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WesternSFA
A Chat with Weston Ochse
by Catherine Book
May 25, 2012

Wes and I passed by each other several times in the past year but the time never seemed right for an interview until this year’s Phoenix Comicon.  I accosted him at his booth and, fortunately, didn’t have to put my foot down; he happily agreed.  Weston writes horror.  I could dress it up and call it Dark Literature but then I have to have an organ playing in the background…

Wes has been writing for the past seventeen years.  I asked him what he was doing prior to that and he said he was thinking about writing but not doing it.  Thirty was the big turning point for him when he decided he needed to stop thinking about it and do more doing. He asked himself what it was he hadn’t done and why hadn’t he done it and did he want to have regrets when he hit forty. When I asked what took him so long he said it was partly laziness and party fear – could he really do it?  He’d always thought he could be a good writer, but … you never really know until you start doing it.  So he spent a little less time in front of the TV, a little less time drinking, and a little less time just stumbling around through life…and started writing.

What influenced Wes most?  Funny enough, his response was – bad writers.  He hated spending money on a book only to find it unreadable and good only for the satisfying thwack it made when it hit the wall.  He just started thinking he could do better.  Arrogance has its place in the world if it can spur someone to create.

And how does Wes actually do his writing?  He adheres to a philosophy espoused by Tom Piccirilli, a horror and mystery writer, who said that if one can write five pages a day one can finish a novel in three months.  Which is what Wes has done, more than once.  It really can be done.  I noted that some writers might say that was a lot of pages but Wes says that a writer really into a story might easily write even fifteen pages.  Of course, this is coming from a man who maintains he can write anywhere.  He says he can survive in pure and utter chaos.  He can write in the back of a tank, at a desk, at McDonalds – no quiet, pristine environment required.  So, I had to ask if he was working during Comicon.  But, no; in fact he was editing Seal Team 666 which is due to be published by November of 2012 from St. Martins Press.  (Seal Team 666 is about a special unit that protects America from supernatural attacks.)  I marveled that he was taking time to attend Comicon and he quickly pointed out that as a writer he had to be able to talk about his work and meet people while still balancing the need to both write and edit in order to produce the book he needed to talk about with the people he met….whew!  It sure isn’t like the old days when writers were stereotyped as neurotic hermits.

What’s coming after Seal Team 666?  Wes has an idea for a zombie novel with a different take on the subject.  That should be quite interesting to see.  He also has a couple of novellas that he’s been contracted to do which need to get finished.

What’s most important to him?  Setting, plot, characters?  He said publishers and readers seem to really like his characters; he seemed very satisfied that he’s been able to write characters who are truly believable, original and memorable.  So, characterization first.  As he said – if the writer can create a believable and memorable character that the reader can relate to, then the reader will care about that character.  And no matter whether you treat the character badly or well, the reader will be engaged.  Wes added that if he can manipulate the reader’s emotions, then he’s doing his job.

Wes hasn’t developed a series as so many writers do when they find a winning character, world, or theme…yet.  He has a character he used in a short story titled “20th Level Chaotic Evil Rogue Seeks Whole Wide World to Conquer” which was published in an anthology titled “Demons” from Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers.  The character lives his life based on the D&D theme of being a chaotic evil thief.  And even if he could do good; he can’t and he won’t.  Wes wants to continue with this character in more short stories.  Should be a lot of fun.

He does about a month of research for a new book.  He believes this is necessary so that the reader will respect him and believe he knows of what he writes.  And, of course, there’s always Google to use when he needs to research on the fly.  The research is what forms his outline.  Google is there to pick up the odd item he needs in a story.

Wes frequently has multiple projects going simultaneously.  I was surprised at his response; most writers tell me the opposite.  He laughed; implying this was expected of writers.  He might have a comicbook, a movie script, a novella and a couple short stories.  How does he keep them straight in his head?  He admitted he has to sort of ‘get in the zone’ which can be quite different depending on the project.

How about e-books?  Wes believes hardcover books will remain the ‘gold standard’ for quite a while, particularly for readers and collectors who prefer something in their hands; but, paperbacks are going to disappear.  Almost all of Wes’ books are already in e-book format and he reported he’s making more money on them than he imagined.

I asked him if he had a favorite character – he picked a character from Scarecrow Gods - Maxom Phinxs.  Maxom was a very hard character to write; he was a disfigured Vietnam vet with only one arm, no legs, and the world’s worst job: the maggot man in a chicken processing factory.  Maxom was the man who stirred the vat of chicken parts where they grew maggots.  Wes swears this is a real job.  Maxom was intended to be a secondary character but readers always talk about him rather than the main character.  Was this also his favorite work?  This question almost always tends to make writers squirm a bit and Wes was no different.  His works are his children and how could he pick one to love more than the others, he asked.  He could point to Scarecrow Gods as being the most literary, another as being most fantastical, but to pick just one?  Nope.

Were there any stories he’d like to do-over?  He hesitated and then said there were some publishing decisions he’d like to do-over; a couple of old short stories that would have benefited from more editing.  But, seriously… there’s no time, too many projects and too many new ideas.

What’s in the future?  Wes says he just going to keep doing what he’s doing.  He has an exciting project coming up with William F. Nolan (Logan’s Run) for a Sam Spade for hire-type, an interstellar detective novel.  Wes is taking one of Nolan’s ideas and turning it into a comicbook for Blue Water Comics.  He’s got a couple screenplays going that he can’t talk about just yet.  He’s always working on something.

Wes is married to another published writer, Yvonne Navarro.  It’s the best thing in the world, he said enthusiastically.  Coolest gig in the universe.  Being married to another writer means one doesn’t have to explain all the hours shut away, or the need to go to conventions and talk to people dressed up in a costume.  But Yvonne ‘gets it’ because she lives it, as well.  At the end of the day, sharing a glass of wine, they can talk together about the zombies one just created to kill people.  How awesome is that?  Wes considers himself pretty lucky.

Speaking of conventions – how do these trips fit into his work schedule?  He loves them but they’re tiring, he admitted.  Does he limit how many appearances he does in order to keep writing?  Not really, he responded.  He gets his work done in the morning to free up the rest of the day. In this modern era, it’s important to be in front of the fans.  Fans today feel more connected to writers because they can reach out to them on Facebook and Twitter and, in turn, Wes feels the author has a responsibility to the fans to give them time.  He is definitely a fan’s writer, a more accessible or friendly writer I’ve not met; although, I think what he said about today’s connectivity between writers and fans is really true.  All the writers I’ve met who use today’s social media are much more outgoing than the old-timers who lived and worked in a hermit-like existence.  It’s a brave new world for writers, as well.

Thanks again, Wes.

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