September 24, 2013

He Says, She Says - Double Author Interview: Troy H. Gardner & Erin Callahan ("Mad World" Series)

I have not one, but two guests today! But before I introduce them to you, a little background is required. I was recently contacted by Erin Callahan, half of the writing duo behind the Mad World series, who (after perusing my blog and actually making a mental note of my reading preferences...something that very few authors seem to take the time for!) offered me the first two books in the series for review. I gladly accepted, and as you may have seen for yourself, they were reviewed respectively on September 8 and 15 (read my review of Wakefield | read my review of Tunnelville). While I was about to start on the second installment, I mentioned an interview opportunity to Erin, who enthusiastically accepted. I was debating if asking specific questions to her and her writing partner, Troy H. Gardner, when she mentioned they have two rather different approaches to writing - this being one reason why they make a good team. Erin's comment gave me the idea of a double interview with the same questions, which sounded like fun in this case. And fun it ended up being (but very insightful too) can judge for yourself :). 

Before we get to know Erin and Troy a little better, here's a spotlight on their ongoing debut series...

Title: Mad World
Authors: Erin Callahan & Troy H. Gardner
Genres: Paranormal, Urban Fantasy, Contemporary
Year: 2012+
Age: 12+
Available on: Kindle (for now)
Wakefield (book 1 in the Mad World Series) on Amazon | on Goodreads
Tunnelville (book 2 in the Mad World Series) on Amazon | on Goodreads 

Blurb for Wakefield: Orphans Astrid Chalke and Max Fisher meet when they’re sent to live at Wakefield, a residential and educational facility for teens with psychiatric and behavioral problems.  Just as Astrid and Max develop a strong bond and begin to adjust to the constant chaos surrounding them, a charming and mysterious resident of Wakefield named Teddy claims he has unexplainable abilities. At first, Astrid and Max think Teddy is paranoid, but Max’s strange, recurring dreams and a series of unsettling events force them to reconsider Teddy’s claims. Are they a product of his supposedly disturbed mind or is the truth stranger than insanity? (Amazon excerpt)
Blurb for Tunnelville: Following their panicked escape from Wakefield, Astrid Chalke, Max Fisher and their friends find themselves adrift and on the run in western Massachusetts. After picking up a young thief with a complex philosophy, and dealing with the pains of prescription drug withdrawal, they make their way to Boston. The damaged teens settle in an underground tunnel community and encounter the fabulous Angie DeVille, who envelops them in her breathless and fast paced life. Dr. Lycen is tasked to hunt down the Wakefield escapees. But as Astrid and Max eke out a meager existence in their new home and do their best to stay off Dr. Lycen's radar, they learn that new and even more harrowing threats might be lurking just over the horizon. (Amazon excerpt)

Interview: In strictly alphabetical order - welcome to Offbeat YA Erin and Troy! I’m so glad to have you here. Also, it’s not every day one gets the opportunity of interviewing a collaborative duo of writers. I have a lot of questions (erm...probably too many...) and I do hope you won’t mind them…*ducks and crosses fingers* So, on with the first one...

Your bio says you met in high school. Were you already dreaming of becoming writers back then?

T: I wrote a lot when I was younger, but I wanted to be a director for quite some time. I knew I wanted to tell stories, but I didn’t know in what medium.
E: I didn’t start thinking about writing until I was in college. I reread a few of my favorite YA novels and thought, “Maybe someday I’ll write YA fiction.” But that was really just a pipe dream until one day when Troy and I were browsing in a bookstore together and he was like, “We should stop talking about writing and, instead, actually start writing.” We began planning the Mad World series on the car ride home.

What kind of books did you read as teens? Did any particular author influence your own writing?

T: I didn’t read much YA when I was a young adult, oddly enough, but Perks Of Being A Wallflower sticks out, and I got into Harry Potter when I was 17. I read a lot of Stephen King, Thomas Harris’ Hannibal Lecter series, David Sedaris, and some of the Star Wars expanded universe.
E: I also read a lot Stephen King and I took Honors English, so I was forced to read a lot of classics, like Camus’s The Stranger and Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, which I now appreciate. My favorite YA novel as a teen was The Goats by Brock Cole. I read it again a few years ago and it still blew me away. I also really loved Wise Child by Monica Furlong and The Cuckoo’s Child by Suzanne Freeman. They both delve deeply into the mundane in a way that really appealed to me.

