Sunday, October 30, 2016

The Gal's 62 Days of Horror Day 23: AMONG THE STACKS: Scott M. Baker


The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Hey, Scott.  Welcome to The Gal's 62 Days of Horror.  YOU are *Day 23* and I'm super excited about this interview - one of the best I've given yet. 
            Let's start off with something easy: Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Scott M. Baker:
I'm a full-time writer living in north Florida.  I currently have seven novels, three novellas, and two anthologies published.  Prior to moving south, I spent twenty-three years with the Central Intelligence Agency where I spent most of my career working against the North Korean target, the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and cyber warfare.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What are five things most people don't know about you?

Scott M. Baker:
First, I'm a huge animal lover.  My wife won't let me go to pet stores alone because she knows I'll bring some critter to add to the furry crew.
            Second, I love first person shooter video games like the Doom, Resident Evil, Silent Hill, Wolfenstein, and Fallout franchises, although lately I've had little time to play them.  
            Third, I'm a huge World War II buff; over the years I've visited numerous battlefields and locations associated with the war, both in Europe and the Pacific.
            Fourth, I originally began writing political techno-thrillers, and my agent at the time had a manuscript with a major New York publisher, but after 9/11 the market for those novels dried up.  That's why I switched to horror.
            Finally, when I was stationed in Seoul in 1994 I played North Korean leader Kim Chong-il at the Embassy Christmas party, and for two years after that the man who rant he Embassy Club referred to me as the Dear Leader.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What is the first book you remember reading?

Scott M. Baker:
My mother read to me when I was an infant and taught me how to read.  I had the entire Dr. Seuss collection.  In elementary school, I read H.G. Wells and Jules Verne.  The first book I remember reading that had a major impact on me was Graham Masterton's The Manitou.  I was ten years old at the time and reading about an ancient medicine man coming back to wreak havoc on the white man, with all the blood, gore, and horror associated with it, got me hooked.  The scenes and images in that book stand out in my mind more than forty years later.  It's what got me hooked onto modern horror.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What are you reading now?

Scott M. Baker:
I'm preparing for a trip to Germany and Poland, so I'm reading Auschwitz: A New History by Laurence Rees, which is one of the stops on our tour.  I'm also researching a horror/techno-thriller I'm working on, so I'm reading The Demon in the Freezer by Richard Preston.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What's a book you really enjoyed that others wouldn't expect you to have liked?

Scott M. Baker:
Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat by Vicki Myron.  I bought it one year as a Christmas gift for my mother, started thumbing through it, and the next thing I knew I had read the entire thing.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What made you decide you want to write?  When did you begin writing?

Scott M. Baker:
I've been writing as far back as I can remember.  As a kid, I used to publish a small monster movie magazine made out of folded-over typing paper that only my mother read.  I started writing professionally, in other words with the intent to become published, in the early 1990s.  It took me ten years to hone my skills enough that I could hope to get a book into print.  However, as I mentioned earlier, after 9/11 and the loss of reader interest in political techno-thrillers I had to switch genres.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Do you have a special place you like to write?

Scott M. Baker:
I have my own study overlooking the front lawn.  I have two large dog beds on the floor, and a cat sitting post and an easy chair by one of the windows.  Inevitably, one of my four fury muses is somewhere nearby while I write.  I have one cat, Archer, who enjoys sitting on my desk by the computer while he watches the neighbors, and whose swishing tail plays havoc with my touch-screen monitor.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Do you have any quirks or processes that you go through when you write?

Scott M. Baker:
I always plot my novels in advance, writing down each separate scene on a 3x5 note card.  It works great for me because I jot down dialogue, scene cues, and research notes.  When I'm ready to begin writing, I organize the cards in sequential order.  If I decide to eliminate or add scenes, or change their sequence, all I have to do is resort the cards rather than create a whole new outline.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Is there anything about writing you find most challenging?

Scott M. Baker:
Keeping the plots fresh and unique, especially when I'm creating a series.  If every monster is the same, and if every monster battle sounds like the last, the readers will get bored quickly.  That's why with each successive book I always up the ante.  The problem arises when, if I wrote a seven-thousand word action scene for book two, now I have to come up with a ten-thousand word action scene for book three.  So far I've met the challenge.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What's the most satisfying thing you've written so far?

