The Write Stuff – Monday, January 8 – Spotlight on Kevin J. Anderson

Most of you know Kevin J. Anderson’s massive epics. Here is a take you may not yet be familiar with. Larry Correia has this to say about Kevin’s lighter side, “A good detective doesn’t let a little thing like being murdered slow him down, and I got a kick out of Shamble trying to solve a series of oddball cases, including his own. He’s the kind of zombie you want to root for, and his cases are good lighthearted fun.”

For those of my site’s visitors who are unfamiliar with this series’ protagonist, will you tell us something about Dan Shamble?

I’m certainly best known for my big SF and fantasy epics, like the Dune novels with Brian Herbert, my Saga of Seven Suns, my Terra Incognita trilogy, or the big new fantasy, Spine Of The Dragon.

But Dan Shamble is something different entirely: short, funny, even ridiculous comedy mysteries in a world where all the monsters have returned and are just trying to live their everyday lives in the Unnatural Quarter. Dan Chambeaux (everybody mispronounces it “Shamble”) was a human detective working in the quarter, because even vampires, werewolves, and ghosts still have divorces, bankruptcies, business deals that go sour. But he was killed on a case, shot in the back of the head in a dark alley…but in this world, he came back as a zombie. And now he’s back from the dead and back on the case. His first order of business was to solve his own murder (in Death Warmed Over). He has a politically incorrect cop as his Best Human Friend, a beautiful bleeding-heart lawyer as a partner, and a ghost for a girlfriend. They solve crimes with mummies, necromancers, ghouls, vampires, werewolves, and even more unusual suspects.

How did he originally percolate up from the depths of your subconscious mind?

I enjoy zombie movies, and particularly a fan of the Walking Dead…but it’s so grim and horrible. I felt it was time for the zombie equivalent of Spaceballs. Sometimes you just want to be funny, even silly. This is a spoof, filled with all the wonderful clichés of all the monster movies I used to watch. I carved out time in my writing schedule and wrote my first novel in the series, Death Warmed Over, as a complete surprise to my agent, a labor of love. I just published the fifth novel, Tastes Like Chicken, and over a dozen short stories, as well as a crossover comic with Dan Shamble and Kolchak the Night Stalker.

Between 2012 and 2014, you produced four installments. Since then, it’s been just over three years since you turned out the last one. Why the hiatus?

The series was originally published by Kensington Books and they came out without much fanfare, though the fan base steadily built up and I got a lot of fan letters. And besides, they were just so much fun to write. But Kensington decided to discontinue the series after the fourth novel, Slimy Underbelly. In the meantime, I kept writing new Dan Shamble short stories that have appeared in magazines and anthologies, and I got the rights back to the original first novels. I rereleased them in my own editions through WordFire Press, published the first collection of Shamble short stories, Working Stiff… and I kept promising that I would get around to writing the next novel on my own time. But fortunately, or unfortunately (depending on how you look at it), my own writing schedule was so full of contracted books (which I get paid for), I couldn’t scrounge the time to write a new book that I would publish through WordFire. But the fans kept writing me letters, nagging me, and I finally cleared the decks for three weeks this summer and wrote the whole thing, Tastes Like Chicken.

What is this episode’s premise?

Dan Shamble, zombie P.I., faces his most fowl case yet, when a flock of murderous feral chickens terrorizes the Unnatural Quarter. Also in the caseload, Dan deals with the sinister spokesman for Monster Chow Industries, a spreading contamination that drives vampires berserk, a serial-killer demon from the Fifth Pit of Hell, a black-market blood gang led by the nefarious Ma Hemoglobin, a ghost fighting a hostile takeover of his blood bars… and a cute little vampire girl who may, or may not, be his daughter.

With his ghost girlfriend Sheyenne, his bleeding-heart lawyer partner Robin, and his Best Human Friend Officer Toby McGoohan, Dan Shamble is back from the dead and back on the case. The feathers will fly as he goes face-to-beak with the evil peckers.

How long does it take you to get from Page One to The End when you’re turning one out? I ask, because these are no mere forty thousand word, just-under-the-wire novels. With the exception of the half episodes, each one is a three hundred give-or-take-a-few-pages book.

These are still short novels, 60-80,000 words (my big epics are more like 200,000 words!) Well, they seem quick to me at least. I can do one of the short stories in a day or two. Writing Tastes Like Chicken took me two weeks, and then another three weeks to edit it several times.