What drove you to actually write stories, and what made you decide to join forces?

T: Turns out film equipment is expensive and you have to rely on dozens of people’s conflicting schedules, and they probably don’t care very much about your student film. So I turned to writing as a way to get a story told without relying on other people (or only one person). We started writing Mad World together because we were hanging out all the time. We’d tried our hand at making songs and a quirky time travel radio show, but this was the best fit.
E: I still have high hopes that a second episode of that radio show will come pouring out of us someday. :) But Troy makes a really good point. So many creative outlets require expensive resources. You can write for free, and you can do it anytime and anywhere. I think that’s what makes it so ideal for me. And I love having someone like Troy, who has a deep understanding of our characters, to bounce ideas off of.

What’s your favourite genre to write and why?

T: I like horror but it’s super hard to keep that intense feeling for any length of time. I really like writing comedy when I don’t plan on being funny. If you ask me to tell you a joke, I can’t think of one funny thing to say, but in the course of conversation I might tell five jokes. Anything I can sprinkle humor in like that is a plus.
E: I hate to admit this, but I think I’m one of those people who never really got over my teenhood. That’s why YA appeals so much to me - I have this internal teenager who’s always screaming to be heard. Though I think someday I’ll venture into grown up fiction. I’ve had a near-future dystopian novella brewing in my head for a little while, but it will probably be years before I sit down to write it.

 How was the Mad World series born, and how each of you contributed to it?

T: A trip to Borders (RIP) while Twilight fandom was at its apex, which frustrated us to no ends. No offense to Twilight fans, I know and love plenty, but it’s a horrible book with atrocious messages to young readers. It basically boiled down to us wanting a book that we’d like, so we decided to write it.
E: I tried to read Twilight, but couldn’t get past the first third. I would never claim that I’m a better writer than Stephenie Meyer, but I do hope we’ve created a more engaging female protagonist. Though I will admit that there was something liberating about reading Twilight. I wasn’t a fan, but I remember thinking, “We can do this.” As far as our process goes, we brainstorm major plot points and then collaboratively create chapter-by-chapter outlines of each book. We then write alternating chapters - I write from Astrid’s perspective while Troy writes all of Max’s chapters.

What’s your typical writing schedule?

T: I write all the time. It’s more an obsession than anything else at this point. Really unhealthy, I’m astonished carpal tunnel syndrome hasn’t struck yet. With these books, having two narrators, we write on our own in separate documents, then combine and one of us will have it for a while and then pass it back and forth. We set random deadlines for ourselves that we usually don’t make, but I feel really good if I do.
E: I work full-time, so I always find that I don’t have as much time I’d like to devote to writing. I try to set aside at least an hour each day and I take advantage of small bursts of downtime. For example, when I’m in the waiting room before a dental appointment, I’ll try to write a paragraph or two on my phone.

Do you ever fight over a paragraph/scene/chapter – and why? *grins mischievously*

T: It usually comes down to who cares more about whatever’s in question. Often, one of us will respond with, “well, write it and we’ll see” and we almost always use the newer version. It helps that we both have faith in each other’s writing. Whenever there’s an idea, it’s never “I don’t like this scene,” but “what if the scene is stronger by playing up the memories or whatever.” It’s hard to argue with someone who has a specific idea to make it better. I can only think of one time we really had a back and forth on something and Erin had to put her foot down, and so I wrote it more ambiguous so it could be read either way. :)
E: That one back and forth was a doozie, but it involved a character I care a lot about and had big plans for. Troy’s also being a bit too nice - I believe there are times when I’ve very tactlessly proclaimed that I didn’t like a particular scene. :) But we do generally try to be supportive and to offer up ideas when we don’t think a particular scene works. I think one of the reasons we work well together is that we have somewhat divergent ideas about storytelling that balance each other out. Troy has admitted he doesn’t mind relying on tropes that are familiar to readers, while I constantly want to push the envelope, which can sometimes result in scenes that are confusing or just plain weird. With our final work product, we usually manage to balance those two extremes.

