Thursday, August 29, 2013

A Discussion with D.L. Snell and Thom Brannan

We recently sat down with D.L. Snell and Thom Brannan, co-authors of the Pavlov's Dogs series and discussed a few topics their readers ask from time to time...

On Co-authoring:

D.L. Snell: I tend to do most of the plotting for the PAVLOV’S DOGS series, and on the first book Thom did most of the actual writing—I came in after him and revised, added, and edited, creating the second draft and streamlining our separate voices.

Thom Brannan: That was my biggest concern. In our natural voices, D.L. and I don't sound a lot alike, though we think along the same lines. Comparing writing styles, I'd say D.L. was a smart phone, whatever's newfangled now, with all the bells and whistles and fancy apps the kids are crazy about... and I'm a rotary phone. We both get the same basic job done, but his style is so pretty. But the final product, after several rounds of revision, sounds enough like the both of us that it's like a legitimate third entity. DTLBS.

DLS: For the second book, THE OMEGA DOG, we switched things up: I wrote about half the book (hell, the outline alone was half a book), and Thom contributed a ton of fantastic ideas to the plot. Just as an example…

TB: ... I'm thinking, too. Hold on. I think one of them was keeping Chan at Command, like Bonnie in the back of the Knight Rider truck, doing diagnostics (or April, depending on when you watched) and holding a gun to Kaiser's head. Oh! Ken keeps the sword!

DLS: Yes, that, and… Thom worked on an oil rig out in the Gulf and was also a submariner in the Navy. When I told him we needed to get our characters from Northern Mexico to the Yucatan, he mentioned something about always wanting to write a submarine crew. He also mentioned pirates. It was pure gold, and I set about finding a way to incorporate those elements into THE OMEGA DOG. I can’t wait to see how readers react to what we came up with.

TB: *holding an imaginary book*: “Oh, no you di'int!”

DLS: We had so much fun with this element that if we ever do a third book, there will be a lot more action out in the Gulf.

TB: Especially for those readers who saw the pirates and felt short-changed with the absolute dearth of sea-battles in THE OMEGA DOG.

On Writing a Series:

DLS: The most important thing is that PAVLOV’S DOGS ends, not on a cliffhanger, but on a note of finality. Thom and I didn’t even plan to write a second book. I mean, we’d talked about it and we’d established a very minor story thread that could spin off into new material, but… I didn’t want readers to reach the end of the first book and feel forced to continue the series, you know? I see reviewers complaining about that all the time.

TB: Definitely. It seems to me that planning a series is incredible hubris. Are you sure you have enough story? And if you do, are you sure you're going to have enough fans to sustain it? Star Wars strikes me as a great example. Write your first book, give it a definite ending. Finish that story. And if people like it, then you can leave the next one open and continue on, secure in the knowledge that you're reaching people.

DLS: As we were editing PDogs, though, I was thinking of ways to continue the story. Then it struck me. We’d left this huge narrative gap that readers won’t even notice, not until they start the second book. The gap was purposeful in that we were leaving something unsaid; but in that silence I found opportunity, and it spurred the entire sequel.

I’m really hoping it’s a twist readers will love. Already, one reader has commented on it over at Goodreads: “The book opens at the very moment where we were abandoned in PAVLOV’S DOGS… and then something awesome happens. Awe. Some. It is a complete game-changer... a really cool scene that opens up exciting possibilities.” Once Thom and I knew we were doing a sequel, we started planting seeds in the first book, which was still in editing. Little things. Seemingly inconsequential things, like that one of the characters was an Eagle Scout or that there was a pilot on the island (we now refer to him as Chekhov’s Pilot). Having both books in the works at the same time was invaluable; the sequel didn’t have to be chained down by what had happened in the first book because if we needed something, we just went back and planted it to pay off later. I can’t wait for fans of the first book to see how we pulled it all off.

TB: There was one thing we wanted to do that would have required a massive amount of change to the first novel, so that idea was abandoned. But after the dust settled and both books were written, the idea was still there between us. That's where DOG YEARS comes in. More on that later.

DLS: Thom, are you talking about the Hide?! Anyway… like the first book, THE OMEGA DOG ends on a note of finality. But you better believe Thom and I planted seeds for a possible three-quel. If the stars ever align, we have some awesome ideas that will send the series, and the entire zombie and werewolf genres, into a great leap forward.

On Writing Inventive Zombie Stories:

DLS: Writing in the zombie genre is getting increasingly difficult because so much ground has been covered by so many awesome writers and filmmakers. And something I’ve learned is that, while you have to come up with something fresh each time, you also can’t stray too far from basic zombies—sprinters or shamblers—before you start losing your core audience. In PAVLOV’S DOGS our real innovation is the werewolf. Not just the fact that we pitted the two monsters against each other—that alone was new—but we’ve done some fun stuff with our shapeshifters, and readers have really appreciated the ingenuity. As the Guilded Earlobe wrote, “PAVLOV’S DOGS is a unique story with a fascinating scientific tint…”

TB: See that? We terrify with science. Thank you, Mary Shelley.

DLS: In THE OMEGA DOG, we started to play around with the zombies a bit, and we even broached the idea of… well, it’s something I can’t tell you without giving too much away. But I will tell you that the Mayan ruins, and maybe an authentic Mayan ball game, have something to do with it. Finally in the third book, if it ever does materialize, we’re kind of hitting the reset button—kind of. We’ll get back to our roots, while adding something so freaking cool… Let’s just say I really hope it’s in the stars for you to read what we’ve got planned.

TB: I like to think there's nothing wrong with the original monsters, as well. Not everything has to be, ah, a stunning new breakthrough in horror technology.

DLS: Totally.

TB: To that end, we took a step backwards in time for the prequel novellas, DOG YEARS, both in timeline and concept. DOGS YEARS takes place starting thirty years before PAVLOV'S DOGS, and you get to see nascent versions of both these core creatures, the zombie and the werewolf. Before all the chaos from the last act of PAVLOV'S DOGS, before the accelerated madness from THE OMEGA DOG, the DOG YEARS story takes you back to a simpler time, when it was just a couple of bugs in a coffee can.


DLS's and TB's books Pavlov's Dogs and The Omega Dog are available now in eBook and paperback.

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