Scott M. Baker:
That's a tough question.  I love Yeitso because it pays homage to the big monster movies of the 1950s that I grew up watching as a Monster Kid.  The Vampire Hunters and Rotter World trilogies are the epic vampire and zombie sagas I've always wanted to tell.  However, for most satisfying I would say it's a tie between the two works I had the most fun writing: my short story 'Deck the Malls with Bowels of Holly' and my novella Nazi Ghouls from Space.  'Deck the Halls' is the most comical story about an alcoholic mall Santa battling zombie reindeer.  I describe it as a mash-up between A Christmas Story and Army of Darkness.  Nazi Ghouls from Space was the first time I combined my love of World War II history with my love of horror.  It's a tongue-in-cheek romp that relies on alternate histories and conspiracy theories.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What books have most inspired you?  Who are some authors that have inspired your writing style?

Scott M. Baker:
Books that have inspired me are The Manitou, Brian Lumley's Necroscope series, Brian Keene's The Rising, and Ed Lee's Infernal trilogy.  Masterton and Lee taught me that it's okay to splatter your pages with blood and gore as long as you still scare the hell out of the readers.  Lumley opened my eyes to the possibility that vampires don't have to follow the Bram Stoker model.  And Keene brought the zombie genre, which inspired so much of my earlier writing, back to life.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What do you think makes a good story?

Scott M. Baker:
There are three essentials to make a good story, and without them it can't work.  First, you need a good story.  Whatever genre you write, the story has to be interesting.  Mounting obstacles have to be placed in front of the protagonist, which cause him/her to constantly challenge themselves.  If the story gets boring, the readers will get bored and put the book down.  Second, you need a satisfying ending.  It can devastate the readers or make them happy, but they have to feel like the end was worth the journey.  I've read writers who keep the roller coaster going for three hundred pages, and then resolve everything in the last two or three.  If the ending isn't as intense as the book, good luck getting the reader to pick up your next novel.  Finally, you need characters that intrigue the readers.  The protagonist doesn't have to be likable, but he/she has to be interesting.  They have to possess character flaws, they have to make mistakes and learn from them, they have to question their judgment and motivations.  The reader needs to become a part of the character's journey of self-discovery.  The same holds true for the antagonists, who have to be three dimensional to be effective. The antagonist can be the vilest person in existence, but the reader still needs to have an emotional stake in his/her fate.  The iconic example of this is Hannibal Lector. 

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Which, of all your characters, do you think is the most like you?

Scott M. Baker:
Without question, Drake Matthews from The Vampire Hunters.  He's an iced coffee drinking, cigar smoking, whiskey swilling adventurer with a pet rabbit he adored.  When I wrote those books, Drake Matthews was me, except I was battling proliferators rather than vampires.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Are you turned off by a bad cover?  To what degree were you involved in creating your book covers?

Scott M. Baker:
A bad or an unimpressive cover can be the kiss of death for an otherwise great book.  If the cover and title don't immediately grab a reader's attention, the game is over.  Not including the works that I've self-published, and which I've had complete control over the covers, I've been very fortunate in working with publishers and artists that have allowed me considerable input in designing the cover.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What have you learned creating your books?

Scott M. Baker:
That writing the book is the easy part.  Just before I found a publisher for my first book, an established author told me to enjoy being able to write without having to worry about the business side of the house.  Two years later I finally understood what he meant.  So many people think that a writer types up his/her novel, sends it off to the publisher, and then starts writing their next book while the publisher dos all the work and sends you royalty checks.  Writers today have to do most of their own marketing, come up with their own publicity campaigns, be engaged on social media, and so much more.  I spend half my time writing and the other half managing my business.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What has been the hardest scene for you to write so far?

Scott M. Baker:
Be warned, I'm about to give a major spoiler for The Vampire Hunters trilogy.  In the book, Drake Matthews has a pet rabbit named Van Helsing that he adores.  In the last book, the vampires turn the rabbit, forcing Drake to kill his beloved pet before he engages in the final apocalyptic battle with the undead.  At the time, I owned six rabbits, one of whom was the basis for Van Helsing.  A few weeks before I planned on writing the scene, one of my rabbits whom I loved deeply passed away.  That afternoon, after coming home from the vet, I wrote the scene in which Drake has to kill his pet, and purged in grief in the process.  I think it's one of the most powerful scenes I've ever written.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What makes your books different from others out there in this genre?

Scott M. Baker:
Yeitso is unique because it reads like a big monster movie from the 1950s.  There is something monstrous in the New Mexico desert killing people, but you don't find out what it is until a third of the way through the book, and then the government and military band together to end the threat.  The Vampire Hunters trilogy is different for two reasons.  First, my vampires are purely bad-ass.  They don't glitter, date teenage girls, feel remorse for what they are, or want to coexist with humans.  They see humans as food and treat us as such.  What makes them different is that most vampires portrayed as monsters are two dimensional creatures, like zombies or ghosts.  Mine are fully developed characters with their own personalities, motivations, and weaknesses.  As for the Rotter World trilogy, it is one of the very few zombie books that show humans and vampires working together to overcome the living dead apocalypse.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
How important is the book title, how hard is it to choose the best one, and how did you choose yours (of course, with no spoilers)?

Scott M. Baker:
The book title is very important because it's the first thing the reader sees.  When I choose a title, I look for something that immediately tells the reader what the book is about (i.e. The Vampire Hunters), that stands out from other titles (which is why I called it Rotter World rather than Zombie World), and is unique (Yeitso sounded so much better than The Big-Ass Monster Running Around the New Mexico Desert).

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What makes you feel more fulfilled: Writing a novel or writing a short story?

Scott M. Baker:
I feel more fulfilled writing a novel.  I love short stories, but they're single ideas that I can crank out own less than a week.  Novels are much more in-depth, with numerous characters that need developing; plots, subplots, and plot twists; and underlying themes that have to be maintained for three hundred pages.  It's much more labor intensive, so the satisfaction for me of finishing a novel are that much greater.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Tell us a little bit about your books, your target audience, and what you would like readers to take away from your stories.

Scott M. Baker:
Most of my novels and short stories are hard R-rated works geared toward mature audiences, mostly because of the graphic violence and gore, language, adult themes, and, in some cases, sex.  The Vampire Hunters deals with a group of humans fighting the undead in Washington D.C. and is a metaphor for the war on terrorism.  The struggle between humans and vampires grows more intense until there is an apocalyptic battle in Washington to see who will control earth.  The Rotter World trilogy begins with a small group of vampires and humans who have survived the zombie outbreak having to travel through a rotter-infested country to an underground military facility in Pennsylvania to retrieve a vaccine to the zombie virus, and ends with the attempt by mankind to take the word back from the living dead.  I wrote Yeitso and Nazi Ghouls from Space to emulate the styles of the eras to which they're paying homage, the 1950s and 1940s respectively, so both these works are rated PG-13.
            As for what I want my readers to take away from my stories, I want them to be entertained.  My novels don't contain underlying political or social messages.  When one of my fans tells me they could not put down my book and stayed up until early in the morning reading it, then I feel like I've done my job.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Can you tell us about some of the deleted scenes/stuff that got left out of your work?

Scott M. Baker:
I've been fortunate that none of my publishers have asked me to delete from any of my novels.  However, in 2012 I attended the Ravencon convention in Richmond and was sitting on a panel about how far was it permissible to go with taboo subjects.  A researcher from an oceanographic institute challenged each of the panelists to write a tentacle sex story for an anthology he was producing as a fundraiser.  When you challenge me with a writing project it's like waving a piece of bacon under my dog's nose - we're both going to bite at it.  Rather than write it in traditional format, in which the protagonist is victimized, my version had the heroine willingly engaging in the act.  Apparently a consensual gangbang with a starfish was too much for the oceanographer because he rejected my submission.  Years later I published the story under an assumed name as "Lust Among the Reefs" in the anthology Rejected for Content.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What is in your "trunk"?  (Everyone has a book or project, which doesn't necessarily have to be book related, that they have put aside for a 'rainy day' or for when they have extra time.  Do you have one?)

