Scott Burtness lives in the Midwest with his wonderful wife, Liz, and their pitt-boxer mix, Frank. Scott has always enjoyed reading horror, sci-fi, thrillers, and comedic takes on all three genres. For him, reading is a fun escape, a chance to live vicariously through someone else’s adventures. He decided to start writing with the hope of entertaining readers like himself.
Your body of work includes horror and horror-comedy novels. Is there anything in particular that draws you to these genres?
I’ve always enjoyed supernatural horror. The monsters, especially the classics like vampires and werewolves, embody so much – our greatest desires and most terrifying fears, our very best and very worst qualities. They make for some pretty fun characters to write, especially when you want to take those extremes and find the ridiculously funny aspects of them.
Your Monsters in the Midwest series seems to have caught on with readers. Do you attribute that success to the mixture of horror and comedy or some other reasons?
I tried to make the characters and their struggles relatable. My hope was that people would connect with Herb, Dallas, Lois, Stanley, and the others on a more personal level. Someone doesn’t need to be a vampire to get what Herb is going through. They just need to know what it’s like to wrestle with their self-esteem, be envious of a friend, fall in love, have a rotten boss, and so on.
Herb and Dallas are well developed characters who come across as authentic Midwest Everymen while the setting in your series is Trappersville, Wisconsin. Is there anything about the Midwest in particular that lends itself to your series?
Setting is so important when defining a character and their journey. The vampire Lestat in Anne Rice’s “Interview with the Vampire” wouldn’t be who he was without the influence of Paris and New Orleans. Selene, from the film “Underworld” would have been an entirely different creature if she lived in Boise, Idaho.
When I decided to write about a well-intentioned but bumbling vampire, beer-guzzling werewolf, and alien abductee-turned-zombie, a Midwestern town was the perfect fit.
One, it helped to raise the stakes and create some wonderful tension for the characters. It’s a lot harder to keep a secret in a small town, compared to a big city. Like the tagline for “Wisconsin Vamp” says, ‘Midwestern nice’ is hard to pull off when you’re a bloodthirsty monster.
Two, it set up some wonderful jokes. Vampires and werewolves and zombies are scary things. Vampires in flannel, werewolves that drool when they smell beef jerky, and zombies that love reruns of “Columbo” are funny things, and you’re more likely to find those in small-town Wisconsin than New York City or Los Angeles.
Finally, by picking a small town instead of a big city, I was able to ensure that my characters really were the center of the world. I wanted my vampire, werewolf, and zombie to be the big fish in a small pond.
Humor can be difficult to get right yet you seem to pull it off well. Can you describe your writing process?
When I write funny scenes and really want to make sure the humor comes through, I read the scenes out loud over and over again. Each time, I imagine I’m talking to someone different. My mom or my dad. My wife or my boss. The postman or the cashier at the grocery store. Then I try to put myself in their shoes. Would they laugh? Would they roll their eyes, or just give me a strange look?
Deciding for myself if something is funny will only go so far, though. The other part of the process is getting feedback from beta readers. When I ask people to beta read my books, one piece of feedback I ask for is what jokes fell flat, or what sections that *should* be humorous weren’t because they were overwritten or felt forced.
Reading the scenes out loud and getting beta reader feedback really helped me get the humor to where I wanted it to be.
Which author(s) inspire you and why?
I’m inspired by a lot of authors, but I like to list James K. Morrow as a big inspiration. He’s the author of satirical novels like, “Towing Jehovah” and “City of Truth.” Morrow does a wonderful job of taking some pretty heavy subject matter, like, ‘What would happen if God died and fell into the ocean?’ and making it funny – really, really funny – but also making the stories very insightful and thought-provoking.
My books are pretty light on the surface, but in each one, the main character is wrestling with some pretty heavy stuff. Sense of self and self-worth, defining their purpose and place in the world, and so on. I often refer back to Morrow’s works when I’m trying to find the right balance between humor and gravity.
As an independent author, you have the freedom to pursue the stories you want to write and have complete control over your work. What do you find most enjoyable about the creative process?
I love the first draft. I always plot out the main story arc and summarize the story before I start that draft. Then, after I get started, my earlier plans go out the window. The first draft is a chance to let my brain surprise me. Over the years, I’ve learned I have some pretty odd stuff in my brain…
Are there any drawbacks to being an independent author and how do you overcome them?
There are lots of drawbacks. Lots and lots and lots.
First, indies tend to lack some really important resources when they get started. A decent publisher will usually have good editors and cover designers to work with, a platform to promote and market the work, established distribution, etc. Indies don’t have any of that… at first. But over time, you can develop those relationships. If you’re diligent, you can find an editor you really enjoy partnering with, a cover designer whose work you love, book stores that will happily sell your books, and more.
Second, indies have no name recognition, and no publisher to help get them that recognitions. As I like to say, writing a book is easy. Self-publishing a book is easy. Getting people to know that you wrote and published a book…? Really, really, really hard. The only way to overcome the disadvantage of being unknown is to become known. Write more good books, get them into people’s hands however you can, and then write more good books. Be active on social media and engage with your readers. Attend conferences and conventions and book fairs. Each new fan you find will be there – ready and waiting – when you finish that next book.
What are some obstacles authors face achieving sales in the current market and how have you overcome them?
Any creative person is competing for an ever more precious share of a person’s interest. The average person has maybe 4-5 hours a day to do things they enjoy. Going to the gym or a restaurant or bar. Playing a video game. Watching a movie or TV show. Listening to music on their stereo or going to see a live band. Taking a drive or riding a bike or walking the dog. Having sex. Rock climbing. Spanish lessons.
I’m not just up against other authors. I’m up against all the ways people spend their free time.
How have I overcome that? Ha! I haven’t. It’s a daily struggle. Every book I sell, every review that shows up on Amazon or Goodreads, is a hard-won victory. More than that, though, I always appreciate that when a person chooses to read my book, they’ve chosen that over a hundred other things they could be doing. That’s serious, and authors need to recognize that by putting out the best work they possibly can.
What are you writing now?
I’m finishing up the third book in the Monsters in the Midwest series, Undead Cheesehead. Once that’s complete (late January), I’ll be staring a new series.
Where can readers find your work and where can they find you online?
My books are available on Amazon in ebook and paperback format:
I’m on Facebook at www.facebook.com/swbauthor
Twitter at www.twitter.com/swbauthor
Goodreads at www.goodreads.com/swbauthor