FJR: Hi, I’m F.J.R. Titchenell, but you can call me Fi!
I write mostly speculative fiction, and I have a particular passion for YA literature, since those are the books that sustained me when I needed them most and taught me that I wasn’t alone.
I wrote a YA zombie comedy called Confessions of the Very First Zombie Slayer (That I Know of), and together, Matt and I co-write the YA horror/sci-fi series, The Prospero Chronicles. After splitting with our old publisher, we’re re-releasing book one, Splinters, on June 6th, and book two, Shards, on June 20th. The third book, Slivers, is being released for the first time on July 6th this year! There are ultimately going to be five in total.
I’ve also got a couple standalone YA horror books that don’t have release details yet.
Matt: Hey, I’m Matt Carter. You can call me Matt Carter. Or Matt. Matt’s probably better. It has fewer syllables.
Like my lovely wife I predominantly write speculative fiction, aimed more at the New Adult/Adult audience. While I got my professional start writing The Prospero Chronicles with Fi, I had my first solo novel published last year through Talos Press. Almost Infamous: A Supervillain Novel is a bawdy satire taking apart the relationships between superheroes and villains, and when I say bawdy I mean it (seriously, parents, don’t get this one for your little’uns, and if you do, well, I warned you!). Fi and I have just finished writing a semi-follow up to it, Pinnacle City, which will be released early in 2018 also by the wonderful people at Talos Press.
Have you always wanted to be a writer?
FJR: No, but I always was one. I always knew that I needed to be a part of storytelling, and as I kid, I was hoping that would happen through acting. I was already writing stories back then, but the idea of sharing those stories felt way too personal and revealing. Of course, that’s exactly why I had to be a writer rather than an actress. If you’re not baring a bit of your soul, you’re not making art, and writing was the medium that brought that out in me best. I was about fifteen or sixteen when I figured this out and started getting serious about publishing.
Matt: Much like Fi, I never really intended to be a writer, but I always was one. From my elementary school days writing bad little shorts about what it’d be like to be eaten by a dinosaur or barely comprehensible sequels to H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds (it’s entirely possible I was even more of a nerd at age nine than I am now) to my teenaged years writing unnecessarily long fan fiction, writing’s always been in my blood. However, like pretty much everyone out of high school, my interests were all over the place. I dabbled in audio work and psychology before finally deciding that I wanted to be a history teacher, but when that dream fell through when I realized grad school wasn’t for me, it was like a lightbulb went off in my head, and I knew I was going to be a writer.
Tell us about your book, and the story behind writing it
FJR: Writing The Prospero Chronicles has been a long, weird, crazy journey so far. It started out — wow — about five years ago, with Matt and me wanting to write an epic YA series together, with tributes to some of our favorite alien invasion stories, both sci-fi and horror, and in between. I know we’d been watching a lot of X-Files at the time and particularly wanted to play with the theme of a pair of equally matched opposites who have to learn to trust and respect each other over the course of wrestling with something neither of them can fully understand alone.
That’s really what Splinters, and the rest of the series, is ultimately about, more than the invading Splinters themselves. It’s about Mina, this hyper intelligent but scary obsessed, paranoid guerrilla warrior who’s grown up in a town where the monsters can look like anybody, and Ben, this kind, perceptive people-lover who just wants to live a normal life but can’t help doing the right thing, trying to understand each other.
Matt: What she said.
What’s the biggest challenge about being a writer?
FJR: The publishing process, whether you’re alone or working with a traditional publisher, is slow, unreliable, and unpredictable. You have to be absolutely crazy about the art to take the package that comes with it, because if you’re looking for a comfortable business to get into, pick another business. Or buy a lotto ticket.
Matt: Since Fi took the most practical answer, I’m going to go a little more abstract and say doubt. In the early days of writing a book I really like, it’s easy to have the words flow, however the more I get into something, the more I start doubting what I’m doing. Is this story as good as I meant it to be? Is it going to be worth finishing? What am I even doing here?
I have a stash of unfinished stories that are victims to doubt, but I’ve got hopes that most of them will one day see the light of day in one way, shape or form. Even so, doubt’s still one of the biggest story killers.
Do you have a specific writing space?
FJR: My desk is home to my Badass Ladies’ Club of Funko figures (mostly gifts from Matt — they’re cooler than flowers). Right now, Kamala Khan and Buffy Summers are discussing the ethics of warfare, Jillian Holtzmann is chatting up Dana Scully, Fa Mulan and Brienne of Tarth are standing guard on the top shelf, and Jessica Jones and Kara Thrace are brooding drunkenly together in a dark corner. To name a small handful.