Scott M. Baker:
A few years ago, shortly after writing Nazi Ghouls from Space, I came up with the concept of a series titled OSS: Office of Supernatural Services in which Allied intelligence officers battle Nazi occultism.  Since then I've done considerable research pertaining to the Nazi occult, have visited many of the locations that will be associated with the series, and have written a partial draft of the first book.  Once I'm finished with the two series I'm currently working on, this will be my new project.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What can we expect from you in the future?

Scott M. Baker:
A lot.  My current project is a horror/techno-thriller about rogue elements in the US Government covertly and illegally creating genetically-enhanced assassins to use against the nation's enemies; I'm putting the final touches on that manuscript before I begin looking for an agent, and am already plotting out the sequel which will deal with biological warfare and its consequences.  Also, this October I will begin publishing a series of young adult post-apocalyptic novels, although they will be released under a pseudonym.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Where can we find you?  (You know, STaLKER links.)

Scott M. Baker:

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Thanks, again, for stopping by, Scott.  It was great having you.  I have Yeitso on my Kindle and I can't wait to get reading that... plus there are some other things you've mentioned in this interview that have really caught my interest.
            Before you go: Do you have any closing words for your fans or anything you'd like to say that we didn't get to cover in this interview?

Scott M. Baker:
I want to thank my readers and fans.  If it wasn't for them, there would be no reason for me to write.  I hope you have as much fun reading the books as I do writing them.


About the author:
Scott M. Baker was born and raised in Everett, Massachusetts and spent twenty-three years in northern Virginia working for the Central Intelligence Agency.  Scott is now retired and lives in Gainesville, Florida as a full-time writer along with his wife and fellow author Alison Beightol and his stepdaughter.  He has written Yeitso, his homage to a giant monster movie of the 1950s that he loved watching as a kid; Rotter WorldRotter Nation, and Rotter Apocalypse, his post-apocalyptic zombie trilogy; The Vampire Hunters trilogy, about humans fighting the undead in Washington, D.C.; as well as the novella Nazi Ghouls from Space (the title says it all) and his zombie-themed anthology Cruise of the Living Dead.  He is currently working on a series of young adult post-apocalyptic novels, a horror techno-thriller, and a second series about Allied intelligence officers fighting Nazi occultism in World War II.
            When not writing, Scott can usually be found doting on the two boxers and two cats that kindly allow him to live with them.

About the books:
Veteran detective Russell Andrews has seen the dangers of big-city life: rape, murder, gangs.  It's not a place he wants to raise a teenage daughter on his own.  After his divorce, he moves with her to serve as the sheriff of a sleepy New Mexican town.  But the desert has dangers of its own - deadly secrets that eat men alive.  Secrets growing in power.  Andrews comes face-to-face with a thing out of myth, a force without a name in the modern world.  The Navajo, though, call it Yeitso.  
            Scott M. Baker builds tension and explores characters like a seasoned pro, all before offering them up as dinner for some of the creepiest crawlies you'll experience on the page.  Yeitso is the perfect blend of small town quirk and pulpy monster madness that will leave you cringing and wanting more. ~Ryan C. Thomas, author of Salticidae and Hisser
            Yeitso brought me back to those glorious Saturday afternoons of my youth watching Creature Double Feature. ~Peter Schwotzer, Famous Monsters of Filmland

January 1945.  The Allies have crossed the German border.  In a desperate effort to avoid the inevitable defeat, the Third Reich develops a long-range rocket capable of striking the United States.  Three German soldiers pilot the capsule, volunteers who agreed to test fly the craft to ensure victory for the Fatherland.  However, a technical malfunction propels them into orbit with no way to bring them home.
            July 1947.  The capsule plummets back to Earth and crashes in the isolated flats of the New Mexico desert.  What returns are not the bodies of the three German soldiers lost in space for over two years, but something far more ghoulish.  When an unsuspecting rancher opens the hatch to check inside, he unleashes on American the reanimated bodies of the test pilots who are now living dead creatures that crave human flesh.

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