Welcome, one and all, to another author interview! Today, we’re welcoming Dez Schwartz, author of multiple titles aboard.
Dez, for those not familiar with you and work, can you give us a quick introduction?
My name is Dez Schwartz and I write Paranormal Fiction that generally features LGBT leads. I live in Texas where I received a BFA in Graphic Design and worked in Advertising and for an art museum over the past few years. I began writing again and started self-publishing three years ago. Now, I have a Dreampunk/Paranormal Fiction novel slated to release through NineStar Press this October.
We’re going to primarily be talking about your series The Dead Oaks today. Now, this is a YA paranormal M/M romance series. First up, what attracted you to writing for the YA market?
Simply that I hadn’t tried it before. I had a concept in mind and realized that YA was the best fit and I think the challenge of trying a new genre format was enticing.
The first book in the series, Ghost Stories, follows Jasper Jelinek, an avid believer in ghosts, as he and a new group of friends learn what it means to be haunted. First of all, what inspired this tale? Was it something that you always wanted to write, or was there a particular event that led to its inception?
In all honesty, and it might be cheesy, I have definitely wanted to write a “monster-of-the-week” series. When I was a teenager myself, I wrote a lot of short story format fanfiction of Ghostbusters. I was also a huge fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The combination of those things very much led me to wanting to write my own original series but I knew I had to add my own flare to it. So, I ended up getting very existential which, thankfully, fits well into depicting teenage angst.
Jasper is not the only main character in the book, as we also have Wes, who is in many ways the polar opposite of Jasper. One of the sources of tension in the novel is the two men opening up to each other and working through their inner demons. When you see paranormal as part of the genre in a book, it’s easy to fall into the trap of expecting things that go bump I the night to be the primary source of tension, but the truth is, that’s not always the case. In a lot of horror, the psychological trauma is just as impactful as the paranormal for example. With that in mind though, did you find it difficult to balance out the psychological and paranormal elements at all?
Definitely. I would say that’s actually the most challenging part about writing this series. Well, that and writing about modern social media without it quickly feeling dated. I ended up having to use setting almost as a character itself. By keeping things dark and foreboding around the characters, even when they’re just dealing with the normal pitfalls of high school, the story maintains a sense of creepiness and tension.
Did you feel that the psychological side of the story was a good way to ground the tale, or to offer a balance with the more conventional conception of what a haunting is?
Yes and it ultimately became necessary. As lovable as these characters are, and I do hope readers feel that way, they deal with some very serious emotional and traumatic issues. There’s a long history in literature of utilizing the paranormal to explore the darker aspects of what it means to be human and I purposefully follow that tradition.
Of Jasper and Wes, which came to you first in terms of creation, and were they based on anyone in reality?
Jasper came first; almost simultaneously with the idea of the series. When I pictured what a modern teen with an obsession with the paranormal (who wasn’t goth) would be like, he was the first inception and didn’t really change at all when I began to flesh everything out. Neither are based on anyone in reality but some of the issues they deal with are things that people close to me have struggled with.
What can you tell us about the other supporting characters?
I didn’t want this series to just become a “boy’s club” so Liv was introduced and ultimately becomes the one that keeps the group grounded. With two leads that are ready to jump on any paranormal bandwagon it was nice to add in the resident skeptic.
Do you have a favourite scene or moment in the book?
In Ghost Stories, I’ll always be fond of that initial driving scene when Jasper and Wes are first getting a feel of how to interact with one another. There are a lot of arbitrary invisible lines that Jasper puts up between them and having Wes attempt to navigate that obstacle course was fun. In Midnight Monsters, there’s a staircase scene that is extremely meaningful to Wes and I’ll just leave it at that in order to avoid spoilers.
At 89 pages, Ghost Stories is a good, quick read. Was it ever tempting to make it longer, or did you feel that this was the perfect length for the tale?
A novelette or novella was my target when I began writing so I’m happy with the length. I have had a few readers tell me that they wish the books were longer; but I’ll just take that as a compliment. I think it would be better if I could put them out faster so that people didn’t have to wait as long between them.
The second book in the series, Midnight Monsters, follows on from Ghost Stories and sees Jasper and Wes investigating a haunted house, only to be faced with a not-so-ghostly entity that threatens their very lives. Can readers expect this book to follow a similar pace and paranormal/psychological balance to Ghost Stories?