Matt: My writing space is the coffee table in front of our couch. The couch is breaking in the middle to a point where when I sit down I’m almost sitting on the floor, and hunching over the coffee table’s starting to be murder on my back. I should really probably write somewhere else.
What’s your number one piece of writing advice?
FJR: Your first novel is like your first love. It feels like the only one you’ll ever be capable of, but it’s not. If you’re interested in a career in writing, you’re planning for a lifetime of creating new stuff. It’s okay to fall a little bit in love with every project along the way, but not to the point where you can’t see or learn from its flaws, or imagine any other project ever being as important as the one in front of you now. To develop your talent, you have to fall in love with writing itself, and the process of improving and rediscovering it over and over again.
This is a lesson I’m still working on learning sometimes.
Matt: In the words of the immortal Capt. Peter Quincy Taggart, “Never give up, never surrender.” During the writing process, this attitude is the greatest doubt killer. If you ever believed in your story and are having trouble, do whatever it takes to finish it, and once finished, do whatever editing it takes to make it what you want it to be, as editing is almost always easier than writing.
On the publishing end, this philosophy is even more necessary. You will hear the word “no” a lot when you’re trying to get yourself out there. Agents, publishers, readers, you’ll see rejection from all corners. Whatever happens, you can’t let this get you down! Success may not come for a while, maybe not even a long while, but if you love writing and truly believe in what you’re doing, then you can never give up.
What books do you currently have on your bedside table?
FJR: Well, if I had a bedside table, the books that would be on it right now would be Thorn, a YA retelling of the Goose Girl fairy tale by Intisar Khanani, which I’m halfway through, and It, by Stephen King, which Matt and I have been reading to each other in preparation for seeing the new movie. Also about halfway through that one, which is saying something, since it weighs more than my computer.
Matt: While we’re reading It together in anticipation of the movie, beside my side of the bed I’m also reading a copy of The Shining. I’m working on a horror book right now, so the one-two punch of a couple of the greatest horror novels ever written is good at keeping me fresh.
Who have been your biggest writing influences and why?
FJR: I always have to list J.K. Rowling first, even though I’ve yet to publish anything strictly classified as fantasy myself, because I lived in her books for most of my childhood. She was the one who first showed me the power of fiction and made me want to create characters and worlds that could be as real to people as hers were to me.
More recently, I’m a big fan of Lauren Oliver and John Green for their ability to capture human emotion, Isaac Marion and Scott Westerfeld for making the most of the social commentary potential of sci-fi, Suzanne Collins for revolutionizing the standards for young female protagonists, and Lauren Myracle for doing the naturalistic contemporary style more honestly than anyone since Judy Blume.
Matt: I’ve got an eclectic bunch, but I’ll start out by saying the biggest influence on me has been Stephen King. While he’s got his faults as a writer (an impressively long list), he’s also one of the greatest writers who’s ever lived, and he’s kept me reading like no other author can.
That being said, my other favorites would have to include Brian K. Vaughan (another of the greatest writers alive today), George MacDonald Fraser (for blending history and humor), Max Brooks, Alan Moore, Tommy Wiseau and Mark Twain.
How do you market your writing?
FJR: We’re still learning this. This year is full of our first wave of indie releases, and we’re trying a bit of everything. I’d hate to mislead anyone by offering advice before we’ve fine-tuned a strategy ourselves.
Lastly, something fun. What’s something our readers might not know about you?
FJR: My mother is Australian, and even though the other kids teased most of her Australian habits out of me early on (I no longer pronounce “idea” as if it has an R on the end), I still eat vegemite sandwiches and absolutely loathe the smell of root beer.
Matt: That my first job was working an ice cream shop at a major Southern California theme park, and even though that was 15 years ago, I still have the muscle memory to make some epically tall ice cream cones using a soft serve machine.
By F.J.R. Titchenell and Matt Carter
Growing up is hard, and growing up in Prospero is even harder, but I think we manage. I mean, yeah, my friends and I spend more of our time fighting a race of shapeshifting aliens than we do hanging out, but we have our fun. We go to parties, help each other with our classes, maybe even fall in love…
I’ve no illusions that we live ordinary lives, but they’re our lives, and I’m going to make sure we make the most of them whether the Splinters want us to or not.
The truce is temporary. We will not humor the Splinters forever. It’s only until the Slivers can be stopped, until the army of Shards being planted among our classmates can be disassembled, until we get our hands on the thing I’d almost given up believing in.
The humanity test.
For the chance to know, once and for all, who can be trusted, some dealings with monsters must be excusable. Inevitable. Just like this feeling between Ben and me.
And that has to be temporary too.