Now that you’re releasing Tastes Like Chicken, do you believe we can expect to hear more from Dan in the reasonably near future?

Absolutely. I’m finishing up a new short story right now for Pulphouse magazine, and another new one was just published in Jonathan Maberry’s anthology Hardboiled Horror. I just got the rights from Kensington to do an omnibus edition of books #3 and #4, Hair Raising and Slimy Underbelly. So that book will be called, appropriately, The Hairy Slimy Zomnibus. I will be releasing the second collection of Dan Shamble short stories in November, and I already have the idea outlined for the next novel.

Now, I just have to find the TIME!

Might I ask if something else bizarre is lurking, trying to become the premise for another series?

I just sold Spine Of The Dragon and two more epic fantasies to Tor for another giant series. And I’m working on an idea for another series in the Seven Suns universe, and I just sold a new high-tech thriller Doomsday Cascade with my coauthor Doug Beason… so I have a full plate right now.

Something cool for your readers, though: If you sign up for my KJA readers group (it’s free), I’ll send you a free copy of the Dan Shamble Working Stiff collection, some other free stuff, sneak previews, and updates.

For those of you who are yearning for more, here is an excerpt:

Some monsters are friendly. You learn that while working as a private investigator in the Unnatural Quarter, where you never know what size, shape, species, or temperament your clients might come in.

Some monsters want to live their daily lives without undue hassles, just like anybody else.

Some monsters even eat cookies and are adored by children nationwide.

But some monsters eat people. They’re vicious, violent things that deserve to be called monsters.

The demon Obadeus fit into that last category, without question. And McGoo—Officer Toby McGoohan, beat cop in the Quarter and my best human friend—had tracked Obadeus down before he could murder again. I was along for backup, moral support, and, if necessary, a diversion.

Serial killers are bad enough, but a bloodthirsty demon serial killer, now that’s not a good thing at all. Obadeus’s death toll now stood at nineteen, and since demons can be a little OCD about round numbers, we knew he would strike again just to make it an even twenty.

Fortunately for us, although not for his numerous victims, a monster with so much enthusiasm for killing isn’t very good at covering his tracks. Some supernatural psychologist or monster profiler might speculate that Obadeus wanted to be caught, deep down inside. I had a different theory: he was just too lazy to clean up his messes.

We had tracked the demon down to his lair, which Obadeus called his “man cave.” The place reeked. The walls were decorated with dripping blood and flayed skin or pelts from his victims, both human and unnatural. I didn’t envy the crime-scene cleanup team, or the landlord who would have to make the place ready to rent again, after McGoo and I took care of this creep. At least Obadeus wouldn’t get his cleaning deposit back, so there was some justice in the world.

The big demon bolted from his blood-soaked lair just as we arrived—which was a lucky break, because McGoo and I didn’t exactly know how to arrest a serial-killer demon from the Fifth Pit of Hell. I had no idea where the pits of hell fell, on a scale of one to ten, but pit number five must be a nasty place if it had spawned something like this.

Obadeus was ugly, with a capital U-G-L-Y. He had a leathery hide with knobs, warts, scales, and leprous patches, a face full of spikes and tendrils, triangular pointed ears, and a jaw that extended all the way to the back of his head filled with enough fangs to keep an orthodontist in business for life.

“Ick,” McGoo observed. “He makes vampire bats look cute.”

Whether Obadeus was insulted, or enraged, or just shy, he spread his thorny wings and lurched toward the door of his lair, where the two of us happened to be standing. Letting out a roar that sounded like a cow caught in a barbed-wire fence, Obadeus charged past, knocking both of us aside like bowling pins, and smashed out the door. He ran off into the streets.

“We must be scarier than I thought,” I said as the demon fled. “He could have torn us limb from limb and sipped our entrails through a straw.”

“Law enforcement carries great weight.” McGoo drew his Police Special revolver, and I pulled my .38, which I considered to be just as special, even though it didn’t have the word “Special” in its name. We set off after Obadeus in hot pursuit.

It was the dead of night in the Quarter, which meant the streets were busier than at any time of day. Though the monster’s great wings got in the way as he bounded out among the pedestrians, they also generated a tailwind for him as he flapped them, giving him a boost as he ran.

“Make way!” I shouted. “Killer demon on the loose!”

Readers who are interested can purchase Tastes Like Chicken here (click image):

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *