I had some questions for Neal about his burgeoning career as an author, as seen from our YA lens:
When did you start writing? At what age?
The first time I wrote a story and got that unique thrill was in 8th grade (it was an extra credit project that horrified my teacher. I was beaming). It wasn't long after that I made being a professional author my life's career goal.
What are your YA appropriate books?
Definitions of “appropriate” will vary by reader. Some people will say it's sexual content that makes a book inappropriate, but others will say that violence, or even harsh language disqualifies it. I was reading Stephen King, Clive Cussler, and Battletech novels in 6th grade, so my own judgment is likely questionable. That said I believe New Avalon: Love and Loss in The City of Steam would be appropriate for mid-to-older teens. The anthologies Shadows of a Fading World and Sidekicks are also good choices for those who want good stories without a lot of questionable content.
For those who like violent stories SNAFU: An Anthology of Military Horror and its upcoming sequel SNAFU II: Survival of the Fittest are great anthologies that feature two of my stories. For those who like a dose of blood and terror in their books American Nightmare is a great anthology I'm proud to be a part of, and for those who prefer something more titillating my story in the anthology Big Damn Heroines from Storm Moon Press is a great example of how you can marry sci-fi and erotica.
Your favorite genre?
Horror is always going to be the queen of my heart. No matter what other genre I'm writing touches of the bleak, the terrifying, and the disturbing always bleed through unless I go back through with the editor's scouring pad and scrub them all out. Most of the time I just leave them though, because I feel they add character and help define my voice as an author.
Your favorite characters in your books?
I never really think about favorites, though some of them are certainly louder than others. Each character embodies something unique, unusual, or downright bizarre, which makes each of them a distinct note in the song.
Who are your diverse characters?
Diversity has become a bigger and bigger issue for me over the years, both as a writer who wants to do my part for representation in fiction and as a professional who sees a demand and wants to fill it. New Avalon has several female characters, as well as characters of color for example. Luke Delacroix, the lead in my story “The Slog” in the upcoming SNAFU II is a black soldier from Louisiana who runs afoul of the impossible while on tour in Vietnam. “Terror on Saturn VI,” my story in Big Damn Heroines features a squad of female space marines investigating a distress call on the prison colony on Titan.
The list goes on and on. While I've got plenty of big, white fellows in my works I see no reason to limit my stories to where those are my only protagonists.
Have you found it difficult to write female or diverse characters? How?
Yes and no.
I think a lot of the times we cling to “write what you know” like a safety blanket, afraid to step out into other areas. I'm not a woman, nor am I a black or latino man, so why would I write their stories? I'm not a nine-foot tall alien/human hybrid super-soldier, a Martian gun-for-hire, or a psychotic serial killer who lives behind a Comedy mask either, but I had no problem telling those stories.
Writing diverse characters isn't easy, especially if you want to be accurate and fair. As with anything it gets easier with time, practice, and research though. Judging from the reactions of my readers (particularly to “The Unusual Transformation of Abraham Carver” which was told in first person from a female character's perspective) I like to think I'm doing it right most of the time.
What's your latest WIP?
The current work in progress is a novel that expands the world and characters found in my short story “Heart of the Myrmidon” which was published in the End of Days anthology, and its prequel “Gods and Heroes” which will be out this fall in Golden Age from Long Count Press. A post-apocalyptic military thriller with shadowy conspiracies, illicit research programs, and protagonists who are very different from what you might expect.
Many, many thanks to Neal for taking time to let me interview him about his work and thoughts on writing. If you're looking for horror stories, or other genres with that twist at the end, you'll love his work!