I think Ghost Stories will always be the heaviest book in the series in terms of psychological weight just because that was when the characters were introduced. Midnight Monsters, and hopefully the books that follow, will all feel a little more light-hearted and fast paced in terms of action. I want the series to show an arc of progress; beginning with both characters at their low points and highlighting over time how they empower and improve each other.
With almost a year between the two releases, how did it feel getting back to writing in this world?
It was honestly kind of weird. haha I’m generally used to writing novels with more adult themes and violence so having to scale back to what is “acceptable” for a YA series is harder than it seems. I ended up having to rewrite the prologue and first chapter completely before I found my groove again. It almost had a much darker beginning.
This obviously continues the story of Jasper and Wes’s romance. What drew you to writing M/M romance in this case?
I had already been writing M/M in my other books so it was just a natural pairing for me. Happily, there are now a lot of YA M/M and LGBT books getting released into the world but at the time when I first began this series they definitely felt few and far between. I just really wanted to tackle that genre in my own style.
Can we expect further adventures for Jasper and Wes?
Most definitely. At the very least, I plan to write this as a five book series. I’m open to doing more than that if my muse obliges.
The series has been released through both Amazon and Wattpad. I found that quite interesting as I’ve seen a few different authors release stories through Wattpad too. What would you say are the biggest positives of taking this approach with publishing?
It’s all about reaching a broader audience. Not everyone is able, or willing, to use Amazon and Wattpad is a great story sharing platform for all ages. I also enjoy the community on Wattpad. Amazon reviews are nice for raising awareness of your books but Wattpad offers so much more in terms of allowing your readers to really connect with you. Some of my most loyal readers found me through Wattpad.
With not only these two, but many of your other works also featuring paranormal themes, it should be safe to say that you’re a fan of the genre. Can you tell us how you found paranormal fiction and what favourites you’ve found?
I’ve always loved the paranormal. I saw Ghostbusters when I was three years old and I joke that it’s the film that raised me into the delightful weirdo that I am today. Growing up, I also enjoyed ghost stories and watching The X-Files. I spent many of my own teenage years in libraries pouring over books on cryptozoology and haunted places; I also took up practicing witchcraft during that time. I had actually considered getting a degree in Parapsychology but, you know, the local art college was cheaper. 😉 As far as my favorite Paranormal Fiction books go, I really love all of the classic Victorian Gothic tales. I tend to prefer reading period settings, so I also really like works by Gail Carriger and KJ Charles.
Do you believe in the paranormal yourself? Can you tell us about any experiences you’ve had?
I do believe in the paranormal but I don’t always buy into the folklore (Though, I do love it). I’ve definitely encountered my fair share of ghosts and shadowmen. I’m not religious, so I tend to view these things as creatures that share the world and universe with us that we just haven’t been able to properly study or categorize with science…yet.
Do you find yourself preferring to write shorter or longer pieces of fiction? Is there a general preference, or does it really just depend on the project?
The decision on length will always come down to what’s best for the project. I think I prefer writing longer stories because you’re not always having to worry about the word count but it’s also nice to be able sit down and write a quick tale in one weekend.
The writing world is full of advice, and sometimes it can be a bit contradictory. It’s always good to get as many tips as you can though! So, what would be the best piece (or pieces) of advice you would give to someone just starting out?
The best advice is one of the most basic things you’ll hear over and over. Don’t be intimidated by that daunting first page or chapter. Just write it. The great thing about a first draft is that no one else ever has to see it. So let everything flow out. You can always go back to cut things, add things, and correct things later. No one sees your story until you’re ready for them to. The second best bit of advice that I have is to use placeholders. When you’re in the middle of writing a scene and you’ve got a great flow going, you don’t want to break it by having to take the time to go and research ancient weaponry or what you said your main character’s favorite food was in the last book. Just throw some brackets in to remind you to put something there and then fill that part in later.
What other projects can we expect to see coming from you soon?
The first book in my Dreampunk/Paranormal series, ROAM, will be re-released through NineStar Press this October! It had its original self-published release back in 2015 and has been “off the shelf” for almost a year now so I know a lot of readers are eager for its return.
Finally, I wanted to thank you for stopping by. Did you have any final messages for readers? Where can they go to find out more about you? Feel free to link to anywhere you like.
Readers can check out The Dead Oaks series on Amazon or Wattpad and all of my books are listed on my Website. You can also find me posting behind-the-scenes on Instagram or giving updates and sharing the occasional microfiction on Twitter. Thank you again for having me!