Who is your first beta reader? Do you ever incorporate any suggestion from them?

T: My mom is an avid reader. She always has a stack of books she’s reading, so it seemed natural to have her go through our manuscript. She looks for grammatical errors and points out when something isn’t flowing well, which is great to hear since it allows us to take a step back and iron out some wrinkles.
E: Troy’s mom has been a great beta reader. We plan on using a few more beta readers for book three before the final editing round, so we’ll see how that goes. And we always seriously consider suggestions, even if we don’t end up incorporating them into the final version.

Which is your favourite sidekick in the series so far?

T: Teddy, without a doubt, but he wouldn’t be happy being called a sidekick. He’s charming, rich, and magical. I’m jealous.
E: I also love Teddy and I’m surprised that our readers haven’t been completely smitten with him. I thought for sure he’d be a fan favorite. I also really love Ally and Lawrence. Writing dialogue with them can be really amusing.

Which character did you have more fun writing about?

T: Dr. Lycen is near the top since he’s such an unapologetic jerk. Angie always makes me laugh. The tiny bit you see Lawrence in Wakefield made me want to write about him all the time. I loved being mean to Azrael. Teddy’s super easy to write; his dialogue flows the easiest for me.
E: As a teaser for book three, I’ll reveal that I’ve written a few chapters from the perspective of Astrid’s aunt, Karen. I thought it would be difficult and boring, but once I got going, she just flowed onto the page. I find adults in YA novels are often laughable, one-dimensional cardboard cut-outs, so I worked hard to make sure she came off as three-dimensional and relatable.

Which character would you like to be friends with?

T: I think I’d get along with all of the core group of teens. There are some older characters in book three that I could definitely see myself clicking with, but you’ll have to wait to meet them.
E: I love Astrid, but I think I share enough similarities with her that hanging out with her would drive me crazy. I would probably enjoy hanging out with Lawrence - he’s definitely the most mature of the teens. And I think I’d like to have lunch with Lycen, just to pick his brain, but I couldn’t hang out with him on a consistent basis. The character of Eduardo was inspired by my husband, and I do enjoy spending time with him. :)

Both Wakefield and Tunnelville left their share of victims on the battlefield, so to speak. *to would-be readers…no, don’t worry, no one actually dies* Can we expect any of them to pop back into the story at some point? And was it hard to let them go?

T: Oh yes. We have plans to touch back on just about everyone. Of course some of those plans are “I think it would be nice if we see so-and-so again” while others are concrete. The hardest character to let go was the one who leaves before the kids reach their destination in the next book. In fact, this person was originally going to leave partway through Tunnelville, but we kept pushing it back and eventually decided to leave the last one as a cliffhanger since we didn’t want to part ways yet. How’s that for teasing book three?
E: At least one of those “victims” will be back in a very big way. That’s all I’m going to say, because I’d like to think that I’m not as much of a tease as Troy.

Thank you Troy and Erin for your time and niceness. It was great chatting with you. As a goodbye gift, a rare opportunity for you to basically charm people into reading your series. Honestly, why should they?

T: The series isn’t easily pegged into one genre and it bucks a lot of traditional stereotypes. We often hear how refreshing the books are in this aspect. We’re striving to write something that isn’t cookie cutter.
E: Hear, hear! We’ve worked hard to craft realistic settings so that there’s a backdrop of realism behind all the paranormal elements. I also love how complex and deep the mythology of the series becomes as it progresses. I think it would appeal to anyone who’s a fan of a good epic.

Thank you again for being my guests – and for allowing me to read and review your books! I’m eagerly waiting for the new Mad World installment right now…which of course will be reviewed at Offbeat YA when the time comes. Keep up the good work!  

T: Thanks for having us. It’s been fun hearing your thoughts on the series and I truly appreciate the opportunity.
E: Thanks, Roberta! We love your blog.

Mad World #3 should be out in June 2014 - title (to be confirmed):


  1. Great interview! I loved reading about your writing process, especially since my brother and I are writing partners. And, I must admit, I also had a "hey, I could do this" moment while reading Twilight. :)

    1. Glad you liked the interview Heather. It must be great to be able to work with a close family member :).


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