consensus was: neither work perfectly well. Book tours are expensive. As marketing budgets get tighter for publishers, it's becoming less profitable for them to send authors on these multi-city book tours, because the majority of readers who show up to these events have already bought the ebook. And you can't really autograph an ebook. Which means that the bookstore hosting the event doesn't sell a lot of books, and if they're not able to sell a lot of books, what's the incentive for the bookstore or the publisher to have an author there?

Times are changing, indeed.

So what can authors do to promote their stuff?

I'm in no way an expert at any of this, having only put out three books so far. But I've been saying this since the beginning, and I still stick by it: The best thing a writer can do to promote their books is to write the next book.

Over the past couple of months, with the pending and subsequent release of THE BUTCHER, I noticed a spike in my sales for CREEP and FREAK. CREEP was released in 2011, and FREAK in 2012, so these are now my backlist titles. Why, suddenly, did I sell a whole bunch of copies in the past couple of months? Because of THE BUTCHER. The hype (if you can call it that) for the new book reminded readers that I have two other books already out, and so THE BUTCHER sold more copies of CREEP and FREAK for me this past month than any amount of social media or book events did for those two titles in the past year.


My best advice:

To my fellow writers who are overwhelmed about online promotion and books tours: Keep writing. Tweet and Facebook and do all that social media stuff, yes, and be accessible and real while you do it. Attend as many book events in person as your time and budget allow, because it's always a good thing to connect with readers and network with other writers.

But first and foremost? Always, ALWAYS be working on the next book.


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