CMStewart: First, I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed your debut, “A Prairie Home Apocalypse or: What the Dog Saw.” I recommend this short story to zombie fans, dog fans, and to those wanting an unusual point of view. The unabashed dog’s perspective is refreshing, and its unconventionality encourages me in my own unconventional writing style. Thank you, Albert.
Albert Berg: It’s my pleasure to be here. Thank you for having me.
CMS: I know your own dog helped inspire you to write “What the Dog Saw.” But I also noticed a similarity between the perspective of the dog in your story, and the perspective of the dog in the novel “Cujo,” by Stephen King. Was the novel “Cujo” also an influence for your book?
AB: You know, I’ve never read Cujo. I consider myself a fan of Stephen King’s but not so much that I’ve gone back and dug up all his work. The book that I’ve read recently that really reminded me of my own writing in What the Dog Saw, was Room by Emma Donoghue. In that story the narrator’s voice really played an important part of telling who the character was, and there’s also the same kind of contrast between innocence and evil. I read Room after I wrote What the Dog Saw, and it was one of those, “Oh crap, my story has been ruined” moments for me. That is, until I realized that Room didn’t have any zombies, and then it was okay.
CMS: What genre(s) do you like to read?
AB: Generally if a story fits neatly into any genre I don’t read it. For instance I love the Discworld books which could be classified as fantasy, but there’s also a very strong deconstructionist/humor element there. I don’t get into fantasy, mystery, romance, whatever unless there’s something more there, some twist there that makes me sit up and say, “I’ve never read anything quite like this before.”
CMS: Who are your favorite authors?
AB: Well, I’ve already mentioned Stephen King, and Terry Pratchett. To those two I’d add Lisa Lutz and the amazing zaniness that is The Spellman Files books, and Jasper Fforde for just being generally awesome. I hold Jasper Fforde in very high regard as a man who is able to come up with the weirdest stories and somehow convince his publisher to print them. I’d also tack on Mark Z. Danielewski and Douglas Adams. Not necessarily in that order mind you.
CMS: Do you focus on one genre in your writing?
AB: Yes and no. Like I said, I tend not to like stories that can be easily shoehorned into one box or another. However, my stories lately tend to be horror of one flavour or another, mostly because I like to tug on people emotional strings and horror really seems to delve into the heart of all kinds of emotions.
CMS: When did you first know you wanted to be an author, and what were the circumstances?
AB: It was a process really. I’ve been a reader for most of my life, so of course I had those moments where I said to myself, “I can do better than this.” I even sat down to try on one occasion or another, but nothing ever came of it. It wasn’t until I met a woman at my job who was writing rather good Harry Potter fan-fiction that I realized, “If she can write, so can I.”
So I sat down and gave it a go. The first few attempts didn’t go anywhere because I didn’t understand how to make a story work. I didn’t plan, didn’t outline, so of course they meandered around until they came to a dead end that I couldn’t figure my way out of and I’d have to give up and start over. But eventually I got the hang of it. The first full book I wrote was called Ella Eris and the Pirates of Redemption. I wrote most of it while sitting in the library at college during breaks in between classes.
It still wasn’t all that great. In fact, if you’re interested in seeing how an author changes over time, that story is available for free from ManyBooks.net.
But somewhere in all of that I got hooked, and now I can’t stop.
CMS: Do you have any advice for aspiring authors in general?
AB: If I could get just one thing in beginning writers’ heads it would be this: get the idea that published writers are different than you out of your mind. Think of your favourite author, and then tell yourself, “I can be that good.” They don’t have anything you don’t have, except experience. And experience comes through doing. And doing and doing and doing.
CMS: Do you have any advice specifically for aspiring self-published authors?
AB: It’s not a money tree. And I’m not just talking about my own experiences. One self-pub author I know named Joseph Devon has written these incredible stories about a group of supernatural beings called the Testers. I mean I love these stories. In my mind they’re on par with some of the most entertaining books I’ve ever read. And yet, from what I can gather, he’s not getting rich off of them. You’d be lucky to meet someone who has even heard of him. Put the same guy in print in bookstores everywhere with the support of a major publisher behind him, and in my opinion he could be a bestseller. But in the self-pub world he’s a pure voice being drowned out by the chorus of croakers all around him.
Also, it’s hard work. You’ve got to get out there, push your book, tweet about it, do blog posts, tell your friends, do interviews, thank people for their support, the list just goes on and on. Don’t get the idea, that I’m whining, but there are only so many hours in a day, and when you’re pushing a book you find that quite few of those hours have been taken up with self-promotion. And somewhere in all of that you’ve got to find time to write another one.
CMS: Are you shopping around for an agent and a publishing house?
AB: I don’t currently have any work that I think an agent would be interested in. Many publishers have minimum wordcount requirements for fiction that none of my recent stories meet. What the Dog Saw was 20,000 words and The Mulch Pile is 40,000 words, both well below standard acceptable limits.
I’ve written longer works mainly in the fantasy genre, but they have all been turned down by every agent I sent them to.
To be honest, that’s part of the reason I decided to go the self-pub route. All those rejections…they weigh on you after a while. I wanted to see for myself what my work could do on its own merit. Maybe I’m a coward for taking the “easy” route. And maybe all I’m doing is proving them right. Maybe after all this time I’m still not ready. Only time will tell.
CMS: It’s my opinion that in general, self-published authors are braver than traditionally published authors. And of course the book marketplace is changing now more than ever before. But moving on, what are your long-term goals or ambitions as a career author?
AB: I want to be able to support myself and my wife comfortably telling the stories that I want to tell. Getting rich would be nice, but I’d settle for having the bills paid with a little left over each month. As it stands now, I’m working full time at Wal-Mart trying to find time to write and do all the other things that need doing.
CMS: What’s next for Albert Berg?
AB: Short term, I’ll be releasing a few short stories on Amazon over the next few months to grow my inventory. I’ve heard that having multiple stories out there is a good way to boost sales. The next one in the queue is called “The Thing in the Shed.” Further out, I’m looking to release my NaNoWriMo novel from two years back called, The Mulch Pile which is a story about a garden mulch pile that comes to life to terrorize a fractured family and test the bonds of brotherhood to their breaking point. If all goes well, you can look for that one sometime around August.
CMS: Around where I live, I’ve seen mulch piles spontaneously combust. So I’d be particularly interested in a mulch pile that actually comes to life! But I digress . . What’s something your fans don’t know about you?
AB: I don’t make a big deal about it on my blog, but my faith actually means quite a bit to me. I read the Bible nearly every day, and I do my best to live according to its precepts. I suppose that sounds strange coming from the guy who’s writing zombie fiction, but it’s true nonetheless.
CMS: Any final comments?
AB: I’d like to say thank you. Both to you and all the others who have in one way or another joined me in helping to promote my book. One thing you don’t realize until you do something like this is how eager the community at large is to support your success. For me the best part of putting this work out there is the chance to see how unselfishly people help to spread the word. So again, to all of you who have helped to contribute to my small venture here, thank you. I look forward to being able to return the favour someday soon.
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